Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Konnichi-Wow! (aka, Cafe Ish, Surry Hills)...

Japanese Story, for those of you who have not had the pleasure, told the potent tale, in the unrelenting ochre of the Australian outback, of the awkward (and then intense relationship) that formed between Sandy, played brilliantly by Toni Collette, and Hiromitsu, played with equal effect by Gotaro Tsunashima. As the plot arcs over you there is an immersion with the desolation of both the landscape and the characters, and the silence between them. In all of this charged emptiness, you hurtle unknowingly, but inevitably, towards an ending as sudden as it is rending of heart. The movie is replete with words not said, with ideas unformed, full of so many unspoken lessons, the most obvious of which is: mix Japanese with the Australian outback, and somebody's probably gonna get hurt, big time, mate...

That's Josh, who, along with lovely partner and co-culinary houdini, Ai, owns the Albion Alimentary Astounder: Cafe Ish, which is where Sydney's more knowing taste buds go to play some tantalising twister. We're all friends, so let's be honest, here: Josh looks like many wondrous things, but the bloke doesn't really have the kind of mug that would lead one to conjecture that he's an alacritous advocate of existentially haunting motion picture, so perhaps he missed out on Japanese Story and never got the warning that Jap + Bush = tragic results, and thank the bloody Flavour Gods for that! Cafe Ish is a love story all of its own. It is Josh and Ai's story, it is JapBogan, and, Bloody Oath, is it delicious. Make no mistake, this is a foodies cafe, it is where cafe owners and fuss pots, people who want good food they can't make, come back, time and tubby time again for a menu that is as unique as it is impeccable. This kitchen is not only rocking out amazing food, it is featuring dishes, ingredients and flavours you won't find any where else but Ish. So, my covetous little CakeKnifeAroos, are you ready for an Intrusion of Fusion That Will Leave No Confusion? Do you want me to show you, to tell you, to tease you with just how sublimely divine a thing it is, To Ish?

Shall we Advance Australia Flair and go, just a little bit... bush? Hai!

Mmm-mmm. Order the bunya pancakes, and you might think you're dreamtiming. Jesus Christ. Bunya pancakes with roast apple, muntahries, caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream, to be precise, are an Ayers Rock of Ravishing delight. This is a kaleidoscopic extravaganza of toffeed torture. Sticky, luscious, rich, gooey, glistening, dripping thick-sink-cut-lick-moan. Madness. These are the most perfect pancakes I have ever laid lips on. I started to levitate above my chair just eyeing them breathlessly off. The gluten free bunya flour comes from a tree that is more Australian than getting drunk at the cricket. It is a lovely, moist flour that makes the actual pancakes themselves dense, luscious and agonizingly textured. These are not dry, desultory pancakes hiding beneath or relying on an over sugared topping to distract you, these are the real, golden, rich, chewy, moist, spongy, buttery pan fried deal. The pancake is sublime, it absorbs stickiness, moisture and flavour and releases it so readily with the slightest bite.

The roast apples are toffeed treasures, not at all candy sweet, but beautifully old school, drunk and rich with a golden subtle-sweet-treat flavour and the perfect balance between gently poached yieldingness, and just enough restraint and form that you still need to bite into them. Nullifying. The muntahries are bush berries that Josh says taste just like soft, roast apple to bite into, and by george, they do! And all of this absolutely drowning in a delicate, thickened haze of incandescent caramel and finished off with a shimmering halo of organic CreamDream Lobotomy-via-Mouth Gundowring pure vanilla bean ice cream. Channel a Zen monk and try to exhibit some restraint for a few moments, and let the ice cream, Be. It's not against the interests of crazed gluttony that I beseech of you to do this, but rather in them. You see, if you leave that ambrosial little ball of bacchian bliss for just the littlest of earthly whiles, all crammed and cosy in there, snug in the fine company of some podgy appled friends, and atop the bunya-pancakey warmth, something will happen. It will be gradual at first, but then, it will be relentless...

Oh, C+K'ers, there will be melting! There will be maddening melting, vanilla bean infused angels-may-weep melting. The ice cream will loosen, it will liquify in the warmth, from the fibers of its luscious being and seep succulently out, all in mesmerizing motion, dreamily onto and through, deep, deep inside, all the way into the bunya pancakey heart. It will mix and swirl and sway in coils of curious, caramelled abandon... and when you pick up a trembling fork, and bring it to a mouth that knowns nothing but desire: oh, you will fall. There will be no stopping and you will fall. Like Carthage, you will fall! Jesus Christ. PancakesIsh. So, so, so Great. Mouth-To Heart-To-Butter-A-Flutter.

