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.
Seattle, WA, December 18, 2003 — Nishino is the best Japanese
restaurant in Seattle and the west coast. When one of its key sushi
chefs - Wayne - left a couple of years ago to strike out on his own, we
were bummed but we understood. We also knew that we'd eventually have to
try Wayne's new place - Flo.
I finally got a chance to check it out one day for lunch.
We sat at the sushi bar and Wayne was nice
enough to give us some amuse bouche. We got some chewy, spicy, crunchy
geoduck item, and some smelt. The geoduck was good. The smelt was cold
and not super interesting. This was followed by Scallop Bacon Kushiyaki.
The scallop combined with the bacon fat was a delicious combination.
There was also frisee with a sticky soy vinegar combination and... strawberries.
Yes strawberries. It was kind of a cool combination. And definitely
This was followed by Albacore Tartare with Taro
Chips and an order of Wasabi Shumai. Both were good. I don't want to
call these dishes mundane, but they are part of the standard dishes that
you see at sushi restaurants trying to break out beyond sushi. There's
no shame in making dishes that other restaurants make. (After all, the
dish with the strawberries was super interesting.) But if you're going
to do something that people have had before do it exceptionally well.
These were good but not special.
This was followed Negi Toro Gunkan Maki.
Basically toro chopped fine with fresh scallions on rice wrapped
vertically with a strip of nori (seaweed). It was very fresh with crispy nori.
Great nori. It's surprising what a difference that can make. Next up was
Shrimp Asparagus maki wrapped in Soy Paper. This was subtle and
excellent. We also had Tempura Salmon Cream Cheese and Chili Maki - neat.
I'm never a huge fan of combining cream cheese with my sushi, but this
was still interesting. The Spicy Tuna Hand Rolls tasted fresh and were good.
It was only lunch but it seemed to be enough
to get a good picture of Flo. Wayne is a very nice guy and a talented
sushi chef. He made us feel welcome and really took care of us. The food
is definitely good and they are trying hard. But they may be trying a
little too hard. The dishes still felt a little all over the place. I
think this sushi bar hasn't found its voice yet. In exploring so many
different directions it has found something to focus on. Something that
will impress and retain customers. These things take time.
Las Vegas, NV, December 10, 2003 — I don't want to make any
overly broad generalizations about visiting
Las Vegas. That said, for me
at least, a trip to Vegas means I don't spend nearly as much time
sleeping as I usually do. I don't know if it's because (I think) the
casinos pump extra oxygen into the ventilation systems or if it's the
gambling, but I just stay up very late when I'm in Vegas. If you're in a
place that prides itself on keeping you awake until all hours they
should have food that's open until all hours. (In fact, they should
really deliver yummy appetizers to the gaming tables much the same way
they give you free drinks. I guess food doesn't impair your judgment as
much as alcohol.) Given all that, it's funny that it doesn't seem like
Vegas has a ton of late night dining options. Citysearch has a list of
but often I'm in a casino and want to get some late night food that's
not room service. And that's what Noodles Asia provides.
For that alone, Noodles Asia is a welcome member of the Las Vegas dining
scene. That said, you also can't get your hopes up too high when it
comes to a dumpling and noodle counter in a casino at 2 in the morning.
Well, I suppose you could get your hopes up, but that might lead to
disappointment. Best to be happy you have something to eat.
We were pretty tired so we ordered light. We started off with some Har
Gao (shrimp dumplings) and Potstickers. These were both fine. Nothing
special, but certainly acceptable. This was followed by
Si Jiu Beef, Black Bean and Chili Sauce with Pan-Toasted Noodles. I love
black bean sauce typically but this dish was boring and glutenous. We
also had Dan Dan noodles. This is a spicy peanut noodle dish. The
noodles were a bit overcooked. And finally we had
XO Shrimp - Lai Fen - Hand rolled Rice noodles, wok-tossed with spicy XO
chili sauce. These noodles were thick, spicy, and delicious.
It's not like my expectations were super high. And I was glad to get
Chinese food at 1:30 in the morning right in the casino. Does Noodles
Asia have fantastic food? Not really. But is there a chance they can
make you happy at 1:30 AM? Yes. And that's not something to complain
I still love the website: 101 cookbooks. Heidi documents her efforts to
cook from each of the cookbooks in her collection. The latest two
recipes with cool accompanying photos are
Muffins with Chile Spiced Pecans, and gorgeous looking
Popovers. Both look delicious.
New York City's The Food Section is starting to break out and examine
food in other cities. This week is
all about Washington DC.
Farmer's markets are bursting with fresh produce in southern
California courtesy of the Los Angeles Times (free registration
Screw Atkins and South Beach, bread is one of the most incredible
creations on the planet.
critical to make it happen according to the New York Times (free
registration required). They also include information on
and recipes for
Grain Boule and
Authenticity is fleeting and subjective when it comes to food. Italy
is the place to figure this out.
Las Vegas, NV, December 9, 2003 — It's not an overstatement to
say that our
last meal at Delmonico Steakhouse - Emeril Lagasse's steak
experience at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas - was moving. We were
particularly proud of ourselves as we gave careful instructions about
how our self-constructed tasting menu should be served. The "cherry" on
the meal was ordering seconds on gumbo... for dessert. The dinner was
refined Cajun steakhouse in Vegas and wonderful in every respect. I
eagerly urged that we return there, and we finally got to go. And
the meal just wasn't what it had once been. Let's dive into the details
of our dinner.
