Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Q&A | Debra

October's Q&A sesh features Debra, a dear friend of mine from my university days. She's no stranger over here at Four Tines -- she's my fellow noodle nommer as we both can't get enough of ramen, soba, and noodles of all kinds. I've had the pleasure of living with Debra for the last three years at school, and much to my chagrin, she has witnessed pretty much every cooking disaster I've jammed myself in until I was able to finally find my bearings in what used to be the culinary wilderness for me. Debra has been the rational, supportive rock that has gotten me through the thick and thin. She is as dependable and loyal as any awesome individual can be, and I am very lucky to have her as my friend. Thanks again to Debra for participating in this Q&A!

Debra and me at the graduation from our alma mater, May 2009.


New York, NY

I'm really bad at picking a single favorite thing...of anything! So I guess I'll have to say that recently I've loved Jin Ramen. Though, if you ask Stefie, I just love ramen – and broth.

Jade Asian in Flushing, Queens for dim sum with my family and various noodle shops in New York City with Stefie.

Water. Being highly alcohol intolerant I can't have even a sip of any kind of alcohol without ill consequences. I avoid most sodas because they're usually just too sweet for me. But if I'm in a whimsical mood I'll drink a Shirley Temple.

Some may consider it gross but... pickle juice. I love pickle brine and I'll regularly pour myself a small glass of it and hold onto the jar long after the pickles are gone just to drink it.

I'm more of a baker than a cook. I love baking cookies, although I rarely eat that many myself. Usually by the time I'm done baking I don't even want to look at them anymore. But I'll bring baked goods to family get-togethers and everyone seems to enjoy it. :]

My mom is... less than fond of cooking. But she does make one awesome thing: macaroni and cheese. I don't eat a lot of cheese/dairy, but I love it. It's gooey with a crispy breadcrumb top and has Spam in it. Yes, Spam. Should this count as a guilty indulgence instead...? Also, Stefie's aunt's stuffing. I remember when she used to bring me back some after Thanksgiving. :D

If I could go anywhere in the world... probably Japan. I've always had a thing for Japanese culture in general, and being able to eat there would be phenomenal.

Bourdain makes me laugh constantly. I'm a little sad No Reservations is ending, as it's just so much fun to watch. (Though, he will have that new show on CNN.) I don't really idolize celebrity chefs in general... but I do like watching Morimoto on Iron Chef America (although I used to watch the original Iron Chef too, with the horrible dubbing.) His knife work on fish is just mesmerizing.

I also greatly look up to my grandfather on my father's side. He ran a Chinese restaurant in Far Rockaway years ago that was locally famous for their “rice cups” (roast pork braising sauce with white rice for $0.25). When I was a child and my grandparents lived nearby, we would see them at least once a week or so for dinner. He'd always make an extra cup of gravy from the beef and broccoli for both my brother and I to put over our rice. When we visit them in Florida, he still does it. It's great.

My step-grandmother passed away this past February, and we all miss her. She was an amazing cook and baker, possibly the best in the family. She would make these amazing pecan rolls in the morning and sourdough bread that I loved. Although my mom and I got some of her starter, it just doesn't taste the same.

Milk because I'm semi-lactose intolerant; eggs (unless they're in fried rice and I can't smell/taste them) smell and taste really bad to me, I don't know why; alcohol because something braised in wine can be a little headache inducing; Hoisin sauce; Jell-o/gelatin; and if I'm being honest this list could go on forever...

A few years ago I went on a cruise up the eastern coast of Canada. One night, there was this amazing cappuccino pie for dessert. I felt guilty even eating one, and I debated another yet held myself back. I wish I hadn't. It was just ridiculously good.

And if I can add another... my step-grandmother had this simple recipe for what she called Oreo Delight. It's one package of crushed Oreos, one tub of cool whip, and one gallon of vanilla ice cream. Mix it all together, put in a Pyrex and freeze it. Then you cut it into squares and enjoy the cookies and cream deliciousness.

I don't really have one. I do like the recipes handed down to me from my mother's mother. They're for various baked goods, as she and my mother were really the ones to turn me onto baking. Her recipe for snickerdoodles is fantastic.

I don't know why, I just love chiffonade. And although it's not technically a “culinary” word – いらっしゃいませ(irrashaimase) is great to hear when you're entering a Japanese restaurant.

I only read one! ;]

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fresh Find | temperature tea kettles

Since my adolescent years, I have always been an avid tea drinker. There are times when I stray toward the coffee bean, but for the most part, loose tea leaves have been my brewed ingredient of choice. With that being said, I've been on the prowl for some investment-worthy appliances for my crazy tea-drinking habits, especially ones with pretty accurate temperature gauges, as many loose teas have different set temperatures for optimal enjoyment and taste.

An almost necessary splurge for the intense tea enthusiast, the Breville One-Touch Tea Maker is quite a sight for culinary wizardry. With a touch of the "basket button," the tea strainer is "fully automated" and "cycles in and out of immersion, gently agitating the leaves to precisely infuse your tea." This allows for the water "to circulate freely around the individual tea leaves for maximum infusion." The One-Touch Tea Maker is fully programmable for all types of teas, water temperatures, and steep times. Plus, the kettle part of this appliance is made from Schott glass (manufactured in Germany) which is both durable and stain resistant. Look how sleek it is -- are you swooning? Because I certainly am!

Another alternative is the relatively more affordable Cuisinart PerfecTemp cordless electric kettle (model CPK-17), which proves to be more practical and of multi-use. What I mean by multi-use is that its sole purpose isn't solely focused on brewing tea -- it heats water to six preset temperatures (i.e., ones that allow for delicate, green, white, oolong, French press, and boiling) for different varieties of tea, for boiling things, and for even coffee brewing. Its 1500-watt power allows for quick-and-easy heat-up. What's more is the notable "Keep Warm" option that will maintain a set temperature for up to 30 minutes as well as the ability to remove the stainless steel, 1.7-liter capacity kettle from the power base for up to two minutes without it shutting off.

