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.
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
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
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 -
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.
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
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
nearby making truly memorable dishes, it may be difficult not to get
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
Seattle restaurants in the Sunday Travel section (free
registration required). Mark Bittman writes about
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.
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
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
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
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.
San Francisco, CA, January 18, 2004 —
Gary 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 -
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Herb Crusted Loin of Lamb with Winter Vegetable Galetto and Maitake
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
tastes of cheese from the extensive
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:
Chocolate Soufflé with
Pear Soufflé with
Caramelized Banana Cream Tart with Milk Chocolate Ice Cream;
and Cookie Sampler; and of course, some
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
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
packed kitchen after dinner. The
were sweethearts and genuinely eager to know how we enjoyed the meal
they'd worked so hard on. The answer is, very much.