Oh, Payton Curry, you rocked my taste buds last night.
The Caffe Boa chef didn't know I was joining a friend for an off-menu culinary stealth mission at the Tempe eatery, but he nevertheless got creative and it showed, both in presentation and flavor.
Dinner started off with luscious mangalitsa head cheese, tender hunks of housemade charcuterie made from the prized heirloom pigs. It was rich, dense, and irresistible spread on freshly toasted bread, with tangy garnishes. Curry's reputation for well-crafted charcuterie goes back to his days at the helm of Digestif, and clearly, he's still delivering the goods. Next came a wonderfully novel serving of duck confit: On top of tender chunks of quince (a great seasonal fruit that is totally underutilized in restaurants) and shishito peppers. A silky mantle of lardo was draped across the entire dish. Wow. The tartness of the fruit and the bright astringency of the peppers made the duck seem even more luxurious.
Velvety foie gras terrine was teamed with hot, blistered flatbread, a spicy, curried quince-and-fennel chutney, and green lentils with golden raisins and a whiff of bacon. Our waiter asked which went better with the foie, and we decided that it all had to be tasted in one amazing bite.
The simplicity of the next course blew my mind. Just how much can one improve upon impossibly sweet Nantucket Bay scallops? Curry butter-poached them with prosecco (just barely, to preserve their silky texture), scattered them across a pile of toothsome, handmade tajarin pasta (perfectly cooked, of course), and paired them with a tiny pitcher of creamy Meyer lemon and prosecco sabayon. Drizzled on top of the pasta, that light, ethereal sauce had just the perfect note of citrus to make those scallops sing. Every bite made me happy.
By the time a lovely plate of John Dory came out, I was aching, but I soldiered on for a few more bites. It was worth the effort. Its roasted skin was satisfyingly crispy. Just as good was a mouthwatering combination of fried and roasted eggplant, corn, sweet oven-roasted tomatoes, and pea stew that reminded me of a variation on caponata. It smelled fantastic, too.
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