Both of these are now on my long-term wishlist -- I'd be so incredibly ecstatic with either of these! My tea brewing days would be so much more efficient and precise. What is it about shiny, new kitchen appliances that make me so giddy?!

One-Touch Tea Maker
Price point: $249.99, here at Breville.

PerfecTemp cordless electric kettle
Price point: $99.95, here at Cuisinart.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lunch | Cocoron Soba

In the spirit of our noodle outings together, Debra and I thought Cocoron Soba would be a great choice for our next undertaking. So this past Sunday, Debra, Marcus, and I headed to Cocoron Soba's original location in the Lower East Side on Delancey (note the new location is on Kenmare between Mott and Elizabeth). We made sure to arrive around noon, i.e., when the restaurant opens, as I've been warned by many friends and reviews that waits can get crazy.

As you can tell from the shots above, cocoron is Japanese for "heartwarming," and as such, Cocoron Soba is "dedicated to preparing health-conscious and 'heartwarming' Japanese home cooking, starting with the staple soba."

Owner Yoshihito Kida opened Cocoron Soba "to share his love and passion for soba, as he wisely and firmly says, 'Through soba, I want people to discover that being healthy isn't an alternative to taste. In the U.S., the concept of healthy is almost like a choice or a sacrifice you have to make, but in Japan, health and taste somehow co-exist dtogether, and I want to deliver that through [my restaurant]." In fact, its tagline is cocoron, where hearty meets healthy.

{1,5} The restaurant's space is quite small, where guests can sit pretty comfortably in stools at the noodle counter or in a few tables surrounding it. It is quite incredible how the chefs at Cocoron Soba manage to cook up some amazing things with such a small, confined kitchen area. {2} The menu offers an wide variety of sobas, both warm and cold. We opted for something warm as the chill in the fall air was pretty brusque that afternoon. {4} To start, I had a soba buckwheat barley tea which brewed inside a stone ceramic cup from a tiny weaved basket-like strainer. It was quite fragrant yet enjoyably bold (but not overpowering) upon sipping. {5} Even Debra's ice water came in a cute hammered copper cup!

All of our noodles came out piping hot, right off the stove, which explains the steamy and foggy photographs above. {3} Debra chose the stamina soba with sliced pork and scallions. It was basically soba noodles with sliced pork and scallions inside Cocoron's signature broth. Though simple in ingredients, the broth made the entire bowl super flavorful and rich. {2} I had the sansai soba with bamboo shoots, flowering fern, woodear mushrooms, scallions, deep-fried tempura batter, and kitsune (i.e., simmered, deep-fried tofu). I have been on a crazy bamboo kick lately (probably making up for all the times during my youth and adolescence picking them out of my food and discarding them), so I just had to try it (plus the woodear mushrooms were another plus). I normally don't drink the broth after consuming all of the noodles and accompanying ingredients, but to Debra's bewilderment, there I was slurping away, not getting enough of the awesomeness that was Cocoron's broth. I saw one of the chefs dump in a good amount of chicken bones into a large stockpot full of water, and immediately I knew the secret to the broth's rich flavors. In hindsight, I wish I had ordered an extra topping of sliced pork. While I enjoyed the clean, vegetable-centric aspect of the sansai, I still felt like I need a little heartier protein mixed in. Next time!

{1} Marcus went with the Japanese-style curry soba with sliced pork and scallions, which seems to be the heartiest of all the warm soba noodle soups. It is essentially the stamina soba that Debra had, only with some spiced Japanese curry mixed in. I had a spoonful of his broth and was totally blown away by the depth of intensity it had to offer. While it wasn't unbelievably spicy, it still had a decent punch to it. If you want to bare witness to the most distinctive soba here at Cocoron, I think this would be your best bet.

Findings: Cocoron Soba was indeed a heartwarming treat (ha-ha-ha) for us. The soup base for the soba captured the restaurant's mission in the soup's every drop -- it was hearty in flavor with a clean clarity to the healthy broth. The buckwheat soba was cooked perfectly in each of our bowls, and the accoutrement -- protein and veggies -- were perfect, too. This tiny little noodle joint has lots of delicous things promised in its bowls of soba, either cold or warm and is certainly worth a detour! Just be wary crowds during prime eating hours, so try to get here when it opens. Chances are, you'll get your choice of table or seat at the counter, and will shortly be entranced by the magical broth and musical soba.

Price point: $10-13.50 for each bowl of warm soba.

--October 21, 2012

Cocoron Soba
61 Delancey Street
New York, NY 10002

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Market Eats | Smorgasburg

This past Saturday, Marcus and I met up with Lisa, Jess, Jen, Jill, and Evan for some outdoor grub over at Smorgasburg, a food market run by the folks of Brooklyn Flea. Smorgasburg "features packaged and prepared foods as well as purveyors from New York City and across the region, and other food-related vendors (kitchen utensils, housewares, etc.)." On Saturdays, Smorgasburg can be found on the East River Waterfront (between North 6th and 7th Streets) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

{1,2,3} We arrived a little after 11 AM, and it was already crowding up with lots of hungry eaters.

Before committing ourselves to just any food vendors, our group took a loop around the Smorgasburg grounds and compiled a list of places we wanted to try.

