Archive for the ‘Fancy’ Category

My job has had me travelling to the New York area a lot lately, so on a recent weekend, Eliza flew up to meet me for a weekend in the city. In our continuing effort to be like Jeff and Elizabeth, we decided to try out the Ace Hotel. I would imagine that anyone who stays there and owns a camera takes this exact shot.

The Ace itself was great. The shower alone is worth the cost of the room. Even better, the place is full of good food and coffee. We started every day at Stumptown Coffee Roasters. They’re based out of Portland, so they know a thing or two about coffee. In this photo Eliza’s expression is called “I’ve grown to tolerate, perhaps even enjoy, your constant photo taking.”

We don’t call ourselves “foodies.” For one, the term gives me the willies. More importantly, “foodies” tend to take the fun out of eating. For us, fun is the whole point. So we’re not the kind of people who know the names of chefs. A notable exception to that rule, though, is April Bloomfield, the mastermind behind the Spotted Pig. It helps that the New Yorker recently ran a profile of her. The occasion for that profile was the opening of Bloomfield’s latest venture, The John Dory Oyster Bar, conveniently attached to the Ace.

Naturally, we started off with oysters. This was a very happy meal for Eliza especially. Shellfish as far as the eye could see.

Next up were a couple of soft boiled eggs, served with sea salt and parsley-butter slathered crostini.

Here was some kind of oyster soup with uni crostini. That’s uni as in sea urchin. This little dish is the kind of thing that makes you search in vain for appropriate metaphors. Let’s just say my mouth is literally watering as I write this.

Here was some other kind of mussel or clam-based soup. I’m telling you: Eliza can’t get enough shellfish. But I wasn’t complaining. The weekend was off to a lovely start.


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Poppy; Seattle WA

On a recent work trip to Seattle, I had a nice meal at Poppy with a co-worker. Only managed a couple of passable photos. The clear winner of this meal was the eggplant fries drizzled with honey.

Also had a few Kumamoto oysters.

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A few months ago, I learned a great new term. Eliza and I decided to go up to NYC and hang out with Jeff and Elizabeth at the Big Apple BBQ Block Party. Hearing this, one of my coworkers remarked,”Isn’t that kind of a busman’s holiday?” (You see, living in Austin, we get our fair share of barbecue.) Fair enough, but this was really just an excuse to go to New York and hang out with some friends. Our first night there, we took Jeff’s advice and checked out the latest addition to David Chang’s Momofuku empire, Ma Peche.

Before dinner, we spent a few minutes at the bar, which overlooks the main dining room a floor below. It creates a nice effect, making the place feel huge.

We started off with the foie gras, in an effort to eat something not offered in Austin barbecue joints.

In keeping with the busman’s holiday theme, Eliza had a beer that was imported by an Austin company.

The ribs were nice. The meal was nice. The ambiance was nice. And maybe that’s why I wasn’t crazy about it. It felt like something was missing at Ma Peche, and I think that missing piece was attitude. In David Chang, we’re talking about a guy who makes a dessert called “Crack Pie.” But Ma Peche felt a little conservative.

We did stop at the Milk Bar on the way out for some of that Crack Pie, though. There’s a reason they call it that.

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There are a lot of things that you can do with $50. If you find yourself in Beverly Hills with $50 to burn, one thing you should probably do is purchase the fois gras appetizer at Bouchon.

Bouchon is the brainchild of Thomas Keller, the man behind a famous restaurant called The French Laundry. Apparently, this man is a big deal in the food world. judging by the cover of one of his recent books, he seems like the kind of person I’d like to hang out with.

We went to Bouchon at the suggestion of our friend Chris and his girlfriend Nicole. This was the fancy night out of our trip to LA. We started the night off with cocktails at Spago. It made me feel like I should have been making some sort of deal with a Hollywood mogul. “Well, now that you mention it, our blog would make a great movie!”

Bouchon was one of those high security places, where once you get past the hostess, you’re still separated by a long hallway from the dining room. Frankly, we were surprised they let a couple of yokels like us in there.

Our table was outside and we were frigid. Black and white photos make it look cold, right?

Voila! The appetizer that turned out to be the main event.

It was served with little strips of toasted baguette and a bowl of salt to sprinkle on top.

This is how I approach a serious meal. Head down, eyes on the prize, stuffing my fat face.

