Relating to Relate with the Relationchef.

Y’all know I love a little food adventure. But, admittedly, after my culinary extravaganza in San Francisco a mere forty-eight hours prior, I was slightly daunted to travel to San Diego and back in one evening for dinner this past Wednesday night. And my car is scary.

But I said I would do it, and do it I would.

This meal of which I speak was a special preview dinner for Chef Dan Moody’s new pop up, Relate (opening night was Thursday). Yes, he hath flown from the nest of Chef Ludo and jumped into his very own venture, serving up his contemporary French-influenced fare, peppered with a bit of classic American and Asian. I enjoyed his dishes from the Sous Chef night at Test Kitchen – particularly the foie gras- powdered donuts, and was eager to see what he would do with an entire food-cosm all his own.

And so, at 4:30, I hopped in the car with high hopes of not breaking down and arriving at Bistro St. Germain’s by 7:00pm.

And then there was traffic. And then there was more traffic. And then there was none. And then I flew down the I-5S like a bat out of hell to arrive a little before 7:30, right in the middle of Dan addressing the room prior to the first course. I felt a little like a jerk. I so hate being late. Then I saw the waving hands and smiling faces of Kevin and Holly beckoning me to join them and I felt a little better.

Not unlike the Ludobites model, Dan chose Bistro St. Germain’s as it's more of a breakfast and lunch spot, quaint, very casual and looking to explore new roads. I would have liked the lights a little bit dimmer (night-time make-up and all), and perhaps some music, but I appreciated the original paintings on the walls and found the spot to be comfortable and welcoming.

The menu is around five courses at $55 with an additional $15 for pairings (that night from the Mount Palomar Winery). The French Onion Soup course and the Beet Chip in the lobster course were absent due to first night hitches in the giddyup, but this was certainly not a hill to die on.

So let us begin with our amuse; a Carrot Consommé Shooter. The shooter was soft, supple, slightly chilled and topped with a bold ginger foam. I really liked the subtlety of the consommé matched with the zing of the ginger. Pop goes the palate!

Next up we were poured a glass of 2007 viognier (thank baby Jesus, it was finally Wine O'Clock) to ride along with the Roasted Baby Beet Salad, Golden Beet Vinaigrette. Historically, I’m not big on viogniers, but have been opening up to them a bit more recently. This was very buttery and reminiscent of a chardonnay in that it seemed to have that double malolactic quality. Conceptually a good choice for the beets. This salad was beautiful, colorful and innovative – and, while executing itself simply, had a lot going on. I adored the crisp, earthy addition of the baby purple radish in the dish. The lettuce leaves on which all rested were somewhat difficult to conquer without a knife. I just used my hands.

Our next wine was the 2008 cortese, and was not unlike the viognier, but perhaps a bit milder, more minerally. This went with the Butter Poached Lobster, Warm Egg & Caviar Salad, Leeks with Fennel Jam, Onion Froth. Again, this dish was beautiful both aesthetically and conceptually. Holly loved the fennel jam, Kevin did not. I found all of the elements involved in the dish to be surprising and of interest, if not sewn together ideally. I really appreciated the challah underneath it all - it’s crispness adding a nice contrast in texture. The 63 degree egg was also a lovely element. The laced magenta micro-greens were a perfect touch as well.

I was super excited about the next dish, the Rabbit Cassoulet, as I am a huge cassoulet fan and always order it when I spy it on a menu. This, paired with the 2006 merlot, was absolutely my favorite dish of the evening. And I believe Kevin and Holly felt the same. My only beef with the dish is I wanted a hundred more bites of it! I really appreciated the shout out to the Chinese New Year and the advent of the Year of the Rabbit. Again, Moody’s use of the garnish in the micro bull blood ended up being a star element of the dish, bringing that snappy freshness in. While not being what I would want as a tremendously drinkable wine, the merlot ended up working quite well with the dish.

Moody’s calling card, if you will, the Spiced Beef, Spinach Avocado Puree, Crispy Porcini Spaetzle, Black Truffle, Guiness Gastrique was up next, paired with a 2007 meritage. This dish reminded me of a perfectly composed photograph: when the viewer’s eye lands at a precise (and intended) spot on the image and travels around for a while along the artist’s map, so to speak. This, too, had a successful (and intentional) trajectory. The beef was beautifully cooked and its spice was quite the eye-opener – BLAM! But then it was slightly neutralized by the avocado, reawakened with the gastrique and toned back down with the spaetzle. While I doubt anyone was complaining, the truffle seemed little more than an afterthought. This paring, I felt, was the most successful.

After a brief intermission for the resident artist, Christopher M., to present Moody with a portrait, we were served our final course: Smoked S’mores, House-Made Graham Crackers, Agave Marshmallow, Chipotle-Orange Ganache, Tequila Créme Anglaise (a dish of his appearing hitherto at Ludobites), paired with a port. I’m not a huge sweets gal, but I enjoyed this dish. The marshmallow embodied a succinctly campfire smoked quality that, Moody explained, was created with a smoking gun (no, not a real gun, of course). A port was the right choice, but I found this particular one to be too young and thin to even come close to standing up to the dish.

I enjoyed my meal. I related to my meal. If this pop up was, in this, my City of Angels, I would return to see how it morphs throughout the month. I am curious to see a few things pushed and pulled this way and that, and I would like to see much more innovative and daring pairings. But hot damn, Mr. Moody, big ups!

So, and then, I drove home at warp speed while listening to Mogwai’s Mr. Beast at an Earth-shattering volume, to crawl into my jammies, pour a glass of cabernet, and watch the latest episode Jersey Shore (yeah... so shoot me) with Maggie and the pups as I ruminated on yet another foodventure.

Relate at Bistro St. Germain's
1010 S Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA 92024
Tuesday through Saturday 2/3/11 – 2/26/11, 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM