Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cin Cin's Festa del Fungo

I'd been reading about Cin Cin
restaurant's Festa del Fungo since the beginning of the month is various local periodicals that cover food events. I called them and was told it was basically a truffle festival, with truffles shaved over their other dishes. I ordered 1 scallop and had this truffle shavings. It wasn't bad, but not as good as the shredded kohlrabi we had as an amuse bouche.

Fumiyo had Organic Garlic Soup with Parsley and Brioche Croutons. I had a spoonfull and loved the croutons. She thought I'd find it too garlicy, but I didn't.
Arugula with Baby Beets, Candied Pumpkin Seed and Pecorino RomanoPomegranate Vinaigrette.
The dressing was superb. All three diners shared the salad.

There was a page of mushroom dishes in the menu (not alas, on the website.). There were several ways of ordering the variety of mushrooms. However, when I tried to order some, telling the server I was here specially for the fungus festival, first one, then another mushroom dish dissappeared from the menu. already cleaned out by other diners.

This is maitake mushrooms in paper. Unfortunatley it tastes like beef. I like beef, but not as a mushroom flavour. Behind this, you can see another dish, cucumber. Not what you'd expect in a list of mushroom dishes. It turned out to be the best of three I got.

This strange dish is trumpet mushrooms with spinache. Supposed to served with a poached egg but I convinced them not to serve. The dish was strange enough. It reminded me of the short story American Hijiki by Nosaka Akiyuki which I read in an anthology of Contemporary Japanese Literature back in the 70s. In the story, starving Japanese people eat black tea that had been dropped for US prisoners of war. The Japanese thought it was a kind of seaweed called Hijiki and were confused about how to eat it. I was confused at why this was on the menu. Although the cucumber thing wasn't bad, the maitake and this trumpet thing were discordant to say the most.
Ravioli of Wild Mushrooms, Roasted Walnut Puree and Gorgonzola Cream. Our dinner guest Yukiko got the best food. The bite I had was vastly superior to my fungus excursion. Now I know what to order here the next time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gold Plates 08

This was my 2nd Gold Plates dinner, thanks to an invitation by our financial advisors S & J Clarke. Preminary notes are from the Urban Diner website. Some great judges did not make very great judgments.

Chef Ned Bell of the Cabana Grille in Kelowna wows his patrons with a hardy and satisfying autumn favourite: a palate cleanser of beef consummé, with anise and cinnamon, warms up the body, just as the pork tortière with caramelized apples, and prosciutto starts this “comfort food” trend that we will see at other stations throughout the evening. Chef Bell chose to showcase his flavours with an Apple Icewine from the Raven Ridge Winery.

Actually it tasted like tortiere. I'm fond of tortiere but hardly expected to find it at an event such as this. Minor league at best.

Chef Frank Pabst of Blue Water Café in Yaletown, attracts guests with his interpretation of scallop and sea urchin mousse. The mousse itself is luxurious in texture, simply presented on a bed of leek and seaweed salad, with a cucumber vichyssoise. Chef Pabst paired his dish with Sumac Ridge Pinnacle Sparkling Wine. “… I thought using the sweetness of the scallop would compliment the flavour of the sea urchin in the mousse,” says Chef Pabst a few hours later on stage while delivering his gold medal speech. What was generally an acquired taste, the sea urchin gains some unfamiliar credit through Chef Pabst’s creation.
This was probably the worst food at the event. I've had great scallops at Blue Water Cafe before. Could not understand how scallops could be made this vile. Later I learn its the sea urchin that contributes the hideous flavour. People who think this is good food should not be allowed to own tongues.

Chef Andrey Durbach of Parkside, Pied à Terre, La Buca, wins bronze with his game bird pot au feu, with wild mushrooms, a duck confit and chestnut farce, wrapped in cabbage, truffle boudin blanc, and a quail and pheasant torchon. This breathtaking soup was paired with Stag’s Hallow “Simply Noir”, a perfect blend of both Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes
The white thing is extremely good, really soaked up the soup .

The only competitor from Vancouver Island, Chef Edward Tuson of the Sooke Harbour House, located south-west of Victoria, created a gorgeous soup, another competition favourite. Chef Tuson used pine mushrooms for his broth, and topped it with a fat dollop of parsnip foam (blending whipping cream and parsnip) - it floated almost like a dumpling. To that, Chef Tuson added cured Berkshire pork (prosciutto-style) from his own herd of Island pigs; he finished the dish with a geoduck clam salad, and an onion oil. Chef Tuson paired his warm bowl with 2007 Peller Estates Pinot Gris.
I had wanted to go to this restaurant until tasting this atrocity. Fond as I am of pork, this was frighteningly bad. Thankfully the restaurant is far away. Not far enough.

