Thursday, August 4, 2011

Post 58: Be Happy... Chatting over Tartare (LA: Beverly Hills)

Back when I still had full use and employment of my teeth, a long lost friend and I decided to throw on our bourgeois attitude and roll up to Chaya for a five-course chef's tasting.  I had B.H. tattooed on my aura for that meal.  And if the letters B and H didn't mean Beverly Hills at that time, it meant be happy for the two of us.  And we were as happy as two long, lost friends could possibly be... we watched beautiful people sit and just be as beautiful as their food... and we chatted as puffy, white clouds rolled away in the big, blue sky... and we chatted as the big, orange star we call the sun lowered itself to cast a shady gloom over my risotto... and we chatted until the last dollop of vanilla caramel ice cream camouflaged itself against the ceramic dish it came in.  These are the three dishes from Chaya Brasserie that made us the most happy.

Melon y jamon
compressed melon, burrata cheese, salame, arugula, aged balsamic vinegar reduction

The first time I had melon and cured Italian meat in combination, I was a recent high school graduate vacationing with family in Canada of all places.  It was the Fairmont resort somewhere in the wilderness of Alberta that introduced me to my first combination of sweet melon and salty Italian prosciutto.  I hadn't had a serious relationship at the time, but I knew I was in love.

There's something about the contrasting sweet and salty flavors and the rough and smooth textures that makes complete sense... like when smooth slices of salty ham is placed on top of fibrous triangles of pineapple on pizza... when sprinkles of course sea salt is introduced to smooth, sweet caramel anything.  I love that I can take the salami or prosciutto and fold it over a freshly cut piece of melon.  I breathe a sigh of happiness when I do it... as if burdens have been lifted from my shoulders and pressures from life tip toe away from my heart.  I feel the same comfort when I wrap myself in blankets at bedtime.  It's not the same blanket wrap that I do when I'm freezing in the middle of winter or the blanket wrap that I do at the end of a tough day.  It's a light, delicate wrap.  A peaceful one that produces a sigh of happiness.  The kind you do on vacation.  Yes, that one.  And each bite is like having your head hit the fluffiest of down pillows... again and again... happiness.

Salmon tartare and mi-cuit
tartare: wasabi tobiko, cilantro blossom, pickled daikon radish squares
cucumber raita, wild arugula, ahi amarillo aioli, seaweed jelly
mi-cuit: sovid, wasabi creme fraiche

It's not quite tuna tartare yet not quite salmon sashimi... it's a profound dish in its own right.  The seemingly simple dish of salmon tartare actually produced a couple of wows.  The tenderness of the salmon protein became even more supple as the light layer of olive oil marinated with the salmon's own natural lipids.  Is anyone thinking about bikini mud wrestling besides me? Not so much? Hey, the analogy works.

What else works are the uniquely shaped but uniformly sized pieces of salmon.  They fit together like a chaotically constructed Jenga set teetering on the edge of collapse, yet they remain as stable as the Bird's Nest in Beijing.  So rather than being distracted by which piece of salmon is bigger or smaller than the other, the tongue can simply relax and focus on how fresh the salmon is... and the brain can say, "wow, this is good... wow, wow, wow."  The brain will be so pleasured by the bliss of deliciousness that it won't know it's fish at all.

Spring pea risotto
Japanese green risotto, sugar snaps, English peas
Parmesan, mascarpone, curry, basil, confetti flowers

Normally I wouldn't find rice and vegetables to be very exciting, but the spring pea risotto invoked a sense of happy relaxation in me.  It was as beautiful tasting as it was beautiful looking, albeit the image was marred by both the lack of natural lighting and my lack of savvy with photo editing.  But no matter... what's good is still good.

The feeling of intense absence of tension in my body was brought by the sudden surprise of curry in the waves of creamy rice.  I had a feeling that it was Japanese curry powder, which unlike Thai or Indian curries, is a bit more subtle and slightly sweet.  The taste is not as prickly on the tongue as a Thai green curry or an Indian masala.  Other surprises came in the form of a pea here and a pea there, just the right amount of healthy vileness and just the right amount of pleasant, non-shocking discovery.  This was the kind of dish that I could eat by the pool.  I wouldn't mind replacing the obligatory poolside cocktail with this risotto dish either.  Swirling a big, metal spoon around in creamy, not firm, not mushy, perfectly spiced rice is so much more gratifying that twirling a swizzle stick in a martini glass.  It's just not the same.

The final dish was a beef duo of short rib and tenderloin with porcini puree and daube sauce.  It was... alright.  And the dessert tasting was a chocolate croissant bread pudding with vanilla caramel ice cream.  I was already too happy to be bothered with a sugar high.  But no matter... good food and a good friend to jumpstart a Friday evening creates a casual, lingering happiness that carries over into the start of Saturday.  To the start of a happy weekend, everyone... let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Esther of e*star LA posted on her off-menu tastings at Chaya Brasserie here.

ML - 20110610

No comments:

Post a Comment