Ok. A couple of final notes on the Thanksgiving
First of all, as Lauren points out in her
comment, it was not a Tofurkey that she brought but a delicious
(according to her) UnTurkey. I don't know as I didn't try it. Next
year I promise I will.
Second, next year if we want a pre-done Turducken,
and want to do it at our house (where we keep kosher) the internet
has an answer (I LOVE the internet). OK, it's more like
Aaron's Gourmet ON the internet. But still. Cool.
And finally, if we don't want to go kosher, or smoke
the thing, I should have relayed Chris' suggestion about what the
next step is... the Osturducken. That's right... stuff the whole
damn thing inside an Ostrich. Just to see if Chris was original in
this, I did search the web, and unfortunately found the
same suggestion from last year. However, this did inadvertently
give me a good word to use when wanting to demonstrate
how to get only one
result on google. (D'oh! As soon as this entry gets indexed
there will be two.)
November 25, 2004 — You may have noticed the discrepancy
sometimes between the dates that denote the particular moment the
post is published versus the date which the event I'm describing
actually happened. Aside from the confusion of having two separate
dates, the observant among you will have also put two and two
together and noticed that I'm 7-8 months behind in posting. I'm busy
describing meals that we ate awhile ago. Luckily my notes are good,
the photos help a lot, and the best dishes stay fresh in my mind
anyway. But by the time I got around to describing what we did for
Thanksgiving last year it was already this summer and frankly nobody
needs me to describe a huge meal with an enormous turkey in the heat
of July. So this year I am reporting on our eating a little out of
order. And what follows is a basic description of the "little" meal
we cooked up last Thursday.
There is a unique combination of disorders that
result in the activities that get documented on this site (not to
mention the fact that things get documented at all, and in such
detail). Allow me to explain. What do you get when you get a bunch
of friends together, who are curious, eager to try new things,
obsessed with food, over-focused on details, love to understand how
things work, love to explain endlessly once they understand things,
love to be right, are competitive, with a solid does of geek/nerd
underlying the whole bit? You get me, my friends, and this website.
So for the last three years we have been following a DaVinci Code
like path hunting for Thanksgiving treasure. Did we shamelessly rip
off Dan Brown and put a
treasure map on the back of the Declaration
of Independence? We're no Jerry Bruckheimer (or Nick Cage). We shamelessly ripped off Jeffrey Steingarten
and his description of the three superhuman challenges that one must
go through to experience all a turkey has to offer.
Two years ago we deep-fried a turkey. These days
this may seem commonplace, but back then it was novel. (OK, maybe
not even back then.) While we didn't burn the house down, we did
completely underestimate how long it takes to heat a huge pot of
boiling oil. We ate quite late. Last year we (and by "we" I mean
Alex) made a Thompson's Turkey. Five billion ingredients. The most
complicated turkey and stuffing ever made. This year, there was only
one thing left to do... (and I mean that figuratively) the Turducken.
Take a chicken, stuff it into a duck. Take the very
same duck, and stuff it into a turkey. Mortar between each layer
with three different stuffings. Cook for 8-10 hours. While we're not
searching for the holy grail, the deep-fried, the thompson's, and
the turducken are the essentially the Thanksgiving trinity. And this
thanksgiving is when the
hats hit the ice.
Now most people would take on the Turducken and
figure that some basic mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a salad
would be nice accompaniments. But most people are not me and my
friends - feeling compelled to go overboard. I suppose when it comes
to gatherings where there is cooking to be done, our strategy is
Things started off with Gruyere Gougeres which
Leslie made from the
recipe in the French Laundry Cookbook. These were delicious...
all airy and cheesy but crisp on the outside. Kat came through with
Crostini with Chevre, Fresh Fig Compote (made from figs in Alex'
garden) and topped with a Cranberry "Coulis" that was supposed to be
gelled cranberry sauce but it never gelled. There were also
Spinach Turnovers from DebDu. Little yummy phyllo surprises.
The main dishes was of course the
Alex made from Paul Prudhomme's
was quite good. We can't find the quote (though we think it was
Steingarten) who said the turkey makes a perfect vessel for cooking a
delicious duck. And in fact our turkey was a touch dry, though it
was beautiful to look at, and the skin was perfection. The gravy
helped. But the duck inside was juicy and delicious. The stuffings
were great as well, with the shrimp and hot pepper version as the
But again, the group personality disorder served the
crowd well as one triple main dish wasn't enough. This was the
genesis of the
Three Pork Surprise. The surprise is that there are
three kinds of pork. Ok, not much of a surprise given the name.
Basically it's a Pork Loin Stuffed with Andouille Sausage, Wrapped
in Bacon, Smoked, and Grilled. And while it was good, I think more
creativity is in order here for next year - anyone for Seven Pork
Oh yes, and Lauren brought her standard
(This one seemed particularly downtrodden. No Presidential reprieve
What to do for cranberries? The debate raged, but
suffice it to say (that since I'm writing down what happened) the
fans of the
Cranberry with Flavo-Ridges™
won the day. I don't need some fancy cranberry sauce on my turkey.
