Thursday, December 30, 2010

What I'm eating right now...


Grapeseed Oil
Lite Soy Sauce
Sherry Vinegar


A take on Momofuku's Ginger Scallion Noodles, with mirin soy glazed mushrooms, bacon, and fried egg.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Food of New Orleans

New Orleans. Two things come to mind when you think of this magical city; I do not mean boobs and beads but food and music. It has long been a magical culinary melting pot with easy access to great gulf seafood, amazing cultures and jazz - spicy and deep as a musical genre which lends soul to cuisine.

New Orleans has recently been in our minds due to hurricanes and oil spills but it's a fantastic city with plenty of rich culture and varied people who love the city; with that, comes amazing food.
 I went to Nawlins for the second time but both times were for work conferences. My team and I made it a point to eat well since we wanted to do as they do in New Orleans and eat like crazy. The first big team dinner was NOLA:

Emeril's casual restaurant has a homey bistro feel with exposed brick, black chalkboards and tall ceilings.
For an appetizer, I had the crab cake. A singular crab cake surrounded by corn. Delish. Other folks had chicken which looked awesome as well as an arugula pizza with a fried egg on top - very rustic and I am a sucker for fried eggs. Not happy I didn't get a bite.

It was difficult ordering an entrée since a lot of the options sounded wonderful; I settled on shrimp and grits which is a signature dish (although mine was sans bacon). Who could resist fresh shrimp on top of cheesy creamy grits? The grits were perfect except that I would have liked more of it; they were flavorful with a good balance of creamy without taking away from the grit texture. We weren't so pleased with the shrimp; they were decently cooked although some pieces were tougher than others and they were smothered in an overseasoned barbecue sauce which I think took away from the shrimp. It was as if your tastebuds were too stupid to handle real subtle flavors and needed to be covered up in sweet, salty, spiced, charred sauce in order to be palatable. However, we realized that in the south, flavors are completely in-your-face like a mardi gras in your mouth. Everything is packed with spice and salt. If you are watching your sodium intake, this is not the place for you.

A Pat O'Briens Hurricane
The Alcohol
 Maybe you need to try a mint julep, a hurricane or a hand grenade. Or maybe not. Most bars make the syrupy, pre-mixed versions of these drinks and not the classic versions. I would stay away from these sweet, caloric bombs; not only will they go to your gut, they will make you misbehave. Each hurricane is packed with at least four shots and probably four shots of sugar so it's begging you for a headache in the morning. Unless you want to miss your morning presentation, or as a co-worker of mine did, miss an entire day - stay with something light.

Oyster Po'Boy
This is the holy land for those who love gumbo and po' boys. My friend SV declared that the gumbo he had was the best thus far in all of New Orleans. From the ordering line, you could see the kitchen staff slap luxuriously messy heaps of meat, sausage and condiments on rolls, dish up sloppy ladles of gumbo and greens which made your mouth drool in anticipation. I ordered the oyster po' boy. Great but for me, not the most amazing oyster po' boy although I could tell that the oyster was well prepared - not too greasy and the oyster was fresh. Remco and SV shared a Ferdi special in addition to other goodies. They took huge bites with duck debris dripping all over the plate. However, (and I did not take a bite mind you) the two said it was good but weren't terribly impressed with this famous staple. One thing to note - Mothers is not inexpensive anymore. It probably once was… but they are beyond that now.  Be prepared to wait in line and pay tourist prices for their food.

Last year, my team had a partner event at a private event facility called Calcasieu; I recalled how delicious and elegant the food was. I asked my former teammate who had organized the reception about the place. The restaurant that served it was named Herbsaint so I was determined to get folks there and was even more excited to learn that the chef had won the James Beard award for best chef of the South in 2007. We were originally seated at a table for 8 but we had extra friends so the restaurant was kind enough to seat us in a private back area where we could be loud and obnoxious. I dared to order a Pimms cup to drink - I adored this British summer staple and wanted a refreshing quencher since summer in New Orleans is at hot and humid as you can imagine. It was crisp and delicious, garnished with cucumber. In fact, everyone kept ordering these all night long!
We started the meal with a rocket salad with goat cheese which was decent but quite typical and uninteresting; Seattle places dress up their arugula with more surprises. A few of us opted for a fried soft shell crab for an entree which is a tasty, New Orleans staple. No one had a clue how large the crab would be; basically it was a giant, full-sized crab served a top a nice Asian-inspired cucumber salad with balanced use of fish sauce and mild chilies. The flavors were wonderful and the salad's crispness and acidity cut the fattiness of the fried crab although my crab was a little on the greasy side.
We pretty much ordered everything for dessert. Banana tart? Yes please sir, some more. The goat cheese beignets had a unique flavor but were pretty good.

