Archive for September, 2008
If you haven’t heard the term “umami” before, I recommend making a reservation at Capitol Hill’s Boom Noodle. Umami is a Japanese word that describes the fifth taste sensation (the others are salty, sour, bitter and Dopey), usually associated with Asian flavors. Like charisma, umami is hard to describe, but you’ll know it when you see it – or in this case, taste it.
Take for example, the Sizzling Toban Beef ($8.50 on the small plates menu, pictured above). I was very impressed with the depth of flavors that emerged from this simple preparation. Had the plate not been hot enough to fry an egg, I probably would have licked it clean.
The main course dishes were also quite enjoyable. I was pleased with my Cha Su Pork Fried Rice ($10.50) and pleasantly surprised by the generous portions of both the rice and soup entrees. If you’re an impatient eater, you may want to bring a fork – the chopsticks-only approach to rice eating is an acquired skill, and requires persistence.
However, it is the atmosphere, more than the cuisine, that defines Boom Noodle’s identity among Seattle’s Americ-Asian eateries. In the most pierced and inked corridor of Capitol Hill, the restaurant stands out as clean and precise, like a Japanese IKEA with good food. The conspicuous arrangement of tables and communal bar top strikes me as un-accidental: people are here to be seen. And what a scene it is. The whole place is loud and energetic, with Capitol Hill’s walking works of urban art studding the sparse decor. If you’re looking for a hole in the wall, you’ve come to the wrong place. But, if you’re looking for a great modern import of Japan’s richest flavors in a lively setting, I’d highly recommend Boom Noodle.
Words can’t express my passion for beets. They’re sweet, tender, and are versatile enough to accompany a myriad of other flavors – mild chèvre, sharp vinegar, smooth olive oil (I could keep going for a while). I know that you’re supposed to cook (boil or roast) beets with the skins on, but I never knew why… before now. Thanks Wikipedia:
The [red beet] pigments are contained in cell vacuoles. Beetroot cells are quite unstable and will ‘leak’ when cut, heated, or when in contact with air or sunlight. This is why red beetroots leave a purple stain. Leaving the skin on when cooking, however, will maintain the integrity of the cells and therefore minimise leakage.
Makes: 6 salad-size servings
Total kitchen time: 2 hours + marinating time
- 5 large red beets (skins on), stems trimmed to a small nub
- 2 large sweet onions (such as Vidalia)
- 1/4 cup cornichon, sliced into thin discs
- 3 tbsp. orange juice
- 1 1/2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1.5 tbsp. finely chopped tarragon
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Create a double-layer aluminum foil pouch large enough to hold all the beets. Arrange the beets in the pouch and drizzle to coat with olive oil. Add a generous pinch of kosher salt and pepper, plus about 3 tbsp. of water. The water will create steam, helping the beets stay moist and also loosening the skins from the beet meat. Seal the foil pouch tightly and roast for about 90 minutes. Remove from the oven and open the pouch to vent the steam.
- Meanwhile, peel the onion and slice it into 1/4" thick discs. Separate each disc into rings (like when they make the onion volcano at Benihana. Come on, it’s pretty cool). Since I’m a little OCD, I only like to use the rings that are smaller in diameter than the largest beet. Which means the outer 4-5 rings are usually discarded. That’s up to you, though.
- Toss the onion rings (the ones you want to use) in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and add to the bottom of your oven during the last 15 minutes of the beets roasting. This will soften and sweeten the onions just slightly, without taking away their great crunch.
- Once the beets are cool enough to handle, rub the outsides with a paper towel to remove the skins. Quarter the beets, then slice each quarter into 1/4" sections.
- In a non-reactive dish, combine the beets, onions and cornichon. Toss with enough olive oil to just barely coat, then season with kosher salt and pepper. Add the vinegar and orange juice, and stir to mix. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes up to 24 hours.
- Just before serving, top with the chopped tarragon and garnish with another pinch of salt (sea salt is best).
