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Scott -- DFW

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  1. Scott -- DFW

    The Fresh Pasta Topic

    Some of these questions may be answered in the upcoming eGCI pasta session. But, to get a head start, here are some questions that have arisen as I've made my first attempts at making fresh pasta. Any help is appreciated. 1) I've been using Hazan's recipe of 1 cup of flour (unbleached all purpose) to 2 large eggs. Doing so leaves me with a very sticky dough. I end up having to work in a lot more flour to get it to a rollable texture. So far, this has been a very time consuming process. Is there a faster or easier way to combine the eggs and flour? Or is a half-hour hand workout what I can expect every time? 2) I'm having trouble producing sheets of pasta, rather than long 1.5" to 2" strips. (I'm using the Kitchenaid rolling attachment, widest setting, low speed.) While the strips taste fine when cut and cooked, they pose some problems. First, they're very unwieldy (as in 5 to 6 feet long). Second, when fed through the cutters, because they're so thin they result in a lot more waste (because of the long irregular edges). And, third, their narrow width makes them unsuitable for lasagna, pappardelle, and all but the smallest ravioli. How can I produce wider sheets of pasta? 3) I've tried forming the "nests" that Hazan recommends for drying pasta. But, when I cook the nests, parts of them tend to stick together (and, therefore, remain undercooked and unattractive). I've tried letting the pasta dry a little longer before forming it into the nests, but tend to get the same result. Suggestions? 4) What about refrigerating unrolled dough for later use? Are there any problems (health or taste) with that? Should it be refrigerated before or after kneading? Would it need to be kneaded again before being rolled? How long will it keep in the refrigerator? Any info along those lines would be great. Thanks! Scott
  2. Scott -- DFW

    Countertop Rotisseries

    What are your experiences with electric countertop rotisserie ovens (e.g., George Foreman, Ronco, etc.)? Do they produce good results? Any problems with them? Are there better or worse brands and models to look for? Any help would be appreciated. Scott
  3. Scott -- DFW

    Lanny's Alta Cocina Mexicana

    It's been so long since I've lived in Fort Worth that I forgot what a mad-house Joe T. Garcia's is on a Saturday night. The line snaked from well outside the building through to the inner patio, into a raucous sea of customers. A word to the hostess that we were there for Lanny's, and we were led past the noise, mob, and Tex-Mex, ending up in a cozy room near the back of the patio where chef Lanny Lancarte II does his work. There we met fellow e-Gulleteers who had also converged in Cowtown with high hopes for the seven-course Nouvelle Mexican degustation menu Lanny had planned for us. On to the food... First Course: The evening's opener was an elegantly presented lobster and crab "napoleon." The bottom layer consisted of lobster ceviche with lime, mint, and coconut milk. Above it lay a thin layer of guacamole. The top layer was a tangle of peeky-toe crab, dressed with caviar. All of this rested on thinly sliced rings of cucumber, garnished with a zucchini blossom. Some of these crustacean layer cakes were triangular (as above), while others were pear shaped: Regardless of shape, this was a delicious course. The dominant sweetness of the meats (and coconut milk) was accented nicely by the acid lime and refreshing mint. Second Course: Next up was a huitlacoche crepe plated with a smooth tomatillo sauce and roasted corn. The crepe, tied shut with a scallion, was stuffed with huitlacoche, along with a touch of epazote and some meltable cheese (Oaxaca maybe?). The tomatillo's tanginess was softened by a touch of cream, making for a mellower contrast to the crepe's earthiness. A solid preparation of a Mexican fine dining classic. Third Course: The third course--probably my favorite of the night--consisted of skate wing sauteed in a chipotle beurre noisette, topped with fried capers, served over a cassoulet of cannellini beans. Lanny knocked this one out of the park, maintaining a perfect balance between the flavor elements in the dish. Fourth Course: This was a shiitake and nopalito risotto, served with roasted duck breast, garnished with a parmesan tuile. Though it was probably the least Mexican-influenced course of the evening, the sweet duck morsels and able risotto made this very popular at the table. Fifth Course: The concluding entree was prime beef tenderloin carne asada with a mild guajillo demi and chanterelles, served with a banana-leaf-wrapped tamal, and baby haricot vert. The beef was very good, but I loved the tamal (filled with queso fresco and roasted poblano rajas) both alone and with the sauce. Another winner. Sixth Course: Dessert was a warm chocolate cake, garnished with a pineapple gooseberry, whipped cream, and a tuile, plated with a thin Kahlua anglaise and raspberry sauce. A simple- sounding course, but it was so well executed that even the lone chocophobe at the table (who will remain nameless) fell for it. Seventh Course/Mignardises: Earlier in the evening, some of us had been reminiscing about El Moro, Mexico City's legendary churreria. This course couldn't have come at a better time. The churritos, warm, fluffy, and lightly cinnamon-sugared, were as perfect an example of that dessert as I've ever seen. The thin, but delicious, goat's milk cajeta had an unexpected dimension that we puzzled over for several minutes before Lanny came to the table to help us out. (It was brandy.) The cajeta was so enjoyable that, when some still remained after dipping the churros, I had to throw back the leftovers as a shot. Good stuff. Service was polite and attentive throughout the evening. There were no unreasonable delays as we moved through the menu. And Lanny emerged from the kitchen shortly after the arrival of each course to explain and field questions. Lanny Lancarte is the real deal. And, if this meal is indicative of what he's doing every night, Lanny's Alta Cocina Mexicana should be regarded as a destination restaurant. I will go back for more. Scott
  4. Scott -- DFW

