Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Before the food arrived, servers kept pushing our glasses and silverware way off to edges of the table. "The space is very important!" We had booked a dinner reservation at Restaurante Carosel in Valencia, Spain, based on a mention in a New York Times article, "36 Hours-Valencia, Spain" (January 2011).
Four of us arrived at 9, and the place was not only empty, but the staff were still hanging about and not ready to work yet. The Spanish eat very very late. We tried to plan to eat late, but apparently, not late enough for a Saturday.
The space is modern and sparse, in a simplistic and Scandinavian kind of way. White and wood are used liberally. Symmetry and clean lines make the small restaurant feel wide open. It's spacious, not cozy, and concrete floors give an almost warehouse feel.
Carosel has no menus. Well, a simple paper menu of the day hangs in the window, but it's barely visible. I didn't even notice it until we were leaving. For the food, it was a mere 22 euros each. Given the copious food and drink included with the meal, it's an amazing value. There is a wine list, so we started with a bottle of Cava. That's when "the space" became important.
Two or three times at least, someone checked on the table and scooted all our glasses and silverware to the edges. After 20 or 30 minutes of sipping sparkling wine and loosening up in a deserted restaurant, our waitress heaved an enormous platter of food on a wood pedestal to the table. It barely fit.
Since there's no menu, you don't have to decide what you want to start. Carosel just gives you everything. On our starter tray that night, we saw X dishes:
1. Pan con tomate, a classic and rustic Spanish food that is almost always offered. Ordinary slices of bread are brushed lightly with the juices of crushed tomatoes. For sentimentality, I like this dish a lot. When I'm eating it, it means I'm in Spain. But for taste, it is totally bland. The bread is never warm. There's no salt. But it's customary.
2. Gazpacho. Bright orange and served in a milk jug, with shot glasses on the side, Carosel's gazpacho looked odd. It was slightly creamy, but beautifully strained. It tasted strongly of cucumber, refreshing and cleansing, while being easy on the tongue. I loved it.
3. Tomato and onion salad. Another star winner, served in wide-mouth whiskey glasses. Sweet roasted slices of onion contrasted with slightly acidic tomatoes bathed in a light balsamic vinegar, with sesame seeds and maybe a drop of sesame oil. Toward the end of the meal, we debated whether this could have been the most impressive and delicious dish we ate that night.
4. Morcilla pinxchons (shown at the very top of this post). As much as I loved the tomato salad, the morcilla pinxchons, or Catalonian tapas served on slices of baguette, stole my heart. Morcila is another classic Spanish food, a blood sausage, often made with rice. Here, a round of morcilla topped a piece of bread, but then was stacked higher with grilled zucchini, a roasted cherry tomato, and a single, not-quite fiery, pimiento. A few flecks of salt made all the vegetables pop with flavor.
5. Mantequilla (butterfish). The fish is difficult to see in the photo, its low profile over shadowed by some of the more elaborately heightened foods, but it was spectacular. It was barely cooked, almost like ceviche, but it was a single piece rather than small cubes. A large but delicate leaf of dark lettuce came with each portion, which was decorated with diced vegetables and more vinegar-infused roasted onion slices.
6. Dark meat chicken strips. Made to look like fried clam strips, these bits of fried chicken dark meat came in tall paper cones, a seaside snack.
7. Mushroom croquette. The espresso mugs at the very right of the photo are holding golden, crisp mushroom croquettes. They were creamy and thick on the inside, a touch gluey, a touch heavy.
The only problem with this set-up is that by the time you eat your way to the croquettes, they are cold. It's a lot of food to serve at once.
For the main course, we had a choice: "meat or fish." What kind of meat, we asked. "Cow," (her English wasn't great), "for two persons."
Seeing as there were four of us, we ordered two fish and two meat. We weren't really sure what to expect for the beef, and I'm not always crazy about red meat. So when it arrived (shown below), I was relieved. The waitress clearly had confused the English words for cow and pig. This was pork. We pulled it apart with forks alone and slurped up little bites of juicy strands, then cracked off pieces of skin and caramelized sugars from the surface. When the waitress came back, we said, "Excuse me. Did you say this was beef or pork? It's pork, pig, right?"
"No. It's cow."
"What part of the cow? Where on the body?" I asked.
She hunched over and pointed toward her shoulder. "Here, but in the front."
Whatever the case, it was incredible, and very similar in color and texture to a pieces of slow-cooked pork. I can only guess it was veal and from the clavicle area of the animal. Veal can sometimes be white or pink in color.
At the end of the meal, the waitress brought out a mead-like house liquor. We drank two shots each to finish the small bottle. Then the waitress brought three different digestifs and just left them on the table.
All told, I think we paid 30 euros each for all that food, two bottles of wine, and complimentary digestifs. I'd go back in a heartbeat.
Taula de Canvis 6
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
I'm behind in blogging, but I have a number of really exciting things to talk about soon. Just give me a few more days to have the time to write about them intelligently.
Here's a shorthand list of things to expect very soon:
Here's a shorthand list of things to expect very soon:
- Pictures from Spain: A four-day visit to Barcelona and Valencia ended with Boyfriend saying, "I've eaten three of the top 10 meals of my life on this trip." I agree, though I disagree on what the meals were.
