Sumac? Romanesco? Almond dirt?! Our “Taste of Spring” with chef Alex Garfinkel offered an array of exciting ingredients in dishes that celebrated the season deliciously.
Back in February, we interviewed our beer guru about his new gig hosting Balboa Catering’s “supper clubs” at a stylish space in Fishtown. About every month, chef Alex Garfinkel creates a special menu — often around a theme — and sells BYOB tickets for just one night.
Chef Alex’s food is super seasonal, and as locally-sourced as possible. His dishes are modern and innovative — and looked so good on Instagram, we had to try for ourselves. FULL DISCLOSURE: although Steve and I can be somewhat adventurous with food, we’re hardly gourmets. We approached chef Alex’s menu with a touch of trepidation, especially after we googled “trotter.”
Would the chef’s fine dining be lost on two Wawa-scarfing yahoos like us? Let’s find out…
For the first time ever, for anything, we arrived early somehow. Balboa was easy to find (as was nearby street parking). The kitchen was hopping and JK was still setting up the dining room, but he stopped to welcome us warmly with a special cocktail he made right in front of us: a huckleberry-mint “smash” with bourbon and house-made lavender syrup. So. Good.
As guests filtered in, we were surprised to see lots of familiar faces. JK explained he’d set the dinner up with most of his friends from the neighborhood, so right off the bat everyone was chatting and catching up. Folks settled in, wine bottles popped open, and the meal kicked off with an “amuse bouche”: smoked salmon on rye toast with fresh cheese, pickled red onions, and herbs.
Yum! It was like a light, upscale version of lox and cream cheese, bursting with taste and texture. Smoky and creamy, with crunch and tang and a nice assertive herbal kiss. I am not ashamed to say I “forgot” to take a picture of mine so JK would offer me another. Oh yeah, I am pretty sure I could eat my weight in these babies. The meal was off to a great start, and then…
BEET & CITRUS SALAD
Various marinated beets, both roasted and raw, radishes and cucumbers, sumac paneer, and a little mushroom-pumpernickel-almond “dirt” with micro fennel, dill, and celery.
Someone set BEETS down in front of me! A whole glowing pink-purple salad’s worth. Oh no, I hate beets. As chef Alex introduced the meal, I looked over at Steve who is also not a fan. He made his “Let’s get this over with” face and we dug into what turned out to be our favorite dish of the evening.
Knock me over with a feather, if these are beets. So sweet and delicious, brightened with crunchy veggies — and that “dirt” was to die for. Like itty-bitty crumbly croutons packed with flavor. Everything on that plate played off each other, I turned back to Steve like, “I think we had our first ‘Top Chef’ moment!” There were more to come…
Smoked carrot emulsion with baby carrots and peas, alongside a trotter-ricotta caramelle with pea shoots and pignoli.
Trotter, of course, is the culinary term for pig’s feet. A “caramelle” is ravioli’s more playful, younger cousin — chef Alex’s dish was like a cheesy-smoky little pillow of bacon-y goodness. Smoked carrots added the flavor of sweet grilled veggies with tender sweet pea shoots and crunchy-salty-buttery pine nuts. I am still thinking about these flavors, they were so complex yet homey.
I may have been a little hesitant when I saw the list of ingredients in this course but now I am Team Trotter, all the way!
Pan-seared diver scallop with crispy alliums, saffron beurre blanc some baby chicory on the plate maitake mushrooms and spring onions. All with a house-made black garlic puree.
I love seafood, so I was looking forward to this scallop dish — which was perfectly cooked and seasoned. Funny, though, the stand-out for me here was the black garlic puree. Really delicious and savory, with that “umami” mouth feel. Mmmm…
Aside from the sauce, this dish seemed a slight departure from chef Alex’s bold, innovative menu. I enjoyed the scallop very much (and ate everything on my plate), but looking back this dish doesn’t shine quite so magically as the others for me. Delightful, though!
PEKIN DUCK BREAST
Broccoli sous vide on the plate with a little duck jus, charred ramp and romanesco, roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts with some nasturtium too. The spaetzle is yeasted and made with rye flour.
Wow, we’re back on track with foods that I usually don’t eat but then suddenly am in love with chef Alex’s version. This time, duck. A daunting plate: a pink slab of game meat with a eighth-inch of fat/skin along one length. Should I peel that off? I wondered at first, and then before I knew it I’d eaten the whole thing.
Chef Alex’s duck is da bomb, like a lean velvety steak filet. The fat wasn’t squishy but creamy like butter, which harmonized beautifully with the assertive charred veggies, all sitting upon tender-chewy squiggles of pasta. FUN FACT: it’s not “Peking” duck but “Pekin,” a species of duck raised in America for egg and meat consumption.
Similar to French toast, with cinnamon and blood orange, a crumb of cocoa and frozen milk, and also a scoop of toasted oat & brown butter ice cream.
Dessert, yet. Of course I made room. What can I say, except that brown butter ice cream is a revelation? Then that ingenious crumbly-cocoa topping, sends it over the top. What a perfect cap for a seriously amazing meal. We can’t recommend Balboa’s supper clubs enough. Sticker shock alert, though: price per ticket is over $100, so prepare your wallet accordingly (it’s BYOB, though, so that’s nice).
With the warmer weather in full swing, Balboa’s supper club calendar tends to wind down so the team can focus on weddings, parties, and outdoor events. It might be awhile before you can catch one of these very special dinners — but good news! Chef Alex brings his fresh, creative cuisine to East Falls for special events, such as summer rooftop soirees to full-on supperclubs in local venues like Trolley Car’s new spacious dining room. Follow Balboa on Facebook tor sign up for their newsletter for the latest locations.
Balboa Supper Club with chef Alex Garfinkel and Jonathan Kennedy
2109 East Susquehanna Ave (Fishtown)