Saturday, May 19, 2007

Fake truffle oil

I found a recent New York Times article on fake truffle oil very enlightening. I truly had no idea that truffle oil was not made from truffles. I'm sure that many restaurants are abusing it, but one of the worst offenders surely must be Hell's Kitchen's Roberto Passon.

Although, if I have to admit it, I'd say that the truffle oil does add an interesting flavor to a dish. I've never been to France or Italy, so I've never had a truly fresh truffle to compare it to. A previous article I've read claimed that the furious competition for truffles has led to premature harvesting of truffles, with the end result being that even fresh truffles in France or Italy aren't what they used to be. Really, it's better to do without an ingredient than to have to fake it. I think the NY food scene can survive a lack of truffles. I think our cuisine can only improve by relying on native ingredients. Our high end restaurants should be serving huitlacoche, not truffles.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Burmese Cafe

Back when I lived in the Bay Area, my wife and I were friendly with a Burmese woman. When I moved out, I gave my bike to her son, and she invited me over to eat dinner. She had cooked a few dishes, and they were mind-blowing. The flavors were so strong, my mouth was overwhelmed with the wonderful full salty taste of dried shrimp, garlic, shallots, and herbs. The combination of flavorings is very distinctive to Burmese food, but is fairly close to Malaysian.

Recently, I went to Burmese Cafe in Jackson Heights a few times. I was fairly impressed. Many of the dishes there were as evocative as that Burmese meal I had in California.

The last time I went was with my friend Ben. We started with fried zucchini, something I wouldn't normally order. However, it was surprisingly light and tasty, especially with the very fragrant dipping sauce.

We also ordered the dish that seems to be mandatory for this restaurant: the fermented tea-leaf salad. The taste of this was out of this world. When you eat it, it initially comes on strong, with a somewhat subdued Burmese taste, but the aftertaste has the mustiness of the fermented tea leaves lingering. The textures of this dish was also interesting, since the dish had an unusual amount of crunch to it, mostly due to the many bean sprouts involved.

Because we wanted something else unusual, we ordered a curry with goat heart, kidney, and liver. The offal meat was good, but the curry didn't have any particularly interesting flavor. Still, it was a nice change from our other dishes.

I've also had the Sorrel Leaves (not pictured), which were a small, enjoyable little vegetable dish that has a classic Burmese flavor. Speaking of vegetables, though, this place was not very vegetarian friendly. Fortunately for us, we weren't vegetarians. But almost every dish had fish sauce. While they may have been able to make it without any, the taste just wouldn't be the same.