Friday, October 22, 2010

Oriental images from SFU

Thursday, October 21, 2010

SFU with Fumiyo

Bistro Basque and Lessons from the East

The best food I had on the trip wasn't in NYC nor in Montreal, but at Bistro Basque in Milford, Conn.
I guess Tony Bourdain is right about the Basque region being at the culinary frontier at this time. My first tapa, called Tapas Cazera: a napoleon of shitake mushrooms, red cabbage, spinache and duck confit, was in itself a great reason to go the Basque regions of France and Spain. My 2nd tapa, called a Lomo, offered pork tenderloin, tetilla cheese, piquillo pepper and black olives, was almost as good. Could I make either of these delicacies? Actually the 2nd best food I had was Lili's mustard salmon. I love mustard on chicken and broccoli (though not necessarily together) but I'd never thought of a mustard sauce for salmon until Lili prepared it. The most memorable restaurant foods were the amuse bouche artichoke coronet at Per Se along with the shrimp at Daniel. I learned from the sommelier at Per Se of amazing possibilities in mock tails that I will certainly be exploring. I've already made a fair copy of the tuna steak with olives, capers and tomatoes dish from Capsuto Freres. Next I'll try and make the scallop dish that so enchanted me at Le B. This week I went out to take pix for the first time since coming back from the great art museums of the East. Did I take better pix? Judge for yourself in the next couple of blog posts. I'm even more enthusiastic about culinary and visual beauty than before I journeyed to the east, and that's saying a lot.

Monday, October 18, 2010

MOMA and Daniel

This was taken on Tuesday when Dex tried to fill my eyes with the Gug, The Frick, and Met and MOMA, only to discover the Musuem of Modern Art was closed that day. So we went back on Wed. This was my 2nd trip to MOMA. Dex had taken me to it when I was in NYC in 2005. The first four flours were filled with so much bad art I couldn't believe it. I haven't seen so much hideous art in one place since I spent 3 weeks in Italy in 2002. I really wanted to get out of there before its anti-aesthetic began to shrivel my eyes, but finally on the 5th floor, oh, they do know what good art is! I'm astonished. Indeed, the 5th floor of MOMA has as much good art in it as the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, my favourite museum of much the same thing. So when Dex brought me back here I was more than a little dubious. My fears were in vain.
Dex's membership allowed us to preview two new shows that I actually enjoyed. Maybe they hid all the hideous art that day, knowing I was coming. I remember seeing the Rockefeller room 5 years ago, filled with garbage as were all the rooms in flours 1-4, and thinking the Rockefellers could afford to buy Vermeers; don't they know the difference?
The reason I haven't enclosed any images from MOMA is that their website is rather threatening about such things.
Dex pointed out that the vast Monets needed vast galleries to view appropriately, not the narrow gallery where they could be found. Well, any Monet is better than no Monet.
Each of these are reasons by themselves to visit NYC: The Vermeers, Le Bernardin, Daniel, the 5th floor at MOMA. The only other city I know of with this many treasures would be Paris and in NYC my miniscule French is Not a Problem!
After steeping in good art, we went back to Dex's neighbourhood and had some tapas. OK, not Spain quality but I was hungry and they weren't bad at all. Then Doc and Lili came over to Dex's to pick my up and take me to Daniel. The Spotted Pig post I posted yesterday was actually a meal consumed on Saturday afternoon and MOMA/Daniel were both savoured on Wednesday.
And speaking of savouring:

Daniel Boulud is doing something right.

