Archive for the ‘*Mike and Christi’ Category

Top 5 Food Moments of 2007

December 24, 2007

Manolha Dargis says (in her own top 10 list of films of the year), “Top 10 lists are artificial exercizes, assertions of critical ego, capricious and necssarily imperfect.” Well, how about a Top 5? Can that be any more meaningful?

Sure, why not– I think that Top lists are a fun way to exercize your brain, reaching back into the crevices of your memory to sift through the last 365 days. It’s pretty incredible actually– in terms of food, the possiblilities are endless. I asked UM contributors to send over their Top 5 Food Moments of 2007, where anything goes– meals, restaurants, kitchen accessories, ingredients, books, films– essentially, whatever they wanted to include (whether they had blogged it or not). I assure you that this is no easy task, but here they are.

1. Alan Wong’s 7 course tasting menu with wine pairing (is there even any doubt that this was the meal of the year???)
2. Chez Panisse kitchen tour
3. Draeger’s Cooking School!
4. United States of Arugula (so what if it was published in 2006)
5. Bodum Assam glasses (A housewarming gift from Kayoko, great for everything from coffee to ice cream)
The Top 5
5. Hudson Valley tomatoes.
4. Macallan 25.
3. Leeks.
2. The lunchtime burger at Prune.
1. Everything at Laduree.

The Bottom 5
5. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.
4. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.
3. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.
2. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.
1. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.

1. The Next Food Network Star (Season 3) – the surprising last-minute resignation of JAG, and the upset victory of Amy over Rory. this was truly must-see tv.

2. The rise of the “localvore” / eating locally.
3. Stacy’s pesto and sun-dried tomato pita chips – not sure when they came out, but in 2007 I began eating an entire bag everyday.
4. My dinner at Brown cafe, which included the best wine I’ve had all year: 2004 Castello della Paneretta Chianti Classico.
5. Jonathan Gold’s Pulitzer Prize – the first time the prize has been given to a restaurant critic

1. Spicy Mina
2. Sushi of Gari Omakase w/ dad
3. Wu Liang Ye’s Double Cooked Fresh Bacon ** With Spicy Capsicum
4. Go Go Curry w/ Mel & Kakabori
5. Spicy & Tasty Dan Dan Noodles & Sauteed Pork

1. Green tea chocolates from Tafu
2. Republic of Tea Wild Blueberry Black Tea
3. Konbini on 47th
4. Watermelon flavored hi-chew
5. Mochi Maker!!!!

OK the thing about me is that I am not just interested in the moment of consumption, but the process of getting there, and the event of the eating. I went to a lot of fancy restaurants, oyster bars and the like this year, but in the end, they don’t make a lasting impression on the heart stomach. So I would say my top five most memorable food experiences of 2007 were:

5. What about those awesome lunches at work, the series of home-cooked lunches made by JS co-workers, from Yamahomo’s beef tongue stew, to Futoshi’s curry, and my own Yum Woon Sen! Loved the sharing atmosphere and cut down on lunch costs too!

4. Oh wow definitely the Umamiventure to the Red Hook Ball Fields. That was hella fun NY summer activity! So much to experience, so many different foods, so many fun people, the great weather, the soccer, awesome times.

3. BEST RESTAURANT of the year for me was Aurora in Williamsburg. I went there this year for the first time, after hearing about it from others and it was amazing. Beautiful space, especially if you get the garden during the warmer months, nice rich wood interior and reasonable prices for delicious foods: octopus, hand-made pastas. A very close second would be Cafe Falai on Bowery. Loved the menus in the envelopes. yum yum yum.

2. Tmonkey and I did a colon cleanse together in the autumn, as our romantic activity. We kept track of our bowel movements and physical changes down to the finest details and shared these with each other. It was a fascinating process of fasting that stripped down the cycle of appetite -> consumption –> digestion, and realized that so much of what we experience as hunger is psychological. After 5 days of fasting my skin was clear and beautiful and I felt terrific – AND amazing things had come out of my body. O Boy. I also learned that what is as important as the fasting is how your BREAK the fast. I f*cked this up royally, but will make sure to pay more attention to this when I do the 10-day fast in the spring.

1. Helping to create and eating the ultra-thin million layered lasagna made by my dearest Tmonkey — just divine!!! Kayo was there too!

