Tag Archive: Molecular gastronomy

Bite-sized bliss

Time Out
Buenos Aires for Visitors
Summer/Autumn 2009
Page 46


Bite-sized bliss
Brush up your skills in the fine art of grazing

Whether you want to call it grazing, small plate food, dim sum, meze, tapas or a chef’s tasting menu, what we’re talking about is gettin gthe chance to sample a lot of small bites of different, interesting food at one sitting. It’s a different way of eating from the traditional three-course dinner, and it tantalizes your palate in a different manner – and makes choosing a dish less of an all-or-nothing situation. It’s also, with the exception of buffet-style eating, fairly new for Buenos Aires.

While many Argentinian restaurants offer what’s called a tabla, it’s often little more than a platter of cold-cuts, cheese and olives. One exception is Breoghan in San Telmo, where you can choose from an array of tablas that offer up exquisite delicacies from Patagonia – fish, game, cheese, vegetables and fruits, in any combination your heart desires – or go for it all with the grand Quimey, a little bite of everything on the menu.

On the tapas side, there’s really only one choice, and thankfully, it’s a good one. Tancat (Paraguay 645, 4312 5442) in the Microcentro offers up a large array of tasty grilled and fried dishes and specializes in seafood and vegetables. While you can grab a table with friends and hang out and order a bit of this and a bit of that, the best thing to do here is to seat yourself at the long bar and start pointing.

When it comes to a chef’s tasting menu, there are three standout places, all of them offering up creatives twists on Argentinian fare and bringing in dishes and flavors from other parts of the world. In the cozy, inviting setting of Thymus you can din on seared duck breast, melt-on-your-tongue lamb’s tongue, or gorgeous roast quail. Or, get yourself into the funky and creative fare at De Olivas i Lustres (Gorriti 3972, Palermo Viejo, 4867 3388), where you’ll find your tastebuds tantalized by plate after plate of little one-bite hors d’oeuvres like ceviche sandwiches, passionfruit alphabet ‘soup’, or the strange sounding but delicious melted cheese with poppyseed caramel. If you really want to put your palate through its paces, you’ll be pleased to know that BA is now home to one of the disciples of Ferran Adrià of Spain’s El Bulli: At La Vinería de Gaulterio Bolivar in San Telmo, you can sample your way through 11 plates of ever-changing, creative cocina de vanguardia, each dish expertly paired with a local wine.

For those who want to step outside traditional or modern Argentinian cuisine, it’s worht nothing that there are two spots that offer up Chinese dim sum (not the classic cart service, but menus that list dozens of options for small plates that you can spread over your table and sample). They are Shi Yuan (Tagle 2531, 4804 0607) in Recoleta, which is also one of the better Chinese restaurants in town, and a few blocks away, Cinco Corderos (Avenida Las Heras 2920, 4806 9466). BA is also home to a very large Armenian community, as well as substantial Syrian and Lebanese ones, and two spots where you can sample lots of such specialties are Sarkis, where you shouldn’t miss the hummus or tabouleh salad, and Cheff Iusef (Malabia 1378, 4773 0450), with its spectacular kebbe de levanie, Both are in Palermo.

In mid-2006, I started writing for Time Out Buenos Aires. With changes in their way of conducting business, I decided to part company with them after my last article and set of reviews in mid-2009.


M.G. Backlash

“Two nights later, I went to the new restaurant down from them and chased bits of bloody caribou in blueberry cocoa sauce around a platter. And foam. The foam trend began with carrots at El Bulli in Spain. I had tomato foam in Paris two years ago, after a four-kilometre hike on a hot day, and I remember it with a shudder. How expensively unsatisfying is foam. Now foam is foaming. Some things shouldn’t be foamed — mustard, beetroot, leotards, kraft paper envelopes. I’ve had it with foam. Cease this.” – Heather Mallick, March 2, 2007, Rabble News

“Eye Weekly’s own Alan A. Vernon has a theory as to why the city’s fine restaurants just can’t seem to get their molecules oscillating. “It’s too intimidating to Toronto foodies,” Vernon says. “Very few people are daring to base a menu around molecular gastronomy, and the ones that do end up dumbing it down, because if the less sophisticated come in and think they’re being served a science project, they aren’t coming back. So it’s a business decision.”

