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Rob Simmon

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  1. Rob Simmon

    St. Germain

    Speaking of peaches, I picked up a bottle of S.t Germain's last week and tried an experiment this afternoon: 1.5 oz. Gin (Bluecoat) 0.5 oz. St. Germain 1 dash grapefruit bitters 1/2 Peach blend with ice It was pretty good, but needs some work: possibly a pureed and strained peach rather than a blended one, then shaken with ice & served straight up.
  2. Rob Simmon

    Cocktail and Wine Digest

    Paradise Cocktail 3/4 oz. Orange Juice 4 dashes (2 tsp.) Apricot Brandy 2 oz. Gin Shake Pleasant, but a bit boring. Pisco Cocktail Juice of Half Lime 4 Dashes (2 tsp.) Anisette 2 oz. Brandy (pisco) Shake Well This is interesting, and could stand to have a bit more anisette, believe it or not.
  3. Rob Simmon

    Cocktail and Wine Digest

    On the front cover: "by Oscar Haimo President of the International Bar Manager's Association" tonight's drink: South Side Cocktail Juice of 1/2 lemon 1 tsp. sugar 2 sprigs Fresh Mint 1 1/2 oz. Gin Shake and strain well I think lemons must have been smaller back in the day (and muddling as recommended in CocktailDB is advisable), but nice.
  4. Rob Simmon

    Cocktail and Wine Digest

    My significant other pulled a copy of this book from her father's house a few weekends ago. Many of the recipes seem to be, well, weird. On the other hand, they really do seem to work: Habaneros Cocktail Juice of 1/2 Lime 4 dashes Absinthe 2 oz. Rum shake Whist Cocktail 3/4 oz. Sweet Vermouth 1/2 oz. Apple Jack 1 1/2 oz. rum shake (listed as a variation in CocktailDB) Tropical Cocktail 3/4 oz. Creme de Cacao 1 1/4 oz. Dry Vermouth 3/4 oz. Maraschino shake well (listed with significantly different proportions in CocktailDB) All of these were better than I thought they'd be.
  5. I think there's too many variables to make a hard-and-fast rule. For instance I think the quality of the vermouth is more important than the quality of the whiskey in a manhattan (well, as long as you stay away from blended whiskeys). In particular, I like Vya. (Carpano Antiqua Formula is so intense it will easily overcome all but the most flavorful bourbons.) In sours, the intensity of lemon or lime juice will likely obscure subtle characteristics of high-end liquors, while grapefruit juice is more amenable to mixing with the good stuff. Good whiskeys make a noticeable difference in something like a blinker, or the cocktail I mixed on the fly with Laird's 12-year, pomelo juice, and Chambourd. Anything that's more than 50% juice is unlikely to taste much different no matter what price category of base liquor you use. A caipirinha or pisco sour demands the cheap stuff--it's the funky flavors that make the drink. And I suspect we all agree that the brand of vodka one chooses is irrelevant, as long as it's ethyl, and not methyl, alcohol.
  6. Rob Simmon

    Molecular Cocktails

    I spent a very informative hour with Todd Thrasher at Restaurant Eve last Saturday (thanks Todd!), and he gave me a few pointers on foams, airs, and powders (ideas for bacon powder in a cocktail, anyone?). I got the passionfruit foam working, but using essentially the same ingredients in the foam and the base result in a somewhat uninspiring drink. Fresh passionfruit would likely help, but I think the small number of flavors limit the potential. However, I got home ready to experiment. The result: a Pho 75 (named after a Hanoi beef noodle soup restaurant in Langley Park, MD). 2 oz. thai basil infused vodka (4 sprigs for 12 oz. vodka) 2 tsp. five-spice powder infused simple syrup (1 tsp. spice in 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar, simmered for 10 minutes, then strained) 1 tsp granulated sugar 1/2 lime, cut into four wedges salt air (12 oz. water, 1/4 tsp soy lecithin powder*, 2 tsp. salt) Prepare the salt air by aerating 12 oz. of salt water + soy lecithin. Use an immersion blender on the surface of the salt water in a wide pan with a tall rim. An "air" with the consistency of sea foam will form on the liquid's surface. Set aside. Muddle the lime wedges in sugar, then add the vodka and simple syrup. Shake with ice, strain and serve in a small-mouthed glass. Top with thin layer of salt air. My significant other thinks I should experiment with noodles (perhaps tapioca), too, but I'm not feeling that adventurous. *Todd recommended xanthan gum for the air, but I couldn't get it to work--I ended up with salt gel. Soy lecithin is used in el Bulli 2003-2004.
  7. Fascinating. Time to start working my way through.
  8. Rob Simmon

