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.
I've posted links before that discuss Amazon's "Search Inside the Book"
feature before. Basically they have digitized thousands of books and let
you search across their content, not just the information on the outside
cover (title, author, subject, etc.). Cookbooks are particularly
affected by this feature (as are all reference books). It's been a few
months, and the Los Angeles Times (free registration required)
reactions from cookbook authors.
Speaking of technology and food (two of my three favorite things), Wired
has an article about how "earth-friendly" breeding is creating the
food of the
future. Frankenfood no longer. Maybe.
I need to spend more time writing about my dream here, but basically I'd
like more restaurants that serve home cooking. According to the Boston
Globe, this is
one of them.
Lai Wah Heen, Toronto, Canada,
November 24, 2003 — Awhile ago I made a trip for a family event
in Canada. With not much time to spend in
Toronto, I made a
list of restaurants that looked decent. A stop at Gryfe's bagels was
mandatory. But due to the timing of the trip and all the family
obligations, all that was left was a quick lunch on Monday. I'd heard
good things - very good things - about
Heen - dim sum at Toronto's Metropolitan Hotel. So that's where I
went for lunch.
Here's what was tried: Crystal Butterfly - Dumpling Filled with
Shrimp and Scallop; Ugly Duckling - Deep Fried Taro Root Paste filled
with Shredded Duck and Chicken accompanied with Plum Sauce; Bumble Bee -
Deep-Fried Crab Claw coated with a layer of Calamari Mousse, flavored
with Cured Ham and Almond; Crystal Shrimp Dumpling (Ha Gao); Siu Mai of
Pork, Shrimp, and Scallop; Lai Wah Bok Choy Dumpling; Steamed Mini Bun
Stuffed wiih Crab Meat and Minced Pork served with Ginger Juice and
Vinegar; Pan-Seared Crystal Purse stuffed with Tofu, Assorted Peas, and
Vegetables; and Beef Tenderloin and Pickled Vegetables in Rice Roll
(Beef Chow Fun). That was quite a bit! But after all, it's dim sum -
lots of small tastes.
Lai Wah Heen was obviously a high end restaurant. Super attentive
service. Formal dining room. And beautiful presentation. I mean
beautiful. The Ugly Duckling dim sum was not only not ugly, it came out
as a gorgeous deep-fried duck. It was cool looking. The bumble-bee also
was very cool. The Crystal Butterfly looked more like a stingray than a
butterfly. But visuals alone aren't enough to make a restaurant I'm
dying to go back to. The dim sum was good. It may even be the best in
Toronto. But it wasn't great. The flavors weren't crisp or exciting. The
textures were decent. But without really inspiring flavors, Lai Wah Heen
was not what I was hoping for. If you do go, order a bunch of the
specials off the first dim sum page of the menu. They were expensive,
but that's where we got the cool looking and most interesting stuff.
One other note. When I told Alex
about this place, he told me there's a city in China - Xian - that has
cool looking dim sum including dumplings in the shapes of dragons,
walnuts, and birds. Xian is also the home of the famous
Atkins Salad Dressing, April 23, 2004 —
diet is completely out of control. Atkins himself died (maybe
partially from a heart condition) and yet people still are
Bakeries are screwed (and
back). And the reason it's so popular is because at least on a
short term basis, it works. I've done it myself. I'm not saying it
works for the reasons it says it does (as Debbie points out, it's
tough to snack when all you can eat is hamburgers and bacon). I'm
not saying it's healthy (at a certain point it just feels yucky to
pour all that grease down your gullet). And I'm not saying that it's
logical. (Really? I can't eat as many vegetables as I want? That's
That said, there's no denying the popularity.
The stewards of the Atkins franchise are geniuses.
Subway and others now feature Atkins approved entrees. Supermarkets
feature endcaps filled with low carb yuck. And I even recently saw a
"superstore" pop up near where I work.
But recently I happened upon a low carb salad
dressing made by the nice folks at Walden Farms. They make a variety of
salad dressings, condiments, dips, sauces, and the like. Their latest
innovation is several variations of
"Carbohydrate Free, Calorie
Free, Sugar Free, Fat Free, and Cholesterol Free" salad dressing.
I got "Buttermilk Ranch". Much as I often do when happening upon a can of
Free Diet Coke I wonder what the hell is
actually left in this stuff? Here are the ingredients:
"triple filtered purified
water, white vinegar, cellulose gel, oat fiber, salt, natural
flavors, onion powder, garlic powder, cultured buttermilk powder, sour
flavoring, titanium dioxide, lemon juice, white pepper, xantham gum,
parsley, cayenne pepper, sodium benzoate (to preserve freshness),
Ah, good old xantham gum. That's a familiar
friend. But two items caught my eye: (bold mine) cellulose
gel, and sour cream flavoring. Isn't cellulose what trees are made of?
Aren't trees undigestible by human beings? Is that the trick? Give us food
made of materials that we can't digest so they pass through our system.
