Sunday, October 16, 2011

Part 3 - Rioja

The last part of my journey in Denver's dining scene took me to Rioja.  I had looked at the menu online prior to arriving here.   It sported a nice range of choices of meats and seafood that had a nice emphasis on interesting flavor combinations with local ingredients.  It was also going to be the biggest of my three meals and therefore, I would be able to try entrees, a starter and potentially dessert.  I also wanted a dining experience that wasn't hectic or too industrial.  I wasn't here on a business trip or a power lunch or a date.  I was here to enjoy a moment of calm with a dining experience focused on the food. 

The moment I walked into the restaurant, I'm greeted by a split dining room.  The immediate impression was one of warmth.  Too many a time have I walking in and was greeted by an overwhelming desire to stuff ear plugs deep into my head and hope that the food is good enough to keep me from fleeing the premises screaming.  This place was different.  It had a lovely dark yellow/orange glow to the lighting like most places and the lights all came from one area: the kitchen.  My choice of seating was booth, table, or chef's bar.  My choice was simple.  Like a moth to the flame, I chose the bar with no hesitation whatsoever.   I sit down and I'm impressed by the fact that I have a two small containers of seasonings black pepper and pink sea salt.  I was very impressed that pink sea salt was used as on table seasoning.

The small team was working efficiently and I was pleasantly surprised to see Chef Jasinksi in the kitchen leading the troops.  Things were looking good.  Although my brain wanted to order 3 dishes, I stuck with 2 selections as my stomach was already feeling the effects of the previous two meals. 

Starter:  White Miso Soup with steamed Prince Edward Island mussels, honshimeji mushrooms, sweet chili, cilantro.

At first, this starter was definitely too sweet.  The white miso had this overwhelming sweetness to it that made this into a miso nectar.  However, when I got a bit of everything onto my spoon, my whole perspective changed.  The sweet chilies with the honshimeji mushrooms and the salty mussels created this elaborate painting of all types of flavors.  It was a very playful combination.  I don't normally go for sweet foods, but this starter really shook up my normal routine.  All in all. 7/10.

Entree: Pan Seared Halibut
cucumber wrapped salad of Dungeness crab & avocado.  Halibut was topped with hearts of palm tarragon crème fraîche, heirloom tomato carpaccio and vinaigrette, crispy shallots, micro parsley

First off, is it just me or does Denver have an obsession with micro greens?  Anyways, back to the main point.  This dish was perfect without the cucumber wrapped salad.  The halibut was seared excellently.  Meaty and substantial in its texture and full of moisture.  The tomato carpaccio created a nice sweet and tangy base for the fish.  This flavor was then repeated in the hearts of palm and vinaigrette.  The crispy shallots on top added yet another texture.  When eaten alone, the halibut stood out brilliantly.  Eaten in combination with its supporting cast, and you have a wonderfully execute ensemble.  The textures that one encounters on this journey included crunchy, crispy, snappy and juicy,  There was so much brightness associated with this half of the plate.  The other half is occupied by a richer and more savory counterpart.  The Dungeness crab with the avocado with creme fraiche was decadent.  Deep sea flavors permeated through the creme fraiche and were delicately elevated by the cumber wrap.  If the halibut half can be characterized as the artistic free spirit, the Dungeness crab is the earthy sensual seductress.  These two together form a visually stimulating pair.  I was beyond happy.  My impromtu dining companions had the same exact reaction to this dish.  We debated the merits of whether or not the halibut was seasoned enough.  At first we thought it would have been better served to have a bit more seasoning so that it can stand up to the richness of the crab.  After some thought, we concluded that Chef Jen knew exactly what she was doing when she planned this out.  You can't appreciate the richness without some brightness next to it and vice versa.   I would have given it a full 10/10 if the presentation was a little cleaner.  By virtue of the vinaigrette, it is rather liquidy and will tend to run amok if the plate is disturb even slightly.  Regardless, I was thoroughly happy with this if all I had was the halibut.  Overall rating of this entree: 9/10.

This was a wonderful conclusion to my food journey in Denver.  I hope to go back to Colorado and try some more amazing food soon.  I hear of magical things in the land of Boulder.  :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TAG Round 2: TagBar

I walk out of TAG with mixed feelings.  I was faced with loving one dish that brought back waves of childhood and my heritage as well as feelings of extreme disappointment in the state of Denver sushi.  I forged past my apprehensions of landlocked states serving a decidedly raw-focused dish and all I was left with was my head hanging low. 

