Urasawa- Los Angeles

I straighten my dress, rearrange my scarf and examine my coat for lint in the quiet elevator ride up from the parking garage on Two Rodeo Drive in the heart of Beverly Hills.  As the doors open into the dark hallway, I pause to clear my throat and my mind of the day’s insanity before ducking under the white linen noren inscribed with the restaurant’s name.  It is important that I look and feel my best before entering the sacred grounds of this culinary temple called Urasawa.  Chef Hiroyuki Urasawa, dressed in a sharp navy blue kimono, greets me with a waist low bow as I reciprocate with a longer bow, then settle into the seat directly in front of him.  ‘It’s been a long time,’ he says, and to my pleasant look of surprise he quickly follows with ‘has it been 7 years?  How is everything at the hospital, doctor?’  I’m flabbergasted that he remembers me from so long ago, yet at the same time not, for a true professional like him never forgets a customer.  Especially when that customer is somebody who survived his last meal.

7 years ago on my first visit to Urasawa, I had a delicacy that is known for causing a slow miserable death through asphyxiation and paralysis with no antidote or cure.  Through a day long process of cleaning and draining that only a professional like him knows how to do, he stripped the product of its toxins to produce a beautiful fatty morsel of delight, resulting in a life changing, and luckily not a life ending, moment of culinary inspiration. This exquisite delicacy (which I will not name for fear of getting him into trouble) was frightfully delicious, and I felt happy to be alive, in more ways than one.  It’s not often that I trust my life to somebody, but Chef Hiro is an exception in many ways.

Hiro Urasawa is the very embodiment of a Japanese master- devoted to his craft, constantly in pursuit of excellence and perfection to the point of obsession.  Balancing precision and artistry to create the ultimate form of beauty.  Sacrifice to be the best at his discipline, yet incredibly humble, never considering himself at a status more elevated than a student of life and a pupil of his mentor Masa Takayama whom he inherited this restaurant from.  Most of all, it is his thoughtfulness to create the ultimate dining experience for each and every customer.

Such meticulous attention to detail and consideration is visible in his magnificent flower arrangements that reflect the seasons, palpable on the soft cypress counter that is sanded down every day with 3 types of sandpaper, savored in the beer that is served at the perfect temperature down to the millidegree and appreciated in every glance and smile that he casts my way.  With one silent nod, he summons his server to lay a white napkin on the counter upon which to lay my camera, not because he is afraid that my camera will damage the pristine cypress, but because he doesn’t want the cypress to somehow damage my pristine camera.  In the presence of this master, my posture naturally straightens while my eyes and shoulders soften, and I prepare myself for an exceptional kaiseki experience.

Elegance

Horsehair crab from Hokkaido, known as kegani in Japanese, is shredded and tossed with mitsuba leaves and yellow chrysanthemum petals (kikka)Each ribbon of flower petal and green mitsuba leaf is cut to the same size as the shreds of crab meat to create symmetry and balance of flavors, colors and textures in this simple sakizuke appetizer that is elegantly presented in a gold and black lacquer bowl. 

Decadence

Decadence when done poorly is debauchery, but decadence when done tastefully and for the pursuit of excellence and beauty is divinity, like the seared toro wrapped around monkfish liver (ankimo) and myoga ginger, neatly tied in the center with a strip of Kyoto turnip and tressed with a caviar updo.  Little yellow flecks of yuzu rind add a refreshing aroma to the ponzu sauce, and like social débutantes, these aristocratic ocean delights, immaculately groomed, fitted, brushed and powdered, are presented on a brightly shining golden pedestal. 

Beauty

While the Japanese hold an appreciation for beauty in things that are skewed, imperfect or incomplete through the aesthetic values of wabi-sabi, we also strive for creating and maintaining beauty through perfection and symmetry, especially that of nature.  Perfectly round glistening balls of soy marinated ikura salmon roe, each an exact clone of the other, are worthy of stringing into a Mikimoto necklace, its fresh taut membranes succumbing to my bite with audible pops.  What lies underneath these miracles of the sea are succulent shiraebi white shrimp from Toyama prefecture and a pleasantly sweet and creamy edamame tofu.  A 24K gold leaf embellishes this dainty bowl of jewels, and while I hesitate to disturb the perfection of this culinary masterpiece, I indulge with full force, for an empty bowl and a clean spoon, in the end, is the perfection that Hiro is seeking. 

