Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dinner at Z Kitchen

Last nights some girlfriends and I were the dinner guests of Bryon Zupon, the Duke undergraduate who has earned a reputation of late as an inventive and talented chef. His unconventional set up and techniques have been lauded on NPR and the New York Times Magazine.

We had a wonderful meal! All of us love food and it was a treat to experience the surprising and creative combinations of flavors. Bryan executes flawlessly. He presents the food beautifully with an attention to detail. I especially liked when he pulled out an eye dropper to place small, graduated dots of concord grape syrup on the plates with our fish. I have an eye dropper in the medicine cabinet but it really hadn't occurred to me to keep on in the kitchen!

For such a young person, Bryan is a confident and gracious host. He is way cooler than I or any of my friends were in college! We were glad to spend time with a young man who is talented and very clearly passionate about food. He approaches food with imagination and curiosity that leads to surprising pairings like chocolate and sesame powder or miso and butterscotch. His talent lies not only in his imaginative dishes but, perhaps more importantly, in creating dishes that are a perfect and very precise harmony of flavors. That's hard to do, especially when the flavors are as seemingly dissonant as miso and butterscotch.

Bryan has had some critics in the Durham food circle. Personally, I find that mean-spirited and probably motivated by jealousy and cynicism. I don't get that approach (and don't bother posting a comment to explain it to me because I'm not interested).

Here is our menu:

Starter: Scallop, pimenton-parsnip puree, avocado, blood orange oil, grapefruit, espelette pepper, tomato-cumin chutney, mustard, Sichuan peppercorn

Soup: Chestnut and sunchoke veloute, steamed wild mushrooms

Fish course: Red snapper, fennel, raisins, candied olive, concord grape syrup

Main course: Bacon-Wrapped-Bacon Buns
Pork belly, Nueske’s bacon, miso-butterscotch, snow peas, pickles, kim chee

Cheese: Beet, chevre, pistachio, orange blossom honey, carbonated grapes, Manni olive oil, Maldon salt, grated chocolate

Dessert: Blackberry and goat’s milk ice creams, sesame chocolate, pickled Fuji apples, roasted pineapple

My friends and I unanimously agreed that the soup and the bacon wrapped buns were our favorite. The cream soup was made of Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes) and garnishes of wild mushroom were shitake and hen of the woods. The soup with silky smooth with the mellow earthiness of the mushrooms. We all wanted to lick the bowls. Bryan admits that this dish is not particularly inventive but it is so GOOD that who cares! It was probably the best soup I've eaten.

The bacon buns were made of pork belly cooked sous vide for 24 hours at 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Pieces of pork belly were then wrapped in bacon and put in soft, doughy Chinese styles buns and served with miso butterscotch sauce. They were perfect. I could have eaten twenty of them. Bacon wrapped in bacon. Hello? What's not to adore about that? I'm so glad I'm not a vegetarian!

The dessert also deserves a mention. The tart, crisp apples, the sweet, soft roasted pineapple and the chocolate with a faint whiff of sesame were very strange but delicious combinations with the goat milk ice cream. It was bold and exciting. We agreed that the meal was the best any of us have had in a long while.

We paired each course with wines recommended by Seth and Craig at the Wine Authorities. I was especially pleased with a very lovely white Burgundy and a cabernet franc, also French. Those two guys are geniuses at wine pairings.


Anonymous said...

From start to finish: One of the most inventive, interesting, delicious, new, creative, unpretentious meals I have ever had. Bryan is going to do great things in his life..I only wish we could keep him in our backyard! Thanks for the invitation Kelly!

Matt said...

How did you score a night at Z Kitchen?

Kelly said...

By making a few contacts and planning six months in advance.