Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Are You A Front Or Back Shucker? - How To Shuck An Oyster

Are you a front or back shucker?

I believe that quote came from @theprovenance, a fellow oyster fiend. It made me chuckle.

I absolutely love oysters. I could eat heaps of them, 48 being my record in one sitting. When I first started eating them, I used to eat them steamed, usually covered in black beans, ginger, spring onions and soy. Obviously you can tell that I first ate them at Chinese restaurants. Slowly, I started to try them in other forms, baked cheese, kilpatrick and finally, raw. And I found out that I prefer raw the most, with it's natural "taste of the sea". You can read up about my various oyster flavour combinations here and here.

When I taste raw oysters at restaurants, it always tastes so much better than the ones I buy from fishmongers. It's because restaurants open their oysters on the spot, retaining all the juicy goodness. Who knows how long an oysters sitting on the fishmonger's window shop has been opened for right? And even if you ask them to open on the spot for you, unless you're going to eat them right away, they still dry out when you get them home and the juice spills. I've always wanted to open my own but it looked quite difficult. It wasn't until my Steer Boot Camp experience where I learnt to open oysters that I made up my mind to buy an oyster knife.

Oyster knives aren't oyster knives as they say. There were so many different types. They vary in the blade material, blade length, handle material, handle size, handle length. After much research on various forums, I finally settled on buying the Dexter Russell Oyster Knife. This knife has a plastic handle and a 7cm blade. People were divided over whether to have a flat blade or rounded blade. Both parties claimed their knives worked better. I settled on the rounded blade knife as you can see from the photo below. Also people were divided as to what length is best. Some said the shorter 7cm is better as it works for more types of oysters while some claimed the 10cm gave better leverage. The problem with the longer knife is it's hard to use on small oysters, and that was the deal breaker for me as I love eating a number of varieties that are quite small.

Shucking an oyster is not super easy, but after a dozen or so, you'll get the hang of it and be shucking them quite quickly. As for the question of whether to shuck them from the front of the back, I found the back safer and easier for myself. I tended to miss the front thin lip and the knife go flying towards my fingers. The back is also not without risk so it's best to wear some gloves while also using lots of wet dish cloths to keep the oyster secure.

I attack the oyster by having the knife at about a 45 degree angle and then inserting it at the back tip of the oyster. I found that the triangular shaped back of the knife really made it easy to pry the back oyster tip open. So that's a plus for the triangular type shape. However, a negative was that when I went to twist my way to the front of the oyster to pry off the top shell, the triangular shape made it harder.

I did stab the oyster quite a few times when I first started and found that even when the back tip was unlatched, it was hard to push the knife all the way to the front. Finally, I found it was easier to go down one side of the oyster shell and release the abductor muscle at the front first, which then easily let me pry the whole top shell off. Once the top shell was off, I like to cut the oyster out of the bottom shell as it's easier to eat. A poke around with my fingers removed the little bits of shell, making sure to retain all that wonderful juices that make the oyster so so sweet.

And there you have a skill that I really think is worth learning. The oysters just tastes so much nicer when freshly shucked. Add a splash of lemon and tobasco and you get food perfection.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

PM24 - Degustation Meal Slightly Disappointing

I don't think there is a person I've ever talked to that didn't like Philippe Mouchel's old restaurant The Brasserie, especially the weekend lunches which were the best value in town I think. So it was with much sadness when The Brasserie closed and I couldn't get those weekend lunches anymore. However, when it was announced that monsieur Mouchel was opening a new restaurant, PM24, in the city, I was delighted.

I didn't rush out to the restaurant and instead gave it time to settle a bit before I went. There were a lot of glowing critic and blog reviews, so I felt a bit disappointed when my experience wasn't as good, especially when I was promising excellent things to everyone.

I visited on a weeknight with my work mates John, Jordan and Xiaofeng, who was visiting from overseas. He wanted French food so I suggested there was no better place to try that than PM24. We went with the degustation meal as suggested by the waitress, which I regretted. The degustation meal seemed to be the simplest dishes, bistro style, whereas the a al carte dishes actually looked a lot better. So I may try that next time instead.

