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Monday
April

18

2005
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Lampreia, Seattle, WA, tasted on March 26, 2005Derrick from Obsession with Food and I are bringing you a joint blog entry. I've covered Lampreia enthusiastically here on tastingmenu before, so this time we're leaving the words to Derrick, while the pictures are mine. Here's Derrick's report from our meal:

When Melissa and I planned a five-day visit with our Seattle-based friends Pavel and Kathleen, we only had only one thing on our must-do list. We wanted to eat at Lampreia. And we wanted to go with Hillel.

I learned about Lampreia through Hillel's blog of eating adventures around the world, and Chef Carsberg's Tyrol-inspired restaurant sits high on his list of favorite haunts. That's a noteworthy recommendation in its own right, but the cookbook from Carsberg and the tastingmenu.com team renewed my interest in eating at this medium-sized Belltown establishment. Hillel and I met at last year's Fancy Food Show—his frequent dining partner Lauren is a friend of mine from back when I was famous —and he and I have kept in touch. I knew he couldn't pass up a meal at one of his favorite restaurants.

He and his wife Debbie and their friends dine there often ("I've been here four times," said his college-bound sister visiting from the East Coast), and they urged us to let the chef cook whatever he wanted. This is good advice. With no menu, you can't build up any preconceptions about what a meal might offer. You wait, slightly giddy. A dish appears. What is it? You don't know until the waiter steps back, waits for conversation to die, and announces the new arrival, simultaneously quiet and triumphant.

17-crab and apple.jpgThe first dish we ate exemplifies Carsberg's cuisine. It featured Dungeness crab wrapped in Honey Crisp apples with an apple gelée and blackened sea salt. The subtle flavors and textures played off each other in a flawlessly choreographed dance, and created an unexpected synergy. Carsberg says he favors simplicity, but there's something of a wink there. The fresh and local ingredients may be simple, but not so the techniques and flavor combinations that are both classic and novel. You can taste his attention to detail, his obsession with getting things just right.

18-asparagus with duck and foie gras terrine.jpgWhy stop at one dish, no matter how representative? We didn't want to. The paper-thin slice of fatty duck ham laid atop smoked white asparagus in the next course was a savory treat with nutty undercurrents, and the small baton of foie gras with a Sauternes aspic added an unctuous feel that enriched the dish without weighing it down. A curl of Meyer lemon peel refreshed the palate. It was a simple presentation with clean lines and perfect proportions. We sighed.

19-egg in pasta with truffle.jpgThen it arrived. The highlight of the evening for many of us. A raviolo filled with sheep's milk ricotta and a still-intact egg yolk. Around it, shaved ricotta salata, salted and aged for half a year. Truffles everywhere. It sounds simple, doesn't it? But as I broke into the pasta and punctured the egg yolk, it flowed over the two cheeses and re-released a heady truffle aroma. This dish was bass notes and earth tones and creamy fat, and the depth of these flavors resonated deep in my belly. The craftsperson in me tried to figure out how you get an intact egg yolk into a pasta shell. The gourmet in me just kept eating.

20-kobe carpaccio.jpgFrom that heady dish we moved on to a practically see-through pane of gravlax-style kobe beef, topped with a quenelle of an apple-red wine purée and a crunchy tomato wafer ("It's a communion wafer," said Hillel. "He found the recipe and adapted it"). I enjoyed this dish, sort of a deconstructed hamburger, but Pavel was less sure. He felt the purée overwhelmed the subtle flavor of the beef.

21-scallop with meyer lemon.jpgPavel may have been our solo dissenter on the kobe beef, but Melissa and I felt that the kitchen made a slight misstep with the scallop with meyer lemon and sea salt. The presentation, a plump scallop resting on a baby bamboo steamer, appealed to my love of the cute, but the scallop was slightly overcooked, especially contrasted with the breathtaking scallop we ate at Union two nights earlier. And the salt's texture didn't blend as seamlessly as we had become used to. Taken in toto to some other restaurant, this scallop would probably shine as the star of the menu. This dish faltered only because Carsberg raised our expectations so high with the previous dishes.

24-beet ricotta gnocchi.jpgWhen the waiter brought out plates with three tiny red scoops, we figured they were balls of sorbet. When Carsberg dripped some thick aceto balsamico tradizionale onto the mounds, we weren't surprised. True balsamic vinegar ($25/oz for the entry-level stuff) complements fruity sorbet surprisingly well. Imagine our surprise, however, when the pale red mounds turned out to be beet-ricotta gnocchi. The gnocchi were light and flavorful, though the beet added little but color. The aceto balsamico added a perky acidity and sweetness that rescued a dish that might have lost appeal otherwise.

25-fish with porkbelly.jpgAt this point, the waiter asked if we'd like to move on to dessert, or if we wanted the chef to prepare another savory dish. I looked at Hillel, seated to my right. Was there some option here? I suppose the staff wanted to protect us from becoming overly full, but who could resist just one more? Maybe we left a little too stuffed, but we managed to find room for the Atlantic black bass "tagine" with smoked paprika and pork belly. This may have been Pavel's favorite dish, even more so than the raviolo. This dish brought us back to the world of a few ingredients in perfect balance. The pork belly, which added mouth-watering umami qualities, was super tender with just the slightest give.

26-pecorino on cedar.jpgThe cheese course was a pecorino under a glaze of honey speckled with black seeds from tahitian vanilla pods. The melting slice of cheese came on a cedar plank. Honey and cheese is a great combination, and the vanilla added that heavenly muskiness that is so unlike anything else in the world.

31-strawberries with white chocolate strawberry sauce and a honey tuile.jpgAt last dessert arrived, three strawberries stuffed with a white chocolate mousse, sitting in a thick strawberry sauce, garnished with a spiraling tuile. The raviolo may have been my favorite dish, but this is the dish I'll try to replicate at home, especially with strawberry season bursting upon us here in the Bay Area. The mousse was delicate and flavorful, and contrasted nicely with the ripe but firm strawberry flesh. Hillel, I think, was the first to forget decorum and slide his finger through the strawberry sauce. We had a discussion about licking plates. That's how good the sauce was.

32-petit fours.jpgMost of my readers know how much I love the mignardise course. Our little plate contained a cinnamon cookie, a lemon one, a chocolate truffle, and a tiny thumbprint peanut butter cookie with a chocolate mound. All the treats were light and airy, the perfect sweet end to an incredible meal.

I did notice one problem with the surprise menu. We didn't know quite how much wine we needed. Hillel and I each brought a bottle, I the superbly balanced 2002 Donnhoff Riesling Spätlese from the Oberhauser Brücke vineyard, Hillel an equally well-balanced Pride Merlot, possibly the best Merlot I've ever tasted. But it wasn't quite enough. Another bottle would have been nice, I think.

This meal ranks high in my pantheon of great life experiences. The sense of balance and harmony that registered with virtually every dish was astonishing. I envy Hillel, who not only lives close enough to eat there, but takes advantage of it often. Midway through the meal, he said to me quietly, "The people in this town have no idea what they've got here." I imagine he's right. 

I'll just add that one of the only things I enjoy more than eating a wonderful meal is sharing that experience with someone else and watching their reaction as they get a firsthand understanding of my excitement. This meal was no exception, and that's essentially the purpose of this website (in a more scalable fashion).

 

     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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


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

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