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Welcome to tastingmenu.com. My repository for thoughts and notes on my eating experiences. Hopefully you'll find something enjoyable, entertaining, or informative.


Thursday, December 19, 2002, 11:17PM

The LA Times (free registration required) has a list of the hottest cookbooks in stores today.

Here's another web food journal with a cool name - mise en place. Some additional ones include An Obsession with Food, Food, Rogi's Giant Iron Wok, and Below 14th. And while I've listed this before - Saute Wednesday is still a super high quality site.

Obsession with Food from above yielded this Wine Spectator article about corkage fees. The proposal is nice but will never happen. Restaurant owners make a lot more than $14 a bottle marking up their wine list.


Wednesday, December 18, 2002, 11:59PM

Foie Gras in the freezer? Just don't tell Debbie. (Free registration required.)


Tuesday, December 17, 2002, 10:24PM

With my friend Roee in town, I had to take him to some of the best restaurants in Seattle. Chris, Alex, and Peyman joined us tonight at Nishino - the best Sushi on the west coast. Alex was nice enough to bring a bottle of 1996 Heitz Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I'm not sure Parker would recommend a beautiful and solid cab like that to eat with sushi but who cares. It was great. No need to recount the delicious specials and huge amounts of perfect sushi that we ordered. How many times can I mention the perfect rock shrimp tempura? Everyone really seemed to love the crab cakes and mussels as well. For a change a couple of us asked for some spicy salmon hand rolls (as opposed to the tuna we always get). The results were pretty interesting. The more oily nature of the salmon gave the handrolls a really nice quality that the tuna handrolls don't have. And of course as always Tatsu Nishino the Chef and his wife Eri are incredibly friendly, warm, and welcoming. I could end my report there, but at one point we were thinking about the level of creativity at Nishino and whether the chef should do his own cookbook. While many of the best dishes are also ones you could find at Nobu, the Chef definitely has moments that (from our experience) seemed clearly his. The egg-wrapped Madison roll (not on the menu) is clearly an example of this. We found another when we ordered Temari-zushi and the chef chose how to top them. One set of little sushi "balls" were topped with tobiko and then covered with a shrimp carefully molded around the rice ball. These were good - though a little less rice might have made them even easier to just pop into your mouth. But these were nothing compared to the other 3 that showed up topped with a shiso leaf, a thin slice red snapper, and a few sour plum ("ume") flavored sesames seeds. Normally I am absolutely not a fan of Shiso leaves, but something about this confection (see definition #4) was so perfectly balanced and complementary that everything just worked. The tiny sour flavor spikes of the seeds, the subtle fish, and the stronger herbal shiso which was somehow toned down under the fish made for a perfect piece of sushi. This item will definitely be something we order regularly from now on. If that weren't enough, Alex said that Nishino is planning a special holiday omakase menu with foie gras featured in a soy-wine reduction. Sounds pretty interesting and yummy! Ultimately the true way to experience creativity is to just put yourself in the hands of the chef for the full omakase dinner. We did that a couple of years ago and are long overdue to do it again. We'll have to do it soon when we have more time, and maybe we'll eventually see those dishes in a Nishino cookbook. At the very least I'll try and bring my camera the next time we eat there so I can post pictures of the great dishes we have.


