Archive for September, 2007

How I Survived My 65th birthday: Dinner at Chez Panisse!

September 30, 2007

Editor’s note: This post was written in July by the very lovely Jane Stillwater, but got buried in my inbox, and is only now coming to light on UM. She says that they accidentally deleted all their pics, but scroll below for some of Mike and Christi’s feast. Sorry for the delay!!!

***

Good grief! Who would ever have thought that I would make it all the way to age 65 without accumulating grey hair, arthritis, a walker or a plot in the cemetery. I’m all proud of myself. But just to make sure that this landmark birthday was tolerable and that I didn’t slip into shock anyway, I splurged and treated myself to dinner at one of the best restaurants in the world — Chez Panisse!

Me, my son Joe, his significant other Laura, their unborn Baby New Year and my youngest daughter Ashley all trooped off to the restaurant. Here’s the menu:

Monday, July 2 $50

— Little gems lettuces, golden beets, and house-cured pancetta
with herb vinaigrette
— Poulet à la broche: Soul Food Farm chicken stuffed with garlic
and sage; with green beans, savory, and corn custard
— Royal Blenheim apricot tart with noyau ice cream


My birthday was actually July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, but they were closed on that day so on July 2, we got all dressed up fancy (I was actually NOT wearing jeans), popped into Joe’s car and drove across town. And what happened next was both magical and weird.

First off, it turns out that we knew the waitress. She had gone to school with my daughter Ashley and they had been in the same school play during sixth grade at Willard Middle School. Then we all gushed about the good old days for a while and how sad it had been when their drama teacher, the wonderful Denise Brown, had died suddenly. Then the waitress brought us shot glasses full of something white and creamy. “What is it?” I asked.

“Cucumber, yogurt, cumin, coriander and olive oil.”

“But what’s that crunchy taste?” Our waitress called over the salad chef to explain it to us. And he actually came to our freaking table!

“It’s konjai — black mustard seeds.” Then we got the actual salad. And we gushed about that. Chez Panisse can make a WICKED salad and they are famous for them — justly so.

“Hey, this stuff on top tastes like bacon bits,” said Ashley. We asked the salad chef what it was.

“Pancetta.”

“What’s that?”

“Bacon bits.” And the baby tomatoes were so actually tomato-ish that it brought back memories of the days when a tomato actually tasted like a tomato. The vinaigrette was excellent. The beets gave it a taste variety. Every salad needs a variety of textures and tastes.

“Hey,” said Joe, “There’s an aphid on my plate!” Then we all took a look at the aphid and sure enough there it was, happily crawling around on the edge of the plate. Joe got out his video camera and videotaped it. Ashley whipped out her cell phone and took its picture. Then we watched it do laps around the edge of the plate. It seemed to want to determinedly trudge on forever but by its third lap we got bored.

Do you think that we should tell the waitress?” I asked.

“No,” replied Joe. “It just proves that the lettuce was organic.”

“Maybe that’s where the crunchy taste came from,” added Ashley. We all rolled our eyes.

Then Joe and I split a glass of excellent red wine. In very fine glassware. “This is is even as good as 2-buck Chuck!” I exclaimed. Laura wanted to taste a sip too but we all yelled “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome!” at her and rolled our eyes. Again. Major eye rolls are a Stillwater family tradition.

“But I only wanted a sip,” said Laura who is actually a totally conscientious pregnant person. Oh, okay. The wine was good and the salad had a good after-taste and the bread was good and the butter was better.

“Do you want still water or sparkling water with your dinner,” asked the waitress.

“Stillwater!” we all replied.

Meanwhile Ashley was eye-ing the steak knife. “This is a really good knife.” But we persuaded her not to steal the silverware. Then they brought us the main course.

“The green beans are perfect and the corn custard is to die for but the chicken is not all that good,” I said.

“Ma, you have been expecting too much from that chicken,” replied Joe philosophically. “That’s just the nature of chicken. It’s hard to mess it up but its also hard to make it really good either. It’s the dynamic, Ma. Chicken can only be taken so far.” Chicken dynamics? Okay. But the sage leaves under the skin gave it lots of flavor and the sauce was good. Chicken dynamics?

In the meantime, Ashley was DETERMINED to try to eat her drumstick with her new friend the knife. But not me. I wanted easy access to every bite of that chicken. This was a fifty-dollar chicken! To hell with the knife.

“Would you like coffee or sherry with your dessert?” asked our waitress. Do you have to pay extra for it? “Yes.” Sigh. I bet they make really good coffee but we were already over the budget on the wine. And Ashley then informed us that 10% of everything we drink gets backwashed. Eeuuww.

