Thursday, February 24, 2011

Koko welcomes Annisa to the Main

8 Sherbrooke Ouest
Montréal, Québec

My sister L was nice enough to guest post about her recent dinner at the Montréal Highlights Festival (and check out her outfit details on her blog).

My friend M and I snagged tickets to the opening night of Anita Lo at Koko for the Montréal Highlights Festival. Koko is a very trendy restaurant that is part of the also trendy Opus Hotel.


I was pretty excited to find out that the theme of this year’s festival was "Celebrating Women" and even more so when I saw that Anita Lo, executive chef and owner of Anissa Restaurant in New York, was one of the headliners. M was also enthusiastic about eating food cooked by this Top Chef Masters and Michelin star chef.

We arrived right on time for our 6 pm reservation. We were then sent to the restaurant lobby where our coats were checked and we had to wait a bit more. We finally were seated at a small table next to a huge lounging square leather bench that was a little too trendy for my liking. Unfortunately, we missed out first chance to order a drink (we had quick phone calls to make) and it took a while for the waiter to get back to us. We could see the maître d' and hostess running around; the waiters were still getting last minute info as we were seated but we were pretty much the first guests to arrive.

When the waiter finally arrived to ask us if we’d be taking the wine flight ($125) or not ($75), we asked if there was still time for a cocktail. We were told yes and happily took the waiter's suggestion of the house cocktail: a vodka, passion fruit and blood orange martini served since the opening of the hotel ($12.49). We were not disappointed. It was amazing; the blood orange really came through.

The first course consisted of tuna sashimi with mentaiko and radishes. It was amazing. The tuna was so fresh and the texture was perfect. It was accompanied by thin slices of radishes, microgreens, scallions, and (I’m pretty sure) rice paddy herb. The pollock roe was in a mayonnaise-like sauce which tasted strangely egg-y to me; I could have gone without. M really appreciated the accompaniment of radishes for texture. It was accompanied by Kinuyuki Junmai Ginjo, a sake sake which we were not digging.

Tuna sashimi with mentaiko and radishes.

The service glitch came about at this time, on top of not geting a bread basket until the second course. We were served our wine pairing but didn’t see our second course until the waiter came to give us our third wine pairing and we told him we hadn’t received the second course yet. He was surprised, served us our third wine anyway and mumbled something about a rush. We were working really hard on the dissatisfied faces at this point. It took us two hours to get 2 courses. I think that since our neighbors complained the rush was put on them at our expense.

The second course, sea urchin and chanterelle chawan mushi with lotus roots, intrigued us and pushed our adventurous side. Having heard so much of chawan mushi I was looking forward to trying it, but savoury custard is not really my thing. This one tasted like a miso soup in custard form. The sea urchin was a bit lost on me. The texture was very similar to the custard and the fresh ocean salt taste was a bit lost in the dashi-soy flavouring of the custard (and M kept jabbering about it being booggers). The one thing I did appreciate was the chanterelles and the cubes of crunchy lotus seeds that we didn’t realize were sitting at the bottom of our ramekin (I figured the lotus root chip topping was it!). This was our least favourite dish of the evening. The wine, D’Arenberg Hermit Crab Marsanne (McLaren Vale 2008, AUS), was lovely and had a grassy very unexpected bouquet but tasted nothing like what it smelled. Sorry can’t get much more into it than that.

Sea urchin and chanterelle chawan mushi with lotus roots.

The third course of grilled sea scallops with loufah (sic), sweet miso and bacon was a homerun! Two scallops charred to perfection sat on thinly sliced loofah with a runny sauce and dabs of sweet miso sprinkled with crunchy bits of bacon topped with microgreens. The bitterness of the char brought out the sweetness of the scallops, which were amazingly fresh. This was a hit with both of us as was the fourth course. The scallops were so good I don’t remember the wine (it was Sella & Mosca, Thilion, Alghero DOC, Sardinia 2008, ITA).

Grilled sea scallops with loufah (sic), sweet miso and bacon

Following the third course, we received a quick visit from the owner or manager (information carefully garnered by M’s eavesdropping) of the restaurant who was wining and dining food critics (including Lesley Chesterman of Gazette fame) around us, one of which was pretty out there but also providing us which much needed entertainment! She asked us how things were going and I was too polite to say anything and she was very quick so I felt I didn’t get the chance to, and was quickly scolded for it by M who didn’t dare either! M suggested she was trying to save the situation after the mishap.

The waiter returned for the wine pairing (Pfeiffer Shiraz, Rutherglen 2009, AUS) for the next course and committed a major faux pas by firstly, pouring a red into a white wine glass and secondly a glass that had been already used. The roasted rack of lamb with South African flavourings was cooked perfectly, with a side of meat stuffing with peanuts, raisins and spices that strangely reminded me of a Moroccan influence. The stuffing was topped with a white disk that resembled paneer in texture and taste but we were both unsure of what it was. There was a very acidic dark sauce also laced with spices that I wasn’t fond of but M enjoyed. The roasted carrots were glazed and deliciously sweet. The shiraz was very nice and paired well, but I can’t say I can distinguish it from other shiraz I’ve liked.