    [DFW] DoughMonkey

    About a week and a half ago, DoughMonkey opened in Snider Plaza. Beautiful, tasty cakes, cookies, and pastries. I'll post more details and some photos after another few trips. But I wanted to go ahead and alert people that this shop is open and definitely worth visiting. From what I've read on-line, it looks like the owner, Rhonda Ruckman, is a transplant from Florida. Before setting up there, she was assistant pastry chef at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills (where she made a wedding cake for Christian Slater that was featured on the cover of People magazine). Looking for a larger market, she moved to Dallas. Scott
  5. Scott -- DFW

    [DFW] Fireside Pies

    Several new "gourmet" pizzerias have opened in my area in the past several months, including Stromboli Cafe (in partnership with Al Biernat), Taverna Pizzeria and Risottoria (from Alberto Lombardi), and most recently Fireside Pies (from Tristan Simon). Fireside Pies has been open for about a month in a small, awkwardly shaped space (something like a wood-slatted bunker) adjacent to Cuba Libre on Henderson. The interior looks great, with wood floors and paneling, low lighting, and an open kitchen (with pecan wood-fired pizza oven) surrounded by a convenient bar for take-out customers. Indoor seating is limited to about a half dozen booths along the front wall, with more seating available on the attractive, covered patio running along the side and back of the building. Since I ordered take-out, I didn't have much chance to observe service elements. However, I was promptly seated at the bar, asked if I wanted a drink while I waited, and offered a copy of the menu to take with me. I didn't have to wait long for the pizza (i.e., under 20 minutes), even though they were busy at the time. Pretty good service, for take-out. The menu is limited to (i) a few appetizers, salads, and sandwiches, (ii) the pizzas (one size only--10"-12", judging from the one I got), (iii) two desserts, and (iv) drinks, drinks, drinks (e.g., beer, frou-frou cocktails, martinis, wines, and a handful of ice cream floats). I ordered the "triple 'roni" pizza--pepperoni, Mozzarella Company mozzarella, fresh basil, and truffle oil. The hand-tossed crust was thin, light, and slightly crisp. A roasted-tomato sauce gave enough sweetness to balance the other toppings, but wasn't excessive. The MozzCo cheese was thick and delicious, though I would have liked it to be left in the oven a little longer, so it could get more toasted. I'm not sure what was "triple" about the pepperoni (nothing unusual about the quantity), but I was pleased to see them placed on top of the cheese rather than underneath. (Putting them underneath the cheese prevents the Maillard reaction from turning mere slices of sausage into the crispy, up-turned, grease-filled flavor buckets that make a good pepperoni pizza sublime.) The truffle oil was a nice addition, adding earthy undertones that I'm unaccustomed to with pizza. (I'll try that one at home.) In all, it was a very good pizza--among the better ones I've had in Dallas (which is, admittedly and unfortunately, not a great pizza town). I'm definitely interested in returning to try some of the other options, such as: Jimmy's spicy Italian sausage with MozzCo scamorza and roasted red onions; Peta Pie with Sonoma goat cheese, balsamic mustard portobellas, baby arugula, roasted red peppers, roasted pine nuts, and charred tomato vinaigrette; Fireside meatballs with roasted red onions and red peppers; "Piled" prosciutto with goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and black olives; et al. It's nice to see them using quality local ingredients, such as Lambert's cheeses and sausages from Jimmy's and Kuby's. Prices are on the high side, averaging around $13 per pizza. But, considering the good quality and that the pizza is enough to comfortably feed (without stuffing) two adults, I think they're reasonable. I'll update this after some more visits. Scott
  6. Scott -- DFW

    [DFW] First Chinese BBQ

    Having read several glowing recommendations, I recently visited First Chinese BBQ. They have several locations in the metroplex--Plano, Richardson, Carrollton, and Arlington. The one I visited was in a Plano red brick strip center at 3304 Coit (just north of Parker). As soon as we walked in the door, we saw a heated meat case displaying dangling roast ducks and chickens, small bins of tripe, and even a roasted pig's head. The interior is clean and well-maintained, with basic appointments. The menu is large and diverse, leaving a first-timer like me at a loss. Fortunately, I had some direction from earlier reviews and ordered accordingly. We couldn't go to a place called "First Chinese BBQ" without ordering the barbecue. So we got a mixed plate of barbecued roasted duck and pork: Both duck and pork had pretty good flavor. The pork was on the dry side, however. The duck was greasier than I would have liked and, being filled with bones, was difficult to eat. Probably not a dish I'd order again. Several people had recommended the beef flat noodles dish, so we also ordered that: The dish consisted of sauteed beef, scallions, sprouts, and broad, flat noodles in a light, smoky sauce. A pretty good homestyle dish and very filling. As the photos show, portion sizes are very generous. Prices are reasonable, with each of the above dishes being $8. Service was polite and attentive. Nothing that we had on this visit knocked our socks off. But as extensive as their menu is, there are bound to be some dishes that I would really enjoy. So, for those who have been there, what have you found to be their strengths and weaknesses? And are the various locations equal in quality? Any additional information would be appreciated. Scott
  7. Scott -- DFW

