Saturday, December 19, 2009

Our Trip to Las Vegas - Tableau Wynn, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, B & B Ristorante, Bouchon, Le Reve

Cindy and I decided to take a short, 2 day, trip to Las Vegas as a break from the miserable weather in Seattle. We go to Vegas only once every few years for the Food and the Cirque de Soleil shows. In our breif time there we were able to visit 4 really excellent Restaurants and see one really spectacular show. We stayed at the Wynn and our room had a great view of the Strip.

Our first night we went to L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon for the 9 course tasting menu.

Foie gras parfait with port wine and Parmesan foam -- the first of three foie gras servings of the night, this was presented in a small glass. Savory and creamy, the port wine added the necessary tartness to contrast the richness of the foie gras. You will see this on my tasting menu's at home! Yum!.

King crab on a turnip disc with sweet and sour sauce -- two large bites of an extremely high quality King crab meat. Looked somewhat like a steamed roll presentation at a dim sum place - I will definitely try this one at home.

Sea scallop cooked in the shell with chive oil -- a single scallop that was packed with intense flavor due to the coating of micro-chives. Not seared and quite rare but excellent - and a huge diver scallop.

White onion tart with smoked bacon and asparagus -- very soft and creamy in the style of a small french pizza on filo.

Duck foie gras with confit quince and yuzu -- the sweetness and tartness of the quince and yuzu was excellent. The seared foie was a little under-seasoned so missed amazing but very, very good..

Dover Sole fillet, baby leek and ginger. Tasty and a beautiful fish presentation.

Foie gras stuffed free-range quail with truffled-mashed potatoes. Hard to imagine Cindy eating a quail - but there you go!. Super dish and very fun to finally try Joel's Potato Puree which I have made many, many times. The truffle is a nice addition and was not overpowering. The interesting thing is i truly think he got maybe 50% more butter in the puree than I do and I didn't really think you could do that.

Grapefruit infused with Prosecco, lychee sorbet. A very inventive, fun, and hokey looking (as only the french can do when imitating something from American culture) dish and really hard to describe. Kind of a foam/sorbet over grapefruit with a pink sugar rimmed cup eaten with a plastic spoon.

Chocolate cake cremeux layered with espresso ice cream and roasted almonds - pictured at left. Yum!!!

Finished with espresso.

This restaurant is an open kitchen concept where you - if you are sitting in the right place - as we were - can see and hear everything going on in the kitchen, and the pass. Atmosphere was a more upscale version of Kaspar's Chefs Table for those of you who have done that in his kitchen. It was really fun. They are really working each and every plate - no mass production - but certainly good mis en place.

We had a half bottle of a Puilly Fume French Savignon blanc - very nice. The final bill was a little over $200 each. This a bargain when compared to the main Restaurant next door where the 12 course menu would have ended up over $500 a person.

The next morning we had one of the most elegant and wonderful breakfasts of my life at Tableau at Winn. It was a "perfect food and drink" version of the Olympic Four Seasons dining room. Cindy had a great Egg's Benedict with fresh Tarragon in the Hollandise. I had poached eggs with potatos, sausage and we both ahad fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. The rolls and jams were just perfect. $75 for two and well worth it. We were seated next to 3 older Mifia Don's and their elegant wives.

For Dinner that night we went to Mario Batalli's B & B Ristorante which is a knockoff of Babbo in NYC. This was also a near perfect experience. cindy had a beet and pistachio salad with Ricotta Salita cheese in a wonderful vinaigrette. I had a GREAT fennel dusted and wonderfully sauced and presented Sweetbreads. Then Cindy had a huge, beartiful, super tasty Veal Chop which was very reminiscent of Jerome's in La Turbie, France - Which is perhaps Miranda's most memorable dish ever. I had the Rabbit served hunters style with pancetta. Close to the perfection of Cafe Juanita which is sayinga lot. Everything was very assertively salted - which we both loved but which might be too much for many folks. We were, unfortunately stuffed by this point and thus did not try dessert. About $200 for two with tax and tip.

For our final meal we got up early - getting to watch some very beautiful and elegant prostitutes meeting their pimps outside the Wynn hotel entrance - and whet over to the Venetian for Thomas Keller's Bouchon breakfast. We have learned to get there early for the best experience. Thomas Keller has impeccable standards but his Bouchons (NY, Yountville, and Las Vegas) all seem to suffer a little after the peak of service for any meal. I had a wonderful baked eggs in a mornay sauce with spinach and tomato. Maybe my best egg dish of the year. I also had a pecan sticky bun, some sausage, and nice fresh squeezed grapefruit. Cindy had an amazing bread pudding "French Toast" with a side of bacon and grapefruit juice. everything was perfect. About $75 for two.

For our show we went to See Le Reve at the Wynn. This is an almost totally water based Cirque Du Soleil. As with any Cirque show it is hard to describe but UNBELIEVABLE. WOW!! If you have the opportunity to see this show DO IT.

Tableau (Wynn) on Urbanspoon
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (MGM Grand) on Urbanspoon

Bouchon (Venetian) on Urbanspoon

B & B Ristorante (Venetian) on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 18, 2009

Perilla Falls Short

Restaurant Name: Perilla
Restaurant Location: 9 Jones Street, NYC

Having heard very positive reviews about Greenwich Village's Perilla Restaurant, I'd been keen to try it for some time. My high hopes for this attractive little neighborhood spot, however, have been thoroughly dashed. Sadly, Perilla fell far short of my expectations.

First, in order to secure a reservation for 5 people, I had to hold the reservation with a credit card. If I didn't confirm a day ahead, I was informed that I'd be charged whether I showed up or not. I held up my end of the bargain and all five of us arrived, blown in out of the cold, right on time. The hostess then announced that our table wasn't ready; it would *just be a few moments* while the previous group at the table finished up their desserts. Nearly 40 minutes later, we were finally seated. After about 30 minutes of the wait, they'd sent a free appetizer up to the bar for us to snack on, and I'd felt some sympathy for them. After all, sometimes diners simply won't leave a table.

Then we embarked on our own meal...with incredibly slow service. I began to realize that the long wait for our table probably had nothing to do with the people who'd been dining before us. The wait between each and every step of the meal was glacial.

So, was the food worth the wait? Unfortunately not. Don't get me wrong, the food was...fine. But not much else. Some dishes were better than others (at least the $40 appetizer portion of egg ravioli with shaved white truffles was up to snuff). Many dishes were off, though.

For instance, the Red Kuri Squash Agnolotti with chanterelles, grilled halloumi & brown butter-hazelnut sauce (which sound delicious) was bland and looked truly appalling on the plate. Served in a huge dish, the pasta was swimming in a brownish sauce. The agnolotti were not actually filled with squash, but with boring old ricotta. The squash was cut up and tossed in with the sauce (as were the mushrooms and a dice of the halloumi). It looked like a grey, chunky stew, not an elegant pasta dish. Though it tasted better than it looked, it was hardly worth the $22 price tag, or the long wait.

Another dish, Fluke Sashimi served with a radish-fennel garnish, was fresh and clean-tasting on its own, but totally overwhelmed by the too-assertive passion-fruit sauce that smothered it. In general, we were all fairly disappointed with the level of interest presented by the food. As I said, everything was just fine - but totally lacking in spark.

Our server also fell down on the job, failing to tell us about the dessert special (a souffle that had to be ordered in advance). In addition to generally slow service, when we were ready to pay the bill, she completely vanished. We finally spotted her at the bar, flirting with another server. Eventually, she noticed that all five of us were staring at her.

With the great reviews of this place, I guess I just expected better: better food, better service. Oh well, you can't win em all!

Perilla on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sharing the Love: Fabulous Recipe

Last night I adapted a recipe out of the latest issue of Food and Wine that left both Sid and I literally licking our, I thought I'd better share it with everyone.

