Friday, February 19, 2010

Umi Sake

Spicy Tuna Hand Roll.

After an evening drinking the remaining wines leftover from the tasting, the four of us head over to local Asian eatery Umi Sake. I knew Lisa from many years ago when she used to own Johnny Sushi in the shopping center behind Jays Shave Ice. Her food is always good and tasty. Nothing transcendental and not hallmarks of traditional Japanese, but the food is always good, solid and well-prepared.

In other words, it's a good bet that you're going to enjoy the meal and the service - and for a local restaurant, add on top of that some good prices and you've got a winner. And with Chicken Katsu being offered for under ten bucks (when other places are just under fifteen), it's a helluva deal.

Austin and the Spicy Seafood Noodle Soup, Korean style.

The nice thing about eating with friends that are into food or in the restaurant business is that they enjoy a variety of flavors and textures in their meals, which usually means more of a Family Style eating experience than everyone ordering their own meals. I much prefer this approach and our intrepid crew did not disappoint.

What else is there to say? Service was quick and attentive. Our drinks were flowing and kept topped up the entire night. The food came quickly and was served nice and hot on this cold night. I've been here three times so far and it's always been good and reliable.

I'll say no more and let the images do the talking.

Beef Yaki Bop.

Singapore Rice Noodles.

Crispy Spicy Tuna Roll.

Chicken Katsu.

Umi Sake
9726 York Road
Cockeysville, MD 21030

Swirling It

The lineup.

It's Friday night, I'm tired, I'm sleepy, I'm exhausted, but I really don't want to go home and go to bed. Luckily, a friend calls me because she wants to get together. And what better way to spend a Friday night than tasting wines?

On most Fridays, Austin and James set up a tasting at their shop in Timonium. I try to go on a regular basis but lately I've been in Hampden and haven't made it up to their shop in time. This week, it's a flight of some very exciting French wines:

2007 Domaine de la Collonge Pouilly-Fuisse
2008 Domaine de Aubuisieres Vouvray
2006 Chateau de Serame Corbieres
2007 Cuvee du Vatican Cote du Rhone Villages

Wow. I don't think I've ever attending a tasting that was completely a winner. Usually, there's one or two (sometimes more) wines that I don't quite fancy, but this time all of them were stellar. Maybe I'll buy one, sometimes two, but when you're faced with an entire field of wines you'd like to own, it becomes that much more difficult.

A sample of banana rum from St. Martin.

Later, I spy a sample bottle of this banana rum from St. Martin. Someone is trying to import them into the United States and I certainly hope they do. The rum is thick, rich, sweet and complex. Delicious. I could sip it all night long and suddenly, ideas of jetting down to St. Martin to pick up a case (or four) start popping into my head. A weekend in St. Martin to play on the beaches and get silly over bottles of rum? My friend is game. Hmmm...

Au Revoir Elizabeth Large

It's the end of the week and the Baltimore Sun Food Critic, Elizabeth Large, has ended her tenure with the paper.

Readers of this blog and her "Sandbox" know well my criticism of her over the year(s), but I wished her well when she announced her retirement and continue to hope that the best for her is yet to come.

And she was gracious enough to return the favor with a line in her farewell address:

I wish Jay C. well.

Not a bad nod towards someone who acted like a thorn in your side.

EL - come visit us in Hampden, introduce yourself and allow me to buy you a coffee.

ph: Drinking And Fire

A cornucopia of ingredients

It's another day at project hampden and time to start talking about so-called "signature drinks." In the world of barista competitions, signature drinks are a bit of a dark horse. Talk to many competition baristas and it's the one category they want to eliminate. It's a myopic viewpoint that wants to eliminate the most interesting category for the general public. Already thinking that someone should shove a shiv in your neck while watching a barista competition? Eliminate the one category that had the potential to be exciting and it's a living hell.

I think many baristas want to get rid of the signature drink not because they truly care about the "purity" of coffee, but rather because they're lazy and incompetent. Crafting a true signature drink means that one must plan, one must understand their craft, one must nurture an understanding of cuisine, one must actually do some work.

Instead, most baristas are content being shot monkeys simply standing there pulling shots of coffee with mise that consisted little more than pouring the beans out of the bag into the hopper and pulling the gallon jug of milk from the refrigerator: professional laziness.

Ilenia prepares french toast.

To my mind, signature drinks is a path towards capturing the minds of your audience (customers). While most of us like comfort foods like steak frites or mac 'n cheese, we're also captivated by creations that are a bit more exploratory. And even those who aren't quite adventurous are reassured because they at least know that they can "go wild" should they desire.

With than in mind, we spent the day preparing various components of the signature drinks we've developed over the years:

2004 - Haupia Macchiato
2005 - Spro Shake
2006 - Coffee and a Cigarette
2007 - Gin 'N Juice
2008 - Breakfast In Bed
2008 - "PBJ"
2009 - "LobSpro"
2010 - Oyster in the Half Shell

While Joy and Rebecca attempt to quelch the fire alarm, I keep on truckin'.

As we spritely march towards a new season of barista competitions, I will be stepping back from them and making way for a new generation of barista to take the stage. For the Mid-Atlantic Regionals, we'll be sending Lindsay to give a try at the competition and it's time to do some development.

Something we've been thinking of has been Pop Tarts. Is there a way to create a drink that suggests Heavily Toasted Pop Tarts? Maybe with some espresso or a marshmallow foam? Carmelized? Ah, who knows?

Lunch: Tuna Club on baguette with chips.

Meanwhile, as we're saute-ing lobster shells for a LobSpro component, the smoke sets off the fire alarm and a piercing shriek fills the room. As everyone is running around trying to blow the stuff out or simply run away, the mix still needs attention.

From there, it's some sandwich tests on our tuna club idea, a no-go test for poached egg baguette and an afternoon of watching the SouthEast Regional Barista Competition live video stream where we spy a judge who suspiciously looks like Kimmy, who's supposedly "away in New York City" this weekend...

Devlin, Lindsay and Jeremy check out the Hario V60 pour over.

Pop Tarts Consomme base.

Watching the SERBC live video stream.

Poached egg on baguette - meh.