Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oh, Alinea

I've been putting off a post about my trip to Chicago and it's not exactly 'cuz I'm lazy - but more because my trip to Chicago was such a Foodie Tour, that I don't even know how to begin sharing it! I'd want to share EVERYTHING and then this post would need a table of contents, a prologue, chapters and an appendix! However, certain news came out this week which has helped me to narrow down which part of my Chicago trip I should share first. Anyone hear about this? Or care? Cuz, hell, I do!!

"Cocktails": Pisco sour, Juliet and Romeo rosewater and cucumber
and an 'Improved Manhattan'

Steelhead roe on top of frozen coconut mousse with pineapple powders.
This was just about our FAVORITE dish of the night!

I heard rumblings about Alinea when they first opened back in 2005. And I've basically been wanting to go ever since! Molecular gastronomy was brand-spanking new (and if you live in San Francisco, you'd think it's still up and coming!) A few years ago, my BFF and I decided we'd go to Chicago together sorta specifically to dine at Alinea, but also 'cuz neither of us World Travelers could believe we'd never been. Well life sorta got in the way so our grand plans were pushed out. And we FINALLY made our way to the Windy City in September. The FIRST thing we did was make that Alinea reservation... then plane, hotel...

Yuba (tofu skin) wrapped in gulf prawn with miso mayonnaise.
Sugarcane with compressed shrimp broth, Thai chilis.

Heirloom tomato salad with frozen powders:
Mozzarella, pinenuts, bell pepper, Parmesan...

Oh and in case anyone is wondering? [Chef] Grant Achatz rhymes with Ant Jackets.

I wish I'd taken a photo of the front door and hallway into the restaurant. But I was trying to not be a huge touristy dork. *TRYING* is the key word here (since I soon became aforementioned huge touristy dork upon being seated at my table).

We are big dorks - and *SO SO SO* excited to be here!!

Thai flavors distillation - palate cleanser.
Fish sauce, lemongrass and Thai chili

We kinda had no idea how to get into the restaurant once the cab dropped us off. There was no sign and no address. If I recall correctly, all that stood out was a small valet sandwich board - but I don't remember seeing a human out there. Fortunately Debbie and I are reasonably well educated and figured we'd try the unmarked door. It led to a dimly lit, long, entry hallway. But I had a feeling we were on the right path due to the very polished and contemporary feel that little hallway exhibited. We walked to the end and began to ponder what to do next - but before we could panic, a door to our left electronically whizzed open to produce a bustling foyer and smiling faces welcoming us to Alinea!

Wow, it's almost like Disneyland! OK, kidding... kidding. Though, if you consider just how happy this meal made two grown-up girls, perhaps it IS like Disneyland...

Spring roll of Pork belly confit

Add the other ingredients to the spring roll: salt, cucumber balls, garlic chips,
mango with curry, lime, daikon matchsticks, red onions, "sriracha".
And basil seed vinaigrette.

Wrap it all together and shove it in your mouth...
well, that's what we did at least

We had a very early 5:45 reservation. But were extremely surprised to see that we were in no way the first diners that evening. In fact the other Super Foodies who were eating in our room were done as we got to about our halfway point! What time did they start? 4pm??

Note this awesome serving dish.
It started like this - serving: King Crab mousse with plum jelly,
candied lemon, ginger pâte de fruit. Over buttermilk lilac sorbet.

Remove the top of the dish and we get another course:
More King Crab, flavors of plum, daikon, avocado, mustard seeds.

The bottom level of the dish:
Fennel glissade (?). More King Crab and plum flavors.
Star anise "explosion" and cippolini onion.

A course of Midwest memories:
Burning oak leaves. Tempura Pheasant breast with grapes and nuts.

We were whisked upstairs to our waiting table immediately upon arrival. I always wonder what the planning must look like to make a restaurant run like this. How is the table ALWAYS ready when a meal can sometimes take 4 hours and when they'd NEVER rush a party to finish? And additionally - there were very few empty tables! Gosh I'm a nerd - why do I think about these things?

Lamb: Poached lamb loin. Calf's belly. Fried green onions.
Dehydrated shoulder with blackberries.

Filet of Australian Wagyu Beef. Jasmine rice filled pepper. Fried banana.

Truffle explosion. Ravioli of truffle broth, topped with Romaine and Parmesan.

The photos throughout this post should show you how well we ate and just how fantabulously creative all the food was. WE WERE IN AWE.

