Thursday, June 25, 2009

Adventures in Dining Part 2

part 1 is back here

Despite my fears of being Gordon Ramsey-ed I returned to the domain of A Razor a Shiny Knife the next afternoon to assist with dinner prep -- this time without G who (wisely, perhaps) choose to spend his Saturday at his job where they pay him in money rather than at an empty condo in Williamsburg where compensation is offered in the form of eye rolls and deep sighs of disapproval. Oh, and really yummy food.

When I arrived at 3:45pm lunch service was still in full swing. I felt lucky to secure a job drying dishes which I was 75% sure I could execute well enough to at least fly below the radar of our host. Dish drying proved to be a wonderful job because in addition to avoiding commentary on my screw ups it also afforded me the opportunity to make a good buddy in my dish drying companion, Paul. Even better lunch was still being served and occasionally someone would come by with an extra plate of food for us to nosh on (oh crispy fried soft shell crabs and raw asparagus salad with poached egg how I have loved you).

After a few hours on dish duty I started to feel the rhythm of the kitchen and, perhaps because I paid my newbie dues with the dish rag, the rest of the kitchen staff/paying guests suddenly seemed nicer. Eventually I grew brave enough to venture back onto the line to tackle the peaches destined for dessert. When G arrived at 6:30 (in theory only 30mins from the sweet reward of our yummy 8 course meal) he was put to work chopping strawberries. I was also put on marshmallow making duty which ended in marshmallow syrup which we tried in vain to turn into frozen marshmallow candy. Somehow despite the obvious failure of this dish I manage to escape any chef wrath. I was feeling much more like part of a team.

We sat down late for dinner at 8:45 (posted dinner time was 7pm) and because of a somewhat OCD need to pull off this whole affair in exactly 24 hours we were asked to forgive the rushed serving of the courses. I appreciate a good attempt at doing the crazy obsessive thing just for its own crazy obsessive sake (see: my color coded closet, my rearranging of card piles every 3 minutes when playing Settlers of Catan, and my entire life) but even I felt a little peeved that the foodies who lunch got to lounge around for hours while I was being asked to scarf my tasty morsels at a starved puppy pace.

The food however, could not be argued with. It was well worth being chastised for my subpar vacuuming skills, worth drying a mountain of dishes and even worth being rushed through. Below, a play by play of exactly why I will not have lost any weight this week despite running probably like 8 miles (note: a lot. do not argue. I am the next Flo Jo, I pretty much just need to work on the nails).

First the amuse -- a rye bread flavored pana cotta with salmon roe and pickled mustard seeds.

The host expressed some concern that this might be a failed attempt at deliciousnesss but it was surprisingly successful -- creamy, salty, a little crunch on the end. And on top of that look how pretty it is!

Foie gras mouse featured a cucumber coulis and strawberries ala Mr. G

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Just look at the sweet slicing on those babies! I think i might be the only foodie who can't quite get behind the foie gras love. I mean it's good, rich, creamy, fatty but I often find it just a little too overwhelming and... (dare I say it?) somehow still bland. This dish was no real exception though the the strawberries and cucumber did admirably balance out the richness and make foie gras feel much more summery than I would have thought possible.

Fresh pasta with lobster and meyer lemon.

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Certainly the most simple of the dishes on offer but the combo of the lemon peel and lobster was really great. Shellfish + lemon is obviously no great culinary leap but I was still shocked and just how great these ingredients complimented each other.

Short ribs with morel mushroom and garlic scapes

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I got 4 curly little garlic scapes in my recent CSA delivery and this dish certainly inspired me to experiment with them -- the delicate flavor avoided overpowering the meat and mushroom with garlic and made this dish (which might have seemed a little boring) exciting and beautiful.

Chawan Mushi with bacon broth.

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This was the one menu item that I had to Google but Wikipedia's description of "egg custard" did nothing to prepare me for the awesomeness of pork belly+eggs+cream -- SO GOOD! As the person who declared the death of bacon months ago I would like to use this b
roth as evidence of how bacon should be used -- it was flavorful, smokey and meaty and DELICATE. The dish didn't come out and whomp you over the head all "LOOK! BACON IS HERE! EVERYONE LOVES BACON!!!" but instead stood in the corner waiting for the ladies to come to him, and come I did. (Dirty.).

