Saturday, October 27, 2007

Celebrity Night at Memphis

Walk down a long alleyway between a Mexican restaurant and a cyber cafe on Hollywood Blvd and you will find Memphis restaurant. Memphis is housed in the last remaining Victorian in Hollywood, Jane's House, and experiencing the structure and the decor is certainly worth the visit even if the food was nothing to write home about. It has been a residence and a school educating the children of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. It was refurbished by Guy Miller, a friend of the original owners and in 2006 opened as Memphis.

The inside is decorated bordello-like in lots of red velvet, red flocked wallpaper, mirrors and crystal chandeliers. The many small rooms typical of Victorian homes make for interesting architecture for a restaurant. Lots of places to tuck away for a private cocktail, and separate rooms for celebratory dining.

Although the restaurant was far from crowded for a Friday evening, minor celebrities abounded. I typically do not pay attention to celebrity and rarely do I recognize one when I see one. However, being that the restaurant was quiet and the food was not outstanding, I thought it was notable. In the bar were several members of the Seinfeld cast. Upstairs in a semi-private dining room, Gabrielle Union was with a large group of friends and outside the restaurant we saw William Hung standing online to get in to a Halloween party with his mum! How cute!

I will just do a quick run down of the eatable but not memorable food we ordered and ate. I started with the tuna tartar. What used to be a delicacy on a menu has now become a standby. One can usually order this dish anywhere and get something fairly healthy and lite. Memphis' version was covered in a creamy sauce. Why? Just, why?

D started with the gumbo, which was tasty enough, but just ordinary.

As a main course I had the fried chicken. Now for me it is hard to go wrong with fried chicken. While I am not a fried food advocate by any means, fry me up some chicken and I am usually happy. I was surprised that, this being a Southern restaurant, the chicken pieces were limited to breasts. I expected a thigh, a wing or at the very least a drumstick. I always admire a chef who doesn't assume his patrons are afraid of the body parts of their meat.

The one sound endoresment they will get was for the martini. Due to the patio/nightclub/veranda setting outside the lounge area, it came oxymoronically in a plastic glass. However, it was the largest martini I have ever had in my life. Small multi-cellular organisms could do the back stroke in one of those suckers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Vegetables Rolled in Beef

I was inspired by one of my favorite bloggers to make this Japanese dish for supper last night. Tokyoastrogirl always makes such beautiful dishes, her presentation is elegant and I love the way she takes pictures of step by step preparation.

I am not tokyoastrogirl. I rarely use a recipe, and when I do I read it once and get rid of it. (Unless making something complicated or specific like Mom's oxtails.) So I read tokyo's recipe and got started.

First mistake: not going to an Asian market for the beef. The butcher at the local yuppy market, while stocking an excellent cut of filet, didn't grasp the concept of slicing the meat paper thin. I said I wanted it thin like for shabu shabu and he gave me a good stare. I knew when I took it out of the package the sheets were too thick, but looking at the ingredients in front of me, I knew I could not lose flavor wise.

My mis-en-place:

I plowed ahead. I blanched the carrots, green beans and asparagus separately in baths of water, mirin and soy sauce. I used the same bath for each veggie, so by the time the asparagus was done I had a lovely fragrant veggie broth. I tried to think of something to use it for, but knowing me I would have let it spoil or spill in the fridge before ever using it productively.

Next I rolled veggies in sheets of filet. I had to use lots and lots of visible toothpicks to make the roll stay put. It was unsightly, but I just knew it was going to be good, and what else would I have done with hose sheets of filet? Toss them? Not a chance, they were such beautiful little cutlets. I sauteed the weirdness in soy sauce, mirin, sake and I added a little sesame oil for good measure.

The smell was immense! Savoriness filled the air. The end result looked nowhere near as perfect as tokyostrogirl's, but I had a great time cooking while drinking a glass of William's Selyem 2004 Chardonnay, a thank you gift from our friend Jeff Z. at the Rosso wine store in Montrose.

