100 Favorite Dishes: # 3 -- Fried Jumbo Prawn at Studio
Roy Villacrusis began his career under the watchful eye of the infamous South Florida chef, Mark Militello, at Mark's City Place in West Palm Beach. And it's been nothing but success from there: in the past decade, Villacrusis has since evolved from green gastronome to blazen bon vivant -- and quickly become one of South Florida's most creative and colorful chefs.
He's designed remarkable dishes at his North Palm Beach establishment, Kubo, and created the small plates menu you'll find at upscale martini bar, Dirty Martini, in Palm Beach Gardens. He introduced forward-thinking flavors as executive chef at Boca's well-received Kapow! Noodle Bar -- and received the top honor as the winner of the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival "Grand Chef Throwdown" two years running.
These days, however, you will find Villacrusis at his new pop-up, Studio, located inside the Thai restaurant Bangkok O-Cha in West Palm Beach. Although Bangkok O-Cha stopped serving sushi awhile ago, the owners reopened the sectioned-off sushi den for Villacrusis this July, who redecorated the small area and began using it to serve the dedicated clientele that continue to appreciate his skill as an artist and chef.
Here, diners can watch Villacrusis as he works in the tiny kitchen behind the sushi bar. He uses mostly local ingredients sourced that day, cooks everything himself, and plates dishes like miniature works of art. It's almost like having a private chef.
Every day, Villacrusis creates a different menu based on what fresh fare he is able to find, and what mood he is in. Diners pay approximately $80 per person (reservations are required at the 16-seat eatery) and are rewarded with whatever Villacrusis decides to cook up -- an assortment of small plates, as many as 12 to 20 courses total, each dish an abstract, edible art piece with each of the five Japanese taste sensations in mind: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (savory).
One of Villacrusis's signature dishes is the pan-fried jumbo prawn, served in red curry with bok choy and lychee. This dish delivers it all, beginning with the savory flavors of the prawn itself, its shell revealing a hot, gushing interior that spurts forth a salty brine and pairs well against the sweet tang of warm lychee and the acerbic bite of crisp bok choy. An astonishingly dense red curry sauce provides just a touch of heat, made velvety smooth by coconut milk Villacrusis has specially ordered from Thailand. It's as close to authentic as you'll find here in South Florida.
A favorite of Villacrusis' wife, fellow Philippine-born Miele, this dish is a reminder that eating can be an artful experience -- especially when exhibited though Villacrusis' mad genius. He creates without critique in mind, and never knows what to call his dishes -- which is OK, because there never seems to be a name quite fitting.
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