Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Tasting Kitchen

The drawing factor that led me to drive one hour to this obscure restaurant was for one thing only, their Bottarga Pasta. Bottarga, basically a dried fish roe cured in sea salt, common among Taiwanese as a delicacy to be paired with daikon, but more eminent among the Sardinia region for their bottarga pasta dishes.

Depending on how it is prepared, the texture can be tenacious and waxy if eaten raw, with rich flavors of umami and distinctly "sea-like". As a youngster, I remember eating it raw, and falling in love with its robust flavor of the ocean. It never occurred to me that there was more than one way of preparing it, until an episode of Anthony Bourdain in Sardinia. An unadulterated dish; spaghetti dressed with olive oil and sprinkled with grated bottarga. Heaven.

Never have I seen bottarga pasta on a menu, at least not that I was aware of. So when I did stumble upon it while perusing the menu of The Tasting Kitchen, I was beyond elated. TK is located in the more obscure part of Venice, without an obvious sign, I missed it many times. But who cares? I was about to feast upon a dish that would probably have cost a 15 hour flight to Italy

I was dissappointed. Not only was the spaghettoni overcooked, I could not for the life of me taste any bottarga, only toasted breadcrumbs drenched in oil. Where were those gold filaments? I had a sneaking suspicion that the breadcrumbs were a decoy, since this pasta wasn't on the menu that day and the chef had to make a special order.

No bottarga in the kitchen, therefore delude with fragments of similar appearance and consistency?           
 No, they could not be capable of such vile acts. What was I thinking?

Nonetheless, this left a dismal note on the whole meal. Even the perfectly roasted bone marrow with capers and toasted baguette couldn't uplift the unsalvageable atmosphere. Although I did find some solace in the bread with apple butter. What an ingenious combination! 

Frankly? I like this place. Despite the bottarga letdown, everything else was impeccable. What's not to love about a restaurant that serves bone marrow, cheese, charcuterie, apple butter, radish and butter, all on one menu?  Tasting Kitchen, I'll be back. If not for the bottarga, then for the menu that changes more often than Lady Gaga's wardrobe.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Acquerello, one michelin star

What does a Michelin Star truly represent? Who decides which establishment receives a star? These burning questions have never crossed my mind until my recent visit to Acquerello.

 Yes, the Michelin brothers who  made that eerie tireman, are the same people who established the Michelin Guide in the 1920's. I've probably strolled into many restaurants and never detected  that shiny plate of a star hung conspicuously on the front door. Notable service and outstanding quality is requisite of receiving such a title, and of which Acquerello maintains effortlessly. To celebrate a special occasion, we do the four course tasting menu. Each dish is stellar, the kobe beef short rib an unctuous morsel, and the staff so attentive it leaves me a bit intimidated. Although a sucker for good food, the fine dining scene is not my niche. Hushed voices and servers towering over you to pamper at your beck and call makes me nervous.

The star of the night, a simple rigatoni with pureed foi gras and black truffle dish. There are no distracting sides and garnish, just pasta and a creamy sauce with specks of black goodness. The sauce is heavenly, lingering on the palate, daring you to lick the plate in this austere setting.

Leaving Acqerello proves a bit arduous, with stomachs a little too full and not being much of an Italian food lover, feeling a little over-saturated by the rich dishes and pungent cheese.
As I roll out the front door, I notice for the first time, a shiny plate with a lone star and wonder..

Monday, February 8, 2010

La Mar Cebicheria Peruana

It's been a while since my last post, and truth be told, I just haven't found a restaurant worth writing about. La  Mar is one of those few places that will never fail to surprise the customer looking for something a little off the beaten path.

You're not going to find your standard ceviche or causa. What you're going to get is an array of seven different types of ceviches with ingredients ranging from uni to ahi tuna to mahi mahi and peanuts. You will also find yourself a little bit awed at how potent that tiny glass of Piso Sour can be. Think eggnog whipped in rocket fuel.

I've never been partial to "fusion", the idea of east meet west scares me. It obliterates the essence of the culture, the marriage of a sushi and "california" is an abomination (IMHO).

"But La Mar is fusion", you say. This time, the fusing of uni in a ceviche doesn't perturb me. In fact, the creamy sauce with a hint of sea urchin was so superb, it was slurped from a ladle like chicken soup.

All the dishes were hits, robust flavors with sauces that left you lusting for more. However, more often than not, it's the simpler things that one remembers. Don't expect a bread and butter basket at La Mar, of course. Instead, anticipate a colorful myriad of fried plantains and banana chips with an over the top trio of dipping sauces. Even the corn are thumbnail sized bits of goodness, reminiscent of the Peruvian staple.
Here is Peru, and a little bit more.