Sunday, October 19, 2008

Aria, Sydney

They say that the food is generally inversely proportionate to the view. Guillaume at Bennelong put me off dining in Sydney's hatted harbour restaurants. But I'll admit it, I was wrong, and Aria has put me back on track.

This blog was always meant to be about celebrating the good. And there was only good to be found here.

OK, so maybe the bread wasn't perfect, but the butter was fabulous and really, that's what eating bread is all about. That, or cheese.

Luckily I was dining with two of my favourite greedy weasels in the world, so when I arrived (late, natch) the champagne was already being poured. They didn't bat an eyelid when I suggested we begin by sharing the oyster starter, and then move on to our own starters. So six beautiful local oysters arrived, with a vichyssoise mousse. I generally prefer my oysters on the half-shell, by the dozen and with nothing more than a flick of tabasco or a squeeze of lemon, but this composed dish was heavenly.

The amuse bouche did sort of pass me by, but starters more than made up. The duck consomme was the winner; amazing depth of flavour with a couple of slithery duck confit wontons to ring the textural changes. My scampi came a close second though, showcasing the amazing shellfish that we take for granted here. Seriously, move to Calgary and soon you'll be having the sort of carnal response these scampi and crab croquettes caused me.

Mains were equally good. My quail came with a couple of breaded, deep-fried legs, which basically were KFC for gourmets, and this should be applauded. . Giles went very quiet over his beef, but his silence said more than anything. I didn't get a taste, but this was mainly because I was being all territorial over my quail and working out how I might take the bucket of Robuchon style mash potato home and make it my life partner.

Jet lag kicked in at this point and I was sure I wouldn't stand the 20 minute waiting time for Damana's passionfruit souffle. Luckily the wispy lightness and lick of passionfruit syrup that had been smeared on the cooking pot perked me up enough to make it through petites fours and coffee.

Rumours that I threatened to vomit with tiredness if our cab didn't arrive soon aside, this was a wonderful evening with cooking of the very highest calibre. I'd rate it over any other fine dining experience I've had in Sydney, Tetsuyas included. It totally encapsulates Sydney fine dining, with amazing ingredients, informal but knowledgeable service and, of course, a view to die for.

Aria is at 1 Macquarie St, Sydney (02) 9252 2555

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

My Mum's Corned Beef Hash

Old Court Gate
Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
It starts with marking anniversaries. First week without, first month alone. First my birthday, first of yours. Time passes, and you count two years, ten months and seventeen days of without. Eventually you realise that before you thought of life as moving forwards, but now you're moving from.

Today would have been my mum's 69th birthday. Today feels like a good day to remember her.

When someone you love dies unexpectedly, you don't lose them all at once. I remember waking up the morning after she died, on the floor of the lounge in Coventry.and wondering what I was doing there. Now, admittedly, it's not *entirely* unusual for me to not know where I am when I wake up. Too much travel and too many wild nights out have got me used to that. So I was having a moment of early morning woozy-snugglyness. And then I caught up to myself in the present tense and remembered she was gone.

With hindsight, these are some of the worst moments of all. I don't think the human mind is very good at dealing with sudden loss and tries to play tricks on you. I still have moments where I think, "I haven't spoken to Mum for a while, I must call her". The thing is. people don't disappear all at once. It's not as simple as they are here one day, and the next they are gone.

So after nearly three years, I am back from my place called grief. I don't cry every day anymore. I can hold more than one thought in my head at a time. People can mention their mums without me wanting to stab them, repeatedly, through the heart with a bread knife out of jealousy. I remember, with pleasure, the time I had with my mum, rather than raging about the time we won't.

As this is a food blog, I wanted to share a recipe of my mum's with you. I would go so far as to call it her signature dish. She wasn't a great cook, or even a good cook. Food wasn't hugely important to her. She was a war baby who spent her early years on rations and believed that the best time to put the Christmas sprouts on was sometime in early September.

We did share some food experiences. Grilled sardines and beer in Barcelona. The worst octopus in the world in Mykonos (shortly before she was bitten by a pelican). Years of my teenage vegetarian angst and arguments about whether or not I could eat a Kwik Save economy beefburger. And she baked a mean apple pie.

Anyways, here's how to make corned beef hash, Jo Edwards style. Serves three, with a side of mash potato (which is potatoes boiled and then mashed, no butter or milk to be added).

Take one onion. Chop and microwave on high until soft. Chop a tin of corned beef into small pieces. Open a tin of tomatoes. Mix tomatoes and corned beef with the onion. Cover and microwave on high until molten.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Ruminations on Mac and Cheese, Calgary and Chicago

It’s possible that I may end my days by drowning in a bowl of mac and cheese.

Macaroni cheese wasn’t something my mum ever served when I was growing up. I would like you all to believe that my mum would only ever serve a perfect spaghetti carbonara, perhaps followed by a simple green salad and then a piece of reggiano she’d been maturing in the family cheese cave, but we were more likely to get an economy beef burger from Kwik Save. I don’t believe I even tried pasta until I was 13 years old. So really I have no right to laugh at the Canadian obsession with Kraft Dinner, because I am sure that this is the sort of thing mum would have loved. I’m just so anti food stuffs that come in packages and are jacked up with preservatives, sodium and e numbers, that I doubt I’ll ever try it.

