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Wednesday, July 28, 2004, 11:59 PM

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Sorry for the drought. But we're back and have a ton of stuff to post. We'll start modestly with this little tidbit about our favorite reality chef Rocco DiSpirito. According to this incredibly poorly written article from Eonline, a judge has banned Rocco from his own "poorly rated establishment". While I haven't eaten there myself, I think the greater public service may have been for the judge to ban customers from the restaurant as (at least on the TV show) the food looked relatively unappetizing.



Friday, July 16, 2004, 11:07 PM

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A couple of months ago we started listing some of our favorite ingredients - cheeses, oils, etc. Since we just started the info there is still relatively sparse. I got mail recently Kenn Olson of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board saying the following:

"I was so disappointed to see that there are NO domestic cheeses on your favorites list. European cheeses are way overrated. In Wisconsin alone, we make almost every variety imaginable. While most cheeses may have been created in Europe, they have been perfected in Wisconsin. Proof is that we won more World Champion Awards in 2004 than any other state or nation. I urge you to go to our web site at foodervice.wisdairy.com and check it out for yourself. I also invite you to next year's Monterey Wine Festival so you can taste some of our champion cheeses first hand. We no longer snub California wines, why do we continue to do so with cheese? "

I sent him the following response:

"You’re right. I just have to spend more time trying various domestic cheeses. Don’t assume it’s some sort of inverted cheese xenophobia. I just haven’t gotten to it yet. I probably need to do the cheese tour of Wisconsin going from dairy to dairy, cheesemaker to cheesemaker, and trying it all. Maybe the festival is the right place to start."

Hmmm... cheese tour of Wisconsin. I could see it. I can eat quite a bit of cheddar. And many other cheeses I'm sure. Belgioso, of Denmark, WI, is producing a domestic Parmesan-ish cheese - American Grana.

Sorry for the drought in posts the last few days. We're in the middle of a break here at tastingmenu.com. We'll try to post during the break but for a variety of reasons, internet access is spotty at best. But we'll be back on the job in full force on Tuesday, July 27, 2004. In the meantime definitely check out some of our favorite food websites.



Thursday, July 8, 2004, 12:05 AM

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Madrid 522, Seattle, WA, January 23, 2004 — As a fan of a large variety of dishes, all served in small amounts, Tapas was essentially made for me. Lots of small plates (even way before it was "trendy") filled with yummy Spanish delicacies. What could be better? Hearing about Madrid 522, a Tapas place in Seattle, we were intrigued. We definitely had to check it out. The location was odd, downtown, but at this desolate intersection with no other businesses nearby. Location weirdness aside, we were still up for a great meal. And Madrid 522 promised quite a bit - specifically "the food, the drinks, the Passion of Spain". We were ready for passion!

We ordered wine to start things off - 2001 Guel Benzo "Evo" Meritage from Navarra. Peyman said it was "oily". I thought it had touch of nice acidity and big fruit. I gave it an 89 (whatever that means). Accompanying our wine as we ordered were some olives - Aceitunas Alinadas. They were yummy with marinated garlic. Tangy, delicious, and bright. Next up was Patatas Bravas - Fried Country Potatoes Laced with a Spicy Tomato Sauce. This dish was smoky and yummy. We also ordered Tostadas - Crusty Bread Slices with an Array of Different Toppings.  The sesame bread for the tostadas was fantastic. The sesame flavor was intense. We also got the Pate de Campo - Country Liver Terrine. The pate was quite nice. It had a cool presentation, great flavor. If I had one complaint it may have been that the texture was a little too rustic for me.

Things started off quite good and we felt the meal was promising so far. We kept the plates coming. Gambas al Ajillo - Sauteed Garlic Prawns, this was just ok and would have been bettter if it had chunks of garlic; Langostinos con Salsa Rosa - Pacific Prawns with a "Rose" Sauce, was uneventful; Morcilla a la Cazuela - Catalan Style Blood Sausage, Baked in Wood Burning Oven, had a neat flavor; Croquetas de Jamon - Serrano Ham Croquettes, i could find no ham, but the croquettes we smooth, hot, yummy, and soft inside; and Tortilla de Patata - Spanish Potatoes and Eggs Omelette, this was addictive and yummy like a big chunky latke.

