Friday, January 29, 2010

The AT&T Executive Center: The Carillon Tasting Reception

The Carillon at the AT&T Executive

I guess now is the time to reveal to my readers that I'm a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin.  The spring semester barely kicked off, and I'm already smack in the thick of overwhelming reading loads and papers.  In fact, only a week passed since the start of school, and I already turned in one paper and received it back graded.  In short, I have to face saying goodbye to food blogging...

Not so fast!  I was ready to put food blogging on hold when I received an invitation to a tasting reception right on campus!  I couldn't make any excuses to back out when the tasting is perched right where I practically live! My graduate advisor looked at me incredulously as he saw me packing up my laptop and readings to get ready for the evening tasting and said, "What?  You're still here?"  My schoolmate, Shu, quickly replied, "See, we're such diligent students!"  Good cover, Shu!  Yes, dilligent students/foodies!  But no need for the prof to know about our alter egos! 

The new AT&T Executive Center offers guest accomadations and conference space on the UT campus.  There are two cafes and the center's signature restaurant, The Carillon.  The tasting at The Carillon was the first time I stepped into the new building.  However, I did not have time to explore the building that evening.  We were solely there to get introduced to The Carillon led by Executive Chef Josh Watkins.  You can check out a couple of YouTube videos of Chef Watkins in action here.

Executive Chef Josh Watkins

Chef Josh Watkins presented five tasting dishes for the reception.

The first dish that I sampled was the crisp pork belly with diablo glaze and Asian pear salad.  I have loved pork belly since my mom cooked me my first Dongpo Rou.  The pork is braised in a pot of soy sauce with sugar until the pork and the fat soak up all the liquid in the pot and become melt-in-your-mouth candied meat chunks.  The chef who created this now famous Chinese dish is my favorite Chinese historical figure, Su Dongpo (I wrote more about Dongpo here).  Pork belly has now become so trendy in the gastronomic world that I no longer get excited about trying various kinds of Asian-inspired pork belly.  The sweetness of the pork is preserved through the various interpretations.  Chef Watkins complements the concentrated dark flavors of the pork with a light and refreshing sweet Asian pear salad.  As much as I will always love the original Dongpo Rou and its now numerous reincarnations, I wish that chefs would develop the courage and the creativity to move away from an Asian-inspired version. 

The braised beef short ribs with apricot glaze, asparagus, celery root puree, and black pepper gastrique was smokey and tender.  My tasting companion noted to Chef Watkins that she particularly liked the sweetness and subtle acidity of the apricot glaze.  It seemed that the short ribs were a favorite among the tasters, including us.

Crisp Pork Belly with diablo glaze and Asian pear salad; Braised Beef Short Ribs with apricot glaze, asparagus, celery root puree, and black pepper gastrique

The white bean soup with smoked scallop and oven dried grapes was delicious in taste, but I found the consistency to be too thick.  I appreciated the strong flavor of the scallops in the soup, not just as a garnish.  I know that the main ingredient is the pureed white bean, but I hate it when a less interesting ingredient masks the flavor of a key ingredient.  I like to be able to taste or at least smell the ingredients I'm eating, otherwise they're superfuous to the dish. 

White Bean Soup with smoked scallop and oven dried grapes

I love dishes served in spoons as it saves me a step in putting food in my mouth.  It's such a direct calling of consumption.  The tuna tartare with Granny Smith apples and punctuated with truffle oil was served in this clever way.  I think it's quite appropriate that I'm born in the year of the boar.  I can smell truffle or truffle oil from a mile away and will find my way to the foodie gem without fail.  I love the waft of the truffle as the spoon passed under my nose, the puff of aroma that the tuna released upon my first chew, and the lingering scent in my mouth ten minutes later. 

The fried eggplant caprese tasted dull and missed the mark.  I could not taste eggplant nor mozzarella, just a mouthful of fried flour. 
Tuna Tartare with Granny Smith apples and truffle oil; Fried Eggplant Caprese

I enjoyed Chef Watkins creations and look forward to trying the lobster risotto and duck ravioli on the dinner menu in the future.  I wish The Carillon best of luck in its first year.  I think the main challenges the restaurant needs to overcome are one, an empty campus at night save for the poor students who are not the target demographic and two, establishing an identity apart from UT and the AT&T Executive Center so that Austinites won't pass up The Carillon when thinking of places to dine.

No comments:

Post a Comment