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2007-02-23

>nutty fruity kashmiri naan


Dinner this evening at Flavors of India. It is actually in Berkeley, although a few steps away it's Rockridge, Oakland. A thoughtfully decorated space. A white minimal box -formerly a no-frills pizza place- warmed up somewhat with tall curtain panels, palm leaf ceiling fans, a small wall mural, soft lighting and candles.

How snug I felt sitting in that space sipping Maharaja premium pilsner, looking out at attractive streetscape, anticipating yummy dishes.

I wish I could tell you everything was really delicious, and what a bargain!

A bargain it is, if you choose right. But I am afraid I didn't choose well tonight. Despite a grand sizzling introduction, the $13.99 tandoori mix grill was rather mediocre, and the $6.99 veggie masala was nothing special.

Vegetable pakora appetizer was certainly a bargain at $2.99.

I would have to say the best tasting "dish" tonight was kashmiri naan. Slightly cardboard-textured naan stuffed with nuts and berries. The lovely taste of ghee was intoxicating and it was so flavorful I ate 3 of them, cardboard or no cardboard. I didn't need any dessert either, since it was rather sweet.

To be fair, this restaurant is better than most Berkeley Indian, and I will give it another try.

>Kashmiri naan, leavened bread stuffed with cherry, raisins, coconut and nuts, Mehak Indian Cuisine, Berkeley, CA

>Kashmiri naan, dry fruit and nut bread - Copper chimney, New York, NY

>Kashmiri naan, white bread filled with dry coconut, dry fruits & nuts - Chutney's, Castle Rock, CO

2007-02-21

>porgy and red snapper

We thought red snappers were just that. Red snappers. And sea bream, too - whatever. They all look the same, do we have to be precise? Really?

Of course chefs now have to be precise, not only precise, the names have to appeal to our ever demanding palates.

It could get messy.

Ah, the Japanese, the sashimi masters, have already figured out what to call what. So, alternatives to porgy and bass, grudgingly admitted, might just be established Japanese names.

One important word to know - tai. The Japanese love love love tai, a general word for snapper or bream. They have all sorts of tasty fish named tai. For example, madai (ma + tai) "the genuine tai". Madai is starting to sprout in English menus.

>Wild red snapper madai arajiru miso soup,
Wild red snapper madai with vegetables, oriental spicy dressing - Megu, New York, NY

>Madai mushi, sake poached madai - Japonais, Las Vegas, NV


<---This funny guy is called amadai (ama "sweet" + tai)

>Crispy amadai served with pistachio oil - Joel Robuchon, Las Vegas, NV

and he is kurodai (kuro "black" + tai) -->

2007-02-15

>tim cheong the sweet black sauce


Dinner at Shiok in Menlo Park this evening. Of course. I now remember kids saying "quite shiok la...." the same way you say "sweet!" or "cool" here.

Their roti prata and popiah were certainly shiok. (Their laksa and char kway teow were unfortunately - no shiok.)

One of the most common hawker stall foods in Singapore, popiah is a sweet, savory, crunchy (at times salty and spicy) roll tightly wrapped in flimsy thin flour dough skin.

The filling varies greatly. Commonly used are any combination of yam beans (known in America as jicama), shrimp, carrots, bean sprouts, cooked egg bits, shredded tofu, cabbage, turnips, lettuce, bamboo shoots, coriander, garlic, peanuts, even sun-dried rice.

The satisfying sweetness comes from the addition of a delicious thick black sauce called tim cheong.

Gooey and tasty - it will remind you of molasses, balsamic vinegar or hoisin sauce. Next time you plan a popiah party, see if you can procure a good tim cheong sauce.

2007-02-14

>the myriad saltwater bivalve molluscs

To the poor patient oyster, where it sleeps
Within its pearly house. -Keats

So many names (Bouzigue? Gravette?), seemingly so many choices on the menu.
But it seems manageable if we classify them into:

European Flat (Ostrea edulis)
Eastern or Atlantic (Crassostrea virginica)
Pacific (Crassostrea gigas)
Olympia (Ostrea lurida).

Most of the time though, simply "oysters" seem to be enough of a draw.

>Oysters on the half shell, served raw with a splash of champagne vinaigrette on a bed of mixed greens, served with garlic crostinis - Rick & Ann's Restaurant, Berkeley, CA

>Oyster motoyaki - Tsuki, Chicago, IL

>Oyster Louie, filled with spinach, pecorino, crabmeat lobster saffron essence topped with hollandaise - Green Dolphin Street, Chicago, IL

>Bongo-bongo soup veloute of oyster and spinach - Trader Vics, Atlanta, GA

>Panko fried oyster, warm bacon vinaigrette, frisee and poached quail egg - Alberta Street Oyster bar & Grill, Portland, OR

>Seared ahi tuna with avocado, citrus and fiery oyster shooter - Amadeus, Vienna, Austria

>Tempura oyster, smoked chili butter, creme fraiche and osetra caviar, avocado oil - The Conservatory, Cape Town, South Africa

>Asparagus gaspacho, oyster cream, home-pressed smoked salmon and leeks with truffle oil - Le Jardin des Sens, Montpelier, France

2007-02-13

>ras al-hanout, the rose-perfumed spice

A flowery tale (told) more sweetly than our rhyme,
my r
ose-flavored loukoum dusted with thyme...


