Thursday, December 27, 2007


I spent a lot of time and thought looking into what brand of knives I wanted for my knife set. I looked at many different kinds. Wüstof has a great reputation. German knives in general are thought to be the top of the line. Many friends of mine own these knives, and I have always enjoyed using them. At the same time I have never been terribly impressed. It's not that they didn't work well, but I always felt that even some of the top of the line Wüstof's were not much better than the Henkels that I grew up using. While these knives seemed good, I wanted something really special for my first set of knives.

It was time to turn from the Western style of German knives to the beautifully crafted Eastern style of Japan. I have heard more and more about the precision of Japanese knives over the past couple of years. I knew it was worth a shot, but I had no idea what brand of Japanese knives would be the best. In the end I put "Japanese knives" on the list of things I wanted for my birthday and Christmas.

My birthday came, and the only knife I received was an 8-inch chef knife from Henkel's Twin Cuisine line. It looked like a nicely weighted, sharp knife, but I really wanted a set of Japanese knives. I went to bed that night looking forward to the knives I hoped to unwrap the following morning.

Christmas morning came, and I noticed a bag from Williams-Sonoma sitting beside the tree. This was from my uncle, who had arrived the night before. He was one of my major culinary influences, so it seemed appropriate that he might be getting me some knives. I couldn't wait to open that white and green-trimmed bag.

I pulled two long thing boxes out of the bag, now I was trembling with excitement. There was only one thing that could be inside these boxes. I undid the bow and quickly unwrapped the smaller box first, and I was holding in my hand the 4-inch paring knife made by Global. The other box contained the 8-inch chef's knife, also by Global.

These were the knives I had been looking for. Beautifully shiny stainless steel, these knives look like miniature katanas. This is no coincidence either. These knives are made using the same ice-hardening process that has been used in Japan for over a millennium to make samurai swords. Needless to say, these knives look very sharp. Their stunning handles are silver steel spotted with black, and fit perfectly into my hand. In the traditional samurai way, the knives are perfectly balanced, and unbelievably light. I knew I needed to try the Global knife out immediately. I ripped the chef's knife out of its box and ran to the kitchen where I saw half of a Bermuda onion sitting on a cutting board. How perfect is that? I put the knife up the surface of the onion, and before I knew what was happening there was a thin slice of onion on the cutting board. I gasped with pleasure and quickly cut the rest of the onion into paper-thin slices. The knife was so sharp it went through the onion with no resistance whatsoever. The knife was so well balanced that I hardly had to put any pressure on the blade in order to force it through the onion. Cutting was now effortless. I had soon chopped, sliced, minced, and diced as many vegetables and fruits as I could quickly find between the chef's knife and the paring knife. The paring knife, though much smaller than the chef's knife, was still as useful for cutting as its big brother, and pleasure to use for cutting small things like garlic and shallots. I knew that I needed more of these knives.

After returning my Henkel, I decided on buying the 5.5 inch fluted vegetable knife, and the 6-inch serrated utility knife. These knives are just as satisfying as the others. The hollow-ground vegetable knife is big enough for just about every vegetable that comes in its way, as well as almost anything else that a utility knife normally accomplishes. It is easily one of the most useful knives to have around because it is big enough to handle the big things, but still very maneuverable for chopping herbs and other small spices. The fluted sides work wonderfully for preventing things from sticking to the sides. As for the serrated utility knife, it cuts any kind of bread with ease, whether it’s a crusty, fresh baked loaf, or several day old sandwich rolls. It also slices things like tomatoes and lemons into any size needed without squeezing out any of the valuable juices. This knife is incredibly useful for just about any fruit or vegetable with a tough outer layer, but soft and juicy insides.

