Alinea, Chicago

11 Nov

Alinea had been on my bucket list for quite a long time – years, in fact. After recently watching a documentary called “Spinning Plates“, it shot up my list at top speed and I convinced B (without much effort, it must be said) to book a trip to Chicago with the sole purpose of eating at Alinea. Basically, I had to go, and it had to be NOW!

With our reservation made and flights booked, I prepared for our trip by reading Chef Grant Achatz’s bio “Life, on the Line“. It was a fascinating read about a man with incredible drive, focus, a passion for perfection, and a desire for innovation. Reading his book only fuelled my excitement so when we walked through the inconspicuous doors to Alinea on Sunday evening and I saw him standing in the kitchen, I was starstruck! There he was! Working in the kitchen and creating tabletop desserts for some lucky diners (not us). I was thrilled! It was a great start to an evening that would end up being this foodie’s dream come true!

Geeking out! Chef Achatz in the kitchen!

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Dish 1: Caviar, brioche (foam), capers and onions (gel), egg (custard).

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Dish 2: A bit of fun…find the edible branch!

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A bit blurry…but this is the edible branch. Salsify (a root vegetable) that has been sous-vide for 13 hours and marinated in soy. Delicious!

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Dish 3: One of the most memorable flavours of the night – skate with brown butter sauce and toasted bread. The plate is meant to resemble a paper napkin.

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Dish 4: Our server called this “A Day at The Beach” – pebbles of sous-vide beans, ebi, ogo, clam shells.

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Dish 5: Beautifully presented trout with broccoli, prepared different ways.

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Dish 6: All night we had been sitting under a bouquet of lemongrass, chilli, ginger, and coriander suspended on an almost-invisible wire. We didn’t know its purpose until this dish arrived: the bouquet was used to flavour the curry broth that was poured into the eggplant and cocoa nibs.

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Dish 7: Lily bulb, rambutan, distillation of caviar lime (also known as finger limes). The bursts from the lime provided an interesting texture.

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Dish 8: Tabletop campfire! Hamachi with shishito, bean, cooked with pine branches.

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Dish 9: Matsutake (mushroom) with pine, abalone, and tapioca. Flamed at the table.
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Dish 10: Pork belly with charred parsnip, black trumpet, kombu. Unbeknownst to us, these sneaky guys (the parsnip and the pork) had been cooking inside the fire. For this dish, they were removed from the fire and sliced tableside. The pork was incredibly delicate and fell apart under the fork.

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Dish 11: Not enough time to photograph the signature dish of hot potato cold potato. You pull the pin to release hot potato with black truffle shavings into a cold potato soup, and then you shoot it all. Incredible!

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Dish 12: Squab, squab liver “truffle”, beet, orange.

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Dish13: “Graffiti”: hazelnut, perigord, balsamic “spraypaint”.

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Dish 14: Blueberry with bubblegum, lilac, sorrel. This was the only dish that I didn’t enjoy all that much as it was too sweet for me. B thought I was crazy.

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Dish 15: Edible balloon with green apple. We even had some fun with the helium. This was sticky and messy and I loved it!

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Dish 16: Tropical Fruit with rum, vanilla, kaffir lime. This dish was created by one of the chefs at the table and my photos don’t do it justice – it was beautiful. Every bite popped with tropical flavours, including the candy (complete with edible wrapping).

I’m finding it difficult to convey the experience and the level of detail in the dishes, therefore, I am hoping that the photos can help illustrate the words that I am struggling to find. I had high expectations of Alinea – it has had a lot of hype and I had certainly built up high expectations. When I walked out of Alinea on Sunday night, all of my expectations had been surpassed. I had been expecting that the food would be an experience – that I was sure of – but I had doubts about the taste of the food. I knew the food would look like pieces of art and I knew they would be impressive and innovative, but I had thought that it would come at the cost of the taste. I was wrong. Grant Achatz is a genius. Let the haters hate on molecular gastronomy – Alinea should be left to those who want something else from food than just sustenance. I am grateful to have had the experience of dining at Alinea and hope that I get the chance to return.

*I must make a special note about Alinea’s booking system because it was, by far, the easiest booking experience that I’ve had at a restaurant of this calibre. Their website is very user-friendly and the process was very straight forward.*

Cheese and Onion Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing

5 Nov

Perhaps it is just me, but I find that I am always looking for new salad recipes because, well, salad can get dull extremely fast. It’s not me, salad – it’s you – I’m just not committed to you because at times you are boring. There I said it, now let’s move on.

Returning to the kitchen after a long summer hiatus, I am now back into the swing of things and have been searching for new dressings and new sauces to spruce up veggies and proteins. Any salad recipe that has the words “cheese” and “creamy herb dressing” in the title is the kind of salad that I want to make, which is why I tried this recipe from Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie at Home” cookbook. I was also lured in with the home-made pickled shallots as I’d never pickled anything before. They were surprisingly simple to make, whilst also being delicious, so I am now trying to work out how I can use the pickled shallots in other recipes. I recommend serving this salad for brunch or lunch, alongside a quiche or tart, or a light protein dish, such as chicken.