From pancake dyspepsia, to boab root fritters, as you do, mate. Boab is a tree that grows only in the Kimberley, and Josh imports the root when he can (it's up for grabs for 3 months of the year, which means Josh doesn't get to root as often as he'd like, but then again, who does). But all year round Josh has it pickled or in jams, it's delicious, it traverses the divide between sweet and savory, effortlessly. Boab is reminiscent of the sharp and delectable daikon root, and therefore translates very easily into Japanese methods of cooking. However, my favourite Japanesque menu special occurs when a Barramundi fillet finds itself, suddenly and deliciously, trapped inside a steaming, fluffy omelette...

Bloody Hell. Tats warned me this was a mouth bomb, and indeed, it goes down as the most original and delicious savory brekkie I have ever had. A tender fillet of barramundi, rich and light and not at all dried out from overcooking, is encapsulated within a perfect cocoon of gentle, eggy omelette. Avocado salsa, chilli, soy and ginger all bang it out, and, along with a hemisphere of livid lime to squirt and cut the richness, you have got yourself a fabulous fished egg salt-burn-sting song.

This is divine, so perfectly poised between richness and saltiness. The gentle flavour of the fresh barramundi leaks beautifully into the omelette wrapping. The thick and potent chilli gives it a zing that mixes without haste into the sharp soy and tangy ginger, a familiar Asian line up, happening all over an entirely original dish. Not always on the menu, this is a special, if you (tragically) miss out when you happen to Ish, the standard Kara age crab version is always available. Why would you sunny side up, when you can have yourself a flame flickered roll of egg wrapped Barra with soy and ginger and lime. This one just eats itself. If This Ish is more fish than you wish, why not omelette with spinach/WildThymeMushrooms and tomato relish? There's also fine omeletting to be had with soboro pork minced pumpkin, spinach + rice and deep, deep mayo. Holy Cow, hens would never believe they're doing this with eggs!

When it comes to salt, you have to choose between four, so there was no way the menu was going to be meagre. There's a Toast-Ish section, with little muffins and bits of egg and salsa and native jams, there's Sweet-Ish, with a lush breakfast trifle in a native fruit compote and house made muesli, or why not vanilla risotto with ume stewed apricots, prunes, riberries and brown sugared yoghurt? Croc sausages can be had (think of it as Aussie Outback Revenge), as well as house made, free range pork hock, braised steak, free range eggs and even the beautiful Bennedict Ish with crisp soft shell crab. SandwIsh? Chicken with green tea and aniseed myrtle? Gyu Don? Saus Ish Sizzle? Katsu Sando? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Amazing bonsoyed coffee? Rich and smooth and deep, every cup as faultless as the last, all under Ai's methodic precision. And the signature Wattleseed coffee: so luscious and nutty and smooth, it keeps shapeshifting inside your mouth, serpentine coils of flavour and warmth, the balance is so pure that it's only in flickering sips that you can discern a bit of coffee with a bit of nuttiness with the wattleseed singing through. Ai is working on some new signatures, I am sure she will find new ways to make us fall. Muffins, caramel slices that look sharp and wicked and boutique teas and interesting jams and phoenix soft drinks as pure as NZ. And...

home made wagon wheels? Struth. Are you kidding me? Ish is unbelievable, a genuinely exciting menu that teaches you, in case you forgot (and sometimes I really, really do) that food, and breakfast especially, need not be the same old standard round up. Impeccable food, clean, beautifully sourced ingredients, thoughtfully and winningly put together. They wanted to do something different, and they have, and it's worked! Spunk and verve. I love this place. In case you were still in doubt, they also have the cutest pepper grinder in Sydney...

Food aside, you should come in and get to know Josh and Ai. Josh is exactly my kind of foodie, if you're polite and ask for permission to snap, he'll give you all the time and enthusiasm in the world. Blonde and cute and eager and chatty. He brought out jams and pickles to try, crushed up lemon myrtle leaf for us to smell, told us about his mum and his childhood, told us about when he met Ai. A cheeky, stout, smiling and generous spirit, who likes to make believe at being surly. Josh loves food, and you can tell, he and Ai are as delicious as their pancakes, and I am very much looking forward to our dinner plans Sunday week, where I am apparently going to get a lesson or two in the wicked ways of some wanton Sa-ke. Big thanks for all the chit chat, laughs and over the counter slagging. I have bought my boyfriend and my friends, and they all walked away with happy, heaving, glowing bellies. Friendly, fast and fabulous. A Breakfast Niche Market, all on Ish own.

Cafe Ish happens @ Shop 2, 102 Albion Street, Surry Hills. Ph: 9281 1688.

It's origami for the mouth, and it's a fucking beaut.

Ish On!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pasta La Vista, Baby, (aka A Tavola, Darlinghurst)...

