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.
More calendar business. For awhile I tried to keep an up-to-date
calendar of upcoming food events here. Anyone who's been here recently
knows that I have failed miserably and not updated this page in months.
You deserve better.
Since an exact calendar is not possible (the
site is free after all), we're going to take a slightly different
approach. From now on this will be a running
catalog of annual food-related events. The exact dates won't be listed
of course but you should be able to follow the links and find out when
things are happening in the coming year. I suggest you look at things
early as sometimes events shift from month to month. Feel free to
e-mail me if you know of any
events not listed. The list should grow over time.
I wonder who really wants to read about food on
thanksgiving day. For our thanksgiving Alex is attempting to make a
Thompson's Turkey, and I'm concocting a dish called "Thanksgiving in 15
seconds". Basically a sweet potato pancake topped with turkey breast and
turkey bacon and dressed with a cranberry apple velouté sauce. At least
that's the current thinking. I'll fill you in on how it went.
In honor of the holiday (or just because I
finally got it done) is a new feature of the site - the eating calendar.
Just click "When" in the navigation
area at the top of any page. Why does this page need to exist? Well, my
Kira gets annoyed
that on the site we list everything by the date the write-up is published
and not by the date we ate there. Though for any pictures posted we do
show the actual date of the pictures. Bottom line, she appears to want to
have obsessive knowledge of where we've eaten when. So here it is.
The links take you to the write-up for this
visit to the restaurant. If there's no link, the write-up hasn't been
posted. This way you also get to see how far behind I am as well as what
cool restaurant write-ups are coming up.
Note, I also removed the link to search as I
can't get it to work since we upgraded the server. I'll keep trying to
make it work.
I saw some Zagat-like guide to London restaurants in a
bookstore the other day. (My PocketPC ate my notes so unfortunately I
won't be able to name it specifically). Much to my dismay it recommended
E&O as one of the best restaurants in London. If you used their
glowing recommendation as a baseline, then the book should be burned.
Judging a restaurant after eating there only once is a faux pas in
professional restaurant critic circles. Luckily I am not a professional
and don't need to eat yet another mediocre meal at E&O.
At first the meal made me nervous. E&O (stands
for Eastern and Oriental) is located in the Notting Hill area of West
London. This is reputed to be a "hip" area with lots of restaurants.
Sounds good to me. However, on our way I realized that though we'd
already eaten at numerous restaurants, this was our first time in West
London. I was immediately nervous that we were somehow discriminating
against restaurants in this part of town and wondered whether we were
trying a truly representative sample. Unfortunately E&O was not a
quality ambassador for the cuisine that West London has to offer.
The first problem is the genre of the cuisine
- pan-Asian fusion. This already sets the bar high. Pan-Asian fusion can
be a cliche. And these days even Chili's has some Asian ingredients
littered throughout their dishes. That said, I love Asian ingredients,
so if someone wants to mix them in new and interesting ways for me I'm
up for it. However, that's not what E&O - and many other pan-Asian
fusion restaurants I've been to - do. What they do is put some Thai and
Japanese dishes on the same menu and call it fusion. Separate orders of
sushi and satay do not a fusion make.
The meal started off with cold edamame. I like
them hot better, but these came with sprinklings of soy, Mirin and a
very flakey interesting salt that compensated for the lack of heat.
(Edamame always amazes me in that the seasoning goes on the shells which
you don't eat. But because it's a finger food just the right amount of
salt gets on the actual pods and makes it to your mouth. It's an
indirect route but an effective one.)
After the edamame, some chive and prawn
dumplings arrived. They were not good. The wrapper was somehow
overcooked and undercooked at once - starchy and overly limp. The crab
futomaki was boring (with or without its garlic aioli accompaniment).
The pad thai was also flavorless with scant chicken (which was a good
thing since the chicken was dry and without flavor). The Thai Rare Beef
Salad was decent, because there was actually a good amount of flavor in
it. Debbie pointed out that it registered as the spiciest dish of the
meal coming in at a scorching "mild". (Potato chip manufacturers would
call this level of seasoning - "piquante" or the ever confusing "mild
Among the dishes we ordered were two Nobu
ripoffs. After our less than stellar experience at Nobu London, you
might ask why we'd want to get copies. We asked ourselves the same thing
afterwards. The seabass new style sashimi just sat there. The kitchen
had missed the point of the dish where disciplined timing results in
cold fish just getting cooked ever so slightly as it hits the table by
hot oil. The Rock Shrimp Tempura was not bad by any stretch but lacked
the magic of Nobu's. I classify it somewhere above popcorn shrimp served
at airport restaurants.
