Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Post 38.2: Continue the Birthday with a Michelin-star Meal (LA: Hollywood)

So after the candy corn truffle pig helped Connie find all the tasty truffle treats, it was time to eat the truffles in prepared form.  Connie suggested Providence, which to me, was previously just a city in Rhode Island.  But I soon found out on Yelp that Providence was (and still is) a fine dining establishment awarded with two Michelin stars in 2009.  It was where we were about to get our birthday dinner.

On the tour earlier that morning, a few of the guests on my tour had visited Providence and suggested ordering either the 9-course full tasting or the four hour, 16-course chef's menu.  Hearing about the four hour, 16-course chef's menu delighted my heart but sunk my stomach.  I was just recovering from a stomach bug, and I was pretty sure that multiple courses of raw seafood (although my absolute favorite) paired with many glasses of wine (also a heart's delight) was not a good idea.

We didn't end up choosing any tasting menus, but we still had a splendid (I think that's the right word) dinner, welcomed by a very warm and charming captain Matt who accommodated us in every way possible.

Not everything is pictured, but here are the highlights:

Amuse bouche

salt cured trout
lemon gelee, bubu arare, creme fraiche, trout roe, 24K gold leaf

Dinner began with one bite into a savory bread smaller than a ping pong ball.  The gougere reminded me of a cream puff sans the filling.  It's traditionally made with Gruyere, and I'm sure there was a hint of a salty cheese in the light and airy bread, but I don't quite remember what it tasted like since my appetite trumped my memory at that point.

My second bite was also light but at a more profound depth of taste.  The cubes of salt cured trout provoked a comparison to sashimi and smoked salmon... it's less raw tasting than sashimi but more firm and lighter than lox.  The coolness of the creme fraiche cast a refreshing feel on the tongue and helped blend together the crunchy little rice crisps (bubu arare) and bursting trout roe, which was surprisingly not as salty as salmon roe (ikura).  Having a petite soup helped truly acknowledge the individual tastes of the shotglass-sized dish.  And it's an effective tool for pushing away the 24K gold flakes in order to save them for the final bite...

Wild bigeye tuna tartare
fresh wasabi, American caviar, quail egg, creme fraiche
crispy nori rice crackers

I couldn't decide which appealed to me more... the fresh, perfectly circular round of deep, red tuna... or the intricate design of a... twig? a flower stem? a tree branch?... artistically painted onto the plate with an expanding sprawl of creme faiche.  Black on black in automobiles is elegant, but white on white in the culinary world is, as I just discovered, quite exquisite.

The popped quail egg yolk was just enough liquid bind to hold the tartare together on the coral-like fan of cheese crisp and the seaweed crackers made from rice (not pictured).  By the time I was through with the tartare, the plate looked as if it had never been touched.  Every bead of black caviar had been consumed... the edible purple flowers digested... and even the beautiful radish thins hidden away.

Santa Barbara sea urchin
Champagne beurre blanc, fines herbs
cremant de bourgogne blanc de blancs, domaine parigot & richard

I wish I could tell just what exactly what was in this eggshell of delight, but I can't.  On the menu I could only recognize champagne and fines herbs.  My French extends to croissant and stops at Bourdeaux.  The Santa Barbara sea urchin is an exciting way to experience uni hidden under a dense fog of egg yolk, but I think I still prefer my uni cold and as raw as possible.

Italian white truffles
pasta alla chitarra

I noticed that the menu lists the truffle as the main attraction with the pasta as the accompaniment.  At first, I thought the logic was a tad strange, but when the dish arrived it was clear to me why the truffle is the main attraction.  Matt hand-shaved the Italian white truffle over the creamy, al dente updo of noodles and made the truffle fall like snow on Christmas in New York.  I had one eye on the weather and one eye on Connie who was about to die from seeing her love for this rare fungus fall from the heavens just inches from her face.

"Just throw the whole thing in there!"

