Thursday, June 21, 2007

What a week!

So it's been a little while since my last post, primarily because I've been so busy eating. K and I discovered a great new restaurant near our theatre company's rehearsal space and the harvest has started heating up with our new CSA so I've had some great fresh produce to work with (this newsletter details what our weekly take was).

Let's talk about this restaurant first. It's called Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar, located on 2nd Avenue in the East Village and wow is this place a gem: service like you'd find only in the world's most elegant restaurants, jaw-droppingly stunning presentation, complex unique flavor pairings, and quite a lot of bang for one's buck.

I got the tasting menu and here is what I tasted:
  • Fruit de Mer Sampler: 1 East Coast Oyster, 1 West Coast Oyster, 1 Littleneck Clam, and a Toast Point with Caviar. Served simply, each with a little flavor-enhancing garnish. Possibly the freshest raw seafood I've had and certainly the best I've had outside of Poke.
  • Torchon of Tuna and Foie Gras with Blood Orange and Cilantro: Imagine the texture of creme brulee, rich, creamy and crispy (with a caramelized ginger glaze), but instead of a custard inside, there's a delicately mixed blend of tuna tartar and foie gras. The side salad was the perfect complement, with bright fruity acidic flavors to cut through any of the torchon's fattiness.
  • Duck Liver Pate with Port Gelee and Truffle: An arresting deconstructed preparation which, when mixed, provided one of the most decadent savory treats I've had in my life. The creamy pate had a light whipped consistency and was topped with the sweet gelee. The waiter instructed me to mix the hefty spoon full of chopped black truffles into the pate, and then spread the mixture on toast points, garnishing it with the accompanying ancient mustard, pickled onions, and cornichon. A-mazing!
  • Butter Poached Lobster with Pistachios, Haricot Vert, Mushrooms, and Lobster Jus: All of the pleasure of cracking open a steamed lobster and dipping it in melted butter, except someone has already done the work for you, pulling out the lobster's meatiest bits and infusing them with a deep butter flavor for you. They were tossed with the jus and the vegetables, with the haricot vert's crunch providing a nice counterpoint to the melt-in-your-mouth lobster and chewy mushrooms. The pistachios were ground in a line on the side of the plate, allowing me to coat each bite in the perfect amount of nutty texture.
  • Pear Sorbet with Greek Yogurt and Vanilla: Simple and delicious. The pear and vanilla are a natural pair (pun definitely intended!) but the tartness of the greek yogurt really woke up my palette and let me taste the full round flavors of the the sorbet.
  • "S'More" Chocolate-Pistachio Nougat and Toasted Marshmallow: Above and beyond the best S'mores experience of my life. The marshmallows were homemade and luxuriously textured, each caramelized to perfection like a very small creme brulee.
Not bad for $50 right? Yep, I said FIFTY DOLLARS!!! That's insanely cheap for such quantities of food this good. JLOB was the first (non-Japanese) restaurant I've visited since Babbo that I've said to myself, "My god I could never cook this myself!" I mean, it's not like I walk into every restaurant and say, "Oh, this is so easy I could have whipped it up in just a few minutes." That said, I can usually figure out a way to create a dumbed-down and simplified version of most things I eat at restaurants. Not so with JLOB; the techniques, the flavors, the presentation, the ingredients were all lightyears beyond my meager abilities. Reason enough to go to cooking school if I ever tasted one!

...And now a meal I cooked later in the week:

Gorgonzola Salad with Sundried Tomato Dressing

A simple mixed salad with romaine, cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, roasted red peppers, red onions, and slices of gorgonzola, topped with a (thick) dressing made from pureed rehydrated sundried tomatoes, lemon juice, and pistachio oil.

Grilled Figs Wrapped in Serrano Ham and Stuffed with Gorgonzola

As simple as it sounds. Slice fresh figs open enough to cram them full of the (chilled) smelly fromage. Wrap them in Serrano or prosciutto and give them a good rub down to make sure the ham is going to stay on. Pop them onto a hot grill and turn every 90 seconds or so. Serve immediately while the ham is still warm. Hot and cold. Salty and sweet. A party in your mouth.

