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.
Other Coast Cafe,
Seattle, WA, October, 2003 —
I grew up in metro Boston, Massachusetts. There is a construct from
Boston (and the east coast in general) called the "sub shop". It is
typically small, often serves pizza, has a sign that was paid for and
carries the logo of Coke or Pepsi, and often has Italian-Americans
behind the counter. The "sub" that is the object of the shop comes in
many varieties both hot and cold. The poster child for the cold sub is
the Italian consisting of deli meats, cheese, some veggies, oil, salt,
and pepper. The prototypical hot sub is either the meatball (Debbie's
favorite) or my personal nirvana - the steak and cheese (to which I add
Something about this toasted roll filled with hot steak and mushrooms
fresh off the grill, and melting cheese blanketing the entire concoction
makes me very very happy. For me this makes other comfort food about as
comfortable as an international plane ride in coach. The crunchy roll,
the hot steak and cheese, the savory mushrooms, all combine to make this
incredibly delicious, and satisfying sandwich. When someone told me that
just such a shop existed in Seattle, I held my breath for fear of
getting my hopes up too high.
And finally one day I found myself in Seattle during lunch and heading
to the Other
Coast Cafe. Their motto is "East Coast Sandwiches, Northwest
Attitude". Hmmm... I could do with the east coast sandwiches, and I was
hoping the northwest attitude didn't detract from the sandwich goodness.
I walked into this "hip" sub shop and was immediately bummed that there
were no steak subs. I suppose that there could be other sub shop
archetypes other than my personal favorite from Boston. And after all,
they did have tons of deli meats and cheeses (from Boar's Head) as well
as the classic meatball. So I ordered two subs, one meatball and one
I got my sandwiches and they were hot. Burning hot. I was psyched they
toasted my sandwiches, but I almost burned myself. My sandwiches came on
French bread, not sub rolls. Chalk one up for northwest attitude over
east coast sandwiches. Also, they claimed the meatballs would be spicy.
I didn't want spicy meatballs, I wanted traditional meatballs, but I'm
happy to try. In fact they weren't spicy, they were herby. They were
good but didn't ring true. One more for northwest attitude. My Reuben
was big, and toasty, and there was some delicious mustard on the
generous portion of meat. But it wasn't an authentic Reuben.
My take on Other Coast Cafe is that it suffers (at least with me) a
little from the expectation it set. Maybe the motto should be "East
Coast Sandwiches Transformed by Northwest Attitude". That's really what
it is, and they do a good job at that. But it's not my sub shop from
Boston. That said, for big, hot, fresh sandwiches, with quite a bit of
flavor, Other Coast Cafe is a fine place for lunch.
Seattle, WA, October 19, 2003 —
A little French bistro is just what Seattle needs. And
Le Pichet does a
nice job fulfilling that need. Tile floors, laid back, open for
breakfast on weekends. It's nice. We had a quick lunch there that
included: Grilled Pork Sausage on a Baguette with Caramelized Onions and
Black Currant Mustard; Creamy Pumpkin and Sherry Soup with a Slice of
Blue Cheese from the Rhone Valley; and Air Cured Country Ham.
The sausage sandwich was the best. It had an interesting and unique
flavor and the caramelized onions were way delicious. Eating the
bread with the sharp mustard was delicious. The soup was decent. And the
blue cheese seemed like a good idea to me, but it just didn't work. The
strength of the cheese distracted from the subtlety of the soup. Maybe
subtle is a generous description as the flavor of the soup was hard to
determine. Ham? Always a good thing. They gave us a generous portion.
Le Pichet was cute, warm, and friendly inside. We need to go back for
Bellevue, WA, October 7, 2003 —
There used to be a half decent Chinese restaurant in Bellevue, WA. They
changed names at one point and became
Ming's. I wish I could
rave about its most recent incarnation, but it was just ok. Hot and Sour
Soup was good and spicy, but overly vinegary. The shredded pork did not
have good texture. The potstickers were not pan-fried well. The frying
needs to leave the steamed shell in tact, these were falling apart.
Scrambled Egg with Shrimp could be delicate and delicious, or a pile of
fried egg with shrimp. This was the latter. Boring. The Chicken with
Black Bean Sauce didn't hang together. We went a little overboard and
also got some Peking Duck. It didn't have enough flavor. This restaurant
used to be quite decent. It feels like they're aspiring to be something
more than they were, but somehow they've backslid. Bummer.
I think that I should be doing more
cooking with pistachios (free registration required).
What's the difference between
cider and juice?
the former Michelin guide inspector who is blowing the whistle on what
he claims are some of their more questionable practices (free
registration required). I have to admit I am a little bit gleeful at
this, though I don't know if any of it's true. I certainly suspect that
some of it is true. And if it is true, it just highlights for me again
that restaurant reviews and food journalism are just as subjective as any
amateur sharing their opinion. This is not to say that some people don't
try to be fair and balanced, but this veil of absolute objectivity is
simply silly. I'm going to need to write about this in more detail soon.
A day in the life of a
photographer. Some very cool food pictures.
The Food Section both mentioned this book -
Cooking by Hand - to me just recently.
I still haven't eaten at
cookbook looks gorgeous.
Kirkland, WA, October 3, 2003 —
In my quest to find delicious Italian food in Seattle, I am always ready
to try something new. Imagine my surprise to find out a that a highly
recommended Italian restaurant was not only within striking distance,
but located on Seattle's east side. Kirkland to be exact. For those of
you who don't know (and I can say this as I live here), from a culinary
perspective Seattle's east side is to Seattle proper as Boise is to
Manhattan. It's a restaurant wasteland.
Cafe Juanita kept coming up in
conversation as the place to check out. And check it out we did.
Before we got started some breadsticks arrived. These were ok. Slightly
cheesy. I always like more cheese flavor. Maybe that's my skewed
perspective. Then things began in earnest. We started with Seared Foie
Gras with Candied Ginger, Local Peach and Vin Santo. The foie gras was
pan-seared wonderfully. The sauce was sweet. But a lot was going on in
the dish. Felt complicated. I'd also long wanted to try baccala. We
ordered Baccala Brasata with Tomato and Taggia Olives. The baccala was
luke warm and oily. I didn't enjoy it. It tasted like fish soap. I'm
assuming this wasn't representative of what everyone raves about. We
also got some Prosciutto di Parma with Fall Fruits. It's hard to go
wrong with prosciutto. It was good.
We ordered a couple of salads. First wasArugula, Grilled Nectarines, and
Fennel with Pine Nuts, Lemon, and Ligurian Olive Oil. This dish had no
identity. Just a bunch of stuff on a plate. Second was Local Pear, Pine
Nuts, and Parmesan Cheese with White Truffle Oil. The flavors in the
salad were great. That said, I found the pears mealy, but I think that
might just be me. I'm not really a pear guy. Some other dishes followed
that unfortunately were not that memorable: Taleggio Caramelle with
Marsala Grilled Black Mission Figs, House made Figure Eight Corzetti
with Chianti; and Parmesan Soup with Pasta and Black Kale. We had high
hopes for the soup but it didn't have huge flavor. Sounded much better
than it was.
The entrees included Duck Breast with Farro, Cavalo, Nero and Black
Mission Figs. The duck was decent. And we also got Rabbit Braised in
Arnels with Ligurian Chickpea Cake, Pancetta, and Chanterelles. The
rabbit was "eh". Too much truffle oil and the chickpea cake was just not
good. The texture just wasn't enjoyable and there wasn't any significant
At one point in the meal Ted said: "I couldn't see the possibility of it
getting any better." This was a significant bummer. But there was one
other dish we ate, Piemontese Plin of Rabbit with Sage Butter. Frankly,
the plin kicked ass. Simple, flavorful, and rich. If the entire meal had
been like this (or even if half of the dishes had approached this) I
would be eating at Cafe Juanita on a regular basis.
What can I say about a restaurant that was really terribly average but
served us one absolutely stunning dish? My first instinct is to wonder
if they should just open up a Rabbit Pasta stand. I would be there
not just every week, but every day. Delicious. My second thought is that
they must be capable of doing that to more than one dish. I doubt it's
just luck that they nailed that one item. So I think I will have to
return at some point and hope that there are some other dishes that can
equal that incredible rabbit.
The Food Section has some great links
New York Times new (temporary) food reviewer, as well as a
fire at Per Se (free registration required).
Seen the ads for Atkins friendly food at places
industry is now fully in the throes of carb-reduction/rejection.
Speaking of dieting,
Anna Nicole Smith lost a lot of weight on
TrimSpa. They say it doesn't have
Ephedra anymore, but I don't understand
this thing actually worked. I know my friend
Scott would say it's all b.s.
other than fewer calories and exercise.
