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January 27, 2008

Attention, Restaurants...

A lazy winter day at home today has presented me with the opportunity to both cook up an Armato/Scudiere household favorite and also to address a long-standing culinary pet peeve.

Attention, restaurants that purport to be Italian...

This is NOT Ragú alla BologneseTHIS is Ragú alla Bolognese

Don't misunderstand, I don't mean to cast aspersions on your tomato sauce with meat. It might be a spectacular tomato sauce with meat. But Ragú alla Bolognese is NOT tomato sauce with meat. It is a meat sauce with a little bit of tomato. Sounds like a fine distinction on paper, I know, but I hope this visual aid demonstrates that it most certainly is not. By all means, please continue to serve your tomato sauce with meat. I may even order it. But please don't call it Ragú alla Bolognese. Especially if it's pink, for cryin' out loud.

Glad we got that cleared up, guys... thanks.

January 18, 2008

Maple or Mushroom?

©2006 Ron Wolf
Waaaaaay back last summer our little crew held its tenth Iron Chef competition with an ingredient that had been on just about everybody's wish list since the inaugural competition. We have a few hardcore dessert lovers, however, so early on I think there was a little resistance to theme ingredients that people couldn't imagine in a sweet context. But seven years into it, I think folks have learned to trust the chefs a bit, and as such they entrusted us with mushrooms for the most recent battle.

Admittedly, as sweet applications of savory ingredients go, this was a tricky one. But a couple of years before, I'd read about a unique little breed of mushroom that I put in my back pocket to save as my secret weapon should an Iron Chef Mushroom be announced. Enter the candy cap.

Candy cap mushrooms are puzzling little fellows. When fresh, as pictured here (in a lovely photo graciously provided by Ron Wolf... thanks, Ron!), they don't taste like much at all. But as they dry, they take on an intense maple aroma and flavor, making them absolutely perfect for desserts. They're a little tricky to find, so I ordered mine from Millard Family Mushrooms, a tiny operation run by friendly folks who harvest and sell wild mushrooms out of Oregon. A quarter ounce bag sells for $5 plus shipping, but mine were still quite fragrant after six months so it's worth stocking up. I figured they'd make a damn fine cheesecake (though it turns out I'm far from the first to think so), and I used some goat cheese to bridge the gap between sweet and savory. Then we worked some chanterelles into a sauce for their overtones of apricot, and threw in a little crispy candied porcini for fun. The result? The highest scoring dish in Iron Chef Chicago history. But I think that's only because the judges gave the previous course, the challenger's dessert, a huge score and left themselves with no choice other than to give me an obscene score.

In any case, I was thrilled with it. It turned out really well. If you didn't tell people, they'd just assume you flavored it with maple syrup. But though the resemblance is uncanny, it isn't quite the same heavy, cloying sweetness as maple. Rather, it's a little spicy and earthy, which I actually prefer. The sauce is a modification of a Charlie Trotter sauce I've always liked, and though he pairs it with chocolate and ginger, I think it works great in this context. If the chanterelles in the sauce are pushing the whole mushroom dessert frontier a little too much for you, you can skip the fresh chanterelles and chanterelle reduction. We wanted to push the mushroom for our purposes, but it's still fantastic without the chanterelles -- a mushroom dessert disguised as a normal dessert. Nobody will guess what's in the cheesecake.

Amanda Magnano

2 C. graham cracker crumbs
6 Tbsp. melted butter
½ oz. dried candy cap mushrooms
24 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. chèvre or similar soft goat cheese
¾ C. sugar
4 eggs
1 fresh porcini mushroom
¼ C. light corn syrup
2 oz. dried chanterelle mushrooms
¼ C. butter
1 C. sugar
¼ C. orange juice
¼ C. heavy cream
½ C. chopped fresh chanterelle mushrooms
1 C. chopped pears

Candy Cap Cheesecake with Chanterelle Caramel Sauce and Candied Porcini Bark

Start off by preheating the oven to 350° and setting the cream cheese and goat cheese out so they come to room temperature. Butter up a 9" spring form pan, then mix the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter, and press them into the bottom of the pan. Cook the crust in the oven for ten minutes, until the crust is dark golden. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool while you work on the cheesecake.

