19 December 2008

Moving - Please join Table d'hôte at its new location.

Table d'hôte has moved (and changed its name) for a fresh start as 2008 becomes 2009.  Please join me at my new location where I hope to better serve you with food fare of the blog variety.  

19 January 2008

Morimoto in the New Year

The second week of 2008 found me in Philadelphia, PA for a conference, which in my food fixated mind translated to a singular course of action—dinner at Morimoto. What better way to kick off the new year, and reward myself for surviving the first quarter of my return to graduate school, then a splurge-y meal of sushi and sashimi—something I would eat everyday if I could afford it—in a super cool, ultra-modern space designed by Karim Rashid. It's a match made in my food heaven and I arrived at the restaurant with my three other dinner companions ready to be caught up in the rapture of a sublime dining experience—elegant food consumed a beautiful space.

First let me say that the interior space didn't disappoint; it was truly beautiful, especially if you like curved shapes and soft glowing lights—which I do. I will go on record saying it's the nicest restaurant I've been in from an aesthetics point-of-view. But enough gushing about what my eyes were taking in and onto what at actually ate that night—and it was much.

Coordinating food matters between four people with unique, individual tastes and preferences was a challenge which took negotiations at the table and initially annoyed our waiter who did nothing to hide his impatience at my inability to get our order in the time he wanted, so much so that I feel I must pause my food narration in the interest of honesty to the evening and say how poor I thought the service was—the worst I've received at a restaurant regardless of prestige and caliber in a long time. I was completely displeased with our waiter who did nothing to make us feel welcomed and actually treated us with contempt, I felt.

The first dish to arrive at our table was the braised pork belly. The pork was cut in a perfect square and served on a bed of snow white rice porridge. While I've had softer, fattier pork belly, the porridge was flawless. It had a lovely silkiness to it, even though it retained the heartiness associated with congee—and it believer out of one my companions who's not normally fond of rice-based porridge

Continuing in the meat family was a cold, poached chicken breast. Once again, another delicate dish perfectly cooked. If a something meaty could take on the qualities of a salad, this chicken did. There was something light and fresh about its taste.

Finally out came what I was waiting for, the sashimi: toro, sake, hamachi, and kampachi. And while it didn't disappoint my palate, my eyes were a little let down when everything came out on a very traditional wood board. I was hoping for a super cool presentation on par with the decor, maybe something on glass or stone. But while presentation is important, eating is the true test. Good sashimi is like eating sexy butter; it lavishly melts in a your mouth. And these pieces of raw fish were all that—pure pleasure that gave my taste buds a buzz.

We also ordered the Morimoto Sashimi, which was selection of four small cubes of differing fish and soft crab with two different sauces. But note to self: don't bring your new digital camera to a restaurant and experiment with it while trying to manage a meal. Something suffers and for me it was the pictures. For those who know me and one of the things I do in life when I'm not eating, I'm embarrassed to say I didn't get a good (read: focused) picture of this or my entrée which came later. And the pork belly was a little "soft" for that matter, too. Mea cupla—the break from blogging left me out of practice.

I also threw in some sushi for the table for good measure. The avocado and eel roll was lush and sweet, but what I think made the sushi at Morimoto better than average was the rice. They pay attention the rice and realize it is just as important to have well "made" rice as the foundation to everything else—do good rice and you're more than half way there.

But all those things were the warm up to my entrée which was more fish, Arctic Char, but this time cooked and served with maitaki mushroom and lobster sauce. If you've not had Arctic Char would strongly suggest you it try sometime. I would describe it as similar to salmon in color, texture, and taste; and if salmon wasn't so ubiquitous as the fish most people want to eat when they eat fish, then Arctic Char might get on more menus—much to my happiness. I was really pleased with this dish, all its parts came together well and enhanced each other. The fish was perfectly cooked, again flawless with a super crisp skin and tender, flaky flesh. The lobster sauce was rich, full of depth and mellow flavor that formed the base of the dish from which other tastes and textures coalesced. The maitake mushrooms were plentiful much to my joy as I love mushrooms of any sort—it was half the reason I ordered the dish.

In the end, I was the only one who had room for desert, so the table left it up to me get whatever I wanted and then they would take bites. My motto for desert is when in doubt go for chocolate, which is what I did. The only chocolate on the menu was the pot de créme with "lightly" whipped cream and caramelized banana. Banana as desert don't do much for me, so I ignored the fruit on the plate and dove straight into the oozing cream and chocolate custard. The chocolate was surprisingly mild, more milky than dark—and I sort of wished that was noted in the description. While subtle in flavor, it was still satisfying and deliciously rich in its texture; a pleasurable way to cap the meal and gentle soothe my taste buds with a familiar sweetness.

