Showing posts with label Thomas Keller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Keller. Show all posts

Friday, January 6, 2012

Family style.

Way back when at the beginning of December, I flew out to San Francisco for the very best reason of all - to celebrate a friend. My friend Jason turned 30 recently, and 13 of us gathered in Sonoma to fête him with the proper pomp and circumstance. On our last day, we headed over the hills to Yountville for a visit to one of Jason's very favorite places, Thomas Keller's family-style restaurant: Ad Hoc.

The deal with Ad Hoc is that you show up (you can, and probably should, make a reservation) and eat whatever's on the menu for the day. You can sign up for menu updates on the website, but I kind of like the idea of being surprised. We went for Sunday brunch and completely hit the jackpot: chicken and waffles. Before the true debauchery started, though, we had a delightful citrus salad, with crème fraiche and frisée and candied nuts. It was amazing - the different kinds of citrus (pink and ruby grapefruit, blood oranges) were luscious and juicy, and the nuts added richness while the crème fraiche added body.

And then came the main event: fried chicken with sourdough waffles. Two dishes like this one were brought to the table, and the six of us killed them both. How could we not? It was the best fried chicken I've ever had. (Keep in mind, that's coming from a Yankee, so...) I could tell the meat had been brined, but only in the good way (not in the overly-salty, too-watery way), and the crust was crisp, flavorful, and adhered. Adhering is key, you know, because you want some in every bite. Skin that comes away in one piece with the first bite is no good to me.

The waffles were delicious, too - crisp on the outside, tender on the inside (not unlike the chicken, come to think of it), and speckled with bits of rosemary. Doused with cream gravy and maple syrup, the plates of chicken and waffle were good. So satisfying. So wonderful.

I could only eat three bites of dessert, but not for lack of delicious. It was a spiced chocolate pot de crème with Chantilly cream, with snickerdoodle shortbread served alongside. The cookie and chocolate went marvelously together, and that's coming from a woman who rarely likes anything other than marshmallow, caramel, salt or nuts coming anywhere near her chocolate.

After lunch, we went for a little stroll around Yountville, starting in the garden behind the restaurant. As a born and bred Northeasterner, I don't know that I'll ever get over the magic of citrus trees in full bloom. Or perfect fried chicken.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A celebration.

Growing up, Caroline and I spent pretty much every afternoon together. We rode our bikes all over our little town, clambering down hidden paths and through marshland to get to the tiny coves and tidal pools ringing the shoreline. We took my dog, Buster (cutest dog ever) for long walks and introduced him to shellfish and seaweed at the beach. We ate whole packages of Chips Ahoy at her house, and baked endless batches of Tollhouse cookies at mine. We made gingerbread houses every Christmas, and Caroline was one of the few people who kept in touch with me when I went off to boarding school in 9th grade.

So when our friend Ellie suggested that the two of us throw Caroline a shower (and volunteered her parents' lovely home as a venue), how could I disagree? We started off by talking about some of Caroline's favorite things: birds (she's had at least one bird as a pet at all times since we were little), the color blue and candy. Lots and lots of candy.

My incredibly talented friend Miya created some gorgeous invitations for us, and we were off and running. Next came menu planning (ladies who lunch with a Southern twist, plus a ton of candy), decorations (Can you say tissue paper arts and crafts?) and games.

I headed out to Connecticut on Friday morning to spend the day cooking and crafting with Ellie and her incredibly gracious mom (known to one and all as Mrs. Maletta). We chopped and baked and boiled and mixed for hours; the menu we'd chosen was simple, but preparing food for 25 when you're used to cooking for - at most - six is a completely different proposition.

By Friday evening we settled in to make decorations for the dining area. Inspired by the profusion of pom-poms and poofs I'd seen on event planning and wedding blogs, I'd decided to make a bunch of them in different sizes and hang them over our tables. We also hung a wall of streamers near the front door, the better to make a little spot for photo ops.