Luckily, lots of places serve beautifully home made mac and cheese here, and I think I might have to try them all.

My mac and cheese of the year (so far) was at Table Fifty-Two in Chicago. I was somewhat suspicious at first, as it’s run by Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get Fat Oprah or Thin Oprah food. Luckily it’s the former, and Art Smith is aiming to be “the home of Southern hospitality in Chicago”. It’s a cute little space, with a counter in front of the open wood burning oven, where singletons like me can go and try and chat up a chef. It’s great, they *have* to talk you and you don’t end up feeling all alone in a strange city. Of course one downside is that you also end up talking to the people sat next to you, who are also generally sad singletons and use words like “toothsome” to describe the cat-fish (yes, I nearly stabbed the man to my right) or keep telling you that you’re a food writer because you’re taking photos (no, I am not, as this blog attests).

The food at Table Fifty-Two is well worthy of investigation. The menu was full of things that I wanted to eat, most notable of which was a side dish of three cheese macaroni. However, I also really wanted to have crab cake with fennel and Georgia peanut remoulade and cat fish with bacon braised collard greens, hush puppy and cheese grits, and sadly I’d forgotten to pack my extra stomach for the trip, so I tried to score a half-serve of the mac. “Art doesn’t do half-serves” said the waiter. So I had to give it up and set to enjoying the wood fired biscuit they served me, along with a little devilled egg amuse.

Table Fifty-Two isn’t perfect, although the food and hospitality are pretty exceptional. They serve Fiji water instead of tap water and make a big deal out of serving Australian lamb. I get a little frustrated by this sort of ecological wastefulness. But these are minor points and this restaurant really wants you to have a good time, so I am going to forgive them.

And, of course, just after my cat fish was served, the chef came over with a cheeky grin and a bubbling cauldron of macaroni cheese. “I couldn’t let you not try it” he smiled. And I really wished I had packed that extra tummy. It was outstanding; amazing baked cheese lid, with lots of gooey cheese sauce beneath. I was counseled to stir the cheesy topping into the rest of the dish, but I always prefer to munch the topping first, especially the bits where the pasta has peeked out and you get these crispy, cheesy bits. Then you can enjoy the luscious, soft, creamy pasta and cheese sauce afterwards.

Another good mac and cheese, and much closer to me at the moment than Chicago, is at the Avenue Diner in Calgary. Their philosophy is about supporting local farmers and growers and serving really good, simple food to their customers. We couldn’t resist a side order of “Dad’s aged white cheddar mac and cheese” to go with breakfast, although we did forgo the optional truffle essence or marinated chicken. I really think I am going to have to start carrying that extra stomach with me at all times.

Avenue Diner
is at 105 - 8th Avenue S.W. Calgary. (403) 263 - 2673
Table Fifty-Two is at 52 W. Elm Street Chicago. +1 312.573.4000

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

It's All Greek to Me, Calgary

Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
So who woulda thunk it? The best baklava in the world is available in Calgary.

There's this place called Kalamata Grocery Store, located conveniently next to the Galaxie Diner, so you can have your breakfast and then stock up on deliciousness for the week ahead. The rose and pistachio baklava is, without doubt, the best I have eaten. The pastry is crackly-light, just shattering as you a take a bite, before the rosewater and syrup-soaked lower layers add more heft and luciousness to the mouthful. The pistachios are sweet, and the syrup not too over-powering. One mouthful will transport you to your Grecian island of choice (Mykonos, in my case) and suddenly your world is filled with the smell of oregano-rich roasting lamb, white church roof-tops against a brilliant blue sky and the smell of wet leather and poppers (in my case. You might have a different experience of Greece). Funny how the memory does that to you.

Kalamata also stocks the most amazing pressed Greek yogurt, which sells out fast, so it's always worth asking when they're getting some in next. I used mine to make tzatiki, which was rich, garlicky, cool and minty, all at the same time.

They also stock some amazing barrel aged feta, which I'll go into raptures over some other time.

I'm not sure if Kensington's Broken Plate restaurant uses any of Kalamata's ingredients, but it's a not bad place for a midweek supper. Portions are huge, and the bread amazingly moreish, so you probably don't want to do what we did, and order a couple of dips, some zucchini fritters, soup and salad. Actually, you can probably forgo the salad all together, for it was the biggest let down of the meal, with less than perfect tomatoes and a sort of chemically salad dressing. Don't pass by the fritters though. They are crisp, yet gooey mounds of zucchini, packed with flavour although served with some questionable zig-zags of beet puree. Just dip them in the tzatiki and enjoy.

Kalamata Grocery Store is at 1421 11 Street Southwest, Calgary.
The Broken Plate is at 302 10th Street N.W., Calgary

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Vero Bistro Moderne, Calgary

Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
The moral of this story? Never order the chicken.

It has always been one of my rules in a restaurant. Don’t order the chicken. Don’t annoy the waiter. I can make chicken at home and annoy my friends. At home I know that I’m eating a happy, organic chicken that lived a lovely life pecking at grubs and my friends won’t do anything indecent to my food.