I'd call it empty calories, but those are missing from this dressing as
well. This is basically the same trick Olestra uses. They configure the
fat in such a way that we can't digest it. Maybe I'm more grossed out by
the idea of "cellulose gel" than I should be. After all
didn't kill the rats. The idea of tricking me into eating and enjoying
something I can't digest (and therefore mess up my body with) is pretty
clever. Then again, I'm just guessing. I have no idea whether our bodies
can digest this crap. And as for "sour cream flavoring" it just makes me wonder...
what's that made of? If it was made from sour cream wouldn't they just say
"sour cream". What's sour cream flavoring code for? All I know
is that it's also found in
The folks who make this stuff consider it to
"represent a breakthrough in the Salad Dressing Category" because it
"ENABLES CONSUMERS TO EAT ALL THEY WANT CALORIE FREE!". (All caps theirs.
They're very excited about it.)
And finally, while I'm standing firm about not
eating bugs, I did taste this concoction. I know you may question the
logic of not eating something found in nature, but being willing to ingest
this weird combination of chemical nothingess (and of course of sour cream
flavoring). I can't explain it, it's just me. (Please accept me for who I
am.) My best description of the way the dressing tasted is: butter milk
ranch flavored, unnaturally silky smooth, melted vinyl-based, fluff.
I tasted this stuff so you'll never have to.
Courtesy of my friend Scott we now know
about a self-proclaimed halvah
superstore on the web. While I love this sweet granular feeling
sugar-sesame confection as much as the next
person, isn't the word superstore getting tossed about a little bit
He also sent me another web page about
nyataimori. And while I love nyataimori as much as the next person, but I
covered that topic already.
Anyone really into wine knows by now that corks
are so passé. The New York Times can catch you up on the
screwtops. (Free registration required.)
Terrines are cool. Basically it's like making
lasagna with anything. One of the most memorable I had was a caprese
terrine I had at Dahlia Lounge. I love caprese salad, and as simple as it
seems, it's hard to get it really perfect. This was not only delicious but
interesting. Next time I see Tom Douglas (which is surprisingly often
given that we don't know each other) I will need to remember to ask him
how he did it. The LA Times has an article on how to make some
vegetable terrines. (Free registration required.) And
shockingly it has some nice pictures that you can even enlarge!
727 Pine, Seattle, WA, November
19, 2003 —
There is a problem with hotel restaurants. Most decent sized hotels need
to have a restaurant. They don't necessarily need to have a successful
restaurant. Hotels often subsidize restaurants that are hosted on their
property. They do this because they need som
ewhere for guests to eat
breakfast, and get room service. In this fashion a restaurant may or may
not be good, but the process of natural selection doesn't apply as the
hotel keeps the restaurant alive, whether it deserves it or not. Now
some hotel restaurants I'm sure have different economic arrangements
than I describe above. And some hotel restaurants deserve our patronage
regardless of whether they have a deal with the hotel they're in. That
said, I am still always a little extra nervous when going to a hotel
With that bias, we went to
727 Pine, the
restaurant ensconced in Seattle's Grand Hyatt hotel. The interior was cavernous and a little corporate but not terrible.
The huge mirrors on the wall were cool. Things started off with a pair
of soups. These included
Pear soup with Spiced Crème Fraiche and Poached Pears; and
Wild Mushroom Soup with Seared Day Boat Scallops. The pear soup was
mild. The mushroom soup was pedestrian. These were followed by
Warm Spinach and Endive Salad with Apple Smoked Bacon and Potato and Dijon
Vinaigrette. The salad was "eh". Where was the bacon? Barely in my
salad. The temperature was good though. Things hadn't started well. But
we did have a nice bottle of wine. The 2001
Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot was wonderful. I am not typically a
merlot fan finding it often thin and bitter to my taste. But this had a
caramel aroma and big flavor. Yummy.
Next up was
Smoked Ahi Tuna with Wild Mushrooms and Roasted Tomato and Onions. The
tuna had some odd flavors. We also had
Citrus Cured Salmon with Apple and Celery "Cole Slaw" and
Crème Fraiche; and
Poached Lobster Salad and Toasted Brioche with Grapefruit Oil and Oranges.
The salmon was citrusy and nice. The "cole slaw" was very very good. A
bright spot. The
lobster however was rubbery.
Things weren't heading in a positive direction, but then the waiter
described the next dish with four words I love to hear - "gift from the
chef". It was
Brown Sugar and Lime Cured Salmon, Sweet Potato Chip, Watercress
Microgreens, and Lime Sherry Vinaigrette. I know it's silly, but a small
flavorful surprise can do so much to set the tone to a meal. The dish
itself was a touch heavy on the dressing but very nice to look at. One
more seafood dish came -
Day Boat Scallops, Carnaroli Risotto, Pacific Shellfish, Tomato and
Saffron Broth. The risotto was very nice with the tomato
broth. It had beautiful contrasting colors. THe scallops however were not great.
They were not seared enough.
Things wrapped up with: 10 ounce
Snake River Farms Ribeye - nothing special; Roasted Heirloom Squash -
sweet and interesting; Handmade Pasta with Parmesan and Sage - stuck
together with an odd huge thin slab-like hunk of parmesan;
Braised Washington Chanterelles - tasted boiled; and fries that were
727 Pine was slightly better than the typical high end hotel restaurants but on
the whole it was unremarkable. Bland. A bummer. I think Peyman described
it best: "everything was the same. I don't even know what I ate and
it certainly wasn't worth the price - $45 per person." 727 Pine didn't
do a lot to change my impression of restaurant hotels. I wonder how so
many people eat there without noticing the lack of soul, flavor, life.
