Lots of great stories begin with a garage, but what about a backyard or a kitchen? Apple, Google, Disney, and Amazon all started in garages.
Sear'N Gears has decided to take this same approach with a company that its progenitor, Aleric "AJ" Constantin, hopes to turn into a restaurant (empire). For that, the chef last month used his house, which happens to be a residential/commercial property, and his good friends and fellow artists to kick off the first of many pop-up dinners dubbed "Social Cena." The series continues this month with a special 4/20 dinner Sunday night, followed by a 4/20 Zombie Savior afterparty where guests can digest their six-course dinner and cocktail pairing with beats and dancing.
Also in the kitchen is longtime friend Camilo Blanco, who works with Constantin at Mandolin Aegean Bistro, as well as a local artist, bartender, and DJ bringing something different to the table each and every month. For the 4/20 occasion, Jorge Breeze is the local artist, and the bartender is a surprise, but we do have the skinny on the menu. We also attended last month's inaugural Social Cena.
People love cheese, especially when they're stoned. "Ain't Easy Being Cheesy" will cover all the cheesy bases. A play on the usual cheese plate, it's loaded with "pot-zza" bites (a play on pizza bites with hemp dough, Manchego, chorizo ,and "sativa salt"), quesadillas, and mozzarella sticks (with breading made using Funyons). Mac 'n' Cheetos features pork cheeks with the puffed cheese snacks, while popcorn grits is a play on Easter, which falls on 4/20 this year. This dish fuses rabbit, a slow-poached Easter egg, and cocoa into one. There are also fish tacos and PB&J fried chicken. And for dessert, there's "Hot-Boxed" ice cream. How exactly do you hot-box ice cream? Smoke it in Purple Urkle and cover it with a glass box-shaped dome. Once it's lifted, you'll be sure to get a nice whiff and also the munchies.
At last month's event, Louis Salgar of the Broken Shaker set up his bar station on AJ's bicycle and concocted three cocktails for the evening that paired perfectly with dinner. Local artist GG was one of the guests in attendance as well as the artist, decking out AJ's backyard wall with his rendition of the cycling chef (his bike already got GG's trademark months ago) and also bringing some additional art for décor.
Talk about extreme concentration. Camilo is in awe of these mouthwatering local tomatoes. Notice the precision with the tweezers to plate the basil perfectly on the bread. This dish is a rendition of the Spanish classic pan con tomate. Tomatoes, black garlic, basil, and olive oil on sourdough make it exquisitely simple. Louis served a sbagliato to go alongside the first course of the meal. Campari, vermouth, and sparkling wine combine in a perfect mixture to cleanse the palate.
Miamians love their ceviche, especially when it's topped with tostones and papitas. Local grouper and gulf shrimp are the stars of this dish, though, with mango and papaya fighting for equal attention.
A vibrant shaved salad combined thinly shaved vegetables -- zucchini, squash, carrot, red onion, butternut, and watermelon radish. It was topped with some edible flowers and puffed farro and dressed with some nuac cham.
Pork belly makes any meal better. This particular pork belly packed a crunch that was softened by a bed of creamed corn underneath it. Pan drippings were reduced to sauce to cut through the fattiness of the pork belly. Originally, AJ and Camilo planned to smother the meat with maple syrup, but then they decided to let diners be the judge. So the smoked maple syrup was poured inside mini mason jars and served alongside the dish so guests could open, take a whiff, and pour as they saw fit. Flash-fried kale chips offered an ideal salty and crunchy counterpart.
Nothing goes with lamb like some beer.
Mustard lamb was a fun play on beer, pretzels, and the tender meat. Crusted in gingersnap pretzel, these bad boys looked beautiful right out of the oven and had a perfectly pink center. Charred cauliflower apple ricotta atop tiff's green added a nice element of green surprise.
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"Can you think of anything better than rum, coffee, and a cigar?" Louis asked. Not really, except maybe a cafecito old-fashioned, which combines the trio in an easily digestible liquid form. "This will make any abuelito happy as fuck." Aged rum, Panther cold-brew reduction, and bitters work perfectly and were the ideal sidekick for AJ's sweet, sweet ending.
To end the first Social Cena, it only made sense that AJ gave guests a bit of history. When presenting dessert, a deconstructed po-po pop, AJ explained how he'd been arrested for selling ice cream on his bike. This is an homage to those police officers. Doughnuts are split in half and grilled on the stovetop to get a nice char. Krispy Kreme nitrogen is made on the spot via liquid nitrogen. The same liquid nitrogen is used to freeze coffee, which is then shaved and served atop the dessert like chips. Not enough? It's finished with candied bacon and salted-bacon caramel.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha