Dining Out: Relate Restaurant

March 8, 2011

B and I have been churning through old seasons of Top Chef like smooth butter. So far, I enjoy the Top Chef: Masters seasons far more, because frankly, I can do without all the petty drama. I am sure it helps that these chefs have established and illustrious careers though, and are competing for charity as compared to regular season chefs who are competing for, well, their livelihood.

One particular character who does inject a bit of spice into the otherwise very chummy Masters series is Chef Ludo Lefebvre. He is the father of the culinary phenomenon known as “pop-up dining,” in which Lefebvre essentially “tours” his restaurant wherever he feels like opening up shop for just a few weeks at a time. It is a pretty novel concept that plays on conventional notions of fine dining and has come to draw food enthusiasts in droves.

B and I caught wind that Lefebvre’s protege, Chef Daniel Moody, was bringing the first pop-up restaurant to San Diego. Naturally, we made our reservations and waited with baited breath for what we expected to be a new and life-changing experience for the taste buds.

Here is a rundown of our five-course tasting menu:

“French Onion Soup”

Welcome to molecular gastronomy 101. It came in the literal form of a hush puppy and was served on a teaspoon. One would assume that anything deep fried is automatically delicious. Unfortunately, for this little nugget, the concept was not executed well. While soup did gush out as I sank my teeth in, it tasted nothing of the strong, salty french onion soup with its gooey, melty cheese. It simply tasted…fried.

Bacon Fried Egg, Potato Rosti, Baby Lettuce, Sherry Vinaigrette

A perfectly poached egg that I could rave about for days with its smooth white and runny center. Not to mention, it was also battered, deep fried, and infused with bacon. Sadly, the potato rosti, meant to mop up the egg yolk, looked like a greasy, grey patty underneath and possessed no crisp crust on the outside as a rosti should. The vinaigrette did provide a balance of acid though, slightly compensating for that which the pitiful potato slab was lacking.

Grilled Octopus, Mediterranean Quinoa Salad, Burnt Red Bell Pepper, Lemon, Oregano

Every component was cooked extremely well and the bright zest of lemon really highlighted the distinct flavors. The contrasting textures of the octopus and quinoa along with the tang of the burnt red pepper puree brought together a well-rounded, complete dish.

Sauteed Local Redrock, Vadouvan Beets, Coconut Curry Hollandaise, Fried Spinach Salad

The flavor profile of this course was all wrong. There was entirely too much bland on sweet on sweet on bland. The fish was tasteless and overcooked. The beets and coconut curry had a horrifyingly monotone flavor (yes, they tasted the same though I’m sure the intention was to create separate flavors), and I found myself making a concerted effort to control my instinct to gag. The fried spinach leaves were similarly bland and only served to add a mismatched touch of texture. What a train wreck.

Spiced Beef, Spinach Avocado Puree, Crispy Porcini Spaetzle, Green Flash Double Stout Gastrique

In hindsight, it was not the best decision to take a bite of the porcini mushrooms first. Not only were they not crispy in the slightest, they also tasted frighteningly reminiscent of the last course. Barf. I was displeased. The monochromatic brown presentation spiked by the nearly flourescent green of the spinach puree did not aid in convincing me of the dish. Especially when the baby food texture of the spinach avocado proved to be severely underseasoned as well.

Thankfully, there were two more elements on the plate, ones which were able to carry the weight of the fourth course to a taste of victory. The beef was exceedingly tender and when consumed with the indescribable gastrique, I wanted to get up and do a rain dance to thank the gods for sending down such flavor combinations. Seriously, there are no words for that punchy stripe of stout reduction. In fact, B and I still offer its glory a moment of silence every time it comes up in conversation.

Chocolate Terrine, Green Cardamom, “Crème Brulee”

The chocolate was rich like a decadent truffle and the cardamom cream dolloped on top was a refreshing contrast. The proportions were a bit off though as a smidgen less of the cream would have suited the dessert better. Additionally, I wished “creme brulee” had not been included in the description so as not to lure my hopes up. The square of bruleed sugar garnish was entirely too thick, rendering it inedible. B and I sat there, trying as politely and discreetly as we could, pounding the damn squares in attempt to crack the sugar as initially executed with a creme brulee. No such luck (and so much disappointment).

At a hole-in-the wall, the inconsistent quality of this fare would have been passable, perhaps even expected. But at $55 a person (and we declined the wine pairings for an extra $25), this meal was severely underwhelming and a profound letdown. Furthermore, the service was terrible. Our waitress was extremely inattentive and on the rare occasion, she did check on our table, I feared she might very well bite my head off. Sheesh.

As we waited for our table, we witnessed exiting patrons bringing their menus to the chef for autographs. We made a mental note to do the same on our way out, but by the time, we reached that point, we were not interested at all in commemorating such an expensive disappointment.

On the bright side, B wrote a blunt review about our experience on Yelp and received a personal email from the chef in response, apologizing for our uninspired evening. At the end of his thorough correspondence, he invited us to be his personal guests at his next pop-up venture. So I suppose that despite an unsatisfactory first showing, the real verdict on Dan Moody’s pop-up cuisine still stands.

One Response to “Dining Out: Relate Restaurant”

  1. Booki Says:

    Top Chef Masters- YES.

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