Modernist cuisine isn't just about foams and liquid nitrogen slathered on a plate. Creativity and humor are often conveyed, making a dish more conversation piece than "elf food". We spent Valentine's avoiding the 405, excited to sit down at Taco Asylum for something other than pricey tacos. Former AnQi chef Ryan Carson has set up his own ad hoc residence for molecularly-starved eaters like ourselves. His 11-course expedition is a rare sight in these here parts. We're sharing our favorites.
1. All things oyster
I knew there were approximately four seafood-centric courses on our prix fixe. Yet we should've known Ryan would take a more playful (sometimes literal) approach to some of them. The most visually stunning dish would also be the interactive one, as chef and servers gingerly poured seaweed stock into the base of our bowls. Buried under the seaweed, dry ice would react with the liquid. It would not only vaporize, but impart a waft of the Pacific on our senses. Chicken oyster dark meat, oyster mushroom, salsify, residual oyster liquor, and other treasures were there for the taking. I half expected to find a pearl, since another lucky diner received a diamond that night.
2. Have a Heart
At first glance, this looks like an untossed salad--perhaps a kitchen sink variation. Wondering what the commonality was, we read his description on the monitor: Veal, palm, artichoke, romaine, Greek salad flavors. While the notion of ingesting any heart makes me a tad squeamish, I was craving protein. It may appear hodge podge, but the varying textures of plant and animal integrated with salty olive tapenade-like crumbles pulled the plate into cohesiveness. Deconstructed this was not. Quirky kitchen scientist. . . . .maybe.
3. Buzz Button
Of the 11 courses, the final was seemingly simple. A foreign nodule of animal/vegetable/mineral suspended in a gel, we suspected our ending was more than meets the eye. A lemonade otter pop intermezzo back in course seven gave me the summertime blues. What parting thought did chef want to leave us with? Popping the mini jello shot, we had an odd sense of deja vu at the dentist. A sort of anesthetic buzz, sans drugs. It reminded us of dessert at Michael Voltaggio's Langham dining room when we bit into chocolate lollipops without being warned they were laced with Pop Rocks. Talk about strange sensations; it preoccupied our dinner party a good 15 minutes.
Ryan explains after that our floral culprit is known as the toothache plant. He elaborates, further stating:
"It has a numbing effect when eaten. On its own it is quite unpalatable. But when balanced with floral rose water, sugar and vinegar, it gives you a very balanced way to cleanse your palate at the end of the meal. It helps you digest, opens your senses, cleanses your palate, and leaves your mouth slightly numb and salivating."
Indeed, it did!
4. Octopus Mosaic
You can't quite see it, but underneath it all there's a squarish base of suction cups, each one a chewy nub allowing for manageable, even bites of this course. Applying cheeky knife skills on pickled apple has it resembling kimchi, psyching us out when we taste. Further messing with our heads, the consomme picks up where fruit leaves us hanging with a sting of spice. Quinzoi herb is a nod to his AnQi days, while salt & pepper pork gives a familiar layer to an otherwise avant garde plate.
5. Trout Amandine
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When it comes to courses, eight is great. So great, it's our favorite one of the night. The secondary "surf 'n turf" pairing of lamb belly and trout is not only fulfilling, but filling. A nutty addition of brittle almond resembles a play on encrusting, but the caramelization gives a sweet factor we didn't realize it needed. Before things get too sugary, he whips up some sour orange marmalade as an offset. The haricot vert brightens and levitates its heavy surroundings.
Ryan Carson's Pri-ve stint at Taco Asylum is going on until (at least) February 27. In fact, there's a seating tonight at 7 p.m. For more information, or to book a reservation, please call (909) 576-9210 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read about Ryan on his website, www.chefryancarson.com.