Posts posted by ariggsby
My boyfriend and I recently moved to Austin from Montreal, and, as he is a chef and I am mildly obsessed with food, we've been trying to scout out local restaurants to enjoy. Tonight we dined at Wink, a small market-based restaurant on Lamar, because of stellar recommendations from locals and critics. I'll give a run down of what we ate, but the best way to describe the overall experience is total disappointment.
All in all, the meal was underwhelming with a few high notes (sweetbreads and wine) and some very low lows. The tab came out to around $230 including tax and tip. Our waitress was very nice and it was great to be accomodated with regards to changing a course in the tasting menu. It was a convivial atmosphere, but the food (which should be the main attraction) was enough of a detraction that I doubt we'll return.
What have been your experiences? Am I too quick to write them off? Any input (as well as other restaurant suggestions) would be much appreciated.
While my experiences there have been better than yours, I think I know what you mean. I think there are two issues here:
Cooking: I haven't had problems with the kitchen oversalting, overcooking, etc. I may have been lucky, but I suspect in fact that you were unlucky.
Design: I've always been a little puzzled by the menu. It's supposed to be, more or less, mix-and-match small plates, a strategy that ought to lend itself to a tasting menu such as you ordered. Nonetheless, too many of the dishes have the same structure: a little protein, a little starch, and two or three veg., each item prepared quite simply. This makes for some good plates, but it's also limiting, even before you get to the issue of redundancy across a whole meal. They also sometimes seem to have made a mental leap from "if we serve it, it must be fresh from the market" (a pretty good idea) to "if it's fresh from the market, we must serve it" (a more debatable theory).
Still, in my experience the problem is not that Wink's not very good, it's maybe just not quite as good as it could be. Plus the El Rey cake makes up for a lot.
I haven't tried the cake you mention (I don't have that book), but there's one in another of her books: _Just a Bite_ (I think that's the title) that would fit your needs.
It's a very chocolate cake with macadamia caramel sauce (so there's your goo factor). You cut little towers out of a fairly big cake, and top them with the sauce. On recipe serves a lot of people; you'd not need to do more that double it (if that).
I just checked over on Amazon, and the dish is called Chockablock Chocolate Cakes with Warm Macadamia Nut Caramel, and it's actually the item featured on the cover.
I'd second the above recommendation for Hudson's on the Bend. It's not quite the best restaurant in town, but it's certainly the most distinctively local of the real fine-dining venues. Also, if you're around for Sunday brunch, the buffet [don't let that word fool you; this is really serious cooking] at Fonda San Miguel is not to be missed.
Now to the food ... and here I'm afraid I've failed as a food writer. It was five days ago, and I can't remember exactly what we had. The first plate for each of us was a cold item, then a fish course, then a meat course, then dessert. What were they? I don't recall, except that they were all very good without being transcendent. At these prices, I wanted at least some of the courses to reach culinary orgasm, and none did.
I've been there once, about a year ago, and I guess I had a better experience; I certainly remember the food clearly. Sashimi (of some fish whose name I didn't recognize) with olive oil and some version of soy sauce; fried soft-shell crab; kobe-style (from Texas) tenderloin with a trumpet mushroom pan sauce; seared foie gras on pappadum with an Indian-flavored sauce; desert sampler with a walnut (?) tartlet, small molten choc. cake, and grapefruit and grapefruit sorbet in a grapefruit liqueur. At the beginning of the meal the waiter had sugested, somewhat pretentiously I thought at the time, that the only rule of ordering was not to have anything twice. As it happened, I was genuinely tempted by three of the main dishes (and the crab was merely really good).
The service was slightly lacking: general attitude plus the substantial supplement for the beef wasn't mentioned until about half an hour after I'd ordered it. Still, I very much looking forward to having a chance to go back.
Went out for a memorial lunch: duck confit, onion marmelade, frites. Bittersweet.
If you're an experienced cook already, I'd skip Cook's Illustrated. If not, it might be worthwhile to subscribe once, and let it expire. In terms of techniques and specific dishes, you'll hit the point of diminishing returns after a year or two (and you may begin to get annoyed at their idea of what some of those dishes are "supposed" to be like).
I also find the results of many of their tastings bizzare, and that further undercuts my faith in the recipes. As they point out, they don't accept advertising. That means they have a financial interest in producing startling test results (like "$3 olive oil beats expensive imports!!!"). To be fair, though, I think their real tastes run to the cheap and bland.
In re-reading the instruction booklet, it says that the ISI Dessert Whip is "not suitable for the preparation of Espumas". I was taken aback. I thought what I got was good for more than whipped cream.
Anyone know about this?
Just to spell out something Steve already alluded to: If you look at the outlet on the Desert Whip, it's pretty narrow and could clog if you've got solids in the canister. If that happened, I wouldn't try to fix it at home since the whole thing is under a lot of pressure.
That said, I haven't had any problem with well-strained mixtures. I suspect ISI just doesn't want to be held responsible if something goes wrong.
I really just don't "get" savory foams.
It was a pumpernickel foam on a poached egg (as part of a chicken dish). You know what pumpernickel foam looks like? That scum you skim off stock, only worse. So, it's pumpernickel flavored with a mushy texture. Wouldn't pumpernickel toast points have made vastly more sense?
I guess my point is, if you're going to make a savory foam, make sure the final product isn't drab gray, and that the texture makes sense as well.
I'm not sure I'd call foams "mushy" anymore than whipped cream is.
Anyway, there are a couple of things could do. The Tom Kha Kai foam I made was a "sauce" for grilled duck, so it started to melt when it hit the meat. It's partly just an interesting presentation, but it means the individual diner has some control over whether to eat foam or sauce by waitin a little or not. Similarly, I've seen them served over soups, where they melt in over time.
