John Dory with Honey Glazed Baby Turnips, Pickled Red Cabbage & Sherry Caviar Crème
John Dory is a fish of many aliases ~ St. Pierre, Peter’s Fish, Janitore, Kuparu (the name used in New Zealand by the Maori, where the fish thrive in great abundance) with stories burnished through time for each name. Chef’s favorite comes from a passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which St. Peter leaves a thumbprint on the fish’s body as he pulls it out of the sea at the behest of Jesus, hounded by the Romans for a temple tax. Saint Peter pays with a four drachma coin he miraculously finds a in the fish’s mouth. I favor the French nursery rhyme that tells the sad tale of a sea captain named John Dory who happens to meet the King of France as he ambles drunkenly toward Paris looking for a benefactor. Farfetched, if not miraculous, the King gives him enough gold coins for a new ship, which our boy John promptly sinks in a battle with pirates on the high seas.
But even the most likely historical attribution ~ jeune dorée means ‘gilded yellow’ in French which amply describes the appearance of this silvery, olive yellow coastal fish ~ does not explain that spot, which, as it turns out, is more Darwinian than religious or fanciful. The distinctive tattoo just below the Dory's dorsal fin functions as a highly effective “evil eye,” flashing predators to buy time for escape, and also serves to confuse the Dory’s prey so it can pounce. Nature may not have had a hand in naming the John Dory, but it more than compensated for the fact that it needed help to survive. The Dory, it turns out, is one of the slowest swimmers in the sea ~ yet another reason it has eyes at the back of its head.
For a fish with such a long and colorful history, there are surprisingly few cooking preparations that won’t destroy its delicate buttery flavor. Overcook the Dory even by seconds and you lose the fragrance it carries of the sea, ruining the lovely texture of its flesh. Another caveat: because it retains a great deal of water for such a thin bodied fish, the Dory should be served within 48 hours of being pulled from the water, never frozen. When Ryan was considering what to serve as a second fish course for our NYE Menu, he went straight to the Dory with an idea of pairing it with caviar and chive crème brightened with Spanish sherry vinegar. Shown here, as Dish of the Week, the sherry caviar crème brings out the earthy sweetness of honey braised turnips against two distinct presentations of slivered cabbage: garlicky, buttery Savoy beneath the fish, with a beautiful tangle of pickled purple cabbage on top. (As it turns out, this dish was a delicious runner up for the NYE menu when the John Dory will be served with a lobster brussels sprout hash and crispy prosciutto.)
Pictures don't do justice to Ryan's artistry when it comes to plating, nor do they reflect how much time he and the brigade spend on the visual components of each dish. Nothing is superfluous ~ each ingredient must play a distinct flavor role ~ but he always manages to bring often disparate (in terms of color and shape) elements together in such a way that they dance on the plate. In this case think Balanchine, not Pina Bausch. On New Year's Eve the John Dory course will follow a seared Day Boat scallop with caramelized cauliflower and his "trail mix" of toasted almonds, golden raisins and capers. To find out what comes next, click here. FYI: We will open specially for New Year's Eve as it falls on a Monday, but with modified earlier hours. If you are considering joining us for what may well be the best meal of the year, book it Dano!
'Glorious Icky Bits' shot of the week
If you don't make it for New Year's Eve, fear not, John Dory is currently on the new Fall menu, finished in butter atop a stew of herb roasted Manila clams, heirloom beets, swiss chard and chorizo. It’s a heartier dish than the one Chef will serve on NYE, perfect for early winter with spicy heat from the Chorizo playing off the light brininess of the Dory. It's also a nose to tailfin dish, which brings us nicely to our 'glorious icky bits' shot of the week. (Read last week's blog for our position on Icky Bits). There is not a lot of flesh on a Dory ~ superior knife skills are needed if you want to get the plumpest filets ~ but procuring the fish whole has a great plus as the bones of the Dory are especially gelatinous, making them great as a thickening agent for a fumet. This is the same fish shown at the top of the blog, after filleting, as Drew lowers it into the simmering fish stock he will use for our bouillabaisse, a la Ryan.
In the Gallery for Christmas and Hanukkah
Ismael Sanchez dropped off a new collection of his wondrous wire sculptures last week, just in time for the holidays. This butterfly is studded with ocean worn 'jewels' collected over the years from Glass Beach in Ft Bragg. Pigs with wings, scorpions, bulls, his signature simple horses and a (nearly) full sized goat round out the collection. We rarely have this many Ismael pieces in the gallery.
We also rarely have as much jewelery ~ cuffs, earrings and necklaces that won't break the bank. Christmas decorations from around the world. Geoffrey's antique cigarette card collections. Beautiful vegetable calendars from Maria Schoettler and a slew of new books you won't find in stock anywhere else in this bookshop rich town of ours. Come in and look around. If you find yourself in the throes of indecision, go next door for a cocktail, or better yet go after you shop ~ a cocktail is on the house with gallery purchases of $50 or more.