Wednesday, September 8, 2010

PDX: Le Pigeon

The "big" dinner night we had scheduled for our Portland trip was at Le Pigeon. Brian had seen the restaurant, but had never gone. I had heard amazing things about the place from fellow food nerds. Reservations were made about a month in advance and the anticipation grew steadily.

Le Pigeon is a charming, smallish space in East Burnside with exposed brick and warm lighting. The open, cramped kitchen allowed diners to observe the frenetic pace of the cooking. Having reservations gave you front row seats at the bar to observe the cooking action. The few tables surroundign the bar are for walk-ins. We were tempted by most things on the menu, but settled on three apps and an entree to share lest we ruin the experience by over-eating.
We didn't order the scallop dish but check out the size of that specimen!
The meal was accompanied by a lovely Oregonian Pinot Noir to wash it all down.
Our first app - foie gras torchon with cherry jam and buttermilk pancakes. This dish was so rich, so creamy and unctuous. The sweet tartness of the cherry jam and the light fluffiness of the pancakes provided good contrast. This dish made us want to order a second one, but we didn't dare.
Our second app - sweatbreads with blue cheese, walnuts, and beets. The sweetbreads were fried perfectly - crispy on the outside and still soft on the inside. Beets, walnut, and blue cheese were a wonderful new taste combination for us.
Third app - pork belly with long beans, cashews, and portabellos. This dish had a very Asian flavour profile. To me, it tasted like an upscale version of red cooked pork belly. It was decadent and divine.
Out entree - flatiron steak with tomato, remoulade, and onion rings. Many of the other diners seated at the bar with us had ordered this dish. It looked so good, we had to place an order. But by the time we got to this course, we were pretty full already. Nevertheless, the dish still held up after three courses of intense flavours and richness. The onion rings were fried to a light, crisp perfection and provided nice juxtaposition to the softness of the rare meat. This is what bistro steaks all aspire to be.
Since neither of us have a sweet tooth and we were stuffed to the gills by this point, we concluded our meal with the entree. Le Pigeon definitely is on the top of my best food experience for 2010. The price points were very low given the quality and technical execution of the food. Le Pigeon, we will come again for sure...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pepperific Training from Ms. Dunlop

I have been trying my hand at a few recipes from Fuchsia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty" as Brian is a spice-fiend and I'm learning how to cook with a little more fire than my usual mild palate. We're working our way up to the Sichuan "water-boiled" dishes (meaning covered with chilies).

The chili bean paste whole fish (辣豆辦魚)I made the other night was a huge success. I had picked fresh trout as that was the only non-previously frozen fresh water fish they had at the fish counter that day. I figured that since Sichuan is a land-locked, inland province, working with freshwater fish for its seafood recipes was a better bet. I followed her recipe except I added dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorn which I toasted first.
Fish Braised in Chili Bean Sauce
1 carp, trout, or sea bass weighing about 1 ½ pounds, cleaned, with head and tail still attached
peanut oil
For the Marinade:
¾ teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
For the Sauce:
4 tablespoons Sichuanese chili bean paste
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 1/3 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon white sugar
1-2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 ¼ teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 teaspoon cold water
½ teaspoon Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
3 scallions, green parts only, finely sliced
1. Use a cleaver or sharp knife to make 4 or 5 shallow diagonal cuts into each side of the fish, and to pierce its head (this releases more flavorsome juices). Rub the fish inside and out with the salt and Shaoxing rice wine and leave to marinate while you assemble the other ingredients.
2. Season the wok, then heat 1/3 cup of oil over a high flame until smoking. Dry the fish with paper towels and fry it briefly on each side just long enough to crisp up the skin. (The fish can be briefly deep-fried instead if you have the oil handy.) Remove and set aside. Rinse and dry the wok.
3. Return the wok to a medium flame with 4 tablespoons of fresh oil. When it is hot, add the chili bean paste and stir-fry for 20 to 30 seconds until the oil is red and smells delicious. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for another 20 seconds or so until you can smell their fragrance. Then pour in all the stock, turn up the heat, and bring the liquid to a boil. Season to taste with the sugar and soy sauce.
4. Gently place the fish into the wok and spoon some sauce over it. Turn the heat down, cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the fish is cooked and has absorbed some of the flavors of the sauce. Turn the fish once during the cooking time, spooning some more sauce over it.
5. When the fish is done, gently transfer it to a serving dish. Add the cornstarch mixture to the sauce and stir briefly until it thickens. Add the vinegar and scallions, stir a couple of times, and pour the sauce over the waiting fish.

