Jump to content


eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • Posts

  • Joined

Everything posted by ronnie_suburban

  1. I'd heard a lot of buzz about Bartolotta. Generally speaking, buzz isn't really enough to incent me to try a place. In this case however, we were seeing the 7 pm show of Love at the Mirage and we were staying at the Wynn anyway, so before leaving the hotel we made a 9:30 reservation at Bartolotta and hoped that our one lost suitcase (which contained the 'nice' clothes) would arrive at the hotel before it was time for dinner. We were told not to worry; that nice jeans were ok. As it turned out, that was true. A friend told me that I should say 'hello' to chef Paul Bartolotta because they were friends. I generally try to resist doing this, at least until the end of the meal. It's awkward. But, I started feeling a bit guilty about my son when the clock turned to 9:45 and we were still waiting for our table. Being our travel day, it was actually 11:45 and I was feeling like a bad parent. Yes, we had to eat but maybe we could have just done something easier. That's when I saw Chef making the rounds in the dining room. He was giving one woman a tour and checking in with many of the other tables along the way. At that point, I figured that I probably should relay the 'hello' because it was getting late and I felt the need to push things along. Needless to say, Chef was delighted to receive the 'hello' from his old friend and almost immediately turned to the host and asked if there was a table available for us. We stood at the front of the restaurant and chatted with Chef about the state of things in the culinary world and specifically in Chicago. His passion was instantly clear and he talked about the steep contrast between his intensely technical work at Spiaggia and what he was trying to accomplish here at Bartolotta. My son asked Chef if they offered calamari. Chef told him 'no' but didn't hesitate to mention the very similar cuttlefish which, he promised, if my son did not like, would be 'on him.' A couple of moments later we were led to our table, which was downstairs in the colorful and elegant-but-not-stuffy dining room. Bartolotta's concept of immaculately fresh fish, flown in daily from the Mediterranean and minimally prepared was reinforced via the menu and the cart of clear-eyed whole fish and still wriggling crustaceans that was wheeled up to our table. This was truly going to be an ingredient-driven meal and I was grateful for the chance to try out a variety of fish which I'd never tried before. But before that, we sampled the aforementioned cuttlefish, which was cooked al dente, cut into strips and served with a light parsley sauce. It was clear from the way we were snarfing it down that the chef would not have to make good on his offer to my son. We also went with the outstanding, signature Scallops and Porcini appetizer, which was adorned with wide shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and truffle oil. Entree-wise, the wife and I opted for the Rombo, which iirc, is similar to flounder. Since fish is sold by its weight at Bartolotta, the most logical thing for us to do was split the 1,000 gram offering. Most of the smaller fish, we were told, had sold earlier in the evening. The fish was baked simply with a bit of lemon and then skinned, fileted and served tableside. It was quite a show watching the fish being expertly-prepared for service at our table. Served along with the fish were some perfectly crispy fingerling potatoes and deeply-sweet roasted red peppers. The 'sauce' was comprised of cherry tomatoes and champagne vinegar. The fish itself was tasty, moist and quite-obviously fresh. The acidity of the 'sauce' was perfect and foiled the fish's richness nicely. My son ordered the gnocchi (primi piatti), which were outstanding. Again, the execution was flawless and the light tomato sauce was just enough to complement the gnocchi without obscuring them. This dish was a simple pleasure, although we all know that perfect gnocchi are not really so simple. For dessert, we chose a sampling of 3 gelatos, which were all very nice. My favorite of the trio was the roasted banana but the vanilla and the chocolate were darned good too. I'd say, based on our experience, that Bartolotta hits the mark 100% as far executing their concept. This kind of dining isn't what I'm used it and it isn't what I would necessarily choose first for myself. But they do what they do extremely well and because they are so dedicated to executing their concept, for all its self-described simplicity, the place is actually quite distinctive. Our meal was terrific and it was a great reference point for me. As I 'dine forward,' this meal will be the benchmark to which I compare similar meals. And to someone who really loves this style of dining, I'd recommend Bartolotta in a heartbeat. =R= Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare (at the Wynn) 3131 Las Vegas Boulevard Las Vegas, NV 89109 702 770-3305
