Friday, November 30, 2007

Post Thanksgiving Meal

Ok, so this is crazy belated, but felt it was fitting following up Athos' Thanksgiving article. The day after our Thanksgiving meal, I wanted something light so I decided to make a soup and salad...and yes Bania, this is a meal (obscure Seinfeld reference). Here's what I decided to make.

Menu
1) Butternut squash soup
2) Persimmon, goat cheese, and caramelized onion salad
3) Tortilla alla Jose Andres

Butternut Squash Soup
Decided to make some butternut squash soup, since it's filling and fits the season. The ginger and cinnamon bring a nice holiday feel to the soup. It's a nice combo of sweet, savory, rich, and spicy. Don't finish the seeds since they're crazy addicting to eat. Goes great with some nice garlic bread.

Ingredients
1 butternut squash
1 box organic chicken broth
4 cloves garlic minced
1/2 sweet onion diced (Maui or Vidalia)
ground ginger
ground cinnamon
organic honey
salt and pepper
Worcestershire sauce
extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Greek yogurt per bowl
yellow pepper hot sauce

1) Peel and cube the butternut squash. Remove seeds and the stringy stuff from squash with a spoon.
2) Set a large heavy pot over medium heat with olive oil. Sautee the seeds and stringy stuff for about 5-10 minutes.
3) Pour a quarter of the chicken broth into the put. Set over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, simmer for 20 minutes.
4) Strain the stringy stuff and seeds into another container/bowl. Make sure to extract all the stringy stuff into the container...the strainer should just have seeds left.
5) Dry the seeds with a paper towel and put in a tray. Add salt, pepper, and a little Worcestershire sauce. Bake the seeds 350 degrees for about 10-15 minutes until seeds get crunchy like popcorn. Check though and make sure it doesn't burn.
6) In the original pot, sautee onion over medium heat until soft. Make sure it doesn't get really brown. Add garlic and sautee for 30 seconds.
7) Add all the butternut squash. Add the infused broth and some more broth so it barely covers the squash. Add 1 tablespoon ginger and 1 tablespoon cinnamon, salt and pepper, and 2 tablespoons honey.
8) Bring the squash to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste 10 minutes in and add more spices/honey to your liking. Take off the heat and rock the stick blender to puree until smooth.
9) Ladle some soup in the bowl. Add the yogurt on top - you can do a swirl presentation if you like and add the hot sauce. Sprinkle some seeds on top. Buono appetito!


Persimmon, Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Salad
I like salads and I really enjoy adding fruits to them. Persimmon is an Asian fruit that tastes like candy - actually people say a cross between a date and plum. The savory cheese and onion combo offset the sweet persimmons and the vinegary sauce plus the crunchy walnuts. Also, goes great with the garlic bread.

Ingredients
8 persimmons, cut into 1/8ths
1 1/2 sweet onion thinly sliced (same from salad above)
goat cheese
Walnuts
salt and pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
large box of organic mixed salad greens

1) Set pan over medium hight heat and add olive oil. Caramelize onions for about 20 minutes, make sure not to burn them. Set onions aside when finished.
2) Combine equal parts olive oil and vinegar. And toss the salad with the dressing. As usual, the dressing should not drench the greens. Add, walnuts, goat cheese, and persimmons. Salt and pepper.
3) When plating make sure to add a bit of everything (walnuts, cheese, persimmons, onions) on the base of greens.


Tortilla alla Jose Andres
So, I got Jose Andre's phenomenal looking Tapas book, but have not made anything yet. Figured it was a great time to make a side dish. This dish is all about taking the potato chip and transforming it back to it's roots (terrible pun included). This didn't come out as great as I thought it would probably because I didn't follow the recipe at all - came out very dry. I updated the ingredients to have more eggs, add onions and yogurt, and also cook at a higher heat. Flavor is great though with the egg, potato, sweet onion, and rich yogurt.

Ingredients
Large bag of good chips (I used 5.4 oz Dirty Brand chips)
Caramelized onions (you can use some from the above salad)
Greek yogurt
10 eggs
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil

1) Add chips and 8 eggs to a bowl. Stir the eggs and chips together until chips are completely incorporated. Let sit for 5 minutes. Add 2 more eggs afterwards and stir up some more. Salt and pepper.
2) Set large non stick pan over medium high heat with lots of olive oil. When pan is hot, add egg mixture and stir together for 3-5 minutes until it starts coagulating.
3) Start removing the egg from the edges. Eggs in the middle should still be runny. When the eggs are set at the bottom, take a plate and invert the egg onto the plate. Put the egg back and cook on the other side for about another 3 minutes.
4) Put eggs on a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice into wedges. Place wedge on a plate and top with yogurt and caramelized onions.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gobble II, Part 2

Note - I tried uploading pictures in the blog, but Blogger.com is having technical issues now. Pics are at the bottom in a slideshow. Be sure to click on the slideshow to see captions. Click on it again to see larger pictures.

Okay, it’s Thanksgiving, and it’s the big cooking day of the year for people all around the country. I have company, so it’s all eyes on me. Since it’s a gorgeous 70 degree day in Washington, D.C., I decided to grill eggplant and fry the turkey outside. Gotta love doing this stuff in shorts and sandals in a November.