I continue my trek to a small shopping center approximately 30 paces from the main restaurant.  I spy this small corner bar at the bottom of the stairs.  The all glass customer facing walls remind me of a Jamba Juice or this one small burrito joint I stopped by in Dallas.  I was not impressed at first.  The first impression of an entirely sterile environment slowly peeled away in chunks as I discover a nice selection of beer, a rack full of ice and what appears to be oysters, and a menu splattered with references to noodle bowls and high end influences.  If you haven't picked up on it yet, I'm a purist when it comes to food.  I'm not a fan of fusion.  As soon as I hear the word, my skin crawls and my eyes start rolling.  However, I didn't run.  I stuck it through.  I was, dare I say, intrigued.  Among the dishes that really caught my eye were the following:

La Quercia Prosciutto with shaved fennel, apple and mustard vinaigrette. 
Hawaiian Ahi Jalapeno with daikon radish, lime oil and ponzu.
Hangar Steak Tataki with gorgonzola, watermelon radish, and nectarine.

Alas, I chose none of these. 

I sit down at the bar and scan the menu a bit longer as I'm still digesting the previous meal.  I talk to the chef.  Friendly and personable;  I was not used to this type of service from the person that's about to make my food.  OK.  I'm hooked.  I'm tempted to order the tasting menu, but I flashed back to my trip to Craft Bar and chills ran down my spine.  I opted to select a few items that stood out.

 First up: Foie Gras Torchon with cherry vanilla compote, kabayaki and rice crackers.  The foie gras was served cold.  It had a firm texture that reminded me of liverwurst.  The flavor of the torchon itself was light and buttery.  My thought was that it was going to be outflavored by the cherry vanilla compote and kabayaki and it almost was.  However, layered on top of the rice crackers, a harmonious balance of texture and flavor was achieved.  It wasn't spectacular by any means, but it was a lovely introductory dish to get me going.  The presentation was simple and I kept the compote and sauce around to finish off the rice crackers.  If this is their idea of bar food, then I'm definitely down with the concept.  I'm greedy.  I like variety versus quantity.  If I get to sample multiple dishes from a chef in the style of tapas, then I'm all for it.

 Next up: Kangaroo Loin Tataki with tomato relish, lotus root chips, and arugula pesto.  I had a couple of friends that recently came back from Australia raving about kangaroo meat.  As I've never tasted it, I had to try it as soon as I spied it on the menu.  It turns out that I really do like the way their prepared this red meat.  It was tender, slightly chewy, but incredibly sweet.  The tenderness of the kangaroo was insanely offset by the extreme crunchiness of the deep fried lotus root.  I don't know how I feel about using the lotus root chips.  I'm clumsy so inevitably it stabbed me in the roof of the mouth.  This didn't deter me from enjoying the light taste of the chips.  Besides the texture, the look of these chips are great.  I find the visual appeal of the lotus roots to greatly enhance the rather flat landscape of sliced and seared red meat.  It's almost like the modern art smacked a butcher in the face.  Not to say that butchers aren't cultured.  I know some that know a great deal about art.  OK.  I lie.  I know only one butcher and he has a thing for gutter jokes.  Either way, my point is that the juxtaposition of suspended shards of lotus goodness and the serene flow of kangaroo meat forms a highly visually appealing dish.  One final note on this dish.  The arugula pesto.  I don't know how I feel about it.  Of the 5 Chinese flavors that seek to achieve balance in a dish, bitter is often the one that's overlooked.  In fact, bitter has been viewed as evil, unwanted, and a nuisance.  The decision to play up the bitterness of arugula in pesto form was bold one.  After sampling the combination of all the flavors and textures together, I decided that the pesto was just a tad far in the side of too bitter.   It ended up trying to find balance with the sweetness of the meat, but it just couldn't.  It's essentially that loud cousin at the party that you want people to like, but you really hope all your guests can just ignore. 

