This is the article I wish I had written (or could write). It's a great primer on dim sum, complete with photos, descriptions, Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciation, and Chinese characters. As long-time readers know, I am a huge foodie and am basically illiterate in Chinese despite being able to speak pretty well.
If you go ever go to dim sum (or want to -- and you should!) I highly recommend it.
(Separately, the author Carolyn Phillips has an amazing blog called "Out to Lunch with @MadameHuang" about Chinese food. She's an American who speaks Chinese fluently and has lived in Taiwan and China. She has beautiful recipes and photos on her blog that have me salivating. I've exchanged a little email with her too; she seems really nice. Check it out!)
The last remaining bottle of the world's most expensive whisky is going up for auction tomorrow in LA. Glenfiddich made only fifteen bottles of the "Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve" from a cask that went into the barrel in 1955. (Janet Sheed Roberts was the oldest living person in Scotland and the granddaughter of the distillery's founder.) They apparently went into glass in 2010, so the whisky is considered 55 years old. One of the bottles from this set went for $94,000. According to the Glenfiddich malt master (how do I become a malt master?), the bottling is "incredibly elegant". Here are some other tasting notes.
The bottle itself is special too, "Each of the beautiful hand blown bottles has 24ct Gold adorning its neck and front. The stopper which consists of an aquamarine Cloisonné medallion monogrammed in gold with Mrs Roberts initials was made by Thomas Fattorini's." [From Glasstorm.com]
This map is a simple way to understand where the different single malts fall. I love it!
To find the freshest eggs at the supermarket, you can decode the numbers on the carton. The number we’re looking for is the three digit number (circled in red below). This is the ordinal date (the day of the year) the eggs were packaged (so 1 is January 1, 2 is January 2, etc.) Assuming the eggs were all handled the same way, I think you can assume that eggs packaged more recently are fresher.
Interestingly, the “use by” by date (the month/day indicated on the carton) seems less reliable. These two cartons in my refrigerator have the same packing date yet the “use by” dates are more than a week apart. In my local grocery store, I’ve seen packaging dates more than three weeks apart on the shelf. While the eggs are probably all safe to eat, I’m confident there’s a big drop in quality between these eggs. (I look for how thick/runny the whites are.)
In case you’re curious, the Pxxxx number is the plant where the eggs were packed.
Michelle and I went with our friend Meng to Katsu Burger this week. Like it’s name implies, this little restaurant in the south part of Seattle (Georgetown) serves a unique katsu sandwich on hamburger buns. If you’re not familiar, katsu is a Japanese dish: pork cutlets in panko coating, deep fried.
They have a bunch of different sandwiches including beef burgers and chicken burgers; they even have a ridiculous “Mt. Fuji” burger with a katsu patty, a beef patty, a chicken breast, ham, bacon, and three types of cheese. I passed on that heart-attack-in-a-bun and had a spicy curry katsu burger. Meng had a katsu burger with bacon (my next trip...) We added fries (mine with curry powder, Michelle’s with nori) and a green tea milkshake.
It was really an insanely great meal. I’ve had katsu in famous places across Tokyo, but the katsu at Katsu Burger is among the best I’ve ever had. The burger was crazy good as was the shake. The fries were decent too (they could have been crispier to my liking.)
We waited a while for our burgers (definitely worth the wait), and it looked like you could wind up waiting for a table too. The only real bummer is that Katsu Burger is only open on weekdays.
6538 Fourth Ave. S., Seattle
[Update 12/23/2011: We went back today and learned that after the New Year (2012) they will be open Saturdays 11-4!! Wahoo! Also, I learned their panko coated, deep fried hamburgers are silly good too.]
How can one recipe have so many of my favorite things in it? Bacon with bourbon, caramel, and apples? Awesome. It's probably too much to ask (and too gross) to add raw oysters, ramen, and jiaozi. Roasted nuts, however... I'll have to try this out.
8 Granny Smith apples
8 wooden sticks
1 (16 ounce) package brown sugar
2/3 cup dark corn syrup
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon Bacon Salt
2 tablespoons bourbon whiskey
Insert wooden sticks 3/4 of the way into the stem end of each apple. Place apples on a cookie sheet covered with lightly greased aluminum foil.
Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thermometer registers 290 degrees F (143 degrees C). Remove from the heat and stir in the bourbon if desired.
Keep the saucepan over low heat to keep the caramel liquid for dipping the apples. Stir the Bacon Salt into the caramel. Working quickly, carefully dip apples in the caramel. Place apples on the greased aluminum foil until coating has cooled and hardened.
Last weekend, my friend Sean Alexander hosted a "BBQ Fantasy Camp" at his home. He invited Grand Champion Pitmaster Konrad Haskins to teach this private class to a small group of us. Konrad is an interesting character, a South African who grew up in London, worked at Microsoft, and then went on to compete (and win) in BBQ contests. He has no shortage of opinions and stories on all topics (typically well-informed and entertaining), which he generously shared throughout our 9am-5pm meat-fest.
I was pleasantly surprised by how practical Konrad was about his BBQ. For instance, rather than smoke the pork shoulder whole for 12-13 hours, he butterflied it and then wrapped it in foil for a few hours after the initial smoking, shortening the cooking time significantly. (He finished it uncovered.) The results were spectacular.
It was also interesting to learn about how competition BBQ differed from home BBQ. He admitted he didn't really like eating competition BBQ. In competitions you only have one or two bites to show off to a judge, so you over-flavor everything to maximize the impact. However, if you did this for something you ate a whole meal of, it would be overpowering. They also use a lot of seemingly weird methods like cooking in fake butter instead of real butter, since the fake butters are engineered to taste more buttery than real butter. Gross.
Over the course of the day, Konrad cooked up a fattie (basically a whole Jimmy Dean sausage rolled in dry rub, smoked, and sliced onto biscuits -- yum!), brisket, pork shoulder, ribs, chicken, tri-tip, and burnt ends (plus biscuits and mushrooms). I never thought I could have too much meat, but I did. It was a good problem to have.
I really enjoyed the day and learned a lot. It certainly didn't hurt that the weather was gorgeous, the company entertaining, and the wine and beer plentiful and tasty. I'm ready to do more grilling and barbequing now. Thanks to Sean (and his awesome wife and my old friend Nickie) for hosting and to Konrad for the great lessons.
Here's Konrad showing us how to prep a full brisket; he separated the point from the flat, trimmed most of the fat away, and cooked them separately.
Part of the brisket being finished in a dutch oven with red wine and mirapoix - basically a BBQ Beef Bourguignon. Crazy good and falling apart tender.
Here's another part of the brisket, this one smoked for a few hours, wrapped for a few hours, and finished on the grill for an hour. Look at the smoke ring!
Konrad had a good tip for getting more ribs onto a grill -- roll them up. The rolls are held together with a bamboo skewer running through them.
When you order a steak in China (typically at a Western steak house), they will often not understand what you mean by "medium-rare", etc. Aside from the language issues, they use a different , numerically based system here.
I think my friends know I like bacon. After my previous post about The Bacon Enthusiast Gift Guide, my hometown friend Steve sent me this link to The Ultimate Bacon Lovers Gift Guide. It's another winner full of great gift ideas for the bacon lover in your life (so, pretty much everyone, because who doesn't love bacon?!)
I'm hoping there's a My First Bacon under the tree this year. Just sayin'.
Nothing says Christmas like bacon. My good friend, Craig, passed this awesome list of bacon gift ideas to me. (Ignore the irony of my Jewish friend sending me bacon gift ideas for Christmas.)
This Bacon Moon Pie looks insane. I hope I'm on Santa's nice list...
It's definitely winter in Beijing now. With the cold weather comes a typical Beijing treat -- tang hu lu (糖葫芦). These are Chinese hawthorn fruits on a stick that are candied in a sugar glaze. The fruit is cut in half and pitted, then put back together on the stick. It's really a great combination with the sugary goodness balancing the tart hawthorn. I think they're quite lovely too. You can now get other fruit like kiwis and strawberries done this way sometimes, but hawthorns are the real deal.
In addition to shops and stalls, you'll see people selling tang hu lu off the back of a bike. Regardless, they're always poked into a round stand like below.
Here's Michael (10) enjoying his tang hu lu this evening (artsy photo courtesy of More Lomo, an iPhone app.)
In addition to my tours of Golkonda Fort and both the old and new parts of Hyderabad, obviously, I ate a lot while I was in India. I don't have any photos of the meals (bad foodie), but I thought I'd share a few thoughts and observations.
I've always loved Indian food; I will reliably eat Indian food like a starving dog and continue to eat until I am beyond painfully full. I simply have no self-control around the stuff. Even though I really only ate in the hotel and in the Microsoft cafeteria (due to some risk of civil unrest around the Ayodha ruling), it should be no surprise that the Indian food in India was better than any I've had outside of India (including amazing Indian meals I've had in London and Singapore.) The flavors were just deeper and more complex than those I've had before.
Hyderabad is known for it's biryanis -- a rice dish typically made with goat meat in Hyderabad. Even the chicken version in the Microsoft cafeteria was spicy and ridiculously tasty -- a far cry from the biryanis I've had before. I also gorged on masala dosas and spicy lentil stew for breakfast; not my typical breakfast fare to be sure, but I think it would be if I had a source of dosas near home. The other curries, dals, breads, and tandoori roasted meats I had were stunningly good as well. (My mouth is watering as I write this...)
The only meal I had in a restaurant outside my hotel and the Microsoft cafeteria was actually a Chinese meal! As it turns out, the Indians are crazy about Chinese food (or their take on it); it's apparently the most popular cuisine in India outside of Indian food (there is even have an Indian Chinese restaurant in Redmond, WA but apparently it's not very good.) I saw Chinese restaurant signs all over Hyderabad, even in the less affluent parts of town.
The Indians have adapted Chinese cooking to their tastes and ingredients. My friend Saurabh took me to a very upscale place in the Taj Hotel; it looked pretty authentically Chinese and the menu looked relatively familiar as well. That's where the similarity stopped though.
The appetizer was sort of like french fries in a chili sauce. It tasted very good, but the flavors were a mix of Chinese and Indian tastes (and french fried potatoes don't factor into Chinese cuisine much). For our mains, we had two of the more popular dishes: "Manchurian gravy" and chow mein. The Manchurian gravy was a brown sauce with deep fried cauliflower balls; it was sweet and soy saucy with chilis and garlic. Pretty tasty. The chow mein was like other Chinese fried noodles, although there was something a little different about it as well.
For dessert, we had a classic Indian-Chinese dish. It was deep-fried wonton skins cut into wide noodles soaked with honey and served with vanilla ice cream. Of course, it was delicious, although I'm quite sure no Chinese emperor ever had this delight.
Wikipedia has a whole article on Indian-Chinese food. Fascinating! Who knew?
I really wish I had more time in India to try even more dishes. Next time...
Last week we rented a house in Holmes Harbor on Whidbey Island with our friends Barbi and Kellie for a few days of crabbing, sunshine, and general laziness. Our friends Nori, Stacy, and Jarrett (and Stacy's dad) from Beijing came out too for a bit since the were in Seattle as well.
The house was part of an eighteen acre holly farm (yes, Christmas holly needs farms too), appropriately named Holly Hills Farm. It was really a lovely place on a quiet harbor. They have three houses for rent there - a larger, modern place (which we had), a mid-sized farm house, and a smaller farm house. Our place was well outfitted with everything you could want -- great kitchen with every manner of tool/pot/pan, grill, propane boiler (for all those crabs!), washer/dryer, fluffy towels, etc.
Here's the house from the water side:
Here's the view down from the house toward their dock:
Barbi brought her 19' speedboat and crab traps along. We soon found a good spot and were hauling in tons of crabs. We probably pulled up 200 over the course of four days, keeping about fifty (there are size/gender restrictions plus daily limits -- fortunately, we had several licenses so we could get a lot of crabs. The beach was also full of lovely, easily-dug clams as well as mussels, although we bought mussels since the store-bought ones are cleaner and not stuck together.
Michael (10) driving out to check out traps:
A pot full of yummy crabs -- turkey legs are awesome bait! They are cheap, last all day, and crabs can't resist.
A blazing pot full of crabby goodness:
The day's bounty (actually, just part of it...) We wound up eating crab a million ways -- boiled crab, crab fried rice, black bean crab, crab roll, crab omelets, crab cocktail, cold cracked crab, and more. We also had oysters (with whisky and one of this year's Oyster Wine Content winners), hyper fresh and ripe berries of all descriptions, black cod kasuzuke, fresh corn, and mussels and clams. It was absolutely incredible. By the second or third day, though, Michael declared a crab moratorium for himself.
In addition to crabbing and being lazy, the kids fished a bit. Stacy's dad is an avid fisherman and taught the kids how to bottom fish for dogfish -- little sharks:
Andrew (13) hooked into two of the dogfish, but since we weren't using steel leaders, both cut the line as they approached the dock. I can't say that I'm disappointed that we didn't land it. I wasn't sure I wanted to mess with unhooking the things.
We also just played in the water a bunch (OK, the kids did -- it was pretty cold...)
Like many boys, Andrew (13) and Michael (10) are fascinated by all things military and have expressed interest in becoming snipers or some such. So, as part of helping them explore this interest, on our recent camping trip, I brought an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat -- a military ration) along for them to try.
Here are the contents of the MRE laid out. Our menu for the evening was a "pork rib, boneless, imitation" (really a chopped pork burger formed into the shape of ribs and covered in a barbecue sauce of sorts), refried beans, crackers, cheese spread, peanut butter (which we couldn't eat since the kids are allergic), and an oatmeal cookie.
In the interest of giving us the best chance of enjoying the meal, I heated up the meat and beans in some boiling water (the pack didn't contain chemical heaters unfortunately).
Here's what the meat and beans looked like. The beans tasted fine, just like you'd expect canned refried beans to taste like. The "pork rib, boneless, imitation" wasn't as bad as I had feared. Overall the meal tasted like a mid-quality school cafeteria lunch.
That said, once they had a taste of the various parts of the MRE, the boys went back to their hotdogs pretty quickly.
Even after this experience, the boys have not renounced their interest in going military, although I think they'll have to broaden their dietary tolerance before they can really make it.
(For the record, the MRE was made by Sopackco and was a civilian version of the MREs they make for the military.)
Once again, Taylor Shellfish (and my friend Jon Rowley)sponsored the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition to find the best wines to accompany oysters. The best wines are crisp and God-like with fresh oysters. Here are this year's winners:
Acrobat 08 Pinot Gris (OR)
Anne Amie Vineyards 09 Pinot Gris (OR)
Anne Amie Vineyards Cuvee A 09 Müller-Thurgau (OR)
**Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery 08 Sauvignon Blanc (WA)
CMS White 08 (WA)
*Columbia Winery 08 Pinot Gris (WA)
Franciscan Estates 08 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
Heitz Wine Cellars 09 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
*King Estate Winery 08 Pinot Gris (OR)
**Kunde Family Estate 09 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
* Prior Oyster Award Winner ** Multiple prior Oyster Awards
I'm sure these are all great, or you can always drink whisky with oysters for my personal favorite food/drink pairing...
A few weeks ago my family and another family went down to Singapore and Indonesia for Spring Break. Michelle and I went to Singapore for our honeymoon many, many years ago. Singapore is one of the best places I've ever eaten in the world thanks to their diverse culture and high standards. Everyone I've ever met from Singapore was a foodie. That said, among the embarrassment of riches in Singapore, since our honeymoon we've both dreamed about the quintessential Singaporean local dining experience: hawker stalls.
These are food centers, like a food court but standalone instead of in a shopping mall (althought there are awesome food courts in Singapore too like Food Republic.) There are dozens of stalls cooking a range of food that mirrors Singapore's diversity: chili crab, pepper crab, satays, grilled seafood, curries, roti, shaved ice, ramen, Chinese vegetables, and more. Other stalls have beers, awesome limeade drinks, and other drinks. Each table has a number on it. You choose a table and then go from shop to shop ordering and leaving your table number. They'll deliver the food, which is when you pay.
Newton Circus is probably the best known and most popular among tourists; it's convenient and very good (and nice on pleasant evenings since they have outdoor seating). However, we really preferred the more local Chomp Chomp. Aside from the obviously awesome name, the food was better and the scene less touristy/pushy. Many, many thanks to our friend Meng who recommended Chomp Chomp and other fantastic places to eat.
The entrance to Chomp Chomp.
The scene at Chomp Chomp:
A master at work grilling chicken wings over a wood coal fire; he's using the fan to help control the heat.
Grilled (huge) prawns
The most awesome pork and beef satays as they're meant to be: hot, bite-sized, and in quantity.
This was perhaps the consensus favorite: grilled skate wing covered in sambal sauce (kind of a chili sauce). The bowl of heavenly goodness to the left is peanut sauce for dredging satays though. My mouth is watering as I write this.
The other thing we really all loved was chili crab, with a side of fried rolls for sopping up every drop of the mind-blowing sauce. Unfortunately, I couldn't hold myself back long enough to take a photo before diving into the messy, spicy treat. Chinese vegetables stir-fried with sambal sauce were also ridiculously good.
Hawker stalls are local food at its best -- inexpensive, a reflection of the society and land, and just plain awesome.
I can't believe I didn't think of this sooner -- cooking bacon on a hot gun barrel! Two awesome things combined in one! The author fired 250 rounds to cook the bacon, but thinks 150 would have sufficed.
We've been eagerly awaiting the opening of Fatburger in Beijing for sometime. Last night, we saw the restaurant -- it opens tomorrow! It's been hard to find a good burger in Beijing, so we're looking forward to their opening.
Location: Grand Summit in the Liangmaqiao Diplomatic Residence Compound, across from the Kempinski Hotel (and right next to the Liangmaqiao subway stop!)
While I was in Tokyo this week, my colleague, friend, and ramen fiend K1 (his name is actually Keiichiro, but since ichiro means one in Japanese, he goes by "K1") took a few of us to his absolute favorite ramen place -- Ramen Jirou.
As it turns out, this shop has a cult-like following among the Japanese. Ramen Jirou is completely different from other ramen places I've been like Ippudo or Kyushu Jangara (some purists don't even consider it to be ramen.) People have compared the place to the restaurant of "Soup Nazi" fame. To begin with, the branch we went to kind of dirty, more like something I'd expect in Beijing, not Tokyo.
There's nothing to order besides ramen -- no gyoza and if you want something to drink besides water, you can buy it from the machine outside. There are only a few seats, and often a half-hour line. You sit when a seat opens up -- no waiting for enough room for your party.
There's only one basic menu choice -- a super-rich pork-based soup with thick and dense noodles (vs. the thin ramen noodles or lighter udon noodels), a few slices of pork, and a pile of cabbage and bean spouts mounded on top. It has none of the classic ramen toppings, no egg, no menma (pickled bamboo shoots), no cod roe. It's not a really visually attractive bowl frankly -- kind of monochromatic and slopped in vs. the carefully composed look of most Japanese food. The only choices are whether you want a big or small bowl with extra meat or not. You buy a chit from a machine that specifies your preference. I ordered a small bowl with a normal amount of noodles and meat. It was 600 yen, a little over USD$6.00.
When the chef hands you the bowl, you specify whether you want garlic, vegetables, more pork fat, and additional soy sauce (K1 says it's too salty with additional soy sauce). You have to order in a specific way, like ordering a latte at Starbucks, or you will be met with derision. (I had to memorize the order in Japanese before I sat down; naturally I had it with everything except the additional soy sauce. You say "yasai, niniku, abura" for "vegetable, garlic, fat") Once the bowl arrives, you eat silently, seemingly as fast as you can. Once complete, you put the bowl on the upper counter, wipe off the counter, and leave quickly.
OMG -- it was fantastic and unlike anything I had ever had. The soup was amazingly rich and tasty with blobs of pork fat suspended in the soup. The noodles were dense and chewy, the meat tender, and the veggies added enough crunch and variety to balance the thing out. A few shakes of white pepper kicked it up even a little more. I slurped up my bowl in a few minutes with a huge grin on my face. There's nothing subtle about it. Just pure porky goodness.
K1 has described the various stages of Ramen Jirou addiction. Early on, other ramens taste wimpy. Apparently at the last stage (the one he's in), you can't think of anything else. He dreams of Jirou incessantly and goes there first whenever he lands in Japan. It's not just K1. There are a lot of write-ups on Ramen Jirou including an NPR story, a CNN article, a Guardian UK article declaring it one of the 50 best things to eat in the world, and more.
I'm fast on my way toward Ramen Jirou addition too.
The line outside Ramen Jirou. All of the official branches have this yellow awning sign.
