For me, the term molecular gastronomy brings one thing to mind: the famous foodie episode of the Simpsons, where Marge, Lisa, and Bart become the "Three Mouthketeers" and blog about their fancy dining experiences.
The Simpsons episode pokes particular fun at molecular gastronomy with dishes like pine needle sorbet and "deconstructed Caesar salad." You can check out snippets of that episode here.
|Image from Eater.com|
Anyway, all that leads me to the events of last Thursday evening, when we attended a pop-up dinner at Studio F by The Inventing Room. The Inventing Room is a food science and dining experience headed by chef Ian Kleinman. The pop-up dinner series he hosted involved eight nights of dinners focused on molecular gastronomy and an interactive dining experience.
We soon found ourselves in the midst of a completely unique and wonderful dining experience that did not involve test tubes filled with deconstructed Caesar salad.
|Interior of Studio F|
We arrived for our 6:30 pm reservations last Thursday and were promptly greeted by Studio F's owner, James Mazzio. He started off the evening by mixing bruschetta popcorn into a bath of liquid nitrogen in front of us. The chilled temperature of the popcorn made it uniquely crunchy and airy, although it had to be consumed quickly as its transition to room temperature ended the fun of eating it.
We were then seated and started the meal with a couple of cocktails. My husband ordered the "Maple Mark" cocktail with Maker's Mark, lime juice, and ginger beer poured over maple syrup, served with cotton candy on the side.
I normally can't stand the taste of anything with whiskey, but I loved this drink, especially the hint of maple in every sip. The cotton candy dissolved in it quickly to add a hint of sweetness and a green color.
|Untraditional Pimm's No. 1 Cup|
As an appetizer, we ordered the Lump Crab Creme Brulee.
|Lump Crab Creme Brulee|
This dish was prepared with an ample helping of crab, a sweet creme brulee sauce, ginger poached pears, and habanero tobiko. It amounted to a tasty pile of complimentary flavors and textures, but lacked structure in the presentation, and relative to everything else that night it was fairly forgettable.
Next up were two palate cleansers, the Chile Relleno Space Foam and the Strawberry Yuzu Sorbet. For preparation of both, we were called up to one of the chef's tables where Ian Kleinman prepared the items in front of us.
The Chile Relleno Space Foam was really just a blob of whipped cream and chile spice that was turned into a ball of frozen sugar, fat and air. It was fun to eat but otherwise very simple.
The Strawberry Yuzu Sorbet was far more exciting and it made me wish I remembered more details from high school chemistry.
|Chef Ian Kleinman preparing Strawberry Yuzu Sorbet|
Chef Kleinman prepared the sorbet in front of us (with liquid nitrogen, of course). Also concocted with his superchilled favorite ingredient was pelletized olive oil. It was poured atop the sorbet along with a dollop of "goat cheese jelly," and added a remarkable smoothness to the sorbet.
|Strawberry Yuzu Sorbet|
We also ordered a couple more drinks: the Jalapeno Cucumber "Rita" and Rosemary Greyhound.
|Jalapeno Cucumber Rita|
The Jalapeno "Rita" was refreshing and spicy; the rosemary greyhound had a lovely citrus smell but lacked in taste a little. Both drinks were topped with foams that looked beautiful but ultimately didn't add any flavor to the drink.
Whew, all these words and pictures and I haven't even made it to our main dishes yet.
My main dish was Ian's Fried Chicken.
|Ian's Fried Chicken|
The chicken was drizzled in a mild-tasting coconut gravy and a "corn pudding," which was more like a thin sauce. It was served with an elongated rectangle of potatoes, which was one of the few things I didn't care for that night as it tasted undercooked.
The fried chicken itself was well cooked, richly breaded and perfectly seasoned. However, the portion was a little too large. I liked the home-style feel of the dish, but it didn't really seem to embrace molecular gastronomy.
My husband enjoyed the Sous Vide Spiced Beef Shoulder.
|Sous Video Spiced Beef Shoulder|
This was his favorite item all night, and my second favorite (see the carrot cake below).
The beef shoulder, as with most sous vide prepared meats, was extremely tender. It had been seared on the edges to add texture and flavor to the meat. The sous vide cooking technique was a perfect way to display the chef's molecular gastronomy skills. The dish also contained candied shallots and potato-filled mushrooms that were delicious.
At chef Kleinman's recommendation, we opted for the Carrot Cake for dessert. As with the palate cleansers, we were invited to watch the preparation of the dish.
The cake was tossed in a vanilla cream sauce, and then rapidly cooled in a bath of liquid nitrogen. Next, it was torched like a creme brulee.
|Carrot Cake Preparation|
The cake was topped with a scoop of blood orange caramel ice cream, and was complimented on the side by a blood orange caramel sauce, orange cream cheese crisps and buckwheat honey almond cubes. It made for an outstanding dessert. Each bite contained crunchy, warm vanilla coating; airy, light cake; and cold, smooth ice cream. I absolutely loved the combination of flavors, textures, and temperatures. The carrot cake was definitely one of the best desserts I've eaten in many months.
The evening at the pop-up dinner was fun and entertaining, and the food was very unique and for the most part absolutely delicious. My husband and I enjoyed talking with Ian Kleinman and some of the other chefs about what they do.
I'm not sure if molecular gastronomy has widespread appeal in Denver right now, but that gives The Inventing Room a unique niche to bring to the Front Range dining scene.
The Inventing Room