Sunday, April 02, 2006

A la cuisine!

Food binds people. Food binds my family. I spent many after school hours watching English dubbed Iron Chef and their re-runs with my brother. It was one of those programmes that we never fought over for the television remote controller. We spent many hours enviously watching the tasting panel, listening and laughing at the badly translated platitudes, fantasising how the food tasted and talked about our own mini Iron Chef type of competitions we would have. Our competition never took place, but my brother once attempted an Iron Chef Day with lamb shanks, that day is etched in my memory, but not for delicious reasons. After that day, I think we decided it was best to experience the Iron Chefs (culinary dreams of dining at all of their restaurants before we die) rather than trying to BE the Iron Chef. At one stage of my life (I think I might have been 17) I was convinced that the judges were predisposed to vote for the Iron Chefs since they were the victors 85% of the time but now on hindsight and first-hand tasting experiences, at Morimoto by Masaharu Morimoto (Iron Chef Japanese) and at Babbo by Mario Batali (Iron Chef America Italian), I now am a little older and hopefully, wiser.

Morimoto by Masaharu Morimoto

Foie gras chawan mushi with shabu shabu duck

This 3 month old, 160-seater, über chic restaurant’s deco is quite something. We arrived 15 minutes before our reservation so they first led downstairs and sat us at bar area. The furniture was interesting to say the least—the sofa looked like a cool-but-not-very-comfortable plastic white sofa but it turned out to be some sort of foam that was firm and soft—it was fascinating. The thing that really blew me away were the super-tech-savvy toilet seats where it had auto-flush, auto-seat-warming and auto-close functions among the others that I could not quite make out. It is crazy, no?

The place looked cool and so did some of the dishes on the menu: morimoto tempura with gorgonzola cheese sauce, oyster foie gras, kakuni (ten hour pork, congee, soy-scallion jus, duck, duck, duck (foie gras croissant, roast duck, soft duck egg and red miso sauce) and tuna pizza alongside the sashimi and sushi list. We elected for the morimoto omakase and a carafe of one of Morimoto’s sake.

Dinner started off with indulgence. Specifically, an o-toro tartare in a bamboo box with condiments: puréed seaweed, crème frâiche, wasabi, shiso, avocado purée and rice crackers, and accompanied by dashi soy, a bamboo spoon and a mountain berry to finish off. It was fun and yummy to eat. Use your bamboo spoon/paddle and mix o-toro with varying amounts of condiments to your own taste. First I did a tasting of how each individual condiment tasted with the o-toro. Second I mixed a few combinations of condiments, and then finally I figured that it tasted best with everything. It was fatty tuna goodness with creamy and crunchy textures.

Two dishes in one arrived next. The waiters placed a raised plate of sashimi on the table then lifted the sashimi plate of young snapper, and stripped bass to reveal two gems of kumamoto oysters, one with cocktail and the other with citrus sauce. The ingredients were super-fresh and yummy with the richer tasting dashi soy.

The third courses was poached lobster salad with diced potatoes and pumpkin purée. The cooking technique demonstrated was excellent, the lobster was poached to perfection, retaining its natural sweetness and tenderness. It tasted fantastic on its own, but was even better with potatoes the sweet pumpkin sauce.

Next up was a morimoto maki—tamago and tuna maki wrapped with procuttio—with dashi foam. It was a good balance between the sweet egg and tuna, and the salty stronger tasting proscuttio and the dashi foam was a good and airy substitute for the usually soy sauce.

The intermezzo was a black sesame macaroon and individual mini tea cups of matcha that was graciously prepared with traditional bamboo whisk at the table.

Next up was foie gras chawan mushi with shabu shabu duck breast, fresh wasabi and sweet soy sauce. The foie gras chawa mushi was rich and but was a light mousse texture. The shabu shabu duck breast brought the richness to another level and was well balanced by the wasabi.

Following we had a plate morimoto “surf and turf” (as I term it) of grilled kurodai (red snapper) and wagyu beef. The snapper flesh was sweet and the sweet melt-in-your-mouth teriyaki wagyu was balanced with the slightly bitter bok choi. To finish off the savoury section, we had a sushi platter of chu-toro (medium fatty tuna), hamachi (yellowtail), sayori (needlefish), kanpachi (amberjack) and anago (sea eel).

For dessert, the Chocolate cheesecake with lychi (wolfberries) and pear that was served was ok. The chocolate tuile was nice, but other than that, the whole dessert was too sweet for me to finish, but then again, I don’t think desserts were his strong points.

It’s a pity we never got to sit at the omakase bar (someone has on numerous occasions!), nonetheless this is one of those meals that will be etched in my memory.

Babbo by Mario Batali

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Fernando’s Pyramids with Passato di Pomodoro

With the empire of restaurants that Mario Batali has, we were not quite sure on how to tackle this iron chef. With too many choices and too few days, we narrowed our choices down to either Lupa or Babbo and decided to go with the latter since it is his flagship restaurant with a unique and legendary pasta tasting menu.