- Interviews with chefs: At my paid job, I've been interviewing some of the top chefs in the world about tools used in molecular gastronomy and modern cooking.
- Talk with Nathan Myhrvold: I had the very exciting and short notice opportunity to attend at a talk at the New York Academy of Sciences with Nathan Myhrvold about his new tome Modern Cuisine. Fascinating guy, self-funded project, revolutionary to food reference books.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
In this series, I've been posting about the recreational cooking course Fine Cooking 1 at the Institute for Culinary Education. Last week, I completed the fourth of five sessions that make up the class. Each session focuses on one technique. Class 1 was sauteing. Class 2 was roasting. Class 3 was braising. Class 4 was all about eggs.
Two foods that are utter simple and yet extremely difficult to cook right are rice and eggs. Rice takes ages to learn to do right, but you can master eggs if you're willing to forget everything your American mother taught you and cook eggs like the French.
My mother cooked eggs the way most Baby Boomer generation mothers did. She heated a pot of water, dropped in a couple of eggs with a thunk, and boiled the shit out of them.
Mom, I love you, but your hard-cooked eggs suck.
When protein reaches 170°F, it begins to toughen. When you drop cold eggs into rapidly boiling water and leave them for for 12 minutes, you'll get rubbery whites. You'll also get cracked shells and seeping goo because the small amount of air that's trapped inside the shell doesn't have time to ease out through the tiny pores in the shell, like it does when the temperature rises slowly. The air expands at a slower rate and it can escape. That's why you sometimes see little streams of bubbles emitting from gently simmering eggs. When the air expands too quickly, on the other hand, the shells pop from the force.
Boiling eggs also creates that stinky bluish-gray ring around the egg yolk. When you hard-cook eggs gently, you're much less likely to see, taste, or smell this sulfur.
We learned one of the way to hard-cook eggs in the shell in class this week, but I have another method that works just as well. Here they are:
1. ICE method of cooking eggs: Place cold eggs in a pot with enough cold water to cover them by three inches, plus a splash of vinegar. Turn on the flame, leave the pot uncovered, and the moment it reaches a boil, close the fire. Cover the pot and let the eggs steep for eight to 12 minutes. When they're done gently shake the pot until the shells crack a little, then transfer the eggs to a bowl of cold water. When cool, shell them.
2. Jill E Duffy's method of cooking eggs: Place cold eggs in a pot with enough cold water to cover them. Turn the heat on medium, and cover the pot, but only if you have a clear lid. When the water begins to boil, lower the heat so that the water is just above a simmer, and cook the eggs exactly three minutes—two-and-a-half if you're nervous. Immediately transfer the eggs to an ice bath. When cool, tap them on the counter all over to break the shells, then set them back in the ice water before trying to peel them.
You've got to try this method for yourself a few times, always using the same pot, same number of eggs, same burner, before you get it down. Everyone's results are going to vary, so you've got to try it before you know whether the eggs need more or less cooking time.
In this week's class, the menu contained so many eggs that by the end of the day, my tally for eggs consumed was up to seven.
- Omelet (any style; I did mine aux fines herbs with Gruyere and yellow peppers)
- French scrambled eggs on toasts (shown above, and incredibly rich and delicious)
- poached egg with red wine sauce on toast rounds brushed with garlic-infused clarified butter
- Niçoise salad with olive-oil poached tuna
- four varieties of soufflé: chocolate, lemon, orange and Grand Marnier, and banana (shown below).
While I did learn a few tricks in this class, it was once again largely things I have done before. I once went on a three-month soufflé kick. I made about a dozen tiny chocolate soufflés, two giant orange-sweet potato soufflés, a savory Gruyere asparagus one, and who can even remember what else. The point is: I'm well versed in the art of soufflés.
I've also done more than my fair share of egg-poaching, although I almost never have to do it at home because Boyfriend has also mastered the technique and likes to show off his skills. We poach eggs on average maybe twice a week.
The French scramble was new to me, and by god, it is something else. It's basically egg suspended in butter, cooked slowly over a baine-marie, and adorned with chives. It's exceedingly rich, and thus great as hor' derves.
We also made tuna confit (shown above, but not potted), which was a new technique for me, but not at all difficult. I wouldn't ever do this at home because of the expense, but you take a huge slab of tuna, cure it in salt in a colander over a bowl in the fridge (overnight if possible), then set it in a tight-fitting pan and cover it with olive oil. Add seasoning, like pepper flakes, lemon zest, thyme, and turn the heat on to the barest simmer you can hold. Let it poach until it's cooked through. Remove to a platter to cool. At this stage, we just ate it, but to "confit" it, pack the fish into clean jars and fill them with the cooking oil to cover. Spin the lids on tight, and this will last in the fridge for a month or two. You can make it shelf-stable by processing the cans, which will then keep for several months at room temperature.
Read other posts in this series:
Fine Cooking at the Institute of Culinary Education, New York (Background about the course)
Fine Cooking 1: Class 1 at ICE, New York
Fine Cooking 1: Class 2 at ICE, New York
Fine Cooking 1: Class 3 at ICE, New York
Fine Cooking 1: Class 4 at ICE, New York (that's the page you're on now...)
At the time of the course (early 2011), I missed class no. 5 and have been trying to make it up ever since. Whenever I do, I will post about it, but it's been several months and the availability seems pretty limited.