Welcome to tastingmenu.com. My repository for thoughts
and notes on my eating experiences. Hopefully you'll find something
enjoyable, entertaining, or informative. Click
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where I'm coming from.
Here's a little gift for the end of the year. One of the
best meals of the year, and one of the last meals from our trip to
have long longed [note to self: must get someone to edit this stuff] for
more restaurants that focus on small plates. I've talked about it
many times before. Tapas
restaurants abound. Dim Sum and Sushi count as well. But I want it to
become a wave sweeping restaurants across the planet, leaving entrees as
relics and things you learn about in museums. This is exactly the
approach that Joël Robuchon's
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris has taken. And if you're going
to have a chef try an experiment like this, you'd be hard pressed to do
much better than Robuchon. He garnered three Michelin stars, made it to
the top of his profession, won various awards, and then in 1996 closed
his eponymous restaurant in Paris. In the first month of
we linked to an article describing the opening of this new
restaurant. And finally in August of this year we got to try it out.
Believe it or not, Lauren, Alex, Debbie, and I went there
for dinner after lunch at
Arpège. Insane? Yes.
Mandatory given that we only had a day or so in Paris? Yes. We had just
enough time to remember what our appetites kind of felt like and walked
over to Robuchon's place in the Hôtel Pont Royal. The restaurant is
beautiful. It's basically designed like a
Everything is done in beautiful black and red tones. One wall is decorated
by a mosaic-like placement of
containers filled with various spices and herbs. The bar snakes around
the restaurant for maximum surface area. Every seat has a
view of the
kitchen. There are no tables. If I had one complaint it's that there
is a "moat" between the kitchen and the sushi bar so the wait
move around bringing dishes to the diners. In true sushi bar fashion I
want to see what's going on and how my food is being prepared. I want the
chef to hand it to me. No delays. No biggie. The place was still gorgeous.
You sit down, you open the menu, and here's what greets
you - 22 small dishes, 21 entrees. We ignored the right side of the menu
where the entrees made their home. As for the left side, we ordered one of
each. That's right. One of each. Four people, 5.5 dishes each. Seemed just
about right. (And if we hadn't had an enormous late lunch at Arpège it
probably would have been fine.) As it happens we made it to about 29
dishes including desserts and a couple of repeats. To do it we ended up
only trying about 18 of the 22 small plates, but now we have 4 reasons to
Let's get to the food. There was essentially a barrage of
dishes. Luckily we took notes as it was difficult to remember all of them
given how many there were. That said, there were some that I can remember
perfectly to this day. One was
Le Jambon "Iberico
de Bellota" Escorte de Pain Toaste à la Tomate - essentially, Spanish
sliced ham with tomato on a bruschetta. I often wonder whether it's fair
to judge a restaurant deeply on something like sliced ham. Shouldn't the
purveyor be judged, after all, what did the restaurant really do other
than slice and present? While there maybe a limited supply of ham of this
incredible quality, there isn't a limited supply of credit. The purveyor
deserves a ton of credit of course. But so does Robuchon for identifying
the quality, and getting it onto my plate.
So how was the ham? The ham was perfect. Bursting with
flavor. The funny part is that we forgot that it came with
bruschetta on the side. So when it showed up on a separate plate we
thought it was the tuna dish we'd ordered. I don't know whether this is a
comment on how inexperienced we are with food or how amazing the chef was
at preparing some tomatoes. I think it's likely mostly the latter plus the
fact that what you expect something to be factors a lot into how you
evaluate it. I wonder if we could do some sort of experiment where people
taste things blindfolded. Anyway, it's kind of embarrassing but here's
what I wrote down about the tomato on toast. "The tuna was amazing.
The combination of the oil and seasonings made for a singular sensory
experience and the tuna was not overly cold." The "tuna" was actually tiny
cubes of tomato coated in oil, salt, and pepper, just like tuna. Bottom
line: any restaurant that can turn diced tomatoes into beautiful cubes of
sashimi quality raw tuna is great in my book.
dishes kept coming.
Frais Marinés À L'Aubergine Confite - beautiful to behold and eat.
de Tomates Fraiches aux Petits Croutons - after the
Passard's it seemed insane to order gazpacho again. We did it anyway -
Fresh Tomato Gazpacho with Petit Croutons. It was worth it. The gazpacho
was great. Super light and yummy.
d"Aubergine Legerement Fume au Coulis de Tomates - this "baba"
was fantastic. It was fresh with a smoky flavor and a little kick.
Brochette de Foie Gras de Canard aux Poivrons Verjutés - amazing foie
gras. Meat butter grilled on a stick. Really special.
Crevette en Vermicelle d'Herbes au Jasmin. The coating and frying on
the shrimp was simply perfection - so light, served so hot. The sauce was
delicious as well.
Feuille de Legumes de Saison Confits - this stack of vegetables (Mille
Feuille is the name for a layered pastry) with mozzarella was beautiful.
Lauren was worried about a
"pile of vegetables" but ended up loving it.
De Thon Aux Jeunnes Legumes Croquants -
Debbie thought the tuna tapenade was
great. I thought the vegetables were just eh The celery was limp. I guess
not everything can be great.
Gras Frais de Canard Cuit au Torchon - more foie gras, why not. This
foie gras was also very very good. It had a special, peppery, nutty taste.
The presentation was stunning as well. Like a painting.
en Rouelles d'Avocat a l'Huile Aromatisee - the avocado slices were
like a dumpling wrapper around the crab. A brilliant dish in conception
but a bit subtle in seasoning. Beautiful to look at.
For awhile we watched them carefully making what looked
like Jello shooters. It turned out to be
de Légumes Acidulé à l'Avocat. Apparently two gazpachos in one day
weren't enough. A third was necessary. Specifically a delicious gazpacho
parfait. Yum. And then a salad showed up -
de Jeunes Legumes de Saison. It's hard to get super excited over a
salad though this one was dressed perfectly.
I guess when you order one of everything off the menu, the
kitchen takes notice. It was at this point we got four special treats from
the chef -
La Papillote de Langoustine Croustillante au Basilic. The crayfish was
so delicately fried and wonderful in the beautiful basil sauce. It was
essentially a tempura that was perfect, light, and salted just right.
Traditional tempura isn't salted. The salt was fresh and new and
unexpected. Whoever was doing the deep frying at Robuchon that night was
really a master.
"Pimiento" Rouge Farci a la Brandade de Morue - tasty and gorgeous.
Fine de Maquereau auc Copeaux de Parmesan et Olives - mackerel pizza,
beautiful to behold.
Cocotte a la Creme Legere de Girolles - an egg, girolle martini. It
was fantastic, creamy, savory.
Soup served in a cantaloupe. I love bowls made of food, Lauren didn't
love the soup though.
Don't forget the meat.
Cotelettes d'Agneau de Lozere a la Fleur de Thym - the lamb was great.
It was one of the best Alex
has ever had.
Le Ris de
Veau Cloute de Laurier Frais a la Feuille de Romaine Farcie - veal
with a wonderful stock and vegetables that were filled with delicious
smokey bacon. Delicious. Beautiful.
de Ris et de Rognon d'Agneau aux Girolles - the sweetbreads were
wonderfully prepared, so flavorful.
then it was time for Robuchon's famous
potatoes. What goes better with meat than potatoes? What goes better
with potatoes than butter? Lots of butter. Specifically for every 2 parts
potato you add 1 part butter. Two pounds of potatoes? One entire pound of
butter. Greasy? No way. Though it looked like a vat of butter. And it kind
of was. Stunning, creamy, smooth, perfect, beautiful. Like a warm butter
flavored gelato. Debbie thinks it could work in a cone. This was really
Potato gelato not good enough for dessert? How
du Creme - a super yummy pudding.
Cream with Chocolate Mousse - the vanilla cream was great, the mousse
was just ok. The
was excellent and the
Since this restaurant embraces the concept of
diversity so well I would only add the following requests. It would be
nice if people could order like they order sushi at the bar. No waiters.
Just talk to the chef. Every chef should be able to make the most of the
dishes right in front of you. Even if that's not quite possible the chefs
need to be much closer as the view was obstructed a bit of the cooking.
