August 7th, 2017

Flavor Blasts: Jamaican Food

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, Food Trucks, Restaurants, Trailer/Street Foods, Trends

foods of Jamaica

Bold, Bright, Beautiful: Jamaican Flavors

When you think of Jamaican flavors you reflexively think of jerk, stews,

Jamaican Cuisine

Courtesy of Island Spice Grill

and curries. What do these dishes have in common? Rich, complex flavors.

The source of these flavors is Jamaica’s abundant use of garlic, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, a variety of chili peppers and citrus fruits, coconut, and soy sauce. You’ll also come across plenty of legumes, sugar cane, plantains, onion, and tamarind offering a plethora of flavor diversity.

This variety is what defines Jamaican cuisine. Influenced by Spanish, African, Indian, and Chinese ancestries, and supported by rich volcanic soil and a damp climate, it’s easy to see how Jamaican cuisine has evolved into such a complex and desirable cuisine. In the U.S., Jamaican and other Caribbean cuisines have boomed spanning the market from fast food (Pollo Tropical) to fine dining (Glady’s).

 

Jamaican foodsWith such progress comes culinary innovation. One example of this comes with Chef Nigel Spence of Ripe Kitchen and Bar in New York, who uses pimento wood chips to slow smoke chicken before seasoning it with jerk. This reaches back to the traditional essence of jerk, where pimento wood was used in fires to grill meats over high heat. Another is the roaming Island Spice Grill food cart in New York. They have combined traditional Jamaican jerk flavors with a masterful social media platform to create a cult following of diners who anxiously await daily posts to find out where they will be positioning their cart.

Time will tell what will come with the future of Jamaican cuisine as it intertwines with American culture and a fusion of other cuisines. Personally, I’m excited to see. But until then, get out there and explore what Jamaican food your city has to offer.

Cheers!

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July 19th, 2016

Paul Qui’s Newest offering In Austin – Otoko

Posted in About Allison, About Christopher, Celebrity Chefs, Food Trends, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

Otoko
1603 S. Congress Ave. Austin, TX 78704

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Recently myself and a group of friends had the opportunity to dine at Paul Qui’s newest offering, Otoko. Launched out of the brand new South Congress Hotel, Otoko has been well received and heavily talked about in food circles. To say I was excited would be a gross understatement.

The journey to the restaurant began up an unmarked staircase to a covered platform. There we found a great door with OTOKO written in perforated, backlit steel to its right. I couldn’t help but muse that a secret knock or password was needed to enter. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case.

We were greeted cheerfully in a small, backlit entryway by a well-dressed hostess. The intent was very clear the moment you enter: you are somewhere exclusive and there is no room for a crowd. This was reinforced by the modest size and limited seating of the Watertrade, Otoko’s bar open to the public on a reservation only basis.

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Faintly by Edison bulbs, Watertrade is lined with polished stainless steel and warm leather furniture, elegantly modern in design. Drinks include craft cocktails, often including sake, wines, sparkling offerings, and a fine selection of Japanese whiskeys. After a few minutes of drinking and carrying on, a suited man collected us for our seating in the restaurant.

The dining room itself consists of a very intimate, twelve seat bamboo counter placing you in the front row of Chef Yoshi Okai’s culinary spectacle. As the first seating of the evening, the room was particularly intimate. A rear-lit, enveloping glass fixture with dark slats suggestive of shoji screens extends from floor to ceiling, creating a flow and connection between the dining room and kitchen.

The meal is an omakase experience, meaning the dishes are selected by the chef based on ingredient availability and seasonality. The twenty course offering blends Tokyo-style sushi with Kyoto-style kaiseki (multi-course dinner), each one masterfully designed and presented.

Sakizuke

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The amouse-bouche of the evening was diced jellyfish in uni sauce. I found the firm texture of the jellyfish delightful, especially against the richness of the fried shiitake garnish. Cucumber brought a lightness to the dish while acidic finger limes cut through the unctuous uni sauce. The broth was so pleasing I asked permission to drink it directly from the bowl. The Chef appreciated this.

Zensai

With prickly pear and Wood Ear mushroom, this starter did not disappoint. Sweet and savory flavors with contrasting textures were brought together with a sour saltiness of the umeboshi sauce.

Sushi

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Of the nine sushi dishes provided none failed to excite the palate. The Shigoku oyster with steelhead roe compromised nothing as it came full force with a salty, smoked profile cut ingeniously with a refreshingly bright turks cap flower.

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The Mishima wagyu beef was sinfully rich and utterly addicting. Topped unapologetically with onion-y negimiso sauce and minced chives, the boldness of this piece burnt itself into my memory.

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Anyone who loves seafood loves uni. The Hokkaido uni was far and away the best I have personally had. Hearty in flavor without the acrid metallic taste of lesser quality unis. Complimented with freshly grated wasabi and hearty white sturgeon caviar, I fear that this will become the ruler by which all future uni is measured.

Mukouzuke

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Literally meaning “placed to the side,” mukouzuke refers to an open ceramic bowl used to serve slices of sashimi, likely in a sauce. The standout among these two courses was the Suzuki (Japanese seabass), with kyuri, tomatoes, and mint in a ponzu sauce. Light, aromatic, and delightfully fresh, this prepared my palate for the rest of the meal.

Yakimono

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This was the course that stole the show, literally. Skillfully cut Hamachi fish touched subtly with a smoldering Binchotan charcoal and finished with a smoked tamari sauce. This is one of those flavors that haunts you for life. Just a smoky, salty, umami bomb that makes bacon seem obsolete. That was as weird to write and it is for you to read, I’m sure.

Mushimono

Goma dofu with flavorful sauces of tsuyu and kurogoma. Spiced with freshly grated wasabi and balanced with perfumes of shiso. I was surprised by how light the texture of the dofu was, almost similar to a firm custard or panna cotta.