Grilled Eggplant with Ham & Cheese

I got this recipe from my cousin in Miami. He has been through so many hurricanes that knock out the power for weeks at a time, resulting in him being a master griller. He grilled up some eggplant/ham/cheese things a couple months ago, so I tried my attempt. I call it a success. Here’s what you need:

Eggplant
Sliced ham
Mozzarella cheese (skim or whole, whatever you like – I did skim shredded or whole – I had shredded this time, but I liked slicing it better)
Olive oil
Salt (I used Kosher)
Black pepper (I used fresh ground)

Preheat the grill. I used medium-low.

Slice the eggplant so that you have round pieces. The thickness should be between 1/8 inch to ¼ inch. Lay them out, drizzle olive oil and dust with salt and pepper. Do this to both sides. Slice ham and mozzarella cheese (if not shredded) the same size as eggplant slices.

Once the heat is going, lay out the eggplant on the grill leaving room to flip these little guys and not letting them slide through the grating. I cooked them approximately 4 minutes on one side with the cover closed, enough for the decorative lines to burn in. Turn over, and let it grill for 2 minutes with the cover closed. Place pieces of ham on each piece of eggplant, and then add cheese. Close the cover to let it cook some more and for the cheese to melt. Transfer finished product to plate, and enjoy!

Now then, the turkey

First - BE SURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH OIL THE DAY BEFORE!!!

I give you this warning, so you don’t run into my situation this year where you’re driving from place to place to find almost every place is either closed or all out. I was lucky to find a store that had a 3 gallon container, but it was pricey. Normally I can get about 5 gallons for $21, but this was 3 for $25. I didn’t want to spend $50 on oil that I would use once, so I bought the 3 gallon container and hoped that it would work for me.

Let the turkey sit at room temperature for an hour. This is not necessary, but it’ll help cooking so the turkey is not as cold when it goes into the fryer. While the turkey is warming up to room temperature, begin heating the oil. The oil should be between 350 – 370. Note – if you overheat the oil, bring it back down. The oil needs to be a steady 350 – 370. Last year I had the oil at 400 degrees, and I figured the cold turkey would bring down the temperature. It did, but it still resulted in the skin much darker than I wanted, even burnt in some areas, while the inside was partially uncooked.

When the oil has a steady temperature, lower the bird into the pot. SLOWLY. As soon as something comes into contact with the oil, lots of sizzling, bubbling, boiling, noise, splattering, and more happens. It’s best to use gloves while doing this. I even put on some pants in case hot oil splatters onto my legs, but none did.

Once the turkey is fully resting in the oil, kick back, and enjoy the smell that fills the air. Your neighbors may come out and talk to you at that moment, so have some beverages handy in case. I kicked back and typed out this blog, surfed the web, and enjoyed the weather. About every 10 minutes, pick up the turkey a little, and change the movement, just in case the heat is concentrating on one part of the bird. Calculate 3 ½ minutes per pound. I had 11 pounds, so I let it bathe in the oil for about 39 minutes.

When 39 minutes came around, I shut off the flame, and I pulled the turkey out, slowly, to discover a beautifully cooked bird. As you take the turkey off the stand, you hear the crispy skin break off. When you grab a hold of the turkey, the feeling of the crackling outer layer in hands make you want to sink your teeth into it at that moment. Let it sit for about 5 minutes to cool down a bit. It’ll be hard, because as soon as people see it, they immediately begin cracking off pieces of the skin and munching on them like potato chips. And when you cut it, be sure it’s in a tray to catch the juices.

If you like this as much as me, even carving the turkey is enjoyable as you hear the knife pierce through the new coat of armor it’s wearing. As you serve the meat to your guests, you like to watch them smile, almost licking their lips. When those bite into a deep-fried turkey for the first time, and they comment on how much better, and juicier it is than the typical baked, dry turkey like what happened to me, you can sit back and think “mission accomplished.”

Now what the heck are you going to do with several galloons of turkey flavored peanut oil??? =]


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gobble II - Part 1

(This is "II" because I started writing this for another blog last Thanksgiving, but I never included the finished result. Here is the beginning, Part 1, and the ending, Part 2, with edits to reflect this year. Enjoy!)

Gobble. That is exactly what I'm gonna do this Thanksgiving. Turkey Day is at my house, so I am the chef. I prepared the turkey yesterday/Wednesday, so it is sitting in my refrigerator marinating.


I am deep frying the bird this year. Now that I live in the south (Washington, D.C.), I gotta do the southern thAng. Y’all. But it’s not new to me. I did it back when I was up north (Chicago). It was always a big hit. In fact, the last time I did it there, my Father’s friends brought their turkeys over so I can cook them, too! The wonderful thing about deep-frying is the speed. Forget the hours on end in the oven; deep frying will produce a fully cooked bird in LESS than an hour. Oh, and another advantage… the taste! We all had the dry turkey. Those days are over. When you introduce the turkey to oil that is almost 400 degrees, it instantly sears the skin, therefore keeping the juices inside. Not to mention keeping the oil outside, so it’s not unhealthy as you may think when you hear “deep fried.” Well, onto my mission for a successful Thanksgiving. I hope.

First off, I purchased a big-daddy Bayou Classic 44 quart deep fryer at Costco. This thing is bad ass. A man's cooking utensil. Something to interupt tailgating at the SuperBowl for a moment for all to "oohhh" & "aahh."










Everything is a beautiful stainless steel, right down to the injector. This thing is like a hypodermic needle for Frankenstein. It’s so nice, it makes you want to shoot heroin.









Now that I have the fryer, I picked up the propane-filled tank at Home Depot. (Thank God for building one recently that’s practically walking distance to the house.)












