The West Coast is New York’s bizarro world. My recent visit to California saw curious creatures and strange habits so wonderful that left me questioning which reality I preferred. The fresh eating in California, thanks to the plenitude of local farms and sub-tropical climate, so perfectly reflects the progressive but relaxed spirit of the state. The 10 course tasting menu I experienced at the elusive Mr Pollo was a delightful introduction to the West Coast way, and a welcome change from New York’s food nostalgia and preoccupation with meat.
Mr Pollo is a tiny space of 6 tables in an old, unaltered South American joint, best known for its arepas. Venezuelan chef Manny Torres Gimenez usually mans the ship, using market-sourced and self-butchered ingredients for a menu that changes daily. On this night, Manny had handed over to two ex sous chefs from The French Laundry, in Yountville, California – dubbed by Anthony Bourdian as the ‘best restaurant in the world, period’ – to perform a 7 course tasting menu (we were treated to 10). All ingredients were harvested from French Laundry’s organic farm by the chefs themselves the day before. I couldn’t help but wonder how they managed to pluck the oysters and frogs too, and then stopped myself before becoming a Portlandia skit.
The courses were minute, but wonderful in their lightness, colour and variety; the meal a rainbow celebration of vegetables. We perched at the bar, able to watch preparations and ask questions at our leisure. Biggie and Tribe Called Quest kept me grooving from course to course; I was in a perfect realm of fine food and good tunes and super chill atmos.
Baby beets with micro greens and beet cream; unlike French Laundry’s mantra of each ingredient making an appearance only once, the boys were resourceful with their plunder.
Turnip soup with kimchi; hot food was made a rarity, most courses being cold, cool or room temperature.
Baby carrots in smoked breadcrumbs; enjoyed the crunch midway in a menu favouring soft textures.
Frogs’ leg on pickled cucumber; meat was a morsel of joy, sparse like the Vietnamese do so well, and choice of which paid tribute to training at the French inspired restaurant.
Macerated cherries with goat cheese whip cleansed the palette and preceded the favourite: cake made with the fat of a boar from Spain fed only acorns, with spiced tobacco foam and white chocolate dollops (inhaled!).
After my final zen-out in San Francisco airport’s yoga room, I returned to New York with a new found (probably crystal related) energy, ready to party the New York summer away by eating vegetable rainbows.