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Archive for August, 2009

Coda

The signature Coda Roll

The signature Coda Roll

I take it very personally when someone in the restaurant industry moves on without my consent. With the closure of Pawan, a Thai joint in Springvale, I was forced to seek therapy. There was no warning, no notice; just newspaper up in the darkened windows on a routine Saturday afternoon visit. Goong, the owner/chef, just disappeared overnight.

I asked around the Thai grocers and restaurateurs in Springvale. I even resorted to Twitter. “He’s opening something in Brighton”, “He’s working fulltime in a factory”. The leads were shaky.  It’s been a year and I’m still no closer to recovering the best Som Tum in Melbourne.

And it seems it is not just chefs that tempt my inner John Hinckley. It seems that I’m now stalking managers.

For me, MoVida has long shown perfect synchronicity between kitchen and front-of-house.  Multiple excursions to MoVida over the past few years have been fuelled not only by chef Frank Camorra’s divine cecina and espinacas con garbanzos, but by the gregarious hospitality shown to all by manager Mykal Bartholemew.

Upon his departure from MoVida, Mykal proved more traceable than Goong. In fact, he’s right around the corner. Andy, the new and deft maître d’, was happy to tell me where he’d gone.

The new space comes with a great pedigree.  “My” Mykal is one of three extraordinary partners. Chef Adam D’Sylva, formerly of Pearl by way of NYC’s fabled Per Se, is at the stove. And Taxi’s former floor supervisor Kate Calder brings her finesse.

Coda inhabits the site formerly occupied by Mini in Flinders Lane.  It’s very airy for a basement. The professed “ghetto chic” interior is very now, but also, oddly, comfy. Perhaps it’s a GFC aesthetic that makes us all feel we’re spending less than we actually are.

However, with the focus on small dishes, it’s quite possible not to spend a bomb at Coda. And, really the small plates are what we’re here to try. On the small menu, D’Sylva swings gracefully from Vietnam to France, through Thailand and Japan. This miscellany of influence makes for one of the most quintessentially Mod Oz/Pac Rim menus in town.

While the menu is dominated by smaller dishes, there are a few mains. The inclusion of dishes such as a charcoal grilled Hopkins River steak béarnaise and MacLeay valley rabbit cassoulet is business-smart. It transforms Coda from being a strictly hipster zone to being the sort of place you could also take your grandparents.

When Partner and I go for lunch on a Saturday, however, we set about sharing as many small plates as possible.

Citrus cured Hiramasa kingfish

Citrus cured Hiramasa kingfish

The citrus cured Hirasama kingfish, fresh wasabi, pickled radish arrived first. It was absolutely balanced and subtle. While a great dish, I would have liked it mid-meal, as a sort of palette cleanser. Perhaps the fear is that it might become a whimper among the roar of other flavours to come.

Eggplant and tofu lettuce delight

Eggplant and tofu lettuce delight

Among the stand out dishes were the quail lettuce delight, lup cheong, shiitake mushroom, coriander and water chestnuts. It is the perfect take on san choi bao. It’s a flavourful mix with plenty of wok hei, that magical characteristic imparted by a supremely hot wok. Partner and I also swooned over the roasted Coffin bay scallop, pearl tapioca, and Yarra Valley salmon caviar, which tasted exactly like a day at the beach. But, you know, a really nice beach devoid of children, raw sewage and broken fits.

Coffin Bay scallop

Coffin Bay scallop

Significantly, our friendly hipster Mykal has lost none of his warmth in the move up Flinders Lane.

Now. If only I could find Goong.

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Costco

costco

In my larder, there is a litre of hummus; two kilograms of cherry tomatoes and 602 Gummi Bears.

A packet of corn chips won’t fit onto the dry goods shelf. I have enough washing detergent to clean the shorts of the Essendon midfield for a year.

I’ve just been to Costco.

I first visited this retail behemoth was when my sister lived in Texas. In the outsize Lone Star state, a store of these dimensions made sense. Everything is bigger in Texas. Including, and especially, Texan arses.

As a tourist I didn’t pay much heed to the prices of everyday things like chicken thighs and loo rolls. I was entranced by high thread count sheet sets and quality luggage.

My experience of the newest major to hit the local market was sure to be different. Once, Costco represented a fun day out, observing Americans in their natural domestic setting. Now, it’s to be considered for its value in my own retail landscape.

After lining up for an hour to secure our membership cards ($60 for both of us), Partner and I cut through the crowd with our enormous trolley in search of bulk chicken and Sorbent.

Among the groceries there were some standout bargains. We bought 3kg of sweet potatoes for $3.99, a kilo of limes for $4.69 and just over a kilo of corn chips for $8.99. A 2.25kg block of Monterey Jack cheese was $17.99. Nobody actually needs that much cheese, but this is the first time Monterey Jack has been available for retail sale in Australia. As there is simply no better cheese for Tex Mex cooking, I succumbed, declaring it Mexican week at our house.

It's Tex Mex Week

It's Tex Mex Week

A kg of avocadoes for $3.99 and a bulk twin pack of tortillas later and we were ready to investigate the liquor department. Slabs of beer are no less expensive than your local bottle-o. The wine selection is well thought out and belies the Super-Cheap-Discount-Warehouse environment. And it’s not that cheap. Oyster Bay Pinot Noir for $13.99 and 2005 Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz for $69.99 are the sort of prices you’d pay anywhere. The benefit may be in being able to pick up decent wine for a decent price in the same location as you grab the smallgoods and dips for a party.

For families the savings are more significant and noticeable. Likewise for natty share house occupants, who, if they are able to pool organisational talents and a few dollars each, will also stand to benefit.

