Wednesday, November 18, 2015

taco sprezzatura

the best taco al pastor i've had in the last 18 months featured the correct cut of pork (the shoulder) spit-roasted to render much of the fat and bring the surface to a balance between crispness and char, then thinly shaved, precisely sauced, and topped with a baton of cold fresh pineapple, on a cal-scented and slightly scorched fresh corn tortilla. i did not find this taco on a street corner in mexico city, nor was it at the off-strip location of tacos el gordo in las vegas, nor was it at the tacos el gordo mothership in chula vista (which claimed but did not deliver housemade corn tortillas).

no, this best taco al pastor—which wore its fastidious attention to detail lightly—was from empellon al pastor in new york, the third mexican restaurant from alex stupak (once pastry chef at alinea and wd-50) and lauren resler (once pastry chef at babbo).

Monday, October 5, 2015

the search for soup

in mexico city, i hunted caldo de camarón. six bowls in five days. the oddest and least delicious was made from dried bay shrimp in a seedy cantina in colonia san rafael. as a heartlander, it disappoints me a bit that contramar's was the best by a wide margin—murky with prawn brains and garlic, red with achiote, refreshed by cubes of avocado and a liberal showering of white onion, cilantro, and lime.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

a good year for plums

the old english gage

by september, the cherries are over but other fruit have ripened to take their place. at the perry court farm stand, the fruit section is now a sea of plums. plums, plums, plums. martin fermor, perry court farm owner, orchardist, and apple enthusiast, said to me: "you won't regret trying one of these little ugly green ones that are a bit banged up." right on. "widely considered the best-flavoured of all plums," these old english gages are "a sublime taste experience when you get a good one."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

behind the scenes

behind the scenes

distinctive products often require distinctive equipment.

7 sanborn court, somerville ma 02143.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


on the morning of our departure, the kitchen counter held a bowl of eggs and a box of sappy roma tomatoes from the grounds, the remains of a jamon iberico de bellota, and a bag of molletes de antequera. the best time to make yourself a breakfast sandwich is before everyone else is awake and clamouring for one too.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

cambodia in oslo in paris

oslo num kiem pav

at the end of our journey deep into the 13th arrondissement, we met bitter disappointment in the guise of a half-shuttered storefront from which emanated the sounds of post-lunch cleanup. after a disconsolate walk with an increasingly restless infant (not mine) around the oslo commercial centre—a laotian/thai shopping mall in a paris suburb—we succumbed to the easy option and went next door to chheng sim. this cambodian/lao/vietnamese lunch counter is run by cambodians of chinese origin and decorated with a large painting of angkor wat and many gleaming christmas ornaments.

with no cambodian food prior, i can't say if we ate ideal types or an idiosyncratic riff on traditional forms. the num krouk were small bites, in the manner of aebleskiver or takoyaki, made with a batter of rice flour and coconut milk and filled with a more liquid batter of rice flour, coconut milk, and fish sauce, then topped with fried ground pork. the six that came out each had a lacy, crisp frill around a custard-textured interior and were a nearly perfect snack: light but rich and intensely savoury. the banana flower salad was a paragon of balance and reminded me of the virtues of judiciously applied rau ram. the num kiem pav kampot (shown above; these are the words printed on the receipt—i can't find this anywhere on the internet) were loosely filled with precisely julienned bamboo shoots and pork, showered with dark and crisply fried shallots, and had a remarkable skin which was clearly not all rice flour: glossy, flexible, and both yielding and snappy.

a generous and unexpectedly beautiful lunch.

chheng sim (清心)
olympiades no. 33
44 avenue d'ivry, 75013 paris

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015

the lowly legume


the interior of las cuatro milpas in san diego's barrio logan appears mostly unscathed by the passage of eight decades and is bigger than it appears from the outside, the better to accommodate a fully functioning tortilleria. did you know that a milpa is a field most often used for a class of traditional mesoamerican multicrop agriculture that only infrequently includes wheat as a crop? nonetheless, the handmade wheat tortillas, correctly scorched, are superb—as good as, or even better than, the lightly fried corn tortillas used for tacos. but the real winner is achiote rice with thin-skinned, delicate-textured beans. you will not regret asking for an adult-sized bowl, especially if you cover it with a drift of chopped cilantro while the cash register operator is distracted.

