Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Appellation

I've always had a soft spot for restaurant weeks. They remind me of the sheer number of options in the city, and to head out and try new restaurants. Since moving to Illinois, we've barely tested the Chicago  restaurant scene. Chicago Restaurant Week was as good of an excuse as we could get to catch up with friends and try a new place - multitasking sometimes works after all.

Our friends suggested we try Appellation because, wine. Appellation is a small wine bar attached to a cheese/wine/bread shop that serves food almost as an after-thought. However, it was cosy and inviting and had good reviews and seemed worth checking out. 

To kick things off, we each had a glass of Processo.

Prosecco
I didn't get the name of the wine, but it was crisp and refreshing - a perfect way to start. While the special dinner menu already consisted of an entree, main and dessert (or appetiser, entree and dessert if you're speaking American), we unanimously agreed that a charcuterie board was required. 
  
Charcuterie Board
On the board: housemade chicken liver mouse, duck rilette, coppa, dodge city salami, salami manzo. First impressions were that the board was nicely varied, with different flavours and textures, from creamy to crunchy, and silky with fat to sharply salty. Second impressions were that the bread was much too hard. Almost painfully so, which was the only disappointment for an otherwise solid dish. 

Onto the 'real' first course. There were 3 options; a mac and cheese, brussels sprouts, and a winter salad. No one particularly felt like a salad, and in-fact, 3/4 of the table chose the mac and cheese (I was the odd one out given my rocky relationship with dairy). 

Seasonal Mac and Cheese with Duck Confit and Roasted Kale
Who could blame them though .Mac and cheese is comfort food at its finest. More cheese than mac, with plenty of cream and just enough flavour to keep it from feeling overwhelming, this was a decent dish. Heavy, but satisfying. 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Carrots with Chermoula, Pickled Raisin and Essex Feta
I did enjoy my Brussels sprouts more, but I'm a little strange like that. A combination of crisp sprouts, with sweetness from the carrots and raisins, and a little tangy-ness from the feta made this a well-balanced dish. One that I could see myself trying to recreate at home actually.

After the lovely first course and a modest wait, it was onto the main meal. We ordered all three options between us. 

The hanger steak dish was a disappointment unfortunately.  
Hanger Steak with Bernaise Butter and Frites
Cold, dry and tasteless, I felt much happier with the fries than with the steak itself. I can understand it being difficult to time 4 dishes to come out at the same time, but I expected better.

The fish dish looked much better executed.
Sauteed Fish with Cauliflower Fennel Puree, Hazelnut Caper Brown B
This was not without it's issues, given the original dish was to be prepared with skate, but the kitchen ran out and so was replaced with halibut (if my memory serves me correctly). While I didn't taste the dish, it smelt good and appeared to be better cooked than the steak dish. 

The final offering was a cheese fondue. 
Fondue of Raclette and Hittisau served with Baguette and Cornichons
I'm not sure how M wasn't completely cheesed-out after the mac and cheese followed by this, but he enjoyed his choice. I personally would have preferred more cheese, less wine in this but it was definitely tasty (in small doses). 

And then onto more cheese for dessert! Well, not for M (maybe he was cheese-ed out). 

Restaurant Week Cheese Plate
A decent selection, some nice accompaniments, and thankfully soft bread. Nothing spectacular, but not a disappointment either. 

Option 2 was a winter Panna Cotta. Sweet and simple. 

Winter Panna Cotta
Option 3 (my choice) was a chocolate pudding. 

Chocolate Pudding with Orange Blossom with Whipped Cream and Pistachios
A light-weight dessert, the pistachios lent a nice salty contrast to the velvety, not-to-sweet chocolate pudding. I could have done without the whipped cream but each to their own. 

Overall thoughts on Appellation: good service and a cosy atmosphere in a simple, somewhat rustic setting. Wine selection is extensive, and product is good, although execution can sometimes be lacking. Perhaps this is more of a place for wine and bar snacks rather than a sit-down dinner. I'm glad we went and tried it though. 

Appellation
5212 North Clark Street, IL 60640
Mon-Thu 4pm - 12 midnight, Fri/Sat 4pm - 1am, Sun 4pm-11pm

Appellation Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, January 20, 2017

BluFish Sushi Robata

Over a year after my last post and it's time for a blog revival. Once a year is enough to justify site hosting fees right (if only)? Nevertheless, what this experience has taught me is:
  1. I love reminiscing over meals, weather they were days ago, or years ago.
  2. I should carry my Olympus camera around more rather than relying on my iPhone 6 camera - the depth of field really just isn't there.
  3. Japanese food in the US is overpriced and never meets craving expectations.

Even weak happy-hour Moscow mules couldn't make this a wonderful experience.

