Professor Gourmand — The Bellwether dinner menu-II
The first time I wrote about dinner at the Bellwether, I concentrated on the seven dishes that have been on the menu since the restaurant opened. I observed that the menu changes frequently and not just because of the three lines of R&D at the top. I also noted that one of the challenges of the menu is that there are dishes on it that I’m tempted to order every time I dine at Bellwether, like the tempura cauliflower with the nam pla dipping sauce. Some of the menu items that started as works in progress are also dishes that I’m tempted to order every time, like the Fave e Ciccoria, a fava bean hummus of sorts with either figs or grapes, frisee, olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano. There are in fact seven of these, six on the dinner menu and one on the brunch menu. So, in order of appearance on the Bellwether menu of 7/11/17, here they are. Alas, I don’t have pictures of everything I’m discussing this time, so you’ll have to use your imagination.
Hamachi Crudo Caesar, Celtuce, Baby Heirloom Tomato, Caesar Dressing
It seems every restaurant with claims to modern American, especially those that can also claim “gastropub”, has a hamachi dish among its starter courses, and while most restaurants serve excellent amachi dishes, some fail. This is one of the best: fresh fish, perfect vegetables and a dressing that identifies this CLEARLY as a Caesar salad, even in the absence of romaine lettuce. If it’s the no-corkage-fee night and I have a white wine with me, absolutely.
Avocado Hummus, Fresh Za’atar, Avocado Oil, Pickled Fresno Chili
Avocado hummus, with a kick, served with fresh warm triangles of pita bread. Expertly prepared, like everything on the menu at Bellwether. Why not a distinctly Southern California version of hummus?
Fava e Cicoria, Dried Fava Bean Purée, Mission Figs, Parmigiano, Arnaud AOC Olive Oil, Frisée
This is a Puglian dish, from the heel of the boot that is Italy. In its native form, it can be a fava bean soup with blanched and sautéed chicory (one recipe even tells you not to let the chicory touch the fava puree) or the puree can act as a bed for the sautéed chicory. Here, the chicory and the frisee are raw, topping the insanely delicious fava bean puree. The grapes were good, but the figs make this dish absolutely magical. Right up there with the tempura cauliflower. I didn’t realize the figs were back yet, and definitely within the next month I’ll order this again.
Romesco, Braised Leek, Charred Leek, Roasted Cippolini, Onion Sprouts
I like leeks. I like onions, in fact, I like all the savory members of the lily family. This dish, however, is made by the Romesco sauce, a Catalonian preparation that’s sometimes called Spanish ketchup. Ketchup has its origins in southeast China, where it is the Fujianese (Hokkien) word for fish sauce. It became used as a generic for sauce, and by 1750 a British cookbook had a recipe for ketchup made from beer, anchovies, shallots and mushrooms. By 1800 the anchovies were replaced by walnuts. In Catalonia, Romesco is also based on nuts (almonds and/or hazelnuts) but the other ingredients include tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and bread. It can be spicy if you want it spicy and it is unthinkable to serve the seasonal green onions called calçots without it. Hence, the leeks and the onions in this dish. This is the one dish that’s still on the menu from the dinner Ted Hopson and Ann Marie Verdi, the co-owners of Bellwether, staged at the Beard House in New York at the end of March, and I think it’s the one dish that wasn’t on the Bellwether menu at the time of the event.
“Hawaiian” Soft Shell Crab, Teriyaki Pork Belly, Slow Roasted Pineapple, Mizuna, Furikake
This one might be a relatively new dish, which I was holding in abeyance for a third posting on dinner at Bellwether, but it’s the kind of dish that’s so unexpected when it first arrives at your table that it reminds you why you dine out to begin with. The expertly fried soft shell crab sits on a piece of pork belly and it’s served with a piece of pineapple that has been caramelized over very slow heat (I think it’s roasted at 135 F). There’s some mizuna on the plate as greenery, and the pork belly is sprinkled with sesame furikake. There are LOTS of different kinds of Furikake, all designed to flavor rice for a snack, and this rice seasoning works very well in this dish. I’d almost say that this was the star of all these dishes, but it’s just a testament to how inventive the Bellwether kitchen is.
Strozzapreti Pasta, Braised Short Rib Ragu, Red Wine, Parmigiano
Comfort food. Pure and simple. Strozzapreti, which means priest-strangler, is a larger version of cavatelli, and handmade. The short rib ragu goes well with any red wine you drink with it, and of course Parmigiano Reggiano. I try to alternate this with the meatballs when I’m drinking a red wine with dinner.
Smoked Salmon Toast, Rye Bread, Crème Fraiche, “Everything” Mix
From the brunch menu. I LOVE smoked fish. I like salt fish too, and at some point I’ll do a posting that explains how preserved fish supported the mercantile system of the 17th and 18th century to the point where a gilded wooden codfish (called the “Sacred Cod”) hangs from the ceiling of the lower house of the Massachusetts legislature. You will see from the description of this that it’s a gastropub version of lox (which is brined in the manner of gravlax, not smoked), bagels and cream cheese. A good caraway rye bread makes an excellent carrier for the smoked salmon, the crème fraiche is a nice lighter stand in for the cream cheese, and the “everything” mix replicates what you’d get if the rye toast were an “everything” bagel. It’s excellent, and even better with a Bellwether michelada.
I’m going to have at least three of these dishes tonight. And, mostly because DineLA is on us, here’s an extra. I was lucky enough to be at Bellwether the night that Ted and Ann Marie were entertaining travel writers to preview their DineLA menu and Ted made an extra pickled blue crab toast for me to taste. I’d expect to see this on a future brunch menu even though it will be on the dinner menu for Restaurant Fortnight.