Craft

If water could have feelings and dreams, it would aspire to become the ice block that Hiro personally chisels and sculpts by hand for his sashimi tsukuri.  Perfectly cut in a fanned out pattern of a blossoming flower, the ice block proudly displays the fresh offerings of the evening- buttery uni, tender toro and savory aji with intricately prepared garnishes of carrots, seaweed, chrysanthemum petals and freshly grated wasabi.  The ice dutifully keeps the sashimi at its optimal temperature and doesn’t think twice about being thrown away after one use, for it is exactly that fleeting yet deeply intimate moment with Hiro for which it was born- and it, and I, are both content.

Balance

Hiro makes an interesting version of ‘Wagyu beef tartare’ by simmering the meat for 6 hours in soy sauce, sake and mirin, resulting in an intensely sweet mouthful of what reminds me of tsukudani.  The beef is balanced on a black lacquer spoon with a generous heap of caviar and a garnish of takuan pickled radish for an interplay of sweet and salty flavors, a contrast that is heightened with a concluding bite of pickled red bell pepper on the side.

Artistry

Shark fin chawanmushi arrives warm in a hand-painted Japanese ceramic cup, the luscious collagenous fins layered in gentle loving curves around a gold leaf like a flower bud hiding a secret.  The bonito broth releases an inviting aroma while adding glimmer and shine to the glorious shark fins from Kesennuma.  I slowly slip each fin into my mouth, closing my eyes as I appreciate the texture of the fine gelatinous fibers against my tongue.  Thereafter my archaeological excavation begins as I dig my spoon deeper into the light egg custard to discover and devour embedded shiitake mushrooms, shrimp, ginger, yuba, gingko nuts and ultimately uni, prompting a gasp of delight. 

Devotion

After proudly showing off a hot stone and a plate of marbled kama toro to me, Hiro begins preparing the ishiyaki course behind the counter.  The moment of contact between kama toro and hot stone creates a dynamic sizzle and a magnificent puff of aromatic smoke that perfumes the restaurant.  A white paper screen partially blocks this process from my view, but also protects me from the random splattering of melting tuna fat ricocheting off the stone, a gesture of kindness that I appreciate.  The heat of the smooth flat stone, no doubt chosen as the stone for this task from thousands of others, liquifies the marbled fat into a decadence augmented by ponzu that sinks well into my taste buds. 


Comfort

Kensaki ika, squid from southern Japan, is served as a tempura with a squirt of sudachi and a plate of vivid green matcha salt for dipping.  I forget that the tempura is fresh out of hot oil, and the first scorching bite makes me open and close my mouth like a fish out of water.  Once the heat dissipates, I find my teeth effortlessly biting into a warm thick cut of squid the texture of room temperature butter.  The hint of Japanese citrus and aroma of Japanese green tea bring a sense of familiarity and comfort to me, and along with it the most genuine smile. 

Innovation

Foie gras shabu shabu is a signature Urasawa dish, the additional ingredients constantly alternating to reflect the seasons. A warm simmering pot of water with a dish of thinly sliced goose foie gras, lobster and scallops are placed in front of me.  Before I can even think of moving my hands, a server slides up next to my seat to do the dipping and cooking for me.  ‘Swish, swish’ she goes with the foie gras, its melting fat forming canary yellow droplets of savor that float to the top.  Just shy of its complete melting point, she carefully removes the sliver of foie into the dipping bowl of ponzu, and I relish the union of these two contrasting flavors.  The scallop and lobster, briefly cooked in the foie dashi, also leave me speechless.

