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Posts Tagged ‘gnocchi’

The first thing you’ll notice about this post is the lack of pictures. Yuki took me out last night for my 34th birthday (damn I’m gettin old!) and my recent experience, I’m sure you’ll agree, has not been good using my cell phone’s camera in dim restaurant lighting. While I have no problem using my regular camera when traveling, I feel weird pulling it out here at home, like a tourist in my own city. That said, here is how our night at the highly acclaimed Naha Restaurant went last night.

We had a 7:30 reservation and showed up right on the dot. The hostess informed us that they were running a little behind and it’d be about 15 minutes before our table would be ready. No worries, we understand that sometimes this happens. So, we sat at these extremely uncomfortable built-in benches along the wall and waited…and waited…and waited. 15 minutes goes by and nothing. Once 8:00 rolled by I went up to inquire how much longer it’d be. I was told that 3 tables had already paid and they were just waiting for them to leave. Ok, however, the assistant hostess rolled her eyes at me for asking. Sorry, but that’s about as rude as it gets when it’s way past our reservation time and we still have not gotten our table. Fortunately for her our table was ready about 2 minutes later; I didn’t have to get the manager.

We get to our table and the interior was quite nice. Very simple and elegant with windows covering all of the exterior walls. Yuki sat on the cushioned bench, so I don’t know how comfortable that was, but the wooden chair I sat in was extremely uncomfortable. There was an ill-placed wooden bar that dug into my spine causing me to hunch over the entire time. On top of that it was way too cold in that restaurant. They could have turned the air conditioner down a good 10 degrees. I noticed most of the women around us were all kind of clenching due to the temperature. I’m pretty hairy, and even I was cold, my natural fur coat wasn’t enough insulation.

Here we are sitting at our cold, uncomfortable table waiting…waiting…waiting. It took more than 10 minutes for the busser to come over and offer us our choice of water. It took another 10 minutes for our server, Albert, to come over and greet us. 20 minutes before an appearance from our server! He even made a dumb comment, “Sorry, I know you’ve been sitting here for 2 or 3 minutes.” Try 20, buddy! I put in the order for some Cava and that came out alright.

After sipping on the Cava for a few minutes Albert came back over once he had taken the order from the table on my left as they were seated shortly before us. He asked if we had ever been there before. When I said no he proceeded to explain just about every dish on the menu. Go to Naha’s website and read the menu, every single dish is well articulated, we don’t need a recap. Not to mention, it was already an hour past our reservation time and we were damn hungry, just take our order! Before we could get our order in he disappeared again. Dude, we’ve been sitting for over a half and hour looking at the menu, our minds were made up over 20 minutes ago!

Finally, we got our orders placed. Then, we waited…and waited…and waited. We’re sitting there waiting; meanwhile, the table to my left who had ordered just 5 minutes before we did was chomping away at their appetizers. I commented to Yuki that they’ll get their entrées before we get our apps. I was right. During the wait Albert avoided us so I couldn’t even inquire. I was getting pissed!

When our appetizers finally came our stomachs were rumbling. Yuki got the Risotto with Blue Crab, Oyster Mushrooms, and Lobster Bisque. The crab was pretty good, nice and moist, but the risotto and bisque were way too salty. She cleared her plate out of sheer hunger more than anything. I got the Gnocchi with Braised Oxtails, Spanish Chorizo, Rapini, Montelerriana Cheese, and Basil. I do have to say that this was a great dish. The gnocchi were nice and soft, the chorizo added a nice compliment to the mild oxtail, the rapini a nice bitterness, the cheese the right amount of salt, and basil a refreshing note.

While we were in the middle of our apps a new table was sat to my right. They ordered right away and got their apps before we finished ours. Did the hostess have a vendetta against us for asking how much longer it’d be to get our table? Then, even though we did finish our apps before them they got their entrées before us, way before us. Shoot, they almost finished their entrees before we got ours.

During our wait between apps and entrées I was finally able to flag down Albert after the wait hit a half hour. He just kept apologizing and saying that kitchen is backed up. Sorry Albert, but that’s no excuse. My little quail should take no longer than 5-8 minutes to roast while Yuki’s brisket was either braised the day before or that morning. It should never take that long between coarses. I told him how I noticed that the tables on either side of us were getting their dishes in a timely fashion and his response was childish and defensive, “Sir, it’s not a competition.” Albert, man up and admit your service sucked. I was merely using the other tables as a reference point, not for some competition you may have going on in your feeble little head.

We just about lost our appetite because so much time had passed. Right when I was about to tell Albert to forget it, we’re leaving, the entrées showed up, more than 45 minutes from the time they cleared our apps.  

