Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Nothing Like a Feast (Choong Mo Ro)

I got out of the cab since we were at the corner and the light was red and I am totally impatient. The problem is that we weren't at the corner of 32nd and 5th, we were at 33rd and 5th (since we were going west AND I had to walk next to the Empire State building I should have realized it wasn't possible, but I wasn't really thinking). On the plus side, by the time I had walked over to Broadway and then back, I was really in the mood for Korean. Luckily that's where we were going: Choong Mo Ro.

I was meeting two guys I used to work with, E and J (J is in town for a couple of weeks, which is always a great excuse for those of us who live here to get to see each other).

Korean is a great excuse for a huge feast.

And on a cold night, like we've been having, it's great to have the barbeque going. I love the pancakes, so I always suggest that as an appetizer. They had an option with hot peppers (my picture didn't come out). It was really good. Then we had to choose the meat that we wanted to barbeque. My favorite is galbi (bulgogi is second). We got the galbi, but then had pork ribs as well - they were a little fatty for me. The galbi was okay, though I've had better.

The appetizers were an okay assortment, some of my favorites (like kimchi, sometimes the basics are the best), but some of the others I didn't love.
They offered lettuce, rice paper and daikon wraps for the meat. I hadn't had that many options previously and I enjoyed the variety. There were also a couple of nice dips, one with salt (and we all know that I like salt).

And we ordered a pork entree. I usually get so caught up in the barbeque that that's all I get, so this was an interesting bit of variety.

The atmosphere was nice, the pancake was really good, the meat was okay - overall, a decent meal, though not my favorite in the city. No worries, just gives me an excuse to keep trying other places.

Nothing ... And Then

Some days, you just don't have anything to write about. You have coffee for breakfast as you're running (late) to work, you have cafeteria food for lunch (even more mediocre than expected) and you've got work to do at home so you stop at the store and buy eggs (because you're out) and you're just going to go home and make an Egg-in-a-Hole (because it's quick, but it's good).

There's absolutely nothing worth mentioning on a day like this. And so you crack the egg to drop the yolk in the hole and there are two. Two yolks. Of course it's not uncommon, I've certainly heard of it happening, but it's never happened to me. I got a double yolk egg tonight. Just had to share.

Joke of the day: Which is correct: 'The yolk of an egg IS white." or "The yolk of an egg ARE white." (Don't peek, figure it out.)

Answer: Neither, it's yellow.

Old joke, still makes me laugh.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sometimes It Is All About the Wine (Etats Unis)

Tonight I went for Sunday night dinner with my friends C&L. Now before we even get started, I want to point out that I’m not just friends with C&L because they have great taste in food and wine and are able to appreciate my preference for spending hours just eating and drinking (and talking about the food and the wine) – but it certainly helps (In fact, tonight, when I casually mentioned my personal defining food/wine pairing moment (the first time at which I actually experienced a wine pairing taking a food to a whole new dimension), L actually knew not only which night I meant, but which wine I meant – these are friends worth keeping (and, incidentally, they’re pretty decent conversationalists on other topics as well)).

Tonight we went to Etats Unis, a restaurant that is great for two reasons: 1. One can truly count on it for good food, 2. It’s pretty local. The problem is that with a reasonably high level of food expectation, one needs something to push it to the next level in order to have something interesting to write about. This means that while I knew that I’d have a great meal, I wasn’t sure what I’d write about (I’ve already done one post about Etats Unis and as great as the Date Pudding is, I’ve already made that clear in an earlier post (and if you missed that, the key point is – the Date Pudding is one of the best desserts ever, anywhere, go have it!)).

But luckily L knows just a bit about wine and so tonight was focused on the pairing. After an eternity (otherwise known as the normal amount of time I need to make a menu decision) looking over the menu, we all decided to start with the homemade gnocchi and have the braised short ribs as an entrée. L then got down to serious business with the list.

He selected the 2002 Domaine Gevrey Chambertin as the wine for the gnocchi. The wine was poured. The course was served. I tried a bite of the gnocchi (Homemade Gnocchi with Mushrooms Served with fresh Parmesan and White Truffle Oil). The gnocchi itself was rather large (the size of a silver dollar) and so soft that it melted in the mouth. The mushrooms, parmesan and truffle gave it a rich, but earthy flavor. And the wine matched it. I didn’t even know how to explain it until L did; the wine reached the same point of flavor that the dish did, neither was stronger or weaker, they both lasted in your mouth. The dish was a tiny bit sweeter than the wine, which allowed the wine to balance it without copying it. I forced myself to slowly concentrate on each bite, tasting the flavors, but also appreciating the synergy (and, enjoying the multitude of textures). It’s one of those experiences you hate to see end – but it must or eventually it would stop being quite so exciting.

We had initially looked at a Spanish wine for the short ribs (Luscious Short Ribs Braised All Afternoon with Onions, Carrots, Poblano Peppers, etc. and served with Horseradish Whipped Potatoes (2 things: 1. I think that Etats Unis has the word ‘Luscious’ stuck on the printer in the second to last Entrée spot, but I’m okay with that as I’ve had good luck choosing it recently, 2. That description is just my best memory of what the dish was actually called)). Mid-way through the first course we decided that we really liked the wine and that we thought that it was strong enough to stand up to the short ribs. And so rather than switch, we got a second bottle. While it did not create the same sort of taste epiphany that the first course had done, it was in fact a brilliant pairing. The biggest problem was just that the entrée serving was too big. I hate not being able to finish my plate, but am determined to be better about stopping when full (or full for all but dessert) and so I did tonight.

As you may have guessed, when they came to enquire about dessert, we chose the Date Pudding (too full to have multiple, we nevertheless needed something sweet – and were in total agreement that it be that). It arrived looking like a picture. It was a symphony of browns (not normally my favorite color, though it is definitely growing on me – this was perfect, the cake, the sauce and a beautiful pile of cream). It’s even enough for three to share (there was some extra, and I really just couldn’t have eaten any more).

As a stand-alone dish, the Date Pudding wins (always). I don’t even know if I like Date Pudding as an dish, but I would brave extraordinary odds for the Etats Unis version. It is truly extraordinary. As a pairing, the Domaine Gevrey Chambertin with the Gnocchi was inspired. I love the feeling of going back and forth from the dish to the wine, eking out the last taste benefit from each. Allowing each to pull more from the other.

I hope only that this is not the end to a fabulous food week (which last week was), but rather the introduction to an amazing culinary journey (stay tuned for Saturday’s wine dinner).

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A Truly Global Meal (Lunch at the UN)

A couple of weeks ago, my friend S asked us if we’d like to join him for lunch at the UN; both P and I looked at him a little oddly – have people actually said ‘No’ to that question.

How cool would it be to go and eat where the ambassadors, etc. eat. We wanted a Friday as that allows a little more flexibility in everyone’s schedule to spend time talking and enjoying the meal. And so today, I spent the morning looking forward to lunch (that’s actually pretty normal for me, but usually I'm looking forward to the food, today it was to the event).

I will say that while this is not the first time I wondered about picture-taking protocol as I approached a restaurant, it was the first time I had to go through a metal detector for a restaurant (airport restaurants don’t count as you’re not going through to eat, you’re eating there because you have no other choice). That said, I put my purse (camera inside) on the belt, sailed through the metal detector and picked up my purse with no problems.

