Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Future of food

Ann and I have reservations in two weeks for Moto in Chicago. For those not familiar with Moto, they are doing some seriously cutting edge stuff with cuisine. And I'm not just talking about doing foams or powders. They make edible menus. Sandwiches that look like cigars. They cut their food with a Class IV laser (the type you'd find in a NASA lab).

Here's a video of head chef Homaru Cantu and pastry chef Ben Roche talking about what's next for food at TED conference in Chicago. Awesome, awesome stuff.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

More Reveling in Revel

An addendum...

Eating with groups is fun but it really sucks as well. It is hard getting reservations for 8 people at the last minute in Seattle at any good restaurant. We called around and it was incredibly difficult getting any traction an hour ahead of time. That is, until we remembered to call Revel. 8 people at 8:30pm?  Done.

Nick and I got to the restaurant early, going in the main entrance this time but heading straight to Quoin for some cocktails. I think Quoin will be my new neighborhood bar; it's a charcoal gray contrast to the stark white Revel, has sumptuous industrial-chic lightning and delicious cocktails. I sipped Nick's evo manhattan with its rich, complex rhubarb flavors complementing the bourbon and my light, refreshing Quoin 75 - a version of a French 75 with Cynar and Hendricks. Amidst the bottles behind the bar were these giant jars of marinating liquid; a quick glance at the drink menu told us that they were shojus infused with either hibiscus, meyer lemon, lemongrass or oranges. Try the lemongrass margarita - it is lighter, cleaner and crisper than the heaver than its sugary, fake-tasting sister often found at Azteca. But the best part was Brady - a man's man bartender who floated around making drinks quickly but with ease, all the while chatting us up. He had a very light touch, a sweet smile and amiable attitude that made you want to eat and hang out in the bar instead of the restaurant. When we left, he shook our hands and told us to hang out in the bar with him next time. Definitely, Brady.

The food was something else. We basically ordered one of everything on the menu but skipping the salads and added one of each ice cream sandwich desserts, plus on average, two or three drinks each. The bill for 8? Including tip, about $40 each. Bananas. Group dining is the way to go.

Shrimp pancake left, potato pancake right
We ate everything family style and dished out bites onto everyone's plates. We tried all three of the korean-style pancakes: pork belly, shrimp and edamame and chive and potato. All were crisply fried without being greasy but our favorites were the pork belly and potato; the shrimp and edamame one was too light on shrimp and heavy on the starchy edamame. Their steak special with bacon and broccoli rabe was a hit with a good balance of powerful flavors that allowed the food to sing. And the dumplings! Crispy pan-fried with house made wrappers had deep flavors; the short-rib filled dumplings were gone in 60 seconds. The earl gray ricotta ones were rich and perfumey with bergamot but balanced out with the sauce and pecans so it didn't stray too sweet. I prefer my dumplings to either be steamed or lightly pan-fried so you have a seared and chewy texture but Revel's were more on the crispy-side. Folks lapped up the duck meatball noodle soup which was nothing but a pile of garnish and soggy noodles all too soon. The clam and zucchini soup had those green house-made shaven noodles reminding me of Shanghai Garden; a thick chewy al dente noodle swimming in a delicate clam-juicey broth. One of my favorite dishes was the tuna rice bowl: a beep bim bap of seared tuna, kimchi, veggies and a perfectly cooked, runny egg in the middle to spread its yolky goodness around. My only complaint is because they are catering to the masses, their kimchi is not as pungent as I'd prefer. But I suppose that's good for everyone else and for the couple sitting next to us on a first date. A stinky kimchi kiss?  Not so much.

