Wines of Australia at Pinot Brasserie, Las Vegas, Nevada, tasted on October 22, 2004 —
Wine is a funny thing. Once you really start to taste it, and I mean
smell it, savor it, and recognize that it can taste wildly different
at (at least) three distinct points in your mouth, you will one day
remember that all these various flavors and aromas all come from
grapes. Just grapes. All the more reason to admit that I'm
embarrassed about my general lack of breadth and depth when it comes
to wine. It's not that you need to be super educated. After all, I
began to enjoy wine by just tasting them and writing down which ones
I enjoyed. I didn't understand the difference between the varietals.
I didn't understand how much difference various vintages would make.
But it didn't matter, I just found wine I really liked. Even though
Alex has been a good tutor on the
topic of wine, and Eric has provided me with
CellarTracker - great
software to manage my collection, it's Jon Rimmerman and his crew at
Garagiste that I've come
to depend on most. Basically, through dedication and passion Jon has
built a business by passing on recommendations and offers for some
of the worlds best undiscovered artisanal wines to his mailing list.
And if you hadn't surmised, Jon travels the world finding these
producers himself. He is a passionate advocate for these small
winemakers. He is eloquent in his descriptions of the wine. And he
passes on these wines that are almost always below what you would
pay after the mainstream finds out about them. Frankly, I've
had doubts about whether to publicize them because the selfish side
of me doesn't want the competition for the best wine Jon finds. The
truth of course is that Garagiste's loyal following grows
consistently because of their high standards and consistency. Once
in awhile Garagiste hosts special wine dinners. Sometimes they are
previews of a new vintage from a particular region, and sometimes
they host a wine featuring a special collection of famous and
spectacular wines from decades past. This was one of the latter
featuring the "Classic Wines of Australia" at the
Brasserie in Las Vegas.
You may be surprised that Australia has classic wines.
I'm no expert but I'll share with you what little I know. Wine has been
made for decades in Australia. And its isolation means that some of the
older vines survived the phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800's that
destroyed huge numbers of vines in Europe and North America. These were
vines that were brought from France and other locations to start a
winemaking industry in Australia. Additionally, even though Australia's
wine has become very popular over the last decade or two in North
America, the wine being made there in previous decades was of a much
more traditional style - not the Shiraz-based high alcohol fruit bombs
that are in many ways the iconic representation of popular wine from
Australia today (which by the way, I happen to enjoy). What follows
below is a description of this dinner and the many many wines that we
were fortunate enough to taste. Again, since my wine knowledge and
appreciation are both shallow, and also because of my low tolerance for
alcohol, my descriptions are more anemic than I'd like (especially
towards the later part of the meal). That said, hopefully they will give
you a sense of this great experience I was lucky enough to enjoy.
Dinner started with
Chestnut Celery Root Soup, Smoked Trout Rillettes and Caviar.
It had a beautiful aroma (chickeny savory), almost a veloute (which was warm).
The fish had a very pure trout flavor (which was cold). The contrasting
temperatures were great. I thought the caviar was mild... too mild for
me. (Walter and
Leslie disagreed on the caviar being too mild.)
Our first wine was
1992 Leo Buring Watervale Leonay Riesling. Hint of sauternes quality
on the nose. Bright but monotonal flavor. That was followed by the
1981 Leeuwin Estate Artist Series Chardonnay. It had an aroma of
slightly burnt toast and ocean/nori. It was also nutty. The wine had a
light body with medium to large fruit and the pepper on the finish
showed up on the sides of my tongue.
Next up was
Seared Foie Gras, Petit Apricot French Toast, and Orange Vanilla Butter
and Micro Greens. The french toast combined golden crispiness with
toasty/buttery perfection. There was also a little sour apricot sunshine
in the center. This was accompanied by a cherry-like fig. The foie gras
had a great thick seared 'skin' and its center coated the tongue with
extra 'butter'. This was accompanied by a
1991 Mount Mary Lilydale Chardonnay. The aroma was thick and sweet
with some sherry on the nose and in the finish. The smell and the flavor
were identical. It's odd to me why this is such a rare occurrence.
Then we tried the
1976 Penfold's Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet. A deep aroma with lots
of alcohol. Additional alcohol and raisins on the tongue. I particularly
1977 Yarra Yering Dry Red #2. Prune on the nose.
Raspberry/blackberry on the tongue. Very nice acidity. Amazing fruit for
a 27 year old wine.
The next dish was
Crispy Seared Pancetta Wrapped Halibut with 'Clam Chowder' Sauce.
