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The Squeaky Bean’s one-off combination of farm-to-table with postmodern ironic dishes of pristine local ingredients presented in a space with a shrine for recently dead celebs, a wall-mounted bingo board, and coffee served in Trompe L’oeil cups made to look like crumpled plastic disposables, has been a tricky one for its chefs to figure out.
On the plate, do you try to mimic the playfulness in decor with cutting-edge techniques, whimsical presentations, and dishes with tongue-in-cheek names? Or do you find another, more understated way to deliver a pleasant surprise? Chris MacGillivray, the latest chef at the Bean, takes a different approach from his predecessors. MacGillivray, who worked with me at Olivéa a few years back, is self-effacing, technically one of the best chefs in the city, and passionate about ingredients, especially vegetables.
Every dish I tried on a recent visit featured a touch that was unexpected—and appetizingly right. A bowl of heirloom tomatoes and basils from the Bean’s farm, as fragrant and variegated as a bouquet of wildflowers, concealed a spoonful of sweet corn pudding. A cinnamon panna cotta with plum verjus sorbet concocted by Russell Stippich, MacGillivray’s talented sous, was garnished with hazelnut praline that mimicked the texture of coarse breadcrumbs. A local striped bass sashimi, briefly cured to firm it up, had a spiky punk haircut of julienned watermelon radish.
Best of all was a casserole of caramelized cauliflower (pictured), served with pickled shallots, a pesto of mint, parsley, Calabrian chiles, and sunflower seeds, and topped with delicate peppery green shoots that looked like baby arugula but turned out to be the miniature greens from the cauliflower plant. The depth of flavor that came from this simple-looking dish of vegetables was a reminder that you don’t always need flash to deliver surprises.
1500 Wynkoop St., 303-623-2665