I am a Food Network junkie. I love to see Anthony Bourdain eating dubious sausage in Nepal. I revel in the dinner parties the Barefoot Contessa throws for her closest friends. I’m on the edge of my seat while Bobby Flay out-cooks local amateurs on their home turfs. I love chefs, food and watching chefs cooking food. It’s kind of a spiritual experience for me, really.
So when I was invited to check out “Il Teatro”—a dining experience in which you watch while the chef cooks for you and a handful of other guests—I was all over it. And it was at Capische?, with its swirly ambience and sexy bar lounge, so how could I refuse?
I met my entourage in the lobby of the main dining room, and we were quickly escorted to the bar. We claimed our stake immediately on the plush sofa. But soon we were summoned to leave our fantasy lounge, and were led past Capische?’s romantic balcony with its ocean views, down the stairs overlooking an immaculate garden and into a room separated into two primitive kitchens surrounded by about a dozen seats.
We met our fellow diners for the evening and conversation flowed freely. We were then greeted by our personal chef and server for the evening, as they uttered the words I’ve longed to hear since the day my cable subscription ran out: “Think of this as your own personal little cooking show and wine tasting.”
Our chef, Chris Kulis, came from the Culinary Institute of America in New York and most recently, famous chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon kitchen in Napa Valley. Along with Capische? executive chef and Il Teatro mastermind Brian Etheredge, Kulis has a passion for Italian and French cuisine and using locally grown produce and meats whenever possible.
Our wine guide for the evening was Alex Rojas, a charming server who’s been with Capische? since it opened in 2002. For the past three years, Capische? has been the recipient of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
As Rojas poured our initial glass, he told us of the Italian tradition of drinking Prosecco as a welcome toast and then described the sparking wine’s qualities. Soon after, Chef Kulis awakened our taste buds with his ahi tartare amuse bouche, served with a tomato and olive oil foam.
As Kulis prepared the multi-course feast, he showed us what equipment he was using, the process by which he cooks, as well as why he chose each item and where it came from. Mostly we oohed and aahed but guests are encouraged to ask questions. And we did.
What are the differences between olive oils?
Can you make an olive oil ice cream?
Can you do this in a toaster oven?
The sun set over the Japanese rock garden outside our window as Rojas poured the Orvieto Classico, a crisp, floral house wine that perfectly complements two antipasti dishes—one, a fresh garden array of beets, hearts of palm and grana padona; the other a thinly sliced finocchino or fennel salami, with fresh mozzarella and shaved parmesan.
Our second course of seared squab breast, arugula salad, house-cured pancetta, strawberries and aged balsamic was paired with the chef’s favorite red, Terre di Talamo “Tempo.” At the same time, a refreshing Grechetto was paired with a “Frutti di Mare” salad with crab, calamari and grilled scallops.
Over the next couple hours, the chef worked his way through five courses of tastings, not including the amuse bouche and intermezzo, with wine from two complementary menus: “From the Coast” paired seafood-based dishes with white Italian wines while “From the Hills” was the more earthy menu, utilizing pastas, meats and red wine.
All the while, each course was more tantalizing than the last. But perhaps this was only exemplified by being able to appreciate it during its creation. The woman sitting next to me called it.
“How exciting!” she said. “I haven’t even had it yet and I’m like, ‘Ooh, it’s so good!’” MTW