It was great to see Chef des Rosiers smiling behind the bar late on Saturday afternoon. His unbridled enthusiasm is one of my favorite aspects of Inovasi. The guy's got passion and passion counts for a lot. But he also has a great palate, culinary imagination, access to phenomenal ingredients and polished skills, none of which hurt, either.
The early part of our pre-dinner bar session was spent largely chatting with chef about his favorite dishes on Inovasi's new menu. He poured our whiskeys and spoke in detail about at least a dozen dishes from across all the sections of the menu, explaining why he'd chosen the components he'd chosen for each dish and how he prepared each of them. He described in detail the successes and misses that took place along the way during his creative process of bringing the dishes to their menu-ready state. He got so excited in recounting them that he actually grabbed a pen and started marking the ones he thought we should definitely order on this particular night. As many chefs as I have met, I cannot recall ever meeting one who was more open and enthusiastic about his or her work. For a food enthusiast like myself, it was a magnificent experience that was actually surpassed by the meal that followed it.
There were 4 of us (our friends were hosting us) and we were so overwhelmed with the plethora of choices, we opted for the tasting menu, which put the onus of decision on the kitchen. After our pre-game chat with chef, I had a hunch that deferring would be a perfect choice and it was . . .
Big Fries | togarashi, Thai peanut sauce
I think chef told us these substantial potato wedges were blanched in oil 9 times before being fried. They were crispy on the outside, pillowy on the inside. I loved the togarashi.
Roasted Marcona Almonds | fresh thyme, orange zest, tellicherry pepper
Really nice seasoning mix on the almonds.
Udon Noodles & Crispy Pork | coconut broth, ginger, sake, soy rice vinegar, poached egg
One of my favorites of the evening. The broth was complex and flavorful, and the noodles were al dente and satisfyingly chewy.
Briquettes | reggiano cheese croquettes, red oak lettuce
These croquettes were coated in a seasoning/flour mixture that was black, hence the name. Very pungent and intense.
Pickled Beef Tongue | house made, raw celery, popcorn shoots, sonoma olive oil
I loved this unctuous, briny tongue, which was sliced ultra-thin.
Hand Made "Shells" | rolled by hand, herb pesto, hazelnuts, grana padano, pickled garlic
These "shells" were actually pressed out by thumb from house-made pasta circles, which is why they had no ridges. They were, again, perfectly cooked and paired nicely with the other components.
Wild Mushrooms | foraged mushrooms, creme fraiche, goat cheese, dried nectarine
A great assortment of earthy, meaty mushrooms, cooked just until tender. I love the way they worked with the other ingredients.
Teriyaki Chicken Wings | amish chicken, true teriyaki sauce, green onion
Superior quality chicken in a very tasty sauce. I loved seeing such a commonly encountered dish elevated via the use of such great ingredients.
The Roman Classic: Cacio E Pepe | bavettine pasta, tellicherry black pepper, pecorino
More excellently prepared pasta. I though the combination of black pepper and pecorino was very well executed.
Roasted Duck & Pistachios | crispy papas bravas, roasted pistachio, Japanese teriyaki
This was a very clever take. The duck -- breast and leg -- was juicy and I loved the way the papas bravas and teriyaki combined with it. The pistachios provided a great aroma and some dots of crunch.
Slow Cooked Pork & Grits | antebellum grits, caramelized onions, pasilla de Oaxaca chile
A real showstopper. The pork was rich, flavorful and intense. It paired wonderfully with the onions, and the chile provided a perfect accent of punch.
Straight Out Of The Sea: Branzini | fiddlehead ferns
A smaller version of branzino, this mild, fatty fish was cooked perfectly -- moist and flaky.
Round Five (desserts):
A nice assortment of 4 cheeses and house-made accoutrements.
Bourbon-Apple Pie | pear butter, spiced chantilly cream, fried dough
This was essentially a deconstructed apple pie in custard form, garnished with the cream and a strip of fried pie crust. Just a great dessert.
Liquid Manjari Chocolate Truffles | bacon, raspberry
It's always great to have some chocolate, especially house-made chocolate, after an intense meal like this. I loved the supremely thin outer shells and the flavorful liquid fillings.
White: Arizona Stronghold, Tazi, 2009, Cochise County, AZ
Coming from the wine hotbed that is Arizona, this was a real surprise. I thought the balance between fruit and acid made this wine especially food-friendly.
Red: Oratoire St Martin, Cairanne, Haut-Coustias, 2006, Cotes du Rhone Villages
Another food-friendly wine that paired nicely with the second half of our meal. I was struck by the mellowness of this wine.
Dessert (red): Alcyone nv
Sweet with prominent vanilla notes
I cannot say enough about what a great meal this was. There was such a variety of dishes -- flavors, textures and aromas from across the spectrum -- and the execution was spot-on from beginning to end. As many great meals as I've had at Inovasi, this was one of my very favorites. Chef tells me he's back in the kitchen full-time at Inovasi, as Royce now has its full staff settled in. His enthuiasm for being there is obvious and it's apparent on every plate coming out of the kitchen.
I just wanna live until I gotta die. I know I ain't perfect but God knows I try. --Todd SniderTwitter: ronniesuburban