Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fermentation experiment #1: Yeast quantity

As promised, I am still here, and focusing on my current passion- fermenting!


I have been a very amateur home brewer for several years now, mostly playing with extract kits.  I have started down the all grain road with some partial grain recipes recently, and hope to take the plunge soon (once the budget is there for a nice pot like this).  


One issue that has always bugged me was the haziness of fermenting recipes online.  Homebrewing has a pretty established online community with sound data and recipes, but once you enter into the big wide world of alternative brewing types, fruit wines, meads, and more, the recipes become rapidly more dubious.  Often it appears that someone found an old recipe, posted it online, and then every other recipe online looks suspiciously like the first one, with little thought as to whether the recipe really works.  


Well I decided to stop whining about it last month, and start doing some experimenting of my own.  My laboratory is my kitchen, and my tools primitive, so buyer beware: I will do my best to present sound experiments and data, but don't take my word for it- try it out yourself!


The first round of experiments will focus on the components involved in a very simple fermentation- how much yeast, yeast nutrient, and fermentable sugar results in a quick and tasty fermentation?  From there I can branch out to different yeast strains, types of fermentable sugar (plain sugar, grain, rice, grapes, etc..), temperatures and more.  


For now I will be measuring two main variables- one very quantitative (speed of fermentation), and one extremely qualitative (taste).


Finding the balance that maximizes these two variables across a range of conditions should allow my brewing to improve greatly, and hopefully provide some entertainment at the very least, if not useful info!  All right, here goes:


Experiment #1: Yeast Quantity


Goal:
To determine how much yeast should be added for an ideal fermentation run.  (The basic rule in fermentation is keeping the engine of your madness happy- the yeast.  Stress the yeast and they ferment slowly, and produce nasty odors and flavors.  Yeast wants a certain temperature, certain nutrients, and the right concentration of sugar- just like Goldilocks, the yeast wants everything to be just right...)


Materials:
5 1 gallon glass jugs
5 airlocks
5 rubber stoppers or bungs (drilled through)
Hydrometer


Methodology:

  1. Boil 8 pounds of sugar with 2 gallons of water and 3 grams of citric acid for 10 minutes to invert the sugar (this is supposed to aid the yeast in fermenting the sugar- I will have to check this out in another experiment).
  2. Divide the inverted sugar water between the 5 cleaned and sanitized jugs (about 7 cups each for me).  
  3. Add cold water until about 1 cup from the top (to allow room for fermentation and bubbling) to each.
  4. Add the yeast nutrients (I added 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient and 3/4 cup of Gerber barley baby food- weird I know, but it is chock full of nutrients yeast like...) to every jug.  
  5. At this point the water should be at a safe temperature to add the yeast (below about 110), but make sure or the yeast will all die if it is too hot!
  6. Add 1/2 teaspoon yeast to the first jug, 1 teaspoon to the second, 2 to the third,4 to the fourth, and 8 to the fifth. Bakers yeast is probably going to produce some interesting flavors, but two reasons motivated me to try it.  
    1. Baking yeast is super cheap ($4.50 for 2 pounds at Sam's club), just like me.  Beer yeast is expensive.
    2. Everyone says to never use bakers yeast because it will produce a terrible taste.  That motivated me to try it out for myself.
  7. Insert the airlocks into the stoppers, insert stoppers into the glass jugs (labeled 1-5) and swirl them to mix. 
  8. Measure the specific gravity (density) of each jug to make sure they are all the same.
  9. Let it ferment, checking the specific gravity every couple days to see how the fermentation is proceeding.
  10. I will consider the fermentation done for a jug when the specific gravity is at 1.000.  
  11. Once all jugs have finished fermenting, do the taste test.
Observations:

Day zero (brew day): Within 15 minutes jug 5 (eight teaspoons yeast) was already bubbling away.  Within 1 hour there was some fermentation visible in all jugs, with a direct correlation between yeast quantity and rate of bubbling.  
Interesting- I thought I had added so much yeast to #5 that it wouldn't be any faster than #4.  Not so.

Day one: All are bubbling pretty well, but #5 is the fastest.  There is a visible color difference- #5 is the cloudiest, #1 is the clearest.

Day three:  I took my first hydrometer reading!  #1 has fermented only 12% of the sugar, #5 is most of the way done.  Wow, huge difference.  I will add a graph soon.  #5 is actually starting to slow down in fermentation, #4 is still full speed.  I wonder how stanky these will taste...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A new direction for The Fishy Foodie!