A surprising outcry came from Connie's direction.  Shock.  Blushing.  Laughter.  As Matt gingerly placed the white truffle back into the mobile safe deposit box, he explained to us that the piece of truffle he had just shaved onto our plates was more than eight hundred dollars... remember to breathe, Connie... Matt was not about to throw that whole chunk of gold in the form of fungus in there.  No way.

Spaghetti alla chitarra
Santa Barbara sea urchin, Maine lobster, pea tendrils, jus de crustac

Bites of lobster as al dente as the pasta itself folded into a delicately sweet and sour subtlety helped ease me into a drunken stupor.  Did I mention the teardrops of fresh sea urchin resting on the sides of the pasta hill? Those could have been my own teardrops of happiness...

By this point in the meal, I had become satiated with culinary happiness.  There was nothing else I could put into my body that would elevate the level of enthusiasm that my drunken taste buds were experiencing.  But still I continued to twirl the wavy pasta noodles onto my spoon, lethargically scooping up the noodles with my fork ever so carefully.  Letting a strand of spaghetti fall off my fork was parallel to the scene in The Dark Knight when the Joker is dangling off the side of the building with his life literally in Batman's hands.  

I wanted to let go because there was no point in pulling it back to safety... but it was so precious that letting go would be... for the lack of a better word... unfortunate.

Melon soup
vanilla ice cream, strawberries, lime granite

Good.  Refreshing.  Sweet.  The description reflects how much I cared for the melon soup by now.  The melon soup was awesome.  Really, it was.  But food coma was setting in at dinner, and my tongue, taste buds, and stomach were tired... and apathy is taking over as my body succumbs to the exhaustion from typing an epic length blog entry at the end of a day at the office.

Chocolate and rooibus ice cream
brandied cherries, eggless creme brulee, chocolate and cherry powder

Rooibus.  Another ingredient I'm not sure of.  (It's an herb native to Africa usually made into tea... thanks Matt.)  I still don't know what rooibus tastes like on its own, but chocolate and rooibus ice cream is delicious.  The brandied cherries were tart but sweet, and Matt ensured that the alcohol was burned off... but I secretly wish that it wasn't.  I could have done without the eggless creme brulee though.  It had a texture more similar to tofu or the soy version of creamy, dairy products.  Better yet... put the egg back into the brulee, and the dessert would be perfect.  We pressed on to finish the dessert... chocolate powder and all.

Petit fours
yuzu caramels; chocolate macarons; vanilla gelee

I liked the creativity of combining the spice and citrus of yuzu with the sweet and creamy caramel.  Connie didn't.  She liked the bite-sized chocolate macarons.  Eh, they were alright.  And neither of us liked the vanilla gelee.  It was dense, gelatinous, and encrusted with sugar like a gumdrop.

But it didn't matter anymore.  The good parts of the meal were great, and it more than tilted the balance in favor of deliciousness.  I'm disappointed that my stomach wasn't ready for some raw oysters and a 16-course epic adventure, but that just means one thing... I'll be back! An awesome start to the birthday season... Connie, thank you... I wish you 25 more years of happy eating! Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20101019/20101016

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Post 38.1: Start the Birthday with a Birthday Truffle Field

For Connie's birthday this year, Diana and I thought that truffles would be a fitting gift since Connie has this obsession over anything truffle.  I remember a certain picture of two certain somebodies that just about died over the delirium of truffle sampling at La Buona Tavola earlier this year in Seattle.

Diana and I spent some time brainstorming creative ways to present Connie with her gift of truffles galore, and we came up with a birthday truffle field.  What the hell is a birthday truffle field? Well, it starts with worms in dirt dessert... the creativity blossoms from there.  Check out what we made!

Essential ingredients:

General process:

Finished product:

Connie's birthday is on Halloween, hence the mini pumpkin and the pig dressed up as candy corn.  The pig also plays a pivotal role in the truffle field dessert because pigs help truffle farmers sniff and search for the expensive fungi with their keen sense of smell.  We put the pig there to help Connie search for her presents (white truffles, truffle oil and truffle butter).  We also included some a package of macaroni, dried morel mushrooms (good with pasta), a wedge of Beecher's flagship cheese from Seattle (bought fresh at a local supermarket) and a recipe for truffle mac n' cheese to help her get started.