Next is the turkey. The typical “family turkey” is about 25 pounds. At least, that’s what I used to buy. I wouldn’t suggest this size for frying; get one no larger than 15 pounds (though this fryer states 25 is the maximum weight). This is because if it’s in the oil too long to cook the inside, the skin will begin to burn and get too dark. And it’s quick to fry, so don’t worry about time if you need/want to cook multiple turkeys like I have in the past. The second time around is actually quicker, since the oil is even hotter. I settled on an 11-pound Butterball.












Now, to prepare…

After washing the bird inside and out, I give it a dry rub a few days before the deep-fry. I used whatever I had in the kitchen, so I used Kosher salt, chili pepper, cumin, Cayenne pepper, Creole seasoning, white pepper powder, nutmeg, onion powder, crushed red pepper, fresh ground black pepper, and Adobo seasoning. (I get this from Latino supermarkets.) This picture reminds me of the days in grade school where if someone is not present, they’re not in the picture, yet there will be a mention of them in the yearbook. I say that because as I was making the rub after I took the picture, I started adding this, and that.







There’s really no wrong way to make a rub, since it’s up to the eaters’ tastes. Too salty or too spicy, maybe, but other than that, pretty much anything goes. I mix it in a bowl, and then I turn the bird upside down. I work the rub into every corner: under the wings, in the neck hole, etc. I turn it back up, and place it in the disposable aluminum turkey pan. I finish rubbing the turkey on top, covering the drumsticks, inserting my hand inside the cavity, etc.









I like to marinate the turkey. I also do this a few days before frying. You do this by injecting marinade into the thick portions of the bird. This year I made the marinade with garlic powder, chili powder, Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, and vegetable oil (again, not all pictured). Some of the marinade spilled out from the holes where I injected it.






















I took out the giblets (this year I only found a neckbone - I wanted the liver, heart, etc. for later, so that's a bummer.), washed down the bird (inside & out), stuck the needle in the bowl, filled up the syringe, and went to work. As you pump marinade into the bird, you will see the skin bubble up as the marinade fills the cavity. I’m like a turkey’s plastic surgeon giving it fat implants. It’s a good feeling.








When I’m finished, I place it on the aluminum tray I picked up at the store, top it off with tin foil, and leave it in my refrigerator until Thanksgiving. If you can't fit it into the fridge, the weather may be cold enough so you can leave it in your garage or outside; it's one of a few things good thing about cold weather - it acts as a refrigerator in case yours is full. Just be careful not to leave it on your deck where animals can get to it like the squirrels did to my friend’s mother’s sweet potato pie one year!












I essentially did the same thing with the neckbone, but I put the spices and marinade in a Ziploc bag, placed the pieces in there, and shook it up. That is sitting in the fridge. I may include it in the fryer, or I may do something else with it. I’ll take a vote on Turkey Day.

When deep frying, I like to use peanut oil for several reasons: it doesn’t smoke too much, the taste, and that it’s not as unhealthy as other oils. (Speaking of healthy, this is the second time I’ve mentioned it. Since I am on a health kick, I am going to cook with the health factor in mind, so this year will not include the typical mashed potatoes smothered in cheese or marshmallow and sweet potato pies.)

Stay tuned for Part Deuce

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Emeril Live Kicked Down a Notch...

Sad, but unsurprising news. The longtime face of the Food Network, Emeril Lagasse's Emeril Live is now officially off the air. Looks like the new evil housfrous that run the Food Network have gotten their wish. Out with the old (aka real chefs) and in the with the new tv personalities that can't cook. Bound to happen, but kinda sad. Whatever you think about Emeril, he really jumped started food awareness in America and got everyone to really think about cooking and eating good food. Like I've said in the past, he was one of the best on the Food Network and hopefully he jumps onto PBS.

Dudes Night - Sunday Brunchinner

Met up Porthos, D'Artagnan, and some other friends for brunch at Cercle Rouge in Tribecca. Was thinking this would be a nice light relaxing brunch. Who was I kidding - I was hanging with the dudes. Ended up eating and drinking all over NY - finishing up at Momoya in the Upper West Side. Great times and great company. Topics included cooking naked with an apron...marinate on that for a bit. Below is a tasting of what I ate Sunday...there was more that other people ate, but I don't remember. Reviews to be posted this week.

1) Terrine de Foie Gras, Pickled Onions, and Toast
2) Sausage meatball stuffed with soft boiled eggs, roasted tomatoes, and home fries
3) Pecan Tarte
4) Drinks during brunch: Bloody Mary, Bottle of Riesling
5) Tea time - Cappuccino and Armagnac, Green Tea
6) Kanpachi Jalapeno
7) Yellowtail Ceviche
8) Sliced fluke with ponzu sauce
9) Spinach with Ponzu
10) Beef tataki
11) Sushi Rolls: California, Spicy Tuna, Yellowtail Scallion, Salmon Avocado
12) Sushi Pieces: Uni, Live Scallop, Yellowtail, Spanish Mackerel
13) Prime Rib Eye Steak
14) Drinks during dinner: Lots of Sake and lots of beer

Sunday, November 25, 2007

PF Chang's Bistro

Ever judge a restaurant by their patrons?
Err...Let me rephrase that.
Ever judge how good a Chinese Restaurant is by the number/ratio of Chinese people eating there?

