Last night several local bloggers dined at Jujube , the "almost Asian" restaurant, in Chapel Hill for Chef Charlie's fantastic tasting menu. We had twenty exquisite courses, yes, twenty! Each course was a small plate with a delectable morsel of two or three bites. Here is the run down:
Chips and dip: house made ricotta and butternut squash puree with a taro chip, salt cod with a shrimp cracker, and Tuscan duck liver pate with a sesame chip. Loved the salt cod!
Calamari salad with dashi aspic, cerignola olives, and black Chinese vinegar reduction: dashi is a Japanese fish stock and the olives were mild and green. The vinegar was sweet and rich and a nice compliment to the squid and the hint of lime lurking in the aspic.
Wagyu beef carpaccio with egg gribiche and a potato waffle chip: Wagyu is the American version of Kobe beef-- nice, happy, beer-fed cattle. The beef was amazingly tender and very delicate in flavor. I've never had carpaccio so yummy! Gribiche is like a mayonnaise but the eggs are soft boiled instead of raw. It includes Dijon mustard and some parsley. I nearly licked the plate.
Encorotza: In Italian this mean "carriage" and it is basically a grilled cheese sandwich. The chef de cuisine, Josh DeCarolis, takes this simple delight to new heights with mini smoked buffalo mozzarella and anchovies sandwiches dipped in egg and fried. I am a huge fan of cooked, melted, oozing cheese so this was one of my favorite dishes.
Porcini-stuffed rice fritters with aged shoyu: basically risotto balls made of sweet sticky rice sitting atop a sweet, thick, soy sauce. Italian-Asian fusion at its finest!
Things you can do with shrimp
Gambas plancha: The chef's charming take on this typical dish found in Spanish tapas bars included a pretty Puerto Rican pepper which is mild but looks like a habanero. The peppers were thrown into a deep fryer without batter causing them to blister and plump up. I'd be tempted to eat an entire plate of these peppers!
"Shrimp and grits" -- tempura shrimp with crispy daikon cake and oyster sauce: Oh my goodness, the oyster sauce was wonderful! They make their own oyster sauce from amino acids and it doesn't actually have oyster in it. I wish they would bottle and sell it! Its smooth saltiness was a beautiful foil to the crispy, sweet shrimp.
Shrimp and edamame siu mai with fennel cream: These little dumplings stuffed with chopped, fresh soy beans and shrimp were atop a fennel cream that gave the dish a hint licorice sweetness.
Seared foie gras with Vietnamese-style shrimp pate and mint: I've eaten foie gras in some great places like Nana's in Durham and the inestimable Gotham Bar and Grill in NYC, but hands down this was the most delicious foie gras I've eaten. It was a silken, buttery morsel of yumminess, cooked to perfection, not overdone or underdone. The mint was a surprising and delicate touch.
Things that are neither shrimp nor meat
Braised salt cod with fennel, capers, and olives: this was one of the two dishes that I was not overly crazy about. I was a bit disappointed because I love every ingredient in the dish. It was simply too salty even for me (I am an advocate for salt and its amazing properties). I much preferred the salt cod flaked with the shrimp cracker in the chip and dip starter course.
"White-trasherole": This cheeky take on the green bean casserole w/ cream of mushroom soup included Chinese long beans, shitake mushrooms in cream, and fried shallots. MMMMM, mmmm good, minus the Campbell's cream of mushroom soup.
Quail egg filled won-ton with brown butter and truffle: This dish was the other one I didn't really love. I'm not saying it was awful. I'm only saying that out of 20 dishes this one and and the salt cod were my least favorite. This one was basically a ravioli (using won-ton wrapper) stuffed with sauteed spinach and a quail egg that gently poached when cooked so the yoke is runny when eaten. A bit of shaved black truffle garnished the ravioli. I know black truffle with eggs is combination that many people love, but I prefer black truffles with stronger flavors that can stand up to the strong earthiness of this divine mushroom that is more expensive than gold. Keep reading for examples of what I mean.
Seared scallops with squid ink and black truffle cream: Loved it! The scallop was perfectly cooked, sweet and flavorful. The cream sauce was a dark, mysterious, purple black thanks to the squid ink which also added a briny flavor to compliment the earthy truffle. The briny, earthy sauce and the sweet scallop combination was a balanced marriage of flavors.
Venison truffle angolotti with robiola cream: By the time we got to the meat courses, I was starting to suffer from sensory overload, fatigue, and a full tummy. That didn't stop me from wanting to lick the plate again! This dish was another of my favorites. Angolotti is a stuffed pasta. Robiola is a creamy Italian cheese made of goat or sheep's milk. It should be no shocker that both of my favorite dishes include cheese! The robiola cream also included cilantro and lemon giving brightness to the rich, heavy venison pasta. I wonder if I could go back and order just a plate of this!
Seared sweetbreads with persimmon-shallot compote: Wow, I've had sweetbreads twice in one week. I have to say that the idea of eating thymus gland of a calf is disconcerting. Once I got over my squeamishness, I discovered that sweetbreads are good. Oddly, it reminds me of pork rather than beef.
Truffle stuffed spinelis steak with roasted fingerling potatoes: Loved this one too! Unlike my other two favorite dishes, this one does not have cheese. It was fork tender steak from a ribeye with shaved black truffle stuffed inside. The earthy truffles went great with the steak. I think it might have had a garnish of cilantro but I don't quite remember. By this point I was simply hoping to be capable of tasting the remaining courses.
Grilled venison with truffle jus and farro: Farro is a grain from emmer wheat. It seems very similar to bulgar wheat but coarser. I really liked the texture of it. It is one of the oldest cultivated grains. The venison was tender and the truffle jus, well, it was truffly. I was so full by this point that I could only muster ONE bite much to my dismay.
Bacon not stirred: Before we began the desserts, the chef presented us with digestifs of Makers Mark and butterscotch in glasses rimmed with salt and...wait for it...bacon brittle! It tasted fantastic but I was done drinking by this point so I only had a taste.
Sweet potato pie with candied baby walnuts: All these years I've been missing out by not eating candied baby walnuts! They are an Armenian specialty. Young walnuts, green husk and all, are preserved in a dark syrup. The chef served a thin sliced of sweet potato pie with slices of candied walnut on the side. Sweet potatoes make an excellent pie! This one was smooth and rich with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
Truffled chocolate truffle: The last bite of the dinner was so good that I almost couldn't bring myself to eat today! I have never tasted anything quite like this combination of dark chocolate and black truffle. Yes, black truffle powder in the chocolate. The forcefulness chocolate stands up well to the earthiness of the black truffle. The perfect morsels were shaped even like black truffles. I think I may have died and gone to heaven for just a moment.
My dining companions will be posting their impressions on their blogs:
Eat at Joe's Hopefully Joe can give a rundown of the wines we drank. I didn't drink very much because I had to drive. Plus I am done with writing this tome!
Cooking Eating Durham DurhamFood had two friends with him so he should have some interesting views based on their discussions after the meal.
Eclectic Glob of Tangential Verbosity Lenore will even post photos of our dinner on Flickr as soon as she has time.