Bottom line: West London may have a lot to
offer, but E&O isn't the place to find it.
After our mediocre lunch we did walk around the Notting
Hill area and peruse some of the bookstores. The bulletin board at the
local travel bookstore was covered with articles claiming it was the
basis for the travel bookstore in the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts movie
Notting Hill. For some reason while trying to determine whether this
connection to Hollywood was imagined or real on the part of the
bookstore owner, I remembered that London's very own food bookstore was
nearby - Books for
Cooks. In fact, it was across the street. Unfortunately this was not
to be the event that made up for our mediocre lunch. The sign on the
door said that Books for Cooks was closed for an August holiday and
would reopen in September (after our departure). Bummer.
I started thinking after I wrote this about whether I'm
writing too much about restaurant experiences that aren't good. After
all, if you're looking for somewhere to eat and you see the word
"mediocre" in the first paragraph of a restaurant review you're probably
flipping to the next restaurant in a hurry and not too worried about
missing out on some of my sparkling prose. That said, after thinking
about it for a bit, at the very least if the owner of the restaurant in
question were ever to read what I wrote then I figure I owe it to them
to be as specific as possible.' And besides, you never know what hidden
gems of observation and insight from me you'll find even in a write-up
of a restaurant that wasn't great. ; ) That said, I'll try my best to
make sure that the bulk of my writing is about memorable and enjoyable
food and meals. (And I'll do my best to make sure that my experience as
opposed to just my writing reflects this ratio as accurately as
a restaurant is described as the "local foodie temple" in various
publications it's probably worth a try. Whether you think of that
one-liner as a recommendation for or against a place to eat, it
certainly increases the odds that something interesting is happening.
Pied à Terre earned the aforementioned description, so we decided a
visit for dinner was in order.
The long narrow dining room was beautiful and luckily
felt more modern than corporate. It was also surprisingly empty. Not
sure what London's eating patterns are but it seemed like more people
should be there on a Wednesday night. There was an odd couple seated
directly across from us who at various times looked like they were on an
awkward first date or were about to get engaged to be married and
demonstrate their love for each other rather explicitly right at the
table. But that's a topic for a another day (and probably another
Our display of affection came from the chef and in the
form of dishes at our table. Even before we sat down at our table,
butter (for upcoming bread) and bowl of beautiful green olives had
already been set out for us. It's a small detail but it was nice to know
that they were expecting us and that preparations for our arrival began
even before we arrived. The
were yummy and pretty. On another service related note,
Debbie pointed out that she's
immediately inclined to like restaurants where they call her "madam". :)
The first dish was a series of little tastes to get us
ready for the meal to come. It was an
array of four items organized by height including: pea foam, foie
gras in filo dough, deep fried quail egg (the announcement of which
Debbie greeted with a gasp), and fine tartlett of beef bourgogne. Let's
take them one at a time. The pea foam was smooth, more substantial than
you would expect, a gorgeous green color, and (in the words of an
impression of Orson Wells doing a television ad for frozen peas on his
short-lived but funny show - The Critic) "full
of green pea-ness". The foie gras in filo dough was absolutely
amazing. It was smooth, buttery, crispy on the outside and with an
outstanding truffle flavor. I could eat a whole bag of these "snacks".
The deep fried quail egg was like a little jewel with a soft yolk
inside. I'm a big fan of soft-boiled eggs, and this one was perfect. We
didn't get a chance to ask the chef how he did it, but it must have
required some delicate handling and careful timing. The beef pastry
which in a larger portion might have been heavy was just right given
it's tiny smaller-than-bite size.
Just as we were marveling at the opening act, a basked
of warm bread arrived. Why more restaurants can't deliver bread warm I
don't know. I realize it's not quite as easy as cold bread, but the
benefits greatly outweigh the costs as far as I'm concerned. Normally
the warmth of the bread is my favorite feature of this "course". But at
this meal it wasn't just any bread that showed up but
assortment including onion bacon bread. Why onion bacon bread? Why
not onion bacon bread. Of course onions and bacon are wonderful things
to combine and bread is a fine canvas on which to combine them. The
smell was absolutely fantastic and present. The flavor was subtler. The
combination was great. The excitement of the onion bacon combo almost
overshadowed the other items in the basket. Almost. The tomato roll was
also very yummy. The flavor was not of roasted tomatoes but of
concentrated fresh tomatoes. Like tomato paste in a good way. Debbie
felt that the combination of diversity and warmth in bread options was a
sure sign that they loved their customers, and that the butter was a
"gesture of genuine affection".
