Friday, March 19, 2010

Made From Scratch: Fettuccine with Meat Sauce

Fettuccine made with parmesan, chives, and ground turkey with spices

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Condiment of the Week: Horseradish

With the fun anti-bread holiday of Passover upon us, I had been thinking about what could possibly inspire me to write about food, and realized very quickly that I have completely forgotten about the underrated horseradish. The name alone does not exactly make you eager to eat it, but it imparts a strong and over looked flavor to many dishes and dips.

By itself the only time I know people regularly using horseradish is at Seders where the white and red are used to make "sandwiches" of charoset and horseradish, or on top of gefilte fish. I've had the luck (or punishment) of having these horseradish condiments made from scratch, and let me tell you, it is not a pleasant sight. The fumes that come from ground horseradish root, combined with vinegar, are worse than a really strong onion and will not only make you cry, but unable to breathe. As with many other strong pungent flavors (see Hot Sauces...) I like my horseradish strong and in small doses. Even the red version, made with sugar and beets, should still be strong and pack a punch of flavor. Perhaps the best way to describe horseradish flavor is that it is similar to wasabi. It brings a strong earthy flavor like other root vegetables, but can also clear out the sinuses and leave a slow long burn in the back of your throat if you don't balance the flavor properly.

Outside of Passover, you often find the root mixed with creamy sauces, like for roast beef, or in small amounts with stronger flavored fish. It also makes a great addition to dipping sauces, but like garlic, needs to be properly combined with salt, sweetness, and herbs to keep it from overwhelming your mouth.

Favorite Use: In generous portions on top of gefilte fish (an acquired taste)
Strangest Use: Small amounts mixed in with eggs, fresh herbs, and steak for a different style of steak and eggs.

Passover's Favorite Condiment?

Restaurant: Sachiko's on Clinton

Apparently I've been on quite the Asian food kick given the last few restaurants I've written about. Luckily there are quite a lot of varied and fun places to eat that don't make you feel like it is the same meal all over again. Sachiko's on Clinton, at first glance, is a regular Japanese sushi restaurant that is a little pricey and on a trendy up and coming street (Clinton St.). Once eating there, however, you realize that while expensive, it makes up for the cost with some unique dishes, and beautiful presentation that you won't find at your neighborhood sushi joint.

I've been to Sachiko's four different times, and while I've tried a number of different appetizers, sushi rolls, and main dishes, the best way to go is avoid your standard conventional sushi and branch out a bit. A great way to start is with the kushiage appetizer. Kushiage is in principal very simple, but when prepared right extremely delicious. Kushiage starts with different meats, cheeses and vegetables that are then panko breaded, placed on a bamboo skewer and pan fried. Sachiko's serves each with some basic Japanese dipping sauces made with miso and shiso. The appetizer portion comes with chicken and shiso, okra, shrimp and eggplant with cheese. Light and delicious, it's a great warm appetizer that delights the taste buds and makes you realize this isn't something you find on every menu. Other Kushiage standouts are the ginkgo nuts, eel and avocado, and shiitake stuffed with shrimp paste. With 18 different types to choose from on most nights, it is worth going a few times to find your favorites. Other starters are a bit more standard to the American palate, but I also love the Botan Ebi Carpaccio. The combination of sweet shrimp and sea urchin, with a zesty sauce whose primary ingredient is basil makes for a great cold starter before diving into the main course. The presentation and look of the dish alone makes me salivate, and the taste does not disappoint.

For sushi, while the regular rolls are delicious, make sure you try the special Sachiko's sushi which have some interesting combinations including foie gras with mushroom and lobster with caviar. The meals for two tend to be the most fun, just for the look of the plate alone. Similar to those sushi boats you often see in restaurants, Sachiko's offers the same style dining, but the plate far surpasses your expectations. I'd get into details, but it just wouldn't do them justice. The one dish I think I can accurately describe is the Tamatebako "Jewel Box". A great deal at just over $30 for 12 pieces of sushi, it contains different ball shaped sushi, each topped with a small amount of sauce or garnish. The contents seem to change slightly each time, but some of the best have included a seared piece of beef with horseradish sauce, yellowtail sushi with jalapeno, and fatty tuna with guacamole. Others include sweet shrimp with sea urchin, and scallop topped with roe. The beautifully arranged dish is a wonder to all the senses. The opening of the box reveals a rainbow of colors all beautifully presented at once, with a slight smell of the different sauces, and no fishiness. The box comes with a spray bottle of white soy sauce so you can enjoy the distinct flavors of each fish and sauce, without overwhelming it with soy sauce. Each piece has different textures, different flavors, and contrast with each other well to the point that you don't want to share with whomever you have invited to join you for that evening.

While there are plenty of other things to order on the menu, these are my favorites. I wouldn't recommend going to Sachiko's on Clinton if you are starving (or any sushi place now that I think about it) because it is expensive, but if you are looking for a different sushi dining experience you should head down to Clinton Street. Even if you aren't in the mood for sushi, head to Clinton either way, there are some really amazing and fun places all within a few blocks of each other.

