Sunday, March 26, 2006

Good Golly.....

It's been a while! I was not lost in the Ganges, nor have I been cut off at a mountain pass in Bhutan. I have been back in London, reflecting on my travels, breaking ground on a building project in my apartment (when the kitchen is being torn out, there is very little cooking going on), and packing for my trip to beautiful Northern California - where I am right now.

Once again, the operating condition of my beloved Mac has gone pear-shaped, so all of my thoughts and culinary musings have been bundled up and sent off to the repair shop (fingers crossed they don't get lost on the journey...I know, I know...I should have backed them up!).

Anyway, stick with me because I have months of new experiences and tastes to share with you in the next few weeks. And, believe me, it'll have been worth the wait!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Namaste!


Hello and Happy New Year! 2005 was ushered out in the most pleasant of ways: with an Alan Bennett play, The History Boys, an assortment of some of the most amazing cheeses I’ve ever had (namely a gooier-than-caramel Reblochon), and a bottle of lovely red wine.

But all of that is in the past, and I’m ready for some new adventures in 2006! At the top of the list: A long trip to India and, drum roll, Bhutan. In fact, my departure date is this Wednesday, and I haven’t a thing packed.

Whilst all of my traveling companions have expressed a certain amount of trepidation about indulging in the local cuisine in India, and I certainly have my moments of heart palpitations when regaled with horror stories of delhi belly and parasites, I still can’t help but feel excited about trying some of my favorite food in the right context and in all of its authentic flavour. I have, I must admit, decided to entirely eschew market-stall food and stick with, some might say, the more touristy and perhaps less genuine fare. After all, I have the Taj Mahal to see and tigers to meet; I can’t stand the idea of missing that in order to become better acquainted with my hotel’s bathroom.

With regards to the food in Bhutan, I have very little idea of what to expect. I’ve heard rumblings of cheese, chilies, and yak burgers, so I imagine this too will be a fascinating culinary education.

I’ll be back at the beginning of February, hopefully with some new tastes tried and some inspiration to share with you!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Blue Door at the Delano


A quick note to say: Even if you think it’s terribly pretentious, do it anyway. Go to the Blue Door at the Delano Hotel in Miami. It’s definitely one of those super glam, white leather, high ceiling venues, and the wait staff definitely sway towards the blasé, but the food is really quite remarkable.

As it says on the website, the chef “Claude Troisgros, provides refined modern French cuisine with Brazilian and global influences.” This pretty much sums it up, albeit in a boring and unoriginal manner. That doesn’t matter, because the food really is quite wonderful.

I had the seared tuna with marinated daikon, soy, and lime juice, ginger and toasted sesame oil to start and the scallops with peanut-something-or-other (forgive me, it’s been over a month since the meal and the exact details have managed to escape me). My dining companion had a spectacular roasted lobster with raisins, onions, lime, and cilantro, with caramelized banana and bokchoy, a dish in which all the ingredients combined to form an absolutely sublime broth which I could have drunk with a straw, if given half a chance.

Even though foie gras made several appearances, which seemed somewhat at odds with the rest of the menu, everything else sounded intriguing and evocative of the balmy, sexy atmosphere provided by the surrounds of the hotel and the city, itself.


BLUE DOOR RESTAURANT & BRASSERIE
Delano
1685 Collins Ave
Miami Beach, Florida 33139
Tel. 305 674 6400

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mea Culpa

I’ve been duly chastised for my harshness and cynicism with regards to the Miami food scene. It may have been pointed out, in fact, that I took a very lazy look at the gastronomic wares on display, and merely went for the most obvious of edible options. It’s true! I did! And in retrospect I feel guilty. I feel like a bully who has picked on the short kid on the playground.

