Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My birthday dinner. :-)

My birthday was actually earlier this month, but I'm just now getting around to posting about it. Sorry that some of the photos are blurry. Dark restaurant, evening, no flash, etc.

This year, I chose to go to Ethan Stowell's Staple & Fancy Mercantile, specifically wanting to order their "Fancy" chef's choice meal. All this means is that you hand your menu back to the server and the kitchen decides what you will eat that night, based, of course, on their best dishes. This obviously doesn't work for people who have food issues, but it's great for me!

It was the second time I'd been there and was very good. The only criticism I had was that the starters all seemed to come out in a rush (I would have liked some time to savor each dish), so we felt like we had to devour it all quickly because it seemed like the food was coming out really fast. However, after we ate the starters in a hurry, we then had to wait...and wait...and wait... for the next course! That was kind of WTF. It would have even been fine for it to come out that way had we been told by the server that it was perfectly OK to linger over the food, that we could take our time with it. But anyway, the food itself was superb. I would definitely do the "Fancy" meal again in a heartbeat.


Sliced baguette with olive oil and vinegar for dipping.
Bread and Green Olives

Rich and buttery green olives. I wish gourmet olives weren't so salty, but these were better than most.
Green Olives

Ahi tuna crostini. The perfect amount of flavor, creaminess, and crunch.
Ahi Tuna Crostini

Thinly sliced beef tongue with a bit of salad garnish. Yummy.
Sliced Beef Tongue with Garnish

Deep-fried oysters with chili aioli. There are few things I enjoy more than a deep-fried oyster. Mmmmmm.
Deep-Fried Oysters with Chili Aioli

A steaming bowl of clams in a wine broth and plenty of parsley.
Steamed Clams

Radicchio salad. I liked it initially, then it got too bitter. This was probably the dish that was liked least by our table, because none of us are big fans of radicchio.
Radicchio Salad

Not pictured -- argh, I thought I had gotten photos of everything -- soft-cooked egg with white anchovy draped over the top. Delicious.

Pasta Course

Squash ravioli with little bits of squash and seasoned with brown butter and some cinnamon.
Squash Ravioli

Seafood Entree

Grilled opah. This is the first time I've had this fish, which was a firm, white fish like cod.
Grilled Opah

Meat Entree

Roasted chicken breasts on a bed of pureed parsnip. Really tender and full of flavor.
Roasted Chicken Breasts


Chocolate boudino with whipped cream. Much lighter than regular pudding. Really wonderful.
Chocolate Boudino

Ricotta cheesecake with figs and saba. This is the best plain cheesecake I've ever had. So light and creamy, without the denseness that cream cheese gives, nor the sometimes unpleasant (at least to me) after flavor. The photo doesn't do it justice at all (it's a creamy white in reality), but then cheesecake doesn't really look fancy anyway. If all cheesecakes were like this, I wouldn't be iffy about them.
Ricotta Cheesecake

Friday, November 25, 2011


I took the opportunity of Thanksgiving in the U.S. to make baklava for the first time. It was as many had told me -- much easier to make than it looks. I love the crispy phyllo dough and honey-drenched walnuts inside. The only true challenge was in not finishing the entire pan myself. Better still, baklava freezes well, so you can make a batch and enjoy it at your leisure. Or, I suppose, share it with others.


Simple though it is to make, there are a few things you can do to ensure a successful, not-soggy baklava. First, it's unnecessary to saturate the layers of phyllo with butter. A thin layer of butter suffices (but don't skimp, either). Toast the walnuts, or whatever combination of nuts you choose to use, beforehand. I've never encountered nuts in a recipe that wasn't greatly improved by toasting them first. Be sure to make the sauce first, so that it can be cooled while you're assembling the the baklava -- while you can certainly pour the sauce hot over the baklava, a cool sauce will help ensure that the phyllo stays crisp. Chop the nuts as fine as you can without turning them into powder. Finally, when you're cutting the baklava into triangles/squares, don't cut all the way down to the bottom, so the sauce soaks into more top layers. And yes, it is best to pre-cut the baklava. Once it's baked the phyllo will shatter at the slightest resistance, which makes for a much less attractive finish.

Just out of the oven.

After sauce as been poured over the top.

Full disclosure: This recipe was a bit sweet for me. I tend to like my sweets very easy on the sugar. Next time I'd probably make half the amount of syrup, or cut the sugar at least by that amount. I'd leave the honey as it is -- baklava should taste richly of honey.


  • 1 8oz package phyllo dough
  • 1/2 lb chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 tbsp honey
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottoms and sides of an 8x8-inch square pan.
  2. Toast the walnuts for 10 minutes.
  3. Make the sauce by boiling the sugar and water until the sugar is melted. Add the vanilla and honey, bring it to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Place this mixture directly into the refrigerator and get it cooling.
  4. Toss the chopped walnuts with the cinnamon and set aside.
  5. Unroll the phyllo dough. Cut the stack of sheets to fit your pan, or keep them intact and use the "fold over" method when layering (leaving the overhanging dough where it is, then folding over when a new layer is required).
  6. Layer two sheets of dough into the pan, then brush with the melted butter. Make sure you get the edges. You may need to occasionally reheat the butter in the microwave to ensure a liquid consistency. Repeat this layering until 8-10 sheets are layered.
  7. As evenly as possible, sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of the walnut mixture onto a buttered layer of phyllo. Top this with two sheets of dough, brush with butter, then repeat with the nuts and keep layering. The top layer should be 8-10 sheets.
  8. Use a sharp knife to cut the baklava into triangles or squares, nearly to the bottom of the pan.
  9. Bake for about 60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
  10. Remove the baklava from the oven and pour the cooled sauce over it, getting it into every nook and cranny.
  11. Serve when completely cool.