Sometimes I want to ask people, why they pay so much for food that they
don't take the time to taste. If they did they would notice that not
only wasn't it worth the price, but it wasn't worth their time. Life is
short. I realize I may sound overly negative about 727 Pine. It
certainly wasn't a terrible restaurant. But when restaurants that move
you exist, cookie-cutter, uninspired, trend-following, plates of food
just get depressing after awhile. Maybe if I ate out less, I'd like
these middle-of-the-road places more... ...probably not.
The Restaurant, April 19, 2004 —
Mark Burnett (creator of Survivor and The Apprentice) premiered his
second season of "The Restaurant" tonight. I love TV, I love reality
shows, and I love food and restaurant. So you'd think this show would be
made for me. And the truth is that it is. I enjoyed the first season,
and I was excited for the second season. But as many things as I enjoy
about the program also annoy the crap out of me.
In the first season where Rocco DiSpirito got his New York city Italian
restaurant up and running I suffered through painfully obvious product
placements, unbelievably self-righteous and annoying staff, silly
planned "spontaneous" events (how did they know to have cameras on both
ends of a sudden angry phone call?). And yet the most annoying thing of
all was that the food didn't look very good. I guess I don't really care
if Mama made the meatballs or not. The food just didn't look super interesting.
It looked corporate. I guess it's not fair to guess what food will taste
like based on seeing it on TV, but they put themselves on TV, not me.
And despite it all, I still kind of liked the show. Tonight's premier of
the second season tipped the balance even more perilously towards me not
watching the show anymore. The fun thing about reality shows is that
they bear some resemblance to reality. The story in the first episode
(and the storyline shaping up for the season) is so pat, and so
convenient that it's impossible to understand how these guys agreed to
do it. Basically the premise is that the restaurant, while busy, is
losing money. And Jeffrey Chodorow, big-time restaurant financier, comes
in and throws his weight around to get the restaurant back on track.
Rocco's feelings are hurt. The staff gossips. Momma wanders around
seemingly aimlessly. Rocco sulks some more. And Rocco's chef de cuisine,
Tony, plays both sides as Rocco has conveniently decided to a) bring in
some random Italian chef for a couple of weeks to take over the kitchen
and treat Tony like his bitch, and b) yell at Tony for something
seemingly minor. No scripted show on television has this many characters
all conveniently scheming against each other and willing to do it on
camera. Chodorow craps all over Rocco in front of his team of
experts/sycophants while the cameras roll and staff eavesdrops.
It's all just too good to be true. That said, how would you script
something like this? These people aren't professional actors, and they
don't seem like they're acting. Maybe they all just love mugging for the
camera. Have they concluded that fame is worth more than making sure
they are employable when Rocco's eventually goes under? I guess getting
a job won't be a problem for Chodorow who owns 21 other restaurants, or
DiSpirito, but what about the yucky staff? And what do we have to look
forward to in the coming weeks? Chodorow's intern who is the son of
Chodorow's close friends. It's not enough that the guy starts off by
saying that he assumes that he and Rocco won't get along, but in order
to make the audience hate him even more, the guy is only there because
Mommy and Daddy asked a friend for a favor. It's all just too good to be
true. Who knows, maybe these people are all nice, professional, and not
dopey. But you would have a hard time telling from watching this
And at least after watching the first show, the food still looks
mass-produced and uninspired. With thousands of restaurants in New York
city that I'm dying to try, why would I go to Rocco's? I can live
without being on TV. But I couldn't live with myself if I knowingly
wasted a meal in New York City on a restaurant (that after I
cross-checked reviews from
CitySearch - poorly written, lacking in detail, and
NewYorkMetro.com - well written, lots of detail) I suspected would
be a disappointment. I bet by the time I make it to the point on my list
where I would try Rocco's 22, it will be long gone. In fairness, I've
heard that Rocco's other restaurant - Union Pacific was quite good.
Maybe the TV cameras are not only warping the quality of the people, but
the quality of the food as well. For now I'll rely on others to let me
In terms of restaurant reality shows I really
Opening Soon on the Fine Living network. (Yes, I'm comfortable
enough with myself to admit I watch the Fine Living network sometimes.)
Each week they follow a restaurant from conception to opening night.
There isn't a lot of yelling and fighting, but the people seem sincere,
and the food often looks like something I'd like to eat.
I'll admit that I haven't spent enough time eating in Paris. For now
I'll just have to
read about it.
Another impeccably detailed, interesting, and erudite article from A la
Carte on "seasoning
to taste". Don't miss this. It includes microscopic pictures of salt
The Food Network is putting a new series of Iron Chef episodes -
Iron Chef America. Bobby Flay, Wolfgang Puck, and Mario Batali
challenge Hiroyuki Sakai and Masaharu Morimoto. The American chefs
always seems so underpowered on TV compared to the Japanese guys, but it
should be fun.
