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Everything posted by Culinista

  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.
  15. I've done pre-theatre at Moti Mahal, Great Queen St. The nice thing is that they also serve late enough to go after the show.
  16. I spend quite a lot of time in this region. In Bologna proper: My favorite place for tagliatelle bolognese is Osteria Bottega, via Sta. Caterina 51. Caminetto d'Oro does updated Bolognese classics, and they have one of the best culatellos in town. I quite enjoyed the maialino and 30 month reserve prosciutto at Ciacco, while Pappagallo has a first-rate lasagne and good tortellini in brodo. If you get to Modena, La Francescana should not be missed for modern food. I've heard great things about Hostaria Giusti, but we have yet to go. A visit to Acetaia Giorgio is fantastic for real aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena. Great regional places in the countryside include da Amerigo in Savigno (my all-time fave, an unusual mix of traditional and modern cuisine all very locally sourced), Caffe La Crepa in Isola Dovarese, and La Buca in Zibello for astonishing culatello. We always stop by Dal Pescatore on the way down. Oddly, I have never had outstanding mortadella in Reggio Emilia. Edit: Christmas/New Years is a very bad time for gastronomic trips, as many places are closed.
  17. Gratz to Mauro. He is really a hard worker.
  18. I agree that the article's correlation is simplistic. However, over the past years I have noted how many McD signs I see in the French countryside (not within the major cities), which to my unscientific eye seems much higher than the number of McD signs I see in Spain or Italy. There is an article that came out this July in BusinessWeek proclaiming that under the guidance of Frenchman Denis Hennequin, McDonald's Europe is now the highest-performing sector of the golden arch empire by revenues, despite having only a quarter of the outlets in the US. And within Europe, France is second in profitability only to the US. (The other top McD regions in Europe are the UK and Germany.) I have no basis to make this theory, but I have long suspected that McDonald's is merely stepping into a gap in the French food culture, which lacks a quick, cheap bite to fit the modern pace of life. Spain has tapas and Italy has pizza and the friggitoria, but a meal in a traditional French bistro is never under an hour at the very fastest. If you are in a rush, there is no real food alternative even if you can afford to pay for it. When we don't have time to sit down to a bistro, we pretty much have to skip eating altogether in France. Otherwise, we have to eat under stress because the service is so painfully slow, and any attempt to speed things up meets with stubborn resistance. I have never understood why servers seem to disappear the moment we wish to pay the bill. The only effective tactic is to make for the door, and the waiter will appear as if by magic.
  19. At wagyu specialty restaurants, it is most common to see it cooked medium. The goal is to achieve a melting fat texture, like foie gras. Check out the elaborate preparations at Ukai-tei in Tokyo. Steakhouse Ron in Osaka has several grades of wagyu, and each one must be cooked somewhat differently. Edit: Many times the chef will start with a thick piece and then cut it gradually into smaller pieces, painstakingly searing every new cut edge. The pieces are sometimes set under a dome on a teppan grill for a bit of convention cooking, then the minute searing continues. It is a very skill-intensive job.
  20. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but to my taste Kiosk Universal serves quite mediocre product and overcooks it. We had a marvelous meal at Passadis, and I look forward to going back later this week. The key is to call ahead with any special requests (gambas de Denia grilled over salt, etc.), but for the most part, forget the menu and just ask for the day's best catch. This goes for just about any seafood place. Great seafood quite naturally comes at a price, even in informal places. This is why the best seafood is to be had in Japan and Spain, where people are willing to pay more for quality.
  21. I'd say yes and no. Kaiseki in Japan pays more attention to expressing season and personal sensibility than to expressing a distinct locale beyond maybe Japan as a whole. Most of the top kaiseki meals I have had involve techniques and ingredients from all over the place, mainly from Japan but sometimes also from other countries. Many kaiseki places tend to be Kyoto-style even when they are in other regions altogether. Although many dishes may have witty references to traditional local cuisine, this is not a major focus. They may also reference folk traditions, classical literature, you name it. Kaiseki's spirit is terroir-like in the sense that it encompasses many aspects of Japanese culture beyond food. It is probably the closest non-French analogy.
  22. We recently visited Michel Guerard, who was one of the innovators of Nouvelle Cuisine as diet food in the 70s. Reading a TIME cover story on Guerard and his cuisine minceur, one realizes he got the kind of attention Ferran Adria gets today. I was amazed at how heavy his cuisine seemed to me, given that I'm too young to remember a pre-Nouvelle Cuisine era. He is cooking for people who still crave butter and cream sauces. It was very similar to my experience of watching Star Wars for the first time in 2000. I'd seen all the Star Wars-influenced movies first, so the original looked oddly obsolete and unworthy of the hype. I think that as well as the locavore/organic/bio movement, one of the biggest changes introduced in post-Nouvelle has been the introduction of industrial stabilizers, emulsifiers, and flavor enhancers in haute cuisine. Instant bouillon cubes have been in cheap places for a long time, but some high end places are now using a lot of dubious things and getting good reviews. Molecular cooking has produced some highly accomplished techniques that will not be widely practiced because of their expense and difficulty, but some of these industrial tricks will be very popular in trend-driven places looking for theatrical novelty.
  23. As it happens, we had dinner last night at LL with another couple, and it confirmed my impression from my first meal there about a year ago. Maybe I'm jaded because my last Italian meal was at Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull'Oglio, but honestly I cannot see why people get so excited about this overpriced yet only passable restaurant. I had the fried veal foot salad, which was so overbreaded and overfried that I could not tell if there was any veal foot at all inside all that crust. My friend's bean salad came with an eye-popping heap of summer truffle shavings which smelled of absolutely nothing. My handmade garganelli with red mullet, tomatoes and olives was gummy, and the fish less than sparklingly fresh. The tomatoes were notable for their complete lack of flavor. The kid tagliatelle that I remembered enjoying the first time--and the main reason I agreed to go back-- was not to be found. The veal saltimbocca was overcooked. It was so hot and stuffy in the dining room that even the Treasury banker removed his jacket, and I ordered the yogurt ice cream with berry conserves. I got a miniscule scoop of ice cream, maybe an inch in diameter, and no berries at all. This decidedly underwhelming meal came to £80 without wine. A flight to Italy is cheaper. If you have only 2 nights in London, I suggest you go to a restaurant you love, not necessarily an Italian one. If you are going to spend that kind of money, you may as well go somewhere you enjoy.
  24. Are you looking for fine dining or something more informal? I have relatives in Jersey and Tennessee, and Italian American food is quite different from London foodie Italian, which is more northern/Tuscanish. I would take my visiting relatives to the convivial La Famiglia or one of the Caldesi restaurants. They are also much less expensive than Locanda Locatelli or Zafferano. River Cafe is wonderful if you can get in, but your young friend may not recognize it as "Italian" as it is not very pasta-oriented.
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