The Jewel of Clinton Street

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Restaurant: Je'Bon

Je'Bon is located on what used to be the mecca of the east village, St. Marks, but has now transformed into Little Japan. For some this is brings out a distinct sadness remembering the glory (or not so glory) days of a neighborhood that was full of punk rock, Ukrainian, Polish and Jewish immigrants and their culture's cuisines. Je'Bon is just one of many Japanese and Asian centric restaurants to open within a few blocks of each other. What Je'Bon does, like many others in the area, is offer many different Asian cuisines on a single menu. This includes Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and a few others. It shouldn't be a destination restaurant for you, but I have been a few times and have found it an inexpensive, fun and eclectic setting for a week night dinner.

If you are interested in sushi there are all your standards to choose from, as well as a few specialty rolls, but honestly, you can do better on the menu. The yakitori served is very good, especially my favorite new snack, grilled mackerel skewers. Mackerel is a very strong and fatty white fish that turns a lot of people off because it isn't as mild as many other fish. This actually works perfectly for the yakitori grilling. The dish comes served with a little salt, crispy skin, and sizzling moist and meaty fish on a skewer. The inherent fattiness of the fish makes it incredibly moist and flavorful, and the grilled flavor takes away a lot of the strong fish taste. I usually can eat 2 or 3 of these just to start the meal, but always give one away so that other people can enjoy the luxury.

Another fun appetizer that comes from the Chinese spectrum is what they call a "Smiley Bun". In reality this is really a pork bun but a little bit fancier. The steamed bun is soft and melts in your mouth with just a little bit of chewy texture. The pork, while a little fatty, is very moist and balanced with green onions. The plum dipping sauce it comes with tends to be a little too sweet and can overpower the dish, so make sure you use it sparingly. Either way, an order of these can be a nice way to start your tour around the Far East.

Main dishes have quite a range from the aforementioned sushi, to pad thai, fried rice, teriyaki, noodle soups, and more vegetarian fare.

The three main courses I've had thus far are Coconut Seafood Soup, Nasi Goreng, and the Lotus Wrap. The seafood soup is just what it sounds like, but extremely satisfying, huge, and warming on a cold winter night. You can choose different noodles, but I recommend the spinach noodle for extra flavor. The coconut broth is sweet and savory and takes on the flavor of the various seafood that includes fishcake, shrimp, mussels, crab stick, and scallops. You also get a lot of vegetables including carrots, bamboo and mushrooms. The dish could probably serve two people if you aren't too hungry, but this is me, and I would probably get some grilled mackerel to go with it. Other than my inability to eat fishcake (I can't handle the texture), it is such a satisfying meal that just makes you feel warm and satisfied deep down and reminds you of the power of food to create happiness. Either that, or I just really like coconut broth.

Nasi Goreng is a fancy way of saying Indonesian fried rice. On paper it should be a really interesting dish, but after eating a few servings, it gets a bit boring, and very dry. If it was just a little bit moister it would be a go to dish for me. The plate is your standard fried rice with chicken, shrimp, pork, onion, scallion, and egg, but then the fun starts. Crushed peanuts, dried shallots, raisins, and broccoli stems are all added, and the whole dish is topped with fried anchovies. The peanuts, shallots, and raisins give great texture, and a needed sweet zing. The fried anchovies are what really save the dish, however, from pure mediocrity. The crunchy salty, and barely seafood flavored anchovies make it feel very different to the average palate. If you aren't turned off by the anchovies, they are really there more for the salt and they add some great balance to the dish.

Perhaps the best dish you can order at Je'Bon, at least that is out of the ordinary, is the Lotus Wrap. It is quite simple in theory, but is incredibly filling and tasty because it combines some of my favorite thing all together into one. The lotus wrap consists of a lotus leaf stuffed with Thai sticky rice, roast pork cubes, chicken, pork sausage, black mushrooms and dried baby shrimp. Read over those ingredients one more time. That's right, two types of pork AND sticky rice. The whole thing is steamed until a gelatinous, gooey amazingly delicious dish emerges. Sticky rice is very underrated, and most people are used to it being served on the side with Thai food, but combining it with all these types of meat and flavors makes it the unheralded star of the dish. The other part of the dish that intrigues and surprises is the use of the dried baby shrimp. A relatively common ingredient in some parts of Asia, it adds a different texture, and a strong shrimp flavor that permeates the rice along with the pork flavor. If you go, I highly recommend this dish.

I can't really speak to the desserts, although I'd probably just skip it entirely. You can do much better in the area than a dish of green tea ice cream or something doughy. Perhaps stick with just some tea instead.

All in all, I enjoy my meals at Je'Bon, but it's not always a go to place for me. It is a nice change of pace for dinner, and is especially helpful if you can't decide what type of food you want, but know it has to have some Asian flare.

