Monday, November 25, 2013

Feasts & Affairs | Edible Magritte at MoMA

I had the delightful pleasure of attending an extraordinary, artist-led class at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Entitled Edible Magritte (La cuisine de Magritte), the class was created in line with one of the Museum's current exhibitions, Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary (1926-1938), resulting in a spectacularly clever collaboration between conceptual artist Elaine Tin Nyo and chef Lynn Bound of MoMA's Café 2.

I became a member of MoMA earlier this year so I could attend the member previews of the Magritte exhibit back in September (a week before it was on view to the public). Just when I thought I had felt all the admiration I could for the artist, I fell deeper in love with Magritte's works. It shouldn't be a surprise that when I saw the coverage in ARTnews on the first iteration of this class last week, I made sure to sign up for the second (last) class/dinner. The added dimension of food to this already surreal visual experience had me really in for a ride ahead.

Upon arriving, we were served a cocktail (with "prosecco tinted with sapphire-colored curaçao and mixed with pineapple and lemon juice") called Tattered Skies, eponymous to the painting from which it is inspired (see next image). Alongside the cocktail were gougères -- warm cheese puffs with a rosy hue. Oh man, the cocktail was incredibly delicious, satiating, and refreshing all at once. Damn was that deep tint of blue gorgeous! And don't even get me started on the gougères. Not only were they warm and soft, they melted right onto your palate like buttery pillows of heaven. It did not help that the service team kept these coming, and I probably had more than I care to admit (okay, it was five or so of them :P).

Here is the painting (on view at the exhibition) from which the hors d'oeuvres and cocktails were derived. Crazy at how uncanny Chef Bound and her team really nailed it with just the first bites!

Pink Bells, Tattered Skies
   René Magritte
   Grelots roses, ciels en lambeaux (Pink Bells, Tattered Skies)
   Paris, 1930
   Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía: Madrid, Spain

After our brief mingling with the other classroom diners, we were taken on a private, abbreviated tour of the Magritte exhibition led by curatorial assistant Danielle Johnson. It was really great to walk through the exhibit with a knowledgeable guide -- definitely shed some notable observations about a handful of the exhibit's works.

After the forty minute guided tour, we returned back to Café 2 where the next course was sitting ready to be observed and eaten.

This course had thin slices of prosciutto di Parma with olives and wine, just like in the below Magritte painting, Le Portrait. The prosciutto was quite divine, as it was sliced as thin as you can imagine, and had little traces of fatty edges that really rounded out the savoriness of the Italian ham.

René Magritte: The Portrait
   René Magritte
   Le Portrait (The Portrait)
   Brussels, 1935
   Museum of Modern Art: New York, USA

Served alongside the prosciutto were these really thin squares of bread drizzled with olive oil, which went really well with the slices.

The next course was a great interpretation of Les Six Éléments as a deconstructed salad. The painting has six images (i.e., fire, a nude, a forest, a façade, the sky, and grelots/sleigh bells) in which they are juxtaposed in a two-by-three asymetrical grid to represent the basic elements of the universe: air, water, fire, and earth. The cucumber sorbet at the center represents the façade; the microgreens on top represent the forest/trees; the salt below represents the clouds; the pomegranate seeds represents the nude (unofficially known as god's fruit -- perhaps because it's full of seeds); the sriracha sauce encircling all the ingredients represents fire; and the last element of grelots, not pictured here, was more of an aural experience -- Ms. Tin Nyo rang a bag of bells while we began eating this second course. Just as the painting brings together "six" elements, this course brings together five unlikely ingredients (plus some bells) to create a cohesive deconstructed salad. Really refreshing with some tartness and a bit of heat from the sriracha.

René Magritte: The Six Elements
   René Magritte
   Les Six Éléments (The Six Elements)
   Paris, 1929
   Philadelphia Museum of Art: Philadelphia, USA

The main course was {1pappardelle pasta with Asiago, arugula, and a soft-boiled egg. The interactive part of this course was that {2} we had to crack open the soft-boiled egg {3} so that the yolk becomes the sauce for the pasta. It was a fun tongue-in-cheek way to pay homage to the caged egg in the painting Les Affinités Électives. The ribbons of pasta were delicate and paired deliciously with the creamy sauce of the soft-boiled egg yolk -- very well done.