As you may have noticed, no new reviews have been posted recently.  I just updated the FAQ with the following info.
Where are the new reviews?  Are you still alive?
After eating at over 50 locations in 2009 I realized a couple things.
1) My hobby was expensive. 2009 was not a great year to be spending extra dough.
2) While I had some great meals, too often we went home a little disappointed.  The food might have been ok, but it often was no better than what we would have cooked at home, in a similar amount of time, for 20% of the price, and far healthier.  We decided to save dining out for special occasions- eat out less, at nicer places.  
I look forward to revisiting many of the top 10, (and some of the others) where I had some truly inspiring dishes.
As such, I am retiring my reviewing for now.  I doubt many tears will be shed. 


What is happening to the Fishy Foodie next?
Do not fear, I will still be around, in a new broader, and hopefully somewhat more regular role.  I plan to start writing more about my real food passions, including fermentation, fungi (did you know yeast is a fungus?), and molecular gastronomy.  
I may throw in occasional noteworthy restaurant experiences from around the country.
I hope you have enjoyed the reviews so far (I will keep them up for a while- as long as they are still relevant), and that the new content is interesting!


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Kon Asian Bistro (39 of 50)

Restaurant: Kon Asian Bistro
Location: 553 Main Street, East Greenwich, RI 02818
Cuisine: Japanese Hibachi and Sushi
Price: Pretty average for Hibachi/Sushi (~$15-$20 per person)
Score: 39
Would I eat there again: Yes

Kon Asian Bistro has been getting a lot of attention in the year since it opened in East Greenwich.  After our initial visit last week it seems that most of it is pretty well deserved.  Located in an unassuming strip mall on main street, Kon has done an impressive job of turning a blank box into a very comfortable eatery.

We encountered a 45 minute wait (and it looked longer when we left) but thankfully they have designated a fairly large area in the front of their restaurant as tall bar table seating and a waiting area for the hungry hordes.  We started off with the house Merlot (Robert Mondavi) which was surprisingly enjoyable (the wine tasting we had done just before dinner at The Savory Grape also helped relax us for the wait and is highly recommended).  The bar selection was pretty standard and vodka centered, but the crowd around us seemed to be drinking it in with no complaints.

A huge buddha sits in the middle of the restaurant behind a 15 foot goldfish pool and a pretty divider/waterfall setup separates the front (regular dining/sushi) from the hibachi area in the back.  We ended up sitting next to the fish pool, which turned out pretty well except for when I dropped my chopsticks in the water (and the sleeve of my jacket, and my napkin).  Service was polite and fairly attentive and waters were refilled once.

We dined on the sushi and sashimi for two option which comes with soup or salad for both, and then 10 pieces of sashimi, 18 pieces of sushi, and a nice selection of maki rolls.  The salad was uninspired sushi restaurant salad- iceberg with tomato and the ginger orangey dressing.  The miso held up pretty well, good depth of flavor and taste without being overwhelmingly salty.

The plate with our mountain of sushi was pretty impressive.  I had wanted to get the sushi boat (ours looked even better than that one) option for a long time at any restaurant, and tonight was my lucky night.  The sashimi portion was arranged on a straw mat that was over a bowl filled with ice and a battery powered blue light that shone up through the ice and highlighted the sashimi from underneath.  Sounds corny, but it looked pretty darn neat.  The fish on the platter was all fresh and tasty, with a selection of tuna, yellowtail, flounder, striped bass, and crab stick.  It appeared that there was a light sprinkling of a salt on top of the fish, hopefully it was just sea salt and not MSG, but either way it tasted pretty darn good.  The yellowtail was exceptionally memorable and complex.  Our maki rolls were clean tasting and enjoyable- not as impressive as the sashimi, but perfectly acceptable.  The sushi offering matched the sashimi and tasted just as good.

Conclusion:
Kon Asian Bistro has won over the hearts and stomachs of many Rhode Islanders in the short year it has been open.  It is very well designed and crafted, and has quality sushi and at a reasonable price.  The attention to detail and consistently happy diners get Kon Asian Bistro a spot on the top ten list!

