July 31, 2008

Perfect peas and some fishy ideas

Occasionally, you have one of those days that's so blindingly average and mundane that you're left desperately seeking some kind of creative, interesting outlet to salvage the day. Tuesday was one of those days.

Lav bought some fantastic looking peas and had an idea for a salad of roasted beets, sweet raw peas, caramelized sweet onion, and green beans. The inky red juice of the beets bled into everything, making a wonderfully unified salad permeated with the natural sweetness of each ingredient.

She also had some sashimi-grade bluefin toro and a filet of Alaskan black cod, but wanted me to do something different with them. With the toro, less is more... you don't want to mask the unctuously rich flavor from its perfectly matched, meltingly tender texture. One of the things that seems to be getting more popular at sushi places these days is to lightly torch the top layer of the fish to extract some of the oils and intensify the intrinsic flavor of the fish... not to make it "fishy", per se, but to ensure that the fish actually tastes like something... like itself. That's the point, after all, right? Here, the aroma of the tuna was definitely heightened by the technique, while retaining most of the best qualities of being raw... much better than doing a quick pan sear, which tends to really overcook the fish.

For the black cod, I stole an idea from an episode of After Hours, which featured Michael Cimarusti of Providence in Los Angeles. Chef Cimarusti served a dish of raw Australian lobster in a lightly sweet broth scented primarily with purple shiso. I can only imagine how magical that pairing was, with the herbaceous scent of the shiso wafting ever so lightly as a backdrop to the sweet flesh of the lobster. Here, I adapted the concept for the black cod. We slowly reduced two cups of sake, infusing it with regular shiso (from our garden) and ginger. I thought the sake would be sweet enough on its own, but to ease up the impact of the lightly residual alcohol, we also added a few small dice of the roasted red beet. This resulted in a more complex dimension for the light sweetness of the broth and also made the flavors a bit rounder... ginger, shiso and sake each have their own slightly harsh edge.

The black cod was pan seared in browned butter, constantly basted as the sear was developing with the butter (just like we observed at Le Pigeon). This was served atop melted kale and a lightly cooked radish. To complete the dish, I poured the broth of sake, ginger, shiso and beet into the dish. It's been a while since a new effort like this has resulted in a really fantastic composition. The colors were vibrant, the flavors paired beautifully (ultra rich, buttery flavor to the cod, lightly contrasted and enhanced by the flavors of the broth). The one major edit that needed to be made was the radish, which hadn't been cooked long enough to get rid of its natural earthy funk.

In the end though, it was a pretty way to salvage an otherwise unremarkable day.

July 18, 2008

my wordle

this is kind of cool...

My "word cloud" from wordle, showing which terms are more prominent in my blog. I suppose sushi and fish are often on my mind...

July 15, 2008

The sustainability of ocean life

Two recent experiences at restaurants served as good reminders of the need to stay aware of our impact on the environment, whether direct or as a secondary effect.

While in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, we stopped by Rodney's in Yaletown for some afternoon oysters only to find that the oyster happy hour had been temporarily suspended due to major production issues at oyster farms all along the Pacific Northwest. A few days later, while having sushi at Miyabi, Masa commented on the declining availability of good bluefin tuna -- which we've already generally stopped ordering in favor of other options -- due to overconsumption (and the declining value of the dollar).

Here are a couple of recent articles that talk about both issues:

A warning from the sea: Oyster 'seeds' are dying as Pacific Coast waters grow warmer

EU to ban Med bluefin tuna fishing

Here's to being mindful of the enormous impact of our ever-growing patterns of consumption (and over-consumption)...

July 14, 2008

small bites: watermelon and pickled daikon

Summer is finally here up in Seattle, and we've just had a week of spectacular weather. Even in the small amount of time we've been here, I've adapted a bit to the climate, and now 82 degrees feels sweltering. Which makes me crave watermelon.

When I was a kid visiting my relatives in Taiwan, I noticed that they often salted their fruit, including watermelon. At the time, the concept was really off-putting to me. Why ruin all of that sweet goodness with salt? My family tried to explain that the slight saltiness actually accentuated the sweetness, but I just didn't get it back then.

Fast forward to this weekend, and as I was sitting on our sun-drenched porch, I got to thinking of how I could make a bite of watermelon that would be refreshing, but also have an unexpected flavor... something that could both complement the texture and sweetness of the watermelon while also successfully incorporating a discordant element... We had some japanese pickled daikon in the fridge, which has a good level of sweetness characterized by an underlying savory earthiness. Sliced up and layered with watermelon, with a bit of mint as a final accent, and the two flavors came together nicely for a refreshing bite.

July 6, 2008

FOUND: Our go-to sushi joint

From time to time, people will ask us how the transition has been, moving from the Bay Area to Seattle. I have to say that overall, it's been a lot easier than I expected. Seattle is pretty similar to the Bay Area -- lots of educated folks, a pretty progressive political bent, and a relatively diverse community. Sure, the weather bites in comparison to the Bay Area (and it's actually much more gray than we had expected), but developing our community of friends here has come quickly and we pretty much feel at home... well, except...

