Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dessert | Dominique Ansel Bakery

If there are two things that truly characterize a New Yorker, they would entail an enthusiastic pride for the food in this city as well as some strange, high tolerance for waiting in lines. So it would be no surprise that these said New Yorkers would make crazy early beelines for something like the Cronut, an ingenious creation by Chef Dominique Ansel that is a resulting hybrid of part croissant and part doughnut (thus, Cro-nut). Making its debut barely two weeks ago, the Cronut can be found at Dominique Ansel Bakery (DA Bakery) over in SoHo, where it has been selling out daily before noon.

Derek had gone there the day before we did, and he gave us some insight on the line. He arrived around 7:30-7:45, where he stood in line behind twenty or so people. He got really lucky -- Derek was able to buy one of the last ones (!), as DA Bakery  makes roughly 200 daily. That meant Cronuts were sold out before 8:30 that morning.

With that being said, Marcus and I had to devise a full-proof strategy to ensure we'd score some Cronuts. The bakery opens at 8 AM daily (except at 9 AM on Sundays), so we aimed to be up before 6 AM, leaving our apartment shortly after to get to the bakery around 7-7:15 AM. If there's one thing that can get me out of bed so freaking early in the morning, it's a damn good pastry. We really hoped the recent developing hype was a genuine indicator that they were really just that good.

That morning, we got very lucky, too -- given the good subway karma we got on our ride down to SoHo, we made really good time and got to the bakery a little before 7 AM, where we found only one person in line already. However insane it was, getting there an hour before made us a comfortable second in line. Phew!

This was what the line looked like at 7:45 AM. Around 7:50ish, the line started going around the block on Sullivan Street. It wasn't until 7:30 AM when the line started to grow exponentially. I even had a man, who clearly appeared to be out of town (we noted his wheeled suitcase), stop me on the street, asking me what the line was for. After telling them they were for Cronuts, a pastry that is half croissant and half doughnut, the man appeared to be confused: "Right, but what's the line for?" My response: "Pastries..." His response: "Wait, this line is for pastries?!" Needless to say, his wife just urged him to keep on walking. Hahaha! :P

Growing up near the north of Paris, Chef Ansel began his formal culinary training at 16 years old, an aspiration inspired by his father, Dominique Ansel, Sr. His career began at Fauchon, the "legendary French pastry institution" in Paris. Here, he spent seven years "traveling the world to open shops in places ranging from Egypt to Russia to Kuwait." Chef Ansel put his name on the map in New York City during his six-year tenure as executive pastry chef for Restaurant Daniel, Chef Daniel Boulud's flagship restaurant. After his time at Daniel, he opened his own bakery (i.e., Dominique Ansel Bakery) in November of 2011. In 2013, he was nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef.

Once the doors opened at 8 AM, we were instructed to queue up at the register, following the line back towards the rear of the restaurant where the garden/greenhouse is located.

There they were, in their gloriously fried and buttered beauty. The inaugural flavor were rose Cronuts -- deep-fried layers of croissant dough filled with vanilla ganache then dusted with rose sugar and topped with a rose glaze and candied rose petals. Chef Ansel has said to expect a flavor change in the next couple weeks -- rumors are that the next flavor will be lemon maple in June and dulce de leche in July.

Trays of Cronuts ready to be sold and wrapped up for the patrons who patiently waited in line that morning. Just as a heads up, the policy now limits six Cronuts per patron.

The counter at DA Bakery. Derek actually told me that now one of the pastry chefs here is responsible just for making Cronuts. Crazy!

I felt bad maxing out on six Cronuts each so I just bought six, giving one to Marcus and bringing the rest to share with my colleagues. I'm part of a "Dessert of the Month Club" at my office with a dozen or so colleagues, so I thought this might be a unique treat to bring in for all the members to try. I am now everyone's new best friend -- they all fell in love with the Cronut, so much that they asked me where they could get more! :P Once I told them about the wait time in line, and how early I got there, they appreciated the gesture even more. I may even have some fellow Cronut cronies (yup, I went there LOL) that'll be willing to wait in line the next time I queue up at DA Bakery for some Cronuts!

