Sometimes, you have a meal that blows your mind.
Sometimes, you have two.
It's been a challenge putting this post together because there is so much going on: the food, the chef, the experience, it's altered how I think about food. But let's break this thing down piece by piece and hope that ya'll don't get bored. But in case you do, just scroll through the pictures and I'll meet you at the bottom.
So let's take it back to the old school. It started with a simple question, "Want to have dinner at Craig's place on Thursday? He's cooking." I didn't think much of it and said sure.
C had told me a little bit about Craig Thornton (@wolvesmouth). He was the personal chef for a celebrity. He loved to cook and he was kind of out there. For example, in March, he tweeted that he was going to give away some food on a random street corner in LA. You know what he gave away that day: foie gras. Needless to say, I wanted to know what was up with this guy.
This big bad wolf can be found on the streets giving away foie gras
Let's just say that things were not what I had in mind. When we arrived for dinner that night, we stepped into a random Hollywood Hills home to find this view:
and this guy working the kitchen:
Suffice to say, my curiosity was properly piqued.
Soon after all the dinner guests arrived, we got down to the business of dinner.
Nothing out of the ordinary right? I thought the elderflower hibiscus gelee added a different spin to a nice tart oyster mignonette.
A simple dish really, but the goat cheese, squash blossom, and peach went great together. Craig compressed the peach, which enhances the flavor of the peach. It's a common theme throughout his dishes and it's got me wanting to compress all of my fruit before eating it. Wait, never mind, I don't really eat fruit.
This is when I said whoa. The first comment I made when this plate was set in front of me was how much it reminded me of our meal at Eleven Madison Park. This course was playful and whimsical, it was not just visual artistry, but gastro-artistry, a perfect blend of textures and flavors. I don't like beets, but I was excited to see how the beets would taste with the arugula black pepper ice and frozen roaring forties. I have a new found appreciation for beets as a result of this dish. You can catch me eating beets Mondays at Souplantation (because Monday is cream of mushroom day).
I learned the pour shot at the first Phototasting workshop. The soup starts off light, but with each spoonful becomes more intense as the cotija and shrimp chili gelee warms and melts into the soup and alters the flavors. Very creative and very good.
No magic was needed here. It was just simple and rich. The croutons were homemade and off the hook.
Watershield sounds like something you'd spray on your car or house to protect it from the rain, but alas, this isn't some 3M product. Watershield is an aquatic plant with a jellylike coating on the underwater stems and roots. The squid was tender and almost sweet, while the watershield provided a nice acidic counterbalance.
Tasty little morsels. Craig went all out here, even making the profiteroles himself. In hindsight, I shouldn't have eaten these with a knife and fork. I should've just tossed one into my mouth.
At this point, we'd gone through quite a few dishes and I was wondering how many more were coming when I noticed that Craig kept looking at a list on the fridge. I walked over and took a pic.
Holy shit. This was going to be a sixteen course dinner and we'd only gone through...SEVEN! I had no idea this was the kind of epic dinner we were going to have, so I buckled down and prepared myself for the onslaught of food. Craig doesn't fuck around. The man wants to satiate you.
While light and simple, the different flavors of the ingredients really played well together. The wasabi peas brought me back to my childhood while the nori made and sweetness of the granola balanced the acidity of the tomatoes. Craig does an excellent job of balancing the rich dishes, like the lobster profiteroles, with palate soothing dishes like this.
Absolutely no magic or fancy tricks here. The John Dory was elegant and understated. Again, taking us on a journey through the lighter parts of our palate.
And just when we thought we'd hit the light portion of this dinner experience, Craig brought out the pork belly. The pork belly was perfectly prepared and was beyond tender. The sweetness of the pork belly was played perfectly with the puree and pickled cherry.
Yes, you read that right. It is Iberico ham fat. And look there, the compressed fruit again. A fun play on melon wrapped with prosciutto, this was a challenging dish because the temperature of the Iberico ham fat needed to be just right, otherwise it'd be too chewy, or it'd melt. You could feel the ham fat glazing the melon and glistening your lips as you smacked down on this bad boy. This dish was a big win.
If I didn't know better, I'd think this was a deconstructed cheesesteak. The short rib was braised for almost fifty hours, which meant that this meat just melted in your mouth. Just writing about this dish right now makes my mouth water, damn it all. The thing about Craig's dishes is that they may very well be once in a life time dishes. He's always exploring and trying something new and not having to run a restaurant means having the freedom to explore each and everytime he has a dinner party. I can only hope that the short ribs come back in some form in the future.
Yum. Seriously, that's all I could say. I'm a big fan of citrus and tart and this dish did it. It was a refreshing chaser to the short ribs.
If Craig ever decided to go into the ice cream making business, he'd make a killing. The cornbread honey ice cream was great and went surprisingly well with the watermelon. A nice homage to good old southern comfort foods.
Truth be told, I can't remember much about this dish except that I didn't want to accidentally inhale the chocolate shavings and cough for the next twenty minutes. Would you remember course fifteen very well if you didn't take notes? I don't think so.
I actually thought we were getting coffee and doughnuts. Duh. At this point I should've known better that Craig wouldn't do something so simple. I loved this spoonful of coffee, doughnuts and pop rocks to close out our dinner.
And with dinner complete, Craig joined us and walked the dinner party through the menu, discussing the various reasons, motives and challenges behind each dish.
The thing you to come to realize is that Craig is not just a chef, but he is an artist and he's in love with the artistry of food. He painstakingly frets over each peach, each squash blossom that is going to grace your plate. He will drive hours to find that perfect ingredient. He's devoted to his food, all to ensure that we, his dinner guests, have a unique and fun experience.
And what fun we had. Craig's food is artistic, creative, and stretches your boundaries and comfort zones, but it is still approachable and more importantly, good to eat.
So the question I'm sure you have is...how can I get in on this goodness? Later this week, I'll post our second wolvesden dining experience and give you more information on how you can experience Craig's food art.
to be continued....