Kon Asian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Brick Alley Pub (35 of 50)

Cuisine: American Seafood
Price: Moderate-expensive (~$20 entrees)
Score: 35
Would I eat there again: Yes

The Brick Alley Pub is one of the most popular spots in Newport, if not all of RI. Located on the upper stretch of Thames Street, it sprawls out through a series of 5-6 rooms (plus an upstairs), and a summer patio. Despite the copious number of seats, we still encountered a 45 minute wait midweek after 8PM. The Brick Alley has been around for over 20 years and won countless local awards and accolades, and still manages to put out decent food to a huge number of people. They don't quite break into my top ten list, but they are a perfect location for a party or group where you can get dependable, friendly service and soak in the chaos of a local landmark. I think the volume they are doing probably precludes them from reaching into the top tier of eateries, but given the challenges of operating a huge staff, and taking care of hundreds of people per seating, the Brick Alley does it quite well.

We thanksfully ended up being seated after only 20 minutes of our supposed 45 minute wait and got to enjoy their outdoor patio. To get there you wind your way through at least 3 rooms, with hallways, kitchens, and more seating areas off to the sides. That and the intense decoration style of the place can be a bit overwhelming. It looks like they started decorating their walls 26 years ago, and have never taken anything down, while continually adding more stuff. One Corona sign is ok, but do you need 4 in a row?

The staff was well trained and took good care of us, obviously used to being slammed just about all the time. The menu is actually three- a drinks menu, a specials and wine menu, and the normal dinner menu. Dishes covered the spectrum of American seafood, and showed little interest in reaching to more exotic fare. Most entrees are pretty expensive, but come with your choice of side and soup/salad bar. It is an interesting business model- it is hard to get a dish for much under $20 (unless you stick to the sandwich section), but it comes with enough food to satiate the most voracious appetite. I would have preferred a de-bundling option, but I suppose that is how they make their money.

The Portuguese clam pasta was bountiful and satisfying. No standout flavors, but well balanced and the Chourico was a nice touch. Their newport cioppino offered up an impressive assortment of squid, fish, scallops, littlenecks and mussels with a less memorable preparation. The sides we sampled (garlic mash and a baked sweet potato) and the salad bar fit the pattern, not offending while not really impressing us much either.

We did enjoy a Newport storm on draft (brewed just a few miles from the restaurant), served in a cheap plastic cup. The sound volume was fairly acceptable considering the masses around us, they thankfully don't pack you in too tight, and the leftovers and check were handled efficiently.

Conclusion:
The Brick Alley Pub seems very comfortable and confident doing what they do, which is serving a vast sea of people decently good, satisfying food night after night. Not stellar, but perfect for a fun night with friends and for the experience of a Rhode Island institution.

Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions:


Where are the new reviews?  Are you still alive?
After eating at over 50 locations in 2009 I realized a couple things.
1) My hobby was expensive. 2009 was not a great year to be spending extra dough.
2) While I had some great meals, too often we went home a little disappointed.  The food might have been ok, but it often was no better than what we would have cooked at home, in a similar amount of time, for 20% of the price, and far healthier.  We decided to save dining out for special occasions- eat out less, at nicer places.  
I look forward to revisiting many of the top 10, (and some of the others) where I had some truly inspiring dishes.


As such, I am retiring my reviewing for now.  I doubt many tears will be shed. 


What is happening to the Fishy Foodie next?
Do not fear, I will still be around, in a new broader, and hopefully somewhat more regular role.  I plan to start writing more about my real food passions, including fermentation, fungi (did you know yeast is a fungus?), and molecular gastronomy.  


I may throw in occasional noteworthy restaurant experiences from around the country.
I hope you have enjoyed the reviews so far (I will keep them up for a while- as long as they are still relevant), and that the new content is interesting!




Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nero's Restaurant Oak (31 of 50)

Restaurant: Restaurant Oak
Cuisine: American
Price: Not cheap (~$20 entrees)
Score: 31
Would I eat there again: Eventually

Salt. What a powerful ingredient. Sodium, chloride, and that's about it. Wars have been fought over it, and it's the first half of the ubiquitous American spice combo- S and P. When used in moderation, it can enliven, heighten, and bring out the latent power of a dish. But add just a tiny bit too much, and the whole dish can come crashing down on your plate. At Restaurant Oak, we were victim to the latter.

In ten years of life in and around Providence I have driven down Hope St. and past Oak countless times and always been curious, yet had never dined there. Their neighbor probably doesn't help- when Chez Pascal is across the street from you the bar is set pretty high (in fact we watched as folks pulled up directly in front of Oak to park, then walked across the street to Chez Pascal...).

