Thursday, April 18, 2013

Decisions, decisions, decisions…. We’ll just keep eating until we decide…

We have been working hard at selecting a restaurant for our next STARA event - it is a tough job but someone has to do it!

We had a lovely long lunch at Barolo with the Champagne and Caviar Club of Beijing (CCC) last month.  We were really tempted to experiment with their dishes in our own kitchens but decided to try one other restaurant before making our decision and therefore invited two guests and headed over to SALT for lunch.

SALT has been an institution in Beijing since 2007 when restaurateur Gaby Alves decided to go on her own after having successfully led ALAMEDA since arriving in 2004. Peruvian Chef Paulo De Souza has been in charge of the kitchen since 2010.

Magic happens in this kitchen
Our friends were warned in advance to come hungry.  We were, after all, on a scouting adventure and looking for inspiration!  They were all asked (told) to choose whatever that they wanted from the menu, starters, mains and dessert included; just not the same thing and we would have to taste. No picky eaters or non-sharers welcome!

After having decided that the Mixed Greens Salad was too simple and the Salmon Tartar too similar to what we made at our last STARA event, we settled on Duck Confit Crepe, Cannellini Bean Cassoulet, Chicken Roulade and Pumpkin Lemongrass Soup. While all good, we quickly zoomed in on the soup with its light texture and amazing lemongrass scent and flavor. Ideas kept flowing; how can we put our spin on it? It was perfection as it was but being who we are, we wanted to know what and if we coulld somehow transform these flavors into something uniquely STARA. The other favorite was the Duck Confit Crepe. We mean, how is it possible not to like something poached in its own fat? It might appear on the menu as well, in another form and shape. Our intention with STARA is not to copy, simply get inspiration and challenge ourselves as home cooks.

Duck Confit Crepe - It's all about the fat!

We could eat vats of this pumpkin soup! 

As main we chose from Beef Tenderloin, Sole Fish, Beef Tenderloin Burger and Three Grains Risotto. There was also a Premium Angus Rib-eye and Grilled Pork Loin on the menu and while the béarnaise croquette served with the Rib-eye was calling out for our attention, we decided to diversify our choices. The burger was chosen mostly to compare with Pinotages’ excellent dish (see earlier post on umami).
The menu at SALT is extremely detailed; everything in the dish is described – almost. The tenderloin came with walnut cream fettuccini, foie gras bonbon, broccoli sprouts and parmesan crumble. Steak and pasta, basically. It was good but in the end it was steak and pasta. The risotto was a red wine risotto, leaving it delightfully spring pink in color, with goat cheese, beet root, pine nut crumbs and watercress but the oomph was missing.

The sole was what we all wished we had on our plates. The fish was perfectly cooked and went effortlessly with the coconut ginger foam. The fennel crushed baby potatoes and sautéed greens were nice too. The banana farofa we never discovered and the roast yellow pepper cream not really necessary. As a whole, the dish was simply wonderful; delicate and with unsuspected flavor. Hmmm….something to think about….

Our Dish of the Day!
We had to stop her from eating long enough to take the picture!

As an aside - have you ever had a farofa?  Even know what one is?  Neither did we so we asked our lovely server who had no idea either :)  Here is a good definition (Farofa). Basically, in Brazil, farofa is used in a stuffing for poultry and other dishes, usually containing raisins, nuts and/or finely chopped sweet fruits like apples and bananas.  It is served alongside the main course and can either be sprinkled on by individual diners to their taste before eating, or eaten as an accompaniment in its own right, much like rice.  Who knew?!?

Dessert – again. We were pretty stuffed at this point and trying four different desserts was out of the question. We settled for the Crème Brulee Taste and Dark Chocolate Cremeux. The crèmes were lemongrass, cinnamon and earl grey and we fell for the lemongrass immediately. Lemongrass is a wonderful grass commonly used as a herb in South Asia and also drunk as a tea and as an oil it also works as a pesticide. It can with wonderful results be infused in vodka (just saying)…

The chocolate dessert came with a blueberry coulis, cachaca anglaise and chocolate tuile and was a wonderfully chocolatey end to an excellent meal.

Armed with many ideas and a lot of inspiration we left the restaurant sated and content; happy to return to SALT for many more nice meals to come. We also left with an outline of what the next STARA dinner would bring to the table.

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