Abstract Table’s Edible Art
Andrew Greene and Duncan Kwitkor know full well that folks eat with their eyes first.
After all, they are both painters who met as painting students at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Since starving artists may be a cliche yet also unfortunately a truism, Greene and Duncan soon turned their attention to their love of cooking in hopes of pursuing a more economically stable profession.
A week ago, though, Abstract Table returned to its roots, hosting a pop-up at the Naked Kitchen private events space in the Mission District of San Francisco. Typically, the five-course menu is $50; the seven-course one is $70.
What’s fun about this space is that it’s essentially the main floor of a Victorian house, in which the kitchen has been outfitted with professional-grade appliances and the living room and dining room get set with tables for dinner guests. You’re free to wander around, too, to sneak peeks at all the action in the kitchen.
I was invited to the event as a guest of Greene, who along with Kwitkor, got busy in the kitchen for their “Kelp Forest Dinner,” which was priced at $85 for five courses or $125 for seats in the kitchen at the chef’s counter that included extra courses.
I ran into Greene’s father in the kitchen, who was up from Southern California for Father’s Day. He proudly noted that his son is self-taught, though, he did grow up with a father who has a passion for cooking, as well, including making cassoulet and bouillabaise. But he says with a smile, “Andrew has surpassed me now.”
As the theme implied, this dinner spotlighted seafood and sea plants. The first course, “Seaweed, Coastal Flowers,” was one of my favorites because of all the textures involved: chewy, crunchy and soft. It was the sweet-seawater taste of a tide pool come to life with purple seaweed, green sea beans and a mussel vinaigrette.
My husband enjoyed the second course, seared scallops with a salty, luscious bit of crisped lardo in an arugula and honeydew nage. Seafood paired with fruit juices were a recurring theme. Although you might think them a natural couple, the delicate sweetness of the fruit really accents the natural sweetness of the scallops without overwhelming it in a too-rich or too-heavy sauce.
Because I am newly allergic to scallops and clams — the tragedy (!) — Greene was kind enough to substitute dazzling slices of raw hamachi in this course, which also went extremely well with the fruit-based light sauce.
My husband’s third course of clams and sea grapes was accented by smoky charred fennel in a broth of stone fruit, including pluots. For me, Greene substituted a lovely salmon fillet cut in an attractive triangular cylindrical shape. The fruit sauce again paired nicely, adding a subtle natural sweetness to the salmon that was cooked through on the exterior but left rare inside to maximize its fatty texture.
The last savory course was composed of spot prawns, again just briefly cooked so that they were still nearly raw inside. A little fresh uni provided a creamy touch, while pickled corn added a crunchy, zingy accent.
Dessert fell flat for me. On the menu, the top billing went to the shiso cake, but the cake portion was all of a one-bite morsel that had little of the minty-basil taste of this distinctive Japanese herb. Moreover, the grilled fig leaf mousse beside it was about six times the size of the cake, with a texture more like airy whipped cream with none of the denser yet still lofty body of a mousse. An accompanying slice of smoked pluot was so aggressively smoky tasting that it tasted like brisket, and it obliterated the taste of everything else. The garnish of candied kelp was clever, though.
Check out Abstract Table’s new dinner series, “Thorough Fare,” which is designed “to bring new and old concepts together.”