Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ingredient Issues

I read an awful lot of complaints about people being sick of tuna tartare. What is rarely discussed in those complaints is the reason why so many tuna tartares are lackluster-- most places that offer the dish do not know how to treat the ingredient. From the hands of talented chefs, I would not mind eating tuna tartare everyday. For example, when Sarah Schafer was at Frisson, she offered a clean, beautiful tuna tartare with wasabi sorbet. Bruce Hill has always been a master of tuna tartare and his version offered at Picco, with shiso, soy, sesame, and Asian pear on crispy, chewy sushi-rice blini, is positively addictive. Even Sushi of Gari offers a tuna tartare sushi, with rice-flour deep fried wakame "chips" layered between the soy-sesame-sake marinated tuna on top and the rice "quenelle" underneath.

My main complaint these days though is not about tuna tartare. I know where to find the good ones, who I trust to prepare it, and to avoid the rest. My gripe today is about sweetbreads-- another ingredient whose popularity seems to be inversely proportional to the number of preparations executed well.

Don't get me wrong-- I am definitely happy not to see much of the gamey, not completely cleaned, brainey, undercooked variety anymore-- I have no interest in bidding for Andrew Zimmern's job. While I am happy to see sweetbreads offered on more restaurant menus, I am finding that the ubiquitousness of this one safe offal has resulted in most variations being bland and disappointing. Why is it that chefs who are so particular about everything else have no problems overcooking sweetbreads, turning them into essentially tasteless kernels of dessicated chicken nuggets, and then trying to hide the fact that it has been mistreated with lots of bacon (although I have to admit that one is not necessarily the worst strategy), layers of thick chicken-fried batter, or worst yet, some affected top shelf attempt at a sweet and sour sauce (do not even get me started on restaurants that still insist on trying to relive the Wolfgang Puck 80's).

Like with tuna tartare, I keep trying them, hoping someone would make them taste as good as they can be. Because when they are prepared well, they can be truly magnificent.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Frustrated With Top Chef

Does it seem that Top Chef should be more appropriately titled Top Caterer?
Do we really care how well the cheftestants prepare hors d'oeuvres on steam tables for 400 people? As if that Today Show bit was not bad enough-- are we really looking for the Next Food Network Star with Season 5?
Wondering if Food Network's shortened version, Chopped, will be any better. (Answer: No, but Chopped All-Stars was fun to watch)
I am still curious to see whether Fabio, Stefan, and Jamie can really cook. And not for a party of 800. Isn't that why Colicchio is doing Tuesdays with Tom, as opposed opening yet another Lettuce Entertain You type restaurant in Las Vegas or Houston or Atlantic City?
Lastly, how many contrived lines do you think Toby Young prepares in advance of each taping, hoping to come across as clever and/or funny, achieving neither?

Ambivalent About Momofuku

First, am I the only person who thinks "Momofuku" does not mean Lucky Peach or refer to the name of some obscure ramen person from...