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Vacations

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Momofuku Ko

consumed on 4/23/09

I’m in NYC visiting my brother and, per usual, he has a list of restaurants he wants me to try–with Momofuku Ko at the top. He warns me that it’s crazy hard to get a reservation, especially since they only have two seatings of 12 per night. Luckily, checking at 10pm on a Friday night turned up three open spots. Go economy!

On the night of our reservation we meet up in the East Village and find the restaurant on an unassuming street, marked only with the trademark peach. I sneak a shot of the door, as they have a strict no photo policy. Once inside we are greeted immediately and led to our spot at the counter. The restaurant is very small and centers around an open kitchen where three chefs are at work.

ko

We decide to splurge on the $100 (per person) wine pairings, justifying it with “when in Rome.” We start out with three amuse-bouches, all beautifully plated. The braised fennel on quark with hazelnut oil is a nice bite of fresh, but forgettable. The chicharon with togarashi is downright bad and akin to gas station pork rind snacks. Our last bite of biscuit with honey and black pepper is the best of the three, but overwhelmingly oily, sweet and dense.

Our next course of fluke with buttermilk, poppy seeds and chives arrives and our taste buds perk up. We both confess that the rocky start had us worried. The fluke is raw, thinly sliced and melts in the mouth. The combination of sour buttermilk and crunchy/nutty poppy seeds is intrinsically strange, but marries beautifully with the fluke.

The sea urchin with pea vines in dashi is gorgeous: bright orange urchin against dark green pea vines and cleverly disguised cucumber shaped like peas. I briefly wonder if they make a melon-baller that small or if someone cut them by hand. My brother and I are not fans of sea urchin texture, taste or smell, but this is creamy-sweet and wonderful with the cold, savory dashi broth and bright taste of  shiso. I look at my fork then back to the bowl of broth, wishing they served spoons with this course. I turn to my brother to comment and watch with abhorrence and jealousy as he tips the bowl to his mouth and slurps the remaining dashi. He sheepishly gives me a shrug that implies it was too good to waste.

Next comes hand-ripped pasta with snail sausage and crisped chicken skin in butter sauce. I think snails are repugnant and I don’t find them redeeming in the garden or on the palate. However, I learn that if you grind them into a sausage, mix them with spices and drown them in butter they can be quite tasty. The sauce is like a beurre blanc but without the wine or shallots; yeah, basically like a stick of emulsified butter on the plate (not complaining). This dish is rich, rich, rich and the added treat of crispy chicken skin garnish sends me over the top. Someone should market crispy chicken skin snacks. I would eat them morning, noon and night.

I’m overwhelmed with tastes, smells, sights and drink, but we plow on with a smoked egg with caviar, potato chips and sweet potato vinegar.  The egg has a wedge cut out of it, with caviar spilling out, like the egg has eggs. It’s so beautiful that we pause to ooh and ah… possibly a bit louder than intended. I think the chefs are smirking. The smoky egg splits open and barely cooked yolk combines with vinegar and crisp potato the size of garlic chips. It’s oddly comforting, like eating sunny-side eggs and crispy hash browns. I contemplate licking my plate.

I watch the chef prepare our next course:  pan-fried soft-shell crab with birred onions, celery noodles and fresh hearts of palm. I see him pull the apron off, snip the legs and slide the still moving crab into the pan. I hope my brother hasn’t seen this, but he casually asks if I’ve ever read “Consider the Lobster.” I don’t feel like debating the ethics of crustacean pain, so I change the subject until the dish arrives. According to the dictionary, birred means: “To make or move with a whirring noise, as of wheels in motion.” As far as I can tell the bed of onions on this plate are cooked down and “whirred” with a ridiculous amount of butter. Delicious. The celery noodles are long shaves of celery that resemble fettuccine. The fresh hearts of palm are miles better than the canned version, but kind of bland. I am usually disappointed with soft-shell crab; rarely is it crisp enough to mask the chewy shell. This fared better than most, but it’s my second least favorite dish on the menu.

Here is where I start counting how many dishes we’ve had, what’s left to come, and how much more I can eat without exploding. But it’s my favorite dish of the night: foie gras over lychee nuts, pine nut brittle, and riesling jelly. I have a thing for foie gras, my brother doesn’t. I offer to eat his portion; he declines. The foie gras is formed into a torchon, which is then frozen and finely shaved over the top of fresh lychee nuts and a sweet, crunchy brittle. Very odd, not in flavor, but in texture and temperature–chewy, crunchy, cold. Addictive. Giddy from wine, we affectionately refer to it as “meat sundae,” again rather loudly.