Things started off with a bowl of
Parmesan Soup. I really love Parmesan cheese. Love it! So my
expectations were really about the essence of parmesan - the creamy
flavor studded with tangy crystals - translated into soup form. This
particular translation was a disappointment. Everything that's special
about the cheese didn't make it into the soup. Not enough cheesy
goodness. I was getting a little nervous as I'd made big promises to my
dinner companions based on our last meal here earlier in the year.
Next up was
Baby Arugula, Duck Confit, and Candied Pecans with Brie Cheese Crostini
and Vanilla Fig Vinaigrette. The salad itself was decent but
ultimately distracting. The duck itself was hard and not particularly
flavorful. The sweet and crunchy pecans were the stars of this dish.
They were great. Next was
Antipasto - House Cured Buffalo Prosciutto, Cappicola, and Pepperoni, with
Crabmeat. The antipasto was excellent. The salami was nice and spicy.
The balsamic sauce was great. The crab was soft and
delicious. But none of it compared to the foie gras pate. The
flavor was incredibly complex. Truly amazing. The flavor was a mix of fruit, butter, nut,
smoke, and salt. Wow!
A salad of Baby Mixed Greens with Salami, Grilled Vegetables, Provolone Cheese, and
Pesto Vinaigrette followed. The baby greens were too salty. One dish
that I had remembered from my previous visit was
Emeril's New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp with a Petite Rosemary Biscuit.
All at once this dish set itself apart from the other dishes in its simplicity.
Comgined with the rosemary
muffin the dish was very good! Simple. Bold flavors. Contrasting textures.
More like this please.
If there was one dish that I was intent on reordering from last time it
Gumbo. Any gumbo that can inspire us to ask for it to make a repeat
appearance during dessert deserves to be ordered again. The gumbo of the
day was beef and pork. I thought it was great again. Bursting with flavor.
Peyman thought it was a touch salty
but still good. This was followed by
Pan-Seared Diver Sea Scallops with Butternut Squash Risotto, Roasted
Pepper Molasses Reduction and Flash-Fried Spinach. Simply put, the scallops were
extremely juicy. Some of the juiciest I've ever had. And they tasted
great as well. The vegetables were also cooked well. The Risotto
however was too salty. I was starting to sense a theme when it came to
oversalting. This is certainly a sensitive topic as people have very
different sensitivities to salt. I don't consider myself over-sensitive,
but to be fair, I don't put the kind of salt I see other people putting
on their fries and the like. It's a tough issue. I think I have a
balanced palate on this, and some of the food at Delmonico was just too
Foie gras was next. Specifically,
Pan-Seared New York
State Foie Gras with Smashed Sweet Potatoes, Crispy Parsnips, and Port
Wine Syrup. The foie gras was sweet. Very nice. The sweet potatoes
served with the foie gras were soft and
juicy. Very good. The parsnips were crispy (as advertised) and had great flavor. The contrasting
texture was excellent.
Less memorable were the
Seared Beef Tournedos with Garlic Smashed Potatoes, Bourbon Green
Peppercorn Gravy, Crumbled Blue Cheese and Sautéed Asparagus. The tournedos were a touch dry.
In contrast however, the
Bone in Rib Steak
was extremely juicy. Not only was it super juicy but also very flavorful. The outside tasted
like it had been seasoned well.
I'm not typically someone who eats the fat off a cut of meat but the fat
on this steak was crispy, soft, and flavorful. Yum.
Skillet Browned Potatoes
- these were decent, but cooled down quickly and lost some of their punch
when they did;
Truffle Parmesan Potato Chips
- Chris said these melted in his mouth and were the best
potato chips he's ever had;
Sauteed Garlic Mushrooms
- these didn't have much flavor (especially against the other strongly
seasoned food); and the
New Orleans Creamed Spinach.
When the steaks came out, we finally started pouring one of the wines
Alex brought -
Pride Mountain Vineyards 2001 Petit Syrah. I don't have a ton of
experience with this grape but this was a singular experience. This may
have been the biggest wine I've ever tasted. It was outrageously big. No flavor could stand up to it.
The petite syrah entered your mouth and destroyed any other
flavor in on your tongue. It took over your palate completely and ruthlessly.
We licked our cloth napkins and left huge charcoal colored
stain from all the tannins. (Hopefully this wasn't anything they
couldn't get out in the wash.) The wine was tannintastic. That said, if
it overpowered strongly seasoned red meat from Mr. "Bam" himself, then
I'm not entirely sure what food this wine would balance well with. Maybe
this wine is the meal.
We took a short break to allow our mouths to recover so that we could
actually taste our desserts. And the break was well worth it as they
were delicious. These included:
Foster flavored Ice Cream Pie; and an
Individual Pecan Pie. I think pecans are underrated. Especially if
you go by this particular pie which was fantastic. It was the best
dessert of the bunch, and the others were pretty good.
I have to admit that overall the evening did not live up to our previous
experience at Delmonico. Being consistent night over night, and from
dish to dish, is very very difficult. The greatness that Delmonico is
capable of was still very visibile in key dishes throughout the night -
the shrimp, gumbo, and the pecan pie to name a few. And while some of
the dishes were misses, the truth is that it seemed like some dishes had
left the kitchen without someone tasting them. Maybe they were drinking
the Petite Syrah back there as well and couldn't really judge the food.