  2. I knew that if things went according to schedule, we'd arrive in Las Vegas in time to hit Lotus of Siam for lunch -- and that was my plan. Since our other 3 meals in Vegas were already set, this would be our lone opportunity. According to what I gathered from their web site, lunch service ended at 2:30. Our flight was scheduled to arrive at 11:45 am. No problem. After a quick stop and drop at the hotel, a cab deposited us at Lotus of Siam's front door at 2:10 pm. The lunch buffet (about which we did not even know) had ended at 2 pm but we were told that we could still order lunch from the regular menu. I never get this lucky at the gaming tables in Vegas. Had the buffet still been on, I would have had a hard time justifying the a la carte approach. I knew I'd probably get to sample more things via the buffet but I wasn't sure if they were items I really cared about. I glanced at the buffet offerings as the staff cleared them away and broke down the steam table. It was hard to tell, from my vantage point, what we had missed out on. Nonetheless, with the decision out of our hands, we happily sat down and looked over the menus. The food at LoS really scratched the itch. The green papaya salad -- which we ordered with a heat factor of 5/10 -- was fantastic . . . sweet, hot, crunchy and totally addictive. We tried 2 types of house-made sausages, the first being a northern sausage (Sai Oua) which was a dried sausage, served hot. It was spicy and aromatic with ginger. The second sausage, an Issan sausage, was a tangier, fermented sausage which contained alcohol (at least, I suspected this and our server confirmed it). At first, I was sure I liked the northern sausage better but as I continued to taste both of them, it was harder to tell which of the delicious sausages was my favorite. The fried chicken dumplings were also excellent. Their exteriors were crispy then chewy and the filling was bold and deep in flavor -- as much as any dumpling filling I've ever tasted. We also ordered a 'personal best' version of Pork Pad Sw-ew that contained some of the most satisfying noodles it has ever been my pleasure to bite into. They were nicely browned with a perfect density of chew which followed the initial bite. They were crispy, tender and delicate all at once. The sauce was typically sweet but with a balance that made me understand something new about this dish, which I often order. I was happy I tried this one. My favorite dish was the lovingly-prepared, whole, deep-fried catfish with fresh and dry chilis, garlic, fresh Thai basil and crispy Thai basil. The fish was perfectly moist and tender and the crunchy-crispy skin trumped any fried chicken skin I have ever had. I was full and yet I could not stop eating this delectable, oily-fleshed catfish or its perfectly battered coating or the crispy basil leaves which adorned my plate. I realized that if I was going to get through the next 8 days of eating, I was going to have to -- at some point or another -- leave some food behind. A bittersweet moment. By Vegas standards, LoS is a bargain. Our meal cost about $75 (before tip) and it was a feast that 3 of us could not finish, even though we tried. For Thai fans from Chicago, I think they'll find this food compares very favorably with their favorite places at home. Of course, it's all subjective but I thought Lotus of Siam's food was on a similar level as some of the most talked about places in Chicago. I laughed to myself about how in a town like Vegas, a place like LoS kind of gets lost in the shuffle. Sure, folks like us know about it and talk about it but I doubt most locals do. But not even the cabbie who dropped us there knew it by name. We had to give him the street address. At the end of the meal, the cab which the LoS staff happily dispatched on our behalf, never showed up. That's when one of the kids who worked in the restaurant pulled his car up to the front door and offered us a ride to the cab stand at the Hilton, which is the hotel nearest LoS. Being that this was Vegas, that act of kindness was something for which I was not prepared. But that level of hospitality instantly reminded of our Thai places here in Chicago and it made me enjoy the memory of our fine meal at Lotus of Siam even more. I know I'm a softy but it never ceases to amaze me how the human connection so often helps great food reach its full potential. I couldn't have hoped for a better start to our trip. =R= Lotus of Siam 953 E. Sahara Ave. Las Vegas, NV 89104 (702) 735-3033
  3. Chicago was split off into the new 'Great Lakes' category this year, probably to give chefs in other cities a chance. But what really intrigues me about this winner is that with all the KC threads running here, I don't think I've ever heard a peep about this place. What's up with that? Have any of you KC folks eaten at this place? Is the chef actually deserving of the award? =R=
  4. Please do tell. I have had a few meals there and all seemed fine. Sirvice is a little slow but the food matched what I would expect. ← . . . gummy pasta, soggy salad, very unevenly cooked steak. It wasn't a disaster but I didn't think it warranted a return visit. I will say that this was a few months ago, and shortly after the chef had left. Perhaps the kitchen has their feet under them again by now. =R=
  5. Another place I've had very nice, weeknight, business dinners is Kiki's Bistro. It's a bit further north but the food is solid and the vibe is conducive. It can get a little crowded on weekends. =R=
