Every word out of Michael J. Cirino's mouth seems like a wisecrack, and that includes “and” and “the.” Somehow, between anecdotes about chewing khat in North Africa and passages from The Great Gatsby, he manages to expound on the chemical properties of liquid nitrogen and the vicissitudes of sous-vide cookery. That's the real joke: beneath the bespoke suits and patina of Brooklyn hipsterdom, behind all the casual patter, Cirino and his cohorts at A Razor, A Shiny Knife know exactly what they're doing.
Last week, the ARASK trio — Cirino, fellow raconteur Jonny Cigar and chef Daniel Castaño — briefly popped up in Los Angeles, where they taught a few classes at Surfas and cooked a small, very “corny,” private dinner. It was the last chance for Angelenos to catch A Razor, A Shiny Knife for three, maybe four months. Between launching a chocolate factory and developing a TV show, Cirino is awfully busy these days.
Cirino recently became a chocolatier, launching his newest venture, Cacao Prieto, which makes him one of the few chocolate producers who oversees the entire process from plantation to final product. Cacao Prieto's beans are grown in the Dominican Republic, and the chocolate is made in the former Scharffen Berger factory in Berkeley, which Hershey liquidated after they bought the company in 2005. (John Scharffenberger is one of Cacao Prieto's advisers.) The bonbons are being sold in a pop-up shop inside the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory until Cacao Prieto opens two of its own stores in New York next year. Pending approval from the appropriate licensing authorities, Cacao Prieto will also come out with its own chocolate liqueur, perhaps as soon as January.
On top of that, Cirino, Cigar and Castaño are developing a reality TV show based on A Razor, A Shiny Knife — one that's not, as Cirino explains, anything like the shows that populate the genre. No ersatz starlets or tarted-up housewives frothing over manufactured dramas. (Then again, they might make a catfight seem like a literary salon.)
Saturday night's seven-course meal, dubbed King Corn, saw Castaño using the much maligned vegetable in every dish. The pièce de résistance came during the 5th course, a lightly brûléed bone marrow and sweet corn custard, shmeared on a Paleolithic hunk of animal bone and accompanied by a 10-ounce (maybe larger) round of short rib in veal bordelaise.
The dinner was sponsored by Original MOONSHINE, a sweet corn liquor made by Stillhouse, sort of a proto-whiskey. Hence, the corn theme and the cocktails created by mixologist Joel Black (soon to be found at Bar Toscana) that accompanied each course.
Course 1: Pickled Sweet Corn, Trout Roe, Anise with Absinthe, Corn Liquor & Jalapeno Foam
Course 1a: Bruised Moonshine: Original MOONSHINE corn liquor shaken hard to “bruise” it and served on the rocks with a twist of lime.
Course 2: Polenta, Veal Demi-Glaze, Black Truffle & Huitlacoche Brunois
Course 2a: Red Hot Bootlegger: Original MOONSHINE, fresh basil, lime juice, jalapeno, agave nectar.
Course 3: Crab Beignet, Bearnaise Custard, Lima Bean Succotash with Corn Stock. (The corn stock is cooked for three days & those are slivers of crisp, sweet, fried jalapeno.)
Course 3a: Shine Tea: Iced tea, Original MOONSHINE, apricot liquor, lemon juice.
Course 4: Gelatinized Habanero Salsa. This isn't the whole course. This was shaved on top of the dish.
Course 4: Cornbread Gnocchi, Pork Shoulder, Hot Sauce, Greens
Course 4a: A Razor, A Shiny Knife: Inspired by the Penicillin cocktail that Joel Black created for Comme Ca, this includes Original MOONSHINE, honey, ginger, lime juice. It was designed as a palate cleaners and it was. It tasted like liquid sorbet.
Course 5: Short Rib in Veal Bordelaise with Bone Marrow & Corn Custard
Under the bone marrow & corn pudding was sweet and lightly bruleed. Under the bone are some greens dressed in vinaigrette.
Here's the bone marrow & corn custard before it goes in the oven.
Course 5a: Moonshine Sour: Original MOONSHINE, lemon juice, egg whites, Peychaud's bitters.
Course 6: Corn Crepe with Ricotta, Sweetened Corn, Corn Syrup Custard, Candied Lemon Peel & Cocoa Powder
Course 6a: Moonshine Mojito: Original MOONSHINE, blackberry, raspberry, lime juice, soda water.
Course 7: Popcorn Ice Cream with Whiskey Caramel Sauce. Not only did this taste like popcorn, it looked like popcorn because of the unique way in which it was made.
Course 7a: Moonshine Chicha: Inspired by the Ecuadorian drink chicha, this contains oatmeal, mango puree, Original MOONSHINE, mint and cinnamon flakes & is served warm.