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Everything posted by Culinista

  1. I'm reading one of those food manga about fall flavors, and the sudachi/sanma combo is a big theme One scene has a bunch of office workers fighting over a box of sudachi.
  2. I've only had the plain ones I make myself--mainly because my late grandmother used to live in her incredibly squalid corokke factory in Mie-ken. She was so religious that she could care less about trivial secular things like hygiene, plus she grew up with maids and never learned to clean up after herself. She started the factory and a chicken farm to feed the family after my grandfather lost everything, including the use of his left side, in WWII. It was amazingly dirty, and I always wondered how it could be permitted by the authorities to sell to the public. Scary thing is, it still does--several hundred boxes a day.
  3. Prof. Donald Richie's book "A Taste of Japan" (not a cookbook) is one of the best overviews of traditional Japanese food for the past 100 years or so. Contemporary food culture is a different story. BTW, a lot of things that are central to Japanese food and culture in general--including soy sauce, "5 tastes and 5 colors," tea ceremony, Zen, etc. -- have Chinese origins.
  4. If you are a chef, you should leverage your professional connections. Personal introduction is very important in Japan. Speak to any Japanese colleague you know (even if it means visiting the stagieres in the local 3-star--many apprenticed in good kitchens back home) and ask if they can help arrange a few visits. And once introduced to chefs in Japan, ask to be introduced to their suppliers. There may be some European chef of your acquaintance who has Japan connections, so ask who they met on their trips. Tour companies are of value only to real novices.
  5. If I hear you correctly, you want a place with more Parisians than tourists. In that case, I'd choose the 17th near Ternes. (I used to live on rue Theodule Ribot off Wagram.) The Parc Monceau is very nice, and you have the Poncelet and rue de Levi markets. The Etoile and Champs-Elysees is a short walk away, but the place is full of small good-quality bistros as well as bigger places.
  6. Hmm, you should really do some homework on your own to determine the best experience for YOU. Losing any kind of virginity is highly personal. I can give you my own experiences and advice, but I suggest you learn as much as you can about each restaurant and high-end dining in France. Too many times I see people clearly unhappy and uncomfortable in places like Arpege and L'Ambroisie, not because those places weren't fantastic, but because the diners were not prepared. I would not scorn Ducasse because he has a US outlet. ADPA is first rate traditional food with a modern presentation and flawless service, particularly for a first-time diner. L'Ambroisie is even better, but my first experience there was dismal. Not a place for a novice or someone who is not known to the kitchen. Do not, I repeat, not, try to suggest L'Ambroisie do a degustation menu for you. That goes completely against their cooking philosophy. L'Ambroisie, L'Arpege, and Ducasse are my favorites, but they are all very different. L'Arpege, as someone noted, is highly idiosyncratic with a vegetable focus. I see a lot of foreigners in deep water there. Some friends visiting Paris for the first time took us to Grand Vefour, and I was horribly embarrassed. Terrible meal, even though I had a friend working in the kitchen. They use wonton wrappers for their famous ravioli. 'Nuff said. My first three-star in Paris was at Taillevent 10 years ago, and it was absolutely perfect. Literally changed my life. The chef, Philippe Legendre, has since moved to Le Cinq, and I haven't gone for fear of disappointment. Some friends of ours got engaged there, but they were unhappy with the meal. Taillevent is still good, but maybe less luminous than before. Service and wine are impeccable. Ledoyen was a beautiful, romantic restaurant, and we ate very nicely there. I'm not sure it rates 3 stars, however. I don't know, but Pierre Gagnaire has never done it for me. Intellectually he's all right, but the food leaves me emotionally cold. I don't like his other projects any better.