I can't wait to continue adding to my collection of Global knives. I love these knives, and highly recommend them to anyone looking at buying new knives. They are completely worth the money.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Return to Gary Danko

I went back to Gary Danko last week, but this time I was in the back of the house instead of the front. I did not mention in my first post about my dinner at Gary Danko that I was invited to return to the kitchen. It all started when I was given a tour of the slightly small, yet fully efficient and well-organized kitchen at Gary Danko. I was led from one end to the other. The kitchen is divided into four different rows. The row on the far left is for preparing the cold appetizers, such as salads. The row to the right of this is for hot meats and poultry. These are almost all cooked on the stove. To the right of this was the seafood row. This is where all of the hot seafood was cooked, like the seared scallops, the salmon, and steamed shellfish. The fourth and final row is where the specialty meats, poultry, and seafood are assembled, like the foie gras, and the glazed oysters. In the back of the kitchen there is a counter for all of the desserts to be prepared that runs in between the two walk-ins. Though it is small, it has everything needed for a high-quality restaurant. As I was led through the different sections I asked many chefs what they thought of being a chef, and whether or not it was a path I should follow. I was greeted with a very enthusiastic "yes." Everyone I spoke with was very friendly and encouraging about my culinary hopes. Then the sous chef, Kolin, approached me and asked me about my cooking experiences. We spoke for several minutes, and to make a long story short, he told me that I was welcome to come and visit the kitchen for a day if I wanted to. Now it was my turn to respond with an ecstatic "yes."

I got to the restaurant at 2:00 last Wednesday, around the time that the chefs were arriving. After meeting a few of the guys, I got right to work by helping with whatever prep work I could. After set-up I got a chance to walk around the kitchen and watch what all the different chefs were doing to finish getting ready for dinner. Then the restaurant opened. Soon the expeditors were yelling out orders at the end of the meat and fish lines, and runners were headed back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room. The air became thick with the scents of searing meats, frying cauliflower, slow roasting lobsters, and steamed shellfish. The remarkable thing about this kitchen however, is that through all the chaos of making around 175 dinners in one night, the kitchen never became loud, angry, or rushed. In fact, the chefs were so well organized that they were even able to make some of their amazing food for me to taste. I would be watching the scallops cook and someone would pop up behind me saying, "Try this, it's the seared ahi." I would be asking the pastry chefs about the huckleberry butter cake, and someone would magically appear beside me offering me pancetta wrapped frog's legs, only to disappear a moment later to continue manning their station. Though I thought that all kitchens must get wild and crazy, I saw that the meticulously run kitchen and Gary Danko always seems to keep their cool.

During set-up I must have picked and minced herbs for hours, yet I was so happy to do it. How often does someone get the opportunity to work in the kitchen of such a prestigious and well-known restaurant? The fact that I was even allowed to touch a knife in that kitchen showed me the remarkable generosity of the people at Gary Danko. Not a single person in that kitchen owed me a thing. They did not have to offer me the chance to get to see what it was that they did there. To them I am a very amateur cook who is years away from knowing half the things that they know about cooking. And yet there they were, teaching me to make the rich scallop dish I had tasted there. Though I know that I still have much to learn and do before I will ever be on a level with the people in this kitchen, I am deeply grateful for everything that I learned from the kind people at Gary Danko.

Friday, December 21, 2007

West Coast Clams

Back in October I wrote about the succulent, golden fried clams that I enjoyed so much in Boston. I said that fried clams could not be found on the West Coast. I'm sorry to say that I lied. I was on my way to In N Out burger in Fisherman's Wharf on Wednesday when I smelled the strong, sharp, fishy scent that is associated with seafood. When I followed the scent to the row of sidewalk crab stands I was enchanted by the massive quantities of fried fish, golden-brown and yeasty bowls of sourdough filled with thick, creamy clam chowder, and crabs so fresh that they were still creeping and crawling around only minutes before being devoured by the loads of tourists who flock to the famous section of San Francisco. Then I saw it. "Clams and chips" was listed on a sign under fish and chips, and above fried calamari. I was ecstatic. I was finally going to get to compare the juicy, briny clams of New England with Californian clams. In N Out would have to wait for another day.

