Monday, November 06, 2006

Sons of Candida

November 6

I spent the weekend in Boston attending a conference by public health activists and lawyers who want to pass laws or sue somebody because Americans are fat. It was the fourth annual such conference and I've attended all of them.
It is no barrel of laughs, but it does give me an opportunity to go to Boston, where I have college friends, and to sample the food.
This year I followed the dining advice of publicist Chris Langley and spent my two free nights at L and Dante. It meant I would once again fail to eat at Clio, something I've been meaning to do since even before I met its chef and owner, Ken Oringer, but it did seem wise to check out the culinary stylings of some young up-and-comers.
So on Friday I went to L and was told that the chef, Pino Maffeo, Boston’s molecular gastronomer, would like to offer me a tasting menu. I told them that would be fine, because I’m not stupid.
About two and a half hours later, with my meal finished, Pino, whom I've interviewed several times but whose food I hadn't eaten since Pazo in Manhattan, where he was chef, closed several years ago, came out and sat down for a chat.
He talked about how he had changed the wording of his menu when he realized, six months after opening, that his customers didn't want to hear about what he did to the food — what was braised, what was cooked in sous-vide, every stupid detail about every ingredient. If a menu item said "beef" and people wanted beef, they’d order that. So even though he's using soy lecithin and gums to make his tomato sponge — as is appropriate for a molecular gastronomer – he’s not telling them that — as is appropriate for all but those chefs whose task is to feed the biggest food intellectuals.
I told him where I was eating the following night and Pino told me that the family of Dante de Magistris, the chef at Dante, came from the little Italian town of Candida, in Campania's Avellino province.
Around that time a diner came up. She had noticed that I’d been taking notes and asked if I was a reviewer from someplace. I told her I wasn’t, that I worked for a trade magazine, and she nonetheless told me that the service sucked but that the food was pretty good. “I can’t say it was great, because I’m from New York,” she added. Implying that New York has the best food on earth in all genres, which of course it does not. It was only then that I realized she didn’t know that I was talking to the chef, who was not wearing chef whites, but jeans and a light hoodie.
Note to New Yorkers: Shut up. No one’s interested in the fact that you think New York is the best place on Earth. Texans: Ditto.
After Stupid New Yorker pranced off, Pino observed that it was good to hear criticism. He also observed that, although New York has terrific food, it also has plenty of ridiculous, overpriced food that doesn’t taste good.
I think he’s right on both counts.
The following night, I went to Cambridge to try the food at Dante, whose chef had captivated me several weeks earlier when I interviewed him about chicken oysters.
I had been unable to find anyone who was free to eat with my on Friday, but on Saturday I managed to draw my college friend Michael Gerber away from his wife and two sons in Gloucester.
Michael is a charming and gentle teacher of science to middle school students. He was a freelance magician, and when we were in college, and afterwards, he would periodically just grab a bunch of balloons, go to a public space and make animals for people.
We got caught up while Dante sent out oysters (the raw mollusks, not the chicken kind) and Scottish langoustine and other things.
At the end of the meal Dante talked about how he, too, was working on changing his menu, to make it more apparent to people that his food was Italian-inspired.
I noticed that he and Pino look a lot alike.

Dinner at L:

dehydrated pineapple with coconut milk buffalo mozzarella (no, there’s not supposed to be a comma there) and extra virgin olive oil, topped with chopped chives.

nori sandwich of tuna tartare with Japanese and Mexican flavors
drunk with a Pinot Grigio

corn and king crab chowder with popcorn-milk froth
drunk with poochi poochi sparkling sake

watermelon-wrapped fried oysters on pickled cucumber, topped with aïoli and chives, served in oyster shells on a bed of rock salt

Roasted halibut with tomato sponge and assorted things such as ginger-pickled cucumber and bits of buffalo mozzarella in the sponge.
drunk with an Italian Arneis white wine

Tiny gnocchi, baby bok choy and Massachusetts lobster with coconut curry broth
drunk with a Merlot-Cabernet blend from Washington State

Kabuto pork with trumpet mushrooms and quince sponge

chocolate "petit four:" a spoon of milk froth with cocoa oil, bergamot oil and raspberry purée.

Red Bull and Moscato gelée, kalamansi sorbet, Asian pair and plums stewed in cranberry juice, apple juice, cinnamon and cloves, and some lecithin.

Dinner at Dante:

Heidsieck Monopole Champagne

Kampachi with yuzu-marinated vegetables, grilled kampachi cheek and poached amberjack with chickpeas

Raw trio: local Beach Point oyster with pomegranate gelée, crispy rice, shallots and Chardonnay vinegar; seared tuna with avocado purée, egg white frittata and sesame seaweed, kingfish carpaccio with spicy ginger, yuzu, topiko and organic flowers
Drunk with Napa Merryvale Chardonnay

spaghetti alla chitarra with langostino and ovoli mushrooms

lemon sole with maple sausage and Hubbard squash bisque
Drunk with a Merlot from San Benito

basil roasted guinea hen with vegetable ragù and wild mushrooms
Drunk with Allegrini Valpolicella

Wolfneck farms grilled beef tenderloin with red wine poached sekel pear, gorgonzola dolce, wild mushrooms, green beans and warm olive oil potato salad

mini ginger soda with almond wafer and salted caramel mousse
Drunk with 30-year-old sherry

Vermont cheddar cheese popover with warm apple compote, maple glaze, old fashioned vanilla ice cream, apple butter and pecans

French butter pear and blackberry cobbler with juniper ice cream.

It’s so nice to eat lightly at a conference on obesity.

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