Friday, April 25, 2008

Top Chef Chicago- episode 7- Sayonara San Francisco

Words I promise not to use in the following paragraphs: cheftestant (gag), chopping block.

Words that I have to use because I am so impressionable: Toyota Highlander, GladWare, Evian Water, Kenmore Kitchen, Whole Foods
Bravo really should keep me on their payroll.

So, it is adios to San Francisco. Arrivederci, adieu, auf wiedersehen, salam aleikum. Ok, that’s “may God be with you,” but you get the gist. Jen “I’m doing it for Zoi” Coco500 got the boot. I am actually surprised considering that Nikki “I talk like I’m in Goodfellas” is still around and she is completely talentless and annoying. But she keeps riding slightly above the wave of mediocrity and remains. Oh well, she’ll be gone soon and then we can all rejoice. Richard that cheeky Fauxhawk won, again, and Lisa still hasn’t washed her hair, so all is well in Top Chef land.

The chefs got a real challenge for the Quickfire this time around… dessert! All chefs hate making dessert, at least that has been a recurring theme on Top Chef for its 4 season duration. That and the “I’m not going to dumb down/be inauthentic/I’m really an arrogant jerk” attitude that the majority of cheftestants (damn, it slipped out) inhabit. But the chefs had to pull that one dessert recipe they have memorized out of their toque and attempt to use it, in the small time allotted. I can hear Tom in the back room going “Muahahahaha” like the evil genius he is. Richard “I think I am more amusing than I actually am” won the Quickfire as well with his banana scallops and guacamole. Um, okay. I was surprised that Antonia lost though. Her lemon curd crème brulee and lemon cake looked delicious. But I am a sucker, get it, sucker, for lemon, so I thought it looked tasty. Lisa’s fried wontons looked mildly disgusting but she got a positive reaction from “random NYC pastry chef I had never heard of” guest judge. Perhaps the sour look on her face and the amazing amount of grease resting on her head doesn’t turn him off as much as it does me.

So then our assembly of foul mouthed chefs got to “have the night off” and go see the Second City Improv group. (Plug, plug. It’s really too bad that Season One of Top Chef was already in San Francisco because I don’t remember them so brazenly selling out that first season. Well, they had that awful host, remember Billy Joel’s child bride was Padma, and she had one of the worst speaking voices. Tom was there, oh Tom, I remember when we first met. I didn’t know of you and then you came into my household. Too bad it wasn’t more recently because I would definitely stalk the Top Chef set if they were filming in San Francisco right now). Or so they thought. C’mon my little cheffies, don’t you know by now there’s always a trick up the Bravo sleeves?

So the audience yelled out random words and our poor, downtrodden group of cooks had to create dishes with these themes. Interesting. And wait, the tricks keep coming though. As the theme is improv Tom keeps changing things for the chefs. Oh no, there are no machines! What, we have to pack everything up in our GladWare and get in our Highlanders and drive back to the Top Chef house to finish cooking? You tricky tricky producers!

The chefs were in teams of two, two groups of men, two of women, and then the mediocre pairing of Nikki and Mark who straddled the middle line once again. The chefs had to make courses such as yellow love squash or something ludicrous like that. Richard and Dale, the alpha team, went and “perplexed” up their green tofu assignment by marinating the tofu in beef fat. This scared me a bit but they went on to win, so who am I to judge? The losers Jen and Stephanie mucked up their “turned on” version of an orange asparagus. Why the enormous disk of goat cheese dare I ask? Now, I love cheese, but goat is a particularly strong flavor and will mask all the other flavors on the plate. And why was there tapenade there? But, did you notice the incredible foreshadowing done by the Bravo producers? Jen was putting her knives away and said it was an omen. Oh, Jen, how you failed in your mission to “win it for Zoi.” Too bad. I do think that Jen was robbed a bit.

