Thursday, April 30, 2009

Foodblogger event: Shoreline on the water

So why this picture instead of the tasting menu? Well, there was a ton of delicious food and I would need two pictures for the menu, yes it looks fuzzy, but if you click in and look at the bigger picture you'll notice that I wasn't actually focusing on the wine.

I'm going to start off with an apology, I will not be able to describe all of the wonderful yummy food I had at this food blogger event. Shoreline was very generous with taste after taste of what seemed like their entire menu. I had assumed we finished our tasting during the appetizer stage. When they started making some noise about "are you ready for the entrees" and " we'll be sampling all of the desserts" I realized I was in some serious trouble. My little brain doesn't have the capacity to remember the details of every dish. So, for this post I will put up groups of pictures and post some highlights.

Just a bit of a preamble for those that don't know Shoreline. Shoreline is one of my wife's favorite restaurants, it's has been known to be one of the "classy" places to go and on my one visit a few years ago it felt a bit "stuffy". Don't get me wrong, it was great food, the crowd was a bit older and the food tended to be a bit more "traditional/classic fancy". Either way that has clearly changed, Chef Scotty Szekretar is new to Texas and has brought a lot of new ideas and great creativity to the menu. I think he's done a great job of keeping the current patrons happy and fusing some of the "hippy" elements of Austin. For instance, he tries to keep local produce and is a proud member of seawatch which has granted Shoreline the title of "sustainable seafood restaurant" a first in the south of US. A very Austin type thing to do. Pastry chef Taff Mayberry brought some very yummy desserts that everyone oohed and ahhed over. Despite my challenges with dessert I enjoyed the selection, my only regret is I didn't get a chance to snap a photo of the pastry chef who garnered many compliments from everyone around the table. Sherry (pictured above) and Jette helped get us all together and hosted the evening's event.

Before going into food (I know I'm stalling), I wanted to give a shoutout to my fellow foodies for the evening. I happened to be the token male, I'm told male food bloggers are rare (really?). I had a delightful time trading stories, learning about food photography and local PR from my new friends. I also learned a lot about cultural differences, hygiene, magic markers and having kids, if you're laughing it's because you were there, and no, if you weren't there then it's an inside thing, you wouldn't understand. I enjoyed the event immensely it's a lot more cozy when there are only a handful around a table instead of a herd of us tripping over each other to take pictures. Cheers to Shoreline, Jette and Sherry for bringing us together for a wonderful evening.

I have to say this is a really hard post to write, there's just so much stuff to show off and all of it was amazing. I had the fortune to have a lot of natural light so no washed out pictures (until dessert) this go around. Let's start with salad type stuff. From left to right: Local Microgreens salad, Chipotle chicken salad (not on menu), Beets 2 ways. I loved all three, but I found the beets to be the most interesting. The roasted red beets had a wonderful subtle flavor and a really soft texture which was contrasted by the marinated goden beets, that had more of a sour note and a nice snappy crunch. I think the duality of dish in flavor, texture and color made this a fun dish for me. I underestimated the bagel, @abroylesa cut the bagel apart and we were surprised to see it was toasted with a bit of brie sandwiched inside. Very tasty indeed.

It's hard to come up with a good logical grouping for the feast but I think the next grouping is the "fried" appetizer selection. All three of these were awesome so I have no choice but to touch on all of them. I couldn't resist composing the calamari picture to be some sort of monster pick "RAWR". The thai chili aioli was a wonderful change from the usual sauces served with calamari. I usually use calamari as my benchmark for a restaurant, I'm happy to report Shoreline passed with flying colors, the calamari was perfectly tender, nice light batter and not greasy. In the middle we have the King crab twister (crab sushi roll wrapped in potato and fried). Delicious! This dish was gobbled up very quickly. I've done a tempura roll before this one is very different with the use of the potatoes giving the role a nice "soft" crunch as opposed to a battered fried crunch. Finally, we have the crab cakes, obviously very popular because by the time I got to take a picture it was mostly gone. I like the salty flavor from the caviar in the aioli.

No logic here on this next grouping and I love duck confit as much as the next guy, but the tuna tartar topped with avocado and wasabi tobiko was so good. I got to the plate a bit late as the last of the taro chips were a little soggy but the tuna was superb. The dressing used was very tasty (was there sesame oil? something fragrant there) but not overwhelming, it imparted a rich feeling, probably thanks to the avocado.