  7. My favorite two bakeries were in the old covered market and in the Hakaniemi market, but unfortunately I don't remember the names. (There is only one at the old market, and the one in Hakaniemi is on a little raised platform. The rye breads are suspended on a wooden rod throught their central holes like tires.) There is also a sweet, dense, moist loaf that is excellent with sweet butter and chopped dill with a slice of gravlax from the old market. The best gravlax comes from the stand at the far end on the left hand side--ask for the supplier of the Kamp Hotel. The producer next to them has more variety, including salmon cured for different lengths of time. My favorite restaurants were Demo (French-Mediterranean) and Farouge (Lebanese). Chez Dominique is correct but the service is ice cold. George is not worth the rating or the price. Nokka was really terrific for modern Finnish but they have changed chefs, so the jury is out. I hear the chef is starting a new place. Mecca is a fun place for drinks and fashionable cuisine. The new, more casual Havis Amanda is probably the best seafood and they have a nice courtyard in summer. Raku used to be quite good Japanese in a stylish waterfront restaurant, but they have recently changed chefs so the jury is out again. I hear the Kamp Hotel has also opened a Japanese place, but I have not yet been. I like Sundman's casual downstairs pub better than the one-star upstairs. Savoy is a classic in an Alvar Aalto designed 1930s restaurant. The food is really old school Mannerheim, but the sommelier Noora Vuorimaa is the best in town. Very expensive. NJK was my favorite place for our annual crayfish blowout. Great views from the patios. Sea Horse is my favorite Leningrad Cowboyish pub, and Cafe Eepos 1 block from the Rock Church was my favorite cafe. They bake their own cakes there in a very homey kitchen. Kaakugalerie (sp?) near Boulevardi was my favorite patisserie. Some of their cakes are sold at Stockmann's which has a very good selection of everything. Products to try: viili, a weird stretchy yogurt, bread cheese (leipajuusto) a grilled fresh Lappish cheese that squeaks between the teeth, air-dried reindeer, snow grouse, fresh cloudberries, Finnish crayfish in season (must order in advance in most places, costs about 6-8 euros each), Arctic char, glow-fried fish, and of course gravlax. Bear is overrated-very tough and fatty, and super expensive. Black licorice ice cream is interesting. Finns love those night stands with sausages, but I think you have to grow up with them.
  8. I'd be scouring the markets for gambas de Palamos (do not overcook and be sure to suck the heads clean). Try experimenting with bacalao and butifarra, since these can't be brought home. I also love espardenyes and tripas de bacalao, but these might be acquired tastes. I'd also concentrate on seafood since it will be far superior to anything you find at home. Other things on my grocery list: Llonganissa from Casa Sendra de Vic Guisantes de Llavaneres Calamares de anzuelo Ganxet judias Arbequina olive oil
  9. Moti Mahal was a great suggestion, thanks! Nice surroundings for the price, carefully prepared food well presented, good location and pre-theater menu. Loch Fyne was pretty mediocre, however. What does it take to get a fresh fish on this island?
  10. Oh, and as for stories, I've only been camping twice myself. I cooked a paella over a wood fire out by Donner Lake--unbelievably good. Now I see why purists insist on wood to cook paella. A Puerto Rican girl happened to come out of the woods just then, and we invited her to join us to avoid the traditional Donner fate. Obviously, this can only be done on a car camping trip. The second camping experience was hiking up Kilimanjaro for a week with Abercrombie and Kent. An army of 70 people carried supplies for 9 climbers--including a dining tent and table. We carried only day packs, but we were totally exhausted. The porters struck camp, ran up the mountain, pitched camp, and had a multi-course meal waiting for us when we dragged ourselves in. They also set the dining table wherever we were having lunch. We felt like total wusses. Climbing Kili is never comfortable, but that was the closest you will ever get to a gourmet summit.
  11. Developing the dry-your-own-food theme, the ultimate authority is my good friend Hal Kahn, professor of Chinese history at Stanford and back country gourmet chef extraordinare. His camping coauthor is Rick Greenspan, an ace mechanic. They have a number of books, but the latest is the "Leave No Crumbs Cookbook," an ultralight backpacker's guide that requires a lot of dehydrator action and the courage to bake chocolate cake or make sushi outside. I'll recommend it even if he did make fun of me mercilessly and hijack my recipe for chicken and dumpling stew.
  12. Actually, I was very disappointed by Harrods' Laduree precisely because I know the Paris shops (the one on the Champs-Elysees was perilously next door to my husband's office). The London macarons are baked in Acton with far less delicacy, and they are ruined by refridgeration. Gummy, overly sweet, and cold. Jon's list is right on the money, except for the part on Minamoto Kitchoan. It's the real deal from Japan, not as prestigious as Toraya, but up there. I never understood most Westerners' inability to appreciate red beans in a dessert. I'm eating a yuzu rabbit pastry as we speak in honor of the harvest moon. They were baked in Japan, so naturally getting a fresh batch is key.