René Magritte, Elective Affinities
   René Magritte
   Les Affinités Électives (Elective Affinities)
   Brussels, 1932
   Private collection

The following course began the first of two desserts. This one that let us "paint" our own vision of Magritte's Les Perfections Célestes, pouring a layer of aquamarine crème anglaise as the sky and arranging soft poached meringues as clouds however we like. Though the crème anglaise looked like something out of a miniature golf course, it was the perfect amount of sweet and creamy (food coloring can really play with your expectations of taste :P). The meringues were perfection (fittingly so, as the work's title is explicitly named), both delicate and pillowy.

René Magritte: Les Perfections célestes
   René Magritte
   Les Perfections Célestes (Celestial Perfections) [photograph by Jill Krementz of New York Social Diary]
   Paris, 1930
   Brachot Gallery: Brussels, Belgium

The last course was pretty much a showstopper. Emulating the painting, Jeune Fille mangeant un oiseau (Girl Eating a Bird), this dessert consisted of a dark chocolate sparrow filled with a sweet rum-raspberry sauce, we each had to take the bird into our hands and bite right into it as the young girl does in Magritte's painting. The biting into the dark chocolate sparrow shell is supposed to echo the sound of bones breaking. This course definitely had a chilling effect on me -- just as Magritte's painting had when I first saw it on view at the exhibition.

   René Magritte
   Jeune Fille mangeant un oiseau [Le Plaisir] (Girl Eating a Bird [Pleasure])
   Brussels, 1927
   Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen: Düsseldorf, Germany

Findings: The Edible Magritte class was incredibly enlightening on the profound works created by surrealist René Magritte. It especially made a lasting impression for me as it combined two of my passions and preferred expressive mediums -- Modern art and the culinary arts -- in a way that I could fully understand and further enrich my appreciation of the mysterious works of Magritte. The collaboration between artist Elaine Tin Nyo and chef Lynn Bound was undoubtedly seamless, as they truly and entirely captured the literal and figurative elements of Magritte's intentions in six distinct works in addition to the wealth of knowledge shared to us by curatorial assistant Danielle Johnson. Given the amazing execution of this "art" dinner, I'll definitely be keeping my eyes open for future dinners like this at the Museum of Modern Art that are created parallel to current exhibitions.

Price point: $150 per person ($100 per museum member) for six-course, artist-inspired dinner.

--November 14, 2013

"Edible Magritte" (La cuisine de Magritte)
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Dinner | Canlis

(Apologies on the wayyy overdue posts -- I promise I'm churning them out as fast as I can. This is the last full-length one from Seattle -- a summary post of our trip is in the works!)

During our trip to Seattle, we had the pleasure of dining at Canlis in Queen Anne, a landmark restaurant that has been open for over 50 years with the most vibrant of history and boasts spectacular views of the Emerald City. When I saw photos of it for the first time a while back, I knew it was one of those places we really needed to add to the "must-do's" of the itinerary for a future trip to Seattle. I am so very glad we did, as I had made reservations a month or so in advance.

In 1950, Peter Canlis "set out to build 'the world's most beautiful restaurant,' with his first fortuitous step of hiring architect Roland Terry, now widely known as the father of Northwest architecture." A collaboration between Mr. Terry and Pete Wimberley, Mr. Terry "wanted a timeless place of Frank Lloyd Wright discipline and subtlety," while Mr. Wimberley "dreamed of a restaurant where guests would feel comfortable kick off their shoes under the table." This includes "a great stone fireplace, a span of angled windows to capture the views, and a glistening copper charcoal broiler placed in the middle of the dining room." Even the kitchen was intentionally "left exposed to the dining room, a daring and cutting-edge design choice that visually launched Canlis ahead of its time."

