Oxford Kitchen

I've eaten at least twice---once tonight, and once or twice last June or so... at The Oxford Kitchen on Banbury Road in the heart of Summertown in North Oxford.  Extraordinarily good food.  Nice ambience and décor, stylish but relatively casual.  Exposed brick walls, large silk-screen Campbell's soup can print a nice humorous touch.  Set price menu is extraordinary value.  Hake with Jerusalem artichokes, parsley risotto and some kind of thin (like, microthin) veggie crisps just superb.  Nougatine with quince sorbet, thin (like, microthin) wafers tasting of burnt sugar, toasted almonds, and some crumbly stuff mind-blowingly good.  Pumpkin velouté starter good, not mind-blowing, but set off the wine I had very nicely.  At £18.50 for 2 courses, £15.50 for 2, it's one of the best foodie values I've encountered anywhere.   Wines are carefully chosen and if you have wine in restaurants you know how important that is.  2013 Boschendal Chenin Blanc, coastal region South Africa, £5/175ml is kind of the Chablis of Chenin Blancs---pretty dry, a bit of stereotypical apple flavor but mostly just tastes like really solid white wine a bit flinty-seeming maybe but that's probably just a bit of tannin, really long, flavorful finish no doubt stuck to the palate with a bit of that unobtrusive tannin, a smooth, just the slightest bit unctuous, and not at all hot (overalcoholic) mouthfeel.  To get a chardonnay of this quality, you'd be looking at good village-level white burgundy from the Côtes de Beaune or Nuits, like maybe a St.-Aubin at least (or maybe some particular thing, known to the cognoscenti but not to you unless from a restaurant like this...from a lesser appellation like Mercurey) at least, and 3-4x the price.  Ditto on the red side if you wanted a pinot noir as good as the Claro Reserva 2012 Pinot Noir from Chile ( also £5/175ml)... lush, a bit spicy and earthy, with generous berry flavors too but not a fruit or alcohol bomb, balanced.  These folks have done the work of tasting through dozens of ho-hum reasonably-priced wines to find the ones that deliver an experience that is usually (well, I don't usually spend that kind of money) much more expensive.  Talisker 10 year old, neat in a nice wide rocks glass with a bit of water to splash in, was a perfect finish.  Lively balance between peat and brighter more floral notes, filling the nose with perfume and crackling like fire on your tongue.

I had the tasting menu once last year, it too was superb.  Don't miss Oxford Kitchen if you're in town and can get up to Summertown for a meal.

Restaurant Zur Herrenmuehle, Heidelberg

While visiting Markus Müller at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Heidelberg to work on on our paper with Cozmin Ududec, I strolled all the way through the old town from my hotel on Bismarckplatz, past the Holy Ghost church on the market square, throught the Karslplatz with the illuminated castle ruins looming on the hillside above, and on down the less frequented end of the Hauptstrasse to the Restaurant Zur Herrenmuehle.  It was well worth the walk.  In a former mill, from the 17th century (hence the name "at the old mill", or maybe "at Old Man Mill").  I had the four course version of the Landhausmenu.  I tend toward vegetarianism with some fish, but am not completely strict about it, and suspended it here:  there was a little bit of salted beef in the soup course, and the main course was venison.  I suppose I rationalized it a bit by thinking that the deer at least run around free for most of their lives, rather than being cooped up in feedlots for a good chunk of them.  The first course, if I recall correctly, was marinated salmon (essentially lox) with anise and pepper, pickled mango, and asparagus; the second was a smooth foamed pearl-onion soup with whole pearl onions and a few salt-cured beef slices; excellent, concentrated flavor (would have been excellent even without the beef).  These went very well with a "Trocken" Riesling, Kabinett I believe, but I've forgotten the producer.  (One of the Rhine regions, I think.)   "Trocken" means dry, and refers to a more typically international method of winemaking that foregoes the traditional German süssreserve (sweet reserve) of unfermented wine added to end fermentation.  This wine, however, tasted closer to a traditional German style than your usual West Coast US or Alsatian Riesling.  The main course involved rare roasted or grilled venison and brussels sprouts flavored with real vanilla bean (a stroke of genius), as well as other delicious stuff.  The final course was semolina pudding slices with pistachios, etc...  When I ordered a glass of red wine to go with the venison, I mentioned two of the wines by the glass--neither German---that I was considering.  The one I didn't mention was a Spätburgunder, a German pinot noir.  The waiter recommended I have the Spätburgunder with the venison, and he was absolutely right.  While still recognizably a little bit sweet and fruity (a style that can be annoying in Spätburgunder if done clumsily, which is why I was not considering it initially), it was balanced, rather velvety and refined, with a kind of graham-cracker-like texture to the somewhat softened tannins, and a little bit of minerality and complexity in addition to beautiful strawberry-ish fruit.  Perfect complement, in the echoing-with-subtle-differences mode, to the venison.  I love it when a restaurant knows what wines go with their dishes, and isn't afraid to tell you.  I asked about the producer, and recall that it was fairly local, somewhat to the south of Heidelberg, I believe.  But I didn't jot down the name, unfortunately.  Probably one of those superb small local producers whose output is all spoken for by the local restaurants, wineshops, and customers, and not to be found in the US anyway (plus Spätburgunder may not be the best-traveling wine, freshness being a big part of its appeal).  I ordered a brandy rather than a coffee as an after-dinner-drink, and ended up with a surprise, a Spanish brandy (wish I could recall the producer!) that was a glorious end to the meal, and turned out to be complimentary.  The interior, as you can see by some of the pictures on the website, is elegant but still retains some of the rusticity of the old mill, for instance the wooden beams, and the bench seating around the edge of the room, even if not part of the original mill, lends a slightly rustic touch too.  Service was perfect, friendly and not obtrusive, and everyone there obviously loves good food and is happy to be providing it at a really high level.  I don't know if this restaurant has a Michelin star but I would definitely give it one (at least).  This is one of those places that should be known to all in the international fraternity (sorority, egalité) of lovers of fine food matched with equally fine wines... it is obviously owned, run, and staffed by members of the same.