    [DFW] The Burger Topic

    After hearing many glowing reports, I recently went to the Dairy-ette for the first time. The decor is, well, '50s burger shack. No frills. The booths look and *feel* like they've been there since the beginning. Not much on the walls except for the Coca-Cola sponsored, interior illuminated, moveable type menu board. Waitresses were very friendly. We started with a chocolate shake and malt. Both were above average--very thick, creamy (and, on the malt, heavily malted), and generously portioned for the price. She had a cheeseburger with everything on it. I had the chili cheeseburger and fries. We both agreed the burgers were quite good. Best in town? Tastes and preferences in burgers vary so wildly (thick v. thin, flame-broiled v. fried, etc.) that judgments like that are hard to make. I prefer the double chili cheeseburger at Cactus Jack's on Lemmon (where I can also get "tater twisters"--a spiral-mandolined potato, alchemically transformed into a concertina of starch, salt, and grease). But I think the Dairy-ette's offering is in the same ballpark. With good burgers and shakes, reasonable prices, amiable waitresses, and a small-town Texas feel, the Dairy-ette is a reasonable nominee for "best burger joint" in Dallas. Check it out, if you're ever stranded in East Dallas. Dairy-Ette 9785 Ferguson Rd. Dallas, TX 75228 (214) 327-9983 Scott PS There's a fantastic burger variation that I've only encountered in a chain of Pakistani-operated restaurants in Utah...the pastrami burger--1/4 lb. of flame-broiled beef, 1/4 lb. of sauteed pastrami, with provolone. If anyone knows where something like that might be available in Dallas, I'd love to hear about it.
  8. Scott -- DFW

    Lanny's Alta Cocina Mexicana

    If this meal is representative of what Lanny does every night, there is no comparison. It blows the curve. I haven't had a better meal at any Mexican restaurant in the US. Top shelf. In the same category as the usual suspects (e.g., Mansion, Tasting Room, Abacus, Aurora, Nana). Mobil 4-star territory. Scott
  9. Scott -- DFW

    Moto Restaurant - Chicago

    I think you've clearly sketched out some reasonable complaints about your meal. As to your comments about repetition, I had some similar thoughts after my meal there, though I wasn't quite as bothered by them. And, upon further reflection, I'm even less troubled. Why? Because I think the repetition only stands out because the food is unusual. ExtraMSG asked about the seemingly high number of sous vide preparations (i.e., five). That did seem high. But, had this been a traditional tasting menu, would anyone have thought to complain about a little under a third of the courses being *sauteed*? Forms and techniques repeat in almost any meal. But because so many of the forms and techniques at Moto are unconventional, the customers' attention is more drawn to them, making us more cognizant of repetition. The repetitions I noticed most were the soda/sippable courses, the sous vide elements, and the puffed grains. Frankly, the repetition of shredded meats and courses with sweet elements never occured to me. Strange how two people having a very similar meal would find different patterns of repetition. For perspective, here are some numbers, based on my meal: * Courses with shredded meats -- 4. (In three of them the shredded meats were served in conjunction with another form of meat.) * Courses with sous vide preparations -- 5. (As I said to ExtraMSG, in each case, some other technique was used alongside the sous vide.) * Courses with puffed grains -- 5. (Amaranth, wild rice, jasmine rice, quinoa, and corn.) * Courses with a soup or sippable component -- 8. (In every case the soup/sippable component was matched with something else to contrast, complement, or add texture.) * Courses with an ice cream/sorbet/granita -- 8. (In every case, it was matched with another flavor or texture.) * Courses with some sweet component -- 9. (I'm reading "sweetness" broadly to arrive at that number. Few of those components would rise to the level of dessert sweetness. Many were matched with savory flavors for balance.) Repetitions of form or technique concern me less than repetitions of flavor. Since the frequent courses with a sweet component (a little over half) stood out to you in an unpleasant way, I can definitely see why you enjoyed your meal less. For me, those courses weren't cloying and usually balanced the sweetness with other tastes that kept me interested and happy. Anyway, thanks for your detailed description and comments! Scott
  10. Scott -- DFW

    Moto Restaurant - Chicago

    Good questions. I'm afraid I don't have good answers. As for the quality, I can't really say, since I've never done a blind taste testing of sous vide v. conventionally prepared ingredients. Since the technique seems to be expanding in upscale kitchens, I assume some chefs have conducted such testing and found that sous vide cooking produces a superior result. I had no complaints with the taste or texture of any sous vide preparation at Moto. As for whether the number of sous vide preparations "made sense," that's more of an aesthetic question. Running down the list, it looks like about a third of the courses made use of the technique for one component or another. At first glance, that seems like a lot. However, in every course in which a sous vide preparation was used (i.e., 2, 7, 10, 12, 14), it was used alongside at least one other technique (e.g., roasting, confit, braising, sauteeing, or steaming). Chef Cantu clearly cooks sous vide more than most chefs. But that's not the only arrow in his quiver. And, particularly in the case of the beef tenderloin, he shows that he's well aware of the technique's limitations. I think desserts pose a special challenge for avant garde chefs--at least for those working in the US. Americans have particular and comparatively narrow palates, when it comes to desserts. While that leaves a lot of opportunity to create unexpected dishes, it also means that there's real risk that the new creation won't be recognized, accepted, or enjoyed as a dessert. This meal at Moto seemed to hedge its bets. Two dessert courses were more exploratory (i.e., sesame milk soda and saffron soda), while three remained well within diners' horizon of understanding (i.e., breakfast cereal, chocolate rice pudding, mignardise). That seems a reasonable approach. Were they satisfying enough? In the balance, yes. However, the dessert courses at Moto (a) were not as strong as the rest of the meal and (b) were not exceptional for a restaurant of four- or five-star caliber. (The same, I would add, could be said of my meal at Trio in November.) But that slight unevenness did little to detract from an otherwise fascinating and splendid meal. Scott
  11. Scott -- DFW