  6. Well, I took my own advice and made a reservation at NaHa for tomorrow night =R=
  7. My last meal at Gioco was pretty bad. I'd skip it. I agree with the Custom House suggestion. And I highly recommend NaHa. =R=
  8. I was lucky enough to get into Schwa a couple weeks back, right after the crew returned from their time off in New York. A friend had scored a Wednesday-night reservation and offered one of the seats to me. It had been about 8 months since my last visit and with the exception of the heaven-sent quail egg ravioli, the menu was entirely new to me. As was alluded to above, Chef Carlson along with Nathan, Blake and the rest of the crew display the kind of genuine hospitality that is a natural offshoot of loving what one does in life. They are sincere and eager to please in ways that cannot be faked. Dining at Schwa is a joy not only because the food is so good but also because its vibe is so sweet. When you sit in the dining room at Schwa, you know that you're being fed by men who take pride in what they do -- and those other 25 diners in the room are as happy to be there as you are. No one just stumbles into Schwa. It's probably not meaningful for me to comment on the evolution of specific dishes at Schwa because I haven't dined there frequently enough to have an adequate perspective. However, this meal was quite a departure from my last meal at Schwa. The biggest difference I noticed was the resourceful and innovative pairing of sweet and savory components in some dishes. Again, this an anecdotal observation based on nothing more than my last 2 meals at Schwa. peas & carrots This was a fun dish, which was a clever departure from the peas and carrots that most of us grew up with. Here, small pieces of crunchy, Thai-style pickled carrot were served in a small bowl along with an ultra-thin sheet of pea-wasabi 'nori' that crunched first and then melted in the mouth. It was delicious and the contrast between it and the tangy carrot was wonderful. oysters This is a dish that I never would have expected at Schwa. It combined lightly-breaded and flash-fried kumamato (iirc) oysters with rich, gooey oatmeal that had been laced with Blis maple syrup and studded with plump, warm raisins. Also served with this was a raw oyster shooter in a tiny shotglass at the top corner of the plate. This seemingly wacked-out combination really worked. The oatmeal and oysters complemented each other very well and the sweet accents provided by the maple and the raisins rounded out the dish nicely. Who knew? fava This may have been my favorite dish of the entire meal. It was basically early spring on a plate; a delicious salad of fresh favas, ramps and morels served with a demitasse of warm fava soup that had been laced with black truffle. I could have had this one again and again. quail egg ravioli I'm not sure what else can be said about this spectacular and sublime dish. It's hearty and delicate all at once. The combination of ricotta, quail egg, parmigiano reggiano, brown butter and black truffle is one of the most delicious I've ever experienced. steelhead caviar This was another dish which reflected the perceived change I mentioned above and again, it was quite successful. Here, sake-cured steelhead roe was combined with pinenut puree and topped with yuzu foam and barnacles. I was surprised by how well the roe worked with the intensely earthy pine nut. Its saltiness cut through each spoonful of puree magnificently, almost like a spotlight through a dense fog. It was almost as if you needed the roe on your tongue to illuminate the depth of the nutty puree. The barnacles were chewy, briney and delicious and the yuzu accented the other components terrifically. halibut cheeks These tender cheeks, cooked en sous vide and served with dual sauces of meyer lemon and basil, over artichoke confit, were terrific. Again, the meyer lemon sauce was very sweet but it combined well with the basil which muted the sweetness a bit. Together they formed a solid background for the aromatic fish. The artichokes were tasty in their own right and provided a nice textural contrast with the cheeks. sweetbreads The best sweetbreads I've ever had were at my last Schwa meal and these were nearly as good. Here, piping hot nuggets of lightly-coated and sauteed sweetbread were served with various plum elements, including a brightly-flavored salad of fresh and juicy, ultra-thin slices and a remarkable smoked puree. These elements were grounded masterfully by a portion of pungent queso de valderon at the bottom of the bowl. I loved the way the sweetbreads combined with the smokey puree. They almost tasted like bacon nuggets when dipped in it. Wow!! lamb Strips of succulent lamb loin, cooked en sous vide, and a square of delectable, braised, crispy lamb belly, which I'd never tasted before, were served together with green curry and root beer flavors. Both lamb cuts were terrific and the house-made root beer highlighted the meat well. The lamb belly was absolutely delicious and really concentrated in rich, lamb flavor. cheese Next up was a bite of savory, humboldt fog cheesecake with grains