Next up was
Lime Marinated Scallop "Ceviche" with Avocado and Crème Fraice and
Sesame Filo. The reappearance of the filo didn't bother me as it was
so delicious. It was kind of a small sub-theme of the evening. The
citrusy ceviche "marinade" had a surprising depth and the avocado was
super complementary. Delicious. What followed was
Pepper Seared Tuna with Chive, Crushed Potatoes, Black Olive and Shallot
Vinaigrette with Wood Sorrell. In a world of raw tuna cliches, this
dish was interesting. The delicious potato salad was a totally a typical
texture in combination with the tuna but great. Truly impressive was
that lifelong olive hater Debbie liked the dish, olives and everything.
The next course started with
Roasted Langoustine Tails with New Season Onions, Crispy Thyme, and
Garlic Puree. While not garnering billing in the name, a scallop
that was bursting with flavor and juice sat amidst the langoustine in
the center of the dish. The garlic puree was a wonderful foundation for
the other flavors. This was quite good.
Seared and Poached Foie Gras in a Sauternes Consomme followed. The
idea and the execution of the consomme was brilliant and light. Debbie
loved it. However, by the time it got to me (after Debbie was done
enjoying her half of the dish) I'm not sure it was a representative
sample as I didn't enjoy it as much as she did. I think the window for
eating it was very short given all the different chemical and heat
reactions happening in the dish as it arrived at our table.
At one point in the meal the waiter noticed
that a fly had made his final resting place my glass of water. I hadn't
noticed until the waiter removed and replaced with grace and discretion.
Good thing too. Bugs are not on my approved list. I wonder how many
times in one's lifetime the waiter doesn't spot the crime scene and
people end up drinking the fly.
An odd thing happened when we asked about the
next dish -
Poulet Noir with Ravioli of Confit Leg, Baby Leeks, and Summer Truffle
Veloute. We asked the waiter what "poulet noir" was. Black chicken?
He said it was just chicken from the north of France and there was
really nothing special about it. I wondered, why mention it on the menu
if there's nothing special about it, but luckily that didn't stop me
from trying it. It was truly the juiciest chicken I've ever eaten. The
slices of truffle were exceedingly generous in quantity. The giroles
(which were popular in many London restaurants while we were there in
August) and the creamy sauce wrapped the entire dish together in flavor.
Next up was
Stuffed Rabbit Saddle with Pommery Mustard Sauce, Caramelised [sic]
Onions and Creamed Carrots. This dish was super interesting
especially for the impression it made visually. There was a "skin"
around the three cylinders of amazing little bits of rabbit that looked
like a sausage casing in the low light of the restaurant. The texture
didn't shed any light on what the wrapper was made of either because it
had this amazing better than sausage-like texture but was clearly
organic. I finally had to ask and was told that the rabbit was wrapped
in carrot. Cool! The rabbit was surprisingly soft and smooth in texture.
vegetable dice in the middle of the dish was a perfect complement.
This meal was basically Debbie and I making
our own tasting menu. I'm not sure if we'd asked the kitchen for smaller
portions on this journey of our own creation whether they would have
been able to accommodate. I'm almost sure (i neglected to write it down
in my notes) that they offered their own tasting menu which probably
didn't have as many items as we wanted to try. I've expounded many times
on the pitfalls of large portions. And amusingly enough, when the
portions are too big, and the dish is still wonderful, it's a cruel
pleasure. I eat too much, and don't have room towards the end of the
meal. Have no fear, we went forward.
