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Floreria Atlantico, literally underground cocktails in BsAs

25 Nov

A week and a half ago, I was here.

Walk into a flower shop:

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Head through the back door and down metal stairs:

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Have a drink:

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Just one page of the loosely themed menu:

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One of the best cocktail bars I’ve been to in my life, by far. Every single cocktail was remarkably good, and distinctive– glass jars of eucalyptus, cocktails infused with smoke from the grill, beer and amaro, a cocktail in pieces you combine as you drink… but none of it felt ‘conceptual-cute’ or forced. Really well executed cocktails that happened to have some structure to the presentation. I’m in awe.

Copenhagen: Geranium

31 Oct

When I ate at Kiin Kiin earlier in my visit to Copenhagen, the chef/owner(? — sorry, industry friends, for not knowing) stopped by to chat at one point, and asked where else I was eating on my trip. I mentioned Geranium as my other major meal and he was very enthusiastic and excited I was eating there, putting it up with Noma as an elevated nordic food experience.

And there I was a few days later, eating things like this (only the center piece is edible– a chocolate egg filled with toffee and rolled in pine dust, nestled in a bed of fragrant evergreen tips):

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I very slightly toned down the commitment and expense of a solo Geranium meal by going for lunch, and opting for the ‘light lunch’ (only 19 courses). In a few photos:

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Instead of a wine pairing, I opted for the non-alcoholic fruit juice pairing– which included I believe 7 different juices, all made in house and paired with specific courses. I remember a tart red currant juice, the white grape juice infused with tarragon, and especially a fermented carrot juice.

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The oyster and a ‘cracker’ of fish skin:

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One of their long-standing dishes and also one of my favorites– a bowl of stones, among which are a few “dill stones” you pick out and eat– actually balls of an amazing preserved halibut wrapped magically in a thin layer of dark green dill gel with a consistency of kelp.

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And many more dishes, including a sweet carrot shell around air and picked buckthorn, a cheese in the very early phases of form (almost a thick cream), a single charcoal-cooked baby potato with sheeps milk butter, egg yolk, a granita (frozen ice) of pickled cucumber, a sort of dumpling with a transparent (I believe dried apple) wrapper and filled with an assortment of tiny edible flowers, and many more. A few photos:

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The series of desserts (including the aforementioned chocolate toffee egg rolled in pine dust, a sheep yogurt, a frozen herbal tea ice, and a fascinating white chocolate which I don’t even normally like) was also fantastic– interesting flavors without much overt sweetness.

I even got to sit at a little counter in the kitchen for one of the courses and watch as chefs bustles back and forth a few feet away.

The whole meal felt like everything I’d expected/hoped from distilled/refined Nordic food– true to the place, forests, flowers, trees, the feel of “The North”, spare design, seafood, and minimalism combined with elegance.

At the risk of repeating myself after Kiin Kiin, this was another one of the very best meals of my life. This was a week for the record books and memory… which is one of the main reasons I’m collecting some photos and notes here, to look back at some day.

Copenhagen: Kiin Kiin

30 Oct

The tail end of my food-oriented birthday trip through Europe involved a 4-day solo jaunt to Copenhagen (for the first time), after finding surprisingly inexpensive flights from Paris. True to my typical solo traveler form, I stayed in an inexpensive hostel, got around by bicycle, spent most of my days outdoors wandering the city and surrounding areas… and also ate several extraordinary (in taste and experience as well as price) meals.

Kiin Kiin was where I ate the night I got in to town (I’d read a lot about it– the only two-Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in the world, and more importantly– person after person writing about the food).

And I was there for about 4 hours for a three-stage, probably 25 ‘dish’ meal.

First, a rapid series of tiny street-food-inspired snacks sitting on a couch in the lounge downstairs:

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These included a salad with apple, tamarind, chile, and other flavors, monkfish roe with salty coconut, a frozen tom kha soup (coconut / lemongrass / galangal), and many more.

Another dish was a piece of sausage under a dome… and when they lifted the dome, a cloud of white smoke rolled out that smelled so much like an outdoor street food market with open grills that I visualized such a market for a moment. This could have felt like a gimmick, but didn’t– it was a successful momentary evocation of place.

As I finished, I was ushered up into the main dining room (as one of the first guests of the evening).

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I noticed my table (and only my table) had a stack of books on it– a mix of photography, travel books, essays about cultural differences in Thailand, and so on. As the dining room filled up I realized that this was because I was the only person dining solo.

Wow. I’ve never seen a restaurant do something this thoughtful, and I in fact did read a few essays from the book on Thailand culture between courses or to pace myself on the food. The chef(?) even dropped by to chat with me during the meal and mentioned it was his book– he’d bought it when working in Thailand for a few years.

And then dinner began. A few quick cell phone photos:

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It was good. So good. Intense, clean flavors– the essences of ginger, galangal, tamarind, coconut, fish sauce, and other ingredients without ever being heavy or one-dimensionally spicy. At a few moments during the meal I thought “this may be one of the best meals of my life– I’m so glad I came here / I wish my food-loving friends could be here with me”.