The degustation meal started with a Soft Boiled Egg in soup, which as great as it was, I wished I had eaten less than a quarter of it. It was so rich and I was a quarter full once I had finished it. I wonder why they serve something so large and heavy as a starting dish. We then moved on to this very nice Charcuterie Platter for four. Again it was deceptively filling as there were two types of pate and terrine. It was good but extremely rich.

To further add to the richness, we were served two massive Cheese Souffles next to share between the four of us. Oh man, what is going on I was thinking. Everything was so sickeningly rich that I was losing my appetite. Again the souffles were good but we hardly touched them as we just needed something a bit lighter and fresher. Following the souffles were my favourite Snails in Garlic. These were so good, just like the old days at The Brasserie.

By the time the entrees were done, I think we were all completely full already. When the Fish of The Day arrived, a Barramundi, we all just nibbled at it. While the fish was cooked extremely well, it was doused in this super rich hollandaise type sauce. What was happening here. When did Philippe's food become some one dimensional and super rich? Luckily I told myself, there was the lamb to come. Visions of Cumulus Inc or The Point or The Brasserie's lamb perfections were filling my mind. Instead, everyone was super disappointed. The lamb was not cooked well and quite chewy. Worst still, it had no ounce of flavour in it at all. So despite there being three lamb fiends at the table, we didn't get through even half of the lamb and just left it there.

Luckily desserts perked us all up. The Creme Caramel was super smooth and good. The Chocolate Marquis was amazing, luscious, velvety and intensely chocolate. The Pastries with Fruit was crispy and moreish. And the sorbets were refreshing and light, perfect finish.

We were seated in the small area near the front bar. It felt a bit isolated from the rest of the main room at first but after a while it felt quite private and nice, at least at night. I think I would hate that spot in the day time. Service, was excellent and staff were friendly and knowledgeable.

Overall, I must say I was slightly disappointed with the food. I was expecting big things and I don't think PM24 delivered. The degustation meal at least seemed to be quite lazy bistro standards, not all done perfectly either. I was expecting more from a Philippe Mouchel restaurant. I would go back to try again as it's Philippe Mouchel, but if it was based on this meal alone, I wouldn't.

Overall Rating: 13/20, Food was good at times but also extremely rich and quite plain at other times.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

PM24 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Easy Tiger

So when The Age's Epicure, thy reputable culinary publication section, described Easy Tiger as below, I just had to go.

Remember the first time you tried Thai food? You’ll have that feeling again when you taste Easy Tiger’s. Put simply, it’s wow. Top-notch ingredients, fresh flourishes, smart service, funky little room, matching wine list: See you there for the Sunday night banquet.

When you read something like above, you can't help but go with high expectations. I love Thai food and eat quite a lot of it from cheap to expensive across Melbourne. I was expecting Easy Tiger to be something so experimental and different. What I found was good, but definitely not like eating Thai food for the first time again.

The four of us, Bruno, Sarah, Logan and myself started the meal with entrees of the Betel Leaf with Prawn and Spring Rolls. The betel leaf entree was good but I felt was inferior to Longrain's. The spring rolls, which I was ready to write off, was very good.

For mains, we went with a Green Wagyu Curry, a Red Lamb Curry, a Sticky Beef Ribs, Stir Fry Chicken Noodles and Rice Cakes with vegetables. The green curry with the wagyu was good, and quite spicy. The flavour was nice but nothing mind blowing different. In fact, I have since tasted a Thai Green Curry at Siam 1 that blows it out of the water. The use of wagyu beef didn't really add to the dish as you can't even tell it was wagyu. The red lamb curry was extremely spicy and I liked it. It was quite a dry curry and the meat was very tender.

