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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.


Saturday, October 30, 2004, 5:15 PM

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A bit of website upgrading this weekend. We're toying with the idea of discussion boards, but want to take a babystep in that direction with a suggestion box on every restaurant listing page. At the bottom of each page you can post your suggestion on a great restaurant for that city. We've also included these on our ingredient pages. Here's shortcuts for anyone who wants to make a suggestion right now.



Thursday, October 28, 2004, 12:49 AM

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WD-50, New York, NY, February 20, 2004 — A surprising side effect of eating out a lot is realizing that a lot of restaurants are serving basically the same crap. And often it doesn't matter that the repetitive dishes and preparations are good. They just lose some of their magic when you have them with only slight variations over and over again at restaurants lauded for their "creativity". I know some combinations are "classic" and just plain tasty. But sometimes it's nice to get a breath of fresh air. And while not every dish we had was a home run, wd~50 was not only a breath of fresh air, but has stuck in our minds for months now as a very exciting place to eat.

We ordered a series of appetizers and then some entrees. After we munched on our basket full of flatbreads, things started off with Rabbit Sausage, Avocado, and Grainy Mustard Paper. The rabbit sausage was nice. The mustard paper tasted incredible. The avocado was super creamy. And the pickled rack of rabbit was cute. After a second pass on the rabbit it was very saucy and herby. This was followed by Butternut Squash-Tamarind Soup, Scallop "Cous Cous", and Lemon Paper. This soup was pure sweet essence of squash. The "cous cous" however was more of a novelty than a great addition. It distracted me a touch from how good the soup was. The lemon paper was cool and cool tasting.

Next up was Gambon Shrimp, Onion-Clove Compote, and Red Pepper. I found this dish fantastic. Peyman was not in sync with my opinion so of course we had to order another one. I found the second one just as delicious. Peyman slowly came around. After the shrimp was Foie Gras and Anchovy Terrine, Citrus Chutney, and Tarragon. This dish didn't quite work. The chutney overwhelmed the foie gras a bit, and the anchovy flavors in the mix were just odd. I'm not a guy who's into clichés. I don't need my foie gras to always be paired with peaches, or figs, or some other sweet fruit. But that said, the anchovies were still out-of-place (at least in this particular preparation).

After the foie gras we got Venison Tartare, Edamame Ice Cream, and Crunchy Pears. The venison was chocolaty, chewy, and had a yummy consistency. Even better was the Smoked Eel, Cucumber, Pumpkin Seed, and Lime Chips. I have never had eel that was this delicately smoked. The foie gras combo may have been odd, but this dish worked! The lime was like little fireworks on the finish, and the crushed toasted pumpkin seeds were awesome. More seafood arrived in the form of Sardine, Lentils, Soy Caramel, and Nori Froth. The sardine was good. The soy caramel glaze was special. The nori froth was subtle.

Many of the restaurants considered on the "cutting edge" these days all have an affinity for small jokes throughout the meal. Grant Achatz formerly of Trio in Chicago (now Trio Atelier since he left) would send out "Salad" which ended up being a granite of various lettuces (it was actually quite good) but that's not the point. Wylie Dufresne the "WD" in wd~50 did not name this next dish "Corned 'Beef' on Rye". Instead of focusing on being clever he just took a look at the interesting flavor combinations existing in a traditional sandwich and played with them such that they took on a new dimension. The dish was called - Corned Duck, Rye Crisp, Purple Mustard, and Horseradish Cream. The duck was crunchy, with a "rare" meaty flavor, and a wasabi surprise. Fresh and delicious.

Next up was Snapper, with Chestnuts, Daikon Radish, and Juniper Berries. The fish was very very good. The lemon peel flavor was special. The daikon just ok. And the juniper berries gave the dish a sort of Japanese quality. Root Vegetable "Lasagna", in Green Lentil Broth. This wasn't my favorite, just a lot of stuff going on, though the broth was great. More duck came in the form of Duck Breast, Pomelo, Sunchoke, and Roquefort. The roquefort came in the form of a foam which had a little bit of a bitter aftertaste that seemed beyond the pale to me. We also got the Short Ribs and Flatiron Beef, Lily Bulb Puree, in Black Olive Consommé. The short ribs were good. The olive sauce was interesting, but the beef was delicious.

One of the most memorable dishes we had was next, the Pork Belly, Black Soy Beans, and Turnips. The pork belly was like pork "foie gras". It was glistening with incredible fat, and the sauce was a perfect and subtle complement. The serving was pretty enormous. I couldn't imagine eating the entire thing even if I had only eaten one appetizer beforehand.

