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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mizutaki of a sorts

After enough time, of eating ridiculous food, it was time to make something a little more homey. And since I was going by the Japanese food store, I stopped in to grab a few items. Mizutaki was on my mind, this is a fairly simple dish, that ends up being quite a bit more than one might think, for a boiled dinner. I secured some veggies, and some shaved pork loin. I figured that along with my staples of shiromiso, shoyu, rice vinegar and rice, and I would be in business.

The vegetables were an odd blend, basically what looked good at the market. Some Nappa cabbage, some green onions, some sweet peppers, and some Maitake mushrooms (Hen of the Woods). These were simply broken down into small chunks that would be easily handled with hashi.

The veggie players

The pork was rinsed, which aids in separating the very thin slices. And yes, I could have sliced them myself, but, this was easier. The meat would be added last, and one of the beauties of shopping at the Japanese food store, is that they have small chunks of beef fat, wrapped up for sale, that I was able to use, in a manner similar to Sukiyaki, to grease the pan.

Shaved pork loin, sure, I could have done this by hand

The pan duly greased, the scallions were quikly fried, as well, the stems of the nappa cabbage. When that was all about ready, I added the rest of the veggies for just a quick few minutes, then drizzled about 1/2 teaspoon of shoyu and a sprinkle of sugar, over the veggies, then poured water, just plain water over the entire pan until everything was covered.

Seconds before the water

Once the water is coming to a simmer, the veggies will wilt, and the pork will cook very quickly. Don't want to simmer for more than a few minutes. This would be complimented with a dipping sauce, and I am not at all sure this is traditional, although it was for my family, consisting of mayonnaise, shiro miso, rice vinegar, shoyu and I add some rayu (I use a Togarashi pepper blend spice infused sesame oil). This is about equal parts of the mayo and miso, with just a dash of the other ingredients to smooth things out. I decided to serve this with a chawan of Hijiki-flavored rice.


Oh, and those noodles, those are from a little experiment which worked out great. I tried making my own udon, which worked out fantastically. More on that later.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Cooking for a Cause

I don't much cook at a commercial scale anymore, and every once in a while, I get to revisit the long lost skill set and experience of working over a large, hot, stove for a few hours, just for kicks. Today, was one of those days. The church I grew up in, does a few fund raisers every year, and today and tomorrow, they are doing what they call Choir Blast, where the youth and adult choirs sing and entertain folks. And then there are the food sales, the gospel is free, but, you gotta pay for the SPAM musubi.

In my case, I was asked to help with some kitchen work, as many of the regulars are either in the choir, or couldn't make it. Naturally, I said no. Then ended up going and helping Reverend Naomi despite that, as apparently she and I have a totally different understanding of my saying no to her. And so, I was tasked with cooking the yakisoba, which would be served in Bento-style boxes. This means warm, not hot, and that is a hard sell with fried noodles. Plus, a brand new pan, one equipment I have not used, and noodles that are the hardest to use for this purpose (despite what the label says). So, an 8-burner Wolf Commercial range, nice, with an 8" high, and 12" wide ledge built for the fact that everyone else that uses this stove is under 5'-2" tall. So far, by back is okay, but, reaching over that ledge, hmmmm...if I am going to do this more, we need to see about moving that thing.

Yes, I wore a hachimaki

It was hot, as are all commercial stoves when going full blow, and I prefer to cook full blow when I can. So, a hachimaki was fashioned, as I forgot a cap, my toque would be a little over-the-top, and let's face it, I rock a headband. The other beauty of this, is that as the celebrity cook, all of the prep was done, all of the mis was done, all I had to do was cook. Easy job, if a little toasty.

Brand Spanking New

Ever cook in a brand new, uber-shiny pan? Truly, I hate it, I much prefer my oddly greasy, well seasoned and worn out looking pans, as I know they cook with little stick. This thing was so new, and yet, here we are, several pounds of onions to saute, then many more pounds of cabbage, and then carrots. Prepare the chicken bits, along with a tare for flavor. It all goes along so swimmingly.


