December 29, 2006

K&K December 2006

kith and kin
(1) One's acquaintances and relatives.
(2) One's relatives.
[Middle English kith, from Old English cith, kinsfolk, neighbors.]

Word History: Kith is obsolete except in the alliterative phrase kith and kin, which originally meant “native land and people” and first appeared about 1377 in Piers Plowman. Kith comes from the Old English noun cith, “knowledge; known, familiar country; acquaintances, friends.”
It's one of those unfortunate realities of life that the older you get, the harder it is to keep up with all your friends. I blame it on the pressures of maintaining gainful employment in a free market economy.

To combat this, years ago, the old high school gang started getting together for dinners periodically, to make sure we kept in touch with one another and stayed current on each others lives. J called these our "Kith and Kin" dinners... I'd never heard of that phrase before, but after learning of its meaning, it seemed perfectly appropriate. These are get-togethers among close friends, and they ensure that we'll always be "known" and "familiar" to one another.

Fast forward several years to the end of 2006 -- the K&K's live on! Lots of changes though: some of us are married, some of us have kids (!!), and some of us (yours truly) are moving out of the area. Lav and I wanted to host a K&K dinner at our still relatively new home for the first time, so we put this menu together as a way of celebrating friendships and the start of a new year.

roasted beet salad
arugula, mint, cashew

squid and clams
parsley "pesto" with ginger and lemongrass tea broth

porchetta "sandwich"
fresh mozzarella, avocado, basil, shaved fennel

18-hour braised shortrib
carrot, peas, melted red onion, celery root puree

vanilla panna cotta
kumquat, kiwi

There are a lot of things in store for us as we prepare to relocate to Seattle in 2007, and it's coming faster than we expected! It'll be tough to leave our friends and family here, but we're also looking forward to the spectacular adventures that are sure to be in store for us in the Pacific Northwest! In a small way, this was a perfect way to close out a fantastic year -- great friends, good food and drink, excellent times. Rest assured, we'll be flying back for future K&K's!

December 11, 2006

Menu for Hope III: Great wine and olive oil, anyone? (Code UW07)

Hey there...

Are you a fan of all things related to food?

Do you want to help out those who are less fortunate?

Well it's your lucky day! This holiday season will play host to Menu for Hope III, a fantastic fundraiser that represents the collaboration of food bloggers around the world (literally). A bunch of bloggers have donated items, and you can test your luck at winning the items by buying raffle tickets.

This year, the money raised will be donated to the United Nations World Food Programme.

Click here fore the main Menu For Hope III page, hosted on Chez Pim.

Here at Fifth Flavor, we're happy to be offering the following prize:


This lot includes two bottles that are very special to me:

- 2002 Medlock Ames Cabernet Sauvignon, Bell Mountain
- L.A. Cetto estate-grown olive oil, Baja, Mexico

This is the inaugural vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon from Medlock Ames, a fantastic, young winery in Healdsburg. According to the winemaker, "This dark and intense Cabernet exhibits the classic plum and blackberry aromas of the Alexander Valley, but is enhanced by an exotic spicy quality we find characteristic of our vineyard. The dark fruit core of this wine is balanced by firm structure and rich dense tannins that last with the finish." A huge, dense wine for those in the mood for a well-made, new world Cabernet, made by a winemaking team with a real passion for their craft and their product.

The estate-grown olive oil from L.A. Cetto is a delicious, well-rounded olive oil. The texture and mouthfeel is absolutely unctious, with a luxuriously rich, fruity flavor and a long, buttery finish. This oil works fantastically for a light, quick saute, as a dipping oil, or as a finishing touch for savory dishes. I picked up this bottle during a trip to Mexico's wine country in Baja (a wonderful area... definitely worth a trip!), so it was personally imported into the country... legally, of course!

Estimated value for this lot is $50.

You can also view prizes from your specific region by going to our regional Menu for Hope blog hosts on this list:

US West Coast: Becks and Posh
US East Coast: The Amateur Gourmet
US (the rest): Kalyn's Kitchen
Canada: Cardamom Addict
Europe and UK:
Latin America: The Cooking Diva
Asia Pacific/Australia/New Zealand: Grab Your Fork

Here's what you should do...

1. Go to the donation page at

2. Make a donation, each $10 will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize or prizes you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. Do tell us how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code -for example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for UW01 and 3 for UW07.

3. If your company matches your charity donation, please remember to check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

4. Please also check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

5. Check back on Chez Pim on January 15 when we announce the result of the raffle.

If you are able, PLEASE donate to the raffle... and tell all your friends to check out the prizes that are available so they can donate as well! Good luck!


December 10, 2006

roasted beets

I love roasted beets. Especially when they're in a good salad. Especially when that salad has creamy, decadent goat cheese and good drizzle of rich olive oil. Just keepin' it simple.

Yet aother one of those things that I hated as a kid. Go figure.

December 4, 2006

unintended fusion

One of my favorite one-dish meals is spaghetti e vongole... it's super easy to make, incredibly inexpensive, and absolutely delicious when you can get your hands on some fresh, sweet clams. I like this dish to have a soft-handed garlic flavor, with a relatively substantial spicy heat.

Tonight, we went with some impromptu modifications to the traditional recipie. Instead of chopped tomatoes, we did a fine dice of baby bell peppers, and rather than pecorino romano or parmesan, we topped the pasta with a light chiffonade of basil and lime zest for a lighter, zesty element. The basil and lime flavors were a natural pairing with the sweet clams, and to our surprise, they lended a fantastic southeast asian flavor profile to the dish... a sort of fusion-by-chance. The dish still matched nicely with the crisp (but substantial) Burgundian chardonnay we had on hand -- which we also used to steam the littleneck clams.

Lastly, one of our favorite things to do with pasta these days is to mix it with breadcrumbs toasted in olive oil... a little trick we've copied from a bucatini dish we loved at A16. The breadcrumbs are a fantastic way to make use of two-day-old baguette remnants, and the combination creates an awesome, lightly crunchy backdrop to the mouthfeel of al dente spaghetti. Small ribbons of prociutto round out the flavor of this dish... although it can be a bit saltier than bacon or pancetta (so adjust seasoning accordingly depending on the accent).