of paradise crust and pear emulsion. HF is one of my favorite cheeses of all time, so I really loved this clever and delicious bite. It was delightfully odd to be eating a piece of cheesecake with the flavor of humboldt fog. And I really loved the the sweet pear emulsion in the immediate background. dessert We were served a couple of dessert plates that were novel and delicious. The first was a uniquely-sweet beet semifreddo with bacon and chocolate. These components worked well together and the normally-savory components paired up remarkably well with the sweet ones. The second dessert, warm soft-pretzels with honey-mustard, dates and tumeric ice cream was also delicious. The pretzels were perfectly tender inside and released steam when we cracked into their shells. And the honey mustard was compelling. The turmeric ice cream made me laugh at first because of the way it echoed and amplified a similar note in the honey mustard. A very fun dish. There was so much more to our meal and most of it had only peripherally to do with food. As I mentioned above, dining at Schwa is special. There is an immediacy to the experience that is unique -- and that immediacy adds to the excitement. But if the food weren't fantastic, none of that would matter. Schwa is an artist's studio where private performances are served and eaten nightly. It is an intensely personal experience that never feels intrusive. It's so much like being a guest at a friend's home, that you feel like you should offer to help clear the table when the meal's over. Of course, not too many of us have friends who can cook like this. =R=
  9. It couldn't have been awarded to a more deserving person. I'm thrilled for Chef Fukuda!! =R=
  10. Edsel, those are some delicious-looking plates. Thanks for posting the images. The gorgeous egg yolk on the carbonara is calling out to me I'm really looking forward to eating at Carrie Cerino's this July. =R=
  11. I came across a funny quote from Matthew Fort, which instantly made me think of Busboy's initial lament here: Maybe what we really need is more negative reviews! =R=
  12. A delicious, black truffle aioli, iirc. =R=
  13. Mixed Meals =R= ← Guess my neck is really on the chopping block here. Just curious as to the why of the posting. Fire away! ← Nah, no chopping block. The discussion made me curious and the review I excerpted above was the most recent review of yours I could find. It's probably more of a tangent than the original topic warranted but still, I figured it was somewhat relevant to the discussion. =R=
  14. Wow! Fantastic images, Eliot. Thanks for taking the time to upload them. I'd forgotten about our 'side' burger. It too, was excellent, even with the Monday modifications. A great meal! =R=
  15. Thanks for the link, molto e! I love this part of the article: During a recent visit to Phoenix, I ate gelato at Arlecchino on 4 separate occasions and probably tasted about a dozen flavors over those visits. Their product is, by far, the very best I've ever eaten and it's leaps and bounds beyond its closest competitor. The intensity of flavor, creaminess and density of their gelato is what separates them from other producers. I miss Arlecchino and have thought about it everyday since we left Phoenix. It's just about the perfect rendition; simply stunning. =R=
  16. For reference, an excerpt from a recent review by Ms. Connelly: Mixed Meals =R=
  17. As great as Sweets and Savories is, on Mondays -- with the tasting menu priced at a mere $50 -- it's simply amazing. A couple of Mondays ago, I walked in at about 5:30 and Paul immediately warned me that because it was Monday night, it was 'Chef's Choice' only. As I told him, that's why I come to Sweets and Savories and even though it had been far too long since my last meal there, I knew I could count on an outstading meal and an exceptional value. This experience was especially fun because I had with me 2 folks who'd never before been to S&S's. One of these guys is very old skool and will readily admit that he's somewhat difficult to please. I think that their general perspective before our meal was a mix of skepticism and doubt. But, by the time we'd finished our 4th course, they were raving about the food and proclaiming that the meal would have been a tremendous value, even if it had ended right then. But I don't mean to get ahead of myself. Our first course was a delicious and rich one-biter, Foie Gras Mousseline with seville orange gelee. I loved the creaminess of the foie mousseline and even though I'm not usually a huge fan of seville oranges, the sharp aroma of the gelee complemented the mousseline nicely. A great start. Next up were Prince Edward Island Mussels in an herbacious tomato lobster cream. Chef Richards is consistently masterful with mussels. Each time I've had them at Sweets and Savories they've been delightful and this instance was no exception. Not only were the mussels tender and fresh but the accompanying sauce was so good, I was eating it with a spoon after the mussels were gone. While we chatted before the meal, Paul excitedly mentioned that Sweets and Savories had the very first soft-shell crabs of the season, in the entire city. He explained that this was