For me, the Cronut was unlike anything I'd ever had. They were so unbelievably good that you couldn't even think that a pastry could be this good. Jen, one of my colleagues, said a Cronut is like a medley, one comprised of four different desserts -- obviously a croissant (its dough) and a doughnut (it being deep-fried and its shape) but also a zeppole (its consistency and its dusted sugar) and a Napoleon (and its layered creme ganache) -- singing a beautiful melody all at once. I couldn't have put it better myself. The dusted rose sugar and the rose glaze added a little tartness and subtle floral flavor to the lightly doughy and creamy interior of the Cronut. The best part was when we cut right into it -- you could hear the loose, scrumptious crackle and tell how freshly fried it was that morning. You could taste the buttery layers upon each bite, oozing with a delightful helping of cream. At that very moment, you'll know that the madness that brought you in line to the entrance of this bakery was utterly justified and worth every crazy second of it.

Findings: Given the sheer creativity behind this dessert, the Cronut undoubtedly lives up to its hype. It really is all those shades of awesome, amazing, spectacular, fantastic, and magnificent. It's one of those desserts that would be of legends, and you somehow finally stumble upon it and have the fortune of being able to have a bite of it. Imagine all of the pastries that you hold dear to your heart, all melded together in a culinary synecdoche so precisely perfected by Chef Dominique Ansel in his kickass bakery. Yes, it might seem totally irrational to wait in line for an hour just to guarantee the snaggage of some Cronuts, but believe you me, once you finally try one, you will understand the madness, hype, and mania of it all. I'm looking forward to seeing how the upcoming flavors will taste in this new medium of pastry, which means I see lots of queuing up in my future this summer! :P

Tips for first timers: (1) get there early (an hour before opening time should be sufficient) to guarantee your spot in line, (2) bring something to do while you wait in line, and (3) don't lose hope -- remember, the early bird catches the worm!

Price point: $5 for each Cronut.

--May 23, 2013

Dominique Ansel Bakery
189 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Drinks | The Columbia Room

On the night of our third anniversary, Marcus and I made reservations at the ever-elusive speakeasy, The Columbia Room, near Mount Vernon Square in DC. I had stumbled upon many a recommendation (via The Foodist of Bon Appetit, various travel magazines, etc.) about this place, and I was immediately sold when I heard that The Columbia Room does a cocktail tasting menu on a really intimate level.

A ten-seat backroom bar inside The Passenger (another awesome DC cocktail bar), The Columbia Room offers 6-7 staggered seatings per evening beginning at 5 PM, with last reservations at 11:30. As reservations can be made one month (to the calendar date) out, try to make reservations as early as possible as seats fill up quickly. Our reservations were at 9 PM because we wanted to squeeze in dinner at Birch & Barley beforehand (post to follow!). Brothers Derek and Tom Brown opened The Passenger back in 2009, which offers great cocktails and snacks. Soon after, they opened The Columbia Room, which  "honors the original definition of the cocktail -- a combination of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters -- by crafting cocktails from the highest quality spirits with our own cordials, bitters, and tinctures along with hand-carved ice."

When we arrived to The Passenger, one of the barkeeps escorted us to the rear of the bar, where we were lead through an unmarked door and into a foyer that had an old-fashioned appointment book and an antique desk adorned with some cool knick-knacks. We were met with a gentleman donning a buttoned suit vest, later learning was part of the bartenders' uniform. Love that bit of authenticity!

Inside The Columbia Room is a long counter bar with ten seats. Behind the counter was a crazy awesome collection of spirits, bitters, and bar tools to craft an endless menu of cocktails -- any mixologist's dream of a well-stocked cabinet.

I love the shelves of jars filled with various dry ingredients -- gives the space an overall apothecary-feel to it.

The first cocktail for the tasting was a Glasgow punch, a classic rum punch from Scotland. The Glasgow punch contained rum from Martinique, which is different from the Jamaican run typically encountered (e.g., Bacardi). Martinique rum is made using sugar cane, resulting in an earthier taste compared to its Jamaican counterpart which uses molasses. Along with the Martinique rum, the punch also had fresh lemon and lime along with cane sugar syrup for sweetness and a little water for dilution. This drink made for a great start to the cocktail tasting -- it was delightfully refreshing, having a nice balance of spirit and juice throughout. I loved the use of a glass tea cup as a little ode to the tea-loving country of the UK.