Toss the dried candy caps in a spice grinder and grind them into a powder. Alternatively, you can use a mortar and pestle, but you want to make sure you end up with a very fine powder. Using beaters or a stand mixer (or a wooden spoon, if you're masochistic), beat together the cream cheese and goat cheese until smooth. Then, add the candy cap powder and sugar, and beat in the eggs one at a time at low speed, just until evenly incorporated. You don't want to overbeat here, or you could end up with cracks in your cheesecake later.

Give the sides of the spring form pan one more shot of butter, then pour the cheesecake mix into the pan. Carefully wrap the bottom of the spring form pan with aluminum foil so that water won't get through. Then place the spring form pan in a roasting pan and fill the roasting pan with warm water about halfway up the sides of the spring form pan. Transfer the whole thing to the oven, still at 350°, and cook until the cheesecake is ready. It'll probably be about 50 minutes, but it can vary widely depending on your oven, the heat of the water, the shape of the roasting pan, etc. etc. You'll know it's finished when the outside is set, but the 2-3" in the center are just a little jiggly. Remove the pan from the oven, lift the spring form pan out the water, and set it on a wire rack to cool. Run a knife along the inside of the pan to separate it from the cake, then when the cheesecake has come to room temperature, transfer it to the fridge and let it chill for at least six hours, preferably overnight, to set.

While the cheesecake is cooling, you can prep the porcini bark. Slice the porcini mushroom into paper thin slices, as many as you plan on serving. Hope you have a sharp knife. Or a truffle shaver. (Doesn't everybody have a truffle shaver?) Lightly oil a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil, then lay out the mushroom slices and brush them, both sides, with the corn syrup. You probably won't use it all. Bake the mushroom for about five minutes, remove the pan from the oven, flip them, and bake for about another five minutes until they are a golden color. They'll crisp up as they cool. Store them in an airtight container until you're ready to use them.

To prepare the sauce, start with the dried chanterelle mushrooms. Combine them in a small dish with half a cup of very, very hot water, and let them steep for about half an hour. Remove the mushrooms, squeezing any liquid into the dish, and discard them. If there appears to be any grit in the liquid, strain it through a fine strainer or paper towel. Put the chanterelle liquid in a small pan, bring it to a simmer and reduce it down to two tablespoons. Combine this reduction with the orange juice (freshly squeezed, please) and keep it hot.

In a separate pan, heat the sugar over medium-low heat for about ten minutes, until it's golden brown and caramelized. At first, it'll look like nothing is happening. Resist the temptation to turn up the heat. When it goes, it'll go quickly and if the pan is too hot it'll burn. Stir the sugar to ensure it's evenly melted, then add the mushroom/orange mixture and stir again combined. Add the butter, the cream, the sautéed chanterelles and the chopped pears and continue cooking for about ten minutes, stirring frequently, until the pears and mushrooms have softened slightly and the sauce comes together. Don't be afraid to turn the heat down if it looks like it's cooking too fast. There's no rush and you don't want burnt caramel.

To serve, slice up the cheesecake, stick one or two pieces of the porcini bark in the top, drizzle with the hot caramel sauce and serve it up. Then be prepared for nobody to believe you when you tell them the only seasoning in the cake is mushrooms.

January 16, 2008

NYT on Guanciale

Dominic Armato
Can we consider this the coming out party?

Guanciale has been one of my favorite pet ingredients for a few years now, and until we moved to Baltimore I'd taken its availability for granted. I bought it from Fox & Obel on a weekly basis back in Chicago, but six months into our stay in Charm City I still haven't located a local source. This has led to some extreme measures. But as much as I love cramming six pounds of pig jowls into an already packed refrigerator, I'd much rather this stuff were widely available. I had assumed its scarcity was a function of our new home, but a nice piece in the New York Times seems to indicate that the lack of availability is a national phenomenon. Here's hoping a little high profile coverage like this helps to remedy the situation. The nation deserves face bacon in abundance. In the meantime, I'm more than a little excited about having a couple of new sources to check out.

