A Postcard from America

Chefs at work at Tickets in Barcelona
To those who have followed our little blog in its short, active existence, we thank you and apologise.  We thank you for your virtual patronage; it is you who have fulfilled us by sharing our culinary adventures.  We apologise for shamefully neglecting the journal without so much as a whisper as to when activity will resume. 

Sadly, this post is not a resumption of normal service; it is merely a short update on our recent adventures and an open invitation to remain in touch.

I suppose the most appropriate way to begin is by noting that in early 2012, PiCi and I left our erstwhile existences in Melbourne corporate law, got married and then shifted base to the United States, where we reside to this day.  Here, I am over half way through my MBA, following the conclusion of which a new life on Wall Street beckons.  PiCi, on the other hand, is flexing her considerable entrepreneurial muscles and has started a shopping business to help Aussies buy products from the United States.
Lake Michigan in the Windy City
In between marriage and moving overseas however, PiCi and I embarked on our most ambitious adventure to date – a culinary tour of Europe with the San Pellegrino list and Michelin as our guides.  It was a momentous way to spend a honeymoon, and for us, gastronomic adventurers at heart, an ideal, and delicious, beginning to our new lives together.  Naturally, we hit luminary highlights like Noma (not an amazing meal, but a worthwhile experience), El Celler de Can Roca (somewhat surprisingly an average meal in a stunning dining room) and The Fat Duck (a solid meal, notwithstanding that Heston is too much of a celebrity chef to man the pass these 
The Noma dining room
Ebelskiver with Muikku at Noma
The man himself, Chef Rene Redzepi! 
The Fat Duck in Bray
Mad Hatter's Tea Party - Mock Turtle Soup from
The Fat Duck
Macerated Strawberries (Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile and Coriander Jelly
and Ice Cream Cornet) from The Fat Duck 
Martin Berasategui
Savage Salmon and Seaweed with Liquid Cucumber and
Spring Onion at Martin Berasategui
The dining room at La Calandre
Massimiliano Alajmo's famous Saffron Risotto
with Liquorice Powder 
at La Calandre
The dining room at El Celler de Can Roca
Amuse Bouche at El Celler de Can Roca
However, equally memorable were our driving adventures through the Piedmont region of Italy, discovering the wonderful wines of Italy’s premier region and the rustic local eats to be found in the home of the white truffle, and escapades through the streets of Barcelona and San Sebastian.  Admittedly, our Barcelona experience was boosted immeasurably by meals coursing with El Bulli DNA, one at Tickets and another at 41 Degrees, shared with fellow bloggers from Canada and comfortably the best meal we’ve ever experienced (you read more about it on their blog here: http://callmeafoodlover.com/2012/05/28/experience-41-degrees-my-adria-odyssey/).

The Piedmont countryside
Yes, that's a pizza...from Pizzarium in Rome
The El Bulli classic - Spherical olives at 41 
Blackcurrant Profiterole at 41
A bartender pouring Txakoli at a pintxos bar in San Sebastian
Since arriving in the United States, we have experienced much of the dining scenes in America, and particularly of New York and Chicago.  Not surprisingly, there have been some incredible experiences (Alinea in Chicago and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare in New York being notable highlights) and some disappointing ones (a somewhat past its use-by date French Laundry leaping to mind).  What we discovered however, is that American food is much more than what popular culture and television would have you believe – there exists an amazingly diverse, multicultural food scene.
60 condiments to accompany our dish of lamb at Alinea
The theatrical grand dessert to conclude at Alinea
It was an interesting experience then, against that backdrop, for PiCi and I to visit Bowery to Williamsburg for lunch, as we did on a recent trip back to Melbourne.  Not long before that meal, PiCi and I were in New York, regularly peering at subway signs much like the one after which the American-style sandwich shop was named.  The Melbournian variant actually compared very favourably to the original Jewish delicatessens of New York.  For instance, while the Reuben held the same broad flavour profile of the American sandwich, with earthy corned beef juxtaposed against an arresting tartness of sauerkraut, it was distinctly Melbournian, gentrified and more refined than anything the Americans could ever muster.  It makes us proud to call Melbourne home.

