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.
January 8, 2014
Barbuto will be celebrating ten wonderful years on February 11, 2013. On that Tuesday, Jonathan will be welcoming back his illustrious alum chefs to help us cook an amazing Barbuto family feast!
January 8, 2014
Ice in the river. So cold your face freezes after the first block. Perfect day for ramen: there's nothing so warming as a big bold bowl of righteous noodles.
What made me order the raw octopus and wasabi appetizer? Curiosity mostly. It hardly seems to belong on the Ippudo menu, which rounds out the noodle offerings with a few dishes that approach fast food. Sticky chicken wings fried to a crisp. Buns filled with sweet fried chicken patties slicked with chilied mayonnaise. And a delicious – but almost laughably expensive cucumber. One sliced cucumber, regally presented on its own long dish: $8. What's the restaurant's profit on that little item?
So when I saw the raw octopus in wasabi sauce for $5, it seemed like such an anomoly I ordered it. Strictly for science. I was not expecting this textural delight. The raw octopus was as tender as velvet. It was soft, chewy and slightly tacky in the mouth. It demanded your attention. Right behind it came the crunch of celery and the insistent heat of wasabi. A single slice of lemon was hiding at the bottom of the bowl, radiating flavor so that the taste of the octopus changed as you worked your way down. A single teasing leaf of shiso on the side. The dish was so intriguing that when it was gone I ordered another.
In the end I have to say that the noodles, good as they were, were kind of beside the point.
January 7, 2014
There's ice floating on the river. It's the coldest day I can remember. Still I'm sitting here, wishing I had some White Mustache Sour Cherry Yogurt. Wondering if it's worth a trip into the arctic blast to get some.
I found the yogurt at Brooklyn Kitchen in the new Gotham West Market. The pretty glass jar was crazy expensive, but I was so happy after slurping up a bowl of Ivan Ramen's fantastic noodles that I plunked my money down. Then I got home and discovered that the yogurt was thick, smooth and incredibly rich, with a satisfying tang. It was perfectly set off by the tart cherry compote. I got to the bottom of the jar and all I could think was: Why didn't I buy more?