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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. Click here to see where I'm coming from.

 

Wednesday, February 26, 2003, 12:01AM


Bernard Loiseau, chef-owner of La Cote d'Or holder of 3 Michelin stars, dead at 52.

 

Tuesday, February 25, 2003, 12:36AM


Early NYC There are only a few cities in the world that are really international cities. Tokyo, London, and Paris come to mind. Their size, diversity, and energy all combine to make an incredibly fertile environment for great food experiences. New York is certainly in the upper echelon of these cities. With this in mind a bunch of us (10 to be exact – Alex, Lauren, Peyman, Debdu, Chris, Leslie, me, Debbie, Steve, and Kira) traveled to NYC to see what we could eat. Alex and Lauren got there first and had a chance to scout out some great places to eat. Here’s Alex’ report:

 

“Sunday we went to a place in Brooklyn – Bar Tabac – a very French bistro, with a cozy atmosphere, but with a bit too much classic French cigarette smoke. Good bread (always a priority for Lauren), beyond that the frites were the only thing from the menu that really stood out. Monday for lunch we went to a branch (there are three in NYC and one in Westbury, NY) of Zen Palate – traditional, high quality Asian style vegetarian fare. For dinner we went with Nick and Andrea to Fiamma – stylish, upscale Italian. It was very good, but didn’t blow me away. They have an option to add truffles to many of the dishes – a bit expensive, but it made a huge difference. The result was incredibly rich without being overbearing. The beignets we ate for dessert was served with four dipping sauces (lemon curd, caramel apple, chocolate, and vanilla bean) were amazing, although coincidentally we had even better just last week at Campagne in Seattle. Tuesday we went to Queens to check out Leo’s Latticini which is apparently famous and was recently written up in Food & Wine Magazine. The specialty is their incredibly fresh mozzarella. They have sandwiches with salami or just veggies – both were amazing. For dinner Tuesday we went to Gobo, a vegetarian place opened by the kids of the Zen Palate people. It’s a quite a bit more upscale – very hip décor, music, and the whole juice bar scene. This place is a perfect candidate for the Tasting Menu philosophy as their menu has “quick bites”, “small plates”, and “large plates” You could do quite well skipping the large plates entirely. We started with the pan seared spinach dumplings (better tooth and texture than many vegi dumplings) and Roti Canai – one of our favorites from our trip to Malaysia – done very well with a potato curry. Then we had the Papaya Ceviche with Konjaku, which is “a pressed Japanese root vegetable flour with a crisp chewy texture”. It was great. I wasn’t sure at first that it didn’t actually have real shrimp. I’m pretty sure that was the Konjaku I was tasting, it had a texture unlike any vegetable thing I’ve ever had before. For our main dishes we had the sesame protein nuggets in sweet and sour sauce, and tender sliced seitan in ginger marinade. These were both good, although not great. The nuggets had a nice flavor, but a bit of a weird chewiness. It was also disappointing to have some partly unripe broccoli. The seitan had a nice texture, but very little ginger flavor. It did come with a beautifully leaf wrapping some brown rice. Finally for desert we had the mango tapioca, which was remarkable for its caramel nuts on top. Very refreshing. Gobo would be a great place for non-vegetarians to try, but brings to mind one problem I have with vegetarian food- they really need to come up with better names for things. “Seitan” and “soy nuggets” are just not appealing. After an just average lunchtime gyro consumed on some random corner in Manhattan, for dinner we went to Bar Pitti. This is one of those classic unpretentious Italian places that just amaze you with their freshness. Definitely go for stuff from their chalkboard menu (although the printed one is good too). We had melenzane (eggplant) parmesan, spinach, and buffalo mozzarella with fresh roasted red peppers. I also had some pasta with rabbit and a veal “al osso” (on the bone) served with fresh lettuce and tomatoes. Lauren and a friend had some pasta with artichoke, garlic, and other yummy stuff. Lauren announced that this was her favorite restaurant and that we should keep coming back for every meal all week. I think she was ready to move to New York for this place. We sat and talked for a long time, and then decide to grab desert from a nearby Middle Eastern place. Mamoun’s is mostly known for their falafel, so we got two (one for there and one to go) in addition to our dessert. It was amazing. Really the best I’ve ever had. One key I noticed was they cooked it very quickly so you don’t get any of the oily greasiness you have sometimes with falafel. And you can’t beat the $2 price for the falafel sandwich. Looking online I see this place has stunning reviews all over and is known for their long lines at 4am- we lucked out and didn’t have to wait at midnight. In any case, I’m looking forward to going back again later this week.”

 

Coming soon... more New York!

