Crave 10: #2 – Wolf's Ridge Brewing
Smart. That sums up the mentality at this Crave 10 newcomer. The food at Downtown's open and airy brewpub doesn't fit neatly into one cuisine type, and that's by design. Chef Seth Lassak leaves the door open to experiment with approachable and fresh flavors from the Deep South to the Mediterranean to Asia and on beautifully presented plates.
"Oh, wow," my dining companion and I said nearly in unison as our server set two dishes on the table.
Pink, red and white radishes, earthy and raw, were fanned out in a circle around a ramekin of lusciously fatty smoked butter topped with pink Himalayan sea salt. Crumbled and toasted pistachios, swooped to one side, added a pleasing touch of green and nuttiness.
On the other plate, translucent slices of scallop crudo intermingled with pungent grapefruit, bright red ringlets of spicy Thai chilis and yellow shavings of salty egg yolk bottarga.
Plate after plate at Wolf's Ridge Brewing garnered the same reaction. We ate with our eyes first, but we finished every last bite because the food at this year-old Downtown brewpub tastes every bit as good as it looks. It's smart, global food. It's clever without feeling like an experiment in progress.
Chef Seth Lassak has always had an eye for plating. It's one of his favorite things to do, he admits. "Whenever I am plating or thinking about a dish, I'm very visual," Lassak says. "I don't put something on the plate if I don't see it in my head. I'm always playing with colors." The Culinary Institute of America grad says he was trained to work in bright, eye-appealing colors like green, yellow and red whenever he could.
And while his dishes have been beautiful from the start, Lassak is switching up his style, steering away from the classic protein on top of vegetable on top of starch approach to plating. So instead of building up, Lassak will spread out the elements of the dish.
"I'm getting tired of the same stuff stacking," he says. "When it comes to the table, customers, all they do is just knock it over. It's easier to eat if it's all spread out. It'll elevate the food, too, because it will have all these different textures and colors."
HOW SETH LASSAK PLATES A DISH
Start with inspiration: Seeing the popularity of a starter that featured pig cheeks cooked in bacon fat, Lassak decides to turn the dish into an entree to give it more exposure. "I want it to become an item people would never let us take off the menu, even though we'll constantly change it," he says. Now that he's picked the protein, he begins to think: What would pigs eat if they broke out of their pen on a farm?
Knowing root vegetables are great in the fall, but wanting to shirk a typical meat-and-potatoes combination, Lassak turns to celery root for its starchy texture and clean flavor. To cut the fattiness of pig cheeks, Lassak adds a tart and slightly acidic port pomegranate gastrique. Spiced carrots will add sweetness and a pop of orange.
Step 1: Gastrique"We drizzle the gastrique down in a spiral, and then we add those dots in there because we don't want lines on it. [It goes first because] I didn't want the sauce to get disrupted. If we waited, it would go over everything and all the flavors would meld together. Essentially every bite could be different through the whole meal because of how [the plating] allows you to eat it."
Step 2: Pig Cheeks"You never want to place them in a line. It's easy to see the imperfections if it's a straight line. Every plate is going to be different because every cheek will be a different size. They'll never be in the same spot."
Step 3: Celery root puree and carrots "We put the celery puree down in random spots. We use one of those little demitasse spoons used for espresso. It's thick enough it will hold shape, but ooze a little bit. It's so silky. And then we put the spiced carrots down, too."
Step 4: Garnish "We just go through and put the garnishes on there-the geranium leaves and the pea tendrils. The pea tendrils just look great on the plate. They're squiggly and go everywhere. Geranium leaves are kind of sweet and tangy at the same time. It really brightens up the dish. Chicharron (fried pork rinds), that's the crunchy texture."
On spreading out the dish: "It just brings our food that much more forward, instead of having it all stacked in the center. [When you stack], as soon as you take a fork to it, everything's mixed. So a person with an educated palate, I think they can appreciate this dish a lot more."