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.
Leslie directed us to this funny
and well written blog - The Sneeze.
It included several posts on the author's experiences eating various
Debbie has an extreme addiction to
Diet Coke. We're not entirely sure what the long term effects are, but
it grips her like so much heroin. The Black Table has an
and overview of the monkey on Debbie's back.
Passover is around the corner. The Boston Globe discusses
sponge cakes. The Los Angeles Times (free registration required)
Sephardic Passover. The New York Times (free registration
required) also talks about
Every year at this time, newspapers around the planet try and make
claims that there's a new crop of kosher wines that really aren't that
an entry from this year from the Los Angeles Times.
We redid our links section. This section used to be a long list of websites
about food. I tried to link to as many as possible regardless of their
relative quality as long as they had something to do with food. No longer.
From now on we list only sites that we frequent, enjoy, and deliver
consistent quality food-related fun. I'm sure there are many other sites
out there that I haven't listed, and I apologize if I've missed a couple.
Of course, that's what
Google is for.
Check back soon. Tomorrow's post is an overview of a small Italian
bakery in Massachusetts. Not to be missed.
Oishii Too, Sudbury, MA, November
11, 2003 — I know I said that it's not fair to judge a restaurant
based on takeout. However, if it's great, does it matter? As a
concession, I'll keep it relatively short, and reserve my limited word
budget for the next time we're there. I've discussed many times the
superb experience at
Nishino, a Seattle
sushi restaurant. It's run by Tatsu Nishino who once worked at
Los Angeles. The chef
at Oishii Too is
apparently also a one-time employee of Nobu Matsuhisa. And it shows.
Matsuhisa's style of creativity, South American influences, all melded
with traditional Japanese dishes, shine through here as well. And the
same modernity, excitement, and most importantly - flavor shines through
here as well. Oishii is actually two restaurants. There is the small
original Oishii in
Chestnut Hill, a suburb outside Boston, and there is the larger Oishii
Too in Sudbury, a suburb way outside Boston. We got takeout from Oishii
Some of the dishes we had included: Paula's Maki - Salmon, Wasabi Roe
and Avocado inside and Salmon, Tuna, and Lemon on the outside; Brad's
Torch Maki - Cucumber, Tobiko, and Spicy Mayo inside with Seared Tuna on
top with Mayo; Sunrise Tata - Salmon mixed with Wasabi, Sesame, and
Chives, wrapped in Marinated White Seaweed, Topped with a Thin Layer of
Mashed Mountain Yam, and garnished with Sterling Caviar; Tropical
Sashimi - Blue Fin Maguro, Toro, and Hamachi sprinkled with Sea Salt,
Complimented with a Chilled Tropical Shot; Spicy Scallop Handroll; and
Diamond Shrimp - Clam, Crabstick, Tobiko and Spicy Mayo on top of
If that doesn't get your mouth watering, I don't know what will. Things
range from the traditional like Tamago and Pork Kush Age to the super
creative like Barry's Passion Shooter - Sea Urchin, Quail Egg, Tabasco,
and Light Soy Sauce. I have only been to Oishii Too and the original
Oishii a couple of times. So I don't claim to have a real sense for the
soul of the place. But I do know that if I lived in Boston, these are
the only sushi restaurants I would go to. I wonder just how many former
Nobu employees are fanning out across the country opening unsung (and
unhyped) bastions of freshness and creativity. From my experience at
Nobu in London, I know
that not all the Nobu's scale to the quality that I would hope. That
said, maybe part of the problem is that some of his best chefs leave to
open little gems like Oishii Too. Take advantage before the celebrities
start showing up and clogging the place.
No. 9 Park, Boston, MA, November
10, 2003 — Boston is a funny place, both in general and for me. I
grew up there so I feel both a special affinity for the city as well as
some expertise over the food there. Then again, I haven't lived there
for seven years, and even when I did, I wasn't as adventurous as I am
today when it comes to eating. That said, there is definitely wonderful
food there. You do have to look for it though. Maybe only an insider
with many opportunities for comparison could feel this way, but Boston
is understated. Not as flashy or big as its southern neighbor, New York,
or even as well developed in character as another fine non Los Angeles/New York city -
San Francisco. Boston is surprisingly diverse, and mostly keeps to
itself. And while there would be time to explore more of the unsung
heroes of Boston cuisine, on this night we found ourselves at one of the
darlings of the Boston restaurant contingent -
No. 9 Park.
Located at it's eponymous address on the corner of the
the restaurant was started by
Barbara Lynch. After years
working in other people's kitchens, Lynch opened No. 9
Park in the summer of 1998 (just after I moved to the west coast). And her restaurant
taps into a vein that is becoming more prevalent among high end
restaurants in the United States - refined approach/Italian roots. Chefs take Italian dishes and ingredients and combine
them with French staples and techniques. Often they'll highlight local
and seasonal ingredients as well. At its best, the result can combine
all the effort and technique of the French food with the simplicity,
freshness, and approachability of Italian cuisine. It can be pretty
We could only get late reservations but that was fine. We sat for awhile
at the bar at this cozy but elegant restaurant. The ceilings were low,
the light was quiet and warm, and the staff were
friendly as we waited
for our table. After a wait, we were escorted (with our drinks) to our
table at the back dining room of the restaurant. I don't know that the
restaurant could seat more than 50 diners at a time. It seemed small to
me, but in a good way. Relaxed even in its formality.
Bread showed up soon after we sat down. Maybe it's not reassuring for me
to admit this, but I am very bad at identifying different bread. I just
don't really know enough about it. At some point I am going to need to
take an intensive bread class to really know my way around. In the
meantime, my best description of what we got is a good
roll. The butter, was delicious, creamy.
I did ask about the bread just to make sure to pass along some
useful information and was told that it was a mix of pea and wheat flour
baked for 18 minutes.
up was an oyster dish,
Oyster. The more I eat oysters the more I really like them. This one
was fried and served in a yummy creamy sauce with the shell resting on a bed of salt.
There was also
Butter Shrimp with Watercress Coulis and Caviar Cream. The shrimp was coated in a warm butter.
The watercress coulis was slightly bitter
on its own but a perfect complement to rest of dish. And the dish really
was beautiful tasting. Next up were two dishes:
Scallop Ceviche with Pumpkin Ravioli and Black Truffle Consommé; and
Roasted Porcini with Wild Mushroom Ragout.
The mushroom dish was wonderful! The sauce was so wonderfully flavorful,
savory, mushroomy. Amazingly, Debbie
(who hates all things mushroom) loved the porcini mushroom dish. Wow!
However the scallop dish didn't work. The consommé was kind of
flavorless and the scallop itself was not great. The advertised truffle
flavor was just not there.
This was followed by two foie gras dishes:
Poached Foie Gras with Cranberries and (pink???) Lady Apple;
and a Foie Gras Terrine
with House Cured Duck Jam and Accompaniments. I am not typically a warm fruit
kind of guy, but the sweet warm soup a wonderful "pillow" for the
poached foie gras. The terrine was quite nice as well. It included aspic, mushrooms, vinaigrette, pickles, and
the duck prosciutto. The terrine was nice and moist and when combined
with all the other ingredients, bursting with flavor.
Next up was a dish of
Veal Sweetbreads in Brioche with Ham, Mushrooms, Pearl Onions and Sauce
Périgourdine. The rest of the table didn't like the sweetbreads but I did. Everyone loved the sauce. It
was truly special. I think everyone's sweetbread aversion was more
psychological than substantive. They just need more time with properly
prepared versions. We also got
with Flageolets in Sea Urchin Sauce. It was certainly good, as lobster in
a rich sauce is wont to be. But was it special?
pasta course was next. Somehow pasta really is the true measure of an
Italian (or Italian-inspired) restaurant. It's deceptively simple, but
hard to get perfect. We got two dishes:
Gnocchi with Mimolette Creme and Mousseron Mushroom; and
Truffle Butter and Parsley. The tagliatelle was superb. Light,
delicate, simple, and rich with the buttery truffle flavors.
Kira also loved the dish, and has
become a full on truffle fan. The
gnocchi dish had all the same superlative qualities as the tagliatelle
dish, but it was topped with a wonderful cheese sauce. Using these pasta
courses as a measure, No. 9 Park is accomplished and delicious.
Fish was next. This included:
with Fresh Porcinis; and a
Halibut on a Basque Stew with Mussels. The
halibut was super crispy and juicy, not oily. It had a very good sauce
that was rich with tomatoey flavor. The
cubed vegetables that came with it were nice and crispy. The
salmon however was just good. Though the mushrooms that came with it were excellent.