Discipline

Hiro’s answer to the traditional gari pickled ginger is a sweet pickle of shinshoga young ginger, thickly cut and pickled in honey, sugar, salt and yuzu.  The rustic pickles cleanse my palate in preparation for the climax of the meal, his nigiri sushi that in its simplicity and bareness demonstrate his true skills and expertise.  His hands are swift and nimble, moving with the precision of a robot, yet executing each maneuver with the tenderness and care of a newborn’s mother.  He starts bold with a fatty cut of toro, then a seared aburi kama toro, the same exquisite cut of collar toro that made its debut on the hot stone.  A silky shima aji that lingers on my palate, followed by a lighter Kumamoto snapper with sprinklings of grated sudachi zest.

My salivary glands release its juices at the mere site of the wooden boxes of sweet Santa Barbara sea urchin, as he carefully spoons them onto the shari sans nori, just the way I like it.  Seki aji at its winter peak of fattiness melts in my mouth, maguro zuke lightly marinated in soy sauce creates an explosion of flavors and kensaki ika from Kyushu dressed with home made seaweed salt delights with a butteriness that is distinctly unlike regular squid.

Slice, squeeze, drape, cradle, pinch and caress Hiro does for each beautifully prepared specimen of fish, and I take a long second to revere the elegant sushi before savoring it with closed eyes and deafened ears, concentrating every sensory nerve in my body on the glorious bite that I am blessed to have.  Chutoro, its perfect balance of meat and fat, ends in a sigh of pleasure while kohada, dainty, fatty and optimally marinated in vinegar makes me wonder why I go anywhere else for sushi.  Shiraebi is juicy and sayori evokes a young rosebud.

Kuro awabi, abalone from Chiba prefecture, has been steamed to exquisite tenderness and served with a gentle brush of concentrated soy, and seki saba is a shining example of why the line caught mackerel from the Seto Inland Sea is considered the best.  Iwashi, winter sardines plumped full of fat, makes me swoon with excitement with its piquant kick of grated ginger on top.  En fin, I find the fluffy sweet tamago to be much lighter than I expect, and it practically floats up to the ceiling as I pick it up with my chopsticks.

Simplicity

The first of 2 desserts is a Japanese hachiya persimmon that stands alone in its perfect state of ripeness.  So ripe, in fact, that the flesh has morphed into a gelatin-like consistency and appearance that almost seems unreal.  It has the sweetness, tenderness and softness of a first kiss and I fully succumb to its innocent allure.

A second dessert of black sesame ice cream with black truffle, red azuki beans and 23K gold leaves holds up to its reputation with grace and poise, so much so that in my utter infatuation my paralyzed hands fail to grab the camera. 

Tradition

This beautiful meal, flowing from course to course like a Mozart symphony, drawing me in with each successive plate into a state of admiration and ultimately bliss, concludes with Chef Hiro preparing a perfect bowl of matcha green tea.  He commands the chasen bamboo whisk with confidence and whisks the liquid into a uniform consistency, the surface a bright green sea of perfectly symmetrical fine bubbles.  I show my respect by carefully rotating the ceramic bowl in both hands and sipping the bitter tea in 3 audible slurps in Japanese tea ceremony tradition.  A long sigh of satisfaction and serenity…we lock eyes…we both smile.  An epic meal. 

Urasawa
218 N Rodeo Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

t. 310-247-8939

Random trivia: Did you know that soluble tannins in unripened Hachiya persimmons are what cause that astringent unpleasant furry mouth?

Birthday Dinner Party- Part 2, Feast

On the day of a big event, there is always something that goes wrong.  No matter how well things are planned in advance, and even if you make room for error and mishaps, something always happens which throws everyone for a loop.  I’m very meticulous and detail oriented almost to a fault, and I thought that I had planned my birthday dinner party perfectly.  However, without fail, something happened.  I got a call from my chef friend Haru the night before.

“Um…..how big is your oven?”

“……….Why?”

