Food News, June
30, 2005 The Times (via
article on Jeffrey Chodorow (which unfortunately we missed the
window on so you'll have to read what
to say about it). This was the guy who battled with Rocco
DiSpirito on the reality show The Restaurant. While it must be said
that reality shows clearly edit their footage to tell a particular
story independent of the reality that happened, if DiSpirito was
anything close to how he was portrayed, then I don't blame Chodorow
for being annoyed and getting rid of him. What I do blame Chodorow
for is not insisting that DiSpirito's food be any good. Granted, I
never ate it, so I'm talking out my ass, but even on TV it sure
didn't look very appetizing, and from everything I've heard the
actual experience of eating it wasn't any different. And shouldn't
food generally look appetizing? I don't mean architectural, I just
Buzz is a weekly newsletter by Andrea Strong talking about where to
eat and drink in New York City.
I am blown away by
Culiblog. Since I haven't tasted any of the food pictured I don't
know if it's any good, but if the pictures are any indication, I'm dying
to try it.
I'm not necessarily a fan of food as art as
much as I am food that is art. But I can't help but be super attracted
to the incredible imagery here. This
particular looks amazing.
We're going to Europe soon - Vienna, Paris,
and Provence. This
slide show (thank you
Gridskipper) should get us in the mood. Recommendations on where to
eat are welcome, especially for Provence and Vienna.
Eating in a
Small Town, Regina, SK, Canada, tasted on June 26 & 27, 2005
I spent a couple of days in nowheresville this past
weekend - Regina, Saskatchewan (that's in Canada for anyone
wondering). This is a small city of just under 200,000 people. It's
just a little bit smaller than the city of Rochester, New York for
comparison purposes. OK. It's not like I was expecting some amazing
food in Regina. And mind you, the internet is of no use in this
regard as searching it for good restaurants there was kind of
useless. But I thought to myself, this is not the big city, this is
a small town, and you need to find their specialties. While Regina
is small it is in (what seemed to me) like the breadbasket of
Canada. It's the prairie with endless miles of fields growing food,
and the raising of cattle. And these folks don't just eat cows. They
like elk, and buffalo, and all sorts of things that walk around on
four legs and are made of red meat.
We figured steaks might be good, but in fact, the
various steakhouses seemed kind of Sizzlerish. Again, the internet
(which I love and adore with all my heart) was really of no use. Finally
we ended up eating at two different places:
La Bodega, a "tapas" place and the
Dining Room at the Hotel Saskatchewan. When I saw a sushi platter on
the menu at La Bodega, I knew we were in trouble. Frankly, it was
probably the hippest restaurant in Regina, but it also seemed thousands
of miles from any body of water with fish I'd like to eat. So sushi was
out of the question. We tried sticking to only things that were
tapas-ish, except for two problems: the servings were over-sized almost
entrees, and none had any flavor. The gazpacho for example was a nice
consistency and texture, thick and full of tomato meat, but the only
flavor came from the periodic pockets of cumin. As for the Cortlandt
Dining Room, normally I stay away from hotel restaurants, but they had
local Elk on the menu so we thought we might have a shot at trying
something local prepared well. And for a moment I had hope. The salmon
bisque came out so hot that it could have instigated a
style lawsuit. But once it cooled down, the flavor was actually
quite nice. Kind of a buttery salmon. Not too strong, but definitely
present, and the texture was nice and thick. Soothing. After that things
went mostly downhill. The tempura'd veal was flavorful but kind of
random. And the elk, well, I admit this was the best prepared elk I'd
ever had. Of course it's also the only elk I've ever had. I didn't mind
that it was a touch chewy. I did mind that it had no significant flavor.
If the texture of the meet isn't going to stand out, the flavor better.
I'm sure some Reginan (is that what they're called) will
write to me and tell me about the brilliant food I missed at some
particular restaurant or market. And they may be right. But here's my
sneaking suspicion. Most cities of this size, and almost all smaller
cities simply do not have places to get consistently great food. Not at
the scale of an entire menu from a restaurant. What they may have is a
dish at one place, and a particular menu item at another that are local
specialties that rise above the fray. It's understandable that a city at
a smaller scale would have its quality food at a smaller scale. The
blueberry pie at a local diner, the hot dogs at a particular stand, etc.