I was given a container of crispy curly fries that were topped with a mountain of small, crispy clams. I found myself a bench near the boats docked by the wharf, and I began munching on the popcorn-sized shellfish. They were crunchy and chewy, but they did not compare to the ones that I had had in Boston. These were littlenecks, they were small and chewy with very little belly. Personally, I enjoyed the salty burst of clam juice that would explode from the clams in Boston. These tiny clams that I tasted here were much milder. Because they had no large belly, they did not release any of the clammy juice that many people may consider too fishy. While I understood that these small, less fishy tasting clams are probably much more popular with the thousands of tourists that travel throughout Fisherman's Wharf each day, I was still disappointed. I guess my first impression was right; the fried clams out here just aren't the same.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Potato Latkes

Though Chanukah has sadly come and gone, it would not be Chanukah without some potato latkes. I was lucky enough to enjoy these wonderful treats several times over the eight nights. These latkes can be thick or thin, crispy and chewy. They hold up well to sour cream and applesauce. They are filling, but not mealy or doughy. I've tried many different latkes but these are always my favorite. This is my mom's original recipe, and it has never failed. Though time consuming, it is easy enough to figure out. The key is to make sure that while processing the potatoes in the Cuisinart, use two different blades in order to vary the textures of the potatoes. This recipe makes about 16 latkes, but it can be easily adjusted to make more than that. Doubling this recipe, or using large potatoes works well. You'll never eat conventional hash browns again.

Potato Latkes

5 to 6 medium potatoes
6 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 medium onion
Plenty of vegetable oil for frying

1) Peel and coarsely shred potatoes using a food processor.
2) Squeeze out excess water from the shredded potatoes. Do this with your hands in a sink. Cheesecloth can be very useful for this.
3) In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, flour, onion, salt and pepper until smooth.
4) Stir the potatoes into the egg mixture.
5) Heat a pan and add about 1/2 an inch of oil. Once oil is very hot, begin adding batter in scoops about 1/4 of a cup. Flatten and round the scoop into a pancake.
6) Fry pancakes on each side until the sides are golden brown. If the oil is hot enough this should only take 3-5 minutes on each side.
7) Preheat an oven to 200 degrees, and keep the latkes warm in until all the latkes are cooked.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Perfection... Gary Danko

On Sunday I had my first meal at Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco. All other meals in my life fall short. Every single taste was exciting and new because I was introduced to different combinations that I never realized existed before. The originality and ingenuity that was displayed by the different flavors and textures was stunning. I don't know if any one meal was ever as daring or innovative as this one.

The service was the first jab made by Gary Danko in its one-two knock out combo. The staff knew exactly how to act, what to do, and what to say. Each and every one was poised and extremely helpful when it came to the food. They all seemed to have an immense knowledge of the menu, and somehow they seemed to know exactly what it was that I was looking for. The entire night I had this strange sensation that the waiters were reading my mind. Want to try a fish and a meat? (Yes.) Get the four-course dinner. Want something light but flavorful for the first course? (Definitely.) Try the oysters. Need something sweet, indulgent, and rich for dessert? (You know it.) Have the flambéed apples. The second a diner would leave to use the restroom, someone would pop up to fold his or her napkin. As soon as someone's water was running low, they were there to refill it. The waiters were everywhere, and yet they were nowhere. They managed to make sure that everything was going well, and yet they did not seem bothersome or overly present throughout the meal. It was as if they were trained to pick up signals from customers letting them know when they were needed. They were all very personable and friendly, and none of them were pretentious. To put it simply, the waiters were able to add to the meal without working too hard to do it.

The haymaker of the meal was definitely the food. I now understand what Dante meant when he said that words are not descriptive enough to illustrate the beauty in life. There is no way I can fully do justice to the flavors that I tasted that night. While it was already over a week ago, it is still fresh in my mouth. My mom and I essentially shared everything we tried, this way we each got to have about eight different courses.
First we had the glazed oysters, and a lobster salad.

The lobster was fresh, juicy, and soft on the inside, and served with a fruity, tangy puree. It was a very light dish that mixed textures like soft and juicy along with crunchy and goopy like a masterpiece. The subtle and buttery flavor of the lobster was succulent and played well with the bright flavors of the puree.

The glazed oysters were warm and creamy with a slight hint of brine in a thick glaze. Caviar was dolloped on top of each oyster. The sweet, creamy flavor of the glazed oysters was perfectly balanced with the salty chewiness of the caviar. It was presented in a stunningly white bowl and the light, creamy, pink glaze filled the bowl about a half of an inch up the walls. It was nice to look at as well as to eat. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Next we split the pan-seared scallops. This was definitely another favorite! The scallops were simply done by searing on the top and bottom in oil and served with a butternut squash puree, roasted cauliflower, pistachios, and pomegranate seeds. The scallops were placed on top of the butternut squash puree and were then sprinkled with all of the other accoutrements. The scallops were chewy and succulent on the inside, but had a crisp outer layer. The squash and pomegranate mixed perfectly with the pistachios and cauliflower to create and sweet and savory dance for the taste buds. The cauliflower, pistachios and pomegranate seeds all added a crunch to the scallop and puree. Nothing about this dish was overly fancy or intricate, and yet the flavors and textures were all thought through to the point of food bliss.