Buttery rolls
The same folks that own Herbsaint own Cochon, an ode to authentic cajun and the pig. The restaurant has a warm, modern feel - casual, unpretentious and slightly unfinished chic. Brandon, Kevin and I ducked in for a pre-dinner drink and apps after a long day at the conference. Cochon had these large rolls which were served warm, fresh and buttery-perfect. The catch is not to eat too many. The baked oysters were lovely - a perfect mouthful of spice, heat, sweetness, acidity and fresh oyster on the halfshell. I ordered this crawfish pie which ended up being fried crawfish etoufee wrapped in a pie/empanada pastry shell that was spicy - not exactly what I had envisioned so I would skip it if you get the chance. Kevin ordered some sweatbreads and other meaty things - everything was good although some items were more special than others. I would definitely hit this place up again for a more substantial meal - it felt comfortable and the service from our bartender was excellent.

Baked Oysters - nom!

One evening, we forayed to Bon Ton and felt bad for them since we had a party of - I don't know...12 turned 20 people? It's a classic New Orleans establishment and looked as if it hadn't changed much in 100 years with classic décor and homey service. Everything was reminiscent of a time long ago - from the drinks to the plating and the recipes were probably what folks ate in the 1800's.
I started with Denise's salad after it was recommended by the server. When it appeared, it looked underwhelming - a salad with some asparagus, crabmeat, shrimp and tomatoes; the salad was arranged geometrically straight from cooking 101. However, the salad had wonderful flavor which brought out the sweetness of the crab and shrimp. It reminded me of the dressing from back home on Arnie's hot seafood salad. Looks aren't everything and this ended up being a win.
Eggplant, crab, shrimp etoufee
I opted for an entree of eggplant, crab and shrimp etoufee. The mushy eggplant lent a nice flavor profile and texture but the lack of purple eggplant peel made the color of the dish unappetizing; instead of vibrant red or orange, it was a dull green like tomatillos or green tomatoes.
Dessert was their famous bread pudding with a whiskey sauce… which we soon realized meant it was in practicality, a whiskey cocktail with bread pudding garnish. You could seriously get drunk off of dessert and several friends mentioned that they would not have been able to drive home after consuming it. Imbibe or eat with caution.

Palace Café
Fried and green and saucy
We hit up another famous institution for one of our last meals. I started off with fried green tomatoes with crawfish tails. I love crawdads but the dish was a bit too rich with a creamy sauce and not enough acid to cut into the buttery, creaminess and the fried tomatoes. My main dish was grilled tuna panzanella; the tuna was cooked medium more than medium-rare which is more than what I had desired but the salad was a decent balance to the fish and was light, flavorful with fresh tasting bread croutons and fresh spinach - a rarity in New Orleans. Half of the crew had a bottled beer called the Andygator which apparently was very high in ABV - some sort of local doppelbock that was rich and potent. The Palace Café didn't impress me very much - it was a bit heavy handed and obvious compared to the other places we dined at but we still had a decent meal.
Panzanella salad

Café du Monde
How could I almost neglect to mention Café du Monde? One of my favorite spots in New Orleans and one that only takes cash! Even better, this place is open 24 x 7 which makes it not only a great breakfast and afternoon snack spot but a perfect place to walk to at 3am to sober up and grab a greasy pick-me-up.
There are only two items worth mentioning here:
  • The famous doughnuts which are beignets - fried drops of dough rolled in powdered sugar. They are fresh, warm and amazing with a surprisingly balanced texture - not too airy, not too dense. People snort them up like cocaine along with powdered sugar noses and lips to match.
  • The frozen café au lait - basically a simple but not too sweet frozen blended coffee to balance the warmness of the beignets 
Yes, me and beignets. Sigh.
I love this place. It is affordable, open all-of-the-time and is quaint and comforting. Do not settle for beignets anywhere else until you have had a bite of these.

