I was looking today at executive chef Tom Parlo’s new menus at the Mansion, and I have to admit I was tripped up by the dayboat scallops with smoked maitake, carrot ketchup, and ocean air.
I’m reminded of the darkly amusing Brooklyn Bar Menus Generator that creates parodies of the kinds of items you might encounter at impossibly hip/hipster, cooler-than-thou places (most likely outfitted with Edison lights bulbs) that thrive in Brooklyn and LA. A menu generated for the fictional Wyckoff & Apollo includes “lamb, ramp toast, & massaged sungold”; another lists “bison bowl, turned eggplant, & activated watermelon skewers” or “homespun seaweed, sungold & pressed eggplant,” or “scraped oyster reduction, bison & farm-to-table marrow.” The recombination of faddish words into a kind of nonsensical parody pokes fun at the painstaking language of current trends.
For the ocean air in question, I’m trying to imagine the trick. Big bellows, whooshing a saline breeze. A vial, like Marcel Duchamp’s glass ampoule titled 50 cc of Paris Air (a Dada piece hallmark held at the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art). Or maybe something like chef Grant Achatz’ work at Alinea, where he is famous for dishes like English peas served on a pillow of lavender-scented air. (His cookbook includes a recipe for navy bean puree served over a pillow of nutmet-scented air. Try that in your home kitchen.)
The scallops may be wondrous. The ocean air may come like the fabulous creation at Flora Street Cafe—a puff of scent wafted on dry ice vapor. My tone is arch because I see so much menu-writing that feels like deliberate obfuscation. The first item in the pumpkin “gazpacho” description on the same menu is “spherification” (followed closely by local chevre, rye, and fennel pollen).
On the other hand—sigh—I do want to try the spot prawns with aerated artichoke and textures of celery. So there you go.
Can they serve the Texas boar, local pear, and pickled fresnoes with a Marfa sunset?