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Culinista

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  1. Disclaimer: I was involved in the original Spanish beef odyssey with Jeffrey Steingarten and came to the same conclusion about the superior quality of the superaged beef from older cattle at El Capricho in my article for TIME. The beef quest continues, and my recent trip to Pastorale in Reet, Belgium to taste 2 steaks from a 5-year-old dairy cow (breed unknown but originating in Holland) confirms some of the things I learned on the Spanish trip. First, breed does not matter as much as the individual genetic characteristics for particular protein structures within the muscles and connective tissues. Until the animal is killed or its muscle tissue sampled in a lab, it is impossible to tell which of an identical herd from the same farm will produce that great steak. Secondly, older animals have superior complexities of flavor if they are properly tender to begin with thanks to genetic blessings and then properly aged. The Dutch slaughterhouse processes old dairy cows normally sent for dog food, etc. The supplier for Pastorale is a local butcher who has taken to examining the meat from the carcasses before processing and selects maybe 1% for potential aging for high-end restaurants, based on the individual genetic characteristics I mentioned. One steak was dry-aged 15 days, the other 50. The superiority of the 50-day steak was obvious unless you ate it with the overly strong sauce served by the restaurant. I think my favorite steaks have still originated from Galicia or Portugal, but this was very, very close. I understand that it would be possible to breed for the desirable characteristics of protein/acid structure, but it would take about 30 years to identify the correct genes and breed them into the herd. So far, the beef industry has bred for other characteristics besides tenderness, juiciness and flavor--which, incidentally, have little to do with marbling or other visible fat. As for the dairy cow/oxen debate, I think it is really about the individual animal and the preferences of the diner. Oxen, particularly the older ones, have a very distinctive flavor which can be spectacular or a bit of an acquired taste. The Marmite factor can come into play.
  2. Thanks for this post. I'm pretty embarrassed that I have not gotten around to going there, despite the fact I can see it from my house and I've seen suckling pig mentioned several times on the menu. I eat out so much that when possible I just stay home. It's quite popular among the locals, which is surprising. Richmond folk usually abominate anyone who tries a bit harder. I'll correct the oversight as soon as possible.
  3. I have an active toddler myself, and we find the following reliable and practical: Royal China in Queensway or Royal China Club on Baker Street, particularly for dim sum. Bruno Loubet, particularly weekend lunches. They have a terrace, decent amounts of room for a stroller, and no tablecloths to yank. El Faro for tapas--bit of a hike out to Canary Wharf, but the river view may be novel for your child safely behind glass. Tom's Kitchen is crowded and noisy, but it is informal. I found that quality has slipped significantly since it opened, but it is decent. You can also try big hotel restaurants, which are used to dealing with young guests and have facilities for them.
  4. We were in Strasbourg last summer with our 7-month-old. L'Arnsbourg was her first 3-star, and we ate there twice and stayed at the Hotel K. We did better with the traditional dishes a la carte, particularly enjoying the veal sweetbreads and kidneys, the fruit and vegetable cocotte, and the frogs' legs. We did ask for seconds of the beef tartare and the oyster with citrus and seaweeds from the tasting menu of the night before, but execution was not the same. The baby had her first potato puree there, and she must have enjoyed it because she has refused to have any other since. This is the hidden danger of taking kids to Michelin restaurants so early. Buerehiesel is not in general a fantastic restaurant, but they do the best Baeckeoffe of Bresse chicken we had. Exceptional, with a hint of preserved lemon. Maison des Tanneurs is touristy but decent for choucroute, especially with a child. Maison Kommerzell was a disgrace.
  5. I just came from a culinary event there, so I cannot say what these restaurants are like in normal life. However La Subida in Cormóns, both the formal restaurant and the osteria, are worth a visit, even a stay in their lovely rooms. The family is passionate about preserving and improving local foodways, even creating a high-end vinegar. My husband is still dreaming about the freshly laid eggs the owner casually fried for him on an open fire. The food has a touch of Slovenia, where the family originated. We also had an absolutely wonderful fisherman's soup with beans, salted sardines, and fat eels grilled on rosemary at Tavernetta All'Androna in Grado, made even more wonderful by a magnum of one of Josko Gravner's amphora-aged wines. If you find any of his wines on the list, by all means try it. The rose-shaped radicchio of Gorizia is a local specialty and very expensive, but it may not be in season when you go in September. It is left to freeze three times, which gives it an unusually sweet taste.