Buddha Ruksa, Seattle, WA, November
15, 2003 —
I am in love with Thailand even though I've never been there. I plan to
go as soon as I can get a chance. Hopefully next year. And I suspect
that even given the best Thai food I've eaten in my life (mostly the
U.S. and one place in Japan), I haven't even begun to eat the best Thai
food in the world. And it's not that Thai food in the U.S. is bad, it's
just that I suspect it hasn't matured to where Thai restaurants are
serving dishes that optimize around authenticity vs. American
expectations. And the truth is that until I get to Thailand and actually
eat some authentic Thai food, I'm really just guessing.
Buddha Ruksa is a Seattle Thai place that looked promising. We started
off with Miang Kum - a great Thai appetizer that you construct yourself.
It was good but not special. We also got some
Fried Fresh Squash. This was super crispy and the addition of corn made
it interesting and special. We also had Crab Wonton. Debbie liked it
though it was not my thing.
The beef satay was juicy, thick, and flavorful. Delicious. The chicken
satay was good as well. It's amazing that something as seemingly simple
as satay can vary so much from restaurant to restaurant. It just shows
how difficult it is to make something consistently great. The fried
Prawns in a Blanket were crispy, crunchy, yummy.
Ordering a grilled New York Steak at a Thai restaurant is going to be
interesting. It had a Thai name - Nueya Yang (which we hoped meant
interesting flavorful Thai steak, but probably meant American Steak) -
so we went for it. It came with a spicy sauce that was quite good, but
unfortunately the meat was a touch overcooked and ended up a bit dry.
The sauce helped though. The Tom Yum Goong - hot and sour shrimp soup -
I'd never seen Garlic Fried Rice at a Thai restaurant so we ordered it.
It was actually super good. There should have been tons more of it. The
Prawn Pad Thai had a nice sweet and sour flavor. We wrapped things up
with Ginger Tofu, Ginger Salmon, and Spicy Eggplant. DebDu thought the
fried entrees were interesting but got soggy relatively quickly.
Buddha Ruksa had cool decor, and looked refined. They also offered some
interesting things on the menu. But in the end the dishes flavors
weren't as refined as the look and feel. The food just wasn't always
consistent. And while there were new things to try, nothing jumped out
and made an impression. The final oddity was the tray of fortune cookies
that arrived at our table with the bill. Weird.
I always wonder why web publications about food don't have more better
photography. Often when they have a print edition, pictures are featured
prominently. But when the article gets posted on the web the pictures
either get tiny or disappear altogether. Not the case in
article about Chicago from the New York Times. (Free registration
Also from the Times,
truffles. Who knew?
Uni (Sea Urchin) is slowly becoming more popular in the United States.
I'll admit it took awhile to get on board, and I recently had my first
really wonderful uni dish. And apparently,
uni from an American company is among the best on the planet.
(Free registration required.)
Courtesy of The Food Section,
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a new working farm and restaurant in New
Courtesy of Sauté Wednesday,
fisherman are finding a
tuna niche with lower mercury.
and Sour Candy, —
When I was a little kid, my parents used to take us on an interminable
drive to Toronto, Canada a few times a year to visit our grandparents
and our cousins. The drive from Boston was over 10 hours, and to this
day I hate long car trips. That said, my grandmother introduced me to
the most wonderful candy I'd ever eaten -
SweeTarts. These were small
tablets, slightly bigger than large aspirin. The came in five flavors -
green (lime?), yellow (lemon?), orange (orange?), pink (cherry?), purple
official Nestle SweeTarts webpage (different than the
SweeTarts website) says these are basically the flavors (with two
modifications) but I'm not sure they really know. I always refer to them
by their colors. Some people love chocolate. Some people love sugar. I
I'm still known to just eat a wedge of lemon (or better yet a lime which
isn't as sweet). Nothing makes me salivate like the thought of something
super sour. And while by today's sour candy standards SweeTarts aren't
super sour, back in the 1970's when I first had them they were the best
you could get. Since their advent the SweeTarts franchise has been
bought twice and undergone some minor, but mostly negative
transformations. Their flavor is basically that of compressed Pixy Stix
powder (also made by Nestle). Biting into one starts the process of turning it back into the
powder from whence it came. They have a slight chalkiness which in this
case is a good thing. The sour flavor is sharp. Each SweeTart has a
slightly different level of sourness that is likely a function of the
additional flavor included in each. I suppose it's supposed to
approximate some sort of fruit. But in fact it feels like a chemical
impression of what fruit flavor candy is supposed to taste like
concentrated into (what I imagine to be) a Retsyn-like liquid where one
potent drop gives the entire SweeTart tablet its distinct flavor. And
though Debbie vehemently denies it, they all do indeed taste different.
We've done one blind taste test and I must admit I had a harder time
identifying them than I care to admit. That said, I still I can
definitely pass a test that proves they taste different (which was her
original challenge). Blindfolded if you give me two different SweetTarts,
tell me what they are, and ask me to tell you which is which, I can do
it. No problem.
The original product was made by Sunline brands and introduced in 1963.