Agemono

Nasu, or Japanese eggplant, was fried kara age style and topped with house made natural MSG, sesame oil and the bright garlic-onion flavor of chives. Great crunch and saltiness along with the clean taste of the nasu made this dish a winner.

Shirumono

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I found this course to be the most complex and intriguing of them all. An heirloom tomato broth containing herbaceous mitsuba, firm zucchini, and crunchy pine nuts topped with unripened avocado. This was an ingenious play on sweet and sour flavors with great fatty richness. The addition of black truffle oil solidified the soup into what I can only describe as a world class Japanese gazpacho.

Mizumono

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This seasonal dessert was comprised of plump blackberries and blueberries with a charmingly tart puree of yuzu which provided flavors of grapefruit a mandarin orange. A wonderful sorbet style course segueing into the rich, final dessert.

Kanmi

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The nickname “Mushroom Mountain” deftly describes the stunning dessert course. Chocolate capped shimeji mushrooms with crispy tofu croutons, a goat’s milk frozen yogurt pyramid and freeze dried soy sauce. Brought together with condensed soy milk, this dish displayed not only Chef Yoshi’s skill with design and flavor, but his playfulness and lack of pretense.

Summary

Overall the menu was well-balanced and quite comprehensive without being bloated or unnecessary. It blended unique flavor profiles, traditional Japanese techniques, and careful touches of molecular gastronomy. Ingredient quality stood forefront, driven by masterful execution and thoughtful progression. Chef Yoshi was charming and very personable, making you feel as welcomed as a guest in his home. The staff was attentive, knowledgeable, and skillfully distant. While the ticket price may seem daunting at $150.00, the remarkable experience makes it well worth the cost. Otoko represents the true artistry and balance of Japanese cuisine. We’re lucky to have it here in Austin.

June 16th, 2016

Austin Eats Series: Ramen

Posted in About Allison, About Christopher, Celebrity Chefs, Food Trends, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

If a great bowl of Ramen is what you’re hungering for the city of Austin has you covered. Austin has developed a world-class food scene recognized nationally by the likes of Anthony Bourdain, thrilllist.com and Travel + Leisure magazine. That’s a pretty impressive resume!

So it would make sense that if Ramen’s your game, Austin’s your place. With that in mind we’re going visit and compare three of Austin’s most well-known, and highly regarded, Ramen haunts. But first, we need to know more about this inexplicably addictive noodle-soup.

History

The history of Ramen is messy, hotly debated, and incredibly fascinating. For the sake (not saké) of brevity we won’t go into the specifics of it, but check out this article if you’re interested. What we need to know is that Ramen originated in China but became hugely popular in Japan due to its low cost and satiating nature. It was considered a unique reflection of the chef and an act of rebellion.

After being all but wiped out due to the food and fuel shortages during WWII, instant ramen was introduced in 1958, which forever changed the perception of the dish. Instant ramen gained popularity, dropped in price thanks to mass production (I’m looking at you Maruchan), and became ubiquitous with college-dorm life.

To know what truly makes ramen different then other noodle soups you have to look at the noodle itself. Unlike rice and udon noodles, ramen noodles are made with sodium carbonate, an alkaline salt produced by baking sodium bicarbonate (thanks for the recipe David Chang!). This produces the yellow color and elasticity we have come to expect from ramen noodles.

Luckily for foodies, restaurants like Rai Rai Ken and culinary leaders such as David Chang and Ivan Orkin have put the “soul” back in ramen with their inspired creations. This has birthed a market for “gourmet” ramen, which, coincidentally, just reflects the dish’s original nature.

The Eats

Okay, now on to the good stuff. Let’s compare Austin’s three heaviest hitters in the ramen scene.

#3. Komé

http://www.kome-austin.com/

With an elegantly minimalistic interior, juxtaposed bamboo and cerulean blue walls, and an exposed sushi counter, Komé feels akin to stepping into a traditional Japanese sushi den. It’s bright and quiet, with the chatter of guests providing the only soundtrack.

Only three ramen appear on the menu: tonkotsu, miso, and vegan miso. Very traditional in style with beautiful design, the Tonkotsu and Miso broths are light, delicate, and have a definitive scale of flavors. If you, like me, find them a bit lacking in assertion, you can add in a spicy kimchi side. The ramen noodles are springy, tender, and have great texture.

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Overall it’s apparent Komé’s goal is to offer very traditional and subtle ramen options. While their vegan ramen was surprisingly flavorful, and the caramelization of the chashu in the tonkotsu was wonderful, the lack of complexity and creativity left Komé flat in the ramen department.

Side Note: The takoyaki (squid dumplings) are a true thing of beauty, don’t sleep on them

#2. Michi Ramen

http://www.michiramen.com/

Right off the bat, Michi Ramen comes at you with high energy and creativity. The music is loud, the walls are adorned by local artists, and the bar takes center stage with a generous selection of drafts. It’s dark, it’s utilitarian, it’s to the point. With big screen TVs playing live sports in main view Michi definitely comes across as a bar first, restaurant second. But don’t let that fool you, there’s talent in that kitchen.

Michi offers an unparalleled amount of innovation on their menu, which includes ten ramen options, three of which are changing seasonal creations. From there you choose from three different broth types: light, regular, and stout (which I can only describe as a concentrated flavor grenade). Care for something extra in your ramen? No problem, you can have any of the twenty-six toppings to make your ramen as unique as you.

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The ramen noodles were angel hair thin while maintaining great dexterity. The tonkotsu broth is definitely one of the absolute best I’ve taste. And while Michi gets tons of extra credit for ingenuity, they get docked for execution. The Texas ramen falls flat with a heavily seasoned but ultimately bland broth and a fairly chewy BBQ pork rib.

