Things I Love: Dandelion Chocolate

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Here's another bean-to-bar outfit I can’t resist: Dandelion Chocolate, made in San Francisco. Like Askinosie, Dandelion seeks out small-yield cacao producers and treats them fairly. Then they test the beans, intent on coaxing the most flavor out of each one by using different roasting methods. Finally they grind and "melange" the chocolate, adding a bit of sugar. Dandelion chocolate contains only two ingredients: sugar and chocolate. 

If chocolate has terroir, then this one has it in spades. Each time I take a bite I can't help imagining the ground the beans were grown in. Why that fruity acid there, and how this caramel nuttiness? 

My favorite? Their Liberian chocolate bar. Here in upstate New York, it's the perfect antidote to this last snowy gasp of winter. 

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Penultimate Meal in LA

"Here?" said the Uber driver.  "You sure?"

From the outside N/Naka does not look like a restaurant.  It's just another nondescript building on a nondescript stretch of Overland Avenue in a nondescript section of West L.A.  Inside, however, is one of the most luxurious restaurants in the city, a simple but serene setting where some twenty lucky people are treated to an extraordinary experience.

Niki Nakayama creates a long, languorous meal of modern kaiseki, a ritual meat of seasonal dishes intended as a kind of edible poetry. Oyster

 Sakizuke (something common and something uncommon):

A single kumamoto oyster with a bit of uni, cured salmon roe, a bit of fennel from the chef's garden.

Lotus

Zensai - main seasonal ingredients served as appetizers: 

Fried lotus root at the top, very rare duck on the right.  But the most exciting part of this dish is the squiggle of squid ink that, mixed into the quail egg yolk, becomes an intensely delicious sauce for the octopus hiding beneath that nasturtium leaf.

Pretty fish

Modern Sashimi

Hokkaido scallop and a bit of pomelo strewn with leaves and flowers from the chef's garden.

Sea trout

Owan - still water 

Served on top of a flame, this little bit of sea trout slowly heated in its white miso sauce.  A lovely play of temperatures, the fish still cool in the hot sauce.

Crab, etc

Tsukuri - sashimi

Many delicious little bites here, but the special treat was that Alaskan crab leg on the left:  translucent, tender and sweet.  It did not resemble, in any way the stringy frozen crab legs you may have tasted elsewhere.

Fried

Yakimono - traditionally a grilled dish, although this fish was fried int he most ethereal manner, along with a single fat fried ginko nut.

Chawan

Mushimono: steamed dish 

Crab chawan mushi, rich with uni.

 

Pasta

Shizakana

For me the most astonishing dish of the evening.  This pasta was perfectly al dente, vibrant, almost alive in the mouth.  The pickled cod roe was a perfect textural contrast. 

Wagyu 

Niku - meat course 

Wagyu cooked on a hot stone. The evening's least interesting offering. 

Pretier squid

Sunomono - vinegared salad

Firefly squid, sliced kumquat, flowers.

Followed by a rice dish.

The sushi, tonight, is:

  Burri, tuna 2

Buri, tuna 

Sayori, squid

Sayori, giant clam

Ebi, uni

Ama ebi, uni. 

Matcha

Matcha- green tea

Sorbet

Mizumono - dessert. 

A tart, icy granita, and 

Cannoli

This little cannoli. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Dinner at Alma

When we pulled up for dinner at Alma last night, I went to park the car in the lot next door. Meanwhile Michael sat on a bench outside, having a chat with a man who hit him up for enough to buy a bowl of chili. "I gave him ten bucks," Michael said, "and I bet he's going to enjoy his dinner more than I enjoy mine."

Wrong.  

Although Alma is aimed at adventurous eaters, even a reluctant gourmet like Michael is bound to come away happy.  When the dishes hit - which they do most of the time - they're really delicious.  And when they don't, they offer very interesting food for thought.

These were the hits (at least in my opinion) of our dinner. 

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Uni on a teensy english muffin with a bit of caviar and a few leaves and petals.  How could this be anything but fantastic?

It was followed by a lovely little tofu and seafood beignet, which I gobbled up while it was still warm, neglecting to photograph it.  I liked that beignet a lot, but I wished it had been a little less timid. Seaweed is such a fine, forceful flavor, and here it seemed muted. 

 

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 Ari Taymor is fond of surf and turf combinations, although he always does it his way.  Here the surf is trout and trout roe, the turf asparagus and nasturtium.  These flavors did a little tango together, weaving in and out, hitting new flavor notes I didn't know any of the ingredients were capable of. Total hit.  