 

Sunday, February 23, 2003, 3:06PM


Italian food in America can be much like Mexican food. At its best, it is a light, fresh, flavorful, colorful cuisine. At its worst, it’s an Americanized mess ruined by enormous portions, lack of freshness, and general gloopiness and overcooking. It’s with this in mind that I continue to search for an Italian restaurant in Seattle I'd like to go back to on a regular basis. Vivanda Ristorante is not the final stop on my search. Frankly, I wish it hadn’t been a stop at all. “Cold”, “oily”, and “cylindrical” seem to be the top three keywords this restaurant has chosen to optimize around. I hate to continue my rant on lack of warm bread. But even if it’s not warm, it should at least be room temperature. Nothing is worse than cold bread. It is possible to store bread at room temperature and keep it fresh. Luckily (in the only highlight of the evening) the bread was accompanied by a greatly seasoned olive oil for dipping. The oil wasn’t spectacular but the peppery seasonings made it especially flavorful (a combination I think of salt, pepper, garlic, chive, and red pepper). We also brought some 2001 Two Hands Lily’s Garden Shiraz. It recently got 94 points from Wine Spectator and was really enjoyed by everyone at dinner. It built nice and slow, and had a good peppery flavor. I suppose that was the other high point of the evening but I don’t count it as we brought it ourselves. Here’s a brief rundown of what we ate: Tuna and Artichoke appetizer – too cold, not enough flavor, too much oil, Caprese – the portion was too small and there wasn’t enough flavor, Grilled Eggplant and Tomato was flavorful but too cold and lathered in oil, Peasant Salad – cold and oily, Seafood Tortelloni – nice tricolor pasta, but the filling was too dry, the Duck Risotto was nice but mild, the Chicken was dry, the Swordfish was fishy and heavy, you get the idea. When they only had two dessert menus for six people we took it as a sign from god and left. Campagne across the street gave us fantastic desserts so the evening wasn’t a total loss. Bottom line – Vivanda was a major bummer.

 

Saturday, February 22, 2003, 7:16PM


At the height of the stock bubble, the east side of Lake Washington opposite Seattle (home to Microsoft) seemed like a great place to build a restaurant that was just right as a snazzy destination for a customer or partner dinner experience. With Daniel’s Broiler already doing great business in that same genre serving up steaks, Chef John Howie spent millions of dollars on Seastar focusing more on the bounty of the Sea. Good idea? Yes. Good timing? No. By the time the restaurant was finished, the bubble had burst. That said, Daniel’s still seems full, and people still have to go out to eat sometimes. Bellevue, WA as a city screams wannabe. The truth is that Seattle is barely a major market in the scheme of large cities in America (what I wouldn’t give for a Dunkin Donuts), and Bellevue is just trying to be considered in the same league as Seattle. Bellevue has never really been able to establish an identity, and lack of a real selection of restaurants isn’t helping. Seastar arrives on the scene and has two choices. It can define itself with an authentic voice and bring character to Bellevue, or it can target the dining experience most commonly sought out by business folk. It seems to have landed closer to expense accounts. I hate to be overly influenced about a restaurant by anything other than food, but at Seastar this can’t be helped. The place is way too big. I realize that if you’re going to do business at a certain scale, you need to have a certain number of seats. But there design of the restaurant, while certainly attractive, reminds me more of a really high end airport lounge from a European country that is really into design (say Denmark or Holland). It’s nice to look at, feels very modern, and is thoughtfully functional, but not a place I’d ever call home or feel super comfortable in. Enough about that design, lets get to the food. Overall actually the food was certainly enjoyable. As is typical in places like this, the appetizers (mostly due to their smaller portions) outshined the entrees. The Chili-Garlic Seared Thai Beef with Grapes and the Sesame-Peppercorn Crusted Ahi were particularly flavorful and tasty. As for the entrees, I had the best Swordfish of my life that night. The Garlic Grilled Swordfish with Artichoke and Capers was cooked perfectly, incredibly tender and juicy, and had a flavor that was absolutely present but straining just at the limits of what the swordfish would allow without overpowering the fish itself. Unfortunately the same could not be said about the rest of the entrees. Either they were not hugely interesting (Salmon and Prawns) or they were overspiced (Sesame-Peppercorn Seared Ahi). The 2000 D’Arenberg “The Dead Arm” Mclaren Vale Shiraz was certainly big and peppery, but I found it a little bitter on the finish. The Swordfish made me a believer in what Chef Howie is capable of. The only conclusion I can come to is that the restaurant is overreaching in that what he’s obviously capable of is diluted by an oversized menu in an oversized restaurant. I would definitely give it another shot, but I’m not pining for Seastar.

