Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A banana walked into a restaurant: last night at Magnum

Last night was the second and final evening of the Magnum pop-up at Biergarten in which chef Joseph Mahon and sommelier David Haskell collaborated on a prix fix menu and wine/beverage pairing.  Mahon, most recently the executive chef at Bastide, presented a five course menu with the option to add two additional courses to make it seven.  There was a full house of food writers and personalities in the house with the Starry Kitchen duo of Thi and Nguyen Tran (in the banana suit) taking center stage.

The meal started strongly, with a series of smaller plates, and built up to the main courses of Salmon and Duck Confit.  After the first couple of courses, some folks were concerned that they would leave hungry, but once the later courses arrived, those fears dissipated.

The first course was an amuse of Carrot Pudding with orange granita and shaved peanuts.  As the granita makes obvious, this was a cold course and the depth of flavors and the contrast in crunchy textures made it a pleasing way to begin the meal.

The second course was a Coconut Soup with mussels, but I did not sample this course (unphotographed) as I could not consume it due to the shellfish.

The third course (one of the 2 additional courses) was Wild Mushrooms with dashi and bearnaise mousse beneath a sheet of rice paper.  This course came with pork cheeks but the kitchen was able to exclude them from the dish.  Beneath the sheet of rice paper were beautiful mushrooms in a rich dashi sauce.  I ate some with the rice paper, taco-style but found it best to leave the rice paper and just focus on the mushrooms.  This dish would have been better without the rice paper as it stuck to the teeth of everyone at my table, which was an unpleasant effect.  The wild mushrooms had enough flavor to stand alone without the dramatic rice sheet.

The fourth course was Fried Chicken, with a salad of arugula, dried tomato, celery, radish and a buttermilk dressing.  This chicken was significantly different than chef Mahon's legendary fried chicken with tomato and watermelon dish at Bastide, but was certainly a winner.  The chicken was crisp and hot and the buttermilk sauce added a nice kick.  I would have been happy having a second helping.

The fifth course was Cured Salmon, with pickled cabbage, cucumber, daikon and a kimchee broth.  When the menus were presented, I had assumed that cured salmon would be a cold dish, like gravlax.  Instead it was a beautifully seared cooked salmon in the fragrant kimchee broth.  I was not a fan of the sprouts as they were raw and not one of my favorite ingredients, but otherwise ate every bite.  If I had had some bread or sticky rice, I would have scooped up the last of the broth.

Perhaps in a nod to the Koreatown location of the pop-up, the salmon was one of several courses with Asian accents, along with the Coconut Soup and the Wild Mushrooms.

The sixth course was the star of the evening, Duck Confit with black beans, Swiss chard and a black vinegar sauce.  Wowzers, this was a sensational dish.  The duck was sweet and savory at the same time.  The duck leg had a lot of meat on it and the skin was crispy and the whole dish was bursting with flavor.  If Mahon opens a Confit Truck, I will be in line on Day One.

The seventh and final course was Ginger Bread Waffles wutg cranberries, clover honey and whipped creme fraiche.  The waffle had been fried and coated in cinnamon.  For a sweet dish, this hit the spot.  I enjoy cinnamon, so this was a natural.  I just wished that I had another piece of the fried chicken to taste Mahon's fried chicken and waffles together, as I later saw the expediter Sam Kim do.

Haskell's pairings were always interesting and worked well, with the exception of the Soju he paired with the waffles, which I found undrinkable.  The pairings ran the gamut from champagne to red and white wine, to sake and soju to the pairing of Nautical Nut Brown Ale with the Cured Salmon, which may have been the most successful of the evening.

There was talk of Mahon and Haskell doing another pop-up in the new year.  I hope so, so more of you can get to experience what I enjoyed last night.  I will share more news when a location and date is confirmed.

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