Archive for Duarte

Updates

Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants, New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2009 by restaurantouring

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[One of my photos has been published at a blog owned by NBC and written by chef Ariane Duarte. Check out the entry here!]

Hello, people of the interwebs! Sorry for the lack of updates in a while. I’ve been pretty busy lately, mostly with work, eating, and taking pictures.

I still need to blog about my trip to Taiwan (amazing), Hong Kong, and Macau.

I’ve eaten at Le Bernardin since I last blogged, as well:

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And this past Monday, I had a life-changing meal at Thomas Keller’s Per Se.

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Lately, I’ve been cruising the Montclair restaurant scene, collaborating with local restaurants to get some food photography done. I’m not making any money doing it — I’m just doing it out of a bit of boredom and a desire to collaborate and help grow some of these businesses. Thanks go out to David Hobby at the Strobist blog for getting me off of my lazy keister. I’ll let you know when some of these pictures make it up onto their websites. In the meantime, if you’re from around my area, definitely check out CulinARIANE restaurant and Mesob Ethiopian restaurant.

The photo of the Jonah crab at the top of this post was shot for Oceania Seafood company, in New York (check my Flickr photostream for more pictures). They’re building a website, and I’ve been working very closely with an awesome IT support company called “Blue Lion Solutions” to help Oceania Seafood company grow its online seafood shipping business.

So, if you need the freshest seafood around, contact Oceania Seafood at 917-662-8028 (website coming very soon!)

And if you need web hosting services, IT support, and boatloads more help from tech-savvy types, contact Blue Lion Solutions (or just click here).

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CulinAriane, part III

Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2009 by restaurantouring

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I love eating at CulinAriane. The food keeps getting markedly better and better every time I go back to eat there. And that’s exciting for me, especially since I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to keep somewhat up-to-speed with the food that Ariane produces since after the show ended. In a recession, it’d be easy for a restaurant to start cutting back on food quantity and quality, yet somehow, CulinAriane has only been on the rise. She may be a self-proclaimed “old lady,” but don’t let that fool you — the woman can COOK. And with an expansion to the restaurant happening as early as this summer, things are looking really bright for the CulinAriane crew.

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My meal kicked off with a small bite of something Ariane loves to start off with — a small slice of seared tuna loin. This amuse bouche was paired with a creamy guacamole.

The cool, refreshing, al dente white asparagus that you see at the top of this post were topped with a fantastic warm goat cheese bearnaise sauce and morel mushrooms — one of my favorite mushrooms. I ordered the dish mainly because I thought it would look great in a photograph (and because it was in season and I figured I needed more fresh veggies in my meatatarian diet), and I’d like to think that I was right. The dish was plated exactly as I hoped it would be plated, which made lugging some extra photo gear to dinner and enduring the funny looks from the [probably] annoyed patrons worth it [for me]. (I deeply apologize to the people I may have annoyed during dinner. I tried to make the reservation as late as possible to avoid this).

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Next came the pirogi I ordered. Here, you’re looking at a couple delectable bites’ worth of caramelized onion, potato, white cheddar cheese, braised rabbit, carrot ribbons, and carrot juice reduction. The pirogies I had at Sava Polish Diner (an earlier post) do not compare (Sorry, Sava!).

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Croissant in lieu of bread. Even this has gotten better than I remember. Softer, fluffier, richer, better.

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Hawaiian striped marlin. Dusted with fennel pollen. Fingerling potatoes, spring garlic, artichoke hearts, and a grilled ramps vinaigrette. If Ariane keeps cooking marlin this way, I swear I’m going to eat every damn marlin in the sea. I had to hold myself back from licking the plate clean.

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The chocolate truffle cake with chocolate twizzle was perfection. It was light, moist, not too sweet, and perfectly matched with that mascarpone cream on top and the raspberry coulis around it. I’m usually not a fan of sweets, but I could eat ten of these desserts if my meager budget would allow it. Sigh.

CulinAriane restaurant is located at 33 Walnut Street, Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone: 973-744-0533
Fax: 973-744-0733
Hours: Wed – Sat, 5:30 – 10:00
Reservations are highly suggested.

Dinner at CulinAriane part 2 – Montclair, NJ

Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2009 by restaurantouring
Outside CulinAriane, looking in

Outside CulinAriane, looking in

[For a more recent account of the food at CulinAriane, in Montclair, NJ please click here.]

I first ate at CulinAriane back in mid-November (read about it here). I went after seeing chef Ariane Duarte talk about her small Montclair restaurant on Bravo TV’s Top Chef. A quick search on Google told me that I lived a mere 15 minutes away, so I figured I had to go. It was for science!

And what a science it was! Dinner that night was nothing short of terrific — one of the best meals I’ve ever had in a New Jersey restaurant. I still salivate at the thought of the mushroom and goat cheese polenta and shed tears of grief when I realize that it is no longer on the menu. That’s serious grief, folks — onions hardly make me cry anymore (but that’s probably because I use a really sharp knife to cut onions).

Dinner was even better because I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Duarte. A CIA graduate himself, he is Ariane’s husband, co-owner of the restaurant, and pastry chef for CulinAriane. But enough recap and reminiscing. On with the blog!

I went back there for dinner with my room mate, one of my best friends, for his birthday back in mid-January. Meant to blog about it way sooner, but never got around to it. Here’s what we had:

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

Dinner started with an amuse bouche of sun-dried tomato with parmesan breadcrumbs — one large, tender, flavorful bite.

Wine

Wine

Next, my roommate decided we should have a bottle of wine. CulinAriane is a BYO type of place and we unfortunately did not B our O. Luckily, they work with a local wine merchant, who delivers for free. We chose a 2006 Boisson-Vadot Meursault Chevaliers from France.

