I’m a groupie through and through. I freak out when I see a celebrity of any caliber, from the A list to the D list. I’m scream. I point. I gawk. Then I hide into the farthest corners of my shyness. I will not approach them. I will not talk to them. I will dart my eyes away if they there is any hint of potential eye contact. Sadly, this holds true for even reality TV stars, who are at best C list celebrities, but are probably more like a solid D. Celebrity chefs are no exception, if not a large focus of my undeserved attention.
Marcel Vigneron, being the runner up of Top Chef Season 2, was the main draw for my visit to Test Kitchen this time around. When I walked into the restaurant and laid eyes on that giant mane of hair from scalp to chin, I became especially effusive with girlish immaturity. Just as quick as the inane giddiness washed upon me, compelling me to snap photos of Marcel, did the feelings of embarassment soon follow, quelling the stalkarazzi in me. I did manage to get one good photo before the restraint of my sheepish nature kicked in.
Marcel fared quite well on Top Chef. He seemed like a young, but truly talented and innovative gastronomist. I was eager to taste his culinary creations.
Kombu Cured Hamachi crispy rice, pineapple, avocado
The night started off smoothly with a delicious start of hamachi. It was beautifully presented amongst a dazzling and colorful array of deconstructed elements, avocado, shiso, chilies, ponzu. All of it was sitting on a thin slice of pineapple, almost like a fruity edible doily. I’m not quite sure how to take on these deconstructed dishes because I never want to stick the whole bite in my mouth. Rather, I like to take small nibbles and savor the flavors. I tasted a hint of kombu here, and whiff of pineapple there, a spice of heat there. All in all it was a solid eat. Oh, can’t forget the foam! Yes folks, there was some dashi foam or something which I think dissolved before photo documentation.
Amuse Bouche tomatoes & potatoes
I’ve heard many things regarding the dysynchronous and sometimes chaotic orchestration of service at Test Kitchen. Having only gone twice, I haven’t experienced too much of this first hand. At times service lagged but it was forgiveable. The amuse being served after the 1st course was another forgiveable oddity of the night. The amuse tasting like 2 lumps of ordinary somethings on a plastic dipper spoon was less so. Seriously Marcel? A cherry tomato, which by the way was nothing short of average, unceremoniously presented as a duo with a plain dry salt & peppered potato. Aside from the rhyming, these things could not have had any more in common. Oh I I suppose the green powder on the spoon was supposed to the highlighting element, but the thing was so boring I can’t remember what it was now.
Dayboat Scallop & Halibut Cheek flavors of puttanesca, artichoke
Aside from the problematic service of Test Kitchen, is the frequent shortage of ingredients which especially plagues the restaurant at the end of the night, or in our case at the end of the weekend stint. I swear there was no mention of Halibut in the menu, but here it was on my plate of 1 scallop. I’m almost certain they were running out of scallops. It would have been forgivable had the scallop and halibut been cooked properly. Triple T and Smooth Obturator had some seriously undercooked proteins, not to mention a bone in the fish! Mine wasn’t so raw, but the scallop was short on the caramelization. You can see it looks pretty bland. As for the “flavors of puttanesca,” I just didn’t get it. There were just too many different elements on the plate, anchovies, capers, chilies, garlic, olives, oregano, parsley, and tomatoes. None of it really seemed to blend together. There was too much going on the plate, and we didn’t like ANY of it.
Wagyu Beef Tongue & Fried Egg radish, beet, arugula, beans
Another unsuccessful dish. First, the refridgerator cool beef tongue was totally off putting. Especially when paired with the piping hot fried egg. Second, the beef tongue had hunks of fat marbled through which was strange since the beef tongue I had before was always solid pieces of meat with no marbling. The tongue had absolutely no flavor as well. The other elements on the plate failed to bring anything to the dish. The only noteworthy element was that fried egg, which had a nice golden crust on the outside which revealed a creamy golden yolk that oozed all over the plate. Too bad I’m not a huge fan of yolk! Ugh, we were pretty disappointed by this point.
Vadouvan Lamb Chop cauliflower, amaranth, mint
Smooth Obturator sent back this dish because it looked like it had been violated. I think they just weren’t careful when they were wiping and cleaning up the dish for presentation. In any case, we suspected they brought back the same lamb. It wasn’t a good lamb. It was room temperature. It was served on some strange couscous with almonds, feta, pomegranate, raisin, mint, and preserved lemon. Once again, too much going on on the plate with no harmony. And yes! Another tasteless foam.
Ricotta Fritter baby peach panna cotta, agave
After 3 horribly disappointing entrees, we were presented with the first of 2 desserts. The dish could have been a real success, but given the theme for the night, this was not the case. The ricotta fritter, although perfect in its cakey moist texture served straight from the deep fryer, was like eating a salt lick. I don’t think it was meant to be that way. Even the sweetness from the excessively soft panna cotta could not balance out that fritter.
Macadamia “Sponge Cake” textures of strawberries
This dessert was just a hot hot mess. Marcel totally ruined the perfectly tart fruity essence of the strawberry. The fresh strawberries were not that sweet and looked a little dull. That pink glob on the side was some strange tangy fizzy tasting strawberry cream. Served with a spherical sack filled with more of that strange almost spoiled tasting strawberry flavor. Once it’s unpalatable flavor burst in my mouth, I spit the whole thing out. It really takes a lot for me to spit something out, but this did the trick. On the flip side, that macadamia sponge cake was pretty good. It was slightly warm, light and airy, subtly sweet with a great roasted macadamia nut flavor. I was pretty impressed, but it was not enough to save this dessert.
I didn’t think any Top Chef could be as disatsifying as Stefan from season 5 at his restaurant, Stefan’s at LA Farm. Marcel has managed to win this title. I do think it’ll be a difficult title to wrangle away. Ilan Hall and his strange Jewish Scottish fare at The Gorbals could win, but obviously there has been no motivation to go there. I’m not in the business of trying to find the worst food, but I think I did at Test Kitchen with Marcel. Next up? Jamie from Top Chef Season 5 is now at Beechwood!