Since then Sunline was bought by Rowntree, which was then
bought by Nestle. Back in the 1970's (and I think through the 80's
as well) these sour candies came in gold foil packs. You could also get
them in purple and pink foil once-in-awhile. Somewhere along the line
the original foil packs were discontinued, and today's predominant roll
form was introduced. There was an overlap in their existence, but I
haven't seen the foil packs for years. It's too bad as the roll version
has bigger actual SweeTarts - roughly twice the mass of the originals by
my best guess. I think these are actually too big, but they're still
essentially good. They also have gotten slightly harder than the
originals in my opinion. You can get the original size still today in
the overpriced boxes of SweeTarts they buy at the movies, but these also
seem harder to me than the originals. At least they're the right size
though. The original size is also available in the mini-packs you can
get around Halloween time. They come three to a pack and are visual
approximations of the original foil packs even though they're white with
one color. The package color has no correlation with the candies inside
unlike the original pink and purple foil packs with their all pink or
Additional innovations include the addition of the the blue
(tropical punch?) SweeTart in the early 90's, and the just recent (this
past year) transformation of the green SweeTart from 'lime' to 'green
apple'. I'll admit that I first was horrified by the addition of the
blue flavor was offensive. I thought it was overpowered and pandering to
what the company thought people would like. Nobody asked me after all
and I'm a friggin' SweeTart expert. OK. Sorry for my indignation. I
think overtime they actually toned down the volume of the blue flavor.
Either that or I just got used to it. A blue 'blueberry' would have been
a better in my opinion. Tropical just doesn't fit. Even worse somehow is
the recent transformation of the green SweeTart. I'll admit that it
certainly wasn't my favorite color, but one of my favorites, the pink,
has somehow been transformed by the green. Not only does the green taste
like an overpowering candy green apple approximation, but so does the
pink. This really sucks. Both of these new flavors (and the third
accidental transformation) suffer from too much 'fruit' flavor balanced
against the sour goodness. SweeTarts are good because the star is the
sour. The additional flavor is just some context, a stage if you will.
The Nestle folks don't really understand the essence of what makes
SweeTarts good. All their focus groups can't substitute for deep an
unabiding understanding of what a perfect SweeTart experience should be.
Since I'm being open about my obsession I suppose I should really come
completely clean. Jeffrey Steingarten talks in his books about adults
who secretly eat candy. I am one of them. Always some candy in my
pocket, or in my car, or in the drawer of my desk. I love it. I also
appear to have a touch of OCD when it comes to SweeTarts in particular.
There is a pecking order in basic order of preference when it comes to
eating them. First blue, then green, yellow, orange, pink, and finally
purple. These also happen to be the right order when it comes to the
color spectrum. In truth, after all of Nestle's modifications, my
personal order of preference is now green, yellow, pink, blue, orange,
purple. But I'm a sucker for tradition, so I still eat them in the
original order. I admit this is a little sick, but it fits in with my
secret candy eating persona. I sometimes wonder if Nestle does tests
where they have people stackrank which colors they like the best. Why do
I want a pack full of greens and yellows when i'd like mostly orange and
purple with a few others thrown in for diversity's sake.
And finally, there are sequels to SweeTarts. Giant SweeTarts - if the
current for is too big, these are way too big;
Giant Chewy SweeTarts - kind of odd, usually show
up with a somewhat stale texture, I buy them once a year anyway (they
now have a variation
that changes colors);
Chewy SweeTarts Minis - much less of the large chewy ones, and not very
flavorful; SweeTarts Gummy Bugs - I'm typically not a fan of all things
'Gummy' but these are surprisingly good, bug-shaped, and slightly
sour/fruity; and of course the various
holiday and movie tie-in SweeTarts. Valentine's Day
Easter Bunny shaped SweeTarts, etc. Strangely enough the odd shapes of
these special editions I think actually make for a better texture and a
If the preceding set are sequels, then these next candies are spinoffs.
Think the Jeffersons from All in the Family. The first to appear was
Spree. These come in the original five SweeTarts colors. These are
basically white sour discs with fruit candy shells. They're quite good.
They also come in a
lesser chewy variety. These were followed by Shock
Tarts (not to mention
Shock tart minis). These have a super sour mottled
looking pastel outside made of coated in some superhuman sour material.
The inside are made of the chewy material that Nestle reuses in all
these chewy sour candies. The super sour unfortunately lasts very
briefly, and the resulting candy has a weird granular texture. Like
candy concrete. I can feel it putting holes in my teeth. The Shock Tarts
Minis are smaller and worse. They have even less of the super sour,
which is really the only reason to get them. Shock Tarts are also put
out under Nestle's Wonka sub-brand. This sad collection of candy would
make Roald Dahl roll over in his grave. I hope his estate is getting a
lot of money.
On the rare occasion I get
Shock Tarts I suck on them for a few seconds and spit out the resulting
candy inside. Gross, but necessary. (If you think I'm weird, my friend
Steve gets Peanut M&Ms, eats the
chocolate and spits the peanut out into a used Altoids container that he
calls a 'nutoon'. If you ask him why he doesn't just get the plain M&Ms
he'll tell you that he likes the chocolate to shell ratio better in the
Peanut M&Ms even though he doesn't like the actual peanuts. Still think
I'm the weird one?) I also recently saw what I thought was a Shock Tart
package but was in fact rebranded as Extra Sour SweeTarts. They tasted
somehow better to me. I don't know if it was a mirage or not. This bears
Bottom line. There are newer much more sour candies that have surfaced
over the years. And frankly I am unimpressed and frankly disappointed by
the poor moves that have happened under Nestle's stewardship of the
candy. That said, I still am addicted. I can't get by without them.