I have a theory that for chefs to do their best they need to really
understand and appreciate the ingredients they use. It's so clear that
at No. 9 Park
they love mushrooms. It's not just because they use them all over the
place, but even in dishes that weren't our favorites the mushrooms
always came through with flying colors. Barbara Lynch and her staff
love mushrooms. I'd like to eat a mushroom tasting menu at this
place some day.
were having a great time, but starting to get a touch full. But then the
red meat dishes showed up. First was a
Lamb - Lamb Chops and Loin with Yellow Carrot Puree.
Steve and Kira loved the lamb. Kira the chop.
Steve the medallions. Both
were interesting. Definitely not boring. We also got the
Saddle dish. The venison was done
in a venison stock reduction with huckleberries, braised
wild mushrooms, parsnip puree. The venison had subtle but not
overpowering fruit flavor from
the huckleberries. They combined to make this a fruit meat combination
(a type of combination that is not always my first choice) that I really liked.
As much as we liked everything
the meal could have used one less course, or maybe smaller portions.
It's hard to balance in a world where customers freak out if the
portions seem too small. But then again, I'm not sure customers who
don't get it would be ordering a tasting menu at No. 9 Park.
Cheese course was next. Two lovely choices:
Chèvre Fermier from Burgundy; and a Muenster from Alsace. This was
followed by a palate cleanser of
We either got the Belgian Pear Ales sorbet or the Kumquat sorbet. I'll
admit that the flavors, while true to their moniker, were not my
particular favorites, but the sorbets themselves were clearly of super
high quality. The texture was among the best I've ever had.
A bunch of yummy desserts followed including:
Pepper Cheese Cake with Pineapple Carpaccio - yummy; and a plate
variety of chocolate tastes. The
chocolate mousse in this dish tasted like
chocolate air. Super good. We also got a
Trio of Hot
Chocolates. I will never have complaints when people give me a plate
with three delicious mini-cups of different hot chocolates. The three
were: white chocolate with lemon; milk chocolate with caramel; and dark
chocolate with marshmallows. And they were each truly wonderful. Warm,
interesting, contrasting, delicious. The hot chocolates were also served
with Honey Date Cigars. I'm sure they were good but I honestly can't
remember them as the hot chocolates themselves still occupy my entire
memory. They were so good they didn't leave much room for anything else.
And finally we got a small dish of yummy
As I said early on, Boston is a funny town when it comes to food.
Understated, diverse, unexpectedly good. That kind of describes No. 9
Park. Rather than copy the haute cuisine mold, No. 9 Park uses Italian
culinary genetics to infuse a simplicity into its cooking that brings
the flavors, and the environment, "down to earth". Sure it's a high end
restaurant, but we felt comfortable and taken care of. We don't
typically make any wacky requests at restaurants, but we often ask for
multiple tasting menus for the table so we can try as many dishes as
already had one they were doing and happily did a second so that we
could each try two dishes every course. They didn't have to, but they
were flexible. It just wasn't a problem. I'd love to go back and
explore more of the menu. I have a feeling that if I went on a regular
basis I could really start to explore the boundaries of the creativity
at the kitchen. Highly recommended.
Eggs are one of my most favorite foods. Emily Green of the Los Angeles
Times (free registration required)
In Waltham, MA (where I was born, and where I went to college)
Ritcey's restaurant is set to reopen. I realize most of the planet
won't care about this. But Ritcey's was kind of a funny little
restaurant. The best description is probably "lots of fried seafood".
Bar Masa, Masa Takayama's expensive new sushi restaurant in the
expensive new Time Warner center was visited by the
Times (free registration required).
The New York Times visits another restaurant I really want to go to -
I love this website.
Exploring their cookbook collection one recipe at a time. I love the
difference between the dream of the dish in the cookbook and the reality
of making it yourself. I think the pictures are great too and I love the
section that tells you what's coming up.
Debbie wants us to do the same
This looks interesting, Runaway
Chef. Right now he's in Vietnam with bats and prostitutes.
Appetito, Newton Centre, MA, November
9, 2003 —
Why is it so difficult to find really good Italian food in the United
States? I think that Italian
food has suffered the same fate as Chinese food. Thousands of sub-par,
lowest common denominator interpretations of a diverse ethnic cuisine,
optimized for an assumption that Americans will eat anything as long as
there's lots of it. This is a shame, as I think people eat what they
know. And if the bulk of restaurants don't push the envelope then most
diners will never know better is out there. For better or worse, I know.
And most of the time it's worse as Italian restaurant after Italian
restaurant disappoint. Appetito, in Newton Centre, MA was no exception.
And the truth is that Appetito was even more disappointing as it had
some potential. This is all the more surprising as seeing sashimi
offered on a menu at an Italian restaurant is a warning sign that things
are about to go very badly. But despite this oddity, there really was
potential. We ordered a variety of things: seared scallops with shaved
fennel and a blood orange vinaigrette; carpaccio with Hubbardston goat
cheese and greens; lemon honey grilled shrimp on a skewer with mango
polenta and some veggies; pumpkin squash soup; a couple of salads; the
pasta carbonara with lobster as well as pancetta; and a type of chicken
dish - marsala or some such.
The pumpkin squash soup - a special - came out and was ok. The soup was
not bad, but the scallions on top were so sharp that they took away from
the milder soup. No big deal. However, the prosciutto came out and was
frozen. I'm not using the term frozen as some type of exaggeration. It
was literally frozen stuck to the plate. Obviously they prepare these
plates earlier in the day and keep them in a cold place (like the north
pole). This was a bummer. What's better than some delicious thin thin
carpaccio with its salty porky flavor filling your mouth. Tough to put
it in your mouth when it's stuck to the plate. After a minute of
scraping with my fork I called over the waiter and sent it back. I
almost never send things back. The waiter made it worse somehow by
acting like frozen carpaccio was a normal thing. Told me they were all
frozen and that all he could do was put it under the heatlamp. This of
course would have had a wonderful effect on the salad veggies and fresh
cheese perched atop the carpaccio ice. I declined and ordered the
prosciutto with melon instead. The proscuttio was decent but the
meat/melon ratio was way off. Less melon was a necessity to make this
dish decent. I suppose i could just eat less, but there's something
unsatisfying about having to edit your own dishes. That's what the folks
in the kitchen are supposed to do. Not everything was disappointing. The
shrimp dish was nice. The mango polenta combination was novel and tasted
This felt to me like a case of desperation. Appetito has an Italian name
and a logo with a drawing of a ripe juicy tomato. How insulting to the
wonderful tomato to ask it to be the standard bearer for this lame
restaurant. Not confident in their ability to deliver good Italian food
they started pandering to what they thought people would like - tuna
sashimi, and shrimp on skewers. And to make matters worse their
scattershot approach seemed clearly without care. When the waiter was so
stupendously unsurprised (or disappointed) that my carpaccio was frozen
onto my plate, it was clear that the folks at Appetito just didn;'t
care. Even if the waiter had cared, the person running the kitchen
clearly didn't. I know we should have tried one of countless places down
in Little Italy instead. And I promise that next time, we will.
Please accept our apologies for the slowness of the site this past week.
We know about the problem and are not exactly sure why it's happening.
We'll be trying to get it fixed over the weekend.
Carambola, Boston, MA, November
8, 2003 — I spent my college years in Waltham, MA, a little ways
outside of Boston. Waltham is a funny place, always on the verge of
complete gentrification, but always stifled by the lack of real mass
transit reaching the city from Boston. That said, the city has always
had a variety of interesting and often inexpensive restaurants. One that's super popular these
days is Carambola — a Cambodian restaurant from the proprietors of the
popular Elephant Walk restaurants in metro Boston.
Judging a restaurant on a takeout order is not really fair. That said,
it's my only choice as we didn't have the time to head over there for a
sit-down experience. We had four dishes: The Elephant Walk's Famous
Spring Rolls; Shrimp Curry; Saiko Ang Kroeung - skewers of sirloin; and
The Elephant Walk's Famous Salade de Beouf. The dishes were good, with
fun and interesting southeast Asian flavor and color all throughout -
peanuts, mint, basil,
tuk trey, asian basil, shredded carrots, lemongrass, shallots,
garlic, and more peanuts. You get the idea.
The food is good. And it's probably way better if you have it in the
actual restaurant. The takeout was decent, but it loses something in the
trip from restaurant to home. Temperatures weren't quite right, flavors
got dulled, textures got soft, etc. It's not their fault, but still
sub-optimal. Next time we eat on premises.
LU Pim's Sensation Bars, February
I was walking in our local fancy supermarket and saw a stack of Lu Pim's Sensation Bar
packages by the register. In classic impulse purchase style, I got two
boxes, different flavors,
hazelnut. Both of these things
look incredible on the package. One of those Lu biscuits wrapped in
chocolate with more chocolate and Rice Krispies inside. The things look
awesome on the package. I tried chocolate and hazelnut. They're super
melty. The cookies are good. But there's a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Also the hazelnut doesn't really taste that different than the
chocolate. These do have a nice crunch to them. But they're not
even as good
as Twix, and I'm not a huge Twix fan.