Some people enjoy the untold benefits of having the ability to think - before - they speak. Yes, some people, it seems, are gifted with that automatic delay of 2 or 3 sustaining seconds during which they can balance, in the interests of both propriety and good sense, what they do say, with what they ought to say. It's what holds civilization together, after all. I, however, belong to that class, far more hapless and forsaken of god, who were born, sans trapdoor to the mouth. Being a girl and being Lebanese (and being a Bechara), the odds were always stacked against me. It's Sad But True, I have spoken without thinking too many times and have caused more inadvertent offence than a flatulent puppy. Even my foot spends more time in my mouth than it does in my havianas. Many are the days I have wished I was born with no mouth, many are the days I have cursed this provocative pie hole of pitiable existence... but one night at A Tavola, Darlinghurst was all it took to teach me, irrevocably and for all time, The Reason That I Have A Mouth. Try and stay with me, i'm not going to lie, at times it might hurt, the pictures themselves tell a tale so delicious you might just have to faint from the decadent, Italian desire of it all. Casanova wasn't a man, he was a dish...

CakeKnifealians, we shan't rush into the food. No, not yet, not until I have set the very seductive scene. First, I am going to dim the lights, then I am going to trick a candle into a quick-flick-matched spark. In the shadows that ensue, I am going to ask you to close your eyes and to magically adorn yourself in silken, billowing black. Strap-sash-sway black. In towering heels and in the finest of stockings. Black trousers, handshakes and jackets, bespoke. Cuff links, rings, powdered noses and sleek hair. We are scrubbing it up, Nice. A Tavola is a tad bit Jekyll and Hyde. The crammed and lively downstairs has a crowded, communal table in sunken marble upon which the din and chatter of many jovial meals has taken place. It's loud and alive, and it's definitely kicking. But upstairs, in sunken lights which hauntingly arc across cream coloured walls, a much more thoughtful, private and dramatically heightened space invites you into the kind of timeless room, and into the kind of lingering mood, where even the clocks forget to keep ticking.

Angular silver upon layered linen. Polished glasses which trap, reflect and confuse the shadow laden whispers of a gentle, honeyed light. Heavy plates with suggestive curves. A chair in friction against a wooden floorboard, the unfolding of an elegent serviette, the flicker of a forgotten candle: these are tangible OnceUponATimes, they are the waving of the wand, the casting of a spell. They are decadent, sumptuous and expensive, Prelude. The breath, it seems, has no choice but to bait.

A sharp and discerning waiter, in a style that almost belongs to another time, narrates to us a fairy tale of special dishes. Even being a foodie, this bit of formal dining always makes me impatient and leaves me feeling a tad wanky, not tonight, though. In an informed and knowing meter we all listen pleased and patiently, captivated by the descriptions of how the beetroot is cooked and how the pasta is torn. It's like a Shakespearean Act One, beautiful, special, elegant and with not even a trace of pretension. Between his service and the lighting I already begin to fall into some kind of ethereal foodie lull, I know a memorable meal is coming.

An ebullient, generous red, large and warm and spicy, dulls the head in a way that heightens the palate. Sipping slowly the sonorous smoothness, I feel myself starting to sink back into the chair and to feel my blood doing wheelies upon my flushing cheeks. Tats explains how the menu, like a Herclitan river (my hot aired analogy, not his), is never the same and always changing. Simple, stunning, commanding Italian. I generally don't go mad over Italian food, but then, what would be the fun and fancy of a world without surprises. Oh, love at first bite.

Breathe in, hold onto the side of your chair, let the pulse quicken and everything else become slower. I am going to struggle with remembering the exact ingredients, but the flavours are faithfully burned into my brain forever. In my intense enjoyment of all that is to follow, I almost forgot that I would have to be writing about it later. I was so overcome and absorbed by the experience that I am sure some of these descriptions will sound like fluttering journal entries from an intense encounter. It's amorous stuff, I make no apologies. A Tavola means 'to the table', but with food like this, did they ever think they were going to be able to hold us back?

A group decision to share three entrees was one of the best life choices I was ever a part of. This celestial constellation of earthly flavour had me tasting stars. A salted, tender fried salame, in thin, aching strips, sways ever so gently in the creamy embrace of some of the most profoundly stultifying parmesan I have ever melted into. With little, lively flickers of bitter rocket, it is a perfectly balanced mess of taste and feel and colour. So simple and so stunning, richness broken up with the lightness and sharpness of the rocket and the saltiness of the salame. Easily one of the most memorable entrees of my life. Being a group of 5, we each only got a few lingering mouthfuls, it was the perfect amount. Being able to take only 2 or 3 bites really makes you fall into the flavour that much more, it was so delicious I died and came back to life (not really).