 

Friday, February 21, 2003, 11:03PM


Into letting the chef do his thing? Not fazed by Chef’s striving for an incredible degree of control over the eating experience? Love Japanese food other than sushi? Nao Sugiyama may be the chef for you. Sugiyama worked with Tatsu Nishino in Los Angeles and now offers an omakase (chef’s choice) Japanese meal in NYC.

 

Thursday, February 20, 2003, 11:59PM


Always on the look out for the latest sour candy advances, and a diehard SweeTart addict since the early 1970’s, I recently bought a package of Sour Skittles. Skittles fans may be enthused as it’s essentially a normal skittle coated in a thin layer of hyper sour sugar that will eat the coating off your tongue. I’ve never been a huge skittle fan so I was disappointed. Under the sugar was the same skittle candy coating and the chewy center didn’t seem to have moved at all in a more sour direction. I still long for a candy made exclusively (or at least mostly of hyper sour sugar coating.

 

Tuesday, February 18, 2003, 3:47PM


The state of Dim Sum in Seattle is pathetic. There’s really almost no place that you can speak of proudly. Many eastsiders swear by Noble Court in Bellevue. I’ve been several times and found it at best to be mediocre – I expect poor service at Dim Sum, but the dumplings should be hot, not overcooked, and diverse. I want back recently for lunch. The offerings were still diverse. They were also typically not quite overcooked and at a relatively decent temperature. But ultimately flat. Their consistent in their mediocrity and ultimately a tease. Someone told me there’s authentic dim sum in Kent, WA (wherever that is). I don’t believe it. Vancouver is still your best bet in the northwest.

 

Monday, February 17, 2003, 10:42PM


13-winecellar.jpgWe were getting down to the wire in Las Vegas. Our 36 hour visit was almost over and we’d had one crappy lunch and a decent if not transcendent dinner. Was it a mistake not to go with an old favorite? Where were we going to find a restaurant that embraced that fun faux quality of Vegas but aspired to deliver a really memorable and authentic food experience (the Vegas dining conundrum). For that we turned to Emeril Lagasse – famed food network chef and personality. Emeril has a series of restaurants – Delmonico is his Vegas creation where New Orleans meets upscale steak house. It seemed like a good start as he wasn’t trying to transplant something authentic into Vegas, but rather use it as an angle to do something interesting, fun, and unique. Needless to say Emeril himself is an absentee chef at Delmonico. Pretty common for restaurants owned by famous chefs in Las Vegas (with the exception of a few including Picasso which I’ve written about already). Our flight left at 8:30 and we were eager to leave plenty of time for the airport so we got the first reservation possible at 5:30. We showed up a half hour before that cause we were hungry and eager to get going. The truth is that the half hour proved to be unusually helpful in that we had plenty of time to plan our strategy by perusing the menus and figuring out a balanced approach to once again “living the dream”. After some time spent mistakenly examining the lunch menu (an interesting source of intelligence as there are dishes that might not be on the dinner menu), we got down to business. The biggest problem in planning our order was that as usual we were on a path to ordering too much. Too many items looked very very good. We finally got under control. Through some weird combination of our experience around the poor pacing of the dishes the night before at China Grill, the plenty of time we had to debate and discuss what we were going to order, the semi-hurry we were in, and the incredibly patient waitstaff, (not to mention the amazing food turned out by the kitchen) dinner turned out to be a truly fantastic experience. It was the first time I can truly say that we’ve proven out the theory that it is possible to create your own light, satisfying, diverse, and exciting meal from within the conformity of today’s traditional American appetizer + entrée + dessert formula menus. I have to make sure to call out what a difference great service made. When we ordered, we explained to the head waiter that we were framing our meal slightly differently and essentially creating our own tasting menu. We also made it clear which dishes should come out in which phase of the meal (of which we had two not including dessert). Our waiter didn’t miss a beat and was completely cool with this different approach. Upon reflection though it really was key that we explain to him why we were ordering so many appetizers. It also meant that with the one entrée we did order he was able to have the kitchen serve it in a way that was ready for splitting (pre-slicing the steak so we wouldn’t have to). The glasses of wine we tried were excellent as well – again because the waitstaff went the extra mile. I couldn’t decide between the 2000 David Bruce Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2000 Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz so I ended up getting to try both. Both were fantastic. The next day I bought six bottles of the Clonakilla for home. There was a tiny hiccup in that our butter sat there for awhile before the bread finally showed up a little late… but I can hardly complain as the bread was warm. Considering how large the delta is in satisfaction between warm bread and room temperature (or god forbid cold) bread there is no excuse in my opinion for not serving bread warm. That said, it’s surprising how few restaurants do it. In the first “course” we had Classic Steak Tartare with Dijon Emulsion, Baguette Toast Points and the traditional accompaniments, Lobster Bisque, Beef and Pork Gumbo poured tableside over rice, and a Caesar made tableside. The tartare was irresistible, with a great steak texture and just enough Dijon to interest but not overpower. The bisque was superb and focused. Personally I thought the Caesar had too much anchovy. I think that a Caesar’s kick should come from garlic and lemon which I thought were underrepresented. The rest of the table disagreed with me – vehemently. As good as the rest were, the Gumbo was the star of the first wave of dishes. It was bursting with flavor. Hot. Fresh. Chunky. Amazing. The New Orleans half of the upscale New Orleans steak house was there in full force and made such a good impression, we ended up ordering more – during dessert! Four great dishes represented the second wave of food at the table including a flavorful and heartwarming Emeril’s New Orleans BBQ Shrimp served with Petite Rosemary Biscuit, a Truffle Grilled Cheese Sandwich served with Creamy Lobster Coulis and Sizzled Leek Mushroom Relish (absolutely fantastic, but could have been even better with a tiny bit more truffle flavor), the Foie Gras of the Day (of course!), and a Pepper Crusted New York Steak sliced up for our enjoyment. The steak was yet another bastion of strong and exciting flavors that made us wish for more. Dessert was a smooth, creamy, and delicious White Chocolate Raspberry Mascarpone Cheesecake as well as the reappearance of the Gumbo. I cannot understate what a great meal this was. While the bulk of the credit goes to the team at Delmonico’s, the investment we made in plotting out a balanced set of dishes and managing the experience cannot be underestimated as a factor in why we walked away so happy. Not only did we walk away happy, but we had tried way more different tastes than we would have ordering normally, and none of us felt like we’d overeaten. Super!

