Friday, June 27, 2008

Old Sushi

by Xani

Wow, THAT'S an appetizing title, huh? What I meant to call this post is "Amazing Sushi Dinner We Had Several Weeks Ago That I'm Just Now Getting Around to Posting" But that's a little wordy, don't you think?

Um, anyway, the sushi. The whole BCD family got together one evening for dinner at Sushi King, a Columbia restaurant that has been open, in my estimation, since the beginning of time. I certainly remember coming here when I was pretty young-- maybe eight or nine years old? (This was back in the day when my favorite roll was Unagi (eel) and EP would only eat tempura shrimp! Man, how things have changed.... you will soon see that our current sushi tendencies fit squarely in the Weird Food category.) Now we especially like going to Sushi King because they always offer a variety of interesting chef's specials in addition to the regular and sushi menus. The BCD fam LOVES us some unusual sushi, and this is the place to get it! As soon as we were seated at our table and had a few sips of cold sake in our bellies, it was time to investigate the specials and come up with a sushi game plan...

This was the first any of us had heard of "Sparkling Sake"-- but I can't resist anything with bubbles!

So much food, we have to write down our order

We pretty much made a meal of the specials, including Hamachi cheek, round clam, scallop, monkfish liver, conch, cobia, and salmon belly. We also ordered a couple of sushi rolls, and some Am Ebi (our favorite!). Does that sound like a lot of food? It was. Did we eat it all? Stay tuned to find out!

First up came the Hamachi cheek, also know as "fish face," because, technically, that's what it is. A big piece of the cheek is roasted/grilled and served hot, with a soy dipping sauce. This dish is fantastic-- don't be afraid of it just because it's face (if it's any consolation, there are generally not eyes attached to the face-- not that we have problems with eyes, but maybe some people do?). The cheek meat is super-rich, flavorful, and has plenty of crispy skin to go around. Absolutely fabulous....

We made short work of the cheek and moved onto the next course, which included round clam sashimi, scallop sushi and sashimi, and monkfish liver:

Round Clam


Monkfish Liver

Again, these are slightly unusual dishes but each one is a little masterpiece. The round clam is very much like eating clams from the raw bar-- the pieces are slightly chewy, salty, and taste like the ocean. Eating them with a little wasabi and soy is an interesting change from the traditional cocktail sauce you might use at the raw bar. The scallop is served two ways-- the large, roundish muscle we all think of as a scallop is sliced and served as nigiri sushi (large pieces on top of sushi rice), while the other pieces of the scallop (additional muscles that are usually discarded) are cut up and served as sashimi. I particularly like the variety of textures in this dish-- the scallop sushi has a wonderful smooth texture and a mild flavor. The sashimi pieces are a little chewier and have a more intense taste. The scallop was also served with a spicy, creamy sauce on the side-- an interesting change of pace for the palate after lots of soy and wasabi. You can have your seared scallops-- I only like mine raw! Finally (for this course) the monkfish liver. Now I KNOW some people out there are squirming. But honestly, this is one of my favorite new discoveries. Often called "the fois gras of the sea," (which we said REPEATEDLY while eating it) monkfish liver does indeed have a fois-like texture, if a slightly ocean-ier flavor. Sushi King serves it sliced with soy, cucumbers, tobiko, and (another surprise hit of the night) pickled carrots. If you ever run into this on a menu (I spied it once or twice on menus in LA, but my fellow diners were too weirded out to try it!) just put away your fear of liver and give it a shot. Pretend it's not even liver-- who knew fish had livers anyway?!