And, of course, we had candy. Jelly beans, Reese's Pieces Easter eggs (Twice the peanut buttery goodness!) and M&Ms. A little chocolate, a little gummy, a little peanut butter: most of the major candy food groups covered.

We started with two hors d'ouevres: my trusty homemade gravlax, and my Aunt Cathi's ridiculously delicious endive leaves with goat cheese, walnuts, oranges, chives and a bit of balsamic. They are even easier than the gravlax, and will definitely be a recurring feature in my repetoire. In fact, they were so popular with the assembled ladies that I only managed to snap a photo of the last one on offer.

Next, we moved into the dining room and onto lunch. We feasted on a green salad with cucumbers and artichoke hearts, green beans with butter and herbs, curried chicken salad, beet salad with oranges and Thomas Keller's buttermilk biscuits. I chose the menu items based on a couple of criteria: things Caroline loves, things that are easy to serve in a buffet and things that will be hearty enough for a vegetarian or someone who gave up meat for Lent.

A little present opening (during which the bride-to-be was presented by yours truly with Peeps) and a Schramsberg toast later, and things were winding down. We sent everyone home with orange sugar cookies shaped like birds and sent the bride and groom home with a trunkful of goodies. And Mrs. Maletta? She liked the pom-poms so much that we left those with her.

Endive with Walnuts, Goat Cheese and Oranges
Adapted from Cooking Light

2 heads Belgian endive
1/4 cup goat cheese
1 blood or Cara Cara orange, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch segments
1/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 tbs. chives, finely chopped
A few tablespoons very good balsamic vinegar (It needs to be thick and sweet!)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Separate the leaves from the endive head and place them on a platter. Crumble a bit of goat cheese into each leaf, then add one orange piece to each. Add the walnuts, diving them evenly amongst the leaves. Top with the chives.

Sprinkle each endive with a few drops of the vinegar, and top with a bit of salt and pepper.

Serve, and watch your guests swoon.

Serves 6 as an hors d'ouevre.

Curried Chicken Salad
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa

3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good mayonnaise
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup Major Grey's chutney
3 tablespoons curry powder
2 large stalks celery, cut into a quarter-inch dice
2 thinly sliced scallions, white and green parts
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and dice the chicken into large bite-size pieces.

In the meantime, make the dressing. Combine the mayonnaise, wine, chutney, curry powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until smooth. (You can also do this with an immersion blender - or a normal blender as well!)

Combine the chicken with enough dressing to moisten well. Add the celery, scallions, and raisins, and mix well. Refrigerate for a few hours (or overnight) to allow the flavors to blend. Add the cashews and serve at room temperature.

Serves 6-8.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The (food) moments that shaped my decade.

The aughts are coming to a close tonight, and I've decided to join the frenzy of lists appearing across the interwebs. Mine is a fairly personal, navel-gazing sort of list; instead of naming the biggest events in the food world in general, I've decided to focus on the most significant moments of my food- and drink-centered life over the last decade.

I turned 21 in 2000 and graduated from college in 2001, so the aughts have encompassed my early adulthood, my twenties. They're the years I spent finding my home (Hello, New York!), my career (user experience research and design, for now) and my taste (Sriracha, bacon and Vietnamese food, FTW!). In fact, it's pretty darn hard to distill the most important moments of my eating life down to a list of just ten top ones, so please forgive me for any that seem like I'm cheating by, say, essentially granting a tie to every single moment of my 2006 trip to Europe. Please?

All right, here goes!

Number 10: My first taste of Far Niente's Dolce.
As you all know, I am a huge fan of dessert wines both funky and sweet, and particularly of those that combine the two. Before I tried Sauternes or Banyuls, though, I drank Dolce - which is America's most delicious answer to the former. I still remember my first sip, which took place one boozy Saturday night in 2004, at Ouest with Nick and Louisa, when Nick ordered a 375 ml bottle for the three of us to share. I'd never tasted anything quite like it - syrupy, but not sickly, and infinitely musky and complex. I'd go on to tour the winery in 2006, where my mom practically had to restrain me from buying a whole case.

