Pull your hair back and take the aroma in: Blowtorches have found their way out of the auto repair shop and into restaurants to amp up the entertainment factor of your dining experience while giving your food the perfect finish.
① Chao Chao (New York, NY)
Chao Chao, a Vietnamese restaurant in New York City, serves a grilled skate wing in a banana leaf that’s torched tableside to lock in flavor.
"The aroma of the banana leaf, when torched, becomes stronger and adds a more powerful flavor to the fish," executive chef Stephan Brezinsky says.
Before it reaches the table, the fish is lightly grilled, smoked with banana leaves, wrapped in yet another leaf and grilled again. After it's been smoked at the table, it's finished with a tangy fish sauce known as nước chấm.
Photo: Courtesy of Chao Chao NYC
② Knife (Dallas, TX)
Top Chef alum John Tesar torches raw foie gras that’s been placed atop butter-poached lobster so that the fat coats the crustacean as it melts. The technique allows for "consistency and precise cooking, given the volatile nature of foie gras," he says. "It perfectly sears the dish and adds the right amount of color, but you have to be careful to not concentrate too long on the foie, as that will overcook it."
③ Barton G. (Miami, FL)
Barton G. in Miami recently debuted the Dolla Dolla Bills Y'all—yes, you have to order it that way—a dessert inspired by a bank heist. When it arrives tableside, the server wears a welding mask to blowtorch the white chocolate "gold bar," melting it to reveal a chocolate tart with toasted marshmallow meringue and dulce de leche.
Photo: Courtesy of Barton G.
④ CATCH (Los Angeles, CA)
The eponymous sushi roll at CATCH features peekytoe crab, salmon, orange tobiko and pickled daikon radish. When torched tableside, the salmon reaches a medium-rare temperature in seconds, and the sugars of the honey-miso glaze caramelize, lending a sweet, nutty flavor. The result? A layered, hot-and-cold experience that’s difficult to achieve with sushi, since warm nori typically gets soft and loses its crunch.
Photo: Courtesy of CATCH
⑤ Taco Rosa (Newport Beach, CA)
Taco Rosa takes a similar approach to its tacos de filete, starting with skirt steak that’s charbroiled in the kitchen (to retain its natural marbling) then quickly sautéed with mushrooms and onions; the onion sugar seeps into the against-the-grain cuts in the meat. When it's torched tableside, the concentrated heat reacts with the sugars and protein, creating the perfect char.
And, sure, torching is one way restaurants like Taco Rosa can control temperature and achieve certain technical results. But there’s also something to be said for the somewhat-intangible quality blowtorching lends to a meal. As Tesar puts it, “When we do it in front of guests, it adds that 'whoosh' of fire, which shows the sometimes-dangerous side of cooking. And there’s that amazing smoky, woody smell, like a bonfire."