Seared Skirt Steak w/Farro, Chard, and Mushrooms (adapted from Food & Wine)
Serves 2-3

For the steak:
1 1/2 - 2 lbs skirt steak, membrane removed
3 Tbs butter
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tsp smoked hot paprika (pimenton)
1 lemon
Salt & pepper to taste

For the Farro:
3/4 cup farro
1 - 1 1/2 cups sliced crimini mushrooms
1 lb of swiss chard
2 Tbs vegetable oil
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
Salt & pepper to taste

Begin by preparing the skirt steak. Rinse, pat dry, remove any membrane and trim excess fat. Set aside.

Cook the farro by placing it in a pot and covering with about 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook covered for 25 minutes (farro should be tender). Drain and set aside. Wash and pat dry the chard, roughly chop both the leaves and tender top portion of stems. Clean the mushrooms and thickly slice. Thinly slice the onion.

For the farro: Heat 1 Tbs each of the oils in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent (about 3 minutes). Add the mushrooms and saute another 3 minutes. Add the rest of the oil and the swiss chard (this will fill the pan, but will cook down dramatically). Toss with tongs frequently to ensure even cooking down of the chard. Salt and pepper the vegetables and then add the farro. Reduce the heat and toss the vegetables with the farro. After about 2 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings. Take off the heat.

For the paprika butter: in a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the sliced garlic. Saute until the garlic is lightly golden brown, making sure not to burn the butter. Add the paprika and continue cooking another 30 seconds. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the steak: Heat a grill or grill pan smoking hot and lightly coat the meat with oil. Season w/salt and pepper (generously). Add the meat to the hot pan or grill and cook undisturbed about 3 minutes per side (each side should be well charred but the meat should still be medium-rare in the center). Remove the steak from the grill, squeeze with lemon, and cover with foil; rest the meat for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, rewarm the paprika butter and the farro salad.

Slice the meat and serve atop a bed of the farro salad. Drizzle all with the paprika butter.

(photo by John Kernick, from Food &

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Having Supper in Philly

Restaurant Name: Supper

Restaurant Location: 926 South Street (10th & South), Philadelphia

On a recent whirlwind trip to my old stomping ground of Philadelphia, I had the pleasure of eating at Supper. This warm and inviting spot has long been on my radar, since it literally opened around the corner from my old apartment just months after we moved away. I was therefore delighted at the opportunity to find out what I'd been missing these last few years.

Overall, I'm going to say that I've been missing a truly lovely restaurant that shares my adoration of the pig and it's many splendors as well as my appreciation of small plates. Supper is just the kind of place I'd eat all the time if I still lived in Philly.

To start, I enjoyed Roasted Marrow Bones with parsley garnish and shallot jam. This dish was rich and delicious and the jam on the side was a real win. Sadly, though, the plural marker on the menu was misleading as we were not even served one whole marrow bone...just a sad little half of a bone that we disconsolately scraped clean. This dish would have been much more satisfying it we'd been given just a little more. I am a fan of small dishes, but this was too small, even for me!

Next I polished off the Boston Bibb and Herb Salad with apples, bacon, cornbread and buttermilk dressing. The buttermilk dressing was great - creamy and tangy - and since this salad was rife with crumbled bacon, I was happy. The apples had been marinated and were dark and full of flavor. The cornbread seemed like a good idea but might have worked better as a cornbread crouton rather than served soft.

Still hungry...I also ordered the Slow Cooked Pork Belly with warm fingerling-and-green bean salad, bacon dressing & apple chutney. This was suitably rich and absurdly fatty. There was a great tang in the dressing and garnish to cut through the creamy fat (which was admittedly so plump and quivering that I couldn't finish it).

In addition to sharing the bone marrow and pork belly with me, my dinner companion also ordered the Strozzapreti Pasta with shaved brussels sprouts, leeks, hazelnuts and sage brown butter, which was complex, tender, and very Fall-like.

Overall, I was really pleased with the offerings at Supper. And, I saw plenty more on the menu that I would have liked to try, including a heaping (entree-sized) dish of seafood cioppino that looked amazing. The frankly very rich dishes were almost all balanced with fairly assertive acids, which helped cut through all that pork-goodness.

Well-conceived and reasonably priced, with a good wine list....Supper: why didn't you open before we moved away!!

Bon Apetit!

Supper on Urbanspoon

From Amy's Kitchen: Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

My sister, Amy Miller, recently shared this holiday standard with me and I thought I should pass them along to all of you! The cream cheese in this recipe really adds a lovely, subtle flavor that sugar cookies often lack. These are great for cutting into festive, holiday shapes and gobbling up.

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

(makes about 2 dozen cookies, depending on cookie cutter sizes)
1 c. white sugar
1 c. butter, softened
1 3 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
2 1/4 c. flour

1. In large bowl, combine sugar, butter, cream cheese, salt, extracts, and egg yolk. Beat until smooth. Beat in flour until well blended. Chill dough for 8 hours or over night.

2. Preheat oven to 375.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough 1/3 at a time, a generous 1/8 inch thick. Refrigerate remaining dough as you work, until ready to use. Keeping the dough cold is essential for preventing it from sticking to the counter. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters.

Place cookies 1 inch apart on un-greased cookie sheet. Brush each lightly with egg white (slightly beaten) and sprinkle with colored sugars.

4. Bake 7-10 min or until light and golden brown. Don't over cook. They'll set up a bit as they cool. Share or freeze extras!

Bon Appetit and Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hit and Miss at Get Fresh

Restaurant Name: Get Fresh Table & Market
Restaurant Location: 370 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

This relative newcomer in Park Slope is a place of highs and lows, so much so that after dining there last week, we left befuddled and unable to clearly answer a basic question: had we enjoyed the meal?

The Pros:
Get Fresh is a welcoming, if spare, space on the southern end of Park Slope's 5th Avenue. The servers are friendly and attentive and the menu purports to offer local, organic, sustainable fare (see below, though). Plus, it's one of the few BYOB restaurants around, which really helps cut down on the dinner bill.

Some of the dishes we tried were really outstanding. Our starter, for instance, of Rabbit-Pork sausage served atop a bed of creamy truffled potato puree, was divine. We literally wiped the plate clean with our fingers. But, oddly, rather than being housemade (as one might expect from a place championing great local food), the sausage was from D'Artagnan (this was disappointing, somehow. Though, at least now I know where I can order the sausage for myself...). Another winner was a side dish we ordered, Mexican Beans and Rice. Usually a throwaway, this dish was full of flavor and texture.

Our dessert, a chocolate "cake" (really more like two incredibly tender brownies held together with a thick serving of ganache) was also a plate-licker. Weirdly, though, this wasn't made in the restaurant either, but at a local bakery.

The Cons
Some of the dishes were downright awful. I ordered the Hawaiian prawns with sweet potato puree expecting plump prawns set atop a bed of flavorful puree. Instead the pawns were coated with the puree, creating a mushy dish with a horrifying mouth-feel. It was barely edible when it could have been great. Plus, Hawaiian prawns at a place bragging about local food? Really?

My husband's entree (the smoked pork belly with tamales and mole) was fine - good, not great.

So, in sum, Get Fresh had some real highs and real lows and very little in between. Coupled with so much of their food being prepared off-site, we just felt that the whole experience was very unrestaurant-y and were uncertain if we'd return or not.

Get Fresh Table & Market on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tulio Restaurant in Downtown Seattle

Last weekend Cindy and I reconnected with some old Vashon friends, Jan and Joel Schwarz, that we have not seen for 20 years. We had them suggest a restaurant and they chose Tulio in downtown Seattle. I was aware of the restaurant but had no real impression - which is not usually a good sign since I am food and restaurant obsessed. However, We were very pleasantly surprised by the Ambiance, the Food and Service. This is really a very good Italian Trattoria with housemade fresh pastas, fresh burrata cheese, nice risotto, and a nice friendly wine list
It was fun getting together and talking about kids and grandkids so the company was very congenial as well. I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for well done Italian in downtown Seattle

Tulio Ristorante on Urbanspoon

From Miranda's Kitchen: Homemade "Fish Sticks"

Not too long ago I was stuck in a long line at the grocery store, one that wound all the way past the frozen food section. And there, staring meaningfully at me from the freezer, were the golden and glorious frozen fish sticks of childhood.