The scene inside as I look longingly from outside. There are a few few seats at the L-shaped counter and two people working inside.
This is the machine you order from. The row on top are the small bowls, the lower row is the large bowl. The choice on the right is extra meat.
The master at work. He kind of just slops everything into the bowls. You can see the sliced pork at the bottom.
The bowl of happiness. It doesn't look like much, but damn, it's good.
As I mentioned in a post a long time ago, my family and I love the Motoyama Milk Bar in the Roppongi Hills mall in Tokyo. Since I'm in Tokyo right now, I thought I'd stop by for a lovely coffee milk and to bring some of their luscious caramels back to my loving family (who would love me a lot more if I brought back Motoyama caramels, I assure you.)
Imagine my surprise when I saw it was closed. Out of business. Kaput. The sign on the left basically said, "Thanks. Really thanks. We closed on January 17. If you have questions, call this number xxx."
Goodbye, MMB! I will always remember your flan, those cute little milk jars, and your cute waitresses...
Last night, Michelle, our good friend Stacy, and I went to Apothecary, a hot new-ish bar in Beijing. It's in Nali Patio (next to Mosto) in the expat-friendly Sanlitun area.
The place has a clean feel with good service and nice jazz and standards filling the air. The drinks are definitely the highlight, with a strong emphasis on classic drinks made well. The menu is a delight, with nice explanations of the drinks. I had a great Manhattan, a stellar Old Fashioned (with Old Overholt -- kind of a nice twist) over one of the now-ubiquitous hand-shaved round ice balls, and an equally great something else or another (now lost to the drink haze). The ladies' drinks were equally well made and perfect.
The food was a bit mixed. Stacy and I shared a really delicious pork pate po boy (Michelle doesn't like pate) -- it was well-balanced with just enough pickled veggies to add a little bite to the pate. The beef sliders were probably the best burgers we've had in Beijing so far; we ordered a second plate of these -- great beef on sweet potato buns. Again, nicely balanced with a perfect proportion of meat and bun with just enough pickley stuff to kick it up a bit. Unfortunately, the gumbo and red beans and rice were terrible; they were bland, blended smooth like baby food, and served as almost a veneer or topping on too much rice. I'm biased towards Michelle's stellar Southern cooking, no doubt, but this was not good.
Fortunately, the drinks more than made up for the spotty food. We'll definitely go back for drinks and snacks.
3/F, Nali Patio, 81 Sanlitun Beilu, Sanlitun
(Note: they open at 7pm. We thought they opened at 6:00 and wound up milling around for a while.)
I can't believe I missed this place in our recent trip to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong restaurant offers Michelin-starred food for 78p
A hole-in-the-wall canteen in Hong Kong which offers dishes for less than a pound has become the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant.
By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai
Published: 5:54PM GMT 27 Nov 2009
Tim Ho Wan has become the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant Photo: AFP/GETTY
Tim Ho Wan, which means "Add Good Luck", can seat only 20 people in its steamy dining room and its battered bamboo baskets of dim sum sell for as little as 78p.
Jean-Luc Naret, the director of the Michelin guide said it was the "most affordable starred restaurant in the world" and was included as proof of Michelin's commitment to local cuisines.
The Hong Kong restaurant is headed by Mak Pui Gor, the former dim sum chef at the Four Seasons Hotel, where he worked at the three Michelin-starred restaurant Lung King Heen. Mr Mak decided during the economic crisis to branch out on his own and offer his dishes at bargain prices.
The most expensive dish on the menu, a plate of noodles, costs the equivalent of around £3, and he sells around 750 dishes of his signature crispy pork buns each day. Other dishes include a cheung fun, or steamed rice noodle roll, with pork livers and delicate jellies containing flower petals.
"Since the news broke, we've been really very busy," said a waitress at the restaurant. "We really are very cheap, but I don't think we are planning to raise our prices," she added. At lunchtime, diners can expect queues of up to an hour on the street outside.
A number of other humble Hong Kong canteens were also included in the guide, but Mr Naret insisted inspectors had not lowered their standards in order to please local diners. "Let me tell you, I've been to quite a few of those simple restaurants in the selection and I was very surprised." he said.
Michelin verdict: "It would not be an exaggeration to say that this little dim sum shop has breathed life into this quiet street in Mong Kok. In 2009, two chefs joined forces and opened here. It has been a success ever since, hence the wait outside. There is no doubt about their ingredients.
"Special mention has gone to the steamed dumpling Chiu Chew style, the steamed egg cake and most definitely to the baked bun with barbecue pork. The wait is worth it".
I really needed a burger the other day in a deep way. The only place near my office that I know of to get a burger is the McDonalds around the corner so I headed out.
The store would be instantly recognizable to any American, but their menu is a blend of familiar with new/modified items. Fortunately for me, in China, they have these plastic menu placemats with English so I can point to what I want. In addition to the Big Mac, Double Cheeseburger, Chicken McNuggets, and Filet-o-Fish sandwich we see in the US, you can get a "Mala Grilled Chicken Sandwich" or a "Mala Crispy Pork Sandwich" (Mala means something like "spicy" in Chinese.) They also have fried chicken wings on the menu, and apparently corn is a popular side instead of fries. For dessert, instead of an apple pie, you can have a pineapple or taro pie. Their breakfast menu has the familiar (and delectable) McMuffin sandwiches; they also offer a "Egg & Ham McPuff".
(One side of the menu card - click to see the bigger version - semi-bad shot from my phone...)
The extra value desserts (< US$1):
There are some definitely advantages to the Chinese McDonalds. First, prices are pretty low compared to the US (about US$3 for a Big Mac meal -burger, fries, and Coke). Second, they deliver and are often open 24 hours a day. Finally, their spicy stuff is actually spicy. (And fried chicken is a great side for every meal.)
Delivery dude on his electric moped -- he's wearing a huge, hard, plastic backpack with the food in it. When he gets off the bike, he can carry the food right up. We've done this for lunch meetings before.
I ordered a "Big N' Beefy" sandwich. It was not big and only vaguely beefy. It's basically a Quarter Pounder with cucumber slices, lettuce, and spicy Thousand Island Dressing. (I think it was called a "McCucumber" when I first arrived in China.) It's actually not too bad, for a McDonalds burger. I also had some chicken wings (because who can pass up fried chicken?) They're a little spicy and not bad either (although not as good as KFC in China).
McDonalds is simultaneously the same everywhere in the world and intelligently local. Their success may be due to this mix of global brand and consistency with local product. I think we all (including Microsoft) could learn something from this (albeit at a higher quality.)
* Prior Oyster Award Winner ** Multiple prior Oyster Awards
The past winners have been fantastic with oysters (which should be great this time of year), so run, don't walk, to try these out. (Or you can always drink whisky with oysters for an out-of-this-world experience.)
I love eggs (of course, they go well with bacon). I thought I had the boiled egg recipe down cold, but I ran across this article that really digs into the details of how to make a perfect boiled egg. I love it when people really breakdown the science of what's going on and then to the experimentation to back it up. Worth a read.
The Temperature Timeline of Boiling an Egg
Now, here's what happens as an egg white cooks:
- From 30 -140 degrees: As it gets hot, its proteins, which resemble coiled up balls of yarn, slowly start to uncoil.
- At 140 degrees: Some of these uncoiled proteins—called ovotransferrin—begin to bond with each other, creating a matrix, and turning the egg white milky and jelly-like (like the innermost layers of egg white in the 3-minute egg above).
- At 155 degrees: The ovotransferrin has formed and opaque solid, though it is still quite soft and moist (see the white of the 5-minute egg).
- At 180 degrees: The main protein in egg whites—ovalbumen—will cross-link and solidify, giving you a totally firm egg white (see the whites of the 7 and 9 minute eggs). This is very similar to the gunk that seeps out of the surface of overcooked salmon.
- 180 degrees-plus: The hotter you get the egg, the tighter these proteins bond, and the firmer, drier, and rubbier the egg white becomes (the 11-15 minute eggs). Hydrogen Sulfide, or "rotten-egg" aromas, begin to develop. Ick.
Egg yolks, on the other hand, follow a different set of temperatures:
- At 145 degrees: They begin to thicken and set up.
- At 158 degrees: They become totally firm, but are still bright orange and shiny.
- At 170 degrees: They become pale yellow and start to turn crumbly.
- 170 degrees-plus: They dry out and turn chalky. The sulfur in the whites rapidly reacts with the iron in the yolks, creating ferrous sulfide, and tinging the yolks.
The five degree temperature difference between when the egg white and the egg yolks firm is what allows chefs at fancy-pants restaurants to serve those "slow-cooked" eggs. They simply place the egg in a 140 degree water bath, wait about 45 minutes (by which point the egg has reached 140 degrees all the way from edge to center), then carefully crack them. The results is a white that is soft and translucent but holds it's shape, and a yolk that is still completely liquid. Beautiful.
So far so good? Is this all going over easy? Now with all this background information dealt with, we can move on to something a little more eggs-citing: perfecting the boil.
My good friend from Stanford fraternity days, Ari Lehavi, was in Beijing this week, so Michelle and I met with him for dinner and drinks. Since Ari had expressed some interest in more "interesting" food, we took him for a stroll around Wangfujing Street and the Donghuamen Night Market where there food stalls with everything you can imagine on a stick.
Ari in front of scorpions (live!) and seahorses on sticks. (They're grilled and covered in spicy powder before you eat them.)
Ari chomping down on a scorpion. He considered these to be quite good.
Ari finishing off his seahorse.
Ari holding a stick of grilled silkworms and a stick of cicadas (I think). The cicadas were OK. The silkworms were a little more earthy, according to Ari. (I skipped the big silkworms.)
Mmm, love those silkworms...
Ari about to tuck into a grilled starfish. To eat these you break off an arm, peel back the tough outer skin, and eat the meaty inside. It looks a bit like cooked finely ground beef but tastes seafoody. Not terrible.
Yesterday, September 5, was International Bacon Day. To celebrate this holy occasion, here are some fun, amazing, cool links to bacony resources that my friends have sent me over the years.
Enjoy your bacon!
Our friend Barbi took the whole family and our mutual friend Kellie out crabbing this weekend on her little speed boat. We put the boat in at Camano Island State Park and motored up the west side of the island on a lovely afternoon. We picked (somewhat arbitrarily) a spot to test our luck. We assembled the two traps, baited them with chicken legs, and then tossed them into the water, hoping to lure a few of the yummy Dungeness crabs in.
After an hour or so of waiting (which we filled with a great picnic lunch Michelle prepared, some fishing, and some lazy conversation), we went back to our buoys and pulled up the traps.
We had a pretty lucky day -- crabs in each trap! We pulled out the keepers (at least 6.25 inches across and male) and reset the traps. We did this a few times (with the intervals between checking going down over time...) We wound up taking nine crabs and a bucket of seawater back to the beach with us.
Here's Andrew helping tie down the traps on the foredeck.
We pulled the boat out, cleaned the crabs on the beach, and then cooked them right there at the park in the seawater. Seven minutes later, they came out of the water perfectly done.
We scarfed down crab after crab, pausing only long enough to wash them down with cold beer. It was gluttonous and luxurious is a way that no five-star meal could ever be. I've never tasted a sweeter, more delicious crab (or three) in my entire life. Here's Barbi happily slurping her crab down as she chucks the shells into the tall grass.
The boys ate a little crab too, but they were happiest building driftwood shelters on the beach and enjoying their ice cream bars. Something for everyone I guess.
It was really one of the most memorable meals of my life (and I've had a lot of fantastic meals as you probably know...) I love Washington and our generous friends!
I need one of these. A lot.
A robot pours soup in a ramen bowl at "Momozono Robot Ramen," a ramen shop in the Yamanashi Prefecture city of Minami-Alps, as shop owner Yoshihira Uchida looks on. (Mainichi)
MINAMI-ALPS, Yamanashi -- "Momozono Robot Ramen," a ramen shop that opened here in November last year, is gaining popularity not only for its delicious ramen noodles, but for its robotic chef.
The ramen-making robot was built by 60-year-old shop owner Yoshihira Uchida, who spent about 20 million yen on its construction. Customers can place their orders on a computer in the shop, customizing various aspects such as the levels of soy sauce, salt, and richness of the soup. Uchida says there are 40 million different flavor permutations.
The noodles themselves are cooked by a human, with the robot creating a perfectly blended soup which is then delivered to the human chef via a conveyor belt, who adds the noodles and toppings. The whole process takes only about two minutes, a minute shorter than instant cup noodles. Prices of ramen per bowl are 500 yen for regular size and 300 yen for small size.
Uchida developed a love of electronics during elementary and junior high school, which he went on to study at the Musashi Institute of Technology (now Tokyo City University) and the University of Toyama's graduate school, focusing on electronic circuits and motors. After graduating, Uchida worked on noodle-packing machines at a food manufacturer until he retired from the company last year.
While working for the company, Uchida, a huge noodle lover, opened a soba noodle shop 10 years ago. He later started to make ramen -- which received mixed comments from friends, with some saying the taste was strong, and others too weak. In the end, Uchida hit upon the idea of creating a robot that can allow customers to choose the flavor they want.
Uchida began to develop the robot at his home in around 2003, asking an iron foundry to produce the specialist parts he needed. He finally completed the robot in November last year, but suffered teething problems: ramen with no taste, and computer crashes caused by spilled soup. After repeated repairs, however, Uchida finally managed to iron out the bugs.
He's now aiming at automating the addition of noodles and toppings, and shrinking the robot itself. He is also planning to open his second ramen shop in Kofu possibly by the end of this year.
"I want to mass produce the robot in the future and leave my mark out there," he says.
(Mainichi Japan) July 4, 2009
My old high school friend Brian Risch posted this awesome quiz. While I love burgers, I'm clearly still a newbie in Brian's world, only scoring in the "Working up the burger food chain" category. What's your score?
[Thanks, Brian! -- BTW, it's worth checking out Brian's site. He's always been an interesting guy -- Materials Science PhD, competitive power lifter, hunter, and general crazy dude.]
How Well Do You Know Your Burger ?
- You have consumed a burger with two or more patties (1 point)
- You have consumed a burger with cheese on it (1 point)
- You have consumed a burger with an egg on it (2 points)
- You have consumed a burger with pork products on or in it (bacon, sausage, etc.) (1 point)
- You prefer to cook your own burgers. (1 point)
- You use fire (1 point)
- The fire department has been called when you were cooking burgers (2 points)
- They stayed for the burgers (3 points)
- You have a burger “recipe” (1 point)
- You have more than 6 burger “recipes” (3 points)
- You have had family arguments about what burger “recipe” you would be making (2 points)
- You have at least three distinct recipes for “cheeseburgers” that require specific cheeses (i.e. bleu cheese burger, jalapeño Jack burger, cheddar burger, gouda burger, etc.) (2 points)
- You have made a trip to the store because you did not have the specific type of cheese required for your burger (1 point)
- One or more of your burger “recipes” includes exotic meat such as buffalo, elk, venison, moose, or mutton (3 points)
- You know what mutton is (1 point)
- You know where to get buffalo, elk, venison, moose, or mutton (1 point)
- You own your own meat grinder (2 points)
- You use it to make your favorite burger (3 points)
- You do not know where your burger meat comes from other than “the restaurant” or “the supermarket”(-1 point)
- Your favorite burger is made of soy, tofu, or some other non-meat product. (-5 points)
- You do not know what meat your burger is made of (-3 points)
- You know the woods or pasture where your burger came from (3 points)
- You harvested the meat for your burger yourself (5 points)
- You know who butchered your meat (2 points)
- You butchered your meat yourself (5 points)
- You prefer a nice cold beer as your beverage of choice to wash your burger down (1 point)
- You make your own beer (2 points)
- Catsup, pickles, and onions are the only toppings you have on your burger. (-1 point)
- The name of one of your favorite burger toppings includes the word “devil”, “fire”, “flaming”, “hell”, or “insanity”. (2 points)
- To get “just the right taste” you make your own “special sauce” including at least one ingredient that includes the word “devil”, “fire”, “flaming”, “hell”, or “insanity”. (3 points)
- One or more of your burger toppings comes with a warning label. (2 points)
- You have consumed burgers made from at least 3 classes of animals (i.e. bird, fish, mammal, reptile) (3 points)
More than 40 points: You are hardcore.
30 to 40 points: Master burger chef
20 to 30 points: Good healthy meatatarian.
10 to 20 points: Working up the burger food chain
5 to 10 points: Burger “newbie”
< 5 points: What’s the use, go vegetarian.
I saw these slabs of marble at a local market and got very hungry.
I knew it.
Researchers claim food also speeds up the metabolism helping the body get rid of the booze more quickly.
Elin Roberts, of Newcastle University's Centre for Life said: "Food doesn't soak up the alcohol but it does increase your metabolism helping you deal with the after-effects of over indulgence. So food will often help you feel better.
"Bread is high in carbohydrates and bacon is full of protein, which breaks down into amino acids. Your body needs these amino acids, so eating them will make you feel good."
Ms Roberts told The Mirror: "Bingeing on alcohol depletes neurotransmitters too, but bacon contains a high level of aminos which tops these up, giving you a clearer head."
Researchers also found a complex chemical interaction in the cooking of bacon produces the winning combination of taste and smell which is almost irresistible.
The reaction between amino acids in the bacon and reducing sugars in the fat is what provides the sandwich with its appeal.
Ms Roberts said: "The smell of sizzling bacon in a pan is enough to tempt even the staunchest of vegetarians. There's something deeper going on inside. It's not just the idea of a tasty snack. There is some complex chemistry going on.
"Meat is made of mostly protein and water. Inside the protein, it's made up of building blocks we call amino acids. But also, you need some fat. Anyone who's been on a diet knows if you take all the fat from the meat, it just doesn't taste the same. We need some of the fat to give it the flavour."
She explained that the reaction released hundreds of smells and flavours but it is the smell which reels in the eater. "Smell and taste are really closely linked," she said. "If we couldn't smell then taste wouldn't be the same."
Just like my Facebook ramen tip, I got a great recommendation for a sake shop from my old friend (and sake expert) Bruce after I mentioned I was in Tokyo (on my last trip actually). So, after our Ippudo ramen dinner, my friend Shinji and I headed over to Fukumitsuya, which was nearby the restaurant in Ginza. (I had actually tried to go the night before with my colleague John, but we got there too late.)
Fukumitsuya is a sake brewery founded in 1625; this is one of three of their retail shops. They have a tasting bar and a retail section full of great sake and lovely sakeware made from ceramic, glass, pewter, and even silver.
We were helped by the very kind and patient Otsu-san, helped by Shinji's translation skills. As we discussed more and showed our appreciation, Otsu-san started pouring more and more expensive sakes for us, ending with this amazing 20 year old Momotose, which was a deep amber color and sherry-like in nose and flavor. I've never had anything like it. She also highly recommended the Hatsugokoro Midorigura 7 year old sake; this is a daiginjo, the highest grade of sake where the rice is milled down to at least 50% of the original size. It was really delicious as well, with a full, round taste that filled my mouth and nose. Kind of hard to describe.
Most sakes are meant to be consumed young, so it's somewhat unusual to see old sakes like this, especially the 20 year old (they had 30 year old sake too.) Shinji was impressed anyway. These were pretty expensive as far as sake goes (~USD$85 for a small bottle of the Momotose and ~USD$150 for a 720ml bottle of the Hatsugokoro), but I figured I couldn't find anything like this in Seattle or Beijing, so I bought a bottle of each to share with my sweetie. Affordable and memorable luxury. (I'd rather have one bottle I'll remember forever than 5-6 bottles I'll forget once the hangover wears off.)
I also picked up a tasty bottle of plum shochu. (Shochu is a distilled Japanese spirit, like vodka but weaker). It'll be great mixed with soda on the rocks. I topped off my shopping splurge with an elegant silver flask/pitcher thing and two egg-like ceramic cups. It took a lot of restraint to not buy more, frankly. I could easily have spend a zillion dollars here.
It was a very enjoyable shopping experience. They have a restaurant upstairs too, which I'd like to try sometime too. I'll definitely be back.
You can read more about the shop (in English!) on Tokyo Qool. (I tried the pink Nipponia Nippon they mention in the article too -- delicious.)
Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Thanks to my Facebook update saying I was in Tokyo, I got a hot ramen tip from my friend, George, who I met at Foo Camp a few years ago. So, after work today, I headed out with my old buddy Shinji (we worked together on Works and Picture It! a long time ago) to Ippudo. As it turns out, Ippudo is Shinji's favorite ramen place too. After a bit of navigational confusion, we managed to find the branch in Ginza and headed downstairs into the cellar restaurant.
