Merely a few days after my Sunday brunch at Marben, I was back at the restaurant seated at the exact same table; this time around for a dinner tasting prepared by Marben's executive chef, Rob Bragagnolo (@RobBragagnolo). It was Friday night and the place was buzzing. A casual and relaxing atmosphere accompanied by the murmur of contented chatter, Marben's ambiance was warm and inviting. Not sure if I was imagining things but I remember seeing smiles all around me - everybody seemed to be having a great time. Was it because it was Friday night? Or was chef Bragagnolo's food the cause for all those smiles? Either way, I was about to find out by relinquishing all control to the Marben (Twitter: @MarbenResto, Facebook: Marben) kitchen.
Dinner started off with a couple of cocktails. Unfortunately, I don't remember what the cocktail in the background was but I loved "Tea & Sympathy" due to my obsession with ginger and egg white in my cocktails :)
TEA & SYMPATHY
Chamomile Infused Vodka, Ginger Syrup, Lemon, Dandelion Bitters, Egg White
Our 10-course menu opened with a number of snack sized plates before moving on to the mains:
TEQUILA CEVICHE CONES
Filled with avocado, cilantro, tobiko & jalapeño
DAILY BAKED BREADS
Rye sourdough, ‘carta de musica’, focaccia...
...smoked butter, beet humus, red wine salt.
A close-up of the beet hummus.
'PAN CRISTAL CON TOMATE'
Spanish crystal bread rubbed with tomato topped with: Don Bocarte Anchovies, 24 month Serrano Ham ‘Fermin’
BUFFALO MOZZARELLA 'PANNA COTTA'
Roasted tomato, orange, pistachio, basil, green olive
LOBSTER PAELLA CROQUETAS
Saffron-aioli, fennel, green pepper
‘SEA & EARTH’ - ‘MAR MONTANA’
Braised squid, steamed clams, wild mushrooms, Iberico Ham, chickpeas
PAN SEARED QUEBEC FOIE GRAS ‘TIRAMISU’
Toasted brioche, seared foie gras, coffee, bitter cocoa
SMOKED RISOTTO WITH SEARED SCALLOPS
Chorizo, sea-buckthorn, hazelnuts, sea asparagus
YUCATAN STYLE BRAISED BEEF
Spicy achiote glaze, jalapeno-sweet potato puree, cilantro
Manchego cheesecake, spicy dark chocolate & avocado mousse, Nutella creme brulee
So did I end up with a smile on my face? Yes, I sure did, and it was chef Bragagnolo's Mediterranean-inspired tasting menu that brought a smile to my face and not because it was Friday ;)
I admire Bragagnolo's use of local ingredients where appropriate all the while integrating his Italian heritage and extensive Spanish experience abroad in his food. To start, the bread board consisting of focaccia, carta de musica (an Italian flatbread) and sourdough was stellar. I loved the variety of house-made breads and that beet hummus is seriously additive. Next, the pan de cristal ("crystal bread"), a type of bread originated from Spain, was absolutely fantastic. I enjoyed both the anchovies and the Serrano ham but the star of the dish for me was the bread. It had a unique texture that was extremely light, airy, and crispy. Although not to my taste, I still appreciated chef Bragagnolo's buffalo mozzarella panna cotta as it was a fun and unique take on the Italian dessert (I'm not a fan of the dessert's gelatin texture in general). On the other hand, I took delight in the pan-seared foie gras 'tiramisu', another savoury version of a classic dessert. Despite it not being as "pretty" as the panna cotta, the rich and decadent Quebec foie on top of a thin piece of toasted bread finished with a light dust of cocoa was a winner for me. My favourite main of the night was the smoked risotto with seared scallops, chorizo and sea-buckthorn. The plump scallops, smoky chorizo and tart sea buckthorn berries all on a bed of ultra creamy risotto really works. I can have this risotto dish for days. For the last main, I left Spain and Italy and suddenly found myself in Mexico. The Yucatan-style braised beef's distinctive colour and flavour comes from the thick, deep red achiote paste (also known as recado rojo). The jalapeno-sweet potato puree along the earthy, citrus-y flavour of the achiote is a combination that is new to me, and I found it to be very unique - it wasn't spicy and it reminded me of a tamer version of a mole (i.e. not as deep, rich or complex in flavour). All three desserts were excellent but if I had to choose my favourite would be the Manchego cheesecake. Disguised as an innocent scoop of ice cream this killer cheesecake was thick, rich and extremely decadent. The sherry vinegar drizzled on top gave it a nice touch of acidity.