Cloaked inside a regal deep-purple exterior, eggplant’s mystique lies in the possibilities: Middle Eastern, Asian, Mediterranean and Midwestern embellishments are all in the cards.
THE MILOS SPECIAL
Costas Spiliadis, executive chef, Estiatorio Milos, Las Vegas, New York City, Miami, Montreal, Athens, London
Light as a feather and flying high — not weighed down and soggy — that’s the enlightened way to do fried eggplant. The Milos Special is an ethereal plate of fried zucchini and eggplant accented with tzatziki and Kefalograviera cheese (a salty, nutty, somewhat intense Greek sheep’s milk cheese). The dish is a good introduction to Estiatorio Milos, a high-end Greek restaurant with an emphasis on seafood, locations all over the world and an ambience that’s designed to make you feel like you’re on a yacht, lost in a Mediterranean daydream.
Tony Gentile, corporate executive chef and owner, Blue Sushi Sake Grill; Dallas, Indianapolis, Denver, Omaha, more locations
Not to brag, but according to Blue Sushi Sake Grill’s website, this modern sushi concept is “kinda famous” for vegan maki. Ushering in a “new way to sushi,” Blue Sushi emphasizes a bite-by-bite experience with opportunities to try something new, like this vegan sushi roll made with gleaming dark purple eggplant tempura jauntily perched on top of the roll stuffed with avocado and glazed with sweet soy. Eggplant is becoming a sushi table go-to for Tony Gentile, corporate executive chef and owner of Blue Sushi. “It can take on any texture or flavor and it pairs really well with Asian fare,” Gentile said. “The vegan tempura eggplant in our Prince Roll complements the bitterness of the vinegar sushi rice. Together, this makes for a fun and delicious — and vegan friendly — bite.”
CHARRED TUNA WITH EGGPLANT PUREE
Pat Sheerin, executive chef, City Mouse, Chicago
The team behind Giant, the acclaimed Logan Square restaurant, moved into the all-day-neighborhood-Americana space with City Mouse, inside Ace Hotel Chicago. Dishes like the Gas Station breakfast sandwich (hash browns inside!) and drinks like the Color T.V. (bourbon, sherry, currant, black tea) take elements from the mighty Midwest and pass them through a culinary funhouse mirror. Sheerin’s grandmother’s neighbor on the South Side of Chicago, with the presence of a well-worn copy of the Zahav cookbook in the City Mouse kitchen, brings us this dish: eggplant charred until crackly, peeled, pureed and passed through a chinoise, then gilded and deepened black sesame seed tahini. It’s a dark echo for charred tuna and Meyer lemon salad with shishitos and black beans. “I love the smoky nuances … the depth is so incredible,” Sheerin said.
CHILLED EGGPLANT SALAD
Matt Gillie, chef de cuisine, Tansuo, Nashville, Tenn.
Chef Maneet Chauhan’s first foray into Chinese cuisine, Tansuo, derives its name from the Cantonese word meaning “to explore.” The exploration has taken the restaurant into forays into dim sum, noodle dishes galore, pork-stuffed dumplings, night-market street eats and even Chinese-American dishes like General Tso’s Chicken. A lighter, summery starter, chilled eggplant salad brings the bright colors and flavors of shishito peppers, blistered to a wilting perfection, dried apricot, cherry tomatoes, miso-lime vinaigrette and crispy lo mein on top for that all-important crunch factor.