Moscow Mule
Ok, I'm being more than a bit harsh. Blufish is actually a decent Japanese restaurant for suburban Illinois. The decor is swanky and new, the service is fast, staff are friendly, the menu is extensive and while the prices are high, they're not unreasonable.

We started the night with some appetizers:

Takoyaki: Flour battered chopped octopus, Japanese mayo, sweet soy, nori powder
I have yet to find takoyaki as good as served by the streetside vendors in Hong Kong, but I haven't been to Japan yet. I found the dough was a little too thick, but there was a nice chunk of octopus and these were still tasty. 

Gyoza: 5 Pan fried dumplings, citrus soy sauce, scallions, togarashi, choice of pork or vegetable
We also got the pork gyoza but they were disappointing - no crunchy bottom and lackluster filling. The from-frozen ones we make at home are much more satisfying. Perhaps I should have asked for chilli oil to amp up the flavour here. 

For my main/entree, I ordered chirashi, which is essentially sashimi on a bed of rice. It comes with the standard miso soup and lettuce salad with too much dressing common around here. 

Salad & Miso Soup
Nothing special here, move along. 
.
Chirashi: Assorted fish, tamago, sushi rice, assorted Japanese pickle
The chirashi itself was beautifully presented, with a generous serving of sashimi. The fish was fresh and the pickled vegetables added a nice tangy pop. The serving of rice underneath was enormous however, and not particularly inspiring. I hate leaving food, and it seemed unreasonable to ask for a box to take out the rice, but M reminded me that I don't have to eat everything on my plate. Life lessons and such. Would order again, but would maybe ask for less rice to save both myself and BluFish some effort. 

M ordered a nice fatty piece of Blue Fin tuna as part of his main.
Blue Fin Tuna Sashimi
His verdict was that while it was good, it wasn't as good as the sashimi from Shakou Sushi up the road.

I took one look at the sushi he ordered and was confused. It was a hot mess compared to the simple sushi I'm used to, but that's not necessarily a bad thing just because it's different. 

King Kong: Snow crab, spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, cream cheese, cucumber, avocado, breaded and deep fried, sweet soy, spicy mayo
King Kong definitely had a lot more texture interest and flavours than your standard sushi roll. You could also say it was over-sized. That was bad? Yeah, that was bad. Still, it was a whole host of seafood (I thought King Kong was a gorilla though...), cream cheese and avocado for well, creaminess, cucumber for a slight refreshment and then deep fried as only America can do. Not bad, but also a bit confusing.

Final thoughts on BluFish: the restaurant itself and the service are great, the quality of the food is decent if you're not after authenticity, but don't expect it to be easy on your wallet. Good for a relaxed date night out. 

BluFish Sushi Robata
Suite 128, 700 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Vernon Hills, IL
Mon-Fri 1130am-230pm, 5pm-930pm, Sat 5pm - 1030pm Sun 4pm-9pm

Blufish Sushi Robata Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Bowery to Williamsburg

So it's been roughly a lifetime since I last posted, but the itch to blog about some of the food I consumed last time I was in Melbourne has caught up with me. Most of the pictures from my dining adventures turned out fairly blurry, so this might be a limited series.

First up though, a post on an American-inspired cafe in the CBD: Bowery to Williamsburg.

As a side note, living in America, I find the new wave of American-inspired restaurants in Melbourne amusing although somewhat strange (because I haven't found American food on the whole to be all that appealing). Regardless, I came for the company and the coffee and wasn't disappointed.

Long Black
Serving Padre coffee, there's definitely something to be admired about the silky smoothness of Melbourne coffee. My taste-buds may have been burnt by my time overseas, but this was a wonderful cup of coffee, with the sweet taste of being home. 

I was unfortunately less enamored with the food. I ordered the Lox & Potato Latkes consisting of mezcal & cucumber cured lox salmon, zucchini and potato latkes, horseradish, picked fennel, asparagus and poached eggs.

Lox & Potato Latkes
While the eggs were perfectly poached, and the salmon tender, I was sad to find the potatoes weren't crispy, and overall that the dish rather lacking in flavour. Which is surprising given the ingredients should have combined wonderfully.

My dining companions ordered the vegetarian version of the Shakshouka baked eggs:

Shakshouka Baked Eggs with Zatar Pita
The vegetarian version included sweet potato, silverbeet, feta and pinenuts. I didn't taste it, but the dish got both their stamp of approval, and their kiddo's (who ate most of the eggs). Their better informed view of the food in general is that "their burgers really are the star, but their brunch options are varied and fun". 

Being a bit behind on the Melbourne food scene these days, I feel like Bowery to Williamsburg is a pretty standard foodie cafe: good coffee, interesting (although not necessarily the tastiest in Melbourne) dishes, efficient service, and a bustling atmosphere with a line pretty much any time of day.

