Wednesday, February 25, 2009

CHATTER 16 Style and Content

I've recently read two restaurant reviews which were so different in style that I feel drawn to comment. Stephen Downes, in the HUN on Feb 24 wrote a formally structured review of Philhellene. After a brief and relevant introduction he described and discussed the food at some length using language in a straightforward manner. Direct and to the point. This was followed by short discussions and descriptions of drink, value, staff and style. Each category got a mark, out of 15 f0r food, 5 for style and 10 for the rest and these were added up to produce a total out of 50.
A week earlier Larissa Dubecki reviewed Stokehouse in Epicure. After an over long irrelevant introduction discussing wearing of sun glasses this review went on in a less systematic way to also describe and discuss the the venue, the food, including prices of dishes and sifting through it provided much the same sort of information as Downes but the jarring aspect of the review was the style and language. Speaking of an entree she states that "The leitmotif of the meal emerges ... with an entree of garfish..." ie the theme of it, but never is it mentioned again and I could not see any theme emerging from the rest of the review unless it was a level of dissatisfaction with every dish she tasted - hardly a theme. Referring to chickpeas instead of using the simple English word common she prefers quotidien - why would that be? I'm unsure what she means or wants to achieve speaking of another entree as 'a raucous rendition of beef carpaccio' At the end of what I would regard as a highly critical review she goes on to give Stokehouse 15/20 which seems excessivly generous.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

San Choi (Kew) 09

Oblivious of the fact that I had a forgettable meal at San Choi less than a year ago we returned a few days ago. Unable to read the Chinese menu on the walls,

and in the company of conservative diners, we ordered off the printed menu. The spring rolls were obviously home made, large and crisp. The seafood san chao bau ($8)
was under spiced and had a scant amount of seafood and the spicy deep fried calamari (without chili by request) lacked any seasoning at all. For mains we started with an unusual dish of scallops and egg white surrounded by fried batter balls filled with a very bland milk product, which provided unusual textural variety to the dish, served with a small plate of mayonnaise.

Very plain, the delicate sweetness of the scallops was very pleasing. From then on things deteiorated. We requested dishes be brought one by one but the waitress said they would come two at a time which we accepted. We requested rice which was served from a pot at another table and the waitress semed to resent leaving it at our table. Later she became quite obviously irritated when I replaced my well used paper serviette with the cloth napkin that had sat under the rice pot, took it back with a curt remark, and put it under the pot and gave me another paper napkin. The next course was a seafood hot pot

sadly lacking taste. An even more tasteless dish of soupy mixed vegtables on a bed of glass noodles followed. At this time both the crispy skin duck and the sweet and sour prawns arrived. At the time of ordering we made it very clear that we wanted the prawns in batter. they were presented unbattered. This caused a bit of discussion around the table but it was apparent that we wanted what we had ordered. The waitress said that she did not hear us ask for batter and went on to say more people were ordering this dish without batter and it was healthier this way! Still we didn't want it and she picked it up and announced "This will go in the rubbish bin" In due course it was replaced
and then she made the astonishing statement "I don't have any trouble getting on with Jewish people" OMG is my circumcision showing. Flabbergasted, but not speechless, I replied that "I have no trouble getting on with Chinese people" As we were leaving, about 45 minutes later she repeated her remark. Obviously ours had been a difficult table and in reprisal I threatened to come back again. As for the food it looked nice and the serves were very large and it's not expensive but every dish but one was grieviously lacking in taste.
Score 13.25/20

Thursday, February 19, 2009

After the Tears (Elsternwick)

Sister to Vodka Borscht and Tears in Chapel St. this restaurant has taken over from the former Sinatra's adjacent to the Classic Cinema. The food is the same as VB and T and so are the large range of vodkas'. Quite cheap, specially if you like borscht ($9.50). There are a range of soups and I found the Russian borscht with smoked bacon extremely satisfying and filling. Apart from the beetroot, cabbage and smoked bacon it had fruit, dill and sour cream and was served with a basket of rye bread. They have a vegetarian version as well as barley and chicken soup which suffers from having been frozen and thawed leaving the pieces of potato in it with a displeasing texture and so on.
Pirogi are another prominent feature on the menu either as entree - four ($13.50) or main, six ($19.50) meat or potato filled they came fairly dry and failed to excite. Veal goulash, wrapped in a large potato cake, had plenty of sauce and good taste - a very pleasing winter dish. ($21.50).Crockery is hand painted Polish peasant style and goes perfectly with the bare wooden tables. Desserts are solid, domestic style serves.
The place looks like it has been decorated out of a garage sale at a railway yard. The massive lights are quite extraordinary, /div>

