Tuesday, February 15, 2011

16-Course Molecular Gastronomy Tasting Menu @ AnQi Restaurant

It all started when my friend LB forwarded me an article from Chowhound about AnQi, a restaurant in Costa Mesa that has a chef's table offering an exclusive molecular gastronomy menu. The private room requires a minimum of eight guests. Unfortunately, I don't have eight friends that would be willing to partake of a 16-course tasting menu. But thankfully kevineats was planning a similar dinner so he was kind enough to let us tag along. I'll let him fill you in on the background of the restaurant and chef here.

AnQi is a restaurant located in the South Coast Plaza mall. I don't do malls. It's overwhelming and massive. It's a time and money suck. The food is mostly bad. But the private dining room at AnQi isn't mall dining. In fact, it has a completely separate kitchen, waitstaff and a mostly separate menu from the regular restaurant.

The private room shares a window with the kitchen so guests can catch a glimpse of the kitchen at work. Chef Ryan Carson presented the courses and gave us a bit of background on how he conceptualized the dishes.

The Molecular menu features 16 Courses for $160.

Wine Pairing was available for an additional $80. LB and I were aghast when we saw the short list of wines but in fact, the same wine was paired with multiple courses and the waiters did come by pretty often to refill the glasses.

1) Champagne & Caviar ~ nicolas feuillatte champagne gelee, american sturgeon caviar, white chocolate fizzy
An elegant and playful way to start the meal, this was a great representation of what the menu and night would pan out to be. The sweetness of the Champagne gelee and the salty caviar was a nice pairing. The white chocolate disc ended the bite on a fizzy note.

2) AnQi Beet ~ sweet & sour salt
The shredded beet was deep fried and molded into the representation of the AnQi logo. The beet strands were delicate with a sweet and sour flavor.

3) Kumamoto Oyster~ soy mignonette, yuzu lemonade 'cloud', citrus pop rocks
The fresh and briny oyster was enhanced by the citrus lemon and tart yuzu. All the flavors really came together to form a very intense bite. Once again, the kitchen added a playfulness through a lingering sensation from the pop rock foam.

4) Hiramasa Crudo ~ avocado silk, sweet & sour tangerine veil, jalapeno-cucumber emulsion, frozen beet
This was the first dish that Carson created for the progressive menu. It was almost too pretty to eat. The crudo was fresh but almost bland, until you combined it with the tangerine gelee and jalapeño emulsion. The lemon oil powder and frozen beet added a tang to the dish.

5) Lobster Summer Roll ~ compressed mango, Vietnamese herbs, elderflower gelee, pickled rose petal
When the plate was first brought to the table, I was confused. The lobster roll seemed ordinary, very AnQi-like. But Chef Carson enhanced the dish by instructing us to pour the cup of hot water into the bowl of petals which created a floral aroma. The lobster roll was dipped in a spicy chili rose emulsion sauce. The pickled rose was picked from a friends garden. We were asked to taste the petal, which seemed to have an essence of fish sauce, as a palate cleanser.

6) Ahi Tuna Nicoise ~ white anchovy romesco, crispy haricot vert, 64*C quail egg, olive 'gushers'
This was a deconstructed nicoise salad with duck-fat fried potato at bottom of the tuna. The quail egg was cooked at three different temperatures for three hours. The olive component, in the form of a sphere, and the smokey tomato ball lent an intense flavoring to the dish. To the side was pickled shallots and a well seasoned artichoke. Lastly, the briny anchovy sauce really bound everything together.

7) "Looks Like Tartare" ~ compressed watermelon, mango 'egg yolk', dehydrated capers
Another deconstructed version of a classic, the tartare was made with compressed watermelon which had a pulpy texture and crumbled, almost like the minced beef of a traditional tartare. It was topped with capers, microgreens and a "yolk" made of mango which had similar consistency of a half boiled egg. Initially I had wished that this was fish or beef based but after the first bite, I really came to enjoy and appreciate this version.