My previous experiences with homemade pasta have not been too pleasant. The first time I was 19 and I ambitiously attempted making my own pasta was without a pasta machine. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking. I didn’t make good pasta, my end product was horrible, my mother opened the pot and was horrified, “Why are there these fat worm like things in the pot?!” There has not been a second attempt that has been rain-checked until I acquire a pasta machine. Mario Batali has made all that right and has inspired me scribble making good pasta on my “things to cook before I die” list.

*Warning: the below is not for those on anti/low-carb diets.

We started with an amuse bouche of chickpea bruchetta arrived and away we went with pasta tasting! We started off the tasting menu with Black Tagliatelle with Peas and Parmigiano. The flavours were simple and light. The peas were crisp and crunchy was complemented the creamy but light pea creamy sauce. I had no problem finishing my peas in this dish.

Pasta 2, Asparagus and Ricotta “Mezzalune”, was equally delicious. Real simple and clean flavours—creamy goat ricotta, crunchy asparagus, al dente mezzalune and scallion oil—worked together well and kept the flavours light.

The next dish was served with what our server termed “wine for wimps.” She nicknamed it so because this soft and gentle flavoured wine is one of her favourites and her sommelier joked that she liked it because of it was not full bodied but rather gentle, soft, a pretty wimpy wine. “Wine for wimps” accompanied Garanelli with “Funghi Trifolati”. As the plates were sat down, the waiters returned with a large knob of cheese and microplane graters, (this is my favourite part) and informs us that the chef highly recommends that this dish is finished off with grated goat’s cheese. The funghi aroma waffled up to my nose giving me my first “taste” of it. The actual taste of it was even stronger, very earthy and smoky, which was balanced well against the fresh tasting herbs, pasta.

When the servers placed the pasta dish no.4, Fernando’s Pyramids with Passato di Pomodoro, on our plates, they stressed that it these beef-filled homemade raviolis were Fernando’s pyramids rather than Batali’s creation and topped with freshly grated romano percino cheese. The homemade raviolis were filled with a yummy braised beef that simply melted away in my mouth and served with a sweet tasting tomatoes emulsified with olive oil and fresh parsley.

The last of the pasta dishes was Pappardelle Bolognese. To finish off the pasta courses, this homemade Bolognese, homemade Papperdelle, the rich beef sauce was good comforting homemade mama’s food. The pasta courses stayed true to the Italian way of cooking, super fresh ingredients and clean-straightforward-focused-on-flavour cooking. The pastas were to a certain extent impeccable: perfectly al dente pasta and executed sauces. A side note, the courses did push us to the limits in terms of stomach space; I struggled with the last pasta plate.

The first of the dessert courses was Espresso Panna Cotta “con Amarena”. The velvet smooth panna cotta had a sensational kick of espresso. Following after was a whimsical Chocolate “Salami” with “Zabaione al Moscato”. The chocolate salami was packed with pistachios, biscotti bits and orange zest. I was not too big a fan of the Zabiaone sauce, the chocolate salami was just decadent enough to eat on its own.

For the last and seemingly final dessert, our server was so gracious to give us a dessert tasting menu within our last dessert course and the order to take and bite and pass around rotate our plates. The menu dessert of Ricotta Cake “Macchiato” with Bergamot was accompanied with its other sweet companions, walnut and date cake with vanilla sauce and ice cream, ricotta cheese cake with pineapple and flourless chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream.

My experience at Babbo was pretty damn good. It was a good way to mark my first experience with true homemade al dente pasta. The wine pairing with the pasta tasting menu was also pretty phenomenal; we drank a range of Italian wines that were carefully handpicked to echo the flavours. To top it all the dancing service staff—armed with their microplane graters and delicious knobs and cheese—were terribly funny and friendly. The only reservation we could get was at 5.30pm, too early a time to eat dinner, but it is well worth the trouble.

Kudos to Iron Chefs.
2 Iron Chefs, check, a few more to go!

88 10 Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Tel: (1) 212-989-8883

110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011
Tel: (1) 212-353-8064

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Blogger M. said...

you are one lucky lucky girl!

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

whoaaaa! they all look and sound so good!

7:28 PM  
Blogger Colin said...

Oh that looks absolutely delicious. Hope you enjoyed every morsel.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm so envious! I used to watch iron chef too and loved every minute of it too! lucky you.. everything sounds mouth-watering

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG! The food menu is absolutely stunning esp the presentation for the Jap cuisine!
I would love to try the pasta too. Ya! I'm a huge pasta fan. When I get a chance to step foot in N.Y. will remember to search your blog for the address for restuarants. Thks for sharing. :)

12:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I happen to chance upon your blog while doing a search for restaurant.... wow... I bet you are one of those who eat eat eat and still very slim...hahahah...but enjoyed reading the anedotes on the food..keep it up.


11:24 AM  
Blogger joone! said...

Galinusa: yes! :)

gwenda: hee hee. they were yummy! I'm still waiting for you to dine at tetsuya and to blog about it!

colin: i did. I think that's the best thing about blogging, you get to relive all your food memories.

sooks: maybe with some luck morimoto will come to singapore again!

cin: yes, i'll pass you all the phone numbers and addresses to the nyc eating places but there will probably be tonnes of other places to try too.

pinkhippo: hi! Thanks for stopping by. Ermm.. i try to exercise when i can :)

9:55 PM  

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