It turns out that that was step 1. Then we had to get a temporary card, temporarily handing over our driver’s licenses. S told me I had to wear the badge – which is so much cooler than the badge at a normal company or the tour stickers that most other people were wearing – so I slipped it over my head and pretended (to myself) that I was a high-ranking government official (Empress of the World, for example). We then walked down the hallway and through another checkpoint. We then got in the manned elevator (not too many of those in NY, lots in Tokyo when I lived there, but here’s it’s definitely an oddity) and rode up to the fourth floor.

We walked over to the maitre d’ and the first thing I noticed was a Zagat’s plaque. Apparently I hadn’t found quite the exclusive place I had thought. That said, it was really cool!

It’s on the 4th floor of the short white building (not the tall, glassy building) with a wall of windows looking out on the East River (which is actually a tidal strait, not a river) and the plethora of construction going on around Long Island City.

Friday was a beautiful day (from inside), it was in the single or low double digits (Fahrenheit), but the sky was a beautiful, clear blue. And so we sat down (P and I took the river view seats, S gets to go more often so we let him look at us).

The food at The Delegate’s Dining Room (as it is properly called) is a buffet. An international buffet. And I will say, that, not unexpectedly, I enjoyed the meal more for the event and the company (both absolutely excellent) than the food (fine). I spent a little time making sure I knew all the options (a buffet is like a 3-D menu, and I’m a very slow reader of menus as well) and then started filling my plate. I went first for the cauliflower with pepper gratin (because I adore cauliflower), then added some squash that looked like it had been baked in butter, I took the Korean barbeque beef (because I love meat, and I love a good Korean barbeque) and finally I took the Wild Bass with Veracruz sauce (because it had olives in it – and I love sauces with olives).

We sat back down. As our discussion ranged from Nobel Prizes/micro-lending and cell phones to free will to software and on, I dug into the meal. The cauliflower and the squash were both very nice, the beef was a bit of a disappointment (not really surprising as I’m pretty particular about food in general, but I know I’m fussy about Korean barbeque, so I had hesitated a bit when taking it), but the surprise winner was actually the Wild Bass – the sauce was good (nice tomato base with olives, little onions and a bunch of other things providing good flavor without overwhelming the fish) and the fish was excellent, very moist and tender, flakey yet rich (and I’m not usually a Bass fan).

After a rather filling lunch, we still had to go to the dessert table. I got a small bite of a cheese that I’m kicking myself for not being able to remember (Port something, it was a semi-soft cheese, probably cow’s milk, really nice), 2 slices of cake (couldn’t decide which looked better – turned out to be the one with the caramel on top, but didn’t actually eat much of either – I’m not a huge cake person), and a whole bunch of berries (mainly blueberries (maybe my favorite food in the world), but also some raspberries and strawberries – now clearly these were all out of season, but they tasted so good to someone who hasn’t had berries in months – I ate all of them).

I then got a decaf cappuccino with a very impressive foam topping and sat back to enjoy the rest of a leisurely lunch, a very nice view, fantastic company/conversation and the fact that I was in the Delegate’s Dining Room.

And then I went back to work, but definitely with a spring in my step.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Artful Dining (The Modern)

O had what I thought was a great suggestion for dinner last night - The Modern. A had initially suggested something like Indian and somehow we went from that to The Modern. No complaints from me; I had been dying to try it.

I had heard great things about it, and it's one of my favorite museums, so I figured we couldn't go too wrong. And then my seat even had a pretty good view of the current film installation. It was a great meal (food, atmosphere, service, view and company).

It started off right with a nice little tray of complimentary appetizers. There were spicy pieces of pineapple, small goat cheese raviolies, a goose (?) liver pate ball and finally a cracker thing that I don't remember what it was. The pate ball was the best part - it was awesome! (And I got three as O doesn't eat meat and A wasn't in the mood - but that's not why I'm friends with them, it's just a nice bonus).

After nibbling on those (with, of course, a glass of champagne - I love champagne), we managed to make decisions on what to order. I know that there has been discussion of the value of chef's tasting menus, but the two big ones here looked great - though too much for a Wednesday night; we stuck to the three course.

Another great thing about O&A is that they're happy to take photos as well, so now we have the selections of all three of us to enjoy. But before we got to what we ordered, we got a nice amuse bouche of salmon with a caviar base. I love caviar, but the overall taste was only so-so.

For the evening, it turned out that I was in a foie gras kind of mood and so I started with: Sauteed Sullivan County Foie Gras with Dates and Lemon Confit, Chestnut Tuile. It was great! I love sauteed foie gras and this was perfectly done; and the confit was amazing. I was a very happy camper (luxury camper).

O went with the Maine Lobster Salad with Black Radish, Cucumber and Black Truffle Sauce, which he enjoyed. I liked that they managed to make the lobster claw stand up like that - it was cool.

A decided that she wanted a salad and she went with the Herb Salad, Horeseradish Infused Organic Yogurt Dressing. It arrived and it looked just like a bunch of lettuce, so I don't know that it won on presentation, but she liked the yogurt dressing. I also discovered that some times you miss things in dimly lit restaurants - looks like the salad also had flower petals, nice colors.

For my entree, I kept the foie gras theme. I went with the Squab and Foie Gras "Croustilliant" with Carmelized Ginger Jus and Farm Vegetables. I figured that the Farm Vegetables made it the healthy choice. And when I smelled the Carmelized Ginger Jus, I thought I had gone to heaven. The dish itself did not disappoint - it even had baby brussel spouts which were awesome.

O went with the Slow Baked Sablefish in Hard Apple Cider Bouillon, Poached Chilmark Oysters.

A stuck with a second appetizer, a trick that I often use as the appetizers are often the best things on the menu. She chose the Slow Poached Farm Egg with Jerusalem Artichokes and Black Truffle Served in a Glass Jar. We did ask how the Slow Poached Egg was different from the Poached Egg (part of the Poached Organic Egg with Wild Mushroom Veloute), which was, I believe, the only time that we stumped our waiter. His answer was something about how the slow one was in the jar.

A let me try a bite, which was very nice, as it wasn't a huge dish. My bite was great. She actually felt like there was almost too much truffle - which is not the worst critique that I've heard of a restaurant.

One of my favorite things about any multi-course meal is that you have to get dessert, it's part of the structure. We even got a little mini intro dessert, it was a mandarin sorbet with lime, pomegranete seeds. It was a very nice little palate cleanser. Very nice.

I've been dreaming about chocolate tarts since I saw Cream Puff's recent post and so when I saw: Chocolate Tart, Chocolate "Cremeux" and Sorbet on the menu, I had to go with it. It was great and the sorbet was perfect. The Cremeux had a star anise flavor to it that I didn't love, but the other two were nice. Even so, the best part was may have been the sliver of what may have been dulce de leche which was an accent. It was really good!

That said, I think I might have liked O & A's choice better. The description on the menu: Milk Chocolate Dacquoise and Raspberry Sorbet didn't grab me (I don't tend to love cake-type things), though I did come close when the carmel portion was described. The carmel cover around the sweet crunch inside was just amazing.

But wait, there's more. We then got the petit fours as well as a little ice cream cone of fromage blanc and raspberry. The little cone was amazing - the perfect blend of cold and flavor.

