I've mentioned my new underground pop-up supper club. It's a members only dining group where you can enjoy a different meal, in a different place, cooked by a different chef every week. I just attended my third dinner, and I'm afraid I must tantalize you again. I will also tell you that they're looking to open up a few more membership slots starting March 1, so there's still time to join the group.
As is the routine, we got an e-mail from Dinner Lab one morning talking about an upcoming dinner. The e-mail always includes details on the chef who will be cooking on the given night (it always changes) and it also includes the menu that will be prepared. I had never heard of the latest evening's chef, Aron Habiger. He cooked for 6 years at The Crosby in Santa Ana. Santa Ana? Not exactly a culinary mecca, but I read on and was intrigued by the unique sounding menu. Each dinner has a title and theme and this one was On the Lam. I was interested enough to sign up and learn more.
Evidently Aron Habiger has found himself "on the lam." He lost some of that lovin' feelin' while cooking in Santa Ana after 6 years, so he quit his job and went on a culinary quest. I can definitely relate having quit my own job to indulge in my passion for food in Paris. For the last 6 months, Chef Aron has gone looking for inspiration, traveling from Hawaii to Utah to Alabama, and all parts in between. He just returned and brought us his learning from the road. I was ready to be his student.
Not sure where he picked up the first course, but I think this is my new favorite nacho. It was uni two ways - as a chip and as an emulsion on top with ohba shiso leaves. My only complaint is that I wish he could have super sized the portion, because I was left wanting more. There was a nice pairing of a dry, crisp Duet Viognier from French producer Louis Latour. I would have been happy with a bottle of that wine and a vat of his unique uni preparation.
Luckily we pressed on for yet another novel discovery of smoked blue point oysters wrapped in savoy cabbage on a bed of bright green sorrel buttermilk and topped with a single slice of sweet, pickled ginger. It was such an interesting combination of flavors and a beautiful presentation.
The next course was mine, and many others', favorite dish of the night. An organic egg yolk sat perched on a bed of pickled mustard seeds and mushroom espuma. The yolk begged to be broken and mixed with the ingredients and the crunchy wakame brown butter croutons. Sweet, savory, delicious.
We moved to the Pacific Northwest with snapper sprinkled with puffed wild rice, galangal dashi and a shallot escabeche. I really liked the play with light Asian flavors.
Things turned more robust with the mushroom crusted pork loin that was tender and well cooked with a contrasting creamy clam and parsnip puree. To include other poultry members who may have felt left out, there was a chicken fat vinaigrette. Yes, that was as good as it sounds.
How do you end such an interesting meal? You toast some chestnut ice cream next to some orange poundcake and then salt roast some beets and drizzle a little burnt tarragon honey. Yup, that's exactly what you do.
What a fabulously inventive meal from a chef who's no longer on the lam, and has definitely found his footing. Looking forward to seeing where he lands and dining with him again soon.
If you're interested in joining Dinner Lab yourself, you can use this link here to sign up and you'll get $20 off your first dinner, and so will I. Not too bad.