Monday, April 30, 2012

Hot Doug's

When people say, "a little bite of heaven," this is what I'd like to think is a close approximation.  My trip to Chicago was a hefty hodgepodge of cheap and expensive eats, but I think most people would agree that an irrefutably delicious bite of a hot dog is hard to beat.  And I think even more people would agree that America only has a few hot dog joints that can do it right.  Hot Doug's is easily one of them.

If you don't like lines, either come to terms with the fact that there will be a line at Hot Doug's, or go on the most inclement day of your trip in hopes of substituting a few minutes of your wait time with wet shoes and cold ears.  Not going when you're in Chicago is hardly an option.

Once you escape the weather, you're met with a friendly and pun-tastic memorabilia-laden interior.  The color scheme is that of a Hot Dog On a Stick, and the air is filled with the smell of grilled sausages and greasy fries.

The menu is extensive and fun, which, when paired with the panic of ordering without holding up the line, makes decision-making just a wee bit stressful.

That on on top of ten equally impressive specials...

a celebrity sausage, a game of the week, a bowl of 40-sausage chili, and the served-Friday-and-Saturday-only duck fat fries?  I'm at the brim with anxiety right now just thinking about all the delicious options.

After trying to play it off like locals (we didn't), we hurriedly shuffled over to the side to get our fountain drinks and stay out of everybody's way.

After about ten minutes, our beautiful tray of food arrived.  Four hot dogs, duck fat fries, and two people. Lordie, I love eating with Steph C.  And a very special props to Janice for sharing the duck fat fries. The first thing I appreciated about these dogs were the buns.  Simple, spongy, and very lightly toasted.  Just the way I like my buns, on hot dogs and hamburgers.

First up, the Über Garlic Pork Sausage.  A punchy, bold, and meaty sausage accompanied by a smoky bacon sauce, smoked gouda cheese, and roasted garlic cloves.  Holy smokes that's a lot of smoke.  But it worked.  The generous garnish of smoked gouda was just the ticket to calming down the rich bacon sauce and the piercing roasted garlic cloves.  The sausage pushes you right up to the garlicky limits of your stomach without making you regret a single bite.  But beware.  This dog is incredibly hearty and filling.

The Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage was also just as excessive as it sounds.  Add a truffle aioli, foie gras mousse, and fleur de sel?  How could my friend and I resist.  But I wish we did.  While each ingredient was fine enough, they were all too heavy to play in the same bun.  I remember the first bite being pretty darn delicious, but as I approached my second bite, I started to regret our decision.  Maybe an eighth of the foie as a grated topping and a little less of the aioli would fare better.

My second-favorite of the meal was The Dog, their standard, Chicago-style dog with mustard, caramelized onions, relish, tomatoes, a pickle, and celery salt.  So, so good.  This dog featured classic American hot dog flavors, and the addition of tomatoes, caramelized onions, and a crisp, acidic pickle added a ton of refreshing flavors to each bite.  The sprinkle of celery salt slightly enhanced the vegetal and savory aspects of the dog.  The actual hot dog was as juicy as ever, with a toothsome casing and a classic, chargrilled flavor.  Again.  So, so good.

The absolute best hot dog I had that day was the Chardonnay and Jalapeño Rattlesnake Sausage, which came with some berry-currant mustard cream and trugole cheese on top.

Something about rattlesnake sausages gets me every time, especially when it snaps in both flavor and texture and intoxicates your tongue with its strangely meaty and juicy qualities.  The jalapeño added a balanced heat to the sausage.  The chardonnay sauce brought some great acidity and sweetness to the hot dog, and the soft shavings of creamy cow's milk cheese melted into the bun and married meat, heat, and sweet.

The Duck Fat Fries were great, but the potatoes took over any hint of that delicious taste of duck fat.  They were beautifully golden-brown and most of the fries were nicely crispy.  I mean, if you're going to get a hot dog, you have to get some fries, right?  These won't wow, but they won't disappoint, either.

At the end of our meal, we were all sufficiently stuffed.  I mean, excessively stuffed.  But Douggone it!  It was worth it.  Everything about the excursion to Hot Doug's was worth it.  A bit of a drive, crappy weather, and a bit of a wait?  I would gladly do all three again next time I'm in Chicago.  Because the sausages are that good, because the varieties are that interesting, and because there are at least eighteen more hot dogs with my name on them.

