Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dinner @ Blackbird in Chicago, IL

I ended up in Chicago for an unexpected trip and decided I needed to hit up the Chicago foodie scene while I was in town.  The trip was last minute so I knew that reservations would be hard, but I was able to snag dinner at Blackbird on relatively short notice.  In the last Michelin guide release in Chicago, it was given a Michelin star.  They have an a la carte menu, but I decided to go for the tasting menu.

The tasting menu is made up predominantly of smaller portions of appetizers and entrees from their a la carte menu, however the amuse bouche and an intermezzo towards the end appeared to be unique to the tasting menu.  So if you're looking for something far different than the menu, the tasting menu shouldn't be something you should try.

As an interesting aside, when we got to the restaurant, the hostess gave several of us a black napkin to replace the white napkin on the table.  Others got to keep their white napkin.  We curiously asked the waiter why they did this.  Apparently it's done dependent on the pants the individual is wearing.  They don't want white linen/lint to fall on someone's dark pants and similarly dark linen/lint to fall onto someone's light color pants.  I thought it was interesting.

Anyways, here's a review of the tasting.

1) cinnamon dusted lamb with leek, pickled blueberry, puffed buckwheat, and squash

This might have been my favorite tasting of the night.  It was a mixture of so many flavors and textures (especially the puffed buckwheat) and the lamb was delicious.

2) celery root soup with grilled lobster, preserved lemon, celery, and marigold

I really enjoyed this celery root soup.  My only knock is (what I believe to be) the celery shavings put on top of the lobster.

3) ivory char crudo with smoked char roe, turnip, green grape, pearl onion, and hemp rye

This was an interesting dish, one that all of us were not expecting.  The pearl onions were diced and mixed in with the diced ivory char.  The overall taste was sweet.  Overall, quite nice.  I like it when a restaurant can surprise me with something I've never really had before.

4) oil-poached walleye with parsley root, hazelnut, radish, chickweed, and spicy coppa

This was probably my second favorite dish of the night.  The fish was perfectly cooked and all the sauces matched very well with the fish.

5) smoke-brined chicken breast and black truffle-taleggio sausage with carrots, pecans, and dill

Overall a solid dish.  The chicken was good, but the highlight of the dish was the carrots, with three different kinds of carrots in the dish (atleast 3, guess there could have been more).  On the upper right of the picture you can see a black-ish ingredient on the dish.  I couldn't figure out what it was at first, thinking it was maybe a mushroom.  But the texture wasn't there and the flavor was certainly not mushroom.  It ends up it was an heirloom carrot, something I'd never had before.  The carrot flavor wasn't as strong as normal carrots, really interesting.

6) grilled striploin with charred cabbage, fingerling potatoes, boiled peanuts, and basil

This was a real big miss of the evening in my book.  The striploin and charred cabbage were really good by itself, but I'm not a big fan of peanuts.  I really feel the peanut flavored sauce in this dish drowned out everything else.  But that may be due to just my personal taste of peanuts.  If I knew better, I would have eaten the steak and charred cabbage by itself (as well as the potatoes) and pushed the peanuts and peanut sauce to the side.

7) milton creamery 'prairie breeze' cow's milk white cheddar with toasted sourdough crumpet, horseradish butter, quince, and amaranth

This was the cheese course of the evening.  I've never had a cheese course served sort of "on the side" of the dish while everything else (sourdough crumpet, horseradish butter, and quince) were plated in the center.  I really enjoyed all of the flavors mixed together.  Very tasty.

8) amaro and fennel sorbet with pomegranate and thyme tapioca

If you've read any of my blog entrees before, you'll know I love sorbet.  This was an excellent tasting.  Fennel is not a flavor I would have expected to like, but it was good by itself.  Add in the pomegranate and this was very tasty. 

9) bourbon gooey butter cake with whipped goat cheese, caramelized strudel, pumpkin pie, pecans, sorghum

This was the other miss of the night.  It's just my personal taste, but it was way too sweet for me.  I'm not sure how "gooey butter cake" is made, but it probably involved lots and lots of sweets.  The mixture of textures with the whipped goat cheese and caramelized strudel was quite good though.  I'm glad to have tried it, I'll know that it's probably not my cup of tea to order in the future.

