Restaurant: CR8 by Roberto Cortez [1, 2, 3, 4]
Date: March 5, 2012
Cuisine: Modern Art
Rating: Absolutely Amazing
About a year ago I came across online a chef named Roberto Cortez who hosts periodic themed modernist dinners. Looking at Roberto’s work (visible on his blog) it was instantly obvious that his visual style and presentation were out of this world. They exhibit a standout playfulness and creativity well in advance of even top restaurants. But what you can’t tell from pictures is how does it taste! Any which way, I was dying to find out. I emailed, and finally, this winter, the opportunity came. March 5, 2012.
Even with founding Foodie Club partner Erick out of town for business, this could not be missed.
To ruin the suspense: what followed was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. And, you, my readers, know I had a lot!
Roberto doesn’t just put on a dinner, he stages an event, a kind of modernist play for the senses. This one, part of the CR8 series, was called Dark Illuminated Forest and it has a wintery theme befitting the season. Food, drink, music, and ambiance all help create the evening.
Roberto chose a midtown gallery space for this particular event. And above you see several of us gathering in the back patio prior to the meal. Another interesting element is that there is a single table for ten, composed of three different parties mixed together. Everyone who comes to an event like this is a foodie and so part of the fun is meeting and socializing with new people. In this way it’s a bit similar to the experience at Jose Andres’ É — but Roberto takes it to a whole new level.
First he whipped up — literally — a specialty cocktail.
The base is fresh winter melon, compressed to bring out the flavor with a bit of cream and of course some booze. The top is a white foam of St Germain with a bit of chili.
The result was a wonderful blend of flavor and texture. The top velvety soft, the body intense and refreshing, with a pleasant burn on the finish. Really quite spectacular.
We move inside to the forest. The table has been set with a smoldering centerpiece of salt, bark, and flame. Paper walls cordon off the open gallery space to make it more intimate.
Above hangs part of the “forest” – painted by Roberto himself.
Each course featured unusual modernist silverware which was often amusing and conversation worthy, if not always totally practical.
As the candles melted, the flame began to sputter amongst the salt. This caused tiny volcano-like explosions, pops, and crackles. Advice: don’t pour water on burning salt, big flame results.
Our host introduced each course — then he was back behind the curtain whipping up the good stuff.
2007 Montenidoli “Carato” Vernaccia di San Gigmignano
The current release is, yes, five years old from the first Vernaccia to be aged in Barrique from a fine selection of free run grape musts, one can taste and feel the Leroy influence here. Deep minerality floated in creamy clouds. Grandiose, wild, and important. Here’s a pic of where this wine comes from. I discovered it last summer while Eating Italy.
This is a BYOB event for the most part. I brought a box of wine and another guest brought some too. Roberto opened various bottles to match — like this complex floral white from my cellar.
Liquid Moules Frites
With this post I’m experimenting with audio descriptors. Most are recordings of Roberto, but this one is me. Click the play button to listen.
In any case, this dish is an amuse that riffs on “moules frites” the mussels and fries. The spoon contains beer gelee. There is a fried mussel and the shot is a potato soup tasting like… fries. Other than the oddity of the bitter beer goo, it tasted superb, particularly the “fries.”
Leftover Christmas Garden
Roberto had a vision to create a dish out of the remains of his Christmas tree. The green oil is actually a resiny pine oil distilled from the tree, then there’s an arugula granite, and pears done 3 ways. As fruit leather, straight up and as a chip. But the best is that white blob, a mousse made from Brillat-savarin cheese. The cheese was mind blowing and the overall combination of flavors and textures truly startling. Really, quite divine.
It looks like a Guiness, but no, it’s truffle soup with foamy maple syrup on top! And even better, it tastes amazing!
Instead of wine the next dish was accompanied by this unique Belgian beer. It has a soft bubbly strawberry soda like flavor.
The beer was specifically chosen to pair with this fois gras dish. Noodles of liver are matched with sphereized dark cherries, anise, tarragon, mushrooms, and a crunchy powder. The dish was slightly reminiscent of the frozen fois noodles I had in Madrid.
My cellar isn’t deep in California wine but I do like this sophisticated 2000 Neiman Cabernet. It’s very Bordeaux-like even down to the lead pencil nose.
This has two components. The 1st, served in this glass-like “spoon,” is a savory broth of mushrooms. You just have to be careful when you put it down.
The 2nd part, is this risotto. And it was the best dish of the evening, which is saying a lot. Creamy rice is paired with a Syrah coffee reduction. There’s something crunchy in there to adding yet another delicious textural component. Utterly, totally, mind blowing.
Roberto on this dish:
Here, Roberto makes a sort of Japanese and Chinese surf and turf. Chinese congee (rice porridge), the Christmas tree oil, Chinese style pork belly, are paired with exotic shrimp. Lots of subtle savory flavors.
Parker 96 for this boutique Spanish blockbuster. The 2008 Ultreia De Valtuille received the same elevage as its less expensive sibling. To say that has more of everything is a gross understatement. The complex aromatics leap from the glass; on the palate the wine is dense, rich, and velvety, and it gives true meaning to the expression “iron fist in a velvet glove”. It is an extraordinary effort that should drink well for 10-15 years, probably longer.
Classical pairing with novel technique. Succulent sous-vide beef short rib with polenta mousse and a soft blue cheese ice cream with a bit of zest. Heavy. Delicious.
Parker gives the 2005 Doisy Daene 91 points. I found it to be very pleasant sauterne, in the lighter style, but well-balanced with nice floral notes.
Yes, it looks a bit like a hostess snowball, but that’s about where the similarity ends. You can never go wrong with coconut and kafir lime, plus the textures were really interesting. Even the sprigs of dill and the pomegranate seeds worked. Roberto has an incredible knack for pairings.
A shot glass from the dessert wine in the magic egg — inside is the caramel sauce for the next dish. he is
Of course there would have to be a chocolate dish. You have to listen to the recording to discover all the random items in here, but unsurprisingly, given Roberto’s track record so far,they blend superbly. I particularly enjoyed the caramel with popcorn flavors.
I had high hopes for this meal, but on all levels the results were truly outstanding. The most similar meal I’ve had was this one at 2-star Calima in Spain — but the overall experience of Dark Illuminated Forest took everything to the next level. Roberto told us that many of these dishes were cooked for the 1st time this night. He didn’t even give them a test run. That he can just taste them in his head. The man is like a Toscanini of food. It’s mind-boggling. Every single dish worked. Some were a bit better of course, but all were great. They show technical virtuosity, but more importantly, they show his incredible talent for predicting the nature of sensory experience. Like a Mozart symphony, the notes were all harmonious. Really, Food as Art.
Roberto details this meal on his own blog.