There was a tom yum with almost clear dark broth and galangal. A salad mixed tableside with fish sauce, chili, lime, lobster, foamed tom yum, and cucumbers. Red curry… in ice cream form. Concentrated basil and other thai herbs. Beef with oyster sauce and young ginger. Every single dish I just listed blew my mind.

Time after time I felt something like “this is the most pure intense expression of (basil, or whatever I was eating)”, which I assume was a mix of careful picking of ingredients and a range of techniques to highlight and concentrate flavors.

Whew.

It was about this point in the meal that I heard someone coming around and quietly asking each table ‘will you need a cab later?’ … and in a bit of a reminder that this outpost of opulence was in the heart of copenhagen, table after table, whether young friends, middle-aged business partners in suit and tie, or stylish grey-haired retired couples replied “Oh, no, we biked”.

 

As dinner wound to an end(?) about three hours later, I was brought back downstairs to the  informal couches where they brought out a series of 7 tiny desserts and some really good tea. I didn’t take many photos, but here’s one, of cotton candy along with a pitcher of passion fruit syrup they bring you to pour over it and watch it dissolve:

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There was also a fascinating dessert of what I think were Thai and dutch flowers (including tulips and orchids?) — slightly crispy, slightly bitter, a few leaves, and some spices.

And what they said was condensed milk boiled 6 hrs in the can turning it into a creamy caramel, with toasted coconut.

By the end of the evening I was sweating a bit, not from spice but just from the extended experience of eating. And all I’d had for lunch was a slice of pizza.

I feel like I’m writing and writing and need a broader range of adjectives to describe it– but even looking back months later this was one of the very best meals of my life in terms of the food, up there with Alinea and Saison (of course, dining alone is a whole different experience from dining with others).

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Some day, I will go back.

Paris, lunch at Septime

29 Oct

Paris earlier this year w/ H for just two days was a surprisingly low-key trip, involving some good coffee, a few meals and cocktails, taking a Velib for a spin, and a lot of walking around the city and looking and taking photos while skipping most of the major cultural sights.

The beef salad at casual cafe Le Rubis was good, the steak frites was just as expected, the bakeries and macaron shops were plentiful, the coffee at Telescope was some of the best I’ve ever had in Europe (unusually light roast, slightly lemony), the coffee at 10 Belles was decent and in a fun neighborhood to wander around on foot (Belleville), and dinner at Verjus was trying to be “modern” but deeply disappointing.

And a long leisurely lunch at Septime was a highlight:

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It involved putting ourselves in the hands of the chef for several spare, ingredient-focused courses– a few tiny carrots fresh from a garden, dark chicken (a local french chicken, poulet) fried in chicken fat– rich and a little wild/gamey and with a drizzle of pureed andouille sausage, seared tuna with turnips and pickled rhubarb, real strawberries (as someone who grew up in a strawberry town I have high standards), and a few cheeses served warm.

Oh, and a local craft beer:

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Another fine way to spend a few hours, in an airy, well-lighted farmhouse-like space, and not too formal (a group of friends in their 40s to 50s were having lunch over the course of the afternoon, arriving and leaving at various points through the meal,  with one well-dressed gentleman even rolling a folding bike in to tuck behind the table).

London: St John (pork, tarragon)

27 Oct

I got taken out (lucky me) to a special birthday dinner earlier this year in London at St John (at the more cheerfully informal St John Bread and Wine space– a bustling open room without tablecloths and various daily pork, greens, and cheese plates coming out whenever they’re ready). I have a huge food crush on them now:

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A plate of simply-named “lamb, bread, green sauce” was one of my favorite dishes in London– the sauce was a mix of a powerful dose of tarragon, mint?, other soft green herbs, maybe capers? And the “courgettes, lentils, yogurt, zucchini” (center of the image above) was another dish we both remember months later (also with tarragon). Lower left above was fried pig skin strips with a tarragon(!) aioli, and there was another crumbled pork and fennel dish I wrote down but can’t remember. All washed down with the intense, earthy St John Claret.

And for dessert, a plate of cheese instead of sweets. The Tymsboro(?– scribbled note in notebook) goat cheese via Neals Yard was euphoria-inducingly good– soft, salty, with a slow-burn spicy/funky/goaty rind.

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Homebrew #12: Milk Stout w/ Figs

25 Oct

A lead on a free crop of backyard figs with a few weeks until they fell triggered the preserving instinct… and instead of jam, how about my first homebrew aged on fruit?

The only fig beer I’ve had was a sour beer at Cascade in Portland, which I didn’t really like, so I tried to think of other combination… fig saison? figs and oatmeal? figs and cream? Hmm, how about a milk stout (a stout with lactose sugar, which yeast can’t ferment, leaving a sweeter beer) with figs?