Incidentally, can I also nominate Bucatini all'Amatriciana as the trendiest pasta of the past six months? It's been our go-to make at home comfort food for years (though I tend to favor a non-traditional rigatoni), and I always had to explain to folks what it was, but I swear that I've seen it on seven or eight different menus since last summer. Is this just my experience, or has it suddenly caught on like wildfire everywhere?

January 14, 2008

Pantry Raid

On a cold winter night when it's late and you think the pantry's bare, there's nothing more heartwarming than realizing you have JUST enough of everything you need for a pot of Risotto alla Milanese.

Every six months or so, I ask myself why I don't make risotto more often. It's simple, it's delicious, it's Italian. Then, midway through the cooking process, when I switch the spoon to my left hand so the gnarled stump that my right hand has become can take a brief break, I remember.

January 10, 2008

Belated T-Day

Believe me, this is progress.

I knew I wanted to post recipes. I took copious notes! Then I sat on them for a month and a half. Oh well. In any case, here's one of this past Thanksgiving's successes. It's probably better if you ignore the amount of butter involved. Or promptly forget it once you've finished cooking.

Incidentally, as is done with the butter here, is it nice to have it broken into logical steps in the ingredient list, or is it annoying to not know at a glance, without adding, how much you'll need total?

Dominic Armato

2 pork tenderloins
2 Tbsp. butter
6 oz. bacon, sliced into short strips
½ tsp. salt
1 C. diced onion
1 C. diced Granny Smith apple
2 Tbsp. butter
2 C. coarse fresh bread crumbs
¾ C. port
1 cinnamon sticks
½ tsp. whole allspice
½ tsp. whole cloves
1 Tbsp. butter
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. pork or dark chicken stock
¾ C. fresh cranberries
2 Tbsp. sugar
¼ C. butter
salt & pepper
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
½ C. chopped toasted walnuts

Pork Tenderloin with Apple Bacon Stuffing and Spiced Cranberry Sauce
Serves 4-6

To get the tenderloins ready for stuffing, take the longest, thinnest knife you have (a boning knife is perfect) and push it through the tenderloin, making a long slit lengthwise through the middle. If the knife won't go all the way through, insert it in one end at a time so the cuts meet in the middle. Then, turn the knife 90 degrees and do the same, so that the hole running through the tenderloin is cross-shaped. Then, take a wooden spoon with a long handle, insert the handle into the hole and stretch it until it's about ¾ of an inch wide. I find it helps to use one spoon on either end and rotate them around each other. Refrigerate the tenderloins until you're ready to stuff them.

To make the stuffing, heat 2 Tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium high. When the butter is melted and the foam subsides, toss in the bacon and sauté it, stirring, until it's slightly crisped on the edges. Add the onions, reduce the heat to medium and cover the pan. Cook the mixture for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender. Remove the cover, add the diced apple and continue to cook until the apples are tender but still have some bite, about another 10 minutes. Take the mixture off the heat and salt to taste.

Meanwhile, combine the bread crumbs (a good crusty country loaf is best) with another 2 Tbsp. of butter in a large skillet and cook over medium low heat, stirring, until the crumbs are golden and crispy, about 15 minutes. Combine the crumbs with apple mixture, add a little salt if necessary, and stuff the tenderloins. Stuffing pork tenderloins is a little tricky. Just don't be shy about it. They call it stuffing for a reason.

To prep the cranberry sauce, combine the port (I think LBVs work nicely for this sauce) with the cinnamon, allspice and cloves in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then continue simmering over low heat until it's reduced to half its original volume, about 15-20 minutes. Strain the port through a fine-meshed strainer and pitch the spices.

In a clean saucepan, combine another 2 Tbsp. butter and the sliced shallot over medium heat, and sweat the shallot until it's translucent. Add the port reduction, the pork or chicken stock, cranberries and sugar and cook just until the cranberries have popped, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth, then pass the mixture through a fine-meshed strainer, discarding the solids left behind. You want as much of the liquid as possible, so you'll probably need to stir the mixture a bit as you pass it through the strainer. This sauce base can be prepped ahead of time and refrigerated overnight.

