Ding Ding! Round One!!
Lucky enough to secure tickets to this exercise in badassery, a friend and I attended the Box and Bells first preview dinner at Hawker Fare last night. After a welcome from chef James Syhabout, service started to flow. Attention head chef Benjamin Coe: Firing, plating and serving 45 simultaneous dinners is no small feat, so cheers(!) to him and his team. Servers were available here and there to ask for water, more rations or a refill on drinks. The lighting was low- apologies upfront for the crap photos. You’ll get the gist…
Let’s start going a little nuts:
A crunchy snack of “pepperoni” almonds and sunflower seeds- salty with a little heat.
Potted and Jarred Goods
There was homemade mustard on the table to start. It had a grated quality to it – horseradishy-even. Served with what looked like Texas toast (but was called out as the more elegant grilled pain de mie), these three jars contained: head cheese with green garlic and parsley relish, country style pork rillettes, and chicken liver mousse with apple pie aspic. Bonus points for getting to dessert in the appetizer course!! Alongside were on-trend pickled and fermented veg. (Food snoot alert: I now take these for granted – they are everywhere! Thank you though, for helping me get my healthy servings in!!)
Speaking of veg…
Salad of Gem Lettuces
There was some kale leaf in here that gave me pause when looking at it and it added some diversity to the salad course. An herbed cultured cream, egg and paper thin radish rounded it out.
Enough healthy stuff… let’s get to the fried part:
Boneless fried chicken – all of what you want with none of what you don’t.
The elevating moment:
Raw Oyster Mayonnaise
The raw oyster mayonnaise did the nuggets right. This is hard to explain, like eating a fried oyster po’boy with added crunch and chew from the chicken and no pesky bread to get in your way.
We were gearing up now, pacing ourselves. Ordering an ice cold Singha beer was a good move.
Hell yeah, poutine! It was “Made Our Way” with blood pudding gravy, cheese curds waiting in the depths and onions to finish. I think this disappeared in record time for the meal. Gone.
My photos of the Mussels Tikka Masala fell flat, so imagine them all huddled together in a thin white wine broth, crowned in cilantro- wish I’d had some of the toast to sop up that tikka masala- it just made sense.
In the theme of shellfish:
As I walked by the kitchen, the trays of scallops conveyed caramelization through scent. Set on a bed of meyer lemon spaetzle and hazlenuts, each were cooked perfectly. The “hen glace” was called out on the menu but married so well it helped add to the whole rather than shout out.
Admittedly in the introduction, Chef said it was a meat heavy menu, and he wasn’t kidding. Boudin blanc, sauerkraut and corned beef with parsley sauce put the nail in the mains section. The consistency of the sausage, soft and cooked white on the outer edges and faint rose in the center, was smooth. We were glad we kept the mustard from the potted meats course. The cabbage kept its crunch, and the acid helped- vinegar melted the chiffonade, slightly. The corned beef was a bit dry, and I’m sad I didn’t get more of the sauce to possibly combat that.
The side dishes missed their paparazzi moment. The baked beans were heavy on the molasses and were a nice departure from their overly sweet mainstream cousin. The “Rich Potato Puree” was all that and more- we dove in. Whipped butter with a potato afterglow. I want to swim in those. Really. The brussels sprouts in bone marrow with maple syrup and sherry had a stocky, warm coating and the fried up outer leaves benefitted from the sherry kick. With fullness setting in, we left some bits on our plates, but few.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Dessert showed up as a date cake with apple, vanilla chantilly and a toffee caramel pool so good, I went in for last licks. The dessert was not a chore, thanks to the lightness of the cake.
The chefs were walking around talking with patrons during service, and came out and thanked everyone. This is the food they, as chefs, want to eat after service- so we all got a peek between the late night shutters of a well fed kitchen. When asked about the name, they said there would be a boxing bell at the bar. They are thinking loud, lively eating house- take a box of bells, shake it up!
The timeline isn’t set yet, but this is their direction. A couple more dinners are in the works, so be on the lookout for announcements. This one sold out in five minutes: To the quick come the Box and Bells.
Yet another reason to look forward to Spring 2013 in Oakland!