As a couple I don’t think we’ll be frequenting Costco terribly often.  When I need American mustard, I’ll go. If I’m entertaining and want affordable manchego sheep’s milk cheese, I’ll go. My house simply isn’t big enough to accommodate 1.8kg jars of organic salsa for $8.79.

Items that seemed a reasonable quantity in the stadium sized warehouse that is Costco reveal themselves to be stupidly massive on my kitchen table.

The sheer heft of Costco makes it an enjoyable spectacle. It makes Coles look like a dodgy milk bar.

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Fajitas

One of the best things about roasting a big hunk of meat for two people is how cheaply you can eat for the following couple of days. Leftover roast beef makes for good fajitas. Here is what I used:

Everything you need to make fajitas

Everything you need to make fajitas

To make the fajitas I used half a red and half a green capsicum along with one small onion and around 150-200gms of the leftover beef. I sliced the beef and in a bowl added to it the juice of half a lime and a good shake of fajita seasoning. I covered that and refrigerated it for 30 minutes.

Marinate the beef in lime juice and fajita seasoning

Marinate the beef in lime juice and fajita seasoning

With the avocados, chilis, and the other half of lime I made guacamole. When the beef had about fifteen minutes of marinating to go, I wrapped the tortillas in foil and popped them in the oven at 160 c. I sliced the onion and capsicum thickly, and heated a smidge of olive oil in a large frypan. When the pan began to smoke ever so slightly I carefully added the capsicums and onion and stirfried quickly for about a minute. I then added the beef and kept all the ingredients moving around the pan for another minute or so.

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

I served the beef and peppers with the warmed tortillas, guacamole, sliced pickled jalapenos, sour cream and habanero hot sauce.

The perfect fajita

The perfect fajita

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Gravy

A good roast depends on good gravy. Beef, chicken, lamb, it doesn’t matter. What matters is gravy that you’ve made from scratch, the best kind. And it’s almost as easy as instant.
Gravy depends on fat. Chickens and lamb legs generally have enough for gravy, but when selecting beef be sure to pick a cut with a nice layer of fat. Tonight I cooked a bolar blade roast. This shoulder cut of beef is great for casseroles and slow-cooking, but needs a gentle hand to roast well. After sprinkling the fat with salt and pepper, I cooked my 1.25kg piece for 1 hour and 10 minutes, fat side up. For the first 10 minutes at 190 c, then 180 c for the duration. Here’s how it turned out:

Roast beef Bolar Blade (Shoulder)

Roast beef Bolar Blade (Shoulder)

After removing the roast from the pan to rest, I scraped the pan for bits and poured the fat into a saucepan.

Drippings and bits from the roasting pan

Drippings and bits from the roasting pan

On a low heat I added as much flour as I reckoned there was fat, and stirred until combined for about a minute. I then added a splash of beef stock.

Fat, flour, and a splash of stock

Fat, flour, and a splash of stock

Continuously stirring, I added just over a cup, in small splashes, of stock. The trick to gravy is to keep adding stock until the desired consistency is achieved. I add about a half a teaspoon of Vegemite for colour and a flavour boost.

Just be sure to keep stirring and you’ll have the best gravy you’ve ever tasted.

Roast beef with bok choy, roasted red capsicum and baked sweet potato

Roast beef with bok choy, roasted red capsicum and baked sweet potato

Ingredients

Equal parts pan drippings and flour,  stock, Vegemite

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Yim Yam, Yarraville

Yim Yam offers an interesting combination of dishes from Thailand and Laos.

We arrived on a Friday night at 7:45pm with no booking. There was no table space available, so we agreed to a 30 minute wait and went to the pub on the corner for a beer. This is definitely how to approch this place. Go to Yim Yam, put your name down, and then go have an aperitif.

Space was reserved for us at one of the two communal tables when we returned. All good.

It’s small, but definitely cheerful and warm on this winter night. 60s Thai Pop prints are french-hung on one wall, and counter seating runs along the inside length of the front window.

The menu has some items typical of Thai joints all over town: satay, green curry chicken, tom yum, etc. But the real draw for me was a goodly proportion of dishes that you don’t see everywhere, like som tum thai (here called simply papaya salad) and crispy fish salad. We ordered both.

The som tum thai was ok, it was a little too sweet and peanuty, almost like there was a spidge of satay sauce stirred through it. It is served in a little wooden mortar, which is cute. Overall it wasn’t bad, but it lacked the sour and hot notes and the fish sauce punch I want with my papaya salad.

Good mix of papaya, bean, carrot and tomato

Good mix of papaya, bean, carrot and tomato

The crispy fish salad was a chewy, crispy, salty and sour adventure. It’s a powerful dish, extremely tasty in small amounts.

Extremely flavouful but not at all spicy

Extremely flavourful but not at all spicy

We also tried the toasted rice and coconut salad. The coconut flavour was intense, and nicely balanced by mint and chili. The toasted rice was crispy in patches, and I would have liked more crunchy bits.

 

Lots of flavour, not enough crunch

Lots of flavour, not enough crunch

The beef and Thai basil stirfry was one of the better I’ve had, with straws of crunchy bamboo shoot and a salty smoky aftertaste. This is the dish I will dream about and need to return for.

A cracker dish with plenty of mouth feel

A cracker dish with plenty of mouth feel

Overall, Yim Yam is a pretty good place for Thai in Melbourne. It wasn’t knock-you-head off spicy, but extremely satisfying nonetheless.

$48 for two eating the above, plus one sticky rice and one coke.

Yim Yam is BYO.

40 Ballarat Street , Yarraville,   Tel: 03 9687 8585

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