One of the most ill-defined concepts in gastronomy is deconstruction, the process which, for the purposes of this post, we’ll define as breaking a classic dish down to its component parts—then reimagining from there.
Sometimes it means recombining. Sometimes not combining. Sometimes recasting ingredients in clever ways.
And sometimes it’s that “clever” that gets a kitchen in trouble.
If you’re thinking that deconstruction is a little bit yesterday, it isn’t around here. I’ve seen a good deal of it around Seattle lately, and some is very good; an echo of the original dish, only with a stronger emphasis on its structural elements. I’m thinking of the salt-roasted fingerlings with accompanying aioli and cornichons at Good Bar—a vivid and satisfying deconstructed potato salad. Or, more recently, the Reuben Mille-Feuille at Bateau: a crackling riff on a Reuben sandwich with its layers of brisket and smoked beef belly and pickled cabbage and Russian dressing, all between rye crackers. Novel but reminiscent; even arguably, for the texture, improved.
At Mollusk, the 2.0 of the late boutique stunner in SoDo, Gastropod, greater liberties are taken. In its Nachos Picasso, garlic chips stood in for the tortillas, blue cheese for the queso, smoked avocado crème fraiche for the guac, and a mess of squash and peppers for the vegetables. In its fish and chips, the fish was Hamachi tuna collar and the chips were taro chips—a lushly textured revision, and clever in the extreme, but so far from the prototype we felt a little duped.
We wondered: Were our experiences eating both of these dishes diminished because of the expectations set up by their names? Had we not been comparing Nachos Picasso to standard nachos, would they have, I don't know...tasted better? The fish and chips required scraping the flesh from the cartilage as one does with Hamachi collar, and the meat was sumptuous, as Hamachi collar is. Still, the dish felt stinting, perhaps because of the Pavlovian expectations of unctuous bounty “fish and chips” can't help but inspire.
I’ll leave you with the springroll at Eric and Sophie Banh’s new steakhouse, Seven Beef. It is a springroll, says so right on the menu. Only inside it—also billed on the menu—are sardine, tomato, and goat cheese, a combo as antithetical in flavor and texture and tradition to the essence of the juicy, bursting Vietnamese starter as it’s arguably possible to be.
Might we have gotten past two bites of this experiment if they’d called it, instead, a Sardine Roll? Maybe. Expectations are a powerful thing; cleverness, sometimes, overrated by half.