An eleven course dinner at D.O.M.
As our five week internship at D.O.M. came to an end, Heather and I were invited to come for dinner on Tuesday night, as a way to thank us for the time we put into working as unpaid apprentices. In order to mark this special occasion I decided to invite my brother and his wife to come along, as a way to thank them for letting us live with them during our almost three month stay in São Paulo.
We arrived at D.O.M. and the restaurant was full, so the hostess showed us seats at the bar where my sister-in-law Paola ordered a cosmopolitan (which she said was the best she had so far) and we were offered bruschetta as an amuse bouche. When our table was ready we didn’t even take menus since we opted to let the chef be in charge of our dinner.
Our very elegant feast started with a green tomato gel that is served with an array of micro greens, edible flowers, tomato seeds, orange, and Peruvian corn (cancha). The plate’s presentation is very colorful, making it one that you’ll definitely want to savor with your eyes before taking your first bite. The gel’s texture is very pleasing and mixes well with the flavors of the herbs which give a slightly different taste with every bite, depending if you’re biting into some green clover, some cilantro sprouts or maybe a bull’s blood leaf.
Next we were served carpaccio de pupunha. This dish consists of raw, thinly sliced pupunha palm served with raw marinated scallops, sea algae and green pears. You can see a photo of that dish on my post about pupunha. The Chef’s recommendation is that you slice the pupunha and wrap it around the scallops taking each bite with all the elements combined in it. This combination brings out an immense amount of freshness to your palate, the rawness of the scallops and pupunha and the near-ripeness of the pears are a great vessel for the black salt seasoning. I think this dish is very inventive and it reminds me of ceviche (one of my favorite dishes). Heather thinks that the scallops are perfect since she hates cooked scallops (although she is not a big fan of the citronella used in the carpaccio glaze).
Our third course, Fried Oyster with Marinated Tapioca, won best appetizer in São Paulo on Prêmio Paladar 2009. The dish consists of an oyster that is breaded in brioche breadcrumbs and sautéed very quickly, just to brown the outside but not overcook the oyster. The oyster is served with tapioca that is marinated in oyster liquor and lime juice, then mixed with salmon eggs. The dish is seasoned with a soy sauce and olive oil emulsion and finished with a dash of Tabasco sauce. By far this is the best fried oyster I have eaten, mainly because the oyster is not cooked through. The tapioca mixed with salmon eggs bring in the brininess of eating an oyster in the half-shell. This dish is definitely something I would order every time I eat at D.O.M..
Then we were served our rice course. The Toasted Black Rice with Green Vegetables was my sister-in-law’s favorite dish. We all appreciated how the rice acquires an almost smoky flavor that becomes infused with the creamy Brazil nut milk that is added to it table-side. The green vegetables are cooked very quickly and retain a good amount of crunch, which to me is the way to eat vegetables (unless you’re past the age of seventy). The black rice in itself has a hint of nuttiness to it so the Brazil nut milk is a great compliment. All elements combined makes this dish a great dish.
The rice was followed by Pirarucu with Tucupi Sauce. Pirarucu has recently become one of my favorite fishes. The flesh is so tender and flavorful. It’s not too fishy because it is a fresh water fish, and it’s not too bland because it is a really big fish. The tucupi sauce with Amazon herbs is superb. It is the traditional accompaniment for this dish and I can clearly see why. The açaí used in the sagu garnish is also a traditional item eaten with fish by the people of the Amazon region. But in São Paulo most people will only eat açaí as a sweet item so this presentation is novel to most diners at D.O.M..
After that we were served Okra Five Ways. Now you might be turning your nose thinking to yourself: okra, in a fine dining restaurant? Yes; and it is a vegetarian plate where all the components consists of okra. This is Chef Atala’s homage to a very traditional but underrated ingredient in Brazilian cuisine. Atala loves okra and is an advocate for it. This dish makes great use of the ingredient. It is actually a very skillful preparation that requires a lot of work. In his book Escoffianas Brasileiras, where recipes are listed in the order of difficulty level, this okra dish is near the very end of the book. I had to prepare all the elements of this dish while working with the tasting menu chefs, sometimes it would take my whole day to work on all the different okra preparations. The dish consists of sauteed okra (cut into little rings), roasted okra (whole), fried okra (one thin slice), okra “caviar” (made with the seeds), and okra paper (made with okra puree blended with glucose and mild green pepper on a Thermomix and then dried into thin paper like sheets). The plate is finished table-side with the addition of roasted vegetable broth. Because of this dish (and the black rice) I became enamored with D.O.M.’s vegetarian menu. The okra is so tasteful it really doesn’t need to have any meat with it. If you think okra is just a yucky vegetable – grow up and try it again.