    Moto Restaurant - Chicago

    September 4, 2004 I repeatedly checked my MapQuest printout as I walked from my hotel to Moto last Saturday night. I’d heard it was in a warehouse district, but supposed it would be a gentrified, glowing, populous, erstwhile warehouse district, ala Dallas’s West End. Not so. Large trucks lined the dimly lit street, with choking abattoir odors emerging from their open backs as workmen hosed them out. Because of its understated sand-blasted glass façade, I passed Moto without recognizing it as a restaurant, my eyes being drawn to splashy lights farther down the block. I quickly backtracked, found the entrance, and let myself in. Quiet for a Saturday night, but I did arrive early--almost an hour ahead of my reservation time. The maitre d’ said he’d be happy to seat me at once. The dining room, with its spare, modern design and simple color palate, doesn’t lend itself to flowery, evocative descriptions. The décor falls into deep shadows, serving as an unobtrusive backdrop to the food. (The low lighting may affect the quality of the pictures that follow. I hope my use of the flash didn’t cause too much of a disturbance to Chef Cantu, his fellow-laborers, and the other customers that night.) When my waitress brought the menu, I told her without hesitation that I was in for the whole ride, to which she responded with a nod and knowing smile. (I’m going to use the words waiter and waitress as shorthand. As many of you know, Chef Cantu has blurred the line between the front and back of the house, so that many of the servers are trained, capable chefs in their own right. I’ll come back to that later.) The “GTM”--or gastronomic tasting menu--featured a variety of courses from Moto’s smaller menus (of four, seven, and ten courses), as well as some unique offerings. I wasn’t sure what to expect and deliberately hid the menu from myself to preserve that ignorance from course to course. First Course -- The first course--not listed on the menu, but more substantial than a typical amuse bouche--consisted of a concentrated honeydew melon juice (from an heirloom Japanese variety) floating a dollop of jalapeno sorbet. The melon juice, served a little above room temperature, had a surprising depth and intensity that contrasted effectively with the creamy, unexpectedly mellow sorbet. In this course, as in others, the chef used temperature contrasts to great effect. Second Course -- The second course tied several summer squash preparations together with a subtle curry and a cardamom-raisin vinaigrette. The squash appeared sous vide, braised, dehydrated, and in an anglaise, exploiting many of the ingredient’s flavor and textural possibilities. A very satisfying course. Third Course -- The third course featured an Anjou pear soup, garnished with torn basil and shaved Kalamata olive ice, and a spherical tangle of onion cotton candy. The ball of cotton candy is inserted in the bowl of viscous soup and rolled about, causing the soup to be picked up into the sugar structure (for texture) and many of the oniony strands to dissolve into the soup (for flavor). A whimsical presentation, but the unconventional flavor combinations worked quite well. Fourth Course -- The fourth course was brought out under cover and dramatically revealed, resulting in smiles, giggles, or, in some cases, nonplussed expressions. It was “low carb maki"--an edible-ink picture of sushi on edible paper, backed with the dehydrated, pulverized components of sushi. Think of it as a “scratch ‘n’ sniff” for the tongue. As with “scratch ‘n’ sniff” odors, the simulacrum doesn’t quite live up to its referent. But as the paper melted on the tongue, releasing the flavors, it made me grin. The cleverness of the bite made up for any shortcomings in flavor. I wouldn’t order a whole pad of them as an entrée; but in the scope of a nearly twenty-course meal, I can enjoy one or two unabashedly “through the looking glass” dishes. Fifth Course -- Fish and chips were the fifth course. A morsel of skate, sautéed in beurre noisette, was plated beside a tan-colored, silky-textured sauce consisting of pureed sour cream, fried onions, and potato chips. It was a truly great piece of fish. And the sauce (which really did taste of potato chips) had a curious appeal. Sixth Course -- One of the more surprising courses (in a night full of surprises) arrived next. Announced by the waiter as a caramelized cucumber sorbet, the glistening sorbet ball rested in a pool of sweet cucumber juice and olive oil. As I tried to scoop into the sorbet with my spoon, I met some unanticipated resistance. “Icy sorbet,” I thought, with a scowl. As I pressed a little harder with the spoon, it broke through and sunk easily to the plate. It then hit me: This isn’t a sorbet made with caramelized cucumber, but a cucumber sorbet that’s been encrusted in a thin, crispy layer of caramel! The caramel layer added a different character of sweetness and a pleasant textural contrast. Clever and very enjoyable--one of those tastes that I’m reluctant to rinse from my mouth. Seventh Course -- The seventh course, and one of a very few that I recognized from the reviews I’d read, consisted of two small piles--one of thinly sliced duck breast (sous vide) and another of duck leg (confit)--bridged by a fried, egg-roll-looking cylinder, plated with two sauces, and garnished with a crispy duck tuile. One sauce was puree of wonton. Another was puree of apple and foie gras. And the tube, when broken open, released a warm sauce of clover honey, orange, and togarashi. Every component of the dish was excellent on its own or in combination with the other flavors in the presentation. For flavor points, this was one of the peaks of the night. Eighth Course -- Ah, a palate cleansing course: nori sorbet and black pepper soup. You know how when you stub your toe, there’s always some joker around who’ll offer to slug you in the arm to take your mind off the sore toe? Well, that joker’s in the kitchen at Moto, muscling all the night’s preceding flavors out of the way in a few small bites and sips. Don’t get me wrong; this was a very fine course. The soup--basically black pepper-infused vegetable stock and sesame oil--was more complex and delicious than I would have guessed, given its simplicity. But a rich, beautiful, peppery warmth lingered in my mouth for minutes. Prelude to Tenth Course -- An attractive, totally raw slice of Pacific black sea bass (dusted with nori and sea salt) was brought to the table in a polymer box where, I was told, it would steam before my eyes until cooked to perfection. Ninth Course -- While I oversaw the cooking of the tenth course--apparently, watching a boxed bass will not affect its cooking time; either that or they factor “watched-pot onlooker delay” into the equation--one of the most unassuming, yet greatest tasting courses of the night arrived. Red beans and rice. In the bottom left corner: scarlet runner beans. In the bottom right corner: wild and jasmine rice, topped with a pyramid of red bean ice cream. In the top right corner: shredded, braised veal cheek. In the top left corner: puffed wild and jasmine rice served over a scarlet runner bean anglaise. This was such a basic-looking dish, but it hit on all cylinders, drawing great contrasts out of hot and cold, sweet and savory, soft and crisp. In tackling classics, some chefs end up gilding the lily. But, in this case, I felt that Chef Cantu was both respecting tradition