JAN 21, 2014 – What makes a restaurant one of the biggest openings of 2014? A star-studded Michael White alum (Exec Chef Chris Jaeckle)? A revered restaurateur (Chris Cannon)? An awe-inspiring two-story space? Certainly those things will do it, but what about a concept that single-handedly overcomes one of the least desirable descriptors in the industry? Consider this from Chris Cannon:
“In Veneto, there’s influences…curry, there’s black pepper that came from the east; there’s rice that came from the east; there’s influences from Sicily…so it’s a totally multicultural area where there’s influences from Germany, from Slovenia…from everywhere. To say you can’t use Asian products, well that’s kind of what they’ve been doing in Veneto for centuries…”
While fusion is a dirty word to most (especially Asian fusion), it’s a totally natural process for almost every cuisine, including Venice’s. Products and techniques are introduced from elsewhere, and the ones that function best create something new and often more interesting. The reason diners have come to despise it largely results from a series of clumsy attempts that have ruined the concept entirely. All’Onda doesn’t intentionally set out to change your mind on the topic (the F word isn’t mentioned or spoken for good reason), but I think it ought to. Here are my impressions on a recent Sunday night meal…
The menu is broken out traditionally into cichetti (snacks), antipasti and crudi, pasta, secondi and contorni. It’s very heavy on seafood (as you’d expect from dishes inspired by a city on the Adriatic) and dotted by ingredients you’re probably not used to seeing on an Italian menu – think miso, yuzu kosho, uni, konbu etc. That said, everything also sounds mouth-watering at first glance, so you’ll be challenged to whittle down your selections to a manageable group.
We began with crunchy sweetbreads drizzled with balsamic sauce, celery root sauce and topped with fluttering bonito flakes. Not only was this one of the better looking plates I’ve seen in a while, but it delivered great textural variety, a hint of ginger (in the celery root sauce maybe?) and a subtle fermented flavor from the pink shavings on top.
Next up, came the beautifully-plated razor clams with sopressata, assorted fresh herbs (basil, parsley, shiso, celery leaf) over a miso gel. This delicate dish provided some really distinct flavor profiles, that felt both familiar and new. I immediately picked up on sopressata and basil, but the lingering miso was a welcome finishing note that made my bite of this dish very memorable. I did however find the clams took a bit of a back seat, so perhaps there’s an opportunity to play them up a bit more.
To round out the pre-pasta festivities, we also each took a bite of the monkfish liver, persimmon and caramelized onion crostino. This was definitely reminiscent of a foie gras + sweet element dish I’ve had before, but considerably improved on it. I’ll warn that I’m not a foie fan, so I really appreciated it’s measured richness against the persimmon and onions. One suggestion here would be to offer it as a set of 2, as sharing this snack was a bit more difficult than it probably should have been.
Then came the first of two stellar pastas: a rigatoni with aged duck ragu, treviso (a type of radicchio grown in a town of the same name near Venice) and chocolate. Unlike some of the previous dishes with distinct tastes, this dish was all about the blend for me. I never totally picked out chocolate until I brushed the rigatoni along the edge of the bowl, but that ragu is making my mouth water two days later. Just an absolutely excellent dish.
Our other pasta relied more on a Japanese addition: garganelli with crab, yuzu kosho, and tarragon. According to Wikipedia, it is not uncommon in Japan for people to add yuzu kosho (a fermented paste of chili peppers, yuzu peel, salt and pepper) to dishes with noodles and even spaghetti. I can absolutely see why this is done after scarfing down this delicious dish where the acidity had me going back for more.
Before we jumped into our secondi, we also indulged in a black-as-night risotto topped with sepia, radicchio and bottarga; really clever plating that created the illusion of sea shells over top of black sand. The ‘grains’ of bottarga helped flavor the ink-laden rice to give the dish a rich, salty brine, balanced by the bitter radicchio over top.
The savory portion of the meal concluded with two more selections of fish from the secondi menu, the first being a veal-glazed piece of skate over mushroom puree with beets, semolina dumplings and maitake mushrooms (best guess). When it hit the table, it really did look like meat, especially served alongside mushrooms and roots, but the concept really works with the veal-glaze providing the familiarity of meat and the skate giving you a flaky fish texture. My issue here was that only half the fish was cooked beautifully, with the remaining portion being bizarrely chewy to the point of being inedible. Not sure if it’s a cookery or butchering issue, but that definitely held this dish back.
The mains were quickly rejuvenated by this squid ink-poached monkfish, served over a sea urchin polenta (brilliant idea!). Spoons were used vigorously to ensure every last bit of the polenta was scooped out here. Oh, and the entire fish portion was much more to our liking.
We ended the evening with olive oil cake, olive oil ice cream and basil seeds. I somehow never manage to quite get the green olive oil flavor I’m hoping for in this style of dessert, but the cake had the right level of moisture, and alongside the cream and seeds, made for a tasty enough end to the night.
All’Onda is beautifully-plated, expertly-balanced and often addictive food. Japanese flavors aren’t shoehorned into all dishes, but rather appear as carefully considered additions or substitutions that twist, and frankly improve, their more common variations. The result is a thoughtful mix that delights your palate and achieves the rare promise of this frequently maligned concept called fusion.
Best Bite(s): Garganelli, Rigatoni, Razor Clams, Monkfish, Risotto Nero
A great link: An interview with Chris Cannon – Word of Mouth on HRN