Tag Archives: avant-garde cuisine

Capping the Night: Tippling Club

PORT POACHED PINEAPPLE, textured yoghurt, spices, sweet herb puree.

I’ve been looking for a dessert place to replace my favorite post dinner hang-out; Will Goldfarb’s now defunct Room 4 Dessert and the sweet memories of the creations from Alex Stupak at wd-50 and Michael Laiskonis of Le Bernardin. It is as much a search for inventive, elegant and flawlessly executed desserts here in Singapore, as well as an easing of my yearning and associations of New York City, a place that I’ve left, but has never completely left me.

Unfortunately desserts at restaurants in Singapore are mostly a mere afterthought. The problem is that they often aren’t executed properly. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve gotten misshapen quenelles. It says a lot about a pastry chef, and especially a pastry chef, who should excel in precision, to not perfect their technique. But the larger problem lies in our Singaporean mindset. Desserts are often uninspired. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen a fucking molten chocolate cake on menus. I don’t know if it’s a lack of imagination on our part, or that we take ourselves too seriously. Desserts should be fun and not boring.

MANDARIN ORANGE SEA SPONGE, pistachio crumble, matcha distillate & cilantro.

Which is why I love what chef Ryan Clift of Tippling Club (formerly of Melbourne’s Vue du Monde) does. He takes something ordinary, like yogurt and gives it personality, actually four personalities in his port poached pear dish with four textures of yogurt. Desserts made interesting. Thank you.

He has mischievous flair. I couldn’t help but chuckle when he introduced the next dish as a mandarin orange sea sponge because it did look like a sea sponge! Definitely something I would see on my dives. The sponge was delicate and airy, but packed the assertive aromatic flavor of a mandarin orange, perfect for Chinese New Year. What is truly amazing about the dish is how the sponge, which was the star of the show, and shine it did, perfectly shared the stage with the other cast of characters; the pistachio crumble, matcha distillate and cilantro. It takes considerable skill and sense to make those components sing in harmony and chef Clift pulls it off with verve.

SNOWBALL, sudachi, white chocolate, yuzu curd.

What I love about the desserts are that they are an exploration of texture. The sudachi snowball had an exciting effervescence, taking on the role of champagne, delightful and celebratory, it was fun to eat. I only wish that there were more sudachi flavor in the snowball. The yuzu curd though provided balance and body with its intoxicating hints of yuzu and assertive eggy taste.

PEAR TARTIN 2009, cinnamon puff pastry, caramel.

There are a couple items on the menu that are deconstructions of your typical dessert staples. There is a perfectly executed tiramisu but it’s too close to the original to stand out. The lemon tart is slightly better. The real show stealer and my favorite dessert is the pear tartin 2009. I couldn’t help but be charmed when I saw it. A “pear” sat on puff pastry crumble studded with hidden crispy caramel. The “pear” was actually a flavorful but clean brown butter sorbet encapsulated with a gel. It’s a simple yet effective trompe l’oeil. Perhaps the smartest move by chef Clift, was breaking down the pear tartin into its elemental parts, the pastry, pear and the brown butter it’s cooked in and showcasing the best (at least my favorite) part, the brown butter. What you get is an emphasis on the most delicious aspect of a pear tartin. 

LEMON TART, meringue, sable, lemon chips, clotted cream.

TIRAMISU 2009. The side of the mascarpone bowl melted while I took photos.

As I’m writing this I’m a little sad because they are going to change their menu soon. So no more pear tartin, but I’m excited too, to see what chef Clift and his new head chef Scott Huggins (formerly from Iggy’s) have up their sleeves. I was given a little preview of what’s to come. This one was a luscious soft chocolate ganache with various textures of chocolate. The plate was garnished with orange juice that had been concentrated to a syrupy consistency with some fancy shmancy lab equipment. The flavor was intense.

New Chocolate/Orange dessert. (Yeah I didn’t get the name…)

Drinks from mixologist/artist Matthew Bax are an equally magnetic draw. As a (former) bartender myself, I think there isn’t any other place in Singapore that serves such well-crafted, inventive and downright delicious libations. There is an attention to detail, like cracking their own ice, as well as a reverence for the barman’s tradition but it’s tempered with progressive technique borrowed from the culinary avant-garde movement. Like the food at Tippling Club, what makes their drinks stand out is the sense of whimsy and theatrics.

