international smoke review

A little while ago, I headed out to the city to check out Ayesha Curry’s pop up at Michael Mina Test Kitchen.  I didn’t go to this popup because I thought Ayesha was going to be in the kitchen –  I knew they’d be dishes she enjoyed to cook and perhaps inspired by or collaborated with her.  She seems like a cool gal who enjoys good food so I thought I’d check it out, especially after hearing that Korean bbq was on the menu.  Sadly, by the time I went the Korean bbq was off the menu for whatever reason but I was excited to check out the other eats!

I have to kick it off by saying the staff at Michael Mina Test Kitchen were so warm, inviting, and fun!  They were attentive but not oppressively so and ummmm the music throughout the whole evening was AWESOME. It had me dancing and grooving in my seat. I even joked that it helped with digestion! What a fun place to be for a night out – I totally recommend as a date night! On to the food!

Here was the menu for the evening:

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First up, snacks!  Shown below are the pickled veggies. Shown in the tiny upper right hand corner are the corn nuts.  OMG these were not your average corn nuts from the store. I don’t like those corn nuts because I always feel like I’m gonna crack a tooth eating them.  But these?  They had the amazing roasted corn flavor with just the right amount of crunch.  And just the right amount of salt!  I’m always wary of places that oversalt and it would be easy to do with this kind of snack but these were perfect! I had to stop myself before I got full on snacks.

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Next was the thai style barbeque shrimp chili (shown below).  It tasted like thai curry without the rice.  Because I had that in my head, I was expecting an overwhelming flavor but it was like curry but taken down a notch.  I was able to enjoy it like a soup and appreciated that the flavors were scaled back.  The cornbread was soooo good. It may have been the first and only time I didn’t use butter on cornbread but it honesty didn’t need it. Yum.

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Next up was the smoked heirloom tomato salad with crispy squash blossoms and white nectarine (shown below).  This was tasty and really refreshing. A good palate cleansing course after the curried flavor in the prior course.  Isn’t it plated so beautifully?  That’s what I lack in my own cooking – the presentation!

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At this point, we were given some supplemental options.  One was a soft shell crab with singapore street noodles and another was the Tokyo hash browns.  I opted to pass on the crab with noodles because I needed space for the BBQ!  But I could not pass up the Tokyo hash brown description. So below, you will see the Tokyo hash browns (which are actually tater tots!).  People, this was my favorite dish of the night. Soy caramel, Kewpie mayo drizzled all over and this toasted nori that just pulled everything together. O.M.G.  I was telling my friend that THIS dish is why I enjoy eating out.  Discovering a new and exciting way to pull together flavors I already know – that’s exciting to me.  And this dish did exactly that.  It was comfort food to the hilt and tasting these familiar flavors in a unique combination was so fun and delicious!  I want to recreate this and serve it up to friends and family.

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And finally… the BBQ.  We chose Ayesha’s spiced chicken, St. Louis style baby back ribs and “Bacon on bacon”.  The other 2 choices were merguez sausage and pastrami. You could add those on but I was already pretty full at this point!  Ok, here is where I need to be really honest.  I mean, this is my blog and I try to be straight up with you all.  Ayesha’s namesake chicken dish – I was not a fan.  The sauce was a bit overpowering and the flavors just didn’t mesh for me.  The BBQ ribs were the best meat option I tried.  It was tender, fall-off-the-bone and tasty.  But I could make those at home.  And the bacon on bacon?  The bread (although toasted) was soggy and fell apart.  Mushy bread = no bueno. Good thing those Tokyo tots filled me up!  The portion size, by the way, was really generous. You get a LOT of food here.  I was just disappointed at the BBQ portion of the evening.

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The corn dish shown below was served as a side.Moroccan street corn.  It actually went well with the BBQ meat, especially Ayesha’s chicken.  But it could not save the BBQ platter.IMG_3204[1]

The tasting ended with a pineapple granita (shown below) that had toasted macadamia nuts, something aloe and some mochi bites.  This was really refreshing and perked up the meal again.  It was the perfect dessert.  Cleansed my mouth and was very light and not too sweet. Had that good balance of sweet and tart. Reminded me of somewhere tropical…. I wish the whole experience ended there.  But they gave us one more bite to end with….

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I was really full but they brought out this bite of devil’s food cake with a peanut butter mousse on top.  It was one bite and really not necessary.  Thing is, it wasn’t very good.  So after bringing the meal back up with the pineapple granita, I left the table with the last bite being so mediocre and blah.  I wish I hadn’t even eaten it.

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So…. my thoughts?  It was a fun and delicious evening.  It had some hits and misses but as one server mentioned, it’s a test kitchen.  They want to try things out.  And for the most part, this was a big hit.  A great date night experience or a night out with friends and like I mentioned, a fun vibe to the whole place.  Ayesha was on an anniversary trip with Steph so alas, no picture with her (ha!) but I’m glad to have experienced it and would recommend  others to try it out.  It definitely gave me a great impression of the Mina Test Kitchen and I’d try out a future pop-up as well.

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