Some ideas on food and entertainment for those attending SQUINT 2014 in Santa Fe

I'm missing SQUINT 2014 (bummer...) to give a talk at a workshop on Quantum Contextuality, Nonlocality, and the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics in Bad Honnef, Germany, followed by collaboration with Markus Mueller at Heidelberg, and a visit to Caslav Brukner's group and the IQOQI at Vienna.  Herewith some ideas for food and entertainment for SQUINTers in Santa Fe.

Cris Moore will of course provide good advice too.  For a high-endish foodie place, I like Ristra.  You can also eat in the bar there, more casual (woodtop tables instead of white tablecloths), a moderate amount of space (but won't fit an enormous group), some smaller plates.  Pretty reasonable prices (for the excellent quality).  Poblano relleno is one of the best vegetarian entrees I've had in a high-end restaurant---I think it is vegan.  Flash-fried calamari were also excellent... I've eaten here a lot with very few misses.  One of the maitres d' sings in a group I'm in, and we're working on tenor-baritone duets, so if Ed is there you can tell him Howard sent you but then you have to behave ;-).  The food should be good regardless.  If Jonathan is tending bar you can ask him for a flaming chartreuse after dinner... fun stuff and tasty too.  (I assume you're not driving.)  Wines by the glass are good, you should get good advice on pairing with food.

Next door to Ristra is Raaga... some of the best Indian food I've had in a restaurant, and reasonably priced for the quality.

I enjoyed a couple of lunches (fish tacos, grilled portobello sandwich, weird dessert creations...) at Restaurant Martin, was less thrilled by my one foray into dinner there.  Expensive for dinner, less so for lunch, a bit of a foodie vibe.

Fish and chips are excellent at Zia Café (best in town I think), so is the green chile pie--massive slice of a deep-dish quiche-like entity, sweet and hot at the same time.

I like the tapas at El Mesón, especially the fried eggplant, any fried seafood like oysters with salmorejo, roasted red peppers with goat cheese (more interesting than it sounds).  I've had better luck with their sherries (especially finos) better than their wines by the glass.  (I'd skip the Manchego with guava or whatever, as it's not that many slices and you can get cheese at a market.)  Tonight they will have a pretty solid jazz rhythm section, the Three Faces of Jazz, and there are often guests on various horn.  Straight-ahead standards and classic jazz, mostly bop to hard bop to cool jazz or whatever you want to call it.  "Funky Caribbean-infused jazz" with Ryan Finn on trombone on Sat. might be worth checking out too... I haven't heard him with this group but I've heard a few pretty solid solos from him with a big band.  Sounds fun.  The jazz is popular so you might want to make reservations (to eat in the bar/music space, there is also a restaurant area I've never eaten in) especially if you're more than a few people.

La Boca and Taverna La Boca are also fun for tapas, maybe less classically Spanish.  La Boca used to have half-price on a limited selection of tapas and $1 off on sherry from 3-5 PM.  Not sure if they still do.