5. Mozza, Batali’s new eatery in LA. Went out to LA on business, had a friend whose boyfriend was the bartender there, and thus got the royal treatment. Incredible grilled octopus. Amazing amaro tasting flights at the end, free because amaro is apparently not legal in the states.

4. There’s nothing scientific about my selection methodology for this btw — I’m just picking food moments that actually lodged themselves in my brain. One of these moments was when I was in Guadalajara last month, my friends there took me to an open market (well it was covered with a roof, like Essex Market) and sat down at this stand where this young guy was cooking up a storm and I asked him what I should order, what their specialty was, and he hooked me up with this dish called “chafaldrana”, which was basically this seafood quick stew (tomato based) with tilapia (I think), octopus, scallops, and shrimp served with rice, onions, slices of tomatoes, tortillas, and these cute little mini-avocados. It was made “a la minute” right in front of me. I got it on tape — will upload pics and vid soon. Amazingly fresh and delightful.

3. Thousand Layer Lasagne: I was inspired by the recipe on to make this lasagne which requires you to roll out fresh egg pasta dough into incredibly thin layer. I usually don’t make recipes like this (which warn you that a super-herculean effort is required) sight unseen, but Aya made me do it. Actually it turned out to be pretty fantastic, but I’m wondering how much of it was because of the incredible amount of blood, sweat and tears that went into the making of it. I think you can taste those things.

2. Another Mexico moment: I was in Jalisco, the state where Tequila comes from. It was a few hours from the Pacific coast, and my friends took me to a lake called Santa Maria de Oro, which was surrounded by mountains on all sides. There was a lone restaurant at the base of the lake, and pretty much the only thing they served was chicharrón de pescado, which is basically fried fish, which I presumed to be from the lake itself. It came with a pink-ish colored mayonnaise, cucumbers and tomatoes, and tortillas, which made me realize of course, that these were actually fish tacos!!! Amazing ones, at that. Again, I’m sure the ambience had something to do with my memory of this — perfect 80 degree weather, eating them after I had kayaked out to the middle of the lake and swum in the perfectly warm, clean water. Yeah…

1. When Aya and I were doing our week-long colon cleanse, I experienced delusional hunger pangs, fantasizing about various random foods (the most hilarious was when we were in the subway standing next to a dumb Arnold’s bread ad with a ham sandwich and Aya looked at me and intoned with a zombie-voice, “Ham sandwich….”), but near the end I couldn’t get my mind off Franny’s wood-fired oven pizza. So the first real meal we had after coming off of the cleanse was there, and chalk it up to delayed gratification and wish fulfillment, but damn if we didn’t have a bacchanalia that night (grilled octopus, sausage pizza, orichiette, and for dessert…ANOTHER pizza — our waitron did a double take when we ordered that one). I count that as a double dinner, and any double dinner should be memorialized in my book.

1. Dinner at the Core Club prepared by Dan Kluger and pastry chef Rob Fitzhenry

2. Dinner on the house at Maremma, courtesy of the amazing and wonderful Cesare Casella.
3. Olive oil bon-bons at the James Beard Awards

4. Cooking Thanksgiving dinner in Santa Barbara in Aunt Janet’s ocean front kitchen.
5. My 1st shoot for the NY Times Dining section, The Kingswood restaurant, NYC.

Runners Up:
– Wylie Dufresne’s presentation at the Star Chef’s Congress, NYC.
– Blueberry picking in Vermont
– Jack’s Saturday morning brunch while listening to “This American Life” (below)

1. Sripraphai Umamiventure, all the way. Those drunken noodles were just out of this world, and I still dream of the fried watercress salad. Tmonkey and Ayagwa’s inspiring video immortalized the meal perfectly. It was one of those amazing meals where every single one of our 10 or so dishes were delicious, and, despite the fact that many people were meeting for the first time, we all left feeling as we were eternally connected through this one meal. Now THAT is the power of a good meal.

