Monday, December 22, 2008
It was September 29th; exactly two months from the Saturday of Thanksgiving break and one of the few times I would be able to make the trek up to New York to dine at Per Se. I would have to call to make the reservation at Per Se at exactly 10 A.M today if I had any hope of getting that Saturday reservation. The only problem? I had school.
I sat patiently in my 9:30 – 10:25 science class as the clock neared 10. Very strategically, at exactly 9:57, I innocently asked to use the bathroom. I walked, no sprinted to the bathroom down the hall. I scrolled down my contact list until I reached Per Se, then dialed, and waited… After three minutes of waiting, a janitor came in. I cowered against the wall, praying he wouldn’t take my phone. “Is it an important call?” “Oh my god yes” I genuinely responded. He told me I had five minutes, then strolled back out of the bathroom. I waited anxiously, attempting telepathic communication with my phone. When that failed, I simply yelled at it. At that moment, almost as if on cue, the janitor returned and told me to go back to class. It was too late. Now all the reservations were surely gone. I waited an hour for lunch then called again. Everything was booked. It looked there would be no Per Se for me this time around. Maybe God was telling me to invest my money for college.
I arrived home later that day and explained the situation to my mom. I begged and pleaded with her to let me try tomorrow to make a reservation for the Sunday of Thanksgiving break, despite it being inconvenient with the next day being a school day and such. She finally obliged. I felt slightly guilty. If God had been telling me to invest money for college, I was laughing in his face. If he ate there I’m sure he’d understand.
Lucky for me, September 30th I had off school for a Jewish holiday (I believe). At exactly 10:00 A.M. eastern time, my sister, mother and I all called Per Se. I was bringing in the reinforcements this time around; there was no way I’d fail. My sister got through first after 15 minutes of waiting, and I snagged one of the day’s last available reservations- 11:30 for lunch. I wonder what the hostess thought of me as she spoke to me on the phone. I was like a kid on Christmas.
After much waiting, I found myself heavy in anticipation on a bus with my dad and sister to New York. I fell asleep, dreaming of foie gras and pork belly as the bus sped across the freeway. We arrived around 9, and my dad and sister soon departed, leaving me alone in New York. I felt like Holden Caulfield. I was a kid alone in New York with a lot of dough. Moreover, like Holden, I would be burning through this dough pretty quick. Per Se was no phony however. Oh no, this was the real deal.
Per Se is a world away from the plush boutiques of the lower levels of the AOL Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. Glass doors slide open to reveal a zen-like space, dominated by muted browns and grays. If New York is the city that never sleeps, you can at least get some rest in Per Se. Upon entering I was greeted by a flurry of hello’s and happy birthday’s (I was going for my birthday) and was led to my table. A letter was waiting for me on my table. I opened it to a card that read “you’re not getting older per se…” Thomas Keller had signed it at the bottom. I was already having a good time.
Soon after, I met my waiter James. I was told the chef would be cooking for me, and was asked if there was anything I had to have. I told him foie gras and pork belly, and thus began the extravaganza. Note (while I would like to describe every dish, I would run out of adjectives synonymous with “amazing,” and my review would become redundant. I will therefore summarize the experience)
Sparkling Cider instead of the customary champagne**** (I made a mistake in the original and said I was served champagne which a restaurant of Per Se's caliber would never serve to a minor) was poured upon my arrival, and I was given the Thomas Keller signatures; two gruyere cheese gougers and the salmon cornets. I immediately told James that I believed the meal had already reached its peak. He chuckled. My first course (Sunchoke and toasted almond soup with langoustines and almond oil) absolutely blew me away. The soup was perfectly smooth, salty, and full-bodied, the langoustines were uncharacteristically tender and not the least bit rubbery. I once again wondered if the meal had reached its peak, yet quickly dismissed this notion as a cauliflower mousse with mandarin glaze and a large helping of sturgeon caviar came out. I controlled myself and ate the mousse slowly, savoring every last bit with my mother of pearl spoon (necessary for not reacting with the caviar).
The momentum slowed however as I was served Shima Aji (fish in the yellowtail family) with sake granite. The fish was plain unctuous on its own and the sake granite tickled my underage taste buds, however together, the delicate fish was overwhelmed by the strong alcoholic flavor. After eating the next dish however, all missteps were forgotten. The dish was brought to me in a smoke-filled orb, the top half of which was removed to reveal a perfect rectangular piece of pork belly with radishes and a sultana raisin coulis. The smoke added a whole new dimension so the dish, giving the belly smoky undertones along with the unctuousness of thick, fatty pork belly. Call it bacon deluxe.
