A Simple Supper with Gavin Schmidt/Happy Birthday gastrobits!

>> Sunday, February 12, 2012

Date of Dining: 2/10/2012
Price: $150 for everything including alcohol pairing and service
Location: Shhh!... It's a secret!

The Quick Bit:
+ Chef Schmidt's last service in San Diego?
+ Illuminati excitement around an underground dinner
+ A real standout dish all around
Δ The price could have better reflected the experience, especially for no alcohol options
Δ Some dishes could have used better technical execution

My how time flies! Today marks the 1 year anniversary of gastrobits! In the 1 year since I've started blogging about my food adventures, I've over 35,000 hits to the blog. In the last year, I've learned a lot about photography; I upgraded from a point and shoot to a DSLR and then upgraded DSLRs once I understood what I wanted out of my camera (I'm currently shooting on a Sony SLT-A77 in case anyone is wondering). I've gone from posting on my whim to posting regularly once a week to posting twice a week. I've gone from an irascible, irritable dalek in my criticism to an effusive, ebullient gourmand. Okay I think some of the geeky humor could probably return to the blog - maybe I can be the Chris Pine James T. Kirk instead of the William Shatner James T. Kirk.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the visitors to the Chefs who have put up with me and given me some very memorable meals. It is an honor and a privilege to taste the artistry that is put into composing the dishes and I hope many more chefs will share will be their artistry in the future. I also want to thank all the readers, especially those who follow all my posts. You are the ones that keep this thing going. I hope you have all been able to share in my appreciation of the food put out for me to eat, and I hope I can continue to share these experiences with you.
When I thought about what I was going to post about for the 1 year anniversary, I had all sorts of weird ideas. However, doing some sort of summary post didn't seem appropriate as we just had the gastrobit awards for 2011. Naturally I came back to the meal that convinced me to start writing a blog - more specifically I came back to the chef that prepared that meal for me- Chef Gavin Schmidt. What better way to celebrate the 1 year birthday than with another meal with the Chef that inspired me to start it all?
Chef Gavin Schmidt needs no introduction on this site - I have enjoyed countless dinners with him in the past year. I've even started the conspiracy theory that Chef Schmidt is actually a hobbit. Unfortunately, since the closing of Blanca, I chef Schmidt has not been able to find another restaurant to helm. He is to the point where he is going to be moving back to San Francisco. Thus the meal you are about read about was one of Chef Schmidt's last meals in San Diego. For those other hobbit fans out there, rest assured that if he does have another pop-up event I will do my best to be there to cover it.
A Simple Supper is a San Diego incarnation of the underground dinner concept. In an underground dinner, guests congregate at a secret location where a chef prepares a meal for the diners. Generally, underground dinners occur because food is served that otherwise cannot be served at a restaurant (certain cheeses, foie gras, etc), or because there is some specific theme to the dinner (miracle berry). By joining the mailing list, perspective guests receive an email about a dinner and then arrange to attend if the details interest them.
In this particular underground dinner, the theme seemed to be a mix of Chef Schmidt's San Diego goodbye and a special experience for Valentines Day. As most know, Valentines Day is a notoriously bad time to go out for dinner in a restaurant if you actually want good food. The food provided by Chef Schmidt in the underground dinner would hopefully be far superior to what is served in another restaurant.

Hors d'ourves:
champagne cocktail
The champagne took on some of the minty flavor, but was otherwise a sweet and buttery champagne.
ciccoli - mango, caviar
The hors d'oevres started with some of Chef Schmidt's famous charcuterie - more specifically the ciccoli (my favorite). This particular piece was enhanced by being wrapped with mango and topped with caviar. The sweetness of the mango cut into some of the rich fat of the ciccoli and was complemented by the saltiness of the caviar.

profiterole -oyster mushroom, parmesan, mustard
Somehow I missed taking a photo of the profiterole (cause I got too excited for the next one). The profiterole was a bite-sized piece of puff pastry. The center filling was a warm gooey mass of the cheese, parmesan, and mushrooms. The creamy filling left a nice mouth-feel during the tasting and was seasoned well. The mustard prevent the cheese from being too overwhelming and the mushrooms added an element of both umami and earthiness.
still life - oyster, spot prawn, apple, uni, avocado, dashi
While the still life returned in bite-sized form, the composition of it was completely different to the one I got used to. The smokey flavor of the dish came through in the dashi, but the overall taste of the dish changed in the one-bite form. While certain elements that were usually enjoyed alone couldn't really be savored in the same way, I was still happy with the composed bite. My mouth pretty much told me too many good tastes were happening together at the same time and filtered out some of the flavors to prevent my mind from becoming overloaded.
dumpling - chicken, foie gras
This dish was a take on the dish I named the best dish I had in 2011. This dumpling was very similar to a xiao long bao except that instead of the pork filling it was chicken, and instead of the pork stock base, it was a foie gras stock. The foie gras was definitely apparent in the flavoring of the dish and it was a great bite to get the foie flavor. Again, the dumpling skin was hand rolled, delicate, and just the correct thickness.

