AVA: The Making of a Meal

1Themed menus are a common feature of many restaurants. Often, they are put together for a particular holiday, like Christmas or New Year’s Eve, but for some – like AVA – every month itself deserves a celebration of food.redooo

I was recently invited for a tasting of the April Menu at AVA Restaurant Slash Bar, the resident eatery of the upper floors of aptly-named Hotel Panorama in TST.

I took the opportunity to try and learn a little bit more on how everything comes together… (in addition to stuffing my face 😛 !)
3As evidence from the irresistibly cute graphic art on the menu, April 2013’s theme for their monthly set menu is seafood.

Although à la carte items are available throughout the year, the monthly themes are a lot more fun, in my opinion. For example, last month’s theme was Spring, and featured flowers in the dishes (check it out: here on OpenRice).

4Named From The Sea, the April menu begins with a Hot & Cold Seafood Platter.

“Cold” Seafood Platter: When the platter arrived I knew that it was time to get my hands dirty! I got to work immediately on the gigantic crab legs, each filled with an absurdly wonderful amount of fresh and succulent meat. It was truly impressive – and delicious. The oysters were equally fresh and I ate them with vinegar and eschallots…5As I later learned, the crab was actually a Snow Crab, imported from Alaska – which explains the hugeness of it all: Snow Crabs are horrifically large (and tasty) crustaceans that grow in the extremely cold waters of the Atlantic Sea. 6Next, the second part of starters arrived…

“Hot” Seafood Platter: The hot version transformed the oysters into baked, cheese gratin oysters; the crab into crab cakes; and added chili for the prawns. My favourite was the Baked Oyster because I wasn’t expecting to like it, since I’m used to raw oysters… But despite my apprehensions, it was creamy and flavourful. The cheese helped balance the intense seafood flavour that oysters give off when cooked, resulting in a very pleasant bite.

Bouillabaisse Soup: Served on an extremely hot plate (as soups should always be!), the soup was more on the plain side, letting the bouillabaisse flavour do all the work. It contained some shellfish and prawn goodies, including light and bouncy scallops. Chef Massimo explained that he didn’t include the traditional rouille sauce (a kind of spiced-mayonnaise) and toast with the soup to keep things minimal and pure for the texture.

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For the menu, guests can choose between Squid Ink Risotto, Cod or Lobster Spaghetti for the main course. Since I was on a tasting mission, I was able to try the latter two in half portions. While eating, Chef Massimo joined me and I grilled his brain (pun intended :P) about his culinary background and the menu…

Chef Massimo Santovito comes from a South Eastern area in Italy that is rich in seafood all year long – and especially in Spring and Summer. His cooking style draws from this heritage, and explains the inclusion of so many classic seafood items like lobster, crab, cod and mussels in the menu.

Simplicity is sometimes the best approach, he explained, citing the example of Squid Ink: a strong yet delicate ingredient, there is a tendency to overuse it in order to achieve the dark color, even though only very little is needed to create the right balance.

This was the same method he used for the last of the main courses: the Lobster Spaghetti. As far as myself? I couldn’t stop staring at the huge claw on my plate…8
Lobster Spaghetti: Since the pasta (called “Chitarra” pasta, like the strings of a guitar) is made in-house at AVA’s kitchen, it had a real artisan texture and flavour to it. Combined with a light tomato sauce, the Marsala wine used in cooking really shone through and added strength to the flavour.

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Following AVA’s popular Rose Water and Raspberry Table-side Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream dessert (a mouthful, I know!), I was lucky enough to witness the first-ever presentation of the new kid on the block: the “Oops” dessert.

Drawing inspiration from Chicago’s Chocolate Bomb, the “Oops” begins with a plastic sheet being laid out on the table. Then, streaks of different sauces are poured before the big surprise. Check it out in the video below…

After “Oops” was finished, I could hardly move being so full, but mustered up the energy to take a peek inside the beautiful kitchen…10Although it completely makes sense, considering the hotel’s location, it was still surprising to find that the restaurant kitchen also had huge windows to give the kitchen crew views across the harbour. Talk about some lucky chefs!11Being in a real, working kitchen is such a great experience! It’s a moment where you can witness the organised chaos behind the calm.12It was good fun learning more about Chef Massimo and his creative process in constructing this themed menu. Then – of course – even more fun eating it and having the chance to be the first person to experience the new “Oops” dessert. But as far as the concept behind the menu? There’s no mistakes there… 🙂

Bakker x

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