There were actually four service tubs of vegetables and three huge colanders of noodles, all needing to be combined in my brand spanking new pan, sticking like duct tape every step of the way. One of the problems with this all, is that since these were to be served Bento-style, the noodles had to be lower in grease than normal, and a new pan wants more grease. Still, there was the job to do. Frying up the overall dish in 8 batches, things moved along nicely, with the final result being not too bad.

Done and ready for packing

My schedule goal was to have it all done by 3:00 p.m. for packing and sale. I hit that with about 5 minutes to spare, and things were looking good for all. And I did manage to do this, managing a few different pots, with just two grabs of a hot oven door, three scalding splashes of water onto my forearm, two dips of my hand into the boiling water and maybe three incidents of grabbing a very hot handle. Not so bad really. I have some chops still, I think. Incidentally, for those wondering, it was all kept very hot, well above Safe-serv standards. (I found myself thinking "I could totally do a ramen pop-up out of this kitchen")

And why would I do this anyways, it's not like I am all that religious, sort of religious, well, religious at all, okay, I am amazed the windows don't blow out of the chapel when I enter the church. But, I grew up in this building, a lot of who I am came from the people who are a part of this church, and who loved this old institution. They are the only people who are not family, who can call me Bobby and I will answer. And if they call, I will answer, as in the end, it isn't about the building, the Book or even about the food, it is about the people and what they mean to me.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chicken Curry on the Grill

Wanted to do a cook that took a few of my current interests and combined them into one cook. In this case, a peek at a traditional Japanese food, a more popular street food and a little grilling along the way. The end result, some good chicken curry, one of the most popular street and diner foods in Japan, and something I grew up with.

The first thing, was to get a little meat preparation done, so I could create a flavorful base for my curry sauce. Sure, the simplest thing would have been to toss a couple of S&B curry blocks into some water, but, well, blaaaa!

Skinned some chicken thighs, anyone who does competition chicken BBQ would recognize this unappetizing stuff. Oddly trimmed and naked chicken thighs and scraped skin. Yum!

Skinned, trimmed and defatted

Defatted and trimmed

There were bones and wings, these were to be grilled until browned. Now, I know that many folks think, why would you use wings for curry stock, because, wings are densely packed with connective tissue, the dark meat lends flavor, and with small mass and large surface area, it is the fastest and most useful cut for making stock. The gelatin release alone, makes these ideal for uses where a highly rendered stock is desired (such as in soup dumplings).

Must. Not. Eat.

Roasty bones

I would have liked a little more color, but, I ran out of charcoal, and time, so this had to do. The bones had plenty of char and smoke, as did the wings, which, to be honest, were hard not to eat. These were fully seasoned, having gotten a rub of Simply Marvelous Sweet and Spicy before hitting the fire. Then into the stock pot.

Chicken Soup
 Just three cups of water, the three wings and three roasted thigh bones, then a sheet of konbu, some cilantro, onions, carrots, shoyu and one clove of garlic. I added a pinch of salt to the stock, this is really a necessity. After a 20 minute steep, the konbu was removed and a vigorous boil was started. I reduced it to a rolling simmer, adding water to maintain 3 cups total liquid. After 15 minutes, I removed one cup, to fortify the water for the barley. Pearl barley was to be the starch, and it requires a 45 minute boil for the 2/3 cup of dried barley I had. With two cups water and one cup stock, the barley was boiled to al dente, and chilled for later. The stock took two hours, then was chilled and defatted.

Grilled Shishito Peppers

The peppers were grilled, to add a bitter component to the final dish. Japanese style curry is a sweet/piquant affair, and the takuan that traditionally accompanies the dish is also sweet. These peppers have a mild, actually non-existent heat, but, a great bitter/herbal note.

English Peas

I found some local English peas, which were a surprise in the store, these are so much better than frozen or canned. And Japanese curry really needs them. I was happy to get these, as they add a much needed texture that canned or frozen just lacks. I added these about 10 minutes before serving, just to heat through, the stove wasn't even on.

