Monday, September 14, 2009

Pascal Barbot at Ko Part 1 (food, MomVisit09)

I mentioned before that I scored a coveted reservation to Pascal Barbot's guest stint at Ko, and yesterday was the wonderful night. It was a truly impressive experience and because there was so much going on, I've decided to split the recap into three parts. Let's start with our first five courses:

Amuse. The bottom layer was ginger yogurt. The middle layer was a red currant and tomato mixture. The top layer was a caramel vinegar foam. Chef Barbot emphasized that we should get all three layers in each spoonful. There were a lot of flavors going on, all very refreshing. While I wouldn't say that this was a dish that was really yummy and that I would want more of, I think it was a great first course and really opened up all our taste buds.

The second course is Barbot's signature dish at L'Astrance. Layers of mandolined mushroom sandwiched two layers of cold foie gras that was marinated in verjuice. According to wikipedia, verjuice (from French vert jus) is an acidic juice made by pressing unripe grapes. I think Barbot's description mentioned something about using grapes from after the wine-making process, but it could have been a language thing. The multiple layers were kind of like a mille feuille, and it was flavored with yuzu, salt, and pepper. The yellow dot is a lemon puree with hazelnut oil.

In David Chang's own words, "I think this is an ingenious dish. He combined rich and poor ingredients, and yet, the rich ingredient is not the focus of the dish." That's exactly on point with this dish. It's hard to have a foie gras dish where the foie isn't the center of attention or doesn't steal the show. This dish is impressive in that it really is about how all the flavors and the textures of the different layers just combine together. Perfect balance in every bite.

Next was the pan roasted langoustine over some veggies with a quenelle of peanut butter and a prawn stock. The peanut butter was specially made, and although he referred to it as "French" (EDIT: in retrospect I think he said "fresh" with that accent of his) peanut butter, there were tastes of galangal and kaffir lime in it. It was an amazing peanut butter. It wasn't too sticky or heavy and could easily go with both sweet and savory. I love langoustine and while the pan roasted crustacean was good, I've had better. The prawn stock was truly sensational. It was made with soy sauce, garlic juice, lemon juice, ginger juice, and however he managed to concentrate the prawn flavor. It was amazing in that it had such full prawn flavor and yet was so clean and light at the same time. The whole dish was very aromatic and the vegetables added a different texture component to each bite.

Sorry readers, this photo was a FAIL. We forgot to take a picture before we dug into this, and once we started, we couldn't stop eating. This was my favorite dish of the night. Terrifically tender razor clams. One of them had a light green raw parsley sauce which was ok. The dark colored sauce on the upper right was a konbu sauce which was just absolutely full of umami. It tasted like a really good oyster sauce. I was blown away that he made konbu taste like that. Speaking of oyster, there were also two oyster leaves that came with the dish. I'd never heard of them before, but the oyster leaf is a leaf that tastes exactly like an oyster. Exactly. Mindblowing. I've since googled it, but the only references to it being served seem to talk about El Bulli. David Chang said that you can get them in Europe, but that either way they're very expensive.

One of the things my mom and I noticed about the food was not only how flavorful everything was, but how much that flavor lingered. We were able to continue enjoying the food even after eating it. The flavors from the previous prawn stock and the razor clam and konbu sauce from this dish definitely kept going in between courses.
This dish was a little bit of every element, with representatives of earth and sea. The liquid is a camembert soup and the mound of food contained beets, oyster, and oxtail. The swirl was also made of beet and there was a dill flower on top. The oxtail was very flavorful and the camembert soup was creamy as expected but not heavy at all. Barbot's food was very impressive in how balanced every dish always ended up.

That's it for the first part. More to come including the rest of the meal, photos of Ko and the brigade, and some interesting insights that I got from talking to the chefs.

For Part 2, click here
For Part 3, click here


Josekin said...

Finally, pictures! Has anyone at the restaurant given you crap about flashes?

Anonymous said...

I have a better picture of the Razor Clams. If you want it just let me know where to email it.

The Pretender said...

@Josekin: We've tried our best not to use flash. Given the lighting at most of these places, the flash doesn't come out well anyway. Then again, I know nothing about taking pictures at all.

@Anonymous: Thank you very much and yes when I get your razor clam pic I will post it. Would you like to be named for your contribution then or remain anonymous?

Josekin said...

Yeah, lighting can be challenging. Serious Eats just posted something from EMP... I'm pretty sure I know what lens they have because I tried to take a picture there and it was difficult despite the sunlight! Good luck on the rest of restaurants!

Anonymous said...

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