las cuatro milpas
1857 logan avenue, san diego, CA.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

quiet innovation

– the sauce is very good. what is it?
— it is six-year onion vinegar!
– what do you mean? this is six years old?
— no, half. every year we make the onion oroshi, with vinegar and mirin. but at first the onion is very hot, not good to eat. after one year, it is better. i take out half to use and put in new onion, vinegar, mirin. next year, i take out again half. six years now. it came with us from the old shop.
– you have an onion vinegar solera.
— you want recipe?
– sumimasen.
fresh onion sweetness without the heat, the richness of long-cooked onions without distracting caramelization, balanced by a rich acetic acidity: a smart japanese cousin of faviken's sour onions cooked in whey, and the unexpectedly correct match for well-aged maguro.

a thread running through lunch was the elegant use of ingredients: sayori nigiri chased by a skewer of its torched skin, kuruma-ebi dressed with a sauce of its brains. the shari was successfully iconoclastic—sasanishiki very al dente, each grain with a dot of crunch at its centre, pale pink and bran-scented from being dressed with a mixture of the traditional rice vinegar and the dark red vinegar made from sake lees.

discovered by the purest chance, but a worthwhile place to observe how a confident chef produces new, wonderful, and good-humoured food without having to make a big fuss about it.

the book

sushi shin (鮨心)
minamiazabu 4-12-4, platinum court hiroo 1F, tokyo

Thursday, February 26, 2015

a good sandwich

is hard to find, but is simple nonetheless: good bread, correct ingredients, appropriate proportions, proper assembly. the aggressive toasting job is a particularly nice touch.

embassy east
285 hoxton st, N1 5JX

Sunday, February 22, 2015

at bar liber

fig in passionfruit syrup, cream cheese, cracker. and a good bamboo. owner and sole employee fuminori umeda says: "i make it myself. it is very simple: fig in the syrup, kurimu cheezu on the cracker. it is done." just so.

motoyoyogichō 11-1 1F, tokyo.

Friday, February 20, 2015

at henri milan

S&X 2013
sebastien xavier is domaine milan's cellarmaster, and S&X is his personal cuvée (monocépage grenache noir).

Monday, February 9, 2015

a noodle vernacular

while ramen currently absorbs the entirety of the world's available noodle cognitive capacity, the singaporean vernacular noodle tradition—itself a subcategory of the south-east asian noodle tradition—carries on mostly unperturbed. all over the island, for practically nothing, you can buy a bowl of briefly cooked noodles from what will often be a specialist stall that has served nothing else for many years. the noodles will come in soup or dry with a broth on the side, as you please, dressed with your choice of various semi-standard configurations of proteins, vegetables, and sauces.

those who love noodles order theirs dry to prevent them overcooking in hot soup, and they choose the flat alkaline noodle called mee pok which distinguishes between the cook who gets the timing precisely correct and the cook whose noodles are an overboiled, gummy mess.

top to bottom:
  1. mee pok with beansprouts, poached prawns, chili sauce, oyster sauce, blanched pork shoulder, kailan;
  2. mee pok with sliced fried fishcake, sliced shiitake, blanched ground pork, chili sauce, jinjiang vinegar;
  3. mee kia with poached prawns, dried shrimp, fresh shiitake, long bean vine leaves, garlic, minced pork balls;
  4. mee pok with sliced poached fishcake, black soy stewed shiitake, jinjiang vinegar, ground chili and garlic, lard, pork and fish balls, ground pork, lettuce.

prawns and pork
bak chor
prawn and kc
bak chor

it is not only the ramen otaku and the italian grandmother who can produce noodles of precise texture and refined flavour combination.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

sandwich design

narisawa sandwich

yoshihiro narisawa's idea of a vacation is opening a domestic ingredient-driven kitchen car (= food truck) at tokyo midtown's winter outdoor ice rink. all meals conform to one format—a hefty soup and a sandwich—but each day you can choose from three soups and three sandwiches highlighting different ingredients sourced from around japan, plus some daily specials and a small but nice sake selection. for sandwich perfection, bread of the correct texture is paramount. their very good bread, made from 18 seeds and grains including wheat and rice and mostly milled but with some fully hydrated whole pieces, is tender-crusted and -crumbed and made even better by being toasted on binchotan. this particular sandwich was stuffed (not over- or under-stuffed) with salad leaves dressed in rice vinegar and olive oil, carelessly shredded and parcooked carrot, thin shavings of akita pork shoulder marinated in salted koji and finished on binchotan, with a peanut and miso sauce.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

by the river

by the river
at the cavenagh bridge, in the shade cast by the old core of the financial centre, a vernacular frozen confection: sweetcorn ice cream between wafers, from one of a dwindling fleet of handtrucks insulated with styrofoam and sawdust and cooled with dry ice.