We made sure that we only drank the wine when our steak came so it
wouldn't color our judgment of anything else. I would still go back to
Delmonico and hope that things had settled down, as at the heart of the
restaurant there are still some wonderful dishes to be had.
I love things that are sour. Sour candy, limes, acidic (in a good way)
red wine. Love it all. The Los Angeles Times (free registration
required) has an article about
lemons. Bonus as it has nice photos and recipes including Veal with
Lemon and Capers.
As I mention below, I've gotten more adventurous eating. I've had
chicken hearts (not great) but not yet tried chicken feet. I've eaten
plenty of sweetbreads (love them) but not yet tried bone marrow (which
I'd really like to try). The LA Times also writes about a newly
republished offal cookbook -
The Whole Beast. Mmmm... tripe.
Château Lafite is looking for a
presence in Napa Valley. Maybe the economy is back on track.
(Free registration required.)
Leite's Culinaria "reprints" an article from a year before the official
turn of the century giving a
overview of the 20th century. It includes classic recipes from each
I desperately miss Japan.
After reading Anthony Bourdain and Jeffrey Steingarten's books I felt
like to be true to the purpose of this site I had to be a lot more
open-minded about food. Essentially I had to try everything. And
frankly, in the last couple of years I think I've made a lot of progress
(I like oysters more and more every time I try them, and I really love
sweetbreads). There's one line I've said I wouldn't cross - bugs. Nobody
goes on and on about the incredible flavor of grasshoppers or slugs.
Maybe it's because I haven't spent enough time traveling the planet, but
other people have and for now I'm drawing the line there.
That's what makes my visceral negative reaction to a piece of fruit I
saw at the supermarket today so funny. A piece of fruit. The
pronounced "grape-L". Their tag line is "looks like an apple, tastes
like a grape". It was $6 for four. I smelled these things and they were
right - it was like smelling a grape. Actually, it was like smelling
cloyingly sweet sticky purple grape syrup. I was repulsed (note: I love
good grape juice not to mention it's fermented cousin). Here was a
perfect opportunity to try something new, and write up the details...
and I passed. I didn't just pass, I ran from this fruit. I'm a big fan
of technology but I couldn't help but wonder what weird genetic lab this
thing had come out of. Turns out, according to the Get Fit Foods website
(they "created" this thing) that the Grapple is the result of a patented
"bathing" process. Ok. So genetic manipulation doesn't appear to be a
part of this apple evolution but still something about it seemed freaky
to me. I also like how the website tells you that the Fuji apples they
use are the only ones that meet their exacting "Grapple standard". The
Grapple standard? What government agency defined this?
I feel like I may be spending too much time being a pseudo consumer
advocate and not enough time eating food and describing my experiences.
OK. I promise. I'll get back there soon and get myself some Grapples to
try and then report back.
Thousand dollar omelet (courtesy of
We finally switched to a new hosting service. This should hopefully make
the site much faster.
May 16, 2004 —
are a symbol of my development as a human being on two fronts. For the
first twenty-five years of my life I did not like peppers. My first
exposure was in a dish my mom would prepare with cooked green peppers.
There's something about cooked green peppers that I don't enjoy. A
bitter flavor, and an unpleasant smell that just aren't for me. And raw
green peppers were pretty close in flavor so they fell into the "do not
eat" column as well. Red, orange, and yellow peppers were kissing
cousins as far as I was concerned so they were "vegata-non-grata" as
And then one day (I can't for the life of me remember what the event
was) I tried a red pepper. No trace of bitterness. Juicy, crunchy, and
most surprisingly — sweet. They were delicious. The orange and yellow
peppers were wonderful as well. The price however was insane. Over $5 a
pound. As I got progressively better jobs and could finally afford
eating red peppers off season, a friend used to tell me his theory of
money. There was a hierarchy to increased spending that came with
increased earnings. When you consistently have a few extra bucks the
first thing you're willing to spend more money on is food. And for me it
was red peppers. I would buy them even when they were at their most
expensive and feel like I was Donald Trump.
There's one other little nugget that makes me fall in love with peppers.
Sometimes when you cut one open, there are little
growing inside the big pepper (I typically find them in red peppers - I
can't ever remember finding one in a green pepper). It may sound gross
but I call them "fetal peppers". They always taste the best. Fresh,
juicy, so crunchy, typically light light green. They are little baby
peppers, and they're always a welcome surprise when I cut open a pepper.
I love sharing food, but I almost never share these. They're that good.
In addition to my coming-of-age story about peppers, and my favorite
tiny pepper secret, you need a little more context in order to
understand tonight's activities.
I am not a very good cook. I told someone that the other day and they
looked at me funny. I imagine that I could be a good cook if I applied
myself, but as with most things I would need to make up for lack of
talent with hard work and lots of energy. When I'm cooking I think I'm
pretty good, especially because I love to improvise and experiment. But
the truth is that it's a mask for not having the patience to follow
directions and being too willing to take shortcuts. Improvising wouldn't
be too bad except that I don't really understand the chemistry of food.
Harold Magee will have to wait until an upcoming vacation. I do have
fun though. And when I learn a trick or a little tidbit I use the crap
out of it.