Il Piatto is relatively inexpensive Italian, pretty hearty, and they usually have some pretty good deals in fixed-price 3 course meals where you choose from the menu, or early bird specials and such.

Despite a kind of pretentious name Tanti Luci 221, at 221 Shelby, was really excellent the one time I tried it.  There's a bar menu served only in the bar area, where you can also order off the main menu.  They have a happy hour daily, where drinks are half price.  That makes them kinda reasonable.  The Manhattan I had was excellent, though maybe not all that traditional.

If you've got a car and want some down-home Salvadoran food, the Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvadoreño, in front of a motel on Cerillos, is excellent and cheap.

As far as entertainment, get a copy of the free Reporter (or look up their online calendar).  John Rangel and Chris Ishee are two of the best jazz pianists in town;  if either is playing, go.  Chris is also in Pollo Frito, a New Orleans funk outfit that's a lot of fun.  If they're playing at the original 2nd street brewery, it should be a fun time... decent pubby food and brews to eat while you listen.  Saxophonist Arlen Asher is one of the deans of the NM jazz scene, trumpeter and flugelhorn player Bobby Shew is also excellent, both quite straight-ahead.  Dave Anderson also recommended.  The one time I heard JQ Whitcomb on trumpet he was solid, but it's only been once.  I especially liked his compositions.  Faith Amour is a nice singer, last time I heard her was at Pranzo where the acoustics were pretty bad.  (Tiny's was better in that respect.)

For trad New Mexican (food that is) I especially like Tia Sophia's on Washington (I think), and The Shed for red chile enchiladas (and margaritas).

Gotta go.  It's Friday night, when all good grad students, faculty, and postdocs anywhere in the worlkd head for the nearest "Irish pub".



Upcoming Santa Fe show: Todd and the Fox at Second Street Brewery


In case there are any readers who will be in Santa Fe tomorrow, I thought I'd point out what should be an enjoyable show:  Todd and the Fox, at the original (2nd St.) location of the Second Street Brewery, at 6 PM (June 16th, 2012).  You can check out some of their music here at Reverbnation.  Todd Eric Lovato plays a mean electric banjo (and some guitars), while simultaneously providing the bass line with a foot-pedal keyboard.  Erik Sawyer's drumming is excellent and he's found the perfect sound for this kind of folk/bluegrass/psychedelic-rock Americana thing these guys have going.   What's that you ask? Yes, of course they even mix in a little reggae at times ("Bad Friend").  Plenty of humor in the music and a really enjoyable groove.  I heard them at the Cowgirl Café last year. You can probably decide whether or not you'll like the show by asking yourself how you'll react to Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond covered on electric banjo. If the idea puts you off, you're too uptight for this show.  (It's a gas, although I can't guarantee they'll play it.)  The house-made beer on tap and the food at Second Street are pretty good too (we're talking hearty somewhat pubbish fare, not foodie fussiness, of course, but it's on the fresh and carefully cooked side for such fare), so it should be a good time all around. If you aren't in Santa Fe, you can get a taste of the music as mentioned above, though sadly, not Shine On.  Their Soundcloud page has a few more tunes, and their myspace page doesn't completely overlap (check out the live-at-Santa-Fe-Sol guit-boogie "Cougar", and the humorous doo-wop of "Cruise Line" ("I know that you you drive a muscle car / '69 Chevy Malibu / and me girl / I drive a Subaru Outback / but that doesn't matter girl / because I love you"), either.  The newgrass blues lament "I Miss My Girl", on most of these pages, is pretty nice too.  Overall their stuff is a nice mix between some more serious moments and good clean (er, if you edit a couple of the lyrics slightly) fun.

John Rangel / Michael Anthony ---- jazz duet at El Meson, Santa Fe

El Meson has excellent tapas and excellent live music, often jazz, in its bar and jazz room, ¡Chispa!.  (I've never eaten in the main dining room.)  For a long time Thursdays were given over to local pianist John Rangel (who moved to Santa Fe a few years back from Los Angeles) playing duets with different guest musicians.  I've enjoyed John's playing in a variety of settings, and I heard him with Albuquerque-based guitarist Michael Anthony (another LA transplant with lots of film recording credits to his name) last Nov. 17 (2011).  It was a very enjoyable evening of jazz, with the musicians playing close attention to each other and creating different moods and interludes on the fly.  Exchanges of "fours" and such were especially interesting.  I didn't take notes, and a run-through would be pointless anyway, but the repertoire was a lot of standards, jazz classics, some bossa and samba, and blues.   Fairly straightahead bop and post bop, played with a sophisticated harmonic sense and plenty of chromaticism on the part of both players, but nothing too far-out.  I definitely recommend going to any gig John is playing on... he is frequently to be heard with the Tribute Trio (w/ Michael Glynn on bass, Cal Haines on drums), either on their own or with guest horn players.

