You might think that a fine dining restaurant with the name of this blog entry might be pronounced in French — dunee fwah. But no, it’s named after its owner, who used to own Mondrian and other restaurants, and pronounces his name as you'd expect an American to pronounce it.
I went there with my old college friend Jonathan Ray, who is now a history professor at Georgetown (tenure track, thank you very much). His degree, from Columbia, is specifically on Jews of Medieval Spain — 13th Century I believe — during the Reconquista, when the Christians were in the process of capturing Spain from the Muslims.
Jonathan likes to bust my chops when I say things like "Spanish food is hot." He'll point out that really it's only hot among a few American cognoscenti who bother to declare such things to be hot, and that most Americans eat burgers and fries and steak and so on and are not particularly interested in sampling pulpo a la plancha. And of course he's right.
I visited Jonathan in Spain when he was working on his dissertation. He had to visit various archives, which are only open a couple of hours each day, so I came for part of his trip to entertain him during the rest of the day.
Jonathan speaks Italian, Spanish and Portuguese and can get by in French and German, so he's good to travel with in Europe. He's also pretty good at pointing out the significance of various ancient walls and so on, but he's most fun for conversation — at outrage, outrage over bad architecture, for example.
In Barcelona we had an argument that I welcome you to join in (we're over it, but I'm curious to hear other people's opinions).
Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital, is home to Ferran Adrià and a variety of other chefs who have been instrumental in developing a cooking style that at the moment is being called Molecular Gastronomy (the term's on its way out; I give it another two years). Essentially, members of this artistic school of cooking use ingredients more commonly used in food manufacturing — various gums, modified food starches and so on — in their own (usually fine dining) restaurants.
I argued with Jonathan, that since this type of cooking was developed by Catalonians in Catalonia, that it therefore was Catalonian cuisine. Jonathan said that was preposterous, that the region's long-standing culinary tradition was far removed from the avant-garde experiments of a few artists in the hills.
I guess I should have asked him if he considered Gaudí's architecture to be Catalonian, but it didn't occur to me at the time.
I no longer know where I, personally, stand on the issue.
Anyway, the techniques developed or modified by these rural Catalonians and others (Heston Blumenthal in Bray, England, Homaro Cantu in Chicago, Wylie Dufresne here in New York, and really quite a few others at this point) has become mainstream enough that Dennis Foy felt that, in order to be part of New York's culinary dialog, and to appeal to the trend-conscious customers he'd like to attract to his restaurant, he needed to dabble a bit in the molecular gastronomy himself.
So sprinkled on his foie gras terrine is a foie gras powder made by mixing foe gras fat with what the chef called tapioca maltodextrin starch. Tapioca is an extremely absorbent starch, and maltodextrin is very much loved by pastry chefs because of its ability to stand up to humidity. So the foie gras, when mixed with this particular starch, is dried into a powder.
"It tastes like nothing," Jonathan said. I told him that if he closed his eyes and thought about schmaltz, it would taste like schmaltz.
Dennis Foy's daughter was sitting at a table near ours. He told us that she helped create some of the design elements. For example, she sourced the light fixtures, which are meant to resemble giant sand dollars. Whimsical curved beams in bold reds and greens and blues arc mostly over people's heads in a way that seemed to me remarkably unobtrusive. Dennis said such design elements were intended to keep the restaurant from being too stuffy.
Here's what we ate:
An amuse-bouche of Boeuf Bouguignon
Big-eye tuna tartare with apple and cinnamon
Roasted beet salad with Belgian endive and blood orange
2004 Robledo Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County, Calif.
Torchon of foie gras with eiswein gelée and foie gras powder
2002 Château Belingard Monbazillac (Bordeaux)
Sautéed potato gnocchi with mushroom and herb essence
2005 Fabian Montmayou Chardonnay, Mendoza (Argentina)
Wild striped sea bass with tomato confit and black olive "paper”*
Grilled sea scallops with celery root purée
2005 Fritz Chardonnay, Russian River
Braised short ribs with spicy red cabbage and baby carrots
Roasted loin of lamb with black pepper gastrique
2003 Morvada Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza
Pumpkin napoleon with Indian-spiced apples and mango sorbet
more of the 2002 Château Belingard Monbazillac
*Black olive paper is another one of those molecular gastronomy things. It's made by combining agar agar with pureed black olives, spreading that very thinly on a Silpat and then dehydrating it.