    Molecular Cocktails

    As it stands, this particular foam recipe doesn't hold its own--the flavors are a bit boring, and the foam and liquid differ only in texture. In the context of a 30-course tasting menu the same drink (made properly, of course) works very well. I think the potential of foams in mixology lies in using different flavors, temperatures, etc. in the foam vs. the base (see my description of a hot and cold gin fizz up-thread). For now, I'm just trying to figure out how to make a foam properly--further experimentation will follow.
  9. Rob Simmon

    Molecular Cocktails

    I finally got around to mixing a drink out of el Bulli 1998-2002: a passionfruit whiskey sour: Unfortunately, even after 4 packets of gelatin, 4 nitrous oxide cartridges, one frozen hand (screw the top on the cream whipper before inserting the nitrous cartridge. duh.), and a quart of passionfruit juice, I didn't achieve a successful drink. The first problem was the quality of the passionfruit: the Ceres juice I used must be weak compared to whatever is used at el Bulli/minibar: the recipe calls for cutting the juice with water, which results in a very dilute cocktail base, without any sour component to speak of. Second problem was the foam: it was supposed to sit in the fridge for 2 hours, but after 30 minutes or so half the foam had collapsed and the rest had gelled into something the consistency of a marshmallow. The recipe calls for 1.5 sheets of gelatin, but I can only find packets of Knox. Neither 1, 1.5, or 2 packets seems to work, and at the high concentrations you can clearly taste the gelatin (yech!). Has anyone else experimented with foamed cocktails? Any advice? thanks
  10. Playing around with some tamarind pulp & the new lime-flavored Tanqueray: 2 oz. Rangpur Tanqueray 1 oz. tamarind pulp 3/4 oz. Monin Jasmine syrup it has promise, but the tamarind pulp I was using isn't sour enough to balance out the very sweet syrup.
  11. I saw this on my way through the Barcelona airport, and had to take this picture considering Jose was the reason I was there: Just thought I should share.
  12. Rob Simmon

    El Bulli 2006 reports

    There's a "camping hotel" next door to el Bulli: http://www.campingsonline.com/calamontjoi/?idlengua=3 There are campgrounds in/near Roses too, but I'm not sure if they're nice: http://infocamping.com/en/europe/spain/localidades/384.html This late in the year there should be some fairly inexpensive deals for hotels, as well (I saw 30 Euros per person per night including half board from prestige hotels: http://www.prestigehotels.com/portal/Prestige-Roses (the food is underwhelming, but convenient)). Elsewhere on this thread taxis were cited at 20 Euros each way. The road to and from isn't nearly as narrow and scary as some reports suggest, so driving is a possibility. There is even a shoreline trail that runs from Roses to Cala Montjoi, literally under el Bulli's terrace. Probably a 3 or 4 hour walk from the end of the beach at Roses. Maps are available at the Roses tourist information center, facing the beach in the center of town (or I could scan them and post for you, send me a message). It's possible tourist info centers at Girona and Figueres have them as well. The Cami de ronda and el Bulli: Roses is a beach resort--a nice sand beach runs through the entire town and stretches for miles along the coast (away from el Bulli/Cala Montjoi). Towards Cala Montjoi there are a series of small bays--the first two are sand and are better than Roses mainly because the hotels adjacent to the beach are nicer. They're no less crowded. Further along are more coves with rocky beaches--these are isolated and likely to have fewer bathers (I've only seen them from the road above). El Bulli itself is on one end of a rocky beach. The series of coves extends all the way to Cadaques, eventually becoming accessible only on foot (the dirt road from Cala Montjoi to Cadaques is closed to motorized vehicles at about the halfway point). Dress is casual, although on the night we were there everyone else dressed better than my slacks and short-sleeved button-down shirt. If you have any more questions, let me know--I just got back and sympathize with the effort of planning.
  13. Rob Simmon