Ingredients, March 21, 2004
— When this website first started it was relatively barren. We
weren't exactly sure what it was going to be other than a log of where
we'd eaten. And in fact if you look at certain pages in the
restaurant listings (Madrid,
Portland, etc.) things
are still pretty barren. Still we're doing our best working across the
planet trying to eat and document as much as is humanly possible without
doing irreparable damage to our digestive systems. And even though we
didn't (and still don't) have all the details worked out, this website
was always going to be (as it says in the header) "focused on food".
And food comes from a variety of sources. While we've tried to do a decent job
focusing on restaurants we've not really spent nearly enough time on
some of the products and ingredients that are critical building blocks
for every food experience we have — whether at home or in a restaurant.
Don't assume that our opinions stop being formed just because we're
eating at home. There are so many categories to explore, and so many
things to try. Cheese, pickles, sour candy, chocolate, pasta, etc. (And
don't even mention wine, which eventually we'll have to start
documenting as well.) So, while it's sparse today, we are opening up
the Ingredients section of our
website. Over time it will get more populated both in terms of breadth
(more categories of ingredients) and depth (more listings per category).
I expect there to be two ways that items make it onto those lists. The
optimal method of course is comparative tastings. Blind is best. Line up
eight olive oils, measure their temperature, parcel out equally sized
chunks of bread that is efficient at clearing the palate, assign
categories, and a points system, etc. I love a good obsessively detailed
process as much as the next person. And frankly, it's our responsibility
to try and be obsessive and detailed in our pursuit of good food. But
America's Test Kitchen we're not. Those guys are amazing, and we may
never have that kind of patience. That said, we'll still try and do some
comparative tastings. The other way ingredients will get written about
is just as we encounter them. Find something yummy (or not)? Write it
down. Besides, is it even really possible to try
every triple creme cheese from France? How about when we taste
one we'll let you know what we think.
Either way, hopefully the ingredients section of the website will get
deeper and more useful over time.
If you've had any trouble with the website lately, please accept our
apologies. We've had some technical difficulties trying out different
configurations. For a period on Saturday night the site was down, and
the site has been slow also. Those issues should be mostly fixed. But
we'll keep working on improving reliability.
Also, we should acknowledge that our recent spike in traffic is not only
due to the James Beard nomination, but also to being a
USA Today Hot Site. Cool.
Commander's Palace, Las Vegas,
NV, November 8, 2003 — I remember the first time my parents
blackened tuna. Smoke filled the kitchen, but what came out of the pan
was absolutely delicious. A thick tuna steak seared on every surface and
raw in the center. The steak had been bathed in a pre-packaged spice mix
Blackened Redfish Magic. A
of Paul Prudhomme (1980's
American celebrity chef) graced the package. If it weren't for the
incredible flavor of this "Cajun specialty" I would be completely
distracted by Prudhomme's uncanny resemblance to
Dom DeLuise (of
Cannonball Run and
Cannonball Run II
fame). But even more than their resemblance (I'm
not the only who's noticed this) I remember the perfect tuna center inside
the blackened mass and the spicy, savory, encrusted, seared surface of the fish.
The taste was fantastic. I'm not entirely sure of how authentic our
version was, mostly because I really don't know much (yet) about food from
that part of the country. And it's odd as every time I eat some Cajun or
Creole dishes I invariably enjoy them immensely. I'm going to need to
visit New Orleans. Next March will probably be a good time to visit.
That said, I've learned enough to know that Paul Prudhomme (of spice
fame) was the chef at Commander's Palace (one of the most famous if not
the most famous restaurants in New Orleans), as was Emeril Lagasse en
route to building his food empire. And while, as I noted, I have yet to
travel to New Orleans, when you're in Las Vegas, places like Paris,
Tokyo, New York, and New Orleans are all just a cab ride away.
Commander's Palace has a branch in Las Vegas. Now I have written
many times on two topics that are relevant here. 1) Vegas is an
experience built skin deep. Depth is hard to find. So you need to
appreciate Vegas experiences for what they are. This applies to the food
as well. 2) Scaling is hard. Just because a restaurant is good in one
place, doesn't mean another establishment of the same name will live up
to the original. Though, since I'd not been to the original Commander's
Palace, I didn't really have any basis for comparison.
Not long after we showed up they served us warm bread in a bag with
garlic butter. I don't mind a little shtick, and you could serve me good
warm garlic bread in a skull and I'd be happy. This was really yummy.
The bag gave it an informal touch. You would reach in there for a warm
surprise. Another good first impression was the fact that you could
order a mini-tasting of their soups. When I saw Turtle Soup Gumbo and
Crab Corn Bisque offered on the menu I naturally wanted to taste both.
As I read down the menu I saw I could in fact get mini-versions of both
for just that purpose. Now that's thinking!
We had brought some wine with us, but they had a no corkage policy. No
big deal, but still a bit of a bummer. It's not like we brought a cheap
bottle, or something they had on the menu, but, no biggie.
Our soups arrived pretty quickly. The Gumbo was smokey and savory. The
heat was sharp and warm and crept up on you in a good way. The
gumbo also had duck meat in it. The Crab Corn Bisque was yummy. It had a
stock base and had a nice peppery flavor but I the corn flavor
overwhelmed the crab a touch. It was still good though.
I ended up with the tasting menu (unsurprisingly) and got a series of
dishes. Things started off with Alaskan King Crab Antipasto - fresh
Dutch harbor Red King crabmeat, housemade "crab-boiled" Creole
mozzarella-prosciutto roulade and terrine of heirloom tomato en gelee,
finished with a lemon-basil emulsion. The crab was somewhat interesting
but not super memorable. The crab was followed by U-10 Diver Sea Scallop
- griddle seared Maine scallop, with marinated haricot vert, tomato and
shallot salad, finished with an aged sherry vinegar-black truffle
vinaigrette. The scallop had great Cajun flavor but was not hot enough.
The veggies however were good.
Someone else at the table got some alligator. It tasted like
chicken-fried chicken. Not super interesting. I got Stir Fried Calamari
"Noodles" - thinly sliced squid quickly sauteed with shiitake mushrooms,
asparagus, poblano peppers, yellow nira chives and garlic, deglazed with
Sauvignon Blanc and shrimp stock. This salad was ok. The sauce add a
slightly bitter/smokey unpleasant taste. It wasn't really for me. At one
point in the meal they brough me a new ice water because my ice had
melted. I don't know why I thought this fact was noteworthy.
My next course was Grilled Venison and Buffalo Sausages - housemade
venison dried tart cherry sausage and pecan-wood smoked buffalo
andouille sausage served with pumpkin risotto and smoked black
currant-port win demi-glace. The buffalo sausage was really good. It was
slightly spicy and complex. The venison sausage was good too. It had a
slight apple-y flavor. The pumpkin risotto however was unevenly cooked.
Alex felt it had the capacity to be a
really good risotto had it been served at the right time.
Our next dish was Pan Roasted Petit File of Beef with Fresh Alaskan Red
King Crabmeat - Bristol Bay's finest cravmeat lightly poached in a
butter emulsion with chanterelle mushrooms, buttermilk whipped yukon
gold potatoes and a truffled maitre d'hotel butter. The outside of the
steak was slightly rubbery. The crab was good and quite buttery.
Dessert was good and included a Strawberry Swirled Amaretto Cheesecake -
Almond-Amaretto Di Saronno cheesecake swirled with strawberry puree,
served over almond brioche with almond toffee and strawberry coulis.
Though Michael did try to get
cream for his coffee and had an unbelievably difficult time getting a
small pitcher of cold cream. They showed up with milk, or warm cream. It
Commander's Palace didn't have to serve deep authentic Cajun food for me
to enjoy it. But it did have have great flavor, texture, and
temperature, and give me dishes that I would be longing for today. And
unfortunately on that front it didn't come close. There were a few
moments of vivid flavor but overall the meal felt muddled. I'm all for
the skin deep spectacle and thin veneer that makes Vegas fun. But just
because Commander's Palace has the window dressing of a Cajun culinary
institution doesn't mean it gets to ignore the basics of a good meal.
Even though this was kind of a bummer, I'd still love to go to New
Orleans and eat at the original (not to mention about 50 other places to
eat that I'm sure would also make me very very happy).
Some administrative notes. Traffic to this site has spiked sharply over
the last couple of days. (Thank you James Beard Foundation.) So I am
working to make sure the site is as efficient, useful, and easy-to-read
as ever. One of the common requests I get is to publicize the date I
actually ate the food that I'm writing about. We've actually already had
this on the site for awhile on this page.
