Monthly Archives: June 2011

Better’n ramen

As I sit here having just finished my Oriental-flavored Ramen noodles (the name kills me), I’m enjoying a lovely cotes du rhone and thinking about how much more delicious part 2 of Morimoto’s dinner will seem in comparison. Not that it needs any help.

By the time the fourth course had ended, my jaw was starting to cramp a little bit from all of the chewing and drinking. But – this was a marathon, not a sprint – so I dug deep and dove head-first into the intermezzo of rice milk sherbet with 10-year-old soy and cilantro crumble. The crumble was a nice addition for texture while the soy kept the dish from being too sweet. Note – I’m counting every new dish that landed in front of me as a course, so in case you’re trying to keep track, this one is numero cinco.

Duck course. Sorry, duck friends.

Palate now cleansed, it was time to get serious. Course six was a duck tortellini soup with a rice “popsicle” and shaved vegetables. No offense to any of the other courses, but this was hands-down my favorite. From the delicate tortellini (alas, there was but one) to the rich, silky duck broth, each bite was a bit of perfection. However, the rice popsicle was the star of the show. Such a simple concept – sticky rice wrapped around a popsicle stick, sauteed in oil to make it crispy and then rolled in spices. The whole table agreed we wanted an entire plate of just these babies. One of my colleagues commented that he thought he could make these himself. Still waiting for him to give that a go so we can determine how his stack up to those of the master. I won’t be holding my breath.

It is important to note at this stage that we were enjoying the Gargiulo Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. Delicious, of course. But I’ll save all of my effusive comments for the final wine of the night, the G Major 7 Cabernet. Did I mention I have a bottle of this in my personal collection as well? Be my pal and you might just get a glass.

Lucky number seven was a lobster course. Well, I guess that course was lucky for everyone but the lobsters. Normally I steer clear of this delicious crustacean because it makes me sad to think about how they are prepared. Also, I always think of Phoebe from Friends and how she describes lobster couples as walking around the tank holding claws.

Chefs preparing lots of lobster couples

Anyway, the official description for this course was as follows: lobster epice with lemon cream and braised octopus with English pea “guacamole” and crispy rice. Here’s all I know. I practially got half a lobster that had been treated to a bath of zesty Indian-inspired spices. Not what I’d have expected given the rest of the meal, but then again, Chef Morimoto is all about fusion in surprising and different ways. It was a great wake-up call for the palate, because, let’s face it, there were still two more courses to go.

The penultimate course was the beef course. This was an absolute blessing for a colleague of mine who was in attendance and has an aversion to any uncooked foods. Boy was she miserable for the first several courses. Her tablemates were quite pleased, as they got to vie for whatever she didn’t consume.

The beef course featured a duo of roasted Australian Wagyu New York strip and a veal cheek tempura with a wasabi beet puree. Count me out on the beet puree…I never have and never will like beets…but the rest of it was great. Between my cries of “it’s so good, but please no more,” I quickly shoved bites into my mouth. I learned this from watching Adam Richman of Man vs. Food fame. It appears that part of why he is so successful in eating inhuman quantities of food is that he’s quick about it. The NY strip was tender and a perfect medium rare, as all Wagyu beef should be (any more cooked and you may as well skip the fancy beef) and the veal tempura (I omit the word ‘cheeks’ from here on out because it just seems icky) was a nice contrast with its crispy outside, but succulent center. Since I gave a shout-out to the lobsters, I should mention that eating veal makes me sad too, but at this stage, I was so caught up in the evening (and the multiple wines I’d sampled) that it didn’t really matter. Go ahead, call me names. My vegetarian brother does it all the time.

Looks like an egg...but it isn't.

Dessert. My favorite part of any meal. Well, after the wine, that is. Despite its appearance that resembled an egg sunny side up with various accoutrements, it was actually a polished sushi rice pudding with mango cream “egg yolk”. I have to admit, this was my first experience with rice pudding, and I’m sort of ambivalent about it. Maybe it was because I’d already eaten enough rice for the evening to feed a small third-world country. Or maybe it is because I’m a silly American who expects all of my dessert items to be full of sugar, butter and processed items. It’s probably the latter.

