Monday, November 19, 2007

Si o No ?

Tapas for the 2nd time in two weeks- this time at one of Richmond's most touted new spots, Si, on Lombardy Avenue in the Fan. At eight o'clock on a Wednesday night, we sat down without a wait in a light wood space that seemed more Scandanavian than Spanish. Our server was enthusiastic and recommended almost everything on the menu. We started with tasty bacon wrapped dates, piping hot and crispy. Patatas bravas came next with a tangy tomato sauce and a fresh aoli. Marinated anchovies were small and shriveled, without much body. Piquillo peppers were stuffed with chevre and a fennel conserva - not bad but lacking any sort of kick. The stuffed squid was disappointing, save the black rice that had been cooked and pan fried to a crispiness. My favorite dish was the crisp pork belly, served with seckel pear and spice bush berry. Shaved serrano ham was rather bland, saved only by the tasty carmelized black mission figs. We shared a few desserts- a chocolate cake and an almond torte, ok but forgetable. The food at Si is passable, but compared to a meal at MAS a few weeks ago, it falls well short. The flavors are flat, the menu uninspired, and the decor rather forgettable.

The Philosophy of Taste

When we think about the major taste groups, Sweet, Sour, Salty, and Bitter come to mind. But how about Umami? For thousands of years, there was agreement that these weer the four building blocks of flavor. And then along came Escoffier. He invented veal stock, and lots of other good things. And our taste buds have been doing flips ever since. Get the full flavor here. yum yum good

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dinner and a Show

Two evenings in the past month have found me heading on I-64 W to Charlottesville for a concert. And who wants to hear music on an empty stomach? One more reason to sample some of Central Virginia's better restaurant scenes.

Before a Wilco show, we had a nice dinner at Zocalo, which means 'center of town' or town square in Spanish colloquial speech. It is aptly named for its convenient location on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall, just a stones throw from the concert venue. I started with a beer at the bar with a platter of traditional Spanish cheeses including a manchego and another one with a tamarind jelly. For a first, I had a spicy tuna tartar prepared with red corn tostadas, cucumber relish, pasilla-negro vinegar and tequila crema. The tuna was almost an afterthought to this spicy blend. Delicious but perhaps too strong a combo to truly taste the tuna. For a main dish I took a seared duck breast- well cooked and served with a decadent manchego carmelized onion bread pudding, braised swiss chard, and a chipotle port compote.
By the way, Wilco was tremendous.

A few weeks later three friends piled into a minivan with a cooler of beer to venture back in time to see the Police. For me, it was 26 years in the making. My first concert had been the Police at Shea Stadium in New York (with a fresh REM opening act). We had a lovely meal at MAS, a cool Tapas restaurant in Charlottesville's hip Belmont neighborhood. We munched on a variety of tasty dishes:

Pan al horno (to-go or warmed brick-oven bread w/ extra virgin olive oil)
Nueces picantes (spicy Marcona almonds and walnuts)
Boquerones ( blanched white anchovies marinated in olive oil, lemon, garlic, and herbs)
Tortilla espanola (organic eggs, potatoes, onions, and sea salt)
Carne asada (marinated hanging tenderloin -grilled rare only- w/ smoked tomato alioli)
Ensalada de calamari (soicy squid salad w/ salt capers, lemon, and parsley with baby arugula
Pato asado (Catalan-style: slowly braised duck confit w/ fig-sherry glaze)
Chuleta de cerda con mojo( pork chop, pan seared, served with almond, basil and garlic mojo)

Dinner was the highlight of the evening. While the Police can still play well, their show was a bit cold and reserved, without much soul.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pizza.... You Bet

A few weeks ago, I was sous chef for an afternoon in my best friend's back-yard. It was Peter and Ann's annual Halloween carving party, and guests have come to expect some of Richmond's finest pizza, baked off in huge quantities. Last year, Peter cooked 50 + pies, and this year we reached 75. His adobe oven is heated with wood, and pizzas cook quickly, in just a few minutes. He crafted a nifty contraption so that he could pass through the streched dough for me to dress. And then I could pass back pies ready to pop into the stove. I started with either tomato sauce or pureed carmelized onions as a base. Toppings included radicchio, blue and goat cheeese, pine nuts, mozzarella, fresh basil, and sun dried tomatoes. My personal favorite was a pie with a carnelized onion base, blue cheese, radicchio, and pine nuts.