Sunday, November 13, 2011

Going Underground - Cobaya Dinner with Chef Alberto Cabrera

This past Thursday, the Cobaya "underground" dinner actually lost its' parenthesis as 43 Guinea Pigs gathered in a legit underground wine cave at La Bottaga in Coconut Grove for a 8-course meal courtesy of Chef Alberto Cabrera.  Chef Cabrera has an extensive resume here in Miami and currently heads up the kitchen at a badass spot called The Local in Coral Gables.  Having dined there many times and sampled other bites from Alberto at various events, I knew this was going to be a great meal.  First glance at the menu confirmed that.

The Vesper
Ridge Silver Tip Gin – Boyd & Blair Vodka – Lillet Blanc Aperitif
Mixologist David Ortiz

Pig’s Head Terrine
Pickled Vegetables
Foie Gras Brioche

Maine Sea Urchin
Corn Custard - Yuba - Compressed Cantaloupe - Ginger Flowers - Dashi Froth
Paul Cluvner Gewurztraminer, Elgin, South Africa 2010
Cured Foie Gras
Country Duck Ham – Frisee - Pickled Mango - Scarlet Beet Puree - Duck Fat Vinaigrette
Beef Heart
Broccoli – Farro – Shiso – Coriander Flowers – Gochugang
Neudorf Chardonnay, Nelson, New Zealand 2008
Matsutake Mushrooms
Pine nut Risotto – Coconut Fondant - Shellfish Emulsion – Parsley 

Cuttlefish Linguini
Cotechino - Romesco – Almonds – Orange - Fennel
Inama Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy 2009

Quinoa – Dark Chocolate – Strawberries - Whipped Balsamic - – Red Vein Sorrel
Chateau de St. Cosme Crozes Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France 2009
Pork Tenderloin
Crispy Shoulder – Anson Mills Grits Puree – Grapefruit Gel - Local Honeycomb
Marietta Cellars Angeline Cuvee, Alexander Valley, California 2007
Raspberry-Yuzu Sorbet
Cr̬me Fraiche РMexican Vanilla - Thyme
Moscato d’Asti, La Spinetta, Piedmont, Italy 2010
Peanut & Dark Chocolate Turron
White Chocolate – Grapefruit – Lavender

The night underground started out with a cocktail, The Vesper, courtesy of local mixologist David Ortiz who said this cocktail was good for cleansing the palate before the meal.  The flavors of the gin, vodka, and lillet blanc had a harmonizing flavor to them with a sort of musty finish that I likened to tequila.  And we're off!

When we first walked in, I noticed the centerpieces on the table looked like pickled veggies.  That was indeed the case and they were to be paired with a nice head cheese terrine.  An added touch was a foie gras brioche that I thought was fantastic.  The foie really came through nicely. 

The hits kept coming after that first bite.  Up next was a small bowl with a corn custard in it, layered with compressed cantaloupe, crispy bean skin, ginger flowers and some uni.  This dish was exploding with fresh flavors, each component announcing itself through the chew and working in harmony to brighten the overall flavor.  A fantastic dish.  

A pretty plate
The next dish was impressively plated with our server, Leslie (whom I later discovered was Chef Alberto's wife), making sure the plate was rotated properly for presentation.  Frisee greens with pickled mango and a kickass country duck ham were covered in a duck fat vinaigrette and then layered with cured foie gras.  I liked the way the acidity of the pickled mango and vinaigrette balanced out the richness of the foie.  A swipe of beet puree added a fresh flavor that, to me, served as a nice bridge from the previous dish.

Beef heart, shaved thin and flavored with Gochujang (a Korean fermented hot pepper paste that Chef Cabrera also uses at The Local in his homemade beef jerky) took the stage for the next course.  It was paired with one of my favorite grains, farro, and a nice bushy piece of broccoli that had some spiciness to it.  The thin shavings of the beef heart were light on the tongue while the farro and broccoli provided a nice textural contrast.

Our fourth dish was my favorite of the night.  Matsutake mushrooms were paired with a pine nut risotto and shellfish emulsion to create a masterful dish.  The earthiness of the mushroom took center stage, supported by pine nuts that had been pressure cooked (I think) to soften them up for a risotto.  It's been two full days since Cobaya and I am still wanting more of that dish.  Damn, it was good!  I think it was so good that I totally forgot the next dish, a cuttlefish linguini.  I actually omitted it from the menu and this post after The Chowfather and I talked and couldn't remember having it at all.  We were convinced it didn't happen until we saw that Mr. Frodnesor had posted a picture of it.  Weird.  Maybe it was the wine haha.

The last two savory courses brought some nicely prepared proteins to the table.  First up was a half of squab with its' leg wonderfully crispy and plated with some quinoa which is another one of my favorite grains.  After that was a pork tenderloin laid on top of Anson Mills grits puree with grapefruit gel and a piece of local honeycomb laying nearby on the plate for dipping and mixing.  At first I didn't think I would like the honeycomb but it did play nicely with the savory meat and slight tartness of the grapefruit gel.

The final two courses were desserts but I was pretty much done after the first one, a Raspberry-Yuzu sorbet paired with flavors of vanilla and thyme.  I'm not really a dessert guy but this was the perfect dessert for me, especially after the number of courses we'd already had.  This was a light dessert with the raspberry-yuzu combination giving the old taste buds a nice massage before sending them to bed for the night.  Fresh, clean flavor.  I ended up wishing that I had stopped after that as the peanut/chocolate dessert that came next was way too rich for me.  

I knew when I first talked to Chef Cabrera about doing a Cobaya dinner that he would put out a kickass meal and he really did a great job embracing the spirit of Cobaya and plating dishes with a myriad of flavor and textural contrasts.  It felt good afterwards when we were chatting and he told me that it felt good to do a dinner like this where he could really get creative.  Courses like the matsutake mushroom dish and the sea urchin dish really impressed me as phenomenal compositions.  A huge thank you to Chef Cabrera for a truly fantastic meal and for securing one of the coolest locations we've had for a Cobaya dinner as well.  Additional thanks to local chefs Jeremiah Bullfrog of the gastroPod and Brad Kilgore of Azul who also runs a pretty badass blog called The Power of Passion, as well as all of the servers, additional kitchen help I may have missed, and the good folks at La Bottega in the Grove for letting us use their awesome wine cave.  That's not to leave out the Guinea Pigs whose enthusiasm and sense of adventure is what drives these dinners and keeps them going.  Here's looking forward to the next one!

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