leave your inhibitions at the door
I’ve been to Vinology three times in the past couple of months and I’ve been meaning to post on it every time. But usually one of two things derails me – a hangover or other posts. Not to say that this place isn’t special enough to drop everything and write (it is), it’s just that I really wanted to post about this and this. Vinology has been around for a few years and I make it there 4-5 times a year. It seems there has always been a lot of turnover in the kitchen. Most of the new chefs were really good, although I can recall one that was a little too vanilla. This latest chef has been around for about a year, so things have stabilized some. (Now see, if I was a real journalist, I’d take the time to find out who the chef is. But I’m not. So this is as good as it gets for you.)
In my last post, I talked about Ferran Adria and El Bulli. To recap in 25 words or less – he used science and experimentation to push the limits of what we know as cooking yet held true to his pursuit of the essence of food. Two of the innovations that he brought were foams and spherification. Foams came about when Adria wanted to have the whipped texture of a mousse, but without use of cream or eggs. The result is a light-as-air froth that is the pure flavor of what’s being foamed – beets, mushrooms, and even meat. Spherification is the process where liquids are turned into small liquid globes that are encased in itself. Famous examples are spherified olives, pea puree ravioli (where there’s no pasta shell), and different fruits that look and feel like caviar.
There are other techniques that, although not invented by Adria, would never have made it to a dinner plate without him. Food science has been around for decades but the focus was on preservation and other commercial uses; El Bulli made a meal out of it. His work inspired other chefs such as Wylie Dufresne, Jose Andres, and Grant Achatz to push the envelope and find new possibilities. And, for good and bad, we’re seeing this influence in on the local level. Vinology uses it for good.
At a recent birthday dinner for the Sicilian’s husband – who’s asked to be referred to as “The Dude” – I had two courses that employed non-traditional cooking methods. The first was a sous-vide lamb loin with lamb prosciutto, phyllo napoleon of feta cheese & summer squash, and rose olive coulis. Sous Vide (French for “under vacuum”) is a method that involves vacuum sealing meat and placing it in a water bath of about 110-140 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours. The result is meat that has the fork-tender consistency of braising, but is still medium-rare and is bursting with the pure flavor of the meat. This has gotten a little more mainstream, but still can be expensive for the home cook. Williams-Sonoma carries a thermal immersion circulator for about $700. (I’ve heard that the University has used ones from labs for sale. I’ll look into it and report back.) Some enterprising home cooks have used crockpots to mimic it, but I don’t have one of those. Because crockpots are for fucking amateurs.
The other course that used “Molecular Gastronomy” techniques was a dessert simply called “The Castaway”. It’s one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s a perfectly round, hollow ball of frozen coconut dipped in dark chocolate and nuts to look exactly like a real coconut. I’m pretty sure they used liquid nitrogen to create the sphere. (Another thing a real journalist would’ve found out for you.) The waiter cracks it open tableside and serves it with a mango sabayon (custard) and pineapple carpaccio.
Could I have just had grilled lamb and coconut sorbet? Without all the hocus-pocus techniques? Of course I could. And I have. Dozens of times. With the lamb, the flavors were locked in and were not obscured by charring or a braising liquid. That combination of flavor and texture is simply unattainable without sous vide. For The Castaway, there was the sheer excitement and anticipation in the presentation. Any fool can serve a bowl of sorbet with chocolate, nuts and mango. But a dessert that requires a mallet and chisel? Awesome….
Other meals enjoyed at Vinology by me and/or dining companions –
– Beets with goat cheese and sherry vinaigrette
– Bruschetta Trio – fava & arugula, tomato& olive, eggplant & mushroom
– Sauteed Calamari with chorizo risotto, melon amoygue, red pepper vinaigrette
– Ceviche with citrus-poblano vinaigrette, pomegranate, crisp tortilla, avocado-lime crema
– Bacon & Egg salad – orange lacquered pork belly, frisée, crispy four minute sunrise farms egg, mocha vinaigrette
– Harissa roasted grouper with summer vegetable cous cous, roasted red pepper salad, chermoula hollandaise
– Short rib tacos made with local tortillas, stadium cheese, avocado, corn salsa
– Crispy duck wings with a spicy mango-sweet chile sauce
– Dessert tacos – key lime cheesecake mousse, citrus lace tuille, tropical fruit salsa, avocado ice cream, orange reduction
– Pop Tarts – strawberry-rhubarb, cherry-fennel, & apricot-carrot, lavender glaze, macerated salads
– Gianduja – chocolate-mascarpone ganache tartlet, hazelnut-praline ice cream, raspberry crème anglaise
– Cuba Libre – spiced sugarcane fritters, mojito panna cotta, coca cola dolce de leche
As the name of the place indicates, it’s a wine bar. They have a terrific selection with all regions and varietals well represented. They do have rotating wine flights, which I’ve always enjoyed as they give you an opportunity to try several wines without getting too blottoed. Their wine lists have a unique system of symbols to indicate whether a wine is earthy, luscious, bubbly, bold, etc. to help out the casual wine drinker. With this latest chef who’s name I haven’t bothered to research, the dinner menu was re-arranged. Rather than the usual distinctions of courses or types of food like “seafood” and “pasta”, the menu items are organized by what type of wine you are drinking. It’s a nice touch, especially if you’re in the mood for a specific wine or sharing a bottle with someone else.
What we drank –
– Domaine Daulny Clos de Chaudenay Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc)
– Walnut Block Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand)
– Paul Bouchard Savigny Les-Beaunes (Pinot Noir from Burgundy)
– Davis Bynum Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley, Sonoma County)
– La Fleur D’Or Sauternes (dessert wine from Bordeaux)
As always, mention that you heard of the place through my blog. You won’t get anything for it but, if enough of you say it, I might. Too-da-loo….
Here are some more bad-quality pics that break the stereotype of Asians being good at photography…