I flat out sigh when we get deep fried spare ribs with lots of different kinds of onions. I write “lots of different kinds of onions” because at this point I’m drunk and so full that my brain has stopped functioning and I can’t tell the difference between ramps, green onions, or Walla Wallas.  Is it good? Unfortunately yes, so I eat the whole thing.

Before the next course comes I visit the restroom to see if emptying my bladder will make more room for my stomach (it doesn’t). I return to find the beautiful and technically inventive guava ice cream with cream cheese crust. They make a quenelle of ice cream and dip it into a liquid cream cheese mixture, which evenly coats the oval and forms a semi-hard shell. I take only one bite… apparently, I do not like guava.

Our final course is black sesame ice-cream with lemon coconut curd and funnel cake. Eating black ice cream is a bit strange. It tastes dark, earthy and sweet. Not unpleasant, but it taxes the brain because the flavors are so diametric. The funnel cake is delicious/sweet/fried goodness. And also about the size of my head, so I only manage about a quarter of it.

I eat. A lot. And sometimes I even feel full. But this is I’ve-never-been-this-full-in-my-life-and-I-want-to-die full. I roll to the subway station and pass out happily on a cold, orange plastic-moulded seat.

biscuitsea urchin

smoked egg shaved foie gras

For $100 each (not including the wine pairings), this dinner felt like a steal; basically $10 per course. Ko also serves a $160 lunch, which is more tastes / smaller portions, but I bet you’ll still have to let your belt out a few notches. If you go, I recommend not eating anything else for the entire day. And if you’re planning on wine pairings, do not, I repeat, do not stop for cocktails before dinner.

P.S. Due to the no photo policy, my brother kindly re-enacted some dishes for your viewing pleasure.

Momofuku Ko on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

Camp Handi Wipe

Consumed on 8/06/06

What do you get when you go camping with three foodie girls? An impossibly clean, homey and delicious trip. We ended up dubbing it Camp Handi Wipe due to the large number of cleaning products we went through trying to cook gourmet in the great outdoors.

First night we had:
Grilled Steaks with Bluberry BBQ Sauce
Gnocchi with Roquefort Cream
Zucchini Skewers

Second night:
Green Pea Ravioli with Truffle Butter Sauce
Grilled Scallops
Broccoli Rabe

 

The third morning we had a huge bacon breakfast which attracted a chipmunk. Unfortunately, the little guy was too curious about the leftover bacon grease cup and tipped the entire thing onto himself. It wasn’t hot anymore, but he basically coated himself in bacon grease. Poor guy!!

Monday, January 9th, 2006

Chez Panisse

24 hours in San Francisco. Chez Panisse is a must, but I can’t get dinner reservations. The solution? Lunch!

Wood fired shellfish soup with aioli ($13)

Chicory salad with cream, garlic and bottarga di muggine ($10)

Hoffman Farm chicken alla diavola with cauliflower and salsa rustica ($18) – The best chicken I’ve ever eaten, seared to perfection and served with farmers cheese, tomato and garlic salsa, and beautiful florets of Romanesca cauliflower.

Grilled Marin Sun Farm beef sirloin roast with creamy kale and shoestring potatoes ($22)  – Amazing garlic-y, salty, creamed kale, fries sliced on a mandolin – almost like skinny potato chips,  a luscious sauce on tender beef medallions.

Vanilla bean creme carmel with currants in calvados ($8) – Unbelievably smooth. Melt. In. Mouth.

Jim Churchill’s kishu mandarins oranges and barhi dates ($8)

 

Oh, and on the way to the airport a quick stop at Fatted Calf for airplane provisions – duck liver mouse & pork rillettes!

Saturday, November 5th, 2005

Portland Trip

I’m still trying to catch up on posts, and yet I still seem to be almost two months behind on everything…

Here are the food highlights from my trip to Portland (Oregon) over Labor Day weekend:

Friday, 9/2/05

  • We arrived at our “downtown” hotel (which was nowhere near downtown, but for $40 per night via priceline we couldn’t complain too much). We decided to have a cocktail at the hotel bar, mainly because it was named “The Speckled Rooster”. It smelled like bleach and cigarettes, but after several cocktails neither of us cared. After a few hours I realized that I needed food, but even in my inebriated state I knew better than to eat at The Speckled Rooster.
  • We walked (stumbled?) down the street and found a restaurant called Colosso, where I encountered the worst drink I’ve ever had in my life. It was so bad that I’ve managed to purge the details from my mind, but I can tell you that it tasted like the bad, bitter Chinese medicine my grandma gives me when I’m sick. Despite the awful drinks, we had some great food: an enormous plate piled high with delicious cheeses, various salami and a wonderful cayenne-spiked fruit chutney. We also tried some charred lamb skewers with great, spicy, cucumber riata.

