Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last week, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que founder John Stage discussed Ouest’s house-smoked duck breast with crispy egg and bitter greens with chef-owner Tom Valenti. What’s next, Valenti?
“That’s a dish that’s been on the menu over twenty years. It’s squid, scallops, octopus — and I think he puts lobster in it now — steamed or lightly poached with a simple, delicious lemon vinaigrette and garnished with a half an avocado that’s fanned out. It also has some lettuces dressed with the vinaigrette. The consistency of that restaurant is amazing. It’s one of those things you get stuck in your craw, and you want to have it, and you go back and it is exactly what you remember it to be. It’s a perfectly cohesive dish. There’s nothing extraneous. It’s cooked beautifully and seasoned beautifully; that’s really all we can ask for.”
Chef-owner Alfred Portale responds:
“That’s one of two or three dishes from the original opening menu. Twenty years ago, I was doing a tour of Florence. I remember going to Italian restaurants, and they always had seafood salads: Typically, squid, shrimp, scallops, all sitting in a vinaigrette. I found the idea of light, fresh seafood dressed simply to be very appetizing. The problem is typically this stuff sits in vinegar and it’s rubbery and tasteless, so I thought, Let me work on that. I included some Japanese octopus, flying fish roe, the best little scallops, and lobster meat. It always had lobster because we have a roasted lobster tail on the menu that provides us with the lobster for the salad. The idea is simple: We make a very light lemon dressing with extra-virgin olive oil, and when the order comes in, we carefully poach all the seafood separately. It’s put into a bowl with fresh herbs and a bit of shallot and lots of seasoning and then dressed to order. The other thing is, it was —I emphasize was — sort of iconic in the architectural-plate-presentation movement, back in the eighties. It’s molded on the plate and held by thin sheets of avocado, with a pretty tuft of organic greens that come up on the top. It’s the freshness and the simplicity bundled up in a beautiful package. ”
Read about a recent dish Alfred Portale enjoyed.