Alex succumbed a little bit and got the organic cranberries in a can
at Wholefoods. (By the way not only does
Chris deserve credit for "Flavo-Ridges"
but he also gets credit for all the photos this time. He has his own
write-up of our Thanksgivinganza at his
No shortage of sides. Alex made
Potato au Gratin, Bobby Flay's
recipe. Debdu brought Tunisian Squash Puree (she used Sugar
Pumpkin instead of squash), and
Moroccan Orange Salad with Olives
which was one of the most interesting flavors we had all night. Both
were from the
Saffron Shores cookbook.
Marjoram Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding. The recipes was from an as yet
unpublished cookbook from Jerry Traunfeld. (Mary-Alice got it when
she took a class at Sur La Table.)
I made a few sides myself. First was the
and Shallot in Port Glaze. This was from the latest issue of Bon Appetit. Simple to make and delicious. The next was
Potato "Puree". Carefully but forcefully combine
two pounds of
potatoes, one pound of butter, and some milk. What results is as
best I can describe a perfect potato milkshake. I mean this in a
good way. Every time we've tried to make this recipe we've chickened out
adding as much butter as the recipe says. This time I was
determined. In addition to the
food mill, we also had a tamis, which is absolutely critical to
really breaking down the potato atoms into their respective potato
electrons. I've had
this dish in at Robuchon's restaurant and it was delicious. Mine
(with help from Leslie, Peyman, and Walter) were damn close. If
anything they were slightly less buttery. Though I'm not sure that
more butter would have necessarily resulted in a more buttery
flavor. But trust me, they were not the least bit greasy.
I also embarked on the next chapter in my eternal
quest for the perfect
macaroni and cheese. I won't get into all the
details, as I have not finished my quest. But that said, imagine
penne, in a shallow pan (so it maximizes the amount of crusty
goodness, drenched with a mix of a super-sharp cheddar and an
ultra-creamy Italian, studded with huge chunks of extra-thick bacon,
and topped with breadcrumbs. This was good. Alex has been eating hte
leftovers and says it's awesome frozen food. I was not happy (and
btw, none of the kids at the meal liked it). Onward and upward.
Finally, Leslie rounded out the desserts with a
Apple Cranberry Ginger Pie from a Williams Sonoma
recipe; a yummy
Pumpkin Cheesecake - here's the
recipe from Frank Stitt's Southern Table courtesy of Hsao-Ching
Chou of the Seattle PI; and some delicious and interesting Sugar
Cookies which she got from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook (she added
orange oil to give it a unique flavor).
All in all, a pretty successful Thanksgiving I would
say. A little crazy, but that's the fun. When we compared the
Turducken, the Deep-Fried, and the Thompson's, the Deep-Fried seems
to be the best deal in terms of flavor divided by effort. So you
would think we would try that again next year, but in fact Alex just
a few minutes ago sent me mail with a link to an article about and a
recipe for a
Smoked Turkey (free registration required). I suppose
deep frying another turkey would just have been boring anyway.
It's been a long thanksgiving weekend. And we've
been spending some time this weekend sprucing up the site. Hopefully
you'll like our new look. Granted it's only the homepage that has
gotten this new treatment, but eventually this will work its way
throughout the entire site.
And to keep things lively, the pictures across the
top refresh every time you come to the site. We'll keep rotating
some of our best food photography throughout the header space as
often as we can. Right now the images range from pancakes at Sears
Fine Foods in San Francisco to little muffins we got at Gordon
Ramsay in London.
We're working now on getting the pictures up from
our thanksgiving extravaganza. Hopefully we'll have them up later
While we're super happy with our first cookbook, All
About Apples, there's always room for improvement. Some people were
having trouble downloading the cookbook, or having trouble figuring
out how to zoom in on the text. We have a new version posted now
that shows the Acrobat toolbar immediately. It also fixes confusion
in the first recipe as to whether you should use two or three duck
egg yolks (three please).
Happy thanksgiving to everyone who reads our site. We'll
be making a
turducken from scratch. And by "we" I mean
Alex. I won't be a complete slacker
as I'll be doing my best impression of Joel Robuchon's two part potato,
one part butter
And for anyone who wants a true challenge for Thursday,
November 22, 2004 — This website exists to document my experiences with eating great (and
sometimes not-so-great) food. Invariably, when you write almost 300
posts, most about meals and eating at various restaurants, cafes,
bakeries, and food stands, people are going to call you a “food critic”.
On the one hand there’s no doubt I think critically about the food I
eat. But a “food critic”? I have to admit that title feels a little like
an epithet to me.
Let’s start at the beginning. Anywhere there are
creative people expressing themselves (especially for money) there grows
a cottage industry around criticizing what those creative people do. I’m
not (at least in this post) trying to get into a discussion of whether
cooking is art, craft, or something in between, but cooking and creating
food in general does appear to be one of those creative endeavors that
has inspired a legion of people who spend their life and make their
living criticizing other people’s cooking and creativity.
Some of the
people who write about food for a living (possibly even many of them)
are simply thrilled about sharing their love of food with others. Many
are counting their lucky stars that their paid to do this. Others do it
even without being paid – note the hundreds of food blogs that have
sprouted up all over the net over the last couple of years. Others
however (and by my take this is the majority) appear to be taken mostly
with themselves as opposed to the food and food producers they’re paid
to write about. How do I know this? I’ll tell you.
