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I wish I could tell you how I spent my last 12 hours in the city revisiting favorite haunts, or dining at my most beloved neighborhood hole in the walls. Unfortunately, I’ve just been buzzing around since waking up prematurely early today, anxious about the packing yet to be done and finally realizing that I am leaving. Not just going on a vacation, but packing like I will never be back in my cozy little studio, which turns out to be the case, since I have no idea how long this move back home will be. Still, in between all the shuttling between the local UPS, Jeremiah’s house and constant trips up and down my building carrying emptied boxes and heavy white rubbish bags, I managed to do a little eating with mum. I introduced her to Fage yogurt, which I was obsessed about one point in my life about 2 years ago, creamy and tart when paired with dried fruit. Then, when tempers started flaring about the lack of progress with packing, we calmed down with cups of decent coffee and buttery croissants at Taralluci e Vino. And finally after all the errands were completed, a slice of New York pizza pie at Vinny Vincenz, where the crust is crisp and tomato sauce bright and sweet.

Still, there are blog posts still to be written, like my long overdue report on Le Bernardin, a tasting at Blue Hill and my foray into vegetarian dining with mummy. But that will have to wait until I am safely, comfortably ensconced in my room in Singapore.

Until then, a list of my favorite things:

1. Pizza Bianca at Sullivan Street Bakery

2. Shiotama at Ramen Setagaya

3. My daily oatmeal with everything at ‘wichcraft

4. Peace passage oyster sushi at Sushi Yasuda

5. Artic Circle at Aquavit

6. Hiyashi Chuka at Menchanko Tei

7. Chocolate Edamame and other random titbits at Trader Joes

8. Long walks home to pay penance after particularly rich meals

9. My studio and the courtyard just right for summer dinner parties

10. Friends who shared many many many meals

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I love to eat. I also happen to enjoy eating what I cook. However, 4 years of city living has rendered any techniques I used to possess lost. Shamefully I admit I now cook only about once a week, and that meal typically consists of  Shin ramen or fried eggs. So a cooking class is long overdue, and I can only say that the intensive week of training at ICE, for its most popular Techniques of Fine Cooking 1 class under the watchful eye of my instructors was comprehensive and illuminating, the $600 upfront fee well spent.

I consider myself a proficient, or at least confident cook, but I do not possess any culinary skills to speak of, and my knowledge of the western larder rather lacking. So over the course of the week, I learnt to identify herbs, dice mire poix into perfectly uniform cubes, strussed chickens, whipped fluffy souffles, braised, roasted, baked and grilled. I made made sure my mayonnaise was emulsified by painstakingly stirring oil, drip by drip, into the egg and mustard base, and rolled chocolate truffles that were laced with rum and kahlua. My instructors, Chef Richard the avowed food snob and locavore and Chef Dan, the bubbly and enthusiastic man honest enough to confess a weakness for Hamburger Helper were patient, helpful and knowledgeable, teaching not just the dishes of the day but the underlying techniques and science behind cooking. Hopefully those theories would stick and translate into my future culinary trials.

The best part of class was perhaps dinner as the class sat down to eat what we made every day, me gaining about 5 pounds over the course of the week as a result of the rich diet. Another unintended consequence of cooking with fellow enthusiasts was making new friends out of classmates as we shared culinary ideas, fooding experiences and shopping tips in the city. As we celebrated the end of the intensive week by knocking back a few pints at the local pub across the school, we made plans to form a class again for Techniques of Fine Cooking 2 and 3. Learning can be addictive, especially amongst great friends.

Techniques (Menu):

Day 1 – Knife skills, sautes, vinaigrettes. (Gazpacho, Lamb chops, Sauteed vegetables, Frisee aux lardon, Orange Supreme in Grand Marnier)

Day 2 – Roasts and Bakes (Roast chicken, chicken broth, Italian chicken rice soup, rice pilaf, clafouti)

Day 3 – Braise, Boils and Chocolate (Braised lamb shanks, braised vegetables, endive salad, mussels in wine sauce, chocolate mousse, chocolate truffles)

Day 4 – Eggs, eggs, eggs (Scrambled with caviar, French rolled omelettes, Eggs Benedict, Salad Nicoise, Souffles)

Day 5 – Grills and composed salads (Slaws, Salads, Guacamole, Grilled Flank Steak)

www.iceculinary.com

Parmagiano cheese souffle
Parmagiano cheese souffle

Something was amiss at Luxee, where at Michelle’s behest  the four of us went after dinner at 1492. Ten o’clock  is very early for LES standards, yet it was all calm and serene at Luxee when we arrived for dessert. In fact, we were the only customers for the next 2 hours before they closed for the night. Shouldn’t Luxee be most thronged with crowds during the late night like its neighboring bars and restaurants? 