Sweetbread stuff from Cochon

New Orleans is truly lovely; the people are warm, welcoming and have a great sense of humor and optimism that is rare in places that have been hit  by multiple hardships.  It is a bit like Vegas; you can't stay for too long or else you run yourself into the ground but is still a great place to visit and an even better place to eat at. Unlike Vegas which feels phony and dispassionate, the Big Easy has soul.  Deep passion, love, creativity and spirituality flows around New Orleans and the feeling is infectious. The food is like the music - brassy, bright and rich. Almost too rich at times and definitely lacking in healthy roughage as with the rest of the south but delicious nonetheless. Although I missed vegetables and the lightness of fare back home, I did enjoy the culinary delights and traditions of a great, American, multi-faceted city.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Our faves - Everyday Nosh Joints

We're some serious food fans (at least that's what we told Thierry Rautureau) and our friends often ask us, what's your favorite place in Seattle to eat?  Have you guys found any new and great restaurants?  What's a good place to take our out-of-town guests to that won't be too extravagant?  Good questions - we sort of have a few categories of places where we love to nosh: every day places with amazing and simple food, pricier favorites that are good for a special occassion or a bit of a decadent night out as well as new places we were impressed by and want to explore more of. In this post, we'll explore our favorite everyday places - if you want to eat fantastic food all of the time and don't feel like cooking.

Our staples....

These places are our regulars; these are establishments with dishes that we crave, with a unique or friendly atmosphere and with a little twist to the menu such as spicy surprises, homemade chewy pasta and zippy sauces.  These aren't in particular order because to stack rank them would be sacrilegious. Also, the caveat is that these are not perhaps the most refined restaurants or even the best restaurants of their genre but hey, we love them and think they are awesome-sauce.

1. How to Cook a Wolf
2. Paseo
3. La Carta de Oaxaca
4. Black Bottle
5. Toulouse Petit

How to Cook a Wolf
Hamachi crudo

Not sure how we should start but this place was a fanfreakingtastic addition to the top of Queen Anne. It's a small, blink-and-miss joint nestled on Queen Anne Ave proper but is worth the inevitable wait if you happen to dine on a busy evening. The place is small because it has to be small; the kitchen is tiny!  Your home kitchen may be bigger but the surprise to this place is that there is almost no refrigeration - no giant walk-ins or typical line and prep areas since it is all right in front of you.  While there are some menu staples, my favorite Ethan Stowell restaurant relies on food that is fresh, seasonal and fairly simply and rustically prepared but with unique ingredients and pairings. Their veggies were probably harvested from the farm that morning and their pasta is homemade with that awesome chewy nutiness that only comes from freshly made pasta.  Our favorite is their hamachi crudo - served with a sprinkling of lime, avocado and chiles. The avocado cools the heat of the chiles and the flavors and textures go together wonderfully. Despite its saltiness, the spaghetti with anchovies and chili is another favorite with flavors that remind you of eating at your Italian grandmother's kitchen - that is, if you have an Italian grandma.

Spaghetti with anchovy and chili


We all crave it. Behold the splendor of Paseo which contains the sloppiest of sandwiches that make you greedily and crassly lick your fingers as the garlic juices dribble down your chin! The Caribbean/Cuban flavor profile stuffed into a banh mi is almost inconceivable - can bread can hold such explosive flavors?  Can you get such satisfaction for less than $10? Paseo is quite literally an unadorned red shack on the hill in Fremont with only a few tables and nothing but the wafting aroma and the line of patient people waiting outside to even alert you of its existence.  (Another even smaller shack with no seating has opened in Ballard but we have yet to dine there). Paseo is barely a step up from a street cart but has some of the most amazing food in Seattle - this salad with beets that can make you actually like beets, corn on the cob that is slathered in garlic butter, red beans and rice that make your knees quake and a heap of entrees and the amazing sandwiches that drive you mad. Some people swear by the pulled pork or midnight cuban while I adore the luscious juicy prawn sandwich. The generously sloppy and sauced sauteed onions, the garlic mayo special sauce, the secret baguette - everything about those sandwiches calls to you like a drug addiction until you are too weak to resist. I have Paseo on speed dial. Succumb.

La Carta De Oaxaca

I picked up Nick from the airport one evening after a business trip and he was exhausted and famished after a long and arduous day. He wanted something comforting to eat. Knowing his love of latin cuisine, I naturally took him to La Carta de Oaxaca. I think it saved his day! If you want some authentic Mexican but don't want to crouch in a parking lot where your local taco cart is, come to Ballard. La Carta de Oaxaca is unpretentious but an utterly delicious spot if you're craving flavorful and expertly spiced Oaxacan dishes; you know, the stuff that doesn't come with refried beans and greasy rice. You'll be delighted by the flavors and choices here - comforting posole (pork and hominy stew) or caldo de pescado (fish soup with tortillas), mole negro on tamales or with chicken or pork, fried comfort food like molotes and quesadilla fritas and be-still-my-heart!  Real enchiladas with a fried egg. They have fresh-tasting tacos al pastor or carne asada on homemade tortillas as well and a great salsa bar. This place just plain makes us happy. The prices will make your pocketbook happy as well; we think that the most expensive entree is $10 or maybe $12. If you're from SoCal, it probably doesn't compare to what you can get on the streets of L.A. but it's definitely Seattle-rific.