I hate to link to a site that charges money, but
I'd love to read
Ramsay's pancake recipe (paid subscription required).
I've been thinking a lot lately
about how we describe our eating experiences, and especially about our
"rating" system for restaurants. I worry about consistency, and I want to
make sure we're being fair and providing a reliable service. I'll write
more about this soon. But in the meantime, the LA Times has a good article
Michelin Guide (free registration required).
7 Stars Pepper Szechuan
Seattle, WA, September 23, 2003 —
Seattle is not a major home for great Chinese food. There are a couple
of restaurants that do a decent job, but world class Chinese food is
simply not to be had. (Feel free to let me know if you disagree. I would
love to be wrong.) 7
Stars Pepper Szechuan Restaurant was actually quite interesting. I
wasn't the dream I'm chasing, but things were different enough that the
meal kept our interest and attention throughout.
Things started off with "amuse bouche" of pickled vegetables - celery,
carrot, and cabbage. It was a great spicy fresh taste. We also got some
broiled peanuts that had an anise flavor. They were not my favorites.
This was followed by some hot and sour soup. It had a major heat that
crept up on you along with a yummy smoky flavor.
Next up was an order of Fried Dumplings. These were crisp and pretty
delicious as a matter of fact. We also had some dumplings in a Hot Pot.
These were not so good and had a slightly soapy flavor. One of the more
interesting items on the menu was the Cumin Lamb. I had to give credit
to the restaurant for serving things that stood out from the generic set
of standardized fare that infests Chinese restaurants across this
country. It was different so of course we had to order it. And sure
enough it was a bunch of new flavors for us. And everything we ate was
7 Stars is an interesting family run restaurant tucked away on the 2nd
floor of a small shopping mall in Seattle's international district. I'd
like to go back and see what other interesting dishes they have that I
haven't typically experienced at Szechuan restaurants in this country.
This is part 2 of our write-up on our visit
to Trio. This is the
first time a write-up has spanned multiple entries. I suppose that when
you have a 25 course meal that's to be expected. Part 1 is located
here. When we last tuned in, we were starting the second half of the
second half of the meal started off nicely with Chilled Sweet Corn Soup
with Spicy Cardamom Ice Cube, Peaches, and Basil. The soup arrived in a
placed in a bowl. When the tube was removed, the soup rushed out the
bottom of the tube and
filled the bowl.
It reminded me of
There was also bits of microbasil as well as Thai chilis in the soup.
The soup had a super laser-like corn focus. Very smooth consistency. It
may have been even a touch too smooth for me. But the flavor had a long
finish. The chili's gave it a nice subtle but acute spicy undertone as
well. The popcorn garnish was cute.
with Grapefruit and Oxalis? This was a lobster "chip", scrambled
lobster roe, grapefruit, and
oxalis (which is an herb) under lobster consommé. This dish has
super lobster focused flavor. There was good concentration in the
consommé. I found the dish interesting and good. Not one though that I
would crave again. The lobster was followed by
Estate Osetra Caviar with Kola Nut Ice and Milk Foam. The little
"bubbles" of caviar were mirrored by the bubbles in the milk foam. The
bubbles in the foam were like little caviar ghosts. This dish was not
only another interesting combination but tasted great. This wasn't the
first point during the meal where we felt like we were being stretched
and challenged to open our minds to new flavors. And actually the real
challenge was to put away our pre-conceptions about whether these
combinations of ingredients belonged together. Sometimes I wonder if
people should just eat food without knowing what it is. That way they
can focus on the flavor. So many people are so obsessed with knowing
what they're eating. Need to investigate this further. Back to the meal.
Next up was
Coconut Milk, and Ten Bridging Garnishes. The garnishes included
avocado with chili, coconut with vanilla bean, curried brioche with
fenugreek breadcrumbs, passionfruit, cashews and cashew powder, green
tomato, and lime. All I can say is wow! This reminded me of a riff on the
Miang Kum. I forgot to ask but I have to imagine that was part of the
inspiration. The coconut "ball" in the middle looked and felt like a soft
boiled egg, but it was no egg. It was this inflated ball of coconut filled
with coconut milk. When the plates arrived we deflated the coconut not
really sure exactly what was going to happen. As the
milk oozed out
we knew it was time to eat our way around the plate. It was way cool. The
flavors kept changing as you'd take little bits of coconut and coat each
piece with the various bits and pieces that formed a ring around the edge
of the plate. Delicious, and fun to eat. I have a thing for food that
requires some construction. It makes me feel like I have more of a stake
in the food, and gives me more of a sense of accomplishment when I'm done.
simple name for this next dish -
Iowa Pork with Figs, Truffles, and Fennel
- belied how intricate it was. There were five kinds of pork on the plate:
1) tenderloin, 2) shank rillette, 3) short ribs, 4) rind, and 5)
prosciutto. This massive selection was accompanied by fennel, truffle
puree, shaved truffles, and fig. Tjeerd, who is always a little
disbelieving when I tell him about good food opportunities had finally
passed the point of no return in terms of loving this meal. This dish was
simply amazing. Every facet of the plate was flavorful and delicious. I
think I can safely say that more work went into cooking this dish for us
then goes into preparing most meals consumed each day across the planet. I
don't believe that a lot of work is necessarily a leading indicator for a
great tasting dish. But in this case the time investment clearly paid off.
Also, I love that we had freshly made
pork rind at
this high end restaurant. After the pork we got a bit of a palate
cleanser, Frozen Muscadine Grape and Lemon Verbena.
This was brought out to us on a block of ice. The ritual and interaction
of how they brought this over to us was very cool.
If you're into Japanese food (or watch Iron Chef
enough) you'll notice that often dishes are built in a fashion that's
representative of some real world place, event, or other important
cultural theme. For example: this dish is representative of Spring in
Kyoto, etc. That's pretty much what arrived next in front of us.
Specifically, Swan Creek Rabbit with Forest Vegetables and
Evergreen Vapor. We ate forest rabbit almost literally in the
forest. The plate of food arrived such that it was essentially floating in
a bigger dish like a
bain marie. The outer dish was filled with evergreen leaves and hot
water was poured on them as the dish was served. The effect was that of
forest scent wafting up from the dish, surrounding the rabbit and us as we
ate. Like I said, we were in the forest hunting and eating
little furry rabbits. When we put our sympathy for the rabbits aside
(which took me about a nanosecond) we dug in to a delicious dish. At first
I thought the evergreen vapor was a little affected. But with smell
playing such an important role in flavor, even if it was a bit shticky, it
still contributed to the experience and flavor of the dish. Which by the
way was great. There were a variety of rabbit preparations and each was
Awhile ago I skimmed the book
Outlaw Cook by Matt Lewis Thorne. I skimmed it because it droned after
a bit. But it had one chapter on something called the Plowman's Lunch.
the combination of cheese, bread, onion, and beer that made for a standard
lunch for workers in Britain. In the book various combinations of these
basic ingredients make for an appetizing chapter. I'm not a food expert by
any means, but I was particularly proud of myself that I got the reference
when we got our next dish -
Hereford Hop with Guinness, Onions, and Fresh
Yeast. This was Chef Achatz' interpretation of the Plowman's lunch.
And the combination of ingredients was delicious. Tangy, sharp, bitter,
crisp, all coming together in a satisfying, slightly puckering
combination. I can still taste it today.
If some of the previous dishes seemed out of the
future, then the next two dishes sealed our impression. First was the
Capsule of Mango-Spicy Yuzu.
This was a yuzu thin pastry dough capsule filled with
togarashi accompanied by a glass of mango yuzu juice. The spicy
capsule was complemented by the cold sour-sweet chaser. The second future
dish was the Tapioca of Roses.
It consisted of rosewater tapioca, macerated raspberries, clove gelee, and
heavy cream, all layered parfait-style into a thin tube. If the corn soup
reminded me of
this dish confirmed that somebody involved in the conception of this dish
did a lot of beer drinking in a past life (I have no actual proof of
this). This was another dish that not only tasted good but made me laugh.
Another small touch: the three raspberries on the side as garnish were
warmed before plating so their aroma would have more impact when the plate
was placed in front of us. Details details details.
the swing of dessert, the raspberry "shotgun" was followed by
Bucare Chocolate, Toasted Mustard Seed,
Caramel cake. This was topped with caramel ice cream. It was like a
fancy Snickers cake. It was
absolute chewy, chocolatey, caramel, perfection. We probably should have
stopped here as our final dessert item was a
It was like a frozen air freshener. But that couldn't dampen my spirits
after this delicious and exciting meal/adventure.
