Evolve - Explore Your Senses

>> Sunday, June 10, 2012

Date of Dining: 6/2/2012
Price: $79 for 8 course tasting
Location: 9340 Dowdy Dr, Suite 102, San Diego, CA 92126

The Quick Bit

+ very fun dinner
+ great innovative tasting combinations
+ exciting atmosphere and ambiance
+ well thought-out menu
+ foie gras protestors
+ no corkage fee
Δ foie gras protest

Before we begin, I figure I will explain the absence. Unfortunately, right after the previous post, my computer decided to get sick and ultimately die. Being a resourceful tech person, I attempted to rebuild my computer myself, but received some defective parts the first time through. Subsequently, when I re-installed all of my applications, I had some difficulty with syncing all of photos. Hopefully all the issues are resolved and we can get back to regular blog updates.
I've previously covered Evolve Cuisine Forward twice in this blog. While I had been hoping for more dinners, all good things come to an end, and this dinner was announced as the last for some time. The reason was that Chef Daniel Barron has some personal obligations to handle and would not be free to explore this culinary artistry for the foreseeable future.
However for the final Evolve dinner, Chefs Barron and Bonilla along with Mixologist Mike Yen decided to go for broke and finish with a big bang. The premise of this dinner was an "explore your senses" event. While we have five senses, we usually dine primarily with just the taste and sight senses. I've mentioned several times in my blog that when dishes incorporate smell, I usually come away impressed. While some experiences go dor sense deprivation (see Opaque), Chef Barron decided that he would create dishes that highlight each sense for this dinner.

Molecular Cocktails

I've been extremely impressed with the creations of Mixologist Mike Yen, and I was really looking forward to what he would have ready for this experience.
fig allagash - tequilla, clove, orange lemon foam, lemon juice
The flavors of the clove and citrus really came through in this beer cocktail. I really enjoyed the refreshing quality of the drink as it got me prepared for the small bites to precede the meal.
rapsberry cosmo - stoli rapsberry, white cranberry, gellan, lime, quantro
While I'm probably going to take a lot of heat making this comment, this cocktail was perhaps my favorite cocktail from Mike Yen. First the striking visual quality of the drink set it apart from the others. However, it had a gamut of flavors from sweet to tart to sour to refreshing. The pearls were similar to the tapioca balls, but much easier to chew and much tastier. The drink was a triumph on all levels.

Hors d'oeuvres

Chef Barron announced a voting contest on the hors d'oeuvres; each was prepared by one of his sous chefs.
Sheena Villegas - yellowfin, mustard aioli, yuzu
The yellowfin dish was reminiscent of a crudo. It was aggressively seasoned and contained some edible flowers. The philosophy of the dish seemed to focus on letting the taste of the tuna itself shine through, but to supplement it a little to highlight those flavors. The dish succeeded on those levels.
Tiffany Senin - duck confit ravioli, spicy strawberry sauce
The ravioli was fried to extreme crispness and there was a large crunch as I bit in. The duck confit filling was aggressive and complemented by the sauce. The spicy strawberry sauce had a great balance of sweetness, tartness, and spice.
Alex Emery - roasted duck breast, shiso powder, bing cherry, spicy coconut emulsion
The duck was cooked perfectly on this dish. The inclusion of the cherry, just coming in season was a great touch as well as the sweetness really added to the duck. The shiso powder was a great touch and really glued the dish together as everyone at the table really appreciated it, but was unable to come up with the component right away.

First Course - Smell

crab consomme,  sweet pea, truffle, sprouts
The first course really hit on the smell with the crab consomme. After pouring:
The sweetness of the peas was really top notch as they really contrasted the crab broth. Once poured, the hot consomme really combined with the gelee to give an added aroma of truffle. The crab consomme was prepared beautifully as the smell of the crab really shone. As an added plus, the consomme came out extremely hot, which was really needed to make this dish work.

Second Course - Sight

sculpin, honeysuckle, red chile, garlic chive, asian scallion pesto
For the sight course, Chef Barron chose a fried sculpin filet plated to be visually striking. On the visual appeal, I would say he succeeded. The garlic chive and the scallion pesto really brought out the flavor of the fish. The added spicy kick was reminiscent of the Chef Barron I knew from Blue Point, and it was really appreciated to get that amount of spice in the food. 

