Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fugu Poisoning

This is why I haven't checked fugu off my Omnivore's 100 list.
Seven diners in northern Japan fell ill and three were still in hospital today after eating blowfish testicles prepared in a restaurant not authorised to serve the poisonous delicacy. The owner of the restaurant in Tsuruoka city, who is also the chef, had no licence to serve blowfish and was being questioned on suspicion of professional negligence, police official Yoshihito Iwase said.

Iwase said the seven men ordered sashimi and grilled blowfish testicles at the restaurant last night. Shortly after, they developed limb paralysis and breathing trouble and started to lose consciousness – typical signs of blowfish poisoning – and were rushed to a hospital for treatment.

A 68-year-old diner was in a critical condition with respiratory failure and two others, aged 55 and 69, were in serious condition, Iwase said. "It's scary. If you go to a decent-looking restaurant that serves fugu, you would assume a cook has a proper fugu license," Iwase said, using the Japanese term for blowfish.

Blowfish poison, called tetrodotoxin, is nearly 100 times more poisonous than potassium cyanide, according to the Ishikawa health service association. Eating it can cause death within an hour and a half.

Three people died and 44 others became ill from blowfish poisoning in Japan in 2007 – most of them after catching the fish and cooking it at home, according to the health ministry.

from: The Guardian

Monday, January 26, 2009

Restaurant Week: Lebanese Taverna

A group of us went to Lebanese Taverna in Harbour East and although the food was excellent, the service was the worst ever! It took more than four hours from start to finish.

We had a 7:00 p.m. reservation and they seated us promptly, but it took about 15 minutes for the waiter to take our drink order and then about another 20 minutes to bring our beers and wines. Then it was about another 20+ minutes before he brought the menus to us.
We all ordered the special menu, which included an appetizer, a glass of wine or beer, the entrée and a dessert. He requested that we place the whole order at that point, which was fine.

When he brought out the appetizers, he just placed them in the middle of the table, but there were about half as many appetizers as diners at our table. When the entrées finally came out, three came, then about 10 minutes later another few and then finally the rest. By this time, it was almost 9:30 and we were getting restless.
A table behind us put their order in, and after waiting about 45 minutes, were presented with their check, even though they’d never gotten their food. They were livid, as they’d been there for almost two hours!

The waiter finally came around and asked us about our desserts, and we mentioned that he’d taken the order earlier. After another lengthy wait, he came back with three desserts, and disappeared. When we finally saw him again and asked where the rest were, he had to take the order all over again. About 10 minutes, he came back and said that the items we’d ordered were out, and we’d have to get something else.
When we finally got our checks, it was nearly 11:00 (he asked if we wanted separate checks and we said yes, since there were 10 of us). Almost every check was wrong, with things missing and other things added or double charged. That took about another 15 minutes to resolve, and we finally left at about 11:15.
Granted it is Restaurant Week and it was a Saturday night, but I can’t see any excuse for this meal to have taken more than four hours! They could have turned over that table twice in the time we were there.

While we all loved our meals, I won’t be going back there any time soon. It was just a huge exercise in frustration for all of us.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Omnivore's 100 - My List

The VGT Omnivore's Hundred with things I've tried in BOLD. 69 out of 100... not too shabby!

1. Venison

2. Nettle tea

3. Huevos rancheros

4. Steak tartare

5. Crocodile/Alligator

6. Black pudding

7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp

9. Borscht

10. Baba ghanoush

11. Calamari

12. Pho

13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi

15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses

17. Black truffle

18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes

19. Steamed pork buns

20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes

22. Fresh wild berries

23. Foie gras

24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese

26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper

27. Dulce de leche

28. Oysters

29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda

31. Wasabi peas

32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi

34. Sauerkraut

35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar

37. Clotted cream tea

38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O

39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat

42. Whole insects

43. Phaal

44. Goat's milk

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more

46. Fugu

47. Chicken tikka masala

48. Eel

49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi

53. Abalone

54. Paneer

55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal

56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini

58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine

60. Carob chips

61. S'mores

62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin

64. Currywurst

65. Durian

66. Frogs' legs

67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis

69. Fried plantain

70. Chitterlings, or andouillette

71. Gazpacho

72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe

74. Gjetost, or brunost

75. Roadkill

76. Baijiu

77. Hostess Fruit Pie

78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong

80. Bellini

81. Tom yum

82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.

85. Kobe beef

86. Hare

87. Goulash

88. Flowers

89. Horse

90. Criollo chocolate

91. Spam

92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa

94. Catfish

95. Mole poblano

96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor

98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Boulangerie in the UK

When I was in England in October, I ate at a lot of great places, included Modern Pantry (below), Petersham Nurseries, Tom's in Notting Hill, Bluebird (a Conran restaurant) and a sweet little French Bakery in Richmond, Surrey. I had to wait about a half an hour for my friend to come in to Richmond on the train, so to while away the time, I popped into this little bakery to have a cafe au lait and read the Sunday Times.
In addition to gorgeous marcarons, they had some vegetable tarts, adorable chocolates including this cutie pie frog and enormous meringues.