Black Bottle

Anna kissing her food she loves it so much

If I wanted to open up a restaurant, it might be something similar to Black Bottle; a warm, comfortable place for friends to hang out, share food, share wine and drinks but not have to save up dinero for the excursion. The service at Black Bottle has never been anything less than fantastic for me personally and while the food perhaps isn't the absolute best in Seattle, the total package of this place makes it a fave of ours.  We love the idea of share plates - especially since that's how folks do it in Asia - and our friends usually eat off each other's plates and give bites anyhow. Black Bottle has nice dishes to nibble on with pals and nothing is too expensive for the portions you get to share. Their blasted broccoli is our crack although it is extremely simple to make (roast broccoli tossed in olive oil, sea salt, pepper and a little garlic salt and finish it off in the broiler for a bit of blasting). Some of our friends don't like the dryness of the burnt tops or saltiness of the broccoli but we like the texture of the crispy pieces and the generous seasoning. I enjoy the mussels marseille-style even if Nick doesn't like shellfish as much and their brie-leek french country flatbread is simple and completely tasty. Plus, their wines are reasonably priced, you can rent out the back for a private party with completely doable and reasonable minimums, and their peach blueberry kettle with fresh cream is so tasty delicious, you'll want to keep that all for yourself. Go ahead and slap that hand and fork away!

We love the peach blueberry kettle tart!

Toulouse Petit

Sure, Toulouse and Pesos can become Jersey Shore-like bars some evenings but you can't deny that these joints have amazing brekkies for hangover recovery. In all seriousness, Toulouse has some fantastic french and cajun-inspired food in this trendy, candle-covered joint. Take it from someone who had a food tour of New Orleans this past year (blog to come): Toulouse isn't that far off despite what NOLA snobs may espouse. Their beignets are definitely pricier and a bit heavier than those at Cafe du Monde but surprisingly come close to the cocaine/powdered sugar fried delights. Their po' boys are tasty and served with a generous heap of frites which have a perfect double-fried texture and crunch. Their menus are so large, you can be lost in the piece of parchment forever trying to decide which dish you'd like (and yes, the fried green tomatoes are lovely) but that gives plenty of options for the picky eaters. Out of their meal options, we probably have explored their breakfast the most; sometimes we both order the Eggs Forestiere because that mushroom, herb, asparagus and gruyere scramble is perfectly done. Also, their eggs benedict menu is as expansive and delicious as Pesos' options and well... there are those beignets...
Biscuits and eggs forestiere


Stop whining. We know that there are a few other everyday joints that we love that are missing. Umi, Serious Pie, Kaosami Thai and Thai Tom or the best late night soak up place that we may not otherwise eat at during the day - Purple Dot.  We could live off of the cajunized tater tots at any McMenamins chain. Brouwers has great frites and I crave the verde veg burger at the Red Mill. We adore these places too but as in High Fidelity, we could only pick our top five. We were pretty torn up too but just want you to enjoy those places - you'll be happy you're part of the few who read our blog.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

You give us Hannah Montana??

Seattle is the land of music. Correction. Seattle is the land of awesome music and I'm not just talking about Nirvana and Sir Mix A Lot. The Puget Sound region birthed and nutured acts such as Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, Soundgargen, Queensryche, Heart, Alice in Chains and Jimi Hendrix as well as being a great city for independent and emerging musical acts from folk to jazz to rap - not to mention the incredible Seattle Symphony (and the fact that we have a multitude of other talented community orchestras) and the Seattle Opera which is one of the few opera companies brave enough to offer Wagner's Ring Cycle.

So tell me why. Why????? A 'why' that's wailed like Nancy Kerrigan screeched after getting clubbed in the leg... why did Microsoft decide to open up the first regional Microsoft Company store with Miley Cyrus?

Don't we have better taste than to celebrate a grand opening and a proud achievement with horrible teen-pop? I understand that the purpose of the store is to reach the general audience and provide them with access to Microsoft supported hardware and software - parents, kids, teens and those of us who don't drool over TigerDirect clearances and have their own SQL implementations in their garages. I get it. I also understand that some of our staple Microsoft-Geek bands like the Presidents of the United States of America or Harvey Danger may not draw the audience and buzz for the target market.
If I had my druthers, the store would be opening with a BFG-type band or at least a hip up and comer such as the Black Keys or Ghostland Observatory. Nonetheless, even if we're going to go pop instead of something a bit more cool and under the radar, I'd be happy with the Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna, Pink, or Maroon 5 or a a musical act that spans different age ranges and can put on an impressive show.  Doesn't Microsoft have the feeling that tonight is gonna be a good night since they are opening a new store?  Don't you need your Umbrella-ella-ella in the Pac Northwest after all?