Cocktails we could chew
Thai flavors we could drink
Powders that tasted like balsamic vinegar
Burning leaves used as a skewer
A pillow of vapor to scent our table
Dessert one sucked from a tube
We assembled one course with our hands...
...and ate another right off the table top

It WAS like Disneyland! Could we have stayed all day long? Or maybe gotten a multi-day pass??

Dehydrated bacon wrapped in butterscotch apple leather

Hybiscus vanilla creme fraiche, bubble gum with tapioca.
Raspberry puree with yogurt powder. And that's how you eat it!

Earl gray shortbread, lemon curd bubbles, pinenuts, noodles of white chocolate.
Atop a pillow of "Early Grey vapor"!

Deb and I have had the extreme luck, privilege and pleasure of dining at quite a long list of highly starred restaurants - Mr. Keller's included - and we both decided that Alinea. yes, Alinea. was the best meal either of us had ever eaten.


Our final dessert started out like this...

Then the chef in charge that night (unfortunately, not Achatz) came
and "decorated" our table with our dessert. AMAZING!

Apricots poached in basil syrup, apricot puree, peanut nougat, chocolate peanut
powder, organic milk sweetened with honey, milk chocolate, frozen milk
chocolate mousse, freeze dried apricots, basil,
warm honey custard with brûléed brown sugar

We weren't sure where to start, we were just so mesmerized!

But somehow... we managed.

If that doesn't deserve a few Michelin stars, I don't know what does...

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Passion

I can't even begin to explain where I've been the last month. So much is going on but so much of it is fantastic - that I'm almost not too apologetic. There are things going on at work and things going on personally and they're just keeping me busier than I've been in an extremely long time. Then in the midst of all of this craziness - my hard drive decided to die and I basically had to rebuild my entire computer. It to say the least. But let's stop with the excuses and just get to what you REALLY want to read about:

Tart and sweet and simply, perfect

I was just a little bit obsessed with passionfruit this past summer. I think this post still holds the highest number of hits on my entire blog. But even outside my blog I'd find myself ordering passionfruit cocktails and tarts and pâte de fruit... and loving them! Then I did this and got to sample Jen's passionfruit ice cream à la David Lebovitz when we had dinner at her house. Uh oh - you mean this recipe is in my "The Perfect Scoop" book at home? We're about to be in trouble.

Passionfruit might just be my new obsession

It didn't take long for me to start thinking about that ice cream once I got home. And I even had tubs of passionfruit puree in my freezer just *waiting*. But what I didn't have, yet really wanted was passionfruit SEEDS to add that tiny crunch to the ice cream. And those basically only come from real passionfruits (duh)! I looked but didn't very obviously find any fresh passionfruits at local grocery stores - even the Asian ones. It's possible I needed to go INTO San Francisco for this, but I never made the time.

~I can find the Perfect Puree at Draegers in the Bay Area
~Combining the puree and cream

Then I was reading my cousin Courtney's blog. She and her husband have been living in Melbourne, Australia for the better part of the last year. Well, in one of her entries she talked about a pavlova she made. And what did I spy on top of her pavlova? Passionfruit puree WITH SEEDS! (Please re-read the title of this blog post in case you're wondering why I'm getting so excited.)

Tempering the egg yolks with the hot milk mixture - work fast!

Cook until you can draw a "line" on your spatula

At this point I knew I'd be seeing Courtney for our other cousin's wedding just a few weeks later and sweetly asked her if she could buy and bring me a can or two of this wondrous passionfruit puree! Of course she did - and I LOVE HER FOR IT!! *Thanks Snort!!*

If we had a Woolworths selling passionfruit pulp here in The States,
you can bet I'd be there buying it

How beautiful is that passionfruit pulp?
Anyone going to Australia and wanna pick some up for me?...

So I was ready! I finally had all my ingredients and I could make this fantastical passionfruit ice cream. Gosh - it takes a village doesn't it? Jen, Courtney and I guess even Mr. Lebovitz!

~The original recipe made *so* little I doubled it for you!
~Of course after churning, the volume is greater due to all the air mixed in

I made it more per Jen than Lebovitz, tho the differences were small. She omitted the orange oil/zest and I decided I wanted to as well. I'd also personally suggest a TAD more sugar, like probably a full half cup instead of 7 T. I do tend to like things a bit more sweet than tart though.

Oh shucks I have to clean the rest of this out...

This ice cream is phenomenal. And in all seriousness - it NEEDS the seeds. I don't know what I'll do when my small stash of Australian passionfruit puree is gone. But for now I'm portioning it out to each batch of ice cream in a manner where the LEAST amount possible goes in to still have a few bites of seeds in a serving. Did I hear someone say anal retentive?!?