The subtle sweetness of this dish was a nice change from what I would find in the restaurants I typically frequent. The mango “egg yolk” was stunning to look at and had a smooth creamy texture that was a slight contrast to the rice pudding. All in all, it was a lovely and delicate way to end the meal.

In retrospect, it was a nice departure to have a meal that didn’t swing you from one end of the flavor spectrum to the other from course to course. Instead, this meal provided a thoughtful progression of flavors. Most amazingly, Chef Morimoto and his army of talented culinarians made the whole thing look effortless. Absolutely a night I’ll never forget. How often does a Midwestern gal like me get to experience greatness like this first-hand?

Oh! I nearly forgot. To close the evening – the G Major 7 Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a big, badass cab. Lots of fruit. Some nice espresso notes and a fabulously long finish.  Nice, round tannins and a silky mouthfeel. Paired with a performance of La Vie en Rose by the evening’s jazz trio, it was a sublime way to end a sublime night.


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Feeding my puppy with Japanese goodness

I know that the point of a blog is to post with regularity. It is sort of like having a puppy. You can’t just expect it to grow and subsist on its own. It needs nurturing, food, water. And, of course, a place to poop. But that’s beside the point. After the crazy months of May and June – birthdays, wine, anniversaries, wine visitors, wine, crimped hair – it’s time to start taking care of the pet that is my blog.

I’m excited to say that this post – and a few subsequent ones – should be pretty interesting. At least, they were fun for me to experience. This past month found me in Napa for 5 days on a work trip that included everything from great food from the folks at Bouchon and Meadowood to dinners by celeb chefs Masaharu Morimoto and Michael Chiarello.

Sometimes my day job allows me to do some pretty cool stuff. This go-round, it was attending Auction Napa Valley (aka Heaven) and hosting some really nice people. Night number one of my trip, I found myself back at Cook in St. Helena. I’ll share what I had in a subsequent post, but won’t bore you with too much detail since I’ve already dedicated an entire post to this lovely little gem of a restaurant. As such, let’s jump to night number 2.

Toro and hamachi tartare

 Our group was fortunate enough to enjoy a special dinner prepared by the Iron Chef himself, Masaharu Morimoto. I could go on for days about how geeked up I was about watching him work, but that’s not what you want to read. You probably just want to know about the food. All nine courses of it.

Prior to being seated, Chef did sushi to order. Step up to the bar and pick your seafood of choice from some of the freshest, most gorgeous product I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing. It smelled like the sea air in the best possible way. 

Upon being seated, we were brought the first course, a duo of toro and hamachi tartare. As you can see, the presentation was stunning. The idea was to use a small silver paddle and to scoop the toro or hamachi along with the condiments in the center of the plate, which included everything from wasabi and nori paste to guacamole and chives. All of the flavors were delicate and it was impossible not to discover something new with each bite. Best thing I’ve ever eaten with a paddle. And the only thing.

Second course was a kampachi with hot oil and yuzu soy. Four small bites of kampachi that had been rolled and stuffed, after which, hot oil was poured on them to lightly cook the outside. Petite dish. Big and tall flavor.

Hearts of palm mousse, et al

Third course featured a hearts of palm mousse with kinmedai, sea urchin and basil oil  served with bagna cauda with garlic anchovy sauce. This dish was one of the more interesting of the evening, as it was one of the times where Morimoto showed off his prowess as it relates to fusing different kinds of cuisine. Plus, you can’t go wrong when the ingredients are all top-notch. The artichokes and other vegetables on the skewers were fresh and tender, and the hearts of palm mousse provided a silky base for the kinmedai.

Fourth course – and the last one I’ll bore you with in this post – was a foie gras chawan mushi and oyster foie gras with sea urchin and teriyaki sauce. This was probably the dish I was most nervous about, largely because texture, rather than flavor, has the biggest potential for killing a dish for me. Here’s the deal – the flavors were great and most everyone in the room seemed to enjoy this course thoroughly. I couldn’t seem to get over my fear of consuming sea urchin and the custardy chawan mushi – while quite silky and gorgeous – just wasn’t for me. But considering the talented palate of the Chef, I’m sure this was eater error on my part.

