Martin Gonzalez, the chef-owner of Toast Enoteca & Cucina (927 J St. in East Village) kicked off his Thursday night Supper Club Series with a “Livorno v. La Paz” culinary battle with Chef Chad White on Aug. 22. Gonzalez, who hails from Mexico and is best known as the chef at Acqua al 2, the Gaslamp outpost of the Florentine restaurant, represented Livorno, the Tuscan seaside town with classic Tuscan flavor. White, who does not hail from Mexico, brought his Baja-Med flavors to the table in defense of La Paz.
The series consists of weekly Thursday evening meals featuring three off-menu dishes to be revealed on the restaurant’s Facebook page each Thursday morning. One Thursday each month will feature either live music, a guest chef, or in the case of Livorno v. La Paz “battle,” both.
The dinner kicked off with White’s first course, a tomato-cured halibut ceviche with fried capers, serrano chiles, pickled onion, tomato oil and cilantro-masa froth. It may have been the dish of the evening. The ceviche was sweet and savory with acidity brought to the party by the tomato and pickle. But it was the masa froth—brothy and airy, stabilized soy lecithin—that set and framed the canvas for the dish.
Gonzalez answered with what may have been his best dish of the evening, a Cacciucco Alla Livornese, a Tuscan shellfish stew with prawns, mussels and calamari, garnished with fried garlic, tomato and olive-oil crostini. For all of the big flavors with which Gonzalez was playing the dish demonstrated a finesse and delicacy but also a soulfulness and depth of flavor.
Gonzalez followed that up with Topini Alla Polpa Di Pesce Spada, featuring potato gnocchi and smoked swordfish in a pink tomato sauce. As difficult as it is for me to see anything as the star when gnocchi's in the neighborhood, it was the smoky swordfish that carried this dish. White hit back with a chicken mole featuring grilled chicken hearts as well as a queso fresco crema and an avocado puree. The chicken hearts were perfectly grilled, coming out meaty with only the slightest minerally hint. The meal finished with a collaborative dessert that, sadly, was not the highlight of an evening that had so many.
If this is the level that future collaboration dinners aspire to, the Toast Enoteca Supper Club series is not to be missed.