Sunday, June 22, 2014

Kali Dining: Dinner Party with Patina Group Alum Chef Kevin Meehan

Imagine an intimate dinner party, with no more than 20 people, in a chic but unpretentious private home in a nice part of town...but instead of your friend the-good-amongst-your-friends-cook preparing your meal, it's a former Patina Group (Cafe Pinot) executive chef in the kitchen.

That is the basic concept of Kali Dining, my favorite not-a-pop-up pop up this year.

With an impressive resume that counts a Michelin starred restaurant in Brussels as well as local former temples of fine dining L’Orangerie and Bastide, we knew we were going to have a memorable experience.  Sneak peeks in Chef Meehan's Instagram feed for foie gras dishes of course only heightened our anticipation (*understatement of the year).

This particular iteration took place in Marina del Rey.  We were given an entry code to let ourselves in at the main gate - adding to the feeling of us going to a friend-of-a-friend's place.

Though it might feel a bit awkward for some, going to a dinner party where people didn't really know each other, Chef Meehan immediately put everyone at ease - multi-tasking to play host while finishing up prep in the wide open kitchen.  He guided us to the BYOB wine table, where dozens of welcoming bottles served both as topic of conversation and liquid encouragement to help break the ice with other guests.

When he heard how much Gourmetpigs and I adore and miss foie, Chef Meehan pulled out an off menu snack for us to taste:  something he created just for the heck of it.  That membrane you usually pull out and discard from a lobe of foie, when making torchon?  He took that and cured it with a blend of secret herbs and spices.

The taste and texture reminded me of the fat from duck proscuitto, fatty with a bit of resilience and toothsomeness, but next level delicious.  This was the way to start an underground supper club meal. 
After some time for guests to mix and mingle, Chef Meehan rounded everyone up to be seated at the communal table.
The 5-course prix fixe menu (set up as a 'donation' with minimum of $65 per person) kicked off with two amuse bouches.  The first was Egg Yolk Poached in Ash Oil, topped with a generous dollop of creme fraiche and sprinkle of chives.  This was beautifully served up in a delicate brown egg shell.

I loved how the oil helped the yolk glide into your mouth, to burst in an elegant release of liquid sunshine perfectly balanced by the other creamy / crunchy / granular ingredients.
Amuse Bouche 2: Foie Gras Truffle we loved this one before we ever met it.  Served up artfully on a smooth black pebble, the exterior of the truffle had an almost Oreo cookie crumb-like quality that yields to a luxe, super smooth interior of foie mousse, with satisfying depth of flavor (it had been way too long since we had been able to savor a professional prep of this in California, thanks to the ridiculous foie ban).

I could have sat there all night popping these by the dozen, cholesterol / calories be damned.
Abalone with basil, kumquat and virgin oil the element and art of surprise when it comes to food is not always easy to find, even in the Spring of LA's culinary landscape.  Chef Meehan achieves this multiple times throughout the dinner, but this was the dish that drew audible gasps around the table.

We'd had abalone the traditional Chinese way, braised whole in starchy oyster/soy/chicken broth sauce; the modern Chinese way, double boiled in broth in whole papaya shell; the Korean / Japanese way, sliced raw and served sashimi style.  I've never had it with citrus, kumquat, a creamy sauce, and edible flowers before.

The acidity lent brightness to the otherwise barely flavored gastropod; the cream based sauce was a nice counter foil to its chewy-crunchiness, while the flowers added nice visual and textural contrast.  I would have wanted the kumquat to be served with more of a delicate touch though - in its entirety, it was a little too bulky and didn't really flow with the rest of the dish.  But otherwise, a nice 'surprise and delight' course.

Where typically bread would be one of the first things on a dinner table, the fresh baked baby loaf of rosemary buttermilk bread with rosemary butter came in between courses, like a warm, pillowy, comforting palate cleanser.

Tuna beets vanilla celery leaf the sous vide fish course came with beautiful colors from ingredients handpicked from the chef's own garden.

For the meat course, what was on the preset menu was beef tenderloin, but during his intro, Chef Meehan mentioned that he happened to have two servings of squab available, that could substitute in for the beef.  My trusty arm shot up before my brain even had time to register the meaning of the words: so we were lucky enough to check out the Squab with burnt onion jam smoked potatoes parsley cooked sous vide for an amazingly tender, juicy piece with perfectly even flavor.  The burnt onion jam honestly looked like an oil slick, but added a nice savory-sweet punch to the squab and crispy stalk of spring onion.
Since we liked our new friends around the table, we shared tastings of the squab and traded for bites of beef tenderloin.
Throughout the dinner, those who have attended Kali Dining dinners before raved about Chef Meehan's White Truffled Truffles, so we were primed and excited to see it make an appearance just before dessert.  They may look like standard issue potatoes, but trust me these are actually weapons of mass destruction (of everyone's ability to enjoy a non-truffled white truffle ever again).

Apparently the 'simple to make' (by Chef Meehan's definition) nuggets-o-delicious were white chocolate truffles infused with white truffle oil, and rolled with cinnamon and other spices that I can't remember because I had endorphins mad-raging through my brain from how delicious these little insanely fragrant nuggets were.  Whatever you may usually think of truffle oil, it works here to spectacular effect.  If Chef Meehan had made these available for sale I would have gladly emptied my bank account to fill my open palms with whatever inventory he had.

The showstopping truffles almost overshadowed the 'official' on-menu dessert-proper: Bitter Chocolate Cremeaux with coffee cream, cocoa nib tuile.  But this was also every bit tasty: the intensity of great coffee flavor cutting through the chocolate and providing a bit of a wakening effect after the satisfying meal preceding it.

We were all sad when the meal concluded - and almost in spontaneous synchrony started to exchange contact info with other diners - almost as if we realized that we had been inducted into an unspoken club, ever bonded by our experience of something special.

All in all, one of the best dinner parties I've ever been to.  Sign me up for the next one (please).


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