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Noodle in a Haystack: Some of the best ramen in the SF Bay Area

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Noodle in a Haystack: Some of the best ramen in the SF Bay Area

Daly City in the summer time is like London in November. I left my house on a Sunday afternoon in August wearing shorts and a tee shirt because it was 85 degrees outside, and headed to Daly City to have ramen made by Noodle in a Haystack. By the time I arrived in Daly City, the temperature had dropped at least 25 degrees and I could barely see 20 feet in front of me. I parked in a residential neighborhood where every single house was exactly the same. They might have been painted different colors, but they were exactly the same. Street after street of them. I wondered a bit skeptically about what kind of ramen I was going to have while I searched for the right house, shivering in the mist.

As soon as I entered Yoko and Clint's house, I immediately felt at ease. They are both exceptionally friendly and welcoming. Clint lived in Tokyo for six years where he met Yoko. They moved back a few years ago and started making the ramen that Clint fell in love with in Japan. As this was my first Feastly dinner, I wasn't sure what to expect. Feastly dinners are often held in people's homes, and offered by a range of people from home cooks specializing in regional dishes to professionals building a reputation before establishing a stand alone restaurant. It was actually a lot of fun to meet seven new people and learn about them over a great meal.

I eat ramen all over the San Francisco Bay Area and all over the world. Japan is of course the best place to eat ramen, and the Bay Area and Los Angeles are probably the next best options. We are very lucky to have the ramen we have here, and Noodle in a Haystack is one of the best bowls of ramen I've had outside of Japan, and frankly even competes with the bowls in Japan.

Clint and Yoko source some key ingredients like yuzu and smoked fish powder from Japan. They have even reverse engineered a famous Japanese salad dressing called Pietro. They also take advantage of local ingredients like a blood orange oil from Monterey to lighten their chicken based ramen. 

On the night I attended we started with their signature deviled egg with pickled daikon, smoked fish powder from Kyoto, fish row, chicken skin, and togarashi. What a great intro to our meal! It was familiar, but new. The fish powder provided smoke and umami and all the components were in great balance. It was very close to fishy, but didn't go cross the line. The egg was followed by nine hour sous vide pork belly and a refreshing arugula salad with their Pietro-like dressing, and then a spicy celery salad and a savory cucumber salad. 

After the appetizers, the main bowl of ramen arrived. This isn't your typical, over the top, heavy tonkotsu (pork) based ramen. This was a shio ramen, meaning that the tare, or main seasoning that determines the type of ramen, is made from salt, and in this case, infused with dried shrimp and fish from Japan. The broth is a clear chicken stock and dashi, garnished with a delicious marinated onsen egg, scallions and garlic, crispy onions, yuzu, pink peppercorns, yuzu infused chicken fat, blood orange oil, brined chicken ham, and three salts (pink, sea and truffle). It is glorious! It has perfect balance and is not too heavy. Every component has been perfected, and when put together, they are all in balance. This isn't the tonkotsu ramen you may be used to, and that is a very good thing! Seats at Noodle in a Haystack are hard to come by, so reserve early and get ready to have some of the best ramen in the Bay Area. Brave the fog for a great time!

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Noma: The Nordic Food Revolution

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Noma: The Nordic Food Revolution

If you’ve eaten at a restaurant anywhere in the world in the last 10 years and been offered something foraged, something smoked in hay or moss, or something flavored with hearty greens or pine, it's because of Noma—a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark.  

If you've eaten at a vegetable-forward restaurant or eaten something that is usually thrown away (like the fish head below), it's because of Noma.

If you've eaten at a restaurant where everything on the menu comes from less than 100 miles away and is likely fermented, it's because of Noma.

If you've been to a restaurant that's been influenced by or is a part of the Nordic movement, it's because of Noma.

Under the direction of chef and owner René Redzepi, Noma has arguably had the biggest impact on the world of food in the last decade.

I ate at Noma in February 2014 with my friend Jen, who is incredibly knowledgeable about the restaurant world. At the time, Jen was only was acquaintance. A mutual friend told Jen that I was the kind of crazy, obsessive foodie who would trek halfway around the world with her to spend the weekend in Copenhagen to eat at Noma. After a jam-packed food itinerary that included meals at Geranium, Relæ, Radio, a castle, and a bunch of smørrebrød, we were great friends. Poorer friends, but great friends. 

While the farm-to-table philosophy seems very Bay Area, it’s Noma that started the hyper local food trend. Chef Redzepi actually employs the extreme constraints of using only Danish, and sometimes Nordic, ingredients to push the creativity of the restaurant. He has a specific theory that extreme constraints drive creativity. In the 2013 recipe and journal collection René Redzepi: A Work in Progress, he spends a year keeping a journal focused on the restaurant, pushing himself and his staff to be more creative and trying to stay sane and centered through the pressures of being the #1 restaurant in the world for four years in a row. It's a fascinating window into obsessive creativity, and I came away from both this journal and my meal at Noma thinking that this level of perfection and creativity requires a certain level of madness. In the right profession (a chef, a sculptor, an architect, etc.) and a sufficiently high level of notoriety, madness is also known as genius.

Was Noma my favorite meal ever? No. Athough it's certainly in the top 10 (and it’s a great top 10 list). The main reason may be that it was winter in Denmark. The only non-Nordic items used at Noma are chocolate,wine and coffee, and they are used sparingly. That means that most of what’s served in February are hearty greens, root vegetables, preserved items, fish and game. For such a vegetable-forward restaurant, that means that the palate of the meal is tarter and more bitter than I prefer. Nonetheless, I was blown away by the meal .