They’ve got this for a redeeming factor though, the chashu “burnt ends” are moist, tender, and packed with flavor. The chashu don starter could be a stand-alone meal, and one I would happily order.

#1 Ramen Tatsu-Ya:

http://ramen-tatsuya.com/

Bold, hip, loud, Austin. Four words that describe Ramen Tatsu-Ya to it’s core. From the moment you’re faced with the mural of Japanese fan art along the entry wall (where you will likely wait to gain entry) to grabbing a box seat in the predominately wood grain dining room, you’ll thing only one thing: awesome. Tatsu-Ya is unabashedly audacious and thoroughly dedicated to its craft of making ramen.

The tonkotsu is rich and luxurious, with an incredible mouth feel and clean flavor profile. My personal favorite, the mi-so-hot, packs an intense punch of miso and red chile. I recommend adding in kikurage (woodear mushroom) and beni shoga (pickled ginger) to provide some balance to the heat. And don’t worry vegetarians, they’ve got you covered with an equally delicious veggie ramen that offers complex flavor and full-bodied umami.

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Tatsu-Ya’s ramen noodles have great integrity and flavor, perfect color, and come piled high. The various bombs and extra toppings allow you to add a personal touch to any of their seven ramen options.

Overall Ramen Tatsu-Ya nails the dish in every way. From creativity to execution, they are on point. The painstaking amount of effort they put into their tonkotsu broth cannot be subdued by even the most complex flavor arrangement on the menu. Seriously, try to, it can’t be done. Combine that with the hip ambience, unique starters (the Sweet & Sour Yodas are like candy), and local buzz and you’ve got a real winner in my book.

Hope you enjoyed this version of Austin Eats. Check back soon as we take on another Austin staple: Tacos!

Cheers!

January 20th, 2016

Austin Restaurant of the Month: Dai Due

Posted in About Allison, Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Recipes, Restaurants, Trends

DaiDue (800x600)

 

Another Austin restaurant found its way onto the Bon Appetit best new restaurants for 2015. Dai Due, the labor of love for chef Jesse Griffiths, is equal parts farm-to-table and upscale butchery with an innovative cocktail program thrown in for good measure. Placing at number 6 on the list, the restaurant started out as a farmer’s market stall, a small format culinary school offering classes in butchery and an underground supper club.

With its brick and mortar opening last August, Dai Due has continued to gain momentum and buzz with its interesting and forward-thinking dishes. Equal parts diner and supper club, the restaurant opens for breakfast and lunch, closing at 3pm for the supper club reset. We decided to sample some of the breakfast and lunch menu items for our foray into the Dai Due universe.

 

Mezze

 

Since they are known for their seasonal focus we started with the Centex Mezze.  Featuring ‘house made feta, house-cured olives, sweet potato hummus, sprouted wheat and dried tomato tabouli, venison and kale dolmas, radish top pkhali, and house grilled flatbread’, this plate was a symphony of flavors. The sweet potato hummus was flavored with garlic and just a touch of tahini and cumin, then drizzled with olive oil. The house cured olives had a subtle briny garlic taste, and the flatbread was slightly smoky from the wood burning oven. Among the more surprising tastes were the sprouted wheat berry tabouli and the radish top pkhali. Pkhali is a Georgian dish composed of greens, nuts, spices such as fenugreek, and garlic olive oil that is pureed into a dip. It was one of my favorite flavors on the board.

 

OysterPambazo

 

Our next side trip came packaged in a house made chile drenched sesame bun. Covered with masa coated oysters, julienned watermelon radish, cilantro and chorizo Mexicano, this pambazo was a flavorful and well executed sandwich that was served with pickled jalapenos for those that like their sandwiches with a little more heat.

Hash

 

Known for their house charcuterie and smoked meats, we couldn’t leave without sampling some of their specialty meats. We decided on the hash because of the variety of meats as well as some more interesting vegetable additions, namely scarlet turnips and beet ketchup. While I loved the various house cured meats, I have to say that the local sweet potatoes were the star. Sweet and clean with just a hint of smoke, they were the epitome of the Dai Due philosophy: buy it fresh, buy it local and know your farmer.

SweetSquashEmpanada

 

What better way to finish a delicious meal than a spot of dessert? My dining partner has a terrible weakness for all things squash, so the sweet buttercup squash empanada with natilla was the obvious choice. I have to say that this dessert was something I might eat every day. They have mastered the crust, which was perfectly flaky and crisp. The filling was a delicately sweet squash with just a hint of warming spices. We ate this with our fingers, unabashedly dipping into the natilla custard. And someone at the table (not me) finished off the natilla with one generous swig.

 

FrontFacePatio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would say that our visit to Dai Due was a resounding success and the first of many visits to come.

July 20th, 2015

Austin Food Trailer Of The Month: Thai-Kun

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trailer/Street Foods, Trends

Thai Changthong has worked in some interesting places, among them Uchiko Austin under the tutelage of Paul Qui. After working there he opened a restaurant in North Austin with Ek Timrerk (You may remember him from our piece on Kin and Comfort, a modern Southern-Thai fusion concept in North Austin) called Spin Modern Thai. While the restaurant was short lived, due to issues with the ventilation system, the food there was amazingly well executed and flavorful.

Thai-Kun, Changthong’s next foray into the culinary world, with his partner Paul Qui, opened in April of 2014 and quickly made the top 10 in Bon Appetit Magazine’s Best New Restaurants in America. That’s quite an accomplishment for a humble food trailer that now sits on the back patio at Whisler’s, an ultra-hip, yet unpretentious bar on Austin’s East Side.

SpecialsTruckArt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thai-Kun is part of the Qui Empire for sure, but where Qui focuses on predominantly Filipino food, Chef Changthong focuses on what is affectionately referred to as the “O.G. Thai” (Original Gangster Authentic Thai). This is spicy, no sugar added Thai food that will make your mouth water and your lips burn.