My final serving of food has arrived.  It came in this oddly shaped vessel that half reminded me of a soap dish.  I just hope that the food inside doesn't taste like soap too.  It didn't.  I was served Taylor Bay Scallops Crudo with orange, lemon, and cilantro.  Cape Cod is a long way from Denver any way you look at it.  The taste and springiness of the scallops, however, told me that this bar has good shipping arrangements for its seafood.  Superbly sweet and tender, the scallops lent themselves to the crudo preparation style.  The slivers of lemon grazed the scallops and lightened up the saltiness of the meat.  I found the chiffoned cilantro to be a tad annoying as they got stuck in my teeth very easily.  I believe a finer chop would have better served the eating experience regardless of the visual sacrifice that would have made.  The final touch that sealed this dish for me into the happy category were the rice crisps.  The chef decided to go off the game plan slightly and add in some small rice crisps into the mix.  The decision was brilliant.  The previous two dishes gave me a great contrast in texture and the addition of this small ingredient did it for this dish.  The size of the rice crisps compliments the tiny scallops well.  The golden flavor of the crisps balances the light, sweet/saltiness of the scallop as well.  I think of all the different experiments, this one had the least adventurous of ingredients, but the greatest of flavor and texture combinations.  Harmonious would be the word I'd used to wrap up this last dish. 

I'm glad I came to TagBar.  It really restored confidence in the TAG branding.  If I find myself in Denver again, I'll give the big TAG restaurant another shot at a proper dinner.  However, I'll definitely be visiting this joint after I've had some drinks in me.  I think I saw something about kimchee being on the menu too...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tag: Continental Social Food

Colorado.  It's dry.  It's high.  And it's out in the middle of nowhere.  I've heard legends of amazing hippie chefs out in Boulder with their fresh produce and cured meats working their mysterious hippie magic.  The problem was, I was headed to Denver.  I know that Boulder is only a quick jaunt northwest of downtown Denver, but I had social obligations; namely a wedding.  Therefore, before I left for the big rectangular state of Colorado, I did a little research on the intarwebs and I found a couple restaurants that I wanted to try.  Colorado, being the landlocked state that it is, I wasn't too keen on trying any sushi or fish related dishes.  Boy was I in for a surprise.  I saw a couple of restaurants I wanted to try, but I had limited time to accomplish a very ambitious goal: 3 restaurants in 5 hours.  It was Friday afternoon when I landed and by the time I got to my buddy's place, it was already 2pm.  I don't know about you, but most of the spots near where I live are decidedly closed for a couple hours before the crazy dinner rush.  My original choices were wiped away and I was left with but a few options.

I rolled on up to Larimer Street because Denver has decided, very kindly I might add, that all the best restaurants will be located either on this street or near it.  This street is filled with all sorts of cute shoppes but I'll get into that in another post.

I'm going to be honest here.  I chose Tag because it was open.  I know Chef Troy Guard has a reputation as one of Denver's finest chefs, but to be fair, Tag was right in front of me as I walked up and it was open for business.  Either way,  I plopped myself down at the very chic bar that was incredibly colorful for such a raw, masculine space.  I loved the little cups of herbs and fruits that lined the bar.   I am definitely a fan of the design of this joint.  It's narrow like you'd see in most downtown restaurants.  There's a very comforting aura that fills this establishment, despite my hatred of warehouse designs.  Then again, I was here alone and I had no one to talk to besides the bartender.  Also, food was why I was here. 

I was very hesitant about the menu that I saw online.  There was a heavy emphasis on Asian elements on their Social Hour menu.  As this was going to be my first meal, I couldn't go too heavy.  I chose two dishes that both involved raw fish.  I know.  I know.  I know!  Landlocked state + raw fish = "what the hell are you thinking Chris?!?  Are you that much of a sushi freak to order it out here?"  The answer is 'yes' by the way.  I am that much of a sushi addict that I would order it out here.  This, however, was not the reason I ordered it this time.  I figured I had to try it and as it was staring at me right in the face, I obliged.  

