owlfish: (Fishy Circumstances)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:03pm on 01/11/2015 under ,
My sister tells me that telling jokes to earn one's treat for Halloween is a Des Moines thing. People in the DC area don't do it. Really?

[Poll #2026710]
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:02pm on 18/10/2015 under , ,
One of the highlights of going to the Chocolate Show today was a panel called "Judging the Judges".

The award winners of a raft of major chocolate awards were announced this weekend at the show; this panel was intended as a light-hearted way of letting some award-winning chocolatiers get their revenge by reviewing chocolate created by the people doing the judges. The confections were all created fairly last-minutely - not works of long love and labor the way the real competition's entries are.

I learned that chocolate competition judges
* recalibrate their palate periodically by tasting the same non-competition chocolate they started with and comparing their current tasting notes for it with what they noted at the start of the day
* they refresh their palate by eating little cubes of plain, unsalted polenta
* when judging the World Chocolate Awards, a jury has to taste and assess about 80 chocolates over about 8 hours, every day
* A judge I spoke with longed for salty foods at the end of a day of judging.

Particularly wonderful comments, by chocolatiers, assessing the real judges' creations:
* "This chocolate tastes like three things I put in my mouth by accident."
* "It's an idea. It should have stayed as an idea."
* Host: "What was your favorite part of this chocolate?" Chocolatier: "The polenta." (palate refresher afterward)
* Host: "What was your favorite chocolate from the tasting?" Chocolatier (likely the same one): "The breadstick."
* "This has a particular blandness which is hard to achieve." (an actual judge from the audience)
* An anti-Belgian chocolate chocolatier from Belgium: "We use Belgian chocolate for biscuits, not for production."

In an interesting moment of historicity, the session's host told us that Nutella originated as a Napoleonic war product. (Instead of the WWII product that it is.) There's a very long tradition of people assuming/arguing things are older than they actually are. It was nice to document one in the wild.
owlfish: (Feast)
For weeks, I'd been looking forward to eating at Dabbous, but they cancelled at the last minute, thanks to a gas leak. We already had childcare, so I did a quick search around for a different place to eat out. I was after something quite nice food-wise but not particularly formal; C was already out in London and dressed for a casual office day. And so we ended up at Theo Randall at the Intercontinental.

In no rush, we went along with the suggestion to start at the bar. The bar menu was an interesting one, but they were out of my first choice. My second choice was a fluffy marshmallow of a drink; on its own, that was fine, but alas, the dessert wine ended up being extremely similar.

Oh, the hazards of Italian food in Britain. Any menu which lists "primi" and "secondi" is one which raises my hopes that portions are thoughtfully small, enabling me to have lots of courses. The waitress cautioned that their portions were large. No antipasti for us, then. The little bits of bread which arrive are delicately soft and bode well for the rest of the meal.

I started with the linguine con aragosta, linguine with Dorset blue crab and chili. No, no parmesan for me, I am too inculturated into having no cheese with a pasta seafood dish. The crab meat is tender and tasty, a feat when paired with chili; but that's as high as the dish rises. The pasta is precisely al dente, which works for my linguine, but not for C's capelletti di vitello, which should be tender parcels without that bit of undercooked stiffness. They're fine. We've had better. By the standards of most of the meal, the pasta dishes were relatively pedestrian.

The secondi, on the other hand, are wonderful, delicate, rich, and intimidatingly enormous. My arrosta di faraone could easily have served both of us on its own. The best dish of the night, and I end up leaving a good half of the guinea fowl on my plate. ("Was something wrong?" is a painful query to receive for the evening's highlight!) C made slightly better inroads on his his costata di agnello. Even the side salad, a lovely array of colorful crunch, is quite substantial.

We loitered for a while and agreed to consider the dessert menu. I *want* to try out more of their offerings, but the secondo has made it difficult. We go with sorbet and ice cream. My peach sorbet is overly sweet. It's peach season, but this is a year-round dish, the richness of preserved fruit, not the refreshing juiciness of fresh peaches. It's heavy, and the accompanying marshmallow of the moscao d'asti adds more freshness than the peaches themselves have. C polishes off his chocolate-hazelnut ice cream, so it can't have been that bad.

I came away wistful. Should we have done the tasting menu after all? Is there any place in the UK which allows for consumption of both primi and secondi without food overdose? Should I never try another upscale Italian restaurant in the UK again, because I have spent too much time in Italy? For better or worse, I already have provisional plans to check out one of the Polpo family.

If I ever have reason to go back to Theo Randall's restaurant, I'd be inclined to gamble on the tasting menu, or just have meat and salad.
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 12:50pm on 13/08/2015 under ,
The phrase "bunfight" has been in avid use today, apropos of UK university Clearing, the process by which would-be university students go shopping for last-minute university paces, this year run on an unprecedented scale. (For example, in this THE article.)