You've had the standard prosciutto with green leaf and tender cheese before, but you haven't had it here. Not only were all of the ingredients in this dish of a quality I haven't experienced before in Italian food (and i've been to a 2 michelin star restaurant in Venice), the proportions were so perfect that they actually made me understand this classic combination in a new way. You can't have too much of anything, there needs to be just the barest breath of an amount of prosciutto to little globs of achingly sweet, creamy cheese to green, bitter leaf and cherry tomato burst. You actually taste the meat more when there isn't too much of it, the cheese, too. This was delightful, the cherry tomatoes were honestly the sweetest I have ever had, biting into them was like having the sun rise in your mouth. You'd take a bite and pause, think about it, really let it roll around your tongue, then you'd tuck into another. Such slow, thoughtful and delirious eating, tempered by Blush-Warm sips of dizzying red. Surrendering.

Tender beetroot, roasted for longer than I have been alive, reunites with an old lover in the form of some phenomenally sharp goats cheese, so dreamy and rich and deep. Little spatterings of intense parsley lend a bit of tantalizing tangent to a combination that is quite classic. Beautiful, soft, clean and rich. And this is just the beginning!

I am going to do something dangerous. I am going to show you a close up of a meal that changed my life, given that the menu is a shapeshifter, if you dine at A Tavola seeking it out, find it unavailable and have no choice other than to kill yourself, I am sorry, but I fully support you in your decision and will explain everything to your grief stricken loved ones. This photo isn't just a picture of one of the most perfect meals I have ever experienced, it is also a photographic document which records the moment, at about 7.40 pm on the 22nd of August, 2009, when it finally happened. I never thought it would, I mean, it's been 29 years. But ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Amanda Bechara, after years of ignorance, finally Got Pasta.

Pappardelle with slow cooked veal, light of my life, fire of my loins. Pappardelle, my sin, my soul. Papp-ar-del-le: the tip of my tongue taking a trip of (four) steps down the palate, to tap, at three, on the teeth. Papp-ar-del-le. This dish is epic, loving, lustful. It is big and sure, rich and abundant. It is like eating all of the sweetest words that Nabokov ever wrote. It's TonguePicasso. It's MouthMozart. It is the finest pasta I have ever had. My tastebuds have been conquered and they will never be the same.

DopeyThick, languid and shiny locks of wonderfully textured pappardelle lay tipsy and slow on a bountiful plate beneath some of the richest and most tender veal you will ever come to know. A couple of baptismal spatterings of luscious grated parmesan upon a sinking bed of meaty pasta, and you have got yourself and your mouth something of such vociferous, entwining deliciousness that you may as well put your feet up and die when it's done, how could life, living or love add anything to the experience that is this dish? My god. I won't break out into any poetic profanity, but you know I want to! This is classic, simple and magnificent food. The richness of the veal comes with no heaviness, just tender, gentle strands of drunken meat that almost melt with the cheese into the culinary canvas of some perfect home made pasta This dish should come with the Last Rites. 'Sacrelishious'.

A close second was my 'torn pasta' with beautifully cooked octopus and squid. Normally, I don't enjoy seafood with pasta, the fishiness never seems to marry with the doughiness in a way that I can understand. But this was perfect seafood, subtle and lusciously rubbery against a gentle bed of achingly slippery pasta perfection. It had a gentle sweetness to it which danced around the subtle saltiness of the squid and octopus. So luscious to eat, a buttery and soft texture that was broken up by the freshest seafood. I don't even think they had to catch this octopus or squid, it probably saw the pasta from afar, swam up to it and surrendered its life into a deadly, delicious embrace. If you think it's just the pasta they're doing well, have a lookie here...

A cut of lamb that is so regal it should come on a throne and not a plate. Cooked simply and rarely with lemon on a kingdom of softened potato. Bang-on lamb, sink and bite and melt, cut and cross with a bite of rich potato. It's a wonderful main, gorgeous to cut into with a silver blade. Simple, solid and true. Mary had a little lamb, why shouldn't you?

People pray by candlelight, that their dreams might come true. Perhaps it is something about the sacred space that spills out from waxed incandescence that leads us to believe that our wishes can happen the way we want them to. I said a silent prayer by candlelight. I said it alone and from the deepest part of who and what I am. I whispered it to myself from a hopeful heart: let the dessert be bloody good too:

Haleluljah! We have lift off. Look at that frothy, wispy, dreamy swirl of caramelled meringue. It's a perfect, luscious, sugared tutu that encases a dark, delicious secret: a lovely ice cream heart. This little baby pirouettes across your tongue, into and out of the burnt traces of a perfectly caramelised banana. Shiny, toffeed, frothied, winsome, wistful close-your-eyes-sighs-surprise. It's light and gently sweet and soft and hard and burnt and white. So honeyed and soft, so gloriously different. It's like cloud watching on your tongue.

Or perhaps some orange and almond flourless fancy? Calories Shmalories. This is candied orange mouth bomb. Drunken, sticky, soft/moist cake, drowning in orange stick-trick-lickity-liquor and dolloped with grappaed fig ice cream. Slivers of candied orange that taste like caremlised fossils of psychotic citrus will stick like maddeningly messy fly paper to your taken tongue. This is how we cake, and this is why we ache...

