By Mark Gauert
City & Shore Magazine
I’m trying to listen to what Steve McCabe is saying.
Nothing against Steve. If you like cars, he’s about as interesting a dinner companion as you could ever hope to have.
He designs cars for Chevrolet, and he knows everything about them. He’s telling me about the new Blazer and about how works of great art inspire him and about the current buzz – and gossip – in the automobile industry.
At least, he’s trying to.
Every time he starts to talk about the new Blazer’s design, or how modern art at the Pérez Art Museum influenced some aerodynamical detail, or some other fascinating, possibly news-making, tidbit from the automobile industry, a waiter at The Bazaar in Miami Beach sidles up with another dish from Chef José Andrés’ “Ultimate Tasting Menu.”
“These are our Smoked Oysters,’’ he says. “Smoked in applewood, with brunoise apple pieces compressed in an apple mignonette [apple vinegar reduction, with spices].”
He opens the cloche to reveal three oysters on the half shell, smoky with mignonette air.
I pluck one from out of the mist … and taste.
McCabe may be talking across the table now about the aerodynamics of design, or about how Picasso was really kind of a Jeep guy or about a revolutionary car that runs on carrots, but I’m not listening.
Remember the scene in Ratatouille, when fearsome food critic Anton Ego is transported back to childhood and his mother’s kitchen with a single taste of the chef’s signature dish? Or Marcel Proust and his madeleine?
Something like that’s happening to me, tasting Chef Andrés’ Smoked Oysters. Except it’s not my childhood.
I was born in Kansas. Grew up in New Mexico. But, with one taste of the chef’s Smoked Oysters, I’m transported back to my childhood on the rocky coasts of Maine. (At least, I think it’s Maine. I can’t say for sure because I’ve never actually been there).
It’s early autumn here in what I think is Maine. It’s getting cooler, the leaves are changing, and an applewood fire is crackling in the fieldstone hearth of my mom’s kitchen.
I can tell from the fresh, briny aftertaste of the oysters that my mom got up before sunrise to rake them from the misty harbor.
It’s heaven. A mollusk masterpiece.
“Thanks, mom,’’ I say
“What?” I think McCabe says.
“Oh, sorry!” I say. “You were saying about the new Blazer …?”
And he starts telling me all about it when the waiter sidles up with another dish from Chef Andrés’ menu.
“This is our Dragon Fruit Ceviche,” he says, “with tuna, pecans, lemon and pink hibiscus air.”
Before I can ask, he confirms, “it’s our most Instagrammed dish.”
One taste, and I’m transported to my childhood on a sandy shore in Thailand. (At least, I think it’s Thailand. I’ve never been there, either).
It’s summer here in what I think is Thailand. It’s warm outside, the palm fronds sway in the breeze, and I suspect my mom got up before dawn to twist the pink fruit from the dewy cactus.
And on and on (and on) this goes through the 19 small dishes on the chef’s memorable – and memory making – menu, all prepared that night by his chef de cuisine, Karla Hoyos. From the Caviar Cone (with Ossetra caviar that transported me to my childhood on the shores of the Caspian Sea) to the Bao con Lechón (which transported me to my childhood at the foot of the Pyrenees) to the traditional flan.
“My mom makes a great flan,’’ the waiter, originally from Cuba, says, interjecting his own childhood memories. “But I had to tell her the flan here is better.”
Before I can ask, he confirms, “That was a hard day.”
There are so many eclectic tastes for us to explore in South Florida – and in our Food & Dining Issue. I hope yours are all as memorable.
At the end of my dinner at The Bazaar, thinking about all the memories – true and false – great food can invoke, I thought I heard Steve McCabe say he’d rarely had a better meal. (Maybe it’ll inspire his next Chevy).
I remembered they called Chef Andrés’ menu the “ultimate.”
I hope not.
PHOTO: Dragon Fruit Ceviche from Chef Andrés’ Ultimate Tasting Menu, photographed by Sergi Alexander / Eyeworks Production