This aioli is DYN-O-MITE
I'll start with the dish that I liked the least.  Ahi roll with jalapenos and 'dynamite aioli'.  So the roll comes out and it's cleverly 'decorated' with eel sauce.  I see globs of DYNAMITE AIOLI on top of each piece.  (No.  The menu did not write dynamite aioli in all caps, but I feel the name of the sauce is epic enough to warrant it.  More on this later). 
I will make it known right here that I am a fan of Japanese style sushi.  The idea of overloading my senses on a food that's meant to be an exploration on simplicity of flavors and ingredients is heresy in my book.  I want limited but high quality ingredients and as little "cooking" from the chef as possible.  The only thing the chef should do is assemble the ingredients in a manner that best enhances the excellence that both nature and the chef that prepped the rice have provided.  Now that you know this about me, you'll probably think I hated this roll.  You're right.  I absolutely hate this thing like I hate bound feet.  There's so much that went wrong with this roll.  Basics of roll making: cut your pieces so that they're all even.  It was like having Tim Taylor "eyeball" the size of each piece.  (For those of you deprived individuals who have never seen the show Home Improvement, you didn't miss out on much, but let's just say that he was NOT the best at judging distance and sizing without the aide of a measuring instrument).  Where was I?  Oh yes.  More hatred.  The cucumbers or zucchini that they used was too raw.  The ahi was chopped up beyond recognition.  The rice was torched.  Why oh why did they do that?  I wasn't sure if the rice was undercooked or if it was of the torching that dried the rice out.  Either way, it was horrid.  This brings us to the aioli.  I don't know what was dynamite about it.  It didn't contribute to the flavor.  It didn't give me any heat.  It didn't even mask the horrible job they did on roll itself.  On the level of explosiveness, it was about even with a cotton ball.  I think I've spewed enough venom on this roll.

Ah yes.  My savior of this experience at Tag.  Flash seared Himarasa with Yuzu, Jalapenos, White Soy, Micro Tatsoi, and Pop Rocks.  The white soy with the yuzu created the sauce base of this dish with a heavy emphasis on the savory component that was accented nicely with the not too pungent acidic side of things.  I love yuzu.  It tends to get overused, but in this case, it was there to help with the flavor.  In fact, the sour/sweet/texture factor was elevated by the usage of Pop Rocks.  It's funny how this novelty candy made a resurgence in the food community.  This isn't a new idea but it was definitely utilized successfully in this case.  The hiramasa itself was gorgeously delicate.  It was sweet, but not cloyingly so.  The jalapenos were a nice addition to add yet another level of flavor.  What wasn't mentioned in the dish description was the addition of shallots.  This really sealed the deal for me.  The shallots/white soy combination created a flavor that I found very familiar.  It was like I grew up with it.  Wait.  I DID grow up with it.  It's the same flavor that comes when you put ginger, peanut oil, soy sauce, shallots and scallions on top of steamed fish!  This is exactly that taste!  It was like my mother teleported herself into this kitchen and totally changed a dish that I've been having for over 20 years.  I really wished that I had 3 more of these plates.  I loved it. 

I got to talking to the bartender, who was very knowledgeable, and he saw how much I liked the hiramasa.  He suggested that I should try out the sister restaurant: Tag Bar.  I took his advice and did exactly that.  More on this next time boys and girls.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Craft Bar - NYC

I had a trip to NJ/NYC recently.  I left the dining reservations in the hands of my dear friend.  I figured that since she lived there, she knew where I should go.  I honestly didn't care where we went.  When she suggested Tom Colicchio's Craftbar, I was excited.  I've heard great things about Craft Steak and other Colicchio restaurants.  I understand that Tom won't be there to cook.  In fact, I'm not sure how much time he spends in NYC anymore.  Regardless, I had confidence that I would be satisfied.

I arrive at the restaurant and I'm met with a spacious establishment that clearly prescribed to the designer warehouse sense of aesthetics.   It's purely a personal preference, but I find these spaces uninviting and loud.  The barren walls usually means that the acoustics will be unwieldy and trying to have any sort of intimate conversation is an exercise in futility.  Luckily, I wasn't about to whisper sweet nothings into my good friend's ear, but I still wanted to hear her. 

Anyways, we were early for our reservation so we plopped our rumps down at the bar.  Fully stocked and very intimate, I was surprised at how cozy this place was starting to become.  My mood was turning for the better, but that could very well be the gin and tonics I was ingesting.  By the end of my second drink, our table was ready and we made our way over to a corner table.  Sweetness.  I'm getting hopeful that this will be a nice experience.  The corner of the room offered us a nice little alcove to either be deeply involved in our own conversation or for us to people watch the whole night. 

The waitress arrives with the menus and then slides in the tasting menu right on top.  One look at the price ($55/person) and the selection (six courses of Hudson Valley sourced ingredients) and I'm sold.  I didn't feel like thinking and this was perfect for me to try the chef's skills. 