actually because they'd gone out of their way to pre-order them, months back. Course 3 featured these wonderfully fresh creatures, sauteed to crispy perfection and served with watermelon-tomato salad, mango coulis and smoked Spanish paprika. This was possibly the best soft-shell crab I've ever eaten. It was piping hot and the texture was immaculate; delicately crispy on the outside and remarkably tender inside. Next up was a perfectly-cooked section of moist and fresh pan-roasted Sable served atop a white bean, fresh fava and spring vegetable ragout with bacon and topped with roasted corn butter. This dish was amazing. The sable was remarkably tender and it went so well with the spring vegetable ragout. The smokey note, provided by the bacon, was right on time and tied everything together. The ornate dollup of roasted-corn butter atop the sable was glorious and delicious excess. In this case, atop actually meant 'over the top.' Again, after this course, my hard-to-please friends were basically in awe. One mentioned that if the meal ended right then, it would still be an incredible value. The other said that if it cost twice as much, he'd still be impressed. He also mentioned that there are very few restaurants to which he'd go back but that he already knew that Sweets and Savories was one of them. A delectable foie gras risotto with dry fig and fig-must was next. I loved the rich intensity of the risotto, which was, again, perfect. At first, the whole, dried fig made me a bit nervous but it was a great accent to the intense risotto and the fig's dense, chewy texture and tiny, crunchy seeds were perfect with the creamy risotto. The next dish, grilled venison strip-loin with brasied french green lentils, black cherry chutney, veal demiglace and truffle oil, was delicious too. Here again, the components worked in unison to make the dish special. I loved the rare venison and thought that the lentils were a perfect base for it. I couldn't recall ever having this well-suited combination before. The aromatic and tart black cherry chutney foiled the rich venison very nicely. A great dish. A refreshing salad of roasted heirloom garnet beet, Indiana goat cheese, baby frisee and broken vinaigrette finished up the savory progression very well. I love beets and these were exceptional. The goat cheese complemented them very well. The fresh baby frisee added a wonderful crunch and the broken vinaigrette provided a perfect amount of acidity. I loved the refreshing Pineapple and Spiced Rum sorbet which was a great intermezzo between the 2 sides of our meal. And the 3 desserts we tried after that were each excellent in their own right. My favorite was the Meyer lemon curd tart with blueberry compote and soft whipped cream. The curd was perfectly acidic but also sweet and not too eggy. The shell was buttery with a perfect texture. The rich, creamy Lemoncello cheesecake with raspberry coulis was also great as was the warm dark chocolate fondant cake with chocolate genache sauce and cocoa-cinnamon sorbet. I loved this dish because I actually needed some chocolate at this stage of the meal and the sorbet was reminiscent of Mexican-style chocolate ice cream, which is one of my favorites. This was another fantastic meal at Sweets and Savories; probably my favorite in about a half-dozen visits. Even though I personally was not at all surprised by its extraordinary quality or the great value it represented, I was still blown away by it. Of course, my friends were still raving about it days later. It made a lasting impression on them. At $50, there is almost nothing else in Chicago that even comes close to matching up with it. The dishes being turned out by chef Richards are world-class stunners which never fail to satisfy. Is there any other chef in Chicago who can match his mastery over luxury ingredients? Maybe so, but none of them come close to hitting this price point. Sweets and Savories is continually producing phenomenal food and always tailoring their menu to take advantage of what's in season. By any measure its one of Chicago's most important restaurants and for the budget-conscious it's an exceptional restaurant that in a very genuine sense, cannot be matched. =R=
  18. I've eaten at Chicago's newest BBQ joint, Smoque, which opened back in December 2006, a few times now and it's been quite good each time out. There's been a lot of buzz about it, especially at some other message forums -- and after being featured on WLS TV's Hungry Hound, the crowds descended. For a while, it seemed that the Smoque team wouldn't be able to keep up. On a few occasions, they ran out of food. Of course, in the world of restaurants, running out of food is never pleasant but with authentic BBQ, it's a somewhat common occurence and tends to indicate that things are being done properly. No one wants re-warmed BBQ from a previous day's production, so when good BBQ gets 86'd, it's not necessarily something to lament. Here are some assorted thoughts, based on my few visits to Smoque . . . Getting there right as they opened at 11 am was a great idea (if I do so say myself ). There was a small line and a few large, carry-out orders being put together but the wait was not long and there