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The grain bill combined basic 2-row barley with a little white wheat, Crystal 60L, chocolate malt, roasted barley, and the lactose, with Magnum as bittering hops and no aroma hops to keep this a very malt-focused beer (I’m skeptical that figs + hops would be a pleasant combination in any case). As I’ve been doing for most brewing recently, I kept this to a smaller batch size (about 2 gallons) to make it easy to brew in a single stovetop pot on a weeknight:

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I got a decent amount of wort out of the mashing process, and decided to boil it down farther than usual, bringing it to an original gravity of 1.080 — this should end up closer to an imperial stout in strength (though the lactose makes that gravity reading a little misleading, as some of that sugar won’t actually get fermented to alcohol).

About a week later, after primary fermentation was over, I picked and peeled a few pounds of fresh figs, caramelized them in a hot pan (a dual-purpose flavor enhancement + sterilization tip from an online forum), and deglazed with a bit of the beer in progress before adding them back into the fermenter.

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And after a few weeks on the figs, I carefully siphoned it out with a filter (trying to avoid fig seeds or residue in the beer), bottled it, and made a goofy label. And just yesterday I finally cracked one open and tried it:

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I was pleasantly surprised– it’s quite a good beer. An excellent smooth, roasted-but-not-too-bitter, rich, flavorful stout, with just a hint of some fruit under the surface (tasting opinions ranged from blueberry to fig). This might be good with food as well.

That was a lot of work for just 10 beers, but I’ll stow them away for special occasions, and the process is part of the fun…

Single Malt, Single Hop, Single Gallon (Homebrewing)

4 Oct

I’ve kept homebrewing a low-tech, visceral, hands-on hobby as a contrast to large engineering systems that occupy another part of my life.  Part of this has been focusing on the process, ingredients, and history more than the equipment.

Partial-mash brewing (mashing modest quantities of grain but depending on liquid barley malt extract for more of the sugars) is one way to more easily brew indoors on a small electric stovetop rather than having to manhandle 15lbs of grain through multiple kettles, and I’ve been happy with several of the beers I’ve made using this method.

But I’ve wanted to get down to the simplest kernel of brewing– whole grain, water, hops, and yeast, and try more experiments especially on the grain variety and the mashing process. And 5 gallons of beer goes a long way. So I tried scaling down to single-gallon batches, and it’s been invigorating– it’s unlocked casual weeknight after-work brewing as a possibility (even after-dinner before-bed brewing depending on timing– it’s about three and a half hours from beginning to end including prep and clean-up) and made stovetop all-grain brewing much more practical. Yes, it’s much more work per beer. But it’s still less work per batch, and only getting 8 or 9 beers out is still enough to sip over the following month / share with a few friends.

One week in August, I even brewed two batches in one week (with bottling/cleanup on the same day about a month later to save some time), both very simple / elemental beers to get to know some ingredient and part of the process.

Batch #10 involved only a single grain (Maris Otter, a particular English variety of 2-row barley) and a single hop (East Kent Goldings).

Here’s the “Brew In A Bag” setup: whole grains in cheesecloth soaked in very specific-temperature water (148F-155F depending what you’re trying to get out of the grain), easy to remove and drain after mashing (not shown: the lid and blanket used to insulate and maintain temperature, and the second pot of higher-temperature “sparge water” used to rinse wort off the grains afterwards to increase yield):

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For this beer, I mashed at the low end of the temperature range to try to get a drier, less sweet, less complex beer, hitting a post-boil specific gravity of 1.044 (on the low side, meaning I should expect a roughly 4% ABV session ale out of this, though I ended up around 5% ABV because it fermented all the way down to 1.006 — mashing at low temperature means very few of the less fermentable long-chain complex sugars are produced, so the yeast can ferment almost everything present). In this carboy it looks darker in color because of the thickness, but it’s the yellow second beer from the right in the line of glasses another photo down.

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Above, from left to right: two hard ciders I was fermenting at the same time, this all-Maris-Otter batch, and on the right, Batch #11: a reddish Munich-Malt-and-Fuggles (also a one-gallon, single-grain, single-hop) beer.

After bottling both batches a month later (Simple Beer experiments deserve a simple label):

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Another few weeks later I tried them. While they weren’t fully carbonated so should condition a few more weeks, they were both already interesting enough to declare this a success:

The Maris Otter ale was a pleasant, very mild beer, with a slight smell of straw, and a light barley/hay/nutty taste. It had almost no bitterness (just enough to give a hint) and no sweetness.

The 100% Munich Malt ale on the other hand had a caramelized malt nose almost reminiscent of a lighter doppelbock (one of my favorite styles), and a robust flavor of caramelized grain– not sweet in a sugary sort of way, but with the mix of flavors you get from Maillard reactions or a brown shiny crust on a nice loaf of bread. Again, it had almost no bitterness or hop flavor (by design), and wasn’t especially complex, but I would happily drink this any day. I’d mashed the malt for this beer at the high end of the typical temperature range (155F), which was supposed to result in “more complex sugars / resulting in lower alcohol content and a full bodied beer with a lot of mouth-feel”. What do you know, chemistry works…

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