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.
This weekend marks the XXXVIIIth edition of
the Super Bowl. While I don't think it started for
the first Super Bowl (there were over 30,000 empty seats in the Los
Angeles Coliseum), for probably at least XXV of them food has become
synonymous with the event. Nachos. Dips. Barbecue. Pizza. Sunday will be
the single biggest takeout pizza day of the year.
I will admit two things: 1) I am a huge
England Patriots fan (not this
huge), and 2) I love Super Bowl food just as much as the next person.
One of my personal favorites is Dorito brand Corn Chips (plain, no
flavor), and Pace Picante Sauce. Sometimes I make my own salsa, but the
Pace is yummy too. I also love guacamole!!!
Here's a selection of Super Bowl
recipes (and other Super Bowl food-related fare) from: (Note: some may be
lifted from the backs of packets of onion soup mix.)
The Boston Globe,
Detroit News (twice),
York Times (free registration required), and
The Washington Post.
If I don't post anything on Sunday,
you'll know it's because I'm watching the game. If I don't post anything
on Monday it's because the Patriots lost and I'm too bummed to even think about food.
a city like Tokyo where high end restaurants inhabit every nook in the
city, it's sometimes easy to forget that some of the most delicious food
to be had is in the food stalls and tiny restaurants that exist in every
Anyone who has seen the movie
Tampopo, pines for the small Japanese restaurant serving nothing but
exceptional noodle soup.
everywhere, and as with many things in Japan, mythical tradition, lore,
and competition make it not just soup, but a soup experience. Yes. Ramen
has it's own
museum cum amusement park located in Yokohama. The real question was
how to pick.
Worldramen.net is a monument the love of ramen. They claim there are
over 5000 ramen-ya in Tokyo alone, and they have separated the wheat from
the chaff with their recommendation of nine "legendary" ramen shops. Of
the nine, five are marked as a favorite. Each has a detailed writeup and
background story. After reading them all
Taishoken was the
clear choice. The
starts off saying "no ramen shop out of thousands can defeat Taishoken." I
need to see that competition. It goes on to describe how the proprietor
Yamagishi-san, made soup for years until his wife died and grief made him
close his shop for months and give up his life's work. Upon his return to
his closed up shop the many handwritten notes from customers encouraging
him to return to work inspired him to sign up for another tour of ramen
duty. Just to be clear, this man's incredible dedication to delivering
world class soup was even stronger than his grief for the loss of his
wife. That's commitment and passion.
It may have been crazy to go eat a huge bowl of
hot noodle soup in the middle of a Tokyo heatwave but that's exactly what
we did. Luckily the
too long out front. After about 20 minutes the
ushered us into the tiny establishment. We were seated at the eight seat
bar two feet from
himself. He was a huge sweaty adorable old guy. We watched him
dunk them in a huge pot, cook them, and then
We ended up trying two kinds of soup. I will
admit that communication was a little difficult so I'm only 90% sure I got
the names right. I had the
The broth was surprisingly complex in flavor. And it had almost a hearty
texture to it, even though it was a relatively clear soup. The noodles
were soft but firm. Al dente. Nice. We also tried the
This for some reason came with the
a separate bowl. It was almost sweet with a touch of sour also. It was
different than the first and also delicious. The portions were enormous.
The prices were cheap. There was simply no way any of us could finish our
soup. For awhile I kept eating as I watched the locals polish off their
bowls and worried I would be sending the wrong message if I couldn't
finish mine. When I started to worry about whether I'd be able to stand
up, I finally conceded to that huge bowl of incredible soup and noodles.
The flavors we tasted were so interesting and
diverse, one trip couldn't really do them justice. To really understand
we'd need to try multiple ramen shops multiple times. Suffice it to say
that even though we couldn't do a deep ramen drilldown, we had a fantastic
lunch. I've never had anything like it.
Square watermelons are always fun to look at (courtesy of my friend
Double bonus. Marian Burros of the New York Times (free
registration required) writes a
Mario Batali's new tapas venture -
Casa Mono. Not
only are we heading to NYC soon. But she also appears to agree with me
100% on the value of food writers being anonymous.
"I have never been to the restaurant as a regular
patron: I have known two of the owners professionally for years. But
having been spotted at restaurants throughout my reviewing career, I
have learned one thing: the owners cannot improve the food for the
reviewer's sake. They can improve the service; they can make sure the
food is hot. But if it does not taste good, they cannot make it better."
I completely agree!
Beer has not always been one of my favorite beverages,
but on a really hot day there's really nothing more thirst quenching.
Beer and hot chocolate may be the drinks whose likeability is the most
volatile for me relative to the weather. I wonder if
from countries with lots of spicy foods has even better thirst
Christopher Lee of
embarked on a new venture.
The Fancy Food Show happened recently in San Francisco. We
went. Our write-up won't be up for some time, but here's one from the
San Jose Mercury News.
Lauren and Alex
are always complaining about white chocolate being a chocolate impostor.
the government is worried about white chocolate impostors.
really love Chinese food. It's funny that I have to travel to Tokyo to
have some of the best in the world, but understandable when you realize
the high bar for food in Japan. I'd been to Chinese Iron Chef Chin's
Shisen Hanten several times and loved every visit. I figured it was
time to try something new.
