after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

elaborating upon ela

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t says:  Since opening, Ela has received a ton of praise for the quality of food, with much love and adoration for Chef Cichonski’s incorporation of unexpected flavor combinations and a few cutting edge techniques.  We here at adsz have been waiting patiently to go.  Actually – that’s not true – we’ve been rather impatient with our waiting and have  been trying our hardest to get there.  And now … we finally did.

May 2012, Wednesday Dinner, Party of 3.  g, g’s friend, and I rolled up into Ela for our reservation and found it to be kind of empty.  We couldn’t help but wonder why this would be the case, that is, until we realized that it was a Wednesday evening.  Right.  That’ll do it.  The decor keeps it warm and inviting – lots of browns, yellow light (courtesy of “artisanal light bulbs”, right?), and nothing super-flashy (no goofy chandeliers, no pointless splashes of color).  It puts you at ease, right away.  As I eyed the wine preservation system behind the bar, I looked forward to seeing what values they might have to share.

We were greeted, seated, and had the menu explained to us – including a $45 fixed price lobster “tasting menu”.  At first, I eschewed the fixed price menu, figuring that I wanted to choose each course for myself.  But then, while perusing the real menu, I kept getting lost.  Everything sounded so good (or at least so interesting) that I just couldn’t put a combination together that I felt was superior to any other.  As the waitress came around to get our order, I realized that I was spending too much time thinking – I needed to stop (I am on vacation, after all).  So I caved – one tasting menu for me!

lobster lobster lobster!

g, on the other hand, manned up and picked out the courses she desired.  With our drinks in hand (I went for the Trimbach Pinot Blanc while g and her friend went with some very well-crafted cocktails), we sat back and watched the show …

g’s first: pea soup + poppy meringue + mint + some-kinda-cured-meat

It’s hard to make pea soup look pretty in a picture – it looks like a puddle of green.  At least we can say that it tasted for better than the photo makes it look.  That poppy meringue and mint really livened up the deep pea flavors – it was a perfect accompaniment for a hot summer day (actually, I said at one point: “It makes me wish it was warmer in here just so I could really make use of how refreshing the soup is!”).  It wasn’t life-changing, but definitely a solid start.

t’s first: lobster curry + golden beat + coconut ice cream

My first dish arrived and I was psyched – it’s been a while since I’ve had some good lobster.  Scratch that – if you count the “lobster chicken“, then I guess I had it a couple weeks ago (but I’m not counting that).  Let me start off by saying that nothing in this dish was bad – and as far as “curries” go, this was bright and lively, which I like.  However, I felt that the lobster didn’t really have a place, as it was a little too subtle (I did get some lobster sweetness, but not much more than that) when compared to the punch of curry, the texture of the beets, and the cold of the ice cream (or was it ?sorbet?).  The balance was a little off for my taste, as it felt more like a beet curry than a lobster one.

g’s second: gnocchi + cauliflower + filberts (hazelnuts) + unidentified ingredient

Welcome to the gnocchi.  Not a visual stunner, but man-o-man, it was some mighty-fine, mighty-interesting gnocchi.  The pasta was light and fluffy and kind of fun to eat with the similarly shaped cauliflower (you never knew what the cauliflower:gnocchi ratio was going to be), and the cheesy/creamy sauce/foam with the sweet, earthy hazelnuts was amazing.  My tongue didn’t know what hit it.  It’s got to be the dish of the night!

t’s second: lobster croquette + pork belly + mustard + other sauces

Mmmmm.  Pork belly.  I’m a sucker for pork belly … and have had it pretty much every place I’ve found it – maybe that makes me kind of a pork belly “expert” (or at least I could play one on TV).  So how was Ela’s pork belly?  I’d give it a “good”.  Tender?  Check.  Flavorful?  Smoky barbecue – check.  But I prefer my belly a little juicier – perhaps deeply glazed or smothered or sauced.  In this preparation, the pork belly was kind of naked … but that’s so it can pair with lobster, right?  Kinda.  I’m down with a lobster-pig combo, but something was a little off in this dish.  The croquettes were breaded/fried, meaning they had a decent amount of fatty richness, already.  Then when you add on the fat of the belly, the dish comes off a little “heavy”.  The smears of sauce just couldn’t cut through it well enough.  My wine attempted to, but was outmatched by the fat content of the food.  As for the lobster flavor?  Once again – it was a little lost with everything else going on – between the pig flavor, the mustard, and the sauces.  I like where he intended to go but feel like he was blown off course a little bit …