Luckily, my friend wasn't too long in coming!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Modern Pantry London

When I was in London last year, I had dinner with my friend, the Man of Mode, at Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell in the oldest part of London. I was delighted to see the review of it today in the Guardian and it got a 9/10!
You have to wade through some obscure references at the beginning, but here's the review in full.
The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell.
9/10Telephone 020-7250 0833 Address 47-48 St John's Square, London EC1
Open Mon-Fri, 8am-7pm

Even in such a hyper-faddish industry in so neophiliac an age, nothing lately has gone from all the rage to dismally passé with the speed of fusion cooking. At the turn of the century, the mingling of cuisines and ingredients that really should have been offering each other outside had come to offer untold riches to the parodist of rampant pretension, and gloomy bemusement to everyone else.

If the gold standard was Shumi, a central London shocker that coalesced the culinary traditions of Italy and Japan before surrendering to closure as its Axis powers predecessors did to the Allies (albeit without a shiitake mushroom cloud), it was hardly alone. During the millennium's earliest years, the nuclear family of fusion joints saw countless members vaporised before the penny finally dropped.

So it was with a fittingly assonant cocktail of emotions - nostalgic warmth mingling with terror - that I went to a newcomer in Clerkenwell belonging to chef-owner Anna Hansen. She's a protégée and compatriot of Peter Gordon, the grandaddy of British fusion whose Sugar Club and, later, Providores spawned so many wretched pastiches from those who never grasped that to be a great surrealist painter, you must first master such basics as accurate drawing.

According to the online guides, the Modern Pantry (and what a cute, era-fusing name that is) belongs to the Gordon-pioneered sub-branch of fusion known as Pacific Rim. That alone was enough to put me off, because to the self-respecting hypochondriac it isn't a geographical or foodie term at all, but the correct antonym for irritable bowel syndrome. "How's your IBS?" "Never worse. These bowels aren't irritable, they're psychotic. And yours?" "Much better. At the minute, touch wood, I have an astonishingly pacific rim."

Low expectations can distort the critical judgment, the relief luring you into inflating the competent into the outstanding, but by any standards the Modern Pantry is a gem. Sited in a pair of listed town houses in a quiet square, the small and more informal downstairs room (a posher one has since opened upstairs, and there's a deli attached) is bright but functional, with gleamingly white furniture, refectory table in the centre of the space, open-plan kitchen, obligatory Farrow & Ball bluey-grey walls, and conical copper lamps, while the staff are tolerant to the edge of saintliness. Our lunch, which kicked off at 12.30, did not end until 7pm, yet even after we had smashed the third wine glass, they smiled indulgently on heading for the dustpan and brush.

The decently priced menu, meanwhile, isn't overly laden with things you need to Google (Krupuk quail eggs, turmeric gujiya, umeboshi butter; just a few) and the food is simply beautiful. My God, this young woman can cook.
My starter was a desert island dish - an omelette of sugar-cured prawns, spring onions and green chilli, straddled by coriander leaves and served with a smoked chilli sambal, which perfectly mingled the sweet and the tongue-tinglingly acrid. Previously, I'd have cited the Arnold Bennett as all-time favourite omelette, but the lightness and delicacy of this masterpiece gives it the edge. My friend was almost as wild about his yellowfin tuna sashimi with truffled mustard seed, yuzu and soy dressing, an elegantly presented, zingingly fresh dish that elicited a visceral, "Och, that's wonderful."
The first glass had been destroyed by the time main courses arrived. "It's like a notably well laid out version of something you'd get in a jerk chicken place," said my friend of his spinach, shiitake and plantain green curry with roasted yams and spiced aubergine relish. "And it's gorgeous." As were my grilled Napoli sausages, gloriously herby, flavoursome beasts served with lentils, feta, parsnips and green pepper relish.
The portions being as rustic as the sausages, we couldn't manage puds. So with the coffee we shared a plate of cheese (including the creamiest Yarg I've tasted) - engagingly and fleetingly removed so the chef could pass the oatcakes fit for duty - and prepared to depart. Four hours and two more broken glasses later, we reeled out feeling as guilty, perplexed and fearful as middle-aged men must after a six-hour lunch. But at the same time we left entranced by Hansen's fusion of the pan-global inventiveness that is now so deliciously nostalgic and the old-fashioned technical excellence that's become so achingly trendy.
Although the Modern Pantry isn't all that at first glance, it becomes more impressive as each hour passes. In fact, it's what a self-confessed size queen of my acquaintance would admiringly call "a grower, not a shower", and should be around long enough to watch a myriad culinary fads rise and fall.

The bill
Bread £2
Prawn omelette £7.80 Pictured above
Yellowfin tuna sashimi £5.80 This is one of the things I had. It was amazing!!!
Spinach, shiitake and plantain green curry £11
Napoli sausages on lentils £12.50Cheese plate £6.50
Alcohol I'm not telling
Subtotal (excluding booze) £49.60Service @ 12.5% (ditto) £6.20
Total £55.80
This was the ladies room. LOVE the pink mirror!