(smile) I know you have.... and right you should!
From my experience... In the 160 seat capacity restaurant, I counted a total of only 4 Asians dining Saturday night. So for what ever that's worth... you can draw your own conclusions.

*****************************************************************
Last night, Aramis, his fiance, me(Porthos) and my wife decided to take a 20 minute car ride to PF Chang's in Edgewater, NJ.
Aramis and I have noticed this busy family restaurant for some time. We've spoken of it numerous times but neither one of us had pulled the trigger to investigate first hand what the deal was with this place.
Every time one of us would drive past it, we'd notice a packed parking lot.
We therefore jokingly speculated they were spiking their food with cocaine order to generate that kind of return patronage.
(The power of blow is highly addictive. That's all I wanted to say.)

So that being said, we needed to go check it out for ourselves.

Play-by-play:
- It's now 5:15pm Saturday night. Aramis and I talk on the phone and we "pull the trigger".
- I call to make a reservation.
- 6pm and 9pm were the only reservations available.
- I grabbed the 6pm thinking we might want to sneak in a movie later in the night.
(we ended up seeing Lions for Lambs : it's great, go see it!)
Reservation #6055 Party of 4 for 6pm... done.
- We get to PF Chang's at 5:53pm and I rush to the receptionist to announce our arrival.
- Receptionist says, "It's going to be a 15 to 20 minute wait.... we are very busy today sir..."
Aramis and I look at each other puzzled...thinking why we even have a reservation.
So trivial moment #1 right off the bat.

We sit there for another 25 minutes (in the meantime, all four of us decided what we wanted to eat and circled the menu in order to expedite the ordering when seated) before they let us know a table was being cleared for us.
We were then escorted to our table.
Perhaps I'm a little too critical, but here's trivial moment #2.
The table was bare when we were seated. And as we were being greeted at the table, several servers placed the rolled up silverware/linen and flat dish in front of us ...
Furthermore, underneath the table, we kept on stepping on something and we realized it was old forks, linens and other trash. Stunning isn't it?






Then came the Chang Sauce. Yah, what the heck is this thing?
It looks like a simple condiment dish with soy sauce, vinegar and hot oil, followed by mustard, flavored soy sauce and sambal oelek.
But they cleverly market it as "Chang Sauce" and people love it.

So the night continues with these dishes...

- Hot and Sour Soup : Tasted like something I had 20 years ago in Chinatown. The flavor was nostalgic but not pleasant.
- Garlic sauteed Sugar Snap Peas : They use jarred garlic.. I hate jarred garlic.
- Kung Pao Scallops : Best dish of the night. I enjoyed this but I'm sure I could recreate this at home. Kung Pao is a real dish in China but it's never been done justice in the States. Not surprising.
- DanDan Noodles : Terrible. They first need to look up what DanDan is.
- Chang's Chicken : Terrible (which they claim to be adapted from General Chu's Chicken) trivial moment #3... who is General Chu?
- Veggie Dumplings : More like veggie pureed fried ravioli. Not very good.




Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ratatouille on Blu-Ray

This is the best $29.99 I've spent this year on entertainment.
For the Food-Geek that I am, this Blu-Ray disc satisfies a massive portion of my interests.

Not only is this a great Pixar movie, and in 1080p.... we also get to watch a segment with Thomas Keller (also in 1080p) talking about his inspirations and video footage of his kitchen.

Furthermore, when I thought this Blu-Ray couldn't get any better, I find a built in game on the bottom of the menupage.
You play as Linguini. Working on the line while the chef yells out orders.
You need to go to the appropriate stations and prepare the dishes in a timely matter.
Just like in a restaurant. You get this sense of urgency and buckle down in your station.
Not letting the tickets pile up, you have to be accurate with your recipe and quick with your hands.
Three words.... I love it.

I will let Aramis rate the Game formally as he is also our resident Game-Guru for the Dudes.

Friday, November 23, 2007

No Turkey Turkey-Day

To be honest... I'm not a very big fan of turkey.
I will have an occasional turkey sandwich for lunch, but I'm not the type to look forward to a turkey dinner on thanksgiving.
That being said, I enjoy roasting other poultry or fowl during this holiday weekend.
From Ducks, to Capons, to Cornish Hens, to Chicken.
This year, I went with chicken.
But not just any chicken... (ie Purdue, Tyson... )
Giannone Chicken from Canada.
This bird is raised in open pens, and is free of antibiotics and hormones.
The meat is full of flavor and amazingly juicy.
I HIGHLY Recommend this bird to everyone.

My Menu :
Appetizers - Terrine Mousquetaire, Smoked Magret, Black Olives, Ibores Cheese
Autumn Gazpacho - Kabocha soup with Maitake mushrooms
Roasted Chicken - Garlic, Oregano, and Paprika
Spaghetti - Garlic, Anchovy, Mushroom and Chicken Jus
Dessert - Payard Patisserie (Chestnut Mousse and Tangerine Cake)



















sidenote:
If Ben Franklin had his way... instead of the Bald Eagle, the Turkey would have been our national bird.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Light Reading about Heavy Eating

Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving! And if you must, feel free to take a nap after the meal...

Ate Too Much? Tight Pants May Be the Smallest Worry

San Francisco Oil Spill

I'm late on posting this, but there was a bad oil spill in San Francisco last week that is affecting one of my favorite restaurants - Swan Oyster Depot. Sucks, but we'll see how this will affect the San Francisco seafood industry in the long run. Kinda crazy how this stuff can still happen with all this technology we have...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Masil House - Review

Intro
Masil House - Recommended
400 Main St
Fort Lee, NJ 07024
Phone: 201-592-7390

Wanted to check out my go to Soft Tofu place for dinner, but as usual the place was packed and I couldn't find parking. So, my fiancee and I decided to venture up the road and stop at any random Korean joint - Masil House was the first interesting place I saw. Overall, I give the restaurant an 71/100.