Jamie Oliver’s Cheese and Onion Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing (Serves 4)

8 small shallots, peeled and very finely sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
White wine vinegar
1 romaine or cos lettuce, washed and spun dry, leaves separated
1 Boston or bibb lettuce, outer leaves removed, washed and spun dry, leaves separated
4 large handfuls of mixed salad leaves, such as arugula, washed and spun dry, leaves separated
4 ounces Roquefort (or any blue) cheese, crumbled
A good handful of walnuts, toasted and crumbled
Optional: a small handful of chive or allium flowers

For the creamy herb dressing:
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons  crème fraîche
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Method:
Placed the thinly sliced shallots in a small bowl with a generous pinch of salt and pour over just enough white wine vinegar to cover. You’ll pour away the excess salt and vinegar once the onions are pickled, so don’t worry if you think it’s a bit much. Scrunch everything together with your hands and leave to marinate for at least 10 minutes.

Whilst waiting for the onions to pickle, get a start on your dressing. To make the dressing, mix 4 tablespoons of olive oil with the crème fraîche and the red wine vinegar. Whisk everything together and season to taste.

Squeeze the shallots hard with your hands and drain. Place the salad leaves on a serving plate. From a height, sprinkle over the shallots and the crumbled Roquefort. Scatter over the crumbled walnuts – it’s really nice if they are still a bit warm from being toasted. Drizzle the dressing over the salad at the table. Finish by throwing some torn-up chive or allium flowers, if you have them.

Recipe from Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie at Home” cookbook.

Photo Visit – Au Comptoir – October 2014

26 Oct

2278 West 4th Ave
Vancouver, BC
V6K 1N8

T: 604 569 2278
www.aucomptoir.ca

Having recently completed a short wine course, where I was introduced to French wines that I hadn’t had the opportunity to sample before, I have been spending a lot of time lately daydreaming about a food and wine trip to France. To make matters worse, I’ve also been watching a lot of food and wine documentaries that have showcased the passion that the French have for the finer things in life. All of this has inspired me to want to pack my bags and run off to explore wineries, intimate bistros, and inviting cafés, in Paris, Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, and Lyon. Unfortunately, I’m not likely to get away any time soon and so I will need to come up with other ways to satisfy my yearning for everything French. Thankfully, a little Parisian-inspired café, Au Comptoir, has just opened up a few blocks from my place which will help scratch the itch for a while. Merveilleux!

Although today was my first, and only, visit to Au Comptoir, I am smitten. The décor, the service, and the food, were all very reminiscent of the times that I have travelled in France. All of the well-dressed servers spoke French amongst themselves (but English to patrons), the décor was charming (complete with an authentic tin bar made in France), and the food was rich, heavy, and very French.

 Fried Duck Wings

 Veal Sweetbreads

Foie Gras Burger

Raspberry Mille-Feuille

We perched at the bar and sipped French sparkling wine whilst we lingered over our meal. Most offerings on the concise wine menu were French, except one red and one white from BC. The dishes that we ate were well-executed and worthy of re-order. As someone who doesn’t like chicken wings, the fried duck wings were a surprising highlight, as was the dessert.

Au Comptoir’s hours are 8am to 10pm daily (except possibly Tuesdays) meaning that you can join them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Reservations aren’t accepted and, with as busy as they were today, I suspect that there will be long waits at peak times. I, for one, will be happy to line up for the experience of feeling as though I’ve been transported to Paris. I say, bring on the cold winter evenings!, as I will be cozied up inside Au Comptoir, enjoying a touch of France.

Au Comptoir on Urbanspoon

Bearfoot Bistro – Whistler, BC

6 Sep

4121 Village Green
Whistler, BC
V0N1B4

T: 604 932 3433
www.bearfootbistro.com

B and I were in Whistler a few weeks ago for Crankworx and decided that, rather than have dinner at our usual Whistler hang-outs (Araxi or Rim Rock), we would try Bearfoot Bistro for the first time. I hadn’t been before but I’d heard some pretty great things about Bearfoot, particularly about the Champagne Lounge and the Vodka Ice Room. It was about time that I experienced it for myself.

The restaurant feels as though it caters to a slightly older clientèle, with live piano music and a more traditional look for the bar and restaurant décor. Along with the Champagne Lounge and Vodka Ice Room, there is also an outdoor patio where you can have a few drinks before you start your meal, or curl up by the outdoor fireplaces for some post-dinner drinks.