Although this dish (or some variation) has deep roots in traditional French cuisine, I must pay credit to Thomas Keller for inspiring this version. He doesn’t use cornichon, but I think he’s missing out.
I first came across miracle fruit in a New York Times article back in May. The article described a mysterious red berry from West Africa that could change the flavors of foods. Allegedly, this strange little fruit would make limes taste like candy and had the alchemistic power to make cheap tequila taste top-shelf-pure. Needless to say, I was intrigued. And not just because of the implications for Mexican restaurants and fraternity parties – I was curious about what other culinary tricks this small berry could play.
A few minutes of web searching for “miracle fruit” and “miracle berry” turned up a handful of shady websites offering the extremely perishable berries at high prices with dubiously vague shipping dates. I had a Gourmet Club party coming up and I didn’t have a warm fuzzy feeling about paying $70 for a (potentially snake oil) party gag that might not even arrive on time. Then, I stumbled across miracle fruit tablets, a freeze dried version of the magic berry. The tablets are far less expensive and don’t suffer from the same short shelf life as their fresh counterparts, so I decided to take the plunge.
My reservations about the water-to-wine promises of the fruit, whose active ingredient is called miraculin (just slightly scienceier than “flavor crystals”), were not eased when I saw the packaging. Written mostly in (what I think is Chinese), these few English words appear on the back:
Product name: Mysterious Fruit Tablets
Ingredients: Mysterious Fruit Powder, Corn starch
Production Factory: Taiwan Panbiotic Labratories Co., LTD
Oh, that’s much better! Now I know what’s in these mysterious fruit tablets. Duh! Mysterious fruit powder!
Following the instructions I’d read online, I let the tablet dissolve on my tongue for about a minute, sloshing it around to cover all my tastebuds. The tablets themselves don’t have much flavor; actually, they taste kinda like Flintstones Vitamins.
I must confess, I was half expecting to slip into a hallucinogenic trance, pupils dilated, with The Doors suddenly playing in the background and a kaleidoscope of limes and grapefruit dancing around me like Oompa-Loompas.
But, in fact, I felt fine. The room didn’t spin, my cat didn’t start talking in the voice of Henry Kissinger, and my throat didn’t swell shut. The inside of my mouth tasted as familiar as ever, and I began to wonder if these pills were authentic, or perhaps just leftover rebranded Fen-phen. I bit, with hesitation and anxiety, into a freshly sliced lime. It tasted sweet. I waited patiently for the puckering, sour sensation that usually grasps my tongue, but it never came. “OMG, these things are working!” My hesitation melted into relief and my anxiety was displaced with excitement. Then I raided my fridge and pantry for anything and everything that I could taste “under the influence”. My results are below. Like an American child comparing word pronunciation with a British exchange student, sometimes the results were novel; other times were dissapointing, at best.
|Food Group||Food||Miracle Factor||Comments|
|Lime||+10||Very dramatic! A must-try.|
|Lemon||+9||Strong difference; no pucker|
|Grapefruit||+5||Much sweeter, as if sugar added|
|Orange||+5||Like the sweetest orange of your life|
|Watermelon||+3||Sweet, but just tastes like great watermelon|
|Kalamata olive||-3||Sweeter, yes, but a little wierd. Not pleasurable|
|Bleu cheese olive||-2||Different, but not good|
|Pickled onion||-5||Way nasty|
|Cornishon||+4||Tasted like a sweet mini pickle|
|Balsamic vinegar||-3||Sweet, but the back-throat burn ruins it|
|Mild goat cheese||+8||Tastes like cream cheese|
|Stilton (blue cheese)||+4||Tastes sweet and rich, like brie|
|Shaved Parmesan||+1||Not much difference|
|Olive oil||+1||Tasted sweeter, but not much effect|
|Peanut butter||–||No effect|
|Nutella||+1||Already sweet enough|
|Sugar cube||–||No effect|
Apparently, miracle fruit is now starting to hit the mainstream. You can buy the very same freeze-dried tablets I tasted from ThinkGeek to try them out for yourself. If you do go flavor tripping, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below. What tasted good to you?