Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Totonno’s, Coney Island, New York FIRE!!!

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Shit. This is not good.

Iron Works BBQ, Austin, Texas

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

I recently got to spend a few days in Austin, Texas. Frankly, Texas scares me a little. I know it’s an unfair generalization but I just worry they don’t get “my kind”. Everyone assures me that Austin is different. The conference was a bust (SXSWi) but we made the best of it. Not only did I try an conquer my fear of Texas (everyone was very nice, even to me) but no pig was safe — the order of the week was BBQ, lots and lots of BBQ.

We didn’t try every BBQ place there was but we did go to several, and one of the standouts was Iron Works BBQ in Austin proper. When you talk about BBQ in Texas you’re not just talking about ribs of course, there’s also brisket, beef ribs, turkey, chicken, etc. And this doesn’t even count all the sauce variations and sides. But for me, to give you full disclosure on my bias here it’s about the pork ribs. And I don’t want them doused in sauce. I want them dry, and then I’ll do my own saucing thank you.

Speaking of sauce, a lot of bbq joints insist on accompanying your food with a piece of wonder bread. To mop up the sauce? To fill up your belly? To use as a napkin? Mine fell on the floor on the way to the cash register. A fellow diner told me I could ask for a replacement. I demurred figuring that every available piece of real estate in my belly is reserved for meat. That’s actually a rule I apply often even beyond those times when I’m hunting for good BBQ. And while I should have tried some sides, this was my first BBQ of the week so I kind of went crazy with the meat.

I sampled the turkey first. Not as juicy as I would have liked but definitely not dry. The pepper rub on the outside was intense though it started out slow. One of my dining companions, Adrian, felt that by the end the pepper had kind of taken over his mouth. The turkey was decent but the ribs were very very good. The flavor was not over the top but it was definitely solid. If you wanted “bold” that’s what the sauce was for. But the flavor, while not in your face was definitely present, savory, smokey, and combined with the texture, the best way I can describe these ribs is “buttery”. I think I could have eaten a hundred of them. If ribs like this existed nearby in Seattle I would eat them once or twice a week.

I guess if there’s one key indicator of how good the ribs were, it was when I reached over to Jenny’s plate (my other dining companion for the week) to inspect some of her eaten bones hoping that she (like many people I know) was careless and left lots of meat in the nooks and crannies. No luck. She’s an expert. And yes, at the end I was dipping the bones in the sauce and sucking it off as if there was still meat on them. There wasn’t. But I hoped nobody would notice.

Yes or No?

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Last night I ate dinner at one of Seattle’s newest restaurants. After the meal ended, it came time to make one last decision.  To dessert, or not to dessert?

Now, I know this is hardly an original thought. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that nearly every diner in almost every restaurant ends their meal with this thought passing through their conversations. Perhaps the answer defaults to no, or better yet, yes! Perhaps you never speak of it. Maybe you don’t have the choice. But the questions lingers, and must be answered.

At a table nearby, someone knew my friend. They stopped by our table, conversed briefly about this and that, then brought us into their own finalizing decision. Should they or shouldn’t they?

It’s only natural that in asking a pastry chef if you should have dessert, you will hear a resounding “yes.” If said question was asked within walking distance to the desserts I myself create, it’s a safe bet that I’m going to attempt to steer you towards them. So off the decided party went, suggestions made, towards their desserts at Poppy.

But the question still remained for myself and my friend. Should we or shouldn’t we?

We discussed our options. Cheese at the restaurant we were at, or did they even have desserts? Where else near by would we find tasty sweets? We even briefly discussed McFlurries and Shamrock Shakes retrieved on the car ride home, or ice cream from the store.

In the end, I made the decision I almost always make. I chose no.

It seems contradictory, for me to focus most of my time and energy providing a part of your meal that I myself don’t choose to experience. Don’t think for a second this slips my notice. Instead, I grill myself, examine the series of thoughts, feelings, emotions that lead to my own constant “no.”

It is this constant resistance to the kind of closing experience restaurant offer than helps shape my own creations. In looking deeper into my own decisions, I look for qualities my desserts need to posses to entice the diner back into the meal. When the physical hunger stops encouraging fork-fulls of food into your mouth, what other part of the psyche can I tempt?

Perhaps I can play on your curiosity, or a sense of nostalgia. Maybe I can give you another experience to share with your companion, a reason to prolong the time with friends, or even just give you a worthwhile treat for your sweet tooth.