“Your book sir.” Us: Huh?

A few weeks ago I ordered a drink and a waiter delivered a book to the table. To much bemused WTF-ery, I finally opened the book and in it sat a bottle within a cut out compartment. What a great way to serve a Teacher’s Tipple, my only complaint was that there wasn’t enough of that delicious drink. There is a drink called Fuck the Subprime, funny name, unfortunately at $35, I haven’t tried it. One of my favorite drinks, the Kopi-O comes in clear takeaway plastic bags like those found at local coffee shops. The difference is that there is a rectangular glass beneath the bag so you can put your drink down, and your coffee shop version probably doesn’t come with aged rum and roasted banana maple.

TEACHERS TIPPLE, Spicy carrot whisky, honey ginger.

I don’t think I fully appreciated before how glassware affects the perception of the whole drinking experience. I took for granted that drinks are supposed to be served in your standard glasses, the martini, collins, flutes and rocks. But most drinks at Tippling Club are served in unique vessels that really change the experience. Just look at what Alinea is doing with its dining ware.

I won’t describe them all  and spoil the surprise. Experience it for yourself, they really are the best drinks in town, and I daresay it’s hard to find better anywhere else in the world. 

CHERRY CHERRY, effen black cherry vodka, vsop cognac, cherry heering, fresh cherries, citrus, champagne, absinth bitters, cherry bark.

Tippling Club

8D Dempsey Rd

Singapore 249672

Tel: 6475-2217

www.tipplingclub.com

Hours: cocktails, bites and desserts, Tuesday to Saturday, 6 p.m. till late. Best to call before you go. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Price range: Cocktails, $18 to $35; desserts, $18 to $20. Or if in a group, get chef Clift to organize a tasting menu for desserts.

 

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I’m including some pictures from two master classes I attended at Tippling Club under the banner of the Melbourne Temperance Society, which was founded by Matthew Bax in his Melbourne based Der Raum bar.

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On the Cutting Edge with Sosa 
Modern Food and Cocktails
14 May 2009, $85++

Reagents.

I’d been getting my ingredients for avant garde cuisine from Le Sanctuaire in the States, so I was excited that I could get them now in Singapore from Sosa though Euraco. Sosa brought in their executive chef Jordi Colomer to teach the techniques that would showcase their products. 

Looks like a cloud… a cloud of liquor.

The food was perfectly executed. Confirming what I thought was a top-notch kitchen team. (The first time I visited Tippling Club was during chef Wylie Dufresne’s World Gourmet Summit dinner. And the crew at Tippling Club executed Wylie Dufresne and Alex Stupak’s wd-50 menu to an exacting T. I was seriously impressed, especially since I was reading some not so good things about Tippling Club on the blog circuit.) But I have to admit, coming back to the Sosa master class that I preferred more “real” food. Desserts were amazing though and totally enjoyable. But perhaps the best thing that night was trying Matthew Bax’s cocktails. It was the start of my love affair with them.

Playing with liquid nitrogen.

Amuse bouche: Mango and bronze sphere.

Sosa executive chef Jordi Puigvert Colomer.

FOIE GRAS & PISTACHIO SANDWICH, light pear mayonnaise, goat cheese powder, porto caviar.

Paired with APPLES & PEARS, calvados, poire william, Italian vermouth, falernum, clove apple bubbles. 

CHICKEN HAMBURGER, fake potato truffle gnocchi, mushroom cous cous, raw almond prawn emulsion.

Paired with GIN PINE FIZZ, gin, pine, champagne & lemon

If the chinois was a definitive piece of equipment for modern cuisine, then the immersion blender is the post-modern equivalent.

MEDITERRANEAN FLAVORS, olive oil rosemary sponge cake, green apple foam, yoghurt, pine nut, mandarin lavender sorbet.

Paired with GREEN TEA AFFOGATO, nikka Japanese whisky, genmaicha green tea, matcha sorbet.

A layer of  “fog” forms as liquid nitrogen boils off.

COFFEE AND GOLDEN SPHERE, caramel, mascarpone, mango, passionfruit.

Paired with MOROCCAN AFTERNOON, espresso rum, passionfruit, crispy mint shard.

PETIT FOURS, pistachio raspberry crispies, chocolate, peta zetas

 

Cocktail Master Class with Sam Ross
Milk & Honey NYC
28 October 2009, $150++

Fizzy grapes. A Tippling Club signature.