and making it his own. I could eat this stuff all day long. One of the best things I’ve eaten all year. Tenth Course, in medias res -- The waitress returned with a colorfully sauced plate and a spatula, with which she removed the bass from the box. Sauces on the plate included purees of eggplant and of roasted pineapple. In the corner rested a cube of pineapple cooked sous vide with jalapenos. The sauces were enjoyable and complemented the sea bass well. But the fish needed no accompaniment. Eleventh Course -- This course featured a finely roasted piece of boneless bobwhite quail, with a trumpet royal mushroom sauce and a liquefied salad of Swiss chard and a vinaigrette made with 50 year old Sherry. The salad, served in a plastic pipette, offered a delightful burst of flavor (even though I felt like I was taking some sort of vaccine). The quail and sauce were conventional, but delicious. Twelfth Course -- The waitress described this course as “Chef Cantu’s interpretation of Texas barbecue.” Chef Cantu, if you ever happen to read this, I’m going to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen: I live in Texas; I know Texas barbecue; Texas barbecue is a friend of mine; Chef, confit of capon leg wrapped in a wafer-thin slice of sous vide breast, topped with a scoop of fried chicken ice cream and plated with a beet and walnut puree, sunflower seeds, and trumpet royal mushrooms is not Texas barbecue. By that, I don’t mean to suggest that this course was a culinary Dan Quayle. Far from it. I loved every bit of this memorable dish—even the crazy Kentucky Fried ice cream, which I feared might be mere showboating. But even if your hermeneutics are as flexible as a Chinese acrobat, this is no “interpretation” of Texas barbecue. Thirteenth Course -- This course, which the waitress acknowledged was a work in progress, consisted of tomato granita over puffed amaranth. It tasted pretty much like what you would think a tomato granita over puffed amaranth would taste like: a little grainy, a little crunchy, alternatively bland and sweet. It didn’t taste bad. But it didn’t taste good, either. It seemed like a rough draft, compared with the more fully developed dishes of the evening. Fourteenth Course -- Perhaps the most conventional of the evening, this course featured prime beef tenderloin (cooked sous vide at 130 degrees for a little under an hour, then seared to bring Maillard to the table) served in slices over braised oxtail, with a sauce of pureed red pearl onion and a few butter-sautéed chanterelles. A tasty, comfortable dish. Fifteenth Course -- This was a foamed sesame milk soda with fennel, accompanied by a couple of pieces of fennel candy in edible wrappers. The fennel candies were okay, but the sesame milk soda was totally lost on me, tasting vaguely, unpleasantly medicinal, making it the only course (or component of a course) of the evening that I found disagreeable to my palate. Though I didn’t care for it at the level of pure taste, it was an interesting concept. And, in a meal of this scope, having only one item that’s inaccessible to an individual palate isn’t bad odds at all. Sixteenth Course -- This dish, aptly named “breakfast cereal,” was a bowl of shaved ice milk with diced banana and red and yellow puffed quinoa. It was a fairly enjoyable dessert, though the concept made more impact than the simple flavors. Seventeenth Course -- This course, which unfortunately I downed before remembering to take a photo, was a saffron foam soda served over a dollop of cardamom ice cream and small cubes of saffron gelée. While, flavor- and texture-wise, I enjoyed this course, in the context of a tasting menu it seemed somewhat redundant, following hard on the heels of the foamed sesame milk soda and even echoing the opening course’s honeydew melon juice with jalapeno sorbet. Everything else about the meal was so varied that this repetition in form (even though the flavors and textures differed) stood out, like a magician who first pulls a rabbit from a hat, then a guinea pig, then a chinchilla, to diminishing applause. Eighteenth Course -- The last major course was “chocolate rice pudding made your way,” consisting of a cup of a rich, thick, milk chocolate soup and a dish of puffed jasmine rice topped with torn mint and a toasted marshmallow. The chocolate is poured over and stirred into the puffed rice, resulting in a gooey mush as the rice softens. The dessert tasted good, but was a (possibly deliberate) step down in the “adventure” department. I would have preferred something more ambitious; but I can see how some diners might wish to end the meal on a homier note. Mignardise -- The mignardise was a crème-brulée ball encrusted with caramelized puffed corn. Fun, unique, and delicious, this bite was a fitting end to the meal. Service Comments -- Service was, from start to finish, nearly flawless. I was promptly seated, despite arriving early. There were no significant delays between courses, even though I was dining alone (i.e., no conversation) and not drinking wine, allowing me to walk out the door almost exactly two and a half hours after I walked in—an impressive feat, given the number of courses. Wait-staff were polite, responsive, and not at all condescending (even though I may have abused the absence of dress code by coming in jeans and sandals). They were, as you would expect given Chef Cantu’s policy of putting seasoned kitchen hands in the front of the house, exceptionally knowledgeable about the ingredients and techniques going into the dishes. Furthermore, they seemed to take a deep personal pride in the food they were presenting, since they were creatively connected with the dishes and not mere couriers. Near the conclusion of the meal, Chef Cantu visited with me for a moment. He seemed very open-minded to feedback. (I told him that I “didn’t get” the sesame milk soda course.) And, most impressively, he seemed generous in spirit with respect to his competition in the city, going so far as to recommend several other restaurants that he thought were moving in new or interesting directions. An excellent service experience, all around. General Comments -- This was a fantastic meal. In terms of flavor, it was in the top tier of meals I’ve had this year; and, for sheer originality, it was unsurpassed. (For perspective, dinners this year have included a Michelin 3-star and several Mobil 5-stars, including the kitchen table at Trotter’s where I dined on the preceding night.) A question I had, and even posed on this board, before making the reservation was, How does Chef Cantu’s work compare with that of Chef Achatz (whose excellent work I sampled last November)? In an unrelated thread, Achatz once said that when you work outside the box, you place yourself in a smaller box. In a sense, that’s correct. The tendency is to compare Cantu with Achatz, because both are working outside the box. But the space outside the box is incredibly vast, with many uncharted regions. The fact that they’re both “Other” doesn’t make them alike, any more than Lou Malnati’s and Chilpancingo are alike simply because they’re both “non-Chinese food.” And as for which angle on envelope-pushing better appeals to my palate...well, I’ll have to think about that. Chicago’s a beautiful city. Special thanks to all the local food-lovers who so generously shared their time and expertise with me and Extra-MSG while we were in town. Can't wait to come back! Scott
  12. Scott -- DFW