But people have asked to see it right in the entry. I worry about
causing confusion between the date of the posting and the date of the
eating. But hopefully everyone will recognize the difference. I've added
them for the set of entries on this page as appropriate so you can see
how they look (see below). Being more transparent about when the meal
happened also has the unintended result of showing how far behind I am
in posting. I suppose it will encourage me even more to catch up as
quickly as I can. Luckily I'm not so far behind that I think the
information is no longer relevant. We've also added the recent entries
listing down the right hand side. Hopefully people will get at some of
the good stuff buried in the site even if it's not on the front page.
We've also added thumbnails of pictures on each restaurant listing page.
I'm also considering making the date header of each entry be the "permalink"
for each entry. More improvements are coming as time allows. And big new
sections of content are coming soon as well (it's a surprise!). Feedback
is welcome on the changes current and proposed.
Burger, Las Vegas, NV, Tasted on October 30, 2003 — Sometimes
it irritates me when people assume that I am only on a mission to
find quality food that's expensive. I admit that many of our
favorite experiences haven't exactly been cheap. But we've also had
quite a few fantastic experiences with food that you can get for
practically nothing. The amazing tacos that come from a truck (yes,
a truck) parked at a Seattle area gas station (yes, a gas station).
The bowls of inexpensive noodle soup at a chain of restaurants
across London. The yakitori joints at Shinjuku train station in
Tokyo. These are all testament to our love of good food, expensive
And while it's a relief to get that bit of defensiveness off my
chest, I do have to admit there are a few reasons why many of our
positive experiences are fairly costly. Unsurprisingly, great food
usually involves a lot of work. And work costs money. It takes work
to find (and create) the best (even if not rarest) ingredients, and
the talented people who prepare that food are hard to find as well.
It's not as easy to find cheap wonderful food as one might think.
Certainly you could make it yourself and that's something we'll be
exploring more over time. But when it comes to restaurants, cheap
and wonderful often elude discovery.
Now you may scoff at this, as you can crawl through stalls of street
food in hundreds of cities across the planet and find incredible
flavors by the dozens. But, that aside, it's still hard to find
restaurants that are inexpensive and wonderful. Not because they
don't exist, but because they simply don't get the press. When I go
to a new city to try and find its best food, I scour sources far and
wide, personal and professional, to get leads on where to eat during
my limited time there. And the small, cheap, great places often fly
under the radar.
Of course, the largest class of (mostly) relatively inexpensive and
well known restaurants across the planet are the "chain"
restaurants. McDonalds is of course the iconic representation of a
chain restaurant but chains cover the gamut. Fast food like Taco
Bell and Krispy Kreme are everywhere but there are also "next rung
up the ladder" places like Cheesecake Factory and Applebee's. And
while many of these are well known everywhere in the U.S., and often
almost everywhere on the planet, there are regional chains as well.
In the Pacific Northwest there's Pallino Pastaria. There are even
"upscale" restaurants like Ruth's Chris steakhouse that's become a
surprisingly large chain with around 90 branches in North America
and outlets around the world, including one in Taiwan (a location
which Ruth's Chris' website calls "exotic"). Can food produced at
scale ever be good food?
Heitz Cellars, one of the oldest and most respected wineries in Napa
Valley, has a variety of wines they offer. Among their most renowned
(and most expensive) is their Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
It's a great wine. How many bottles of the Martha's Vineyard did
Heitz produce from their 1997 vintage? Keep in mind that 1997 was
one of the recent great vintages from Napa Valley and a bottle of
Martha's from that year went for roughly $140 a bottle. They
produced 67,440 bottles of that wine that they released for sale.
This was not an artisanal run of a few hundred cases. They produced
this wine by the truckload. Now of course, there's scale, and then
there's scale. They can't compare in quantity to the hundreds of
thousands of bottles of two-buck chuck and other super-cheap wines
that get produced, but still, it's not a small amount. What's the
Large-scale is definitely not particularly conducive to making a
great food experience. But that doesn't mean it makes it impossible.
So today we add a section in our restaurant guide for "chain"
restaurants. We'll need to evolve the definition of what makes a
restaurant a chain over time. Does the local Thai place with three
branches qualify? I don't think so. Does the local pasta place with
8 locations that's adding more every couple of months qualify? I
think yes. I admit it's not scientific, but I'll try to get more
specific over time. And since we're not going to bring any prejudice
to our judgment of "chain" restaurants, whether something's in that
category or not doesn't really matter. What matters is whether the
food is any good. And that brings us, finally, to today's topic.
our trip to Los Angeles, we were lucky enough to stop for 24 hours
in one of my favorite cities on the planet - Las Vegas. Although we
were in a hurry to get to the hotel from the airport, we weren't in
such a hurry that we didn't ask the taxi driver to make a detour
through the nearest
In-N-Out Burger so that we could get our fix.
Seattle doesn't have In-N-Out Burger. Yet.
Let me take a moment to explain why we made the stop by way of my
wife Debbie's love for pizza. She LOVES pizza. And I will admit that
I have had pizza in my life that I have loved. But I don't love it
unconditionally like she does. I do feel that way about hamburgers.
I absolutely adore them. I love the juicy savory meat (medium rare
please). I love fresh crisp vegetables. I love cheese on them. I
love when they put ketchup and mustard on them, or even thousand
island dressing. I don't mind themed burgers with things like
mushrooms and onions and barbecue sauce, though I'll admit I draw
the line at pineapple. I also don't like soggy bread, or when the
hot parts and cold parts have decided to meet somewhere at a
mediocre average temperature. I have eaten hamburgers at McDonalds,
Burger King, Wendy's, Fatburger and more. I have made hamburgers at
home in the oven, in a pan, and on a grill. I have often made
hamburgers that resemble the ones described in Eddie Murphy's
standup act when he used to be funny. And although he makes fun of
them, I love the ones with big chunks of onion and pepper. And in
the interest of full hamburger disclosure, I have never had Daniel
Boulud's famous $30 burger at DB Bistro (though some close friends
have partaken a couple of times and have said it was worth every
penny - I will get there eventually).
But on this day we were out to eat what is currently my favorite
hamburger on the planet, the one made at (as far as I can tell)
any In-N-Out Burger with uncanny consistency. One thing I've
found in terms of making great food at scale - less is more. Some of
the best least expensive food I've ever eaten was from vendors who
made only one item. In-N-Out's menu is a monument to simplicity.
There's the Hamburger, the Cheeseburger, the Double-Double Burger,
French Fries, Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry Shakes, and a
variety of sodas. The burgers come with or without onions, with
lettuce and tomato, and some "spread" (which seems like thousand
island dressing to me). Very simple.
But of course, I am a sucker for any marketing gimmick that makes me
feel like I'm "in the know" or part of the club. I'm so transparent
that even a hamburger chain knows how to appeal to my insecurity
about belonging to the group. The "secret" menu (of which they
publicize only a portion of on their website - more brilliant
marketing) contains items like the 3x3 - three patties, three slices
of American cheese (yes there's a 4x4); Animal Style - add mustard,
pickles, grilled onions, and extra spread to your burger; Protein
Style - burger minus the bun, wrapped in lettuce; and the Neapolitan
Shake - a mix of all three shake flavors.
And here's the funny thing - their shakes are very good but not
mind-blowing, and their fries are honestly mediocre. They make them
fresh right in front of you but there's something limp about them
that the freshness can't make up for. (You can order them “well
done” but that didn’t make a huge difference in my opinion.)
McDonald's fries (when they were fried in animal fat) were way way
better. And none of that matters. Because their hamburgers are to
die for. The fries and shakes were just filler in my opinion. The
name of the place isn't In -N-Out Fries or In-N-Out Shakes. It's
In-N-Out Burger, and that's what they do well. Very well.
The patty itself is thick and relatively small in diameter. It's not
a broad flat patty so it's not convenient to store, and doesn't lend
itself well to stacking. It's an unwieldy (almost) ball of meat. The
bun is freshly baked, and serves its purpose. It's not there to
shine. It's there to deliver its contents in a package that doesn't
get your fingers completely greasy. The rest of the contents of the
sandwich can only be described as slathered over either the meat or
the bun. The cheese and spread are generously oozing from your
sandwich opening as it sits peeking out of its paper holder. I got
mine with fresh onions as I love the bite and the crunch. Biting
into this burger fills your mouth with absolute essence of
hamburger. It's not fancy. It's basic. It's hamburger distilled into
it's most simple and perfect form and then concentrated to pack one
monster hamburgian punch. The contrasting temperatures, the mix of
textures - all combine to make for a diverse and yet simple
experience. And ultimately (at least for me) all the anticipation is
rewarded by that first comforting bite. And unlike many fast food
chains (or chain restaurants that optimize around speed) there's no
sick feeling after I'm done eating.
friend Alex generally eats three of these in one sitting. He used to
get two Double-Doubles, but felt the singles had better crunch. More
patty didn't necessarily equal more enjoyment for Alex. And I have
to agree. It's the entire sandwich as a unit that sparks the
enjoyment. I eat two cheeseburgers with onions. These are not White
Castle mini-burgers, but they're not oversized monstrosities either.