My favorite courses were the fish head, caramelized milk and monk fish liver, urchin toast, and caramelized bread. The fish head was served on the stick that is used to grill it, with no other utensils. It is covered in an incredibly savory seaweed-based wet rub, and Jen and I used our hands to eat it. I ate the eyeball, too. I was glad I did because tasted great—like a rush of the best savory broth. But cultural norms die hard, and I almost gagged. The caramelized milk and monkfish liver was brilliant. Dairy is plentiful in Denmark, and Noma finds many different uses for milk. In this case, milk is slowly caramelized until is becomes a solid, and it is used as a cracker base for the dish. Monkfish liver is like the foie gras of the sea, so the dish was rich, savory and meaty. The urchin was served on a small piece of charred bread, and it was covered by a duck "skin." A rich duck broth is cooked until a thick skin of protein forms on the surface, which is then removed and dried. It tastes like the best parts of duck, but unimaginably concentrated. I would never have thought to combine urchin and duck, but it was brilliant. 

The wines were natural, often orange—and funkier than I had ever tasted before. The juice pairing was a collection of vegetable and fruit juices, often fermented and always refreshing. At least 80% of the menu was either something I had never eaten before, or never prepared in that way before. 

Noma is currently closed, with the intention of opening again sometime this year. Their new space will be a farm within the city, allowing them more space to grow their own ingredients and enough space to house their extensive research and development activities. Noma has done a series of pop-ups in Japan, Australia and Mexico, and all of them have received rave reviews. It's hard to imagine that they can continue to grow and push the boundaries of creativity, but I have no doubt that they will. If I have the chance to go again, I certainly will. Hopefully in August this time.

 

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Food Trends 2017: What's on the Way

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Food Trends 2017: What's on the Way

As an obsessive foodie and avid traveler, I have the opportunity to eat at a wide variety of restaurants around the world. That puts me in a good position to spot emerging food trends. 

One current food trend I hope will go away soon is pine. Every restaurant of a certain creativity level has a dish flavored with pine right now. Yep, that's Christmas tree flavor. We can thank Noma and the Nordic food revolution for this addition to the global food lexicon. A lot of amazing things have come out of the Nordic movement, but pine is not one them. When I ate at Noma, Geranium, Radio and Relæ in Copenhagen in 2014, I had a LOT of pine. (If Rene Redzepi were here now, I'd have a very creative way to thank him for the pine in my food!)

Below are some food trends that I expect to gain popularity in the next few years. Feel free to share your own predictions in the comments section below.


Koji

SingleThread  in Healdsburg, CA - Mt. Lassen trout ibushi-gin with shio koji vinaigrette, trout roe, and myoga

SingleThread in Healdsburg, CA - Mt. Lassen trout ibushi-gin with shio koji vinaigrette, trout roe, and myoga

Koji is the fungus used to make soy sauce, miso and sake, and shio koji is a salted liquid that is used as a marinade and sauce which contains enzymes that help break down proteins which releases free glutamate, the main source of umami. Koji preparations are clearly well known in Japan, but koji has been on the menu at SingleThread in Sonoma, Baroo in Los Angeles, Barley Swine in Austin, The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa, and Restaurant Andre in Singapore.

Barroo  in Los Angeles, CA - Farro and kamut cooked with koji beet creme and dashi with nuts and rose apple pickle.

Barroo in Los Angeles, CA - Farro and kamut cooked with koji beet creme and dashi with nuts and rose apple pickle.


Raw Fish

Gaggan  in Bangkok, Thailand - Raw fish taco

Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand - Raw fish taco

Raw fish preparations are a part of many cultures, but we are not simply seeing them in expected places like Japan (sushi), Mexico and Peru (ceviche). We are seeing raw fish in Hawaiian poke-like preparations in fast casual restaurants, and a raw lobster preparation at Bianchi in Zurich. There were recently two raw fish dishes on the menu at Gaggan, a high end modernist Indian food restaurant in Bangkok, and just about every chef driven restaurant in the US will have a crudo or ceviche like dish on the menu.


Edible Clay and Dirt

Central  in Lima, Peru - Cushuro (a round colony of bacteria from the Andes that are solid but chewy), cacao, chaco clay.  

Central in Lima, Peru - Cushuro (a round colony of bacteria from the Andes that are solid but chewy), cacao, chaco clay.  

Noma in Copenhagen has served dirt to their guests (on purpose), and for years Michel Bras has garnished his famous gargouillou salad with a bit of dirt. Andean natives in Peru eat the clay that sticks to the potatoes they cook in the earth, and Central and other restaurants in Peru have started serving edible clay. Central actually serves a dessert with edible clay and white chocolate.  As Peru is driving many culinary trends right now, the edible clay trend will continue to grow.

 

 


Non-alcoholic Drinks and Pairings

SingleThread in Healdsburg, CA - Turmeric and grenadine with smoked salt

SingleThread in Healdsburg, CA - Turmeric and grenadine with smoked salt

Many high end restaurants are putting more effort than ever into beverage pairings that do not contain alcohol. SingleThread in Sonoma County offers a revelatory non-alcoholic pairing. Coi in San Francisco offers a tea pairing, and Restaurant Andre in Singapore is fermenting their own juices. The trend is also starting to trickle into more casual chef driven restaurants and will continue to do so.

 

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