I don't subscribe to many of the precepts that
form the basis for accepted modern food journalism in most of the food
columns you read in newspapers and magazines. Basically, I'm of the
opinion that these "rules" try to give the impression that writing about
food can somehow be an objective endeavor. I think that's a crock. That
said, it doesn't mean I have no framework at all for evaluation. I just
admit it's a reflection of myself. One key to my construct is that if
there's a dish gone awry in an otherwise lovely meal, it doesn't really
bother me. I don't mean something that was poorly executed as that's
really a sign of inconsistency and can be a real problem. I'm talking
about dishes that just don't work. Pied à Terre served theirs up next -
As much as I love the words "pre-dessert" the
Pine Sorbet was awful. On fire on this particular evening, Debbie summed
it up well. "It tastes like an air freshener. Or it tastes like I
thought an air freshener would taste except that I've never tasted an
air freshener because pine is not for tasting." To be fair, when you're
trying new things, missteps are bound to happen. And the apple chutney
and apple crisp that adorned the sorbet were delicious. Post script to
this incident is that Alex still maintains that pine sorbet can be
delicious. Debbie and
Alex have agreed to
Dessert followed "pre-dessert".
Roasted Peach with Bellini Puree, Fresh Almonds, and Butterscotch Ice
Raspberry Sable with Fromage frais Mousse and Wild Berry Sorbet.
Yum! And what follows dessert but "post-dessert". More words we love to
hear: "with compliments from the pastry chef". What showed up was
Guinnes Stout Ice Cream with some chocolate adornments. Neither of
us were huge Guinness fans (it's a taste I haven't acquired yet even
after weeks in London) but it was clear that anyone who was would have
fallen deeply in love with this ice cream.
Pied à Terre was a very very good experience.
We walked away from this dinner with big smiles on our faces. People who
saw us must have wondered why we were so happy. Dinner at Pied à Terre
was the simple answer.
In Japan, often when you get some sort of fast
food (like better sushi than you can get in 80% of American sushi
restaurants) that requires soy sauce, you typically get the soy sauce
distributed in a cute little plastic fish. As best as I can tell, the
fish is starring in its own web cartoon. Thanks to some of my
co-workers for this one.
Deb and Peyman - the
most expensive and
maybe best sushi in LA? Ginza Sushiko. $250 per person. Well, at least
it was until the owner closed up shop to work on the the new Ginza Sushiko
and Sake bar in New York City for $500 per person. The new place is
scheduled to open in February of 2004.
Not quite as pricey is
Zaftig's. My friend Scott says that this deli just outside Boston, MA
is supposed to be great. It's now added to the list. Scott's culinary
adventures span the coasts as he also recommends we check out
in San Francisco's south bay area - Campbell (south of San Jose) to be
exact. The Contra Costa Times/Mercury News provides this positive
We decided to go eat lunch at
Angela Hartnett at the Connaught. Angela Hartnett delivers "British
food with French and Italian influences" in the two dining rooms (Menu
and Grill) at the
Connaught Hotel in London. This is a traditional, business
lunch, dress up kind of place. The attentive waitstaff, the wood
paneling, and the prices all say - old school conservative. The food
however does try and bring things into the modern age.
We were wondering if there was some kind of bread basket
coming. As Debbie started to
get a little impatient not only did a basket filled with variety of
yummy breads, rolls, and parmesan breadsticks (where you can actually
taste the parmesan - I hate when they give you something called
"parmesan" that has only a hint of the flavor) show up. But so did: a
plate of creamy French butter, a dish of olive oil, and a plate full of
slices of various salamis and cured hams. Score! And to get our
appetites whetted a little further some small dishes filled with
Cucumber Gazpacho showed up. It was a touch too thin and a touch too
cold. But you really got a nice does of cucumbery-ness.