How I craved them! So, I decided to come up with a recipe to make them fresh at home. It turned out pretty damn good, if I do say so myself, so I thought I'd share the recipe with you.

Homemade Fish Sticks (serves 2-3)
1 lb fresh cod fillets
Sourdough bread
3/4 cup of flour
1 egg white
Salt & pepper
Canola Oil (enough to fill a heavy-duty pot about 1-2 inches deep)

Lemons cut into quarters
1/3 cup Mayo
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp olive oil

Lightly wash the cod fillet and pat dry (it's important to get the fillets very dry). Cut them into short, fat strips of roughly equivalent size. Set aside.

Meanwhile, fill a shallow dish with flour for dredging and season it well with salt and pepper. Whisk the egg yolk with some salt until loose and slightly foamy.

For the breadcrumbs, tear some chunks of the sourdough bread and process them in a food processor. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the breadcrumbs onto a cookie sheet and toast until dry and lightly browned (keep a close eye on them so they don't burn). Place the dry crumbs into a shallow dish and season these with salt and pepper as well. [This really is worth the extra 5 minutes or so that it takes; the sourdough crumbs add something special to the final product]

Season the cod fingers with salt and pepper. Dredge them in the flour to lightly coat. Then slip them through the egg white, shaking off any excess, and press them into the breadcrumbs to cover all sides of the sticks.

Heat the oil to 350 degrees. When it comes to temperature, drop in the cod fingers. Only fry a few at a time - it is very important not to crowd pan so that the temperature remains constant. It is okay if the oil doesn't cover the fish sticks all the way. Let the sticks sizzle and bubble in the oil for about 1 minute and then flip them over (they should be a nice golden brown) and brown the other side. Don't overcook - you want a crispy crust with a tender flaky interior. Drain the fingers on a couple layers of paper towels while you fry the remaining fish sticks.

Serve with lemon wedges and a simple aoili (for the aoili, mix together the garlic powder, mayo, and 1 tsp of olive oil).

These are great with oven fried potato wedges and some nice sauted Swiss Chard.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Vanderbilt

Restaurant Name: The Vanderbilt
Restaurant Location: 570 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn

The Vanderbilt is a relatively new restaurant on the Brooklyn dining scene. It's a beautiful space, though one that is divided up and used somewhat oddly. There is a bar in the front with a long row of elevated banquet seating across from it. In this part of the restaurant you can only order drinks and appetizers (no small plates), which seems odd since it probably seats nearly 30 people. Next down the length of the restaurant is a kitchen bar where you can sit and watch the action while ordering off the full menu (this is where we sat). The back of the restaurant appears quite small and provides table seating for the lucky few who are able to get there early enough or are willing to wait long enough for a table.

The food is all small plates served tapas-style (to share) and most of it was quite good.

To start, we tried the brussels sprouts with sirachia, lime, and honey, which were sweet and crisp-tender but could have been a little spicier. We also had the homemade jerky, which was incredibly flavorful (clearly made from high-quality beef). We also tried the duck rillets with quince, which were classically prepared and tasted just as they should (nothing amazing or special here, though), and the smoked Jagerwurst with German potato salad, which was a universal favorite - very juicy, tender, and full of flavor.

Other dishes we sampled included the crispy pork belly with lentils (a generous portion with tender layers and a crisp skin), the grilled Merguez sausage (spicy, but I found it a little dry), the steamed Bouchot mussels with coconut, basil, chili (really plump and flavorful mussels, awesome Thai accent), and the grilled Spanish octopus with cranberry beans (great flavor, but slightly overcooked and chewy)

As the evening wore on and the tasty drinks flowed, we ordered even MORE, including grilled pork loin with parisian gnocchi (very passable, but nothing special) and a dessert of spiced donuts with pistachio ice cream. Unfortunately, the donuts were a real miss, dry and unappetizing.

Overall, with tip, drinks and more food than we probably needed, the meal came to around $135 per couple. This isn't outrageous for New York, but seemed a little steep for the overall quality of the food. My final assessment: very good but not mind-blowing. I'd return and probably order a little more wisely. If you go, don't miss out on the Jagerwurst, the mussels, the jerky, and anything with polenta (the chef gave us a taste of some polenta he was working on to see if we liked it -- it was *incredible*). This is also a nice place to just grab drinks; they have a creative bar menu with some real winners (favorites: black cherry rickey and the Pimms cup).

Bon Appetit!

The Vanderbilt on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 14, 2009

From Miranda's Kitchen: Lasagna al Forno

I made this lasagna for dinner last night and it was absolute perfection.

Imagine: a cold, windy night that spoke of winter's insidious fingers. A hot oven, venting the aroma of blistering cheese and slowly caramelizing tomato. Gooey layers of bechamel and meaty ragu enfolded in tender pasta, layered up until it gives way to the crisped, curled edges exposed to the oven's inferno. Like I said: perfection.

This recipe is loosely adapted from Mario Batali's cookbook "Molto Italiano" and is in the style of a Lasagna al Forno.

Serves 6. Total cooking time about 2 1/2 - 3 hours (but worth every second, I swear!).

For the ragu
1 lb of Italian sausage, removed from the casting
4 oz of pancetta, finely diced
1/2 lbs of ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large rib of celery, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1/2 cup of tomato paste
12 oz of diced tomatoes in their juices
1/2 cup of whole milk
1/2 cup of water (or white wine)
1 tsp of fresh thyme
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

To make the ragu: pour about 1 Tbs olive oil in a large pot and heat on medium high. Add the diced onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and saute until translucent but not brown (about 5 minutes). Increase heat to high. Add the sausage, pancetta, and ground beef. Stir and break up clumps with your spoon until the meat is browned. Add the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, water (or wine), and milk. Stir well to incorporate. Add the thyme. Bring the mixture to a low boil and then cover and reduce heat. Let the ragu simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour and a half. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings by adding salt and pepper as needed.

For the bechamel sauce
5 Tbs of butter
1/4 cup of flour
3 cups of whole milk (2% may be substituted, but do not use skim)
grated nutmeg & salt to taste
2 Tbs of marscapone cheese

To make the bechamel: in a clean pot, melt the butter and wait until it bubbles/sizzles slightly. Add the flour and stir while it bubbles and sizzles to cook the roux. Add the milk, whisking vigorously to prevent lumps from forming. Cook the mixture over medium to medium-high heat until the sauce thickens and bubbles. Add grated nutmeg and salt to taste. Whisk in the marscapone.

For the noodles
1 package of dried Lasagna noodles
fresh parmigiano reggiano cheese (do NOT substitute pre-grated cheese!!!).

To cook the noodles: bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook 4 lasagna noodles at a time, about 4 minutes each to par-cook.

To assemble the lasagna: layer the ragu, noodles, bechamel, and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano in a large, oven-safe casserole dish. Begin with a thin layer of ragu (enough to just cover the bottom of the dish). Layer noodles (one noodle thick) atop the ragu. Add another layer of ragu (a good, thick portion so that the noodles no longer show through.) Atop the ragu, add a layer of bechamel sauce. Atop the bechamel, add a layer of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and a sprinkle of sea salt. Repeat this process until the dish is nearly full. Be sure not to skimp on the layers of ragu and bechamel; the idea is to create a thick, gooey layer between each noodle. You should wind up with only about 3 layers of noodles. The final, top layer should be bechamel sauce with plenty of parmigiano grated atop it and sprinkled with sea salt.

Place the lasagna into a preheated 375 degree oven and cook until the dish is bubbling and the cheese on top is beginning to brown (about 45 minutes). Any exposed pasta edges should be crisp. After removing from the oven, let the lasagna rest about 10 minutes (if you can bear it). Serve with wine (to cut the richness) and a simple salad.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tapas: the perfect food

Restaurant Name: Tia Pol
Location: 205 10th Avenue (Chelsea), New York City

There has always been a warm little corner of my heart reserved for tapas. What could be more perfect than a few bites each of an endless parade of dishes? New flavors, spices, textures, and surprises come in rapid succession, all washed down with plenty of good wine. Plus, for some reason, tapas restaurants are always more *fun* -- louder, warmer, more boisterous.