Sunday, December 15, 2002, 9:05PM

20021130-lasvegas (37).jpgOn our last night in Vegas we went to a favorite - Red Square. As mentioned below I think that there is a unique perspective you have to have to find great restaurants in Vegas - basically revel in the artificiality. Looking for good food (which in my opinion means authentic food) in a place that is more focused on veneer than depth may seem counter-intuitive, but as proven by some of the great food you can find there, it's not. Red Square is a great example of this, and a great place to eat. A huge headless statue of Lenin graces the front of the restaurant which is bathed in red light with snippets of Russian newspapers blended into the wallpaper. While famous for a huge vodka selection (Lenin's head covered in fake guano sits in the private freezer where customers paying a several thousand dollar fee get to store their personal vodka collections), and serving several varieties of caviar, as well as Chicken Kiev and the like, the Russia in Red Square is a cool theme. There's no Pelmeni or Borscht on the menu. But who cares, the food is still great and the environment is way cool. The dining room in the back (past the bar) is cleverly situated on a platform higher than the bar so when dining you can see the cool room that houses the bar, but the bar patrons can't see you and distract you from your meal. Dinner started with Herb Moscarpone Salmon Mousse in a Pastry Shell with Bay Shrimp and Spicy Tomato Sauce. We licked our plates. An Espresso Martini - Kahlua. Bailey's, and Vodka with a white chocolate flag floating in it. I ate the flag. Next up was Beluga Caviar with Blini, Creme Fraiche, Red Onion, and Chopped Egg Whites. How can you go wrong? Then Arugula and Spinach Salad with Slivered Pears, Candied Walnuts, Stilton Cheese and Apple Cider Vinaigrette, Chilled Lobster Salad with "Carpaccio" of Tomatoes, Baby Greens, Basil Oil, Lemon Creme Fraiche, and Red Tobiko, Lobster Bisque served with Lobster Ragout and Lemon Creme Fraiche, and Tuna Tartare - Ahi Tuna with Pine Nuts, Chives, Sambal Ponzu, Potato Gaufrettes, Wasabi Tobiko, and Creme Fraiche. All were flavorful, a bit creative, and just yummy. Entrees included Jumbo Crabmeat with Arugula and Angel Hair Pasta with Sauteed Roma Tomatoes, Garlic, Basil, and White Wine, an ok but not spectacular Chicken Kiev stuffed with Herbs, Cheese, and Butter, served with Vegetable Rice Pilaf, Mushrooms, and Port Reduction, and the best entree of the night Red Square Kulebyaka - Dill Seared Filet of Salmon, Puff Pastry, Sauteed Mushrooms, Salmon Mousse, American Sturgeon Caviar, Dill Saffron and Beurre Blanc. Dessert was no less delicious. "The" Chocolate Cake - Warm Chocolate Cake, Vanilla Bourbon Ice Cream, and Strawberry Melba Sauce, and the Strawberries Romanoff with Fresh Strawberries, Whipped Cream and Grand Marnier Sabayon were a great way to end the meal. Red Square is a fabulous Vegas dining experience. The group that put together this "concept" restaurant also has other restaurants in Vegas (and other cities) including Rumjungle, which we love, and China Grill which we'll try next time we're there.


Saturday, December 14, 2002, 2:26PM

When we were in Vegas we were hungry early and dying for some crepes at the Paris. La Creperie was looking pretty damn good. Unfortunately the line was really long, so instead we went to Le Provencal which is attached to the crepe place. You would think since they're essentially the same restaurant that you could order not only the mediocre Italian fare from Le Provancal, as well as all the crepes offered 10 feet away. Wrong! You can only order the dessert crepes. Weird. That said, the nutella crepe was absolutely unbelievably good. Hard to screw it up I suppose, but worth waiting in line for. As mentioned above, the food at Le Provencal wasn't, other than a quite decent Caesar Salad.


Thursday, December 12, 2002, 11:59PM

When we ate at Charlie Trotter's we had a great 1999 Chapellet Cabernet Sauvignon. We ordered a case. The LA Times talks about it too (free registration required). I always wonder about what wine you should cook with. A simple bit of wisdom is... why would you cook with wine you wouldn't be willing to drink? (Free registration required.)


Wednesday, December 11, 2002, 3:56PM

The weather has taken a turn for the worse, so here's a collection of cookbooks that'll help you make comfort food.