  13. An Italian friend visiting London was also talking about the economic crisis in Italy at the high end this week. Given the miserable meals we had at Vissani and EP, some places have only themselves to blame. We ate wonderfully at Gambero Rosso, however. Up and down at Cracco Peck, OK at Heinz Beck. Don Alfonso has been sadly slipping in execution but not in hospitality, and Saracino was a bit lackluster but solid. The Tre Gamberi list is much more reliable. I'm mystified by the rating of Vissani, as well as rave reviews from trusted friends. Maybe my only chance to eat well there is to go with the director of Gambero Rosso. He is, by the way, Italian, but I think he feels that traditional Italian food is in need of "updating." This may explain a lot.
  14. I have to say I'm skeptical about online reservations in Spain. Plus, why would I want my favorite restaurants flooded with non-Spanish speaking tourists?
  15. Thanks, Magnolia. I'm still having regular lunches in this area, so I'll definitely check out Moti Mahal. I did go to Origin and enjoyed it as much as my recent gum surgery would allow. Portions were way tiny, I must say.
  16. The yaoya that supplies Hyotei in Kyoto didn't want to sell me his almost pornographically beautiful Arakawa peaches (450 yen each) because they were slightly off-season, but I was more than happy to shell out for them. It's been so long since I tasted a peach with any flavor at all, with juice that dribbles down the chin. I even loved looking at the way the downy skin peeled back so cleanly. I think they'll have more difficulty finding a market outside of Japan, however. The Japanese luxury market in general is far more high-powered than anywhere else, and few people are willing to pay the price Japanese do for quality. Plus, they will have difficulty shipping fruit that is bred for flavor and appearance rather than long storage in overseas shipping containers. But if they want to give it a go, I'm ready to place an order any time. Those melons...
  17. I can't imagine how long it would take to give all the details, but I'll try when I have time. I came back with almost 2,000 photos... Maybe S-class is for those restaurants who require almost a secret handshake to get in and many repeat visits before you get the really good stuff? It was incredibly difficult to reserve Kitcho honten and Jiro in Ginza given that we did not know any regulars. I understand that some of the top restaurants are very reluctant to allow foreigners in. Kyubei was easy to reserve through the hotel concierge but difficult to do so as a private person. We quickly realized that there is quite a hierarchy inside the restaurant itself. I went three times, and from what I could see, the best chefs and ingredients were in the basement of the annex. The only reason we managed to get there is that by sheer coincidence we went the first time with some old family acquaintances of the chef-owner. The chef invited us back and seated us at the best counter. On our first visit, the sushi was excellent but not earth-shattering. The earth started shaking after the second visit. Frankly, I think Daiwa zushi at Tsukiji is a tremendous value for the money, although of course their overall technique does not reach the level of artistry at Kyubei or Jiro. (At Kyubei, the tare on the steamed abalone has been refreshed every day for 71 years!) I tend to rate restaurants based on quality alone (Jiro, Kyubei, Daiwa), then on value for the money (in which case the order gets reversed: Daiwa, Kyubei, Jiro).
  18. Am I the only one who plans meals around what dishware I want to use? I try to have different colors and cooking techniques as well, and there is always a soup, rice, and pickles.
  19. I love eating at all levels, and in Japan, one can eat extremely well at any price range, even in train stations. Personally, my favorite places are at the highest and lowest ends of the spectrum, rarely in the middle. A 30,000 yen kaiseki meal is a completely different eating experience from a 1,000 bowl of handmade soba, and it's a tossup for me which is the most joyous meal. In general, I think each diner's frame of reference is very important when evaluating value. At all levels but especially at the high end, experience counts for a lot. I'll post in another thread in more detail about our latest experiences, but let's take our recent 3-day Osaka visit as an example of eating well at several price points. For us at least, Kitcho honten was worth almost every yen of the 60,000 per person price tag. Ippoh tempura at 25,000 pp was excellent but pricey for the quality and not very special in the context of our other tempura experiences. RON was worth 20,000 pp for lunch, mainly as it was our first time really seeing masterful cooking of wagyu and understanding the differences in the various grades of Kobe beef. I'd never had Kobe beef that I would have mistaken for foie gras before. However, you just can't beat the price-quality value at places like Kigi (extremely yummy okonomiyaki and some of the best yakisoba I've ever had, all for less than 1,000pp) or Hokkyokusei, the creators of the rice omelet. The sheer variety of cheap foods like takoyaki, udon, and okonomiyaki are breathtaking and merit weeks of serious gourmet study. In Tokyo, we went to fancy places like Kyubei, Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza, Rakutei, Waketokuyama, etc., but the unagi shirayaki at Obana might have outshone all else. (To be fair, the modern unagi at Ryugin was spectacular as well...) It's easy to eat well at expensive, famous restaurants, but I love the feeling of eating well in cheap small places. It's that triumphant feeling of having come across a good bargain, plus the miracle of watching an artisan transform a humble food into a thing of beauty. In Japan, you frequently encounter astonishing craft, quality, and skill at the cheap end (I won't try to figure out what kyuu this is). But even in the elite places, it's rare to get anything as dizzingly good as the hamo-matsutake wanmori at Kitcho (we had at least 4 other hamo clear soups this trip, and none came even close). Add in the experience of eating off of Taisho-era custom Baccarat in a sumptuous banquet hall for two plus the genuine hospitality of the chef's elegant wife, and the evening goes down as one of my lifetime top 10 meals. As the VISA ad would say, "Priceless."