Our first taste was waterfall pork, the spiciest dish on the menu. The dish was full of flavor and heat. The grilled pork shoulder was very tender. It was drizzled with Tiger Cry sauce and sprinkled with toasted rice powder. Cilantro and red onions are bright and clean counterpoints to the spice of the pork. It was served with pickled cabbage and sticky rice to cool and temper the heat. This was a truly addicting dish that I just could not stop eating.

WaterfallPork

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up were the black noodles, which were rice noodles cooked in soy sauce and garlic oil. They were then mixed with romaine lettuce, croutons, bean sprouts, celery, croutons and green onions. This was the perfect dish to serve with the waterfall pork due to its cooling nature.

BlackNoodles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Issan sausage with distinctly fermented notes was  perfectly ground and had a crispy snap. It was served with ginger, fresh herbs and cabbage. While it was tasty, it needed a little more punch besides the fresh herbs and ginger. I can’t help thinking that glazing in a spicy sauce would have done the trick.

IssanSausage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After that we sampled the caramelized pork belly served over jasmine rice with cilantro, red onions and cucumber. The pork belly was a little on the sweet side and could have been slightly more tangy with larger pieces of pork belly. Don’t get me wrong, I love pork belly, but going a little easier on the sweetness and cutting the pork belly into larger pieces would have done the trick.

MooWhan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our last taste at Thai-Kun was the Thai-Kun fried chicken, which was made with soy sauce marinated chicken. From what I can guess, it was a rice flour coating, since the breading was super light and crispy. It was served with chicken fat rice and Boom sauce (a slightly sweet but intensely spicy chili sauce with a touch of fish sauce). This was a very different interpretation of fried chicken compared to what I am used to but I really loved the play among the flavors.

ThaiFriedChicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to admit, that the food at this trailer was overall some of the best food I have had at a trailer here in Austin in a long time. With the popularity of food trucks here in the ATX, that’s saying something. From the execution of the dishes to the quality of ingredients, it shows in the end product, and I can see why the trailer made Bon Appetit’s list.

And the best part? The trailer is so popular that the owners are currently in the hiring process for the new brick and mortar at the Domain in North Austin. Look for the opening early this fall in addition to a 2nd Thai-Kun trailer slated to open at Steampunk Saloon on West 6th Street next month.

It is only a matter of time before the waterfall pork calls to me again. Try it, you don’t know what you are missing!

May 27th, 2015

Restaurant of the Month: New Orleans Edition – Cochon Butcher

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

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On a recent trip to New Orleans, I was lucky enough to take a side trip to Cochon Butcher, a collaboration between James Beard award winning chefs Donald Link and Steven Stryjewski. The partners have won in the past for Best Chef South for Herbsaint as well as Best New Restaurant and Best American cookbook. More recently, in 2014, the Link Restaurant Group won Best New Restaurant for Peche. With such a pedigree, it is easy to see why a trip to one of their restaurants is more than a little special.

Located right behind Cochon on Tchoupitoulas Street, the restaurant follows a casual model that requires no reservations.  It features a butcher counter on one side of the restaurant and a recent expansion that includes seating and a bar.

ButcherCounter

The business model really makes sense if you think about the business recaptured by offering a more casual walk-up setting with the same great quality charcuterie as the restaurant next door.

You can purchase charcuterie by the pound at the butcher counter:

ButcherCase

Selections include venison sausage, duck pastrami, and pork rillon to name a few.

As well, you can purchase branded swag, including this cool bar knife custom made for the establishment:

BarKnife

Cochon Butcher likes to keep its artisan-focused menu simple. Showcasing an array of simple sandwich preparations, with the emphasis on quality along with an assortment of side and a la carte items, the menu covers all the bases when it comes to delicious and well curated meats.

Our first course was the charcuterie plate, featuring coppa, coppa de testa, Genoa, and my personal favorite pork rillon (made with pork belly and herbs, it’s spreadable heaven). Accompaniments include house-made broken crackers, quick pickles, fresh chow chow and a spicy whole grain mustard. The rillon was so good that I actually took some for the road.

CharcuteriePlate

The next bites were of braised pork belly with mint and cucumbers sandwiched between toasted soft white bread. It was a little messy, and the flavor contrast between the mint and the salted pork belly was unexpected. While it was my least favorite flavor combination, let’s remember that this is Cochon, so all comparisons should be left at the door.

PorkBelly

As a follow up, we ordered the duck pastrami sliders. Now, I have to admit, I love duck pastrami, so I was a little sad that there was not more of it in these sliders. There was a competition between the flavors in the duck pastrami and an exceptionally rich Gruyere cheese sauce. But it’s duck, so really what’s not to like?

DuckPastrami

The final bite of the night was a Moroccan spiced lamb on flatbread and the unexpected favorite. Notes of cumin, coriander and curry showcased fork-tender pieces of braised lamb. The lamb was tucked into bed with a very chunky Tzatziki by the softest pillowy flatbread. Sweet dreams little lamb!

LambWrap

I have to say that Cochon Butcher is the one restaurant I must visit while in New Orleans, and with all that the Big Easy has to offer, that is saying a lot. Don’t just take my word for it, head on over yourself!

 

January 26th, 2015

The Peached Tortilla: Austin Restaurant of the Month

Posted in About Allison, Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

Eric Silverstein is a man in demand and 2014 was his big year: in September, Plate magazine named him one of 30 chefs to watch. He also recently inked a deal for a book with Penumbra Literary, in which he plans to detail his leap from litigator to food truck entrepreneur. And most importantly (to me), he just opened his brick and mortar here in Austin, TX.