The decor is attractive and inviting (if rather reddish), and has nice big glass windows fronting on Hope Street. The waiter was very friendly and attentive, keeping our waters tended to (which was vital as it turned out) and taking good care of us. It was fairly slow the night we dined there (in the middle of our meal we were the only customers in the whole place) yet he managed to stay on top of his game and not get sucked into the comatose stupor that can befall wait staffs on slow nights.

Instead of the standard bread you often get, an excellent focaccia with a homemade hummus was provided as a house treat, and seconds were offered (and accepted!) when we finished the first round. For our dinners we shared the Oak meatloaf, and the smoked salmon club with the addition of sweet potato fries (a real weakness of mine). They both came out very quickly, which was hopefully a sign of a kitchen looking for work, and not overly pre-prepared dishes. The sweet potato fries were tasty and very salty, which can probably be forgiven/expected. The smoked salmon was decent, and had the lowest sodium content of the meal (although the bacon slices in it didn't help). The meatloaf dish was the epicenter of salted danger. Two very generous slices of meatloaf, topped in a gravy, with mashed potatoes, and green beans. Seems pretty innocuous. I started off with a couple green beans- very nice and crispy, but salty. The mashed potatoes started off good, but then you guessed it, the salt came through. At this point we were making a pretty serious demand on the water glasses, and our wonderful waiter kept the water coming. The meatloaf could have had great flavors in it, but all I could taste at this point was salt. My taste buds were overwhelmed, and I had to give up in defeat.

Now it is completely possible that a salt shaker had lost its top in the kitchen all over my plate. Perhaps this happened and nobody noticed. Or perhaps I was just the unlucky victim of an off night. Regardless, it was salt overload. Let me know how Oak has treated you- I am quite curious, but I am afraid for my blood pressure should I try again.

Conclusion:
Nero's Restaurant Oak looks great, has a friendly staff, and a decent, if fairly standard menu. We ran into serious salt overload, but minus that one factor I think Oak has a lot of potential to be a good neighborhood eatery.

Restaurant Oak on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 10, 2009

Recently closed

Below is our list of recently closed Rhode Island restaurants.
If you have a restaurant to add, or one of the places below is NOT closed, please let me know at thefishyfoodie AT gmail.com.


R.I.P. to the following:
  1. Taqueria Pacifica- Downtown (September 30th, 2009)
  2. Chelo's - Wakefield (September, 2009)
  3. Chinese Laundry (September, 2009)
  4. The Blue Elephant (Mid-August, 2009)
  5. India - Warren Location (Early August, 2009)

New Restaurants

Below is an ongoing list of newly opened Rhode Island restaurants.
If you have a restaurant to add, please let me know at thefishyfoodie AT gmail.com!
Good luck to:
  1. Wings over Providence (Hope St- September 2009)
  2. Snookers (Ashburton St- September 2009)
  3. Ardeo (Waterplace Park- September 4th 2009)
  4. Baja Tex Mex (Thayer St, Providence- September 2009)
  5. Dakar (Roosevelt Ave, Central Falls- August 2009)
  6. Shark Sushi and Hibachi (Thayer St, Providence- July 2009)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Red Fez (38 of 50)

Restaurant: The Red Fez
Cuisine: American/Eclectic
Price: Average (~$12 entrees)
Score: 38
Would I eat there again? Yes

The Red Fez sits in a location perfectly suited to its ambiance. Smack dab in the heart of the historic downtown parking district and near the soon to be defunct 195 highway, it is not the first spot you might think of for a restaurant. But hey, at least there normally is parking! Its location fits the mood of the restuarant very well- a little off the beaten path, quirky, yet still clean and comfortable.

Dining is offered on two floors- the downstairs is the fancy dining room (i.e. only one stuffed animal head, almost sufficient lighting, and no pinball machine). The upstairs is where it gets really interesting- PETA activists may want to take a pass on the upstairs, as the red hues and profusion of formerly happy woodland creatures on the walls make quite an impression.

Attitude is everything though, and while they have some of the same ironic hipster feel of Julians, the staff is far more friendly, and the whole dining experience is lower key. The drinks list is not huge, but well balanced, with a good variety of bottled and draft beers ranging from $2-$15, and an acceptable basic wine list. A couple inventive-sounding house cocktails round out their offerings. We enjoyed a Paulaner Hefeweizen on draft, nice and refreshing with a subtle spicy citrus aroma.

