Chef Chat, Part 3: Dagan Lynn and His Menu of Simple Elegance

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Dagan Lynn 024 Grille at the Westin Memorial City 945 N. Gessner Rd. Tel: 281-501-4350

This is Part three of a three-part Chef Chat series. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

This week, Chef Dagan Lynn shared his secret for getting into the most famous kitchens in NYC: work for free. We also learned about what he's been doing and plans to do with 024 Grille at the Westin Memorial City. Today we taste some of the food made with his particular brand of of "simple elegance."

To start, we tried one of the $10 bento boxes from his lunch menu. "It's one of the best values in the area," he told me as I selected four items to try from the straightforward prix fixe menu, which offered a choice of soup and salad, a main and dessert. I chose a lighthearted fried chicken and waffles with celeriac slaw and gravy, along with a red curry coconut chicken soup, simple salad and chocolate raspberry cake.

The chicken and waffles portion was just enough to satisfy my craving for some comfort food without weighing me down. The coconut curry soup was a standout, the soup smooth and creamy, with strong sweet coconut notes and spiciness to make things interesting.

To share, we tried the pan-sautéed shisito peppers with parmesan and sea salt, a fun alternative to the standard share plates like edamame or hummus you tend to see over and over again on menus across town. The peppers were easy to pick up by hand and plop in your mouth, their taste reminding me of hatch chiles -- slightly sweet, with a bit of smokiness from the pan-roasting and parmesan to give it a pleasant dose of salt.

The beautiful crab cakes had my name on them -- three good-sized breaded mounds, served with house-made aioli oozing over the side of each cake in the same way that Peruvians serve their causitas. Underneath lay a bed of sautéed spinach, and a spicy orange chili sauce which reminded me of Thai chili sauce. I scooped up the chili sauce enthusiastically with each bite.

I'm normally not a huge fan of cooked salmon. The oils make it a bit too "fishy" for me, but the salmon on Lynn's menu is a Verlasso salmon, a premium type raised naturally so that it's much less oily and lighter in flavor. Grilled to perfection and served over a slightly sweet butternut squash puree, accompanied by glazed baby carrots and grape relish, and finished off with brown butter, the dish was healthy and tasty, the fish devoid of the strong flavor that usually puts me off.

His pork tenderloin dish should have been called a "quartet of pork" or something to that effect, because that's what it was. Sliced pork tenderloin, a mound of pulled pork, crisp pork belly and jalapeño sausage were generously arranged on the plate over a bed of eggplant and roasted apples, then finished off with balsamic brown butter reduction.

A meat lover's dream come true, the composition was like an elevated version of barbecue, with the balsamic brown butter replacing a traditional barbecue sauce, the apple-eggplant medley giving everything a slight sweetness, like when you dip pork in apple sauce.

To finish, we had a lovely dessert with crisp praline tuile with lemon cake and fresh berries. The crispy caramel crunch from the tuile and the tangy fruit from the berries and cake were delicious and picturesque, a perfect way to end a string of simply elegant dishes.

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