Really wish I had just used the lemon.
The first course consisted of 2 Blue Point Oysters.  Accompanying these two oysters were cocktail sauce and fish sauce.  The cocktail sauce was good.  It was tangy, slightly spicy and accented the oyster very well.  The sweet and briny character showed very well.  It's classic in presentation and wasn't too exciting.  The fish sauce however was decidedly more adventurous in pairing.  First of all.  I was very confused as to why I got so much sauce.  It's for one, possibly two oysters.  I didn't know if they wanted me to drink the sauce?  Maybe I should have given the oysters a bath?  OK.  I'm being an ass.  I gave it a go.  A dab of the fish sauce on there.  The bright acid woke me up.  It was definitely different.  I don't know how I feel about it though.  I'm torn between thinking it's a great idea of pairing something so...fishy...with oysters.  It's an interesting contrast.  If you think about it, it's raw seafood + fermented seafood.  It's a really cool idea.  However, my taste buds has a different opinion.  I just couldn't get over the fact that my tongue was just attacked by the fish sauce and I couldn't taste the oyster anymore.  I think that since the idea was that the locally sourced ingredients were the selling point, then the oyster should have been the star.  Instead, it was like it was fighting to get a line in with the overacting supporting character.  In this round of taste versus concept, taste won the decision.  This first course didn't do it for me.  It's OK.  I have faith that I'll like the next dish.

Second Course: Sorrel Salad with Strawberries, Pink Peppercorns, and Pickled Onions.  The vinaigrette was subtle and savory.  Excellent flavor combination with the sorrel adding a subtle hint of acid as did the tiny strawberries.  The pickled onions were an excellent addition to the savory side of the dish.  I was pleased with how this salad was a nicely balanced dish.  Simple and unassuming, it was well done.  I'm not normally a strawberry fan.  I love cherries and raspberries, but strawberries were never something I craved.  Regardless, these strawberries were slightly tart and the demure size matched the pickled onions very well.  My hopes are renewed.  I knew that I wouldn't be disappointed.  I can't wait to see what the next dish looks like.

Third Course: New Jersey Diver Scallop with Roasted Lemon Yogurt, Jerusalem Artichoke, and Chorizo.  I must apologize for not taking a picture of this one as I couldn't resist this plate.  As soon as it showed up, I descended upon it like a hawk on a field mouse.  Anyways, this dish was by far my favorite.  First of all, it's a bit hard to mess up scallops.  It's a bit of a sellout move, but, I'll bite.  The combination of the chorizo with the chokes offered the texture component along with a great meaty counterpart to the scallops.  All of this was enhanced by the lovely lemon yogurt.  This dish played right into my comfort zone.  It was hard for me to not like this.  I love the savory, creamy, meaty, tangy combination.  It's like when you know that you're being played by someone, but you don't care because you can't say no to that person.  I'm a sucker.  I know.  Stop staring at me in that tone of voice.  Moving on. 

Only one word that
I can think of that suits you.
Fourth Course: Green Garlic-Ricotta Ravioli with Garlic Scapes in a Beurre Fondue.  Just reading this description tells me that I'm going to be a sucker again.  Garlic Scapes? Oh yeah.  Ravioli? yes please.  Beurre Fondue? Bathe me in it please.  As soon as it got here, the serving vessel was just as attractive as the description.  (I'm being serious here.  I love that it looks like a mini wok).  I fully expect to be overwhelmed with flavors, awash in a bath of awesome.  No.  This will not happen.  The ricotta ravioli was very delicate in flavor (read almost no salt whatsoever).  The beurre fondue didn't help things at all.  It was slightly watery in consistency and didn't offer anything to bring up the flavor quotient.  If subtly is what they're trying for here, then they have it in droves.  The chopped garlic scapes were a nice addition, but then the scapes that were left whole were not attractive at all.  They were stringy and tough at the ends.  They detracted from the presentation of the dish.  This course was not so good.  In fact, it tasted pretty pedestrian.  I've had more inspiring ricotta at half-assed italian restaurants.  Expectations, declining. 

You could have been so amazing.
Fifth Course: Braised Pork Belly on top of a Spring Pea Salad with Radishes and Fingerling Potatoes.   They had me at Braised Pork Belly.  They seared the pork belly excellently.  Crispy and flavorful with ample moisture.  Sweet, savory, and sticky.  It's everything that you hope for in a piece of pork belly.  The star of this dish wasn't the pork belly though.  Sure it was the big name that was billed, but the Spring Pea Salad really brought out how wonderful the pork belly was.  The pea salad was light, sweet, crisp, and refreshing.  Each bite of the pork belly that was accompanied by whole pea pods were the best ones.  But this bring me to why I was both happy and so angry about this dish.  The Spring Pea Pods were perfect.  The pods themselves were crunchy and extremely sweet.  However, they decided to use mainly just loose peas under the pork.  Although the peas themselves were good, they were too mushy to stand up properly to the gooey, sticky pork belly.  After I ran out of pea pods to accompany the pork belly, I was sad.  I was so sad and angry that they skimped on screen time from such a brilliant supporting actor.  This dish could have been so amazing and simple.  Instead, it fell just short of greatness.

