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.
Asia Cuisine writes about the
Icons of Gastronomy - a collection of chefs including Patricia Yeo
Frédéric Anton. These chefs and others were at the
World Gourmet Summit in
While I’ve written volumes on how wonderful
Nishino is, we had
yet another meal there whose contents demand description. Nishino is one
of the best restaurants in Seattle, and certainly the best Japanese
restaurant on the west coast. Check out the countless visits (09/30/02,
to read descriptions of what a great meal and experience you can have
there. Chef Tatsu Nishino didn’t disappoint on this visit either. Some
key new items that we tried. One was a veggie hand roll with small fried
garlic chips, tempura avocado, and napa cabbage. Quite good. On a later
visit Lauren had a
garlic/cilantro roll that she felt rivaled even the Lauren roll as her
favorite veggie sushi. Of course she didn’t write it down so we need to
have them recreate it at some point. That said, the star of the evening
was the Foie Gras with Soy/Red Wine reduction Nigiri. This amazing
little morsel was truly delectable, The foie gras was cooked perfectly
and the Asian reduction was a perfect complement. The reduction and the
slight and delicious oil from the foie gras mixed with the rice as you
ate in an amazing way that really embodies the incredible creativity of
Nishino and his crew. As if that weren’t enough, we had all the usual
complement of wonderful items including the always amazing Temari-Zushi
with slightly less rice than in the past which really made it absolutely
flawless. But the chef had something special for us for dessert as well
– Fried Ice Cream with Azuki (red beans). Essentially it was ice cream
inside a sponge cake that had been battered and fried. I’m a big fan of
contrasting temperatures. Pairing a deep friend item with ice cream in a
delicate arrangement was not only screamingly delicious but an amazing
technical feat to get everything just right and timed perfectly.
Victor, who’s had variations on
this before at Cantonese restaurants was very impressed. To make matters
even more enjoyable (difficult to believe) Alex brought the 1999 Heitz
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. At ~$32 a bottle (much cheaper than it’s
famous cousin the Martha’s Vineyard version) it was absolutely
fantastic. Big fruit, unique flavor, great tannins and finish. My kind
of wine. I bought a case! Bottom line, Nishino continues its amazing
streak of creativity and excellence.
restaurant and its “Chef in the
Hat” Thierry Rautureau have been key stops on the tour of Seattle
fine dining for the last 15 years. The phrase “the art of cooking” is
the motto for Rover’s and adorns key places in the restaurant and the
menu which is decidedly French. Rover’s is located in a house tucked
away off of Madison which lends to it’s charm.
Lauren had the vegetarian
tasting menu, Debbie had the
regular one, and Alex and
I had the Grand Menu Degustation – ten courses and $125 per person.
Things started off with an amuse bouche of Watercress Soup and a Cheese
Straw. While a touch oily, the cheese straw was a deep fried surprise.
The soup was good. Next up was Scrambled Egg with Lime Crème Fraiche and
White Sturgeon Caviar. Egg on Egg. The crème fraiche was neat on top of
the scrambled egg and a good contrast both in temperature and flavor.
Deb had Smoked Salmon on Gelée with Leeks and a Chervil Cream which was
ok. Lauren got Artichoke, Turnips and Baby Beet Salad with a Watercress
Dressing. She enjoyed her salad but was especially impressed by its
presentation which was “stunning and beautiful”. Incredibly careful
arrangement, decorative layout, and almost a shame to eat as the design
would be wrecked. (We had no actual qualms about eating them.) This was
followed by Smoked Duck Breast with Green Lentils and a Sherry
Vinaigrette. While I found the lentils not super interesting, the duck
had an unreal smoked flavor. This was perhaps my favorite dish of the
night. Granted if the lentils had had a super strong flavor they could
have distracted from the duck. That said, I have to imagine there could
be a more complementary element to that incredible smoked duck. Next was
Spot Prawns with Ocean Salad and a Sea Urchin Bisque. The flavor was
really great (and I’m not typically an uni fan) but the temperature
wasn’t quite hot enough. Lauren had Wild Mushroom
Tian with Chestnut Flan and a Walnut Vinaigrette. The flan had a
very strong nutty flavor (super interesting) and the dots of red pepper
aioli were really good as they really had the essence of pepper
represented in a tiny dot. Alex and I then got Maine Lobster with Leeks
and a Perigord Truffle-Lobster sauce. Personally I found the amount of
sauce on each dish to start to get a little repetitive. The truth is
that I’m used to I think a more contemporary interpretation of French
cuisine and the sauces are likely par for the course. While they were
excellent, sometimes I felt they were a touch too much. The presentation
as beautiful as it was also I found started to become a touch less
interesting as the designs were repeated throughout the dishes. Some
people could reasonably say that the consistency provided thematic
structure to the meal. For me I was hoping for a touch more diversity.
