Wednesday, December 21, 2005

How was that sorbet? A bit too long in between courses? Sorry about that... the kitchen's been a bit backed up. I'll try and speed up the pacing.

I know it's been too long since postings, and I'm going to start trying to be more regular.

What did I eat last night?

Just a quick meal I fixed at home after work...Linguine with tomatos, fresh basil and KILLER shrimp.Seriously, easiest pasta dish around.

Start to boil water (SALTED!)... if this is a challenge for you, immediately look for take out menus.

In a LARGE sauce pan (I use a 2-3 qt one) melt a whole stick of butter. High heat. Don't let it burn.Add LOTS of chopped (fine dice) garlic. Probably a couple of tablespoons. I do this by feel. If you don't have or are too lazy to chop yourself, the store bought pre chopped is fine.

Stir garlic around until it is evenly distributed - use wooden spoon, not your fingers.

Put face over pan and smile as you enjoy the smell.

Heat garlic until highly aromatic.Add olive oil. Again a couple of TB - I do this by feel.

Mix butter, oil, garlic up.

Water should be boiling now. Add the pasta... remember don't over cook.. make it al dente.

Should take 7-9 minutes from now.

Don't let the garlic burn, turn down heat if necessary.

Add Shrimp - last night I used wonderful wild caught Mexican Jumbo U-10 white shrimp. Amazing taste and texture. Sweet and succulent, like lobster. U-10 means that there are 10 shrimp to a pound... so you guessed it, these are really large shrimp. I used about 10 shrimp last night. I buy this shrimp about 15 pounds at a time and vacuum freeze it. No degradation in flavor, I have a very, very, very cold deep freezer. Do not attempt this unless your freezer registers AT LEAST 10 degrees below zero, or you will have flavor degradation.

Saute shrimp until outside becomes slightly opaque.Don't forget to stir your pasta! don't let it stick together.

Add white wine - I used a Gainey Limited Reserve Chardonnay last night - not bad. I have rule about wine in cooking - I never cook with wine I won't drink. I end up using a lot of expensive wine in recipes, but I can tell a difference, but maybe it's just in my mind. Some disagree. No biggie. I used about a cup to two cups of wine.

Throughout the process of cooking the shrimp/sauce - ADD SALT. I do this by feel, but don't be shy about it. Forget what you keep hearing - salt is your FRIEND. So is BUTTER. Most normal people would fall down in SHOCK if they realized how much butter and salt gets used in restaurant kitchens. They use it because it makes things taste better. I know, I know, but at least you'll die smiling.

Lower heat, stir up shrimp again and let simmer. Cover.

Pasta should be nearly done. Taste and make sure it's good.

In sauce pan, add chopped tomatoes (a couple of cups) - if you ABSOLUTELY MUST, go ahead and used canned tomatoes... I won't tell anyone.

Add chopped fresh basil (rough/coarse chop)... about a two cups to a cup and a half. Stir up and cover, shrimp should be nearly, if not completely cooked. Place over LOW heat or take off burner (your choice) - at this point you just want to finish off the shrimp (residual heat should be enough to do that) and wilt the basil a LITTLE BIT.

Kitchen is smelling pretty good now.Pasta should be done.

Drain pasta in colander. DO NOT RINSE. I say again. DO NOT RINSE PASTA. You want the pasta a little sticky for this dish so the stuff in the sauce pan will stick to the noodles.

Take sauce pan to where pasta is.Using tongs or two wooden spoons - not your fingers, OUCH! - put pasta in the sauce pan and mix it up well. Pasta should become "unsticky" and get coated with some of the residual liquid. Mix up well. Serve in pasta bowls. Eat, smile, enjoy.

Anyways, that's what I had for dinner last night with the wife and kiddies.

Total time prep to eat is way under 20 minutes. Great meal.

Funny thing, didn't drink wine... weird. I must make up for that tonight.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Life is Good...

