Food Blog

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Entries from December 2003

A tale of two restaurant staffs

December 30th, 2003 · Comments Off

I was just on the east coast for the holidays, doing a lot of eating. I’ll cover the food we’ve cooked in a separate post, but I wanted to talk about two of the restaurants we’ve gone to. First is Stage Left, in New Brunswick NJ, the second, Asíate, in NY City. Both final bills were about the same, but the difference in service made both experiences very different.

Stage Left, a local restaurant I’ve always liked, seems to have evolved from very polished, well-looked-after and expensive, into very expensive and under-managed. Perhaps I’m judging the character of the place unfairly, since we went on Christmas eve, when the staff and management may be at its weakest, but the service can only be described as fumbling and I’m sure it wasn’t this very young staff’s first or last night.

This place has an excellent selection of beers, with some fine Belgians, but they were out of several listed on the menu. I can almost excuse being out of both sizes of Abbey de Rocs Special Noel, but if you’re also out of Corsendonk and Chimay, reprint your menu. And don’t bring me a Maudite as a replacement, without asking for my approval, and certainly don’t put it on the bill. Maudite is a fine beer, and I did order the Noel which is a similar spiced-up strong Belgian, but I personally don’t like coriander-heavy ale with food. While you’re at it, train your staff not to pour beer like tap water, so it doesn’t foam over and have a third of it wind up on the table cloth.

I went finally went back to the beer I had started with – a wonderful Belgian on tap, McChouffe, made by Brasserie d’Achouffe). However, if you’re going to charge me 8 and a half bucks for a beer, put it in a proper glass, and if you have to put it in an American pint glass, at least fill it more than three quarters to the rim. These may be small complaints, but as they add up, you can’t help becoming very critical of everything that comes afterwards. Going almost the entire length of the main course while waiting for a beer was very noticeable.

The meal itself was excellent, a $79 degustation, which included scallops, hamachi, a finely prepared cod, and a lamb chop. Most of the evening’s complaints were forgotten during an enormously generous selection of cheeses. The meal finished with a delicious bread pudding. One of the diners at our table had the Christmas goose main course, which was really tasty and included a chestnut rissoto stuffing.

One last gripe – if I should have to tip you to get my coat back when going home, don’t be standing on it when you hand it to me.

Sorry, no photos, there wasn’t enough light to focus, and there is only so long I mess with a camera at a dinner table.


The second restaurant by comparison, seemed to be staffed by zen master wait staff. Asiate, at Columbus Circle, sits on the 35th floor of the new Mandarin Hotel, high above what will soon be a culinary mecca, an atrium worth of restaurants to be run by such superstars as Keller, Vongerichten, Trotter and Takayama. Not to say Asiate’s chef, Noriyuki Sugie isn’t without star power, he once worked for Trotter in Chicago.

After a little wrangling with them to get a window table, the staff melded into their environment and performed like a team of ninjas. My Chimay came when I wanted it, and at one point when we were pouring our own coffee from its metal french press, (seconds too fast for the staff to do) the metal trivet stuck for a second to the bottom, than fell to the floor. Before it got a chance to really clatter, a passing waiter with an entire cake in one hand, reached down, snatched it up and placed it back on our table without loosing a step in his intended direction.

We opted not to do the $85 tasting menu, since the course items seemed more inticing. This may have been because the tasting menu wasn’t well described, but it doesn’t usually have to be. The $65 dinner included several amuses, an appetizer, main course and desert.

pumpkncaul.jpg venisonfoie.jpg

One of the amuses was a cauliflower/pumpkin soup, which seems like a yicky pairing, was brilliantly bridged by just the right amount of curry. The venison and foie gras terrine, with mache salad, sauce vin cotto was one of those tastes that just leave your mouth unable to speak. Vin cotto translates as “cooked wine” and is the cooked must of the grape. My main course, Pressed Suckling Pig, with Pigs Trotter Croquette and Pig Cheek Confit, Sauce Japonegi which was not only delicious, but entirely satisfying. The trotter croquette (feet) is seen here with the small bone sticking out.


I finished the meal with a passion fruit/mango souffle, served with a sticky rice and vanilla ice cream, and a passion fruit foamed juice. Others at the table had a desert called apple, apple, apple which consisted of three glasses which contained apple concoctions, one of which was an ‘apple pie’ in a glass, with a pie crust stick in the glass.


To compare these two restaurants of similar price, one tries a bit too hard to be something a little too lofty than its ability, and the other nails it.

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Tags: Restaurants

Food links

December 18th, 2003 · Comments Off

One of the most knowledgable Chicago Chowhounds has his own weblog, Vital Information

Gapers block has a couple of good food related articles this week -One Good Meal: Better Sandwiches and Ask the Librarian: Hail to the Chef which tells us who cooks for the President.

The discussion that followed the sandwich article dug up a sandwich blog, run by no other than Bill Keaggy, the man behind such high value blogs as xblog, bBlog and robots pirates and monkeys. But to get back on the topic of food, he also has a grocery list blog and a random haiku dinner menu generator.

The Daily Bread a good group blog.

Explore the history and making of butter Well done Webexhibit.

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Tags: Food News and Links

Food news

December 15th, 2003 · Comments Off

When Drought Reigns, Diets Can Turn Poisonous

Banished biotech corn not gone yet “Three years after a genetically engineered corn banned from human consumption turned up in taco shells and was pulled from the market, contaminated grain is still showing up in the nation’s corn supply. ” This isn’t the first time – we messed with corn genetics 4,400 years ago.

Cinnamon spice produces healthier blood “The cinnamon has additional benefits. In the volunteers, it lowered blood levels of fats and “bad” cholesterol, which are also partly controlled by insulin. And in test tube experiments it neutralised free radicals, damaging chemicals which are elevated in diabetics. ”

Peas on earth, Gouda wheel…

How to Tell a Real Japanese Restaurant

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Tags: Food News and Links

Gingerbread Men

December 14th, 2003 · Comments Off

gingerbreadmenThese are the gingerbread men published on Gapersblock’s cookie article. It’s adapted from this recipe. I’ve tweaked that recipe and added more than twice the amount of ginger and allspice, to give the little men some real snap. Next time I make these I might reduce the amount of molasses, and add some brown sugar as a replacement, to let the ginger shine through.

These cookies were particularly good, since I got the spices from The Spice House, right here in Evanston. The ginger is China Number One, which while sounding rather illegal, is excellent, powerful without being bitter or overwhelming. “The majority of ginger imported into this country comes from Cochin, India but it is inferior in quality to the top grade of Chinese ginger, known as China Number One. ” The allspice is Jamaican, with a great combination of peppery and clovey qualities.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 T. ground ginger
1 T. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses
1 shot of bourbon
1 large egg yolk

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses, bourbon, and then the egg yolk. Then, gradually beat in the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated.

Divide the dough into quarters, shape into logs and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. To speed things up you can put them in the freezer for about a half hour. Preheat the oven to 350.

Cut one of the pieces of dough in half and keep the remaining pieces refrigerated. On a generously floured surface, roll out the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out cookies using a cookie cutter. You can make your own out of cardboard, or shape with your hands. Resist the temptation to make them anatomically correct. Place the cookies about an inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for about 8 minutes, or until slightly firm.

Transfer the cookie sheets to wire racks. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes. Then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely. Decorate with icing or just eat.

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Tags: Dessert