They're just right. If they were any smaller, you'd end up with too
much bun. If they were bigger, then by the time you got to the last
third or so of the sandwich, the temperature of the ingredients and
the crunchiness would be well past their acceptable ranges of
goodness. As with so many things that are great, what seems like
simplicity can actually be relatively complicated, and is certainly
well thought out, even if in its final form, it's a simple pleasure
to enjoy. In-N-Out is a simple pleasure.
I live in Seattle and don't get to eat at In-N-Out very often, but
when I lived in Northern California I remember being willing to eat
lunch at 2pm to avoid the seemingly endless lines that snaked out of
the local branch. Don't think that at 2pm the lines were not there,
just more tolerable. I'll admit it's rare to find a large-scale
chain that serves something so delicious, but like I said - I don't
care whether it's cheap or expensive, I don't care what business
model they employ, and I don't care whether they have a national ad
campaign, or a hand- painted sign over a wooden table. I just love
food that tastes great. And In-N-Out Burger's hamburgers fit
squarely in that category.
Seattle, WA, November 1, 2003 — Back
to our thread on Los Angeles and our hunt for the best and most creative
sushi and Japanese food in the United States. First a word on the word
"best". You will never see a top 10 list on this website. They are
artificial. What is the "best"? How can you determine the best
restaurant, chef, dish? You can't. This website is not about reviewing
restaurants or products. It's about finding food that tastes wonderful
anywhere on the planet and telling people about it. There is no best.
There's only food that tastes great, and everything else. It's not
possible to say who's #1. There's so much about this that's subjective.
That said, we still wanted to know when it comes to our favorite sushi
restaurant in Seattle,
Nishino, how does it compare? We traveled to L.A. partly so we could
make comparisons to restaurants that appeared to be striving for the
same type of experience. We had some
interesting creations at
and excellent non-sushi
Matsuhisa. We weren't looking to see who was "#1" but we definitely
wanted to see whether our love for Nishino was biased by the fact that
we live in Seattle and the options are simply not as vast as they are in
other larger cities. The answer? Nishino rocks. Read on for more detail.
Things started off with some of the basics. Miso soup and bowls of hot
steaming perfectly salted edamame. We also got small plates of fresh
wasabi for later when the sushi arrived. It's amazing how many people
don't know that 99% of wasabi you get in sushi restaurants is not fresh,
but made from powder. I don't turn my nose up at the powdered stuff as
it has a nice kick. But there's simply no substitute for fresh. I think
of them as two completely different condiments.
started off with some of the specials and non-sushi items off the menu.
Sashimi - hot oil drizzled on raw fish and arugula at the last
second before serving came to the table first. We ate it in a hurry. I
love dishes with temperature contrasts and this is one of them. The
downside is that you have to eat it right away. Even a couple of extra
seconds can significantly detract from your enjoyment. The dish was
beautiful tasting. It filled our mouths with warmth and a nutty flavor.
Another classic (also borrowed from Nobu) was the
Tempura (which we always order with extra spicy creamy sauce on the
side). The combination of the fresh tempura shell, the steaming shrimp
inside, the spiciness, and the tanginess of the sauce all make for
something that not only qualifies as delicious, but for me is clearly
comfort food. It makes me happy. We also got the classic
dish. Seaweed rolled up with sauce. As always, Nishino refines the dish
so it meets even the highest expectations. The
Cod was no exception. Sticky sweet glaze on flakey tender perfectly
moist fish. Delicious.
first hand rolls showed up next -
Rolls. "Mori" after Mori-san who is one of the sushi chefs and
created this temaki for us. Tuna, Salmon, and Yellowtail, chopped fine
with spicy sauce, wrapped around Yamagobo (a super crunchy orange
Japanese vegetable), and a perfectly tempura'd slice of avocado. This is
yet another example of great temperature contrast with the super hot
avocado and the cold fish combining for an incredible effect in your
mouth. The textures are something to behold as well. How the avocado
stays perfectly formed and soft while being housed in it's crunchy
tempura shell I really don't know. It seems near impossible, but every
time we order this roll, it happens without fail.
A plate with
some basic but delicious sushi showed up next. Tamago, Maguro and Kampachi Temari Zushi. The first is the simplest item on the menu and
some say is the baseline by which you measure the quality of a sushi
restaurant. Nishino's tamago is warm, dense, slightly sweet, and
delicious. The latter is a special type of ngiri called temari-zushi
where the fish is wrapped around a sphere of rice. This one is kampachi
wrapped around rice with a shiso leaf stuffed between the fish and the
rice. The item is topped with some Ume (sour plum) flavored sesame
seeds. The combination is so simple and so delicious. I typically don't
like shiso but for some reason in this dish it all comes together for
me. The herbal qualities of the leaf, the freshness of the fish, and the
sour spikes of flavor from the sesame seeds make a perfect triumvirate
of flavor in my mouth. Make sure to put it on your tongue with the top
facing down so you get maximum flavor.
Dungeness Crab Cake with Pineapple Mint Salsa was up next. This dish
was served with Kabocha Salad on the side which was a mixture of Kabocha,
Apples, Cranberries, Ham, and Corn. This yummy item was only the
beginning of our crab adventures. We also got:
Snowcrab Tempura Maki and
Tatsu Special. The maki was filled with snowcrab tempura and tobiko
with spicy mayonnaise and was like a warm morsel of crab tempura
goodness. And because the whole thing was baked, the rice got slightly
crispy around the edges and chewy on the insides. Really special. The
King Crab was great as well. Alex and
Debbie loved it.
Peyman and I loved the maki.
always ask for a couple of new sushi creations every time we go to
Nishino. The kitchen is always happy to oblige. The Baked Crab Tempura
Maki was one of the dishes we got for the first time, and it didn't
disappoint. We got a couple more. One was
which was a combination of shiitake, shimeji and oyster mushrooms
with cilantro aioli. Wow. This had a really special earthy flavor and
still retained its Japanese roots. It was absolutely delicious.
The other was
Arugula Maki which was just ok. It was certainly good, especially
compared to 99% of sushi restaurants you go to in this country, but not
special. It doesn't matter. The fact that every time we go we ask for
original creations and that even a third of the time what comes out of
the kitchen is not only delicious, but good enough for us to want to
order it every time we go back is really incredible. We'll take the
"good" with the great. It's the burden we must bear.
As if we hadn't had enough delicious food, a whole bunch more dishes
were on their way to our table. The first was
Kushiyaki with Roasted Garlic, Ponzu. Seared tuna, with delicious
garlic and ponzu sauce. Yum! Next was one of our perennial favorites -
Hasami. This is lotus root and shrimp slices deep fried, salted, and
served with lemon on side. These little morsels were super delicious,
special, and fresh tasting. They had a great crunchy and chewy texture
and excellent shrimp flavor. They're like super high end snacks.
next item was a tribute to simplicity -
Ngiri. This is pickled red turnip on rice ngiri style. A simple
fresh pickled vegetable, and yet it looks and even tastes almost like
fish. We will definitely have this next time. Then came the
Ngiri. This is slices of foie gras, their buttery meaty goodness
slathered with a soy and red wine reduction. This is so very good. If
that wasn't enough, the
came next. Also named after one of the sushi chefs who's been nicknamed
"Garcia" on the golf course. (I don't know squat about golf so you'll
have to ask Chris to explain it.) This roll is a combination of crab,
mango, cilantro roll. I think it's even better when done with asian pear
as the flavor balance is even better. And finally we got a platter
composed of pieces of
Tatsu Special maki. Each piece was filled with concentrated, spicy,
crunchy (from the tobiko), loveliness. So very good.
As I said earlier. There is no best. But there are certainly restaurants,
chefs, and food that transport you. There are certainly food experiences
that are memorable and ones that are not. I eat a lot of different food,
and document almost all of it. It's easy to note when I look back at
pictures of food I ate weeks and months ago and know whether I can still
bring up the flavor in my brain or not. And unsurprisingly, the ones I
can recall are the ones I love the best. They made an impression.
Nishino makes an impression. A great one. They don't have a big PR
machine, or a world famous chef. They just have
Nishino serving a mix of creative, authentic, and always delicious
Japanese food to Seattleites who don't know how lucky they are.
Leslie sent this one in.
Hopefully the New Yorker won't
mind as I linked it back to the page where you can purchase the print.
James Beard Award Nomination, New
York, NY, March 11, 2004 —
I know I said we'd finish our sushi roundup, but we're going to
interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a neat announcement.
