Saturday, January 29, 2011
Since I had recently rambled about this subject, I had to follow up with this post. The freakonomics blog on the NYTimes had a recent podcast titled:
"Waiter, There’s a Physicist In My Soup" about food and the science of food - the first episode being focused on molecular gastronomy.
Some of the comments were very interesting and captured the range of views on this kind of cooking. "vacuum compressed heirloom tomato" ?? crazy cool, but why ?!?!
Part of the recent excitement stems from the release of this encyclopedic venture on Modernist Cuisine chronicling all kinds of wild experiments with food and cooking. I wonder if the Richmond Pubic Library will buy this book. The website has some cool pictures.
I was thrilled to discover that an 2° acquaintance/colleague at Carnegie Mellon - Department of Chemistry teaches what he calls The Kitchen Chemistry sessions - food and molecular cuisine to teach chemistry and science. What a concept ! something I will seriously consider working on. But first, I need to find a partner in this enterprise !
Addendum: Harvard's famous "Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter" last fall was in the news last year. Now most of the lectures are on Youtube. A fabulous chance to see how some of the great culinary minds of our time meet with great science (the speaker list was mindblowing!).
In case anyone is interested - A 2010 paper in Chemical Reviews makes for some um...interesting reading on the subject of the chemistry of food:
Molecular Gastronomy: A New Emerging Scientific Discipline - Peter Barham,Leif H. Skibsted, Wender L. P. Bredie, Michael Bom Frøst, Per Møller, Jens Risbo, Pia Snitkjær and Louise Mørch Mortensen
(the pdf is free !) link to paper
As always, the disclaimer - like many of my posts, this is just a repository of food things I am learning/trying to not forget and hopefully someone else might be interested too. It is not intended to be an exercise in bombast.
Monday, January 17, 2011
While time crunches have severely limited leisurely lunches, as the new semester starts, I wanted to tabulate some of my favorite options around the VCU (main) campus: (lunch at all of these places ranges from $5 - $15 w/ t&t with $8 being the median)
821 Café: 821 is a Prime Number so they moved it to 825 Cary - a Smith Number :)! I’ve been very satisfied after several visits here. The menu is still overwhelmingly large with “too many” permutations but we haven’t gone wrong with most choices here. I’m still lacking in HQ compared to rest of clientele.
Ipanema Café (#, %): My favorite vegetarian place in the city. Imaginatively goes beyond the norm within the defined (restrictive) parameters. Also terrific for a night owl. Sweet potato fries ++
(cons @ both 821C and IC – demand quite often greatly exceeds supply). The former has morphed from its subterranean look while the latter's may not be to everyones liking...
Thai Top Ten (%): (sorry ET. You have been replaced). Bonus – spring roll w/ lunch.
Carts – Dont have the choice or variety that the medical campus has but we do have arguably one of RVAs finest around - Nates Taco Truck (#) and Olio – next to Cabell library. Time to lunch – variable. Filling of stomach – variable.
Three other nice options –Harrison Street Coffee Shop (#) (also all vegetarian), Rev it Up (very basic sandwich choices but filling, clean, welcoming interior, %) and Sprout (nice inside especially when sunny outside, filling of stomach - variable, support local, #, %)
Desperation when time is << short – take away wraps at the Cary Street Deli. In and out < 10 mins. Coffee at the Starbucks next door. (*)
D/F – VCU Commons, Mojos, Broad Street twixt Belvidere and Harrison.
Palatable chain – Chipotle.
On radar – Belvidere on Broad.
Another place that I like a lot for dinner but have never been for lunch is Nile Ethiopian. I have no idea of cost or time here.
# – quasi variable menu
% – good for taking visitors – not overly informal.
* - There is still no decent coffee place within a short walk for me (< 5 mins). Crossroads if in the area but quite a trek from my neck of the woods otherwise. Rostovs – more so.
Saludos while I kiss the sky !
One of the "culinary innovations" of the past decade has to be the explosion of what has come to be called molecular gastronomy. I recently had the chance to visit the hotbed of this creativity - (aside: Is it possible for one chef to influence an entire region with his philosophy and style? I think superstar chef Ferran Adrià would fall into this category). While I, like countless others will have to wait till 2013 to try our luck at reservations (not to mention months of saving) when El Bulli reopens, Catalonia teems with culinary gems who are either direct descendants of Ferran (I think it would be fun to have a concept like an Erdős number in the culinary world - like a Ducasse or Adrià number !) or deeply influenced by him. With both EB and the other gem in the region El Celler de Can Roca closed for the season, I had to "settle" for excellent choices from the number of places that have taken molecular gastronomy to new levels - this time - Cinq Sentits and Alkimia, the latter highly recommended. For tapas, the local joint(s) and Comerç 24 (fabulous creativity on the small plate/tapas concept by Ferran protege Carles Abellan).