Number 9: Dinner at Alinea.
This one just made it in under the wire, happening as it did in November 2009. My first (and hopefully not last) dinner at Alinea was predictably delicious, and - despite the giant spoiler effect of following Grant Achatz's restaurant for years - surprising and exciting. It was a meal unlike any other I've ever eaten, one where craftsmanship was present in every bite and whimsy never once trumped flavor. A truly incredible experience.
Number 8: Discovering the wonder of Vietnamese food.
Gradually, over the last eight years, my Asian cuisine of choice has slowly shifted from Chinese, to Thai, and finally alighted on Vietnamese. The original Asian fusion, Vietnamese food combines Asian ingredients and flavors with French technique, and has given us such culinary delights as pho (a noodle soup like no other) and the currently super-trendy banh mi, a sandwich full of terrine, herbs, pickles and pate, served on that most French of breads, the baguette. It's slightly funky, thanks to the ever-present fish sauce, but also refined, thanks to a balance of flavors and textures. And I just can't get enough.

Number 7: Making banh mi at home.
Speaking of Vietnamese food - but, seriously, folks...I'm including this past summer's banh mi-fest not only because the results were delicious, but because I think it marks a culmination of the collaborative cooking and exploration Louisa and I have done together. We push one another to try new and different techniques and ingredients, using our time together each summer to tackle a couple of new projects. These banh mi, for which we made everything from scratch - even grinding our own meat - save the bread, are our proudest achievement to date. A repeat performance is planned, and we'll be upping the ante by baking our own baguettes.

Number 6: Ditching vodka for booze with actual flavor.
Just as there's a place for water in the pantheon of great beverages, there's one for vodka. That place, however, is not in a cocktail, and certainly not in a martini. If there's one thing for which my boozehound side is most grateful to the aughts, it's the cocktail craze, and, in particular, the resurgence of brown spirits and gin. Gin is just...better. As is bourbon. And dark rum. And...everything. Vodka is great in a Russian restaurant, served ice cold alongside caviar, but that's about it. I know some of you disagree, and that's your perogative. But, you're, um, wrong.

Number 5: Discovering Thomas Keller.
Obviously, I didn't discover Chef Keller, but he didn't mean much to me before, oh, 2003 or 2004, at which point I became obsessed with eating in at least one of his restaurants. Since then, I've cooked from three of his cookbooks (Bouchon, The French Laundry and Ad Hoc), eaten at three of his restaurants (Per Se, Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery) and become a devoted fan. His mashup of American ingredients and know-how with classic French technique may no longer be revolutionary, but it's still revelatory: I dare you not to fall in love with Bouchon's entire menu. Go ahead - in fact, I double-dog dare you.

Number 4: Joining eGullet.
I joined the internet food fray in 2005, when I became a member (and, eventually, a staffer) of eGullet. For a time, it was my absolutely favorite place on the web. Full of interesting, smart people who knew a ton about home cooking and the restaurant world, it was where I first stretched my food-loving wings, and, in particular, my food-writing muscles. It's where I learned about Sriracha and how to make puff pastry. It's where I learned how to take decent photographs of food. And, most significantly, the two week-long foodblogs I did there in 2006 and 2007 gave me the confidence I needed to start my own blog, which is coming up on its (gasp) third anniversary.

Number 3: Making my first mayonnaise.
I read Amanda Hesser's memoir Cooking For Mr. Latte when it first came out in 2003. It was a sweet book, but I was more interested in the food than in the love story, and was determined to become as sophisticated an epicurean as Ms. Hesser herself. Thus inspired, I made my first mayonnaise from her recipe, and have been whisking ever since. It marked the first time I ventured into truly classical, technique-focused cooking, and the deliciousness of homemade mayonnaise convinced me that (most) shortcuts are, indeed, for suckers.

