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Bodega (Manhattan, NY) – A Pop-Up with Top Chef Dale Talde

March 15, 2011

It may have been on hiatus but I think it’s time for a revival – the Tour de Top Chef is back, NYC style!

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Let me just start off by saying, I got lucky with this one. I knew Top Chef Dale Talde was doing a pop-up in NYC. I knew that the only information Eater and the other food sites had was that it was going to be called “Bodega” and that it was going to be on the Bowery. And I knew I wanted to get in. Desperately.

Enter the wonderful world of Twitter. I follow Dale on Twitter and happened to see this particular tweet on a fateful Sunday: “I’ve got a couple of spots that opened up got this Saturdays pop up of bodega who’s interested?

…A couple twitter messages and an email later, I was IN.

I had read about how the locale for Bodega was going to be a converted warehouse; however, considering it was essentially a storage room, they dolled up the space quite nicely. Metal shelves were pushed to the side to form a relatively large dining room complete with five small communal tables covered in tablecloths and heavy flatware. The area was covered in a dull, comforting glow thanks to the Edison bulbs hanging from the ceiling. (I assume these were in the space originally but they really contributed to the ambiance of it all.) On the far side of the room by the window was “the kitchen” – based my quick peek, it looked like a bunch of folding tables covered in cooking equipment.

Snacks were passed around upon arrival:

Bacon, Egg and Cheese – Deviled Egg, Benton’s Bacon, Aged Wisconsin Cheddar

Bacon, eggs and cheese – it’s a tried and true combination. Simple, but tasty.

Tuna Melt – Tuna, Melted Lardo, Saltines

I had a brief conversation about Dale’s tuna melt with another attendee and we both agreed – this is one of the best things we’ve ever eaten on a saltine cracker.

Milk Style Ramen – 6 Minute Egg, Pork Belly

First off, can I just say – presentation-wise, serving ramen in a Cup Noodles cup? Freaking awesome.

Comfortable and familiar in flavor, this was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The runny yolk from my 6-minute egg accidentally melted into the broth while I was taking the above picture (I know I should have just eaten it but then you wouldn’t have gotten a picture!) but, if anything, it made the broth even more rich and savory. I did wish there were more noodles with a bit more bite to them – the ones I fished out of my cup were short, limp pieces. (However, considering this was the first entree and given the portions of the subsequent dishes, it was probably better that I didn’t overload on carbs.)

Pork Tamale – Green Chile Braised Pork, Cheddar Grits, Chicharron

My other favorite of the night. Served in a corn husk, the usual masa was replaced with a pile of grits, which I thought was a clever swap. The combination of cheesy grits, tender pork, fried chicharron, creamy sauce (sour cream? creme fraiche? can’t remember) and crisp radish made for a satisfying bite.

Pastrami Style Beef Brisket – Rye Croutons, Braised Cabbage

The only course I questioned throughout the night, I couldn’t understand what made the brisket “pastrami style”. My understanding of pastrami is that meat is cured, dry rubbed and then smoked and steamed. However, from what I could tell, this brisket was sauced, with flavors more on the sweeter side. The meat also had a funny chewiness to it that I couldn’t put my finger on. (I was just thoroughly confused.)

Rack of Venison – Cervena Venison, Dried Blueberries, Buttermilk Crumble

Right before this course came out, I overheard that the “kitchen” was freezing cold and that the chefs were trying to keep the venison warm – if there were any problems though, I wasn’t able to detect it from tasting that piece of meat. Perfectly cooked, absolutely tender, without a hint of gaminess… this was one of the best prepared pieces of venison I’ve had. I also liked the buttermilk crumble, which tasted like little shortbread pieces with a slight hint of graham cracker.

Chinese Broccoli – Pickled Banana Peppers, Spiced Corn Crumbs

The menu states the little red things above were made of corn but our waiter said it was chicharron – not quite sure who’s right. (I personally think it was corn; they tasted exactly like Flaming Hot Cheetos!). Whatever it was, I liked it – the slight spiciness complimented the tangy banana peppers; the crunchiness contrasted against the vegetables.

Potato Chip and Pretzel Tart with Salted Chocolate Ganache, Avocado Milkshake

We ended the meal with an avocado milkshake and Dale’s $5,000 cookie from the recent cookie/Muppet episode of Top Chef.

———-

Dale said himself that Bodega’s concept “is all about having the old Dominican guy who’s been in the neighborhood for 25 years walk in, not knowing it’s my joint“, and I definitely saw that that night.  The food was solid; the tastes were familiar. I had a good time and can only thank Dale (and Twitter!) for the amazing opportunity!

(Thanks again to Chef Dale Talde for the invite!)