Nearly four decades later, Canlis planned a major remodal and expansion of the restaurant with the help of architect Jim Cutler, where he "chose to reveal the building's original structure -- stone columns were allowed to extend upwards to the full height of the restaurant, while light and landscape from outside flooded in through a new translucent wall."

In 2005, interior designer Doug Rasar "brought serenity and warmth to the most recent re-design by creating a Zen-like connection that brought the outdoors to interior spaces. Mr. Rasar executed his vision by using "handmade organic wall coverngs and installed gardens by David Pfeiffer, resulting in every surface, every stitch, and every detail are echoes of man's clever submission to his natural environment."

When Mr. Canlis moved to Seattle in 1950, he chose "a magnificent view location just three miles north of the city's center" where Canlis still resides and operates. He is "credited with being the first restauranteur to utilized team-style service in his dining room." Also, instead of employing waiters in customary tuxedos, he "employed graceful kimono-clad waitresses who transformed customer service into an art form."

View of Canlis from the lounge.

There is live piano played nightly in the lounge at Canlis.

View of the bar inside the lounge.  I learned a little history behind the beverage program at Canlis -- in 1949, Seattle lifted its ban on restaurants selling liquor, so when Canlis opened a year later, it was the first dining restaurant to welcome back the era of the cocktail.

My guest had the Halekulani cocktail (from House Without a Key, circa 1930) made with bourbon, lemon, orange, pineapple, and grenadine. The namesake comes from Peter Canlis's favorite place to stay in O'ahu in Hawaii, a place which happens to serve the best drinks in Waikiki). Even though the heavier spirit of bourbon was used, it was quite refreshing with its citrus notes and tropical flavors -- truly capturing the essence of O'ahu.

I had the French Foam (circa 1900) made with Plymouth gin, Briottet cassis, Drappier champagne, and lemon sherbet. It combined the sophistication of a kir royale with the frostiness of lemon sherbet and a splash of gin. This was so damn good -- crazy to think that it was created during the turn of the 20th century!

The upper level of the dining room. Look at those lovely cobblestone columns and high ceilings!

SAM_1506The lower level of the dining room that boasts sweeping views through a wall of windows of Lake Union.

Another view of the lower dining room.

We started with three amuse bouches -- a sweet onion panna cotta tart with shortbread crust (a nice, petite bite yet savory); a black olive cornet with smoked salmon mousse, wasabi tobiko, and pickled rutabaga (reminded me very much of the salmon cornet at The French Laundry, but with an Asian twist); and a deep-fried egg yolk with sauce Gribiche (like an oozy, creamy croquette filled with egg). All fabulous bites!

Instead of the chef's tasting, we opted for the four-course prix fixe (there's also a three-course option) so we could share an optimal variety of dishes.

My guest's first course was the smoked sockeye salmon with yogurt, basil, and marble potatoes. Tiny wedges of nicely cut smoked sockeye were really silky and melted nicely with the yogurt and creamy marble potatoes.

I had the torchon of foie gras with celery, cherry and pistachio along with some thick slices of toasted brioche. It's hard to not love a paté of foie, especially if it's paired with a stone fruit and something nutty over buttery brioche. You better believe I ate every last lick of this! :P

For my guest's second course, he was served Peter Canlis' prawns sautéed in dry vermouth, garlic, and lime. It had a clean presentation with a classic-modern compilation of flavors and cooked to the perfect temperature.

I had the porkbelly with spring onion, huckleberries, and plum. It made for a great in-between seasons dish (i.e., summer/fall), and even though the pork was just a touch salty, the complements of huckleberries, plum, and root veggies helped alleviate that. The meat was really tender with the crispiest skin -- surprisingly comparable to the Chinese roasted pig that is hard to to get completely right.

For my guest's main course, he had the grilled filet mignon with carrots, potatoes, and melted shallots. Seared to a juicy, medium-rare center, the filet went beautifully with the melted shallot sauce and creamy purée of potatoes. A decent cut of steak, for sure!