Finally the rest of our order came out on a GINORMOUS platter (complete with fake plastic tree):

Here we have soft-shell crab roll, am ebi, salmon belly sashimi, uni (with quail egg), salmon roe (also with quail egg), cobia, conch, and probably some other stuff I can't remember anymore. The point is, it was all DELICIOUS. I could eat this exact meal at least three times a week until the end of time and be a very happy person. Again, everything was super-fresh, and there was a fantastic variety of flavors and textures on the platter. Soft-shell crab roll is super-crunchy and a must-have (we love our crabs in MD !), as is the am ebi. We've blogged about this dish before-- raw shrimp bodies served as nigiri sushi along side the deep-fried shrimp heads-- perfection. The salmon belly was extremely rich and fatty (as most "belly" sushi is-- toro, or tuna belly, is pretty easy to find but Sushi King is one of the only places we have found salmon belly, too), and the uni was, as usual, just such a luxurious and wonderful treat. The raw quail egg on top took it into the "decadent" category (or the "even more disgusting" category, for some of you, I'm sure). As I recall, the conch was sortof a non-starter-- chewy with not that much flavor. But everything else was excellent, as evidence by this:

Oh yeah, we ate it all. Not only that, we ordered more!! A few more pieces of that salmon belly sashimi, and a couple other things I think (no pictures here as I'm sure we didn't want to document the fact that we were going for Round 2!). But hey, it's just raw fish, it's good for us, right??

I know this isn't the sushi dinner that 99% of Americans are ordering. There's no California Roll, no deep fried spicy tuna, and no cream cheese. Not that I don't like those things (ok, I don't like sushi with cream cheese), but sometimes its fun to try new and unusual, or even weird things and realize, holy crap, this tastes great! So next time you are at your local sushi joint, be sure to check out the chef's specials. If you're lucky, maybe there's some fish face in your future!



Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sweet as Meli

by Xani

I don't know how many of you out there know this, but EP and I, well, we're pretty close. We spend a LOT of time together. And we're lucky to live close to one another (even closer now that I've moved-- we live on the same street!), and during the school year we work/go to classes only blocks away from each other. This makes it easy to get together for coffee breaks, lunches, etc, etc. But this summer, with EP all the way in Ft. Meade for her summer job, and both of us super-busy with various work, school, and personal obligations, it seems like there is hardly time for a catch-up email or text! WTF?!? So, last week we made a date to have dinner together and officially catch up. This was also a perfect excuse to try another restaurant on our list!

We decided to try Meli, the newest offering from the Kali's Court restaurant group. Meli is also located in Fells Point (right down the block from Mezze and Kali's Court), in a super-chic, multi-level space that includes a dining room, a cozy downstairs lounge, and a patisserie featuring a variety of sweet treats and coffee (and they're open for breakfast!). Also, the whole space is tied in with the over-arching theme of the restaurant: honey. Meli means honey in Greek, so in addition to honey appearing in many of the dishes, there are flowers on the walls and chairs, and honeycomb patterns on the ceiling and railing of the stairs. Sounds like it could be pretty tickity-tack, but we actually loved the decor and vibe of the whole place. It was upscale but we didn't feel under-dressed in our standard summer attire-- business casual clothes and Reef flip flops! (We know, it's "a lotta look," but after a day in heels, you can understand.) Lighting was nice, and service was friendly and super-helpful; we both agreed that the techno-ish music was out of place, as was the Vegas-casino-style carpeting, but we soon forget these small flaws as we dove into the menu!

While enjoying the bread (served with honey butter, natch), we decided, with the help of our friendly waitress, Danielle, to share a few starters and one entree. It was a tough decision! We finally ordered and after a tasty amuse bouche (tomato and cucumber with marinated onions on top) began with the soup du jour, a sweet corn chowder with old bay creme fraiche and a mini-crab ball.

This was excellent! So sweet and rich, with the fresh, summery taste of corn shining through. EP dug in first (tough to share a bowl of soup) and I was literally counting her spoonfuls, ready to stab her with a fork if she took more than her share! The mini crab ball was excellent, leading me to believe that the crab cakes here are a safe order, if you are into that type of thing. We ate every. last. drop. of this soup, and anxiously awaited the next course, which was grilled tomato salad, with mâche, Fleur de Sel, balsamic honey, halloumi cheese, and a lobster mac and cheese, with cheddar and gruyere, Parmesan crust and cripsy onion rings.