I'd also kill the entrees (none of which we tried though some were just
big versions of our dishes) and have an even broader selection of smaller
As full as we were after our morning at Arpege, Robuchon
was the perfect apres Arpege. Fun, exciting, beautiful, diverse,
Postscript: if you don't find yourself in Paris
anytime soon, head to Tokyo where they
recently opened the second outpost of this wonderful restaurant.
and foremost, my friend Scott (whose birthday is today) got a rude
birthday present when he found out (and then forwarded to me) the fact
Fine Food is
closing down permanently in a couple of days. Famous for their
Swedish pancakes they are a must visit any time you're in San
Francisco for breakfast. This is a major bummer. The article does state
that they might end up selling their mix on the web. So I'll have to
settle for that (hopefully). It's better than nothing I suppose.
In a few days Lauren and Alex
will be having their
annual new year's fondue extravaganza. This year Alex found some
white truffles at Pike Place market. They weren't cheap, but they are
delicious. What's more appropriate than Fonduta con Tartufi - White
Truffle Fondue? Nothing. Nothing at all. What timing... I just found
this recipe accidentally in Saveur.
I would link to it on their web site but they've done so much to hide
their content it's essentially impossible.
Fonduta con Tartufi (Melted Fontina with White Truffles) - Serves
Don't be tempted to use non-Italian fontina for this recipe; it won't
have the same sourish, nutty flavor.
- 5 oz. Italian fontina, trimmed of rind and cut into 3/4" cubes
- 1 2/2 teaspoon flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened
- 1 ounce taleggio cheese, trimmed of rind
- 1 1-ounce white truffle, gently brushed clean
- 4-8 slices Italian bread, toasted
Toss fontina and flour together in a medium
heat-proof bowl, stir in milk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate
The following day, stir egg yolks and butter
into bowl with cheese-milk mixture. Set bowl over a medium pot of gently
simmering water over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until
cheese is completely melted, 15-20 minutes. Add taleggio and stir until it
melts into fontina, about 2 minutes.
Divide melted cheese between 4 soup bowls and
shave slices of truffle over cheese. Serve with toast.
Can't wait to try it!
been spending weeks in Europe - mostly in London, and some time in
Israel. Lauren and Alex
came to visit us. There was no way we could call the trip complete until
we ate at least a couple of meals in Paris. The
Eurostar train the goes
under the English channel between London and Paris is to convenient for
anyone to make any excuses about not dropping in for a visit. I've been
to Paris before, but it was many years ago when my obsession with food
was not quite as developed. So, we hopped on the train early one morning
and headed for Paris. First stop,
Passard is one of the most celebrated chefs in the world. He has been
awarded three stars by the Michelin Red Guide. And one day a few years
went vegetarian. Lauren
aside, the word strikes fear in the hearts of people who love food
everywhere. In a world of steamed vegetables why would anyone eschew
some of the most wonderful and delicious ingredients available? I won't
go into a lengthy discussion on the relative merits of vegetarianism
here. If you want a great discourse, go get
He writes at length about his own experiences as a recovering
vegetarian, Passard's fantastic cooking, and some of the realities
behind vegetarian claims and reasoning. Steingarten (as usual) sums up
the crux of Arpège perfectly (pardon my paraphrase): most chefs cook
vegetables because they have to. Passard cooks them because he loves
them. Wow. So simple. Imagine that. I wonder how many chefs love
I once asked a chef I know if he'd ever considered applying his
considerable talent to a different palate. He makes exquisite food where
the center of gravity of his dishes is from Northern Italy. Why not make
a meal of Indian or Thai food? I couldn't even imagine what incredible things he
might produce with the varied ingredients. He squashed my fantasy quickly when he said: "I don't
understand those ingredients. I like them. I enjoy eating them. But I
don't understand them deeply, and they don't speak to me. I couldn't
cook with them." Vegetables have spoken to Alain Passard. And I'm glad
We knew this going in, but the waistaff didn't know we had done our
homework. I have to say it was adorable when our waiter started off our
dialog by telling us that his "chef had fallen in love with vegetables".
We were obviously not local. I wonder if he has to warn the locals as
well that the menu has an unusual number of vegetable items.
First things first. Passard hasn't really gone
100% vegetarian. The menu is devoid of red meat though chicken and
seafood are quite present. That said, vegetables are very prominent
inluding the "Collection Légumière" - a ten course vegetable
tasting menu. Fish and fowl have taken on a lesser role on the menu.
Almost reminiscent of the role usually played by... vegetables. Lauren
was understandably excited. One of the best chefs on the planet is
purported to have a fabulous vegetarian dining experience.
If we were there to put ourselves in the
capable hands of the chef, we intended to do just that. When the waiter
handed us menus we told him that whatever the chef wanted to cook was
what we would eat. He should send out the best meal he could and we
would gladly eat it all. As usual our one restriction was Lauren's
rampant vegetarianism, but beyond that, bring it on. As we tried to
explain this to him, in order to confirm our request he kept saying
"white card", "white card". What the hell is a white card? To her
credit, Lauren realized, he was confirming that we were giving the chef
"carte blanche". A white card. White card it is.
It was at this point we spotted the
Levain sitting at a serving station in the dining room. It soon
found it's way to our table along with a huge mound of very salty but
butter. The butter is from St. Mazo. I should mention that Lauren
loves this bread even more than she loves Chez Panisse upstairs bread.
(Apparently this is high praise. As I haven't had the upstairs bread I
couldn't yet say.)
First up was a
with Maple Syrup and Sherry Vinegar. This first dish made it clear
that there would be no screwing around in this meal. Nothing wasted.
Nothing cliched. Everything special. This dish was a super unique
baseline for our palates. The sweet flavor served as an unexpected
foundation that got us excited for what was coming next. It was
interesting and quite delicious. Just when we thought we had understood
what was going on with the bread, Debbie got her second serving of bread
and this time it was toasted. Toasted! What the hell was going on here?
What kind of audaciousness was this? It was at this moment that I fell
in love with Pain au Levain (this moment being the moment I stole some
of Debbie's toast and smothered it in the salty butter). I also was so
excited by the simple creativity of giving us fresh toast almost
randomly. The bread kept rotating. I had to appreciate the diversity
even though I wished every time that more toast would show up on my
plate. The toast beguiled me. Why did I have to go to Paris to get
wonderful toast with my dinner? More restaurants should try this
Now let's get serious.
Gazpacho with Mustard Ice Cream. Weird? No. Eyebrow raising? Yes.
But think about it. Tomato Gazpacho with Creme Fraiche would be lovely.
How about if that Creme Fraiche were flavored with mustard? That would
make sense. Now freeze it. That's what we got. If we'd gotten this dish
at the French Laundry or Trio it probably would have been called Ketchup
and Mustard. That said, the name doesn't matter when you have two
flavors fused together so beautifully that you don't know where one
starts and the other begins. The acidity of each were a big part of the
Next up was
Consommé with Dumplings. I have decided that "melts in your mouth"
is an overused term. There is only one dish I've ever tasted that be
described using that phrase. This was it. You couldn't sink your teeth
into the dumplings because by the time your mouth closed, the little
raviolis had already melted on first contact with your tongue. The
dumplings were fleeting. The consommé was incredibly special with varied
flavors including carrot, cumin, and garlic. The dish also included
super concentrated aspects of tomato and date. This dish was inspired.
After eating it, a deep calm came over me. All I could say was "very
nice". That huge understatement was not meant as small praise, but came
from a place of incredible satisfaction where those were the only two
words I could muster. Because the dish in fact was truly (please read
the following words individually and remind yourself what they mean)
Martini glasses then arrived filled with
Jelly with Sweet Onions. The beet flavors were super focused, and
the onions were so crunchy. The contrast was sheer goodness. Lauren got
Cream Soup with Sweet Onions. Its yellow/green color belied the
hardcore tomato flavor within. Just when you thought pleasure couldn't
be simpler that beets and onions along came a simple plate of
Potatoes with Horseradish Mousse. How excited can you get about a
potato? How excited can you get when it's the most perfectly cooked
potato you've ever eaten.