g’s third: scallop noodles + curry

So this is the fabled dish that everyone talks about – the scallop noodles.  Now, I understand the novelty – it’s noodles that are made of scallop – so that’s fun.  But I think we need to put on our thinking caps before we praise this dish up and down for being “soooo good”.  If this was a curry with plain ol’ scallops, would it be considered good?  I’d say probably not.  If these were normal scallops, you’d want to see some caramelization on them to bring in some deeper flavors, and not just the flavor/texture you get in the middle of a scallop.  The curry, itself, was fine, but the sum of flavors was a little underwhelming.  So it’s clear that this the dish relies on the novelty of the scallop noodles … but now let’s go back to the scallop noodles. Are they super-cool?  Kinda.  there’s a bit of mystique attached to them … that is … until I burst your bubbly and tell you how they’re made (or at least how I think they were made) – it didn’t involve sorcery, fancy cutting equipment, or ginormous scallops!  Now, I’m no Ela cook, however, I’m 99% sure they were created in a manner similar to how Wylie Dufresne (of WD-50) makes shrimp noodles: transglutaminase!  In short, transglutaminase is an enzyme that can be be used to chain together certain amino acids in proteins (that’s an oversimplification)!  So if you have one slab of meat and another slab of meat, you could [in an oversimplified manner] throw on some transglutaminase and glue them together (although “glue” is a little misleading for what’s really going on here).  What I suspect Ela did was puree some scallop, mix it with transglutaminase, and extrude it into the pasta shape of choice (once again – oversimplified).  If this is true, then it’s not magic – it’s science.  (Of course, if this is NOT how these are made, then I’m completely wrong and stupid, and I apologize to the Ela team for spreading lies.)  So I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you just get around the idea of eating scallops in noodle form, I think most people would feel like dish needs a bit more going on in the flavor department …

t’s third: lobster brick + lentils + peas + truffle powder

This was probably the best of the three lobster dishes.  The hunks of lobster was nice – but to be honest, I thought he was going to meat-glue together some lobster so that the lobster would be presented as an actual brick (like Momofuku brick chicken).  It wasn’t, but that’s ok.  In this dish, I could finally feel the lobster taking center stage (or at least joining the front line with the other flavors), so I was happy.  The lentils and peas still had a bit of bite to them, and the truffle powder was a great way to get the flavor onto the dish without overpowering the lobster or sauce – I’m a huge fan!  My lobster was a wee bit over-cooked, but I was so happy to see an actual hunk of lobster that I didn’t mind.

dessert = chocolate + butterscotch + lemon + Asian puffed rice crackers

This was a wonderful dessert – it just took me a while to figure out how to approach it.  The secret: mash it all up and stick it in your mouth.  This multi-component dessert really needs a contribution from each to get moving.  The rice crackers brought in a bit of heat and some of that “funk” (my college roommate called them “fart crackers” … he was a little culturally insensitive … but very funny …), and the lemons kept the palate springy and ready for the next bite.  I really liked the surprise of this dish.  The execution could probably use a little work (maybe some kind of intricately layered dessert that could be eaten more gracefully?), but I like where they’re going …

Ela had its fair share of highs and lows, and I’m afraid that I just can’t jump on the Ela bandwagon yet.  Don’t get me wrong – the meal was good, and the three of us had a great time together, but I think that the dishes could use a little more refinement to really push Ela over the edge so that it can join the ranks of Bibou and Fond.  Right now, I put it just under Talula’s Garden in my book – Talula’s doesn’t have as many “tricks”, but does a better job with flavor depth and balance (and its sweets and cheeses absolutely crush dessert every time!)  But I’ll keep an eye out for Ela, as I’m sure Cichonski’s going places.

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Written by afterdinnersneeze

4 June 2012 at 10:47pm

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