Crab cakes

Crab cakes

Oysters

Oysters

Next, came our appetizers: My roommate got the jumbo lump crab cake with citrus caper remoulade, which was very tender, sweet, flavorful, and full of large chunks of crab meat. The tangy citrus caper remoulade worked beautifully with the sweetness of the crab. I only wished there was a bit more greenery on the plate, but that’s only because I like having a nice salad with my crab cakes. My friend, however, would never agree with that because he is morally opposed to eating vegetables.

I ordered the cornmeal-crusted oysters, with micro greens and horseradish cream. My only complaint is that I wanted three more platters of them, which isn’t really a complaint, I suppose. These oysters were simple, had a great, clean flavor, and had just enough horseradish in the sauce to elevate the dish from boring to wham bam thank you ma’am.

Rabbit Ragout with Gnocchi

Rabbit Ragout with Gnocchi

Ariane was then nice enough to give us this additional complimentary appetizer: a braised rabbit ragout, served with toasted gnocchi and shaved parmesan. The gnocchi were large, but nice and tender, flavorful, and offered a nice counterpoint to the gelatinous, unctuous, delicious braised rabbit.

Pekin duck breast

Pekin duck breast

Skate

Skate

We moved onto our entrees next: my friend got the Pekin duck breast with sweet potatoes, hash of duck confit and black garlic, duck jus, and fig balsamic drizzle. I ordered one of the specials of the night — a pan-seared skate wing with fried capers, new potatoes, and red chillis. This dish was very similar to the skate dish that Ariane made on Top Chef, and this was very well balanced in terms of buttery goodness, the sweetness of the fish, the heat from the chillis, and the acidity from the citrus.

Artisanal cheese plate

Artisanal cheese plate

Lemon Meringue Martini

Lemon Meringue Martini

Finally, we got our desserts: My roommate ordered a cup of Earl Grey and the artisanal cheese platter, while I had already decided that I would try the lemon meringue martini that caused Ariane so much grief on the show, early in the season.

The cheese plate came with toast and water crackers, with a candle stuck in what appeared to be cranberry sauce (because it was his birthday). The first cheese was a Sparkenhoe Red Leicester — a hard cow’s milk cheese. Next was the Prima Caciotta, a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese. Finally, there was the Humboldt Fog — a soft goat’s milk cheese.

I eagerly dug into the lemon meringue martini, with the cherry surprise and vanilla wafer on the bottom. Ironically (though, if you know me, not surprisingly), it was too sweet for me, but I’m not sure if that’s because of the fact that I dislike sweets or because it was actually too sweet. The birthday boy thought it was fine, so I defer to his judgment.

There you have it. Another meal at CulinAriane. I was supposed to eat there again (for my birthday this time) this past Saturday, but I had to cancel at the last minute. I rescheduled the reservation for this Thursday night, so I will let you know how things turn out!

Until next time, eat well and be happy!

– Conway

CulinAriane restaurant is located at 33 Walnut Street, Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone: 973-744-0533
Fax: 973-744-0733
Hours: Wed – Sat, 5:30 – 10:00
Reservations are highly suggested.

Top Chef, Episode 7, Season 5

Posted in Food on TV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2009 by restaurantouring

Welcome back to Top Chef, everyone!  It’s been quite a while, since no new episodes aired over the holidays.  This is the first new episode in about 3 weeks!

As always, do not continue reading this post if you don’t want the episode spoiled for you.

This week, I’ll do a really quick update on the show.  Major props to Catie, “the editor,” for filling me in on the details live, since I won’t be able to download this episode until iTunes decides to stop sucking and make the episode available for me to download.

Quickfire

The guest judge is pastry chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, and the challenge is to make “the ultimate sweet treat” without using sugar.  Jeff thinks he’s got this challenge in the bag.  Jamie decides not to make a dessert.  Hosea is doing something with peaches and figs.  Arianne is using diet Dr. Pepper.  Carla gets angry at everyone constantly opening and closing the fridge, cuz her bananas aren’t freezing properly, so she finally has to saute them with walnut oil.  Stefan is being Stefan.

Top Chefs: Radhika, Leah, and Jeff

Bottom 3: Ariane, Jamie, and Carla

Winner: Radhika and her whole wheat challah bread pudding with sauteed white peach, honey roasted cashews, and ground ginger.

Double Elimination Challenge

This one is a free-for-all.  The judges wanted to see exactly what these chefs could do, since they desperately need to prove that they know how to cook if they want to succeed on the show.  So far, the food has been pretty disappointing, despite the first episode’s dishes being very strong.

The cheftestants are split into two teams.  The twist is that they will be judging each others’ food.  Radhika chooses to be on the team that Stefan is not because she thinks that Stefan causes too much unnecessary tension.

Fabio rolls pasta.  Jamie cooks scallops.  Again. Fabio comments: “This is Top Chef, not Top Scallops!”

There’s a new judge:  Toby Young.  He is filling in for Gail.

Judgement

They love Jamie’s scallops.  They don’t like Eugene’s whole red snapper at all — it’s bland.  Melissa’s dish tastes like cat food.  Leah screwed up because she attempted something she had never done before.  Carla’s scallops are far too garlicky because of the gremolata she made to go with them (I never liked the taste of raw garlic much either, and I would only use it sparingly with strongly flavored items, like beef or something).  Also, Carla’s risotto was called uninspired.  Stefan is ecstatic that Colicchio liked his dish.  Jeff’s collection of hors d’oeuvres seemed to be disliked by all but Toby.  Ariane sauteed a skate wing.  Melissa is worried about her fish tacos and who will be going home tonight.