Um, ok. This tomato salad was AWESOME. The tomatoes were perfectly ripe, sweet, and delicious, with a great smoky taste from the grilling. The salty, smoky cheese and tart balsamic were perfect complements. I was surprised they didn't grill the accompanying bread slices, too, but I didn't even WANT the bread, the tomatoes were that good. This dish and the soup were just everything wonderful about summer-- tomatoes, corn, crab, grilling. Just made me feel like summer is the best thing ever, and forget for a moment how bitter I am that my air conditioner is STILL broken!

I guess being in this summer mode made me slightly less excited about the lobster mac and cheese. It was good-- the crispy onion rings were perfectly crunchy, the sauce cheese-tastic and the pasta (a very intricate shape that EP and I had never seen before and couldn't identify) not over-cooked. But it didn't blow me out of my seat the way the truffle mac and cheese did when we were in the islands, mon. I will say it was a substantial portion and could be a satisfying meal in itself on a cozy fall or winter afternoon.

Finally, the entree: seared veal hangar steak with chantrelle mushroom ragout, asparagus, mashed potatoes and yucca chips. I was really excited to try this because I've never even heard of veal hangar steak before, although I really enjoy the beef version. We ordered it medium-rare (of course!) and it came out perfectly cooked, tender and flavorful. The mushroom ragout was fantastic as were the crunchy grilled asparagus, and yucca chips. The mashed potatoes were good, if a little dense, and they were the only thing that remained on the plate when we threw down our forks in defeat!

After dinner we continued to chat about EP's day in prison, her upcoming birthday, friends, family, and of course, FOOD! We lingered over a coffee and an espresso, as we were "too full" for dessert. But apparently Meli just couldn't send us away without something sweet, because on our way out, as we examined the various interesting honeys for sale in the bakery, an friendly employee offered us a box of homemade cookies, gratis! How lovely!

Somewhere between finishing our coffees and leaving the restaurant, we miraculously found room for a cup of sorbetto from Pitango, right around the corner. Half-lemon, half-Granny Smith apple was the perfect end to a lovely summer evening. I was so glad that EP and I could find time to share a great meal and spend some QT together. Let's do this every week!

Happy summer everyone!


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Father's Day = Lobster Day!

by Erin and Xani

Last weekend we celebrated Father's Day as a family, and as some of you long-time readers may recall, on Father's Day and BCD Dad's birthday, we celebrate by having Dad's favorite crustacean: lobster! Here was the menu:

  • Cocktails and Japanese Snack Mix
  • Lobsters!
  • Truffle Parmesan Frites
  • Homemade Mini-Cheesecakes with Strawberries

The day began by picking out which bottle of champagne we would enjoy while cooking and snacking on Japanese snack mix (BCD Dad requested that we get him the kind with the little fishes, and that we did!).

We decided to go with a Champagne Grand Siècle, which was so delicious. It's amazing how crappy a glass of normal, everyday champagne can taste after a sip of this stuff. We toasted to Father's Day, Xani's new house, and EP's grades, and then got back to cooking!

They each had their own fancy box!

Our choice for the evening

Notice that we did not have a first course...the better to focus on the lobsters, my dear! Speaking of lobsters, we ended up with 3 lobsters that in total weighed 11.25 lbs (2 were 3.5 lbs, and one was 4.25 lbs). We cooked them per BCD Dad's Technique for Cooking Super Jumbo Lobsters (SJLs). In short, this requires boiling a huge pot of salted water, and cooking the live lobsters for 5 minutes per pound plus 2 minutes.

Weigh in

"We who are about to die, salute you" (said the lobsters, not BCD Dad)

We had to keep them from attempting to escape their watery grave

After the first lobsters were done, it was time to take them apart and plate them up. Erin was on Team Dismember this time, and she had a blast taking those lobsters apart! Working with (and supervised by) BCD Dad, EP began by removing the claws, then the tail, occasionally running her hands under cold water because recall that those lobsters had just come out of boiling water so they were HOT! Then, using a gigantic and very sharp cleaver, she split the bodies and the tails in half. Then, she cut each of the joints of the claws with the cleaver, and then gave the claw itself a huge WHACK! with the backside of the cleaver to crack it (but being careful not to mangle the meat inside too badly). Who needs therapy when you can hit something as hard as you can with a huge cleaver?? SO FUN.