The only aspect of this futuristic fare that seems to have had any popularity in the city is food foam — molecular gastronomy’s most infamous creation. Adria is rumoured to have discovered this light as air “food,” which requires a thickening ingredient such as gelatin or xanthan gum, a flavoured liquid and a whipped-cream dispenser or high-tech foamer powered by nitrous oxide canisters, almost by accident. Depending who you talk to, his discovery was either an act of divine intervention or the work of the devil himself.” – Meghan Eves, March 15, 2007, Eye Weekly

“We need more of Cooking 101 before going into molecular gastronomy. So many people are going into it without knowing how to actually cook, so it may look good, but it’s not tasty.” – Morou Ouattara, chef-owner, Farrah Olivia in Alexandria, VA

“We need less… molecular gastronomy in the hands of amateurs who don’t know how to use it..” – Robert Gadsby, chef, Noé in LA and Houston, among others

“Historically, when women move into men’s work it loses value,” she said. “Maybe we’ll see the pay drop, and the science suddenly getting called ‘soft.’ I’ll say this: If you see me doing foams at Prune, you’ll know the whole thing has gone down the tube.” – Gabrielle Hamilton, owner/chef, Prune

“The guiding principle is to create dishes based on the molecular compatibilities of foods. For instance, unripe mango and pine share a molecular structure, so they might be tasty if combined. That’s the theory, anyway. Molecular gastronomists combine white chocolate and oysters for the same reason. Geek gourmet began with experiments by professional chefs at high-end restaurants like El Bulli in Spain and the Fat Duck in England, where steam baths, centrifuges and microscopes share counter space with more traditional cooking tools.” – Xeni Jardin, National Public Radio

“The ideal customer doesn’t come to El Bulli to eat,” Adrià has declared, “but to have an experience,” inadvertently revealing not just the purpose of the operation, but also that there is an ideal customer, which may very well not be you, who merely wanted to eat. The fact that eating is rather low down the priority list of molecular cooking is evidenced not just by the proliferation of foams and froths, crumbs and powders, but by the global obsession with serving a multiplicity of tiny courses, for which the inaccurate analogy is usually Spanish tapas.” – Stuart Walton, The World of Fine Wine Magazine


Doneless Deconstruction

Outlet Radio Network
August 2, 2004

Doneless Deconstruction

“Grilled Doneless Pork Chips in AMex Spicy Saucy”. I hope and pray that this special advertised at a local eatery was merely the result of a poor command of the English language. If it isn’t, the trend towards “creative” cookery has just gone way ’round the bend. The image of thinly sliced, undercooked bacon with bits of credit card and chilies piled on a plate doesn’t do much for my appetite.

Now, I’m all for experimentation in the kitchen. I do it all the time. We all do. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that. Sometimes you open the refrigerator and there’s a jar of olives, some left over fried chicken, and an apple, and we say “oh, what the hell…” We don’t tell anyone we ate them together. Over day old rice left from the Chinese food.

But there’s a trend out there in the world that makes me uneasy. The current shining light is a Spanish gentleman by the name of Ferran Adria. He is touted by many as a slightly mad genius – turning food into foams and essences, powders and leathers. I’ve never eaten at his restaurant, and am unlikely ever to do so. I can’t say that it wouldn’t be an interesting experience. I can say it’s not really the way I want to experience dinner.

He’s not the only one. Every major dining city now has it’s dean of “deconstruction”. Yes, deconstruction is the term used for turning a perfectly delectable melange of flavors into an awkward experience of its components. Two of my favorite writers from the New York Times recently hosted a dinner party where they experimented with the concept. I enjoyed reading about their experience, it would have been fun to attend, but they also approached it with a “just what the hell is this all about” attitude. And you can bet the next day dinner was a bit more, well, put-together.

I’ve had dinner at a couple of those kinds of places, one in New York, one in Florence. My experiences at both were of the “this kind of stuff will be liked by people who like this kind of stuff” variety. Or, as one of my best friends phrased it, “blender food”. Lacking in a bit of substance to sink your teeth into. Air, foam, essence. Not dinner. I haven’t been back to either place.

And, by the way, it’s been done. There’s a packet of orange powder inside the famous blue box alongside the macaroni. Let’s see one of these temples of dining experience line that up with a pat of butter and splash of milk… Now that’s a cheese plate.

I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.