The food menu is small, with normally a handful of appetizers, a few permanent menu items, and 3-5 seasonal offerings. Everything I have eaten at The Red Fez has been well done, and I often will dine on a variety of their small plates so we can try more dishes. This evening we started off with corn and ancho fritters and avocado, shrimp and corn tacos. The fritters had just the right consistency- soft and cushy with plump corn kernels liberally scattered throughout. Sweet chili sauce provided a good balance to the fritters. The tacos were tasty, simple and fresh. Not greasy at all, everything tasted like you wanted it to.

We finished off our meal with the pulled pork BBQ sandwich (which comes with local slaw and pickles!) This is a serious dish, two of us were not able to finish it off, despite having only eaten the two appetizers before this. The pork is super moist and tangy- a slight heat rides through the sauce that has a nice touch of sweetness. The bun was pretty hefty, but still collapsed under the power of the pork and slaw. Service was prompt and friendly, and waters never got empty.

Conclusion
The Red Fez is a unique restaurant in Providence that deserves more attention than it gets, although it seems like they might be happy with the way things are. Funky decor, creative dishes featuring local items, and a good drink list put the Red Fez solidly on the ten top list. Well done!


Red Fez on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shark (32 of 50)

Restaurant: Shark Sushi and Hibachi
Cuisine: Japanese Sushi and Hibachi
Price: A bit above average
Score: 32
Would I eat there again? On occasion

*NOTE- Shark opened just two weeks ago, and as such is still very much in the formative stage. This review (and any other review of a newly opened restaurant) should be considered as a first impression, not a final judgement. It is written with the intention of giving an introduction to a new restaurant- so enjoy!

Dunkin Donut closed down on Thayer Street nearly two years ago. Their space (and more recently Spike's on Thayer) had sat empty until Shark started moving in. Work started in earnest a long 6-9 months ago, and in the intervening months they have done a complete makeover and update of the space.

The interior is dark and attractive, fitting in well with Kartabar, Andreas, and the rest of it's relatives on Thayer. Several flat screen TV's adorn the walls, and the staff looks like the standard Thayer wait staff (read into that what you want). The main attraction is the fish tank. Sitting squarely in the middle of restaurant (and filling the entire back bar area) the tank is pretty darn huge, and yes there is a shark, along with a lionfish, and a fun assortment of other tropical species that are hopefully shark-proof. It is refreshing to look at the fish instead of the same 100 quasi-high end liquor bottles.

There is an extensive cocktail list that seems a little stuck in the sugared up fruity martinis of the past 10 years, but has some fun options including a house made pineapple infused vodka. A fairly standard wine and beer list, and a few interesting looking sakes round out the drinks list.

The menu seems to have 3 main segments- sushi, more standard american entrees, and hibachi (also known as Teppanyaki). We did not try the hibachi which could be fun, but at $15-$30 per person I think I will wait for a special occasion. Their other entrees (pasta, fish, chicken and meat all looked fairly average, and seemed priced high ($16-$24 for the pasta options), but without trying them out I will reserve further judgement.

The sushi menu is fairy extensive with higher end maki rolls seeming to be the most interesting (if pricey with most specialty maki rolls over $10). We dined on a variety of standard sushi rolls (california, tuna, yellowtail, salmon skin, etc..) after starting out with their fried calamari and miso soup. The calamari was enjoyable with a good dose of pickled hot peppers and scallions tossed in. The menu also claimed a miso aioli in the dish, which seemed to be MIA from our plate, but sounded nice. The soup had a good flavor and heartiness, simple and just want you want from a warmup course. The sushi was all fine, nothing stood out particularly and it seemed to taste rather similar (this could have been due to poor ordering choices as well). It was fresh and clean, and I imagine some of the more fancy rolls and variations might be where the excitement is.

Service was very friendly and polite and waters were kept topped off. They certainly had plenty of staff on hand, which is a good thing as they were pretty busy (and with their restaurant seating ~ 120, they had better be ready for some serious rushes).

The grand opening is still a ways off- so hopefully they will get the chance to turn their good start into a great restaurant.

Conclusion
Shark is the newest addition to Thayer Street, challenging Paragon, Andreas, and Kartabar for the drinking & dining crowd. At this point it doesn't really stand out from the pack (in fact it feels like it could have been there for years), which hopefully will change as it gets some more experience under its belt. We could use a really good Japanese restaurant on Thayer, I hope they can rise to the challenge!


Shark Sushi and Hibachi on Urbanspoon