The Daily Meal

12 September 2014

Tonight's Episode: Tasting Chile from top to bottom



Look at that picture. It's a bonsai tree. With eggs. You eat the eggs. Coming from the bonsai tree. Nothing I can say will explain to you what is going on here. Sure I can tell you about the taste and texture (pretty delicious) and try somehow to explore with you the intricacies of technique and origin of product for each course, but frankly that would be pointless. That is the greatest problem with explaining Chile's amazing and innovative restaurant BORAGó  to you, person of the internet. It isn't a meal in the strictest sense. It is a sensory experiment. It is a transitory art instillation. It is a thoughtfully crafted love letter to the produce of Chile. It is intimidating and whimsical and challenging and inclusive. 

Okay, I've admitted I can't narrate our dinner. 12 courses with an array of snacks, all paired with the sublime wines of Chile. I simply can't do it, even though I have the menu in my hand right now. What I can do is explain to you a little of why BORAGó is perhaps the most important restaurant in Chile's capital of Santiago. 

First you have to understand the philosophy of the restaurant. Chile, a very narrow nation perched between the Andes and the Pacific, has never been renowned for its produce (like Argentina) or it's innovative cuisine (like Peru). It does, however, have one of the most varied ecosystems you will come across. Chef Rodolfo Guzmán and his staff have devoted themselves to highlighting the bounty of that ecosystem. They forage for fresh ingredients from across the country. We aren't just talking the normal mushrooms or venison, we are talking red crustaceans that look like a ballon and a red pepper had a love child and clover that actually tastes amazingly bright and citrusy. 

Some of what...okay most of what....the chef and staff are foraging aren't even regularly staples of Chilean cuisine. In a lot of ways, Chile seems to have accepted the assigned monotony of its cuisine, preferring to be derivative as opposed to original. I can not count the number of risottos (Italy) and ceviches (Peru) The Girl and I ate on this vacation. That isn't a complaint; they were well executed and delicious, but they don't speak to Chile in any meaningful way. Chef Guzmán's goal seems to be to show the people of Chile that they have more to offer the food world than artful reflections of other nation's culinary heritage. To that end he and his staff have turned BORAGó into a sensory exploration of what is and what could be.

If that sounds pretentious to you, you aren't alone. It is hard to look at the dishes (presented below) and not wonder if the chef is more concerned with presentation than preparation. Nothing I can say will be enough to persuade you that the presentations are thoughtful representations of the produce and the environment from which it comes. Nothing on the menu will become a new national dish. There is no arroz con pollo hidden here. That is not the intention. For those of us visiting Santiago, we gain the opportunity to visit all of Chile in one meal. For the Chilean, however, there is something deeper, an opportunity to take everyday assumptions and flip them on their head. Perhaps the greatest gift BORAGó gives to the people of Chile is a chance to ask themselves "what is our culinary identity?" BORAGó will offer no answers, only more questions, and for that the Chilean people should be grateful.

The art and artifice of this restaurant are superb. Every course is presented with an explanation from the kitchen of the where and the why of the products presented. It is a full sensory experience, touch, taste, appearance, scent, all brought together by the chef explaining how each dish is reflective of the nation he loves so dearly and obviously. This isn't molecular gastronomy. This isn't modernist cuisine. This is Chile, from rocks of the shore to the stunted trees of the Andean highlands. 


Purple potato "snack" 
Foreground: Salty Berliner
Background: chicharron

 Breadsticks. Sticks. That are bread

 Crustaceans. The Girl's least favorite dish. Very challenging texture. Very interesting flavor

 Crudo of Venison, hidden in the trees. 


 Veal. Tasty, tasty veal


Mushrooms  
Uni
Clovers

14 August 2014

Product Review and Drink Recipies: Genius Gin



Product reviews aren't really something I specialize in. Unless it is a magic bottle of booze showing up in my mail box, I'll usually pass. Well the fine folks at Genius Gin, a small batch distillery out of Austin Texas determined to cure you of hating gin, set me a bottle of both their Traditional and their Navy Strength gins to try.

First, lets ignore what you know of that bottle of Beefeating Pine tree garbage collecting dust in your father's liquor cabinet. Sure, it shares the same basic features as Genius Gin, but comparing the two is like saying both a Maserati an a Ford Pinto car. Technically you would be right but you are missing out on the subtle beauty and power and elegance that elevates Genius to...well, genius levels. As opposed to the traditional punch of lysol.....I mean juniper...you get with classic gins, Genius starts with a sweet earthy spice and moves quietly to a light citrus note. You get hints of lime and vanilla, and has a soft easy finish that make this a perfect gin for those who like their liquor neat. Where Genius really thrives is in cocktail form, and to find you the right drinks my liver volunteered to take one for the team and try every gin drink I know. Here are the ones that benefitted most from the elegant crafting of Genius Gin


The Martini 

Is there any more classic gin drink than the Martini? I mean the Humphrey Bogart classic, not the horse swill Bond James Bond drinks. Smooth, elegant, cold, with a bite that serious gin aficionados love.

