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Radio Kitchen - L'Estaminet and the State of Cooking - part 1
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A few weeks ago Al was lucky enough to spend 9 days on the island of St. Martin in the Caribbean. The island is known for its high caliber of gastronomy, which is a great attraction. He found a marvelous little restaurant in the town of Grand Case called L'Estaminet, which absolutely delighted him. Al ate there three nights in a row, and had enjoyable chats with the owners Carole Dutil (front of the house) and Chef Una Urfalinno. (Go to www.estaminet-sxm.com for info.)
The restaurant was not only wonderful, but it was so up-to-date that it was like was dining on the set of Top Chef! Al made notes and brought them back to Chef Jerry Pellegrino for some added insight into what's happening in better restaurants all over the place.
Here are some of Al's notes, made during and after his meals.
1. The use of unusual molds. The salad of figs, eggplant and chevre was not what I expected. What they did was to prepare a creamy but firm mousse with the ingredients, and then stack them in a tube mold, then unmold them. The result is a three layered cylinder that laid across the shredded greens. The flavors of the ingredients were absolutely intact, but they had been physically transformed.
2. We were encouraged to dress our salad by squeezing flavored oils out of smalltubes (remember the little tubes of tire cement we used to have?). On my plate were basil cream and arugula oil. Again, the flavors were intense. I also encountered a vanilla oil that was served with a dish of sea bass.
3. Foams: on my cream of butternut squash soup, they added a dollop of hazelnut foam. Delicate flavor and fascinating texture. Widespread use today.
4. Emulsions: as an accompaniment to a dish of sea scallops was an emulsion of combawa limes (also known as Kaffir limes, intense with lemongrass notes). Dabs of emulsions graced many of the plates.
5. Exotic ingredients: the combava limes, espelette peppers (a staple of Basque cuisine). Roast sea bass was cooked with a licorice stick, giving a slight anise character (vanilla and licorice with the sea bass).
6. Salts were featured as both seasonings and garnishes. They were all coarse grained, often colored. One dark grey salt had been smoked and it was fabulous.
7. A frothy mousse of Brussels sprouts was spectacular. The flavors were intense and spot on, with nothing interfering.
8. For dessert, I had a Death by Chocolate experience. One feature were the chocolate flavored "pop rocks" that explode delightfully in your mouth.
9. Other nice ideas: crumbled cashews as a coating for the sea bass; quinoa as a bed for the fish; cepes mushroom ice cream; alsamic vinegar and cocoa reduction; pineapple gazpacho with green tea cream and wasabi caramel; scallop "burgers" stuffed with foie gras and truffle panade.