They're like sour energy pills. And no matter what other sour candies I
try, I always come back to SweeTarts. If you think I'm crazy now, I'll
seal the deal by letting you know that I intend to send this write-up to
the Nestle company to let them know how unhappy I am with the direction
they've taken. I'm offering my consulting services to help them get this
candy back on track. Classic SweeTarts anyone? I'll take my payment in
the form of free candy and some foil packs from the archive.
Special thanks to the
unofficial SweeTarts website for historical notes. It hasn't been
updated in awhile, but the mail page is entertaining.
Is your sushi
Do you care? (Free registration required.)
A friend from work has a great website called
CellarTracker. I don't spend
a huge amount of time talking about wine on this site. It's not because
I don't like wine. I do. A little too much in fact if my burgeoning
collection is any indication. But I just don't feel deep there yet and
Alex has not made good on his promise
to start the wine section of this site. That said, CellarTracker has a
great amount of content and utility to offer, albeit from a different
perspective than our site here. Basically it's a service that lets you
enter all your wine into a database and track your inventory,
consumption history, tasting notes, etc. But the cool part is that much
of the information is shared among all the users of the site. In this
fashion CellarTracker is really a rapidly growing wine enthusiast
community. And it's updated with new features all the time. Very cool!
Ginger, Wellesley, MA, November 12, 2003 —
Ming Tsai is the
celebrity chef often seen on the Food Network or its sister network,
Fine Living. I don't care to admit how much time I spend watching both
of those networks as the amount of time is beyond socially acceptable.
That said, Ming's show,
Ming's Quest, is better than you'd expect for
a cooking show about fusing Asian and western flavors and techniques.
His restaurant, Blue Ginger, in the affluent Boston suburb of Wellesley,
The idea of Asian fusion cooking is enormously appealing to me. I love
authentic Asian food, but I also love the individual ingredients applied
in interesting and novel ways. Unfortunately most Asian fusion
restaurants I've been to are disappointing. They are either an odd
amalgam of mediocre Asian dishes on one side of the menu, and
unimpressive Western dishes on the other, or they're weird combinations
of Western dishes with out-of-place Eastern ingredients used to make
them "interesting" - Asian Caesar Salad. These restaurants use ethnic
ingredients as window dressing for their uninteresting food, instead of
really expressing the ingredients in ways that feel honest. With this
history we decide to go to Blue Ginger. I'm not sure that Ming Tsai
would appreciate being categorized as Asian fusion, or categorized at
all. But on his own website he refers to his "signature East-West
Things started off with
Shrimp and Manouri Feta Rangoon with Fresh Water
Chestnut Tzatziki and
Grilled Quail Satay with Green Papaya Salad and Peanut Lime Sauce.
The rangoon was good but got delicious once you added the fresh water chestnut tzatziki and
the cilantro sauce. The quail satay was fantastic. It was special. These
were followed by
Lobster Coconut Bisque with Roasted Pumpkin Flan and Cremini and Shrimp
Salad. The soup was certainly fine. However, it was a little pedestrian
- nice, but not hugely refined or
Next up were
Foie Gras Shiitake Shumai in
Sauternes Shallot Broth.
This was a neat idea. The broth was like a hearty but light onion soup.
The dumplings however, were a touch
mushy. After this we got
Surf and Turf - Ahi tuna and Beef Tenderloin with Ponzu Pickled
Shallots. This was a variation on the Nobu "New Style Sashimi" dish.
And despite (or because of) its obvious heritage, it was delicious.
What's not to love about raw beef and tuna drizzled with hot oil. We
also got an order of
Shiitake Leek Spring Rolls with
Three Chili Dipping Sauce. This was crunchy, yummy, and had lots of
different flavors swirling around in my mouth. And if that wasn't
enough, we ordered one additionally appetizer, the
Duck Confit and Kaboacha Squash-Leek Risotto with Mushroom Nage. I
know this may sound a little flip, but the risotto was soft, the duck
was soft, everything was just too soft for my taste.
While we tried to focus on smaller plates, we did order a couple of
entrees just for diversity's sake. And typically we expect those not to
be as good. First was
Marinated Alaskan Butterfish with Wasabi Oil, Soy Syrup, and
Vegetarian Soba Noodle Sushi. This entree upset our expectations in a
good way. This was absolutely wonderful. It was buttery, smooth, light fish.
sauces had deep sweet flavors and the wasabi made the dish complete
with its sharpness. We also ordered the
Curry Pasta with Crispy Coconut Shrimp, Rock Shrimp, Asian Vegetables and
Chopped Peanuts. It was funny. This dish was actually quite delicious
but quite over-sauced. And the sauce itself had an almost sandy texture.
The portion was a little large also, but that's my issue typically. Most
diners unfortunately expect huge portions. Steve was so eager to try the
shrimp dish before everyone else at the table he left
instructions for our waitress on the disposable tablecloth at his
Dessert was quite good including
Chocolate Cake, Sesame Nougat Ice Cream, and Roasted Sesame
Wafer with Chocolate Ganache. This was as delicious as it sounded.
