Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Top Chef 4.8 and a first look at Home

Wherein 1. Manischewitz 2. ?? 3. eyes 4. ?? 5. Hannibal 6. Mediterranean 7. Nixon

First look at Home
Elegant, upscale southern cuisine. Preparation was spot on and service was attentive and knowledgeable about the food. Considering, as of Saturday, they'd only been open 5 days we were willing to overlook a few missteps; however, it all ran smoothly. Disclaimer: we were there for a very early dinner and left as they were filling up. There's a review at Atlanta Cuisine from later that same night and the kitchen was running out of some items.

This isn't the culinary fireworks of former restaurants Element, Blais, or his tasting menu at ONE.Midtown, this is more along the lines of ultimate comfort food. Which isn't meant to insult. It's one thing to impress with something I've never had before - like charred octopus -- it's quite another to impress with tomato soup and pancakes. And the Blais touch is still there - chilled oysters with hot sauce sounds like his previous oysters with Meyer Lemon dippin dots; the fried green tomatoes come with ranch dressing ice cream (wonderful!); the pulled duck is kickass, as always; and I'm guessing the brisket and slow cooked short rib are sous vide. Pointing back to the previously mentioned review is this comment: Also, for those of you who thought the menu was a little low on the Blais factor right now, he said they're concentrating on flavor right now, and they're about at 50% on the innovative scale from where he's going. So there's that to look forward to.

We brought The Child along with us after Blais assured us she wouldn't be out of place, and it was nice to see a couple other families show up while we were there. Though we did see one of the other youngsters get a grilled cheese sandwich and french fries -- we didn't know that was an option. The Child did eat a deviled duck egg, biscuit, pancakes, and some of The Wife's fried chicken.

On to the food. Link to the current menu. Everything we had I'd order again.

Brought a plate of biscuits with butter and pepper jelly. Thought the biscuits were a tad crumbly (he is from Noo Yawk), but otherwise had a nice flavor and the pepper jelly was slap your momma good.

pimento cheese and crackers
We could've eaten a few dozen of these and we're not pimento fans. Creamy, flavorful cheese with just enough pimento that it didn't bother us.

Deviled duck eggs
The white of a duck egg is oddly translucent. Just thought I'd mention that. The yolk was whipped and creamy, and not that different from a chicken egg. Perhaps a little richer, with a slightly deeper flavor. We were served three halves. One was traditional with a little pickle relish, the second had diced grouper, and the third had pulled duck. Nicely done.

Tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwich
Looked good and it disappeared before I could ask for a taste.

Local mushrooms with warm duck egg and toast
One of my favorites, it was larger than expected and very filling. Interesting collection of mushrooms and I couldn't figure out how they were prepared. Seemed to have a light sauce, or maybe it was just the liquid from the mushrooms allowed to thicken. Topped with a warm, ever so slightly runny duck egg -- subtle combinations of flavor and texture that still has me licking my lips. I wanted to lick the bowl. I think the best way to eat this would be in front of a roaring fire with a large glass of red wine. Something heavy and complex.

Buttermilk pancakes with foie gras butter
They're friggin' pancakes, how good can they be? Oh, they're real good. Soft and light, with a slightly crunchy exterior. Served with a few berries in a simple syrup. Just delicious. But that's not all you get, there's that scoop of foie gras butter taunting you; and yes, it makes the pancakes even better.

Good lord, I'm getting full and my main course is still to come.

Fried chicken and mac&cheese
looked great. waiting for more information from The Wife who did not share. Well, I did eat the skin which was crunchy and sweet and salty; in short, perfect.

Get it? It's bouilliablais...witty! And delicious. A deeply satisfyingly rich sauce with fish, shrimp, and shellfish. As much as I enjoyed this, it probably would have been better preceded with just a salad. Following the richness of the mushrooms, duck eggs, and sampling the pancakes, this just about shoved me into food coma land.

moon pie with coca-cola float
Liquid nitrogen keeps the float nice and frozen and the homemade moon pie is a chocolate and cream cookie. I still insist that a moon pie should be served with RC Cola, but until someone comes to his senses and fixes this error, it's a nicely done dessert.

sour cream pecan cake with sweet tea ice cream
It was good, I enjoyed it. I was really too full to have ordered dessert

A dish of pickled okra and pickled green tomatoes were brought to our table. I'm not much of a fan of pickled vegetables, so I won't say much about these. Other than they were spicy and vinegary.

With the main course, vegetables are served family style. We received four bowls of mashed potatoes, roasted parsnip, green & white beans, pickles. All were enjoyable and after we walked out we wished we'd have asked for some pickles to go.

Overall, a very positive first visit and we'll definitely be back. I think we'll let the restaurant settle in and finish their updates and give Blais a chance to work with the menu some more. While we like what he's doing here, we're also hoping we'll get another shot at the Helium, Oxygen, and Gold, Frankenscence & Myrrh dinners we missed.

