January 28, 2014
Sitting at G&B Coffee in the Grand Central Market, after eating lemongrass-laced Thai sausage with sticky rice and papaya salad at the Sticky Rice stand, drinking this impeccable little macchiato, thinking about all the wonderful food I've been eating while I've been here.
A few high points:
What might be the platonic ideal of lemon tarts at Cooks County (where all the food is a complete delight). Still thinking about that crust…..
Flour-steamed pork at Chengdu Taste (can't wait to go back).
Fried Clams! Fried Clams! Fried Clams! at Connie and Ted's
Not to mention these gorgeous shrimp.
Chicken skin and avocado sandwich at The Hart and The Hunter
The great cocktails at Mud Hen Tavern (my Iphotos are so dark I'm afraid of being accused of taking worse pictures than you know who….). And everything I ate at Jitlada, where I was so busy devouring raw crabs with papaya salad, noodles with pork and a fiery nam prik rich in tamarind, that I completely forgot to take pictures.
Next time I'll do better.
January 26, 2014
January 24, 2014
Curtis Stone loves to cook. He loves puttering around in the kitchen, loves playing with ingredients, loves watching people as they eat his creations.
Unlike so many chefs, cooking’s not a job to him. It’s a joy. And you feel that every time he slips behind a stove.
During the entire time Curtis and I worked together at Top Chefs Masters he’s talked about wanting to open a restaurant. He was always going out to look for the perfect space, always thinking about the menu he might serve.
Now he’s finally done it.
A caveat: I’m not a disinterested observer. I went to a family and friends preview, and like just about everyone who’s ever met Curtis, I wish him well. He’s a genuinely lovely person with deep intelligence and a real feeling for food. Still, I arrived at Maude (named for his granny, who taught him to cook), with serious trepidation; I was afraid I’d hate the place. I’d gone to the website and winced when I saw the pedigree of the people working there: The French Laundry, El Bulli, Robuchon, Alinea. It sounded pretentious.
I shouldn’t have worried. Is Curtis not Australian? The room is small and casual; it’s correct, but you’d still feel comfortable in a tee shirt. And the food? Seasonal, elegant in its simplicity, and completely flavor-forward.
The first course was a a quintet of tiny bites, beginning with a delicate little pile of orange sections topped with lime sorbet and ending with a single crisp mussel on an orange aioli.
Next there was a salad so small and gorgeous I wanted to wear it like broach.
The carrot soup – just a few little spoonfuls, was topped with a tiny sword of smoked parsnip, a crisped slice of serrano ham – and little green dots that swirled in the earthy flavor of carrot tops, the tang of chervil. It was a stunning expression of carrot, proof that a vegetable can have serious power.
Lobster crudo was another little jewel, another minuscule arrangement of color, flavor and texture, another balancing act that that managed to satisfy in just a couple of bites. Then a sliver of chicken terrine that looked like moss agate, snuggled up against a ferocious mustard ice cream. Three contrasts: temperature, texture, taste.
A fat raviolo of duck and smoked goose fat appeared, laced with lovely little red stripes of pickled chard stem. The final touch here was a dusting of grated duck egg yolk, a little miracle of molecular gastronomy.
Curtis clearly thinks in dramatic terms, and the menu was building, each course becoming larger than the one before in both size and flavor. We were exchanging subtlety for boldness, and as the flavors grew bigger, the presentation went in the opposite direction. We began with food for the eye and ended with food for the mouth: a slab of beautiful beef, a cube of beef cheek, broccoli, potatoes. Just a few bites, but they were big.
Cheese. Dessert. Wine. It’s all of a piece. What you sense is that this is a chef who knows exactly what he’s reaching for, a chef whose ultimate goal is simply to make you happy. And this is just the beginning: I can’t wait to see what Maude will be like once they all settle into the kitchen.
January 19, 2014
A Munch-Around Dinner at Tosca in San Francisco:
Such a lively place! People kept pouring in the door, long after midnight, in a town not known for late night adventures. We went for a drink, ordered some pig's ear terrine – all crunch and flavor – and ended up staying for an impromptu dinner.
It's the vegetables I remember most. Roasted treviso with garlicky breadcrumbs – a play on bitter and sweet vibrating in the mouth, one long chord after another. Can't get it out of my mind. Luxurious cauliflower gratin. Broccoli, cooked almost to a mush, powered with lashings of anchovy. Really fresh crisp studded with pumpkin seeds in an intense dressing. Gemelli with pecorino and black pepper. And then sorbets….
Breakfast at Alice's house in Berkeley
Whole grain flat breads (wheat from Wes Jackson), heated on the griddle to a fine light char. Such flavor! A thin coating of smooth hummus and a splash of olive oil.
Pu er tea, strong enough to startle you into the day.
Local rice with greens and garlic.
Dinner at Spago in Beverly Hills
Another completely fantastic and original meal from Tetsu Yahagi, that made me so deliriously happy that with the exception of the truffles above, I neglected to take pictures. (Hidden beneath the truffle and egg white foam is an intense egg yolk jam. A fantastic way to eat black gold.)
The dish I remember best i a savory bacon macaroon – the most amazing texture; a fascinating interpretation of bacon and eggs. Wonderful squab grilled on bincho charcoal. And a superlative Peking Duck, with homemade hoisin sauce I wanted to drink by the cupful.
Wines? I particularly enjoyed the Denner Theresa, a Rhone blend from Paso Robles. It's a wine I haven't had before (but will again.)
Dinner at Chengdu Taste in Alhambra
The food here is so mind-numbingly wonderful all I can think is – when do I get to go back?
But there's a drawback: the line. We went at 5 because if you wait until later you might have to wait hours for a table.
What did we have? The Lion Fish, above, which is probably the only dish I wouldn't order again.
Fantastic rabbit, tangled with chiles, scallions and Sichuan peppercorns. The most wonderful dan dan noodles. Little bits of lamb, showered with cumin and skewered with toothpicks. Sliced beef in what is called "tofu pudding" but turns out to be an enormous casserole of sliced tofu swimming in a violent chile-flecked sauce and topped with tender slices of beef. Velvet-soft chunks of fish surrounded by bean sprouts in a broth filled with green chiles and sichuan peppercorns; the first impression is the texture of the fish, then there is the frontal attack of the fresh green chiles, and finally the sly, sneaky heat of the peppercorns. It's a stunningly good dish.
If you go, read Jonathan Gold's review first.
And now I am about to indulge in the live sea urchin I just bought (among other winter surprises), at the Hollywood Farmers' Market…..
January 10, 2014
Sitting outside at Connie and Ted's, eating a giant sea urchin. It's rich, soft and so fragrant that the flavor is still singing in my mouth long after the last little bit has been swallowed. The sun is shining.
At the next table a man with very large teeth and a woman of a certain age without a wrinkle on her face are listening politely to a British man pitching a movie; his dream is to have Kim Kardashian star in his film.
A single, amazing scallop arrives, still in its shell, swimming in butter. It is like no scallop I've had before: the texture is both soft and slightly chewy, and the entire scallop sings with flavor.
Then steamers – perfectly cooked, still tender, without a single grain of sand. They've been steamed with sliced garlic and a little bit of chile. They are astonishingly delicious.
And then the fried clams, with their soft, full bellies, like little fried clouds. These are East Coast clams; why is it that there is not a single decent fried clam in all of New York?
It is very good to be in Los Angeles on a clear January day.