Gavin Schmidt Re-Pop @El Take It Easy

>> Sunday, October 30, 2011

Date of Dining: 10/26/2011
Price: $45 for 5 courses
Location: 3926 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104

The Quick Bit:
+ (Relatively) Cheap prices for Chef Schmidt's Food
+ Nice range of dishes
+ Great celebration for National Seafood Month
Δ Some inconsistencies in preparation
Δ Atmosphere of the restaurant and Chef Schmidt's food are not the best pairing

Being a one time popup, I was conflicted whether to review this experience as others would not be able to go. However, with the "new" Blanca dying before it even opened, I thought it appropriate to cover this event. Hopefully I will have time to make a second post later this week to a restaurant all are able to visit.
In the many times I've covered Chef Gavin Schmidt in the past, he was always the head chef at Blanca. In the previous coverage, I surmised that Chef Schmidt may in fact be a hobbit. With the closure of Blanca being something akin to the Scouring of the Shire, this pop up was supposed to be something like seeing Chef Schmidt try to open a pop-up at The Prancing Pony.
As the month of October is National Seafood Month, Chef Schmidt celebrated the theme by having an all seafood pop-up. I can only assume that Chef Schmidt knows some other Stoorish Hobbits that helped him catch all the seafood, but ultimately I was just happy to get to eat his food again.
Having previously been to The Prancing Pony El Take it Easy, I decided not to order of the regular menu and instead opted entire for the pop up food.

First Course:
Still Life of Local Waters - local spiny lobster, uni, smoked avocado, dashi vinnaigrette
Still Life was one of favorite dishes at Blanca, and having this one really satisfied a craving I had long been having. This particular Still Life was not as good as the ones at Blanca if only because the dashi gelatin layer was a little too thick. I attribute this to different equipment being used to produce the gelatin layer. Still the extra thick gelatin didn't ruin it dish, it just changed up the expected flavors and textures a bit.

Second Course:
Kobacha Squash Chawan Mushi - Erendira abalone, pickled radish, slow cooked egg
The slow cooked egg really worked well in this dish. The earthiness of the yolk really tied the pickled spicyiness of the kimchee with the abalone and gave a luxurious earthy mouthful. That said, I ended up getting caught up in the naming of the dish as a chawanmushi as this dish was more like a deconstructed chawanmushi.

Third Course:
Cassoulet of Baja White Prawns - fresh shelling beans, scallop boudin, nasturtium pistou
While I generally dislike bean dishes, the prawn and the scallop boudin did distract me enough to enjoy the dish. If that wasn't enough, some of the dishes included some chicharones in the garnish, which totally took the dish to another level. The crunch and flavor of the chicharones really contrasted to the more delicate, yet intensely flavored seafood and brought the dish to another level.

Surprise Course:
Since my table had ordered four of the previous course, we found that some of the dishes did not include chicharrone garnish while others did. To make up for missing this, Chef Schmidt sent out a plate of Chicharrones for the table. We heartily dug in and enjoyed this.

Fourth Course:
Seared Wild Mexican Red Rock Cod - chorizo mussel broth, olive oil, poached potato, kale
The mussel was cooked perfectly in this dish and really brought out a nice flavor contrast to that of the rock cod. The potato was also cooked beautifully as it was delicate and full of flavor. Unfortunately, the rock cod was overcooked and somewhat lacking in flavor.

Fifth Course:
Fried Chicken and Octopus - fried pastured chicken from Tag Farms, stewed wild Mexican octopus
This was the best dish of the night. Chef Schmidt mentioned that in a recent trip to New Orleans, he was inspired by the Southern flavors and fried chicken, so he wanted to share that. The dish he created to celebrate that memory was a success. The fried chicken was succulent and moist and the octopus stew was full of spice and flavor. The only slight complaint about the dish is that the octopus was a little chewy.

Overall, I thought the food was very nice. Unfortunately, the food isn't always the entire experience when eating out. When I said that Chef Schmidt was essentially popping up at The Prancing Pony, I really meant that all the way complete with all the raucous and bawdy behavior that could be expected in a medieval tavern. While there was not a dark, hooded stranger in the back named Strider, the food did seem a little out of place with the environment of the restaurant.
I wish Chef Schmidt the best in finding a new place and look forward to any other events he may be holding in the meantime. Meanwhile, let us hope that a newer and better Shire in constructed where Chef Schmidt can showcase the amazing food I know he is capable of producing.


TWO FOODIES – ONE JOURNEY October 30, 2011 at 11:40 PM  

We are surprised that the fried chicken and octopus was inspired by a recent NO trip from Gavin because we had the dish about a year ago at our first visit to Blanca under him

James October 31, 2011 at 7:52 AM  

@TwoFoodiesOneJourney - I was just repeating how Chef Schmidt explained the dish. He came out to talk to the table when he sent the final course and that's how he introduced it. Perhaps the flavoring of the octopus stew was more had more creole seasoning?

TWO FOODIES – ONE JOURNEY October 31, 2011 at 12:44 PM  

Perhaps he meant an earlier trip to NO because even on his Twitter account he twittered a picture of the dish and mentioned "... the trimuphant return" or he is just getting old and forgets things ;)

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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
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