Monday, January 16, 2012

List | 2011, in summary

What I have learned from my nearing 2-years of blogging experience is that there are few (but not entirely scarce by any means) dishes/meals/culinary experiences about which I am able, and almost effortlessly, to wax poetic. The past year has been quite generous (a serious understatement, haha) to me, allowing my palate to experience so many enriching things running the gamut of the five tastes, particularly the realm of umami, where things can get euphoric very quickly.

That being said, I wanted to recapitulate the culinary and gastronomic highlights of 2011 -- the things that made my mouth water, the dishes that nearly sent me into an intoxicating state, and the courses that took me by surprise.

I started off 2011 with two amazing birthday dinners -- one with my best friend, Lisa, at Sushi of Gari, and another with Marcus at The Four Seasons.

Sushi of Gari: {1} broiled squid with sea urchin sauce / {2} kinmedai (golden eye snapper) with crispy seaweed / {3} yellowtail with jalapeño sauce / {4} torched uni / {5} salmon with sautéed tomatoes / {6} tuna with tofu sauce
The Four Seasons: {1} The Four Seasons of Hope, Robert Diana / {2} sirloin steak with bone marrow tempura in an onion-beef broth / {3} Four Seasons chocolate soufflé served with freshly whipped cream and chocolate sauce / {4} grilled octopus with white beans and Meyer lemon vinaigrette / {5} tuna-sea urchin ravioli with a diver scallop tartare, caviar, and chervil crème fraîche / {6} The Pool Room at The Four Seasons.

2011 also permitted me to diversify my NYC brunch repertoire (still a long ways to go!) to narrow down to my top five spots.

Clinton Street Baking Co.: {1} classic pancakes with wild Maine blueberries and warm maple butter / {2} fresh hot apple cider / {3} sugar-cured bacon
Essex: {1} "unlimited" mimosas / {2} grilled ribeye and eggs / {3} Manchego macaroni and cheese with chicken apple sausage
Calle Ocho: {1} "house rules" at Calle Ocho about brunch sangria / {2} unlimited sangria bar of 6-7 varieties / {3} vaca frita -- Cuban skirt steak with Latin fried rice, tomato escabeche, avocado, and fried eggs
Tea & Sympathy: {1} Full Monty Breakfast with Heinz baked beans -- scrambled eggs with English bacon, a banger (i.e., a sausage), and grilled tomato and includes a glass of fresh orange juice, choice of coffee or a pot of tea as well as choice of white or 7-grain toast / {2} teapot full of tea! / {3} traditional scones served with strawberry jam and clotted cream.

Moving in together with Marcus this year allowed for me to explore more things in the kitchen (during the latter part of the year, at least) as I finally had my own personal space tailored to my tastes, filled with my very own tools. I even started an ad hoc supper club, Table Conviviale, with Lisa so we could together learn to make some of our favorite courses that we like to have in restaurants all over in my modestly-sized city kitchen.

tako (octopus): {1} one tentacle of octopus / {2} plated shiso leaves / {3} tako with sesame dressing
white truffles: {1} Buitoni wild mushroom agnolotti with mushroom gravy topped with shaved white truffles / {2} porcini mushroom risotto topped with shaved white truffles / {3} about 12 grams worth of a whole white truffle
foie gras: {1} truffle-flecked foie gras mousse spread over a thick slice of brioche bread / {2} roasted Gascogne quail with grapes, foie gras, and Armagnac / {3} seared lobes of foie gras with caramelized fruits and a Port reduction
macarons & soufflés: {1} DessertTruck Works macaron-baking workshop / {2} DessertTruck Works chocolate soufflé-making workshop / {3} Classic French Macaron class at the Institute of Culinary Education

Marcus and I also took our first vacation together in 2011 -- all the way to the San Francisco Bay Area and the Napa Valley. Here are some highlights of our amazing trip!

San Francisco and the Napa Valley: {1} view of the Golden Gate Bridge / {2} morning bun with orange cinnamon sugar
from Tartine Bakery + Café / {3} happy hour oysters with hogwash from Penn Cove, Washington at Hog Island Oyster Bar / {4} maitake fritters with truffle salt from Izakaya Sozai / {5} The Ferry Building clock tower / {6} local Marcona almonds seasoned with homemade Vadouvan spice and sweet herbs at Ubuntu / {7} fresh extruded Seville orange fregola with Hakurei and Scarlet Damsel turnips, green garlic, and Parmesan broth at Ubuntu / {8} croque monsieur -- an open-faced sandwich of ham and swiss with Béchamel sauce on toasted pain de mie -- at La Boulange Bakery (de Cole) / {9} arcobaleno ice cream at Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream / {10} Omnivore Books on Food / {11} St. Helena Olive Oil Co. in St. Helena

While we were in the Napa Valley, we had the lucky opportunity to dine at The French Laundry, our first visit to a three-starred Michelin restaurant, both solo and together, and had a Chef Thomas Keller sighting (he signed our menus)! Then we went a little tristar-happy nearing the end of the year, celebrating Marcus's birthday at Le Bernardin (discovering that its head sommelier, Aldo Sohm, is a master sorceror with the art of the wine pairing) and my new bean counting role at another firm with Eleven Madison Park (still remains my favorite restaurant of all time).