The next drink was Doctor's Orders, a twist on a classic Manhattan using High West whiskey, Cynar (an artichoke liqueur), some medicinal ingredients, vermouth, quinine (in the past, used for malaria), and New Orleans bitters (originally invented in an apothecary). Boy, was this drink really, really strong -- a complete 180 from the first drink! It was very much a spirit-driven drink, proving to be quite the strong sipping drink.

Doctor's Orders was paired with morel mushrooms stuffed with ricotta and arugula then drizzled with a mushroom cream sauce and served with pickled ramps and radish. I've never personally had a cocktail paired with food (only wine), and this combination of dish-and-drink worked unbelievably well. The creaminess of the sauce over the earthiness of the porous morels rounded out the biting characteristics of the cocktail, making it easier to drink and enjoy. Though initially it wouldn't have been my first pick of cocktail, it worked really well as a pairing.

Before the third drink, we were served some green pitted olives and then given the option to order a supplemental dish of hand-sliced Serrano ham. Hell yes!

We savored the short ribbons of Serrano ham -- melty and savory with just the right about of fat throughout. The ideal bar snack for sure!

For the last drink in the tasting, the bartender said it was up to us -- whether it be a personal choice of spirit or even a concept/idea. Whatever it may be, he would do his best to emulate it.

I saw that they had Brooklyn Gin behind the counter, and a combination of New York City pride and my love of this artisanal gin, I asked him to make me a drink using it. He came up with Corpse Reviver #2 -- a classic hangover cure with lemon juice, Cocchi (an Italian apertif wine), absinthe, and Cointreau. It was really refreshing but strong enough to revive any "hungover corpse" back to life! :P

Marcus made it a tad bit more challenging for the bartender, asking for a cocktail inspired by the "surface of the sun" -- the resulting concoction was the Sunburn, a creative take on a pisco sour. It was a combination of pisco, French ginger liqueur, egg white (for texture), lemon juice, and a few drops of tabasco (for heat) -- all of which was blowtorched for a few seconds. Marcus absolutely loved this drink -- hands down, his favorite of the evening -- if not for its beauty but for its seamless execution. It was citrus-y, which emulated the token color of the sun. The egg white gave the drink a generous frothiness to it, and the tabasco not only conveyed literal heat from its spiciness but possibly acted as an analogy for sunspots. Together, the egg white and tabasco created a sense of what a fiery storm would be like at the surface of the sun, only to be further emphasized with the briefly torched surface of the drink. Bravo!

Findings: There are some crazy awesome things happening behind the unmarked door at The Passenger, that is, inside The Columbia Room. Do not mess with its barkeeps -- they seriously know their stuff, running the gamut from the detailed history of cocktails to the sheer improvisation driven by a patron's whim. Marcus and I were thoroughly impressed with the fastdiousness and dexterity in the cocktails crafted for the two-hour seated tastings at The Columbia Room -- it was unlike anything we had ever experienced in our adventures with the shaken and stirred.

A visit here will tap into a curiosity for spirits, bitters, and libation that you never really thought twice about before. The enthusiasm and knowledge conveyed and shared by the team at The Columbia Room really got me interested in learning about it all -- tricks, tools, history, ingredients, etc. The homage paid here to the drinks of yore with a twist of the bar's own creativity certainly shows the commitment to honor the original definition of the cocktail. Soif you'll be spending a few days down in DC, I highly suggest reservations for the tasting of cocktails at The Columbia Room -- you'll be glad you did! For us, it was a fantastic way to celebrate our anniversary! :)

Price point: $69 per person (service and tax included), $12 for a la carte Serrano ham.

--April 20, 2013

The Columbia Room
The Passenger
1021 7th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dinner | Brasserie Beck

On our first night in DC, Marcus and I had dinner at Brasserie Beck, a little recommendation we got from Bon Appetit magazine that noted its vibrant cocktail offerings and many varieties of Trappist beer (Marcus's favorite kind).