Desserts were numerous, lovely, interesting, and delicious. They included: Pinenut Parfait, Bittersweet Chocolate Cream, with Saffron Sauce, that had a savory/bittersweet wafer which was delicious; Rum Roasted Banana, Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, and Curry; Spice Bread Panna Cotta, Warm Papaya, with Tarragon; Five Pears, Five Ways; Beet Cake, Chocolate Sorbet, and Beet Caramel - the beets combined beautifully with the chocolate; and Carrot-Lime Ravioli, Coconut Tapioca, Lime Sherbet, and Cumin - a hyper-original (at least to my eyes) combination where the tanginess and the cumin were delicious together. These little orange cubes looked like jewels. Beautiful. Oh yeah, I can't say this definitively as I must have been so distracted that I forgot to write it down, but if memory serves, the chocolate petit fours were unbelievably creamy. The ingredient that gave them this intense buttery beauty? Foie gras (I think).

I don't need crazy ingredients, wild presentations, or cleverness to make me excited about a meal. Originality comes in many forms, and sometimes simple dishes, prepared with incredible attention to detail really raise the bar. They somehow make it look easy as they don't rely on any tricks. The beet and chocolate combination for dessert didn't exist to shock. The combination was on the plate because the ingredients tasted wonderful together. And the innovation we experienced at wd~50 was equal to or above any of the exciting meals I've ever had. Yes, some of the combinations weren't quite right. But the ones that were made me swoon. Over the years I expect Dufresne to get an even better sense for how to innovate and even more consistently deliver unparalleled combinations of flavor, texture, and beauty. In some ways wd~50 is like a diver who decides to do the dive with the greatest difficulty multiplier. They don't nail it quite as often as someone doing a lesser dive, but you have to give them credit for trying to do the hard stuff. Innovating, exciting, staying accessible, and ultimately delivering great flavor is a delicate balancing act. wd~50 deserves credit not only for trying the hard stuff, but for delivering on it so often. I really can't wait to go back.



Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 12:01 AM

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New Wonton Garden, New York, NY, February 20, 2004 — This jaunt through New York City was going pretty well. We'd already eaten at 6 restaurants, we still had 10 to go. Not bad for a 3 day trip. And even though we've traveled to New York many times to eat, and we Love (with a capital "L") Chinese food, we've never really gone deep into New York's offerings of that cuisine. And frankly, we still weren't on track to do that on this trip. But we were wandering around the city and desperately hungry without a strong recommendation towards one Chinese restaurant over another. This is when it's always important to apply "the Peyman Principle". Go where the crowds are. It's easy to dismiss this sort of mob mentality, but especially when you're dealing with small ethnic restaurants, it's not a bad theory. Why go somewhere that's empty? Somebody must know something. And this is the logic that brought us to New Wonton Garden (not sure what became of the old one).

We didn't have a ton of food, but we did order a bunch of yummy dumplings. The Steamed Pork Buns were super fresh, steaming. and a slightly sweet light filling. The Steamed Cantonese Dumplings came in a fantastic savory light sauce. And of course I do love Potstickers (or Peking Ravioli as they were called when I grew up). They were coated in a perfectly fried light dough and filled with pink tender pork. And of course, we needed even more pork dumplings, so the Pork Chive Steamed Dumplings fit the bill. They filled our mouths full of flavor. And they came with a hot soy-based waterfall of goodness in terms of the sauce. We also ordered some steamed veggies. They were just ok. As good as the dumplings were, the service was a little insane. There was a lot of language confusion to the point where we needed to physically point at dishes we wanted to order. If a neighboring diner didn't have it, it was near impossible for us to order it. Still, it was well worth it. Yum.



Monday, October 25, 2004, 12:05 AM

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Tabla, New York, NY, February 20, 2004 — There is a "shininess" to the concept of fusion food, it's superficial, but attractive. The culture of food has borrowed from the broader pop culture in that trends are popular. They are seams that businesses and media look for to ride to more popularity. And the notion that combining two or more ethnic cuisines into one "fusion" of sorts could result in interesting combinations strikes many people as interesting and novel (myself included). The problem is that typically these combinations end there - at novelty. The reason a particular ethnic food is usually so interesting and attractive is because it's been honed over hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of years. It's been based on trial and error combining indigenous and regional ingredients into just the right combinations. When someone decides to take the "hits" of a pair of ethnic cuisines and combine them, it is usually done casually, with more attention paid to the surface of the dish, the unlikely ingredients, instead of to the overall flavor. This difficult legacy means that when a chef tries to do a riff on an ethnic food by expanding the framework, and even combining it with another sensibility, the bar is high. This is exactly what Floyd Cardoz tries to do at Tabla in Manhattan. There is the more casual (and apparently more traditional) Bread Bar, downstairs, but we were eager to see what Tabla had to offer. We were already in a good mood as the decor at Tabla was beautiful with bright textured colors and mosaics draped around the old office building/bank lobby.