I've tried to find dependable sources for new restaurant
recommendations in Tokyo several times with mixed results. I can't read
Japanese so I'm limited to what's available in English. Since the first
time we went we relied on going to Iron Chef restaurants, I figured
going to Iron Chef Challengers who were victorious might be a good way
to choose as well.
Official Book profiles every challenger who
ever beat an Iron Chef. I understand why they don't list the losers, but
I bet they're pretty good as well. So on this night we went to
A smallish but nice restaurant
away in a typical impossible to locate warren of streets that's so
typical in Tokyo. Luckily our cabbie found after a bit of hunting. It's
a good thing he did as the
Barbecue Pork was delicious. The yummy, smoky, slices, were a great
way to start dinner.
Two kinds of soup were up next -
Soup with Egg White and
with Crab Meat. The shark fin was subtle and smooth. The corn soup had
a super "corny" flavor. Tjeerd - a member of our dining party - wished
there was more crab flavor.
Next up were
Prawns with Red Pepper. They were absolutely delicious with a nice
little kick. The less time from wok to my mouth the better. This tasted
like it couldn't have been more than a 30 second delay. Then
with Black Bean Sauce showed up. The beef melted in my mouth. It was
coated in a sticky sweet honeyish sauce. The portions were not huge and we
were ok with that. It let us try more things.
As the glistening
arrived with all its
accoutrements, the proprietor came by to
show us how
to make our own little pancake and duck creations. It was very cute.
We think he assume that us American folks had never eaten Peking Duck. The
demonstration was nice. And then we proceeded to eat some incredible duck.
Tjeerd felt it was the best Peking Duck he'd ever eaten. High praise! The
skin was so crispy, it really was amazing.
The standards for food in Tokyo are so incredibly
different than in the United States. This restaurant would easily be the
best Chinese food in Seattle. That's not saying a huge amount given that
Seattle is not a great place for Chinese food (I don't really know why).
But given that this restaurant was excellent but still not even close to
the best Chinese in Tokyo is really the eye-opening comparison.
Kanmeihou was really enjoyable. On the way out I tried to
meet the chef. The Iron Chef challenger listed in the book was female, the
chef appeared to be mail. I mentioned her name and got quizzical looks.
Did we end up in the wrong place? Had she retired or moved on? I tried
sending e-mail, but the responses I received were mangled as I think they
were all Japanese or Chinese characters. I suppose it doesn't really
matter as we had a delicious meal anyway.
Happy Chinese New Year's. What better way to celebrate the year of the
monkey than with some
courtesy of the Arizona Daily Star. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
pitches in as well with
some additional recipes.
Bargain truffles. Discount flavor.
Here's a super article on
cooking authentic Indian food at home courtesy of the LA Times
(free registration required).
conversation with Mario Batali (via
perfect seaweed make you fall in love with a restaurant? Apparently yes.
As I've written before
serves up the best sushi hand rolls (temaki) I have ever eaten in my
life. Something about the crispiness and freshness of the
just makes their hand rolls perfect. They are more cylindrical than they
typical conical hand roll. They briefly touch the plate for a couple of
seconds between when they leave the chef's hand and they enter your
mouth. They are crunchy, they scream fresh, and they are absolutely
This sushi restaurant on the 13th floor of the Takashimaya department
store near Shinjuku station is one of a few locations, and named after
the famous Tokyo fish market -
There's simply something special about the hand rolls they make. There
sushi chef in training trying to make some of our hand rolls. He
was having a difficult time getting it exactly right, and the senior
chef - his mentor - kept giving him coaching on his work. I can't tell
you how fast my brain was working trying to figure out what they were
going to do with the three hand rolls that the senior chef deemed not
acceptable for us to eat. Tears started to well up at the thought that
they might get thrown out. They got sent somewhere into the back of the
restaurant I can only assume to folks in the kitchen to snack on. I
still wish I could have wolfed them down.
Since Tsukiji Tamasushi was so near to our hotel we were able to stop in
there a couple of times on this trip for a quick handroll fix. I can
still taste them today.
After spending a bunch of time in Europe I was
lucky enough to go to Tokyo for a week. I've written many times about my
deep and abiding love for Tokyo, and Japan in general. The food is no
small part of that. In a town with somewhere around 80,000 to 100,000
restaurants, life is good. In addition to the sheer quantity, the
quality bar is so much higher in Japan when it comes to freshness and
aesthetics that this may be the best food city in the world. Only New
York and Paris compete I think. Needless to say, I was pretty excited
about a week's worth of meals in Tokyo.