2oz Genius Navy Strength Gin
1/2 oz Interrobang Sweet vermouth
1/4 oz Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6
Lime peel for garnish


  1. Pre-chill your shaker, glass, gin, and vermouth.
  2. When cold, add ice to the shaker and measure in the required amounts of gin and vermouth. Stir. DO NOT SHAKE.  I prefer stirring as shaking can lead to shards of ice making its way into the final drink, "bruising" the drink 
  3. Strain into your chilled glass and twist the lemon peel until it leaves a spritz of lemon oil on the surface of the cocktail. 
The Gin Punch

The ultimate summer sipper, this bright and fruity drink takes advantage of the subtle citrus flavor of the gin.

1 Tablespoon Jack Rudy small batch Grenadine  

2 Tablespoons Powdered sugar
2oz Filtered water
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
3oz Genius Gin
3 splashes Luxardo Maraschino 
1 oz mixed berries
2 slices of orange

1. Pre-chill your shaker (Im going to repeat this every time till you believe me)

2. Muddle the berries in a rocks glass
3. Combine all the liquid ingredients and the sugar in your shaker, shake vigorously, strain into your glass
4. Garnish with orange and serve! 

The South Side

For the serious day drinker, the South Side is gin's answer to the Mojio

2oz Genius Navy Strength Gin

Juice of 2 limes
Juice of 1 lemon
1oz simple syrup
10 fresh mint leaves
1oz cold club soda
1 mint sprig

1. Pre-Chill your shaker

2. Add gin, lime, lemon, simple syrup, and mint leaves. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds, strain into an ice-filled Mason Jar
3. Add club soda, garnish with mint sprig

The Cucumber French 75

Imagine your traditional Tom Collins. Now abandon the cheap club soda and replace it with some bubbly. Now you have one of the most refreshing cocktails you can find

2oz Genius Gin

Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 oz simple syrup
4oz Cordorniu Spanish Cava
1 slice of cucumber
Lemon peel for garnish

1. In a mixing glass gently muddle the cucumber

2. Add gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and ice. Stir until chilled
3. Strain into a Tom Collins glass, top with cava
4. Garnish and serve

Those are my favorite recipes for Genius Gin. Try them out, let us know how you like them, and feel free to suggest recipes of your own!


15 June 2014

Tonight's Episode: Hold the fries

I'll admit that when The Girl and I were first contemplating a move to Pittsburgh, the culinary scene scared me. Internet searches showed little in the way of excitement about the food. Blog posts were formulaic and seemed to show a cuisine that is either trying too hard to be somewhere else or so rooted in local niche cuisine that one would wonder if anyone knew the outside world existed. It is into an unknown world, one I feared would have fries on everything, in which my wife and I find ourselves.

Two weeks into our new world, and we have just began to scratch the surface of what Pittsburgh has to offer. I'll let you in on a secret: Pittsburgh food is actually pretty stellar. From amazing tacos and sandwiches from street vendors in the Strip, to a growing Food Truck scene, all the way to a relaxed take on fine dining, Pittsburgh is proving to be more than just Primanti Brother's and burnt almond cake.

For my first Pittsburgh post, I'm flying solo as The Girl is out of town, but this dining experience is one I want to share with her soon. The location - The Wine Room at Bar Marco. The Wine Room dinners are an intimate affair, 10 seats in a beautiful space in a restored firehouse. Unlike the main dining room, whose music is loud and the energy level set at TURN UP, the Wine Room is set up for relaxed and easy conversation among current and future friends. This dichotomy of space and energy works to the favor of the young Executive Chef Jamilka Borges, as it allows her to flex her culinary wings in multiple directions at once. Her enthusiasm and energy come across clearly in her food, and it is obvious her creativity would not be best served by a more traditional service.

On to the food.....in this case 10 courses with wine pairings for $125. If you balk at that number, let me reiterate......10 courses WITH wine pairings. This isn't "pop a couple bottles of Pinot and walk away" wine either. Thoughtful, distinct, low-volume wines crafted with love and paired with thought,  not only with how they compliment the dishes, but how they progress throughout the meal. If you have a half hour ask Sara, Bar Marco's Sommelier, how she went from Renaissance literature and a future in medicine to being one of the brightest young minds in wine I've ever come across.

First course, meat pickle on mint. Inspired by a dish Sara's mother made for Chef Borges, this lightly spicy and utterly delightful take on the south Indian condiment awakens the palate with bright bold flavors in a single, perfect bite.

Pairing: Lillet Rosé












Second Course, plum arugula and goat cheese salad. I am as surprised as you by the lack of fries on this salad, but the bright flavors and pepper notes of the arugula were delightful if a touch blasé after such an inspired first bite. Competent, well-executed, but without the excellent wine selection this dish could have been forgettable.

Pairing: Domaine Tessier Cour-Cheverny 2012











Third Course, white asparagus custard with ham and pigs head reduction. It is in this course you begin to see Chef Borges brilliance in playing with flavor profiles, textures, and artistry. The subtle sweetness of the custard playing off the salt of the ham, the creaminess to the ever so slightly crisp, a beautiful and engaging plate.