To cook the tenderloins, first preheat the oven to 400°. Before cooking, season the stuffed tenderloins with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof skillet over high heat, and when it just lets off a wisp of smoke, add the tenderloins, searing and turning until browned on all sides. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast the tenderloins until the centers read 140° on a thermometer, about eight minutes. Transfer the tenderloins to a platter to rest for 5-10 minutes, covered with tented foil to keep them warm.

To finish the cranberry sauce, warm the sauce base in a saucepan over medium low heat, and whisk in the ¼ C. butter.

To serve, slice the tenderloins and top with a little bit of the cranberry sauce and the toasted walnuts.

January 06, 2008


Dominic Armato
Given the number of times we've visited my ladylove's family in Cleveland over the past five years, it's kind of criminal how little I've actually seen of the city. I'm sure I've been here ten times, spent 40 or 50 nights, and yet Thursday night was, I believe, only the second time we've had dinner out on the town. The comforts of relaxing at the family homestead are hard to resist, indeed, so with this rare opportunity we went for no less than Cleveland's hottest restaurant.

Michael Symon was already Cleveland's most nationally recognized restaurateur before he won a gig as the new Iron Chef, but I'll come right out and admit that I didn't really know a thing about him. I didn't know if the buzz surrounding the new incarnation of his flagship restaurant, Lola, was well-earned or simply a byproduct of cable celebrity. After all, it isn't as though Food Network is going out of their way to hire talented chefs these days. The space certainly is nice -- dimly lit, stylish and urban cool without getting too far out of hand. Yeah, the bar overlooking the kitchen glows yellow from within (how do you see the food against a backlight?), but the main dining area sets bright modern floral paintings against its dark chocolate walls and our waiter, at least, was casual and friendly. The menu is a mix of Mediterranean and upscale comfort food, fairly straightforward with a few twists here and there. There's meat and potatoes appeal in spades, but I gravitate toward creative combinations and I had a heck of a time settling on my selections.

Dominic Armato
Having picked a fairly traditional entree, I went with an unconventional starter, the Berkshire Crispy Bacon. By bacon, Symon means large cubes of pork belly, crispy on the top and bottom with tender, fatty meat in between. It was served with seared halloumi cheese, pickled green tomatoes, slivered almonds and a slightly spicy mint oil. If we'd hit Lola on the way to Chicago instead of the way back, this dish would've been right at the top of my favorites of 2007. I'm more than a little partial to pork belly, and this was one of the most unique and delicious preparations I've ever had. It was one of those dishes that comes at you from every direction and hits every single taste bud. It was sweet, sour, salty, bitter, crispy, juicy, spicy, silky, bright and grounded, and it still kept the bacon at center stage. I'm not sure where I'd even begin to deconstruct it, so I won't try. Just know that it absolutely rocks and act accordingly if you have the chance.

Dominic Armato
My entree was also quite charming, though its charms weren't so immediately evident. As much as I wanted to try another of Symon's more creative concoctions, there was no resisting braised short ribs on a very cold winter night. They were served, boneless, with mushrooms, onions and an assortment of baby root vegetables. On the top was no more than half a teaspoon of tart gremolata, heavy on mint, and on the bottom was a deep pool of rich braising liquid. My first reaction, in fact, was that it should have been served with a spoon. This reaction proved to be shortsighted. The meat flaked apart with gentle provocation and sucked up the liquid with every bite, leaving nothing in the bowl by the time I'd finished. Mint gremolata aside, it was a very conventional dish. In fact, the first bite struck me as delicious, but nothing memorable. I changed my tune about a third of the way through. The further I sank into the bowl, the more delicious it became, which I've always seen as one of the best indicators of a great comfort dish. It was warm and deep and so quietly confident in itself that it didn't need to show off. It knew I'd come around before too long.

