TILL hosted a memorable Knife Fight on Monday between the restaurant’s executive chef Gerry Castro (with chef de cuisine Mario Vasquez assisting) and chef Brother Luck of Brother Luck Street Eat’s (assisted by his long-time sous chef Seth Jaray). Chefs utilized secret ingredients Barclay Bay oysters and sea urchin; Corner Post lamb heart and heritage turkey; and foie gras to construct three different dishes.
Simultaneously, hand-to-hand drink combat ensued behind the bar between Wobbly Olive co-owner Sean Fitzgerald and TILL co-lead bartender Alejandro Sanchez with Phillip Rawleigh of Distillery 291 assisting. Each made three cocktails featuring secret ingredients: tomatoes, Earl Grey and bacon to accompany Colorado Gold’s hemp vodka, Lee Spirits Co. barrel-aged gin and 3 Hundred Days of Shine’s Centennial Wheat Whiskey.
The first round of cocktails danced around the classic Bloody Mary using Colorado High hemp vodka. Fitzgerald and Team Sanchez/Rawleigh both muddled tomatoes to start, then Fitzgerald opted for a hangover cure of basil, black pepper, salt, lime and balsamic vinegar garnished with Japanese basil flowers. TILL’s team opted for a raw sauté of jalapeños, blueberries and tomatoes, highlighting the natural juices, then adding additional chili vodka from California’s St. George Spirits and celery bitters to complete the brunch beverage.
Luck offered up a beautiful oyster with Santa Barbara uni hollandaise draped over with some raw uni and micro-onion shoots on top.A balanced, salty sauce worth licking off the plate was an incredible start to the throw down. Castro replied with a beautiful presentation of uni foam and an oyster topped with strawberries, plum and a champagne mignonette.
The second cocktails couldn’t have been more different, which was exactly what Lee Spirits’ Ian Lee wanted when concocting his barrel-aged gin. Lee refers to it as “a bartenders dream” since you can use the spirit to create a gin- or whiskey-based drink. Fitzgerald poured four flats of raspberries, the gin and Earl Grey tea into a champagne bucket, let it sit, then double-strained it, adding lemon simple syrup and Prosecco. He finished with a pressed, sugared flower. Sanchez/Rawleigh wanted to do a play on a Palm Beach. Instead of sweet vermouth they used Punt e Mes, a bitter Italian vermouth, infusing the Earl Grey tea and gin with blackberries and nutty walnut bitters.
The lamb hearts took Castro and Luck down two very different roads, leading to possibly the best taco I have ever tasted by Castro. It featured delectable little bites of lamb heart with Latin American coleslaw, avocado mayo, chipotle spread and the tortilla fried up in all the lamb heart juiciness. Be still my …
Luck made a bold choice, presenting a dish with lots of negative space, lining one side of the plate with an arugula, beet and goat cheese salad topped with pine nut, underneath beautiful slices of lamb heart served both sashimi style and grilled. The goat cheese added depth.
You can never go wrong with bacon, especially when paired with whiskey. Sanchez and Rawleigh soaked the bacon in 3 Hundred Days Centennial Wheat Whiskey, allspice and anise. The pair then made a stone-fruit simple syrup, using apricots and peaches, seeds included for extra earthiness. For extra showmanship, they flambéed the apricots in mezcal and finished the cocktail off with Leopold Bros.’ Aperitivo.
Fitzgerald combined the whiskey with vermouth, maraschino liqueur, angostura bitters and drippings from the bacon and let it chill in the freezer, before double straining and adding a lovely little strip of bacon to drive the point home — a new level of pork appreciation.
The last courses from Luck and Castro created a plague of indecisiveness, simply because both were so damn good. Luck improved upon classic Thanksgiving with a foie gras brioche-stuffing topped with juicy slices of turkey cooked on the wood grill, with a generous drizzle of rosemary, foie gras and cream gravy. Sanchez created a simple but mesmerizing stir fry, with crispy rice that he says he envisioned “like popcorn,” with bites of soy-seasoned turkey and foie gras with green onions.
Both chefs made the voting difficult, expertly highlighting the secret ingredients and showcasing creativity and mad skills. What did we love more? Ultimately, TILL’s Castro was crowned the victor, while Wobbly Olive’s Fitzgerald took the victory for his cocktail creations.
Without a doubt, everyone ate and drank well at TILL.
[Images: Dionne Roberts]