Ah! The dessert. With a candle in mine to celebrate my birthday. I made my usual wish, the old Buddhist favorite, “May all beings attain the Pure Land in this lifetime.” Apricot tart. Handmade ice cream. Yes yes yes. Then, for a thoughtful final touch, the waitress brought us a small plate of wild strawberries and pistachios rolled in cocoa paste. We almost ate them all up before we remembered to get a photo of them. The bill came to $263 but we had saved up. You only turn 65 once.

“So. Guys. Which was your favorite part of the meal?” I asked. “I truly loved the salad and thought it was the highlight — with the possible exception of the aphid.”

“Why you all the time hatin’ on the aphid!” said Ashley. Her favorite part was the salad too. Everyone agreed that the salad was primo.

“And I liked the tart,” added Joe. “It had a good aftertaste.” And just as we were walking down the steps to the garden in front of Chez Panisse, our waitress came running after us and gave us all a hug. “Happy birthday!” It was the perfect ending to a perfect birthday dinner. And as we left, a fire truck and ambulance came roaring out of the night and parked next to the restaurant. “Do you think they are going to Chez Panisse?” I asked.

“If they are”, someone replied, “that would be giving a whole new meaning to the term ‘food to die for’!” We all laughed. The food had certainly been heavenly. Except for the chicken. But Shhh! Don’t tell Joe.

***
Editor’s note (again): These pictures below are of Merriberry’s trek to Chez Panisse last month. They got to go back into the kitchen- which Christi says was the highlight of the meal for both of them. These photos were taken on Mike’s iPhone, in case you were curious about the phone’s picture-taking quality.

Bruschetta with mozzarella, beans, roasted peppers and tomatoes


Squash blossom ravioli in broth
Roasted lamb with corn relish and fried artichoke hearts


The meat locker!

Pastry chefs preparing the night’s fig tarts. Sorry no pics of those!

Japan’s Donuts

September 27, 2007

Japanese-Donuts

Everyone knows Japan has great food. Beautiful food. Complex food. But let me be the one to tell you…Japan knows the Donut. These drawings are of some of the finest dough treats I ate while traveling in Japan during the month of April. Mister Donut, makes classic donuts that are not too greasy or too sweet. And they come in unusual shapes like this eye catching “beaded” dounut.

In tropical Naha on the island of Okinawa, vendors sell Okinawan donuts along the colorful International Street. I tried the banana, a cakey heavy donut ball that tasted like a awesome greasy banana bomb. Yeah!

Chie's Japan photos 008

www.andygouveia.com

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Mister Donut post from Yoko

How One Becomes Spoiled in Tokyo

September 27, 2007



This sushi was mediocre. But you can’t expect that much from Bikkuri Sushi – a chain restaurant. There was a bit too much rice for each nigiri. However, this is relative – if I had this in the States, I would be ranting about it for weeks. My taste buds have become extremely discriminating since living here for a full two years. The stuff on the top left were a bunch of little slimy baby fishes that were a bit disappointing. I had never tried this before and was expecting a texture/taste explosion, but it didn’t leave much impact.

This was NOT enough for 6 people (5 hungry guys PLUS me). We killed this in less than 10 minutes and they satisfied the rest of their hunger by blowing this pop-stand and going somewhere else (I had to split at that point).

Room 4 Dessert Cookbook/Photobook

September 26, 2007

As a part of my MFA Thesis, I collaborated with pastry Chef Will Goldfarb and the staff of his SoHo dessert bar, Room 4 Dessert, to create a cookbook/photobook full of his recipes and my photographs. Please preview the book and buy copies online through this link. It features 50 pages of color photographs and recipes and makes a beautiful addition to any photo book collection.

Room 4 Dessert Cookbook: A Photographic Exploration of Molecular Gastronomic Desserts
Photography and Concept by Erin Gleeson
Recipes by Will Goldfarb
Foreword by Kayoko Akabori
Hard Cover: $46.95
Soft Cover: $29.95

Party at Tailor Hosted By Sam Mason

September 24, 2007

Last week, I was asked to photograph the 2007 Chefs Congress sponsored by Star Chefs. It was a 3 day event full of famous chef presenters (including Joel Robuchon, Wylie Dufresne, David Burke, and David Bouley) sharing some of the most creative and cutting edge culinary techniques out there today.

On the 2nd night of the convention, Sam Mason (former pastry chef of wd-50) hosted an after party for all the chefs at his brand new SoHo restaurant, Tailor.

