Simply Mind Blowing

Published on: September 8th, 2008

Ian Kleinman, the executive chef at O’s Seafood and Steak in Westminster, has begun teasing our palates with a bold culinary style—one that leaves overplayed steakhouses in the dust, tempting us instead with a little bit of culinary magic.

Following in the footsteps of New York’s Wylie Dufresne (WD-50), he has successfully introduced Coloradoans to molecular gastronomy, a pseudo-science experiment taking place in a kitchen. Imagine macadamia nut air suffusing a nutty round of golden yam while grapefruit gelée plays host to miniature crab cakes dusted with watercress caviar.

Wait a minute. Nut air? A fruit gelée? Watercress caviar? I can’t even picture those things, let alone imagine what they would taste like. And that, I slowly realized, is the brilliance of O’s. Kleinman’s molecular tasting menu ($50 a person) is more than inventive: It’s mind-blowing.

For the uniformed, molecular gastronomy uses chemical reactions and manipulation of food at the molecular level to create otherwise unheard of textures, flavors and shapes. This can be anything from the creation of a stable “foam” made using a hand mixer and xanthan gum (a stabilizer), to using gelatin with soups to create savory gelées. Kleinman offers a tasting menu Thursdays through Saturdays with ever-changing features.

The five courses completely erase preconceived notions of how things should taste.

My evening was a slow progression from candied fennel to sous-vide pork to miracle fruit bubble gum. Yes, the fennel was astoundingly flavorful, if a bit gritty with granules of sugar; yes, the pork succumbed to my steak knife as easily as it would to a butter knife; and yes, the bubble gum was both subtle and an unexpectedly perfect palate cleanser. But you’re not reading this to hear typical critic banter are you? You want something unique. So let me give it to you.

The finish—miracle fruit bubble gum—left an impression on me that will never change. Kleinman himself came out at this juncture, instructing me to chew the gum for three minutes, remove it and replace it with the accompanying pill. As I did so, a faint hint of acidity rolled around my tongue with the summer taste of raspberries. Clever, I thought, but not an amazing finish. The flavors were too subtle, too masked, too—unimpressive. Then, he brought out a bowl of citrus fruit.

“Take a bite of that lemon,” he advised casually, as though everyone indulges in raw lemon after meals. I did with blind trust. Suddenly, my doubt turned to 10-year-old amazement. It tasted like sweet lemonade, the homemade kind I remember drinking in my aunt’s California kitchen. I moved on to orange, lime and grapefruit—the result was startlingly the same. Every bite was as sweet as the last. How on earth did he do it?

It’s an old medical trick, he says. Patients with diabetes often take pills with a unique chemical that turns anything they eat into a sweet counterpart—without adding sugar. The bubble gum cleanses the palate, and the pill paves the way for lemonade straight from the lemon. Ingenious.

But while Kleinman has made a name for himself with his molecular inventions, O’s does offer other options—presided by several cuts of beef. Much to their credit, the New York strip steak ($34) I enjoyed on another trip to O’s was tender and perfectly cooked. It did carry a higher ratio of gristle to meat, however, and I found that the accompanying bordelaise (red wine sauce simmered with shallots) nudged the meat out of the way instead of complementing it.

The crowning glory of the dish was the compound butter. A unique candied garlic mixture, it was creamy, every so slightly sweet, and hinted at roasted garlic. My only complaint was that there was far too little of it.

With unassuming lanterns dangling with soft red light above me, I was struck by both the intensity of my meals and the atmosphere—this is a place where surroundings and flavor are intertwined.

As my meals grew in complexity, the lights fell into a deeper red, matching the drawn curtains, and in turn, the redish hue of the wooden walls. It was a mysterious environment, meant to pay tribute to one thing only: the uniqueness of Kleinman’s cuisine.

Whatever I can say as testimony to O’s would pale next to an evening experiencing it. Restaurant critics have plenty of experience writing about steak—bubble gum and nut air, well, that’s a whole new world. You’ll just have to experience it for yourself.

O’s Seafood and Steak

303.410.5000
Ian’s blog
10600 Westminster Blvd., Westminster
Bottom line: Creative use of ingredients, adventurous tasting menu, consistent and attentive service will blow you away.

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