I celebrated Chinese New Year like I do most holidays, spending it with my family at my bro’s in-laws place in Whitestone. This time however, we had Taiwanese hotpot. Always a treat, but we only seem to have it about once a year at most. We set up two tabletop burners to boil up some broth into which we cook a huge assortment of ingredients- three kinds of greens including baby bok choy, thinly sliced meat, usually just beef but this year we added lamb and goat, tofu, tripe, squid, two kinds of mushrooms, fish, scallops, meatballs, fish cake and even oysters. There’s different versions of hotpot throughout the Asian cultures, but the Taiwanese one involves a special make-your-own kind of dipping sauce. Each person cracks a raw egg into their individual bowl, adds a spoonful of Asian barbecue paste, some minced garlic, sugar, soy sauce and chopped scallion. It all gets mixed up and used as a dipping sauce which slowly turns into a soup as more and more of the broth from the dipped items dilutes it. At the end, you can ladle some extra broth in if you want to thin it out some more before drinking it down. It’s really a fantastic way of eating.
Speaking of fantastic eating, today I was lucky enough to have another incredible meal at what is probably my favorite NYC restaurant, Veritas. I woke up around noon since it was a holiday, and after getting up I realized I had absolutely nothing to do. I instant messaged Twoin for a bit and he wasn’t doing anything either. This is what happens when Kat and Rick go away on a ski trip, there’s nothing fun to do! So I decided to get resourceful and logged onto Opentable.com to see if there were any reservations available at any of my favorite places. Bingo! Veritas for 5:30p. Early enough to have dinner and make it home in time for 24! That’s like hitting the jackpot. Maybe not a Per Se sized jackpot, but in my book it’s right up there. I immediately called up Vicky High Life since I had missed celebrating her birthday a few weeks ago, and Veritas is also her favorite restaurant. Always thrilled to hear from me, she answered the phone in classic High Life fashion, “What do you want?!” 🙂 Apparently she had just woken up. With a little bit of coaxing I convinced her to cancel her previous dinner plans and so Veritas was now officially ON!
I got to the restaurant five minutes early and Vicky was already at the bar sipping a perfect gin martini. My kind of girl, both on the promptness and the choice of cocktail. I decided to start myself with a glass of Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs champagne. It was a clean and crisp bubbly, a perfect starter. After a few sips to help me thaw out from the freezing cold outside, Vicky settled up the bar tab and we headed to our seats in the dining room. After chatting with the sommelier a bit, we decided on the 2004 Blackbird cabernet/merlot blend. Though a blend which apparently is mostly merlot, it had that full, big, lush cherry-like foward fruit I like in Napa cabs, but was beautifully balanced, not too tannic or acidic. The nose itself was to die for. A real stunner of a wine and I would definitely order it again. For food, I asked if they would do a tasting menu and they readily complied. The first course was smoked salmon slices draped over a mound of sensually rich cauliflower puree. As with all of chef Bryan’s food, the natural flavors of the ingredients stood proud and the few elements on the plate all worked well together. Next up, a nice mound of hamachi tartare, sitting upon strips of pickled cucumber and topped with a little bit of caviar. Absolutely fantastic. Then we had a fish dish where the skin on the little hunk of fish was crisped to perfection, served atop a mound of lentils surrounded by a mushroom foam. Again, every element was so distinctively identifiable yet worked so well together. Next up was the braised rabbit with gnocchi. This was probably the least jaw-dropping of the dishes, but still a winner. I was especially pleased with the nice chew of the gnocchi lending a nice added textural dimension to the braised rabbit and mushrooms. This was followed by the killer entree- a piece of rare seared venison, pepper crusted like au poivre but with much finer crushed pepper. This was served with baby carrots that tasted like they were slightly pickled or perhaps cooked with a mild vinegar, some delicious baby turnips that were actually juicy when you bit into them, and a glorious heap of smashed rutabaga. What an excellent dish. The venison was so good you could have served it on a paper plate and it would still draw raves, but paired with such incredible veggies, it was a real dream. Even better, Vicky was getting full and she gave me half of her venison too. Sweet. After a short breather we got a cheese course. Three selections of cheese, all of them good but not particularly bold or daring. Then we were onto dessert. Two dishes came our way- a chocolate souffle cake with caramel ice cream, and a mini cheesecake topped with pine nuts and surrounded by brandied cherries. We ordered a bottle of Tokaji, but we had to wait a while for it to arrive so we picked at the caramel ice cream while we waited. Soon we were completely out of ice cream and Vicky asked what other ice cream they had and we ended up getting a scoop of vanilla white pepper ice cream. Yes, vanilla with white pepper. Folks, let me tell you, this combination is pure genius. The creamy sweet vanilla flavor coats your tongue while you get the scent of white pepper really more through your nose. It was remarkable stuff. The cake was good, but the whole chocolate cake with the molten center has been beaten sufficiently to death these days that it no longer holds my interest. That ice cream was awesome with it though, and we finished it completely. The Tokaji was also a real winner. It was a Hungarian wine, a 1999 from Chateau Pajzos. A rich but balanced burst of honey and apricot flavors up front with just a touch of acidity and a little hint of orange on the finish. One of the real unusual things about this wine was that it came in a 500ml bottle, not the usual 375ml I normally expect for dessert wines. Because of that, Vicky and I looked at each other and knew we probably shouldn’t kill ourselves trying to finish it, even if it was so damn good. She joked with one of the waiters that we would like to get it wrapped to go, and the guy actually said “Of course!” First the white pepper ice cream and now wine leftovers wrapped to go; this was a real night of firsts for me! Very cool. When I got home, I opened the little Veritas shopping bag and pulled out the plastic bag holding the wine bottle. Upon further inspection, I saw that the plastic bag was actually sealed! Is that cool or what? Check it out:
So that was my night. When you have an incredible five course meal and you get to take your leftover booze home in a bag, that my friends, is The High Life. 🙂