For our entrées my mom had the pan steamed shellfish with a Thai red curry sauce, and jasmine rice. I had roasted quail stuffed with foie gras and porcini mushrooms. I tasted the shellfish and it was a wonderful curry, sweet with a spicy undertone that didn't overpower the shellfish. All of the shellfish was cooked to perfection. I won't go into long detail about this dish because I did not get to taste it thoroughly. I will talk about my quail, however. Anyone who thinks that quail tastes just like chicken has to be crazy. The quail was juicy and tender in a way that chicken can rarely achieve. While chicken can most certainly be delicious, the size of the bird makes it more difficult to cook so that parts of it are juicy without other parts becoming dry. With the tiny quail, it seemed that roasting allows all of the poultry’s own flavors and juices to remain sealed up within the skin throughout the entire bird. Also, I think that the quail must be raised in a way that keeps the meat fatty and tender, as opposed to some chickens that develop more muscular tones. There’s no doubt in my mind that the quail has an advantage over the average chicken. This particular quail was roasted so that the outside was just browned with crispy parts, but the overall texture was very soft and moist. The inside was the best part, because this is where the juices of the quail, foie gras, and mushrooms all combined. The smoky, earthy flavors of the mushrooms complimented the quail, and the foie gras' soft, buttery texture made the whole dish perfectly tender. It is hard to go back to chicken after this quail.

For our dessert course we shared the apple flambé for two. This is prepared tableside, and is truly a treat to watch. A tableside cart was wheeled out, a stainless steel pan was brought to temperature, and then the brown sugar was slowly melted. One of the smart and talented waiters whipped up the caramel and flambéed apples right in front of us, and a crisp and warm funnel cake was brought out with creamy, sweet cinnamon ice cream. While making the caramel and apples the waiter entertained us with anecdotes about the waiters with the best caramel, and soon his pan was sizzling with goopy, thick caramel. The apples were warm, sweet, and soft enough to cut with a fork, yet strong enough not to turn into mush. The funnel cake came in a satisfying cube, the dough fried to a golden crisp. While funnel cakes are generally found in fairs, ballparks, and IHOP, this was the gourmet’s version. It was crispy and strong on the outside, perfect for standing up to soft apples, gooey caramel, and ice cream. Yet the inside was soft and chewy. The flavor was not overly sweet. It did not need to be; the apples and caramel did the job. This dessert was the culmination of the entire meal. It was another example of the innovative way that Gary Danko mixes textures and flavors, as well as a beautiful presentation, to impress his audience. This was a very sweet and satisfying way to finish off the meal.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Chemical free coals

As a quick follow up to my recent post about cooking meat, I did have a MEAT club meeting this past Friday. I used a cone to help light the coals this week instead of using lighter fluid. Wow was I happy! I had no idea that having chemical free coals at my first meeting was going to release that many endorphins.

There was a clear difference between the tastes of the meat. I know this because my good friend, and co-leader of MEAT club used lighter fluid on our second grill. I know, I feel guilty that I wasn't able to completely outlaw lighter fluid from the MEAT fires, but I'm well on my way! While both of our grills had powerful heat emanating from its coals, I took pride in the fact that mine had been lit without the use of lighter fluid. Those who chose burgers and steaks from my fire seemed to be happy as well. While the meat on both grills was coming off of the fire juicy on the inside with a crisp brown outer layer, the product from the other grill still seemed to have the sourish, gasoline-like flavor that can be associated with lighter fluid. Not to mention, I still think I may have heard a few grumbling tummies... not a good sign.

I was happy to say however that everything cooked from the fluid-free grill seemed to taste simply like meat should, smoky and salty with the savory juices that go so well with cheese on top. From now on I will be lighting my coals without lighter fluid, for a much purer taste. Maybe soon I will be able to try out a wood fire!