The middle point on our meal came in the form of a Mushroom Cream with Veal Demi Glace, Tucupi and Amazon Herbs. This is a dish that goes way beyond a simple cream of mushroom soup. The mushrooms are made into a thick but frothy cream, which is plated using a whipped cream siphon, giving it an almost foam like texture. The foamy cream is served over the rich demi glace and the lighter tucupi sauce, which is infused with herbs. The consistency of this dish is overall soft, the flavor is very intense and clings to your palate. It seemed a bit overpowering at first but the flavor is so good that we kept going for another bite.
Our meat course came as a Braised Veal Shank with Lardo and Grits. The Chef sent out the whole shank, smothered in demi glace, which the waiter carved table-side. The grits (or canjiquinha) were truly delicious with the touch of lardo. This veal preparation is a very traditional dish that had perfect execution. The demi glace made at D.O.M. is really amazing. The grits that are served with the dish is a great use of a Native American ingredient that brings this dish to this side of the Atlantic.
The last savory item was the very entertaining Aligot. This is a traditional dish from the French region of Auvergne. It basically is a potato puree with a lot of Gruyere cheese in it. The mixture is whipped with a spoon until it develops a great level of elasticity. The waiter brings out a full pot of the mixture, from which he takes a large amount out by using two spoons. He walks to our table twirling the mixture until he comes to each person’s plate and gracefully drops a dollop of the Aligot before proceeding to the next person. Not only was this dish very entertaining but the cheese and potato mixture tastes really good and, by itself, is a great way to close the savory feast we experienced.
As a way to cleanse our palates and prepare us for dessert, we were presented with a scoop of Cagaita Sorbet. Cagaita is a fruit from the Brazilian Cerrado region (in the Center-West area of the country). The fruit (which is one of the products listed in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste) has a light, cream colored pulp, with an acidic taste. The sorbet was refreshing with an almost citric taste to it.
Our final, and 11th course, was a Brazil Nut Cake with Dark Chocolate Sauce and Whiskey Ice Cream. This is a cake that I would always hope to get some bites of while working in the kitchen at D.O.M.; the cake by itself is delicious, but when presented with all its components it makes a superb dessert. The chocolate sauce is made with Valrhona Dark Chocolate and a drop of pepper oil. The cake batter is almost entirely made of grated Brazil Nuts with beaten eggs and sugar with a touch of breadcrumbs. The plate is sprinkled with curry powder and Maldon salt. As a garnish the Chef uses baby arugula leafs. The employment of savory elements in this dish brings it to a superior level. The salt contrasts with the sugar giving the dish a perfect balance. The alcohol in the ice cream made the whole bite go smoother. After eating so many courses this was the perfect way to finish the meal.
I don’t believe we will able to say anytime soon that we had a more refined meal than this feast offered by Alex Atala and his Chef de Cuisine Geovane Carneiro. The excellent presentation of all the dishes, and the pleasant atmosphere of D.O.M.’s lofty dining room, were just an enhancing note to the great taste and creativity of Atala’s dishes. I was very pleased to have been able to share this memorable dinner with my brother Victor, my partner Heather, and my sister-in-law Paola.
Having finished the great experience of being an intern at Alex Atala’s D.O.M., I feel that I have a much greater appreciation of Brazilian ingredients and the infinite possibilities that they present. I am filled with a great desire to learn more and to explore more. I want to visit the exotic places within my own country where these ingredients come from. The vast unknown of the Amazon forest, and the Cerrado, and all the other regions of Brazil are a world to be tasted and a world that will certainly be featured very prominently in the halls of high cuisine.
I would like to express my endless gratitude to Alex Atala, Geovane Carneiro, Henrique Benedetti, Thiago Bañares, Mariana Gilbertoni, Antonio Silva Filho, Thiago Flores, Manoel “Cebola”, Mario Neto, Luciano, Mauricio Zillo, Bidu, Juninho, Jardel, Chapéu, Marcelo, Souza, Saiko Izawa Yoneda, Rogério Shimura, Andrea Uchida; and to all my intern colleagues Henrique Saldanha, Fernando Valente, Claudia, Klaus Pahl, Henrique Gilberto, Gabriela Franceschi, and everyone else who I might have forgotten. This experience was great and your friendship will always be dear to both mine and Heather’s heart.