An Evening at Opal...

I write this post on my humble blog with a little bit of hesitation and mixed emotions(at risk of offending a friend) and yet a desire to promote the new stylish and Asian-perfumed eaterie on top of Queen Anne in Seattle. The hesitation stems from a long time working relationship, as well as friendship with one of the chefs; Tyler Hefford-Anderson. Tyler and I have known and worked together for almost 10 years at the Rainier Club and is one of the most passionate chefs I know and have worked with. It is a great pleasure to see him open this place as one of the "co-chef's" along with Andy Leonard, of this newly opened upscale restaurant named Opal. Although I missed the opening night, hell the opening week, I had it in my mind to pay homage and a visit to him and his team to come support and sample the grub. So mum's day it was, my wife, two boys and I, welcomed in around 5pm to experience what the fruits of Tyler's labor, both the many years at the RC and the couple of months in anticipation of it's opening, would entail. We were seated by who was dubbed later as the "dining room manager", and greeted almost instantly by our server...a kind, young man seemingly eager to be our friend in a "hey-dude" kind of way. We looked over the menu, which to no surprise, sported many nuances and parts and pieces, if not one in particular whole dish, of the menus developed at the club. No worries. If there is one person who I feel deserves to be able to pull some things from my menus it is Tyler, for he paid his dues! He learned the dishes and techniques. He was in the trenches day after day, night after night working and cooking those ingredients and all the while, becoming what I had been dishing out so-to-speak. He was a product of my environment to some degree. It is an honor to see him step up to the stage and perform. As we perused the smaller bites and larger bites sides of the menu, we found ourselves gravitating towards the smaller ones. The dishes on the larger bites just did not have quite the cache that the smaller ones did, yet although sounding tasty, I simply wanted to taste a handful of bites, rather than fill up on a single entree. After maybe 15-20 minutes of chatting with the server and bartender about drinks and such, we ordered some smaller bites. Tyler had then come out to say hi. It was a pleasure to see him in all of his glory. I was proud. I was happy for him to see everything come together. Here I was...sitting at the table and now he was cooking for me. I felt very nostalgic of old times spent in the kitchen together, working until the wee hours of the morning on some damn project or another. Good times. Unfortunately, here is where things took a bit of a turn for me. It took almost 30 minutes for the appetizers. Yes, we were brought an "amuse" of Smoked Paprika Popcorn, laced with Truffle Oil. That was fun. Ok, we were graciously embraced with a small demitasse of Lobster Bisque, made "Cappuccino Style" as a gesture of good luck and patronage. And although tasty, and the fact that I am in the business and am totally aware of new openings and the challenges they possess and what the staff will face,... still. A bit long. Enter the first courses. I had to try the one dish that serves as almost, hell it is my most signature dish...Scallop & Foie Gras Martini. Now, I do admit that Tyler did not serve it "Martini Style", and even if he did, oh well. As I mentioned, he deserves to be able to since he was right at my side when I created it. Luscious Foie Gras and Diver Sea Scallop nestled on top of a bed of creamy Mashed Potato and laced with a drizzle of 50 year-old Balsamic Condiment and swimming in a bath of foie Gras Nage. At least he told me he was going to do it! We were also served a nice dish of braised Pork Belly with Apples, and a rich Cuisson. Very tasty and flavorful. A bit large though in