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Archive for January, 2013

Plat du Jour: Friday January 25, 2013: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Scary” Appetite

For some weekend wisdom, here is a fascinating look at the scary appetite of the famed film director, Alfred Hitchcock. His diet almost was as frightening as “The Birds” and “Psycho.” Almost.

For anyone who has seen the recent film “Hitchcock,” with Anthony Hopkins portraying the legendary director, you certainly think several times about how he devours the foie gras tin imported from Paris by the forkful and how those martinis he enjoys at the Hollywood media parties are guzzled down in a single gulp.

And, well, you just look at him, and know that it takes a Falstaff-ian personality and appetite to achieve Hitchcock’s waistline.

The big question– how could you not at least savor that foie gras flown in from Maxim’s in Paris? Since he lived in Los Angeles, Hitchcock would not be pleased at all with California’s foie gras ban. I can only imagine how that would inspire his next film…

On that note, enjoy this last weekend of January and we’ll take a look at New Orleans and Cajun cooking for the Super Bowl next week, along with a unique Denver food neighborhood, and much more from Oregon. Take care everybody!


Wine of the Week: 2008 Stoller Family Estate, Helen’s Estate Pinot Noir, Dayton, Oregon

One by one, Pinot Noir after Pinot Noir, you start getting a bit tired after a few days in Oregon of tasting the state’s famed grape at restaurants and Willamette Valley tasting rooms. Notes of earth, hints of sage brush, deep fruit flavors, rich jammy qualities, all come to mind, yet start blurring out the palate over time.

Don’t start discarding Pinot Noir at this point. There is a reason Pinot Noir is the varietal that often brings poets to tears and can lead to life-changing epiphanies, such as the commonly cited cinematic example from the Santa Barbara region- based film “Sideways.”

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It’s history and soul might be in Burgundy. But today in 2012, the heart of Pinot Noir’s brilliant expressions is in the gently rolling green hills of the Willamette Valley. Here, nearly every tasting room boasts world class Pinot Noir it seems that soon terrific Pinot Noir starts tasting like satisfactory Pinot Noir.

Fortunately, looking past palate fatigue, you comprehend the power of these wines. (more…)


Restaurants: Aviary, Portland, Oregon

Pig ears are an awfully polarizing ingredient. We openly embrace pork belly and look the other way when it comes to questioning our beloved bacon. But, eating an ear? Seriously, isn’t that only something Mike Tyson would do? Only people who own tigers would eat ear, even if it’s a pig ear, right?

Being such a fickle ingredient for chefs, pig ears are daunting. The risk of using them can result in a diner swearing them off forever. The reward is that pig ear can be extraordinary, surpassing any other part of the hog. On bad days, pig ears are the worst of both worlds of bone marrow: horribly gelatinous and greasy like inferior marrow, with a vicious crunch that sneaks up and punches you in the mouth like a hidden piece of bone. On good days, pig ears tie together all of the elements of exceptional pork: moisture, saltiness, umami, and supreme tenderness, with the slight funk in the pillowy texture that only peculiar offal parts seem to be able to achieve, such as a liver or a cheek.

Crispy Pig Ear, Coconut Rice, Chinese Sausage, Avocado

Crispy Pig Ear, Coconut Rice, Chinese Sausage, Avocado

It does seem strange that the signature dish at a restaurant named Aviary does not revolve around quail or Guinea fowl, but actually around crispy pig ear.

Yet, with the exceptional care and design put into this paella via Southeast Asia-inspired casserole at what may very well be the most exciting restaurant in what may very well be the country’s most exciting food city at the turn of the year to 2013, expect to see the pig ear welcomed much more by the dining public. (more…)


Restaurants: The French Laundry, Yountville, CA

At the quiet corner of Washington Street and Creek Street in the peaceful Northern California town of Yountville resides hallowed gastronomic terrain. No, even though this is the heart of the most revered Wine Country in the New World, this intersection is not the home of coveted Cabernet Sauvignon terroir. Go a mile north to Oakville for that and pay a visit to the To Kalon Vineyard. A babbling creek can be found at the intersection, where an iron bridge running along Washington Street crosses the creek, but the creek itself doesn’t exactly have prized Copper River salmon swimming upstream.

Take Creek Street and walk directly across Washington Street to witness an immaculate garden. It is not a marvel of hedge trimming à la Hampton Court or a masterful oasis of harmony à la Ryõan-ji in Kyoto. However, the garden is equal parts architectural marvel and tranquil oasis, where beets and tarragon bask in the 300 days of fresh California sunshine so adored by the grapes growing on vineyards dotting every hillside for miles in every direction.

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Across from this garden is its owner, the esteemed anchor of this intersection. Hollywood and Vine. Times Square. The corner in Winslow, Arizona. They are the iconic intersections of our common vernacular. Washington and Creek is the most iconic of intersections for gastronomy purposes.