I left Per Se feeling like Jacob Marley, covered in chains. I left Daniel feeling like Scrooge played by Alistair Sim, discovering he's not dead, doing somersaults.
What made Daniel's food so good? Perhaps it is the realization of his desire to create another world. As the Firesign Theatre seek to create another world where people could go to escape the bad ones they were in.
Doc Technical, Lili and I were welcomed into Daniel as if we were truly welcome. Intriguing cocktails appeared:a champagne mojito for Doc, a kir royale for Lili and a my tie, something that would never appear around my neck but did my throat much good.
For amuses as you can see on the vid, variations on cauliflour. Actually I remember liking the curry thing less that I said on the vid, curry never being a good idea, and the salmon thing, at least it wasn't as fishy as the bouche that did not amuse at le B. But the shrimp. Ok, that's as good as the artichoke cornonet at Per Se. That's world's best restaurant caliber food.
There are so many things on this menu we want to eat, Doc told one of the servers who insisted we'd be happy with just the 3 courses. I wanted to try the heirloom tomatoes, which Doc ended up with, but I'd had langoustine's only once, at a seafood restaurant called Lobs in Florence in 2002, and as I'm particularly fond of both prawns and lobsters, their crustacean cousin called to me, see what Daniel could do.
I had a bite of Doc's tomatoes. I didn't spend enough time savouring the bite to say anything interesting about it. Were I to come here again, that's what I'd order. On the other paw, the langoustines were....
Corn and Corn foam? Almost as far back as people have been growing food, and the latest culinary iteration in one meal. What struck me was how the corn entered the middle ground of the langoustine's taste, and took it over like Aragorn took over Middle Earth. Daniel had become king of the middle earth of the palate. This is no small feat. While other chefs contend for the edges and usually fall off, Daniel takes the langoustine back to where it lives, and brings us along on a sea of satiation.
Followed with a Duo of Beef: Black Angus Short Ribs with Stewed Lentils, Carmelized Salsify, Wagyu Terderloing, Red Wine Glazed Pearl Onions, Carrot Confit, Sauce Bordelaise.

Salsify seems to be the ingredient I can most count on encountering at this level of NY restaurants and I'm always delighted with it. The Wagyu, when thinly sliced and melded with the vegies and sauce, was immaculate. The short ribs? Uh, no. A woman who was serving and offering advice had suggested either a French or a California wine pairing, explaining what each would do for the beef. She picked just the right wine for the Wagyu, but the short ribs were just too heavy. Another server appeared and, seeing I wasn't finishing the ribs, explained how long the beef had been braised in wine for. I'd seen a video of this on Daniel's website awhile ago. I knew Daniel was Mr. Meat from his famous hamburger; that's why I went for the Duo of Beef. But it was too heavy to continue. Loved the Wagyu and the vegies though. Next time I'm here, I'll check out what Daniel does with fish.

Desert floated me back up into the stratosphere I'd been in up to the short ribs. Champagne helped. This is food and service you'd expect from elves.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Spotted Pig

I don't know if enough can possibly be said about the Firesign Theatre. They've been babbling amongst themselves since 1966, and it would be a hard record to beat. But, as they tell us, it's a new record every time.
A friend turned me on to Peter Bergman and his crew when they moved to KRLA-AM in April, 1967, and I've rarely shut up about them since.
When I first went online in 1993 and discovered an actual community of Firesign fans, it was like coming home after 20 years lost at sea. In the primitive web of the time, I discovered Elayne, who had started a zine promoting the Firesigns after they'd broken up in the early 80s, and kept the fire alive for the fans that would create their future incarnation. She introduced me to the lads themselves and many good things have happened since then. Elayne started an online chat for fans of the Firesign Theatre in 1995, and the connections made through that chat have brought us all to The Spotted Pig in 2020.

Yes, they really do make grilled cheese sandwiches that big. "Doc's" cidre was surprisingly weak, unlike my man Doc Technical, but my tart, advertised as prosciutto and ricotta tart with marjoram, but actually an intriguing forest of elevating enrichment, made me see how such a light cidre would have its benefits. Trajectories well planned. April deserves her name and her fame.
Lili was eventually served and everyone seemed quite happy with their meals except Elayne, the mother of the feast, whose pancakes were not as advertised. That may or may not have been Celebrity Chef Bloomfield in the kitchen; we never found out. Elayne continued to make hilarity a breathable substance. More neurons connect. The better world the young Firelads of the mid 60s imagined is gradually brought into existence by those tentative enlightenings. And really good food is the least of it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Per Se