Rounding out the appetizers we have Alaskan King crab legs and Seared scallops with smoked tomatoes and local micro pea shoots. Crab legs were wonderful, not too salty as I usually encounter at restaurants. The winner here was the scallops, it's easy to mess up scallops, simplicity seems to be the best way. The addition of the sauce, greens, and tomatoes in no way took away from the star of the dish because of their subtle contributions of flavor. Of course the scallops were also cooked perfectly, nice browned outside and a perfect medium rare inside. If I had to rule a favorite for the night thus far, I would probably say this was it.

Now I know what your thinking. "Wow, that's a great tasting menu, I'm glad you're done yammering, ok time for me to check twitter and get back to work." Yeah that was me too. Apparently I was wrong as the announcer booms over the loud speaker "now that we're all warmed up. LETS GET READY TO RUMBLEEEEEEEE!". Ruh-Roh.... (Ok there was no announcer, but I heard it loud in clear in my head.)

I managed to limit my pictures to three shots for the entrees. That said, the three represented a thorough representation of many of the entrees and sides on the menu. So on the left we start with Braised beef short ribs, no surprise very tasty and tender. The sauce was not too sweet, some folks over do the sauce and it almost becomes syrupy, not here, excellent balance. Granted I've never tried my hand at short ribs (noted for future bento) so I don't have much room to be critical in any direction. The next two pictures are actually the same thing. The middle is the full plate served to us, a selection of: Sesame seared tuna, Fried Potato gnocchi with truffle cream sauce, Pan roasted halibut with fried tomato coulis, sauteed swiss chard, Shoreline "firecracker" wild gulf shrimp, and chilean sea bass with saffron tomato butter. (whew) and on the right is the little bite plate I put together for myself, which includes wasabi mashed potatoes with roasted asparagus. All of it was unbelievably well executed. Perfect flavors nothing over whelming and a large array of seafood. The halibut was perfectly tender, the shrimp was a delightful spicy pop, and who doesn't love wasabi mashed potatoes. My favorite on this plate was the chilean sea bass, my first comment, of the sauce "I taste saffron" our host replies "yes there's a tiny bit of saffron in the tomato butter", mmmm tomato butter... with saffron, drool. I'm got the hint that Chef Scotty wanted to highlight his well earned, "sustainable seafood restaurant" title.

At this point I'm on the ropes pummeled by all the great food around me. The booming voice over head screams, "FINISH HIM" huh? double ruh roh....

Dessert. Not just one dessert, everything they had on the dessert menu. If you've followed me at all you know that I'm not a big dessert fan. Sweets don't really do it for me and I really don't like chocolate or ice cream. However, I always try everything in front of me and although I am not a fan of dessert, I can appreciate artistry and flavors. There's just too much to post on this section and I didn't even get pictures of everything. I will talk about my top 3 favorites and just let you look here for their dessert menu and see if you can match up the pictures.

For my top three I start with #3: Rice pudding sushi style, a very imaginative way to present rice pudding, the dessert gave you a textural expectation of eating a sushi roll, except it's sweet, the mango and strawberry gives you a nice accent to the creamy sweet rice. #2 Caramel apple bread pudding, it's served in a applejack brandy caramel. I'm not sure there's much for me to say here other than yum. Finally #1 Shoreline creme brulee, topped with an almond tulle and fresh fruit. The creme brulee was done perfectly, melt in your mouth creamy and no trace of any eggs scrambled. Without a doubt these three broke my typical dessert defense wall.

And the rest:

Sorry about the picture format, I know for some of you the three pictures on a line actually looks like 2 pictures stacked on top of 1 picture and text. Try expanding your window a bit.

Again, I had a great time at Shoreline, I think I owe my wife a trip back so she can reconfirm this as a favorite, it's certainly on my list. Thanks again to Chef Szekretar and Chef Mayberry for the sharing their wonderful food with me. Thank you to my fellow bloggers for an enjoyable night of conversation it was a good way to end a stressful day.

I'll post the links of the other bloggers in attendance as I find their posts on this event. Now onward to haggis, then I promise, back to the bentos.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Grilled chicken and agnolotti with a pine nut artichoke lemon sauce

I got a nice package from foodbuzz on this new product that I should take a look at (next time send me a coupon, it could save the earth from all that packaging). The quandary is "where does free stuff undermine the purpose of this blog". I decided that as long as I could put it into cooking for my wife then it's ok. This is one of the questions that have begun to surface amongst bloggers in general and probably worth a topical discussion one of these days with my fellow foodbloggers.