James Beard was a key early figure in the world of food in America. The
foundation that bears his name was started after his death when Julia
Child and others spearheaded an effort to buy his house, and preserve
his name. Today the foundation does a variety of things including giving
out awards every May. There are actually two broad categories of awards:
one for people who make the food, and another for people who talk about
it. A few months ago, almost on a lark, I sent in one of our write-ups
from 2003 to the foundation. And today the nominees (not winners) were
announced. I'll admit I was pretty surprised to see that
the list of nominees for the category "Internet writing on food,
nutrition, travel, restaurant and beverage" included this site for our
story about bagels published
originally on April 24, 2003. Cool! The other nominees in the category are
The Frugal Oenophile.
I also noticed scanning through the list that one of our perennially
favorite (and somewhat unsung) chefs in Seattle, Scott Carsberg of
nominated (him for the second time) as well. Well deserved on his part,
and very cool overall.
Teaching kids to cook seems like
If only my two year old liked stuff beyond peanut butter (Editors note:
he actually started eating macaroni and cheese recently. No orange
powder cheese though.
Plugra and parmesan for our kids.)
I am having a very hard time keeping up with all the various fads of
what is and isn't healthy. In this culture of over-reaction and then
over-reaction in reverse everything in moderation seems to be the only
constant. Pepperidge Farm
Goldfish crackers are starting to lose their trans fatty acids.
I think sometimes patrons of restaurants forget that the restaurants are
businesses, and not there to endlessly cater to the customer's every
need. That doesn't mean there can't be incredible connections made where
the customer and business owner both get their needs met and walk away
happy. Just that sometimes one party or another forgets it's a two way
street. The Los Angeles Times recounts
some examples of this type of behavior (free registration
required). I'm not sure putting your wristwatch into someone's
wineglass isn't also lame behavior, but the author's point still stands.
The New York Times has probably one of the best food sections of any
newspaper on the planet. Articles currently online include a writeup
eating cheaply in Tokyo (one of my favorite cities in the world),an
Michiba, and a review by William Grimes (temporary?) replacement
Amanda Hesser of Marcus Samuelson's new restaurant
registration required). We ate there recently as well but you'll
have to wait a few weeks for our writeup.
We wrap up our sushi roundup tomorrow.
Matsuhisa, Seattle, WA, October
29, 2003 — We
were still in L.A. and still on the hunt for some references to other
innovative Japanese restaurants to baseline our
experiences. Nobu Matsuhisa's original restaurant
beckoned to us, and as Tatsu Nishino had worked there earlier in his
career we needed to try it out. And while it's the precursor to the Nobu
restaurants and located in
Hills, it was actually surprisingly understated. This hominess was
actually inviting and refreshing. I don't know what I expected but
"down-to-earth" wasn't it. The place was packed even late at night, and
the odd series of
silhouettes that lined the walls all contributed to the atmosphere.
Things started off with
Whitefish. The chili sauce and super yuzu flavors knocked you on
your ass. It was killer with the spiciness and cilantro combining in
your mouth.Next up was Lobster Ceviche with Limestone Lettuce. This was
unbelievably fresh tasting. Tangy and savory as well. We also got
Shrimp and Scallop on Limestone Lettuce. This had a different tangy
and savory set of flavors. The hot scallops were delicious and
gorgeously prepared.We of course sampled the
Tartar with Caviar. It's a classic Nobu dish. Same with the
Shrimp Tempura with Spicy Creamy Sauce. It's covered with those
classic little chives that Nobu's restaurants sprinkle over so many of
their dishes. The straight prawn
was also very well done. Not too oily. Fresh. Hot. Tender.
We of course had to order some
as well. This included Negi Toro Gunkan Maki - chopped tuna and scallion
maki where the rice forms a base with a nori border wrapped vertically
around the edge to hold in the fish. We also got Negi-Saki Maki - salmon
scallion maki. It had a cool thin style but honestly zero flavor. It was
weird how absent the flavor was. We had the obligatory Spicy Tuna roll.
Michael questioned whether it really was "extra spicy".
This was kind of an odd experience, but actually in retrospect
surprisingly (and not surprisingly) like some of our best Nobu
experiences. We really didn't know what to expect. I think we were
caught off guard by the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant, whereas
the Nobu restaurants are all "designey" and more high end. And then the
non-sushi items really were absolutely delicious. So packed with flavor
and spark. Better even than some of the similar (or identical) dishes
I've had at various branches of Nobu. The sushi however was relatively
mediocre. And this odd dichotomy is also reminiscent of my experiences
at various Nobus. Bottom line: while the sushi wasn't my favorite, I
would definitely go back to Matsuhisa. The creativity that makes Nobu
Matsuhisa's cooking interesting is there in perhaps it's rawest (and
maybe most original) form. And for that alone it's definitely worth the
Hama Saku, Los Angeles, CA,
October 29, 2003 —
It should be noted that while we're looking for a comparison to
is not strictly a sushi place. I'm not sure I've done a good job
explaining that. It's basically a Japanese restaurant with an extensive
sushi menu and a relatively deep menu of semi-traditional and innovative
entrees and appetizers. Places like
which may or may not be noted for their sushi I think are fair
comparisons as they are trying to represent the best in modern Japanese
food in the U.S. Also, while I can really enjoy a restaurant because
they do one thing well, I have to say, that it's not reasonable to say
Nobu can't be measured on their sushi as they're not known for it. If
you put it out there, I assume you want me to eat it. Don't have a sushi
bar if you don't want to be judged on it. It would be reasonable to say,
if you're looking to compare Nishino to the best sushi in the U.S. then
Nobu and Morimoto are not the benchmark. That I agree with. However, I'm
not sure it's just sushi we're looking to compare.
While we knew we had to head to Matsuhisa for sushi, we also wanted a
counterpoint in LA. Noted for it's creativity, and having been
previously visited and enjoyed by Alex,
Hama Saku was the
logical choice. The sushi restaurants in this country are not always
bound by tradition, unless it's the tradition of American innovation and
creativity. You may think them inventive, or wacky, but there are a
class of restaurants with an incredibly diverse set of sushi
combinations. Peanut Butter and Salmon Maki anyone? Hama Saku definitely
has the basics but also scored points for creativity. They characterized
their food as "California Japanese Cuisine".
Some examples include: G7 Roll - temaki tuna, yellowtail, salmon,
spicy mayonnaise, and crunchy rice, wrapped in soy paper with a cucumber
wrap; Tunacup - spicy tuna and crunchy rice wrapped in seaweed; Sushi
Tacos - spicy tuna and avocado in a crispy shell with wasabi and sweet
sauce; Magic Flute - spicy tuna with "crunchy" rice and soy paper
wrapped in cucumber; JKX Roll - albacore with apple; Rainbow Roll; and
the Lobster Roll.
The G7 was crunchy. It was the "crunchy rice" which was really rice
rolled in tempura bits. It was a cool little trick and made for a great
texture. It was spicy too. The Tunacup was good, but not super flavorful.
The "tacos" were crunchy and spicy. The Magic Flute was wrapped in soy
paper. An alternative to seaweed is certainly interesting, and this one
was yummy. The roll was unique with sharp heat which crept up on you in
a good way. The JKX roll was super good mostly because of the rich dark
tangy sauce. We had the rainbow roll. Half the people at our table felt
that there was too much stuff going on. The Lobster Roll was very hot
(temperature-wise). It fell apart as we picked up the pieces, and it
didn't have much flavor. Not super.We also had the Spicy Tuna handrolls.
They were too smushy, kind of like a tuna smoothie. Most of us weren't
We didn't just try the sushi. Among the things we
sampled was the Spicy Tuna Ravioli. They were interesting. They tasted
like shrimp. Michael wished that the tuna had staued raw inside this
cooked ravioli. I'm not sure how that would be possible. But maybe it
would be. I've seen Ice Cream stay frozen inside a tempura shell. The
sauce for the ravioli was amazing. The little tobiko were so crunchy and
So where does all this leave us. The food at Hama Saku was
definitely creative. Especially the textures. They had a few moves like
rolling the sushi in crunchy tempura pieces or using soy paper instead of
nori that were fun. They reused them but so what, normally everything's
wrapped in seaweed. The flavors were less consistent. Once in awhile
things would break through like the tangy sauce on the JKX roll. We also
had gorgeous dessert plates that were beautiful to behold. But ultimately
as interesting as things tried to be, the creativity seemed a bit forced.
Only because none of the flavors really blew us away. The creativity
around sushi and Japanese food is wonderful as long as it's ultimately
serving the main values around superb ingredients and flavor. As soon as
the experimentation is the main focus, ingredients and flavor take a
backseat. I would try Hama Saku again, but there are probably a bunch of
other places I would try first.
