So I finally got myself to Campanile. I had some thoughts - some may find this odd, this is very personal. And it was quite great - but there was something missing from the experience, and I think I figured out what it was.
Entree was cedar smoked salmon with green beans, and a little trio of, er, things - one was a beet, the other two were beet-like but of differing flavors. A very cognitively full journey - oily, deep salmon flavor, then the sweet, silky beet, then the bitter beet-like thing with a high citrus flavor, then the rose-tasting beet with the high tickly champagne-like effect. In an exceedingly excellent olive oil and best basil I've yet had.
And I'm not saying that it wasn't brilliant - it was exceedingly *intelligent* food - and I'm not saying it wasn't memorable - I found myself recalling the three beet-things again today, almost a week later. And I'm not saying that the ingredients weren't of the highest class. But, still - I did not love it in my soul. Sort of like meeting the woman you think is absolutely perfect for you and admiring how she is so smart, just like you wanted, and so slender, just like you wanted, and so witty and dry, just like you wanted, and yet finding yourself somehow unmoved...
I pondered this. This disturbed me, that I did not *love* it.
I have a theory.
This is my theory: that maybe Mr. Mark Peel is a bit too in love with his ingredients. That Campanile is Chez Panisse freshness-of-ingredients-at-center theory taken to its full, logical end. And I'm not saying I'm against Chez Panisse-style - lord knows, that's how I cook myself - but that maybe... That there was no meld, there was no visceral coming-together-to-reach-true-wonder, that there was no magnificance.
Maybe I'm smoking too freely from the crack pipe here. But I was thinking yesterday of a bit of a John Thorne essay, where he mentions that he made terrible asparagus risotto until he learned to throw away half of the asparagus - to peel and cook away some of the flavor - and made it fit. Because I think ingredients don't naturally fit, and if you're going to make something greater than the sum of the parts you've got to *carve* a little, to alter the things and maybe kill some of their flavors and make them fit. And Campanile food all seems so devoted to showing the perfect glory of each of its ingredients that it never seems like it was *cooked* together. Maybe I could say that Campanile treats the *salad* as the center of the food universe, and all the dishes of theirs felt like arrangements of scarcely altered ingredients. It feels like Mark Peel would never want to make a *stew*.
And the absolute best thing I had that night - a brioche with peaches, nectarines, and tarts - was a dish that was essentially a dessert version of a salad.
Like somebody who was so in love with wood that, when they made a chair, they refused to peel of the bark or reshape the wood, or cut the wood into dowels and just piled this beautiful wood in a loose, balanced pile for you to sit on. Beautiful, but not the best *chair*.
Anyway, I'm repeating myself, sorry, I'll probably get bombs in the mail today.
Anyway, I'm not saying Campanile isn't quite great - it is - it's just a commentary about, I don't know, it's falling one step of trascendent genius. Like Tchaikovsky to in love with his melodies to be Beethoven.
This probably just reveals my prejudice for *stews*.