Top Chefs:  Ariane, Jamie, Stefan

Bottom 3: Melissa, Eugene, Carla

Winner: Jamie (Thank God.  Finally!)

Losers:  Eugene and Melissa.  Pack your knives and go.

Top Chef, season 5, episode 5

Posted in Food on TV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2008 by restaurantouring

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.  Readers beware!

Gail’s Bridal Shower:

Sorry for the super late post, everyone.  I’ve been extremely busy lately.  I just got back from B&H with a ton of new photography gear, so expect to see the image quality around here improve drastically within the next couple of weeks.

This past week’s episode of Top Chef was another bittersweet episode.  Bitter because Gail is getting married (noooo!!!!) and because Jamie didn’t win another challenge (noooo!!!!) and sweet because that lunkhead Danny finally got the boot (woooo!!!!), that arrogant bastard, Stefan, was one-upped by some of the other cheftestants (woooo!!!!), and my homie Ariane won another challenge (woooo!!!!).

The quickfire challenge was “Name That Ingredient!”  This was a lame challenge because obvious things were eligible as ingredients and not everyone picked up on that.  Shame on them.  Basically, pairs of chefs had to taste a mystery sauce and then see how many ingredients they could name correctly.  The chef that claimed s/he could name the most ingredients rattled them off first, and if they were all correct, s/he would move onto the next round of *drum roll* NAME THAT INGREDIENT!!!

So, what was the lame part?  Salt counts as an ingredient.  Pepper, too.  And oil (although you have to specify which kind: olive, vegetable, etc.).  The bases for most sauces are going to have oil or butter, salt, pepper, onion, and maybe celery, garlic, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf or something.  Look at that.  I just named 9 ingredients.  The most anyone else (Stefan) could name were 8.  C’MON!

Anyway, Stefan gets eliminated when he wrongly guesses “tomato paste,” so the win goes to Hosea. He’s another lunkhead, IMO.  Maybe I’m just hating on him for being so flirty with Leah.  Maybe I should stop, cuz I’m actually not seriously obsessed with her, despite my numerous confessions of love (you HAVE to love a woman who prizes salt, olive oil, butter, garlic, and pork) and I’m taking it a little too far. . . . Nahhhhh.

The elimination challenge is to cook for Gail’s bridal shower.  There will be 45 guests and the cheftestants all seem to freak out.  I’m not sure why they’re freaking out, cuz catering for 45 people is a cake walk when you have two other chefs on your team, helping you.

The themes that help guide the teams to what they should cook are “old,” “new,” “blue,” and “borrowed.”  Team “old” consists of chefs Jeff, Hosea, and Stefan — a strong team.  Team “new” consists of Carla, Danny, and Eugene.  Team “blue” consists of Leah, Fabio, and Melissa.  Finally, team “borrowed” consists of Radhika, Ariane, and Jamie.

Team “old” goes with a trio of heirloom tomatoes (I SEE WUT U DID THERE).  Stefan makes a bland eggplant-wrapped heirloom tomato terrine.  Jeff makes a bombtastic tomato sorbet.  Hosea makes . . . I forget what he made, actually.  I’ll check and update this, maybe.

Team “new” goes with a disgusting mess.  Eugene fucks up sushi rice and instead of tossing it, tries to salvage it.  Dumb, dumb, dumb move.  He makes a DIY sushi roll, which he forgetes to explain.  Doesn’t matter.  It’s terrible anyway.  He also makes a yuzu sorbet/granita, which melts by the time everyone is supposed to eat it.  Carla makes a salad, which is lame, but probably the tastiest thing from the team.  Danny crowds his pan and steams his beef rather than sears it, so his dish is gray, tough, and flavorless.  Plus, he soaks some mushrooms in water and throws them everywhere in Carla’s salad.  It looked like she was about to stab someone when she found out.  She shoulda.  Now THAT would have been entertaining!  Reality tv, ftw.

Team “blue” goes with “the ocean” as a theme.  They make a blue corn crusted Chilean sea bass with a corn puree sauce, I believe (again, I’ll check and update).  Gail comments that the dish isn’t the most politically correct dish in the world (Chilean sea bass is overfished and endangered).  One of her girl friends comments that it’s like “old people food,” like something they’d serve in a nursing home.  Oh well.  The dish didn’t work, even though they sent Fabio out to charm the ladies with his accent, self deprecating humor (always awesome), and flattery.  Accent and flattery?  Check.  More than check — they ATE it up.  Loved it.  The food though?  Not so much.

Team “borrowed” “borrows” Indian flavors from Radhika and Radhika’s mom.  I forget what Radhika made, but this was an upset for Jamie, because she pulled off a vadovan scented carrot puree that required a lot of finesse to prepare, yet she lost the challenge to Ariane, who made an Indian spiced rack of lamb.  *shrug*  The lamb was cooked perfectly, had great flavor, and was the best tasting thing of the night.  The whole thing was Jamie’s idea, but she didn’t emphasize that.  Probably, if she brought it up at Judge’s table, things would have been different.  She didn’t.  Sucks.  Ariane wins her 3rd challenge (all right, technically her 2nd challenge.  The turkey should have counted, from the Thanksgiving episode, though).

The judges wanted to send all 3 of team “new” home, but they decided to send Danny home because, despite all the harsh criticism, Danny still thought their dish was a good dish.  Tom Colicchio mentions in his blog on the Bravo TV website that there’s a way to cook mushrooms (SEAR them in a really, ridiculously hot pan before they wilt and give up water, which kills the searing process) and that Danny obviously doesn’t know what that way is (soaking shrooms in water does not good food make, young [fat] grasshopper).