With a fresh bunch of budget busting peppers (that Debbie brought home
from the supermarket), and my limited kitchen repertoire, I decided to
cook tonight. I won't document in detail what I did, because to do it
right I would have to experiment some more and get the recipe really
perfect. But I don't mind sharing as the result was decent.
I started out thinking about gazpacho. But then I realized that I wanted
to go in a soupy direction. I took a bunch of red peppers and
lengthwise about an inch wide. I took these and drizzled Israeli
olive oil (I like Israeli and Arab olive oil so much more than the
typical European alternatives for most of my cooking as they have so
much more flavor) on them and sprinkled them with sea salt. Into the
broiler they went until the edges just started to get burnt a little. In
the meantime I started dicing these tiny baby sweet peppers that Debbie
brought home (red and orange), haas avocados (I like these - they're
firm and small), and a mango into a bowl. To that I added fresh lime
juice, salt, pepper, and more Israeli olive oil.
Soon the peppers in the broiler were starting to smoulder a touch so I
took them out and let them cool for a couple of minutes. In the meantime
I took some vegetable stock (don't be impressed, it was pre-packaged), a
can of roughly chopped and herbed roma tomatoes, and the peppers, and
put it all in the blender on "liquefy". After awhile things got nice and
smooth in there. To make the soup I poured the contents of the blender
through a sieve and forced the liquid through with the base of a spoon
(I didn't have a ladle handy). I got a thin yummy, red pepper,
consommé-like soup. I don't want to actually call it a consommé as that
has certain connotations that my soup definitely didn't have. I was
wonder what I could do with the stuff left over after I've smashed all
the liquid out of it. I can't imagine I'll ever come up with a good use
for this mealy paste.
I reheated the soup a touch and poured myself some in a bowl. I
added a dollop of
(I love contrasting temperatures in my food), and on top of that I put a
scoop of the
salsa (tropical salsas are so yesterday - as are calling any bunch
of chopped vegetables a "salsa" - but who cares about fashion when it
comes to yummy food). All in all the
moderately successful. I ate, I enjoyed, and of course, I analyzed.
In retrospect I think I should have added fewer tomatoes, and less
chicken stock to my soup. Also I should have slow roasted (like on 200
degree heat) the peppers - but I was in a hurry. I should have added
cilantro and slightly more salt to my salsa as well red or green onion
(or both). Additionally, I should have put the sour cream and salsa in
the bowl before I poured the soup in the bowl (I've seen restaurants do
that a million times but I forgot to do it myself). And finally, maybe
next time I'll go in a different direction and really focus the broth on
the peppers, but really go the gazpacho route and dice tons of fresh
peppers, tomatoes, and onions, into the broth to dominate it. That said,
dinner was nice tonight.
Periodically I get e-mail from other
websites asking to do a "link exchange". This is basically where I
post a link to them, they post a link to me, and Google thinks we're
both more relevant. The site in question this time is
caviarinfo.com. I don't
claim to be a caviar expert (though I plan on becoming one as soon
as possible), but from my point of view it's a nicely designed site
with a decent amount of high level information about caviar. I would
have posted a link to them for that reason alone. (I only post links
to sites I think are really valuable to check out independent of
whether they link to us or not.) Out of curiosity I went to the page
where they recommend where to buy caviar. I figured, I should get
some for home at some point and experiment. That would be fun. I was
mildly surprised that they had only one recommended store on the
internet for caviar -
gourmetfoodstore.com. I went to that site to check it out only
to notice a funny resemblance. A quick search of Network Solutions'
database of domain owners confirms that the main contact for both
domains has the same e-mail address.
Now I suppose it's possible that the sites just
happen to have the same design or hosting firm. But it seems just as
likely that these sites are really from the same people. And the seemingly
objective recommendation to purchase your caviar at the latter site seems
a little suspect. The funny thing to me is that if in fact the sites are
run by the same folks, I don't think it would diminish their
recommendation if they just admitted the connection. If there's a seller
of caviar that has taken the time to put up a good site with all sorts of
free information, I might be more inclined to buy my caviar there just
because they seem to be experts and have taken the time to be generous
with their advice. Either way, I have no idea if you should buy your
caviar here, but it pays to be curious when it comes to getting "free"
The Los Angeles Times (free registration required) writes about
downsides of tasting menus. This is kind of a nutty article as it
acts like every tasting menu served contains too much food to eat
comfortably. I'm not saying that there aren't restaurants where the
tasting menu can be a chore to tackle, but in general I think that a
great chef will gauge the portion size so the diner can walk away from
the meal having tasted everything and not feel stuffed.
There aren't enough quality pictures of food and food related topics on
the web. I like how
The Food Section just posts some food-related pictures periodically.
It shouldn't be any surprise that high end chefs with multiple
restaurants are rarely cooking at any but one of their establishments
(and often they don't really cook at any). I don't begrudge them trying
to expand their business and using their name as a brand. But it can be
a bummer when the food doesn't live up to the expectations that the name
brings. The New York Times (free registration required) surveys
the landscape of
multi-homed chefs. I don't mind if the big name is on the marquee,
but I do wish that the person doing the cooking would get more of the
Cola. I'm not a huge tea fan but I kind of want to try it.