2. My trip to Europe with Louisa.
Louisa and I spent two weeks in Prague, Strasbourg, Champagne and Paris in 2006. The trip cemented us as best friends, thanks in great part to the enormous amount of bonding we did over food and drink. Whether it was duck in a Prague pub, flutes of Champagne in a Reims tasting room, or steak tartare in Paris, the food we ate and the sights we saw created a common set of memories and experiences that will be ours, alone, forever. It also happens that the trip included two of my top meals of all time (at Chez Yvonne and Camille in Strasbourg and Paris, respectively), the best eclair in history, and the most satisfying doner kebab ever. All in all, two weeks that will live in memory - actually, in perpetuity, thanks to the internet.

1. Shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket.
Blame it on Dan Barber, Michael Pollan - whomever. For a myriad of reasons, I started shopping seasonally and locally a few years ago, and have no plans to go back. Oh, sure, I still buy frozen vegetables, and I do buy cucumbers out of season - not to mention the occasional flown-in fish. But, thanks to New York City's incredible Greenmarket network, I've been able to do a remarkable thing: support local businesses, reduce my carbon footprint, and make super food - all at the same time. Nothing's changed my eating habits more drastically in the last decade than my effort to shop as much as possible in Union Square (or at one of the other Greenmarket outposts around the city), and, for that I am grateful.

So, folks - if you've managed to stick it out this long - what were the formative moments of the aughts for you? Share in the comments - and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Whatever the birthday girl wants, Thomas Keller provides.

After a day of burgers and champagne, what's a girl to do? Well, when she has a 30th birthday to celebrate, she piles into a limo with her closest friends and family (and a few bottles of champagne) and drives from Sonoma to Napa for dinner at Thomas Keller's Bouchon.

In his cookbook of the same name, Keller famously describes Bouchon as the place he likes to eat after a night of cooking at the more formal French Laundry, just down the street in Yountville. It's a traditional French bistro plopped down in the middle of Napa Valley. (You might think it would be lonely, but it's actually just a few doors down from another traditional bistro, Bistro Jeanty.)

The food at Bouchon is traditional, but not boring. In fact, I can safely say that it's among my top ten favorite places to eat in the entire world. The food is beautifully & meticulously executed, made with loving care and the best ingredients available. Case in point? Jeremy's French onion soup, made with a deeply rich beef stock and loads of sweet onions. Topped with a brioche crouton the exact size of the bowl and covered in melted gruyère, it's the most sinful soup you've ever seen. (Except maybe for the butternut squash soup, which Keller finishes with a stick of browned butter.)

For my starter, I ordered a special: an egg poached in red wine (oeuf en meurette), served with another of those inimitable croutons, extra red wine sauce, bacon and frisée. It was essentially a frisée aux lardons salad, minus most of the salad part, and it was delicious. Rich and silky, smoky from the bacon and just slightly dry, thanks to the red wine.

A couple of years ago, I spent a few months having nothing but disappointing steak after disappointing steak. I went to Bouchon and, with great trepidation, ordered the steak frites. And while it broke my losing streak, it ruined me for all other versions, possibly forever. I didn't order the steak frites this time, but Jeremy did. The steak at Bouchon is off-the-charts, thanks in part to the paste of shallots, butter and herbs decorating the top. The steak is cooked on a flattop, spread with the shallot mixture, and then finished under the broiler.

For my main, I had the duck: magret de canard and confit. The sear on the breast and legs was great, but my favorite parts were the huckleberry gastrique and the savoy cabbage. Sweet sauces pair beautifully with duck, and this one was no exception. The cabbage, with its peppery, slightly sour flavor, offered a nice contrast to the rich duck and the sweet fruit.

I somehow missed taking pictures of dessert, but I can assure you that it lived up to the rest of the meal. I ordered the restaurant's signature dessert, the bouchons - little cork-shaped brownies made with bittersweet chocolate. They were supposed to be served with mint ice cream, but since I pretty much hate mint in my desserts, I made a special birthday-girl request for coffee ice cream, and my wish was granted - all before I blew out my candle!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Shifting allegiances.

