Truth be told, I’m a fan of the Moran brand. As day turns to night, a crowd of hungry diners are welcomed with an explanation of why we’ve been gathered. I’ve yet to see a chef with more passion for showing respect to tradition in the culinary craft, while at the same time, pushing his profession. Well, maybe if you include the time I saw master Joël Robuchon, who was mentioned in the initial welcoming words as a pioneer of invention. One of the “giants” to be revered.
Amuse. When you think of bacon and tomato you probably think B.L.T. or some other equally humble dish. I like to think of crispy and firm textures that can refresh and exhilarate my senses. Bacon is always going to be a gimmick due to the breadth of enjoyment by such a broad audience. It’s a crutch for many cooks who do not feel compelled to show restraint. When paired with the time-consuming Robuchon influenced tomato water and chiffonade of lettuce, I found myself eager for more. This bacon grease coated my lips. A wonderful consequence of consuming pork products. I guess I should expect to be refreshed by lettuce and tomato water. It’s almost completely made of water for goodness sakes. Picture a savory agua fresca.
For a soup course, we were treated to a grilled cheese, tomato and basil soup, presented by our interpreter and chef Gary. It was restrained until the moment you dig your fork into spongy focaccia laced with sharp Asiago and Parmesan. I enjoyed being in the ring with fresh, lively tomato dishes for two rounds, anxious to see what kind of hay-makers were coming my way.
Just about the most disrespectful thing you can do is throw away a classic. You don’t just stop listening to Sgt. Pepper because he’s 40 years old. Beef Wellington fits that description. The components of this English stalwart include all the things cool kids love to hate. Rich beef, duxelle, puff pastry, roots and bordelaise. Add truffle and you have a whole room of people wondering if they had accidentally found a portal to Le Cirque circa 1987.
Meat cake a.k.a. mille feuille of beef sous-vide paired with two sauces came next. Horseradish stroganoff and Burgundy cocoa were the ultimate contrast. Crispy sweet roots, parsnip and sweet potato used in the previous dish were reformed into chips to go along with the fork tender, slow water bathed beef. I finally started to understand what the chef was doing! It took four courses to get it through my cranium kadoo. One dish contained two concepts. We can, if we choose to do so, use the same ingredients in a myriad of ways. We can choose to give a gentlemanly nod, or we can push food into the Newmanium!
Peachy, figgy, bready pudding spiked with bourbon and cinnamon, topped with a rich creamy Chantilly. The base had a custard-like appearance despite the topping of crusty crouton. I wish I had been cozied up on a chaise watching Million Dollar Listing on a cold winter snow day.
As the evening wound down, the last plate arrived, although many of us were confounded, much like a raptor curiously kicking a can of Barbasol. It looked sweet and architecturally intriguing. A gorgeous example of edible minimalism. I took a bite to give it some old Colombo detective work. The top was made into a cubist gel of peach puree underneath a variant bread pudding tinged with rosemary and almond slivers. The night was about taking a straight path to a classic, followed by a lower leg drop in the center of the ring by the future Champion of Tampa cuisine. If you have the means to do so I would strongly suggest giving some attention to the new avenue Chef Gary and his incredible team have paved.