Sri Lankan Beet Curry served over Coconut Daikon Noodles
There’s something both exciting and intimidating about sitting down at a table and not having any idea what your waiter is going to bring out. It requires a certain amount of trust from the diner, sure. But it also requires a whole lot of ballsy swagger from the chefs. When you sit down for a meal at Nata Gallery, it’s like throwing down a gauntlet and daring chefs Katie Weinner and Mike Burtis to keep your ass in the seat long enough to try each and every offering that they’ve created on a given evening. It’s a challenge that they happily accept during each dinner, and as one who has had the pleasure of attending one of their imaginative events, I’d say that they’re up to the challenge.
Our table was situated beneath one of Andy Chase’s original paintings of aspen trees, which captured the atmosphere of the ruggedly surreal cuisine that was laid out for us. Ten courses graced our table, each one unique in its own way while managing to retain a degree of consistency throughout the entire meal. Weinner and Burtis favor using rustic, local ingredients to create dishes that sneak up on your tastebuds and remind you that eating can be more fun that going to the movies.
While everything we ate was delicious, there were some courses that rewired my brain with their creative flavor combinations. First on that list was course Number Three. When the waiter presented this dish to us, it looked like volcanic rocks arranged carefully on a leaf. In actuality, we were about to eat shortbread made with Beehive Cheese’s Barely Buzzed artisan cheese. The shortbread was coated with edible charcoal to give it that igneous quality, and it was served with a dollop of Butternut Squash Butter and Red Pepper Jam. After arranging the butter and the jam on top of the shortbread, I took a bite, and the flavors melded together gorgeously––it was like a ramped up hit of pimento cheese. Delicious Medjool Dates stuffed with Honeyed Goat Cheese and Cocoa Nib Salt accompanied the shortbread, and the whole dish was an excellent combination of sweet, tangy and slightly salty.
Course Number Five was a Sri Lankan Beet Curry served over Coconut Daikon Noodles. It was a dish that I didn’t quite appreciate at first, but the more I ate, the more I wanted. I thought the coconut daikon noodles were extremely creative. Weinner explained that they made the noodles by steeping thin slices of daikon in coconut milk, which complemented the beet curry very well. My one nitpicky gripe about this course was that the combination of hot beet curry and cool daikon ended up creating a lukewarm dish––but the flavors were still excellent.
Following the beet curry, course Number Six may have been the star of the evening. It consisted of a ground Elk Sausage made with jalapeño pepper served over Creamy Blue Cornmeal with a garnish of Granny Smith Apples. I’m a sucker for homey, comforting flavors, which this delivered along with a few surprises. In contrast to its pork-made cousin, elk sausage is pleasantly lean and the jalapeño delivered a nice kick.
After a palate cleansing Citrus Granita, it was on to the dessert courses. The first of these was an absolute blast to eat, as it consisted of using a wide variety of syrups and sauces to paint ridiculous pictures on rice paper. My wife painted an impressive portrait of me using Orange Curd, Finger Lime Caramel and a Beet with Buddha-hand Syrup. Mine ended up looking more like a psychotic bag lady, but in any event, I was able to eat the incriminating evidence.
The second dessert course was shockingly good. It was Tangerine Zabaglione with Pineapple Confit, garnished with Amaretto Cookies, Honeycomb, and Freeze-Dried Strawberries. Each bite delivered a different set of flavors—one bite would be heavy on the sweet and crunchy honeycomb, one would be soft, chewy and infused with the almond of the amaretto cookie.
After the zabaglione, we were treated to a bowl of Candied Beet Flakes and a bottle of Kaffir Lime Milk—to be eaten like cereal, of course. When combined, the milk and the beet flakes evoked the flavor of all the presweetened cereals that we grew up eating while watching Saturday morning cartoons.
Our dinner at Nata Gallery was definitely a singular experience. I enjoyed not knowing what the next course would be, and my enjoyment was only enhanced when each course was both delicious and inventive. It’s definitely something to explore if you’d ever like to impress someone special. Check them out by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, but do it soon. They’re likely to be booked for quite some time.