And then I tried the chocolate. My first one was the rounded square. A and I both thought that it would be caramel. I don't know if I've ever been that surprised. I'm not always the best at identifying odd flavors, but this one was easy: Meyer Lemon. I really don't think I've ever had the two flavors together. But, somehow, it worked. It was really interesting. If there had been more, I would have had more. The long triangle (I can't remember what was in it), but I wasn't crazy about it.

I love coffee, but I only do decaf, and only in the morning. But I love the ceremony around good coffee. And so when O ordered his espresso, I had to take a picture of the sugar offerings (regular, raw and equal). I'm a sucker for good presentation.

Really nice meal, I'll be back. I also still really want to try the bar option at some point.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Perfect Halves (Giorgio's of Gramercy)

M and I met up for a late dinner tonight. We hadn't really made any plans on where to go - she was busy and I got interrupted when I tried to figure out where would be convenient. Standing outside in the (seasonable) cold, we were encouraged to make a quick decision - and I was more decisive than usual (Italian sounded good to me).

M had recently been to Giorgio's of Gramercy (27 East 21st, between Park and Madison) and was excited to go back (M is very good about fully vetting restaurants by visiting multiple times - I am less good as I appear to subconsciously believe that I have some chance of visiting all NYC restaurants before I die). It was 9:30 when we got there (I believe we were the last table seated, but they were incredibly gracious; and the restaurant itself is a great space), which is late for me for a Tuesday and so I didn't want to overorder - we decided to do some half-portions and some sharing (do-it-yourself half portions).

I was also very excited because M really and truly doesn't mind me taking photos. She even, graciously, said that I could consider it a trade-off tonight (she'd ignore me taking photos if I'd ignore her putting a napkin on as a bib over her white sweater while eating pasta with tomato sauce - since I consider that a rather sensible decision, I had no problem with the agreement). Then, technology failure - no battery power (I swear I just recharged it before the s'mores last night, slightly concerned about my battery). And so, despite M's graciousness, this is a text-only post.

For appetizers, we split the beet salad and the avocado toast. I love both beets and avocados, but had been leaning toward the beets. M wanted the avocado toast, but was worried it was too much and so we decided to split it. (Note to self: Just in case you forget AGAIN, listen to what M says she's going to order as you generally like that best!) The beet salad was quite good, but nothing earth-shattering; it was a nice mix of beets, walnuts, green beens, goat cheese, etc. - quite nice. The avocado toast was really good (and looked super cool - close your eyes and try to imagine). It was 3 pieces of flatbread, each with 1/3 of an avocado (perfectly ripe) on top. It looked almost silly. It tasted like heaven. It was seasoned with sherry vinegar (L - take note, you will, obviously, love this dish) and some kind of pepper. I can't explain why it was so good, but it just worked. Highly recommended!

For the main, we both ordered half portions of the Penne Bolognese. So good. So very, very good. But, back to the description, half portions are such a blessing - they let you order what you want without the issue of overeating (or at least with a reduction of it). The penne was the perfect choice for me tonight; it has a rich tomato and meat sauce and was covered by a bunch of thinly sliced cheese (too creamy for parmigiano - in retrospect, I realize I'm not sure what it was, unfortunate that I didn't pay attention to that detail - but apparently I was absorbed in the total flavor/experience). It was a perfect blend of flavors and textures. I could see making that a standard weekly meal - and being very happy about it.

The amazing thing is that the half portion was still too much to allow for dessert. I did have a late lunch, and a few snacks with our earlier drinks, but still... It's a sad thing when dessert is just not appealing - but given a choice between finishing the penne and ordering dessert, I finished the penne (even knowing what that meant).

We did look at the dessert menu (because I insist on that). In the interest of making sure that everyone knows the outcomes of all possible scenarios, I would have had the s'mores offering - if only to compare it to last night's version.

The one issue with their menu that I did have was their pistachio creme brulee. One summer I spent 6 weeks in Paris and had creme brulee almost every day (and occasionally more than once a day (some day I will tell you about the 3 foie gras, 2 creme brulee, 1 steak and 1 pain aux raisin day - we need more food days in our lives like that). I do not believe that it is a stretch to imagine that I was one of the foremost experts in good Parisian creme brulees (I kept a running tally of my top 5 in my head at all times - as I am remembering details, I see a strong need to recreate this experience). My issue is that creme brulee done right is a sublimely perfect dish - I see no reason to overpower the vanilla and creme with flavors (pistachio, lavendar, anise, orange, chocolate, cinammon, etc.) More restaurants need to concentrate on getting into my top 5 with regular (vanilla) creme brulee than with trying to be innovative. So, despite my love of creme brulee, I definitely would have had the s'mores, but I really was way too full (my 2 halves of appetizers plus my half a pasta having totally filled me up (together they do equal one and one half)).

Sunday, January 21, 2007

When Brand Matters (Sugar High Friday #27)

David’s choice for the month’s Sugar High Friday seemed simple to me. I love chocolate and in fact have a stack of Valrhona in my cupboard in the event that I need to do any emergency baking. I choose Valrhona for two reasons: 1. It’s good enough to pass the taste test (please note that while I am generally a reasonable chocolate snob, other chocolates also pass this hurdle – I used Scharffen Berger quite happily for a while), 2. It’s regularly stocked by my local grocery (Scharffen Berger was stocked by my last one). And so, I started thinking about what new recipe I could try that would help to showcase the flavor of the chocolate.

And then somehow I got sidetracked. I went back to David’s post. And I started thinking more about his point, why you chose the brand you chose. It seems relatively un-interesting to have to write that I chose Valrhona because it’s good and stocked by my grocery – that’s not a story, that’s merely a reason. I started really thinking about those sweets that I make with a particular kind of chocolate (that's not premium) and why.

The most obvious first choice is my famous Chocolate Chip cookies, which I talked about in my very first post ever, but I’ve already posted on them. And despite the fact that I use Nestlé’s semi-sweet morsels for those because: 1. My mom has always used Nestlé’s (I’m always fascinated by those things we do rather unquestioningly because our parents do), 2. The recipe that I use is theirs (plus 2 cups of oatmeal and about 12 ounces of raisins), it seemed to be cheating a bit to repost (even though they are really, really good).

And so I went with my other dish where I have a serious chocolate brand preference (and the dish that worried me the most to do indoors - it's not difficult cooking, in fact it's barely cooking, but it's chocolate).

I use Hershey’s chocolate when making S'mores, just like I learned in Girl Scouts. I’ve tried s’mores with other, more expensive kinds of chocolates and it just doesn’t work (you also need to use the 'normal' thin bars (about 1.5 ounces), don’t get those big thick ones, it won’t melt properly) .

1 serving

1 rectangle of graham crackers (broken into 2 squares - each of which has 2 rectangles in it)
2 marshmallows (proportions are off if you just use 1)
4 rectangles of Hershey’s chocolate (again, you need the 1.5 oz thin bar, not one of the big thick ones)
  1. Place the chocolate rectangles on top of one graham cracker square
  2. Gently brown (much more difficult with a gas flame than with a campfire) all sides of the marshmallows over an open flame (marshmallows should be on a stick)
  3. Place the toasted marshmallows on top of the chocolate and use the second graham cracker to pull them off of the stick, closing the two craham crackers like a sandwich
  4. Enjoy!