That’s all for now!

Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 4:

Posted in Food on TV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2008 by restaurantouring

Warning: This entry contains spoilers.  LOTS of them.  If you don’t want me to spoil the episode, go watch it already.  Or do what I did and subscribe to the season on iTunes (it kind of sucks not having cable TV in the apartment, but I’m not paying 50 bucks a month for one or two shows.  Sorry.)

Let me start this post by saying two things:

1)  For all of the judgmental people who have been searching for posts about “why [you] should eat at Ariane’s restaurant if Padma spit out her dessert,” and “Why is Ariane still on Top Chef?” I’ve got two words for you:  Eat it.  Eat it eat it eat it freaking eat it.  The number of hits I got on average per day almost doubled after the Foo Fighters episode, and I had a full day’s worth of hits by the time I went to sleep the night of episode 4 — I tripled my daily average by the end of today.  Fickle, fickle, fickle people.  Ariane kicked ass with her turkey last week, and she kicked ass this week with a simple and delicious watermelon, New Jersey beefsteak tomato, and feta salad with balsamic syrup.  AND she did it all knowing that millions of people would be viewing her on live TV.  Way to represent the dirty Jerz, yo!  Ariane’s my homie.

2)  This episode was disappointing for me in a lot of ways.  I’ll get to it.

Intro:

The episode starts off with a recap of last week’s episode, as usual.  This is followed by Jeff working out his lateral deltoids (with terrible form, btw) by lifting two pathetically small weights to his side (Dude, haven’t you ever heard of compound exercises?  Do some freaking pullups instead.  Or make me a chicken sandwich).  Ariane pours coffee for herself and the scene cuts away to Ariane monologuing about how she’s feeling good after the Thanksgiving challenge and her awesome turkey breast and about how she needs to keep the momentum going for herself.

Then Alex talks about how strange it was for him, waking up in the morning without Richard as a roommate (Richard was eliminated last week, in the Foo Fighters episode, for his banana creme s’mores with chocolate ganache).  Also, because Richard is gone now, this is the first time that Alex has really felt alone in this competition.

So, it turns out that Rich left a letter for Alex, on his bed, which Alex then reads to Jamie and Carla.  The exerpt shown on TV said, “It may sound crappy to say this, but you’ve got a friend out of this competition — me.  That being said, here’s the crappy part:  fuck the rest of ’em.  Believe me — you don’t get to realize how much you really want this until they say your name and your chances to compete are taken away.  Now, you really gotta take your gloves off and go for the win, every day.”

The letter makes everyone emotional and sad, and Alex talks about how he misses being at home with his family and his fiance — he got married about 20 days after this episode was filmed.

The scene cuts away to Jamie, the only remaining member of Team Rainbow, after Patrick was eliminated in the first episode, and after Richard was eliminated last week.  She rocks a rainbow bracelet she made in honor of the two, and is wearing a sequined rainbow shirt.

Quickfire challenge: Cue awesome music.

Guest judge:  Rocco DiSpirito

Blatant ad placement:  Rocco’s new book (sorry, but I’m not linking to this one).

The challenge is to make an elegant breakfast amuse-bouche.  One bite.  Everything you are as a chef, refined into one perfect bite.

Rocco mentions that he likes bacon.  A lot.  So just about everyone makes a mad dash for the bacon.

In short order, this is what everyone made, with some commentary:

Stefan: huevos rancheros, served in an eggshell cup.  Although it was good, the criticism (as with almost everyone else’s dish) is that it is too large — not one bite.  It was not, strictly speaking, an amuse bouche.  The judges (Padma and Rocco) love the presentation, which was kind of easy for Stefan, since he has that special tool that you can use to perfectly cut off the top of an egg without getting a jagged edge.

Jeff: He comments that he’s got too many ideas around in his head, so it’s actually really hard for him to commit himself to any one single idea, especially since this will probably be the most important breakfast they’ll ever cook.  He made a little twice-baked potato, stuffed with creme fraiche and bacon.  Also, he made a honey frozen yogurt and paired it with skewers of fresh fruit.  Rocco expresses his disapproval by posing a statement as a question:  “So this is two different dishes. . . . right?  Is that the idea?”  Jeff shrugs, “sure.”

Danny:  cornflake-crusted zucchini flowers, stuffed with shiitake mushrooms and a potato-bacon hash.  He made this dish because, apparently, the breakfast he used to eat as a kid was a bowl of corn flakes and zucchini flowers in a pan.  Sounds like bullshit to me.  What kid eats zucchini flowers for breakfast?  Either way, Rocco said that the dish was overpowered by the corn flakes and that it would have been better if you could taste more of the zucchini flowers.

Ariane: French toast, stuffed with soft cream cheese, bacon, and chives.  Served with a chili maple syrup.  Rocco liked it because it was well balanced — not too sweet, not too savory.  Just right.  Again, Ariane-skeptics should eat it.

Fabio: brioche with bruleed banana and a shot of espresso cream.  He says that he’s Italian — he doesn’t have bacon or eggs for breakfast.  But what does make  him happy in the morning is something sweet, like brioche and maybe some fruit and a cappucino.  Plus, in the morning, if you had something heavy like bacon and eggs, you’d be sluggish and slow.  On the other hand, if you had something light and sweet like his breakfast, you’d be energetic and ready to go.  Of course, the skinny-ass model that IS the host of the show shoots him down by saying he contradicts himself when saying that, since his espresso cream was so heavy.  Feels like a pudding, she says.  Maybe she’s just too used to eating next to nothing to keep her figure?  Fabio looks stunned and has nothing to say.