Sunday, December 8, 2002, 1:20PM

We took a quick post-thanksgiving trip to Vegas. This should become a thanksgiving as we love Las Vegas. Food in Las Vegas is super interesting. Restaurants cover the entire spectrum from huge/excessive buffet spreads for very little money all the way to transplants of high-end eating institutions like Le Cirque. The real essence of Vegas is that everything is basically fake. And I mean that in a good way. I love the incredible veneer of Vegas. It's skin deep and I think it's cool. This balance of concentrated excitement and shallowness manifests itself in the food experiences as well. Vegas is not a place for incredible depth. There are many versions of famous out-of-town restaurants in Vegas including Nobu from New YorkOlives from Boston, and many others. In most (if not all) cases the name chef that made the original restaurant great is not often found at the Vegas incarnation. With that in mind we decided to eat at Picasso. Picasso, located at the gorgeous Bellagio Resort and Casino strives to achieve the same level of fine dining as some of the other restaurants I mentioned, but is not in fact a clone of an original. The chef - Julian Serrano - makes his home in Las Vegas and was very much on site when we went. Picasso the restaurant gets its name from the 11 Picasso's hanging on the walls worth 45 million dollars. As a starting point for a restaurant, it's a pretty fantastic place to start. From the decor alone we're most of the way to the "fine" in "fine dining".  Several different tasting menus were available and between us and between me and Debbie and our friends Larry and Adi we tried just about all of them. I had the Alba White Truffle Menu - yum! Things started off with "amuse bouche" in the form of Pheasant Croquette with Tomato Coulis and Mint Oil. Deb said "It's like a fried mozzarella stick." And it was - just very smooth with a light coating. Soup Parmenter with Nantucket Scallops and Fresh Black Truffle. Adi also got the soup without the truffle. The small scallops in the center of the soup were among the most flavorful and delicious I have ever had. Poached Oysters garnished with Osetra Caviar and a Vermouth Sauce. Larry's reaction? "Holy fuck. Cancel the rest. Gimme more." Other dishes included: Boudin of Fresh Lobster, Shrimp, and Scallops with Sofrito and Nantua Sauce, Ragout of Autumn Vegetables (beets, turnips, etc.) with fresh Foie Gras and Jus de Poularde, Roasted Pigeon with a Crust of Honey Walnuts and Almonds with Wild Rice Risotto, Sauteed Medallions of Fallow Deer with Carmelized Green Apple and Zinfandel Sauce, Roasted Milk Veal Chop with Rosemary Potatoes au Jus. The truffle menu continued with Egg Poelle with Creme of Spinach, Arborio Risotto with Jus de Veau, and Roasted Yam Stuffed Ravioli with Solera Superior Sherry - every item covered with gorgeous white truffle shavings.  One thing that kind of bothered me was when a dish required an application of sauce at the table there was often a delay between when the original dish showed up and when the sauce arrived. It meant that for a small time some folks could eat while others couldn't. Normally I wouldn't have a big problem except that at a restaurant that is aspiring to such heights I'd expect a tightly focused and coordinated service. Dessert was good as well. It included: Napoleon of Milk Chocolate and Vermeer Mousse with Vanilla Whipped Cream and Layers of Dark Chocolate, Apple Tarte Tatin with Gala Apple Cider Reduction and "Apple Pie" Ice Cream the combination of which I found really fantastic, and Warm Chocolate Fondant Manjari Chocolate Cake and Milk Chocolate Caramel Ice Cream. Here's the funny thing about Picasso... they had all the ingredients for an incredibly memorable experience but I couldn't say that (other than the scallops I had) any of it was deeply memorable. The basic ingredients of a great eating experience were there but there was no soul. And frankly that typically doesn't bother me in a Vegas restaurant as I expect it. But in that type of Vegas restaurant I expect them to revel in the veneer. And while the art on the walls helped, the whole night just didn't hang together. It was like they were reaching for something but hadn't quite determined what it should be before the reached. It's difficult to complain about a meal that was as good as the one we had, but I doubt I'll go back to Picasso soon with so many other cool Vegas restaurants to try.


Saturday, December 7, 2002, 6:19PM

Went to lunch the other day at the Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant in Redmond, Washington. Many native Chinese have recommended it to me as a place for good Chinese food on the eastside of Seattle. I've never really thought it was great, but this time I went with someone who could order in Chinese. I wasn't necessarily a huge fan of the General Zhang's Beef - a Chinese stew that my host said was pretty authentic of the Sichuan region in China. It was spicy - apparently like the General himself was purported to be. We also got Sichuan Chicken which I found good if not memorable and some yummy fried dumplings (comes as an order of 20). The Special Hot Beef Chow Mein I thought was actually pretty good and I would order it again in a pinch. Also, the place is pretty inexpensive so it's hard to complain. Still not the great fantastic Chinese food I'm looking for though...


