Monday, November 30, 2009

Masa and his Ohmi Beef

We finally got around to dining at Masa last Saturday night.  I'd been meaning to check it out for years but never got around to it until now.  And we were able to get good reservations for Sat night only a day or two in advance.  And at the sushi bar.  Definitely sit at the sushi bar!  Going there and sitting at a table would be silly.  Sure, the same guy is making the sushi, but you don't get to experience seeing him make each individual piece and putting them one at a time right in front of you.  For several courses the piece is too fragile to put down and the chef literally hands it to you.  Hand to hand to mouth.  This symphony is part of the experience.
I wasn't going to take pictures until I tried the Ohmi beef (draped generously with truffles).  This dish of Ohmi beef (or Omi beef, or Om-gyu) is now otherwise known as the new best thing I've ever tasted:
I literally could not stop myself from moaning after each bite of this it was so good.  This was surprising because I'm not a huge fan of either truffles or Kobe beef (especially outside Japan, but I take back what I said before).  Don't get me wrong, I love both of them, but generally think their appeal is somewhat over-rated, although this one data point may force me to rethink all that.  I had to do a bit of research to figure out exactly what it was I had.  Ohmi beef is similar to Kobe beef in that they are both from the Wagyū (wa=Japan + gyu=beef) breed of cattle, except that Kobe is made in Hyōgo Prefecture around Kobe, and Ohmi is made in Shiga Prefecture around the town of Ōmihachiman.  I gather the main difference is slight variations in climate and local diet.  Also note that this dish was a supplement to the normal already extravagant fixed price, but when you are splurging on a place like this, why not go all out.

While the Ohmi was the highlight for me, everything was fantastic and I'm sorry I didn't get there sooner.  I think part of my delay was because I really didn't expect it to be nearly this good, due to the fact that I went to a highly rated sushi place in Tokyo and found its sushi to be only a bit better that the admittedly awesome sushi I had in that city at much cheaper places.  (The experience of sitting at the sushi bar at a tiny place in Tokyo and having a lavish meal was worth it, but the food was not as above and beyond as I had expected.)

I only snapped a few pics on the iPhone before I got scolded and stopped, but here is the best toro I've ever had.  (I knew it before I took the pic because it was the second piece they gave us.)
 
 The sushi display and the master himself:



























I'll certainly be back.

Craft ‘Farm-Maker’ Dinner: Autumn

We were fourtunate enough to have the privilege to attend (a couple weeks ago, I've been busy) the first of hopefully many ‘Farm-Maker’ dinners at Tom Colicchio's excellent Craft restaurant.  I'll let them describe it in their words from the notice I saw:
At Craft’s inaugural ‘Farm-Maker’ dinner, we celebrate the work of Rick Bishop of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm and Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

Chef Tom Colicchio along with chef de cuisine, James Tracey and pastry chef, Stephen Collucci will prepare a five-course menu highlighting Rick Bishop’s spectacular autumn produce as well as the ducks of Hudson Valley.

Please join us for dinner and discussion about local food and farming on this special November night at Craft.
The night was special indeed.  It was all the more special because our party of four was seated at the six top with the none other than the farmer's themselves, Rick and Nicole Bishop. (This was just luck as far as I know, perhaps we were the only group of 4 or the other 3 tables had different size groups.  Or maybe I booked first, I did respond pretty quickly to the invite.)  Here is an interview with Rick, and here is a nice video about his farm and green markets in general.  And here is our menu from the night (click to enlarge):
You'll note that we were promised a five course dinner, but they ended up giving us eight courses.  What bastards.  Every dish used at least one type of produce from the farms, oftentimes several.  They were all great, and some obscure crops I've never had before.  As good as the food was, talking with Rick and Nicole about how it was grown was at least as much a part of the great night.

Here are some random observations from some of the dishes I recall, mainly touching about stuff we learned about the produce from the farm.

For the first course, this was the first time I was aware of trying lovage, at least in such an obvious fashion.  This despite the fact I have it growing in our herb garden; I just didn't know what to do with it.  The main thing I took from this course is that it's good and I need to start finding ways to use it.