So, with a plan to be back in Miami in March, I am making a resolution to look beneath the surface and find the true culinary charms of the area. Any and all recommendations are greatly appreciated in my quest to find the best sweets and savories of southern Florida.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Mediocre in Miami


I’m back from a whirlwind week in Florida, which included, amongst other things, touring the Miami Basel Art scene, soaking up the sun and the 85 degree temperatures on the immaculate beach, and pretending to be C Z Guest whilst shopping in Palm Beach. Ok, that makes it sound glamorous, which it really wasn’t, considering that I was running around with unshaven legs during the first part of the trip, and hairless, but blindingly white legs during the second part. I won’t even mention the state of my toes. Alright, one word: hobbit.

My computer’s screen burned out when I was checking email in our hotel in Miami, so most of my trip has gone unrecorded and has been lost in the backwater of my mind (probably floating around with remnants of swallowed chewing gum of yore and long-forgotten high school spirit cheers). What I can recall is this: food-wise the trip was a bit of a bust; southern Florida seems to have a ridiculous amount of mediocre food, or perhaps I just hadn’t done enough homework before I embarked on my tour of the area.

Our hotel. Just kidding.

One example of the less than stellar dining experiences to be had in the area is Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant in Miami. This place proved to be a disappointment in almost every way, from the factory-like turning out of the food to the mental institution-like décor and the unbelievable air conditioning levels (were they trying to get the customers in and out at a record speed to increase their lunch hour turnover?). The stone crab itself was just fine, but then it’s pretty tough to muck up steamed crab, isn’t it? My dining partner had a crab cake sandwich, which proved fairly unappetizing upon arrival, if only for the fact that it had, by both of our rough estimates, the same circumference as her head and came across as sloppy and basic, prepared, one could imagine, to the specifics that Denny’s might employ if it listed this dish on its menu. Unfortunately I think this is an example of one of those places that takes its success a little too far, the purveyors thinking that they’ll capitalize by making the joint bigger and better (ahem), but instead they just wind up serving meh food in a venue of epic proportions, losing touch with the subtleties of the original dishes and the soul of the original endeavor.

We had some better luck in Palm Beach with the Salad Set, enjoying light and basic fare at Taboo on Worth Ave and juicy burgers at Hamburger Heaven on South County Road. The menu at Taboo was vast and varied, but, unlike the Cheesecake Factory, which can boast the same thing, all the options seemed fresh and quite healthy. They also employed a headwaiter by the name of Luis, who moonlighted, he told us with great enthusiasm, as the DJ for the backroom dance floor, on weekend nights, when 70s disco classics were played for tipsy baby-boomers and people with a-frame walkers. Sweet.
Hamburger Heaven was a perfect pit stop on our way out of town one night, in that it was quick, unpretentious, and charmingly quaint in both fare and appearance. But, it must be said, it was not particularly a standout amongst hamburger joints – just a reasonably easy and jauntily fun place to grab a bite.

Now, the one and only meal that really does stick a wow-chord for me, is that which I had at the Blue Door in South Beach, Miami. But that review, my dears, will have to wait until I’ve done some laundry and have some clean underwear under my belt (both literally and figuratively), I get a grip on my jetlag, and I download some pictures. Bear with me!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Cheesecake Debacle

After months of bragging to my Greek friend, X, about my American-baking prowess, we agreed to set a date to bake The Cheesecake (to end all cheesecakes). It would be a chance for me to prove my ability to a Doubting Thomas, as well as do some teaching in the meantime (read: bolstering my ego).

Feeling like I was inviting a food critic over from the New York Times for a private tasting, I set about trying to pretty-up my apartment. Some flowers were bought, some candles were lit, some classy WW2 tunes were put into rotation on the cd player. I don’t know what I was thinking. Perhaps I should have spent less time on the furniture organization, and a little more time on actually making sure I knew how to bake a cheesecake. Woe is me.

Maybe it was the dirty martini we indulged in before we hit the kitchen, or perhaps it was the over-zealous mixing (read: whipping) of the ingredients, but all I know is that somewhere along the way something went terribly, dreadfully wrong.