Saturday, 9/3/05

  • The next morning I was craving a big breakfast (a.k.a. hung-over) and B suggested Milo’s City Café. When I saw how many different kinds of eggs benedict they had on the menu, I was smitten. My eggs benedict came with pepper bacon, tomato and a wonderful, light and lemony hollandaise. I was full after the benedict, but my meal also came with a bowl of fresh fruit and a giant helping of yummy, deep fried potatoes.
  • After too much (window) shopping in Portland’s gorgeous kitchen stores, I wanted lunch outside and near the water. There weren’t too many choices, so we ended up at Three Degrees Restaurant at the RiverPlace Hotel. It skewed a touch too yuppie for my taste, but on this lazy, sunny Saturday afternoon it was perfect. We settled into rocking chairs on the enormous Southern-style wrap around deck and drank vodka lemonades and people watched. We made a light snack out of the house smoked salmon salad—which was surprisingly tasty.
  • For dinner, we went to one of my favorite restaurants in Portland: Gino’s. It’s not fancy by any means, but it serves really great Italian food in a down-home atmosphere. We started with an incredible scampi appetizer, which was basically a pile of shrimp sautéed in a ridiculous amount of garlic and wine. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and the broth was heavenly with the accompanying wedges of garlic bread. I was saddened to hear they were out of porchetta that night, and I reluctantly ordered a simple, seared rib-eye steak. It was incredible. The steak was tender and flavorful and didn’t need any accompaniment except a touch of salt. Alongside was a nice sauté of fresh veggies. The only misstep on the plate was the mashed potatoes; they tasted fine but were ice cold. B had the seafood pasta, which was a lot like a bouillabaisse over pasta and it featured incredible, plump mussels, more shrimp, calamari and other bits of fish.

Sunday, 9/4/05

  • On Sunday we went to my favorite breakfast spot in Portland: Byways Cafe. To me, this is the epitome of a diner; comfy, kitschy, Americana style, a bustling and saucy waitstaff, and simple, but good breakfast fare. Oh, and really delicious table jam that tastes homemade.
  • I think we were petering out on food at this point, so we skipped lunch and had a quick, early dinner at La Buca. La Buca is a very casual, Italian eatery that is known for panini. I was torn between panini or the pulled pork over soft polenta; pulled pork won out. Unfortunately, it was a little greasy and the flavor tasted slightly off. B ordered the penne with four cheeses and sausage, which was pretty damn good.
  • After dinner we decided to grab a drink at Doug Fir. The space was absolutely amazing and the mix of materials was mind boggling; it was like a super-hip and modern log cabin. I fell in love with the place instantly. Unfortunately, the place was so crowded, noisy and pretentious that we didn’t stay long. It’s rumored that Doug Fir has excellent breakfasts, so next time I’m in Portland that will be a must.

Monday, 9/5/05

  • By our last day, we were thoroughly burned out on eating out, so we ordered in. Hotel breakfasts at high-end hotels are never that great, so it follows suit that hotel breakfasts at cheap hotels would be even worse. The eggs tasted fake, the bacon was burnt and the biscuits resembled paper weights. The hot chocolate transported us back to childhood camping trips with Swiss Miss on the campfire. Oddly enough, the combination of all these breakfast items was strangely satisfying and comforting.

Since this was a vacation, I decided to give my camera a break as well. Although, I just had to snap a picture of this license plate. I couldn’t resist.

Tuesday, November 1st, 2005

Oysterville: Day 3

consumed on 8/28/05

On our last day in Oysterville we decided to stop at Oysterville Sea Farms to pick up the obligatory jar of oysters and some amazing shortbread studded with dried cranberries. The shop was small but packed with delicious seafood and dried goods from around the Long Beach Peninsula.