The second course had two more types of produce from the farm I'd never tried, and these two I had never even heard of.  Sucrine is a sweet baby type of romaine, and nepitella is a minty Italian herb with very strong flavor so should be used sparingly.  Here they used it in the marinade before searing the fish, and then added a small amount after it was plated.  The nepitella was strong indeed, but all the greens added a nice flavor and complexity to the dish.

The third dish was delicious all around, but the star of the show were the fresh Flageolet beans.  Colicchio told us how excited he got about the fresh beans and how big a difference fresh vs dried makes for beans, comparing it to fresh vs dried herbs.  All I have to say is I agree.  Both the flavor and the texture of these fresh beans were a world apart from their dried brethren.

The sturgeon for the fourth course may have been our favorite, which is surprising because we typically like both meat and raw fish more than cooked fish.  This sturgeon was an exception.  (It probably doesn't hurt that not only was it wrapped in porky speck but that sturgeon it a very meaty fish, but we loved it for more reasons than that.)  The beets were from Rick's farm, and at first he had been disappointed that due to weather conditions they had turned out to be pretty tiny, but in fact all the sweet earthy beetness was all packed into a tiny package.  They were like tiny candies, quite successfully playing off the richness of the sturgeon.
I hope to have more to say about the sturgeon later, because I think our plan is to try to learn how to cook it when we do our private cooking lesson with Colicchio sometime next year, which we won at auction at City Harvest's Bid Against Hunger event we attended in October.  But that will be months from now.  I'll keep you posted.

I'll skip the next two for brevity's sake and move onto and end with a discussion of the Porchetta, because it had the most interesting produce in the spigarello and the polenta.  Spigarello is a variety of broccoli, but you would not recognize it by looking, as the florets are small and its leafy greens are the part you use.  They have an earthy richness and are apparently quite prolific in their growing habits.  You are supposed to be able to cut off a serving quite often during the growing season, so I hope to try to find some to grow next year.  They remind me of a tender kale (which I love), mildly reminiscent of broccoli flavor.  This blog's advice is: if you see it, BUY IT!  The polenta was also special, I'll let Colicchio tell you about it in his own words about his road trip from Atlanta:
Glenn's newest project is another near extinct breed of corn called Perla Bianca, an ear of which Ben Dubbard managed to wrangle from an old farmer during a trip to Italy last fall. Now, using that ear for seed stock, Glenn is working tirelessly to cultivate it in South Carolina. Some of the first locally grown Perla Bianca kernels made it back to the Anson Mills office just a few days before our visit, and Glenn milled some into polenta — one whiff of the freshly milled corn and it's obvious why Glenn's fighting for it. Its floral, milky scent and sweet taste are unlike anything I've known.
He told us at the dinner that he bought the whole crop, all 30 pounds of it, and that it will be hard to make it last long at all.

Anyway, it was a fun, educational, and delicious night.  I look forward to the next one the chef said would probably be in the spring.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Indian Cooking Class

We got a package of cooking classes from Home Cooking New York for our wedding (in 2006!), and just used the second of three this week.  Not because we didn't love the first one, but to try to make a long story short we were waiting until we moved into our new apartment which was delayed over a year, and then we were waiting until we could do renovations and have a nice new kitchen in which to do the class, which has also been delayed over a year (and counting) on top of the previous delay.  Well, got tired of waiting, so we chose to do and Indian meal this go around, because it's something we had no idea how to do.  Well it's not so difficult, and darn good.  We made mango lassi, aloo samosas with cilantro chutney, and fragrant rice with chicken tika masala.  Here's the finished product:


The samosas and chutney were awesome and although every recipe is a keeper, they will make the most frequent appearance in the future. Plus you can make tons of them and they keep well in the fridge, or you can freeze them for even longer.  The Dave's Gourmet Ghost Pepper Naga Jolokia Hot Sauce isn't from the class, but something a friend turned me onto recently and I thought it was appropriate to bust out.  This stuff ridiculously hot.  And awesome.  And unbelievably hot.  And fantastic.  And seriously the hottest thing you will ever taste, I shit you not.  If you're anything like me you've already gone and ordered some to test your mettle, but be fearful.  First try the smallest possible drop.  Like from the head of a pin.  And don't complain in the comments that I didn't warn you.  But you should try it.

