Monday, October 22, 2012

Ode to Uni and More

You almost have to assume the Japanese studied up their Latin before naming uni uni. For unique it is, a pungent terror to the timid, the essence of sea funk. If some chef devised a bone marrow and uni surf and turf, she might clear a restaurant in no time, offering too much mucilaginous elemental essence on one plate. So you've got to develop a taste for it, or simply like your taste buds slapped around a bit.

Or you could have it perfectly placed on a dish as it was in course three above. Draped over the miso black cod, the sea urchin turns into a hearty sauce, pushing the fish's flavors yet more forward, and black cod is no wallflower. It also, by contrast, makes the fish seem even firmer, as firm is the last thing uni ever is. That gets mimicked by the avocado appearing two ways, too, one simply sliced into artful arches, the other a loop of avocado mousse, you might say--it was too rich to be guacamole. And while it might seem from my description to be an intellectual exercise, these fine gradations of texture on a relatively simple plate, it was totally sensory as the palate got to parse smooth in a way Eskimos talk about snow.

To top the plate off, there's the element not listed on the menu, which made us think on any given night a "basic" dish might get a more market-friendly twist. We got to have a flash-fried squash blossom, delicious, and the dish's one bit of crunch, too.

Then again, Alessandro Cartumini at the Four Seasons Biltmore's Bella Vista always seems to make kitchen magic with nothing up his sleeve. These aren't tricks, but treats, from the way the finger lime made the salad pop in course one (although I have to admit the finely sliced approach--they looked like mushroom slivers--seemed to diminish the baby abalone) to the way the Inception Pinot Noir, a surprisingly lighter wine choice for short rib ravioli, brilliantly brought up all the dish's bright notes (golden raisins, indeed).

That's not mentioning the perfect salad, the late harvest tomatoes as bold as late harvest zin, practically, and then that dusting of crazy good Santa Barbara Cheese Company fresh cheese (the Carpinteria "squeaky" or the Santa Rosa queso fresco I'm not sure, alas), all cream and salt and fat. Or the dessert, which doesn't get described nearly as fully as the plate was full--that pistachio cake came in several slightly bigger than bite-sized chunks, amidst a sauce we still can't quite figure (just a-grade zabaglione?) but wish came in bottles and the freshest of raspberries, and then that passion fruit sorbet, exotic and comforting at once.

This thing  can sure highlight the best of SB, particularly when a Chef like Cartumini is in the kitchen.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Don't Like It But I Guess I'm Learning

Funny, it turns out you have to write to blog. I've sort of had the write beat out of me of late for a variety of reasons and I'll share two. The first is there's an actual day job, and often it takes up the whole day. Worse, it takes up the brain for the rest of the non-work day, too, and the idea of sitting at the computer for a few more hours and actually thinking seems beyond my abilities. I do love keeping up with what you're all doing on FB, though, and my head is currently crammed with more baseball ephemera than a bricked building in upstate NY.

Second, there's I'm not the Food Editor at the Indy anymore. You see, there's writing and then there's journalism and only one of them's a business and the part that's a business makes decisions the writerly part might not always like. I'm still "there" (and that's the biggest issue, I wasn't, as I worked 99.999% remotely) as Food Writer, a title parallel to Arts Writer that's held by folks I heap-ton respect like DJ Palladino and Joe Woodard, but there's understanding things and there's ego and then there's my ego and then there's the desire to say nothing much at all. So sorry for the silence, as it's not like I've ever done this for the money, anyway (cause if I did I'd be even poorer than I am; parents, don't let your children grow up to be writers if they hope to make a living, and if J.K. Rowling's parents are reading this, here's hoping you sensed she was a miraculous non-muggle early on). Hope you all enjoyed The Foodies issue in the meantime (weird timing, no?), and that you played the parlor game "which blurbs were Matt's, which were George's?" Hint: look for the sentences with lots of parenths and dashes and dependent clauses. Guess me.

So, I hope to get writing again, because reason one will be letting up a bit after a brutal stretch (day job won't be pushing into nights and weekends anymore) and because reason two simply needs me to get past wallow and do what I have to do--write. (For those of you who actually know me and have had to deal with me not writing and therefore getting crankier bit by bit, all apologies.) I'm trying to look at this as a bit of a freeing moment, if nothing else: George Listens, Reads, Watches, Runs Very Slow Long Runs, as well as Eats, and so this blog could be a bit about anything from here on out, if you don't mind. I particularly want to write about Peter Gabriel at the Bowl the other night (hence the allusion to him in this post's title), the new Mountain Goats, there's David Byrne/St. Vincent this evening, and then there's that election looming, too. Hope you don't mind a bit of a ride.