Rhubarb: the awkward dessert
Sixth Course: Napoleon with Poached Rhubarb, Marscapone Cream, Graham Cracker and Thyme.  I'm not a big dessert person and this final course was not a good advocate for the dessert side.  It was awkward to eat.  The rhubarb was stringy and slightly tangy.  The flavor combination wasn't bad, but it wasn't what I cared about.    By the time I got over all of my elementary flashbacks from the graham crackers, I was left with a pile of crumbly crackers and marscapone cream spewed everywhere. I don't know how they wanted me to eat this.  Using a utensil will just squeeze the cream everywhere as soon as I try to break off a chunk small enough to eat.  Using my hands would have gotten the sauce all over me.  Just so incredibly awkward and the flavor combination was not so good.  The sweetness of the cream and cracker really overwhelmed the rhubarb.  I really don't think the rhubarb was to be blamed here.  I blame the chef for putting it in this dish.  This should have been more subtle like all the other dishes in this tasting menu.  Instead, it was trying too hard to be cool.

I was left deflated by the end of the meal.  It was so incoherent between dishes.  There wasn't a unifying theme that I could discern.  Individually, only 1 or 2 dishes could stand on their own.  The best dish was the only one that I didn't photograph.  Everything else was just frustrating.  I wanted so badly to be impressed.  I wanted to leave with renewed inspiration.  For all the talk of letting the locally sourced ingredients shine, the execution was lacking.  If every dish was just mediocre, I would have been more pleased with my experience.  No.  Instead, I get glimpses of genius and then the door is slammed shut in my face.  'Hey.  Look what I can do!  It's amazing.  But you're only going to get to see it for a split second.  I can't let you have the satisfaction of seeing all of it.  That would be absurd'.  Part of me wants to return out of morbid curiosity.  I want to believe that if I had chosen something off the normal menu, I would have been much more pleased.  Alas, what should have been a wonderful journey through the chef's imagination turned out to be a disappointing and disorienting ride through the county fair's haunted house. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sweet Lil Somethings

Amidst my running about, I managed to sit down long enough to make one of the few desserts that I care enough to be good at.  I first discovered chocolate truffles on Alton Brown's Good Eats show on the episode titled Heart of Darkness.  If you haven't seen this show and are a food/science nerd, you need to check it out.  Anyways, I noticed how much this wasn't like baking.  I have this deep fear of baking.  The whole idea of letting something go and not being able to fuss around with it disturbs me.

That's neither here nor there.  Chocolate truffles.  I first attempted to make these for a former girlfriend of mine.  I thought it would be a lovely gift for her birthday.  As with most of my cooking endeavors, I did a test batch before I ever tried making the real thing.  The results were surprisingly good.  I had more confidence now.  I'm roaming dangerously into the realm of desserts.  It's a bit like skirting the edge of the forbidden forest for me.  Lurking behind that dark shady area of trees are cakes and behind that mound of threatening shrubbery are the dreaded cookies that lure their victims in effortlessly.  Ahem.  I digress.

I've since made these truffles a total of 3 times.  Each time getting progressively braver.  I've toyed with the ratio of bittersweet to semisweet.  The proportions of flavorings and butter to account for the different chocolates.  I've even started to play with new and funky ideas for these tasty treats.  My last batch of truffles included an array of Cointreau, Amaretto, Toasted Coconut covered, and even a cayenne based truffle with sea salt dusting.  Overall, the reception over my last batch of truffles was overwhelmingly positive.  I want to thank all my taste testers for their feedback.  I'd also like to apologize for any extra weight they may have gained because of this.  I'm scared I might start liking this incredibly messy and fearsome area of cooking.  Nonetheless, I will attempt to try out some of my more adventurous versions and I will most definitely show you my results.

Au revoir. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Bahamas

Hi there.  It's been a while.  I'd like to apologize for my absence and bring you a report from one of my latest trips.  That's right.  I attended my friend's wedding in the Bahamas and I took the chance to try the seafood on this island.  It should be noted that I came back with more pictures of the food than I did of the wedding.  I figured that the wedding photos were already covered by someone else.  I had other responsibilities;  I had to photograph my food adventures.