Sorbet Sampler - Concord Grape, Apricot, and Coconut, with Warm Dried
Apricot Fruit Compote was also excellent. Light, sweet, yummy.
And at the end of the meal, this was one of the most enjoyable Asian
fusion meals I've ever had. The combinations were novel and interesting.
But they weren't lacking in depth. It felt like they had really captured
the heart of the ingredients and presented them in great combinations.
At some point I'd really like to explore more of the menu and really
familiarize with all the star dishes at Blue Ginger.
A Passover Seder is kind of like Jewish thanksgiving. An enormous meal
that goes on for hours. Unfortunately no football or bread. Instead of
bread, there's unleavened bread (bread where the dough has not been
allowed to rise) - a.k.a. matzah - which builds "bricks" in your
stomach. So if the meal wasn't heavy enough, the matzah helps seal the
deal. There's no replacement for football.
Imagine my surprise when the end of our delicious meal (prepared
expertly by my brother-in-law Gil with
help from my parents) was punctuated with a
dessert that was made without flour, but still delicious and even
rejuvenating. It was the perfect punctuation to a great meal.
Specifically a simple
mango sorbet served in mango shells and drenched in
raspberry coulis. The raspberry sauce was originally drizzled but I snuck quite a bit
extra. It was super super delicious. Light, sweet, tangy, soothing. I
may need to eat this nightly. Recipes courtesy of
Here's what we did for
Passover last year.
Celebrity chef news roundup today.
Ainsley Harriott, British chef/personality will be shooting and
"cookery" series in South Africa.
Martin Yan will be
appearing on cruises in China. Trapped with thousands of hungry
tourists he will be forced to cook for each and every one of them. The
web never ceases to amaze me. Poking around for Martin Yan revealed
Lagasse taught a teenager how to
win a cooking contest without ever meeting him. I like that he won
by improvising a way to save his dish gone wrong.
Apparently eating out in Scotland is
not a thoroughly
positive experience. Even
attempt to improve things failed.
Who am I to say that celebrity chefs shouldn't have a chance at making
money? But something seems "off" about seeing their
names on frozen
dinners. It's not like the food is going to taste as good as it does
at their restaurants. I understand expanding their brand. But there's
also a concern of diluting it. I guess I shouldn't comment until I try
the actual dinners. Who knows. Maybe
Passover starts tonight. Here's a
connection to today's theme.
Waltham, MA, November 12, 2003 — After college, I stayed for a
time in my college town — Waltham, Massachusetts. Lacking any actual
skills despite my expensive college education I worked at random jobs
trying to figure out what to do with my life. For awhile I worked at a
copy shop (you can call me Sir Speedy - actually... please don't). The
copy shop was slowly being run into the ground as a business, so the
employees ended up with less and less to do each day. That meant plenty
of time for lunch. Luckily there was never a question of what to eat.
Next door was a small Italian bakery called
Domenic's. Almost every day
I would go to Domenic's, get a stromboli, some arancini rice balls with
little bits of pork in them, and a Clearly Canadian soda. (Remember
that? I'm not sure if it was just a Northeast phenomenon. It was
colorless fruit soda in cool bottles. But I digress.) The stromboli were
these incredible baked items filled with meat, cheese, and tomato sauce.
They were served steaming hot, and had this incredible balance both in
terms of robust flavor as well as texture. The arancini, were more
subtle but still delicious. For years after I moved away I thought often
about Domenic's and their incredible home-cooked food.
And while I'd been back to Boston several times since moving away I'd
never gone back. I was determined that on this trip I would get a chance
to eat there. I started to wonder whether Domenic's could be as good as
I remembered, or whether I'd mythologized my food experience there
because it was a discovery I made when I was just starting out on my
own. Either way I was determined to see what was left of my memory.
Coming from Seattle just exacerbated my longing.
Salumi is an
excellent Italian sandwich shop in Seattle, and I really do love the
food there. It's very good. Aside from the easy public relations boost
Salumi gets as its proprietor is Armandino Batali, father of celebrity
chef Mario Batali, Salumi mainly benefits from the fact that it has this
entire city (and entire state for that matter) to itself. There are at
least dozens of Italian bakeries and sandwhich shops on the East Coast
that are in the same league as Salumi. But on the east coast, they are
often taken for granted. More on this later.
I walked into Domenic's just before the lunch rush with gray skies
hanging over Waltham and
hanging out in front of their storefront. I went there with a
mission to pick up a couple of sandwiches for us to take out. But I
ended up spending over an hour trying various dishes, and bringing back
an enormous amount of food. This is not hard to do given the wide
selection of delicious Italian homestyle items. The decor is unassuming.
A simple green awning hangs over the front of the bakery. The inside is
spartan with yellow walls decorated with
of family members from the bakery's early years as well as signs
relating to the food. Sizes of takeout containers are announced by
the containers themselves to the wall. Prices are announced via
signs clipped to the glass fronts of food tables arranged around the
front of the bakery. Much of the food is on display behind this glass.
The bakery feels right. You couldn't create this kind of atmosphere if
you tried. And even if you've never been there, walking in makes you
feel like your home.
started off by ordering a sub.
and Provolone with Lettuce, Onion, Hots, Oil, and Spices. As they
made this I started looking for some of my old favorites.
arancini were there but the stromboli were no longer on the menu.