my mind for the smaller bites. Don't take it off Tyler! A wild Green Salad with various accompaniments followed. Simple and done well. A nice, tasty dish of Louisiana Shrimp studded with Olives, Tomatoes, Herbs and Olive Oil was rich and savory as well. A hearty flavor profile that fitted well as our prelude for an entree. I had ordered a couple dishes for my kids...Trofie and Cheese(hoping they would not notice the difference between their counterpart. Fat chance.) I was expecting it to arrive with the apps, or at least slightly afterwards. Not yet. We have our smaller bites cleared and are offered entrees. I was still looking hard at the smaller bites menu. 6pm. My wife ordered a Roasted breast of Free Range Chicken and a glass of white wine. The wine was finally served after having to ask the server about it 35 minutes later. He could have sold at least two! Now almost 7pm. The chicken was very tasty, just can't recall what it was served with? I ordered a roasted beet composure, made up of a short stack of gold and red beets, creamy raw cow's milk cheese, some greens and beet coulis. Fun, simple and elegant. The bummer was that it took almost an hour to get the larger plates. My kids pastas did come out as well, yet at that point, they had lost all interest in dining, as did my wife. I think the service had lost all touch with us. There were other "heads of state" that saw us sitting there and yet did nothing to notify our server that we were in dire need of attention. I kept apologizing for the situation to them, as I did not expect them to fully understand what it is all about to open a restaurant, but in the eyes of a normal customer, should they? Do they need to work in a restaurant to enjoy one? Or for that matter...be put through a uberlong sitting because we were friends of the chef? No. Simply unfair. After our entrees, my kids started to ask about going across the street to get a sweet snack at Starbucks. Shit...I almost killed them. Not that I was not in the same mindset, but I try not to support that corporate giant in favor of smaller, independently owned ones. Plus, I was sure not to leave without catching a succulent bite of the Dark Chocolate Sin, or so I think it was labeled...(aka my Chocolate Silk at the club). So, we forged ahead into dessert land. In my eyes, Tyler's strongest suit. My youngest being engulfed in his PB & J... a playful rendition that Tyler always has done a great job on. Peanut Butter Mousse, Jelly Granite, Fresh Marshmallows, a spiced Sponge and a little this and a little that for kicks. I did the silk with Stout Ice Cream. Rich and intoxicating as it should be. Nirvana and yet sinful at the same time. I gave it a hell yeah! We also sampled a Rhubarb studded sort of crisp with Green Tea Ice Cream. Very spring-like. As we peeked into the kitchen after the 3- hour tour, I was told by Tyler that we had not been given chocolates as customary to all diners and that he was a bit frustrated. Hmmm. Perhaps all that mishap on service explains the very lengthy conversation Tyler and I had well into the early morning hours. What are friends for? Tyler, and I know you are going to read this...I am proud of you and I thank you for your hospitality. It was great. I recommend the restaurant to all. It is a very nicely done space and quite cosy. You should be proud of yourself and all that you have accomplished in the kitchen and all the work you have put into the front of the house as well. I am sorry for any possible ruffled feathers for this posting, yet I know you know it is not personal and nothing you and I have not done to each other year after year in some form or another. That is what true sharing is all about in a good business relationship. I am anxious to return with friends and colleagues in tow. I only hope you are still the chef if you know what I mean! Keep the passion alive. Keep cooking!