Hot Doug's
3324 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 279-9550

GET: The Dog; Chardonnay and Jalapeño Rattlesnake Sausage.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Julia Child's Classic Cheese Soufflé (1/24) Part Two

I'm an idiot. A good and much more experienced friend of mine pointed out that I might have overlooked an important part of the recipe: folding. Now, I've folded before for desserts, and I don't know why I didn't translate the technique to soufflés, but I didn't.  And that is, I guess, why I'm doing this project anyhow.  I'm learnding!

Now, the other thing I should mention before updating my first soufflé post in what is almost May is that I'm six soufflés into my project, but just haven't had time to post about them.  Ideally, I'll get them up in the next couple weeks.  Thanks for your patience as I try to find the time to consistently update this blog.  3L year of law school be crazy.  

But enough with the setbacks.  Let's take a look at attempt number three at Julia Child's Classic Cheese Soufflé.

The day started off with a couple familiar face.  Hello, milk and butter.  We meet again.

And as I noted in my last post on this recipe, I decided to double the amount of paprika and salt.

Nice and red/orange.  At this point, the soufflé was much more fragrant than the last two times I made the recipe.  After a few hours of letting the base cool, I whipped up the egg whites and incorporated the two together.

"Fold, Michael.  Fold!" I thought to myself.  "Easy does it.  Eeeasy."  Too much folding is the ultimate soufflé killer in terms of lift and fluffiness.

Right when I finished incorporating the egg whites, I threw this guy onto a rack at the lowest part of the oven, but not before adding an extra few sprinkles of grated gruyere.  Lordie, I love cheese.

My soufflé took an hour to rise and get that nice golden brown top.  The recipe suggests 25 minutes, but to each oven its own.

Hello, there.  Now this is a cheese soufflé, folks.  Still didn't have the same dramatic lift pictured in the recipe, but I'm pretty convinced now that they cheated and used a smaller soufflé dish.

The soufflé was clearly more uniform in sight and flavor than the idiotic layered rendition of this recipe.  Also clearer were the tasty little red specks of paprika.  The first cut of this stuff released a paprika bomb in my nostrils.  Great image, I know.

With the extra paprika and salt, this was by far my favorite version of this recipe.  Salty, cheesy, with just enough extra kick.  Next time, I still want to try throwing in some thyme.

The other notable aspect of this third attempt was the crust on the top of the soufflé.  Brittle, airy, toasted, buttery, and cheesy, the crust tasted like a relative of croissants.  So good.

After finishing the first piece, the soufflé deflated, but my appetite did not.  You better believe I jumped right in and had two more slices before getting on with my day, which might have included half a meatball sandwich and half a porchetta sandwich at Salumi.  And dinner might have included the other half of this soufflé and leftover meatballs and porchetta.  And some salad.  Okay, fine, no salad.  But I did drink two cups of apple-cucumber-green-chard-kale juice.  So I think I did just fine, thank you.

Anyhow, the absolute success of this latest attempt means that I can move onto my Chicago posts and other soufflés.  They'll be up sooner than later.  I promise.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Before I delve into an attempt to catch up on some more home cooking, soufflés, and a couple short trips to Chicago and New York, I want to take a moment to remember a great meal I treated my parents to in celebration of their 30th anniversary last August.

The meal was at Providence. Providence...providence...not prudence...not prominence...province...provincial. Wait. What does providence mean?

Well, providence is supposedly a noun. It is the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power. It is God or nature as providing such care.

That's a ways away from what I thought it meant, which, let's be honest, was nothing. I had no idea what it meant, but after eating my way through an excellent night with my parents, the word attained a whole lot of meaning. And while the word may seem pretentious, the natural and calm manner in which everything flowed, from the waitstaff to the beautifully composed dishes, absolved the word, and the restaurant, of any pretention.

The exterior of the restaurant is relatively unassuming as far as two-star Michelin restaurants go. With only a small valet stand and a simple restaurant logo to guide excited diners, finding the entrance was just a tad confusing.

Entering the restaurant felt like entering an aquarium. From floor to ceiling, the restaurant is decorated with installments that allude to corals and waves. The waitstaff weaves its way like a well-run school and the diners' smiles float throughout the room like bubbles. Nothing too obvious, but not entirely subtle either. Providence is famous for its seafood, after all.

