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Posts Tagged ‘top chef’

A couple of nights ago I made Paella for dinner. My mom came back to town so I had to make something to feed 5 adults. This recipe was actually enough for 6, so I have a little leftover in the fridge. That’ll most likely be my lunch once I’m done with this post.

I’ve made Paella a few times before, and it always turns out pretty good, but I’m up for some good advice on how to make a dish better whenever someone can give me a good tip. It turns out that Mike Isabella and Antonia Lofaso from Top Chef were doing a cooking demo in the Whole Foods parking lot. Besides getting autographs Mike told me that the best way to make Paella is to let everything sit over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes once you have all of the ingredients mixed in. People usually get the inclination to keep mixing things around, but by letting it sit you’ll get that nice crusty rice at the bottom that makes Paella a special dish. So, that’s what I did.

My ingredients included 1 cup of frozen peas thawed, 1/2 pound bay scallops, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 2 of those smoked chorizo sliced, 3 skinless chicken thighs chopped, a 14oz can of diced tomatoes, 2 teaspoons of paprika, 1/2 orange bell pepper diced, 1/2 yellow bell pepper diced, 1/2 red bell pepper diced (wasn’t in the pic, last minute decision), 1/2 onion diced, 1 cup chicken stock (pic shows 2, only used one), 2 cups of sushi rice rinsed (any kind of short-grain rice will work), a large pinch of saffron, and 3 garlic cloves minced.

I started off by heating up my large skillet and then pouring in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I added the garlic and then 30 seconds later the onion. About 3 or 4 minutes after that I dumped in the peppers and let that go for another 3 or 4 minutes. Then I added the chicken and let it cook for about 4 more minutes before adding the chorizo. Once the chorizo started to get a little color, you guessed it, 3 or 4 minutes, I added the rice. It’s important to get every grain of rice coated in the hot oil so that it toasts a little bit. That helps get the toothsome texture you want in a good Paella.

Then I poured in the can of tomatoes with the liquid. Oh, I forget to mention that I let the saffron sit in the cup of chicken stock for about a half hour along with the paprika, that let’s the flavor and color distribute more evenly. Once the tomatoes started to boil a bit I poured in the flavored chicken stock and seasoned with salt and pepper. I gave that a few minutes to start boiling a little and then added the scallops, peas, and parsley. I mixed everything up, covered the skillet, turned the heat down to medium, and let it sit for 15 minutes.

When I took the lid off almost all of the liquid had absorbed into the rice, yet the rice had kept a nice firm texture. Thanks to Mike’s advice, I did get that nice crust on the bottom. It was, by far, the best Paella I’ve ever made.

I had some of the jicama salad with watercress and red leaf lettuce along with the cilantro-lime dressing left over from the tacos so I served that on the side to complete the meal.

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The Top Chef finale was on the other night and I noticed something from watching it this season…every time someone made a pea puree they won the challenge. With that in mind I decided to make my own pea puree to eat while watching the finale. Instead of using green peas though I used edamame.

To make the puree I started with 1 cup of frozen shelled edamame, 1/2 onion diced, 1 lemon zested and juiced, 1 garlic clove minced, 1/3 cup soy milk, and a handful of cilantro.

In a heated pot I poured about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and tossed the onion in. I let the onion sweat over medium heat for about 5 minutes and then added the garlic. About 1 minute later I added the edamame (it was still frozen when I added it). It only took about 6-7 minutes for the edamame to heat through, at which point I turned off the heat and let it cool down for about 10 minutes.

I put the edamame mixture in my blender and added the cilantro, soy milk, 1/4 of the lemon zest, and half of the lemon juice. While blending it I noticed that it needed a little more liquid to get a nice smooth puree. After tasting it, I decided to add about 1/4 cup of orange juice instead of more soy milk, it needed a little sweetness to it. Once I got the thick, smooth texture I wanted I seasoned it with salt and pepper and poured it back into the pot. I gently re-heated it when it came time to serve.

Before cooking the halibut I got some vegetables ready. I sliced one red bell pepper (decided to only use one of them, I’ll use the other one tonight) and the half of the onion from the puree. I also cleaned up some asparagus.

I simply laid the vegetables on a roasting tray, drizzled some olive oil on top, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then sprinkled about another quarter of the lemon zest on top. This all went into an 350 degree oven for about a half hour.

For the halibut I used three 4-5 ounce filets (I still had meatloaf leftovers for my lunch so I only needed lunch leftovers for Yuki) and seasoned them with salt, pepper, and the 3rd quarter of lemon zest.

In a large skillet over high heat I poured in about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and then dropped 1 tablespoon of butter in. I laid the filets in skin-side down and let them go for 5-6 minutes, until the skin was golden brown and crispy and released from the pan with ease. If the fish doesn’t release easily then it’s not ready. Once it was ready I flipped it over and let the other side go for about 5 minutes until it released easily.

To serve, I laid the halibut on top of some puree, laid the vegetables all around, and then sprinkled everything with the rest of the lemon zest and juice. White rice on the side.

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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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