This past weekend Himself and I were on hand for Jet Tila’s and Alex Ageneau’s first foray into bistronomics. The idea is to source fresh local ingredients, cook them up in new and unexpected ways and serve it all up bistro style. We were tickled to be there for the inauguration of this enterprise, which they said might possibly metamorphose from the occasional, pop-up dining event like this one into the opening of a restaurant dedicated to the concept.
Taking a break from their regular gigs, Jet, who is executive chef at Las Vegas’ Wazuzu at Encore, and Alex, sous chef of the Royce in Pasadena’s The Langham Huntington, devised a five-course meal that displayed a pretty cool assortment of in-season ingredients…
First up was a course incorporating salsify, mushrooms, garlic and herbs, the idea being to evoke the flavors of the forest.
I’m not surprised if you’re unfamiliar with salsify. This vegetable seems to get a lot more attention in Europe and Asia than it does in the States. I’ve had canned salsify, which was okay, but no great shakes. This was quite different. For starters, it hadn’t been peeled, so instead of looking like an anemic stalk of white asparagus, it was covered in a delicate bark that gave it a slightly woody flavor and texture that contrasted with its creamy inside. Granted, it looked rather like someone had braised sticks and put them on our plates. But a bite of salsify and a crispy slice of Maitake mushroom (sort of the potato chip of the mushroom world) dredged through the roasted garlic purée and an herb foam made from tarragon presented a mouthful of rich, musky buttery forage. Just what I could envision eating if I were an elf in a forest (although I envision myself less of the Tolkien/Peter Jackson type and more of the Keebler cookie-baking type!).
If you’ve ever had potato blini with crème fraîche and either caviar or smoked salmon, you already know about one of the world’s great flavor combos. For the second course this classic lineup was presented a gold potato topped with a strip of crème fraîche gelée, a cucumber vinaigrette, salmon roe and a dusting of smoked herring “snow.” While I enjoyed every course of this meal, this one was my favorite. It’s such a kick seeing how you can take familiar components and do something entirely different with them, so that it’s both recognizable and exotic.
Course #3 incorporated halibut, orange and Madras curry. Halibut is such a meaty fish that it can be a bit much. This time it was poached in butter and topped with Madras curry and a sauce made from the sweet, not-too-acidic cara-cara orange. The result was musky, spicy, sweet and only the tiniest bit tart. And topped with baby carrots, a touch that made me crack up. For anyone who was ever grossed out as a child by orange jello with shredded carrots in it, this dish could have given serious pause. But it couldn’t have been further from that childhood nightmare salad. Whereas the old jello combo paired two unruly kids who didn’t want to play together, this dish had them getting along quite well–cooking the carrots brought out a more refined sweetness that paired well with citrusy sweetness of the orange sauce. Which in turn melded with the buttery halibut. Delightful!
Beef was the centerpiece of course #4, all gussied up in a deconstruction of the surf ‘n turf idea. Not your usual monster-sized slab of beef next to a mess of breaded and deep-fried shrimp, which always struck me as being about having more, not having better. These modest slices of skirt steak were topped with calamari relish and perched next to a pool of squid ink hollandaise. The result was a delicate yet rich take on surf ‘n turf.
See that bite of charred cauliflower to the right? I’d love to have had a pot full of this–it was called “cauliflower escabeche” on the menu, which represents the way in which it was treated. While a sweet and sour marinate is the standard escabeche technique for fish and meat in the Mediterranean and Latin America, here it was used on cauliflower, which stood up to the treatment really well. It was a perfect bite of al dente cooked cauliflower, loaded with flavor and great texture.
One of my favorite sandwiches is a panino filled with brie, caramelized onions and slices of Granny Smith apple. This dessert was its sweet cousin. A lightly baked apple contained a pool of melted brie and was drizzled with caramel and topped with toasted walnuts and crunchy sheets of phyllo. It made a finish that was just rich enough. No more and no less.
BREADBAR in West Hollywood hosted this pop-up dining event. Of course, it was impossible to enjoy the meal without casting admiring glances at all the breads and pastries so close, so ready, so willing… Yes, we took some home, and they made a fine breakfast next morning.
Even as I type, Jet is busy planning a spring session. Bistronomics 2.0 is scheduled for April 17 and 18, so there are more opportunities to see what he and Alex will be up to.
Rock on, guys. This meal was fantastic!