    El Bulli 2006 reports

    The parking lot at el Bulli is without a doubt the most exquisite plot of gravel I've ever driven a car on. It certainly gave a great impression as we drove up to the restaurant as twilight descended over Cala Montjoi. Above the lot was a garden of eucalyptus trees and Mediterranean shrubs, as well manicured as (and reminiscent of) the entrance to the bonzai exhibit at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. We'd scoped the area out during daylight, but I was still nervous walking in through the door, not quite believing I really had reservations, a feeling magnified by the empty entranceway. Fortunately Luis soon appeared, knew my name, and provided us a quick tour of the kitchen. Very large. So large that it appeared empty, even though there were ~40 chefs. I'm not sure I actually saw any food. Perhaps the most interesting detail we did notice was a temperature- and humidity-controlled herb garden, although we couldn't figure out what herb was being grown in it. From the kitchen we were shown the terrace, seated with a view of the bay--still visible in the fast-fading sunlight--and served our first course: a gin fizz. The waitress brings two cocktail glasses filled with a standard gin fizz appear, along with a foamer. She foamed the top, and said: drink quickly. Not just a gin fizz, a hot and cold gin fizz. Spectacular. The warm foam contrasted sharply with the cold liquid (possibly like a Slurpee, my girlfriend and I have different recollections), in temperature, texture, and taste, despite the same ingredients. One of the most impressive courses of the night, but then again I'm infatuated with cocktails. The complete menu: gin fizz spherical olives mango leaf with tagete flower "animals" seaweed waffles sugar-coated lyo - banane and sesame walnuts cake hazelnut dentelles nitro-strawberries, parmegiano brioche - thai liquid croquette 2006 won-ton tonic soup, cucumber and roses "Quebearn" egg raisins of PX and muscatel with anchovy and cardamom brioche tomato soup with virtual iberian ham seeds spherical mussels with soup of potatoes and bacon zuchini risotto with curry-peanut capsules argana crumbs "fez" ackees with veal juice/soup-basil and cucumber crab-marrakech ham fat pita with veal bone marrow sheep-the cheese and the wool peach liquid with candy floss (apparently mistranslated) peach in textures morphings (Raspberry marshmallow things) Many of these are described better than I'm capable of up-thread. I didn't take many pictures, partly because I forgot the baby tripod I bought specifically to take pictures at el Bulli without a flash, and partly because I wanted to concentrate on the meal, not on documenting it. I'm not sure that was a good choice, because now I can't remember everything that well. *sigh* We went with fino sherry, cava by the glass, and a dessert wine to allow me to drive back. I've also found that drinking at high-end restaurants can cause me to lose focus on the food. I appreciate greatly the reasonable prices for wine (4 euros a glass for the Tio Pepe fino sherry, 10 each for the Brut Nature Gran Reserve cava and (wonderful) Casta Diva Cosecha Miel 2005 dessert wine). Sparkling water was also cheap compared to prices at high-end restaurants in the US. The spherical olives were superb, even if sphericization is considered trite. They had a much thicker skin those at minibar, but it may be because they needed to be robust enough to withstand sitting in the olive oil marinade before serving. The skin was thick enough to contribute to mouthfeel, while at minibar I perceived pure liquid. The mango leaf and flower had nice texture, but I didn't get much flavor out of the flower. Looking back, I think the combination of travel stress, jet lag (we'd only been in Spain a day and a half), and ridiculously high expectations, combined with the high number of courses, dulled my palette. The animals were somewhat similar to shrimp and squid flavored crackers available at an asian market, but lighter. The crab chips had a particularly intense flavor. Similarly the seaweed waffles tasted like seaweed crackers. I think they may be more successful with europeans without as much exposure to asian food and groceries, which also applies to a few of the dishes that followed. The frozen black sesame-coated banana balls were one of the highlights. The intense cold masked all the flavor except for the sesame, and as I chewed and the food warmed in my mouth successive washes of spice and sweet/banana took over. A fascinating application of the science of taste and its relation to