(The Ginza Ippudo from across the street. The entrance is actually behind the truck. The sign says "Your happiness of eating this ramen makes us happy." They must have been very happy after I ate my ramen.)
Ippudo serves Hakata-style tonkatsu (pork) based broth, like my beloved Jangara Ramen. Unlike Jangara's super rich and luscious soup, Ippudo serves a lighter but equally delicious bowl of ramen. I followed Shinji's recommendation to try the akamaru (red sea) style instead of the more traditional shiromaru (white sea) style. The akamaru is Ippudo's innovation, adding spicy miso and garlic oil to the shiromaru. It was simply great. You can even pick how well cooked you like your noodles (I picked one level harder than normal; not sure why. Normal would probably have been a little better, but it was cool to see how much control and attention to detail they have.)
(Here's my bowl of akamaru before I started eating. The cool copper tumbler is my beer. The pots behind the ramen are different kinds of pickles. The low dish at 12:00 is peeled garlic which you mince with the garlic press at 2:00.)
The gyoza (dumplings like Chinese potstickers) were also amazing, perhaps the best I've ever tasted -- savory filling in a light skin. Ippudo also provides pots of free pickles including these great spicy bean sprouts. Yum, yum, yum, with a side of yum.
(Here's my before I tuck into my bowl of ramen. The after-action photos are NSFW. The scenes of culinary carnage and self-satisfied food ecstasy are probably best left to the imagination.)
As usual, Rameniac has a much better write-up (from which I liberally drew for this post).
Although we've had Green T. House on our list for a while, Michelle and I stumbled upon it one afternoon as we were exploring a village near our house. This striking, all-white, airy restaurant is set at the back of an industrial-area-turned-art district near Hegezhuang Village in Shunyi (the suburby/farmy area east of Beijing where we live.) It's hidden behind all-white walls and centered in a field of white pebbles; the sidewalk to the building skirts the outside edge of this field.
The food is innovative Chinese with European fusion elements. For instance, we had an amazing baked eggplant dish topped with Parmesan cheese (a great match, actually) and colorful steamed man tou (buns) with a pesto dipping sauce (also lovely). The names of some of the dishes are fun too, like "Have you been in contact with fowl in the last seven days?" (a great dish with spicy chicken bits in deep fried tea leaves.) The wine list is also good (if pricey); the cocktails were OK. Service is very good and the staff speak English well. The menus are in English and Chinese.
They're building a bathhouse (spa?) behind the restaurant and will soon start to have tea tastings as well, which should be good. There's a Green T. House in Chaoyang too, which is apparently all black. We'll have to get over there too.
Address: No. 318 Cuige Zhuang Xiang, Hege Zhuang Cun, Chaoyang, Beijing +86-10-6434-2519
This is Daniel Boulud's latest restaurant and the first outside the US. The restaurant is in the old American Embassy in the newly renovated and very upscale Legation Quarter (it's also called the Ch'ien Men 23 area), once the location of foreign embassies, just off the east side of Tiananmen Square. (Here's the Wikipedia article on the historical Legation Quarter.)
As you would expect from a Boulud restaurant, the food was perfectly prepared and the service almost spot on (one waitress had to call another person over to understand my "dirty martini" order). Like at the China Grill, it almost didn't feel like we were in China. My tasting menu with wine pairings was excellent (and they kept refilling my glass -- a nice plus). It's a great place to dress up and get away from the commotion of China. It's maybe the perfect place before taking in a symphony or opera at the National Centre for the Performance Arts (aka "the Egg") nearby. They have English menus and speak English well.
We walked around the Legation Quarter after dinner and checked out some of the other bars and restaurants. They're mostly just opening up now (lots of soft openings) so the managers were happy to show us around. Looks like there will be some fun places.
Address: Number 23 Qianmen Dong Da Jie. +86-010-6559-9200
In the past few weeks, we've been to a few really amazing restaurants set in very different but beautiful locations. This is the first of three posts describing the restaurants. The others are Maison Boulud a Pekin and Green T. House Living.
This may be my favorite restaurant in Beijing now and is certainly the best Beijing duck place (IMHO). This gorgeous restaurant is part of the 1949 Hidden City complex -- a set of very cool bar/restaurants in an old factory complex in Chaoyang. The area has my favorite balance of swish yet comfortable.
I had the good fortune to meet the manager and chef on one visit; they gave us a tour of the kitchen and explained their process. They have very strict quality standards, using a particular kind of duck, fed a particular way, and harvested at exactly 39 days. The cook the ducks over a wood fire (and the wood is aged, etc.) and even make their own hoisin sauce. The chef is from Hong Kong, so he brings the more delicate Cantonese style to their Beijing cuisine. (Their slogan is the cheeky "One Duck, Two Systems" borrowed from the phrase that China uses to describe how they rule Hong Kong, "One Country, Two Systems".) The duck was lightly smoky, not dry at all and yet not fatty or oily. They presented slices of crispy skin-only, skin with meat, and just meat so each diner could choose their own balance. Simply perfection. The other dishes were well-prepared also. One mixed veggie dish is a good example. While it seemed simple, each of the different vegetables was perfectly done (even though they had different cooking times) and coated with exactly the right amount of the sauce; there was no extra sauce pooling on the bottom of the dish nor was anything under-covered.
According to Michelle, their lunchtime dim sum is among the very best dim sum she's ever had (and we've had some damn good dim sum before). The restaurant also has a good (if expensive) wine list, makes good cocktails (hard to find in Beijing), and has the first Bollinger champagne bar in Beijing. They have English menus, and the staff can manage some English. There are a few other places in the 1949 Hidden City I want to try including a noodle bar and taverna. They also have a private club called the 49 Club; we looked into it, but it was just an expensive way to get private dining rooms. Maybe good for people who do a lot of business entertaining, but not worth it for us. In any case, 1949 and Duck de Chine are definitely worth visiting.
I don't really have much of a sweet tooth, which surprises some people since I love pretty much all other kinds of food. It's pretty much the one class of food to which I can say "no". I like sweets, but I just strongly prefer salty stuff. So, it should come as no surprise, then, that my favorite confection in the world is Fran's Gray Salt Caramels.
Fran's is a Seattle-based chocolatier who makes a luscious caramel, robes it in rich chocolate, and the sprinkles a few grains of gray salt on top. The salt really brings out the yumminess (sorry for the technical term) in the caramel and provides a nice balance to the sweetness. They also make an equally great smoked salt caramel.
These little morsels of love are one of the few things we've had friends bring to us from Seattle to China; pretty much everything else we've been able to find here or live without. Michael (8) is especially fond the "salties", as he calls them.
If you can't wait to try them (and really shouldn't be waiting) and you don't happen to live in Seattle, you can order online right now. Too bad they don't deliver to China...
I just came across this photo I took last summer in Tokyo, which I clearly forgot to post at the time. What a ridiculously awesome sandwich. I'm pretty sure the Japanese on the poster says, "An honorable way to die. Get one today!"
Three all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, bacon, and an egg on a sesame seed bun... (The song and the sandwich are clearly better with the egg, bacon, and extra patty.)
Last night we went to a delicious and fun restaurant called The Noodle Loft. This restaurant is Shanxi-style and reflects that's province's fascination with noodles. They make a vast assortment of noodles there, all by hand, using a variety of techniques -- pulling, pinching, throwing, shaving with a knife, whacking off with a chopstick, and so on. We had four different types and barely scratched the surface.
One really cool preparation is where they make an entire serving of pasta from one very long noodle. The chef stands about 4-5 feet from the boiling water, pulls the dough from behind him and throws the single strand into the pot. He repeats this motion, pulling more yardage of noodle from the dough and throwing it. It's hard to describe but fun to watch. Here's a (bad) photo of the action. You can kind of see the long green noodle in motion.
On top of their good food, they had a show kitchen so you could see all the action. It had a bar around one edge with seats for a close-up view. The boys enjoyed watching everything and then got in on a the dough handling when one of the cooks gave them each a blob of dough. Andrew (11) declared that he might want to work there someday. (He's deciding between noodle chef, US Marine sniper, and Microsoft game developer. Pretty wide range.)
The Chinese name (面酷 - mian4 ku4) is way better than Noodle Loft. I think it can be translated as "Cool Noodles", "Extreme Noodles" or even "Cruel Noodles". Either way, it's a great place that we'll be headed back to.
(I've included a scan of both sides of their business card to help you find it. I'll try to do this going forward when the card has a map or other useful info.)
Since I arrived in Tokyo last week, I've been on a minor ramen frenzy. I'm guessing many of you have only had instant ramen in a styrofoam cup. As I wrote before, I love them, and the Japanese voted the instant noodle the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th Century. I agree. That said, real well-made ramen is a thing of beauty and way, way better than the instant stuff.
Like many good things in the world, ramen comes from China originally (la mein in Chinese). Then, like many other good things in the world, the Japanese took someone else's idea and made it really great. It was all I could do this week to not drag my family and friends to ramen for every meal (it turns out the Japanese have other good food too...)
I've written about these guys before after I went last summer. This time, I went to two different locations. The first was in Akasaka near the Live Search team's office. This was much smaller than the Harajuku location, with just a few seats. My foodie colleagues and I actually went after the team dinner, even though we were totally stuffed, just because we wanted to eat the yummy ramen. This time I had the Bonshan ramen, an even richer, whiter pork broth full of tongue coating collagen and deep flavor (they claim that it's good for your skin too!). It's really simply luscious. I think it's even better than the signature Kyushu Jangara. Like a junkie, I actually went back to the Akasaka Jangara after the next night's dinner, but cooler heads prevailed this time. (Wimps.) I later reprised our summer visit to the Harajuku Jangara with Michelle, the boys, and my cousin Jessica, who is working in Japan. The line was long, but it was worth the wait. They have English menus, and the staff handled my English/Japanese/pantomime ordering with ease.
My colleagues Jill, Helen, and John outside the Akasaka Jangara Ramen.
A bowl of Bonshan ramen at the counter. (Sorry for the lousy pic.)
We chose Testugama mostly out of convenience since it's close to our hotel in Roppongi Hills. Like Jangara, it's Kyushu style (so pork-based soup) but theirs are lighter tasting. Like many ramen places, you actually order at a machine first, putting in money and then pushing buttons for the things you want. You get a stack of little tickets which you then hand to the waiter.
I ordered the spicy soup with hard noodles. (You can order hard, medium, or soft noodles. This isn't a statement about the doneness of the noodles; rather it's about the type.) This was so good Michelle claimed eminent domain and took the bowl. I enjoyed her shio (salt) based ramen instead. Their gyoza (dumplings) were also delicious. We really liked the feel of the place -- very friendly. I'm sad we discovered it so late in our trip; I'm pretty sure we would have gone back again otherwise. They do not have English menus, but the waiter did a fine job pointing out the major things we might want on the order taking machine.
Michael (8) in front of the order machine.
My (soon to be Michelle's) spicy ramen. (I started eating before I realized I should take a photo, so the lovely presentation is a bit messed up.)
I should also note that we had a great soba dinner at Restaurant Kurosawa, another repeat visit from our summer trip (I didn't write about it that time, mostly out of laziness.) Kurosawa makes handcut soba with great buckwheat texture and taste. It's really different from the ramen noodles I mentioned above. Michael (8) loved the cold soba (dipped in sauce) so much that he ate half of another order. They also have other delicious dishes including a simple yet amazing tomato salad. For a noodle joint, it's not cheap, but boy, it's good. They have English menus.
Roppongi Restaurant Kurosawa storefront
The amazing tomato salad
I want to go out and eat more now...
For Christmas/Michelle's birthday dinner, we went with our friends Nori and Stacy and their son Jarett to the topmost restaurant in Beijing. Literally. The China Grill is on the 66th floor of the newly opened Park Hyatt Beijing. According to their website, this makes them the highest restaurant in Beijing -- a believable claim.
Naturally, the view is stunning: 360 degrees including a view down Changandajie -- the main drag that crosses in between Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We had a pretty good evening as far as air quality goes (better than in the photo from their website above) so the view was nice. Even the heavy traffic looks good 66 floors up. (Unfortunately, the photos from my point-and-shoot weren't as great.)
The food was excellent as well. They serve both Western and Chinese food. We all opted for the Western meals since eating Chinese food here seemed a bit silly in the middle of China, plus we all wanted steaks. I started out with an excellent martini, and my blue crab cake appetizer was really delicious, perhaps the best crab cakes I've ever had (which is a big deal since crab cakes are plentiful and tasty in Seattle). The ribeye steak was perfectly prepared and the shared sides of creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, and buttered asparagus were equally yummy. The other adults seemed to enjoy their meals as much as I did, and Michael (8) and Jarett ate their sushi with gusto (Andrew (11), as always, ate very little). I normally can pass on dessert, but the ones we tried were all great as well.
The service was great with good English from the wait staff. It's actually hard to find world-class quality service in Beijing, even at the best hotels (Michelle was practically run over by the staff at the Ritz Carlton brunch for instance) so this was a hugely welcome discovery. We all noted that it felt like we were in Tokyo -- high praise since the service in Japan is typically excellent.
The only real downside was how hard it was to find the hotel and the entrance. It's a brand new hotel that opened after the Olympics so no one, including our awesome driver, knew where it was. There is virtually no exterior signage marking the driveway (just small dark letters on a dark wall) and the entrance is actually under the building. In case you're looking for it, the entrance is on the south side of the Jintai building, facing Jianwai SOHO. You will still miss the entrance on your first drive-by.
The price was expensive by Beijing standards but not out of line with what you'd pay for similar meals in other top world cities. It's definitely a great place for special occasions. I look forward to going back for drinks or for lunch (and the view during the daytime).
China Grill at the Park Hyatt Beijing, floor 66
2 Jianguomenwai Street,
Chaoyang District, Beijing
This is a long overdue post. Last month, just before we moved, I was in Hong Kong for an offsite. Since I had arrived early from the US, I followed up on a tip from a foodie buddy, Meng, who said I just HAD TO go try the dan ta at Tai Cheong Bakery (the website is much more fancy than the bakery). This hole-in-the-wall bakery is famous for these sweet desserts - thick egg custard in a pastry pie crust. Chris Patten, the former British Governor of Hong Kong, was apparently a big fan of the place.
So I trekked up the Central-Mid-Level escalators and looked around for the place. (As an aside, why do they have the escalators going down but not up in the morning? I don't care if there are more people going down. The damn hill is steep!) Although I was completely unable to follow a map that morning, I eventually found Tai Cheong and ventured in.
I bought the last two dan ta and some sugar puffs (blobby donuts covered in sugar). They were all still warm and fresh smelling. I took the bag and ate the goodies right on the street, across from the bakery.
OMFG, I had never had anything like these dan ta. The crust was tasty and flaky (apparently they use lard -- further evidence that pigs are proof of a kind and loving God) and the custard was rich, eggy, and densely flavorful. (My mouth is watering again as I write this six weeks later).
After I scarfed these two tarts down, I ate the sugar puff; this might have been even better than the dan ta. It was kind of like a warm brioche covered in sugar. If I hadn't bought the last two tarts, I might have gone back in for more. These were heaven on earth. What's more, they were cheap. I love Hong Kong. If you are in HK, be sure to go.
Tai Cheong Bakery
35, Lyndhurst Terrace
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (+852) 2544 3475
We've been sampling a lot of restaurants around our apartment and in the nearby environs, so I thought I'd share some of the places we especially like so far (and write them down so we remember.)
[Note: I've included the Chinese names where I have them. If you see a bunch of boxes in the post, it's because you don't have Chinese fonts installed. If see a bunch of non-Chinese looking characters, try changing your encoding to Unicode UTF-8. In IE, go the View menu and choose Encoding and then find Unicode (UTF-8).]
Din Tai Fung (鼎泰丰 - ding3 tai4 feng1): This is a well-known Shanghai-style chain from Taiwan known for their insanely good and juicy dumplings. We love this place and have been several times. The ones here in Beijing are much nicer than the one I went to in Taipei. In case you're looking for one, they also have branches in Los Angeles, Japan, Korea, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Jakarta. There are two branches in Beijing. The older one seems to be everyone's favorite (quieter, more private rooms), but the one at Shin Kong Place was fine too.
Guo Tie Zhou Pu (锅贴粥铺 -- guo1 tie1 zhou1 pu1): How can a place named "Potsticker Congee Spread" be bad? As the name implies, they specialize in potstickers and congee. They have a wide variety of fillings for the potstickers; we stuffed our faces with three different kinds of potstickers: pork and chive, pork and pickled vegetables, and egg and spinach. We didn't even get to the lamb or seafood parts of the menu. The noodles in the zhajiangmein (a Beijing specialty) were home made and lovely too. This is definitely a locals restaurant at local prices; we spent 50 RMB- US$7.31 for all four of us!! The most expensive part was probably the liter bottle of Sprite they brought out (it was the only size). Even better, they had English menus so we could more easily order. This is a winner; we'll be back. Address: 朝阳门南小街，金宝街西南口，向南100米 (从长安街国际饭店往北走)
Chaoyangmen Nanxiaojie, Jinbao jie xinankou, xiang nan 100 mi (cong Changan Jie, Guo Ji Fan Dian wang bei zhou). Thanks to Savour Asia for the find (they have a bunch of other places listed too. Must go try them as well.)
Isshin (日本料理 - ri4 ben3 liao4 li3): Isshin is a very good Japanese restaurant. The tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) I had was better than most of the tonkatsu I'd had in Japan this summer -- tender and juicy meat with a very crisp coating. Michelle's tempura was good too, and Andrew (11) and Michael (8) ate a ton of tamago (this sort of scrambled egg thing, normally served as sushi but here they had just the egg) and tekka maki (tuna sushi rolls). Even the edamame (boiled soybeans) were better than average. To top it all off, they were very friendly - even giving Transformer toys to the boys after dinner as a gift. We went to the branch in Jianwai SOHO. It's in building 15 on the western half of this huge complex -- make sure you go to the correct part. The cab dropped us off on the eastern part, so we had a long hike in the cold and wind to get to the right place. There are at least three other branches in Beijing in the northwest part (closer to my office! Yippee!)
Meeting Point: This is a very decent family Italian restaurant in the basement of "The Place" shopping mall. Their pasta is all freshly made and served with tasty sauces (I almost stole half of Andrew's carbonara). The thin crust pizza was good as well as was the Montepulciano by the glass Michelle ordered. Perhaps the most amazing thing, however, was the hot chocolate the kids ordered. It wasn't the hot chocolate drink we expected (although it was on the beverage menu and served in a mug); it was more like a hot chocolate pudding with just the right level of sweet and bitter chocolate flavor. The boys didn't like it much, but Michelle and I gladly finished the rest. Unfortunately, the salads were disappointing. More room for hot chocolate! The Italian owner is very nice too.
Xiao Wang Fu (小王府 - xiao3 wang2 fu3): Yum, yum, yum! Very tasty Beijing-style food: good duck, killer jiaozi (dumplings), to-die-for salt and pepper ribs, and the list goes on. The one we went to on Guanghua Lu (near the Kerry Centre behind Guomao) was decidedly not fancy, but let me say again -- yum. The Ritan Park location is apparently much nicer (and more expensive) with a patio. We were especially thrilled to learn they deliver to our apartment (with a delivery fee of only 1 RMB - about US$.14 -- yes, fourteen cents -- per dish.) Xiao Wang Fu was also pretty cheap; we spent 172 RMB (US$25) for six dishes. Finally, they have what I consider the perfect menu -- Chinese, English, Pinyin, and photos. Address: 朝阳区光华路东里2号, Cháoyángqū Guānghuá Lùdōng Lǐ 2 Hào, GuoMao.
Paulaner Brauhaus: The famous German brewery has a microbrewery/restaurant in Beijing where they make their own beer. Michelle and I had a nice, authentic lunch there -- good wurst, pretzels, and beer. Only the onion soup was bleh. Except for the Chinese waitstaff, we could have been in Germany. It's in the Kempinski Hotel near Lufthansa Center.
Pekotan Butcher and Deli: This is a great shop in our neighborhood with amazingly good bread (especially the baguettes); it just smells like a French bakery when you walk in. They have some attractive set menu lunches for 28 RMB (US$4) that we still need to try plus a good selection wine for purchase. After 9:00pm the baked goods are half off (and they're not expensive to begin with); I've braved the cold a few times already to get the still-yummy bread for half price (it's so dry here that the stuff doesn't really get stale.) Address: Central Park Apartments, Tower 12.
