Sunday, October 26, 2008

From Farm to Table at Ubuntu

Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio (yep, you read it right—this is California after all) showcases garden vegetables and biodynamic produce in such a way as to satisfy even the most hardcore carnivore. No meat on the menu here, but even JW—who lives and dies by sausage and other things swine (smart lad)—loves it here. As do I.

We led off with the marcona almonds with lavender sugar and sea salt along with the fragrant pesto-marinated castelvetrano olives ...

Moved into a plate of perfectly ripened heirloom tomatoes, basil leaves, quince saba, wild fennel crackers, with a sprinkle of espelette (red pepper) and a lovely blob of creamy burrata.

Next up, the fingerling potato salad (potatoes done 3 ways—fried bits, roasted lumps and diced salad) with a super tart sauce gribiche (a mustardy mayo and hard-boiled egg emulsion), New Zealand spinach, black garlic coulis and fried capers.

Another Ubuntu goody: cauliflower—roasted, pureed, raw, "couscous"—with vadouvan spice and coriander.

We managed to squeeze in a couple of other small plates and then wound up with the luscious date cake flanked by a dollop of earl grey ice cream and roasted apples sitting in a pool of caramel.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Omakase at Sushi Sasabune

According to New York magazine: At this outpost of the famed Los Angeles and Honolulu sushi shrine, a sign reading "Today's Special—Trust Me" is the only menu option you'll get.

In other words, it's all about omakase, or the chef's tasting menu, at Sushi Sasabune and nothing else. The only thing the server asks is if you can eat everything (read: are you adventurous) or not (meaning, are you a wimp when it comes to raw seafood)?

Well, of course, we said we'd take it all. And so out came a steady stream of sea creatures, from abalone, clams of all kind, octopus, butterfish, albacore, sea urchin, salmon roe, and more.

Of the 12 or 13 courses that came our way, I'd say only 1 or 2 didn't sit well with us—I guess our milk-weaned, corn-fed palates aren't quite sophisticated enough to appreciate the chewy, fishy nature of some of the clams.

Predictably, we adored the delicate butterfish swabbed with a generous dose of teriyaki sauce—we asked for a second helping, it was that good.

And we savored the ever-so-buttery-rich sea urchin along with the slippery smooth salmon roe, tiny helpings of miso soup crammed in each and every one of them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Han Il Kwan's Minno-Tahng

A slight pause in our regular programming for this ...

a taste of heaven.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Momofuku Noodle Pigfest

JC and DY said Momofuku was still as good as it's ever been (save for the first 12 months, when chef David Chang was still trying to figure things out), so we cabbed it on over to the East Village to promptly queue up for an hour-plus wait just for a chance to slurp up some of the super-porky ramen, one of many pork-laden dishes that Chang had hurtled into stardom for.

While we waited for our ramen to hit the countertop, we lay into the Berkshire pork belly buns, slathered up with duck sauce and a zesty dice of scallions.

Then, the ramen arrived, and I gotta admit it wasn't as good as I remembered it. A tad too salty, missing the umami high notes that Minca's thick and savory pork ramen hits (at least the last time I dropped in on a cold wintery night).

Ah well. Still a good mid-week meal, made that much better by the antics of my (nutty) friends.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I Triple-Heart Barrio Chino

I've got a thing for tacos and tequila especially at loverly LES hotspot Barrio Chino. I fell head over heels for this place when I went with a food editor friend on her recommendation five years ago (no, that's not her to the left, but my good pal JA). She'd spent many years in Mexico City, part of it running a cooking school, and gave Barrio Chino a big affirmative for authenticity. I love the food for its incredible balance of flavor and spice.

The love affair continues ...

The sweet-and-savory succulence of the chile en nogada—a smoky poblano chile stuffed with spicy ground pork and pineapples drizzled with a creamy walnut sauce—has me under its spell.

The chicken mole is also wicked good. So are the chile rellenos and of course the tacos. I've tried a bunch of stuff on Barrio's menu, and frankly it's all damn good.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Peasant is for the birds

MK's face says it best—there's something rotten in Denmark, or in this case Peasant. Of the 8 dishes we ordered, only the polpi in purgatorio (octopus, at bottom) did us right. Absolutely everything's cooked in Peasant's woodfired oven, and whoever was on the line that night, just could not get a handle on the seasoning to save his life. Too bad, since it wasn't so much the level of done-ness that we had a problem with but rather the sad blandness—and in some cases tongue-curling saltiness—in most of what we tried. Well, that does it. Strike Peasant off the list.

The pasta itself was tasty, but the sea urchin on top? Not so much.

The pork broth was nice, but the hefty, dense gnocchi got a thumbs down from MK, who's the protein cook at a 3-star Italian resto in the city.

S'more salt in both the sea bass and the suckling pig woulda been handy, so say we all.

No complaints though with the octopus. Yes we're a tough crowd (made up of cooks, a food stylist and an ex-cook), but heck, Peasant's received some pretty big raves, so it has a big reputation to live up to.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

In a New York State of Mind

So I just got back from a week-plus jaunt in New York (where I actually managed to squeeze some work in between my pig-out sessions), and it was fab. Some highlights here with more to come ...

Peasant didn't deliver on the hype. No matter. The company made up for it in spades.

The pork (belly) buns were what put Momofuku and David Chang on the map. Good times.

The 9th (?) of 12 or so courses comprising omakase at Sushi Sasabune: lusciously creamy sea urchin and salmon roe tasting like miso soup.

Allen & Delancey's big plate o' meat. Bone marrow included.