New York boasts many wonderful tapas joints (try Casa Mono for elevated gourmet tapas and Boqueria for more affordable, traditional, but no less tasty, tapas). Last night we tried a new place (well, new to us) called Tia Pol.

Tucked away in Chelsea, Tia Pol is a bit of a hike from the subway (especially on such a cruelly cold night for early November). But, if you arrive breathless and chilly, you'll tilt back out into the night a few hours later, warmed through and with a full, happy belly.

Being a lover of all things potato, I have to begin by saying that Tia Pol serves the very best patatas bravas I've ever had. The ones at Casa Mono are so exotic they hardly warrant the name (though are fabulously delicious) and the ones at Boqueria are cut too small and have too little sauce. Tia Pol gets the traditional fried, spicy potato with paprika aioli just right. The pieces of potato were big enough to have a crispy exterior and soft fluffy interior but still be happily bite-sized. The creamy, spicy aioli was just abundant enough to make you press the bits of potato into the corners of the dish for more but not drown the poor spuds.

Other standouts included a bruschetta with fried rock shrimp and pimenton with a tiny dab of lemon cream (salty, slightly spicy, creamy and crispy all at once) and a spicy roast pork sandwich. We also really enjoyed a cold salad of baby greens with fried artichoke hearts and leaves, white asparagus, and creamy lemon vinaigrette. The only miss here were the asparagus (out of season and thus apparently out of a and the fact that the artichokes would have achieved perfection had they been hot (I believe all things fried should be served hot). We finished the evening off with a plate of smoking hot seared & blistered green peppers tossed with sea salt -- SO addictive!

The wine list was baffling to us -- I don't consider myself an afficionado of Spanish wines, but I do know a bit and I didn't recognize even a single thing on the list. Such mystification, though, is just a door opening to new and wonderful experiences. All the wines we tried were lovely (lots of super-dry minerally whites).

Tia Pol is a very crowded (very tiny) restaurant. They do take reservations, but we hadn't made one. We arrived early, around 6:30pm and waited a little over a half an hour for a seat at the bar. The hostess had told us it would be a 30 minute wait, so she gave us a small plate of fried garbanzos for free as compensation (I was impressed, since the wait had only been a few minutes longer than promised, hardly something we even noticed). Those who arrived after 7pm waited over an hour to be seated. So, if you can plan ahead for it, make a reservation -- we certainly will the next time we return...which I hope will be very soon!

Bon Appetit

Tia Pol on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Between Courses: World's Best Oven Fried Chicken - Butter Baste

Between Courses: World's Best Oven Fried Chicken - Butter Baste

World's Best Oven Fried Chicken - Butter Baste

Here is a cooking technique for the most awesome Fried Chicken without all the trouble, mess, labor intensity, and variability of quality finish that normal deep or pan frying involves. In fact, the coup de grace of the technique is a single, easy butter baste of the chicken in the last 10 minutes of the baking - it is YUM.

The preparation of the chicken is critical to world class chicken in any recipe. This oven fried chicken technique will be really great with straight out of the plastic wrap supermarket chicken pieces but not in the same class as the following Thomas Keller Ad Hoc Restaurant preparation technique. Three Days (or combine day 1 and 2 by starting early for a 2 day chicken) Elapsed for perfection. If you can't make the time go straight to the dredge and cook with skin on supermarket chicken pieces and it will still be really good.

Day 1
Step 1: Make brine and bring it to room temperature or lower:
Step 2: Buy and cut up whole chickens make Chicken stock from bones

Day 2
Step 3: Brine the chickens and reduce the chicken stock from 2 gallons to 1 cup
Step 4: Air dry the chicken pieces in the fridge overnight

Day 3
Step 5: Bring chicken to room temperature - dredge in flour mixture and buttermilk
Step 6: Bake and baste till perfect
Step 7: Serve and enjoy

Buy 2 whole, organic chickens - the smaller the better - under 4 lbs if possible. That day, wash them under the tap thoroughly and cut into 10 pieces each: 2 boneless breasts each cut in half, 2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 legs. Take the remaining carcass, wing tips, neck bones and make a chicken stock for the gravy.

Brine the 20 pieces of chicken in the following brine for 6 to no more than 12 hours (too salty if brined longer).

Brine recipe:
1 gallon cold water
1 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup honey
8 large or 12 small bay leaves1
head of garlic, smashed but not peeled
2 tablespoons black peppercorns not ground
1 small bunch of thyme
1 small bunch of parsley
3 small lemons cut in half
6 cloves of garlic cut in half

Preparation of brine: Brining
Combine 1 cup of water and all other ingredients including lemon rinds in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to combine all ingredients. Remove from heat to cool. To brining container add the birds (2 chickens cut into pieces, the 3 quarts of cold water, and the now cooled (can be fairly warm) contents of the saucepan. Make sure chicken is completely submerged. Refrigerate overnight -up to 12 hours.

Preparation for cooking: Tempering
After brining time is up drain and discard all liquid, wash off the chicken pieces under the tap, get rid of any herbs, etc sticking to bird. Use paper towels to dry and then refrigerate on a baking sheet overnight uncovered (or lightly covered with a dry kitchen towel). at least 2 and preferably 3 hours before cooking take out of fridge. You want the chicken at room temperature before it goes in the oven. It WILL NOT GO BAD - the salt and acid in the brine has totally sanitized the bird and even if unbrined it would not go bad rising to room temp over a couple of hours in any case. This is an important step to have tender moist chicken that is cooked thru properly.

Dredging and coating:

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
2 cups buttermilk
In a food processor combine the dry ingredients thoroughly. Divide the dry mix evenly between a paper or plastic bag and a bowl. shake the chicken pieces in the bag to coat well with the mixture. Shake off excess. Put the buttermilk in a large, shallow bowl. Working with a few pieces at a time, dip the chicken in the buttermilk, then dredge in the flour mixture bowl, pressing so it adheres all over. Transfer the chicken to 2 baking sheet s(rimmed to contain grease or make a rim from foil) lined with oiled (to prevent sticking) aluminum foil - skin side up. On one sheet put the breasts and wings on the other the legs and thighs.


melt 1 (or more if needed) stick of butter for basting and divide between 2 small bowls.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
When the oven is hot put the baking sheet with the thighs and legs on the rack in the top 3rd of the oven. After 15 minutes put the sheet with the breasts on the rack in the middle of the oven.
Bake for an additional 15 minutes. Open oven pull out each rack and baste the chicken pieces with half the butter. Raise oven temperature to 450 degrees - close the door and cook for 10 minutes until golden brown. Test internal temperature of thighs with in instant read thermometer - should be at least 160 (to 175) degrees in thickest part when done. Depending on your oven, internal temp should be well below that so you can turn the chicken over individually and baste the other side with the other half of the butter and cook for about 10 minutes till brown. check temperature often as it nears 170. If internal temp is not high enough but skin is crisp and brown turn off oven, turn the chicken skin side up, but leave chicken in for another few minutes (up to 15 or 20) to heat through without over-browning and drying out. Let chicken rest on counter, skin side up under more foil while making gravy.

Make Chicken Gravy:
Take your cup of greatly reduced chicken stock and put in a saucepan with 1 pint of heavy cream and salt and pepper to taste. Heat to boil and boil down by half to about 1 and a half cups.

To Serve:
Let chicken rest for at least 10 to 15 minutes after coming out of oven.
Serve with whatever sides you have prepared and pass the gravy for a light drizzle.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Seattle Chef's Dinner Series - Dream Menu

As a recap of the Seattle Chef's Dinner Series I went back thru each dinner and rated the best 2 dish's of each meal. Of the 12 total possible 1st and 2nd place menu items Cafe Juanita and Crush each had 5 with an equal number of first and 2nd places, Tilth 1, and Lark 1. However, when I took the 6 meals course by course and said who had the best 1st thru 6th course of the entire series the resulting dream menu was as follows. Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita had 5 of the 6 dream courses. I would love to have this meal at Cafe Juanita as a stand alone affair..