Next up was Seared Foie Gras with Caramelized Apples and an Apple Cider
Vinegar Sauce; as well as Alaskan Troll King Salmon with Yellow Foot
Chantarelles and a Bacon-Mushroom Infusion. Both were certainly quite
good, but not nearly as memorable as the duck for me. At this point we
got a Spice Infused Pinot Noir Sorbet. In general none of us were super
fans of this, though it seemed like a good idea. It felt over spiced
(too much cinnamon makes a funny feeling on the tongue). The lemon-thyme
sorbet was quite nice though. We then had Venison Medallions with
Turnips, Flageolet Beans and a Black Peppercorn Sauce which was tender
and juicy; and Deb had Scottish Woodpigeon with Wild Mushrooms, Winter
Squash and a Port Wine Sauce which was good but a little tough. Lauren’s
final entrée was Celeriac Gratin with Baby Brussels Sprout and a
Hazelnut Cream. While I wouldn’t have guessed from the description, this
dish was truly fantastic. The almost vanilla-like hazelnut crème on top
of the celeriac was truly inspired. Magical. Desserts were just ok, but
nothing blew us away. As it was Alex’ birthday he brought a 1996
Leoville La Cases. His reaction: “not bad, but not special”. It also had
a hint of tea in the nose according to Alex. Lauren and Alex felt
Rovers’ was truly excellent. For me Rover’s had it’s moments but I could
have used more of them. I would definitely go back. The experience was
really sealed as positive when the Chef in the hat himself spent a few
minutes with us after our meal chatting about dinner and food in
general. He seems like a warm and funny person and that warmth is
reflected in the dishes that he serves. The service reflected this
warmth and relaxed atmosphere as well and was quite excellent. I would
definitely go back to Rover’s to see what other items I could be inspired
I'm partial to the boxed starch products in the
supermarket aisle. They're always coming up with new combinations of
herbs and spices and grains and pasta that seem yummy and super easy to
make. I always buy them but I never eat them. In a bid to get a bunch of
stuff out of my pantry I made on the other day -
French Herb Quinoa Blend from
Seeds of Change. First of
all - what's
quinoa? Apparently it's the seed of a leafy plant that's distantly
related to spinach. With that explained, I should also mention that
Seeds of Change started out making seeds for people to plant in their
garden. The best arugula I've ever eaten in my entire life (big,
peppery, delicious) was grown from their seeds. Unfortunately they
couldn't bring their magic to their boxed Quinoa product. It was a
boring grain, kind of like buckwheat but without the benefit of bowtie
noodles to make it more interesting... Maybe next time I'll try making
Passover is officially over. What better way to
celebrate than with a whole write-up about bread - bagels specifically.
This is also finally the wrap-up of our trip to New York City. It took
ten times as long to write it up than it did to actually go. Anyway...
the bagel has been firmly assimilated into American culture. Thought of
as a contribution of Jewish cuisine its origins in fact go back to
Genealogy aside, a construct as simple as the bagel has
many incarnations and can be found across North America everywhere from
small family run bagel bakeries
going back decades to faux Jewish bagel
chains (and another, and
another) and even
McDonald’s. As with pizza, the Garden of Eden for this item
is thought to be New York City.
Establishments across the
world claim to want to sell you a New York bagel. It seemed fitting
as we hopped in a cab to head to the airport to fly home from New York
to stop at a bagel place and get an authentic New York bagel.