 

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The first time I tasted frozen, shaved foie gras was at David Chang's Ko, and I was totally smitten. Foie gras does something amazing when it melts in your mouth, becoming even softer and richer than it is in its native form.  Taymor pairs the frozen foie gras with coffee granola - which gives it both flavor and texture contrast - and a splash of maple. I loved that combination.  Not sure those carrots were absolutely necessary.....

 

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Bad picture of a totally great dish. Sunchoke soup, which has its own intensity, paired iwth date puree and an egg yolk cooked until it's practically taffy. This is a little symphony of soft textures, and completely appealing.  I'll never look at sunchokes the same way.

 

  Truffle

Sturgeon and black truffle. Need I say more?

 

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The simplest dish of the evening, and for me, the highlight.  This was the most delicious duck; if we'd had nothing else I'd go back just to experience it again. The skin was crisp, the meat as funky and metallic as the best aged beef. But what put it over  the top was the bitterness of the endive, and the gentle citric zing of the poached kumquats. (The little duck boudin, up top, was also a treat.)

 It was followed by a few interesting desserts - more savory than sweet - and a finale of chocolate-covered, salt-sprinkled  mentholated marshmallows.  A fine way to end a really wonderful meal. Marshmallow

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Dinner Last Night

Perfect little meal sitting at the bar at Osteria Mozza.

Stracc

A little mozzarella.  One perfect bite.

Salad
A few sprightly greens...

....and what may be my current favorite dish in LA

Tripe

Tripe, stewed until it's soft, tender, almost silken, to scoop up with slightly charred toast.  The best kind of peasant food.

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My Second Dinner at Maude

 Air

My friend Margy told me that the last time she ate at Maude the woman the counter next to her confessed she ate there once a month.  Margy looked at her in surprise; she didn't seem like the kind of woman who'd routinely spend a hundred bucks on dinner.

"The rest of the month I eat mostly at Souplantation," her neighbor admitted.  "But I like to treat myself every once in a while, and I really look forward to my dinners at Maude."

I like that story, because it pretty much says everything you need to know about this restaurant. It's a special occasion. It's unpretentious. It treats people well. It's something to look forward to.  And on top of that, it's a bargain.  You will never spend a better hundred dollars on a meal.

When Curtis Stone decided to open a restaurant, he followed his passion.  He's one of the few chefs I know who really enjoys cooking. For him this is not a business; it's a labor of love. Feeding people makes him happy.  So he opened this little place with just 25 seats and an ever-changing seasonal menu. 

Please forgive the photographs; the restaurant is candle-lit. Excellent for romance. Terrible for picture-taking. But here's a course by course depiction of this month's theme, parsnips.

Krupuk

 A single delicious little bite, parsnips on homemade shrimp chips.

 

Bagel

 Curtis's idea of a bagel: a filling of smoked salmon and cream cheese is hiding inside that little puff of pastry (which in no way resembles the tough chewiness of the classic).  In the front, a kind of "everything salt," a jumble of flavors.

Soup

Parsnip gazpacho - an irresistible puree hiding little guanciale cracklings that served to beautifully underline the delicacy of parsnip's flavor.

Lobster

 Curtis, as you can see, makes very pretty food. This is a single bite of lobster in a garden of grapefruit and herbs, sitting beneath a little cap of watermelon radish. 

Scallop

 Bay scallops adorned with an entire flower shop's worth of foraged petals and herbs in a little puddle of whey.  The sneaky flavor here was smoked anchovy, which should have been too strong.... but wasn't.

Marrtow

For me, the most memorable moment of the evening.  What you can see are little curls of parsnip gnocchi, a few leaves of spigarello, a heap of beet and some foam. What's harder to see is the marrow, which has been cut into little squares, breaded and deep-fried so that it turns into a version of cromesquis.  When you pop that into your mouth you get a deep, loud crunch, and then your mouth is flooded with liquid richness.  It's a bit like xiao lung bao; liquid encased in crunch.

Shrimp

I love the simplicity of this version of shrimp and grits, and I love the fact that it was served with cured duck egg, a subtle nod to Chinese New Year.  (See previous post.)

Foie

Foie gras is legal again.  And it has rarely been so happily served as in this presentation of pear, endive and the surprise of burnt brioche crumbs. Which reminds me: I suspect that burnt offerings are going to be a new trend. I'm starting to see burnt toast cropping up as a new flavor. 

 

Rabbit

Rabbit in two forms. One is a bit of boudin. The other is a few bites of tender, moist loin. That striated little leaf in the front?  A very peppery nasturtium.