The constant gray mist and the dark of the Seattle area fosters SAD in addition to the deep longing and aching that cultivates music genres we're known for such as the blues, grunge and emo music. Another explanation of why music and arts are so good here is because studies have shown that feeling sad makes us more creative. Sigh. Miley does make you want to slit your wrists so perhaps she fits in after all.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday Supper Club

We started a tradition this year we affectionately call, "Family Dinner." We tend to have long, stressful weeks and cut loose on Friday and Saturday - what better than to relax and decompress with friends over food, wine and Sunday night football to finish off the week and start the next week renewed?

The point is that we get to hang out and enjoy each other's company at least one night of the week. Eating out and ordering pizza is not considered faux pas. However, it's also a great opportunity to develop entertaining and culinary skills. Nick and I sometimes take that very seriously.

One of the first forays into family dinner, Nick decided to use his new knife and do something simple but delicious.


Met Market had these gorgeous heirloom tomatoes so we thought that simple tomatoes drizzled with oil would be a nice starter along with crusty bread to sop up the extra oil.

Entrée and Sides

Nick made a spaghetti dish with Dungeness crab, mint and chilies. Now this either sounds heavenly to you or a bit weird but the mint incorporated in the dish cools off the heat of the chilies and balances well with the sweetness of the crab and saltiness of the shaved parm heaped on top. It's simple, delicious but with complex enough flavors to be interesting. For sides, he had heirloom carrots drizzled with a honey vinaigrette and roasted beets with a sauce made from the carrot tops.


I made a peanut butter, chocolate banana cream pie. It had a tasty vanilla wafer cookie crust with layers of chocolate pudding/mousse, peanut butter cream, bananas, whipped cream topped with toasted walnuts and crumble. I think it was going to be normal banana cream pie but someone requested chocolate to be added. Very easy to make since I used storebought pudding mix instead of homemade pudding and also delicious and homey-tasting.

Takeaway? We learned that our friends are f-ing picky.

Some people don't like bananas. Some don't eat raw tomatoes or essentially tomatoes that aren't in sauce or ketchup form. A bunch of our friends can't eat spicy food and are a 1 or 2 star in thai food ordering-speak. Many of our friends have fungi aversions and aren't fan of mushrooms while others do not eat seafood. Vince is allergic to shrimp. A few friends of mine are gluten intolerant. A few other friends (who haven't come to family dinner) are not adventurous with food at all. It turned out that the vegetarians tend to be the least picky (aside from Nick and Skyeward), funny enough.

I thought it was funny to have a chart of allergies, food aversions and general pickiness for our friends although some pals were not amused.

The next supper club, we made a taco bar. Easy to add what you want and not add tomatoes if you hate raw tomatoes. The food was gorgeous, fun and delicious but unfussy; the real takeaway was that we decided to rethink our approach to family dinner and not to be as experimental or different unless we have the right audience to eat our food. And we've since had delicious dinners cooked by Tiff, Beth and Vince, delicious desserts by Bernadette as well as more meals cooked by Nick and I.
I encourage you to start your own supper club with friends as an informal way to practice cooking, entertaining or just a relaxing way to end your week even if you're having beers and pizza or takeout thai food. Or if you're a friend of mine, come join us by hosting family dinner or asking to be invited! Enjoying food together is amazing but just being together is the key.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Well, that clears things up...

Foodie culture needs the occasional moment of levity. Sometimes we tend to take our passions too seriously. Or not seriously enough, as in this case, when the Food Network published a Rachel Ray recipe for "Late Night Bacon." Apparently adding the modifier "Late Night" makes it more...I don't know...mysterious. But no, it's just boring ol' bacon. Here's the recipe:

Not this isn't pretty funny in its own right, but the commentary really brings it. Please check it out now before the Food Network gets wise and pulls it down:

- "Rachel, I happen to know for a fact that you stole this recipe from my father. It's the EXACT same recipe he's been making for years. Did you really think you could get away with this? You'll be hearing from our lawyer." 

- "Hi Rachel Ray,
I have a huge dilemma. I love, love, love bacon and your recipe sounds DELICIOUS! But I'm just can't stay up until "late nite". What do I do???!!! Can you please urgently post a morning or preferably a mid to late morning bacon recipe? Thanks!"