The first dishes we got - Grilled Asparagus with Fried
Duck's Egg, Coarse Grain Mustard Dressing and shavings of Parmesan, and
Carpaccio of Marinated Swordfish and Tuna with Radish and Shiso Cress,
and Ume and Coriander dressing - were very very good. The egg and
asparagus combo was excellent though I couldn't help but wish for some
truffle to go along with it. I suppose that the Parmesan was trying to
fill that role in the dish but my mouth felt strongly that some truffle
shavings (in addition to and not instead of the parmesan) would have
completed the dish. The carpaccio was a stunning arrangement of paper
thin slices of tuna and swordfish arranged in a beautiful symmetrical
flower pattern (almost like the Japanese royal family's chrysanthemum
icon) and dressed with lots of olive oil which gave the dish a warm
flavor interrupted wonderfully only by little bursts of salt and
The main dishes were: Pan-Fried Sea Bass with
Crab Couscous, Confit Tomatoes, and a Shellfish Vinaigrette; and
Caramelised Gressingham Duck Breast with Glazed Peaches and Scottish
Giroles. The sea bass was pan0fried beautifully. It was funny but the
dish only came together where I had a bit of the tomatoes on the spoon
along with the fish. Otherwise it wasn't as good. The duck was good, but
we weren't able to find the "Glazed Peaches". There were these slices of
something starchy and pale underneath the duck. We thought they were
potatoes. Two successive waiters came to our table to try and point out
to us where the peaches were. One theorized that they were little bits
sprinkled between the mushrooms. Another asserted that the peaches were
interwoven with the potatoes. Nobody denied that at least some of what
was under the duck was potato, yet there was no mention of it on the
menu. I believe one of two things happened: a) there was a screwup on
the menu or in the kitchen and there wasn't anything with the atomic
sign for peach anywhere on the plate, or b) the chef performed some
kitchen magic so that the sliced peaches looked, smelled, and tasted
like potatoes. Good potatoes. But not peaches. I've seen duck that
tastes like steak, why not peaches that taste like potatoes. Either way,
the dish would have been better if we'd actually tasted some form of
peachiness (it's kind of what sold us on the dish as we read its
description on the menu), which unfortunately we didn't.
Dessert included Strawberries and Cream with a
Vanilla Sablé, and a 'Guanja Chocolate and Amaretto Semi-Freddo. Dessert
hit a lovely note. And even though there were some highlights, and a
couple of moments, lunch was still not super. Somehow through the
technical proficiency, not enough character and soul came through in the
dishes. Things were just there. The moments that did exist during
the meal, while quite nice (especially that carpaccio) were
disconnected. It's obvious Angela Hartnett is working hard to try and
deliver a great experience. Maybe in time she will find her voice.
to Encarta, the United States has a
population of 290,342,550. Eighty-two percent of that population speak
only English. India's population is 1,049,700,118 - over three times the
number of people living in the United States. There are 112 mother
tongues recognized by the government of India. Each have at least 10,000
speakers. Diversity is at scale in India.
Now consider the diversity of food in the
United States. Barbecue, New England seafood, tex-mex, California
cuisine, southwestern, and Creole to name a few. How many different
styles of cooking would you guess exist in India with three times as
many people and scores of languages? And yet, how do most Americans
think about food from India (those who even eat Indian food)? (Actually,
as far as I can tell, in 1999 it was fewer than 9.8% of Americans
according to Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch and American
Demographics.) My take is that those folks who eat at Indian restaurants
think about it as one uniform genre of food. It's not. Not even close.
In fact, according to an expert quoted in an
article in the
Oxford Companion to Food, Indian "caste and religious restrictions
have been largely responsible for preventing the emergence of anything
like a national Indian diet." In fact, in her own university there were
ten different kitchen and dining room pairings including: European,
Non-vegetarian Hindu, Non-vegetarian Malayele-Hindu, Tamil-Telugu
Christian, Syrian Christian, Brahmin, Thiyya, Nayar, Non-Brahmin
Vegetarian, and Cosmopolitan. And this doesn't include all the regional
varieties you can imagine exist.
Take for example food from the
region of India. This southern state itself contains much diversity in
terms of language, religion, and cuisine. Additionally, it's long narrow
shape has significant coastline which brings us to Keralan seafood, the
Rasa Samudra, Das Sreedharan's
third London restaurant. From the Kerala region himself he'd already
opened two very successful vegetarian restaurants named Rasa (the
Sanskrit word for "taste"). Rasa Samudra (taste of the ocean) was the
first Indian seafood restaurant in the UK. And it's where we found
ourselves for dinner. Lucky us.
Not one of the dishes we ate was something that
I'd eaten before at my many visits to Indian restaurants in the US, UK,
and Japan. But the meal was interesting, delicious, and given how friendly
everyone was, felt like home (even though my home couldn't be further from
the southwestern coastline of India).
"Pre-meal snacks." Those are the three words our
hostess said at the beginning of our meal, and there are very few three
word combinations that I like hearing better than "pre-meal snacks". As
Debbie pointed out, they
weren't referring to appetizers. All the better as I love those too!