Bodega with Dale Talde
Twitter: @DaleTalde

Flip Burger (Atlanta, GA) – A Burger Built on Expectations

August 18, 2010

TV celebrity chefs: You watch them week after week on TV. Based on 30-60 minutes of edited video, you come to conclusions about their food. You build expectations. Then when you finally get the opportunity to try their food, they either meet or don’t meet those expectations.

For those that meet them, everything’s fine and dandy.
However, for the ones that don’t, you leave more disappointed than you normally would because of those stupid expectations.

Flip Burger, started by Top Chef’s Richard Blais, is one of those restaurants that falters because of preconceived expectations. It was one of two restaurants I absolutely HAD to go to while in Atlanta (the other one, Woodfire Grill, was also chosen due to its link to TV stardom) so yes, I had expectations for Flip Burger. I don’t think they were unreasonably high – I wanted a good burger and, as with any restaurant, I wanted exactly what I ordered.

(And I got the good burger…it just wasn’t what I was expecting.)

Honestly, the downfall in this entire burger was the inclusion of the word “Korean” in its description. If it hadn’t claimed to be a “Korean BBQ burger”, I may have considered the burger a success. However, as a girl who has been to her share of AYCE KBBQ, I expected to taste (what I consider) distinct Korean flavors, ones reminiscent of gochujang (i.e. Korean red pepper paste), sesame oil and salt or that tangy Korean salad dressing. (I realize now that I basically expected Kogi in burger form. Is that unreasonable for Atlanta? I don’t know.)

However, topped with pickled carrots and radishes (like those found in Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches) and sesame krispies (similar to Japanese sesame/rice crackers), the burger I received seemed to be influenced by all of Asia, rather than just Korea. It was supposed to include a kimchi ketchup – I didn’t get any hint of kimchi anywhere in the burger. And although its American wagyu patty was moist and juicy, I couldn’t judge the burger for the beef alone.

While the burger didn’t quite live up to its description, the nutella and burnt marshmallow milkshake was exactly that. This milkshake is not for the faint of heart (or, more accurately, for the lack of sweet tooth). I could detect the the scent of toasted sugar as it was being brought out and I could taste the heavy nutella flavor in every spoonful. Delicious as it was, it was overwhelming halfway through the glass – I just can’t consume that much sugar. Plus, I didn’t see a drop of liquid nitrogen during my meal! (I thought all the milkshakes at Flip Burger were supposed to be made with liquid nitrogen – you know, as an homage to Blais’ molecular gastronomy background – but maybe I was mistaken.)

You know, I really feel bad (almost guilty) that the above review is all based on expectations – I understand that some experiences are best when taken at face value, without all this background hype floating around. But at the end of the day…Flip Burger just didn’t meet my expectations. There’s nothing more I can say but that.

FLIP Burger Boutique
1587 Howell Mill Rd NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
(404) 352-3547
Website: http://www.flipburgerboutique.com
Twitter: @flipburger

FLIP Burger Boutique on Urbanspoon

The Dining Room (Pasadena, CA) – Let the Pictures Speak for Themselves

August 8, 2010

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m always behind on my fine dining reviews. ALWAYS. My stomach is more ambitious than my mind – More often than not, I end up ordering the most extravagant tasting menu at a restaurant, go home, look at my pictures, realize I have to write a review individually addressing 10+ dishes, and then get completely overwhelmed. I tell myself I’ll do it tomorrow…Or the day after…Or the day after…

…2+ months later, I finally get to writing it. I mean, I always get to it sooner or later. Most of the time, it’s just later. Much later.

This meal, however, I can’t even PRETEND I’m going to write a review.
I just can’t.
I think it’s physically impossible.
(Well, impossible for me. Not impossible for kevinEats, but that’s another story.)

There’s just too much to squeeze into one post. If I tried, I would consider the resulting review to be an insult to the food and the experience, both of which were incomparable. So I’m just going to write a quick intro and let the pictures speak for themselves.

———-

(Picture taken by Kevin of kevinEats.)

When Kevin of kevinEats invited me to join him, Ryan of Epicuryan and some of their friends to dine at at The Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena on Michael Voltaggio’s last night, I didn’t have to think twice – I immediately said yes. I had tasted Voltaggio’s food before – his sampling at Breadbar’s Hatchi was one of my top 3 meals in 2009 – and I was not going to miss this opportunity.

With the night of the dinner being Voltaggio’s last night there and with The Dining Room itself under renovation until October 2010, my first meal at The Dining Room was to be my last there. Thus, it only made sense to go big: In honor of Voltaggio’s last night, we ate the entire menu.

All 22 courses of it.