There are two things
that tell me. The first is the myth under which most food critics
operate. The second is the drivel most food critics produce. Let’s start
with the myth. The myth is one of objectivity. It starts with the
employers of most food critics in the nation – commercial media, mostly
newspapers. The people who write for newspapers are called journalists.
Journalists build their credibility on the notion that they are
objective. The more textured among them will fully acknowledge that
complete objectivity is impossible, and their real goal is to be honest,
fair, and balance (though the latter of those two have been co-opted in
the most sad and ironic fashion by a media outlet that clearly is
neither). My point here is not to take a position on some part of the
red/purple/blue spectrum but rather to point out that the notion of
being objective in writing about food is silly.
Not so says the
Association of Food Journalists. In fact,
in their "Food Critics'
Guidelines", they claim that “Good
restaurant reviewing is good journalism. Reviewers should subscribe to
the same accepted standards of professional responsibility as other
journalists.” The give specifics on how to achieve this: “The
Association believes that the primary responsibility of food journalists
is to serve the public interest by reporting the news accurately and as
objectively as possible. (1) Gifts, favors, free travel or lodging,
special treatment or privileges can compromise the integrity and
diminish the credibility of food journalists, as well as that of their
employers. This includes commercially sponsored contests. Such offers
should be avoided. An example is a contest promoting specific food
products that is open to food journalists only. (2) Similarly, food
journalists should not use their positions to win favors for themselves
or for others.” There are a bunch of others, but my favorite is “(8)
Because of the controversial nature of many food-related topics, food
journalists accept the obligation to acknowledge opposing views on such
Now I am sure that most restaurant critics do their utmost to
follow all these rules to the letter, but my take is that it’s
borderline impossible to follow these rules, and completely impossible
to follow the spirit of them. Whether they want to acknowledge it or
not, most reviewers portraits are plastered to the bulletin boards of
kitchens all over their respective “beats” right next to the OSHA
mandated postings. Waiters are trained to look for the critics and relay
the information when one is spotted to the folks in the kitchen who do
their utmost to treat the reviewer like a king (or queen as the case may
be). Additionally, many reviewers get discounts and freebies. Maybe not
at the actual meal where they are reviewing the restaurant, but at
others. Chefs and restaurateurs have confirmed this to me privately. And
let’s say for argument’s sake that a critic goes through all sorts of
trouble to stay unrecognized, refuses all freebies, and follows all the
other rules and guidelines. They still are not, in my opinion, able to
follow the spirit of the guidelines.
Again, I know it’s a
generalization, but my impression is that many food critics get carried
away with themselves. Everyone has met people in life who squeeze every
last drop of leverage and superiority from the small positions of power
they wield. In the worst cases this small taste of power results in an overinflated sense of self-worth and expertise. There’s nothing worse
than critics who feel that their positions on newspapers and other media
outlets somehow make them experts at food. This is like disc jockeys who
get their job because of the quality of their voice, but have come to
believe they are now experts on music, determining what’s good and what
isn’t. The best journalists food or otherwise readily admit their
biases, the things that color their opinion, and the context for their
Recently the editors of Slate magazine
decided to tell the world how they were going to vote in the
Presidential election. In “Our
case for journalistic disclosure”
Jacob Weisberg says much more eloquently than I ever could when he
explains that one of the reasons they did it was “to emphasize the
distinction between opinion and bias. Journalists, like people, have
opinions that influence their behavior. Reporters and editors at most
large news organizations in the United States are instructed to keep
their opinions to themselves to avoid creating an impression of
partisanship. Len Downie, the executive editor of the Washington Post,
famously goes so far as to avoid even voting. Slate, which is a journal
of opinion, takes precisely the opposite approach. Rather than bury our
views, we cultivate and exhibit them. A basic premise of our kind of
journalism is that we can openly express what we think and still be
fair. Fairness, in the kind of journalism Slate practices, does not mean
equal time for both sides. It does not mean withholding judgment past a
reasonable point. It means having basic intellectual honesty. When you
advance a hypothesis, you must test it against reality. When you make a
political argument, you must take seriously the significant arguments on
the other side. And indeed, Slate writers tend to be the sort of people
who relish opportunities to criticize their own team and give credit to
their opponents. Or so we'd like to think. By disclosing our opinions
about who should be president, we're giving readers a chance to judge
how well we are living up to these ideals.” And while the practice of
writing about food is not of the same importance as writing about
politics (in either direction depending on your outlook on life) here at
tastingmenu we try to live up to these same ideals. And why aren’t these
the ideals of the Association of Food Journalists?
The thing is that it
is impossible to be objective about food. Food is an emotional component
of our lives. You cannot convince me that Bella Cooperman, my father’s
mother, didn’t make the best chicken soup ever in the history of planet
earth. Nor can you convince me that my other grandmother, Goldie
Jackson, didn’t make the best small apricot filled pastries(the
unfortunately named Apricot Pasties). And while I’m sure each and every
one of you would agree with me on how perfect these dishes were (if only
my grandmothers were alive to make them for all of us) the flavors in
these dishes are so intertwined with my memories of my grandmothers that
it’s really impossible for me to separate the two. This shouldn’t be a
surprise to anyone who has wonderful memories that involve food. Smell
is a critical
part of tasting food, and smell is also
linked very closely to memory
(both positive and negative). It doesn’t bother me that objectivity is
impossible. What bothers me is people who under the mantle of
objectivity spout their opinions as if they have some greater value than
any other person’s perception. Even, Jeffrey Steingarten, his quality
writing I aspire to achieve a fraction of, said at one point that there
were several restaurants he loved so much he frequented them regularly
and therefore would never write about them. I say why not? Do I imagine
that just because he’s become friendly with the chef that all of a
sudden he loves the food even if it sucks? Maybe he became friendly with
the person making the food because the food was so good in the first
place. I feel cheated not knowing the names of those restaurants.