My Menu

1) Ban Chan - N/A
2) Hae Mool Pajon – Highly Recommended

3) Gopdol Bibimbop Recommended
4) Kimchee Jigae Recommended

Dish Comments
1) Ban chan (the free appetizers that come with any Korean meal) were decent here. A good combination and some items that I haven't seen before such as spicy potatoes. Highlights included the potatoes, fried tofu, and the sweet boiled root vegetable - no idea what that was.
2) Seafood, scallion pancake. Very crispy on the outside, soft and flavorful on the inside, stuffed with shrimp and probably scallop and maybe fish. This thing rocked and especially with the side chili soy dipping sauce.
3) Decent, bibimbop. Very fresh crunchy veggies, egg that's cooked OK (would have liked it softer) nicely cooked rice with that crispy rice thing on the bottom. Satisfying, but not superb.

4) Basically, spicy kimchee and pork stew served with a side of rice. Kimchee is good and the broth is heavenly - combo of rich earthy porkiness and a nice heat (not mind numbing). Unfortunately, there were like two pieces of pork and they were overcooked. Still didn't care since I loved that broth.

Overall Restaurant Experience (71/100)

  • Food 7.5/10 – Satisfying Korean food.
  • Service 5.0/10 – Didn't get the ban chan for the longest time, even though we ordered before a couple of other tables...4 other tables got their ban chan first. I'm assuming it's because we're not Korean. One of the waitresses was nice though, but the other one was a royal be@atch with just the stares.
  • Atmosphere 7.5/10 – Unassuming place that is relatively small - seats like maybe 20-30. All Korean speaking people there with some older Men and families.
  • Price 8.0/10 – Price was good as it should have been, since most Korean places are relatively inexpensive. For all that food, it was around $40 including tax and tip which I think is worth it for 2 people - lots of leftovers.

Closing Comments
I would go back if I was in the area based on the quality of the food (satisfying, but not great), even though there's probably some discrimination going on over there.




Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mapo 2-in-1

My wife is a big fan of Mapo Tofu and Mapo Nasu.
It's a simple chili tofu and eggplant dish that goes nicely over a hot steaming bowl of rice.
Perfect for the chilly weather we are facing here in NJ/NY.
So when I stopped at the local Asian Grocery last night to pick up some produce, I was pleasantly surprised to see some great asian eggplant, and very good soft tofu. The butcher had just ground up some nice pork belly so that was also a plus.

Amendment to an earlier recipe - Mapo Tofu April 5, 2007
***before adding the ground pork, add the doban jan, chili, and hoisin sauce and cook it for 1 minute on high heat. this will help bring all the flavors together and your ground pork will cook in it and absorb the flavors better.


"Koto-Koto"
video
The Japanese word "koto-koto" describes this video image.
It's an onomatopoeia for something simmering in a thick sauce.
The thick sauce is a result of corn starch being added in the final step of the dish.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sparrow Wines Annual Grand Tasting

Twelfth
Annual Grand Tasting

Thursday, November 15, 2007
at The Hyatt Regency Hotel

2 Exchange Place, Jersey City
6:30 pm to 10:00 pm
tax deductible donation: $65

Our 12th Year is Bigger and Better!

Our largest tasting yet in the largest location ever!
This year the event takes place in The Hudson Ballroom and will feature
over 400 wines, saké, beer and spirits from all over the world and
food provided by a dozen of the area’s finest restaurants.

Light Rail, Path, NY Waterways at the door.

Sparrow wine ambassadors floating the event to answer any questions and assist in any way we can
to make this a memorable event
.

Purchase tickets at Sparrow Wine & Liquor Company
downtown: 126 Washington Street (201) 659-1500
uptown: 1224 Shipyard Lane (201) 659-1501
You may pay by cash or check made payable to Hoboken University Medical Center.


Net proceeds to benefit FAITH Services, a department of Hoboken University Medical Center that provides social support and medical services to those living with HIV/AIDS.

Chef's Story

Great show on PBS (unsurprisingly) called Chef's Story. Basic premise is Dorothy Hamilton from the French Culinary Institute interview tops chefs, then the chefs do a cooking demo in front of a group of students from the FCI. Basically, Inside the Actor's Studio for chefs. Great concept and as usual it's real refreshing watching amazing chef's talk about their journey in the food world and watch how they create their own dishes. One of the most interesting stories is how Jean-Georges felt like he needed to take classes on opening up a business (Hunter's College) before he opened up his own restaurant in NYC. He was head chef at 3-4 other restaurants he opened up for someone else, but never on his own. A great contrast to all the idiots on Kitchen Nightmares that feel like they can open up their own restaurants easily. Great show and can't wait to see the rest of the episodes...

