December 1, 2007

The Thanksgiving whirlwind, a redux (part 2)

Thursday: San Ramon, Thanksgiving Dinner

A week before Thanksgiving, I got a pleasant surprise in the mail: a jar of kumquat marmalade from Kenny at Medlock Ames. Kumquats have such an interesting variant on citrus flavor, from the balance of sweet to bitter to the chewy texture of the rind and flesh. I immediately got excited about the kinds of things I wanted to try with the marmalade, and I promised Kenny I'd use it for one of our Thanksgiving desserts.

Since we were driving down for the weekend, we would only have enough time to bake one dessert during the early afternoon on Thanksgiving. We opted for the dense, moist and delicious roasted kabocha cake from Suzanne Goin's awesome cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques. The cinnamon and nutmeg, coupled with the kabocha puree, evoke the epitome of pre-winter/thanksgiving comfort.

We added our own variants to the cake: a touch of honey in the batter, a candied cashew and pecan topping, and an accompaniment of chantilly cream and kumquat marmalade. This dessert's for you Kenny!

As for the rest of the meal, we had a dazzling array of awesome food, thanks to the family:

The Classics
Roast turkey
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry sauce

The Asian Component
Black bean marinated prawns
Taiwanese sticky rice
Spareribs with kabocha squash
Stir-fried udon
Seafood lettuce wraps
Sauteed scallops and shrimp
Oxtail soup

Pumpkin pie brulee
Apple pie
Kabocha squash cake
Red bean soup with glutinous rice balls

Wow, it didn't really hit me until I saw that all written out... that's a lot of food for 10 people!

Saturday: Trip to Napa

The day before we left Seattle for the Bay Area, L told me that Connie and Paul had never taken a trip to Napa together for wine tasting. Unreal! And a great excuse to take advantage of the perfect Northern California weather for a quick day trip on Saturday.

We made the usual stop to Bouchon Bakery to prime ourselves with pain au chocolat, almond financiers and chocolate bouchons. The financiers are still the most decadent I've tasted, but the pain au chocolat can't compete with the glorious versions from Cafe Besalu. We made stops at the classic (but somewhat corporate) Clos du Val and the always elegant and finessed wines of Corison.

The real treat of the excursion was a late afternoon appointment at Pride, tucked away in the hills along the border between Napa and Sonoma. With almost 200 acres of specific lot designations, all with distinct soils and sun exposures, the opulent fruit of their wines was showcased with phenomenally integrated young tannins. Velvety and luxurious.

Sunday: Portland, Simpatica and Ken's Artisan Bread

The timing of our trip back gave us one final opportunity for a stop in Portland right at brunch. We stopped by Simpatica, another one of the innovative anti-restaurants changing the dynamic of the standard dining scene. Simpatica's approach is simple: Create awesome four course set dinners on Fridays and Saturdays in a wholly communal dining setting, enabling a substantial reduction in price per person. You aren't going to find meals of this quality for $35 per person in any large city. Check out their menu and drool. On Sundays, Simpatica utilizes its open space to make simple and satisfying classics, like my andouille hash and L's sweet potato crepe. Another Portland gem.

Our last stop was to Ken's Artisan Bakery to visit the place where the amazing baguette from our dinner at Le Pigeon was made. The story behind Ken's is pretty cool; you can read a nice article about it here. For me, the only mission was to get a sweet baguette to take back to Seattle.

I don't think I can overemphasize the simple pleasure of one of their baguettes: soft, lightly elastic and chewy interiors with just a hint of sweetness paired with an astounding range of variant textures in the crust. The crust really was the most phenomenal part of this bread... each area had a different feel... the rustic flat crust of the bottom to the rounded and slightly more pliable side crust; the crisped and shattering ridges on the top and the toothsome ends. Totally revelatory, and the new standard upon which I'll compare all other baguettes.

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