Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fine Dining: Kitchen Door

So we could have just gone home. My lovely husband and I ventured out of the house this afternoon, with nothing on the agenda but to see "Moneyball." We show up at the theater however, only to find out that the online listing I consulted had the movie's start time WRONG. (Imagine that - the internet got something wrong!) So we had two hours to spare before the actual start time. Like I said, we could have just gone home.

But no! We started wandering our fair town instead. It's something that we don't do nearly enough, and with Napa really starting to come into its own, wandering is a worthwhile venture.

We decided to grab a bite to eat. With so many new restaurants cropping up in Napa, there are several that I have yet to visit, despite trying my best. There were two places at the top of my list:
  • Eiko's, a new take on Japanese food from Eiko Nakamura of Fujiya - one of the world's best sushi restaurants located in an outlet mall (I kid you not) - although now that Eiko's is open, Fujiya has closed.
  • Kitchen Door, the latest highly-touted restaurant from Chef Todd Humphries (Martini House) in the Oxbow Market that calls its food "an ingredient-driven menu of handmade multi-ethnic comfort food."
Decisions, decisions. But, after strollin up to Eiko's and learning that they're not open for lunch on Sunday, the decision was made for us. Kitchen Door it was.

What we ordered:
  • Padrone peppers. (As I mentioned in a previous post, I can't get enough of these right now. The Kitchen Door version came prepared with lime and Korean chili flakes, and was draped with thin slices of handmade lardo. The peppers were perfectly blistered and tasty - I thought the lardo was completely unnecessary.)
  • Korean Short Ribs with bacon fried rice. (Ran ordered these thinking he was ordering traditional ribs - oops.)
  • Roast Duck Banh Mi Vietnamese-style sandwich with sweet potato fries. (Um - hardly. I ordered this envisioning juicy slices of roast duck amid the pickled veggies and fresh herbs. What I got though was mostly a thick smearing of duck pate on the too-big roll, with a few spare chunks of roast duck wedged in here and there. Not what I envisioned at all, and I won't be ordering it again. The fries however - perfectly executed. They were some of the best sweet potato fries I've tasted, and that's saying something since my favorite version is from Gott's, Kitchen Door's next door neighbor.)
So bottom line? It was fine dining, as Ran called it. Meaning, it was fine. Nothing special. Fantastic atmosphere - we ate on the patio overlooking the river - and some elements of our meal were stellar. But the meal as a whole didn't knock me out. In addition, there were some gaps in service. Our padrones arrived ten minutes after our entrees, for example. I was also greatly annoyed that after ordering at the counter, they give you a number and deliver the food to you (great - love it - no issues there) - but you have to schlep silverware, your awkward order number in its tall holder, water glasses and condiments - all without the aid of a tray. There wasn't a tray to be found to carry all of that stuff, and I was hauling goods for two since Ran was out saving us a prime table. So Kitchen Door - offer up a couple trays, why don't ya?

Anyhow, I'll eat there again for sure. I'll try different menu items, and hope for a better all-over experience. In the meantime though - Eiko's, you're next!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blossoming in the Kitchen

So I'm at the farmer's market with one of my bestest foodie friends, Glenn. It was pretty amazing how we both honed in on a basket brimming with squash blossoms at precisely the same time. Between the two of us, we bought out the farmer's stash for the day, before the market had officially even opened (we're no dummies - we were there 15 minutes before the official opening time, cash in hand).

Of course we got to talking how we were going to prepare our little treasures, and of course the fall-back way is to stuff them with some cheesy gooeyness, batter and fry them. Glenn was going to do just that, but as good as that sounds (and is!) - I told Glenn that I was going to challenge myself to come up with a lighter version of the dish that was every bit as delicious.

Mission accomplished - and it was altogether a much easier, quicker dish to prepare than the fried version. Here's what I did:
  • I still wanted a creamy, soft inside, so I went with a fat-free ricotta.
  • To the ricotta, I added some fresh chopped herbs (basil, oregano), some roasted and chopped garlic, and some chopped up sundried tomatoes that I had packed in olive oil.
  • I scooped a generous tablespoon of the mixture into the blossoms, and twisted the open end to hold it all together.
  • I dunked each blossom in an egg white bath (I added a tablespoon of water for every two egg whites and whisked until frothy)
  • Rolled the stuffed/dunked blossoms in panko bread crumbs
  • Baked at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes (turning once) until they were browned and the filling was warmed through
How about that, huh? Totally my new go-to method of making squash blossoms. Eat your heart out, Glenn!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

White After Labor Day? Yes Please...

At the Chimney Rock Winery "White Party"... celebrating their white wines like Pinto Gris and Elevage Blanc. So yes. White after Labor Day works for me, fashionable or not! And if the wine, decor and attire at the party were all white, the food most definitely were not. Deelish... check out that paella!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Out and About: Morimoto Napa

My husband and I recently were accused of being DINKS. Well, of course we are! I, being more familiar with the acronym, knew that yes, we fit the criteria for a Dual Income No Kids household. It just took a little 'splainin until Ran realized we weren't being insulted. In fact, our friends referred to us as such with a little bit of envy - we were free to go and do as we pleased - no sitters to arrange, no curfews to which to adhere, no real restraints on our discretionary funds. While I'm not going to debate the merits of DINKs vs. non-DINKs, all of that is true, and Ran and I take full advantage of our DINKy situation.