The halibut was a subtler dish. It may have been a victim of all the red
wine we drank, but it felt like it didn't have enough flavor. Though,
after the wine taste settled, the broth was creamy, sweet, super light,
After the halibut we tried the
1982 Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock. The Jasper Hill had a round
aroma. The flavor was a little light in the center but had warm and
round flavor around the edges. This was followed by the
Baby Lamb Rack, Miniature Provencal Vegetables, with Panisse and Black
Olive Lamb Jus. The lamb was dressed with olive oil, and was a slice
of tangy/savory goodness. My lamb came a touch cold. That was a bummer,
but not as much as the croquette which (according to Walter and Leslie)
had a rancid whole wheat flavor. Yucky.
Then we had the 1984
Mount Mary Quintet. This wine had nice acidity and decent
fruit. After that was the
1989 Mount Langi Ghiran, Langi Shiraz. This wine had nice tannins
and also some decent fruit, but there was a touch of alcohol on the
finish. Things really started to get going with the
1980 Penfolds Coonawara Cabernet Kalimna Shiraz Bin 80A. We started
off with a brilliant ruby color and a chocolate aroma. On tasting there
was spice and pepper at first and light fruit ont he finish which went
on and on and on!
After those three wines we were served the
Pan Roasted Duck Breast served over Duck Confit Ravioli, Poached Figs,
and Foie Gras Sauce. The duck had great flavor, especially the crust
which had an excellent salty quality. The meat was a bit too chewy
however. Figs aren't typically my thing (at least in this incarnation.)
The ravioli was good and the confit flavor was deep.
To complement the duck we tried the 1990 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz. Some molasses on the
nose and the sweetness in the taste mirrored the nose. This was followed
by the Cured Pork Shank with a Ragoût of French Lentils and Brunoise
Vegetables. When the dish arrived we were greeted by a gorgeous bacony
and lentily smell. The dish had really warm and balanced flavors. That
said, there was a little too much fat for my taste and the roasted
garlic was somewhat bitter. Next up was a 1988 Virgin Hills Cabernet. It
had a tiny lemon aroma at its core with light fruit and fine tannins.
Perhaps the two most exciting wines of the evening were the next two.
First was the
1966 Penfold's Grange Hermitage Bin 95. The Grange had a brownish
color, with sherry, dark leather, and tobacco flavors. Second was the
1966 McWilliams Mount Pleasant. A leather aroma on the McWilliams as
well and it had an almost neon color. The flavor was sherry-like to me. These two wines were very impressive and just had a
round almost syrupy aged flavor that really was special.
We were still hungry of course, so the kitchen sent out
Braised Prime Short Ribs, Chanterelles, and Israeli Couscous. These
were super soft and couscous is always yummy. As was the
Brie de Meaux, Walnut Raisin Bread and Apricot Pecan Compote. The
combination of its deliciousness and my drunken stupor means that all I
captured in the picture were the few remnants of the compote left when I
finally remembered to photograph the dish. Oops!
A few more wines before dessert: 1986 Wendouree Shiraz Estate. Hard to taste the flavor
as it was mostly minerals on the tongue. 1990 Yarra Yering Dry Red #1. Quite enjoyable with nice
fruit, light tannins, and clean flavors.
1994 Plantagenet Mount Baker Cabernet Sauvignon. This had a sherry
aroma with a dark flavor that had a touch of fire on the finish.
1996 Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz. Nice tannins, but
no blueberries on the tongue. And finally the
1994 Bannockburn Geelong Pinot Noir Estate. I honestly don't
remember this one. The wine was really affecting me by now. But not
enough to ignore dessert -
Chocolate Soufflé with Vanilla Ice Cream and Strawberry. Light,
puffy, and a tiny hint of cinnamon. Nice.
This was a really enjoyable evening. The meal was good
in a Vegas way. The wine and expert annotation from Jon Rimmerman was
really over the pale. Often I wondered whether I really had the depth to
truly appreciate the wines we were getting to taste. But in the end I
was just glad I had the experience.
with Young Children - Practical Advice for Parents (as well as Waiters, Chefs,
November 17, 2005 — I love to eat out at
restaurants. Mostly because at the good places, they cook way way
better than I can. But it's more than that. I love the atmosphere. I
love the social experience - it's fun to talk to the people at the
table without any distractions. Food just keeps getting placed in
front of you and you can focus on eating it and chatting with your
partners in this particular meal. And for some people, that's
enough. But for me, I also had this nagging urge to procreate.
Ultimately, Debbie and I enjoy
each others' company and figure that more people just like us in the
world can't be a bad thing. And in fact, we've long believed that
going out to eat with friends, and having kids ultimately are
aligned goals. Since they'll be our kids, they'll enjoy going out to
dinner too... with us. We had it all planned out. Of course, as any
parent knows, things are not that simple.
