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Wednesday
February

15

2006
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25 cauliflower viole potato and broccoli puree with pork veal truffle and font de veau.jpg

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Sant Pau, Tokyo, Japan, tasted on December 15, 2005  Given my love for foreign cuisines interpreted in Tokyo it shouldn't surprise you that I was up for Spanish food. Sant Pau is a famous restaurant in Barcelona, Spain and part of the Relais Chateaux high end restaurant and hotel association. I didn't realize that they were part of Relais Chateaux before I went. On the one hand that pretty much guarantees a particular type of high end dining experience. On the other hand, sometimes you wonder if the definition might be too narrow. Either way I was open minded and excited about the meal. European transplant it might be, I think the influence of Japan is hard to ignore no matter what tradition you bring with you.

I was escorted from the front door up to the dining room. Passing by the entire Spanish ham waiting to be carved was a positive omen. It was like seeing some sort of symbol of good fortune hanging over the door of an environment you're about to enter. In other words, Serrano ham in the house means good things are coming. 

Sant Aniol sparkling water graced my sunny window-side table in the beautifully designed room. The water was filled with super fine but sharp carbonation. I loved it. The dining room was gorgeous and everything was covered in wood and leather but in an understated way. The breadsticks were super crispy and crunchy. At first I thought they might have been cheese sticks from the looks of them. Bread, olive oil, and salt also helped as I waited for my first course. That said, I didn't have to wait long for the meal to start off. Monkfish with Cream of Turnip and Basil Foam started things off. It was a warm and soft "bite" with an al dente veggie dice and a creamy turnip foundational sauce. This was comforting and savory and slightly salty in a good way.

Next up was Quail in Vinaigrette with Almonds and Raisins. This wasn't quite as flavorful as the first dish. And the bone made it hard to eat especially as they had taken my finger towel. Don't worry, I found a way.

I was really excited by the Confit and Brandade of Cod Mixed with Cream. The dish was beautiful and I always love it when a soup or sauce is applied tableside. There's just a freshness about the experience. There was also a crispy black sausage plane wrapped around a pate. The pate was also made from the from sausage. There was also a gelee of parsley inside a gelee of piquillo pepper. The soup poured into the dish was a garlic and bread soup. As refined as this dish was I could imagine eating it by a warm fire on a cold night. The three items each had starring roles but didn't compete with each other. There was harmony between the confit which had a buttery and subtle cod flavor, and the sausage which was hearty and had deep flavors but in a small and unobtrusive way. And then there was the soup itself which bound the other flavors together. The brandade and gelees contributed color and texture but couldn't hold up against the other flavors. That said, the dish was excellent.

After the cod came the Kinki with Puree of Zucchini and Punpkin with Fresh Tomato Foam and Bean Sprouts. Two sauces graced the plate. One was a light colored reduction based on fish bones. The second was the same with the addition of raspberry. As I finished he dish I received Ceylon tea with raspberry with a fish stock base used instead of water. This dish was a journey through disciplined but gentle alternating warm and bright tones on a soft textured bed. There was surprising acidity (subtle though) in the dish even before I hit the raspberry accented reduction. Really a marvel. The kitchen at Sant Pau is filled with painters. The tea was interesting if not enjoyable. It didn't add anything for me. It wasn't bad per se but wasn't exactly enjoyable either.

This next dish was a superstar - Cauliflower Viole, Potato and Broccoli Puree, Pork and Veal Truffle with Font de Veau. Aside from the sauces, this entire concoction was deep fried. While I usually don't talk tons about presentation, this may have been the most beautiful dish I've ever eaten. They aren't just painters in the kitchen, they are master painters. Wow! When I cut into the ball and the the deep red/brown veal sauce started flowing I almost lost it. The outside was crusty and perfectly deep-fried. The meat was rare and delicious. The sauce was overwhelmingly tasty with that bright wine-like savoriness and depth that only comes from a very well made veal stock. I almost forgot to really linger and taste the bites properly as the dish was so distractingly beautiful as I ate it. The vegetable purees were light and creamy and provided a lovely base for the dish. Did I mention the sliver of black truffle perched atop the dish?

Dessert was a 70 percent Ganache with Milk chocolate mousse and Lime and Pumpkin Seeds with Salt and Milk Ice Cream. The salt and acid spikes of the lime and seeds with their pumpkin seed overtones made the dish special. These flavor spikes were like fireworks on the pure vista of the velvet  chocolate and the smooth ice cream. The pistachio and chocolate petit fours were excellent as well.

After dinner I lingered briefly outside looking through the glass into the open kitchen. Much to my surprise one of the chefs came out to offer me a homemade lollipop and a tour inside. I was running off to the airport as this was the last meal of my trip to Asia, but I couldn't help myself and got to check out the kitchen for a bit before I took off. The dual clocks showing the time in Tokyo and Barcelona were a nice representation of the Spanish food brought to life in Tokyo with local ingredients and aesthetics. Really beautiful.

I mentioned that this is a European transplant. Three key players from Barcelona are leading the staff in Tokyo. Two chefs (partnering with a third Japanese chef if memory serves) and the talented woman running the front of the house. Even in the brief talking I did with them I got a clear sense of the camaraderie as well as the focus they brought with them to their Japanese outlet. Whatever the reason for it, Sant Pau was fantastic. I can't wait to compare it to the original in Barcelona.

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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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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