The roast suckling pig that we ordered had just arrived, and it wasn’t the petite piglet that I had envisioned.  I wanted to roast a small piglet whole, maybe even stick an apple in its mouth, and present this majestic plate to my dinner guests.  Instead, a humongous 3 foot long pig arrived at his doorsteps, and I shook my head in disbelief as I tried to figure out whether to laugh or feel stressed.  Thanks to my generous and experienced friend who broke down the large animal and prepped the individual pieces, the whole process went smoothly and we were back on schedule.

I was really excited for this birthday dinner party.  For some, the ultimate birthday fantasy may be dining at a 3 Michelin star restaurant, or a romantic getaway to the Bahamas, or a hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley, or a spa day with girlfriends.  For me, it’s inviting close friends over to my home and cooking for them.  It entails a tremendous amount of work, from shopping to cooking, cleaning my house to setting the table, from being hostess to sommelier, server to busboy, and let’s not forget what a chore it is to clean up the day after.  But I love every minute of it, and I’m truly happiest working in and around the kitchen.  Plus, dining at somebody’s home beats dining at a restaurant any day.  You know that the chef is cooking for you and only you, the seats are more comfortable and there’s more room to relax and hang out, you can play your choice of music at whatever volume you want, it’s private dining at the chef’s table, and hypothetically this ‘restaurant’ is open for as long as you’re there.  If you’ve had too much to drink, you can even spend the night there!

Menu for the 10 course meal

Farmers’ Market strawberries with sugar and freshly ground black peppercorns

As my friends arrived with wonderful bottles of champagne and wine in hand, I greeted them a glass of chilled champagne and steered them over to the do-it-yourself station of succulent strawberries, sugar and freshly ground black peppercorns. You dip the flatly cut end of the strawberry into sugar first, and then the black pepper.  Pop it in your mouth, savor the wonderful combination of flavors for a while, then follow it with a swig of champagne.  The spicy kick of the black pepper surprisingly doesn’t overwhelm the strawberries at all, but instead enhances the sweetness of the fruit.

Kumamoto and Fanny Bay Oysters…

A big thank you to my friend Haru who patiently shucked all of the oysters for the party and helped with the cooking.  I learned how to shuck these bivalves in culinary school, but I knew that the seasoned veteran could do a better and faster job.  The crisp and clean flavored Fanny Bay oysters from British Columbia were perfect on their own, so they were offered with a choice of lemon wedges or shallot  vinaigrette.

The Kumamoto oysters from Humbolt Bay in California were also delicious.  We decided to experiment with these oysters that had a more milky and mellow flavor. Some were served with ponzu and chopped scallions.  Others were consumed with the shallot vinaigrette.  We also tried drizzling some argan oil over both the ponzu and the vinaigrette combinations.  All were equally delicious, but my favorite combo was the shallot vinaigrette with argan oil.

Fairytale and Petch Siam Eggplants with Purple Ruffles Basil…

The miniature eggplants that I found at the farmers’ market were kept in their original cute form and prepared in a simple pan roast with caramelized onions and a balsamic vinegar glaze. The purple ruffles basil gave the dish a spruced up appearance and a nice tart finish.

Yellow Wax Beans, Green Zebra Heirloom Tomatoes, Burrata, Jamon Serrano, Argan Oil dressing…

I got inspired by a fabulous dish that I had at The Tasting Kitchen in Venice, and I made a hazelnut, walnut and argan oil dressing to go with the beautiful salad.  The deep nutty flavors of the argan oil, along with the grounded hazelnuts and walnuts, complemented the beans and tomatoes.  Toasted cumin seeds were sprinkled on top to add an aromatic layer to this dish that was delicious with the fresh burrata and jamon serrano.


Seared Foie Gras, Mission Figs, Port Wine Reduction…

The whole lobe of Rougié foie gras was pan fried whole to give it an exquisite sear.  The oil that came out of the foie gras as it seared in the pan gave a nice sizzle as the pungent aromas attracted a crowd into the kitchen. Figs were prepared two ways to accompany these chunks of fatty heaven.  Half of the figs were quickly marinated in olive oil, salt and black pepper.  After the foie gras was removed from the pan, the other figs were placed cut side down on the pan to give it a nice caramelized glaze.

