Blu, a small, darkly lit, BYO in Montclair is the perfect place to indulge a sinfully delicious meal. Chef and owner, Zod Arifai, never appears in the dining room, but works wizardry from the kitchen, weaving textures and tastes into an all-but-irresistible spell.
When you are in the restaurant of a renown chef, like Zod Arifai, it's best to let him have his way with you. My fiendish dining companions and I opted for the tasting menu, a nine-course degustation of enchanted courses.
The meal began with a shooter of creamy mozzarella soup, dolloped with cool, crisp cubes of watermelon. Subtle citrus notes contrasted nicely with the mellow saltiness in the mozzarella. Our palates were primed for more.
Next, atop a narrow shot glass, an open grilled cheese with rich, crisp duck confit, and halved grapes appeared before us. So comforting was this course, I'd gladly replace the chocolate on my pillow with this blissful delight.
Under Zod, the finest elements of a protein are coaxed to the forefront by the gentle selection, arrangement and coordination of sauces and accompaniments. Such craftsmanship is seen with a delicate raw scallop and avocado preparation. Zod enhances the soft flavors of the scallop and avocado with lemon citrus and chili flakes, retaining a sensual texture on the tongue, followed by a lively zing of mild heat and citrus.
Chef Zod followed this course with a “slightly cooked” salmon accompanied by sweet strawberries and savory radishes. The gap between these two seemingly antithetical elements was bridged with a subtle and seductive vanilla oil. How perfect!
The splendid display of the sea continued via a meaty Swordfish with asparagus, beets, and an unexpected puff of hibiscus foam.
Leaving the sea behind, our tasting took us ashore to a truffled risotto topped with a perfectly poached egg. Many risottos have passed this palate, but none as rousingly good!
Next, the wickedly decadent Veal Belly! To some, the word "belly" may not sound particularly sexy, but as a matter of taste, the fat bellies of animals - especially pigs and tuna – are prized for their texture and rich flavor. At Blu, the unctuous Veal Belly was accompanied by thinly sliced, crisp, green apple and spicy jalapeno, resulting in the perfect balance of fats and acids.
The titillation continued through dessert with a preparation of strawberry soup, with scoops of tarragon ice cream in the center. Just sweet enough and rife with herbal freshness, Zod played with familiar flavors of strawberries and herbs, transforming them into something innovative and devilishly delicious!
The second dessert was more traditional. A Reese's lover’s fantasy - the classic Peanut butter crisp. Perfect at the close of dinner, or anytime, day or night, it is one confection that is hard to resist.
Saints and sinners alike will appreciate the culinary creativeness at Blu. And when you go, make sure to let them know the Devil sent you.
Read Melody Kettle's review of all of Zod Arifai's restaurants, here.