10) mignardise - caramel and chocolate truffle

Overall, it was a good tasting, however I think there were too many misses for me.  It's not a knock against Blackbird itself, as they were off due to my personal dislikes and tastes.

I noticed on their website the tasting menu from a few weeks prior was posted.  On that tasting menu, seared sea scallops were served instead of the ivory char, grilled lamb instead of the sirloin, and a grilled pear dessert instead of the gooey butter cake.  Based on the descriptions of those dishes, those probably would have made the tasting a lot better for me given my particular tastes.  This is very likely due to the fact I love scallops, the scallops would have not made it two fish dishes in a row, the lamb wouldn't have had peanuts, and the grilled pear would have likely been way less sweet.

One additional fun fact, in the restrooms at Blackbird, there's a curtain.

It's sort of fun to peek behind the curtain to see what's there.  There's something different in the men's and ladies restrooms.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Dinner @ Cotogna in San Francisco, CA

I recently went to Cotogna in San Francisco, CA.  It's a pretty well known Italian restaurant run by the folks from Quince.  My understanding is the staff at Quince decided they wanted to make Quince a high end fine dining establishment.  So they created Cotogna next to it to "move" a number of their more casual dishes over to it.  Quince apparently achieved its goal, as it eventually got two Michelin stars.  Cotogna did pretty well too, being awarded Bib Gourmand status from Michelin several years in a row.

Normally, I probably wouldn't write a blog post about Cotogna, as I usually reserve my blog for posts for nicer places or places with tasting menus.  However, Sunday is unique at Cotogna.  Instead of their normal a la carte menu, they offer a four course tasting menu for $55 dollars (which they call "Sunday Supper").  I'm the type of person that dislikes ordering off a large menu, so when a restaurant just serves you the food it feel it wants to serve you that day, I think that's a good thing :-)

Before going onto the food below, I will say that for the price, I thought the portions were very generous.  I honestly would have been just as happy with 1/2 the portion that was actually served.  So if you are looking for a lot of food for a good price, I think the Sunday Supper is great.

1) passatelli in brodo

I will admit, this dish doesn't look that appetizing.  It sort of look like Campbells soup, however it was very tasty.  The broth was particularly good.  The waitress said you could think of this like an Italian chicken noodle soup.  The pasta was a pasta that I'd never tried.  According to wikipedia, passatelli is a pasta made of "bread crumbs, eggs, grated parmesan cheese, lemon, and nutmeg".  The pasta was really interesting.

2) tagliatelle con farina di castagne - chestnut tagliatelle with house made ricotta and sage

Another new thing, this was basically a chestnut pasta.  Something different than what I've had before.  Again, quite interesting and tasty.

3) anatra alla romagnola - duck w/ cabbage, onions agro dolce & potatoes cooked in the coals

I should mention the above was a serving of duck for two people, as it was shared between me and my date.  I was bit disappointed in this main course.  The duck breast was a chewy for my taste.  It appeared the duck breast was cooked a tad rare.  I'm not sure if this is normal and how duck will be when rare, but I wasn't particularly fond of it.  However, flavor wise the duck was tasty.  Off to the left was a small sauce, perhaps cranberry or similar berry-like sauce?  That was quite good, as were the onions and potatoes.

4) gelato di parmigiano reggiano

My date and I were originally trying to figure out what this gelato's flavor was.  When we asked the waitress, she said parmesan cheese.  Not what you'd typically think of for gelato, it was tasty and different.

So overall, a good dining experience.  I wouldn't say that it was a delicious meal, as too many things were presented to me that were quite different and unfamiliar to me.  However, I really enjoyed many of the different types of pasta and flavors presented that you normally won't see at an Italian restaurant.

Update:  I went to Cotogna again.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward Trade Analysis

A huge trade was announced today as the Cardinals traded Shelby Miller and a minor leaguer to the Braves for Jason Heyward and a relief pitcher.

This is a really interesting trade on several fronts.

