Kondo – Tokyo, Japan

I knew this was a 2 Michelin star tempura restaurant but I didn’t know much more than that.  Surprisingly I was able to make reservations just a day in advance for 6 people which was even more shocking when I saw how small the place was.  There was absolutely no English signage so had it not been for our taxi driver pointing it out to us we probably never would have found it.

Once inside we were seated around the tempura bar with a front row seat to tempura delights being fried in front of us (also Chef Fumio Kondo unbeknownst to us).  With three menu choices to choose from, we decided to go big and ordered the largest of the three, the “Yomoji” menu which included – an appetizer of 2 Japanese dishes, sashimi, tempura (7 vegetables, 4 fish, 3 shrimp), and Kakiage (a mixture of scallops and honewort fried in batter).  It was an aggressive order but our thought was “go big or go home!”.

Highlights were the shrimp, tuna sashimi, and tempura vegetables.  My least favorite dish was hands down the first appetizer which included two types of raw fish (which were very good) and then a large snail and fish liver.  I’m not a fan of liver to begin with and this one didn’t do anything to change my mind.  That being said I tried it to be polite and moved on:)

With each piece of tempura that we were served, we were told to eat half with a little salt and the other half dipped in the tempura sauce which had fresh diakon in it.  Overall I enjoyed the simplicity of the salt.  Everything was so fresh and cooked to absolute perfection.  Watching the chefs delicately prepare each dish was a treat.

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Sashimi, fish liver (I believe monkfish) and sea snail

 

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Steamed tofu with yam, gingko nuts, and potato

 

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Tuna sashimi

 

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Shrimp heads

 

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Shrimp

 

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Lotus root

 

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Kisu – flat white fish

 

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Shiitake mushroom

 

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Some sort of fish/eel wrapped in shiso

 

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Onion

 

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Kakiage

 

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Fruit for dessert

 

Squid Ink Pasta with Shrimp, Nduja and Tomato

Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit • March 2015

If you get Bon Appetit or happened to see the most recent issue on the newsstand you saw the same food porn I did.  It was enough for me to race to the store in search of nduja this past weekend in hopes that I could make this gorgeous dish.  Lucky for me, my local grocery store just happened to get some in last week!  This dish is absolutely stunning presentation wise and flavor wise.  The black squid ink pasta is so sexy nestled in a white dish and the chopped up shrimp make each bite complete.  The fresh lemon juice is the perfect compliment to the otherwise hearty and meaty pasta and really does a great job brightening the dish as a whole.  I am dying to make this again and will be sure to call my grocery store to ensure they have nduja ahead of time to avoid disappointment.

4 SERVINGS

Ingredients

  • 1 pound large head-on or shell-on shrimp
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 6 garlic cloves, divided, 2 smashed, 4 thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup tomato passata or puréed whole peeled tomatoes
  • 4 ounces nduja*
  • Kosher salt
  • 12 ounces squid ink linguine
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

Peel and devein shrimp, saving heads and/or shells. Finely chop shrimp; set aside. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high and cook smashed garlic, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute. Add reserved shrimp heads and/or shells and cook, stirring, until bright pink, about 2 minutes. Add bay leaf and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until stock is slightly reduced and flavorful, 8–10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl; discard solids.

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Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add sliced garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat and carefully add tomatoes and 1 cup stock (mixture may sputter). Return to heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is beginning to thicken, about 3 minutes. Add nduja, using a wooden spoon to work it into the sauce. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors have melded, about 3 minutes. Stir in reserved shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until opaque, about 2 minutes.
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Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente (pasta will still be opaque and very firm in the center). Drain pasta, reserving 1½ cups pasta cooking liquid.

Add pasta and 1 cup pasta cooking liquid to sauce and cook, tossing often and adding more cooking liquid to help finish cooking pasta, until pasta is al dente and sauce is thickened (but still saucy) and coats pasta, about 5 minutes. Add lemon juice and ¼ cup parsley; toss. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve pasta topped with more parsley.

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Do Ahead: Stock can be made 1 day ahead. Let cool; cover and chill. Wrap tightly and chill shrimp separately.

*The recipe says you can substitute an extra glug of olive oil and some red pepper flakes if you can’t find nduja but I wouldn’t recommend that.  I think the nduja is the key ingredient to this dish and without it, the end result would be extremely different.

**Places to buy nduja online – Zingerman’s and Boccalone

Stateside – Seattle, WA

I feel like even just 6 or 7 years ago when my husband and I moved back home from San Francisco, we felt like Seattle had some serious catching up to do in terms of the restaurant scene, but today I think a lot of cities need to catch up to us.  I’m happily floored by the chefs that have emerged and all the different cuisines that are popping up.

A French Vietnamese restaurant, Stateside’s chef/owners have planted themselves in the heart of Capitol Hill’s restaurant scene (at least the one on the west side – there are many) and have created such a fun environment.  Tropical wallpaper mixed with reclaimed wood tables, it’s a good mix and a great backdrop for some pretty awesome food!

We started with the Crispy Duck Fresh Rolls (duck rolls wrapped in fresh herbs and rice paper) which were very good.  Fresh flavors from the herbs, great texture from the crispy duck…all in all I would get these again no doubt about it.

Next were the Chili Cumin Pork Ribs (a bit spicy or extra spicy).  We chose a bit spicy but I think I’d go extra spicy next time.  I just wasn’t sure what to expect so we played it safe.  The ribs were perfectly cooked…the meat was so tender and moist.  The spices were great…different than your normal ribs but I like the change.  The fresh cilantro on the side is a great addition too!