Hor's - they were ALL great - special recognition goes to both Cafe Juanita and Harvest Vine for the best "party" based on the cocktail hour and the seating arrangements which made for very festive evening of meeting new poeple and enjoying and awesome quantity of high quality wine and small bites.

Course 1 - Dinner 4 at Lark
CAFE JUANITA – Holly Smith
Local Porcini Roasted and Raw Carne Cruda of Wagyu with Lardo Crostini)

Course 2 Dinner 3 at Harvest Vine
CAFE JUANITA – Holly Smith
Guinea Fowl and Foie Gras Tortellini in Ginger Brodo

Course 3 Dinner 2 at Tilth
CAFE JUANITA – Holly Smith
Sea Bass with spot prawns and gold nugget mandarin reduction

Course 4 dinner 1 at Rovers
CAFE JUANITA – Holly Smith
Guinea Fowl with Oxbow Farms Brussels Sprouts colatura, pancetta and vin santo sauce

Course 5 Dinner 5 at Cafe Juanita
LARK – John Sundstrom
Grilled Painted Hills Culotte Steak chanterelles, rocket and sweet onion vinaigrette

CAFE JUANITA – Holly Smith Dinner 5 at Cafe Juanita
Lemon Cake with a Huckleberry sauce and creme fraiche Sorbet

Holly is a goddess of the Kitchen!!

Seattle Chef's Dinner Series - 2009 The Last Supper

Let There be Blood!

Last evening Cindy, Amy, Jeff and I attended the last in the 2009 series of Seattle Chefs dinners at Crush Restaurant. Unfortunately, it turned out not to be our favorite of the series due to the challenging menu (as in eating critters, and parts of critters almost raw that are a little scary to many diners).

These dinners do provide the Chef's a chance to showcase menu items that would not sell well on their regular menus (for the reason noted above). This is basically a foodie/chef groupie type of event. For this reason alone, not to mention open mindedness trying things that are a little scary to you is a good thing. However, this was a little too much of a good thing all compressed into one menu.

The format for these dinners is kind of a big dinner party with an hour of bubbly and awesome nibbles provided by the host restaurant followed by a 3 hour 6 course meal at assigned tables. the layout and inclinations of each host restaurant means that this is handled different ways at each venue. At Crush the seating was pretty much by groups of folks who knew each other in a normal restaurant table layout - including the cocktail hour. Since we knew Jason Wilson's nibbles would be great we got there for the full cocktail hour . The bubbly and the 3 little treats were plentiful and very good. Gougres, a crisp pruscutto chip sandwiched between compressed apple and blue cheese, and a baby endive leaf with creme fraiche and steelhead roe. However an hour of this was kind of long. Having folks stand and mingle by not seating till 7pm would have been more fun - as it was at the other dinners.


ROVER’S- Thierry Rautureau, The Chef In The Hat!!!

Cured Salmon, Fennel Flan, Kushi Oysters, Chanterelle Salad, White Sturgeon Caviar.

This was 3 beautifully prepared items presents on a long , rectangular plate. Very beautiful presentation and each item quite tasty. However, the Oyster was (intentionally I assume) a little above room temperature which was offputting. Two of the 3 items were raw seafood - which was fine. Except of the Oyster temperature this was a wonderful dish.

TILTH – Maria Hines

Sylver Fishing Co. Spot Prawn Bisque with corn flan, scallion, prawn salpicon

This was by far the best savory dish of the evening. a wonderful fish and vegetable bisque. Really good.

HARVEST VINE – Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez

Tuna Belly in Vanilla clod of rice and jamon serrano popcorn

Three of the 4 diners at out table could not get down this dish. It was a very scary visual, aroma, texture. temperature, and taste. One taste each and Jeff then ate everyone else's so - like I said - it was challenging but to the right diner very good. It seemed raw but honestly I could not tell and chef' described a lot of cooking technique involved.

LARK – John Sundstrom

Squab Breast, sunchoke puree, sherry vinegar and truffled sunchoke chips.

This was a wonderfully prepared and melt in the mouth dish. Unfortunately, to all four of us it was essentially raw pigeon breast - fat on. It was just a very adventurous dish for our tastes. combined with the raw/oddly cooked seafood in 2 of the 3 preceding dish's we were getting a little queasy.

CAFE JUANITA – Holly Smith

Saddle of Oregon Lamb with Gnocchi di Semolina, toasted rosemary and taggia olives

This is the only dish I have ever been served (I I have been served quite a few) by Holly Smith that I didn't love. I am pretty sure there was a chiffinade of anchovy skin in this dish that was visually distracting and assertive tasting. The lamb was beautiful, very rare, but extremely "lamby" tasting which is not to any of our preferences. We all love lamb but prefer the butchering technique that leaves any silverskin and fat on the cutting board to avoid that strong taste associated with it. The toasted rosemary was also a problem as it was a little like eating splinters. (Sorry Holly - I idolize you - this just wasn't my dish).

CRUSH – Jason Wilson
Lemon Olive Oil Cake, Manni Per Mio Figlio, Cranberries & Creme Fraiche Sorbet.

Awesome! the cake was beautiful and delicious. the Sorbet waa a little too frozen so kind of jumped around the plate when you tried to cut into it with your spoon - but it was very good once you captured it.

I hope I don't sound too critical of this dinner. I am sure to many gourmets taste this was a perfect meal. Just the combination of the preparations in the courses compounded to be a little overly challenging to our group on this outing.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Urban Eats Promotion - Brasa Restaurant Seattle

It has been quite a while since we visted Brasa. James Beard Semi-Finalist for NATIONAL (one of 10) Best Chef of 2009, former Iron chef contestant, inventor of the quirky and wonderful "Burning Beast" event, and all around great person Tamara Murphy has not lost her touch at the restaurant. Brasa is one of over 35 restaurants participating in the October Urban Eats Promotion - 3 courses for $30 so we decided to make a visit. Cindy and I arrived early to take advantage of the great happy hour (we enjoyed nice, large pour wines for $4 and a nice little app for another $4 - what a deal. Jeff and Amy arrived and we adjourned to the restaurant for a very nice meal. The 3 wine pairing was only $15 and quite nice. We started with apps which included a great celeriac and apple soup, a beautiful beet salad, and crostini with Iberico ham. All enjoyed by everyone at the table. The mains included a blue cheese steak frites, a pumpkin and tagliatelle pasta, and the restaurants signature dish pork with clams and great spicy sauce. for desserts there was a pumpkin panna cotta, I enjoyed a nice cheese plate, and Jeff had the Spanish doughnuts with a great warm chocolate dipping sauce.

We recommend this restaurant and don't forget to arrive before 7 for the extensive and super priced happy hour in the bar. In fact if you want to eat early it is the best deal in town with some pretty substantial items available.

Brasa on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Our Trip to New York - Eleven Madison Park

Miranda has done an excellent job of the details of the menu. Cindy felt is was BETTER than Tomas Keller's Per Se but I can't go that far - it was wonderful and showed great talent but TK is still the top of the game to me.
I will share here some of the comments from the NY Times Food Critic who gave Eleven Madison Park a very rare 4 start rating in the times Last month.
THE FOLLOWING IS QUOTED FROM Frank Bruni's Article "A Daring Rise to the Top" published in the New York Times, August 12, 2009
"Eleven Madison Park, which opened in 1998, now ranks among the most alluring and impressive restaurants in New York. It has reached this pinnacle because its principal owner, the indefatigable Danny Meyer, made a key move in 2006, bringing aboard the chef Daniel Humm, and because together they decided — out of pride, it seems to me, more than any commercial calculation — that this restaurant could and should shine as brightly as any other.

