Archive for September, 2006

Tony’s Sushi (Delivery) – New York

Saturday, September 16th, 2006
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Chic restaurants are great and all, but the endless variety of delivered foods also has a place as one of the more fabulous things about cities. On this Saturday night, it made staying at home to nurse a lingering blister on my heel and a resultant burgeoning limp seem almost luxuriously fun. I’ve been walking the 5-10 miles that I cover in New York everyday and standing for however long at my externship, so all I wanted to do for dinner was shuffle to my front door and be greeted by a glorious bearer of sushi before falling back onto the couch.

And I didn’t even have to make a phone call — I ordered online efficiently through Menu Pages. Despite the odd name, Tony’s Sushi came through with a delightful meal starring perfectly fresh sushi — and large portions.

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Sushi Dinner Bento Box (with 6 pieces of sushi, an Alaska Roll, shrimp shumai, miso soup, salad). For quite a while, this will be what I crave when I crave sushi.  The shumai were light and good.

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Age Tofu, gently fried. It had a delicate, crispy crust and silky interior, but I wasn’t into the strong fermented flavor. So, I drowned it with an accompanying sauce, and it was fine.

Fat Fish – Los Angeles

Friday, September 15th, 2006

Here’s why I love Fat Fish in West Hollywood: I get to try new flavors there. And it’s not from the (pretty good) sushi — it’s from the drinks. Fat Fish is the reason that I pay such close attention to drinks everywhere I go. Cocktails seem like lab experiments for layering flavors from all walks of life, and I’ve solemnly vowed, internally, to come up with cocktail-based desserts that can match their deliciousness.

One reason for Fat Fish’s success with drinks is its use of fresh ingredients — fresh purees, fresh fruit, even fresh rose petals for the occasional garnish (one of those drinks is not finished until it’s balanced just so); there are no awful schnapps here for flat flavor boosts. They use muddlers a lot. But what’s even better is that the alcohol remains on the center stage (not overpowered by juices, that is), and quite often, drinks are made only from alcohols of different flavors.

They also have one of the more fascinating alcohol selections that I’ve seen — common high-quality stuff, but also the esoteric. What’s more, the bartenders know how to mix them. Just ask the bartenders about an unfamiliar bottle, and they can probably put together an off-the-menu drink for you; or tell you that it’s not really worth it. So, sitting at the bar in the lounge in the back is really where the action is.

Last time we were there, we asked about the Feijoa-flavored 42 Below vodka. Feijoa is a fruit commonly found in NZ, where 42 Below is from; its nickname is “pineapple guava.” The bartender mixed it with pineapple, mint, honey, and soda for a drink. I don’t usually like pineapple juice in drinks b/c it’s cloying sweetness tends to mask everything else, but here, it blended in well with the other flavors to produce a drink that verged on the tropical, and yet was grounded in a pungent earthiness from the mint and honey.

We also asked about a bottle of Phillips Union Vanilla-Flavored Whiskey. We were given a drink with lemon juice, lime juice, mint, simple syrup, and the whiskey (about 2 shots worth). The immediate strength of the vanilla flavor ultimately swirled into the whiskey, sour citrus, and mint flavors, and the finish lingered with a cumulative flavor of of them all. It was a drink that you could savor for that reason, but since it was such a new taste experience, it was one that you wanted to get to know very well, fast.

So, those were two of my drinks during one night of Fat Fish. They also have nightly specials, like the Golden Mojito (w/ float of champagne), Blackberry Sangria, and a Cilantro Margarita. There are pages of cocktails and liquors on the menu — I usually order drinks like the Wonderland (w/ kiwi puree; my standby), Cucumber Martini, Lychiban Martini (sp? lychee, cherry, and vanilla, I believe), Zentini (sake, ginger-infused vodka, crystallized ginger), the 616, and the Secret Flower (one of our first times there, Chad liked the ingredients but didn’t look at the name until he ordered a “sec-ret… FLOWER?!” It’s made with champagne, cointreau, cranberry); there’s also a good selection of tequilas. Note that if you find their website, the drinks list is kind of dated on it.

To eat, the Seattle, Firecracker, FAT AASS, and Ichi Rolls are all good, as is the Stuffed Tomato appetizer (it’s actually tuna surrounding crab). For dessert, we usually get the warm chocolate cake with a special request for their homemade marshmallows (which are usually served on their banana split dessert).

My only caveat about Fat Fish is that we’ve been going for years and have been served by bartenders of varying abilities. Some nights we’ve left unfulfilled by average drinks. The proportions really have to be just right for them to be mind-blowing. Josh, and more recently, Marcello, are amazing.

And the ever-popular Abbey is just up the street… It’s one of the few places that you can a get a taxi easily in LA. Take advantage of this.

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Bernard Castelain Chocolaterie – Chateauneuf du Pape

Friday, September 15th, 2006
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One of the greatest surprises while visiting Chateauneuf du Pape was this excellent chocolaterie. Chocolate doesn’t usually spring to mind when thinking about Provence, and that’s too bad. This chocolate passed my most criticial chocolate tests: it melted smoothly and dissolved into pleasing notes of flavors. I find it difficult to describe chocolate, and especially to be able to differentiate the flavors in words, although the differences are obvious when you taste chocolates one after the other. My most common complaints of a chocolate would be an astringent flavor and a curdled sort of melting quality. Bernard Castelain has none of those problems.

I was also impressed by the variety of chocolate available — with many different percentages of cocoa, different origins, different fillings, different shapes. There’s a large sales room to show all of them off, and samples for just about everything. Here is a site that sells some of their chocolate bars, so you can get an idea of their variety.

