Wednesday, December 14, 2011

experiment #21 - CobayAzul (a/k/a A.B.C. - Azul Bizarre Cobaya)

Wow. Our chef for Experiment #21 was Joel Huff of Azul restaurant, and he did it right. My pictures from the dinner are in this CobayAzul flickr set, will follow up shortly with some further thoughts and my recap is now up at FFT. You can also read a recap from Chowfather, get a glimpse from inside the kitchen at sous chef Brad Kilgore's blog, "The Power of a Passion," and see another take on the dinner at "Tinkering with Dinner." I'm also adding, in a comment to this post, an insightful recap I received from one of our guests who is also a chef.

Many thanks to Chef Huff and all of his kitchen crew, as well as all the FOH folks at Azul who took great care of us throughout the night (Bread service? Napkins refolded when you leave your seat? Is this a Cobaya dinner?); thanks to our special guest Andrew Zimmern and all of his crew, who were very well behaved as party-crashers go; and thanks most of all, as always, to the guinea pigs who make these events possible, for your support, and for your tolerance for all the cameras and other distractions. If you're interested in more of a glimpse of the interesting things going on at Azul, I also encourage you to check out sous chef Brad Kilgore's blog, The Power of a Passion.

Our menu:

Uni Monstera Fruit Sorbet

Pumpkin Swordfish Tataki, Pickled Squash, Pumpkin Oil

Beetzanella, Beet Textures, Wisconsin Blue

Smoked Mediterranean Octopus, Cauliflower Vadouvan

Carnaroli Risotto, Chanterelles, Forest Floor

Turbot, Lemon Scented

Beef Duo, Snake River Farm Wagyu NY Strip Loin, 72-Hour Short Rib

Local Strawberries, Sesame Brittle Sable


  1. Note: this was a recap I received from one of our diners who also works as a chef at a South Florida country club:

    It was an awesome dining experience eating at Azul and being in the company of extreme enthusiast. The small group of 30 people, including Andrew Zimmern from the popular Travel Channel TV show “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern”, arrived to a beautifully landscaped and decorated restaurant Azul. A fully open kitchen, waterfall dividers, polished silver, coral floors, and a fully trained staff welcomed us. It was inspirational!

    To start the evening they passed a round of key lime infused champagne. Shortly after Chef Hull did a demonstration on making a cranberry and lime martini with minted foam that has been frozen with liquid nitrogen. After a brief conversation with Andrew Zimmern about local Miami eateries, we moved to a fully set dining room. Once seated, I was surrounded by young and old companions who were in love with the idea of the full dining experience. Once they discovered I was a full time chef, I became the local celebrity of my end of the table. Life stories were shared bring us together as a group of friends.

    Our first course came out in a small bowl with a gigantic rim. Set in the middle was Uni (sea urchin) Monstera Sorbet. Monstera, a local seasonal Florida fruit, was soft and sweet which worked well with the uni. The tiny pinch of fresh wasabi gave it the perfect kick. For my first time having uni, I loved it.

    The second and third courses were combined, Pumpkin Sword Tataki, Pickled Squash, and Pumpkin Oil. The pumpkin sword is a swordfish that lives primarily in shrimp beds. The constant diet of shrimp gives the flesh the pink/orange pigmentation. This particular piece of swordfish was prepared like ahi tuna. A quick hard sear and served rare. Fried squash blossoms, pickled pumpkin, bitter pumpkin oil, squash gelee and edible flowers decorated the plate. A truly amazing dish I wanted more of and would never get tired of.

  2. (Part 2)

    The forth course was Beetzanella, a play on a classic tomato and bread salad called panzenella. This plate up was a festive and vibrant display of red, golden, candy, striped, and baby beets. Among the many précised carved beets cooked in many ways were sweet orange segments, beet juice glass sheets, Wisconsin blue cheese dust, sour dough croutons, peppered baby sprouts and more edible flowers. The exciting blends of flavors from sweet to savory were outstanding.

    Fifth course was a Smoked Mediterranean Octopus with Cauliflower Vadouvan. The octopus was cooked and smoked to the point of perfection. It was tender and full of flavor, reminding me of a fine smoked meat. The cauliflower vadouvan was a bit different when eaten on its own, but complimented the octopus wonderfully. Other flavors on the plate were yellow and green curries, baby oak leaves, and squid ink reduction. Awesome!

    Sixth course was a spectacle of visual wonder, Carnaroli Rice Risotto, Chantrelle Wild Mushrooms, and the Forest Floor. In a large bowl were heated rocks, moss, wood, rosemary, laurel leaves, and other forest floor findings. Nestled in the hot rocks was a smaller bowl containing the risotto, escargot, chantrelle mushrooms, crones, nasturtium leaves, and a soft poached egg. A small craft of muddy water was poured into the hot rocks releasing steam and aromatic treasures of the forest floor. The smell reminded me of my child days running through the woods of Gettysburg, PA starting fired and playing in the streams as a Boy Scout. Chef Hull then walked around the dining room freshly slicing a giant Italian White Truffle on top of everyone’s risotto. Although it was a spectacle to see and smell, the flavors just muddled together and dulled the overall excitement of the dish.

    By this point we were getting to our stomach’s limit. There have been many glasses of wine and 2 ½ hours of dining so far… but we still had two main courses and dessert to go. This was also a turning point in the dinner. The kitchen was getting tired and slowing down. Andrew Zimmern’s table was still getting the royal treatment while the rest of the tables started falling to the way side. Chef Hull would explain the dishes as Andrew’s table was served, but by time we received out we’d forget what was said and not know everything we were eating. I did my best to explain what I could verify on the plates, but would come up short not knowing everything. Also the plate ups started looking different. Our portions were different then the main table and ingredients were different or missing from each other plates.

  3. (Part 3)

    Seventh course was a Steamed Turbo Lemon Scented. The fish was cold, the greens were extremely spicy… almost toxic as first bite. I believe there was sesame powder, some sort of fruited gelee, baby radish, edible flower petals, and something fried. This was my least favorite dish by far. The not know what we were eating, lack of heat in the fish, sloppy presentation spoiled this plate.

    Eighth course was the Beef Duo, Snake River Farm Wagyu NY Strip Loin and 72 Hour Braised Shortrib. Basically a 72 second seared strip loin and a 72 hour braised short rib cooked via sous vide. Both pieces of meat were tender and tasted great. Too bad my stomach was full, as was everyone else at my end of the table. We merely took a few bites and waited for our plates to be cleared. There were tiny bliss potatoes with sour cream, watercress, and maybe a pea puree. It was a nice dish over all, but nearly as stunning as the first half of the dinner.

    Dessert was a play on Strawberries and Textures. There were gelees, creams, purees, dried, fresh, powders. Honestly have no idea what was on this plate since there was a 20 minute gap between Andrew Zimmern’s table getting there and their description and our table getting ours. The other tables were up and moving around by time ours came. I had mentally writing that course off as though it wasn’t coming out. Over all it was quite sweet even for my sweet tooth. The flavors worked well and the presentation was great. The sous chef did a nice job. I am assuming they did not have a pastry chef and he stepped up to the plate. Good job if that was the case.

    Now stuffed beyond my limit and feeling like I needed to pass out into a food coma, I was heading for the door. I said my brief good byes to my newly acquainted friends. Chef Hull slid a plate at me with two chocolate cups filled with flavored ganache and gold flake, very nice last touch. After 4 hours of dinning and conversing with amazing people, even with the slipping last couple courses, it made for a great evening.