Things started off with Pink Lentil Soup - French Lentils, Leeks, and Ginger Yogurt. This spicy lentil; soup had the traditional Indian flavor base - a combination of savory spices each with distinct and pungent aromas and tastes. But there were also some interesting new flavors on top of the traditional ones. This was true from a textural perspective as well. The soup was followed up with a Lamb Confit Samosa - Black Chickpeas Hummus, and Cucumber Salad. The samosa was 100% light flakey spicy goodness. At this point I was intrigued. Lentil Soup? Samosa? Nothing non-traditional about those choices. But they each had a refined edge and some seemingly non-traditional ingredients. I'll admit I'm not nearly as deep in my knowledge of Indian food as I'd like to be, but I don't know how traditional the leeks, ginger yogurt, and chummus was in each of the dishes. Was it fusion? Maybe a fusion of Indian cuisine with modern French and American techniques and refinement. I was enjoying myself so far.

Next up was a Basmati Risotto with Wild Mushrooms, Coconut, and Pea Shoots. The risotto was creamy and tangy with fresh herbs and coconut flavors, A bunch of enjoyable texture came from the shredded herbs. This dish was salty and good. And again it was a subtle twist on the traditional. Using the basmati rice, but preparing it as the risotto. I also know that some regions of India (especially in the south) definitely use coconut in their dishes making it seem like a cousin of Thai food sometimes (at least to my ignorant palate).There was also Warm Stuffed Locale with Apple, Roasted Vegetables, Roquefort, Toasted Walnuts, and Cider Vinaigrette. OK. I am not a huge salad fan as it often seems to me to be a random collection of ingredients that nobody felt like properly preparing. That said, the salads here were done with care and flavor and often served as the foundation to a main offering.

The Organic Green Salad with Crisped Rice and Lime Chutney-Sherry Dressing was very good with its Indian flavor-tinged vinaigrette. I didn't quite enjoy the Hamachi Tartare and "Cru" with Sea Urchin, Lemon Confit, and Toasted Coriander. Something about it was not super, but the delicate savory spices and sour complements were nice. The next dish was also nothing to write home about - Salad of Pork Confit with French Lentils, Pickled Onions, and Cider Mustard Vinaigrette. The pork was just ok but it did fall apart on my fork.

Luckily as the item on salad archetype started to get less interesting, the start of the next item on salad dish was superb. We at the Goan Crab Cake with Papadum, Goan Guacamole, and Tamarind Chutney. This was spicy on the finish. The papadum (a lentil crisp) was delicious, and the chutney was tangy and super complementary. Basically, the Crab rocked. We were at lunch with a native of Goa and she approved of this dish wholeheartedly. Less enjoyable was the Torchon of Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Grilled Pineapple, Cashews, and Peppercress. Even in a restaurant redefining the rules, this seemed a little out of place. The Foie Gras was not super flavorful though it was beautiful to look at. The condiments made it much better. The bread we got was mixed - the Nan was good, but the whole wheat paratha was dry and plain.

Not to worry, next we were served Crisped Skate with Rock Shrimp Basmati Pilaf, Bacon, and Pea Shoots, with Sour Spicy Glaze. The skate and rock shrimp were the most interesting of the entrees. Beautifully cooked with a delicate spiced tomato goodness thrown in for good measure. The bacon  overtones put this dish over the top. Unsurprisingly, while this dish had many ingredients, the result was accessible and simple. This is usually the way it is for the better dishes. Order out of confusion.

Next up was the Salad of Duck Breast and Confit with Foie Gras, Roasted Beets, and Citrus Vinaigrette. I couldn't find the foie gras, but the temperature contrasts were good. And I'm always a fan of duck breast. Equally good was the Seared Hanger Steak and Sweet Spice Braised Oxtail -with "Bombay Rice Pilaf", with Peanuts and Leeks. Lots of flavor deeply integrated.

Most fusion cooking that I've tried uses ethnic palettes as window dressing for their crappy food. But at Tabla the authentic Indian flavors were deeply ingrained in the food, and the main ingredients were still featured. And while the entrees were still too big for my taste (though I'm in the minority in this country), and the rest of the group I ate with were not quite as enthusiastic as I was, I found Tabla deeper than I expected, and a restaurant I'd like to eat at again.



Wednesday, October 20, 2004, 11:29 PM

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Daniel, New York, NY, February 19, 2004 — A couple of years ago I read the book The Fourth Star - Leslie Brenner's book on Daniel Boulud's successful attempt to earn his fourth star from the New York Times for his eponymous restaurant.  The book sometimes gets confusing, but I think that's testament to the multi-tasking going on in the kitchen when things really get going. And we got plenty of views of the kitchen during our most recent meal at Daniel.