The French Laundry: {1} Marcus and me at the entrance to The French Laundry / {2} the classic sesame tuile "cornets" of salmon tartare with red onion and crème fraîche / {3} the signature clothespin napkin holder at The French Laundry
Le Bernardin: {1} inside the newly renovated Le Bernardin / {2} charred octopus with purple basil, fermented black bean, peach sauce vierge and ink-miso vinaigrette -- paired with a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc produced by Nautilus from Marlborough, New Zealand / {3} Yellowfin tuna, thinly pounded with foie gras atop a toasted baguette covered with shaved chives and extra virgin olive oil -- paired with a 2010 Moscatel Seco produced by Botani from Málaga, Spain
Eleven Madison Park: {1} warm gougères filled with cheese / {2} variations of carrots roasted in duck fat with dates and wheatberries / {3} duck, roasted with lavender honey and accompanied by turnips (baby turnips, roasted turnips, and a turnip purée) and roasted figs

Along with the extraordinary pairings I had at Le Bernardin, 2011 marked an enlightening year in terms of learning more about oenology -- which for me, was dipping my toes in general knowledge of wine nomenclature -- mainly focused on geography and grape varietals -- as well as slightly more complex rules of thumb for pairings. I've definitely come a long way, from just knowing how to pronounce popular wines, where I feel a little more at ease being in a wine shop and somewhat knowing what to look for aligned with what I know I like. During the course of the year, I took four or five 2-hour wine classes at New York Vintners (my review on the shop and its classes will be posted in a month or so!), which generally got me interested in truly understanding a wine bottle's label as well as a wine menu in a restaurant. It was at JBF LTD where I had experienced a food-and-wine pairing that had the intense persuasion (i.e., really awoke something inside of me that rendered me speechless) to have me enduringly convinced that the two things can indeed have a syngergistic relationship -- given you know what will work with each other. The course pairings at Le Bernardin solidified my beliefs even further, so much that I attempted my own pairings in the kitchen.

JAQK Cellars / Tartine: {1} wine tasting at the now-shuttered Bacchus Wines with design-savvy JAQK Cellars and its entire collection of wines / {2} its flagship wine, the High Roller -- a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley / {3} pan-roasted duck with a resulting confit sauce, peppercorns, assorted herbs, apples, and a variation of au gratin hash at Tartine -- paired, BYOB-style, with the High Roller
JBF LTD: {1} JBF LTD's glass window countdown of its life in days as a pop-up restaurant at Chelsea Market / {2,3} Chef Laurent Gras' butter poached Jonah crab with red togarashi bouillon and celery -- paired with a 2008 Montagny Blanc (100% chardonnay) produced by Albert Bichot from Burgundy, France
pairings in the kitchen: truffle-flecked foie gras mousse spread and brioche (not pictured) and {1} seared lobes of foie gras paired with {2} a brut crémant produced by Cave L'Aurance from the Bourgogne region of Burgundy, France and with {3} a 2007 Girasole red blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot grapes, respectively.

2011 was also a year filled with many vineyard/winery visits, learning more about American winemaking, both on the East (Finger Lakes and white wines) and the West Coast (Napa Valley and reds).

the Finger Lakes: {1} minimal intervention wine-making at Fox Run Vineyards of Torrey Ridge / {2} new wines produced from classic European grape varieties at Goose Watch Winery of Cayuga Lake / {3} famed rieslings (from full dry to sweet ice) at Wagner Vineyards in Lodi / {4} Glenora Wine Cellars, the first winery of Seneca Lake
the Napa Valley: {1} Del Dotto Vineyards' St. Helena Estate Winery location, housed over a man-made cave in which its aging oak barrels of free-run grape juice are stored / {2} Duckhorn Vineyards' estate house, where tastings are hosted / {3} tasting at the Swanson Salon -- Swanson Vineyards and its 2006 Crepuscule dessert wine (whose name has a special meaning for Marcus and me)

2011 was a year of finding some lovely hidden gems as well -- here in NYC and elsewhere.

{1} niku-uni --
chuck flap served on leaves of seaweed and shiso topped with raw sea urchin and fresh wasabi from Takashi / {2} scallop special with homemade penne pasta, leeks, and cherry tomatoes in a light cream sauce at Cellar 58 / {3} tripe in tomato sauce with pancetta, white wine, and fresh pecorino from 54 Mint in San Francisco / {4} oxtail-stuffed squid with with squid ink steel-cut oatmeal risotto and garlic aioli from Degustation / {5} slice of the bittersweet chocolate cake, à la mode with vanilla gelato at ChocoBolo (fka, The Best Chocolate Cake in the World) / {6} crispy chicken tacos from Dos Toros Taqueria

Besides San Francisco, I did some traveling to nearby cities outside the Tri-State area.