Whipped truffle potatoes with smoked egg yolk.

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This was divine though G made a good point that it was mostly just because everything tastes great with truffle oil. It is probably true that if the potatoes had been sawdust and the egg yolk a yellow bouncy ball I still would have swooned.

Flourless chocolate cake with cherries.

This was the only course that left me shrugging my solders. I'm not a fan of flourless chocolate cake -- in fact, I basically think it's the bacon of the pastry world and is only served by lazy chef's looking to appeal to the most base palettes. Everyone loves chocolate, the richer the better, right? No need to try harder. This cake was really no better or worse then your average fudgey fair. That said, in the words of Bill Cosby, "Dad is great! Give us the chocolate cake!" I shrugged my solders at an empty plate.

Compressed peaches with cocoa butter enrobed peach pudding.

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While I want to say that this was the best thing ever since I contributed heavily to its production I cannot. It was fine. I suspect that like every contestant on Top Chef (and myself it would seem) the powers that be at A Razor a Shiny Knife could due with some lessons in pastry arts. I'd like to see one of their next events focused entirely on kicking some dessert ass.

I'm full again just writing that. Full and wishing I had a little bowl of pork pudding to slurp on.

I'd also like to say that in addition to the amazing food the dinner companionship was top notch -- I sat across from a hilarious navy dude who offered to give G and I a tour of his sub next time we're visiting G's parents in Groton CT and next to my friend from the night before who, like me and G, was well rested and ready to eat. I also sat across from a vegetarian who I was alternately amused by (seriously, why would you come to this?) and pitied (did your friend not tell you that this meal would totally have a lot of meat?). When one of the pro chefs (a man from Columbia) found out about the veggie in our midst he came by to inquire about her dietary limitations in an effort to accommodate, "You are a vegetarian?" "yeah, I eat fish though, and veggies." "What about beef?" Awesome.

You can view a time lapse video of the entire event here-- some highlight include "wow, Brianna you look kind of fat in the dress," "Geoff get your hands out of your pockets!" and "I want to put that in my mouth over and over again forever."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Adventures in Dining Part 1

As our latest and great cute couple surprise date I decide to surprise G with a night of cooking his own food in hopes that he would be inspired to drag his ass home from work one night and whip me up some veal sous vide and a nice rambutan mouse. Also because he LOVES cooking, this gift was not at all the Brianna form of giving your girlfriend lingerie.

I had been stalking the events of A Razor A Shiny Knife for a few months. The group, referred to as either an under ground restaurant or a private dinner club, specializes in bring to life crazy cooking ideas in a magical poof of yumminess. I had long been on the look out for an event when no previous engagement prevented us from taking in an evening of gluttony and finally, a few weeks ago, the calendar gods came together and we were signed up for the club's 24 hour cooking extravaganza (the dinner only because (1) we're not yet rich and (2) I feared that 3 meals of 8 courses each could lead to acute stomach explosion syndrome). The details I received were as follows: Show up any time after 10pm on Friday the 19th to help cook, show up at 7pm the night of the 20th to partake in the deliciousness.

We arrived at the secret location (a yet to be inhabitable building of condos deep in artsy Williamsburg and complete with a 45 foot waterfall in the lobby, day glow plastic chandeliers in every hallway and a broken elevator which afforded us the luxury of pretending that climbing 5 flights of stairs totally made up for eating a dish composed entirely of pork belly, cream, eggs and bacon broth) in our best khakis and linen to a sea of hipsters all, "oh hi, yes I did just get back from yachting, is that a tattoo of a boat on your shoulder, right next to the one of bar code? We have so much in common!" There were about 10 people suited up in aprons chopping, boiling and mixing and it was impossible to determine who among us was a pro chef and who, like us, was just paying hundreds of dollars to play dress up. Even though it was only 10:05 everyone was hard at work and not speaking to us which left us feeling, as G said, "like we were being snubbed by the caterers." Noting this obvious problem was a huge mistake on his part as it turned me into the pout-master for a good 20mins which we spent on the balcony all "ok so what should we do? can we leave? will we look lame? can we just grab something at random and start chopping?" In moments like this I think a little direction goes a long way and I felt tempted to offer the crew of a Razor a Shiny Knife my keen project management skills -- what more they could accomplish if only someone had made a spreadsheet.