SUSHI, March 7, 2004 —
I don't really remember the moment when I started liking sushi. My
parents never took us to eat it when we were kids. And then in the
summer after high school I spent a lot of time with a friend who's
family ate sushi. I remember going out with them, and not wanting to eat
any sushi. I'll have teriyaki chicken thanks. I remember they got me to
try a cucumber maki (even the California roll was too weird for me; in
our house we grew up without eating crab, even k-r-a-b krab). I
remember the taste of that first kappa maki. Nutty, seaweed, fresh, cool
cucumber, and warm rice. Crunchy, soft, delicious. Well, I think I
remember the taste of that first kappa maki. Because after that bite, my
sushi history is a blur and it's as if I've loved sushi since I can
remember anything. And yet, I don't remember eating it in college.
Probably because I couldn't afford it. But I don't remember loving it in
college, or not loving it for that matter. I just don't remember it at
After college I lived in Washington, DC for a few months. It was there
that we found a small restaurant with an all-you-can-eat sushi bar for
$25 for dinner or $15 for lunch. Today, all-you-can-eat sushi raises a
red flag for most sushi lovers. How good could it be? Usually sad little
pieces of low grade fish on big pieces of rice, poorly formed, by sushi
"chefs" trained the previous day. And while I'm sure that place couldn't
compare to some of the best sushi I've had today, it really was pretty
decent. Three Japanese sushi chefs sat behind a small bar putting out
hundreds of pieces of ngiri and maki as well as making hand rolls to
order. I can't tell you how many times we walked in there and ordered 12
spicy tuna hand rolls off the bat - for four of us. I ate a lot of sushi
while I lived in DC. We went every week and sometimes twice.
The first restaurant I sought out when I moved to Seattle almost six
years ago was a good sushi restaurant. We were recommended a place
called Shiro's down by the Space Needle. It was hardcore traditional. No
spicy tuna here. And it was good. But it didn't move me. After a time we
finally found Nishino,
a medium size restaurant tucked away in an affluent neighborhood of
Seattle called Madison Park. Nishino was named for it's sushi chef Tatsu
Nishino who quietly ran the place and oversaw the creations coming from
the sushi bar and the kitchen. I've written many times about the
numerous wonderful experiences we've had at Nishino (09/30/02,
04/27/03) and don't need to
recount them all here. That said, I have often wondered just how good is
Nishino? Have I been swayed by the fact that it's local to where I live?
By the warm and generous atmosphere created by Tatsu and his wife Eri?
There is simply no question that the quality, creativity, and most
importantly the flavor of the food there is fantastic. But how does it
stack up against the best sushi restaurants in other cities in the U.S.?
I'd been to Nobu (in New
York, London, and
Las Vegas) with
mixed results (London was a bummer, the others were very good). I'd been
in Philadelphia, run by Iron Chef Japanese Masaharu Morimoto. It was a
wonderful experience, though most of the sushi was actually not super.
Nishino worked at Matsuhisa, Nobu Matsuhisa's original restaurant in Los
Angeles and the influence was apparent in dishes like New Style Sashimi
as well as some of the Peruvian influenced ceviche like dishes. But I
hadn't eaten at Matsuhisa. There are other extremely high end sushi
restaurants that certainly deserve a visit (Masa Takayama's new $350 -
$500 a head sushi restaurant in the new Time Warner Center in Columbus
Circle in Manhattan is one of them). But Nishino sits in the center of
the spectrum with super traditional sushi on one end, and wacky
Americanized sushi on the other. The food is innovative and exciting,
but respectful of tradition and its roots.
So back to the primary question. Nishino isn't just good. It's great.
And it's definitely one of the best Japanese restaurants in the country.
But we needed to compare to know where it really sat. We were in Los
Angeles, and this was our chance to make some comparisons. So on one
night we decided to hit Hama Saku and Matsuhisa. Detailed reports coming
Fast food nation
Kosher Cajun? Here's an
article with recipes for Purim
from the New Orleans Times Picayune.
Maybe I'm a little too obsessed with food and
restaurants. Would anyone else find a
restaurant gossip column interesting?
How hard would it be for websites to print pictures of
things that need visual description? Like
Romanita tomatoes. I just want to see what they look like.
Maybe I'm in a complaining mood, but I find these
fashion articles irritating. Here's what's in fashion, food that
tastes good. So many people are so much more obsessed with what's cool
over what's good. Don't they understand... when it comes to food, good is
Los Angeles, CA, October 28, 2003 — Joachim
Splichal is one of those celebrity chefs who travels the world opening
restaurants, writing cookbooks, and most often having other people cook
at his restaurants. I'm not making a value judgment. And even if it's
not Splichal cooking at his restaurants, that doesn't mean the chefs who
do cook there aren't making wonderful food. And
Splichal's flagship has had many chefs running the kitchen. There was a
new one there the night we arrived. And to make matters more
interesting, we showed up on Patina's first night in their new digs at
the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
We arrived, a large group, and the place was super modern, and brand
spanking new. Champagne for each of us courtesy of the restaurant helped
get everyone relaxed in in a good mood. The staff was super friendly and
happy to see us. Even though it was their first night, the place seemed
to be operating without having missed a beat. The previous night they
had been open had been at their old location. Cool.
It can be a crapshoot going to restaurants of famous chefs who aren't in
the kitchen. I'm just not sure that they can scale. Again though, that
doesn't mean that the people in the kitchen aren't doing a great job.
And lucky for us, they did on this evening. Things started off with
Golden Oscietra Caviar on Potato Pancakes with Creme Fraiche.
The latkes were like pillows. They were delicious topped with the perfectly salty creamy caviar.
Lauren got the veggie selections and started off with
Carpaccio of Beet, Frisee, Caramelized Pistachios, with Blood Orange and
Lemon Vinaigrette. Lauren loves beets.
Michael came and brought a lovely bottle of wine - 1999 Flora Springs Wild Boar Cabernet Sauvignon.
The flavors were round and warm, with smooth
tannins and a soft bite on the finish. We gave it 93 points. Next up for
veggies was Braised Vegetables, Baby Field Greens.
The rest of us got
Sushi Tuna Sashimi, Hot Oil Infused Tobiko Mayonnaise, Seaweed Salad,
and Wasabi Cream. When you serve a raw tuna dish, it's hard not to
be cliché. But when you do the cliche in a world class way it's not
longer cliche, it's classic, or in this case, a fresh take on an old
favorite. The cubes of fish were like tuna jewels. And with all the
accompaniments around the perimeter you got different
flavors as you ate your way around the entire plate. The tobiko was also extra delicate
Various breads arrived. They weren't super but they were warm.
The butter was super creamy.
At this point the dishes were good, even great. But they were in the
comfort zone a bit. Caviar and raw tuna give any dish a leg up. And then
Vanilla Bean Risotto, Champagne Cream Sauce, Poached Lobster in Lobster
Stock, Ground Lobster Coral, and Chervil arrived in front of us.
Granted Lobster gives dishes a leg up as well, but this treatment felt
special and unique.
The lobster was super tender and gentle. Soft lobster morsels and a perfect risotto texture.
Simple and interesting.
Lauren got Truffle
Gnocchi with Beurre Blanc and Chanterelles. If you
love truffles this dish would make you very happy. The gnocchi were airy
and delicious and not a bit glutinous.
Next up was Hand Rolled Spaghetti in Parmesan Crisp and Lt. Porcini Mushroom Sauce
and Emulsified Porcini Stems. The parmesan crisp was fabulous, so
sharp. This was followed by
Slow Roast Salmon with Fennel Emulsion and Chili Pepper Oil with Fennel
Salmon was beautiful. Walter and I both uttered "beautiful" at
the same moment. Walter characterized it perfectly. "It's like heated sashimi." Translucent
and transcendent. There was an amazing slight sharpness of the oil coming through the fennel
Walter's spot on observations about the Salmon weren't enough. He also
noted that every dish we got was designed to serve exact right amount of
The salmon was followed by
Red wine risotto with Radicchio and Endive.
It was pretty wild. The endive alone was slightly bitter. But when you
ate it with the risotto, the flavors were like magic. Hearty,
earthy, warm, slightly tangy, and great. Like chemistry. Cool. Then we
got Rare Venison Napoleon,
Polenta, Porcini Mushroom, and Slow Roasted Foie Gras with Cranberry Pear Relish, and Brussel Sprouts
Marinated in Gin and Juniper Berries. This dish was like an entire
meal on one plate in terms of the sheer number of flavors. Peyman in
particular was blown away that the flavors were so different and yet
were all on the same plate. The venison had an incredible game flavor but
it was still alive and fresh and rich. The foie gras
and polenta were yummy.
Walter and Peyman spent a little too much time figuring out all the mathematical possibilities of the
of cheese off the
arrived to start the last phase of the meal. The three were filled with
mild, medium, and strong cheeses. Unlike the previous night at Bastide,
the way the cheese was organized actually meant something. The cheeses
really did reflect their characterizations. There were some yummy
cheeses of note including:
Chimay Biere -
Belgian cow's milk cheese;
Brin d'Amour - Sheep and Goat from Corsica with herbs;
unpasteurized Camembert - Chantal Plasse (is this stuff illegal?);
from Leicestershire. Yum! The fact that there was a knowledgeable
maitre'd fromaggier helped as well.