For the first few months of our first child we actually
thought things were going to be a breeze. During that time the kids
mostly sleep. So we could even go out for fancy meals. The kid would
sleep through all 12 courses. And if a little food was needed the
leisurely pace of the meal afforded many opportunities for a quick
feeding. Sometime before their first birthday they decide that sitting
still for a couple of hours is no longer fun. And that's when your
eating out days can be over.
I won't even get into the fact that my big ideas about
what open-minded eaters my kids would be was shattered in my early days
as a parent. That's a topic for another day. So after I realized that my
kids were not going to organically come up with the desire to go out all
the time for sushi, dim sum, and pho I had to come up with plan B. And
in fact I'd kind of figured that it would be years before my kids
started liking a broader range of food. Going out to dinner with them
became more to meet my need to go out to dinner more often than to
somehow address my desire to see them broaden their horizons. That's
where it began. I like spending time with the kids, and I like to go out
to dinner. Somehow we'll need to find a way to go out with them.
Of course when people think about taking little kids out for a
meal they immediately think of the "panoply" of yucky fast food and
chain options. The iconic representative of this array is the worst of
the bunch - Chuck E. Cheese. The problem of course is that a) if the
parents want to eat something decent, and b) if the parents don't want
to constantly fill their kids with crap, then all the restaurants that
optimize for children are not real options. As a parent who likely is
short on time, it's a constant battle to not give in to the solutions
that are designed for kids. You have to resist, and you have to be
creative. To that end, over the past few months we appear to have struck
upon a formula for solving this problem and today I'll share it with
1. Your real enemy in getting a decent meal is not
your child, it's the clock. The moment you walk into a restaurant
with your children an invisible timer starts ticking. You can't see this
timer so you have no idea how much time you have left until it rings.
But trust me, it will go off. And when it does, your child will become
unmanageable and you will have to leave the restaurant. If you've done
relatively well you may only miss your dessert. If you've done poorly
you'll be leaving just as the first appetizers are being brought to your
2. Pick somewhere close. Since every minute
counts, don't take your kids halfway across town to the place you want
to eat. Even though I do not think you should not limit yourself to
places that optimize around kids and server horrible food, there are
some constraints you're going to have if you're going to make this work.
Your best bet is to not have to drive more than 10-15 minutes. If that
doesn't work see if you can drive from another location where everyone
will be - grandparents' house, school, etc.
3. Pick somewhere good. The whole point of this
effort is for you to get a decent meal. So pick somewhere you'll
actually enjoy. To make this work you're going to have to be alert, so
you may as well get the payoff of the decent meal when you pull it off.
4. Find a place with lots of small dishes. Never
mind that small dishes are almost always better in terms of quality,
small dishes can typically be prepared quickly. They have fewer
components and can come out of the kitchen in a hurry. Think sushi, dim
sum, tapas, or just restaurants with lots of appetizers.
5. Pick a restaurant run by people who are in it for
the long haul. This is good advice in any case. Here's the deal. If
you're going to find a restaurant with great food and train them in how
to make it so you can eat there with kids, you want a waitstaff and a
kitchen that are flexible, and care about retaining you as a regular
customer. Smaller restaurants, non-chains, and ones that are family run
all good candidates. Once you find a waiter who really knows how to make
the meal work, you want them to be your waiter every time. People who
are just there to pick up a check aren't invested in making your meal a
positive experience. Ethnic restaurants are usually good candidates in
6. Go early. The restaurant is emptier. The staff
can pay more attention to you. The kitchen can turn your food around
faster. There are fewer people for your kids to bother. Your kids likely
eat dinner early anyway. This is a no brainer, but even I forget it
7. Compress the meal. Up until now your work has
all been about the creation of an environment in which it's likely that
you'll get a good meal for you and your kids. That said, this piece of
advice may be the single most important, because if you don't execute
well, all your planning will have been for naught. As I've said before,
every second counts. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that you
should be done ordering before your butt hits your chair. In actuality,
the process is to plant your order with the waiter or waitress on their
first visit to your table. Yes, even if they have just shown up to give
you a menu. DO NOT LET THEM LEAVE YOUR TABLE UNTIL YOU ORDER. You can't
afford to wait. If that waiter leaves your table it could be minutes
until they get back. You should be thinking about what to order during
the drive over. Before you place your order explain why you're acting
so oddly to the waiter. Usually by telling them about the invisible
timer you can get them to realize the challenge. This last point is very
very important. Make sure to tell the waiter that he/she should have the
kitchen make all the food immediately and bring it out as soon as its
ready. Restaurants, waiters, and kitchens all work very hard to time
your meal flawlessly. Things come out in waves perfectly timed. This is
exactly what you don't want. But make sure the waiter really understands
what you're saying. You don't care about the order in which the food
comes out. You just want it all as soon as possible. The best waiters
will be back with a couple of the first items that are easy to prepare
or already prepared in the kitchen (like a bowl of steamed rice) in 2
minutes. Every minute your kids are sitting there without food in front
of them they're getting nutty.