Dominic Armato
Dessert was very nice, and I dug the philosophy behind it. I'm a savory breakfast guy who probably won't ever understand the drown everything in maple syrup and whipped cream crowd. Why not just call it dessert? Well, Symon did. The "6 A.M. Special" starts with French toast, then tops it with bacon ice cream, caramelized apples, maple syrup and a tuille that my ladylove thought was highly reminiscent of cereal. This is where sweet breakfast belongs -- at the end of a great dinner.

What I particularly like about Symon, after my first visit, is that he doesn't forget to satisfy. He works in his twists and personal touches, but between my ladylove and myself, there wasn't a single dish on the table that wasn't comforting and delicious on a very basic level. It's a terribly overused phrase these days, but this is very honest food, executed at an especially high level. Plus, the man was in the house, so it's nice to see he hasn't abandoned his post in the wake of his newfound celebrity. A week ago, we ate at Everest (no post... forgot the camera), one of Chicago's premiere fine dining establishments, and spent four times the amount we did at Lola. I'm not one for buyer's remorse when it comes to big bills at fine dining establishments and I thought we had an excellent meal at Everest, but I think it's instructive that, even if Everest's prices were quartered, Lola is the spot that would merit our return business. And it will. There's a lot of great looking stuff on the menu, and I hope to make it a regular stop whenever we're in town.

2058 E. 4th St.
Cleveland, OH 44115
Mon - Thu11:30 AM - 2:30 PM5:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Fri11:30 AM - 2:30 PM5:00 PM - 11:00 PM
Sat5:00 PM - 11:00 PM

January 03, 2008

The Deliciousness of 2007

What better way to emerge from winter blogging hibernation than to revisit the deliciousness of 2007?

What with the brand new little fella and our mid-year relocation, 2007 made for an interesting year all around, and grub hunting was no exception. Meals out had already become scarce before the move. But with nobody in Baltimore to watch our offspring, the second half of the year was limited to lunch spots that didn't mind lively young'uns and the occasional meal with some Charm City Chowhounds while my ladylove played babysitter. I'm getting better at eating well with child, but it's an adjustment to say the least.

So while I can't say that 2007 brought me the same astounding level of deliciousness as 2006, there were still some formidable contenders for the final cut. I'm sad to report that none of this year's ten elicited giggles, but much like fine port, one would only encounter such dishes in a vintage year. 2007 was not a vintage year for Skillet Doux, but it was a fine one all the same and here are its ten highlights, the order courtesy of random.org. As always, this is a very subjective and personal list. Perhaps these were astounding feats of culinary prowess, perhaps they were simple preparations that hit me at just the right time. But these are the ten dishes that, at year's end, still stick with me.

Clicking on the photos will bring up larger images, while the dish titles link to the applicable post.

Dominic Armato
Xiao Long Bao
Ye Shanghai - Hong Kong

This past year, I went on a bit of a Xiao Long Bao tasting binge. It wasn't nearly as comprehensive as some I've read about (heck, there are those who have tasted XLB at more establishments in one day than I did in all of 2007), but we'll call it the rediscovery of an old favorite. Frequently referred to as "soup dumplings", Xiao Long Bao are yet another line item in the list of evidence demonstrating that when it comes to highly evolved culinary technique, the Chinese are right there with the French. Aspic is folded into exceptionally thin bun dough and then steamed, turning the filling into a gush of liquid hot pork. Achatz, Adria and Dufresne may achieve a similar effect with sodium alginate, but the Chinese have been doing it for a century with a pig and a pot. Ye Shanghai's offering wasn't the picture of technical perfection I've seen elsewhere, but it was pretty damn close and unquestionably the best tasting XLB I've had. Please don't ever leave me alone in a room with a great number of these. My survival would not be guaranteed.
Dominic Armato
Minced Fish Salad
Pho 777 - Chicago

