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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shibucho-Old Reds Paired With Sushi and Bloggers

3114 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90057


For our latest event, we chose to experiment with a red wine and sushi pairing. We all know that beer, sake, champagne, softer whites or even pinot noir could pair with most types of sushi, but Bordeaux and Rioja? Generally, Bordeaux is highly tannic...Rioja, not so much, but still overpowering. We were concerned that the wine would simply overpower the delicate flavors of raw fish. Not so, according to Shibucho's Shige-san. He's been promoting the pairing of Bordeaux and sushi for decades. The secret? The wine has to be OLD!

And so, our event was born. We invited a group of our favorite bloggers, mixed in with a couple of new faces. In attendance were Ryan of tangmeister.com, Kevin of Kevineats.com, Ila of inomthings.blogspot.com, Fiona of GourmetPigs.blogspot.com, Joshua of FoodGPS.com and Tony of sinosoul.com. Brian, Marshal and I rounded out the group. The three of us brought:

'82 Pavie-Decesse
'78 Ducru Beaucaillou
'76 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Vina Tondonia
'76 Lopex de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Vina Boscania
'75 Leoville Barton
'75 Montrose
'89 Beycheville

Kevin and Ryan generously provided a '78 Dom Perignon, which we started the meal with.

We paired the Dom with Ankimo, or monkfish liver. Shige-san provided two different cuts. The one on top had an orange hue. The ankimo was topped with ponzu, scallion and chili infused daikon. Paired well with the Sauternes-like champagne. The orange hued piece was a better match, as opposed to the bottom piece.

Next, we had the Pavie Decesse paired with a mirugai, aoyagi, hotate and seaweed salad. The salad, with a white miso base, was really mild. This was our first test with the red wine pairing. Even though the wine was young compared to the other bottles, it didn't overpower the clams and scallops.

We followed next with an albacore salad, toro sashimi, maguro sashimi, Buri sashimi and Hirame sashimi. Shige-san then threw us a curveball and served an eggplant parmesan. After that, we had a sake and ikura salad, followed by toro nigiri, hamachi belly nigiri, sea bream nigiri and golden eye snapper nigiri.

Getting a bit intoxicated at this point, we had all discussed the different pairings. Some were definite hits, like the toro...some were not quite there, like the halibut and it's fishiness being drawn out.

We moved on to a buri daikon and anago nigiri. Some of us finished with an uni handroll, which blew away any crabroll I'd ever finished with at Sasabune, Echigo, Kiriko or Wa.

Kevin and Ila did an amazing job of recounting the meal, picture by picture...so please read their blogs for a blow by blow, and some history.

Towards the end of the evening, I stepped outside to make a phone call. As I finished, I looked up and noticed Shige-san gesturing me to come over. He was at the back door entrance, and he led me inside. Slightly confused, I followed. Shige-san lead me in and began showing me his immense wine collection.

As we went through the closet, and additional temperature closets not pictured, he showed me, with great pride, the many bottles he's collected over the years. Petrus, Screaming Eagle, different vintages of all of the first growths...the list was endless. I was so excited, I asked if I could bring everyone else in. 'No...it's a secret! Only you can see!'

The evening itself, with the amazing conversation, incredible company and thought provoking pairings, was memorable. Shige-san showing me his personal cellar? Now that was priceless. As we left after midnight, we all took pictures with him. He welcomed us back and bowed goodbye. Our first visit weeks before, Shige-san was guarded...so I know where some people come from when they criticize his demeanor. But once he sees a love of food and wine in you, it's almost like he becomes your mentor. He had so many words of wisdom and was so kind. I'll always remember my little tour of the secret wine cellar.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Philosophy, Food and Wine with Jose Andres

For the soft opening of The Bazaar on November 17th, I had dinner with Kevin of kevineats.com, Ryan of tangmeister.com, and three of their friends. On that night, we set out to try each of the 63 dishes on the menu. We got as far as 48 before we threw in the towel...to be fair, we had two of each dish up to about dish 30.