Dumplings ahoy!
Dessert was simple but elegant at the same time but our recommendation is to go for the pound cake. It was the most unassuming of the ice cream sandwich trio and I would have ignored it on the menu entirely if we had not ordered all three options. You can get pound cake from Sara Lee at safeway and put ice cream on it - boring, right?  *Alarm buzzing sound here* Wrong! The pound cake triangles were sandwiching a complex but subtle coffee ice cream made more sinfully delicious by the addition of milk jam on the side. The milk jam was this carmelly sweet dulce de leche that is sure to be my new crack at some point once I've figured out how to make it... We asked our awesome server Dale what it was and he assured us it was only cooked sweetened condensed milk that carmelized and cracked so it would form burnt sugar crystals within the milk caramel. Heavenly. The maracoon ice cream sandwiches had rich notes of the toasted coconut and kaffir lime but each mararoom was a bit thick and heavy compared to the ice cream it was sandwiching. The chocolate chip sandwiches packed a surprising afterburn with chili infused chocolate sauce. All of the ice cream sandwich desserts were lick-the-plate-clean good and we all had nibbled the last crumbs away as we continued to chat. After dinner, we were happy with happy little bellies. 

I've read those Yelp reviews on Revel. Many that start out stating why someone was qualified to make a real review and then proceed to rip on the restaurant, mostly about the service. But Nick and I can unequivocally tell you that both times we were here, we have had nothing but excellent service from people who seemed to want to ensure we had a wonderful experience. How else do we know the servers and bartenders and cook's names? There were people to greet us as we got there and ready to thank us as we left. Dale didn't bat an eye at splitting the check 8 ways by credit card and Brady didn't get flustered with a ton of drink orders came his way and he got behind; he apologized to the servers and spoke to folks at the bar to provide a status update - not sure what else I needed other than a, "Your drink will be right up in a moment."

My full plate of good stuff
As for the food: it wasn't cheap by any means but it wasn't expensive either since the priciest dish will set you back $14 or $15. I'm not sure why people get hung up on $9 dumplings when they would pay for $15 worth of calamari or $10 for a quesadilla as a starter... You can go to Chinatown for cheaper food but you don't get chorizo or earl gray ricotta in your dumplings or braised pork belly in your ramen washed down by a manhattan dotted with rhubarb.

Like we said, it's new and ironing out the kinks but we had an enjoyable experience. The only reason I wouldn't recommend it is if you will all crowd it too much and I won't be able to get a seat... In that case, please go away and check out the taco cart across the way...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Revel in Asiany Goodness

Want to eat at a restaurant that's probably going to be amazing but want to be so cool that you eat there before everyone else does? Then, when the place becomes incredibly popular and everyone else has to wait two hours to get in, you get to walk by on the street and say, "Oh I've been going to that place for forever. Yeah, their ramen is amazing. Sorry that you'll need to wait a couple of more hours to experience it. Tell Chef Rachel hi for me."

Perhaps that was a little exaggeration, but Revel in Fremont is going to be a hit; it's a casual Asian-fusion comfort food joint with a menu reminiscent of the Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York. (Think East meets West in the best way - homage to the East with incredible Western ingredients here and there). Nick had been following the restaurant's development for a while and as soon as it opened a week ago, he has been clamoring to try it out. One morning, when we were trying to figure out where we wanted to eat for brunch, Nick suggested that we try Revel.

Revel was started by Chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chrichi of Joule fame.  It's a very Fremont-appropriate urban spin-off of Joule across the street from Kaosamai; it's open with a giant counter by an open kitchen, nondescript from the outside but chic, minimalist and hip on the inside with white walls splashed with local pop art. Nick and I entered through the bar Quoin and weren't even sure it was open at first since we couldn't see into the restaurant area.

The folks working the line were warm and friendly; they greeted us immediately once we were seated at the counter. However, with the exception of Rachel, we could tell that the chefs were still being trained and were still learning the menu. The waitstaff was courteous and accommodating, but hadn't fully explored the menu yet, telling us that it had only been their second day serving brunch.

We later learned that the day before, an excavator outside had struck their water main so they had to stop brunch service until the situation could get fixed by public utilities. They apologized and let us know that technically we were dining on the first full day of brunch service. It's okay. We like being guinea pigs if we get to experience the beginnings of great food.

Their menu was concise but everything sounded lovely: Korean hangover soup with blood pudding, chocolate and kumquat pancakes, eggs, bacon, scallion hash browns and toast. Nick opted for the pork belly kimchi ramen and I had the kitchy shrimp egg foo young with thai basil. He was in love with the ramen. The noodles were housemade, the broth was rich, the pork belly fact I'll him discuss the dish himself:

"I've been a noodle slut lately. Maybe it's been the back-back head colds, or just the general dreariness of January in the Northwest, but all I freaking want most days is a big bowl of noodles. I've been making a ton at home, usually dressed down versions of Momofuku's ginger-scallion noodles.

