Monday, February 28, 2011

MxMo LV: Some Like it Hot - Caramel Apple Toddy #2

Time once again for Mixology Monday, brought to us this month by Nancy The Backyard Bartender. Nancy proffers "Some like it Hot" as our theme for this go 'round. She calls for one simple rule: "make anything you want to, as long as it's served hot." Simple enough. Like last month's "See You on the Flipside" MxMo, I initially had designs to finally try my hand at making a Yard of Flannel, or more likely including rum, but like last month time grew short and my resolve proved insufficient, so I'm going with a simple, but tasty, Toddy variation. To begin I began by rereading the relevant chapter on Toddies, Slings, etc in Dave Wondrich's tome Imbibe!, which proved just as enlightening as the first time I read it. I had some Caramel Syrup I had whipped up a while back in the fridge, so set upon that to make a toddy using it and Laird's Straight Apple Brandy. I threw some Bénédictine in there as well just to add a little spice to the mix.
Caramel Apple Toddy #2
  • 2 oz Laird's Straight Apple Brandy
  • ¼ oz Bénédictine
  • ½ oz Caramel Syrup*
  • 3½ oz hot water
  • cinnamon stick to stir and garnish
*For the Caramel Syrup, make a caramel by constantly stirring sugar in a heavy bottomed pot over med-high heat until it melts and then turns a deep caramel color. I like to add a dash of corn syrup as a cheat because I find the slightly different sugar molecule helps keep the sugar from crystallizing or otherwise acting up. Some recipes call for adding water, but that just makes you stir longer until the water evaporates so I don't do that. Once you get to the caramel stage add an equal volume (as the original sugar) of water and dissolve, the bottle and store in fridge.

I added the #2 because I noted "Caramel Apple Toddy" had been used in a previous MxMo back in 2007, and really didn't have a better idea for a name for mine. Despite the high water content, it's rich from the caramelized sugar and Bénédictine, reminiscent of a light mulled apple cider in some ways; it should do the trick to warm you up.

Even though I did not get around to fashioning a loggerhead with which to flash heat some ale for my drink, I find this a good opportunity to belatedly tell you who to look to to see how it should be done, for I witnessed the method back in 2009. I told you about and mentioned I would be attending the FCI Holiday Cocktail Course, but ashamedly neglected to blog about the excellent event. In any case, look no further than Dave Arnold and his Red Hot Poker(s) for the one true way. Read the articles at those links, and this is what I would have done had I the time:
Look at the fire:
UPDATE: Nancy has put up the roundup post, head over there to check out all the drinks while they're hot.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Compose NYC: Exciting intimate chef's tasting

Last Wednesday I walked a whole five blocks North from our apartment to try out Nick Curtin's tasting menu at the couple month old restaurant Compose. I was instantly intrigued when I first read about the new establishment, but was not able to secure a reservation until last week. This was due in no small part to the fact that for the tasting menu, only ten diners a night are served at the intimate restaurant, although they do offer cocktail and a bar menu in dozen or so additional seats in the small venue. I opted for the wine pairings to accompany my meal, which were well chosen by the affable Eamon Rockey, erstwhile captain at Eleven Madison Park, but after seeing some of the cocktails being crafted I'll be back erelong in one of the other seats to try the cocktails. Chef Curtain recently staged at Noma in Copenhagen, and is making great use of inspiration from there in his new menu for Compose.
Only ten lucky diners a night are served the tasting menu, all in one 7pm seating, and the ten courses plus several additional bites are served to each diner and described by one of the three chefs. As you can see in the picture, you sit right at the horseshoe shaped bar, with the semi-open kitchen at the open end of the 'U'.  The setting is intimate, and fosters interaction and dialogue with the staff. I was tempted to start out with a cocktail, but wisely opted to stick with only the wine pairing, which, I just now realize as I type, was not only the ten pours for each course which I had thought, but in fact there were at least two additional ones to pair with the amuses! On top of that, the bartender gave me a taste of some roasted chestnut-infused bourbon they had behind the bar, yikes!
I've got a feeling this is going to be another long one, so I best get started. They started us off with a glass a Champagne and duck fat popcorn sprayed with rosemary oil, which proved a nice little snack to start the evening off.

Next up was a bite of "Kir Royale" - Champagne Gelee and Cassis Aspic with galangal petal, which had a surprising carbonation effect captured in the gelee, which I suspect were pop rocks of some sort. In any case is was a nice amuse.

Following the Kir Royale we received a Mini baked potato Crème fraiche, American hackleback caviar, and chive.
Mini baked potato?  How mini you ask?  Here's some scale:
The potato was a playful and tasty bite. I perhaps could have used a tad more seasoning in addition to the caviar, but I'm a salt fiend.
The last amuse was perhaps the highlight of the night for me, and with an excellent drink pairing to boot. We were served there "Ocean Sphere" - spherified oyster emulsion with pickled shallots and seaweed dust, which we were instructed to shoot like and oyster, which was mild but briny and quite aptly named. This amuse was beautifully paired with a junmai sake, both had very clean flavors and some umami that played off each other well. This is a relatively new dish to the restaurant I believe; previously they were serving a warm sphere of mozzarella. Here's a review from a dinner a month or so before mine.
Only now do we reach the main meal, for which we were given a handsomely printed menu in a wax sealed envelope on our way out, complete with wine pairing information; quite a nice touch. You can click on the menu below for details on the components and wine pairings I may not touch on later. Regarding the wine pairings, they were very well done across the board, and had some interesting choices, but my comments about them will be sparse; do not mistake that for disapproval, just lack of memory.

 The main menu began with an earthy plate of  roasted baby beets with charred onions and a beet vinaigrette. It was a simple preparation which allowed the ingredients to express themselves.

The second course was new to the menu, and a welcome addition. The supremely fresh and clean tasting Crudo of Fluke was given an additional textural component by virtue of the puffed wild rice hidden in the rolls of fish, and a hint of sweetness from the smoked grapes nicely offset the herbal notes from the fresh herbs, basil oil, and ethereal anise water. The fino sherry was again an excellently chosen foil for this dish.
The butternut squash soup that followed was perhaps a tad sweeter than I prefer, but it was quite smooth and I really enjoyed the maple-sherry vinaigrette and chestnut foam floating atop the soup. It was quite a large serving of rich soup, maybe a little too generous, not that I didn't finish. For me I think it would have been better were it a smaller serving with higher chestnut foam to soup ratio, but that's a minor quibble; the diners on either side of me loved it as is.
The poached diver scallop was the one dish of the night that fell a bit flat for me. It's a shame, because the scallop itself was a thing of beauty, harvested the previous day from the waters of Maine, and scallops are one of my very favorite things. This one was carefully poached at 104° and served warm. I adore raw scallops. I can't get enough seared scallops.  This middle ground just didn't do it for me. It was by no means bad, it was quite tasty in fact, but it was just a little disappointing. It lacked the caramelized crust and melting flesh of a nice seared scallop as well as missing the pure freshness and creamy mouthfeel of raw scallop. The taste was nice, I just felt like it was missing something. A contributing factor I'm sure was that I saw several of the same beautiful scallops go out as a seared version from the bar menu which I thought we'd get before discovering that I was destined for this version. Which I'm glad I tried, but perhaps next time I'll see if they can sneak me the seared one instead. But that's just my preference talking.
The "Rock" Shrimp with smoked paprika oil and baby (beet?) greens was next up, and it came with a whimsical presentation (which I believe was borrowed from Noma). First a bowl containing a very hot rock sitting atop some pine was placed in front of each diner, the heat from the rock excited the oils in the pine and aromatizing the room. All diners being served this course at the same time only added to the effect. Then a single raw shrimp was placed on each rock to briefly cook on the hot stone. After a brief time, the chef came to flip each shrimp and adorn them with the paprika oil and greens, then they were ready to be eaten. The shrimp was just barley cooked through, still tender and juicy; an elevated take on the classic tapas dish. The Oloroso Sherry brought led my mind back to Spain even more. As an aside, Chef Curtin told me that they had once used eucalyptus in lieu of the pine, and although the diners that night loved it, the chefs thought it smelled awful as they smoldered for the remainder of the night in the kitchen trash bin.
The shrimp was followed by an expertly cooked butter poached lobster, the sweet tender meat inventively sauced with lemon cream, cocoa butter, and caviar. If I were to nitpick I would have dialed back the cocoa slightly, but judging from the exclamations of the other diners no one else shared this thought. Nonetheless, a delicious dish. Eamon Rockey poured an interesting white from Slovenia whose acid and fruit did well by the rich lobster and its sauce. Another solo diner nearby astutely surmised that the Slovenia vineyard must have been close to the Friuli region of Italy; in a discussion after dinner with Eamon he confirmed that at one point the vineyard had in fact been in Italy proper until the border was slightly redrawn after the war, so indeed it was close to Italy.
Not that we were hurting for amount of food, but while the next course was being prepped they presented us each a Potato chip roll with Crème fraiche butter; I have to say it was quite good.
The next course was the poached egg, silky and barely poached and accented with a a heavily roasted cauliflower puree, oyster mushrooms, cocoa nibs, and some fried shaved artichoke for texture. This was a very earthy dish, more so than the more common light and herbaceous poached egg dishes usually found on menus, but tasty and appropriate for the cold winter's night.
While the earlier "Ocean Sphere" was probably the most notable dish of the night for its ingenuity and uniqueness, the meat course up next was my favorite of the night, simply because the protein itself was so magical and rare in the US. Compose has sourced cuts of fresh Ibérico de Bellota, the fabled pork from the acorn fed Spanish 'pata negra', or black footed pigs. They have served different cuts at the restaurant, but on this night they offered Paleta, a cut from the shoulder. I've previously written about the wonderful secreto, and this cut measures right up. It's important to show restraint and not do to much to such a pristine ingredient, and Chef Curtin shows his deftness in this regard. On the side is some charred red cabbage and mint puree just to add a hint of sweetness and acidity to the rich meat if desired. This dish alone is worth the trip. (Despite menu indicating an Italian wine, I'm pretty sure they poured us a very good Rioja, which I thought was an excellent choice given the Ibérico. Don't want to overthink this one with such a simple classic.)
We were given a pleasing palate cleansing sorbet for pre-dessert whose details escape me. The Apple & Pine dessert with wood, hay, and juniper was a marvel, possibly the most innovative course of the whole night. I wish I had notes on this course, for it was really something, and thankfully not too sweet. Rest assured the "wood" and the "hay" were quite apparent flavors and aromas in the dish, and surprisingly delightful. The dessert really made me think, but at the same time was wonderfully familiar and comforting. I'm not a dessert guy but I really loved this one. If desserts are your thing, just last week Compose started offering a 4 or 5 course dessert tasting you can book separately from dinner; were I a dessert guy I'd definitely try it out, however I have no idea if this dish is offered in that format. I enjoyed the wood and hay in this so much I'm actually tempted to find out.
The second dessert, Oatmeal and Citrus, was also tasty and comforting, but nothing nearly as special as the previous course. It also was not overly sweet which I appreciated.

Lastly, we were left with one last bite, Iced Honey-Lavender Crème Brulée.  This one was sweet, but for just a bite it was an appropriate amount of sweetness to end on.

This is the aforementioned wax sealed envelope containing the menu for the night, which was an excellent ending touch capping off an entire night of excellent and thoughtful service.