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Sandwich Time

Adam Mali’s peachy-keen idea.

Last week I took a run out to the Montecitoat 5970 South Holly Street in Greenwood Village, which is right next to Annabel's, the other new joint owned by Mel and Jane Master. Chef Adam Mali has handed over day-to-day ops at the original Montecito, at 1120 East Sixth Avenue, to his sous, Jeremy Wilson, so that he can watch over this second outpost full-time, and I got to sample Mali's special that night — a faro pasta that was very Californian, very brown and not my favorite thing in the world.

Much, much better was his new sandwich, the Eat a Peach, which replaced the Mac-and-Cheese sandwich — Macintosh apples and aged cheddar on brioche, so good you just wanted to eat seven and then die happy. Why the change? Easy. Apples aren't in season right now, but peaches are.

I'd had a bad experience with fruit in the pork sandwich at Cucina Colore (see review). It had looked so good on paper — slabs of pork loin, grilled pears, gorgonzola cheese and greens on focaccia — but every ounce of life had been cooked out of the pork, leaving it dry, tasteless and with all the savor of chewing on a new sneaker. An otherwise decent gorgonzola was smeared on thick as spackling compound, then topped with a few slips of pear, sliced paper-thin and grilled until they tasted of nothing but char and had the texture of a rubber spatula blade. The pears were so awful, I suspected that the kitchen had pre-grilled them, then held them either stacked in a cold table or perhaps in liquid on the steam table.

In contrast, the Eat a Peach was a phenomenal sandwich, simple — just sliced peaches, grilled lightly, covered with Vermont cheddar and a little frisée Afro and laid on excellent bread — but constructed with thoughtfulness, care, consideration and an understanding that the job of any chef is not to disguise flavors, not to muddle them up or to shock with jarring combinations, but to do everything in his power to bring out the best flavors from the fewest possible ingredients. I'd never seen a peach sandwich before. I'd never had peaches and cheese together. But after tasting Mali's sandwich, all I could do was wonder why no one had ever tried this before. Why hadn't I tried it back when I was still cooking? Why had I never considered how perfect, how idyllically seasonal, how sweet and dewy and slightly tart a single perfect peach could be with its sugars and captured sunshine offset by the savory bite of a good, hard-edged and aged cow's-milk cheese?

Because I'm an idiot, that's why. Because for the bulk of my career, I was more like the guys at Cucina Colore than I was like Mali — a shoemaker, knocking out the grub as fast as I could, taking tickets, reading tickets, cooking tickets with no thought, just hanging and banging. It took me years and years, failure after failure, epiphany upon epiphany, to learn to do things differently. More than two decades after I set foot in my first kitchen — a half-dozen states, thousands of restaurants, more than a million words later — I'm still learning to keep it simple.


What's your beef? Reader Matthew Brandon took me to task for dissing Texas barbecue in "Real Genius," my August 9 review of Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace.

"Jason, I dig your reviews," he wrote, "and I dig you gotta entertains the peoples. But what I can't figure out is why you be dissin' the 'Texas-style beef'? Opinions being like assholes, I figure that the difference between your asshole and mine is that you got a lot of experience in the kitchen. Me not so much. So when you say 'The beef itself is about halfway between a great desebrada and the best example of the worst style of barbecue in America: Texas-style beef,' I gotta say wait a minute. I've had some bad BBQ in my life but not often in Texas. I've had some damn near ecstatic moments munching on Texas beef BBQ. But hey, you're the chef. You have to know a lot more than me about the Texas beef BBQ. You must have spent years in Texas eatin' Q till you were ready to drop. Eating the beef of East Texas Pit Masters, Central Texas Artsy-Q, Cowboy Q, and on and on. God only knows how much time and effort you put in so that you could finally call it the worst. My compliments.

"On the other hand, you might know dick about Texas BBQ."

Actually, buddy, nowhere in that review did I say a specific purveyor of Texas barbecue was the worst. Such a statement would have required my eating my way through the Lone Star Republic, tasting the best efforts of all the pit masters who — through some cruel joke of fate or nature — have found themselves smack in the middle of one of my least favorite states in the union. Obviously, I haven't done that. I have spent some time in Texas — in Austin and around Dallas; in the dust of southwest Texas; in Amarillo, which is a place I only ever want to see again in my rearview mirror. And I have eaten a good deal of Texas-style beef barbecue.

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