At this point I suddenly remembered that I had
still not yet eaten fish, fowl, or meat of any kind. And the odd thing
was that I hadn't noticed. The dishes were so interesting, so exciting
that it just didn't matter. That said, lobster did arrive next. And
strangely enough though it was quite nice, it didn't attain the heights
of the previous dishes. It was a
Sour preparation of Lobster Wrapped in Turnip "Petals". Apparently
it's a signature dish of Passard's. I didn't fall in love as the lobster
was a little hidden by the sauce. Lauren however ended up with
Orange Gratin with Reggiano. Each ingredient came through strongly
and the entire dish was excellent.
Grilled for 2.5 hours with an Artisinal Style Sauce arrived next.
I'll admit that I'm not sure what that exactly means, but the fish was
beautifully flavored and textured. Still though not as memorable as the
earlier vegetable dishes. The veggie dish was
with Carrot Mousse, Sesame Sauce, and Candied Orange Rind. The
spinach was perfectly prepared. Don't underestimate how hard it is to do
that with this fragile green.
A silver dish arrived next to our table on a
serving table. On it was a
gray salt. Apparently a beetroot had been cooking inside the pyramid
for 2 hours.
carved tableside, much like you might see a steak carved tableside.
And then it was
simply with, oh, 25 year old balsamic vinegar. A generous amount to
Lauren's obsessive balsamic vinegar love affair could not make her
finish all the vinegar they gave her. The beet was simply fantastic.
For the rest of us a dish of
chicken arrived. It
beautiful. Unfortunately it didn't taste the same. It was a bit dry.
The vegetables that accompanied were either uninteresting or repeats
from before. How funny is it that with her more constrained menu,
Lauren's vegetarian fare outshone the few dishes we had with meat and
fish. I suppose Passard may not love chicken as much as vegetables. That
said, it by no means took away from the experience. It just made me
appreciate the first several dishes that much more. And things were far
Dessert rolled in with style and creativity.
First a cheese plate. Excellent. Then
Tomatoes stuffed with Fruits and
12 Secret Flavors and Mint Ice Cream
tableside. (We think it was mint. It could have been vanilla that
was made minty in our mouths by the contrast with the 12 secret
flavors.) Tomatoes for dessert? Tomatoes? Dessert? What the hell? One word - "stunning". The spices in
the fruit - yes, on this evening the tomato was a fruit not just
according to the letter of the law but according to the spirit as well - were absolutely vivid. I also have to admit that I loved that
the flavors were "secret". I don't think it was a KFC style marketing
ploy as much as it was simply very difficult to decipher the ingredients
from tasting given how complex the flavor was the was woven throughout
the dish. And while I'm not a mint/sweet fan, the Mint Ice Cream was
Just when we thought we had seen it all, along
enormous Millefeuille. A millefeuille is a several thin layers of puff
pastry with cream (or other fillings) in between each layer. It's
typically a dessert. This thing was huge. We saw it sitting on a plate in
a serving area and assumed it was enough for every patron there for lunch
with some left over. In fact it was to be divided between the four of us.
And when it showed up on our plates we dutifully ate it. Lucky thing. It
was flakey and yummy with hazelnut flavored cream. The top layer had a
wonderful glaze of burnt sugar. This is what it means to "go the extra
At one point late in our meal, something
special happened. The kitchen was winding down as most of the diners had
made it through the bulk of their lunch. Alain Passard - who had been
toiling away in the kitchen making our food, not off doing his show for
the food network (he doesn't have one), not traveling to Las Vegas
visiting one of the 13 other branches of L'Arpege (there aren't any),
and not working on the latest of his cookbooks (there aren't any) - came
out of the kitchen for a brief respite. And the assembled diners broke
into spontaneous applause.
face conveyed appreciation, humility, and a sense of humor. He sat
down, and enjoyed a bite to eat and a glass of wine.
This was simply one of the best meals any of
us had ever had. And it was simple. It was surprisingly and
significantly vegetarian. Passard loves the ingredients and he knows
them well. Lunch felt like an adventure. One without pretense. That
said, there is one thing I should mention. This lunch was the
single most expensive meal I've ever eaten. It was also probably one of
the most memorable. Most people can't afford to have the meal we ate.
That said, there were much less expensive fixed menu or even a la carte
options that would be accessible to most people. Even if all you can do
is go and order one dish, do it. Arpege and Passard are special, and
something that everyone should experience at least once.
I know I promised an overview of the most
expensive meal I've ever had. But I forgot
starts tomorrow night. (For those unfamiliar with Channukah, it's not
the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. It's closer to Arbor day in terms of
the relative holiday importance index. The Jewish equivalent of
Christmas can be found here.) So
the expensive meal writeup will have to wait for a couple of days.
In the meantime the Boston Globe talks about
holiday baking. Here's the
Jelly donuts (also known as "sufganiyot") are my
favorite part of the holiday. The Jerusalem Post (free registration
required) writes about a couple of kinds
here. It contains a great quote as to how all Jewish holidays can be
summed up the same way: "They tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat".
Funny and true. :)
Weird but still topical, Jewish rock "stars"
Dweezil Zappa (son of Frank) and Lisa Loeb will have
their own food network
show. The Los Angeles Times (free registration required)
discusses their upcoming show over Channukah (and other Jewish) food with
All this eating can get expensive. I'm lucky
that I can go out to eat on a semi-regular basis, and travel to
interesting places every so often. That said, not everyone has that
flexibility. The question is: what role should money play in the
write-ups you encounter on this site? First things first. What role does
any factor play in how we judge a restaurant. The bottom line in every
case is the food. Food matters to me more than anything. More than
service. More than cost. More than location, decor, or most other things
you might imagine. These secondary aspects certainly play a role. And in
fact, when the food isn't superlative, my mind wanders to those other
things. Their deficiencies can get magnified when the food is bad. Any
deficiencies can also get muted when the food is wonderful. This site is
about food, so I think that's appropriate.
That said, shouldn't price play some kind of a
formal role in how we judge food experiences? Take the following
question. If I had two identically wonderful meals. One costs $20 per
person, the other $200 per person. Was the food better or worse in
either of them? Sure, it's a bummer that the expensive meal can be eaten
way less often and simply isn't as accessible to most people, but that
doesn't change the food. Not only does perspective differ on what's
expensive (depending on how much you can afford), but prices change so
frequently that giving any kind of reliable measure of price on this
site is just too difficult for us to do. So when you read about a
restaurant here, we pretty much never discuss what it costs. If things
are egregiously over-priced relative to the quality of the food then
that will certainly get a mention. If things are super cheap, and a
great value, then that will likely get a mention as well. Otherwise we
leave it to you to figure out what things cost and what you want to
Also, people need to be more creative when it
comes to cost. You can go to a great restaurant and order less to save
money. You can order only appetizers. You can go during lunch and likely
get the same menu for much cheaper. And for restaurants that are just
way too pricey, but have food that's divine, you could go there, and
purchase one dish. It's a luxury, and likely won't constitute an entire
meal, but once-in-awhile you can have some of this super experience for
Does expensive equal great? Definitely not.
We're thrilled to spend $2 on an entire meal of wonderful cheap
(typically ethnic) food. We're also happy to spend a lot more for a full
service haute cuisine experience. Would I rather it was all cheap? Sure.
But some approaches to making great food just cost a lot of money. Some
don't. Ultimately I'd always love to save money, but while we need to be
responsible and watch the bottom line when it comes to spending,
ultimately the goal is to eat wonderful food. Expense becomes just
another thing to deal with, like crossing traveling to another country,
standing in long lines, or having to make reservations months in
All this equivocation in advance of tomorrow's
entry - the most expensive meal I've ever eaten.
I recently completed reading
Michel Roux' Life is A Menu -
Reminiscences of a Master Chef. Michel Roux and his brother Albert are
often credited with bringing high-end French cuisine to England. They
opened their London restaurant
Le Gavroche in
1967, and then opened the
in 1972, just outside London in Bray. In 1982 Le Gavroche became
Britain's first Michelin three star restaurant (it has two today). In 1985, Waterside Inn
became its second (it still has three). In 1986 the brothers separated their business
interests with Albert taking Le Gavroche, and Michel taking the
Waterside Inn. Today, the cuisine at both restaurants is executed by the
brothers' respective sons. Michel's son Alain at Waterside, and Albert's
son Michel Jr. at Le Gavroche. (Yes. Michel is Albert's son).