The gal at the door was tough (friends of chefs were not being let in!) but somehow I managed to get Kayoko in with me and we spent about 3 hours inside drinking with Sam and his crew. At one point, his sous chef even gave us a little kitchen tour and showed us how the liquid nitrogen machine worked.

Here are some photos I took that night:












photos by erin gleeson

Beet Beet

September 21, 2007

I am a creature of habit, especially when it comes to cooking. I like fresh, minimal, and EASY– roasting vegetables meets all of these requirements, and I obsessively roasted vegetables all summer, despite the fact that I myself would roast in my little studio, when turning on the oven. I love to meander the farmers market, meticulously choose from arrays of colorful, just-picked vegetables, and stick them in the oven when I get home. Especially beets.



My obsession for roasted beets blossomed at the Good Fork in Red Hook. To this day, it’s still the most memorable beet salad I’ve had, but that may just be because it’s the moment when I fell in love with the purple root.

So really, there ain’t that much to it, roasting beets. I read from some recipe that all you have to do is: preheat oven to 450 degrees, wash beets, wrap them up in a foil “sack”, pop them in the oven, and take them out between 45 minutes – 1 hour. When you can cut straight through them with no trouble, that’s when they’re ready. The skin should come right off under cold water. TOO EASY!

I toss them in some olive oil, vinegar, pepper and salt, let it sit so it can soak in the vinegar, then add goat cheese and parsley. Mmmm goat cheese… Look at these wild colors!


I used to throw out the long long leaves, silly me, until a man at the farmer’s market told me it was his favorite part of the vegetable.


It is a bit bitter, very close to spinach. The kind of thing you eat and you know it’s just good FOR you.

This too is super easy. Just wash, chop and saute. I also add garlic and olive oil, salt and pepper. Et voila! Lovely, vitamin packed greens, ready in under 5 minutes.


As Ryohei mentioned in his ex-lax post, beets will definitely clean you out, if you know what I’m sayin. You’ll be peeing and shitting purple for days! But that’s just half the fun.

Also, Men’s Health put beets in the top 10 foods you’re not eating. Get on the beet people, you’re missing out.

Naka Naka – A Hidden Treasure

September 19, 2007

Behind all the star chef restaurants such as Morimoto, Del Posto, and Craft Steak, lies a hidden treasure in deep west side of Chelsea, or I should call it Starchitect Row (if you know all the new condos and buildings in the neighborhood designed by Jean Nouvel, Shigeru Ban, Annabelle Selldorf, Frank Gehry to name a few) . It’s right next to a new ugly condo development called Caledonia, and due to the construction, the restaurant’s facade is almost hidden, and no one knows this place even exists.
Nakanaka means mediocore, or so so, in Japanese. Naka means middle, so Naka Naka is middle of middle. The name was a perfect one for a Japanese owned and operated restaurant, very humble, and food was well prepared. Naka Naka sounds fun if you don’t know the meaning of it, but I wouldn’t call my restaurant mediocore if I were the owner…

The place looks like a small restaurant in a small village, with only 18 seats plus one tatami room (if you go with two people, they will charge you $10 per person to sit there, so don’t bother). Seats were very low, very uncomfortable. What’s up with this family style dining, with totally wasted space in the middle?!

Place set was cute with origami wrapped chopsticks, resting on paper crane. I felt like I was in 1980s restaurant scene set or something. Instead of Jazz, it should have been some ballards like Miyuki Nakajima‘s very sad voice lingering through the restaurant. By the way, the orange curtain was put up just a couple of days ago, so now it looks like something is there, but until then, it was white curtains, and looked like a dentist office.

We had bunch of everything. Started with shrimp shumai, chikuzen-ni, and squid tempura. They were good. Then we had some sushi, which was very mediocore. I understand it is difficult to open a restaurant with a lot of authentic Japanese homemade food, but I would just stick to non-sushi items at a restaurant like Naka Naka.

After all the sushi we had, I wasn’t yet full, so I ordered Kamo-Nanban, which is hot soba noodle soup with slices of duck. It was quite good, soba was actually very nice, soup was very good, duck was ok.

Although I didn’t take a picture of it, the best was their check, the one you handwrite, which 99.9% of the time, it’s completely illegible, but this one was totally typically Japanese. Very perfectly handwritten, no mistakes whatsoever. I was so impressed by it, so I was going to take it home, and take a real picture, but after we left, waiter came running to me, and told me that they need to keep it. We paid, you have the money, who cares about a piece of paper with all the orders!?

I will definitely go back there, with a group of people so that we can sit in their tatami room (if they are still open….)