H&H is commonly thought of as a
premier venue for bagels in New York but multiple sources (publications
and friends) told me the new king was
being Yiddish for “eat”). We stopped there for a dozen. We ate a couple
on the spot and stuffed the rest into our luggage for transport home to
First of all, it is difficult to imagine almost any kind of
baked item that is not delicious when fresh out of the oven. That said,
our bar here has to be higher than that for we’re really seeking out the
world’s best bagels. So out-of-the-oven freshness aside, the verdict on Ess-a-Bagel’s bagels (and New York bagels in general) was “eh”. It was
really big, dense, chewy, and frankly not that interesting. It was like
a more extreme version of what chains like Noah’s and Bruegger’s sell
you. I could see what they were copying, but frankly, I found their
commercialized versions even better.
My suspicions about my lack of
ardor for New York bagels had been forming over years of trying them and
while Ess-a-Bagel is not my only basis for judgment, it was my
confirming evidence. I know lots of people swear by New York bagels but
to me they're like something Texas would be proud of – “hey, it’s big!”.
So the question remains, what constitutes a good bagel?
And where can
you get one? My home Seattle is definitely not an answer as the bagels
here are sad affairs making the New York bagels look interesting. The
answer comes from an unlikely source. Despite its national massive
insecurity complex and its unremarkable contributions (Labatt's,
Poutine Galvaude, and
Vinegar Potato Chips)
to the world food corpus, the best bagels in the world come from Canada
– that’s right Canada.
Who would have ever thought it possible. Someday
I’ll spend several months investigating the genetic history of the bagel
and the reasons why these different strains of bagel have survived in
Canada. That day is not today, but I can still speculate. Much of
Canada’s surprisingly large Jewish community is centered in Toronto and
Montreal – with some significant population in the national capital
Ottawa as well. While I was born and raised in the U.S., I do have
significant extended family located in Toronto and Ottawa. This has led
to my exposure to Canadian bagels.
Battles between Toronto and Montreal
Jews over bagel identity are common. Each city claiming to have the
right bagel angle. After tasting a variety of bagels I’ve come to know
of two specific bagel archetypes that I have found to be the best bagels
in the world. Let’s start with
bagels in Toronto.
They are truly the best I’ve ever had.
Deceptively light, I’ve found it possible to scarf down two or three as
I walk from the store with my fresh “catch” to the car 50 feet away. How
is this possible? They’re incredibly light and airy bagels. They still
have substance and flavor but they are consumable in great quantities.
There are certain bagels known as “bread bagels. I think the Gryfe’s
bagels are different as they really aren’t bread per se but are sort of
To simplify matters, Gryfe’s doesn’t sell 50 varieties or have
any asiago/jalapeno flavors in their bagels (nothing against a little
cheese and pepper of course). At Gryfe’s there’s plain, poppy, and
sesame. My parents grew up friends with one of the Gryfe boys and got to
eat these bagels growing up. In trying to recreate these bagels at home
I’ve grilled my father for any secrets gleaned from his time at the
bakery. He apparently was too busy eating the bagels to see how they
were made. I’m sure that method is a closely guarded family secret
anyway. But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to recreate them.
side note I’ve recently gotten some Gryfe’s bagels delivered to me by
family. They were really delicious. That said, they weren’t quite as
perfect as getting them fresh from the bakery, which seems reasonable
given that they were a couple of days old and had been frozen in the
interim. But even after their cryogenic travails these were still better
than any bagel I’d had anywhere else on the east or west coast.
get into my latest efforts at recreating these bagels at home, let’s
first acknowledge a type of bagel I’ve only recently been introduced to
that I think is also pretty fantastic. In discussions with a friend at
work (Joey) who’s from Ottawa, he’s been good enough to supply me every
so often with a few bagels his parents bring to Seattle from the “old
country”. (Last time he came to my office as if holding an organ ready
for transplant with the clock counting down. Bagels are important!) They
came from the
Ottawa Bagel Shop and
Joey claims that the Ottawa bagel is a "total rip-off of the
Montreal Bagel" and that these bagels are the closest he's seen to
Montreal bagels" - an assertion backed up on their
they talk about being from Montreal. According to Joey,
apparently the best Montreal has to offer.