 

Saturday, February 15, 2003, 10:38PM


No stop in Vegas is truly complete for me without a stop at La Creperie at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel (also famous for having Le Slot Club and Le Bell Captain) for a Nutella crepe. Mmmm mmm good. I think they’re big enough to split.

 

Friday, February 14, 2003, 11:59PM


Later that night we had our first Vegas dinner. I’ve mentioned before how much I love Red Square and Rumjungle. Two great Vegas restaurants. The company that has created both of those places also has two other restaurants at Mandalay Bay – Bleu Blanc Rouge – a pseudo French bistro and take out café, as well as China Grill – a hip pan-asian affair. Since we’d had so much success with Red Square and RumJungle we had to try the other dinner spot. First of all, China Grill (like the other two) is very very cool. They have some of the coolest bathrooms in the world with each as an individual teepee with it’s own tv screen. You realize that the front of the restaurant is deceptively small once you walk into the main dining room and stand under the enormous domed celing with dancing projections moving around on its surface. There was this odd raised area off to one side which seemed to be the “private” dining area. Diners were seated around the outer edge of a "U" shaped table arrangement facing out towards the rest of the establishment. I imagined that if I had eaten there, not only would conversation have been difficult, but I would constantly be waiting for a doctoral student to come and do the oral defense of his thesis, or maybe a prisoner explaining why they should be paroled. But I digress. Steve, Kira, and I (and Debbie to a certain extent) were all eager to test out the “tasting menu philosophy”. Pen and paper are a must as ordering is really a team effort. Someone (other than the waiter) needs to be able to recite back the list of items so that the table can decide if they’ve achieved true diversity. The dishes we ordered were numerous, and for the most part very tasty. The included: Chinal Grill Tri Star – Peking Duck Salad, Pan Seared Spicy Tuna, and Spicy Beef Dumplings, Noodle du Jour – Cilantro and Sweet Chili Shrimp with Linguini and Asian Vegetables (the shrimp was really flavorful and fresh, but the linguini felt out of place; somen might have been a better choice), Baby Lettuce Salad – Grilled Hearts of Palm, Marinated Artichokes, Warm Tempura Goat Cheese (this was hard not to love), and Chinese Apple Vinaigrette, disappointing Crab and Lemongrass Potstickers with Pickled Ginger, Pea Sprout Salad and Orange Chili Glaze, an absolutely delectable Kobe Beef Carpaccio with Thai Chili Infused Oil, Crisps, and Sprouts (Steve said it was “the best carpaccio ever”), a nicely and lightly battered Tempura Sashimi with Hot Mustard Champagne Sauce, Curried Chicken Satay with Chilled Sesame Noodles and Crushed Chili Ponzu, and finally an overloaded plate of Crispy flash-fried Spinach. I had a glass of the Jacob’s Creek Shiraz which had a nice flash of fruit and healthy tannins. Think of China Grill as an entire restaurant dedicated to serving relatively good renditions of the now relatively run-of-the-mill Asian-inspired appetizers that infest huge numbers of somewhat bland restaurants (you know a trend is over when you can get macadamia encrusted ahi sashimi with wasabi noodles at a bar at the airport). That’s not to say that for the most part the dishes were quite good. Just that the meal seemed to be all over the place. It felt like sometimes there was such a rush to cram so many pan-asian flavors into a dish that a couple of the dishes ended up being car accidents. The Crab and Lemongrass Potstickers were particularly confused. It didn’t help that the servings were probably a bit too large (especially the salads). The truth is that the meal could have been better if it had been better paced. Because we ordered all appetizers the waiters brought everything out at once. I might not fault them for that as we were not conforming to their expectations, but at the very least they could have noticed that we simply didn’t have any room on the table anymore for dishes and yet they kept bringing the food. The unfortunate lack of pacing of the dishes definitely took away from the enjoyment. And ultimately to “live the dream” of making our own tasting menu we realized that we needed to take more responsibility for guiding the waitstaff in how to pace the dishes that were coming out of the kitchen. It’s with this knowledge that we continued our mission to get a great meal in Las Vegas.