First Course:
salad of dungeness crab - carrot, lemongrass, pea tendril, rau ram, creme fraiche, wood green sorrel, lime
This was the best dish of the night for me. All around the table, we though this dish was truly special - it was perhaps the best dish I've had since TBL3. Right away, the smell the dish gave when it was brought out was amazing as the smell of the crab permeated the senses.
Chef Schmidt commented that he is unable to serve this dish in a restaurant due to the logistics in creating the carrot gelatin sheet that wraps around the crab salad. In this dish, the sweetness of the carrot complements the sweetness of the crab while the creme fraiche marries the elements for a silky mouth-feel. The herbs provide some pepperiness that moderates the sweetness. While the technical explanation might sound good, sometimes the emotional response might be better; this dish just really highlighted the purity of flavor in dungeness crab - it showed me the essence of dungeness crab flavor.

Second Course:
artichoke nasturtium soup - roasted fennel, roasted artichoke, nasturtium
The nasturtium soup was pureed to a very silky smooth texture. The mouth feel was very full bodied and luxurious in the mouth. The nasturtium soup reminded me of watercress in flavor, which gives a mix of an herb and pepper flavor. The roasted fennel added a nice herb contrast flavor, while the roasted artichoke added some earthy flavors. Overall it was a solid soup.

Third Course:
roasted duck breast - puffed faro, foie gras sausage, duck skin, cashew, granola,
cara cara orange, cauliflower
The best part of this dish was the foie gras sausage - it had a deep rich flavor that I just couldn't get enough of. The puffed faro, granola, and cashew mixture was nice as well. The elements gave a lot of additional texture to the dish. I felt the cara cara orange was a key component to the dish and wished there was more to it. Orange is a classic flavor to pair with duck and the additional acidity and sweetness from the orange may have enhanced this dish even more.

Fourth Course:
grilled beef brisket - yam mosaic, truffle vinaigrette, raddicchio 
The brisket was cooked sous vide first before being finished off on the grill. The truffle sauce gave the dish a mouth-watering aroma and paired well with both the yams and the brisket. The brisket was well-cooked and featured a grass fed brisket the way beef should taste. 

Fifth Course:
earl gray cake - candied kumquat, pine nut brittle, orange blossom ice cream
The pine nut brittle was easily the best part of this dish, but the earl gray cake was fantastic as well. The cake really captured the flavor of the tea and was a nice savory cake to contrast the sweetness from the brittle and the sweetness from the ice cream. The ice cream almost acted like a frosting sauce use to tie the brittle and cake together. The candied kumquat added just a bit of tartness and acidity to round out the dish. 

To finish off, we were given a chocolate heart and some chocolate chip cookies as a parting gift.

Overall, I was extremely pleased with the dinner. Chef Schmidt's cooking skills were on display and they haven't diminished since Blanca closed. The dungeness crab salad goes on as the first amazing dish of 2012. If I'm going to have more dishes of that caliber to have to compare for the gastrobits awards, then I'm going to eating very well this year.
As of the time of this writing, there may still be two seats available for the Simple Supper on Valentines day. If you are interested, feel free to send your email information to the Simple Supper website to reserve the spot.


Michelle Tran February 13, 2012 at 9:42 AM  

It's so disappointing that SD couldn't appreciate such a great chef. Why do people buy into overhyped restaurants that serve poorly executed food? Inconceivable!

Kirbie February 13, 2012 at 11:03 AM  

Congrats on your one year blog anniversary

James February 14, 2012 at 9:38 AM  

@Michelle - SD did appreciate Gavin, but I don't think he really embraced some of the PR initiatives to get his name out among the movers and shakers.
@Kirbie - Thanks!

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About This Blog

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.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
If any special treatment is provided to the blogger, full disclosure is presented at the beginning of the post.

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