Now, it is true that s’mores taste best when eating them outside around a campfire. But the thing that they don’t tell you in Girl Scouts, is that they also taste best when washed down with a nice champagne – the nicer the better. For tonight’s version, I’ve chosen a Taittenger Brut as the Brut contrasts nicely with the overt sweetness of the s’more itself.

The lesson here, as with all food choices – it’s not always necessary to spend the most money to get the ingredients. You first need to make sure you’re buying the right ingredients (and while, in general, I am most emphatically not an advocate of mediocre chocolate, there are times (not many, but still...) when something else matters more than the pure chocolate).

For s’mores, spend your money on the champagne – save your cash on the chocolate and go for the one that actually makes a s’more a s’more: Hershey’s. (Technically, you don't actually save enough on the chocolate to offset the champagne, but the good champagne is still worth it – I figure that it's the thought that counts).

A Taste of Terroir (New York)

Since I read Anna’s invitation to post about something that captures the terroir of your location, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what to post. In my mind, so much of what makes New York special from a food perspective is that you can get anything here. And yet, that doesn’t really speak to a single taste that captures the variety and complexity that is New York.

And so I went back to what I miss when I move away from NY (which I’ve done twice). And that got me started on breads. And when I say that, I really mean bagels. Bagel-mania swept the country a few years ago meaning that it is pretty easy to find round doughy things with a variety of toppings on them anywhere in the country. And yet, they’re not really bagels. I’ve heard rumors that many of these places don’t even boil their bagels (as that’s not what their customers are looking for – which is just one reason why it is critical that not everything in this country become mass customized) – though some do, and somehow it still isn’t the same. And so, it isn’t that far off to say that it really is impossible (or, at least very, very difficult) to find real bagels outside of NY. But this isn’t news. I can get as emotional and indignant as I want on the sorry state of round bread-y things around the country and still not be telling most food obsessed people something they don’t know. I didn’t want my post to be old hat (though, there is something to be said for the truth of those things recognized by all). When I thought about it, pizza was the same issue. There is decidedly a NY pizza. It is recognized by all pizza aficionados as a distinct taste and type. It is a style that people travel to taste. But like the bagel, as a post, it seems somewhat old news. I then thought pretty seriously about the thing that people whisper as what makes NY bagel’s different – the water. But that seemed a bit like cheating. I wanted a single food that summed up NY for me.

At this point, it becomes a bit like a Dr. Suess book:
I needed a taste
I needed a flavor
I needed that thing
That New Yorkers all savor

I needed to find
That one special bite
That captured New York
To show others the light

I thought and I chewed
I chewed and I thought
With each sip and each swallow
With each meal that I bought

And yet as I thought
The problem just grew
Each thing that I tried
Why, it screamed New York too

For New York is not pizza
Or bagels or lox
New York is a mixture
Of food out of the box

It’s goulash and sushi
Panini and foie gras
It’s salsa and curry
Steak and samosa

All these foods are part of the taste of New York
What makes New York different is not one flavor
But the blend of all tastes
And the distinction that gave her

There wasn’t one food
There wasn’t one taste
I had the right answer
Just needed a photo to paste

And I went back to my idea of the water. That was somehow oddly compelling. When I’m asked in a restaurant if I want ‘Sparkling or Still’, I defiantly choose ‘Tap’, knowing that New York’s water tastes quite good (we can get into a discussion of water flavors at another point, but there are definitely waters, like Evian, that just taste bad – and NY’s tap water is not one of them, it’s actually good). And, to extend the logic (in a rather cheesy way), it is the water around NY (though we’re drinking water from upstate, not the East or Hudson Rivers) that first brought such a range of people and foods to NY – making the variety that I'm talking about the norm that it is.

And so, to capture the Taste of New York, I give you my visual Ode to Eau

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Decadent Lunch (Mary’s Fish Camp)

One of my very favorite things to do in life is to make lunch an event. Lunch is usually something slotted in between all of the other things that need to get done during the day. The most that one can work for is being able to ensure that the food is of the required quality. A leisurely lunch allows us to sit back and concentrate on the food and the company - the whole experience. Lunch is the best meal to choose for this focus: you can eat as much as you want and you don’t have to go to bed full, you don’t get tired toward the end as it gets late (even if it’s a very long lunch) and best of all, it just feels luxurious (I think a big part of that is because it is light outside).

I hadn’t been to Mary’s Fish Camp and my friend J (whose taste I definitely trust) was insistent about our going. My week has been totally crazy, but luckily J took charge and set a time and day.

We got seated pretty quickly (it’s a small place, but we were lucky enough to get there just as there was some significant turnover). We actually got the corner booth.

It’s not a requirement that one has multiple courses for a decadent lunch, but it does make it easier for the lunch to be leisurely, which is a key part of decadence. And so (for that reason and that I love them) I ordered the Fried Oysters and Clams as an appetizer.

Tartar sauce is not usually my favorite thing, but I found this one oddly compelling (the big chunks of onions, etc. made me want to give it a try). The clams and oysters were really great (the oysters maybe more than the clams, but that's generally true for me). I could probably have eaten a whole 'nother serving (and will definitely be back for more), but I still had my lobster roll to look forward to.

J and L both ordered the mussels to start. I took a picture of J's, and L felt very slighted (so that's a J's on the left and L's on the right - the angle was better with J's). Luckily, they're both very generous with their food, so I can report back that the mussels were excellent. I probably had 3 peices of the bread myself in an attempt to figure out what was in the sauce (I thought I tasted a hint of vermouth, but that could really have been the fennel).

For my main course, I had to try the Lobster Roll. Firstly, because I love lobster rolls and secondly, because Mary's Lobster Roll had been highly recommended. It's definitely a good lobster roll. It's not my favorite (my current favorite is Red's up in Maine, one that others have called overrated (and that I've only had once), but which was a great experience), but one that I would definitely come back for. As far as I'm concerned, there's a big part of lobster rolls that are dependent on personal taste - and which has a lot to do with the balance of butter/mayonnaise/lobster. I really liked the flavor of this roll, but could have done with marginally less mayonnaise. The bun was excellent. (The fries were nice, crispy - and they had malt vinegar.)

J and L both ordered beet salad (they were in food harmony today). The salad had sounded good on the menu, but I wasn't about to go for a beet salad when I could do Lobster Roll or Oysters - and so I had to settle with a few tastes of theirs. It was a great salad. In order not to slight anyone, I've included pictures of both J's and L's (again, J's on the left and L's on the right).

And after the two courses, we thought about dessert. One of the reasons that J is my friend is that she went through a period in life when she had dessert, not once a day, not twice a day, but actually with all three meals. I love a little something sweet at the end of a meal and so she's a perfect person to be out with (after a great meal like we had just had, I didn't need a full dessert of my own, but leaving without it would have felt unfinished). Our options were their famous hot fudge sundae (it was freezing outside, so we nixed this one), the banana pudding or the marble walnut cake with gelato (or something like that, it was a really long description and sounded good). We did choose the banana pudding and it was very good.

We are definitely committed to more decadent Saturday lunches, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

New Year’s Resolution (Lasagna)

Apparently my New Year’s Resolution (I love finding out what they are after the fact – based on the way life is heading) is to spend more time enjoying my friends’ culinary expertise (I don’t know when the last time I had dinner two nights in a row at friends’ houses).