For my purposes, I decided to try to make this sample offering into something new and interesting. Had I done it for my audience I probably would have needed 2 or 3 packages of the pasta (making it impractical for the cost of a bento). The goal here was quick and easy and I worked with only materials I had on hand (minus the chicken). This is simliar to a previous entree I did, but It cut out a whole lot of complexity and helped keep the focus on the agnolotti.

For a filling meal I decided I needed to add a meat component to tie it together as an entree. This was the only pre-meditated part of the meal and the only thing I had to purchase from the grocery store. Very simple here, I just took a chicken breast and dashed a bit of salt and pepper and pan fried it.

I quickly used the heat to toast the pine nuts and I capitalized on the brown bits and deglazed the pan with a bit of lemon juice and lobbed in a bit of butter and olive oil. I finished it with a can of artichokes, lemon zest and some Parmesan (very simple). I didn't want to overshadow what I was given in the ravioli. I think the combo added the meat necessary to make the dish a viable entree, and the embellishment of sauce and zing to make it fun. Probably too simple an entree for the sponsors so no hopes for winning their recipe contest :) Oh, I meant to add capers, but in the process of making it a 15 min meal I forgot to add them.

This dish was quite yummy if I do say so myself. I think the citrus really played well with the wild mushrooms. I find I didn't really miss the capers but it might have been an additional tart bite that would have worked well. I considered tossing in a little garlic in the begining and am glad I didn't. The citrus is sauce was nicely complemented by the rich earthy taste of mushroom I think garlic might have gotten in the way (gasp what?!).

I dub thee the longest name I can think up: "Grilled chicken and wild mushroom agnolotti in a pine nut artichoke lemon sauce"

Probably no bento this next week, I've had a generous invitation to work with Ryan from nosetotailathome on trying our hand at making real haggis! (blog post to follow)


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Foodblogger Event: Parkside

It seems like there's just a stream of these events recently. It's a nice way to get to know some of the restaurants I don't get a chance to frequent. I've gotten to know quite a few new foodblogger friends and it's fun to see familiar faces at these events. As usual I had plenty of camera envy and my photos (and skills) are a pale shadow to them.

Our hosts for the evening: Allison Gueli the Events Manager and Chef Shawn Cirkiel. We got a chance to meet Chef Cirkiel at the very end of the evening as he was nice enough to pull away from his busy kitchen to say a quick hello to everyone. It easy to forget a busy restaurant lurks beneath your feet when there's a busy staff buzzing around catering toward making an enjoyable evening for a bunch of foodbloggers. As always, I appreciate the staff and Chef for inviting us to check out their restaurant. I for one ended up at the bar after the event to order a huge bag of food to go.

Fluke with lemon and almond is the first item up. This was probably in high contention for my favorite for the night, the flavors were very complex and delightful. The bite played out like a symphony, you start with a heavy lemon essense, a nice light salty flavor followed and it finished with a sugary flavor that hit you at the end. I think that the dish had some large sugar crystals that were sprinkled on, it took a sec for the sugar to melt in the mouth which was neat because it caused the sweetness to hit you at the very end. If this was done purposefully, I have to marvel at the technique and care to attention of flavor, simply amazing. We follow with Crab Fritters, let me say, the first three items pretty much made up the top three favorites for the evening. The crab fritter was delicious, it's not like a crab cake, which tends to be drier, it had a creamy soft texture that I'm amazed that could hold a ball shape for frying. The greens were a nice slightly spicy bite to give an accent to the creamy crab.

This is a number one favorite. I specifically had to order a full serving to bring home to my wife. I present: Green garlic soup with duck confit. The garlic was not overwhelming and when you have a sliver of the confit with a spoonful of soup it had a wonderful creamy garlic, that was accented with a salty smokey spike. If you go to this restaurant you *must* have this soup. I could use order of this soup right now!

The bites came as waves and as each came out we ran to take pictures, many of the pictures were taken outside to take advantage of some natural light. The Cotto salami with house pickles was interesting. The Salami was plain kind of a let down, the pickle on the other hand was awesome, I wish there was more of a focus on these pickles. The salmon on the right was quite good. The linguisa sausage was a nice bit of flavor towards a *perfectly* cooked salmon, very delicious. Again, how do they do this? the perfect bite?