The fish came out perfectly tender and full of flavour. For some reason, the meat had a pinkish hue that made it look almost like salmon. Brian loved it even though he normally doesn't like trout (a fact I didn't know prior to selecting trout).

Since we both like leftovers for lunch, I also made red cooked pork belly (紅燒肉). I prepped the cubes of pork belly and the aromatics. This dish is very popular throughout Chinese and Taiwanese cooking. There are many versions, but the recipe I followed is the one from Saveur linked here.
The resulting pork was rich and lusciously, melt-in-your-mouth. It's hard to have more than a couple of pieces in a meal (yes, it's that rich).
I complemented the intense flavours of the fish and meat dish with a light and simple stir-fry of A-choy with some smashed garlic. Steamed rice rounded out the meal.

Noodles and Fish

I guess I never really noticed this until I was compiling the pics for this post - Brian and I have a lot of pasta and fish for week night dinners. We're both pasta fiends and I like making fish for health and ease. So we have either one or both quite often. We save the big red meat or pork mainly for weekends or when we go out I guess.

Spaghetti with turkey meatballs. Childhood fav for both of us.
Pan fried fish fillets
Spaghetti with kale
Ham and cheese bread pudding with leftover breakfast toast bread that we needed to use up
Baked salmon with mashed sweet potato and cumin fava bean and pesto orzo (orzo from leftover).
Pasta with Italian sausage and brocooli rabe
Seared ahi tuna over arugula

Empire State of Hunger

It's been many years since I moved back from New York but I find myself often longing for the city's culinary pleasures. All that food longing gives me more incentive to go visit often. One of the things I miss the most about New York is its Korean Town (or K-Town). The Korean food in SF proper is pretty dismal. Plus, I love the late hours, the drinks, the private karaoke rooms K-Town offers. But most of all, I love Korean fried chicken.
Mad for Chicken is my go-to spot. It's upstairs and one could easily walk by without notice. The inside is done like a trendy Manhattan lounge. A long bar serving soju drinks help pass the time while one waits for their table.
Our beautiful yogurt soju by the pitcher
The famed fried chicken wings. We went for half spicy and half garlic soy but couldn't really tell the difference. The whole plate was spicy, but damn good and crispy.
Another food that does not have good representation in SF is ramen. Any visit to New York requires that we go to the Holy Temple of Ramen - Ippudo.
The pork buns were savory and buttery soft.
The famous "Modern" ramen. Tonkotsu broth with bits of blackened sesame oil. Perfect noodles, rich broth, and lovely cooked egg. The chasu is nice too. This is the bowl I always get.
My cousin got the wonton ramen with chicken broth which looked nice too but much lighter fare.
I don't know the West Coast does not have snappy casing hot dogs. But I haven't found any. Yes, it's nice that we have grass fed beef dogs, but for me, the beauty of a dog is in the snap. Gray's Papaya still has it. Two dogs and a papaya drink for a bit of pocket change. Nothing is more satisfying.
So so far we talked about all my tried and true favourites. I also try to explore new restaurants when I'm in New York. For the last year, the big buzz in food circles has been Marea. We were lucky enough to get a Sat night prime time reservation and I was super excited to experience the sensation myself. Everyone from Bourdain to Keller to Chowhounders have lauded praise on Marea and in particular on its octopus and bone marrow fusilli. That was the entree I had my sights set on. (Apologies in advance for some fuzziness in some of the pictures).
Salmon crudo amuse bouche
PIEDINI pressed pork trotters, scungilli, potato puree, salsa verde
ZUPPA spring garlic and potato leek soup, charred razor clams, ramps
FERRATINI manila clams, calamari, hot chilies
TORTELLI lobster ravioli, bagna cauda, trout roe
AGNOLOTTI veal ravioli, sweetbreads, funghi
FUSILLI red wine braised octopus, bone marrow
So after months of reading about the fusilli I finally had it in front of me. First bite - wow, that's very strong saucing. Second bite - this is really too much of everything flavour-wise. Third bite - I can't eat any more of this. I had my dining companions taste my dish. Without prompting, they all thought the same. No one liked it. The dish tasted like Bobby Flay cooked it during a severe head cold - meaning the flavours were so bold, so intense, so rich (and not in good ways), the dish was sickening for anyone who can actually taste food. Boy, how's that for the biggest food let-down of the year? Everyone else's entrees were pretty good. But for $28 a plate of pasta, I can think of many other dishes on Manhattan island I'd rather spend those dollars on.
In New York, sometimes the old school is the best. Give me another Gray's Papaya please!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lamb For Our Little Lamb-Lamb's Birthday

