truffle oil popcorn

I promised to tell you about Graham Elliot, the restaurant Billy and I ate at last Saturday night. I forshadowed with three of the most beautiful words in the English language: Truffle. Oil. Popcorn. This is what they give you to nosh on, instead of bread and butter. They give you popcorn in small, industrial boxes, drizzled with truffle oil and tossed with black pepper and shaved parmesan. It is, as our waiter warned us, “addictive,” but luckily that is one part of the meal that arrives, and refills, free of charge.

I say the “the one part” because the rest is expensive. Not prohibitively, not necessarily, but you should know that the menu online doesn’t come with a price list in a gesture of, If-you-have-to-ask, __________. (Fill in the blank.) At one point during dinner, B leaned over and said, “I’m glad that we are both happy spending all our money on food.” You have to be.

Graham Elliot is what would happen if the French Laundry and its three Michelin stars met a grunge rock band. There will be foams and deconstruction. There will be loud music and a tongue in cheek menu notes like “if you feel like taking yourself too seriously during dinner, ask your server for our house copy of ‘war and peace'”. The header for the hundred dollar wines will be called, “big whites and reds (the baller section)”. There will be truffle oil popcorn in an industrial tin.

romaine. anchovy. parmesan. brioche. anchoide. peppercorn. How better to start than with a deconsructed Caesar salad: a brioche twinkie crouton (with dressing subbed in for the twinkie marshmallow fluff) topped with a shoot of lettuce and topped again with a whole anchovy and “parmesan fluff.” It’s a great conceit — GE would call it “awesome”, as in “keep an open mind and awesomeness will result,” which is in print and I am NOT making up — but I wanted a truer, crunchier crouton. And more leaves. And basically, I wanted it to taste miles better than the Caesar-dressed romaines I haphazardly throw together on a regular, lunch basis, and it didn’t taste miles better. Not because I AM AWESOME or MY RECIPE IS, but because there wasn’t so much taste following the presentation.

butternut. curry. coconut. lemongrass. ginger. lime. The second course was a soup. It was outrageous. I could eat the vat. But first, let me tell you that they bring out soup bowls, with pepitas and other crunchies arranged artfully on the bottom. The liquid comes in a beaker. (A lab beaker! Seriously!) At the table, the server pours the soup over the nom nom crunchies, and you are instructed to please taste the soup immediately, then swirl it with the crunchies and “observe how the chemistry changes.” Did I roll my eyes? I confess nothing. But the change was extraordinary. At first, a sweet, mellow, and well, squashy taste and then — swirl — it turned sharper, with those faintly bitter and sour hints of lemongrass and lime. This was one of my favorites.

scallop. persimmon. endive. walnut. vanilla. gooseberry. Then the sea course. Two scallops on the plate, each occupied with their own favor, one sweet with vanilla and persimmon and the other a more savory take. There were also some incredibly pillow-light and fluffy gnocchi, and I found myself wishing for an entire plate of just that. I didn’t love the flavoring on this dish. The scallops themselves were lovely, so was the gnocchi. I’m a simple girl. Just give me that. Or soup.

waygu. potatoes. more truffle. (Can you tell this one isn’t on their website?) The land course! Two rounds of perfectly rare waygu beef, tucked over miniature purple potatoes and baby carrots, all topped off (at the table, from a beaker) with more truffle broth. I find this complaint almost unbearably “let them eat cake,” so please don’t mock or hate when I’d had, by that point, too much truffle. There. Now I will always be the girl who ate too many truffles. But I just wanted my perfect meat and potatoes on their own.

chocolate. marshmallow. graham. peanut. honey. brulee. I am just going to go die now. Do you know what this was? It was a homemade, haute s’more with peanut butter and vanilla ice cream foams. It weakened me. A cut of graham cracker. A slab of good, but really good milk chocolate. A bouncy, from-scratch and perfectly square mashmallow, browned right to the point of gooeyness. Did I mention there were two s’mores? I ate it as nature and campfires intended, hands and all, and the waiter laughingly told me, “That’s the first time I’ve seen someone eat it like a real s’more.” People! When it’s called high-low, you gotta act like it!

Graham Elliot actually hit the nail on the head with this declaration on the website:

It does redefine fine dining. Sometimes, the resulting cleverness leaves a little taste to be desired (deconstructed caesar, I’m looking at you), but it’s ultimately a successful experiment. Right down to the beakers. And next time, I’m going five rounds on the haute s’mores.

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