The ribs that we had were super sticky and sweet and I rather liked them, but the others didn't much care for them. I liked the sweetness but I guess it's not for everyone. I do have quite a sweet tooth. The chicken stir fry was good, with excellent wok breathe. However, as I was telling everyone, at near $30, I could get three similarly good stir fry chicken noodle dishes at Springvale.

The final dish was a stir fry rice cake. Again, there was great wok breathe and the dish was tasty. I just think that I'm the wrong clientele. The prices are aimed at Smith Street types willing to pay for the latest funky restaurant rather than myself, where I'd rather pay a third the price to eat the same dish on a plastic table and plastic plate thrown at me by the waiter.

Desserts was a simple dish of mochi balls in coconut milk, a clear highlight for the night. Overall, I found the meal good but by no means so unique that I felt like I'd never tasted Thai food before. Many of the flavours are stock standard combinations now. It wasn't the restaurant's fault that my expectations were so high that they weren't met. While the food was good, I wouldn't go back due to the prices. The meal cost about $140 each, with 3 beers on average per person. For that price, I'd rather eat at a host of other cheap Thai restaurants, even if the service and ambiance at Easy Tiger is nicer.

Overall Rating: 13/20, Food is good but I'm unwilling to recommend it as I think there is far better Thai food for cheaper elsewhere.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Easy Tiger on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Portello Rosso - Banquet Meal

Even though I've lived in Melbourne for most of my life and I love to eat so read up about many restaurants, I'm still forever being surprised by great restaurants hidden amongst one of Melbourne's many laneways. Portello Rosso is such a restaurant, and my friend Hien has been raving about this restaurant to me for ages. We finally met up to eat there when she could squeeze me into her busy jet setting career.

We went on a Sunday night and had the banquet meal. I think the cheapest banquet (which was $40 when we went but is now $42) is only available on Sunday, but I may be wrong. I think this banquet is more than enough food and it's insanely good.

We start the meal with some fantastic garlic bread, where you rub the garlic in oil into the bread yourself. Lovely marinated olives also accompanied the bread. I'm not a big fan of olives so let Hien eat most of that. Entree were classic Spanish tapas of Tortilla, Prawns in Oil and Grilled Scallops. All were great, especially the prawns and I don't really like prawns that much.

Beautiful massive Meatballs (2 each *snigger with childish laughter*) and the most moreish Pumpkin and Beetroot Salad were next up. By the time I finished these two dishes, I was getting quite full already. But there was much more yummy food to come so I pushed on as the next dish was Pork Belly. And these pork belly were super moist and crispy, served with a almond and garlic puree. On the side, there was also a brilliant Potato Bravas.

By this point I thought I was completely done, but then this ultra fragrant Seafood Paella arrived. Somehow I managed to push on...AGAIN...and eat almost half of this wonderful paella. The rice was just the right consistency and had the crispy bits at the base which I love. There were nice chunks of seafood and meat mixed through it.

Thankfully, while the rest of the meal was paced quite quickly (we were on a 2 hour sitting), the dessert was delayed for a bit to let all the wonderful food settle. The dessert that arrived was some simple churros. I really love churros but don't find too many good ones around Melbourne. I would have to say that these are the BEST (yes, big call) churros I've had in Melbourne. They were so crispy and soft inside. The flavour was just that perfect golden brown (if you could taste a colour that's what these taste like). And while most places serve a dark chocolate sauce for churros, this thin white chocolate sauce was stunning.

We were seated upstairs in this cosy nook and I loved it. Although it was cramped up there, I loved the atmosphere and it felt like I was eating in a small tree house with the sloped ceiling. The waitress we had was very friendly and joked and laughed with us while efficiently removing our dishes. She even helped us select the sparkling cider which was awesome. I wish I remembered the name of that cider.

I would happily recommend Portello Rosso as the dishes I tried were all excellent in flavour and perfectly cooked in texture. With drinks included, the meal only came to $50, which is a great price.

Overall Rating: 16/20, Beautiful simple Spanish food done extremely well.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Portello Rosso on Urbanspoon