Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last week, Matt Greco at Brookyn's Char No. 4 raved about Paul Canales's Charcoal-grilled squab at Oliveto in Oakland. What dish has surprised you the most, Paul?
"Bruce made this candied beet salad with smoked duck pastrami that totally blew my mind. What I thought was so amazing about this dish is there are so many beet salads, and if you've got great ingredients, you're going to run some kind of beet salad on your menu, and it can be a challenge to do something special with it. I always challenge myself and my chefs to make something besides a whatever beet salad, and Bruce really did something special. He pickled the beets with champagne vinegar, orange juice and honey, giving this sweet sour balance without losing the beet flavor, which isn't easy to do.
"The duck breast he made like a pastrami, smoked and cured it, and then thinly sliced it and draped it around the salad. He made this beet sorbet with little bits of raw beet in it. It was really creative and clever, and it worked. Dishes like that that are so fussed with and composed can sometimes sacrifice flavor, but like with all Bruce's cooking, this was a great example of how you can use a lot of intellect and technique without sacrificing the idea that you're having a meal, and that it should taste good."
North Pond chef Bruce Sherman responds:
"We always try to feature a beet dish here, and the goal this time was to a take a fresh take on beets since it is spring. We feature beets in five different ways, as it's the only way to use the whole beet from root to stem. Kind of like using the nose to tail of a pig, we really want to use all of it. Roasting seems to be better for the fall and winter when it's really cold here in Chicago.
"Pickling the beets was an obvious choice, but it's important that people don't crinkle up their noses at the dish. If something is too sharp you lose the integrity of the dish. It shouldn't taste like vinegar. It's really important for us that it taste like beet. The red beet sorbet is just another technique to use all of the beet. Just something different, which is fun thing to do in spring. It's a different texture and temperature on the plate."