28 December, 2010

Secret Ingredients.

Sometimes there aren’t proper words—or perhaps I’m just lacking the ability to string enough good ones together—to describe one’s physiological response to an outstanding meal.

The Herbfarm: One of the 9 courses of dinner
It can be something bordering on euphoria, akin to a powerful drug driving recklessly through your bloodstream. You’re warm and full, heavy yet light-headed. Hyper-cognizant of all senses. You feel healthy and nourished yet unabashedly hedonistic. You are a part of the earth, the plants, the animals you just consumed. You feel one with all. And you aren’t the least bit embarrassed or timid being so enraptured by comestibles.

There are many who seek out culinary bliss. Like the addict looking to reclaim the feeling of that first high, they are not content to just let it happen… to simply know it will happen again for those who are patient. No. They are not patient. They are, in fact, thrill-seekers, not merely content to wait around and experience things naturally, but in fact, go to great lengths and great distances to find that next gastronomical high.

For me, however, embarking on such a culinary mission has often been beat down by disappointment. A good number of my most remarkable meals have been unsuspecting, completely surprising, and the type you are unable to recreate, even with the best of circumstances, and with great culinary prowess. That is because the ingredients so often spill over into the non-culinary kind. The right dinner companions. Atmosphere. Personal mood. Sights, sounds, and smells. A long wait building a voracious appetite. A foreign country. The clink of tableware. The host. The weather. The time of day. Ah, so many variables make for a culinary experience. They could all be right save one, and the meal will not be as extraordinary.

It’s a wonder we try at all.

But, like that next high to a drug user, we know what we are in for when we, ever so occasionally, hit the jackpot. We are often willing to go to great lengths, dole out amazing fistfuls of bills, and endure many mediocre meals in between, in order to experience one such indescribable, achingly beautiful meal again.

And sometimes, it happens, right before our eyes. Nothing but a really phenomenal cup of coffee, and a croissant so flaky you end up wiping half of it off the table afterward.

It lurks. We look for it, but it is elusive. We let go, and there it is.

Those with an appetite for such pleasures know that it’s one of the few moments that make life less wretched.

One might even call it transcendent.

(This post is dedicated to Rick's son James, age 10, who asked me last weekend "Do you ever eat something really, really slow, because it tastes so good, you want to make it last?" Why, yes. Yes, I do, honey.)

19 December, 2010

A New Force in Fremont

Short rib, sambal daikon, and mustard greens rice bowl
with egg yolk on top

I was thrilled when Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, owners of the Seattle restaurant, Joule, told me they were opening a new restaurant in Fremont, Revel.

I met Rachel and Seif several years ago when they hired me to photograph their wedding. After that, I've done several restaurant shoots for them, including the opening for Joule. A couple of weeks ago, Rachel wrote me and said "You have always been a part of the beginning of our big chapters and we were wondering if you can be for this one as well!" I was thrilled to shoot their new restaurant, and adjoining bar, Quoin, and to be celebrate with them on opening night.

The new space is both industrial and inviting. It's hard to explain, but it's a place you feel cozy in, but with an unassuming facade. Both Revel and Quoin were designed by Seattle's award-winning architect, Jim Graham, of Graham Baba Architects. The mural on the front facade is an art piece by Seattle graffiti artist, Pubs. The bar doesn't even have a sign. Very low-key and a just-come-on-in kind of place.

The food is a delightful selection of small bites. I tried the corned lamb, arugula, and nuoc cham salad ($9), the potato, garlic, and creme fraiche pancake ($7), the short rib, shallot, and scallion dumplings ($9), the short rib, sambal daikon, and mustard green rice bowl ($14), and the incredible five-spice duck balls, kale, and smoked chili noodles ($15). For dessert, there are three ice cream sandwiches (all $5): chocolate chip with chili ice cream and salted caramel cream, Vanilla pound cake with milk jam, and coffee, and coconut macaroon with Kaffir lime, and huckleberry compote.

Here is a selection of shots of the food at Revel, the drinks at Quoin, and a few of my favorite shots of the opening. All my very best to Rachel and Seif in this new chapter of their lives!

Revel architecture done by Jim Graham

Dining room

Sunchoke and spinach salad

Seif and Rachel in their amazing open kitchen with
a 24' walnut counter top

Dumplings!

Salads

Potato pancake

Rice bowls and noodle bowls

Making dumplings

Condiments and the Chorizo dumplings

Manila clam soup with Zucchini, basil, and noodles

Pancakes!

Vanilla pound cake ice cream sandwich with coffee

Chocolate chip cookies w/ chili ice cream and salted caramel

Drinks at Quoin

Infused sojus

"The Quoin" with processo, gin, Cynar, and lemon twist