Almost immediately a bowl full of
various crunchy crackery items showed up on our table. These included
a huge, beautiful, and extraordinarily crunchy achappam (the flower like
item sitting atop all the other snacks). Also there were pappadums with
extra good texture and flavor. Light. Even better than those were the
seven super delicious and flavorful chutneys and pickles that showed up
next to them. The menu said one of them would be a mango chutney, but none
showed up. When we asked why, we were told that it was because there were
no fresh green mangoes. No compromises. Good answer. The variations we did
get included, garlic, shrimp, red pepper, mint, lemon, and others. The red
pepper was sweet and almost a tiny bit smoky. We also got the ever-elusive
onion chutney (the only Indian restaurants I've ever had it at were in
Boston, every other one gives me a weird look and acts like they've never
heard of it) - made from scratch at our request with a mortar and pestle.
This was super smooth unlike the ones I'd had before. Fantastic. Debbie
hates onions but loved this onion chutney.
Next up was
Chemmeen Karumuru. An amazing dish with prawns and shallots flavored
with curry leaves and green chilis. This dish was frankly amazing. Light,
spicy, crunchy, colorful, beautiful. This dish was perfect with its
crunchy curry leaves. Next up was
Bannana Boli - plantain fritters with black sesame seeds served with a
peanut chutney. These were slightly and perfectly fried. Das Sreedharan
himself then came out and
us an appam pancake from a
year old pan. Das made it clear that the food came out better coming
out of this utensil than a new non-stick pan. We didn't argue. The appam
was a delicious
Indian-style crepe that was perfect for mopping up all the yummy
sauces that didn't make it into our mouths as we cleaned our plates. I
fantasized during the meal that I had a bottomless stack of these sitting
next to me as I ate my meal. Every time I finished one, another would
appear magically under it, all fresh, hot, and steaming.
Next up was
Uzhunnappam - an aromatic bread made from rice, roasted coconut,
shallots, and cumin seeds. It was amazing and bubbly. Deb loved the
crunchy leaves on this bread. This was followed by
Konju Manga Curry - king prawns, with turmeric, chilies, green mango,
and coconut. It was sweet, buttery, and almost a little like a Thai curry.
Maybe my limited exposure to really different Indian food is what leads me
to make the association. I might have a narrow set of associations when it
comes to coconut curries. This one however was really amazing. It was mild
and spicy at the same time. Very delicious.
This was followed by
Crab Varuthathu. I'd never had crab at an Indian restaurant. It was
good but didn't blow me away. That said, I was glad I tried it. It was a
mound of golden orange hued shredded crab with chunks of delicious onions,
littered with yummy black sesame seeds.
Das has five restaurants in London. When we at
there he had two cookbooks out -
Fresh Flavours of India (Amazon UK), and
The New Tastes of India - and a third to be published soon. His office
sits above Rasa Samudra (a restaurant where he can't eat many of the items
on the menu as he's a vegetarian). All this began 12 years ago when he
came to London to study he despaired the state of Indian food in the UK
and missed his mother's home cooking. I asked him if he could cook like
home at a restaurant. He said it was all about care and love. (I think he
really means this. When we mentioned that Debbie might be traveling to
India and asked for recommendations of where to eat, he said we should eat
at his mother's house. Now that's care and love.) This wasn't the only
almost spiritual answer he gave to my questions. When I asked him how he
was able to scale the quality at his restaurants when he could only be in
one place at a time, he said that picking the right people and having
faith was how he did it. Whatever his methods, I found it difficult to
argue with the results. The food was absolutely exciting and interesting.
It felt like home (not mine, but someone's). And it made me want to go
back again and again. This was one of only two restaurants in London at
which we dined at twice. (The other was
Administrivia. I decided to make the
thumbnails embedded in the writeups on the main page bigger. The
pictures are cool... why make them so small?
You can't get a decent Italian dinner in
Seattle, but you can
eat sushi off of a (sort of) naked woman. This
article has a poll. The pro-naked sushi folks are ahead - slightly.
article has what seems like the most authentic report of the
experience. Seattle's not the only place people try this:
Manchester England, to name a couple. Ok I think that's enough
nyataimori stories for some time.
Castle located 45 mintes outside London is not the only attraction in
Windsor - Legoland is also located right nearby. I was prepared for a
day of overpriced amusement park food. Who knew that Legoland would
provide a whirlwind of culinary delights from across the planet. First
up was a trip to visit some of our good friends who have their summer
home in Legoland.
