May 28, 2008

phenomenal ramen... in charcoal

There are certain foods that warrant a life-long search for perfection. The ultimate pain au chocolat... opulent, pristine sushi... a life-changing burger... freshly made ramen...

That's right, ramen. I'm not talking about the instant stuff (although there is a place for that too; thank you Momofuku Ando). No, I'm talking about fresh, hand made ramen, epitomizing everything that is good about noodles (and pasta in general). Silken exterior, slightly toothsome texture, in any one of a variety of carefully slow cooked, flavor packed natural broths. The subject of one of my favorite movies of all time and the inspiration of fanatics around the world... you can have the best bowl of ramen in your life and it only makes you want to keep searching even harder for the next bowl that might just top it.

Being in Seattle, our standby ramen house is Samurai Noodle. Great noodles, super rich tonkotsu broth (if a bit on the salty side) and a great little space where devotees can concentrate on slurping rather than chatting. But Vancouver has always been reliably dominant for asian food, so we figured we'd make ramen part of our quest on our day trip this weekend.

The undisputed king of ramen in Vancouver is Daiji Matsubara, who runs the always jam-packed Kintaro Ramen and the more forward-thinking Motomachi Shokudo, both just steps away from each another on Denman. Motomachi uses a chicken broth, rather than the much richer and more intense pork broth typical of ramen joints, balanced by just a bit of fish broth. But the restaurant is most known for its signature ramen in a broth of bamboo charcoal.

Intensely dark, like squid ink, the flavor of the broth is striking. Packed with complex flavors--rich chicken broth, bamboo, light smoke--the broth's medium body also keeps it from weighing you down. But to make sure you don't miss the richness of pork broth, the bowl includes the most decadent slice of simmered pork ever... meltingly tender, unreal, magnificent. And the noodle texture was simply amazing. Totally balanced, giving the most pleasing mouthfeel... the best I've had. A master is at work here.

But did I really just eat charcoal? What gives? Well, charcoal powder is apparently used in some traditional dishes from Kyoto and is thought to be a healthy ingredient that can absorb toxins and aid in digestion (due to the many small pores and cavities in each particle). Kinda sounds like you're turning yourself into a Brita filter to me, but hey, the flavor definitely works. Come to think of it, I felt great after the meal and pretty energetic for the rest of the weekend... maybe there's something to this after all...

Motomachi Shokudo
740 Denman St.

Motomachi Shokudo on Urbanspoon

May 20, 2008

For my vegetarian friends, especially the ones who eat bacon

Back in high school, I was a vegetarian for precisely 2 1/2 months. It was for ethical reasons, and I still harbor some connection to that general ethos... somewhere under countless layers of primordial carnivorousness. I've commented in the past about my personal belief in the ethical superiority of vegetarians--a conviction that, though strong, has not yet resulted in any major transformative impact in my own eating habits.

Recently, I came across a great article in Slate about one man's personal vegetarian perspective, and it instandly made me think of a very specific Seattle-based vegetarian couple (you know who you are). These poor friends are periodically tormented by me as I exploit their deep-rooted, still smoldering love of bacon (in a mostly joking manner)... so much so that one of my new year's resolutions was to stop tempting them with any form of cured pork belly goodness (notwithstanding the fact that copious quantities of beef jerky are now being consumed by the pregnant half of this couple).

And so I offer you, my bacon-loving vegetarian friends (I'm specifically thinking of another such afflicted individual in San Francisco) an homage to your credo with some actual, straight up, pure vegetable goodness from some recent meals at home...

Wok-charred broccoli with garlic and olive oil
Sweet and nutty, with wafts of fragrant garlic

Dim sum style chinese broccoli in oyster sauce
Tender and sweet, with savory, velvety notes from the oyster sauce

Sauteed pea shoots with garlic and sesame oil
Fresh, clean and crisp, with just a hint of richness from the oil

Wok-fried long beans with blistered chinese sausage
Wait, this one isn't vegetarian!

Well, three out of four isn't bad. Somehow, the pork product always manages to find its way in...

May 13, 2008

What I'm excited about...

The Corson Building. Built in 1910 during a commercial boom in the Georgetown area (created, in part, by the Seattle Brewing Company building). At one point, it was perhaps a home... then it housed the Italian Architectural Art Company, an ornamental cast stone operation.

Fast forward to 2008, and it is soon to be the site of the most anticipated, and maybe most important "culinary resource center" the city has seen. New ideas, new approaches, new contexts... a restaurant, garden, community gastronomic center... and a bee hive? Brought to you by the chef of my absolute favorite restaurant in Seattle... partnering with Emily Crawford (formerly of Boulettes Larder in SF).

I can't wait... another reason Spring can't come quickly enough in Seattle.

May 7, 2008

The German influence in Chile

Way behind on my posts... already back in the U.S., but wistfully thinking back to the memories of our trip...

Cruising into Valdivia, a quaint riverfront town with a bustling commercial district on one side and the Universidad Austral de Chile on the other, we encountered a profound dose of the German cultural influence on the city. How so? Well, the remnants of German colonization (from an early 1800's pro-immigration program designed to spark economic development) have left behind distinctly German-style wood frame homes... and there's lots of beer... not much left of the language though...

No, the German influence I'm referring to is the Completo. A symphonic abomination of flavor and texture... all based on the premise of a hot dog.

We stopped by Cafe Hausmann for a lunch of the Completo... hot dog, minced fresh tomato, gobs of rich mayonnaise and an outrageous amount of creamy avocado. It actually tastes much better than it looks (particularly with the great house-made beer), but it'll set you back a notch or two on your fat receptors. Lav's not a hot dog person at all, so this sight made her stomach churn just a bit.

Halfway through our meal, a group of business men came in and filled up the counter, ordering plates with mounds of what appeared to be white bread and a reddish topping. With a few beers, they started going to town on these things... and we noticed that everyone else was having the same thing. So we asked the owner what everyone was having, and if we could try one... which led to one of the more significant gastronomic revelations of the trip. The amazing crudito.

Known to have the best interpretation of this dish, Hausmann's crudito--or beef tartare--is comprised of a slice of white bread with freshly chopped raw chilean beef spread on top with a sprinkling of raw white onion. The owner then gave the beef a healthy hit of salt and pepper and squeezed the juice of a lemon on top. Next, she spread a mild tartar sauce on top and encouraged us to try it with either mustard or chili sauce. Clean tasting and perfectly balanced, with the acidity of the lemon cutting through the richness of the tartar sauce and elevating the fresh flavor of the raw meat... so simple and so very good. Easily one of the best things we ate in Chile. And all the businessmen were psyched that we were eating the crudito as well.

After a meal like that, nothing like finishing with a decadent slice of kuchen, this one from the chic cafe of Entrelagos. Lovin' it.