Seattle, WA, December 4, 2003 — It had been a bit since we'd gone
Lampreia, one of
our favorite restaurants on the planet. It's not like we haven't eaten
there a million times, but it had been a few weeks and we needed a fix.
Also, we took Walter who had never
been there as he appreciates really good food, and we knew he would
appreciate Scott Carsberg's cooking. Its DNA is from northern Italy
right on the border with Austria and Switzerland (with Germany close
by), while the ingredients are often local, organic, and hard to come
by. Tonight's meal was a tasting menu with pasta as the theme.
Dinner started with
Smoked Fingerling Potato topped with Salmon Roe. The dish smelled
like a delicious slice of lox. The potato had a hint of smoke, but mostly
contributed texture. The salmon roe was salty, yummy, and gave
everything a rich flavor. This was followed by
Aperto with Sheep's Ricotta and Egg. This dish is so representative
of Chef Carsberg's cooking. Refined, refined, and then refined again.
But not snooty or aloof. The refinement is just about enhancing the core
flavors, eliminating distractions, and making the food simple and
impossible not to enjoy. The dish included one large ravioli. The yolk
of the egg was perfectly encased in the pasta dough and looked like a jewel.
The dish had a pleasant bitter tone that was balanced by a delicate
cheesy goodness. We thought this dish was delicious and interesting. The texture was
so warm and comforting. Bread and butter were also served periodically.
Peyman wasn't in love with the
butter for some reason. I'm not sure why I didn't write down what his
reason was. Probably because I disagreed. :)
Next up was
Blue Fin Toro Carpaccio
with Terrine of Valencia
Orange and Braised Celery. I can't even imagine how he comes up with
things like this. It's not that I never could imagine thinking of
combining these ingredients, it's that I can't imagine even how someone
else might do this. The dish was amazing in construction and in flavor.
Basically it recreated the flavor and even the texture of the salmon roe.
And somehow the flavor in this dish was even brighter and fresher. So
interesting. So exciting.
That said, nothing prepared us for what came
next. If you love a restaurant you should do two important things: 1) go
there often, 2) let them know how you feel. I'm sure we're not the only
ones who Chef Carsberg does special things for, but the fact that we're
regulars and incredibly vocal about our love for the food there doesn't
hurt. This next dish was available on the menu. Sort of. On the menu it
Truffle Scented Tagliatelle with Preserved Umbrian Truffles. And it
looked gorgeous. It tasted the same. After a first bite Walter said "it's a shame to swallow that".
The flavor was really unbelievable. The truffle flavor was huge but not
overwhelming. But by the third bite or so we'd each found Carsberg's
special surprise. The timing couldn't have been better as the thin slice
of raw foie gras was perfectly cooked by the noodles surrounding it.
That's right a slice of foie gras was in the center of this already
amazing dish. It's not like there aren't many high end restaurants that
use expensive ingredients to blow you away. But so often the use of them
feels like a crutch. It's not that you don't enjoy the lobster/caviar/foie
gras/truffles/champagne. It's that it seems to be carrying the dish
instead of being supported and given context by a careful and deliberate
preparation. This dish was essentially perfect. Tiny salt crystals were
like rock candy in texture. They sat perched atop perfect handmade buttery
noodles. The foie gras was melty smooth. This dish was so good a bunch of
us went back two nights later to eat this dish all over again.
Lampreia is about the food. Theater is available
a few blocks away. And that's why the next dish was all the more exciting
and Baby Artichokes baked in Clay, with Lemon and Parmesan. Basically
several clay ovals, roughly the size of large potatoes, came to our table.
They were hot as hell and
tinfoil. Using a small hammer the waitstaff cracked open the clay
shattering it into pieces. Brushing the pieces away revealed more tinfoil.
That was removed and opened to reveal the
artichokes. Peyman loved the dish, "this is the best thing I've ever
eaten out of tinfoil". The artichokes were lemony, and the noodles were
delicate. The lemon and artichoke gently infused the pasta with flavor. Walter
(and all of us) wondered, how the hell did the pasta
come out so perfect. For me to make sure my pasta is right I have to try
it. This pasta was ensconced in a layer of tinfoil surrounded by baked
clay. No clue. Peyman felt like the portion was a bit large and could have
been about a third smaller.
We were reeling from all the good food. But
things weren't over yet. Our next dish was
cooked in Cocotte with White Bean Sauce. The wild boar used in the
sausage came from the Okanagan region of British Columbia. The sauce, a puree of white bean, had roasted garlic, a
hint of olive oil, and (of course) a touch of foie gras. The bean sauce
was the foundation for the flavor of the dish with it's steady, heartiness.
The wild boar had
wild flavor that jumped around your tongue. It was herby, porky, spicy, exciting...
and seasonal! The sauce was so wonderful I would love it as a soup.
One more dish came to really knock us on our
Potato Gnocchi with a Rustic Meat Ragu. Pasta Bolognese is a
relatively traditional dish. But the incredible flavor, attention to
detail, and delicateness of the Lampreia version was something special.
The meat in the sauce was a combination of beef, pork, veal, and (the
magic secret) vegetables grated into the mixture. The sauce was the essence of tomato and meat.
The gnocchi were like clouds, but
with a yummy denseness. The vegetables (done on the microplane) gave
everything body and brightened
the flavor. It's no coincidence that the vegetables used (carrots, onions,
and celery) are those used in mirepoix - part of the
base of most traditional stocks. This dish was very very good.
