Il Teatro’s tasting menu—which might include anywhere from five to twelve courses—affords the opportunity to explore unfamiliar flavors with expert guidance. The chefs love introducing guests to novel flavors. Kulis recalls cooking for a Yankee pitcher, who brought his mom to dinner. “She was so old school. Everything was new to her—even blue cheese! But she ate every little bite.”
Coaxing cautious eaters out of their comfort zone is quite a coup d‘état, considering a typical Il Teatro menu includes the heady stuff of foodies’ daydreams, such as Etheredge’s uber-gourmet loco moco. The traditional rice and hamburger are replaced by kabocha pumpkin and osso bucco, doused in sea-urchin broth, and crowned with a quail egg.
At fine restaurants, “plating up” is a careful art. Food is arranged just so, to give the entree, starch and vegetables their best appearance. At Il Teatro, spontaneity guides the chef’s hand. A striking pair of squid-ink tortellini stuffed with Kona lobster and Kula corn is set on a rich, red smear of roasted-pepper sauce. Topped with thick shavings of pecorino cheese, it looks like an edible Rothko and tastes just as brilliant.
Speaking of looks, that pretty copper cookware isn’t merely adding to the ambience; it also helps maintain the meager heat afforded by the teppanyaki grills. The grills make a nice stage, but aren’t optimal cooking surfaces. “If you watch over the course of the night,” Etheredge laughs, “we shift the pots to keep them boiling.”
Necessity breeds innovation; the chefs have adapted to the table’s restrictions. “We do a lot of sous-vide and poaching,” says Etheredge. Sous-vide involves vacuum-sealing ingredients and slow cooking them at low temperatures. Virtually no natural juices are lost, so the results are succulent. The sous-vide rib-eye cap Kulis prepared for me was meltingly tender. Rather than seared at the edge and pink in the center, it was evenly rare all the way through.
Same with the sea trout, which was submerged in olive oil and slowly poached. Its delicately flavored flesh lost none of its moisture in the cooking process. (Try the recipe here.) Sprinkled with microgreens from the chefs’ favorite farm and served with eggplant caviar and olives, this is dish epitomizes the Il Teatro approach: fresh, simple, and classy.
By the evening’s end, you will likely have gleaned a little about your chef’s personal life. You might get a peek at Etheredge’s knife collection—he’s got a stash of blades by master craftsman Ichiro Hattori—or maybe you’ll hear about Kulis’s adventures on the ski slopes. Most certainly, you will have savored a meal worthy of resounding applause.