Grilled over oak lump and apple wood

The chicken was brined in a simple and light brine consisting of 3 cups water, 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 tablespoon of maple sugar. This was allowed to brine for 4 hours. It was far less salty than most brined chickens, not even as salty as a store bought chicken. The flavor of the maple was there, my plan for a Vermont Curry knock-off was Golden (you would have to be a fan of S&B curry to get that).

The finished curry sauce, with peas, potatoes, carrots

I put the chicken from the wings back into the sauce, and heated through, adding some cornstarch to thicken. The peas were added last. Slicing of the chicken from the grill and final assembly...oh, I forgot to mention, I made a quick tempura batter from 1/2 cup ice water, 1/8 cup each of AP flour and cornstarch, and fried the skins, strips of skin actually. I ended up only using one skin, I mean, who needs all that fat, and tasty, tasty, fried skin. The bowl was filled with the barley, which I reheated with some finely diced onion and celery, as well as some left over chicken stock.

Garnished with tempura skin, takuan, grilled peppers

A note about barley, as you are probably wondering about that. Although the Japanese diet is nearly synonymous with rice, and for most these days, sushi rice, in fact, rice has been a pricey commodity, and was not always available to all of the people in Japan. The milled and polished rice was a luxury for many, and impossible luxury for quite a few. The use of barley, either rolled or milled, was common for the lower classes in Japan. Many dishes, such as barley and rice, or barley tea survive in modern Japanese diets, but, at one time, barley was the staple for the poor.

de Mille moment

In fact, barley adds a wonderful toothsome texture to this dish. I have always loved the addition of barley to soups and rice, and this 'throw back' was quite welcome. I try to add dimensions to every element of a dish, and barley work beautifully for this. It has a very low glycemic index in the body. It has been shown to aid in lowering blood pressure, lowering serum lipids and aiding in dietary control. Not at all a bad option.

Yeah, I know, that is fried chicken skin on top, probably negates the barley benefits completely.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Bacon Tomato Sandwich

I wait all year for these, as I really only like them when I have grown the tomato. Even the store bought Frou-frou tomatoes seem to lack something compared to the one's I can grow on my own. And since it has been over 3 years since I actually planted a tomato patch, this was a great treat. Shown here, are a Brandywine Sudduth's and a Berkeley Tie-dye tomato.

Brandywine Sudduth's (l.), Berkeley Tie-dye (r.)

A couple of side notes, I have grown the Brandywine several times in my backyard, and it's reputation as one of the best tasting tomatoes around has been sorely missed by me. It was never a good tomato, but, since I was planting my front yard, I gave it a shot, and it has been quite good. The Berkeley Tie-dye is a particular favorite of mine, as I was friends with Brad Gates (back when I was far more active as a gardener)(who am I kidding, I have never been an active gardener) at the time he developed the tomato and was fortunate enough to be one of the people who got an early taste of the new variety. It killed me this year, soooo slow. The first one to set a fruit, it took months to ripen. That is the real color, no enhancement, it is one striking tomato.

Anyways, here they are sliced and waiting for the bread to toast up and the bacon to crisp.

Brandywine Sudduth's (l.), Berkeley Tie-dye (r.) 

Beautiful beefsteak type locules, I should have saved seed, but, I ate them. These slices were joined by some Neuske's bacon, allegedly and arguably the best bacon you can get. It is really quite good. I found some 'brown and serve' Ciabatta buns at the grocery store, that really offer a great fresh baked texture. And I used some frou-frou mayonnaise from cold-expeller pressed oil. It does taste good, especially with several grinds of fresh black pepper and a little smoked Maldon salt.

The sandwiches

Realistically, the only reason I grow tomatoes anymore is for the sandwiches and the occasional pasta dish. I am most definitely happy with how this turned out.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Yakitori Day

It was moving day, my friends were moving in to the new family home. And what is the best thing to do on moving day? Why, invite a bunch of folks over for a BBQ. In this case, on the brand spanking new Konro that nobody has ever cooked on.

Ingredients were secured, or brought from home. The overall them, was to do some Japanese style grilling, and since this is sort of my area of expertise, largely by default that it is what I grew up with, I secured this stuff.