Philadelphia: {1} grilled truffle flatbread topped with arugula and fontina cheese, served with shaved Parmesan at R2L / {2} inside R2L, the restaurant on the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place
Washington D.C.: {1} Tessita cupcake -- vanilla cupcake with dulce de leche filling and chocolate hazelnut satin frosting -- at baked & wired / {2} chai cupcake from baked & wired

2011 gave me the chance to meet three world-renowned chefs (and to add some more signed cookbooked/memoirs to my shelves).

Grant Achatz: {1} Chef Grant Achatz at his Life, on the Line lecture at the New York Public Library Mid-Manhattan, signing copies of his memoir / {2} Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat / {3} my signed copy of Life, on the Line by Chef Grant Achatz
Ferran Adrià: {1} The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià / {2} my signed copy of The Family Meal by Chef Ferran Adrià / {3} me with Chef Ferran Adrià at his cookbook signing at Williams-Sonoma Columbus Circle
Jacques Pépin: {1} me with Chef Jacques Pépin at his cookbook signing at Williams-Sonoma Columbus Circle / {2} my signed copy of Essential Pépin / {3} Essential Pépin: More than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food

During 2011, I ventured to some of the notable "new" spots in the city.

Ciano: {1} gnudi "tre-colore" -- a "nude" ravioli (just filling, no pasta) comprising of three "colored" flavors: parmigiano (white), chevril (green), and black truffle ("red") / {2} rotolo di pasta -- a pasta roll that contains broccoli rabe, sweet sausage, and tomato ragù / {3} ravioli con carbonara -- a combination of pecorino, smoked guanciale, hen egg, fried parsley, and black pepper
The Dutch: {1} 2007 Furmint Sec from Tokaji, Hungary produced by Királyudvar / {2} little oyster sandwiches / {3} black cod with smoked mushrooms and yuzu-chili broth
David Burke Kitchen / Ai Fiori: {1} duck meatball lasagna with herbed striped pasta, ricotta, and quail egg / {2} gnocchetti -- semolina saffron gnocchi with blue crab, sea urchin, tomato, and fresh herbs
La Promenade des Anglais / Veritas: {1} farrotto with braised veal cheeks and spinach / {2} short rib raviolo served with oyster mushrooms and pickled red onions

Outstanding in the Field returned once again to New York City, though this time to Brooklyn Grange over in Queens, to host another farm dinner, making it my second OITF event.

Outstanding in the Field 2011: {1} the rooftop of Brooklyn Grange at sunset / {2} long tables set up through Brooklyn Grange's rooftop farm / {3} arugula salad with strawberries from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, Lynnhaven Farm goat cheese, mint, and lime / {4} steamed halibut with Maxwell's Farm goldbar zucchini and nasturtium vinaigrette, topped with toasted pumpernickel chili bread crumbs / {5} Katy Oursler, the Director of OITF's Private Events, and Jim Denevan, the founder of OITF, saying a few words to the farm dinner guests / {6} grilled housemade chicken and pork pistachio sausage served over Brooklyn Grange warm field greens, crispy prosciutto, sherry vinaigrette , chives, and cheddar-style cheese / {7} the chefs of ABC Kitchen hard at work on the rooftop of Brooklyn Grange preparing the farm dinner

Marcus and I celebrated Macaron Day NYC and also tried genuine Parisian macarons, both for the first time in 2011.

{1} Macaron Day NYC 2011 promo in a participating shop's window / {2} assortment of uniquely flavored macarons from pop-up shop Cours La Reine -- two complimentary on Macaron Day NYC / {3} free salted caramel and praline macarons from DessertTruck Works on Macaron Day NYC/ {4} the entire assortment of macaron flavors (as of September 2011) at Ladurée, that are flown in directly from Paris

And always last, but not least, 2011 had a lot of things in store for my inner sweet tooth.

{1} Beard Papa's eclair puff with classic vanilla custard / {2} Pistachio Premium -- a gelato poposicle covered with freshly chopped pistachios and half-dipped with signature dark chocolate -- from popbar / {3} crème brûlée doughnut from Doughnut Plant / {4} The Salted Pimp -- a combination of vanilla soft-serve with dulce de leche, sea salt, and chocolate dip -- from The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
Sprinkles Cupcakes: {1} red velvet cupcake -- Southern-style light chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting / {2} dark chocolate cupcake -- Belgian dark chocolate cake with bittersweet chocolate frosting and dark chocolate sprinkles / {3} chai cupcake -- a spiced chai tea cake with chai-vanilla frosting

...and that, ladies and gents, is 2011, in summary!

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