March 24, 2011

Gasho, Grain, & Green Leaf

Every February, I like to take my mom out to dinner to celebrate her birthday. This year, I surprised her with a trip to the Gasho of Japan.

Now, before I get into this blog, I want to clarify something. There are certain times when words that I write are taken metaphorically to mean things that I did not intend. Such is my concern with a post like this. To me, food is an important part of one's heritage. It is said that one can taste the history and traditions of a culture in its food and I firmly believe that it's true. I get invigorated by sampling cuisines from around the world and I get very excited when I discover a new restaurant. I've also always thought of cooking as not only a beautiful form of catharsis, but also an art form when performed with love and care. The notion that the subject (and images) of food could represent anything sexual is the worst of cliches and one that I do not embrace. When I write about food, I am writing only about food. That holds true for any kind of food -- if I speak about eating ice cream, I simply mean that I had a scoop of Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip in a waffle cone. Innocent. No prurient innuendo intended.

That said, the Gasho is a wonderful Japanese Steakhouse, done in the tradition of the Benihana restaurants. As I walked through the lobby, I was soothed by tranquil decor: Noren curtains, Shoji paper blinds, minimal table settings with jade-colored bowls and chopsticks. Very zen.

The meal started off with miso soup and hot sake. Soon, the chef wheeled a cart over to our table and began heating up the hibachi grill. After a somewhat unimpressive spatula-juggling act, he showed off his culinary mastery and gave us a highly-impressive cooking display. I must say that having one's food cooked right at the table definitely enhances the dining experience. I gasped as he tossed vegetables on to the hot surface that erupted with a sizzle and a puff of steam that rose up to the ceiling. Within moments, the aromas of freshly-cooked food wafted through the air. The presentation was marvelous and made my mouth water.

Last February, I took mom to a restaurant called Northport Feed & Grain. At one time, the restaurant was a stable with a feed and grain supply store. The name just stuck through the ages. I know by the name that it probably doesn’t sound appetizing, but it is really a great place to eat. They make the best fish and chips…

I ordered a lobster; I hadn't had one since I was in Boston a few years ago and it sounded really good to me. Anyway, the waitress brought the lobster from the tank directly to the table to show me before taking it to the kitchen. I stared at this rather terrifying looking crustacean for a moment; I usually don't get the chance to meet my dinner up close and personal before it is cooked. I felt a little bad in knowing that it was ticketed for the pot, so I reached out, shook its claw, and, in the spiritual tradition of some Native Americans, muttered "Thank you." My mom giggled at me. LOL. Dinner was really good.

After that, I took a beautiful photo of the harbor at dusk. Isn’t this lovely:

One other place that I’ve recently found tucked into a nearby shopping plaza is a little Thai restaurant called the Green Leaf. One step through the door and my nose was met by the sweet scent of coconut and pineapples. The ambiance made the place feel very comfortable and inviting, with its paper lanterns, its Southeast Asian decor, and its dim lighting. I could tell by the conversations between the patrons and the servers that the people eating there were regulars; always a good sign for a restaurant. 

As I sat down and began to peruse the menu, I knew that I was in for a great experience when I had no idea on how to pronounce most of the items. I started off my meal with Satay, one of the staples of Thai cuisine--grilled chicken skewers with a traditional peanut sauce on the side. For my entree, I sampled two dishes: Gaeng Goong Sappard (a panang curry shrimp dish) and Gai Yarng (Siam chicken). The presentation of the food was wonderful; I loved the fact that the shrimp curry was served in a half of a pineapple. The meal burst with strong and complex flavors, many exotic spices that I couldn't quite place. It really tickled my taste buds! :)

May the rest of your day prove to be palatable. Cheers!

"Better is a dinner of herbs
where love is than a fattened ox
and hatred with it."

~Proverbs 15:17