For the purposes of this
assessment I'm assuming that Ottawa and Montreal bagels are essentially
the same. They're diminutive like the Toronto bagels, but they have
bigger centers whereas the Gryfe’s bagels close in more. (Both are
dwarfed by the Manhattan monstrosities we got at Ess-a-Bagel.) But the
difference in appearance is not the main factor.
Most recently I got six
of these Ottawa bagels – all sesame. In Jerusalem, you can buy these
things that the Israeli’s call “baygeleh” from Arab peddlers standing on
the street in various parts of the city. (I always got mine at Jaffa
gate outside the old city). They are like someone rolled out the dough
for a four bagels and made one huge hoop instead of four small rings.
They are no thicker than a typical bagel (maybe even a little smaller,
but they are much much longer and end up hanging on pegs and settling in
a lopsided oval shape. Most importantly, almost every square millimeter
of them are covered with sesame seeds. The dough itself is strangely
devoid of flavor. But the incredible roasted sesame flavor is the star.
The texture is also a touch crispy on the outside and chewy yummy on the
inside. I haven’t eaten one of these in at least four or five years and
I can still smell and taste exactly what they’re like. That’s the kind
of impression they make on someone.
Now, imagine these same “baygeleh”
in the size of a bagel with all the great sesame goodness, but a
flavorful bagel dough. That’s the Ottawa bagels I’ve been getting every
so often. Frankly? They’re delicious. They may stand up even better to
freezing and transport than the Gryfe’s. To be fair, I haven’t eaten
these fresh, but they were very very good. Again, better than anything
I’ve had in the United States, ever.
So, here’s the question: how do you
get these bagels unless you live there (or have friends and family who
are willing to deliver)? My approach has been to try making them myself.
Since I’ve only (relatively) recently been introduced to the Ottawa
bagels, I decided to tackle recreating Gryfe’s Toronto bagels, and still
my choice for the best bagels on the planet.
A la America’s Test Kitchen, across several sessions (often
with my brother-in-law Gil)
I tried experimenting with different bagel recipes. We started by scouring
every cookbook I have as well as the web for bagel recipes. On the web I
tried to focus on recipes that purported to result in authentic Canadian
bagels. (This is where I first saw the heated battle between residents of
Toronto and Montreal about their bagel supremacy.)
We ended up with about
a dozen different recipes which were then analyzed for ingredients,
quantities, and methodologies. Those recipes that were almost identical
were treated as one. We were really hunting for core schisms in techniques
that could lead to such a wide array of bagel possibilities. Recipes that
claimed to make “real New York bagels” were set aside as we weren’t
interested in making New York bagels.
As mentioned earlier I grilled my
father for secrets from his youth hanging out at Gryfe’s. He thought he
remembered that they used to make the dough, let it sit in the fridge all
night, and then boil and bake first thing in the morning. In some of our
early experiments I tried this to less than successful results. Either my
father’s memory was faulty or I misapplied the technique. I think it was
the latter. I’ve heard of other people doing this since, so it bears
Ultimately we ended up trying variations and
combinations on a few different recipes. For example, we liked the texture
in one recipe, the flavor in another, and so forth. One recipe was for
“Montreal Bagels” adapted from
A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman, and another from
Canadian Living Test Kitchen. I’ve been experimenting mainly with
different quantities of sugar as well as ratios of flour to yeast to
water. I might say at this point that the recipe is a work in progress,
but in this endeavor, the reward may be the journey. Will I ever think
I've hit perfection? Will there always be a slight enhancement and
adjustment to try? Whether we're on the journey or have reached the
destination this recipe makes
some delicious bagels right at home that in my mind are better than any
you can buy in the United States. I’ll continue to update and tweak
the recipe as I experiment over time, but this is
a good snapshot of where I’m at right now. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
- 1 cup lukewarm potato water (This is essentially the water left over
from boiling potatoes. Covered, this will refrigerate for up to 3 days
or frozen for up to 4 months. You can also dissolve 1½ tablespoons of
potato flour in 1 cup of lukewarm water, but I haven’t tried this.)
