Chamomile and Lemon Balm
The tasting begins with a single light and refreshing bite. You pick up the orb by its flowered stem and pop it in your mouth. The thin white chocolate and lemon balm shell immediately gives way to a cool, chamomile scented liquid. The liquid is slightly heavier than water, with the subtlest floral notes. The chamomile liquid has a refreshing, rounded quality that seems to completely cleanse your mouth—it's no surprise that it was inspired by glacier water.
The second dish is only slightly heavier than the first. A delicate shaving of green, shiso-flavored ice is topped with apple skin, ginger, and sake sorbet. A spoonful of the mixture condenses on your tongue, concentrating the flavors. Again, this dish is only barely sweet—but the low level of sugar and the cold temperature makes the fruit taste extra refreshing and crisp.
The second course also makes it clear that a big part of this experience is plating. Where the first dish charms with its Dr. Sussean floral flourish, the second dessert is streamlined. The ices are nestled in a thick stone urn which Contreras specially sourced from Java. Reminiscent of a vase, it makes perfect sense for a dish that is topped by a single, delicate flower. The heavy stone (which is so cold it's covered with a thin layer of ice) contrasts playfully with the dessert, which is delicate in both texture and taste.
This dish is a series of small trompe l'oeils. The centerpiece of the "terrarium" is what appears to be a beet—and so good is the imitation that you assume the beet will be hard and difficult to cut through. In fact it easily gives way under your spoon to release a sweet and tangy beet sorbet. The "root" really surprised me, and not just because it's made from a mixture of beet pulp and chocolate—this smooth, melt-in-your-mouth candy was my favorite component of any dish.
The dirt in the terrarium is actually a mixture of chocolate and crispy oats. The oats add a nutty crunch while the dark chocolate adds a bitter note. Small edible flowers are glued to the bowl with drops of sweet, intensely fruity mandarin puree or drops of sheeps milk. The clods of earth are light and sweet puffs of chocolaty mousse. Eating your way through this dish is an exciting series of flavor combinations, made all the better because you are unable to guess what each new spoonful will taste like.
Contreras was inspired to make this dish by the smell of the Eucalyptus trees as you pass over the Golden Gate Bridge on the way into San Francisco. He imbues the slightly menthol, floral notes of the leaves into a creamy, smooth ice cream.
An Unexpected Ice Pop
One bite of ice cream is put on the end of an actual twig of eucalyptus. The best part of the experience is the smell-taste harmony: the twigs give off a scent that enhances the flavor of the ice cream.
This is the signature dish on the menu. A garam masala spiced shortbread crumble is topped with smoked cashew ice cream, roasted spiced eggplant, and lemon chips. Need help decoding the plate? I did, too. The large grey chunk is the ice cream, the grey crumble is the shortbread, the silver crisps are lemon chips, and the charcoal briquettes are pieces of eggplant.
This dish is inspired by fire and ice. The components are set atop a grill that is given a theatrical touch with smoke.
Fire and Ice
The cognitive dissonance between what you see (is that grey sea salt?) and what you eat (ah, it's shortbread) makes each bite almost uncomfortable to eat. But the flavors of smoke and warm masala spices pull the dish together.
The bite-sized desserts that end the tasting menu receive all the care of the previous dishes. To start, a fluffy passion fruit marshmallow that is so intensely flavored you almost expect juice to burst from the middle. Then a selection of pâté de fruit—strawberry-ginger, plum with Brazilian pink pepper, and guava with citrus. A single square of nougat with toasted almonds. And finally, a soft caramel with Maldon sea salt. Even after all the other courses, I wanted to eat every bite.
Preparations of Chocolate
To accompany the mignardises, a selection of chocolates: white chocolate with cardamom, 33% milk chocolate crusted in chocolate caviar, and chards of 72% Venezuelan chocolate that are laminated and compressed with gold.