temperature (and a great echo of the contrast in the gin fizz). The walnut cake and hazelnut dentelles were all about texture: not marshmallow, not creamy, not granular, but an intriguing mix. The frozen strawberries with parmesan coating had a ncie slaty/sweet/sour contrast, but they may have been too small since I swallowed mine before they completely warmed up. At this point (or after the dentelles) we moved from the terrace into the front dining room. The building is a purpose-built restaurant from the 60s, but was rehabed recently (2002?) There's space for 58 diners, but the kitchen can only support 50, so there are empty tables in the back room, and in the front if the weather is good enough to eat on the terrace (which would be fantastic, Costa Brava evenings in September can be perfect). The thai brioche was wrapped around green tea ice cream (I think) and accented with peanut sauce--which appeared several more times throughout the evening. Good, but not that interesting. Another dish that may appear more innovative to those unaccustomed to asian cuisine. My memory starts to falter at the liquid croquette 2006. I'm pretty sure it was tasty, but I don't remember specifics. Maybe we were eating too fast, and needed to pause and reflect between courses. Maybe I should have just been taking notes! The puffed air wonton was a fabulous presentation and I loved the fluffiness, but can't remember the taste--possibly served with a basil air that was surprisingly understated? One of my favorite dishes was the tonic soup (really a sorbet or ice) with cucumber and roses. Unfortunately I'm left more with the impression of loving it, rather than what I loved about it. Guess I'll have to buy the 2006 cookbook and work on re-creating these. Even worse, I have no recollection whatsoever of the "Quebearn" egg, and neither does Google. It had to be the dish with the tarragon sauce with crunchy sea-salt crystals, which I loved, but I only know that through the process of elimination. I also remember commenting that the egg wasn't cooked as well as minibar's egg 147, but now I'm pretty sure they weren't going for the same effect. If anyone knows what this dish was, please let me know. Anchovy and raisins was a (marinated?) anchovy surrounded by spherized "raisins" of concentrated wine and other flavors. Another highlight, marred only by the difficulty of scraping every last bit of sauce off the plate. The funniest moment of the night was when the majority of diners in the room were simultaneously banging their spoons against dishes trying to get at recalcitrant sauces. I was dissapointed with the virtual ham and tomato soup, which consisted of a thin layer of strained tomato soup covered by a film of ham similar to aspic. Then again, I'm not a big fan of milk skin either, expect for what we had a few days later at El Celler de Can Roca (more later). Seeds was a singular dish: Pumpkins, pine nuts, basil seeds, tomato seeds, a single coriander sprout, cucumber seeds, eggplant, peanut sauce (again), sesame seeds, passionfruit seeds, etc. Most of these were used elsewhere on the menu. Not the tastiest dish on the menu, but intellectually engaging--which was an element I was looking forward to and expecting from el Bulli. It was also nice to see something tie the disparate dishes together, something that occured a few other times. Again, hard to clean the plate. The infamous (at least in this thread) spherical mussels didn't make much of an impression on me. Definitely not too salty, but not packed with flavor, either. The mussels at Con Roca blew these out of the water. The zucchini risotto was a bit bland, and was the third or fourth appearance of peanut sauce. I think the little micro-capsules of curry and peanut might be better suited to delivering precise amounts of a much more potent flavor. I remember the argana crumbs being an interesting texture and a new flavor, but not more than that. Same goes for the ackee. The crab in the crab marrakech was surprisingly lacking in flavor, a bit like the mussels. The finale--ham fat pita and veal bine marrow, with spheres of veal jus--also seemed to lack flavor. I'm not sure if it was fatigue or what, but it failed to be memorable. I liked the "sheep": cherry gel with cotton-candy and stinky cheese, and fortunately got a second helping of the cheese since my dining companion prefers blue cheeses to fragrant soft cheeses. A nice salty/sweet combination with an interplay of textures. The spoon of peach fluid was superb, nicely accompanied by the frozen liqueur bonbon. Maybe a bit too cold, since it