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November 30, 2006

Blogging for a purpose: A Menu for Hope III

Here's a reason why blogging is cool. Food bloggers are collaborating for the third annual "A Menu for Hope" fundraiser. This year, the money raised will be donated to the United Nations World Food Programme.

As the food aid arm of the UN, WFP uses its food to meet emergency needs and support economic & social development. The Agency also provides the logistics support necessary to get food aid to the right people at the right time and in the right place. WFP works to put hunger at the centre of the international agenda, promoting policies, strategies and operations that directly benefit the poor and hungry.

For more info, check out Pim's announcement here. Once the event gets underway (December 11-22), I'll post more information.

Please participate!

November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006, Asian-American style...

assorted charcuterie

seared ahi tuna
sesame seeds, nori flakes, wasabi

crispy salmon
soba wafer, soy-sake "gastrique"

pan-roased pork tenderloin
baked yam, roasted baby squash, pomegranate, coffee reduction

endive, goat cheese, pomegranate

taiwanese sticky rice
shiitake mushrooms, pork, dried shallots, dried shrimp

seafood pasta
angel hair, scallop, shrimp, crab, asparagus

"90-minute" diestel free-range, hormone-free roast turkey
thyme, rosemary

mashed potatoes
roasted garlic puree, olive oil

A.D.D. stuffing
carrot, celery, onion, dried cranberries, golden raisins, cashews, bakesale betty pear-ginger scone (!!!), sweet corn

caramelized sweet onion gravy

homemade cranberry sauce

pumpkin pie

apple pie

fruit tart

assorted dessert tray

I love thanksgiving... of course, it's a great time to get together with family and friends, enjoy some good food, and reflect on the many blessings in our lives.

We ended up with a pretty hefty menu for this year's feast, and like every year, the dishes were evocative of the diversity of food options that have become traditional or comforting for us. The overall options might seem a bit discordant with one another (seared ahi tuna and cranberry sauce???), but that's one of the great things about growing up as an Asian-American... you get to have the best food of both worlds during Thanksgiving. Turkey is a tradition as much as my mom's killer sticky rice.

This is the way we roll on turkey day.

November 18, 2006

an idyllic vineyard supper at Medlock Ames

figs wrapped with proscuitto, sage

gravlax crepe roll with whipped cream cheese and dill mustard

baby potatoes stuffed with caviar, sour cream and chives

* * *

baby greens with avocado, valencia oranges, chinese peanuts and shallot vinaigrette

fresh pasta with tomato, herbs and truffle oil

niman ranch braised beef cheeks with watercress, tomato confit and horseradish

local cheeses - adante acapella with pesto and fig jam, bellweather jersey with sour cherry jam, st. george with honey, black pepper and brioche, mt. tam triple cream

bell mountain apple strudel with whipped cream

* * *

2004 chardonnay
2005 chardonnay
2003 merlot
2003 cabernet sauvignon
2006 fermentation "dessert" wine

Man, things have been so busy... I'm really falling behind in my posts. This one is long overdue.

Every once in a while, you get the opportunity to do something that's just plain FUN. No catches, no reservations... just an all-around great time. A couple of weeks back, my pal Vijay and I had a chance to visit Medlock Ames, an up and coming new winery in North Healdsburg for a club members' dinner event, and had a killer time.

We were warmly greeted with a glass of the 2004 Bell Mountain Chardonnay, which evoked simple and refreshingly distinct flavors of tart apples and floral undertones balanced against a moderate backdrop of rounded buttery oak... a nice crowd pleaser.
We took a quick tour of the winery's operations, with winemaker Ames Morrison demonstrating the new hydraulic press used for the punch-down of the cabernet grapes. One of the nicest things about Medlock Ames is the pure enthusiasm for the process and the product shared by the folks running the winery. You could sense that Ames genuinely wanted us to get a deeper glimpse into what it took to make the wines -- not often that people are willing to take the time and teach you about their craft.
We sampled some of the cabernet juice right out of the tanks (totally outrageous... the sugar levels and flavor intensity is off the charts before fermentation), then headed out on a tractor-pulled hay ride out for dinner in the vineyard. We roamed around the vineyard, each of us picking our own grapes and crushing them in a small plastic bag. Ames used the juice to show us how his refractometer measures brix... another really cool insight!
It was a spectacular setting -- a festive group of about 20 people enjoying the last fleeting moments of great autumn weather, getting to know one another and relaxing with the fantastic hospitality of the Medlock Ames team. I honestly can't recall a winery with such a clearly displayed genuine commitment to its product and customers.
Another reason to like Medlock Ames is their relatively aggressive pursuit of sustainable agriculture and biodynamic farming. With a flock of sheep and a llama on staff, they've already struck a very nice balance of establishing their vineyard while preserving a significant amount of open space on the property. Really an admirable undertaking, considering the overall costs of running this sort of operation (and the seemingly relentless pressure to overdevelop every parcel of land in Northern California).
Medlock Ames ( is out in Healdsburg. Give them a call and stop by... it's a bit out of the way, but totally worth it. You'll taste some very nice wines and meet some fantastic people.
  • 2005 chardonnay: More tart, crisp and acidic than the 2004. Interesting, light minerality. Fantastic with food. I hope this is the direction they're taking with future vintages.

  • 2003 merlot: Deep and lush plum and cherry flavors, but with an underlying earthy complexity to it, which may come from the addition of a small amount of a secondary grape like cab franc? I can't recall. At any rate, definitely not one-dimensional, this merlot has plenty of nuances to ponder. Really nice.

  • 2003 cabernet sauvignon: Seemed to be a toned-down version of their first cabernet vintage... a bit more finesse, but still quite powerful. I'm looking forward to the evolution of future vintages of their cabernet.

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November 15, 2006

Touring through the Seattle food scene: A work in progress

Last updated
November 11, 2007

Current favorites
Neighborhood restaurant: Restaurant Zoë / Sitka & Spruce
Sushi: Nishino
Unique experience: Elemental@gasworks
House-made pasta: Tavolata
Gem: Lark
Pub: Paddy Coyne's
Pizza: Tutta Bella
Winery: Boudreaux Cellars

The scale
~ not my thing
• pretty good, but no hurry to go back
•• really good… I want to be a regular
••• holy cow!!!