Notable chef's on the show (sadly, no Eric Ripert):
  • Daniel Boulud
  • Jacques Pepin
  • Andre Soltner
  • Alain Sailhac
  • Jean Georges Vongerichten
  • Charlie Palmer
  • Patrick O'Connell
  • Rick Bayless
  • Jose Andres

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Kitchen Nightmares

Ok, so I have to admit I truly enjoy watching Kitchen Nightmares on Fox. Basic concept is a terrible restaurant enlists chef Gordon Ramsey's help. He first tastes the menu and rips it apart. Then, he'll observe the service and usually demeans the chef/owner. Eventually, they turn the restaurant around with a makeover (yipee!) and a new menu and everyone lives happily ever after. It's quite ridiculous and I know that a lot of things are staged, as noted by a lawsuit against the show. However, I still like watching the chaos.

Although this show and his other show Hell's Kitchen is on the absurd side, you do get to see what it takes to run a kitchen / restaurant. Most food shows on TV (including Top Chef) is all about making a dish or two great and present it to judges. Kitchen Nightmares shows what it takes to run a restaurant from the decor, to menu design, and kitchen cleanliness. May not be for everyone, but check it out if you get a chance.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Klong - Review

Intro
Klong - Recommended
7 Saint Marks Pl, New York 10003
Btwn 2nd & 3rd Ave
Phone: 212-505-9955

After the bad meal (particularly a bad Asian Meal) at Chow Bar, we wanted some solid Asian food the next night. Wanted to go to Yakitori Taisho since we were already in the East Village area, but as usual it was packed. Checked out Klong instead since it was next door and surprisingly it was decent. Overall, I give the restaurant a 74/100.

My Menu

1) Taro Spring Rolls – Recommended
2) Jade Dumpling - Not Recommended
3) Pad Thai – Recommended
4) Soft Shell Crab with basil sauce (special) - Recommended
5) Tom Yum Martini - Recommended


Dish Comments
1) Crispy spring rolls with a side sweet sauce. Similar to the ones we had at Chow Bar, but for half the price. Didn't really taste any taro though.
2) Veggie dumplings that had a side of black bean sauce. Not really bad, but not that flavorful, so I'm assuming there's a better app on the menu.

3) Good pad thai. Not the best I've ever had, but pretty satisfying. Noodles cooked well, sauce was good, and the beef was tender.
4) Love me some soft shell crab and this was decent. The sauce however was really fun. Classic thai sauce with basil, onions, red peppers and that sweet, spicy thing going on. Went perfectly with the side of white rice.
5) Very fun martini filled with lemongrass and I think kaffir lime leaf. Decent amount of alcohol. Only thing, is there are plenty of floaty things in the drinks you can't drink - maybe pieces of lemongrass. Wasn't so upset though since I don't chug martini's - you sip them, so you can filter this stuff out.

Overall Restaurant Experience (73/100)

  • Food 7.5/10 – Love Thai food and Klong was decent, nothing spectacular though. I think it's definitely muted for the non-Thai customers since no food was that spicy and I've had some great Thai food that was ridiculously spicy. Surprising, since this place supposedly has a Thai chef which is quite rare.
  • Service 6.0/10 – Hostess was nice and so were the majority of the servers. Ours was a little bitchy, but the food came out on time. However, the person bringing out the food sucked. He ended up spilling some sauce on a chair and my friend's sweater while she was away. Then, they brought out all of the entrees without clearing any of the plates - which sucked since the tables are a little tiny. The manager needs to resolve this issue.
  • Atmosphere 7.5/10 – Trendy looking place that is pretty dark inside. Crowd is a mix of couples and groups of girls. The place was packed on Saturday at 7:45pm, but we were lucky and got seated right away. Good bar scene and lots of people were there just chillin with their martinis.
  • Price 7.5/10 – Prices were reasonable (around $10-15 per entree) and such a contrast with Chow Bar - food is actually good and worth the price.

Closing Comments
Usually, I would be pretty pissed at the sauce spilling incident, but we were having such a good time talking and laughing - I didn't mind so much. Surprisngly, it's pretty hard to find good Thai food in Manhattan (Lemongrass Grill and Pongsri Thai are pretty sub par), so I would check this place out again. If you want real Thai food, Sripraphai in Woodside, Queens is a must visit.

Mio Restaurant - review - Washington, D.C.



Mio Restaurant
Midtown Washington, D.C.
1110 Vermont Avenue, N.W.
Washington D.C. 20005
Near the corner of Vermont & L
202-955-0075

$10 valet parking, but parking is easy
Nearest subway is McPherson Square (orange and blue lines)

It’s Friday night, and I want to go eat nice. Another criteria is wine. Sure, I can go online and see what the buzz is, but I contacted some friends for first hand experiences. Mio Restaurant was highly recommended from one particular friend amongst other places. I looked at reviews for the different places, and I noticed there weren’t too many for Mio. As I explored further, I discovered the place is new having just opened in April seven months earlier. Not only that, it was directly on the opposite side of the building I used to work at in downtown D.C. Anyway, I decided to go there, so I can be one of “the first kids on the block” and somehow add my review to the search engines out there.