Tonight we had our literary salon (it just sounds better to say that than book club). The book we had chosen was Dave Eggers ‘What is the What’ , a book I most heartily enjoyed, and which was very successful in generating a lively discussion among the group.

Prior to this evening, A had made disparaging comments about his cooking skills, none of which turned out to be grounded in reality. He started us off with some pigs in the blanket, which as far as I’m concerned, are one of nature’s perfect foods.

He poured a lovely ’05 Shiraz (which I tried with heartrending failure to photograph the label of – it had to be the angle and the flash, but even know that I really couldn’t make it work) and then brought out the lasagna.

Now lasagna is one of those miracle foods that are very easy to do reasonably well, but fairly difficult to do really well. And A took us there. It was such a good lasagna – good blend of vegetables and meat with plenty of sauce and cheese (though, not too much of either). I had two helpings (though tonight I only had one salad), so again I arrived home incredibly full (and today I had had an early meeting, so I hadn’t exercised and am consequently feeling a bit like Jabba (but really, in a good way).

I will ask A for the recipe as it really is a great company dish (i.e., can be fully prepped); I’ve shied away from lasagna in the past purely based on the mediocre versions I’ve run across with frightening regularity throughout my suburban youth.

He also had garlic bread. Really good garlic bread with plenty of butter and garlic.

And then dessert: pumpkin pie and ice cream – what is not to like about that (other than the expanded Jabba feeling).

The meal and conversation were so good that they actually cost me an hour (I was completely convinced that we headed out of there around 10:30pm, but the clock in the cab said 11:31 – so somewhere between pigs and pumpkin, I totally lost track of time), but I’m okay with that.

My Lucky Day (Harold McGee)

Sometimes, it seems that one gets lucky. It is, of course, totally unpredictable; but, when it happens, it feels so good. One doesn’t even need to be the receiver of the luck. One can enjoy just being the facilitator. As I mentioned last month, I bought my brother L raffle tickets from Menu for Hope for his birthday. I had never bought anyone a chance at a gift, rather than a gift itself, but the options were so perfect, I had to do it.

For the past month, the idea that he might win the Tea with Harold McGee has been like my own little secret, tantalizing me with this vision of the perfect gift (it wasn’t the only option I picked for him, but as time went by, I realized that it was so clearly the best one, it made me question why I hadn’t put everything on that one option). I would stop what I was doing, look up and realize that nothing had yet been decided, L could still win tea with Harold McGee, and I would have made it happen.

But I never win raffles (in fact, to give you a sense of just how long it’s been since I last won a raffle, let me just say that I won a gift certificate from a music store – and I bought a record). And so, perhaps, you think that it is not then such a nice gift to give – the tantalization of the perfect gift, with the near perfect certainty that it cannot be won based on who has made the gift.

And yet, it was the perfect gift!

L will have Tea with Harold McGee!!!!!!!

I won!

He won!!

But before I go on with any sappy kind of exposition on the rightness of good things coming around boring (or killing) everyone with impossibly saccharine prose, I will stop and merely continue smiling to myself.

Though, I will add that I will ask L (that is, my brother with an undergraduate degree in English Literature who is a professionally trained chef) if he will do a guest blog session for me, to share a little bit about his tea. I make no promises as the gift was given freely with no ties (though, it would be cool to hear a bit of what happens).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Oh, The Glamour of it All (Turkey Chili)

I’m as cynical as the next person – okay, depending on the next person, probably even more so – and so, there are few things that I enjoy more than getting together with some good friends to laugh at the excesses of society, while enjoying those very displays.

The only reason that the Golden Globes rate below the Oscars is that there is a significant chance that there will be a traffic incident on a Monday causing one to be late to, what is already (compared to the Oscar’s anyway) a short red carpet segment. I arrived at my friend H’s house at 7:20ish with a bottle of wine and an empty stomach (I had worked straight through lunch and been desperate enough to call ahead to ensure that there would be significant food offerings (I would have stopped on the way otherwise) - something I normally would not do, but I need not have worried, H is a phenomenal hostess). She had 3 appetizers (for 4 of us – the fifth got stuck even later at work, it wasn't just me) plus a most amazing Turkey Chili. I will need to get this recipe as it was seriously delicious.

She had also gone to Pour, a new wine shop near her house and they had helped her choose two wines and also provided her with little cheat sheets on each of them.

I found this to be a very nice touch as it allowed me to compare my view of the wine with that of the experts. That said, there weren’t rankings, just information – so I didn’t know if my choice of the Muri-Gries '05 (a Lagrien)

over the Cotes de Roussillon Le Plaisir '05 (a Granache, which is one of my favorite varietals)

was in concert with what a pro would have chosen (price was the same).

This evening was also proof of what everyone knows, that it never makes sense to try to diet by starving oneself (not that I was trying to diet, I was just trying to get everything done that day, but the results are the same). I arrived absolutely ravenous, ate my fair share of the appetizers (remember, there were 4 of us for 3 decent sized group style appetizers, so 'fair' becomes an interesting concept) and then doubled down on the chili – it was too good not to. I did have a small salad each time, so I felt virtuous – virtuous and very, very full, by the end.

I also went ahead and had some dessert (with flour! as the 2 weeks without didn't seem to have any noticable impact on my health (but more on that later)) and H had Levain cookies. Now, after the fact, I feel a bit embarasseded at not instantly melting when she mentioned Levain. But, to be totally honest, I hadn't tried them before - and I only vaguely remembered that someone else had shared that same embarassment. But at the end of the day, you can't live in the past, especially when it tastes too good to live in the present. They might not be my very favorite cookies (mine with their mix of raisin and chocolate chip, hot out of the oven, have that distinction) , but they're easily near the top of the heap. Please note that they are actually huge - this is what was left after the initial frenzy (there wasn't time to take a photo first, the cookies were too appealing).

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Best Laid Plans (Bao Noodles)

This post was going to be called ‘I Love it When a Plan Come Together’ (because there is never a bad time to use an A-Team reference), but then it turned out that it couldn’t be. M and I started out talking about drinks, dinner, maybe a movie – we weren’t really sure what we wanted to do. And somehow we realized that if we went for drinks at Gramercy Park Hotel, we’d be easy walking distance (4 blocks) from Bao Noodles and then could keep going to get to Casino Royale at the Kips Bay theater. Given that we got a late start and weren’t sure about the timing and that the movie has been out for months, we figured that we didn’t need to pre-buy tickets. That was the part that necessitated the title change.

M, who is much more plugged into what is cool than I am, suggested drinks at Gramercy Park Hotel (21st and Lex). That sounded good to me, as while I hadn’t been there yet, my secret source had suggested that it was a place I’d like. And I definitely like it. The ceiling is high (which is a huge plus for me in any room), the music was good (but not overpowering) and the décor was elegant (not quite gentleman’s club, but closer to that than most clubs). We got there pretty early (8:30pm) and so managed to get seats at the bar. I ordered champagne (Taittinger, which is one of my favorites, is available by the glass); M got one of the cocktails.

Keeping in mind our schedule, we headed from there over to Bao Noodles (2nd Avenue between 22nd and 23rd). M and I have been there before and I had wanted to go back for a while. In order to make the show (we didn’t know that the movie was sold out until after dinner, when we got to the theater) we asked the waitress to rush our order (and we didn’t order a full meal – I had had a late lunch so wasn’t starving). M got one of the beef pho’s, which she thought was quite good. I ordered an appetizer: Spring rolls

and a dessert: pandan panna cotta

The spring rolls were amazing: deep-fried packets of meat and vegetables – which I wrapped in lettuce. They came with a great spicy dipping sauce. They weren’t anything innovative, just one of the better implementations that I’ve ever had of a fairly standard offering. The kind of thing that keeps you coming back to a restaurant.