Tomme
 

The cheese course: curls of Tomme in a kind of deconstructed salad. And parsnip.

The meal ended with a succession of desserts that started with that airy cupful of bubbles at the top and ended with this adorable plate of cookies.  

Cookies
 

If I lived in LA I'd try to stop in every month too. I wish there were more restaurants like it.

 

The wines we drank:

A rich and wonderful Portuguese Espumante

Domaine du Pelican Arbois, 2013

Verdelho Madeira from the Rare Wine Company

Domaine du Viking Vouvray 2011

Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur, 2012

Ferrandes Passito di Pantelleria 2006 

 

 

 

 

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Eggs from Heaven

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They're called hundred year old eggs, and they look the part.  But although pidan may look like scary eggs from hell, when you take a bite you discover something remarkably delicate. I love them.

See that flash of amber light on the plate? That's the sun from the garden, reflected through the beautiful eggs. I bought them last night in Chinatown, at what must have been the last market open. The place felt deserted; New Years is best spent at home. 

These spooky duck eggs are often made by mixing tea, lime, salt and wood ash into a paste, wrapping it around each egg and leaving it to harden. After allowing the eggs to ripen for at least a month you crack away the hardened clay to unveil this otherworldly delicacy. This ancient method is still practiced all over China, but there's also an easier way: today lime and sodium bicarbonate are used to make commercial century eggs. 

They're wonderful eaten on their own, or sliced into a bowl of congee.  They're great on tofu.  And if you want to punch up their gentle flavor, cut them into wedges and brighten them with a bit of sesame oil, soy, and a splash of black vinegar.  Happy year of the ram! 

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Hiro Knives

 Making Do

Threw a rather insane party the other night here in LA. Tiny rented house. Five chairs. Five plates. Five forks. But people who'd said they couldn't come kept texting to say their time had suddenly freed up, and before we knew it a dozen of us were gathered in this little bungalow.

I told everyone to bring a plate and fork, and that we'd manage. It was, maybe, the best party I've ever given. About as un-Martha Stewart as possible. Totally mad. And somehow liberating.

I'd ordered a prime rib roast from Snake River Farms. It emerged from the oven all crisp, brown and fragrant and I prayed it was going to be rare.  (No meat thermometer.) As it rested, I realized that a sharp knife is another thing this rented kitchen lacks .

"Do you have a saucer?" asked Hiro. "I'll sharpen the knife." And as you can see, that's exactly what he did!

By the time he was finished that knife was really sharp.

And the prime rib? Excellent. (Snake River, incidentally, has a sale through the end of the month.) 

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A Little Post Valentine's Day Decadence

Buns

A Fascinating Sweet Roll

This isn’t my recipe; it comes from my friend Sukey, but it's so delicious that I'm passing it on.

Sukey prefers orange to cinnamon, and when she discovered candied bergamot in an Armenian grocery store, she was inspired to create this recipe. They're extremely citric; the floral orange filling perfumes every inch of this dough.

Beware: this is a recipe for when you feel like tackling something special. There are no shortcuts here. 

If you can track down the candied bergamot, you’ll be glad you did. But it’s not necessary. Same goes for the anise seed. And the glaze is so light, you could make it with any tangy dairy product you happen to have on hand: yogurt, sour cream, even thinned down labneh.

Sukey's Orange Sweet Rolls

1 1/4 cups milk

1 package active dry yeast

1/3 cup sugar, plus one pinch

2 tablespoons melted butter, plus one stick

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 egg, beaten

4 cups flour

1/4 cup brown sugar

zest of 4 oranges

1 teaspoon orange flour water

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 1/2 cup powdered sugar, divided

3 tablespoons finely chopped candied orange peel

2 tablespoons finely chopped candied bergamot (not critical; just add more orange peel if you can't find it.)

1 teaspoon anise seed

1 tablespoon buttermilk

Lightly heat the milk in a saucepan (it should be about blood temperature, but no more than 110 degrees). Pour yeast, warmed milk, and a pinch of sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and allow it to sit about ten minutes, until the yeast begins to foam. 

Fit your mixer with a dough beater. (You can make the dough by hand, but fair warning: it requires quite a bit of kneading.)  Add the sugar, 1 teaspoon of the salt, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and the egg; mix to combine. Add the flour, cup by cup, and mix on medium-speed for about eight minutes. (If you’re doing this by hand, you’ll need to knead the dough for about 15 minutes, or until it takes on a smooth elastic sheen and can be stretched so thin it's transparent but does not tear.) Place the dough in a clean, well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for an hour and a half. 