Chef Jeremy Bastien of Boneta Restaurant in Gastown creates a bison short rib tortellini, set on a beurre noisette. Chef Bastien was the only competitor to pair his dish with BC beer. He chose Red Devil, an aromatic and well balanced ale by the R&B Brewing Company
As I was making notes on this dish, I was asked by a TV crew if I would talk to their camera. See if I can remember what I thought. I liked the contrast between the tortellini and the meat, a wonderful conbination utterly ruined by the beer. The subtlety of this invention was wrenched away by the astringent, inappropriate liquid. Considering I had just dined at Boneta a few days before, I wished I'd been able to compliment them more.

Chef Quang Dang of C Restaurant in False Creek, pays homage to the sunshine season, and local product, including a palate cleanser of rhubarb jelly, with citrus powder, followed by four components: a fresh chestnut soup, topped with a local quince foam; crispy Sloping Hills pork lardon with macerated grapes, and a grape reduction; seared pork belly, with peach pearls; and a smoked ham hock terrine with local cherry preserves. Chef Dang paired his dish with the supple and buttery Poplar Grove Chardonnay.
What a surprise. Quang Dang can actually cook. I would never have guessed it from his Harvest menu I'd suffered through earlier this fall after his wretchedly fishy dish at the Dr. Peter event.
The soup was probably the best thing at the event, not surpisingly also chestnut inspired.
I admired Tojo's centrepiece. He called me Professor. "Retired," I told him.

Chef Hidekazu Tojo of Tojo’s Restaurant on West Broadway, takes the silver medal with his paper pouch of smoked sablefish, shelled mussel and lobster, served with a pickled vegetable salad. Chef Tojo paired his dish with 2007 Mission Hill Riesling

I told Tojo that this was much better than what he had prepared for the Dr Peter event. "I know," he admitted.

Chef Robert Belcham of Fuel Restaurant in Kitsilano, may have been one of the most exciting dishes. With Chef Belcham, one can always been prepared for juicy, succulent, high quality meats - and that’s what the masses received. A braised shin of beef, wrapped in beef tongue, served a top mashed potatoes. To finish the dish, a celeriac “coleslaw” set on a rye cracker. Chef Belcham paired his rich, comfy dish with 2004 Osoyoos LaRose “Le Grand Vin”, a merlot dominated bottle, with additions of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and small amounts of petit verdot.
This was very good. the beef better than the coleslaw, not surprisingly.

On his home turf, Chef Kevin Doucette of the Westin Bayshore, looked quite comfortable while he explained his dish, where molecular gastronomy meets bright flavours - Salmon with cedar beads (made from concentrated cedar water and gelatin), miso sauce, a lime-basil “air”, mushroom jelly, and an effervescent avocado lime dust. Chef Doucette paired his dish with the NK’MIP Pinot Noir, a difficult pairing for such an intricate dish.
The citrus really helped the salmon, which was pleasingly moist. Last year this hotel had tried to poison me with oysters. It's nice to see they've become more subtle.

My hosts for the event. I hope they enjoyed C's chestnut soup and Tojo's lobster as much as I did. Sometimes food deserves a gold medal. Othertimes, it just tastes metallic.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A New Day Dawns

They did it. Our southern neighbours came through. They voted in their own self interest as well as the interests of the planet. Who would have thought? This is the best thing I've seen the Americans do since the Watergate hearings led to Nixon's resignation. This was even a larger revolt against power. The cynic could say everything's so bad Obama will just put a nice face on it. The world ends, but on a Democratic president's shift. Rove still plots a comeback. I'm not one of those cynics, at least not now. I remember the enthusiasm that greeted young JFK, and this resembles that, hopefully with diferent ends. I'm not worried now. Later for that. I wish my daughter were alive to see another person whose parents are of different races achieve great power. I think she would have been inspired, but I'm not sad. I feel like Scrooge in the Alistair Sims movie, when he discovers he's alive and stuns his housekeeper with his glee. It's great just to say President Obama, like your name vanishing from your grave. This must be what it's like when Sauron is overthrown and Mordor goes Condo. I love autumns in general. From my kindergarten days to my daughter's graduation from high school, the fall has meant beginnings. I am filled with energy and enthusiasm to start something new. Obama plus bright leaves and nippy weather and new kitchen to cook stuff to ward off imperriling weather. Feels cylindrical. It is beyond feelilng, as if propelled by higher forces. The universe wants us to wake up.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Culinary Poetry

Upon leaving Le Crocodile where I dined recently, I was given an invitation to the 25th anniversary celebration of this restaurant. "Join us for an exclusive dinner featuring a 5-course tasting menu designed by special guest Chef Emile Jung of Au Crocodile in Strasbourg, France.
Join Michel Jacob and his mentor Emile Jung as they prepare an exquisite experience of culinary poetry to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Le Crocodile." Yeah, like I'm really gonna avoid that.
Cremant d'Alsace, Zinick, Brut Rose. A great sparkling rose fresh from Alsace. I think it would go splendidly with a fruit-based meat dish such as a Tajine. It isnt served with anything, just an opening "cocktail" before the feast began.
Mousseline de Petit Pois a l'emulsion de Tomates et Poivrons Rouges. I avoid eating the leaves on top but their influence continues. Tastes heavily of vegetables. Great aftertaste though.