Pairing: Cantine Agriverde "Eikos" 2012







Fourth Course, Traditional lamb carpaccio with olive oil and lemon. While this dish may lack some of the creativity of the other dishes, its timing is perfect. Interjecting a saltiness to the meal that was most welcome, and bridging perfectly to the more savory dishes.


Pairing: Colle dei Bardellini pigato 2012










Fifth Course, a trip to culinary school. Seafood roulade of lobster and scallop mousse. Here Chef Borges humor comes through loud and clear with an homage to one of those classic dishes culinary students the world over have suffered through. Technique is perfect, but this elevation of the dish shows a knowledge of the interaction of flavors that no mere technician can achieve.



Pairing: Pares Balta Calcari 2012
(Perhaps my favorite wine of the night)






Sixth Course, nettle soup over baby beets, crispy beet leaf. This is the dish I keep going back to, and also the best paired of the evening. The earthiness of this soup is divine. You taste the soil, the earth, richly distilled. A wonderful bowl singing praise to the start of summer.


Pairing: Francois Pinon "les trois argiles" 2011










Seventh Course, Foie gras marries rhubarb, produces love child that looks like a macaroon. You use finger to wipe the bowl. Self respect be damned.


Pairing: Terrees Dorés FRV100











Eighth Course, pork with onion asparagus and cherry. If you need more than those 6 words to tell you that this is going to be a tasty dish, perhaps we need to start seeing different internets.



Pairing: Cascina Tavign ruchi 2010










Ninth Course, Pistachio cake with black pepper and first of the season strawberries. Next to the nettle soup, this is my favorite course. The beautiful light little cake plays so well off the minimally treated strawberries. Sometimes it is the simple dishes that truly wow.




Pairing Fleur d'Or sauternes 2010








Tenth Course, white chocolate pot de cremé. A delightfully light and not overly sweet way to finish the meal, beautiful texture, just a total delight.




Pairing: The greatest way to end a meal, Chateau St Aubin Armagnac











Bar Marco has such a glut of young talent that it is frankly amazing. If Chef Borges isn't recognized as a rising star on the national scene soon, I'll start writing about Fast Food exclusively. The wine program is diverse and stellar given the restrictions set on restaurants by the state. This passionate, youthful, masterful staff put together one heck of an amazing dinner, one that leaves me feeling excited about my new home.

Bar Marco on Urbanspoon

14 May 2014

19 January 2014

Tonight's Episode: If a picture is worth a thousand words.....




If a picture is worth a thousand words...

...then Occidental Grill & Seafood in Washington DC may be worth more than a thousand dictionaries. Located in the Willard Hotel, the walls of this venerable restaurant are lined floor to ceiling with autographed photos of the thousands of entertainers, politicians, and sports starts to enter the dining room since the doors first opened in 1906. Don't confuse the Occidental with some gimmick restaurant, there are some serious culinary chops on display. Our trip there was one of our favorite meals of the year. 


For our starters, I went with the jumbo lump crab cake (mkt price) with sorrel and beech mushroom ragout, and a sunchoke-black truffle cream. The crab cake was gorgeous, lightly crusted, and the cream sauce was plate-lickingly good. For her starter, The Girl chose the Roasted Lobster Bisque ($12) with white sweet potato puree, fennel compote, and Maine lobster. Elegant, creamy, and utterly satisfying, each bite was luscious and decedent. 


The Girl's main dish may be the tastiest "surf and turf" I have tasted in years. Seared U-10 scallops with braised short rib ($36) with a basil Anson Mills polenta and charred vidalia onion relish, the resulting dish plays on the textural and flavor differences of the two proteins. Expertly prepared, and utterly satisfying. 


For my main, I had the black cumin crusted yellowfin tuna ($34) with "paella" style Israeli couscous, crispy romanesco, and a saffron vinaigrette. Again, a masterful execution, as the sear on the tuna soaked in the vinaigrette wonderfully, and worked wonders with the buttery goodness of the tuna. The couscous delivered on the paella promise, with the pleasing texture of the couscous. A total win of a dish.





The Classic Lemon bar ($9) with the blackberry and blueberry compote was a cool and refreshing finish to this amazing dinner. What we experienced at The Occidental was a series of stately and restrained dishes delivered by a thoughtful and confident chef. This isn't a restaurant that survives based on the power of a celebrity chef. This is an institution that knows no matter how long it has been around, no matter whose faces line the walls, if the food fails to deliver the all important wow, then soon the booths will be empty. On a cold day on the week between Christmas and New Years, when most of the DC population has fled to their hometowns, The Occidental was FAR from empty.


The Scores:
Ambiance: 5/5
Service: 3.5/5
Food: 10/10
Value: 4/5
Overall: 22.5 out of 25 Restraint and decadence walk hand in hand in this restaurant long adored by DC's movers and shakers.

Occidental Grill & Seafood on Urbanspoon

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