Bowery to Williamsburg
16 Oliver Lane, CBD, Melbourne
Mon-Sat 730am-3pm, Sun 830am-3pm

Bowery to Williamsburg Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, July 3, 2015

Exploring Ottolenghi

It's certainly been more than a few months since I posted on this blog, which certainly isn't to say I haven't been cooking plenty and eating out, because I have. I just haven't had the inclination to necessarily share. 

Over the last week or so, I've been feeling an itch though, so I thought I'd share some of my recent culinary adventures. One of these has been cooking from Ottolenghi The Cookbook that was the subject of much praise when it came out a few years ago. 

There are plenty of vegetable dishes, with delightfully unexpected twists in flavours. My first two dives into this book resulted in a dish of Grilled Broccoli with Chile and Garlic  and another of Mixed Mushrooms with Cinnamon and Lemon.  

Grilled Broccoli with Chile and Garlic
The broccoli dish was surprisingly easy and with a refreshingly interesting flavour. A short period of blanching, followed by a bit more grilling, with a finish of hot, flavoured oil and the dish was done. 

The mushroom dish was a little curious-er. And it featured more than a handful of mushrooms.   

Mixed Mushrooms with Cinnamon and Lemon
At one point, I thought I was going to burn the mushrooms at the bottom of the pan to crisp (you're warned quite sternly to leave the mushroom alone for 5 minutes over high heat). Sure, the garlic burnt but the mushrooms themselves were more than fine. 

For all the worry they caused, in less than 15 minutes I had a fragrantly steaming bowl of mixed mushrooms, with subtle variations in flavours and textures of the mushrooms, and the lift from a few squeezes of lemon rendering the dish anything but boring.

Mixed Mushrooms with Cinnamon and Lemon
So my first experiences with Ottolenghi was a smashing success. Onwards and upwards with trying more recipes; the Harira soup looks interesting, as does the Fried Scallops with Saffron Potatoes, Asparagus, and Samphire. And maybe one day experiencing the original dining experience in London myself. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Box Hill Tour & Cooking Demo (Sneak Peek)

There are times where I really wish I'm back in Melbourne more frequently. These waves of home-sickness happen more often when I'm craving Melbourne's take on Asian cuisine - the US just doesn't do things the same way.

Box Hill really is a concentration of all things Chinese and Malaysian, from markets that are a source of Asian produce that's hard-to-find elsewhere, and restaurants that are frequently visited at all times of the day or night. I do have a soft-spot for their Mid-Autumn Festival, having performed there a few times myself - check it out if you get the chance. 

Box Hill Markets Bounty
Don't those vegetables look delicious? Dan will have the full scoop on a recent market tour and cooking demonstration with James Tan and Spencer Wong hosted by Box Hill Central so keep an eye out for that in the next week!

Box Hill Central
1 Main St, Box Hill 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Maude

How is it almost February already? Did January really disappear so quickly?

Reminiscing about the past isn't something I do outside of life as a food blogger, but there are times that I'm really, really glad that I reminisce about the meals I had because they were just damn awesome. And my credit card statement really does force me to think about some of them, like this one.

Due to quite a bit of coincidence, M and I managed to score a NYE reservation at the tiny, tiny restaurant Maude in Beverly Hills, LA. With a new menu every month focusing on a single star seasonal ingredient and headed up by Curtis Stone, this was a must try as soon as  we discovered its existence. 

The NYE menu was always going to be extra special (with an extra special/expensive price tag of $250 per head excluding tax and tips to match of course), and there was no better way to start than a glass of Krug. 

Krug
When I say Maude is tiny, I mean it's really tiny. At a maximum it seats 25 people and there's a clear view into the kitchen area.

Maude
Maude
This creates a comfortable sense of intimacy. The mellow lighting and vintage silverware and crockery also adds to this (although contributes to some less than perfect photos so you'll have to excuse me).

Being a fine dining restaurant, the menu started off with some amuse-bouche.

Pumpkin Packet
Eel
Uni
Oyster
Straight up we were incredibly impressed by how much flavour and texture each of these small dishes had, and the obvious care that had gone into crafting them. How can you not have fun with packets that burst with liquid flavour (the pumpkin packets) or foam (accenting oyster).

From there we moved onto pancakes.

Traditional Caviar
Yep, tiny fluffy pancakes (blini?). I prefer to think pancakes are the star of the show here because they're just too darn cute, but of course they're overshadowed by the indulgently delicious generous heaping of salty cavier. In keeping with a winter theme, there was some pumpkin puree to lend a touch of sweetness to the dish. 

Next up was a squash salad. 

Squash salad with farro, watercress and pumpkin
The presentation of these dishes really are beautiful. The composition is beautiful to look at and the colours were so much more vibrant in person (curse that yellow lighting). The textures also played nicely in this dish with the crunch of the farro contrasting nicely with the lightness of the squash foam and the crispness of the watercress.