On our first night in Tokyo we did a business dinner at
Takadaya. It's funny that in a city with so much good food my local
co-workers have so consistently picked restaurants that don't shine. I
did learn a little bit about why that may be though. As in the United
States, restaurants in Japan are often known for a specialty, or single
type of dish. It's funny but I think we get these very skewed views of
the diversity of other culture's cuisines. In the US there's basically
Japanese restaurants. They serve Japanese food. We often think of
cuisines from outside the US as monolithic. Just as a restaurant in the
US can serve New England seafood specialties and another can be a
southern BBQ joint and both be serving "American" food, there are many
facets and differences in Japanese food, and the restaurants here
In some ways that's part of what was wrong
with our meal. Takadaya specializes in soba. Soba are a delicious
Japanese specialty of gray speckled buckwheat noodles. You eat them
typically with a cold sauce. For some reason however, we ended up
preceding the soba with an entire meal consisting of a broad range of
Japanese dishes including tofu and seaweed appetizers; nabe - vegetables
and chicken cooked in a
dashi based broth; itamemono - a different dish of the very same
vegetables and chicken but cooked in its dish over a burner at the table
covered in a soy-based sauce; a vegetable salad; a plate of sashimi
including katsuo (a slightly seared piece of tuna) and hotate (scallop);
tempura of shrimp and various mushrooms served with a super salty salt
colored with dry green tea; and some salmon maki-sushi.
On the one hand, I love the variety and
smaller portions and tastes that let you experience a wide cross-section
of Japanese food and ingredients. On the other hand, this restaurant's
versions of each of these dishes weren't very good. The food just felt
uninspired and the kitchen was not up to the rigors of delivering more
delicate flavors in a way that makes a real impression on the palate.
Not surprisingly however, the soba was the best thing we had. It made me
wonder whether we really ever should have asked this soba shop to try
and deliver all the other dishes. I imagine our dinner was not the only
time they'd ever steered outside their buckwheat noodle boundaries, but
if you go there I'd recommend sticking with the soba. It was pretty good
and interesting as well. Not only did the soba come with a cold sauce in
which I mixed chopped fresh scallions and wasabi, but it came with a
different hot sauce as well. Even neater, as we finished our soba a
thermos containing warm water that the soba was cooked in arrived at our
table. You're supposed to mix that "broth" with the left over cold sauce
from your soba and drink the concoction as a soup. I have to say, it was
pretty good and a nice way to end the meal.
This meal was a good reminder lesson for me.
This is weird but I've felt guilty not being as excited about certain
types of Japanese food as I have about others. As long as I didn't
acknowledge that I was viewing Japanese cuisine as monolithic and
uniform I was torn about my professed love of Japanese food and my
preference of certain dishes over others. As soon as I realized I had a
view of the cuisine that was not as detailed as it should be I realized
that my love of most Japanese specialties was not inconsistent with my
lack of excitement about nabe or the cold kelp appetizers we got.
That said, since we ate them at a place where they weren't the specialty
maybe I just have to find someone who makes them well to truly decide.
Time will tell.
As with many cuisines experienced in the United States,
the traditions, flavors, and culture of countries with diverse
populations and foods gets concentrated into one stereotype of that type
of food that gets replicated in infinite instances with infinitesimal
variations. Americans have expectations about what it means to eat
Chinese, Mexican, and Italian food as well as less mainstream cuisines
like Japanese and Indian. Some cuisines survive this transmogrification
better than others. There are great sushi and Indian restaurants in this
country. Authentic reproductions of specific regional cuisines they're
often not. More like "greatest hits" editions with adjustments made for
what restaurateurs think Americans will like. Chinese and Mexican
cuisines tend to thrive in areas where people of those ethnicities
cluster. And conversely don't eat Chinese or Mexican food in most of the
country where it's been transformed into a gross almost cartoon-like and
depressing rendition of two great cuisines. I found Mexican food
completely gloppy, heavy, and deeply unappetizing for the first 25 years
of my life until I lived near Watsonville, California for roughly a
year. It's there where I got to benefit from the fact that a
concentrated population of Mexican-Americans, many of them agricultural
workers, brought authentic (or at least what I think is authentic as
I've never been to Mexico) and vibrant flavors of Mexico in the form of
many small establishments. While it may not be politically correct,
ethnically profiling the clientele of a restaurant is not a completely
unreliable way to judge whether an ethnic restaurant is serving up a
piece of home.
Recently Debbie and
I did an exercise where we ranked the countries we'd most like to visit.
I'm not sure how she prioritized, but food was a major factor for me.
Given that I've spent significant eating time in Japan, England, and
Israel, they weren't on my list, though I'd return to each in a
heartbeat. Here is my current stackranked list of the countries in which
I;d like to spend some significant eating time:
And I'm sure many more places I just can't think of at
the moment, or don't yet know enough about.
Obviously, after writing a long paragraph on how
national identities are not granular enough to describe most cuisines,
my list should probably be more detailed describing regions I want to
visit. But given how long it is, and how long it's going to take me to
eat my way around the world, this will have to do for now.
And since Italy is at the top of my list, here we come.
The trip is still some months away, and given the lag between eating,
writing, and posting on this site, the writeups will be even further
off. That said, Italy is definitely next. I bring it up now because I've
just finished describing our trip to Europe. And in the final days of
that trip the first thing I was thinking about was where we were going
to go next.
I have known for at least twenty years that I want to
visit Italy. I've had opportunities before, but have never taken them.