15 year Tawny Port was used to make a sweet and luscious port wine reduction sauce.  The plates were garnished with a bit of purslane, and it didn’t take long for everybody to pounce on these plates.  From the oohs and aahs emerging from the dinner table, and the feedback that I got from my friends, this was clearly the best dish of the evening.  I’ve had opportunities to share foie gras dishes with some of my guests at other restaurants in Tokyo and Los Angeles after this birthday dinner, but each time they told me that nothing would ever compare to this foie gras dish that they had at my party.

Yuzu and Rosemary Granité…

After the decadent foie gras dish, and before the roasted pork entrée, I served a yuzu and rosemary granité palate cleanser.  The distinct citrus taste of yuzu with subtle rosemary finish in these ice cold granité shavings was refreshing and invigorating.

Roasted Suckling Pig with Pee Wee Potatoes, Nante Carrots, Baby Spring Onions and Purslane…

As mentioned previously, this gigantic ‘piglet’ had to be broken down into separate parts and prepared individually, as there was no way that the 3 foot long beast would fit into my oven. The legs and belly were rolled and tied, and stuffed with a chopped mushroom and herb mixture that Haru made.  These were roasted in the oven until the skin was crispy and brown.

The riblets were also pan fried with rosemary twigs, then transferred to the oven for roasting.

My favorite part was the pig’s head, boiled for hours until the loose collagen in the skin became soft and wiggly, and the meat fell apart effortlessly.  The head was chopped into small bits and served on the plate with the other parts of the pig.  The gelatinous bits of the skin and ears, and the tender cuts of tongue had an amazing texture and flavor.  Fortunately there were left overs from the feast, and for a couple of days after the feast I simply piled it on top of some warm white rice for a comforting rice bowl dish.

The pee wee potatoes, nante carrots and baby spring onions were roasted in the dutch oven with garlic and rosemary.  These farmers’ market vegetables were amazingly sweet and delightful.

Each plate was also garnished with purslane that was tossed in a light vinaigrette, to temper the heartiness of the dish.  The different cuts of meat were all finished with an earthy flavorful sauce made from pork jus and white wine.

Passion fruit and Madagascar vanilla bean Crème Brûlée…

As predicted, by this stage of the meal, I was quite drunk.  My friends brought over an amazing selection of champagnes and wines, and we managed to go through all 14 of them. All were absolutely delicious and went perfectly with the entire meal.  I practically stumbled to the kitchen to start preparing the dessert.  After coating the crème brûlée ramekins with brown demerara sugar, I leaned against the countertop to try to keep myself from falling over as I burned these custards with my butane torch.  

I kept the passion fruit seeds to use them for garnishing the crème brûlée dish.  I was so proud that these babies came out perfectly.

French cheese plate with Quince paste, Jujubes, grapes and white truffle honey…

A few days before the dinner party, I went to Epicure Imports in North Hollywood to stock up on gourmet import items.  They offer a wonderful selection of French cheeses and numerous other delicacies.  I chose an Epoisse, Valencay goat cheese with ash, Camembert, and a Brillat-Savarin.  At Epicure, I also purchased quince paste and Sabatino Tartufi white truffle honey to pair with the cheeses.  The intensely aromatic white truffle honey went brilliantly with the goat cheese, and it was my favorite pairing.  Sliced fresh jujubes from the farmer’s market also went surprisingly well with all of the cheeses.

Chocolate tasting…

I bought a lot of interesting flavored chocolates from Bovetti and Vosges to try that evening.   Since we were all completely stuffed from the feast,we only tried 3 chocolates from my new collection for the chocolate tasting.  The dark chocolate with Szechuan peppers had a noticeable kick at the end that almost stung my tastebuds.  The dark chocolate with blue mint had a cooling effect on my tongue.  The Vosges chocolate called Black Pearl Bar, which had wasabi, ginger and black sesame seeds, was really interesting.  At first I could taste the ginger, but towards the end the wasabi undertones sneaked in to dominate the finale.  The chocolates were paired with an amazing dessert wine- Chateau Bernadou, Muscat de Frontignan from France.