This was another incredible meal at Lampreia.
What's amazing is that though we eat there relatively often, there's
always something new. And it doesn't require the addition of trendy
ingredients, or other tricks. It's just the constant exploration of a
space that resonates with the chef. Always finding new expressions from
this palate. Always preparing food that's interesting, exciting, and
Jade Garden, Seattle,
WA, December 3, 2003 —
Alex and I were in a hurry and had a few minutes to get some Chinese
food. It's not like I have high expectations of Chinese food in Seattle
anyway, so we weren't expecting much. We stopped in quickly to
down in the International District. First thing we noticed is that the
decor is kind of odd with fake fruit hanging from the ceiling
contrasting with lobster tanks in the lobby. Weird.
We only ordered a few things so all we got was a quick impression. We
started with some serviceable dim sum. That said, the Ha Gow was too
glutinous. We did get sticky rice which had a great meaty flavor. Not
"muddled" like others I have tasted. There was also a spongy bun with
rice and Chinese sausage. It was quite yummy. Probably bears another
visit to see if the good things are still good, and how many other
things on the menu are decent.
Still not sure what the deal was with the fake fruit.
We talked about RSS and sites that aggregate content from a bunch of
food sites. Here's one that does it for all the sites that don't have
XML feeds - Food Porn Watch.
I've always kind of known that's what this site really is.
Roee and I (in addition to eating at several
yummy restaurants in New York) saw the movie
Super Size Me. Basically, in
the midst of the burgeoning
awareness of the crisis of obesity and unhealthy eating in America,
this guy Morgan Spurlock decides to eat McDonald's three times a day for
a month and see what happens to his body. There's three reasons why I
love this movie: 1) he's obsessive - he goes through with it, he doesn't
compromise, he has rules about how it works, I can relate, 2) he's funny
- he just is a funny guy making wry observations during the entire crazy
month, and 3) he's honest - you know Spurlock is going to be honest even
at his own expense when in one of the early scenes he has the camera
film him getting a rectal exam (black square placed in key spots). This
is someone that has vision and standards and puts it all on the line. It
shows in his film which is focused, funny, honest, and kind of yucky.
But it's totally worth seeing. Super Size Me is a kickass film. (I
fantasize that if I made movies they would be this good.) Just don't
plan on eating fast food in the few days or weeks following seeing the
movie. It may gross you out.
Tomorrow we revisit one of our favorite
restaurants in Las Vegas.
It's a bummer, but we lost last night at
the James Beard Awards... umm, I mean, it was an honor just to be
nominated. (Is it not ok to admit that losing sucks?) I suppose in
reality it's both. It's a bummer we didn't win, and cool that we
were nominated. Congratulations to all the winners. The list of them
should appear sometime today on the
James Beard website. That
said, going to the event was kind of cool. Met lots of people who
actually do this for a living, and Alex' brother and sister-in-law
were nice enough to come along to cheer and alternatively console me
as necessary. I was hoping to meet
Jeffrey Steingarten, but I didn't see him there. (He lost too.
That makes me feel a little better considering how great I think he
is. It's ok to make yourself feel better through other people's
pain. Right?) The only people I actually recognized at the dinner
were David Rosengarten
who used to be on the Food
Network and the MC,
Anna Deveare Smith. She plays the National Security Advisor on
the West Wing.
I'll admit, the whole thing was a little bit surreal.
XML is a way for websites to describe themselves in such a way that
other websites can consume their content and repackage it in interesting
ways. Typically for websites like this one the XML "feed" is called RSS.
We're still lame and don't have an RSS feed (but we'll get there soon
hopefully). And that's why you won't see us for awhile yet on
bourrezvisage.com. But for
those food sites who have their act together they appear regularly in
syndicated form there. It's a great place to get an overview of a
variety of food sites on the web.
Another great article on
a la carte.
This one is all about the evolution of the formal dinner service.
On my to-do-list is to try and understand (and write here) about the
basics of olive oil. How to evaluate it, how it's made, essentially how
it "works". The New York Times (free registration required) has a
preview in discussing
the pedigree of olive oil. Just because it looks like it's from
Italy, doesn't mean it is. Personally I generally like the stronger
olive oils that I've found typically come out of the middle east, but
that's a separate issue.
One final note. The James Beard Awards winners
are being announced this weekend. The journalism awards happen Friday
night (this is the bucket
my nomination falls into). These are like the
technical awards at the Academy awards. They spend 1 minute recapping
them at the main event. The big ceremony is Monday night where they give
out the rest of the awards including the ones to the chefs. If I don't
win, expect a full on
Gryfe's Bagel Bakery, Toronto,
Canada, November 23, 2003 —
I wrote in depth about my effort to make great bagels at home.
I still am not 100% happy with the recipe as it currently stands, but it
certainly makes better bagels than most I eat out of the house. I've
gotten mail from many people saying how much they love the bagels that
come from this recipe. And the write-up even got nominated for a James
Beard Award. Neat. But ultimately accolades, compliments, award
nominations, and very good bagels do not add up to the experience you
get when eating great bagels. And as I said back then, ultimately I'm
just shamelessly trying to recreate the bagels made at
Bakery in Toronto, Canada. I won't get into how odd it is that Canada
should be the center of gravity for quality bagelry, or the dispute
between Montrealers and Torontonians over whose bagel is better. Suffice
it to say, that the best of the best (so far) is Gryfe's.