When we were finally done we got little thank you
cards with the our dishes listed out as well as some kind words: "On
behalf of the entire staff at Trio, we would like to thank you for joining
us. We hope you had an exciting evening savoring all the flavors of our
restaurant. We appreciate your support for the culinary arts and we look
forward to seeing you again soon." That sentiment really nailed it for me,
especially the parts about savoring all the flavors, as well as
"supporting the culinary arts". I love that we got to try everything. I
don't like the idea of missing out on things. And really Trio's "20" course tasting menu was almost a modern art installation. And we were participants
helping them continue too express their art, push boundaries, and
generally try new things.
Eating the 20 course tasting menu at Trio is
definitely an experience that people who are really excited about food
should have. I don't think anybody would say that it's something you
should do on a regular basis (or maybe even more than once a decade).
While I haven't yet gone and had a six course meal at Trio, I could easily
imagine six or even nine dishes out of the 20 we had that would make for a
fantastic dinner that I could have much more frequently. There's one
reason why I really enjoyed Trio - the food. Many of the dishes we had
were simply special. Not just well executed, but frankly delicious and
enjoyable. Not every dish hit this bar, but it didn't matter. Because they
were trying. I'd rather they try and not bat 1.000 than pull their swing
and end up with something typical and boring. In their way, Trio is
trying to do something special. For that reason it's worth giving them a
try. For the dishes that hit that extra high mark (and many do), it's well worth going back.
Evanston, IL, September 21, 2003 — Is
cooking an art or a science? The first obvious answer to this question
is: who cares? And frankly that's mostly what I think as well. But
ending this entry right here might make for a lousy read so lets delve
further. So if I care just enough to have an opinion, it's not clear
that my opinion even really counts. I'm no expert on cooking as I'm not
a great cook. But lack of expertise or talent has never stopped me from
having an opinion before, so why start now. I think cooking is somewhere
in between an art and a science, it's a craft. The dictionary
defines a craft as "Skill in doing or making something, as in the
arts; proficiency. An occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or
skilled artistry". Combine that with the works of
Harold McGee and that sounds about right to me.
Why all this convoluted and affected conceptual
preamble? Because the topic for today is really creativity. At some point
in the future I will write up a long discussion of exactly what I look for
in a restaurant or an ingredient to determine that it's something I like
or love. And while the end result - the food - is always the basis for
bulk of my opinion, there are other factors - like creativity. And I'm the
kind of person who values effort. The effort needs to pay off, but effort
is important. I'd rather go to a restaurant that is trying to do something
special and fails half the time, then a restaurant that's not trying and
has no failures - just a series of well executed safe dishes. And
creativity is not about outlandishness to me (though that doesn't detract
for me). It's about an effort to make a memorable dish. It's about trying
to be special and unique. So, if you're ready for some "creativity", read
Chicago is not a city I visit often. And while I
have nothing against it, there are just usually places I'd rather
be. That said, it is home to one of the most memorable meals I've ever had
eating at the kitchen table at
Charlie Trotter's. That was special. So I
found myself needing to head to Chicago for roughly 24 hours. And of
course we would need dinner. My constraints were challenging. Sunday night
isn't exactly a major restaurant night. Many are closed. And I didn't want
to repeat somewhere I'd been, though I would eventually love to go back to
Charlie Trotter's. And while I pored over the web trying to decide where
to eat I happened upon a restaurant in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, that
was trying to do something special. It's chef,
Grant Achatz, was an
alumnus of the French Laundry in Napa, and some write-ups I saw on the web
had debates over what people thought of some of the "wackier" dishes
served there. I picked up the phone and dialed
In the course of making the reservation the
woman on the phone told me that I could choose between a six and a nine
course tasting menu. There's clearly no choice there, I took the nine. I
happened to mention that the only other time I'd eaten in Chicago was at
Charlie Trotter's where eating at the kitchen table was quite an
experience. The woman on the phone told me that Trio had a kitchen table
as well. Was it available? Yes it was. But at the kitchen table you had to
order the twelve course tasting menu. Had to? You couldn't stop me. And
that's when she mentioned that there was still the option of the twenty
course tasting menu. Twenty courses. My mind boggled. Twenty courses. Was
it possible? Could I last? This seemed like a challenge to me. My
competitive spirit can get the better of me at times. This was one of
those times. Twenty courses it would be. Strangely enough I had to spend
five minutes convincing the reservationist that we really wanted the 20
courses in the kitchen instead of nine or twelve in the dining room. She
kept insisting that the right way to experience Trio for the first time
was in the dining room. Be that as it may, I kept explaining to her that I
don't come to Chicago often, I may not be back for some time, and there
was no way in hell I was going to sit in the dining room shy eight courses
and without a view of the action. No way. She finally caved and we started
wondering how we would survive.
I knew that the chef was not intending to feed
me as you would a foie gras producing goose, so I expected that the 20
courses would be sized and paced appropriately. But still... 20 courses.
That's a marathon. El Bulli in Spain does 30. (During the meal I came to
realize that the Chef at Trio was influenced by among others Ferran Adrià
at El Bulli.) To me, offering a 20 course tasting menu is not just a
challenge to my abilities to experience it, but a challenge to creativity.
How do you deliver 20 courses that are interesting, flavorful, balanced,
memorable? How do you deliver 20 courses that people can actually finish?
I've never even wanted to try those challenges at some family restaurants
where if you eat the - fill in the blank with: 30
scoop ice cream sundae, 72
ounce steak, etc. - you get it for free. I did however want to
see if Trio could make me a great meal, in 20 steps.
Trio is yet another restaurant proving that
location is not what it's all about. Evanston, IL is not famous for its
collection of quality restaurants. In fact, I have no idea if it's famous
for anything at all. Trio is located off the lobby of a small hotel. The
restaurant is certainly nice, but understated as well. And given the
magnitude of what the chef is trying to do, the restaurant's relatively
uninteresting decor, and the understatement of it's entrance is somehow in
contrast. But I found that reassuring. The chef was trying to do something
huge, but was doing it from a small and unassuming home. We were escorted
to the kitchen table, which sat elevated and out of the way on a platform
to the side of the kitchen. We had a good view of the action, but not a
great view of the details. Still we didn't feel too isolated.
Awhile back as I prepared for, and eventually
enjoyed, a meal at
The French Laundry, I first encountered Thomas Keller's
sense of humor. It was certainly not my first encounter with the mix of
humor and food, but it was the first time I'd seen someone have a little
cleverness when it came to what most people consider "high end cooking".
Whether I think it's clever or not almost doesn't matter as I view at as
an expression of the chef's creativity. It's part of the emotional
experience they are trying to create. The example often used from Keller
is his dish of Pearls and Oysters - which in fact is oysters resting on a
bed of tapioca custard. Grant Achatz at
Trio, having worked for Keller brings even more of that same sense of
humor to his meal. Case in point, our first dish "Cheese
'n Cracker". Any of the dishes with their monikers in quotes were
cleverly titled. The "'n" in this case doesn't mean "and" but refers to
the fact that the cheese is in the cracker. Specifically, a
homemade "puffed" cracker whose pocket was syringe injected with melted
Wisconsin cheddar. I can't explain how hard the timing must have been on
this dish. You can't take a bite of it, you have to put the whole thing in
your mouth because as soon as you bite into it, the cheese oozes out all
at once. For those over 25, it's like
Freshen Up gum made with cheese and
cracker materials. (And I mean that in a good way.)
was followed quickly by a
Watermelon Juniper combination that was so beautiful it could have
been in a museum. It hung off a fork suspended in mid-air. And as
surprising as the burst of cheese was in my mouth from the previous dish,
this had its own moment of inspiration. It was like a bite of savory fruit
juice. I don't know any other way to explain it. Next up was
Urchin (Uni) with Frozen Bananna, Puffed Rice, and Parsnip Milk. This
dish was also flavored with Saigon Cinnamon. The first two items on the
menu were interesting and good. This dish was super super interesting and
absolutely great. On paper it seemed like an odd combination of
ingredients. In my mouth they all made perfect sense. Weird? No. New? Yes.
Good? Definitely. This dish was almost like a dessert breakfast cereal. I
realize quickly that this meal was going to tax my already modest food
A quick beverage made up the next course -
It included black truffle oil, hazelnut foam, star anise, and peppercorn.
I'm not a big Christmas person (in fact I'm really not a Christmas person
at all), but to me this drink tasted like Christmas. I
appreciated the new flavors even if I wouldn't be buying 2 liters of Spice
Water to take home. I didn't need to wait long for something I would take
home - Free
Range Hen Egg with Nasturtium grown in Trio's Garden. The egg sat on a
smoked pepper and lemon brioche, along with the leaf, bloom, puree of
nasturtium and lemon sel. This dish had such incredible contrasting
textures and flavors. This dish made me laugh. I just started to giggle
because the combination of flavors was so unexpected and so enjoyable. The
lemon periodically poked onto your tongue from underneath the the other
flavors. Very cool.