Had an interesting day. Spent nearly 4 hours reorganizing a good part of my wine collection. I have a wine cellar unit called a Vinotemp. It's very large, 3 bottles deep and can hold nearly 1,000 bottles of wine. I haven't bought much wine lately (trying to save a bit of $$'s), but I'm pretty sure my collection is still pretty close to 1,000 bottles, a good portion of which is in the Vinotemp. Crazy, huh?

Things were getting a bit haphazard in the ole Vinotemp, so I pulled out nearly all of the wine and did a pretty big reorg. The weather was cool, so my garage temp was low enough so that the wine wouldn't get heat stroke. There was a point where a very large portion of my garage floor was covered in with wine bottles, and I have a pretty large 3 car garage... gazing out at the wine was an oddly comforting feeling. If I do say so myself, I have some pretty cool wine there and it was a good feeling to see all those bottles and to know that I will be drinking them one day with my friends and family. Happy, happy.

So I restacked everything and found about 3 cases or so of wine that I decided to get rid of. The front office staff and teachers at my children's school will the beneficiaries of this as usual. Nothing earth shattering, but some pretty nice merlots and other whatnot, mainly from the Central Coast and some decent Italian stuff. Hope they like it.

Had a good meal at dinner with my wife and kids. I made some great prime rib eye steaks... one of my favorite things. Spice/herb rub seared into a crust on a HOT, HOT, HOT, HOT cast iron skillet then finished off in the oven at around 540 degrees, served with highly aromatic jasmine rice and the freshest steamed green beans seasoned with just a touch of Fleur de Sel. A simple but incredibly delicious and satisfying meal. The wine was a 2001 Marco di Giulio Mark K Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon... great. Good Saturday and spending quality time with my wife and kids... happy happy!

Like I said, Life is Good... I need to appreciate it more. :)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Money, Money, Money....

What's the deal with MONEY? I know it's important, and I know nearly everyone (myself included) would prefer it if they had more. But what is the deal with being so focused on what we pay and what you paid and how much this or that costs?

One of the message boards that I lurk and occasionally post on has had a bit of drama lately regarding an upcoming food gathering where a bunch of people are going to eat dim sum. People arranging it said that it will be around $15 to $20 per person as an estimate. One guy gets all up in this saying how it's not fair to split the stuff up because somebody might eat more than the other guy, or get an expensive dish, etc... Most people don't think it's a big deal, because in dim sum, that's just the nature of the beast, and by the way, the difference may be like two or three dollars, and at MOST five or six. Give me a BREAK! You're going with a group of people to have a good time... if you like groups (I don't always like LARGE groups), that's just part of the deal, and it's not like it's a lot of money. If it's a problem for you... DON'T GO. BTW, I posted that advice, and no doubt will soon get flamed. :)

Another thing was a pretty big blow up that occured when I didn't want to tell people how much I paid for the Michael Mina meal reviewed below. Like it's any of their business. It was a special menu, and not normally offered... and to top it all off, I think they gave me a really low price, and I didn't want people to figure that they would get that too... oh well.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Restaurant Michael Mina - San Francisco - OHMYGOD!

Had a GREAT meal at Michael Mina a couple of weeks ago... I am late to post this. Sorry. Funny thing though, it caused a bit of a stir on Chowhound. People wanted to know how much this meal cost me, and I really didn't want to post that publicly... I'll post why and what I think about that later... in the meantime, here's the good stuff...

A couple of weeks ago, I had to go to Northern California for a couple of nights on business. The first night I was in Santa Rosa and ate at Syrah – great meal, see review below. The second night, I ate at the amazing Restaurant Michael Mina – Wow. Really great. Amazing. Here is the scoop…

OK, I must start off by saying that if I have just one night in SF, I almost always head to my favorite SF restaurant, La Folie… I love that place, but alas, they were closed or on vacation until late Jan. I was greatly disappointed… but salvation was at hand in the form of Michael Mina. Also, important to note, I had a BIG lunch at Swan Oyster Depot that afternoon… LOVE that place. Enough preliminaries… on to dinner…

Restaurant Michael Mina (hereafter called RMM) is located in the Westin St. Francis hotel right in Union Square, San Francisco. RMM takes the space that was once a FABULOUS bar called The Compass Rose, which was my favorite bar in SF… a very traditional, old style bar where ladies and gentlemen could get a proper drink. I still bemoan that loss, but am very glad that RMM is there now.