Baguette Box [04.2007] ~
Black Bottle [02.2007] •1/2
Brasa [03.2007] •
Cafe Presse [07.2007] ••
Celtic Bayou [05.2007] ~
Crab Pot [07.2007] •
Cremant [07.2007] •1/2
Crow [03.2007] •1/2
Crush [08.2007] •1/2
Earth and Ocean [01.2007] ~
Elemental@Gasworks [01.2007] ••
Eva [09.2007] •
Feierbend [07.2007] •1/2
Fish Cafe [10.2007] ~
Fu Man Dumpling House [11.2007] •1/2
House of Hong [12.2006] ~
I Love Sushi (Bellevue) [02.2007] •
Jack’s Tapas [04.2007] •
J.J. Mahoney's [06.2007] • (love that parking lot patio...)
Kisaku [09.2007] •
La Carta de Oaxaca [03.2007] •1/2
Lark [12.2006] ••
Le Pichet [11.2006] ••
Lemongrass Restaurant [07.2007] •1/2
Macrina Bakery [11.2006] •
Marazul [2.2007] ~
Matador [08.2007] •
Moxie [05.2007] ~
Nishino [12.2006] ••1/2
Noble Court [06.2007] •
Paddy Coyne’s [03.2007] ••
Pagliacci Pizza [08.2007] •
Porcella Urban Market [03.2007] ••
Purple Wine Bar, Kirkland [12.2006] ~
Purple Wine Bar, Seattle [11.2006] •
Quinn's [10.2007] ••
Racha Thai [01.2007] •
Red Mill Burgers (Interbay) [05.2007] •
Red Mill Burgers (Phinney) [09.2007] ••
Restaurant Zoë [09.2007] ••1/2
Saito’s [03.2007] ~
Salumi [12.2006] ••
Samurai Noodle [08.2007] ••
Serious Pie [12.2006] •
Seven Stars Pepper [5.2007] •
Shiro's [11.2006] •
Siam on Lake Union [04.2007] ~
Sitka & Spruce [04.2007] ••1/2
Southlake Grill [04.2007] •
Tamarind Tree [10.2007] 1/2
Taqueria Guadalajara [06.2007] •1/2
Tavolata [05.2007] •1/2
Tilth [11.2006] ••
Third Floor Fish Cafe [10.2007] ~
Tutta Bella [09.2007] ••1/2
Union [12.2006] ••
Uptown China Restaurant [08.2007] ~
Veraci [07.2007] ••
Via Tribunali [07.2007] •
Voila Bistrot [02.2007] •1/2

Café Besalu [01.2007] •••
Daily Dozen Doughnut Company [03.2007] ••
Essential Baking Company [03.2007] •1/2
Fresh Flours [07.2007] ~
Hiroki [09.2007] ••
Le Fournil [12.2006] ~
Le Panier [03.2007] •
Mighty-O Donuts [09.2007] •
Top Pot Doughnuts [03.2007] •

November 9, 2006

Funny comment of the day

I read this today on New York Magazine's website... it's from an interview with one of Savoy's veteran waiters, Cody Landis -- made me laugh out loud:

What about the foodies?

It's difficult to deal with people who eat with their heads. Foodies are a funny breed — they remind me of the kids in high school who weren't the jocks or the popular kids; all the sudden they found a way to connect with their physical being, and they go at it with full force. I make fun of those people — sometimes to their faces.

October 30, 2006

A ridiculous tasting of California Cabs, and an impromptu coffee sauce

pan-roasted pork tenderloin with rosemary
nutty brussel sprouts, potato-apple puree, fig, coffee-soy-caramel pan jus

Thanks to Mr. G.H., I had the opportunity to participate in a blind analytical tasting of nine ultra high-end California Cabernet Sauvignons with the good folks of FOG. Check out this lineup, listed in order of my ranking:
  1. 2003 Ridge Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains (1,500 cases, $120 group rank: 8). Not popular with the group, but my favorite because of its distinctive earthy, somewhat green acidity. It makes sense that this one stood out from the pack, with the completely different climate and soils of Santa Cruz. I thought this had the best potential for food pairings because of its lively, bright palate.
  2. 2003 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Private Reserve, Napa Valley (7,043 cases, $125 group rank: 4). A very balanced, well-executed wine; some thought it was too middle-of-the-road.
  3. 2003 Dalle Valle Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (800 cases, $110 group rank: 1). I have always wanted to try this wine, ever since passing up on an incredibly well-priced bottle of Maya at a charity auction a couple of years ago. Amazing, cool core of full-bodied fruit, balanced by somewhat aggressive, warm tannic structure.
  4. 2003 Spottswood Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Vineyard, St. Helena (3,700 cases, $110 group rank: 2). An elegant, floral cabernet, exhibiting finesse and complexity, like a field of violets, lavender and light herbs. An eye opener for me
  5. 2003 Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain (1,000 cases, $65 group rank: 3). One of my favorite wineries. Herbaceous undertone, with bright cherry and juniper berry (I think).
  6. 2003 Harlan Estate, Napa Valley (1,827 cases, $250 estimated group rank: 6). One of Napa's exclusive cult wines; very difficult to get one's hands on a bottle... I can't believe I got to taste it blind. Surprising bitter notes in a very powerful wine.
  7. 2003 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (2,500 cases, $85 group rank: 7). Remarkably smooth, silky and plush, almost to a fault, because it muted any distinctive characteristics.
  8. 2003 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Georges de Latour, Private Reserve, Napa Valley (14,000 cases, $95 group rank: 9). Light and almost watery.
  9. 2003 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Selection, Napa Valley (9,800 cases, $136 gropu rank: 5). A montrous amount of new oak for my taste, with a burnt smell. Seemed to have the longest finish of all, approx. 35-40 seconds.
How incredible to have so many exclusive wines at one tasting! Nearly all of them were absolutely delicious, with the rankings only separating stylistic preferences (at least for me). By the way, it's no easy task to try and stay fair and precise in your tasting notes with this many powerful wines coating your taste buds.

