Whether we get it from TV or restaurant chefs or glossy magazines, one of the Big Lies of our current food-obsessed age is that you can't prepare great food or, heaven help us, entertain if you have anything less than a gourmet kitchen costing tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars. That kitchen, of course, must be filled with gleaming stainless steel appliances, preferably restaurant-grade. (Think Viking 6-burner stove and Sub-Zero refrigerator.)
The pickle bar.
But all you have to do to turn off the smoke machine and clear the air is to drop into Evoe some early afternoon and take a seat at Kevin Gibson's prep table-cum-chef's bar. With little more than a sharp knife, a mandoline and the same exact non-stick plug-in griddle my mom made pancakes on for most of my childhood, he turns out what I consider some of the best food in the city. I mean, the guy had to beg to get a stove, for gosh sakes, and got a household-grade electric one for his trouble! (Forget gas or a fancy, much less any, hood.)
More padrons, please!
The other day when my son and I dropped in for lunch—I was using up the last of my Christmas coupon for three lunches, his treat—we waited for a seat and pounced when two opened up. (Could it have been my drooling on their shoulders that caused them to leave in such a hurry?) We ordered our usual deviled eggs, Kevin's breathtakingly mustard-infused version dipped in bread crumbs and fried on his griddle till warm and vaporous.
And since I hadn't yet had my fill of padron peppers this year, an order of those was de rigeur, and a huge pile of the blistered gems soon appeared before us. The best thing to do at Evoe is to order your next plate when one arrives, so on Kevin's advice we ordered the whole sea bream stuffed with minced fennel fronds and with an array of sautéed whole cherry tomatoes alongside.
As we munched our peppers, Kevin disappeared into the kitchen and emerged with a fish, which he slashed crosswise and showered with salt crystals while it came up to room temperature. Turning on a burner (electric, remember?) he put a pan on the stove to get it searingly hot and moved to the chopping block, mincing up the fennel stuffing. When it was safely stowed inside the fish, he put the fish into the pan for it to brown for a few minutes.
The sea bream emerged moist on the inside with salty, crispy skin (top photo), and we took Kevin's advice and pried out the cheek and head meat, leaving little but bones and a couple of fins on the plate. To finish off in style we went for the octopus salad, a concoction of more cherry tomatoes and chilled octo lightly dressed with a simple vinaigrette.
So while Kevin's got more raw talent in his little fingernail than I'll ever achieve, it's instructive to watch someone make food magic with the most basic of kitchen appliances. Instructive and delicious.
Details: Evoe, 3731 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. Phone 503-232-1010.