Last Friday, the brainchild of Chef Dee Nguyen of Break of Dawn, featuring Daniel “Doki” Kim, launched at Nguyen’s brunch spot. Aptly named “BoD RAW”, after Doki’s experience with raw fish — and every dish comprises an element of raw seafood — the pop-up concept at the Laguna Hills restaurant offers two seatings on both Friday and Saturday evenings with a mind-blowing journey of 11 courses . I am lucky a friend buys two seats, and I am able to snatch one from her.
The sold-out event its first weekend is a casual one, seeing good friends gathering around the counter top enjoying some incredible food. There is only one couple I do not recognize. The second seating sees more friends, this time, I do not recognize four participants.
We start with Grape — a watermelon slice with grape, cobra chile hot sauce, 1975 balsamic vinegar in a mojito infusion and a dollop of mascarpone. The refreshing starter with hints of sweet and tart, enliven our tastebuds.
Our second course comes in the form of Shigoku oyster topped with a crispy kohlrabi “cup” filled with American sturgeon caviar. The saffron pineapple gelee it sits on is refreshing, while basil seeds, wasabi, and sparkling sake add dimensions of inexplicable texture and flavors.
My oyster is replaced with uni due to my oyster allergy.
The next course is a duo. First is a bowl of Kabocha flan and veloute, topped with abalone slices and bits of bacon. A seperate pot of veloute is served alongside which I am not able to resist. It is umami-filled made with lobster stock, with citrus notes from lemongrass and ngo om (rice paddy herb). Coconut and pepitas accompany. Even though bacon makes everything taste even better, I think here, it overpowers the delicate kabocha. I eat the bacon on its own, then enjoy the kabocha veloute in the form of a “soup”. This is one of my favorite dishes causing major addiction to my tastebuds. I wanted to lick my bowl clean.
But Ocean Trout very soon convinces me that it has trumped the last dish. The sockeye belly rillettes causes a minor mouthgasm with even stronger umami than the previous offering. Eat all components together and you will find the fragrance of fennel, crisp blood orange, salty ikura, mustard pods, curry and shallot come together for an indescribable experience. My mouth is going crazy with all the flavor profiles in each bite. The rillettes has got to be my favorite with its unctuous mouthfeel and robust umami (you’ll see a lot of this word in this post).
Next comes Scallop and it is a light but complex marriage of different ingredients starting with the freshness of yuzu, creamy avocado, grated smoked mentaiko, Cambodian pepper, hiziki (sea vegetable), and a lightly sweet Riesling. Salty, sweet, tart, simply sublime!
Thick Kampachi slices intersperse with cucumber, green tomato, beet, dill pollen, pumpernickle with Banyuls vinegar, and an aromatic Oxalis buttermilk creating one of the prettiest plates of the night. Honestly, my photo does not do it justice. Depending on what accoutrements you eat with the fish, a different flavor profile ensues. It is just amazing. My neighbors keep hearing me quietly “mmmm” to myself with every bite.
Hokkaido Uni has got to be another of my favorites, take a guess why. YES! UNI! My weakness. However, it is taken a step further, served with prawn mousseline “noodles”, brie cheese, spring pea, chrysanthemum and tea dashi. Parmesan is grated over the top table-side. A table mate is not able to finish her bowl and I do not hesitate when she offers her uni to me.
The perfect flavor and texture combinations is found in the next dish — Spanish Bluefin — salty sea grapes, hint of bitterness from endive, sweetness from Asian pear and St-Germain. A quail egg gives gooey creaminess while the toast is is encased in offers crunch. Each mouthful is a well thought-out sublime creation.
What is more luxurious and decadent than foie gras? Duck Liver is served with duck confit and bits of sliced jujube. Eat the sushi roll with a little foie and the unagi gelatin terrine. This is a dish which shows the sheer talent of the chefs. There is no word to describe how utterly sensational this tastes.
Our last savory course is Prime Beef. Honestly, I could have stopped at the last course. The Pacific lobster is served raw and its natural brininess tickles the tongue. I love the distinctive taste of the sunchoke, the fragrance of the nasturtium “pistou”, and the boldness of the black garlic, however, this is my least favorite dish.
We end with Blanc Manger, a kaffir lime panna cotta log with chocolate cake. The preserved kumquat is breathtaking and I want more of this. It is a delightful dessert, but I am stuffed beyond belief.
An 11-course meal with relatively generous portions makes this one of the most reasonably priced tasting menus I’ve ever encountered. At $100, it works out to be less than $10 a dish. This is also the best meal I have eaten this year. Each course is a beautiful palette of colors and these artfully composed dishes are definitely worthy of a Michelin-star. Bravo!
Break of Dawn
24291 Avenida De La Carlota
Laguna Hills, CA 92653