Brasserie Beck is a contemporary European style brasserie opened by Robert Wiedmaier in 2007 where he strives to "stay true to his Belgian roots by creating and cooking casual, affordable fair in the 'brasserie'-style of serving all day from lunch to late night." The bar here also "boasts the City's most comprehensive Belgian beer list outside Belgium with nine draught beers and over 100 offered by the bottle." Chef Wiedemaier is a "stickler for detail and highly organized" where "everything is cooked to exacting standards" undoubtedly stemming from his roots as an "old school saucier" as there aren't many chefs these days who take the time for that anymore. Additionally, he "patiently coaxes the very essence from his ingredients by slow reduction of every bit, down to caramelizing the crushed bones to enhance the final dish with intense natural flavor."

Inside Brasserie Beck.

I started out dinner with the Sparkling Pear cocktail, a mix of Hangar One spiced pear vodka, ginger syrup, and sparkling wine. It was refreshingly sweet with a slight snappy bite from the sparkling wine and ginger essence.

Marcus asked our server about which Trappist beers she would recommend based on his affinity for Chimay Blue. She suggested Westmalle Tripel which was really smooth -- I actually preferred it to the Chimay because it's a little bit lighter. What made it even better was how well it paired with the food we had.

Brasserie Beck couldn't call itself a brasserie without having a solid basket of warm bread to go around. The sliced baguette was crusty yet soft at the center, tasting wonderfully with a tiny spread of softened butter.

To start, Marcus and I had a half order of the Penn Cove mussels from Washington State in a classic white wine sauce with roasted garlic (nearly a whole head!), parsley, and cream. The mussels were pretty plump and nicely soaked up the creamy, garlicky sauce in their little crevices. I could've eaten a bucket of these -- they were THAT good.

Marcus wanted to try the shrimp and chorizo with smoked paprika and roasted garlic. The shrimp still had their shells on, so it had some additional intensity of flavor to them, and the smoked chorizo was very concentrated in spice and soaked in a whole lot of roasted garlic, too. Though this dish wasn't my favorite of the evening (while Marcus really enjoyed it), I still thought it was lovely.

Chances are when we see an octopus dish on any given menu, it will get ordered, one way or another. It was not different at Brasserie Beck, where it served grilled octopus with cucumbers, roasted peppers, shaved red onions, and a wild oregano and caper vinaigrette. You know it's a good sign when the octopus meat is so soft that it nearly melts away upon first bite/chew. Chef Wiedmeier certainly coaxed the flavors and true potential of the octopus, and it went beautifully with the surrounding cucumber salad. The vinaigrette had a well-balanced acidity, providing a lovely dressing to the entire dish. We highly recommend this one to be shared.

Given how awesome the cocktail program at Brasserie Beck is, we ordered a second round of drinks -- on the left, Marcus had the Hemingway Daiquiri with white rum, maraschino, fresh lime, and grapefruit juice, while I had the Velvet Blanche with Leblon cachac, Cointreau, Velvet Falernum, and fresh pineapple juice. The Hemingway Daiquiri had a very citrusy yet was refreshing enough where it wasn't sour at all. The Velvet Blanche's main selling point is the freshly squeezed pineapple juice -- even our server said that it makes a huge difference compared to the typical cans of Ocean Spray juice. It had a sense of purity overall (the "Blanche" part of the drink), while the remaining cachac and Cointreau gave the drink its character (the "Velvet"). From the three drinks we sampled that evening, you really can't go wrong with choosing something from the cocktail list that caters to your tastes and preferences.

As my main course, I had the short rib and foie gras tortelloni with hen of the woods mushrooms and madeira sauce. Tortelloni is essentially just a larger version of the popular pasta, tortellini, so the three tortelloni was the perfect portion for a more petite main course. The pasta were filled with piping hot pieces of short rib and little lobes of fatty foie gras that collapsed right onto the palate with a splash of madeira. This really savory dish was further enhanced by the blossoms of maitake, giving it a truly earthier flavor. There were some shavings of cheese which melted right onto the tortelloni that added a subtle creaminess.

Marcus had the grilled salmon with parsnip purée, rapini, and a ruby red grapefruit vinaigrette. Although the salmon was just a little overcooked, the overall composition of this dish was quite good. The citrus gave the salmon a cool lightness to it, and the parsnip purée balanced it well as a main course.

For dessert, Marcus and I shared the Belgian waffles with lemon custard, berries, and cinnamon ice cream. Though I would've preferred a more crunchy waffle, it was still warm and soft with the custard and ice cream.