We couldn’t quite finish it all. I’m not sure if this comes across, but this was a preposterous amount of fois gras for two people. Some people feel guilty about eating fois gras. My attitude about fois gras is a little different than those people, becuase I feel guilty about not wiping the jar clean with my index finger. But even though we left a little behind, I still feel like I got my $50 worth.

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I’m not very good at comparing meals. A distant, yet perfect meal tends to lose out to the one in front of my face. This is what I love about eating. Every time you sit down, there’s a good chance you’ll experience what may seem to be the best thing you’ve ever eaten, even if that’s not actually the case.

I remember once feeling like a particular peanut butter sandwich was the best thing I’d ever eaten. A few months ago, it was Dai Due’s biscuit with sausage and gravy. Later today, it may be something else. I’m okay with this.

In the case of Animal, I’m not going to fall into the “best ever” trap, even though I am tempted to. I will say this: Animal was one of my favorite meals of all time. (I’m not saying it wasn’t one of the best—but that would miss the point.)

Food has nothing to do with rationality. There’s no best and there’s no right. For me, there’s just the ongoing fear that I’ll end up hungry, forced to pick away at some low-fat salad topped with skinless chicken. (Anxiety rules most of my life. Food is no exception.) So I try to make the most out of every meal. After all, you can’t just skip around from dish to dish the way you can with mp3s or TV channels. It’s a one-shot deal, at least until the next meal a few hours later. You may as well enjoy yourself and not worry to much about being right.

These days, a lot of people are telling us what we should (or more often, shouldn’t) be eating. It’s telling that this advice is often described as how to eat right. It’s all done in the name of virtue. But the problem with these finger-waggers is that they take the fun out of food. They flip the lights on, unplug the stereo, and say, “Party’s over.” To these Culinary Ascetics, eating has nothing to do with taste or enjoyment. It’s a moral exercise in self-denial.

All of which brings me to Animal. Why was it one of my favorite meals ever? Because Animal points a middle finger in all the right directions.

First there’s this little disclaimer on the menu: “changes and modifications politely declined.” Animal is not trying to please you. They’re trying to change your life. You should let them.

Then there’s the spartan look of the place. Notice the absence of anything on the walls. Nothing superfluous. Nothing to distract from the food. Not even a sign.

Animal’s menu features a lot of small dishes that are best shared. So in fact, what I said earlier about not being able to skip around from dish to dish? That’s actually not true here.

Our meal started off with what I assume was some sort of practical joke, by which I mean there was no meat involved. Remember this restaurant is called Animal. It is a celebration of the carnivorous lifestyle, of the refined meathead school of cooking. So this dish, while delicious, was a bit like watching Michael Jordan play baseball. Impressive, but ultimately a diversion.

Next was a dish that is near and dear to our hearts: chicken liver toast. This interpretation had a smoother texture than the one we fell in love with at the Spotted Pig, but we had no complaints. The real food had begun.

Next up: fried pig ear, topped with a fried egg. This was the highlight of the night. I was so excited for this one I forgot to take the customary glamour shot before we dug in. Ever since eating this, I like to just say the phrase “fried pig ear” around vegetarians from time to time. Throws them off their game.

Quail has become one of Eliza’s favorite dishes lately. This one was fried. This was roughly when we stopped speaking to one another, focusing instead on licking all silverware and plates clean.

Pork belly sliders on brioche bun. Now things were getting weird. Do these guys have some kind of pleasure map of our minds? Seriously Animal. Get out of my brain. You’re starting to freak me out.

You may be the type of person that likes fois gras. You may also be the kind of person that likes biscuits and gravy. But even if you are both of these, you probably never thought about just putting one on top of the other. Well, Animal did. This is what I mean when I say that Animal points a middle finger in all the right directions. They’re not even going to humor you by discussing whether or not one should eat fois gras. They are instead going to blow your mind by putting it on top of a biscuit and gravy. Check and mate. You’re welcome.

I only recently learned of the existence of something called poutine, which according to Calvin Trillin is the unofficial national dish of Canada. It consists of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Animal’s version was topped with oxtail meat. We had begun to lose steam, but this dish inspired us to soldier on.

We ordered only one entrée. In retrospect, it was utterly unnecessary. We ate only enough to confirm what we had realized early on in the night: Animal represents everything we love about food. It’s audacious, relentless, and unapologetically excessive. A meal eaten at Animal is a celebration, an endless parade of food. Just make sure you don’t bring anyone who wants to rain on it.

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