Other notes:

1.  Always, always, always read the instructions for every box of JELL-O instant pudding.  Different flavors require different amounts of cold milk.  Cold milk is underlined for a reason; make sure the milk doesn't sit out on the counter while making the other flavors of pudding.

2.  Truffle products may be a bit harder to find, but gummy worms and mint leaves can be found in any local grocery store.  The chocolate capped mushroom cookies in the finished product can be found at Japanese supermarkets Mitsuwa and Nijiya or other Asian supermarkets such as 99 Ranch.

3.  Some links in this post are attributed to work and photography by oolong milk tea.

Woot.  Props for on-the-fly creativity (Diana knows exactly what I'm talking about).

Happy birthday, Connie!

Next post: Double birthday dinner at Providence

ML - 20101017/20101016

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Post 37: Birthdays at Maison Akira (LA-SGV: Pasadena)

There are a slew of friends' birthdays coming up, so I have been plotting (err.. planning) a few festivities.  While looking through pictures from last year's birthday celebrations for a few ideas, I came across a series of photos from outings at Maison Akira in Pasadena.

I came here for the first time for the Sunday champagne brunch for Connie's birthday.  I discovered right then that everything Maison Akira offers, from food down to service, is prepared, executed and presented with innate Japanese precision, courtesy of Chef Akira Hirose.  Granted, the brunch buffet is nowhere close to the spread at Universal Hilton, but not a single one of Chef Hirose's dishes are disappointing.  And the doesn't have the same mass-produced feeling that the Vegas buffets or the Universal Hilton buffet has.  Here are some of the expertly prepared plates from the Sunday brunch:

Assorted sushi.
Eel (unagi), salmon (sake), tuna (maguro), egg (tamago), and eggplant (nasu).

Crab chawanmushi.
A petite pool of pesto graces the top of the steamed egg.

The crab chawanmushi was my favorite item in the buffet spread.  The steamed egg is absolutely supple... beautifully supple.  Just slight pressure from the push of my fingers on the teaspoon pierces the skin of the chawanmushi to lift a portion of porcelain delicate, custard colored, tofu textured, protein laded bliss.  The pesto that sits atop the egg allows the tongue to flirt with a slightly saltier flavor for just a few seconds... just long enough for your brain to process the pesto's European origins... but not long enough for your brain to change its views on how Japanese the chawanmushi dish actually is.  Continued excavation into the sake cup sized chawanmushi reveals a pinch-sized lump of fresh crab meat, tender from its recent steam and juicy from absorbing of surrounding egg.  Mmmmm... who's ready to head back for seconds?

The first visit was such a relaxed and pleasant experience that it mandated an evening visit during the dinner service.  I revisited Maison Akira with a group of friends for Allison's big birthday, and we ordered a range of appetizers and entrees in both the tapas and regular plates.

Duo of Japan hamachi sashimi and big-eye tuna tartare.
This dish is so simple yet so tasty.  The wasabi tobiko atop the hamachi
is a creative substitute for the traditional grated wasabi root. 
It literally bursts with nose-clearing spice. 

Trio of big-eye tuna tartare, sashimi and sauteed Hokkaido scallops.
The first dish was a favorite, so we ordered a second helping.  The tartare is fresh,
and the hamachi melts in your mouth.  The scallops are still rare in the middle.  Perfect.

 Tower of portabello mushrooms, yams, tomatoes and maytag bleu cheese.
This combination of vegetables from the ground is piled as high as the pungent 
yet creamy bleu cheese will allow it to go.  It has a transcendentally earthy feel.

Grilled duck foie gras in a port wine truffle sauce
with daikon pot-au-feu and king oyster mushroom.
One of the greatest experiences in life is biting into a chunk of fatty foie gras 
and having its fat juices burst into your mouth and run over your tongue.