- 1 envelope of yeast
- 1 tablespoon beaten egg
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 tablespoon malt syrup
- ~3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- 16 cups water
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon water
- poppy or sesame seeds
- In a large bowl, dissolve 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar into the
lukewarm potato water.
- Sprinkle the yeast on top and let it stand for 10 minutes or until
it gets frothy.
- Stir the tablespoon of beaten egg, canola oil and malt syrup into
the yeast/water mixture.
- Stir together 1 cup of the flour, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and
the kosher salt.
- Slowly beat these dry ingredients into the yeast mixture using an
electric mixer until smooth. This should take about 2 minutes.
- Use a wooden spoon to gradually mix the remaining flour in to the
mixture resulting in a soft sticky dough.
- On a lightly floured surface knead until the dough is smooth and
stretchy. Make sure to get all the dry isolated flour spots worked out
of the dough. This should take 5-10 minutes.
- Place the dough in a greased bowl, rotating the dough around the
bowl so its outside is covered in the grease. Cover with plastic wrap
(or wax paper with grease on it and a small towel).
- Allow the dough to rise for 1 to 1½ hours until the dough has
doubled and you can poke your finger into it and leave a mark.
- Preheat your oven to 400 F.
- After rising, punch the dough down and knead it several times.
- Divide the dough into 10 pieces (the recipe originally called for 12
pieces, but my bagels were getting even too small for me. I may tweak
the recipe to result in an even dozen). Keep the unformed dough and
formed bagels covered when you’re not directly shaping them.
- There are two methods for shaping a bagel. One is to make a ball
(don’t compress it too much) and poke your thumb through the center. You
work your thumb (on the inside of the bagel) and your index finger (on
the outside) all the way around the bagel until it’s formed. The other
method which I prefer is to roll the dough into a long pipe and then
wrap it horizontally around your hand using your fist as well as your
other hand to seal it into a ring. The pipe of dough just barely wraps
around my hand and I have to stretch it a bit. I like this method
because the shapes end up more bagel-like, whereas for me, the first
method results in more roll-like creations with small depressions in the
- Place your bagels apart on a floured and covered baking sheet. Let
them rise for 15 minutes.
- In the meantime, in a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the
honey and stir. This is the poaching liquid.
- Gently slide your bagels into the water a few at a time into the
water over a medium heat for 1 minute on each side. This is to proof
them, they should be noticeably bigger than when they went into the
- Carefully remove the bagels onto parchment paper or a foil-lined
greased baking sheet using a slotted spoon.
- Stir together the egg yolk and water and quickly brush over the
bagels as they come out of the poaching liquid.
- Sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.
- Bake in the 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes until the tops are
golden brown and the bottoms sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire
Tall food is out.
How can I not be psyched about
restaurants leveraging technology (free registration required).
Privacy be damned!
The LA Times also has the
hot book list. Dr. Atkins is doing pretty well despite his recent
One more cool article from LA.
All about cheese.
Next time I'm in New York City I am definitely going to
(free registration required) - this restaurant speaks to
The basics of Passover are that you can't eat from five
grains - wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt. I'm not entirely sure what
spelt is. Believe it or not, the
Manischewitz Passover cakes are unbelievably delicious. The best is
the Extra Moist yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I recommend eating
them all year round. They are moist, tasty, sweet, fluffy and really
really good - all without flour. Crazy!
Passover is much much easier this year since we're
following the Sephardic
tradition. The most impactful difference is described
here by a
late friend of my parents.
Last night we had a
Passover Seder for 18 people - 21 including the three and under set.
:) We had a zillion course meal.
Alex and I shopped and
cooked starting the previous Sunday morning.
Peyman came by for
several hours on Wednesday, and it still was psycho. We took pictures of
everything, drank a bunch of wine (more than 4 cups), and documented
everything in detail. In a couple of weeks we should have the whole
thing up here on the site.
Heitz Napa Valley Cab
(not the Martha's) is absolutely fantastic. It's the 1999 vintage and
it's got tons of flavor, depth, and richness.