{1} The first vendor we tried was Mighty Quinn's, {2} mostly because of the long line that was forming that was longer than all the rest (after all, aren't long lines for food a solid determinant of really good stuff?!).. The menu had two options for protein -- barbecue pulled pork or barbecue beef brisket -- available in two sizes, a little slider or a big one. {3} The pulled pork was pre-pulled, while the {4} beef brisket was hand-carved. {5} Marcus and I both thought it'd be best if we each ordered a little slider of each to share -- pulled pork on the left, braised brisket on the right. Wow-ee! These barbecue sliders boasted the moistest, tastiest, and most flavorful barbecue style pork/beef that I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying. If there's one place you do hit up at Smorgasburg, it's definitelly Mighty Quinn's. {6,7} I also sampled some kickass ramp vinaigrette (inspired from the ramps' pickling juices) from Right Tasty, a company started by Duncan Adams and Josh Mizrahi, which led me to immediately purchase a bottle. Cannot wait to try some of this in my own kitchen! {8,9} The next spot we hit up was Brooklyn Piggies, a vendor that specializes in pigs-in-a-blanket using top tier sausages and incredibly flaky puff pastry. They certainly lived up to our hype of stumbling upon Brooklyn Piggies (with options such as original, spicy, and chicken).

For some intermittent third quenching, {1,2} I got a homemade cream soda from Brooklyn Soda Works -- which had the perfect balance of carbonated sweet and creamy flavors -- {3,4} while Jill and Marcus each had freshly lemon shaved ice from People's Pops. {5} A little later, I finally made my way to the highly anticipated Yuji Ramen, especially having been on my list of places to try for the past year. {7} Its specialty is mazemen -- new style of ramen that is served without broth, consisting of flavored oils, tare (i.e., concentrated soup base), and various toppings{6,8,9} Lisa and I were all over the uni miso mazemen, which had chilled ramen topped with uni, sea urchin sauce, shredded shiso, and shredded nori. It was everything I thought it would be and more. Seriously amazing stuff that they're cooking up here at Yuji Ramen. I cannot wait to return back to Smorgasburg to try their other original creations!

{1} Another vendor Lisa and I were sure to check out was Brooklyn Oyster Party which sells sustainably harvested oysters. {2} The vendors shucked the oysters upon us ordering a half dozen of them -- one of each kind offered that day for each of us -- that came with complimentary lemon slices. {3} Beginning from the top left going clockwise, we went in the order of briniest to sweetest: the Fire River from Richibucto in New Brunswick, Canada; the Wellfleet from Wellfleet, Massachusetts; and Caraquet from New Brunswick, Canada. The Fire River was super briny (described as complex liquor, custard-like texture with an unmistakable sweet finish), while the Wellfleet was a little less briny (described at plump and clean with a good balance of creamy sweetness and brine) but still intense. Our favorite was the last one -- the Caraquet -- as it was the sweetest, richest in flavor (described as sweet, buttery, and juicy with a high salinity). I think the first two would have been a little more palatable with some good ol' hogwash. {4,5} For dessert, Jess, Lisa, and I had doughnuts from Dough. Jess had the toasted coconut (not pictured), I had the simple cinnamon sugar, and Lisa had the dulce de leche with almonds. These doughnuts were HUGE -- both airy and fluffy. They were fried to the perfect collapsing, doughy consistency, and the designated flavors were just a little sweet so that they could be easily enjoyed without a crazy sugar overload. I wish I weren't so full at the time so I could fully savor it even more. These doughnuts would be great with coffee for breakfast. {6} Lisa, Evan and I also had fresh fruit smoothies from Salud (Lisa and I had the Mango Tango -- mango, pineapple, and orange juice -- and Evan had the Brazil Thrill -- açai berries, blackberries, bananas, and apple cider). They were all well-blended with super fresh fruits -- solid quenching beverages! {7} I noticed Blue Bottle Coffee Co. was there, but I didn't have an opportunity to try anything, but these dripping coffee contraptions certainly looked cool!

Other places our group checked out were Asiadog (the Wangding hot dog), S'more Bakery (assorted cookies), and Milk Truck Grilled Cheese (the Classic grilled cheese) -- all hits as well.

Me with Jen, Jill, and Jess at Smorgasburg.

Lisa and me at Smorgasburg!

Findings: I cannot believe it took me so long to get my butt over to Smorgasburg -- I was undoubtedly missing out on some quality bites here! I've been to the Brooklyn Flea last August which had a fraction of the food vendors as Smorgasburg did so I had a glimpse of what was to come. The key to optimizing any visit to Smorgasburg is to do a walkthrough the entire marketplace, noting which places you'd be inclined to check out, and then reassessing this list once the walkthrough is complete. Then the rest is strategic -- i.e., how much your stomach can take before it explodes, which appeals more to personal tastes, which is more economical in value, which is worth the splurge, etc. I am happy to report that all of our eats were all worth the pretty pennies we paid. The major highlights for me were Mighty Quinn's, Yuji Ramen, Salud, and Dough

I hope we can make this a seasonal thing (once in the spring, once in the summer, and another time in the fall) so we can get a better picture of the 250+ vendors that are signed on with Smorgasburg. There are some exciting things happening over at Smorgasburg, and I can't wait to bear witness of how much more it'll explode in growth. 

Thanks to my awesome friends for trekking out there with me!

Price point: $3 for each small barbecue slider from Mighty Quinn's, $9 for each bottle of ramp vinaigrette from Right Tasty, $3 for five pigs-in-a-blanket from Brooklyn Piggies, $4 for each soda at Brooklyn Soda Works, $2.50 for each shaved ice from People's Pops, $10 for each bowl of uni miso mazemen from Yuji Ramen, $16 for a half dozen of oysters from Brooklyn Oyster Party, $2.50 for each doughnut from Dough, $6 for each smoothie from Salud.

--October 20, 2012

Brooklyn Flea
East River Water Front (between North 6th and 7th Streets)
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Mighty Quinn's
103 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003

Right Tasty

Brooklyn Piggies

Brooklyn Soda Works

People's Pops

Yuji Ramen

Brooklyn Oyster Party

305 Franklin Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11205

1308 Avenue H
Brooklyn, NY 11230

Friday, October 19, 2012

Etcetera | Friday Fanfare, 2012.10.19

Just wanted to pop in and apologize for my radio silence over here at Four Tines this past week -- deadlines are piling up in my bean counting world, so hopefully that will start winding down next week, with posts to queue up soon! The weekend ahead seems like it's going to be quite full of eating (no complaints here!) -- I'm off to Smorgasburg tomorrow for the first time (!) with some friends, a slow-braised dinner at home (going to attempt this recipe from From Away) and then noodles at Cocoron Soba on Sunday. 