    A Texas Chat with Chef Lanny Lancarte II

    Lanny, 1) Assuming you make corn tortillas in your restaurant, do you use fresh masa (and, if so, do you make your own)? Commercially produced masa harina? 2) What Mexican ingredients would you most like to have, but have trouble getting here in Texas? Thanks! Scott
  13. Scott -- DFW

    Dallas: Indian Restaurants?

    Bad news. Benaka, which had been one of my favorite Indian restaurants in DFW, closed about a month ago. I'm hoping they relocated, but their web site doesn't say anything about that. As a consolation prize, a new Indian restaurant has opened in its location (2836 N. O'Connor, Irving, TX)--Masala Grill, which is operated by the people behind Bombay Sweets (on eastbound 183 in Irving). I've only had one meal there--veggie samosas, malai kofta, and veggie biryani--but it was pretty darned solid. Definitely worth a repeat visit for more menu exploration. Scott
  14. Scott -- DFW

    [DFW] DoughMonkey

    Photos were taken through the glass (except for the croissant and eclair picture, which was taken with them sitting on top of my desk). I tried to take a few "big picture" pictures, but they didn't turn out, due to glare from the curved glass of the cases. They aren't doing breads--just sweets. (They do make brioche loaves, though.) Scott
  15. Scott -- DFW

    [DFW] DoughMonkey

    Well, I've gone back once (sometimes twice) a day, working through the offerings. The mornings mostly feature breakfast pastries: scones, cinnamon rolls, brioches, filled croissants (e.g., chocolate, smoked ham and gruyere, etc.), and sticky buns. (They open at 8:00 AM and close at 6:00 PM on weekdays.) Closer to lunchtime, the dessert pastry options expand: tartlets, ...cakes, ... eclairs, ...cookies, biscotti, mousses, and other goodies. The pastries are as delicious as they are beautiful, featuring premium ingredients (e.g., Valrhona, Cluizel, and Scharffen-Berger chocolates, Tasmanian honey, etc.). DoughMonkey is one of the brighter newcomers in the Dallas food scene. For a dessert-addict like me, it's a godsend. Scott
  16. Scott -- DFW

    Texas foods online

    If I were eating mail-order from Texas, my top two links would be: Black's BBQ (For brisket and sausage.) Mozzarella Company (For...well, just about anything they make.) As for the links you've posted, Southside's sausage is very good, as is that of most of the famous BBQ spots in that area of central Texas east of Austin (e.g., Black's, Kreuz, Smitty's, Luling City Market). The Dallas Tortilla & Tamale factory makes pretty good tamales. But, even when they're fresh, they're not better than you can make at home; so I'd probably pass on them. Scott
  17. Scott -- DFW

    Between Austin and Fort Worth

    That would be the Turkey Shop & Cafeteria on the northbound side of I-35 (about ten miles south of Hillsboro). With its big turkey sign, it's hard to miss. Scott
  18. Scott -- DFW

    [Houston] Felix

    Thanks for the report. Excellent photos! Scott
  19. Scott -- DFW

    Too Authentic for you?