Above, of most importance, is one very fresh sardine, two very fresh Aji Mackerel, some Prime+ Black Angus ribeye, some Duroc Pork belly, Monterey squid, octopus tentacle and some cookies. Oddly, there are two items, that did not get eaten in that pile, a package of Kurobuta Pork sausages and a package of Japanese King Trumpet mushrooms. I can't believe I forgot about them.

Other Stuff

The flavorings, that are what will be used to create various tare and sauce combinations. My family often joke that there are basically three flavors in Japanese cooking, shoyu, sugar and fish. That isn't true, of course, but, there is a little truth in humor. In this case, I made a simple dashi of katsuoboshi, smoked dried bonito flakes, and konbu, in this case, sun dried 'seaweed'. Actually, konbu is kelp, a large, leafy algae, common to all marine environments. The shoyu I chose was Marukin Shiboritate Nama shoyu, I really love the strong fermented aroma and complex taste of this shoyu. This is an everyday shoyu, and something that is easily affordable. Also in that picture of some interest, is the shiro miso, some Yuzu hot sauce, some Togarashi oil and rice wine vinegar. There were limes, lemons and some yuzu juice as well. I looked all over for sudachi and yuzu, not to be found this time.

I should probably explain, to my understanding, what a Konro is. Below is a picture of a konro (cone-row). In this case, with roasted potatoes and eggplant on the grates.


Often called a hibachi, rarely called a shichirin, this is actually a konro. What we in the United States know as a Hibachi, is actually a form of konro. A true hibachi is a wooden box, with a ceramic or iron insert, that was used to heat the house with a small fire. These were very much like room heaters and were quite common in the more urban parts of Japanese cities. A Shichirin and a small, round, stove, primarily designed for use with pots, or small grates. It is a family cooking device. A konro, is going to be rectangular, and is designed as a cooking device, and is most commonly associated with charcoal grilling yakitori and small fishes. More on that later. Konro and Shichirin are most often used with Binchotan or Sumi-e charcoal, very high quality charcoals from Japan, Korea or China. It is worth noting that the sides of the konro, made from diatomaceous earth, never heated beyond warm. After 6 hours over 750F, the sides of the konro could be held with bare hands.

Binchotan and Lump

Above is a photo of three pieces of Binchotan and one piece of American oak lump charcoal. We wanted to compare these in the konro. It took a good 30 minutes on the gas grill to even get the Binchotan starting to ash. In actual use, the Binchotan, which costs 4x to 10x the cost of the lump, was vastly superior. It burned hotter than the lump, and where the lump was gone after 15 to 20 minutes, we rolled the binchotan at 750F to 1000F for 6 solid hours. Beyond that, the Binchotan burned with no visible smoke, seared and atomized dripping almost immediately and was far hotter than the lump ever got.

Tare in reduction mode

I made several tare, based upon the original dashi, along with a variety of ingredients. The tare is the glaze/marinade that is brushed on to the meats and vegetables during the grilling part of the cook. These consisted of varying amounts of dashi, sugar, shoyu, mirin, sake, vinegar etc... Then I reduce these, to create a thicker liquid, this gives me a little more stickiness when applying the tare. For this cook, I decided to blow palates out of the water, ignoring subtlety, I used a base recipe like this.

Base Tare:
2 cups dashi
1/4 cup shoyu
3 to 4 shiitake mushrooms, preferably dried and soaked
2 tablespoons citrus juice
2 tablespoons mirin (sweet rice wine)
2 tablespoons sake
1/4 cup brown sugar (amamizu, which is basically glucose syrup would have been great)

Combine and simmer down to 1/2 original volume.

Small, oily, fish

Under that stuff, which is NOT peanut butter, is a Aji mackerel, it was cleaned, scaled and had the hard swimmerlets removed from it's sides. I then covered it in a flavored miso and allowed it to sit in the refrigerator for 4 hours. This was to draw out some liquid, prepare the skin for grilling and add some flavor. Every surface had to be rubbed with the miso. I decided to use a flavored miso for kicks and giggles.