You’re probably asking by this point – wasn’t there some sort of beverage served with all of this fantasticness? Well, yes. Of course ther ewas. The friendly folks at Gargiulo were our hosts for the evening and shared with us not only their pinot grigio but also their chardonnay – neither of which are currently available on the market. That chardonnay…oh, that chardonnay. Bless Jeff and Valerie for sharing with us, given its limited supply. A light golden hue, bright flavor, excellent fruit without that heavy, buttery quality displayed by most California chardonnays. Sheer delight. If that was the first and only wine of that particular varietal I’d ever tried, perhaps I’d put myself in the “chardonnay-lover” category. I’m not quite there yet, but this particular wine was a step in the right direction.

Next post will round out the remaining courses – from intermezzo through dessert. I’d write the whole story now, but just writing about this has made me quite hungry and thirsty. Plus it is dinner time for the actual pups.

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A treat for all the senses

In the glass tonight: 2009 Weber Pinot Noir. Thanks to my new pal Chris at Back RoomWines for introducing me to this gem.

A gorgeous ruby color makes it pleasant for the eyes. A slight violet around the edges. It is rare that I’m so snobbish as to put a wine next to a white napkin to get the true color…but this one is pretty.

Presents with raspberry and strawberry on the nose. As it opens up, you get more of a sense of cassis. Sort of like being in the middle of a berry patch. Or, my mom’s kitchen every fall when she is making blackberry jelly. That will be its own post someday.

Soft mouthfeel with a medium finish. A nice departure from my usual cabernets or zinfandels that I can still taste an hour after finishing.

The most important sense with wine? Taste! Fruit, fruit, fruit! This wine is exceptionally balanced with a nice, soft roundness that is a bit surprising from a Pinot produced in SoCal. Let the wine breathe, and you’ll even start to get slight hints of chocolate. Or maybe that’s just the thin mints Girl Scout Cookies I paired with my second glass. Good combination, by the way.

I’m lost on the topic of sound. Then again, the sound of a cork being pulled and wine being poured into my glass is always a turn-on. In a big way.

Side note, I love the label on this wine. The owner, Andrew Weber, invites you to call or email him with feedback on his wine. How fantastic is that? Only someone who knows he has a superior product would open that door. I look forward to sending him my accolades.

So, do yourself a solid. Give Chris a holler and nab a bottle or three (because my one went waaaay too fast, thanks to help from the hubster)….you won’t regret it. And neither will all five of your senses.

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The ATN Showdown

I love nachos. Without prejudice. There is not a nacho that I’ve met that I didn’t like. This is an important point so you’ll understand that writing this post is, for me, much like choosing between sex and pizza. I mean….they’re both good, right?

Last night, I had appetizers with colleagues after a long shoot day. My selection, as is often the case, was ahi tuna nachos. This represented the third time already this month that I’ve enjoyed said dish. That’s just about one time shy of addiction I think.

So, naturally, I’ve mentally been comparing and force ranking each version of this tasty delight. The two that rise to the top are the versions from BJ’s Brewhouse (surprisingly) and Victor Tango (less surprising).

Let’s make this quick and easy, shall we?

Tuna – both serve incredibly fresh product, but VT dices theirs a bit smaller. And though my friends may disagree, my difficulty getting dental x-rays proves I have a small mouth. Winner: VT

Accompaniments – BJ’s comes with diced avocado and a light ginger soy sauce; VT does sliced fresh jalapenos and micro-greens. BJ’s had me at ginger soy. If only they had been more generous with it. Winner: BJ’s

Chip – it is insulting to call either of these “chips” but I’m trying to remain true to nacho vernacular. Both venues use a crispy won ton wrapper as the base for the delicate tuna. VT manages to achieve a lightness that the others don’t. Winner: VT

Do the (easy) math. Victor Tango wins by a chip. Just make sure you pair your nachos with one of their signature cocktails. My new fave is the bourbon-based Sazerac. Be careful though…they pack quite the punch. And you’ll want to remember every second spent enjoying your ahi tuna nachos (ATNs for those who needed the title decoded).

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Citrusy goodness

Short post. Today I tried Sam Adams Imperial White. It tastes as though Newcastle Brown Ale and Blue Moon had a baby. A delicious, delicious, citrusy beer baby. Go out and grab some. Pair with grilled chicken as I did tonight. Thank me later.

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