We may be foodies but we are still new to the world of fancy foods. We're on a budget and we usually can't splurge to go to the very top restaurants of a given city. And until recently, we hadn't had the chance to try a molecular gastronomy restaurant.
Molecular gastronomy, for those who don't know, is a fairly new style of cooking in which chefs use food science to create new and surprising meals. This is the kind of cooking where you have a lot of foams and powders and sometimes things are served under a bowl that's filled with smoke.
Because of the technical skill that goes into creating this type of meal, plus the labor intensive nature of the cooking, molecular gastronomy restaurants are expensive. Their popularity at the moment doesn't help either.
But in Bucharest, Romania, one can find a molecular gastronomy restaurant known as The Artist. It's rated number one on TripAdvisor, and is run by a Dutch chef, Paul Oppenkamp. Best of all, a full tasting menu will run you about $42 per person, excluding drinks. While that's certainly more than we normally like to spend on a meal, it's within reach for a splurge.
So on Tuesday we found ourselves at the Artist, where they for some reason didn't have our reservation but were able to seat us anyway. I had put on my custom-made dress from Thailand and Jeff was wearing his finest jeans and button-down shirt. We had ordered the spoon tasting (one spoonful of each dish) for each course – appetizer, main, and dessert.
The first thing to come out was bread with olive oil and balsamic. Except the olive oil was served in gel form and powder form, and the balsamic rested on the olive oil gel in small round balls. It tasted pretty normal.
Next, we were given a potato truffle soup on the house. The bowl came out with foam in it, and the waiter poured in the soup on top of the foam. It was strongly truffle flavored. I loved it. The thin rounds of crisp bread stuck into a rock were an amusing side item.
Finally we received our appetizer spoon tasting. Laid in front of us were four spoons full of food, a salad, and another soup (again, the bowl was full of foam and the soup went in over it).
The salad, pictured above, was described as a Spring Vegetable Salad. It had: tomato, melon, carrot, baby vegetables and couscous. Jeff thought it was nothing special but I found it refreshing in its normality.
Next was the Sea Trio: smoked salmon, tuna tartar, and green tea cured sturgeon. We liked it alright but it didn't stand out.
Charred Veal Tartar with shallots, asparagus, Romanian white cheese, and spring bean vinaigrette: this was a tough one for me. I don't normally eat veal. Or raw meat. The texture was a little weird. Overall, okay. Jeff liked it a lot better but thought there was too much char flavor.
Quail Egg Sunny Side Up with mushroom and Dutch black truffle cheese: My favorite of the appetizers. The full size version uses a hen's egg, so I thought using a quail egg in the spoon tasting version was a cute touch. Jeff really enjoyed it too.
Seared Diver Scallop with Tahitian Vanilla salt-cured foie gras, red beets, onion confit, and white chocolate foam: another one that gave me trouble. Foie gras is usually on my don't-eat list and I'm not big on scallops either (though I'm warming to them). I began to think that molecular gastronomy may not be best for people with a “thing” about texture. Or dietary restrictions. Jeff quite liked it and said it was very rich.
Baby Spinach Soup with crouton, goat cheese, and sun-dried tomato butter. Both of us loved this one! It was all around great.
That does it for the appetizers! Are you ready for the main course?
Here it is! Five spoons full of mostly meat and one bowl with shrimp, which I'll get to later. My pictures of the individual spoons didn't come out too great, so let's go left to right: 24 Hour Cooked Crispy Pork Belly with pink pepper and soy; Romanian River Trout with tomato and sprouts; New Zealand Lamb Rack with some kind of sauce we're not sure about; Poached Turbot with Iberico Ham and zucchini; Argentinian NY Strip Steak with potatoes, mushroom, and bean. My favorite was either the steak or the pork. I made the mistake with the pork of putting the whole chunk of pork in my mouth at once. I do not recommend this. Jeff's favorite was also the pork.
The other main was the Seared Prawn with Bouillabaise Sauce, caramelized fennel, and a bit of garlic aioli on that little toast piece. I'm still working my way to eating shrimp so I thought it was okay. Jeff liked the prawn itself and the sauce itself, but together they weren't anything special. However, he really liked the presentation of the dish.
Now it was time for dessert.
But first, a mystery. Why on earth were we given a spoon and a pestle as our dessert implements? We puzzled over it until…
…this mortar full of basil, mint, orange zest, and rose petal came out. Do we crush it? The waiter told us to wait.
After a little time, the chef came out with a pitcher of… liquid nitrogen! He poured it on the herbs and instructed us to crush them. He then put a scoop of cucumber sorbet on top and told us to mix everything for the best result. The crushed herbs were rather fragrant and the whole dish was both tasty and extremely fun.
Next came two more dessert spoons. On the left you have chocolate two ways (dark and white) and raspberry two ways. On the right, Romanian pancakes with ice cream and raisin chutney. Both things were very tasty.
And the final dessert dish, which ended up being my favorite dish of the night, was the Mango Parfait with passionfruit meringue, vanilla cream, and freeze-dried mango. Totally divine.
Our bill came to be 283 RON (US $84.88), though we weren't given change so I guess we didn't have to decide how much to tip (tipping in Romania is usually only done if the service is very good, and then you give about 10%). All in all, the meal was tasty and really fun.
If you find yourself in Bucharest, check out the Artist or another fancy restaurant, as you can get a great meal at a very good value compared to elsewhere in Europe!
Have you eaten a molecular gastronomy meal?