Leah: a mini bacon, egg, and cheese.  She comments that everyone else’s amuse-bouche is too large.  So, by sticking to what the quickfire challenge asked for — a single bite — she hopes to gain some brownie points.  She fries up some bacon and fries the bread in the bacon fat.  Then, she pairs this up with some spicy tomato sauce and a sunny-side-up quail egg.  Pepper and fried sage finish the dish.  Rocco “mmm’s” while Padma says that it’s the perfect size while still chewing her food.  Leah shoots back by saying, “Well, it’s an amuse-bouche, so I tried to make it one bite.”  Now, everyone else is screwwwweeeedddd, hahaha.

Melissa:  Eggs in a nest.  French toast with an over-easy egg, some strawberries, some bacon.

Radhika:  She says she loves breakfast, especially a good, hearty breakfast.  She made a potato cake with a miniature fluffy omelet with bacon, chives, and hollandaise sauce.

Jamie: she initially laments that she sucks at making breakfast because she never eats it.  When she was younger, she used to eat things like canned chicken noodle soup or Chef Boyardee for breakfast, if she ever had anything at all.  Come service time though, she’s made a BLT with fresh basil and balsamic syrup on top.  Rocco likes it a lot.

Those were all the dishes that were shown.

Judgement:

Bottom two: Danny (cornflakes killed it), Fabio (dish would have been a great dessert, but Rocco likes savory foods for Rocco’s breakfast),

Fabio is hilarious.  He laments that he should have listened when Rocco said he liked bacon by saying (in his heavily accented English), “Nexx time, I’ma do-a piece of toast-a, bay-honna (bacon), and-a some bullshit eggs on it . . . and I’ll probably a-one of the top three.”  Amen, brother.

Top three:

Stefan:  Even though it was more than one bite, Rocco loved the container — the egg cup.  Of course, Stefan cheated a little, since he has that stupid egg-cutting tool.

Leah:  Great arrangement of flavors in the perfect bite.

Jamie:  Beautifully arranged.  Great amuse-bouche.

Rocco would have picked both Jamie and Leah, but since he has to choose one winner, he would pick . . .

Leah!  Hell yes.  Her second quickfire win in a row.  Her prize, besides immunity?  Rocco’s new book, of course.  Jamie is pissed, not because she doesn’t get a stupid book, but because, again, she was so close to winning a quickfire and she didn’t.

Elimination challenge:

Padma says, “You all know how important it is, as a chef, to raise your profile so that people know about you and your cooking.  The more people who know about you, the more we’ll seek out your restaurants, buy your books, and try your food.  So, for your elimination challenge, we want you to show us how you would want to introduce yourselves and your food to millions of television viewers.  You must create a dish for a 2 and a half minute presentation, suitable for a live television segment.”

They all have an hour to cook.  Then, they’ll present their food to the judges.  The judges pick the top 3, who will then go on to a sub-challenge.  The winners will have a major reward here.  Leah is “scared as hell,” hahaha.

Again, Fabio entertains by lamenting about how tough this challenge is for him, considering that he has 2 and a half minutes to explain something in “purrfeck Inglish, live TV.  While I’m coo-hing [cooking].”  I didn’t like him much at first, but this guy is pretty funny.  It helps that he’s an excellent cook, too.

Commercial break.  Shot of Whole Foods supermarket.  $100,  30 minutes to shop.  Fabio narrates.  Also decides to butcher his own tuna.  Priceless.

Eugene and Hosea eventually find their way to the fish counter too.  Eugene is planning on doing homemade sushi, since his culinary background is in sushi.  He finds out that they sell tuna in blocks, so he changes his mind and asks for the blocks of tuna.  In fact, he wants to cut it himself, so he does what Fabio does and goes to the back to butcher his own fish.  Hosea, feeling left out, does the same.  Priceless, man.  Priceless.  Smart, too.

Alex claims that he’s the only one with guts enough to do dessert, so he wants to do a rose scented creme brulee.  I’m cringing in my seat, cuz I already know that custards need to be mixed, baked slowly in a water bath, cooled, topped with sugar, and then bruleed.  They only have an hour.  What the hell is he thinking?

Apparently, he thinks that if he pulls this off, he’ll get a free pass due to the sheer level of difficulty.  It’s more like an impossibility, though, so he’s got the right idea.  Kinda.  Not really.

Jeff wants to do a shrimp malfouf roll.  I’m not sure what he’s thinking, either.  What happened to quick and simple?  Something the viewers could sink their teeth into (literally)?

Jamie is doing a frisee salad with lardons and a fried duck egg, which is topped with caviar.  Honestly, she gets more beautiful with every episode, which is disappointing because she’s a lesbian.

Leah is doing a seared duck breast with corn and blueberries.  She’s happy she has immunity, because the whole live television thing freaks her out.

Radhika decides to do a sweet and spicy shrimp dish, since her flavor profile is Indian, which uses a lot of different strongly flavored spices.

Carla is set on making a tortilla soup.  It was the first thing that came to her mind, and she does not want to be on the bottom.

Ariane, as I mentioned above, is making a beefsteak tomato, watermelon, feta salad with aged balsamic and herb fleur de sel.  Basil oil.  It’s a smart move because it’s simple, tasty, and easy to prepare in 2 and a half minutes.

Danny is doing a ginger soy marinated skirt steak.  It’s got pineapple and tomatoes.  He mentions that he aspires to be like Bobby Flay, and that his goal is to make you laugh and teach you how to cook.  I only now noticed that he’s 25 years old.  I could have sworn he was, like, 30 or 35.

Showtime:

The judges come in and announce that time is up.  It’s time to present the food.