Saturday, December 7, 2002, 6:02PM

About 2 years ago we went to a restaurant in downtown Seattle called Mistral. It was pretty much a disaster. The more we asked about the options on the menu the more reluctant the waiter became to meet any of our requests. Things like: can one person get the vegetarian tasting menu and the rest of us order a la carte, or can we know what's on the tasting menu. The waiter kept going to the chef with our requests and coming back with rejections. Trying to find out what we would actually be served didn't seem to be a crazy request to us, but apparently it was to the folks at Mistral. A few months ago we heard that William Belickis, Mistral's chef had a change of heart. He had realized that he was not really catering to his customers and needed to change his attitude. I was leary but curious. A couple of weeks ago we decided to give it a try. Lauren and Alex, Debbie and I went back to Mistral. Within the first 2 minutes we knew things had changed for the better... much better. The wait staff was so incredibly helpful, open, and welcoming. They just made a great first impression. Our choices for dinner were from three different tasting menus: the Chef's tasting menu - $75 for seven courses ($145 with five matching wines), the Market menu - $50 for five courses ($100 with three matching wines), or the Mistral Experience - $90 for nine courses ($160 with five matching wines). All the dishes were described on the menu (unlike before). Between the four of us we got at least one of each menu, we brought our own bottle of wine, one person was a vegetarian, and one was pregnant (no raw fish or soft unpasteurized cheeses). No problem at all. Mistral was happy to handle it all. And believe me, it's kind of tough with one person getting five courses and one getting nine to get all the dishes coordinated. But they had absolutely no problem with it. Then the food came. At it's best, the food was really really great. unfortunately it didn't have the consistency that it needed to be a really fantastic restaurant. For example, the Brown Butter Parsnip Soup with Honey Glazed Chestnuts and Carrot Juice was pretty bland and boring. However the Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Brussels Sprouts was to die for. The outside of it was seared and was bursting with a savory flavor and neat texture. Other dishes included California Striped Bass with White Wine Braised Artichokes and Lobster Essence and Rack of Oregon Lamb with Provencal Vegetables and Rosemary Sauce. All in all, I was pretty blown away by the complete 180 degree turnaround in attitude from the last time we'd been there. That is of course (in my opinion) the foundation for a memorable experience. While at its best the quality of the food matched the service, it just wasn't consistent enough. That said, the best parts were good enough to make me want to give Mistral some more chances. My guess is that it's just a matter of time. Over the next couple of years if Belickis and the Mistral crew keep their eye on the ball I bet they could get there.


Saturday, December 7, 2002, 3:45PM

09-turbotwithchestnuts.jpgI was able to post pictures from my visit to Queen Alice Guesthouse. This was one of the many restaurants from Iron Chef French I - Yutake Ishinabe. The food was great, and now you can see what we ate. Want more details you can check out the Iron Chef book. Very cool. The best thing, is now that I've pretty much run out of Iron Chef restaurants to visit, this book catalogs every challenger that ever won a battle with an Iron Chef. It lists their restaurants too. Looks like I've got my work cut out for me.


Friday, December 6, 2002, 11:25PM

Check out the "hot list". Conde Nast Traveler has a list of new and exciting restaurants from all over the world. This is the 50 best new restaurants. I love that there are always new places to try.


Wednesday, December 4, 2002, 9:17AM

Ever heard of the "slow food" movement? Leslie sent a link from the Seattle times. According to the New York Times (free registration required), Jeffrey Steingarten attended a recent conference on it in Turin, Italy.

Some additional links from DebDu: ChefShop and Seattle Caviar Company both for shopping (in Seattle and online). The Caviar company sells foie gras too!


Sunday, December 1, 2002, 11:11PM

17-busy.jpgIt's taking forever but I'm finally starting to get some of the pictures up from the past few weeks of eating adventures. I still can't get the incredible meal we had at Charlie Trotter's out of my head. The fact that we ate in the kitchen made it all the better. Here's a bunch of pictures from our night in the kitchen. I would love to go back soon, but I'm pretty sure reservations need to happen 6 months in advance at least. In the meantime I've filled up on a bunch of Charlie Trotter's cookbooks. We'll see how good they are as I slowly dive in.










Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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