    Grant Achatz--an e-Gulleteer and recently departed chef of Trio (where he earned 5 Mobil stars)--has used acorns in his cooking. See the following response to a question by Cabrales in a Chicago forum Q&A: For some acorn (and other related) recipes, check out this Acorn Link. Scott
  20. Scott -- DFW

    Between Austin and Fort Worth

    Waco is almost equidistant between the cities. There are a few decent options there (burgers at George's, the "gut pack" at Vitek's, etc.), but nothing worth writing home about. But about 20 minutes north of Waco is West, a Czech community which is noted for its kolaches. That might be worth a stop. Scott
  21. Scott -- DFW

    [DFW] Zyka

    Therese, Thanks for the input. I tried the butter chicken a couple of nights ago. Darker in flavor than I'm used to with that dish, but very tasty. Much more in line quality-wise with my first meal there. $8 for a dinner for two on a Saturday night. I'll keep plugging away at the menu. Scott
  22. Scott -- DFW

    [DFW] Zyka

    Zyka sits in the corner of the Beltline/I-75 strip mall that contains Taj Mahal Imports, Bombay Chinese, and Hot Breads. In format, it falls in the fast casual category--styrofoam plates, plastic utensils, no table service, but a fuller menu than one would expect from a true fast food restaurant. Decor is spartan. Seating is ample. A number of Hyderabadi specialties distinguishes Zyka's menu from the competition. We started our lunch with an appetizer of "Chicken 65," which they claim won critical awards at their sister restaurant in Atlanta. Tender chunks of ginger- and garlic-marinated chicken were fried to crispness and served with jalapeno slices, cilantro, and tamarind and mint dipping sauces. The sauces were merely adequate, but the chicken was very enjoyable. For entrees, we had dal Hyderabadi (pureed lentils with tomato, cilantro, mint, and cumin) and Hyderabadi mutton biryani (mildly flavored mutton cooked with rice, yogurt, saffron, cloves, et al.). The biryani came with a side dish of an unusually oniony (but good) raita. For bread, we had a fresh, buttery paratha. Portions were generous. And the overall quality was suprisingly good, especially given the low price point. Appetizers range from $2.49 to $4.49. Entrees range from $3.49 to $4.99. Tasty, quick, cheap, different, and conveniently located near the best Indian grocer in town. What's not to like? I'll update this (perhaps with some photos) after I've had a chance to return. Scott
  23. Scott -- DFW

    Too Authentic for you?

    A while back, I went to Kuby's--a German deli near SMU in Dallas--and bought one of each of their housemade German sausages (omitting their andouille and Southwestern style links). I took them to a friend's house where we grilled them all, along with some storebought Johnsonville brats. I then conducted a blind taste testing of the sausages and noted the rankings. The Johnsonville brats, surprisingly, came out on top. Frequent complaints about the more authentic German sausages included (a) thick, offputting casings, (b) unpleasantly soft and smooth textured meat, and above all © blandness. One of the participants was a child of German immigrants, raised in a largely German community in Wisconsin. I asked her if these were just poor representatives of the food, to which she replied, "No, they're excellent German sausages. My parents would love them. But I don't like German sausages." The next time I got together with that group of friends, I brought more links from Kuby's--this time having asked the butcher to direct me to sausages with firmer texture and more aggressive seasoning. As you might expect, this round of contenders fared much better against the Americanized supermarket brats. In my experience, that's quite common. Palates differ from country to country and from region to region within those countries. So it's not unusual for people to adapt foreign dishes to better suit their tastes. Nor is it unusual for American restauranteurs to tailor their menus and recipes to foreign tastes when they open outposts abroad. When the first Pizza Hut opened in Lisbon, I remember being stunned at the number of people ordering a bready-crusted sardine and corn pizza. I remember a Portuguese friend who, not knowing what to do with a box of corn flakes I had bought, poured the cereal into a small bowl of passionfruit-flavored Tang. I explained to him that breakfast cereals are intended to be eaten with milk and that it's more customary to fill the bowl with the cereal, *then* add the liquid. He gave it a few tries the authentic American way (i.e., cereal first, then milk), but ultimately said he preferred it the way he'd been eating it (i.e., Tang first, then corn flakes). The Americanization of foreign foods is often demonized by foodies (usually ignoring the fact that we're far from unique in making such adaptations). I suppose the root of that complaint is that there's something wrong with not eating a food on its own terms, as the natives eat it (those noble savages!), unadulterated and pure. If someone responds that they don't like or prefer an authentic taco (participating in the Platonic Form of the Taco), they're dismissed as narrow-minded, culturally chauvinistic, or just too lazy to acquire the taste. The flip side, of course, is that even if one comes to enjoy the "authentic" thing, it remains heresy to enjoy its Americanized corruption. (No man can serve two tacos.) And, ironically, the self-appointed arbiters of authenticity tend to be woefully underqualified for the task. The truly knowledgable (e.g., our own Theabroma) have more difficulty in drawing hard lines of authenticity, since they come to see (i) the complexity of a national or regional cuisine, which cannot be reduced to a couple of canonical textbooks in translation, the offerings of a handful of restaurants in the US, or experiences of the occasional vacation abroad and (ii) the constant flux of culinary culture, its expansions, distortions, fusions, movements, etc. And why should we like authentic foreign foods? It should go without saying, but taste is not objective or universal. There are varying psychological, behavioral, chemical, perhaps even genetic components that go into food selection. Why should we pay the dues to acquire a particular taste? Isn't cooking all about making foods more appealling than they are in their natural state? A carrot in its natural state may have some appeal. But maybe I'd like it better with a little salt. Or steamed and with a pat of butter. Or sauteed and caramelized with brown sugar. It's not a question of experiencing the carrot on its own terms, though that might be a worthwhile experience. It's a matter of manipulating the carrot so as to get the biggest buzz of personal pleasure that can be milked from it. How is adding shredded Jack or chili con carne to a Mexican dish any different from that? Most foodies aren't culinary anthropologists, though they may fancy themselves such. Even if they were, anthropology isn't about judging and ranking cultures--verboten actions in today's "enlightened" age. No, most foodies are simply people who live to eat. Hedonists. Epicureans. Pleasure-seekers. And excessive concern about food's authenticity (like preoccupation with religious orthodoxy) is a leading bugbear of the pleasure-seeker. Eat what tastes good. Thus endeth the sermon. Scott PS This little rant isn't directed at anyone in particular. Just random thoughts on authenticity.
  24. Scott -- DFW

