Sunday, March 24, 2013

Next - The Hunt


The decoration on the table, along with a wax-sealed welcome letter.



Anticipation high.


It wouldn't have happened without both.  Ryan really wanted to go, and I was lucky to get tickets.


"Fine, fine Slovenian wine" as we learned, this is an orange wine that is made not according to science, but according to the recipe of nature.   Grapes are harvested, and fermented by the cycles of the moon.  The result is a tart wine with a soft orange hue.


The antique walnut picks that we had to use to 'forage' for our hen of the woods mushrooms with between the aromatics in the brass and glass box.


Along with the foraging we were served a fantastic mushroom consommé that was intensely flavorful, and made to match the mushrooms perfectly in flavor, with a different texture.

This plate began to celebrate preserving, called Catch of the Great Lakes, it featured walleye in a creamy sauce, house-smoked arctic char, pickled kolhrabi, and strips of tasty pumpernickel.  The char was one of the big favorites.  It wasn't overly smokey as things often can be, and it was melt-in-your-mouth tender.


As it can get cold out on the hunt, every hunter needs a flask to keep warm.  Ours was filled with tasty VS Classique Bas-Armagnac from Chateau du Tariquet.


The "Charcu-tree" including duck pâté, elk jerkey, wild boar salumi, venison heart tartare, and blood sausage.  They were served on lacquered antlers, and provided a progressive bite-size taste of the wild.




The carrot dish was really pretty special.  In preparation for this menu, they asked their supplying farmers to wait to harvest the carrots until after the first frost, when they're at their peak sweetness.  They were then cellared for a period of time where they desiccated slightly, concentrating flavor and sweetness.  The entire carrot was served with a fried onion, and a tangy sauce.


While it's hard to pick favorites, this might have been my favorite drink pairing of the night.  It's a French hard cider that's made from crabapples.  It had a really fantastic apple taste, and was a perfect balance between tart and sweet, with really great yeasty overtones.


Lisa, you should just jump to the next paragraph.  This dish, featured duck tongues,  cider vinegar, and multicolored sorrel.


In a play on bacon and eggs - a light duck egg souffle is wrapped in raddichio and accented by creme anglais with smoked sea salt.


As the courses get bigger and the feast starts in earnest, they bring huge candles to the table.


Sturgeon on a tiny platform of fried sunchoke.   Plated with spruce oil, and a burre blanc featuring the sturgeon's own caviar - O M G!  I felt bad because this was a truly fabulous dish, and one of the friends dining with us doesn't eat fish.  The other three of us got an extra bite ;-)


This course featured wild-shot scottish woodcock, wrapped (as in life) around it's ground organs mixed with black truffle and garnished with shaved cocoa.  To the left, an homage to what the woodcock might eat including huckleberries, hazelnuts, a bit of lettuce and of course, gold leaf (haha).



The centerpiece of the service was the Pressed Squab.   A young pigeon who was prepared in beak-to-tail, essentially 5 different ways.  You can see the offal wrapped in a wonton, the tender breast, and the green on the left is the stuffed head (see below).  All surrounded dots of a tasty duck au jus.



We were also supplied with a large bowl filled with the extra bits and encouraged to gnaw on them with our hands.   As expected, hot towels were supplied after this course.


Rounding out the squab course was a savory stone-cut oatmeal porridge with bits of squab, foie gras and duck fat and more of the sauce that embraced the bird.  It's actually a little sad that this was delivered at the same time with the rest of the squab.  It was all so good it was hard to synthesize everything and I think that the fantastic porridge was a bit lost.


Next up was a return to foraging - with found leaves, mustard and kidney, served on a wonderful piece of birch bark.  This was one of the most fun and unique presentations of the evening.



The vegetables were accompanied by a tasty cocktail based on smoked corn whiskey (Balcones Brimstone), artichoke liquor (Cynar), and a flavored simple syrup that I can't recall.