Yonghe King (永和大王 - yong3 he2 da4 wang2): This is a huge fast food chain with hundreds of outlets across China. Fortunately for me, there's a branch just a short walk away from the office. They're clean, open 24 hours a day, cheap, and delicious. I've had breakfast there several times and dinner once. The congee is very good as are the dan bing you tiao (kind of an egg coated flaky tortilla around a fried non-sweet donut -- hard to explain, but trust me, it's great.) The beef noodle soup is good too. They have a few set menus with photos on the board, so I can order something; I need to translate more of the non-photo items to try more stuff out. This is cheap too; I spend I think 10 or 12 RMB for breakfast (about US$1.50).
Yotsuba (四叶 - si4 ye4): This is widely considered to be one of the best (if not the best) sushi joints in Beijing; we saw no reason to dispute that view. They fly their fish in daily from Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market, so everything is very fresh and oishii (Japanese for delicious). The first one is in Chaoyang; we went to the one in Shunyi at Lake View Place (near Dragon Bay Villas); this is walking distance from our house!
Our good friends Chris and Leslie threw a lovely going away party for us last night, themed "B(ac)on Voyage" (Chris lost the party naming with his entry of "Chor-revoir"). Obviously the theme of the evening was bacon. Leslie really outdid herself, making bacon-infused bourbon to power the Bacon Old Fashioned cocktails -- a delicious blend of bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup, bitters, and orange. It was meant to be a bit of a joke, but they really turned out well. The bourbon was just a bit smoky and a great match with the maple syrup and bitters. (The real proof of excellence is that Michelle stole my drink after tasting it.)
Leslie also made bacon-maple-chocolate chip cookies, which tasted for all the world like chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup and bacon -- yummy -- as well as BLTs (always delicious). There were a whole host of other good foods too, but I admit, I only had eyes for the bacon flavored treats (no surprise).
Once we were fed and watered, the guests rocked out to Rock Band 2 (with the hot new Fender Precision Bass ). This was a surprisingly good group of Rock Banders, especially given the high average age of the party-goers. There are definitely some good songs in RB2, so I think we'll have to get a copy before we go.
For another view of the evening, here's Leslie's account.
Obviously, huge thanks to Leslie and Chris for hosting the party and to all our friends who shared the evening with us. We're lucky to have such great friends and will certainly miss them once we move to Beijing. Hopefully, we'll see everyone a bunch both in Seattle and Beijing.
I'm illiterate. In Chinese, that is. I can speak well enough, but I read like a five year old (at best). Here in Bellevue, Washington, this limitation is not super debilitating except at Chinese restaurants. As many of you have probably surmised, you get better service at most Chinese restaurants if you're Chinese. Deal with it. So, whenever we're at a Chinese restaurant, I try to order in Chinese, but since I can't really read too much, I'm limited in what I can order to the few things I know or can read. (As Michelle discovered when we were on our honeymoon, the "something something" in "beef something something noodles" can be a lot of different parts of a cow, not all of them things most Westerners would be comfortable eating.)
So, you can imagine my delight (and her relief) when Michelle pointed me to How to Order Chinese Food Dot Com. This gem a site has photos, English names, and Chinese names for popular dishes, broken out by region and type. The author even has PDF versions you can print and carry with you.
I'm looking forward to expanding my repertoire and maybe even advancing to second grade food Chinese.
I can't believe I missed it. Saturday was International Bacon Day. This important holiday is the Saturday before Labor Day (August 30 this year). I'll have to make up for my omission with a double-serving of bacon. (Which of course, is impossible since the serving size of bacon is whatever is in front of you.)
(Flag courtesy of YesButNoButYes.)
During my research for my Szechuan Noodle Bowl post, I ran across MSG150 -a site describing a year long quest by my new heroes to eat at every restaurant in Seattle's International District. After a brief glance, I find that I agree with most of their findings, so they must be smart. :)
Anyway, if you're looking for a great restaurant in the ID (or trying to avoid a bad one) check them out!
Michelle, the boys, and I were in downtown Seattle Friday evening for some reason or another and started getting peckish (it being dinner time and all). We hadn't been to the International District for a while, so we thought we'd cruise some of our old haunts looking for a nosh.
We settled on the Szechuan Noodle Bowl, an ID classic. Michelle and I used to go there a lot when we were dating and first married, but for some reason or another, we hadn't been back for years. Big mistake.
The place certainly hasn't been updated since we were there last; it's a small place with fluorescent lighting, laminated tables, and a mishmash of photos and posters on the walls. But, like many great Chinese restaurants, you don't go to Szechuan Noodle Bowl for the decor.
You go for the crispy green onion pancakes. OMG, I had forgotten how good these are. These are easily the best green onion pancakes (cong you bing) I've ever had. The secret to their flaky, crispy deliciousness is lard. Everyone else seems to use the (presumably) healthier but way less yummy veggie oil between the layers of onion and dough. Not SNB. Nothing but the best here. Wow. It took all my restraint to not push my family out of the way getting to the crumbs.
Fortunately, just as Michael (8) elbowed me out of the way for the last wedge of pancake, the waitress arrived with plates of jiaozi (steamed dumplings - gyoza in Japanese). Unlike most Chinese restaurants, SNB makes these fresh every day with (most importantly) handmade wrappers. The result is a delicious, toothsome wrapper around great fillings. (In Chinese we say that wrappers like this have jiar or energy.) As regular readers know, I love meat, but surprisingly, my favorites were the veggie jiaozi -- spinach and tofu filled dumplings of love.
The beef noodle soup was almost as good as the first dishes. They actually have several different kinds of beef noodle soup; I chose the hong shao niu rou mein since it wasn't spicy so the kids would eat some. (This literally means "red cooked beef noodles" where "red cooked" means cooked in soy sauce. I forget now what they called it in English on the menu -- sorry). Anyway, the bowl was filled with thick noodles with good jiar, lots of falling apart tender beef (that Michael loved) and a tasty broth. Yum.
It was so damn good; I'm already dreaming of my next trip.
Szechuan Noodle Bowl
420 8th Ave S
Seattle, WA 98104
The restaurant is dark and beautiful with very attentive service from the English-speaking staff. Like other teppanyaki restaurants, guests sit around a bar where the chef grills your food in front of you. However, unlike Americanized Benihana-style teppanyaki, there isn't a cooking "show", so no flaming onion volcanoes or flipping of shrimp heads into the chef's hat (much to the boys' disappointment.)
There were really too many amazing courses to list or show off here, but I'll hit a few of the highlights.
One that we all thought was incredibly delicious and innovative was the sashimi course (below). This lovely box contained (from right to left): caviar, minced chu-toro (fatty tuna), uni (sea urchin), squid (I think), salmon roe, chives, toasted rice balls, nori (seaweed), wasabi sauce (I think), sour cream, and avocado sauce. To eat this, you used the little bamboo paddle and swept across the box, combining bits of the different ingredients and then dipping the mix into the light shoyu sauce. The combination of flavors and textures was insanely great. Even the others who don't normally eat uni and such enjoyed this.
Another great course was this lobster dish. The very sweet tail meat of the Australian lobster was well balanced by the sharp pepper sauce; the cilantro was a nice addition too. This was perfect in its simplicity.
As the chef prepared the star course of the show - the meltingly tender and moaningly delicious Kobe beef for me, great fillet for the others) - we were served little ramekins of mashed potatoes. These already smooth potatoes had a quarter inch of clarified butter on top; we were instructed to mix butter into the potato. The results were almost soup-like; of course, they were rich and scrumptious. The beef, needless to say, was great, served with a choice of sauces, exotic salt, and garam masala - a nice and unusual offering. Kobe beef is the only meal I've ever had where everyone at the table either softly moans or giggles to themselves as they chew. This was no exception. Michael (7) demolished his 50g steak almost instantly.
After dinner, we moved upstairs to this very retro 70's/early 80's lounge for dessert. The centerpiece of the lounge was this incredibly kitschy Dom Perignon stand light with a rotating top. It was kind of fun that they didn't take themselves too seriously. I was too full to eat, so I just had a glass of Suntory Hibiki 17 year Japanese whisky. Lovely stuff.
Obviously, this wasn't a cheap meal, but damn, it was good. Truly a memorable feast.
Today, we made a pilgrimage to Akihabara today, mecca for geeks. In particular I dragged everyone to Yodobashi, the photo giant. While the camera gear was more expensive than I could get at home, they had tons of great accessories like camera bags (you can never have enough camera bags) and my favorite lens cleaning cloth - Microdear (yes, I have a favorite lens cleaning cloth - You can get them at Amazon too.). Since Michael's (7) birthday is coming up, we got him a little digital camera (a slick little black Fujifilm Finepix Z20fd). He's been snapping pix like mad since then.
After Yodobashi, we played some video games (including a cool Gundam game in pods) and headed to Shinjuku to get lunch at Takashimaya Department store and shop some. On the way from the train station to the store, we passed through "Little Seattle" - the row that has our Microsoft Japan sales office, REI, Eddie Bauer, and Starbucks (and now a Krispy Kreme with a huge line out the door). Our tempura lunch at the Tunahachi (a big tempura chain) in the store was nice as was the visit to the legendary food department in the basement of Takashimaya.
The ladies stayed to shop, so I took the boys back to the hotel. We stopped off at the Motoyama Milk Bar for a bit of refreshment; after seeing the name, I had to try it out. It really was a milk bar, serving great milk products like ice cream, milk, panna cotta, and so on (apparently, it's unhomogenized milk from Hokkaido). I had an absolutely lovely Coffee Milk in a cute bottle; it was like a frappuccino done right -- creamy and sweet but not cloying, with great coffee taste. I am dreaming of coffee milk and may have to come back to Japan just to get another one.
Today we took the train out to Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo filled with shopping malls, museums, a huge Ferris wheel, and such. We wandered around floors of shops, mostly without much luck, although the kids were delighted to find a Toys 'R' Us with a huge Pokemon Center. One of the odd things we saw in the store were live elephant beetles. Apparently, because of the popularity of the video game Mushi King where players battle with giant beetles, Japanese kids are collecting real beetles now.
After the toy store, we spent some time at the Sony showroom playing with their cool toys including the very fun Rolly, a little robot MP3 player that dances to the music; it was a neat way to get hands on with some fun technology. I kind of wonder if Microsoft should do something similar.
For lunch we found a bit of heaven - a ramen "theme park". This was a six of small ramen shops representing different styles from around Japan. There were "Iron Chef" style photos of each of the chefs. There was a hawker outside each shop drawing in customers; once we picked one (Tokyo style) we put money into a machine, pushed the buttons for what we wanted, and got some tickets to hand to staff. The gyoza and ramen were absolutely delicious; the ramen was very different from the Kyushu-style we had at Jangara with dark, rich broth.
Barbi, Kellie, and I decided to take advantage of our jet lag and go to the Tsukiji Fish Market early (5:30am) this morning (this isn't a great place for kids, so Michelle and the boys stayed at the hotel). This is the largest fish market in the world and an amazing scene of commerce and food. I had been to Tsukuji many years ago, but I was excited to come back.
In the intervening years, they have apparently had an influx of tourists getting in the way of operations. As a result, in the tuna auction area, they now have an area blocked off for tourists and rules about flash photography. I've read that they may be closing the whole thing off to tourists; while this makes perfect sense, it would be too bad.
Anyway, the big thing here is the tuna auction where they sell off huge frozen and fresh tuna. The buyers walk around inspecting the fish and then the auctioneer starts the sing-song bidding. In a few seconds, a huge tuna is sold. Click here for an idea of the prices. Beyond the auction area, the place is a maze of shops selling everything seafood related that you can imagine; the shops also cut down the big tuna they just bought for further sale. The auction area and shops are in a huge warehouse known as the inner market.
The outer market is a series of streets and alleys selling more food like pickles, spices, and such as well as cooking supplies like the big knives the guys in the inner market use. There are also crazy good food stalls and restaurants serving the freshest fish from the market. After our tour, we had a bowl of maguro donburi (fresh tuna slices on a bowl of sushi rice) at Kanno, a stall four booths from the corner of Shin Hashi Dori and Harumi Dori (the main intersection near the market). It was super good, with the super fresh tuna and lovely sushi rice. Click here for a good New York Times article on restaurants in the area.
For lunch today, we went to Jangara Ramen in Harajuku at the recommendation of my colleague Li. In his mail to me, he said, "...you'll be in pork fat heaven! Some say it's the best in Tokyo, and I can't imagine better tasting ramen."
OMG, he wasn't kidding. Jangara specializes in Kyushu-style ramen. I don't know if I can characterize the differences, but the broth is pork-based (vs. miso or shoyo-based) was perhaps a bit richer than I'm used to, and the pork was cut thick with a luscious cap of fat. The boiled egg on top was soft cooked, and the whole thing was topped with cod roe (lovely). The pickled greens and crushed garlic on the table made the bowl even better. For more, here's Rameniac's description of the style.
You could order one of a couple styles of ramen, each with options A-H which defined the toppings (everything, no egg, etc.) We also had nice gyoza to go with. They had English menus, and the staff was quick and helpful. I slurped down my bowl and ate what the kids' didn't finish from theirs. I was stuffed to the point of pain, but I couldn't stop eating. I'm still silly with the thought of the stuff.
Jangara is a small chain in Tokyo; there are actually two at this location on Omote-sando Dori, located on two floors. They are about a block from the Harajuku JR train station. They were apparently voted best ramen in Tokyo in 2003. I must find who won this year.
This evening, we had an early dinner at Inakaya, a robatayaki place here in Roppongi. I had been to the original branch several years ago and was excited to come back. In robatayaki you sit at a U shaped bar with a huge selection of vegetables, meat, and fish before you. You point to things you want and the chefs grill it in front of you. As you order, all of the staff yell out the order in reply, so the place can get pretty raucous (although we were there early, so it was more subdued.)
The chefs pass the food, beer, whatever to you on these 3-4 foot long paddles; these guys are seriously strong. They can hold the paddles up without shaking at all. I'm not sure I could even hold the paddle steady.
The food was simple and very fresh; for instance the prawns (which were the hugest I've ever seen) were still moving on the display tray. The abalone was especially good but the whole snapper was my favorite. They thread a whole fish onto a skewer so the fish is in a S-shape; they rub a little salt on the fins to make them stand out, then they suspend the fish over the heat to cook. When it comes off it looks like it's swimming. The meat was tender and perfectly done.
Anyway, it was a great start to the trip. I'm looking forward to some other great meals...
Now you can have bacon any time, even after the apocalypse. MREDepot.com has canned bacon -- 9 ounces of fully cooked bacon per can, ready to eat, and with a shelf-life of ten years. Certainly a must-have for any well-fed survivalist and fun for the whole family!
Thanks to my colleague, Frank Oliver, for the tip.
In Washington state, we have a screwed up system where the state has a monopoly on liquor via the state-owned liquor stores. The one interesting thing about having state-owned stores though is that they are more transparent about their markups and such. (OK, the other interesting thing is that they have the prices and stock of each store online. Too bad their selection is crappy.)
Here's a great page that shows how they price alcohol. I always thought the government took more than their fair share, but I was surprised to see that 75% of the price of a bottle of liquor in Washington goes to Federal and State taxes (50%) plus the Liquor Control Board (25%). The LCB's take is 70% operations and 30% taxes (yay, more taxes!)
In the example below, a $13.65 bottle of liquor only cost the state $3.48; the rest goes to The Man.
Why oh why does the government own liquor stores?!?! How about doing some governing instead...
I've provided copious documentation on this blog of my affection for bacon, to the point when friends and readers have started sending me pointers more baconware. Here are a few for your enjoyment:
Vosges Mo's Bacon Chocolate Bar
I admit, I've had a few of these but didn't blog about it because it's been written up everywhere. Still, enough people ask me about it that I figured I should write about this. The Bacon Chocolate Bar is exactly what it sounds like - a chocolate bar with bits of bacon in it. I'm a fan of salty-sweet combinations, so it's probably no surprise that I like this. Still, despite the bacon in the bar, it's not as good as Fran's Gray & Smoked Salt Caramels if you're looking for a salty/chocolately treat (and you should be.)
I have not yet had this product, which the maker describes as "a zero calorie, vegetarian, kosher certified seasoning salt that makes everything taste like real bacon." Why eat anything else that just tastes like bacon, if you can have real bacon? I'll get around to trying this thing sometime if I ever run out of bacon. On the other hand, the notion of bacon fries or bacon popcorn does sound pretty appealing.
Oh yes, for only $99, you can be the proud owner of this stylish tuxedo that will pleasure the ladies by both sight and smell. (No, that's not me or anyone I know in the photo. Really.)
Congrats to Taylor Shellfish! Their Totten Virginicas won the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association contest for the best-tasting oyster. I don't know the politics of oysters, but I'm guessing that a West Coast oyster winning in the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association contest is probably big upset. Of course, they can claim some solace. The Virginicas, as you might guess from the name, are originally an East Coast oyster, transplanted to Puget Sound. These Virginicas were grown in Totten Inlet at the southern end of Puget Sound and get much of their flavor from the water they were raised in.
I'm sure these would be lovely with one of the winners of the 2008 Oyster Wine Contest. Mmm...
Here's the press release for your enjoyment:
April 30, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Jon Rowley 206-963-5959
“TOTTEN INLET VIRGINICA” FROM PUGET SOUND JUDGED BEST TASTING OYSTER AT EAST COAST SHELLFISH GROWER’S ASSN. FIRST ANNUAL INVITATIONAL OYSTER CHALLENGE IN R.I.
PROVIDENCE. R.I.: “Oyster growers are fiercely fiercely competitive and every grower is convinced their oyster is the best’, says Bob Rheault, President of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association. To settle the issue of which East Coast oyster (Crasssostrea virginica) tastes best, the ECSGA and the National Shellfisheries Association asked growers to submit their finest to the First Annual Invitational Oyster Challenge, held in Provincetown, Rhode Island April 7 where 19 varieties from three coasts went head to head in a blind tasting judged by a celebrity panel of some of the country’s most discriminating oyster palates.
While the oysters were judged on a number of characteristics and the Island Creek from Duxbury, Massachusetts came in first overall, when it came to taste, it was an oyster from Washington state, the Totten Inlet Virginica, that prevailed. “Some of our customers have been telling us we have the best tasting oyster”, says Taylor Shellfish Farms President Bill Taylor, “but we are thrilled to have it verified like this by such an esteemed tasting panel.”
“I'd always known they were good, but tasting blind against so many others was really eye-opening’’ enthused Rowan Jacobsen, one of the Challenge celebrity judges and author of The Geography of Oysters. “You don't usually see all of that fruitiness and body in a virginica. To me, the superiority of the Totten’s flavor was stunning.”
“Plump and juicy, with a crisp flavor and a good amount of brine, it is a real oyster lover’s oyster”, says judge Sandy Ingber, Executive Chef of the New York’s legendary Grand Central Oyster Bar. “It is one of our top-selling oysters; I sell 2300 a week.”
Because flavor characteristics are derived from the waters they grow in, oysters on the half shell are traditionally marketed by the name of their growing location. Most restaurants serving oysters carry several varieties; some as many as 30. All of the oysters were sent to Brown University where they will be tested for salts, minerals and metals. “I’m really trying to understand why some oysters taste rich and full bodied while others have a thin finish dominated by salt”, says Rheault who also grows Moonstone oysters in Narragansett, RI.
Totten Inlet Virginicas get their start in Taylor’s Quilcene, WA hatchery from brood stock descended from Eastern oysters brought to Washington State from the East Coast by train nearly a century ago. When thumbnail-sized, they are placed in nutrient-rich Totten Inlet in South Puget Sound where it takes 2 to 4 years to reach Taylor’s 3 ¼ inch minimum size “when they just taste better”, says Taylor.
Detailed information on the oysters, the judges and the judging can be found at ECSGA.org or by contacting Bob Rheault 401-783-1360 email@example.com. For information on Taylor Shellfish Farms visit www.taylorshellfish.com.
THE OYSTERS (alphabetically):
13 Mile Brand – Apalachicola Bay, FL.
Camanada Bay Oysters – Camanada Bay, LA.
Cape May Salts – Delaware Bay, NJ.
Island Creek Oysters® – Duxbury Bay, MA.
Katama Bay Oysters – Martha's Vineyard, MA.
Matunuck Oysters – Potters Pond, Wakefield, RI.,
May River Select – Bluffton, SC.
Moonstone Oysters® – Narragansett, RI.
Mystic Oysters – Mystic CT.
New Point "Comforts"® – New Point, VA.
Ninigret Cups – Charlestown Pond, RI.
