As planned, I returned to Moto for the five course tasting menu (although it turned out to be eight courses, including the amuse bouche) with a print maker, well attuned to surrealism, in tow.
I was very pleased by the dinner, seeing Chef Cantu work on a larger scale. Not that all of the courses were on the same level (and I must confess that one dish - rather than three - with highly seasoned ice cream pellets would have sufficed [we had caesar salad pellets, green curry pellets, and fried chicken pellets]). My friend was taken by what he considered the "theme and variation" quality of the meal. The meal lasted two hours plus, and as with the 21 course extravaganza - did not leave us bloated. The food was properly paced, and, as before, the wine progression was outstanding (particularly one extravagantly silky smooth California syrah from near Sacramento).
The two finest dishes of the evening were the opening "white elf mushrooms with pearl onions with a squash [or sweet potato] puree). In traditional culinary terms, this was perhaps the finest dish that I have had at Moto. The sweetness of the squash made the mushrooms seem delicate, and the pearl onions added a needed tartness. The dish was a triumph. The third course - "pork belly with Kentucky fried ice cream" (with a pipette of beet puree) was a success as well. Once the ice cream melted just a bit, it complemented the beet and the rich, moist pork belly. The pipette no longer seemed such a contrivance, but a means by which we could construct our dinner to taste.
My printmaker friend appreciated the cheese with the addition of Chef Cantu's ink jet printer. It is an intensely rich cheese (triple cream?), and while the text does not add to the flavor, it does make us realize that there is a mischievous mind at work in the kitchen, deserving all the attention he has received, although hopefully not distracted.
Our waiter suggested to us that the Oatmeal Stout with Venezuelan Chocolate was to remind us of a cheese course (and it came right after the true cheese course), and surprisingly it did, but aside from the oddness of oatmeal in a rather soupy concoction, it wasn't a dish that I am excited about having again (I would have selected the Doughnut Soup). My inside out chocolate cake with hot ice cream was tasty, but as yet I don't find Chef Roche's creations quite on a par with Chef Cantu's - although perhaps this has something to do with different demands of the artistry of a "pastry" chef. Even though he is described as a "pastry chef", Chef Roche is, as yet, more a cook who works with sweets - rather than an experimenter of pastry. Sweets, perhaps, demand a more formal architectural treatment, which a soup or bits of cake can't quite achieve.
In sum, our five course dinner was quite possibly stronger in cuisine terms than the twenty course magical mystery tour. I did have the sense (perhaps a wishful sense) that Chef Cantu is learning how to discipline his experiments. Sometimes it is the graceful little twists that are more powerful than the sharp turns.
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