Because as much as I respect the opinion of Steingarten, I’d still like
the option to make up my own mind.
And while objective food criticism is a joke if not in practice, then in spirit, just look
at the quality of the content and the recommendations to know for sure
that most food writing (especially in newspapers) sucks. (Luckily
food blogs are
starting to fill the void.) The main
signpost for me is the relentless focus on trends. How many articles
have you seen talking about what foods are trendy at restaurants? The
latest interesting ingredients that “everyone” is cooking with? I
remember running into a local food personality once and asking her what
her favorite restaurants were. This is a question that in the worst case
helps me get context for what kind of food the person is into, and in
the best case lets me know about cool restaurants I didn’t know about.
At first I was surprised that it took her a full 30-40 seconds to come
up with even one name. This person is in the food business and has lived
in Seattle for many years. And when she finally did come up with some
names, they were all of restaurants that opened in the past 12 months
and were considered “hip”. Distressing to say the least.
I’ve gotten accused once or twice myself of showing favoritism.
Consider this post my response. I write about food because I love to eat. And due to some
dysfunction in my personality when I love something I get just as much
pleasure from getting other
people to feel the same way about it as I do. I have no qualifications,
no expertise, and no right to judge anyone's cooking as I am not
very good at it myself. The only thing that fuels my efforts is my
unhealthy obsession with documenting my life, and my willingness to
dedicate what little spare time I have to doing so. I don’t expect
everyone to agree with all my opinions, but I know from much of the
supportive mail I’ve gotten that often people have had great experiences
with food they read about first on this site. And that moment, the
moment of shared discovery of something wonderful is why this site
exists. So when you see me writing about food I love, ingredients I
adore, and people who’s cooking fills me with wonderful memories – be it
a person with 3 stars from Michelin, a person manning a street-side food stall, or
my grandmothers – understand my exuberance is just that. And I hope that
on occasion you’ll find a reason to share it.
Fevre Steak and Hoagie Shop,
Seattle, WA, February 28, 2004 — The steak sub (for anyone
confused by "subs" please substitute heros, hoagies, submarine
sandwiches, or cheesesteaks) is one of my favorite all time foods.
In high school my friend Roee and
I used to plot the apartment we would share after we moved out of
our homes. The centerpiece would be a sub-making station complete
with frying surface for the steak, mushroom, and onions (not to
mention melting the cheese), as well as bins of vegetables and other
toppings. We would eat subs three times a day. (Yes, I know this is
weird, but be sensitive as I'm baring my soul and my adolescent
silliness.) I still love these beautiful creations, but alas I have
to travel back to Boston to get the perfect combination of toasted
roll, chunky pieces of steak, cheese, and veggies.
And yes, I do know that Philadelphia prides itself on
its own cheese, steak, and bread combination. I'm still on the fence
however about whether they are any good. I have traveled to Philadelphia
and partaken of the famous cheesesteaks (with). But we didn't eat at a
top cheesesteak spot so it hardly seems fair. But I've eaten other
cheesesteaks since that claim to be authentic and they all shared
certain qualities that I wasn't sure about (more on this later). Anyway,
I do crave a good steak sub, and right near where I live is the
Philadelphia Fevre Steak and Hoagie Shop. I would have preferred it
was the Boston Steak, Cheese, Mushroom, Onion, Sub Shop but beggars
can't be choosers.
Look, writing about food is not something that can be
done objectively. And I freely admit that the memories associated with
the perfect combination of toasted roll, cheese, and steak overwhelm me
with warmth and positivity. It's simply hard to compete with that. And
any similar combination of ingredients is inevitably going to be held to
that standard. I'll write more about objectivity at a later date, but I
wanted to be up front about my biases.
Back to Philadelphia Fevre. The atmosphere there is
great. Homey. Comfortable. Self-effacing. Focused on cheesesteaks. And
with free wireless access. Cool. Definitely a place you'd want to hang
out. The cheesesteaks are filled to the brim with cheese and steak. They
do a good job. And here's where I can't tell whether my hesitation is
about the quality of the dish or my bias. I'll let you be the judge.
First things first. The roll was not toasted. I think if you're going to
put a huge bomb of juicy steak and cheese in a bun, it's critical to
toast the bun. You need it to maintain some structure as you eat your
way through it. I asked for toasting, but they said they couldn't toast,
and could only grill and the roll would get a bit charred. I talked to
the owner a little later and he said in fact he could have grilled it
properly for me. Ok. No biggie.
Now to the other two main ingredients. First the steak.
