It started, formally, with a spoonful—an oyster that oozed and squirted the sea, its flavor crystallized by a shock of iciness, a brash slap of pulpy pluot and a playful pop of fish egg.
It then continued with flavors that counterpointed, contrasted and cosseted all things fish, 10 lessons in navigating the waters never taught at Annapolis or the Wooden Boat School.
Courtesy of two of the clearest, strongest, surest voices in food today, David Viana and Anthony Bucco.
A Collaborative Seafood Dinner with the chefs, like-minded friends who lead kitchens that could not be more different in scope and size yet are guided by the same principles, was staged at Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge on Sunday evening, August 6. It’s Viana’s home turf. He was joined by his former boss and mentor, Bucco, who directs culinary operations at Crystal Springs Resort in Sussex County, including the marquee restaurant Latour. They worked, supported by Viana’s staff, in an open kitchen, turning out 10 essays in edbile form that left no doubt as to pair’s purpose: to enlighten, educate, explore.
It is easy to love hamachi with mango and avocado; the masters here tangled the ingredients, yet focused their defining flavors and textures. But, these guys are about so much more. For instance: Who knew the inherent sweetness of scallops could be heightened by the faint tartness of late-season macerated blueberries? Was it the reconstituted noodles of cucumber that provided the bridge?
Summer’s peak can be lobster and corn, but keep that corn chunky-crunchy, add uber-rich uni garlic butter, and then let celery’s leaves and shaved twirls of its stalk give the dish a touch of humility. And soul.
Which segued beautifully into halibut, with chard and favas. Pistachios encrusted skate—and then a pouf of grapefruit electrified the partnership.
Monkfish landed on a plate as if transported from Morocco, complete with black olives and a carrot wash scented by spices that seemed foraged at a souk.
As Viana and Bucco torched tuna, firing up diners’ appetites for another course, eyebrows raised over the combo of tuna and watermelon: Ah, but there was a dashi infused with watermelon and prosciutto anchoring it all. A unifier. And brilliant.
Next was sea trout with crackling grains and a spare half moon of eggplant to offset the fish’s so-silky texture. Swordfish, poking out from under a mosaic-like layering of zucchini, was supposed to be supported by black rice that soaked up curried coconut studded with cashews. But the side turned the tables on the fish, a little star-is-born routine that made instant fervent fans.
Speaking of a star being born, Heirloom Kitchen’s new pastry chef Sean Yan, late of Mistral in Princeton, had just one shot to shine, and he did with a finale understated and in control: chocolate cake set in a veritable playpen with popcorn served popped, pulverized and whipped into a meringue. The notion of sweet had but a cameo in this dessert: a few dots of smoked maple to be dabbed at will into the chocolate or corn.
Heirloom’s owner Neilly Robinson knows it’s always right to leave talent to its own devices; a stage is all Viana and Bucco need. But is a one-off like the David-and-Anthony Show simply torture for all but the 36 people who maxed out the dining room on performance night?
Yes, it is. But the collaborations have just started, Robinson and Viana say.
Planning has begun for another collaborative dinner at Heirloom that will be called “The Fifth Quarter,” a “protein and offal” affair partnering Viana with chef Michael Carrino of Pig & Prince in Montclair on Sunday, September 17.
Heirloom Kitchen, 3853 Route 516, Old Bridge. 732-727-9444; heirloomkitchen.com.Click here to leave a comment