I am lucky in that I get to eat out a lot. After awhile you start to notice patterns. Something that seemed pretty exciting, novel, and tasty at one restaurant, all of a sudden feels banal after you've eaten it at the fifth place. This is why in general I respond the most positively to food that is simple. Too many restaurants fill a plate with a bunch of "stuff" trying to be "interesting" and "creative". In the end these dishes often end up being distracting and muddled. Sometimes I feel like chefs use a multitude of ingredients to cover up the fact that their food has no soul. And even if that's not their intent (as most chefs I'm sure at least feel like they're trying to do something special) it often is the result.

It would be silly to say that fewer ingredients and simpler dishes always make for better food. Though statistically it certainly does feel that way. I think the real issue is that there's a unique skill in combining many ingredients and keeping the dish coherent. And there is exceptional skill in combining a multitude of ingredients and conveying some sort of soul. The first time I ate there it threw me for a loop. I almost didn't know what to make of it. But this second time, I figured it out. I apologize in advance for not being a better writer, but the best way I know how to describe it is that a clear warm bell-like tone of a rich tenor permeated just about every dish we ate at Daniel. This is not to say it was a monotone. It was just a deep flavor that resonated across almost every dish. It also served as a strong foundation for the frequent spikes of flavor that appeared in different dishes. I know it sounds odd to describe food in this way, but it's the best I can do. This was all the more impressive given that Boulud isn't regularly cooking there anymore. Instead the kitchen is now run by Jean François Bruel.

Dinner started off with a glass of Kir Royale. A combination of Champagne and Creme de Cassis in champagne flutes. Sort of like an alcoholic Shirley Temple. Once the champagne was flowing, a three tier silver tray showed up with a huge number of amuse bouche. Parmesan and Goat Cheese with Pine Nuts in pastry shells - awesome flavor with a tangy cheesey concentrated yumminess. Foie Gras Mousse with Huckleberry - maybe the best foie gras pate I've ever eaten. It was creamy and almost liquid and had a perfect temperature - not too cold. Definitely had that warm undertone of flavor. There was also Chummus and Gougeres. The chummus had a fresh neat flavor (I'm hard to please on the chummus front) and the gougeres were little puffy airy balls of goodness. There was also Oyster Veloute with Lemongrass. The oyster had milky, creamy, briney flavors and great tannins. The caviar was a subtle balancing flavor but the oyster was still the star. And finally there were mini quiches - they were custardy with an almost molten center even though they were served at room temperature.

Soon after a basket of a variety of breads showed up. Just like last time we were there the selection was large, and the quality great. They included: garlic rosemary, black olive, and rustic sourdough. The garlic bread had a salty goodness on the outside with a cheesey roast garlic flavor inside where there was actual roast garlic embedded in the bread. Kickass. The rosemary olive bread was also good with super present flavors.

Next up was Foie Gras Terrine with Gala Apples, Shallot Confit in Cider Vinegar and Endive Walnut Salad. The shallots and gelee were bursting with flavor. Shallots and apples are a great combination. We also got Scottish Pheasant and Foie Gras Terrine with Spiced Chestnuts, Pickled Root Vegetables, Black Truffle Coulis, and Spinach Salad. As good as the first terrine was, the pheasant terrine was even better. It included a new flavor - a gamey, savory goodness. The condiments were nice but I just wanted more of the pure pheasant flavor.

After the foie gras course we moved on to a first round of seafood. First was Citrus Marinated Fluke with Cumin, Hearts of Palm Salad, Shiso Cream, and Lemon Balm Oil. The fluke was interesting. It was followed by Maine Sea Scallop Ceviche with Basil Pesto, Blood Orange Nage, Pine Nuts, and Avocado. The scallop was very good with the blood orange and had a good "dry" flavor that I couldn't identify.

We were just getting started with seafood. Seared Tuna with Truffles showed up. The dish had an amazing grilled flavor and lovely truffles on the finish. More showed up soon after including Roasted langoustine with Orzo - the stock was super rich and delicious. It filled my mouth. Not to be outdone we also ended up with Black Truffle Crusted Lobster with Ten Winter Vegetables, Savoy Cabbage, Truffle, and Lobster Cream. Lobster with crumbled and shaved truffles. In general that's a no-lose combination. But it wasn't just the luxury of the ingredients that made the dish great, it had that same rich canvas of warm full comforting flavor on which to feature the lobster and the truffle tastes. The components of these dishes are complex, but the deep warm flavor that results is accessible and delicious.

The pacing for dinner could have been perceived by some as a touch slow, but for us the breaks were nice as this meal was a marathon, not a sprint.