I've assumed from long-casual reading that it meant "a conflict over something relatively trivial." But today's ubiquity prompted me to go digging a bit further.

The OED fails to mention this meaning, which briefly made me wonder if I had it all wrong.
bun-fight n. a jocular expression for a tea-party (cf. tea-fight n. at tea n. Compounds 3).
1928 R. Campbell Wayzgoose 7 It [the wayzgoose] combines the functions of a bun-fight, an Eisteddfod and an Olympic contest.

But it was baffling to think my friends were calling Clearing an expression of civility.

Collins does better with meaning #2 being "a petty squabble or argument".

More historical synonyms for bunfight in the tea party sense... )

A bun-fight Ngram: the rise of "bunfight", although without distinguishing between its senses.

Another person to briefly look at the subject observed the nineteenth-century terms "crumpet-scamble" and "muffin-worry" as synonyms for "bunfight", in the sense of "tea party".

It's not clear than anyone has bothered digging back to exactly where the argument meaning was first documented, but presumably it was post-'20s.
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 05:13pm on 07/07/2015 under ,
The first few times Grouting was sent forth from a child's birthday party with a slice of cake wrapped up in a paper napkin, I assumed it was an oversight. They'd forgotten to bring wax paper or tin foil or whatever for wrapping the slice of decorated sponge cake.

But no. Clearly this is ensconced tradition. With a single exception where the grandmother made sure we were all offered cake to eat at the birthday party itself, Grouting has consistently been sent away from her cohort's parties with cake wrapped in a paper napkin.

I knew about being sent off with slices of fruit cake from weddings, but fruit cake lasts in a way that sponge - especially iced sponge which sticks to paper napkins - does not. Marzipan holds up better than the frequently-encountered buttercream on birthday cakes.

This is a baffling tradition to someone who'd rather just eat the cake at the party when it's fresh. Unless a gift bag with bonus paper+cake is excavated promptly, it goes rapidly stale, and is already sticky. And it's really easy to forgot to do it promptly if, for whatever reason, one's offspring is not inclined to lead the way on doing so that particular day.

How long as this been a tradition in England or further afield? And WHY?
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 03:25pm on 09/04/2015 under , ,
One advantage of doing a formal celebration with a very small number of people is that, several years ago when it happened, we felt we choose a really nice restaurant for it. I was initially leaning towards Hibiscus: creative, high reviewed, private dining room. Only on further reflection, I started to think that Claude Bosi's cooking might be a little *too* creative to impose on my extended family. I wanted them to enjoy the meal a little less critically than the truly unexpected might permit.

In the intervening years, the restaurant has, from all accounts, only improved. Last year, Bosi bought the restaurant back from its backers, and with full oversight, has pushed the cuisine in new and interesting ways. It was very pleasant; but one of the first tidbits to arrive reaffirmed my certainty that we had made the right choice in going somewhere else for the wedding meal.

Arriving in dark wooden block holder, two svelte, crisp ice cream cones looked gentile, but were, in fact, revelatory. As introduced by our waiter, they held smooth, fairly delicate, light fois gras ice cream, with an underlying, hidden layer of blood orange jelly - gently tart, brilliantly, glowingly, red - filling the bottom of the cone, slowly oozing out through the small shatters of narrow cone. Creamy ice cream, sweetly tart orange. It was delicious.
owlfish: (Feast)
A post of [livejournal.com profile] desperance's on kumquats reminds me that I've been meaning to start writing about our meal at Hibiscus. I'll be writing this in likely-erratic installment. Thanks to Chaz, I'm starting with the cheese course.

The cheese course was a sumptuous lump of melted Mont d'Or cheese partially smeared across a plate, a modest quantity to keep us comfortable in the midst of the installments of a tasting menu. A little bit of well-cooked leek added nominal vegetative fattiness to the cheese's well-rounded unctuousness. Black truffle shavings were applied, as they were to many dishes, with unnecessary abandon and, oddly, more coarse texture than flavor.

But the leek and truffle played supporting roles. The thin slices of lightly candied kumquat were the real contrast to the Mont d'Or, their distinctive sharp bittersweetness assertively balancing the smooth richness.

It was an evocative moment for me, one which put me on the edge of tears, because kumquats - a fruit of which I am not especially fond, but can work well as a condiment - are the fruit which reminds me of Louise Noun.

My family were over at her apartment for a rare dinner there (my memory is that she didn't really like to cook), her amazing collection of artwork by female artists on the walls. I was probably a high schooler at the time. After the meal, she served a bowl of fruit for dessert, and I tried my first kumquat: small, hard, bitter. It was so small, I thought I surely could finish it, and did. It wasn't a particularly pleasant experience, although obviously I grateful for the introduction.