I'll admit it, the steak in cheesesteaks that I've had has a shredded
texture. This may sound silly, but it can almost feel gritty to me. I
also think they stuff too much of this shredded steak into the roll
making the ingredient balance a little bit off of what I consider
perfection. The second issue is the cheese. The appropriate topping is
whiz as in Cheese-Whiz. I have no problem with processed foods. They
have a uniformity that I often find comforting. But I just don't think
it does justice to the steak. It just ends up being gloppy. I prefer
provolone. (Authentic Philly Cheesesteak fans feel free to flame away
starting... now.) Philadelphia Fevre did accommodate me on this front.
Did the cheesesteaks at Philadelphia Fevre meet my deep
emotional need for the steak and cheese subs I grew up with? No. Were
they decent in their own way? Defnitely. I think they might be even
better next time if I get some toasting/grilling of the roll. And time
Seattle, WA, February 28, 2004 —
Olive Oil is a funny thing to me. We grew up with it in the house
but I don't know that it occupied a particularly special place in
our pantry. I seem to remember us having one of those super big gold
colored square metal containers filled with it. My dad would use it
when he was cooking Italian food. I remember the garlic shimmering
in the greenish olive oil, sautéing slowly. We would also dribble it
over tomato slices followed by balsamic vinegar. Later we would also
pour a bit onto plates of chummus and baba ghanoush. Yummy.
I only really started understanding what was interesting
to me about olive oil after I spent a year living on a farm in Israel.
The eating pattern is very different. The big meal of the day is lunch.
Breakfast and dinner are very similar if not identical. Dairy products,
eggs, chummus, baba ghannoush, pitas, and of course an Israeli salad.
The basic version is: diced cucumbers and tomatoes with salt, pepper,
lemon juice, and olive oil. Truly perfect. The fresh vegetables from the
farm didn't hurt either.
Up until my time in Israel Olive Oil seemed lighter than
a traditional vegetable oil, but it didn't really have any strong flavor
I could discern. Not so with the olive oil in Israel (and in the middle
east in general). Almost all the olive oil I've ever tasted from Israel,
Lebanon, Syria, etc. have had a really strong but pleasant olive flavor.
And for those who have an aversion to olives, while the flavor is
strong, it's still somehow mild. It really adds something to cooking
that is altogether different than the comparatively "pale" olive oils
I've tasted from Italy, Spain, and California. More recently I've come
to appreciate the extra light olive oils of Italy for use in dressing
dishes right before they're served. I guess I really think of them as
two separate experiences - one a deep flavor foundation for dishes, the
other a glossy accent. Both good.
With that short history for context,
Peyman decided to host an Olive Oil
Tasting. Very cool. They gathered a whole bunch of Olive Oils and set
them up so we could taste each one. First up was
Mishelanu made in the
Galillee of Israel. This extra Virgin Olive Oil had a beautiful yellow color.
It was nice and olivey.
Really light and delicious. Lauren
felt it had an odd flavor, almost meaty.
Trampetti Olio, Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Super light.
Something I'd like to try on super delicate noodles. But a bit of a burn
on the finish. A touch sweet.
Castelas, Huile d'Olive, Verge Extra, De
La Vallee Des Baux De Provence, Provence France. Grassy flavor, slightly
bitter. (I didn't like this one much but everyone else did).
Terranea, Getsemani, Extra Virgin Olive Oil - really not that flavorful
at all. No substance.
Olio Extravergine Di Oliva "Pianogrillo". This
stuff was sweet at first and then a horrible burn on the finish.
Terrible. Casa Brina Extra Virgin Olive Oil, was a flavor vaccuum. Just
nothing. Like a black hole.
Badia a Coltibuono, Extra Virgin Olive Oil -
plain flavor, burns like hell on the finish.
Not a bad start on our olive oil journey. More work to
do. There are thousands to try.
We're doing another cookbook project here at
tastingmenu. Too early to mention the details, but we do need some
help to round out our team on this effort. In addition to producing
the second in our series of tastingmenu cookbooks, we'd also like to
videotape the making of this book. To that end we need a volunteer
to be our video intern for this project. The(unpaid except for the
fun of working with us) job will run for a couple of weekends during
at least the first couple of weeks in the early part of December and
is located in Seattle. Here's the job description.
Do you dream of making videos and films? Do
you love food? Are you looking for a project that will give you an
opportunity to show your stuff and have a showcase for your talent?
tastingmenu.com is a James
Beard Award nominated food blog, that has recently produced its first
electronic cookbook -
All About Apples
with Seattle chef Scott Carsberg of Lampreia restaurant. The cookbook
has been downloaded thousands of times. We are about to create a new
cookbook (the chef is a secret) and are looking to produce a documentary
style video of the making of the new cookbook. We need a video intern to
shoot the entire process, and then edit the footage down to an exciting
20-30 minute "making of" video that shows the entire process. All
equipment will be provided (digital video cameras, as well as Windows
computers and editing software - Premiere, etc.). Proficiency with the
camera and computer hardware and software is expected. The project kicks
off immediately after Thanksgiving and people need to be available right
then for several weekends in a row.
Send your resume, personal information, and a
link to a sample of your work to
New York, NY, February 21, 2004 —
I've said enough recently on the ups and downs of fusion cooking.
