>> Sunday, October 16, 2011
Price: $125 for 14 course tasting menu
Location: 565 5th Ave, San Diego, CA
The Quick Bit:
+ Modern Technique in San Diego
+ Chef is not afraid to take chances in the dishes
+ Great sauces
+ Unique and Fun Culinary Experience
Δ Some dishes could have been edited
Δ Pacing of the courses could have been more consistent
Blue Point Coastal Cuisine is one of the Cohn group of restaurants. Long known for selling an experience that was distinctly not great tasting food, the Cohn group has recently been trying to offer better food in their restaurants and hire more renowned chefs. Situated in a prime location on 5th Ave in Gaslamp, Blue Point draws in tourists and locals alike for the food regularly. Even so, The Cohn Group hired Chef Daniel Barron to head the kitchen of Blue Point approximately one year ago.
Chef Barron is perhaps best known for his body of work at the previous restaurant he worked - Anqi - which was named one of the Top Ten Molecular Gastronomy experiences in the US by Gayot. Molecular Gastronomy (now being pushed as Modern Technique) is the process of using chemical agents and applying scientific techniques to food - usually to achieve better, more even cooking or to create a fun play on the ingredients to enhance the culinary experience.
Chef Barron attended the American Culinary Federation Apprenticeship program in Detroit and graduated from Wayne State University. He was a James Beard Award Semifinalist for best Chef of the Southeast while working at the Mad Platter in Nashville. He then worked in Cesca in New York, Donald Trump's Premier Casino Restaurant in New Jersey, and La Playa Beach and Golf in Naples, Florida before moving to Anqi and finally Blue Point.
I heard about Chef Barron's molecular menu about four months ago and wanted to try it, but was never able to organize anything during the busier summer months. Determined to finally get the experience, I called the restaurant when I noticed an online advertisement for the menu, and was able to organize a dinner for ten people approximately one month in advance. Normally, "The Experience" (as it is known at the restaurant) is only available on weeknights, but the restaurant seemed to make an exception and allow me to reserve the menu on a weekend. Perhaps as a result of the weekend day, another party of four managed to join in on the dinner with me.
In total, we would be experiencing 14 courses for the evening. Along with regular Saturday dinner service occurring at the same time, doing a 14 course special menu sounded like a Herculean feat...
|Dancing Bloody Mary - tomato water, vodka, dehydrated celery, horseradish, mustard,|
compressed watermelon, jalapeno salt rim
|Osetra - champagne and uzu gelee, mandarin orange, onion sea salt marscapone, chives|
|Lobster - corn nuts, pop rocks, chipotle jam preserve, micro basil and micro beat greens|
The pop rocks mixed with the lobster was done very well as with each bite of the lobster, the candy would pop in the mouth. The corn nuts were also a good textural contrast. The chipotle jam actually had amazing flavor on its own, but it didn't seem to go with the lobster that well. The additional sweetness didn't add anything to the natural sweetness of the lobster, and while the heat was welcome, it didn't really enhance the dish.
At this point we also asked for some bread and received some:
|Parmesan truffle bread|
|The Secret - Trio of Foie Gras, smoked almond gel, apple methocellulose dried foam|
Overall, this dish was a hit. The arugla converted several haters of arugla into eating it, and the smokiness in the sous vide foie gras was a very nice and welcome flavor. The almond gel and the dried apple foam added nice elements as well. Where the dish fell flat was the foie gras powder - the powder didn't really capture the taste of foie very well when it was re-integrated.
|Hiramasa - root beer, tsume, chili, nitro peanuts|
The quality of the fish was really high as the fatty flavor was as enjoyable as a high quality slice of sashimi. The tsume added a nice depth of flavor, and the peanuts a textural crunch. All of this was thrown for a loop in the end by the root beer flavored cotton candy. This is one of the dishes where I can appreciate the risk of wrapping the fish in the cotton candy, but I wasn't a fan of the preparation. I would have enjoyed the dish just fine without the cotton candy.
|Oyster - shaved serrano, ponzu air, nitro cracker|
When this dish came out, the ponzu air really added a sense of smell the dish as the fragrance attacked the olfactory senses. The serrano chili was placed to cut the richness of the oyster, but it was incredibly strong and the heat hung on the the back of the palette. Overall, this dish came down to whether or not you like oysters - those that liked oysters liked the dish while the ones that didn't were not converted.
|English Pea Soup - truffle milk froth, ground up espresso|
|Waygu Cheek - sweet corn and bacon puree; sage and cilantro gremolatta with white anchovy|
and raw almond; tomato, caper, shallot, and onion greens
|Tree - orange cotton candy, freeze dried fizzy strawberry|
|Natural Pork en Fuego - rendered bacon blackberry chili sphere, salted farmer's market radish puree,|
hickory char chip, barbecue sorbet, pickled radish, dried proscuitto noodles
Overall, I had fun with this dish and it was close to being a major hit, but just needed some editing.
|Ike Jime Striped Bass, Pork Belly, Kabocha, Spinach, Corn Nuts, shiso , Chicharrones,|
orange soy reduction
I really enjoyed the orange soy reduction in this dish. However, I almost felt that the bass and the pork belly were two separate elements that could have been served separately. Additionally, the shiso leaf seemed to be old and fibrous without conveying a lot of flavor. However, the dish was very well prepared and I was happy with it.
|Short Rib - horseradish hash brown, butterscotch confit garlic; roasted garlic, poblano, herb, guajillo sauce; pureed avocado|
The real winner of this dish was the horseradish has brown potatoes. These were prepared perfectly and the creamy horseradish really elevated the flavor of the beef. The short rib was well-cooked, but it seemed to be lacking one extra element to take it to the next level on its own.
|Banana Vanilla Cream pie - stabilized cinnamon whipped cream, granulated graham cracker,|
peanut butter powder, sea salt caramel
|The Sundae - liquid nitrogen ice cream, toasted peanuts, bacon, sweetened whipped cream,|
whiskey macerated cherries
Because liquid nitrogen freezes the cream so fast, the ice cream resembled more of a frozen custard or creme brulee. It was extremely smooth and without air bubbles, so it was rich and decadent. While I was worried about the bacon being added, it really did work in this Sundae. The saltiness, cured flavor, and crunch of the bacon all added nice contrasts to the sundae.
Overall, I was very happy with "The Experience." There was definitely some lack of refinement in the dishes, but I felt that this was because Chef Barron was not afraid to take risks. Serving 14 courses to 14 people in the middle of Saturday dinner service was a huge risk on its own. Yet, Chef Barron managed to pull off the meal. Chef Barron also mentioned that he prepared our entire meal on a 4x4 table using only two burners, which impressed me as well.
There were definitely a some nitpicks with some of the food; some food was too cold and should have been hotter, other dishes seemed to have too many components and needed to be edited. However, the food was fun to eat and tasted good on the whole.
If I went on flavor of the food alone, I would not be giving The Experience @Blue Point Coast Cuisine an award. However, I've often expressed that I feel chefs should try to cook more cutting edge food and take risks. In that a Chef in San Diego is taking these risks and still produced a fun and enjoyable meal means that I would be a bit hypocritical if I judged on food alone. Thus, when all is said and done, I am giving The Experience @Blue Point the megabyte award.