I had the grilled lamb chop with braised-lamb "croquette", fried leeks, and piquillo pepper marmalade. While the grilled lamb chop was everything I'd hoped it be (with a heated kick from the piquillo pepper marmalade), the braised-lamb "croquette" was so salty, making it hard to eat and finish. Luckily, I was getting so full already from everything else that it was an afterthought.

We shared a side of twice-baked potato (a Canlis tradition for four generations). It was incredibly creamy and cheesy, not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting an actual baked potato with sour cream/butter/chives/bacon, so I was in for a rude awakening when it was cheesy to the point where it was too much. However, for you cheese lovers out there, you will love this.

Breathtaking view at night seen from Canlis.

We were getting so full that a cup of tea was a must.

My guest had the Canlis soufflé with Grand Marnier, orange zest, and creme anglaise (allow for a 20-minute preparation). It was a beautifully prepared soufflé, with a light, fluffy yet silky center and a rounded essence of orange from the Grand Marnier and zest. Certainly worth the wait (especially since we don't really see classically made soufflés much in the fine dining world as much as we had in the past0, the soufflé made for the perfect punctuation to this gorgeous dinner.

I was so full from the previous three courses that I opted for something lighter -- an assortment of three sorbets, whose flavors escape me now. Just know they really hit the spot! :P

Findings: While the culinary fare was pretty impressive (a well-executed soufflé truly speaks for itself), it was one of the most breathtaking dining experiences I've ever had the pleasure of having. Every aspect of the restaurant contributed to the dining experience -- the welcoming and open space, the well-curated artwork along the restaurant's walls, the ambient live piano that can be enjoyed nightly, the subtle and seamless service throughout the meal, and the nicely plated courses. The architecture of Canlis is dynamic, enthralling, and very much alive. It is a living and breathing chronicle of the Canlis family's rich history in the kitchen, in design, and in hospitality. The views alone and the unparalleled atmosphere can truly justify the price tag of its menu, so if it's your first time visiting Seattle, Canlis is undoubtedly an iconic restaurant to add to the itinerary if you're looking to splurge on a fancy meal while you're in town.

Price point: $12-18 for each cocktail, $100 per person for traditional four-course prix fixe menu.

--August 22, 2013

2576 Aurora Avenue North
Seattle, WA 98109

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Chef's Tasting | Sushi Yasuda

This past weekend, I took Marcus out for an early birthday celebration at Sushi Yasuda over in Midtown East. I myself have been here a couple times back in 2009-2010, but Marcus had never been there before so we thought it was one of those things he needed to cross off his gastronomic bucket list and compare it to the times we went to 15 East and Jewel Bako together.

Sushi Yasuda is the famed house of sushi lead by the master chef, Naomichi Yasuda, who from December 1999 (when the restaurant first opened its doors) to 2006 never missed a single seating. Since then, Chef Yasuda has trained two of his now disciples, Chef Tatusya Sekiguchi and Chef Mitsuru Tamura to follow in his footsteps, as he returned to Japan "to open a small neighborhood sushi shop and embark on a well-earned semi-retirement."

Sushi Yasuda has a generous amount of seating at its sushi counter (relatively speaking) with sixteen in total. The floors, walls, ceiling, tables, and sushi bar are composed of solid bamboo planks. The interior of the restaurant is airy as "a haven from the noise and grit of the city outside." While there isn't any music played inside the restaurant, "the lighting, which is brighter than one might expect, is designed to provide visual clarity on the sushi -- both its preparation and presentation."

Starting out with some hot, house green tea as well as a small plate of Japanese vegetables, we were ready for what the sushi chef had lined up for us under his sushi omakase selections, a decision that we give to the sushi chef by requesting omakase in the first place as it translates to "You decide" in Japanese. We were also given a yubifuki (i.e., a finger-cloth made of sarashi-fine Japanese bleached cotton) for cleaning our fingers while eating sushi with our hands. The proper way to eat sushi is to carefully pick up each piece of sushi with a finger and thumb and place the entire piece in your mouth to eat, with the rice side on our tongues for the best intersection of flavors, textures, and aromas."


