Thursday, June 21, 2007

I ate a noble gas. . . and it was awesome! (Restaurant: Element)

E and I were stood up two Sundays ago. All dolled up and ready to celebrate our anniversary of having become friends (yes, we are that weird and use any excuse to celebrate), we walked up the front steps of Element only to find an empty dinning room locked behind heavy doors. We were bummed, really bummed. I had talked about Element so much, it was as if I had pumped up a huge balloon that was then pricked by a pin. So we cried our eyes out and went home to eat lean cuisine in front of the telly... no, we didn't quite do that. But that's another story altogether. What we did feel was tremendous disappointment. We probably would never have gone back, if chef Blais wasn't so persistent...

The chef came back into our hearts in a big way. As soon as he found out about our missed date, he just about knocked over my inbox to try to set up a re-date. When Richard Blais says "please give us an opportunity to cook for you"! I was not stupid enough to turn him down. I mean, I've done a lot of not so smart things in my life, but turning down what is potentially one of the best meals in town never was, is, or will be one of those things. So we dolled up again (we like to play dress up... inappropriately for Element, but more on that later) and went for date number two.

Boy, were we glad we did. We were BLOWN AWAY! From the first chips and salsa (above) that knocked the initial snickers out of E when they melt in her mouth to taste just like chip and salsa, Chef Blais led us on an adventure that never failed to surprise.

These "popcorn" came in a cute little tangine-like dish. When the lid came off, the kernels gave off cold smoke . . . apparently having taken a bath in liquid nitrogen. A little crunchy from the quick freeze, the corn had a great caramel flavor. Very very addictive. (Note to self: get a doggie bag next time to smuggle into the movie)

This is one of my favorites for the night. When mixed together, every bite was akin to top grade spicy tuna studded with little surprises - the surprises being bursts of balsamic jelly and crunchy pear bits.

Besides being the prettiest thing to come out of the kitchen (I mean seriously, oyster and "pearls"! Can anyone really get much more clever than that?), the citrusy dipping dots left a pleasant tingle in the back of the throat that lingered for quite some time. I need to go back just to shoot these all night!

I get the concept, it's a deconstructed ravioli with zucchini for wrappers. While I liked the flavor of every individual component, I missed the satisfying chew of a real ravioli. Sometimes our past experiences set up expectations that bias our taste buds...

"You must eat these quickly," our lovely server instructed. While I scrambled to take a quick picture, I vaguely remember hearing her say something about chocolate and anchovies... Then both E and I picked one up and engulfed it quickly with our mouths. "Emm..." was the sound that came from my side of the table, while E was seen mouthing a soundless "yuck." Apparently we both forgot that she absolutely despises anchovies (the sorry Greek that she is). For me, the combination of salty chorizo, pungent anchovies, and slightly bittersweet chocolate brought back pleasant memories of Asian fish jerky I loved to gnaw on as a kid. Unless you've also gnawed on some fish jerky and have enjoyed it, it's hard for me to articulate why this combination is appealing. Let's just say that it brought back good memories of field trips and careless days. Not the same for E... she gulped her whole glass of water...

We heard "powdered argon" in the description of the dish. Before I could still my vocal cord, I heard my inner nerd utter "you mean we are going to eat a noble gas"? E shook her head (even though she was doubtlessly thinking the same thing, being the super chemistry geek she once was), and said "you are such a dork"! Right... I guess it's easy for a girl to dress herself out of geekiness, but it take a lot more, more than I've got, to take the girl out of true geekdom... I failed to appear cool, yet again!!! And I don't even really know chemistry... now that's sad.

Conjure in your mind all that is good and noble about SPAM from the taste perspective of a six year old. If you can get that taste profile in your mind, then you've got the perfect reflection of the meat part of this dish. If you can't remember what that taste like, either you are too food-snobbish or you haven't truly tasted SPAM. It is really not a bad taste. It is good. There is a whole state out there (Hawaii) that is crazy about the stuff. As for the pickled ramp, it tasted like a good pickled ramp should, mildly onioney, mildly pickley, lots refreshing. It's the perfect counterpoint to all that meatiness. On a side note, I sense that ramp may be labeled uncool soon since it has apparently become the food fad of the season. This is totally unfair to the poor ramp! The coolness of a vegetable should never be judged based on the fickle adoration of foodies...

I hope chef Blais wasn't getting tired of our bottomless stomachs at this point. We loved our mussels with fingerling potatoes even if it wasn't "different" like the rest of the food. It was mighty yummy and well executed.

The cuteness factor was big here. Peach nigiri with goat cheese and beet caviar. It all worked together very well, in a very non-sushi sort of way. Then again, I am biased because I love beets. Someone should love the lowly beets. They are good stuff.

Yup, we were totally overdressed for the place. We didn't really care. We do it more for each other (in a non-lesbian way) than for the establishment. But if you care to blend in, wear something more casual. This is over the top food in a casual setting.

Mmm... rib with mango sauce. It's mighty tasty with good fatty juices (do you see it glistening?). Even though the plate was quite sparse, the richness of the single rib took over the palate and did not leave me (after how many courses?) wanting more. I was very very satisfied.
But not satisfied enough to turn down dessert! What you see here is the best of my childhood snacking memories distilled into a single bowl. Cool and milky panna cotta went down like the best almond jelly my mom never made. Liquid nitrogen frozen coke fizzled in my mouth like pop rock. Crunchy cracker jack, what can I say about cracker jack, except that it is simply the most additively popable snack I adored. How did Blais know that this is the perfect ending to a most wonderful culinary journey? I guess that's why he is the chef and I am merely the eater.


Anonymous said...

Isn't it kind of messed up to post about a "makeup meal" where you are obviously getting special treatment versus the rest of the public? Lame.

Cathy said...

Well no, not really. If I had generalized and said that food is always awesome there and that you should run and spend all your money, then maybe. Even then, you still have a choice whether you want to listen to me. Why shouldn't I be able to describe an honestly good meal that I thoroughly enjoyed? It is my blog after all. Lameness is allow to rule here if I want.