dining with Chefs: Eric Sell – Creo’
I was recently invited to sample some of the new menu offerings from Creo and possibly meet their new chef, Eric Sell. When the preview of the lunch and dinner menus made it onto Table Hopping, I got really excited, as the new menus represent a potential shift in direction for Creo.
My experiences with Creo have been across the board. On my first visit, the food was ok, not at all impressive for the price. The next time I went was for a special farm to table event that brushed the surface on the potential of then chef Brian Bowden. Since then, my visits have been much more in line with the first.
Although I decided on what I was ordering prior to entering the door, I still took a few minutes to peruse the menu.
Upon entering, I was greeted by the media contact who invited me, Brian White (Vice President at Creo), and new general manager Marshall Morgan. I scheduled my visit adjacent to the workday so that it wasn’t deep into service and with hopes that I could sit down and chat with the new chef.
I started with the Beet Salad (Roasted beets, watercress, goat cheese, scallions, pistachios, apple vinaigrette – $13).
It was a pretty dish that had lots of color. The watercress and scallion were crisp; they were barely dressed with the apple vinaigrette. The beets were soft. The little bits of goat cheese brought some tang and salinity to the bites, as the beets were barely seasoned. The pistachios also brought some salt to the party and added the nutty crunch that tied everything together.
For my main course, I went with Slow Roasted Pork (Togarashi rubbed pork, kale, broccoli, dashi broth, herb salad and brown rice – $25).
After I got the feel for the dish, Chef Eric came by and sat down. We chatted while I slowly enjoyed the dish.
I asked him about his background and a bit about his experience. He was working for a while in Brooklyn, then landed a gig at the short-lived Javier’s in Saratoga.
I noted the contrast between Italian and Asian inspired dishes as well as the clear “Restaurant standards”, less risky dishes designed to placate regulars and people with a clear comfort zone. Chef Eric, who lived in Hong Kong for over a decade, indicated that Asian influence plays into his style, but that he is really excited to get working at Creo, where the tools in the kitchen lend themselves well to other cooking styles and techniques.
I also commented on the risks that are taken on the menu. They’re clear to define their pizzas as “Wood Fired Flat Breads”, which is good because I’m sure pizza purists would be weary of a Thai Beef pizza containing steak, grilled onions, carrots, basil, lime, sesame oil, chilis or a Nola pizza with chorizo, black eyed peas, and some standard pizza toppings. He added that he worked hard to design a menu that could please people set in their ways and also draw in those looking for more adventure in their food.
I asked about his usage of Creo’s famed rooftop garden. He noted the challenges of utilizing that resource, specifically irrigation, which has been historically difficult. He did add that they have a floor-level garden bordering the restaurant and that he was starting to plan out what to grow so that his next menu iteration can highlight some home grown produce.
I asked about sourcing and how he’s currently obtaining product for the menu. His response was that he was utilizing a handful of local purveyors, but that he’s planning on developing relationships directly with local farmers and scouring farmers markets for ideas for specials.
We spoke specifically about the dish I ordered. I thought the brown rice was very salty, borderline inedibly so, so I mentioned that to him. The rest of the dish came together really well. The dashi broth was heavy on umami, and complimented the wilted kale and steamed broccoli. Seasoning in these items were light, but the rich pork shoulder made up for it. In the slow roast, the togarashi chile fully permeated the meat. There was a slight chile sting, but it was very dull, highlighting more of the flavor of this seasoning. The herb salad on top gave the dish some bright pops from basil and parsley, both of which compliment everything nicely. I gave Eric my idea for how pork belly could help this dish (after tasting it, even with the fairly fatty pork shoulder, I almost felt like it was a little too healthy), and he assured me he’ll be doing something with pork belly in upcoming months, probably closer to winter.
While Chef Eric indicated the pork was one of his more favorite menu items, his description of the baked eggplant really got my attention. From the menu, it’s described as Eggplant, turnips, tomato sauce, mozzarella, kale slaw. He described the dish as eggplant and turnips lining a bottom of a cast iron skillet, roasted in the wood fired oven with an application of tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, then topped with kale slaw made the day before to break down the rigid greens. The current menu description does not do this dish justice. I certainly know what I’ll be ordering next time.
Chef Eric had duties to return to, so he left me to finish my dinner.
I strongly contemplated dessert, but abstained. While I am not vegan, the Vegan Banana Cake (oats, walnuts, dark chocolate, peanut butter sauce, blueberry puree) really caught my eye. I guess my main and dessert have been decided for the next visit.
Along with the new menu, they were all but ready to roll out a new cocktail program, however availability of some of the integral spirits pushed that back a day or two. The bar area at Creo has been the most highly regarded aspect of the experience, but the addition of Chef Eric and his influence on the menu has the potential to change that. If the staff can consistently execute on the menu and if management gives Eric the independence to carry out his vision, there will be a lot of buzz about dining at Creo.