All my life, I've clung to the belief that no chocolate chip cookie recipe could ever overtake the classic Tollhouse version. I've dutifully tried each new recipe as they've emerged, including last year's much-discussed version from the New York Times and the much-touted Jacques Torres' recipe. Every single time, though, I emerged from the experience convinced that the original was still the best. Which always made me feel a little twinge of satisfaction and loyalty.

Today, however, I must admit that I have finally met my match. I thought I'd spend my life happily married to the Tollhouse recipe, content in our groove, calm in the knowledge that I had memorized the recipe somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 years ago and could make cookies anytime, anywhere, given a few simple pantry ingredients. I was wrong.

Thomas Keller's recipe, which has been making the internet rounds in anticipation of the release of the Ad Hoc cookbook this fall, is amazing. It doesn't require cake flour, bread flour, refrigeration, or any of that nonsense. Which, in my opinion, is as it should be.

A chocolate chip cookie should be something you can whip up with the most basic pantry ingredients, not something for which you have to make a special trip to the store. Accordingly, the fanciest thing Keller calls for is a combination of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate.

The cookies bake to a dark brown, with just a touch of gold. Left to their own devices, the cookies are crisp on top and chewy inside (if you like a truly chewy cookie, mist them with water before baking).

The chocolate (I used fèves, as opposed to chopped chocolate) is perfectly oozy and plentiful, while leaving enough real estate for the actual cookie. They're just as easy to make as the Tollhouse cookies (the only extra step is a little sifting) - and, in fact, take even less preparation, since the butter in Keller's recipe is cold.

No waiting around for your butter to get to room temperature, people! You're free!

Ad Hoc Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes approximately 30 3-inch cookies

2 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces 55% (semisweet) chocolate
5 ounces 70 to 72%(bittersweet) chocolate
1/2 lb. cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

Chop the chocolate into chip-sized bits.

Position racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

Sift flour and baking soda into a medium bowl. Stir in the salt.

Put chips in a fine-mesh basket strainer and shake to remove any chocolate “dust” (small fragments).

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat half the butter on medium speed until fairly smooth. Add both sugars and the remaining butter, and beat until well combined, then beat for a few minutes, until mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before adding the next and scraping the bowl as necessary. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine. Mix in chocolate.

Remove bowl from mixer and fold dough with a spatula to be sure the chocolate is evenly incorporated. The dough or shaped cookies can be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to 5 days or frozen for 2 weeks. Freeze shaped cookies on the baking sheets until firm, then transfer to freezer containers. (Defrost frozen cookies overnight in the refrigerator before baking.)

Using about 2 level tablespoons per cookie, shape dough into balls. Arrange 8 cookies on each pan, leaving about 2 inches between them, because the dough will spread. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the tops are no longer shiny, switching the position and rotating pans halfway through baking.

Cool cookies on the pans on cooling racks for about 2 minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer to the racks to cool completely. Repeat with second batch of cookies. (The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)

Many thanks to Food Gal for sharing this recipe on her fabulous blog!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Queenie's Take: Drinking your way through Napa.

Welcome to second edition of Queenie's Take! This week, we're talking travel!

Hall (no stranger to first-class travel experiences) is headed to Napa for a vacation in June, and is looking for some off-the-beaten-path spots to visit. He's been to Napa before, and he's done most of my favorites - Schramsberg, Far Niente, and so on. This time, he wants to try something new. And so I racked my brain, consulted my tweeps, and got down to business.

