June 5, 2014
9:30 on a Monday night and the place is packed, people still pouring in the door. And this is Philadelphia?
A few bites in, and I understand why Fork is so popular. This is, from the very first taste, truly exciting food.
These look like ordinary oysters. They're not. Chef Eli Kulp has chilled them to the perfect point of iciness, then topped them with his own personal mignonette, which adds the crunch of celery to the mix. The result is a textural dream.
A couple of amusing little bites. Dandelion greens slashed with miso and dried to crackling flakiness. The counterpoint is radishes transformed into a soft vegetable leather, a stunning surprise to the mouth: robbed of their brisk crispness, the flavor of the humble radish takes a new turn.
Radishes, again, this time buried in a "soil" made of various seeds. "Soil" in its many incarnations, seems to be the dish of the moment.
This was followed by a couple of amusing little twists on rolls: first clam madeleines, which would have made Proust think twice. Then square little pretzels filled with mustard, a new take on a Philadelphia classic. And wonderful little bialys, filled with homemade (Philadelphia) cream cheese.
Spring served in a bowl. Rhubarb consomme with tender greens, a bit of almond and then, singing loudly in the middle, a single perfect strawberry, the flavor resonating on and on. Stunningly delicious.
A single stalk of asparagus with a granita made from the fremented roots of broccoli rabe, ricotta and bee pollan. Just a few pungent little bites, the opening act for the brilliant dish that followed, pictured at the top.
Bite into that elegant little circle of mushrooms and you find this:
filling of sweet potato and cashew cheese, with a sprinkling of citrus. An hommage to a dish invented by Pascal Barbot of Paris' L'Astrance, it would make a vegetarian out of the most recalcitrant meat eater.
Another new way to look at Philadelphia cuisine. Pasta made from rye and caraway. A sauce of pastrami and mustard. A bit of dill. Deli food has never been so elegantly reprised.
Another Philadelphia dish – the classic pork sandwich – lovingly remade. The sweetness of this gorgous pork makes a fine contrast to fermented broccoli rabe, while its soft juiciness is teased out by those sharp little shards of dried provolone.
There were many desserts, all interesting, including elements like caraway rye ice cream and root beer tea. I regret to confess that I'd been so completely seduced by this splendid meal that I'd forgotten all about my camera at this point in the evening.
Mea culpa. But it was, after all, around midnight.
June 3, 2014
Better late than never…. I left Vancouver a week ago, but somehow I never got around to putting my meals down on paper. Which is a shame, because it's a great place to eat.
The first night we went to the very what's happening Bao Bei in Chinatown. I guess it's Vancouver's version of Mission Chinese, a hip young place with a modern menu in the heart of an old-fashioned Chinatown. They take no reservations; the lines are long.
The dish I remember with the most longing – I'm sitting on a train as I write this, and I would give anything to have that shao bing at the top – was a large sesame-studded flatbread stuffed with pickled red onions, chiles, cilantro and tender, pungent, cumin-scented lamb. A truly great sandwich.
The meal began with these vegetables. Lovely little Sichuan pickles. And eggplant marinated in soy, garlic and ginger.
Then there was this bowl of very intense cold noodles, topped with rare strips of beef and tossed with a pungent dressing made of chiles, Sichuan peppercorns and dried shrimp.
Shrimp dumplings. And ethereal pork and prawn wontons in an intensely curried broth.
Traditional, but very delicious: pea shoots.
The next night there was dinner at Hawksworth, the city's most ambitious restaurant. It's a pretty place with a huge, bustling kitchen. I find it fascinating that for all its aspirations – this kitchen is aiming for the stars – Vancouver's fanciest restaurant has a very casual vibe.
But there is nothing casual about the food. These crisply fried oysters are served on a plank of wood with an austere dusting of powdered malt vinegar. The contrasting polka dot is piquillo pepper paste. A fine way to begin a meal.
An endlessly appealing play of textures, temperatures and flavors. Hamachi sashimi in a tangle of radishes and herbs is sparked with jalapeno and kissed with passion fruit seeds. On top, a few grains of crisped rice add crunch. Underneath, a shimmering blanket of white soy. Over it all, the icy surprise of coconut sorbet. Fantastic!
It's spotted prawn season. These were gorgeously cooked, lightly dressed, utterly irresistible.
Sturgeon, a sturdy, tasty, difficult fish, grilled with tandoori spices in a spiral of cauliflower puree. On the side, a little panisse of chickpeas. What you can't see is the piquant tamarind vinaigrette that underlined all the flavors and pulled them together.
I'm not big on plates composed like this – they always look so twee – but this was a perfect little chunk of duck: flesh rare, skin crackling, flavor intense. It was crowned by a small circle of complementary flavors.
Love the look of this – like something washed up on the sands of a deserted isle. The flavors, however, are very much of this earth: spiced apple, hazelnut, maple. It made a fine farewell to a great city.
Can't wait to go back.
June 2, 2014
Home at last. So happy to be back in my kitchen. Went right off to the market and discovered there are still local asparagus around here. I scooped them up, thrilled I hadn’t missed them.
I like serving asparagus at room temperature when I'm having a group over to dinner. That way I can't get distracted and overcook them at the last minute. This sauce – festive, delicious and very easy – is my favorite way to top them.
I cook my asparagus in a large skillet of boiling water, putting the fattest ones in first for about 5 minutes, then adding the skinnier ones for just the last two or three minutes. Then I simply scoop them out of the water and put them on a towel-lined plate to cool.
Just before serving I ladle on the fragrant, chunky sauce.
Begin the sauce by hardboiling a couple of eggs, chilling them in ice water, and peeling them.
Now mince a couple of shallots and put them in a small bowl. Add two tablespoons of Italian parsley, a few chopped chives and a tablespoon of minced capers. Stir in 6 tablespoons of good olive oil and mix well. Add a generous dollop of mustard and 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar.
Chop the hardboiled eggs into fairly coarse pieces, stir them in, and grind in a good bit of black pepper. Allow to mingle quietly for a half hour or so, to let the ingredients communicate with one another, then taste for seasoning and spoon over a pound and a half of cooked asparagus.
Serve at room temperature.
The rest of the menu, if you're interested:
Chicken Liver Mousse
Crackers topped with Sour Cream and Salmon Roe
Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing
Fresh Apricot Crumb Tart