8. Make your own kids' menu. I'm going to claim
that in this unenlightened age just about any restaurant that has an
official kids' menu does not qualify as "good" according to rule #3
above. Thai restaurants have chicken satay, steamed rice, and spring
rolls. Mexican restaurants have chips and salsa and tacos. Japanese
restaurants have steamed rice, egg sushi, shrimp sushi, tempura, and
little cubes of tofu they usually put in miso soup. Guess what. My kids
LOVE tofu. Who would have thought. And now every time we go out I try to
get them to eat something new. It's typically a marketing challenge with
them. Pick something you know they'll love, and give it a name they can
get behind. The other day we called California Rolls - "Children's
Rainbow Sushi". It's colorful, and as you can tell from the name - It's
for children! Maybe my kids aren't that bright but this worked. Don't
underestimate what your kid might eat with the proper marketing from
9. When the last dish arrives at the table pay for
the meal. It doesn't matter if you're done. You want the financial
transaction at the end of the meal to happen well before your kids are
ready to go. This way the moment the timer goes off, you're already
done. You can grab your jackets and go. If you're cutting it close and
not worried about the accuracy of the bill, you can "ask" for the bill
by just handing the waiter your credit card. That cuts several minutes
out of the entire process.
10. Tip big. I try to generally tip 20% at a meal
without kids. I ratchet up to at least 25% for one of these blitzkrieg meals. If
your waiter isn't super attentive and understanding of the challenge you
are screwed. And if you can find a waiter who knows how to make this
exercise work you want to cherish them, reward the, and rely on them
time and time again. They have a hard enough job as it is. If they're
willing to make this kind of meal work, they deserve every bit of an
oversized tip. And though it may seem excessive, compare the extra 5-10%
tip to what it would have cost you to hire a babysitter for the evening.
These are ten simple rules for giving yourself a shot at
eating a good meal with your kids. But those on the other side of the
equation can also do their part.
- Waiters. Understand the process above. Recognize parents
who are trying to employ it. And especially recognize parents who
don't know how to make their meal enjoyable. You can educate them on
how to make it work.
- Chefs. I would NEVER ask you to put some crappy
hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets on your menu just for
kids. (Fantastic hamburgers and hot dogs would be another matter
entirely.) That said, there's no reason why you can't have a few
options for kids that are dishes you can be proud of. You don't even
have to put them on the menu, just let the waitstaff know to offer
those options to kids who show up.
- Restaurateurs. Just because people have kids doesn't mean
they like to eat garbage. Addressing the needs of parents who don't
want to take their kids to McDonald's but still want to eat out
want great food - not great relative to McDonald's (think CPK and
other "upscale casual concepts" or whatever they are called) but
truly GREAT food crafted with love and care. It may be as simple as
setting up a few toys in a quiet discreet corner of the restaurant
and letting people know that kids are welcome. You may be shocked at
what you find. I think most businesses think that in order to
welcome kids into their establishment they need to be kid-focused
In fact, I think most parents would prefer just an establishment
that's adult-focused, but kid-savvy. (And if you want to go all out,
a little novelty never hurts. My son goes nuts for the sushi place
with the conveyor belt. If only their sushi was high quality we'd
have a place that both he AND I love.)
This may seem like a lot of work. And it's certainly not
for the faint of heart. That said, I used to be VERY stressed going out
to dinner with the kids as I knew it would always end poorly. Now, even
though it's a little bit of effort, I am much less stressed. And one
week at a time we're finding more and more restaurants that can
accommodate this type of meal. And the beauty is that not
only will you end up feeling like you haven't completely sacrificed your
ability to eat out for your kids, but your kids will start to learn how
to eat out themselves. And someday down the road going out to eat with
your children may be a shared positive experience enjoying great food
together. I couldn't help but smile tonight when my kids complained that
we were eating Thai food instead of sushi. A couple of years ago when
all they ate was peanut butter at home this is a problem I would have
begged to have.
Boston, MA, tasted on July 25, 2004 — Given how
ubiquitous Italian food seems to be in the United States, it's
amazing how much of it is not very good. It's simple for me and
pasta is my litmus test. I want homemade pasta with a natural
texture and flavor in its own right that's perfectly cooked (for me
that's just barely past al dente). I want it to have just been
tossed with a sauce constructed from extremely fresh ingredients
where the flavors are simple and the sauce hasn't been mushed until
every bit of texture has been eliminated. In fact, in the best cases
not only does the sauce have texture, but it is composed of a small
set of flavors - each bright, singular, distinct, as well as
integrated. And honestly, I rarely get pasta in this country that
meets that bar. And quite frankly
was a mixed experience. But the high notes were the pasta dishes.
