A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of experiencing Restaurant Blu‘s tasting menu. Blu, the popular Montclair restaurant led by Chef / Owner Zod Arifai, is a jewel in Essex County’s dining crown.
Chef Arifai’s food is nothing short of a work of art, as I’ve documented over the years, and the tasting menu showcased how far he can stretch his culinary talents given the opportunity to be free to craft a non-restrictive menu.
“This menu is spontaneous and I link it to music,” said Chef Arifai in a recent interview. “When I was playing music sometimes we would jam to a specific song, that song would turn from a five-minute song to a 20 minute song or 30 minute song depending on how the jam went and what the mood was like. I compare this menu to ‘Dazed and Confused’ by Led Zeppelin.”
The evening started with a bite of chicken liver on toast, a personal favorite that kicked off an incredible food journey. The toast was humbly presented on a plate over a small bowl that we were asked not to lift until the chicken liver was eaten. When we removed the empty plate, we found an unctuous and decadent uni mousse that our server said she was told we should scoop out of the bowl, with a finger. Made me wonder what other tricks Chef Arifai had in store for us.
Next, came a perfect bite of pickled strawberry over crispy salmon skin. This was absolutely delicious with perfect texture. Strawberry and salmon skin? Yes, it most definitely worked.
“The Egg” followed: carrot and apple juice purée made to look like an egg yolk in a small bowl with the juice acting as the egg white. Just a fun, clever presentation.
We were presented with a potato puff with grated truffle on it, which we could smell while it was still in the nearby kitchen. While this dish appeared straightforward on the plate, the layers of flavors created a complex bite that will stay top-of-mind for a long time.
Scallops with sunchokes and hibiscus was reminiscent of a Joan Miró painting on the plate and boasted clean, beautifully-contrasting flavors.
The squid with black bean purée and orange was also visually-stunning and featured perfectly-cooked, tender squid. Expectedly, squid and citrus work beautifully, but orange brings the right level of acidity with just a hint of sweetness. Mental note to replace lime and lemon with orange when I prepare squid at home next.
There were several more courses, including an onion soup served without a spoon, the mackerel in winter, salmon belly with black radish, mussels and shrimps with cauliflower purée, beef with egg and celery root purée, sweetbreads with endive, hot and cold foie gras with apples and pear purée, cheese soup poached pear with hibiscus crème that were interesting, beautifully-presented and tasted divine. I could write a thesis on how memorable this meal was.
There were three or four desserts presented and the olive and goat cheese sandwich cookies offered in a saffron metal tin were playful and decadent. The perfect end to an amazing meal that left us thinking Chef Arifai wanted us to know that even after serving us this creative, thoughtful meal, he wanted us to leave with a smile on our faces.
I hope you take advantage of this type of meal at Blu. The chef’s degustation is typically 12 courses with several other courses added by the chef. This can be customized with advance notice to the restaurant.
All of us who’ve eaten Chef Arifai’s food can agree he creates incredible dishes in his Montclair kitchen, but only through this type of creatively-freeing experience can his talent be fully appreciated.
554 Bloomfield Ave.
Veronique Deblois, Food & Wine Chickie: Veronique is a food and wine writer based in Morris County. As the author of the popular blog, Food & Wine Chickie Insider, Veronique shares recipes, wine and restaurant reviews and insight into the travel industry of which she’s a 15-year veteran. Follow Veronique on Twitter or like her Facebook page.