First, it suggests the Braves are in a bit of a re-building mode.  After finishing the season 17 games behind the Nationals and 9 behind a wild card spot, there was no need to be in a win now mode.

For the Cardinals, it is an indication they may be in a win now mode.  Heyward is a free agent after 2015 and there is a strong belief he will be too expensive for the Cardinals to sign.  In order to get him, they had to give up a good young pitcher in Shelby Miller who has 4 years of control left.

So why trade Miller?  I believe there are several reasons.  Having John Lackey for one more year certainly is one reason.  But another major factor is that Miller really regressed in his second season with the Cardinals.  From his rookie year to sophomore year, his strikeout rate fell from 0.97 to 0.69 per inning.  His FIP also went up from 3.67 to 4.55.  I think there was a decent chance the Cardinals just decided to move on from Miller and believe his peak wasn't going to be as good as they hoped for.

However, I think there may be one other major reason.

In 2011 the Cardinals were criticized when they traded Colby Rasmus for players for a playoff run.  Most notably this was for Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel.  I absolutely hated the trade.  In 2010 Rasmus looked like he would be a superstar, hitting .276/.361/.498 with 23 home runs at the age of 23.  He was a highly skilled center field player with a high ceiling and 3 more years of control for several mid-tier players for a playoff run.

Why did the Cardinals do it?  GM John Mozeliak said one of the major reasons they did it was because they knew their playoff window was small.  With Albert Pujols about to become a free agent (and unlikely to return), Lance Berkman & Chris Carpenter unknowns for returning (although they both did return), the Cardinals felt they had to make a run.  Well, we know how 2011 worked out for the Cardinals ... really well.

I think there's a chance the Cardinals felt the same way this time.  Matt Holliday had one of his worst seasons in 2014.  He may simply be declining and his best years are behind him.  Yadier Molina was injured part of the season and his overall offense was down too.  His OPS was below 0.800 for the first time since 2010.  His best years may also be behind him.  Jhonny Peralta had a great year in 2014, but how many elite years does he have left in him?

With the death of Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals do not appear to have any superstar prospects to carry the organization for years out.  Players like Matt Adams and Kolten Wong may become quite good, but unlikely to be able to carry an organization.  Michael Wacha could have been in that category until his injury, so now he's a bit more of an unknown.  The Cardinals have solid prospects like Stephen Piscotty, but no one with a high ceiling like Taveras.

So with all the factors above and John Lackey's one year contract, I think the Cardinals may have realized 2015 may be their small window of a chance to win it all before a small rebuild would have to occur.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dinner @ All Spice in San Mateo, CA

I recently went to All Spice in San Mateo, CA for dinner.  It's a 1 Michelin Starred restaurant offering an Indian fusion a la carte menu.

1) amuse bouche - Eggplant soup with eggplant chip

The soup was tasty.  At first, I thought there was something missing from this dish, only realizing later that it was in my head.  I love baingan bartha, so I think I was initially thinking of that kind of flavor, only afterwards realizing that it was soup and not eggplant itself, hah!

2) Maple and smoked chili pork belly - Hazelnut pink lady apple, green garbanzo succotash, red onion marmalade, thyme chiffon cake

We ordered the pork belly appetizer, which was delicious.  Everything about this dish was great.  The pork belly was very soft and all the accompaniments were awesome.

3) Wagyu beef strip steak - Farro risotto, parsnip chip, wild mushrooms, nasturtium, chestnut-walnut cream

I was disappointed in this dish.  While the beef was very tender and soft, it didn't have the flavor I was expecting.  Perhaps it was a tad under seasoned?  Or perhaps my expectations for beef have been wildly thrown off course after eating at Alexander's Steakhouse?  This was not listed on the menu with a grade, so it's possible it was just not a high grade wagyu and I was unreasonably judging it.

4) Chocolate terrarium - Pink peppercorn chocolate mousse layered with almond-chocolate soil, passion fruit curd, dark chocolate chips and white chocolate

This was delicious.  It was chocolatey, and crunchy, and sweet.  Wonderful.

Overall, it was a good dinner, but the main course brought down the entire meal a bit.  When I go back, I might try a seafood entree instead, as others online have said they are excellent.