Pemaquid Oysters® – Damariscotta River, ME.
Rappahannock River OystersTM – Rappahannock River, VA.
Saddle Rocks® – Long Island Sound, NY.
Snow Hill Oysters – Chincoteague Bay, MD.
Sweet Petites – Katama Bay, Martha's Vineyard, MA.
Toby Island Bay Oysters – Chincoteague Bay, VA.
Totten Inlet Virgincas – Totten Inlet, WA.
Watch Hill Oyster® – Winnapaug Pond, RI.
Mallory Bufford, Executive Chef, Black’s Bar & Kitchen, Bethesda, MD
David Carrier, Chef/Owner, Avenue Sea Restaurant, Apalachicola, FL.
Kurt Freisland, Buyer, J. J. McDonalds, Jessup, MD
Max Harvey, Seafood Buyer, Jasper White’s Summer Shack, Boston
Peter Hoffman, Chef/Owner, Savoy Restaurant and Back Forty, New York
Sandy Ingber, Executive Chef, Grand Central Oyster Bar, New York
Rowan Jacobsen, author, The Geography of Oysters
Rob Klink, Executive Chef, Oceanaire Seafood Room, Baltimore, MD
Maureen Pothier, College of the Culinary Arts, Johnson & Wales University
Bruce Sherman, Chef/Partner, North Pond Restaurant, Chicago
* Prior Oyster Award Winner ** Multiple prior Oyster Awards
If my experience with the winners is any indication, these will all be relatively inexpensive and delicious with oysters. It's a bit late in the season for the best oysters, but if you hurry, you may be able to get some good ones still. I'm sure they'll still be lovely with these good wines (or whisky)
Thought this was funny, but of course, bacon increases my overall health...
We just had the Whole Foods branded Black Forest Bacon for breakfast this morning. Yum. It was meaty with just enough fat to be scrumptious and had a hint of sweet smoke.
You can find this treat in the meat case at Whole Foods. You'll probably see me in line at the Bellevue store getting more...
Oh, baby. I can't believe I hadn't thought of this before...
From Breakfast Blogger
Do-it-yourself instructions on Instructables
See the original here, with links to get t-shirts, etc.
Regular readers know that I have a special part of my heart (and my waistline) reserved for bacon. I've written about the world's best way to cook bacon, linked to bacon humor, and even had my son aspire to bacon art.
However, I haven't written much about great bacons yet. My friend Chooky describes the best of something as "the bacon of xxx" (like his posts on the "bacon of yogurt" or the "bacon of pens".) This lead me to wonder what the "bacon of bacon" is.
Since I seem to inhale any bacon in front me too quickly for a thoughtful taste test, I turned to Cooks Illustrated, my favorite food magazine ever. They're the Consumer Reports of food. They'll test a hundred variations of a recipe to get it right; they also compare brands of foods and tools and give you the low-down. Their stuff is almost always gold. (They're also known as America's Test Kitchen on TV and in some cookbooks.)
Cooks Illustrated did two taste tests for bacons, one for supermarket brands and another for premium brands. (Note, CI requires a subscription to get to this content; they have a free 14-day trial offer though.) The winner of the supermarket brand is Farmland Hickory Smoked Bacon, topping stalwart brands like Boar's Head, Hormel Black Label (which I had yesterday morning and thought was lovely), Armour, and Oscar Mayer. Tasters described it as "meaty", "full-flavored", and "crispy, yet hearty".
On the premium side, Niman Ranch Dry Cured Center Cut Bacon won the day (I mentioned Niman Ranch in my post on cooking bacon.) Here's their description:
Niman Ranch Dry Cured Center Cut Bacon Oakland, California $8 for 12 ounces Tasters found this bacon hearty, rich, balanced, and smoky. One taster said, "Yum . . . what bacon should be."
This is our "house bacon" whenever we can swing by Trader Joes.
One note for the organic, free-range, no-preservative crowd: CI observed in their reviews that nitrate-free bacons did not fare well. Turns out that people are used to the color and taste of nitrate in their bacon, so it doesn't taste right when the nitrates aren't there. This is consistent with a taste test we did between corned beefs a few St. Patricks' Days ago. We ordered a nitrate-free corned beef that was excellent except that everyone liked the regular supermarket one better. The nitrate-free corned beef was grey instead of the familiar red and missing the tang that we've come to associate with corned beef.
CI also noted that there is a visible variation in meat-to-fat ratio between different packages of bacon. This seems obvious since bacon is a natural product (well, it starts off natural anyway and then becomes ethereal). It's worth a few extra seconds in the store to pick your package of bacon carefully, just like you would pick out good apples.
So, go give these brands a whirl and let me know what you think. Of course, as CI notes, "Bad bacon is something of an oxymoron."
I think it's important as a parent to keep your children connected with their heritage. Food, clearly, has tons of cultural and ritual meaning, so it's an important tradition to pass down.
With this in mind, this weekend, I introduced the kids to Marshmallow Fluff, a staple food in the Midwest (I grew up in Minnesota.) For those of you unfamiliar with this gooey concoction, Wikipedia describes it as a "very sweet, spreadable, marshmallow-like confection".
Andrew (10), who loves marshmallows, hated the Fluff. I think it kind of grossed him out, like many traditional foods do. I'm sure he'll develop a taste for it as he grows up. He'll thank me for it when he's older.
Michael (7) discovered the magical combination of peanut butter and fluff (well, soynut butter in his case since he's allergic to peanuts). While he didn't love the fluffernuter sandwich I sent him to school with, he does love dipping granola bites into the mixture. Kids these days.
My post on the Best Way to Cook Bacon continues to generate comments and testimonials. It's a little wild, really. Sonja, one of the recent commenters, offered this bit of bacon humor. Thanks, Sonja!
As usual, we had a generous Christmas with lots of great presents. One gift that I thought was particularly appropriate given my long-lasting and well-known love for bacon was The Bacon Cookbook by James Villas, former food and wine editor of Town & Country Magazine and Bon Appetit's Food Writer of the Year 2004.
It's clear that Villas shares my love of bacon in all its forms. He starts by describing the different kinds of bacon from around the world and then dives through forty+ recipes, sorted by course; he even has a few bacon desserts like Canadian Bacon Maple Custard.
Each recipe has a short description that tells a personal story, explains a little history, or otherwise introduces the dish; I love when cookbooks do this vs. just listing a pile of recipes. Each introduction sells the dish with effusive praise, e.g. "...you simply can't serve a more delectable side dish" [Lima Bean and Bacon Casserole] or "One of America's most original and sensational breakfast or lunch dishes..." [California Hangtown Fry]. The photography in the book is very nice as well. More important, the recipes seem pretty well written and straightforward, with the possible exception of having to find these exotic types of bacon (although Villas does offer web resources for getting the different kinds of bacon.)
I admit, my mouth is watering right now as I flip through the book. I'm excited to start cooking out of it.
A while back I wrote about good Chinese restaurants around Bellevue, specifically close to Microsoft and our house. There are also a few good Mexican places in Bellevue now as well. This wasn't always the case. When I first moved to Seattle in 1990, I had a hard time finding Mexican restaurants that could scratch the Mexican food itch I developed in California and Texas. While I'm no expert, there are finally a few places I like a lot.
Many people also seem to like La Cocina Del Puerco in downtown Bellevue. It's pretty good, but I haven't had as ethereal experiences there as I have with these other two places. Of course, I haven't been there for a while, so maybe I should give them another chance.
Anyone hungry for lunch?
As I blogged about before, instant ramen is my "secret food" -- the thing I'll eat (despite my foodie ways) when no one else is around. I love them all, but I've recently discovered the dirty secret of instant ramen: the Asian varieties are way, way better.
Specifically, what I'm talking about here are the versions meant for Asian audiences and particularly for people in Asia. Case in point: Nissan Cup Noodles (the original instant ramen in a cup) are available in Japan as well as the US. However, the Japanese version is far tastier than its American counterpart. I compared the Japanese seafood cup to the American shrimp cup (this was the closest I could get to an apples-to-apples comparison). The broth in the American version had that familiar salty ramen soup taste; by contrast, the Japanese version actually tasted like seafood. The Japanese version had slices of octopus, more veggies, and more eggs too vs. the dried shrimp and sprinkling of other stuff in the American version. Even Michael (7) tasted the difference.
Since this discovery, I've been buying all kinds of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese noodles at the shops around us; they're all much yummier than the stuff at Safeway and not tons more expensive. Some even have foil pouches with meat (which actually taste good, if you can get over the idea). A few include a spork or other utensil too, which makes tons of sense.
If you like instant ramen (and let's be honest, who doesn't) you should definitely give the real thing a try.
Every week when I pick up our share from The Root Connection, I stop by Minea Farms across the street for some the best apple cider I've ever had. Minea uses a 100 year old cider press to make both single variety and blended ciders. Unlike most store-bought cider, Minea's actually taste like apples rather than sugary brown water; what's more, each variety of cider tastes different, as it should. I love them all, but I especially prefer the sweeter ones like Gala and Fuji over the tarter varieties like Granny Smith. Each week they have a few different types and offer tastings so you can decide which to choose from. (Michael (7) likes the cherry-apple cider blend.)
This time of year is especially good since they are pressing recently harvested apples; earlier in the year, they sell cider frozen the previous autumn (still super damn good). In addition to cider, they have apple butter, veggies, apples, fruit leather, and other farm products, but the big draw is the cider.
Their usual hours are Wed-Sun 11am - 5pm. They're located at 13404 Woodinville-Redmond Road. Here's the sign from the road:
If you haven't had fresh apple cider before, you're in for a treat. If you have, well, you know what you're missing. Either way, get off your butt and go get some...
(OK, as usual, I have no idea if this really is the world's best anything, but it's pretty damn good cider.)
This seems to be the summer of s'mores for us. After having mastered the perfect basic s'more, I thought it was important to pass on this important life skill to the boys. Despite the questionable wisdom of giving Michael (6) a sharp stick with a ball of flaming napalm on the end, we've had a safe and fun time with it so far. I may start trying some gourmet modifications to the recipe, although it's hard to beat the simple, diabetic coma perfection of a s'more.
Now, I just need to start working out in earnest again to work it all off...
I just came back from a very enjoyable dinner at Canlis with the Internet Explorer Program Management leads; these are basically the people who I work with who run the group that design the next versions of IE, organize the effort to ship it, and lead the work to take care of customers after we ship. Unfortunately, Chris Wilson couldn't make it, but he was off on some amazing SCUBA diving trip, so I don't feel too bad...
As with most teams, some of us have worked together for a while; some of the group came to IE more recently. We work together pretty well, but we haven't all gone out together and just had a fun meal; we were overdue.
Canlis is an old Seattle institution; it's the "dress up" restaurant in Seattle (one of the only ones with a dress code in town). We had a fun time telling stories, getting to know each other better, and generally not talking about work for a few hours. It was also fun to see everyone dressed up a bit.
The food was lovely, of course. I started with steak tartare to die for; easily the best I've ever had. We also had a few orders of truffle fries because the only thing better than fried food is fried food with truffle oil.
Then I had the Yukon River salmon. As I had blogged about earlier, I was looking forward to a chance to try it and had it tonight -- lovely. It was grilled simply (the best way for a fantastic piece of fish) with a little couscous on the side. Yum.
We also had some very nice wines -- some of my favorites
On top of the great food and wine, we got to see the Duck Dodge, a sailboat race in Lake Union and a Seattle tradition. I'm not sure anyone but I cared, but I liked it so there you go.
I had a great time; it's important to me to work with people I like. Tonight was a good reminder of why I love my job.
We picked up our first bag of veggies from the Root Connection this weekend. Yippee! As I've blogged about several times before, the Root Connection is a share farm where members "subscribe" to the farm's crop. Each week we get a bag of whatever veggies are available that week plus we can take advantage of the u-cut flowers, herbs, basil, and greens. The veggies are way more flavorful than grocery store veggies both because they're much fresher and because the varieties are chosen for their flavor not shelf-life, harvestability, or good looks.
It's early in the season still so the bag was pretty light. This year, we've opted for the smaller share because we had a hard time using everything each week. This week, we got a bunch of salad turnips (yum), some bok choy, a few heads of green and red leaf lettuce, and some cabbage lettuce. We ate the turnip greens sauteed this evening. Delicious.
I love the Root Connection and am looking forward to another summer of great veggies!
Jon Rowley, the man behind the Copper River salmon craze (here's a Gourmet Magazine interview with Jon about salmon), just sent me mail saying to watch for Yukon River king salmon from Kwikpak Fisheries; Kwikpak is a community-owned Fair Trade company. This alone makes me want to buy from them, but the salmon sound fantastic. Jon says in his mail:
The Yukon king has between 24 and 30% oil which translates into unsurpassed flavor and mouthfeel and Omega 3s into tomorrow (we will test for these this season. they are probably higher in this fish than in any other). By comparison, the Copper River kings, which have more oil than most kings, have 16-17%.
He also included a little about Kwikpak:
Kwikpak Fisheries is the only seafood company in the world to be certified by the the Fair Trade Federation. A purchase of Kwikpak Yukon king salmon contributes directly to improving living and working condtions for the Yupik producers. The fishermen are paid a high price $4.30 /lb for whole fish off the boat. Without this price they can't get ahead with the cost of living in this very remote area. The average per capita income is $9000, $7000 of which is derived from the upcoming fishery. This is still primarily a subsitance [sic]culture. The community depends on hunting and fishing for much of their food needs.
In the Seattle area, Metropolitan Markets will carry the fish. Elliott's Oyster House, Waterfront, and Canlis will also have it. I'll have to go find some soon. If you like salmon, you should too. Jon is always right about these things.
Every year Taylor Shellfish sponsors the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, run by my friend Jon Rowley. This contest aims to find the best West Coast wines to pair with oysters. I first really got into oysters at a dinner hosted by Jon that served the winners of that year's competition with freshly harvested oysters. That night changed my life.
Anyway, here are this year's winners:
*Prior "Oyster Award" Winner
**Multiple prior "Oyster Awards"
Typically crisp whites with maybe a little mineral taste pair well; you can see a lot of chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, and pinot gris on the list. The one chardonnay is unwooded; big oaky chardonnays are too much for oysters. Occasionally, you'll see an pinot noir on the list, but not this year. The other nice thing about the varietals that pair well with oysters is that they're typically pretty cheap. I haven't priced these wines, but previous winners have been $10-15/bottle. It's rare to find wines that win any contest for anything in that range.
So, if you can't have whisky with oysters, then pick one of these wines. Mmm...
(Here's another good profile of Jon, in case you're interested. He's quite a character and big in the Seattle food scene. He's also the guy behind the Copper River Salmon craze.)
Last weekend, Kellie, Kristen, Katya, Christopher, Barbie, and I went out to the Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington for a little wine tasting. After a brief stop at the XXX Root Beer Drive-In for lunch, we headed to Ellensburg for a fun filled evening (there were no hotel rooms in Yakima that evening). We had a good time playing hearts (which I never played before, but now I'm a fan) and drinking beer at the Tav, a good dinner at Pearls-on-Pearl, and more bar fun at the Starlight Lounge and Oak Rail Tavern. Nothing like partying with a bunch of college kids (from Central Washington University - the only thing in Ellensburg.) I really liked the Tav and Starlight Lounge; Pearls-on-Pearl was nice too.
After a slow morning at the luxurious Comfort Inn (I got a in a five mile run before almost anyone was up and got to watch Americas Cup TV coverage!) we headed over to Red Mountain, an AVA about an hour east of Yakima. We hit six wineries in a short period here. Of these, I really liked Fidelitas and Tapteil.
Fidelitas, in particular, was a group favorite with several of us joining their club (many of these places have a wine club where you "subscribe" to their quarterly or semi-annual mailings of a few bottles of wine). Their M100 reds and whites were very nice low-priced table wines, and their 2004 Syrah and eight Syrah were fantastic. Their new wine room was very nice too.
We had a pleasant lunch at Tapteil inside their cozy wine room (we brought a picnic lunch, but it was too windy to eat outside). Their 2001 Cab Merlot was our lunch wine and very tasty, especially once it opened up. We also found some good wines at Hightower Cellars and Kiona Vineyards Winery (esp. their Chenin Blanc ice wine - lush and tropical...). I didn't care for Sandhill Winery or Chandler Reach (although their 36 Red wasn't bad) as much.
Honestly, I think six wineries was too much for me. My taste buds were blown by the fifth place (Kiona), so I chose to sit out for a while; I probably didn't give Chandler Reach a fair shake because of this. After all that wine (thank goodness Barbi, who doesn't drink, was driving the mini-van), we had a quiet dinner at Gasperetti's in Yakima. Gasperetti's is supposed to be some kind of institution in Yakima (I'm sure it is), but I thought it was only OK. We saw a few kids out in prom-wear; ah, young love. Apparently, prom in Yakima includes Cheetos, since Barbi saw a bunch of girls in prom dresses buying bags of Cheetos at the gas station. We made a half-hearted attempt of going out in Yakima (including a few rounds of shuffleboard on the worst table ever at the Sports Center in Yakima) and called it a night.
After another night in a luxurious hotel (the Cedar Suites in Yakima), on Sunday morning we hit a few more wineries, all of which we loved. Our hands-down favorite was the new Agate Field Vineyard. Pretty much everything was gold there. I especially liked their 2002 and 2003 Red Blends (esp. 2002) and their Syrahs. Another favorite was Wineglass Cellars; Linda, the co-owner, was very charming and helpful. I bought a few of their older Cabernets and loved their Elerding and Rich Harvest. I'm looking forward to trying the ones I brought home. Masset was a nice surprise as well; I thought their Margaret Alice Late Harvest Viognier was especially good and slightly unusual. Sheridan was pouring their second label, Kamiakin, which was fine. Unfortunately, I had hoped to try their Sheridan branded wines. (Don't go to Sheridan on a Sunday, I guess.)
The cars loaded down with wine and a yummy Mexican lunch under in our bellies, we headed home. We had a great time and found a lot of tasty wines. There are apparently over five hundred wineries in Washington now, so I guess we have a lot more tasting to do...
Click here for Kellie's account of the weekend (I can't believe she got her post out before I did...)
Last week was definitely a week of conspicuous consumption. On top of the Oyster Games, I went to another Scotch Malt Whisky Society tasting at the Rainier Club. This year, I went with Alex, a crazy smart and fun Russian developer on my team (and a good photographer, as you'll see from his site).
As usual, there were many fine whiskies. More than the other years, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottlings were simply superb. One of my favorites was 33.63, a young (7 year old) bottle from Ardbeg, one of my favorite distilleries. It was fantastic - true to form for Ardbeg: smokey and wonderful. Alex's favorite was 113.14, a 12yo from Braes of Glenlivet (it was nicknamed "Sinful and Naughty" which I think enhanced the appeal for Alex.) The 1.120 was a 39 yo from Glenfarcas, and 4.114 was a 22 yo from Highland Park (another favorite distillery of mine). These were both fantastic. I will likely buy a bottle of each of these.
Macallan had their Fine Oak 21 year old, which was even better than the 17yo I tried and loved last time. It was definitely more refined and lighter than the younger Fine Oaks (I love this whole line, I admit).
Suntory had their Yamazaki Sherry Wood there for the first time. I thought this was great as well; full-bodied and raisiny -yum. Unfortunately, not available in Washington (our liquor sales are run by the state gov't).
Alex and I were split on the Glenlivet Nadurra, which was new to both of us. He loved it; I didn't care for it. It's a light, flowery whisky. I just didn't like the tail.
Finally, I had to have another glass of the Talisker 175, which was a fav from last time.
I was much smarter this time around. I poured out the whiskies I didn't care for, took smaller pours, ate earlier in the evening, and stopped drinking after we left the event and met friends in a bar afterwards. Most important I skipped the cigars entirely (big win). I was totally sober a few hours later when we left the bar and headed home.
I met a bunch of nice people, ran into some friends, and tasted a mess of great whisky. What could be better? (OK, if we had some oysters or bacon, it would be have been perfect.)
For the past three years, I've been a regular at the Oyster Olympics, a fundraiser for the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. This year, the US Olympic Committee decided that after eighteen years, the Oyster Olympics impinged too much on their Olympics and issued a cease-and-desist letter (losers). So, after a naming contest, they changed it to the "Oyster Games". (My losing entry was "Oysterpalooza".)
This year, I had the good fortune of going to this amazing event with four lovely ladies from the office: Kellie, Kristen, Katya, and Jane (Jane was invited for name alliteration diversity.) Kellie came with me last year; Katya and Jane are also oyster buffs. Kristen was a raw oyster virgin, having only eaten cooked oysters until now. I think we converted her. Katya shocked us all by eating a huge oyster; she apparently loves the really big oysters. Even as an oyster lover, I must admit it was too daunting for me.