Next up were Pinchos Morunos - Marinated Pork Skewers. These had a nice Mediterranean spice on them, but they were a bit dry. Peyman said they were flat. These were followed by Championones al Ajillo con Jerez - Locl Mushrooms Sauteed in Olive Oil, Garlic, and Jerez Wine. The mushrooms had a touch of spice and lemon. They could have been a touch more flavorful. We also got the Chorizo a la Sidra - Homemade Spanish Sausage Baked with Hard Apple Cider. The chorizo was herby and yummy. This was followed by Albondigas Sorpresa - Meatballs in an Almond Parsley Sauce. The meatballs had a savory flavor. The nuts were a neat addition. We also ordered the Conejo a la Cazadora - Tender Oregon Natural Rabbit, Sautéed with Thyme, Garlic, Dry White Wine, Mushrooms, and Fresh Tomatoes. The Rabbit had a strong but pleasant taste of wine. It was yummy.

Bottom line - Madrid 522 was a place we wanted to like. The staff was super friendly and flexible. They took an entree we wanted and made it "tapas-size" for us. The restaurant was oddly empty for a Friday night, maybe the odd location had something to do with it. Some of the dishes were quite enjoyable, but nothing really blew our minds. That said, the menu was sizable and made for exploring.' It wouldn't be a bad thing to explore it and find the dishes that really resonate. But with restaurants like Harvest Vine nearby making truly memorable dishes, it may be difficult not to get distracted.



Wednesday, July 7, 2004, 12:14 AM

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While I live in Seattle I do try to get out a bit and deliver views on food from all over the planet. That said, Seattle does have its own charm. And after all, it's where I eat most of the time. The New York Times wrote about four Seattle restaurants in the Sunday Travel section (free registration required). Mark Bittman writes about Lampreia, Salumi, Lark, and Cascadia. I think the write-up is pretty on target. The only thing I quibble with is the opening that "the restaurant scene in Seattle is among the country's most vital". Maybe I'm suffering from a "grass is greener" syndrome, but while Seattle does have several gems, (and it's certainly better than most cities) it still feels somewhat provincial to me. How can you say a restaurant scene is "vital" when you can't even get great Chinese food?

I should also mention that Lampreia which is featured prominently in Bittman's article currently is serving a tomato tasting menu that will blow you away. The gazpacho poured over super thin avocado slices draped over a stack of little parmesan crackers alternating with little patties of salmon will blow your mind. It's absolutely incredible. Go eat it before Chef Carsberg moves onto the next thing.



Tuesday, July 6, 2004, 12:51 AM

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The Slanted Door, San Francisco, CA, January 19, 2004 — Vietnamese food is one of my favorite foods of all time. The flavors are fresh, bright, and exciting. The food is seemingly simple but is rich with complexity of texture and taste. I love tiny traditional Vietnamese restaurants that cater mainly to Vietnamese immigrants as well as modern interpretations of Vietnamese that try to serve refined versions of traditional dishes. Well, I at least like trying them. Finding great ones is a different matter. And it's easier with the former than with the latter. For our last meal in San Francisco (given how full we were of "fancy food" and haute cuisine) we opted for The Slanted Door - an updated interpretation of Vietnamese cuisine. The food definitely did not try to stray from tradition, but the environment and the menu were aiming for a non-Vietnamese crowd.

Apparently the restaurant had moved since Lauren had last been there. It's funny but I've heard a surprising number of times how restaurants have moved and their original clientele invariably feels that the food has somehow suffered in the transition. I don't know if that's because the customers don't realize how much of an impact the old environment had on their enjoyment or if in an attempt to scale the kitchen lost its vision. Either way, it's a typical tale. Slanted Door's new digs are a little bathroomy. Lots of white tile. The floors are gorgeous, and despite the lavatory-ness it still felt like a downtown restaurant that had preserved a little bit of uniqueness in terms of its look and feel.

We had a weird moment with our waiter. Alex had seen an item on the menu referred to as a crepe when we stood in the foyer of the restaurant. Upon examination of our lunch menu he couldn't find it. When we asked our waiter he responded that they were a Vietnamese restaurant, so why would they be serving crepes. It turns out after some investigation that they did have a vegetable filled crepe on the dinner menu. I'm no expert on Vietnamese food (or for that matter on any food really) and our waiter had only been there for a month. That said, I did wonder whether I was more annoyed with his lack of knowledge of his restaurants own menu, or his total lack of knowledge of any colonial history between France and Vietnam and how those events influenced Vietnamese cuisine. (I don't even know if crepes are found in Vietnam but I know of some French influences on Vietnamese food - baguettes used for Saigon style sandwiches) Whatever.