It already had the setting: that theatrically tall, marble and nickel-walled hall in the old Metropolitan Life Building, with grand windows onto the verdure of Madison Square Park. It already had a deep, broad wine list. It just needed a bit more polish in its service and a lot more sparkle in its food. Over the last three and a half years, it has received precisely that, in measures that increased steadily since the arrival of Mr. Humm (and, soon after him, a new general manager, Will Guidara, and a new wine director, John Ragan, who has wisely supplemented familiar treasures from France with less familiar ones from other countries).

Mr. Humm’s French-grounded cooking, which bridges the classically saucy decadence of the past and the progressive derring-do of a new generation, drew notice from the get-go. He hadn’t been in place long before the city’s gluttons were atwitter (in the old-fashioned sense) about his way with suckling pig. He served it as a dense, tender brick of confit below the most crisply fatty sheet of crackling imaginable. But instead of resting on his suckling laurels, he took this wrinkle of his reputation and ran with it, developing a tasting menu with five consecutive courses of suckling pig, including belly cooked sous vide and a roasted rack of tiny, exquisite chops. I sampled this last month, and it was superb.

The menu allows you to chart paths of varying lengths, from three standard courses, each of which you choose, to a “gourmand” experience of 11 unspecified courses that Mr. Humm selects for you. But even the briefest route includes numerous detours, because he has a particular enthusiasm for succinct, intense add-ons to be experienced before or between the principal dishes.

For example, every dinner begins with a five-piece row of single-bite amuse bouches, one with foie gras, another with salmon and another with sweetbreads nestled in a crunchy cornet.
Some of his best work comes in small packages, like a cup of “sea urchin cappuccino” that was presented as a little surprise during a meal whose climax would be a flawlessly cooked blue foot chicken for two with a brioche, foie gras and truffle butter stuffing under the glistening skin.
The cappuccino’s inclusion of cauliflower mousse below a peekytoe crab salad, sea urchin roe and a sea urchin foam made with cream and Cognac seemed to allude to (and perhaps borrowed from) a famous Joël Robuchon dish of cauliflower cream, lobster and sea urchin.
But Mr. Humm’s version was an altogether frothier and more indulgent affair, and whenever it threatened to become too much, a tart, astringent note flickered, reining everything in. The difference between good and great cooking of this kind is often knowing where the creamy, buttery, unctuous tipping point is — and stopping just shy of it. Mr. Humm does that expertly.
Mr. Humm’s judicious flirtations with molecular gastronomy have intensified over the years, to exciting effect. One tomato salad comprised liquid spheres — those quivering, explosive orbs made famous by the Spanish wizard Ferran Adrià — of white buffalo mozzarella and red tomato. Another floated a fleecy tomato “cloud” (tomato water whipped with gelatin) over a patchwork of red and yellow cherry tomatoes.
Mr. Humm supervises the sweets in addition to what precedes them, and with most he finds the right middle ground between hyper-imaginative artistry and molten chocolate pandering. Accessorizing the gooey chocolate centerpiece of one dessert with both caramel popcorn and a popcorn-flavored ice cream did that trick nicely."

Our Trip to New York - The Spotted Pig

April Bloomfields Spotted Pig is a wonderful Gastropub in Manhattan. We all enjoyed a great lunch. Cindy (and Miranda) had an ultra RARE artisan Blue Cheese Burger that actually topped the Seattle Spring Hill experience I was raving about last year. For those who don't know Cindy is deathly averse to rare burgers and she gobbled it down. I had the most fatty, crispy, meaty pork belly dish - i relished every bite. Sid had the Cuban Sandwich which was a porky treat on a beautiful bread.

Don't miss this place!

Our Trip to New York - Casa Mono

Generally I have not been a huge fan of Tapas - Until I visited Casa Mono in Manhatten with Sid, Cindy, and Miranda. I have attached the resume of the Chef, Andy Nusser, and the current menu so you can get an idea of the quality of the place. It was really awesome. We shared 10 small plates ranging from Calamare Fritos, Sweetbreads, Bone Marrow, goat confit and a host of others. Try this place when in NY. We went a lunch and it was not overly crowded.

Andy grew up in Spain. He graduated the CIA in 1995 at the top of his class. He cooked with
Mario Batali in the tiny kitchen of Po for two years before opening Babbo. The 3 star restaurant received Best New Restaurant from James Beard in 1998. As the silent backbone of Babbo, Andy Nusser served as executive chef for five years. With his heart in Spain and his strong passion for cooking Nusser got his way to combine the two by opening Casa Mono and Bar Jamon in December of 2003 with partners Batali, Bastianich and Nancy Selzer. Casa Mono received 2 stars in 2004.

Pan con Tomate 5
Jamón Iberico 25
Charcuterie de la Casa with Black Truffles 18
Cana de Cabra with Figs 14
Ensalada Mono with Manchego 10
Bacalao Croquetas with Orange Alioli 9
Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Croquetas 9
Hudson Valley Pork Croquetas with Green Tomatoes 15
Chopitos with White Beans and Salsa de Tinta 15
Sardinas Fritas 15
Calamares Fritos 15
Fried Oysters with Avruga Caviar 13
Razor Clams a la Plancha 15
Mussels with Cava and Chorizo 15
Sepia a la Plancha with Salsa Verde 15
Pulpo with Fennel and Grapefruit 13
Fideos with Chorizo and Clams 18
Duck Egg with Mojama 16
Sweetbreads with Fennel al Mono 19
Foie Gras with Cinco Cebollas 19
Dorada with Saffron Cauliflower Puree 16
House-Made Chorizo with Manchego Crujiente 15
Duck Breast with Plums 19
Bone Marrow with Radishes 15
Tripe with Chickpeas 13
Cock's Combs with Cepes 13
Piquillo Peppers with Oxtails 13
Skirt Steak with Onion Mermelada 16
Lamb Ribs with Eggplant and Harissa 16
Pork Belly with Spicy Sandia 19
Confit Goat with Rainbow Chard 19
Pork Chop with Spaghetti Squash and Quince 18
Mixed Beets with Salted Granola 15
Spanish Mackerel with Maitake Mushrooms 14
Scallops with Blood Oranges and Rainbow Carrots 15
Patatas Bravas 9
Setas with Garlic 9
Scallions with Romesco 9
Pimientos de Padron 9
Artichokes with Mint 9
Brussels Sprouts a la Plancha 9
Torta y Helado de Chocolate 9Chocolate Cake with Milk Chocolate Ice Cream
Crema Catalana con Buñuelos 9Burnt Vanilla Custard
Pudín de Naranja 9Bread Pudding with Caramel Ice Cream
Seasonal Sorbetto y Moscatel 9Sorbet and Sweet Wine
Mono Sundae 9Plum Brandy Ice Cream with Arrope and AlmondsTopped with Emilio Hidalgo PX $3 additional
Manchego con Membrillo 9Sheep's Milk Cheese and Quince Jelly
Café con Leche 4
Café Cortado 4
Tea 4
Café Solo 3
Surtido de Quesos 9Spanish Cheese Plate with Autumn Fruit
Cappuccino 4

Our trip to New York - Dim Sum Go-Go

We all greatly enjoyed a Sunday Lunch at Dim Sum Go-Go in the heart of NYC Chinatown. This is a nontraditional Dim sum place in that you order everything off the menu - no carts - but you do get the Dim Sum sheet to check off what you want and how many of each. I liked the format a lot as you are able to peruse the menu and order a nice sampling of thing you are really interested in rather than just pointing at item on a cart. Also, the food was blazing hot and fresh. This place is a real find (Miranda and Sid have been there several times). On your next New York trip definitely go to Chinatown and this is a great choice for food. No web site/ no reservations/ really clean/really cheap
Address: 5 E BroadwayNew York, NY

Eleven Madison Park

Restaurant Name: Eleven Madison Park
Location: 11 Madison Avenue, NYC

With my foodie parents (Between Courses bloggers Steve & Cindy) in town for a visit, we were lucky enough to recently try Daniel Humm's excellent cuisine at Eleven Madison Park.