Tapas at El Meson are often superb---the Cordoban style fried eggplant ($9.50) is very fresh-tasting, almost sweet, and practically melts in your mouth---it is especially good in late summer when eggplant is in season, but always worthwhile.  House-roasted peppers in a little earthenware terrine with Spanish goat cheese ($7.50) are also superb.  I like fried oysters with Romesco sauce ($9.50) as well.  Setas a la Parilla ($9.50), oyster mushrooms grilled with garlic, parsley, and olive oil, are also excellent, if less exotic.   The sherries by the glass have all been excellent as well.

Highly recomended for both food and music.

Raaga: top-notch Indian restaurant in Santa Fe

A relative newcomer on the Santa Fe scene is the Indian restaurant, Raaga, owned by Paddy Rawal.  It's in a one-story arts-and-crafts style bungalow on Agua Fria street (a few blocks west of Sanbusco Center, where you can park if the restaurant's lot is full), that housed the excellent Asian-Pacific fusion restaurant Mauka a few years back.  (Mauka's chef, Joel Coleman, now heads an "Asian tapas" place, Koi, that gets good reviews---I haven't tried it.)  The old Mauka decor is still there, with the exception of some photos of India on the wall.  It's casual but reasonably elegant.

The food is some of the best in Santa Fe, of any type.  Food at Indian restaurants is often very oily and garlicky---which can be fun, but can be a bit much.  The food at Raaga does not have this problem---the lack of excessive oil gives a much clearer, cleaner impression on the palate, and there's plenty of flavor.  Much more like home-cooked Indian food.  The stuffed pepper appetizer was a hot green chile (the menu says it's a Poblano) with a filling of potatoes, peas, and spices that's standard for samosas, thinly covered with a cornmeal  batter and fried.  Delicious ($4.95).  The Chole Amritsari---chickpeas with a sauce featuring pomegranate, chiles, and ginger ($13.95), was superb.  Bombay fish masala curry, at $17.95, was also excellent.   Naan was topnotch as well.  Some of the best Indian food I've had in a restaurant, and the prices are quite nice for food of this quality.   Two appetizers and a split main dish would easily make a meal---the main dishes are quite large.

Let's hope that, unlike the equally excellent Mauka, Raaga makes a go of it at this location.  It's a bit off the main tourist and business streets, but it's a short and very pleasant stroll, full of Santa Fe atmosphere, from the busy Guadalupe street area down Agua Fria, so check it out.

Raaga on Urbanspoon

Eats: Hanne på Høyden, Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway


Was recently in Bergen Norway as part of the FQXi conference Setting Time Aright.  (I didn't know it had gone awry...).  Since Norway seems to be one of the world's most expensive travel destinations, I figured I would take full advantage of the hotel breakfast, skip lunch, and have dinner at a really good restaurant---most restaurants in town are nearly as expensive as a really good one anyway.

Hanne på Høyden, Bergen, Norway

Hanne på Høyden, Bergen, Norway

Hanne på Høyden turned out to be one of the best places I have ever eaten.  They tend toward Norwegian, and local, ingredients where possible.  Nice, casually elegant location in the former Brun bakery.  (Frederick Brun is gone, but his business now has branches in various parts of Bergen---just not the original building.  Prices deterred me from sampling.)  A large, high-ceilinged room with plenty of windows on the street holds most of the diners; a half-level higher, but open to the main room, is a small bar with counter looking toward the kitchen, and a couple of high tables, and also a cool, semiprivate room, with photos of Brun and the building in its old incarnation as bakery, on the walls.  I ate at one of the high tables in the bar area (probably lucky to get the chance without a reservation).

The complimentary amuse-bouche was a mousse of creme fraiche and crabmeat topped with a little herring roe.  Light and airy and flavorful, the herring roe a perfect intensely flavored salty complement to the crabmeat.  Perfection.  Rye bread with local butter was a perfect accompaniment to this and the rest of the meal.  The house-made wheat beer was slightly floral, not as sweet or alcoholic as some wheat beers can be--very refreshing and tasty.

