(THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The folks behind Sitka and Sitka Studio in Jalan Batai, Damansara Heights, have always been enthusiastic celebrators of local produce.
Restaurateur Jenifer Kuah and executive chef Christian Recomio are steadfast in their determination to champion local produce and this kind of palate patriotism warms the heart and fires the imagination in equal measure.
So, meals at Sitka and Sitka Studio always transcend just the deliciousness on the plate - they are reminders of just how much we have to be proud of in Malaysia's vast, bountiful pantry.
Sitka Studio is upstairs from Sitka, an intimately lit space which combines clean, sparse lines and a cosy vibe; the brightly lit open kitchen allows the gentle buzz of the well-oiled kitchen team to spill out into the dining space.
It has often played the role of private event space and culinary playground for Recomio and has now started rolling out its five-course Friday night dinners. These stick closely to the Sitka ethos of loving local ingredients and demonstrating the possibilities to which they can be extended.
The bulk of the produce used is cultivated or foraged just a few kilometres from Kuala Lumpur at most, with the chef looking farther only for the few additions that are not locally available. The five-course menu is RM195 (S$66) a person, with the option of adding on an extra course for a bit more.
The menu officially changes each month, "unless I get bored", says the ever-inventive, ever-restless Recomio. And since the first month of the dinners seems to have drawn a fair number of regulars, he may tweak or replace dishes here and there sooner.
We started with the housemade sourdough, served with cultured butter - the kitchen is big on traditional, natural techniques such as fermentation and brining. The butter was light, with a slightly nutty sweetness and a lovely aroma. And the bread? Everything bread should aspire to be: fluffy and substantial on the inside, with a shatter-crisp crust.
Then a petite open tart arrived at the table. Filled with creamy, light chicken parfait and crowned with slices of pickled grape, the crisp, feather-light tart shell was made from yuba skin, the skin that forms when you boil soya milk. It was a brilliant study in contrasts - an offering at once rich and yet light - with the sweet, tangy juiciness of the grapes adding balance.
And a deceptively simple one, since the method to turn the flimsy yuba skin into a tart shell is a labour-intensive one, according to Recomio.
The next course decided to head firmly in the direction of rich unctuousness, with grilled baby kai lan - crunchy and sweet, with smoky nuances and an umami-laden kelp glaze - topped with a creamy egg yolk, cooked confit and also smoked. That egg yolk was remarkable, a wash of full-bodied, sumptuous smoothness on the tongue.
Then, a dish of wonderfully tender steamed siakap in a pool of calamansi vinegar butter. The smooth, fresh citrus-spiked butter was the perfect complement to the clean, flaky fish and globes of trout roe and sea prawns added briny bursts. This was the kind of dish for which a meal slows and conversation hushes, so that you can better savour each mouthful.
The final savoury course was a dish of housemade cavatelli - little rolled pasta spirals made from semolina dough and duck egg - thickly coated with a clever squid "Bolognese". According to Recomio, the springy pieces of squid were deglazed with Shaoxing rice wine, black vinegar and fermented black beans - lending both flavour and fragrance.
For dessert, Recomio served up the groundbreaking Kom-brulee. Essentially a creme brulee, the delicate custard was infused with saffron and jasmine, and topped with a Sitka Studio take on granola - bits of candied kombu for a touch of umami and puffed pumpkin seeds lending toasty texture. This was definitely one of the most intriguing desserts I've had the pleasure of encountering in recent memory.
Sitka Studio's Friday night dinners are all about excellent ideas and execution, natural and traditional techniques utilised in new ways and local produce elevated to the point that diners may well see it anew.
Worth noting: Although walk-ins are allowed, reservations are highly recommended for Sitka Studio's Friday night dinners, due to the limited available space.
Where: 8-5A Jalan Batai, Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur, tel: 017-277-7848/016-382-6336; open: 7pm till late (last order at 9.30pm)