Not as cool as what was up next.
Explosion. Imagine a ravioli filled with liquid black truffle, black
truffle shavings, and seated next to a dab of broccoli puree. The fish was
beautiful to look at and lived up to its billing. It literally was a black
truffle grenade in your mouth. This was yet another dish that you had to
eat in one bite. One spectacular bite. You dragged the ravioli through the
puree and then popped it in your mouth. If not for the delicate nature of
the creation, I could imagine eating a bag of these "snacks". (Don't think
i'm diminishing the impact of the dish by using the word "snack". I'm
not.) At this point in the meal, the pacing was great. We were moving
fast. And that's what was required to get through 20 dishes. We also got a
nice warm roll
with a little
mound of butter. The butter was incredibly airy but didn't feel
saw them being
prepared, and were super excited to get Trio's version of a Caprese
salad - Balloon
of Mozzarella with Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil, and Burnet. What's
burnet? It's a vegetable that tastes like a cucumber. This dish was salted
perfectly, and visually gorgeous. The individual flavors of the different
heirloom tomatoes was much more diverse than I imagined possible. The
balloon of mozzarella was just cool. Working my way around the dish trying
each variation with some of the mozzarella I was struck by the attention
to detail and the perfect salting down to the exact perfect count of salt
crystals added to the dish. Beautiful tasting and looking.
Next up was
Poached Loin of
Lamb with Floral Infusion, Artichoke, and Orange. The citrus puree,
crisp artichokes, and herbal tea shavings were nice complements to the
lamb. The dish was also accompanied by a consommé geleé which mirrored all
the flavors that were on my plate along with some shaved Thai peppercorn.
A dish that's interesting isn't necessarily delicious. Everything on the
plate was certainly beautiful and tasted good individually. But somehow
the balance could have been better. I wish the lamb (or the artichoke for
that matter) had been more featured. And instead it felt like just another
supporting member of the cast. This dish was a bit of a muddle even though
maybe a more focused version of it could have been fantastic.
Next up was the famous "Pizza"
dish I had heard talk about but didn't know what it was. One covered plate
arrived at the table for each person. With a simultaneous flourish, each
removed to reveal a needle standing upright in a bowl full of wax. Perched
atop the needle was a centimeter square slip of rice paper covered with a
tiny mound of pizza "spice". I didn't ask, but I assume this was made by
taking a pizza, drying it out, and then shaving it down to it's
crystalline pizza essence. There was a deep tomato powdered flavor. I'm
not sure it was enjoyable as much as it was amusing. This felt to me like
how the Jetsons eat pizza. If we'd added water I truly believe it would
have grown to full size. It was kind of funny. Some chefs might call this
silly and a waste of time. Maybe it was. But I did think it was cool that
Chef Achatz was trying new things. And if that meant that sometimes he
went overboard, I didn't care, because at least he was trying. Glad I
experienced it even if I wouldn't necessarily be ordering more of it for
halftime at the Superbowl.
Our next dish was
Cap of Prime
Beef with Parsley Root and Leaf, Green Peanuts, and Sassafras. It was
like some kind of 21st century Thai beef salad. After that was our "Salad".
Deyhdrated pizza powder? Why not salad ice crystals. They juiced romaine,
watercress, and arugula, and froze the results. The shavings made up this
dish and were topped with olive oil and Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar. Salad
granite. This dish was shockingly good. Even though it was another clever
surprise, this is something I'd want to eat again. In fact, I am getting
quite bored of the fruit/herb palate cleansing combinations that I get at
many restaurants. Why go half way with the herb. This really was an
intensely salad flavored set of ice crystals. And the vinaigrette was
deliciously complementary. Yum. My understanding is this is a dish
borrowed from El Bulli. (I still have to get the new El Bulli coffee table
cookbook to confirm, or I could just go to El Bulli. But that will have to
wait for another time.)
I wondered when the foie gras would arrive. I
didn't have to wonder much longer. Soon we were presented with
Pushed Foie Gras
with Dolga Crabapples and Cider. Crabapple glaze of cider, foie gras
"jimmies", crabapple sorbet, and a savory slice of crabapple all made for
an unbelievable dish. This was an apple dish. The foie gras bits melted in
the mouth to provide a perfect counterbalance. This was the best dish we
had eaten so far in the meal. Just an astoundingly mouthwatering mix of
sweet and savory, tangy and smooth flavors. I can still taste it today.
(I'd still like to taste it today.)
This was followed by a dish that was super
interesting and beautiful but didn't imprint the same flavor memories that
the prior dish had. We got
Huckleberry Soda with
Gelled. These included: corn, sage, smoke, milk chocolate, and pine
nut. As neat as the whole dish was, I didn't love it. It was like a Yoko
Ono art exhibit. That said, the chocolate cube was one of the most
incredible deep, rich, creamy chocolate flavors I have ever tasted. It was
incredible. I suppose even in a dish that I found memorable only for its
effort to be interesting, there was still an example of incredible flavor
in the chocolate. The counter I guess was the "smoke" cube which though
beautiful, tasted icky.
Mushroom-Mint was next. Chanterelle Ice Cream with Mint Sorbet. You
suck on it like a hard candy. The savory mushroom and mint flavor
combination was quite nice. I need to point out that though we ordered the
20 course tasting menu, we ended up with 25 courses. The mushroom-mint
sucker marked number 13 and therefore is the halfway point. Yes. At this
point we were only half way through the meal. And it was somewhere around
this point that we got up from the table (at the waiter's suggestion) and
took a break. We walked outside for a bit, cleared our heads, and got our
energy back to try more things. I know I shouldn't be looking for sympathy
that we had to eat a 25 course exciting meal, but I do want to note that
as enjoyable as it was, it still required a degree of concentration and
This meal was so huge we'll need to cover it in two entries. So, stay
tuned for part two. To be continued...
Someone I just showed my site to asked my if it was just about
restaurants or about cooking as well. Granted we've focused a ton on
restaurants, but I promise we'll do more cooking over time. He forwarded
a link to this site I'd never seen. (It's amazing how you think you've
seen everything on the web and then you find yet another very cool
website.) It's www.hertzmann.com.
Basically a site filled with very cool recipes. But don't think you
understand what I mean without going there. For example check out this
amazing foie gras recipe. He goes into a level of detail that I
love. (And in fact, in a future section of this website you'll see just
how much.) Honestly the food looks so simple and special. Or this
of cauliflower recipes complete with pictures of every single one.
The navigation is sometimes weird on the site, but as often as it may be
a bit confusing (lots of windows popping up), it's just as often fun.
For example this
cool page with a bunch of different soup recipes. This guy is
focused. I love it. Very very very cool.
Seattle, WA, September 19, 2003 — It's
a small restaurant. It has a small kitchen. It's located in Ballard, a
neighborhood of Seattle, that's sort of out of the way. There's a garden
in the back where they grow fresh herbs. The cuisine is French. There's
a loyal following of customers who like the homey but upscale food. And
the staff is super friendly. Welcome to Le
From the name along you know you're somewhere where they welcome people
who love food. And yet, they were still surprised and excited by our
request to "just make us dinner". We didn't order, we just put ourselves
in the hands of the chef. Only limitation is our one vegetarian.
Otherwise, bring it on. And soon after we sat down some rolls from the
Tall Grass Bakery in Ballard arrived with some
Plugra (my favorite butter) for spreading. They were yummy, with a
slight tanginess on the finish.
Soup showed up next. Specifically,
Basil Soup in Clarified Duck Sauce with Leeks, Peaches, and Basil
from their Garden. This was complex, rich, and deep. The peach
undertones were delicious. The vegetarian version was a bit salty. After
the soup we got
Braised Endive. This dish was super rich and complex as well.
It smelled almost peanut-buttery. Yum.
Foie Gras? No problem.
Foie Gras with Choked Cherry Sauce, Cognac, Port, and Duck Stock
Reduction. The choked cherries were like red currants. The Foie Gras
was buttery. Debbie absolutely
loved it. Alex and I thought a touch more searing could have made it
perfect. It didn't matter much though, as the sauce was incredible. It
reminded Alex of a curry and
Peyman tasted fruit, raspberries.
The sauce was rich and deep but had flashes of bright flavors. Sensing a
theme? Very complex and interestingly flavored sauces. More were ahead.
