We also opted for the wine pairing, though we asked him to cut down the number and amount of wine he poured as we were both cheap date type who couldn't handle much alcohol, not to mention we both had to drive back.
The first glass, a sparkly Segura Viudas “Brut Reserva Hereda” Cava from Spain, and the amuse arrived from the kitchen almost immediately, a piece of mini caramelized eggplant seasoned with Sri Lankan spices. It was very lovely, slightly sweet and spiced, just a perfect start to get your taste buds tickled.
The first real course arrived just a couple minutes later, wild Steelhead salmon roe wrapped ravioli-like in a clear wrapping, with Tosaka seaweed in cucumber water. This was a lovely bite, the salty and pristinely fresh salmon roe was complimented well by the seaweed and refreshing cucumber water.
Then came one of his famous offerings, charred pineapple, smoked salmon seasoned with Japanese shichimi togarashi spice and soy foam. Each component came skewed on a long metal contraption that sloped tantalizingly in front of you. It's difficult to explain, you just have to look at the photo to understand it. Our server told us to take the whole thing off the metal contraption with our mouth and in one bite. I looked at Louisa, slightly alarmed, she looked back reassuringly, and so I did.
It was the most interesting sensation. You could really see how the whole experience of this little bite was completely designed, down to where each component touched a different part of your mouth. The front part of the mouth tasted the sweetness of the charred pineapple, the middle of the tongue tasted the savory fish, while just at the back of your throat, the soy foam tickled you very pleasantly. It was amazing, and a true sign of what was to come. We were served a very nice glass of Josef Schmid “Reid Kremser Gebling” Gruner Veltliner from Austria with this and the next few courses.
Next was tempura of Maine shrimp, flavored with vanilla, cranberry, and Meyer lemon. This tempura came at the end of a vanilla pod, served in another metal contraption designed specifically for him by an industrial designer. It was quite a sight. We were again told to eat this in one bite. I grabbed on to one end, trying to hold it like a stick while nibbling off the tempura from the top, but the vanilla bean was much to pliant and refused to cooperate. I looked on helplessly at my vanilla pod, limp and weighed down with the tempura, not entirely sure what to do. Louisa, ever the trooper, picked hers up with the tempura dangling at the bottom end, tilted her head up, and lowered that baby down to her mouth, in one gulp. Damn she was good. Never one to be upstaged, I did the same with mine, but not before I looked around to make sure no one was looking. :-)
It was, again, a perfectly delectable little bite, a very interesting combination of flavor, savory shrimps in light tempura batter, punctuated by a heady vanilla scent, and a slight sweetness and tangy cranberry and meyer lemon. I didn't think the combination would work, but it did, most beautifully so.
I was slightly relieved to see that the next dish came in a normal-looking plate. It was a “soup” of chilled English peas, with ramps, eucalyptus, ham, and yogurt foam. Though it was served in a conventional plate, this was no less interesting than the first two. He managed to wrestle the yogurt foam so that it formed a shape like a flan, and was stable enough to handle a dollop of steelhead roes over the top. Around the mound of foam was the puree of English peas, with ham and fresh peas dotted throughout. This was a marvelous show of technique, not to mention absolutely delicious, the salty ham, the “green” taste of the peas, and the creamy yogurt foam formed a lovely mélange of flavors and textures. I was beginning to think that Grant Achatz was a genius.
The next course was another mouthful, a “Truffle Explosion”. A mouthful of “soup dumpling” like truffle ravioli. He used the same technique as the famous Shianghainese Xiao Long Bao, a Chinese soup dumpling made with ground meat and meat gelee wrapped in a wonton wrapping. As the it cooks, the gelee melts, turning the dumpling into soupy explosion as one bites into it. This was the same idea, except the flavor comes from black truffle. The little mouthful was served on a spoon, covered with a thin slice of truffle. I must admit I didn't like this much, finding the truffle taste to be far too benign. The slice of truffle looked a bit different than the beautifully marbled black truffles that I'm used to seeing in Europe. Instead it was looking oddly pale, even though it was indeed a black truffle. It didn't smell much like truffle either. I guess one shouldn't have expected so much this far out of the season.
