Saturday, May 21, 2011

Curtis Duffy at Senses. A Beautiful Dinner from a 2 Star Michelin Chef.

(no pork served)

Sea Urchin with Rhubarb Anise Hyssop Blooms Frozen Hojo Santa
When Aly asked if me I were willing to fork RM 398 for a dinner cooked by Curtis Duffy at Senses, I have to admit I was a little bit intimidated. Coming from a lineage that includes Grant Achatz from the famed Alinea Restaurant in Chicago, I was afraid that Curtis Duffy's menu would be too "molecular", too derivative. I have not always been a big fan of Molecular Gastronomy, having believe that test tubes should stay in labs and some over enthusiastic Chefs place too much emphasis on form over function.

Bubbles, smoke and pyrotechnic theatrics distract me from the pleasure of dining and some chefs would be guilty  of what Santi Santamaria (who passed away in Singapore in Feb 2011) cautioned against. Quoting directly from Santi's book, "one of the greatest challenges faced by today’s chefs is to avoid becoming the court jesters of the snobs and the posh.", a direct jibe directed against the vanguards of Avante Garde Cuisine.

Olive Oil Poached Faroe Island Salmon with Favors of Fennel, Black Olive and Absinthe
When the amuse bouche arrived, I realized that my fears were unfounded. What was served was a beautiful intersection of the beautiful curve of creative cuisine, the linear severity of physical science and the hyperbole of creativity and playfulness. A beautiful, edible three dimensional post modern art installation to be admired and savoured.

The tart and sourish Rhubarb Jelly played with the rich smoothness of Sea Urchin amidst the cold backdrop of minty frozen Hojo Santa peppered with the liquorice flavoured Hyssop blossoms. It was tantalizingly imaginative and fresh and heart achingly beautiful. It is evident that this was not some whimsical dish and a lot of thought have been given to create such beautiful flavours and contrasts.

Olive Oil Poached Faroe Island Salmon, emphasizing the Absinthe Foam.

The Silky Smooth Flesh of the Salmon
The Olive Oil Poached  Faroe Island Salmon was also outstanding. The flesh mantained it's firmness and flavours like a sous vide dish and the gentle poaching in olive oil rendered it's texture unctuously smooth. It came accompanied with all the parts of Fennel, the bulb, the fronds, the stem and it's blossom together with Red Sorrel and chopped black olives. The black dressing that came with it was not Balsamic Vinaigrette, but seems to be a combination of mustards and black olive. The absinthe foam lent the dish a delightfully gentle aniseed flavour.

The dish evoked beautiful memories of walking through a herb garden in Spring with it's haunting scents.

Nantucket Bay Scallop with Romaine Lettuce Marmalade, Nasturtium Leaves and Their Flowers with White Poppy Seed Milk.
The Nantucket Bay Scallop was overtly sensual. Beautifully luscious slices of thick scallops felt like moist lips kissing me, bathed in delightful ambrosial cool milk that Cleopatra was rumoured to bath in. The Nasturtium Leaves and Petals lent it an exotic peppery flavour that was swathed in herbaceous Romaine Marmalade with bits of sweet Poppy Seeds that thrilled the palate.

Long after the plate was removed, I could still imagine the beautiful flavours of this beautiful ensemble.

Barley Risotto with Amaranth and Grains
Sunflower Seed Consomme being poured into the Risotto
Compared to the overt sensuality of the scallops, the complex, earthy and grainy Barley Risotto was an intellectual enigma. I could discern Barley and Quinoa and Amarnth and saw some Sultanas in the mix, but there was an added complexity to it, sweet and nutty, with unidentified herbs and even a tangy citrusy dimension to it. It came served with a cube of Crème Fraiche.

I could sit all day trying to dissect the flavours and mull over the enigma of incompatibility of quantum physics with relativity and space.

Grilled Wagyu Beef Ribeye with Smoked Cocunut Pudding, preserved Kumquats and Basil Notes
There is a disconcerting masculine savagery to the next dish which was the Wagyu Beef Ribeye. It was red to the point of appearing raw. Fortunately, one just requires table cutlery to tear through this really soft, smooth and succulent piece of almost rare meat thanks to the ingenuity of the Chef. The meat was cooked sous vide, with all the flavours sealed in before being grilled.

Exciting tropical flavours were scattered on the plate, camphor like basil notes with tangy kumquats and even some passion fruit puree(?) which jostled with the coconut pudding for attention. The combination of flavours were unsual, but lent an air of exquisite civility to the meat.

Science meets playful culinary invention in this pristine little mouth sized ball. I did not attend Duffy's Masterclass, but I perhaps can deduce that frozen Sudachi Juice was wrapped with Cocoa Butter and White Chocolate and left to thaw in a referigerator. Due to the different melting points in the Chocolate and Frozen liquid, popping one in the mouth will melt the chocolate and release the Sudachi Juice in an explosion of tart tangy sourness that was counterbalanced by the chocolate's creamy sweetness.

All of us squealed in delight after popping it into our mouths.

Bittersweet Chocolate with Huckleberries, Cassia Caramel, Brown Butter Powder, Chamomile and Stevia
The Dessert was strands of Manjari ganache, served on a plate splattered with Blueberry and Lemon Puree, Cassia Buds and Huckelberries. It came topped with a scoop of Mandarin Sorbet garnished with Dill. Although the flavours were exciting, I can't help feeling like the chocolate was a bit too distracted by the mischievous garnishing and perhaps should just be like the old woman who lived in shoe, whipped the rascals and just send them to bed.

The Maestro Himself, Chef Curtis Duffy

Assisted by his friend, Chef Steven D Greene who together, whipped up a stupendous dinner
I felt like a voyeur during the beautiful dinner as I sat and admired the beautiful plating and partook in one of the most refreshingly original meal I have had this year. Curtis Duffy has an obsession with imaginative usage of herbs and flowers in his food which elevated the dishes to almost an ethereal romantic dimension. If this is Modern American Cuisine, it is time the world sat up and took notice.

The Management of Senses should be congratulated for managing to bring in Curtis and his team to showcase their remarkable talent here.

KL Hilton.

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