Take a closer look.
It could be caviar, but it isn't.
The consistency's the same, but not the color. Have a taste. Depending on which flavor may garnish your dish - cucumber, grapefruit, strawberry - you'll notice, almost like caviar, it sits on your palate, melts.
It could be caviar. But it isn't.
Patrick Gilpin, the 28-year-old executive chef at Blue Turtle Bistro, is experimenting with what has become popular in New York City and larger metropolitan areas across the country: molecular gastronomy.
It's a quasi-food science and modern style of cooking that is a diverse and increasingly useful way to look at cooking as more than the serving of a dish, but rather at what techniques are used in its preparation. Example: caviar that isn't.
On a Friday afternoon earlier this month, Gilpin experimented with spherification, or the process of shaping spheres from liquid that visually, texturally resemble caviar.
"The beauty of it is, for instance with grapefruit, citrus goes great with seafood. You put little grapefruit beads on top and you bite into your scallop or piece of fish and you get that citrus you'd normally squeeze on with a lemon," Gilpin said. "But you have it in this cool presentation."
This particular process was discovered in the 1950s and involves the mixing of liquid, in this case a juiced ruby red grapefruit and sodium alginate, which is then dipped into cold water containing calcium chloride.
It began at elBulli - a former restaurant in Spain that has since closed but plans to reopen in 2014 - where chef Ferran AdriÃ brought it into the contemporary culinary spotlight.
For Gilpin, he began learning the basics of molecular gastronomy during his time cooking downtown at Local 11 Ten.
"The pastry chef (at Local 11 Ten) was the one who introduced it to me and he trained at wd~50 in Manhattan," he said. "And I trained under him for about a year, but that was my first application until I tried it at Alligator Soul."
As an autodidact and now head of the kitchen at Blue Turtle, Gilpin is applying these techniques when possible, though he isn't staffed to a point where making it a mainstay on dishes is possible.
It's something he employs sparingly on dishes since joining the Blue Turtle staff 11 months ago.
"I've only done it about three or four times," he said, "the reason being it's hard to hold up and it's used strictly in haute, avant garde cuisine where they have an army of people and you have a guy that does just garnishes."
Though patrons might do well to look closer at their plates: Gilpin may have dabbed something of a surprise garnish to complement the salmon carpaccio, pan-seared airline chicken breast or atop a simple apple and fennel salad.
"As far as the future of Blue Turtle, I want people in the community to realize how much effort goes into my food," said Gilpin, holding out a spoonful of spherified melon and cucumber. "I'm pushing for good, simple cuisine presented in a casual, upscale environment."