Top Chef 4, episode 8:
What bugs me about this show is just how little attention is paid to the chefs' ability to work in a kitchen. We see the finished dish, but other than a few random shots we don't see their prep work. Not that watching someone peel and dice onions is exciting. Still, there's glimpses of teamwork and sharing and jostling for burners...why can't we see that? Maybe throw in some Iron Chef America elements by asking the chefs what they're doing. Or if not that, since they have 4-5 months to work on these, maybe some bubble graphics explaining ingredients and techniques. Since the show is called Top Chef, I'd like to see some actual cheffing going on.

I'm also annoyed at all the catering challenges. I get the "let's try to rattle the chefs and see how they cook in different environments." But 5 of the 7 elimination rounds have required packing up the food and finishing and serving elsewhere. Now with the kids, it's a bit much. I guess I shouldn't complain too much since I've heard that past seasons' challenges included cooking on a plane and using a vending machine for ingredients.

As long as I'm complaining, what's up with Bravo site and their complete lack of caring about the recipes? A good example is Richard's pâté melt as it calls for 30 pounds of beef -- along with the helpful note that it feeds more than eight. Thumbs up! Again, you've had months to put these together, it's a popular show, act like you give a shit. I think I'll do a version of the pâté melt for a Mother's Day cookout and use the Charcuterie cookbook's recipe for a country pâté as a guide. I'll also use Polcyn's pâté spice blend recipe.

...on to the show...

Cook a meal in 15 minutes using Uncle Ben's instant rice! Did I mention they had to use Uncle Ben! Uncle Ben! Uncle Ben! Uncle Ben! Uncle Ben!

Hmmm, cook a family meal for $10. Rice or noodles would be the easy way to start. Fettuccine Carbonara, quesadillas with homemade salsa, red beans and rice with sausage, bowl of cereal, cornmeal crust catfish.

Trying to figure out the show -- is Antonia getting the loser edit or the triumphant victor edit? Crap, it's the hero edit and she sweeps the episode. I've really come to dislike her portrayal on the show. Then Nikki picks up a point and sticks around for another week. Early favorite, Mark, cooked a plate of crap, Stephanie is spiraling, and Lisa is ready to knife someone. Guessing Lisa goes home with an attitude. Nooooo! It's Mark! I'm beginning to hate this show.

Further thoughts...probably my least favorite episode. Nikki and Antonia, having cornered the market on unimpressive dishes, score points on a challenge designed to create unimpressive dishes. Cooking a complete meal in 15 minutes isn't that difficult, though it definitely helps to have a few minutes to gather your thoughts. Cooking for $10 is also doable, but it would have been easier to have known all the parameters up front: easy, healthy, kid-friendly, gotta cook it with a kid. As presented on the show it looked unfair to everyone. I've heard a lot of chefs say that the last thing they want to do at home is cook, so a single mom who has to cook has an overwhelming advantage.

Kinda surprised no one did a potato. Bake it, or nuke it, and top it with all sorts of crap: chili, vegetables. Do a pot pie and instead of a shell dump it on a sweet potato. That's some good stuff.

This might be my favorite comment: What? No one explained to the kids what puttanesca means?

Next week looks like they're catering a wedding. Whoopee! More catering, more food designed to sit around for hours.

Chart 1:

Richard and Dale are firmly in 1st and 2nd. Stephanie continues her tailspin and drops to 5th, while Antonia moves from 6th to 3rd. Spike falls even further behind Nikki. I find this interesting, being in the bottom group for all 16 challenges would equal -32 points. Spike has collected more than half the negative points.
Chart 2

  1. Richard, 6
  2. Dale, -1
  3. Antonia, -6
  4. Andrew, -7
  5. Stephanie, -8
  6. Lisa, -10
  7. Nikki, -14
  8. Spike, -18

Only assigns positive points for top finishes and wins, then graphs the accumulative value. For illustrative purposes only, but what it illustrates is up to you to decide. Not being judged -- being safe -- counts as a negative.
  • win = 2
  • top group = 1
  • not judged = -1
  • bottom group = -2


Blogger reader_iam said...

what's up with Bravo site and their complete lack of caring about the recipes

OK, now I really do have to go, but ... just saw an ad for a "Top Chefs" cookbook. Don't whether it does or not, but this could account for it.

5/01/2008 02:58:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

Why DavidDust insists on advertising here without offering anything of value confounds me.

5/02/2008 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

Here's a cheap meal we enjoy: Sausage pancakes/waffles.

Get a tube of Jimmy Dean maple-flavored sausage, fry it up and mix with the batter. Get some berries and cook down into a syrup. Yum.

5/02/2008 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

Fish tacos with cole slaw. Cheap, tasty, and can bang that out in 15 minutes. I could've won both challenges with that dish.

5/02/2008 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

I also like to do a monte cristo in a french toast batter. Adding apple slices to the sandwich is good.

5/02/2008 12:14:00 PM  

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