I had never entered any restaurant (or any other building) with as much anticipation as I entered Per Se with New York friends Dex and Myrna on the evening of Sept 28th. It was only 4 years ago that I discovered that the world's restaurants were rated, or even cared about such things. The first restaurant list I read listed Per Se as the best restaurant in North America, along with its California clone The French Laundry, and the creator of these restaurants was the Zeus of North American cuisine. I had already had a divine lunch at Le Bernardin. But that was lunch! It had taken me 2 years to save enough money to go to Per Se, and the ever-so-difficult reservation had to be booked 2 months in advance, the longest advance time of any restaurant I knew. I know Per Se had fallen behind both Daniel, where I would dine the following day, and North America's new number 1, Alinea, where I had dined in 2008 in Chicago. But this was still Thomas Keller's temple. What's not to anticipate?
I opted for The Tasting of Vegetables, while my companions had the Chef's Tasting Menu. As the best food I've ever eaten has been from the vegetable course at Charlie Trotter's, I assumed Keller could transcend creations of a chef who'd fallen off the top 100 list. He was, after all, Zeus.
My companions ordered wine with their meal. I had read in Egullet that Per Se had particularly inspired non-alcoholic beverages paired with its food upon request, so I made the request.
We began with 2 amuse bouches. The first, a marble-sized pastry filled with warm guyere. My problem with a "bread course" in any restaurant is that bread fills me up- which should be the job of the food! This was a wonderful antidote to the whole idea of a bread course. It increased instead of decreasing my appetite, which was considerable after all that walking in New York City. The heated cheese reminded me of the the warm squash centre in the ravioli created by Vancouver's Iron Chef Rob Feenie when he had his own restaurants here, certainly one of greatest culinary creations in Vancouver's history. Things were starting well.
For our continued amusement, we were served coronets, like tiny ice cream cones. Dex and Myrna got salmon coronets, which Keller describes creating in the Fine Food and Film DVD extra to the Kelleresque film Ratatouille. My artichoke-filled cornonet sent me into distant childhood as precipitously as the critic in Ratatouille upon sampling the dish the film is named after. I was suddenly transported to an Italian restaurant in Van Nuys, California in 1956. We had just moved there from Yorkton, Saskatchewan, a town whose familiarity with Italian food would have been cans of Chef Boyardee spaghetti at the grocery store. I don't remember what I ate at that long ago Van Nuys restaurant. Perhaps the coronet evoked the sawdust aroma mixed with pasta sauce? Only a time machine could tell. In various interviews with him that I'd read or viewed, Keller talked about wanting to take diners back to their childhoods. His wizardly succeeded and I'm only on the amuses.

Pomegranate Reduction, Medjool Date "Marbles" and Black Winter Truffle Puree

The salsify dish is subtle. Different levels of flavour, wonderfully matched with the Yuzu Fizz the sommelier, Justin Lord has prepared for me to have with it. Yuzu is one of my favourite things about Japan, along with Ton Katsu and the movies of Satoshi Kon.

As I was enjoying this, my companions were dining on Keller's most famous dish,
"Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar
which Keller describes inventing in the Ratatouille DVD extra. I've only been able to eat oysters without puking once, at Alinea. Unfortunately, that's about the best thing I can say about that restaurant, now ranked #1 in North America.

"Haricots Verts et Jaunes" with Parsley Shoots

To go with this, Sommelier Lord came up with a drink made from equal parts Reeds Ginger Beer, lightly steeped jasmine tea and Navarro Vineyards Gewurztraminer Grape Juice.
The gingery beverage magnifies an already excellent eggplant dish. Lord said he was really proud of making it and pairing it with the eggplant and it came on like a tsunami. It was both intense and beneficent.

Slow Roasted Beets, Horseradish Panna Cotta, Red Ribbon Sorrel and Gold Beet Glaze

This wasn't so good. Too beety. Like all good Ukranians, I love beets, but no other ingredients were tasted. Where were the Persian cucumbers? Were they stopped at Thermopylae? The ginger drink helped, but I couldn't finish the beets. The server asked if he could bring me something else, but I stuck with the already prodigious collection of food awaiting me.