And some of them were very very good. Onto the meal.
We were served some
olive oil with a hot pepper floating in it as well as some
bread. The hot pepper was kind of a tease as at the start it was
strictly for decoration and hadn't imparted any of its flavor into the
oil. It was better once we mushed it up a bit. The bread didn't make a
great impression on me. It was cakey, hard, and dry. It too got better
over time but only once it was drenched in the oil.
Next up was a
Caprese salad. It was fine. The mozarella was fresh but the tomatoes
didn't have very much flavor. This bugs me as if the tomatoes don't have
flavor why even bother putting this on the menu. Flavorless tomatoes
don't belong on any plate of food to be consumed by humans. Kira tried
the tomato and thought it was among the best tomatoes she's ever tasted,
which is to say - not very good.
Kira doesn't like tomatoes. She's insane and clearly never had a
good one. We'll have to work on that.
After the salad we had (what has always seemed to me to
be) a unique Boston item -
Fish Chowder. This version also had leeks, potatoes, and yellow
peppers. I thought it was thin on flavor though the spice on the finish
was nice. Steve thought
"not enough fish and too much potato".
Debbie and Kira liked it.
I added salt. That made my soup salty and still not flavorful.
The seafood dishes were ok. The
shrimp was slightly bitter and dry and I'm still not a huge broccoli
raab fan. The
octopus had a nice red sauce - Steve and Kira liked it. And the
mussels were decent with a nice wine sauce.
At this point, you may be wondering why the hell I'm
even writing about this place. I had honestly almost given up on our
meal at this point. And to be honest, the more average food that showed
up the more it was going to take a pretty strong finish to be able to
say anything redeeming about Taranta. And shockingly, the meal basically
completely turned around at this point.
First up in this "second wind" was the
Calzoncinni. The flaky crust was nice, light, and buttery. But the
lamb filling was particularly great. It was warm, savory, and lamby but
not too strong. Delicious.
Even better however were the pasta dishes. The
Homemade Pappardelle with Grandma's Sauce stopped me in my tracks.
The pasta was good but the sauce was awesome. Bright, fresh, simple,
amazing. Sweet and savory in perfect balance with a hint of roasted
garlic on the finish. Yay grandma! I would eat this dish every day if I
We also got the
Pappardelle with Prosciutto, Broccoli Raab, and Brown Butter Sauce.
Great. The pasta was covered in a buttery, smokey, thinner sauce, that
was simple and delicious.
I also enjoyed the
Lobster Ravioli. The sauce was nice - lobstery. slight bittery
undertone. Kira liked it more and more as it went on. Debbie liked it
from the start.
Gnocchi was decent. The sauce and meat were both enjoyable. Brisket
and south american spiciness. funny combo but good.
If we were enjoying our pasta too much, next up was the
tuna dish to remind us that Taranta is basically only good at making
pasta. The tuna dish was random and all over the place.
I'm really torn about recommending a restaurant that's
so inconsistent, but their hits seemed so localized to one spot on the
menu that going there and only ordering pasta seemed like it could be a
reliable method for having a very enjoyable meal. If that's not enough
for you, do what we did and bring your own dessert - specifically
Mike's is down the street from Taranta. If you're going
to the North End in Boston for Italian food it's really not ok to leave
without some high quality Italian pastry. Kira's absolute favorites are
from Mike's Pastry. The cream was not too sweet. And even though I
typically prefer plain, I did enjoy the Chocolate Chip version. I think
Michael has his own idea
of what's best (hopefully he'll post a comment with his perspective). He
and Kira can duke it out over who has the best cannolis.
Brookline, MA, tasted on July 25, 2004 — As you
may have noticed to try and make up some time and catch up with our
backlog I've stopped writing about eating experiences that I am not
eager to repeat. It's not that I'm excessively positive or have
lowered my standards. While I try only to eat places that I'll want
to return, it's still hit or miss. For example, during May, June,
and July of 2004 I had 36 meals that I considered writing about. Of
those I wrote about 17 to recommend them. Batting almost .500. Not
bad, but still skipping a bunch. Despite that, today I'm writing
Bakery. And the news isn't good.
I grew up in Brookline Massachusetts where Kupel's
bagels are legendary. I think I used to get them growing up because
everyone told me they were good. I didn't really think about what I was
eating then nearly as much as I do today. But I do remember thinking
that while I guessed they were great cause everyone told me so, they
didn't leave a strong impression on me. In the meantime I've spent some
significant time thinking about
bagels. Last year I found myself in Brookline, MA around the corner
from Kupel's and in the need to see what they taste like against the
backdrop of my new obsessive perspective.
