Archive for a1 best meals

Saison (SF) – Fire and Time

This fire started in 2010. A few different leaves were elaborately grilled for striking contrasts in texture. Small smoky bursts stuck to the last pops of caviar. Embers kissed fish with a sudden puff of smoke. Smoky fragrances in light seafood bone broths. Vegetables painted with gradations of carbon across their surfaces. Aged proteins grilled on the primal flame. A slow burn for four years and twenty meals – from pop-up to three stars.

The hearth is inspiration and draw.1 But it does not solely define Saison’s identity.

Honoring ingredients has been a Saison dictum since its earliest days. Serve the best ingredients available with the minimum intervention to exact their ideals. This approach is increasingly tied to the idea of place. Each season sees the restaurant getting more local. Farming plots are de rigueur and Saison now has one. Despite the cliche, there is a huge advantage for plucking produce at its prime, hours before serving. Dairy now comes from their own cow – what comparison can be made between fresh raw milk and even the best commercial product? Seafood comes from local waters, using their own boat.

Roe
Battle Creek trout roe

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Willows Inn Summer ’14 – Elemental

Has it become a summer ritual? Queue up the car. Pay the ferry and cross the choppy waters. Disembark and roll down the windows. Turn right and follow the island’s loose curves for three miles. Look for the wafts of smoke drift across the road. The same journey every year offers a total escape with each visit.

Crisp air. Overflowing greens brush along the roadside. Red, blue, and pink dots pop in the brush. A kaleidoscope of buoys pop even brighter on Legoe Bay. Purple starfish crawl in the tide pools. A brilliant blue sky hugs the world. And on some nights, just before dusk, black and white orcas breach the still waters.

“When the trees are gone the sky will fall and we and the salmon will be no more,” reads an ancient Lummi prophesy, but the waves might continue to crash. Water is always the background – the island’s natural rhythm and heartbeat. On a sunny summer day, every view has a twinkle of light cast from the water. Of boats and birds bobbing. Of seaweed cast back and forth. Of entire schools swimming just under the waves.

This is the annual backdrop for two summer meals on Lummi Island.

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Aubergine – A Walk on the Sea

The water crashes. Birds squawk. A salty smell is swept briskly through the seaside town of Carmel By The Sea. Wave after wave, dish after dish. Four blocks uphill, Justin Cogley and Aaron Koseba walk along the ocean’s edge. Of seaweeds and tidal pools.

The salt clings to the palate. Seaweed curls around the plate, jut out as dried chips, or accent like an aquatic herb. And sometimes they pop like caviar. Raw fish is not the only vector of a seafood cuisine. Local ingredients from the Monterey Bay are showcased and championed but the far side of the sea is still the same sea. A recurring brine, rhythmic like a wave, threads the meal. By plate. By terroir. By imagination. A journey into the wine-dark sea.1

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Commis (Oakland) – A Quiet Calm

Oh, the helpless customers beguiled by tyrannical tasting menus. They are unwittingly tricked into a gluttony they did not want. Disregarded in the chatter, however, is the ability of extended menus to better showcase intricate food. The longer form creates a narrative space,1 where the chef can explore and create dishes that unfold on their own terms. The tasting menu at Commis now has a depth and nuance that better frames its sophisticated dishes. The tyranny, in fact, is a liberation from the previous disjointed a la carte offering.2

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Perfect Meal 2012

The smoke, the wild, the vegetable, the historical, and the aged – many themes championed here have finally reached a critical mass in 2012. Some are already official trends for 2013. It would be easy to dismiss them as simply stylish but a few chefs have been walking down these paths for some time. And I was fortunate enough to eat their stunning dishes this year.

It was a domestic year with zero passport stamps. An island enchanted me for two days. There, I discovered a new chef and found new perspectives on old favorites. In New Jersey, a day trip from the city, an exciting meal showed two chefs ready for a national stage. In red-hot Charleston, the puzzle pieces of history and modern came together in a remarkable conversation with the past. And the embers kept slowly burning, faint smoke and bitter char, gripping me over and over again. There was no Paris. No Tokyo. No San Sebastian. But the blank pages of 2012 were filled instead with interesting chefs in the United States.

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