Findings: Marcus and I fell in love with everything about Brasserie Beck -- the food, the drinks, the ambiance, the service. Perhaps it was because the restaurant was our first "fancy" meal during our visit to DC, but I really think it was because Brasserie Beck seemed to closely herald what I would imagine a genuine Parisian brasserie would be like. We undoubtedly had our rose-tinted glasses on with the romantic notion of not only being in a "new" city like the nation's capital but also being in a well-orchestrated microcosm after the City of Light. We ate to our hearts' content, and I couldn't have thought of one other place I'd rather be than sitting in the tucked away booth that we shared at Brasserie Beck. Despite the casual nature of it being a brasserie, the restaurant has this inexplicable romantic effect on you -- like a place you'd go to fall in love with your partner all over again. Service was top-notch, the drinks well-crafted, and fare curated to satisfying delight. Maybe a second visit here for us won't quite match up to this initial visit because we somehow transcended to a place where the heart of our stomachs realized something divine, but I know Chef Robert Wiedmaier won't disappoint one bit.

Price point$14 for a half order of mussels, $17-19 for each starter, $26 for each main course.

--April 19, 2013

Brasserie Beck
1101 K Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20005

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Feasts & Affairs | Food Book Fair NYC 2013

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a handful of events at the second annual NYC Food Book Fair (FBF) over at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg. Since attending the inaugural fair last year, I had been very excited in anticipation for this year's line-up, which boasted a completely new set of panels/demonstrations/tours along with a few returning favorites.

01 - Wythe
{1,3,5} The 2013 FBF and its main meeting ground at the Wythe Hotel. {4,7} Limited edition posters designed for the 2013 FBF by Diner Journal. {2,6} The curated cookbook shop housed in the library nook of the Wythe Hotel run by Word Bookstore of Brooklyn.

{1,2,8} Pure Kitchen and The Brooklyn Kitchen were sponsors of the FBF this year, generously hosting and supplying for cooking demonstrations and select panel discussions.

02 - SK
{6} One of the events I was so excited to attend was "FBF + Smitten Kitchen" where {4} Deb Perelman, blog creator and cookbook author of Smitten Kitchen, was invited to discuss her passion for cooking and writing. {3} During this event, she had demonstration of a recipe {5} for buttered popcorn cookies from her cookbook. Here are some of the highlights of the discussion and audience Q&A:
  • Her recipe for buttered popcorn cookies was inspired by a close friend who admitted that she didn't like popcorn because of the artificial butter scent that is so pervasive in movie theaters. Ms. Perelman rose to the challenge of attempting to put it in cookies to see if she'd like it.
  • The base for her buttered popcorn cookies use the same base of a solid chocolate chip cookie, using popcorn instead of chocolate chocolates.
  • When asked how long it takes for her to master a recipe, she told the audience that it depends -- sometimes she can get really detail-oriented and other times the level of complication can affect this as well.
  • Ms. Perelman's "must-have accoutrement" in a city kitchen: a big dutch oven (can start with a 5-quart sized one for 6-7 servings), 12-inch cast iron skillet (stove-to-oven safe, as it can be used as a roasting pan in oven), small saucepans (as useful substitutes for a microwave), handmixer (though stand mixer is nice, this will do), immersion blender (instead of an upright blender, as a space saver), one big and one small knife, and a good bread knife. She interjected with a comment that you can tell that she doesn't take sponsorships because of this commentary.
  • She likes to use table salt for baking recipes as it is more consistent in weight and dissolution.
  • One of her favorite all-time recipes is a real red velvet cake -- essentially an everyday chocolate cake, substituting buttermilk with red wine. This was inspired by a reader.
  • She considers herself a obsessive cook -- especially when it comes to research and satisfying her curiosity.
  • On writing a book versus writing a blog: she finds it more natural to blog than it was for her to write a cookbook.
  • The "epitome" of Smitten Kitchen: a cauliflower pesto that comes out with a couscous-like texture as well as the huevos rancheros recipe (like a breakfast casseroles, plus she really likes salsa with eggs).
Deb Perelman was so incredibly nice, charming, down-to-earth, and really easy to talk to -- I definitely left wanting to be her best friend! :P

02a - SK
...and of course, I got my copy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook signed by hers truly! :)

03 - Reynard
{1-3} In between events, I popped into Reynard, the restaurant inside the Wythe Hotel. I didn't want to stuff up on too much, especially given the next event that I had on my list (see below). What struck my curiosity was the chickpea soup with swiss chard, spring onion, and toast. It was incredibly flavorful and bold, and that grilled toast made it even better. I only wish I had more to soak up the remaining broth that I ended up slurping dry.