Warning: this is long, but I have to share my whole experience. If you want the final reviews and opinion, scroll down to the menu items, and read from there. So here is my Mio story -

It was Friday afternoon, and I made a reservation for 7:30. I found the place, which is easy simply because next door is a place that has a freaky new sign that has blue LEDs that are probably visible to astronauts in the Shuttle. I noticed the $10 valet parking sign and the anxious guys next to it, but I decided to drive around the block a couple times. Good call, since I found a spot on the street about ½ a block away. Those $10 can go for another drink. That saying, parking is easy to find, even if it is downtown. This is more of the “business district;” midtown, if you will. I arrived with 5 minutes to spare, but the place was about half full, so I walked around snapping pictures. Most people were at the bar wrapping up happy hour, I’m assuming. At least it looked like the typical happy hour crowd. D.C. sure loves their happy hours, so it’s no surprise to be somewhere, even a nightclub, and note the people in business casual to business attire equipped with their attaché cases and so on. You also note the characters: the boss who’s buying, the person’s last day, November birthdays and so on.
I continued exploring the restaurant. I’m making it sound cavernous, but it’s not too big in size. I like the deco, from the outside to the way it flows through to the back, and even to the restrooms. The color scheme is brown and blue, and they go well together. The kitchen is open and exposed for diners to look into. It is done in blue and the requisite stainless steel. Wine cellars throughout add to the decor letting you know they know their wine. The browns flows through and works well with the wood accents, wood “splints” reminiscent of bamboo in front of the restaurant, and what looks to be a boat hanging from the ceiling. (It may sound odd, but trust me, it belongs.)

I read that the Pisco Sour is recommended, so I took my spot at the bar and ordered one as I waited for the rest of my party. My guess, at the time, is that it may be one of Mio’s signature drinks, because the bartender took great care in making mine. He shook it up, and poured it into a martini glass. He places several drops on the foam, and then spread them out to create a flower. Nice touch. I brought it back to my table, and I waited. The waiter approached me with menus, and I told him I was waiting. He offered to bring me anything, but I told him I’ll start with the drink. What I like is how he started talking about it. He was telling me to drink it somewhat fast, because it’s made with egg white and it won’t be the same if it sits. I asked him what the drops were, and he told me they were bitters. Soon, they will add cinnamon to the bitters to give it a more holiday flavor. So I took his advice, downed it quicker than normal, and that one drink did give me somewhat of a good feeling. Another patron saw me drinking it, and she commented how good they are. I never had one, so I didn’t have a benchmark, but how did I like it? I didn’t so much. It’s not that it was made badly; it just isn’t my kind of drink. Apparently, this it originates in Chil and Peru (depending on who you ask).
My party called and stated they’re running late, but that’s okay. The waiter came back and offered me another Pisco Sour. I asked him for his recommendation, and he suggested a Mojito “Mio.” Now, my kind of drink. I’ve had puh-lenty of these and know what to look for. I do remember a few comments online about this drink. He returns, and I noticed something missing. Something key for me. Something that just adds to the drink, and it’s not for the flavor. There was no sugar cane. Already I had a negative notion. It did, however, have a mint leaf coated in sugar peering from the top of the drink. Meh... it's just garnish. I stirred my drink to get all the muddled flavors from the mint to coincide with everything else. I took a taste, and my gosh… what a refreshing and delicious mojito! This seriously was the best mojito I’ve had in D.C. No, it was the best one, dare I say… ever. Yum. I downed that glass pretty quick. The manager, Manny Flores, came by and asked how I was doing. I, very happily, told him I was doing great but just waiting around and studying the menu. Since I was alone, he stayed with me a bit. I told him the mojito rocked. Like the waiter, he started explaining what they use, how it’s different, and offered me another. I really liked how the staff is educated on their own products. He left and returned with another mojito. I asked him about the sugar cane. He stated they wanted to be different, so they use the candied mint leaf. I took it out of the glass and bit into it. Oh yeah, very tasty. In fact, I ate the rest of the leaf.

We were talking about different things, and I asked him about the owner. He pointed behind me and upstairs where the banquet room is, and indicated that was him. Just as I looked up, he looked down at me and smiled. Most of the staff there was Latino, so I asked Manny where the owner was from, and he answered Puerto Rico. Ah ha! This must be why everyone is friendly. And when I say friendly, I almost thought something was amiss. I would normally expect some type of snootiness from a trendy place like this, but everyone, from the hostess to the cooks in the (exposed) kitchen to the manager, were so accommodating. Like they knew I was alone and to keep me company. That was very representative of Puerto Rico. That country was the friendliest place I’ve been to in my life. I was telling that to Manny the manager, and the owner was nearby, so I told him I loved his country. He thanked me over the crowd and later on came over to my table. We started a conversation, and he kept me company for a while. He introduced himself as Manuel Iguina. It was nice of him to stop by and hang out with me and for as long as he did. He gave me his card and asked for my contact information stating they have private parties, including dancing. I told him if it’s anything like the dancing was in Puerto Rico then be sure to invite me. I told him that I read about him working with such chefs as Jose Andres and how I enjoy his restaurant, Jaleo. I think he was surprised to see that I knew of him, so he told me how he likes to get his hands dirty, go into the kitchen, and not simply open a restaurant and not do anything. I really respected that. He also told me his staff are people he has worked with and kept in touch with. This, to me, explains why the service there is impeccable. I really enjoyed Manuel, and I really hope he does well.

So back to my mojito. I noticed that this second one didn’t taste as good as the first. In fact, I was quite disappointed. Could it be because I ate the candied mint leaf? Did it really make that much of a difference? When the waiter st0pped by again, I told him I had a strange request and that was to have another candied mint leaf. Like the manager, he stated that’s where the mojito is different. He returned with two of them on a plate. I stuck one in the drink, stirred it a bit, and sure enough, it made all the difference in the world. Incredible how one leaf could change it all. I ate the other leaf.

