Mar 012014
 

GourmetTuomas Vimma (née Kusti Miettinen) launched himself with Helsinki 12, a drive-by-writing on the local advertising industry.

His Gourmet takes on another sector: fine dining. And especially the fine dining scene in Helsinki.

It starts off with an encounter with the sole domestic two star Michelin chef, and continues its name-dropping and jargon-ridden ways throughout its length.

Expected nothing less.

And as the subject is more interesting than that of his previous books, Gourmet was actually a more pleasant read. And as a definite bonus I’m now even more unbearable as a food and wine conversationalist, having learned new names and factoids to dropkick into discussions.

Jan 052013
 

Dim sumEven though the domestic chinese restaurants don’t have much of a choice of dim sum dishes available, this buzzfeed guide on the subject will be of use some day, I’m sure.

And there definitely should be an app for this, after all, you never know which back alley of Chongquing the information proves vital (and even if the reception is all right, the roaming charges for such a image-heavy page will be murder).

Oct 042011
 

The annual chilifest in Tampere back in august was kind of underwhelming.

Apart from a gardener selling a wide variety of chilis, the stall were not so well-stocked.

The sole proper food proprietor had humongous lines.

And as a final insult, the advertised chipotle beer wasn’t really available. It trickled out of the keg at a speed of couple of pints per fifteen minutes, way too long to wait.

Picked up a set of seeds for next season, a couple of barbecue sauces, naga jolokia nuts and a jar of crabapple salsa.

However, even if the main event didn’t impress much – the absence of water in the river coursing through Tampere did. The dam is undergoing repairs, and the river has been temporarily run dry.

Tammerkoski dry

Sep 122011
 

I bought a couple of black truffles from KaDeWe in Berlin.

Truffle jar
Shorn trufflesAnd considered quite a few dishes to cook before settling on a risotto – a conglomeration of my mainstay recipe (a Jamie Oliver original from the Naked Chef) and a proposal pulled randomly with google. Surprisingly many offerings demanded truffle oil or other unavailable ingredients.

The truffles were surprisingly resilient to manipulation. Though the shell presented little opposition to a sharp knife. Sheared the two mushrooms into fingernail-sized chunks and mixed them into the mix once the rice had absorbed the glass of white wine as the first batch of liquid. The truffles were joined by champignons and shiitake, the taste was strong enough with just a couple of small fungi amongst half a pound of more common relatives.

The taste was indeed a mouthful, but not as exquisite as I wishfully thought. But certainly pleasant enough to warrant a replay.

Truffle risotto

May 202011
 

Jam in HarlemHarlem isn’t what it used to be.

In 1994 on my first visit to New York, the tourist bus driver stated that he isn’t going there on account of having been shot at the previous day. One and a half decades later the neighbourhood turned out to be pleasant and nice to walk around in.

This was indeed the first visit above the northern border of Central Park, and into Harlem proper.

Took the subway to the 125th street station, and walked eastward from there.

Apart from a certain very limited grunginess, ubiquitous street vendors, and a larger number of people just lounging around, the Harlem we saw wasn’t really that different from the other non-downtown areas.

Walked past the Apollo Theatre – where, it seems, most of the black cultural icons, once performed.

Ate at Sylvia’s – soul food said the advertisements, and soul food we got. The second chunk of catfish of the trip and a nicely chilled bottle of Sugar Hill, golden ale of Harlem.

Harlem street view

May 202011
 

Blue Smoke's ribs samplerIn addition to the Eataly, I’d earmarked another restaurant for a visit based on an article in GQ.

Blue Smoke is a multi-region barbecue restaurant.

They don’t constrain themselves to only one variant of barbecuing, but offer dishes and sauces from Kansas City, South Carolina, Texas and other gastronomically distinct regions.

The crispy chili cruster calamari was a good starter, but nothing truly special. The cephalopods were appropriately fresh, but the crust was not that spicy. The roasted lemon slice on top was an unexpected sight that fit the dish very well.

The main course, on the other hand, was anything but commonplace. Selected the ribs-sampler, which was indeed packed with products from three different regions. Spare ribs were juicy with thick and sweet Kansas-style sauce, the babyback ribs were definitely drier and packed a chili-infused punch, but the unexpected star of the show was the lone cow rib done Texas-style – salt/pepper/smoke were an awesome combination of taste on the biggest bone on the plate.

Compared to the ribs cavalcade, Minna’s beef brisket seemed almost pedestrian. But appearances were once again deceiving – the slow cooked beef was an impressive dish on its own, and the mashed potatoes/onions-side played with the meat perfectly.