The menu offers a la carte options, but with main courses starting at $43, its multi-course options didn't seem so bad. Out of the five-course, full tasting, chef's, and market menu, my parents and I opted for the market menu.

First up, a couple of cocktails. The Screwdriver Bubble glowed like a separated egg yolk and bursted with the familiar flavors of spiked orange juice. The Mojito Gelee screamed of mint and lime and had a noticeable kick of alcohol and sugar. Nothing to get anyone buzzed, but more than enough to start off the night on a fun note.

Next up was a quartet of crunchy bites. At the top-left was Fried Salmon Skin, which pretty much tasted like any other salmon skin: oily, crispy, salty, and delicious. At its opposite corner were a couple Rice and Sesame Crackers that had the texture and flavor of Korean puffed rice and sesame crackers. Again, nothing special, but enough to get my taste buds going. At the bottom-left were three round Caprese Puffs filled with creamy mozzarella and topped with a sweet tomato jam.

At its opposite corner were three identical Salmon Puffs filled with delicious orbs of salmon roe that bursted with briny flavor and topped with a mix of tuna, creme fraiche, and more roe. Of the four, this was definitely my favorite.

Our last amuse bouche was another play on a caprese salad. The Tomato Consomme with Fennel Foam was beautiful, rich, and pure, accented only slightly by the airy fennel foam. The Basil Mozzarella Bubble exploded with basil-infused liquid and left my mouth with a small cube of straightforward mozzarella.

Before our first course, we enjoyed a selection of four different breads. My favorite was the aromatic and savory Bacon Bread, because, let's be honest, how could that not be amazing, especially with little bits of bacon in every bite.

Our first course (finally!) was Kanpachi served as a crudo with Munak Ranch celebrity tomato, Australian finger lime, red onion, and crispy buckwheat.

The texture and cut of the fish were the most notable when this first came out. The toothsome pieces of fish tasted similar to a cut of yellowtail, but with less buttery goodness. The lean texture of the fish was brightened up by the clear tomato, lime, and red onion dressing, while the buckwheat added a nice crunch similar to, say, Rice Krispies.

Course number two featured a Santa Barbara Sea Urchin underneath a bed of soft scrambled eggs, which somewhat reminded me of the Hot & Cold Foie Soup with Corn and Tortilla de Patatas "New Way" in flavors, presentation, and textures at The Bazaar.

I could have eaten a good gallon of this stuff. The creamy eggs melted in my mouth, followed by a rush of fatty, sweet, and briny uni. The bread crumbs on top added some neutral texture to the first few spoonfuls, but melted with everything else by the last. So, so good, and the optional addition of caviar makes me wonder just how much more delicious this could possibly get. This was easily my favorite of the night.

Next was a plate featuring a Bobby's Block Island Scallop sitting on a bed of crushed almonds and nori, and flanked by several leaves of tatsoi spinach and a baby beet pur
ée. The foam tasted of almonds, which added just enough nuttiness to each bite of scallop. The beets added a sweet, earthy tang to the mix, while the nori brought some familiar Japanese flavor to the plate. Thankfully, the other components on the plate did not take away from the beautiful scallop. The scallop itself, really, stood on its own. Perfectly seared, perfectly toothsome, and perfectly seasoned.

The fourth course was a Wild Black Sea Bass. As if the picture wasn't enough to convince you, let me reassure you, the fish was perfectly cooked and had an addictive, crispy skin. The fish itself was juicy and fatty, and melted in my mouth with each chew. The generous slab of sea bass sat on top of a bed of cranberry beans, squid, mussels, and clams. Each piece of seafood was to die for, and the beans were cooked al dente to add some textural contrast.

The penultimate savory course was a Wild King Salmon tightly hugged by a crepe-like layer. Again, the fish was perfectly cooked, filled with fatty goodness complemented by the crepe's buttery starch. The plate also flaunted some distinctly flavored and slightly saut
éed maitake mushrooms, a scant portion of pork belly to add even more fat to the dish, and some corn. The overall effect was an unexpected approach to a perfectly constructed surf and turf. The earthy flavors of the mushroom balanced the fattiness of the pork, while the sweet bits of corn complemented the rich salmon wellington.

