Saturday, February 28, 2009

Belly Up at Belly Timber

I had no idea that last weekend's jaunt to Portland would be a gastronome's dream, but indeed it was. First up: brunch at Belly Timber, which is Victorian slang for "food of all sorts" including the most soul-satisfying fried chicken and waffle doused in bacon butter and maple syrup.

MN called it a turkey leg, it was that massive. I could swear the bird had been brined, the flesh was so moist, well-seasoned and herbaceous under the crispy, crunchy batter.

The fresh bacon bits served as a good savory balance against the sweet syrup and melting ooze of butter.

If not for the strong cup o' Stumptown brew to help it all down, I'm certain I woulda slid under the table into a food coma ...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hawaiian Hospitality: Deep Fried

When my sister said her friend KT was planning to throw a turkey in the fryer for a little BBQ party, Hawaiian-style, I said sign me up. I'd been hearing about the wonders of deep-fried turkey since my college days, but had never had the chance to partake, so I was more than willing to hop in the car and take a spin out to the 'burbs (Mililani, HI) for a piece of the action.

You could say KT's a deep-frying turkey pro, having done this about 8 or 9 times. He's tried Martha's recipe and Bobby Flay's as well, and says they're all a little to a lot wrong.

By trial and error, he's now got his technique down to a T. After brining the turkey, he hickory smokes it, then drops the honey-coated bird into the roiling peanut oil.

The first couple of times his wife thought he'd destroyed the bird, blackened as it was when it came out. But that's just the sugar (aka honey) that's burned up on the outside.

All the lovely juices are sealed inside, keeping the flesh moist and tender, and absolutely divine.

With all kinds of kids running about, KT followed the bird with some corndogs and French fries to keep them happy. Of course, the "big kids" (me too!) helped themselves to the fat-laden bounty.

And then finished up with a whole mess of airy, light and cinnamon-sugar dusted funnel cakes.

Looking through a boozy, fat-filled haze ...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Alan Wong's Hawaii

A couple of days before I was to fly in for my 4-day jaunt in Hawaii, I emailed my sister, "Wouldn't it be nice if we ate at Alan Wong's," to which she shot back a "not likely at this late date!" (Celebrity chef and James Beard award winner Alan Wong played host to the Top Chef finalists a couple of seasons ago. He rocks.)

But we were in luck. A last-minute cancellation meant we were headed to the downtown Honolulu restaurant on a Friday night to partake in some super fine Hawaiian regional cuisine, rubbing elbows with the likes of ex-NY mayor Rudy Giuliani (OK, not literally—but he sat not 10 feet away from us ... of course, SP had no idea who he was when I pointed him out. Her defense: "I don't follow NY politics." Hello! 9/11! Ran for president! What what? ...)

Well, never mind about that. Here's what we had:

The amuse bouche: a "Seafood Fantasy" comprising abalone, lobster, butterfish, ahi and kona kampachi with watercress, ponzu gelee and a wasabe-abalone sauce. I went straight for the abalone, it being my least favorite of the bunch so I figured I'd get it out of the way and then savor the rest, but turns out it was pretty easy on palate ... tender, smooth and surprisingly delicious. I enjoyed most everything on the plate except for the ponzu gelee, which was a tad overpowering in its tartness—it made my tastebuds tingle, and not in a good way.

First course: Vanilla butter poached lobster and seared day boat scallop with spiced Hawaiian hearts of palm puree and a citrusy corn salsa. I loved the perfectly caramelized and seasoned scallop. And though I liked the fleshy tenderness of the lobster, the vanilla kinda put me off; it made the shellfish a bit too perfumey for my taste. I think I would've liked it more if they'd gone with something of the meyer lemon butter variety. Oh, and though the corn salsa rocked ... a perfect foil for the protein, the small block of hearts of palm to the right was odd ... left unadorned, it just seemed out of place with the rest of the dish.

The main: Medium-rare and oh-so-tender rosemary oil-poached Maui cattle company beef (fed pineapple tops and sugar cane in their 110-odd days on this earth), sauteed Ma'o Farms lacinato kale and hamakua mushrooms along with a bacon and goat-infused, crispety-crunchy taro croquette, plus a few other bells and whistles. Well done, I say.

The other main: Of course, you always want what you can't have (or didn't order, in this case). My sister got the red wine slow-braised short rib sitting on a fluffy bed of stick-to-your-ribs, rich celery root truffle puree, ringed by subtly sweet roasted baby beets and cipollini onion. The portion size was honkin', fork-tender and fabulous. Plenty to take home for a second go 'round.

Dessert: Kula strawberry shortcake with a macadamia crust and a really fresh, gummy-moist strawberry mochi on the side. The mochi was the highlight of the dish ... one of the best I've ever had—and usually I'll leave rather than take 'em. This time, I took and I wished I could've taken some more ...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

City View's Dim Sum Goodies

Lunar New Year came and went, and our Chinese editor took the work peeps out to good ol' Chinatown standby and my go-to dim-sum fave City View Restaurant for a mid-day celebration. I think I'll let the pictures tell it all ...

mmmm .......

Ab Fab Anchor & Hope

KG remembered it was Dine About Town with just 4 days left to go, and as soon as she gave me the heads up, I booked us a table for lunch at Town Hall's and Salt House's new sibling Anchor & Hope, having heard a bit of a buzz—albeit both good and bad—around this lofty dining hall.

Our first impressions were good ones. With a 30-foot trestle ceiling, skylights throughout, and a tongue-in-cheek underwater/nautical theme holding it all together, Anchor & Hope has done a fab job of taking over this turn-of-the-century warehouse on Minna Street.

The Tuscan heirloom bean soup was better than I expected it would be—garden fresh ingredients in a very clean broth. Of course, there was room for improvement—a dash more salt and a pinch more pepper would've done it a world of good.

Can't complain about the miyagi oysters ... a slippery sweet bit of the sea helped down with a tasty tart mignonette.

Huge points for this bowl of earthy goodness: ricotta and butternut squash agnolotti with sage brown butter sauce. It came out molten hot, tossed up with crisp-tender French green beans, tender pearl onions and a mess of wild mushrooms. Probably one of the best damn pasta dishes I've ever had.

I had a taste of the spice blackened mahi mahi with shaved fennel and arugula salad and rosemary pesto, and was delightfully surprised by the fact that it was super moist and tender, and well-flavored ... a skillfully made dish. Why surprised? Because I've had some really bad mahi mahi ... folks can really overcook that fish. A&H knows what it's doing with its seafood, it seems.

Enough for me to want to go back.