The rest of the afternoon we spent hiking around the salt marshes on Willapa Bay. We were the only ones out there and it was eerie and oppressively quiet except for the chirping of crickets and the dim buzz of the dragonflies. The day was oddly muggy and the air was dank and stagnant. We wound our way along the spongy mud trail through the dead and decaying grasses, trying our best to avoid all of the snakes. The highlight of our walk was when we spotted seabeans. I’d never seabeans in the wild and I was slightly unnerved to see where they came from. We harvested several handfuls and left the marsh in search of crab—with the idea of recreating Rover’s crab bisque.

On the way out of town, we drove through Nahcotta and stopped at Willapa Bay Shellfish for two, beautiful, live crabs. Unfortunately, after the long drive back to Seattle, I forgot my seabeans in the car and ended up with just a crab. I didn’t have the proper ingredients handy for the Asian dipping sauce, so I decided to steam my crab with a coating of Survival Spice. I melted butter for the crab, but I was craving something more interesting. I pulled out the container of Survival Spice again and started using it like a dry dip. It may seem like an odd pairing, but I really enjoyed the assertively sweet and spicy flavors with the crab.

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

Oysterville: Day 2

consumed on 8/27/05

Day two in Oysterville started with a wonderful breakfast strata with sausage and mushrooms. It was hearty, steaming hot and filled with spicy sausage. (I especially love that this dish can be made entirely the night before and simply baked in the morning; perfect for a brunch.)

After a rather long walking tour through Historic Oysterville, we returned to the house for lunch. J had seen a shrimp ceviche recipe on The Early Show (with Bobby Flay) that had caught her eye. I’m generally not a huge fan of ceviche, but only because I’m very particular about it. This recipe was fantastic; well-balanced and not overly citrus-y, the tender shrimp pairing perfectly with the sweet mango.

J had also brought along a savory mango cheesecake from JW Desserts (on Whidbey Island). I’ve yet to visit JW Desserts in person, but I’ve already had several of his cakes. His sculpted cake gallery is amazing and not only do the cakes look great, but they taste great as well. In addition to desserts he also makes savory cheesecakes that are out of this world; creamy, rich and flavorful. J served the mango cheesecake with homemade rosemary crackers from The Herbfarm Cookbook.

And just for overkill, J also served fresh mozzarella from Central Market, heirloom tomatoes and basil drizzled with olive oil and good balsamic. With fresh and high-quality ingredients, the Caprese salad is sublime. We washed it all down with a nice Rosé.

After lunch we took another long walk, this time along the beach. And then it was time for dinner.

We decided to eat out, despite the warnings from our host that eating out in Oysterville wouldn’t be nearly as good as cooking in. We ended up at Moby Dick’s – a local “hotel” that houses a restaurant. The hotel had an odd style that’s typically described as “funky”; lots of dark paint in the slightly off colors usually found in the paint store’s bargain bin.

We started off our meal with pan fried oysters and a Caesar salad. The oysters were great—as they should be in a town called “Oysterville”. They were plump and briny with a crisp, cornmeal coating and a side of wonderful corn relish. The Caesar salad tasted fine, but since it was made with feta cheese, I’m not sure I’d technically still call it a Caesar. J had the halibut and fennel stew, but something about the dish was very off; the fish was dry and the stew had an unpleasant bitterness to it. R had the pork chops with ancho sauce. The sauce was decent, but as with most pork served in restaurants, it was very tough and rubbery. The best dish of the night was a rib eye steak coated in an olive tapenade served with mashed potatoes and green beans. This dish was solidly good, but not what I’d consider great. Overall it was a decent meal, but for the prices they were charging, I was expecting a great meal. Next time, I’ll listen to our host!


Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

Oysterville: Day 1

consumed on 8/26/05

An acquaintance of mine recently built a new house in Oysterville, on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, and invited a few friends over for a weekend visit. It was a long drive out to the coast (in miserable traffic) but it was worth it.

C’s house was actually built as a retreat for the Willard R. Espy Literary Foundation‘s Writers Residency Program and it’s gorgeous. The main house is meant to be a gathering place for the writers/artists-in-residence and is very open and welcoming. My favorite part, of course, was the spacious communal kitchen with shelves full of top of the line cookware and a pantry stocked to the hilt.

As we arrived rather late that evening, dinner was ready and waiting: Dungeness crab with an Asian dipping sauce and a beautiful corn salad. Now, I’ve never really thought about dipping fresh crab into anything but butter, so the sauce threw me at first. Could a flavorful, Asian-style sauce be better than drawn butter? It was. In fact, it was so much better that I doubt I will serve crab with plain butter ever again.

