Friday, June 4, 2010

Great Expectations

No, I don't mean the Chaz Dickens "masterpiece" that I read (cough, cough) in 10th grade. I mean that your expectations invariably color how you perceive a given experience. If you expect nothing, and you get something… HEY… neato! But if you expect something, or worse yet, if you expect GREATNESS… and you get nothing, well… that’s no good is it. For example, I expected Clash of the Titans to be epic, mindblowing, and devastatingly cool. The Kraken was all that, and it had creepy lawyer guy from The Usual Suspects which is always nice, but the rest of the movie… eh. It was fine, but since I expected so much more, my overall impression of the movie suffered. And since you asked, I was particularly annoyed about Liam Neeson's Zeus - I just couldn't take him seriously with that constant white glow about him. I know he's supposed to be a God and all, but, really... pull down a window shade or something.

So recently when I arranged a little gathering at the preposterously fabulous Saffron Restaurant and Lounge, naturally I expected great things. The food there as you may know is simply fabulous, and we’ve gone there often enough that we have a little vibe with Chef Sameh and the staff. So I decided to ask him if he’d be interested in putting together a little tasting menu of his choosing for the occasion. My recollection is that I asked him if he would like to do “a few courses, maybe including the watermelon curry he did on Iron Chef America*, or a soft shell crab if the little critters are deece enough right now”. So I’m thinking maybe three or four courses and dessert. Sounds reasonable enough, no?

* You did know Sameh was on Iron Chef America, right? And was the youngest ever challenger on the show, right? Yep. True, and true again.

What transpired when we got to the restaurant so far exceeded our already lofty expectations, that I wish I could hire a DW (Designated Writer) to do the experience justice. Sameh made an eight course tasting menu just for our little four person birthday party that night. EIGHT*.

* Link too predictable? I don’t care. If there is one thing I can’t get enough of, it’s Dick Van Patten. A true master of his craft. What that craft is, I'm not totally sure, but he has certainly mastered it. Go ahead and take a look at his body of work. IMDB could easily condense that list and just say "Dick was on one or more episodes of every show ever made between 1970 and 1990. Thank you.". Go ahead, look at the list... "I Dream of Jeannie", "Baywatch", "Family Guy", "Wonder Woman", "Happy Days". That's gold Jerry, GOLD.

Now, finally, let’s have a look at the utter riduclousness that Sameh unleashed upon his unsuspecting guests that night, a night that came complete with a personalized menu that I forgot to have him sign. (Closed Circuit to Sameh… have your sharpie ready next time you see me.). And not all dishes are pictured, some were devoured before the picture-taking-apparatus could be queued up. And yes, the pics aren't perfect but hopefully they get the point across.

This was our first course, and it is really hard for me to imagine a better way to start a meal than this. That's pea soup on the left, with juuuuuust the right amount of mint in it. And black truffle. (Remember, Food Night loves it some black truffle). And lobster with succulent sweet fresh peas on the spoon. I mean, are you kidding me? THAT right there got the taste buds going let me tell you. The soup was liquid velvety silky goodness. The earthyness of the truffle, with the barley there tinge of the mint, the texture of perfectly cooked lobster. I honestly was worried that subsequent dishes would have a hard time topping that first one. And of course, I was wrong........

Brown butter and veal carpaccio. Yes, please.

Favorite dish of the night. The soft shell crab was perfectly crisped, fresh and succulent. The cucumber broth... perfection. I'd need to go back to school to learn how to describe it further.

Right there we have some spice crusted mahi mahi with a little pickled ramp, and an incredible puree of fava beans (I believe). Just phenomenal, that puree was to die for.

Finally, we had beef with Parisian gnocchi (pate a choux dough, that I think Sameh boils like regular gnocchi, then pan sears. That's what I'm going with anyway). Rich, full bodied and an incredibly satisfying conclusion of the savory courses. All desserts were inhaled prior to photographing, but I have to mention the black olive ice cream. Yes. That happened. And was fabulous.

The point of this post is to say… Thank You… to Sameh and everyone that works at Saffron for a truly singular dining experience. We really appreciate the effort you put forth on a busy Saturday to make our evening truly memorable.

And by now, you may be wondering.... "Um, what the hell does this have to do with Food Night? I came here to read about Food Night, dammit". Well, since you've made it this far and asked so nicely, I'll tell you.

In honor of that meal and of the incredible soft shell crab dish Sameh made with the cucumber broth that I personally think should be in the Smithsonian, I tried to come up with my own take on that dish for the recently completed and (dare I say) wildly successful Food Night! And in general, going to great restaurants and talking about cooking and ingredients inspires me and influences my cooking. Thanks be to EVERYONE I've ever talked food with, from Sameh to my Mom, and everyone in between. Food Night wouldn't be the same without all your collective contributions to my foodiverse. Foodiverse... that's a word, right?

How did my take on an Iron Chef quality dish turn out? And are you really cooking if what you serve is not.... "cooked"? Check back for all the deets,* which will be coming along shortly. No really, they will be. I promise.

* Link provided for hipster-lingo-challenged persons only, not you. You obviously know what “the deets” means. But for others who might not be sure what it means...... it's OK to click the link.

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