Barbecuing some ribs from one of the local artisinal pig farmers was
a real treat. Next up was visiting some of the
at Legoland's port. The open air and fresh seafood was a wonderful
combination. Even though we had a full lunch, nothing could keep us from
wonderful Turkish kebabs from the stand right down the street. Later
in the day we headed over to the local
establishment. The gambas al ajillo were delicious. Nothing follows
delicious shrimp bathed in garlic and olive oil better than some
- the local craft breweries best brew. Afterwards we took a drive out in
to Legoland's country to visit the local slice of Dutch dairy farmland.
The Dutch Parrano cheese generated from the prized milk of these (rather
stiff) cows is among the best I've tasted in a long time. Finally we
made a trip to some of the local
and brasseries for some wonderful desserts. All in all a gastronomic
afternoon painted from food's primary colors and interlocking rectangles
We had a quick tapas lunch in Windsor at
tapas restaurant. While they're located in Windsor, they have many
branches in London, and all over the UK. Not super high quality tapas,
but we were in Windsor England after all. And besides, you can't go
wrong eating small plates loaded with cured Spanish ham. The rest of the
selections were sort of ok: garlic bread with melted cheese; manchego
cheese and tomatoes; tomatoes with goat cheese; shrimp in garlic olive
oil; and nice sized meatballs. I think I need to go to Spain.
A friend, Michael, forwarded this link from
Slate on finding ways to get
treated right when you visit your favorite winery.
The Boston Globe provides a recipe for
What would you do with
over bottles of wine? New York Times (free registration required).
Truffles in Vegas? Yes, yes, and yes. Courtesy of the Los Angeles
Times (free registration required).
Roee recommendation, he claimed in his pre-London trip e-mail to me that
effort by the creators of
Wagamama - renowned London noodle bar chain) served the best dim sum
he'd ever eaten. This definitely piqued my interest. Dim sum after all
is one of the cuisines of the world (like sushi and tapas) that conforms
to the tasting menu "philosophy".
Lots of little bites. Lots of diversity. Small portions. Lots of
Additionally, what does it mean to have
amazing dim sum? I've eaten dim sum up and down the west coast from
San Francisco to
Vancouver. It's a
region where a significant population of Chinese-Americans has made for
a rich selection of dim sum options, the best really being between
Vancouver and Richmond, British Columbia. There's also an inexplicable
Seattle where no
really good dim sum is to be had. Have I ever had the "best" dim sum?
I'm not even entirely sure I've had authentic dim sum as I haven't
traveled to China (Hong
Kong specifically) where I think I would get quite the survey. With
this question hanging over my head the family went to Hakkasan for dim
Things got off to an auspicious start as we
walked up to Hakkasan in the middle of almost 100 degree sweltering
heat, realized the restaurant might be too "hip" to have brought kids,
and pondered how to get all four of us and the double stroller down 40
steps into the restaurant. Then the maitre'd greeted us and told us the
air conditioning system had just broken down. No worries, we were there
for dim sum. Sweltering heat and crying children be damned. Give us
And dumplings we were given. First of all,
this was not a "cart" place. Most dim sum restaurants I've been to have
women (I've never once seen a man do it in the 50+ times I've eaten dim
sum) maneuvering carts loaded with little containers of various dumpling
items from table to table hawking their wares. It's part of the fun.
Hakkasan did dim sum to order. I was nervous that part of the fun was
gone, but there's a logic to their approach which I'll get to later.
Things started off with
Sesame Prawn Toast. This is a hard one to explain. In most
restaurants, the prawn toast is a lump of steamed minced shrimp grafted
on to a piece of grilled toast. This was essentially the same thing, and
yet completely different. It was like a new underwater creature had been
created, where the grilled toast seamlessly fused with the minced
shrimp, and the entire affair is covered by a beautiful crispy skin
encrusted with as many sesame seeds as would fit on top. The whole thing
was like some kind of dim sum bruschetta. The "word" sesamelicious came
to mind. The four pieces were served with
mounds of deep-fried nori and enoki mushrooms. (My two year old, the
incredibly picky eater, shoved the mushrooms in his face by the handful.
I think I could batter and deep fry a shoe and he would eat it.) This
was followed by a perfectly steamed set of
and shrimp shumai.