The caramelized onion foam I served as part of a reconstructed French onion soup (cheese crisp and gruyere ice cream on top). That seemed to work for my not particularly adventurous guests because (1) the texture difference between foam and soup is a lot less than foam and bread, so it's not so shocking, and (2) the quantity was fairly small (a shot glass).
Both turned out a fairly neutral off-white, but I can see how color might be a problem if you got more adventurous.
Btw, there's a set of foam recipes (by Rick Tramonto) at Rick's foams. I think I got that address from an ealier foam thread somewhere on e-gullet, but I haven't looked for it.
Another thing I saw in Spain last year was a canister used to serve cocktails into tall, thin shotglasses (almost more like flutes). This wouldn't work for just sitting around drinking, but I have used to to serve a little aperitif.
I would second the recommendation of Da Cesari above. Btw, order the apple/pear torta if they have it.
I've used mine mostly to make foams out of soups. The best were a version of that Thai chicken soup whose name I can never remember and a caramelized onion soup. The former was tricky in terms of getting enough gelatin into it to foam but little enough that it didn't just solidify. The latter was caramelized onions, beer, a little mustard, S+P, and cream pureed and strained several times. (Actually, I think both required a lot of straining to make sure they didn't clog the device.)
[Late edit: that soup is Tom Kha Kai.]
I don't know if it would work with steaks, but there's a great recipie in Lynne Kasper's "other" book (The Italian Country Table). Basically, you cook down thin sliced onions very quickly (with garlic, sage, and rosemary), then hit them with some red wine vinegar and simmer for a couple of minutes, then set aside to cool. Put more garlic/sage/rosemary inside the trout and cook them off in a pan. Then bury the trout in the onions and leave them for at least 30 min.
Not only is it delicious, but it saves you the last minute cooking if you're having people over.
What else do you want to know?
I guess what I'm most curious about is whether there will be a complete closure at any point.
Is there an insider here who can tell us about the on-going work at CM?
Is the place going to change size or just move around?
Are they going to have to shut down completely at any point?
When will the horror end?
Forme Sauternes - a Forme d'Ambert that's been ripened in Sauternes for 2 months. Heavenly.
I love Fourme d'Ambert, and that sounds fabulous. Do you make it yourself or buy it somewhere?
This won't help a lot of people, but I had some of this in a restaurant in LA last month, called AOC. It was really, really good. The cheese list as a whole was pretty impressive. The server recommended and I greatly enjoyed a very parm-like aged California cheddar.
I've been to Alborz a couple of times, once the lunch buffet, once dinner off the menu. Both times were fine, but not particularly memorable.
I much preferred the days when they were selling kebobs out of a mall food-court taco stand. The focus seemed to help the quality of the food, and the prices were (as I recall) notably lower.
Still, I don't think you're likely to be too disappointed.
Any chance of getting a real recipe for those of us too dense to suss it out on our own? I found some really nice anchos, guajillos (and chipotles -- hmm) this weekend.
The following is what I actually did. Some of the details probably aren't actually relevant, but I'm not sure which ones.
[i don't have a weight on those, but they're pretty large and fleshy here in Austin]
1/4 c. cream
about 1/4 c. corn syrup
stem and split peppers and remove seeds and the inner membranes holding them.
toast for about 10-15 sec. per side on a fairly hot griddle or heavy pan (I use a big cast iron skillet).
rehydrate 20-30 min. in hot tap water (I put a small plate on top to keep them under water).
put it blender with corn syrup and enough water to come to 2 cups. Blend as smooth as possible, then strain through a fine mesh strainer.
lighten the resulting puree with the cream, cool, then freeze per maker's instructions. I served almost immediately out of the machine.
The first several steps are pretty much the ones I'd use in a lot of savory recipes. In those the next thing I'd usually do is fry the sauce to a thicker, darker form. For ice cream you'd probably end up rehydrating, so the reduction itself wouldn't matter, but the browning might have an interesting effect on the flavor.
So I tried some of the suggestions above this weekend. Made an ancho-guajillo puree, thick enough to be still ketchup-y when diluted to volume with water and sweetener. Then added a little cream. The flavor-to-heat ratio was much improved and the texture was very good.
Rehydrate real anchos. Puree.I'd toast them for a few minutes, then grindIf you were using any fat, I'd recommend steeping in that, as the chili oils are fat-soluble, not water-soluble. (Maybe you'd consider ancho ice cream?) Instead, try steeping some toasted ground powder in a liqueur (see suggestions below), then filtering to remove the particles
Wow. That's a lot of good ideas to work on. Thanks.
For present purposes I'm inclined to stick with plain chili, but the supporting flavors suggest do sound good.
Btw, the texture of of the powder-steeped version was surprisingly good. I would have expected grainy as well, but didn't really find it that way.
I was just in Madrid for the first time this summer, so my experience is quite limited, but I wasn't crazy about Botin. Not bad, but nothing special. The (very positive) surprise for me was another very tourist oriented place called Cafe Gijon (an artists'/intellectuals' hang-out many decades ago). They served me the best leg of lamb (whole leg of a very small lamb) I've ever had. Prices were similar to Botin.
This is a pretty narrow question, but...
I had a chili sorbet at a local restaurant recently, and I thought I'd try to reproduce it. The first try was pretty simple: water, corn syrup, and ancho chili powder (steeped and strained). I got pretty good heat, but not a lot of chili flavor; I assume that if I just up the chili it will get too hot before it develops the fruitier flavors. Anybody have any thoughts about a better way to extract those?
In Spain this summer I had three oddities:
The Parmesan ice cream was quite good, and turned out to be easy to reproduce. The other two were actually ok in context, but I haven't tried to make either.
Arzak, A Lunch
in Spain & Portugal: Dining
I believe it's cafe (con leche?) cooked down between Silpats.