The Green Papaya Salad was calling my name – sooo good if you like green papaya salad.  Long beans, tomatoes, lime, chili, dried shrimp (didn’t even notice them) and beef jerky…whaaaa?!  Crazy right?!  No…amazing!  They do note that it can be made vegetarian.  Unless you are one don’t do it:)  Everything about this was perfect.  Slightly spicy, fresh, crunchy peanuts on top…YUM!

The Master Stock Crispy Chicken (free range chicken poached in aromatic stock, then fried crispy) sounded too good not to try.  And different.  It came with three dipping sauces (I can’t remember them now sorry) and was topped with scallions and something fried like tempura bits but I can’t recall that either – my apologies.  Great dish!  The flavors are so different and well matched that I’m having a hard time describing them.

Last for the savory was the Bun Cha Hanoi (pork patties and belly in caramel fish sauce marinade.  imperial rolls, rice vermicelli and herb plate).  Delicious!  I loved this and think i could eat it quite often.  Everything is served separately which allows you create your bite.  Just thinking about this meal makes me hungry:)

Last but not least was dessert.  The only tragedy here is that ever since having a baby I’ve completely lost the ability to remember anything worthwhile therefore I need to write everything down and I didn’t in this case.  SO…I have no idea what it was we ate but I can tell you this…it was the most incredible dessert and I would go back for just it.  I realize I’m not helping you out here but at least you can reference the photo and see if anything looks similar on the menu.

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Trove Noodle – Seattle, WA

Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi have proven themselves ingenious chefs once again!  Trove, located on the corner of Pike and Summit, is four concepts in one.  You’ve got Noodle, Parfait, Bar and BBQ.  All are very unique and different yet they compliment each other perfectly.  I’ve been to all four but because they’re each their own, they also deserve their own blog post so stay tuned.

We couldn’t help ourselves and had to order three different noodles.  First the yellow curry rigatoni with cauliflower chickpea and yogurt.  Out standing!  So much flavor, awesome texture…standout dish for me!  I believe the nuts on top were toasted hazelnuts and there were also raisins or currants in there as well.  Perfection.

Next the spaghetti stir fried with meatballs and swiss chard.  Sounds plain but there was so much more to the dish and it was tasty!

Last but not least (and somehow I forgot to take a picture) was the rice noodle, chipotle pad thai with pork belly and yu choy.  Awesome!

I really don’t think you can go wrong.  The menu rotates so get in there often and try something new each time.  IF you aren’t stuffed when you leave, stop by Parfait on the way out.

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Peasant – New York, NY

Our trip to New York this past December was different from our others in the past such that we didn’t have any agenda nor did I make any reservations ahead of time.  Typically I set my alarm for 6am 2 months in advance and call to get into whichever restaurant I have on my list and then I go back to bed.  We’ve done the 3 hour Michelin star meals, the fussy food where you debate grabbing some street food on the walk home.  This time we wanted to eat like locals, explore the different neighborhoods and that’s exactly what we did.

Our first night there we got in late and asked our concierge what they recommended for great Italian food near the hotel (The Mercer Hotel in Soho).  Immediately she said, “Peasant!” and off we went to dinner.  The ambiance is great, rustic but refined.  Chef Frank DeCarlo really prides himself on the kitchen which is meant to be exactly like a true old world kitchen in Italy or France.  Rustic brick wood-fired ovens, a rotisserie…the only gas is so they can boil water we were told.  Let’s not forget to give credit where due…he laid the brick himself!

The food…where to start?!  We couldn’t help ourselves and had to order the Burrata with wood-roasted tomatoes and the Polpi in Purgatorio (baby octopus, hot chiles).  Both were outstanding!  Perfectly presented, cooked, prepared…delicious and I would order them again in a heartbeat.  For our main courses we chose the Gnocchi al Funghi (brown butter, sage, mushrooms) and Tagliolini al Ragu di Vitello (homemade tagliolini, veal ragu).  I never use this blog as a forum to talk badly about a restaurant or dish (I just don’t write about them) but in this case I wanted to because I love this restaurant so much but this is where we felt there was something lacking.  Neither dish had much flavor which was surprising seeing as our starters were incredible.  The pastas lacked salt for one which probably would have made a huge difference.  This all being said I would most likely order one of the pizzas and/or meat/fish dishes next time (we were told by other locals after the fact that their pizzas are to die for).  For dessert we went with the Budino di Pane e Cioccolato Bianco (white chocolate bread pudding with almonds, figs and white chocolate gelato).  I typically stray away from white chocolate but I’m a sucker for bread pudding and I’m glad we tried it because it was incredible!

One more thing to note, I guess there’s a great wine room down below that wasn’t even on our radar.  Just something to note!

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Fig & Olive – Newport Beach, CA

This restaurant is beautiful from the inside out.  If I could live in there I would.  The interior design is so clean and elegant just like the food.  And it never hurts to be surrounded by beautiful people.

I went for lunch and ordered light but would love to go back and explore the menu more.  I started with the Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio which was perfect and followed that with the Salade de Laitue with grilled shrimp added.  Next time I’d love to try the Salmon Tartar, Penne Funghi Tartufo (I’m a glutton for truffles), or the Fig & Olive Chicken Tajine.

Next time you’re in need of a nice leisurely comfortable meal, go here!

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Graze – Walla Walla, WA

On a recent wine tasting trip to Walla Walla, my group and I asked where to get a great sandwich in town and the unanimous answer was Graze’s right off of Main Street.  After checking into our hotel, we made the 5 minute walk and were so pleased with what we encountered.

I decided to go for a hot sandwich and ordered the Pepper Jack Chicken – grilled chicken, pepper jack sauce, tomatoes, red onion, provolone and lettuce.  So tasty!  I like spice so this was a great choice for me.  I was also tempted by the Pastrami (a classic in my book), Turkey Avocado and Lemongrass Chicken.  Delicious!

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