Sometimes I think fusion cooking is like when couples have a child
to save a marriage. "Hey, it's not working, so let's complicate
matters further." That said, we were in New York City, there was
lots of attention on this new restaurant, and one of the founding
(if not cooking) Chefs was Marcus Samuelsson from
I've never eaten at but hear good things about). And besides, while
I lament the fact that most fusion restaurants end up being good at
neither cuisine while not creating anything new and interesting, if
it were possible to combine French and Japanese cooking beautifully,
I certainly would like to benefit from that combination. Given this
outlook, we decided to give
Riingo a try.
As things were gearing up some bread showed up with an
edamame spread. It tasted fresh and yummy. There was also a dark flat bread
which was very very good. To me it tasted like it had sesame in it, maybe
some shrimp, and definitely a little kick. It too was very good. The attention
to detail and complexity of the flavors were getting things off to a
good start. Then our orders started to arrive.
First up was a Tuna Caesar with Sea Urchin Vinaigrette.
I don't know what the hell we were thinking ordering this. What did we
expect other than a boring caesar sald (in this case not even with good
caesary flavor) and some slabs of tuna (which were nice but not that
interesting). It came with a tuile that was so crispy it was literally
hard to eat. We also got some tartare - kobe beef, tuna, and salmon to
be exact. Hard to criticize piles of chopped raw meat and fish.
Next up was Nori Wrapped Foie Gras with Melon
and Mackerel. I was really eager for this as the combination sounded
interesting and of course I adore foie gras. Not this time as the dish was
quite unenjoyable. The foie gras ended up being thick and gelatinous -
not in a good way. This was followed by the Bass Ceviche with Tofu Chili
and Pickled Vegetables. This dish had no flavor. I don't mean it was
subtle. I mean there was a surprisingly tiny amount of flavor in this
food. Things were going downhill in a hurry, but luckily the next thing
that showed up was Seared Arctic Char with Herbs and Coconut Milk. The char was
truly tasty. The skin was delicious with a mixing of caramelized soy
flavor and some kind of kick which might have been wasabi. The effect
was subtle and complex. Nice.
We got a few sides as well including Chili
Mashed Potatoes, Yam Puree, and Potato Pancakes. The latke was different
but nice. It was a little sweet but not
cloying. As for the mashed potatoes with chili, we couldn't really taste
any chili. So I guess it was just "Mash". As for the Yams, they were
great. They're not typically my favorite, but they were beautifully
cooked, not overly sweet, and a gorgeous orange color.
At this point we had lots of plates and dishes on the table.
It was getting hard to
maneuver. But to be fair, only our table seemed to suffer from this as
we had a weirdly sized table. Maybe also the non-traditional way we
order our meals and share also contributed to the crowding.
Towards the end of our meal our sushi and
other more Japanese items arrived. This included: Tuna Foie Gras Ngiri,
Maguro Ngiri, Kobe Beef Sushi, and Rice Puff Crusted Shrimp. The tuna with foie gras frankly was fantastic.
It was like a
creamy savory butter pat gently hidden under the beautiful tuna. As for
the maguro the rice under the fish seemed a bit small but otherwise it
was perfect tuna
excellence. (I know, it's wacky to complain about too little rice, but
at least to me, even with wonderful ingredients, making something great
is also about proper balance.) The kobe ngiri was amazing. Tender,
juicy, really fantastic. And the shrimp maki had a perfect texture with
what seemed like a sweet soy glaze
Desserts followed including a Grapefruit Granite
with Yogurt and Vanilla foam which was excellent and had super grapefruit flavor.
Some excellent Green Tea Donuts (though Peyman thought the dough was
nice, he thought they were overseared and didn't have a ton of flavor -
Alex and I disagreed). And there were also Chocolate Covered Soy Beans -
which were delicious and crunchy - and Wasabi Dusted
Marshmallows and Petits Fours.
To be fair to Riingo, there really are two (if
not three including Pastry) chefs and two kitchens. And the sushi bar
and dessert really seemed to be from one end of the spectrum. And while
the food from the main kitchen had it's high points, it also had several
low points. And unfortunately for the customer, they don't know how to
pick which dishes come from which kitchen. Combine this with the fact
that the restaurant was only a few weeks old and maybe it's no surprise
that things were not that memorable. And of course why do people assume
that they can fuse two foods that have been developed over decades and
even centuries. French and Japanese food may share some common values -
attention to detail, etc. But that doesn't mean that they can be made
compatible just by cooking them in the same restaurant.
As with many things, the more I eat out, the
more I learn. And on the one hand I could easily say that the kitchen(s)
at Riingo are obviously capable of turning out some standout food. But
then again, so are a lot of kitchens. The trick is to do it
consistently. And also it's true that they had just recently opened, but
then again, if they're still working the kinks out, then why are they
open and charging full price. I wouldn't mind trying it again, but only
if they've really hit their stride.
New York, NY, February 21, 2004 — I'll admit that I don't
have the deep and abiding love for pizza that some people do. For them
pizza is like sex. Even bad pizza is preferable to none at all. That
said, The unique combination that is dough, tomato, and cheese is quite
compelling. And even moreso when done to perfection at
on Coney Island in Brooklyn. I'd had decent pizza, but theirs was simply
the best I've ever had. Needless to say, given that we've already gone
all the way to Manhattan (from our basically pizza-less Seattle homebase)
the trip to Coney Island seems like a long haul. Given our laziness we
were excited that another
Totonno's existed in Manhattan. Wondering if
it was possible to replicate perfection a few miles away we were eager
to try it out. We even asked on Coney Island how similar the pizza was.