Finally we were put to work making what the host of the evening (a man of totally indeterminate age sporting a very magnum PI mustache who either had an amazing memory for names or just couldn't forget me, the girl who was sure to ruin his event with her ham handed attempts at playing chef) described as "pickle pops" which made it sound like these would be some kind of frozen vinegar treat (Yum?) but turned out to just be vacuum sealed bags of pickled veggies. Our mission was to use this massive vacuum sealer to divide 20 plastic bags into 4 evenly sized pickle pockets. I had some past experience with vacuum sealing because my father bought one of those home food preservation contraptions at Costco years ago and proceeded to demo it's abilities to every dinner guest to walk through the front door. The minute the ladies ran off to, I dunno, powder their noses (note: this has never happened in my house, my mother is strictly anti powder, in fact "powder their noses" is just a euphemism for "drink scads of tequila") my dad would be dragging the boys off to a small corner of the kitchen to just seal random crap. But the machine at Friday's event was nothing like my dad's entertainment model. The beast was at a 2 foot power cube that G mused might be able to create actual black holes. Lucky for the entire Milky Way G and I would be doing no actual vacuuming -- just sealing.

Immediately we broke the machine. In a moment of panic as we moved the top down to begin the first seal one of us (I shall not name names but I think we all know who) announced that the line on one bag wasn't straight so I flung the lid back up which stopped the vacuuming by freaking out the beast. No longer would he suck air. Luckily, with some random mashing of buttons, I was able to save the day. So we're sealing. Bags are getting put into two piles: "oh shit, hide that one in the back" and "these should theoretically be usable." when Magnum comes by to check on us. "Things are going ok, you know, not perfect yet but we're working on it!" I quip. To which he replies, "we're looking for perfect." People, it was like I was on Top Chef and Coliccio packed my knives FOR ME.

The pickles were, thankfully, on the lunch menu so we could avoid the uncomfortable moment when someone at the table wrinkled their nose all, "my bags are not even, my entire meal has been ruined!" One assumes that this was quickly followed with, "yeah some blond J Crew freaks with zero ink totally fucked those up, last time I let the WASPs in."

As the evening progressed we slowly realized that almost all of the people who we originally took for super intimidating professional chefs were actually just ambitious foodies like ourselves. We managed to make a few friends all of whom seemed nice and nonjudgey if, a little eccentric. One girl (who I love) even leaned over in the middle of butchering a whole pig belly to conspicuously ask if we were crazy enough to consider staying up all night to cook and then sighed happily when we announced that we liked sleep way too much for that silliness (which begs this Sophie's Choice of a question, "if forced to choose between food and sleep where would a lazy glutton like myself stand (or, more accurately, lie down)?).

I suspect the open secret of A Razor, A Shiny Knife is that none of their meals are executable without a ton of help from their guests because there seemed to be only 4 or 5 pros in our midst. The good news is that there was no babying of the guests -- everything from slicing strawberries to flash freezing puddings was available for experimentation. This opportunity to play with nitrous oxide and learn how to make butter from scratch is, for me, half the fun of the event but I do have to warn future participants that one should arrive armed with a good amount of cooking knowledge and a suit of body armor protecting any thin skinned egos. I often felt a little bad for G, who I do put on carrot chopping duty in our home kitchen but who generally focuses his food knowledge on tasting over preparing. The impromptu learning opportunities at the event were not designed for amateurs. Among my friends I have a fairly solid "good cook" reputation but even I often felt far far out of my league, especially during the first hour or so when direction was at a minimum.

That said, ultimately the evening turned out to be fun. And when we got home at 1:30am our preview of the next evening's dinner had both of us salivating in our sleep. More on that in my next update (soon, by Thursday for sure...) until then a picture of our first course -- our amuse to amuse you.