I should clarify.
My last post, “Bad Food Blogger,” was not about blogging bad food, but about bad food blogging.
I try to stay on the bright side of things, preferring to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. There’s a lot of bad food out there and some of it I have had the misfortune of eating. However, I’m not going to dwell on that. Why? It’s like eating it twice.
I’m okay with focusing on my shortcomings, though, such as being a bad food blogger, but only so far as to offer a disclaimer. You’ll see from the documentation of my recent experience at COI in San Francisco, California.
(The name, by the way, is French and isn’t pronounced like the Japanese fish. Can fish be Japanese? Anyway, I had called them and heard the proper pronunciation on their outgoing message or from the host, I can’t remember which. It probably comes from the phrase, en rester coi, which means, “to be left speechless.” The food did indeed leave me speechless, but I had to laugh when my friend teased that the bill would be what accomplished that feat.)
There were nine plates served in the tasting menu, plus mignardises that I understand to be tiny sweets and pastries served after coffee or tea at the end of a meal, and I have six photographs. I actually have seven, but the first one was so damned blurry (more than the rest) that I couldn’t bring myself to self-deprecate that far–I have my limits.
One of my dinner companions stated this was the best meal of his life. The use of molecular gastronomy, where flavors are so condensed, so distilled, that a drop of cucumber gel lights up your brain like a night market in Asia, is an incredible experience.
You can watch the documentaries and shows, the chefs bent over with tweezers placing flowers and dabs of sauce just so and think, “this is city slicker B.S.–the emperor has no clothes on–people are tricked into believing this is good and it’s not; it’s pretentious.”
But you’d be wrong, and I say that with the humility of having thought that myself. Food, when it’s this good, doesn’t need to be “super sized,” and trust me, at the end of three hours, both my palate and tummy were satiated.
Fine dining isn’t just about ingredients and quantity, it’s about the experience. And I don’t mean being fawned over by servers; I find obsequiousness ruins my appetite. What I mean is that it was psychological as well as physical–it was emotional and delicious and gorgeous and encompassed my dinner companions and me like a great film. What COI created was an environment in which we could lose ourselves in the moment, suspended in time and space outside of everything, as if we entered a temple.
(Okay, so next to our table was an ex-couple attempting to remain friends, and one of them was having a meltdown replete with sobbing while the other relentlessly harangued and encouraged her, but you know, it made the night that much more memorable, and reminded me of eating in a family restaurant next to a child having tantrums, which you don’t feel like you paid for, but it’s the show on the ticket so fasten your seatbelts.)
The other part about fine dining is acknowledging the culinary skills of the chef and their team. I’m not a sports fan, so I know what it’s like to see people doing things (and sweating) and not care. But what they do takes an inordinate amount of skill and labor. If they make something look easy, it’s because it took hours and hours of practice, and that means mistakes and rehearsals, and often, they’re not even (or ever) done with what they’re aiming to do.
I can attest to this. When I saw Madhur Jaffrey make kofta curry on Mind of a Chef, the show that helped bring me back to cooking, let me tell you: they edited out the prep! My vegan version of her dish (I modified the recipe I’ve linked above by combining it with what I could glean from the episode) took a lot of time, from shopping and hunting to preparing the ingredients. How lucky am I to have an actual Indian grocer near me in a town composed largely of Westerners! I didn’t have to order online and wait for stuff to arrive.
So, did my dish taste good? Hell yeah. Did it take longer to cook than to eat? Hell yeah. The lesson here is, if you can appreciate the “love” (that’s code for skills and labor, to be clear) behind something, then appreciate it. If not, you can learn to appreciate it or you can change the channel. There are plenty of other things to appreciate and I’m not going to judge.
(I also don’t have photographs of what I made. Because: bad food blogger.)
Anyway, it’s terrible that I’m showing you pictures out of order from how they were served (I started with dessert). I know Chef Matthew Kirkley thought about the order of things because when I’ve been creating menus for dinner, I do the same thing (this is if I go beyond the one-pot-meal).
Here’s one of the tastiest bites of the evening I didn’t forget to photograph. It felt as if all the oysters I had ever had were summed up in this dish:
And there you have it. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like I did too bad a job recording the meal. The nascent vegan in me quivers at divulging what I’ve eaten, but the omnivore shall not yet be quieted.