It was a magical evening of good food, good wine and good company.  There was singing, dancing, guitar strumming and a lot of laughing.  Old friends reunited and new friendships were being made.  It was amazing to see all of these people from different walks of life come together on this one evening to gather around the table to share a special meal with me.  I can easily say that this was the best birthday that I have ever had, and it’ll be pretty tough to top this one.

Random trivia: Did you know that the passion fruit was given the name ‘passion’ by Catholic missionaries in South America who thought that certain parts of the fruit bore religious connections to the Crucifixion?  The corona threads of the flower symbolized the crown of thorns, the 5 stamens the 5 wounds, the 3 stigmas for the 3 nails on the cross, and the 5 petals and 5 sepals as the 10 apostles (excluding Judas and Peter).

Birthday Dinner Party- Part 1, Prep

“Which restaurant do you want to go to for your birthday celebration this year?”

Many of my close friends started asking me this question weeks before my birthday.  My friends know me well, and they knew that my ideal birthday celebration would be all about good food…but they didn’t know me well enough to figure out that I had better plans for my special day.  I couldn’t think of any restaurant in LA that would quite cut it, and I cringed at the thought of making my friends pay a lot of money for an extravagant meal in a stuffy environment.  I’m extremely blessed to have wonderful and caring friends who have been by my side through my ups and downs, and I wanted to spend my birthday with them in a special and meaningful way.  I love going out to restaurants for fine dining, but what I love more is cooking at home with friends and for friends.  There’s nothing I enjoy more than cooking in the kitchen and sharing a nice meal with people I love.  So I sent out an invitation to 12 of my closest friends in LA, and started brainstorming on ideas for my ultimate fantasy birthday menu.  No gifts please, I instructed my friends, but instead bring your appetite, good spirits, and lots of champagne and wine!

My brain exploded with a multitude of fabulous culinary ideas, and I had a lot of fun writing and sketching my ideas down.  For the whole entire week leading up to the big party, my hands were practically shaking from all of the excitement.  I knew that there were a few basic dishes that I had to have, and I consulted my chef friend Haru about ordering these items from the best suppliers.  I wanted to have an oyster bar that served two of my favorite types: Fanny Bay and Kumamoto.  I wanted a seared foie gras dish, as I had a whole lobe of Rougié foie gras from Epicure Imports that was patiently waiting in the freezer.  For the main entrée, I fluctuated between choices like lamb saddle, veal chop and flat iron steak, but in the end I decided to go grand and opted for a whole suckling pig.  The rest depended on what I found at the Santa Monica Farmer’s market.

Going to the Wednesday morning SM Farmer’s market is one of my favorite Los Angeles activities.  There are rows of food stalls with fresh seasonal produce and lots of specialty food items that cannot be found elsewhere.  I found vibrant Green Zebra heirloom tomatoes and yellow wax beans, which inspired me to make a salad dish with burrata cheese and slices of jamon serrano.

One of my favorite vegetable stands, run by a Japanese farmer, was offering some adorable miniature eggplants.  Small round green Petch Siam eggplants, frequently used in Thai cuisine, were calling out to me.  In the box adjacent to them were even cuter small purple eggplants called Fairytale eggplants which I had never used before, but I had to get anyway.

Although I had many ideas about how to serve them, in the end I envisioned a simple appetizer of pan roasted eggplants with a balsamic sauce.  I found some interesting Purple Ruffles Basil at the market to liven up the plating of this dish.

Beautiful purple Mission Figs were at the height of their season, and I found an abundance of them at the Farmer’s Market.  Ah, they would go perfectly with the whole lobe of foie gras!  Coupled with a port wine reduction, this would make for a decadent and delicious plate.

