Thursday, March 29, 2007

Shola's Guest Chef Series: Apamate

I was inexorably drawn to Apamate (1620 South Street) this Tuesday to enjoy the food artistry of Shola Olunloyo, guest chef for the night. I’ve been enjoying Shola’s cooking since his days working in the Starr and Stein dynasties. Since his “retirement” into personal chefdom and creation of the occasional atelier that is Studiokitchen, opportunities to catch him working in a traditional restaurant environment have been few and far between. Shola has long flirted with the lure of getting back into the brick and mortar restaurant arena and this was the first of a string of guest chef appearances he’s planned – a dip of the toe, if you will. At $50 for a four-course meal, it was too good a deal to miss.

Apamate, open for nearly a year now, has essentially fashioned itself as a casual, affordable neighborhood eatery and looks to be a strong part of the Graduate Hospital area renaissance. Their focus is on Spain, emphasizing pintxos and churros, with a basic dinner menu also on offer. Breakfast and brunch are offered on weekends. Aside from the three or four dinner mains, everything on the menu comes in at under $10. The dark red room is fairly warm and inviting, a long, narrow space with a small bar/counter adjacent to the open kitchen, a large group table in the front window and a galley of smaller wood tables running the length of the west wall. With the weight on pintxos, I’d love to see more space given to bar seating. As a BYOB, though, I can see the focus on table space as being the more economically feasible choice. In any event, I’ll definitely need to plan a return visit on a regular night.

Shola’s menu for the evening, “Sabores de Espana” (Flavors of Spain), was developed with Apamate chef Ane Ormachea to bring Shola’s modern approach to dish design and flavor genesis into the context of a traditional Spanish production kitchen. Working with Ane’s staff in the Apamate space, Shola turned out four courses, all of them showcasing his flair for integrating diverse ingredients, some of them hinting at the mastery that he’s showed himself capable of in the solo setting of Studiokitchen. Highlights for me were the starter and dessert courses. The starter, chick pea soup with Chorizo “Bolognese” and paprika oil, was a soulful bowl of pureed essence of garbanzos slicked by a colorful and flavorful dash of paprika infused oil. Hidden within was, truly, a Bolognese-style meat “sauce,” accented with prickly hints of spice from its chorizo base. Dessert was perhaps the most unique dish of the night: “Queso Fresco de Cabra,” a fresh goat cheese sorbet with Arbequina olive oil and olive sugar. The combination of lightly sweet sorbet, salty, savory “olive sugar” and a dash of rich olive oil tantalized the buds.

The only disappointment of the evening, for me, was the second course: shrimp roasted with paella spices, salsa verde, slow cooked egg and lobster-piquillo broth. Both the shrimp and egg were a touch over cooked. And though the lobster broth was delicate and delicious, it seemed separate from the straightforward, well-spiced shrimp. The temptation to treat the shrimp as finger food separated them from the other elements of the plate. We did, however, hit on the best wine pairing of the evening here, with the 2004 Sancerre “Clos de Chaudenay” of Etienne Daulny harmonizing perfectly with all elements on the plate.

Course three – braised chicken “escabeche,” with lentils, morcilla and almond milk – was the comfort food offering of the evening. Chicken thighs, braised confit-style in olive oil, were fall off the bone tender, moist and rich. Delicious on its own, the almond milk foam was almost too subtle for the hearty flavors of the overall dish. The savory lentils, spiked with morcilla, a Spanish-style blood sausage, triggered one of those scent memories that take one back to childhood. It took me a moment to pin down the aroma – sloppy joes. That’s no bad thing. It’s a dish I’d love to attempt to replicate at home and which, with a bit of simplification, could fit right in on the regular menu at Apamate.


HungryChic said...

I meant to attend this event. It looks like I missed something spectacular. Thanks for sharing!

David McDuff said...

Thanks for reading, HC. Shola mentioned the possibility of other guest ventures around town, citing Restaurant M as a possibility. I don't have any details but if I hear anything I'll try to post the specifics.

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