Tableside presentation added an interactive element to the dining experience. A whole de-boned quail stuffed with foie gras was brought to the table, before being taken back to the kitchen and sliced. Likewise, a large portion of Perigord black truffle (the finest) was shaven over buttery ricotta agnolotti at the table. Both dishes were stunning.
The bread, often overlooked in restaurants, was nothing to miss. A miniature soft pretzel roll put Philadelphia makers to shame and a crusty ciabatta roll transported me to Tuscany.
Per Se cooks variety meats just as well as luxury cuts. I was consecutively served veal sweetbreads then beef callote (cap of the rib-eye). The crispy sweetbread, served with turnips, swiss chard, and a brown butter-veal jus may have been the meal’s best dish. The meltingly tender beef callote, complimented by black trumpet mushrooms, baby Brussels sprouts, and a red wine vinegar sauce, wasn’t far behind.
Eating alone is often difficult, awkward, and more or less boring. My experience at Per Se was quite the opposite. I talked at length with my waiters about anything from how giving hungry prisoners candy and then not letting them drink was once a torture method (and how that would work on me), to how they became waiters. I even found that I shared a love of Fage Greek Yogurt with the wait staff (they eat it on their breaks). While I’m not sure if it pleased them every time I called them over to talk, they showed no evidence to the contrary. Overall, the service was phenomenal.
After the beef callote I asked to take a small break. I had just finished my 13th course, and was beginning to feel full. I ran to the bathroom, performed some breathing exercises, then returned to the table. I can’t imagine not finishing anything at Per Se.
The cheese course followed. Typical of Per Se and The French Laundry is a composed cheese plate with a single cheese. I was served 10 cheeses with four condiments! Highlights were shropshire blue, sierra de estrella, and Cabot creamery’s cheddar. The truffle honey was exceptional as well.
My sweet tooth was satisfied with a long list of desserts. A passion fruit sorbet with pomegranate syrup cleansed my palate, and the complex flavor of brown butter was showcased in a brown butter cake with a candied piece of granny smith apple. I expected the meal to end rather conventionally after that. I think I forgot I was at Per Se. My waiter brought out a whole chocolate cake that they had baked for me for my birthday! A lit candle stuck out the middle. I asked him if he was going to sing for me. He politely refused and told me that they would package up my cake to enjoy with my family, and bring me out a different dessert.
They brought me the signature “Coffee and Doughnuts.” This would be my third time having this dish, yet I was not the least bit unhappy. The yeasted cinnamon sugar doughnuts are accompanied by a cup that appears to be a cappuccino, however under the foamed milk is coffee ice cream. You eat a warm sugared doughnut with some cold coffee ice cream, and a job as a cop suddenly seems appealing.
My meal concluded with some truffles, a small dish of crème brulee, and some toffee. All of which I finished. I didn’t really need to finish them however. I was depressed because the meal had concluded. I was eating out my feelings My experience in New York had come full circle- I once again felt like Holden Caulfield. Per Se kills me.
I got my check, then paid the $298 without hesitation. I got up to leave but then returned to my table. I had almost forgotten my now-packaged cake. I began to walk out the door, but my waiter stopped me. “Thomas wanted you to have this,” and he gave me Thomas Keller’s new cookbook. That’s a $75 cookbook! I was in shock; I didn’t know what to say. I thanked my waiters relentlessly, then stumbled, awestruck, out of the restaurant. I had entered the restaurant at 11:30, I walked out at 4:15.
I walked away from the restaurant back to daily life. My steps were slow, I wanted to lengthen the experience. Again I pondered the question, “Why am I continuously drawn back to Per Se?” “This is why,” I thought, referring to my experience, and that’s the only explanation necessary.
Monday, December 15, 2008
I found Ruhlman's recipe online, then set about making the cure, and placing the belly in a plastic bag for a week.
That was a sad week.
ALERT: For the next few days, maybe even a week, my attention will be devoted to writing about my recent meal at Per Se.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I got off the bus, and walked towards my house on my birthday expecting the usual: Genuardi's carrot cake. I was planning on telling my mom that I didn't want a cake unless it was homemade, but I had forgotten to do so.
I walked in my house, and to my great surprise my grandmother (in from Florida) was preparing an apple crisp-not from canned apples or a betty crocker mix, but from scratch.
Aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg perfumed the house as the crumble cooked. To me, someone who gets his pleasure from cooking for others, it's really special when someone decides to put effort into cooking for you.The best presents aren't necessarily sold at Toys R Us, or in my case, Williams Sonoma. The best presents are something you can relate to or that touches you somehow (cliche of the day I know). Anyway, I already know that among other presents, that apple crumble will stand out at the end of this holiday season.
Oh yea and asdfjhalskfhalksjdflkajsdflkj it tasted so damn good.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
I asked first about a new, young generation of chefs. "Chefs at Lacroix tell me I need to learn how to perfectly braise a pork belly before I can sous vide one. What will sous vide do for a young generation of chefs who may never learn how to perfectly braise or saute or blanch?" Thomas told me that would be the end. That we can't let these things become lost to us. He also told me this is the reason that they do not do exclusively sous vide and his restaurants. "We can't let the cooks lose that experience."
"But will sous vide transform cooking into industry?" Keller told me about puff pastry, and how when they were able to make it frozen and widely distribute it, it became much more accessible for people. As sous vide increases in popularity, it will make quality food more accessible as well.
I finally asked him "In the book The Last Supper, you say your last meal would be a roast chicken. Not a sous vide chicken?" He smiled for a moment. "No. I love the aromas, the taste, the memories, of a good roast chicken." Good enough for me. I took a picture with him and Ruhlman then departed.
I chopped up some breast meat, mixed it with some adobo from a can of chipotles in adobo. I added plenty of red onion to that. I cooked some bacon till crispy, then mixed the fat with some mayo in a separate bowl. I chopped up the bacon and threw it in, along with the bacon fat mayo, and mixed everything together. It went on to two slices of wheat bread for lunch. I just wish I had some avocado or green apple to add.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Pork Belly, 1/2 to be made into pancetta, the other to be made into bacon.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
At once my mom found out the location of the office of the event coordinator, and before I knew it we were in an employees only area. I crept across the wall, as if I were James Bond, and we eventually found our way to the office of the event coordinator. We explained to him our situation and he promised to find us, if I would be able to talk to Keller.
The presentation was Keller answering Ruhlman's questions about sous vide cooking (its history, its use at his restaurants, safety, application for the home cook, future of sous vide). The presentation was interesting, though I'd heard most of it before. The introduction was my favorite part, I prefer stories to fact books.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
-For the best broccoli you've ever had, simply take off the stems, make sure they're real dry, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and crushed garlic cloves.
-Place in a 425 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes.
-Remove, top with grated lemon zest and parmesan cheese and chopped pine nuts if you got em (if you don't no biggie they will be delicious no matter what).
Honestly, the parmesan and lemon zest only enhance the broccoli, if you don't have either on hand (though you prob should), simply roast the broc with the salt pepper and olive oil. It's that good.
Oh yea, and thank me, actually Adam Roberts, later.
1. Preheat oven to 300, and cover three baking sheets with parchment.
*Dave uses 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, but I like the crunch of M&M's, and I knew this girl liked M&M's.
Oh, and I hope I'm not coming off as a jerk who doesn't like to cook for anyone. Quite the opposite actually.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Last week at Lacroix, a cook was behaving rather "strangely," as some would call it. Said cook had started working here long after I, and I've watched him go from timid, with little personality, to crazy yet likable. I asked him a question I'd been pondering for some time. "Is it working in kitchens that has turned you crazy?" He replied "No, I've always been like this. I really think it's the other way around. Crazy people flock to kitchens because it's the only place where this kind of behavior is acceptable. We're kind of like the outskirts of society." I asked him, half jokingly, if the sommelier (religious french dude) is what grounds them from going totally out of their minds, but in all honesty I think it's more than that. I think the crazy, inappropriate, and often obscene behavior ends with the realization that when you walk out the kitchen doors, society doesn't end. That when you take off your checkered chefs pants, and remove your white jacket, no matter how far on the border, you're still a part of regular life.
Recipe (adapted from Slashfood)
2 1/2 cups Rice Krispies*
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup granola cereal
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter*
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Combine Rice Krispies, rolled oats, granola and choco chips in large bowl.
2. Bring corn syrup and brown sugar to a boil over medium heat.
3. Turn off heat and whisk in pb and vanilla extract, then pour this mixture into the cereal mixture, stirring to evenly distribute the peanut butter mixture.
4. Press into a greased 9x9 pan.
5. Let cool (I kinda ate them hot) then enjoy!
*You can really use almost any kind of cereal in your granola bars. I think I'll throw in some Honey Bunches of Oats next time.