Our final savory course was a Marcho Farms Veal Tenderloin. I thought that this course would be my least favorite of the night, only because it had nothing to do with seafood. But no. This dish was just as good as every other seafood-centric course I had that night. It also helps that this dish used my favorite mushroom, chanterelles. I mean, look at how bright, meaty, and delicious that chanterelle looks up front. The veal melted in my mouth, which I'm guessing was a product of probably being sous vide. The roasted sweet grapes were just sweet enough to make a traditional jus unnecessary, and the fennel balanced out any excess sweetness with some of that distinctive black licorice flavor. What a great plate of meat.

Before dessert was a selection of Market Cheeses chosen from a cheese cart. We got a sottocenere, a creamy and not-so-pungent bleu, a soft brie-like cow's milk, and a hard manchego-like cheese (sorry I didn't get a chance to catch all of the names). This came next to apricot preserves, blueberry jam, and roasted walnuts and hazelnuts.

The palate cleanser, a Cucumber-Mint Frozen Yogurt in Melon Soup was simple, but memorable. The frozen yogurt had just enough tartness and the bright flavors of cucumber and mint were unmistakable.

The melon soup was clean and came with small, tapioca-like balls of cantaloupe and honeydew. Palate very cleansed.

The final course featured a Regier Farms White Nectarine, which hung out next to some almond cake, raspberry pur
ée, a raspberry foam, micro basil, a strudel and olive oil crumble, a merengue cigarette with raspberry dust, and a burrata ice cream. If this dessert only had the crumble, the ice cream, and the nectarine, I would've ordered another three plates of the stuff. The nectarine was incredibly sweet and refreshing, the crumble was buttery and salty, and the burrata ice cream was creamy and was simply addictive when eaten with the crumble.

The meal ended with a tablet of mignardises. From left to right, there was a habanero mint gel
ée, a strawberry macaron, and a ginger chocolate marshmallow. All three were delicious, but the gelée was my favorite. Spicy, refreshing, and just enough sweetness. The strawberry macaron was beautiful, until I broke the shell before I took this picture. The marshmallow had the nice bitterness of dark chocolate and a solid spunk from the ginger. Ginger and dark chocolate. One of those awesomely delicious couples.

As I left the restaurant, I took one last look at the small, unambitious logo. Although I have no idea what the logo means, a lot of the dishes my parents and I ate were just that--a whirlwind of seemingly unrelated lines and directions that eventually came together to create a round, well-balanced circle of flavor.

The bill was rough, but not insulting. The three of us left entirely satisfied and happy, but Providence is definitely a place for special occasions. Providence not only fits the financial bill, but also the unforgettable-experience bill, both of which should add at least some palpable, or palatable, form of grandeur to that special occasion.

5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170

GET: The Market Menu.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Helena's Hawaiian Food

Yes, their walls can feel a little bit littered with accolades and television appearances. And yes, this place can get packed with obnoxious, imposing, tourists (like me). But a trip to Helena's Hawaiian Food is well worth the wait. And honestly, who cares what surrounds you when you're eating such delicious food. Especially when nothing on the menu reaches six bucks.

I always hesitate to use the word "authentic." Something about the word makes me cringe a little bit. Because, really, who am I to say whether something tastes authentic unless we're talking about Korean, and maybe Japanese, food? I guess my aversion to the word comes from the way I've heard people use it to describe insanely unauthentic Korean and Japanese food. "Oooo! This kimchi tastes so authentic!" No, that kimchi tastes like it came from a factory and was packed in a pool of sugar and preservatives. "I love how authentic that uni tastes!" No, that uni is not authentic. Fresh, maybe. But not authentic.

I shouldn't be so harsh, really. And maybe I'm just saying these things because I've been reading and watching too much Anthony Bourdain. I know I've said the same thing about food I'm unfamiliar with. "Yeah, their saag paneer tastes especially authentic." "That dim sum place has really authentic food."

Yeah, I shouldn't dock people for getting excited about tastes or sensations from a different part of the world. It still kills me once in a while though.

That said, if there's ever a place on Oahu to serve no-frills, and, I'm saying it, authentic Hawaiian food, Helena's is it. And when I say authentic, I don't just mean that the food was darn tasty. The food reaches down your esophagus and clenches its fist around your soul. At the very least, you can taste the soulful lineage of a family that has worked hard to share what they grew up eating. The food here has a taste that's never subjected itself to updates and change. It's just always been consistently delicious for a long freaking time. I suppose there is a time and place to use the word.