was plenty of parking on Pulaski. Needless to say, they were not yet out of anything. There was a short wait for chicken but it was ready -- and brought to our table -- before we'd eaten the rest of our order. The food is definitely tasty. I especially enjoyed the moist, fatty brisket. My portion of the sliced variety (it's also available chopped) contained thick planks of flat and point. It had a nice, barky exterior and a great, smokey flavor . . . nice smoke ring, too. The pulled pork was also really good -- smokey and moist. I liked that it had not been drowned in sauce so the smoke and the pork really came through. The ribs were also very nice. I like that Smoque serves them dry (light glaze of sauce which becomes a delicious, thin crust). The flavor was great and a well-defined smoke ring was evident. I tried both the spare ribs and the baby backs and fell into my usual preference for baby backs. I thought the amount of cooking, as indicated by bite resistance, was right on, too. The meat was very smokey and came away from the bone with a healthy tug but it was not falling off the bone. The only negative was that the rib meat was a bit dry. I'm not sure if this was a style choice, an abberation or if it represented a problem that might need to be addressed. Still, I'm nitpicking because the ribs were very good and were on a par with just about any (actual BBQ) restauant ribs I've had in town. On subsequent visits, I didn't have the ribs, so I cannot comment further. The chicken was moist and flavorful with a nicely-salty skin. Sometimes smoked poultry skin can get a bit rubbery but owner Barry Sorkin pointed out to us that the convection fans in the Southern Pride smokers actually produce a very palatable skin. Chalk one up for Southern Pride. Sides were a mixed bag and just a tiny notch below the meats, I thought. I liked the 'Chicago-style' fries a lot. Cornbread was also very good. The flavorful baked beans, studded with chunks of meat and onion, have varied over my visits but they're always good and last time out they were excellent. Cabbage in the slaw was a bit too crunchy for me (I tend to enjoy slaws made with pre-salted cabbage a bit more) but I did like the dressing. Macaroni and cheese was good. The flavor was nice but I prefer it a bit creamier. I thought that both BBQ sauces, which I used sparingly, were quite tasty. As for the NC-style, I prefer a bit more vinegar and a thinner sauce overall, but again, we're down to nitpicking. It seems that the Smoque team is holding up pretty well in the wake their initial avalanche of success and that they are not taking lightly the problems that have been brought to their attention. I get the feeling that they'd hoped for a slower ramp-up so that they could have addressed the issues a bit more systematically and patiently, rather than on-the-fly, with the audience 'in their seats,' so to speak. But the waits were not long at any of my visits. During visit #1, at 11:45, I got back in the short line and placed a 2nd, carry-out order to bring back to my office. It was ready within a few minutes. Visits #2 and #3 -- both around mid-day -- were essentially waitless. If running out of food is the worst thing that can be said about Smoque, I think that the hardest part of their 'birth' is probably behind them. And again, it seemed pretty clear to me that the problems which have been noted are really being taken to heart by Smoque's owners. According to Mr. Sorkin, customers are already making unsolicited suggestions for additional Smoque locations. With that kind of goodwill, they'll likely have enough wiggle room to work out the problems that have accompanied their somewhat unexpected initial rush of success. I definitely plan on returning to Smoque on a regular basis. =R= Smoque BBQ 3800 N Pulaski Chicago, IL 60641 (773) 545-7427
  19. There aren't many industrial sweeteners that are cheaper than HFCS, which is why its use is so widespread. Manufacturers and marketers operate under the belief that most consumers do not read labels or ingredient listings. I'm guessing they're right. It's too bad that any sauce can be referred to as a 'Kansas City' version. Not only is that an abomination but I'm guessing that it actually misinforms more consumers (who actually do read labels) than it enlightens. =R=
  20. Pardon the pun but I'm right behind you, Mike We'll definitely be smoking a butt next weekend. I've got a cryovacked 2-pack of butts out in the fridge. I'll smoke one and I'll make sausage out of the other one. Too bad about the pics but your dedication has inspired me, regardless =R=
  21. I had a glorious meal at Schwa last night and confirmed this as well. They are open on Mondays, at least for now. =R=
