I'd read a lot over the years about private chef Shola Olunloyo, and his now-legendary Studiokitchen dinners in West Philadelphia -- but never had an opportunity to try his food. Food bloggers and eGulleteers raved about his modern cuisine, and Shola's own Studiokitchen blog - featuring his considerable photographic skills - fueled the fire. When Phoodie announced that Shola would be cooking a 4-course meal at Blackfish restaurant in Conshohocken, I scrambled to score a table.
So the night after the Vintage Beer Brunch, Mal and I found ourselves at Blackfish with a bomber of our own British-style ale and a bottle of 2005 Domaine Barmes-Buecher Pinot Blanc Rosenberg.
Carrot soup, miso applesauce, aromatic milk
We drank the beer with the first course, switching over to wine during the second course. The beer, a British-style session ale somewhere between an ESB and a pale ale, was a good but not inspired pairing to the carrot soup. The soup set the tone for the meal, with a combination of familiar and novel flavors that was interesting in a thoughtful way: rich and sweet, pungent and perfumed at the same time.
Hiramasa, spicy yuzu glaze, peanut-cauliflower, brown butter
Next up was the fish course, featuring hiramasa (also known as yellowtail amberjack). This dish was more subtle than the soup, and the "spicy yuzu glaze" didn't seem all that spicy. But the fish was perfectly cooked and the peanut-cauliflower purée was so delicious that I found myself using bread to mop it up off the plate.
Veal breast and ravioli, celeriac-apple purée,
black trumpet mushrooms, hazelnut sherry jus
The meat course followed. A single ravioli, cooked al dente, rested atop a round of veal breast and the whole assembly was crowned with trumpet mushrooms and a pair of veal sweetbreads. This course was the night's highlight -- though the ravioli didn't seem to add much, the veal breast was outrageously good and the sweetbreads were crispy on the outside and molten on the inside. And again, the purée was so good that I mopped it up to savor every last bit. The wine was a perfect complement to this course, nicely rounding out the savory portion of the meal.
Yogurt sorbet, berries, elderflower, yogurt powder
The dessert course was right up my alley. I can usually do without sweets at the end of a meal - just a good espresso. I wish more desserts were like this one: easy on the sugar and with a bit of sourness from the yogurt. The yogurt powder was the most interesting aspect of the plate - when it dissolved on the tongue, it released a burst of intense, pure yogurt flavor. The berries were lightly dusted with it too. With some La Colombe coffee, it was a nice end to the meal.
During the meal, we watched as Shola worked the room, stopping to pose for pictures and chat with his fans. Several other diners were taking pictures of their meals, and we saw Phoodie doing the same as we waited for our table.
After all the internet hype from Shola's fans, I'm not sure if the meal met my expectations -- I wasn't blown away by culinary fireworks, but certainly charmed by the obvious creativity and attention to execution. I think that says more about my assumptions than it does about the meal and I look forward to eating Shola's food again.