The seared foie gras dish would go perfectly after the salad and before the main course, but since the main course was going to be a whole roasted suckling pig, I realized that there needed to be a palate cleanser between the two dishes.  I had a jar of wonderful yuzu purée that was just waiting to be consumed, so I decided to make a yuzu and rosemary granité.  The bite of rosemary herb coupled with the citrus tang of yuzu was sure to cleanse any palate and refresh any taste bud!

I melted the yuzu purée in sugar and water in a pot and brought it to a boil, and just after taking it off the heat, I threw in a tea bag of freshly chopped rosemary leaves to let it steep in the mixture.  This way the granité would have just enough of a hint of rosemary finish instead of an overpowering flavor.  I saved some rosemary twigs for garnishing.  This dish was prepared the night before to save some time on the busy big day.

I found a ton of beautiful vegetables to accompany the roasted pig.  Small bright orange Nante carrots were super sweet when I sampled them at the stall.  Small pee wee potatoes came in purple, red and yellow, and I bought a bunch of these for roasting.  Beautiful baby spring onions came attached to their stalks and still covered in dirt, just picked fresh that morning. Purslane was at the end of their season, and I bought these as well, thinking that its distinct fresh citrus flavor would complement the heartiness of the main course.

Now what to do for dessert?  I wanted to do a dessert that could be prepared the night before, to save time in the kitchen during the actual party.  I figured that by the end of the meal, I would be quite tired and potentially quite drunk as well.  Cake?  Too boring.  Cupcakes?  Even more boring.  Tiramisu?  I already did that for a previous dinner.  I found beautiful and plump strawberries at the market, and started getting excited about them.  And then I ran into these tropical delights, and my heart skipped a beat.  Passion fruit- perfect!

Passion fruit zabaglione, parfait, mousse, ice cream, cheesecake…I considered many options, but when I rummaged through my kitchen that evening, I came across an old friend that I hadn’t seen in a while, and he whispered to me very softly, “Use me…”  My butane torch was calling out to me, and I knew then that the dessert for my birthday bash would be crème brûlée.  It’s easily prepared the night before, and people get excited when they see it torched.  I incorporated Madagascar vanilla beans into my  passion fruit crème brûlée mixture, and prepared these in the oven the night before.  After cooling them on a rack, they went into the fridge and waited until their grand debut.

For the strawberries that I bought, I opted to use them for a mini appetizer in the very beginning of the meal with the champagne toast.  Strawberries dipped in sugar and freshly ground black peppercorns is absolutely delicious, and it goes extremely well with champagne.

For the end of the meal, I planned to do a cheese plate.  I bought a bunch of beautiful cheeses at Epicure Imports, as well as some accompaniments for these cheeses.  I also found some fresh jujubes at the farmer’s market, and decided to pair these with the cheeses as well.  Finally, for the many chocolate lovers in the attending party, I bought an assortment of unusual flavored chocolates at Epicure Imports to do a chocolate tasting with a delicious dessert wine that I also bought there.

After a lot of tweaking and rearranging, the final birthday dinner menu was officially made on the morning of the party.  The menus were printed, the wine and champagne glasses were cleaned, the silverware was polished, the dishes were stacked, the music CD’s were chosen, and I was ready to go.

Here’s the final menu:

1    Strawberries with sugar and black peppercorn

2    Kumamoto & Fanny Bay Oysters

3    Fairytale & Petch Siam Eggplants with Purple Ruffles Basil

4    Yellow Wax Beans, Green Zebra Heirloom Tomatoes, Burrata, Jamon Serrano, Argan Oil dressing

5    Seared Foie Gras with Mission Figs and Port Wine reduction

6    Yuzu & Rosemary Granité

7    Roasted Suckling Pig with Pee Wee Potatoes, Nante Carrots, Baby Spring Onions, Purslane

8    Passion Fruit & Madagascar Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée

9    French Cheese Plate with Quince Paste, White Truffle Honey, Jujubes, Grapes

10    Chocolate tasting

The next blog entry will feature photos and details of the actual feast!

Random trivia: Did you know that jujubes have a sweet smell that is said to make teenagers fall in love?  In the Himalayas, men carry jujube flower stems with them or put them in their hats to attract women.