Monday, June 29, 2009

Michelin Guide: 3 Star Dreams

Michelin 100th Edition
This weekend I will be taking my beloved mother and brilliant wife to New York, to dine at Alain Ducasse's, Adour. It was a hard choice for me. It's a very special occasion and I thought about a Michelin 3 starred restaurant such as Jean Georges, or Masa but Adour won out. What made it a hard decision you ask? You see, I have this dream of dining in all the Michelin 3 starred restaurants in the world in the next 5 years and doing it on the cheap. A steep target considering Andy Hayler, the first person to accomplish this Gastronomic feat, spent £15,000 on the food alone. He reckons he spent another £15,000 on travel expenses along the way. That's £30,000 or about $50,000 to eat 68 meals. That's an average of $735 a meal, including travel. Holy rusted fan belt Batman! When Andy set out to eat in all the Michelin 3 starred restaurants, there were 68. As I write this, there are 72 Michelin 3 starred restaurants in the world.

Why would I have such an outrageous and wasteful urge? Being a foodie and loving food as I do, I want to try the best. I want to be blown away by the presentation, the service, the wine list, the menu, the creativity and all the glorious tastes. And truthfully, I have never eaten in a Michelin 3 star restaurant and not been blown away. As of right now, I have eaten in only three of the 72 Michelin 3 starred restaurants: Per Se in New York, Le Bernardin, also in New York and the Fat Duck in Bray, England. Good Lord, I have a lot of eating to get on with and a lot of money to make in order to achieve this monumental goal I've set for myself. The best so far was the Fat Duck, although, my mother did get food poisoning from a bad mussel. On the upside, we were quickly recompensed with a free lunch for two and received a letter of apology from the manager. Unfortunately, mom wasn't able to make it, so my wife, then Fiancé and I enjoyed the lunch alone, with only a slight feeling of guilt, which was briskly washed away with a bottle of Gaja Promis Ca'Marcado. Sadly, the Gaja was not included in our free lunch. Bollocks!

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Michelin Guide at the moment. Mostly because of the sheer number of 3 starred restaurants. In 2002 there were 41 Michelin 3 starred restaurants in the world, today there are 72 and it's growing quickly. How did that happen? It could be because more money is being spent on restaurants now. There are hundreds of cooking programs on TV. Cooking and restaurants seem to be the "in thing" at the moment. The Celebrity Chef has taken hold of the planet and now these simple chefs are treated like royalty. New restaurants are opening up at blistering speed. Super Chef's own numerous restaurants, which keeps quality consistently high, or should anyway. There could be hundreds of reasons and many people have written about these reasons much better than I could ever hope to. One thing is for certain, there are a plethora of fabulous restaurants out there and I intend to eat in as many as I can. I urge you to do the same.

To make it easy, I have listed all the current Michelin 3 star restaurants in the world, below:

Here's the current list by country:

Belgium: De Karmeliet • Hof van Cleve

China Hong Kong: Lung King Heen

China Macau: Robuchon a Galera

France: l'Arnsbourg • Lameloise • Les Pres d'Eugenie (Michel Guerard) • Auberge d l'Ill • Cotes St Jacques • Michel Bras • Paul Bocuse • Le Petit Nice • Arpege • Astrance • Bristol • Guy Savoy • l'Ambroisie • Ledoyen • Meurice • Pierre Gagnaire • Plaza Athenee (Alain Ducasse) • Pre Catelan • Les Loges de l'Aubergade (Michel Trama) • Troisgros • Cote d'Or • Clos des Cimes • Pic • La Maison de Marc Veyrat • Georges Blanc

Germany: Aqua • Restaurant Bareiss • Dieter Muller • Vendome (Joachim Wissler) • Restaurant Amador • Schloss Berg • Gastehaus Erfort • Schwarzwaldstrube • Waldhotel Sonnora

Italy: Dal Pescatore • Enotecca Piniciorri • Calandre • La Pergola • Al Sorriso

Japan: Hamadaya • Ishikawa • Joel Robuchon • Kanda • Koju • L'Osier • Quintessence • Sukiyabashi Jiro • Sushi Mizutani

Monaco: Louis XV

Netherlands: Oud Sluis • De Librijie

Spain: El Bulli • Can Fabes • Akelare • Arzak • Martin Berasategui • Carme Ruscalleda's Sant Pau

Switzerland: Le Pont de Brent • Hotel de Ville (Philippe Rochat)

UK: Fat Duck • Waterside Inn • Gordon Ramsay

USA: Joel Robuchon • Jean Georges • Le Bernardin • Masa • Per Se • French Laundry