The question is where to go next? Any 'cult' vineyards that are worth seeing? Any over-the-top oenological experiences there that are hiding under my nose? Or, is there something else that is a must do? - Hall, Christchurch, New Zealand

After rigorous research and vetting (read: visiting a couple of these myself and asking some trusted friends), I think I have some ideas for you, Hall. First up, Frank Family Vineyards. I'm not really sure that Frank Family qualifies as a hidden treasure, since so many people mention them to me, but I love them all the same. Tucked away on a dusty side road just south of Calistoga, Frank Family produces delicious wines (I am particularly fond of their sparkling wines and their cabernet). They also have one of the livelier tasting rooms I've visited, with a casual, easy-going atmosphere.

Next, Reynolds Family. (Apparently, I have a thing for families.) I visited Reynolds Family with - appropriately enough - my mother, when we went to Napa in 2007. Our friends Rick and Aimee had alerted us to the awesomeness to be found at Reynolds, and they were right. The staff were some of the most knowledgable I've encountered in Napa, and the thirty-minute tasting was pure fun. They specialize in reds, and I actually have a bottle of their cabernet that needs drinkin'. Hmmm...

If you are hankering for a twisty drive, impressive views, and a gorgeous tasting room, head for Pride Mountain, which straddles the borders of Sonoma and Napa counties (and has the taxation headaches to prove it, it seems). Perched at the peak of the hill, the tasting room has expansive views of the valleys below, and the wines ain't bad, either. Just remember to designate a driver for the trek back down. (Safety first, kids!)

My friends Caroline and Brian are the ultimate Napa experts, so I trust their every word. They both (separately, so I REALLY trust it) recomment Vincent Arroyo, where the wine is so good that you really buy futures, as opposed to bottles. It sells out before it's out of the barrels. Seriously. And Brian says that August Brigg's Dijon Clones Pinot Noir is the best thing he tasted on his last trip.

So, Hall - I hope that'll do ya good for this trip. Don't forget to stop in at Bouchon Bakery for a caramel macaron, and you're golden.

As for the rest of you - please chime in with your favorite Napa and Sonoma destinations, and, also, with any questions you'd like to see me take on in a future edition of Queenie's Take!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The caramel ones just slay me.

Normally, I'm not a big advocate for chains. Outside of an annual visit to McDonald's and an admitted fondness for Ikea, I try to frequent small and/or locally-owned businesses whenever possible, particularly when it comes to all things food-related.

That said, I might just be in love with Bouchon Bakery. It sits in the closest thing Manhattan has to a mall (the Time Warner Center), and it's an offshoot of the original in Yountville, but that doesn't make its coffee any less delicious or its pastries any less divine.

Part of Thomas Keller's ever-expanding empire, Bouchon Bakery features coffee, pastries, sandwiches, salads and soups. Everything looks delicious, but I can't ever seem to make it past the macarons. They slay me every time.

The caramel is my favorite, but I try to work at least one seasonal flavor into the mix on each visit. Today, they had raspberry, and lemon with chocolate buttercream. Neither of these was enough to tear me away from my beloved caramel, but I feel confident saying they were both delicious.

Seriously, go buy a macaron, as soon as possible. Bring some home, and your family will be your slaves. For reals.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Playing hooky - well, sort of.

My mom came to New York this week - and even though I took the whole day off to spend with her, she went and made lunch plans with her friend! The nerve! Of course, it did afford me the opportunity to finally have lunch at Bouchon Bakery, something I've been meaning to do since it opened.

Few things feel more indulgent than a leisurely lunch, particularly when the rest of the city is humming and buzzing itself through a work day. I love to sit, read, eat, sip a little wine, and watch the world swirl around me for a bit.

After a quick trip to Barnes & Noble to get some reading material (One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson - really good so far), I arrived at Time Warner Center around 12:45. I was seated right away at the communal table, ordered the lobster roll, and settled in with a glass of Roederer and the amazing bread basket. Obviously, that wasn't all for me.

My lobster roll arrived, absolutely humongous and topped with the seemingly ubiquitous pickled red onion (which I love, no complaints here). It was really too big for one person, and lobster salad is a terrible doggie bag candidate, I had to leave about half the sandwich behind on the plate. Sad. But still tasty. The lobster was very sweet, and the herb mayonnaise dressing it was suitably tangy. I particularly liked the combination of the lobster with the cornichons and the salad - and, of course, all of it went beautifully with the champagne.