My gut response (after about a million courses and a *bunch* of wine) was: outstanding. And I still stand by that several days (and a little detox) later. The food here *is* outstanding, both in terms of flavor and in terms of preparation and presentation. The closest restaurants (that I've visited) which I might compare it to would be Thomas Keller's Per Se (which I felt achieved something closer to perfection) and Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin (which was quite comparable, though working in very different proteins). The comparison here would be based on the shared practice of serving a well-executed tasting menu of very elevated presentations and high quality ingredients.

One thing that set Eleven Madison Park apart from both of these places, though, was its emphasis on more cutting edge techniques and presentations -- particularly its focus on incorporating some of the tricks of molecular gastronomy. Indeed, some of my favorite courses here had been given some sort of unusual treatment (such as a "caprese salad" that consisted of two perfect spheres, one of tomato water and one of pureed buffalo mozzarella, that had been created by suspending those ingredients in water with sodium alginate. When you ate them, they burst in your mouth, releasing a flood of goodness.)

The other thing that set Eleven Madison Park apart from other high-end tasting menu-focused places was the sheer number of "additional" courses (e.g. tastes you get between the courses listed on the menu). I'm pretty sure we'd eaten about four courses before we even got to the first course.

So, on to the food. We opted for the Early Autumn Tasting Menu, a 5 course sampling of the season's best.

The meal began with an amuse bouche -- a tiny coronet of veal sweetbreads wrapped and deep-fried. One perfect bite of salty, creamy goodness.

Then we were served a plate of "Hors d'Oeuvres" (the first listed course), which consisted of several single bite nibbles, including: a "beet marshmallow" (too sweet), a clam tart (good, but did not taste of clams in way, shape, or form), a tuna tartare (my favorite - one great bite of the sea), and a square of foie gras with jellied cranberry on top (a *great* combination). This was an interesting start to the meal, but not all of the bites were as well-executed and arresting as they might have been.

Next came another amuse bouche (that's what they called it, but in my opinion it was too big to qualify): a sea urchin foam with crab. Very tangy and not too overwhelmingly sea-urchin-y.

Then came my personal favorite, the caprese salad (described above), followed by the next listed course, the Greenmarket Heirloom Tomatoes Composition with Terre Bormane Olive Oil and Fino Verde Basil. This was, in my view, the least successful of all the courses. It consisted of three preparations, a savory tomato sorbet (the best of the three), a slice of tomato sauced with an olive and roasted tomato spread (not attractive nor tasty), and a "tomato cloud" (tomato foam) on top of several small balls of tomatoes. Meh.

This was followed by the Organic Rabbit Rillettes with Concord Grapes, Pickled Onions and Grilled Pistachio Bread. The rillettes were rich and delicious and paired very well with the jellied grape and pistachio sauce. My only issue with this course was its size -- *too much*!

Next came the Nova Scotia Lobster Poached with Lemon Verbena and Flavors of Ratatouille. This was delicious -- the sauce was both slightly sweet and slightly tangy and was a beautiful, rich, almost pink color. The quenelles of ratatouille veggies were a great pairing for the rich lobster.

The main course was probably the most sumptuous: a Dry Aged Black Angus Beef crusted with Bone Marrow and served with Saffron Onions and Braised Shallots. Crusting the beef fillet with bone marrow was genius (a creamy, crunchy layer of heaven on top of the sous vide beef). This was served with an overly-rich side (potato foam on top of oxtail ragu, on top of foie gras) -- no one could finish it.

At this point in the meal, I was beginning to feel a little bit *too* full. I see this as one small failing of the menu. The courses could each have been smaller so that the diners could head into dessert with anticipation rather than anticipation/dread.

Before the listed menu dessert arrived, we were treated to a really amazing palate cleanser. A champange foam was somehow perfectly molded in a sphere around a strawberry sorbet. I think I would have been almost happy to end on this sweet, boozy note.

Dessert proper was a Chocolate Peanut Butter Palette with Caramel Popcorn and Popcorn Ice Cream. This sounded weird, to be sure, but it tasted great. In fact, the popcorn ice cream was probably my favorite bit of the whole dessert - salty, sweet, and almost savory...all at the same time. Yum!

Dessert was followed by the usual parade of Mignardises, including a host of different macaroons and gift of gelees to take home.

We waddled out into the night, vowing a week of salads and exercise.

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Our Trip to New York - Seasonal Restaurant

Our first restaurant of this trip to visit Sid and Miranda in New York was a new upscale Austrian called Seasonal in Manhattan. Sid and Miranda discovered in via friends who work for the German government and the United Nations and were blown away by how good it was. We heartily concur.

Seasonal just opened ten months ago. The chef/owners have been running a successful catering business as well as doing the food for the German Embassy in NYC.

I think most folks either have no idea what Austrian food is or think it is sausages, dumplings, and other heavy stuff. In reality this is really refined cooking, a very sleek ambiance, and a very "Continental" experience at super good prices for the experience.

We started with a bottle of Austrian Greuner Veltliner white wine and a nice little amuse bouche followed by some great appetisers.

Cindy ordered:
Foie Gras, Caramelized Onions,
Pickled Cherries, Brioche
The most delicious, refined Torchon beautifully presented. As good as any we have had anywhere - and that is a lot to say.

Sid Enjoyed:
Pork Belly, Sauerkraut,
Fennel, Lemon Verbena Jus
A very nice piece of melt in the mouth, meaty pork belly confit again beautifully garnitured and presented. Interesting a different (the other also delicious) version of the same menu item description he had tried on a previous visit.

Miranda had a goat cheese salad that was wonderful.

Steve had an ethereal sweetbread app that was generous, beautiful and very tasty. I will admit that Austrains know how to do refined fried food - just would not want this restaurant stereotyped as fried food place.

Our main courses were as follows:
Veal Cutlet, Potato, Cucumber, Lingonberry
2 large cutlets in a airy, light breading - a top choice, if a little stereotypical

Beef Strip Loin, Cipollini,
Shallots, Potato
Beautiful, refined steak presentation.

Veal Cheeks, Paprika, Peppers, Spätzle
Melt in your mouth braise.

Flat Iron, Oxtail Consommé,
Apple - Horseradish, Spinach, Rösti
Very refined braise served in a wonderful broth with many interesting side dish's.

We shared several desserts all of which where wonderful.

Quark Mousse, Raspberry - Champagne Sauce, Seasonal Fruits

Dark Chocolate - Hazelnut Soufflee, Vanilla Ice Cream

Caramelized Pancakes, Broken into Pieces, black Plum Compote
All yummy - especially the Quark mousse.

My advice if you are in NYC is to definitely try this restaurant for it food, atmosphere, and prices. In fact, I would suggest you have 2-3 appetisers and a dessert instead of the traditional app, main course, dessert as I feel the apps are the real gems of this restaurant.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Seattle Chef's Dinner Series - Cafe Juanita

Yesterday Jeff, Amy, Cindy and I attended the 5th Seattle Chef's dinner held at Cafe Juanita. I was struck by two things : 1) How much these 6 chefs appear to enjoy working together in the kitchen and at their ease afterwards - it is really a nice thing to see. These are the most gracious, friendly people and I feel like this series has given me a chance to get to know this firsthand. 2) What fun it is to enjoy a dinner in the company of folks you have never met before, but, who share a love of great, quality food, cooking, wine, and the whole cultural world view that seems to go with that.

Now to the event:

Hors d’Oeuvres and Champagne
CAFE JUANITA – Holly Smith - The sparkling wine was an excellent foil for the great set of apps that Holly presented in the back garden. gougres, foie gras on toast, soft boiled quail eggs, deep fried pork confit, a yummy tomato soup were all wonderful and plentiful.

CRUSH – Jason Wilson
A beautiful and very tasty Napoleon of the most wonderful tomato's, tuna tartare, cucumber, and herbs melted on the palate. This continued Jason's unbroken streak of inspired preparations and presentations in this series.