We were also fortunate to have Wilfred Wong (BevMo's buyer) on hand for this tasting. No way! Wilfred's capsule reviews helped make new and different wines a bit more accessible and less intimidating when I first started buying wine, so it was a real treat for me to watch him taste and listen to some of his comments. A very nice fellow. Also, props to Steve P. for organizing a great tasting.

After I got home, I prepared a late supper for me and Lav. On the BART ride, I was trying to think of some flavor combinations for an intensely flavored pan sauce to accompany pork tenderloin. I ended up getting fixated on incorporating a coffee reduction to play off of the roasted characteristics of the pork and the coffee.

To comprise the reduction, I started with a cup of coffee, then added sugar, a splash of mirin, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar. I used the resulting liquid to deglaze the pan once the tenderloin had been seared and finished in the oven, and polished it with a tiny dab of butter. The result was much better than I had expected; each of the disparate elements came together in a synergy of deep and brooding flavors, adding just the right dimension to the dish. The recipe could use just a bit of tweaking to bring even more of the coffee flavor out, but I am really happy with the result already...

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October 28, 2006

Redd's tasting menu in dual preparations... genius!

yellowfin tuna tartare, avocado, chili oil, fried rice
sashimi of hamachi, sticky rice, edamame, lime ginger sauce
* * *
petrale sole, chorizo, manilla clams, saffron curry nage
caramelized diver scallops, califlower puree, almonds, balsamic reduction
* * *
tasting of cold foie gras preparations, pears, pistachios, brioche
seared foie gras with caramelized figs
* * *
glazed pork belly, apple puree, burdock, soy caramel
veal and ricotta meatballs, celery root puree
* * *
prime new york steak and shortribs, black pepper gnocchi, braised romano beans
young lamb tenderloin, fresh shelled beans, olive, pepper, tomato confit
* * *
panna cotta with chocolate drizzle
date beignets with cinnamon ice cream

We celebrated Lav's birthday this weekend with a dinner at Redd in Yountville. I'll never cease to be amazed at the concentration of significant restaurants in Yountville. What a lucky town.

This blog isn't really intended for restaurant reviews, so I'll just comment on some of the successful dishes and/or components that were really spectacular.

The saffron curry nage that accompanied the petrale sole was fantastic. The nage was done in the style of a loose foam, incorporating the alluring earthiness of saffron with just the lightest hint of curry in the background, all accented by the fresh flavor of the sea. The nage must have been made, in part, by the juice released by the clams -- the aroma was like a savory whiff of ocean air... just perfect for the sole.

We both thought the glazed pork belly was the dish of the tasting. The rich, mouth-coating flavor of the pork was made even more interesting by the crispy texture of the meat. The apple puree and soy caramel had sufficient sweetness to pair beautifully with the unctuously prepared pork.

Lastly, we enjoyed an exquisitely prepared, tiny portion of New York steak, paired with a braised shortrib. The slice of New York strip was richly flavored, yet remarkably tender... seared to form a perfect crust while remaining just under medium-rare on the interior. The shortrib was meltingly tender, complex and earthy in its velvety decadence. The miniscule portion size for this course was ideal... just enough to be able to compare the contrasting flavors and textures of the two different cuts, made with two different preparations. I've never seen a dish come with exactly two micro-gnocchi as accompaniment (until now).

Excellent service; clean, modern design (nifty sinks)... a very enjoyable restaurant. The best part about the meal was the execution of the tasting menu in dual preparations. Since Lav and I each had different courses which shared some broad thematic similarity from course to course, it was like having a progressively designed 12-course meal. Really fantastic... an unexpectedly gracious service element that captures the restaurant's admirable focus on the diner's experience.

Redd Restaurant
6480 Washington St
Yountville, CA
(707) 944-2222

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October 25, 2006

a successful, simple foam and a better articulation of flavor combinations

gamay risotto
sweet onion, andouille, mushroom, peas, chevre, pecorino foam

double-cut niman ranch pork chop
cayenne-allspice rub, baby kiwi panzanella, roasted brussel sprouts, thyme-butter pan jus
About three weeks ago, I had a glass of Beaujolais Villages at COCO500 that completely blew me away. Unlike the light, fruity, thirst quenching style of Beaujolais Nouveau, the glass of wine I had was deep and dense, evocative of a brooding but acidic Pinot Noir... really incredible stuff. It was the first time I'd ever had Beaujolais of this style, and I was completely captivated. That weekend, I picked up this bottle of 2004 Jean-Paul Brun L'Ancien old vine Beaujolais (notice it is only 12% alcohol). This wine didn't have quite the depth or core of dark fruit, but instead struck a more even balance between ripe, mature fruit with a sturdy backbone of acidity. Very low in tannic structure, and with a lightly floral accent... a versatile wine that works well with or without food. And a good value for $15.

Tonight, I had two specific things I wanted to try: pecorino foam and a panzanella spiked with little bits of baby kiwi.

For the pecorino foam, I first made a red wine risotto with some of the Beaujolais. This was originally going to be a regular risotto, but when I was in the middle of sweating the sweet onion, I realized we had no chicken stock or broth on hand. So I went with the red wine to add more depth of flavor to the dish... turned out to be a good call. The fruit driven tang of the red wine paired beautifully with the sharp but creamy flavor of the foam. I made the foam with a simple emulsion of scalded milk and shaved pecorino, aerated by an immersion blender. I think it was stable because of the temperature and the milk solids. Not as refined as a gas cartridge-based foam, but more than sufficient.

The panzanella with baby kiwi would be served alongside a beautiful double cut Niman Ranch pork chop (which we shared... man that's a lot of meat!) that had been brined overnight. This was probably the juiciest, most flavorful pork chop I've ever made... a result of having a nearly 2-inch thick cut of high quality meat seared in the pan, then roasted on the bone. I had some serious doubts as to whether the sweetness of the baby kiwi would clash with the tomato in the panzanella, but it turned out to be a very successful combination, particularly paired with the rich taste and mouthfeel of the pork.

