Wednesday/Thursday, July 25/26, 2018 7:00PM – 10:00PM
Event held at: RD Underground
Victoria Park, Florida
This was something new – even for FoodieFreaks. An underground “restaurant” experience. Not in a hotel, not in a traditional restaurant. But a tucked away location inside of an apartment complex that was simply extraordinary.
There were no signs and unless we had the exact address, there would have been no way to find this location. Nonetheless, what we experienced with Chef Martin was much more than any sign or advertisement could have provided.
Chef/owners Martin and Nella Verano were absolute gems. Magnificent hosts inside the small location that hosted up to 8 diners.
Everything was taken into consideration for this special meal. Even though this was clearly a pop-up/underground style event, is was nothing short of 5 stars. If you didn’t know you were in a small, out of the ordinary place – you would have thought that you were in a private room at one of the finest restaurants in the world.
We started our adventure with a refreshing Pisco Sour as a wake up/welcome cocktail. Said to be a Peruvian favorite, it was blended with Angostura aromatic bitters and frothy and light. A great way to open the palate.
Each of the eight Foodies spent some time getting to know each other, sharing food adventures and great meals that we had recently enjoyed.
Anthony Bourdain may have said it best. … “Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them — wherever you go.”
In a small bowl/glass, Chef Martin expertly prepared a whipped cauliflower soup. If he stopped there it would have been just right. However, he went further by adding firm chunks of Pancetta to bring on a crunch with each spoonful. The soup was then topped with Pancetta renderings to add some healthy flavoring and garnished with a purple asparagus stalk. There was a clean flavoring of intense cauliflower with a slight hint of truffles to this dish.
Let it be said that this was a really rich dish. So much so that we all considered if it would be okay to lick right down to the bowl in order to finish.
Our next dish was elegant and complex. To start, domed serving vessels were layered with freshly prepared dashi soaked soba noodles layered on an avocado puree. On top of that was delicately placed chunks of fresh sushi-grade raw tuna. Then, a layer of pickled ginger, masago, a togarashi coulis and chopped scallions was added.
Chef Martin then infused a healthy dose of wood smoke to each, covered and let sit for a moment. Each individual serving was then presented to us and the top removed to reveal the finished offering. The taste was a luscious combination of the ingredients with a slight kick on the back-end. Gorgeous color and splendid presentation,
It keeps getting better. Not only was the Chef turning out amazing food, it was an exciting cooking exhibition.
The next dish was a combination of two offerings. The first was a small plate with a finely sliced Key West snapper. Spoonfuls of sizzling hot Pomace oil was gently caressed over the the fish to semi-cook the exterior (semi-crudo style). From there, the chef added olive slices and a sprinkle of Martha’s Vineyard salt. That was finished with a leche de Tigre sauce and an Aji Charapita pepper.
The second was a rather fancy bowl filled with Cape Cod oysters. Topping each shell was a healthy amount of Russian Sterlet and Fingerlime caviars. The bundle of joy was gently nestled in a dollop of Saffron Sabayon.The bowl was presented with dry ice that steamed a fog over all of the oysters – a really cool way to serve up this dish. Overall the combination of caviar and oysters has a healthy briny flavor that slid down easily and had a creamy soft finish. A small dab of chili oil could be detected that provided a spicy bite on the end.
Another gorgeous display was approaching. Chef Martin started to shred Parmesan cheese into a big pile – keeping us all memorized.
Cooking on the stove was a pot of spaghetti and it was explained that this was a simple dish in a tribute to his sister and family. The pasta was pulled out of the pot at just the right time to keep it al-dente (al dente describes pasta that is cooked to be firm to the bite).
A large helping was placed in a bowl, olive oil was dashed upon it then a bountiful amount of cheese was added. Before serving, chunks of ham were added and a few hand sliced black truffles were added. Needless to say, this dish was booming with flavor. The smokiness from the ham meshed perfectly with the cheesy goodness that encompassed each bite. Heavenly!
Back in a corner of the presentation kitchen, the Sous Vide was bubbling with a selection of a few different meats. The Chef was beginning the preparation of the next dish while we all waiting with excited wonder. A trifecta of perfectly cooked meats were placed on a plate that was held up by a Romesca seasoned with a duck bone reduction. On the plate was a 27-hour Sous Vide (then smoked) short rib, a healthy portion of Chorizo and Veal testicles.
The meat was topped with sauteed bok choy as a garnish. The meats were expertly prepared and richly flavored. The added interest in the Veal testicles (first time for most of us FoodieFreaks) helped to put a fun spin on the evening. Overall it was well worth the adventure into this dish.
What is that,, we all wondered? Such a pretty dish that looked like a sculpture of a fish was being presented next.
In fact it was a fish – at least under the salt layer. A whole Branzino that was encased in a salt meringue, then baked. When it was complete, the Chef carefully removed the outer salt layer and peeled back the skin. He then plated up the fish that rested on a bed of seasoned yogurt and then topped with burnt onions and greens.
Delicate, tender, flavorful and rich.
Next up was more meat. That was just fine with all of us!
Chef Martin pulled out a large piece of Miyazaki A5 Wagyu from the Sous Vide. He then disappeared for a while with it. We were hoping that he was not just going to eat it himself. The good news was that after a few minutes he returned with the meat that had been seared and smoked to perfection. He then expertly cut and portioned the steak, plated it on top of a potato Amarilla puree. A blue crab and asparagus ragout was placed atop the meat and then a spoonful of an Au Poivre reduction was added.
The tenderness of the meat can not be explained in words. In fact, while there where sounds coming from all of us as we enjoyed this incredible dish, much of what could be heard was simply ooohs and aaahhs.
Now the final dish – the dessert was being readied. So much food – so much great food and excellent wines! We were in Foodie heaven…
In a bowl was placed a homemade Grand Marnier Gelato on top of a blueberry creme. Dragon fruit garnished the dish. But that was not all! A healthy pour of duck fat fudge was added that provided a punch of sweet flavor. Crispy Piroulines were set on the side to create a crunch to offset the creamy goodness of this splendid dessert. A fitting ending to an amazing meal and fantastic presentation!
Wines served/paired with the meal:
N/V Saint-Reine Blanc De Blancs Brut, France
2017 Fleurs de Prairie – Rose, Provence France
2016 Petit Petite – Petite Syrah, Loda California
2012 Chateu de LaMarque – Bordeausx Blend, Medoc France