Chef Eric Gitenstein is anxious, and with good reason.
It's his first time in a truck. A food truck.
The executive chef of Bliss -- formerly of the now-defunct Lola Tapas -- has been serving up fare on the QT for just over a year in the form of his MF Tasty series -- a "secret" monthly dinner held at various locations throughout the Valley. Gitenstein will tell you, if you're his grandmother, that the MF stands for "Mighty Fine." If not, it stands for "Mother F. . ." Well, you get the idea.
And if Gitenstein's subversive humor hasn't hit you yet, it will. Last night's MF Tasty event at the Al Moro Dance Studio on Camelback was titled "What What in the Truck," a tongue-in-cheek reference to the 2007 viral video known for its campy references to homosexuality and anal sex. Whoa.
Borrowing a truck from good friend Jeff Kraus of Truckin' Good Food, Gitenstein admitted that Sunday night's menu of middle-class comfort food gone gourmet would have guests either gushing or "wanting to punch me in the face."
Crass language? Campy references? Possible violence? Gourmet from a food truck? Color us intrigued.
In Al Moro's single, intimate room (wood floor, mirrored wall, funky mural), a long table covered in a white plastic cloth sat a guest list of 20 (at 50 bucks a pop), including fellow food truckers and recent winners of New Times' culinary Big Brain Award, Brian and Margita Webb of the Filipino food truck, Hey Joe!
With a supping start time of 7 p.m., a guest arriving a half-hour late (c'mon, dude, set your alarm) delayed the dinner and the traditional MF Tasty kick-off toast from Gitenstein.
"You took a shot on me, now here's one for you," he said as the table clinked glasses and gulped a sweet orange juice and whipped vodka concoction.
First up, an amuse-bouche Gitenstein called a "Luther." Legend has it that a Luther, or Luther Burger (a hamburger or cheeseburger with glazed doughnuts in place of the bun), was a favorite of, or possibly invented by, singer-songwriter and record producer Luther Vandross. This "Little Luther" packed the flavors of a Krispy Kreme doughnut (with a seared sugar side), a sirloin and chuck patty, cheese, and a crazy-good piece of bacon in a sweet-meets-meat bite, making for a twist on fast food that was flavorful, fun, and practically guilt-free. My one complaint was that they weren't sitting on a tray somewhere so I could dump several of them in my purse. Tragic.
Next up, a Mexican street corn soup. Modeled after Gitenstein's love of punching up his popcorn snacks with a little heat, this slurp-worthy soup was a bowlful of rich, sweet corn followed by a kick of cayenne and Japanese peppers, an ingredient Gitenstein says he was turned onto by a fellow chef and where "a little goes a long way -- trust me."
After the soup course, breakfast -- in the form of an open-faced egg sandwich. Featuring a sunny side up egg, tomato, garlic greens, and an English muffin slathered with a horseradish-bacon cream cheese concoction that would have made a Duraflame log taste amazing, this yellow-eyed yumminess was tricky to put together on the plate (the English muffin too crusty to cut with ease), but scooping the ingredients together proved a successful strategy.
"Now that Lo-Lo's opened in Scottsdale, everyone's eating chicken and waffles," Gitenstein said, shaking his head. "At the original location downtown, people would roll up their windows and drive on by."
Guy's got a point, and an affinity for the famous breakfast fare. His take -- and the main course for the evening -- was chicken and "foie-ffles" featuring half a Cornish game hen, waffle, foie gras butter, and an orange maple glaze. Some of the guests said their game hen was a bit on the dry side, but that wasn't the case for me. Moist chicken meat coupled with a lighter-than air waffle topped with an oozing dollop of foie gras butter made for a nighttime breakfast worth noshing. Unfortunately, the orange-maple glaze was on the shy side -- more please!
Dessert featured a "not licensed by Reese's" peanut butter cup. Too bad, they would have made a mint on this sweet treat of dense, rich chocolate surrounding a gooey, peanut butter center. The size of a cupcake, it was a bit much, given its richness, and may have been better served as a bite-size bounty on what I think is the best combination of ingredients ever. The ending shot of a white Russian, however, was a nice complement.
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So how was chef Eric Gitenstein's first time in a truck?
"A little nerve-wracking," he said. "If I do it again, I'd change my protein. Because of the limited equipment, service on the game hens was slow."
True dat. The slow entrée service, coupled with Johnny-come-late's half-hour delay, ended the evening around 10 p.m., too late for a Sunday. And the group's collective asses were starting to painfully mold into the uncomfortable plastic chairs. And though 50 bucks may seem a bit much for comfort food gone gourmet, consider that it's damn good comfort food gone gourmet -- at its own private party from a chef with a sense of humor and a heart for great-tasting, simple gourmet.
"It's truly a labor of love," Gitenstein's fiancée said of MF Tasty at the end of the evening. "By the time we pay for the venue, the ingredients, and everything else, there's not a lot left. Eric just loves to cook."