For example, a
Mint Infusion in Vegetable Stock. Also very good. Next was a
of Fresh Dungeness Crab and Steelhead. The steelhead , we were
informed, was swimming in the Pacific the previous day. The dish was
complemented by a reduced crab stock and fresh tarragon. The crab was
shredded in a super rich sauce. I thought it was just good. Alex thought
it was great. Lauren hit the
jackpot next with the
Jackson Sheep's Cheese Blintzes. These were incredibly good. I mean
'dream about them' good.
Next to arrive was
Albacore Tuna with Shiso Plum Sauce. At first I wondered if the tuna
was overcooked as it wasn't really pink. But in fact it was quite juicy.
I guess you always need to be aware of your own expectations coloring
your meal. I ran my theory by Peyman, he disagreed and thought it was
slightly overdone. But DebDu agreed with me that it was quite good. The
vegetarian option was an
with Wild Plum Sauce. Lauren thought it was delicious.
It's funny, at this point the strength of the restaurant, the
incredible, deeply complex, and richly flavored sauces, were starting to
wear us down. Don't get me wrong. Each was unique and pretty amazing.
Always a set of flavors that I've never experienced. But the fact that
every dish had one started to fatigue a little. Then again, we were
doing an extreme version of a typical meal at Le Gourmand. We were only
up to our fourth course, and more were to come. And while the sauce
focus was certainly typically French, the sauces were anything but
typical. The flavors were fresh, and interesting. Anyway, back to the
meal. And maybe the kitchen recognized that we needed a break as the
next item to arrive was a
Champagne, and Rosemary Infused Sorbet. Palate cleanser.
Then we got the main courses of the evening.
Chanterelle Mushrooms, Veal Medallions, Veal and Duck Stock, Port, and
Breast with Cassis. The duck was clearly the best of the bunch. We
also got sides of
and Potatoes; and
Mushrooms in Tomato. And in traditional fashion, the main part of
the meal closed with a salad. This one was composed of
Calendula, Nasturtium, Bachelor Button, and Rose. I didn't
think I was in the mood for a salad, but in fact it was peppery and
Jackson's Sheep's Milk Cheese aged in Chestnut Leaves with Poppy Seed
Crackers helped as well. They make their own crackers daily using
seeds for poppies they grow themselves. Overkill? You decide. But
remember to try them before you judge. They were good crackers.
Dessert was up next. This included: Poached Pear in Caramel Anglaise,
Chocolate Ganache, and Crème Anglaise; Profiteroles with Chocolate and
Caramel Sauce; Creme Brulee with Brandied Raspberries; Red Currant
Sorbet; Lemon Ginger Ice Cream; Chocolate Praline Ice Cream; and
Cigarette Tuile Cookies. Wow. They pulled out all the stops to try and
make dessert match the depth of our meal. And this showed all night. The
waitstaff took great care of us (despite the fact that our waitress
described everything as either "amazing" or "incredible"). And the chef,
Bruce Naftaly (who seemed like a real sweetheart) came out at the end of
the meal and was super flattered that we were so appreciative of the
diversity and deliciousness of the meal. Apparently nobody had asked him
ever to just make them dinner. And we were rewarded with a great meal
where none of the dishes were even on the menu. Le Gourmand is an
understated gem with delicious food, and a friendly staff that are happy
just making you happy. Can't argue with that.
Awhile ago I posted a link talking about Amazon's new "Search Inside"
feature. It lets you basically have reference books like
Larousse Gastronomique available online for free. There's another
cool online reference for a variety of things including food -
Wikipedia. It's a
collaborative encyclopedia. Not sure how accurate it is, but as with
many net projects, people appear to post with the best of intentions. It
has cool entries on:
Queer Eye food expert offers
Valentine's recipes courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes about
Williams as in Williams Sonoma.
Bruce Cole on his excellent Sauté Wednesday site has a great writeup on
to use salt.
I would have bet a lot of money that the Superbowl half-time "show"
would have no reason to ever be mentioned on this website. Apparently,
I was wrong.
A website all about cheese.
Nothing wrong with that.
Valentine's Day food articles have begun. Don't make
the same mistake we did (though if you're going to make this
mistake, copying us isn't a bad way to go). Valentine's day is not a
good night to go out to restaurants. Basically, people who go out to
dinner only once a year go out on Valentine's Day. The restaurants have
to cater to these people's narrow tastes and enormous expectations. Not
a good night to go out. Though I will admit we're going to try it this
year, but we're going to go somewhere where "lovers" don't go for
romantic meals. Maybe Vietnamese food or Korean.
Handmade marshmallows. That's cool! (Free registration required.)
OK. Now it's time to explain the new link in
the upper right hand corner of the page.
Tastingmenu.com started out as a hobby for me
and a bunch of friends. It's become a regularly visited website with
tens of thousands of hits a month. People from all over the world visit,
hopefully find useful information, and sometimes live vicariously
through the eating experiences we document here. We don't do this to
make money. But it costs money to do this nonetheless.
We pay for hardware, software, internet
connectivity, photography equipment, phone calls, travel, and of
course... food. We don't go out to dinner and beg for comps in exchange
for a good write-up. We pay for dinner like everyone else. And given
that some (but luckily not all) of the places we eat are rather pricey
this can be an expensive proposition.
It's been suggested that we charge for access
to the website. I don't have any ideological problem charging for the
website, some adherence to a moral code that requires any digital
creation to somehow be in the public domain and free for everyone. That
said, I also know that 1) if we charged, we wouldn't make very much
money as charging for content on the internet is a difficult proposition
at best, and 2) if we were to charge, then fewer people could enjoy the
If we were to collect money in some way you
might imagine we would spend it on the technology and food listed above.
But the truth is that we'd likely spend almost as much money on
technology, travel, and food with or without the website. But there are
things we'd like to do that go beyond our current eating out budget.
There are long term projects, events, content, and write-ups that
frankly we need a capital investment to deliver. We'd spend the money
either on the costs of putting on an event, or on hiring staff to start
working on some of these projects on a more full-time basis.
You might ask: what about those ads on the
side of every page? Aren't you raking in the bucks? In all honesty, we
get about $10-$15 a month from those ads. They're really not a great
revenue generation device at this time. There are four reasons we keep
them there: 1) they look cool, somehow the site looks more professional
with the ads, 2) there are sometimes useful links, Google does a good
job serving up interesting stuff, 3) they might make real money some day
even if they don't today, 4) as a side effect of having them there we
get good page impression tracking for free from Google, thanks Google!
So, if you enjoy the site, and would like to
see more of it, as well as some of the special content and events we'd
like to start delivering, please give what you can.
Thanks to amazon.com Honor System for providing this service. If you have any
questions, please don't hesitate to let us know at
One more bit of administration for the geekier folks in the audience.
You may have noticed two new links in this entry. Comments and Permalink.
Comments is a way for all readers to add their thoughts to the site. The
service is provided free of charge to us by
Haloscan. I'm uncomfortable
having all the comments stored on a third party site, but I figure we'll
try it for awhile and see how it goes. The permalink item is now there
for other folks to link to our site. I know it's dopey that it's taken
this long to get permalinks, and even dopier that we don't have an RSS
feed. The problem is that this site is generated manually. I've
investigated every software out there for creating sites, and none of
them really do what we want. This means that we're going to need to
write our own software to make this website. In the meantime (as we have
no time for writing our own software), everything is done manually. It's
slow, but it works.
Tokyo, Japan, September 12, 2003 —
I do love Japan very much. The culture, the people, the language, the
design, the food. Everything. The fact that I get to travel there
once-in-awhile is really a bonus. And while I often get to go out to eat
on my own, there are sometimes work related dinners to attend. Those are
always cool opportunities to get to know people you're working with.
Unfortunately I never get to pick where we go to eat. I've tried, but
the folks who pick always seem to get stressed out by this idea.
Sometimes they say I'll pick a place that's too expensive. When I
reassure them that costliness does not equate to quality, they kind of
don't believe me. I finally got one dinner to be at a yakitori place. I
decided that these dinners always ended up at restaurants that were just
ok. But that our hosts insistence on ordering a bunch of food that's not
the specialty of the house.
Sushi at a soba restaurant? Nabe at a sushi place? After a lot of
back and forth they finally agreed to pick a yakitori place for dinner.
My only caveat was that we needed to order only yakitori. No tempura, or
other Japanese cuisines that weren't the specialty of the house. My
gracious hosts agreed, and we were off to
Well, I suppose it was bound to happen. It was only a matter of time
given how many restaurants there are in Tokyo. But the odds are so good
there of having a great food experience no matter where you turn, that
it's still kind of a surprise. I have had some of the most incredible
Yakitori (essentially grilled meat and sometimes vegetables on sticks)
of my life in Japan. The best ever was in Kyoto, and happened before the
creation of this site, so I have no idea what it was called. It was
fresh, mouthwatering, stunningly flavorful, and delicious. To this day I
can remember almost every bite. Satomura was not that. It was just eh.