The place was ROCKING at 8:50pm, when I showed up for my 9:00pm reservation (as a single). Many people were in the lounge and hotel lobby waiting for their tables, but I must say it was very impressive how the front staff managed the people VERY PROFESSIONALLY and it really looked like they were moving people very well through with little to no hassle. A tough trick as you can imagine. Well trained front staff, well executed service. I was already impressed. I was seated at 5 minutes past nine at a nice deuce set for one.

After perusing the menu and very, very extensive and impressive wine list, I asked if it would be possible for me to order a bottle or two or three of wine and have the kitchen just cook to those bottles. I made sure to tell them that I understood it was a VERY busy night and if they wanted me to just stick to the menu, I would be happy to do so.

A few moments later, I was told that this would be no problem and that the kitchen was very much looking forward to having some fun with this. At this point, the Wine Director, Rajat Parr came by to introduce himself and chat about food and wine. We had a great discussion and I selected three half bottles of wine to have dinner with. I must say, the wine list’s selection of half bottles is VERY extensive. Rajat also told me that the kitchen was really going to take care of me that night by making a very special menu with a “three ways” service that is not normally done. OK, now I’m really excited and looking forward. By the way, this means that each course was served three ways. Actually, each course, including the Amuse was in actuality 3 courses. It could easily be said that each plating/course was enough food to serve as at least 2, possibly 3, normal tasting menu course/portions. I ended eating a RIDICULOUS amount of food.

Here is what I ate and drank:

Amuse – Oyster 3 ways: Baked w/Heirloom Spinach, Truffled Granite, Fried w/Truffle Aoli. OK, let me tell you the fried oyster with truffle aoli was one of the best oyster concoctions I’ve ever eaten. WOW was it good. The entire dish was fantastic.

Course 1 – Tempura Langoustine w/Chilled Ceviche 3 ways: Maroon Carrots w/Ginger, Pineapple Quince w/Galangal, and Green Papaya w/Mango. Small langoustine tails in a perfect tempura batter served three ways with the various accompaniments. Great ingredients and great flavor contrasts. Very good.

Course 2 – Potato Crusted Crusted Dover Sole 3 ways: Crème Fraiche Potatoes w/Caviar Beurre Blanc, Walla Walla Onion w/Malt Vinegar, Truffled Salsify w/Beurre Rouge. This might be a good time to describe how each of these “3 ways” platings were done. A large plate is brought which is segmented into 3 distinct sections. The main protein (in this case Sole) is done in three separate portions and the accompaniments/sauces/whatevers are served next to or above each piece of the main ingredient. This provides three distinct courses and tastes with each plated course. Really cool. The Dover Sole was GREAT. Very much a whimsical “fish and chips” offering on the Walla Walla Onions w/Malt Vinegar – a la Keller – and absolutely delicious.

Course 3 – Tasmanian Sea Trout 3 ways: Cauliflower capers and Maine Lobster, Lentils Toasted Cumin and Bay Scallops, Sunchoke Saffron and Cuttlefish. What a great ingredient! This was an amazing dish and the stuff done with texture and flavor complements were really great.

Course 4 – Crispy Skin Quail Mostarda w/ Sausage Sancerre 3 ways: Yukon Gold Potato w/Dijon and Seckel Pears, Purple Peruvian Potato w/Violet and Huckleberries, Sweet Potato w/Whole Grain and Cranberries. I LOVE quail, and it was really great to have it these three distinct and different ways. Eating ingredients I love served multiple ways like this just wonderful.

Course 5 – Kobe Beef Rib Roast 3 ways: Heirloom Spinach w/Truffle Fries, Asparagus w/Horseradish Mashed Potatoes, Creamed Black Trumpets w/Asiago Potato Gratin. The Kobe was actually Wagyu beef from Idaho and it had a perfect and wonderful beefy flavor. The course with the spinach and truffle fries was very much a take off on steak frites (which I love). This was a GREAT comfort food course.