made my teeth hurt. The true desert: peach in textures, was a slice of frozen peach layered with peach gel and one or two other peachy layers. Good, but not outstanding. The peach even seemed a little under-ripe. The morphing consisted of yummy filled raspberry marshamllows. Overall, it didn't live up to my expectations, which were unreasonably high in the first place. On the other hand, I'm very happy to have gone, and am flirting with the idea of trying to make it an annual trip, in the unlikely event I could continue to get reservations. I know having been once it will be a lot less stressful, and I'll be able to relax and enjoy the food more. I think having previously been to most of the molecular gastronomy restaurants in the US: minibar, Alinea, Moto, WD-50, and Gilt, it was impossible for me to be blown away like I would have been if uninitiated (I enjoyed my first meal at minibar over my second, even though they were similar & both had excellent company). There were fewer deconstructed dishes than I expected, perhaps because I'm unfamiliar with Catalan food, or perhaps because Adria is pulling back from that approach. I was tempted to claim that Adria is turning away from innovation, like Stravinsky after the Rite of Spring or Jan Tsichold (a designer) after writing "Die neue Typographie", but looking at my menu and the others from this year it's just not the case. Adria and co. are developing 60-90 new dishes every year. The menu changes radically throughout each season, and (with a few exceptions) past year's dishes rarely make an appearance. Bittman claims in the NY Times: "On my previous visits to El Bulli six years ago, I was blown away--as I was when I visited in May of this year--but more often by the technical wizardry than by the flavors." which makes it seem like el Bulli 4 or 5 years ago was similar in philosophy to Moto or WD-50 now. I'm not convinced. I think Adria is emphasizing subtler flavors these days (based on reading and experience with minibar, which is a sort of el Bulli time capsule) and maybe trying to weave themes through the menu, and obviously influenced by asian cuisine, but the technique is still indispensable. It was interesting to compare el Bulli to Con Roca only a few days apart. el Bulli had the vast number of courses & techniques with humble ingredients. Con Roca had half the courses; many featuring truffles, foie gras, or both. el Bulli's menu changes nightly, Con Roca seems stable over months. Con Roca was slightly (but only slightly) more conservative, but each dish was phenomenal on its own. A few last notes: we got two copies of the menu, one in english, the other used by the kitchen to keep track of our dishes as they were prepared. The wines we ordered were included on the menu, a nice touch! The service was fantastic, the english explanations of dishes were quite good, and I wish I had enough room in my backpack to take el Bulli 1994-1997 in english back with me, since it's way cheaper and they can't ship to the U.S.! Aside from some of the other posts in this thread, excellent photos of some of the same dishes we had are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/83096974@N00/...57594235587821/
  14. Rob Simmon

    Molecular Cocktails

    That was it for cocktails. I'm going to post a full review on the Spain/Portugal message boards in a few days, including scans of the menu. I have el Bulli 1998-2002, which has some very interesting cocktail recipes (I should post a few, or at least summaries), and the book itself is a masterpiece of design. While I was in Barcelona I flipped through the spanish-language 2005 edition, and it looks even better. Adria also includes detailed recipes, sequences of photographs to show techniques, and an ingredient glossary.
  15. Rob Simmon

    Molecular Cocktails

    A "Hot and Cold Gin Fizz" was the first course at my el Bulli meal last week. Phenomenal drink. (Not to mentiuon a phenomenal location out on the restraunt's terrace, overlooking the Mediterranean.) The waitress brought out two cocktail glasses with an ice cold (possibly on shaved ice) gin-lime (and seltzer?) mixture, foamed the top and said "drink these quickly!" Without being forewarned, the temperature contrast was an amazing surprise. The hot and cold layers differed not only in temperature and texture, but also in flavor, due to the reaction our tastebuds have to temperature (the waitress claimed the ingredients in the base and foam were identical). Anybody else experimented with temperature contrasts in cocktails?
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