I had plans to meet Mom in Williams-Sonoma, but before that I headed to the bakery counter to pick up some of our favorite Bouchon macarons - the caramel ones. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the current crop of seasonal macarons includes strawberry-rhubarb. The caramel were reliably delicious - rich, slightly salty, perfect. But, sadly, the strawberry-rhubarb were too sweet for me. But oh, so pretty in pink.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Where Keller and Trotter have trod before me.

I arrived at Nick and Louisa's place in Norwalk, Ohio anticipating a flurry of high-cholesterol deliciousness, immersed as they currently are into Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Little did I know that I would be making a vegetable pilgrimage before the week was out.

Louisa does some volunteer work with a great organization called the Culinary Vegetable Institute; among their many programs is something called Veggie U, which combats childhood obesity through classroom education on sustainable farming and nutrition, as well as the science of raising crops. Pretty cool stuff, right?

The Institute grew out of The Chef's Garden, a family-run farm that provides produce to some of the country's greatest chefs, including Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter. Louisa did a little fancy footwork (mentioned my involvement with eGullet and this little blog), and scored us a tour of the facility one afternoon.

We started in the main building, built in a lodge style and built around a large entertaining space, which opens directly onto the restaurant-quality kitchen. Chef-customers are welcome to bring their staffs (there is a chef's suite upstairs and "quarters" for the staff in the basement) and work on new menu items with the produce on hand. The Institute also hosts special events - a few weeks after I visited, they held their annual Food and Wine fundraiser (Louisa, formerly of the publishing world, ran Paula Deen's book signing).

The whole concept of the Garden - experimental, sustainable farming, year-round production, quality produce provided directly to the finest chefs - is a cool one, and the property lives up to expectations. The gardens themselves are gorgeous and full of new and fascinating varieties of vegetables and fruits, most noticeably lettuces. Understandable, given the demand for them and their delicacy - just the thing for an experimental farm courting fancy-schmancy restaurants.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A most excellent feast.

In October 2005, two of my very best friends in the world married one another, picked up, and moved to a ridiculously affordable house in Ohio. Sad as this makes me, it means that their visits to New York are super-special times for me, and their most recent visit, about three weeks back, was a blur of good times, wonderful company, and fabulous food.

On Friday night, Nick and Louisa (For those are their names!) visited Ouest (you can read Louisa's thoughts about their former neighborhood haunt here), and on Saturday night, we met up for a 9:45 reservation at Per Se. After hugs and kisses over fizzy water in the lounge (not the bar, ahem), we were seated promptly (a few minutes early, to tell the truth) at a table next to the window.

I'll start by telling you about the service, which was really quite fantastic. Gracious, attentive, and good-humored, they became more familiar (one server, a woman, saw me grinning at my foie gras and said, "I know! Isn't it exciting?") as they sensed our openness to it, and chatted with us about the wine, the petit fours, and the copies of the menu I requested toward the end of the night. The room itself is subdued, all earth tones and widely spaced tables, with the emphasis on the view of the Columbus Circle fountain four stories below, and the twinkling lamplights of Central Park beyond.

And now for the food.

Nick and I ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu, and Louisa opted for the Tasting of Vegetables. Our amuses were the trademark tuile cones; mine was filled with red onion crème fraiche and topped with a scoop of smoked salmon, and Louisa's was beets with eggplant caviar. The salmon was chopped so fine that it was almost a paste - but still made up of separate, luscious bits - and the rich, tangy crème fraiche set it off marvelously, helped along by the delicate crunch of the tuile.

Next up, another of Keller's famous dishes, "Oysters and Pearls," a sabayon of pearl tapioca with oysters and white sturgeon caviar. This dish, which I've heard described as tasting like "salty butter," was wonderful. The different textures contrasted nicely (the tapioca here is larger, similar to the bubbles in bubble tea), and the caviar was subtly salty and rich. It's a soup course, though in reality it's more a puddingy chowder.