Milk & Honey was a bar that I’ve always wanted to go to in New York. Unfortunately you need to make a reservation using a “secret” phone number. I finally got that number courtesy of Meredith, she deserves a shout out here. But it was my last week in New York and the bar was closed for renovation. So I was extremely psyched when Sam Ross, their head bartender was doing a master class with the Melbourne Temperance Society. The drinks where phenomenal, there was a particularly gorgeous one, the Rebel Champagne, it was a velvety, sensual dessert-in-a-glass without being cloying or heavy. My only complaint was that the class was pretty dumb-ed down for the non-bartenders (everyone but me.) Still Sam tailored bits of the class to talk about refinement of the bartender’s art. In those short minutes I learnt more than in the last few years. Very informative and inspirational.

Char-grilled peppers (black from squid ink) miso soy dip. Another signature.

It was also at that event that I tried chef Clift’s food (as opposed to a guest chef’s) for the first time. I was particularly impressed with his bourbon coulant dessert. It was like a molten chocolate cake that I hate to see on menus turned upside down. The honey and white chocolate made a very interesting flavor combination. It could almost be mistaken for butterscotch, especially since it was off white in color and not dark like chocolate. Cold, white, chocolate but not, it was a refreshing and delicious take the molten chocolate cake cliché. I felt it was a jab at all the uninspired chefs who allow such garbage on their menu. It made the dessert even more enjoyable. 

The man: Sam Ross

PENICILLIN, j&b scotch, lemon juice, ginger honey syrup, caol ila float.

Paired with SCALLOP TARTARE, honey film, peaty caviar.

DON”T MIND IF I DO JULEP, bourbon, calvados, demerara syrup, mint.

Paired with MINT CONFIT SKATE, bourbon bacon, peas, lettuce.

GORDON’S CUP, tanqueray gin, simple syrup, lime chunks, cucumber.

Paired with GIN SPICED PORK, pancakes, green apple gel, sour apple chips.

Sam Ross preparing his Rebel Champagne. Just a gorgeous drink.

REBEL CHAMPAGNE, bourbon, liqour 43, henriot champagne, honey syrup, egg yolk.

Paired with BOURBON COULANT, nitro honey, white chocolate fluid.

It too has a liquid (cold) chocolate interior. 

No J. Tastes exactly like orange juice, but without any juice. Made by chef Clift in collaboration with a lab.

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The Subjectivity of Taste: WD-50

Cooks and servers converging on the pass

About a month before eating at Per Se, I made reservations at Chef Wylie Dufresne’s avant-garde restaurant, WD-50. Two weeks later I was there with my lovely roommate Hom.

In part, this visit was gastronomic training for Per Se, like a runner slowly upping his milage before a marathon. But perhaps the bigger reason for coming to WD-50 first, was that I knew eating at Chef Keller’s restaurant would spoil me for my future meals.

I was excited. There were a number of “firsts” at WD-50. It was the first time I was taking pictures of my whole meal. (I felt extremely self-conscious, and I still do a year later, almost to the day. I was at WD-50 on June 14, 2007. Wow. I’d also like to take this opportunity to apologize for the low quality of photography here and in my up-coming posts in the leaving New York series. I was totally clueless on photography then. The beautiful photography at Per Se was a fluke, the side effect from the magic of a perfect day.) It was my first Michelin star experience. The first time dining in the restaurant of a celebrity chef, although I think Chef Dufresne might cringe at that label. But I had seen him on television and was totally intrigued by his food. Indeed it would be my first time sampling what is labeled as avant-garde cuisine, characterized by its use of molecular gastronomy techniques.

Stepping into the restaurant from its nondescript entrance on the Lower East Side, I was surprised by the casualness of the place, which I appreciated. It was inviting. (My only complaint was that the row of two tops where we were seated were uncomfortable close to each other. But I often encountered that in New York City.) I was glad that Chef Dufresne didn’t take himself too seriously. Throughout the course of the meal, I could see that there was a sense of humor and wit that translated into his dishes.

Sesame flatbread

The “bread basket” immediately set the tone for the meal to come. A wooden box of paper thin sesame flatbread was set in front of us. It looked like a two dimensional vista of a jagged mountain range. It tasted like a sesame papadum, and like my favorite chips, I couldn’t stop myself from nibbling at them.

