Friday, November 30, 2007

Good to the Last Drop

I've been hanging out in Stockholm this week for work but will be making my way back home early tomorrow morning. With the nine hour time shift and the resulting jet lag, I've been feeling pretty tired all week, so I've been keeping myself well-caffeinated. Luckily for me, the coffee over in Sweden is quite good - I haven't had a bad cup o' joe yet. No wonder that Sweden is among the world's leading countries in the per-capita consumption of coffee.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Just Sit Tight... Will Be Reporting Back Soon...

For those of you who are waiting for the report on our visit to the French Laundry, just hang in there for a few more days. I had to travel to Europe this week for work, so I haven't had a chance to sit down and write a proper post. Once I return from Sweden, I'll get cracking on the write-up. I'll just say that we had a wonderful evening - it was one of the best meals that I've ever eaten.

Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Getting Ready to Feast Tomorrow

I just got done with the last of my Thanksgiving Day grocery shopping. I'm glad that I took the day off to relax and avoid the mad evening rush at Safeway that inevitably happens the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. As I picked out a fresh turkey for tomorrow night's dinner, I was asked by two different people on how to select and prepare the turkey. I was happy to help, though a bit surprised - it's not like I was wearing a Butterball Turkey Hotline cap or anything like that.

Since it'll only be the two of us for dinner tomorrow, we're going to keep it simple. The menu for tomorrow is (tentatively):

  • Roasted Turkey (not sure what I want to do quite yet - the last time, we made a miso butter-rubbed version)

  • Bread stuffing (I'm not a huge fan of stuffing, but Karen likes it)

  • Cranberry compote (both of us will be making our own variation)

  • Braised leeks (Karen loved the leeks that we had at Ad Hoc, so I thought that I would make some for her)

  • Baked Squash Casserole
Hmmm... I guess that we'll be having a lot of leftovers...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Aha! Food Moments

Every so often, each of us experiences an "Aha!" moment. During these brief flashes of insight, you make a quantum leap and suddenly have a profound revelation that changes the way you view the world. Over the past few days, I've been thinking about the "Aha!" food moments that I've experienced. I came up with a list of five such moments which I would like to share with you.

Date: July 9, 2005
Place: Sushi Ran, Sausalito, CA
During the summer of 2005, I had my first encounter with o-toro, the most luscious cut of maguro available. I can still remember that piece of tuna belly just melting away in my mouth like it just happened yesterday. The taste and texture were simply amazing and unlike anything else that I had ever eaten before. That utterly decadent slice of fish changed the way that I think about eating sushi. Since then, every time that I eat o-toro (which is nearly every time I eat sushi), I close my eyes and hope that I can once again experience the feeling of eating o-toro for the first time.

The Complete Dining Experience
Date: August 17, 2005
Place: Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, CO
It was during my dinner at Frasca when I first understood how exquisite service combined with exceptional food executed with culinary precision can elevate a simple meal into an out-of-this-world dining experience.

The Corn Croquette
Date: October 1, 2005
Place: Manresa, Los Gatos, CA
Karen and I celebrated our first year together with a fabulous dinner at Manresa. Ordering the tasting menu, we were treated to a series of amuse bouche prior to our main courses. One of these amuse bouche offerings was a croquette, a small, breaded morsel meant to be eaten in a single bite. When I bit down on the croquette, I was completely surprised by its warm liquid center which released the pure and unadulterated taste of sweet corn into my mouth. Its sun-soaked flavor simply made my taste buds sing. The croquette utterly captured the delectable essence of corn and demonstrated that little packages can be full of wonderful surprises.

The Cheese Plate
Date: November 21, 2005
Place: Le Bistro de l'Olivier, Paris, France
At the end of an otherwise ordinary meal at a mostly empty bistro in the 8th arrondissement, Karen and I were both blown away by the cheese course. The plate had a couple types of cheeses and was served with a smear of honey sprinkled with lavender. The cheeses tasted fine, but combined with the honey and lavender, their flavors were elevated to extraordinary level. For the first time, I understood how good a cheese plate could be, the elements of the plate coming together to show how the whole can be far greater than the sum of its parts.

And there is one more moment, but it's certainly not the least important. In fact, it probably is one of the defining moments of my life as a foodie.

Beer Can Chicken
Date: Early Summer, 2002
Place: Chez moi, Silicon Valley, CA
One afternoon, I pulled out my copy of Steve Raichlen's How to Grill book and found the recipe for beer-can chicken. It looked simple enough, so I followed the recipe and set up my gas grill to hot smoke the poultry until it was golden brown. Taking my first bite of chicken, I was utterly amazed by the exceptional flavor and juiciness. I asked myself if I could have actually made that bird myself. It was better than any rotisserie chicken that I had ever bought at a store and it was so easy and simple to make. I even remember calling my mom to tell her about what I had made and how good it was.

The important point of this "Aha!" moment is that up until this point in my life, I considered myself to be an adequate, though unexceptional cook. Sure, I knew how to keep myself well-fed and even improvise a bit on existing recipes, but I never strayed too far from the tried and true. However, at this moment, I realized that I might have some potential in the kitchen. Perhaps I always had it in me, but this moment gave me the confidence to believe in my own culinary abilities and set me off on a course to being a foodie, a path that I'm still following today.

One of my favorite quotes from Julia Child is:

"The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude."
This moment gave me that "what-the-hell" attitude.

