swining and dining

Saturday, March 11, 2006

"Brain Drain" and lessons of a bad meal

As a chef we are looked upon to know everything about food, we should know how to make everything, where it comes from and definitely where to eat....

NOT!!!! we humbly make mistakes, don't know everything about food....and definitely don't always know where to eat...

Friday, March 10 was a food day...we ventured into Downtown Melbourne to begin a day of eating and exploring. First I needed some breakfast...my buddy Brian suggested a buffet at the Langham Hotel..."buffet" my middle name. We entered the 4-star hotel looking like tourist as I wore my designer "Sony" camera around my neck. We made our way to the restaurant and were seated immediately. The host informed us that the buffet would close in 45 minutes...to us that meant at least 2 'fly bys'...The buffet was stupendous....from omelets and pancakes to order, Indian food, cured meats, cheese, fresh fruit, fresh squeezed juices, grilled meats and fresh honeycomb...you betcha...I had some of that on my croissant.

We mustered enough stomach space for 1 1/2 trips...you guys disappointed, yes we thought we were up to the challenge but our eyes were bigger than normal. After the "buff"...we made our way to the Esplanade...along the Yarra River, very picturesque, very European in feel. The City is getting ready for the Commonwealth Games and they are not kidding!. On the Yarra River is a parade of floats designed like fish representing each competing country. The streets were clean, the citizens excited and many foriegners walking the streets. Along the Esplanade is a row of Restaurants, many of them Modern Australian...and yes...barramundi this and that!!!! We continued our walk through the "cookie cutter" restaurant section of the Esplanade toward the Central Business District (CBD).

Midway there we stopped for a glass of wine and plate of cheese, people watching and suntanning...I'm so dark. (Sidenote Guys....not many sightings of Naomi Watts or Nicole lookalikes...but if you love the "blondes", get here NOW. I'm a brunette guy) Also midway was Federation Square, a Frank Gehry architecture inspired (I don't believed he designed it) Museum of Arts and Entertainment Complex. (Hey SA...nothing like the Guggenheim). There then we checked out the "Hottest Restaurant in Town"....Taxi. What defines "hot"? apparently our former President Bill Clinton just ate there...gotta love the guy, a foodie and cigar smoker (didn't go there)...Taxi has an industrial look and the food is Japanese inspired, I felt like I was in Hollywood though as I noticed a DJ booth just right of the sushi bar. Trends travel fast huh...we didn't stay just perused...the plan was to go to a famous Melbourne Wine Bar for tapas and flights. We also stopped by a place called Chocolate Buddha, loved the name, not the place...cafeteria like and uninspired menu.

Ah finally a place to nosh...we walked into Langton's, voted best wine list in Melbourne a million years running. A modest place but WOW!, what a great open kitchen...very french, very brigade system. They were only serving tapas at this point so we ordered the slow braised meatballs to go with the Pinot Noir Flight.
My friend (yes HER again) has definitely got me back into drinking wines (I'm sure she is smiling as she reads this) and now I'm fussier than ever. I appreciated the Australian Pinots over the New Zealand ones...anyway after this short stay we ventured into deep CBD. The trendier and more exciting restaurants are in this District...Longgrain, an Asian Bistro, Flower Drum, high end Chinese, Grossi Florentino, the best Italian Restaurant in town. We picked up the 2006 Good Food Guide for dinner options...there were a handful of choices but Brian had followed the press and career of Chef Greg Malouf of MoMo, a modern middle eastern restaurant. So we stopped by there and made a reservation...."party of two @ 6pm, but we need the table back by 8pm"...wait, am I in LA?. We then killed 2 hours before dinner drinking wine and eating dumplings over looking the Melbourne Bay.

6pm on the dot...the aromas coming from the kitchen could not be denied...we had high hopes, operative word "had". We sat down and ordered glasses of Sparking Shiraz...mind you that would be the last time I have that...it tasted like a "7up infused sangria made by a fraternity brother during rush."...I came back to wine life with a glass of Primitivo....safe and sound.