Spring Ingredients...

After reading an excerpt obtained from the web about Ferran Adria's take on a few things that have come into their own in this new millenia, stating this and that about everything from molecular gastronomy to sensory enhancement to technology to elements of taste, one of the most provocative of the statements, albeit quite true and honest, was the topic of ingredients. Specifically...that unique, stellar and the most interesting and freshest of them are now taken for granted and more so...expected! In this day and age, when simply having fresh asparagus in spring is no longer the norm, but the expected, they tend to sort of fall out of the limelight that they once held. Now on one hand, it is great to see the evolution of our communities and customers tastes, education and expectations, which inevitably hold us as chefs to much greater and higher standards. Bravo for that! And yet, it is so expected at times and in places that the only left it seems, is to alter it, if even by chemically or molecular done practices. I do agree and support the notion that this forward movement is driving out the mediocrity, poor sourcing, substandard quality and commonplace methods of operation in restaurants just to make a higher profit margin for some ignorant cat who is more concerned about making payments on his or her Mercedes than giving good product, and is most likely in bed with the large volume brokers, huge corporate suppliers or perhaps...just simply does not give a shit or know any better. Touche! For those that know me, I am one that definitely supports high quality products, locally foraged and found ingredients, fauna from the best of humane breeders and ranchers and ecosystem-friendly harvested sea life. The list goes on. I have built my reputation and career on purity. Extreme high quality. Hell, I have been spoiled in many circumstances with the best of products and resources, and am probably preaching to the choir. I am fortunate that I am able to perfect and present my craft to those discerning diners who enjoy, and yes, expect great products in which I provide for them. It pushes me to do even better. And yes, I do at times become over-analytical about the products in order to "create something new" out of them at the expense of the naturalness of itself. I am a victim and a proponent. So...as I ramble on about this, know that I am on the same page of this and will continue to do my part to help the cause, support the calibre of ingredients to weed out the piss-poor mates who give the rest of us cooks a bad name and to always maintain what I can to make the farmer-chef connection a sustainable one. But I do offer you this...we can not let the simple thought of the freshest of ingredients become mundane or un-important, if even by nature of habit, as it can tend to be when everything becomes no longer special due to overindulgence. We can not lose sight of and continue to appreciate the very nature of what sparked the topic. The beautiful thing that nature brings us...the ingredient. What does this mean??? Probably nothing more than just the statement and observation itself. Am I saying that we should not strive to promote the best of ingredients in fear that they will not be special sometime in the future? No. Just saying to think about it. Information to our clientele is paramount and the more we communicate to them about what we are doing, the more in touch they will become with our practices and ingredients. In the long run to me, it is far better to have the best product taken for granted than to have shitty product with only a few instances of good ingredients be the norm. The article also mirrored the use of high-tech equipment and very sophisticated techniques as the same, but that is another post! Enjoy the ingredients brought to us from the Chef's Garden!


A Tribute to Spring...05.11.07

And yet another compilation of tastes from the Rainier Club atelier...at least one thing is certain~ Spring is here! Tonight was no exception. The ingredients stellar. The vibe cool. The cooks...on top of their game. The group, some newbies from the "outside", tracked down by the vast space of internetness, all I can say is hell yeah! It was, as luck would have it, another surprise birthday, planned for the hosts' wife. Not in a freakin hundred years would she have expected to come to the mansion of 4th Avenue, but low and behold, here was this secretive and almost elusive culinary hideaway, nestled amongst the skyscrapers and condos sporting a stylish kitchen with some of the greatest foodstuffs awaiting. Enter the menu...Below are some of the tastes we shared with this group of foodies, brought in from Chicago, Germany, Texas and from where-else I have no clue. Who cares...this was a great opp to turn some new peeps on to our cooking and craft, and that we did! What made it even more exciting for us the finding of more foodies who enjoy non-alcoholic pairings with the menu. And so it was...A Tribute to Spring!

Maine Lobster & Tapioca Salad, Ugli Filaments, American Sturgeon Caviar
and Passion Fruit lacing
Salmon Candy Ice Cream Cone, Nigella Wafer
Hudson Valley Foie Gras Torchon
Rhubarb Confit, Gastrique, Roasted Asian Pear Puree, Truffled Apricot Conserve
Scrambled Duck Eggs with Truffles
Wild Green French & White Asparagus, Purple Asparagus Salad, White Asparagus Ice Cream
50 year-old Balsamic Condiment and Micro Burgundy Amaranth
Pan Roasted Atlantic Monkfish
Roasted Porcini Mushrooms, Peas, Fava Beans, Green Garlic
Pickled Cipolline Onion Jus and Cardamom Leaf Emulsion
Kumquats, Agro Dolce, Black Pepper, Lemon Verbena Foam
Heather Honey Lacquered Squab
Morels, Demi Thumbelina Carrots, Red Ribbon Sorrel
and Bayley-Hazen Bleu in a Smoked Valrhona Essence
Coffee Crusted Loin of Lamb
Artisan White Grits, Artichokes, Umbrian Truffles, Abalone Mushrooms
Dark Chocolate, Blood Oranges and Malted-Coffee Ice Cream
Huckleberry Brulee
Meyer Lemon tart, Oven Dried Strawberries, Blackberry Sherbet
Key Lime Bavarois, Coconut, Roasted Pineapple
Blackberry Pates de Fruits, Fennel Meringues, Chocolate Dipped Linzer Bites
and for the non-alcoholic pairings...
Sparkling Pear Cider
Kumquat Dry Soda
Navarro Gewurztraminer
Pu-erh Truffle-Cepe "Chai" Tea
Navarro Pinot Noir Grape Juice
Valrhona Manjari Infused Milk