I land relatively late in Nassau and get to my hotel by about 6pm.  It's getting close to dinner time and I'm hungry.  I had inquired about the local cuisine from some coworkers of mine.  Also, I asked my concierge not where to direct tourists, but where they would eat when they got off work later.  They all seemed to have a common theme: the Fish Fry.

The Fish Fry is an interested place.  It's located in an area called Arawak Cay and it's essentially a street lined with restaurants all touting to be the best at one thing: Conch.  Conch in all ways, shapes and form were being advertised on chalkboards and menus that lined the street.  I was enticed by a particular place that popped out in my mind that Friday night as my coworker had told me about it: Twin Brothers.  I saw Twin Brothers II and figured that I could always go back and try out Twin Brothers I when I had a chance. 

As I was greeted by a very nice host, I was seated at a rather lonely table.  I promptly ordered a local beer by the name of Kalik.  Apparently, these come in three styles: Light, Regular, and Gold.  Light was probably my favorite to drink in the hot weather.  Gold was a tad too alcoholic in nature.  Regular was good, but I was drawn to the crispness of the Light.

Scorched Conch
I ordered two items for dinner that night.  The first order was Scorched Conch.  This is essentially some fresh conch, cut up and tossed in a bowl with lime juice and some onions.  Toss in a bit of heat and we're good to go.  This was great.  So simple, yet so easy going down.  This was perfect as my first meal here.  The conch itself was very sweet.  You can taste it through the acidity and the texture is wonderful.  Very chewy, but with a firm snap to it.  The raw onions provided a nice balance by adding a crunchy and spicy element to the dish.  This was an incredible way to begin my weekend in the Bahamas.

Crack Conch
Next up, I had to order what all my friends were ranting and raving about that I had to try here in the Bahamas: Crack Conch.  The conch itself is pounded very thin so that the texture has almost completely changed.  The chewiness is still there, but the snap has gone.  It's instead replaced by the lingering chewiness of something similar to my favorite animal bits.  Regardless, the thinness of the conch really lent itself to the frying.  I can't imagine deep frying such a tough protein.  The results would be similar to a deep fried brick.  The breading itself wasn't seasoned enough and also lent itself to getting soggy quickly.  This was made even more evident after I spritzed the lime onto them and started dipping it into the sauce.  The sauce is like a cross between a tartar and a simple mayonaise.  It complimented the conch very well.  All in all, my first meal in the Bahamas was a success.  The plating was simple and the quality of the products was good.

Day Two:  I partied a bit too hard the night before and therefore the number of meals I could fit in before the wedding was cut from two down to one.  Nonetheless, I forged on and made my way back to the Fish Fry.  The number of restaurants open at this time of day was reduced by about half.  I stopped by a place that I noticed the night before for this one dish of theirs: fried barracuda.  I really wanted to try it out of both curiosity and hunger.  This is why I ultimately chose Goldie's. The interior of this restaurant was very open and had a good flow to the organization.  You can tell quite easily that this place was part bar, part restaurant.  The number of people out having an early afternoon drink greatly outnumbered the number of diners.  This did not deter me one bit.  Unfortunately, they did not have barracuda on this day.  No matter, I had bigger fish to fry.  (OK.  I'm so sorry for the pun, but now that I see it on the screen, I can't take it off.)

After a quick chat with my waitress, I ordered my first item of the day: Conch Salad.  I was hungry, slightly hung over, and very hot.  I promptly ordered my nth bottle of Kalik and started drinking.  Soon after, a beautiful bowl of magic appeared before my very eyes.   This was quite simply put: amazing.  Chopped up bits of fresh conch, onions, sweet peppers, tomatoes, lime juice and orange juice.  The heat that this salad brought was wonderful.  It brightened my morning instantly.  The freshness of the ingredients combined with the very well mixed orange juice/lime juice that all of the items bathed in was excellent.  The conch had a great bite and due to its size, it was easily consumed with its counterparts.  The orange juice in this salad brought out the natural sweetness of the conch and created a great counterbalance to the heat the golden peppers brought to the dish.  It was perfect.  It woke me right up and put a big smile on my face.

