Evolve Cuisine - A Modern Tribute to the Classic Cuisine of America's Finest City

>> Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Date of Dining: 4/30/2012
Price: $55 per ticket
Location: 3933 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104

The Quick Bit:

+ great surprise to end the meal
+ continued improvement in the pop up scene
+ great value for the caliber of food
Δ some dishes could have been warmer

When I last attended an Evolve Cusisine pop-up dinner, it was their first attempt at a pop up restaurant. Fast forward a month and Chef Barron's team is now hard at work on the third pop up incarnation with a 4th one planned as well.
During the first pop-up dinner, the Evolve Cuisine team consisted of Chef Barron, Chef Franco, Chef Bonilla, and Mixologist Mike Yen. Chef Franco has since left the team, but the other chefs are continued forward stronger than ever.
As the concept of the pop-up is already very word of mouth, Chef Barron took the concept of this particular dinner a step further. He stated that it would be a tribute dinner to San Diego and asked for submissions on Facebook to determine the menu. The resulting menu is the most popular ideas from that Facebook interaction.
The idea of the dinner was to take all the dishes most classically associated with San Diego and to "evolve" the cuisine forward into new modern interpretations.
In the spirit of evolving dishes, I want to try and get back to some of my old writing style, so I will try to associate each course with part of this week's main event - The Avengers.

Hors d'oeuvres

The starters were each an invention from one of the three sous chefs. I'll assign members of the Avengers comics to these dishes to not interfere with the main event.
green strawberry - while balsamic gelee, ghost pepper
This course could be the Invisible Woman Course. The sourness of the strawberry and the balsamic served to open the appetite.
prawn ceviche - compressed pineapple, lime juice, micro-cilantro
This was the Wolverine course as it was the best starter course and Wolverine is one of my favorite comic book characters. The prawns were very fresh and the sweetness of the prawns popped in my mouth to pure delight. The pineapple was an extra layer of sweetness and acidity that enhanced the ceviche.
tempura beef shank- mustard, chili threads
This was the Spiderman course. As the beef was a familiar protein, Spiderman is one of the most iconic Marvel heroes. The tempura and mustard preparation was also very similar to the hors d'oeurve from the Origins Dinner. The chili threads were similar to the webbing that Spiderman is capable of shooting.

First Course - Iron Man

uni 5 ways - pebbles & powder, gonads, cracker, yuzu panna cotta, pineapple
Aside from the color similarity, this dish epitomizes the boldness of iron man in both flavor and execution. This was my favorite dish of the night. While there were five different preparations of uni, they were each unique and worked together brilliantly to make up the entire dish. Along the outside, the uni was dehydrated into powder and also made into small crunchy pebbles. The powder was magnificent as it rehydrated into an uni reduction and made my tongue water for more. The gonads was a marvelous piece of uni itself and being able to taste the natural unadulterated flavor was a great way to contrast all the preparations. The cracker was similar to an asian shrimp cracker and provided a nice textural contrast. The pineapple was similar to a balanced wine as the front end added the pineapple sweetness while the finish brought in a complex uni finish that lingered on the palate. Perhaps the most successful preparation was the panna cotta. The texture of the panna cotta was perfect and the flavor oozed of pure, clean uni flavor.
Just as Iron Man has to be the star, this dish was the star of the meal to me.

Second Course - Hawkeye

fish taco - ono crusted seared cabbage, tortilla broth, crema sphere, guacamole, cilantro,
miso ranch aioli, radish chip
This dish was the Hawkeye course as the flavors nailed the flavors of a fish taco perfectly. The fish was perfectly cooked and extremely pleasurable to eat. The sour cream, guacamole, corn, and cabbage elements all meshed together nicely to form the expected fish taco flavors. While I wasn't sure about the miso ranch aioli, it did mimic the dressing inside a fish taco very well.
Not only was this course spot on in flavor, it sparked very lively conversation at our table as it was compared to $1.50 tacos. Many diners felt that this preparation was good enough to warrant a larger price tag for the fish taco. There were also comparison to Chef Trey Foshee's Fish Taco at George's.

Third Course - Captain America

double cheeseburger with bacon - grass fed beef tenderloin, homemade bacon, brioche, butter lettuce,
toasted pita stuffed with horseradish white cheddar foam, ketchup, mustard
Perhaps there is nothing more American than a good cheeseburger, so Captain America gets to represent this course. The best part of this course was the toasted pita with the horseradish white cheddar. That cheese was divine in flavor and perfectly complemented the beef tenderloin. The beef was extremely flavorful and the bacon mixed into the beef was a nice touch as well. While the construction of the course did not necessarily resemble a burger, the flavors and elements all combined well to fit the classic burger.
Most of the women at the event raved about this dish and it was their favorite course of the evening.