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Perrin and Fils: Vinsobres Les Cornuds

Perrin et Fils Vinsobres
I have spent a lot of time looking for an everyday-wine that is both exceptional in quality and inexpensive in price. Haven't we all? I thought I had it nailed down quite a few times, only to be bored very quickly. I tried many, many wines in my search. Wines from all over the world: California, France, Australia, Spain, Argentina (not the biggest Malbec fan) and I finally found my perfect everyday-wine in a Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits store in Media, PA. What attracted me to this wine at first was the price, it was on sale for $12.99. And then I noticed who the winemaker was, it was Perrin & Fils, the family who owns and runs Chateau de Beaucastel and its baby brother, Coudoulet de Beaucastel. Two of my favorite wines.

After trying the Vinsobres, I went back and bought another six bottles. At $12.99 it's not the most inexpensive wine I've ever had. And although it doesn't break the bank, there are cheaper wines out there which can be tolerated and to some degree, enjoyed. But they are hard to find and I don't really see the point anymore. I would rather have one bottle of fantastic wine, once a week, rather than a bottle of mediocre wine three times a week. If that wine can be had for a good price, then I'm a happy guy. There are some terrific values out there if you look hard enough and dare to stray outside of your comfort zone. Wines like: Chateau Pesquie Les Terrasses, Twenty Rows Cabernet, Lodi Vineyard's Petite Petit, Molly Dooker Two Left Feet, and there are many more. These are just a few of my favorites. Can you tell I like big wines? But I also like finesse and that has been the trick for me. How do you pack big fruit into a bottle and still have it come out with all the gorgeous nuances that make a special wine special and for under $20?

I think Perrin & Fils answered that question with their Vinsobres. The nose on this wine is packed with condensed cherry syrup and blackberry reduction. It's not overly powerful though. The mouth is silky smooth with big, robust flavors of black currant, cherry and coffee. And the finish is nice and long. It has the appearance of being a big, thick, rich wine, but it comes off much more elegant than that. Wine Spectator rated the 2006 91 points and it deserves every one of them. All of Perrin & Fils grapes are grown without the use of pesticides and herbicides. They don't have the organic designation on the label, but are basically organically grown.

I don't know if the PA Wine Stores are still having a sale on the Vinsobres, but I hope so. This is a great effort, from a great family of winemakers.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Teikoku: A Gorgeous Asian In Rural PA

Teikoku,ChopsticksChimay,TeikokuCalifornia King Crab SushiCrispy Calamari SaladCold Duck Breat SaladVegetable Green Curry Fried RicePanang Beef
Hawaiian Butter Fish
Last night my wife and my mother decided it was time to celebrate. I asked what we were celebrating and they said, "life." I know, I know, this sounds like a Hallmark card. Ones where the cover says something like, Remember The Beatles? Remember Nixon? Remember Woodstock? Wow, you're old. But you've lived a fabulous life, congratulations. Yup, that's what we were celebrating... life. What better way to celebrate life than to go to a Japanese/Thai restaurant? After all, the Japanese men have an average life span of 78 years and the women, a very respectable 85 years. Compare that to the average life span of U.S. women which is 79 years and the average U.S. man at 74 years and you see my point. If we were celebrating life, this was a no-brainer.

It was up to me to pick the restaurant and almost without hesitation I said, Teikoku. The restaurant rests near the top of a small hill like a grand Japanese Pagoda. They really spared no expense on the exterior. The interior is also extremely upscale, complete with a rain wall that drips water from hanging copper pipes onto a stone garden.

We were seated under large canopies which kept the sun off our food and made for better photos. With a quick, perfunctory glance at the menu, we were ready to order. The service was fast and it seemed like only a few moments had passed and I was eating my starter. The California King Crab Roll was a little more reserved than I would have liked. Still good, it lacked the punch I was expecting from a $13 Sushi Roll. The Crab Meat was minimal and the Rice was slightly soggy. The other dishes looked much more appetizing to me, so I took the opportunity to covertly sneak forkfuls of both my wife's and my poor, hungry mother's dishes. And the winner, without question was my mom's Cold Duck Breast Salad. Normally cold Duck does not interest me at all and I would rather have Cup-O-Noddle, but on this occasion I was pleasantly surprised. The meat was not gamey, but instead had a very soft taste to it and the Yuzu Blueberry Dressing added to this graceful dish.

I heard a shockingly loud, "Hmmmmm... ohhhhhh..." coming from my wife's side of the table and I decided to investigate the situation with my fork. Her Crispy Calamari Salad was not Crispy in the slightest, but I liked it much more than those overdone, leathery pieces of Fried Calamari I have had at so many restaurants. It was Tempura battered, which I think gives it a much more dainty texture and finesse. The rest of her plate was filled with lurid reds, greens and yellows. A very nice salad indeed.