The Morimoto experience was one to remember, although I don't know if I would repeat it if I were to find myself in Philadelphia again.

723 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA
Ph: 215-413-9070

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10 November 2007

Close 'til the New Year

Dear Kind Patrons,

It is with regret that I have to announce that Table d'Hôte will be closed 'til the New Year. Sadly, this seems to be an annual tradition of sorts as I did a similar thing around this year last year. Once again, while I want to provide fresh reading fare regularly to my faithful customers, my supply and time are down to provide such quality and service that I know you deserve—I went back to graduate school in the Fall and it is "eating" my time. I will return in the New Year with new products that will hopefully serve you better, but 'til then thank you patronage and patience.

Blue Plate

P.S. Just so you know I'm still eating, here are selected pictures from my meals in the past two months—made by me or cooked by others, but everything I ate.

24 September 2007

Fig Salad Redo

My fondness for figs is no secret. But I was turned onto their pairing with cheese and cured meat at Fraîche in Culver City where they do an appetizer of fresh figs, burrata, and speck. Above is my version with prosciutto.

Jamie Oliver has a similar fig salad, but with fresh mozzarella—which he calls the "easiest, sexiest salad in the world". I like to use his plating style of weaving the meat around the figs, as well as scoring the figs in his fashion, sectioning them, but slicing through them.

Sometimes I add a bed of arugula when I want to give the salad more mass, as when I made it for a casual patio party at S. and D.'s pad. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar; and sprinkle salt, black pepper, and basil; and you're good to go. Other times I do without the extra greens, as when I made a single serving for myself last week.

But regardless of how you do it up, you can't go wrong with fresh figs--they're a fabulous fruit.

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20 September 2007

From the Garden to the Dinner Table

I live most my life with no desire to grow things—I don’t even have a potted plant. But that doesn’t mean I don’t experience some pleasure from the good earth. There’s something life affirming and grounding about picking fruits and vegetables from a garden that even the urban girl that I am is not unmoved. Even if the garden I’m referring to isn’t mine and I gave no sweat in producing its bounty—it’s my dad’s garden—I still gladly take from it and I am thankfully for it.

One evening's reaping:

Bunches of herbs—mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, basil, and oregano
Bucket of tomatoes, many varieties, all shapes, sizes, and colors
One large cucumber
Three small eggplants
Three small ears of corn
And a quart of blackberries from a bush that grows wild on the edge of the garden

Picking stuff is fun, but it’s in the kitchen were the real fun begins for me as cooking becomes creation when I look at all I’ve gathered and decide what to make.

The cucumbers become a salad; the corn and tomato combine into another; the eggplant goes into a vegetable stew with more tomatoes and a squash plucked earlier; and the blackberries make a dessert. Mashed Potatoes around out my dinner menu with lamb as the entrée; and herbs get used wherever they can.

The cucumber salad was inspired by Jamie Oliver, from his third cookbook, Happy Days with the Naked Chef. I made my own dressing with ginger, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, and pepper; and omitted the cilantro with the cucumbers, but I’m giving his recipe in full as a reference.

The corn and tomato salad was my doing, although I’m sure it’s been done before. Boiled corn was cut from their ears and tossed with fresh (mostly) cherry tomatoes; chopped mint and basil also got thrown in. The dressing was your basic balsamic vinaigrette: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, touch of fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

My mashed potatoes are nothing special, although I prefer a combination of milk and buttermilk verse other creams—sour cream, heavy cream etc…. I also like to use white pepper for cosmetic reasons, but grabbed the pepper grinder by force of habit so I had to live the black specks.

The lamb recipe came from the September issue of Bon Appetite and its article on Gordon Ramsey. I used it as guide, following the directions but substituting ingredients as I wished. The herbs on the crust for the lamb became sage, rosemary, mint, and thyme. The recipe specified English mustard, but I used French mustard instead because it was in the fridge—a Brit might reel at this switch, but I’m not British.

But regardless of my lack of addition to its details, I would say this recipe is winner—and a keeper for me. The crust was very flavorful and seasoned the lamb perfectly. This was my first time making lamb. On the whole I think it turned out well; and although I would have liked the meat to be a little pinker than it was, it was still wonderfully tender with a texture like butter.