...A last supper of sorts, and a flawless Sydney set up. This is beautiful, Bellucian Italian. Simple and knowing, exquisite and elegant, decadent and resounding. A meal come true. The five of us were all stupefied sighs after it was over. We sat there, silent and glowing in gentle aftermath of what food is all about.

A Tavola is a Sydney must. I've not been this impressed with fine dining in quite a while. A perfect experience of food, wine, space and service, it doesn't miss a beat. There is a fair bit of pricer Italian in Sydney, but none I have tried is executing it so perfectly. A Tavola sets an impressive standard, genuine flavour from impeccable ingredients, these people know their food. Book a big or an intimate table, set aside a few good hours, order a nice drop and let the fates have their wonderful way with you.

A Tavola happens at 348 Victoria St Darlinghurst, ph 9331 7871. Their web page, where you can find a full menu, is here. Nothing to fault, and a night that for all I know, could have been a dream. Wow. You must try this place.

This night was a welcome reminder of how exciting food can be, how much I love restaurants, and how much more you enjoy life when you take some friends, stop, slow down and just let it all unfold.

A Tavola: It's from heaven to the table and it's pasta, la vista, which is why i'll (definitely) be back.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Real Deal (aka Chai Hot Chocolate)...

It's been a while since Australia Post yielded anything exciting. Just the usual, bills, junk mail, uni results (which sometimes belong in the junk mail category). Alas! When a gorgeous girl sends you a sample of her new Chai Hot Chocolate, months in the most magical making, in a wonderfully 19th Centuryesque thick, precious envelope from Canberra, you're far less likely to return to sender than if the package was from The King himself. It's a little bit of a love letter, this one. Anthea, aka The Chai Girl and I, met last year at a farmers market in Canberra. She came into my life a year ago, and pouring in with her came some of the most wonderfully spiced, creamy cups of sunken, CinnamonWarm pleasure I have ever had. And with a sticky spoon of melted honey, too. Oh, Anthea...

I nicked this photo from her website, and it captures the essence of her charm (to a tea). Smiling, generous, kind and really inspired about her sacred endeavour to rock the Way You Chai. All these people devoting their lives to politics and the environment...[yawn], it's enough to make you sick, it is! But a girl who's devoting her life to amazing tea: Anthea, just speak the word and I will follow you to the ends of the earth. Her original blend of chai, in steaming vats of spicy bon soy laced with whispers of honey, is doled out in fragile paper cups to freezing Canberra market trawlers. They sip, and then they swoon. She pulled the same trick on me last year, wicked girl. I walked up to her stand and asked for a large cup, expecting yet Another Average Chai. I've gotten used to buying cups and trashing them/passing them onto Dan after a disappointed sip or two. However, what followed involved all the usual paraphernalia of ecstasy, time stopping/earth spinning/stars exploding/sinking/swelling/rising etc. You know real love when you taste it, and, my dearest CakeKnifelings, this is the very real, chai deal.

'Chai' is Indian for tea, the spices it is made with are considered very warming and energizing in Ayurvedic medicine. It's a brilliant cup of something warm for when you feel run down, solitary, tender in heart or in flesh, or even when you're feeling wonderful and want to drink your mood. Unfortunately, chai, like platinum blonde, is subject to far more than its fair share of bastardization. People who don't really like tea still drink chai, usually in syrupy or powdered form. Ugh. The spices are so beautiful and marry so well with sweetness and milk that it is quite an easy combination to be taken in by. Very few chais, however, impress actual tea drinkers. Overly sweet, overly spiced, synthetically spiced, dull, coconutted? There are so many ways to do it wrong. If you're happy with skanky chai, I know the Live And Let Live'ers wouldn't try and stop you, but if you only knew how good it could be...If you know good tea, it is very, very hard to find a chai that makes the cup. In fact, recent figures indicate that finding a good man is easier. Anthea's brew is to-die-for-decadent-decidedly-divine fine, spiced, light cinnamon with ClovedGinger in low tannin tea, all handmade, with more love and good vibes than the mid to late 1960's. When she told me she was experimenting with a chocolate version, it was like the moment just before Kurt met Courtney, something big was about to happen...

...and happen it did! The chai hot chocolate is a winner. The night she made it, I bet they saw a star in The East. Anthea finally decided upon putting rich, real chunks of creamy chocolate into her tea mix. It's like ecstasy laced with crack, but more wholesome and tasty, and far less expensive. You brew it gently in hot water for a few minutes and then add some milk to warm and infuse. It is a simply beautiful interpretation of hot chocolate, as it tastes like a tea with a subtle hint of chocolateness, and not like a flavoured hot chocolate. It's Slow Chocolate, Swaying Chocolate, Swimming-Brimming-Grinning Chocolate. Ginger and cinnamon cut through the chocolate sometimes gently, and sometimes with bang, the length of flavour is so unusual and thoughtful. It's ambrosial. WarmingWarmingWarming and so quick and easy to make. I felt really light and dreamy after indulging in a beautiful big cup of this chai chocolate, your cheeks feel so rosy afterward. Dan, too. It has none of that too-sweet taste that goes with most chocolates, and if you prefer it sweeter you can add more honey to the pot.