Our friend R had recently found work as a wine distributor for l’Esprit du Vin, so he had brought along several great bottles of white wine. Dessert was a peach and berry crumble with fruits from the coast. It was one of the best fruit crumbles I’ve ever had, so I just had to get the recipe.

Friday, October 21st, 2005

Bloody Marys

consumed on 10/21/05

During a long weekend at Ocean Shores, I discovered a smoked meats store that was next to the liquor store…. They had:

  • Razor clam sausage: wanted to try this but got vetoed…
  • Landjaeger: soft & slightly spicy peperoni (w/o the weird food colorings)
  • Brown sugar beef jerky: tender with a great, sweet & smoky flavor
  • Double-smoked bacon: need I say more?

We decided to combine the meats & liquor and made a full on appetizer cocktail!

Bloody Mary recipe:

  • 92 oz v8-juice
  • 750 ml crater lake vodka
  • 5 oz Worchestire sauce
  • 1 oz Tabasco (or more if you like spicy)
  • 1 T celery salt
  • 16 oz beef bullion
  • 4 oz lemon juice
  • 1 T pepper

Garnished each with:

  • pickled asparagus
  • shrimp sauteed in garlic & butter
  • dill pickles
  • olives
  • pickled hot okra
  • celery stick
  • daikon
  • a few slices of double-smoked bacon

 

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

Whidbey Pies Cafe

consumed on 8/6/05

I was visiting my mom this weekend and she suggested that we have breakfast at Whidbey Pies Cafe. In the spirit of full disclosure: My mom works at Whidbey Pies. She has been working there for a while now, but this was, oddly enough, my very first visit. I remember hearing that they were serving breakfast and lunch, but part of my brain just insisted that Whidbey Pies Cafe only made pies and I already get to eat those at least once a month because mom stocks a few in her freezer. So, no reason to visit the cafe, right?

Even though I was predisposed to like Whidbey Pies Cafe, I liked it even more than I thought I would because:

  1. It was a beautiful, sunny morning on the island and
  2. the cafe was comfy and cozy with a picturesque view of the pond and
  3. despite it being 10am, they were serving lunch in addition to breakfast and
  4. there was bacon on the menu.

It felt weird ordering salmon chowder ($5.50/bowl) in the morning, but mom highly recommended it. Jan apparently smokes her own salmon out back from the cafe (over Alder wood, I think) and it was stellar. The salmon was smoky and salty and went well with the other flavors in the soup: corn, celery and dill.

Mom ordered a “make your own omelet” ($6.95) which came with a choice of three fillings. Today, she requested spinach, salmon and gruyere. The omelet was gigantic, light and fluffy with a good proportion of fillings scattered throughout. On the side were tender pan-fried potatoes, which were surprisingly good (considering that I’m a hash browns kind of girl). It also came with a selection of Screaming Banshee bread. From what I hear, people either love or hate this bread. It’s made locally on the island and the trademark signature of the bread is that it’s… for lack of a more technical term… burnt. I ordered the BLTini—a bacon, lettuce and tomato panini ($5.75). It came on crisp bread layered with lots of mayo (I’m one of those people who unconditionally loves mayo, so this was a very, very good thing), a few thin sheets of lettuce, the obligatory tomato slice, melted, gooey Monterey jack and lots of crisp, meaty bacon. It was just what I was craving and it was delicious.

We didn’t save room for pie, which was unfortunate because their Marionberry pie is the best pie I’ve ever had. Luckily, my mom bakes one up for me every time I come up for a visit.

Whidbey Coffee Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

Weekend on Whidbey

I’d been long overdue for a trip up to Whidbey Island to see my mom. These were a few of the highlights from my weekend:

Stopping at a roadside stand to pick up live Dungeness crab and spot prawns. I steamed the prawns whole with garlic and soy sauce and the crabs were boiled in spices and eaten with melted butter. The crab meat was incredibly sweet, meaty and delicious.

Visiting friends and seeing their cool silver and golden sebright chickens (pets, not for eating) and picking fresh arugula and nasturtiums from their garden for a bright summer salad.

Eating mom’s incredible chocolate shortbread cookies made with Scharffen Berger chocolate and cacao nibs. The lavender shortbread cookies looked great, but I have this weird thing with lavender where I can’t disassociate the flavor from hand lotion.



UPDATE: Here are the recipes!

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
http://www.iheartbacon.com/recipes/recipe.php?recID=140

Lavender Shortbread Cookies
http://www.iheartbacon.com/recipes/recipe.php?recID=141