To the best of my knowledge, guests can only order the tasting menus (no à la carte) but that’s OK as Bearfoot offers a ridiculously affordable summer dinner menu with 5 courses at $68. The menu was well-executed, although not unlike what you would get at Araxi or Rim Rock. For me, the best part of the evening was the Nitro Ice-Cream, which was vanilla ice-cream made table-side using liquid nitrogen. It was pure theatrics and I lapped it up. What’s not to love about a bit of theatre with your dessert? Thankfully, it wasn’t just all gimmicks and tricks – the ice-cream was excellent and was served with a variety of toppings – the salted caramel sauce was my personal favourite.

Besides the ice-cream, the food didn’t blow me away but all in all, we had a lovely evening and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit to Bearfoot Bistro.

Oysters with mignonette

 Pemberton Potato and Garlic Scape Soup

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Foie Gras Pheasant Terrine

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Fraser Valley Pork Tenderloin, with Lobster Tail ($20 supplement for lobster tail)

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Cheese Course

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Nitro Ice-Cream (additional $16 per person)

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Mixing…

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 Final Product: Tahitian Vanilla with Sundae Toppings (not shown)

Willows Inn – Round 2!

18 Aug

B and I recently celebrated our four-year wedding anniversary and, as has become tradition, we try to get away for a day or two to indulge in some good food and a bit of R&R. Last year, we visited Willows Inn for the first time and had such a blast that we decided to return again this year.

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I am saving myself the effort of re-writing my glowing review and instead will direct you to my post from last year. You’ll notice that there were a number of dishes that were the same as last year’s menu but those were the snacks, not the main courses – most of the mains were new dishes (except for the mind-blowing smoked salmon and the blueberry dessert). Once again, my favourite snacks were the kale and black truffle, the drippings with local bread, and the crispy crepe with steelhead roe.

Although our experience last year was fantastic, I did notice two areas where they have made improvements. The first was the pre-dinner service. Last year we found it difficult to place our drink order and to get our drinks before we were taken to our table. This year, we had no issues at all and they are now offering pre-dinner snacks to all guests whilst you wait to be seated. Secondly, you are now able to eat breakfast in the Inn the morning after your dinner (see pics below). That wasn’t an option for us last year and I think it really added to our experience as there isn’t much else available on the island (plus, everything else is a let-down after Willows).

Again, I wasn’t super impressed with the wine tasting menu. Next time (oh yes!), we will just order a few bottles for the table as I didn’t think the wine elevated any of the dishes for us.

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Pre-dinner snacks on the patio.

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More pre-dinner snacks…sauerkraut brine oysters.

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The dining room.

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Smoked Samish Bay Mussel.

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Squash blossoms & edible nasturtium with nasturtium paste.

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Crispy crepe with steelhead roe.

Kale with black truffles.

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Local albacore with smoked bones.

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Shiitake roasted over fire.

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Puffed halibut skin.

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Lopez Island smelt.

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Salt-baked beets with dill flowers.

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Aged venison tartare and purslane.

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Oh, smoked salmon…I need you in my life, always.

Just-dug potatoes with watercress and herring roe.

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Pan dripping and bread made from local grains.

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Local black cod steamed with lovage and cherry tomato.

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Sunset interval.

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Slow-roasted lamb with sour cherries.

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Wild chamomile and wood sorrel in blackberries.

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Breakfast Plate

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Breakfast of house-made muffins, egg, and zucchini chilli jam.

I absolutely adore Willows Inn and highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for something a little different to other dining experiences. There is a reason why chef Blaine Wetzel won the James Beard Rising Star Chef Award this year. Get there if you can!

New York – May, 2014

20 Jul

Wow! It has been a long time since I’ve updated this blog and I absolutely blame my absence on being busy, with a hint of laziness. Life has been wonderfully busy as I have recently started a new job…in the food industry! I’m so excited to have finally made my dreams of working in the food industry a reality, that I’ve been completely absorbed with learning all that I can and that means that I’ve had no energy for my hobbies. Hopefully I can find a balance soon.

I had a week between jobs so my sister and I made a last-minute decision to fly to New York for a quick trip. We learned that May is a glorious time to visit the city that never sleeps. The flowers were in full bloom, the weather was warming up but not yet humid, and the city didn’t feel overly busy. Having been to New York a few times, this trip was all about taking it easy, avoiding the touristy stuff, and eating and drinking our way through NYC. Unfortunately, as our trip was last-minute, we didn’t get into some of the restaurants that I had really wanted to visit (at the top of the list was the NoMad restaurant). I also couldn’t afford to do the high-end experience that B and I had on our last trip so, instead, we explored the more affordable side of the New York food scene.

Spring time in New York = lots of flowers!

I was less adventurous this time around when it came to food and we ended up going back to a few places from my last trip with B, so that I could show them to my sister. These included Eataly (always reliable), Shake Shack (meh, won’t be going back again), Blue Bottle coffee, and Magnolia Bakery (we know this place well!)