That said, and I am sure there are exceptions, I don't know if small
town food will ever be for me. The impressions of big city food are
poor, and the local high quality items are too hard to find. And to be
honest, once I were to find them, even if they were spectacular, they
wouldn't be enough to keep my interest very long. Metropolitan Seattle
has around 2.5 million people. And I find myself bored here. Next time I
go to a small town I either find a local I trust to take me to the best
Elk Jerky vendor in the province, or I bring a bag lunch.
La Carta de
Oaxaca, Seattle, WA, tasted on April 10, 2005 I owe Mexican
food an enormous apology. I spent 25 years of my life thinking it
was shit. And I was simply wrong. And the worst part is that the
only proper atonement would involve me making a short trip down the
coast to eat some actual Mexican food. When I lived in Santa Cruz,
California, and worked in Watsonville - an agricultural center with
a large immigrant population - you could almost forgive me. But now
I live in Seattle, not exactly known for it's high quality Mexican
food. And let's be clear, I'm not really even qualified to judge.
For most of my life I thought Mexican food was the refried bean
laden heavy crap that was glued together with rubbery cheese and
served at restaurants like Chi-Chis,
On the Border, and Azteca.
Since I've never been to Mexico I just don't really know what's
what. That said, I do have passion around what I perceive as high
quality mexican food. The ingredients are fresh, the flavors are
clean, bright, and bold, and there's lots of yummy melted
(non-rubbery) cheese involved on a semi-regular basis. And despite
all those caveats, as best I can tell,
Carta de Oaxaca, a seemingly authentic Oaxacan restaurant in the
neighborhood of Ballard pretty much rocks.
The place was packed and we were lucky not to wait
even longer than the hour we did. And while environment doesn't
count much for me, the arrangement of the
photos on the wall with some of them backlit and the
design in general really was very cool in my opinion. We started
off with warm and crunchy
tortilla chips and
an array of progressively hotter salsas (available self-serve at
the bar) and
pico de gallo. The chips were definitely not what you get at the
supermarket. They had a freshness about them beyond the warmth. The
guacamole was creamy, but didn't have huge flavor. We also got
Cocktel de Camarones. Everyone I talk to isn't in love with this
dish but I found it enjoyable. I guess to me it was more like a
yummy gazpacho with little shrimps throughout. I didn't really think
of it as a proper shrimp cocktail. Maybe that was the difference.
It's amazing how much expectations matter.
I ordered the
Tacos Al Pastor (pork tacos), a benchmark in my opinion, of a
good Mexican restaurant. These were smokey and sweet with some fire
on the finish. Benchmark, met. The
Molotes were potatoes and beef sausage wrapped in fried
tortillas with all the requisite toppings. The were fresh, beefy,
and starchy in a good way. They were still light.
Their signature dish was the
Mole Negro Oaxaqueno. We had ours with pork. Mole is a sauce
made typically with several kinds of chilies, a bunch of spices,
sometimes nuts, and even chocolate. The recipes are passed down from
generation to generation and vary in each region across Mexico. The
sauce is dark, and thick, and (though I hate using a clichι like
this) soul-satisfying. This particular dish was simply beautiful.
The sweetness was not cloying but almost in the bittersweet
category, but like some distant cousin of what you typically expect
that to mean. The flavor was deep. Down in the depths of your
stomach/close your eyes to enjoy it deep. And the pork that it
covered simply fell apart as it was so tender. The mole was
Empanadas (Chicken with yellow curry sauce grilled in a fresh
tortilla) were very good as well. And as far as the
Quesadillas Fritas, fried cheese with a crunchy shell? I'm in!
Albondigas, a soup with beef meatballs was not a big hit as I
felt it lacked a ton of flavor.
Debbie and Walter
We also got another round with the mole as it was
served with our
square steaming tamale wrapped in a banana leaf. Walter did the
unwrapping this little treasure for us. The mole elevated
anything it touched including my fingers as they tried to get every
last bit into my mouth off of the gleaming plate.