    [DFW] Zyka

    Nessa, That's the place. Like you, I was disappointed with it. (I've heard the same from Indian friends.) However, the few occasions when I've been to their Irving location, the quality has been much, much better. I'm attaching a couple of old reviews below, so others can get a sense of what we're talking about. The first one is for the Irving location. The second is for the Richardson spot next to Taj Mahal Imports. Scott ----------------------------- Hot Breads is an international chain bakery, fusing French baking and Indian flavors. Last weekend, I finally had a chance to swing by and size it up. It was well worth the trip. (The only DFW location currently open is on MacArthur in Irving, north a bit from Cool River Cafe. A larger one is under construction next door to Taj Mahal Imports at the intersection of Beltline and Central. [Note: The Richardson one is now open.]) The bakery's offerings are divided (more or less) into thirds. Wooden shelves hold whole loaves of various breads (including fruit cakes), while a long glass case is split between dessert items and savory pastries. The only seating consists of a few tables for two along one of the walls. Savory pastries offered a variety of fillings/toppings. For meats, the options were chicken tikka, curried chicken, goat keema, and chicken hot dog (though it looks nothing like a traditional hot dog). For non-meats, paneer, spinach, aloo capsicum, egg/mint, and mixed veggies. To add even more variety, each flavor was offered in multiple formats. So you could get a chicken tikka Danish, croissant, mini-pizza, plait, bun, or puff. With all of those options, I was only able to try a few: chicken tikka Danish and croissant; curried chicken pizza and puff; goat keema croissant; chicken mayonnaise hot dog; and aloo capsicum bun. I was very pleasantly surprised by the bread quality across the formats. Even without considering the fillings, these were very good pastries (especially the croissants, buns, and Danish). But the fillings also surpassed expectations, all being good to very good (favorites being the curried chicken and goat keema). I only wish I'd had more room to try some of the other vegetarian offerings (especially since the aloo capsicum bun was one of the best items I had). Desserts included fruit tartlets, cakes, mousses (chocolate and strawberry), and cookies. After the savory pastries, I didn't have much room for dessert. But I managed. I tried a slice of black forest cake--layers of cream and chocolate cake with a touch of coconut and shaved chocolate on top. The cream helped compensate for dryness in the cake, but didn't elevate it from mediocrity. (According to the clerk it is their most popular dessert.) Also tried an Irish creme coffee cake. This one was pretty good--light, smooth, moist, and creamy, with good flavors. (The clerk said it was their best dessert.) I also tried several cookies (sold by the pound): sugar, butter, almond, and two savory cookies (one masala and one with caraway seed). Cookies were light, crumbly, and understated in flavor. I took a half pound of the savory cookies with me and tried them out on a few friends and family members, drawing sharply divided reactions. None of the desserts were outstanding (though none were bad, either). But, given the price point, you can't expect too much. Speaking of price point, each pastry (savory and dessert) sold for either $1.25 or $1.50. --------------------------------------- Last night, I went to the new location of Hot Breads in Richardson (next to Taj Mahal Imports). While the store is larger than the Irving location, the selection of pastries was smaller. Also, you can't see the baking area, whereas the Irving location has a open kitchen. I'm not sure if they're baking the pastries on-site there or not. Regardless, everything we got (curried chicken croissant, mixed veggie croissant, chicken tikka plait, goat keema bun, broccoli quiche) was stale in taste and texture. The lack of selection and the staleness may have been simply because we went in the evening, rather than earlier in the day. (The visit to the Irving location was around midday.) If I go back to this one, it definitely won't be in the evening. [i did go back once on a Saturday morning and it wasn't much better. Slightly larger selection, but still below average pastries. But they have a pool table, which is a nice touch in any bakery.]
  25. Scott -- DFW

    [DFW] Zyka

    Okay, the jury's still out on this one. I went back last night and had two more entrees--malai kofta and chilli chicken. The veggie curry was mediocre buffet quality and the chicken was only slightly better. A dessert of pista kulfi (served in a small clay flowerpot!) had good flavor, but was very icy--so much so near the bottom that it was like a crystallized mille feuille. Still a decent value; but this meal was of more fast-food quality than the first. I'll probably be back, in hopes of finding more winners on the menu. Thanks for chiming in, Nessa. I too would be interested in hearing reports on Udipi Cafe. For some reason, I've never gone there. And has Hot Breads improved any? I went there a few times right after they opened and found flavors and freshness wanting. (I had much better luck with their Irving location, though it's been a while since I've been there.) Scott
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