I don’t go to restaurants to eat what I can cook at home.

That said, I have made two exceptions to this rule. There was a poularde en demi-deuil at Manresa, in Los Gatos, California that I crossed an ocean for and a roast chicken with bread sauce at Glebe Point Diner in Sydney that are worthy exceptions and worth seeking out. Chef David Kinch’s chicken in half mourning (as the translation goes; the name comes from the slices of black truffle that are stuffed under the skin before it’s poached) was specially prepared for us, and served with these slightly scronchy fingerling potatoes. Glebe Point Diner roasts their chicken and serves it with a solitary roast potato, nutmegy bread sauce and, when I have eaten there, some fabulous corn. Like Hoover for vacuum cleaner and Kleenex for tissue, when I see chicken on a menu, my mind leaps back to these two dishes. They are the quintessence of chicken for me.

So Vero was going to have a few problems from the get go. Because when they announced a special of poached chicken with black truffle, polenta and a lemon sauce, my mind went into munching mode and I was hopeful of a dish that had elements of my two favourite chicken dishes in the world. In Calgary. I’m nothing if not an endlessly hopeful girl. Things weren’t helped by the rest of the menu being all basic proteins plus some sort of culinary anachronism. Raspberry coulis? Is it still 1989 here?

Starters came and went, with the standout a Dungeness crab-cake that I wished I’d ordered rather than the sub-TGI Friday boneless-ribs. There was a nice touch and a nod to their tapas menu, with an amuse bouche of a single, glossy and fat Puglian olive and some small chunks of Parmesan Reggiano. But this was served after we’d started our appetizers. Along with the bread. And the heart shaped butter flavoured with sun dried tomato. And the wine.

The service here is sweet and well-meaning, but it needs some help. We were really rushed towards the end, with desert menus and coffee being offered before one of us had even finished our main. Which is no problem, just tell us if you’re doing a second seating and you need the table back (and generally speaking, I’ll go somewhere else. Because I like to decide how long my supper is going to take me to eat, thank you very much) but don’t rush us because the poached chicken special was running with blood and you have to send it out again.

They did everything they could to put it right. Apologies, comped the chicken, sent a glass of delicious wine (the name of which I never did find out) and offered us free deserts. I was half hoping for a snog from the chef, but this never materialized.

So I hate to be negative, and I really should go back for late-night tapas. God knows Calgary needs something chic and chi-chi for late nights. Perhaps Vero will be great for that. Just beware the chicken.

Vero Bistro Moderne is at 209 10 Street NW AB Calgary 403-283-8988
Manresa is at 320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 408- 354-4330
Glebe Point Diner is at 407 Glebe Point Rd Glebe, Sydney +61 2 9660 2646

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Calgary Pork Bun Tasting

The buns
Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
Eileen kept bringing me delicious pork buns to taste and I got to thinking. Who makes the best baked cha sui baau in Calgary?

This is the sort of thing that runs through my head a lot. Sometimes the voices get so loud that I have to lay down in a darkened room to try and get them to quieten. Why haven't I read the complete works of Dickens? Who is the fifth cylon? What is the collective noun for bears? (Because I don't really like him, Cally and a sleuth, in case you were wondering). Sometimes it gets very tiring in my head.

Luckily I'm an inquisitive soul, generally determined to find out answers. So I gathered a small group, including the lovely Eileen, and we set out to find the best pork buns in Calgary.

Eileen did a lot of the leg work and had already pulled a list of five potential bun sources. So went set off in Taryn's truck, nearly running over Martin Fowler on the way.

Once back in the office, the buns were laid out in a blind tasting. Each was initially graded for appearance, specifically, how much were we looking forward to eating it. Bun B was "freaking Taryn out" because of the "sneaky peek" she was getting of the filling. I'd always seen this as a plus, myself, but I guess there's no accounting for taste. Bun D was marked down for the glaze being "uneven" (yes, we are bun fascists) and bun A was the aesthetic favourite of everyone.

So onto the tasting. We were looking for a bun that had a good ratio of filling to bun, with a "proper" barbecue flavour and that wasn't too sweet. Bun A got off to a good start with a good meat to bun ratio (so important, don't you find?) and Bun B was marked down for "gooey meat" and "way too much bun." Bun C was slightly criticised for some large chunks of fat but overall, the meat plenty was lauded. Bun D was left largely untouched because of the "chemical flavour", "low quality meat" and the fact that it "just tastes wrong." Bun E saw us all on some some sort of pork high and we started making talking faces out of the buns as we enjoyed the "lots of filling."

So the time came to unveil the winner. It turned out the Bun A, from Logos Bakery was the winner, and it was 10cents cheaper than all the others too. However, it is a bit of a schlep, so the best downtown pork bun went to ABC Bakery. Yum.

The worst one? I try to celebrate the good, but I think you'd do well to avoid Maxima's. There, I warned you.

Logos Bakery and Cakehouse is at 1623 Centre St NW (403) 230-1688
ABC Bakery is at 112C 3 Avenue SE (403) 266-2888

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