And as much as I liked the mole, the
Entomatadas was perhaps my favorite dish of the night. It was
essentially grilled thin sliced beef (Tasajo) with tortillas in a
tomatillo or red sauce covered with Oaxaqueno cheese, onion, and
crema Mexicana (which seems somewhere between sour cream and mayo to
me). We had the green tomatillo sauce and it was fantastic. The
steak was among the best I've ever eaten. It was super juicy and
savory. The tortillas were soft and delicious and simply full of
flavor. Fantastic. I could have eaten three orders of this on my
Like I said, I'm not really qualified to tell you
whether La Carta de Oaxaca is authentic Oaxacan food. Walter said he
rated it worth the drive to Ballard (which if you live in Seattle
you know is not a drive you choose to do often). For me, aside from
famous musicians (or someone who looks just like them) in the
corner of my food photography, the food really reigned at La Carta
de Oaxaca. And whether I could tell it apart from the food I might
get down in this region of Mexico I didn't really need to know, as
the deep and complex flavors and the fresh ingredients tasted as
genuine as they could be to me. And that's all that really matters.
June 20, 2005 Gridskipper is a particularly enjoyable blog
and part of the ever-growing Gawker Media empire. They have a few
posts worth noting including: a writeup of
dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong; and what constitutes
vegetarian items in Vienna (where we'll be going soon).
Boing Boing also serves us well with both the
sighting of God in a cup of chocolate and . Speaking of
chocolate, here's a
restaurant in Chicago to check out.
People are always recommending places I should go to
dinner. The latest recommendations include
Rao's Restaurant in Harlem, NY, and
The Front Porch in Snoqualmie Falls, WA.
Black Table has a write-up
comparing 66 (the supposedly top high-end Chinese restaurant in
Manhattan to Joe's Shanghai. I like the premise. Since I haven't
been to either it's hard for me to know what to do here. I suppose
going to both is the right thing.
Canada is fine as backyards go, but they do manage
to produce things of quality once in awhile including the blog Seven
Spoons. I like this
recipe for zucchini fritters. I agree that zucchini has
potential. I'm not sure I've ever succeeded in finding it though.
Amsterdam, Netherlands, tasted on March 26, 2004 Amsterdam
has many specialties. Two particularly prominent ones when it comes
to food are the legal marijuana and the Rijsttafel. And while I'm
not suggesting that I partook of one before enjoying the other, I
have to admit that it did occur to me that the perfect antidote to
(as it has been described to me) would be the Indonesian "rice
table" found in restaurants across Amsterdam. An endless series of
plates of yummy asian meats, rice, and sauces in various interesting
and delicious combinations. And frankly, even without the aid of
mind-altering drugs the Rijsttafel seemed like a blur to me.
Indonesian restaurants offering Rijsttafel can be
found all over Amsterdam. While I've been trying to avoid the
tourist circuit, I think
Puri Mas pretty much fits the bill. My Dutch
friends seemed to look at it as more of a novelty than anything
else. But still, endless small plates of Indonesian food seems
attractive, touristy or not. Along with some interesting
cocktails we ordered the Rijsttafel Royaal - the biggest and (of
course) therefore best of the choices we had. We also ordered
copious amounts of
an extra light slightly bitter Indonesian beer that was helpful in
cooling us down after some of the spicier dishes.
We started off at a semi-sedate pace.
Veggie crackers came for us to snack on. They were yummy and
savory with some complex (what I imagine to be) Indonesian spices.
The brown ones had a tiny kick which made them extra enjoyable. This
was followed by chicken curry soup (Soto
Ayam) which was gingery and quite tasty. The warm hard-boiled
egg added texture to the soup in the form of an egg "drop". There
was also a plate of fried items -
Martabak, Leompia, and Udang Goreng. These were a crispy
seasoned pastry, an egg roll, and a fried prawn respectively. Each
was golden and hot. The
spicy sauce and peanut sauce that were served as accompaniments
were helpful. Everything had a crispness and a spiciness that was
super enjoyable. The meat filled pastry was quite good and there
were middle eastern qualities about its flavor.
What followed really was like a hurrican of
Indonesian flavors and dishes. Chicken satay (Sate
Ayam), pork satay (Sate
Babi), lamb satay (Sate
Kambing), pork in a very spicy sauce (Babi
Ricah), lamb in curry sauce (Gulai
Kambing), chicken in spiced Balinese sauce (Ayam
Bumbu Bali), various kinds of vegetables with peanut sauce (Gado
Gado), spiced cucumber salad (Acar
Ketimun), two kinds of rice - fried (Nasi
Goreng) and seasoned yellow (Nasi
Kuning), and fried coconut powder (Serundeng)
which was very cool and tasty to put on top of our various dishes.