  6. I traveled widely while pregnant, including to Italy. Actually, medical advice is generally pretty uniform these days across Europe, except for the doctor in Finland who encouraged me to climb Kilimanjaro while two months pregnant. The major things to limit would be alcohol, of course, and raw milk cheeses and charcuterie because of the risk of listeria. My doctor banned liver and foie gras because of the risk of accumulating excessive vitamin A. In Italy, fresh sardines and small salt water fish and shellfish are excellent, and there is less potential for excessive mercury levels. Just err on the side of caution with potential food poisoning when it comes to undercooked meats and raw vegetables. This is the proper moment to pig out on pasta and pizza.
  7. Congratulations! Can't wait to see the first issue.
  8. I should add that we were known at Il Canto but anonymous at Lorenzo and Romano. We paid for everything except the last meal at Romano, where our journalist friends treated us (as an exchange for us treating them at the first meal at Il Canto). The first Romano meal was totally anonymous. Mauro Colagreco, the chef at Mirazur has been a friend even before he opened the restaurant, but you should still go there even if only to see what everyone is talking about. He has become the hot young thing now.
  9. Just came from there two days ago. Ate twice at Il Canto outside Siena, twice at Romano, twice at Lorenzo. My vote goes to Lorenzo for impeccable product, impeccably cooked. Only one dish out of a dozen was slightly ill judged, and that was a wonderful turbot in a wonderful but unnecessary caramelized onion sauce (masked the wonderful turbot). We had some lovely tiny fried softshell crabs (moleca) and transparent gamberetti. The spaghetti with baby cozze and clams redeems all the horrible spaghetti alla vongole crimes committed in other parts around the world--I think the heavens opened. (There is another version with calamari, but the cozze/clam combo is better.) Also ask for scampi with homemade mayonnaise. The whole thing was so good we drove back there with a five-month-old baby for another 3-hour lunch. Romano is also excellent, but they tend to overcook to my taste. The seafood dishes more often than not come with elaborate sauces--giant gamberoni in chestnut honey sauce, for example, or scampi in champagne sauce. They are interesting flavor marriages to try once, but in general I prefer pristine seafood simply and lightly prepared. The exception was the stuffed calamaretti, a house signature and very accomplished. Also exceptional was the pesce nero. The family who runs it are lovely and have a wonderful story. They started the restaurant as teenagers, even before they were married. Both restaurants buy their seafood twice a day, but it is possible that Romano may have suffered in comparison because we ate there both times for dinner, on the late side. We ate both meals at Lorenzo for lunch. However, we went to Romano the second time with a well-known Italian journalist, and I still felt that Lorenzo outperformed them. Interestingly, several of the dishes we tried were identical preparations--Tuscan farro soup with seafood, or red mullet with baby favas and fresh tomatoes. Lorenzo came out ahead. If you are driving down from Nice, be sure to stop at Mirazur in Menton.
  10. Thanks for the head's up. Was about to buy this book for our trip to Italy in March.
  11. I live right above the hill from petersham nurseries, and it is worth the trek if you are looking for something very different/ charming. also good for those with an interest in gardening. Might be nice to combine with a trip to Kew Gardens. I am having lunch there tomorrow, and I had tea and cake there yesterday. Edit: Be sure to visit William Curley as long as you are coming out to Richmond. It takes about an hour to get to Richmond by tube, then a 15 minute walk or 5 minute bus/cab ride.
  12. Yes. They are quite different. What was your specific question? My last meal at RHR was better in terms of overall quality than at Marcus Wareing, especially now that Marcus Wareing has revised his wine cellar, but maybe Marcus Wareing had more adventurous dishes.
  13. I got the same message. Quite a shock, really, as he is at the top of his game. We had a wonderful time there in July and were looking forward to going back. Le Coquillage is fabulous, however. It's still reason enough to go.
  14. We had a very good menu at Abac last week, but nothing earth-shattering until the arrival of an espardenya with a tiny pigs' foot patty and a "cat's ear" mushroom that looked exactly like an espardenya--a clever visual pun. Then the piece de resistance, a pigeon roasted over charcoal. My only gripe was that we each got just half a pigeon. FABULOUS. The leg was served separately, stuffed with the bird's innards. The confit of gambas and the grilled calamares with wild mushrooms and almond milk were also excellent, but the dish that did not work for me was a tepid bowl of veal tendons in broth with broccoli, raw clams, and caviar.
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