I’ve always avoided talking about food. I don’t enjoy explaining to the, oddly, curious what I eat, why I eat what I eat or where I get what I eat when I eat. With that being said, some might find it curious that I would choose to play “food critic” and write a review of a restaurant thousands of miles from my regular stomping grounds.
Why? Well, frankly, I couldn’t help myself.
A few nights ago, in Bucharest we entered the doors of LoVegan, a restaurant situated in a corner of a building on Romana Square (which is actually circular but that’s my issue, no one else’s). While my wife and I were sitting and chatting a young man approached our table. His name was Alexandru Bugnariu-Nocolae and he is the head chef at LoVegan.
In Alexandru’s hands he held the most beautiful presentation of a main course that I had seen in some years. I was curious what his purpose might be and he did not waiver in letting us know that he wanted us to try one of his new dishes.
Here is what was fascinating. This young man had no idea who I am or that my craft is that of a professional storyteller. His passion guided him on an animated explanation the dish he had prepared.
Alexandru regailed us with the Greek myth of “The Gordian Knot.” Most storytellers probably already know the story but for those who do not. The Gordian Knot was an extremely complicated knot tied by Gordius, king of Phrygia.
When he began talking about chariots and Alexander the Great, I was hooked. He probably could have cooked me toast at that point and I would have lauded his praises as a chef.
He placed the plate in between my wife and I as he continued his tale, alternating between describing the reason for the presentation of the food in front of us and delving deeper into the intricacies of the poetry of the myth.
Once he ended his tale telling with the climactic end of Alexander the Great taking out his sword and cutting into the knot and going on the fulfill the oracles prophecy by conquering Asia; Alexandru gently backed away from our table explaining that he would return for a critique.
My creative spirits had already been awakened by experiencing the passion he had for his craft of cooking and the aromatic scent of an intricately prepared meal wafting beneath our noses. I was onboard and ready to tell him, honestly, whether I hated or loved his food.
As an artist I understand that “true” artists prefer critiques regardless of how painful it may be. I was willing to give this young man the painful truths as I interpreted the meal.
The presentation was created with four outer corners representing the wheels of a chariot. The center portion, the chariot itself was a charade on a bed of potato (not sure what type) containing poppy and other spices. Roasted asparagus and anise formed the outer edges of the chariot.
I decided to start on the outer edges of the dish with the pumpkin sauce. I’m sure it was the rich orange color that drew me there first. Sitting atop the pumpkin sauce, spread at all four corners were four thinly sliced, rounded pieces of seasoned beet to mimic the actual wheels of the chariot.
I took one of the beets into my mouth at first because I was curious to see how he had seasoned it. Seasoning of beets is less a mechanic of cooking and more an art. I was caught off guard because the beet was a bit spicy, somewhat like the taste of cayenne blended with a hint of black pepper. I know I’m wrong about the specific seasoning used but this will, at least, give you an impression of what my taste buds experienced.
Almost automatically I scooped into the pumpkin puree in an effort to tame the explosion of fiery spices. I wasn’t disappointed. The pumpkin puree was cool to the touch and blended exceedingly well with the spiciness of the beet. The pumpkin puree had a calming effect on the beet’s veracity.
I then chose to move right into the top of the chariot to see what other treasures I might uncover.
The meal was actually becoming more of an adventure than an opportunity to dine. I was really enjoying myself but I wasn’t about to let that get in the way of an honest and forthright critique.
I dug my fork into the center of the chariot and was surprised to see that there was creamy, hot, spinach and mushrooms buried within the bed of the pulped potato. The steam emanating from this area of the plate created an extremely pleasant sensory effect while I began eating the contents of my fork.
My mind registered a bit of an epiphany when I realized that I had just gone from the cool pumpkin puree to an aromatic and hot center. He had purposefully toyed with the interplay of qualities. I was forgetting to be a critic and was rapidly becoming a fan.
The smoothness of the mixture of spinach, mashed potato and mushrooms would have been enough of a meal for me to enjoy but when I dug deeper into the chariot there were pieces of sesame near the bottom. Now, I’m not sure if he did this on purpose or if this was one of those coincidences but I got the distinct impression of the grittiness of soil that would have been common beneath the wheels of a chariot. The taste, for me, worked well between the sesame and potatoes.
I did have an immediate dissonant reaction to finding celery in the chariot. It didn’t seem to fit well with the smoothness of the interplay between all of the other ingredients. I actually wondered if he had included the celery as sort of a play on the guiding ropes of a chariot. The fibrous texture of the celery definitely mimics rope or strings to the palate if that was the desired effect.
I shared my ideations with Chef Alexandru and tried not to pull any punches but when food is delicious, it’s simply delicious and we must surrender to our joy in consuming it.
If, and when, I ever return to Romania, it is possible that I will not be able to eat any other food unless it is prepared by Chef Alexandru of LoVegan.