So make this ice cream. Seriously. No, seriously. It's incredible.


I doubled the original recipe:

1 cup fresh or frozen passion fruit pulp or concentrate (12-16 passion fruits – strain the pulp to separate from the seeds)
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup sugar
1/4 t salt
5 large egg yolks
couple spoonfuls of passion fruit seeds (optional – but I’d highly recommend it)

Combine the passion fruit pulp and 1 cup of cream in a large bowl. Warm the milk, sugar, salt and 1 cup of cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Be sure the sugar dissolves.

Temper the egg yolks with the warmed liquid; whisking constantly to keep the yolks from cooking. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and heat over medium. Stir constantly with a heatproof spatula making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan. When the mixture coats the back of a spoon or spatula, strain the custard through a sieve into the passion fruit and cream mixture.

Stir until blended. You could cool it over an ice bath but not necessary. Chill the custard in the refrigerator (I try to chill it at least overnight) and then churn in your ice cream machine. Stir a few spoonfuls of passion fruit seeds (or seeds and pulp) into the ice cream just before it is done. Makes about 1 1/2 quarts (6 cups).

Monday, September 6, 2010

A remodel

Everyone loves seeing a fantastic remodel, right? Especially when it includes a kitchen! Well, I suppose I'm banking on this theory in writing this post... I personally LOVE seeing before/after kitchen remodel pictures so I thought you all might enjoy them as well!

This might get me to visit Tahoe more often...

Before: was cozy, but not too polished
(note the location of the entry tile and bathroom door remains the same;
the Tiffany glass lamp was made for my parents by a friend & they still love it)

I'm not sure who's been reading my blog this long, maybe 4 of you? (Mom, Dad, Tracey, Amy?) Well, you 4 might recall this post about our home in Tahoe. I love our Tahoe house and *wish* I went up more often. I think I need some friends who REALLY egg me to go or I just won't battle the weekend traffic, no matter how much I love it up there.

Before: Mom demonstrates where she'd spend most of her time

Before: LOVE that faux-wood Formica!

After: There is now room for 2 to work at that [granite] counter!

My parents, however, spend A LOT of time at the Tahoe house in their retirement, and for this reason, my mom decided it was about time to junk the 31 year-old kitchen. You may recall from many of my posts that she really is the cook who taught me to cook. So for that reason, I can't believe she tolerated that dinky kitchen for all those weekends over the past 27 years we've owned the cabin. And not just dinky but: electric stove, original fridge and dishwasher, [super ugly] Formica counter-tops, atrocious linoleum, and even an old, squat faucet!

Before: Dad demos the "super cutting-edge in its day, I'm sure"
ice compartment in the old fridge

Before: Faux-wood trim on a fridge is ALWAYS a great idea

After: The wall next to the fridge was moved forward just a few inches

Yes, yes, it all worked and it's for this reason that it took 27 years to remodel. But we are a family that believes in just a bit more than "if it's not broke don't fix it". We value and greatly enjoy when things not only work but look nice and feel good while they're working. And of course, they also enlarged the kitchen a bit by removing a wall and extending a counter. Suddenly you can comfortably fit 3 people in the kitchen when it was previously PACKED with just 2!

Before: When we bought the house, that microwave
was a small overhead oven

After: My mom is 4'11"... we'll someday need to
resell to another tiny Asian woman

Before: The... idda know, actually? Bar? Nook? Desk? Sideboard?

After: Much better. Let's call it a desk.

They essentially remodeled the entire downstairs of the cabin which includes a bathroom, entry and living-room. The best part is of course that kitchen - especially when I sit and think about the relevance to my blog. But the bathroom is worth showing a bit as well. I wish I had a better before picture, but I just don't. It's only superficial changes anyway.

Before: Baby Lucca and her audience - but behind her, the real
reason for the photo: Old flooring, cabinetry, doors...

Before: Okay really I just wanted to put this picture in
'cuz she was SO DANG CUTE at 10 weeks old!!!

After: Sorry I don't have a "before" to compare with the picture on the right

I suppose in a way, Lucca is a before & after as well, so here she is 2 years after those pix...

The remodel was finished in June but I was the last in my family to see it completed, even behind my brother. I finally got up to Tahoe last weekend on a fun little trip with my parents, auntie and uncle. And yes - we three women *did* test the capacity of that kitchen. 3 of us cooking at once. Well, the kitchen passed. With flying colors.