Blue Smoke’s take on Key Lime Pie was sadly imperfect, it was served a few degrees too cold and stiff, and the thick crust didn’t really improve matters.

Hence, it was time to experiment with a second round of desserts. Liquid ones, since there was no room for anything else. Both the blood orange margarita and the Clooney Cobbler (fronting rosemary) settled the huge meal down well, and were a perfect capstone for the final dinner in New York.

The restaurant’s shop had run out of the Kansas City style sauce, so the only things that we came out with were a can of their dry rub and a block of chili chocolate.

Key Lime Pie

May 192011
 

Ethiopian lunchFinally discovered a trustworthy, not very busy and pleasant bagel shop. Times Square Bagel was just a couple of blocks away from the hotel, and their selection of bagels and topping was large enough without resorting to bogus exotics. As a bonus, they stock Pom-juice, finally got to taste what the raved about pomegranate product is like (very strong in taste, would mix very well with soda water).

Lunch was Ethiopian style, up on the west side. Washa offered food in the traditional style, served on a soft bread that was also used as an utensil. Quite messy, a bit spicy and altogether nice experience. As an unexpected bonus the restaurant stocked bona fide Ethiopian beer, with a simple, lopsided label (of which I completely forgot to take pictures).

May 182011
 

Sunday morning was sunny and warm, just the kind of conditions appropriate for crossing the East River on Brooklyn Bridge.

Began with a semi-spontaneous breakfast with a bunch of Minna’s relatives, who we discovered a couple of blocks away. The first proper bagel breakfast of the trip, with only 50% too much cream cheese on the bread.

Took the subway train south, first to the South Street Seaport, where we aimed to score tickets for a Broadway show and avoid the crowds that plague the Times Square booth. The selection for Sunday night wasn’t very wide, but one of the interesting musicals, Rock of Ages, still had seats. Walked past the construction site of Freedom Tower, the building is impressively large already.

Visited the Abercrombie & Fitch store – less noisy and crowded than the shop on Fifth Avenue, but still an almost claustrophobic experience. After buyting the second piece of native american art, it was time for a breather. The second Heartland Brewery visited offered good beer and somewhat indifferent service. The already forgotten nearby mexican restaurant takes the first place in misplaced chutzpah – we were chased away from their empty (and huge) patio on the off chance that it would be filled up by brunchers. Never mind the late hour and total lack of interest shown.

Brooklyn Bridge

Arrival in Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Bridge was undergoing repairs, and for quite a chunk of the distance the walkways were narrower than usual. On a hot Sunday that created quite tight quarters occasionally. The view in both directions was expectedly gorgeous, and the bright blue skies complemented the scenery nicely. The bridge seemed to be very popular amongst orthodox jews, families upon families of black-clad folks were walking in both directions.

Upon landing in Brooklyn, elected to go left and visited DUMBO neighbourhood. It’s a strange mix of rapid gentrification (high end chocolate shops, restaurants) and waterside warehouses just waiting to be torn down.

Waited for a long while for the water taxi back to Manhattan, but one never arrived. The line to the neighboring Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory never got any shorter while waiting – the business was plainly booming on the warm day. The trundle to back to the closest subway station was longer than expected, and boringly enough the train took a tunnel across the river, so we missed the bridge view.

Dim SumWalked through Chinatown in search for a decent (and quick-ish) dinner. Found one at Dim Sum Go Go, where the list was long, the dishes plentiful and variable, Tsingtaos cold and service quick.

The same cannot be said of the first cab hailed on the street. Getting one took a long time – on account of many things, like suboptimal location, difficulty in determining which taxis are free and so on.

May 172011
 

Flatiron BuildingThe Saturday afternoon was spent in a brand new direction, south.

Walked down to the Union Square, stopping in a couple of interesting shops along the way.

Eataly is a humongous italian store / restaurant. The acres of shelves were packed with authentic italian wares (including a score of Italian beers I’d never seen anywhere). The attached picture is just a small slice of the cheese section, both Italian and small batch American cheeses were available in huge numbers. The restaurant side of the establishment turned out to be a selection of restaurants: one for fish, one for pasta/pizza, one for antipasti and so on. Decided pretty much on the spot that this would be the place for dinner.

Picked up the coolest socks ever at Paul Smith (finally took the plunge) and a heavy knocker at Anthropologie (a shop that can’t make up its mind what it actually sells).

Union Square was hosting a farmers’ market, figured that there’s still room in the spare shoes for a couple of small jam jars. The selection was great, and this would be a regular haunt if I ever spent any extended time in the city.

