[Full-size photos, with captions, at http://theoffalo.com/2013/04/supper-l...]
Supper Liberation Front is run by chefs Josh Gil and Daniel Snukal of Tacos Punta Cabras fame. On Monday night chrishei and I attended S.L.F.'s pop-up dinner in support of Kurmalliance (http://www.kurmalliance.org/), "a 501c3 nonprofit organization aimed toward saving sea turtles and their ecosystems," with $25 of the $75 dinner going to the cause. The menu (http://www.supperliberationfront.com/...) looked interesting, seafood-focused and Asian-influenced, so I signed us up last week for the 9:30 PM seating.
We arrived at the not-so-secret location as the first seating was just being served dessert. By the time they cleared out and we were seated, it was around 10:15 PM. So a little bit of a late start, but if I were in the first seating, I would have definitely appreciated that the staff didn't rush us out exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes after 7 PM.
1. The dinner began with a quick spiel from one of the organizers at Kurmalliance, and then we were served our first course, "McGrath’s Sunflower (Root, Heart, Petals) Dobin Mushi," which was listed fourth on the menu on the S.L.F. site but served as a nice starter. The plating was simple but elegant, with a teardrop-shaped bowl, containing the sunflower hearts, fresh peas, and aromatics, sitting on top of a slate (of slate) that also served as a plate for the sunflower root tempura with sunflower petal salad.
The chefs came out with pitchers of dashi to pour into the bowls. The dashi was full-bodied yet mellow, and I wondered if it was vegetarian, as everything else in the dish was, even though a traditional dobin mushi is seafood-based. The tempura sunflower roots reminded me of tempura squash flowers. The batter, made, I'm sure, from the same recipe as is used for their fish/shrimp/scallop tacos during the chefs' day jobs at Tacos Punta Cabras, was light and not at all greasy. I didn't think to do this at the time, but I bet it would have been great to dip a piece of tempura into the broth.
As he was bringing out the next course, Chef Josh admit under harsh interrogation (i.e. I asked him nicely) that the broth in the dish does contain bonito. He hinted at learning a secret technique for maximal extraction of vegetable essence, so I could see how, with a bit of tweaking, this would be an amazing vegan dish, as it was already fantastically fit for a pescetarian.
2. Speaking of the next course, the "Razor Clam, Carrot Tapioca Pearls, Duck Bacon, Daikon, Smoked Leek Milk" dish was brought out next, again sans soup at first, and with a substitution of one of the originally listed ingredients. Unfortunately, due to a mistake by the supplier, the chefs could not get ahold of the the main ingredient, razor clam, and had to substitute in Manilla clams instead. Fortunately, the mollusk mix-up did not hurt the dish too much.
As the hot soup was poured, I noticed the cubes of gelee (not mentioned in the dish description, made from clam and one other ingredient I can't recall) start to quiver and then collapse. I quickly scooped up the remnant of one cube and got an admixture of temperatures and textures. The soup base was reminiscent of potato leek soup, but made wonderfully complex with the smokiness pairing well with the bits of duck bacon, the brininess of the clams, and the mellow sweetness of the carrot boba.
3. After these first two courses, we realized quickly that we would not be following the order of dishes listed on the menu on the S.L.F. site. Chris and I briefly debated what would be a good dish to follow, a lighter one like the jellyfish tom yum ka or a heavier one like the lamb belly fries. It turned out to be something in the middle, the "Seared Monkfish Liver, Salted Pickled Cucumber, Maggie’s Mustard & Seeds, Miso-Vin Jaume".
This was probably my favorite dish of the night. The ankimo was served rare, with a perfect sear all around, crisp at the edges. The inside was rich and creamy, and reminded me very much of seared foie gras, but I guess the proverbial "they" don't call monkfish liver the "foie of the sea" for nothing. The cucumbers was reminiscent of sunomono, and the salty, pungent miso sauce and slightly bitter greens and mustard seeds paired perfectly with the unctuous yet light liver.