I was intrigued by the mango puree leftover from the lassis and decided to try to whip up an off the cuff cocktail using it.  It could use some tweaking but was not bad:
Mango Leash
  • 1½ oz gin (Bulldog London Dry Gin)
  • ¾ oz Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
  • ½ oz mango puree
  • 1 tsp Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette
  • 2 dashes Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-aged bitters (2008)
  • pinch fresh ground cardamom seeds
Shake and double strain into cocktail glass, dust with more crushed cardamom to garnish
 
And if you want to continue to see how the sausage is made, here are some highlights.  Cooking onions in the toasted spices (there was much such toasting) for the samosa filling:
 The finished filling:
 The dough proofing:



Ready to be rolled:
















Putting it together:
Browning the chicken:
 Mies en place (garlic, ginger, cilantro, onion):

Freshly ground cardamom seeds (I love my mortar and pestle from MoMAstore):
The sauce for the chicken:
 
 
The finished rice:


And frying up the samosas right before we ate:

 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Boy's first encounter with lobster

I think this kid is great:



HT: Ezra Klein via Andrew Sullivan.

FCI Holiday Cocktail Course

The guys from the French Culinary Institute's Cooking Issues blog are doing a really fun looking class that I'm excited about checking out.  Here's their blurb:
Wednesday, December 2nd, from 6:30pm-8:30pm Dave and Nils will be giving a holiday cocktail course at the French Culinary Institute. Whether you spin a dreidel, light a kinara, or love Jesus, our Swedish Glögg, hot buttered rum, and cocktails flamed with a Red Hot Poker will complement every politically correct holiday party. You’ll see techniques like rotary evaporation, carbonation, and vacuum infusion, and learn tricks to maximize cocktail taste and texture.

Plus, it’s a great excuse to get hammered before 8pm. Buy tickets here. Check out some of our cool cocktails here, here and here.
That's right, Red Hot Poker they use to heat and flame drinks.  I read about it last year but never got a chance to get over there and check it out.  And the other tricks sound awesome as well.  I'm already signed up, perhaps I'll see you there.

Leopard Seal Encounter

Check out this cool encounter a photographer had with the aptly named Leopard Seal.  (Video I stumbled across at gizmodo.)



Nature is awesome.

Pink and Smoky

For my second drink for this week's grapefruit themed TDN I decided to try my hand at mixing something up using Ting*, since I used grapefruit juice for my first submission
Pink and Smoky
  • 1 oz Appleton extra 12 year rum
  • 1 oz mezcal
  • ½ oz J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum
  • ½ oz cinnamon syrup (1:1)
  • 3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
  • Ting*
stir and strain over crushed ice and top with ting; mint sprig and cinnamon stick to garnish
* Ting is a Jamaican carbonated grapefruit soda, that I only tried recently but is pretty tasty. It can be hard to track down, try hispanic markets, or I got mine from amazon.
I can't explain the inspiration for this drink, as it is just an amalgamation of several linked pairs of ingredients or flavors that I've seen used together in the past. The name however is a play on the Dark and Stormy, since I saw someone somewhere compare JWray and Ting to a Jamaican version of that drink.  But this is not dark, it's pink from the Peychaud's.  And it's smoky from the mezcal.  And you can figure it out from there.  I'm not in love with the name but that's what I went with.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Aroostook War

This week's theme for the Mixoloseum's TDN was grapefruit, so I set out to come up withsome drinks using it.  I started with finding some drinks with citrus and swapping the lemon or lime for the grapefruit and tweaking from there.  I thought this was a good excuse to come up with a Lumber Jacques variation, since I loved it so much and was already tempted to steal the recipe.  Here's what I ended up with:
Aroostook War
  • 1½ oz rye (baby sazerac)
  • 1 oz yellow chartreuse
  • 1 oz grapefruit juice
  • ¼ oz grade B maple syrup
  • fresh ginger slice
  • 2 dashes Bitter Truth orange bitters
muddle ginger with maple and bitters, add other ingredients, shake and double strain over fresh rocks in a glass; grapefruit twist garnish
The Aroostook War, also referred to as the Lumberjack's War, was a confrontation between the US and Great Britain over the border between Canada and Maine.  And I thought it had a nice ring to it, thus the name.

