Tuesday night saw the return of Gerald Hirigoyen to the James Beard House after a ten-year hiatus. Having “performed” in Beard’s kitchen four times previously, we were excited to welcome Hirigoyen back for a dinner that showcased the west-coast-inflected French basque cooking that has made his two San Francisco restaurants, Bocadillos and Piperade, neighborhood favorites with national reputations.
It was the kind of meal that interrupted conversation, as bite after bite reflected the chef’s simple and sophisticated command of his ingredients and his flavors. As but one example, consider the seared scallop he dressed with a black truffle vinaigrette and garnished with bits of blood pudding and julienne of apple. Each mouthful combined the delicate, sea-tinged flavor and rich texture of the scallop with the funky, salty flavor of the blood sausage, the dark, heady flavor of the truffle, and the crisp, cleansing sweetness of the apple. Our table was impressed all the way through the meal, from the picante prawns basquaise Hirigoyen served as an hors d’oeuvre, through the delicate, orange-blossom-flavored pâte-à-choux puffs he added to the dessert plate in celebration of Mardi Gras (make the beignets yourself).
If I had to characterize what was so remarkable about this meal, I would say it was a seeming effortlessness and simplicity in the cooking and flavor combining that could only result from a whole lot of work and thought. The tastes were unexpected but unforced, nothing obvious nor extraneous, and totally yummy. On the opposite side of the spectrum from Molecular Gastronomy, perhaps, this meal reminded me how familiar ingredients and classic techniques can, in the right hands, still be exciting and delicious.