I was excited now.  My second dish had arrived and I couldn't take it anymore.  Let me just clarify.  I'm from Hong Kong and South Florida.  I've had my fair share of good seafood and good fried food.   The grouper itself was incredibly flaky and light.  A great deal of moisture was captured inside the breading.  The fish had a wonderful amount of light seasoning that didn't try to steal the breading's thunder.  Oh the breading.  This was so beautiful.  Golden, brown and delicious.  Alton Brown said it.  GDB is what we all look for in fried foods.  These grouper fingers fit all three requirements.  The fillets were covered very lightly.  You can tell that they fried the fish properly.  There was a gentle crunch as I bit into each piece.  Although it took me a bit to finish the whole plate, I don't remember at any time wondering if the grouper fingers would go soggy.  The seasoning was well handled.  There was great balance between spicy and salty that really enhanced the sweetness of the fish.  I was so incredibly happy that they were able to top the excellent conch salad.

I wanted to order more.  I really wanted to.   I'm not going to comment on the food at the wedding because that's not why I was at the wedding.  It was a beautiful ceremony and we all were incredibly blessed and honored to be a part of such a wondrous occasion.  For me, my foodie needs were satisfied.  I left the Bahamas with a full stomach and a slight hangover.  Life is good.  Cheers!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Lazy Week

....And we're back.  It's been a busy 2 weeks.  All the traveling and stuff has got my cooking on a back burner.  On a sad note this week, a cooking class I was slated to attend was cancelled on me.  On the bright side, I now have a new project to work on.  You know, that's always been a bit of a problem with mine.  I'm a relatively creative person, however, I lack direction most of the time.  Back when I had art class for 4 years straight, it was always a bit of a relief to have assignments.  I never actually did the assignment exactly as asked, but I was always grateful for the initial idea.  

Moving on.  Right.  So.  This week's food stuffs.  Let's start with the half-failed experiment.  I have been meaning to try out two things.  First is the dandelion greens and second is the buffalo steak.  The dandelion greens were slightly bitter and spicy.  I enjoyed the taste but they needed to be a part of a bigger salad.  I thought the blistered red peppers would be enough to balance out the flavor but I was wrong.  Along with that, the uncooked daikon just didn't pair so well with it.  Next time, I'll focus a little more on just the greenery and I'm sure I'll be able to work out a more coherent combination of flavors.  So moving onto the buffalo steak.  This part I actually got it the way I wanted.  I did a pan sear and I was scared to bits as this meat is incredibly lean and I didn't want to overcook it.  In fact, the cooking time was very similar to filet mignon so it turned out better than I expected.  The taste was incredibly sweet.  Much sweeter and juicier than I had expected.  I shall revisit this meat, but it is decidedly more expensive than beef.  The garnish itself was made from grated daikon.  That worked surprisingly well.  Next time, I'll add a bit more salt into that garnish and it would match the steak very well.  It was a bit more refreshing than horseradish.  Overall, I was relatively satisfied.  I mean I had steak and thick cut bacon.  I can't not be!

My second dish this week was much better.  It was more or less a rushed job and I was exhausted from lack of sleep and having driven for few hours.  Either way, I was incredibly pleased with the results of this quick dish.  For once, I didn't need to cut anything in order to prep this dish.  Sure I did a bit of grating and peeling but that was insignificant in comparison to the inordinate amount of cutting I need to do for my mise.  The cod.  This was a beautiful piece of fish that I acquired.  It was very firm and came out incredibly light and flaky.  The taste was delicate and paired very well with the lemon butter cream sauce I made with it.  The asparagus was peeled and that created a very crisp texture.  I used a bit of lime juice as well and I used the zest from both the lemon and lime and that worked well with the sauce and fish.  And finally I just have a weak spot for fresh dill.  I love it in my eggs and I love it on my fish.  

So my next few projects, I have a good idea, but I'm not going to promise anything.  Here's hoping I can reschedule for a different class at the cooking school.  I'm still looking into the weekend program at Johnson and wales down in north miami.  Not sure if I'm willing to cut out dance to accomodate this yet.  It's also going to be very pricey.  <sigh>  

Alright then boys and girls.  Time to get back to the Doctor.  I just started catching up on the latest episodes of Doctor Who.  Not sure how I feel about Matt Smith yet.  He's very ambiguous in his emotions at times, very distant from his new companions, and just incredibly shouty.  I'm warming up to him a bit, but I feel a bit disconnect from him for now.  I suppose I'm just still attached to David Tennant as the Doctor.