I served the awkward rolls with big globs of wasabi mashed potatoes, seasoned with an eye-watering amount of wasabi. Too spicy, according to D, in just the right way. The flavor of both the beef and the veggies was just wonderful. I look forward to another stab at these sometime during the holidays. Very easy to make, colorful and healthy.

Thanks to tokyoastrogirl. She has inspired me to blog not just about eating out and traveling, but also about eating in!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

an experience not to be repeated

During my recent travels, I decided I wanted a special meal Japanese-style when in Tokyo. I wanted to try an upscale Izakaya. Based on reviews on websites such as Chowhounds, Travel & Leisure and TripAdvisor, I decided that Daidaiya was a desireable destination. Daidaya is hailed by many writers as a wondrous and modern Izakaya experience. Anya von Bremzen of Travel & Leisure states that Daidaiya is, "to a back-alley eating bar what Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao is to a community art center."

This seemed like a likely endorsement, so armed with a plethora of reviews that spoke of Daidaiya as an experience not to be missed, I took us there for something truly Japanese in the contemporary sense. Not just another sushi or udon bar.

Daidaiya in Shinjuku is in one of the common Tokyoite versions of a strip-mall. Tokyo being small and population dense, a strip mall in Tokyo runs veryically rather than horizontally. What looks from the outside like uber modern office buildings are often retail spaces. We took an elevator up many floors to the cavernous lobby of the restaurant. The friendly host showed us to a private booth created by hanging metal mesh curtains with banquette seating and a small table in the middle. It is a beautiful effect, but prevented people watching as the drinking Japanese salarymen and cuddling couples were all but hidden from view.

I think the main problem with the experience was being at a disadvantage linguistically. Tokyo is the first place I have visited where I did not speak, on at least some level of fluency. the language. Additionally, we were surprised to discover not as many people spoke English as we had expected. This might have been due in large part to the fact that we tend to steer clear of places intensely touristic. So, presented with a Japanese menu and a Japanese speaking waiter, we decided on the omakase menu, which was the only word I understood on the page. On to the food.

The first course was a lovely little soup, a clear broth with white dumplings floating in a small bowl. Upon tasting however, I would swear on my mother's homemade chicken broth that those dumplings were floating in nothing more than water. Pretty to look at and nearly entirely flavorless.

Next up were twin appetizer platters. Each platter contained the following: sponge cake, octopus salad (delicious), tiny whole fish grilled (pretty yummy), and what looked like a still live and completely raw squid.

When the waiter came to clear the plates my squid was hidden by a piece of spongecake. Poor fella! He deserved to be fried up calamari style in some neighborhood kitchen in Manhattan and served with a nice marinara.

The one course I thoroughly enjoyed was the tuna sashimi. Hard to ruin and perfect in it's simplicity.

Another tiny course I enjoyed was a very very small portion of asparagus on a rather large plate drenched in a miso based sauce. I could have eaten an entire platter of this, if I knew how I would have asked for more.

The most humorous course was the giant clam served in it's shell on a personal clay grill. The clam was raw and I assume was to be eaten slightly cooked by the little grill. But it was so huge the idea of eating it was just not plausible. My dining companion was slightly embarrassed that so much of his food was being sent back to the kitchen uneaten. He handled this by throwing the clam over the side of the booth where it landed on the lightbox hidden from view.

Clam overboard!

My one question about the meat course would be, what the hell? It looked like a small piece of excellent quaility beef sitting on a plate next to some dog poop. Despite my hunger, I was really unable to even sample the poop.

The one thing that got us through that meal was our innate ability to communicate our need for a steady stream alcohol. We ordered round after round of delicious cold sake. This was extraordinarily good sake, fresh and delicate but stood up nicely to the small amounts of food we managed to swallow. I am not sure how many bottles we drank, but at some point the waiter started laughing every time we ordered another round.

Despite the strange and not wonderful food, it was a truly enjoyable evening. We laughed til our sides ached and ended up bringing teriyaki mystery meat from a street vendor back to the hotel to assuage our hunger and stave off the inevitable hangover.