Meanwhile, make the filling. Mix one softened stick of butter with 1/4 cup light brown sugar and the zest of 4 oranges until the mixture is light and creamy. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, orange flower water, vanilla, and 2 1/2 cups of the powdered sugar. Stir in the bergamot, orange peel and anise seed. 

When the dough has nearly doubled in size, roll out into a large rectangle, around 11 x 18 inches. If the dough is too stretchy to roll out, let sit for 10 minutes. Spread on filling, leaving 1/2 inch border. Roll into a tube, lengthwise, and cut into 12 buns. If you have un-flavored dental floss it makes a great dough cutter: run the floss under the roll and cross the ends to get a clean shear. Arrange buns in an oiled 9 x 13 pan, and chill in the refrigerator for at least five hours - or overnight. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and allow the buns to come to room temp. Cook for 25 minutes; they should be golden. 

Make the glaze by mixing a tablespoon of buttermilk into the remaining cup of powdered sugar. Add a splash of orange juice. Brush glaze over warm buns and serve immediately. 

These are best just after they're baked. If your household can't finish a dozen rolls in a day, bake six and freeze the rest for another time. 

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Red Hot Recipe for Valentine's Day

Guajillo
Some people say New York has no good Mexican food. Those people are wrong. 

But it can't compare to LA, where the Mexican food is so rich and varied I dread the thought of returning back east. The bar is high here: great tacos are everywhere. The only reason to make your own salsa is to avoid the traffic; getting to East LA can be a challenge.  And so, even here I sometimes build my own tacos. 

I get good tortillas, add beans and melt some cheese.  I make a quick salsa by chopping fresh tomatoes, chiles and onions, then squeezing in a bit of lime. Then I add this extremely easy no-frills cooked salsa which I try to keep on hand. Guajillos aren't very hot, but they have a wonderfully fruit flavor with great depth. One warning: this recipe isn't worth your time unless you can find fantastic chiles that have been dried in the not-so-distant past. 

Easy Guajillo Salsa

12 dried guajillo chiles

1 large can whole peeled tomatoes

1/2 onion, peeled but not chopped

3 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon vinegar - white or apple cider

Limes

Cilantro

Wipe your chiles (they tend to be dusty). Remove stems, seeds and veins.

Gently toast them in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat until the aroma fills the kitchen. Be careful not to let them get too brown. 

Throw the chiles, tomatoes, whole onion and garlic into a saucepan over high heat, breaking up the tomatoes on the side of the pan. If the mixture seems too thick, add a little water. When it begins to bubble rapidly, turn the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add salt, sugar and vinegar, and cook for another minute.

Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then transfer to a blender and blitz until smooth. Cool and refrigerate.  

If I'm not adding a layer of fresh salsa, I like this seasoned with finely chopped cilantro and fresh lime juice. You will undoubtedly have ideas of your own. 

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Truffle Mania

Brioche

What I stupidly neglected to take a picture of was the truffles themselves - huge, gorgeous black diamonds, just a day or two out of the earth, and so fragrant one whiff was enough to make me dizzy. I've never had truffles this good outside of France.

This is the peak moment in black truffle season.  My friend Samir Arora invited a group of us to share his bounty, showcasing his truffles in a truly spectacular kaiseki-like meal, and pairing them with an array of Rhone wines.  

We began with a thick slab of truffle on a buttered slice of toasted brioche. Eaten slowly, while sipping Condrieu, the presentation emphasized the earthy taste of the truffle. I could have stopped here and gone home happy.

Dashi

But there was so much more. This is truffle in an entirely different mood.  Served in a clear and extremely delicate dashi with a tender ricotta dumpling, the truffle shed its earthiness, becoming a gentle whisper of flavor.

 

Eggs

Is there anything better than truffled scrambled eggs?  Probably not, although Samir gave these a Japanese twist, scrambling the eggs in dashi.  And then, moving back to France, he added a crips little bit of truffle butter toast.

 

Artichoke

Truffle and artichokes.  They were born to be together.

 

Salmon

Truffled poached salmon. We were drinking a Clos des Papes with this, which is about as perfect a pairing as I could possibly imagine.

 

Scallop

A medley of truffled vegetables (the celery root was especially felicitous).  Beneath that truffle hat hides a plump seared sea scallop.  Truffles love seafood, and they seemed especially happy here.

 

Salad

A simple arugula salad.

 

 

Cheese

How do you end a truffle feast?  With a few truffled cheeses of course.

Thanks Samir.  It was a truly memorable evening.

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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.