*I don't think the type of peanut butter matters. I personally always buy the natural, 2 ingredient (peanuts, salt) kind, so I tried that and it worked fine.
And the next day I brought them in for some friends.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The chefs at Lacroix were ecstatic, as they were able to get their hands on some a few weeks ago. The Chef de Cuisine approached me shaking, "I'm horny right now holding this fish." And a beautiful piece of fish it was. With ultimate reverence he explained to me how he got lucky, and was able to get the fish only cause "he knows somebody." "The Kobe Beef we get is some of the best you can buy, and it costs around $40 a pound. This Kindai costs about 64."
He held out a piece for me. Shivers ran down my spine. Lacroix is a very upscale restaurant. The chefs have seen everything. I don't think I've ever seen them so excited about a product. I took the piece and placed it on my tongue. At once I tasted oily, velvety, slightly sweet. A wonderful fishiness was apparent. The fish melted in my mouth, before I was ready to let it go. I heard another chef make a joke about using it for tartare. I laughed out loud. Though the title does the tuna little justice, I hereby pronounce Kindai Tuna, tuna on roids. x10 x10 x10 x10.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
At the time we were working on a project in English class pertaining to the novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I hope you've read it, it's an interesting novel, but if you haven't it's basically about a group of boys stranded on an island, who go crazy and hunt pigs and paint their faces and such. Our project consisted of choosing 6 smaller projects from a list of about 12. One of the options was to make up your own project related to the novel. At once I thought about food, but then hesitated. The previous week we had been asked to write our thoughts down about a specific chapter. When it was my turn to present to the class, I showed a picture of a pig on a spit and described it "a large Berkshire hog, roasting over an open flame, the meat cooking evenly as it roasts on the spit, and the fat slowly rendering out to produce wonderfully crispy crackling." My deviance from the topic (yet wonderful imagery) produced a stern look from the teacher. What would she think if I tried to relate smoking a pork shoulder to the novel?
"You know how they cook pig for food in Lord of the Flies, well, could I bring you a pulled pork sandwich as a project?" She excitedly obliged! Great!
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Just look at that disgusting piece of _____. Don't say it. Don't call it bread, cause it's not. I couldn't live with such a failure. I had to improve my bread.
And so I scoured the Internet, and my local Borders, reading all I could on sites like The Fresh Loaf, and Bread Cetera, and books like The Bread Baker's Apprentice, to understand the fundamentals of bread making.Once I believed I had learned enough, I ended my hiatus and began to bake bread once again. First came this focaccia from Ideas In Food, which I've baked probably 5 times now (and in my opinion perfected),and then came this more complicated batard, which is actually 100% whole wheat sandwich bread that I shaped into a batard. I have to say, I'm pretty proud of how my bread baking skills have improved. In the near future I will conquer my nemesis, the baguette.
Recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
soaker (mix together fully one day ahead, cover with plastic, and let sit at room temp)
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup water
poolish (mix together fully one day ahead, cover with plastic, and let sit in the refrigerator)
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
¼ tsp instant yeast
¾ cup water
2 cups whole wheat
1 1/3 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
2 tbs honey
1 egg (optional)
1. Remove the poolish and let sit at room temp for one hour before making the dough.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix together the flour salt and yeast.
3. Cut the poolish and soaker into small 1 square inch pieces then mix into the dough with a paddle.
4. Add the honey and the egg, mixing with a paddle until the mixture become a rough dough. Transfer to a cutting board and knead for about 10-15 until a tacky but not sticky dough is formed. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic and let rise for two hours.
5. For sandwich loaves, divide the dough in two equal pieces and place in oiled loaf pans, then let rise again for about 90 minutes covered in plastic.
6. Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes until the dough is golden brown on all sides and sounds hollow when tapped.
Let cool, then enjoy!
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Look at that. An everything bagel. I pick up a dozen at a local bakery. The paper bag in which they were placed is already fragrant, the seeds and bread combining to let off an earthy, seedy, wonderful smell. Usually I crave simplicity; a few ingredients combining to create a final dish with distinct flavors. Not here. On my bagel I want it all. I want everything. Hence the name.
I realize why I like the everything bagel so much. The spices, seeds, and bread become an entity. An everything bagel isn't a bagel with garlic flakes, sesame seeds, caraway seeds, onion flakes etc. It's just an everything bagel.
Spread with cream cheese, and there are few greater breakfast pleasures.
Why did I think of this?
Hey! A man's gotta find a way to occupy his time in Spanish class.