 

Thursday, February 13, 2003, 4:26PM


Vegas is one of my favorite places to visit in short bursts. I love the hotels. I love to gamble. And I love to eat. I’ve mentioned before, in previous posts, that a big part of enjoying dining in Vegas is going with the strengths of what the city has to offer. Deep, authentic establishments steeped in tradition for 50 years run by the same family are not to be found. New and exciting ideas that embrace the veneer of Vegas and try to deliver quality within that framework are the jackpots. In a way they’re authentic Vegas in their own right. We stopped at four places to eat. The first of which was the Border Grill in the Mandalay Bay. Tucked way in the back of the hotel the Border Grill is a clean and modern looking middle of the road Mexican restaurant. I have always claimed not to like Mexican food. By “Mexican food” I had most of of my life been referring to the gloopy gloppy heavy-plated affairs overflowing with beans and “guac” and rivers of bubbling cheese. It wasn’t until I spent a year living in California that I realized that I’d never had real Mexican food (or at least a pretty close approximation – I’ve never really been, so I don’t really know). Two Mexican fast food joints in Watsonville, California – an agricultural town with lots of Mexican migrant farm laborers, blew my mind. The ingredients were so incredibly fresh. The flavors unbelievably vivid. And ultimately the food was light and healthy feeling. I could eat there every day. The Border Grill unfortunately is not that. It’s much closer to the traditional Americanized approximation. They try hard with a diverse menu that included tamales (that weren’t too terrible). But ultimately the meal was a disappointment. Totally not worth it. Especially when there’s so much good food nearby.

 

Wednesday, February 12, 2003, 11:59PM


New York is where the food is at. And we're eating plenty of it this week. Alex and Lauren have already had great Italian food at Bar Pitti and amazing falafel at Mamoun's. Alex sent in an entire set of reviews which I'll post soon.

Trying to get a great meal on Valentine's day? We're going to try at Daniel. Alex also forwarded that the New York Times (free registration required) writes about the challenge of getting great food out given what a broad swath of the population will be dining fine this Friday night..

 

Monday, February 10, 2003, 12:01AM


Lots of links from friends. First, Alex points out how the Vegas buffets are going upscale. Definitely worth a try. Maybe better pacing (getting up more often, and getting one item at a time) and finer food might result in a really good experience.

I've been getting more and more into Shiraz (Syrah) lately. Peyman wondered if Shiraz was from Persia since it's named after a city there. A little googling later and... the answer is maybe - according to the Oxford Wine Room, grapetreewines.com, and Canungra Vineyards.

 