Essence of roses comes to us in many ways, not just in the form of sweet tyranny called Turkish delights; 

Rose-petal jam made from damask rose petals
Rose honey made from rosebuds
Rose vinegar
Rose syrup

Candied rose petals
Rosolio, a rose liqueur
 
Restaurants have fallen in love with ras al-hanout, a spice powder mix of cloves, cinnamon, black pepper and rosebuds.

>Pistachio crusted sea bass over braised Swiss chard and garbanzos with ras al hanout - Medjool Restaurant, San Francisco, CA

>Celery root soup with cauliflower, olio nuovo and ras al hanout - Campton Place, San Francisco, CA

>Chicken satay with ras al hanout sauce - Loft, New York, NY

>Rack of lamb "tagine" with winter vegetables Parisienne and a butternut squash, ginger, ras al hanout, saffron sauce - Bistro 561, Pasadena, CA



The sweetest, sweetest tyranny...

2007-02-12

>silkie, the black-skinned white chicken

The orthodox Taihe Black-Boned chicken has ten apparent characteristics: blue comb, green earlobes, bearded, feathered shanks, white silky feathers, crest, black bones, black muscles and black skin, five toes.

FIVE TOES. Freaky?

This creature, the most common variety being the "silkie" chicken, was in my soup today at a Chinese restaurant in Oakland. A comforting soup with jujubes, ginseng, and generous chunks of black chicken meat.

I am not going to dispute its alleged medicinal benefits. The important thing is, it tasted even better than most chickens.

>Black skin silkie chicken, roasted mushroom jus, fingerling potatoes & brussels sprouts - The Dundee bistro, Dundee, OR

>Slow-braised pork leg with duck and black chicken soup with chinese herb - Four Seasons Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand

2007-02-11

>the mystery of the skate liver, or foie de raie

A pretty well documented classic dish, nowhere to be found?

Skate liver
is one of the few fish livers mentioned in Larousse Gastronomique, one being monkfish liver or ankimo.

Larousse recipes summarized;

1) Skate-liver fritters (beignets de foie de raie). Skate liver is marinated with salt, pepper, oil, lemon juice and deep fried.

2) Skate liver with cider vinegar (foies de raie au vinaigre de cidre). Skate liver is poached gently. Apples are sliced and cooked in butter, seasoned with salt and pepper. Skate liver is browned in butter. Cider vinegar is added to the butter, the dish is garnished with apple slices and chopped chives.

I am still waiting to see these dishes in restaurants. Soon, I hope.

>oxtail vs. sheep's tail

I doubt they are cooked in two shakes.A long-tailed lamb, ram or ewe can produce quite a bit of delicious tail meat, not unlike oxtail. It is a traditional delicacy in Turkey. It is rare in the U.S. Why?? 

The abundant fat of the fat-tailed variety is traditionally used as a cooking fat, sometimes in melted form.

Spain's nationwide tapas contest winner last year was lamb's tail stewed with goat's milk and borage.


>Lamb's tail with raisins, cumin and couscous - Spondi restaurant, Athens, Greece

>Fire roasted lamb tail - Donglaishun, Beijing, China

2007-02-08

>fresh young garlic plant

When we say garlic, we think.... root. Not a young one, either. Old and mature is what we want.

Fresh young things aren't always overlooked, though.

There sat a sassy mound of white paste tinged with fresh green - puree of youthful garlic with the consistency of creamy mashed potato.

The sixth savory course at Manresa was duck in duck. Or should I call it duck two ways in one single dish.

Crisp/tender duck breast stuffed with smooth confit of duck leg meat and duck liver.
Luca called the stuffing foie gras, and it was, sort of. A liver confit cured lovingly over time with herbs and duck fat. Sitting on garlic puree and garnished with a bit of chives. This was a comforting dish. Sass, a neat counterpoint.

>Young garlic soup with thyme, sauteed frog legs - Jean Georges, New York, NY

>Pan seared Alaskan halibut, with sauteed wild ramps, spring garlic, sugar peas and fresh morel sauce - Patina, Los Angeles, CA

>Cote de boeuf, served with a wild mushroom casserole, creamed young garlic and baby spinach gratin, Yukon gold potato and shallot saute - Patina, Los Angeles, CA

2007-02-07

>rosemary flower

This is an intended pairing – essentially the same refreshing dish - near the beginning of the dinner, and presented again toward the end as a gentle introduction to the dessert courses. Courtesy of David at Manresa.

The dish in question is citrus salad with mostly grapefruit and blood orange, served as the second amuse bouche in a bottom-heavy shot glass. Tall but stable. An appropriate mini spoon is perfect for digging out the goodies lightly buried in translucent jasmine tea gelee, sprinkled with tiny sprigs of mint.