I spent the first half of 2007 eating an awful lot of Vietnamese, albeit mostly at one place. Interesting, however, that my most memorable Vietnamese dish this past year came from a spot I hit just once for a special meal. While many are familiar with Bò 7 Món, the traditional seven courses of beef meal, Pho 777 offers the less widely known Cá 7 Món, which operates under the same basic principle, just less beefy and more fishy. The first dish of this piscine extravaganza was a minced fish salad that snuck up on me. I love Vietnamese salads, with their balance of tart, salty and sweet, but this particular variant struck me with how restrained, subtle and perfectly balanced it was. The delicate fish called for a less aggressive approach, so while this salad spoke the same lyrics as its more explosive brethren, it sung them sweetly rather than belting them out. I've scoffed before at recipes that measure large volumes of seasonings down to the quarter teaspoon, but this salad was so perfectly balanced that a dash of anything would have thrown it off. Since I only visited once, I can't say whether this was the work of a deft hand or a lucky one, but the year in deliciousness doesn't discriminate against accidental awesomeness, so I consider the point moot.
Dominic Armato
Gaspé Nova Lox
Russ & Daughters - New York

An autumn trip to New York gave me an opportunity to calibrate my deli meter a bit, and Russ & Daughters was the designated spot for approaching it from the fishy angle. I tried five different selections and everything was so outstanding it feels wrong to designate a favorite, but I loved the perfect mellowness of their signature Gaspé Nova Lox. I've never in my life had a piece of cured fish so fresh and clean tasting, and when combined with a bagel and cream cheese it was like consuming smooth, creamy salmon butter. My trip to R&D was an eye-opener when it came to the possibilities of fish and salt, and this was the highlight.
Dominic Armato
Smoked Mullet
Ted Peters - St. Petersburg

Of the three fish preparations that made my top ten this year, however, this was probably my favorite. My server cautioned me that the flavor was "very intense," and that I might prefer a different fish. Thankfully I had the good sense to ignore her warning. Mullet isn't the cleanest tasting fish, which I think makes it only more appropriate for Ted Peters' intense smoke flavor. On the opposite end of the spectrum from R&D's subtle Gaspé Nova, Ted Peters' smoked mullet had the look and flavor of something that survived a four alarm blaze at the woodchip factory. They use it to make a dynamite smoked fish spread, but I liked it best as you see here, fresh from the smoker with just a squirt of lemon. Slap it on a blue melamine plate, sit me outdoors next to a four lane highway, crack a bottle of beer for me and I'm a happy camper.
Dominic Armato
Jumbo Lump Crabcake
Faidley's - Baltimore

Okay, I'm cheating a little bit here. I actually sampled Faidley's crabcake for the first time in 2006. But for reasons I don't remember, I somehow managed to leave it off last year's list. Perhaps I didn't want to jump the gun, knowing we'd be moving to Baltimore in six months. But now that I've lived in Charm City for six months and have started to sample around a bit, there's no keeping this softball-sized lump of crustacean love off the list. The moment I first tasted this crabcake was the moment I suddenly understood why Baltimore natives have to hide a smirk anytime they try a crabcake outside of their fair city. It's not about the cake, it's about the crab, and what restaurants the world 'round have done to this fabulous foodstuff is nothing short of criminal. I'm officially done with dark brown breaded saltine hockey pucks with a few token strands of crabmeat. Faidley's cakes are light and moist with enormous chunks of crab and just enough filler to keep them together and lightly season them. One of my resolutions for 2008 is to sample as many of the city's other offerings as possible, but I have a hard time believing they're going to get much better than this.
Dominic Armato
Sichuan Noodles with
Crispy Soybeans

Da Ping Huo - Hong Kong

This entry is partly an expression of my love and partly a call for help. What the heck is it? The title isn't official. It's my best guess. The couple that runs the stylish little underground restaurant Da Ping Huo in Hong Kong is long on hospitality but short on menu descriptions. There were a few dishes from this meal that could've easily made my top ten for the year, so I'm giving the nod to the one that, if tied for the most delicious, was definitely the most novel. This dish was as much a textural experience as it was a flavor experience. Thin, sticky noodles in a Sichuan sauce with finely minced crisp vegetables and assorted crispies may give you a bit of a sense, but doesn't begin to convey it. Eliminate all of the flavor, and it would still be a joy just to chew. I don't even know if I've correctly identified the ingredients. But I do know that this was definitely one of my favorites of the year.
Dominic Armato
Sesame and Ginger Gelato
I Scream - Hong Kong