We were then delivered plates with a leak, and the tiny tiniest spring onion I've ever seen.  Not yet knowing what to expect, we were treated to a massive hot rock on a very fragrant bed of rosemary and thyme on which we cooked our own strips of Bison (check the video).  Turned out this was a riff on steak and béarnaise.


Our first dessert was a tasty Tokaji - hungarian sweet wine, similar to a sauternes.  It was tasty, accouterment for our final courses.



The Marrow Brulee was one of the most perfect salty-sweet combinations that I've ever had.  The marrow was removed and used to create a custard.  It was then replaced into the bone and seared perfectly.  This was one dish (of several) where there were serious threats of licking the 'plate' clean.


Next up was a sweet barley oatmeal that was served with eater-directed additions.  From left to right: browned butter sugar, cherry preserves, candied pecans, mint and basil, and toffee.  It was the perfect amount of sweet and the big barley chunks gave it a great texture.



Finally, we were given Japanese maple sticks.  As we were pondering what might lie ahead, they brought a tray of shaved ice and set it down on the table.   Onto the ice, they poured a maple bourbon mixture and allowed it to harden just enough to be able to roll it onto the stick and be eaten (see video).  The interactive presentation, and the tasty lollipop was a perfect way to end the evening.  Of course, even the spot of coffee offered was far from ordinary.  They cold-pressed coffee roasted just a few doors down from the restaurant, and then steamed it with buttermilk creating a creamy, sour, coffee concoction that was pretty darn yummy.


Video bits from the night:

Next - The Hunt from Marc Kohli on Vimeo.


The guy who seated us and guided us through several courses talked with us about the next menu - Vegan.  We had already been interesting in coming, but this meal has sealed the deal.  We're going to be trying hard to get tickets.  He also asked if we'd been before and when we let him know it was our first time, he invited us to take a peek into the kitchen.  There were three striking things about the kitchen: 1) it's really small (picture below shows almost the whole thing).   2) It was really quiet.  3) It was amazingly clean.  Nothing extraneous, nothing out of place.  




The restaurant design is pretty stunning.  Not for garish decor, or intriguing art, but in the way that lighting highlights the food and the guests, while making the servers almost invisible as they walk through a dark corridor between the two small rows of tables.  Service was top-notch with a sense of humor and playfulness that made the experience more human, without taking itself too seriously.

At the end of the night, we were all very, very happy and also very impressed.  We'll all be dreaming of this night, until NEXT time.

Note:

Thanks to Phil Vettel's review in the Chicago Tribune for filling in quite a few little details I couldn't remember.  http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-01-31/features/ct-dining-0131-vettel-next-review-20130131_1_squab-apple-cider-vinegar-plate

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pissed About Reader



I'm pretty pissed at google for sh!t-canning Google Reader.   It was one of my favorite google products.

Luckily, I pretty quickly found a pretty-cool almost drop-in replacement in feedly.com

The deal-maker: you can instantly import your google reader with one click.  All of your feeds, organized the same way you had them in reader.

The user interface isn't quite as compact as reader but it's pretty good.


A few tips to make feedly more like reader:



  1. Click on the little wheel and select Full Articles under views.   Also where it says filters, check oldest first.
  2. In the full articles view, scrolling marks things read, just like reader.
  3. You can even share via e-mail, facebook, or twitter, directly from the interface.  It even pulls in your google contacts.  
  4. Email setup is a bit weird - the first time you try to use it it pops up a dialog that says "log into gmail first"  you need to click this dialog to log into gmail.

Feedly saves everything that you've "starred" as a bookmark.  It even pulls the starred posts from reader.

The only downer for me is that IFTTT doesn't yet support feedly, but this isn't a deal breaker by any stretch.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Belize




Having a great week in Belize.  It’s exactly what we were looking for− a combination of relaxing beach time and some activities to keep us from getting bored.  The house we rented has been good if a tiny bit sparse, and is a good location for us to get to town and walk around the beach.  Kerry and Isaac had a longer red-eye flight here, but for us it was only six hours of travel time and we’re only off of our timezone by 1-2 hours (no daylight savings here− they’re doing it right), so we’re definitely considering coming back.



