Gut Reaction: Elisir’s Branzino Carpaccio Is A Smoky Treat (But Don’t Eat The Wood Chips!)
This is not a formal review, but rather an off-the-cuff first-impressions-style riff on a brand-spankin' new D.C. restaurant.
Of the various al la carte offerings at chef Enzo Fargione's new Elisir restaurant (roughly pronounced ale-ee-zeer), which opened on Wednesday, the smoked carpaccio di branzino immediately snagged my attention. The $18 fish dish comes served in a cigar box. The server pops the lid and—poof!—a visible cloud of Applewood smoke fills your nostrils.
Initial impressions: The aromatic presentation immediately recalls chef R.J. Cooper's "Fowl Play" dish at Rogue 24 (No. 8 on the Coop's 24-course journey, during my visit), but the morsels here are far more substantial. Several bite-sized slices of seabass line the bottom of the serving tray, drizzled with a citrus dressing and topped with shaved mushrooms, pea tendrils and blood oranges. I enjoyed the combination of flavors—salty, sweet and a little peppery—but wondered whether the thing might be just a tad overdressed. The fish is really buried under all that stuff. It is altogether tasty, nonetheless. Finishing up, I noticed a few stray shards of crystalized salt in the box and promptly popped 'em. The salt really seems to really trap the smoke.
The cooking process breaks down like this, according to a server (you can also find the recipe here): the fish is cut right off the loin, dressed and put in the cigar box. (The restaurant has about a dozen of the boxes on hand, he says.) Meanwhile, he tells me, the wood chips are placed on the grill and heated briefly to get 'em to start smoking. Then the chips are put in a little ramekin, which goes into the cigar box with the fish and the lid comes down. The box is then basically left alone to cook for about four minutes while it makes its way to your table. "It's perfect timing," the server says, "because it gets to the table and it's been about four minutes and the server will just open the box and, of course, remove the wood chips." He laughs, "We don't want anyone eating the wood chips."
Photos by Chris Shott