I was invited, last week, to attend what was called a Flavor Changing Dinner on Ice at Ing by Chef Homaro Cantu. Chef Cantu could be called a master chef, a genius, a mad scientist, or all of the above. His original restaurant Moto, which is next door to Ing, is the ultimate in Molecular Gastronomy and explores the preparation, presentation, and flavors of food. He competed in Iron Chef America and beat Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. He also formed a company to explore the use of the miracle berry which is where this dinner came in.
Ing is Chef Cantu's second restaurant. It has a bit of an Asian bent to it and while the food is quite a bit more straightforward, it all has a bit of a spin on it. The menu is divided into five sections for food: cooling, heating, boiling, melting, and sweetening, each designating the major technique used in that section and the drinks are divided into sipping (wine), brewing (beer), and mixing (cocktails). Thomas Bowman is normally the Executive Chef for this restaurant but for the Flavor Changing menu which focused on Thanksgiving, Chef Cantu was in charge. The restaurant is in the heart of the warehouse district. It has a glass front with a noodle station in the front of the restaurant. There are about four or five tables for four but the largest seating area is a couple of large wood communal tables for 12. Between them is a plastic table with seating on one side like a bar. and the bar is in the back of the room. The room is high ceilinged and the walls are wavy and covered in white mosaic tile. We were seated at the communal table in the rear of the room. We were served our bottled water and shortly thereafter were brought a folded paper cube with a pipette sticking out of it. The cube is actually the menu for Ing. We were having a special meal so with the exception of the alcohol, none of our courses was on the menu. The pipette contained an amuse bouche which was a cool carrot soup. It was an interesting start.Our first course arrived shortly thereafter and it both looked pretty good and showed the playfulness of the culinary team. We received an elongated platter on which one side had a beet and goat cheese salad with arugula and pecans. The other side had a fresh cranberry puree which had been pressed into and out of a can so it could have the rib marks that you would get from a can of cranberry sauce. On top of the cranberry sauce was a slice of tangerine that had been carbonated. In the center of the platter was a small plate containing a slice of lemon and a little red pill. The pill was a miracle berry which we were told to let dissolve on our tongue. In addition to our course we got a cocktail. It was a ginger infused gin and tonic with an apricot liqueur and topped with a basil leaf. We were instructed to try everything first and then to let the miracle berry dissolve on our tongue and try it again. Before the food tasted as expected. It was all good but nothing exceptionally exciting. A miracle berry changes your sense of taste for about 30 minutes so sour becomes sweet and bitter becomes more savory. After trying the miracle berry, the most radical changes were the lemon which now tasted like lemonade and the gin and tonic which tasted like ginger ale. The salad tasted more nutty than it had and the cranberries were sweeter. It was very strange and very cool at the same time and everything still tasted good.
The second course came soon after and it was a sight to be seen. The waiter brought out a small plate with an upside down glass filled with smoke. When the glass was lifted and the smoke dissipated we saw that we got oyster stuffing which was served in an oyster shell. The drink that went with the course was a Great Lakes Nosferatu that was served in a smoked glass. Everything was very smoky and good and placing the oyster stuffing in the oyster shell was whimsical.
If you hadn't noticed yet, there seemed to be a theme running through the courses. As it's November, they decided to do a spin on Thanksgiving. I would call it ThanksgivIng. The next course continued that theme with pork belly, a yam puree with garam masala, and roasted brussell sprouts. Garam masala is an Indian spice mixture with a very pronounced spicy flavor, though not necessarily hot. With the miracle berry still working, the yams had a cinnamony taste and tasted very much like a sweet potato casserole without the marshmallows.
While it could be argued with the previous courses that they were going for a fall theme and not necessarily ThanksgivIng, the next course made it obvious what they were going for. They brought out their spin on a turducken. Now a normal turducken is a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken, they are way to big to be served individually. Their version had a quail stuffed with a turkey leg stuffed with a duck breast. If you used the naming conventions that were used in the case of turducken, you would end up with something like a quaikeuck but if they called it a quaikeuck no one would have any idea what it was. Most people do know, however, what a turducken is and the name did fit in a manner of speaking. On top of the turducken was a green bean casserole with haricot verts and fried scallions and everything sat on roasted potatoes and gravy. The bird was boneless with the exception of the quail legs and wings and the meat was nice and juicy. It was all very good and if turducken is like this, I would happily have it again. While we were working on this course, they brought us a Portuguese wine that used the same grapes as port. Tasting it gave me the idea that my miracle berry was wearing off because it was dry and kind of tart. We were told that we would be getting another miracle berry with the next course so we should save some of the wine.
The next course really reminded me of Moto. When I went to Moto a few years ago, I had a massively multicourse meal where nothing looked like what it actually was. The dish we received here was a cheese plate. It looked as if we were being served 3 cheeses, 2 blues and a Parmesan. There were also apple slices in the upper left corner and a puree running across the plate. We also had another miracle berry and a lemon slice sitting at the right side of the plate. While our cheese plate was a cheese plate and the apples and the puree were what the were supposed to be, we only received one cheese that was unadulterated. The cheese on the left that looked like a light colored blue cheese was not actually a blue cheese at all. It was a cream cheese with a couple of layers of herbs that had been put into it. The middle cheese was actually what it looked like, a Shropshire Blue Cheese and the Parmesan cheese was actually a Braeburn apple that was pressed into the shape of a wedge of cheese. Before the pill, the cheeses were rather strong flavored, after the pill they became much more light flavored but they still tasted good. The wine after the pill tasted just like a tawny port.All trips must come to an end and our twisted ThangsgivIng ended with a twist on pumpkin pie. The pumpkin was served in a poptart form, sat on top of a lemon fluff and had some sort of sauce on top. The sauce was the only thing that had sugar in it but we couldn't tell after the miracle berry. The pastry was light and fluffy, the pumpkin tasted like pumpkin pie, and the lemon fluff tasted for all the world like a roasted marshmallow. It was nice and sweet and a fitting end to our twisted supper. I did have an opportunity to try the poptart and lemon fluff after the miracle berry wore off and while it had a similar flavor, without the sweetness it wasn't nearly as appetizing.
This dinner was a lot of fun and it was kind of weird but I am glad that I got to do it. The plan, I guess, is to do a flavor changing dinner once a month. While I am glad I got to do it, it was kind of expensive and while I won't say that I won't do it ever again, there are too many other restaurants to explore to make this a regular event for me.