A Menu for a Friend...

Jason Wilson...the owner and well known chef(Food & Wine Best Chef 2006) of the "extremely popular for the hipster crowd" eatery~ CRUSH in Seattle, got a tre-cool surprise, masterminded by his lovely bride; Nicole, in celebration of his 30-something birthday at the end of last month. Jason and I seem to share in our birthday celebrations as I totally enjoy going to Crush for mine! I had the great excitement and completely surprised privilege to celebrate my 40th there! Awesome is the only close word that describes it. I enjoy cooking for Jason and Nicole, as I do for many great chefs. It is a privilege and an honor. In my humbleness of culinary life, it is times like this that make me feel good about what I do. If in some small minuscule way, a certain nuance of my craft rubs off on someone like Jason, which inspires them to perform in shades of greatness and they become a better cuisinier, then I have done my part. In short, if it even makes them think and contemplate cooking as a whole and perhaps provokes a thought about self-betterment, then, and only then, can I feel complete with my own self. Sure, I can make a good sauce or piece of fish, soup or dessert, but I have always felt that the true test lies in how one can inspire, coach, mentor and get others to push the boundaries is the real test. I am only too fortunate to have this great chef as friend! Thanks Jason and Nicole for being you. So... as a tribute to you both and your special birthday, here is the menu...
Salmon Candy Ice Cream, Shiitake Dust, Trout Roe
Maine Lobster Omelet, Ugli Fruit, American Sturgeon Caviar, Tomato-Chili Meringue
Hot & Cold Foie Gras...
Chilled Torchon, Pickled Ramps, Truffled Apricot Conserves, 50 year Balsamic
Seared Pave, Rhubarb Emince, Rhubarb Gastrique, Sabre Crumble, Onion Jus
White Asparagus Salad, Morels, Asparagus Custard, Truffle Oil
House Cured Duck Prosciutto and PX Reduction
Grilled Hawaiian Swordfish, Peas, Abalone Mushrooms, Lentil-Bacon Salpicon
Bottarga and Sorrel Milk
Rhubarb-Rose Gelee, Yogurt Foam, Apple, Nigella
Roasted Saddle of Rabbit
Mostarda, Fava Beans, Corn-Garlic Nage, Kidneys, Pine Nut Oil Emulsion
Seared Squab & Sauteed Scallop "Club Sandwich"
Demi Carrots, Ramp Greens, Smoked Valrhona Essence
Ahi Tuna & Foie Gras "Lollipop", Crispy Shallots, Root Beer Syrup and Pistachio Oil
"Spring Flavors"
White Asparagus Ice Cream, Olive Oil Gelato and Meyer Lemoncello
Jasper Hills Constant Bliss, Plums, Walnuts, Verjus-Blackberry Honey "Caramel"
"White Gazpacho"
Pedro Ximenez Ice, Melted Grapes, Marcona Almond Brulee, Shaved Toast
and Smoked Paprika Syrup
Pineapple Cups, Brazil Nut Sponge, Caramel, White Chocolate
Praline Chocolate Silk, Salted Chocolate Caramel, Malted Milk Chocolate Shake
Special Chocolates from France
When it was all said and done...it was definitely worth taking your shirt off for! ...inside joke