Wednesday, February 25, 2009
For my birthday, I was lucky to receive amazing presents from some incredible friends. I've singled out two semi-food-related ones that deserve a bit of spotlight glow.
The pic above shows this mind-stunningly intricate installation of paper butterflies, crafted by Tabitha and Nathan. Each paper cut features one of my favourite things - such as The Red Balloon, France, Will, sweets and eating out. (If you're a blog nerd, you may notice that the image lasered onto the bottom-left butterfly is from the chocolate tasting party I put on a while back.)
The frame even has a plaque announcing the Latin species name for the butterflies: Lamidoptera Leetranium (who doesn't like a nerdy scientific in-joke??)
Also awesome was the "Lee Tran Jam" that Beth and Jeff made for me (in their breadmaker, of all places!). The flavour is Peach and Cardamom and I love how the label has a cute visual pun on it, too.
Turning older has a silver lining.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Hot chips are the edible equivalent of The Simpsons. It's weird to know of anyone who doesn't like either (although "later seasons" of hot chips probably don't attract as many For & Against arguments as that 20-year-strong cartoon does). I've only ever heard of one person who could reject a bowl stacked with long, crispy, Jenga-like blocks of potatoes. And that's Stephen Fry (see his autobiography for proof, and please no puns about the irony of it all!)
Nevermind, anyone as ridiculously amazing as Stephen Fry could live with the small flaw of not quite "getting" chips. The rest of us can just enjoy the fact such tastiness exists - particularly when done so damn well at a place like Ruby's Diner in Waverley.
The Hand-Cut Chips are perfectly priced ($3), proportioned (chunky, wide, and several mouthfuls long) and crispified (golden, crunchy but not so oily and over-fried you schedule a doctor's appointment as you eat it; they're also big enough you can convince yourself they're "healthier" than stringy fries). The ration could not be better - one bowl is just enough for two. Any more and you'd start to develop potato belly. Any less and you wouldn't be able to savour it as exquisitely.
Of course, there's more to Ruby's Diner than just chips (but surely, that is a fantastic foundation for any cafe?). There are good breakfast options, such as the Mango, Banana and Pineapple Salad with Lime and Palm Sugar Syrup and Yogurt ($12). As 'wrong' as it was to pair that with chips and call it the first meal of the day - I totally did and am happy to have been a total hog, instead of eating wheat husks or some other more nutritionist-friendly breakfast.
Will had the more orthodox Poached Eggs on Toast ($10) with sides, which he was pretty happy with - despite his first options running out. And that's one double-edged thing about Ruby's Diner. If you turn up later in the day, you often need a back-up dish to order because they tend to "run out" of things. On one hand, that could be a letdown if you're really pining for something in particular, but on the other (if we're going to get all "half glass full" about things) - it's reassuring to know they're not stockpiling bunker-loads of food that they just slop onto plates for days on end. Such limited servings of dishes means they're at least keeping everything fresh.
And even when the "we've sold out of ...." situation can seem a little ridiculous - I was down to option #3 the other day - it's pretty good when your third choice still tastes pretty decent. "Salads as Mains" usually rank as the lamest and most unimaginative vegetarian dish that can be printed on a menu, but the Baked Ricotta, Eggplant Relish and Green Salad with Garlic Crostini ($12), is surprisingly good. In fact, it's unapologetically good - it's not just some wussy consolation for hungry vegos.
Other things we like: the primary-coloured decor, the casual feel, the intriguing things we're yet to try - Peach, Berry and Ricotta French Toast, anyone?
This joint has fast become a favourite with Will.
The one semi-grumble is that the service is not always so flash. The first time we went, we were expected to yell our order from our table - hoping it would amplify all the way to the counter (where the waiter was). I know in a tiny place like this, the price of intimacy is having one over-worked waiter, who needs a bit of patience and understanding to deal with the orders. But they have to meet you halfway too (which means at least getting the drinks right and not forgetting your coffee?) On a bright note, the service on our last visit was significant notches better.
And did I mention the awesome chips? Because they'd probably rank in the Top 5 Best Chips I've Had. Maybe even in the Top 2. I'll just have to keep going back and taste-testing, just to determine the right chart position they deserve. Of course.
Ruby's Diner, 173-179 Bronte Rd, Waverley NSW (02) 9386 5964
Thursday, February 12, 2009
My friend Amy has started an awesome food blog while living in Japan. It's early days, but already there are posts on the wonderfully eccentric goodies she's found in Osaka.
So far, I love the Hotel Mickey Cookies (see above) and the proliferation of strange KitKat flavours - such as Daigaku Imo (university sweet potato - no, really!). Although, I guess nothing can be as weird as merging ice cream with ramen.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
January is a fast-disappearing month. It's like the guest that leaves your party without saying goodbye. January makes such a whirlwind exit, I think, because there's so much on (Sydney Festival, Australia Day, New Year's, holidays, concerts galore) and all these events always come with a good excuse for eating.
Anyway - the January blur may explain why this post comes about a good half-month after most people ripped the first page out of their 2009 calendar.
January is good for sampling Sydney Festival Fast Feasts: a $25 invite to try a set dish at a fancy restaurant before you rush off to a show. A glass of wine and Ferrerro Rocher is included. And - often, if you pick the right place - an awesome view of the city.