The next program I attended as the "FBF Coffee Crawl" of Williamsburg with the four premier locations curated by New York Times contributor Oliver Strand and illustrator Lars K. Huse (from the UK), where we got the behind-the-scenes look at roasting, brewing, buying, and sampling some of the best coffee that Brooklyn has to offer.

{1} The first stop at at Toby's Estate Coffee, a roastery and cafe.

04a - Toby's
{2} At Toby's we got to experience a cupping first hand -- i.e., a universal way of tasting coffee. This is how Toby's evaluates what coffee beans to buy for its patrons. Cupping takes preparation out of the equation, allowing the coffee beans to be compared on an equal platform. {4} At this particular cupping, we got to taste two kinds of coffee with one kind two ways: (A, C) an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee, one aged for a couple days and another aged that morning; and (B) a Colombian Bajo Mirador coffee. We got to smell the freshly grounded coffees before {5} they poured hot water over the grounds for a precise brew. Coffee (A) was super aromatic and fresh, while Coffee (C) was a little more subdued, but still fragrant. Coffee (B) was a little more robust and pungent. {6} After the brew time was up, the baristas carefully scooped out the steeped beans out of the cups. We each got our own spoons and learned how to properly taste coffee at a cupping. By this time, the coffee will have sat at a more tepid temperature, whereby getting a spoonful of coffee and quickly slurping to get the optimally rounded taste throughout the palate. {3} We also got to learn a lot about the roasting process as Toby's roasts its beans right there in the shop. The head roaster walked us through roasting a batch of beans.

{1-3} Next stop was to Blue Bottle Coffee Co. on North 6th Street. One of the team members that trains and educates all Blue Bottle baristas (it has a very thorough training process of six weeks) led us through three different ways to brew coffee. Instead of different origins and roasts, Blue Bottle had us compare preparation methods of the same variety of coffee -- Kirezi, a single origin coffee from Rwanda.

04b1 - Blue Bottle
{5-6}The first preparation we sampled was the Kyoto-style iced coffee (also known as Japanese cold brew), which brewed between 12-18 hours in Oji cold drip brewers. Because of the fine grind of the coffee, the Oji can extract more from the coffee. In this preparation, coffee is never heated -- it remains cold during the entire process, and for this reason, the resulting product gets more sweetness as well as high levels of caffeine from the coffee. {4} We also saw the German roaster that Blue Bottle uses for roasting its wholesale beans, {7} as we waited for the next two preparations of coffee using Chemex and French press. {8} For dessert, they served saffron snickerdoodles with Tahitian vanilla, ginger molasses cookies, and double chocolate cookies with Mast Brothers Chocolate.

04b2 - Blue Bottle
{1-2}Blue Bottle showed us how to brew coffee using a Chemex, an apparatus invented during the 1940s resulting from a shortage of metal during wartime. The result of using this brew method is clean and provides a nice clarity to it. The Chemex is actually on display at the MoMA not only for its functionality but for its beautiful design. Also referred to as the Bloom method, the Chemex best brews coffee when the water is around 185 to 195 degrees Fahreinheit, especially when using a swan neck kettle. You slowly pour two parts water to one part coffee by monitoring the scale. As we learned with the Kyoto-style iced coffee, the longer the brew time, the more resulting caffeine. I thought the coffee brewed using a Chemex was very smooth, capturing the essence of the ground coffee in an elegant manner. {3-4}The French press has a perforated metal plate which best brews coffee with an infusion process of four minutes. The resulting brew was a little more concentrated in flavor as there's no paper filter involved in the brew method as well as a tad bit more grainy.

{1,4,6} The third stop was to Sweetleaf Espresso, where we sampled two different shots of espressos, essentially two types of coffees prepared the same way. I learned that espresso is a type of preparation, not a roast (i.e., there's no such thing as an espresso bean), and each espresso needs a dedicated grinder as it can't be switched out to accommodate another espresso. {2} With that being said, Sweetleaf is one of the few places that offers two different espressos. Mr. Strand outright said that there's no financial reason to do this -- only a true belief in exhibiting flavors.