The dessert was actually the reason that I had been so excited to go back. I was first introduced to pandan as a flavor during my (highly recommended) Thai cooking classes with Kasma Loha-unchit. I have only tried to cook with pandan once on my own, but did not have any great luck (I need to try it again, as I’m not sure what possibly went wrong). And so, finding a place that serves it is a current necessity. And the first time I went to Bao, I was thrilled to find it on the menu. It didn’t disappoint either that time or this time.

So, really the only disappointment of the night was missing Casino Royale.

I often talk about how I’m a food snob and that that is not necessarily related to the price of food. Tonight was a perfect example. The price for my glass of champagne was more than the price of the total meal for both M and me (not including tip). Does this mean that I enjoyed the champagne more? Of course not, I definitely enjoyed the champagne and the atmosphere at GPH and was willing to pay what that cost. And I enjoyed the meal at Bao. Price doesn’t determine quality; it’s not even necessarily an indicator. That said, I am happy to spend the rest of my life looking for quality food and drink offerings.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Variation on a Theme (Chocolate Pudding 2)

Unfortunately, three servings of chocolate pudding were unable to quell my obsession with the topic (I think that I may have the Amateur Gourmet to blame for this, but since living well is the best revenge, I’m just going to keep trying different variations). And so today, I needed to make more. Because I had gone shopping, I had heavy cream and so decided to do one of the other Pot de Crème recipes. However, all of the ones that I found involved 30-55 minutes of baking and a few hours in the fridge. This was not going to work for me with my immediate need (I’m all for delayed gratification, just not right now).

So, I opened up the epicurious recipe I used a few days ago. This one called for whole milk, which I still didn’t have. So I figured half cream half skim, that’s sort of whole milk – only better. I also decided to shave the cornstarch down a bit (mainly because cornstarch always seems like a cheat to me, but also because the I thought the first pudding might be even better a little less firm).

Chocolate Pudding (Version 2)
Serves 2 (that’s per epicurious, I would say 4 generous servings, just use smaller ramekins)

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3.5 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened) (that’s the Valhrona bar size)
½ cup heavy cream
5/6 cup skim milk
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  1. In a heavy saucepan whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and a pinch salt.
  2. Chop chocolate and add to sugar mixture.
  3. In a bowl whisk together milk and egg yolk and gradually whisk into chocolate mixture.
  4. Bring mixture just to a boil over moderate heat, whisking constantly, and boil 1 minute, whisking.
  5. Remove pan from heat and whisk in butter and vanilla.
  6. Divide pudding between two 8-ounce ramekins. Chill puddings in freezer, surfaces covered with plastic wrap, until cooled, about 30 minutes.
  7. Enjoy!

This version was definitely better than version 1 (not too huge a leap of faith given the conversion of skim milk to cream). Next time I think I will try more egg yolks and even less cornstarch. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It's All in the Delivery (Duck Choucoutre)

Tonight, my friend M and I had dinner at Café d’Alsace (88th and 2nd Avenue).

I first discovered this restaurant in a story in the NY Times Urban Studies/Pouring; This Beer's for You. (Or Maybe This One.) about their beer list and beer sommelier (M is a true beer lover and so the connection was obvious). I figured that any restaurant with that much beer variety would have to make him happy. The first time we went, it was three of us (all school friends), R, M and I. We ordered a couple of sausages as appetizers and were instantly hooked on the place (the sausages as appetizers are definitely the way to go – they are just fabulous). And if them being fabulous weren’t enough, they rest on top of the best (bar none) sauerkraut that I have ever had in my life. The only painful issue is figuring out which sausage(s) (veal, pork, duck, special – it’s a rough life) to have that night.

Tonight I ordered the Cote-du-Rhone by the glass (there’s wheat in beer) and M ordered a draft beer that he really likes (I can blame it on not eating wheat as the reason I don’t remember which one, but I really wouldn’t have remembered any way). We were both intrigued with the venison sausage special and so split that as an appetizer (as an understatement, I was not starving). It tasted like fall or Thanksgiving. The sausage (as usual) was on a bed of sauerkraut, but it also had a cranberry jelly on top – seemed odd, but really worked. Somehow it really did taste like fall.

The appetizer lived up to its name – my appetite was ready to go when the main dish appeared. I know I shouldn’t roll my eyes, but it does always happen. The server looked at his two dishes: Salmon with Lentils

and Duck Choucoutre

and swapped his hands, trying to put the salmon down in front of me. (I always get the salmon or the chicken caesar (I really am not a fan of caesar salad) or the well done (versus the medium rare) steak or whatever looks smaller, daintier). Most of the time the server will literally look at me, look at my male companion, look at the two plates and then physically shift the plates from the way he was planning to lay them down (I swear that I am not imagining this – and it doesn’t happen when I eat with women (I guess all bets are off then))). I gently corrected him and finally got my bathtub of sauerkraut and duck (clearly, giving up wheat is not a diet for me, not even close).

I really enjoy Café d’Alsace. I’ve had a number of good meals there. And I am now a true fan of Tuesday nights, because Tuesday night is when the Duck Choucoutre is the special. This menu option includes 1 duck breast (delicious), 2 duck sausages (made the duck breast seem trivial), 1 wing of duck confit (almost made the sausages seem trivial) all arranged on top of a mound (only word for that quantity) of sauerkraut. I insisted that M have some – not just because I figured a 4-day doggie bag (it really was a considerable amount of food) was just unnecessary, but also because it was truly great food. M doesn’t eat sauerkraut (usually serves as another reason to invite him to dinner (like my friend P who doesn’t like olives – she’s great to have around in Mediterranean restaurants), but tonight I actually had enough), but he did definitely enjoy the duck sausage (and I still came home with a very heavy doggie-bag).

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Only One Pan and One Bowl (Hot Sausage in Cream Sauce)

I got into a discussion at work yesterday with a colleague who works from home (in New Jersey) several days a week. It seems that he is totally not into cooking and so every day, he leaves his house to get lunch. Now, if you’re in NY, this is fine, you walk downstairs and within one block have a bunch of options (though, of course, people like me are particular enough that we have to walk blocks away to get the specific thing at the specific place, etc.). Lunch can be great and quick. But he needs to drive 10 miles to get anywhere – and even then there aren’t that many options. And yet he’s totally unwilling to consider cooking. It is absolutely not interesting to him. And don’t even get him started on doing dishes.

For me that’s practically inconceivable (and that does mean what I think it means). There are times I don’t feel like cooking or don’t feel like going out, but in fact, both are pretty much always an option (oh, the horror of an empty fridge).

One of the perks for me of working from home is that I can do a little bit of cooking – which actually takes less time out of my work day than his 20 mile (round trip) trek for mediocre food. In 10 minutes, I can throw things into a pan and let them simmer away. After 20-30 minutes I've got a great lunch (with minimal clean-up, don't get me started on doing dishes either).

