When I got the announcement for Tuesday night’s Cobaya dinner, the usual email came with an unusual line. It was a clue about who would be preparing our meal, one that built up the anticipation among the diners lucky to get a seat.
The chef was Michelle Bernstein and the dinner took place in the atrium of the building across from Sra. Martinez, which is also the home of her latest venture: Crumb on Parchment. Tables were joined to form one long communal table dressed in red tablecloths and decorated with candles. Whether intentional or not, it felt like being at a holiday table.
The meal was made up of five courses, some of which had elements that stood out on their own as in the case of squid ink risotto croquetas served on the side of a seafood stew, or gnocchi with lily bulb, chives and celery leaves as an accompaniment to a steak. Bernstein had fun with the dinner, slicing foie gras with an electric knife at a table in the dining room, reminding some of a Thanksgiving turkey, and asking each of us to inject truffle butter into our steaks. Some may have found this gimmicky but when those syringes came out the room got giddy.
The first course was my favorite if only by a thin margin over the second and third. The trio of two oysters chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) and scallop and sea urchin ceviche was a beautiful dish, mainly because of the oysters, which had a briny, citrus flavor that I loved. Foie gras cooked sous vide and finished in the oven came next. It was served on top of carrots, lima beans, fava beans, mushrooms and a carrot-Sicilian orange reduction. The sweetness of the carrots and the sauce was a great complement to the liver.
The third course took elements of the classic bouillabaise and a Peruvian chupe de mariscos. Paiche — an Amazonian fish — a prawn and a quail egg were served in a rich broth that had peas and I think purple potato (though some people thought beets). I liked this dish and the squid ink risotto croquetas served on the side with a saffron aioli were great little bites.
For the next dish, Bernstein walked out with a plate of steak and showed us how we were to inject it with truffle butter. She warned us not to keep the syringes and as soon as we injected our steaks five or six times as she told us to do, the servers whisked them away. It was a good steak but the star of the dish for me was the ricotta gnocchi, which was perked up by the freshness of the lily bulb and herbs.
I would’ve happily ended my meal with the bowl of refreshing calamansi soup we got next. It was served in a small glass bottle that we poured into a bowl with pineapple, raspberry and mint ice cream. More was coming, though. The soup was meant to cleanse the palate before we moved on to dessert. For the sweet course, caramelized bananas were stacked on chocolate pastry dough and topped with nutmeg ice cream and candied orange. The pastry dough had a nice flavor but it was hard to cut through so I found myself eating mostly the bananas and the salty caramel foam and chocolate-covered pretzels on the side.
I really enjoyed this meal and it was definitely among my favorite Cobaya dinners. Bernstein prepared food that tasted really good, was playful and just made me smile.