04c - Sweetleaf
{5} The first espresso was Stickball Seasonal, a blend of coffee from Guatemala and El Salvador by Ritual Coffee Roasters of San Francisco. It had a nice chocolate, nuttiness to it that brought about a little sweetness on the finish. {3} The other espresso was Rwanda Kirege, a single-origin espresso by Heart Roasters of Portland, Oregon. This had hints of orange and fig as well as a little bitter notes of black tea. A noteworthy analogy made by Mr. Strand when asked about using at-home espresso machines to make espresso is that it's like playing baseball at Yankees Stadium versus at a local field at Central Park. It'll do the job, but it's just not the same. It's worth it to just leave it to the knowledgeable baristas that have access to the best machinery and high quality coffee roasts.

Once we downed our espressos, we skipped back to the Wythe Hotel, where we had the last flight of eight coffees waiting for us at Reynard. Mr. Huse and the head of the coffee program at Reynard walked us through the blends of coffee that they had for us that afternoon.

04d - Reynard
Most of the coffees here were from Norway, where Mr. Huse had worked and learned greatly about the art of roasting and brewing. We were so fortunate to have sampled some of the best coffee available these days (though getting these in the U.S. with the high Norwegian taxes and import duties makes them even more costly), which included coffee by Kaffa, Tim Wendelboe, and Solberg & Hansen. The only non-Norwegian coffee offered was by George Howell's Terroir Coffees which is based in Boston. Most of us were definitely crazy wired by this point, but we still pushed to taste these last cups. Even as a coffee amateur, I could definitely tell that these coffees were in an echelon of greatness all on its own. It is worth noting that these coffees do not go well with milk, a mistake many patrons make at Reynard when ordering from the rotating menu of selections brewed via Chemex. Among my favorites from this flights were the Finca Tamana by Tim Wendelboe and Ndiara, a Kenyan coffee by George Howell's Terroir Coffees.

Each attendee got a copy of some illustrations by Mr. Huse --  "FBF Coffee Crawl" illustrations of each coffee stop based on brewing apparatuses, as well as a full-blown Food Book Fair Coffee Map of New York City curated by Mr. Strand.

The next day, I stopped by at the "Foodieodicals" event, where food and periodicals (ha-ha, get it?!) meet -- essentially a magazine fest of creative food publishing, where attendees can meet-and-greet with editors and writers of these amazing works.

I was so psyched to not only have picked up the latest, fresh copies of Cereal, Gather, Acquired Taste, and Good Company, but I also got to meet and chat a little bit with the creative heads behind each of them!

{1} Later in the afternoon, I had the fantastic chance to attend a cooking demonstration at Pure Kitchen featuring Caitlin Freeman, the head pastry chef of Blue Bottle Coffee Co. and author of the recent Modern Art Desserts. The cooking demo walked us through her most famous creation at the Blue Bottle café at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MoMA) -- the Mondrian cake, which also happens to grace the cover of her cookbook.

05 - Modern Art Desserts
{2} Mrs. Freeman walked us through how to cut the necessary cake into the required pieces using an adjustable dough divider and a really sharp knife. {3} Once she cut out one 2"-by-2" rectangular prism, two 1"-by-1"s, and two 1/2"-by-1"s, {4} she brought out the pre-cut colored pieces (that came from three separately baked cakes of their respective colors) and {5} began to glaze them with chocolate ganache. After glazing all of the rectangular prisms of cake, she reconstructed them in a particular arrangement, simultaneously using the chocolate as the distinct Mondrian "lines" and as the glue to hold it all together. She wrapped the cake tightly with parchment paper so she could release any bubbles that were floating in the ganache glue. This would go back into the fridge, and once it set, it would be unwrapped and the exterior would be reglazed to perfection and marked with a nice texture using the same dough divider. {6} Returning back to the fridge, the cake would set and be ready to be taken out after a couple hours, to be served at room temperature, with a quarter-inch slice to reveal the cross-sectioned Mondrian hiding within the cake!