Yuki had the Braised Brisket with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and, honestly, I forget what else was on that dish. We couldn’t get past how salty the braising liquid and mushrooms were as well as how tough the brisket was. They should have called it brisket jerky. I kept watching Yuki try to saw away at that thing just to get a bite. I think it was sitting under the heat lamps for about 20 minutes back in the kitchen. At least that’s how it tasted. I got the Roasted Quail with Kurobuta Pork Belly, Duck Egg baked in La Quercia Prosciutto, and Purple Potatoes. The quail was alright, a little dry, but not terrible. The pork belly was way too sweet, and I do mean sweet. The egg and prosciutto was so damn salty! Doesn’t Chef Nahabedian know that when you cook prosciutto you’re concentrating the salt by removing the moisture? She did nothing to control the salt level. The fact that the yolk of my duck egg was solid and not runny tells me that my dish probably sat under the heat lamps for too long as well. On top of that the three main components had absolutely nothing to tie them together. I was intrigued by the combination on paper and quite honestly, it just didn’t work on all fronts. I kept imagining what Chef Tom Colicchio would say on Top Chef about editing a dish and pulling back on ingredients. Also, there was nothing on either of our plates that justified the price. Brisket is a cheap cut of beef and quail, pork belly (literally three bites worth), and duck egg don’t cost that much either. We clearly didn’t pay for execution as nothing was balanced or cooked properly.

When we finished the entrées it was already 10:00 and we were ready to go home. Albert came by and asked if we were up for dessert and I told him, “We don’t want to be here for another hour, we’re ready to go.” He tried to joke around and said the dessert was on him. We really didn’t care for his nonchalant attitude. We’re two very pissed off diners, not friends.

Another comment on Albert’s service, not once did he come over to see how our food was. He ignored us during our apps and he ignored us during our entrées.

He left to get us the bill and the manager, Terry, came by to apologize. I told him my exact thoughts. If the service had run at regular restaurant speed we wouldn’t have waited the initial half hour to get our table not to mention the snails pace of everything else. It should never take more than a half hour to get apps, and it should never take more than 45 minutes to get an entrée from the time apps are cleared. He also blamed it on the kitchen which is a terrible cop-out. Whether deliberate or shear incompetence, our entrées clearly seemed to have been sitting in the kitchen under heat lamps for a long period of time.

When Albert brought the check he also brought a dessert, Vanilla Ice Cream Parfait with Drunken Fruit and Brioche Pain Perdu, with the obligatory “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate. It was comped, but we clearly told him we did not want dessert and just wanted to leave. The correct move would have been to just take care of some of our wine and not force us to stay there any longer. A free dessert was not enough to get the usual 20% tip we tend to leave.

I do have to say that Yuki had her doubts about Naha months ago when I mentioned that this is where I wanted to go for my birthday dinner. She thought the menu looked pretentious and unappetizing. Once again, she was right. I should have known better. Most chefs worth their grain of salt, especially those who claim to be farm-to-table chefs, are trending towards simplicity, fewer ingredients to showcase the quality of the food. Chef Nahabedian is stuck in the trends of a decade ago. Besides that, the service was clearly lacking. If you want to go out for a nice dinner with fantastic food, trust me, there are hundreds of better options than Naha where you’ll be paying their rent instead of buying a good dinner experience.

Thanks for a horrible birthday Naha!

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I thought I had come up with a ground-breaking idea the other day when I conceptualized gnocchi made from tofu. Not quite sure how to go about doing it, but with a few ideas, I googled it. Much to my dismay, Craig Koketsu (chef at Park Avenue Spring and Quality Meats) had already done this. On the one hand I was a little upset because I can’t claim to be the first. On the other, it confirms my genius that a high-caliber chef had also come up with this idea. He did his as a re-imagined way to do Mabo Tofu. Mine was a Meatless Monday way to get protein into a dish. At any rate, I decided that it was best to use his recipe for the gnocchi themselves since it was already a proven method.

In a food processor I processed two 12 oz blocks of extra firm tofu along with 1 cup of tapioca flour and 1 tablespoon of salt. I’m not real sure why he used tapioca flour, but it is a finer ground than regular flour as well as being a better binder. It’s almost a cross between starch and flour. Once everything was well blended I poured it all into a large ziplock bag (I don’t have a piping bag, so I used the ziplock and snipped one of the corners off).

I brought a pot of water up to a high boil. After the mix had rested in the bag for about ten minutes I started to squeeze it out, snipping off approximately 1 inch lengths. I let it boil until the gnocchi had all started to float to the top. Then I drained them and chilled them in a bowl full of ice water. Once they chilled I drained them again and patted them dry, then set them aside until the sauce was ready.

