Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Foie Gras Wednesday @ Txoko

Wednesdays historically haven't been a very exciting day for me.  Hump day, sure, but really, not the best day of the week.  And then ... Txoko went and changed all of that.  A few weeks ago, they started up Free Foie Wednesdays.  The idea is simple: the first 50 people who show up get a ticket, that they can then redeem for a foie gras pintxo.

You know that I love foie gras.  And you know that I was totally enamored by Txoko when I attended a foie gras dinner there before the ban went into effect.  So why haven't I been mentioning this before now?  Simple, I'm not usually in San Francisco on Wednesday evenings.  But this time, they were upping the ante even more, bringing in a guest chef.  Instead of just one preparation of foie gras, there would be two.  And who was the guest chef?  Marc Zimmerman from Alexander's Steakhouse!

This sounds too good to be true right?  Not only could I legally eat foie gras, prepared by chefs whose work I really respect, in California, but it would be free?  There was no way that I could miss this.

I told Emil about the event, and he eagerly agreed to join me.  We arrived before the doors opened, to make sure we'd get one of the coveted spots.  In retrospect, I guess we were a little over-eager, but still, it was part of the fun.  The doors opened at 5:30pm on the dot, and we got our tickets.  I felt like Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, grasping on to my golden ticket.  I had to keep checking to make sure it was there!

The kitchen didn't open until 6pm, but we sat up at the bar, and started figuring out our drink pairings.  Emil knew exactly what he wanted, but I was less decisive, and the bartender let me try out a couple sherries.  I settled on the same cream sherry I'd had at the foie dinner there, and it was just as delicious as last time.

I loved the entire experience of being there, from the staff who recognized us from attending the foie dinner, to the friendly bartender, to the excellent food.  And there is something about the decor and feel of the place that just make it so comfortable.  The perfect place to spend a Wednesday night.

I'd be back every Wednesday if I could, but like I said, I'm not normally in San Francisco on Wednesdays, so I'll only be able to make it from time to time.  But if you are in SF, you have no excuse  not to be there!

Duo of foie gras pintxos.  Priceless.  Uh, literally.
On the left was Chef Begg's offering, his play on liver and onions: Seared foie gras a la plancha, braised cipollini onions, crispy fried shallots, chives, and a sherry gastric.  We had a very similar dish at the Txoko foie gras dinner, with the only real differences being the smaller portion size and the lack of additional sauces on this one.

You kinda can't go wrong with a dish like this.  Seared foie gras?  Creamy, rich, delicious.  Braised cipollini mushrooms?  Tender, sweet, a nice pairing.  Crispy shallots?  So insanely good, what every onion ring strives to be.  My memory of this dish from last time is that I enjoyed it more, I think the larger piece of foie worked better, not because of the size per se, but because it was better seared, which may have been tricky to do with this small piece.  I also thought the onion and shallot dominated a little too much in this version, since the ratio of onion to foie was different.  But, I'm nitpicking, this was a very tasty treat.

At the previous dinner, we had this dish paired with a cream sherry, which I did again this evening, at the recommendation of the bartender.  It was sweet, delicious, and a generous pour for $9.  Emil again opted for a less sweet sherry.

Chef Zimmerman's dish was, as always, a beautiful work of art.  A log of almond foie torchon, surrounded by almond crumbles, almond milk bubbles, lapin cherries, and garnished with shiso leaves and a feuilletine tuile.  I think there was a dollop of ume boshi and some balsamic as well.

I always look forward to Chef Zimmerman's mousses, as the consistency is just amazingly creamy.  This one was no exception.  I was slightly disappointed that the foie flavor wasn't quite as pronounced as I'd like, but the smoothness and creaminess were really perfect.  The little bits of almond crumble I found to be a bit strange as a pairing, I really liked the crunch they added, but they were somewhat bitter, which was a little harsh against the foie.  I wanted something to smear the foie on, and the cherries filled that role, and were a sweet, nice match, although not as sweet as cherries I enjoyed with my foie back in June, when they were more in season.  The component of the dish that I liked the most was the feuilletine tuile.  It was the perfect level of sweetness to pair with the foie, and I loved having the crisp form factor.  I think it would be really fun to have a play on chips and dip with something like this to dip into a slightly softer, more mousse-like foie spread.  Mmm ...