Lisa and Antonia’s dish completely fell outside the guidelines so I think that one of them (ahem, Lisa) should have gotten the heave ho. Their attitudes were despicable as well. I love how Lisa said that the judges would have called a real polish sausage “bar food” and dismissed it. Um, Lees, haven’t you ever heard of Daniel Bouloud and his uber-famous burgers? They cost about $500 each and are stuffed with truffles, foie grois, lobster, and a bar of gold. They even come with their own leprechaun, to accompany the gold of course. If burgers aren’t bar food I don’t know what is. But all you really have to do to “elevate” it is to call some french fries “pomme frites” or marinate your silly purple drunken polish sausage in some red wine. Hello, they had the most obvious dish to make. But oh no, Lisa was too good for polish sausage. She really does have a bad attitude and I think that she was bringing Antonia down. I guess today is my bash Lisa blog. And if I will continue on that theme then I will say that while I understand that this is the kitchen and this is an authentic cooking show blah blah blah, Lisa, I will reiterate, please wash your hair. No one wants to eat food that has been cooked by someone who looks as though they don’t shower. And while you’re at it, just a little mascara maybe. It would make you look less, I don’t know, tragique. I’m not asking you to adopt the tranny eyebrows that Nikki has been sporting, just something that makes you look a little cleaner and more awake.

Attitude is part of the game. I think that the reason that Andrew and Spike’s soup was so well liked was the three extra hours they had nothing to do but season it, and the obvious enjoyment they took in creating the dish. Spike got his revenge on Antonia by making his squash soup (her comment about if he wins she’ll vomit in her mouth was priceless) and Andrew got to do what he does best, swear and make funny faces. That kooky little man, what will he come up with next?

So in the end the boys were on top and the girls were on bottom. Was it deserved, well, I must say, yes. Am I disappointed in my fellow females? Yeah, I want a woman to be a contender (thanks Rocky). We’ll see how they do next week when the kiddies come into the kitchen. I can already see Dale having a really short fuse with a little kid. And Lisa, oh boy, that will be fun!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Yoshi's- Yum Yum

Aaaah, the art of dining alone. Not something I do very often, and I must admit that last night's solo meal wasn't completely alone. I ran into Yoshi's Fillmore on my way to the "gym" (gym is in quotes because is has recently become a more fictional place than somewhere I frequent with, well, any frequency.) My roommate works there and I thought I pop my head in before running over to Club One. Well, my plan was thwarted, and happily at that. I got there and A said, have a glass of wine. I thought, nah, I'll stick with water as I am going to go run on the treadmill pretty soon. This lasted about 5 minutes. So I sat there and had a lovely sauvignon blanc and read Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely in confident peace. I say confident because it takes some guts to sit in a lounge at dinner time by one's self and read a book. Really, it does, try it. People are on romantic dates, there are groups of friends having a laugh. But I was on a date with Philip Marlowe and that's not too shabby either. While I was sitting and reading the chef came out to sat hello to me. I have met him numerous times as my roommate is a waitress at the restaurant and I have been there a lot, it is very close to my house as well. So we chatted, talked about business, etc, and then I went back to Philip Marlowe, who was having a tough time at that moment to be honest. Well, next thing I know food is being served to me at my little table. I was shocked, I hadn't ordered anything, but I suppose this is what you get when you have friends in high places, aka, the kitchen.

The first dish to arrive was a carpaccio of hamachi (I believe, I never saw a menu). In the center were radishes on top of a bed of the most delicious mozzarella I have tasted (once again, it had to be mozzarella and even writing it sounds strange, but I am confident in my taste buds). There was also an orange colored sauce drizzled around the plate. This was absolutely heavenly. It was incredible. The fish was so soft and with the mozzarella it was just buttery. The radishes gave it a bit of heat and a crunch that perfected the whole experience. This was amazing. Who needs friends when you have food and books (unfortunately this thought occurs to me quite often and I have to remind myself, hey, I do need live people who aren't edible or readable!) The dish really transcends any verbal description, you must have it in your mouth to understand what it tastes like.