Happy weekend to you all -- hope you're finding some awesome things for nommin'! Here's a round-up to quench your inner foodie.

A peppery paradise at the Union Square Greenmarket.

This week's noteworthy eats:

Some ruminating reads:

In case you missed it:

A roundup of drool-worthy recipes:

On the blotter for upcoming noms:
  • Crif Dogs now has a hot dog truck!
  • Gothamist shares a doughnut map for the NYC area compiled by independent publisher, All You Can Eat.
  • Chef Andrew Camellini plans to name is upcoming NoHo French bistro, Lafayette.
  • Wild mushrooms hit the New Amsterdam Market.
  • Everybody's crazy about Roberta's/Blanca -- check out this slideshow from this week's New York Times review by Pete Wells as well as this slideshow of "food porn" in Vanity Fair.
  • Time Out New York on the new ramen joint Dassara in Brooklyn.
  • Grub Street New York rounds up the best places to find homemade tofu in the city.
  • The Amateur Gourmet on a return visit to Zuni Cafe in San Francisco and how restaurants don't necessarily change by the diners do.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dinner | Dirt Candy

A couple weekends ago, I was joined by Christine and her two friends, Nicole and Sara, for an early dinner at Dirt Candy, the vegetable restaurant over in the East Village.

After having gone to the restaurant's comic cookbook launch party last month and sampled some delicious hors d'oeuvres, I knew I had to see for myself what kind of vegetable wonderland Chef Amanda Cohen had over at her restaurant.

I knew from reading the few "chapters" in the cookbook that the place was small -- and it really was. But it wasn't the kind of overcramped small, it was the cozy and intimate kind of small.

I love the frosty lacquered tables and walls in contrast to the textured walls (like a fancy cardboard/cork). There's also a subtle pink glow of uplighting throughout the restaurant which plays into the restaurant's logo design -- a pink and white candy swirl growing from the dirt! :)

The menu is served on miniature clipboards -- the current season's menu (for us, the "Autumn" menu) as well as "The Wine Safari" -- which noted the story behind the restaurant's moniker and mission. As Chef Cohen sees vegetables are "candy from the dirt," she wants her guests "to have fun and be surprised at how good they can be."

We started off with a bottle of sparkling rosé from Italy produced by Lamberti. It was crisp with a little sweetness and bubbles tickling our palates.

Flatbread for the table, served with extra virgin olive oil.

We started with something from the snack section -- jalapeño hushpuppies served with maple butter. A Southern-inspired treat, hushpuppies are essentially deep-fried cornmeal batter, and this version at Dirt Candy had jalapeños mixed inside it. Not only were these nuggets of cornmeal fried to a savory crisp, they had a big kick to them from the peppers. The maple butter made them that much better, adding a sweet creaminess to them. These are great for sharing among the table.

Since there were eight total dishes available on the menu (four appetizers and four entrées), we decided to share each of the four appetizers and three entrées so we could each get a taste of everything.

The first of the appetizers was tomato -- a tomato cake over smoked feta wrapped with cherry tomato leather and served with spring herb purée (identical ingredient-wise to the one from the cookbook launch party) . The tomatoes in the cake were really refreshing and juicy, while the leather surrounding had an interesting contrast to the flesh of the glistening tomatoes (kind of like a thicker fruit roll-up). The feta gave the dish a little more dimension of flavor, attributable to its creamy smokiness. Together, it had a similar consistency to smoked salmon on a bagel, only with no fish or any carb overload. Overall, I thought this was really well done.

Next up, we had the cabbage -- Chinese kohlrabi salad, purple cabbage wontons, and Sichuan walnuts. As the menu isn't explicitly meant for sharing, this dish was probably the hardest to share among our group of four. I didn't really understand the composition of this dish at all, but to be fair, it'd probably best be eaten by one or two people -- not five. It was essentially a shredded turnip salad with a little crunch.

This next appetizer was one of my favorites of the evening. It was the mushroom -- portobello mousse with truffled toast and pear-fennel compote. The portobello mousse was pretty much a paté that we spread over the truffled toasts, topping it off with the pear-fennel compote and some marinated mushrooms. The earthiness from the essence of truffles on the toast brought out the natural flavors of the mushrooms, while the compote added a little sweet-and-salty flair to it. Highly recommended, especially if you love mushrooms as much as I do!

The first of the main courses was corn -- stone ground grits with corn cream, pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche (i.e., corn mushroom or "Mexican truffles"), microcilantro, and tempura poached egg, making for another favorite. The tempura poached egg alone sold me over before I could even taste the creamed corn grits. Its exterior was delicate and crunchy, yet once you bit into it, the egg white was soft and silky, the yolk nice and runny. The grits were creamy with the richness from the corn and huitlacoche. Definitely order this if you're at Dirt Candy!

One of the other entrées we ordered was the chard -- chard gnocchi with grilled chard, garlic granola, and drunken fig jam. The garlic granola was perfect, and the fig jam nice and tart. The essence of the chard was captured well in the gnocchi, and the texture was soft and creamy, slightly thicker than whipped butter. While the rest of our party really enjoyed it, it was a tad bit cheesy for me. But then again, can be a really cheesy pasta, so at the end of the day, it's ultimately personal preference on cheesiness.

Last of the entrées was the cauliflower -- a vegetarian take on "fried chicken and waffles" which had buttermilk battered cauliflower and pickled cauliflower with waffles, horseradish, and wild arugula. It was shocking the power that the fried cauliflower stood against fried chicken -- it was surprisingly filling and meshed well with the horseradish dressed waffles. It was fried to a well-browned crisp, and the cauliflower itself was snappy in taste.

