Som Tom - Green Papaya, Crab, Lime
There are no crisp sticks of papaya like you might expect in this familiar Thai dish. Instead, papaya foam is spooned over fresh tomatoes and crab meat. Coconut panna cotta gel lines the edge of the plate and crushed peanuts finish it off. Once you eat a miracle berry tablet (pictured in the background) the sweet flavors of the coconut come through more strongly. This first course is paired with a refreshing coconut water, lemongrass, lychee, and ginger liqueur cocktail.
"I wanted to scale everything down, so everything is more balanced," Havidic says of the flavors in this papaya salad.
Elotes - Huitlacoche, Jalapeño
Roasted corn salad tossed in smoked jalapeño cinnamon dressing is surrounded by dabs of corn pudding and jelly cubes of huitlacoche and adessa pepper. Polenta tuile adds a sweet grainy crunch in another play on corn.
"At first I was going to put cheese on it," Havidic says. "But I finally decided not to. We didn't want to serve it on the cob. I like playing with different textures."
Falafel – Awazé, Baba Ganoush, Eggplant
Falafel make a diminutively square appearance here, matched with cubed eggplant. Warm pita pockets are accompanied with several sauces, a spicy awazé, egg yolk custard, refreshing yogurt mint sauce, and smoky baba ganoush. I didn't bother trying to place the falafel in the pita, but instead swirled the pita through the various sauces and alternated between bites pita and falafel. I really enjoyed the crisp, fruity Moschofilero pairing with this course.
"This is my favorite course," Havidic says. "All the flavors are really heavy-hitting and it's a beautiful course to look at. It's very complex. There's a lot of effort and skill that goes into making it."
Poor Mans Lobster Roll - Monkfish, Celery Root
This deconstructed lobster (well, monkfish) roll features brioche as a light crouton atop brioche bread pudding in two corners, offset by Peruvian purple potato salad with tarragon and chives in opposite corners. Fried onions, bacon lardons, and a celery root and onion purée showcase the main event, butter poached and seared monkfish. The potato salad was incredible, with a tangy flavor and slight crunch to the potatoes. I could have eaten an entire bowl. The wine pairing was a buttery Chardonnay from New York, reflecting the origins of the dish.
"I call this the cutest potato salad ever," Havidic says. "When the cook is cutting the potatoes for it, he's measuring each of the cubes to make sure that they're the right size."
Street Taco – Pig Face, Cotija, Crema
This was one of my favorite courses of the night. Crispy tortilla shells were excellent vessels for scooping up rich pork face dressed with mole and mole verde. Fresh avocado slices and lime crema lightened up the flavors and a Spicy Nachos beer pairing had a jalapeño kick. This dish was finished tableside with a mortar and pestle. The waiter crushed what appeared to be a pepper but was really dehydrated mole sauce to sprinkle over the pork.
"I went through this phase in my life where I just ate avocados," Havidic says. "Not everything has to be a sauce, so the avocado is sliced."
"Fork Roast" – Char Siu, Fried Rice, Dumpling
This play on Hong Kong street food has several components, including duck leg rillettes, seared duck breast, pork won ton, and a square of forbidden rice pilaf. Havidic once again showcases his deft hand with sauce, this time with a bok choy purée and dots of honey hoisin. The lightly fried square of black rice was surprisingly flavorful, soft and creamy like risotto on the inside with diced veggies and soy sauce. I remembered the Flemish sour ale pairing, Vichtenaar, from the previous "The Wonder Years" menu, and it was one of my favorites then. Here, it really contrasts with the bold flavors in the dish.
"Somebody wanted me to do Peking duck, but that's totally not street food," Havidic says. "In Hong Kong you can get box lunches, where you get rice with some roasted duck mixed in. I made fried rice, froze it in a cubed mold, then fried it."
Korean Barbeque – Kahl-Bi, Ban Chan
The spiciest and most substantial entrée of the evening was Kobe beef with spicy nori, spinach, and dots of tofu, red pepper, onion, and fermented red bean sauces. The Korean style barbecue meat was served over a ban chan selection of scallion kimchi, glass noodles, and maitake mushrooms.
"I make a broth from some of the beef scraps to fortify the sauce with more flavor," says Havidic.
Snow Cone – Lemon, Plum, Pizzelle
Commercial snow cones are just bland preservative-laden treats that turn your tongue funny colors. But this twist on the summer treat with Chinese flavors of plum in several variations (ice, sauce, fruit leather and plum skin gummy worm), along with crumbly sesame candy, was a real treat nestled inside a rice flour pizzelle cone.
Pastry chef Natalie Zarzour, formerly of Andersonville bakery Pasticceria Natalina, works on the sweets at iNG.
Cannoli – Pistachio, Rose, Cherry
Cannoli are often times cloyingly sweet, so I loved this rendition with a light goat's milk ricotta topped with lava salt, pistachio glued on the plate with pistachio butter, maraschino cherry gel, rosewater foam, and a little espresso reduction. The shell was a mere crumble, and I liked these proportions better, particularly against a backdrop of Jolly Pumpkin cacao and spice brewed ale.
"I liked that the mousse was mostly mousse and everything else that goes with it was off to the side," Havidic says. "You can have the garnishes separate, mix them together or have just a gigantic spoonful of this delicious cream."
Churro – Doughnut, Orange, Champurrado
This dessert was like five mini desserts in one centered around a churro theme. Starting from left was a churro crisp topped with cinnamon ice cream, champurrado mousse and toast, dark chocolate lime cardamom and white chocolate churro bonbons, and a chocolate cookie crisp affixed to the bowl with chocolate ganache. Orange gel adds acidity to brighten up the final dessert.
"I'm all about fun shapes," Havidic says. "We were thinking of what you actually eat with churros. I love the complexity of the champurrado. It's chocolatey and a little spicy and I'm all about texture so we made a custard and a crisp out of it. The burnt cinnamon ice cream is like the cinnamon sugar topping on your churro."