Like the starters, the main course was filled with enthusiastic cries of enjoyment, "Oh my God, this is incredible. You have to try this." I felt like I was at Disneyland, hopping from ride to ride, eating my way through three meals at once. My Green Curry arrived promptly after finishing my starter. A ginormous bowl of Rice, Chopped Vegetables, Slices of Cucumber and Pour-Your-Own Curry Sauce. It was spicy and delicious. The Coconut flavors in the sauce were profound. It was like they had someone in the kitchen pounding away at fresh Coconuts like Tom Hanks in Castaway, just for my benefit. It was a fantastic, flavorful dish, but not a dish for those who can't handle spices. My wife handed me her fork, which held a bounty of Rib Eye slices with a Red Panang Sauce draping around it like a gown. The first thing I noticed, was the incredible amount of juice that exploded into my mouth on my first bite. It tasted like a half stick of butter had been inserted into the meat, probably by the same guy bashing the Coconuts to death. It was, as my best friend Lou likes to say, "A flurry of Flavor." Next was the Grilled Hawaiian Butter Fish. I took a large forkful of Fish, Mushrooms and Spinach, along with a little bit of the odd, tangled, yellowish strips that sat atop the fish, which I later found out were Fried, Curly Ginger. The fruity, spicy complexity of the Ginger complimented the understated flavor of the Fish nicely. The Miso Honey Mustard Sauce gave the dish an overall piquancy that I don't think would have been possible with any other ingredients. It was a very well done sauce.

Teikoku was certainly an impressive restaurant. I don't know how they could have improved on anything. For $114, not including tip, which was 20% in this case, it's not a cheap restaurant. However, there are inexpensive options. My Vegetable Green Curry Fried Rice was only $13 and it's enough to fill any Foodie up and provide enough taste to feel completely satisfied.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Teikoku on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bistro on the Brandywine: Long Name, Great Food!

Brandywine BistroBrandywine Bistro Menu2005 Chateau SannsonnetFaccociaPhotobucketGoats CheesePan Seared Goats Cheese and Cherry TomatoesRaosted GarlicCrispy Gnocchi and Pulled Braised PorkNY Strip SteakChocolate Flourless CakeCroissant Bread Pudding
I have reached a point in my life where I am not very impressed with price, or scores alone. When I was younger I would read magazines like Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado and they would almost always have some expensive consumable on the cover, or featured in a special section of the magazine. This item would no doubt, receive extremely high ratings from the tasting panel and it, having acquired this probably inflated score, would double in price overnight, with no other explanation. Having seen this and yearning to try the best the world has to offer, I would jump in my car, or hop online and begin my search for this coveted item, whatever it was that week. Most recently, that item has been restaurants and wine.

This can only go on for so long and then one has to ask themselves, "Do I really want to spend $200 on a bottle of wine, or $20 on a cigar, when I can probably find something of similar quality for less?" As Shakespeare said, "...that is the question." That question is now bothering me when I am choosing what restaurants to go to. Any fool can spend $800 on a meal at any one of the, sadly multiplying daily, Michelin three starred restaurants... if they can 1. Get in and 2. Afford it. It is the patient, research oriented Gastronome who finds those "lesser known", less expensive, restaurants which serve food of superior quality and would, if they were located in larger cities, or had a famous name behind them, be in one of those magazine with large scores, or stars next to their names.

Bistro on the Brandywine is one such restaurant. Being located in Chadds Ford, PA does not help it's stature in the restaurant world. But, don't be fooled, this little gem packs a big punch. My wife and I have been there many times and we have never been disappointed. Well, that's not entirely true, once they salted our fries so much we couldn't eat them all. And let me tell you, that never happens. We love fries with a passion which borders obsessive. Last night however, we had an exquisite meal. Head owner and chef, Dan Butler, has obviously gotten wise to the fact that we're in a recession and that his restaurant is not in the heart of any major city and has priced his menu accordingly. I have heard that Dan grows his own fennel and tomatoes for the restaurant, during growing seasons, which I think is fantastic and reminds me of Christian Etienne.