  22. It really is a matter of trial and error. For me, the one constant is the weight I use on top of the fish. I have a brick and a large Nambe vase (totalling about 16 pounds), which I always use to press the fish while it cures. But beyond that, everything changes, pretty much every time out. I normally start with a fileted, 4-5 pound side of wild king salmon. When I do, I usually quadruple the cure recipe in the book (plus my own personal seasoning tweaks) and follow the instructions. However, I have learned, via my various attempts, that a 4-5 pound piece of fish needs to cure longer than the time given in the recipe in the book. I finally determined that amount of time to be somewhere between 60 and 72 hours, depending on the weight of the fish. When I cured a smaller piece of fish and did not make any adjustments, I ended up with some tasty but very salty and hard fish jerky. And even in this well-tested configuration, the thin parts of the finished fish are definitely saltier than the thick areas but they are totally delicious and soft. I'm sorry but I've never measured the thickness. I'm guessing that it's about 2" at its thickest point but that's just a guess. I think that the instructions in the book are just about right when they call for a 1.5-pound piece of fish and a 36-hour cure. If that's what you attempted and you were unhappy with the results, you may want to try adjusting the size of the fish, the amount of weight on the fish or the cure time. But I don't think there's any set formula for how exactly to adjust. You just have to do it a few times to get a feel for it. The more repetitions you get under your belt, the better you'll be able to adjust. And be sure to take good notes, too. After just a few attempts you'll have enough experience to adjust properly. Of course, it's a lot like bread-baking and you'll still be noticing some new qualities in your finished product even after dozens of trials. But there probably won't be huge variations in your results, either. I've probably made about 20 batches of cold-smoked salmon, through a variety of assorted conditions, and the results are fairly predictable now. There's always a curveball in there somewhere, but before too long you'll be able to anticipate it and handle it with ease. Just keep curing . . . =R=
  23. Excellent, Derek! I'm also curious if you cooked it before you ate it. In either case, that is a most admirable project. Congrats! =R=
  24. No tasting menu on this night. Although, if we had asked for one, I can't imagine our request not being accomodated. But 4 courses (plus the amuse) was just right, especially since we also had pre-dinner cocktails and 2 bottles on wine with our meal. I have a small event planned at Vie for June and there will definitely be a tasting menu on that night. =R=
  25. I had the good fortune to make a reservation at Vie for last night about a week before the F&W news broke. It had been a while since I'd been there and I began jonesing for it. I knew I wanted to get in as the earliest Spring produce (mainly ramps) found its way onto Chef Virant's menu. It's still a bit early for morels or the early SW Michigan bounty but I figured that mid-April would bring a few treats and I was right. Vie was bustling last night. I've always dined there on Friday or Saturday and the place has always been full. However, last night was the first time I'd ever seen Vie seating diners at 10 pm. Clearly, 'the news is out all over town.' We even spotted (and got to meet) the lovely young lady who got Vie onto Check, Please! Vie was hopping like I'd never seen it before. As I've said before, ordering at Vie is pleasantly burdensome because it's very difficult to choose from the spectacular array of offerings on the menu. I really believe that the depth of the menu added about 20 minutes to our dining experience last night because it was genuinely that hard to decide what to order. I ended up bypassing the very tempting ragout of burgundy snails with wood-grilled spence farms ramps, fava beans and organic creme fraiche because my wife promised she'd order the lamb (more on this later) as her entree, and it also included ramps. Skipping ahead just a bit, after we ordered but before our orders arrived, the kitchen sent out for us a delectable amuse of porcini tortellini with young almonds, that was terrific. The tortellini were sublime and the young almonds, which I'd never had before, popped in the mouth as if they had liquid centers. It was a great combination of flavors and textures. For my appetizer, I ended up with the buttermilk-soaked, pan-fried quail with poached quail egg, wisconsin watercress, spring peas, 'la quercia' prosciutto and balsamic vinaigrette. Needless to say, this was a winner. Not only was it well-conceived but the execution was flawless. The quail was perfectly cooked and its skin was wonderfully crispy. The spring peas were taut and tasty and they burst on the tooth. The sweet saltiness of the prosciutto accented the other components and tied them all together. I also got to taste the phillip green fried baby purple artichokes with spring garlic, slow-roasted garlic, honey vinaigrette and pickled peppers. These artichokes were out of this world and oh-so-tender. And while they were not local, they were picked and shipped to the restaurant personally, by a woman in Santa Monica, CA, with whom chef Virant is friends. It was a beautiful example of local and global living harmoniously, on the same menu. We shared a couple of salads that were both quite reflective of the season. One was comprised of wisconsin baby greens and shaved fresh and marinated hearts of palm. It was dressed with a garlic and herb vinaigrette and topped generously with shaved parmagiano reggiano. The other salad was chef Virant's take on a salad lyonnaise. Here however, the salad was comprised of wood-grilled dandelions, roasted parsley root, mixed greens and rustic croutons, dressed with mustard vinaigrette and topped with a single, crispy strip of house-made 'old school' bacon. This salad was phenomenal. Each individual component was delicious and the bacon was fantastic. A few months back, chef Virant told me that Vie would soon embark on curing their own meats and the glorious proof was in the pudding, or the salad, as it were. 