And the opportunities have never been just right. In general, I have a
large capacity for high expectations. I've found that overdoing this can
lead to disappointment more often than is truly warranted. For that
reason I try to lower my expectations. And to be honest, my expectations
for Italy are enormous. I've not really made a serious effort at
lowering them, yet. And because of that I've been waiting to go there
until I could spend the right amount of uninterrupted time experiencing
the place. That time is this year. We're only planning on going for a
week and a half, but half the time will be in Emilia Romagna. Some would
say this region is the capital of good food in Italy - ham from Parma,
vinegar from Modena, and tons of Parmagiana Reggiano. Rome and Florence
are on the agenda as well. The south, Sicily, and other regions will
have to wait until next time. Bottom line, expectations are high. And of
course, all of it will be documented in gory and glorious detail right
here on this site.
In the meantime, there's plenty to write about before
then including trips to Tokyo, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas,
San Francisco, and New York, as well as the hunt for the best bagels in
the world in Toronto, Canada.
How cool. We've received mail from a reader with an
alternative view on our recent "vegetarian exchange".
Subject: Non hate-mail from a vegetarian :)
Hi there, After reading yesterday's post, I wanted
to write and tell you that I love your site even though I'm a vegetarian.
I grew up eating meat, but gave it up when I was 12. All because of a
dream about biting into a chicken McNugget and having it squeak at me. As
ridiculous as it sounds, that dream really did play a role in me giving up
meat altogether. I don't do it for animal rights, or anything like that,
or even because I grew up in a religion that is known for vegetarianism
(Seventh-day Adventist. I simply can't get past the texture.
But I found
your site last year and love reading your fantastic descriptions of all
the amazing food you eat. I have to say that I actually wish I ate meat so
I could experience the same thing.
I know I'm limiting myself and missing
out on the most delicious foods, but at least I can come to your site and
read about how fabulous it all is!
Thanks for delighting us with your
great photos and mouth-watering recaps of your dining experiences!
How nice. :) We're glad to continue to provide
this public service for vegetarians the world over. If you can't eat meat,
you can read about our carnivorous adventures.
It's about 4.5 months after we finished our trip to
Europe and I've finally got just about all our adventures posted here on
the site. My friend Kira
said she's been getting sick of reading about
London, so I suppose now is
a good time to "come home". Spending a month in Europe was great. The
roughly three weeks of it that we lived in London really let us explore
what the city had to offer from a food perspective. It wasn't easy. We
basically ate out lunch or dinner every day we were there. As exciting
as this sounds, at some points it really was quite a bit of work.
For anyone living in or traveling to London we now have a
pretty decent take on where to eat in that great city. Our London page now
includes: 3 restaurants we loved, 10 restaurants we really liked, and an
additional 12 that you don't need to waste your time with. You can also
peruse the 13 we didn't have time to get to. Granted, giving you an
overview of 25 restaurants in a city with thousands is not even tantamount
to "scraping the surface". But still we felt that while there were likely
many wonderful dining experiences in London that we didn't experience, we
certainly had our fair share.
If I had to do it again, I'm not entirely sure what I
would do differently. Some ideas come to mind: I might have tried to
explore the country more and really find some interesting cheeses at their
source; I might have worked harder to find more holes in the wall to dine
at; I might have eaten more Indian food; I might have eaten more
traditionally British food (then again, maybe not). London is a wonderful
place to visit and has a ton to offer for the food "inclined".
One thing I definitely would do if I went back is go to
The Fat Duck.
It's funny. The night we ate at Waterside Inn, the waiter asked us if we'd
eaten down the road at The Fat Duck. He asked if we'd ever had Lobster ice
cream. Heston Blumenthal - the chef at The Fat Duck - is a student
of science. And he's exploring new techniques to help judge which flavors
belong together in a dish. The waiter at Waterside Inn was certainly
complementary, but you could tell that he thought that the restaurant down
the road was "out there". The more we read about Fat Duck, the more
interesting it sounded, unfortunately, by the time we realized we wanted
to go, we'd run out of time in London. And sure enough,
The Fat Duck just got awarded it's third Michelin star this month.
(That's right, of three Michelin triple-starred restaurants, two reside in
the small town of Bray 30 miles outside London). Given that we've already
eaten at the other two 3 star establishments in England - Waterside Inn,
and Gordon Ramsay
- it sounds like a trip back is in order.
Another milestone in tastingmenu.com history. Monday's
post on Gordon Ramsay's at
Claridge's has touched off the first pissed off mail from a reader.
(I believe it's also the first
Lauren Fan Mailô.) Here's the transcript from today's wacky back and
I just discovered your site and read about your lunch
experience at Gordon Ramsayís and just had to say that I feel such
affinity and empathy for Lauren, because, as a vegetarian among meatloving
foodies, I often have to content myself with a plate of sautťed veggies
while everyone else dines on lamb and fabulousness. Itís disheartening,
because meatless dining does not have to equal boring dining, however Iíve
found that many chefs and foodies alike donít dare dive into this arena.
There is a stigma about vegetarians, that you, your
very self, uphold (and I quote, ďLauren is as into food as a vegetarian
can beĒ), that they do not/cannot enjoy food as much as meat-eaters, and
that line of thinking is entirely false. Itís just that we choose not to
Please stop diminishing and devaluing this moral
choice, as the only hinderance of a truly gastro-hedonistic lifestyle we
have are attitudes like yours; the thinking that if thereís no meat, the
mealís not complete.