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Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes (I still love these, regardless if people think they are over-rated).

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Eataly – Buffalo mozzarella with olive oil and sea salt. Classic. Perfect.

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Eataly - Ravioli filled with spring pea, ricotta, pecorino, mint, and finished with butter and asparagus – superb!

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Eataly – Tagliatelle with short rib ragu

I had wanted to visit Momofuku Milk Bar last time I was in NY but could only find the time to get to the UrbanSpace market stall. This time, I made it my mission to visit an actual store. We ended up at the East Village location on East 13th street (I recommend that if you go here to also time it with a visit to Momofuku ssäm bar as they are across the street from each other). I wasn’t as taken with the things that we tried as I’d hoped to be. I found that the crack pie, which is what they are famous for, was a bit of a disappointment. To me, it just tasted a lot like pecan pie, without the pecans. I still absolutely adore their birthday cake truffles though – I ended up with two bags of those to take home.

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Cereal Milk Soft Serve

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We made the mistake of spending most of our first day getting to, and visiting, Smorgasburg in Williamsburg. Smorgasburg is an outdoor market, right on the water in Brooklyn (great views of Manhattan). With over 75-100 food vendors on offer, it sounds like heaven. Unfortunately, I found it more like my personal hell. There were soooo many people at the market that we couldn’t even see what most of the vendors were selling. The line-ups for the vendors were ridiculously long and, once you’ve managed to get some food, it was difficult to get a spot to eat it. Personally, I won’t be going back even though I love the concept.

Although we didn’t try too many new food places, we did try a lot of bars. My favourite bar of our trip was Employees Only. Hidden down in the West Village, the cocktails and the prohibition bar atmosphere were awesome. We actually popped in for “one drink” but end up staying for three. I could have gotten into a lot of trouble at this bar as every cocktail was tempting to me.

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P1080667Cocktails from Employees Only

Not too far from Employees Only is The Top of the Standard. Here is a tip: save your money and avoid the long line-ups at The Empire State Building or The Top of the Rock and, instead, soak in the impressive city views from the Top of the Standard for the cost of a cocktail. Personally, I found it a bit pretentious but worth suffering through for the views.

We started to do a bar crawl through the East Village but couldn’t get to even half of our wish-list as the East Village has so many excellent drinking spots. The ones we did visit were Amor y Amargo and Mayahuel. Amor y Amargo is probably the smallest bar I’ve ever been in, which creates a very intimate atmosphere. They are all about the bitters here and the cocktails are interesting as a result. Mayahuel has a strong focus on tequila and mezcals and, again, has some very interesting (and dangerously tasty cocktails) on offer.

Due to lack of time, we missed out on going to Crosby Street Bar (in Soho), PDT, Booker & Dax, Death and Company (over an hour wait), Beauty & Essex, and Schiller’s Liquor Bar. I plan on spending two nights the next time I’m in NY, just exploring the bar scene in the East Village.

My perfect New York trip would include some of the high-end places from our last trip (Eleven Madison Park is a must-visit) and I would combine those with some of the bars that we visited. I still have a very long list of places that I’d like to visit when I next return (Buddakan is one of them) so this isn’t it for me and New York.

Photo Visit – L’Abattoir – May 2014

1 May

217 Carrall Street
Vancouver, BC
V6B 2J2

T: 604 568 1701
www.labattoir.ca

Brief Description: A chic, unpretentious Gastown restaurant that dishes up French-meets-West Coast cuisine.

I have just gotten back from another wonderful dinner at L’Abattoir and I felt I had to share what a remarkable experience it was…again. Is it just me, or is this place underrated? Although there is a slight buzz about it, I expect to hear a lot more about a restaurant that is producing such impressive food and cocktails. For all the details on L’Abattoir you can read my post from a few years ago. This post is more to show you the beauty of the food (look at that presentation!) and to mention (again) how truly great it was.

Gastown Swizzle – $11

Complimentary bread basket

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Ceps (porcini) with pork belly and jus gras – $30

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Roast filet of Pacific Halibut with pasta of Dungeness crab and pork, asparagus – $33

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Steak Diane with charred onions, potato fondant, peppercorn – $33

Brown butter clafoutis with poached rhubarb and rhubarb sorbet – $9

The appetizer special was unbelievably good, with succulent, firm ceps (porcini mushrooms) and tender pork belly finished with a luscious foie gras jus. Both mains were plated beautifully with flavours that were perfectly balanced. The dessert was also a treat, although by this stage, we were too full to fully appreciate (but my god, is it beautiful!).

I have to ask myself why I don’t go there more often and the only valid reason I could think of is the cost. The prices are on the high-side (although, the value is there) so it is more of a once-in-awhile kinda place, or a special occasion place for me and my budget.

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