The onslaugh continues with Lamb belly sweet potato puree with chili oil. I confess this was what I was waiting for, lamb belly, I don't think i've ever encountered this delight. I was a trifle disappointed, don't get me wrong, it was yummy, it didn't hit me in the ways I expected. I thought, salty, crispy, maybe spicy. It was a tasty bite, just not in the ways I expected, the fat melted in your mouth but it can be a little much for some. We finished the savory tasting with a bar steak with roasted mushrooms in a red wine sauce. Again, perfectly cooked medium rare steak. I tried to take it one small bite at a time, but without a knife it proved diffcult. The roasted mushrooms were a nice complement to the sauce and the meat. It was like a nice mini-steak and in a larger version a perfect meal, definitely a fork and knife bite that was a bit too large for my mouth :)

Finally we finish things off with dessert. It's rare that I eat dessert, I don't like sweets, in fact this sweet was everything I normally hate about dessert, chocolate and ice cream. As a dutiful blogger I tried it and was pleasantly surprised. I actually ate most of it. At first I thought the crunch of the dessert was from the chocolate wafer featured on top, as I kept eating (and ran out of wafer) it was apparent the crunch came from the bottom layer. The melon ball of ice cream was banana which I mistook for vanilla (I'm not use to all the sweets at once) fortunately a fellow blogger was there to corrected me.

Once again thanks to the Staff for making an enjoyable event. Hopefully, I did the food justice with my comments. Parkside is a wonderful restaurant that I hope to visit again soon. The menu is full of interesting items that would challenge any foodie, think fried headcheese, veal tongue, and a full cold bar with the variety that would challenge even Harolds raw bar in merry old London.

No post for Monday, bentos are postponed as the wife is out of town. I've been invited to a blogger event at Shoreline Grill, if I go expect a post as a replacement.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easter Lunch Gluten Free

Sorry for the interruption of updates last week, a few things came up and I wasn't able to put together a bento. Fear not! The bento I had planned is here for this week, well almost. The original concept for this bento was Easter around the world. After I starting work on the box last night I realized I had bitten off way more than I could chew and had to scale back. Originally there were two additional items, it's just as well as it would have made the bento not gluten-free and less healthy. The only exception today is the Amaretti cookie I provide as part of dessert but the rest is GFF (gluten free friendly). Let's get started shall we?

The main course was a Greek-style leg of lamb. I've never worked with a whole leg of lamb before, this certainly was an experience. I think I could have done with some sort of sauce on the side, tzaziki, horseradish, or mint. The meat came out perfect, this happened to be one of the end pieces, but the center cuts were a perfect medium rare (yeah I had a slice) more important was that a reheat should result in a perfectly medium slice of lamb for my audience. The herb crust and crispy outside gave the lamb a perfect flavorful bite, but as you get to the center of the slice something to go with would have been nice.

First side: Hungarian Potato and Egg Casserole. The first blush recipes (since I didn't know what I was doing I consulted 8 variants) was a bit too unhealthy. I trimmed back on the butter and went with low fat sour cream. Also instead of a tall casserole dish I would opt for a "flatter" rectangular baking dish. It was too difficult to plate the casserole hence the jumbled mess you see in the picture. The dish itself was pretty good, I think I needed to intensify some of the spices especially since I cut corners on the fat. Also there were many ways to incorporate the sour cream, a direct application (like putting ricotta on a lasagna) would be the best way to go, you'll get a more even spread of sour cream.

Moving on, I needed something light after a heavy dose of meat and potatoes enter Fruit Salad with Gran Marnier Sauce. This one was very easy. Our local grocery stores have quart sized containers of mixed fruit. Add some zest (and fruit) from an orange, zest and a squeeze of lemon, and you can round it all out with a little bit of Gran Marnier. The Gran Marnier was there for that unusual flair that hits you with a bit of unexpected.

For dessert I re-used some of the components from the other recipes and threw in some dried dates and some Amaretti cookies.

As always, thanks for dropping by and if you want a recipe just hollar. Another blogger event coming tomorrow, look for the post!

Box Contents
  • Greek style leg of lamb
  • Hungarian Potato and Egg Cassarole
  • Mixed Fruit with Gran Marnier Sauce
  • Dried Dates and Amaretti cookies

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Foodblogger Event: III Forks (3 Forks)

Another wonderful food bloggers event, this time at III (3) Forks Restaurant. This is one of the places I've been meaning to try with my wife but never have found the occasion to do so. I was in for a treat and the restaurant wanted to reach out and show off their new happy hour menu (a trend it seems).