Ha. Thanks for the note. A few things:
- I think itís fair to say that a vegetarian can only be into food so
much, and itís not judgmental. Itís like someone saying their really
into shows, but will only wear blue ones. They are as into shoes as a
blue shoe lover can be. :)
- Note: I wasnít questioning laurenís love for food. I was questioning
her ability to enjoy it fully given her self-imposed restrictions.
- I understand restricting your food intake for personal reasons Ė I
keep kosher at home. That said, Iím not enjoying food to the full degree
thatís possible because of my choice. I donít feel bad about it. It just
- You should read my writeup on
- I am not judging you or Lauren for you choices. But I will say that
itís a bummer to have her along to dinner and have her not be able to
enjoy all the things we eat. We want to share the experience with our
- You should read Jeffrey Steingartenís chapter on vegetarians (Vegging
Out). While Iím not making value judgments on vegetarians, he makes
some compelling arguments.
- And finally, laurenís appearing to waiver in her vegetarianism. Who
knows she may join the dark side soon.
Well, Iím not going to continue this on a
point-by-point basis, but I do find it very small minded to think that
oneís enjoyment of a meal hinges upon being able to dine upon the same
items as yourself. Iím disheartened to find that you believe the foodstyle
is steamed vegetables and not much else. On this point, you are sorely
The challenge is not to blame the diner for
their choices/tastes/likes, but rather to accommodate them and serve the
same quality of food that one would serve a ďregularĒ customer. You say
poor vegetarian for missing out. I say poor chef for not being
able/willing to adapt.
Did you read the writeup of Arpege? It was an
almost entirely vegetarian meal that I LOVED!
I did read it. Itís nice that you were
pleasantly surprised at the creativity and dexterity employed by the chef.
However, it does little to offset the negative
attitude Iíve seen elsewhere on your website. However, Iím still working
around this analogy you presented, ďI think itís fair to say that a
vegetarian can only be into food so much, and itís not judgmental. Itís
like someone saying their really into shows, but will only wear blue ones.
They are as into shoes as a blue shoe lover can be.Ē
It would be valid if all vegetarians ate were
grapes. But only then.
Ok. well, Iím sorry you feel that way. Letís leave
it at this. You can love and enjoy food just as much as anybody else. But
I get to enjoy a superset of the food you do. :)
Postscript: for some reason
Debbie was particularly incensed by
this exchange and wanted me to point out that Lauren's vegetarianism is
not a moral decision.
Here's my bottom line: 1) I do not judge Lorien
for her choice to be a vegetarian. I feel bad for her that she doesn't eat
meat. It's yummy, 2) I will judge Lorien for being a touch sensitive and
misunderstanding my comments, 3) I do not judge Lauren for her choice to
be a vegetarian (moral or otherwise), but 4) I sure wish she could try all
the yummy things the rest of us eat all the time.
Our last opportunity for an interesting meal in London was rapidly
approaching. It had to be something special. While I longed to repeat
some of the meals we had, I also can't help but want to try new things.
We settled on a compromise. As
Gordon Ramsay's restaurant on Royal
Hospital Road was so fantastic, we decided to try his outlet at one of
London's upscale hotels - Claridge's. I was assured countless times on
the phone that
Gordon Ramsay's at Claridge's was the twin of the
original with the chef unpredictably moving between the two locations
ensuring that the food was of the highest standards. Finding out that
there was a Chef's table sealed the deal, and we all trudged off to the
Chef's table located in the beautiful and spacious kitchen at Gordon
Ramsay's at Claridge's.
We were a bit of a sight with cameras clicking
and notes being taken on every detail, but that's part of our fun, and a
requirement so that you can hear about what happened right here on the
site. We also mentioned countless times (both on the phone and at the
restaurant that with the exception of our one vegetarian, we had no
restrictions, and the kitchen should prepare as many different dishes as
they cared to give us. This set of instructions had served us so well at
other restaurants that we reiterated them here too. Other than Lauren's
vegetarian dishes we all got the same things, but hey, if they're great,
Lunch started off in the foyer of the
restaurant drinking champagne and eating canapes. These included a
buttery foie gras pate with a deep nutty flavor as well as a
taramasalata with caviar - both to be spread on little pieces of toasted
bread. These were yummy, but didn't set a good tone with
neither were vegetarian. Lauren's dietary restrictions, lament them we
may, should still have been a factor in canape choice as the restaurant
knew that she was veggie. Next up were little tempura fried
shrimps as well as deep fried pastries with cheese in them. Both were a
touch oily. Lauren compared hers to amusement park food. Not a ringing
endorsement, but I was still hoping for the Gordon Ramsay experience.
Going "backstage" into the kitchen in a
restaurant during business is always fun. You really don't belong there,
but you get to go in anyway. You feel special. The most important skill
you need in this situation is staying out of the way. This is true even
in the new class of restaurants that were designed with having a chef's
table in mind. At Charlie Trotter's this clearly was not the case as the
chef's table is squarely in the middle of the kitchen, whereas at Gordon
Ramsay's at Claridges we were in our own elevated corner of the kitchen
viewing various stations form our perch.
