Food and Restaurant Digest #28, 31 October 2017 
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Would you like some theatre with your meal?

One of the most talked about restaurant openings in the U.S. recently has been Vespertine in Culver City, Los Angeles. Self-described as "a gastronomical experiment seeking to disrupt the course of the modern restaurant", the building it's housed in (pictured here) has been described by others as a "crashed spaceship", and dining there like "eating on Jupiter". Jonathan Gold, the Pultizer-prize winning critic for the L.A. Times summarises the experience:

It’s not dinner; it’s Gesamtkunstwerk [German for 'total work of art']..."Checking in with valet before dinner is required,’’ says an email sent to you before your dinner, “as this member of our team is integral to your experience.’’ You hand off your keys. You walk past a watery ditch lined with shattered rock whose cracks ooze green light. You are led to an elevator in the rust-colored steel structure, and are let off in the kitchen and a bowing Kahn. You climb stairs to an aerie at the top, settle into low couches, sip at a concoction of white vermouth garnished with a purple passion fruit flower. This is the first of many flowers you will see tonight. You will recognize none of them. ... The more you eat of the turnips, the more vinegary the dish becomes, until by the end you are practically coughing at the fumes.

If by this point in the evening you are ill at ease, that is probably the point. When you escape to use the restroom, you may be baffled by the sink, flanked by vials of essential oils on one side and what looks like a bowl of white sand on the other. (The sand is apparently powdered soap.) If you step outside for a breather, you will discover that the air is thick with frankincense. When you try to swirl your glass of orange-hued Central Coast Viognier blend, you will find that the sticky tabletop has bonded the delicate Zalto stemware to the table.

Despite what sounds like a frankly unpleasant experience, Gold recently named Vespertine no. 1 on his annual list of the 101 best restaurants in L.A., even as he acknowledged that dining there will drive many people "insane". It's a curious time, and not only in the dining world, where the value of something seems to be gauged by how "disruptive" it can be to the normal course of things. We're all for innovation and creativity, but isn't one of the nicest things about dining out (or in!) is knowing what you're eating, and being left to enjoy it in an undisrupted fashion? 

Still, maybe Vespertine will remain a lone spaceship in a dining landscape that thankfully (mostly) continues to focus on making diners feel at ease, rather than the opposite. It is, after all, located just a short distance from where the original Oz movie was filmed, so perhaps a bit of wizardry isn't entirely inappropriate.
Bits and Bites
The oldest restaurant in the world: Sobrino de Botín in Madrid has apparently been in operation since 1725, and didn't even stop serving food during the Spanish civil war, with the owner claiming that "everything was dangerous back then", so his grandparents (who owned it then) decided they may as well keep their doors open. They've been using the same oven since the day they opened, and continue to roast about 50 suckling pigs in it, daily! Ernest Hemingway was a regular too, and used to make his own martinis when he dropped by. Sounds like an excellent example of undisrupted success. 

Avant-garde by grapes: One chef who's certainly known for pushing boundaries is Ferran Adrià, the erstwhile owner/chef at the famous elBulli restaurant, also in Spain. (Some would probably call him a "disruptor", but he appears to have a much calmer demeanour than that word suggests.) Watch him here explain avant-garde cooking using a bunch of grapes (obviously). 

Cooking for a high-powered critic: It's debatable how much influence professional restaurant reviews still have in an age where "everyone's a critic" thanks to Yelp and the like, but the top-end eateries in places like New York still take cooking for critics pretty seriously. One chef recounts cooking at Union Square Cafe when they were expecting a visit from Pete Wells, the New York Times critic: "Every night, we would all reserve the finest portion of every single component of a dish just in case Pete — 'Don Pedro,' as some of us in the kitchen called him — graced us with his presence. I also kept a small plastic cup of seltzer filled with equal-size calamari rings and tentacles, handpicked for Pete. Next to that were two identical scallops and four perfect triangles of red and yellow peppers. (Most nights, a critic didn’t come in, and the portions were sent out to other diners late in service.)" Lessons learned: dining late will probably get you the best plates that the critics didn't show up for.
Latest from our site   

For this month's Story of a Plate feature, we chat to chef Warwick Taylor at Source in Hermanus about his smoked tomato risotto with mussels, which is served with home-baked baguette, "fired by alien wood". 

Jean-Pierre reviews the Indian fare at Marigold in Franschhoek, where he finds a lively lunchtime scene, and concludes that "Marigold’s obvious competition, and perhaps peers, are Bombay Brasserie at the Taj Hotel, Indochine at Delaire Graff and the original Bukhara. All of these offer more polish and more vibrant cuisine. If Marigold is aiming to be more “casual”, then the comparison would be Thali where chef Liam Tomlin has taken his Chefs Warehouse “tapas” concept into the Indian realm. After one dining experience here, I can report that the succession of little plates are good, if not likely to stop you mid-sentence – but this job is ably handled by the extremely noisy cacophony of diners and kitchen. There’s little chance of a romantic conversation, but you do feel you are in the midst of it all – which is, I guess, as Indian as it gets."

And for his most recent instalment of Pinch of Salt, Pete Goffe-Wood brings you his own version of the Food Oscars.

Don't forget to follow Rossouw's on Facebook to keep up with the latest on the local dining scene.

But wait, there's more!

Epicurean group The Talking Table and the Old Vine Project are hosting a very bespoke food and wine weekend for only 12 lucky guests. It takes place in Riebeek Kasteel on the 17-19 November, and includes tutored tastings, tours of the Swartland region, the opportunity to buy highly coveted wines, and of course lots of good food and cheer! The fee for the weekend varies between R9 500 and R12 500 depending on your room choice. This includes accommodation, a farm visit and three meals a day of which one is a longtable meal of hearty food, tasting of rare, expensive wines and lingering conversation. To enquire and reserve your place, email Douw Steyn at (Don't forget to mention that you heard it from Rossouw's, as seats to this unique opportunity are sure to be in high demand!)

And finally, the much anticipated Platter's by Diners Club South African Wine Guide for 2018 will be released in early November. It's an excellent stocking filler, so be sure to follow them on Facebook to hear all about it. 
Please share this newsletter with your food-loving friends, and feel free to email us with any queries, suggestions, or eating recommendations!
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