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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, July 30, 2003, 11:59 PM

Alex forwarded the following freaky item. Virtual food is upon us. Never mind choosing between a chocolate cake pill or an apple pie pill. This is a freaky machine that is supposed to simulate the sensory experience of eating different foods. I'd be afraid to put it in my mouth.


Tuesday, July 29, 2003, 11:26 PM

Renowned New York Chef Daniel Boulud is opening an additional Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach at the Brazilian Court Hotel.


Monday, July 28, 2003, 7:01 AM

Chez Jane, our very own garlic spread powerhouse in Sammamish, WA has a new flavor out - Sun Dried Tomato.


Friday, July 25, 2003, 11:26 PM

Alex forwarded a link to the Artisanal Cheese Center and the tastings and classes they offer. I like living in Seattle, but here's a reason to move to New York City.

Speaking of New York City - Blue Ribbon Sushi specifically - Peyman adds "they're open until 2am and they have 60 varieties of fish. We're crazy for not having eaten there yet." I agree.

Here's an NYC food trend I can do without. Thanks to DebDu for the link.

We're going to LA for a few days later this year. Maybe we'll eat at Bastide. I already have reservations at Patina. Here's what Gourmet has to say.

Steve passes this on. I have wondered how to get consistent around what a particular request for "doneness" means from restaurant to restaurant. Some restaurants will come and describe it - typically steakhouses that go rarer than most. Whatever the answer, just don't get your steak cooked "well done". Just go out and eat a shoe instead. It will be cheaper probably and you won't be able to tell the difference.

I got mail from a restaurateur in Baton Rouge who is considering changing the focus of their restaurant which is not doing as well as they'd hoped. They're new direction? It could be all appetizers! It's pretty cool that she's asking me for info on this. While I am a huge advocate of this direction for almost all restaurants (if not appetizers, then a series of small portions/tastes), I have absolutely no experience in running a successful restaurant (though as with most things I've never done I assume I could do it quite well if I put my mind to it). I told her that there are essentially restaurants that do this today - they're called Tapas bars. I'm advising her to try some of those in New Orleans - since I couldn't find any in Baton Rouge. Though I don't think that she has to do a Spanish cuisine just because she's doing small portions. Could be Cajun/Creole or Italian or any type of cuisine for that matter. I asked her to keep me posted. I hope they try it and are successful. Maybe the tide will turn.


Thursday, July 24, 2003, 11:26 PM

Too bad there's no picture accompanying the article but I still like reading about people making dream kitchens.


Wednesday, July 23, 2003, 11:02 PM

On Sunday night NBC aired a great new television series - The Restaurant - about Rocco's in Manhattan. The New York Times (free registration required) writes about it here. It's from Mark Burnett the producer of Survivor. The chef is Rocco DiSpirito aksi if Union Pacific in Manhattan. The funding comes from Jeffrey Chodorow who runs the China Grill restaurant group that includes a couple of my favorite Vegas restaurants - Red Square and Rumjungle. The show is essentially great. I can't help but imagine that a bunch of it is contrived in front of the ever present cameras - the waitstaff betting on the restaurant not opening, the harried construction manager getting yelled at on the phone with the camera crew conveniently at his apartment taping the phone call, etc. (I do like the scene where two of the waitresses complain that a third waitress who is kissing Rocco's mom's ass. Rocco has apparently installed her in an apartment above the restaurant and hired her to be the Chef de Cuisine.) But despite that, I still love the show. In fact, I would love several shows just like it. I would watch them all. Fun! I wonder if the food is any good. Unclear.


Tuesday, July 22, 2003, 11:59 PM

Dumb technical note... the server had a catastrophic failure. Did we back up? Yes to a mirrored hard drive. The mirrored drive died as well. We lost a few entries in late June and after July 7th. If any of you have them in your cache please send them in. D'oh!


Monday, July 7, 2003, 12:00 AM

Dumb statistical note... between this post and the last post the hit counter on the tastingmenu.com home page passed 10,000 hits. Cool!


