Spring Vegetables with Bone Marrow

This past weekend was supposed to be one of epic spring cleaning. And we did spend most of it (except for a delightful brunch cooked by friends) hard at work. But everything takes way longer to accomplish than you’d think, so at least a couple more of these are in our future. My philosophy is that if you have to work on the weekend you should at least eat well. I don’t have any pictures of the meal we made on Saturday, but it was delicious (and quick in the sense that most of it was unattended).  Here’s the idea:  rub a pork tenderloin in garlic, fresh thyme, olive oil, hot pimenton, salt, and pepper.  Put it in the sous vide machine for about 2-2.5 hours. Go away for 2 hours. When you come back toss a marrow bone (that you’ve soaked in water overnight to leech the blood) in a pan. When it renders throw in a peeled fresh tomato, some chopped spinach and onion, and a can of drained garbanzo beans in that order as things cook down. Add some (lots of) garlic and when the pan is dry de-glaze with some Oloroso sherry.  Finish with good olive oil.  Sear the tenderloin in a cast iron pan, slice and serve over the chick peas with a nice salad (ours had blanched asparagus, radishes, butter lettuce and scallions). I would say the total attended time for this meal was about 45 minutes for something I think could be served for a nice dinner party. And it was about the juiciest pork I’ve ever made.  Plus, the pimenton added a wonderful smoky flavor that you don’t usually get from sous vide meat.

The next night we were pretty full from the huge brunch we’d had earlier and needed a quick dinner since we didn’t get hungry until late (and I was doing some serious closet re-org). I sauteed some salmon in butter with sage.  As a side I decided on potatoes and vegetables, but I didn’t want to make multiple dishes. I decided to start with a marrow bone again. (I had purchased three from the market and then realized they weren’t really big enough to roast as a starter Fergus Henderson style so I needed something to do with them. In both cases I used them where I’d normally use a slice of chopped bacon to start a dish). I blanched some fresh peas and asparagus until crisp-tender and set aside. I quartered some small red potatoes and cooked them until they were almost done.

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I added the potatoes to a pan in which I was rendering the marrow bone with a little bit of olive oil and cooked them until they were crisp and the pan was pretty dry.

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Back in went the green vegetables (for about 45 seconds) along with a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt pepper, and chopped basil. It made for a delicious and springy (but with rich marrow-y undertones) side – think the flavor of mushy peas and roasted potatoes but fresher.  And even though it was one dish, I say it counts as a meat and three vege ;).

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Tempura Kondo, Tokyo

I was pretty much unaware that tempura could be transcendent. Turns out it can, and it can even earn two Michelin stars.  At the twelve seat bar in Tokyo run by Chef Kondō Fumio each faultlessly fried bit of vegetable or seafood is delivered in a crunchy, lacy, little package which you either dip into tempura sauce or eat with a little lemon and salt. While he has help behind the bar to prep and batter the food, Kondō personally fries each piece to perfection, so this isn’t a super speedy meal, especially by Japanese standards.

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I have to say this had to be one of my favorite (out of a pretty nutty array of amazing) meals in Tokyo. Some people say that after you eat sushi in Japan you can never eat it again in the US.  I don’t think I’ll have that problem (though there were a few bites, like the uni at Mizutani that I don’t think will ever be replicated) but I might be ruined for American tempura.

Some of the stand outs from our meal included:

A deep fried shrimp head.  I think this was my favorite thing period.  I need to eat more shrimp heads, they were in a number of things we ate in Japan and they are seriously delicious (at least when fried).

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The shrimp bodies were pretty excellent as well. Not at all over cooked and incredibly sweet.

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Some seasonal vegetables followed including asparagus, lotus root, and some of the most amazing fiddlehead ferns I’ve ever eaten – I know what I’d be making all spring if I could replicate this batter:

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There were many other excellent courses but I thought the two most interesting were the icefish wrapped in shiso and then fried.  These little buggers are pretty bizarre, even though the flavor was pretty much like a typical white fish. It’s hard to tell from the photo but these are a bunch of individual clear noodle like fish.  While we were at Tsukiji earlier in the trip a man standing in line next to us told a story of drinking them alive in a glass of water at a sushi place where he ate.  I’m thinking that would have been a bridge too far for me.  I’m not guessing actually, I’m sure I would not have enjoyed that.

