Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Benefits of Travel

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
- Henry Miller

It's not that we go out for dinner that often. After all, it's pretty expensive unless you do take-out burritos or the cafeteria-line salad bar at New Seasons.

Pork belly, sous vide egg, watercress.

But we were badly in need of a date night, and the usual suspects (i.e. burritos, etc.) wouldn't do the trick. Plus I'd been waiting weeks for Anthony Cafiero, chef at Tabla, to return from the molecular gastronomical extravaganza that was Madrid Fusion 2011 to see what he might have brought back with him.

Squid ink tonnarelli, campari-poached gulf prawns, shallots, citrus cream.

You see, Anthony is nuts about fresh produce and I'm constantly running into him at the farmers' market carrying an armload of bags, quizzing farmers and purveyors about what's coming into season next. And Tabla's dinner menu, which offers three courses for $24, is one of the crazy great deals in town. We love sitting at the chef's counter 1) because it's intimate and busy at the same time, if that makes sense, and 2) if you have questions the chef is right there to answer.

Duck confit, potato, kale, thyme, Dijon emulsion.

Without going into excruciating detail about each plate and ingredient (see descriptions next to photos), the trip appears to have taken Cafiero's flavors to a new level of intensity. He's also playing around with some of the tricky techniques he observed on his trip—you'll definitely see more emulsions, items cooked sous vide and even a few alginate spheres (liquids inside a skin that burst in your mouth).

Smoked pork shoulder, spanish octopus, almond, endive, leek, tomato reduction.

But fun techniques aside, he seems more focused than ever on accentuating the flavor and texture of the main ingredient, whether it's pork belly, squid pasta or cured tuna. His plating is showing a new attention to detail, too, that, while not lacking before, has definitely taken a turn toward the artful while staying clear of preciousness.

It's exciting to watch a young chef with this much enthusiasm grow into his talent through what you see and taste on the plate. This trip was obviously good for the him, but I'm thinking it was pretty good for me (and all his other customers), too.

Top photo: Smoked Sweetbriar Farms pork, cured oregon albacore, fennel vinaigrette, salsa verde, marcona almonds.

Details: Tabla Mediterranean Bistro, 200 NE 28th Ave. 503 238 3777.


Anonymous said...

I was glad to see this post, Anthony was a former student that I worked with at Reed College. He is a very talented chef and just a lovely generous hearted person.

I will have to get my gal pals over to Tabla to check out the menu!

Thanks for the great coverage of plowday as well. What fun that was.


Kathleen Bauer said...

I know he'd be delighted to see you. Enjoy!

And plow day was so much fun. Can't wait for Champoeg next month!