Sunday, July 6, 2003, 12:38 PM

08-egg.jpgPassover is an annual (usually in April - this past year mid-April) Jewish holiday. Every year Passover kicks off with a structured meal called the "seder". (FYI for some non-Jews, Jesus' last supper was likely a Passover seder.) In any case, this highly structured meal also comes during a holiday that has additional dietary restrictions beyond the regular Jewish dietary laws. These mainly involve not eating leavened bread as well as grains that can be turned into leavened bread. Certain types of Jews have expanded these restrictions to include a dizzying array of bread-source-like items (corn, rice, etc.) but after some research I have decided that this misses the point of the original prohibition, and have decided to ignore these expanded restrictions. (If you really want to understand the details click here). Alex and I decided that not only should we cook Passover dinner, but we should invite a ton of people and create a Passover tasting menu. We started a couple of weeks before the big event planning and poring over cookbooks. I think the number of Passover cookbooks is a exponentially proportional to the number of  dietary restrictions. Passover cookbooks include: The New York Times Passover Cookbook, Jewish Cooking in America, Passover Desserts (how would you make a cake without flour???), The Passover Table, and more. We finalized our menu the weekend before the event and started cooking right then. Since the Passover Seder only happens once a year (or twice for some Jews living outside Israel) variation from year to year in what you eat is not paramount. In fact, the consistency is what makes for the tradition. We tried to have a balance between traditional dishes, and dishes that might become new traditions. So, in addition to all the factors in planning a regular successful menu, we tried to make sure that we were thematically consistent with the story of Passover - every dish and ingredient containing meaning and symbolism. That's how "Passover stuffed Boneless Chicken Breast with Apricot Jam and Bitter Herbs with Garlic" becomes "Basket in the Reeds" ("Sal ba Soof" in Hebrew) symbolizing Moses in the basket in the reeds of the Nile. (The chicken is the basket, the stuffing is Moses. Ok, maybe it shouldn't be taken too literally.) Finally we chose a series of wines. Kosher wine is typically heat pasteurized. This is a bad thing and as a result, most Kosher wine is not great. That said there are a couple of standouts, and we also had regular wine for the evening. Bottom line: you have to have more than just Kosher wine for a traditional meal that requires  everyone to drink 4 cups of wine. These included: 1990 Long Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000 Weinstock Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (Kosher and decent reviews), 1996 Paraduxx Napa Valley, 1999 Joseph Phelps Le Mistral, a wonderful 1998 Dalle Valle Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2001 Joh. Jos. Prum Whlener Sonnenuhr Auyslese Riesling, and a 1999 Hanna Cabernet Sauvignon. The huge selection of wine was a great complement to the endless parade of dishes coming out of the frenzied kitchen. Alex and I worked overtime, but couldn't have gotten it done without the help of Peyman our sous-chef. The table was set (we had to rent tables and chairs) and things got started. First up in the meal was Green Vegetable and Salt Water. I used kosher Salt, and celery among other vegetables. Getting the saltwater mix right takes a bunch of tasting, but I made a big batch. We had all the usual types of matzah but I screwed up and waited too long and missed my chance to get the official hardcore Passover matzah called "shmurah matzah". This stuff makes cardboard look tasty, but some people absolutely love it (my father included). Next up were bitter herbs (romaine lettuce) and Sephardic Charoset. Charoset is a traditional mix of fruits, nuts, and wine. Ted and Allie brought their Sephardic version which was the best charoset I've ever tasted. Sometimes charoset can have a bitter flavor from the walnuts, but theirs was perfect (probably due to the fact that Allie substituted almonds for walnutes). It is now officially our charoset recipe of the future (some traditions continue, some new ones are started). One of my favorite items during Passover is horseradish. Typically the best kinds to get are from either Gold's or Batampte. Horseradish comes both in white and red with beets added for color. I tell myself that the white is hotter because it's not diluted with beets and pride myself on eating huge amounts of it on matzah. The beet colored horseradish looks nicer and I'm not really sure I can tell the difference between it and the white. Lauren and Alex brought fresh horseradish from their garden as well. Combining the bitter herbs (romaine or horseradish - or both) and the charoset between two small pieces of matzah is called a "Hillel Sandwich". One of my unsurprisingly favorite moments of the meal. Each of these dishes is symbolic in nature punctuating one or another portions of the ceremony. However, when the Hillel Sandwich is eaten, the main meal is around the corner. The meal began with "Egg in Tears" - a traditional hard boiled egg in salt water. One of my favorites. Next up was "Four Questions, Three Fish" - Geflite Fish with Beet Tartare, Pacific Northwest Gefilte Fish with White Horseradish, and Japanese Gefilte Fish and Chrayne (slides of whitefish sashimi with fresh wasabi on the side). We also had a vegetarian alternative for this dish that included vegetarian liver, and emphasized the beet tartare dish. Next up was my "House of Hillel Almost Chicken Soup" - Vegetarian Chicken Soup with Cajun Matzah Balls with Green Onions. Things were starting to feel like a real restaurant as we were plating 18 dishes at a time in the kitchen. We were plating "Basket in the Reeds" - Passover Stuffed Boneless Chicken Breast with Apricot Jam and Bitter Herbs with Garlic. (Things were so hectic that we ended up using asparagus instead of the bitter herbs and garlic, but it was ok anyway.) There was also an alternative to this dish based on tempeh instead of chicken (you'd be surprised how many vegetarian meat substitutes contain wheat gluten). Take away meat and wheat and you get - tempeh!. Next was "Brick and Mortar Red Pepper" - Terrine of Roasted Peppers, and Eggplant with Tomato Fondant, Basil Aioli and Tomato Oil. This was lifted straight from one of Charlie Trotter's cookbooks and it's post-slicing brick-like appearance was super appropriate for the Passover holiday. Alex worked on this one for days and it was truly fantastic. The moment we transferred the terrine from the container onto on open surface was pretty stressful given how much work had gone into the dish already. The final entree was "Ten Plagues Grill" - Olive Oil and Garlic Steak Grill with Red Wine Reduction and Matzah Meal Polenta. I was particularly proud of placing ten dots of a Charlie Trotter red wine reduction around the edge of the dish symbolizing the ten plagues. Things ended with a huge bowl of fruit, Debbie baked a Passover birthday cake (I've mentioned in the past how much I love these cakes) decorated with Dora the Explorer for our 2 year old (if you don't have young kids, don't ask), and the traditional matzah "dessert" - the Afikomen. All in all the meal was very tasty and even more fun. The dishes were sometimes amazing, and sometimes decent. Most of the inconsistency was I think the fact that we were cooking for what seemed like a million people and sometimes our preparation and timing were great, and sometimes they weren't. It's hard to be the chef and the diner at the same time. But either way it was a pretty exciting dinner. Next year we need to do Asian Passover. This will be difficult as Soy Sauce contains wheat which is forbidden... but we'll figure out a workaround.