The food came fast and furious and so did the flavors and textures:
sweet sticky crispy chewy thick sauced peanut honey soy cinnamon
coconut citrus and definitely spicy! All dishes were distinct under
the umbrella of Indonesian flavors even though the meal echoed one
large complex and flavorful note. And when the dishes were spicy,
the beer helped. One particular standout was the bowl of essentially
french fries Indonesian style (Sambal
Goreng Kentang). They were crunchy and sticky sweet in a good
way with a definite tomato flavor. Yum!
I'm sure hardened Amsterdam visitors and residents
might scoff at our time spent at the Rijsttafel. And for all we know
this may n0t have been the best one to try (though it was according
to several sources on the net whom I know nothing about). The
service was pretty aggressive. Certainly not bad, just kind of
always there. And they were also dying to know what we thought all
the time (or so they said). Well, we thought dinner was pretty good
actually. While we weren't necessarily stunned, the parade of small
Indonesian plates, and the strong nature of the spectrum of flavors
and textures was quite enjoyable and unique at least in terms of our
experience (as none of us have ever been to Indonesia). Unique and
enjoyable seems good to me.
Kootje, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Tasted on March 26, 2004
We really only had 24 hours in Amsterdam before we came home to
the states. And honestly we didn't have good intel on where
we were supposed to be eating. After wandering around downtown and
rejecting the recommendations that our concierge made (super
touristy yuck - literally they had a special menu for
tourists) we happened upon a little fast-foodish chain called
Broodje van Kootje.
odd little establishment served what appeared to be Dutch street
food (we saw many stalls serving the same kind of fare) - a variety
of sandwiches with all sorts of different fillings. Each sandwich
served on fluffy sweet rolls is served with a dollop of butter. I'm
always pretty positive on any cuisine where butter is a baseline
ingredient. We ordered a bunch of different sandwiches to get a
sense of the variety and quality.
We got one with
tiny prawns and mayo. We also had one with
raw beef, onions, salt, and pepper. It was like yummy fast food
steak tartare served (of course) with a hard-boiled egg. The
sausage with mustard sandwich was simple and slightly spicy.
pea soup with sausage was also hearty and quite good tasting.
They had their own variation of
pizza too. Debbie was (of
course) at first freaked out by the carrot and celery - though she
seemed to accept the fact that the main ingredients were ham and
cheese. But once she took a bite, she loved it. The bread was chewy
and light, and the sauce had a slight bbq citrus curry quality.
hot mashed potato (I think) croquette? How about as a sandwich
with butter? This was also enjoyable especially when dipped in the
Indonesian soy sauce that was like a concentrated soy sauce.
This little two location chain is cute and serves
yummy street food under a roof. And if your tired of
traversing the city, checking out the museums, or wondering why
so many Europeans seem so
stuck in the '80's musically, then stopping in to Broodje van
Kootje is the right thing to do.
chocolate bar, Tasted on March 26, 2004 KLM not to be outdone in terms of
recognizing constraints when serving food on an airplane, handed out
little chocolate bars towards the end of our flight from Rome to
Amsterdam. These Nestle mini-chocolate bars are the equivalent of
the AERO bar from England (I think?). And honestly, they're great.
Filled with bubbles of various sizes, these things are light and
tasty. I know some people think it's silly to pay for mostly air,
but when it's wrapped in chocolate, it's quite good. The texture is
smooth and creamy. The chocolate doesn't have a super deep flavor,
but that's not why you get it. It's yummy milk chocolate wrapped
around air bubbles. Tasty.
Food Blogs, June 10, 2005 I love all the gossip sites on
the web. I never get my fill of Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton, not
to mention Tom Cruise's latest proclamations on Oprah. The food
world has its own version of these sites and they even often mention
famous people. These are the myriad (does five constitute a myriad?)
websites from waiters and waitresses across the country reporting on
their every day activities. Often these sites have a somewhat
hardened tone. I'm not too surprised. While I've never waited tables
myself, it looks like a thankless job to me. I try to be super
appreciative by tipping well. In the meantime, I find these sites
I love this stuff.
