April 21, 2009

blackbird FTW

There is clearly balance in the universe, because to make up for last night's astoundingly, embarrassingly bad dinner, Blackbird just served me one of the most successful dishes I have ever eaten.

I walked over there from the hotel -- I almost didn't even go for dinner because by 8:30 I had only the barest imaginings of hunger after the yummy carne asada plate I had for lunch at Perez (wooooo!). I had what seems to be my usual table, 4 or 5 in from the window along the wall, and I had a very congenial waiter, willing to indulge my nerdy questions and goofy enthusiasm.

The amuse-bouche was half a shrimp, topped with a mix of queso fresco and chives, in a very mild cilantro cream and topped with a fried shaving of trumpet mushroom. I liked the mushroom, and could happily eat them by the handful if they were sold as a snack, and the shrimp and toppings were good too, if not as exciting as some amuses I have had at Blackbird.

amuse bouche of shrimp, queso fresco, trumpet mushroom

My starter was a duck tartare with dried strawberries, A1, and tater tots. I think there was supposed to be celery but I didn't notice any. Apparently they cook the duck at 104F for 4 hours, then mix it with a duck-skin aioli, which gives it a creamy effect so it sticks together like real tartare. The A1 sauce was gelatinized so it would not pool out on the plate, but rather stand up in little piles. There were reconstituted dried strawberries and freeze-dried pink strawberry shards, 3 tater-tot cubes, and a strewing of microgreens. (For some reason, the mania for garnishing with microgreens bothers me not at all, while the 90s-esque garnishing of plate edges with chopped whatever makes me homicidal. Go figure.) This dish sounded so off the wall that it had potential to be awesome, and who can resist a tater tot?

duck tartare with dried strawberries and tater tots

The tots were indeed excellent, and the duck was delicious alone and with the strawberries, and with very small bits of the A1. Too much A1 nuked the taste of the duck, but carefully deployed it did work with the flavors of the rest of the dish.

But it was the rabbit and turnips that really blew the doors off. It was billed as roast rabbit with blood sausage, baby turnip, sourdough, pickled ramps and mustard. Very nice for spring, delicious when well executed, and just the thing for me, who LOVES turnips and ramps. Sounds like a straightforward Germanic-American sort of dish, yes?

And so it seemed at first glance, and even at first bite. The turnips were shaved on a mandoline and served with a braise of their greens. The mustard was presented as a dried, crispy tuile stuck into the slices of rabbit. But then I noticed that the microgreen garnish, which had been innocuously flavorless on the duck, was in this case micro-shiso, giving a distinctive floral twist to things. And then I noticed that the exquisitely delicious sauce soaking the bread had a familiar flavor to it... something I'd eaten recently... and then I realized the sauce was based on dashi. And then it all fell into place: shiso, dashi, turnips, pickles, mustard -- all of these are iconic Japanese ingredients, even while turnips and mustard and pickles are also standard mittel-european ingredients. The whole thing had been reimagined as a Japanese-flavored dish.

roast rabbit with shiso, turnip, pickled ramps, mustard tuile and blood sausage

And it was perfectly done. Every bite was delicious, every combination of flavors worked, everything serving together to create a perfect, harmonious whole, made just that much better by the wit of the presentation and the genius of the idea.

I was so giddy over this that I ended up ordering dessert too. I'd been tempted by the pear-cider donuts with hazelnut ice cream, and distracted by a pineapple-rhubarb sorbet with dark-chocolate hazelnuts, but I got talked into the banana cremeux with Gosling's rum/milk chocolate and molasses ice cream and a few bits of crisp-caramelized banana. I didn't regret it.

banana cremeux with rum and molasses ice cream

(yes, that is dill as the garnish, and no, it didn't work with the flavors. i tried, but it just looked pretty.)

Posted by foodnerd at April 21, 2009 11:05 PM

It's always nice to hear about your BB meals. Mmm.

I had the pear-cider donuts a couple of weeks ago when I was in town. They were darned close to perfect--at the time, I enjoyed my main dish more, but the smell and texture of the donuts is what I remember most now.

Posted by: C at April 22, 2009 01:41 PM
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