Here are some highlights during the demo and audience Q&A:

  • She was inspired by a painting of cakes by Wayne Thiebaud at the SF MoMA during her time as a photography student. She fell in love with the painting and wanted to "live" it because it didn't appear too sweet, pastel, or fussy -- kind of like an "anti-wedding cake."
  • She was the creator of Miette, a bakery in Oakland, which she decided to sell around the time she got married to James Freeman, the guy behind Blue Bottle Coffee Co. (funny enough, she met her husband at the farmers' market as their vendor booths were right next to each other), and soon enough, she took became the head pastry chef at Blue Bottle.
  • When Blue Bottle opened its Café inside the SF MoMA, it was as if she were being reunited with the painting she fell in love with years ago. She then began to make Thiebaud cakes, mimicking them to a T, which led to the Café creating desserts reflecting art only display at the Museum. She finally found a way to turn an art gallery into a kitchen (and vice versa).
  • Soon enough, the idea of the Mondrian cake came about, something she cheekily added that she'll never ever make something as "Instagrammable" as this in her baking career ever again.
  • She was never a big fan of food coloring normally, but the Mondrian cake is all about the deep pigments of the colored pieces of cake. With that being said, she also had to find a cake that not only tasted good but could withstand the precise cuts needed to disassemble and reassemble its parts. She borrowed Rose Levy Beranbaum's white velvet cake as the base. The chef from whom she borrowed this recipe actually wrote the Foreword to Mrs. Freeman's cookbook.
  • The chocolate ganache used at the Museum is made using Recchiuti Chocolate (a SF-based confection company), while the one used in our demonstration used Mast Brothers Chocolate.
  • Although the SF MoMA plans to close for the next three years in lieu of a major renovation, she wouldn't think of making the Mondrian cake anywhere else.
  • Looking toward the future, she likes that she can use art as her way to create a new dessert, as a way of playing with her career as a pastry chef.
  • Another example of a SF MoMA artwork turned into dessert is her take on Richard Avedon's photograph of Ronald Fischer, a beekeeper. She wanted to convey the same sense of unease and feeling of being boxed in as the original photograph does to its observers.
  • In between major steps of the recipe demonstration, she said she's going to pull a Julia Child and do a "presto-change-o" and magically appear with completed steps without the normal amount of time lapsing.

My sliver of the Mondrian cake! Ain't it purdy?! It was almost too pretty to eat, but it was as delicious as it was gorgeous.

Caitlin Freeman signing a copy of Modern Art Desserts.

05a - Modern Art Desserts
She had such a sparkling personality, and she was really fun to talk to -- especially since we both discovered our fascination with embossers. {1} Look at that cute little message she embossed onto the inscription page: "You can totally make the Mondrian cake!" She even encouraged me to get an embosser because they're not as expensive as they used to be. Not only do I want Deb Perelman to be my best friend, but her, too! {2} She was also nice enough to sign my copy of The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee!

Findings: As you can much gather, I had quite the field day at the 2013 Food Book Fair. I got to meet two individuals in the cooking world that I've long admired and watch them in action. I learned tremendously about coffee and many of its facets -- origin, roasting, brewing, etc. -- and I know I have so much more to go. I also found out what would happen after sampling 16 kinds of coffee/espresso (I imagine that's what being on Ritalin would feel like...). I ate well at Reynard, and I even got to meet the editors and writers of some of my favorite foodie periodicals. I did attend two panel discussions as well (not detailed in this post), but I didn't find them as appealing as the ones I had attended last year -- my expectations were misaligned with what actually occurred. I'll know to choose better for next time. Though logistics were a bit stressful (the event seemed a little unorganized at first), the resulting experience turned out to be very rewarding, and I'm glad I was able to attend these amazing events. I look forward to next year's line-up, which I'm sure will boast a wide range of crazy awesome things for food enthusiasts alike to unite and congregate.

Price point: $10-50 for a ticket to each Food Book Fair event, $15-20 for each magazine, $25-35 for each cookbook.

--May 3-4, 2013

Food Book Fair (NYC)
Pure Kitchen
66 North 11th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Wythe Hotel
80 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11249

Toby's Estate Coffee
125 North 6th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11249

Blue Bottle Coffee Co.
160 Berry Street
New York, NY 11211

Sweetleaf Espresso
135 Kent Avenue
New York, NY 11211


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...