First up is Ariane.  She rocks the house, showing everyone how to make basil oil, and how to put her dish together.  She finishes with like 15 seconds left on the clock.  Perfect.

Next up is Jamie.  She puts together her bitter greens salad with lardons, fried duck egg, and caviar.  Unfortunately, her egg doesn’t cook in the two and a half minutes, so she ends up serving a half-raw egg to the judges.  They are not appreciative.

Next is Alex, with his rose scented creme brulee.  Padma gives him a hard time by asking specific questions, like how much vanilla he would use, then reacting in surprise when he says that he’d use a teaspoon.  This makes him adjust the amount by saying that he’d probably use half a teaspoon.  What a bitch.  Doesn’t matter.  He runs out of time.  The food is inedible anyway, because the creme brulee hasn’t set.

Jeff makes his malfouf roll with shrimp and muhammara sauce.  Don’t ask me what that is.  It’s from the middle east.  I was cool with the middle easterners in college and I ate a decent amount of food from that region, but I don’t know what that is.  I’ll look into it and get back to you.

Fabio is up.  He comments that he’s watching everyone else, and they’re using weird ingredients that professional chefs know, but that his mom doesn’t know.  His mom is the one watching TV.  His mom wants to know about tuna, “hhccarross (carrots), and asparagus.  That’s it.”  Padma asks when he came over from Italy, and Fabio makes fun of himself by calling himself a FOB.  Goddamn priceless, man.

Daniel’s turn.  While searing his skirt steak, a lot of smoke is generated.  Rocco asks why he has his pan so hot.  Danny explains that he wants the soy sauce on the outside of the steak to caramelize.  Idiot.  Soy sauce doesn’t caramelize.  Plus, it’s a lot of freaking smoke!  To boot, it’s all in Tom Colicchio’s face.  I’d say that Tom looked worried, but I couldn’t make out facial features behind all that smoke.  It doesn’t matter though, because the judges love his food.  He proceeds to spew some catchphrases while winking and pointing at the camera.  My friend Catie comments that she’s starting to really dislike him.  Oh well.  He’s all right, I guess.

Stefan makes minestrone soup.  He does the classic television swap-out by replacing his pot of sweated vegetables and cold soup with a pot of soup that’s already made.

Hosea makes tuna coated with a crust of crushed wasabi peas.  Ironic, for me, because that’s what I was munching on.

Eugene makes sashimi, although he doesn’t seem to answer Rocco’s question about the difference between sushi and sashimi satisfactorily.  For the record (to the best of my knowledge), the difference is that sashimi is just raw fish, sliced, with no rice or “seaweed.”  Sushi, on the other hand, is a finger food, made by the chef, which is typically bound with rice and dried algae (the “seaweed” wrapper is actually dried algae).  Sushi contains all the wasabi (if any) that the food requires, as determined by the chef.  To eat, you may use your fingers or chopsticks (both are permissible) to dip a corner of it into a light soy sauce or soy-based sauce (no additional wasabi, please!  Etiquette demands it, although I usually don’t follow this rule for the hell of it.  Plus, I use my fingers in sushi restaurants, so I’m kind of a bastard).

Melissa makes blackened habanero shrimp which is neither blackened nor appetizing.  Everyone thinks the food is way too spicy (habaneros are the hottest naturally growing pepper.  The spiciest foods out there are either capsaicin extracts which are refined from chillis, or crossbred, hybrid, super chillis like the “ghost pepper.”  Melissa’s food is so spicy, in fact, that Tom has to spit the food out because he has spicy food problems.  Oof.

Carla hardly gets a shot.  She runs out of time when she thinks she still has two minutes left.

Ditto Radhika.  She mentions something about rice wine vinegar and that’s it.

Leah, too.  She only gets to put together the corn and blueberry part of her salad.  No seared duck breast.  Bummer.

Stew room:

Everyone vents.  Judges deliberate.  They remember Jamie’s raw egg.  They say Leah is really lucky for having immunity, considering that she was so nervous on camera, plus the fact that she didn’t finish her dish.  Tom says that Alex’s dish was “a silly choice,” because he didn’t have the time.  Rocco didn’t like Carla’s nervous energy, which made him uncomfortable.  She didn’t finish the presentation, but her soup was good.  The girls (Gail and Padma) loved his food and thought he was charming on screen, but too messy.  Tom didn’t like the fact that Danny “smoked out the entire studio,” and “mugged” for the camera.  “Over the top.”  *cue shot of Danny, with beer, making scary faces*

Stefan did all right.  The judges thought it was smart that he had the swap-out ready to go, plus soup was a great idea for TV.  Tom doesn’t like his personality, though.  I guess Richard can relax a little bit at home, since he still has a chance with the Colicchio (HA!).

Everyone unanimously hated Melissa’s dish.  Way too spicy.  Very off-putting.  It would scare anyone who ate it from ever wanting Melissa to come back and cook ever again.

The judges were impressed with Jeff’s confidence, level of complexity, and the fact thathe managed to finish his dish on time.

Everyone loved Fabio.  I’m beginning to do the same.

Padma and Tom loved Ariane and her dish.  Thought it was perfect (Eat it, disbelievers!).

Bottom three: Melissa, Alex, Jamie

Top three: Jeff, Fabio, Ariane

The judges send them all home to rest instead of judging there and then.

The Next Day:

Tom wakes up the top three at 2:00 AM.  When they congregate in the kitchen, Tom tells them that the hosts of the Today Show will be judging their dishes and picking the winner.  Ariane is excited, despite her bed hair.  It’s fantastic.