Eveil du Palais, Creme de persil, beignet d'escargots. Pea soup, sort of. Salty, in a sumptuous, cofortable way. Tempura snails. Sounds gross. It isn't. I am warmed and pleased in equal measure by the soup. No wonder this guy's got 3 Michelin stars. The food is deep subtle. You let it enter into your body and become one with it.

An excellent wine, whatever it is.

Queue de Homard, Salade d'Herbes Facon Brasserie Parisienne. Lobster with croutons. My first bite of the croutons is so good I don't want to swallow, just savour the lemony juices in the croutons endlessly. Then I try the lobster. It is the best lobster I've ever eaten, better even than at the classic Ottawa French restaurant Signatures (reviewed in Oct. 06 on this blog) It doesn't give up its lobsterness to become something else, like Signatures' lobster lasagna did. Lots of strong flavours, but they work as a union, not against one another. The wine pairing I find too sweet after the lemony croutons. I would have thought capers would overwhelm the taste of lobster but not at all in this dish. While munching on the lobster, I feel like Descartes, discovering a new philosophy.

Filet de Merou au Champagne Brut et Pousses d'Epinard. Truffle-soaked grouper. I'm told this fish was chosen because it soaks up truffles best. Champagny noodles. While I'm eating this fish, I'm thinking, this is too good. Nothing should taste this good. It alters reality too profoundly. And I thought the fish I ate recently at L20 in Chicago could not be beaten. This is only the 2nd time I've had grouper. The first time was in Dallas in 05, when this blog began. That was fantastic. Lime based sauce. This champagne sauce blows that superb lime sauce away. When I think French cooking, I think sauces. But you need great ingredients and inspiration. No lack here.

The server told me I was one of the first to make a reservation for the feast, so was given a seat with a view of outside. Why would I want to look outside?
Actually, the wine you see her pouring for me is for the unpictured Caille Carcie au Foie Gras, Sauce Pinot Noir et Cotelette de Caribou, Compote de Racines de Gingembre. I tried to eat the squab, but was not successful. The caribou was just gamey, even with a good red wine. It also vanishes from my plate, uneaten. I hope Caribou Barbi dissappears just as quickly.

Feuillete aud Figues, Sirop d'Erable au The Parfume Parfair Glace, Griottines au Kirsh, en Coquille de Chocolat Bitter. There was plum sorbet before this as a palate cleanser. Too many sweets for me but vastly superior to the caribou-squab debacle. I'll forget them easily. The lobster and grouper will live in my memory as long as I remember anything.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Friendly Boneta

For the 2nd time, my friend Frank and I dined at Boneta, a fine restaurant in a sleazy part of Vancouver. The last time we'd dined there about a year before, someone was killed just outside the restaurant the following day. Probably the most enjoyable food offered at the Dr. Peter Centre fundraising foody event I attended in Sept was this stuffed squid in lemon sauce. I wanted to have it again.

Thankfully it was still on the menu at the end of October so both Frank and I were able to enjoy its vast goodness. The aftertaste of lemon lingers in the mind for days.

As I mentioned, it had been a year since I'd dined at Boneta. To my astonishment, the server asked if Frank and I wanted our usual table. Having only dined there once, a year ago, to be considered regulars is quite a treat. This is one friendly restaurant.

The restaurant prides itself on its cocktails. On the cocktail menu, they offer to create one specially for you, upon request. I told the server I had a disasterous cocktail my last appearance here, whiskey-based as I recall. She asked what I liked and I said, avoiding whiskey, something citrussy. We decided on this grapefruit drink. It was another disaster. Next time I'll have them invent something for me.

Grilled Ahi Tuna, Kabocha Squash, Peppercress, Shitake, Hazelnut, Truffled Vinaigrette
I told the server I wanted that tuna seriously grilled. She hestitated but the chef was up to the task (not for Everybody, I'm told) and I got this plate of perfectly cooked tuna with enough other ingredients to keep my mouth happily chewing away for sometime. A glass of white wine accompannied the tuna, but it did nothing to either add or subtract from its goodness. Wine pairings are so rarely successful for me, I might as well go back to just having ice water with whatever I eat, as I do at home.

Wild Salmon, Brussel Sprouts, Garlic Puree, Duck Confit Ravioli, Prawn Red Wine Jus.
The bite I had of Frank's meal was profoundly succulent.
Yesterday, I noticed that Boneta was listed as #5 on the Enroute Magazine list of top new restaurants in Canda. This was the only one in Vancouver. Our city has been well served.
I noticed that Boneta will be represented at the Gold Plate competition I'll be attending next week. That in itself makes the event worth attending.