Dessert included a dizzying array of delicious sweet dishes, including:
Pineapple Tuile, Pineapple Mousse, Fresh Green Apple Ice,
and Pineapple Dice - the flacors were super bright and fresh;
Champagne and Vanilla Sorbet with Green Apple Sorbet;
Mousse Sorbet in a Filo Crust - the chocolate was deep and velvety;
Orange Mousse Tuile
and Candied and Grand Marnier Sauce;
Tiramisu and Peanut Crumble;
with Apple, Milk and Honey Sorbet; and
Pear in White Wine Sugar Sauce with Quince.
Wow. A great end to a delicious meal.
It's funny how a restaurant on it's first night in a new location could
do so well with wonderful service and fantastic food, but still have the
experience tainted by a genuinely dumb employee. I debated whether to
even mention this part of our experience, but in the interest of full
disclosure it seems only fair. That said, the star of the stupidity, the
General Manager of Patina, Jay, hasn't worked there since two months
after our meal. I can only hope/assume that the folks at Patina realized
this guys was not on the ball and got rid of him. The basic story is
simple. We booked the Chef's table at Patina months in advance. It was
part of the reason we were excited about eating there. Two days before
our meal I got a call from Jay the then general manager giving me
a sob story about how hey couldn't seat us at the chef's table as
construction wasn't done, there were wires hanging all over the place,
it wasn't safe, and there was just no way for us to eat in the kitchen.
He insisted that the corner of the kitchen where the chef's table was
located was not finished, and wouldn't be for some time. He promised
he'd treat us right, and what could we say other than ok. After all, the
food was really the main attraction. No big deal. And while we still
hadn't seen hide nor hare of Jay during our meal the rest of the
waitstaff was generous and efficient so we didn't care. They even
offered us a tour of the kitchen. We went into the kitchen and overheard
one of the kitchen staff mention the party of 10 at the chef's table. We
couldn't help but ask where it was. And sure enough they pointed us to a
room off to the side with a window into the kitchen. Again, not my idea
of a great chef's table, but there it was nonetheless. Jay just lied to
us. There was so little reason for this guy to lie to us. It couldn't
have been dumber. He could have called me and told me that they'd double
booked. He could have told me someone more important showed up. He could
have told me the owner needed the table. It really wouldn't have
mattered. I'm not saying I would have been thrilled, but we would have
come to dinner, and enjoyed ourselves anyway. What we couldn't take was
being lied to. We couldn't help ourselves and asked our buddy Jay to
come by the table and explain himself. Half the people eating with us
were mortified that we'd confront him. But we really couldn't help it.
We told him that he had been outed and he started doing a dance that
I've only seen rivaled by
Michael Flatley in terms of its sheer spasticity. He came up
with numerous excuses telling us that the room for ten that the kitchen
staff referred to as the "Chef's table" was not in fact the Chef's table
but something else entirely. He then proceeded to blame everything under
the sun including SARS, vibrations caused by construction in the Disney
Concert Hall, and something about Hollywood
producers that I didn't quite catch. Wacky. I can only say I'm glad he
doesn't work there anymore, and I hope he doesn't work in any restaurant
anywhere. Lying is so dumb. People are reasonable. Tell them the truth
no matter how disappointing and they'll get over it.
Despite this wackiness, we really did love our
meal at Patina that night. I wouldn't exactly characterize anything as
extremely adventurous, but the food was very very flavorful. And even
dishes with familiar ingredients were made to be special. Luckily our
meal was memorable and not only for the wackiness of the restaurants
General Manager. We'll definitely be back to Patina next time we're in
Bastide, Los Angeles, CA, October
27, 2003 —
It was our first night in Los Angeles. There is this pattern that we're
falling into that's kind of unsettling. I am just as thrilled to find a
world class taco stand where I can spend $1.50 on dinner as I am to find
an exciting high end restaurant that adds a couple of decimal places to the price.
All I care about is finding great food, wherever I can. And when I go to
a place I'm unfamiliar with I usually use a variety of resources to
identify eating establishments I should visit. Unfortunately people
typically don't recognize the brilliance in the simple taco stand, and
they typically overestimate the brilliance in the fancy restaurant.
Something to do with justifying the check I suppose. But what this means
to me in plain terms is that I end up first eating mostly at higher end
places and then only over time do I find the holes-in-the-wall. I need
to do a better job over time of balancing this. Dim Sum as our first
meal in LA was a good start, but that night we ended up at what was
being touted as the best high end restaurant in the city -
We pulled up to the restaurant and found our way through the large
arched doors. It was kind of cool as we walked into a courtyard where
there were tables and people seated. Only where the weather is nice is
this possible. We walked past these tables supposedly on our way to the
chef's table. Typically this is a table in the kitchen where you get a
great view of the action in the kitchen. In Bastide's case this was just
another table that was next to a small window with a view of the
kitchen. A window which half the time had the blinds closed from the
other side. I am loathe to judge an eating experience on almost anything
but the food, but this was just disingenuous. A kitchen table with a
partial view of the kitchen once-in-awhile does not a kitchen table
Three kinds of bread showed up: sourdough, green olive and rosemary, and
black olive. Soon after we got a dish of Maryland Crabmeat with Salmon
Caviar. This was a nice dish with avocado and strong Ikura. The crab was
subtle but not lost. The ocean flavors came through. We also got
Watermelon Balls in Watermelon Granite. This was really special. It
tasted super fresh and had great texture.
Foie Gras was up next. Specifically, Canadian Foie Gras with Fig Compote
and Homemade Brioche. This was accompanied by a 1989 Chateau Climens
Barsac. The Table was blown away. One person at dinner felt it was the
best white wine they'd ever had. The terrine was one of the creamiest
ever. The figs were subtle and there was a nice sourness in the thin
layer of fat. We also got a Porcini Mushroom Soup. It smelled like a
perfect steamed mushroom. It was so light and rich. Like a satin
mushroom comforter that's light but warm. The main vegetarian dishes we
got were technically lovely, just not huge flavor. But the palate
cleanser, Grapefruit Sorbet in Noilly Prat Vermouth from Southern
France, was yummy.
Next up was Sonoma Liberty Duck. Fig infused with Vegetable. This was
incredibly juicy with almost a salt crust. I liked it though in the past
I have not been a huge fig fan. We also got Veal Tenderloin with Wild
Mushroom, Mushroom Coulis, Natural Jus, and Thyme Oil. This was good,
but again, not super special.
They then asked us if we wanted cheese? They also offered us a fruit
plate or a salad instead. We opted for the cheeses. They then asked us
whether we liked sheep? Cow? Goat? Sharp? Mild? This was kind of cool as
it seemed like they would target their choices to our tastes.
Unfortunately not one of us recognized any of our preferences in the
cheese plates we got. Weird. Desserts were decent and included Apple
Crepes Caramelized with Dates, Pomegranate Napoleon, and a Grapefruit
Sorbet and Tart.
What do you do with a restaurant like Bastide? The food was certainly
good. And there were moments that were definitely highlights. But nothing
really grabbed us. There were ten of us there and even though some
dishes were quite good, none of us felt like we wanted to go back. I
don't think it's dashed expectations, though a restaurant with a high
price tag, and big press certainly does set some. That said, I think we
gave it a fair shot, and nothing that we ate was truly memorable. We had
higher hopes for our next meal in Los Angeles.
Empress Pavillion, Los Angeles, CA, October 27, 2003 — While I've lived on the west coast for
over seven years, I really haven't taken the time to investigate Los
Angeles up until now. It seems kind of silly given that a city that
size, with a super diverse population, and some money, should have
some interesting food. And in fact it does, it's just taken me
awhile to check it out. Unfortunately we only had a few days. But we
made the most of our meals while we were there. First up, Chinese
food, dim sum to be exact.
Pavilion was recommended as a great place for dim sum. When you're
looking for hardcore dim sum, an enormous restaurant, filled with Chinese
Americans, and bustling carts clogging every aisle is the way to go. So
from that perspective we were off to a good start as Empress Pavilion fit
the archetype. Unfortunately, the food was relatively average as well.
The selection was pretty standard. And the food
we ordered was nothing to write home about. The duck was cold and greasy.
The most interesting dish was the Chow Fun noodles with small chunks of
green and red vegetables. It was like a fiesta! The sesame balls were
gluey. The potstickers were chunks of "eh". They were over-fried and dry.
Empress Pavilion was disappointing. But we still
had high hopes. We were in Los Angeles and we were sure there was good
food to be had. The hunt continues...