Just when we'd caught our breath, we were served Potato Gnocchi in Meyer Lemon Sauce with Smoked Red Mullet Eggs Bottarga (bottarga?). The lemon was super sublte in the dish. The caviar was so generous (can you be overly generous?) that it almost overwhelmed the dish (I saved a bunch for the end). And just to mix things up a bit we also got Potato Gnocchi with Black Truffle in a Crayfish Emulsion. The combination of the truffle/crayfish/stock was another complex but focused set of flavors, and very good.

We'd seen the classic dover sole dish traveling by many times on it's way to another table, and then it finally arrived at our table - Dover Sole with Porcini Mushroom and Black Truffle Perigord Sauce. The sole was delicious. The fish had a great flakey but solid texture. Seared tuna made its second appearance of the evening as Seared Tuna a la Plancha with Exotic Peppercorns, Parsnip Mousseline, Glazed Salsify, and Shallot Confit in Port Wine (looks simpler than it sounds). I've been to many French restaurants where the sauces overwhelm the dishes. At Daniel they are really the baseline for each dish. And in this case the tuna was perfectly cooked. And accompanied by the flavorful port sauce, it was impossible not to enjoy.

And all throughout the evening, each person in the kitchen was their own ball of intense energy. Some were quiet and restrained, others a little more wild (relatively). How nothing broke with all the movement and hard work, I don't know. There appeared to be just enough room for everything to happen without disaster.

Next up was Muscovy Duck a l'Orange wiuthh Braised Red Endive, Black Olive, and Polenta. This dish was so juicy, and so hearty but had a focused perfect duck flavor. Definitely not overwhelming. Just about every dish we ate had restrained refined flavors with layers of detail piled on one another to form a seamless chorus. Each layer peeled away would reveal another beneath. This was also true of the Roasted Milbrook Farm Venison Loin with Honey-Juniper Glaze, Kabocha Squash, and Chestnut-Celery Chartreuse. This venison was among the juiciest I've ever eaten and had an almost port flavor. The accompaniments were enjoyable as well with the chartreuse reminding me of my mom's flavorful not overly dry or juicy turkey stuffing. Nice.

I think that society generally frowns on licking your plate at a restaurant. Alex tried it and one of the chefs glanced over at just the right moment to catch him. It was clear from the smile, that Alex' attempt to extract the last bit of flavor still trapped on his dish was taken as a compliment.

What's dinner without a cheese course and a series of exciting and delicious desserts. On the cheese front we had several that stood out including the Livarot from Normandy which was nutty, tangy, and strong but not overly acute (it was our best new discovery). The epoisses, talleggio, and brin d'amour were all excellent as well (no surprise there). The dizzying array of complicated and tasty desserts - here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here - almost buried us. These of course were followed by crepes - luxuriously sweet, and possibly my favorite dessert at Daniel (and their simplest) - Madelines. At Daniel they had a lemony lightness that was unbeatable. (Don't forget the petit fours.)

Daniel is a funny restaurant. The size both of the physical space as well as the ambition are such that many people want to knock it off the pedestal that it's perched itself so proudly upon. But if you eat there a couple of times, you realize that the food really is unique and special even with genetics rooted firmly in the tradition of the high end French restaurant. And the special quality is this ability to combine a bunch of ingredients on each plate, and many plates in one meal, and somehow weave a thread throughout the entire meal. A thread that envelops you with warmth and comfort. Luxurious French comfort food? A meal at Daniel might not be the first thing that comes to your mind with that phrase, but it is for me.



Tuesday, October 19, 2004, 10:48 PM

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Ever since we finally got our act together and got our own RSS feed I've finally gotten deep into the world of RSS. I tried newsgator awhile ago, as well as myYahoo, but right now I'm loving BlogLines. So in honor of me finally catching up with the rest of the planet, I'm sharing some clippings from some of the best food blogs on the web.

Derrick from Obsession with food describes a new magazine from the folks at Cook's illustrated. Weird.

Kip of FOODBlog lists a whole bunch of New York (and other) food blogs he found which is a follow-up to yet another post with a bunch of new food blogs he found, which is a follow-up to another three lists of food blogs here, here, and here. I suppose if even a few of them are decent, this is an embarrassment of riches for those of us that like to live vicariously through other people's food adventures.

Even mainstream fashion magazines in France (Elle to be exact) are mentioning food blogs.

Meg's Food and Wine Page reads like Page 6 for the wine world.



Friday, October 15, 2004, 12:02 AM

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Non-techies in the audience may or may not be excited. But tastingmenu has finally joined the rest of the planet with our very own RSS feed. Notice the new XML button on the top of every page. This will take you to a webpage address that you can type into any RSS reader, including Bloglines, Newsgator, and even My Yahoo. For future reference our RSS page is located at: http://www.tastingmenu.com/rss.xml.



Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 11:01 PM

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"Shortly into an hour long interview, it was evident that beneath the glossy chestnut hair, the expensive clothes and the cultured European and British-accented English, is a woman who knows how to cook." I suppose tastingmenu is not the place where you'd expect to find political commentary - unless of course it's food related. The New York Times (free registration required) has an interview with Teresa Heinz Kerry about her relationship with food and cooking.

On the other side of the aisle, Laura Bush won Family Circle's cookie bake-off vote. I'm not surprised. Who the hell prefers pumpkin spice cookies over chocolate chunk? Here are the recipes for both. Apparently for the last 20 elections husband of the person who lost the Family Circle cookie bakeoff won the election. Interesting.

Harold McGee has a new version of On Food and Cooking (courtesy of Bourrez Votre Visage).

Mark Bittman (also in the Times) provides a couple of insights and tips for cooking Indian food with yogurt.

<YUCKY>Rat Restaurant.</YUCKY>



Tuesday, October 12, 2004, 10:19 PM

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Mamoun's, New York, NY, February 18, 2004 — I am a big fan of falafel and shwarma. Falafel are little balls of ground chickpeas (or fava beans) deep fried. Shwarma is basically layered and seasoned meat slowly turning on a skewer and shaved off as it cooks. Mamoun's in New York City is a relatively popular late night hole-in-the-wall. The offerings are pretty basic. Falafel, shwarma, kafta, and shish-kebab plus all the appropriate accoutrements - hummus, baba ganoush, tabouleh, etc.

In high school we had a place like this in Brookline, MA. We'd hop into my friend's car and head down to the hospital district at one in the morning. The food was hot, bursting with flavor, and the people making the food had a mild attitude - sort of a "yeah, we know the food's good and your thrilled we're here to give it to you way late at night, but could you just pick what you want and move on because there are a lot of people in line behind you" kind of attitude.

The tehina was very good - tangy and textured. The sandwiches were packed to the gills. The vegetables were crunchy. The meat was pretty good too. Not quite as savory and juicy as I've had in the past but still pretty yummy. The sharp middle eastern flavors, packed sandwiches, and late hours help too.



Monday, October 11, 2004, 10:34 PM

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Honmura An, New York, NY, February 19, 2004 — I hate to generalize, and especially when it sounds so cliché, but there is an aesthetic about Japan. It's actually more of a framework for aesthetics - a value system. Multiple aesthetics spring forth from it. But some of its core tenets include, simplicity, authenticity, beauty, tradition. I know, it sounds cliché, but at the heart of many clichés is a core of truth. And even though I've only been to Japan a few times (and spent my time mostly in Tokyo) these tenets are undeniable - especially when it comes to the food. I won't spend a ton of time talking about the various foods in Japan and my realization some time ago about my own shortsightedness about the diversity of Japanese cuisine. But suffice it to say, Soba cuisine is one of those many points on the Japanese spectrum that remains quite underrepresented in the United States (and I think most of the rest of the world).

(With that long preamble over with) walking into Honmura An was like walking into a tiny slice of Tokyo nestled in New York City. I don't worry much about decor or environment, but I have to admit that the comfort I felt walking in there, the familiarity, was nice, settling, exciting. The Avocado Salad that showed up just reinforced the emotional connection I was already having with the restaurant. It contained sliced avocado served with chopped scallion, wasabi, and bonito flakes. The flavors were stark and simple. The bonito flakes contrasted with the avocado. It doesn't get simpler (or more beautiful) than this.

The avocado was followed up with Asparagus Salad - Blanched Asparagus with Sesame Seed Dressing. The sauce tasted like thousand island dressing but it was still yummy. Next up was Atsuyaki Tamago - Thick Japanese Omelets Flavored with "Mirin" Japanese Sweet Sake. I read a book once that said you could judge a sushi restaurant in Japan based on the quality of its Tamago. The thinking is that this simple dish will expose your talent or your flaws. Its simplicity leaves nothing to hide flaws behind. The many layers of egg cooked in a square copper pan, all the while manipulated expertly with chopsticks, is definitely a sight to behold. And this particular rendition couldn't have been sweeter, more subtle, or more enjoyably complex.

At this point things were moving a long at a perfect pace. It's amazing how much good timing can affect how much you enjoy your meal. Momiji Tataki is Carpaccio Style Japanese Rare Roast Beef and it's also what showed up next at our table. The beef was served with spicy daikon. The flavors were again stark and perfectly complementary. According to the group at the table the dish had "wabi". We also got some Prawn Tempura. Super simple. Peyman thought there was too much shiso, but I thought it was nice. The frying was delicate, deliberate, and balanced.