They all get ready and head off to 30 Rockafeller Plaza to make their food for the show.  Jeff acts bad ass, saying that he’s pissed that it’s 6 in the morning and that he has to make complex, middle eastern food for ladies with “unsophisticated palettes.”  Easy there, Jeff.  Go fix your hair.

After cooking, the three of them are led to the Green Room to watch the hostesses pick apart their food (literally and figuratively).

The rest of the contestants wake up at the Top Chef house and discover that Fabio, Jeff, and Ariane are gone.  They find a big TV set up in the living room and congregate around it to watch the Today Show feed from the Top Chef camera crew.

They dig into Ariane’s watermelon, tomato, and feta salad.  Meredith something-or-other hates watermelon, so she picks around it.  Generally, they “love it!!”.

Next Fabio’s dish: sesame-crusted seared tuna with carrots, asparagus, and balsamic glaze.  Fabio watches in confusion, because he can’t understand what the hell they’re all saying, hahaha.

Next is Jeff’s dish.  Tom dumbs it down for them by saying that it’s a sauteed shrimp cabbage roll.  Some like it.  Kathi Lee gags and is about to throw up.  What a bitch.  Picky eaters really annoy me sometimes.

The judges deliberate (the women of the Today Show, that is).  They don’t seem to like unusual foods.  Freaking unadventurous palettes.  I hate that.

Finally, they say that although it isn’t the most original dish (where have we all heard that one before?), it was a good dish.  Ariane wins it!  She also squeals and jumps with delight behind stage.  Carla is ecstatic and likewise squeals from home.

Back to the Top Chef judge’s table:

Everyone says it was a great experience.  Ariane, being the winner, gets a prize from Rocco DiSpirito — a toolbag from a toolbag.  It’s got a thin fish spatula in it, an offset spatula or two in it, a big metal spoon, and a couple other things that I can’t make out.  There were about 24 tools in all, he said, but we only saw maybe 8 at home.

I was disappointed again because it was at this point that I found out that I missed the episode of the Today Show that aired this morning.  Apparently, Ariane was live on there.  Sigh.  If anyone finds it on YouTube or something, let me know!

The winners go out and the losers come in:

Melissa defends her dish — says that she thought the dish was well balanced.  Rocco expresses his disbelief, considering how spicy habaneros are.

Jamie defends her actions by saying that she knew the egg wasn’t cooked, but she wanted to get her dish done.  She should have flipped the egg over.  Rocco didn’t like her attitude, since she “recoiled” and crossed her arms, as if she were really angry.  Of course, she was angry at herself and not the judges, but that wasn’t the way some people (COUGH rocco COUGH.  Wow, I can’t believe I just did that) saw it.

Alex had to defend his choice in making creme brulee.  I don’t think he was very successful at defending himself.

Melissa then pipes in about how much she really wants to be here, which seems like she’s implying that other people don’t want to be here.  Tom calls her out on this, but she denies it.  Padma then goes back to Alex, who somewhat lamely defends himself and why he wants to be here again.

The bottom three get sent out and the REAL judges deliberate.  Rocco disagrees with Tom when Tom says that Jamie’s dish was very close to being a good dish.  Rocco says that raw eggs and cooked eggs are worlds apart, which is true, but he misses the point that Jamie only had 2 and a half minutes to cook an egg.  I would argue that he couldn’t have done it better himself.  Rather, I would argue that he probably would have done worse.

Rocco again brings up Jamie’s reaction after time was up — how she recoiled and got angry.  Hey, Rocco . . . WHO THE HELL CARES?!?  Leave it alone, man!

Back in the stew room, Alex wonders if Melissa is trying to throw him under the bus.  Either way, it’s too late to defend himself now.  The judges have heard enough.

Cut to commercial.  The show cuts back to a scene of Leah and Hosea flirting hardcore.  Bastard.  Just kidding, haha.

Back to the judges table:  Tom recites the list of offenses to the guilty party.  Padma passes judgment.

Alex goes home to write his vows and get married.

Next week: everyone cooks for Gail’s bridal shower.  Whyyyyyyyy is Gail getting marrieddddd???  How disappointing.  Sigh.

CulinAriane, in Montclair, New Jersey

Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2008 by restaurantouring

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So, if you watch Top Chef on Bravo TV, you probably know Ariane by now. She and her husband, Michael, own and operate restaurant CulinAriane in Montclair, New Jersey. I had the pleasure of meeting both of them after eating dinner at their restaurant last night.

I’ll start by saying this:  I know Ariane hasn’t been doing well on the show.  I know that she’s consistently landed herself on the elimination block in both episodes so far.  And I know that she can do better than that.  She’s a Culinary Institute of America graduate, along with her husband.  They’ve gotten culinary educations from the most prestigious culinary school in the country.  She can do better.  She’s worked at some great restaurants and gotten some strong experience.  She can do better than the TV version of her has done so far.  I know it.  And my stomach tells me it’s true, because I ate her food and it was good.

The restaurant is located at 33 Walnut Street, off of Grove Street, which is one of the main roads running through that section of town.  The place is small.  In fact, it is downright tiny.  When I called to ask questions and to make reservations last week after the premier, the girl who picked up the phone told me that the restaurant was 10 tables, tops.  I counted even fewer than that, since some of the deuces were pushed together to form a couple 4-tops.  No matter — the place was charming, cozy, and warm — a welcome respite from the freezing cold and gusty winds outside.