I read up on the traditions to which the restaurant holds itself true, and I thought it'd be interesting to share them. Chefs Sekiguchi and Tamura select fish varieties one by one, from all around the world (though much from Japan) including local and regional ones, "evaluating each for freshness, size, and its spirit or energy." Shortly there after, "the comprehensive process of cleaning, preparing, and storing" begins, as Japanese cedar-wood line many of the boxes and different varieties are stored in separate ones. In addition to all this, the chefs "carefully control the aging process of the fish -- an essential part of making sushi -- as "'just-caught' fish is not always ideal for being eaten immediately as sushi and different fish require different methods of refrigeration and storage for ideal preservation and taste."

In addition to sourcing the quality varieties of fish, one of the "most complex and difficult parts of making sushi is perfecting the rice." Sushi Yasuda uses a mix of Japanese short and medium-grain rice, combined with Japanese red and white rice vinegars, Japanese sea salt, and a small amount of sugar, and the water used to cook the rice has been purified with bincho-tan (i..e, Japanese charcoal). The rice itself is cooked in precise proportions at calculated temperatures for a specific time, a method that Chefs Sekiguchi and Tamura have "refined after years of research and experimentation, using their hands as instruments to evaluate how moist the rice is before cooking it and adjusting the amount of water accordingly."

Each piece of nigiri-sushi has a "delicate topping, usually a sheer coating of Yasuda's special shoyu (i.e., soy sauce) applied by the sushi chef." As such, it is best to eat the sushi "straight" without adding extra shoyu. Garnishes include freshly "ground wasabi (i.e., mountain-grown Japanese horseradish) and gari (pickled ginger that is sharp and slightly sweet and is used for palate cleansing)," both of which are intended to be used in moderation. Additionally, the restaurant advises that one should avoid mixing the wasbi in the shoyu, therefor allowing the distinct flavors of the fish, rice, and condiments to "meet each other" rather than blend together.

Our first piece was bonito, a variety of fish that falls within the tuna family. I had never had this as sushi before so it was interesting to experience it here at Sushi Yasuda. It had a well-balanced marbled texture, creating a very melty sensation while still having some meatiness to it. Great starter to the omakase, and I knew Marcus would be in for a wild ride -- one that would could quite possibly rank Yasuda as his favorite sushi spot in the city.

Next up was the branzino of the white fish family which had a chilled, tile-y texture to it. Very nice!

sockeye salmon
This was the sockeye salmon, which was simply divine. Just as I described the Alaskan king salmon at Sushi Dojo, the sockeye was guum, a Cantonese word that doesn't really have a direct translation, but comes closest to meaning gold, savory, and rich. So good -- what a gorgeous piece of fish!

This was kanpachi, a variety of yellowtail, which I thought was just okay -- nothing special really to report about it except nice quality and cut.

sea scallop
Our fifth piece made up for the the previous miss -- this hotate (scallop) was both melty and tile-y without that unfavorable sliminess that can happen with scallops. It was the ideal thickness, too. Ah so great.

blue fin tuna
This was the blue fin tuna, which is probably my least favorite variety of raw fish (not counting toro -- fatty tuna). However, Sushi Yasuda surprised me big time, by showing me the untapped potential of akami (lean tuna). I had no idea that a fish this lean could be silky. Major hat tips to the sushi chefs at Yasuda!

unagi (freshwater eel)
One of the signature things that one must have at Sushi Yasuda is its notable varieties of eel. The first eel we had was the unagi (fresh water eel) drizzled lightly with kabayaki sauce and grilled to soft and flaky perfection. Boneless and warm right off the grill, the unagi at Sushi Yasuda is unlike any others I've had in this city -- I imagine it's as close to the traditional preparation in Japan as it can be because it's so damn good.

