Friday, May 31, 2013

Spring Tasting Menu at AQ..... or as I would like to call it- Eating a beautiful Fairy Garden

Preface: Blogger format is doing weird things and sort of.... smooshing my long pictures into squares....which is the worst because this is a primarily picture post. Hopefully it looks ok on your screens this was the most beautiful food I've ever eaten.

This post is looooooong over due and I think the main reason I have put it off is frankly because trying to describe this meal is one of the most overwhelming things I've ever considered doing. As part of my birthday celebrations I planned a fancy culinary date with myself. Dinner and a Show. Infamous food.... personality Anthony Bourdain and Esteemed Michelin Starred Chef Eric Ripert have taken their unique friendship on the road with a show of sorts "Good vs Evil" in which they discuss their views on the many facets of today's food culture along with other funny life experiences etc. When I saw that it would be in SF the week after my birthday I bought a ticket right away. I wasn't sure this was really the type of thing I could drag anyone else along for (the tickets weren't really cheap) so it became a fancy date night with myself. If I was going to have a proper culinary evening I needed to start it out with a unique dining experience. To my delight AQ restaurant is just a few walkable blocks from the Orpheum theater. Win win!

Situated in a busy but not entirely savory part of the city, walking up to it AQ doesn't seem overly distinct however as soon as you approach and cross the threshold you have entered their world. The decor is adamantly seasonal letting you know that it is indeed spring time. High ceilings, white walls (where there isn't brick) add a lightness and various vegetation both live and cut greet you everywhere you look. Even the bathrooms are beautiful.

The open kitchen surrounded by "chef's table" seats is a show in and of it's self. I'm immediately struck by how YOUNG the staff appears. Fresh faced American culinary school grads to be sure. And with food this exacting they would have to be. The two Garde Mangers couldn't have been a day over 21, at the oldest perhaps the Chef for the evening and his Sous.... neither of them could have been over 30. Dining alone I couldn't have asked for a better seat than right at the edge of the plating station where all the action was going down. AQ's plates are by far some of the most beautiful I have ever witnessed along with the most precisely plated. We are talking tiny flowers placed with tweezers precise people.
My place is set with the dinner and beverage menus but I don't need to look. I've already done my research and thanks in part to my co workers generous gift certificate birthday gift I'm going whole hog and doing the Tasting Menu along with Beverage pairings. Here is where I have to apologize. In my lolly gagging they have changed their tasting menu (as they often do) and I didn't save the exact menu. So some Items may be a bit haphazardly labelled from the best of my memory. Never the less the pictures are beautiful!

The Amuse Bouche: Asparagus Milk "Cloud" with pistachio
First Course: Veal with veal fat and mint "snow" melted with a veal consumme
Second Course: Roasted Beet in Consumme
Third Course (my favorite visually): Strawberry & Watermelon Gazpacho with Sashimi
Fourth Course (my favorite flavor-wise): Beef Tongue with Soft Boiled Egg & Tarragon Cake
Fifth Course: Skate Wing
Sixth Course: Pork Belly
Palate Cleanser before Dessert: Chilled Watermelon consumme With  White Chocolate
Dessert: Chocolate Cake with Lavender Ice Cream, Crisp honeycomb, & Candied Walnuts
To go into great detail on all the flavors and textures would honestly be next to impossible. This full sensory experience was next to overwhelming. Like traipsing through "A Mid Summer Nights Dream" with your eyes and your palate this was a distinctive experience I don't think I'll soon top. The Beverage pairings were exacting and obscure (and I'd embarrass myself trying to type them out to you unfortunately... I could have used a written guide the servers rattled them off pretty quickly).

I was glad by the time I was done that I had arrived a little early for my reservation, my meal took almost 2 hours. Sated and enthused I walked the few blocks to the Orpheum fully of food adventure excitement. The boys did not disappoint with their witty repartee. I couldn't help but tweet a few Bourdain Zingers that stood out such as "Martha- she will shank a bitch" "Cigarettes, why god made salt" and "If their are 5 things I'm proud of one of the was writing a part for Emeril on TV where he could say F@#$" and lastly that an iteration of Tuna Tartare makes him sad. Eric Ripert would like to die the death of an Ortolan Bird.... Fattened up and drowning in cognac. And he enjoys a late night snack of Chorizo.

I hope the excitement of this whole evening stays with me a long time... and that I can somehow budget another tasting dinner at AQ another season soon!