Je'Bon - A Tour Through Asia

Restaurant: Ono

I will state this outright, Ono is not the type of restaurant I like. I don't like high priced super fancy and trendy restaurants, especially if they are Sushi/Japanese places. Why you may ask? Mainly because I can't stand spending a ton of money for food that may be great, but clearly tells you that you are paying for the ability to be part of the cool crowd. Now that the rant is over, I should point out I only went to Ono because I had a $150 gift certificate. Located inside of the Hotel Gansevoort, I realized instantly that my dad and I were the least fashionably dressed people probably within 300 feet of the place. A fun hip hop soundtrack (a bit loud for a restaurant) and a lively bar scene greeted us as we made our way to the table. The waitress was friendly enough to suggest how many of the small and large plates to order for two people, and we agreed that my dad would work the wine list, while I picked out the food. As we debated the final order, rice "bread" was brought out with a delicious sweet, salty and tangy spice rub dusted over it.

We decided on a bottle of rioja, 3 small plates, 2 "robata", a large plate, and a side dish. A lot of food for two people, but we were full of confidence (and noticed the rather small portions at other tables). It was also a clear statement that we weren't going to order $19 california rolls, if we could get non-sushi. The three small plates came all at once, and consisted of miso barbecued tuna spare ribs with yuzu spiced lotus chips, shrimp and chive gyoza with chili ponzu sauce, and spicy crab pizza with avocado, red miso and radish sprouts. The tuna spare ribs, while a novel concept, almost ruined a great piece of tuna, and lacked any distinct, or even subtle flavor that you would hope grilling or saucing would have established. They were also very small, and hardly had any meat on the "bone". The shrimp and chive gyoza were delicious, and went well with the light chili ponzu sauce, but there was nothing so special about them to make me say "Wow." I felt like I could have gotten just as good gyoza at a local noodle shop for about $12 less. The real standout among the starters was the spicy crab pizza. If you go to Ono you have to order this, whether you like crab or not. A delicious "dough" was really more like crispy flat bread, topped with a large amount of crab and avocado. What really makes the dish is the red miso and different types of fish roe that are generously portioned on every single piece. The multiple flavors intermingle well and despite the odd name, actually do remind you a bit of a Japanese version of what pizza could be like. Clearly there was a fight over the last piece while a spare rib was left for the loser.

Robata is just a fancy word for grilled meat, like a yakitori. We ordered the chicken and the asparagus and while both were grilled perfectly, the real highlight and reason for ordering were the 5 dipping sauces any robata came with. The sauces included ponzu scallion, toasted sesame mustard, kimchi, plum miso BBQ, and shiso pesto. Ironically the better of the sauces all seemed to be on one side of the plate. The shiso pesto, while a fun idea, was extremely bland, and felt like you were eating a less flavorful mint pesto (which I've had and is delicious if done right). The plum miso BBQ sauce I think was the same used on the tuna spare ribs, and was even worse than with the tuna. It lacked any distinct single flavor, and tasted like a more viscous Kraft BBQ sauce that I can buy at Key Foods. The kimchi sauce started to wake me up, with a surprisingly mild heat that went well with the chicken and the asparagus. The ponzu scallion was quite deliciously light and tangy, with the sharpness of the scallion and acidity of the ponzu standing up to the grilled flavor of the food. The toasted sesame mustard was maybe the best of all the sauces. It had a distinct mustard flavor similar to Chinese mustard, but the toasted sesame added an entirely different layer of intensity that fit really well with the asparagus.

For the main course a huge 28 oz "Togarashi crusted rib eye" in a red win teriyaki sauce was brought out, bone in, but already sliced. Along with this came the side of creamed ginger spinach with pine nuts. To say that we started salivating is an understatement. The steak was cooked perfectly rare, and the sauce was maybe the best part of the night. Every American is familiar with teriyaki sauce, given that it usually was your first introduction to Japanese food as a kid. The version that was served alongside the rib eye was a totally different experience. The reduced red wine added a fruity yet acidic flavor to what often is too sweet a sauce. The creamed spinach, while a little too creamy for my taste, was also delicious and the crunchy pine nuts only added to the hint of ginger in each bite. After slicing every last ounce of meat from the bone, and wishing we had bread for the sauce, our eyes turned on the dessert menu with distinct fear after eating so much.

Dessert was quite the let down, but perhaps we had already eaten too much to fully enjoy it. I ordered a pedestrian coconut custard, and we shared a trio of ice creams, neither of which were anything that I would ever recommend someone waste money on. The only good part during dessert was the tea I ordered called Final Fantasy (not the video game). It was a strong black tea that had the flavors of blackberries and a slight woody flavor. Whatever the exact mixture of loose tea, it was a delicious and a pleasantly soothing way to end such a varied meal.

Overall I probably would not go back to Ono unless someone else was buying. I'm sure the sushi is amazing, and there are some other impressive dishes, but there are other top notch restaurants that cost a little less, and give you more consistency dish to dish. If you are looking for some different Japanese food, and want to have it in a trendy setting, this is the place for you. Perhaps a good start to a night out in the Meatpacking District?

Ono, So So