Friday, November 20, 2009

The Perfect Pair

Probably one of the most expensive meals I have ever had was my recent trip to Momofuku Ko here in Manhattan. I had been blessed with an offer to swipe someone’s dinner reservation (which is not easy to obtain in the slightest). The excitement built steadily as the day approached. I had heard wondrous, legendary tales of how good the food was at this restaurant, and was eager to see if the bar had been set appropriately high.

I sat and began the 10 course tasting, relenting through one dish after another. The ingredients of the meal were exquisite. The flavors - genuine and bold. And the ambiance was unparalleled. Though alone, these pieces would have been worthy of acclaim in their own right, the combination of these pieces harmonized into a more grand masterpiece. Such a well thought out, almost poetic progression of flavors, textures and ingredients deserves praise and awe for the difficulty to weave such a perfect tapestry was only out done by its holistic simplicity.

But something was missing. That pocket square in a bespoke suit jacket. The staccato in a masterpiece symphony. That subtle dramatic pause in an award winning soliloquy. Something needed to be the propellant that shot this experience from great to eternally memorable.

And then there was wine

Wine, much like women, has the power to compliment a dish and elevate an experience into the ethereal. Wine can be the nightcap you've sought all week. It can be the gentle touch after a long day at work. It can be there for you in ways you couldn't even conceive you needed.

This is why the Italians do food so well. They know a dish, much like a person, cannot be complete without the partner that makes it better, that takes it to a new height of sensory experience and teaches all who encounter this pairing a deeper appreciation for themselves and their universe. Hence, why their wines have been historically vinified to only be their best when taken with food. Most wines can placidly exist next to a plate, forcing one to rationalize its right to be there. But a special wine – the right wine – can be the reason a meal replaces all priorities in your life, and becomes the memory of a lifetime.

The thing that put this meal above all else; the aspect that made me commit to elevating this experience above all else so far; the juno se qua;

Was the wine. In each pairing, the perfect combination vitis vinifera and gastromic creativity. To you Madam Vinifera, I salute. You are as beautiful as you are elusive.

The UE

Read More......

Friday, November 13, 2009

Onions and Demons

on⋅ion [uhn-yuh n]
1. a plant, Allium cepa, of the amaryllis family, having an edible, succulent, pungent bulb
2. The bulb of the onion plant
3. Former kryptonite to The UE

I used to hate onions. Hate them. HATE THEM. Onions were the scourge of my world. I can’t even begin to tell you how deeply I despised those wretched bulbs for the disgusting, awful, sour vegetables that they are.

But as stated in past posts, I have come to appreciate the onion for its value. The seasoning it provides, the slight amplification in flavor it can offer, and the dish textures it enhances. Onions aren’t too bad to me these days.

In the past, I have internalized this personal growth as an indicator that if you are open, whole new worlds can become available. However what I did not appreciate in my own introspection of my relationship with onions is just how long I let this veggie hold power over my life. For years, decades even, I used to avoid them like the plague. I would root them out of every burger, every sauce and every garnish in which they would come standard. In hindsight, I expended volumes of energy fighting the battle against onions when in reality I was failing to face the inner demon that held me back from letting onions no longer control me – my past experiences with onions.

When I was a young man, my mother used to put onions in everything. She loved the spicy white onion in particular. Her belief was that onions added such a robust, enjoyable flavor to every dish, the concept of “liberal application” no longer applied. So I was forced to eat onions as a child. Children, as we all know, dislike any vegetable as our young palates have yet to acquire the comprehension necessary to enjoy the more complex flavors of vegetables versus the naturally sweet and agreeable flavors of fruits.

So I hated them. And because I had them in my meals so much, I deplored them. And because I deplored them, I sought any means possible to rid myself of them as quickly as possible.

– I cut a hole in the window screen of my room so I could toss them out of the window when no one was looking

– I would finish my soda quickly and stuff them in the empty can to be thrown out with the rest of the trash

– I would chew a big bite and excuse myself to the bathroom where I would flush them down the toilet

The Young UE reserved no creative avenues in battle against the onion (sorry Ma, I know you read my blog). It took a lot of brainpower to outwit my parents and dispose of the much hated, layered beast. However as I matured, I began to approach my life with a more open perspective, and at some point, decided to face my demons. Onions, I decided, would no longer be the steward of my meals. I would now decide the fate of a dish, not the ingredients within. I began buying onions for soups. I started mincing onions to give my burgers a little extra juice. I even ordered hot dogs with extra grilled onions. And I ate every last bite.

A whole new world of flavors and possibilities wsa opened to me once I made the decision to stop living in the then of my unpalatable memories and start living for the flavors of the now. In that realization, I began to understand that in order to truly live life, you have to let go of your demons from the past.

Farewell to all you ghouls, goblins and specters!

- The UE

Read More......

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Lingering Taste…

I know I’m not the only one who gets cravings for indulgent meals from the past. You hear about it every day – people at work suddenly get the itch for a juicy, soft cheeseburger, those gooey chocolate chip cookies they just couldn’t put down, or the ever amorous chocolate covered strawberries. Why is it that it’s always the cookies or all the other things so bad for you linger in your minds? Sure, you’re eating healthy now. Maybe you’re even working out 3-4 times a week, like the doctor says. You are living your life in the food lane middle of the road. But all that wellness won’t do a lick of good when that need to stuff a whole pizza comes late at night. Some of the best foods, which almost always are some of the unhealthiest foods, tend to imprint themselves in your memories. Difficult to justify having, but even more impossible to forget, once in a while you have to admit you want something that’s just so bad it’s good.

Now, I’m not one to revisit the past too often, but I think we all at some point or another have had a meal that make us smile when we recall the memory. For me, it’s always those spicy, rich, amatory foods of Southwest Texas. Sure, if you walk down the right street in New York you can almost catch a hint of brisket spiced with jalapeños on the wind…but as quickly as it comes, it vanishes leaving me ruminating why I ever left in the first place. Did I really think New York was THAT much better that I would leave such a loving, attentive temptress like my favorite Tapatia nachos behind? How foolish could a young boy have been to flee from the arms of some of the most romantic and accepting foods he’s ever had?!

Science tells us that cravings are the body’s way of giving us a heads up on what we are missing. In other words, when our body is depleted in resources, such as sugar or serotonin, the brain needs a quick pick-me-up and so turns to satisfy itself with cravings. These primal lusts are no more than your body screaming to you what your mind can’t comprehend – you NEED it. But how strong are these cravings? How much power do you let them have over you? I often let my mind wander to meals past and relive the glory of the ordeal. That slight hint of cayenne, spicy yet playful, teasing my palette through a mélange of cheese, cumin and sage. I ponder the kitchen, where flavor melds to smell, sensation unites with satisfaction and from whence this rapturous affair found its origin.

Alas…imagining is never enough. Sometimes, you just have to give in. Sometimes you have to listen to what your body’s telling you. Sometimes…you need to just need to eat the cookie and get it off your mind.

It’s ok to swerve in the food lane just a little.

- The UE

Read More......