With that, I will sign off for now.  PiCi or I may occasionally provide additional musings on this blog.  In the meantime, if anyone is after recommendations in Melbourne, we are happy to provide suggestions based on our past experiences which, unfortunately, are descending somewhat into obsolescence.  If anyone wants help buying something from the United States, PiCi can certainly help you through her new venture (www.bigapplebuddy.com).  If anyone just wants to keep in touch, to know what our recommendations are for restaurants in the main cities of Europe or in the United States, please feel free to reach out – we remain contactable through this blog.

I wish everyone a fantastic 2014.

- BC -

Bowery to Williamsburg on Urbanspoon


Vlado’s @ 61 Bridge Road, Richmond

The Vlado’s name is synonymous with high quality meat. According to some, Vlado’s is the purveyor of Melbourne’s finest steak. Certainly the Good Food Guide recognises the credentials of Vlado’s in this regard and has included Vlado’s in its list of best steak restaurants year after year. After almost 50 years of service, Vlado’s has certainly earned the “institution” tag – the stereotypical wall of autographed celebrity photos in the dining room pays homage to that status.

Vlado’s provides a dining experience that is a throwback to an earlier age and, in the Melbourne fine dining scene of today, relatively unique. The meal does not consist of many small shared dishes, as is the norm, but rather it is made up of a solitary set menu with the only decisions being which cut of steak to have, whether to option up to the Wagyu and/or include grilled red peppers and which of the two desserts to choose. At $88 per head, with additional cost for Wagyu and the peppers, Vlado’s certainly is not an inexpensive proposition.

Our meal commenced with homemade sausages – one per person – made from lean beef and pork neck. Although the sausage was pleasantly flavoured, with a faint whiff of charcoal aroma from the grill, it suffered texturally from being slightly dense and dry. Nevertheless, it was a relatively good introduction to, what would hopefully be, substantive and satisfying courses to follow.

The second course consisted of a tasting plate of eye fillet medallions, calves livers, small hamburger patties and thin slices of pork neck. Dishearteningly, the tiny eye fillet medallions had disintegrated on the grill, having been cooked to a medium to well done consistency, and the calves livers were rubbery and dry. The hamburger patties were similarly heavy and dehydrated while the pork neck slices ate like fibrous shreds of jerky. It was an unfortunate assortment of overcooked and relatively flavourless meat.

The third course was the main feature of the evening, the much anticipated steak. After finishing our meat tasting plate, we were presented with a platter of raw steaks and were asked to select between eye fillet, porterhouse and rump. After we made our selections – we both ordered the porterhouse cooked medium-rare – we waited for what seemed like an eternity for our steaks to arrive. The two entree courses had arrived with somewhat alarming efficiency – the first course, for instance, arrived within minutes of our drinks orders being taken. In contrast, the steaks took some 40 minutes to arrive. When they did, it appeared that they could have benefited from more time on the grill. Instead of our stipulated medium-rare, the steaks were exceedingly rare indeed – each slice that we cut from the steak resembled tuna tataki rather than properly cooked beef. We sent the steaks back for further cooking – while that brought my steak to a perfect medium-rare, it only managed to elevate PiCi’s to a slightly undercooked rare. Given Vlado’s reputation as a preeminent steakhouse, such ineptitude in cooking is staggering. Further, even though my steak was properly cooked the second time around, it was hardly a great steak, consisting of coarse, tough fibres and lacking flavour – it was an utmost chore to finish.

The final course was dessert and Vlado’s offered a choice between strawberries with crepes and ice cream and whipped cream, or strawberries and ice cream. Neither dessert was really befitting of a restaurant with white table cloths and a cover charge of $88 per head. The crepe was filled with small strawberries that were not particularly ripe and served with average vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and, what tasted like, somewhat embarrassingly, Cottee’s strawberry topping. The ice cream with strawberries was simply the dish of crepes without the crepes or the whipped cream.

The venerable Vlado’s was hugely disappointing. Where we expected a high quality meat fest, Vlado’s delivered a severely underwhelming array of poorly cooked and under flavoured items. In the midst of that dreariness, the refreshing cabbage and lettuce salad – placed in the middle of the table at the beginning of the evening – was the surprising highlight. Vlado’s is an establishment that is known, almost wholly and solely, for its steak. After this experience, I really question the basis for that reputation.

Food: 5
Service: 6
Value: 4
Overall: 5

- BC -

Vlado's on Urbanspoon