Third Course - Sound

pork jowl, lavendar, mustard greens, pop rock mustard, pork tenderloin
The pop rocks in the mustard "sauce" gave this dish the sound aspect as the pop rocks continuously popped throughout the course. The playfulness of the dish really fulfilled the theme.

Fourth Course - Touch

"chicken liver", ahi, pumpernickle, peach
Note: While I'm not an expert from just pure taste, I'd wager the chicken liver was not really chicken liver
 In this dish, the "chicken liver" that resembled the more classic torchon preparation was actually a panna cotta. There was also an accompanying "chicken liver" cookie. This dish was the touch course because the "chicken liver" was supposed to touch our hearts.
The highlight of the dish was the panna cotta; it really carried through a nice pure flavor while having the expected texture of the panna cotta. While the ahi was remarkably fresh to the point I thought it was going to jump off the plate, I didn't understand how the freshness of the ahi was supposed to go with the richness of the chicken liver.

Fifth Course - Cocktail

acid rain - cotton candy, vodka, cardamom, lemon, lemon bitters, lemongrass straw
The fifth course was another creation from Mixologist Mike Yen. In this course, we got more to "play" by pouring the cocktail over a dried ice drink.
the rocks were actual rocks
The cocktail had a nice lemony sweetness and was an excellent palate cleanser. Not only was the drink a palate cleanser, but the smell from the dry ice effect served as a sinus cleanser as well. The drink was very fun.

Sixth Course - Taste

beef cheek, uni, fiddleheads, pumpernickel hominy nitrogen grits
This was my favorite course of the evening. The uni was used with a mix of eel bones, sugar, and other ingredients to create a very rich sauce. The effect of pouring the sauce over the grits was an extremely decadent surf and turf. The beef was cooked perfectly tender and contained a great deal of grass fed beef flavor. While the protein was excellent, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the grits. Make by freezing hominy and pumpernickle and then grinding it down, the grits were very creamy and served as the perfect bed for the beef and sauce.

Seventh Course - Sensory Overload

As all the senses had been used, Chef Barron prepared a final dish that was supposed to bring all of the senses together.
duck confit, spot prawn, blackberry, horseradish, charcuterie sausages, blackberry
The duck confit was stuffed into the prawn:
The dish was suspended over some liquid to create some additional smells
This dish brought together many of the elements of the all the previous dish in one grand finale. There was a lot going on in this dish - the surf and turf theme was revisited, every part of the duck was utilized in the dish, there were smells coming from under the dish. As the dish set out to overload the senses, it really did succeed in that regard. I was extremely happy to get a dish like this to finish out the meal - as the final Evolve dish from Chef Barron.

Eighth Course - Dessert

To round out the meal, Chef Bonilla took over
watermelon, proscuitto, basil, love & break dancing - caramelized goat cheese, watermelon semifreddo
olive oil grilled corn cake, candied prosciutto, clarified watermelon fluid gel, whipped cream
While my senses had been overloaded from the previous course, I still had some space to finish out dessert, especially from Chef Bonilla. As with the trend of Evolve, Chef Bonillas desserts just keep betting better. He didn't disappoint with this one. While the biggest star was the corn cake, the candied prosciutto really brought this dish to another level. The savory, yet sweet element of the pork really contrasted well with the sweetness of the semifreddo and the denseness of the corn cake. Every element on this plate was extremely tasty and made the dish better.


I'm very sorry that Evolve is finished for the next few months. While they started at a high level, each successive event and crescendoed even higher. Now at the coda, the Explore Your Senses Event was not only the tastiest event, it was also the most fun event and experience.
I wish Chef Barron well on his next venture and hope he will still be able to bring is culinary creativity to the restaurant.
I plan to visit Chef Bonilla and Mike Yen for some future meal.
Until the next Evolve event....
Oh yeah, Evolve gets the (long overdue) gigabyte award.


Michelle Tran June 12, 2012 at 1:07 PM  

Aw, man, wish I knew about this!

James June 12, 2012 at 1:40 PM  

Michelle - if you email me your contact info, I can let you know about events like this we plan to attend - gastrobits AT gmail DOT com

It would be great to meet you guys again and actually sit at the same table to socialize about food

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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.
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.
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