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These are champagne truffles… which, of course, means cognac. These were my favorite. I also liked the cork-shaped “bouchons” flavored the same way.

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Second favorite, these rocks. There was a bright flash of flavor from the coating — something creamy and approaching citrus about it.

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Almond Paste with Coffee. I liked this candy bar-like style.

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Coated Almonds.

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St Domingue, Equateur (from Ecuador), Tanzanie.

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Momofuku – New York

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

I’ve read quite a bit about Momofuku‘s New York-style take on a ramen shop, and I was very happy with what I had. After a few dud food experiences elsewhere, it was one of those meals that made me relax into the vibrant flavors of the dishes and remember how good food can taste… in a comfort food sort of way.

Momofuku, by the way, means lucky peach.

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Steamed Buns with Shiitake Mushrooms. At first I thought that the mushrooms looked a bit anemic without the sauce (which was only spread on the middle of the buns), but as I ate them, I appreciated that they weren’t all gunked up with sauce b/c it would have been monotonous. I also liked the sprightly cucumber, and how the bun wasn’t so thick as to smother the filling, as so often is the case. It was awkward to eat, though… Multiple mushroom slices don’t generally like to cleanly break for one bite.

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Momofuku Ramen with Berkshire Pork Combo and Poached Egg. Loved the two porks – earthy, fibrous-but-chopstick-yielding pork belly and sweeter shredded pork shoulder — as well as the mountains of everything else, even though the noodles were a tad soft. I could have spent an afternoon lingering over the the gently steaming bowl.

Buddakan – New York

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

Buddakan is big. It’s 16,000 square feet and seats 325 people for food and drinks. I tried to take pictures of the main dining room to capture its immensity, but this one from the the New York Times review does it much better justice. We sat in the “library” off to the side, which was more intimate but no less stylish, with glowing book spines lining the walls.

I don’t usually trust places like this — such size makes me think of noise and the mediocrity of mass food service… and such an emphasis on style makes me think of lounges and clubs with tepid food and watered down drinks. And then there’s that whiff of gimmickry about the whole thing…

But the modern Asian food at Buddakan was great, often fantastic. And sure, it was loud, but it felt more fun than obnoxious. And the service was friendly and thoughtful. I may sound shocked and I may open my eyes a little wider than normal if I were to tell you this out loud, but I highly recommend Buddakan.

Btw, the building used to be a Nabisco cookie factory, so a visit to Buddakan means a visit to the place where the Oreo was invented. Somehow I was charmed by learning the quaint heritage of such a brashly modern place.

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Shaken Chili Beef Tartare with Tapioca and Shaved Shallots. A revelation. Tuna tartare has become so trite, and so returning to a classic tartare with beef and incorporating tapioca and shallots seems brilliant to me. It was so silky and full of flavor. The spicy sauce on the side of the plate wasn’t even necessary to bolster the flavor for me, but I liked the occasional crispy contrast of the chip and its black sesames.

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Boneless Spare Ribs with Chinese Mustard. Again, the sauce wasn’t even necessary. The ribs were so tender and juicy, with a just sweet and spicy enough glaze.

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Crab Fried Rice with Wok Scrambled Egg. I loved how the herbs on top added a dash of vitality into this already fresh dish — the crab was delicious and plentiful amongst perfect rice, and the eggs added just the right degree silkiness and background flavor.

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Mao Poe Tofu with Minced Pork and Red Chili. The NYT review calls this “the most crazily addictive thing I’ve tasted in months.” I wanted to find it crazily addictive, too, but mine hit much sweeter notes than the spicy fieriness that Bruni experienced. The tofu was incredibly silky, and the dish was still fine, with the pork asserting itself most, but I was expecting more.

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Cantonese Steamed Sole with Ginger Scallion Oil. I love it when steamed dishes are so full of flavor. And the sole was so tender.

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Crying Chocolate with Malted White Chocolate Ganache, Coffee Ice Cream, Milk Caramel. Excellent. That little chocolate tart that oozed the warm dark chocolate and white chocolate ganaches seemed like a clever play on chocolate lava cake, and the coffee ice cream was a worthy ally — creamy and just sweet enough. Those dots of chocolate seemed a bit unnecessary, but I guess it’s for style and supports the name.

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White Peach Sorbet and Blackberry-Lime Sorbet with Thai Basil Gelee, Spicy Ginger Seltzer, Basil Chip. I tasted the gelee first, and found it off-putting, but after a bites of sorbets, I went back to it, and found it utterly wonderful and refreshing. I really liked how the sorbets were full of ripe fruit on their own, but as time passed and they melted into the seltzer, the dish turned into a kind of flavored soda in a bowl; it reminded me of those drinks in France, where you pour syrups into water a little at a time. I also respect how this rather light dessert has so many wonderful flavors and textures. Interestingly, even though it was “the sorbet dish” it was listed first on the menu.

Drinkwise, it was hit or miss. The Charm with passion fruit liqueur, apple, fresh berries, and prosecco was downright astringent; I can understand the concern of serving overly sweet cocktails, but this was ridiculously unsweet and rather undrinkable. Meanwhile, the Heat with tequila, cointreau, and chilied cucumbers was very sour and quite sweet and barely spicy. I had better luck with a Harushika “Tokimeki” (Heart Aflutter) — a sparkling Junmai — that started out like a sweet wine, until you felt the bubbles, and then tasted the sake. It was different and good.

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