My flavor combinations have been somewhat confused... really just a bit out of whack for the past couple of meals. This simple meal of more intuitive flavors brings back a little bit of focus for me.

simple pecorino foam

one cup of whole milk
3/4 cup of freshly grated pecorino romano

heat the milk in a small pot until just scalded. do not boil. add grated pecorino and remove from heat. whisk until blended. vigorous whisking while returning the pot to the stove over medium heat immediately after the addition of the pecorino may induce a bubble-over effect that will naturally create the foam, but you need to be careful not to burn the milk solids and cheese. alternatively, pour the contents into a smaller container and use an immersion blender to establish the foam consistency. use immediatly while still very warm.

there are more sophisticated ways of creating foams with superior stability and a finer, creamier texture, but most require tools and ingredients that are not readily available in the average home kitchen.

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October 24, 2006

you have GOT to be kidding me...

We try to buy our food responsibly, supporting organic and sustainably grown products from local producers when possible (although admittedly, we could make a more concerted effort). One of the products we really enjoy is the "Rosie" line of chickens from Petaluma Poultry. Rosie is their certified organic, free range chicken. As the company describes the product on their website:
Rosie was the first chicken in the United States to carry a certified organic label. Rosie's diet consists of 100% certified organic corn and soybean grown on soil that has been free of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers for at least three years. Petaluma Poultry raises Rosie in accordance with the organic protocols independently verified by Oregon Tilth, a third party certifier. Oregon Tilth visits the poultry houses, feed mill and processing plant to confirm that organic practices are followed at all times. We maintain a rigorous audit trail documenting the hatching, growing, processing and distribution of each bird. Dick Krengel, President of Willowbrook Feed, says "We can trace a box of Rosies from our delivery truck all the way back to the field where their organic feed was grown." Rosie is a free range chicken, allowed to run and forage outdoors in an open-air, fenced area outside the barn. At market, Rosie's weight averages 4 pounds.
Petaluma Poultry "strive[s] to create harmonious relationships in nature sustaining the health of all creatures and the natural world." Sure, it costs quite a bit more, but you feel like you're doing something better for the environment, better for the chicken, and better for your health, right?

As it turns out, maybe not.

Right now, I'm reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan... his observations on the connection between overproduction and overconsumption to resource depletion, reduced biodiversity, disease and economic hardship are flat-out freaky. I'm only about 1/3 of the way through, but it's definitely a good read for anyone who cares about the food they eat and the overall impact our ridiculous aggregate consumption patterns are making. Anyways, on the BART ride to work this morning, I read the following excerpt on page 140:
I also visited Rosie the organic chicken at her farm in Petaluma, which turns out to be more animal factory than farm. She lives in a shed with twenty thousand other Rosies, who, aside from their certified organic feed, live lives little different from that of any other industrial chicken. Ah, but what about the "free range" lifestyle promised on the label? True, there's a little door in the shed leading out to a narrow grassy yard. But the free-range story seems a bit of a stretch when you discover that the door remains firmly shut until the birds are at least five or six weeks old -- for fear they'll catch something outside -- and the chickens are slaughtered only two weeks later .
No freakin' way. Rosie's a fraud?

Okay, I know that not all "organic" products are equal, with some of the mass produced brands abusing the use of the word in the name of capitalistic marketing with shameless, unregulated abandon, but man, I thought Petaluma Farms was one of the good guys! I'm going to withhold judgment for the moment while I do some research and dig a bit deeper to find out who's closer to the truth. Stay tuned...

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October 22, 2006

the choices we make

salad of late-season japanese tomato
goat cheese, olive oil, japanese red sea salt

pan-seared mahi mahi
slow-poached egg, eggplant, andouille, bacon, bell pepper, mushroom, balsamic drops

"To think about tomorrow is a luxury."
- Rt. Revd. David Zac Niringiye

I try to appreciate the amazing luxury of choices we have, even in our most basic daily routines (white or wheat? paper or plastic? soup or salad?). It's a real gift and a blessing, and we've done nothing in particular to deserve it. Yet I constantly take for granted the mere existence of a choice... of options... of the opportunity to make a decision... something a lot of people in this world don't have.

This weekend, I had beef tongue for the first time in a tasty taco de lengua. Beef tongue isn't exactly the most appetizing visual image, but its taste and texture are uniquely satisfying. The tongue is a very lean piece of meat that needs to be stewed for a bit in order to make it soft and velvety. The diced tongue in the taco had a lighter-than-beef flavor, with just a hint of textural resistance... maybe stewed at a slightly high temperature... but still a nice canvas for the salsa verde, onion and cilantro.

We saw this little block of Japanese sea salt -- it's roughly about 8 cubic inches, half a pound in weight -- and were intrigued. It's fascinating to learn about all the different types of salt out there, how they're produced, and what other elements they may contain. Apparently, the pinkish hue in this chunk comes from the presence of calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper and iron. It supposedly has a unique minerally flavor that goes well with tomatoes... we'll see about that. We also found some pristine looking mahi mahi... funny how similar in color the flesh of the mahi mahi is to the salt.

This morning, we had a chance to stop by La Farine to pick up some breakfast with Melissa and Dawn. I also wanted to get a seeded baguette (my favorite bread) for dinner tonight... it's generously topped with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and toasted fennel seeds. The nutty, lightly anise flavor is a great match for the toothsome texture of the rustic baguette. I could eat the whole baguette myself, with just a bit of sweet cream butter or st. andre cheese...

For dinner tonight, I wanted to keep things simple, but was also craving some rich flavors as the temperature dropped suddenly about 15 degrees with the arrival of a bit of an off-shore breeze. I found these lusciously red japanese tomatoes at Berkeley Bowl that smelled surprisingly ripe and full-flavored, with a pronounced citric aroma permeating its skin. I sliced that up and added some creamy goat cheese and olive oil to add roundness... the tomatoes were awesome! Fairly firm flesh, but which a mouth-filling concentration of vibrant flavor; definitely not sweet and mellow, these had real life and exhuberance, exploding with lycopene goodness. I microplaned some of the pink salt on top -- Lav declared its unique flavor to be "salty."