Eating in Maui Part
II - Tasted on June 1, 2005
(Continued from the previous post.)
I really was prepared to
accept pineapple as my one positive food experience on the island (and a
damn good one at that) when we got hungry standing in line to see Episode
III: Revenge of the Sith. Yes, we were in Maui, but
Debbie hadn't seen the movie so we hauled out to some strip mall near
the airport and bought matinee tickets to see the latest (and final?)
Star Wars. And Debbie of course was hungry. She needed something quick.
There was a row of seemingly crappy little non-descript ethnic restaurants in this
outdoor mall. One of them was
Thailand Cuisine II. Just the kind of
place you'd expect to serve Thai food bordering on fast food. The
Chinese place next to them was serving food from troughs under heat
lamps. I didn't have high expectations. But what we ate that day, and
then again two days later when we went back for a proper lunch, was
pretty damn good Thai food.
What got our attention was the satay. We started off
with one of each variety they offered -
shrimp. The chicken was
thick and juicy, with slight grill marks on the sides and incredibly
buttery and savory. The beef was cut slightly thinner, had the same
buttery quality, and also had this incredible subtle curry-like flavor.
The shrimp was almost indescribable. Think shrimp-textured butter on a
stick formed in the shape of shrimps. Everything was super delicious.
We got the
fresh rolls (called Fresh Summer Rolls on the menu). I typically
think of these as Vietnamese but I honestly don't know their origin. And
given that these were light, tight, and fresh (hmmm...) with a nice hot
and sour sauce I didn't care. We also dug into the
Beef Salad (Yum Nuer) which was super spicy, robust, and had the
unmistakable evidence of fish sauce. Yummy, The hot and cold contrast
between the beef and vegetables was excellent as well.
Chicken Larb was quite good as well. A very simple plate of ground
chicken with cabbage pieces serving as scoops for the chicken. The
ground chicken was super savory and juicy. The
Thai Red Duck Curry was also a relatively simple dish but the
contrast between the creamy smooth coconut curry and the extra
crispy skin on the duck, not to mention the meaty duck pieces, was
really quite enjoyable. The portion was small in a good way and the dish
was just a pleasure to eat. But all the dishes were a pleasure to eat. A
simple pleasure. The
Pad Thai (we got ours with shrimp) was no exception. There was
nothing unique about it, but it was well done.
I know it's unfair of me to make judgments about an
entire island's food options based on a few days' visit, and eating it a
handful of places most of which were in tourist central. But my
disappointment is less about Maui in particular (and to be clear,
there's obviously hope as the tiny Thai place we stumbled into in a
strip mall was quite delicious) and more about my own personal inability
to pick good places to eat blind. I suppose of course, that's why this
site exists in the first place, to try and cut through the standard sea
of recommendations and just find the good stuff. And if you gave me a
recommendation before I went and I didn't take you up on it, please
accept my apologies. (I've heard disappointment from at least two people
on this front.) But I admit that I was inundated with recommendations
and my filter is simply not very good.
I'm embarassed that it's taken me so long to learn this
lesson on more than an intellectual level, but I promise, from now on I
take recommendations from people I know and eat with, not strangers, big
websites (and some small ones), I won't be swayed by what "lots of
people are saying". And most importantly if we can't find anything, we
will just follow the locals and eat where they eat.
Eating in Maui Part I - Tasted on May 28-June 1, 2005
It takes me awhile to learn things. I suppose that's part human nature,
and part me being relatively slow. I know that for example the
traditional sources of food expertise in my hometown of Seattle commonly
recommend places to eat as good that are simply not. I know that food
that caters to tourists is likely to be of lowest common denominator. I
know that I generally haven't enjoyed food in Hawaii. I know that
typically restaurants at hotels are subsidized and while it's not
scientifically proven, I tend to think it makes them not try as hard. I
know all these things. But yet, when we went to
Maui I seemed to throw
them out the door. And I do this not just when I travel to Maui but when
I travel to other places. And I throw out all this knowledge because I
assume (typically incorrectly) that if there's a gem somewhere in the
place I'm visiting, a true culinary find, then someone will have written
profusely about it and I'll find that description on the web. The
trouble is, there's so much crap on the web that it's basically
impossible to know who to trust, which I guess is why I started this
site in the first place. Still it has taken me forever to learn this
The food experiences we had in our short hop to Maui
were overall, not good. Not good at all. To be fair, the
Bistro Molokini poolside
restaurant at the Grand Wailea made kickass Oreo Milkshakes and
Flows (yes I'm comfortable with my masculinity) - lots of ice cream.
