Saturday, November 10, 2007

Chowder's --Fisherman's Wharf

“Chowders” Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco

I know better then this. I know how bad of an idea this was, but I just wanted some damn clam chowder in a bread bowl. I was out strolling around the city alone as I often do since I only work on the weekends. I found my self hungry, at Fisherman’s Wharf. I know what you are thinking, eating on Fisherman’s Wharf is like running backward, naked through a cornfield at midnight (thanks Gary Busey). But all I wanted was clam chowder in a bread bowl. Where do you think you could find such a treat? Hmm couldn’t go wrong with “Chowders” right? WRONG. This… soup, which I wouldn’t deign to call a soup was… icky. No other word for it. Icky. I have some experience with making soup, seeing as I used to cook at “Soop” in the gourmet ghetto of Berkeley.
Icky. There was definitely no butter in this soup, nor was there cream. They didn’t use wheat flour, or at least not very much of it, there was no clam juice. There was far more ham then clams. Clam chowder from a can is many times better then this sludge. Please god… don’t eat this.

I’m a big guy, I like to eat and it shows in my waistline. When a guy like me turns away food… it means something. It could be poison, it could be horrible, whatever it is You don’t want to eat it. I didn’t eat much of it few bites and I had to throw in the towel… this doesn’t happen often.. I hate wasting food but I didn’t feel so bad since I didn’t think of this as “food”. I wouldn’t even feed this crap to TOURISTS!

Taste of the Bay
T-Rex BBQ Berkeley CA

Upscale BBQ… isn’t that a oxymoron? T-Rex was a fun experience. We had the Pork Spareribs, Pulled Pork, Beef Ribs and Beef Brisket. We also had the fried oysters, Kale and Macaroni and cheese.

Overall the sides and appetizer were done immaculately. The oyster’s crisp coating locked in the creamy broth of the oyster, which tasted fresh and deliciously briny. The kale was well cooked and softened with little niblets of sweet squash. The Macaroni and cheese was a creamy masterpiece of heart attack inducing richness, They substitute shells for macaroni, which heightens the amount of cream sauce that coats each delicious bite. This is certainly not an everyday item.

I was less impressed with the BBQ. BBQ isn’t something that can be skimped on. You need the right cuts of meat, treated with the right care. BBQ requires the toughest cuts of meat because what makes BBQ so tender is not fat or water but gelatin. Tough cuts of meat have thick muscle fibers that when cooked slowly at a low temperature dissolves into gelatin. Thus giving the moist, glistening tenderness that marks great BBQ. Unfortunately you need a good layer of meat to dissipate heat, this was the problem with their pork spare ribs. The meat was shaved right down to the bone giving an extremely thin slice of dried meat on the bone. Although nice and smoky, the texture was lost. The beef rib however was a delight, a think hunk of meat on the bone that was smoked long enough to get a great layer of pink smoke on the outside and leave it fork tender. The pulled pork was nice, well smoked and doused in their wonderful BBQ sauce, but nothing amazing. The brisket however gave me pause to question just what cut of meat they used. The slices were very short vertically and wasn’t characterized by the thick muscle fibers you usually see with beef butt. Brisket is tough, requiring 1-2 full days of smoking to fully tenderize the meat, do they use a shortcut? Using a better cut of beef is totally a cheat, however in terms of flavor and texture it was great.
Overall the experience was…. Well… upscale BBQ. It doesn’t have that rough and tumble approach that characterizes truly great BBQ but was tasty and I highly recommend it. Go for the incredible sides if nothing else.

Taste of the Bay

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ad Hoc

There is a reason why Thomas Keller's other Yountville spot is costs $240 a person. Thomas Keller is a culinary god. The attention to detail is obvious in every aspect of every dish that goes out the door at his restaurants. It seems like each item on the plate is cooked and perfected separately and assembled into a single course.
Our menu fixe started with an blanched Alaskan salmon salad with fingerling potatoes asparagus and a sorrel dressing. The salmon was at the peak of freshness and I think calling it "blanched" is an overstatement. If while the cook sliced it he thought the word "heat" it was overdone. The texture perfectly matched the softened fingerling potatoes, and the subtly bitter sorrel dressing tied the dish together.
Next was lamb shoulder sous vide and roasted yellow squash. Almost every meal at Thomas Keller's restaurant has at least one item cooked sous vide. Basically the food is simmered at very cold temperatures ~160F in a sealed vacuum packed plastic bag usually for many many hours. The lamb was cooked at very low temperatures while under a vacuum for 20 hours. This left style of cooking leaves the most succulent and subtle flavored meat can be. The low temperatures allows the volatile aromatic compounds not to dissipate and shine through after the long simmer.
There are 2 types of dry: lack of water dry and lack of fat dry. Boil a chicken breast for an hour and you'll see what lack of fat dry tastes like. Simmer it in warm oil and you'll taste a "thickness" which is lack of water dryness. Soux vide doesn't cook at a temperature that will boil off most of the water, nor at a temperature that renders the fat into the pan, everything just redistributes through the meat the bag seals in all the flavors that would have escaped as scent.
Back to the meal. The next course was a cheese from the cowgirl creamery. It was a slightly stinky soft spreadable cheese reminiscent of limberger. However the cheese was very traditionally paired with almonds and cherries. I thought this lacked a certain daring that I was coming to expect in the meal. I thought this was the weakest point in the meal.
They finished strong with a classic brownie. Perfectly cooked with just the slightest sliver of uncooked batter in the middle giving a layered effect from crunchy right through to gooey.