A little over an hour later, and the rest of the party arrived. When she was settling in, Manuel, the owner, returned to the table, and I introduced them to each other. They began talking about Puerto Rico, and he was proud to hear more positive reactions to his country. He offered her anything, and she asked for a specific wine, but he offered something else to her, so he left and came back with a glass and a bottle. It was nice watching him open the bottle as if he did this 20 times earlier that day. He pulled the cork out, and poured it into the glass. He told us what it was, and she did like it.

I knew what I wanted, but I allowed time for her to view the menu. For starters, I went with my friend’s suggestion of the short ribs. It was also mentioned online. For her, she went with the waiter’s recommendation of monkfish, which is a new dish for them. I ordered the veal cheeks. While I was waiting, I noticed other tables received bread, so I asked the waiter for some. He brought over a basket of warm bread, which tasted and felt fresh and good. Since I was there for an hour drinking (on mojito #3 by this time), I was quite hungry. I forgot to order a vegetable side, so I asked the waiter for okra. The dishes came out, and we dug in. I did have to remind the waiter about the side, and by the time he brought it out, we were about 2/3 finished with the meal. He did apologize, and it was quite alright.
Next up was dessert. We had Indian chai rice pudding and warm chocolate-banana cake with vanilla ice cream accompanied by a coffee. By the end of the meal, we were quite satisfied. It wasn’t the food that only satisfied us, but the staff, which helps a lot. Prompt friendly service with decent food is what won me over. Would I go again? In a heartbeat. Since my visit, I’ve recommended it to more people. I am waiting to hear how others like it. It’s too bad Mio wasn’t there before I quit my last job. Upon exiting, Manuel bid us farewell and shook my hand. I told him about this flog, and he seemed generally interested. He did say reviews thus far have been fair, which is good, because the only couple negatives were so minor, I debated whether to mention them or not. But hey, it’s a review, right?

Listed were copied & pasted from Mio’s website:

Mojito 'Mio'
White rum with muddled mint, limes & sugar with a candied mint
$8
Delicious. Best mojito I’ve had
Pisco Sour
Pisco, house made lime sour & bitters
$8
Others say it’s good, but it’s not my style of drink.
2005 El Primavera (Rioja, Spain)
$9
This wine was enjoyed and all throughout the meal. The thought of getting a bottle to bring home crossed my mind.
Five chili braised short rib with chimichurri (Good to share)
$11
This was fascinating. I only wish the quantity was larger, because the quality was so good. Knife? What knife? The meat was insanely tender. The bone stayed on the plate, and the meat lifted up off of it with no effort. The flavor was almost good enough to tempt me to order 5 more of these and make it my meal. The description says “Good to share,” but I wanted it all to myself. It wasn’t only due to the flavor and texture, however, the serving was small.
Pan fried okra in cornmeal
$5
I like the taste and texture to the okra. The cornmeal gave it an extra crunch, and the frying added extra flavor. This was a generous proportion and suitable for two people, even a third. It was a bit on the oily side, perhaps because they were rushing to prepare it to get it to my table? Still, it was liked by all.
Seared Monkfish with Serrano ham and lentil stew drizzled with black olive tapanade
$24
This was an interesting combination and never thought of pairing monkfish – or any fish – with lentil. I didn’t read the description, but the manager stated there is finely chopped Serrano ham in the lentil, but I couldn’t see, taste, or feel any of it. I’m glad I got this dish, but I wouldn’t get it again.
Braised veal cheeks with potato purée & seasonal mushroom sauce
$25
This dish was the winner of the night. Again, the theme of meat that would put a knife out work and make it change its career to a plastic spork. That’s really all you needed to cut through this. And the flavor was outstanding. I enjoyed everything about this dish. The potato purée & seasonal mushroom sauce was definitely a good combination to the veal cheeks. It was like a creamy mashed potato that the meat rested on. The dish also came with two pieces of asparagus and one carrot. I was glad there was bread left, since I used it to soak up what was left on the plate. It’s probably something you don’t do at a restaurant like this, but you also don’t get this flavor at places you can do this at. Again, it’s too bad I don’t work near there any more, since this would attract me too much. Then again, maybe it is a good thing.
Indian Chai rice pudding with candied orange zest, blood orange segments & cardamom madeleines
$8
I like the presentation of this dessert. The cookies, excuse me… the madeleines weren’t flavorful, but I’m not sure if they were meant to be, so I dipped them into the rice pudding. The rice pudding, on the other hand, was definitely flavorful. It wasn’t very rich, but just right. I liked this one better than the other dessert. I would get this again.
Warm chocolate-banana cake with vanilla ice cream
$8
Again, the presentation is pretty. A lot of times, desserts are shared, and we almost did. I was glad we ended up ordering separate desserts, since I would have wanted more of this, because 1.) it tasted good, but 2.) it was small. Who doesn’t like the warm/cold combination? Putting the ice cream in a little cookie-cup is a good idea, too, so it doesn’t melt and drip away while sitting on the warm cake. I liked this dessert, but I would try a different one the next time I go.
Coffee
?$
Just added this since it was part of what we ordered. It was, ummm... coffee.

To reiterate, the deco is very tastefully done. The staff is knowledgeable and extremely friendly. The Mojitos “Mio” with the candied mint leaf is the best I’ve ever had. The veal cheeks were fantastic. This is a place you can bring out-of-towners to or even have a happy hour at. The final bill was about $150 for two people, but there were plenty of drinks so it is a fair price and is expected of what one would pay for a place like Mio Restaurant. I will go back to Mio and continue to spread the word.
Be sure to click on the slideshow below one time to see captions.