Earlier this spring T. Cook's at the Royal Palms resort launched #PM31, a weekly dining event during which executive chef Paul McCabe creates a multicourse dining experience for a small group of guests. The dinners, held every Wednesday night, are completely improvisational -- every ingredient arrives the day of the dinner, so the menu is created just hours before dinner begins.
Wednesday night, a handful of media members were invited to experience #PM31 and the full extend of chef McCabe's talents firsthand. The dinner featured more than a dozen different sweet and savory plates, ranging from light snacks like a piece of Noble Bread with seaweed-infused butter to luxurious bites of A5 steak.
#PM31 -- the name combines "Paul McCabe" or "p.m.," as in evening, and the number of the dining room's community table -- allows McCabe to let his creative side run free. Unlike with the regular T. Cook's menu, McCabe doesn't have to play to the tastes of the average resort diner allowing him and those with an open mind about food have a seriously enjoyable dining experience. Every dinner includes up to 12 courses, though the exact number will rely on the chef's whim. Our experience included more than 12 plates, though some were small amuse bouche-like snacks instead of full courses.
Our meal started with a series of cold courses many of which highlighted fresh vegetables and fruits, including local Schnepf Farm peaches. Standouts included a foie gras torchon with hazelnut brittle, a perfect balance of fat and sweetness, and a beautiful bone marrow dish with hamachi taretare, fresh peaches, and jalapenos. The presentation alone was breathtaking and the dish offered some of the freshest, truest flavors we've experienced in a long time.
A favorite of the first portion of the meal definitely had to be the sprouted quinoa served with fried kale, chanterelles, smoked char roe caviar, and Parmesan foam. The combination of textures made this dish a particularly memorable one, with the crunch from the kale and sprouted quinoa and the popping of the salty caviar making for a very playful dish.
Moving into the hot courses, McCabe really pulled out the stops with courses like the sous vide Spanish octopus with black-eyed peas. A play on classic barbecue flavors, the dish offered perfectly tender but meaty octopus over a bed of just barely sweet black-eyed peas and a side of crunchy corn bread to add texture. It was easily one of the best dishes of the night and one of the best octopus dishes we've ever had.
Of course it helps that McCabe only uses the very highest quality of ingredients, including the pristine pieces of black cod offered later on in the meal. McCabe served the moist pieces of flaky white fish over a light broth of peas and sorrel, adding a bright, barely tart profile to the dish. This dish topped our list of favorites on the warm side of the meal, though it would be impossible to deny that the course featuring Wagyu A5 steak made quite an impression.
Wagyu A5 is the highest quality beef available anywhere, offering impressive marbling and a robust beefy flavor. McCabe allowed the ingredient to speak for itself by simply searing the beef and basting it in its own fat. Served with a thin slice of raw porchini and a sprinkle of fresh pink peppercorns, the dish allowed diners to appreciate each of the elements alone as well as how they play off each other when combined.
To wind things down, McCabe delivered a deconstructed plate of peaches and cream, which carried numerous elements along the same fruit and cream flavor profile. The dessert included bites of peaches and cream flan, with streusel, pound cake, and peach ice cream. The freshness of the peaches raised the whole plate to a higher level of enjoyability -- another instance where McCabe lets the food shine without over manipulation.
Lastly, we enjoyed a summery strawberry short cake, courtesy of T. Cook's pastry chef Adam Stone. The course featured ruby red slices of strawberries, rhubarb ginger spread, and micro basil with white chocolate ganache.
There are other places in town where you can treat yourself to this type of lavish dining experience but having not done them all, I can't compare #PM31 to other improvisational or mutlicoured tasting menus. I can say that after dining at McCabe's table, I believe the chef is capable of quite a lot when he has free reign. Everything that came out of the kitchen was beautiful, well-balanced, and thoughtfully prepared.
It's not the kind of experience that everyone will enjoy -- it takes a lot of trust to put your meal (and a pretty expensive one, for that matter) in the hands of a stranger. But for those food lovers seeking a top-quality, unforgettable dinner experience, #PM31 definitely delivers.
#PM31 takes place every Wednesday night at 6 p.m. and costs $150 a person. Additional cocktail and wine pairings will be available for $70 a person. Reservations are required at least 48 hours in advance. A minimum of two people are required and parties smaller than six will be seated at a communal table.
For a reservation, call Natasha Aarsgarden at 602-808-3251 or visit the T. Cook's website.
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