'Old School' bacon refers to a process where the belly is cured and then dry-aged for an extended period of time before being smoked. This extra step of drying, produced a bacon that was even more intense in flavor than typical bacon, with its flavors actually concentrated. As an amateur charcutier who's cured and smoked belly into bacon dozens of times, this simple adjustment was something I'd never heard or read about before. It was an enlightening moment for me. There wasn't an entree on Vie's menu that couldn't have been my first choice, depending on mood. I could not categorically remove any of the choices like wild tasmanian king salmon, sturgeon, organic ny strip steak or bacon-wrapped and roasted chicken ballotine from contention. What I finally went with was the berkshire pork loin milanese, basted with butter and herbs and served with braised chickpeas, pickled garlic, sauteed rapini and spanish olive tapenade. I loved this dish. The pork loin had a perfectly crusted exterior and beneath resided the moist and succulent hunk of distinctively aromatic berkshire pork. The accroutements fit in perfectly with the pork and I have to give special recognition to the chickpeas, which really took the dish to an entirely higher level. I'd had chickpeas at Vie once before (with a hanger steak) and I've never encountered a chef who prepares them more perfectly than chef Virant. Their texture and flavor were just outstanding. Dry chick peas are not so easy to corrall but at Vie, they are routinely turned out in perfect form. Happily, I also tried my wife's entree; wood-grilled hill and vale farms lamb chop loin and braised neck ravioli served with spence farms ramps, wood-grilled local carrots, spring onion slaw and lamb jus. It too was sensational and I loved the ramps that had, in part, prompted my call to Vie in the first place. The corn-crusted sturgeon served on creamy byrd mill grits with wilted wisconsin spinach, house-made tasso ham and piquillo pepper vinaigrette was just breathtaking. Again, the components worked together perfectly and the slightly smokey undernote from the tasso was magnificent and inspired. For dessert, I ordered an updated version of an old Vie favorite. The warm gooey butter cake, which I would put up against any dessert served in the Chicago area, had been morphed into a warm, gooey, peanut butter cake that, if possible, even trumped Vie's original rendition of this St. Louis classic. It was served with a scoop of bittersweet sorbet, a light and crisp peanut wafer and an amazing chocolate and peanut butter fudge square. Awesome! My wife ordered fried banana creme patisserie with maple candied pecans cocoa-banana ice cream and creme fraiche caramel sauce. The patisserie were little donut-esque balls of banana which were moist at their centers and just outstanding. The ice cream was a perfect tie-together for this rich and compelling dessert. More than any of my previous meals at Vie, which were all fantastic, this was the best. Vie just keeps getting better. As my friend George said repeatedly during our meal, chef Virant does not rest on his laurels. This is so true. The menu keeps changing and evolving to reflect not only the season but chef Virant's seemingly unending inspirations. He takes risks yet the food feels effortless because the ingredients ultimately work so well together in creating perfection on the plate. It certainly helps matters that service at Vie is so flawless it's almost an afterthought. We again had Thierry waiting on us last night and were so glad to have him. But everyone in the FOH at Vie is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and helpful. Nonetheless, this food is so amazing, I'm not sure that anything could detract from its magnificence. The cat is definitely out of the bag as it pertains to Vie. It's no secret anymore and I have feeling that it will forever be a bit more difficult to get a table there. But it couldn't have happened to a more deserving chef, crew or restaurant. And if it means that I have to call a bit more in advance to get a table, I will happily accept it. This food is so brilliant, the thought of not eating it while someone who never has gets to do so, is almost as good as being at the restaurant itself. I'm thrilled for everyone at Vie and love the fact that in the wake of what is arguably the best press they've ever received, the food was never better than last night. If this restaurant were in the city, you wouldn't even be able to get a table there anymore. And again, it couldn't have happened to a more deserving group of folks. =R=
  • Create New...