Oyster flan in a sea ikura beurre blanc.
This dish combines two of my favorite foods together... oyster and sea urchin roe.
Their creamy textures and ocean origins blend well together.

American kobe beef ravioli in karashi red wine sauce.
Although flavorful, the tender fattiness of the kobe beef is missing from the ravioli.
I'll be having Japanese kobe beef in steak or for shabu shabu in the future.

Sauteed Canadian scallops with king oyster sympatic in lobster jus.
The zucchini basil flan acts as the nucleus for the electrons of scallops,
holding the soft flavor and smooth texture of both flan and scallop together.

Baked Alaska.
Teenage Glutser has an action shot of the baked Alaska during the flambe process here.

I've only ever read about Mrs. White's baked Alaska at Mr. Boddy's extravagant dinner parties in the Clue series as a elementary school kid.  I finally got a chance to try this marshmallow flambeed dessert dish.  The surprise inside is a Japanese green tea ice cream, sweetened by the raspberry sauce and softened by the tough yet airy roasted marshmallow.
Vanilla ice cream with fresh berries in a cookie shell with caramel netting.
The best desserts are simple, fresh, and don't push you into a food coma.

The restaurant is nestled on Green Street behind the Pasadena's main thoroughfare in a space that has room for just over a dozen tables.  The mirrors at any ends of the dining room trick the guests into thinking that the restaurant is actually much larger than it really is.  There are chef prix fixe menus as well as a chef's omakase tasting menu, which I am quite curious to see about next time I visit.  Reservations are highly recommended.  Who's ready to drop some bills?

Until we make it rain again, let's get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20101014/20091101+28

Friday, October 15, 2010

Post 36.2: Something We're All Guilty Of, Part 2

While we're on the topic of unnecessary photos, I thought I would share some of my unnecessary photos and consequently drive up the increasingly insane amount of interest in this blog... ha! So... ladies and gentlemen (hellooooooo out there to whoever reads this...), here are the top three flagrant examples of useless pictures that I've taken this past year... due to an overpowering hunger that apparently took control of my photo taking motor skills.  Get ready to be uninspired...

A bowl of rice.
Imagine if the black sesame seeds hadn't been sprinkled on.

Chinese style Vietnamese broken rice congee.
How many drops of Palmolive does it take to clean the dishes?

A swamp of ramen.
I believe the Loch Ness monster dwells near the bottom.

No need to prove it, Kevin.  I laid the evidence out right in front of you.  Good catch.  I won't be taking pictures of bowls of rice, swampy congee, or ramen soup that contains ingredients indistinguishable from the soup itself.  Props on this one.

See Oatmeal's 7 things you really don't need to take a photo of here.

Until something more memorable comes along, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20101014

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Post 36.1: Something We're All Guilty Of, Part 1

Kevin, observant former roommate that he is, apparently knows me well enough to send me the following link on gchat, urging me to check out #2:

I'm guilty of a few of these myself:
7 things you really don't need to take a photo of
from theoatmeal.com

Yeah, #2 is probably my worst offense, but I've never committed #5 or #6.  My Accord, really? Everyone is guilty of at least one of these.  #1 is all over Facebook, and #5 is just... unnecessary.  Proclaim your love for each other at the wedding.  That's what weddings are for!

Which one of the seven is your biggest crime?

ML - 20101013

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

F.A.T. News 2: Restaurant Reviews

I read a few pieces on two new restaurants this morning, both of which feature a hint (maybe more) of Taiwanese influence on their menu.  Here is some F.A.T. news for you:

Late-night romp in the Lower East Side:
Xiao Ye
review by Sam Sifton, NY Times

Nothing but creative fusion:
A Vegas Wedding for China and Mexico, Under the Chef José Andrés
article by Glenn Collins, NY Times

I wouldn't mind some Taiwanese dishes or xiaoye (late-night meal) after a night of drinking in the Big Apple...

... and I'd gladly make the trip to Vegas to try out the crab and mango siu mai dumplings, the duckless duck and the tres lychees cake.  I'm loving the names already.

ML - 20101013