Soba Gaki a Soba Gnocchi Served in a Bamboo Lacquer Ware Box with a Daikon Radish Dipping Sauce. According to the menu it's "very healthy and esoteric". According to us the "gnocchi" was like a Japanese matzah ball. After the waitress broke it up with chopsticks we dipped it in a delicious dashi-based sauce with grated daikon. I loved the sauce and the texture. Even though the food was mesmerizing, it didn't stop us from checking out the guy in the back of the restaurant making soba by hand. Cool!

Up next was Kamonan - a hot duck-based soup topped with sliced duck and scallion. The duck broth was gorgeous and oily in a good way. Its flavor was deep but light (does that make any sense? It would if you'd tasted it). We also ordered the Okame "Rosy Cheek" (I love Japanese names). This mix was good as well.

And finally it was time for our soba - the specialty of the house. I never thought cold noodles could be so incredible. But never say never. If someone actually took the time to properly edit my postings then they would tell me I'd overused the notion of being surprised at how simple and yet beguilingly delicious each dish was at this meal. Overused or otherwise, it just happens to be the truth. The cold soba noodles were so simple and nutty. Once the sauce and condiments were added, the rich tangy brewed flavor truly came out. Who would have thunk cold noodles could be so delicious? Not me. But then I would have been wrong. Once you'd slurped up all the noodles and a bunch of the sauce you would have thought that the fun would be over as all you have left at this point is left over sauce and some soba water (the water the noodles were cooked in that drained through the bamboo strainer). Wrong again (sorry to be so negative). You take the soba water and pour it into the teacup with the excess sauce, mix it up, and drink it. Crazy! But delicious. It makes a perfect "after-soup". The starchy water perfectly balanced and was brightened by the deep dark flavor of the sauce. With it's protocol of eating every last drop, soba may be one of the world's perfect foods. It's also good in hot and cold weather.

In the mood for dessert? No problem. How about some Green Tea Sponge Cake. The cake was like a perfect microcosm of perfect Japanese detail. It was as if it was built molecule by molecule - each perfectly positioned and polished along the way. We also had Soba Dumplings with Red Bean and Bitter Nori on the side. The sweet little soba "meatballs" in the sweet red bean soup was good. The nori was in fact not bitter but a super yummy concentrated chickeny savory saltiness.  Alex thought it might be MSG.

Food is subjective. I can't deny that this little oasis in the middle of Manhattan brought back so many positive memories of the detail, design, and ultimately the appreciation for flavor, freshness, beauty, and simplicity. But those values weren't hazy memories. They were present in every dish, every bite, every taste at Honmura An. And that's why I loved it.



Wednesday, October 6, 2004, 10:43 PM

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Blue Ribbon Sushi, New York, NY, February 18, 2004 — I really do love living in Seattle. Especially since we moved into the city proper. But I have to admit that things close down relatively early. I'd like to be able to get some really good food after midnight on a weeknight. That's just not really possible. And it's not just in Seattle, but in most places on this planet. New York city is different. Different good. Every day of the week Blue Ribbon Sushi is open until 2am. You can't ask for more than that (even though New York has more to offer). And on this night we asked, and Blue Ribbon Sushi delivered.

We showed up at 1am. They were a little hard to find as there doesn't appear to be an English sign anywhere (though the Japanese one is cool - I don't know what it says). We weren't super hungry, but the thought of high quality sushi is always enough to get us out to eat. The place is a little small, but cozy and has some beautiful little touches. First things first, the wasabi was fresh by default. It's not like the prices don't reflect these small touches, but still, it's worth it. We only had enough appetite for a few dishes, but they were delicious.

We started off with a spicy kampachi handroll. It was quite good with excellent and crispy nori. It wasn't quite conical, and more thick with a long "cubetangle" of kampachi. I know that calling any spicy handroll "authentic" is really an oxymoron, but the quality and freshness really was authentic to me. We also ordered some negitoro gunkan maki (toro with scallions chopped fine on a bed of rice with nori wrapped around the circumfrence). The oilyness of the fish made these almost creamy. It was like uni in a good way. We also had a bunch of ngiri sushi with great fish to rice ratios. Pricey? Yes. Super quality? Yes. Open until 2am? Yes. Can't complain.



Tuesday, October 5, 2004, 8:45 PM

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Danube, New York, NY, February 18, 2004 — I really do love New York. For years I was raised to hate it as I grew up in Boston. But eventually my love for food and world class cities overcame any prejudice I had acquired from the sports world. And a few months ago we took a fantastic trip to New York City where we ate, and ate, and ate. Sixteen eating experiences in 6 days (including travel). Not bad. What better place to start than with Danube.