Lunch started off with the Slanted Door Spring Rolls which were very good. These were the kind wrapped in rice paper and not deep fried. They were fresh and tight. The accompanying peanut sauce was already spicy - a nice touch. Things continued nicely with the Grapefruit and Jicama Salad with Candied Pecans. Lauren said it was "spectacular". Sweet, crispy, fresh, sour, yum.  The Vegetarian Spring Rolls were also decent. However, Peyman felt that the Green Papaya Salad with Rau Ram and Roasted Peanuts was bland.

Since we were eating Vietnamese food I of course had to try their Pho. It was different than the typical Phos I'd had.  The noodles were wide unlike the typical thin rice noodles. The broth was different as well (or just not great). It seemed a little muddled to me. The flavor wasn't super bright. The broth itself also wasn't super clear.

We got some additional dishes: Grilled Five Spice Chicken with Tamarind Dipping Sauce - the chicken was dry and burnt, even the sauce couldn't help; Spicy Japanese Eggplant with Green Onions and Coconut Milk - the eggplant was undercooked and inedible; Fresh Thick Rice Noodles with Fulg Shrimp, Green Beans, and Bean Sprouts - these were not very flavorful and a touch oily; Caramelized Shrimp with Garlic, Organic Onions, and Chili Sauce - the shrimp were sticky sweet in a good way, yummy; and a delicious order of Organic Baby Spinach with Caramelized Shallots.

In the end the meal was kind of a bummer. Lauren who'd recommended it was the most bummed of all. She felt that The Slanted Door had at one time been innovative and funky, but felt that since it had moved, it had jumped the shark. This was more of a comment on the atmosphere than the food I think. (It constantly surprises me how much they can affect each other). We could definitely see the potential in the place as a couple of the dishes were quite nice, but overall it just didn't meet the bar. That said, the staff did appear to be trying hard. Since we'd asked for crepes the kitchen made us a vegetarian crepe dish that was off the menu. This was really nice of them, and it was clear they were just trying to make us happy. The dish was interesting, but unfortunately it didn't have huge flavor. The texture was great though. This was clearly a dish that had the potential to be great. And in some ways it was a metaphor for the entire Slanted Door experience.



Thursday, July 1, 2004, 10:16 PM

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27-Lemon Herb Duck Breast.jpg

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Gary Danko, San Francisco, CA, January 18, 2004Gary Danko is both a chef and a restaurant in San Francisco, California. I'd eaten there once before in June of 2003. Last time I went we had a wonderful meal, but I was the only one out of the regular eating crew that got to eat there. Nobody else came with on that visit. I don't consider myself a restaurant critic, and even if I did, I still don't typically get to go to restaurants in other cities more than once before I write about them. (You should  know that this is considered not up to professional "code" by most professional restaurant critics.) That said, we do typically order three meals worth of dishes in one sitting, so it's not like we don't get a decent sampling. Anyway, the point of this little detour is that I'd only been to Gary Danko once and was hoping it would live up to my memories of my meal there. And fortunately for  all of us, it did.

The restaurant feels a somewhat formal, but as we slid in to a round booth that held six of us it still felt cozy. Soon thereafter we felt even better when the amuse showed up -  Thai Coconut soup with Smoked Duck and Chili Oil. I'll admit that I did have a moment where the sense of the identity of the restaurant was in question for me. Thai soup? On the one hand, why shouldn't they go anywhere they want culinarily (is that a word?) and on the other hand, did it really feel authentic and genuine to what the restaurant's food was about. In the end it didn't matter as  the soup was delicious - really fresh, light, essentially tom yum soup that was  tangy and touch spicy.

I know that it doesn't necessarily reflect what the kitchen is capable of, but we splurged and ordered the California White Sturgeon Caviar with Creme Fraiche and Buckwheat Blini. The caviar service was lovely, but honesly the Lafayette brand caviar wasn't great. It was very mild. Where were the salt bursts? Maybe there was a subtlety of flavor that I was supposed to appreciate. If there was, it was lost on me. This was more than made up for by the very same dish I had adored during our last visit to Gary Danko - Risotto with Lobster, Rock Shrimp, Winter Vegetables, and Sage Oil. It's simply fantastic. Perfect texture. creamy, filling, great cheese flavor (not sure if there's actual cheese in there, but it sure tasted like there was). Great! I can still taste it.