I was going off of memory of Tyler’s Ultimate Ratatouille for my stew. Some people can make amazing ratatouille: I’m not one of those people. Ratatouille is supposed to be a wonderful stew where the flavors meld together, evoking warmth and comfort—yes I saw “the rat movie.” But mine don’t seem to workout that way and invariably fall in that no man’s land of mush that’s midway between a stew and soup. It happened again here. And while the end result passes as food, it won’t make anyone breakdown in tears, recalling their childhood.

My ratatouille was a garden “dump”: yellow squash; purple and white eggplants; tomatoes of all kinds; and herbs by the palms-full. But unfortunately, I once again cooked it ‘til it was a pulpy mess.

I would call this a cobbler, but the recipe says it’s a grunt. Whatever, it’s still good; but how can you go wrong with any warm dessert topped with ice cream.

In the end, it's all still about getting food on the table, but it's nice when you can go out to your backyard and pick it, too.


Japanese Cucumber Salad with Ginger, Cilantro, Mint and Rice Wine Vinegar Dressing

Serves 4

Wash 3 cucumbers and finely slice along their length with a mandolin or one of cheap old potato peelers. Place the strips on a plate and spread them out. Sprinkle with some ripped-up fresh mint and cilantro and drizzle generously with ginger and rice wine vinegar dressing

Ginger and Rice Wine Vinegar

6 tablespoons of olive oil
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large thumb-size piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 stick of lemongrass, outer leaves removed, inner ones finely chopped
sea salt, ground black pepper, and a little soy sauce

Mixed everything in a bowl and seasoned to taste

Cheese and Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

6 Servings

2 ¼ cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crust-less sourdough bread
1 ¼ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
6 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 ½ tablespoon olive oil, divided

3 1 ¾ to 2-lbs racks of lamb, most fat trimmed
3 tablespoon prepared English mustard

Combine first 5 ingredients in processor. Blend until herbs are finely chopped. Transfer crumb mixture to bowl; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1 ½ tablespoons oil over; toss to coat.

Using sharp knife, make diagonal cuts in fat side of 1 lamb rack, spacing lines 1-inch apart. Make cuts in opposite direction, forming diamond pattern. Repeat with remaining lamb rack. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper. Place 1 lamb rack, scored side down, in skillet. Cook until golden, about 5 minutes; transfer to work surface. Repeat with remaining lamb racks. Spread scored side of each rack with 1-tablespoon mustard, than coat with 1/3 of crumb mixture, pressing to adhere. Place on rimmed baking sheet.

Preheat over to 425˚F. Roast lamb until golden and thermometer inserted into center of lamb registers 135˚F for medium-rare, about 40 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Cut racks into chops.

The Ultimate Ratatouille

1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound smallish Italian eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound zucchini, cut crosswise into 1-inch sections
3 anchovy fillets, finely minced
2 onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Leaves from 1/2 bunch fresh basil, coarsely chopped
Leaves from 4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 pints cherry tomatoes
1 dried chile
Splash balsamic vinegar

Line a large platter with paper towels. Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the eggplant, season generously with salt and pepper, and let that cook down for 10 to 12 minutes, until the eggplant is nice and soft and wilted. Move the eggplant out of the pan and onto the platter to drain. Next stop, zucchini: cook it the same way in 1/4 cup oil, then add it to the platter with the eggplant.

Add another 1/4 cup olive oil to the pan, then the anchovies, onions, garlic and herbs. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onions get nice and caramelized. Add the tomatoes and cook that down for 10 to 12 minutes, until pulpy. Return the eggplant and zucchini to the pan, crack open the chile, and add that, too. Season with salt and pepper and let the ratatouille cook slowly for about 20 minutes, until the mixture is soft, mushy and juicy; you want all the flavors to come together. Stir in the vinegar and let cool to room temperature.

Blueberry Molasses Grunt

Serves 6 to 8

3 cups ripe blueberries, picked over, or frozen blueberries, thawed
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons unsulphured molasses

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons could unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ whole milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Butter a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan.

Step 2: To make the filling: Place the berries in the pie pan. Whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl and sprinkle over the berries. Drizzle with lemon juice and molasses.

Step 3: Bake for 7 minutes, or until the berries begin to release their juices. Remove the pan from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425˚F.

Step 4: To make the topping: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives used scissors-fashion until the butter resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the milk and egg with a fork just until well combined. Drop the dough by the tablespoonful over the center of the berries: it won’t cover them completely.

Step 5: Bake for 20 minutes, or until the berries are bubbling and the topping is browned. Serve hot, warm, or cold.

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