OK, as you can imagine, by now I’ve had the equivalent of something like 18 tasting menu courses of food, and I’m getting quite full. So what does a glutton who’s stuffed do at this point in a meal? You guessed it… ask for a small cheese course before dessert is served. Well I did ask them to make it small…

Cheese – OK, I’m really lame. I forgot to take any notes on the cheese, so I don’t remember. I do remember it was 3 different cheeses served classically with honey, nuts and bread. One of the cheese was a triple cream. I think there were dates and poached pears as well.

Dessert – Citrus 3 Ways: Key Lime Pie w/Marscapone Sherbet, Fallen Lemon Souffle w/Crème Fraiche Sorbet, Tangerine Crème Caramel w/Tangerine Ice Cream. Yes this is what passes as a “light” dessert. It was a perfect end to this meal. Boy was I full by this time. But let me tell you, the Tangerine Crème Caramel was TO DIE FOR.


1989 Domaine Trimbach Riesling Frederic Emile (half bottle)
1989 Chassagne Montrachet les Caillerets Jean-Marc Morey (half bottle)
1988 Cos d'Estournel (half bottle)

A couple of final notes. The service all night was absolutely FLAWLESS. I must really credit Micheal Mina for having an extraordinarily well trained and highly professional staff at all levels in the restaurant. From the front desk personnel to the waitstaff and the bus staff, all were excellent. I was very impressed. Also, Rajat Parr, the Wine Director, really knows his stuff and is a really personable, nice guy. He took really great care of me that evening and I am very grateful for his help. Lastly, the man himself Michael Mina came out to chat for a bit and he was as nice as can be. I was surprised to see that he seemed to remember me from some WAY earlier visits to Aqua in the early days and a brief meeting at Masters of Food and Wine. I’m just a working stiff from the tech industry, and not in the restaurant biz at all, so I was really surprised and impressed that he seemed to remember me. It was a very nice touch to chat with him for a while.

Now I have a dilemma, when I’m SF next, where am I going to eat? I still love La Folie, but Michael Mina is spectacular.

Run, don’t walk to Michael Mina. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth every penny.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Syrah - A Restaurant in Santa Rosa, California (Sonoma)

I had to make a quick trip up north to the San Francisco bay area and had the chance to eat at some great places. The first of which was a restaurant in Santa Rosa called Syrah. It was really great. Here's the story.

Just a note, before going to Syrah for dinner made a quick trip to visit the folks at Ramey Wines in Headsburg. I’m a HUGE fan of David Ramey’s wine… I’ve been drinking his stuff for quite a while (Dominus, Rudd, Ramey…) and ever since he started using the totally amazing Jericho Canyon fruit… wow. His stuff is fantastic, and the folks at Ramey could not have been nicer.

Back to dinner.

Went to Syrah solo. They have a small (four seat) counter area that fronts the kitchen. Right up my alley. Sat down and the chef/owner (Josh Silvers) immediately starts up a conversation and he seems like a great guy. I ask him if they are cool with a tasting menu and they say yes. Happiness. I push my luck and ask him if he wants to have a little fun… can I just order a bottle or two of wine and can he just give me 5, 6, 7 courses that might work with the wine… whatever he wants. He smiles and says no problem. Really happy now. Kitchen staff seems happy with the potential too. Now I’m really looking forward to dinner…

Just a note, I really didn’t take great notes, so the descriptions are a bit sparse. Apologies.

Here is what I ate and drank…

Amuse – Lobster Bisque topped with crème fraiche, served in a small demitasse cup. Wow. Great start. This bisque was so rich and good. Clearly made excellent stock and spends effort in making the bisque. You can taste the love.

Course 1 – Ahi Carpaccio with some micro greens and herbs. Really fresh ahi. Served simply and well. Great ingredient served simply is always good.

Course 2 – Scallop (I think it was a day boat scallop, very fresh) seared on a bed of brussel sprout leaves on top of a vanilla ginger sauce, all topped with a single fried quail egg. GREAT dish. Seriously. I love it when a chef does contrasting flavors with textures and blends them like this. The slight bitterness of the brussell sprout leaves with the sweetness of the sauce and scallop, topped with the richness of a quail egg. Very well done.

