Whether at Fork and Wrench or Birroteca here in Baltimore, or at Nage or Redfin in Rehoboth Beach, Chef Cyrus Keefer consistently wows diners with his innovative cooking techniques, creative use of ingredients, and stylish plate presentation, leaving no one to wonder why he has received such honors as local People’s Choice nominations and an invitation to prepare a meal showcasing the cuisine of the Chesapeake at the notable James Beard House in 2013.
On Thursday, January 22, Keefer continued his trend of preparing upscale crowd pleasing cuisine (alongside the likes of Jonah Kim and Riccardo Bosio) at his pop up dinner hosted by Sotto Sopra.
Intended to showcase the flavors and ingredients of his up and coming Hampden restaurant PIQUE (hopefully opening in the spring of this year – read on to find how you can help), the six course menu featured seafood, pork, duck and vegetables all prepared with Chef Keefer’s signature French-Asian flare.
We were fortunate enough to secure some tickets to the sold out event, the goal of which was also to publicize Keefer’s Kickstarter campaign to help with the costs of opening PIQUE.
Upscale bites during cocktail hour included an elegant steak tartare with a black garlic gribiche (served, literally, on a silver spoon), some standout chicken liver tacos with chipotle, cured lime, and mesquite butter, and the escargot buns that Keefer is known for, featuring a soft bun encasing the earthy escargot and truffle butter.
If the hors d’oeuvres were described, rightfully, as pleasantly decadent, the six courses to follow were artfully restrained, showcasing Keefer’s ability to prepare and plate elevated ingredients without pretense.
The first course featured pork belly wrapped in a dumpling with a whiskey vinegar sauce that added a bite to the dish, and a crema that balanced the sauce for the perfect bite.
Insalada Bianca followed. A creamy base of lightly spiced mascarpone was bedecked with pickled mushrooms, bits of cauliflower, and cipollini onion.
The favorite of our table, and of many around us, was the tender octopus in the third course. Sizable chunks of octopus swam in a light citrusy sauce with green curry and pickled coriander, tomatillos, and coconut poached potatoes.
A warm egg custard with marinated tomato and olives was absolutely gorgeous, though possibly the least successful of the dishes due to heavy smokiness from the olive oil. That said, we’ve experienced other very similar dishes from Keefer (most recently during his brief return to Bandito’s where his custard featured on a Wednesday small plates menu was to die for). So while this execution may have been a bit overpowering for us, the concept itself has the potential to be a winner.
For what we thought was the final course, duck pot au feu showcased juicy strips of duck with an absolutely perfectly cooked soft boiled egg all atop greens (including thai basil), roast turnips, and a complex sauce featuring black garlic and ginger.
Chef Keefer never fails to surprise, and in doing so on this evening, he treated guests to an extra course. Created by pastry chef Rebecca Hummer, the sixth course brought salted caramel lined bowls that were topped with small toothsome spice cakes for a finale that was just enough to satiate a sweet tooth.
Overall, if Keefer’s goal was to whet Charm City’s appetite for his new venture, this event was an overriding success.
Like what you see and want to get in on the action? Head over to Chef Keefer’s pop up in the private kitchen at Food Market, February 11 – 13th. A variety of small plates will be featured for a fixed cost of $60 per person. Reservations are highly suggested as limited seats are available. Call 410-366-0606.
And, consider popping over to his Kickstarter campaign to learn more and donate a few dollars to help Chef Keefer realize his dream of opening a restaurant… and ours of eating there! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1584030908/pique
Photo Credit: Dara Bunjon of Dara Does It