It's one of those restaurants where the service consists of lots of explanation--the waitstaff has to serve as curator and docent of the menu. "Now, what's this sauce?" you ask, even though you have previously pored over the menu like a scholar, because it's just one component of several in the little dish--which is, in turn, just one dish of three. And: "Our flatbread tonight is topped with a cardamom salt, with ground almonds, and the dipping oil is infused with cloves and cinnamon." Yes, our flatbread was, as the historian's daughter noted, a kind of savory coffee cake. And it was delicious.
It's brainy food, but also fantastically good-tasting. For instance, the salmon course I had consisted of a gorgeous and extremely fresh-tasting tartare, along with a piece of salmon poached in olive oil; the piece de resistance, however, was the seared salmon, served with creamed white corn, and huitlachoche atop an herb salad. (I totally had to consult the website, because I couldn't remember how to spell "huitlachoche." And what's huitlachoche, you ask? Well let me tell you, my darlings, with the help of Wikipedia:
Corn smut is a disease of maize caused by the pathogenic plant fungus Ustilago maydis. U. maydis causes smut disease on maize (Zea mays) and teosinte (Euchlena mexicana). Although it can infect any part of the plant it usually enters the ovaries and replaces the normal kernels of the cobs with large distorted tumors analogous to mushrooms. These tumors, or "galls", are made up of much-enlarged cells of the infected plant, fungal threads, and blue-black spores. The spores give the cob a burned, scorched appearance. In fact, the name Ustilago comes from the Latin word ustilare (to burn).Yes, huitlachoche is corn smut. It is a disease. However, this disease is sometimes actually cultivated and in Mexico it is considered a bit of a delicacy, since its "flavor [is] described as mushroom-like, sweet, savory, woody, and earthy." And it was very, very tasty with the salmon and the corn. The whole dish was fantastic.)
For dessert the available sets of three were based on peaches, bananas, or pineapple. The historian had the peach set. The peach granite had cinnamon and lime in it; the peach cobbler was topped by a Thai basil gelato (odd and also wonderful). I had the banana set:
Fried Empress Spring Roll
Banana & Lime Salad, Toasted Coconut
Tamarind & Lime Crème Brulee
Each of these was good, but the spring roll was the best, because it came with a dipping sauce, a fresh caramel sauce infused with star anise. It was so good! When I had finished my spring roll, and therefore the reason for the sauce had, as it were, expired, we all had a little turn at finishing it up.
The whole experience was inspiring--I'll think about that salmon dish and the idea of infusing spices into all kinds of things for my own cooking. Also inspiring, as in a sharp intake of breath when the bill came.