After all the savory courses, a citrus salad with similar grapefruit and blood orange mix was p
resented on a pretty rectangular white plate.
In place of mint, I found the enchanting presence of whole rosemary flowers . Tiny petals packed with perfume, adding velvety texture to the pretty dish.

>Marinated lamb with an infusion of rosemary flower - Koal Keel restaurant, Anguilla

>Rosemary flower butter - The Lounge restaurant, Firenze, Italy

2007-02-06

>yellowtail kingfish/amberjack/hiramasa

There is a bit of confusion regarding this prized fish. Not all yellowtail kingfish is amberjack, and not all are hiramasa variety.

The second savory course at Manresa, hiramasa, was the definition of savory.

A circularly laid out amberjack sashimi dish. Imagine a flattened magnolia blossom with thin satiny translucent sashimi petals, flavored with sherry vinegar reduction, accented with little pieces of geoduck and little neck clams. I imagined tasting concentrated konbu broth, but it's entirely possible these flavors came from the clams alone. Sprinkled on top are white untoasted sesame seeds, slivers of nori, miniscule rings of chives and julienned white radish resembling little daisy petals. Further garnished with baby shiso leaves and flowers. Some may say clams overpower delicate amberjack. They may be right, and David Kinch may be wrong. How deliciously wrong.

>Marinated hiramasa kingfish, pickled carrot and fennel, tomato, lemon dressing - Equinox restaurant, Singapore

>Sashimi of hiramasa kingfish with pepper seared scallops, fennel, pomegranate and citrus dressing - Cafe Sydney, Sydney, Australia

>Tartare of hiramasa kingfish, tuna and scallops with pickled cucumber and avruga - Restaurant Balzac, Sydney, Australia

>cheese churro

Two simple churro sticks in a tall cup, one slightly longer than the other, bent slightly, like a playful modern arrangement in a small vase. This was the third amuse bouche at Manresa, placed in the middle of the table.

There is a consistent theme throughout the dinner, and that is his presentation of contrasting flavors as distinct individual flavors, mixed only after you take a bite. The hint is given early in the amuse bouches I have yet to cover, and in the butter for the bread. Unsalted butter is placed on a thin square slab of beautiful dark stone. Maldon salt comes sprinkled on top of the butter. Savory sweet and salty start out separately, but sing in your mouth in snappy harmony. (Bread choices - batard, sourdough or green olive bread.)

The churro was no exception. On the inside, the velvety parmesan (yes, parmesan cheese) was sweetly soft and demure, and all the sparkle came from the salty crispness on the outside.

>milk skin

Manresa's fourth savory course was a lavish piece of red Monterey abalone steak.

It lay on a blanket of snow white milk skin. A simple accompaniment of delectable golden nuggets of cauliflower tempura (deep-fried in peanut oil).


I’ve played with milk skin before, and I am not talking about a skin care product. You know, the thin film which forms over boiled milk. I didn’t realize such a generous portion, the size of a wonton wrapper, was even possible to retrieve in solid sheets,
but here it was, wholesome yet sensual.

Some restaurants even bake this stuff. Some decide to go soy instead.

>Slow cooked quail breasts, baby radishes, spring onions, truffle infused milk custard, Oloroso reduction, baked milk skin - Quay restaurant, Sydney, Australia

>Homard lobster and taro, wrapped in soy milk skin - Restaurant Terroir, Tokyo, Japan

2007-02-05

>romanesque the fractal broccoli


What is this light green vegetable which delights a Paris market shopper, which prompts musings of the Fibonacci sequence...?

It's romanesque, or romanesque broccoli, the “fractal vegetable”.

Its geometric sequence is mesmerizing, discernible even in tiny little pieces.

With its firm texture and taste reminiscent of young broccoli or cauliflower, it held its own among absolutely gorgeous itty-bitty vegetables in the burrata and gnocchi dish I mentioned in the previous post. A vegetable to savor? Precisely.


>burrata buffalo milk cheese

The whitest of white cheeses. Burrata.

The third savory course at Manresa restaurant was, i
n a nutshell, a dish of gnocchis, a dollop of cheese, garden vegetables + foam.

A little dish. Not so little were the efforts which resulted in this divine creation. Luca the waiter reported, with mock sadness, that the vegetables were living in their own biodynamic garden until that very afternoon, until around 3:30 pm. I located a perky miniature carrot the size of a pine nut. A cute baby turnip. There was a tiny spinach leaf, a broccoli floret the size of my thumbnail, and a tiny piece of light green vegetable I saw in Paris but had never eaten before. More about this fascinating vegetable later. All these baby vegetables were individually poached in its own little pot, in its own rich vegetable broth, with different optimum cooking times. Then they were all assembled together, and presented with pieces of gnocchi and rich vegetable broth foam.


Burrata is a pure white cheese made with water buffalo milk. Luca with a heavy accent (I pictured subtitles on his chin - wishful thinking) enunciated “booffalo” several times. A soft and fresh treat.