Wednesday, December 26, 2012

MoZaic: Moroccan Inspired Cuisine in Sarasota

Ever since opening Mozaic a few years ago, Chef Dylan Elhajoui has earned rave reviews from foodies and celebrities alike, including Maria Sharapova who calls his couscous, 'the best'. While Moroccan born Elhajoui started his career in engineering, the culinary arts were always his passion. Growing up in Fes, Elhajoui was always surrounded with bustling markets brimming with fresh produce, abundant spices, organic meats, fresh fish, and a multitude of people who knew how to prepare them. His mother and father were both great cooks, and his grandfathers were chefs and restaurant owners, so he's literally been immersed in the culinary arts since birth.

Chef Dylan Elhajoui

In a country where so many cultures have left their marks — Carthaginians, Romans, Phoenicians, Byzantines, Moors, Spaniards, Jews, French and Berbers — Morocco is a true mosaic of cultures. Dylan’s cuisine reflects these influences from the western coast of Italy to the Rock of Gibraltar in southern Spain. The flavours include olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, lemons, eggplants, honey, fennel, aromatics, and much more. Elhajoui calls his culinary style 'Cuisine du Midi' — a little bit Provencal, with influences from Spain, Italy and North Africa, which boils down to an abundance of vegetables, fruits, meats and fish, all tantalizingly prepared with fresh herbs and spices, and wholly intoxicating.

Mozaic's bartender David

We started our evening at Mozaic with a glass of sparkling California wine, at the restaurant's cosy main floor bar, as waited for the rest of our party to arrive for dinner. Our first introduction to Mozaic was David, our charming and gregarious bartender who uncorked a bottle of delicious Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine and poured us all a generous glass to christen the evening.

A glass of California bubbly 

Just as we were finishing our aperitif, my parents, Aunt and cousin arrived, and we were escorted to the upstairs dining area with a large table set up for our gathering of eight, and overlooking the main floor dining room. As we looked over the menu, bowls of olive oil and balsamic vinegar arrived with fresh warm bread just out of the oven, followed by an amuse-bouce of Apricot Soup with a hint of cilantro and mint.

View from our upstairs table at Mozaic

Interior detail

The busy kitchen at Mozaic

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Fresh baked bread, warm from the oven

A luscious bottle of Agentinian Malbec 2011 from Mendoza

Mozaic menu

From that amuse-bouche, salads are about the most thoughtful in town, from velvety Grilled Calimari with spiced harissa chickpeas, luscious Pan Seared Sea Scallops with sage barley risotto and yuzu crecy vinaigrette, and Catalan Grilled Quail with applewood smoked bacon, lentils and fresh mint, the dishes were each unique and absolutely delicious — a mix of classical French techniques married with the lush bounty of western Mediterranean produce with the sly exoticism of Moroccan spicing. The entrées were equally memorable, from the Lightly Sage-Smoked Duck Breast & Poached Pears with goat cheese polenta and star anise aigre-doux jus and the Grilled Prawns in a Dill and Citrus Beurre Blanc with pomme dauphinoise, lobster timbale, asparagus, roasted tomatoes and grilled fennel to the Wine Spectator-awarded wine list, genuine hospitality, colorful decor, and world music. A delicious culinary mosaic it is, and one in which all the little pieces fit together seamlessly. An outstanding evening from start to finish — and one of Sarasota's culinary gems.