Honestly, my first reaction to the biggish sesame bagel
I bought was "eh". The flavors were clean, almost cool, though there was
lots of sesame goodness. It was chewy with a moist dense texture but too
thick for my taste. Bottom line, while these are decent if you are
desperate for a bagel, and they are better than the overly chewy
oversized New York monstrosities, Kupel's bagels are not special. There,
I said it. Residents of Brookline, Massachusetts, flame away.
Brookline, MA, tasted on July 25, 2004 — The venerable
falafel stand is a staple of many a street corner in Israel. Israeli
falafel is made mostly of chickpeas, unlike Arab falafel which has
an emphasis on fava beans. Sometimes the two are mixed. I like both
kinds, but I prefer the Israeli falafel. Not as much because of its
chickpea basis, but because of its size. The Israeli falafel is
typically smaller than its arab counterpart. I think that's part of
why I like it better. But one of the best parts of the Israeli
falafel stand is the dazzling array of salads that line the counter
over which you place your order. In some establishments there are a
handful - pickled cucumbers, marinated onions, some tahini, etc. But
in the best there are dozens - all manner of pickled items, chopped
salads, and delicious sauces. And the best part is that you sit
there eating your falafel (or shawarma) sandwich and every time you
eat a layer of your sandwich you build it back up again with
generous portions of the various salads and sauces. I'm no size
queen but you do end up eating almost twice the original volume of
your sandwich with the constant salad replenishment. When the
falafel is good and the salad/sauce selection is wide and fresh,
life can be very happy indeed.
Rami's in Brookline
Massachusetts forgoes the help yourself salad bar for your
But given that they are one of the most authentic Israeli falafel
establishments in the United States with very little competition in the
country (and probably none in Boston) maybe they don't need to compete
by offering unlimited salads. (Not sure, but the health department may
also have an issue with people ladling more salad onto their half-eaten
sandwich. Not in the middle east, but that's a different story.)
Rami's is awesome. A super selection of
salads to complement very authentic falafel and shawarma. The
sandwiches are simply huge. Maybe too big. The fries were pretty good as
well - crispy, fresh, and flavorful. Two of the sauces in particular
were quite good. The "schug" hot sauce was sharp and fresh, but the
even better (I found a recipe
here). It's a mango sauce with an almost sweet, but somewhat bitter,
tiny spicy flavor. It was delicious. I poured buckets of it onto my
sandwich as I ate. All of these ingredients as well as the crispy brine
pickles found themselves nestled in very soft pitas (which I
Rami's is street food with super fresh quality ingredients,
a healthy does of cleanliness,and a
people to the door who know that if you want authentic Israeli
falafel, crisp, fresh, and soft on the inside with an array of delicious
salads and sauces, this is the place to be.
Part I of my
Forthcoming Food Education, November 7, 2005 — Sometimes it's
embarrassing to be so food focused. As I've mentioned before, I
really have no qualifications, no education, and no expertise. It's
just that life is short, and there are so many wonderful things to
experience in the world, that there's no reason to waste time on
things that aren't memorable. Often, aspiring chefs (i.e. people who
really do typically have qualifications, education, and expertise)
go through their own period of time where they do things to expand
their perspective and experience when it comes to food. They do
stages (internships) at restaurants, they take classes, and they
travel. We'll see whether I'm able to do all three, but for now,
it's time to do the third - travel.
Part of being employed in the high-tech industry is
dealing with the expansions and contractions of the high tech industry.
I worked at one company that was having a tough time and got laid off. I
can't say I was thrilled about it, but I had always wanted to take a
trip to Asia. I'd only been to Tokyo once for a few days up until that
point and spent almost all of the trip stuck on a trade show floor. I
was pretty confident I could get another job, but I knew that I would
take a month off to travel alone across Asia before I went back to work.
Turns out that my new employer wanted me to start immediately and my
trip would have to wait. That was almost nine years ago. In the coming
months it's time to take that trip.
For me Asia is filled with possibility. I have had a
fascination with Asian culture, and especially Asian food for as long as
I can remember. While I've been all over Europe and spent time in the
Middle East, to date I've been to Tokyo several times, Kyoto once, and
Seoul once for a couple of days. Asia is so rich with diversity and
opportunity to see new things, and eat great food, that even though I
love the time I've spent there, I feel like I've barely scratched the
surface. Actually, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of the
This is Tokyo after dusk.
I love how because of the high cost of land the city is
built vertically. A friend said to
me once, Tokyo is ready for the day they invent flying cars. They think
nothing of putting a restaurant on the 10th floor of a 50 floor
building. I don't know why this is so intriguing for me, but it is. I
guess it's kind of an iconic representation of a different set of core
assumptions about what goes where and how things should be. And even
though the skyline of Tokyo and the markets in Phnom Penh bare little
visual resemblance, the amount of exciting opportunity contained in
every compressed nook and cranny in both cities is what I'm looking
forward to exploring.