Harbour eye candy had a l'il influence on my first Sydney Festival Feast pick - Cruise down at Circular Quay. Another hook was their set dish being vegetarian: Open Ravioli of Wild Mushrooms, Baby Spinach and Goats Cheese with a Mushroom Emulsion.
It was lovely - not one of those dud, afterthought vegetarian meals that fancy restaurants can often serve. The mushrooms were velvety and flavoursome but without that heart-attack shock you get from uber-rich food (these 'rooms weren't sinking in an overbuttered pool, as chefs can have a habit of doing). I'm pretty sure my first bite was followed by a mouthful of semi-digested praise for the dish.
Because the waitress tipped us off to the fact the dish was "a little small", we also went halves on a Mesclun Salad with Tomato, Cucumber & Raspberry Vinaigrette. It was generously sized - and sprinkled with crunchy walnuts & other surprise ingredients not mentioned in the line-up - which made Michael think it might be super-expensive. But it only turned out to be $8. (Pretty decent, as some fine diners will charge more for the tiniest smatterings of dressed rocket leaves.)
For me, the Fast Festival Feasts are really about expanding beyond the set dish and splurging out on a dessert as well. So I got a Chocolate Marquise ($14) - Cruise's version is made of flourless chocolate cake, plonked with raspberry sorbet and chocolate shards on top, with a little off-shoulder fleece of rose pashmak.
The chocolate cake was a little too thick for my liking and the dessert, as a whole, tasted like a posh Wagon Wheel - which is a good or bad thing, depending on how your Wagon Wheel feelings sway.
Even though we were getting the el cheapo menu at Cruise, there was definitely no feeling that we were being treated as second-class diners. And there were a few notable pluses I liked: one, each set dish comes with a glass of wine - and though I didn't want one, they gave Michael two instead (this didn't happen when we had the Fast Festival Feasts at The Summit); two, a Ferrerro Rocher is given away with each meal, they gave us four instead. I love it when staff are intentionally math-illiterate.
I have always been curious about The Summit. There's no mountain camp (or overtired sherpa at the top), just a 47-level-high view that stretches across the city. And even that showy panorama isn't content to stay still - the room moves 360 degrees every 105 minutes, so your perspective of Sydney changes like a slow-flickering slide show.
The view isn't cheap and neither is entry. Usually a meal at The Summit starts at $79 for two courses, so sneaking in under the $25 Fast Festival Feasts banner seemed like the wallet-smart thing to do.
The set dish was the Fennel Salt-crusted Hiramasa Kingfish with Crisp White Polenta and Basque Piperade Dressing, which Grace was a fan of. I'd called ahead and asked if they offered a vego alternative and the kitchen offered a tasty Pumpkin Rotolo with Goats Cheese and Fried Sage. Off-menu dishes can be a lottery, but I was lucky in this instance. It was impressive. When Amy (who is currently based in Japan) saw what this looked like, she said, "Would it be extreme of me to fly to Sydney to eat this?"
So, I branched into dessert territory again. I thought a Hot Mango Souffle with Toasted Coconut & Mango Salad & Mango Soup & Confectioner's Cream ($20) would be everything a mango-fiend like myself would want. It turned out to be one of those menu optical illusions - where what sounds so seductive in print is undone by the physical reality of the dish. The salad and soup was a mini-smattering of fruit in a spoonful of syrup. The dollop of cream was about the same size. The souffle was OK - but something so eggy and subtle-tasting needs to be paired with more than tiny extras to heighten the flavour.
A shame, but with a brilliant view to open with and a fine main as the middle act - two out of three is not too shabby.
Two things if you ever go the Summit - although the restaurant rotates ever slowly, vet your dinner guest on levels of motion sickness beforehand. If they're easily queasy, ask for a table on the inner ring (the ones right next to the windows might leave them unravelled and frayed); and don't leave your bag on the floor, as the rotating floor will send it cruising in someone else's direction. (Which brings me to this - if the wait staff take a second to tell you where the toilets are, it's not because they're clueless; it's because they're constantly having to reorient themselves with where the ever-moving bathrooms are. Nothing stays still at The Summit.)
Cruise Restaurant, Level 2, Overseas Passenger Terminal, West Circular Quay, Sydney NSW (02) 9251 1188, www.cruisebar.com.au.
The Summit, Level 47, 264 George Street, Sydney NSW (02) 9247 9777, www.summitrestaurant.com.au
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
If you haven't already seen it, you have to check out artist Christoph Niemann's incredible recollection of New York through Lego. It was published in the current edition of The New York Times.
A lot of the Lego references are - of course - quite New York-centric, but I've isolated a few of the food ones here.
On the topic of food, you should have a buzz through his mini-memoir of life with coffee, as shown through cleverly stained napkin art - it appears in the same paper. I especially love his description here: "My mother (who makes the most delicious coffee in the world), is obsessed with a particularly potent mechanical foam maker. The result is a layer of impenetrable foam, a kind of lacto-stucco. I have to gnaw my way through it before being able to get to the actual coffee. Apart from that she really makes the best coffee in the world."
Awesome is too micro-sized a word to describe his artistic feats!