A Simple Supper with Gavin Schmidt - San Diego, CA

Dinner - Friday, February 10, 2012

A Simple Supper is an underground dinner club run by Jorie Kopycinski, who has been working with Gavin Schmidt (ex-Blanca) of late. As is the norm for these pseudo-clandestine affairs, correspondence is carried out with Jorie via email, and the location of the dinners changes frequently.

When we found out that Gavin was leaving our sunny climate to return to the Bay Area at the end of February, we immediately made reservations for this final dinner - a last hurrah, if you will. And so, we found ourselves (and ten or so like-minded strangers) at a curious house with a gorgeous kitchen in downtown San Diego on Friday night.

Canapé 1 - Ciccioli, mango, caviar
The evening got off to a start with a succession of passed hors d'oeuvres. First came a resurrected bite from Gavin's days at Blanca - ciccioli with semi-firm mango and caviar. The compressed lard was expectedly buttery, balanced by the sweet-tart mango and the briny caviar.

Canapé 2 - Oyster mushroom and parmesan gougère
The choux dough was perfect here - light, slightly salty, intensely perfumed with the filling of reduced mushroom and parmesan. A touch of mustard kept the umami in check, adding complexity to the bite.

Canapé 3 - "Still life of local waters"
One of Gavin's signature dishes, reimagined in an oyster shell. The familiar components were present together with the oyster - apple, spot prawn, uni, avocado, dashi (the seaweed was missing, although Gavin explained that he had tried unsuccessfully to forage it that day). While I enjoyed this bite immensely, I longed for the smokiness of the avocado puree in the dish's previous iteration, as well as the ability to parse the ingredients better on a plate.

Canapé 4 - Chicken and foie gras dumpling
Good enough that I had seconds! Dense, rich and creamy - the antithesis of what I generally look for in a Chinese dumpling, but excellent in this context. I only wish that there'd been a touch more moisture in the dumpling.

Dungeness crab "canneloni"
Carrot, lemongrass, pea tendrils, rau ram
Truly fantastic - perhaps my favourite plate of the evening. The exterior of the canneloni was a carrot gel sheet incorporating hints of lemongrass and rau ram. Inside, a delicious mixture of crab and creme fraiche kissed with lime. Pea tendrils and wood sorrel added a nice vegetal note to balance the sweetness of the other components. I enjoyed the interplay of textures throughout, particularly how the carrot shavings livened things up.

Artichoke nasturtium soup
A green dish, both visually and on the palate. The soup was poured over a collection of roasted fennel, baby artichokes and the smaller nasturtium flowers (the bigger ones had been incorporated into the soup itself). Surprisingly rich.

Roasted duck breast, foie gras sausage
Cashew granola, cauliflower, Cara Cara orange
Grilled beef brisket, yam and sweet potato terrine
Truffle, chicories, radicchio
We've enjoyed Gavin's brisket in the past, and it did not disappoint here - smoky, with a hint of truffle aroma, and supremely tender. The meat was set atop a terrine of tubers, themselves cooked to perfection (I truly am a sucker for them). Notably, the truffle "vinaigrette" encircling the plate was not overpowering, as so many tend to be. It was a very nicely balanced plate, and one of the few versions of "meat and potatoes" I've enjoyed in recent times.

Orange blossom ice cream, toasted Earl Grey cake
Candied kumquats, pine nut brittle
Dessert was handled by Chef Jen, and it was excellent - this lady has talent. There was a great balance of sweet, salty, tart, bitter and roasty flavours. I am a self-professed Earl Grey whore, so I lap it up in any form. Here, the ice cream and kumquats echoed and amplified the notes of bergamot from the buttery cake. A touch of honey added more layers to the sweetness. Delicious, and a very nice end to the meal.

This dinner was rather bittersweet - a celebration, but also a reminder of how talented Gavin is, and what a pity it is that San Diego could not make room for a chef with his skills. Adios amigo, you'll be missed down here!

A Simple Supper
No fixed address or phone number