Course 3 – Crab Risotto. VERY good risotto. Perfectly done. How come more places can’t cook risotto right? It really isn’t that hard. They had it perfect. Crab on top. Again, simple dish, good ingredients, didn’t let anything get in the way. So far, so great.

Course 4 - Duck “Two Ways” – Seared Liberty Farm Duck Breast and Seared Foie Gras. Served with lentils. OK. I LOVE DUCK, and I LOVE FOIE GRAS. I know it’s politically incorrect and the PETA people will probably one day fire-bomb my house. That’s OK. I just recently joined PETA myself (People Eating Tasty Animals) – I’m sorry, I know, I just had to say it. OK, I’ll shut up about that subject now. This was a great dish. The earthiness of the lentils and duck along with silky smooth richness of the foie gras. Come on. How can you beat it? Really awesome.

Course 5 – Venison with red cabbage and cipollini onions. Chef Josh described the cabbage as “my grandmother’s”. Really great comfort type food. I love venison. It was done just right and the tartness of the cabbage and sweetness of the seared, slightly carmelized onions with the smooth gamey meatiness of the venison was really great.

Course 6 – Kobe/Wagyu (Idaho) Short Rib with mushrooms and mashed potatoes. Wow, this was some really righteously rich tasting beef. Again top notch ingredients shine through with classic accompaniments and nothing to get in the way. A GREAT meat course. Loved it. Really rich, and delicious.

Cheese – They served a trio of cheeses. I didn’t write any down, but one was a triple cream, and their cheese service is definitely done right. Honey, nuts, good bread. Highly appreciated. How can you have a world class meal without a good cheese course? Answer – You can’t.

Dessert – A trio of desserts – Arborio Rice Pudding, Triple Scoops of Ice Cream (mint, chocolate, vanilla), Small Empanada stuffed with Granny Smith Apples and Marscapone served with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream. Lot’s of dessert. Lot’s of really good dessert. Gotta say I was pretty full by this time, but didn’t stop me from eating almost everything. By the way, the Rice Pudding was awesome!


2003 Robert Sinskey Pinot Blanc (half bottle)
2001 Turley Petite Syrah – Hayne Vineyard
Inniskillin Ice Wine (glass, forget the vintage/provenance – for the foie gras)

An excellent meal. Sitting at the counter as a lone diner was great. Really interacted with the kitchen well, and Chef Josh ended up serving me most of my courses and explaining the dishes. Pretty cool. At the end of the meal, I found out that he normally doesn’t stay that late on a weeknight when the place isn’t jumping… it was a Thursday in cold weather so the restaurant was probably half full? He stuck around just to finish cooking for me. WOW. I was so impressed that he would do that. I’m not in the restaurant business, never been there before, and never met Chef Josh before so I thought that was amazingly cool. The service was top notch, and I really enjoyed the meal.

Great meal, great restaurant, great service. It’s too bad I live way down in SoCal and can’t go there every week. Everyone should check this place out.

Yes it was a LOT of food. Yes I was full. Yes I was happy.

Coming up soon... Swan Oyster Depot (SF), Restaurant Michael Mina (SF)....


So I've been a part of an online food community for a while now. It's called Chowhound. Really cool site. Lot's of serious food folks. They don't call themselves foodies, they call themselves Chowhounds. Worth checking out.

A lot of my entries here will be reviews that I may have posted on chowhound as well.

Amuse Bouche

Here I am.

Up in cyberspace.

For a bit of a techno-geek, I'm surprised that it took this long to join the world of bloggers.

I wonder if the food good here? Where's the wine list? Can I do a tasting menu? Do you have foie gras? How about some nice truffles? No? Where can I get the best taco on the planet? How about tamales? Do I smell CARNITAS? How about sweetbreads? Why is DRC so expensive? Can I get on the allocation list, please?

So many questions.

So many ingredients.

So many chefs.

So many restaurants.

So much wine.

Here I go.

I ate some killer food last week. Will post details soon. I'll be right back to take your order...

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