Friday, February 25, 2011

To the Heart of the Heat

Spring Break. I'm going to NYC. For someone who obsesses over food, it's surprising I haven't visited the city before. That all changes in two weeks.

Let's talk expectations.
It is impossible to capture the city's culinary scene in seven days, but I will make the most of the time and stomach capacity I've been given. NYC is the heart of America's best, a place where trends start and where the best makes names for themselves. Above all things I expect to be enlightened. It could happen in Daniel — for $230, I honestly should leave the restaurant wailing joyously over the food, but that probably won't happen — or it could happen in a sketchy hole in the wall. Doesn't matter where, but at some point some restaurant has to upend my understanding of food. I want to leave NYC with a new definition of good, better and best.

Here's a list of places I plan on visiting.

Del Posto (4 Stars NYT, 1 Michelin)
Joe's Shanghai
Pizza (will visit 4 places in one afternoon)
Ping's for Dim Sum
Jean-Georges (4 Stars NYT, 3 Michelin)

Daniel (4 Stars NYT, 3 Michelin)

Maybe those of you reading this can help me out here. Got any ideas/comments? Comment below. Much appreciated!

Review: Polite & Unoffensive

Rating: 3 out of 5

How do you feed the wealthiest, prettiest and oftentimes most famous faces in America? It's a daunting question but one that the restaurant in the Beverly Hills Four Seasons cannot avoid. Culina bills itself as a "modern take on classic Italian" and the contemporary interior doesn't say otherwise. The food sings a different tune and falls short of embracing the notion of the modern, save for the fancy breadsticks.

Culina is a beautiful restaurant filled with beautiful people. A dark limegreen and oak wood color scheme is current, clean and classy. There is track lighting and crystal everything everywhere. People feel comfortable here and where the lighting is dim, the old elite take pleasure in eating under the shadows. The new elite take the big tables, cover them in half-finished bottles of champagne and white wine and text on their blackberries. What's for dinner? They don't really care.

Piccoli Patti - $12

I do care. Navigating through Culina's menu takes time. There are lots of choices, all sparsely described and all carrying tasty potential. I started with a three plate "piccoli piatti," which is to say three small servings of my choice of cheese, vegetables or meat. I decided on crimini mushrooms with chianti vinaigrette, artichokes with rosemary and lemon and red beets with sicilian pistachio (?!). At this point you expect me to describe the flavors of the three vegetables. Sadly, there is little flavor to tell you about. The beets were beets, the artichokes were bland and the mushrooms were unappealing. There is nothing going on here. Look away.

Crudo Sampler - $23

I continued with a crudo sampler of salmon seasoned with caper salt and a blood orange, ahi tuna with ginger oil, coriander seed and lemon salt and yellowtail with star anise oil and orange sea salt. There is little to say about the ahi tuna but the salmon and yellowtail deserve blog space. The salmon was remarkably tender and fresh and worked well with the blood orange. Both the salmon and the orange came through at the right moments. The yellowtail is special because this was my first time trying orange salt. It is exactly that too, tasting like an orange and then like salt. The rapid switch from sweet to salty with the fish was refreshing.

Bucatini alla Carbonara - $20

Finished with pasta carbonara (pancetta, scallion, black pepper, egg ). The thick noodles, the yokey egg, and the black pepper embodied the spirit of carbonara. Too bad the dish was so heavily salted. Enjoyable but I needed several glasses of water to reach the bottom of the bowl.

So how do you feed pretty people? The answer is with spa food, polite food. Stuff that doesn't get messy or ugly on or off the plate. Flavors are straightforward without being bold. There are no surprises at Culina, and that's not a bad thing for a restaurant in a hotel, emphasis on the hotel.

Culina at Four Seasons Beverly Hills
(310) 273-2222
Beverly Hills
300 S Doheny Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Culina at Four Seasons Beverly Hills on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 24, 2011

In-N-Out, California Style

If there's room, then fill it. Post-Bazaar my sister and I balanced out our classy 7-bite dinner with a messy cheeseburger from In-N-Out, California's favorite fast food son. Before walking in I texted my friend Zach about what to order. His response: "Get a double double. I know you'll like it animal style. They'll know what you mean."

"Zach's drunk," I thought to myself. The menuboard at In-N-Out didn't help either since it had little more than "cheeseburger andhamburger."