The various members of the Roux family are significant players
in the London and International food scene. Having restaurants with Michelin stars helps. And Michel tells much of the story from his
perspective in Life Is a Menu. I'm glad I read the book. It's fun to
hear the story of the path he took in his career - starting out as a patissier, cooking for the Rothschild family, cooking in the army in
North Africa, cooking at the British Embassy in Paris, and moving to
London. Some of the dishes he describes sound delicious and he includes
a smattering of his favorite recipes.
At times though I start to wonder how many pages I want
to spend with Roux who is clearly recording some key opinions,
judgments, and claims for posterity. His accomplishments including his
successful restaurants, his Michelin stars, his cookbooks, his various awards, etc. are clear indications of a pretty significant
career. However, it often feels like Roux has to go even further taking
credit for things, or being annoyed. On several occasions in the book,
for example, he takes a moment to point out that various accomplishments
during his career for which he and his brother Albert were given credit, were really driven by him
alone (often against his brother's
wishes). With regard to their BBC television show, Michel wrote: "as
in all our publishing ventures, Albert left the script-writing to me,
but just as work began he insisted on swapping scripts." Apparently,
according to Michel, Albert not only didn't do any work on their joint
efforts, but also made things harder. It's not so much the insecurity
showing through that's annoying as is the way these jabs come out of
nowhere and then recede. They're not the main story, and just
There are a few other distractions. The book is
organized as a sort of menu with each chapter being a course or
ingredient - Hors d'Oeuvres, Eggs, Fish, etc. It doesn't really hang
together as a metaphor but that can be forgiven I suppose. However, some
of Roux anecdotes fall flat. He tells a story about cooking for Boris
Yeltsin at the Kremlin. The story is rife with challenges inflicted on
him by the local "jealous" cooking staff, and then this oddly (and what
I can only assume is partially) described incident where Yeltsin
"lunges" at him and takes a bite of the cake Roux was presenting. It's
not really so much funny as it is strange. Roux doesn't bother to
explain. Additionally, the characters are either two dimensional, or are
even once-in-awhile characterized by weird seemingly racial statements -
as he describes an Italian member of his staff. Also, after reading
Steingarten's books where no claim is left unsubstantiated or
uninvestigated, some of Roux' offhand remarks about the mad cow crisis
in England. He rails against overreaction as well as producers who
caused the problems, and then talks about his standing up to the crisis
and bravely eating and serving beef. But he never really dives deep.
It's like the crisis is another opportunity for him to show what a
pioneer he was.
though I wasn't quite done with the book when we went to
Le Gavroche I had a pretty good idea of my fears about the food produced by
Roux. Le Gavroche was very good but a little staid. On this night we
were headed to the
If he seemed slightly aloof and self-centered in his book, would his
food be the same way? Essentially I couldn't make a real comparison as
the kitchen had been taken over by his son Alain. That said, I was eager
to try and taste what Roux had described pretty well in the book.
Despite all my negativity I was still glad I read the book. Especially
the tidbit about how they have a small boat attached to the restaurant
that they can give to guests for pre-dinner outings. Sure enough
Debbie, and I showed up around
7:00pm and boarded the
boat they had tied to their dock. We didn't push off until at least
20 minutes later once they'd loaded us up with
These included pork rillette, olive tapenade, and a mozarella which
tasted like goat cheese. Each was placed on its own delicious buttery
pastry foundation. Yummy! The champagne was excellent as well. Luckily
the canapes were worth the wait (which was oddly long as we sat in the
When we returned from our cruise down the river and sat down at our
table we mentioned to the waitstaff that we were there to challenge the
kitchen. They simply asked us how many courses we would like. Nice
response. First up was an amuse bouche -
Halibut Gravlax. It was beautiful, generous, and tasty. Enter the
Vegetable Dome. A Dome of Provencal Vegetables Filled with Wild
Mushrooms and Artichokes Served with an Herb Flavored Olive Oil. The
veggies were a touch acidic, but came with these incredibly fine and
delicious crisps. They were made from pressed tomato slices that were so
concentrated in flavor they tasted almost like pineapple. Pretty great.
We also got Crabmeat and Langoustine Tails with a rich Peach Cream and
Crisp Cucumber. This dish was amazing. There were subtle hints of
cayenne that gave the dish some oomph that was subtle but super
distinctive. The flavor had a long finish.
Ever had chicken jello? Sorry, I mean a
chicken consomme gelee. A few years ago I would have been afraid of
this. No longer. I've never been much for the "skin" on the surface of
gelatined dishes. Luckily there was no skin on this dish. The gelee was
soft, and the chicken essence that came through in every bite was direct
and flavorful. Anyone for foie gras? Can't say we were surprised that it
showed up in front of us. We were also pretty grateful. Specifically
they brought us a
Terrine of Foie Gras with Chicken Breast Coated in Pistachio Nuts and
Served with Grapes Marinated in Ratafia. Alex said this was the best
foie gras pate he had ever had. The stripes of chicken alternating with
the foie worked great.
Cliche or classic? You decide. But it's hard to refuse a dish that
includes egg, mushroom, truffle, and asparagus. It's a tried and true
combination. Specifically we got Two Poached Eggs Served in a Pastry
Case with Asparagus Tips and a Light Mousseline Sauce. This dish was
quite good. There might have been a touch too much mushroom as it
started t overshadow some of the other flavors. Next up was
Fried Lobster Medallions with a White Port Sauce and Ginger Flavored
Vegetable Julienne. The lobster was good. The sauce underneath it
was great. More seafood.
Fried Scallops with Seaweed Tartare, Herb Salad, and Marinated Baby
Squid in Saffron Flavored Vinaigrette. The scallop was beautifully
cooked. The green sauce underneath was amazing, bursting with
interesting and complex flavors. (Later we got to visit the kitchen. The
vat of stock bubbling in there must have played a role in this
Fillets of Red Mullet with Couscous, Small Ribbons of Grilled Courgette
and a Light Gazpacho Style Sauce Flavored with Basil. The fish was
very good. Couscous and chickpeas are an interesting combination.
Additional entrees we had which were both enjoyable included
Loin of Lamb with Grain Mustard, Crisp Pancetta, Soft White Beans, and
Girolle Mushroooms served with a Light Savory Jus; and
Medallion Lightly Pan-Fried, Served with a Sauce made from White Wine,
Wine Vinegar, and Fresh Herbs with Macaroni and Mushroom Batons.
Dessert was rich and diverse and included:
Melting Chocolate Mousse with a Running Pear Filling Scented with
Ginger, and a Pear Sorbet;
Strawberry Ice Cream Lightened with Meringue, and a Mixture of Summer
Fruits Coated in a Light Mint Syrup; a
Raspberry Souffle; and finally
Selection of Six Mouth Watering Desserts of Michel and Alain Roux. I
should add, this was followed by a
two-tiered tray with a ton of petit fours.
One weird note. Restaurants in England love to give you
some high end sparkling water. Waterside's choice was
Badoit. It was very
disappointing (the worst we had in England). Not nearly enough bubbles.
What can I say. We went to Le Gavroche and it was very
good. A little stuffy but very good. I read the book and was glad I read
it. It was pretty stuffy, but a good snapshot of a chef from an earlier
age. And finally, we went to the Waterside Inn. It was very very good. The
atmosphere was still old school. But the youth of the chef and the
generousness of the waitstaff helped things not feel stuffy. Meeting Alain
Roux himself was fun, as was the tour of the kitchen. The kitchen had a
custom oven hood with Michel Roux' signature. And while dad's ego seemed
to overshadow his book, his son's cooking came out of the shade. I think a
full departure from the trappings (not the essence) of dad's legacy could
propel Waterside Inn to the next level. And since the level it's already
it is pretty lofty already, it's definitely worth the trip.
My friend Roee usually makes excellent restaurant
recommendations. When he mentioned the view as being a key feature of
Harvey Nichols' Oxo Tower Restaurant and Brasserie,
I should have known that he was using a different framework to make this
recommendation. I like nice views. But I like great food even better.
