Apologies for the photos. Low light. It should still give you a general feel.
Our table was a reunion of sorts and a meeting of new kindred spirits: old high school friends, work colleagues and newspaper editors. Every dish presented to the table brought about conversations: childhood memories of mom’s cooking, scouting out Egyptian food on business trips in places as far as Hong Kong and stories of Puerto Rican sofrito, a base seasoning sauce, dominating the bulk of Puerto Rico’s dishes and giving them an aromatic punch.
Pumpkin soup was ladled carefully into their small containers and arrived hot with notes of orange and a sweet musky lift from the nutty brown butter and toasted pumpernickel croutons. All that was needed, a fireplace. Immediately after came a salad, a faraway relative of the classic Waldorf with pleasing autumn colors and complementary elements - beautiful beetroot and a considerate helping of walnuts, bobbles of blanched and peeled cherry tomatoes, consistent slices of almost transparent rounds of radish, batons of tart green apples, piquant rocket leaves and blue cheese; a flashier version of an everyday salad that new attendees would feel at ease with. A cumin focaccia crostini was served alongside this crowd-pleaser and although full of flavor, it retained some moisture and did not deliver on the crunch.
A trio of tacos came next, propped up against a dainty stand with individually hand drawn designs. Interestingly, most went first for the vegetarian moussaka taco. Layered lentils and cubed aubergine were served at room temperature and were governed by the crumbled feta; a little dry as was the sea bass ceviche taco, they both could have benefitted from a little less restraint and a heavier hand as per the respective regions of those dishes.
As a separate ceviche away from the tortilla, it was delicate and sweet. After completing the first two, the brave tried to comfort those whose fear of consuming an animal’s tongue was troubling them. The beef tongue taco stood ominously, piled high but was seasoned well, tender and layered with flavors of a familiar taco. The hero on the plate making it all meld was the guacamole, chunky but creamy and especially fresh.
Fourth was the the “White, Pink and Gold” with several components: an Old Bay belly of salmon with a roasted pepper ratatouille that far surpassed the salmon served at the first Chef’s Table; a simple sea bass, soft and barely opaque, perched atop a small mound of fava beans adding much needed texture; and tempura crayfish tails with a brilliant bright green dill oil and a mild red pepper aioli. I would have preferred a lighter batter but would still snack on a plate of these again.
Next arrived one of my favorites of the night - what Chefs Ayman Samir, Wesam Masoud and Moustafa El Refaey named “Banzai!”, a quick shot composed of both fresh and pickled ginger, balanced with citrus and a swirl of greek yogurt, this clever palate cleanser takes me back to my short years in Kuala Lumpur and the fusions in food that I experienced there.
The main was unexpected - an oxtail faggot with crushed peas that represented classic British fare, slow roasted leg of goat with a berry demi-glace flaunting its French and Moroccan accents, a potato terrine and a caramelized carrot purée dotted with pickled pearl onions - but despite the few glitches on my plate, a bit of unrendered fat and underseasoned potatoes, I admired the insistence of the chefs to introduce their audience to the nose to tail eating concept, starting with the beef tongue enjoyed earlier and ending with these bold flavors to nudge the timid palates at the bistro that night.
Dessert was a chilled soup of sour cherry and amaretto, vanilla ice cream with a pinch of fleur de sel and chocolate covered dehydrated beef bacon that had people holding it up to the light, perplexed by a concept new to Cairo. Ending on a light note, the chefs wrapped up the night with complex flavors.
Favoring a quick chat with the chefs post-dégustation, I realize that Chef Ayman Samir has not slept the night before, Chef Wesam Masoud is down with a flu but has managed to pull through and Chef Moustafa El Refaey with the inner excitement of the arrival of his recent newborn is hiding away from the diners’ eyes, working to finish off his night on a high note and go home. This is achievement: three men working with their teams to provide Cairo with a contemporary outlook on food while maintaining a sense of comfort. Ayman Samir cinched the night after all was done, “This was meant to be a night for everyone.”
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