So, please consider the suggestion box open. I am
and I need your thoughts. I apologize if this is boring,
but let me remind you. I am not looking for eating experiences that you
enjoyed or found fun. I am looking for food that is simply amazing. I
don't care about atmosphere. Bad service doesn't bother me. I am not
biased to only expensive restaurants - I love street vendors. The only
thing that bothers me is food that isn't memorable. I have way too
little time in each place to waste it eating somewhere that has a great
view or a fantastic atmosphere. Those things are fine, but I'm going for
As an aside, I've been scouring the web for weeks trying
to find recommendations that I can trust for where to eat, and frankly,
I'm super disappointed. It's not that this site is so great or
brilliant. We're not. But the one thing we try to do well is a) have
high standards, b) describe our experiences in detail. That combination
exists in very few places that I have found on the web. I need more
sites to do what we do here. What other way will I find out where to
eat? This is where you come in.
Before you send your suggestions, I'm not going totally
blind, I do have some restaurants and markets cued up in each city, but
I'm not sure yet that I'm really going to be spending my time wisely. I
do have somewhat of a strategy though:
- Hong Kong -
trying to eat at the speakeasys (the "private" restaurants in
people's home kitchens). Dim sum is a priority as well. This might
be the city in which to try an interpretation of another cuisine
like French or Japanese.
- Bangkok - I think
I'm going to focus mostly on street food and one dim sum. I'd like
to eat at one or two restaurants, but I worry about choosing well.
Not sure if I should make time for some Indian food.
- Phnom Penh -
- Siem Reap - Not
focusing on authenticity here. The high-end hotels compete on the
food front. I think I will try that.
- Tokyo - It's going
to take everything I've got not to go back to old favorites here. I
have no plan yet.
Don't be swayed by my focus in each city. I am open to
changing my mind based on good advice. Just don't be hurt if I don't
heed your wisdom. I'll do my best to weed through everything I get and
try to choose as best I can. And yes, you can also feel free to tell me
I'm dopey for picking the itinerary I did, and going for as little time
as I'm going.
And no matter where I go, I promise to report back as
best I can, and of course in as much detail as possible. Thanks.
of a Chef,
November 4, 2005 —
For some reason I am fascinated with books that detail people rising
in their profession. I used to only read the books about CEOs of
technology companies, but now I also read about chefs. There's
something about understanding the choices they made, the skills they
learned, and the luck they encountered. I especially like reading
the person's own version and then the critical version written by
others. This is typically only possible with CEOs as not a lot of
people are writing book-length criticisms of chefs. That said, the
The Seasoning of a Chef - My Journey from Diner to Ducasse and
Beyond by Doug Psaltis (the Chef) with (his brother and literary
agent) Michael Psaltis, and the response to it encapsulated in
this thread on eGullet come about as close as you can find.
I've been delaying writing about this book because I'm
not sure how I feel about it. And frankly I'm a little gunshy given
the reaction to
the last time I wrote
about a book. But let's dive in. Flame wars are always fun. The book
is definitely readable. It only took me a couple of days to rip through
it. Some of the literary maneuvers (like telling a story out of order
for dramatic effect) seem tried on for size almost like the author has
seen others do it and decided to see how it worked. But when a chef is
writing a book (even with his brother who is said to have some skills in
this area) this can be forgiven. I liked hearing the details of working
in these kitchens. It's basically voyeuristic fun especially when you
get to see the author treated to special privileges and perks by the
Ducasse organization including visiting and working in his other
restaurants. When I look at the individual parts of the book it adds up
to the notion that I enjoyed reading the book. And in fact I did.
And yet, there's also something unsatisfying about the
book. It's kind of like a meal that has great technical execution but no
soul. How do you separate the fact that your mouth is satisfied, but
your heart isn't getting what it needs? That's kind of how the book was
for me. Psaltis was telling his own life story. Even sharing intimate
details about how he was feeling and tradeoffs he made, and yet the
characters all felt two dimensional. Psaltis moves up the ranks of
professional cooks in Manhattan methodically, and while he shares some
of the tradeoffs he made, I never really felt them. In fact, I just
really had no idea what kind of a guy he was. I walked away feeling that
I'd gotten a somehow sanitized version of what happened. Not because he
necessarily took out all the ugly details (though he did remove some)
but the story just became one of a few repetitive notes: worked hard,
learned stuff, sometimes encountered challenges, sometimes overcame
challenges, sometimes got rewarded, moved on.