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Cured Hamachi, Lemon Leather, Cilantro Sorbet, Paprika

I was expecting really “out there” food from WD-50, a Methyl Cellulose and Isomalt filled pyrotechnic show. So I was surprised to see a rather conventional looking dish of cured hamachi. But the dish, taken in its totality was a wonderful symphony of flavors, textures and temperatures. If this dish were a person, it would be the sort of person who could seduce someone on the first date.

Pizza Pebbles, Pepperoni Emulsion, Shiitake

I think the “Pizza Pebbles” suffered from the bar being set so high by its predecessor. I was intrigued and impressed by how Chef Dufresne, through his technological culinary wizardry, transmogrified a mushroom and pepperoni pizza by using Maltodextrin into a line of small pebbles. But in all honesty I found the taste and texture lacking. Well it tasted like pizza, but without all the elements that I love about pizza; the gooey cheese, greasy pepperoni and doughy base. His pebbles had a slight dry roughness to them. It’s like the Combos snack that I love, and it would be great if I had the munchies, but just not in this restaurant setting.

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Knot Foie, Kimchi Puree and Iranian Raisin Puree, Rice Pebbles

The “Knot Foie” was the sort of culinary alchemy I was expecting from WD-50. Fragile foie gras had been transmuted into a pliable rectangular log and tied into a knot. Yet it retained the smooth and unctuous qualities that characterized foie gras. This dish also demonstrated Chef Dufresne’s considerable talent in pairing seemingly incongruous flavors to create an extremely dynamic offering. He had beautifully dotted the foie with Iranian raisin and kimchi puree. So each mouthful was punctuated with an alternating sweet and spicy bite. The dish was completed with studs of Japanese puffed rice for textural contrast. This was a brilliant dish on so many levels. Read how they created this dish in this New York Times article.

Sweetbreads, Cabbage-Kaffir, Fried Water Chestnuts

This next dish should have been a slam-dunk, but wasn’t. I’ve been infatuated with the luscious deliciousness of sweetbreads ever since my first bite at Wesley Genovart’s Degustation a few months before. But the sweetbreads here were dry. I liked how the plate resembled fried chicken and fries but at the same time the monotone made the dish look dreary.

Beef Tongue, Fried Mayo, Tomato Molasses

I love beef tongue and its something I don’t see often on menus. I thought the fried mayonnaise was genius. Put all the components of this dish together and you have a sophisticated rendition of the familiar corned beef sandwich. Clever, elegant, comforting and utterly delicious, this and the Knot Foie were my favorite dishes.

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French Onion Soup, Gruyere Ravioli, Rye Crisp, Onion Paste

Finally spherification. I was wondering if this molecular gastronomy technique was going to make an appearance. It did, in the form of a skinless liquid Gruyere ravioli in the “French Onion Soup.” A fun and modern interpretation of a classic, I ate a ravioli whole and it exploded in my mouth, then I pierced another, the cheese oozing out to mingle with the clear and flavorful broth in my spoon. It reminded me of soups back in Singapore where the hawker would put a barely cooked egg yoke in.

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Surf clam, Watermelon, Garlic Chive, Fermented Black Bean

I had mixed feelings about the next dish. I loved the surf clam and the use of black bean because even though I see it all the time in Chinese cuisine, and up till now, I’ve never seen it applied in a western context. But once I bit into the fermented black bean, the impact of its pungent taste overpowered the delicate and tasty mélange of flavors from the other delightful ingredients. It was a bold move to put that ingredient in there and I love how Chef Dufresne isn’t afraid of taking his guests out of their comfort zone, but the black bean threw the delicate balance of the dish off.

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Lamb Belly, Black Chickpea, Cherried Cucumber, Lemongrass

The last savory dish was lamb belly prepared to mimic bacon. It felt like crispy bacon and tasted very similar to it, with a hint of gaminess from the lamb to make it interesting. I liked the dish by itself, but not in the context of the meal. I’m primarily a carnivore and wanted something substantial to round out the meal. When I saw lamb belly on the menu I was hoping for something like the lusciously lamb belly I ate at Suba, also in the Lower East Side which Hom had taken me two weeks before for my birthday. I wanted a big chunk of meat more than the thin strips of lamb bacon.