Roasted rack of lamb with South African flavourings.

The last course, warm poppy seed bread and butter pudding with Meyer lemon curd, was underwhelming in description, but really delicious. The bread pudding had the loveliest texture and offered great contrast with the crunchy crust. The Meyer lemon sauce was out of this world. The sweet Muscat (Rosenblum Cellars, Gallagher Reserve, Black Muscat, California 2006, USA) paired quite well with the acidity of the curd.

Warm poppy seed bread and butter pudding with Meyer lemon curd.

The restaurant owner/manager visited again at the end of our meal and I missed my second chance to bring up our issues. It was interesting to see ingredients that I’m familiar with used in other applications such as the rice paddy herb and the loofah. All in all a great meal, the service could have been better, the waiter was polite and more attentive than most but waiting an hour for a course was definitely not appreciated. But we will definitely be keeping our eyes out next year for another dinner to try.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fresh Egg Pasta

Over Christmas (yes, I still have posts related to the holidays), my friend C generously invited me over for dinner. I was so excited to find out that she was making homemade fresh pasta. Due to her Italian background, C is quite serious about her pasta (she even treated us to homemade cannoli's). Her pasta and seafood was amazing; the egg noodles just melted in my mouth! Not only did I come home that night with a very full belly, but I also scored her pasta maker (since C got a pasta attachment for her Kitchen Aid for Christmas)! Sweet!

I was very excited to try my hand at making pasta. Since C's pasta recipe is to add flour to eggs until the texture is right, I used my Joy of Cooking: All about Pasta & Noodles cookbook as a reference. C did have a good tip for quantity: use 1 egg per person.

Homemade Pasta

Fresh Egg Pasta - Serves 4
From Joy of Cooking: All about Pasta & Noodles.

3-½ all purpose flour
5 eggs
1 tsp salt (optional)

1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

Pour flour onto a clean counter (or a big bowl), shaping into a mound and make a well in the center.
Add to the well, the eggs, salt and olive oil.
Beat the eggs lightly with a fork, drawing in some flour as you go, until the eggs are mixed and slightly thickened.
Using the fingertips of one hand, gradually incorporate the flour into the eggs and blend everything into a smooth, not too stiff dough.
If the dough feels too dry and crumbly, add water as needed.
Knead the dough until satiny and very elastic, about 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into 4 pieces and wrap the pieces loosely in plastic.
Follow directions of pasta maker to roll dough.
Cook pasta and serve with desired ingredients (this time, I used pesto, corn, snap peas, shrimps and scallops).

Flour & Eggs Balls of pasta dough
Rolling the pasta Thin sheets of pasta
Rolling pasta for the first time was tricky but fun!

Noodles! Cooking noodles
I was feeling so proud to have actual fresh noodles!

I'm not sure how much a pasta maker costs but I think it's worth it if you'll use it often. Making the actual pasta dough wasn't hard. I actually tried making pasta without a pasta maker before Christmas with failed results. I cannot wait to put the pasta maker to use again! Thanks so much C!

Homemade Pasta
Dig in to the fresh pasta!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Skor Bar Trifle

I think I was feeling especially holiday-ey for my Friday treats at work (this was a few weeks before Christmas. yes, i know am very late posting...). Not only did I bring the ever popular Swedish Meatballs, but I also brought another very popular recipe: Skor Bar Trifle. I clearly remember having this trifle for the first time. At my previous job, we would have a Christmas potluck lunch and my colleague M always brought this trifle by demand. I remember having a spoonful of this chocolatey amazingness mixed with whipped cream and loving it. Later on in the afternoon, I came for seconds. M sent out the recipe and every time I've made it, it's been a hit, just like the meatballs!

Skor Bar Trifle

What's so great about this recipe is that there are only four ingredients and it is really an assembly job rather than cooking. You can buy all the ingredients ready made. It's rare that I don't make things from scratch but the results are so good. My friend Trapezista has been known to make each ingredient from scratch and assemble them. You can definitely do that, but the lazy way will yield winning results too!

Skor Bar Trifle

Skor Bar Trifle
Quantities aren't super important. You just need enough to have a mixture of all four ingredients when scooped out.

* 1 package of one bite brownies (or you could bake low-calorie brownies)
* 1 package of chocolate pudding (you could also make it from scratch, or I bought the ready made kind!)
* 1 container of Cool Whip (or whip your own!)
* 4 bars of Skor, pulsed or chopped finely (or make Just-like-Skor bars)

Plan for about 3 layers so use a third of each ingredient.
Slice brownies in half, and lay a third of them at the bottom.
Cover with a third of your pudding.
Cover with a third of your whipped cream.
Sprinkle with chopped Skor bar.
Repeat for the next two layers.

Brownies Chocolate Pudding
Cool Whip Skor Bar
The four stars of the trifle!

I didn't take a picture once scooped out but the whipped cream and the pudding mixes together to make a brown mess. You then dig into a piece of brownie and there are little pieces of Skor bar. It's chocolate heaven!

Skor Bar Trifle