Ever since I read this blog entry, I've been wanting to try making a slow-poached egg with a uniformly custard-like consistency. I slow-poached the egg for one hour at 63 degrees celsius; the contents would serve as the base of the dish. In the meantime, I sauteed a dice of eggplant and andouille, crisped a bacon segment, and seared the mahi mahi. I was trying to go with two predominant flavor themes here: sweet and earthy. The sweet elements came from the custard-like yolk (which had a subtle intrinsic sweetness that paired perfectly with a bit of thick, aged, low acid balsamic drizzle... sort of the same idea as David Kinch's use of maple syrup, but purely savory), the eggplant, caramelized shallots and roasted yellow bell pepper flesh. The earthy theme was represented by the seared mahi flesh, roasted mushroom, the andouille and the bacon. Ultimately, although decadent and tasty, there were too many flavors obscuring the focus... I should have ditched the bacon and eggplant. The slow-poached egg was awesome though, and would be optimal with a steak or served simply with salt and a dab of sweet syrup.

And just like that, another weekend has flown by. As we finished up, I started thinking about the past two days... what exactly did I do this weekend? Well, I tried some new foods and flavor combinations and bought a chunk of pink salt... I spent time with my wife, my friends and my family, and I held a 15-day-old baby for the first time. Each moment was significant in its own way, some far more than others. I do have the luxury of thinking about tomorrow -- planning the week ahead, not worrying about where my next meal will come from or where I'll find shelter and safety -- but maybe I should stay in the present for a bit longer instead, making sure I appreciate the moments that have just taken place.

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October 18, 2006

bone marrow and broccoli... just a little weekday tinkering

moelle desséchée
poached broccoli stem, crème fraiche, pugliese toast, bitter microgreens, cornichons, mustard

cuisse rôtie de poulet
broccoli puree, pecorino romano “snow”, dried yuzu, thyme, balsamic pan jus

2005 copain l'hiver

We had a reservation to check out Bourbon and Branch today, but the timing ultimately didn't work out too well. As I disappointedly cancelled the reservation, I was hit by a small twinge of inspiration... We had some broccoli and chicken thigh waiting in the fridge, along with some beef bones for marrow. What kind of a quick and easy meal could be made of these components?

We had a transcendent meal at Coi a couple of months ago, and one of the most memorable dishes was a small lobe of crispy seared bone marrow served with caviar and fleur de sel. The biggest question was how to duplicate the crisp exterior. We soaked the bone marrow for a couple of hours to remove some of the blood, then roasted it in the oven at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes. Scooped out the warmed, just-melting marrow and dusted it with corn starch before pan-searing it in a bit of browned butter. We plated the two resulting portions with a tiny dab of creme fraiche for parallel richness; mustard, chili oil, bitter microgreens, and cornichons to contrast and cut through the decadence; toasted pugliese for a neutral-flavored textural contrast; and hollowed poached broccoli stems to visually mimic the bones while adding a distinct vegetable element to a fundamentally meaty dish.

I've wondered about using broccoli as a puree. The thigh was deboned, since the dark meat is juicy enough to roast without it. The dried yuzu flakes (from Japan... thanks to Melissa, our official purveyor of interesting citrus) lended a subtle brightness to the dark meat, while the thyme accentuated the depth of flavor with its earthiness. The p.r. "snow" served to bind these somewhat divergent elements, aided by the light balsamic-tinged pan jus. Ultimately, the puree made the dish a bit imbalanced, with Lav noting that she expected much more intrinsic sweetness from the broccoli. Somehow, I feel like there is more that can be done with the broccoli puree... I just need to figure out how to better exploit that flavor.

These were some pretty rich dishes, so we opted to pair everything with a bottle of 2005 Copain l'Hiver. The "Saisons des Vins" series -- the second label from Wells Guthrie at Copain -- never lets you down. The l'Hiver, a rich and full-bodied syrah, was packed with densly extracted plum, accented by white pepper and a hint of smoky tobacco. Super inky; our teeth were stained after half a glass. Not as much acidity as I had expected, but the strength of the fruit still managed to contrast sufficiently against the decadence of the dishes.

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October 15, 2006

Some new surprises, and an overdue farewell to summer

We're well into the fall season now, and Lav and I find ourselves still in the midst of an Italian kick. Last night, we made a pizza at home using canned San Marzano tomatoes. San Marzanos are ideal for sauces because of their meaty flesh and their "bittersweet" flavor -- lower sugar and lower acid. Just a bit of basil and you're good to go.

This morning, we were surprised to notice for the first time that the Meyer lemon tree Melissa gave us for Christmas last year is beginning to develop lemons. Finally! Having a little outdoor patio/deck is paying off! Thoughts of grilled lemon slices and lemon confit are running through my mind, but it looks like I've still got a few more months to wait...

After a morning dim sum session, we went on the prowl to check out some local shops and pick up some food. We started off at the Genova Delicatessen in Temescal, which is an amazing little shop in Oakland, founded in 1926. Genova sells sliced meats, cured meats, fresh pastas, sauces, imported canned goods (including both De Cecco and Strianese brand imported D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes... take that A.G. Ferrari), olive oils, desserts... everything and anything Italian, and all well priced. The find of the day was a jar of Annalisa fabioli bianchi di spagna (italian butter beans)... this will be used to try and recreate that haunting zuppa from A16 sometime soon.

We walked across the street to Bakesale Betty's. Alison, sporting her impossibly blue hair, had all sorts of fantastically decadent treats out. We asked her to pack up a slice of her famous lemon bar (perfectly lemony tart, with a super rich crust), a slice of pumpkin bread (moist and dense, with a well-developed, deep spice flavor), and a pear-ginger scone (moist and buttery, with a sweet ginger zing) for us. All three were rich, pure and pretty much euphoric.

Sadly, it's finally time to bid farewell to the summer. We've been in a bit of denial, but it's already the middle of October! Our rationalization is that a lot of the summer crop extended late into the season because of the rainy season earlier this year... We made a tomato and mozzarella salad with some farmer's market Early Girl tomatoes, fresh mozzarella di bufalo from the Cowgirl Creamery, organic basil and L.A. Cetto olive oil.

We also made a simple pasta with the fresh spinach fettucini we picked up from Genova. The sauce is made only of the San Marzano tomatoes, a bit of garlic and basil. The finish is a simple grating of awesome Cowgirl Creamery pecorino romano.