Once again, I ate my way through my weight of oysters. As usual, I loved the Kumamotos and Pacificas, particularly from Hood Canal. I also found the Olympias to be a special treat; I don't recall ever eating so many Olympias before. They were the surprise highlight. I thought the Virginicas were watery this year and only OK. As usual, I don't care for the more metallic tasting European Flats.
As a special treat, I brought a flask of Ardbeg 10 years old Scotch whisky, one of my favorite whiskies and a great match with oysters. I would pour a few drops onto an oyster and slurp the whole thing down. Simple heavenly. I started handing out spiked oysters to the people serving plus any nice people I met. I soon became the Pied Piper of oysters with whisky. Jane brought a flask of Laphroaig, which was lovely with the oysters as well. Those peaty, ocean-y Islay whiskies are just ideal with oysters. Mmm.
This is always one of the highlights of my food year; this year was no exception -- even with the Grinchy USOC trying to ruin the event.
Click here for photos from the event in 2004 (I didn't take as many photos this year.)
I love potato chips. They're like the veggie brother of bacon. I almost went to MIT instead of Stanford because I fell in love with Cape Cod Chips when I visited Boston. Really. (Thank goodness I didn't since by senior year, we could get Cape Cod Chips in Palo Alto. I got to be in shorts in February and eat yummy chips. Top that, MIT!)
I've eaten potato chips around the world and loved almost all of them, but the very best chip (or should I say crisp?) in the world are Cheese and Onion Tatyo Crisps from Ireland. These are the most popular crisps in Ireland (the dark horse is Kings, made by the same company and very good, but just not world class.)
I typically shy away from flavored chips, but these don't hit you over the head. They're thin and crispy like Lays (vs. the heavier crunch of Cape Cod or Tim's). Simply heavenly with a pint of Guinness.
They have a "smokey bacon" flavored chip too which I have not yet tried; those might actually be the best chip in the world...
For years, I've relied on friends traveling to Ireland to feed my need (thanks to Fergal to bringing me back a few bags recently to remind me of the old country). However, I just discovered that you can mail order Taytos from Ireland to the US. Of course, they're not cheap. US$20.59 for twenty snack-sized bags plus $31.88 shipping to Seattle (ten day service).
This is an affordable luxury and a small price to pay for such delight.
Irene, a dear friend of mine from many years ago, recently sent me six pints of ice cream from Graeter's Ice Cream, a famous shop in Cincinnati (and now other locations in the Midwest). Many consider it to be the best ice cream in the world. I'm a believer.
Irene sent us two pints of black raspberry chip (her favorite and their signature flavor) and a pint each of caramel, cookies and creme, chocolate, and coffee. The flavors and texture are amazing; for instance, in the caramel, there's a lovely burned-sugar taste. The taste is very natural, unlike Haagen-Daz, my stand-by, which has a more chemically taste. The ice cream is incredibly rich and has a great mouth feel. Graeter's makes their ice cream by hand using a French pot process in two gallon batches, hand packing them into the pints.
You can order the ice cream over the Internet and have it shipped (which is what Irene did). The pints come packed in a cooler with dry ice and were frozen solid; frankly, they were so hard we had to let them soften in our freezer until we could scoop them. (Dry ice is so cool.)
The Graeter's was a special treat and a wonderful surprise. Thanks, Irene!
(Of course, Wikipedia has more on Graeter's.)
For Christmas Eve dinner this year, I served the 2003 Les Pavot from Peter Michael Winery. Like everything I've had from them, this Bordeaux blend was fantastic. Full bodied with rich berries, it was a hit with everyone, especially after it opened up a bit.
I don't tend to buy a lot of wine by the case or half-case because we don't have a lot of space for wine, but whenever the offer goes out to their mailing list, I buy a bunch. Great stuff.
I just finished The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, another interesting food history book by Mark Kurlansky (author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World and Salt: A World History - I wrote about these books earlier).
The title is somewhat misleading. The book is really a history of New York from the perspective of oysters. It's a little hard to believe now, but New York City and the waters surrounding it were once incredibly productive fishing grounds and the richest oyster beds in the world. New Yorkers rich and poor ate obscene numbers of oysters and shipped barrels of fresh and pickled oysters across America and around the world.
Like Cod and Salt, The Big Oyster was an engaging read cover-to-cover. This one was a bit different, however, because the scope was so local. Where Salt was a really global and across world history and Cod spanned centuries and focused on trans-Atlantic trade, The Big Oyster was very localized to New York City and the time since colonization. As a result, the book was less epic but perhaps a little more intimate.
Aside from the oyster details, Kurlansky weaves in a bunch of New York history and lore, like how Wall Street got its name and a running history of Delmonico's Restaurant. I have only a passing knowledge of New York, so these bits were interesting and new to me.
Anyway, I really like Kurlansky's style. Since I've finished his food mini-histories, I think it's time to move onto some of his other books.
I spent way too much time today making and eating Parmesan crisps today. These are little cheese crisps that you eat like a cracker. Mmm...
There's really nothing to making them.
So easy to make and so tasty. I discovered the time it takes a new batch to cool off and get eaten is about the time it takes to bake the next batch. How convenient.
I don't know how well they keep because none survived the day. Maybe I'll figure that out some day...
About two weeks ago, Michelle and I went to Serious Pie, Tom Douglas' new pizza joint here in Seattle. I don't consider myself a pizza connesieur, but damn, this was some slap-your-momma good shit.
The pizzas have a thin, crispy crust and are generously sized for one person. The toppings, of course, are to die for. We had an incredible pie with foraged mushrooms and truffle cheese (oh man, oh man, oh man that was good) along with a daily special that was slightly more traditional (kick-ass salami or something on a tomato sauce.)
My ribollita (a rustic bread soup) was stunningly good too. Michelle's salad was good too, although she thinks she may have gotten a little ill off it since she wasn't feeling too good the next day.
The place is small with long bar-type tables meant to be shared.
Last Friday, Malcolm, Kellie, Max, and I had a very enjoyable evening at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society tasting event here in Seattle. As I've mentioned before, the Society puts on these tasting events all around the country (around the world, really).
Basically, you pay a flat fee ($95 for members) and then you get a glass. There were two large banquet rooms at The Ranier Club with tables from different whisky makers lining the walls. You walk around to the tables and the staff will pour a taste of whatever they're serving. The collection of whiskies was as broad (if not broader) than the event last year. A nice dinner and a trio of good cigars topped off the evening.
There were many good whiskies and a few duds. I was especially impressed with a few:
There was also an Irish peated single malt at the event. I think it was the Clonmel, but I've misplaced my booklet. It was very light and little unusual. I didn't care for it much, but it was Kellie's favorite. I note it here because it was unique.
Anyway, I think they were pouring taller tastings than last year, because I was a wreck. Lots of scotch chased by a cigar always makes for a rough morning. Still, a very fun evening.
My other secret food is goldfish crackers. I've always loved them, and since the kids were little, we always have them around. Very dangerous. Call me old fashioned, but I still like the cheddar ones best (no, not the cheddar with whole grain or the calcium enriched ones. WTF?)
(I love that Wikipedia has articles on goldfish crackers and instant noodles. The fact they're serious articles is even funnier.)
What's your secret food?
Every so often, I find a blog or site that I think I should have started. Yesterday, I found such a blog: Bacon Unwrapped. This site is an unapologetic love poem to the king of foods. Some recent posts: Subliminal bacon art, bacon brownie recipes, and an article debunking the bacon-causes-cancer alarmism.
I especially love their tagline, "Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon."
Just in case reading the site makes you hungry for bacon, here's a link back to my post on the best way to cook bacon.
I have to admit, I was a bit hesistant to try it; how good could a Canadian single malt be? As it turns out, it's not bad at all. It's a pretty straightforward whisky, clean and simple, but not bland or boring. It's a pretty easy-to-drink whisky as single malts go, without any smoke or peat flavor to speak of.
I don't think I'll go to crazy lengths to get another bottle, but it's certainly enjoyable. If you're looking for an easy way to get started with single malt, it's a good choice.
After my heavenly first mangosteen experience in Jakarta, I've been dying to find a local source. My blog readers came to the rescue.
Jeff pointed out that he's seen canned mangosteen, so I bought a few cans at the Uwajimaya Asian grocery near us. I was all excited to show my familiy what the fuss was all about. They were pretty good, but the texture was a bit soft and the flavor was very sugary - like the difference between fresh and canned peaches. I liked them, but the family wasn't impressed.
Then, as Yukino commented, mangosteen are available in Canada (I guess if you can't have guns, you need something worth living for...) So, while I was at the Granville Island market in Vancouver, I hunted for mangosteens and was delighted to find fresh mangosteen.
In the hotel, I tore into the mangosteens. These were better than the canned ones, but not as good as the ones in Jakarta. The flesh was a bit soft again; I imagine they were less fresh than on the ones inn Jakarta (or maybe I just bought some bad ones). Again, Michelle was not impressed. I ate them all, but they paled in comparison.
Guess I'll just have to go back to Jakarta to get some more...
I had night in Vancouver, British Columbia before Michelle and the kids showed up. After checking into the Westin Grand Hotel (nice hotel, btw) and, of course, checking my email, I struck out to find dinner.
The place was packed, even though it was relatively early on Thursday night. I bellied up to the bar and was immediately gratified to see a huge wall of Scotch bottles before me. I settled into my old favorite Ardbeg 10 Years Old and started to salivate through the dinner menu. Blue Water has an extensive seafood menu including a good oyster list and an amazing sushi bar. Since I love whisky with oysters and sushi, I was in heaven.
As I chatted with Brad, the bar manager, I learned that Blue Water has over a hundred different single malt whiskies; the owner is apparently a huge whisky fan. Brad knew his stuff too. I had an amazing Ardbeg Uigeadail, which I hadn't seen before (Brad told me the local liquor store had a few bottles left, so I went the next day and bought one). I like it even more than the Ardbeg 10 - smoky and delish. I also did their Highland Park Scotch flight - a tasting each of the Highland Park 12, 18, and 30 year old whiskies. I'm a big Highland Park fan, so it was super to be able to try all three side-by-side. After that, I put myself in Brad's hands, letting him pick. I admit I lost track a bit of what he served, but they were all great...
The oysters and sushi were fantastic as well (of course, a few glasses of whisky makes everything taste good.) I chatted up my neighbors at the bar and met some nice folks including a guy getting ready to start his own restaurant and a couple from California who had just gotten off their chartered power boat after a week in the Canadian Gulf Islands (what a coincidence).
I had a very enjoyable evening at a fantastic restaurant. I'll definitely go back again.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of my trip to Jakarta was that I finally tasted a real mangosteen. The mangosteen is a tropical fruit that I only ever tasted in the form of mangosteen flavored chewing gum (easily the best gum I've ever had). According to the Wikipedia article, mangosteen is illegal to import into the US for fear of fruit flies, so I've never been able to taste the real fruit in the US before.
Anyway, I was in the grocery store in the basement of the Sogo department store in the upscale Plaza Senayen shopping mall. (I like visiting grocery stores in different countries. Interesting to see what they have to offer.) After passing the stinky durian, I noticed a fruit with a sign that said mangis. I wondered if this could be the fabled fruit (I didn't really know what they looked like.) I figured I had nothing to lose by buying two, so I picked them up along with some coffee beans (how can you not buy coffee when you're on the island of Java?) and candy for the boys and went back to the hotel.
I eagerly cut open the first one, revealing the yummy white fruit. Success! It was a mangosteen. The fruit inside the thick red peel is like a white tangerine - a few small sections and one big one containing the pit. The texture of the flesh is kind of like lychee (if that helps) but thicker. The flavor was ethereal - delicately intense like a great pear. Anyway, I quickly wished I'd bought more. I'm not sure when I'll be able to find my next mangosteen, but I'm looking forward to it. In the meantime, I'll have to see if I can find some canned fruit.
Here are some bad photos of my mangosteen.
Hermawan and Risman (above) from the local Microsoft office took me out to a place near the office for a real Indonesian lunch. This little cafe served Padang-style food where the servers bring out a bunch of dishes, and you only pay for the ones you eat. You can see the various plates stacked up in front of us. There was a great chicken curry, another chicken covered in curry and then roasted, some nice shrimp with potatoes, and a good dried beef. Almost everything was very nice.
With some glee, Hermawan put this crispy brown thing on my plate and wanted to see if I'd try it. Risman sat giggling. I asked what it was; Hermawan just said he'd tell me after I ate it. So I did. It tasted kind of like a pork rind, but beefy and a bit grainy. Not bad all in all. It's a dish called nasi padang -- fried beef lung. Well, that was a first for me. I think I earned some cred by eating it without flinching. As we left the table, I finished off the last bite just to show I wasn't scared of it. Somehow, I don't think it's going to ever make it big in the States.
We also had a tasty but slightly weird looking dessert. It was a bowl of coconut milk, tapioca noodles (I think), some bright pink fruit (like a cross between passionfruit and a pomegranate), jack fruit (yum), and avocado over ice. Frankly, the ice scared me the most as the water isn't great around here (I've been avoiding ice all week). It was yummy and refreshing, I must admit.
When it came time to tally the meal, the waitress pointed to a few dishes where we only ate part of the dish, like one of the two pieces of chicken; she only charged those as half a dish. A bit scared, I asked my hosts whether they re-served the uneaten food. They both smiled and said "I think you know the answer." As Michelle wrote to me when I told her this, "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww, ick, ick, ick"
Lack of American-style hygiene aside, it was a good meal. I'm glad to have had at least Indonesian meal outside the hotel ordered by locals in the know. It was very memorable...
(Pardon the poor photo quality; these are camera phone snaps. We left the office in a hurry since we were short on time so I forgot my real camera.)
I love bacon. I mean I really love it. Good American bacon - the crunchy kind, not that flabby stuff you get in other countries. At the risk of offending entire religions and regions, I think much of the unrest in the world is because too many people don't know the joy of bacon. Almost no one who has tasted bacon would willingly blow themselves up or start shooting at someone else. Bacon is worth living for.
But, it can be a real challenge to cook bacon well. Frying it is a mess. Microwaving has inconsistent results. Plus, neither scales well to the large amounts of bacon needed for a big brunch (or just me on a Sunday morning.) The secret is to bake the bacon in the oven.
Result: piles of perfectly cooked bacon for your dining pleasure.
Here are the cool bits about this recipe:
I've read a variation of this recipe that recommends putting a wire rack in the cookie sheet to keep the bacon out of the fat. I tried it. The results aren't any better, the bacon sticks to the rack, and the rack is a mess to clean up. Stick to the simple solution above.
While I'm at it, I'll put in a plug for Niman Ranch bacon. This is the real deal. Thick cut, smoky, and meaty, this stuff is made from happy, pesticide-free, free range pigs that lead productive, satisfying lives and died in the prime of their tastiness for you and me. Oh man, this stuff is good as is everything from Niman Ranch. Go get some today (Trader Joe's carries the stuff as do other good stores.)
Mmm, salty, rich, crunchy, and meaty. What's not to love?
After finishing the Seattle-to-Portland (STP) bike ride last weekend, our merry band wanted to celebrate. We started out at the Heathman Hotel bar (where we were staying). Clint and I got an early start, befriending Grant, our talented bar tender. I had intended to have just one drink, but the Heathman specializes in classic cocktails and Grant was doing a great job; I put myself in Grant's capable hands and enjoyed several delicious and unique cocktails. The consensus favorite was the classic Old Fashioned whisky cocktail. I then perused their good whisky collection and spotted a rare whisky from a favorite distillery - the Ardbeg Provence. This lovely bottling is a 1974 vintage and goes for $589 for a bottle online. I had to splurge and have a glass for $75 - an affordable extravagance (more on those later). OMFG. It was complex and peaty without being overwhelming; really really stunning. It was especially lovely with the plate of oysters I ordered.
I shared the glass and oysters with Clint and my new friend Karl Zenk, the Chef de Cuisine at the Heathman Restaurant, who was sitting at the bar for a beer before he left for the day. We chatted about food, restaurants, and other stuff for a while. NIce guy.
After everyone joined us for a drink, we headed off to Fenouil in the Pearl. This is a swish French place in the Pearl, a cool gentrified neighborhood in downtown Portland. Michelle had discovered this place recently and highly recommended it. The restaurant was beautiful with big garage doors that opened up the restaurant to the lovely evening air. We sat just inside the doors and really enjoyed breeze. We started out with one of my favorite Champagnes, the Billecart Salmon Brut Rose. One of our party winced when they heard me order a rose, but everyone loved it.
Then, the endless progression of food started. First a round of starters - duck confit (the hands-down favorite), a Kobe steak tartare (also fab), a crab and avocado thing (lovely - but the drinks started setting in here, so I start to get a little hazy on the details) and maybe one other yummy. For our main courses, we had a good selection including more Kobe beef, some lovely lamb, and some nicely grill duck. While these were quite good (not uniformly spectacular though), the real highlights were the sides of frites doused in truffle oil (simply to die for - we ordered more) and a plate of beans (fava or lima?) tossed in some rich butter sauce (these were my favorite dish of the evening). All of this was washed down with a few bottles of decent Chateauneuf du Pape (a good all around food wine, imho).
Honestly, I can't recall what the desserts were at this point (some flan and something chocolately?) but they were good too. (I should blog about this stuff sooner. I'm clearly in no danger of becoming a real food writer like my friend Hillel.) The service was very good to boot; our very French waiter was attentive and helpful without being overbearing.
We did have one funny point in the evening where I asked him what fenouil means. He replied "fennel" in a heavy French accent, which, as it turns out, sounds a lot like a French person saying "fenouil". So I asked him again, "No, what does fenouil mean?" More firmly, he replied, "fennel" in that same heavy accent. This went on a for maddening few rounds before the light clicked on for me, and I finally got what he was saying. Just then, I saw the huge fennel bulb drawing on the menu cover. Doh.
Anyway, back to the Heathman Bar for a drink with Grant and a very nice round of tawny port on the house (stunning pale color, but not sure what it was) and a raid on Bruce and Theresa's minibar in their suite capped off the evening.
The next morning, Clint, Kellie, Chase, and I had a great breakfast at the Heathman Restaurant. We ran into Karl (the Chef de Cuisine there) and said hello. He generously sent out a nice fruit plate for us. I was also introduced to the joys of sriracha (the infamous Rooster Sauce, although the waiter confessed they called it something else amongst themselves. Think of a word that begins with "c" that can mean rooster). I've had Sriracha before, of course, but never on eggs. Spicy and sweet, this was an epiphany, perfect in every way. I may never eat eggs without sriracha again.
After all that, I think I gained about five pounds on the trip despite having ridden 200 miles. A man has to have his priorities.
I love Hawaii and Hawaiian food. Give me a big ol' plate lunch with two scoop and mac salad anytime. Based on a comment on Neon Epiphany (a blogger who commented on my Chinese restaurant recommendations), I took the family and met our friend Fukiko to Hawaiian Breeze in Wallingford (a neighborhood north of downtown Seattle.)
The place is pretty simple with a broad Hawaiian menu - plate lunches, saimin, katsu of different varieties, and so on. I was glad they didn't have kalua pork on the menu; while I love kalua pork, it's doubtful they could produce a really good rendition in a kitchen in Wallingford, so I'm glad they didn't try.
I got off to a nice start with some lilikoi (passionfruit) juice; I love the stuff and have a hard time finding it in Seattle (except mixed with other juices).
Fukiko and I both love Spam musubi (which is really what motivated the trip) so we each had one. Spam musubi is a slice of cooked Spam (yes, the canned meat product) on a dollop of rice and wrapped in nori; in short, it's Spam sushi. Yum. (I have to say, though, that I like the Spam musubi at the Newcastle Golf Club snack bar more. It has a little more oomph.)
For my dinner, I had a big plate of loco moco - a hamburger patty topped with brown gravy and a fried egg all on top of a mound of rice. The loco moco was really only OK. The patty was generous but kind of tough, the gravy was a bit thin and wimpy tasting, and the egg was fried hard. I had hoped for something a little more sublime.
I also stole Michelle's macaroni salad (aka "mac" salad) and doused it with soy sauce. Mmm. I did taste Michael's chicken teriyaki saimin, which was also very good. Michelle and Fukiko seemed to like their katsu.
The highlight was probably the desserts though. We shared a homemade strawberry ice cream pie on a vanilla wafer crust as well as a massive coconut cake sitting in a pool of homemade chocolate sauce. Both were really great.