They assured us that it was identical. They were wrong.
We should have known that things were not
going to go well when on the phone I asked the Manhattan folks if they
were related to the Totonno's on Coney Island, and the woman answering
the phone had never even heard of it. Oh oh. But we thought to ourselves
that we had a secret that would save the day. The last time Steve and
Kira went to the Coney Island Totonno's they were told that if they went
to Manhattan, they should order their pizza "Coney Island style". This
apparently means more burnt on the bottom. Apparently the New Yorkers in
Manhattan freak out at a little charring, while the more hardy
Brooklynites (Brooklynians?) know that this is how their pizza comes out
best. With that little tidbit in our arsenal we ordered one cheese
pizza, Coney Island style.
And while it was nicely roasted with charred
edges, it was just not the same. The sauce in Manhattan was definitely
the same - robust, flavorful, and delicious. But the pizza didn't come
out the same. Was it the cheese? The dough? The water? The oven? Was it
the fact that it wasn't a descendant of the founder personally making
the pizza? The waitress claimed that the owners were the same, but she
seemed to lack conviction, and her answers were suspect. I suspect but
can't confirm that the Manhattan Totonno's is the result of some ancient
licensing arrangement with the original (I have no proof of this, just a
We tried a couple of other pizzas. The cheese
on the Margherita was a little too even, a little oily, and a bit salt.
Maybe they were using a different mozarella. Peyman had a neapolitan
with sauce, oregano, onion, and garlic which he thought was fantastic.
The sauce was super
present flavor-wise and the garlic was roasted to perfection. And though
it shouldn't matter, I couldn't help but be slightly oppressed by all
the St. Patrick's Day decoration giving this place more of a sports bar
feel than the atmosphere of a place where great pizza is created. Though
if the pizza were great I wouldn't have cared if they had Christmas
decorations up in April.
Perhaps the real issue is quality control.
Maybe the intangibles that make the pizza great on Coney Island simply
don't translate into a different borough. It's not the first (or last
time) that perfection doesn't scale when it comes to food.
New York, NY, February 21, 2004 — We don't spend a lot of
time talking about prices on this website. For one, they change often.
For two (can I say that?) price perception is relative to how much money
you have. We're lucky to be able to eat out quite a bit. And while we
don't assume that everyone can do it to the extent we do, we do assume
that everyone can make up their own mind on how to spend their money. We
are typically leery of restaurants for which an extremely low (or high)
price is one of the main points people bring up in describing it.
Fried Dumpling certainly qualifies in this category. The basic deal is 5 potstickers (or Peking Ravioli as we used to call it in the 80's)
cost $1. That's a pretty ridiculously low price. You can also get 4
pork buns for $1 and a hot and sour soup for $1. If only this place had
existed around the corner from my where I went to college (we had a psycho cheap
Indian place instead). Bottom line: the food overall is certainly not
bad, and even decent. I would say it's slightly above average food with
exceptionally low prices. The dumplings were a little doughy and
slightly oily. The soup was not super interesting. Not bad, but not
good exactly. And while this is several grades above Americanized
Chinese fast food, I'd still be willing to pay a little more for better
dumplings. The best part of the visit was watching them make the
dumplings. A middle-aged woman sat on a stool and churned out dumpling
after dumpling wrapping the dough around the filling that she would
parcel out from an enormous vat. It was fascinating.
Fong Inn Too,
New York, NY, February 21, 2004 — If practice makes perfect,
then focus is a prerequisite. This is why I love street food. A brutally
small menu (often
1 or 2 items
at most), and repetitive focus can make for some
delicious snacks and treats. You might think that wandering around
Manhattan going from one restaurant to another would make us reluctant
to "spoil" our appetites with some street food "a la minute". You would
be wrong. Fong
Inn Too is a small, somewhat
non-descript, Chinese restaurant on Mott Street. It does however
window where they sell and serve
Radish Cakes. How can I explain these deep fried beauties? They are
like radish foie gras. They have a perfect savory seared/browned top,
while remaining slightly gelatinous inside (in a good way). There are
little bits of savory ham generously dotting the radish landscape, and
you get the full flavor of the vegetable on the finish. An oversized
portion, just prepared for only $1.25? I'm in.
Il Laboratorio del Gelato,
New York, NY, February 21, 2004 —
Since we were already in the Lower East Side of Manhattan we needed to
make one more stop - this time for gelato. In retrospect our morning
reads like some sort of fraternity hazing where the goal is to induce a diabetic coma in the inductees. Yet, for some reason, on
the morning in question, capping off our
hot chocolate and
donuts with gelato
seemed perfectly logical. Especially when it was from
del Gelato. I assume this translates to "The Gelato Lab". We went in
to do some experimentation.
Our experience was funny. The appeal of the different flavors really
ended up being all about texture. Some of the scoops we got seemed
over-frozen and ended up having a crystallized texture that was not
enjoyable. But the rest of the flavors we tried were some of the best
gelato and sorbet we've ever had (I think the main difference is the
milk/cream content). The
orange and blueberry combination seemed promising. And while the
orange was good, the blueberry was phenomenal. It was stunningly creamy
with a deep beautiful ruby/purple color. The banana gelato tasted like a
fresh banana - super dense goodness. The
pear sorbet was pretty good and the
blackberry gelato was yummy too. However, the
green grape sorbet
fell victim to the texture issues we described below. We didn't miss the
vanilla either, which was incredible dense and creamy. Delicious.
