Archive for Top chef

Congratulations! Padma Lakshmi Pregnant!

Posted in Food in the news, Food on TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2009 by restaurantouring

Padma, hostess of Bravo TV’s Top Chef, is pregnant with her first child, after battling endometriosis, a medical condition where the lining of her uterus grows in other areas of the body. The condition may cause bleeding and infertility in women, so this is a very special pregnancy for Padma, indeed! For more information, check out this article from CNN. Congratulations!

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).

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.

Natasha Richardson Dies from Ski Accident

Posted in Food in the news with tags , , , , on March 19, 2009 by restaurantouring

Hi everyone,

Those of us who saw the Christmas episode (episode 6) of Top Chef  New York (season 5) may remember seeing the lovely Ms. Natasha Richardson on the show as host and representative of amfAR (the American Foundation for Aids Research).  If you’ve been keeping up with the news, Natasha was in a ski accident on Monday (March 16, 2009).  Tragically, she passed away yesterday at the young age of 45.  For more details, please read this article and keep her and her family in your thoughts and prayers.  Thank you.

Mournfully yours,

Conway

Placing bets on tonight’s results

Posted in Food on TV with tags , , on February 25, 2009 by restaurantouring

If Carla wins, you all owe me cookies. Oatmeal raisin, please!

Edit: (spoiler alert) Damnit!

Wow

Posted in Food on TV with tags , , , , on February 20, 2009 by restaurantouring

Dear Lord, it has been a while since my last [real] post. Apologies for that. I’ve been trying to sort out some personal matters while looking for a new job, since I intend on leaving my current one very soon. Damn this economic downturn for making things so difficult!  I just want to cook!  But alas, no one is hiring.

The first thing I want to talk about is Top Chef, of course. I’m obsessed with this show. And what a roller coaster ride it has been! With Ariane Duarte eliminated a few weeks ago, the show became a little less interesting for me. I was really cheering her on, not just because she’s a fellow New Jerseyan and her restaurant is 15 minutes away from my apartment, but she was super nice (not like Leah or Stefan) and she actually knew how to cook, unlike half of the untalented hacks that show up on these shows sometimes.

The following week, Radhika was eliminated for being a poor host and leader during restaurant wars. Not only was her restaurant seemingly unfriendly, the desserts failed. What a bummer.

Then, Jeff fell in the All Star episode due to a seemingly lackluster ceviche. I’m still scratching my head a little about that one, but it doesn’t matter. I also read an interview with him somewhere online. I’ll link to it when I find it, but in it, he basically said that he felt like he was being used as some sort of sex object on the show or something. This I find hilarious, if you remember the name of the place he works at (Dilido Club, for those of you who don’t).

The following week, Jamie (Shock! Surprise! She was one of my favorites!) was sent home because of oversalted braised celery ribs in her attempt to recreate one of Le Bernardin’s dishes, even though Hosea botched some fundamentals and Leah completely fuxxed up her dish. The only justification I’ve been able to muster up for this decision is that salt is the most important thing in the kitchen. At least, learning to control salt is the most important fundamental. Terrible to see her go, though.

Leah finally gets sent home after that. She botched poached eggs for her eggs Benedict. Not only were her eggs undercooked, she watered down her hollandaise when she should have left it alone. Fabio breaks a pinky finger but still manages to win the challenge, which was fantastic.

This brings us to this week’s episode:

The final four (Stefan, Hosea, Fabio, and Carla) meet back up in New Orleans for the end of the season. Emeril is the guest judge. In the spirit of the rebirth of New Orleans, the judges bring back the last three competitors eliminated for a chance to get back into the mix.

Quickfire: Jeff, Jamie, and Leah must prepare a dish using crawfish. Leah’s dish looks the least appealing — like a failed gumbo or stew, so she calls it a soup. Although Jamie’s dish looked tasty, Jeff pulled it off with his version of shrimp and grits, substituting the crawfish for the shrimp.

For the elimination challenge, Jeff needs to win in order to proceed to the finale. If he does win, the judges will eliminate two other chefs. Unfortunately, he ends up just missing the mark to Carla, who really shined with an oyster stew, freshly fried shrimp beignets, and a non-alcoholic (Gasp! In the middle of Mardi Gras???) mixed drink. Stefan and Fabio end up being the least favorite chefs, and Fabio is unfortunately sent home.

So, the final 3 are Stefan, Carla, and Hosea. This is very different from whom I imagined would be in the final 3: Jamie, Stefan, and either Jeff or Fabio.

If Stefan wins, he will probably deserve it, even though he’s an arrogant ass. Hosea, I think, doesn’t really know how to cook at a high level. Carla has been truly impressive in the last few episodes. She’s definitely the dark horse out of the bunch, and I hope she wins it all. We’ll see what happens.

I just hope these chefs remember what the formula for success seems to be on the show: good interpretations of familiar foods. Simplicity. Elegance. Austerity. Perfect execution. And bacon.

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.

Restaurant Week NYC

Posted in Food on TV, New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2009 by restaurantouring

Restaurant week is coming back to NYC for the last two weeks of January. A list of participating restaurants can be found here. I’ve already made reservations at Centro Vinoteca, the restaurant where Leah, from Top Chef, works. At least I hope she still works there. I want to eat there out of sheer culinary curiosity, I swear. I don’t mean to be stalking her, even if it looks that way.

Yeah, there’s no way out of this one. I’ll just shut up now.

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!