What ever it is, examining my own motivations as a diner helps me ensure my desserts are worthy of your “yes.”

As the cookie crumbles

Monday, January 5th, 2009

I smiled to myself as I flipped through the 5 recipes contained in the first chapter of Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts, taking delight in her notation that her “favorite” recipe for chocolate chip cookies strait-up was temporary.   It’s a life long obsession for many pastry chefs, that of chasing the perfect chocolate chip cookie, one I like Falkner have been pursuing for years.

While I don’t make chocolate chip cookies with the once-a-week frequency Falkner admits to, I have been remaking these ubiquitous treats since I was but a  wee thing.  For many of us with a passion for baking, chocolate chip cookies are the first recipe we mastered.  I remember at the tender age of 12, beaming with pride as a batch of cookies was in the oven.  Not at the dough on the worn sheetpans in the oven, successfully melting into golden disks, the aroma teasing my little sisters as they licked the beaters clean of raw dough.  I was looking at the dirty dishes in the sink.   I had honed my process to dirty the absolute minimal amount of dishes; the two beaters and bowl of my mom’s aging sunbeam mixmaster, the white sifter with a red triggered handle and daisy decal chipping from the side, a bowl to sift the flour into, a rubber spatula, 2 measuring cups, a teaspoon, and a spoon from the silverware drawer for dropping.  And if my sisters did their jobs well, the beaters would be clean before they hit the suds!

Perhaps a glimpse at the pastry chef I was to become, I was as interested in the entire process as I was the results, which I watched carefully.

My recipe at the time was taken from the back of the tollhouse package, which I learned to tear carefully lest I rip important information from sight as I snuck a few chips from the bag.  It served me, and millions of other cookie baking Americans, well.  However, as soon as I began pursuing my career in desserts seriously, I began to stray.  I have tried more recipes than I can remember, resulting in good, bad, and ugly.  However, the most important result I have experienced is finding my preferences.

Preferred by myself is a cookie thick with chips, half milk, half very dark.  At home this means Ghiridelli, in the restaurant it’s chunks from what ever I have on hand, Valrhona at the moment, Cacao Barry and Callabeaut at other times.  I enjoy a flatter cookie, with a crackly crisp shell, that yields between the teeth easily to a dense chewy center.  My cookies have a smidge of extra salt, the zest of an orange, or if I am feeling frisky, lemon, and I love the flavor of brown sugar, as dark as I can find.  If there are to be nuts, I like them to be toasted cashews.  Good vanilla extract, real vanilla extract, is a must, and I have long since allowed gold medal brand flour near my baked goods, trading that bitter flour for the better tasting King Arthur.

But like Falkner said, her favorite chocolate chip cookie is a transient friend, and my current favorite is just that, current.  Two years ago I couldn’t be bothered to make anything but the recipe I pulled from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course, scented with orange zest and rich with ground cashew flour.  Chewy, yes.  Double chips, absolutely.  A little salty, check.  And it introduced me to the addition of orange zest.

This year, however, my favorite is a recipe found online, from one of those homey recipe sharing sites, titled simply “bakery style chocolate chip cookies.”  What caught my eye was the small amount of butter used in the recipe.  Melted butter.  What the heck I thought, I’ll give it a shot.  I haven’t looked back.

This recipe uses the concept that liquid fat coats the flour molecules much more efficiently, making for a more tender product.  And because the fat isn’t aerated by creaming the granulated sugar with it, there are very few air pockets for the chemical leavener to expand during the baking process, leaving a denser cookie.  I also use granulated sugar with larger crystals, not that superfine bakers stuff, which dissolves at a slower rate and migrates to the surface of the cookie during the baking process for that crackly crisp shell I love so much.

I simply added the orange zest and double chocolate I love so much, cashews if they are around, and presto a new favorite was born.  I have to say, with the ease of melting the butter rather than tempering and creaming it to a specific stage, this recipe might just stick around for a while.

As for you, are you the cakey cookie type?  Do you like them tall and fluffy?  Under baked and raw in the center?  Baked firm and crunchy?  Milk chocolate?  Semisweet?  Dark?  Peanut butter chocolate chip, or perhaps oatmeal chocolate chip?  Maybe you even like the variations with the box of vanilla pudding in them, or from a tub of premade dough!  (No judgement from me!!)  Does anyone else miss the mint chocolate chips they used to sell?