I have eaten at his truck Yume Burger in the past, so I knew what to expect, but for those of you unfamiliar with his cuisine, it is best described as Southern-Asian Fusion. Born in Tokyo, he was exposed to Japanese, Malaysian, and Chinese cuisine at an early age. He was then introduced to traditional Southern cuisine at the age of 10. These divergent cuisines come together to tell his personal food story, and it’s a colorful one.

On Burnet Road in the Allandale residential area, the modest storefront gives way to a modern “picnic” décor featuring white wooden slat benches and retro accents in yellow and orange. Overall the space is cozy and the service was very efficient. We arrived right when the restaurant opened and were greeted promptly by our server, Thuy, who was very friendly and approachable.

We perused the menu and made our selections rather quickly, which you can view here: http://www.thepeachedtortilla.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/peached-dinner-menu.pdf

For our starter, we selected the kimchi arancini. Made with rice and pureed kimchi and coated in panko, they were served with Sriracha and wasabi aiolis with a sprinkle of minced nori. The sauces were spicy but balanced and complemented the arancini very nicely. A rather tasty little morsel, I must say!

KimchiArancini

Next up were the bacon jam fries with green onions, sharp Cheddar, a fried egg and chili aioli. I am a huge bacon fan, and while I did like the flavor, I craved more bacon flavor. Overall, the dish was well executed with a beautifully cooked fried egg and crispy fries.

BaconJamFries

 

For our next course, we decided on the Tres Cauliflower, featuring cauliflower done 3 ways, hence the name. While cauliflower is typically cast in a supporting role, this dish was the absolute shining star of the evening. The nori cauliflower puree was very silky and packed a big hit of umami. Nestled atop the puree, grilled cauliflower was slightly charred and finished with nori butter and caramelized onions. The perfect counterpoint in the peach pickled cauliflower was a surprising sweet addition. Curiosity confirmed that the pickled cauliflower was brined in peach tea and rice wine vinegar. The hands down favorite of the night, this is the dish I would recommend to friends as a must not miss.

TresCauliflower

Since I had lived in Japan for several years, I had to try the blistered catfish bowl.  I absolutely love unagi (eel) sushi, so the fact that the catfish was prepared in the same style sold me on this dish. Unagi sushi is typically served with a Japanese style BBQ sauce, which is typically made with soy sauce, sugar and mirin, giving it a salty-sweet flavor profile.  Again, the presentation was beautiful. It was served over rice with charred wasabi Napa, Japanese pickles (even the pickle-hater at the table loved them), and a beautiful 45 minute egg, all finished with sesame seeds and crumbled nori. The fish was cooked perfectly, and this dish was as healthy as it was tasty.

BlisteredCatfishBowl

 

Our last dish was Silverstein’s nod to delicious meat synonymous with Texas: smoked brisket. Playfully titled “Brisket Fun”, it is a stir-fried dish with wide rice noodles, bean sprouts and kale. Slightly spicy and well-balanced,  it was the most outright fusion dish of the evening. And yes it was fun.

BrisketFun

 

Chalk up another score for Austin, TX with the creative, delicious, and beautiful food at the Peached Tortilla. And watch closely this year to see what Mr. Silverstein is up to next!

 

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December 9th, 2013

World of Flavors 2013

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, Culinary Conferences, Food Shows, New Foods and Flavors, Trends

We arrived at the World of Flavors this year, to the yellowing vines of the vineyards. With the conference two weeks later than the year before, the harvest was over and the estates were bare of fruit. The valley was quiet, missing was the bustle of the grape gathering and the energy of the farmers.

This year’s theme is “Kitchens Connected”. Whether you are looking at how a chef is connected to his kitchen, the landscape around him, or the rest of the world via social media, the importance of our connection to those around us is so important.

Day 1:

Nathan Myrhvold of Modernist Cuisine gave the opening speech at the conference. He talked about why we shouldn’t be afraid to try new things (apparently including adding salt to the wine that Gina Gallo donated).

This was followed by commentary from Claus Meyer, founder of Noma, a self-ascribed fat kid growing up, with a father who demanded excellence to the point of being obsessive. Among his most proud accomplishments is his prison program, where he mentors prisoners with a desire to become a chef. He has also opened a cooking school in Bolivia with the aim of allowing marginalized families to rise from poverty while at the same time create a New Bolivian Cuisine. You can read more here:

http://www.clausmeyer.dk/en/melting_pot_foundation/cooking_school_in_bolivia.html

Later we would hear from Edward Lee on the evolution of Southern Cuisine, and how it sometimes takes an outsider to rethink a classic. His recipe for Southern fried chicken is a study in the fusion of Adobo chicken with the Southern classic. A partial poach in an adobo broth (with vinegar, soy sauce, black pepper, garlic, and bay leaves) is followed by a buttermilk and flour dredging, and a brief rest. Since the chicken is already partially cooked, the chicken only takes 5-6 minutes to cook compared to regular fried chicken, which typically takes 15 minutes to fry. The pre-poach serves as a timesaver in the restaurant as well, guaranteeing fresh chicken is sent to the table every time.

At the World Marketplace, the French onion soup at Maxime Bilet’s booth was the showstopper, and one of the only booths with a long line. Simple really, the soup had the purest, most intense onion flavor, and was complemented with micro-root vegetables such as leek, red onion, and carrot. One can only assume that his secret is the pressure cooker that he swears is the world’s most underutilized timesaver. The broth was so flavorful it left me wanting more than just a small taste.

Christopher Kostow, The chef at The Inn at Meadowood showcased his take on the rutabaga. It is cooked in a crust of salt, egg whites, and the volcanic ash common to the area around the restaurant. To serve, the crust is broken open and a lovely golden red rutabaga emerges, slightly salty, definitely earthy, but very delicious.