Speaking of muddling, the PUG muddler is what you should use. They are beautiful, tall enough to easily reach the bottom of the glass, comfortable, and very effective. They are hand turned by Chris Gallagher, and when I got mine they were not available retail anywhere and I had to order directly from him at jcgallagher08/at/hotmail/dot/com, although they seem to be available from The Boston Shaker currently.  He makes them in a variety of woods, some with varying availability.  The standard woods are maple, cherry and jatoba woods, but when I contacted him he also had mexican rosewood (bocote), figured maple and osage orange.  The rosewood is what I got and what you see here.  One would make a great stocking stuffer if you're looking for a nice gift, I'd say.

Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone (New Orleans)

Sat night were had reservations at Brennan's, and since I was ready before the rest of the crew I wandered over to Hotel Monteleone to grab a pre-dinner cocktail at their famous Carousel Bar, conveniently only a block away on Royal St.  I'll let them describe it in their own words:
The Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone is the only bar in New Orleans that revolves around the room. It overlooks famous Royal Street through large fan windows and has long been a favorite of both locals and tourists. 
Originally installed in 1949, the 25-seat carousel bar turns on 2,000 large steel rollers, pulled by a chain powered by a one-quarter horsepower motor. While the bar always rotates at the same speed, visitors who have imbibed for a while often claim that the bartender has turned up the motor’s speed.
In the early days of the Carousel Bar, the hotel was the home to the famous Swan Room, a nightclub where celebrities such as Liberace performed. It wasn’t unusual for the performers to join their friends for a nightcap after their shows...
In addition to the rotating bar, the adjoining room features quiet booths and tables where live entertainment is offered nightly at the piano.
It may sound cheesey but it was kinda charming in an old school way, and they craft fine cocktails.  It was kinda fun.






I started with the classic New Orleans cocktail the Sazerac.












I then tried on the bartender's counsel a drink invented at the bar in 1938, the Vieux Carré, meaning "Old Square", whch is an alternative name for The French Quarter.


Vieux Carré
  • ¾ oz Cognac
  • ¾ oz rye whiskey
  • ¾ oz sweet vermouth
  • ¼ oz Benedictine
  • dash Peychaud's Bitters
  • dash Angostura Bitters
Stir and strain over rocks, lemon twist garnish








It was then time for dinner at Brennan's, where I enjoyed the Frog's Legs Meunière and Soft Shell Crab Pecan:


























And since they were invented at Brennan's, we finished with the Bananas Foster:

Fritzel's European Jazz Club (New Orleans)

Fritzel's is one of my favorite spots, and one I always hit whenever I'm down there.  It's near the far end of the stretch of Bourbon St where the venues are closely packed, down where the crowds start thinning out at least a little bit.  It's quite small, and often crowded, so I often sneak off alone away from the pack late night and am usually and able to find a bar stool or squeeze onto a spot on a bench and take in the atmosphere.  The draw here is, of course, the fantastic traditional jazz emanating from the great small bands they have playing on the tiny stage.

Some of my favorite bands they often have there are three old guys playing some brass and maybe a banjo.  These Old Guy Bands, as I call them, I really enjoy.  The Dixieland tent at Jazzfest is my favorite as well.  Here's a crappy iPhone pic of the signage outside if you're looking for it:

Saturday night they had Richard Scott and Friends playing, and I quite enjoyed the set.  (If you go to Fritzel's site, as of this moment the music that plays is Richard Scott if you want to check it out.)  Man I love this place.

Cochon Butcher (New Orleans)

I was down in good old New Orleans last weekend for a bachelor party, and needless to say a good time was had by all, as is always the case when one goes to the Big Easy.  New Orleans is easily my favorite US city to visit, for the food, the music, the weather, the ambiance, you name it.  We always try to get down there at least for Jazzfest if not even more often.

On Sat for lunch we tried to hit Cochon, since I had been for dinner last time we were there and it was great.  Unfortunately it was not going to open until 5pm for dinner, but luckily I was saved from being devoured by my hungry companions by the newly opened Cochon Butcher attached to the back of the main restaurant.  (They were also upset at me for making them walk a whole 1/2 mile on a gorgeous day from the hotel to get there.)




In order to try more things, as I always want to do, I split the Pastrami and the Cuban with a friend.  Both were great, but the Pastrami was the winner.  Nicely crisped from the grill, and the meat totally melt in your mouth.  Yum.  Cochon Butcher was probably more lunch appropriate than the main place anyway, so all worked out.


