Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Two Years Later

Chef Leonard reminded me that we haven't been back to his restaurant Cultivate since their opening week - well, guilty as charged. We enjoyed our dinner last time but somehow we just procrastinated on making a return visit. Until a few weeks ago. 

"Almost everything has changed (since our last visit)," chef assured us as we settled down at the long counter table overseeing all the kitchen actions behind. Not exactly true as there were one or two dishes that survived the passage of time, and one thing remained unchanged - the playful cooking style that the chef was known for, using seasonal ingredients in ways out of my imaginations.

The 10-course tasting menu was fixed, with the exception of one that we could choose between the standard or a premium dish with extras.  We started off with a few canapes called "Bites of Winter". The bacon corn hoecake was my favorite with a playful twist to the traditional Southern homestyle dish made with cornmeal. "Nasturtium" was beautifully presented with the namesake flower (seen also in the logo of the restaurant) served with diced hamachi tartare, smoked pike roes, green apple and jicama with the thick puree made from the nasturtium leaves. There are hints of acidity combined with the spring vegetable bitterness with the leaf puree. 

Another garden-like dish appeared, this time with the cute mini Mitraille potatoes roasted and smoked with hickory, coated with watercress sauce and served with half-boiled quail eggs and grated black truffles. I like the kick of spiciness combined with the smoky flavor. Chef also gave the homestyle butternut squash soup a fancy upgrade with a nice presentation in a deep dish garnished with charred Tuscan kale. 

Next was the course when we had a choice between two options - we ordered one of each and shared so we got a little taste of both. The Maitake "Pho-gras" which we had the last time became a mainstay on the menu. Maitake mushrooms was sauteed and served with a rich consomme with aromatics typically used in Vietnamese pho. Second one was a risotto done with "dao miu" (pea shoot) which is in season now amd topped with crispy chicken skin and sliced winter black truffles - hence the premium price. I do like the risotto better though a bit hard-pressed to justify the cost for the supplement to be honest. 

Both of our main courses – fish followed by a meat dish - were outstanding. The piece of Brittany monkfish fillet was wrapped in Cavolo Nero (curly kale), baked and served with fermented spelt and Broccoli Broccoletto sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, and I like the complex flavors and textures present in this dish. Chef Leonard shared the story of how he came up with the next course of "Murasaki Katsu" with the inspirations from the popular Tonkatsu dish.  The piece of New Zealand venison tenderloin was dipped in batter and panko and deep-fried. The Tonkatsu sauce was home-made and on the side, purple cabbage and purple mustard, staying true to the traditional version. Meat was tender and juicy with a pinkish center and worked well with the tangy sauce. We were told we were among the first to try this dish and I am happy to report that it got a thumb-up from me. 

“Banana Caviar” was another course that survived the menu rotation though it could be polarizing. People either like it or hate it and I did happen to enjoy this “funky”, random combination of sweet banana bread with a quenelle of caviar on top. Don’t ask me why. I could imagine some would say the same about the next dessert course with the combination of sunchoke ice-cream mixed with parmiggiano and hazelnuts and coated with grated black truffles. Sunchoke is one of my favorite ingredients when I cook but I couldn’t recall having that as dessert, let alone with this combo of ingredients more commonly found in savory dishes. Let’s say I appreciate how the chef tried to push the limit with something different and unique. We finished with something more conventional, with a couple mignardises introduced as “Farewell Treats”. 

When? February 7 2023
Where? Cultivate, 27-29 Elgin Street, Central
Menu Highlights? Venison Katsu with varieties of purple produce
Champagne Gosset Extra Brut NV
2017 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Innisfree Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley

No comments :