Brussels Sprouts, Pearson Farm's Pecans, Frisee Lettuce and Blis Maple Syrup Emulsion

The sweet potato, is alas, a sweet potato, probably my least favourite vegie. Keller's skill couldn't overcome my dislike for it, unlike Chef Grant Archatz's magically edible oyster dish at Alinea.
Lord came through with another winner, a drink with 2 parts Red verjus, 1.5 parts Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir Grape Juice and 1 part Boylan's Cace Cola. I avoided the potato, but savoured the beverage. Unfortunately, there were now 3 beverages on my table before me. all with very different flavours.

"Matignon" of Root Vegetables, Eckerton Hill Farm's Chestnuts, Watercress Salad, Fines Herbes Creme Fraiche and Madeira Cream

As he was carving the top to expose the pie, the server assured me I'd enjoy this dish. He was right. Unfortunately, the crunchy chestnuts interfered with my enjoyment of the mushrooms. As the greatest thing I've ever eaten was a morel at Charlie Trotter's, I had high hopes for this pie. Alas. It wasn't a complete failure, like the beets and sweet potato. A single, instead of a home run.

Honeycrisp Apple "Parisienne," Young Onions, Swiss Chard and Pickled Mustard Seed "Beurre Blanc"

Finally, a home run. A dish worthy of being featured in Ratatouille.

Per Se Graham Cracker, Poached Quince, Celery "Ribbons" and Tellicherry Pepper "Aigre-Doux"

The server had been raving about the great Oregon blue cheese. Charlie Trotter's magical Morel was from Oregon. I have friends in Oregon. Two of my favourite writers, Ursula K Leguin and Barry Lopez are Oregonians and I even like the band Oregon. Maybe the cheese should have stayed in Oregon. What most impresses me is what I assume to be a beet, but it isn't beety at all. I tell the server this, and he informs me it's actually a quince. The cheese has a tendency to clog my teeth, rather than impress me. I give some to Myrna, who likes blue cheeses. I'm reaching the point now where it's hard to eat any more food, even if it's as good as the agnolotti.
Lord has concocted yet another brilliant beverage, this one I believe from Rose grapes. But the purpose of a good drink IS NOT to wash cheese out of my teeth. Sounds like Mao, who used to wash his mouth with green tea instead of brushing his teeth.

Thyme Sable, Greenmarket Peaches, Belgian Endive and Arugula with Walnut Marmalade

Not bad.

Oat Crumble, Oregon Huckleberries "Demi-Sec" and Buttermilk Chantilly

This is wonderfully balanced. I can't believe the fruit could be improved upon (I'm partial to berries, ANY berries) but it is. Good work, Keller.

"PB & J"
Peanut Parfait, Crystallized Lemon Verbena, Toasted Virginia Peanuts and Concord Grape Sherbet

This seems to be the crux of Keller's cooking: the ticket to your childhood. I loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a kid. As we were vegetarians, I didn't have a lot of choices. The problem with this is the same as with the blue cheese: it stuck to my teeth. The sherbet helped and the grape slices were even more helpful, not to mention the heavy lifting done by the faux Rose. But it didn't work. Instead of traveling back to my childhood, I felt like an old man with tooth problems.

Cardamom Grissini, Bartlett Pears and Root Beer Syrup

The ingredients sound good, but I was too full to notice them. The companions were also complaining about the quantity of food. The only complaint about quality I overheard was the fact that the
Caramelized Black Mission Fig, Belgian Endive, Watercress Leaves and Fig Chocolate Sauce
combination didn't seem to work. Chocolate sauce on lobster? I watched them filling up on meaty things that didn't interest me at all. They also ate a fish,
Fork Crushed New Crop Potatoes, Cherry Belle Radishes, Hearts of Romaine and Red Wine Vinegar Vierge
that interested me in that I'd never heard of Lubina and have yet to taste it. I wonder what Le Bernardin could do with it.