  20. I remember hating mugicha as a kid. I like it now. My mom used to make us coffee-flavored milk with tons of sugar. I just came back from Japan, and two of my cousins had newborns. I'll ask about their first meals when the time comes. The baby that loved raw Hokkaido shrimp is now 10 years old His parents and I had a fabulous sushi lunch at Kyubei in Ginza. Since he was in school, the parents could finally have all the shrimp to themselves!
  21. This makes sense if one person is reserving large blocks and selling them off. but its kind of nuts if I have a reservation, cant make it, and give it to a friend. I assume that one could make a phone call and explain the situation in that case? ← No, it's not all right. A friend of mine is an influential member of the Barcelona food world. He made a reservation for 4 in his name recently but decided not to accompany his friends. He says he called the restaurant to explain, but they were very angry that he was not coming. When we went last week, we asked Luis Garcia if he could join us (the table was plenty big enough). The answer was no. Luis says that El Bulli reserves the right to determine who gets the table. I suppose the way around this would be to have the friend impersonate you and pay in cash. This works only if you are unknown to them and the person is the same sex as yourself.
  22. Had dinner there last week. The dish we had that has not yet been reported is a dish of plain snails with snail eggs (huevos de caracol con caracoles y rebozuelos con su kalix). The snails come from Roses and lay naked on the side of the plate with absolutely no sauce. Someone had laboriously collected the eggs. I'm not sure how broad the market for snail eggs are. It was a curiosity. I did not notice many new techniques this year, but we found execution and flavor better balanced than last year, which was dismal. The quality of primary ingredients is declining rapidly. Mussels this year were salty yet insipid, a difficult combination to achieve. My best meal there was in 2000. I still remember wonderful squid/coconut ravioli and percebes wrapped in jabugo fat. The key thing El Bulli is doing this year seems to be searching out ways to eat parts (chicken tendons, snail eggs) that were formerly thrown out or not eaten. They seem to have backed off of the pyrotechnics and are honing the dishes that develop the techniques from 2003-05. Evolution is a big part of the identity of the restaurant. The beginning of the season starts with repeats of the last year's menu, and adaptations and mutations appear through August. In September, they start recording their dishes for the now annual chronicle. Last year, I was determined never to set foot there again, but they have me hooked with the old tease of wanting to see what they come up with next. We weren't sorry we went back this year and had a great time. Whatever you say about El Bulli, it's always interesting and always changing. It's also a lot of fun.
  23. One note: El Bulli is the most laid back 3-star I know, and people are known to arrive by boat or swim before eating. However, an American would be wrong to read "casual" as beachwear or mallwear. "Dressy casual" would be the most accurate and safest. One huge no-no: reserving under one name and then having someone else turn up instead. This will get you blacklisted if they ever catch you. Luis Garcia wants to stop the black market horsetrading in reservations. Enjoy! It's the most beautiful restaurant I know.
  24. Very interesting suggestions, Kiem Hwa. I'll research them a bit. A sansai trip is exactly what I'd like. Our plans are getting even more complicated. My husband has business elsewhere in Asia, so we may tack on a small trip to Hong Kong, Singapore, or Bangkok just before Japan. Woo hoo! I've never been to any of these places. Some friends may be joining us for part of the trip, and they want to go to a fabulous onsen. They go to Japan often, but for some reason have never been to an onsen. I'll look for one in a rural setting with a really good bath. I think we'll put off Osaka for later. I've had fugu several times, as well as kawahagi. I'd agree that they are most interesting for their texture, not their flavor. Right now I'm more interested in unagi.
  25. Heh, I had to smuggle cheddar to a Canadian friend. Felt so weird bringing cheese INTO France.
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