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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.

 

Thursday, May 27, 2004, 10:47 PM

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Flo, 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 interesting.

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.

 

 

Wednesday, May 26, 2004, 11:51 PM

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Noodles Asia, 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 options here, 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 about.

 

Tuesday, May 25, 2004, 10:57 PM

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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 Blue Corn Muffins with Chile Spiced Pecans, and gorgeous looking Bacon 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 required).

Screw Atkins and South Beach, bread is one of the most incredible creations on the planet. Yeast is critical to make it happen according to the New York Times (free registration required). They also include information on tools and recipes for Whole Grain Boule and Crumb Schnecken.

Authenticity is fleeting and subjective when it comes to food. Italy is the place to figure this out.

 

 

Monday, May 24, 2004, 12:02 AM

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25 Individual Pecan Pie.jpgDelmonico, 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 was the 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 salty.

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.

Sides included: 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: Apple Pie; Butterscotch Creme Brulee; Bannanas 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.

 

Thursday, May 20, 2004, 9:59 PM

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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 culinary overview of the 20th century. It includes classic recipes from each decade. Neat.

I desperately miss Japan.

 

 

Tuesday, May 18, 2004, 12:01 AM

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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 Grapple - 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 Leslie).

We finally switched to a new hosting service. This should hopefully make the site much faster.

 

 

Monday, May 17, 2004, 12:09 AM

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Click here for more pictures.Red Peppers, May 16, 2004Red peppers 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 well.

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 mini-peppers 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. Reading 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 sliced them 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 sour cream (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 dish was 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.

 

 

Sunday, May 16, 2004, 10:54 AM

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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" advice.

 

 

Thursday, May 13, 2004, 11:38 PM

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The Los Angeles Times (free registration required) writes about the 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 credit.

Green Tea Cola. I'm not a huge tea fan but I kind of want to try it.

 

 

Tuesday, May 11, 2004, 12:02 AM

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06-Tagliatelle with Truffle.jpgLampreia, Seattle, WA, December 4, 2003 — It had been a bit since we'd gone to 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 Shaved 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 Ravioli 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 was called 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 - Trofiette 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 wrapped in 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 noodles and 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 Cinghiale Sausage 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 asses. 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 frankly delicious.

 

 

Monday, May 10, 2004, 12:11 AM

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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 Jade Garden 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.

 

Saturday, May 8, 2004, 10:26 AM

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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.

 

Thursday, May 6, 2004, 11:58 PM

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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 Bill Murray reaction.

 

Monday, May 3, 2004, 12:01 AM

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40-Sesame.jpgGryfe's Bagel Bakery, Toronto, Canada, November 23, 2003 — Last year 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 Gryfe's Bagel 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 myself.

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 your bagels.

MOISHE GRYFE: Yeah. (Disinterested.)

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 your bagels.

MOISHE GRYFE: (Wry laugh.) Really the article they wrote about us should have everything you need.

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 visited.

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 possible.

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 posterity anyway.

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 kneaded, 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 cool pattern. 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, rolled them into cylinders, and then formed them 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 rings and placed on trays the bagels spend 30 minutes 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 in the boiling water, seeds are applied as necessary, and then 15-18 minutes at 400 degrees in the large revolving ovens that line the walls of the bakery.

What comes out the other end of these process are simply the best bagels 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 light.

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.

I asked 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? Hmmm...

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), and apple 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. It was super delicious. It had no liquidy apple filling and no heavy crust. It was 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".


 
     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.


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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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