Somehow, I find it funny that the best chef I encountered in 2007 was a gelataio. I'm now officially a Paolo Predonzan fan, based on the concoctions he serves at I Scream, a small gelato stand in the GREAT Food Market at Pacific Place. I've had my fair share of gelato while visiting Italy, and do NOT let his lack of proximity to the mother country color your opinion of his product. The gelato at I Scream is as good as I've ever tasted. It's the kind I wish I had on hand when trying to explain what's so special about gelato when it's made by somebody who knows what he's doing. And Predonzan REALLY knows what he's doing. I haven't seen the man's kitchen, so I suppose I can't say this with any kind of authority, but he's not just slapping different flavors into the same base. Each flavor is meticulously crafted -- intensity, sweetness, texture -- and then perfectly executed. What's more, I love that Predonzan nails the classics, gives innovative twists to others, and also has adopted the flavors of his new home with great care and passion. In particular, his sesame and ginger gelati floored me. On my last trip to Hong Kong, I ate dessert here every night except for once, when I rushed back from a restaurant only to miss closing time by five minutes. That good.
Dominic Armato
Drunken Shrimp
Zen - Hong Kong

It's always nice to have something done right that you've butchered yourself. Shrimp are at their best when they were kicking moments before you consume them. I don't care how quickly or carefully they were flash frozen, the chasm between live and frozen shrimp is impossibly deep and wide. Depending on where you get them (and where the person preparing them falls on the animal rights spectrum), drunken shrimp can mean a lot of things. At Zen in Hong Kong, it meant that live shrimp were tossed into a bowl of shaoxing, allowed to "marinate" for 10-15 minutes, then steamed and served whole. I'm sure there are hundreds of places in Hong Kong that do this just as well, but Zen is where I happened to have them. Steamed live shrimp, tender and incredibly sweet, is delicious enough, but add to that a little fermented rice counterpoint and this is one of my favorite fresh seafood preparations. Incidentally, 2007 was also the year that I finally became an enthusiastic head sucker. It's the best part. By far. Especially with a dish like this.
Dominic Armato
Chicken and Dumplings
Dr. John Ralston's Kitchen

Right place, right time. Which is not to take anything away from Dr. John Ralston's fantastic homemade Chicken and Dumplings. I was at home with the flu, and my ladylove came home bearing the ultimate textbook remedy, courtesy of one of her coworkers. Dr. Ralston's version cut no corners, using fresh vegetables, tender dumplings and homemade chicken stock. It was the ultimate reminder of why comfort food is called comfort food. In a year that put chicken back on my radar, this was the best preparation I had, and it came at precisely the right time. A good doc knows when to prescribe the meds -- and when to bust out the chicken soup.
Dominic Armato
Egg Toast, Caviar and Dill
Jean Georges - New York

2007 also brought me back to an old favorite, and reminded me once again of why I love Jean-Georges so much. He'll throw oddly effective pairings at you all night, then bowl you over with something so simple yet executed so perfectly that you have to wonder if you're missing something. As far as I can tell, this dish was composed entirely of egg yolks, brioche, dill, caviar and salt. But it was my favorite of the night. For starters, this is now the third or fourth time I've had sous vide egg yolks (apparently it's the fine dining pet ingredient du jour), but this was the only use that made sense. The mouthful of silken semi-cooked yolk acted as a mellow foil to the caviar, but kept the dish rich and luscious. Eggs, caviar, dill and bread are as far from an innovative combination as you can get. But though it was the most subtle, this was the most effective use of a trendy new technique I've encountered by a longshot.

So there it is, the class of 2007. Coming up in 2008, long overdue recipes, lots of crabcakes, more home cookin' (a matter of necessity), and maybe I'll actually get around to the Pasta Primers one of these days!

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