1. It's absurdly difficult to find good Chinese food here.

2. It's also surprisingly difficult to find great sushi.

So far, for our Chinese fix, we usually end up at a joint like the Northwest Tofu House, Fu Man or Jack's, or we make the drive up to Richmond, B.C.

The sushi conundrum has been more difficult. As I've heard other California transplants complain, amazing fish should be so much more readily available here, yet the quality overall tends to be somewhat disappointing and the prices are astronomically high (compared to the Bay Area). And you'd think there would be an abundant selection of fantastic sushi places... and we've been looking for 16 months for an adequate surrogate for our favorite place back in Berkeley, Sushi Sho.

I tried Shiro on my first trip here. Solid quality, but nothing particularly notable. No spark.

Nishino: Great fish, but really high prices and too large of a restaurant to feel a personal connection (although Moro-san was really nice).

Saito: People love this place, but it just wasn't for me. I was incredibly disappointed by the omakase.

I Love Sushi: Not sure why people are so devoted to this place.

Sushiland: Yeah, getting desperate... although surprisingly decent quality fish for the money.

Chiso: Promising, but I didn't like the texture of their rice.

Mashiko: Probably my favorite of this bunch. Great fish, good servers, very well made sushi... but way too many options on their non-sushi menu and surprisingly expensive.

Then we went deep into the cultural abyss that is Southcenter Mall and tried Miyabi. If this restaurant was located anywhere else, I might be tempted to keep it all to myself. But I already know the fact the restaurant is in Tukwila will keep it from ever getting flooded by Seattle-ites. Miyabi is a gem tucked away in a bit of a strip mall (shared by Bai Tong, our go-to Thai restaurant in the area) across from Magnolia Hi-Fi.

What you'll find when you go inside is a small-ish, nicely designed restaurant with a sushi counter in the back manned by Masa, one of the more interesting and engaging sushi chefs we've interacted with... a total character. Superb fish, if you know what to look for and how to ask for it, and a laid back setting that can get a little festive when the sake and beer are flowing... not so much that it distracts from the food, but enough to keep the place from being too serious. Amaebi that's thrashing around before being swiftly dispatched and placed onto its throne of rice... deliciously unctuous albacore... superb saba (briefly torched to extract the rich oils and make the fish meltingly tender)... and a sushi chef who knows exactly what condition his ingredients are in. Tonight we had a magical nigiri with uni, ika and ikura combined... I've never seen such a combination before, but it was simply a perfect marriage of flavors to balance out the stronger taste of the uni during this time of year. A real treasure, Miyabi's the kind of place where you're already planning your next visit the moment you step out the door.

Hands down, our favorite sushi place so far in Seattle. Oh wait, I mean, Tukwila.

Miyabi Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Fourth of July weekend... and crazy good mussels

It's been pretty busy around here and I'm behind on a couple of important posts, like dinner opening night at the Corson Building and our terrific 4 day trip to Vancouver... but for now, just a couple of quick thoughts on this holiday weekend.

La Verne's parents were back in town for just a day and a half on their way back from a trip to the Canadian Rockies. It being the 4th of July, there was going to be some barbecuing going on... but to keep things from being too heavy, Lav made a terrific sashimi salad to go with our spicy salt and pepper grilled shrimp (shells and heads on for added flavor), kalbi-marinated shortribs, and copper river salmon... all before heading out to Lake Union for the always killer fireworks show.

The next day, we took an impromptu trip out to Whidbey Island, a relaxing haven for tasting wine, cruising through quaint town centers, and enjoying a slower pace than life in the city.

We stopped by Holmes Harbor Cellars, a promising new winery making powerfully extracted wines, which was having its inaugural open house. Affable winemaker Greg Martinez, a former Navy officer, is literally making wine out of his "garage" -- a nicely designed building next to his house -- using grapes sourced from Walla Walla. Definitely worth a visit.

Greg's father in-law, who was helping with the tasting bar, pointed us to Coupeville several miles to the north and recommended the steamed mussels and burger at his favorite tavern, Toby's.

Lav and I are big fans of Penn Cove mussels because of their sweet, clean flavor. As it turns out, Coupeville is adjacent to Penn Cove, and Toby's gets deliveries of Penn Cove mussels straight from the source.

Toby's is a great old tavern, full of character and history, although the real drinkers have probably dwindled away. Great beer, cool staff, and seriously some of the absolute best mussels I've ever had... whether at fancy restaurants or seafood shacks. Unbelievably fresh and simply steamed with chardonnay and basil. Probably worth the trip for the mussels alone; I'm an instant fan.

Just another reminder of how many amazing things there are to discover here in the Puget Sound.