Ferraro's at the Four Seasons did actually
try to make decent food, but overall things were uninspired. The sole
exceptions being the artichoke spread at the beginning and the beef carpaccio generously doused in truffle oil. Still those weren't enough
to carry the meal beyond just barely above average hotel restaurant
Italian food. At one point we were so desperate for some good raw fish
(we were on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for god's sake)
that we went to the super market and bought some pre-done poke - raw ahi
+ soy sauce + other stuff. We gorged. It wasn't great, but it hit the
spot especially after we were told that there were no sushi restaurants
open for lunch anywhere on the west side of Maui.
We should have known
the second we saw that
David Paul's Lahaina Grill was located in the
heart of super-touristy Lahaina that it wasn't going to be anything to
write home about. The super mediocre pan-Asian, creole-influenced
mish-mash was the typical mess that "adventurous" eaters in the U.S.
like to call "good". I got depressed. This may all sound snobbish and I
don't really care. It's not that a restaurant by definition sucks
because it's in the touristy area. But it sure is likely.
And while I'm sure it's been clear to all of you for
some time, almost by definition the traditional sources for food
recommendations on the web are all geared for visitors. This is true of
every destination, not just Maui. I admit this is pretty close to, if
not actual, whining, but nonetheless, it is damn hard to get
recommendations of good restaurants from people you really trust. I
admit, I'm bad at judging where to go to eat when I've never been there
before. At a certain point during our trip I wondered aloud if there
would be any good food to be found on Maui. And then of course I bit
into some fresh pineapple. Pineapple on Maui is pretty much the best
you've ever eaten in your entire life. Fleshy, sweet, sour, crisp, and
unbelievably juicy. Not syrupy in anyway, and closer to white than
yellow in color. Pineapple takes on a whole new meaning when you eat it
(Stay tuned for our next post where this entry
Italy, June 1, 2005
My coming of age around food happened really in the last few years.
But even in the dark ages before I'd ever even tried sushi, I knew I
loved Italian food. And I also knew that I needed to travel to
Italy. Not only because I
knew that it was going to be a beautiful country with stunning
architecture, churches, etc. I knew that I had to eat Italian food in
Italy. And though I had many opportunities to travel to Italy before
this last series of entries, I said no to every single one. I said no as
each opportunity couldn't be what I wanted - a longer trip, where I
could travel to more than one city, and really get to know the country
and the food. I guess I should be embarrassed to admit that I said no to
going to Italy for years because I so wanted the first experience there
to be as perfect as possible. If only I had applied this logic to every
corollary experience in my life. Italy didn't disappoint.
I first learned of a culture that simply has a higher appreciation of
good food when I traveled a few times to Tokyo. Italy is in the same
league as Japan in that regard. I hate to generalize, but from my
perspective, there is simply a higher bar for food among the bulk of the
populace in Italy. And the marketplace responds. The number of random
restaurants, osterias, trattorias, etc. that you could walk into and get
a truly great meal seemed to me simply astounding. All told we tried at
least 23 different establishments. And while of course we worked hard to
target as many quality food experiences as possible, even correcting for
our targeting, it sure seemed like the standards were just higher.
And the funny thing is that in our just over a week in the country we
were barely able to scratch a tiny corner of the surface of what it has
to offer. We only spent time really in Rome, Florence, and Emilia
Romagna. There are so many more regions, and it's so clear that we
really did cursory investigations at best of the places we did visit.
Still, as you can see below, we still found quite a few gems. Click on
each picture to get to the entire album and write-up for each
Bottom line, Italy is a country to fall in love with when it comes to
food. The Italian food in the United States while it has its highlights
is the barest impression of an amalgamation of a variety of cuisines
that span the Italian countryside. And yet, it's just enough to remind
me that I need to go back to Italy as soon as humanly possible.