- "I was really hoping to combine this scrumptious recipe with some toast, but I can't find the recipe anywhere on the Food Network. Rachel, please help me...if you know how." 

- "Do you have any recipes for cereal? The kind in a box? I really like cereal, but it seems tricky- milk first? cereal? big spoon? little spoon?"  

- "Tried this recipe last night. The bacon was great, but the paper towels tasted awful." 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fall Rumblings #4: Mistral Kitchen

Hamachi crudo art
This blog will by far be the prettiest post to date thanks to our food photographer, Vincent Chu.  All the lavish praise on how lovely the photos look should be heaped on him - although I take credit for reminding him to bring his camera to capture the evening.  Vince happened to be one of our friends dining with us that evening along with our friend Tiffany, who is a notoriously picky eater and had chosen to dine at Mistral Kitchen since its menu was Tiff-friendly.

I had such high hopes for Mistral, which is a re-opened Seattle favorite with a wonderfully lovely and French sounding name. Mistral used to be in Belltown sort of where the new Buckley's is today and I had heard it was a hidden jewel of poised elegance in Belltown and heard nothing but rave reviews about it. Lo and behold, the chef, William Belickis decided that Seattlites aren't into fancy food and fancy atmospheres so he closed it up and opened Mistral Kitchen on Westlake between South Lake Union and the Downtown area thereafter with a casual experience in mind.

The reviews mentioned that there would be foam. I was excited. Foam used to remind me of - well, disgusting and dirty frat parties and while it is apparently overused in the culinary world, is fairly absent in Seattle where we are pretentious but pretentious against the pretentious.  Re:public had some delicious foam on a pasta dish and I was hoping Mistral Kitchen would feature some molecular gastronomy and some sous vide for me.

The Service

I had to mention it. We were feeling slightly obnoxious and definitely friendly so we told our waiter that we blogged out food and would be blogging about him should his behavior not be up to par. He said his name was Blair, nevermind Sergio to which I promptly joking that I was done with him since he treats me like a rag doll.  But Blair/Sergio was delightful - he had great recommendations, explained things really well, including the branzino that wasn't your typical branzino.  He joked, he laughed, he asked if we were ok and when we brought up pretty personal questions about ourselves, he doled out advice and made fun of us (in a sweet and humorous  manner). Also, all throughout the night, our water glasses were always filled, tables were cleared in between courses of everything down to the silverware (as it should be) and dishes were always served together.  Excellent service.


Most of us ordered the hamachi crudo which I had to go for since the crudo at the Ethan Stowell joints are among my favorite dishes.  The presentation was lovely - like art with a single piece adorned with a bunch of delicate micro-greens, julienned grapefruit and other pretty things.  It tasted delicate but it was a little difficult getting all of that pretty, teensy stuff on one forkful in order to get a flavorful bite.  While it had a nice balance of acid and fat, I prefer the Stowell servings of crudo which are a blend of chic, flavor and functionality - especially the hamachi crudo with chiles, lime, oil and salt. Perhaps comparing isn't fair but the How To Cook a Wolf reference in my taste memory made me slightly disappointed with this offering. I tried Tiff's parsnip soup with vanilla oil and found the texture to be a bit off and the flavors boring.


Uninspired. That's all I can say about what was served to us. No foams, no creativity, no something creamed that never is, or something spicy that usually isn't, or French plus a Northwest twist like wasabi or yuzu or nettle.  Not to say that the meal was bad because it wasn't.  It just wasn't exciting and nothing to get your panties in a bunch over.  I had the branzino which wasn't the whole fish but rather a fillet. It was well cooked although the dish was a little underseasoned for my taste and was served with heirloom Romanesco cauliflower which is a light green type of cauliflower that tastes like normal cauliflower but looks like a Pokemon.  It was just cooked - no roasting or tossing in garlic or whatnot.  Overall the dish was lemony and herby but that’s pretty much how a very classic piece of fish is served.  Everyone else had the beef which I thought may have a twist. While cooked nicely, it was also a blend of lovely but mundane served on parsnip puree with some kale. Nothing scintillating there.