Sunday, February 9, 2003, 5:06PM


There are two key foundations for a superlative dining experiences: 1) setting expectations, and 2) understanding the strengths of the restaurant. All experiences are judged relative to people's expectations, and it pays to align your expectations with the strengths of what you're about to experience. Don't go to an Italian restaurant looking for Chinese food. Don't go to a fancy restaurant looking for fast food. And don't go to Lampreia - the best restaurant in Seattle - unless you're willing to put your fate completely in the hands of Chef Scott Carsberg. Lampreia is simply the best restaurant in Seattle, hands down. I've talked about Lampreia before... and made the same pronouncement. Why write again? Because until now I'm not sure I had set my expectations properly and gone with the restaurant's strengths. I've ordered off the menu building my own meal. I've gone with people who had a variety of dietary preferences. The experiences have typically been great but there was an unease about the dinners. I finally realize that it was the feeling of going against the grain of what the restaurant does best. I haven't asked him, but I bet if it was economically possible Lampreia would only offer  chef's choice tasting menu(s) and no a la carte options. Do yourself a favor and ignore the a la carte items. It's not that they aren't fantastic. They are. It's that you'll end up with some of them anyway in your dish, but in perfect proportions, a larger variety than you could do on your own, and in the optimal order and combination. As for variety, you'll likely have the option of a seasonal tasting menu that's described on the menu as well (the last time we went if memory serves it was a veal tasting menu). However, for the 6 of us (including one vegetarian) letting the Chef decide was the right move. No foreknowledge of what was coming. Just a surprise every time the super attentive waitstaff came by with a series of beautiful plates filled with the next new taste. What were those tastes? Things started with Balik Salmon Potato Mousseline. A perfect example of the best of Lampreia in how deceptively simple it was, and yet how it brought out the essence of the salmon. The starch of the potato highlights even further the salmony (is that a word?) essence of the fish. Debbie was super happy as the next dish was Sauteed Foie Gras with Italian Plums and Saba sauce. It is at Lampreia that I finally learned how to appreciate foie gras. The perfectly seasoned and fired outside "skin" of the foie gras is literally bursting with flavor. Next up was Tuna Bacon with Sicilian Tomato Sauce. The fatty tuna was cured and cooked up and made for a dramatic salty flavor that was firmly and well balanced by the sauce. Tasty Sweetbreads in Pasta Sheets followed. If you think you don't like the idea of eating sweetbreads then do yourself a favor and try them once, here. You may find yourself a convert. The crescendo of the meal was the Duck with Orange and Grapefruit Mustards. Again, the hallmark of Lampreia - deceptive simplicity, and ultimately incredible depth in the highlighting of the main ingredient in that very simple dish. The duck was almost indistinguishable from a perfectly done filet mignon. It retained however the essence that made it duck, but had a texture, juicyness, and presence that was worthy of a filet. Dessert choices? Since there were 6 of us, they sent out one of each: Lemon Raisin Parfait, Chocolate Dumplings, Lemon Tart, Tapioca Pudding, Raspberry Clafouti (my personal favorite), and White Chocolate Cherries. The cheese course and the petit fours that followed including Chocolate Truffles and French Sugar Cookies was almost too much... but not. Are you worried that if you leave your fate up to the chef he might cook an ingredient you don't like? It's a reasonable concern. Note however, one friend that went with us that night found that there were three items in our meal that she had never liked and after this meal had completely fallen in love with. While that won't always be the case, with that kind of possibility how can you narrow the palate from which the chef has to choose? If you really need to be particular you can certainly have a fantastic meal off the menu. I'll just likely never take that path again. If I had one complaint it's that with 6 of us all ordering the tasting menu (and obviously very into trying the best they had that evening) it would have been neat if there had been additional diversity - maybe one menu for the men, and one for the women? :) There's nothing more fun than not only getting a great dish, but sharing it around so everyone can have that many more new flavor experiences throughout the meal. If you have the chance to meet the chef or see him in the window into the kitchen that's visible from most of the dining room you may notice a quiet almost shy intensity and even tension. His focus is so great on making a deep and authentic dining experience that you can see it in his face. If you're going against the grain, it may surface almost as a ripple of unease. But if you have the courage to put yourself in his hands and trust his judgment, you will feel that focus entirely on making you come away with an incredible, comfortable, and memorable food experience. I have had a well known Seattle chef describe Chef Carsberg as a genius. From my perspective, his analysis is right on. We'll review Lampreia at least one more time so that we can take pictures and show photos of a traditional Lampreia dinner. When we asked Chef Carsberg if he was ok with us photographing the food, he said it would "be an honor".

 

Saturday, February 8, 2003, 11:24PM


Malay Satay Hut is one of my favorite restaurants in Seattle. The food is Malaysian (duh) simple, inexpensive, and bursting with flavor. Malay Satay Hut has that elusive and welcoming combination of an inexpensive ethnic restaurant that's authentic as well as delicious. The Seattle location had been a favorite for some time until it burned down. A Redmond location opened up and is quite good but didn't rise to the heights that the original Seattle spot had. I finally had occasion to go back to the Seattle location a couple of weeks ago with Steve and Kira. We were having a big dinner so we wanted a simple lunch. As much as I want to try a bunch of different dishes, the Roti Canai is so absolutely perfect that I am unable to go there without ordering it. Hot flaky fried flat bread served with a hearty spicy sauce filled with potato chunks. Let the dipping begin. The Black Pepper Shrimp (not on the menu, so here's a link to the crab version) was also expertly prepared, super peppery and juicy. Our noodle dishes and the cool malaysian drinks (iced coffee, and limeade) were perfect complements. I'll have to go back and do a proper and deeper "investigation" (i.e. foodfest), but there is no doubt that Malay Satay Hut in Seattle is back in business and back on top.