(Note: I hate to say that any food or restaurant is the "best" of
anything since there's such incredible variety, and quality can come in
so many forms. Suffice it to say that I love these bagels more than any
other I've ever eaten.)
Given that I crave these way more often than I visit Toronto, perfecting
my recipe to create a perfect replica was at the top of my mind. Even
though I knew there wasn't a chance in hell I would get the recipe, I
figured maybe just being in the environment would enhance my
bagel-making instincts. I called
Moishe Gryfe the current owner and
baker in an unbroken line of Gryfe bakers (three going on four to be exact) and introduced
ME: Hi, my name is Hillel. I write
for a food website in the United States with thousands of readers. I'm
going to be visiting Toronto soon, and I'd love to write a story about
MOISHE GRYFE: Yeah.
Strike one. I tried the humble reporter
offering free PR tack. Since I'm neither humble nor a reporter this was
(with the benefit of hindsight unsurprisingly) ineffective. His response
was positive only in terms of the dictionary definition of "yeah".
It was really more of a polite but firm 'so the fuck what'.
ME: Well, we are really kind of
special in that we write only about some of the best food in the world
in excruciatingly obsessive detail.
MOISHE GRYFE: (Long pause.)
The local paper wrote a story about us a few years ago. You can
probably get everything you need from there.
Strike two. Forget humble, we're a cool food
website, and we are ready to grace you with our presence. No dice.
Apparently Moishe was uninterested in the avalanche of new business that
would be generated by a tiny food website with 99.99% of its
readers living outside of Toronto writing about his baked goods.
ME: Listen, I really would appreciate
the opportunity to visit. I am absolutely and obsessively in love with
MOISHE GRYFE: (Wry laugh.)
Really the article they wrote about us should have everything you
Strike three. Even blatant ass-kissing (though
genuine on my part) had failed. I'd run out of every tactic in my
toolbox. And then just as he was about to hang up the phone, I decided
to go for broke. Being the son of a Jewish History professor and a
computer programmer does not get you accustomed to a life of beneficial name-dropping.
But this situation was special. As it happens Moishe Gryfe's brother was
one of my dad's closest friends when they were both growing up. So I
swallowed my pride, and pulled out the last quiver in my arrow.
ME: Maybe you know
my dad, Berny.
MOISHE GRYFE: Dianne [my mom] and Berny?
You're their son? Ok. You're in.
Three strikes were not enough to make me leave
the field. I
was on my way to a private tour of
Gryfe's Bagel Bakery. And while I
knew that I'd never find out the secret to their amazing bagels, I
figured I could eliminate some of the variables in my own quest for
perfection, and besides, I could eat a zillion yummy bagels while I
A picture of Moishe's grandfather, Sam Gryfe, hangs in the bakery.
He's standing next to his horse drawn carriage presumably filled with
baked goods including "rye and white bread". No bagels yet though.
Moishe thinks Sam was the first baker in his family but doesn't know for
sure. Sam's son, Moishe's father, Art, was a baker all his life. And it
was Art who invented the formula for Gryfe's bagels between 1963 and
1964. A formula only altered slightly by Moishe in later years.
The formula came about as in the late 1950's Art abandoned baking for
awhile and started driving a deli business into the ground. Ruth his
wife, sensing that a return to baking might be in order, promised him he
could make bagels. The first batches were small. Art made two to three
dozen a day. Two dozen were sold in the store. One dozen went upstairs
to the apartment where they lived above the bakery from 1955-1967. Early
results were not promising. One regular customer said they were "lousy".
But things evolved over time. And over a period of several years the
business organically moved to being all about bagels.
Moishe said, "in the 1990's I could have gotten rich by franchising".
But then again money isn't everything. I suppose that's easy for me to
say as it's not money I didn't make. But the lack of massive scale,
allows for better control that results in a more authentic aura and
superlative experience. As Moishe says today, the chains are "more about
having something to hold the tuna together". They do have a couple of
sandwiches at Gryfe's but they're clearly the sideline. They sell cream cheese from the refrigerated case across from the
register. And it's possible to even get them to spread it on for you.
But again, why bother. Get your bagels and take them home. As soon as
OK. Here's everything I know about how Gryfe's bagels are actually made.
Since Moishe was unbelievably open in letting me document everything I
saw, I can only conclude that none of these details are really relevant
to the real secret behind the bagels. That said, I'll document for
The flour used is
no-time enriched flour. Nothing seemingly special
about it. The "no-time" refers to the lack of needing to wait as long
for it to rise. There was also
vegetable oil and of course yeast. No
eggs. There are other ingredients of course, some we may not be aware
of. But this is the most I actually witnessed. The startup production is refrigerated overnight and used first
thing in the morning to get things going. The mixture gets mixed
together in a
large machine that spits out
huge masses of dough ready to
be made into bagels.
After the dough is
measured out, and rolled into big balls, it's put in this very cool
machine that cuts it into 36 perfect equally sized portions in a
The machine is super low tech, but super neat. Then comes turning these
little balls of dough into rings for bagels. I've always known of two
methods. 1) Make a ball, stick your thumb through the center, work the
ring around your thumb pinching it slowly until it forms a ring; and 2)
roll the ball into a long cylinder and then wrap the cylinder around the
palm of your hand sealing the two ends to form a ring. Yet there was a
third way that I hadn't considered. By machine.
