Learn about the rules as a pro,
So that you can break them like an artist.
Picasso’s words have echoed in all of the creative adventures I have sought out through life. And midway through what was spectacle after spectacle on the plate, I was reminded of the very words. For what Scott Anderson had succeeded in doing was taking simple dishes, ordinary ingredients, and dismissing the rules of tradition to bring forward art on a plate.
After the first 9 courses, it was time for the remainder of my 19 course meal in the epicurean, enchanting town of Princeton.
Up for a tenth course was a smoked Scottish potato with quince puree, chestnut porridge, black truffles and edible marigold, which I knew of from my Indian roots. This was heartier than its predecessor, with the potato and quince acting like a comfort food of sorts, elevated by the distinct flavor of the truffles. Getting into slumber mode seemed highly possible now!
Switching to lighter plating was a butter roasted kohlrabi, with pheasant jus, fine herbs like chervil, tarragon, parsley and chive, with a dab of brown rice below egg yolk and truffle with potato foam. While slightly over the foam texture, the buttery bites were delectable. I realized over time that I was a self acclaimed butter addict, a stick of love that I could definitely melt and lick away for a lifetime.
A brilliantly white and light plate arrived with yellows and greens that instantly evoked the feeling of an upcoming spring. These were potato dumplings with almond pasta, shiitake spice, cabbage and coriander salad.
With a self proclaimed love for potatoes, I went for them first, and they melted in my mouth. The almond pasta had an almond scent and a pasta texture, which was a sensual juxtaposition that I loved. The cabbage and coriander were the perfect contrasts and vegetable portions needed for the starch saturated dish, which I literally licked clean.
Next was a branch textured wild mushroom which was cooked into a salivating bronze texture. It came with potato sauce, leek puree, sunchoke chips, frisee salad and cashew cheese sauce. While the beautiful mushroom was the focal point, I found the accompaniments to be far superior in taste: the sunchoke chips were hearty, the cashew versus leek provided a contrast of heavy, salty versus fresh, green, respectively. My dinnermate received the same dish in a slightly marbled plate.
With several courses left, I literally jumped off my chair realizing that the desserts had already commenced. For I do find it shattering when dessert courses are in voluminous contrast to their savory counterparts. First was an interesting Chokeberry dessert with arnoiaberry and hay ice cream, black sesame cake, beet and huckleberry syrup, salt roasted Okinawa sweet potato and chocolate mousse.
After finishing the essay of ingredients, I looked to the dish itself, and was surprised at seeing fairly simple chocolate bits, which grew on me with their depth of tastes and flavors. The ice cream had a straw like texture that reminded me of soan papdi from India, which was a sharp contrast to the almost crackly cake. The berry syrups were on the vibrant side, while the mousse had a sturdy texture and an almost pure cacao flavor which, thankfully, was not saccharine. Definitely a mousse and chocolate cake remix, this one elevated my childhood memory of this dessert to gastronomic levels.
A fluffy vegetable dish followed next, in direct juxtaposition with its midnight dark predecessor. I was taken aback by the candied celery bits sticking vertically upwards from a dessert plate, a technique I had seen in Chicago before. However, the tangy lemon mousse tart with citrus fruit and liquid nitrogen lemon ice cream were a remarkable palette cleanser, leaving the denseness of the chocolate as a memory I longed to relive.
The next dessert was an architectural wonder of its own. Labelled a chocolate ganache with raisins, ginger cardamom cookies, cardamom sauce, saffron yoghurt, it was in fact piled high like an ice cream sandwich.
And with my love for the concept, I immediately plopped my head on the table to see the visible specks of cardamom and ginger on the cookies that held the velvety ganache in place. The cardamom sauce was grainy and a strong jolt to the senses, which was mellowed by the succulence of the silky (and also strong) saffron yohgurt. I truly love strong flavors in traditional formats, they highlight the versatility of South Asian cooking. Almost Middle Eastern in the flavors, it was one of the rare cases that I liked the non-chocolate components far more.
As if reading my mind, the chef brought out a plate of petite chocolate chip cookies and cream cheese chocolate cake. Basics to the core, they were nonetheless rich and cheerful reminders of childhood, where I would nibble away at innumerable such morsels with a glass of milk. For you see, I was brought up with an insatiable addiction to cookies.
A volcanic plate brimming with almost molten looking shiny chocolates were an indication that the meal was ending. These were dark chocolate truffles with Trinidad perfumes, and having graced the Caribbean before with a beautiful stranger, I instantly sniffed them first. I was transported to nightlife on the shores, and to a particular bottle of Angostura in my mom’s kitchen. The chocolate itself was almost molten in how it melted so quickly in my mouth, disappearing with all its richness and leaving molten dynamite behind.
Like a reminder that all good things come in vintage boxes akin to the cookies I had nibbled hours ago, the chef popped out an open red box marked cloves. Almost expecting the Indian paan (betel leaf) to tumble out like a digestive, it was in fact a clove and anise dark chocolate truffle. And how it seduced my every sense with its melting, velvety texture and punchy, spicy flavor tones. It was one of those rare bites that I could imagine digging my tongue and teeth into on a night reserved for flamboyant nightlife or secret mischief.
An ode to my fellow photographers, before closing an opulent night.
19 courses later, I was filled with more than food. The intricacy of plating decor, the careful attention to presentation, and the reminder of food origins, all blended so seamlessly to create an experience that was nothing short of a visit to an iconic art museum.
And its not often that you leave both satisfied and enlightened.
Cheers to Princeton.
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