We opted for the 6 course "degustation menu" or so we thought. First came out a SINGLE plate of "Beef Tartare"...what? we are supposed to split this ourselves!!! Ahhhhh "degustation menu"....I know we are Chefs but come on, @ $90.00 per person...that Chef better plate each course seperately. We kindly asked the server if this is how the "degustation menu" would come out...yes she said.....ohhh @#$@!$ NO! we replied. We changed our minds and decided to have the dishes ala carte...we can split the plates ourselves right?. After the first course we both had a feeling that we made a bad choice....I was so excited to try a different cuisine, the aromas in the air had more pizazz than that first dish. Our entrees (remember these are appetizers) came out....A chicken liver and quail terrine for me and lambs brains for him. Once again nothing....the terrine was uneventful and lacked enthusiasm, no middle eastern spice, no character, no flavor. As for the lamb's brains...the plate was beautiful as the katafi wrapped brain was atop a bed of greens dressed with a bacon vinaigrette. FLAAAAATTTTTT!!! the creamy texture (and cholesterol) of the brains was bland and the viniagrette...what bacon? It was only my second time eating brains of anything so I looked forward to this. We couldn't help but feel that the Chef served "his" (brain) and "checked out" that evening. The dining room was half full, my stomach even less full. We both looked at each other and thought two things...(1) he was having an off night (2) it is what it is....I believe "No.2" stands for what we got. Our main courses made it to the table a Pork Chop and Pidgeon...I don't even want to waste any computer bytes on this mess....Check please!!!!

My buddy Brian was very disturbed by our meal, more than I was... (hey SA, it rivaled in disappointment to you know where...) Brian is a Chef of detail and commitment, any Chef with the acclaim that the Chef (of MoMo) has received shouldn't serve food like that, we both agreed we could've "faked" Middle Eastern food better than that. I said to him that I learn more from having a bad meal than from a good meal. 30 minutes pass by as we make our way back to the car...then he said "you're right".... I know.

On the drive back home the meal was still on our lips in everyway...(I was thinking about my leftover mascarpone stuffed dried fig in the fridge most of the drive...) We are both very proud Chefs, we have respect for others and have the confidence in our skills to do the right thing...."give them flavor, they (customers)may not like it or appreciate it, but at least they will form an experience opinion." Even if its making breakfast, sandwiches or anything anybody eats...make it tasty!!!

Maybe I should ask that Chef of "NO!NO!"...sorry "MoMo" if he wants to join me on my sabbatical...after that meal, he needs it more than me. I often have doubts about my skills (not that often), the one thing that I've learned about my food is that my personality and sensibilities ground my cooking. My food is unpretentious (most of the time) not fussy, flavorful and well executed, but most of all made with passion...each and every dish I touch. I think as Chef's we get wrapped up in using designer ingredients or techniques...some Chef's live by "presentation" over substance....others just cook for the love, no notoriety, no glamour, no lets say "blog address". I can be very virtuous (is that a word?) when it comes to food and cooking. I know I've been blessed with recognition and status, and I hope I continue to try and do the right thing. I left Koi because it became too surreal....Why would I leave the "hottest" restaurant in LA....many chefs have asked me. Opening my own concept, Yi Cuisine, was also a reason to leave...Why would any Chef then leave a place he created and is a partner in?...I simply missed cooking...missed the love.... somewhere in running a restaurant, dealing with creditors, managing the front of the house and the press...I lost myself....maybe the Chef @ MoMos has done the same or maybe its just me. Being a Chef and being who I am is so closely related....because they both come from the heart.

I've been gone for over a week now (yes SA it feels like two w/out you) Traveling makes you think, makes you ask, makes you face up, makes you doubt, makes you miss people, make you see them (the one's you miss) in a different light, makes you see yourself in a different way, makes you dream....makes your brain hurt...I'm drained.

Swining off!


At 11:57 AM, Blogger 8AllDay said...

thanks for the entertainment. love you.


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