The bittersweetness though wasn't just from the fruit or the largely pleasant memories of that dinner. It's Louise herself. She said she would commit suicide when sufficient age incapacitated her to the extent that she was in danger of becoming more burden than benefit. And she did.

She was in her 90s, she lived an amazing, accomplished life, and she ended it on her own terms. It still took away from my mother one of her best friends, and from the rest us, a well-loved family friend. One aspect of her work lives on the Chrysalis Foundation, which works to help girls and women be safe, secure, and educated.

So that was the cheese course.
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 03:41pm on 15/01/2014 under , ,
High-end restaurants bring out the highest expectations and the worst of dismissive snark. Even running into that snark second-hand often puts me off discussing restaurants. (But it's annoyance with snark which inspires this post.) Because, you see, I really like to go to intensely creative, experimental, highly-recommended restaurants even if they are expensive. I don't do it all the time. It's a treat. It's a long-term hobby, if you will. It's an education. And it's a financial choice; other people are most welcome to choose to spend their money on things I don't. (I very much appreciate that I have the luxury of being able to make this choice.)

Alinea is in the news currently for its chef, Grant Achatz, insulting the crying baby who dared join its parents for dinner recently. (via [livejournal.com profile] aliettedb) They had a last-minute baby-sitter cancellation, and nonrefundable tickets for the currently very, very hard to get into restaurant. He reacted in horror at how a crying baby was likely disturbing all his other customers. I hope everyone else had a good evening that night, even if Achatz did not.

The good news it that not all restaurants competing in the creative, high-end league that Alinea is in, are like that. Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons makes its own fresh purées for babies with vegetables fresh from its garden. Toddler food is given equal care. It's in a hotel, it's true, but it's not alone.

We had lunch at L'Enclume the other week, taking advantage of familial childcare. It's currently rated by the Good Food Guide as the best restaurant in the UK. It was a gloriously wonderful, creative, largely seasonal, twenty-two course meal. Two other tables had each brought a young child. The parents of one, not quite an independent walker yet, handed over a supermarket ready meal for the staff to heat. The parents of the other fed their slightly older baby with food from their plates. The two high chairs the restaurant was using were very different from each other, so clearly they requisitions one from elsewhere for the reservation.

Especially having left Grouting behind, it was a delight seeing the other babies running around. When one because unhappy, one family member sacrificed the quality of their food for a happier child, taking them outside for a break. There aren't any changing facilities, but improvising changing places is an ongoing issue when out and about with a very small person.

One of the things about Alinea's food is that much of it is very time-dependent. If the mouthful isn't served with a minute or three of intention, it won't necessarily work. The hot/cold contrast will be lost. The broth-filled dumpling might be a little more underwhelming at the wrong temperature. It's a conflict between eating the food as the artist/chef intended, and caving to the realities of serving actual people. It's also a conflict over the roles of children in society, and whether or not "fine dining" should be a sphere in which young people grow up comfortable. It's also the endless conflict over parenting styles, tolerance of and reasons for a crying child.

I've eaten at Alinea, one of the very best meals of my entire life. It was years ago, before it was quiet as expensive as it is now, before the non-refundable ticketing system came into effect, valid only for quite of two or four. I called the week before and got a table for one.

Much as company is also good, one of the things that made that meal for me is that I was by myself. It just me and the food and my thoughts and people-watching. It was a meditative, as well as delicious, experience which I could take entirely at my own pace. I enjoyed eating the occasional thought-provoking, whimsical, humorous meal by myself.

Achatz may worry about saddling the baby's fellow diners with their company; but whether they want it or not, they're obliged to have company of some sort, in their multiples of two and four, quite apart from the lottery of whomever else has happened to buy tickets for that meal.

Edited to add: More concrete details on the story. The problem wasn't a baby at Alinea, but parents who weren't actively parenting.
owlfish: (Fishy Circumstances)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 12:50am on 07/10/2013 under ,
"Better than Belgique" read the recommendation from someone I don't know. Belgique's a chain of Belgian patisserie/cafés in NE London and Essex; they're not bad. The Larder's website shows heaps of pastries and bread. I was looking forward to those. The problem was, I think, that the advice came from someone talking about their Wanstead branch.

Really good ingredients, mismatched expectations... )

The Larder at Butler's Retreat has a really pleasant location whose design made the line to order often look more intimidating than it probably was. Food was fresh and well-considered, with very good ingredients. I just wish I'd gotten off to a better start: between expecting pastries from the website and our own fault in mis-guessing the end of breakfast service, it took a while before I was in the right frame of mind to enjoy all the positives which the place did offer.
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 10:22pm on 05/07/2013 under ,
I missed the first plenary, the introductions, registration, and part of the reception, but that I am here at all is testament to C's generosity. It's my first weekend away since Grouting was born.

What I did arrive in time for - what I was trying to arrive in time for - was the first dinner of the symposium. Steve Parle's Spice Feast... )

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