Flavored Miso:
1.5 cups of shiro miso
2 tablespoons or so, of dashi
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of Yuzu
Lime zest
dash of togarashi oil

Mix all ingredients thoroughly, apply cold to cold fish (important that all things are cold). Then wrap in plastic wrap and store in fridge for at least 2 hours, and up to 24 hours. And yes, the longer you go, the funkier it will get. For the actual grilling, I wash the miso off, and the fish goes down whole onto the grill. Grill it until the skin is charred in places and crispy. Serve whole. Once the meat is eaten, you can grill the spine, which some people really love. The other Aji and the sardine were simply scaled and rubbed with kosher salt, then allowed to sit for 40 minutes and grilled. Just that simple.


There were vegetables, shishito peppers, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, eggplants, Tokyo negi (a large green onion from Japan). We also grilled some SPAM and fresh pineapple, which we made into Spam Mususbi, the pineapple really added to the dish. I ended up making a cucumber tsukemono, and some other friends made udon soup to start the dinner off.


Here is the shot of the octopus tentacle, next time, I really need to get baby octopus. The ultra prime ribeye was rolled around slices of the Tokyo Negi. I understand this was delicious, I missed out on it. The squid was brilliant also, but, I have not one decent shot to show, there was a sake accident.


We finished off the dinner with torinegi, the classic yakitori dish of chicken with Tokyo negi slices. We held off this dish until the end, as one of our diners in deathly allergic to chicken. This dish was incredible though, as you can see, the charcoal is still ripping hot, and the chicken browned beautifully. I used a tare that combined the basic tare I listed above, with a couple of dashed of yuzu hot sauce, togarashi oil and shiro miso, to really get a lot of flavor rolling on the surface of the chicken. There is no doubt after eating this, that there is solid reason that chicken grilled over binchotan is a staple of Japanese street food and Izakaya culture, they marry perfectly. In terms of preparation, just some boned out chicken thigh chunks, interspersed with Tokyo negi chunks, grilled over the fire. Amazing chicken.

Oooo! Glowy!

I just like how the coals are glowing under the meat here. And yes, that is a large, fancy, stainless steel gas grill we are cooking over with a charcoal grill. I loved this cook, the long hours notwithstanding, there is something very engaging and direct about this style of cooking, if I could do this, gathered around a large table, just grilling and shoving stick of food at people, I would never tire of that.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Carmel and the Desperate Foodie

Family affairs called me to Carmel this past week, this is the home town of my Brother-in-law, and one of his most favorite places on earth. He had a big family meeting, and made it into a family trip, which lead my sister to ask if I could swing down, and hang out while the various in-law stuff happened. Sure, why not, although Carmel and Monterey have never been my favorite places. I don't care for crowds, not a big 'shopper' and I have found that this area, while a great source of incredible produce, is incredibly hard to find any of it cooked, or at least, cooked for a good price. And much of the seafood is, oddly, quite pedestrian. Trapped as I was, I managed to find the Carmel Farmer's Market (again, curiously small for being in the middle of one of the most amazing growing areas in the world). We managed to score some great onions, garlic, lettuce, tomatoes, Romano beans and locally made Italian sausage from a family that has been in the region for over a century. We also got some locally made linguine and some Parmesan at the market, now we were talking. We then hit the local fish market, and much to my joy, found Monterey squid, some of the last of the season as well as some wild caught Mexican prawns. The Monterey squids are small market squids, with thin bodies and delicate tentacles, delicious little beasts. For some reason, all of the local restaurants deep fry them, thus destroying the texture and flavor.

One knife, two cook, no problem, pocket knife

Hopefully you can get a feel for how these squid are. They are very tender when handled and cooked correctly. These would end up for a saute, as a couple of people expressed doubts about the tentacles. Here are the sausages, we ended up just browning these in olive oil and slicing.

Italian-ish sausages

These sausages had been made from Kurobuta pork, with loads of fennel seed, black pepper and Chardonnay from a local producer. Amazing flavor, and while not cheap, they were used to prepare food for 9 people. The Romano beans, given the traditional slant cut, these were given a quick blanch and quench, you can tell by the color that these were incredibly fresh and just a little crunchy still.