I'll admit, it would have been a decent restaurant here in the U.S., but
in Japan it wasn't even close.
First things first. We were told that we weren't just eating yakitori,
but we were eating high quality ji-dori yakitori. My best understanding
is that this means they use free range chicken. What came out of the
kitchen after this introduction was plate after plate filled with
various parts of chickens grilled on sticks. Chicken hearts, chicken
stomachs, chicken cartilage, chicken livers, and once-in-awhile...
chicken. I tried everything. I'd never had hearts, stomachs, or
cartilage before but I felt like I had to try it at least once.
Honestly, it wasn't that enjoyable. The hearts were probably the best
thing, and they were just kind of chewy. the stomachs were not
interesting, and the cartilage was just yucky. It was really mostly a
texture thing with all three as opposed to a flavor thing. It's amazing
how much texture dictates preference when it comes to food. When the
straight chicken meat came out, it was actually pretty good. So was the
bacon wrapped asparagus.
Tjeerd may have had the best point
of the night. As dish after dish of various chicken parts came out he
observed that it was as if the value of each dish was calculated by how
many chickens had to die to make it. The more chickens the better.
"Chicken feet? Well there are two of those per chicken. Chicken hearts?
That's way better. You have to kill twice as many chickens to make the
same dish." Bottom line, I may try the weirder stuff again, but first
I'm going to find a yakitori place where even the basics are memorable.
I was bummed to have out last meal on a bit of a down note, but our trip
Takashimaya Times Square the next morning to stock up on snacks for
the trip set my mood straight. Japan is amazing.
Tokyo, Japan, September 11, 2003 — The
more I think about it, the more I may be falling deeply in love with
really really high quality Italian food. There is a simplicity about
many Italian dishes, a clarity of flavor, and a freshness that I think
about for months after I've eaten a representative dish. Who knew that I
would have to travel all the way to Tokyo to get a perfect example of
this cuisine. It's no surprise given that a) we picked an Iron Chef
challenger that won, and b) so much food (of any style) is better in
Japan than in the U.S.
in one of the typical windy streets that criss-cross the Ebisu district
of Tokyo (and all of Tokyo for that matter), is a
designed little restaurant. It's small, hip, has
on the walls, and has a wraparound window that surrounds the kitchen
that's at the heart of the establishment. There you can see
Uetake cooking up a storm. He moves so fluidly it's like ballet.
We just sat and watched him for10 minutes towards the end of the meal.
He acknowledged we were there, but went about his business, calmly,
professionally, beautifully. I was full when I started watching, but
started getting hungry again by the time I was done watching him cook.
A person who we think was the maitre'd ended up being our waiter for the
evening. We think it was because of his super English skills. He'd
apparently spent time in the states working. He was also unbelievably
friendly, helpful, and flexible. We explained to him that we wanted to
try as many things as possible and he was very receptive. He even
suggested that they give us half portions (tasting menu portions) so
that we could try more items. Super nice.
First up some
a bowl of beautiful and pristine olive oil showed up. This seemed
fine until we took a bite. The olive oil had a subtle but distinct spicy
kick. Typically if you get a spicy olive oil for dipping it will have
the pepper seeds and other pieces mixed in. The fact that they took the
time to get the oil spicy and then clarify it of even the tiniest
impurity really felt like a level of attention to detail that would bode
well for the rest of the meal.
up was our
selection of appetizers. They took the time to subdivide the dishes
so that each of us could have our own portion. How do you make a raw
tuna dish in Japan at an Italian restaurant and have it be clearly
Italian with uniquely Japanese (understated) touches? You serve
Okra, Edamame, Cauliflower, and Tomatoes. Really just a dish you
could cry over. The tuna was so soft and tender. The flavors were so
fresh and Italian. If that wasn't enough, the Caprese was the best we'd
Carpaccio, Mozzarella (imported from Italy), Peas, Endive, and Peeled
Tomatoes. Awesome. The tomato was a concentrated bomb of tangy
tomato flavor. I don't know how to describe it. I couldn't tell if it
was cooked or not. How he focused that much flavor in that tomato I do
not know. But it was incredible.
There was also a raw fish appetizer -
Amaebi (raw shrimp), Peas, Tomato, and Cabbage. It was characterized
by subtle seafood essence that permeated every bite. We also had
with Shredded Spinach, Parmesan, and Eggplant. The flavor was warm
and earthy. The sauce didn't overwhelm but set a positive tone.
I think of Italian food, the first thing that comes to mind is a simple
spaghetti with tomato sauce. That's exactly what we had next. Simple.
with Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, and Basil. Unbelievable. Absolutely
unbelievable. Bursting with freshness and an incredible balanced flavor.
It couldn't have been simpler. And yet given how many attempts I've
tasted at this very same dish that have come up so short, I know that it
must be hard to get it this right. That's the only explanation I can
come up with for why I can't get this dish done this well anywhere in my
Spaghetti with Pancetta and Chinese Short Beans arrived next. A
gorgeous dish. The bright green of the beans, against the pasta
background was a sight to behold. The beans tasted almost like corn. The
sauce was delicious. It was a vegetable and quail stock with a touch of
tomato and cream. The spaghetti with tomato sauce was magical. The quail
was only fantastic. Meals like this are truly torturous.
Next up was
Garganelle with Pigeon and Vegetables. The sauce was yummy and
meaty. This was the same sauce from our pigeon appetizer with balsamic
vinegar added. We then had the
Grilled Greens. The veal had a touch of fat. It was so juicy.
Tjeerd declared it "most special".
I never thought you could combine grilled (yes grilled) lettuce
and cubes of zucchini and have it be delicious. But it was perfect. The
absolute right crispy, grilled texture, perfectly complementary to the
We then ate
Okra, Japanese Green Peppers, and Chinese Short Beans and Balsamic.
The balsamic was a perfect complement to the sauce which had a nutty
Eggplant, Arugula, Edamame, Cauliflower, and Potatoes. This was
juicy as it had lots of yummy fat on the meat. Tjeerd thought it beat
the veal and the duck. We fought over this. (None of the meat dishes
beat the veal. Trust me.) Again, a really tough problem to have.
was also quite good. Refined, special, unique. There was a dessert
- berries in wine sauce with rosehip ice cream. There was also
Cioccolato and Pistachio Nuts with Figs and Balsamic Vinegar. And
finally we also got a
Brulee with Coffee Jello. This last item, while not for me because
of the coffee flavor was definitely refreshing. Tjeerd compared it to a
caffe frappa he'd had in Greece. The berry soup was amazing. It was like
a microcosm of nature. A little live berry bush. The herbal aspects were
actually nice, not yucky. And the chocolate parfait, even with the
coffee flavor, was just perfect. Both the texture and the flavor were
The food at Canoviano was super interesting. It leveraged local seasonal
ingredients and imported the other ones directly from Italy. Tjeerd, our
resident designer rendered his opinion on the design "minimal but cozy".
The open kitchen in the middle is not just so the patrons can see the
cooking, but also so the folks in the kitchen can see the patrons
enjoying their meal. And enjoy it we did. The spicy oil at the beginning
of the meal really set the tone. It's not just the food that was making
us so happy either. The hip design of the restaurant, the amazing
service, the perfect portions, and the excellent timing all made our
meal so special. At one point when I got up to take pictures it set off
a chain reaction where the staff was worried that we were impatient for
our next course. This isn't just a Canoviano thing, (pardon the
generalization) but not an unexpected outcome for the incredibly polite
As great as the meal was, and believe me, it was superlative, it ended
with a cool little detour. Our English speaking host was opening a
bar/wine club downstairs below the restaurant. It wasn't open yet and
was being rented out to various people as wine storage. He led us down
these tiny stairs and through a Star Trek like door that receded when
you passed your hand over a hidden sensor. We walked through the door
and around a curvy walkway under the restaurant only to see a gorgeous
wine cellar behind glass, and the walkway open up into a beautiful
custom designed bar and lounge area. It was surreal that this amazing
creation lay buried under Tokyo with nobody enjoying it yet as it wasn't
set to open for a couple of months. Just another cool moment to cap off
an incredible experience at Canoviano.
Postscript: Michael, was in Tokyo
on business recently. He had only one night to go out to dinner. He'd
already had Chinese somewhere else in Asia. Of course I recommended
Canoviano. The verdict? He loved it. Cool.