Course 4 (if you count the amuse-bouche as a single course) was a Hiramasa Crudo.

Hiramasa Crudo with Bottarga, Pumpkin Cured Salmon Roe and Dashi Gel
The hiramasa, otherwise known as yellowtail kingfish, was delicately soft and a deceptively large serve. Accented with two types of roe, it was a great reflection of fresh seafood. The dashi gel is always great fun, although in this instance I'll admit it didn't have much of a flavour. 

More seafood for the next course:

Striped Bass with Little Gem, Anchovy and Chicken
Take a lightly seared fillet of bass with some little gem lettuce and chicken skin and you have another good tasting dish. I probably liked the other dishes more than this one, but it's not like this was skimping on taste or presentation in any sense.  

Lobster, Carrot, Buttermilk and Curry
How could I not like this next dish? Sweet, tender lobster, with slightly crisp/crunchy carrots and a slightly tangy sauce. I've only just started cooking with lobster myself, and am now determined to get my hands on some incredibly fresh lobster. Pity it's the wrong season though.  

When they brought the next dish out, I had flashbacks to Chemistry courses in university. 

Consomme
Isn't that coffee siphon? Indeed it was, but the creative minds at Maude had appropriated it to make a consomme.

Consomme
A ramen-style broth (without any pork) heated heated through a combination of herbs including fennel and beech was entertaining to watch (and isn't fine dining about classy entertainment?). 

It was then poured over a combination of dried mushrooms (enoki & oyster) and squid to create a moorish Japanese-inspired broth. 

Consomme with Squid, Mushrooms, Fennel and Beech
I will take a detour and say that this was 'wine-matched' with sake. Different but somehow it worked!

The next dish was simply glorious. 

Truffle Ravioli with White Alba Truffle
Look at that ridiculous amount of white truffle! It was shaved at the table and the scent was overwhelmingly indulgent. M was in positive ecstasy, but then again he loves truffles more than the average person. 

The dish was comforting, and indulgent and made us incredibly happy. It had the side effect of making us incredibly full as it was unsurprisingly filling, not that we really cared.

We did have to soldier on through three other courses, not including dessert!

Pheasant with Kabocha Squash, Parsley Root and Pearl Onion
The next dish really couldn't hit the lofty heights of the truffle dish, but that was to be expected. It was nevertheless well balanced with pheasant cooked two ways, another riff on the squash theme and a slight tang from pickled onions.  Can we also just take another moment to appreciate the beauty of vintage silverware? Time to hit up some markets myself I think.

Wagyu Cheek with Nori, Radish and Turnip 
Whilst the puffy white thing is reminiscent of pork crackling, it's not. It was in fact beef tendon. Just let that sink in a bit. Beef tendon? How did they manage to do that to something that's meant to be tough and inedible until it's stewed to death? It worked incredibly well with the Australian Wagyu and so we had another great dish. 

Wrapping up a meal, it's almost expected that there'll be a cheese dish and indeed there was.

Vacherin with Pumpkin 'Caviar'
I'll admit that this was the only dish that I couldn't finish. After all, there's only so much rich dairy that I can take. The cheese was reminiscent of Camembert, but with a stronger flavour and was paired beautifully with the slightly sweet pumpkin 'caviar'. Once again, I have no idea what magic they used to turn pumpkin into tiny little balls of flavour, but it was gleefully impressive.  

Then it was on to dessert.

Pomegranate Sorbet
As a foreshadowing of the January menu, the first dessert was a refreshing pomegranate sorbet. Slightly bitter, it was nevertheless interesting and delicious.

The second dessert was significantly heavier. 

Kuri Squash Beignet with Rice Sorbet, Carmel & Cinnamon
A rich, rich dessert that had plenty of sweetness, it was perfectly accompanied by a bitter coffee.

Espresso
After all, this grandma needs some caffeine if staying up till midnight was required. 

Petit Fours
As a final bookend to our meal, we were served petit fours (or should it be petit threes?). The macarons could have rivaled any good bakery, and the gellies were a perfect sweet ending.

All that was left after this was a midnight champagne toast to celebrate the new year with other diners and the hardworking staff.   

Nightcap
We had a great time at Maude: it was our first fine dining NYE experience, first degustation experience in the USA and it did not disappoint. While expensive, it was a worthy investment for a night of culinary alchemy/magic, the best service you could hope for, and of course, great tasting food with plenty of indulgences sprinkled throughout. This is by no means a typical menu (because really, NYE is special) but looking at the menu for 2015, there's plenty to look forward to - truffles in November and December anyone? 

Maude Restaurant
212 South Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA
Tue-Sat 530pm-10pm (reservations required)

Maude on Urbanspoon