Argan Oil Horchata, Cantaloupe, Carob

I never had horchata, the Latin American drink made with rice and usually flavored with vanilla and cinnamon. At the time I didn’t even have a clue what argan oil was. (It’s from the argan nut grown in Morocco and it’s supposedly good for your skin.) The horchata tasted like the almond milk Rusty (my college buddy and roommate while I was living in the Financial District) and I used to get on our late night runs to the real Chinatown, east of Chatham Square. But this “soup” was more complex, with the addition of cantaloupe, the distinct yet complementary flavors danced on my tongue. It was tremendously refreshing and definitely set the mood for the desserts to come.

Desserts at WD-50 are splendid. Even with the departure of the rock star like über pâtissier Sam Mason, the desserts were inventive, ingenious, gorgeous to behold and a pleasure to eat. Definitely one of my favorite dessert places in the city, second only to Will Goldfarb’s now defunct Room 4 Dessert.

Fried Butterscotch Pudding, Mango, Taro Ice Cream, Smoked Macadamia

Butterscotch is one of my favorite flavors and one that I don’t see too often on menus, although I feel that it’s making a comeback. Here at WD-50 it was fried, doubling the yum factor.

Soft Chocolate, Avocado Puree, Licorice, Lime Sorbet, Mint Puree

When the chocolate dish was presented to our table, we just stared at it for a while. If there was ever a dish that could win an architectural and design award, this would be the one. The spiral of soft chocolate tasted amazing. It felt smooth and tasted rich and luxurious. I liked the ice cream and the avocado puree. I wasn’t a fan of the licorice, but that’s just because I don’t like that flavor. I thought the play on the color green was great. You didn’t know if you were going to taste the avocado or mint.

From left to right: Me, Chef Dufresne and Hom

At the end of the meal I asked if it were possible to meet Chef Dufresne. The manager brought Hom and I to the kitchen. I was surprised that Chef Dufresne wasn’t expediting but on the line, cooking. I’m not entirely sure, but I think the mutton chopped chef was cooking some lamb. Meanwhile the manager gave us a tour of the kitchen. He pointed out the dehydrator used for the mushrooms in the pizza pebbles dish, he let us look over the shelves on the wall where they kept their specialized ingredients; it felt like it belonged in a lab than in a kitchen, and then he explained the work space lay out. It was definitely fun and interesting to be given such a behind-the-scenes look. Once Chef Dufresne was done with his dish, we chatted for a bit. He was so friendly and down-to-earth. He then introduced me to the pastry chef, Alex something, formerly from some restaurant that also started with the letter A. I told him that the desserts were amazing and that we enjoyed it very much. Although inwardly I was disappointed that I had missed the opportunity to meet Sam Mason. It was only months later that I realized the enormity of that introduction, that the young looking pastry chef was Alex Stupak, formerly from Alinea!

Brown butter-passion fruit marshmallows that were presented with the bill

Intellectually I thought the meal was excellent. Although my stomach told me to take it down a notch to very good. Hom said the meal was good too. But I sensed a lack of conviction. Months after the meal, I talked to a prominent chef who also features avant-garde techniques in his acclaimed French restaurant in Singapore. He said that the restaurant was a disappointment on his recent trip to New York. Perhaps he was expecting El Bulli or Alinea. I pointed out though, for the price you pay and the large number of courses given that it’s actually quite a bargain. I also pointed out that Frank Bruni, the critic from The Times had raved about the restaurant. Bruni had given WD-50 three out of four stars, something that he doesn’t do lightly.

I began to wonder about the range of responses to the food at WD-50. Shouldn’t good food appeal to everyone? I have no answers for that question.

Sure there were some misses during my meal, but there was never a boring moment.  I applaud Chef Dufresne’s courage to dare. Eating at WD-50 is a riveting culinary adventure.

(I have to admit that I didn’t take note of the names of the dishes. But luckily I found them at the The Gourmet Pig’s blog while researching on how WD-50 made the Knot Foie. Read his account here. In an amazing coincidence he dined there on the same night that I did!)

 

WD-50

50 Clinton Street

New York, New York 10002

(212) 477-2900

http://www.wd-50.com

Dinner offered only. Monday though Saturday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., and on Sunday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Price Range:

It was $115 for the tasting menu when I dined there. It is now $140.

Dress Code:

Casual.