Monday, August 31, 2009

The third rule of Cheese Club is if someone says "stop" or goes limp, it's time to stop eating cheese

Cheese Club arrived again. Life is good, although my cholesterol is probably stratospheric so I shall continue to avoid having it measured. This bunch went from the "ho-humm" to the sublime to the "OMG WTF BBQ!" At least one here fails the urbane scrumping Cheese Club test of bare-chested Brad Pittism, but there are a few that will rail against the materialism and alienation of modern life while tearing your ears off. You may go limp, but you won't say "stop".

Chabichou du Poitou is a fresh, white mould goats cheese, and not surprisingly was similar to the previously loved Buche Chevre du Poitou. Like that cheese it had a series of layers of various degrees of ripeness, although the Chabichou had a thicker chalky centre with a lovely, goaty, lemony tang and less of the creamy layer of the Buche. On the outside was beautifully wrinkled skin like a Shar Pei, although there is nothing else doggy about it. Cleansing but still rich, like a goats cheese should be.

The Brie de Nangis was a lovely, perfectly ripe Brie, with a gooey, runny middle ("it's runnier than you like, Sir...") and a big flavour as far as Brie goes. To do this cheese justice you have to try and forget years of average, bland Bries that offer a smooth texture and not much else. This is as strong a Brie as I have tasted, and its slightly mushroom, sexy scent will stay in my mind until the next disappointing Brie. Until then, however, whooooaghhhhhh.......

Fromagella di Capra
Fromagella di Capra. Oh yes, this is the stuff for me. An Italian washed rind cheese of goats milk, it had a luscious creamy texture followed up with an elegant fist in the ear of flavour. Strong and rounded without being in the washed rind stinky league, although I think I'm not only becoming immune to increasingly orange rinds, but beginning to demand them. Today is father's day, and this is how I'm celebrating...

Jean's Cow Goat
Jean Faup Vache Chevre - So, this is Jean Faup's Cow Goat (ok, so my translation is a bit literal), or at least is made of both kinds of milk. Semi-hard, smear-ripened it is rippled with small holes. The texture is creamy with a little firmness, like a very soft Emmentaler and the layers of flavour are intense but still subtle. I kept going back trying more, looking for the goatyness (at least, that was my excuse) but I couldn't find it, although I suspect it made the cheese lighter than it would otherwise have been. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Tete de Moine - a Swiss, hard cooked cow's milk cheese. Strong, nutty and with a powerful and complex perfume, it's the bovver boy of the bunch, although the Fromagella di Capri is leering from behind the Tete's back. There's apparently a gadget you can by to shave the Tete de Moine with (because cheese with stubble is a little too casual), and I can imagine it sitting in the back of the second drawer in the kitchen doing the good work of the goddess Anoia. Unlike the gadget though, I will go back to this cheese again and again. So, to the monks of Bellaly Abbey we say "thank you for this glorious cheese. Oh, and sorry your abbey got turned into psychiatric clinic."

Rochebaron is a cow's milk cheese that looks and feels a bit like a white mould cheese but is also a blue, apparently. I say apparently, because although I can see small pockets of blue, it was exceptionally mild and like a not-very-inspiring brie. It looked like a Camembert dusted in charcoal. Best described as "safe for the kiddies". Everyone else liked it but I.... well, I like the sterner stuff.

(From top left corner, clockwise: Rochebaron, Chabichou du Poitou, Jean Feap Vache Chevre , Fromagella di Capri and Tete de Moine. The Brie de Nangis looked like Brie.)

Friday, August 28, 2009


Well, it's been a long time between drinks, not to mention High Street food, and in the last couple of months we've had the long distance runaround between Melbourne, Adelaide, Coober Pedy, Alice Springs, Darwin, Rockhampton, Fraser Island, Sydney etc... Now we're home again and the High Street odyssey is underway some more.

Tonight we start at Otsumami, an elegant minimalist Japanese restaurant on the leeward side (OK, the west side) of High Street, high on Ruckers Hill. Minimalist in decor, but this being Northcote on a Friday night there was an encouraging buzz without being too noisy. This is important to me - although I practice that quizzical smile that is attentive while still projecting, "I can't hear a word you're saying but I am interested" - I'm not very good at it yet.

I'd booked only 45 minutes before we sat down and ordered and we'd been squeezed in, but only on the proviso that were out by 8.30 and we'd eat at a sitting-on-the-floor-table. As we were dining with a four-year old, time was never going to be a problem.

We ordered swiftly and food was delivered quickly with low fuss and high efficiency.

The Moriawase, a platter of mixed sashimi and sushi, was beautifully presented. The sashimi was sliced perfectly (I'm not into the thick cuts of tuna), although the tuna/salmon/kingfish trio is getting a bit too familiar. The Unagi Nigiri (a personal favourite) was luscious without being cloying and even Mr Four Year Old wolfed down some salmon.

The Tori Niku Gyoza, made with chicken and allegedly five-spice, were the one disappointment. The filling was bland and the dumpling wrappers were slightly underdone and chewy. One disappointment, but the only one in an otherwise wonderful meal.

I can never go past Nasu Dengaku, grilled eggplant with miso, when I see it, and this was great. Soft, sweet and unctuous without being heavy. When it's as good as this, it's hard to remember that, to me at least, eggplant is a predominately Mediterranean vegetable.

The Tempura prawns and vegetables were good. Not outstanding, but still very good.

The stand-out dish of the night, however, were the soft-shelled crabs. Stunning, and not a scrap was left. They were served fried in an ethereal tempura batter and a simple mayo-based sauce. I've never had soft-shelled crabs before, and when they came out was a bit surprised they were cooked whole, appendages akimbo. That the shells were entirely edible was fantastic, at least for us. Less so for the crab, who had popped his clogs* probably regretting he hadn't been born a hard-shelled crab. But no regrets, eh? Well, not from the humans. The meat was soft and the gentle scraps of batter did nothing to interfere with the soft flavour. Spongebob can keep his crabby patties - I'm having these.

The sake was good, which I put down to Otsumami having a short but good list, and luck on my part. My approach to sake is the same as my approach to substituted phenethylamines: I don't know much about them, but I know what I like and I'm probably not very discriminating.

The dessert menu is short with no surprises. (Insert former Prime Minister joke *here*.) The green tea ice cream was pretty good, but Emmy's cheesecake was a textbook Philly cheesecake. It was OK, but nothing special. The black sesame ice cream, on the other hand, was the standout dessert, with a rich nuttiness highlighted by sweetness.

Otsumami has the beautiful, light touch I associate with great Japanese food. The menu (divided into Sushi & Sashimi, Small Food, Medium Food and Big Food) meant we took a punt on quantities, but we did well. The service is quick and attentive, and although we knew we had been squeezed in we never felt rushed.

Japanese food is hitting that part of the fashion curve in Melbourne where proliferation is well upon us. Within 250 metres of my office (in the CBD) I can get a nori roll from one of a dozen places. Some of them are even good, although the average quality (across the board) is falling. With that in mind, I think we're pretty lucky to have a Japanese restaurant of Otsumami's quality this close to hand. Otsumami offers a gentle touch, a zazen approach to food which sets it apart from proliferating nori rolls. Lucky us!

*F points out that the crabs hadn't in fact, popped their clogs. They were still wearing them when we ate them.