Making it on a stove top has the added benefit of letting some absolutely lovely aroma waft through the kitchen and into the house. It makes you slow down and breathe it so beautifully in. I made it up with Bon Soy, and the creaminess of it was devout. Hot, sweet, spicy, SilkInMilk. Extravagate (it's a word now) with a few blocks of rich dark chocolate on the side, wash it down with the tea and let a rendition of Romeo + Juliet play out on the Verona of your Tongue. Will was wrong, the course of true love can indeed run smooth, velvety and resoundingly down your throat and into the primal belly of your innermost being. All together now: [sigh].

Good tea is just fucking Great, eh? If you can't get down to Canberra, then you can purchase the tea and the chocolate for yourself here. It's bye bye to bad chai, and with some chocolate chunks to boot. Chocolate should probably infiltrate all things it can, including me and you. mmmm. if I wouldn't! Thanks Anthea, what will you come up with next?

address: PO Box 3220 Manuka 2603, ACT
phone: 0424894627

Whatever it is, mail me some x

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Nanotechnologist in the Kitchen.

Look, I don't care if you believe me or not, but I loved him way before I ever knew he could cook - and cook he can! Dan loves good food, good real food, simple beauty. He can make otherwise basic things like steaming plates of pasta and fresh piled ham and cheese filled sandwiches seem like amazing moments of earthly existence that you never fully mouth-tenanced before. One of the best things about eating with him is the way he looks up and beams at you after the first mouthful of something truly yummy that he's whipped up. He nods vigorously, looks at you with wide, pleased eyes and manages to positively beam through a full, chewing mouth. I could bet my whole cash management account on the fact that, in those few quiet moments, he is nowhere else in the whole world, his mind is free of everything but tasting and enjoying. He's been Cooking-Good-Lookin his butt off lately, with some phenomenal results. Lying in bed while someone you love makes bowl after bowl of amazing weekend food is great for your tum and awful for your bum. Still, the experience last weekend of being cooked for for three days straight out-Tetsuya'ed Tetsuya for me, honest to goodness. With hands so free, all that was left to do was push the button on the SLR, bring the fork to mouth, and thank my lucky stars...

One of the greatest things about eating with a guy is remembering how to eat like a guy. Carbsternation goes quiveringly and quickly out the nearest window and it's all big serves and soupy mouthfuls and sopping it all up with bread afterwards. Sweet respite! If you pay attention to the things I write, and let's face it, who does? You'll know the man is batty about bolognaise, and he makes a damn mean one. This is a gluten free version he put together, gluten free pasta isn't quite as texture perfect at the real deal, but some concessions to digestion are a bit of a must for me. This dish, Spaghetti Boyonaise, is pure Italian-French-Kiss! Dan slowly browned a couple of onions in some heady olive oil with a little pepper, adding beef mince and a bay leaf to some canned tomatoes, it was all allowed to brown a little before being dutifully doused in some beef stock. On a low, low heat the stock is allowed to reduce over 2 hours, and the final meaty, tomato SpicedSauceBroth does a bit of a mama mia all over your taste buds. It rains CreamySharp parmesan and roughly chopped parsley all over your bowl, and then it simply becomes an offer you can't refuse. So good! Warm and peppery with the deepest, gentlest beef taste. I had an awful time deciding whether this, or the next contestant, was my perfect match...

I am going to christen thee Noah's Ark Soup. I can't convey the taste in pictures, but Jesus, Joseph and Mary!!! This is the best soup I have had in years, I can't think of another one I have enjoyed nearly as much. Why Noah's? Well it's simple, in some warmed olive oil and a tipsy knob or two of organic butter, they came to Dan two by two by two. 2 roughly chopped carrots and 2 parboiled potatoes added to 2 brown onions, lots of pepper and sea salt. The secret? Dan used the remnants of a roast chicken from the night before to make his own stultifying stock. He reduced it over and over again for hours, the chicken bones with half an onion and some vegetabley bits and pieces, and a bay leaf to boot (bay leaves are the Paris Hilton of the seasoning-spice world, you just add them into the mix for good measure even though you've never really quite sure what they do). The stock was unbelievable, it absolutely haunted to luscious DeepFlavourOblivion all of the onion, carrot and potato. The butter sang out in a gentle warm creaminess and the softness of the potato mixed with the slightly more solid carrot made it so gentle and dreamy to sip and bite into. A flash of serial-killer-slashed basil, loads of cracked pepper and some grated parmesan...Holy Shit. Satisfying, warming, light, dancing, SweetDeepRich chicken infused insanity. I'm talking, Push it into your mouth salt n pepa Soup Shoop. What a man, what a man, what a man, what a mighty good man (I try and get all my singing done on this blog, cause no one lets me do it in real life).