Next up were two specials. The first was a
delicate steamed bun filled with a mixture of minced prawn and
chicken, and then topped with a steamed scallop. The staff won me over
when they came and asked us to make sure to let them know what they
thought of this particular special as it was brand new. I'm there to
deeply enjoy the food, and they want my opinion. That's called closing
the loop with the customer, and making me feel like my dining was not
just for me, but a public service for all their future diners. And the
service I performed was to tell them their new creation was absolutely
delicious. And it was. The contrasting textures of the minced meat, the
scallop, and the delicate porous steamed bun were wonderful together.
The second special was a series of
shrimp puffs - shrimp in deep-fried flakey pastry-like crescent
At this point in the meal something weird
happened. The waiter came over and asked me not to take any photos. This
happened on another occasion in London and I was able to negotiate my
way through it by promising to only photograph my food and within the
vicinity of my table. Apparently the management was concerned that some
of the other patrons might be uncomfortable appearing in my photographs.
Since my assurances that none of them were attractive enough to
photograph did nothing to allay management's fears, I agreed to the
constraint of photographing my food and my (attractive) dinner
companion. At Hakkasan however my haggling failed.
How could they not be thrilled to have a
patron so into the food that they take pictures of it since the taste
only lasts so long? My enthusiasm for their food was apparently not a
factor in Hakkasan's management's policy (which our waiter kindly
reminded me several times was the source of the regulation). I was now
faced with a dilemma. Do I pull out the "card"? The card in question is
the tastingmenu.com business card that a bunch of us had made up. It
gives me the title of "Editor" whatever that means, but clearly makes me
out to be a member of the gastronomic press - which I suppose after over
a year of doing this I now sort of kind of am (though I have still yet
to join the
Association of Food Journalists). I've discussed the "faux pas" of
revealing yourself as a restaurant critic
in the past,
and won't go into it again. Suffice to say, we'd eaten the bulk of our
food, and my mind was already made up as to how I felt about Hakkasan.
So either I alienate myself from the official food press, or I forge
ahead to make sure you get pictures of every delicious morsel. I
optimized around you dear reader. I pulled out the "card" and told the
waiter I was sure it would be ok with the manager if I photographed the
food. And sure enough, it was. Getting to take pictures of delicious dim
sum may not seem like a huge victory against the establishment, but it
was certainly fun. Anyway, back to the food.
It's lucky that they did change their "policy"
for me, as the best dumpling of the bunch was about to arrive. (I think
it also made for the best photograph of the meal.) It was the
Chinese Chive Dumpling with Minced Prawn and Crabmeat. This was the
most beautiful piece of dim sum I have ever seen in my life. I have seen
pictures of incredible constructions and arrangements. This was not
that. This was a work of art in its natural state. No show. Just
beautiful food. It almost pained me to eat it. Almost. When I realized
that the taste matched the beauty my morning was complete. I too had now
had the best dim sum I've ever had. And now I understood what it meant
as well. The noodle wrapper was perfectly steamed. The minced seafood
inside had a wonderful texture and flavor, and the chives while trapped,
frozen in time inside the translucent dumpling wrapper somehow tasted
absolutely fresh, crisp, and chopped not seconds ago. How did they do
this? I have no idea. My children reaching the end of their fuse meant
that I would have to wait until my next visit to ask the chef.
I still don't know to what degree the food is authentic
(not because it isn't but just because I personally am ignorant), but I
also know that it did not seem "out there", or contain
out-of-character ingredients (like foie gras which is delicious but...),
or seem overly "done up". It was just incredibly high quality
ingredients, superb attention to detail, and served at it's precise
moment of readiness (hence the lack of carts). This was dim sum
elevated. I think the attention to detail was the aspect that was the
most responsible for the superior experience but the quality
ingredients, and wonderful combinations were culprits as well. It was as
if every dumpling had a gold stamp spelling out the word "quality"
tucked carefully away somewhere on its flat bottom surface.
The rest of the meal consisted of repeats of some of our
favorites. The sauces they gave us included the traditional soy, and an
hot sesame oil mixture. There was also a chili garlic sauce with an
ever-so-slight chunky texture that was simply delicious. Spicy, savory,
yummy. I also noticed later during our meal there were other families
with children there as well. This was nice, and I think is part of
Sunday being family day at most restaurants in London. Nice. Bottom
line, I finally have had world-class dim sum. I had to go to London to
get it and I have Hakkasan to thank for it. Thank you Hakkasan.