Couple our DINK status with the fact that we live and work in the Wine Country, and man - do we have a pretty sweet deal. After an especially tough week on so many levels, an opportunity presented itself for us to enjoy a night on the town, and boy did we pounce. In our world, a night on the town translated to a dinner at Morimoto restaurant here in Napa: Iron Chef, here we come.

Now, we'd both enjoyed many an evening at the Morimoto bar, enjoying appetizers and amazing cocktails (that's my Lemongrass Mojito pictured - yum). But in the year+ or so that it's been open, we'd never actually sat for dinner. The time had come.

So let me set the table for you: First of all, we were bound to have a good time, no matter what. Our mode that night was to celebrate life and to savor being in the moment. Spending time together was going to be our reward that evening regardless; we could have been at the KFC. Our spirits aside, however, we were looking forward to checking out the acclaimed restaurant and seeing for ourselves if it lived up to all the hype. The short answer: yes and no.

We DID have a lovely time. Despite practically yelling at each other across our table in the noisy, noisy restaurant, we laughed, talked and cajoled each other all evening long. (Note to self and others that book in the warm months: request an outside table.) The food was mostly very good, and sometimes exceptional. The service, however, was sadly not up to par.

I ordered the Chef's Omakase Tasting Menu (the best deal by far at $120 per person for seven courses that beautifully cover the Morimoto gamut). To round out our experience, we chose another five courses for Randall so that we'd be assured of truly sampling a little bit of every corner of the vast menu.

As to be expected, where Morimoto excelled was with the fish dishes. Our tempura shrimp appetizer (Asian buffalo wing style), the legendary toro tartare appetizer (I can't ever go there without ordering it), the sushi, and one particular oil-poached fish dish were exceptional. The fish dish from my tasting menu, three precious bites, was my favorite taste of the evening (I wish I knew what it was!). It was so delicate, so perfectly cooked, so nicely paired with fresh cilantro that made the whole bite pop with freshness - I could have had more. Way more.

Where the food fell short was in the entrees. Ran ordered the whole roasted lobster, and nowhere on the menu did it specify that it was seasoned with Chinese five spice. On the advice of our waiter, we ordered the duck confit fried rice to accompany it, and it too was seasoned with Chinese five spice. Now, I hold nothing against the Chinese five spice, but Ran isn't the biggest fan, and here he was with his main dish and his starchy side, both overpowered by the strong flavor. And they were both oversalted as well. As for my main dish, I got a couple bites of toro/mushroom Wellington (meh); wagyu beef (good, but literally two bites); and a duck cheek (?) something or other than was so bland I wish that there had been salt at the table. So, we had had bite after bite - mostly fantastic - leading up to the big finish, and the big finish was a big disappointment.

As for the service, I'm sorry: If you are paying the kind of prices that Morimoto demands, I expect nothing short of excellence. But there were some very basic service missteps. To my point, I had to ask for silverware no fewer than four times. For example, we ordered the ramen. Our server exclaimed that we absolutely MUST use a fork in order to get every last noodle. But he didn't bring a fork. Example #2: I had a lovely watermelon sorbet as an intermezzo course, but was left with only chopsticks with which to try and eat it. Huh. There were little episodes like this throughout the night where the service just simply missed its mark.

But again: fantastic night. Final assessment: Go. Absolutely go. But stick to starters, sushi and cocktails. In fact - just go to the bar! You get mostly the same experience, can order the entire menu right there, and it's super fun. You'll drop some coin, but hey - when you go where the beautiful people go, that's what you'd expect, right?

Anyhow - enjoy the photos from our evening, because yes, I lugged my big camera along and played blogger every step of the way. Grin.

Toro tartare - a must!

Tempura popcorn shrimp

My favorite dish of the night - some sort of oil-poached fish.

Bagna Cauda

Chicken ramen noodle soup

Egg custard with a foie gras gelee and a slice of duck breast - this was AMAZING. I could have licked the dish clean. Maybe I did.

Out of focus watermelon sorbet


Tasting menu entree

Oven-roasted lobster

Duck confit fried rice

Peach sorbet with jalepeno churros (sorry - bad photo!)

Tofu cheesecake

Coffee - Ran especially liked the china


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Spanish Roulette Anyone? It's Padrone Season!

You know what's really great about late summer? Besides warm weather, long days and any excuse for a backyard barbecue? Padrone peppers. Or if your Spanish, pimientos de Padrón. When these little nuggets of deliciousness start showing up at the farmer's market, I grab them up like there's no tomorrow. Because literally, tomorrow they won't be there. They're always gone way too soon.

The deal with Padrones, or their cousins, the Shishito peppers (both from the capsicum annuum family; one popular in Spanish cuisine, the other in Japanese), is that they are so freaking simple to prepare and if you're like me, you literally can't stop eating them. Healthy, quick, delicious - what's not to like? Both peppers are very mild in flavor, but the Padrones have a hidden kick. As the title of this post suggests, eating them is called playing "Spanish Roulette," since about one in ten of the peppers has some heat to it (this according to my farmer dude). When that kick of heat shows up though, I love it! It's not even as hot as a jalapeno, so it's not like it will sear the taste buds off your tongue. Nope - just a welcome flame of warmth to liven things up a bit. If you're not a gambler, however, stick to the Shishitos - no heat there at all.

(The Padrones are short and squat - pictured above. The Shishitos are long and skinny - pictured below.)

Preparing them is a piece of cake: Place the peppers and a drizzle of good olive oil in a nice big frying pan, and simply saute them on high heat them until they're blistered. Sprinkle with a generous dose of kosher salt, and snacking heaven awaits.