Costco is selling it right now for around $30.
Peyman was worried that
Costco didn't store their wine properly, but we had a bottle of this the
other night and it was quite delicious!
Fine Living - a cable network that I think is related to
the Food network - is having a contest. You can become a
winemaker for a day.
You go to Sonoma and hang out at Gallo of Sonoma making your own wine
blend and eat up a storm. Cool. I am going to win.
On our last day in New York we had to sample some of our
own ethnic cuisine. There are three purported destinations to get an
authentic Jewish deli experience –
Katz’s, and the
Despite the fact that it’s open 24 hours, my friend recommended against
Carnegie describing it as a “mediocre tourist trap” (I’ve never been so
I don’t know). We opted for a late Sunday morning meal at Katz’. The
place is a huge high ceilinged rectangle with an odd ticket system for
getting and paying for your food. It was also unclear to me whether to
stand in line cafeteria style to get my food or to expect a waiter to
attend to us as I’m pretty sure that both were available. Even though I
failed to deconstruct the algorithm for service at Katz, I was walloped
over the head by the atmosphere. Put aside the arrow pointing down
hanging over the table where the famous scene from
Harry Met Sally was filmed. I was more moved by the tons of pictures
on the walls of the proprietors with various famous people, the chaos,
the noise, the great smells, and the incredibly generous samples of
unbelievable hot pastrami I got while waiting in line to get my sandwich
– God forbid I should go hungry for even a minute longer! Don’t go to
Katz’ if you’re looking for a “light” meal. It’s not to be found.
However great deli was. The incredible hot pastrami was thicker and
juicier than anything I’d ever eaten. The steak fries (almost always a
source of soggy disappointment to me) were shockingly good – crispy
outside, soft inside, and flavorful. The egg cream (what
the hell is an egg cream?) was yummy. I also had the best chopped
liver I’ve ever had at Katz’. It was almost sweet with the typical
chopped liver bitter subtext not present. The pickles were nice and
crispy but not super flavorful, and while the matzah ball soup was
decent commercial chicken soup, it was not even remotely close to what
my grandmother used to make in terms of flavor. That said, all in all
Katz’ was a tasty and fun experience.
Wednesday is one of the best food websites around. This week they
bring us an article from the LA Times about McDonald's. I haven't been
to McD's in a long time, but I will confess to getting a craving once in
awhile. This article covers some of the same themes as the popular
Fast Food Nation. At some point we'll add a section to this
site that compares and contrasts all the various fast food and other
The Boston Globe has an
interview with Jacques Pepin. Pepin is
appearing at talks in the Boston area. They include a couple of his
recipes as well; one for a
soufflé and one for
leg of lamb.
Passover is coming up soon in the Jewish
calendar. At times it was considered Jewish New Year's. There's another
New Year celebration coming up April 13-15 -
Speaking of annual feasts,
in Los Angeles is whipping up their
pre-Easter cuisine according to the Los Angeles Times (free
What food topic is relevant given the war
happening in Iraq? Ever eat an
They even have links for where you can get your own!
we were in New York City for our food trip,
Peyman took a bunch of
photos of us eating. The following
series of images were taken at the
Excellent Dumpling House. Peyman
sent them around as an animated gif with the caption "don't you want
this guy reviewing your restaurant?" Pretty amusing - and freaky.
A few weeks ago I started getting a craving
for really good macaroni and cheese. Not the
orange Kraft stuff. Not even
the half decent
fancy boxed macaroni and cheese. Real homemade stuff. The mac and
cheese I had in Utah at
Grill was just periodically showing up in my brain and reminding me
how good it was. So over the last few weeks I've tried to make macaroni
and cheese twice at home. Debbie's
always psyched about this. I've been trying various recipes on the net.
The most recent was
Macaroni and Three Cheeses served at Michael Jordan's
in Chicago published in
Food and Wine magazine. I think
I did everything right, and frankly the result was not very good. Mostly
it was the
roux they had me create. Isn't there enough starch in macaroni and
cheese between the pasta and the breadcrumbs without adding flour? I'm
going to try this
next - though I may modify it by diversifying the cheese and adding some