My favorite dessert of the night was the apricot dolma at the Chobani booth. It was a sweet take on the traditional dolma. Apricots rehydrated in sugar syrup are stuffed with a Chobani yogurt and mascarpone blend then dusted with pistachios. It was a nice refreshing dessert that was super light, and on the healthy side.

Day 2:

The day started with a general session that discussed the place for French cuisine at the millennial table.

Chef Masayasu Yonemura showed us several interesting Japanese foods, including O-Fu (dried wheat gluten) that has been rehydrated in milk-egg-honey-5 spice powder mixture. It was then pan-fried like French toast and spread with a black truffle and port wine reduction. He finishes it with griddled foie gras medallions, Japanese greens mixed with tofu and tahini, and a carrot-leek fond de veau.

Sang-Hoon Degeimbre of L’Air Du Temps in Belgium jokes that the first time he ever cooked was the day that he opened his restaurant. Two years later, he received his first Michelin star, and the second one in 2007. He showed us recipe for earthy potato “humus”. He distilled the essence of the dirt from the fields his restaurant as part of the dish. Tourneed potatoes cooked in salt brine are finished with soil water and dehydrated potato skin powder. He cooks from emotion and is drawn to root vegetables because of his recent return to his own roots in Korea.

Alex Gauthier, chef at La Grenouillere shows us that food should be emotional, and in his sorrel ice cream dessert, he evokes the stronger emotion of anger. The sorrel ice cream is used to fill a clear sugar orb. The plate features grilled sorrel leaves, and sorrel oil. Once the plate is set in front of the customer, the server smashes the sugar orb of green sorrel ice cream onto the plate, surprising the diner. His approach to food has breathed life back into French cuisine with his fun and inventive ideas. He has definitely found the formula for appealing to millennials.

My first seminar was on sous vide. It was a rather interesting seminar, which started with a Japanese-American hybrid dish. Shinobu Namae prepared a beef dish hat was marinated with Shio-Koji. Shio-Koji contains koji, a bacteria that is essential to sake-making. The bacteria Aspergillus Oryzae produces several enzymes that break down the rice into glucose. These same enzymes work on the protein in meat to tenderize it. The salt added to the Shio-koji inhibits the growth of unwanted organisms. Shio-koji is very high in umami, and can replace up to 50% of the salt in a recipe without compromising flavor. Chef Namae cooked the Shio-Koji marinated sirloin in sous vide at 52C until the internal temperature equalized. He then grilled the beef between sheets of cedar wood. The beef was served with persimmon and turnip dressed in a tofu dressing.

Cesar Vega gave an interesting talk on how to consistently sous vide eggs. After thousands and thousands of eggs were cooked sous vide he was able to conclude that a mixture of time and temperature can give a specific result. For example, if you want eggs yolks the consistency of honey, you could cook at 60C for 300 minutes or at 63C for 100 minutes and achieve the same result. These temperatures take into account the proper temperature calibration, as the incorrect temperature can skew the results. See the link for a graphical representation:

http://blog.khymos.org/wp-content/2011/04/vega-egg-time-temperature.png

At the general session, we heard from Jared Rivera, founder of Chef’s feed. It’s a rather useful app to chefs. It shows restaurant recommendations from some of the world’s best chefs. The Chefs Feed Network on YouTube showcases hours of video footage from the kitchens of the U.S. brightest chefs as well as instructional videos on their favorite foods. There was some thought provoking discussion during this session regarding social media and its impact on a restaurant. The average millennial wants a restaurant connection, not just a meal. They want to feel as if they play some part in the success of your brand. They don’t want your marketing intern to do your tweets, and they can tell the difference. After all, one of the most important things to the millennial generation is authenticity.

The afternoon session brought us the food of Josep Roca of El Celler de Can Roca. The restaurant was named the #1 restaurant in the world for 2013 by Restaurant Magazine. He showed us several interesting techniques, including direct smoking, which is a technique he uses for squid parmentier. Throughout the entire presentation, the one common thread was the love of family. His close family ties are so apparent; in how he lovingly talks of his mother and her food, and how talks so fondly of the relationship with his brothers. Here the connection to the family is the sole reason that the food has become the best in the world.

Here is a picture of them serving their parents “The World”:

In my kitchen workshop with Virgilio Martinez we sampled interesting foods from Peru, including chunos, a form a freeze-dried potatoes. We also had tiger’s blood: a puree of Aji peppers, algae broth, garlic, ginger, cilantro, and lime juice in several different presentations, including fish ceviche and root vegetable ceviche.

We tried kaniwah, which is a smaller cousin to quinoa. The seeds are about ½ the size of regular quinoa, but stay rather crunchy.

The highlights of the world marketplace for Friday included the smoked potatoes with black garlic vinaigrette and fermented ramp mayonnaise from Bar Tartine. They were one of my favorite foods at the entire conference.

Then I had the wild seaweeds braised with Dungeness crab from Lummi Island chef Blaine Wetzel, the very essence of the sea in a steaming bowl. The crab flavor was intensely flavored, yet softened by the briny saltiness of the seaweed.

The beet-cured salmon with pea cake and sweet honey sauce is almost too beautiful to eat, taking on a brilliant cranberry color from the beets.

Day 3:

My morning session was with Andre Chiang and Jesus Nunez on the topic “Hybrid Inspirations and Unique Culinary Philosophies: Dazzling Diners From Spain To Singapore”. The chefs talked about from where they draw their inspirations.

Andre Chiang’s Octaphilosophy consists of 8 elements that he feels are unchanging: Memory, Purity, Terroir, Uniqueness, South, Artisan, Salt and Texture. He incorporates at least 3 of these elements into each of his dishes. He is a master of making dishes that are not what they seem. His version of risotto uses squid cut into rice shapes then cooked in cauliflower puree and finished with shaved macadamia to resemble cheese. The dish has the consistency of risotto, yet is totally dairy free. He also makes rice crackers from dried cooked rice and charcoal powder, which he deep-fries to make crispy.