 

Friday, February 7, 2003, 11:59PM


02-fish.jpgSushi is one of my favorite all -time foods. I have been to many different sushi restaurants over the years all over the United States as well as to several in Japan. Tatsu Nishino's Nishino is not only the best sushi in Seattle, but the among the top I've ever been to anywhere. What goes into making an experience so great? The food is always at the center, but the warmth of the atmosphere, attentiveness of the service, and simple elegance of the environment are big components as well. That said, back to the food. We've reviewed Nishino many times here before, but this is the definitive writeup. To make sure we get the complete story we finally have pictures too! There are three basic kinds of sushi restaurants: at one end of the spectrum is the hardcore traditional sushi restaurant (even beyond that is the Edo-mae-zushi restaurant... makes the traditional sushi restaurants look positively progressive). Don't ask for a spicy tuna handroll at these places. They'll give you a funny look. All the way at the other end of the spectrum is the "wacky/creative/americanized" sushi restaurant (mostly found on the west coast of the U.S. in my experience) with items like the "Jimmy Carter Roll" filled with salmon and peanut butter and a host of other interesting combinations that make the spicy tuna temaki (handroll) look mundane. Most American sushi restaurants fall somewhere near the middle maybe a touch closer to traditional than the progressive. Then there are the best... Nobu being the canonical example held up by many folks. These restaurants are also roughly in the middle of the spectrum. That said, they also have very high standards of quality and incredible creative flair. But rather than putting them at the distinctly American end of the sushi spectrum, their creativity is expressed in a way that holds true to the core values of Japanese cuisine - aesthetics, detail, super high quality, harmony, and balance. Nishino is a perfect example of this. Let's start with appetizers. In addition to the yummy edamame served in special Nishino bowls these include: Kampachi Usuzukuri - a delicious and tangy sashimi, Crab with Spicy Creamy Sauce (and its vegetarian cousin), a creative and simple Oshitashi, a yummy asparagus dish, and Hirame Engawa - slices of fluke covered with daikon, and a ponzu scallion sauce. Also present are some of the standards among these high end Japanese restaurants like Nobu and Morimoto - New Style Sashimi (that Morimoto made live on his first battle as an Iron Chef - Sea Breem/Tai/Red Snapper on February 27, 1998), Miso Black Cod, and the Rock Shrimp Tempura of which I could eat roughly a billion bites. The regular items are accompanied by a slew of specials changed daily. And to make it even more impressive, we have entered into a sort of grudge match/challenge with the chefs at Nishino to express that creativity "just-in-time" with each successive visit that we make. Let me explain... First, Nishino already has at least two items that they regularly make but are not on the menu. It's so smart to let regulars figure out the secret items and feel "in the know". These are the Arboretum Roll and the Madison Roll (Nishino is tucked away in Madison Park, in Seattle right next to the Arboretum that contains a beautiful Japanese garden). Each of these is classic examples of a totally progressive approach that's true to the core of Japanese culinary aesthetic and values. The avocado representing the trees of the arboretum in the Arboretum roll brings the message home. The Madison roll consists of shrimp, salmon, crab, tobiko, asparagus and spicy creamy sauce wrapped not in nori, but in egg. A beautiful combination. In addition to these, whenever we go out to sushi, Peyman started the tradition of always leaving a couple of orders to be chef's choice. Think of it as a mini-version of the omakase menu. A few months ago I bought a cool sushi book - Sushi Taste and Technique from DK (I love all their books). On page 222 I found a description for a kind of sushi I'd never seen before - Temari-zushi or as they described it - plastic wrap sushi. Basically a ping pong sized ball of rice with some fish on top. The plastic wrap helps form them into perfect spheres with the fish formed as an outer shell on the top of the rice ball. That same day we went to Nishino and I asked for some chef's choice temari-zushi. What came back was an unbelievable creation - two sushi balls topped with shiso leaf, ume (sour plum) flavored sesame seeds (super sour), and a slice of kampachi. I won't even put soy sauce, wasabi, or ginger on this beautiful and perfectly balanced combination of flavors. It just blew me away. I'm typically not a shiso fan, but somehow this combination was a home run. From then on we kept ordering a couple of items with each visit as chef's choice, and the Nishino crew kept getting creative to try and meet the challenges. The result is a set of items that don't exist on the menu, we're created expressly for us, and are all unbelievably creative, balanced, fresh, and delicious. There is nothing like going out to a restaurant, and having a brand new taste that you know was created on the spot, just for you. The hit rate is roughly 50% and our bar is very very high. We try to get them to make two new ones every time, and pretty reliably one of the two we get is something we'd add to our regular repertoire. A couple of months ago Alex spent some time with Tatsu explaining what Lauren will and won't eat (as well as what she likes) as a vegetarian. The result was kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) tempura in an inside out maki roll topped with Avocado slices and a special sauce consisting of lemongrass, granny smith apples, rice vinegar, chili sauce, and lime leaves. What's it called? What else. The Lauren roll. (Now Lauren wants to back there twice a week. Amazing what getting your own roll will do for your loyalty to a restaurant.) The Spicy Tuna Tatsu Special is another such creation - an inside out  maki roll filled with masago and radish sprouts topped with a beautiful slice of tuna with a dollop of spicy creamy sauce. If that weren't enough, how about the Mori Hand Roll (named for Chef Mori who invented it for us) consisting of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, yamamo orange, tempura asparagus, masago, and spicy creamy sauce - pretty decadent! The most recent creation (that I have been craving again since the day after they made it for us) is the Garcia Roll. When golfing, Chef Masa's been nicknamed "Garcia" after the golfer Sergio Garcia by the other chefs. The Garcia roll is a deceptively simple maki cponsisting of spicy crab, asian pear, and cilantro. Much like the kampachi temari I love, this triangle of different flavors makes for an incredible contrast and series of flavors that change from start to finish (first the spicy, then sweet, then cilantro at the finish) as you eat one of these amazing rolls. These creations where 3 flavors complement each other almost take on the characteristics of a wine complete with their own "finishes".  Our demanding dining means that certainly there are creations that while good, weren't necessarily things we were dying to have again... the shrimp temari-zushi was nice but not super interesting. Other definitely good but not "superstar" creations included a veggie temaki created for Lauren with shitake mushrooms, asparagus, tempura avocado, yamagobo (burdock root) kaiware sprout, cucumber, spicy sauce, all wrapped in egg. Who knows, maybe we'd give it another try as well as a veggie version of the Garcia roll. And since we're nitpicking - as much as I love the temari-zushi, I think there is a touch too much rice in the balls. A tiny bit less rice (about 10%) would improve on something that is already an all-time favorite. That said, of course, all the regular sushi - ngiri and maki rolls - are a fantastic foundation for a great meal at Nishino. The action behind the bar is always fun to watch, and Tatsu supervises everything making sure the quality is unsurpassed from his common perch by the door. Finally, dessert is no slouch. From traditional mochi ice cream to an amazing bannana tempura dish served with vanilla ice cream (Lauren insists on getting it with ginger ice cream) your meal will end well. What else can be said? Not much. If you want any more of this experience you should go there yourself. You will not be disappointed!

