The critic Anton Ego looks up to the waiter at Gusteau’s in the film Ratatouille:
Mustafa: Do you know what you’d like this evening, sir?
Anton Ego: Yes, I think I do. After reading a lot of overheated puffery about your new cook, you know what I’m craving? A little perspective. That’s it. I’d like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?
It is a good idea, but not easy to come by in most restaurants. It is available in abundance in Sensorium, Chef Bryan Brown‘s tantalizing Pop-up dinner-theater cum exploration of molecular gastronomy and the senses.
Super Chef recently attended a preview evening of the extravaganza in a geodesic dome set up in the new “Yards” development on Washington DC’s waterfront. You enter through a tunnel where a mannequin looking like a neo-Nubian metallic statue stands guard. She must be Artisa (“ar-TEE-sa”), muse of muses from Bryan’s previous Artisa Kitchen series. One of the actors dabs cinnamon oil on your hand: when you sip the sangria served, you can smell the cinnamon wafting in the air.
The food is the star: the theater is about encouraging you to take a fresh perspective on each of the evening’s twelve courses. At times, the theater steals the show – or is the food stealing the show? Regardless, food and theater are there to enhance each other, helping diners to combine all the senses and use them all – or else become rather confused and silly.
Inside the dome there are six tables holding 30-36 guests. In front of you is a box with a Chinese soupspoon holding a green olive-shaped morsel – Kir Royale. The actors instruct you on how to eat, step-by-step, in a playful poem. You eat them together for an explosive taste.
Inside the box is “Cloud 9,” a snow plate made of soda water frozen in liquid nitrogen, toped with intensely flavorful salmon, salmon eggs, and dried salmon. It is fun and fanciful and intensely flavorful.
A poem from Franklin Rosement: “Aren’t those moments commonly called odd, the ones that really make a difference?” Out comes a doll’s chair and table. On the chair is a one-inch cube of pork belly, smooth and luscious. On the table a tiny potato and ramp.
A cube of rockfish and a cauliflower trio are paired with the actors sporting macramé headdresses swimming on the stage in an eerie dance. It gives you perspective.
Showmanship: Chef Brown’s Sensorium