It’s funny how something as simple as a piece of grilled salmon, if done right, can be so memorable.
Chef Patrice Olivon, one of my instructors from L’Academie de Cuisine, believes this mantra should be every fine-dining restaurant’s recipe to success – never serve the customer more than they can eat. The diner should not leave hungry, rather, they should leave wanting to have the same dish all over again. Finishing a dish and thinking, I really want a few more bites of that is much more satisfying than thinking, someone put me out of my misery!
A few weeks ago, I visited Palena Café (pictured, right) in Cleveland Park for the first time. The café offers an a la carte menu, instead of the main dining room’s pre-fixe menu. The cafe menu offers a selection of pastas, wood-fired oven and grill entrees.
I ordered the grill frittes Wild Alaskan King Salmon, cooked medium rare. The salmon came with a salad to start, and was accompanied by shoestring frites and a balsamic anchovy vinaigrette.
I have never in the past ordered my salmon medium rare, mostly because I was unaware I had the option of doing so. However, working at Cashion’s has shown me when dealing with high-quality cuts of wild salmon, there is no better way to enjoy it. A slightly translucent center helps to keep the fish moist and flavorful.
When my food arrived, I was immediately offset by the fist-sized portion of salmon on my plate. My only thought – this better be perfect.
The medium rare center, the grill char on top of the fish and its vibrant, fresh flavor all pointed to perfection. I took my time, making sure to savor each and every bite. I especially liked the balsamic anchovy vinaigrette that was drizzled
around the plate. It gave the dish a hint of acidity that contrasted nicely with the flavor of the salmon.
Although I strongly believe in Chef Patrice’s words, I admit that I don’t always abide by them. Occasionally when I go out to eat, I go out to eat. That’s why stuff-your-face establishments such as Fogo de Chao and The Cheesecake Factory exist. Call me a hypocrite, but sometimes I just want an unnecessarily gigantic plate of food.
Restaurants such as Fogo de Chao and The Cheesecake Factory will probably never be respected as fine dining establishments, but I guess they do fulfill a certain, if not primal, need – the need to feed (Nice rhyme, right?). Sometimes this is great, but other times, this can go horribly wrong. Every time I pass a Fogo de Chao, I remember the only time I have ever been, and the hours I spent in the fetal position afterwards, so full from all of that damned meat they dump onto your plate.
Even so, the example of Palena shows the validity of Chef Patrice’s words– I was full enough when I finished my salmon, but I still wished I could experience its flavors all over again. I have thought about this piece of fish often since I ate it, wanting to return to Palena to order it again. Or, if I could somehow install a restaurant-quality grill inside my tiny apartment, to recreate that char-grilled flavor myself.
Photos: http://www.localeats.com/Restaurant_Detail/Washington/Palena-and-Palena-Cafe/3944/ and http://thehoofbeat.com/?p=276