Our little Chachi turned three last month. As he was now of legal drinking age in dog years, we decided to give him his first taste of beer and his favourite meat - lamb. Chachi's version of lamb that night was quickly blanched in boiling water. Ours was going to be cumin lamb, Xinjiang style (新疆孜然羊肉). I adapted Fuschia Dunlop's cumin beef recipe for this dish. The prep is a lot of onions, scallions, Chinese red pepper, Sichuan pepper corn (about three heaping tablespoons full), chopped garlic. I seasoned the lamb slices (thin slices used for shabu shabu) with a bit of salt and a lot of cumin. It marinated with a dash of rice wine for about 15 minutes. I heated a dry wok on high until the wok was as hot as it was going to get. The April issue of Saveur talked about how American stoves don't get hot enough to properly stir fry. This is certainly true of my stove. Brian's is a bit better, although still lacking in true fire power, and the stove we tend to use for making Chinese. The Saveur article suggests turning the stove on high and getting the wok hot. You then add whatever you're cooking a bit at a time as to not lower the wok temperature too much. After you add the meat, the article advises to not move the meat for a good few minutes. I tossed in the lamb pieces and let it cook for a couple of minutes, gave a quick toss, and then removed it to a bowl. At this point, the lamb was very rare still.
I then sauteed the aromatics until slightly golden and fragrant. Then I added the lamb back in for a quick toss with all the ingredients.
The resulting dish was quite fiery and numbing. The meat was a perfect medium rare and the dish even had a bit of that elusive woky hay (breath of the wok) that I seem to have been unable to achieve in the past.
We paired the lamb with curry couscous and some cold cumber marinated with chili oil. Interesting sort of "Silk Road" meal.

A Very Julia Christmas A Few Christmases Ago

I am ashamed to say that this meal was from 2008 and I'm just posting it now. What can I say except.... I was severely slacking. But since this meal was one of the more monumental food nerd moments in David and my cooking career together, I had to make up for the lack of documentation until now. We were deep in the midst of our Julia Child phase when the holidays came upon us. David wanted to try our hand at consomme, cassoulet, and souffle. Noting that the three dishes all rhymed, we decided to do a dinner made up of rhyming dishes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Then after some research, we learned that the traditional French meal was a seven course affair of dishes in specific type order. Thus, the Seven Courses of Rhyming Julia Child Christmas was born. We had never cooked such a multi-course meal before so we planned out everything - when to put a course in the oven, what service ware is required for each course, etc. Take a look at our hyper planning.
David even printed out menus for our meal. Our first course was - L’Aperitif
Tanqueray but not pictured. AT made us beautiful Tanqueray red and green cocktails.
Clarified rich beef broth
Le Relevé
French baked beans, duck confit, sausage
Le Repos
Sorbet de Citron Vert
Lime ice
Le Roti
Côtes du Boeuf en Jus Lié
Rib roast, natural juices

Le Salade
Asperges au Citron Frais
Blanched asparagus, lemon sauce
Le Fromage
Soufflé au Fromage
Baked gruyere cheese
Le Dessert
Buscuits de Thé
Tea biscuits
Yeah, we're ridiculous... but it was a lovely meal that Julia Child would be proud of.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Simple Summer Solstice Dinner

I love Trader Joe's for procuring quality, well-priced groceries to make simple weeknight dinners. This one took me 15 minutes total cooking time. Bite that Rachel Ray! This is the salmon in chimichurri that TJ's has in their frozen section. Boxed couscous with a bit of cherry tomato and peas added in. Healthy, nutritious dinner is served!