Next up was Seared Foie Gras, Caramelized Red Onions, Quince and Pomengranate. The foie gras was great. It had a good combination of flavors though the foie itself could have been featured more and was slightly overwhelmed by everything else that was going on. This is a hard balance to strike. We also had the Winter Root Vegetable Soup with Portobello Fennel Tapenade and Truffle Emulsion. Debdu liked the soup. I thought the soup was not super special. The soup was followed by Seared Ahi Tuna with Avocado, Nori, Enoki Mushrooms, and Lemon Soy Dressing. The tuna was not very inventive but it was still bright, and flavorful. There was also a Lobster Salad with Citrus Segments, Haricot Verts, and Mustard-Tarragon Vinaigrette. The salad was eh. Whatever flavor there was just seemed to get lost. And finally we had Foie Gras and Duck Confit Terrine with Meyer Lemon Chutney and Vanilla Brioche. Debbie thought it was better than most she had tried. Peyman thought it was great and complex with lots of different complementary flavors. Lauren also got the veggie risotto. It too was delicious like it's lobstered cousin. It had a fabulous texture; not oversalted or gloopy. It was pretty much perfect risotto.

Seafood dishes came next. We started off with Horseradish Crusted Salmon Medallion with Dilled Cucumbers. The salmon was surprisingly good. It was somehow reminiscent of breakfast and dinner together. Something about the salmon and the contrasting warm and cold temperatures in the dish. Of course we ordered the Seared Sea Scallops with Cauliflower "Risotto," Edamame, Bottarga, and Sage Oil. The scallops were prepared perfectly. They were tender gorgeous, seared, and caramelized. This was followed by the Pancetta Wrapped Frog Legs with Sunchoke Garlic Puree, Potato, Lentils, and Parsley Sauce. The frog legs were crispy. The Pancetta wrapping was stunning. We also had the Seared Tuna with Gigante Beans, Swiss Chard, Bacon Brioche, and Beurre Rouge. The tuna came in generous and beautiful thick slabs. Unfortunately it was a bit overcooked for my taste which wouldn't have been too terrible but it didn't have much flavor either. This was followed by the Roast Maine Lobster with Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Tarragon. DebDu liked the potato. As for the rest of the dish, I forgot it 2 seconds after I ate it.

Not to worry though, the meat course started and was anchored by the Lemon Herb Duck Breast with Cardamom Poached Pears. Simply put, the duck was special. The flavors tasted somehow North African. Maybe it was the cardamom. This was followed by Pan-Roasted Quail Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms and Foie Gras, Black Perigord Truffle Jus. The quail was gorgeous and tender and had a great smoky quality. We also got the Moroccan Spiced Squab with Chermoula and Orange-Cumin Carrots. The squab was super interesting. The couscous was Moroccan. The fillet itself tasted almost bacony. Next up was the Juniper Crusted Venison with Caramelized Endive and Cranberry Compote. The Venison had almost liver undertones - in a good way. These dishes were quite good with all sorts of interesting contrasts. The duck had sharp exciting flavors while the quail had fruit and autumn flavors. There was also herbiness in the Herb Crusted Loin of Lamb with Winter Vegetable Galetto and Maitake Mushrooms. All the meat was juicy, tender, gorgeous. If I had one bit of feedback on these dishes it might be that some of the portions were a bit big. More on portion-sizing later. Lauren, our vegetarian, ordered the Butternute, Gruyere, and Onion Confit Tart with Greens. The tart was buttery and had a yummy crust. It was covered in gruyere. What's not to love?

We also had several tastes of cheese from the extensive cheese cart. They included a Tasmanian cheese, Roaring Forties a blue that's sweet and nutty but not overboard; a Lancashire that Debbie loved; the Clisson loved by Debdu, and the Jean Grogne which was buttery. The desserts were no slouch either: Baked Chocolate Soufflé with Two Sauces; Baked Pear Soufflé with Pear Sauce; Caramelized Banana Cream Tart with Milk Chocolate Ice Cream; Ice Cream and Cookie Sampler; and of course, some Petit Fours.

Gary Danko is really a superlative experience. I don't know if I'd say that the dishes we had there were wildly original or even always home runs. But when they hit the mark, they hit it beautifully. And while not edgy, the food easily retained my interest. Best of all, when there were home runs (the risotto, the duck, etc.) these are among the most memorable dishes I've ever eaten. Combine that with the fact that although Gary Danko is clearly a high end restaurant, there's no snobbery or hyper formality. Ordering is easy with the price and portions adjusting (though some portions were a touch large for me) to how ever many dishes we'd like to order from whatever category of the menu we'd like. We got little goodie bags to take home with us and open the next morning for eating during breakfast - where we could (and did) reminisce about our great experience. We even got to tour the tightly packed kitchen after dinner. The cooks were sweethearts and genuinely eager to know how we enjoyed the meal they'd worked so hard on. The answer is, very much.










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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