A five-minute stroll along Washington Street beyond the commercial heart of Yountville leads to this intersection, where since 1978 The French Laundry has resided as the most mythical name in restaurants. Much as with the tectonic plates of its California terroir, this is where dining culture plates collide. The Old World meets the New World. Traditional technique interprets today’s modernism. Salmon tartare and ice cream cones co-exist.

There is no way to quantitatively explain the importance of The French Laundry in the restaurant world. Perhaps “three” for its number of Michelin stars or “$270” for the price, service included, of a “four”-hour meal here. Or “ten” as in the hour of the morning, Pacific time, when hundreds or thousands of wishful future diners call hoping to procure a reservation for “two” full months to the calendar day when they desire to eat at this restaurant, only to have all of those phone calls run into a busy signal, if the busy signal isn’t too busy.

"Oysters and Pearls""Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

“Oysters and Pearls”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

The French Laundry by all accounts was an accomplished, special occasion restaurant in its first two decades under the ownership of Sally and Don Schmitt. It probably was a very useful French steam laundry too in its fifty years as that, prior to the Schmitt’s transforming the stone building into a restaurant.

However, The French Laundry never became The French Laundry until the chef Thomas Keller left New York and returned to his native California to purchase this old laundry in 1992 and re-opened the restaurant under the same name in 1994. Yountville has never been the same since. Fine dining has never been the same since. (more…)


Plat du Jour, January 21, 2013: Looking Ahead: 13 Wishes for 2013

It’s been an exciting, hectic start to 2013, which explains why the final end of 2012/start of 2013 article hasn’t been published until…nearly 1/12 the way into 2013 already. This week we’ll visit The French Laundry, breweries in Colorado, and all sorts of dining adventures in the always exciting Rose City of Portland, Oregon. But first, let’s look into that crystal ball for what we hope to see in this new year. Finally, after the next 13 paragraphs, 2013 can officially get under way.

Rigatoni, Sea Urchin, Pea Shoots...

Rigatoni, Sea Urchin, Pea Shoots…

1. Affordable Produce

So much of the produce debate the past couple of years has been about the importance of organic produce, local produce, and in a perfectly sustainable and healthful world, organic- local produce. Led by Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to cut down obesity in the country and Alice Waters’ “Edible Schoolyard” program to bring more wholesome, nutritious lunches to schools, this is the year to conquer the major food and agriculture issue of our time. No, it’s not how to eat organic kale from one town away. It’s about making fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other produce not only more accessible, but much, much more affordable. Why eat a salad when you can have a cheeseburger at 1/4 of the price? Yes, it’s mentality and taste both play a pivotal part in how we eat and why we eat, leading to a big chunk of the obesity problem.

However, the real root, as it is for so many other issues, is price. Somehow, whether it’s with subsidies or increased supply, produce need to be affordable for much more of the population or we’re in for more trouble. (more…)


The 12 Sips That Defined 2012

What a year for eating…and drinking. With several wine tasting and beer tasting excursions, along with the enormous improvement and excitement of cocktails, wine lists, and beer lists worldwide, choosing a dozen to represent the hundreds of worthy contenders was a very thirst-quenching, but far from easy task.

From espresso that tastes of Pinot Noir to Oregon Pinot Noir to a cocktail based off nasturtium greens, presenting the finest sips from a year of many spectacular drinks.

12. 2010 Sandhi Chardonnay, Rita’s Crown Vineyard, Santa Rita HillsIMG_7934

Of the three Chardonnays currently offered at Sandhi’s brand new tasting room in Los Olivos, this 2010 Rita’s Crown is the runaway beauty, exuding a gravitas of the Princess at the ball. Thoroughly well-rounded, plush with tropical fruits, notably hints of passion fruit and guava, the Rita’s Hills is captivating and refined, with plenty of edge to keep matters exciting.

If only all California Chardonnay could display this finesse, hands down the year’s finest white wine. (more…)


The 12 Bites That Defined 2012

What a year for dining. So many impressive techniques on display worldwide, such fascinating new ingredients discovered, and then of course it’s always a joy to re-visit old stand-by dishes. Oysters, langoustines, and Dungeness crab seem to be very popular on this list…not exactly a shocker. The best dish of the year comes from…well that’s a shocker and you’ll find out in just a moment.

Here’s to a year of much more than 12 exceptional bites. And here’s to the hard working chefs who deserve an enormous round of applause for creating this. Hats (and toques) off to you!

12. Dungeness Crab, Seaweed Noodles, Spicy Red Curry, Crème Fraîche, Revel, Seattle

The extraordinary Dungeness Crab Seaweed Noodles and the kitchen at Revel

The extraordinary Dungeness Crab Seaweed Noodles and the kitchen at Revel

There is no shortage of the freshest, plumpest crab in this tour de force noodle dish from the gifted Seattle chef Rachel Yang. The curry adds spice, the seaweed in the noodle adds intrigue, and the crème fraîche melts into the luxurious component that makes this so much more than just a fusion, noodle-based creation. (more…)