Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"Restaurant Hopping" at Home

I had another fun weekend of “restaurant hopping,” one of my favorite things to do. However, it wasn’t in the City but in my own kitchen where, for both days, I prepared dishes from Spice Market, the Union Square Café, Vong and Le Bernardin. I also enjoyed them without having to get dressed up or travel anywhere. Consequently, I had to wash pots and pans and load the dishwasher.

On Saturday, I made two of the dishes served at Spice Market that were featured in Jean-Georges’ new cookbook, Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges: “Black Pepper Crab Dumplings” and “Lime Noodles with Vegetables, Basil, and Sesame.” I also prepared the “Grilled Marinated Fillet Mignon of Tuna.” This is one of the most popular dishes served at the Union Square Café since the restaurant opened in 1985. The recipe was from Danny Meyer’s and Michael Romano’s cookbook, The Union Square Cookbook. Typically, I make three courses per meal (no dessert).

Since my friend bought over two pounds of tuna on Saturday (two pounds for two people), I would have one pound left over for Sunday. NOTE: Whenever an Italian goes food shopping—they always overbuy. Also, my request to “pick up ½ pound of shrimp” turned into a pound of jumbo shrimp being delivered—again just for two people.

Anyway, on Saturday, I started by making the marinade for one pound of the tuna which I cut into two 3” by 3” squares and placed it all into the fridge. Then I made the crab dumplings. I prepared the crab mixture for the filling, which was a béchamel sauce folded into the crabmeat—quite different from any other crab dumplings that I’ve ever made (or have eaten). I filled the mixture into store-bought wonton wrappers using my new dumpling press for the first time. The press makes preparing dumplings a snap (literally). I also made the spicy, black-pepper oil and a sweet-soy reduction sauce to accompany the dumplings. Both complimented the creaminess of the crab filling.

The lime noodles were also fun to make and were very good to eat. The recipe consisted of making a simple lime syrup (fresh lime juice and sugar) and putting together a “pesto” which consisted of fresh basil, fresh mint, garlic, grape seed oil, and toasted white sesame seeds. I softened dried ¼-inch wide rice noodles in warm water, boiled, drained, and then sautéed them in butter and the lime syrup. The pesto was then folded into the warm rice noodles and everything was mixed together. I shredded carrots, shredded parsnips, thinly sliced raw red peppers and shredded broccoli stems as a combination of vegetables for the noodles, which I garnished with toasted sesame seeds. A crisp glass of Beringer Sauvignon Blanc complimented the spicy, sweet, creamy flavors of both dishes—which were served together, a la’ Spice Market style. Having dined at Spice Market, both dishes tasted identical to the restaurant.

The next dish was the Union Square Café tuna. I had marinated the fish in a combination of sherry, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, fresh ginger, scallions, garlic, cayenne, black pepper and lemon juice for more than three hours. After removing from the fridge, the fish was brought to room temperature, which I then added to a very hot grill pan for about 30 seconds per side, cooking it to perfection (we like our tuna very rare). For plating, I placed several pieces of pickled ginger on the top of each piece of tuna and served soy sauce as an accompaniment for dipping. Louis Jourdan St. Georges red burgundy wine went well with the fish. (Okay, it’s not a white, but does it matter?)

After dinner (and loading the dishwasher) it was time for a martini and a Monte Cristo cigar. That was Saturday.

On Sunday, another day of cooking, I “visited” Vong and Le Bernardin.
Recently, I started a tradition of making a soup every Sunday and wanted to keep the Asian theme going on, so I opted for a soup from Vong and one that I’ve made several times before, “Chicken With Coconut Milk Soup.” I used the one-pound of jumbo shrimp to make a “Shrimp and Bean Sprout Salad,” which was another Vong recipe featured in one of my older cookbooks, Superchefs by Karen Gantz Zahler, about New York City restaurants. And since I had to make another tuna dish to use up the one-pound of tuna left-over from Saturday, I decided to make the “Seared Tuna With Sichuan Pepper and Soy-Mustard Sauce” as the entrée, another Vong dish from the Asian Flavors book.

First, I made the soup, which was a combination of minced garlic, minced ginger, red curry paste, kaffir lime leaves, nam pla (fish sauce) and fresh lemon grass, all combined and cooked in an organic free range chicken broth purchased from the Whole Foods Market (I “cheat” with the broths). I altered the recipe a little by pounding the chicken with a mallet to tenderize it a bit more. After I added the chicken to the broth and it was cooked through, I added the coconut milk and chopped cilantro and fresh lime juice. This soup always tastes better after it sits for a while, or better yet, a day or two.

Next, I prepared the salad. I peeled, washed, dried and sautéed the shrimp. When done, I placed them on a bed of sliced chanterelle mushrooms layered in a light cream citrus sauce, which I made using light yogurt, cream and fresh lemon juice. The vinaigrette that I made consisted of fresh garlic, ginger, nam pla (fish sauce), soy sauce and scallions. I tossed this with the bean sprouts and placed the mixture on top of the shrimp and mushrooms. I used sliced cilantro as a garnish.

Cutting the Tuna into perfect 3” by 3” squares for the Sichuan dish yielded a lot of scraps (Additionally, I had “scraps” left over from the day-before dish which had to be cut into perfect squares, as well). I did not want to discard the remnants of tuna that cost $24 per pound, so I figured a “tartar” would work well and put together a fourth “dish.” I made the “Asian Tuna Tartar” from Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin cookbook, another “favorite” of mine (the recipe, the chef and the restaurant, that is!). I minced the leftover tuna scraps and combined them with fresh coriander, diced jalapeno, wasabi powder, sesame seeds, finely diced scallion, lemon juice and sea salt. I then placed the mixture into a round mold and served it as an appetizer before the soup.

Finally, I rolled the tuna squares in the Sichuan spices and let them rest until reaching room temperature until ready for the (hot) pan. First, I cooked the tuna about one minute on one side and then 30 seconds on all other sides. Again, the fish was done to perfection (two days in a row!) I prepared the soy-mustard sauce using Dijon mustard, soy sauce, minced ginger, shallots, lime juice and grape seed oil. I drizzled the sauce around the tuna, which I served sliced on a nest of alfalfa sprouts. A bottle of Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc wine was the perfect accompaniment to the fish. Remember, the day before we enjoyed a red wine with the tuna prepared a different way. Ah…the beauty of tuna.
At last, it was time for coffee, chocolate truffles (that were purchased as a “treat”), and a good cigar. Sunday’s over and it’s time to start getting ready for the week. Uh oh – have to clean up first. Check, please? No. Not here. Have to load the dishwasher.

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