The desserts, despite the  lack of business ranged from good to very delicious, more so than Kyotofu and Chickalicious, 2 other Japanese influenced dessert bars that have no want of customers. We picked three desserts, but before that, our server sent a plate of extremely addictive rosemary sables, the butter cookies crumbly like sand, the herb imparting an alluring woody scent.   
The desserts we paid for ranged from the humble looking houji-cha creme brulee that’s creamy and tasting of the bitter japanese tea it is made of, to a very ambitious looking composition of a granny smith apples present in multiple forms (sorbet, gel, caramelized, fresh) that would not look out of place in one of the fancier places around town. But my favorite is the airy souffle, a cotton soft tower tasting like extremely light japanese cheesecake, the liberal shaving of parmagiano reggiano literal icing on the cake, providing a savory, nutty tang to the dessert.
As we left, we vowed to return and to tell our friends about Luxee. Its desserts are as good, in fact better than some of the more well-known dessert bars, so it only makes sense it is just as popular, lest it fall prey to poor business exacerbated in the bad market. Perhaps they should be promoting more heavily, or serving alcohol to target those who frequent its neighborhood. Whatever it is, Luxee is worth visiting and keeping around. 
Luxee
6 Clinton St (At Houston St)

 verygoodtaste’s blog has an uber-popular post that has elicited over 1000 comments, and here I am joining the bandwagon. Because, it is fun to take stock of one’s foodie history! After crossing out all that I’ve eaten, I’m left with only 24 more items on the list to fulfill (and Sarah to at least tackle phaal with). Ok, sans roadkill only 23. So I will hereby set a belated new year’s resolution, to end 2009 with 99!

1. Venison

2. Nettle tea

3. Huevos rancheros

4. Steak tartare *

5. Crocodile

6. Black pudding

7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp

9. Borscht

10. Baba ghanoush*

11. Calamari

12. Pho*

13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi

15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses*

17. Black truffle

18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes

19. Steamed pork buns

20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes*

22. Fresh wild berries

23. Foie gras

24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese

26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper

27. Dulce de leche

28. Oysters

29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda

31. Wasabi peas

32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi

34. Sauerkraut

35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar

37. Clotted cream tea

38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O

39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat

42. Whole insects

43. Phaal

44. Goat’s milk

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more

46. Fugu

47. Chicken tikka masala

48. Eel

49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin*

51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi*

53. Abalone

54. Paneer

55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (have had all the components, just never the meal)

56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini

58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine

60. Carob chips

61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin

64. Currywurst

65. Durian***

66. Frogs’ legs

67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis

69. Fried plantain

70. Chitterlings, or andouillette

71. Gazpacho

72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe

74. Gjetost, or brunost

75. Roadkill

76. Baijiu

77. Hostess Fruit Pie

78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong

80. Bellini

81. Tom yum

82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant*

85. Kobe beef

86. Hare

87. Goulash

88. Flowers

89. Horse

90. Criollo chocolate

91. Spam

92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa

94. Catfish

95. Mole poblano

96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor

98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake

Note:

* favorites

kees_logo1The economy is in miserable straits, and the companies most impacted are financial institutions. To combat plummeting revenues, financial institutions are finding all sorts of ways to boost the bottom line, from the obvious like massive lay-offs, to the more indirect methods, such as letting external vendors squat at their lobbies. I am not 100% sure, but speculate that this is how Kee’s chocolate counter in the HSBC building at Bryant Park came to pass.