As soon as he got home, Kevin went about composing his blog entry, finishing around 7 or 8 the next morning. In the blog, which you can read at http://www.kevineats.com/2008/11/bazaar-los-angeles-ca.htm he included pictures of every dish we tried.

Interestingly, Kevin received an email from Chef Jose Andres, inviting him to get together to talk about "creativity and cooking". Apparently, Chef Andres got wind of Kevin's blog and wanted to meet him.

Kevin asked if I was interested, and so we met up with Chef Andres last night at 8:30 pm at The Bazaar. Going into the evening, I wasn't sure what to expect. Was Chef Andres going to chastise us, or Kevin, for writing this blog? Was he going to have an attorney present to personally present Kevin with a cease and desist order, since he took pictures even after we were told we were not allowed to?

On the contrary, we were treated like family. I arrived an hour early, so I tried a couple of nitrogen caipirinhas. It's the traditional caipirinha drink mixed with liquid nitrogen, forming a sorbet-like consistency, and topped with edible flowers and herbs. The consistency was creamy, the drink a big winner. On my second, Chef Andres stopped by to say hi. He warmly welcomed me and we made small talk. I let him know Kevin and the rest of the party were on the way. Once everyone arrived, Jose sat with us in Bar Centro and invited each of us to order a drink. I got a third nitrogen Caipirinha, and thus the evening began.

While scooping up my 'drink', Jose asked what description came to my mind regarding the drink. "...and don't say molecular gastronomy, or I'll throw you out of the restaurant", he jested. He explained that he simply wanted a certain consistency, and since the drink was almost pure alcohol, this was the only way to freeze it. He then segued into discussion regarding his cooking. He essentially asserted that his cooking was based on his experiences growing up, when eating at home was a necessity. Although I'm rather certain his family dinners growing up didn't include liquid olives and nitrogen caipirinhas, I got his point. His menu, although extensive, was an acknowledgement of his past and things new. Every dish was carefully thought out and executed to his liking.

After an hour or so, we moved over to Rojo, where Jose ordered a bunch of stuff, and a gorgeous white wine. He also directed his head sommelier to decant the '95 Vega Sicilia that Brian and Jan brought. Throughout the rest of evening, Jose was greeted by friends. On two or three occasions, dishes were brought for his opinion. He explained that they constantly discussed dishes, always perfecting them. He went on about the importance of doing things right, whether it be cooking or writing.

Among the items ordered were some of the dishes that Kevin did not appreciate. As we tasted each one, he gave us either a brief history or explanation of the dish. I'm not sure what it was, but the dishes such as the Japanese eggplant and the salt cod fritters tasted much better the second time around. It could have been that we were too full that first night, or it could have been that the kitchen staff was on point for us, since the chef was sitting at our table.

Overall, Jose sat with us for close to three hours. He told many stories. He expressed the importance of seeing things not only from your own perspective, but from many. He gave us some suggested reading so that we could learn more about what we're writing about. He spoke fondly and often of his wife and kids, and of his responsibilities to each and every one of his staff.

Although many lessons were taught and learned, the most intriguing thing was Jose's passion for life, which poured over into his cooking. He got a bit emotional at times, speaking of certain things. He was even a bit patriarchal at other times, extolling the importance of not necessarily liking or not liking something, but looking at it from different perspectives for a better understanding. As busy as he is(he had just landed a few hours before), he took the time to explore the minds of people who took time to write about food. He wanted to understand and be understood. Never pretentious and always sincere and honest, he was a delight. He ended by thanking us for coming and by telling me that I would have to cook for him, so that he could critique me. I told him I would be more than happy to, but only if he was in for a good laugh. He said he'd give me a year, but we'll see if I ever get the courage to do that.

I'm not sure if we changed our opinions on his cuisine that much, but the experience really made me think about what we write. Jose, who really could have a God Complex at this stage in his career, was welcoming and warm and somewhat open to criticism. He showed a very human side that is sometimes forgotten when we criticize. He showed a great passion, telling us that he poured three years of his life into The Bazaar. Most of all, he showed that he cared about what his diners thought. Breaking bread with us for three hours proved that.