New York, NY, February 21, 2004 — Growing up in Boston you
don't really have a sense of what value the rest of the world places on
donuts. It's not that they aren't appreciated elsewhere, it's simply
that they aren't appreciate quite as much. It is said (mostly by me)
that you can't sneeze without bumping into a donut shop in Boston. And
since the Department of Justice has yet to get interested, Dunkin Donuts
appears to have a monopolistic stranglehold on the Boston donut market.
And while I recognize that my childhood may have colored my opinion of
those donuts (and even my stubborn insistence at using "donut" instead
of "doughnut"), I still say they are quite delicious. They don't have
the sickly sweet flavor of a Krispy
Kreme (is there any flour to be found amidst all that butter and
sugar?), nor do they have the heavy cakey quality of some of the other
donut chains I've had. Just a perfect balance of sugar and buttery dough
that comes in a large variety of flavors. And while my love for
Dunkin Donuts is everlasting,
our relationship is certainly not monogamous. This is why the prospect
of trying out some donuts from the darling of the New York donut
Doughnut Plant - filled me with excitement. What would a "gourmet"
donut taste like? Would it be too "foofy"? Would the donut refined spoil
my love of the more pedestrian Dunkin variety? Let's find out.
Doughnut Plant certainly met my imagination's vision of what a refined
donut maker should look like. A no frills, utilitarian storefront where
all the energy in the small establishment is being directed at making
great donuts with a simple approach valuing high quality ingredients. We
tasted quite a variety including:
Rosewater Rose Petal,
Banana Pecan, and
Grapefruit. Each donut started as the same item - a relatively large
ring of dough that's light, filled with air pockets, and has almost an
eggy quality (though I was assured several times there is no egg in
their recipe, just 100% corn oil and "lots of love" - this website is
probably not the place to comment on other recipes that use 100% corn
oil and "lots of love"). The glazes are all rich, sugary, and almost
dripping off the sides of the donut. There were no fillings, and the
glazes were all organic using fruits and nuts for flavor. The grapefruit
variety just had juice, pulp, and zest added to the glaze before it was
applied to the donuts. Its essence was captured in the glaze. We also
tried some non-donut pastries including a
Bun with Fresh Roasted Pecans, and a
Churro. Both were excellent.
the owner and founder took a couple of minutes to chat with us about his
excellent donuts. His
grandfather Herman's picture looks over the whole operation which it
appears is booming. At the time we spoke he was already selling his
donuts to 40 stores in the area, and since we spoke he's opened a branch
in Tokyo. What can I say, though the donuts were a little large for me
(Mark explained "we like it big") the love they put into making them is
definitely apparent. Why the simple formula of focusing deeply and
passionately on a small set of things and doing them the best they can
be done isn't copied more I don't know. But in the meantime, Doughnut
Plant really makes some of the highest quality, and tastiest, donuts
I've ever eaten. And while I was assured they could do special orders to
make small ones, I kind of like experiencing them the way the folks at
Doughnut Plant intended - large in size and overwhelmingly tasty.
Jacques Torres Chocolate,
New York, NY, February 21, 2004 —
I'm a big fan of hot chocolate, and not just when it's snowing out.
Frankly, I think hot chocolate should become a year round beverage. As
someone who still hasn't found a way to like coffee (no matter how much
sugar and cream I pour in there) I have another reason to want hot
chocolate -something to drink when everyone else is drinking coffee.
When I heard that there was a
in Brooklyn, a self-styled "chocolate
factory" created by Jacques Torres, former pastry chef at Le Cirque,
I knew we had to make a stop there. Sure enough, our first stop that day
Jacques Torres Chocolate.
While there were a
zillion chocolate treats (I didn't see a
we were there for one reason, and one reason alone. A perfect hot
chocolate is almost like a heated chocolate milkshake. Thick, frothy,
creamy, velvety smooth, with a chocolate depth that feels light because
of the infusion of air and cream (whipped or otherwise). There are those
that like their hot chocolate a little more rustic. I enjoy that as
Jacques Torres' hot chocolate fell more into that category. It was slightly bitter
(in a good way) with consistent
thickness and not overly thick or muddy. That said, it was still like
drinking a bar of rich dark South American chocolate. I could have finished
it with time, but it would have taken awhile. I'm usually a fan of a
slightly sweeter hot chocolate, and this bordered on the
Mexican. It was very very good.
We also got the spicy variety. At first you think the spices
only make their presence felt in the aroma. But a few moments after you
drink some then it sets a tiny faint fire in your mouth on the
finish that lasts and lasts. A little late, but better than never we
of homemade marshmallows sitting on the counter. Homemade
marshmallows. Who makes their own marshmallows? Jacques Torres does.
Letting that melt into our drinks gave them a candied quality. They were
so thick and rich that they didn't just disappear, they floated and
melted for some time. Deep, rich hot chocolate, with complex flavors,
and homemade marshmallows.
a bad way to start our day in New York.