Unfortunately, Harvey Nichols came up short on the latter. It should be
noted, we ate at the Brasserie and not the Restaurant which was a bit
more upscale. I seem to recall it was the same kitchen serving both but
I may be wrong. This seemed like a nice place to get us going as
Lauren and Alex joined us
for the last week of our trip to Europe for some excessive eating
Things started off kind of oddly when we get
some bread but no bread plates. I don't mind a bunch of crumbs on the
tablecloth, but it was a little strange. There was also a floured roll
with way too much flour. Maybe I missed the point. One highlight was the
soup of the day - Tomato Aubergine (that's what they call eggplant). The
soup was great. A touch spicy with a wonderful texture. It got the
Next up was Fried Chili Duck, Crispy Peking
Pancakes, Cucumber and Green Pawpaw Salad. The duck was surprisingly good
as there were lots of small pieces that were fried up nice and crispy as
well as a great spicy sauce. After the duck we ate Pan-Fried Pancetta
Wrapped Prawns with Warm Creme Fraiche Linguini. When eating shrimp
wrapped in pancetta you're not exactly starting at a deficit. That said,
even with a decent baseline, this dish wasn't special. The creme fraiche
on plain linguini was... plain. When you got a bit of every ingredient
into one bite it was good, but that was often a difficult construction
Lauren ordered Warm Artichoke Potato Frittata,
Asparagus, Aioli, and Rocket Salad. Her reaction was "lunch counter, and
not in a good way". The artichoke was tender and delicious but was
overwhelmed by the blandness of the rest of the dish. This was followed by
the Wild Mushroom Tart with Mesclun Salad and Semi-Dried Cherry Tomatoes.
The dominant flavor in the tart was salt. Salt is there to enhance other
flavors, not take over.
Next up was Rosemary Lamb Rack, Spiced Aubergine,
Piquilo Pepper, and Couscous Dressing (that's right - couscous dressing).
The lamb was uninteresting and over rosemaried (sp?). People overdo herbs.
Not sure why. Another thought that crossed our minds was that couscous
shouldn't be used as a decoration. It's kind of a tease. Following the
lamb was Seared Scallops, Thai Vegetable Salad, Tomato and Lemongrass
Coulis. The scallops were unfortunately not seared well. The sauce was
good, but the texture was bad. We ordered a side of Sugar Snaps, Flaked
Almond, Garlic Butter. With that description and those simple ingredients
how do you screw it up?Unfortunately they knew just how. The dish was oily
and the "pea-ness" didn't come through. (Don't say that out loud.)
Dessert included Lemon and Almond Cake with
Blackberries and Mascarpone. This was delicious! There was also a
Blueberry and Sour Cream Brulee with Shortbread. This was fine, but not as
inspired as the lemon and almond cake.
Essentially our meal started out decently and
just went downhill from there. One interesting observation we made was
that there was lots of over-wiping of the table. Perhaps this was to
compensate for the lack of bread plates. And while the view of the river
was quite nice (especially from the balcony) it also didn't compensate. In
this latter case the compensation would have been for the on average (with
a couple of exceptions) mediocre food. Bummer.
Don't worry though. While this wasn't a great
way to start the week, we went to a ton more restaurants after this one.
Not just in London but in Paris too. More tomorrow.
I made gnocchi from scratch tonight. I took
the recipe out of Mario Batali's
Babbo cookbook. They came out surprisingly yummy for my first try.
Basically mashed potatoes, flour, egg, and salt. So squirmy but fresh
and light tasting. I improvised the sauce - garlic, mushrooms, olive
oil, pine nuts, white wine, grated parmesan, tomatoes, cilantro, salt.
It was missing something. Maybe lemon.
Administrative notes: on some key pages
(including this one) there is now a box (in the upper right hand corner)
that helps you search the page you're on. This is key for the restaurant
pages when you don't know what category a restaurant is in. Thanks to
Chris for this suggestion.
Additionally, I'm realizing a lot of people get
to this site through Google. I think
they end up right at the city by city restaurant pages. I'm starting to
wonder if people even know what to click on those pages. I've added a
chunky "guide" to the top of each page. At some point people may get
annoyed and I'll need to add a "Hide Me" button. Here's the guide:
We'll see what happens.
Comments always welcome.
Now this is way cool. It may be old news for most
of you as it was posted back in March, but
underground restaurants are popping up around the U.S. (free New
York Times registration required). I've always wanted to run a
pirate radio station. What about a pirate restaurant? Not the one from
the Simpsons. I'm going to have to see if I can find one. There's an old
this (warning: some may find it a bit, um, yucky). I'll admit it was
based on a conversation a bunch of us had, so she's not entirely to blame
for bringing up this topic.
During our month in London we decided to spend a week
visiting Israel. Israel is an absolutely incredible place for food.
Unfortunately because things are a little dicey security-wise we weren't
really able to go out an indulge in the entire food scene. However,
there's one thing we were able to appreciate even during our limited
stay. It's not the results of the almost Dr. Moreau-like experiments
that they do with dairy and citrus which yield an incredible variety of
delicious items in both categories. It's not the absolutely amazing
sesame breads and rolls that inhabit every corner store and street
vendor's stall. It's not the street food with an endless supply
delicious salads and toppings. It's not the various savory and fantastic
grilled meat items inhabiting tiny restaurants served by Jews and Arabs
alike. And it's not the Lahmejun (lamb "pizza") that the Armenians
serve. It's Israeli tomatoes. I believe most people in the United States
(and in the world for that matter) will never even once eat a tomato as
good as the ones Israeli's eat on even a bad day.
A good tomato should be firm and not mushy,
crisp and not mealy, bursting with juice, and have an incredible almost
sweet and sour flavor that fills your mouth. I care little about the
color to be honest, but a deep red can always be nice for presentation. Though I've had
tomatoes that were not covered in red and had some green areas that fit
the bill flavor and texture-wise. It's certainly possible that in my quest for crispness, and my
almost maniacal avoidance of mushiness, that I could sometimes be
accused of eating a tomato that's not 100% ripe. I'll admit that I walk
the tightrope sometimes, but in Israel it's easy. The tomatoes there are
incredible. It's also nice that breakfast and dinner in Israel both rely
heavily on vegetable salads as a main component of the meal. Gives you
more opportunities to eat the tomatoes. The closest I've ever come to
them in the United States was shopping at the farmer's market in Santa
Cruz buying beautiful plum tomatoes from a local grower. At some point
down the road I will delve into the details of the whys and wherefores
of this tomato nirvana. But for now, know that I am gladly eating up
slice after slice of delicious juicy goodness.
Note: just to make sure to present a balanced picture of
the food in Israel, there is one thing to call out that's decidedly
negative. While there are many cuisines that are only available in
tolerable or mediocre form in Israel, and various other things to
lament, it is Israel's complete and utter lack of a decent scoop of
vanilla ice cream that holds it back from being a truly modern nation.
What passes for vanilla in Israel is some sort of weird thin and
antiseptic flavor that's somehow reminiscent of vanilla. It's as if it
saw vanilla once and is now doing a bad cruise-ship comedy quality
impression. To add insult to injury there is typically a weird coffee-ish
aftertaste. In a country where it's hot so much of the time, I think
vanilla ice cream that conforms in even the most basic fashion to
international notions of what constitutes vanilla-ness is mandatory.
Veeraswamy - Britain's oldest Indian restaurant was
recommended to us via a variety of sources - in some places as the best
Indian food in London, and one of them notably recommending it as a good
place to take kids on a Sunday morning. While the latter seems true
enough, the former is not. However, just because you're not the best,
doesn't mean you're not good. And Veeraswamy served up some very nice
Indian brunch for us. Not only was the food tasty, but the deal
seemed alright as well. Three courses - starters, mains, and desserts -
with the starters and mains consisting of three types of items each, plus naan, dal, and rice, all for £15. And it's all you can eat.