The next thing that arrived was also on a plate, luckily. It was in fact a beautiful plate of green and white asparagus, chamomile sauce, with geoduck clams, verju sorbet, poached quail egg, a mound of cilantro puree, and “apricot”. Everything was bright tasting and went very well together, although if I were to be nitpicky I would have to say that the “apricot”, amazing as it was technique-wise, didn't taste very strongly of apricot at all. I suppose I should let Louisa explain how this apricot drop was made, she's seen it done so many times, but from what I heard it involved apricot puree and some funky science lab experiment to get the apricot puree to resemble an egg yolk. The taste was purely of apricot, just not very strongly so. I couldn't help thinking that a piece of perfect Blenheim apricot (at the height of the season at this very moment in the Bay Area) would taste better than that bland apricot drop.
Next we had a dish of Maine Lobster, served in a pool of Thai tea with aromatic bread. I didn't like this much. The lobster was fresh and tasted fine, but, being the tea snob that I am, I found the taste of the tea far too muddy and bitter. The tea was most definitely over-brewed, and the spices added to it didn't help the matter much. The aromatic bread was made mostly of peanuts, tasting very much like peanut butter, and adding to the general muddy taste of the dish. I did like the artichoke hearts stuffed with gelee, very interesting and tasty. But the artichoke alone couldn't save the dish, it remained the most disappointing one of that meal.
And just when I was about to sit back and relax, yet another intriguing contraption landed on our table. This one, called a ‘boat” by the servers, looked to us more like a cloth drying line, hanging from which were two pieces of white Pekin duck, with green garlic, Australian rainforest plums, and bits of foie gras. How the chef got all those tiny bits to stick to the duck I would never know. We were given a mini tong, and instructed to retrieve the duck pieces with said implement, and to eat the thing, yes, in one bite. The retrieval of the duck proved to be trickier than it looked, and I ended up discarding those treacherous tongs and opted for my fingers instead. Yummy little morsel it was.
The next dish, back on a regular plate, was Elysian farm lamb, sunflower plant, and a bag of “crispy texture”. The lamb was cooked sous-vide, and was tender and delicious. The bag of crispy textures, made with the same flavors on the lamb, but dried, including dried bits of lamb meat as well. It was just superb, the most interesting blend of flavors and contrasting textures. Flawless, simply flawless.
By now I lost count completely of how many dishes we've had, and not that we cared, really. I was far too happy when a small plate arrived at our table, contorting on top of which was a piece of perfect fried pork skin, Chicharones. Here's what Louisa said about this dish, and I agree with her every word.
“I think the Chicharrones may have been the MOST successful dish. I love how each thin strand of crispy pork skin curls so randomly and dynamically - a wildness that I miss in most gastronomic cuisine. And the avant-garde "delivery system" - our fingers. And then there's the contrast of flavours and textures and temperatures - from the warm, funky pork fat - to the tart and juicy pickled tomato seed packet - and that fragrant scattering of lime zest - with the fine, frozen shavings of avocado - to the mouth-tingling, sensual, and pleasantly lingering heat of the spicy red pepper powder. I only wish that that beautifully thick, deep green, cilantro puree would have tasted more of cilantro. It was - as you would say - too benign.”
I asked the M.D. to pack me a bag of this delicious pork rind to go. I loved it so much and was hoping to live on them while in Indiana the next day. He was smiling, laughing at my joke, until, well, until he realized it wasn't a joke, at which time the look on his face became slightly alarmed. Or was it horrified?
Next to arrive was Ribeye of Prime Beef, with spring lettuces, morel mushrooms, and smoked tongue. The tongue came under an overturned glass filled with smoke from hickory chips. The glass was upturned at the table, revealing the most intoxicating perfume. I loved it so much I picked up the glass and took a sniff inside it. It was utterly stupid as I couldn't smell anything but the hickory for the next ten minutes! I almost asked for a few coffee beans to help restore my olfactory senses. Everything on this plate was tasty, especially the tongue, just fantastic.