I’m on a big kick right now of doing one pan sausage meals. Today’s was

Hot Sausage in Cream Sauce
Serves 1

1 onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 Hot Italian sausages
¾ cup heavy cream
¾ cup baby peas (this is to taste (or whatever you have in the freezer))

Hot pepper flakes (cream doesn’t cut the heat quite as much as I would have thought - so you might want to be a little less aggressive than I was, but I do like a nice bit of heat)

  1. Sauté onions and garlic. Add salt, pepper and hot pepper as desired.
  2. Brown the sliced sausages.
  3. When everything is cooked, add the cream and let simmer down for a while.
  4. Add peas a few minutes before it is done
  5. Serve (I served mine with quinoa, though pasta would probably be ‘normal’ – I wasn’t sure how it would be, but I really liked it, the quinoa actually soaked up some of the cream, really good!)
  6. Enjoy!

I was very much looking forward to this dish as I bought the cream last night. And it was even better than I had imagined (and I've got a good imagination).

Appearance/Pedigree versus Taste (Chocolate)

I admit to being a taste-snob. I like my food to taste good; better yet – great; better yet – sublime. While many would think that this would make me an expensive friend, this is most emphatically not the case. Some of the best meals I’ve ever had had cost less than $5 (some, substantially less). Money lets you try a wider variety of options, but as we all know, it’s no guarantee of quality.

My life has been an evolution of taste (as a child I found white bread and plastic American cheese at my neighbor’s exotic and compelling because my mom did not allow such things in her home. While this fascination with the ‘rare’ definitely still exists, I hope that I have moderated it at this point to the extent that something actually needs to be good (or at least non-cringe-worthy) before I am intrigued by it, though realistically, sometimes that cringe is what makes something compelling, but I digress).

One food/flavor that will always make it to the top of my favorites list is chocolate. I love chocolate. It’s taken me years to not automatically exclude all desserts that do not have chocolate in them (my somewhat recent obsession with crème brulee is another story and one that I will share at another time). There’s something about the flavor of chocolate that is just good. Now, this is not to say that all chocolate is good (and for the record, white chocolate isn’t chocolate, so we’re most emphatically not talking about that), there is plenty of chocolate out there that just tastes mediocre (often waxy) or just bad.

I look for good chocolate. I take recommendations. I try samples. I buy big bars and ‘waste’ the rest if it’s not good. It’s an ongoing search, but one that I enjoy (so I really don’t complain – too much). For me, it’s about the taste (texture matters too). It’s about the flavor of the cocoa ingredient, of course, but also about the proportions and the process (not that I even pretend to know anything about that in any detail). Because of all of this, I was intrigued by this article in the NY Times:

No Golden Ticket, but More Than Candy

where people are divided into 2 categories: 1. Those who choose by cocoa content (going for purity), 2. Those who choose by packaging (going for emotion or fun). Does flavor not even matter? Is chocolate not something that hits your tongue to make your taste buds sing? I suppose that some would try to argue that #1 and flavor are the same thing. They would be wrong. I have had high cocoa content chocolate that doesn’t taste as good as some with lower content. Taste is not just about purity (there’s got to be a virginal white chocolate joke in there somewhere, but I can’t quite make it happen).

So we have people judging by pedigree (#1) and by appearance (#2) and as with chocolate and many things in life, neither is a guarantee of good taste.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Not the Madeline (Tea at the Carlyle)

I really love high tea. There's something just so perfect about an event that has great food, great friends and happens in the middle of the day in a totally stress-free way. I'm always happy to go for tea. I have a group of women who agree with me that this is a great way to spend a couple of hours (and together we've tried many of the best ones in New York); today 6 of us met up at The Carlyle (a little secret here - they will let you make a reservation if you have more than five people).

To be honest, my two favorite parts of tea are the ceremony

and the scones - which includes the cream and jam since they're a necessary part (the scones at The Carlyle are served hot out of the oven, they're really some of the best I've had).

I did in fact have 3 and 1/2 of these scones liberally covered with cream and jam. This over-indulgence ws balanced by the decaf Earl Grey (not really)

The sweet deserts are not my favorite, but these looked really good (I was too full to of scones to actually try any).

And the sandwiches were good, but not the best I've ever had. I had the egg salad which I quite liked and the cucumber which was okay. So if tea sandwiches are are your big thing, you might like another tea better, but if (like me), scones (again, including the cream and the jam) are the most important, then the Carlyle is great.

We did have a slight issue with the bill, but they cleared it up beyond perfectly.

By the way, I know that I had said no flour for 2 weeks, but I had this scheduled (and wasn't going to skip the scones) so I gave myself a 2 hour out - this is the only one though.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Gotta Do What You Gotta Do (Chocolate Pudding)

I don't ever do the whole 'cooking without fat' thing. I like fat (butter, steak, whipping cream, olive oil, etc.). I think it generally makes things taste better. The one exception is that I actually do prefer to drink skim milk. Don't know how that happened, but it means that I've always got skim milk in the fridge (I drink a lot of milk). I usually have whipping cream in the fridge (but not always). And I almost never have whole milk.

And today, I was really craving pot de creme - chocolate. But all the pot de creme recipes are with heavy cream (which I didn't have). So I made pudding (I figured I was better downgrading from whole milk to skim than from heavy cream to skim, though I guess it's really all the same). But I wasn't totally 'slumming', I used skim milk, but I also used Valhrona.

And I did what I always do when I need a quick recipe - I used epicurious.
Chocolate Pudding

Notice that I couldn't get the photo before I had to take a bite.

But I made it through another day without flour.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Flourless Sushi (Gajyumaru)

So, day 3 of my life without flour was pretty painless. I had Indian for lunch (skipped the nan) and tonight for dinner I had sushi (both tonight and last night my refrain was, "I'm okay with anything except pizza and Mexican" (pizza for the flour and Mexican because as much as I love it, after a week, I was ready for a change)).

My friend C and I went to Gajyumaru (1659 1st Avenue between 86th and 87th), which is one of my very favorite sushi places in the city. And it didn't disappoint. It's nothing fancy or hip, though it's nice. In fact, it's a pretty standard Japanese sushi place - which is not that easy to find in NY. It's the kind of place you would find in Japan (and I don't think I've ever been there where there wasn't at least one table of Japanese people there). I was, in fact, introduced to it by a good Japanese friend. Not that any of that is a guarantee of quality, but in this case, the indicators do lead to a great sushi place.

The downside for some would be that there's not a lot of the American sushi specialties (the funkier stuff), but that's not what I like anyway. I'm pretty traditional in my sushi taste. So I keep coming back, because the fish is good and the sushi is well made.

I have a pretty standard order - though tonight I was a little extra hungry and threw in a bit more than usual. So I ended up with:

Nigiri sushi (the individual pieces)
  • Maguro (tuna) - the nice clear red pieces
  • Hamachi (yellowtail) - the pretty pink - particularly good tonight
  • Hotate (scallop) - the beige-y one - was nice and fresh, good flavor
  • Uni (sea urchin) - the bright orange ones - really good earthy flavor tonight

Maki sushi (rolls)

  • Negitoro (green onion and fatty tuna) - the pink and green center - really good tonight (as usual), if you've never tried this, it's worth getting if they have it, the onion contrasts really nicely with the fattiness of the toro
  • Eel & avocado - the yellow/green/brown center - this is the one roll that I don't ever remember having in Japan that I absolutely love; in my view, adding avocado to sushi is one of the best culinary advances made by Americans

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Not a Resolution (Sausage and Spinach Stir-fry & Fried Bananas)

I've decided to try to not eat flour (made from wheat) for 2 weeks. This is not a New Year's Resolution - I generally avoid those as they never really seem to work. Rather this is an experiment in avoiding processed foods, but doing it in a very (!) limited way. It's also true that I'm probably a bit addicted to flour and taking a break from an addiction doesn't sound like a bad idea.