Well, animal style is real thing. You can find on Wikipedia an entire "secret menu" for In-N-Out. "Protein-Style" is a burger with lettuce for a bun, a "3X3" is a burger with 3 patties and 3 pieces of cheese. Animal style (I ordered this on the fries after I asked the cashier if that was real) is chili and cheese on top of the fries. The place, by the way, was packed. There were tons of people working the kitchen (for a fastfood) and an equal number of hungry teenagers ordering.

What I like best about the burgers are the onions and grilled bun. Usually onions at fast food places bother me and the bread is never grilled, but there's something wonderfully clean about these burgers. There isn't an after-taste of guilty grease. The thousand-island-like sauce is also integral to this burger.

Not a fan of the fries. They reminded my sister and me of cardboard. They weren't greasy or salty, though, which is a huge plus for a fast food chain living in the same state as Alice Waters.

Overall - yes. Cool place, wonderful burgers for a fastfood chain. Let's hope In-N-Out expands out of California (but can still maintain their quality...)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How Bazaar: A Dinner with Houdini

Cotton Candy Foie Gras

I am unsure how to begin this post. I am equally unsure of what I'm going to say since I have yet to grasp what happened at Jose Andres "The Bazaar," a culinary mecca in LA known for molecular gastronomy.

Molecular gastronomy is what happens when a chef and a chemistry major have a child. The two fields merge to create dishes home cooks have neither the skill nor the equipment to make. Liquid nitrogen, food syringes, grills that freeze foods instead of burning them — what person has time for this after work?

These foods are all edible, many of them wonderfully so, but unless you've been to, I'd say, five or so restaurants serving this stuff, it's near impossible to gauge how good of a job they're doing. Without perspective, anything is skewed. For me, this was an amuse-bouche test run. Since the main restaurant was fully booked, I ate at the bar.

Bagel & Lox

A paper-thin cone (the bagel) filled with herbed cream cheese and salmon in the form of caviar. The saltiness from the salmon — the orbs literally explode in your mouth — combined with the creamy cream cheese was alarming. And then without another word, the flavors disappeared as if a palette cleanser had slipped its way onto my tongue.

Japanese Tacos - BBQ eel, shiso leaf, cucumber, wasabi, chicharro

A bit unimpressed by the flavors in this one, although the contrasting textures were great: crunchy nuts, the soft wrap, the chewy eel. The taco was no bigger than the fist of a 7-year-old. Delicate.

Cotton Candy Foie Gras

This dish is difficult to understand from a structural strandpoint but that doesn't mean it wasn't enjoyable. First question: why the cotton candy? Definitely there's a wow factor to combining carnival food with French high-society. Theatrics aside, the airy cotton candy disappeared from the tongue seconds before biting into the foie gras. The candy served as a rapid palette cleanser

People who have experienced a molecular gastronomy version of a dish often say it is like eating the dish for the first time. I'd have to agree with them. The foie gras was pure foie gras without any distractions.

tuna ceviche avocado roll - Jicama, micro cilantro, coconut dressing

Instead of the traditional seaweed, the tuna was encased in thin slivers of avocado. The coconut dressing worked extremely well with the avocado, a combination that in theory seems awkward. Unfortunately the tuna was not the freshest I've had. But like the previous dishes, flavors were pronounced before disappearing....

Bunuelos - cod fish fritters, honey aoili

I am not cod's biggest fan, but I can appreciate these fritters. The honey aoili was an intense sauce for the fritters which were filled with soft, flaky pieces of cod. The batter wasn't greasy at all. Good but not memorable.

croquetas de pollo - chicken and b├ęchamel fritters

Chef Andres loves to fry things. Thank goodness he's good at it. The croquetas were straightforward chicken and bechamel. Good but also not mind blowing like the foie gras.

Philly Cheesesteak, air bread, cheddar, wagyu beef

Now here's something. So you're asking yourself, "What is air bread?" Honestly I was surprised I was served something that even resembled bread. The inside was a different story. The inside was filled with ... (dramatic pause) ... air. Then out of nowhere there's a flood of cheddar cheese. The beef didn't hold up so well against the cheese in terms of balanced flavors, but it was still very good.

So you could make an argument that gastronomy is nothing more than expensive hot air. I will admit that it is expensive ($100 excluding tip, including $12 valet fee) and that afterwards I had an In-N-Out burger (another post), but there is also something mysterious about this new movement.