Lunch began in earnest with chilled mint soup
with a dollop of creme fraiche. This was a fine foundation for the
flavors to come but didn't make a big impression. Next up was a ravioli.
This was a variation on the wonderful seafood ravioli we'd had at the
original restaurant. This one was larger, and still had the brain-like
appearance, but the lobster and other seafood ended up being a bit dry
instead of succulent and smelling of essence of lobster. Lauren's dish
consisted of some pretty striaghtforward pasta and cheese morsels on top
of diced vegetables sitting in a tomato consomme. The consomme was
bursting with a savory flavor that I can still taste to this day. While
things were off to a bit of a mundane start, this consomme gave us hope.
It was a flash of what we'd found magical at the original Gordon
The kitchen staff was superbly friendly to us,
and relatively relaxed given that they were cooking for 60 or so other
people just outside the kitchen doors. As it turns out, not only was
Gordon Ramsay himself not there that day, but neither was the head chef
of the restaurant. While I have been thinking a lot lately about how
it's possible for the truly exquisite chefs to scale their talent beyond
one restaurant, I am not one to imagine that there couldn't be a
multitude of talented sous chefs perfectly capable of dazzling us with
their culinary skill. Not only did they cook for us, but at this point
in the meal they took us on a tour of the kitchen. This was quite nice
and we really enjoyed touring the stations, seeing everyone at work,
seeing how unbelievably clean, professional, and organized everyone was,
as well as the utterly huge cauldrons bubbling with the most recent
chicken and veal stocks that were the basis of so many of the sauces
that ended up on our food.
As we returned to our table our next course
arrived - pressed and smoked hamhock and and chicken confit surrounded
by a ring of frisee with capers and diced tomato and a vinaigrette. This
was interesting and tasty. Alex felt there were too many capers. A
debate ensued between Alex and Debbie about whether that mattered.
Debbie pointed out that he could just not eat some of the capers. Alex
replied that he assumed he should eat everything put in front of him as
the chef intended it to be experienced that way. I found that eating a
little chunk of everything on the plate in on forkful was actually quite
a nice combination. I also sided with Alex in his argument with Debbie,
though I didn't agree that there were too many capers.
If our kitchen tour wasn't enough, our
friendly waiter showed up with a set of chef's white jackets for us to
don and announced that we were about to head back into the kitchen to
prepare out next course. Cool. While the food wasn't blowing us away
yet, the "activities" included in the meal, and the friendliness of the
kitchen staff really made the time enjoyable. We went back into the
kitchen and started preparing our next dish. In reality we only got to
plate it, but I think Alex and I were reluctant to do much else as we
didn't want to ruin our lunch or injure ourselves or anyone else. Once
one of the chefs had pan-fried our salmon, we all headed over to the
plating area to put together our dishes - pan-fried salmon on a bed of
crushed peas with fried potatoes, grilled asparagus, and a light sauce.
The dish was decent, though I have to imagine our slowness at plating
probably didn't help it in terms of reaching our mouths at optimal
temperature. I blame me and Alex for that. Lauren got a pea risotto. She
claims that Alex makes it better than they did that day. Since Alex
makes a mean risotto that's not out of the question, but still not a
super sign for a Michelin starred restaurant.
The next dish to arrive was a Roasted Cannon of Cornish
Lamb served with Confit Shoulder (cooked for 8 hours) white bean puree,
baby leeks, and rosemary jus. I love dishes that combine two
preparations of essentially the same ingredient (scrambled eggs with
caviar is another that comes to mind). I preferred the cannon over the
shoulder but it was a good dish. The lamb was incredibly juicy. Lauren
got a plate of what appeared to be colorful steamed, braised, and
sauteed vegetables. No matter how colorful, or artfully prepared, it was
still basically a plate of vegetables. I had one of the caramelized
onions which was quite delicious. But Lauren was undeterred in her
disappointment - essentially at the lack of creativity. It was still
basically a plate of cut up vegetables, no creativity, no star. It came
with a nice tomato sauce, but that didn't lift her spirits. Our lamb
arrived with a dish of truffled mashed potatoes. Not Robuchon's but
probably the second best I've ever had. (Though comparing to Robuchon's
is simply not a fair fight, as even a second best is a distant second.)
Dessert involved a cheese course; a Compote of
Blueberries with a Basil Pannacotta and Mint Granite. There were also
another couple of items including an additional pannacotta surrounded by
berries. Petit fours included the signature dark chocolate balls filld
with caramel, and frozen white chocolate balls filld with strawberry ice
cream. Those were truly delicious. Before we could finish those, our
waiter arrived with souvenir boxes of Gordon Ramsay chocolates as well
as copies of our menus.
All in all, eating at the Chef's table at Gordon
Ramsay's at Claridges was an exciting and thoughtful experience. This
was mostly due to being behind the scenes, the various inclusive
"activities" they planned for us (and I assume they offer to most people
at the Chef's table) and the friendly folks in the kitchen. That part of
the experience I recommend without reservation. I don't know whether it
was because they were only half-full and not spurred to do their best,
or because Ramsay and his head chef were nowhere to be seen, but the
food was unfortunately not exciting. It had some of the hallmarks of our
magical meal at the original Gordon Ramsay's but missed the mark in
terms of really nailing flavor, texture, temperature, and combination.