The menu at Danube is divided into two columns, one labeled Austrian, and the other Modern Eclectic. OK. Sounds good to me.

Through the cozy foyer we entered an absolutely gorgeous triangular room. It had a Paul Klee-ish (I don't know who painted this) feel (if that means anything). There were beautiful mosaic paintings on the walls, and unfortunately not much light. It was fine to eat by, but the pictures came out a little weird (apologies in advance). Luckily the food came out just right (no apologies for that).

Things started off with a variety of warm breads in baskets including pretzels and little mini-challahs coated in poppy seeds that were light, airy, and delicious. An amuse of North Atlantic Salmon with Grainy Mustard, Creme fraiche and Cucumber arrived. It had a totally surprising flavor, sweet, mixing with mustard, and fruit undertones. I was expecting a cliché. This wasn't it.

Next up was Chilled West Coast Kumamoto Oyster, Diver Sea Scallop Carpaccio with Apple-Mint Gelée and Frozen Riesling all served in a martini glass. This dish had bright, simple, flavors. The scallop was super complementary. And while there were lots of ingredients. The effect was simple and powerful. It reinforces my theory how some of the best dishes I've ever had have clear flavor triangles. This one was: briney, fruity, minty. Nice!

Following the oyster was Freshly Harpooned Sashimi Quality Bluefin and Hamachi Tuna, Key Lime Pickled Onion, Pumpkin Seed Oil, and Sesame Mustard Dressing. Other than the pumpkin seed, this was a pretty typical flavor combination. That said, it was beautifully executed and definitely refined. The veggies among us got an incredible combination of Roasted Sweet Organic Beets, Horseradish Fromage Blanc, and Toasted Pumpkin Seed Dressing. It had an awesome beet essence and flavor.

Then we got Diver Sea Scallop and New England Crabmeat with Paradeiser Coriander and a tomato based sauce. Alex' brother Nick said "I would supersize this if I could." He was right. It had beautiful simple clean flavors. The tomato was like a blanket on the perfectly prepared scallop.

Not to worry if you're still hungry, more dishes to come. Including this one from the Austrian side of the menu: Seared Wild Sturgeon (from the Columbia River) with Austrian Crescent Potato Leaf Spinach, Belvedere Vodka and Oscetra Caviar. The sturgeon was nicely cooked, but a bit overwhelmed by the spinach. And unfortunately there was not quite enough caviar to give a spike the flavor. Luckily this was followed by Nantucket Wild Striped Black Bass with Cremini Mushrooms, Tortellini and Tomato Herb Broth. The ravioli had an intense mushroom flavor. The fish itself was amazing. The light savory broth coated, melded with, and brought out the flavor of the fish which was covered with veggie scales. The flavor was indescribable. The sides were little flavor spikes. Peyman called it a "concerto". If he always spoke this way I'd wonder if it was an affectation. But I think the dish genuinely moved him.

Next up was Maine Day Boat Lobster with Roasted Sweet Organic Beet Fettuccine, Baby Turnips Cooked in Tahitian Vanilla, and Horseradish Foam.  This dish smelled like maple syrup (in a good way). It was sweet, light, and delicious. The beet pasta had a bright, fresh flavor.

We also got to eat Carinthia "Schlutzkrapfen" High Altitude Austrian Cheese Ravioli with Harvest Corn Sauce and Smoked Wild Mushrooms. This dish smelled heavenly. This seemed strongly attributable to the nutty, cheesey. carinthian cheese in the ravioli. The cheese flavor really was incredibly fulfilling. This was a gorgeous dish from the Austrian side of the menu.

As was the Veal Weiner Schnitzel with Austrian Crescent Potatoes, Cucumber Salad, Mixed Greens, and Lingonberries. The meat was tangy, perfect, and had a delicious fried smell. This veal was amazing! It was so perfectly fried. The cucumber salad underneath was very traditional. The dish that followed it couldn't compete: Roasted Rack of Colorado Lamb with Vegetable Barley, Glazed Cippolini Onion, and Sweet Potato Puree. It was kind of boring.

Dessert was an extravaganza including eight (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) desserts compliments of the pastry chef. I think this was because we were closing down the place. There was a huge variety. We also each got a serving of Elderflower Soup with Mandarin Elderflower Sorbet and Campari Sugar. This dish was quite sweet and had a buttery quality as well. The texture from the sugar crystals was interesting and unique. This was not a random sorbet. Yummy.

Danube was fantastic. And as good as the "modern eclectic" side of the menu was, I think I most enjoyed the Austrian dishes. Any ethnic cuisine refined is good by me. Danube was no exception. I think I'm going to need to try Bouley's eponymous restaurant on the other side of the block to get the full picture.











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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