Gnocchi with Chanterelles & Crispy Sage in a Brown Butter and Truffle Oil Sauce

This picture looks pretty gnarly but the dish itself was one of my best gnocchi preparations. As you're boiling up the gnocchi, saute the fresh sage and chanterelles in butter. Pour in a glug or two of truffle oil and some starch pasta water to thicken. Toss with gnocchi and garnish with crushed red pepper and shaved parmesan.

Had enough?

Tough. It's my foodblog and I'll back log as many posts as I like :) ! You can be sure I've spared you from the details of most of the fabulous meals I've consumed this past week, like the great stir fry I made with the mizuna and chinese cabbage that came from my CSA this week, or my intoxicating trip to Poke with E & K. But there are two more recipes I want to keep in my little virtual recipe box, both from last night:

Grilled Seafood Salad with Grilled Tomatoes and Grilled Citrus Vinaigrette:

The perfect summer salad. Get your grill (or your grill pan) hot and keep it hot. Halve a lemon and a lime and grill them till they're striped. Squeeze half of the lemon and half of the lime into a bowl, reserving the other halves for garnish. Whisk in some olive oil, honey, salt, and black pepper until you have a nice emulsion. Put that dressing aside for a bit and work on the salad itself. Grill a medley of halved small heirloom tomatoes until they're striped and put them on a bed of chopped greens (I used the mizuna and red sail lettuce from my CSA). I happened to have some garlic scape on hand so I chopped that up and threw it on top of the greens and tomatoes. Now, with a hot grill, char up any mixture of small shrimp, calimari, and tiny bay scallops (at those sizes you can cook them all together without overcooking either of the elements...Trader Joes makes a frozen bag of the stuff!). Toss them on top of the salad, drizzle the dressing on, and garnish with the grilled citrus fruits and summer savory (also came with CSA but wow that was a great discovery!).

Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce:

It's true, I had a box of gnocchi I've slowly been working my way through; it's a great way to turn a skimpy meal into hearty fare and takes to a wide variety of flavors very well. Simmer some light cream and melt gorgonzola in to taste. Stir in some dried sage and a dash of white pepper. Toss the gnocchi in the sauce, drain of excess cream with slotted spoon, plate, and garnish with summer savory and shaved parmesan (as cheesy as the sauce is, the parmesan still cuts through and adds some nice treble flavors).

Saturday, June 2, 2007

My Big Fat Low-Fat Burritos

The quandary: I wanted big and bold Mexican flavors but it was just too disgusting out to yearn for standard Mexican fare.

The solution:

I'll be honest, I've never cooked a burrito before. I've made quite a few quesadillas in my day and I make a mean chipotle chocolate chile, but I've never braved burritoville, as it were. I have made wraps, though, and that's pretty much all a burrito is. So, on to the components:
  • Rice: I just used Trader Joe's microwaveable brown rice. It's moist and crunchy and ready from the nuke in just 3 min.
  • Beans: I heated up some canned organic black beans and fat free canned organic refried beans (which I had to hydrate a little bit).
  • Salad: Just shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes.
  • Cheese: What's better than cheddar? Okay, pepper jack probably would have been fine...
  • Beef: I had my last bag of frozen (humane) lean ground beef from last season's CSA to use up so I mixed about half a pound up with some grill seasoning, cumin, and cinnamon and browned it with some garlic in some olive oil in my cast iron. Once the meat started caramelizing, I stirred in a big ol' spoon of tomato paste and 2 chipotle peppers (canned in adobo). A little more cumin and cinnamon and then I took the heat down and let it all stew together for a bit.
  • Toppings: Fat-free sour cream, guacamole, salsa, diced tomatoes, more cheddar, and a few slices of lime.
  • Beverage: Corona. Lime.
Done and delicious. It was nice to control every single ingredient that went into a meal that I'm accustomed to ordering from the likes of Taco Bell and Chipotle, and it obviously tasted much better. It wasn't really the sort of burrito that you can eat with your hands, though--I got a bit greedy while stuffing it!

And for dessert...

Sweet Plantains
Slice 2 ripe plantains up on diagonals so they have more surface area than the usual disc cuts. Melt some butter in a cast iron and brown them on one side. Flip them and sprinkle some brown sugar and white sugar on, as well as a healthy dousing of real vanilla extract (off the heat if you have a gas stove). Make the plantains dance for you in the air as you toss them to coat with the vanilla caramelly mixture. Plate them with a lime wedge to cut through the sweetness a bit.