The "salad" course was a terrine of foie gras served with a peach gelee and some other little goodies, including almonds, pickled ramps, piquillo peppers, and a beautiful slice of toasted brioche, eggy and fragrant. The texture of this terrine was, as expected of any Keller dish, refined and silky smooth. The flavor, intense, was nicely offset by the accompaniments, the ramps (I do love pickled onions) and peppers (ditto) in particular.

I was not looking forward to the first fish course, since I really just am not a big fish eater. I love my shellfish and crustaceans, but the scaly guys have never done it for me, particularly when cooked. This one, Pacific orange marlin served a la plancha (simply seared on a flat grill) with a curry-infused oil, sounded particularly icky to me (I'm not a big curry fan, either). I was soooo wrong. The fish, meaty and tender, was like a mild (I know, MILD?) tuna, and the tiniest hint of curry was actually light and refreshing. Big thumbs up.

Second fish course: butter poached lobster paired with two of the best things springtime has to offer - asparagus and morels. There's not a lot to say about this other than that butter-poached lobster is succulent, sinful, and right up my alley.

The poultry course was poussin served with turnips, kohlrabi and apples. Very good, every ingredient shining through, and very much a chicken dish - not dull - I do love chicken - but not as standout as the others.

For our meat course, Nick and I both chose the degustation of lamb (poor planning on our part, I suppose), which was very interesting. A little tour of the lamb, it featured, among other cuts, belly, shoulder (my favorite), chop, and rillettes. The peas and radishes alongside (again, the bounty of spring was everywhere) were sharp, crisp contrasts to the ever-so-slightly gamey meat.

Next, the cheese course. I feel about cheese the way I feel about fish - I love some cheeses, but I can leave about 75% of them. This one was no exception. It was a Chabichou (soft, rindless unpasteurized goat cheese), served with tapenade and artichokes (another two things I could really do without). If you love salty, olive-y things, this is for you. It was not for me. Louisa's cheese, a double-cream cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy, was. It came with pickled strawberries, and the sweet, slightly sour strawberries blended marvelously with the sinfully rich cheese.

Finally, dessert. The first of the two dessert courses (not counting the truffles, petit fours and macarons that came after) was where Nick and I found our strawberries. We had strawberry sorbet with balsamic vinegar and black pepper - wonderful, cool, and refreshing, especially after the cheese. Second, a chocolate brownie (this is, before anything, a very American restaurant) with ganache, coffee cream, and coffee ice cream. The coffee ice cream was bitter, so much so that it tasted like a skunk smells (Nick and Lou concurred, so I'm not crazy), but not in a bad way (really).

In the end, I was thrilled at the meal we had (and I didn't even talk about the wines, which were wonderful - Nick chose, so perhaps he will log on and enlighten us). The parade of food never felt like too much, and came slowly but steadily enough to keep us entertained but not straining to get the bites down. Treated with the kid gloves of classic French techniques, the flavors of every ingredient sang, creating a symphony of fresh, pure American food music. It absolutely ranked among the best meals I've had in my life, at any price point, and I am so glad we went.

After dessert, it was a double espresso, truffles, petit fours, and a package of macarons from Bouchon Bakery (vanilla, carrot cake, and pistachio) for the road. We toddled out, retrieved my menus, and had a bit of trouble with the sliding glass doors - turns out, we weren't befuddled by our excellent feast so much as we were the last people in a locked restaurant.

Per Se
Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle
Broadway and 60th Street

Photos courtesy of

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Where they give you two kinds of butter...

I have yet to sit down and do the experience justice, but just wanted to let all my faithful readers that a post on dinner at Per Se is forthcoming. I promise. A very detailed post.

In the meantime, a little something to whet your appetite...terrine of foie gras in an apricot gelee (also known as the salad course - really).
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