Note: for adventurous readers, here is the thinking on how we were dealing with some of the more extreme Passover dietary restrictions. I sent this to the people coming over for dinner before they came as part of full disclosure on our creativity with tradition:


Most people know that on Passover, Jews eat unleavened bread - Matzah. Eating Matzah on Passover commemorates the unleavened bread eaten by the Jews when they left Egypt in such haste that there was no time for the dough to rise. Matzah can be made from five types of grain and only these five: They are wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt. In addition to rules for what should be eaten, there are rules for what should not be eaten. Foods that are prohibited on Passover are called Chametz. Chametz is any food or food product containing fermented grain products (Chametz) may not be used or remain in a Jew's possession on Passover. Even foods with minute amounts of Chametz ingredients, or foods processed on utensils which are used for other Chametz-containing foods, are not permissible for Passover use. There are two major cultural traditions among Jews - one is the Ashkenazic Jews, mostly from Eastern Europe, the other is Sephardic Jews - from Spanish or North African descent. Traditions between these two sometimes differ. In addition to not eating chametz as described above, Ashkenazic Jews do not eat many legumes (kitniot) - beans, corn, peas, rice, etc. and products containing them as ingredients throughout Passover, while Sephardic, Yemenite and Oriental Jewish custom varies from one community to another. The thinking behind not eating kitniyot comes from the Ashkenazic Rabbis worrying about cases of mistaken identity. Their edict was justified on the grounds that people can too easily confuse a product cooked with kitniyot, with a similar product cooked with one of the five grains (that are chametz), and if the kitniyot product is allowed, one may come to allow a grain product, which is really chametz, as well. Moreover, kitniyot are similar to the five grains in other ways too, including the fact that some people make bread out of kitniyot as they do from the five grains, and people who are not knowledgeable may end up making a mistake and eat real chametz. Another example that takes this kind of thinking to the extreme is with regards to corn. Corn was unknown to our sages. It is a New World crop, but the Indo-European word for bread or wheat and the Yiddish word for rye is Korn and lest people get mixed up... That said, an authority no less than the Talmud itself tells us that chametz can only come from stuff that could have been used in the production of matzah, the five grains. Nothing else can be chametz. Rice, millet and kitniot cannot become chametz and therefore may not be used for matzah. And according to the Rambam, even if one kneads flour made of rice with hot water, and bakes it and processes it so that it rises and looks very much like regular dough, one may still eat this product because it is nevertheless not called chametz. The dichotomy continues to this day. Ashkenazim don't eat kitniyot, though many (not all) Sephardim do. While we're not Sephardim, the ingredients we use to cook this year's Passover seder will include kitniyot. I could say that this is in honor of Seattle having the United States' largest Sephardic population, but the truth is that I'm not as paranoid as the Ashkenazic rabbis. I won't mix up Corn with Rye. I won't think that just because I can make a bread from rice that a nice rye bread is kosher for passover. I want to make sure everyone is aware of and hopefully comfortable with this tradition mixing. Let me know if it's an issue for anyone. : )
BTW, Though I did steal liberally for the text above from various Rabbi's writings
on the web, I myself am of course not a Rabbi... so if you want an expert opinion
go ask one. : )



Saturday, July 5, 2003, 12:46 PM

Is it a global issue quite yet? Not sure, but over the last couple of years, the dietary habits of most Americans and their preponderance for obesity has certainly become a theme. Whether it's the protests against America exporting their "cuisine" to every remote corner of the planet via McDonald's and the like, the publishing of Fast Food Nation, or American's suing fast food chains for being too fat, the issue is here. For some reason the issue of personal responsibility is not as popular. Kraft is taking the path of least resistance.


Friday, July 4, 2003, 7:58 AM

One of my favorite sites - the Making of a Restaurant, links to an article about a Chicago bakery trying to make ends meet. (Reader note: I could have inserted an annoying line about "making enough bread" but I didn't. I consider that a public service.)

Now for a little lack of self-control. And more. And even more.


Wednesday, July 2, 2003, 8:21 PM

Below 14th is a cool site about food (as well as drink and nightlife in Downtown Manhattan. The latest trend? German Jewish restaurants.

I'm spending too much money on wine. Thankfully, I'm not that into beer as well.










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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