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Tofu gnocchi with apples and sunchokes at American Son. (Image: Travis Mitchell)

Curious Foods: American Son's tofu gnocchi will convert the tofu opposed

Admit it. Tofu sounds healthy. It rarely – if ever – feels like the indulgent menu choice, especially when surrounded by all manner of meats, cheeses and carbs. True as that might be, the tofu averse need to fight that mindset when eating at American Son, chef Tim Ma's new K street restaurant.

Ma is known for his kitchen experimentation, believing that a great restaurant should expose diners to techniques and flavors they’re unlikely to recreate in their home kitchens. It was that philosophy that contributed to developing a recipe for tofu gnocchi comforting enough to fool any purist.

The idea for tofu gnocchi originally took shape at his Asia-meets-France restaurant Kyirisan, in Shaw. And while his menu at The Eaton Hotel's American Son is unique from his other restaurants, Ma couldn’t help bringing this recipe along, albeit with a twist.

“We didn’t want any menu crossover between Kyirisan and here, but we really did love this gnocchi that we made," said Ma. "So we took that and we completely redid the dish."

His tofu gnocchi uses a specific brand of silken tofu to replicate (and replace) the traditional ricotta cheese recipe. It doesn’t impart too much tofu flavor, acting more like a binding agent than something that tastes like health food. The process starts with the silken tofu being passed through a tamis (a round, flat kitchen tool similar to a sieve) to get it to a smooth, purée-like consistency. From there, Ma folds the tofu with potato, flour, eggs and salt to make a dough.

The finished gnocchi are tossed with white miso “beurre monte,” apples, sunchokes and luxurious black truffles. These oblong pastas deal a satisfying al dente bite, far from the mushy tofu that most people might expect.

“It holds up its structure without disintegrating, and it has a good bite back through the gnocchi, which I think is interesting," said Ma.

And while some of the produce may eventually be swapped out (apples and sunchokes were in season when the restaurant opened) , Ma expects the core of the recipe to stay the same. It doesn’t hurt that crowds to the new hotel restaurant have been flocking to the dish.

“The response to the dish has actually been incredible,” he says.

In addition to the flavors, Ma takes pride in finding a creative new way to make gnocchi – a dish that’s on so many menus, but often made one of just a couple of ways.

“For us to recreate a technique using something different just adds to the narrative of it,” he says.

American Son is located at 1201 K St. NW