We’ve had several days or half days of just walking along the beach, stopping at a shack and having a drink or sitting for lunch and bringing a book to read on the beach.  The weather has been warm but a couple of days have been overcast and a tiny bit cooler than we might have expected.  We’ve been lucky that we haven’t had much rain this week although some was predicted.  We've learned that yoga retreats with an attached café are a good place to look for vegetarian food amongst all of the seafood here.



Our first adventure was a full day trip to the Mayan ruins at Lamanai.  It took us about five hours to get there by boat, then bus, then another boat up a river.  We had a great simple lunch provided of rice and beans, chicken, fried plantains, potato salad, and some kind of coleslaw. Then we spent a couple of hours walking around three different ruins with a great guide who is of Mayan ancestry.  His wife grew up right around these ruins and was six years old in the 70s when archeologists excavated the ruins, declared it a national treasure, and moved her whole village out.  Eventually they were able to get the government to give them some land close to the ruins, where they now live.  Our guide knew a lot about the ruins, and the surrounding flora and fauna.  We didn’t do much research beforehand, so we all learned a lot listening to him.  It was super hot and humid, and we were glad that we decided to stay at the beach and take a day trip to the mainland rather than splitting our trip between the beach and a couple of days at the mainland.  We had thought that we might see more ruins and have more time, as two hours at Lamanai went by really quickly.  The trip home was a little faster because we didn’t stop to look at wildlife along the way, although on the final boat leg we had to stop at a tiny fishing island so that some of the drunk idiots that were part of a cave tubing adventure could pee.  Note to self:  maybe avoid the cave tubing if it draws that kind of crowd.



The next day we rented a golf cart so we could explore a little farther on the island and because the weather was grey and drizzly although calm.  We went farther into town, and we signed up for snorkeling in the afternoon.  It was overcast, but the calmest day we’d had so far, so seemed like a good day for snorkeling.  It was my first time snorkeling, and Marc’s second after his recent trip to Hawaii.  Monkies had been snorkeling before.  We went first to Hol Chan and snorkeled around the reef and saw fish and a moray eel and some rays, and also the cutest sea turtle munching on sea grass who then popped to the surface for a breath of air.  When I smiled it would break the seal on my mask and a little bit of water would leak in.  The turtle totally broke the seal.  As my first time snorkeling, I was paying so much attention to keeping track of our people and following the guide and trying not to get kicked by others in the group and trying not to touch the coral that actually looking at the fish was kind of far down on the list.  Next time I’m sure I’ll get to look around a little more.  



After the reef, we went to a place called Shark and Ray alley where we saw lots of nurse sharks and stingrays.  Kerry got to hold a nurse shark, and we all got to pet it and a couple of sting rays.  It was a great time.  By the time we got back on the boat I was freezing though, and ready for a hot shower!



Wednesday we had a totally chill day of taking the cart around town before we returned it, then walking up the beach to our current favorite yoga/lunch place where we sat on the beach with our kindles for a nice long while, then we explored some of the low tide pools and walked home.  We had some more down time at home and then a boat picked us up for a fancy dinner at a resort six miles up the coast.  It was fun to take a night boat ride and just see all of the lights along the coast, and it also confirmed that we were not interested in a night snorkeling adventure.  We all agreed we would have to level up quite a bit before we felt comfortable jumping into the dark water without every horror movie playing in the back of our minds.

We have two more days here now before we head home, and I think this might be the first trip we will have taken where we won’t feel like we need a vacation at the end of our vacation.  It has been a great mix of relaxing beach and some activities.  We signed up for snorkeling again tomorrow morning at a different location, and if we’re lucky, it will just be the four of us on the trip.  Today we have some more downtime, and Marc and I are thinking of renting jet skis to take up and down the coast.  It’s beautiful and sunny today, and looks like total paradise!