That was the little bowl of gluten free lazy mac and cheese with loads of pepper, salt, flaked parmesan and lashings of olive oil and a little organic butter. The texture of this oily, buttered pasta with only the salt and pepper and cheese to distract you is absolute heaven. You have slightly oily lips after eating a dish like this, it's one of my favourite foodie post mortems to sit there and reminisce about the slippery, wonderfully plain texture. So scrumptious. That's more pasta that I have eaten in 2 days than I have probably had this last year. But thank Dan for that.

A beautiful crunchy, flamed fresh sourdough baguette with smearings of butter was the perfect accomplice on most of these foodie joy rides. It was dipped into soup, eaten with cheese, used to mop up the remnants of the bolognaise. I hope no starving children have the internet, it'd be too cruel, eh.

Ruby Red Grapefruit Token Blog Shot. Very sweet and luscious cells of scarlet grapefruited SweetTartness. They're definitely good to go if you see them in store. They're a great brekkie for when you've been eating as per above and not moving further than the distance between any good kitchen and a couch.

And the man behind the magic: He always tells me I am lucky to have him as a boyfriend, and with kitchen Macguyver Moves like that and endless hugs, who am I to disagree? The Sufi poet Rumi said love is to 'fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life, Finally, to take a step without feet'. I have no idea what that last bit means, but it sounds like it involves getting up from the couch?

Thankyou Mr Goldstein, for it all x

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Practicing Pieno (aka, Pieno Cafe, Surry Hills)...

Any way you look at it, Surry Hills is a bit of a conniving bitch. On the one hand, it's the Skinny Jean Clad ModelCumDesignType Capital of The Eastern Suburbs, and on the other hand: so much good food and cake and coffee and bread. Billy Kwong, Emon, Suma, Mohr Fish, Shakeies, Mad Mex, Bentley, Table for 20, Pizza Mario, Souk in The City, Bourke St Bakery, The Book Kitchen, Fifi Fouveaux, Kawa, The Goods, Pizza E Birra, Bird Cow Fish. Jesus. More like, Cow Cow Cow. Even 7 for All Mankinds probably don't have a fit for tubby old me lately. Thank Zimmermann/God for the Maxi dress, especially now that Pieno has arrived. I'm sorry, that should've been Arrived with a capital A. After all, Pieno is playing some pretty damn fine food. Mother always said practice makes perfect, and, after 4 visits in 7 days, I feel perfectly ready to recite this magical mouth music before you.

Since i've pumped that pun for all it's worth (and maybe even a little more), i'd better tell you that pieno is italian for 'full', as in really full, as in really, really full of really, really good food. Fully Sick! Just when I was OhSoOver pretty much every food spot on Crown, along rolls out yet another dazzling mouth jewel. This Beautiful In Black little nook of a cafe sits opposite Kawa and behind a sandstone wall, just alongside the little entry that goes into Thomas Dux. It looks like a precious little black jewel box, charming, cosy and quirky in intense flickers of brilliant wall colour. Tiny on the inside but not at all cramped to sit in, it is a perfect, peaceful sun-catcher of a spot to coffee, breakfast or lunch. I spent a few hours reading here the other day and actually heard birds chirping, in Surry Hills. Realistically speaking, they were most likely the final, fretful dying screams from polluted budgie lungs, but the effect was quite quaint nonetheless. Silence is like a Golden Gaytime. Forgo the ear for a moment, though, and let us please the mouth...

A very discerning barista with silent, intent focus turns out gorgeous flat whites and the best tea I have had in a while. I am up to my old tricks of taking my tea around with me (this time a Punjabi Chai) and having it made up with Bon Soy. Even this level of psycho-analility doesn't ensure me a good tea, but at Pieno, Oh, Delightful Exception! I am twinkling my toes as I recall the barista checking my pure Bon Soyed (no water) Steamed-Creamed-Floating-Chai-As-Sigh-Froth-Broth was okay because he forgot to warm the pot first. Firstly, he knows to warm the pot! He actually gets that it makes a difference! Secondly, he forgot to warm a Zero Japan pot! A perfect pale pink ceramic embrace for my vanillaed chai! This caused joyous brain reverberations which are still (clearly) being felt! Most places that offer tea, even when they use a great leaf, are lamentably clueless on how to steam and infuse the milk, also on how to serve the tea. Thumbs up to Pieno for actually showing some culteavation, thumbs down to me for tragic puns.

The home made muffins, especially the Blueberry Baby, are a wholesome, moist, moorish Berry-Studded delight when gently toasted and smeared with rich butter. Don't even get me started on how good it is to wash down a gentle, buttery, berried mouthful of this with the smooth, warm chai. Most muffins are too dry and far too large, this is dense and so flavoursome, clearly made in house, you can actually taste the berry as it stains through the softness of the muffin. SO good and so gentle tasting, rich but not too sweet. They also have a dried fruit/oat version. Yummy, deep rich Sweet Heat Treat to in a Seat, Eat.

I apologize most sincerely for the absence of any breakfast shots, the heaving plates of golden breakfast bounty which we saw carried passed us after we'd order our sandwiches were torture to watch go to other tables. I nearly left Tats to go and join the BaconNEgg Crew. SunsetInOia OrangeYolkRich eggs with a gorgeous in deep golden, potato rosti, decadent lashings of fabulously fried bacon and dark, richly cooked steaming, buttery mountains of sauteed mushroom with foreboding slices of wholesome sourdough and house made tomato chutney. Breakfast Bruschetta, Breakfast Panini, Breakfast Rolls...forming all over your tummy! Not impressed, much? Perhaps some Blueberry griddle cakes with maple syruped madness will sort you out! All of those are fine, resounding options, unless you happen to subscribe to the Cult of The Sandwich. If you do appear to be one of my brethren, and indeed believe that a simple, well made Sandwich can, in being more than the sum of its scrumptious parts, out Fine any Fine Food any Fine Day, then go Miss Fine all over one of these...

Meatball Sandwich. Well toasted meatball sandwich. Well toasted meatball sandwich on Crunchy-Moist-Delicate-Oiled-Bite bread. Well toasted meatball sandwich on Crunchy-Moist-Delicate-Oiled-Bite bread with an intense smothering of Fire-Fire-Fire-Red Tomato-Pine-Nut-Current Mouth Mess CherishAsRelish. Well toasted meatball sandwich on Crunchy-Moist-Delicate-Oiled-Bite bread with an intense spread of Fire-Fire-Fire-Red Tomato-Pine-Nut-Current Mouth Mess CherishAsRelish and gooey strings of CreamyMakeBelieveMe molten grilled cheese..%^%*! The little balls of rich meat cleave into the rich tomatoed cheese and bread, wafting somewhere between the sweetness and the salt: Divinity As Sandwich. This is so good, meaty, cheesey, sweet and salty with crunch and lick. Moorish, soft, steaming filling encapsulated within sure, thick slabs of perfect sourdough and grilled to within an ounce of its delicious life.

The roast chicken sandwich with delicate tracings of grilled, salty pancetta, vine ripened tomato and steady lashings of chive mayo is as almost as divine, but Tats still holds pride of place for the mammoth Chicken Schnitzel with Italian coleslaw and aioli. The flavours are so deep and heady and true, you really taste the tomato relish and the cheese, all perfectly balanced proportions between filling and bread. These servings are huge and so filling. V.E.S. Very Exciting Sandwiches.

But, if sandwiches are not quite cosmopolitan enough for your liking or your licking, then go a panini, bambini, with SappressaSpiceSalami/Chargrilled PlantOfEgg/Sweet Peppers and Mozzarella. You can even get your panini to cameo with some home made soup or salad. The Salad list is just as wow-iful, haloumi can be had, and have it you should, with toasted pine nuts and rocket on some char grilled sourdough. Fresh, frickin fabulous food. Flavour Fire Cracker. Styled and sturdy basics, with amazing ingredients and flavours that sing.

Frothy fresh JuiceFruit in OrangeAppleGrapefruit, brewed chai, Chocolates-Hot and Iced, Smoothies (Banana+Honey, Berry+Vanilla, Mango). And, to Erin's delight, instead of Phoenix Organic Cola Nut with Honey, which is all the poor kid can get in the East, they actually stock good old fashioned Coke, can you imagine, moite! Nothing like a happy fizzed-up Bogan for you. Jumping Jack Flash! Eat Eat Eat. Drink. Talk. Sit. Watch. Read. Sip. Bite. Smear. Slice. Dip. Cut. Share. Hoard.

Pieno, and more frequently, myself, happen at Shop 11/285a Crown St, ph 8354 1303.

The best Sandys I have had in a long time. When you finish one of the meatball or the roast chicken, it's a somewhat sad and desolate world that you find yourself in. All at once, in a tear in time, you find the solitariness of the human condition, the pale flicker of relentless yearning place it's cold, sure grip over the empty heaviness of your sunken heart: Saaaandy, cant you seeee, I'm in miseryyyyy, we made a staaaart, now we're apaaaaart, there's nothing left for me, love has flowwwwn, all alone, I sit and wonder Why-Y-Y oh Why, you left meee, my sandy...

Don't bother, i'm already disappointed in myself. Really.

Enjoy Pieno x