My friends and I started our feast with a plate occupied by both appetizer and dessert. We saved the dessert for later, but jumped right into the side of raw onions and Hawaiian pink sea salt.

Don't shy away from using a ton of salt. It's the only way to fully appreciate the sharply refreshing white onions. And no, we didn't have to pay for the onions and salt.

And then, as if I had just jumped into a time warp, all of our food was on our table. I started things off with a good spoonful of Poi. I figured that any place known for its true Hawaiian flavors should probably have a good vat of poi that even anti-poiple can enjoy. My spoonful had a beautiful, viscous consistency, similar to a well-thickened batch of pancake batter, and coated my tongue with the strong, earthy yet sweet flavor of taro. As with most poi, I can't really have more than a spoonful, but the small bowl was worth having to intermittently spoon throughout the meal.

Next up was a bowl of Luau Squid. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect when I ordered this. I mean, I was basically expecting grilled squid or something, not a bowl of what looked like a saag paneer. But the fragrant smell of coconut milk told me that there was more to this bowl than meets the eye. Like everything else at Helena's, the "luau," a beautiful mixture of taro leaf, coconut milk, and sugar, is made fresh every day and is paired with your choice of either chicken or squid. Our server suggested the squid, though I can imagine the chicken rendition being just as good. Each bite was creamy, hearty, and sweet, perfectly balanced with every comforting spoonful of the stuff.

The Luau Squid had some stiff competition, especially when it came to the Short Ribs Pipikaula Style. Imagine your favorite plate of Korean short ribs. Relatively thin slices of sweet, juicy, and slightly-charred meat. Pretty darn good. Now imagine those thin slices multiplied in thickness by a factor of ten. Pretty freaking amazing. In flavor, these ribs were not so different from a typical Korean marinade. But apparently, making pipikaula style short ribs includes drying the marinated beef under the Hawaiian sun for a few hours. And I want to say that the drying process helps to feature the meat more than the marinade, without losing those signature hints of soy sauce, garlic, and sugar. Big chunks of fat welcome.

The Kalua Pig & Cabbage was unfortunately my least favorite of the bunch, but only because it was too salty for my taste. I can imagine quite a few friends who would devour this dish for its saltiness. The actual pig and cabbage combo was great. The pork melted in my mouth, with only a few dry bites in the bowl.

My second favorite of the night was the Laulau, or pork wrapped in taro leaves. The actual leaves were tender enough to down like a handful of boiled spinach, and the unique earthiness of the leaves was great. The innards of this dish were the best of a laulau I've ever had. I know I said the Luau Pig melted in my mouth, but this actually melted like butter. Overall, the dish was rich without being too heavy and had just enough texture to avoid passing as baby food. It was that delicious and that tender.

The table was pretty ready to call it a night, but the waitress said that if we had to try one more thing, it would have to be the Fried Butterfish Collar. She said the broiled butterfish collar is good, but nothing beats the fried version. And lordie am I glad we got this.

Now, I know the Laulau's pork melted like butter, but this butterfish actually melted like, well, butterfish. The fried exterior and bits of skin added just the right amount of saltiness and texture and opened up to an outrageously juicy and tender interior. The meat even tasted a little bit sweet. I ate this dish slowly, flake by flake of fish meat, with nearly zero effort from my fork and my tongue. So, so good, and by far my favorite of the night.

We finished our meal with the Haupia we set aside. Light, refreshing, pleasantly gelatinous, and rich with coconut flavor. Nowhere near too sweet, but a completely satisfying way to end the meal.

Sure, there's nothing unexpected here. The menu is blatantly predictable of a family-run restaurant. Helena's just does it better.

As we stumbled back into the warm, Hawaiian night, I reflected on yet another day of delicious eats and indulgent lazing in the sun. Helena's left us completely full, but not full enough to pass up a few drinks on the beach. So we did. Just another day in paradise.

Hope to see you again soon, Hawaii.

Helena's Hawaiian Food
1240 N School St
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 845-8044

GET: Short Ribs Pipikaula Style; Luau Squid; Laulau; Fried Butterfish Collar.
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