Romano's, a favorite of mine

With all the ingredients prepped, we waited for everyone to get done with their various family chores, oddly, my chore ended up being getting groceries, cooking, and oh, I had to buy a new pan and steamer/pot combination. My sister had to also, as there were no pots in the house.

Squid dish, mid cook

A little olive oil, some finely minced garlic and chopped onions, and a few teaspoons of locally made apricot jam. Which, while it might initially sound odd, the sweet and fruity flavors really worked into the squid quite well. This was reduced until the squid was tender.

Beans and sausage

Beans, garlic, onions and sausage rounds, all sauteed up, just until hot. The prawns were halved and tossed into the pan and everything was quickly brought to temperature. I removed most of the meat and beans to a bowl and tossed in the linguine, no rinsing, no rinsing! Just straight from the pasta water to the pan, along with a handful of the Parmesan, a half cup of milk and toss to coat. The pasta water will thicken the sauce up.

It ain't pretty, or focused, a platter for my linguine!

Plated, as it were, in a half service pan liner. Yay, fancy plating! The pasta was panned, tossed with freshly chopped Italian Parsley, then the meat and beans on top. Again, family style in a apartment, with not pots and tiny, tiny, dishes. This would have been great on a large platter.

Squid with Apricot preserve

The squid, now Calamari, which had been cooked in the reducing apricot preserves, took on a faint color, and loads of flavor. This dish was terrific as well, and a great compliment to the pasta dish. Along with the salad of local lettuce and tomatoes, a vastly superior meal to what we could have gotten in town. The Farmer's Market, as small as it was, served me well, with reliably fresh produce and food stuff. If you discount the pots, which will see many cooks in my kitchen, the food for this dinner was around $80, for 9 people. Which is far better than anywhere in the area.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sustainablity, Innovation, Dinner

In my real life, away from the plate, I am a landscape architect, I have been such for nearly 30 years now, and my practice has been quite traditional. That is to say, I have focused on the traditional design and engineering of landscapes, generally with an emphasis on public sector projects and commercial development projects, the 'bread and butter' of traditional practice. And it has been good for me. Even more than my passion for food, landscape architecture has filled my life with joy, purpose and meaning. In a lot of ways, my design and food ideals have met at this nexus, reflecting my sensibilities, my heritage and my preference for design to reflect nourishment of the whole person. Playgrounds or pasta, it has always been about finding that place where the soul if fed as much as the body.

Of late, I have come to understand that there is a change in how society and culture interact with the built environment, a change that I think is reflected in the resistance of many to see the world in a new paradigm, an entrenchment and resistance to innovation. I think many of us, who felt we were the pointed end of the spear, that were going to redefine society, now see that society has changed. We seek relevance, some in the old ways, some in new ways. And though I fear, that I am of that old way, that my skills and knowledge are irretrievably growing archaic, I see things changing. And I see incredibly dynamic young people, doing interesting things, defining how they will choose to live, not buying into the paradigm of my time. When I think of ideas that somehow point to a time 50, 100 even 200 years ago, clinging to the idea that there should be no change, indeed, there can be no change, I see fear, I see reluctance to embrace a brave new world.

What the hell am I talking about? Tonight, I had the chance to connect some of this vision, with an old friend, in the form Greg DeLaune, who has recreated himself to be a part of creating this new world, and a new friend, Hiroo Nagahara, a chef trained on traditional foods, traditional methods and science. Into the mix, was an even newer friend, Debbie Acosta, who is charged with creating a new and vibrant, sustainable and innovative San Leandro. And I am the soft connection, that lead all of use to be at a dinner in Berkeley, where we would talk about innovation, community building, sustainability and chocolate cupcakes. Food and design, and it's all about the story.

I convinced Hiroo that this would be a great chance to do a little catering job. And into this space he came.