The starters came out almost right away. It was incredible how quick the service was for a busy restaurant. I dove into my roasted garlic and scooped out two cloves to place onto my bread with a single olive and a small slice of goats cheese... delicious! The garlic was done to absolute perfection and the goats cheese melted in my mouth and coated my taste buds with a flurry of flavor. The pan seared goats cheese with cherry tomatoes my wife was having was of the same caliber. Gorgeously pan seared until a light crispness on the top is achieved and perfectly paired with the tomatoes. We took our time, hoping not to get full too soon and before we knew it the main course had arrived. Not since I returned from France had I seen such lovely presented, simple, yet extremely flavorful food. My gnocchi and pulled pork made me recall the simple meals I had in Provence. Nothing fancy, just great ingredients. There was enough juice in my dish to use an entire baguette to mop it up and I would have done just that if I weren't so full. The gnocchi had a slight hardness to it, which I prefer over the softer gnocchi and the sauce and pulled pork accompanied it perfectly. I tried my wife's steak and I made a comment like, "Yeah, the flavor is magic, but it's a little tough." And, like the foodie she is, quickly reminded me that New York strip steak is not a filet and doesn't need to be as tender. Thank you my love!

The 2005 Chateau Sansonnet paired perfectly with both our meals. And the long wait to try it had been rewarded finally. It is a beauty. The nose is complex and exhibits an incredible amount of cherry and blackberry. The mouth is huge, but follows with finesse on the mid palette. And the finish left me wanting more. Surprisingly, we took our time with this wine. Probably because the food was engrossing our attention. Dessert was a tired effort compared to the start and main course. Still good, it lacked the zest the previous courses had. My chocolate, flourless cake was a little too big to handle. Accompanied by marinated cherries, of which only one got eaten. The vanilla ice cream, however, got devoured. My wife's bread pudding was also lackluster and the best part of it was the thinly sliced strawberries and blackberries which adorned her plate and the sun-dried cherries which sat atop her pudding, like a crown.

I found myself staring at the other people in the room and wondering if they really knew what they were eating. Did the two teenagers in the middle of the room with their parents really understand how hard it is to find a restaurant of this quality outside of a major city? Or did they just order the gruyere burger with fries and enjoy their meal in quiet ignorance? To also find a restaurant with these prices takes Marco Polo-like navigation. I don't know how Dan Butler does it, but I applaud him for taking on this restaurant and making it into what it is. I hope he doesn't change a thing. Well, maybe he could tone down the chocolate, flourless cake just a touch, so that next time I can actually eat it all. Bravo!

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Bistro On The Brandywine on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Passport Foodie: Dinner At My House

Rougie Foie Gras2004 Chateau PavieGrilled Foie Gras with Rocket SaladSteak and Bernaise Sauce with Pommes FritesChocolate Mousse with Coconut Cookie
My wife and I have this fun little game going, well fun for me anyway, I challenge her cooking skills with random food items, prepared on some special occasion, and it being a special occasion, she cannot refuse. Now, I am no chef, so I don't always know what foods go with what, and sometimes my requests come straight from my taste buds rather than actual, practical ingredients, but somehow it works. This past meal was very special, it was my birthday. A month beforehand, my wife asked me what I wanted and I quickly gave her my standard answer, "something awesome" I said to her. And then I proceeded to volley ingredients and dishes that were popping into my head with incredible celerity. My final menu was this; Foie Gras on brioche with a salad of rocket lettuce and draped delicately with a reduction sauce made up of Vinegar and Port for a starter, followed by a ginormous plate of Filet Steak, Hand Cut "Chips" as my very English wife calls them, we American's would say, French Fries, Bernaise Sauce and a very special side of Truffled Macaroni. A delicacy we first discovered on our second visit to the venerated Restaurant in Bray, England called The Fat Duck. Now, let me first say that, although I adore my wife's cooking, her Truffled Macaroni didn't compare in the slightest bit to Mr. Blumenthal's. Sir, if you're reading this, please send me the recipe. I will comfort myself with it tonight as I sleep in the doghouse for my disgraceful comment about my wife's Truffled Macaroni above. Thank you!

We ended the meal on a high note. I am not a huge fan of sweets and although I will eat almost anything, I reserve my fat cells for savory food, rather than sweet. However, there is an exception to this rule, I will gratify my urge for sweets with two things, chocolate and ice cream. I am a total sucker for both. So when my wife asked me what I'd like for dessert my response was automatic, "Chocolate Mousse." Like, how dare you not know what your loving Husband would want for dessert. She agreed and created the most amazing Chocolate Mousse I have consumed to this day. And I'm not just saying that to make up for the Truffled Macaroni comment above. It was light, fluffy and exceptionally decadent. Everything Chocolate Mousse should be. In fact, everything she made that night was exactly how I would have liked it prepared in any of the best restaurants in the world. The Filet was beautifully cooked, with just the right amount of pink showing, it was tender and the juices were very much still intact. The Bernaise sauce left little to be desired and I think the additional helping of Tarragon, added to the overall complexity and sheer intensity of the sauce. As always the "chips" were cut thinly and cooked to perfection. She does do a good chip, that's for sure.

