Sunday, June 29, 2008

Late night dinner at Babbo

Last night we ate at Babbo. People I've talked to who have eaten here usually say things like "best meal I have ever had," "best restaurant ever," or some other superlative when describing their experience at Babbo. While I won't go out and proclaim that it's the single best meal I've ever had, I'm having a hard time coming up with places that were, across the board, better than Babbo. I think that the best dishes I had at Del Posto were better than the best dishes that I had at Babbo, but I thought that Babbo was stronger across the board. This could just be a function of what we ordered. I would be more likely to go back to Babbo because its not as expensive as Del Posto. On the other hand, it's pretty tough to get a reservation at Babbo. The only table we could get was at 11pm. It was well worth the wait, though.
I really liked the layout of the restaurant. You walk into a crowded bar. Behind the bar is a lower level dining room with a large table in the center that has a big center piece along with bottles of wine, olive oil, and vinegar. Some dishes, such as the branzino, are platted here after the waiter shows you the whole fish (or whatever dish you are ordering). Del Posto also has these serving stations. I think it's a really nice touch. A large staircase in lands in the center of the room, and leads up to a more spacious second floor dining room that has a large skylight and another large serving table in the center of the room. The sound track accompanying diners includes bands such as Led Zepplin, Guns and Roses, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. The soundtrack would seem bit at odds with the food and the setting, but, surprisingly, it works.

As far as the service goes, I thought that the bartender was a bit brusque, but the rest of the staff was fantastic. I didn't get our waiter's name, but he was awesome, and gave us a number of great recommendations. Here's what we had.

Grilled octopus with "Barlotti Marinati" and spicy lemoncello vinaigrette.
Testa (pig's head) with pickled pearl onions and thyme vinaigrette.
Warm tripe "alla Parmagiana"
Mint love letters with spicy lamb sausage.
Black spaghetti with rock shrimp, spicy salami calabrese, and green chiles.
Goose liver ravioli with balsamic vinegar and brown butter.
Whole grilled branzino with cardoons and lemon oregano jam.
Grilled pork chop with cherry peppers, cipolline and aceto manodori.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Future Food @ WD-50

Every season on Top Chef, there's at least one contestant that is really in to molecular gastronomy, Wylie Dufresne is always a guest judge, and the producers always show a clip of said contestant gushing about how great Dufresne is and how he is one of the pioneers of this type of cooking. Having seen it executed on TV many times but never tried it, Abby and I jumped at the chance to grab lunch there.

The verdict? It was good. I don't think this type of cooking really adds much in terms of taste, but all the dishes were really creative, sometimes surprising, and everything looked great. If this were an Iron Chef battle, the dishes would have been maxed out on the plating and creativity scores, and average on the taste scores.

Here's what we had:

They started us out with some 'sesame paper' instead of the typical bread basket.
The first dish in the lunch tasting menu was poached New Zealand Snapper with green mango, parsley root, and cumin.
Dish two was "Knot foie," a strip of foie gras terrine tied in a know with puffed rice. The puffed rice added a nice textural contrast, but it was also all I could taste. I think it would have been better if they had used about half the amount of the puffed rice.
The third - and perhaps most creative dish -was their version of eggs benedict. The yellow stuff is poached egg yolk with a pinch of volcanic salt. Its topped with a Canadian bacon chip. On the side, they serve a hollandaise cube dusted with English muffin crumbs. You read correctly...that's a cube of sauce. Very cool. When you break open the cube, the hollandaise sauce spills out, and you can mix all the ingredients together. It tastes just like a very good eggs benedict.
Course four on the menu was a seared 'crab tail' covered with and edamame noodle in a cinnamon dashi broth. I thought the cinnamon was a bit off-putting at first but was really in to it by the time I finished the dish. It added a really nice aroma.
The fifth dish on the menu was chicken liver spaetzle with radish, cocoa nibs, and pine needle oil sauce. I liked how the sauce looked like mint chip ice cream and the radishes add nice texture. I'm not crazy about chicken livers done this way though.
The last savory dish was beef tongue with king oyster mushrooms, crispy quinoa, palm seeds infused with bitters, and a cherry-miso sauce. Beef tongue has a pretty distinct flavor, so this is probably something that you love or hate. The palm seeds were a nice complement to the dish.
The first dessert dish was called "Waldorf Salad." It has walnut crumble, walnut tuile, goldn raisins, celery, celery mayonnaise, apple, and apple ice cream. I thought that this was a really clean tasting, well done dish....very creative.
Dessert number two was toasted coconut cake, carob, smoked cashews, brown butter sorbet, and coconut foam. Another winner.
The last dessert course was Yuzu ice cream with a marcona almond coating.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Prune NYC

Roasted bone marrow is one of those things that I had seen a couple of times on TV shows - Tony Bourdain's show, to be specific - that I really wanted to try. The first time it made an appearance was on his London show when he went to Fergus Henderson's restaurant, St. John. A few weeks later, the same dish of roasted bone marrow with parsley salad made an appearance on the New York episode when he went to Prune. There was no way I was going to find myself in London anytime soon, but Prune happens to be just down the street from Abby's place, so we decided to give it a shot. The place is tiny, and it may not be the easiest seat to get on a Saturday night, but a rain storm the left us dripping wet must have chased away a few customers. We were able to walk in and a table was sitting there waiting for us.

This meal was worlds away from the highly refined seafood we had the night before. It wasn't uniformly spectacular, but it was good, comfort food that tasted like it could have come out of someone's home kitchen....if that someone was a really good, creative cook with hookups for good ingredients. The first thing we got when we set down was a little bowl of fried chickpeas with another bowl of salt for dipping. I've made fried chickpeas as an element for a dish a couple of times here and here. I must say, its a great little bar snack, and one of the many little quirks that makes this place worth going to.

For the appetizer we ordered the roasted bone marrow dish. The serve it with grilled pieces of bread, sea salt, and a salad of parsley, shallots, capers, and cornichons. The bitterness and brininess of the salad cuts through the rich marrow. It's a great combination. This seems pretty easy to make, so I'll have go give it a try at a dinner party sometime.
We ordered grilled lamb shoulder chop with braised dandelion greens and skordalia; braised rabbit leg with vinegar sauce; wax beans with grated beets, citrus, and honeycomb; and braised leeks and celery hearts with collard greens and a dijon mustard sauce. Abby and I both thought the beets with honeycomb were really interesting. I think we both thought the main courses were good, but not quite as good as the sides that we ordered.

We were still a little hungry after the main courses, so we ordered these enormous "shrimp" that everyone in the restaurant seemed to be getting. The menu said that they were grilled head on shrimp with anchovy butter, but they must be langoustines, which are somewhere between a shrimp and a lobster. This was awesome. (So awesome that every time I look at this photo I instinctively start drooling. I have yet to try a tastier shrimp! -abby)
This dish and the bone marrow are reason enough to come to this restaurant. When you're all done, they give you cherries, instead of chocolates or mints. I thought this was another nice quirky little touch.
I enjoyed my meal here and would recommend it to anyone who isn't a vegetarian. The place is small, but if the weather is crappy or you walk in right at opening, you might be able to get a table for two without reservations. Its probably better to play it safe, though, and call ahead. Given that the side dishes and appetizers were great and the main courses were just ok, I think I'll treat this like a tapas bar next time I come here and just order small plates.

Sushi Yasuda

Last night, Abby and I went out to Sushi Yasuda with Alex and Jane. This is one of their favorite places, and I heard rave reviews from Abby after she went there last fall when she was in NYC interviewing with law firms. I had been looking forward to eating here, and I must say, this is hands down the best sushi I have ever had.

If you go, I would suggest sitting at the bar. Call ahead to see if you can get a place in front of Yasuda-san (pictured above). We just let him serve us what he thought was good, and since he knows more about seafood than I, or just about anyone else, can hope to know, that's really the best way to get a great dining experience. He's a really personable guy, and offers his views on sushi to you, explaining how important things like texture and temperature are to the taste of sushi.

Sushi, at its best, is very subtle. The decor at Sushi Yasuda reflects this idea. The heart of the restaurant is a long, blonde wood bar. The walls, ceilings, and floors are all the same, giving the restaurant a clean, understated look. When you sit at the bar, leaves, rather than plates, are your serving dishes. Each dinner gets a little pot of soy with a dipping bowl and plate, but these are unnecessary. You eat right off of the leaf as the chef serves you, and each piece of sushi is perfectly seasoned. Dipping it in soy would just ruin the delicate balance.
I have always heard that the quality of the rice is what really distinguishes great sushi from good sushi. Getting high quality fish is about judgment and knowing the right purveyors. Yes, cutting the fish just so is a hard learned skill, but making great sushi rice is a craft that people spend years learning. At most places you go to, the rice sticks together and, when you eat the sushi, it more or less stays stuck together as you chew it. At Sushi Yasuda, the rice sticks together nicely, but each grain is distinct. When you put the sushi in your mouth, it gently falls apart, allowing you to appreciate the texture of each perfectly seasoned grain of rice.
Temperature, timing, and attention to detail are all very important to making perfect sushi rice. You must rinse all of the starch from the rice and let it dry out thoroughly so that the grains don't stick together. You must cook the rice in just the right amount of water at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time. You must spread it out and fan it in a wooden bowl that will absorb some of the moisture. And, finally, when the rice has reached the proper temperature, you must season it with just the right amount of vinegar. At Sushi Yasuda, all of this is perfectly done. The amount of vinegar on the rice really livens up you taste buds and allows you to appreciate some of the more subtle cuts of fish.

While the rice is impressive, its just one half of what makes this place great. The selection is outstanding. All of the standards are hear...uni, unagi, squid, toro.
But you don't just order, say, yellowtail, you can choose a specific type. Yasuda decided to give us a yellowtail tasting, offering four different varieties of yellowtail (below). For just about every type of fish on the menu, you have several options.
You can also eat some things that you may not be able to find anywhere else. There were certainly a number of firsts for me. The scallops are a great example of his creativity. Normally, you just eat the adductor muscle of the scallop. Yasuda will serve this to you (top right), but you can also get the scallop tentacle, or gills that go around the fringe of the shell (bottom left), and the liver...I'm not sure if its actually a liver, but that's what he called it (bottom right). In the top left of the picture below, you see all the different parts of the scallops on Yasuda-san's cutting board. The color of the liver varies by gender (bright red or gray).
Here are a couple more types of sushi....I can't remember all of them. The best one I had all night though, was the Peace Passage Oyster (from my home state of Washington) pictured in the top right below. I can't describe how good this was.
Every last piece of sushi we had was amazing. Yasuda seasons each piece with wasabi, a squeeze of lemon juice, a brush of soy, and/or a sprinkle of sea salt. I had never thought of putting sea salt on sushi before... this idea is a Yasuda original....but it is really, really good. It adds just a little bit of crunch and saltiness that is completely unexpected. It is especially good with the uni.

Yasudu isn't only about sushi, though. There are several interesting appetizers. Above, we have a bowl of different fish livers....another things that I had never had before. Do order this if you ever come here. It's delicious, just like everything else on the menu.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Mint tortelloni

Adam, Jon, and I got together for a little "bro night" the other week. As Adam said, "It's just a few dudes hangin' out, drinking beer and cooking gourmet food." manly. Anyway, here's one of the dishes I made. I also tried another version of the roasted pork ragu that I've already blogged about. I tried using spinach pasta instead of the regular egg pasta and I tried a half and half mixture of lamb and pork. My advice, stick with the original recipe. This version, for some reason or another, turned out a bit stringy and the spinach pasta was not a great pairing. Anyway, on to this dish. The filling for the pasta was from the Babbo recipe for their "Mint Love Letters." Instead of serving the past with merguez and tomato sauce (I was already serving a lamb and tomato pasta as a second pasta course), I finished the dish off with butter, mint, chives, and a little basil oil and truffle oil. The dish was really good, but next time I'll try to role the pasta out a little thinner and maybe try working ricotta into the stuffing.

Sake & Miso Glazed Salmon with Lime & Scallion Sushi Rice

This is a fairly straightforward dish. I had a salad on the side, but if you want a well rounded plate with the typical protein/starch/veg trio, baby bok choy would make a great addition. The dish is finished off with a soy/ginger/ricewine vinegar reduction.

Sake & Miso Glazed Salmon (2 servings)
-Salmon (1/2 lb)
-Sake (1/4 cup)
-Miso paste (1/4 cup)
-Mirin (1 Tbsp)
-Soy (1 Tbsp)
-Ginger (1/2" root, grated)
-Sugar (2 Tbsp)

Combine all of the ingredients and marinate the salmon for a couple hours or overnight. Broil for about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on the salmon as it cooks. The glaze has sugar in it, so it will burn.

For the rice, use a short grain sushi rice. When you're using sushi rice, you want to thoroughly rinse the rise and let it sit for at least a half hour. This process gets ride of a lot of the starch on the surface and is the key to getting good sushi rice. Mix together the juice from 1/2 of a lime (for one cup of rice) and 1 tsp sugar. Let the rice cool slightly then mix the juice and 1-2 finely chopped scallions with the rice.