The Fine Dining Experience
Although I work behind the scenes in a fine dining restaurant, I had never before dined out as a guest in one. The very day I started working I wondered what it’d be like to be on the receiving end of a restaurant that serves four course meals and chefs tasting menus. Whether in Rhode Island, San Francisco, Chicago, or New York, fine dining restaurants surround the public eye, inviting guests only for an evening affair to experience their wild and glorious menus. During Restaurant week in Newport Rhode Island I wanted to treat myself to a true culinary experience, knowing in that week dining out would go easy on my wallet. From my daily walks through the city, I came across a placed called Tallulah’s. Curious about their menu, I asked some highly acclaimed chefs of Newport about its concept and was told to check it out. It took me about and hour to figure out what I was going to wear, and then I set out for my 5:30 dinner reservation.
Once inside the acute dining room, hosting eight tables of two tops and four tops, I noticed the open kitchen, where three cooks stood before the executive chef. They were all wearing bandannas, which I thought was a rustic touch to the usual chefs attire. While watching the cooks pre- game for their first dinner ticket, two waitresses sat my friend NJ and I, giving us the restaurant week menu to browse over, and asking if we would like sparkling or distilled water. There were two routes to travel on the menu, I chose the first and NJ chose the second, so that we can see everything the kitchen was offering that evening. What I find very interesting about some fine dining experiences is that you are bombarded with intermezzos between each course; and there is never a time you are sitting without a utensil in hand.
First, set down in front of us was the amuse bouche (bite size appetizer), which was the Thai inspired soup. I think the amuse bouche is a great way to ease the guest into the larger courses they get to experience next. And the great thing about intermezzos, is that every diner in the restaurant is receiving the same amuse or pre dessert as the other. The only room for a guests meal preference, is when choosing main courses.
After eating first course which was a beet salad (above) one of our two waitresses that evening brought us our focaccia. Some upscale restaurants have a bread service between meals, where a front of the house employee walks around with a tray of four or five varieties of bread to choose from. But at Tallullah’s they pre- decided our choice of bread that night. I devoured the focaccia soaked in olive oil, and was so close to asking for another piece.
Depending on the place you eat at, front of the house will change your silverware between courses as well as crumb the table, if it has become a little messy. Something I also enjoy in fine dining, is synchronized service, when the waiters placed food in front of the guest simultaneously. When each course was brought to us, I got to experience this. Finally I received my entree, which was hanger steak, and most likely the best way I have ever eaten it. It was cooked perfectly, the chimichurri was course and spicy, and the sun-choke puree was so buttery.
After the main course, we were brought our pre- dessert. The role of a pre- dessert is to cleanse your palate after a savory meal, getting you ready for something sweet. For this reason, it will most likely be an acidic treat. The perfect melon balled scoop of grape fruit sorbet was just the right amount of tang, washing away any meaty, buttery, and salty flavors from my main entree. The dessert I experienced there after, was dark chocolate cremeaux, similar to a pastry cream. It sat on top of a chocolate smear and aside a pistachio ice cream quenelle. It is very common to see desserts in elegant restaurants plated this way; the main component in the middle of the plate, a spread of chocolate, caramel, or fruit puree beneath, a quenelle of sorbet or ice cream resting somewhere on the side, and a crumble around the dish that acts as garnish. Overall the evening spent at Tallulah’s was spectacular, and am ecstatic about my first fine dining experience.
AN HOUR SPENT IN ASIA
The food culture influences of Eastern Asia are incredible. I mean, it’s so amazing that it has me fantasizing about ramen noodles at 1 AM. This is true, the thought of ramen noodles and steamed pork buns kept me from getting a good nights sleep last night. And instead of going to bed at a reasonable hour, I was researching Rhode Islands frequently talked about noodle bar, Boru. I figured, since I had the day off from my internship as a chef, I should take myself on a date to devour a meal that was long overdue. I had a carb filled, glorious afternoon, as I was poised on the wooden bar stool, chopsticks in hand, adjacent to my ramen and pork belly buns. Do I have regrets? No way! The meal put me at ease, and got me thinking deeply about Asian ingredients and techniques. I took some pictures while I sat alone; the owner must of thought something odd of me, but what he didn’t know was that two hours in the latter, I would be writing a rather optimistic review about his food.
Technically I started with dessert first, and to me that is quite alright. I had tai iced tea, which is not like your usual Saturday afternoon run to Starbucks. Tai iced tea is a traditionally a combination of the ceylon tea leaf but, a more inexpensive type called bai miang is often used, and mixed with food coloring to create its vibrant orange color. It is then mixed with ice, condensed milk and sugar, and finished with splash of evaporated milk. In Thailand however, the tea, condensed milk, and sugar are combined before the addition of ice; and finally finished off with evaporated milk. The Tai people were not joking around when they invented this sweet delicacy. And Boru chefs, played with the ingredients just as I imagined from prior experiences.
Two was all I got. I wished and hoped for more! These steamed pork belly buns are renowned in our country; an insane treat that people drool over. Every ingredient plays a vital role in this dish, every single ingredient. Mantou or steamed bun, originated in northern China, making this dish a spin off of one of China’s immaculate yeast dough’s. Chinese chefs make make and stuff the buns a little differently than those above. Hoisin sauce which is a popular Asian condiment, is the background note in this musical of flavors. The rest of the ingredients make the dish more Americanized. I am not saying there is anything wrong with that! Pork, found in most of Eastern Asia’s cuisine, is truly the star in these buns. Eating braised pork belly makes you feel victorious; cooks prize for its amazing aesthetic. Boru chefs add the radish and pickle for color and to offset the rich flavor of the sauce and pork, creating an unimaginable tone in the whole dish.
The star of my lunch hour, came out after the tea was half gone, and the pork buns were devoured, and fingers licked clean. The bowl was massive, and I appreciate a chef who prepares good food in larger than average portions; it gives me a lot to look forward too. So, ramen noodles are a Japanese tradition, prepared many different ways, and in their own way at all different Asian inspired restaurants. Boru made me very happy, giving me the option to eat beef short ribs with my ramen. I could not possibly pass up this opportunity, fifteen dollars later. But like I said before, no regrets! Ramen noodles are a Chinese wheat noodle that the Japanese adapted and used in different variations of soup. Many times ramen noodles are seen in a pork or chicken based broth with pork, beef, boiled egg, mushrooms, scallions, menma (dried bamboo shoots), and nori (seaweed). The noodle bowl is so diverse that there are endless variations to choose from, all over the country. An interesting aspect of Boru’s take on the dish, was its boiled egg. It tasted like the flavors of Asia had been saturated inside the egg; with a gooey and tacky texture. Every bite of this ramen, full filled my hankering for a bowl of soup.