For dessert, we decided to share two of the most interested ones. This first one was the rosemary eggplant tiramisu -- grilled eggplant with rosemary cotton candy and mascarpone. Now I don't know about you, but I have never believed in the eggplant. For me, the texture can be boggling, the taste can be unsettling, and the way in which it is cooked can drastically affect how it tastes. So imagine my shock when I saw that not only was eggplant on the menu, but as the focal ingredient in a dessert! However, as we were in a vegetable-focused restaurant, that meant being open-minded and up for trying atypical things, just like this. So we did it, and it was far from what I was expecting. It was a pretty yet savory dessert -- the eggplant was delicate and tasteful yet deliberate, and the mascarpone dressed it up nicely. Did you know that eggplant isn't actually a vegetable but in actuality a fruit (more specifically a berry)? It is probably why it worked so well here. Plus, the rosemary-infused cotton candy added another dimension to this dessert, and it complemented the refreshing eggplant tiramisu quite nicely. Order this -- it is one magical dessert.

The other dessert we had -- the ice cream nanaimo bar with sweet pea, mint, and chocolate -- was another instant winner. It reminded much of the mint ice cream sandwich I had over at Matyson in Philadelphia this summer but also had its own distinct flavors, textures, and ingredients. With Canadian origins from the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia, a nanaimo bar is a no-bake cookie that consists of a wafer crumb-based layer (i.e., lowest layer) topped by what usually is a light vanilla or custard-flavored butter icing (only here it is mint and sweet pea flavored) and covered with melted chocolate made from chocolate squares (i.e., the top layer). This dessert was refreshing due to its minty freshness yet sweet and delectable from its chocolate-savvy sandwiching layers. Just from the two desserts we sampled, one thing was for sure -- Dirt Candy sure knows how to know make some kickass, original desserts with focal ingredients from the fruit and vegetable families.

Findings: Overall, I was a bit underwhelmed with my visit to Dirt Candy -- perhaps it's because I've been to vegetable-centric restaurants like the shojin-focused Kajitsu and the now-shuttered Ubuntu in Napa where my palate took well to their menus and resulting cuisine. While there were some notable winners (mushroom with truffled toast, corn with tempura poached egg, and each of the desserts), I wasn't particularly impressed or blown away by the other desserts as much as I had thought I would be. The menu seemed a little limited in each meal category (about four or so choices within each), but given the intimate size of the restaurant, I could see why a limited menu is more pragmatic.

I don't think it was because the food wasn't good -- the techniques, quality of ingredients, and plating were top-notch -- but rather that of personal preference when it comes to my palate. A lot of what was on the menu didn't really sit well with me -- the cheesiness of these dishes makes me want to wish I had opted for the vegan option so I couldn't enjoyed those dishes a little more. My own fault, I know, but I also felt that the menu was a little bit on the pricier side, especially when I left still hungry. However, considering we shared about three appetizers, one snack, three entrées, and two desserts (less than the typical, recommended three-courses per person), that may have explained why. Not all of the dishes were friendly for sharing, which made eating/splitting on the more conservative end.

All in all, I think it's an exciting place to be to see how vegetables can really be showcased as the headliner in each dish (even the dessert, which I really have to admit was super impressive -- similarly mentioned in The New York Times about Blanca this week). Go in with an open mind and a forgiving palate (you may come across things you're not totally crazy about) -- you may leave with a fonder appreciation of "dirt candy" from Dirt Candy.

Price point: $12-13 for each appetizer, $6 for each snack, $18-19 for each entrée, and $11-12 for each dessert.

--October 6, 2012

Dirt Candy
430 East 9th Street
New York, NY 10009

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lecture | Master of Modernist Cuisine

Yesterday, Marcus and I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a TimesTalk lecture, entitled "Master of Modernist Cuisine," featuring Nathan Myhrvold (of Modernist Cuisine fame) in conversation with New York Times writer Jeff Gordinier, hosted at The Times Center near Times Square that was part of this weekend's New York City Wine and Food Festival (NYCWFF). I had bought tickets for the event back in June when they first went on sale, and around that time, I had discovered that Mr. Myhrvold would be releasing a second Modernist Cuisine cookbook around the same time that would be more fitting (i.e., a singular volume as opposed to the original's five) and "affordable"  (a whopping $140 versus the original's super hefty cost of $625) for at home-use (aptly entitled Modernist Cuisine at Home). I was so psyched at the prospect of finally owning a copy of some iteration of Modernist Cuisine that even made this upcoming lecture that much more exciting.

So this past week, my pre-ordered copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home arrived via (thank you, Amazon Prime!).

{1} It arrived in its own snug box (fancy, I know!) {2} which even had a "seal" on the it which read "certified frustration-free packaging." I guess it's to ensure that during its potentially bumpy trip from the warehouse to any doorstep, that the book will stay intact without any shipment damage -- no arguments here! {3} When I opened the package quite easily, I found the cookbook to be inside another box -- {4} the book, along with a complimentary waterproof (!) kitchen manual has its own slipcase (what I now dub to be the Russian dolls of the cookbook world). Oh, and did I mention it weights a little over 10 pounds? Yup, I was still planning on lugging this all the way to the lecture.

The original five-volume, 2,400-page of cookbooks, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, was created by Mr. Myhrvold with Chris Yong and Maxime Bilet (scientists, inventors, and accomplished cooks) and "reveals science-inspired techniques for preparing food that ranges from the other-worldly to the sublime." The authors, along with their 20-person team at "The Cooking Lab," have "achieved astounding new flavors and textures by using tools such as water baths, homogenizers, centrifuges, and ingredients, such as hydrocolloids, emulsifiers, and enzymes." Their mission for this work is "destined to reinvent cooking." Located in Bellevue, Washington, The Cooking Lab is "a culinary research laboratory and publishing company originally created for Modernist Cuisine" and "houses one of the most sophisticated research kitchens in the world."

