NYC: Empellón Cocina: The Push Project: Part IV (Nov. 2013)
Chefs: Alex Stupak and Grant Achatz
November 7, 2013
Push Project Part IV: Grant Achatz
This is the last Push Project of the year, and Chef Stupak decided to go out with a BANG. He asked his former boss/mentor, Grant Achatz, to collaborate with him, resulting in one of the most hyped dining events of the year. Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz are basically gods in the American culinary scene, so having one of them as a guest chef in a meal is pretty darn amazing.
Anyway, enough rambling. Let’s go look at the food!
To start off, we got to take a Kabocha squash from the bar with us to our table as we got seated. We weren’t sure what we were going to do with the squash, but we found out several courses into the meal! (It was a glorious result haha.)
Right to left:
-Crudité of carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, and two other vegetables that I forgot :(.
-Turkey heart and gizzard.
-Turkey skin with black truffle.
This was an interesting start to the meal. They provided us with different aspects of an entire Thanksgiving meal, which excited me but terrified some of my bird-loving friends.
Turkey liver paté with Parker House rolls and three condiments (from left to right): turkey schmaltz (rendered fat), pecan pie filling, and salted butter from Vermont.
They paired this with an AMAZING beer: pumpkin ale with allspice (Jamaica pepper). It had a strong pumpkin flavor, and the spice added hints of cinnamon and other flavors. It encapsulated fall—and the menu—very well, and the combination with the other ingredients makes this possibly my favorite beer.
This was my second favorite course! The Parker House rolls aren’t perfect; the freshly-baked ones at Per Se are softer and more flavorful (though they’re also saltier). Still, they provided a nice source of carbs with which to eat the paté. It was like eating foie with brioche! The turkey paté was creamy, rich, and surprisingly soft. I took turns using my knife to spread the turkey paté over my bread and also to spread the pecan pie filling. The paté was great as a spread, but it had the problem of being too rich. The pecan pie filling, on the other hand, never got too rich; many people just kept on eating all of it. It was just so dang good! It tasted exactly like advertised—like the center of a really sweet pecan pie.
Roasted carrots, carrot purée, sliced grapes, and crème fraîche.
The carrots were a little soft and were fun to eat just by themselves. For how small they were, they sure packed a lot of flavor!
Turkey breast, oyster velouté (that actually has the taste of traditional stuffing you’d find in New England), poached oyster, crouton, and silver “powder”.
They first presented the wishbone of the turkey in a pot to us and added water to the pot to help give off an aroma of turkey. We then had our delicate yet flavorful consommé while wafting in the powerful aroma from the wishbone pot.
Kabocha squash with Dungeness crab, apple peel, and brown butter. Served with a bowl of condiments that consist of fried pumpkin seeds, and orange “segmun” (I misheard—it was just like corn), and one more ingredient I forgot.
They took the squash earlier, saying that Chef Achatz would prepare something with our squash. They came back with this, and it was GLORIOUS.
The Kabocha squash was burnt a bit, so its skin was very soft and edible. We ended up eating almost all of it, skin and all. It was pretty fun to be able to use my hands to pick off more bites of the squash… As for the condiments, the fried pumpkin seeds provided a nice, crisp contrast to the softness of the crab and squash, and the condiments overall also provided a more savory counter to the sweetness of the crab and squash.
I just could not stop eating this dish. There were so many ingredients everywhere, and everything just worked together wonderfully. Each ingredient was delicious and complemented the other, and it was surprisingly hard to get sick of the squash. I just kept on eating… and eating… and eating it. As the squash gradually disappeared, my satisfaction (and caloric-related guilt) only increased.
Venison rib, juniper glaze, and stuffed purple potato.
They gave us a bone-in rib, and this was one of the few times I’ve seen a restaurant serve a rib with the bone in a fine dining setting. I was definitely eager to try it, though! Steak next to the rib tends to always be amazing, so I wondered how this would taste.
The meat was chewy, but I didn’t really feel like the rib stood out. It felt like a normal perfectly-cooked piece of meat, like a lot of the other protein dishes I’ve had in other fine dining restaurants.
Dark turkey meat with black mole, chestnut purée infused with black mole, and masa wire that has a little black mole.
The turkey meat was (somehow) juicy and thin, and the sauces did a great job of adding different flavors to the dish. The sauce had a lot of spice with a few notes of sweetness, which made this dish seem like a halfway point between savory dishes and sweets. It would be a very appropriate last course before the sweets!
Cranberry sorbet, orange confit, and… something they sprayed the sorbet and flavored ice block with.
I honestly thought that this sorbet and dessert were forgettable. Maybe Stupak and Achatz just made a dessert so transcendent that a simpleton like me couldn’t even begin to comprehend why it’s so amazing!
Mixed fruit topped with barley cream.
Apple pie with cheddar cheese.
This one was wonderful. It wasn’t really anything transcendent or anything. It was just a really well-baked apple pie—and it was DELICIOUS.
Petit four 1:
Sweet potato wrapper with spiced marshmallow.
This was good and felt like a very sweet version of Thomas Keller’s salmon cornets hahaha. The one issue I had with this petit four was that the sweet potato wrapper stuck to my teeth. It was kind of uncomfortable eating this due to the stickiness. It also made me concerned for my dental hygiene…
Petit four 2:
Pumpkin pie with cool whip.
This was amazing. The ball of pumpkin pie itself was intensely sweet, and the Cool Whip provided a light, refreshing (yet still sweet) complement—I felt that it provided more depth of flavor instead of making the pumpkin pie seem too one dimensional.
Petit four 3:
Hot reposado tequila, apple cider, apple butter, amaretto (almond liqueur), pear liqueur, apricot liqueur, and hard spices. Served warm with shaven nutmeg.
This was a surprisingly strong drink, but I think it served well as a digestif as well as a sweet end to an amazing Thanksgiving dinner.
After we finished our meal, they gave us a bag with a signed menu of the meal as well as a bunch of foods. We had some bread, mayo, vegetables, turkey, and so on—they gave us a miniature traditional Thanksgiving meal! This only added to the whole Thanksgiving theme, and I have to say that they executed the last Push Project of the year very, very well.
Chefs Stupak and Achatz were definitely working out of their element here; Achatz in particular was cooking much more rustic and less conceptually sophisticated food than he has in a few years. (The food at Alinea is waaaaay more out there haha.) I think the chefs got to prove just how talented they are. They decided to prepare a menu of dishes that they’ve never cooked before at a location clearly not set up to serve so many guests at once, and they succeeded.
Granted, the experience wasn’t flawless; we sat down an hour late because the first seating wasn’t done yet. (Giving us free drinks did help assuage the suffering, though, hahaha.) However, everything else was great. The service was wonderful, and the food itself was amazing, and the drink pairings were great. I’m really happy I went to this one. It’s my favorite Push Project yet!