Marcus made sure to mention to our sushi chef that he doesn't have a particular affinity for uni (sea urchin roe), so he skipped this next one, while I enjoyed the glorious golden lobes from California. It was incredibly fresh (as if straight out of a recently cracked open echinoderm) as well as the expected meltiness yet a surprising rounded minerality to it. I can see why Lisa loves the uni here -- it's rich and buttery in all of the best ways. I wish I had requested for another bite!

sanma (pike fish)
Following the uni, we both were given sanma (pike fish). Expected in a variety from the mackerel family (you can tell from the iridiscent skin), the sanma had a strong fishiness to it but had quite an interesting, subdued finish.

ocean trouth
Soon after, we had the ocean trout from Iceland which falls in the salmon-trout family. Just like with the sockeye salmon, this may have been even more guum comparatively -- delectably milky, rich, and savory.

blue fin toro (fatty tuna)
As you can tell by its marbled pink color, this was the blue fin toro. Fittingly, toro, the word used to describe fatty tuna, means "melting" in Japanese. Sometimes you come across the best mot juste for a food, and toro is no exception. When I think of fatty tuna, I think of all of its fatty goodness melting against the warmth of my palate, and this toro did just that, too. It was super melty and a tad stringy from the fattier areas of the fish. This could be the one piece of fish that could turn a bad day completely around. It's a delicious celebration in your mouth!

Spanish mackerel
Then we had the Spanish mackerel which I noted simply as "AWESOME!" (which I believe were Marcus's words) in my notes I jotted during dinner. Not too fishy as mackerel usually is, making it different from others I've had before.

sawani (white sea eel)
Here, we tried our second variety of eel -- this time it was the sawani (white sea eel) which had been grilled with a thin glaze of sake and some sea salt, resulting in a toasty exterior and a soft, flaky center. It was not as dressed up as the unagi, which I preferred so that the eel could speak its true flavors. Who knew the ideal preparation of eel could be such an art form? Simply beautiful.

Next we had the oyster (from British Columbia), which had a light sprinkling of lemon zest. It was meaty and creamy all at once, starting boldly with some sweet brine, finishing a little bitter. Marcus, who isn't normally a fan of oysters, wasn't any further convinced to like oysters, but I enjoyed it.

saba (mackerel)
The last mackerel of the evening for us was saba (mackerel), which had the best balance of fishiness and savoriness one could hope for without being overwhelmed or turned off.

white king salmon
My last piece (number 16!) of my omakase was the white king salmon. It was another variety I'd never had before, and it was a really nice piece of fish -- tasted like a marriage between a white fish and salmon. It was a light yet satisfying ending to the progression of the previous 15 pieces, for sure!

Marcus's last piece (in lieu of the uni I had) was the shrimp, a fileted piece that was flash-grilled to maintain the essential flavor of the shrimp -- an enjoyable end for Marcus as well.

Findings: Sushi Yasuda is just as I remembered it -- an understated gallery of beautiful pieces of fish, which range with many varieties in the major families of fish (e.g., salmon/trout, tuna, white fish, mackerel, etc.). As the interiors and the demeanor of its sushi chefs suggest, Sushi Yasuda is a Zen-inspired sushi house where the main focus is the art of sushi at hand. Much care is taken into the preparation of rice, the selection of fish, the garnishing of shoyu and wasabi, the progression of omakase tailored to each patron individually, and the overall happiness of the restaurant's guests. Everything is understated so that the real showstopper can show its vibrant colors as you pop pieces onto your palate. It is a symphony of savoriness and a proper ode to the Japanese art form of sushi-making.

Be sure to make reservations up to four weeks out (at the sushi bar if you can for the optimal experience), and note that meal durations are clocked at an hour and a half (e.g., a 7:30 reservation ends at 9, etc.). Also know that you don't need to opt for the omakase (though I really strongly urge that you do!) but rather can order a la carte by marking up the boxes next to the varieties of fish on the sushi menu to indicate how many pieces you wish to have. So if you're looking for a high-end sushi bar in this city -- no gimmicks, just great quality, very purist sushi -- Sushi Yasuda is the place, hands down.

Happy Birthday to Marcus -- glad we were able to celebrate at Sushi Yasuda with some amazing sushi! :) Love you!!

Price point: ~$110 per person for a sushi omakase of 16 pieces each.

--September 28, 2013

Sushi Yasuda
204 East 43rd Street
New York, NY 10017


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...