8) Kurabota Pork Belly~ kimchi consommé, freeze dried banana, wasabi peanut butter powder, yuzu-truffle
The salt & pepper pork belly was not as tender as I had hoped, but I really enjoyed the broth. I thought it was ingenious to extract the intense kimchee flavor without adding any chunkiness to the broth. I was also impressed with the truffle, banana and peanut butter combinations. Who knew that peanut butter would work so well with kimchee?

9) Foie Gras Torchon ~ cherry-yuzu gel, 'instant' ginger-pineapple brioche, bacon dust, chinese celery
The rich foie was served with aerated brioche and a touch of savory bacon dust.

10) Misoyaki Black Cod ~ furikake rice cake, pickled garden vegetables, encapsulated foie gras miso soup
This was a healthy portion of cod and at this point, I was starting to get really full. But I can never say no to miso cod. The cod was delicious but something you could get at most Japanese izakayas. What really elevated this dish was the crunchy risotto rice cake and foie spherification. Lastly, we cleansed our palate by sucking on a pickled ginger root.

Concord grape jelly with thyme jelly and lemonade foam. It was salty and zesty.

11) Jidori Chicken Roulade ~ himalayan black truffles, oyster mushrooms, ginger, chinese mustard jus, hazelnut brittle
The sizable sous -vide Jidori chicken had truffle essence rolled into it and was tender and juicy. I was apprehensive about the hazelnut brittle but I liked the sweet and salty combination that it added to the dish. The butternut squash puree had an intense flavoring of ginger and indian spice.

12)Filet Mignon Confit ~ burnt carrot, shiitake mushroom demi-glaze, savoy cabbage, wasabi 'tater tots'
The filet was cooked nicely and served with stewed cabbage and mushrooms. The flavors reminded me of a rich Chinese stew that my mom used to make. The carrot was burnt to caramelization so it had a rich bittersweet taste. The gnocchi tots were battered in potato crumbs and was flavored with spicy wasabi. The tots were a favorite at our table.

13) Heirloom Melon Gazpacho ~ compressed heirloom melons, orange 'soup', yuzu salted mango sherbet
The pre dessert was light and citrus, and was an unofficial palate cleanser for the upcoming desserts.

14) Elderflower Parfait ~ pink rose meringue, flowering thyme gel, pomegranate 'caviar', jasmine frozen yogurt
I enjoyed the creaminess of the semi freddo parfait. The floral dessert was enhanced with intense dots of thyme gelee, sweet pomegranate tapioca caviar, a tart jasmine yogurt and lemon powder.

15) "Not Your Average" Carrot Cake ~ raisin coulis, curry crème anglaise, saffron meringue, cream cheese ice cream
This dessert was a play on everything you would find in carrot cake. I enjoyed combining the dots of curry anglais, sweet raisin coulis, pineapple chunks and crunchy sweet meringue with the moist cake. The cream cheese ice cream was brilliant.

16) Chocolate Twist ~ hazelnut praline, star anise-orange gel, popcorn ice cream
Chocolate is always the perfect end to an amazing meal. This was my favorite of the three desserts because of its seemingly normal components but the dessert was in fact comprised of a rich chocolate-y flexible ganache and aerated brioche.

After our meal, we were given a tour of the kitchen and were able to check out some of the heavy duty equipment.

I was pleased and impressed with our marathon meal at AnQi (which lasted over 5 hours). I liked Carson's use of molecular techniques. It was subtle and done with refinement. Some restaurants promise to show you techniques and preparations that you've never seen but yet they do not deliver (ahem TFL). But AnQi does succeed in bringing something unique to the table. The Champagne & Caviar and tartare dishes were both playful and something I've never experienced before. The food was solid but I thought some of the portions might have been a bit too large given that this was a 16-course menu. But if anyone can get me to drive 120 miles to and from the OC for food, AnQi can most definitely do it.

Hits: caviar, tartare, chicken, oyster, ambiance
Misses: pork belly could have been more tender, could be portioned smaller
Rating: ****

3333 S Bristol St.,
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 557-5679


kevinEats said...

Thanks again for coming out!

Also, I think the "heavy duty equipment" might be a couple of rotor-stator homogenizers.

Banana Wonder said...

WOW! You did some serious damage here. How did you manage to eat all these dishes? The lobster roll and fake tartare would be my picks - but they all are so fun and creative. What an experience!