The TimesTalk with Mr. Myhrvold was held this past Saturday at 11 AM.

His was part of a series of NYCWFF talks with other renowned food personalities/chefs including Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, Paula Deen, and Marcus Samuelsson.

Just as a little background (thanks to the pamphlet given at the TimesTalk), before Modernist Cuisine, Mr. Myhrvold had quite a non-culinary dossier of experience. He had graduated with degrees in mathematics, geophysics, and space physics from UCLA as well as with Ph.D.s in mathematical economics and theoretical physics from Princeton. His postdoctoral work at Cambridge University also included working on quantum theories of gravity with Stephen Hawking. Soon after, he became the first chief technology officer at Microsoft, where he established Microsoft Research and oversaw many advanced technology projects. Leaving Microsoft in 1999, he went on to pursue a lifelong interest in cooking and food science. He staged at Seattle's top restaurant, Rover's, for two years before completing culinary training at Ecole de la Varenne. He is now the CEO and founder of Intellectual Ventures, a firm dedicated to creating and investing in inventions. In fact, Mr. Myhrvold himself is an active inventor with nearly 250 patents issued or pending, including several related to food technology.

The event had sold out earlier in the week, so the theatre was completely packed.

Here were some highlights to the stimulating conversation Mr. Gordinier had with Mr. Myhrvold:
  • When asked about his original fixation on food, Mr. Myhrvold briefly mentioned for the first Thanksgiving holidays where he sought to cook a meal for his family, he learned that Georges Auguste Escoffier was not the best go-to resource for beginners (i.e., more for advanced cooks) and that the Pyromaniac's Cookbook more suited his skillset and proclivities for flames.
  • Mr. Gordonier asked Mr. Myhrvold if his epicurean interests set him apart while he was working in the "techie world" -- Mr. Myhrvold responded that the food groups of a programmer includes caffeine and pizza, so it was a completely different kind of atmosphere. 
  • Bill Gates isn't too much of a "foodie" as he was puzzled by Mr. Myhrvold's request to take a leave of absence to attend culinary school. He even said to Mr. Myhrvold that Modernist Cuisine is the only one he has ever opened.
  • When Mr. Myhrvold built The Cooking Lab, he and his team were looking for cookbooks that divulged the newest and latest cooking techniques. Their search concluded that the market was oversaturated with "classic" approaches to cooking, so in that regard, the world was covered, but when it came to combining science and cooking, there wasn't much out there (though the online culinary/cooking forum, eGullet, which discussed many of these topics). Because this scarcity made it hard for people to learn what these "new" technique may be, this would become the driving force behind creating and publishing Modernist Cuisine.
  • Mr. Myhrvold noted that Harold McGee wrote the first books on science's impact on cooking.
  • There is a divide between food scientists and chefs -- e.g., sous vide (low heat over long period of time) vs. sautéeing (high heat over short period of time). Because sous vide involved cooking in a new parameter, Mr. Myhrvold couldn't help but think of it in programing terms. He wrote lines of code documenting how heat travels into and through food, in particular, how a piece of steak is cooked. As the interior of a steak is cooked through conduction, the thickness in the cut of steak impacts how long it takes (2 inches versus 1 inch can take up to four times as long to cook). All of this lead to the section of the cookbook which addresses how to cook the perfect steak. People prefer to interior of a steak to taste a certain way (i.e., tender, soft, juicy) and the exterior to taste a certain way (i.e., smoky, charred, and browned). For these reasons, sous vide-ing a steak followed by blowtorching the edges/exterior will accomplish these two desired textures/tastes/flavors.
  • When Mr. Gordinier asked about whether or not Mr. Myhrvold had any concerns about the expenditure behind creating a cookbook volume set like Modernist Cuisine, Mr. Myhrvold answered that he was perfectly fine with starting this whole venture with a larger fortune to create a small fortune in the cookbook business. He wanted to take the philosophy from the realm of winemakers -- i.e., make something you love and hope someone else will love it, too -- or even more generally, the artist approach.
  • Cooking can be an art (created by an artist) or a craft (created by an artisan), and food spans both these areas, pervading these thoughts in a profound way.
  • How cooking works is explained in Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home -- recipes basically say do this, this, and this, which is very limiting; however, by understanding the scientific principles behind cooking, one can tailor these principles to many recipes and to one's own taste (i.e., ultimately what Modernist Cuisine is trying to accomplish).
  • Mr. Myhrvold jokingly said the cover of Modernist Cuisine at Home (i.e., visually deconstructed hamburger) is the National Space Station sandwich -- no gravity!
  • Mr. Myhrvold likes to dress his salads by hand, resulting in a better distribution throughout, but he likes to salt his dishes at the end, so that there is a high concentration initially to satisfy the palate yet less salt overall in consumption. 
  • A blowtorch is a great investment for the kitchen, especially for searing the edge of a steak for charred flavor.
  • Barbecuing can be the American way of grilling with charcoal (high heat) or it could be the more traditional way of smoking with woodchips soaked in water (low heat) with the odd but appropriate addition of ice cubes for getting the ideal temperature. 
  • Mr. Gordinier brought up the example of how roasting a chicken can be a meaningful, culinary ritual observed by many Americans strongly contrasts to the sterile, quite literally lab-like approach (e.g., in a plastic bag) of cooking behind Modernist Cuisine. Mr. Myhrvold's deadpan response: If your kitchen smells delicious, the food cooking at hand is losing something (i.e., flavors). Mr. Gordinier countered, "I feel like the Grinch just stole Christmas again!" Mr. Myhrvold brought up another example where this occurs: Mrs. Field's cookies inside shopping malls. That smell of freshly baked cookies that wafts throughout isn't actually the smell of fresh baking cookies -- it's really vanilla extract cooking over a hotplate on low heat. 
  • When asked about how traditionalists have reacted to his book, Mr. Myhrvold simply said that most of them haven't actually seen the book, so most change their view once they do.
  • Mr. Myhrvold sees Modernist Cuisine as the provider of the best, ultimate recipe/method/technique in how to prepare a said dish/ingredient, as they take a scientific approach to finding the optimal recipes/formulas/principles. His example was how he believes that Modernist Cuisine makes the best ice cream, which strangely enough doesn't even contain cream/milk and is totally vegan. This recipe involves pistachio oil, homogenizing it then adding sugar, stabilizer (protein), and ground pistachios. Another technique involves hyper-decanting wine, which ultimately involves throwing a whole bottle of wine (preferably a younger red wine) into a blender and "frappé" for about 30 seconds.
  • When comparing something like gelatin (a very well-known, familiar Western ingredient which is actually created by boiling pig skins) to agar-agar (something lesser known in the mainstream Western family kitchen unless it is a vegan one, yet has been used in Asian for several centuries derived from a seaweed extract) for thickening, it's peculiar to see how certain ingredients have been commonly accepted and others that seem out of place, strange, and foreign to be looked at with raised eyebrows.
  • Mr. Myhrvold noted that he gets a lot of people asking him about if and how he cooks with "a chock full of chemicals" in The Cooking Lab and fittingly responds by saying, "Yes we do, and with a chock full of elements, too!" At the end of the day, Modernist Cuisine is all about informed cooking -- science is always in the kitchen; Mr. Myhrvold is just taking the ignorance out of it for the uninformed.

