Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Matsugen NYC

My two friends and I decided to check out Matsugen during restaurant week.  It's a place I've been curious about since it opened and I love Japanese food so I was happy when it was suggested.

Most places only offer a set menu for restaurant week and that's ok for me.  Of course I would prefer if they offered their whole menu at a discount, then I would be more likely to come back.  Anyway, the food at Matsugen was ok but nothing incredibly special.  There are better places to go for AMAZING Japanese food at a much lower cost. Soba-Koh for example is one of the best kept secrets in NYC.  Shusssssh don't tell anyone.  Luckily it's a neighborhood place on 6th Street in the East Village that makes the best homemade soba and they offer a 5 course meal for $20 every night of the week before 7pm.  It's not a large place but you can get a table for 6..  I'll take humble sweet service any day to inconsistent service at what should be a polished restaurant any day.

At Matsugen the staff tried to simultaneously serve us two at a time.  That's fun and nice and everything but if you're going to do that at least make sure you're serving  the correct person. (not all of us ordered the set menu). Then somewhere toward the end of the meal our waitress came over and said she was leaving.  She informed us that her "friend" would take over. One of my friends looked at me and said her "friend"  whose her friend?  It was not clear to us whether there was even another wait person in the house. Possibly the management was sending staff home early. The least the waitress could have done was to introduce us to our new server because she never introduced us to her "friend".  Not that it mattered, because she never left.

Okay, onto the food.  We started off with fried soba, fun and tasty, and a bowl of edamame served family style. The second course was 2 pieces of tuna sashimi. Then we each received a plate with four bowls, spinach with a peanut type sauce, tofu skin, fried shrimp, and smoked uni with something jelly like. Next came the black cod served with vegetables. And finally the soba.  I ordered the cold soba (that was silly since it was cold outside but....) Usually when I've ordered cold soba it comes with the sauce on the side so you dip it in, this cold soba dish was pre-mixed. I should double check and see if Matsugen is closed on Mondays because on Tuesday nothing tasted particularly fresh; everything had that just taken out of the walk-in feel to it.

So, if you've got to try it go ahead but don't go out of your way. It's way over priced for what you get and the ingredients.  Though the set restaurant week meal was filling, you're better off going to Nobu Next Door or better yet, go to Soto in the East Village.

241 Church Street at Corner of Leonard
New York, NY 10013

212- 925-0202

Sourdough Pizza

Every Thanksgiving my brother and I take my nephew up to Yorktown Heights to visit my aunt and uncle, all their kids come and all the cousins get to hang out young and older. Many many times my uncle has offered to give me some of his sourdough starter.  He's been making sourdough bread, rolls, and pancakes with it for over 30 years.  I always declined because I always wanted to make my own.  Several years ago I had the perfect opportunity to make my own starter but I was careless and I didn't have time to use it.  That was unfortunate because I had made a wonderful starter from a variety of local organic fruit and organic flour that was ver lively. But this year I got off my high horse and asked my uncle for some of his.  Luckily he's a very generous man and since we were staying the night, he took it out showed me how to feed it and made copies of the original recipes and instructions that he haed.  In the morning h gave me a portion to take home.

Since Thanksgiving I've had the opportunity to make dozens of batches of pizza dough for some new friends. One of whom, Chris, who has built a wood fired brick pizza oven in his back yard.  Yeah, way to go Chris!!!! Now I had already conquered the task of making the best New York style pizza, imagine Famous Rays that really was great! Not only in a deck oven (I was working in a bakery at the time) but in my home oven as well.  I happen to be lucky enough to have a piece of composite oven floor in my oven at home.

Now my thoughts have moved on to thin crust and that chewy yummy flavor and texture of the type Una Pizza Napoletana is like.

In 2006 the New York Times published the piece Jim Layhey's no knead bread. Then at the beginning of 2009 Tasting Table did a piece on Jim Lahey's new restaurant Co.and published his recipe for his no knead Pizza Dough.  The no knead bread was fun and everyone was talking about it and trying it.  But the no knead pizza dough is amazing and pretty full proof at that.  The dough works in a wood fired pizza oven, at home on a pizza stone and even in an electric oven on a cookie sheet.  I've used various flours, and even more various toppings. I've added more flour and let it sit for 24 hours in the refrigerator.  And then I took a chance and made up a version for my sourdough starter. Each batch is tasty and unique depending on the flour and yeast used.  The dough is light and crisp and very consistent.

I am now researching various pizza dough recipes and I've discovered a plethera of information that slowly but surely I am putting to use.  Unfortunately as much as I love bread and dough and pizza, I can eat just so much on my own and I have to freeze the rest.  As my experimenting continues I will keep you updated.

Here's to a productive Happy New Year and eating lots of good food and making lots of great pizza!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Harvest Vine in Seattle

At Harvest Vine the Kitchen is the first things you see when you enter.  It’s surrounded by a copper bar where diners can watch the magic.  Make sure your companions don’t have any problems with steps as the dining room is down a dimly lit short staircase.

The cuisine is from the Basque region of Spain.  As they say on their website “Harvest Vine simply mirrors the philosophy of the Basque Country where its people are stewards of the land and sea and whose very lives are centered on the joys of the table.” Almost all of the produce and dairy products are certified organic.  The meats are all free range.  Chef Joseba is always looking for genuine Basque ingredients imported from Spain and France or grown here to his particular specifications.  The flavors and freshness of the dishes reflect his love of the food. This place is a must when you visit Seattle. The only downside is the service which is not consistent.  The staff is not very knowledgeable nor, well trained luckily they are pleasant.

We were a party of 6 and we shared all the food passing each plate around the table.  Each person taking a tasting plates worth so as to sample as many of the dishes as possible. When the food is great and the kitchen knows what they're doing the food comes out in the proper order so each dish compliments the next and the one prior.  The kitchen of Harvest Vine knows what they're doing. Yes of course sometimes you want another bite of of this or that and sometimes you're tempted to order seconds of a dish. But I must say I haven't been disappointed yet and neither have I left the table wanting one more bite.  In most cases I can't even consider dessert until hours later.  It's hard to imagine how full you can get taking one bite from here and another from there.  It's amazing how small bites can satisfy and fill you up.

To start us off we drank a 2008 Getariako Txalkolinado, Ulacia which is similar to a Vino Verde with a light effervescence. Then the food started coming out there were so many dishes I couldn't keep track and in some cases neither could the waiters. All the dishes come as small plates.  Each dish was beautifully done, nothing composed, just delicious. Along with the food we drank - a 2001 Castillo Labastida Rioja which was light and very soft and I liked this very much, not being the greatest lover of reds, it was delicious. A 2003 Son Bordils Negre was more tannic with more minerality light yet complex and I enjoyed that too. My favorites were the smoked trout with pickled greens, the duck ham, the delicate squash and the swiss chard.

An absolute must go to restaurant in Seattle. Don’t miss this gem.

The Harvest Vine
2701 East Madison
Bet Capitol Hill and Madison Park
Seattle, Wa 98122

7 nights a week 5pm-10pm
Reservations accepted
Private cellar dining available