The Mousse was definitely the highlight of my evening, however, there was another guest at the table that I greeted with exuberance and delight, it was a bottle of 2004 Chateau Pavie purchased from Wine Library in Springfield, New Jersey. This was my first tasting of Pavie and it lived up to all the hype. It is dry, yet exhibits an incredible amount of intense fruit. Still young, I think this 2004 is an underrated superstar that needs to be nurtured and kept in a cellar for 10 years until it becomes approachable. Even young, it was a noble wine and one I look forward to it trying again. Gerard Perse, the owner of Chateau Pavie has done a great job. Keep your head up Mr. Perse, the people who dislike this wine are either old school in their thinking, or their taste buds have been abused by too many years of smoking and slander.

It was a fantastic meal which I'm hoping my wife will top when we play our little game again next month. I have asked her to make a ridiculous meal, that I conjourned up while reading a preview of Eat My Globe in a magazine on a US Air flight. That was it, after that 10 page preview I came up with a mindboggling recipe that you'll just have to wait to see. Simon, my wife is not happy with you. Sorry, buddy.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Monday, June 1, 2009

York Beach, Maine: The Way Life Should Be

York Beach Harbor RocksYork Beach HarborYork Beach Harbor, SunsetNubble LighthouseNubble Lighthouse IslandNubble Rocks
There are three 60th birthday's in my family this year. They take place at different times of the year, but we thought it would be nice to combine the milestone birthdays into one long weekend. It was really an excuse to have a mini-family reunion. The planning started earlier this year and the first thing we did was find the perfect spot. We knew we wanted Maine, I had been a fan ever since I started reading Paul Theroux's books. But we didn't know which area to go to. The criteria was this: 1. It needs to be as close to Pennsylvania as possible because that's where we were all coming from. 2. Wherever we were going to stay it had to be relaxing and embody the heart and soul of what we envisioned Maine to be. We only had three days and they had to show us all that Maine has to offer and not leave us wanting more. We settled on York Beach, Maine, which is just over the border from New Hampshire.

We had the location, now where to stay? We used a website which connects homeowners with short term renters called Vacation Rentals by Owner. Having never used this service none of us knew what to expect, but it actually turned out quite well. There were 9 of us staying in a 5 bedroom home, overlooking the water. Surprisingly enough, we all managed to commingle in the house quite nicely. The first two days were a wash for weather. The sun was playing evil tricks on us, coming out for a few minutes and then dipping back behind the clouds. It made photographing the scenery challenging to say the least. The first night we got take-out from The Lobster Barn, which inside looked exactly how I envisaged it to look. It had old, gnarled wood support beams, which looked like they had taken one too many bumps and bashes by drunken lobster fisherman. We ordered 18 Crab Cakes, 9 Clam Chowders, 2 Burgers, 4 Haddocks, 2 Crab Cake dinners and one Salad. When the food was ready the hostess brought it out to us and asked us which army we were serving dinner to tonight. I may have overestimated our ability to consume mass quantities of food, but I doubted it. The food at The Lobster Barn was top notch. The crab cakes were stuffed with meat and very little else. It had a much smoother consistency than the crab cakes I have had in Maryland, or New Jersey. The clam chowder beat the pants off of that stuff you buy in a can and it's hard for me to imagine going back to the dark side of canned soup. It even had yummy bits of sand in it, just to prove it was authentic. The burger was ok, but didn't come close to the depth and quality of the seafood. This trip was starting off right.

On the third and last night in York Beach, we went to a restaurant called Fox's Lobster House. This, in my mind, is what Maine food should be. The helpings were huge, the service friendly and the food was shockingly good. Both me and my wife had 1-1/4 pound lobsters, which by the looks of it, were caught right outside by The Nubble Lighthouse, probably that afternoon. Never having lobster in its original, just boiled, virgin form, I have nothing to compare it to, but I hope to never eat a lobster that doesn't match up to the one I had at Fox's Lobster House. This isn't the cheapest eatery I've ever been to, but for the money it certainly didn't disappoint.

Maine is one of those places I envision myself living in the future. It is laid back, natural and raw. I felt like I was in a more Americanized version of France, without the erratic driving and warmth of course. If you have an endless supply of money and can afford to live on Maine's Coast, which by the way stretches for more miles than the California Coast, approximately 3,500, than I say go for it. Just don't hope for shops staying open past 5pm and in some cases, in the low season, not opening at all. This is how life should be. But only when we've all retired and can afford to relax a bit and take it all in.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography