What's on your plate today?


Love this place...
I made another birthday dinner for the wife this year. This is the third time I've done so, and I've been happier with my results in each round. I had her invite a few friends over and I cooked a multi-course dinner for them. The first one didn't have a theme, and the second one featured a secret ingredient -- the egg. This year's edition was called "Traveling by Plate" and featured foods we've eaten as we've lived and traveled nearly around the world.

Panko-Crusted Crab Cake Bite with Roasted Red Pepper-Chive Aioli.

Crab cake was the first dish that I worked on over and over until I had adjusted me recipe just right, so this told the story of me learning to cook and become a foodie. It was a bit generous to be an amuse, but thankfully there weren't any restaurant critics at my table!

A Tale of Two Oysters: Oysters Rockefeller – Freshly shucked oysters topped with a mixture of finely chopped greens and copious amounts of butter and then baked in their shells; Oysters Mignonette – Oysters in the half shell with mignonette sauce, pomegranate caviar, and bubbles.

This dish is a bookend of our palates. The first time we had oysters was shortly after we were married. I was in flight school in Florida and we went to New Orleans for the weekend. We couldn't stomach the thought of eating them raw, so we ordered oysters Rockefeller. The second oyster is fresh, complete with caviar I made using a molecular gastronomy trick I just learned.

Pasta with Sea Urchin – Handmade fettuccine cooked al dente, tossed in a rich and creamy sea urchin butter sauce, topped with caviar.

One day in Japan we were out walking along a beach a day after a typhoon passed. A Japanese guy called me over and pointed to a sea urchin that had washed up on the shore. He broke it open with a piece of coral and handed it to me. We scooped out the uni, dipped it into the ocean for seasoning, and ate it on the spot. To this day, it is the best thing I've ever eaten. I discovered that the reason I thought I didn't like uni is because it spoils fast, and if it's not fresh it gets bitter and smelly. Fresh uni is amazing!

A few years ago we went to NYC for a few days. While we were there, we went to La Bernardin for lunch to celebrate our anniversary, and even saw Eric Ripert. I made a basic pasta and followed Eric's recipe for the rest. This was most everyone's favorite dish of the night.

Lobster Bisque – Pressure cooked lobster bisque made from lobsters and aromatics, topped with lobster meat cooked sous vide.

Years ago we took a trip to Bar Harbor, Maine and rented a small cottage with a kitchen. We bought lobster at the local gas station (not kidding) and brought them home to cook every night. I didn't know what else to do other than boil them in a pot with potatoes and corn on the cob, so we had the same meal every night for five days.

This dish represents my journey as a cook since then, with more imagination and much more technique. The tail and claws were cooked separately in butter, sous vide at different temperatures to ensure they were both cooked according their individual needs. The bisque was made in my InstantPot, which generated a tremendous depth of flavor. I reduced the soup on the stove, gently simmering for a few hours before serving it with a portion of both tail and claw meat.

Seared Ahi Tuna – Seared ahi tuna, spicy beet slaw and ginger wrapped sprouts, served over rice with a ginger-carrot sauce.

Right after college, I went back to visit Amy for a weekend. We went out for sushi with her roommate's boyfriend, who I knew from a neighboring Boy Scout troop when I was in high school. He loved sushi but couldn't find anyone to eat it with him, so Amy and I ventured along one evening. He ordered a variety of sushi, but I wasn't as daring and I ordered seared tuna. It was delicious, and it was a revelation to someone who grew up in a small Midwestern town: not everything had to be cooked until it was gray and dry for it to be eaten. Since then, we've eaten nearly everything raw than can be safely consumed, including fish, shellfish, whale, goat, and even horse. I rarely cook a steak beyond medium-rare and seared tuna is still one of my favorite ways to eat tuna.

Mango Sorbet with Coconut Sauce.

I took some creative liberties with the palate cleanser. We went to Chang Mai, Thailand for a week -- I was there for work and Amy came along for a vacation. In the basement of the hotel where we stayed was a little market where people sold all kinds of wares. This little old Thai lady sold our favorite snack: mangoes and sticky rice with a coconut sauce. For about 60 cents she'd peel a mango, add a cup of sticky rice that was soaked in coconut milk, and topped with a sweet coconut cream. It was heavenly, and I used those flavors to inspire this course.

(My plating failed on this one, I didn't realize the plates crowned in the middle and when I turned around my beautiful coconut dollop turned into a hammer head, and I didn't have a chance to fix it. When I served it to six drunk women, they of course thought it looked like something else, and I retreated back into the kitchen as soon as I could!)

Duck Breast – Crispy skin duck breast cooked sous vide, served with caramelized chicory and pommes a la Rob.

I never used to eat the skin of a bird, I'd peel it off and leave it on my plate. I hated (and still do) that rubbery, wiggly, gross texture of fat-laden bird skin. Then we went to China on a group tour that included going to a Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing, which is the modern name for the old city of Peking. Eating Peking Duck and the most famous restaurant in Peking, it doesn't get much better than that! They make Peking duck by blowing air into the duck and going though a complicated process to produce a bird where the skin is wonderfully crispy and the fat is rendered. The outcome is better than crack -- it's a delicious dish that's simply amazing! It's way more complicated than I can reproduce at home, so this is my dish where I tried to capture the essence of Peking duck. (I planned to make a red wine sauce for this dish, but somehow that slipped my prep.)

The dish was supposed to be served with potatoes dauphinoise, so I stayed up until 2:30 am the night before doing the prep on that dish. I made two pans of them but had my doubts after the initial cook the night before, so I decided to finish one of them early as a test. It was a remarkable failure -- the cream didn't set up, so two hours before dinner I decided to go a different route. We made Pommes Anna for Christmas, but I thought the dish begged for onions. It's also done with sage, but thyme was the main herb in the duck, so I made up my own potato dish, Pommes a la Robert (pronounced in French so it sounds fancier than it actually is!).

Brie in Pastry – Brie cheese with raspberries and almond slivers, wrapped in pastry and baked until golden brown.

This isn't the usual cheese course. When we lived in NC we hosted a party at a local restaurant when I was promoted. This was a typical thing to do, called a Wetting Down. The restaurant was run by a Swiss chef and was our favorite fine dining local. One of the things he made for my wetting down was warm brie. I had no idea such a cheese even existed. At that time I was learning to cook by watching Jacques Pepin on PBS, and he had this great dish he'd make by taking a small round of Brie, cutting it in half with dental floss, then laying slivered almonds, raspberries and a disk of cheese intl a pie dough. He made two layers of those ingredients, wrapped it together, made a fancy design on the top and baked it. I worked on that dish until I cold replicate it, and for a long time I'd make it every Christmas. For dinner I made individual portions from memory, as I'd forgotten to put it on my prep list and nearly forgot to get it made. I've learned a lot about cooking from Jacques and I was glad to be able to pull this one out of thin air.

Chocolate-Orange Pots de Crème, Pâtes de Fruits, Shortbread Crumble and Raspberry Coulis.

I was inspired to do a dish that featured candied orange peels. My grandmother used to make these, and there was often a bowl in her pantry that had candied orange peel. Although she baked pies every week, of every variety you could imagine, this was one of my favorite things she made. There was something so unusual about it, and I found it fascinating that she used an item that would normally be discarded and turned it into a treat. At the other end of the plate is a pâte de fruits, which is basically the classic French version of fruit candy. I tried to show a link of being inspired by simple ingredients of a childhood memory to the journey I've taken as a home cook to make something refined based on that inspiration. Amy licked her plate so I guess she liked it.
Wow!! Very impressive indeed...

Reminds me of my favorite restaurant Providence (love the chef's table)