When you get an invitation to have dinner at Kent Rathbun’s house, you don’t say no. Among the Dallas chef’s repertoire are Abacus, Hickory and brunch mecca Jasper’s. He’s a mainstay in this neck of the woods and having the opportunity to sit around his kitchen island while he prepares any number of culinary delights is not something to be taken lightly.
The Monterey Moments dinner on April 29 was a collaboration between chef Kent Rathbun and chef John Cox of Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn in Monterey County, California. Cox began his fine-dining career under Rathbun’s tutelage at Abacus. So to have the two of them together in Rathbun’s home collaborating on a one-of-a-kind menu was truly a memorable experience. The dinner’s intention was to bring awareness to the styles and flavors of Monterey County.
Cox and Rathbun tag-teamed the dinner, each chef preparing a course one after the other. The fusion between Rathbun’s signature upscale Texas cooking style and Cox’s micro-regional cuisine was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Each course highlighted an ingredient from Monterey County in order to give us as well-rounded of a California dinner as possible as we sat deep in the heart of Texas. Mingling in Chef Rathbun’s home with other food lovers was like a dream. His kitchen is large and open, with two islands, a commercial fridge and ovens and the longest kitchen bar I’ve ever seen. The home’s modern concept provides a crisp clean feeling to the living areas. Large windows in the living room transform into doors and open up a seamless outdoor living space. Inside to outside flows naturally and draws you out to enjoy a perfect spring evening.
The dinner began with a number of small bites and canapés. These included ceviche of living oyster mushrooms with black rice crackers, Monterey spot prawn “shooters” (a take on Rathbun’s signature lobster shooters dish at Abacus), and terrine of watermelon radish and goat milk butter, meyer lemon and chive blossoms. The food was as much art as it was delicious. Colors and textures popped off the plates. They were almost too pretty to eat — almost. Lawrence Lohr of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wine curated the wines and I had the pleasure of sitting at his table for dinner. You may recognize J. Lohr as the $10 grocery store wine you buy for your Friday night takeout, but don’t get it twisted: J. Lohr produces fantastic California wines competing on a global scale.
After a round of Caraccioli Cellars brut rosé and cuvée our palates were ready for the main event. First up was Rancho Chupinos pork belly, grilled baby fava beans and nasturtium blossoms. I could have eaten three servings of this dish. Serve me pork belly anything and I’m like a kid on Christmas morning. I really cannot control myself and this dish was no exception. Following the pork belly was Monterey Bay abalone roasted in giant kelp with pickled sea vegetables and yuzu. These are words many a Texan has never even heard let alone tasted. Abalone is a type of mollusc, similar to a clam or a scallop, with the texture of octopus. It was meaty and chewy and tasted like it was fresh out of the sea. The presentation was phenomenal. The sliced abalone was served in its own shell with strips of kelp and crisp seaweed. I imagine this dish is a true embodiment of Monterey County cuisine.
The main course was a beautiful slow roasted Carmel Valley lamb with wild cherry balsamic glazed cipollini onions, fingerling potatoes and Rathbun farm egg salad. Again, can I please have five? This is one of those dishes that I won’t soon forget and will spend the rest of my life trying to replicate. My boyfriend, who could pass up lamb seven out of seven days of the week, was finished with his plate before I was even done taking pictures. It was spectacular.
To finish the dinner and send us all home in a coma was a delicate rose geranium-chocolate ganache with Monterey strawberries. I had never tasted geranium before, but the only way to describe how this dessert tasted was that it tasted like a geranium. It was perfectly paired with the white chocolate and strawberries to create a refreshing and cleansing end to the meal.
I don’t know if I’ll ever again have the pleasure of dining at Chef Kent Rathbun’s house, but should you ever get invited to one of these spectacular dinners, don’t think twice about going. Your culinary dreams depend on it.