I got my first suspicion when I ladled the batter (I use the term loosely) in to the graham-cracker crust, and noticed that the consistency was that of frothed cappuccino milk. I got my next sinking sensation when, peering through the glass of the oven door, I noticed the top of the cheesecakes (they were mini-cheesecakes) were bubbling up like toads’ backs, and were as clear as egg whites. Not exactly the stuff of cozy kitchen fantasies. Still, it smelled good, so we decided that maybe all it needed was a chance to cook and settle down, and that perhaps another dirty martini would cure all that ailed the little treats (a round-about logic, but one I still consider to be pretty sound).

Twenty two minutes later, we took the little cakes from the oven, placing the pan on a cooling rack. We let the cheesecake cool the absolute bare minimum of 30 minutes, whilst we prepared the accompanying raspberry coulis. I know we should have waited longer for the cheesecake to cool, as cheesecake protocol dictates, but truth be told, it was obvious at this point that no amount of cooling and refrigeration would rescue these deserts.

So, with no small measure of trepidation we went about drizzling a tiny cheesecake with our beautiful raspberry sauce, and spooning our first bite in to our mouths.
The verdict: cat food. Ok, it wasn’t really that bad. What we had, in fact, created was a slightly sweet omelette on a somewhat burnt graham-cracker crust. Have you ever had a chewy cheesecake?

The worst part of this baking adventure was that I’d been exposed as a charlatan. No amount of bravado or posturing was going to remedy my tarnished image. And so, after taking one last sniff at our cheesecake, and declaring that next time we would attempt to bake award-winning cookies instead, we toasted each other with another dirty martini (I sincerely hope you haven’t been keeping count).

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Fish Flavoured Turkey? Not Here!

I have to admit this to someone: the turkey is my least favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal. Ok, phew. I feel better with that off my chest.

Now, that aside, I must recommend this company for getting your turkey next year, or perhaps your fowl of choice for Christmas. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for turkey, I have to say that the bird I ordered from these folks was, without a doubt, the best I've ever had.

The company first caught my eye when I visited them at Borough Market a few months ago, and, upon scanning their list of products, spotted a version of my much beloved New Orleans' "Turducken", their version being a goose stuffed with a turkey, stuffed with a pheasant (Oh, Mama!). I filed them in my mind under the future-meat-buying-adventures sections, and didn't think about them too much until Thanksgiving rolled around, and I happened to read in Time Out's Eating and Drinking Guide that they came highly recommended by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage and Nigel Slater.

With all the high praise swirling about, and my admiration for their promise that all their meat "has been naturally reared, has lived well and has been humanely killed," I went ahead and ordered the turkey a week before Thanksgiving (Marc, at their offices, being particularly helpful in answering all my questions about provenance, size and weight, taste, etc. etc.), and agreed to pick it up at Borough Market on Wednesday (though they politely informed me that they could also deliver right to my door).

The fellows manning the stand at the market, when I went to pick up my order the following week, were extremely helpful and friendly, giving me hints on preparation and presentation, and explaining that the few little feather remnants to be found on and under the skin were a result of a younger bird having more tender skin (due to the fact that I was buying mine earlier than usual, because of Thanksgiving, whilst most of the other turkeys are reared for Christmas and are, by then, a bit older and tougher in the skin and easier to pluck), but that they could easily pull out the two or three feathers for me, but in the end I would find out that really they would all end up being burned out in the oven, anyway, so it wasn't really worth fretting over.

When I got home, I followed the Martha Stewart recipe, from the brining to the basting ritual, and all turned out swell. Everything was picture perfect, the skin was crispy and light, the meat was tender and juicy, and the drippings were profoundly tasty and syrupy (ideal for the gravy).

Still, I attribute the overall quality of the taste to the origins of the bird. I plan to order a pork tenderloin and some beef filets from Northfield Farm in the run up to Christmas, so I'll let you know about their other products soon.