Tokyo, Japan, September 11, 2003 — I
don't know why it sounds funny to me that Japanese cuisine has an entire
branch dedicated to deep fried pork cutlets - tonkatsu. After all we
have an entire branch of American cuisine dedicated to sliced cured meat
sandwiches - deli. Humorous or not, I knew I needed to try it. The most
famous Tonkatsu restaurant in Tokyo is
Tonki. I had assumed
that I would end up going there, but then I happened upon a
recommendation for another tonkatsu place called
place was supposed to be run by a a man obsessed with the perfect pork
cutlet. Someone who would go to any length for the ultimate tonkatsu.
When I read that he custom ordered
oil for deep frying I knew this was the place we must go.
Buried in the basement of the Yebisu Garden Place Tower Complex (that
also houses a restaurant from Joel Robuchon), Katsuyoshi is a small,
cool, spot with complementary industrial and rustic Japanese decoration.
It's both traditional and hip. And the big vats of custom oil in which
your food gets fried are right near the entrance with
entire process visible to any interested bystander. I was the most
Soon after we sat down a plate of mustard and
with some sort of horseradish-like stuff arrived. A soy-based sauce
accompanied. We also got some
It was hearty. Yummy.
We had tried to order a suite of various tonkatsu items. The basic
with lard (yes, lard) was delicious. I'm not surprised. We also
expensive version of the pork cutlet, but it actually came out dry.
I admit I'm not entirely sure what the difference was in terms of the
description. Though the sauces that accompanied were quite savory and
flavorful. There was a mound of shredded cabbage and some potato salad
(yes potato salad) on the side which were super complementary. One order
also came with a perfectly breaded and fried shrimp.
So here's the deal. If you want an absolutely delicious deep-fried
breaded pork cutlet, you can't go wrong going to Katsuyoshi. Not only
won't you go wrong, but you'll enjoy a juicy, delicious, crispy, freshly
fried, piece of cutlet. I'll admit I don't have much to compare it to,
but I would love to go to Tonki the next time I'm in Tokyo so I could
get a baseline. I'm also still trying to come up with a reason why I
need to order some custom oil.
Tokyo, Japan, September 10, 2003 — When
my interest in food started really getting serious, I also happened to
get to visit Tokyo a couple of times. It just so happened that this
coincided with a year of obsessive watching of the television show
Iron Chef. At some point I got the
bright idea that if I was going to be in Japan anyway, why not eat at
the Iron Chef's restaurants. Each of them had their own restaurant in
Tokyo (except ironically Iron Chef Japanese who worked at
Nobu in New York and
Morimoto in Philadelphia). Sure enough we planned an entire trip to
Tokyo to eat at every Iron Chef restaurant we could find. One of the
best we ate at was
Rochelle is the flagship restaurant of Hiroyuki Sakai, Iron Chef French.
Located atop one of Tokyo's seemingly countless futuristic skyscrapers
it occupies only part of the floor. The rest contains Sakai-san's cafe
and is private dining area. Our last experience at La Rochelle was
phenomenal. The place was packed. The food was exquisite, special, and
amazing French with Japanese soul. Our Persian waiter was a sweetheart.
And Sakai himself was in the kitchen.
Granted I should feel lucky to have such problems, but whenever I'm in
Tokyo I am torn between trying one of the 80,000-100,000 restaurants
I've never tried, or returning to one that I've been to before and
fallen in love with. On this trip I did my best to have no repeats, but
a visit to La Rochelle seemed like a requirement.
I did my best to try and make a reservation from the U.S. speaking a few
words of Japanese mixed in with English. I was repeatedly told they were
booked. For some reason I tried again from Tokyo, but this time had the
concierge at our hotel try, and there was no problem getting a table. I
think things had just gotten a bit lost in translation due to my
inability to speak Japanese. Given the challenge of getting a
reservation we were super surprised to show up to find La Rochelle
empty. It was absolutely empty. Sakai was off on vacation. Our Persian
waiter friend was there and thrilled to see us. But we were the only
table in the place. Later some other diners showed up, but it was still
weird. Our waiter explained that there was some national holiday and
that people still hadn't gotten back from vacation. We weren't aware of
one, but I suppose it didn't really matter. It was still weird to be
only ones there.
And while we were bummed that Sakai wouldn't be cooking for us, we were
still very excited to eat dinner. We didn't have to wait long. A
Amuse Bouche arrived in no time. It had a smoky meaty flavor as well
as pistachios as a nice complement. Yummy. A
also arrived with some soft butter on the side. So simple, but a lovely
combination. Why more restaurants don't serve bread warm, I don't know.
I think I can safely say that bread is almost always better warm.
Then they brought us a
platter with three items each: 1)
Flan with Shark Fin Consommé, 2)
Chinese-Fried Cuttlefish in Chestnut Oil. This was way cool. Three
from the sea. Each item's perceived simplicity belied the huge amount of
work that went into it. The flan was like a super flavored reconstituted
soft boiled egg. The cuttlefish which normally I am not a fan of, was
soft and delicious. And as it turns out, I still am not into abalone.
Too rubbery for me.
Next up was
(raw shrimp) with Canadian Lobster and Iranian Oscietra Caviar on Fennel
Mousse and Turnip. There was also an improvised variation of
Squid, Caviar, and Clam in Vegetable Soup, with Abalone from Hokkaido.
The shrimp, lobster, and fennel dish was fantastically flavorful and
delicately balanced bringing together all the seafood flavors like a
smooth warm ocean taste. The improvised dish was eh. We had asked them
for variation so I give kudos for trying. And invariably when you try
something new it doesn't always work. I think we sometimes forget what
it takes to perfect a dish and get it just right. This was a helpful
reminder. Since we are all sharing, we didn't mind too much anyway.
What better way to follow up the seafood than with two preparations of
foie gras. The first was
Gras sauteed with Radish on a Soba Crepe with Mushroom Tempura and Aged
Japanese Vinegar. The soba was a nice touch. The vinegar sauce
somehow had a softened flavor. Not as acidic as I was expecting. And it
was made without a stock. It was very good. The other dish was
Gras Croquette with Truffle and Champignon Sauce topped with a Parmesan
Tuile. The sauce was perfection - warm, bursting with savory
flavors. On the croquette with its ridged textured surface the sauce was
really amazing. So cool to deep fry foie gras in a gorgeous Japanese
croquette. The Japanese have an entire cuisine dedicated to frying pork
in this style (Katsu). French. Japanese. Cool.
Two kinds of soup arrived next.
Soup with Niblets and Spinach Oil, and
Soup with Cream of Tapioca. The corn soup was cold (i was surprised)
but delicious. Essence of corn, simplified and concentrated. The pumpkin
soup was not my favorite but it had an unbelievably smooth texture.
The fish course came next. First was
Grunt Fish in a Veal Stock with Grapes, Lentils, and Okra Tempura.
Delicious. Okra tempura - brilliant. We also got
Cod with Balsamic Vinegar and Oil. It was a pretty dish but the Cod
had an odd flavor. A little palate cleanser came next - a
Thyme Granite. Maybe herb sorbet and I aren't close friends, but it
certainly cleansed the palate and the lemon flavor was nice.
I already had known about Kobe Beef. I learned about Miyagi Beef. And
now I got to try Misawa Beef.
Beef in Red Wine Sauce with Mustard Blini to be specific. This was a
very nice dish. I realize "nice" seems like such a generic way to
describe it. But I mean stranger hands you a $100 bill nice. The dish
was incredibly well executed. The beef was like butter. Soft and super
juicy. The sauce very flavorful. The blini was a great counterpoint to
the beef both in texture and flavor. The Misawa beef made me feel good.
And as much as I liked the beef dish, the Squab was even better.
Breast and Leg with Cabbage in a Squab Stock. The leg was good (with
claw and all - hardcore!). The breast was the best I've ever tasted. It
was essentially a delicious steak, but lighter and gamier in a good way.
Very very juicy.
Dessert was just overboard. They make their desserts every day and put
them on a huge dessert cart. Our waiter offered us as much of whatever
we wanted on the cart. Not only was he being nice, but I believe much of
it would have been wasted if we hadn't eaten it. I felt bad not eating
more, but I was absolutely stuffed. Pear mousse, chocolate yogurt, ice
cream, various sorbets,
pieces of fresh grapefruit,
pies, cream pies, and a tarte tatin made with pineapple (is it still
a tarte tatin or just a pineapple cake?). And don't forget the
fours. I didn't taste even a fifth of what they had to offer. More
to try next time.
Was the experience the same as last time? At it's heart, absolutely. La
Rochelle is one of the best restaurants I've ever eaten in. The fact
that the dining room was empty, and Sakai was gone are what I think led
to the inconsistency. But the truth is, for me, a great restaurant is
not great because every dish is perfect. A great restaurant is one where
many of the dishes are incredibly memorable, and the chef isn't afraid
to try new things. Even when a dish isn't great, I'm often glad they
tried. Especially if that dish at least was interesting even if it
wasn't something I'd want to try again. La Rochelle is a singular
experience. I intend to go back, especially when Sakai is there.