 

Thursday, February 6, 2003, 10:02PM


Ellen Helman (a caterer) has a new cookbook - Home Cooking with the Uncommon Gourmet. The Boston Globe reviews the book. I like this quote from the reviewer: "You can always tell which cookbooks are written by caterers -- they use plenty of mayonnaise, but they never suggest that you make your own."

 

Wednesday, February 5, 2003, 3:41PM


Bocuse d'Or and the World Pastry Cup took place last week. Asia Cuisine writes about it here. You can also read about it at expatica.com. It's weird to me there isn't more coverage of these events, but maybe I'm just too obsessed with food to realize how little anyone else cares. I'm sure the Food Network will have it on TV soon enough.

 

Monday, February 3, 2003, 11:47PM


I'm way behind on reviews. Maybe this will be the week I catch up. Thai Ginger in Redmond, Washington is an interesting Thai restaurant. (They also have branches in Factoria, Madison Park, and the Issaquah Plateau). World class? No. But not run-of-the-mill either. The teak furniture and molding is kind of a nice surprise in the middle of the Redmond Town Center mall. We went a couple of weeks ago and had a decent lunch. Things started off with a little soup freebie - Daikon soup with Tofu and Scallions. It was surprisingly yummy but still relatively low key. While the Phad Thai was mediocre, the Miang Kumh was delicious - Steve and Kira's first time trying it. I think it's hard to screw up Minag Kumh though. Thai Ginger really shines when it comes to their barbecue specialties. The Tiger Tearless in particular is absolutely delicious. Grilled marinated aged Black Angus New York Steak in light soy sauce and black pepper. As if that wasn't flavorful enough you coat it with their special homemade spicy lime juice sauce and super tasty Thai sticky rice. They have a variety of other barbecue dishes that I haven't tried in awhile but I seem to remember are pretty good as well. Order a bunch of appetizers and some Thai barbecue specialties and you can't go wrong.


 

     
     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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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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