Chef Sammy DeMarco, aka “Sammy D”, or the “D Man”, is a busy boy these days. He’s just opened a restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, and still finds time to be one of the most creative chefs in the city.
Now, DeMarco is doing a series of Friday evening dinners, “Farm to Strip” at First Food and Bar, his Palazzo restaurant. The menus rely on whatever is fresh that day from the Downtown 3rd Farmer’s Market, and the kickoff dinner, which DeMarco cooked for ten people, was one of the most colorful and impressive meals I’ve eaten this year.
This is the sort of dinner I miss here, a California aesthetic if you will, revolving around fresh produce, fish and meat. If I’m in the Bay Area, I try to eat at The Café at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, where Alice Waters practically invented this genre.
This menu was lovingly simple; a vegetable salad with Green Goddess dressing, American Gulf wild red snapper with fresh vegetables, a farm roasted pig with pickles, peaches and Okinawan sweet potato puree, a strawberry donut trifle, and various libations.
But oh, how this food tasted. First, DeMarco plied my table of ten with his well known Skittles vodka cocktail, a silly, kid cocktail that no kid can drink, a rainbow of vodkas flavored with Skittles of varied colors. I opted, instead, for a Blue Moon beer, one of my faves. The salad, full of chunked, fresh avocado, tomatoes, and several greens, was terrific.
Chef Sammy then came to the table with a giant whole snapper with a salt crust, that he showed us before serving. The meat, moist and juicy with a slightly sea-like tang, fell apart when prodded. On the side there were several platters of market fresh vegetables; yellow sweet corn, a plate of both purple and gold cauliflower, sweet Italian peppers and an unusual anchovy aioli that only Al Mancini could identify, and gorgeous green asparagus. Your greedy reported ate several tips.
The chef then brought out the pig, snout, ears and all, plus enormous sheets of crisped skin that we ate like potato chips. The meat had the same juicy resonance as the snapper, but I stuck to the skin. I couldn’t stop eating it. Finally my wife had to jab me with a fork. Sorry, dear.
Mercifully, I’m not fond of sweet pickles or sweet potatoes, although I admit that the purple sweet potato puree was unusual to the eye. But I did feast on the roasted peaches on the platter with Porky. Wow!
Dessert was rich, creamy and indulgent, like much of DeMarco’s food. The donut was yeasty, the strawberries ripe and market fresh, and the cream thick and sweet, like many women I know in this town. This will be a monthly occasion, probably the 1st or 2nd Friday of the month, with the dates to be announced. I’ll keep you posted on the site.
For reservations, call 607-3478, or visit www.firstfoodandbar.com. The prices will be kept as low as possible, most likely in the $60-$75 range depending on market availability.
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