Grilled Calimari with spiced harissa chickpeas

Pan Seared Sea Scallops with Sage Barley Risotto and Yuzu Crecy Vinaigrette

Catalan Grilled Quail and Applewood Smoked Bacon with Lentil and Fresh Mint

Potée of cabbage white bean with a hint of harissa

Roasted Heirloom Yellow Tomato Soup with Basil Oil and Creme Fraiche

Wild Mushroom Ravioli in a light Porcini Cream with Parmesan, 
Asparagus and Roasted Tomatoes

Char Grilled Flat Iron Steak over Sweet Parsnip Purée

Grilled Prawns in a Dill and Citrus Beurre Blanc with Pomme Dauphinoise, 
Lobster Timbale, Asparagus, Roasted Tomatoes and Grilled Fennel

Pan Seared Diver Scallops over Confit Aubergine with Mango Verjus Vinaigrette

Roasted New Potatoes

Crispy Goat Cheese Polenta and Leek Gratin

Lightly Sage-Smoked Duck Breast & Poached Pears with Goat Cheese Polenta 
and Star Anise Aigre-Doux Jus

Pan-roasted Chilean Sea Bass with Tagliatelle 
& Tomato Anchoyade Beurre Blanc
Recipe courtesy of Dylan Elhajoui

Herb Tagliatelle Pasta
Serves up to 30 — save extra for future

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cup finely ground semolina
1 tsp salt
1 egg
7 egg yolks
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup mixed fresh tender herbs roughly chopped: parsley, chives, chervil and lemon balm

Sift the flour, semolina, and salt together onto a work surface into a mound and make a hollow in the middle. In a bowl, mix the eggs, oil and herbs lightly just to break the yolks. Pour the liquid into the hollow. With a fork, mix the flour into the egg mixture gradually from the center towards the edge until thick pasta begins to form.

Using both hands, heap the remaining flour into the paste. If the paste doesn’t absorb all the flour and if it is hard to work the ingredients, add a little cold water. Work the dough with both thumbs and press it into a ball and work in the rest of the flour. Begin kneading by pushing the dough with the heels of your hands and form into a ball again. Repeat this kneading process until the dough has a firm but elastic consistency and no longer changes shape when you remove your hands. Wrap the dough in a layer of plastic wrap and let rest for at least 45 minutes.

Cut the dough into about 2-ounce pieces and cover with a towel to prevent drying. Working with one piece at a time and flatten the dough to fit between the rollers of a pasta machine set at the widest setting. Roll the strips of dough through the rollers of the machine several times, narrowing the setting each time until a thickness of about 1/16 inch is achieved. Trim the pasta strips if desired into 3-inch-by-6-inch ribbons. Lay the strips on a floured surface or hang on a rack to dry for about 1 hour. Dry longer if not used the same day. Just before serving, put the pasta sheets into lightly salted boiling water and cook for a few minutes just until the dough is tender to the bite. Drain and roll into some of the beurre blanc.

Anchoyade Beurre Blanc Sauce
Serves up to 6 

4 shallots, thinly sliced
3 anchovy fillets smashed into paste
2 ripe tomatoes roasted in a 275°F oven until very soft, about 45 minutes
10 parsley stems
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups dry white wine
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
8 peppercorns
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 pound butter cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste

Put all ingredients, except the cream, butter, salt and pepper, into a medium saucepan and cook on medium heat until almost dry. Strain into another saucepan, pushing the ingredients with a ladle through the strainer/sieve to extract the tomato and anchovy paste. Add the heavy cream. Bring to boil. Using a whisk, add butter a couple pieces at a time while whisking continually until all the butter has been blended. Season with salt and cayenne pepper. Keep in a warm place until serving.

If the sauce seems too acidic, whisk in more butter. If not acidic enough, add more lemon juice. Also, if held for a long period of time, the beurre blanc will thicken. If this happens, just add about 1 tablespoon of warm water and whisk.

Chilean Sea Bass
Serves 4

1 tbsp clarified butter
4 thick pieces of Chilean sea bass, about 9 ounces each
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat the clarified butter over high heat in a sauté pan large enough to hold all of the bass. Season the sea bass with salt then sear in the clarified butter until very nicely golden brown on one side, about three to five minutes. Turn the filets over and place the pan into the oven on a lower rack, and roast until fish is done, about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. MoZaic serves this dish with asparagus, braised fennel and roasted tomatoes.

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