In most restaurants, seasonal produce is reflected in daily specials or as salad toppings. In fine dining restaurants, it drives rotating menus. But at Maude, a 25-seat Beverly Hills restaurant helmed by celebrity Chef Curtis Stone, each dish in a monthly 9-course tasting menu is built around a single star ingredient.
You read that right: every single dish on the menu. In conjunction with February's theme, artichokes were baked into bread; in March, a pea reduction found its way into dessert tarts. September will see corn in a crudo and in December... well, that's truffle month. Let your imagination go wild.
One would think that the concept upon which Maude is based would be a creativity stifler, that the narrow scope would make for a monotonous parade of courses. Citrus can only be enjoyed for so long, right?
Normally, this logic would be reasonable. To be certain, the themed ingredient serves as the star of some dishes. But Curtis Stone has a habit of turning normal logic on its head, spinning it a few times, and then plating it for consumption.
Take, for example, Vitello Tonnato, a classic Italian antipasto. Normally the dish is neither creative nor photogenic, with a beige tuna aioli spread over slices of lukewarm veal. At Maude, however, the dish is deconstructed, with a single thin slice of rare tenderloin delicately nesting a tempura'd anchovy and a sweetbread, garnished with a shimmery green pea & tuna sauce. It's admittedly difficult to get each component into one bite - beautifully-plated dishes usually are. But when you finally give up your attempt at manners, spear the small mound of protein and drag it through the sauce, you'll find that it does taste remarkably like the version that inspired it.
Or consider for a moment the classic American breakfast: bacon and eggs with a toasted bagel on the side. Stone incorporates each element into a "breakfast ravioli," encasing a duck egg and earthy ricotta in a tender pasta shell and topping it with thick-cut Nueske bacon, onion jus, and "flavors of bacon" - sesame and poppy seeds. Oddly, it was the best thing that I've tasted in recent memory, and judging from the moans of delight that echoed through the restaurant throughout the night, it seems most diners agreed. And it was only after I licked the plate clean that I recalled that somehow, somewhere, artichoke was involved.
"It's in the ricotta filling," a line cook grins from the open kitchen, from which the sous chef, pastry chef, and Curtis Stone himself will run their assigned dishes to diners. "Clever, huh?"
Yes, cleverness has everything to do with Stone's tasting menus, which use the ingredient theme not as a limitation, but as 9-course series of opportunities.