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Dinner started with an amuse bouche of seared tuna loin with a mango salsa.  A triangle of crispy fried wonton skin sits on top.  This was a single, complimentary, refreshing bite, which was followed by the bread and butter — in this case, the croissant pictured above with a covered ramekin of soft butter.  Ariane’s patrons previously complained, requesting that she provide them with plain dinner rolls, but she persevered with her croissants because she felt that the croissant more accurately reflected her cooking.  Even though this is a minor part of the meal, this shows me that she’s got character.  It shows me that she has standards, and that she has the conviction to stand by those standards — even if it means ignoring her customers and going with what she believes she should serve, and how it should be served.

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My appetizer arrived, and the roasted chanterelles, lobster mushrooms, and goat cheese polenta with veal demi-glace (topped with crispy shallots — an elegant and refined version of onion rings) smelled so intoxicatingly good that I dug right in, completely forgetting to take a picture of the dish until I was halfway through with it.  When I first saw the menu, I thought the choice of goat cheese was an interesting and safe choice.  I initially told myself that I would have preferred a cheese with more character than simply goat cheese, but it ended up working beautifully with the dish.  My only complaint was that the polenta was a bit on the runny side, since this was looser than the grits I have for breakfast on occassion.  Clearly though, this was a minor complaint since I became visibly upset when I emptied my bowl and scraped the bottom with my spoon for whatever bits of polenta goodness I could scrape up.

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Next up was Ariane’s signature dish, which has been up since the restaurant opened.  The seared sea scallops with mushroom ragout (I, apparently, was fiending for mushrooms that night.  That sounds funny, “Fiending for mushrooms.”  It’s not like that.), white truffle oil, and mushroom syrup were delicious.  Perfectly seared, tasty mushrooms, delicious sauce — it was a very good dish.

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I finished my meal with a dark chocolate peanut butter mousse cake with a crushed peanut covered truffle.  The plate was garnished with fresh raspberries, mint, a raspberry coulis and a persimmon coulis.  I ordered this instead of the lemon meringue martini, because the description of this dessert made it sound more complex and interesting.  In retrospect, I should  have ordered the meringue, considering that turned out to be Ariane’s worst nightmare on the show later on that evening.  Oh well.  I’ll try it next time.

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This was what was left of my dessert, because I am a disgrace.  I must be getting old, because I can’t even stuff my face like I used to anymore.  It kinda sucks.  I really didn’t want to disrespect the kitchen by not finishing my food, since it was all very good, but I was full and my sweet tooth was more than satisfied (it was a big friggin dessert!).

Mr. Duarte introduced himself to me during my meal, while I was waiting for the next plate to come out.  I mentioned that I would be missing Top Chef since I wanted to come and eat at the restaurant.  He promptly invited me to join him and his wife, family, and friends at a local Irish pub, 3 blocks away.  I initially decided that I wouldn’t do so, since I figured it would be creepy.  Then, at the end of my meal, since I was repeatedly asked to join everyone in watching the new episode, I obliged and managed to capture a thoroughly bad and blurry picture of the 3 of us:

This was taken

This was taken with a Canon XTi that I set on self timer on top of a mostly empty glass at the bar. I stupidly pointed the thing too far right, which explains the lean. Also, the bar was REALLY dark, so apologies for the blurriness.

The Duartes were some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Chef Ariane Duarte was especially charming — she was clearly upset at how she represented herself in culinary competition, especially with her nightmare lemon meringue, but that was okay, I thought.  She was down, but clearly not out, as the old, trite saying goes.  She has the support of her friends and her family, while she works hard to support her own family.

During dinner, while looking around, I noticed that as early as 9:15, there were a pair of 4-tops that stayed empty for the rest of the night.  “What a shame,” I thought.  It would have been great to have two more parties there, to round out the evening and pack the house.  “They deserve it,” I thought, in a gluttonous daze from the ridiculously good polenta.

So what’s my final verdict, you ask?  I think that almost everything that has been said in this blog (in previous entries, of course) about Ariane’s cooking so far has been accurate.  Even before anyone said anything about her cooking on Top Chef, I looked over CulinAriane’s menu on their website, and I said that it didn’t look inspired or original.  For example, I’ve been making a seared fish dish with mango salsa since I was about 16 years old, even though I never read a cookbook, never had it in a restaurant before, and I didn’t watch the Food Network at the time.  I’m pretty sure I’ve had a very similar scallops dish somewhere before, and I would much rather see it as an appetizer than as an entree, especially since I was getting tired of eating it after the 2nd or 3rd scallop.  Additionally, the dish could have used some textural contrast (maybe the crispy shallots?), since it was just soft scallops on top of soft mushrooms (I suppose you can only use crispy shallots and mushrooms so many times in your menu before it gets old, though).

Additionally, for a restaurant that has been described as seasonal, I was surprised to see fresh berries on the menu.  My dessert had raspberries and the special dessert of the evening was a blueberry and white chocolate bread pudding with butterscotch sauce.  I had issues with that, but I suppose berries are used all the time in plenty of dishes all over the place.  It’s just not the same when you have to import your berries from some South American country or some other faraway place, you know?

No matter.  At the end of the meal, I heard a number of guests leaving the restaurant while saying, “That was so good.  That was so worth it.  That was soooo good.”  So, in the end, does it really matter whether or not the menu was cutting edge or inspired or original?  If the food is good, and if it is prepared with care and good technique, why is it necessarily a bad thing that it isn’t inspired?  It obviously makes the people of Montclair happy.  And after all, isn’t that what cooking for other people is all about?  Making them happy?

I’ll tell you what would make me happy — if I got to work as a part time dishwasher on nights and weekends.  I should look into that. . . .

CulinAriane restaurant is located at 33 Walnut Street, Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone: 973-744-0533
Fax: 973-744-0733
Hours: Wed – Sat, 5:30 – 10:00
Reservations are highly suggested.