I’m not complaining of course, because this move only brings one of the best artisanal chocolatier a scant 5 city blocks away from my office and removes the need to travel to soho for a quick cacoa fix on one or multiple of Kee’s delicious confections. My mouth water for the dark chocolate with balsamic ganache, the glossy dark chocolate shattering to uncover a rich ganache flavored subtly with a sourish yet mellow flavor. And I cannot decide if I prefer La Maison du Chocolat’s rustic champagne truffles dusted with cacoa powder or Kee’s sophisticated looking pyramid filled with heady alcoholic chocolate truffle. I did not purchase any of Kee’s jewel colored macarons, fearing they would compare poorly to the perfect specimens from Laduree and Pierre Herme that I have been gorging on for the past week in Paris, but they definitely looked beautiful on an aesthetic point of view, albeit somewhat lacking in height and glossiness.

To be sure, Kee’s chocolates are expensive at over $2 per tiny piece, and I have to tighten my belt both figuratively as well as literally after my excessive gorging in France. But the chocolates are super-indulgent and you can be sure it is made fresh locally by an independent artisan, therefore totally worth losing that daily cup of joe for. I guess I’ll just drink pantry coffee from now on.

Kee’s Chocolates

80 Thompson Street  

452 5th Ave (within the HSBC Bryant Park building lobby)

http://www.keeschocolates.com/index.html

a train of marrons

a train of marrons

I am no vinophile, not even a particularly enthusiastic drinker. So wine was not first in my mind when I floated the idea to P to hang out in Beaune for the weekend. Instead, the thing that captured my imagination was the food, especially the food fair with all sorts of gustatory delights advertised in various blogs. The food must be good, I rationalized. After all, Burgundy is the purported stomach of France.

Escargot!

Escargot!

 

 

 

The food fair was as good as I imagined. The advertisements did not lie. Imagine a New York street fair, without the mundane stalls selling socks and knockoff bags, strip out the ubiquitous kebab stand and the badly made crepe trucks, take away cotton candy and kettle corn. Replace the dirty water dog carts with cauldrons of steaming andouillette and merguez, add stalls dedicated to the sale of mushrooms fresh and dry, organic honey, and macarons; standkeepers giving out samples of foie gras on toast; crowds huddling around picnic tables extracting fat nubs of escargot meat from their shell while sipping glasses of local wine.  It being late fall/early winter, glasses of hot spiced wine and bags of warm toasted chestnuts were also readily available. That would be Beaune’s food fair. For 2 days we eschewed sit-down lunches in favor of incessant munching on the go. Sunday’s lunch read like this: a plate of buttery fried frogs’ legs, a thick slab of jambon persille – chunks of smoked ham encased in a radioactive green parsley aspic, a loaf of fresh baked baguette and for dessert, half a dozen of freshly shucked oysters. The family sitting next to our park bench were spooning creamy cheese onto bread and feeding their kids Camembert and Brie. That’s my idea of a picnic!

deconstructed oeufs meurette

deconstructed oeufs meurette

For dinner, we relied on the suggestions of our lovely innkeeper, Mdm Grillon of Hotel Grillon, who even helpfully made our reservations given our limited (nonexistent for me) French. We had dinner at L’Ecusson on our first night at Beaune, where we landed an hour ahead of our reservation due to a rapidly losing battle to jet lag. Being the first to arrive, we got to relax in the elegant ochre colored room and enjoyed the full attention of the charmingly hospitable front of house. The meal, innovative and delicious helped lift our flagging spirits some more. I was expecting my oeufs meurette to resemble other oeuf meurettes I’ve eaten, poached eggs in red wine broth. Instead, I got a trio of bites, a most satisfyingly earthy puree of mushrooms topped with a wobbly raw yolk and a sprig of chive, thick slices of bacon on a sesame toast, and a shot of vin chaud. Our mains were a contrast of heavy and light. P selected coq au vin for his main dish and was rewarded with a rich, almost inky stew of wine cooked chicken with its usual accoutrements of pearl onions and mushrooms whereas my perch was simply pan-seared and served on a bed of diced tomato, zuchinni and a tinge of citrus that summoned memories of a warm summer’s day instead of a chilly fall night. We ended the night with a round of cheese and the best baba rum P’s had.  A great deal for less than 30 Euros each, not including wine. We walked back to the hotel drowsy and full, thanking our lucky stars that our hotel is a good 1 km away from the town center, allowing us to digest while we strolled home.