So folks, I'd love to hear some of your "Aha!" food moments. I hope that you will share them with me!

As Simple as That...

This afternoon, I picked up the phone, dialed a number in Yountville, and landed a Saturday evening dinner reservation here. Woo-hoo!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A New Layout (or Not)

Some of you may notice some minor changes in the look and feel around here. I just finished migrating the blog from Blogger Templates to Layouts. I can hopefully take advantage of the some of the features in Layouts as well as get fixes to issues that have never been resolved in Templates. If you encounter any problems or have any comments or suggestions, please let me know!

Happy reading!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

1300 on Fillmore

(This post is way overdue, but better late than never, right?)

A couple of weeks ago, Karen took me out for a fabulous birthday dinner at 1300 on Fillmore (1300 Fillmore St; 415-771-7100), a new restaurant located in the Fillmore Jazz district of San Francisco. Having opened only five days prior to our visit, 1300 on Fillmore features American food with a Southern flair. Indeed, their website describe their cuisine as "Soulful American". Opened by Executive Chef David Lawrence and his wife Monetta White, 1300 on Fillmore is located in the Heritage on Fillmore high-rise, next to the soon-to-be-open Yoshi's Jazz Club.

Arriving at the restaurant, Karen and I initially walked right by the nondescript wooden front door. Once we realized our mistake and made our way through the entrance, we found ourselves surrounded by the dark walls of the stylishly appointed space. Designed by the MCCARTAN design firm, the restaurant exudes sophistication without feeling overly formal. Covering its walnut and chocolate brown walls are portraits of famous legends of jazz, an homage to the heritage of the surrounding Lower Fillmore neighborhood. Strategically placed rows of indirect and spot lighting provide just right amount of illumination to offset the dark walls without losing the intimate and cozy feel.

When we arrived, the restaurant had ample availability (not surprising given its recent soft opening and the time of our mid-week visit), so the hostess led us to a four-top near the Eddy Street-facing windows in the main dining room. Since it was my birthday, we started off our dinner with a little bubbly - I enjoyed a glass of Gloria Ferrer as we perused the menu.

Both of us were pretty hungry, so we ordered two appetizers: the freshwater shrimp hush puppies and the bourbon braised pork belly. These hush puppies differed from ones that I had eaten in the past as it appeared to have a simple cornmeal coating as opposed to a layer of deep fried cornbread batter. Accompanying the basket of shrimp hush puppies was a small ramekin of spicy ancho chile remoulade. The Louisiana-style remoulade was different from mayonnaise-based ones that I've made myself, but it provided just the right amount of heat to accent the flavor of the piping hot and tasty hush puppies. After polishing off the shrimp, we started in on the pork belly. The generous portion of braised meat was fall-apart tender and simply succulent. However, I didn't care so much for the shelled white bean puree on which the pork was served. Normally, I like the combination of sweet flavors with pork (ever tried pig candy?), but in this case, the sweetness of the bean puree just did not work for me in this dish.

For the main courses, Karen and I split the skillet fried chicken and the maple syrup braised beef short rib. The fried chicken is one of the house specialties and requires 30 minutes of prep time. The chicken was excellent - its crunchy coating was packed with flavor (highlighted with cumin, if I'm not mistaken) and sealed in the juices, resulting in a savory and moist entrée that's well worth the wait. The side of truffled mashed potatoes with pan gravy was tasty as well, but it is the chicken that is the highlight of this dish. With three pieces of chicken per order, there is plenty of goodness to share. Our other main course was delicious as well. Our order of short rib had only a small sliver of bone, which meant that we were able to enjoy a generous portion of tender beef between the two of us. I don't normally associate sweet flavors with beef, but it definitely worked in this dish, in marked contrast to the braised pork belly. The sides of mashed potatoes and braised greens were good, but it was the short rib that was the headliner on this dish. We liked both of our selections quite a bit, but if there was a small complaint, it was that both of these dishes came out to us a bit on the cool side. The plates were each very hot, but the food itself was less so. Nevertheless, the chicken and beef were very good, despite cooling off quickly. We just chalked it up to newness of the restaurant; hopefully, they'll be able to work out the kinks quickly.

The service at 1300 on Fillmore was impeccable. Our server, Annette, was very friendly and attentive to our needs, as were the bussers who kept our water glasses from going empty all evening long. Since it was a bit slow that evening, Annette stopped by our table frequently, not only checking to make sure that everything was going well, but also chatting with us about the restaurant when we expressed interest. Both Chef Lawrence and his wife paid a visit to our table in order to welcome us to their new venue as well as to pass along birthday wishes, which I thought was quite nice. At the end of our meal, Annette brought us an order of chocolate-filled beignets, on the house, topped off with a birthday candle. The freshly made beignets were accompanied by chocolate and vanilla dipping sauces - they were a delicious end to a very nice meal.

While it was a bit slow during our visit, I suspect that soon it might be difficult to land a reservation there, especially on weekends. During our dinner, a large party came in to the semi-private 22-person party room, located just off the main dining area. Apparently, they had already been receiving some requests for that party room, even though they had not yet started taking reservations officially at that point in time. Once Yoshi's opens, I think that they'll be getting a lot of the spillover traffic from its next-door neighbor, especially since they will be serving dinner until 11pm and a lounge menu until 1am. They have also applied for permits so that they can host live jazz entertainment, which will be quite nice once they start up their weekend brunch. We plan to pay them a visit again soon.