Score 13.25/20

Saturday, February 14, 2009

E'cco (Brisbane) 09

This highly awarded restaurant at 100 Ann St. offers bistro dining with a concentration on ‘honest food’. Fresh ingredients, treated with respect, served without being excessively fussed over aiming to deliver the best qualities of the produce. The place is a simple room, seating about 60, with a bar along one side and an open kitchen at which half a dozen chefs can be seen laboring to fill diners orders.

Tables are bare wood and dress code is extremely casual. Jeans and sneakers were common. We started with an entrée of grilled whiting, curry spiced cauliflower, wild rocket, raisins & flaked almonds. ($ 24.50)
which was pleasant but not at all noteworthy. The eggplant & fetta agnolotti, smoked tomato, hazelnuts, pecorino & burnt butter vinaigrette was much better with fine well matched flavours and interesting textures. ($ 24.50). The grimaud duck breast, spiced sweet potato, sweet corn purée, swiss chard & sauce diable

was another pleasant but very ordinary dish. ($ 39.50) The roast spatchcock, polenta cake, baby carrots, broccolini, spring onions, mustard & marjoram was a tiny serve

and again not what I would expect, taste wise, from a leading restaurant. The cape grim eye fillet of beef, wild mushrooms, pommes maxim & roast garlic crème fraîche.($42.50)

was just a reasonably tasty and tender piece of meat again nothing at all special. Our dessert, a trio of lemon mousse, ice cream and creme brulee was very nicely presented and tasted as good as it looked. The service was pleasant but the presentation of the dishes was monotonous with little variation in the look of each serve. I found this a good bistro style restaurant with a bustling, noisy happy atmosphere
Score: 15/20

Thursday, February 12, 2009

St Ali (South Melbourne) 09

These are the views of a colleague and his wife.

Any place without a name outside is already suspect relying on pretensions – the inference being I know about this place but no one else does. Fortunately the three prawns on some rocket sandwich was edible, (though hunger drove me to buy some more food soon after we left) but their cappuccino was undrinkable. It was both bitter and lacking flavour. It’s not fair to judge by one cup of coffee but my partner, who has an outstanding palate, also found her mocca less than satisfactory and left it. There’s nothing to say about the décor and less about the comfort of the place. Service, however, was very good.
My own experience of St Ali was indifferent though I found the coffee quite acceptable

Brigsten's (New Orleans) 09

Situated in a “shotgun” cottage, so named because of its’ long passage from the front door to the back door through which a shotgun could be fired without doing any damage. Four interlinked rooms open off this passage. They were warm and, on this winter night, very cozy. The service was extremely friendly, quite homely, not elegant or stuffy, provided by staff who almost gave one the feeling that they lived there and were our hosts rather than our servers. We started with a butternut squash lobster bisque which was excellent. It had a pleasant consistency, pleasing taste and I would recommend it any time. A salad starter was a healthy serve

but had no particular distinction – just a lot of salad vegetables piled on a plate with a bit of cheese. The house recommendation – a seafood platter ($32)

would not get past the kitchen door at a quality restaurant. It consisted of two oysters Rockefeller covered in a thick paste which took away any character that the oyster may have had and added nothing of any delicacy or distinction. A piece of fried fish, sheep head, a local specialty, with two lightly fried prawns, was also distinctly unspecial – it could have been almost anything. There was a small, sweetish, heavy corn cake which I could have done without. A small breaded scallop was the best thing on the plate but hardly enough to save the dish and another prawn on a small bed of salad. A pork loin ordered by a colleague was notable more for the size of the dish than anything else. We tried a crème brulee

which was not very smooth and creamy. Big sweet and but not memorable. A second dessert looked great, but as so often the case, offered nothing special to the palate.