Here’s my current favorite recipe, for you to try along your own quest for your perfect chocolate chip cookie.  Current, fleeting, and sitting on my counter cooling while I write and ponder what the addition of ground oats might do to them.  You know what the kids are saying these days, best friends forever for now!

For the best results, use a scale and use my gram measurements.  I will provide approximate cup/spoon measurements, but it won’t be exactly the same.

300 grams King Arthur all purpose flour (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons)

3 grams baking soda (1/2 teaspoon)

7 grams kosher salt (1 1/3 tsp)

170 grams melted butter, cooled (3/4 cup)

225 grams dark brown sugar ( 1 cup)

100 grams larger crystal white sugar (1/2 cup)

1 egg

1 yolk

5 grams neilsen massey Madagascar vanilla extract (1 tsp)

1 orange

200 grams dark chocolate chips (1 1/2 cup)

200 grams milk chocolate chips (1 1/2 cup)

( optional 100 grams chopped toasted cashews) (3/4 cup)

1.  Place the flour and baking powder in a bowl and whisk together until even.  Do not sift through a sifter as it will aerate the flour too much.  Set aside.

2.  Place the sugars in the bowl of a kitchen aid mixer (or prepare to use a large work bowl, a firm spoon, and your arm muscles).  Using a microplane zester, grate the zest from the orange directly over the sugars, which will collect every last drop of orange oil that is released.  Use your fingers to mix the sugars and orange zest, making sure to break up any lumps of brown sugar.

3.  Add the egg,  yolk, melted butter, salt, and vanilla and paddle until smooth and even.

4.  Scrape the sides of the bowl well, working any uneven bits back into the mixture until even.

5.  Add the flour and mix on low until the dough comes together.  Add the chips and optional nuts and mix until even.

6.  Drop cookies onto cookie sheets and bake at 325 until done.  I use a  portion scoop with an ejection button found at kitchen supply shops or on amazon, often used as ice cream scoops or sometimes conveniently labeled as cookie scoops.  This will not only provide equally sized cookies which will bake evenly, but it will make perfectly round cookies as well.  Scoop 12 balls of cookie dough onto your sheet pan, which I always line with parchment, and press them down with your hand to a thickness just under half an inch.  This promotes the cookie to spread and be flat and even on top, just like you see in bakeries.

7.  Bake for 6 minutes, turn the pan around front to back and rotate it from the top of the oven to the bottom, or vice versa, and bake for 3 to 6 more minutes.  The top will crackle and will start to hint at golden brown when they are done.  Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet until they are firm enough to transfer without breaking, then transfer them to a cooling rack.

Boom Noodle, Seattle, Washington

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Communal hipster wannabe soba and Japanese appetizers. A decent clone of London’s Wagamama over. Another half decent video production.

Rocco’s Pizza, Portland, Oregon

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

We needed to carbo load before a grueling marathon at Powell’s City of Books in Portland. NYC style pizza seemed to fit the bill. I won’t give away the verdict, but be warned the F word is used when describing what they put on the pizza. (Hopefully you’ll also notice much fewer “ums” and “ahs”.)

Txori, Seattle, Washington

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

From the people that brought you the Harvest Vine in Seattle, it’s Txori… trying to be an authentic tapas bar – replete with throwing your napkins on the floor. Check it.

And p.s. check out the new and improved Seattle Restaurant Guide.

Haandi, New York City, New York

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Cheap Pakistani food in New York City. Why is it so difficult to find restaurants like this almost anywhere else in the U.S. in quantity? (Best video yet I think.)

Special thanks to Jason at Me So Hungry for hosting me at Haandi. Lots more pics over on his blog.

Google Cafeteria, Mountain View, California

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Our secret hidden camera expose of the food at Google’s main cafeteria at their Mountain View headquarters. The video’s a little shaky but that’s because we had to be stealthy and I couldn’t keep my top hat steady. The audio however is much improved over our last two videos. Progress, people. Progress!

Joule, Seattle, Washington

Sunday, July 20th, 2008


Joule, Seattle, Washington from tastingmenu on Vimeo.

OK all you armchair Spielbergs… ;) This one’s a bit better. The audio is a little quiet but at least it’s understandable. Baby steps people. Baby steps. Also… I think it being shorter keeps it more focused. We’re learning, comments welcome.