Mind you, the bar we're talking about here is high, but still
considering how pricey these restaurants are, I don't think the bar is
unreasonable. This was a tough experience as were hoping for an encore
of the original, and I wonder if we returned on an "on" night if
we wouldn't get food that was much closer to our expectations. Next time
we're in London, hopefully we'll have a chance to find out.
When we told Lauren and Alex we were heading
to London the first words out of their mouth were "Sugar Club".
Sugar Club is a
hip London restaurant where Australian Chef David Selex
creates tasty dishes with light oceanic and heavy Asian influences.
Needless to say, we waited until their arrival in London so we could all
go there together.
The restaurant is a hip "designey" sort of
an appropriate crowd. And I think the name is great as it evokes a sort
of pacific sensibility and gets you in the mood. While the menu had a
set of appetizers and entrees we intrepidly created our own tasting menu
by picking some from each side, and explaining to the waitress how we
wanted them brought out - essentially the items we ordered were parceled
out into two waves of complementary dishes, and we explained to the
waitress we would be creating our own tasting menu and sharing
everything. She seemed amused but up for our odd behavior.
Things started off with a
and Red Pepper Soup with Cabernet Sauvignon Vinegar. Soup that's
made from roasted tomatoes and red peppers is difficult to not really
enjoy. This one was no exception. This was followed by
Parmesan Salad with Anchovy and Sage Fritters. As much as I like
Parmesan, it's easy to make a boring salad by throwing together some
greens and some cheese shavings. However, the batter dipped and fried
anchovies with sage not only enhanced the dish but became the featured
players turning the salad into a nice foundation - which in this case
was exactly what it should be. We also got a
Tataki with Ginger Tosazu, Purple Shiso Cress, and Coriander. This
had an interesting flavor, and contrasted well with the other dishes.
Next up was the
Bayonne Ham which came on a plate with chili jelly and was
accompanied by another plate with a
nectarine and a Perroche goat's cheese crostini. This was really
yummy. The chili jelly and fruit contrasted nicely with the ham and
The second wave began with a plate of
Scallops Three Ways - Lemon Miso, Harissa Miso, and Yuzu Ponzu.
Splitting these little morsels was difficult but somehow we managed.
Each was delicate, flavorful, and delicious. Next up was the
Salad with Mint, Peanuts, and Lime-Chili Dressing. Having never
tried Kangaroo before this was an obvious choice. The dish was delicious
and the Kangaroo was a star tasting like a wonderful duck breast with
red delicious centers of a series of slices of excellently cooked meat.
The dressing and salad went great with the meat.
This was followed by the
Artichoke, Grilled Asparagus, and Broad Beans with Ragstone Goats
Cheese, Piquillo Pepper, Caper and Currant Relish;
Duck Curry with Charlotte Potatoes, Pearl Onions and Crispy
Crispy Steamed Pork Belly with Pan-Fried Daikon Cake, Pickled
Ginger, Chili Sambal and Sweet Soy Glaze. These were all quite good and
accompanied by a bowl of
Peas - which were delicious, buttery and nicely seasoned; as well as
a bowl of
truffled mashed potatoes. I'm sure that everyone else in the
restaurant really enjoyed these seemingly fine potatoes, but through no
fault of the Sugar Club we couldn't. It's a mistake to order mashed
potatoes in the weeks following a bowl of Joel Robuchon's version of the
staple. You can't help but compare, and given how incredible Robuchon's
are, comparisons are never kind. But that couldn't take away from an
altogether fun and yummy dinner.
Chocolate Mousse Cake with Star Anise and Blueberry Compote; really
Fritters with Cinnamon Ice Cream; and a plate of
chocolates. At the center of this plate was a lone and soon to be
fought over chocolate chip cookie. The cookie itself was probably the
low point of a delicious array of desserts. But the idea of the cookie
was momentous. Why don't more restaurants serve chocolate chip cookies
for dessert? I love all the various creations, and imaginative
desserts that I've been lucky enough to taste. But sometimes simple is
best, and a fantastic chocolate chip cookie can be a wonderful dessert.
I'm shocked that this is the first time I've seen it, and I hope it
becomes a trend.
For those readers that live in Seattle and
have eaten at
Dahlia Lounge, Sugar Club is its London twin. Sugar Club is a both
warm and trendy in a fun way. The food is original, but comfortable with
fresh and interesting flavors. Really good Asian fusion is hard. Sugar
Club has it down. The Australian influence helps differentiate as well.
If we lived in London we'd be there once-a-month for sure.
I should probably mention that Alex and Lauren
had another successful and tasty new year's eve party. Here's the
last year. Since the theme is always fondue, i found a recipe for a
truffle fondue and posted it recently. As Alex had some white
truffles, I figured, why not. Unfortunately the fondue was not that
great. Don't get me wrong, melted cheese and shavings of white truffles
are certainly lovely to eat any time. But the whole thing was just too
mild. Derrick from the excellent food site
Obsession With Food also
wrote in about the recipe to let share the following:
"Just noticed something in
that recipe from Saveur you posted. The headnote helpfully tells you to
avoid non-Italian fontina, but they don't narrow it down enough.
