I just got back from San Francisco where Susan and I took care of our grandson so that my daughter and son-in-law could prepare and serve their latest pop-up dinner. During the dinner Susan took care of the baby, so I got to enjoy the meal.
This time the dinner was held at Coi, the Michelin two-star restaurant where Evan is the chef de cuisine and where Sarah worked for a short while early in her recent pregnancy. The dinner turned out to be a big success with a waiting list for reservations. The kitchen crew was experienced, so the food came out on time and with a beautiful presentation. Most of the servers were recruited from the regular staff of Coi, so service was unobtrusively attentive. The wine and beer selections were small but very well-chosen to complement the meal.
Wild-Fennel-Pollen-Dusted Kettle Corn
Popcorn is the classic American snack food for movies and with drinks. Kettle corn raises it to a new level with a light sugary accent to the salty tang. This version, dusted with wild fennel pollen raises the bar one notch. In Northern California, wild fennel grows everywhere, so it is easy for foragers to gather the pollen from the golden flowers when they are in full bloom. The aroma and taste are subtle reflections of the stronger accents of fennel seed or cooked fennel. This is rapidly becoming a standard dish for the Chefs’ Night Off pop-ups because it is so popular and so perfect with cocktails, beer, or wine before dinner. One group of guests worked their way through six bowls.
Sun-Dried Tomato Fritter with Shiso
Fritters may be one of the signature dishes for Chefs’ Night Off. This version showed off sun-dried tomatoes folded into a stiff béchamel, crusted with cornmeal, and fried. Shiso, also called perilla or Japanese basil, is an aromatic leafy green.
Dungeness Crab Louie with Little Gems and “Saltine Crackers”
This is the season for Dungeness crab in San Francisco, and it is found on many menus prepared in many different ways. This version called for the pink, sweet morsels of crab to be combined with apples, celery, and house-preserved pickles, seasoned with a light, siphoned sauce Louis, garnished with a chiffonade of little gem lettuce, and hidden beneath a tuile made of saltine crackers in the style of an Italian frico.
Avocado, Little Gems, and “Saltine Crackers”
For vegetarians, this dish imitated the Dungeness crab Louie, substituting avocado ribbons and avocado balls stuffed with avocado mousse.
Plancha Bread with Roasted Squash, Smoked Pancetta, and Burrata
This complex dish used rectangles of flat bread baked on a plancha (iron griddle) and topped with roasted squash purée, crisp smoked pancetta, a siphon of burrata ( the creamy, earthy cousin of mozzarella) and herbs. For the vegetarians, the pancetta was replaced by smoked onions.
Chicory Salad with Date Vinaigrette and Persimmons
A beautiful and interesting break from the main courses, a leaf of chicory was dressed with a date vinaigrette siphon, grilled chicory chiffonade, and diced persimmons.
Roasted Chicken with Chestnuts, Pomegranate, and Pine
Chicken legs were deboned and prepared pressée, stuffed with truffle and seaweed mousse. Chicken breast was stuffed, under the skin, with truffles and seaweed. The dish was served with chestnut purée, seaweed salad, frisée, pomegranate seeds, and seaweed chips.
Gnocchi with Chestnuts, Pomegranate, and Pine
For vegetarians, gnocchi poached and seared in brown butter were substituted for the chicken with the addition of shaved white truffles.
Chocolate Cremeaux with Coconut Whipped Cream, Rice Ice Cream, Fried Puffed Rice, and Yuba Strips
Not quite mousse and not quite ganache, the chocolate cremeaux anchored dessert, but there were lots of flavor surprises. Who would have thought of fried puffed rice? But it definitely fit in. Yuba, the skin that forms when tofu is heated, finished the dish.
Black Pepper and Blood Orange Marshmallows
These were definitely not the marshmallows you put in s’mores. The spiciness of the black pepper played off the blood orange and made this a fine end to a special meal.