As far as Jesus Nunez inspiration, his comes literally from the design world. A former graffiti artist, he sees the beauty all around him. He draws inspiration from architecture, the art of the masters, the countryside, or wherever he finds beauty. The dish that he showed us was “Not Your Average Egg”, which included many elements of nature. The dish consists of a sweet potato puree with a “nest” of al dente spring vegetables. But what makes this dish so memorable is the “egg”. Sun choke that is cooked in methylcellulose then pureed is poured into an empty eggshell, and the egg yolk is added back in. Once the “egg” is baked, it is peeled and placed in the “nest”.

For a great representation of his work, you can view it here:

http://chefs-talk.com/people/jesus_nuñez

During Saturday’s black box exercise, several powerhouse chefs took the stage to showcase their unique interpretations of the trends that were on the inspiration board at the conference.

For his black box exercise Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions chose eggs, quinoa, fermentation, and mushrooms. His restaurant was graced the “Best New Restaurant” award by the James Beard Foundation for 2013. He talked us through his process for salt-cured eggs, and it had me intrigued: 10 days covered in salt, then 20 days of air-drying, followed by a light smoking. The eggs are grated and have the consistency of cheese. He also shared his secret for taking quinoa to the next level: cook it in water, then fry it to make it super crunchy. His dish includes fermented turnips and wild mushrooms cooked in tons of butter.

The words that called to Elizabeth Falkner were: “deep space flavors”, “no foam”, “cooking from the inside out”. For her ingredients, she chose farro, burdock, Fresno chiles, jalapenos, bonito, dashi, squid ink, lemon zest, xanthan gum, bottarga, and soy for her ingredients. In her rebellious nature, she chose to use foam, stating that it can never really go out of style. For deep space flavors, she chose the bonito, dashi, lemon zest, and peppers for a complex “deep space” flavor profile. The most interesting part of her demo was where she used charcoal to cook squid from the inside out. Cleaned squid were cooked atop the hot coals of charcoal. You could literally see the squid cooking, contracting and steaming as it cooked. The effect was mesmerizing to the audience, and a really cool idea.

Kyle Connaughton merges new with old by marinating his cod in Saikyo Miso (a sweet miso made predominantly rice, also called Old West Coastal Miso) and yuzu kosho. He then grills it over binchotan charcoal and finishes it with charred uni, ginger buds, and shiso and wasabi buds:

Maxime Bilet used the terms “no foam” and scavenged ingredients to deconstruct his grandmothers pot au feu using sun choke, beef, and charred leeks:

After the black box session, we saw Hajime Kasuga of Ache in Lima Peru prepare an interesting twist on sushi. He is one of the premier Nikkei chefs in Peru. He fills a shrimp shell with cooked tapioca and pairs it with dehydrated scallops. The dish is accompanied by powdered shrimp shell, fish roe, and sliced lime sprinkled with chile powder:

As for tastings at the World Marketplace here are my favorites:

Dried Turnip Pasta: Christian Puglisi of Relae showed us an interesting way to prepare turnips. First they are dried in an oven, and then rehydrated by soaking for 2 hours. Once they are soaked, they are cut into juliennes and boiled in salted water and drained. A quick cook in a sauté pan with butter renders them pasta like, slightly al dente, but with the subtle flavor of the turnips. They are finished with chervil, horseradish, and mustard seeds. His way of cooking

Almond and Pistachio Keskul: another recipe from the Chobani folks. A keskul is a traditional Turkish almond pudding. It was finished with Turkish cotton candy, chopped pistachios, and pomegranate seeds.

The afternoon’s final general session before the closing ceremony featured a demo by the affable chef, Isaac McHale of The Clove Club in East London. He showed us a fried chicken recipe using pine salt that I had the luxury of tasting at the opening world marketplace on Thursday:

The closing address by Dr. Tim Ryan was one of the most inspiring and thought-provoking presentations of the entire conference. His parallels between the art, music, and culinary worlds was illuminating, with examples of how a simple change or addition can result in a giant leap forward in innovation. He asks us to pay attention to the clues and hints that surround us, opening our minds to the possibility of innovation.

August 16th, 2013

LITTLE GOAT DINER

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Travel, Trends

I was fortunate enough to make it to Little Goat Diner when I was in Chicago. If you are not aware, Little Goat Diner is the 2nd installment in the restaurant empire of Stephanie Izard, Top Chef winner, season 4.

Little Goat Diner and its adjoining neighbor opened to much anticipation in December of 2012. Little Goat Bakery provides all of the baked goods for the diner, the restaurant across the street, and the booth at the Chicago French market.

The interior of the diner is airy and modern, with soft gray and gold softening the light in the diner. An open-air kitchen faces the main seating area.

When we asked for a seat, we were told we would have to wait for 45 minutes and would receive a text when our table was ready. So in the meantime, we decided to check out the bakery next door.

I was lucky to catch the guy behind the counter singing out names of customers. It definitely added to the atmosphere!

The pastries sold here were pretty interesting, including a cherry chocolate chili bagel, a blueberry fennel scone, and a cherry-corn cupcake. We had other plans though, so filling up on pastries didn’t seem like such a good idea.

We found two stools at the bar, and upon making ourselves comfortable, were informed that the bar was full service. It was nice to know we didn’t have to wait 45 minutes. That was all we needed, and we got right into settling in.

First order of business: coffee with goat’s milk and goat’s milk cajeta. It’s not often that you see goat’s milk coffee on a menu, so we gave it a try. According to the bartender, it’s made with half goat’s milk, half cow’s milk, and goat’s milk cajeta.