Not exactly Vegas, Baby

Yes, a re-purposed office space

Of course there is a kitchen

I wouldn't blame Hiroo if he never cooked for me again

Can you serve a dinner for 31 people, with no stove, no refrigerator, no counterspace, why yes, if you are good. Hiroo is good. By the time was all sat down to eat, light was fading and I have found that there is no good photo to be taken with an I-phone by candlelight. But, I was mostly there to meet folks and to get more of a feel for sustainable and innovative culture. There was this dish...

Roots and Dirt

First off, I loved the plating and whimsy of this dish. This was the appetizer course, meant to serve 3 to 4 people, it was carrots and radishes, in various stages of pickling, curing and sous vide. There was a puree of apple and miso, and the 'dirt' which was a roasted seaweed powder. This was so delicious.

Some lovely poached Arctic Char

Without a kitchen, Hiroo was forced to prepare an entire dinner that could be cooked off-site, bought to the kitchen and plated. He used the sous vide and poaching, as well as amazing ingredients to bring a four course dinner forth from a table and counter.

Date a chef, live the glamorous life, plate greens

With a budget of $25 per person, Hiroo recruited the one person he could depend on to work for nothing. Thanks to Weiwei for jumping in and plating. It really isn't as fun as it looks. This plate would end up holding poached Arctic Char over wilted greens as the first course, and sous vide Black Angus tongue, with roasted potato and spinach. No pictures as it was too dark, but, it was delicious, amazing given the price and lack of a kitchen. And then dessert, which I wish I had a description of, other than that it was a gluten free chocolate cupcake, using Hiroo's own flour, with a chocolate cheesecake stuffing, and chocolate crunch layer and topped with chocolate frosting. Oh, all Valhrona Venezuelan chocolate, the good stuff.

I often look for the story, the connection or meaning of the food I am eating, what the chef was trying to say or do. What his story is, and I know Hiroo loves food. But, I know he also loves bringing his food forth to people, the he enjoys that people enjoy the food, get what he is doing. He could easily fall back into a big restaurant, get back on a line. But, he is doing things like this, technique and knowledge, top ingredients, all placed on a plate for a very moderate price. Bringing very fine dining to an office space. I have eaten a lot of bad sandwiches at dinners like this.

In all, a wonderful night of meeting some folks doing very interesting things, talking with Mike Zuckerman about adventures in creating and exploring urbanism, sharing and culture in a new world. hearing about Freespace and talking about spontaneous innovation with a focus on giving. I also met a young man, couldn't be more than 30 or so, who is working to develop real time water quality monitoring solutions for industrial processes, and a young woman working with major corporations to create core changes in corporate values to increase their sustainability and relevance in the new economy. A room full of people changing how we live in our world, seeking to change how we have always done it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

HN^2 at Trace, two pop-ups in one week

Madness, guest cooking two pop-ups in one week, but, this time it was food prepared by the good folks at Trace Restaurant, along with the head chef of the Chairman (Bao) food truck and Chef Nagahara. If you are unfamiliar, Trace is the restaurant and lounge in the San Francisco W Hotel, The Chairman is the food truck that has made a splash in San Francisco, selling Gua Bao with a Western twist and Chef Nagahara is the chef who consulted on the original menu for The Chairman Truck (nee The Chairman Bao Truck).

And again, far too lazy to haul my good camera on BART, I missed a couple of course, and blurred a couple of others. Still, you can get an idea.

Roasted Corn Flan, Sweet Potato, Lotus Root, Yellow Curry

Starting with some passed appetizers, I missed a shot of the marinated Hawaiian Albacore with apple, mustards and Battera konbu. But got this shot, overall, on the sweet side, a play on the sweet Japanese version of curry.

Duck Tater Tot, Pekin duck, Shiso Bernaise, Citrus

Obviously, a play on tater tots, but, meaty, crispy and meaty, with the brightness of Shiso and citrus playing counterpoint to the richness of the duck. It became clear that this menu would be far more whimsical than the experience at Parallel 37.

Chicken Nugget

Seriously, a chicken nugget and it had the right texture and crunch, although far more flavorful, with Cucumber and peanuts adding to the umami of the dish. Did I mention that this was a 13 course tasting for $40?