As my friend pointed out, the guy making the sandwiches was so focuses and precise he seemed to be an idiot savant.  But like I said, they were tasty sandwiches.


And if I lived down there, I'd most certainly be a frequent patron of their butcher shop.  They certainly know their way around cured meats.



Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Skulduggery

Last Thursday's TDN was sponsored by Crystal Head Vodka, a new offering from none other than the esteemed Dan Aykroyd.  In addition to having a really awesome bottle, it's quite a fine vodka.  I served up the first drink of the night, here it is:
Skulduggery
  • ¾ oz Crystal Head Vodka
  • ½ oz Pineau des Charentes
  • ½ oz Grand Marnier
  • ½ oz lemon
  • 1/3 oz black pepper simple syrup (1:1)
  • a couple extra grinds fresh pepper
shake, strain, garnish with head on a
pike (grape impaled on a Sword Martini Pick)
If you don't have black pepper syrup, just use more fresh pepper, it works nearly as well.  I like using both because I find the freshly ground stuff has an extra zing as opposed to the more mellowed flavor in the syrup.  Besides, they recently figured out that a chemical in black pepper helps the absorption of nutrients, so pour it on.
I think it's a pretty light drink with some florals and spice from the Pineau and pepper, with all the flavors tied nicely together by the Crystal Head.   Perhaps something to start with before a meal without worrying about bold flavors messing with your palate before you dine.
Dan Aykroyd himself actually joined us in the chatroom for a while to answer questions and observe some of the group's handiwork.  Of course, despite all the Ghostbusters references, I didn't put him together with his alias until I asked a stupid question, but in my defense, I did preface it with "Stupid question, but..."  By the way, he said they were writing Ghostbusters 3 now, awesome.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Even Monkeys get Supply and Demand

What happens when you teach a low-status vervet monkey a valuable skill, for example as in this experiment how to open a container containing apples?  He gets paid (in more grooming, and in fact has to groom others less as well).  What happens if you teach a second monkey the same skill?  He gets paid too, but less than what the first guy got, and in fact the first guy's benefit diminishes.  Supply and demand baby:
A primate ethologist asked what would happen when a low-ranking monkey is trained to do things high-ranking monkeys can't do? The answer in human economic terms: The new skills translated into a much bigger income...

Sure enough, when they trained a low-ranking monkey to open the container, just as any technical college advertisement will tell you, the new skills translated into a higher income. Roughly an hour after she'd open the container for everyone, she was getting groomed a lot more, as much as a high-ranking monkey, and she no longer had to do hardly any grooming herself. But that was not the most spectacular finding...

So what then did, is we got a second low-ranking female, trained her to open a second container with apples in it, and then we saw that the value of the first provider dropped, more or less, to the half of what she had before. So now we had a competition between two animals. Both of them could provide this good, these apples, and so the value of the first one dropped down again...

So when there was a monkey monopoly on the skill, the monkeys paid one price. But when it became a duopoly, the price fell to an equilibrium point, about half of what it had been. And this all happened despite the fact that we're talking about monkeys here. Monkeys can't do math.
If only Congress had such intuitive understanding of economics.  It's also lamentable that, like monkeys, they can't do math.  I'd link to something that illustrates my point but there are too many examples to bother.

HT: Mankiw

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Odinsblood

This is the second libation I came up with for last Week's Thursday Drink Night with the theme: "Not Absinthe: Aquavit, Arak, Anisette, Becherovka, Pernod, Ricard, Sambuca - any anise spirit that isn't absinthe!"

Odinsblood
  • 1¾ oz aged Aquavit (OP Anderson)
  • 1 oz Cherry Heering
  • ¾ oz Campari
  • 1 dash Xocolatl Mole Bitters
stir, strain, serve up
I started as a base idea with the familiar Negroni, which is equal parts Gin, Sweet Vermouth, and Campari.  I thought swapping the gin for the Aquavit was natural enough, approximately like swapping caraway for juniper flavor.  The cherry heering has I think a similar richness and sweetness to the vermouth, so I thought it might be a nice thing to mix it up as well.  Using equal parts wasn't quite right. so I had to play with the ratios for balance.  The bitters were needed because the heering lacks the herbal complexity of the vermouth.  I first tried orange bitters, but they were not quite right; the mole however did the trick, and completes what I think is an interesting drink.