No, this isn't a place to take the family or that one relative who just wants a well-done steak with mashed potatoes. All the wealthy LA showoffs aside, The Bazaar is a place for people who want to learn and taste something new. The Bazaar serves "Houdini food" and there are lessons to be learned from all the magic.

The Bazaar By Jose Andres
(310) 246-5555
Mid-City West
465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048

The Bazaar By Jose Andres on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 11, 2011

I'm in Los Angeles, B****

The JC Burger - $24

Beverly Hills, specifically. The Four Seasons to be exact.

This place is not a real one, and at any moment I expect to be plucked from this wonderland and thrown back into my dorm room. I had lunch at the hotel's Culina, a pretty place filled with prettier people. Sitting in the patio, I felt surrounded by real housewives and Entourage-esque associates.

On my left: "something something Chris Brown's contract something something Bob Siegal something something pain in the ass/so-and-so threw me under the bus.

The woman proceeded to remove, what looked like, a fistful of crabmeat from her salad. She didn't want it. She wanted shrimp instead, and so shrimp was served. My two waitresses were distinct in that the first one was hiding behind a Great Wall of Makeup and the other resembled Michelle Obama. The bread boy served me a single piece of rosemary focaccia (mediocre) out of a wooden tray before pouring a small puddle of olive oil (forgettable) next to it. The waterboy seemed distraught that I didn't want a new glass when I needed a water refill. Seriously? Another glass?

But how about that $24 burger? Fantastic. A short rib burger with Maytag blue cheese, and onion straws — longing juices were flowing all over the place and that was just the patty. The cheese was sharp and heavy and the meat itself was a manly medium-rare. And the fries. Oh the fries. An insurmountable pile of shoestring fries seasoned with rosemary and salt were addicting. The combination is so simple that I don't why I haven't had such fries anywhere else.

Was this meal worth the $31 spent (+tip). Yes. I'm stuffed to the seams with satisfaction.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

DUC of the Day: The Food of Andalusia

So this lovely sign was perched on the salad bar station, and I must say I am at a loss for words. Andalusian? I really want to know WHO writes these things. What exactly is their inspiration? A quick google search reveals that this is, in fact, a real dish according to "Real Food " magazine. A look through the ingredients shows that there's nothing "Andalusian" (an autonomous community of Spain) about this salad.

On another note, dozens of students are getting food poisoning. If I get food poisoning, I promise that I will post a tirade so vicious that Sodexho will literally have to take me to the Supreme Court before I take the post down.

Long live real food!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Review: Unamused.

duo of duck

Rating: 2 out of 5

I suppose the exclamation mark in the name should have told me something.

You would think a restaurant that draws heavily from French influences might suffer from using too much butter or too much salt. Midtown's Amuse! breaks the mold and instead suffers from a severe lack of flavor in general.

One of the owners comes from Anis Cafe & Bistro, and so it was reasonable to have, in the least, satisfying exceptions for Amuse! The first few steps into Amuse! are unusual, if not blatantly awkward — to our right, a vast, empty lounge and bar area and to our left a hallway of tables leading into a more suitable dining room. For a Saturday night, the crowd was thin.

While service was appropriate, food was consistently under-seasoned. A watery French Onion Soup that lacked warmth, richness and depth and a fairly average charcuterie plate started the meal.

charcuterie plate. the pate is gritty and dry.

For entrees, a sauteed South Carolina Trout with a lemon butter sauce needed much more lemon and much more butter. And it was not the freshest of trouts I've tasted in recent memory. Liz ordered a duo of duck, which was the best dish of the night (not saying much considering the context). The duck breast was tender, although the sauce could have used more ... salt. The accompanying potatoes were purposely burnt and bland, possibly a good idea had the sauce also not been so reserved. There must be extremes before any balancing can occur.

The Awkward Dish Awards go to the Beef Tenderloin Au Poivre and the Fisherman's Stew. The former, while cooked a wonderful rare medium-rare, was doused in something best described as a glorified A-1 steak sauce. As for the stew, my disappointed friend repeatedly compared it to Listerine.

Amuse! should be much better than it is. When it first opened, the kitchen was perhaps more adventurous than it was skilled. Now, the food is straightforward French and yet every dish we tried was lacking in edge. Maybe if all of our dishes came with giant exclamation marks on the side the food would not have been so boring.


(404) 888-1890
560 Dutch Valley Rd
Atlanta, GA 30324

Amuse on Urbanspoon