Proprietors/Executive Chef: Sara Simmons/Paul Qui
Nolita– 38 Prince Street, New York, NY
City Grit ROCKS! Yes, it was my first city grit event….owner Sara Simmons came up with the concept of a “culinary salon”, “a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste”. Another fancy way of saying supper club. When my friend forwarded me the email that said Paul Qui would be cooking for City Grit for one week July 30th – August 4th, I quickly jumped at the chance to grab seats. We booked it for August 4th, the last day Paul would be in NYC to test out his concepts.
HOLY HELL IMPRESSIVE… i can throw out a bunch of expletives here, because it’s innate for me to do so..but bottom line is…that all of us… as a group was highly impressed. Having been at his previous restaurant (Uchiko) I already had very much high expectations and Paul Qui surpassed them all. Paul is all about mixing all various components together to create not only that visually stunning palette of a plate, but combines all those layers of complexity of happiness on your palate. As confirmed by Eater.com, Paul Qui is expected to open up 3 new shops in Austin. http://eater.com/archives/2012/08/06/paul-qui-interview-august-2012.php
I’m really bummed he’s staying…but I can easily see why. There is a lot of cultural food influences in Austin…lots of diversity, food trucks, overall REALLY good food and Paul is going to just tip the iceberg just a bit. Just when you’re wondering what’s next, he shakes innovation to the ultimate core… and you are not surprised in the least bit. Good food speaks volumes obviously. And Paul owns two very important traits… his ability to be open-minded always and to stay humble. I hope this tradition carries on for many years to come as I plan and jet set my next trip to Austin.
Tuna Jamon – lardo, olive oil, melon.
The little specks you see are crystalline soy with olive oil powder somewhere on this plate. And the tuna is wrapped in lardo… i know, people get turned off when they hear “lard”. I only began to embrace lard about two years ago. It’s so bad for you, but something about lard just turns me on. That’s your warning sign! Only to be eaten in moderation. We’re off to a good start kids.
Tomato Water – mussel, celery, basil
Probably the table favorite. Something about that tomato water got us all hooked. Liquid gold. Literally. Our waitress told us that she had to be careful with this dish and not spill any tomato juice, because the heirloom tomatoes were so damn expensive. Spilling any drop would’ve been like wasting a $100… Not literally, but you get the effects. Oh, I suppose the mussels were good too…but not nearly amazing as the lemony basil, tomato water mixture with celery & mint. Pure genius Paul. My only regret was not eating another bowl more! OK, let’s not be greedy here…
Sunchoke Dashi – uni, squash, creme fraiche.
One of my top favorites. The sunchoke dashi was the most amazing part… coupled it with thinly sliced and rolled up cucumber, summer squash, squash blossoms, carrots, and thin petals of red mullet bottarga on top of a lightly striped sweep of creme fraiche that looks like it’s just painted on for decoration. It lays delicately next to the ball of uni that has been dehydrated and shaved with a microplane into bits of pepper flakes.
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Yes, it rather looks like salmon doesn’t it? This dish had savory, a little bit of creaminess, acidic citrus and a bit of a crunch due to the cucumber in it…topped with pickled onions on top of the brown butter verjus foam… that was simply killer. Laced it with crack underneath, would be the preserved lemon dashi puree. It had body, but also a good tang to it. Are you noticing a pattern? Most of the dishes had dashi in it, in one form or the other.
Quail – beer, miso, strawberry.
I am crazy about quail, like i’m crazy about sweetbreads. What’s crazy, is that I love the strawberries in this dish more. Umeboshi like strawberries to be exact, that give it that super plush, tart yet sweet taste. Don’t forget the roasted maitake mushrooms. Amazing nice texture with a slight bit of a crunch to it as well. This dish was a standout that has all the components of salty, sweet tang, little bits of crunchy that reminded me of tograshi spice and tempura bits rolled and mixed (but really it’s pumpernickel and nori….CLOSE!) and even faintness of sweet bitterness … More savory than sweet of course. Oh, this one actually had NO dashi in it.
Pork Jowl – corn, coriander, black lime
HOLY HELL. Really rich. Really good. So who cares? The raw corn adds a touch of sweetness and crumbled cheese just adds to the richness. The pork jowl was marinaded in fish sauce…I saw pics from earlier in the week, and it looked like he started off with pork belly and either got ADD or ran out of pork belly and used pork jowl instead. Either way, kinda glad we got the pork jowl… it was pretty good…and I don’t eat jowl much, so it was a pretty unique experience for me. All other elements were basically the same. The black lime salt was amazing….They had to dehydrate the limes and pick out the membranes with a tweezer….Black lime is very strong in flavor…very citrus-y, with a lot of body, minus the sweetness…which I adore. I love all things sour & tart.
Rice Milk – coconut, pandan, parsnip
This was prob my least favorite dish. His desserts are a bit too light for my liking. Lacked the “wow” factor, but simplistic in form and taste. Paul Qui even said it…he is NOT a pastry chef…but only tries to combine all the flavors to hit all those notes… “sweet, salty, acidic”. It’s ok.. I am probably the only person who didn’t like it or enjoyed it as much….
I know, this post is way too long. But I’m a Top Chef fanatic…and even after the season has ended, I have been and always will be a Paul Qui fanatic. (Note: Only as long as he never compromises and forgets who he is… ) I don’t like sellouts. Just continue to make good food and everybody will continue to be happy.
P.P.S. Nobody cares that he’s a lambda, except Lambdas.