The starters consisted of Chicken Tikka in a marinade of
white spices and cheese - tasted yummy and even more yogurty than
regular Chicken Tikka; Lentil and Minced Lamb Kebabs - these were sort
of like falafels; and Crisp Wheat Puris filled with Potato Mix, Yoghurt,
and Chutneys - this was super interesting, like a little surprise in a
delicate fried shell. The mains consisted of Red Snapper Fillets with
Onions and Peppers; Lamb Knuckles and Potatoes in a Tomato Gravy; and
Chicken in a Coconut Cream with Kashmiri Chili, and Onion Gravy - this
was super delicious, we had seconds. Desserts were a choice between
sweet dumplings with ice cream - these were sweet and pretty decent; and
Rice Pudding with Minced Dates - this tasted like Quaker Oats. All in
all a lovely meal. Good fresh flavorful Indian food. And not too
Yet another administrative note: I still have
not been able to traverse the jungle of my server software to get
searching the site to work the regular way. So in addition to depending on
Google for our new ad system, we're going to depend on them for searching
the site too. So, search is back in the
top navigation. Enjoy.
Roux is the French born chef credited as one of the people to bring fine
French cuisine to England. He and his brother Albert started
in 1967 and a few years later became the first restaurant in Britain to
Michelin stars. It is now run by
Michel Roux Jr., nephew
of Michel Sr., and son of Albert. With this information, and my nose buried
in Roux' Sr.'s memoirs -
Life is a Menu, Reminiscences of a Master Chef, we
trundled off for dinner at Le Gavroche. This is what you call a "fancy"
restaurant. And when I say fancy, I mean "old school" fancy. While
a tie is not required, I think that owes to the times as opposed to the
true desires of the restaurant but that's just speculation on my part.
Dinner at Le Gavroche has an element of theater. The restaurant itself
is tucked away into a discreet building. The first floor housing a small
reception, bar, and smoking area where guests are encouraged to relax. A
set of stairs leads you down to the
dining room where it seems like hundreds (ok, maybe tens) of
wait staff greet you with smiles, "madame"s, "monsieur"s, and a
confidence that you are going to have a very structured and positive
its own way.
As a side note, Le Gavroche is yet another
restaurant where photography is not allowed (I managed to convince them
to let me photograph the food without revealing why I was doing it), but
smoking is. For an establishment that puts so much time, energy, and
money into creating a culinary sensory experience, it amazes me that
they are ok letting it get ruined by the odoriferous cigars that filled
the air during our meal. We forgot to ask if there was a non-smoking
section. (Debbie thinks that if we
started directing lawsuits at smokers instead of tobacco companies, the
whole problem would go away in a hurry.)
Dinner overall was very good; we ordered the
tasting menu. And Le Gavroche really pulled out all the stops when it
came to delivering a meal. Champagne, caviar, foie gras, lobster, and
truffles all made their appearances at various points in the meal, in
various combinations (some more than once). With an experienced kitchen,
it's hard not to make an impression with that roster of "luxury"
ingredients. And there were a couple of dishes that made lasting
impressions. One of the amuse bouche we got was a near
of smoked salmon coated with a sprinkling of herbs, on top of
cucumber threads and a touch of honey mustard. The salmon was so close
to perfect it could wave to it. In thinking about what would have gotten
it all the way there I think it's only my selfish desire for a slightly
bigger piece. But in a world where restaurants are always giving you too
much (even in their tasting menus) I shouldn't be complaining about Le
Gavroche where the portions really were absolutely right on. The
Filled with Foie Gras, Truffles, and Chicken Mousse was a "wow"
dish. I'm not typically one for a lot of gelatinous layers to a dish,
but this had several layers of contrasting soft textures, and frankly an
incredible flavor. It was inspired. The
a Light Ginger Butter Sauce was sublime. The leftover butter sauce
at the end did not escape our spoons before the wait staff collected
the dishes. If spoons and mopping up the butter sauce with bread hadn't
polished off the job, then I was seriously considering bringing the bowl
to my mouth and drinking the remainder. I wonder what the waiters would
have done then? Probably just stand there mouths agape. Or maybe smile
knowingly. I suppose we'll never know.
The other dishes were all very good.
Tuna, Smoked Salmon, and Broad Bean Salad with Caviar Dressing;
Rack of Lamb,
Sweetbreads, and Grilled Kidney, with Garlic Jus (Debbie is really
breaking out trying the kidney and the sweetbreads);
with Parmesan, Balsamic Vinegar, and Summer Truffles;
Chocolate and Praline Indulgence (does gold leaf really have any
Crisp Layers of Puff Pastry with Strawberries and Mascarpone Sorbet
(the sorbet was very very good); and a beautiful selection of
But to be honest, there was something missing as well. Dinner did not
blow us away. How do you speak with texture about an experience that had
all the right ingredients (literally and figuratively) but wasn't
moving. Are we going out so consistently to eat great food that our bar
has changed? There's no doubt we have more perspective now than we used
to, but I believe that super food experiences can make a seriously
memorable impression on me anywhere, anytime. Le Gavroche was kind of
like the musical that's been running in London's theater district for 30
years. It's still a high quality production. It's still reminds you of
all the reasons it's been there for 30 years. But it also seems a little bit
Administrative note: we're trying something a
little new on the site. Ads. Google does a nice job keeping them topical
and subtle. So, we'll see how things go. Feel free to click on any link
you're interested in as these folks are in effect sponsoring our website
and keeping it free to each of you.
I am starting to think there may be an algorithm for
determining your likeliness of experiencing good food in a particular
city. There are a number of factors I can imagine that go into it. I
think the first is likely the number of restaurants in the city. Tokyo
reputedly has 80,000 restaurants. I've heard London has 15,000. But that
can only be one factor, as there's no accounting for taste. What after
all explains the incredible consistent quality you find at restaurants
in Tokyo (and Japan in general) versus what you'd find in the US or in England where
we'd been visiting. I'll continue to ponder the
Good Food Likeliness Index™ (GFLI). Without further investigation I can
only make broad assumptions not based in scientific fact - New York City has
a high GFLI, and Topeka has a low GFLI. In the meantime, here are signs
that London's GFLI is on the rise.
this day, one
spot for lunch wasn't enough. Instead we ate at branches of
and Yo! Sushi for lunch one right after the other. In their Islington
incarnations they happen to be neighbors so it made our lunch travels
minimal. Let's start with Wagamama. The chain of Wagamamas across London
(with a few outside of London and Europe entirely) are modern European
interpretations of the noodle bars that exist by the thousands across
Japan. These are clean,
beautifully designed, modern restaurants
upon row of long lined tables and benches where strangers are seated
next to each other to enjoy their ramen and soba. From your spot on a
bench you have a
clear view of the kitchen while you wait for one of the
roving waiters with their wireless ordering systems to come by, take
your order, and then deliver your food in a flash. And btw, Wagamama is
a no smoking restaurant. Important in London where cigarettes can
easily become a main ingredient in everything you eat.
Speaking of the food, it's great. While the community
and efficiency of the Japanese noodle shop have thoroughly modern
interpretations, the food is much closer to the original. Can it compare
head-to-head with one of the best noodle shops in all of Tokyo? Probably
not. Does it need to? Nope. In Tokyo, it's very difficult to get a bad
meal when frequenting various small shops serving local specialties. In
general the quality bar is just much much higher there. And Wagamama meets the
bar. In addition to serving bowl upon bowl of delicious noodles
and soup - we had a thoroughly delicious hot
Chili Chicken Ramen, Wagama
also serves other dishes including the Japanese specialty of fried
cutlets - Tonkatsu. I had the
Chicken Katsu with Rice. A perfectly fried
chicken cutlet - light and crispy, with a delicious curry sauce, a mound
of (slightly overcooked) rice, and a some greens and red pickles on the
side in a Japanese dressing. Thoroughly scrumptious.
It's not that these were the best Japanese noodles and
katsu I've ever tasted - though frankly they were very very good. It's
that they even exist. The likelihood that thousands of small stalls
serving quick and delicious authentic cuisine for a small amount of
money will spring up in your favorite metropolitan city (where they
don't already exist) is virtually nil. Wagamama has packaged up the best
of the experience to scale and is delivering it across town. A city like
Seattle (which I call home), that prides itself to a certain degree on being enlightened and
appreciative of quality ingredients and food, can't even come close.