Now that's a knife

Meanwhile, Xani worked on the latest iteration of her amazing fries. This time, instead of using her standard duck fat and herbs and/or spices, she busted out the big guns and used truffle oil and parmesan cheese. Both the BCD girls had had either fries or popcorn with the parmesan/truffle flavor combination in the past, so we were excited to try to recreate it at home. Xani used her regular technique of putting the fries (frozen, shoe-string shape) in a single layer, adding some sort of fat (we're not sure what it was this time - duck or chicken fat, probably), and putting them in a super-hot (about 425-450 degree) oven and tossing occasionally so they get really crispy but not burned. Then, when they are done, she puts them in a towel-lined bowl and tosses them about such that most of the grease is removed (she got this technique from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook). Then, she removed the towel from the bowl, and drizzled on some black truffle oil and finely shaved parmesan cheese (she used the microplane) and tossed them up.

The verdict? Amazing amazing amazing! The earthiness of the truffle oil was so awesome with the saltiness of the cheese, and added to the crunch of the fries, these were her best batch yet! We are still thinking about them, more than a week later. That's how good they were.

Also amazing were our lobsters! These lobsters were some of the best we've ever had. The meat was sweet and not tough at all, and with a little melted butter with salt, it was pure heaven. And for the first time, we ended up eating every scrap of lobster left on the platter, which usually doesn't happen. We attribute this to our lack of first course, so we didn't waste valuable "room" on other things.

No more meat left! Just shells...

During this incredible meal, we had some incredible wines to go along with it. We began with a classic white Burgundy recommended by our good friend Pepe at Calvert Woodly Wines and when we finished that, we had some of our old favorite, Treana.

After dinner and a little bit of clean up, we had our homemade mini-cheesecakes. We were originally going to use Martha's or Ina's cheesecake recipe, but those took forever (lots of time was required to gradually cool the cheesecake, to prevent cracking), so we went with this recipe from, which seemed simpler and not as time-consuming. The recipe required making the crust out of graham crackers, butter, and sugar, and pressing the crust into muffin tins. Then the batter, which consisted of cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest (our own addition), was ladled into the muffin tins. The cheesecakes were baked in a 300 degree oven (no water bath) for 30 minutes or so, until they were set.

Gellie was the beneficiary of some extra batter

For our first time making cheesecake from scratch, we think they turned out pretty good! They may have been a bit overcooked, so they were not as fluffy as we had hoped. Also, the muffin tins were basically filled to the top when they went in the oven, and they totally shrank! But, in the end, Dad was pleased with them so mission accomplished. We served them with some fresh strawberries and a cup of BCD Mom's awesomely strong coffee, and it was a lovely dessert. Dad also enjoyed some Remy XO cognac during this course.

While we were having our cheesecake and coffee, we played our favorite game, "How much would this meal have cost in a restaurant?" (i.e. How much did we SAVE by cooking it at home?) I think we are the only people on the planet who do this, but it's still fun and we have a lot of laughs doing it. If you are truly interested in the end figure, shoot us an email.

After dessert, we presented Dad with his Father's Day gift: an iPod! Welcome to the 21st century, Dad! For the man who has lots of great electronic gadgets, we thought it was about time that he have his own iPod. Now if we could only get Mom to stop using that 8-track ;)

It was a wonderful meal together as a family, and probably our last big blow-out meal in our house on Summer Leave Lane. The moving trucks are coming in a few weeks to move the BCD parents out to the shore, and while we are so excited about the new house, we are very sad to be leaving our childhood home. We moved there in 1986 (EP was 4, Xani was 7), so it's been a good 22 years there!

Hugs from Gellie on Father's Day!

Anyway, Happy Father's Day to the best dad we ever had! We love you!

E & X

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