The staff was reallly friendly. Even though some of the dishes were only OK, I'd love to go back and try more of the menu, if only to get more mac salad and lilikoi juice.
Note, the restaurant can be a bit hard to find. It's kitty corner across 45th from the Wallingford QFC.
I'm no bbq master, but I have picked up a few handy tips that make my life a little easier. I'm not sure where most of these are from (the amazing Alton Brown or the wonderful Cook's Illustrated The Best Recipe: Grilling and Barbecue, maybe?).
Now, if I only had some patience to let the coals get to the right state before I start cooking, I might figure this grilling thing out after all.
(BTW, both Alton Brown and Cook's Illustrated are my favorite cook book/cooking show producers. They both share a food science approach to cooking, explaining why things work the way they do. Fab.)
Thi s weekend we had the kind of glorious weather that makes Seattle heavan in the summer (and the memory of which keeps us going through the dark and rainy winter months.) Summer also means two things to me: our the Farm and pastis.
We picked up our first bag from the Root Connection, the coop farm we belong to and that I've mentioned several times before. (Actually, they started two weeks ago, but we missed the pickups for reasons lost to time. Sweet and tender carrots, lettuce that tastes like more than water, and other real veggies. Delish.
Now, it's Sunday evening and still pretty warm in the house -- really too warm for whisky unless I ice it down. I'm not really morally opposed to that, but it's unnecessary since I can enjoy my pastis again. Pastis is an anise flavored liqueur popular in the south of France that I developed a taste for two years ago. I love how it magically turns from clear to cloudy with the addition of water and the cold, refreshing taste. If only the air smelled like the ocean and lavender, I'd be back in France.
Life is good.
I went with my friends Malcolm and Reed to Scotch and Cigar Night at the Seattle Yacht Club last Saturday. It was a beautiful evening for the event; we enjoyed four different whiskies (Macallan 18, Lagavulin 16, Talisker 10, and Cragganmore 12 year) and a nice selection of cigars (the details of which were lost in the smoke and the haze). The company was good, the steak dinner was delightful, and the wines were nice. A fine evening indeed.
There was just too much of it. Turns out that drinking too much scotch and smoking too many cigars makes for a rough Sunday morning. While I certainly enjoyed the whisky, I think the cigars put me over into the bad zone. They always seem to multiply the effect of whatever I've been drinking. One cigar is normally my limit, so of course, I had two. As usual, I felt like an ashtray in the morning. Too bad. I really do like cigars, but the effects are so horrendous that I only have a few a year.
As far as tasting notes go, I loved all four whiskies. I've already blogged about my new found love for Lagavulin as well as my long standing affection for Macallan. (The Macallan 18 is a real winner -- rich, sherried, and delicious.) I've had the Talisker a few times recently and really like the peaty, salty island flavor; it's not as pronounced as Lagavulin (and certainly not as much as Laphroiag) but it's definitely beefier than Macallan. The Cragganmore was relatively new to me. It was lovely also -- malty, clean, and medium bodied. It wasn't a great whisky with the cigars (it got outmuscled), but I think it would be lovely on it's own.
So, as with all things, cigars and scotch are to be enjoyed in moderation.
After having spent time in New Zealand and Disneyland in the last ten days, I am once again reminded that Americans are fat. Not just a little pudgy. Fat. Fat. Fat.
Every population has a distribution, but my God, there are a lot of incredibly huge Americans; what's more criminal is that there are literally tons of fat American kids. To heck with bird flu, AIDS, and lung cancer. Obesity is an American problem of seemingly epidemic proportions, one which we'll all wind up paying for through higher insurance rates and taxes (and airline fuel bills, etc.).
I have some theories about how this is all the government's fault, with all of the subsidies on corn and other agricultural commodities driving the price of calories to nothing, but at the end of the day, people control what they put their pie holes and how much they exercise.
This evening, I broke the old rule of only eating oysters in months with "r" in the name. I had half-a-dozen Penn Cove Pacificas at Seastar. They were fresh, clean, and nicely presented as you'd expect at Seastar. I even had my now-standard glass of Lagavulin 16 (and then a yummy glass of Talisker) to wash them down.
Alas, they were they were only good. I forgot about the love life of the average oyster. Starting in September, they start storing fat -- creamy, delicious fat. They also firm up during this time. Come May, they start dedicating all that stored energy (and flavor) into reproducing, and like many humans (although not my lovely wife) they get flabby after having babies.
Since I believe in eating stuff when it's in season, I'll pass on oysters until this autumn again. Then again, it's autumn in New Zealand. Yummy oysters there. Hm...
The Arbeg I picked up in the Auckland duty free is tasty. It's a drinkable Islay whisky. The nose is iodiney -- it smells like a band-aid. The taste is sweetly smokey. I love it. It's a nice change from all the lighter, sweet whiskies I seem to have fallen into (and the bad whisky I had in New Zealand bars). It may be that as my taste for whisky matures, I'm more interested in the the more "challenging" whiskies like Arbeg and Lagavulin (see my post on Lagavulin and oysters for more info).
What a great dram! This may be my new favorite whisky. I may need to go have another drink right now to make sure.
Today is my last day in Auckland. Grandhi and I have a few meetings with customers, partners, and the MS New Zealand guys before we head down to Wellington this afternoon. It'll be a bit of a hectic day I think.
Yesterday was pretty calm by comparison. We didn't have much in the way of meetings, so we checked out the New Zealand National Maritime Museum. I love maritime museums (surprise, surprise) and Grandhi was nice enough to indulge me. The museum was quite good and much larger that outward appearances might suggest.
Afterwards, we had a nice lunch at the Loaded Hog by the Viaduct Basin (where the Americas Cup boats sortied out from). I didn't love the beers they brewed onsite, but the food was good. the local mussels are well-known and tasty, although I still think Penn Cove mussels in Seattle are better. Too bad it was raining all day; otherwise sitting out on the sidewalk would have been great.
We worked all afternoon trying to get ready for our upcoming talks and keep up with work at home. We then headed out to Parnell, a cute neighborhood in Auckland full of art galleries and shops, all of which close early to spite us. Fortunately, we found a nice restaurant called Igaucu for dinner. Pretty cool place. I finally got some lamb here in New Zealand. Everything you've heard about lamb in NZ is true -- fantastic. The one thing I've noticed is that every restaurant we've eaten in so far has under salted the food relative to my tastes. Grandhi and I both have been adding copious amounts of salt to everything. Given that Grandhi lives in India, I don't think this is just an American taste thing. Anyway, just an observation.
OK, time to pack up and head out. Talk to you from Wellington...
While the Seattle area doesn't seem to have any great formal, fancy, banquet-worthy Chinese places, there are quite a few damn good places for more every day Chinese food. As an ABC (American Born Chinese) my fondness for homestyle Chinese food outstrips my ability to cook it, so these places are important to me.
Around the Bellevue area (near my home and Microsoft), there are a few good haunts.
15015 Main Street Suite 107 (near the old KMart)
Hands down, my favorite item on the menu is the spicy beef noodles with extra veggies. Damn, this is good eats. The crispy onion cakes are super here too (see a trend?) We also like the veggie potstickers (which come out in real Chinese fashion, the whole dozen or so potstickers upside down with a sheet of crispy floury stuff attaching them all -- hard to explain, but it's yummy.) Lee and Joe are simply great too. They are our extended family. A few warnings -- it's cash only and the facilities are not at all charming. The food and the owners are what make this place great.
2245 140th Ave. N.E. (near Skate King, next to the Enterprise Rent-a-Car)
14625 NE 24th St. (behind The Warehouse near Fred Meyer)
14339 NE 20th St Ste I (near the Ross and Video Only)
503 - 156th Ave S.E. (Lake Hills Shopping Center, near Stamos Cafe)
There are a few other decent places -- Jeem for dim sum (the owner was the former chef at Wild Ginger), Noble Court for roast duck and seafood and dim sum, and Regent Bakery for roast duck noodles and their killer mango pudding (only in season!).
Hm, I'm hungry now just thinking about it. Lunch anyone?
Slashfood reported that USA Today has named the top 10 barbeque joints in America. I'm not sure USA Today is really the definitive source for all things food, but based on the one place on the list I've been (Goode Company Bar. B.Q. in Houston, TX) I'm sure the places are at least great.
I would have added Bullocks in Raleigh, NC, although I think I was swayed by the amazing baskets of hush puppies that came out first. I used to like Luther's in Houston a lot too (the reviews lately haven't been good). Then, there's always the County Line in Austin, home of all-you-can-eat q -- just the thing for hungry college boys. Of course, Seattle is not well known for good q, but near work, we love our Dixie's. You haven't lived until you've met The Man -- a crazy hot sauce that Gene, the proprietor, dishes out from a little sauce pan as he heckles you.
I love barbeque of all types and would love to hit this list. Even better, I want to go on a tour of the great bbq cookoffs and contests around the country to judge for myself. Anyone want to come? How can we pass up the "Superbowl of Swine" at the Memphis in May World Barbeque Championships?
(Maybe I should start with the list of Seattle's best q first though.
[Updated 5/10/2006 to fix the link to the Seattle's best q list]
This week Michelle and I had a great Ethiopean dinner at Meskel, in Seattle. We used to go to Kokeb for Ethiopean fairly regularly, but they closed several years ago, and we hadn't really found (or looked for a replacement.) But, when we came across a recommendation for Meskel in this month's issue of Seattle Metropolitan. we figured it had been too long since we scratched our Ethiopean itch.
We were right. I'd forgotten how good Ethiopean food is. The slow cooked veggies and stews eaten with the spongey injera bread were fantastic. The Ethiopean beer and wine were reasonable matches with the food. Of course, the best part was the injera that was under the food on the communal plate, soaking up all the great flavors. Soggy with spice, it's always my favorite part of an Ethiopean meal.
The restaurant itself is in a house in the Central District; it is bright and airy as was the service. A good place; I'm sure we'll be back again.
2605 E. Cherry Street
Throughout this blog, I've been using both spellings interchangably, but this kind of inconsistency drives me crazy. So, here's the word from Wikipedia (which also matches what I've read elsewhere):
The spelling whisky (plural whiskies) is generally used for those distilled in Scotland, Wales, Canada, and Japan, while whiskey (with an e; plural whiskeys) is used for the spirits distilled in Ireland and in the United States as well. A 1968 BATF directive specifies "whisky" as the official U.S. spelling, but allows labeling as "whiskey" in deference to tradition, and most U.S. producers still use the latter spelling. A mnemonic used to remember which spelling is used is that "Ireland" and "United States" have at least one "e" in their names, while "Scotland," "Canada" and "Japan" do not. International law reserves the term "Scotch whisky" to those whiskies produced in Scotland; Scottish law specifies that the whisky must be aged for a minimum of three years, in oak casks. Whiskies produced in other countries in the Scotch style must use another name. Similar conventions exist for "Irish whiskey," "Canadian whisky," and "Bourbon Whiskey." In North America, as well as in Continental Europe the abbreviated term "Scotch" is usually used for "Scotch Whisky." In England, Scotland, and Wales, the term "Whisky" almost always refers to "Scotch Whisky", and the term "Scotch" is rarely used by itself. The Welsh version is wysgi (though the forms chwisgi and wisgi also exist).
So there, more than you ever wanted to know. I will try to use the correct spelling depending on which country produced the stuff and will use the whisky spelling for the generic in deference to the original. Besides, I'm an American and Lord knows I'd hate to run afoul of the BATF... Guns, alcohol, and tobacco. My guys.
You can all rest easy tonight.
I'm sitting here enjoying a glass of Balantines 17 year (one of my very favorite blends, as I blogged about before) and nibbling on two Nestle Crunch chocolate Easter eggs I pilfered from the kids (sshhh, don't tell). OMG, it's lovely. Chocolate and Scotch is fantastic. I'm normally a chocolate and port or chocolate and Bordeaux guy, but this may very well be the best chocolate pairing.
I'm also learning to love Scotch and food pairings. It's a bit unusual for some people I think to consider Scotch paired with food, but as I mentioned, whisky and oysters are fab. I also think whisky is great with sushi. Smoked salmon, of course, is a natural.
I'll have to start working out more detailed pairings (like the Lagavulin and oysters). My work is never done...
I've been meaning to write about the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for a while now. The SMWS is a club based Scotland with branches around the world including the US. They purchases entire casks of whisky and then bottles them for a their members. This is unique in a few ways.
First, normally a bottle single malt scotch is comprised of whisky from many casks blended together; the only stipulation is that they need to come from the same distiller, otherwise it's a blended or vatted malt (blended can contain grain alcohol; vatted is typically pure malt). This blending allows the producer to create a consistent product year to year. However, any given cask could be very unique, sometimes very different from the regional or house style.
Second, the bottles are shipped at cask strength. This means they are not cut down with water to 80 proof like most whisky. This allows the true flavor of the whisky to come through and some would say preserves the whisky. You have to be careful with cask strength whisky though. The nose can burn your nose when you nose the scotch (love the three uses of nose) and the scotch is quite strong. I commonly will nose and taste it at full strength first, then cut it down with water, revealing new flavors and aromas plus making it less toxic.
Finally, the SMWS often finds casks from distillers that are no longer in business. It's interesting to get a bit of history in a bottle.
Anyway, as much as I love the whisky, I think I enjoy the descriptions of the bottles in the tasting notes. They are funny, evocative, and often useless but almost always fun to read. Here's a blurb from a recent mailing:
The most easterly of the Islay distilleries has a reputation for big smoke (the old maltings had no fans, allowing the smoke to penetrate the barley more). This sample is pale gold from the first refill barrel. The nose seems gentle compared to previous experience - plastic chairs by a swimming pool, putty, menthol, and some soap. Water brings the addition of paint tins, resin, and maritime notes. The nose might be youthful and temperate, but the taste is grown up and powerful - sweet tar, Germoline, pine forests, and lightly smoky with a dry finish; cooler with water. An angel wearing Doc Martins.
Mmm, paint tins...
In addition to the bottles, SMWS has tasting events around the world including Seattle (although I missed the one that just happened) and club houses complete with overnight rooms in Scotland and England. I'll have to try those out sometime.
It's a great way to try some really interesting whisky. If you're into whisky, I highly recommend it.
Oh my. Must try this.
Selfridges (a department store in London) is offering this amazing sounding sandwich. According to the BBC article:
The ingredients of the sandwich are: Wagyu beef, fresh lobe foie gras, black truffle mayonnaise, brie de meaux, rocket, red pepper and mustard confit and English plum tomatoes.
According to the Selfridges site (which contradicts the BBC, but is most likely correct since it's their damn sandwich), for £100 you get the sandwich, some "spice dusted tortilla chips" and a mini bottle of Moet. Quite a bargain...
Unfortunately, this "deal" only runs through April 17. I don't think I'm going to make it to London before then.
Life Begins at 30 published a pretty good list of reasons why it's advantageous to eat locally as well. Some of the arguments are stronger than others, but it's a good list anyway. Perhaps more interesting is the "Eat Local Challenge" he espouses. January in Seattle might not be the best time to start this challenge, but it's an interesting idea. I'll have to think about it.
I just opened a bottle of The Macallan Fine Oak - 10 Years Old single malt Scotch whisky (thanks to Felicity for getting this for me in New York.) Yum.
The Fine Oak line is very different from the other Macallan whiskies. This is a delicate whisky with a very light color -- quite a contrast from the darker, very sherried taste that defines the Macallan palate to me. Like the other Macallans, however, the Fine Oak has very little smokey/peaty flavor.
It's a very tasty sip. I'm one glass into the bottle, and I'm already excited to try the other bottles in the Fine Oak line-up, especially the 15 year old, to see the difference. Fun, fun, fun.
...and not just because my brother moved there.
Banning foie gras? Really? Seems like an arbitrary line to draw. We do lots of horrendous things to animals in the name of food, ones that I consider even greater crimes.
For instance, in the interest of having a picture perfect turkey breast (and none of that scary dark meat that most Americans view as just a step above eating brains), we've bred the life out of the turkey to the point where most commercial turkeys are so screwed up they can't mate (they're artificially inseminated), their aortas rupture randomly, and they're so dumb they really do drown in the rain. We treat them, well, like animals to the point where farmers need to clip turkey beaks because they'll peck each other to death in their crowded conditions otherwise. But, because the Thanksgiving turkey is a sacrosanct part of American culture and broadly eaten, the Chicaco city council wouldn't dream of taking on that industry. If we're not careful, we may completely lose entire strains of "heritage" turkeys in the face of the mono culture of these horrible American White turkeys. More on this at Slow Food USA.
Even worse is the practice of shark finning. This where fishermen catch sharks, chop the valuable fin off, and then throw the still-living shark back in the water to drown. Although this practice makes economic sense to the fishermen, it's an incredible waste and incredibly cruel. What's more, it allows for a much broader massacre of sharks, which reproduce very slowly. The environmental carnage is incredible. Fortunately, this practice is now banned for American boats and in American waters. Disneyland Hong Kong also backed down in the face of public pressure and will not offer shark fin soup in the park.
Perhaps a greater crime against nature, though, are Smucker's Uncrustables. Frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Really? I'm shocked and appalled that anyone would consider making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches too hard or too much work. Instructions too complicated? Too time consuming? Ingredients too exotic, too hard to find, too expensive? WTF. (OK, this was a bit off tangent, but I've wanted to get that rant off my chest for a while.)
I'm certainly not against eating meat, but I would propose a few principles:
I hate grandstanding and arbitrary bans like the one being considered in Chicago. If you want to change the world, have a set of principles and then go apply them consistently. Anything else is random and ultimately ineffective.
I had an insanely great lunch Tuesday at Salumi with my friend and colleague Will. Salumi is a shop/restaurant in Seattle that makes and cures their own cured meats -- salami, prosciutto, etc. In addition to the cured meats, they do hot foods at the shop as well -- melt-in-your-mouth porchetta, meatballs to die for, grilled cured meats, and great looking sandwiches.
Will and I shared a hot plate and a cold plate, giving us a "skipper's platter" tour of the offerings. The range of tastes was amazing, from the spicy hot soprasatta to the silky culatello to the meaty meat balls slathered in a robust tomato sauce. I was stuffed pretty quickly, but I kept eating for the sheer pleasure of it. They make gnocchi on Tuesdays too, but there was simply no way I could physically take that on too; I'll just have to come back.
The shop itself is tiny, really just a food line and a few communal tables. The co-founder and "Principal Salumist", Dino Batali, is the father of Food Network's Mario Batali. I guess it runs in the family. I also got to meet Will's dad, Bill, who is a co-owner; he was a very warm guy who really seems to enjoy the restaurant.
If you're in Seattle, run, don't walk to Salumi. (Note, they're only open from 11:00am-4:00pm Tuesday-Friday.) If you're not in Seattle, come and try it out or order a taste from their website. I bought a little coppa, lamb prosciutto, and hot sopressata for home; I think I'll have a little snickity snack right now. Ciao...
Last night I went to DeLille Cellars Winery to pick-up some wine I had ordered earlier this year. (Like many wineries, DeLille has a mailing list of interested customers that they sell directly to.) As part of the release, they have a little party with wine and some food in addition to letting people people up their wine.
This was my first release party, so I was kind of excited to see what it was about. Unfortunately, my eagerness was misplaced. The parking lot is small and the narrow drive only allows one-way traffic, which made for a very difficult departure. The event room was crowded with a long line for wine, and when you got to the bar, they were only pouring little splashes of wine, literally just a splash. This would have been OK if I could have stood there tasting all the wines (which is what they seemed to be trying to offer), but given the long wait to get another glass of wine, a more generous pour would have been welcome. Overall, it was boring and unfulfilling. I won't do this again.
(The wines, however, are lovely.)
The event was at the Grand Hyatt here in Seattle. As we walked in I saw my favorite things filling the room: sushi, sake, beer, Japanese beauty pagent contestants, and... a silent auction! This promised to be a great evening.
Well, the sushi was only OK, the sake came in little cups, the beer was poured badly, and the beauty pagent queens were too young and a little plain, and the auction stuff was mostly uninteresting. Still, we ran into some friends and had a few good pieces of sushi. Nishino, no surprise, was the best. I also liked Mashiko, at least as much for their URL -- sushiwhore.com. They were the only place that had a line all night.
Anyway, I left with a full but unsatisfied belly and didn't really discover anything fantastic or new. Mike, however, learned that mochi ice cream expands after you eat it, so it's wise to not fill up on them. Oh well. Live and learn...