In a way writing a book like this is almost impossible
as nobody is ever going to be happy. If you aren't glowingly positive
about everyone then people get insulted. (And sure enough
Mario Batali and Jacques Pepin regret the blurbs they offered for the
back of the book. My feedback to them - you get what you deserve for
putting your name on something you didn't fully review. I would be more
embarassed admitting that I put my name on something I'd never read than
the fact that I endorsed a book that wasn't 100% glowing about Thomas
Keller. Isn't the whole point of a chef's good name that they ensure
their own personal stamp of quality is earned by every single thing they
put in front of a customer? I wonder if you do the same cursory review
of food you sell before you put your name on it?) And if you are
glowingly positive then you've written a puff piece. It's clear that
Psaltis is trying to strike what in his mind was probably a reasonable
balance and set of tradeoffs that took into account being honest and not
trashing people unreasonably. Mysteriously names of restaurants and
chefs disappear or are changed whenever Psaltis has negative things to
say about his experience. And in the case of his discussion about the
French Laundry where he can't anonymize the tale, with every criticism
of Keller and (mostly) his restaurant he loads us up with praise for the
very same. I feel like I understand the goal, but unfortunately the book
comes off as inauthentic. After reading it I enjoyed many of the details
of the inner workings, but feel mostly unsatisfied. And after reading
all the eGullet machinations I also end up wondering how much is true.
Of course when you write your own story you're bound to put it through
your own lens so some of that should be forgiven.
In the end, this book kind of reminds me of the
"reality" show The Restaurant with Rocco diSpirito. The book is
entertaining. The backgrounds are from a world I like reading about -
the world of professional cooking. But I never feel like I'm really
seeing the truth. Things feel manufactured. One telling thing, with the
Rocco show I kind of suspected that the food they were making wasn't
something I would enjoy. And reports I've seen claim that I wasn't
wrong. With Psaltis' book, I often wondered, do I want to eat this guy's
food? I almost wanted to wait to write about this book until I've eaten
at Psaltis' new restaurant - Country in Manhattan. Is it fair to look at
the quality of a book based on the food prepared by its author? I say
yes. Because ultimately if the food reflects the makeup of the book -
entertaining but without soul, then my conclusion will be that the book
in its worst light is a reflection of the author. But if the food is
great, then I'll conclude that there's a great chef doing his best to be
balanced and just misfiring in terms of coming off genuine. I don't know
why this context should make a difference in my final estimation of the
book, but for some reason it does. I guess its just hard to know how
much credibility to give a chef/author when you've never eaten their
East Longmeadow, MA, tasted on July 18, 2004 —
Ultimately opinions about food are just that... opinions. Nobody is
really an authority, nobody is an expert, and nobody is objective.
And even more importantly, when someone's childhood memories come
into play, it's almost impossible to weed out the judgments of the
food vs. the feelings of comfort and happy memories. But in order to
provide this service, we must wade into that quagmire. Of course,
we're discussing one of the most difficult and contentious topics in
the food world...
The humaneness of foie gras? No.
The fairness of the Michelin star allocations? No.
The accuracy/shittness of Doug Psaltis' comments on Thomas Keller
and his walk-in? No. We're talking of course about... pizza. At
last - something truly important.
So much about food has to do with expectations. I would
claim that while there are a wide variety of styles of pizza in the
United States (and of course across the world), that there is still a
leader in terms of the style of pizza that represents the iconic perfect
pizza in the U.S. It's a crust with medium thickness, and a balanced and
integrated combination of cheese and sauce. No one part distinguishes
itself over the others. The key is balance. Personally my favorite pizza
is a little closer to the Italian style where the ingredients are
integrated but still have their own identities. Pizza where you can
almost see the original shape of the slice of mozarella before it melted
and oozed all into the sauce and on the crust.
is a small
"pizzeria and restaurant" in western Massachusetts - East Longmeadow to
be specific. Debbie grew up in nearby Springfield. First I'll let her
wax rhapsodic. According to Debbie:
"It's real New York style pizza. And it has the perfect
balance of sauce cheese and crust. It's simple. The crust is crispy
without being brittle. It's got the perfect singed (not charred), nice,
floury, slightly burned aspect to it. The sauce is not too sweet which
is the downfall of most pizzas. And there's a perfect amount of it. And
the cheese is congealed enough so that you could take it all off in one
fell swoop but its not too rubbery. It's just awesome."
It's clear she loves this pizza. For me I thought it was
very good. In fact one of the best examples of a classic iconic American
pizza that I have ever had. The sauce had excellent flavor (not overly
herbed which is the biggest crime I usually notice). Either way, if you
find yourself heading through western Massachusetts for some crazy
reason, you can't go wrong stopping at Patsy's for a slice, or better
yet a whole
pie. We got an entire pie.
On an unrelated but still delicious note, when
not causing riots, Peyman and
DebDu are eating their way through
Paris one arrondissement at a time. Check out their
latest yummy post. The diagrams are perfect!