Derrick Schneider of Obsession with Food has a couple of entries of
casual dinner parties he did with a bunch of
cool and yummy
I've always wondered about higher level theory with regard to matching
particular sauces with specific pasta shapes. The
Boston Globe has a take on this.
Nola.com has a cool
weblog about New Orleans food replete with food quote from George
Bernard Shaw. It's not update super frequently but has interesting
Tokyo, Japan, September 10, 2003 — The
tempura at Ten-Ichi
is absolutely perfect. It's also pretty expensive. I suppose I shouldn't
be surprised that perfection doesn't often come cheap. Nine pieces of
tempura and a salad for $70 a person is not for everyone. While I might
not be able to eat this way every day, I would certainly come back to
Ten-Ichi as often as my wallet could stand. Even if you can't do a whole
meal there, I think it's worth it to go in and have one exquisitely
fried shrimp. Be prepared though to be ruined from loving tempura of
Ten-Ichi is a chain of tempura restaurants all
across Tokyo. We had lunch at the original located in the high-fashion,
high-priced section of town called Ginza. The restaurant is a typical
warren of small rooms, wonderful traditional Japanese decoration, and
friendly staff. As a tempura restaurant it's separated from other
establishments by the tempura station manned by the tempura chef. The
station has a spot for all the raw ingredients soon to be coated with
the perfect tempura coating as well as a large vat of oil heated to just
the right temperature. A hood protects the diners seated at the bar from
oil spatters. Years of experience protect the chef.
I have often wondered whether I could enjoy an
entire meal of just tempura. Don't get me wrong, I love deep-fried,
batter-ensconced, seafood and vegetables. But an entire meal? As it
turns out, it's not a problem. In fact the only problem at Ten-Ichi was
stopping so that I would still have room to eat a fabulous dinner. I'd
also wondered how much difference there could be among tempuras.
Certainly I'd like something well-fried, without too much oil, crispy,
hot, and delicious. But I didn't realize how good it could get.
Ultimately for me it came down to the post-frying batter.
The ingredients were fresh. The batter I'm sure was some
special recipe. The oil was likely held to the highest standards. But
somehow the combination resulted in a tempura unlike anything I've ever
tasted. For starters was the way it looked. Instead of a glistening,
oil-sparkling, item straight from the deep fry, these tempura appeared
to have an almost matte texture. This was odd to me at first. Tasting
them confirmed the impressions of their visual appearance. The batter
tasted almost dry - in a good way. In addition, the batter stayed very
very close to the item it was encasing. Instead of the batter frying and
almost crystallizing like some I've tasted, this tempura batter stayed
very close to it's charge. And as free of oil as the casing was, the
item inside, be it seafood or vegetable, was bursting with moisture and
heat. The combination was absolutely special. I realized that somehow
this batter seemed to almost repel oil. There wasn't a hint of
greasiness in the taste. The rapidly replaced papers that served as
welcome mat for the tempura between frying and my mouth showed that
there was a touch of oil to absorb, but the taste was still absolutely
with kiwi and miso vinaigrette dressing preceded the tempura
procession. It was good. What followed included
mushroom stuffed with shrimp. This last item was shockingly delicious!
was soft, delicate, and amazing. I also love those Japanese green
Shisedo. Additional items included a "ball'o'shrimp"
(not sure how it stayed together), and a yummy tempura'd
Tempura is one of those deceptively simple
foods. Vegetable or meat and batter deep-fried in oil. How hard could it
be? As with most delicious simplicities, making it is not hard. Making it
to perfection approaches an artform. Our
tempura chef handled his frying utensil with precision and perfection.
The result was simply the best tempura I've ever had. Deep-frying with
these kinds of results is truly a skill that should be more common around
the world. In the meantime, Ten-Ichi awaits.
Tokyo, Japan, September 9, 2003 — It occurred to me that since we were in Tokyo
it was time to try one of the local delicacies - Kobe Beef. Alright,
it's not really local to Tokyo, but rather to Japan. As it turns out
this is really not so simple. Kobe beef is only the most famous (in the
U.S.) expensive beef coming out of Japan. It's certainly not the only
beef, and many in Japan claim it's not even the best. There's other
famous cattle in Japan. Different regions have their favorites, and some
are even immortalized in
As with every style of food in Japan there is
typically a restaurant that specializes in it - sushi, soba, tempura,
katsu, etc. With that assumption I set out to find a Kobe Beef
restaurant. I was surprised at first when I realized there aren't any. I
quickly figured out that Kobe Beef isn't as much a style of cuisine as
it is a prized ingredient. This may sound obvious in retrospect, but it
took me a little while to get there. Once I did the question was: which
style of cuisine would highlight the ingredient the best. Teppanyaki was
really the best choice. This is the style of cooking translated for
Americans in the form of the Benihana restaurant chain. And while the
Japanese version has fewer theatrics, it's still basically a big cooking
surface, fresh ingredients, and a chef cooking in front of you. The food
goes from cooking surface to plate to mouth very very quickly.
The big question to ask about Teppanyaki is
whether it really matters where you go. Certainly the chefs require a
certain degree of skill and master, and there's no doubt that it varies
from restaurant to restaurant. How large is the variation in quality? I
don't know and I didn't want to take a chance. We ended up at
Seryna. At the top of one of
Tokyo's super skyscrapers was yet another collection of very expensive
restaurants, Seryna among them.
We went to the top of the Sumitomo building
and found our way to the cozy/fancy Saryna on the 52nd floor. We were
quietly ushered into a private room towards the back of the restaurant.
Everywhere you looked there seemed to be an incredible view of Tokyo. If
you haven't been there, my friend Tjeerd summed it up best when he said,
"Tokyo is designed for when flying cars are invented". It's
like being on the Blade Runner set but everything's real.
Our chef arrived and started delivering dish
after dish. First up a salad - sprouts, spring onions, wonton strips and
a vinegar-miso dressing. Yummy. Then there was a three item amuse plate.
It included a cream cheese item, crab in aspic, and a broccoli ham item.
The first item was like a cream cheese and vegetable fruit rollup.
Surprisingly tasty. As for the crab, the aspic was actually good - not
too much "day old jello" texture. Caviar showed up next, we ate every
last egg. It was cool that it was served on soba blini.
I don't know if you've ever seen a fresh huge
chunk of foie gras seared right in front of your eyes, but that's what
happened next. Needless to say we didn't complain. The foie gras was like
air. Then we were served mushrooms cooked in little tinfoil packets. The
mushrooms were incredible, almost bitter but not quite. They were
definitely in season. Super fresh.
I admit, Japan sometimes presents new challenges
for me when it comes to what I'm excited about eating. I act tough on the
website, but I'm really kind of a wuss. When the live abalone was placed
on the hot cooking surface I couldn't help but wince. Watching it writhe
and shrink in front of us was pretty freaky. It was over pretty quickly,
but it was visceral watching an animal become food in a matter of seconds
right in front of you. Makes you really appreciate your food more.
The chef then coated some scallops in flour,
prawns in salt, and both with white wine, and then covered everything on
the grill. Both were just ok. Hard to beat simple freshly seared seafood.
But it wasn't really special in any way. A few minutes later the chef
served us the prawn heads and tails after they had continually cooked for
awhile. They were super fried. It basically turned them into tasty
crunchy shrimpy chips.
It was finally time for the star attraction. The
beef. As it turned out, the Kobe wasn't available fresh that day, so we
Miyagi Beef. This region of northern Japan also raises special cattle,
but doesn't have quite the global marketing muscle that the Kobe folks
have. The chef and the manager of the restaurant told us that not only was
it fresh that day but that it was better than Kobe. The verdict? It
rocked. It was so soft and buttery tender that it was like the entire cow
had been turned into one large foie gras. They served it with two sauces -
salt and garlic - perfect.
After the beef nirvana, they fried up some bean
sprouts. A glass of water would have had more nutritional value not to
mention flavor. We also got some garlic fried rice or cold noodles.
Pickles showed up, and then things finished off with melon.
I'm not quite sure how to explain this meal. We
had some very good food. The experience was very high end. The prices were
stratospheric. The beef really was incredible, but I'm not honestly sure
the meal was worth it. They trotted out one luxury ingredient after
another, but I could have done just with more beef. In the United States
this restaurant would be a very successful super high end Benihana
variation. In Japan it seemed to be more appropriate for businessmen than
for food lovers despite some of the culinary high points. I think that to
really experience all the beef in Japan I'm going to need to spend a
couple of weeks traveling to Miyagi, Kobe, and the other regions that
claim to have the secret to the tenderest and most flavorful beef in the