Our meat dishes was accompanied by a far too tannic and fruity White Cottage “Risa” Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa.
The following course was another mouthful, mini crackers filled with parmesan cheese cream. They called it “cheese 'n cracker”. It was ok. This was supposed to be a play on nostalgia, but then again I didn't grow up here so I didn't quite get it. Too bad.
I let out a little sigh of relief when I saw the next course, clearly a palate cleanser. This was yet another creative play, a small thin disk of frozen WillaKenzie verju flavored with thyme. The treacherous little tongs reappeared, but worked much better with this one than with the duck. Unfortunately, I didn't quite get this one either. To me, it tasted vaguely like ice that had been lingering far too long in a crowded freezer. Well, that, or freezer burn.
By now, the restaurant was empty but for our table, it was long past midnight. But we have a few more dishes yet to try. The next one was red wine braised rhubarb, with strawberries, violets, goat milk sorbet. The serving dish looked like a little shot glass, but the Sommelier came by to pick the glass up, revealing that it was not a glass but a glass tube, and turning the dish into a beautiful nage of rhubarb, strawberries, and goat milk sorbet. Simply superb.
Well, the chef was not quite done playing with us yet. The next thing he sent out of the kitchen arrived in a little glass tube, very much resembling your standard test tube. It was laid flat on a plate, clearly showing the beautifully layered contents of Moulard duck foie gras, blueberries, sorrel puree, and cinnamon tapioca, in that order. We were instructed to pick up the tube, put it in our mouth, and suck down the content, yes, in one go. I really wasn't sure about this, but did so anyway, ever so reluctantly. Plus, my lungs were not so strong, so I only managed about half the content of the tube with one inhale. Frankly, I couldn't taste anything much here, it was good, but nothing spectacular, well except the container and the manner in which it was consumed. The taste itself was so so.
To accompany our desserts, the Sommelier poured us Broadbent/Justino Henrique 10-year Malmsey Madeira. I'm not a big fan of Madeira so I found it just nice.
The next dessert was more conventional warm Ocumare chocolate, served with yeast ice cream, pistachio cream, and flax seed nougatine, with a disk of Sierra Nevada stout gelee underneath it . Apparently the kitchen was shooting for the texture of a chocolate bar that had been left in a hot car, remaining in shape yet completely soft. They succeed, resulting in the most velvety texture and intense taste of chocolate. I didn't quite get the yeast ice cream though, nor did I like the flax seed nougatine much.
The last thing was Tripod Hibiscus, again served on an innovative metal tripod looking thing that collapse into a holder for the hibiscus popsicle. It was very nice.
The meal finally came to an end, with a lovely shot of espresso to keep me awake long enough to navigate back to my hotel near the airport. What an interesting and fascinating journey it had been! We asked for an 8-course menu, but were completely spoiled with who knows how many of them, I lost count! The cooking was flawless, and the dishes mostly superb and extremely creative, if ever so slightly obscene. I mean, this is not the kind of dinner you would want to bring your mother. There were far too many, mouth this, suck that, lick thisI :-) I wouldn't bring a first date either, really. Hmm, well perhaps, depending on what one expects out of said first date, I suppose.
Joking aside, Grant Achatz has got to be the most underappreciated chef in the whole country. Not that he is not famous, mind you, but he's not nearly as famous as he deserves to be. I find him the most interesting chefs in the US at the moment. His food was inventive, blending the sensibility from the French Laundry and El Bulli, if that's possible! He is definitely what a love child of Ferran Adria and Thomas Keller would look like. His food was highly inventive, but, unlike some other avant garde restaurants around the world, he never lost sight of the fact that a dish should be, first and foremost, delicious.
I am very glad I made it to Trio to taste the magic while it lasted.