We were greeted by our hosts for the evening. Earnest Hernandez was the Maitre d', our wine steward and chief host was Jeff (didn't get a last name). We had live piano music (which happens starting at 6pm every night) as pictured above. (didn't get a name here either). I happened to get to the event early and Maitre d' Hernandez was kind enough to take me around the restaurant and explain III Forks and their inspirations. III Forks is a "Prime" steakhouse, until tonight, I didn't connect that with the label of USDA Prime. The restaurant prides itself in selling only Prime cuts of meat, this label means that the meat has been rated by USDA to be the top 1-2% cut of beef in quality. (I'm not sure how they determine it) The beef is then aged and then cooked in a specially designed cooking device that reaches 1800F in cooking temperature. (wow I didn't even think you could cook anything in that kind of heat) unfortunately for me none of that fare was presented tonight. But I look forward to a nice dinner with my wife one day soon.

I apologize in advance, the photos are very washed out because I had to depend on my flash. I will say I had a healthy dose of camera envy as some of the bloggers brought out their "big guns" cameras (or they brought their photographer friends that had the uber cameras). Being that this is a hobby, I'll have to hobble by with humble camera.

I managed to break out pen and pad and take notes on what was being served to us tonight. I'll order the post in the waves they brought them out. We'll start with Tuna with Terriyaki glaze and dusted with Sesame seeds. The tuna was cooked with great skill each piece perfectly seared with a beautiful red center. There was a nice initial smokey flavor followed by the sweet sauce and tender texture finishing nicely with the nutty sesame seeds. I'm pretty amazed that they could churn out that many one inch squares cooked to that precision. This is the very reason why I'm but a humble cook and these guys are the professionals.

Next up was my favorite of the night: Beef Croustades topped by a red wine, mushroom demi-glace with a blue cheese crown. My first bite of this tasty treat was perfect. Not too much blue cheese so as not to be too salty and the whole thing melted perfectly in your mouth. I kid you not, melted in my mouth. It was a perfect slightly sweet earthy tastes from the mushroom component accentuated by the blue cheese. I salivate just thinking back to it.

We round the corner with a Rice wine marinaded duck served with a blackberry redux over a house made cracker. This seemed to clinch the favorite spot amongst my fellows and I have to say it was a very close second in my book. I personally am not a sweet fan so that might have pushed it to number two for me. The house made crackers were so soft and flaky and made this little bite very flavorful and wonderful. I think the micro greens were a good addition as they kind of gave a "fresh" taste (if that even makes sense) that helped offset the sweetness factor for me.

Racing for the finish we take our second to last bite with Hand Cut potato chips topped with caramelized onion and blue cheese. I'm very partial to blue cheese so this snack was already a winner in my book, but the addition of caramelized onions to bring a nice sweet component was an unexpected surprise. I think, if nothing else, and true with all of these blogger events, the level detail the kitchen staff has to live up to has to be commended.

Last but not least we have Marinaded Sea Scallops topped with Toasted coconut and peanut. As you can see in the photo it's much more than that, tasting out each component you had some lemon zest and basil and some type of sauce. Generally I liked the whole thing, the scallops were perfectly cooked , but I did find the lemon zest's bitterness to detract from the tasting, I got the strong citrus hit, but missed out on the coconut and the basil flavors.

I do want to stress that this is their happy hour menu, I don't believe they serve these items as part of their normal menu (I think they do serve the Croustades). If they executed this well with this multitude of small bites, I certainly cannot wait to taste the foods that they pride themselves as their main focus! As always I had a wonderful time, thank you to the organizers and III Forks for showcasing their food. They were all very generous with taking care of us and really helped us understand the food. Despite having multiple restaurants all of the staff were very quick to point out they have been there since inception and that the restaurant treats it's employees really well which is why they have a fierce devotion to the restaurant. It's a relief to hear as I know that the industry can be a meat grinder (no pun intended).

Holy cow, I don't post this much usually. I'm having blogging fatigue. I will say walking away from this event, I need a proper flash or at least an amazing high speed lens or something. I feel like a dork trying to take decent pictures with all these awesome photographers around me.

Ok now to focus back on my blog. Look for the next post, Easter around the world. (well I'm hoping to make that a reality cross your fingers that my research goes well).