Although I was warned before I went to Malaysia about the local "delicacy" called durian, I was drawn like moth to flame. My travel mantra is to always try to local foods, so durian was a must, even though durian is famous for its stench (enough to get the fruit banned from local hotels) and strong taste.
That said, I knew it would be a bit daunting, so I tried what I thought would be a safer form -- durian cheesecake. It tasted like liver and onion cheesecake. The taste was oddly strong and not at all what I expected. A second bit confirmed the overwhelming flavor. That was enough for me. The durian burps later that evening were rueful reminders of my experiment gone bad.
I can almost see how durian would be an acquired taste like strong cheese. There was something complex about the flavor, but I don't think I'll be working too hard to pick up a taste for durian.
While we were in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida, Michelle's parents took us to a restaurant near their house called Grouper's. Not surprisingly, they specialize in grouper. For those of you not familiar with grouper, it's a big, ugly, yummy fish. We don't get much grouper here in Seattle, so I always try to get a bunch while I'm in Florida.
Anyway, over the years, I've had a lot of grouper sandwiches, filets, etc. but this was easily the best grouper I'd ever had at any price. I had an incredibly delicious blackened grouper wrap; it was spicy, fresh, and cooked just right. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. Everyone else seemed to enjoy their meal too. It also helped that Renee Holt, the owner, and her staff were super friendly.
Renee explained they only serve fresh grouper; they have a boat they work with nearby to bring them fresh grouper. Apparently a lot of restaurants have to rely on frozen grouper these days due to higher prices. Well, our meal was definitely worth every penny.
If you're ever in the St. Pete Beach area, you must stop by Grouper's. Say hello to Renee for me too.
Grouper's Seafood Grill & Market
9524 Blind Pass Rd # 19
St Petersburg, FL 33706-1344
(BTW, I wanted to link to the Encarta Encyclopedia article instead of Wikipedia. Frankly, it was better written, plus I have some loyalty to my old team. Unfortunately, for some reason, this article was selected to only be available to Encarta Premium subscribers. As a shareholder, I really understand why we want to make some money off of Encarta, but there must be a better way. You can't make money charging for something as good that someone else is giving away.)
Yesterday, I mixed up a batch of ginger beer from a recipe in the New York Times. This non-alcoholic, non-carbonated brew is just ginger and a bay leaf steeped in hot water for a few hours and then cut with simple syrup. It's spicy, sweet, and oh-so-good.
Of course, as with many beverages, a splash of whisky makes it even better...
Update: Gin does not make the ginger beer better.
Why does the wait-staff offer freshly ground pepper for soups and salads?
First off, 99.9999999% of the time, I just got the damn thing; how do I know if it needs pepper?
Second, what's wrong with the pepper in the shaker? Oh, it's not as good? Then why the hell put in on the table? F
inally, if you're going to offer, grind out enough pepper to matter. The motions of grinding a peppermill do nothing for me or the dish. If you're doing to give me pepper, give me pepper until I tell you to stop. I don't care if your arms fall off from RSI.
This is one of Michelle's pet peeves. Now that she's pointed it out to me, it grates on me like fingernails on a chalkboard.
It's summer again (of course) which means we get bags of awesome veggies from the Root Connection, the community supported agriculture (CSA) farm we belong to.
As I've blogged about before, I love the veggies from the Root Connection. This week we got our first carrots of the season, easily my favorite thing from the Farm. Sweet and crisp without being woody like the nasty carrots from grocery stores. It's hard to not eat them all in one sitting.
Of course there's lots of other fantastic stuff too. Last week, Michelle roasted the first beets of the season and served them with chevre (goat cheese) in a salad. The beet greens were sauteed with carmelized onions and tossed with pasta. Wow.
I think they're still looking for members for this year, so give them a call! Also, look for them at the Redmond Saturday Market. You'll never look at veggies the same way again.
It's been four days, and I'm still jet lagged beyond belief. I'm clearly getting old.
Maybe some more Scotch will help me go to sleep. I picked up a very nice bottle of Ballantines 17 year-old in the Bejing duty-free (I love buying whiskey in duty free because there's such a great variety and because I hate paying Washington's liquor tax.)
I even brought Jim Murray's Whiskey Bible in my carry-on so I could figure out which to buy. The book (and subsequent tastings) have convinced me to drop my snobbery around blends vs. single malts. Both can be great. No reason to be a bigot.
Back to my yummy Ballantines (rated 96/100 in the book).
Last night, for the second year in a row, I went to the Oyster Olympics, a fundraiser for the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.
Like last year, I stuffed myself with dozens of tasty oysters from all around the Puget Sound and Hood Canal area. My favorites are still the Pacificas, with a slight preference for Hood Canal over Puget Sound (less salty, more sweet.) Kumamotos were a close second. I also loved the Virginicas and Olympias. Probably the only ones I don't care for are the European Flats -- too metallic tasting for me. It was great to wash down all the oysters with some good wine too.
Unlike last year, I decided to focus on chatting with my friends and eating oysters vs. taking photos. The event was largely the same as year though, so my photos from last year are still appropriate.
This is the right way to eat oysters. No mamby-pamby half dozen shared with friends. Three dozen for me, and three dozen for my friend. That's living...
You don't want to find big hairy green mold patches on the second slice of Havarti in the package after you just ate the first slice. I'm just sayin'...
(If I keel over and fall into a mysterious coma, I'd appreciate it if someone would show this blog post to the doctors.)
This is an incredibly smooth, chocolately stout with an amazing finish attributed to the milk sugar they add to the beer before fermentation. It's really quite unlike any beer I've ever had. (And I've had a lot of beer...)
I think I'll go have another.
Michelle and I had dinner at the Herbfarm this week with Scott and his wife Patti, our friend Angie, and our friend Mike. We've been to the Herbfarm several times before, although this is the first time in their new location (their first place burned down, then they were in a few temporary locations.)
Both Angie and Scott beat me to writing about the dinner in their blogs, so I'll leave you with their descriptions of the menu and evening. I will say, though, that dinner at the Herbfarm is always great and interesting, but boy, it's long. Six hours is quite an endurance test. I think it's easier to bear when the weather is nice since you can walk around outside between courses. A good group of friends who are active and scintillating conversationalists is a must as well (fortunately, we were covered there.)
Anyway, it was nice to see the Herbfarm is still wonderful. I'm looking forward to our next meal there -- after I've slept a bit.
Yesterday in Taipei, we had a little press interview and went to kick off the Microsoft booth at InfoMonth, an immense trade show that was packed with people. We saw some cool stuff, especially the Cappuccino computer, a tiny desktop PC with full specs. Lots of cute booth babes (especially the Microsoft booth) topped off this great geek fest.
Afterwards, we had a great lunch at Ting Tai Fung. This is a super popular restaurant in Taipei (so popular they've opened additional branches including some in Tokyo.) It was listed by the New York Times as one of the ten best restaurants in the world. I don't know if that's true, but it was pretty damn good. The restaurant is nothing fancy and specializes in dumplings, which really I love. We had way too much food, but it was amazing.
We finished up the day with a trip to the National Palace Museum (great, but under renovation), a stroll through the Shihlin Night Market, and some shopping in the great electronics district.
The tropical storm took a turn out to see, so the rain eased up and didn't really cause much hassle for us.
I'm in Seoul now, and just had a great Korean bbq dinner. There's nothing better than a little kalbi (bbq'd short ribs) washed down with soju (Korean rice wine) -- except maybe a lot of kalbi washed down with soju. We had a lot of kalbi.
More meetings and MVP stuff tomorrow. Wahoo.
We picked up the last share of the season from the Root Connection, the cooperative farm that we belong to. As I noted at the beginning of the summer, I love the produce we get and the principles the Root Connection stands for.
It's always sad to see the last bag come. I'll have to savor the last bunch of carrots and Honey Boat squash (this is a real treat!) and make the memories last until next summer.
I finally went to the XXX Root Beer Drive-In today for lunch. This Issaquah, WA restaurant was the first drive-in restaurant in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to a fun 50's car atmosphere (they have huge classic car get togethers here), they have great root beer (I think I saw in The Week Magazine that they were on the top 10 best root beer in America list.) The burgers and milkshakes were good too.
Anyway, I can't believe it's taken me 14 years to go there. It won't be 14 years before we go back.
I have never been particular successful making truly great s'mores. In particular, the chocolate never melts; I've always envisioned a sticky, luscious mix of melted chocolate and marshmallow squishing out between the graham crackers. But last night, I think I hit on the right approach (now obvious).
First, the marshmallow must be thoroughly melted and hot. This means a long roast time to get the inside as goopy as the outside. No flaming torches here. Lots of turning and patience here.
Once you have the completely soft marshmallow and assemble the s'more, you need to let the whole thing sit for a few minutes so the heat of the marshmallow can melt the chocolate. This is hard with eager kids, so in practice, I could only do this after handing a frankly half-done s'more to each kid. M-m-m.
I suppose you could this with chocolate sauce instead of a chocolate bar, but that seems like cheating and frankly un-American.
That said, I discovered that I like just marshmallow and graham cracker better than the normal way with chocolate. It's a lot less cloying and doesn't have any of that annoying waiting around.
Since my trip to Provence, I've been jonesing for pastis, the anise flavored liqueur so popular in Provence. I've found a few restaurants around here that have it but have been unlucky about finding a bottle in the state owned liquor stores here (I'll rant about that another time.) I've been combing the liquor stores across Seattle for them, even using their website that purports to accurately reflect the inventory of the stores (it doesn't).
I guess Michelle got sick of me pining for my pastis and being gone for hours at a time wandering from liquor store to liquor store like some kind of desperate alcoholic (I know it might look like that...) She called around (she's the smart one) and found a store that just got a shipment. Happy day!
Much to my glee, I found not only the Ricard 45 I was expecting (this is the most common pastis in the US) but Granier as well. I haven't had Granier yet, so I bought both. Not sure I can tell the difference between the two yet to be honest, but I'll keep drinking both until I can. My dedication to my craft can be tedious, but it's all I know...
For a good article on pastis, check out this Taste Magazine (Williams-Sonoma) article.
How could something as tempting as a deep fried pork sausage kebab be bad? (Remember, everything is better deep fried.) Well, I guess "The Stonner" and its 1000 calories are bad enough to be considered the most dangerous fast food in Britain. It's bad enough that there's a sign in the shop saying they'll only sell one per customer per week.
I gotta get one.
More on this on the Washington Post.
Another one from Boing Boing.
You might think the chocolate coating on a Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookie would protect it from becoming stale. You'd be wrong.
I just finished cleaning the 12-gallon bag of organic produce we get each week during the summer from the Root Connection, a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm in nearby Woodinville, WA.
Basically, you buy a share of the farm's output and pick it up each week. It's theoretically possible to get nothing, but in practice, we get a huge bag a week. This week we got six heads of lettuce (a.k.a. a shitload of lettuce), a mess of zucchini and yellow squash, two bunches of carrots, and two bunches of red onions. It's too much for us really, but I support what the farm does and want to help. Realistically, a half share would probably be plenty for us most weeks (except when carrots are in season...)
If you've never tasted really fresh produce, you're missing out on one of life's great treats. Furthermore, the varieties of produce from the Root Connection are optimized for flavor, not appearance, mechanical harvestability, or shelf-life like virtually everything you get in the grocery store. The carrots are amazingly sweet and crisp (the kids won't eat store-bought carrots anymore), the lettuce tastes like something more than crunchy water, and the corn (later in the season) is like nothing you've ever had. Plus, everything is organic, so no scary poisons for the family, the environment, or farm workers.
I've come to love seeing stuff come and go over the course of the summer; I really look forward to each crop as comes into season and enjoy its run fully. Eating seasonally is something of a lost art in this era of a global food supply, cold storage, and hot houses. Too bad.
I'm also happy to that the boys can see where food comes from. There are u-pick fields and kids gardens plus flowers and herbs for members. The guys love playing in the fields, pulling weeds, and picking beans. A well-educated friend of ours from a wealthy LA family had never seen a corn plant until well after college (amazing to me, since I grew up in Minnesota). I don't want the kids to be so ignorant of where food comes from and what it looks like au natural (pre-bags and neat store displays). I don't think it's good to be so separated from something so vital.
Finally, I'm glad to see this rich land being farmed instead of turned into strip malls, grass farms (with heavy pesticides), and golf courses like all the land around the farm. I believe that we should use land in the ways it's best suited rather than what's most convenient or even economical. In the end, I think we'll all be happier for it and the ecosystem will be healthier.
If it were just great produce, our farm share would still be a good value. That it's good for the kids, good for the land, and just makes me happy makes it unbeatable.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- the Japanese are weird. I love a lot about the Japanese and Japanese society, but at the end of the day they're weird.
This article from Mainchi Daily News covers the strange world of Japanese ice cream where raw horse meat, whale, and natto (a nasty fermented soy bean product) wind up in ice cream. Now, I like my horse meat as much as the next guy, but I don't want it in my ice cream. Ever.
Thanks to Boing Boing for the tip.
I normally don't place much stock in fancy bottled water; in fact, I prefer our tap water to most bottled waters, especially the salty, brackish, hellish Evian (in case you didn't glean my opinion from that rant, I really hate Evian.)
But, as usual, Michelle brought home another gem that I would never have found on my own -- Apollinaris Classic. It's a sparkling mineral water from Germany whose tagline is, "The Queen of Table Waters." I'm sure it sounds better in German.
Apparently, "100% source carbonic acid and outstanding, specially balanced mineralisation" is the key. Whatever. All the brr brr aside, I like it a lot. It was nice by itself and mixed with cherry liqueur on the rocks for a little pick-me-up on a hot afternoon.
They have a high end version too called "Apollinaris Private". I would normally be skeptical, but I think I may have to try it.
Just keep those nasty French waters away from me.
A group of us had a very tasty and fun meal at the Harvest Vine, a tapas restaurant just outside of downtown Seattle. The event was a special "Crianzas of Rioja" wine dinner with coursed Riojas (Spanish red wine). I don't have a lot of experience with riojas, so it was great to try so many with good descriptions. This was also my first time to Harvest Vine despite many, many recommendations from friends.
The meal started out with "sea urchin and trout roe lightly scrambled with aracana egg, accented with chorizo powder" and paired with Bodegas Primicia Gran Deizmo Crianza de Mazuelo 1999 (which is a very young Rioja, like Beaujoulais Nouveau). The dish was fantastic and the wine was good and interesting.
I won't bore you with the full menu/wine list (click here for that list). Sufficed to say it was great. However, I will comment on the amazing dessert. I'm not a big dessert guy, so it's hard to impress me with a super dessert. Joseph Jimenez de Jimenez (the chef, and a colorful guy with big mustache and floppy beret) and his wife Caroline (who I think is the actual mastermind behind the desserts and wine) poured a strawberry-rhubarb soup over a goat's milk gelatine (like a custard). The sweet tangy soup was a nice counter to the creamy gelatine which was also a bit tangy from the goat's milk. Great flavors and paired with a stunning El Grifo Malvasia 2001 dessert wine. Yum.
I also really liked the Lanzaga 2000 the most. We wound up buying a bottle each of the Lanzaga and El Grifo to enjoy at home (they have a retail liquor license too.)
The owners were charming, the food and wine were great, and the company (my wife Michelle plus Christopher and Kellie from work, and Kellie's friend Barbie) were super fun as always. Great evening.
What could be more decadent than an afternoon of slurping as many fresh, fresh, fresh oysters and washing them down with great local wines? Some friends (and my brother - not to be confused with a friend...) went to the 15th Annual Oyster Olympics last month. This was a benefit for the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.
Anyway, I've never had so many oysters in one day, and in particular, have not had a chance to have oysters from all over the region. I decided I liked the Hood Canal oysters a bit more than the Puget Sound oysters; they're a bit less salty and bit sweeter. Still, they were all amazing.
The event was huge with oyster shucking contests, an oyster-wear contest, and lots of media coverage including the Travel Channel.
My buddy Kevin invited me to join him for a Macallan Scotch tasting at the Hotel Monaco. This grand (and free!) evening started off with copious amounts of the Macallan 12 year and yummy appetizers from Sazerac (the hotel restaurant.) I've never had lamb chops as finger food, but let me tell you, it's wonderful.
We were ushered into a ballroom where we each had four glasses of scotch in front of us that we couldn't touch until our charming Scottish host ran through his 1/2 hour Powerpoint presentation on why Macallan was the best scotch. Powerpoint aside, the presentation and the presenter were very informative and entertaining (lots of jokes about the Irish and British). (Did you know that Irish whiskey is distilled three times whereas Scottish whisky is distilled twice? Irish whiskey can be a bit smoother but scotch is has more interesting flavors as result. I'm enjoying a glass of Jameson Distillery Reserve - my favorite Irish whiskey - right now and can attest.)
He then described the whiskies in front of us and had us guess which was which. The first was a Speyside whisky from another distillery. Nice but a little uninteresting compared to the Macallan 12-year we'd been drinking.
The second was a kick-you-in-the-ass Macallan Cask Strength. Normally, whisky is cut from the full strength to make the 80 proof. This was the full 118 proof. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but it definitely grew on me as I came to terms with it. This was my favorite.
The last two had a very interesting story. They were replicas of the 1841 and 1861 Macallan products. Macallan bought a bottle of each at auction and then had their Master Distiller (what a job!) taste virtually all of their barrels to find ones that matched the 1841 and 1861. Macallan then made replica bottles and made these whiskys available. Unlike wine, whisky doesn't really age or change once it's in the bottle, so it's not that these tasted old, they just tasted different. It was interesting to see how the house style of Macallan had changed over the century.
It's too bad they didn't have any of the Macallan 60 year. Apparently, they only produced a few hundred bottles of this exceptional whisky. Each bottle goes for $39,000 (yes, that's US dollars). The borgata in Atlantic City is selling shots of this fine stuff for $4000 each. That's a bit spendy even for me.
Anyway, it was a very educational and enjoyable evening -- definitely a top notch event with no sales pressure (they weren't selling at the event, probably thanks to our friends at the BATF and Washington State Liquor Control Board). I'm a big Macallan fan now and feel a bit more knowledgable. I'll have to drink a lot more scotch, whiskey, and bourbon for comparison now...
I'm not usually a big rum fan unless it's mixed with Coke or something, but I just had a glass of Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum. Damn, it's good. Very, very smooth. It is reminscent of good scotch without the peat or smoke. It's a more clean, sugar cane taste.
This is the world's best rum. I think so. So did the 2000 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Anyway, it's delicious.
It will also kick your ass. I've been sipping an albeit generous pour this evening and can already feel it go to my head. How good.
This has been a good holiday for eating. Every New Year's Day, Michelle makes beignets (made famous at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans). These are deep fried doughnuts covered with powdered sugar. Dr. Atkins would definitely not approve. Michelle's are even better than the ones at Cafe Du Monde and more plentiful (quantity has a quality all its own.)
Since we had a pot of hot oil, I decided I needed to fry stuff. I was too lazy to make a batter, so I made strip chips from Alton Brown's cookbook I'm Just Here for the Food. These are home made potato chips made with a vegetable peeler so there's even less to clean up. I made one big batch with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and one big batch seasoned with Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning mix -- a tastes-good-on-everything blend with a kick. Both were damn fine. I have to agree with Alton Brown's note that no matter how many you make, the pile of chips is really just one serving.
Alton Brown is the host of Good Eats on the Food Network, my favorite cooking show. Great food science and hacky gear make for an enjoyable show.
I also made "sun" dried tomatoes from a huge box of tomatoes we got for Christmas -- sliced tomatoes with a little sugar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary then baked all night on a very low oven. Wow. I made an incredible omelette (twice actually) with these tomatoes diced with some salami (really!) Insanely great.
Time to cook some more. Mmmmmm...
Last week, Michelle and I went to an amazing apple-themed dinner. It was sponsored by the Northwest Cider Society and featured great Northwest hard ciders and the food stylings of Susan Loomis (owner/operator of a cooking school in Normandy and author of the cookbook On Rue Tatin).
The dinner featured apples, naturally, to complement the ciders (Wescott Bay Orchards and Irvings Cider) and apple drinks (e.g. calvados). Susan served up luscious mussels steamed in cider; duck breast with onions, apples, and parsnips (I think); a very nice salad; and a beautiful tart tatin.
The company was also very interesting -- local foodies and restaurateurs (like Sandy Shea, owner of our favorite restaurant, Chez Shea). We also chatted with Jon Rowley, a friend I met at an ethereal oyster and wine dinner he donated and the one who dreamt up the dinner.
All in all, it was a lovely dinner. Check out the pictures here.