Mr. Myhrvold signing copies of his cookbooks.

Mr. Myhrvold signing my copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home for Marcus and me!

Here's our signed copy! :)

Findings: Hands down, this was probably one of the most interesting lectures (and most educational!) I've attended. I didn't really know much about Modernist Cuisine other than what I've briefly read in articles and such (mainly because I haven't had a chance to get my hands on the original cookbook or the new until this past week). It was so enlightening to hear Nathan Myhrvold speak so eloquently and knowledgeably without skipping at beat about the questions that Jeff Gordinier threw at him during the course of the event. I learned so much in so little time, and I know that I'll continue to learn so much more as I work my way through his tome of a cookbook -- the photographs are already mindblowing, too! I think for Marcus, it was an even more awesome event in that he found it so cool that Mr. Myhrvold approaches things like cooking in the same way he himself does -- very analytical, pragmatic, and rationalist. Plus, he's so laid back and easy to talk to that you wouldn't feel like you're in the presence of estoteric company. His humor and commentary make it that much more enjoyable. Even with the brief audience Q&A session, the questions being thrown at him were mostly complex, and he answered them quite thoroughly and precisely with no hesitation at all. This guy really does know his stuff, so I wouldn't want to mess with him. I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this lecture. With that being said I would highly recommend attending any events/signings/lectures that feature Mr. Myhrvold because I guarantee you'll be in for a treat.

Price point: $35 per ticket.

--October 13, 2012

The Times Center
242 West 41st Street
New York, NY 10036

New York City Wine and Food Festival

Modernist Cuisine at Home
Nathan Myhrvold and Maxine Bilet
available here on

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Book Signing | Stanley Tucci

I had the pleasure of attending a book signing over at the Barnes & Noble located at 82nd and Broadway for the awesome Stanley Tucci and his new cookbook.

Even around 6:15 PM, the event space was getting filled up quickly.

Mr. Tucci arrived a little bit after 7 PM with a humorous yet stylish entrance -- can't miss his chance for a photo op!

He began with a brief introduction behind the cookbook, its history, its influences, and its roots in his family's cooking as well as in collaborating author, Chef Gianni Scappin, and his family. While the audience was quite fascinated with this story, he still added some humor to it all and apologized to the audience. "Ahhh, I am being SO boring right now -- I am so sorry." Everyone laughed.

Mr. Tucci noted that his mother, Joan Tucci, is a great cook and learned from his grandmother who learned from her mother and so forth. Same goes for his father, Stan Tucci. His film, Big Night, celebrated "whom and where he came from, offerng not only a positive view of Italians (i.e., no gangsters) but a more humanistic view, one that would show the complexity of this extraordinary people." A year later, this inevitably lead to his family co-writing a cookbook with Chef Scappin (with whom Mr. Tucci studied with to familiarize himself with his character's role in Big Night) which would become the first iteration of The Tucci Cookbook (then entitled Cucina & Famiglia, "a shorter, less glossy version." Since then, the book had gone out of print, and due to a surprising demand for this book, Mr. Tucci's wife, Felicity Blunt, brought a second life to this cookbook, which became the very book we were all here to discuss and celebrated here tonight.

Mr. Tucci went on to explain that he wanted to write a cookbook that not only spanned the style of cooking he was familiar with (his family has roots from Calabria, a southern region of Italy), but one that also touched on northern Italian cuisine. That's where Chef Scappin's expertise came in, as his family is originally from the Veneto region of Italy. The marriage between northern and southern Italian cuisine is meshed well in The Tucci Cookbook. Mr. Tucci even made a hilarious remark about how most American think they know Italian cuisine when they really don't, which went sort of like this: "When you go to the grocery store to look for breadcrumbs, you come across one with 'Italian seasoning' -- what does that even mean? Can they be any more vague?!" He is right about that -- just because you're using "Italian seasoning" doesn't mean what you're making is really Italian! :P

Soon, Mr. Tucci brought his mother on stage with him. They both answered a brief session of an audience Q&A. Here were some highlights (based my chicken scratched notes -- mostly summarized):