The second dish that I was pleasantly surprised by was a sushi roll called the Sarusa. It is poached shrimp, white fish and avocado with a bit of lemon zest in a roll and topped with a Dungeness crab salsa. This was amazing. The freshness of every ingredient was exquisite, and the flavors all complemented each other. It was almost creamy it was so good. As I placed the first roll in my mouth, Philip Marlowe had a large Indian man's hands wrapped around his neck, but I put him down to concentrate on the food. I figured that Chandler's story has been around since 1940, I'm sure Marlowe will be just fine. I was almost happy to be alone, as there was no company necessary but the food in front of me.

When I finished my delicious meal I made the shocking decision not to go to the gym. It was not actually that shocking considering I was now full of food and some lovely sauvignon blanc. Who needs exercise under those circumstances? I was picking up my book to see whether Marlowe would make it out of his sticky mess, when the manager came by and placed a fork and steak knife in front of me. I said "what are those for?" And he gave me the necessary response to any stupid question. He said "well, the knife if for cutting things..." I smiled and he walked away. Pretty soon after that a long and thin rectangular plate came out to join me. On it were organic lamb chops from Colorado served with a garlic mousse and roasted cauliflower. This is where things got sticky.

I have not eaten red meat since I was twelve years old. This means that for the majority of my life, the past 15 years, I have been bacon, steak, hamburger, hot dog, and lamb chop free. This was a choice I made, obviously, a long time ago for ethical reasons and I am now completely used to my diet. I went completely vegetarian for many years, always ovo-lacto though, and have gone off poultry for a six months here or there but eaten fish, etc. But I have never gone back to the red meat. I can say that one year ago I had a bite of a steak and once in high school I had a bite of steak. So this was not a world I wanted to dive back into. I am sure that I have been subjected to beef broth and reductions of things that I do not even want to think about, but I have stayed true to myself for many years. But now I was in a pickle. When someone sends you a complimentary dish that they made for you, you must eat it. I suppose my manners are stronger than my ethics when it comes to this. It is one thing to communicate with your hostess prior to a gathering about your dietary restrictions, but there is NO way I would send this back, yes, capitalized NO. So... I ate it.

At first I just took a bite to be polite. I started eating the cauliflower, which was delicious. Nutty and slightly browned, it was perfectly al dente. And I had a bite of the lamb. I put it in my mouth, scared of the gamey meat flavor that I was sure would arrive on my taste buds, when, wow! It was good. This lamb was incredibly tender and moist. There was some sticky reduction beneath it, and mixed with the garlic mousse, once again, wow! So I went from, ok, I'll have one bite to show my appreciation, to literally gnawing on the bones. Oops!

I don't know if I am reformed as of yet. I cannot imagine actually ordering a dish that contains red meat when going out, and while I can make a mean steak (I have never tasted my own but every time I make steak I get many compliments), I can't really imagine jumping into one on my own. But, I suppose if someone else served me meat it would be rude to say no, right???

PHOTO NOTE- The photo is actually a dish at Yoshi's but one I did not consume. I had my camera with me but felt a bit awkward busting it out as staff was looking at me because a) I was the random girl in the bar reading, b) why does she keep getting food sent to her and c) how does she know the chef? So, in a bid to draw less attention to myself I went picture free. Naturally I regret it, especially considering the food looked like works of art. But I think I am going back next week, so if I do I really could eat that carpaccio again...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Bad Food Day