Having looked at Zagat and asked Chowhound readers for the best of New Orleans my eager anticipation was not rewarded. A good restaurant but not outstanding. 14/20

Sunday, February 08, 2009

La Belle Epoque (Brisbane) 09

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La Belle Epoque
A request to our concierge for the best French restaurant in Brisbane drew no clear cut favourite. We eventually chose BE situated just out of town in the Fortitude Valley area. Surrounded by half a dozen very busy restaurants with indoor outdoor dining it is an imitation French bistro. The décor is 1920’s with steel pressed ceilings painted bronze, as were the walls, rows of banquettes and butcher paper covered tables. Table cloths are a rarity in Brisbane, even at the best restaurants. We were seated promptly but then it was 10 minutes before we were offered menus and had to ask for bread. We lashed out on the entrees with foie gras ($37) served with a small, lightly cooked sweet apple. This was a nice piece of liver, nicely cooked, rich and satisfying but we have recently enjoyed much finer foie gras marinated in wine to produce exquisite taste. The Charcuterie ($24)

was interesting consisting of a slice of boar terrine, thin sliced air dried bison, chorizo sausage and prosciuto with an accompaniment of a few miniature pickles. I could not recognize the bison or the boar meats and was very surprised by them. The bison tasted like a chewy air dried beef and the boar a firm meat with very little fat and no especially distinct flavour. A prawn salad ($21

) – three prawns with and some greens and nice decoration was a dull starter. For mains we had an outstanding rabbit stew ($29)

in a Dijon mustard sauce accompanied by pasta shells. The whole dish was very well prepared with the rabbit, as tender and juicy as one could ever ask for. The elements of the dish melded perfectly. The Mussels, ($35)

served in the traditional mussel pot,

came with a large serve of French fries. were plump and of good texture and taste but the mussel soup had too much of the sea salt, no doubt released from the mussels as they opened, which unbalanced it. Nevertheless it was a good dish. The cassoulet ($29)

was a standard bean stew – definitely cuisine bourgeois. This was a substantial meal and we skipped dessert. Service was a little slow but they were certainly very busy. They have a reasonably varied wine list with plenty of French wines. Prices are mostly on the high side but there are some inexpensive wines available. We drank a NV Choisel champagne ($75). Slightly dry it went well through the meal. This is a well above average bistro and I was pleased we went there.

Score:14.75 /20

Monday, February 02, 2009

Chatter 15 New Orleans Restaurants

New Orleans is a unique city, famous as the place where jazz originated, for its French Quarter and for Mardi Gras. Its’ character has been formed over generations since it was first claimed for the French king Phillippe 2nd the Duc de Orleans. It now offers a variety of fusions of French, Spanish, Cajun, Creole, American and International which are most evident in the variety of food and cooking. In a little less than a week I tried to experience as much of this range as possible. It varied from the most exquisite to the most mundane. I might first make the observation that Americans tend to eat out, not to dine out. They often eat quite early. They eat quite quickly and they leave early. It is much less common for them to dwell over their dinner, even at the finest restaurants. We have arrived at 7.30 for dinner to find diners preparing to leave and even asking for their check, the American term for the bill, to be brought promptly, because they are in a hurry – a request I found odd to say the least, when we spent 3 ½ hours savouring a brilliant meal. At its best restaurants like Stella! and August are first class but many others are resting on reputations earned in another era. In that regard Zagat proved to be extremely unreliable as a guide. Meals at ‘popular’ legendary’ and ‘renowned’ restaurants such as Commanders Palace, Cuvee and Brigstens lacked delicacy and finesse. They will satisfy a hungry man but not a gourmand. Presentation is ordinary, the approach to seasoning is heavy handed and the dishes occasionally contain ingredients that jar rather than meld or match each other. Others are doing what they always did without any great distinction. Café du Monde, Felix, Acme and Casamento fall into that category. Their specialties – beignets at CdM and oysters , at the others are unbelievably bad. Over breaded and overcooked if they didn’t warn you that there was an oyster you’d need a DNA test to find it. Soft shell crabs are a little better but far from really good. In the middle range the only places I would be happy to return to would be Herbsaint, specially, but not only, for their wonderful pasta, and Stanley for their outstanding variations on eggs Benedictine.