tarte tatin

tarte tatin

On the second night, Madam Grillon had booked a table at La Ciboulette, a very popular bistro location on quiet side street of Beaune. La Ciboulette excels at traditional Burgundian cuisine in a relaxed setting, and compared to the calm elegance of L’Ecusson, the dining rooms at La Ciboulette were a picture of activity, with servers weaving around packed tables of diners delivering platters upon towering platters of food. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and when in Beaune, it means toasting to an aperitif of kir, a pretty pink cocktail of local aligote wine and cassis. The appetizers came after our welcome plate of olives were polished off, for me two thick slabs of foie gras mi cuit served with warm toast, and for the boyfriend liquid cashmere, incarnated in his dish of quenelles, morels and sweetbreads enrobed in a most luxuriously creamy butter and cream sauce that was heart attack inducing but worth every sip. I won the main course challenge, for although P enjoyed his simple dish of huge seared scallops, my steak charolaise was spectacular, cooked a point and full of savory meat juices. The sliced fresh Burgundy truffles were just icing on the cake, imparting a light earthy aroma to the sauce. A platter of stinky cheeses including the lovely Citeaux and a big slab of Epoisses (smells like wet socks, but tasting much milder) and a bowl of fromage blanc later, we attacked our desserts as though we were starving, my Tarte Tatin beautifully golden brown, with a firm crust and the cooked apple disintegrating in my mouth effortlessly while P had his first creme brulee for the trip, with a rich pistachio taste but unfortunately a little charred. For $38 per person, a lot of deliciousness. No wonder La Ciboulette was awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand designation in the most recent guide.

Of course, we did touristy things while not stuffing ourselves silly, visiting the well restored hospice and following the many roving brass bands in colorful costumes as they marched through the streets of Beaune playing upliftingly loud tunes. But even without the festivities, I still expect Beaune to be worth a visit regardless of seasons, particularly for the eaters and drinkers of the world.

Names and websites:

Hotel Grillon

http://www.hotel-grillon.fr/

L’Ecusson

http://www.ecusson.fr/

La Ciboulette

http://www.viamichelin.co.uk/viamichelin/gbr/dyn/controller/poiPerformPage?productId=41102&id=901


img_3610Its only my second day in Beaune, and I already understand that everything here is about wine. The town is surrounded by wineries, the layout of this medieval town is such that every third or fourth shop is a wine shop and wine caves and cellars lined with walls and walls of wine bottles make up an alternative underground city. On this weekend, vinophiles go extra-wild as it is La Vente des Vins, an annual festival celebrating, what else but the famous Burgundian wines. The festival revolves around Les Trois Glorieuses, three events happening in Beaune this weekend: the grand tasting meal at the prestigious Chateau du Clos du Vougeot, the multi-million dollar wine auction benefitting the Hospice de Beaune and La Paulee, the most drunken BYOB lunch imaginable. While P and I did not participate in these events, we still had a glorious time literally soaking in the bacchanalian good cheer, voluntarily stuffing ourselves like force fed geese with wine and food. 

img_3658

Wine is the first order of business. We are in wine soaked Burgundy after all. We took an informative wine appreciation lesson at Sensation Vins, where the instructor patiently went through the essentials of Burgundian wines and guided us wine novices through a blind tasting of 6 wines. The lessons about terroir were a truly a little more than over our heads, but we walked out more confident about wine tasting abilities and tested them out at the wine caves later on. Upon our instructor’s recommendation, we then found ourselves at Maison Bouchard Aine & Fils, a venerable wine merchant since 1746 for a cheese and wine degustation. For an hour, we took its “tour of the five senses”, where it converted some of its musty underground cellars into interactive classrooms to showcase the sound, sight, taste, touch and scent of wine. We also tasted 11 wines in a tasting glass we got to keep as a souvenir, including multiple grand crus and a Corton Grand Cru almost as old as my dad. The cheeses were all local and we fell in love with the Citeaux cheese, a raw, runny and funky smelling cheese made by monks of the Abbaye de Citeaux. Now to find it and smuggle it back home.

Next up, the food of Beaune….

Sensation Vin

http://www.sensation-vin.com/en/

Bouchard Aine & Fils

http://www.en.bouchard-aine.fr/index.php?p=365

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