Strawberry Rhubarb Gallette and Foodie Laziness

I hated pie as a child. Ok that's probably an exaggeration but it just did not float my boat. The gelatinous texture of the processed fruit contained in the crust which, unless my grandma made it, was probably underwhelming just could never match up to say cake or other confections. The only pie I loved as a child was my grandma's Pumpkin Pie with fresh cinnamon spiked whipped cream. A family favorite was Strawberry Rhubarb which we had regularly when visiting my grandparents out in Sebastopol (hippy wine country for you who are not familiar). Again as long as my Grandma made it, fresh out of the oven, it passed muster with my young taste buds. As I've gotten older I've gotten.... let's say more "comfortable" with pies, but it wasn't until I started making Gallette's that I started to love them. As you have probably read in a couple of my earlier posts a Gallette is essentially a flat pie. The crust is rolled out on a baking sheet, the filling spread decoratively in a single layer in the center and the edges rustically folded up to hold it all together. I've always been a fan of good crust and what I realized I like most about the gallette vs a standard pie is that the fruit filling gets tender but not slimy. Because it is open to the heat radiating through the oven and in a single layer the juices and sugar don't form the thick syrup (at least not as much, some depends on your fruit of choice). Now that summer is upon us it felt like time for some strawberry rhubarb goodness and so last night for my own pleasure I crafted a strawberry rhubarb Gallette.

Deciding to make this brought out a little bit of the, let's call it grocery snob, in me. I was first thinking about making it Tuesday and I thought for convenience I'd swing by the Lucky's across the street. WRONG. They weren't selling rhubarb. I wasn't aware this was an exotic ingredient. Rhubarb requires cold temperatures to grow and mature so by the end of Spring we should have plenty in stores. Apparently not. As I strolled around Lucky's  trying to buy a few other things I realized how much my opinions on some ingredient purchases have changed over the years.

Last night I went to Whole Foods where I found the rhubarb I needed and decided to indulge in some off the beaten path Ice Cream to compliment my baking. Three Twins has all kinds of wonderful flavors but my current favorite is Dad's Cardamom.
Simple yet exotic the spicy almost (but not quite) orangezesty essence of Cardamom flavors give this  ice cream a grown up flair. Playing off the sweet tart strawberry rhubarb and the lavender sugar that I laced through out the fruit and crust this dessert was exquisitely rustic and charming. And just the tiniest bit food snobby.

Strawberry Rhubarb Gallette


  • 1 Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 1 Tablespoon white sugar (lavender sugar if you are feeling fancy)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 7 Tablespoons cold butter cut in small chunks
  • 2 Tablespoons (or as needed) cold water
  • Milk or egg wash for edge of crust, 1 Tblsp Turbinado sugar for decoration if desired

Fruit Topping:

  • 2 Medium/Large Stalks of Rhubarb cut in 1/4 in slices
  • 1/2 Pint of Fresh Strawberries hulled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup white sugar (lavender sugar if you are feeling fancy)

In a medium bowl whisk together flours, sugar, & salt. With your fingers smoosh chunks of cold butter into the dry mix until it resembles a coarse meal (with this ratio of butter to dry ingredients it may even being to come together in a ball). 1 Tablespoon at a time add in cold water until the dough forms a ball. Flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours (or up to a day).

While your dough is chilling slice your strawberries and rhubarb and combine in a bowl with the sugar, set aside letting the fruit macerate in it's own liquids extracted by the sugar.

Preheat oven to 350 F

Once the dough is chilled let it rest (8-10 min) on a piece of parchment paper large enough to roll it out on that has been floured. Top with another piece of parchment paper to save on mess and begin to roll out your dough into a rustic circle patching cracks as needed with pieces of dough from the edge. Roll to about an 1/8 of an inch thickness (close to a 14 inch diameter). Transfer your bottom parchment piece with the dough circle to a baking sheet, preferably one with an edge should you have an juice leakage. Top with your fruit, being sure to leave the extra juices created in the bowl, leaving a 2 inch border around the edge. Once all of your fruit is arranged (mine came out in a sort of double layer which was good with such small pieces) fold the edges over with the help of the parchment paper (mine always end up in a sort octagon shape) brush crust edge with milk or egg wash and sprinkle with the coarse turbinado sugar for decoration. Transfer baking sheet into the oven and bake for 1 hour.

Once it is out of the oven I like to let it rest for just a couple minutes while the fruit juices settle and thicken then serve warm or at room temp with your favorite mild ice cream ( I suggest the Three Twins Cardamom!!)