Dex later, comparing Le B with Per Se, said Per Se put on a good show, Le B offered a good meal.
To go back to baseball metaphors, if Jose Bautista hit as many home runs this year as Keller hit with this menu, Jose would be back in the minor leagues.
Overall, I would say the meal reminded me of a meal at West, perhaps my 10th favourite restaurant in Vancouver. Expensive. Pretentious. Sometimes tasty, but always with the best possible drinks.
After a day spent absorbing the vibrant colours of the paintings at the Guggenheim, not to mention my man Vermeer at the Met and the Frick, plus wandering around the city in search of appealing reflections (see below), I was interested in seeing the plating at Per Se. In the DVD extra I keep alluding too, Keller prides himself on the exquisite visual impact of his dishes. It was really too dark to appreciate. Maybe he needs French Laundry light. I doubt the food would be any better there though. Although sommelier Justin Lord lives up to his name, Keller's food reminds me why Zeus is no longer believed in. I left Le Bernardin in the afternoon feeling I'd been dining on Mt. Olympus. The only time I felt in the realm of gustatory greatness at Per Se was the few seconds I spent with the artichoke coronet. The rest of the time I could have been in a 2nd tier restaurant in Vancouver.
As we drove back from Per Se to Dex and Myrna's place in lower Manhattan, we were so full that every restaurant we passed on the drive was painful to observe. The whole idea of food had become painful.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Met and the Frick

Actually we went to the Met before Le B. I had been there 5 years earlier, as well as the Frick and what I most wanted to see in these museums on my 2nd visit were the Vermeers, which had so enchanted me when I first saw them. In the last episode of his recent PBS series, Bill Moyers talked with one of my favourite authors, Barry Lopez, who described moving to NYC as a child and seeing the Vermeers at the Frick and the world of aesthetics opening up to him at that time.
I also wanted to see the Egyptian wing, especially any statues of the Cat god Bastet which first sparked my interest in Egypt in 3rd grade in 1959. In one of their Hour Hour radio shows in 1970, after a trip to the East Coast, Firesign Theatre members David Ossman and Phil Austin talked about going to a room in the Met they described as a hobbit room. I was determined to find it, and still make our lunch reservations at Le B.
Although I speedily viewed everything in the Egyptian wing, (I liked some paintings of hawks that looked like Art Nouveau a few millennia early) I couldn't find any statues of Bastet.
I did find one cat that didn't exactly inspire worship. The Vermeer, however....

Young woman with water pitcher is one of the best Vermeers (and thus, best pix). “The artist achieved a quite balance of primary colours and simple shapes. These subtle calculations …in the execution of the work.” The hat/shall surrounding the woman’s face make it look like a hovering ufo, or the moon with a face.
The Met has 3 more Vermeers, Allegory of the Catholic Faith, which has great blues in it but the woman's face is bizarre. Even more bizarre than the women's face is the other 2 Vermeers,
Study of a Young Woman and Woman with a Lute, both of whose heads look more like skulls than living women. Intentional? Still, it was worth coming all the way to NYC from Vancouver to gaze upon the woman with the water pitcher.

Hart room is the earliest … room in the American wing. Its exposed oak timbers, large fireplace and small cavement windows are typical of 17th cent New England interiors. The room is furnished in fine examples of late 17th century Mass. furniture. Home of Samuel and Sarah Norton Hart of Ipswich, Mass. 1680.

I deduce this is the room that Ossman and Austin were referring to when they visited this museum 40 years ago.

This Wentworth room, next oldest in age of the period rooms, looks like where Bilbo would entertain his non-hobbit sized friends.

After the astonishing food at Le Bernardin mentioned in a previous blogpost, we walked over to the Frick collection to see this:

There were more Vermeers, but this one stood out for me. The woman looks so happy!
I watched a few minutes of a film being shown on a room at the Frick, about the collection. The film said that Mr. Frick was particularly interested in collecting images of beautiful women. Although there were many beautiful women walking around the gallery, I didn't see any in the paintings. This woman at least looks happy, as happy as I was after the divine meal I'd just consumed.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Guggenheim & Le Bernardin

Red Cross Train, Gino Severini

Broken Forms, Franz Marc

Morning in Village After Snowstorm, Kasmir Malevich

Blue Painting, Kandinski

The Unfortunate Land of Tyrol, Franz Marc

Smokers, Fernand Leger

Paris, Chagall

The ceiling, The Gug.