This was the least disappointing course of the evening!  Props to Pastry Chef Neil Robertson for doing interesting stuff. Most of us had a chocolate coffee pudding which featured a boozy bourbon cream. I loved it; it wasn't boring pudding, had some texture and had a surprise with the bourbon whipped cream on top. Tiff had an apple cream puff which was also magically delicious.  Perhaps not their most inspired desserts compared to their website menu but the flavors were solid.
I wished and hope and clasped my hands and clicked my heels together but Mistral was a bit of a letdown.  I think instead of featuring a smattering of unique and festive dishes that would punch diners in the face and tell them about the restaurant, the courses were well-cooked and presented in lovely ways but were pedestrian. Instead of showcasing their talent, I felt as if Chef Belickis were talking down to us as if the cheap jerks who go to Restaurant Week wouldn't understand fancy food.  Well, Mistral Kitchen, I don't pay fancy prices for the prosaic.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fall Rumbings #3: Joule

Ready for our Physics lesson. Get it!? Joule!? *crickets*

Last night, we had the pleasure of dining at Joule, a Korean/French/American fusion joint in the Wallingford neighborhood. Joining us were my old friends from college, Grant and Melissa Williams, and our new friends Steve and Michelle Strub. Grant and Melissa are no stranger to my feable attempts at culinary greatness, and were brave enough to join me for the very first Sunday Supper Club.

I've passed Joule numerous times, and always found myself beelining it to the posted menu. They have carved out a very specific niche of cuisine that combines the tradition and rich flavors of French cooking with bold sweetness and spice found in Korean food. I was exposed to Korean food very early on in my life, and grew up on staples like bibimbop and bulgogi. And French cuisine has lately been my north star; I've found myself using those foundational flavors and takes on the mother sauces much more. So really, this stuff should be right in my wheelhouse.


Roasted Asian Pear Bisque
w/ Brussel Sprouts and Smoked Chili

By far my favorite course of the night. I had roasted asian pear bisque with brussel sprout and smoked chili (A) Warm and elegant, it not overwhelm with sweetness or heat from the chili. The brussel sprout leaves added a nice earthy element, as well as some texture. Full marks for creating something true to form, creative, and seasonally relevant. Ann had sardines over crostini that was solid but somewhat unspectacular. Grant, again braver than the rest of the table, had the beef tongue with thai basil and hot mustard, which to our surprise wasn't chewy/gummy as tongue tends to be, and had a nice pot roast-like texture.


Hawaiian Prawns with Jasmine Grits & Walnut Piccata
For me, the main dish was probably the least inspired course of the night. I had grilled Hawaiian prawns over jasmine rice "grits" and walnut piccata (C+). The prawns were nicely cooked, and pulled apart easily, but the grits and walnut piccata were very one-note. Perhaps there needed to be more piccata in my dish, but I did not get the variety of flavors that I was expecting. It wasn't bad by any means, but it didn't blow wind up my skirt either. I was just...whelmed. My partner in crime had grilled matsutakes on sticky rice with pine nut agrodolce which she promptly devoured, but wasn't terribly excited about. Rounding out the entrees was a kalbi with parsnip puree and pickled chantrelles, which I think had the best plate appearance of anything we saw that night. The kalbi was very tender, but a little fatty for our collective tastes. 

Kalbi with Parnsip Puree & Pickled Chantrelles

Fusion desserts, I imagine, can be tricky. You have a lot of creative license to push boundaries and experiment. In this case, the more aggressive desserts proved out, while a traditional offering fell flat on it's face. I quickly inhaled my bittersweet chocolate bread pudding with chili marshmallow (B+), which was more like a molten chocolate cake than bread pudding. Really, only the bottom third of the dish would I consider to be the consistency of a bread pudding as I understand it. And the chili marshmallow didn't stand out in the dish as much as I wanted. I was hoping for some heat, the same type you get when you bite into a Theo Spicy Chili chocolate bar. But never-the-less, I was a Hungry Hungry Hippo and that dessert was a small white plastic ball. Ann polished off her baked apple with ginger crumble with five spice cream, which was tasty and quite potent. The five spice stood out against the tartness of the apple and earthy sweetness of ginger. As for Grant (poor Grant), he had what we all agreed was the worst dish of the night. A very simple blue cheese with roasted dates and chestnut honey . It's a simple type of dessert that restauranteurs like Ethan Stowell champion, but this was just too powerful. The cheese was disporportionately pungent, and the chestnut honey left a burnt nutty coating in your mouth that was highly obnoxious. It was like an unwanted house guest, on our tongue, overstaying its welcome.

Chocolate Bread Pudding w/
Chili Marshmallow

Overall, Joule offers a lot to casual restaurant-goers that are looking for something outside the box. I wish there were more restaurants like Joule that push conventional cuisine aside for aggressive flavors. And even though the occasional cheese dessert may rear its ugly head, I have a strong suspicion there are some wonderfully exciting dishes yet to emerge from this Wallingford hotspot.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall Rumblings #2: Poppy

We're happy to say that we didn't have the Wizard of Oz result and fall asleep due to Poppy - or poppies.  Instead, we had happy and full tummies and were awash in a happy opiate-like stupor after dinner.