Here's hoping Wagamama expands to the US.
words I don't like hearing in a row are "fast food sushi". But we'd had
such a good experience at Wagamama and were still feeling a bit peckish.
And after all, we have a duty to you our reader to eat as much as
possible. Despite concerns about a fast food sushi chain, we trudged in
bravely. And we were pleasantly surprised. Though not owned by the same
folks as Wagamama they seem to have taken Wagamama's principles as their
own. And this is a good thing.
Corner sushi shops abound in Japan. They often
deliver a decent quality of sushi in a short amount of time. You grab
sushi off a conveyor belt eating just as much as you want. Tea is
delivered to within inches of your seat via pipes ringing the conveyor
belt. And there's an entertaining "changing of the guard" as the sushi
chefs rotate every so often clambering through some tiny secret opening
below the conveyor belt and counter. While the
conveyor belt as sushi
delivery device is a novelty in the western world, it's a matter of
practicality and convenience in some of the small sushi shops in Tokyo.
What better way to get as wide a selection of sushi into your face as
quickly as possible. It accomplishes both.
While I wouldn't stack the sushi at Yo! Sushi
against some of the best in the world, the fish is
fresh, and what they
lack in refinement they make up in creativity. While not traditional,
various enticing creations crossed in front of us on the conveyor belt -
many made it into our mouths as well. A
dry spicy tuna maki,
greens with black tobiko maki,
various ngiri, gunkan makis, sashimis,
slightly seared salmon sashimis encrusted with black sesame seeds,
yakitori, salads, and even fruit, all rode by. The ones we ate were
quite good and fresh.
Soy sauce, bowls, napkins, wasabi, and pickled gari were
all available from
built-in compartments that were spaced every few
seats at the bar. In between them were stacks of glasses and
dispensing water - still and fizzy. No green tea though. Different color
dishes denote how much each item costs. Unlike in Japan the dishes
flying by had small plastic covers - probably (though I haven't
confirmed it) acquiescing to some health department regulation. While Wagmama's
atmosphere was modern European, Yo! Sushi's was a riff on
trendy Japan. Exposed concrete and piping, beautiful wood
counters, mirrored logos, and
flat screen TVs promoting the various
dishes all made for a fun environment.
To me the fact that Wagamama and Yo! Sushi have both
tried to exemplify the best of the Japanese food stall/corner
restaurant, and scale it up to a modern chain across London. Most
importantly, they've done this while actually keeping up a pretty
impressive quality of food. Wagamama is a bit better, but I think sushi
is a bit more challenging food to get right. Either way, you're lucky to
have this kind of fast food available if you live in London.
knew that London would be experiencing a heat wave when we decided to
pay it a visit. Luckily this pushed me to some investigation of some of
the frozen treats London has to offer. Nothing fancy, just some basics.
First off is the orange juice popsicle. Not an orange flavored popsicle.
Not one of those fancy fruit chunk popsicles. An orange juice popsicle.
The brand I found here was called Sainsbury's
Real Orange Juice Lollies.
It's pretty much the best orange juice popsicle I've ever tasted. You
can try making these at home, but inevitably on your first couple of
sucks, the juice will travel down your throat and you'll be left sucking
on a plain ice cube. I need to look into the freezing methodology to
find out why this is. The
Orange Juice Lollies here in London come
pretty close to avoiding that problem. You can suck lots of the juice
out of the frozen popsicle slab, and then when a chunk is ready to be
bitten off it still tastes pretty full of juice. I think there's still
some distance between this and perfect orange juice popsicles, but I'm
wondering how much physics will get in the way of perfection - a chunk
of ice can't produce yummy ice cold orange juice without end, can it?
Next up is the soft ice cream you'll see sold by street
vendors and ice cream trucks all over town. Specifically, a dollop of
vanilla soft ice cream swirled into a cake cone. By cake I mean the
substance that ice cream cones that are neither sugar cones or waffle
cones are made of. This is the same substance that chocolate wafers are
made of. And by cone I mean literally a container with a conical shape.
Typically when you order a "cake cone" in the US it's actually a cake
cup with a flat bottom preceded by a 2x3 or 2x4 grid at the bottom
holding little boxes of melted ice cream protected only by the walls
surrounding them that could do damage to your gums if your not careful.
As it turns out, this soft ice cream treat is not complete without
popping in a
Cadbury Flake bar. (This may have something to do with all
signage these street vendors have which is covered with the Cadbury
logo much like sub shops in the US have Coke or Pepsi on their signs.) The
Flake bar is a chocolate bar the
size of two AA batteries laid end-to-end. It's surface is like that of a
round rolodex with little chocolate ridges (i.e. "flakes") expose
themselves. The chocolate bar is supposed to make you feel like they'd
layered multiple super thin layers of chocolate on top of each other to
create this bar. Almost like
Tamago done in chocolate. The texture of
the flake bar is actually quite good, but the chocolate isn't great, and
sometimes tastes a little dry. For that reason I can take it or leave it
when it comes to my soft ice cream cones in London. Typically however I
take it just to jazz up my treat.
A really good soft ice cream (I'm talking
about the hardcore stuff that's served by teenagers across the world and
requires no fancy ingredients; not talking about gelato, etc.) should be
like a very very very thick really good milkshake. It has a processed
quality that makes it uniform but not too smooth. It's really cold,
almost but not quite to the point where there are the tiniest ice
crystals forming and has the slightest rough touch to your tongue. It
also tastes a touch light and airy. The first time I got a cone on
London the soft ice cream fit these
criteria to a tee. But since then just about all of the soft ice cream I
had in London was too heavy. It was too creamy. I started to try and
remember where I had that first delicious soft ice cream, as well as
details about the places that were giving me sub-par frozen goodies.
After many half-eaten cones (ok, maybe two-thirds eaten cones) from
vendor after vendor I noticed they all had Italian-made
soft ice cream machines. Most were the same model, but a couple had older
versions. It didn't seem to make a difference. I started to wonder if
there was another variable that I hadn't taken into account like the
configuration of the machine, the brand of raw ingredients, etc. But
then I happened upon my original vendor,
the stand on the street outside
the Piccadilly Circus London Underground Station. Not only did the
gentleman behind the counter serve me an
excellent soft ice cream (not
quite as transcendent as the first time, but still much much better than
the competition), but he proudly pointed out to me that he wasn't using
that "Carpigiani shit", but rather employed the
was proud of
the machine, it's resiliency, their consistent servicing
and fastidious cleaning of the machine. He was quick to point out that
it was likely it's British heritage that was responsible for its
superior soft ice cream, and that it was definitely the different
machine that was responsible for the different qualities in the soft ice
There is a variation on the soft ice cream treat
described above supplied by none other than
McDonald's. I often think
about doing a tour of the world's McDonald's and only eating the items
that are unique to the McDonald's in that country - their
attempts to be
"local". These include things like the Teriyaki Burger in Tokyo, the
Lobster Sandwich in Canada (where the Golden arches have a tiny
pandering maple leaf in the center of their logo), and the McFalafel in
Israel (this last one is a joke). (Note: after I wrote this, I found out
there is indeed a
McFalafel in neighboring Egypt. Wild!) Inevitably when I want to try
that unique McDish I am in a bind. I debate endlessly about filling my
stomach with McDonald's in a city like Tokyo where every minute counts,
and I am running out of time to try as many of that city's approximately
80,000 restaurants as I can in a few days. If I fill up on Teriyaki
Burgers how will I have room for eating at some new restaurant. (If
you're thinking I should take a bite and throw the rest out, that is
unfortunately not a realistic option for me these days as I hate
wasting, and I like eating.) Maybe because it's a dessert the decision
went the other way in London when faced with trying their new
Apricot Waffle Cone.