Looks like we're in for some rain this week...

Genova Delicatessen

5095 Telegraph Avenue, Suite A, Oakland

Bakesale Betty
5098 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland

October 9, 2006

An attempt at lamb tagine

salad of peach, pluot and mustard greens
light lemon vinaigrette

mousse of roasted eggplant and capsicum
olive oil emulsion

chicken and eggplant bestila
crushed hazelnuts, cinnamon, allspice

lamb tagine with couscous
olives, tomato confit, pluots, golden raisins, preserved lemon

gazelle’s horns
hazelnuts, almond paste

I can still remember the first time I tried a tagine dish. John Slattery, a friend from days gone by, invited me over for dinner for his tagine back in 1998, when he explained to me the importance of conical tagine lid, how the miniscule steam vent created a low pressure steam braise for the stew, resulting in incredibly tender and flavorful meat. Back then, there were very few restaurants in the area serving tagine, so it was a real treat.

Fast forward 8 years… I decided it was time to give tagine, and Moroccan food in general, a try. The plan was for a lamb tagine, stewed with shallots, garlic, kalamata olives, roasted tomatoes and preserved lemons. We hadn't seen Jeff since the annual insanity known as Jeff-tember (people playing catch with flaming red hot coals, etc.), so getting together for dinner was long overdue.

Let’s chalk this one up to a “learning experience”… a couple of things weren’t running on all pistons:
  • the lamb wasn’t quite as tender as I had hoped- the flavors were unbalanced… like playing pinball on you’re your taste buds. The olives were unexpectedly salty, the lemon was a strange pairing with the lamb, and the delicate layers of seasoning (sweet paprika, cumin, tumeric) were muddled indistinguishably.
  • since I just bought the tagine pot that day, I didn’t have time to soak it in water prior to the first use to prevent cracking… so the majority of the cooking was done in a pot.
  • we only had time for instant couscous... actually, I've never made couscous the real way, by steaming, but someday...

So many of the flavors of Moroccan cuisine are bold, complex, and intoxicatingly decadent. I'll definitely be giving this another try, hopefully with a better overall balance next time.

October 1, 2006

A blissful meal in the Guadalupe Valley (Baja / Laja, part 2)

(continued from yesterday...)

We arrived at Laja just in time for our 1:30 pm reservation. The restaurant is housed in a small, charming building in the midst of vineyards, with a garden of herbs and vegetables adjacent to the building, inspiring a pastoral atmosphere and alluding to the careful execution of fresh ingredients to come.

the menu

Butternut Squash Veloute Soup with Local Olive Oil
Our Garden Lettuce and Herb Salad with Fresh Tomatoes
Acrata Sinonimo
Blue Fin Tuna Tartare with Cucumber and Preserved Lemon
Sweet Corn Gnocchi with Eggplant and Zucchini Blossom
Santo Tomas Chardonnay Sauvignon
Pan Roasted Rock Cod with Seasonal Vegetables
Oven Roasted Local Lamb with Shallots and Mustard Greens
Baron Balche Doble Blanc 2002
Yellow Watermelon Cold Soup with Prickly Pear and Lemon Balm Sorbets
Almond Financier with Butternut Squash Ice Cream and Green Apple

Chef Jair Téllez and his wife Laura Reinert opened the restaurant in 2001 (thus, the name Laja). Jair’s resume includes Daniel in New York, La Folie and Gordon’s House of Fine Eats in San Francisco, and The Four Seasons in Mexico City.

A photographer was on site to take some photos of the staff for the restaurant’s website. Here are Chef Jair and Andrés (who made a few inspired pairings of local Mexican wines for our meal). Watching the staff interact was great. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to be part of this team, which definitely came across in the gracious service.

I can’t say enough about this meal. Our expectations were quite high after hearing the restaurant described as “incredible,” a culinary “mecca,” and “the Chez Panisse of the South.” Our meal exceeded those expectations.

As we sat down, we were given a small flask of beautiful, locally pressed olive oil, which was alive with fruity and nutty richness, with just the lightest hint of grassy aromas. A perfect accompaniment to the just-out-of-the-oven crusty bread that had Lav spinning in a state of carb-induced euphoria.

We opted for the four-course meal, ordering opposites on each selection… so it ended up being more like an eight-course dégustation.

The butternut squash velouté was delicious in the basic simplicity of its execution. Pure essence of squash transformed into a velvety-rich broth with a hint of olive oil incorporated into it.

The salad evoked the first Chez Panisse moment, featuring garden lettuces that tasted like they’d been plucked out of the ground just moments before plating. The fresh garden herbs were the star of the dish – pungent and aromatic, but with a delicate finesse.

Next, the bluefin tuna tartare. Yes, a lot of folks (myself included) may be getting weary of having this dish and its myriad re-interpretations at every restaurant, but this one recaptured the essence of why this can be such a great dish. No soy sauce, wasabi, sesame oil, or other overpowering flavors to cover up the delicate fish. Just extraordinarily fresh tuna, practically buttery, dressed with a clean-tasting olive oil, and accented with relatively neutral cucumber for texture, preserved lemon for a mellow acidity, and rocket for a light peppery bite. Like having tuna tartare for the first time.

The sweet corn gnocchi was the biggest “wow” dish of the afternoon. Perfectly cooked gnocchi with the flavor of the freshest sweet corn (grown in the garden) permeating every bite. Pillowy soft on the inside, lightly crisp from pan frying on the outside. The accents of diced eggplant and baby zucchini with their blossoms added the perfect accompaniment to complete the dish, painting an absolutely magical picture of the bounty of late summer in Baja. That was the second Chez Panisse moment: only the second time in my life that I've had eggplant and loved it.

The pan-roasted rock cod was exquisitely fresh, served with seasonal vegetables to highlight the sweetness of the cod. An impressive concentration of flavor into a typically mild-flavored fish.

This was nearly my favorite dish. I’ve rarely tasted lamb so rich and unctuous. The locally-raised lamb featured two different cuts for textural contrast: a roasted loin and a second portion (perhaps shoulder) that was so meltingly tender, I though it must have been slow-braised. Notice the color, resembling pork or veal more than the deep brown and red hues that I’m used to for lamb. Really amazing.