I had a bad food day on Friday. What, may you ask, is this this? And how is it possible in a city like San Francisco? Hmm, well, it is possible, but I should be smarter than that. It actually started out Thursday night. I restaurant hopped from Little Star pizza to Nopa, which was pretty great. I had one piece of pizza, pepperoni carefully picked off as I was dining with three men who ignored my cries of a veggie pizza. I ate one chicken wing and some carrots, and then I was off, running down the street to meet another friend, and another meal. (Strangely I actually lost weight last week, perhaps it was all the running between restaurants).
I plopped myself down at Nopa and ate a delicious appetizer of "Warm Goat Cheese, Crostini, Pickled Beets, Frisée and Peppercress"- description taken directly from Nopa menu. I was lovely, just the perfect snack. I paired it with a nice pinot noir and I was a very happy girl. But, within an hour of socializing, I was a very tired girl. So I ran down the street, past the park, and into my house to get some much needed sleep (see, more running, and all in high boots too, amazing!) But, I woke up late the next day for work, understandably.
There I was, sitting at my computer, lamenting my choice to stay out too late on a Thursday night, and I was getting hungry. Really hungry. It was almost 1pm and I had yet to consume a calorie, I don't think that my green tea counts. So where to go? My office is situated on a slightly dead block of downtown San Francisco, re- I have to walk at least 3 or so blocks for a good food option. There is a coffee shop around the corner though where I pick up a turkey sandwich occasionally, but turkey and I are still on the outs, to there went that option. I hauled my lazy cookies around the corner to the coffee shop. I got a cobb salad. I figured it was more substantial than the other salad with it's eggs etc. So I ran back to the office, and after picking off the bacon on top of the salad (those pesky pork products again), I dove in. Chew chew chew, um, gross. The lettuce was old, the tomatoes were mealy, the dressing was horrid. I was completely underwhelmed. But at this point I had already spent $7 (I know! $7 for a bad salad, very disappointing) and I didn't have the energy to go elsewhere. So I stuck it out with my bad salad until the end of the day.
I left work late that night and decided that I was in the mood for a burrito. There is a chain Mexican place on my way home, between buses, so I figured I could run in there and get a bite. I trotted on down to La Salsa (yes, once again, this is all my fault. I live close to so many amazing burrito shops and I choose La Salsa). I ordered my "California Veggie Burrito." It is basically rice, beans, avocado, salsa, lettuce and cheese. Simple, right. I mean, that's hard to screw up. And in their defense they didn't really screw up, it was just, not good. I decided to eat in the shop because I was starving. So the first disappointment is realizing that it was Friday night and I was sitting alone on Fillmore Street eating a bad burrito with my nose in a book. (My nose is always in a book, more about that later). But the salsa that I poured onto the burrito so it would have SOME flavor, completely swamped any other taste. Oh well, I figured that I could eat well for the rest of the weekend. It's not like I wouldn't get another opportunity in about 12 hours...
PS- This picture of a burrito was the most unappetizing I could find. I didn't take a photo because of lack of inspiration/unworthiness of photographic evidence.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Breaking Up With My Turkey Sandwich

So, I think it's actually over. Or maybe we're just on a break. But just the idea of a turkey sandwich right now turns my stomach. And we were on such a good roll. It had been a few months of constant turkey sandwiches, pretty much every day. He was my old standby. When I wasn't hungry but felt like I should eat something, Mr. Turkey was always there. And he wasn't always the same, he could adapt to the situation at hand, an important quality in a partner. I did turkey on wheat, turkey on big crusty sourdough rolls, sometimes with avocado, at times with cheese, sometimes with both. Always lettuce and tomato. I even had a turkey pesto panini. There were open faced turkey sandwiches, warm and covered with gravy. The classic turkey cranberry, no onions please, which is refreshing when sitting in the park at lunch. The only constant was mustard. I can't do it without mustard. (Secret- I even keep little packets of mustard in my desk drawer in case, god forbid, there isn't any or enough mustard on the sandwich.)
But, I think we overdid it yesterday. Too much togetherness. I had two, yes TWO, turkey sandwiches yesterday. They were different, one deli made on sliced sourdough with jack cheese, and one homemade on 9-grain bread with avocado and a little mayo. But by then end of the second, my dinner, I realized that we had spent too much time together. So much time that I cannot even fathom eating poultry right now. Yes, I am off the whole species. I may just need a break from sandwiches in general as well. Why oh why. It's so hard to lose an old friend. And I am sure with time we'll start talking again, slowly but surely. I'll see a friend with one and ask for a bite. It won't turn my stomach. The charm will return and I'll venture out and buy one. I'll start simple, just turkey, lettuce, tomato, and mustard. Then maybe I'll go more complex. Add some avocado, perhaps a pickle or a little slice of cheese. I have always thought a nice big basil leaf really augments the flavors. But it is hard for me to talk about it right now. Breaking up can be tough, but maybe all is not lost. Maybe I just need a break. I don't really want to eat anything else, I just can't have another turkey sandwich for a while...