2. My meal at Taverna dei Consoli trattoria in Assisi, Italy. I was alone in the city for a night, and the hotel man recommended the place in the piazza. I never did figure out if this joint was what he was talking about, but it’s where I ended up and had the best dinner of my trip. They were about to close up shop but they indulged my hunger anyway. Fresh pasta with porcini mushrooms and a pork chop in a balsamic and prune reduction. Ooh la la. I went back for lunch the next day and had the same! This year, I learned to appreciate eating out alone, which is something I never did before. There’s something really meditative about it.
3. Lunch with Jose, Marta and her family at her apartment in Madrid. Nothing like Spanish homecooking— albondigas and boquerones filled with love.
4. Introduction to Shanghai Cafe by Tmonkey. It was love at first bite. Cravings for these incredible soup dumplings haunt me at all hours of the day– their steam, their scent, the marriage between crab and pork dipped in a vinigary concoction (the key: the crab does not dry out the way they do at Joe’s Shanghai, or any other “venerable” soup dumpling establishment). My dream meal is an order of the dumplings, and their lo mein, which are really thick udon-like noodles. It is by far the restaurant I frequented the most this year.

5. My chicken bag!

Runners up:
– The secret sea side shack Ayagwa introduced me to at Rockaway Beach
– Fresh northwest oysters and the cute bartender at the Seattle Airport
– The sardines from Don Quixote Restaurant at the Atlantic Antic street fair
– Leslie and Alex’s 4 hour wedding meal at Osteria Le Logge in Siena
Vintage Pyrex mixing bowls I bought from Yamahomo
– The “best cappucino in Italy” cafe in Roma

Aside from my top 5 (er, 11), the launch of this blog was perhaps the most meaningful food moment for me this year. I look forward to a plethora memorable food moments in 2008– too much for me to blog I am sure! Thanks to everyone for reading, contributing and commenting in UM’s fantastic first year.
Happy, happy holidays to you and your family, and always, happy eating!

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.


“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!

Great Eating at Alan Wong’s Hawaii

June 8, 2007

Practically the first thing we did upon deciding on Hawaii as our honeymoon destination was make a reservation at Alan Wong’s in Honolulu. Our excitement to eat at this relatively unknown restaurant was fueled by strong rec’s from friends and co-workers (including a Hawaiian native) and reinforced by Alan’s appearance at the finale of last season’s Top Chef. Our expectations were high, and we were not disappointed.

From the outside the restaurant is pretty much non-existent. Nestled on the third floor of some non-descript office building far from splashy Waikiki, you could drive by it a thousand times and not recognize it as a Hawaiian culinary landmark. Once inside the restaurant is decorated in a nice but plain fashion that suggests most of the attention is given to the food. Wanting to experience the most variety of this food, along with suitable wine, Christi and I both decided on the 7-course prix fixe tasting menu with wine pairings. Here is a play-by-play:

To start off a super fresh and delicious river oyster was served with ice shavings and a chili sauce. This very refreshing and appetizing amuse bouche served its function well. We were ready to eat some good food.

First course was an interesting play on the classic soup and sandwich combo featuring a pig, foie gras and mozzarella sandwich suspended over a martini glass of fresh tomato soup by a parmesan wafer. The presentation turned heads of fellow diners and was very tasty. The “Voove” was the perfect companion with its cool, crispness offsetting the warm and creamy soup nicely.

Then some foie gras with chutney. Pretty standard nice restaurant fare.

Third course was Christi’s favorite. It was an egg and tofu flan, garnished with edamame and small shrimps. The consistency of the flan was good and overall the flavors worked well together. My only complaint was the portion was a little on the small side. Not really an issue considering the amount of food served overall.

Not a huge fish eater I was surprised to find that the next course would be my favorite of the evening. Fourth was a couple pieces of pan fried red snapper in a tasty sauce. Can’t remember all the details but do know I liked it a lot.

The abalone came next. Christi and I never really had abalone before and weren’t sure what to expect. Turns out it is pretty rubbery and doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of natural flavor. Unfortunately the mushroom and oil sauce paired with it didn’t do much to bring some out. This was probably our least favorite portion of the meal.

Last up before dessert was a very nice piece of well prepared striploin, lined up with some potato salad and yet more foie gras. Again the presentation was very nice and overall it felt like a good conclusion to the hearty part of the meal.

The dessert sampler served was a crippling (filling) array of little sweet numbers that we ate while enjoying some freshly pressed Kona coffee.

Overall, all 7 courses were superbly presented and consistently very tasty. It easily ranks with all the New York and San Francisco establishments we’ve collectively been to. In fact Christi, perhaps boldly, ranked this experience higher than the one at The French Laundry. So, if you ever are fortunate enough to find yourself in Honolulu I highly recommend enjoying a meal at this truly outstanding establishment.

Alan Wong’s Restaurant
1857 S. King Street, Third Floor
Honolulu, HI 96826
Reservations: (808) 949-2526