Classically, one should use authentic Fontina Val d'Aosta; other Italian
fontinas exist but none can compare to the real thing, which is high up on
the list of world's greatest cheeses. Of course even the other Italian
fontinas have their merits, and I'm sure the fonduta was delicious
regardless if you used the authentic stuff or one of the others."
Thanks Derrick for the Fontina intelligence. I'm
not sure which one Alex used.
Some interesting notes from friends and
readers of tastingmenu.com today as well as some neat circulation milestones.
My friend Scott has been writing a food blog. It's not
so much about loving food as it's about
loving food too much.
Not only have we hit over 20,000 homepage visitors (actually over 21,000 as of today),
tastingmenu.com now delivers about 10,000 page impressions a month. I forget how many
people come here via Google. It's shocking.
Speaking of Google, here's a neat trick: search for "bagel
recipe". We're first. Yep, first. Wacky. This is what must have led
Dean Allen to actually try the recipe and
report on his results
on his Textism website. Very very cool. He also recommends a couple of
modifications to the recipe. As soon as I get a chance I'll try them out
and report back.
Speaking of bagels, you can expect an in-depth report on
bagel bakery in a few weeks. We got to visit and go "behind the
One person wrote to ask what camera I use to take all
the food photography. Up until a few days ago it was the
Sony DSC-F707. But I just got the
Sony DSC-F828. It's very very cool. I have no idea how to use it.
I'm counting on Peyman to
Jean-Marie Amat used to be the chef at
restaurant outside Bordeaux. Last time Lauren and Alex went there they had a fantastic
meal. Since then
Amat was fired and went on to open
Bon in Paris. Along with
designer Phillipe Starck they created a hip and
slightly odd restaurant with a selection of dishes that doesn't appear
to have highlighted the side of Amat that Lauren and Alex saw in Bouliac. To be fair, we showed up for Lunch only three days after the
restaurant had re-opened from it's August vacation. The not-small
restaurant was eerily empty for most of our meal until an odd couple sat
down at a nearby table towards the end of our visit.
The design of the restaurant was odd to me. Sort of like
the set of a 1980's Stevie Nicks music video with flowing white sheets
draping everything, and candelabras. Picture that set in a ski lodge,
with one room to the side with a huge table in the shape of a cross with
space constellations pictured on its surface and a courtyard with a
furry facsimile of a small pig staring up at another candelabra covered
in melted wax. Not sure what he was going for, but I didn't go along for
I wrestle sometimes with whether it's fair to judge a
restaurant based on ordering a bunch of items that require little
cooking. The truth is that there are so many things that go into making
a wonderful meal, this is an easy argument to make. It is fair to judge
a restaurant based on every bit of food they put in front of you. So
what that the slices of cured ham didn't require hours of preparation.
They do require someone to know how to pick their pork, and have
purveyors that can supply the very best. And sure enough while the
slices of cured ham we had at Bon were good, at
before they were amazing.
Lunch included: gazpacho; a raw tuna dish; a crab salad
that alex loved; a foie gras terrine served with figs that actually made
me enjoy the figs; a plate of cured spanish ham; oscietra caviar with
all the fixings (I know, who the hell eats like this? I guess we do); a
string and fava bean salad; goat cheese wrapped in grilled eggplant; and
beef tartare (yes, we had beef tartare) with "grosse" frites.
Maybe it was our timing but it felt like Amat was going
for something with this restaurant that just didn't click. Alex really
loved his crab dish, but beyond that nothing really stood out as special
or memorable. The food was certainly not bad, it just was. And when
you're in Paris - as we knew from two unbelievable meals the day before
- you can do better than that. Way better.
Welcome to the first post of the new year. I'm pretty
shocked that we've stuck with it this long. But so far we're having fun.
If you've been reading along you know we're at the tail end of our long
trip to Europe eating mostly in London, and having a few meals in Paris
as well. Two of the last three postings of 2003 were of two of the best
meals we've ever had -
L'Atelier de JoŽl Robuchon.
While I don't think that these postings are to be preserved by every
reader for posterity, quite a bit of time does go into many of them, and
I worry that because of the format of this site that once they are a few
days old, nobody sees them.
If you weren't offended enough by clip shows on television
then this is for you. Pretty cheap if you ask me, but here are some of the
key writings from 2003 I want to make sure you didn't miss:
And don't forget our best food photography of the year:
We're also feeling good that we think the site has gotten
better. Not just in terms of coverage - trip to Europe and all, but the
site itself as well. Search works across the site and within pages, we
have cool contextual ads, instructional assistance at the top of certain
pages and more. That said, we're not resting on our laurels in 2004. We
have big big plans. These include improving the interface for the site
even further, more photography, coverage of additional places including
Japan, more Manhattan, and a bunch of time spent in Italy! We also are
planning new ways to get you even more closely connected with some of the
best chefs, restaurants, and ingredients on the planet.
Thanks for your continued attention. Tell your food
obsessed friends about tastingmenu.com. Stay tuned.