I’ve written about Giorgio Rapicavoli before, but that was before he was Chopped winner and press magnet.
He was at 660 then. I’ve seen him grow through numerous restaurants and ventures and had him cook meals for me off the clock where things other than a dinner crowd and thousand dollar kitchen served to inspire him, particularly his hookah, which we dubbed Gazpacho and the Sicilian looking kitchen at his mother’s house.
He has now left 660 and with good reason, piggybacking off the winning of Chopped and to do what he’s always wanted to do: whatever the fucks he wants.
And now he can, and is.
Pop-up restaurants are a recent trend in the restaurant industry. Personally, I think it’s a phenomenal concept. Here’s how it works. Restaurants who open say for only lunch and close at four due to lack of a dinner crowd have wasted nights, but for them this works since they make their cover during their busy commercial lunches. Still the kitchen, tables, silverware, and most importantly bar are all available for use and yet uninhabited, and nobody likes to window shop when it comes to food. We all want to buy. So a chef, a concept, a restaurant pops up in these already running restaurants that go by another name, but upon walking in you find yourself somewhere else entirely.
I’ve never been to Café Ponce, but last night I did go to Eating House: Rapicavoli’s six month venture.
Nothing like what I would imagine Café Ponce to be, but just the perfect place to set up Eating House. Bare walls allow for the Eating House team to put up their graffiti to go along with their “If eating is an art, then we’re making graffiti” concept. Small and lightweight movable tables make for good use of space and allow for puzzle play to make everyone who walks through those doors fit one way or another. A two-top could easily become a four-top even if they have to take a table away from another party who isn’t using it, although here, that will be unlikely. And best of all the small space is perfect for what Rapicavoli and long time friend, room-mate, and co-worker Alex Casanova are designing: an informal grub-like approach to eating.
There are no servers. There are no runners. There are no bartenders. Just three room-mates who have the perfect combination: one can cook, one can bartend, and one can serve. A Triple threat. I was lucky enough to work with the three of them at Chispa and to see them now, with a restaurant and girlfriends, all grown-up is surreal in a way, much like the food you’ll eat at their house.
I could talk about the dishes I had last night, but there’s really not much of a point since you can’t go back tonight and get the same thing since the menu changes daily according to whatever Giorgio feels like serving you, what he came up with this morning in the shower, or what crazy tomatoes he got delivered. What I can tell you is that every day will be a different adventure and that if you go enough times you will see the traits of this chef pop up throughout his food. The mixes of different textures, his love and need to give you sorbet at least once throughout your meal, his sweet meets salty and ingenious combinations of things that should not go together, and his exotic use of ingredients in sauce.
But because this is a food blog, social blog, me blog, and I love teasing people I’ll give you a preview of what the friends and family at Eating House was like.
I started the night out with cured zucchini that unlike regular zucchini was not hard or watery. It was smooth and slimy and served with a whipped ricotta cream, lemon, basil, and different kinds of flower petals. I’m not one for things that are served on a plate but serve no purpose, which is great seeing as to how whatever Giorgio puts on my plate is because it’s all meant to be eaten.
Next came something very special, and I say special because it’s something that would never come together under the mind of anyone else. Tomato, San Marzano I presume (knowing Giorgio), with fish sauce, ginger, lime, peanuts, and a coconut milk sorbet. Yes, you read right, and no it is anything but disgusting. I have no idea how or why this works, but when you find something truly great you shouldn’t question it, and as a girl that’s difficult. Part of the reason why we drive men crazy is because of our natural instinct to question everything including love, which for guys isn’t something of question: it just is. So just let it be and don’t ruin a good and rare thing because coconut milk sorbet doesn’t come around often.
My favorite dish for the night, as he guessed it would be, was the slow poached egg with mashed potatoes, iron beer morcilla ragu and coffee salt. Blame it on my European identity, or the fact I am a fatass, but anything with a poached egg and morcilla has my vote and mouth on it. Perfectly plated between a bed of mashed potatoes, I find egg marks the spot where it lays hidden and tucked in by the morcilla ragu. The real treat is when you mix everything together so that the yolk mixes with the blood sausage and the mashed potatoes. With the strong pungent taste of the morcilla, the smoothness of the potatoes, and the subtleness of the yolk you get this kick of sweet salt and you’re left wondering which one of these three ingredients brought that on, but the best part is that it was another ingredient standing alone: the coffee salt. I licked this plate clean against what I was raised to do as a Spaniard and the manners my mom so carefully imprinted in me, but that I blame on the fact that I am a fatass.
Chunks of diced raw beef with sesame, soy, egg yolk, micro-onion, radishes, and some flower that starts with an n that I can’t remember, but I know it’s exotic, much like this dish. From the ragu to this it was a great balance of textures while keeping with the familiarity of ingredients: yolk, who always brings people and plates together.
And then after this he did traditional Giorgio: Salty meets sweet. A Japanese eggplant with banana miso, vanilla sea salt, cilantro, and corn shoots. WTF? Again, nothing about this makes sense, but I just eat and stop questioning the fact that I am having banana with eggplant and it taste so damn good. Even the skin, especially the skin….
A huge fan of BBQ, it was no surprise when I saw chicken and waffles make their way to my table, but as expected there had to be a twist. In this case he chose to serve it with smoked maple syrup, candied bacon, and a hot ranch to counteract the desert like and sweetness of the waffle and syrup. I won’t even talk about his fried chicken because I could be here for days. All I’ll say is I could undress all the chickens Giorgio gives me gladly.
My second favorite dish of the night: a pork tenderloin with raw and smoked apples. The pork was perfectly cooked to a medium rare, a real medium rare who’s soft and juicy texture went so well with the fried and almost harsh brussel sprouts it came with, and as if that weren’t enough a Dr. Pepper reduction and apples two ways cause one ain’t enough: raw and smoked. How do you like them apples?
Now what I really love about Giorgio is that he utilizes the parts of things others would throw away or disregard, as he did with this rib-eye that was not only cooked perfectly, but the fat was absolutely delicious and worth making me fat for. I had it all, and how could I not when it was served in a kalimocho sauce (red wine and coca-cola). The fat drenched in this? Thick, hard, and difficult to finish off, but with something like this you really don’t have a choice.
Black cod with an emulsion of green peas, sugar snap peas a green tea emulsion.
Roasted bone marrow with chimi-churri, burnt onion puree, and marrow toast. Now you’re thinking what’s marrow toast? Ahhh I am glad you asked. The juice that the marrow releases, Giorgio takes and saves that, he doesn’t just throw it away, and then uses it to dip the bread in, toast, and grill it. Just in casethe fat from the marrow isn’t enough, although it certainly is, you also have it on your bread.
And because he ran out of the dessert I had been waiting for from the beginning of the night: a banana foster puree with whipped nutella, salted caramel, and cookie crumbs, he whipped something up on the spot he knew I’d like. Balls. Lychee balls with coconut sorbet (from the tomato dish) sugared grapefruit, and mint. In the beginning I must say it was very acidic for my palate, but as all of it blended together and as the balls burst in my mouth, I forgot about the acidic texture and focused on the eruption that was happening in my mouth.
And last but not least, a take on strawberry shortcake with stewed and raw strawberries, angel cake, and purple and green basil. For some reason this dish was absolutely mind blowing to me but now I have nothing to say about it. For once I am speechless. After 1,617 words what else would you expect?
Guess I’m not such a tease after all.