  • Was Mr. Tucci a messy cook growing up? How about now?Mrs. Tucci: "He's pretty good -- not bad." (laughter ensued)
  • Which recipes would you  yourself make on a weekly basis from The Tucci Cookbook?Mr. Tucci: "A lot of it is great for daily meals. But if I had to pick, the pastas."
  • Favorite restaurants in New York City?
    Mr. Tucci: "Marea... right, honey? (looks over to his wife, who shakes her head) Ohhh, Aldea! Basically any restaurant that ends in 'A' is good! But seriously, Scalinatella is great. And Joe's Shanghai -- you know, the place with the dumplings filled with soup, that I always somehow spill all over myself because they don't have lobster bibs? Oh, oops, and of course, Mario Batali's restaurants, and not because he wrote the Foreward or paid us to say that! He's a great friend of ours!"
  • Favorite wine recommendations?Mr. Tucci: "All of them." 
  • Favorite brand of pasta? Extra virgin olive oil?
    Mrs. Tucci: "Barilla or De Cecco -- they offer a pretty good variety and are easily accessible. As for extra virgin olive oil, I've been using Filippo Berio for years."
    Mr. Tucci: "Yeah, and I think Barilla comes from Iowa. I know it sounds strange, but it works! Hmmm, for olive oil, we've been buying Frantoia by the case. But for the most part, you can't go wrong with extra virgin olive oil -- just don't buy 'lite' olive oil. I don't understand it -- it's stupid!"
  • Favorite cookbooks?
    Mrs. Tucci: "Can't go wrong with Mario's or Lidi Bastinich's books -- they really know their stuff!"
    Mr. Tucci: "Nigel Slater, too."
  • Favorite dessert?
    Mr. Tucci: "I'm sorry to say that I'm not a dessert person, but I do love peaches and wine."
    Mrs. Tucci: "Homemade biscotti."
  • Do you a kind of person who sticks to the recipe or one that improvises?
    Mr. Tucci: "Can't you tell by my performance tonight? I am a total scientist."

Aren't they the cutest mother-son pair? Adorable!

The crowd waiting for Mr. Tucci, his mother, and his father to sign cookbooks!

Mr. Tucci and family signing cookbooks (ooh look, there's Ms. Blunt in the background)!

They were so friendly and fun to talk to -- no wonder Mr. Tucci has such a great personality. Definitely know where he gets it from now!

My copy of The Tucci Cookbook signed by Mr. Stanley Tucci (both senior and junior!) as well as Mrs. Joan (Tropiano) Tucci.

Findings: This could easily be one of the best book signing events I've attended, if only for the entertaining Q&A session driven by the hilarious answers delivered by Stanley Tucci. He was so much fun interacting with the audience, making it very casual and enjoyable to hear about his latest culinary endeavor. It was also refreshing to see what other things he has happening in his life along with his fabulous acting career (loved him in The Devil Wears Prada, Easy A, and The Terminal), especially such a fond appreciation for cooking and family roots. Seeing celebrities out of their element like this is so humbling and inspiring.

Can't wait to read all about his family and delve into some of the recipes!

Price point: $35 for each book.

--October 12, 2012

Barnes & Noble
2289 Broadway
New York, NY 10024

The Tucci Cookbook
Stanley Tucci with Joan and Stan Tucci, Gianni Scappin, and Mimi Taft
available here at

Friday, October 12, 2012

Etcetera | Friday Fanfare, 2012.10.12

Happy Friday to you! Lots of exciting things happening in the NYC food universe this weekend, including the New York City Wine and Food Festival (yours truly will be attending a TimesTalk lecture with Nathan Myhrvold of Modernist Cuisine at The Times Center on Saturday) and the release of "The Food & Drink Issue" of The New York Times magazine on Sunday. On top of this, I'll be tackling sweetbreads in the kitchen for Table Conviviale with Lisa on Saturday evening, so I can't wait to report back on that!

Have a fabulous weekend, and stay warm! :D

Variety of macarons from Bisous Ciao in the West Village.

This week's noteworthy eats:
  • brunch with my grandparents, featuring homemade pancakes with sugar-cured bacon  (both using recipes from Clinton Street Baking Co. Cookbook) and hashbrowns
  • all vegetable, three-course dinner at Dirt Candy
  • lunch with Alice from Kortako: tacos filled with chuck rib, iceberg lettuce, tomato salsa, sesame ginger coleslaw, and bulgogi mayo
  • self-made uni and ikura donburi, courtesy of Katagiri Market

Some ruminating reads:

In case you missed it:

A roundup of drool-worthy recipes:

On the blotter for upcoming noms:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Literary Fare | The Geometry of Pasta

In lieu of this week's Fresh Find, I wanted to share a cookbook that I recently picked up.

The Geometry of Pasta is a creative collaboration between Caz Hildebrand (creative partner at Here Design) and Chef Jacob Kennedy (of Bocco Di Lupo fame in London): Ms. Hildebrand designed and created the cookbook with recipes by Chef Kennedy. This cookbook is monochromatic, sprawled with super technical drawings (by Lisa Vandy of Now Ware), most of which are life-sized drawings of said pastas. Each pasta is a "chapter" which a brief history/story (if applicable) behind its shape/culinary use/etc. along with classic recipes recommended by Chef Kennedy. Beyond what we typically know as "pasta" (i.e., spaghetti, linguine, capellini, rigatoni, ziti, penne, macaroni, etc.), there are tons of lesser known pastas (read: strozzapreti, gemelli, and tajarin as ones I've read about recently after dining out) that are explore in more depth than you can imagine. As you probably gather from my posts here on Four Tines, I love me lots of history and stories behind any given element in the dining/cooking experience.

Overall, the book is incredibly well done -- it unifies the technical with the creative, the concrete with the abstract, and the pragmatic with the aesthetic. It makes for great bedtime reading -- learning about a pasta a week will have you reciting witty tidbits at your next fancy, schmancy Italian dinner outing.

The Geometry of Pasta
Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kennedy
Price point: originally $24.95, $16.47 here on


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