I will spare the gentle reader any food porn or painful descriptions thereof. Coupled with some eating and recent reading, I was assailed with some philosophical afterthoughts:
An older article by Anya von Bremzen on “Should Fine Dining Die” explores the “contrived amuse-gueles-to-petit-fours rigmarole known as fine dining”
Foodie fatigue - A plea for calm among foodies from the Chicago Tribune. "Food culture is great when it gets people thinking about what's on their plate, not photographing it"
And this rather droll foodie discussion - IMHO if you have any sort of opinion on what you eat, you're a foodie, like it or not. The rest is details. Instead of indulging in petty semantics, it is humbling to realize that there are millions of people who dont have this luxury.
As a scientist and yes, foodie, I find the ideas of ingredient foams, emulsions, powders, creams, suspensions, infusions, freeze dried ingredients (or cooking with liquid nitrogen) and other "non-conventional" preparations of food incredibly neat. In addition to being fascinatingly clever, I also find the melding of conventional and esoteric ingredients (flowers, fungi and foraged natural products - the current global darling NOMA having taken the latter to extreme levels) quite exciting. I also marvel at the creativity of the chefs and the art of presentation, which is more than having something show up on a square plate. But...
1. Primarily, what is the real point – does this “deconstruction” add to taste or is it all just gimicky? (I add that I shameless enjoy the gimicks)
2. While the concept of 10+ elegantly constructed and innovative dishes is certainly fun, how practical is it really? Does it even have to be "practical"?
3. Price is another question here, although as I've observed recently, dining out in RVA is not an inexpensive proposition either. This would be an interesting subject to study - where does price resistance or elasticity break down ?
I just wonder, while enjoying all that this contribution to food has to offer.
(with hunger, need, recessions and unemployment around, spending ridiculous amounts on single meals - that is another philosophical discussion for another day).
Is it too much to ask for an AF-esque mind for RVA ? Would love to see someone sidestep the paradigm (even a dish or two). Go wild !! (the MA in NOMA comes from mad)
Ok, I lied and will violate my principles - I had to photograph one of the best amuse bouches I've had in a while - @ CS - a shot glass of layered maple syrup, chilled cream, a sabayon made with cava and a tiny bit of rock salt at the bottom that trickles down to your tongue once the sweetness of the earlier ingredients have made their way down your throat. This was the very definition of an amuse bouche, delightfully light and talk about titillating a palate !
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Amidst aimless meanderings, I began to think that if I could wish for a "type of" restaurant in RVA, it would have to be a quality tapas place. Apparently Richmond had 60 new restaurants open last year !! From my limited sampling, they mostly appear to be variants on a theme, with some exceptions. Yes, technically it appears there are are a few (via Urbanspoon) (I'm afraid these places have been far from satisfactory and to borrow a term - reputationally hindered) and no, the rash of "small plate" menus proliferating around do not count. So whats missing?
It would be wonderful to see a cozy, reasonably priced tapas restaurant in RVA in true Spanish tradition - from simple offerings of olives, breads with olive oil, jamon or other meats, cheeses, little plates of salads, fresh vegetables, stews and seafood perhaps, all the way to what has come to be called "luxury tapas" at places like Comerç 24 and 41 degrees. The fun and excitement of communal dining on small plates is delightful. And the taste of course, exciting, without necessarily being too complex. In terms of the ratio of deliciousness to complexity, I posit that pan con tomate or pa amb tomaquet in Catalan is hard to beat.
Some history I learned - Back in 19th century Andalucia, bar owners would place a piece of bread on a drink to keep away flies. This evolved to little savory, often salty bits - olives, meats etc on a lid (tapa) to cover the drink. And a fabulous dining tradition was born !
Sí despite its prices and roller coaster quality was for a while the place du jour and while it would stray from their present DNA, there is a place that asymptotically approaches some of these parameters (Cryptic xword clue - not for Italian bubbly (5)), but I still would want my pure tapas bar :)!!
Since one must leave town in all probability, to satisfy this tapas fix, there is of course, Jose Andres' masterpiece Jaleo up north(the humble patatas bravas with spicy alioli is an deliciously inexpensive filler here and at most tapas joints anywhere !). Closer to home - Mas Tapas in Charlottesville is a terrific option, well worth a drive imho (thanks to a friend for placing this on my radar). Plates can be had from $4 to $15 making for a well rounded dinner. They also have a great selection of cheeses and a nice list of wines, plus everyone's favorite word - plenty of local sourcing. Word to the wise, be wary of ordering too many "salad tapas" or you could easily overdose on arugula.
Another somewhat distant wish is for a noodle bar. We have our share of pho places around (discussed nicely here) but I wish we had a place that just served udon, soba, ramen and the like - perhaps a mélange of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese influences? Since we're dreaming, perhaps something like David Chang's wonderful Momofuku !