4. I remarked that, rather than a linear progression of lighter-to-heavier dishes, we seem to be following a wave pattern, so I was not necessarily surprised when the the "Jellyfish Tom Yum Ka, Young Coconut, Galangal Sorbet, Basil Seeds", served in a half coconut, came out next. This was an incredibly bright and refreshing dish that would have worked as a starter or an intermezzo, and indeed it was the middle course of the 7 non-dessert dishes.
In my first bite I got mostly sorbet and mistakenly thought this would be an overly sweet dish throughout. Mixing the sorbet (which tasted strongly of kaffir lime; I actually didn't get much of a sense of the galangal) with the other ingredients balanced the dish out. The headlining ingredient, jellyfish, was nearly invisible underneath the pea shoots and strips of coconut "noodles", but added a great texture to the bite.
5. Next was the "Lobster, Masa, Daikon, Avocado, Onion Sprout, Pineapple Fluid Gel". Just as the sunflower tempura likely borrowed the batter from the day-to-day operations of Tacos Punta Cabras, the tortilla was likely the same, as was the pineapple fluid gel, which as far as I can tell is nearly identical (maybe with a bit more heat) to their pineapple-habanero salsa. Absolutely nothing wrong with that as I love the fresh ingredients that TPC uses during the day, and I enjoyed them in this dish that night. Of course I could always use more lobster, and the heat from the pineapple gel overwhelmed the dish a bit, but it was overall quite enjoyable.
6. The "Lamb Belly Fries, Siracha Ranch, Saffron, Lime Gel, Espelette, Slaw" was a dish I was very curious about, and luckily it came out next (I guess it had a 50/50 chance at that point). I had speculated that the "fries" would be small lamb taquitos, and Chris thought maybe a poutine-like dish with real fries and the lamb on top.
Well, we were both wrong. The strips of lamb were instead coated with cornmeal and fried. Like most of the dishes that night, it had strong asian influences, with "sirancha" (a mix of sriracha and ranch) and Thai basil. The cornmeal coating gave a crisp structure to the otherwise tender lamb belly.
7. The last non-dessert dish of the night was the "Beef & Firefly Squid, Sendres 7 Flavor Vinaigrette, Farmers Market Vegetables". The to the same supplier mix-up that forced the substitution of the Manilla clam for razor clam, instead of hotaru ika, we got ika somen. The steak, likely a sirloin, was competent, and the ika not too chewy, but we had been looking forward to the delightful combination of snappiness and creaminess that encompasses consuming the diminutive firefly squids whole. Unfortunately, this was probably the most disappointing dish of the night, though through no fault of the chefs.
8. Finally, it was dessert time. First out was the "Gloria’s Strawberries, Black Tea Biscuit, Fried Platano, Eucalyptus Frozen Yogurt". The desert was very refreshing, with some delicious strawberries and an almost-brulee finish on the plantain, which had been sprinkled with sugar and torched. The eucalyptus frozen yogurt was subtle, not like sucking on a cough drop.
9. The final dish of the night was the "Flavores of Scotch / Butterscotch, Smoked Pete Ice Cream, Vanilla Meringue, Scotch Gelee, Coffee Cake". The mixture of flavors and textures worked well, with a little saltiness from the butterscotch, lightness from the meringue "flakes", and body from the coffee cake. The smokiness of the ice cream permeated the dish and tied it all together.
It was 12:30 AM, our meal was done, and we were presented with our check. I chatted briefly with Chef Josh; we comiserated on our shared disappointment with the lack of razor clams and hotaru ika, but my favorite dishes of the night--the seared ankimo, the lamb belly fries--more than made up for it!
This was actually the first pop-up/underground-type dinner that I've attended, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The pacing was good, and the progression was very interesting. Thank you to the chefs and staff at SLF/TPC, and I'd definitely attend another one in the future!
[I'm experimenting with "Chowhound-optimized" photos, with captions embedded, for this post. More work on my end, but makes it easier to tell what dish is what when looking at the photos on CH.]