I'm sometimes wary of Eastern-inspired restaurants; they tend to be expensive, small-portioned versions of their authentic counterparts with weird fusion ideas that lack the soul and spice that makes ethnic food wonderful.  For example, I'm not a fan of the overpriced Wild Ginger.  Fancy Asian food made upscale by being served on a square plate?  I'd rather go to the local international district, spend $10 bucks and have an amazing meal.

I was surprised and delighted that Jerry Traunfeld's Cap Hill restaurant was not directly Indian inspired but rather was inspired by the "thali" which is a platter served to diners holding a bunch of small dishes that comprise of a main entrée. It reminded me of when you go to a Korean restaurant and get a bunch of small bowls and plates with delicious sides to go with your main dish. Traunfeld is a Top Chef Master alum, James Beard award winner of "Best American Chef: Northwest and Hawaii"  and former exec chef at the Herbfarm so we knew he had pedigree but more importantly, would know how to embrace seasonal and local ingredients.

Apparently we had a bit of a reservation time snafoo and more time means cocktail time!  We started out with unique cocktails; the ladies had a shiso-cucumber-gin cocktail that was refreshing and crisp while the men had tasty, classic Boston sours - frothed egg whites included.  Kudos to the bartender!


How can you choose with all of these options?
Poppy has one of the more ambitious restaurant week menus, offering plenty of choices for our dining group of 6. All of the appetizers sounded wonderful and delicate so we asked our server for some advice.  I had the batada wada, which were round, spiced potato fritters with an aromatic and light dipping sauce.  They were delicious, delicate and echoing of Indian; crisp on the outside, spiced and creamy on the inside with that hint of cumin.  I wanted more than just the three small pieces.  Nick had the blue cheese, cherry and sage tart which was almost too delicate to be a tart and seemed more like a cocktail party appetizer than a first course.  Steve had the poached oysters which he gobbled up quickly while everyone else had the fritters.

The cod thalis
The scallop and pork belly thali
There were so many thali options, we were staring at the bright red menus for a very long time.  We adored the lovely presentation of the thalis when they came - they were on these heavy round platters with an overwhelming abundance of small dishes  some of which were: picked burdock root, either a pumpkin soup or a tomato cinnamon soup, celery walnut salad, a gratin, roasted fingerling potatoes , roasted brussel sprouts,  radicchio and pumpkin seed salad and a small piece of flaky buttery naan for all.  Sara and Angela weren't fans of the radicchio salad or the burdock root but my palate is probably a little more used to pickled things and I thought that burdock root was crisp and delicious.  Nick loved his roasted brussel sprouts.  The pumpkin soup was silky instead of a chunky bisque and was flavorful and delicious - especially when you dunked a piece of naan bread into it.  Onto to main entrée now...

The risotto thali
I had the black cod with beet-wasabi vinaigrette which was visually stunning; white fish against a contrast of bright fuchsia liquid.  It was a feast for the eye as well as the palate; the cod was perfectly cooked so each layer of fish was silky and soft.  It was lightly seasoned and the vinaigrette added subtle flavor - not overwhelming.  Nick had an autumn risotto which was a little too watery and slightly undercooked and under-seasoned for his taste. Steve opted for scallops and pork belly; the scallops had a nice sear and texture.


Again, the menu options were a bit overwhelming. I asked the server for his favorite dessert and my compadres joked that he recited whatever desserts were selling poorly rather than his favorites; he exclaimed that the goat cheese pudding was unusual but was his favorite and that he also loved the licorice chip ice cream which had herbal, anise notes instead of licorice candy.  Most of the dinner party opted for a malted chocolate sundae while Steve had a chocolate terrine and I took the server's suggestion and had the goat cheese pudding.   The sundae was pretty and served in a martini glass but wasn't anything extraordinary. Steve's chocolate terrine however was a knockout; it was small but featured rich layers of chocolate and served with candied ginger to add some spice.  While the presentation of my goat cheese pudding with mint and figs was a little boring (see photo), the flavors were really good. The texture of the pudding was creamy and rich with a hint of honey; the figs and mint added some zest and texture that worked well with the creaminess of the pudding.   It was different and I enjoyed it immensely.

 Poppy surprised me! All of the servers were extremely knowledgeable and the flavors of the food were fresh, seasonal and spiced.  We didn't travel to Oz or the exotic spice markets of India; we had some great autumnal food and wonderful company in our own backyard.