It was fun to have these dishes side by side, as they were totally different styles, both very representative of the chefs who created them.  Chef Begg's dish fit in perfectly with the restaurant and the style of food they serve,  rustic and satisfying.  Chef Zimmerman's dish didn't quite fit in with the style of Txoko, but is exactly what we are used to seeing from him at Alexander's, elegant and refined.  I enjoyed the both, and find them very hard to compare.
Pan Seared Day Boat Scallops, Baby Octopus, Crispy Okra, Sweet Corn Puree, Sweet Corn, Wild Mushrooms, Pea Shoots, Potato Coulis, Potato Crisps.  $28.
Long before I heard about Txoko for their foie, it was actually the seared scallops that I'd read about.  I love a good seared scallop.  At the foie dinner, we enjoyed a course of seared scallops with foie sauce, and our vegetarian companion ordered the regular seared scallop dish as his entree.  Tonight's scallop dish was a seasonal version of what he'd had, with corn in place of the now out of season asparagus.  All three versions I've seen of the seared scallops at Txoko featured potato coulis, potato crisps, and wild mushrooms, all ingredients I love!

There were so many elements to this dish, and they were all really quite good.  Fantastic, complimentary flavors, quality ingredients, all well prepared.  And of course, it helps that most of the components were among my favorite ingredients!

The bottom layer was a sweet corn puree.  It was creamy, sweet, and really good, even just on its own by the spoonful.  On top of that was the potato coulis, also ridiculously creamy.  The two were quite tasty together, and I also enjoyed using the corn puree as a sauce for the scallops, as the sweetness of the sauce really highlighted the sweetness of the scallops.

Speaking of sweetness, the corn kernels were downright amazing.  Yes, probably the most simple component of any of the dishes we had, but they were just bursting with sweetness, and were perfectly cooked, still a tiny bit crisp, not mushy at all.

The other vegetable component that really sung was the pea shoots.  There weren't many of them, but they were also perfectly cooked, incredibly tender, and had a lovely flavor.  The mushrooms were also flavorful, with a slightly hearty earthiness to them that balanced out all of the other lighter elements in the dish.

The potato sticks were another element that added balance, this time textural, as they were crispy, and added a great crunch against the very smooth purees.

The baby octopus really surprised me.  I didn't really expect to like it much, as octopus tends to be fairly flavorless and too commonly poorly cooked and rubbery.  Not only was this beautifully prepared and tender, without the slightness bit of rubberyness, but the flavor was really surprising, with a smoky quality to it.

The scallops were right on flavor-wise, with a beautiful sweetness to them.  Sadly, they were overcooked for my liking, cooked a very solid medium all the way through.  Still tender, not overcooked to make them rubbery or anything, but I certainly prefer them slightly rare on the inside.  The sear on the outside was good, but it was better last time we had them.

The only element of the dish that I didn't like was the crispy fried okra.  The breading fell off the moment it was cut into and it tasted too oily.  And, being okra, it was pretty slimy and just not something I cared for.  I appreciated the idea of the southern style pairing of the crispy okra with the corn and potatoes, but it wasn't for me.

I really liked this dish.  I thought so many of the flavors were incredible and the treatment of the ingredients was well done, and everything came together nicely, with flavors and textures that complimented each other.  I hesitate to say this, but I think I actually enjoyed this more than either of the foie dishes.

$28 was an great price for a very large dish of scallops.  We assumed there would just be two or three scallops for this price point, but instead there were five, and the sides along with the scallops were substantial, including several pieces of octopus.

I'd get this again anytime, and would even go back on a non-foie night for it, although I think I might specifically ask to have the scallops a little less cooked next time.
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