Saturday, January 21, 2012

Revisit to Todd English's Blue Zoo

I was in Orlando, FL, for a weeklong conference, and was privileged to attend a private dinner party at Blue Zoo. I enjoyed dinner there last year, but it was even better the second time around. I knew it would be innovative and interesting and I was all geared up for fabulous food, and I was watching for the little surprises.

The appetizers were wonderful -- fresh oysters and shrimp at the raw bar, miniature lobster club sandwiches, shot glasses filled with mozzarella cheese and tomatoes, with a basil "foam."  It was hard not to fill up on these delightful treats before they passed by, but dinner was worth the wait.

We started with a tiny black pot of warm winter squash puree, topped tim "nitro creme fraiche" and pumpkin seeds. The creme fraiche let off steam, like dry ice, and cooled off the soup, and the pumpkin seeds added flavor and a nice crunchiness to the dish.

The second course was a choice of sea scallop and short rim, or an anjou pear salad with balsamic "air".  I went for the salad because I wanted to know about balsamic air.  I am a big fan of salad, but I'm not always so delighted by the food combinations.  This was probably the best salad I've ever enjoyed.  The "air" was a balsamic vinegar foam that sat on top of the greens and pears.  There was a hint of olive oil in it, and there was a splash of cheddar cheese sauce that pulled everything together.  It's worth a trip to Orlando just for this salad!

The main course choices were ahi tuna with house-made kimchi, been tenderloin with pureed cauliflower, or wild mushroom penne with sautéed spinach and radicchio, and caramelized onion.  Take your pick -- my table-mates declared them all to be delicious. The kimchi was especially popular -- spicy, but not so over the top that it overshadowed the tuna; the tenderloin was perfectly cooked, and the side of cauliflower was just the right touch, and the penna/vegetable combination was a good alternate for vegetarians.

The surprise for the table was the side dishes -- shake and bake fries, and tempura haricot vert (definitely the highlight of the evening!)

The pastry chef Laurant Branlard is one a small number of chefs who have been awarded France's MOF for pastries. (If you don't know what a "MOF" is, make sure you rent the movie, Kings of Pastry!)  Chef Branlard really outdid himself for the dessert tasting.  Desserts included an "interactive ice cream/sorbet bar", which at it's most basic level means "make your own" sundaes, but this was not your basic sundae bar.  The hit here was the green apple sorbet topped with a dollop of caramel -- it was like biting into a caramel apple. The selection of bite-sized desserts included an incredibly popular white chocolate creme brûlée, a lovely version of molten lava cake, an apple "lasagna" and caramelized hazelnuts, and a banana-custard dish called banofee pie.  There were so many to choose from that the trick here was for everyone at the table to pick out one or two different dishes, then just describe them to each other.

If you're planning a trip to Disney World any time soon, make sure to add Blue Zoo to your trip -- you won't be disappointed.