I first ate at Stella! last fall shortly after I met Chef Scott Boswell at the StarChefs ICC in NYC. We had an incredible meal and subsequently Chef Boswell and I became good friends, a friendship cemented through Twitter of all things. When it came to visiting our son again at Tulane, I also looked forward to spending some time with Chef Boswell and his lovely wife Tanya. Scott and I had talked about fishing for redfish from the time we first met and as the trip grew close we firmed our plans. Scott, my son Andrew and I would fish with a guide with whom Scott had had good luck, Captain Corey. Our experience is documented here and here.
Wild caught redfish are not commercial items. They cannot be sold legally. While it was a lot of fun and a real treat fishing for redfish in the morning, it was an even bigger treat sitting down at Stella! and receiving a specially prepared tasting menu based on those very same redfish, cooked personally by Chef Boswell.
Unfortunately due to school obligations my son, Andrew, couldn't make the dinner, so it was my wife, our youngest son, Michael and myself who sat down at the far left rear corner table in Stella! We were greeted by John Mitchell, the elegant, enthusiastic and knowledgeable sommelier and Nathan Walker and Jenny Trisko, members of Stella's polished service staff, who looked after us for the evening.
Before we started our culinary exploration of redfish, Chef Boswell sent out a couple of amuses. The first, a large oyster with pickled ginger granita and wasabi infused tobiko was sensational. The flavors blended beautifully with the briny oyster's slurpy texture contrasted with the grainy coldness of the granita. I can't say that I have ever had a better prepared oyster dish. It was magnificently paired with the brilliantly balanced 2008 Monchhoff Reisling from Alsace. We were off to a flying start.
The second amuse, Roasted Potato and Parmesan Gnocchi with Iberico Bellota Ham, Morel Mushrooms, Fava Beans and Local Scallions brought heaven to earth. Paired with a Pinot Gris, this was pure, unadulterated decadence, perhaps the single most delicious and perfect dish I have enjoyed so far this year.
Moving on to the redfish dishes, Chef Boswell didn't slacken the pace. The first redfish dish he sent was something neither he nor I had ever had before. Really more of a ceviche due to the presence of mirin, Chef Boswell served us " Redfish sashimi salad, pickled melon and smoked Brittany sea salt" brought together great balance, texture and flavor. The dish was a winner. The redfish was sliced into thin strips and marinated in a yuzu-rich mirin. It also contained some crisped lotus root. Paired with the sashimi was a lovely Hinomaru Jozo "Manabito" Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo sake from Akita, Japan. I don't know as much about sake and the distinctions between them as I would like, but I'm glad John Mitchell does.
The next dish, Spicy tomato curry puree with cumin grilled redfish, crisp pappadam and cucumber, mint and yogurt salad, provided a real challenge to the gnocchi as the best thing I've eaten all year. The flavors were perfect and satisfying. It is difficult enough for any chef to master the flavors and techniques of any single cuisine, but with this dish as well as the Japanese, Italian, French, Korean, Creole and Cajun inflected dishes I've had in this meal and others from Chef Boswell, he has shown an uncanny ability to incorporate some of the very best elements of those cuisines into his own. This is probably the element of his cooking that I find most impressive. It marks his cooking as unique and worldly while also adding touches of the familiar to tie it together and bring it home. Mitchell's choice of Adelaida, "Version" 2007 from Paso Robles worked very well with this dish providing balance to the dish's spiciness.
"Fish and Chips" with Tempura Beer Battered Louisiana redfish with sweet potato puree, curried taro root chips and spicy red chili caramel provided great flavor and texture. It was a lovely dish. The only thing keeping it from perfection was the balance was just a tad too far to the sweet for me. When it comes to savory dishes or even desserts, my preference is to minimize sweetness so that the sugar is not overt. The Kirin Ichiban beer served with it helped mitigate that aspect for me bringing additional harmony.
No redfish dinner would be complete without a course of blackened redfish, the dish made famous by Paul Prudhomme at his K-Paul back in the 1980's. The dish became so popular that it almost wiped out the species. Fortunately, the fish have stocks have recovered sufficiently to allow for fishing as we had just done. I can't imagine a version of blackened redfish better than what Chef Boswell sent out to us. The fish was moist, well spiced, but not overwhelming. Served with jambalaya risotto and lemon tabasco honey butter and paired with 1999 "Viña Gravonia", a unique dry white whine from the Rioja made by R. Lopez de Heredia, this dish was a totally satisfying end to our redfish degustation.
The meal shifted to a Boswell classic, his Delice de Bourgogne Grilled Cheese Sandwich with candied macadamias, powdered pistachio and Captain Crunch Nutella Explosion served with Carlo Boffa Dolcetto d'Alba, Barbaresco from 2007. This dish was playful, fun and delicious, a deserved classic.
Our last course, bananas Foster French Toast with Tahitian Vanilla bean ice cream, spicy candied walnuts and crisp plaintains put the exclamation point on a uniquely New Orleans meal.With it, Mitchell paired what may be the most delicious rum I have ever had, Zaya "Gran Reserva" 12 year old rum from Trinidad. It's vanilla notes worked perfectly with the dessert and on its own. The meal closed with some lovely mignardises.
This was truly a unique, one of a kind meal - one of the more memorable ones of my life. First, catching the fish (fish otherwise commercially unobtainable) on a beautiful day, second having my friend, the chef and co-fisherman cook the fish beautifully and deliciously and third sharing it with my wife and youngest son all contributed to making it extra-special. Indeed, watching our ten year old enjoy every aspect of the meal as much as he did was as much fun as anything. I was proud of the way that he hung in and tried and enjoyed everything. His favorite dish was the grilled redfish in the tomato Curry Puree, something I wouldn't have predicted beforehand. I suspect that this will be a seminal meal in his life as well.
Full disclosure: We were not charged for the meal. I did, however, leave a significant gratuity for the superb service received.