After a rousing bowl of fruit at a Ukranian place near Dex's place, we went to the Guggenheim Museum, the one art destination I didn't get to on my previous trip to NYC 5 years ago. This is only the 2nd Frank Lloyd Wright building I've been in, the first being the Robie House in Chicago on my visit there in 2008.
There were a couple of exhibitions there I was particularly interested in: Broken Forms and Kandinsky at the Bauhaus. We took the elevator as high up as we could get but couldn't take the ramps down for the best view because they were setting up a new show. The art I saw was spectacular. Above are a few of my faves.
The rain was walling down when we emerged from the museum. A man was trying to sell umbrellas by telling the crowd that the rain wasn't going to stop. It did. We had a lunch reservation at the greatest seafood restaurant on the continent, Le Bernardin. On my microcassette recorder, I noted:

Salmon amuse is surprisingly fishy though it does mellow in my mouth. Needs white wine. With water, too fishy.

(Dex says it's savoury.) He makes it with poached and smoked salmon rolled up in zucchini. Sounds much better than this.

Rosemary and olive bread, still warm, looks like cigar, with 2 kinds of butter. Hope my fish is as good as this bread.

First bite of this scallop is beyond belief. The high note is the lime. Eventually you taste the pepper, which complements everything else. Doesn’t taste like scallops so much as it tastes like an ingredient in an amazing recipe. The sauce is dependent on the scallops for its quality. When I finish them and try the sauce by itself, not nearly as good, a bit too astringent. With the scallops, its the emperor in the land of lime. The pepper begins as a confident undernote to the lime and remains as a perky aftertaste

Monkfish dipped in sake is extraordinary. Dipped in pureed turnip and ginger alone, it’s a bit salty. The trick is the combination. A fantastic idea and preparation. What I thought were capers are actually shimeji mushrooms. Delicious. I had a parker house roll, warm and pleasantly soft, to soak up left over sake sauce: extremely good. Dex said it would make a fine soup.

For desert, figs with bacon ice cream. Tea Master tea which has citrus and spice in it. Dex has black sesame and cherry desert.

Figs, nuts (?) candied red wine dribbled around the food, the bacon ice cream doesn’t taste like bacon at all, a fantastic combination has rewarded my adventuresome pick.

The scallops in lime and coconut milk were the best scallops I've ever eaten. The whole meal left me feeling rapturous. Great inspirational images and food too! And it was still the afternoon.

P.E. Trudeau Airport - New York City

Whenever I have a camera handy, I'm usually taking pictures of reflections, as anyone who reads this blog knows all too well. My 1:30 flight to NYC was canceled and when I was finally aboard a plane at 4:00, I was told the plane may be stuck on the tarmac or circling La Guardia because of weather in NYC. That didn't happen, and I was finally delivered by my youthful friend Dexter Fong's place in Manhattan in time to dine at Capsuto Freres. I had the tuna with olives, a very filling meal. Dexter and his wife and I all had the stuffed zucchini flowers from the daily specials. Special indeed!

Friday, October 08, 2010

A Journey to the East: Montreal

On the weekend of Sept. 25th, I flew to Montreal to meet my friends Stephen and Catherine Huddart, their future rowing star son Kaj, and their future film making sensation John. My first evening in town, we feasted at Madre. Although never mentioned in this video, I had the cod. The chef is from Peru and a celebrity in Montreal. Previously, he had worked at Daniel, a restaurant I'd visit a few days later in New York. Quinoa has to be one of greatest ingredients of all time. Only the 2nd Peruvian place I've eaten in, after the place on Lake Geneva our friends took us to in 2002, where I had my first Pisco Sour. Stephen had once had a business in Peru, a country whose name seems to be asking you as question. They may have forgotten the secrets of the Incas, but they still know how to make great food.