THE LITTLE GOAT

For Breakfast we saw quite a few interesting dishes but settled on a couple with a distinctive Asian bent.

KIMCHEE & BACON & EGGS & PANCAKES ASIAN STYLE BREAKFAST TASTY THING

Yes, that is the official name of this dish. By whatever name, this was a really tasty breakfast dish, though a bit unexpected. House Kim Chi, crispy pieces of bacon and fluffy eggs are stuffed inside pancake batter. An overly crispy, caramel edge on the pancake was the highlight of the dish. A handful of fresh bean sprouts and scallion keep the dish fresh and light. A simple sauce of what seems to be sherry, soy and sesame adds the needed acidity.

BRANDADE & BELLY

This dish was the collective favorite at the table. For starters, the biscuits were ethereal, light and tender: the biscuits I wish I could make. Topped with a delicious Brandade, crispy pork belly, two perfectly cooked sunny side up eggs, Kim chi, and pickled banana peppers, I could eat this for breakfast everyday and be perfectly content. Portions here are generous, luckily, or we would have been fighting over the last bite of that bacon/biscuit/Kim chi mash-up.

TEMPURA MASHED POTATOES

For our last taste of the day, we took a ride to Tater Town and ordered the Tempura mashed potatoes. So creamy in the middle with a crispy crust, they were accompanied by shredded vegetables, Asian BBQ, and house ranch dressing. Everything that I love about potatoes was in this dish. The creaminess, the earthiness, all perfectly contained in a crispy little Tempura shell.

Honestly, the menu at Little Goat is so extensive; you could eat at the diner everyday for a week, for 3 squares, and still not sample everything. While quite a few of the dishes were mainstream, there were just as many that were unusual with interesting combinations. We sat next to someone at the bar who ordered poached eggs on toast. Simple dishes will appeal to your picky spouse, while the more adventurous dishes will bring the adventurous eaters by the dozens. Overall, the menu and selection is a bonanza for those playing it safe as well as the diner that likes to eat on the edge of the seat.

One thing to say about the blossoming Izard empire: she does really a great job a promoting her brand. Her goat logo is easy to remember; you can even by a goat bobble head doll if you want to bring the Izard experience home with you.

Make sure to pop in the next time you are in Chicago!

May 28th, 2013

The Blackbird Chicago: Bring on the Flavor

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants

We had the unbelievable luck to grace the chef’s table at The Blackbird during the NRA show. Hot on the heels of Chef Paul Kahan’s James Beard Award for outstanding chef, our visit to this intimate Chicago eatery couldn’t have been less timely. The fact that we got a reservation during NRA week, much less a seat at the chef’s table, is akin to winning the lottery. I have to admit, I was like a kid in the candy store (forgive my cliché, but there is no other way to say it). What makes a visit to such a hot commodity even more memorable? Share the experience with equally adventurous and gracious dinner guests, and you have the equation for a perfect evening, filled with shareable plates.

We started with cocktails by award-winning chief mixologist Lynn House and were not disappointed. I had a drink called The Sea of Green. A beautiful sea-foam green libation consisting of Ford’s Gin, Jack Rudy tonic, Green Chartreuse, egg white, cucumber puree, and rosemary mist, it is a beautifully balanced drink.

This is one of the most original and perfectly balanced drinks I have had in a long time. No one flavor overpowered the other, but each was distinct in the drink. This was an understated and beautifully composed drink. I would make this my regular drink if I were ever able to figure out how to make it.

For our appetizers, we started with the salad of endives. A very fun presentation of deep fried potatoes in the form of a cup, it’s artfully layered with fresh local endives, a dressing of basil and Dijon, topped with pancetta, and finished with a perfectly poached egg. My favorite breakfast is fried potatoes and fried eggs, so this salad evoked that comfort of salty potatoes and runny yolks.

Next up on the menu was the roasted asparagus. A mix of green, white and purple asparagus, it was artfully prepared with charred spring onion, goat cheese, chamomile, toasted peanuts, and cured egg yolk. This was a very fresh tasting dish, with the nice crunch of the peanuts, and delicious cured egg yolk, with a flavor akin to a sharp cheese.

For our next taste, we chose the Hamachi tartare. Tender strips of top grade Hamachi are paired with crunchy and bright sprouted lentils, rhubarb, spicy marrow and chickweed. A very refreshing dish, this was one of my favorites.

Our final appetizer, the roasted foie gras, was done perfectly. Cooked to a medium rare, and served with thin sliced kohlrabi, grape halves, black sesame, and shiitake broth, it was all the meatiness of foie gras with absolutely no chalky or metallic aftertaste.

For dinner, we shared the fermented black bean cappelletti. It was served with crispy morels, fresh spring peas, finished with sherry butter and grated wasabi root. Cappelletti meaning “little hat” in Italian is pasta stuffed and then folded. The subtlety of the Cappelletti was contrasted by the crispy morels that almost tasted deep-fried. Overall, this was a balanced but simple dish.

Our second choice for the main course was the roasted lamb saddle. Spring fava beans, tender eggplant, crispy-fried endive chips, and creamy smoked ricotta. A beautiful presentation, the lamb was succulent and paired well with the smoked ricotta.

To finish off our meal, we shared a trio of desserts. Steamed banana cake, with chicory ice cream and macadamia was rich and creamy. Deep-fried battered apple slices, served with ice cream, were an interesting take on traditional apple pie. Saxon Creamery Cheddar, paired with toasted brioche, passion fruit, and black currant jam and sudachi was a savory end to the meal, more in line with traditional British dinner endings.

Between the excellent wine pairings (a beautiful Bordeaux), the cappuccino, and the amazing company, this was definitely a resounding and unanimous gastronomic experience. Chef Kahan, and his staff are definitely ones to keep on the radar for future successes.