The Peach and Apricot Waffle cone is (much as
you'd expect from its name)
a waffle cone filled with vanilla soft ice
cream and topped with a peach and apricot sort of marmalade/jam. In some
sort of homage or at least in competition to/with the Cadbury Flake,
McDonald's has stuck a "Chocolate Swizzle Stick", (what we would call a
Pirouline) into the ice cream after the "sauce" has been
applied to finish off the dessert. The entire item didn't make a good
first impression on me as it looked somewhat different than the its
picture in the ads which had romanced me for the previous two weeks. But
like the women I imagine I would meet on the internet, looks can't be
everything. Right? So how does it taste? Not bad, not great. The ice
cream is not the good stuff that came out of the Electro-Freeze machine
- I stupidly forgot to find out what machine was making their soft ice
cream. The waffle cone was quite tasty and crunchy as was the "swizzle
stick". But the jam (or at least what I'd hoped would be a jam) was
really more of a sauce. And in fact the McDonald's literature described
it as such so I shouldn't have been surprised. Not only was I not into
the consistency of a sauce, there really wasn't much if any of the
sourness of the apricot present. After a eating quarter of it (ok, maybe
half of it) I chucked the rest. Gotta save room for the next London
Believe it or not we have mail to go through
today. First up was mail from the
Vittles Vamp asking for a link exchange. I'm not entirely sure about
the name (something about the word "vittles"
makes me uncomfortable, like a toothless old man is about to attack me
with his frying pan), but that said the site is cool. Many food
experiences recounted in obsessive detail. Nothing wrong with that.
That site led me to
The Food Section. This is a
very cool food site. It's mostly focused on New York City. This seems fine
as NYC certainly warrants the attention when it comes to food. It appears
that every week there's a listing of local food events. I'm going to need
to spend some more time eating in New York City.
The Food Section also has a good point about how
Amazon's new "Search In Book" feature makes for some interesting reference
Larousse Gastronomique is now online. Thanks Amazon. Thanks Food
Derrick Schneider of
Obsession with Food
(another great food site), writes in response to my statement
below that allowing
smoking in a restaurant shows a distinct lack of respect for the food and
anyone who wants to taste it. Derrick adds the following: "I'm not a fan
of smoke in restaurants, even as I recognize that there's no stigma
attached to it (quite the opposite in fact) in European restaurants. But I
suppose one could make the point that given the high probability that the
entire kitchen staff smokes, eating the food in a smoke-filled environment
is a closer realization of how the chef tasted it when preparing the food.
Actually, Anthony Bourdain's take on it is that most chefs underseason
their food because they're worried that they're overseasoning to
compensate for their smoke-bludgeoned taste buds. Hmm. Now that I think
about it, it's an interesting argument. Few would argue that the
French,Italian,Spanish, and Japanese don't know how to appreciate or show
respect for food. But it is in those countries where smoking is the
heaviest." Derrick makes excellent points. It's still horribly gross and
borders on ruining a great eating experience in my opinion. Note: I'm not
a crazed anti-smoking activist. Just a crazed eater. I don't mind noise,
kids, or even bad service once-in-awhile. But smoke competes for the
senses I rely on most when it comes to enjoying my meal.
Could it be that Seattle's not the only city
in which you can't find really great Italian dinner? Granted, Seattle's
not a major city, but London is. And closer to Italy to boot. One of the
books I used as a resource to find great food in London claimed that
Locatelli is the best Italian restaurant in London. I hope the authors
of that guide are either liars or were born without tastebuds. The
alternative means that London is a city without good Italian food
because Locanda Locatelli ain't it.
Located near Marble Arch, Locanda Locatelli
invites you in with an understated double-"L" logo and their menu under
glass outside their door. The Italian staff greets you and seats you,
and you start to get excited for some great food. The first courses were
classics yet difficult to form an opinion on. When someone gives you a
plate of various salamis, and delicious cured pork products it's tough
to evaluate anything but the ingredients - which were quite good.
However, the Caprese salad and Cured Beef with Goat Cheese Dressing held
hints of what was to come. First the Caprese.
A perfect plate of juicy and flavorful tomatoes,
mozzarella cheese, basil, and olive oil, is simply hard to beat. What's
better? Unfortunately this was not that plate. The tomatoes were simply
not good. At first I started thinking about whether good tomatoes were
available in England. I remembered getting decent ones at my local
supermarket here in London. Not great but good. Either way, they were
better than what sat in front of me . The mozzarella was quite good (and
generous) but the tomatoes were still bugging me. Not only were
they of varying dim shades of something like red, but they lacked
flavor. What little taste they had was removed (accidentally?) from most
of them in that it looked like the seeds and juice had been scraped out
of the centers. And finally the worst aspect of the tomatoes (because I
know it was inflicted on them by the kitchen deliberately) was the way
they were cut - bad salad bar style. Food comes in all shapes and sizes.
Tomatoes often come in wonderful little portable and self-enclosed
packages. Sometimes (as with cherry and grape tomatoes) those packages
are even bite-size. If you're going to cut an ingredient before
incorporating it into your dish there can be several reasons for this. A
few include: getting maximum flavor, getting the right texture, making
something "bite-size" highlighting the shape of the ingredient, etc. But
what excuse is there for cutting a tomato into four pieces (or a larger
tomato into eight pieces). These extra thick "wedges" are almost useless
and the hallmark of yucky salad bars across the United States. They are
just too big to be bite-size so they need to be cut. That wouldn't be a
problem if there were some other advantage. They've been cut too thick
to highlight the shape of the tomato. And in this case they've been cut
sloppily. Instead of a "rustic" look (which may be what they were going
for) the tomatoes looked ugly and uneven, their mealy surfaces were
exposed for maximum unappetizingness (is that a word?), and often their
seeds and juice had leaked out to remove any minimal flavor they had to
begin with. A tomato wedge can be a wonderful slice of heaven when a) it
comes from a high quality tomato, b) it fits in your mouth, c) it was
cut cleanly, and d) it still contains all the seeds and juice. Please
report violators to me so I can put them on my "avoid at all costs"
Ok. Sorry for the tomato tirade. By the way, did I
mention that allowing people to smoke in restaurants shows a distinct
lack of respect for the food, and anyone who wants to taste it? Ok.
Sorry again. Back to dinner. The beef carpaccio was devoid of flavor and
the drenching in the goat cheese dressing only helped it taste more like
goat cheese dressing. I love gnocchi. It's like a little seafood-like
treasure, somewhere between a shrimp and a scallop, often made mostly from
potatoes and flour. These succulent little morsels
can either be chewed for their delicate texture or sometimes just
swallowed hole. Delicious. Locanda Locatelli's gnocchi were fine. You'd
think they'd get some help from the truffle slivers that they came with.
But the dish was not memorable. We ordered a red onion pasta with a
Chianti sauce. The combination was very interesting I'd love to figure
out a way to build on this combination in my own kitchen. As served
however the pasta still sort of lay there. Even the sparks of flavor
couldn't resuscitate this dish. My best theory on this is timing. The
best pasta dishes I've ever eaten have an unbelievable short window in
which to make their appearance in their perfect form. I wonder if
ignoring this window isn't the culprit at Locanda Locatelli. I suppose
it could also be the freshness of the ingredients. I don't really know,
but timing and freshness all contribute to dishes coming alive in my
Speaking of freshness - and the restaurant makes a point
of pledging it on their menu where they caution the diner not to throw a
hissy fit if their choice isn't available as availability is subject to
the whims of whatever shows up fresh at the restaurant every day - the
lobster in the pasta dish wasn't. It had a distinctly fishy taste. Yuck.
Combined with the underdone pasta (I know al dente, and this had not yet
gotten to al dente) it was basically inedible. (It didn't matter than
the parmesan we asked for never came, as we decided not to eat any more
of the dish anyway). The rolled pork in the other main course came in
sausage casings. The pork had been rolled with herbs. I hungrily sliced
into one and took a bite. There were so many herbs in the rolled meat,
that a dish that had possibilities just got overpowered, and the flavor
of the meat never came through.
We decided to skip dessert, but the friendly wait staff
came by not only with our check but with some petits fours. While paying
a non-insignificant amount of money for a bad meal is not a fun way to
end a meal, at least the meal was ending. There was one sweet note
however - the almond meringue cookie they served us was the best almond
cookie I have eaten in my entire life. A robust almond flavor, and a
chewiness that was delicious as opposed to gummy. Yum. I'm hoping that
London still has good Italian food, and that I just chose poorly. I hope
I get time to test the theory before we have to head back to Seattle,
but it's not looking good.