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Monday, June 13, 2011

Danny and Company

A good friend of mine wanted to try Danny and Company and asked me to join him. The restaurant is located in an alley between Si Wei Road and Da An Road. The public space in the restaurant is essentially divided into two parts, table seating on the inside and teppanyaki bar up front. My friend insisted that we book seats at the bar because he heard the food and the experience are better.

For dinner at the teppanyaki bar there are only three seven-course tasting menus with prices at NT$3,000, NT$4,000, and NT$4,800. I went with the middle one since I liked the items on that menu.

The restaurant started us off with an amuse bouche and one warm bread on the side. Then came the seared crab cake followed by seafood consomme. I would have preferred some acidity with the crab cake. Nevertheless all four items were fine, but nothing to really write home about. Seared foie gras was next on the menu and this was the first dish cooked at the teppanyaki bar. The foie was cooked well, but the presentation was a bit too fussy. I didn't see the need for the chef to drizzle olive oil on top with a small squeeze bottle. Also, the caramelized apple below the foie was a little too sweet. It would have also been better if the plate was warm.

The fish course was a poached small fillet of snapper. Instead of using a pot, the chef used a transparent oven bag tied up with a string. I wasn't sure if the oven bag helps with the cooking at all; it seemed more like a gimmick. Furthermore, I wondered about the safety of using the oven bag on the teppan. The chef claimed the oven bag can withstand a heat of over 200-degree Celsius, but it seemed to me the teppan was probably over 200 degrees already. Maybe the chef placed the bag on a cooler part of the teppan, but frankly I wasn't all that comfortable. Nevertheless, the fish was well cooked. The sauce on the other hand was a bit too sweet and not terribly interesting.  

After the fish we were served what was essentially a Caprese salad. This was a bit too simple and almost in a home cook kind of way. The flavors were only so-so and it was strange in terms of the sequence in the tasting menu.

The final savory course was a duo of beef, top sirloin cap and wagyu New York Strip, cooked on the teppan. Chef Danny personally cooked the steaks for us; this was actually the only dish that he cooked. He has often been referred by many blogs and publications in Taiwan as the "godfather of steak." I must say, Chef Danny did not disappoint as the steaks were well cooked to the desired temperature. Unlike the other hot courses, the plates that the steaks were served on were actually warm. I only wish the portions of the steaks were bigger. As I finished the steaks I also asked myself why bother with the other items on the tasting menu? We might as well just order the steak next time.

A plate of grilled vegetables were served on the side after we finished the steaks. They seemed like an after thought, and were bland and not very good; I didn't finish them.

I read on various blogs that some customers get an extra course of pasta or rice after the meat course. We didn't. I suppose Chef Danny wasn't that fond of us; then again, he only saw us for one course out of the whole meal. Frankly it was just as well since eating pasta after the meat course would have been awkward anyway. Moreover, we were actually quite full.

For dessert I ordered a molten chocolate cake, which was nicely executed with good flavors, but not terribly exciting.

While we were seated at the teppanyaki bar, only three of the seven items were cooked at the bar in front of us. The rest were done in the back kitchen. Therefore, I am not sure how much difference there really is between sitting at the bar or at the table.

The dishes at Danny and Company were fine. The ingredients were good and were well executed. However they were a bit too simple and too expensive. Let's consider the cost. The menu we had was NT$4000 + 10% service charge. NT$4400 is the equivalent of a US$122 menu in NYC (assuming a 15% tip plus sales tax). For US$122 one can have the 7-course tasting menu (US$115) at Adour by Alain Ducasse or the 4-course prix fixe menu (US$115) at the three-Michelin star Le Bernardin. Danny and Company's food is not at the level of Ducasse or Eric Ripert, yet Danny charges like them.

The saving grace for the overpriced meal was the cost of the wine. For our dinner, I ordered a bottle of 2004 Château Montrose. The restaurant charges NT$3,600, which is around 1.5 times the retail price. Besides the price, the wine was also very good.

Overall it was an enjoyable experience, however, I will only go back if someone else is paying.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Interview with Ralph Lerner

Recently I was informed that Ralph Lerner died on May 7, 2011 after a battle with cancer. I was very sad to learn the news. Ralph was the Dean of the School of Architecture at Princeton University when I was there as an undergraduate. While Ralph was a practicing architect, I knew him mostly as a great educator. He was always very supportive of my projects in reviews. Eleven years ago, I interviewed Ralph for Dialogue magazine on the School at Princeton. I have reformatted the interview and posted it online as a page in my blog.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

135°F Beef Tenderloin

After experimenting with fish, it was time to try cooking beef sous vide. As Thomas Keller said, "Cooking meat may represent the pinnacle of sous vide technique; it's a category where sous vide really soars". With this first try I thought I'd use a more tender cut of meat that requires less cooking time. I found a recipe by Jean Georges Vongerichten on Food & Wine magazine. The recipe calls for the beef to be marinated for two hours prior to cooking. Afterwards I sealed the meat in individual bags and warmed up the water bath.

The cooking temperature was set at 135°F, or around 57°C and the cooking time was 45 minutes.

The results were extraordinary. Unlike the traditional technique of roasting where often times the exterior of the meat is well done while the center is rare, with sous vide the entire piece of meat can be cooked to the precise temperature. Since we still want a seared exterior from high heat, after taking the meat out of the bag, it was pan fried very quickly in a sauté pan. Following a short rest the meat was served and it was very tender and juicy.

There is no doubt that sous vide is an excellent way to cook meat. The only question now is whether I will go back to the traditional way of using high heat to roast meat. The short answer is probably not.