Intermezzo - Nick Fury

pomegranate mojito sundae - pomegranate molasses, pomegranate lime sphere (cherry), nitro-mind
pop rocks, sodium bicarbonate, coconut oil (chocolate)
Much like Nick Fury's cameo appearances at the end of the movies to introduce the Avengers cast, this was an unexpected course that wasn't on the menu. Mixologist Mike Yen prepared the dish to taste like a mojito, and the preparation delivered on the flavors. Much like Mike's previous cocktails, this modern interpretation was a delight in both the presentation and the flavors.

Fourth Course - Thor

shrimp california burrito - cilantro potato espuma, shrimp fries, filo cilantro chipotle tortilla, fizzy tomato powder
Much like Thor's background of being an Alien was unexpected, this dish being a called a California burrito was somewhat of a mind-twister. However, just like Thor, once one accepts the twist, the resulting dish was an extremely flavorful expression of a burrito. The shrimp doubled as the protein and the frying content of the french fries while the espuma contained the potato flavor. The filo tortilla was a nice take, and all the herbs brightened the flavors of the dish. The shrimp was extremely flavorful and succulent with a powerful sweet flavor.

Fifth Course - Hulk

short rib - tribute to Matt Gordon of Urban Solace
72 hour sous vide beef cheek, white sweet potato puree, raw beef jus, smoked tomato, flank steak threads
mustard beef jus gelee
(The short rib is a "San Diego classic" because every restaurant in San Diego seems to have a short rib course)
My transglutaminase-glued beef cheek was a huge slab of beef to finish off the meal, which reminded me of the hulk. Just like the hulk, the beefy flavors of the protein really hit me with the strong essence of beef flavor - it was almost like getting slapped with beef flavor. The potato puree added a nice element of sweetness, as many confused it for something else. My favorite element was the flank steak threads as they contained a textural contrast while also maintaining a concentrated beef flavor. The beef cheek itself was cooked perfectly and contained a nice texture while embodying the pure flavors of grass fed beef.

Sixth Course - Agent Coulson

chocolate cupcake - chocolate cream icing, raspberry, chocolate deco
For dessert, Chef Bonilla admitted that he didn't understand the cupcake craze, but as San Diego played host to many cupcake shops and cupcake wars, he was forced to make a cupcake. In the way that Agent Coulson is "just there" as a SHIELD operative, the cupcake was "just there" to fill the need of the event. In a way I felt sorry for Chef Bonilla as he was pigeon-holed into making a cupcake and not able to express his creative freedom. Similarly, one must feel sorry for Agent Coulson as he is a SHIELD operative without any special powers, but still must serve in oversight to the other heroes.
The cake itself was super moist and was a create one-bite of chocolate cake. I still don't understand cupcakes as I would have much preferred a small slice of cake. Such an item may have also allowed Chef Bonilla to flex his culinary freedom.

Sixth Course Again - Black Widow

cupcake - 58% chocolate cremeux, raspberry cube, chocolate consomme cube, whipped cream,
dehydrated chocolate cake
Luckily, Chef Bonilla didn't take the cupcake too seriously and prepared another interpretation of the cupcake. Like Black Widow, this dish oozed sex appeal; it was also a great "gotcha" by the chefs in the same way a Black Widow surprises its prey. 
This dish contained all the same ingredients of the previous cupcake, but was evolved into a modern interpretation. The cremeux was especially decadent in chocolate flavors and really carried the dish for me. However, the raspberry cube and whipped cream were also extremely concentrated versions that packed a nice punch in flavor. The dehydrated cake tied everything together as it was the platform for all the other flavors to mesh and plat together.
Overall, I've been extremely impressed by Chef Bonilla's dishes at both dinners and hope he continues to really impress.


Another Evolve Pop-up and another great experience. The food was extremely well executed, fun, and a great value. I loved that this event showcased the "San Diego classics" but modernized them or envisioned them in a futuristic form. All the flavors in each dish were loyal to the traditional dish, but the resulting meal was mind-blowing. I was especially impressed by the Uni course, but the cupcake was a close second.
If Evolve can continue to serve the high quality imaginative food, the sky is the limit. Chef Barron and his team are really hitting their stride in the culinary vision and execution; I can't wait for the next Evolve dinner!
I'm at a loss on whether I should give Evolve an award. While I want to give them an award, the manner in which each event is a pop-up makes it hard for the award to mean something. However, I have great confidence in Chef Barron's team and their ability to put out a consistently high quality product, so with no reservations I award Evolve the megabit award.


Rodzilla May 1, 2012 at 11:24 PM  

Very detailed as always. It really was a fun menu, and the company is always equally enjoyable.

Anonymous,  May 1, 2012 at 11:51 PM  

Great blog! It was a fun event with some equally cool people! Your descriptions and Avenger names are spot on. I am still salivating when I think of that yummy "bacon cheeseburger!" Hope to run into you again at some other culinary events! ~Peggy

Michael Gardiner May 2, 2012 at 9:44 AM  

Excellent review! And amazing speed. I haven't even downloaded my pictures yet!


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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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