Amuse Bouche: Gougère with Caviar Cream, Tomato Pâte De Fruit With Basil and Sea Salt

Course 1: Octopus, Buttered Popcorn, Piquillo Confetti, Cilantro

Course 2: Soft Shell Crab, Scrambled Corn, Old Bay, Vanilla-Crab Jus

Course 3: Japanese Kampachi, Jamon Iberico, Sea Sponge, Grapefruit, Crispy Rice

Course 4: Vegetables of the Season, Burrata, Nori Butter, Coffee-Cardamom “Soil”

Course 5: Foie Gras Frito, Black Sesame, Pickled Blueberries, Basil

Course 6: Foie Gras Terrine, Strawberry-Yuzu, Arugula Cake, Minus 8 Vinegar

Course 7: Halibut Cheeks, Red Curry, Coconut Rice, Baby Leeks

Course 8: Pacific Cod, Asparagus, Bonito, Marcona Almond Milk

Course 9: Arctic Char, Green Pea Tapioca, Black Olive, Porcini Chicharrón

Course 10: Salt Baked Turbot, a Jus of Itself, Summer Vegetables Roasted in Hay

Course 11: Veal Sweetbreads Tempura, Kale, Buttermilk, Mustard, Potato Puree

Course 12: Pastrami Pigeon, Swiss Cheese, Sauerkraut, Rye

Course 13: Kurobuta Pork Belly, Bok Choy “Kim Chi”, Sweet Potato Preserves, Peanut Butter Powder

Course 14: Jameson Farm Lamb, Fresh Chickpeas, Flavors of Hummus, Yogurt

Course 15: Four Story Hills Farm Suckling Pig, Banana Polenta, Chanterelles, Cipollini, Red Onion

Course 16: Beef Cheeks, Porcini Mushroom, Cannelé, Garlic Froth

Course 17: Wagyu Short Rib, Potato Confit, Nantes Carrot, Bone Marrow, Coconut Soubise

Course 18: Japanese Kuroge Rib Cap, Fried Béarnaise, Young Turnips, Bordelaise

Pre-Dessert: Peach and Yogurt “Dippin’ Dots”

Course 19: Baba Au Rhum, Textures of Coconut and Pineapple, Compressed Mango

Course 20: Chocolate Caramel Ganache, Chocolate Sorbet, Salty Hazelnut Praline, Cocoa Tuile

Course 21: Lavender Flower Macaroon, Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Vanilla-Passion Sorbet, Floral Cotton Candy

Course 22: Carrot Cake, Carrot Sorbet, Yuzu Curd, Cream Cheese Snow

The Dining Room (at the Langham) – CLOSED
1401 S Oak Knoll Ave
Pasadena, CA 91106
(626) 568-3900
Website: http://pasadena.langhamhotels.com
Twitter: @TheDiningRoom

The Dining Room (at the Langham) on Urbanspoon

DineLA Chef Roundtable – Of Puck, Preparation and Produce

June 18, 2010

(Click for a larger picture.)

Mark Peel of Campanile, The Point and The Tar Pit.
Josiah Citrin of Melisse.
Susan Feniger of Street, Ciudad and Border Grill.
Joachim Splichal of the Patina Group.
Karen Hatfield of Hatfield’s.
Wolfgang Puck.

To listen to any of these chefs would be a pleasure. To hear all six of them speak at the same event? That’s a privilege.

———-

This post was originally going to recap the roundtable and the conversations that took place there – I even took mental notes on specific things each chef mentioned that I wanted to address. However, as you’re probably familiar with my typical lag period, you shouldn’t be surprised that, by the time I got around to actually writing this post, the fine people at DineLA had already posted a video of the entire event online. (Oops.)

Well, since the job of recapper is no longer necessary (*whew!*), I’m going quickly cover the parts I enjoyed most about this whole roundtable.

– I’ve always loved listening to successful people tell the story about their life. There’s something so intriguing about hearing about them before they made it big, whatever trials or tribulations they may have gone through, and seeing where they are now. Wolfgang Puck is no exception – he could have been on that stage by himself, speaking for the entire hour and I would have been perfectly happy.

My favorite Wolfgang story of the night was the one about how he got started in the restaurant business. (Start at 14:10 in the video. Watch it – I’m not gonna recap it for you!) Imagining little 14-year old Wolfgang being told he was good for nothing and then seeing him in person on stage now, governing his empire…It’s surreal to hear him tell his story (and probably even more surreal for him to live it).

– As an accountant, I have a rather practical view on life. Thus, I appreciated the concrete advice Joachim gave when asked about starting a new restaurant (at 27:43 in the video). While the chefs prior (Susan, in particular) spoke of passion for their craft, Joachim asked them to think and prepare and…well, basically be a businessman. I may not know much about running a restaurant but I’ve seen this much from my accounting gigs over the years – you can’t run a business on passion alone.