Thierry Rautureau, The Chef In The Hat!!!
I think one of Thierry's best presentations in this series. A Seafood and mushroom bisque that you would swear was cream based but was really just a super wonderful reduction of the essence of the ingredients. a wonderful and beautiful array of seafood - salmon, halibut, prawn, clams, scallops presented bare in a flat soup bowl with the bisque poured over them from a pitcher by the server. Great flavors and textures - made with love!

TILTH – Maria Hines
Maria was out with a bad back but her offering was one of the best she has done in this series.: Sous Vide Sablefish, heirloom tomato, sorrel. Delicious.

HARVEST VINE – Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez
the Roasted Quail over Navarran pocha beans and an onion broth was very much in Joseba's style. It actually reinforced to me that each of these chefs and restaurants has such a distinctive approach, touch, and style that their offering , I think, would be instantly recognized in a blind tasting by knowledgeable Seattle diners even if the same dish was presented by each of these chefs.

LARK – John Sundstrom
Grilled Painted Hills coulotte steak, chanterelles, rocket and sweet onion vinaigrette
In my opinion, by far these best offering that the very talented Chef Sundstrum has presented in this series. It will definitely inspire my own cooking - especially the use of a wonderful fresh herb competing and combining so successfully with a wonderful small serving of meat. I would rate this the best effort of the evening although several of these Chefs were at the top of their game.

CAFE JUANITA – Holly Smith
In order to catch the ferry Cindy and I has to take desert to go - it was a wonderful combination of clear seemingly simple (the true sign to Holly's mastery) flavors of huckleberry in a sauce, lemon in a ethereal cake, and creme fraise in a sherbet. Yum - gone before we ever got on the ferry even though we had no utensil other than our fingers - which were licked pretty darn clean.

Another fun evening - one more to go with Crush hosting next month.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What I Learned at Cooking School

I've always suspected that I'm just about the luckiest girl in the world, but now I know that it's true.

A few weeks ago, my dad invited "On Rue Tatin's" Susan Hermann Loomis to come and give french cooking lessons at our home on Vashon Island, and she agreed. Then he graciously invited me to be one of the lucky participants.

(Photo of Susan and Steve -- still smiling after three busy days!)

So, for three days I not only sliced, diced, poached, and sauteed, but I also helped set-up, break-down, and organize cooking classes. Being on both sides of the cooking school experience was fascinating (if not a *little* tiring), and I learned a few things that I thought I'd share with our readers.

LESSON 1: Mis en place matters.

(a shot of a mis en place set-up):

I have always understood that mis en place (or "putting in place") is a cornerstone of professional cooking, but have frankly always considered it too much effort to fully incorporate into my home kitchen. For those unfamiliar with the concept, mis en place basically refers to:

** first, as a pre-req. to mis en place, you must read the recipe through completely from beginning to end before you do anything else (or, if you are not using a recipe, thinking through all of the ingredients and steps you will follow)

** assembling everything you will need in advance, including tools and ingredients. This means that if the recipe calls for 2 tsp of minced garlic, you set out two cloves of garlic and a good knife for mincing; if it calls for 1 lb of chicken breasts, you get your chicken breasts out, rinse and pat dry, and set them aside on the counter to come to temperature. Essentially, once you are ready to actually begin cooking, everything is ready and at hand. There is no digging through the gadget drawer and cursing because you can't find your peeler. It is already waiting for you, sitting ready next to whatever needs peeling.

Susan prepares for every class by creating stations for each recipe with the mis en place completed, and -- as hosts -- we helped her with set-up. Doing so was sort of a revelation for me. This practice conditions you mentally to cook, refreshing your memory on each step you will take and in what order they should be completed. It also gets you set up to create minimal mess (something I personally struggle with), as everything is ready to go and you won't make the mistake of realizing you need a bigger bowl, another knife, etc.

LESSON 2: Use a small bowl for collecting detritus; keep a side towel tucked into your apron.

Here's a photo of Cindy modeling her side towel (see how handy!):

This wasn't a totally new lesson for me, either, but it also wasn't one I was good about following. And it makes SUCH a big difference. Having a small bowl on the counter to place your onion peels, garlic skins, fruit pits, and so forth not only cuts down on mess on the counter, but also eliminates messy handles on the door to the garbage bin :)

The same goes for the side towel. Now, rather than hunting for something to wipe messy fingers on, you've got a towel strapped to your apron. Ditto with hunting around for pot holders; as long as your side towel is relatively dry, you can use it to grab hot pan handles and lids. It also makes a great place to wipe off dirty knives.

LESSON 3: Flavor does not have to mean fat. French food does not have to mean butter.

Okay, this one was new for me. I am a big proponent of cooking with butter, cream, butter, cream, butter, cream (you get the idea). Most of the dishes Susan had us prepare, however, were pretty damn healthy. But they were also really flavorful. This was, I think, due to the proper and creative use of ingredients like radishes, fennel, lime zest, mustard, and vinegars.

She also used a lot of oils that I had previously admired and wondered about on the grocery shelves, but never used. Almond oil dressed up steamed green beans, walnut oil and pumpkin seed oil gave richness and flavor to salad dressings. She also achieved a lot of flavor through the use of more flavorful meats - such as gamier birds and animals like Guinea Hen and Rabbit.

LESSON 4: Use whatever you can from your own garden, even if that garden is just a few pots on the window sill.

In particular, fresh lettuces -- even quite small bunches of them -- taste a thousand times better than what you get at the store and will (if properly thinned) grow and grow all summer. Herbs, many of which you can continue to grow into winter indoors, provide much brighter flavors when picked fresh and used immediately (another great tip from Susan: don't mince the herbs until *just* before you plan to use them or they will lose all their flavor).

So, those were a few seemingly little lessons with big, beautiful consequences in the kitchen that I learned at cooking school.

I hope you find them useful.

Here is a parting shot of one of the groups of cooking class participants:

Bon Appetit!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Spring Hill sends out a let-down

Restaurant Name: Spring Hill
Restaurant Location: 4437 California Avenue SW, West Seattle, WA

Well, I have been hearing about Spring Hill from my friends and family in Seattle (see other reviews on this site, in fact) for about two years now. The effusive use of enthusiastic adjectives in their descriptions of the food have long made me sad that I haven't had the opportunity to visit the restaurant. Then, in a recent issue of Food and Wine, Spring Hill was written up as having one of the best new chefs of 2009.

And, finally, this week, I got a chance to eat there. In all fairness, my expectations were high.

I was dining with two other bloggers on this site (Steve and Cindy), both of whom had eaten at--and loved--Spring Hill on many previous occasions.

Dear reader: I am sorry to report this, but the evening we dined at Spring Hill was a lazy night in their kitchen....a disappointment to be sure.

We all started our dinner with some small plates: a Kampachi tartare with salmon roe, a Duck Egg yoke Raviolo, and a serving of Bread and Butter (which, yes, you have to pay for here). Each of these, while tasty, had off-elements. The Kampachi tartare was beautiful, but the chef had missed patches of skin on the underside--a jarring visual and textural element. With the duck egg raviolo, the egg is supposed to be poached and runny but was, unfortunately, set by the time it arrived at the table (despite a specific request for a very runny egg). And the bread was, I am sorry to say it, tough and dry (though the butter was delicious).

A little daunted, we headed into the entrees. I ordered the half Dungeness crab with warm butter and lemon (which was messy as hell, but tasted good, if dull) and Cindy and Steve both ordered the burger.

The Spring Hill burger is $17, so certain expectations are present. It should, for example, be cooked to the ordered temperature. It should be something special, not just another burger. But, it was just another burger and in both cases, overcooked. More disappointment.

I hope very much that this was just an unfortunate off-night at the restaurant rather than a more dire problem (e.g. the place is resting on its laurels, the chef is bored, the staff poorly trained). Given the rave reviews this place has garnered, I'd even be willing to give it another try and hope for better. But, be warned, Spring Hill is teetering.

Spring Hill on Urbanspoon