On account of Borders filing for bankruptcy, the amount of bookstores has gone down. The large Barnes & Noble on Union Square served to sate the need to buy a couple of new books (some on purpose, some out of the blue). Even if the selection of books was large and reasonably priced, the music/dvd-section of the store seemed to be rather expensive. But pleasantly large nonetheless, I debated the purchase of a couple of Criterion Collection films, but finally decided that there’s enough stuff to take back home already.

Eataly cheesemongerWalked back uptown on the Fifth Avenue and indeed ate at Eataly. Managed to get a table with only a half an hour’s wait – the queue extended a lot in the meantime, and by the time we were actually walked to the table, the wait was hovering around 75 minutes. The food was worth the wait. And the wait wasn’t even too bad, since we picked up nice refreshing proseccos from the wine bar. Settled on a cheese platter for appetizer and pasta for the main course, even if the pizza selection was amazing as well. Had linguini with vongole, and Minna chose spaghetti with spring onions (or relatives thereof, actually). The service was once again just right – informative without being pushy.

May 162011
 

CheesesteakThe twin halls of Independence and Constitution were within easy walking distance of the hotel.

On account of the late hour, most of the attractions were closed, but got good tips on getting inside the actual Independence Hall the next day: arrive early, the free tickets are given out in fifo-order.

Walked past the Liberty Bell building and snapped a few photos. Probably good enough to avoid a later visit altogether (I paid my dues half a decade ago – getting subjected to the tightest scrutiny thus far).

Ate at Campo’s, a classic cheesesteak joint in the old town. Chose the version with the works, mushrooms and peppers in addition to the traditionl combination of meat, cheez-wiz and onions. The almost overstuffed sandwich was at times hard to eat. Also had the first local beers: Yards Brawler and PPA (Philadelphia Pale Ale) were an excellent companion to the greasy dish.

As it had started to rain, just had to nip into a neighbordhood bar to tide over the drizzle. The service at Continental was impeccable, attentive and informative, just the thing that 24% tips are made of.

Finished the walk with a molten chocolate cake atop the hotel, the restaurant offered a decent view, a great dessert and an enjoyable sports-discussion with the bartender.

Constitution Hall

May 152011
 

Scallops, bacon, squash & leek Celebrated Minna’s birthday in the McCormick & Schmick seafood restaurant.

It’s been years since I visited one of theirs, and sadly the menu had evolved in the meantime.

The appetizers offered two previously unexplored ingredients: kobe beef and alligator. Both served minimalistically, both excellent dishes.

For the main course went for the previously reliable scallops. While the recipe had changed from its classic incarnation (artichoke and bacon), but version 2.0 was almost as good. The delicious molluscs were offered with bacon, squash and leek. The scallops were cooked to perfection: crusty on the outside, juicy on the inside. The squash (or pumpkin) was a sweet accompaniment to the slightly salty bacon, and both were balanced nicely by the tart leek.

The second casualty on the menu was key lime pie among the desserts. The classic was off the selection, and had to resort to alternatives. Blueberry Crème brûlée and an upside down apple pie. Both were worthy finishes to a great meal indeed, but not the classics the Florida pie is.

Applepie

May 072011
 

The dinner consisted of Maryland crabs, of which I had heard a lot about beforehand.

The crustaceans were big and quite easy to open and eat. And considering that the amount of meat is vastly bigger than in domestic crayfish, the meal actually didn’t consume more energy than it provided.

The crabs were purchased pre-cooked, steamed in plentiful Old Bay spice. That’s what the brown gunk is in the images.

Accompanied by Coors Light, the couple of crabs went down well, and I managed not to explode any with careless mallet hits nor otherwise misbehave too bad.

Maryland crabs

May 062011
 

The first three nights of the trip were spent in an awesome log cabin in Finksburg, Maryland.

The quasi-huntinglodge is owned by Minna’s friends, and they were gracious to let us crash there for the first few days.

The house is somewhat deep in the woods – deer, raccoons, coyotes and other critters were common guests in the yard.

Moores' house

Rockfish & crabmeatThe ride from Dulles to the house on Friday took more than twice the usual length. The scenery on the Beltway got to be rather boring in the three hours it took to cross into Maryland.

First night’s dinner was seafood, as is appropriate to the state on the Chesapeake Bay. Parks Landing, the restaurant of choice, didn’t look much on the outside, but served a great dish of rockfish. The meal kicked off with stuffed potato skins, another brand new dish. No MD-beers on the menu, but the Shock Top belgian white was a great start for the trip.