– I found it interesting that, throughout the roundtable, the chefs repeatedly touched upon the abundance of fresh produce in Los Angeles and the appreciation for food. It was especially interesting because, about 2 years prior, I attended a similar event moderated by Jonathan Gold on the topic of California cuisine and remember taking away one thing from that event: California cuisine is the abundance of produce matched with our variety of ethnic influences. At the time, I almost thought that was almost a cop-out answer – “Yes, I know we have great produce but…what else??”, says the girl who has only lived in California and has been surrounded by fresh produce her entire life – but to hear the same talking points two years later made me re-evaluate my original reaction and how I may take California’s strongest assets for granted.

Anyway, as you can tell, the roundtable was a great experience. I had the opportunity to listen to some of my favorite chefs in person and the stories of their lives. Plus, after it was all over, I gorged myself on Starry Kitchen‘s tofu balls and got to take a picture with Susan Feniger! (Woot woot!)

(Picture taken by Julian of Jewelz, What Are We Doing Today?)

Hatchi with Marcel Vigneron (Century City, CA) – I’m a Froupie

December 28, 2009

froupie
/’fru pi/ [froo-pee]
– noun informal
1. an ardent fan of a chef or of a particular style of cooking
2. a food groupie

I don’t quite know when but, at some point, I think I’ve turned into a Marcel Vigneron froupie. Whenever I hear the name “Marcel”, part of me wants to squeal like a teenage girl at the premiere of a Twilight flick.

Maybe it’s his engaging on-screen personality that makes my heart skip a beat or his iconic Wolverine-like hair that makes me melt? …No – it’s his food that brings out my inner froupie.

(“OMGAhhhhh!!! It’s MARCEL!”)

I was very excited for the December Hatchi event at Breadbar as this was my first chance to taste dishes by Marcel and Marcel alone (i.e. sans José Andrés, at the Bazaar). I was also hoping he’d bust out the molecular gastronomy and he did not disappoint – spherifications, foams and liquid nitrogen, we got it all.

Amuse Bouche

To begin, his amuse bouche was a simplistic spherification of pomegranate juice with a single blueberry tucked inside.

Course 1: Hamachi Sashimi

His first course (my favorite course of the night) was a fantastic hamachi sashimi. The composition of the dish – the fresh fish, the citrus of kumquats, the sweetness of the momo chan (i.e. little green baby peaches), the texture of seaweed – was thoughtful; each bite was enjoyable.

Course 2: Dayboat Scallop

The second course was a dayboat scallop, sitting atop cauliflower couscous and seaweed. The molecular portion of this dish wasn’t blatantly apparent until I overheard him explaining the dish to the diners next to me: the puree on the plate (the pink, purple and yellow) are all the same. In order for him to obtain the different colors, an acid is added to the mixture that causes the colors to bloom from purple to pink.

Course 3: Langoustine Ravioli

The third course was a tad confusing to me, only because I seemed to enjoy the avocado wrapped mango more than the langoustine ravioli. The ravioli, on its own, was reminiscent of har gao that had been steamed in a dim sum cart for a tad too long; however, when tasted with the avocado and mango, it picked up a little bit of flavor and life. (Note: I was happy to see a foam make an appearance on the menu – What is a meal with Marcel without foam?!)

Course 4: Misohoney Black Cod

The fourth course was another simple, clean dish – a miso honey black cod sitting in broth. Although I had just come off of a seafood high at Le Bernardin the Saturday prior, I still thoroughly enjoyed the buttery texture of the cod and the lightness of the broth.

Course 5: Lyonaise Salad

The fifth course was a salad with bacon and a breaded egg. Not bad, but nothing impressive.

Course 6: Vadouvan Lamb

The fifth course may have fallen a bit flat, but the sixth course was a surprising tender rack of lamb with a deconstructed tzatziki. My piece of lamb was a tad too fatty for my preferences but what meat I was able to scrounge off the bone was succulent and delicious.

Course 7: Grass Fed “Corned Beef”

The seventh course, a gigantic chunk of short rib, was daunting in size (I just can’t eat that much anymore!). I didn’t eat the entire piece but the bit I did devour was also very tender. The three types of corn (e.g. the baby corn, the pureed corn and the popped corn) were fun and did exactly as described – they added texture to the dish, keeping you interested as you made your way through the mountain of meat.

Course 8: Souffle

Marcel’s last course was a green chartreuse souffle. I tried the green chartreuse in one of the cocktails for the night – the herbaceous flavor was a bit strong for my taste. However, the flavor mellowed out in the souffle, making it a nice ending to the meal.

———-

I almost made it through the entire night without any froupie tendencies but I caved in last minute – I may not have screamed his name across the Breadbar dining room but (as you can see above) I got a picture with Marcel in the end.

I’m such a froupie.

Hatchi with Marcel Vigneron
Twitter: @MarcelVigneron

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