The prickly pear and lemon sorbets in yellow watermelon consommé was an ideal palate-cleansing dessert on what was becoming an increasingly warm day outside.

I love financiers. I used to think the financier at Bouchon Bakery was the best I’d ever tasted. I now have a new favorite, even if it is 600 miles away. Then I tasted it with the butternut squash ice cream… what an inspired pairing! The ice cream had only a hint of sweetness, focusing more on the intrinsic flavor of the squash. This made a perfect match as it paired magnificently with the buttery sweetness of the warm financier, which also had a gloriously crispy exterior.

Two hours of ingredient-driven bliss. The epitome of fresh, seasonal and local. One of the best “California” meals ever… in Baja. Sometimes a restaurant makes you appreciate ingredients in a new way; Laja is one of those places. I can’t wait to come back. And we will.

Laja Restaurante
Km. 83 Carretera Tecate-Ensenada
Valle de Guadalupe
Baja California

Other press on Laja:
New York Times
Los Angeles Times

September 30, 2006

Grabbing a late lunch... in MEXICO (Baja / Laja, part 1)

I had a work-related meeting on Friday in San Diego, so Lav and I decided to make a short getaway weekend out of it. While searching for things to do and places to eat, I came across two words that have since become magical to us: Laja Restaurante.

Laja is a quaint restaurant in Baja California featuring pristine local, seasonal ingredients, located about 10 miles north of Ensenada in the heart of the wine country of Guadalupe Valley...

Wait a second! Wine country in Mexico? That's right. Mexico was actually home to the first vineyard plantings in North America; the cultivation of wine grapes began over 400 years ago, and the region has seen a real renaissance of serious wine-making efforts over the past decade.

Good food and wine? That was all we needed to hear to rent a car and cross the border.

With all the information on the internet, there is a surprising dearth of commentary about travel and road conditions for Mexico’s highways. We had no idea how long the trip would take in its entirety, with the biggest question mark being the potential for an excruciating 3+ hour wait to cross back into the U.S. at San Ysidro. We decided to optimistically aim for this schedule:

  • 9 am: Leave San Diego for Tijuana; head for Ensenada on Route 1
  • 11 am: Arrive in wine country and visit L.A. Cetto, Monte Xanic, and Chateau Camou
  • 1:30 pm: Lunch at Laja (their earliest reservation)
  • 6 pm: Cross the border at Tecate via Route 3 (2 lane highway)
  • 7 pm: Return the rental car in San Diego and catch our 8:15 pm flight back to Oakland

Could it be done? With only 2 hours allotted to get to Tecate and wait through the line at the border, it seemed like a 50/50 chance we’d miss our flight.

The border crossing into Mexico was ridiculously easy. There’s no checkpoint; you just drive on through as if you’re driving into Nevada. Of course, within 47 seconds of crossing the border, we missed our exit and were lost for about 5 minutes in the outskirts of Tijuana. Nice move. Somehow, Lav pointed us back onto the right freeway (you’d think that following a numbered highway would be easier), and we got back on track. The coastal drive on Route 1 is pretty nice, with some spectacular views that are reminiscent of driving Highway 1 in California.

The rest of the ride was smooth sailing, with just three quick toll crossings along the way. The roads are in great condition, and it basically felt like driving in the U.S., but with lower speed limits (I’d read too many warnings about getting stopped for speeding by the Mexican police to test the speed limit). About 5 km north of Ensenada, we veered northeast onto Route 3 and were soon greeted with this glorious sign. Roughly translated, to me it said “Good things await ahead.”

The wine country in Mexico is like a mellowed out version of early Sonoma… small wineries along the ruta del vino, unspoiled and uncluttered by the madness of weekend tourists. Our first stop was L.A. Cetto, Mexico’s largest wine producer (, which is actually located at the northern-most end of the wine road, near the 73 km marker.

We sampled their Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon… pretty interesting how the climate here can accommodate quite a wide array of varietals.

More than the wines here, we were drawn to the extra virgin olive oil made from the winery’s estate-grown olives. Smooth and rich, with very low acidity and only a faint herbaceous note, Cetto’s olive oil is remarkably tasty stuff.

As we headed off to the next winery, we couldn’t help but notice how similar the landscape is to our own wine country. It really is beautiful and peaceful here.

We backtracked on Route 3 and arrived at Monte Xanic (, a facility tucked into the hillside. As their website explains, “Xanic” is a native Cora Indian word meaning “the flower that blooms after the first rains.” A fitting name for a winery making some special wines.

From the parking lot, we entered through a beautiful arched wood door, which led directly into one of the barrel storage rooms.

We had the opportunity to taste 11 different wines while sampling their estate-grown olives. The quality of these wines across the board was quite high. The most interesting aspect for me was observing the differences in vinification styles here, mostly in the white wines. The chardonnays tend to have substantial oak (although the winery also makes a completely un-oaked chardonnay as well). The sauvignon blanc is completely different; much more tart and citric, and with a hint of underlying savory/vegetal character... but with oak as well. As Ezrael, one of the managers of the winery explained, they are still experimenting with which varietals will thrive in the valley.

This is Jose, our new friend who was hooking us up in the tasting room. Chenin Blanc reportedly does very well in the Guadalupe Valley, which makes sense, since it can thrive in warmer climates than most other grapes. Monte Xanic’s version exhibits a tropical, Viognier-like nose of papaya and stone fruit, opening up to a simple, but delicious palate of honey, peaches and lemon rind. They blend in 5% Colombard, which adds a unique element of acidity not typically found in Chenin Blanc. Ezrael came by and gave us a special taste of their single varietal Malbec (which the owner had opened earlier for some friends) which was excellent. Dark and brooding, the Malbec had a firm core of dark fruit and plum, a luscious mouth feel and a medium-long finish evoking just a hint of earthy spice at the end (fennel seed?). Really, really nice.

We were having such a good time at Monte Xanic that it was 1:30 pm before we knew it… so we had to skip the well-regarded wines of Chateau Camou, which was just up the road. That’s alright; that just gives us another place to try next time. It was time to eat.

(to be continued...)