To kind of bridge the gap between Italy and Asia I used a mix of vegetables that included 5 oz of sliced shiitake (instead of cremini), cherry tomatoes (during cooking I changed my mind and used a 14 oz can of diced tomatoes instead), 1 carrot chopped, 3 garlic cloves minced, some back porch basil, 1 celery rib halved and chopped, 6 green onions sliced, and a large handful of baby spinach (about 3-4 oz).

To make the sauce I heated up my pan and poured in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. I let the garlic gently fry for about a minute and then tossed in the carrot and celery. About 5 minutes later I added the shiitake and green onion. Once they were cooked down a little, maybe 3 minutes, I poured in 1/4 cup of white wine and let that boil away. After the wine had evaporated I poured in the can of diced tomatoes and seasoned with salt and pepper. Once the juice from the can of tomatoes started to boil I threw in the spinach and turned off the heat.

In about 1/4 cup of boiling water I threw in two portions of the gnocchi and let them heat up for about 2 or 3 minutes.

To serve, I took the gnocchi out of the water with a slotted spoon and laid them on the plate. I topped them with some of the sauce. Then I garnished with parmesan cheese and basil.

All in all this dish wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. The gnocchi were great and the sauce was ok, they just didn’t quite meld together they way I had it in my head. I make sauce like this quite often, but it is definitely better with regular pasta. As far as the gnocchi, I would try a Mabo Tofu next time as I think those flavors match tofu much better. This was not a complete failure, it just wasn’t a huge success. Lesson learned.

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Meatless Monday this week was gnocchi. I do have to say that I cheated a little. I didn’t make my own gnocchi. It’s not hard to make, but it does take time. Time is what I lacked. However, most people don’t make their own pasta, so using pre-made gnocchi isn’t really that bad I guess. What’s the difference? Just use a good quality gnocchi.

First thing I did was boil some chopped rapini in salt water for about 3 minutes. Rapini can be really bitter and strong. Boiling it for a few minutes removes a lot of the bitterness. Drain it well afterword and squeeze out all of the water.

I made some pesto. Just a classic pesto. Some basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, salt, pepper, and I like to throw in a pinch of red pepper flakes all into the blender and let her rip while slowly pouring in some olive oil. I think I ended up pouring in about 1/3 cup or so. It all depends upon how much of the other ingredients you put in. Do what you dig.

In a large pan I sautéed a chopped onion and a bunch of quartered mushrooms in olive oil with garlic. I let them go until the onion got a little translucent and the mushrooms started to release some of their liquid.

Then I threw in the rapini and a bunch of cherry tomatoes that were halved. I let them go for just a couple of minutes.

Once the tomato skins started to wilt a little I tossed in the gnocchi (I had boiled it while cooking the veggies) and spooned in some of the pesto. I mixed it all around and the it cook for just a minute to bring all of the flavors together.

To serve, I tossed a little fresh parmesan on top. On the side I toasted some bread and spread some artichoke and garlic in olive oil puree on top.

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Back during Chef Week a few weeks ago Yuki and I went to Spring for dinner. We have both been there before, so we pretty much knew that a $30 pre fix there would be well worth the dollar. We were right, as usual.

I do apologize, the pics I took with my phone were absolutely terrible! You’re going to have to use your imagination if TV, cinema, and the internet haven’t already sapped you of it.

When we got there our table wasn’t quite ready. No worries, we went to the bar and ordered a bottle of wine. Within a few sips we were seated. The first thing I remembered about the tables is that, unlike a lot of restaurants (and I mean you Paul Kahan!), there is more than ample space. The only conversation I heard was ours, my elbows weren’t banging into anyone, and there was no chance of an accidental ass-to-the-face of the person next to me when one of us got up. It is definitely a more romantic atmosphere.

We started with one each of the two appetizers. A smooth lemongrass-cocunut soup with prawn dumplings, thai chili, shaved shiitake, and kaffir lime. As well as a tuna and hamachi maki roll. The soup was outstanding, and while the maki was good, it was very basic. It could have been from a good sushi restaurant instead of a place like Spring.

We both got the skatewing. It was lightly floured and pan-fried to perfection. The natural sweetness of the fish was perfectly matched with light gnocchi that was flavored with kimchi as well as some Brussel sprouts and almonds. Skatewing is not a fish that I get to eat very often, so it was a nice change from salmon, tuna, or halibut, the typical fish found on menus.

For dessert, we ordered one of each. There was lemon sorbet served in a black tea. The sorbet was slightly sour, but not to the point that made your lips pucker. I guess lemons aren’t quite in season yet, they’ll get sweeter in a month or two. The other dessert was a delicious moist brown butter pound cake with caramel ice cream.

Service was quick and attentive. I never felt rushed, but never ignored either.

Overall, Spring was just as good as I remembered. It’s one of Chicago’s best seafood restaurants and Chef McClain is one of Chicago’s finest chefs and restauranteurs.

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