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The other was tempura sea urchin.  Another item I’d not encountered before. I liked the crunchy texture with the creamy filling but like many things the flavor was over powered by the shiso. Can I suggest wrapping the uni in squash blossoms?  For some reason I think that would be amazing.

photo 5The meal ended with pickles, soup, and rice. Followed by some fresh fruit.  Bob ordered the slightly more expensive menu which also included tempura scallops which were sweet and delicious even though I was packed to the gills (pun intended).  My one regret is that we didn’t buy his cookbook.  It was all in Japanese so I didn’t think it would be useful but now I’m realizing I’m sure I could have conned a friend into providing translation services.  Alas …

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The Real Buddha Bar

Kanga An is a beautiful temple on an unassuming side street in Kyoto. Built at the request of retired Emperor Go Mizuno it’s still in operation today. But in addition to a Buddhist Temple it’s also an acclaimed vegetarian restaurant. We didn’t eat there because at this point in the trip we couldn’t handle any more huge set multiple-course meals even if they were composed entirely of vegetables. But you know what we did stop by for a drink.
Yeah this temple has a secret bar in the back. It’s surrounded by lush gardens and the bar is tended by a sweet and gentle man who will tell you everything you’d like to know about the temple and take you on a tour of the gardens and shrines. This place is by no means a secret (it’s even been featured on GOOP for goodness sake *sigh*) but we were there on a very quiet night and it was a lovely and contemplative experience.

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A Japanese Baseball Game

The rules might be the same, but the experience is totally different. Turns out Japanese baseball games are more spirited than those in the states. We saw the Yakult Swallows play the Hanshin Tigers (who are notorious for their rabid fans). The first sign that this is going to be a different experience is that each team shows up with a band to encourage their fans to cheer the team on.

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And cheer they do. They have a different song for each player that comes up to bat along with some kind of catchy rhythm that they rap out by tapping little plastic baseball bats together. This may not be the Yankees, but even A-Rod doesn’t have half a stadium cheering him on in perfect unison every time he comes up to bat. Speaking of cheering:
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Yup cheerleaders! At a baseball game. It was pretty great sometimes they had flags, and sometimes little umbrellas.
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Little umbrellas you ask? This had to be the most unexpected part of the event. Each time the Swallows scored a run (out of seemingly nowhere) all the fans opened up tiny plastic umbrellas bobbed them in the air and sang a little victory song. Not only was the spectacle delightful but the umbrellas fold up and pack out of sight so it was also totally unexpected since I hadn’t noticed anybody (let alone everybody) carrying one. >

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And of course I can’t forget the food. You can buy beers from girls with kegs on their backs, or beers with frozen foam. Oh and the snacks are a little different than what you’d find at american baseball games too ;).
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All in all it was a delightful way to spend the day doing something familiar in an unfamiliar setting. >

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Tjukiji Fish Market

Our first meal in Tokyo was at Sushi Mizutani. It was an experience (and a bill) to be reckoned with. Mizutani-San doesn’t speak English nor does he mess around (and he certainly doesn’t let you screw up the experience by pulling out a camera). He does deliver pristine sushi in an efficient no nonsense manner (though he did finally crack a smile when we thanked him in Japanese). The experience is incredible. Each piece of fish is expertly cut and delivered on just warm, perfectly seasoned rice. The experience in some ways is a revelation. I didn’t know uni could taste almost like sweet custard. And I realized I’ve wasted years thinking I don’t like mackerel. I’d only eaten abalone in stir fried preparations. Turns out it is delicious unadorned (but its liver is not for me).

The next morning we attempted to go to the auction at Tsukiji Fish Market. Even arriving by 4:18 am wasn’t enough to score us a seat sadly. So we wandered off to sooth our chapped feelings with what’s supposed to be amazing fish at Sushi Dai. The wait was about 2 hours.

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It was cold. It was 5 something in the morning. No way was I waiting 2 hours to eat.
Enter Sushi Daiwa. Which I’m informed is just as good. It opens 30 minutes later at 5:30 but we were able to get in on the first seating. Turned out to be a great call. The fish was incredibly fresh. It wasn’t as expertly prepared (the o-toro was cold, though the chu-toro was perfect), the uni wasn’t life changing (though it was excellent), and the rice wasn’t as good. But for less than a quarter of the price of Mizutani this experience wins in my book. You’re crammed into a tiny sushi bar and the fish arrives as fast as you can eat it (or faster)! The sushi chef didn’t speak English here either but he was a jolly chap and I think amused by my efforts to name each piece in Japanese after he’d tell me the English name. Tsukiji isn’t an experience to be missed if you’re in Tokyo. And if you hate lines like I do, I suggest you mosey over to Sushi Daiwa around 4:45 am and get ready for a totally legit fishy encounter.
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