Apr 022011
 

Digital ChocolatierI was pretty sure MIT’s Cornucopia project is nothing but a well-executed prank (after all, the university is famous for them).

Even though the digital chocolatier looks nothing but a cool model whipped up just for yesterday, the long publication history of the project proves that it is a genuine kickstart of automated gastronomy.

Feb 062011
 

Tried out durian fruit last week when offered on a visit.

Had heard a lot about the fruit, and seen the multiple signs banning its public consuption in Malaysia and Singapore.

The piece of fruit was a frozen one, and thus the immediate hit of its pungent aroma was quite well-prevented from spreading by the plastic wrapper. But once it was removed, the multiply unpleasant stench invaded. It is hard to identify the smell uniquely, but it was nowhere near attractive.

The taste, on the other hand, was far more pleasant – kind of a watery mango with a strong hint of vanilla as a bonus.

Verdict: way better than expected, but not an experience to be repeated any time soon.

Feb 062011
 

Bison steak with bourbon sauce, corn, mushrooms and potatoesThe second gastronomic exploration of the year fell on a new animal to cook: bison.

The meat of the huge ungulate turned out well. It’s pleasantly gamey, minimally fat-marbled and easy to prepare on a wide frying pan.

The ready-made package contained two steaks, neither of them very large, and surprisingly disproportionate between them.

Cooked the sauce according to a recipe in the package: with cream and bourbon it’s hard to go wrong.

Served with corn on the cob, potatoes and a couple of kinds of mushrooms.

Verdict: will return, at least in summertime with the Weber grill and will definitely try to buy bigger chunks of meat.

Feb 012011
 

Finally had some retail therapy in Berlin. Been there some half a dozen time without a decent chance to engage in any shopping apart from Tegel’s offerings on the backswing.

The city was packed with tourists, the Berlin fashion week raised room prices and forced us away from the traditional accommodations. Sadly, no supermodels materialized in the hotel bar.

Mercure on Invalidenstraße provided easy access to Dussmann’s multi-floored media emporium a couple of blocks away. Picked up a couple of limited edition Peanuts Moleskines (sadly the store had sold out of the Pacman notebooks), a couple of cheap cds and a thorough exploration of macro photography.

KaDeWe’s grocery floor is as amazing as it was 18 months ago. Plenty of good cheese (survived the fridgeless night intact), chocolate (pomegranate and hot chili) and a single black truffle (#3 on the gastronomic explorations, coming up).

Jan 302011
 

The “see a movie and a gig once a month” new year’s resolution evolved into a culinaristic theme this year. Each month (at least on average, if not chronologically) should see a trial run on a new ingredient or a method of food preparation.

The first exploration was a doubleheader: we set out to try out both an ingredient and a method in one sunday afternoon.

The new thing on the plate was a duck breast. Which turned out quite good and wasn’t at all a complicated item to prepare. Bought the piece of fowl at Stockmann’s, frozen, and chose the recipe from Helsingin Sanomat. Duck contains a lot of fat to say the least, and as such the frying of it didn’t require any extra oil on the pan. The duck required quite a bit more time in the oven to get well-done than the recipe indicated – might have been a big bird or an undershooting guide in the recipe. The red wine sauce was oilier and not thoroughly mixed, clearly some failure in execution. Fortunately the taste in either of the main subjects didn’t leave anything to be desired – will definitely try out duck again. And the accompanying dish (multiple mushrooms and pine nuts) ended up getting a repeat within a week, the nuts complement the shiitake mushrooms very well indeed.

The dessert was a chocolate soufflé. Which is, according to wikipedia: “a light, fluffy cake”. Which is exactly what the dish ended up being – well-tasting, but not exactly as pretty as the picture in the original recipe (from Olivia-magazine, as far as I know). Took the long route in preparing the dessert: the cups with dough were deposited in the freezer for 18 hours before baking them. Messed up egg-whipping, they did not acquire the required consistency but remained in mostly liquid form. The culprit was the sugar added too early, on a rebound (with the sugar pured into the whipped eggs) everything went just fine. The dessert turned indeed good, and with the opportunity to explore a lot more ingredients, the official soufflé cups will see plenty of use in the future as well.

Final verdict was definitely positive, and the practice shall this continue with new elements throughout the year.

No pictures, sadly, the later explorations ought to have visual proof of at least the results, if not the progress. Hence the beautiful picture of a souffle is nabbed off flickr instead.

And even if the move to Nöykkiö bit the head off the traditional resolution, I’m definitely looking forward to movies and concerts on a regular schedule as well.