Naka Naka
458 West 17th Street (10th Avenue)
(212) 929-8544

Tokyo DisneySea Food Report

September 18, 2007

Unfortunately (fortunately maybe), I don’t have the pictures to prove it – but I ate three meals just to confirm that Disneyland and its affiliates (DisneySea in this case), regardless of which shore it’s on, serves food so mediocre that it sides on bad.

I ate the following:

Lunch at the Mediterranean Harbor:
Potato Salmon Pizza – definitely previously frozen
Prosciutto salad – iceberg lettuce, reminiscent of Denny’s

Excellent view of the Tower of Terror and “Harbor” – I have to give it to Disney as far as really trying their best to make everything perfectly Disney to the bone. Disney knows itself better than I know myself.


Early Dinner at the American Waterfront:

Fried Fish burger with fries – really unoffensive, semi-enjoyable. At least you could have unlimited ketchup. Anyway, you’d have to try really hard to fuck up fried food.

Meal interrupted by two schizophrenic 5-minute sets involving Donald and Goofy fighting over a mermaid and then Donald giving a diving lesson quickly leading to Chip & Dale breaking out into song and dance (in Japanese, very surreal).

Late-ish Dinner at the Lost River Delta:
Fajita plate with beef, shrimp and chicken – precut meats anally placed on an “Aztec” patterned plastic plate – this was across the way from the Indiana Jones ride.
Tequila slammer – alcohol, yes, alcohol is served at DisneySea, I had two and proceeded to ride Stormrider and got mildly sick.

Impression: Japanese people really don’t have a thing for Mexican food – this was the only place the whole day we didn’t stand in line for (including restroom visits).

Pictured are some dessert thingys I didn’t eat. It probably looks better than it tastes – given the above report:


Tower of Terror at the American Waterfront:


Mediterranean Harbor (if you look closely, someone is actually getting married on the deck – eeeeek! – I just wanted to eat ice-cream):

Castella – Heavenly Japanese Egg Cake

September 17, 2007

Wikipedia entry of Castella – During the 16th century, a Portuguese ship came into Nagasaki, which used to be the port of Japanese commerce. The Portuguese brought the Japanese many then-unusual things such as guns, tobacco, and pumpkins. Castella was also one of the things they brought. Castella was able to be preserved for a long period of time, so it was useful for the sailors who were out on the sea for months. In the Edo Period, in part due to the cost of sugar, it was a precious food, and was served to envoys from Korea. Later, Japanese people started making castella, and over the years, the taste changed to fit their palate.

How to explain castella? It is a Japanese egg cake, very moist, very soft, and have a slight hint of honey and other unrecognizable sweetness. Traditionally it was made using mirin (reduced sake), which contributes to “other unrecognizable sweetness”.

Great things about Japanese sweets are:
1. Not too sweet
2. Not too fatty
3. One can see influence from other countries, yet we adjusted them taste soo damn good.
4. Our creativity is endless – i.e., cream with red bean paste, green tea powder in cheese cake, just genius!

Castella is definitely one of them. It’s only egg, flour, and sugar (well, a table spoon of honey, and dark corn syrup as well) and all you do is mix the shit of out of them. Yeah, you are supposed to beat them for 12 minutes or so. No need to worry about losing the air bubble, etc.

Also there is no fat in it, no butter, no oil! (caution – there are 10 egg yolks, and 5 egg whites). I was afraid the cake would turn out too dry, but for some reason, it turned out to be the moistest cakes I have ever made. It’s so soft, and taste like the ones you buy at the airport!!!

Since my pound cake mold was a bit too small, I used an angel food cake pan, but next time i will make it into a perfect rectangular shape.

Oh, I almost forgot. I somewhat followed recipe this time:
1 cup of cake flour
1.5 cup of sugar
10 egg yolks
5 egg whites
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp dark corn syrup

mix wet ingredients together for 5 minutes. Add sifted dry ingredients, and mix another 7 minutes. Pour into mold, bake in 350 oven for about 40 minutes or until it’s done. When it is manageable, take it out of the mold, wrap in plastic tightly, rest it at least 24 hours (by being wrapped, moisture redistributes back into the cake, and that’s the key!).

There are other recipes using bread flour, etc., which is on my list to try this coming weekend.

The Umami Reader, vol. 007

September 14, 2007

Noteworthy readings and eatings:

  • Backyard Brooklyn farm – one man’s locavore journey (jesus, can we talk about something else now?) – NY Mag
  • Trillin’s education in Singapore street food (shoot, only the abstract is available online!) – NYer
  • NY Dept. of Health is EVIL– via Eater
  • Bourdain’s lengthy faux apology about his behavior on Top Chef – via GrubStreet