I didn't expect these perfect bagel creations to be machine made. Now
this is a patently silly statement on my part. The oven they get baked
in is a machine. It's not like Moishe rubs sticks together to make a
fire and bakes the bagels on the fire. So why did I have a problem with
a machine making the rings? As it turns out, I didn't. In fact, the
machine was very very neat. It took these balls of dough,
into cylinders, and then
into rings. The machine was made by Thompson who made their first bagel machine in the early 1960's.
This one in particular was 10-15 years old. Moishe admitted too me that
he was skeptical at first. He wondered if people would know the
difference between the machine and hand-made bagels. The answer was to
gather several "mavens", put them in front of a tray of bagels, and have
them pick out which ones were made by hand and which ones were made by
machine. A tray of bagels that were all machine-made where expert
customers were swearing that some were hand-made was all the evidence
that Gryfe needed that nobody could really tell the difference. And
besides, the machine is very fun to watch.
After being formed into
and placed on trays the bagels spend
in the proofer. This is like a bagel sweat box. The humidity and the
temperature make the bagels rise at an accelerated pace. Afterwards the
trays spend 10 minutes under the fan. Then 30 seconds
applied as necessary, and then
minutes at 400 degrees in the
revolving ovens that line the walls of the bakery.
What comes out the other end of these process are simply the
I have ever tasted. They are
light but not insubstantial. You can taste a few salt crystals on the surface.
One side of the bagel is darker than the other. The darker part of the crust has
an extra almost
grilled flavor. The
flavor also has the tiniest yeast notes once-in-awhile. But overall the
bagel has a very
basic and essential flavor. The simplicity is deceptive. It's almost
like fresh bread ensconced in a bagel. Like a challah, but lighter and
with no 'egginess'. And of course, the bagel almost floats away it's so
My dad spent the morning insisting he would only eat one. He had barely
finished chewing the final bite of his first bagel when he was already
asking for a second. That's just the way it is with these. Don't
misunderstand, they are not fluffy or airy, in fact they are solid and
present a fine foundation for cream cheese and lox, or butter, or
nothing at all. It's just that
you can eat two or three at a clip and not even notice.
Moishe, what do you say to people who say your bagels really should
be called buns since they're so light? He's heard this one before. He
responds "different strokes for different folks", and leaves it at
that. That said, he does venture an opinion about Montreal bagels; he
doesn't understand why anyone would want to buy them. A little
competitiveness is a good thing I think.
And while I wasn't there to spy, my intense curiosity about how they
make their bagels didn't subside in the least. Moishe has another
location where they make more bagels. Only 60% of his business is retail
while stores across Toronto carry his bagels making up the other 40% of
his business. Moishe thinks there is a slight difference between the
bagels made at his main location and at his auxiliary bakery. However,
he may be the only one who can tell the difference. He thinks it may be
the water. It just shows, to really make bagels like his you need the
water being piped into his main location. I asked him, "what is so
special about your bagels?" He said, "there are two things you can
change, the formulation, and the method. My formula is radically
different." What did that mean. I'm sure I'll never know. "Radically
different." What could be so radical? Alien yeast? None at all?
Ultimately when you do something well, it's by keeping focused on that
one thing, keeping it simple. And as I said above, things are pretty
basic at Gryfe's. No asiago flavored bagels, no muffins, no fancy
coffees. You can get plain, poppy, sesame, flax, and whole wheat. That's
it. There are a couple of other items available also, rugelach, pizza
(which really is more like some dough-cheese-tomato sauce concoction),
turnovers. I was lucky enough to try the apple turnovers. I would
have tried more but every cubic ounce of stomach space that I occupied
with non-bagel food product was less room for bagel. You can see my
dilemma. That said, I did try the apple turnovers and I was glad I did.
super delicious. It had no liquidy apple filling and no heavy crust. It
just a light pastry crust with
slightly buttery fresh sweet apples and heaps of cinnamon and sugar.
Very very good. (BTW, my friend Steve tried the rugelach on a visit to
Toronto and said they were awesome.)
I don't know if everyone will agree with my
assessment of Gryfe's. But maybe it takes a bagel that polarizes public
opinion to be one of the best you (if you're one of most people) will
ever eat. Any bagel that doesn't foster strong opinions is likely trying
to appeal to such a broad range of tastes that in the end it has no
identity of its own. (This is an important life lesson as well.) I
remember going into one bagel shop a couple of years ago and having the
owner proudly tell me how he got his recipe from a consulting firm he
hired that had put it through rounds of iteration with focus groups
in... get this... Colorado. I was speechless. And while I love Gryfe's
bagels, I do believe that the Montreal bagels I have eaten are fantastic
in an altogether different way. That said, I don't chalk up New York
bagels to differences, I just don't like them. Dense, chewy, enormous,
heavy. I'm looking for baked goods, not tires.
I know that Toronto is not exactly a regular
travel destination for most people. But maybe if enough people ask,
Moishe will franchise out to the U.S. or start a mail order business. In
the meantime, be glad that the line of Gryfe's bakers doesn't end with
Moishe. His son Daniel is a budding baker and studying business at a
university in the U.S. And according to his father, "he has big plans".