DINNER WITH CHEF MARIA GRUBB AT XILLI LAB
Over the last couple of years, a supper club in Puerto Rico called Underground Dining Club would sometimes tag Put A Egg On It on Instagram photos of cool, delicious looking food. Definitely stand-out – so I was intrigued. When I finally visited San Juan last summer, the woman behind the dining club, Chef Maria Grubb, invited me to her restaurant Gallo Negro and the experience was mind-blowing. When we heard she'd be in town this week, we had to host a dinner with her. Chef Naxci Gaxiola shared his beautiful Xilli Labs kitchen with us, where he makes gorgeous moles and chili oil. Here's a glimpse of our evening in Bushwick (or East Williamsburg).
When I showed up with the tortillas, the Put A Egg On It team was already in place, helping Chef Maria get ready for our first seating. Our recipes editor, Jen Wanous, was sous-cheffing (I've decided that this is a verb now) and Tommy Werner was getting the cava ready for our guests.
As people arrived, we led them through an industrial basement maze and into Xilli's bright and lovely kitchen. The first course was a fresh pea soup, dubbed Awesome Pea Soup on Maria's menu, with Asparagus, micro chervil, and Xilli's chili oil. We served a Spanish white wine called Yemanueva Airén de Pie Franco by Bodega La Tercia with it. One guest told me he's never liked pea soup in his entire life and was amazed by the atypical, spicy soup.
Our second course was a chilaquiles napoleon – layers of fried tortillas with Xilli's smooth, deep, complex mole, refried edamame, and morel and shiitake mushrooms. Topped with a fried egg, a grilled ramp and ramp crema. During the preparation of this dish, Maria poked a hole in the top of the chilaquiles tower and poured a little white wine inside before finishing it all in the oven. Jenn de la Vega exclaimed, "You guys, she's deglazing the mushrooms INSIDE the dish!" We were all taking notes, learning from Chef Maria.
Next up was a crawfish cake with Japanese curry on a row of roasted white asparagus with a poached egg, uni hollandaise sauce and a sprinkling of tobiko on top — eggs on eggs on eggs, fitting for a Put A Egg On It affair. With this one, we poured a Mencía wine by Fazenda Prádio also from Spain.
For dessert Chef Maria served a bread pudding made with raisins soaked in a Puerto Rican rum called Ron del Barrilito and coconut milk. Another guest called me over during dessert to ask if I'd tried this yet. When I said I hadn't had a chance, she asked me to please text her later once I'd tried it so we could share a moment for how fantastic it tasted!
Chef Maria Grubb is such a talented and generous chef. We had a magical evening and can't wait to do it again. Stay tuned for a schedule of upcoming dinners and when you're in San Juan, swing by Gallo Negro and tell them Put A Egg On It sent you.
-photos by Sarah Forbes Keough