Dinner at moto, September 4, 2007

Course 1: "Nitro sushi roll"

Our waiter referred to this as "sushi roll, deconstructed." It had chunks of raw salmon on the bottom, a chip like an Indian papadam, nori powder, togarashi (five-spice powder), frozen sesame powder, and a stick of pickled something (ginger?). I'm always a fan of salmon, especially in sushi, so I enjoyed this. The flavors were like a spicy salmon roll — something (maybe the togarashi?) added a lot of heat. The sesame powder, which had been frozen with liquid nitrogen, provided an unexpected balance against the heat.

Course 2: "Italian food"

A small, wide bowl with two soups: hot pizza soup and chilled Caesar salad soup. The pizza soup was thick, spicy like the dried pepper flakes at a pizza parlor, and full of cheese and Italian sausage flavor. The Caesar salad soup was thin, tasted of garlic, lettuce, and a bit of anchovies, and was topped with a couple small croutons. I'm not sure whether the white stuff drizzled on top was the source of the "dressing" flavor. Anyway, the flavors were remarkably true; this wasn't fancy-schmancy "Italian food," but good, hearty "Eye-talian-American" food. It was amazing how much of the pizza I could taste. The cheekiness of the dish got big laughs from the table.

Jesse and Josh got the wine pairings with this meal, and for this course they provided a little pour of a dark beer — so we could have pizza and beer!

This got another round of laughter.

Course 3: "Red/yellow beet cake"

This was introduced as a course which would have us enjoying beets, even if we didn't like them growing up. Jesse and Josh already like beets, and I think they're okay, so that wasn't a problem for us. The dish was many forms of red and yellow beets. On the left was the piece of beet "cake," only a bit sweet, which felt like a dense but foamy ice cream. This was served with beet purées, pieces of raw beet, bacon, and basil. You can barely make out the yellow beet purée in my low-light picture. I enjoyed the unusual textures of beet by themselves, but the bacon and basil really made the dish — they contrasted with the beet flavor nicely.

Course 4: "Ginger beer fizz"

We were presented with wine glasses with a bit of ginger syrup at the bottom of each. The waiter then took a syringe filled with a light sarsaparilla solution and squirted the contents forcefully into each glass. This produced a nice head of foam on the drink, though when we drank it, the drink itself was confusingly not fizzy. It was light, a bit tangy, sweet but not too sweet; it also had what appeared to be little vanilla flecks swimming throughout it.

Course 5: "Goat cheese snow"

Goat cheese which had been melted and then frozen in liquid nitrogen. It was served with basil oil, so it ended up tasting like a nice pesto. The "snow" was crumbly and cold, and melted to a very thin liquid in the mouth; in texture it reminded me of the pine nut cheese that was part of the deshielo 2005 that I had at elBulli.

Course 6: "Caramel apple with bacon"

A half of a baked Gala apple, which had been partially hollowed out and filled with caramel, peanuts, bacon, and applesauce made from the apple. The streak on the "plate" is also applesauce. The silverware for eating the apple is specially designed to hold a sprig of sage; the scent of the sage can contribute to the sensory experience of the dish. It wasn't as easy to take it all in as I would have liked — the apple skin was a bit tough to cut since we didn't get knives, and the sage was sticking out the wrong end of the fork to really get much of the scent. I ended up sticking the sage end of the spoon undecorously under my nose while eating forkfuls of the apple, but I didn't really mind because I thought the sage added to the dish. I really liked the flavor combinations — a gourmet caramel apple, balanced by the salt and depth of the bacon, and lifted a bit by the sage.

When the waiters brought the dish out, they mentioned something in passing about "battleship plates." It took me a bit to understand what they were talking about, but then it was obvious:

Oh, of course, Battleship plates!

A closeup of the spoon. The "screwy" side ended in a metal peg, which plugged into a hole in the back of the "plate."

Before the next course, a plate holding what appeared to be charcoal briquettes was brought to the table. The briquettes had been frozen in liquid nitrogen (giving them a white/black mottling), and the plate they were sitting on had a thin layer of high-proof alcohol which was flambéed by the waiter. They were left to sit for several courses, without explanation.

Course 7: "Greek salad"

The real seventh course was a tiny consommé of cucumber, tomato, red onion, and oregano, with a dot of extra-virgin olive oil. Greek salad is usually pretty strong, but this was mild enough to be a nice one-swallow palate cleanser. All the flavors shone through, despite the unassuming appearance of the soup.

Course 8: "Bouillabaisse"

A rich, salty saffron broth, with a long saffron "tuile," New Zealand cockles, and Prince Edward Island mussels. The "tuile" was actually like a long, thin, fishy pork rind; it didn't seem very strongly saffron-flavored. The wine paired with this one was quite dry, which was a welcome complement to the richness and saltiness.

Course 9: "Hamachi & gumbo"

A piece of hamachi (yellowtail fish) that had been rubbed with spices and set on a ceramic grate, served with a gumbo with abalone mushrooms. The grate had been pre-cooled in liquid nitrogen, so it left white "grill marks" on the fish when you picked the fish up! Moreover, the parts of the fish that had touched the "grill" made the fish feel more flaky and cooked-textured, contrasting with the nearly sushi-like smoothness elsewhere. (The fish wasn't actually raw, but had been cooked in warm olive oil.) The gumbo was rich, fishy, sweet, quite spicy, and had a strong paprika flavor.

I was really impressed by this course: the technical cleverness which showed off an unexpected effect, the beautiful tenderness of the fish, and and the well-balanced pairing of the fish with the soup.

Course 10: "Jalapeno & lime"

A scoop of jalapeño ice cream, cubes of avocado, toasted quinoa, and a tequila-lime margarita sauce. I thought it was okay; Josh said it was his least favorite dish of the evening. I don't think any of us would have thought of "margarita" if it hadn't been mentioned.

The restaurant, which was empty when we arrived for our 6:00 PM reservation, was mostly full by this point. Luckily, we weren't full at all yet, because we were only half done with the meal. On to the second half...