So tonight for dinner I made a sausage stir-fry with quinoa (just wheat flour, other grains and grain-like things are okay). Basically I just threw together some things I had in the house, but it turned out really well.

Sausage and Spinach Stir-fry
Serves 1

1 onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 Hot Italian sausages
1 bunch of spinach

2-3 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
Hot pepper flakes

  1. Sauté onions and garlic. Add salt, pepper and hot pepper as desired.
  2. Sauté sliced sausages.
  3. When everything is cooked, add the spinach and the balsamic and sauté.
  4. Serve (I served mine with quinoa) and Enjoy!

And I made deep fried bananas (with rice flour) for dessert.

Fried Bananas
From It Rains Fishes by Kasma Loha-Unchit (pg 201)
Serves 4

½ cup unbleached white flour
½ cup rice flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup sugar
½ cup red limestone water (this makes it crispy, if you don’t have it, just regular water will work)
1/3 cup lightly toasted sesame seeds
1 cup shredded fresh coconut meat or 2/3 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut with ¼ cup hot water added
4 firm bananas
3-4 cups peanut oil (for deep frying)

  1. Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder together into a large bowl.
  2. Add sugar and limestone water. Stir to make a smooth, thick batter.
  3. Then add the sesame seeds and shredded coconut. Mix well.
  4. Cut the bananas in half lengthwise, then in sections about 2 ½ inches long.
  5. Heat 3-4 cups of peanut oil in a wok until hot.
  6. Coat the banana pieces with the batter.
  7. Fry until golden brown and crispy on the outside.
  8. Remove from oil and drain on a wire strainer.
  9. Allow to cool a few minutes before serving.

(I made a few alterations cooking the bananas this time – I got rid of the white flour and replaced it with all rice, didn’t use limestone in the water, didn’t add sesame seeds or coconut. Basically I’ve made the recipe differently every time I’ve made it (based on what I’ve got in the cupboards) and it always tastes good).

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Mother of Invention (Saturday)

If you check the web, you’ll see that there’s no truly ‘official’ original margarita recipe, instead there are a number of contenders. For this trip, we decided to do Margaritas one of those ways, my favorite way – with Tequila, Cointreau and limes (picture of these are in other posts).

An Option for Official Margarita Recipe
Servings depend on the basic unit used

3 parts tequila
2 parts cointreau
1 part freshly squeezed lime (best if you use Mexican limes, which some web sites say are the same as key limes, but I don’t guarantee that)

1. Mix ingredients with ice.
2. Wet the edge of the glass with a ‘used’ lime, place upside down on to a plate of salt to create the salt rim.
3. Pour and enjoy!

But today we had a problem. We’ve used a phenomenal number of limes on this trip. L has citrus trees, so he brought a bunch of lemons, limes, grapefruit and oranges. But the limes got used the fastest (not just for margaritas, guacamole is a big user, plus the steak marinade, etc.). And so tonight as I was preparing to make margaritas, I had a crisis. We had no limes. Not one. And I wasn’t in the mood to run out for limes or mix (and mix would have been an unacceptable compromise anyway). I wanted my margarita then (just as the sun was setting). And so I squeezed a half of a grapefruit and a half of a lemon into a cup and then measured my 1 part citrus out of that. They were awesome, the lemon made them tart, but the grapefruit added a depth of sweetness that I really liked (and squeezing 2 halves of those was tons easier than squeezing a million little limes). And so,

Bee’s Necessity Margarita Recipe

3 parts tequila
2 parts cointreau
1 part freshly squeezed mixed lemon and grapefruit juice (proportion based on 1 half grapefruit and 1 half lemon (so not really 1 to 1 as the grapefruit is bigger))

1. Mix ingredients with ice.
2. Wet the edge of the glass with a ‘used’ grapefruit, place upside down on to a plate of salt to create the salt rim.
3. Pour and enjoy!

It might not become our standard, but it’s really good, so it might.

These margaritas were a terrific lead in to our dinner. We made up another batch of guacamole (I think that that’s my annual share of avocados that I managed to consume in a week – man was it good), some salsa fresca, green papaya salad (sounded strange with the Mexican flavors, but it worked really well) and leftover chicken (from Super Pollo) on tortillas with L’s Ranchera Sauce.

I’ve mentioned L’s Ranchera and Mole sauces before (the ranchera is the mole without the cocoa). This is a chile sauce, not necessarily a spicy sauce (depending on the number of seeds left in, you can up the heat – but the foundation is really the taste of chile, it can be more of a roasted flavor than what people traditionally think of as a spicy chile flavor).

L’s Ranchera/Mole Sauce
1 quart of sauce
All ingredients can be varied according to taste

12-15 Dried chiles (can use any type of dried chiles, some that we have used include: Chile Negro, Chile New Mexicano, Chile Pasilla)
10 Red Onions
Olive oil

2 teaspoons Oregano (optional)
2 teaspoons Marjoram (optional)
2 teaspoons Cinnamon (optional – for mole)
2 teaspoons Cocoa (optional – for mole)

1. De-seed and de-stem chiles (again, if you want it spicier, leave in a few seeds)
2. Soak chiles over-night in water
3. Chop and sauté red onions for 5-10 minutes, add garlic and continue to sauté until tender
4. Add spices
5. Put chiles, onions, garlic and spices in a blender and blend until smooth (add water or oil to thin (use the chile water if you want a spicier sauce)
6. Serve & Enjoy!

FT on the beach (Saturday)

We had avoided eating on the beach (always that quality concern). And today we wanted to try to hit the fish taco place that my brother P had raved about. And again, it was closed. So my brother O and I just headed back to the beach (we wanted an afternoon of surfing - our last day). But I was starving.

At Los Cerritos, there are 2 places with tables. We went to the fancier looking one first (my mom had gone earlier and said it was nice). It's a really nice building, but for my taste - it was a bit busy with a huge flat screen tv, etc. It felt a little too busy (too NY?) for me while I was on a beach in Baja. And they were out of food (at 1pm).

So we went to the slightly less pre-possessing. It turns out that there's this woman there actually frying up the fish tacos in the back. And they had 6 different salsa options: salsa fresca, something similar to that cole slaw from the other day, an avacado cream sauce, a chile sauce (similar to the salsa fresca, just more red), something that I had no idea what it was (lots of vegetables), and a green sauce that tasted awesome when I dropped a bit on my finger.

So I loaded up my tacos. O and I went and found a seat. We were in the shade, there were soft breezes, we could see the surf/surfers. And the food was fabulous. There was so much heat, but it was all flavor too - not just heat. It was so good. I don't know if it was the best thing that I've ever tasted, but it felt so good and the heat and flavor tasted so right that I was totally pleased.

And I didn't have my camera.

But if you go to Los Cerritos, check out the one that isn't quite as flashy. I'll be going back!

(And we had some nice waves for our last day too.)