Feesh, I don't really dig feesh

And here, yes, a salmonid, my least favorite of non-favorite food, although, this was perfectly cooked char, with Kanzuri, Sunchoke puree and Red Shiso. I am really digging the appearance of the Shiso sprouts, whereas I find Shiso to often be over-powering, the sprouts are perfect, punchy herbs. I will be sprouting these soon. For those wondering, Kanzuri is a red pepper paste, with Yuzu citrus, and shio koji added.

Now, this, I can enjoy

Scallops, diver scallops, seared and with English peas, Hijiki and spiced Greek Yogurt. Yes, this was really a $40 dinner and no, I did not get to eat it all, this was family style. It was fun to see what a food truck can do, when a real kitchen and a full staff is suddenly available.

Tofu and stuff

House made tofu, and I got to hear the chef of the Chairman truck discuss how making tofu is not his favorite thing, but, this had a great texture and flavor. The effect of taking the time and extra effort to really craft a food item shown through on this dish. Accompanied with tiny squash and tiny Shiitake, this was a very savory dish. The interaction of a food truck and a restaurant was particularly intriguing, as the age of innovation that was spurred by food trucks is slowly ebbing back into many kitchens.

Gua Bao, well, it is The Chairman Truck

The standard for the Chairman, and incredibly well-conceived gua bao. Roasted leg of lamb, Fresh cherries, Marcona almonds and Mint, a rich dish, again, balanced with the acid of fruit and the bright herbal flavor, this time from mint. One thing I have noticed, is that the innovation that once was the hallmark of the food truck business has slowed, with more and more trucks seeking to sell what sells, and not being about young kitchen turks turned privateers. Could another trend be forming?

Soup in the middle

Yes, a soup course, mid-dinner, in this case, Charred Eggplant Agnolotti in a Miso soup, with pcilled cherry tomatoes. What a dish, spectacular. Yes, the odd little soup course, killer dish of the dinner. The pickled tomatoes (which were all peeled) along with the agnolotti and a pure miso shiro, flavor bomb of the dinner. Chef hit this on the head, the slight bitterness of the charred eggplant playing against the sweetness of the miso, and the tartness of tomato, balanced perfectly. I live for those items on a menu, or in coursing, that turn my head. Something like this, not a fancy or huge course, yet, perfectly achieved.

There was this rockfish plate, no photo, it was good.

Yum, gland meat...

I am a texture eater, and contrary to what it might appear, I am a picky eater. But, I have a theory that I have to at least try and eat everything presented at a tasting. And hence, I ate this dish, Sweetbreads with Japanese Turnip, Maitake Mushroom and Red Miso. And other than the sweetbreads, a texture I really dislike, everything was delicious. I would rather eat fish.

Dessert, YAY!

Actually, that would be First Dessert, a White Chocolate Namelaka, with Chocolate Sea Salt and Honey. Namelaka, a Japanese creamy dessert, in this case, much like Panna Cotta, with an amazing white chocolate flavor and chocolate sea salt, so good. The strawberries did not hurt this dish either. Dessert should be spectacular. It should carry you forward with a final memory of a great meal. Not everyday, but, after something like this, it should really create an image of the dinner journey. This wasn't that dessert.

Second Dessert

This was! A extraction of strawberries, made into a sauce almost like a soup, with a slice of olive oil cake, and the hints of Earl Gray tea and Lavender informing the sauce beautifully. This was, all at one, savory, sweet, fresh, herbal and lingering. This was what you wanted to walk away from the dinner tasting, a long finish to a meal.

Over the course of two dinners, I got to see one chef influence two meals, telling his story, first in a brilliant technical presentation, using every skill and nuance, painting each dish with beauty and presenting his vision of how science, traditional Japanese food stuffs and fine dining can meld into one dinner; and the second dinner, whimsical, with humor and simplicity, working with simpler ingredients and quicker platings, still telling of his vision of using modern techniques and old world ingredients. With the added fun of the guys from The Chairman, creating that one bite hit, so important to a food truck, can easily translate to a dinner plate.