The arancini are Rice Balls with Ham, Salami, Prosciutto, Eggs, and
Mozarella. These deep fried beauties have an almost crusty outside and
are filled with a risotto like concoction studded with various small and
delicious pork chunks. They are little balls of pure goodness. The
flavor is subtle so they're a good thing to start off with as the
flavors coming from the back of the bakery get progressively brighter
and stronger as you go.
The sub was absolutely delicious. Like so many other instances in the
world, back to basics serves it well. The freshness of the ingredients
conspires to give you a sandwich that's bursting with flavor and
freshness ensconced in a crusty yummy cave of bread. The crunch from the
lettuce and onion, the almost sweet baseline of the meat, and the spark
from the hots, salt, and pepper are all part of what makes it great. The
fresh roll, baked in house of course, is almost creamy in its flavor and
is the perfect home for all the fresh ingredients. It's so simple, and
so good. The other classic Italian sub we got was the meatball sub. Also
deceptively simple, it can be incredibly easy to screw up. You can get
too fancy with seasoning the meatballs, the bread can get soggy if
there's too much sauce, etc. It's a delicate operation and timing is
key. The fact that we were eating everything takeout didn't make it
easier. But it worked nonetheless. Just the right amount of sauce, and
great bread guaranteed that the sandwich was juicy, not soggy. The
meatballs themselves had clear accents of garlic and herbs. But they
were in perfect balance, still supporting players to the meat itself.
They didn't dominate. The sub was excellent.
Domenic's opened in 1979 by
Maione as a bakery. Over the years various non-strictly bakery items
were added. While Domenic passed away his son
runs the establishment today. Ciro's mom,
still works there, baking, and helping out. It was Ciro who started
doing food beyond the basics back when he was in high school. And today
Domenic's includes items like
alla Vanessa - Ricotta cheese ravioli with cream sauce with fire
roasted peppers, prosciutto, and peas. This was absolutely
excellent. Simple, savory, fresh, and delicious. Why countless Italian
restaurants in the U.S. can't keep it simple and fresh like this pasta I
don't know. The gnocchi with simple tomato sauce followed the same
principles with the same delicious results.
is not just assembling ingredients and placing them on his bread, he is
baking and cooking up a storm in the kitchen of his bakery. The
individual ingredients that make up his dishes are all being given equal
care and tenderness.
lined with cooling big doughy rolls, with floury soft crusty
outsides and soft chewy airy insides.
of freshly made sauce stand in the kitchen ready to be consumed.
Some of this sauce made it onto our gnocchi. It was essentially perfect.
It had tons of flavor and was so smooth and sweet. Silky.
broccoli are cooking in various pans destined for a variety of
dishes. High quality
being sliced extra thin for sandwiches.
marinated tomatoes are not made from pre-dried tomatoes, Ciro starts
with fresh and dries them himself. The poor design of the baking oven at
Domenic's has resulted in a pilot light that's simply too big. It's a
lucky mistake as it's the heat generated by the pilot, that is just low
and steady enough to dry the fresh tomatoes on premises. These
oven-dried tomatoes are then marinated for a week to soak up the olive
oil and flavor that makes them what they are.
offers me a sample as he would for any interested, enthusiastic, and
soon-to-be regular customer. The flavor is oozing from the tomato. It's
bright, tart, sweet, spicy, and exciting. Any sandwich this ends up on
lights up with flavor. This particular one didn't quite make it as far
as a sandwich.
think savory items are the only fare at Domenic's. Plenty of sweets
grace the menu. The star (for me anyway) are the beautiful and delicious
cannolis. The perfect thick cream filling, the
shells, and the powdered sugar all make for a wonderful combination.
You can't help but smile after you take a bite of one of these beauties.
There are also
pastries and cookies lining the glass units around the bakery. Also
I don't know whether I embellished my memory of Domenic's. But I know
that when I returned, roughly 12 years since I'd last been there, not
only did it live up to my memory, but it exceeded it. I think back then
I didn't really discriminate as much between food that was great and
food that wasn't. I definitely knew I loved Domenic's back then, but
there was lots of food I ate on a regular basis that was mediocre. And
for some reason back then I never asked myself the question of why I'd
waste another moment eating something mediocre when a gem like Domenic's
was nearby. And now today, having spent quite a bit more time focused on
food than I used to, it's clear that while I really enjoyed Domenic's, I
didn't really know just how good I had it. And the truth is that I think
that the residents of Waltham, and of metro Boston nearby, have no idea
what they have in Domenic's. I think the Waltham locals mostly take it
for granted. (No doubt there's a few
who understand how special the dedication to flavor and authenticity is,
but I bet this is not true for most Walthamites.) And I bet that the
people who live in nearby Boston, don't even know it exists. When I was
talking to Ciro he confided at one point that he was really only using a
third of his capacity to in terms of the items he was putting on the
menu. Imagining a menu three times the size makes my head spin and my
mouth water. Maybe the folks in the area will start frequenting
Domenic's even more so that Ciro can start expanding his menu and treat
us to more delicious food. I know that whenever I'm in town, that's what
I'll be doing.