The kimchi ramen with soft egg and pork belly sounded perfect to me this cold Sunday morning. Earthy, elemental, with the right amount of heat and sweetness to pair against the deep savory broth and egg yolk. Loved the three thin slabs of pork belly, falling apart between my chopsticks. And a nice trio of mise garnish: uniform sliced scallion, nori and sliver-thin ginger. I could literally have that every morning for the rest of winter, and be completely content (not to mention, about 20 lbs overweight)."

Nick's "I want to eat this every day" ramen
Egg Foo Young Omelet
My egg foo young was tasty with perfectly cooked prawns and was smothered in a savory oyster-style sauce although I would have liked the eggs to be either a bit more well cooked or creamier and fluffier rather than wet. An arugula salad adorned the omelet to help cut the richness and saltiness of the sauce.  Another perfect addition to this would have been a little pan-seared crispy rice cake and I regret not giving them that feedback. Their lunch and dinner menu seemed delicious and I wish I could have had a smidgin of the food on it. That menu listed amazing things that my friend Skye would cook: korean-style savory pancakes, dumplings and tuna rice bowls. Comforting stuff with yummy ingredients like green onions and shortribs just like mama Skye would make.

Our suggestion?  Try it now but don't hold any grudges against it yet.  It was blatantly obvious that they were still working out the kinks. Everything we experienced including service and food was promising although not yet perfected. But if you wait for the joint to be straightened out a bit, you may have to wait in a long line. Might as well get yourself a cocktail.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

New year, new obsessions

I hate new year's resolutions. Don't do them.

Perhaps it's my fiery yet fleeting, Aries-like nature (I was told by not one, but two teachers, that I was "very much an Aries"...still not sure that was a compliment).

It's something I'm trying very hard to fight. This blog was created to not only channel and document my passions, but hold me accountable to them as well. For me, writing a blog is not about having a soapbox; it's about having a leash. Something that tethers you to your true passions, and doesn't let you stray too far in search of the sparkly and new.

But that's not to say that my interests shouldn't evolve over time. So in honor of 2011's arrival, here's a short list of things that are my current obsessions:

Momofuku Cookbook - I picked up this cookbook over the Thanksgiving weekend while in Portland. It's the best cookbook I've ever read. And that's not hyperbole. David Chang's straightforward approach to cooking interesting food, that draws influence from all over Asia, has catapulted him and the Momofuku empire to the top of the NYC restuarant heirarchy. It's cuisine without pretense.

Much of the cookbook is accesible even to the most basic cook. Try making the ginger scallion noodles. It's an incredibly simple recipe that is 10:2:1 ratio of scallions:ginger:grapeseed oil, with a little sherry and soy and salt. Add to ramen. That's it. Make it over and over, tweaking your approach each time. Add a fried egg. Add some braised pork. Add blanched bok choi, or blasted cauliflower/brocolli. Experiment! Just remember to bring mints AND brush your teeth will have some pretty harsh breath.

Pho - It's my new go-to lunch meal. It's warm and comforting, and you can play with the components based on how you're feeling that day. It may have to do that I date a wonderful Vietnamese woman that has shown me the light, because I did not appreciate pho in the way I do now. I just feel good after I have a bowl.

Girl Talk's new album, All Day - RIAA went to DEFCON 2 when this album hit a few months ago. The record is completely comprised of samples from approximately 70-80 hit songs, from the last 5 decades. I can't stop listening to this Frankenalbum, that features such manic mixes of Big Boi over Portishead's Sour Times, or Ludacris set to Phoenix's 1901.

Tapioca - I did not realize how versatile tapioca pearls can be until I recently saw a Top Chef contestant make a chilied tapioca dish. Now I want to mix it with all sorts of sauces to provide an interesting texture.

No Age's latest, Everything in Between - Solid record...give it a listen.