Starter was a cold tomato and raspberry soup, described by the waitress as like a gazpacho.  Which indeed it was---a light, somewhat foamy gazpacho, very intensely flavored, with some herbs that looked like very tiny and tender parsley, shavings of parmesan, and ripe raspberries and half cherry tomatoes sprinkled on top.   Raspberry and perfectly ripe, sweet tomato turn out to be an inspired pairing.  The soup tasted like there was an intense olive oil swirled in, but also something minty that perfected the flavor combination---it turned out to be not olive oil, but birch oil.  This was as good a dish as I've eaten anywhere.

The main course was "Fjordfe med grønnkål og ramsløksaus", which I  understood to translate as "Fjord beef"---a relatively rare kind of cattle raised in pastures by the fjords of Norway's west coast---with green kale and wild fennel sauce.  I think it is "Fjordfe" in Norwegian.  It was superb---cooked medium rare, just as I asked, it did not have a red-meaty taste at all, but was rather mild and nutty, sliced into pieces in a delicious sauce of cream, wild fennel, and "Viking garlic", which I take to be some local wild tuber.  I'd ordered a glass of Tuscan Sangiovese to go with the beef, but it turned out the wheat beer was a perfect pairing---without the red-meaty taste, red wine was unnecessary (although it was a tasty enough glass).  The roasted small potatoes accompanying the dish were superb, though perhaps the salt encrusting them was a bit much.  Another great dish.

Dessert was "Sesongens bær på fløtepudding", a half-inch layer of a pudding (somewhat like a thick, smooth creme anglaise) generously studded with seasonal berries: blueberries, raspberries, fat, ripe gooseberries, red and black currants, possibly some melon if my memory isn't confusing me, all perfectly ripe and tasty.  Simple but perfect---a fabulous end to a fabulous meal.   Well, not quite the end---a glass of intense house-made raspberry liqueur was the finishing touch.

Not cheap but worth it---a truly memorable meal, one of the best restaurant meals I've ever had.  Michelin doesn't seem to have paid much attention to Norway (I think there are five restaurants it has starred, all in Oslo)---but Hanne på Høyden is obviously the kind of restaurant that deserves a star--or two.

Perimeter Institute Bistro does it again...

Another home run hit by the Perimeter Institute Bistro's crack team of chefs.  A not exactly Kosher lunch, last Tues. or Thurs.:  milk-braised pork with ricotta gnocchi.   Deeply flavored, tender, savory pork.  The milk wasn't really identifiable as such but must have contributed to the tenderness, and maybe in some way to the intensely flavored bit of concentrated jus (that's, like, Français for juice) that coated the little bits of slightly spicy, slightly bitter greens and the delicious ricotta gnocchi.  A few bits of purple watercress, or sorrel or something, provided another perfect garnish.  Made me feel like I was staying in a nice Italian farmhouse someplace in, maybe, Emilia, or perhaps eating on the patio of a really good trattoria.  So maybe I should have said "sugo" instead of "jus".  In any case...Bravo!!!

Lunch at Perimeter: Rice-wrapped Seabass with Puy Lentils.

Perimeter's bistro is amazing.  The rice-wrapped seabass with Puy lentils I had yesterday at lunch was perfection.  Nice, thick piece of fish, cooked perfectly.  Flaky.  Firm. Moist. Flavorful.  Swathed in a rice wrapper and lightly browned, ending up covered in a crisp, savory golden sheath.  Thin slivers of red and yellow peppers and suchlike veggies encased with the fish.  The whole atop a generous bed of tiny, dark, earthy, intense Puy lentils, larded with and accompanied by more bits and slivers of veggies---carrot, more peppers, and so on.   A drizzle of excellent olive oil.  Karla, Steve, Frank, and the rest of the chefs and kitchen staff at PI get a big salute, or in Japanese style, a deep bow of acknowledgment, for this and many other unfussy but elegant, intense, and satisfying creations.  Food like this relaxes and rejuvenates mind and body.  I think we all work better---prove better theorems, achieve better philosophical insights, find more efficient ways to make the institute run or keep the building in good shape, and so forth, after a meal like this.  Not that that's the point---like a piece of music, a painting, or a good theorem, such a dish is its own best reason for being.

Go for the Sazerac or the "barbecue shrimp" (Mr. B's Bistro, New Orleans)

I was put off by my first Sazerac a few years back.  I tried one from someplace listed in a guidebook as a "must"---selling them out of a window on Bourbon Street, if I recall---plastic cup, lots of ice, not much whisky---confirmation of rule no. 1 for a visit to New Orleans ("stay away from Bourbon Street").

But I finally decided to risk it again, and it turned out OK.  Actually better than OK.  Mr. B's Bistro is not my top restaurant in New Orleans, but I end up there fairly frequently if the crowds on d'Iberville make oysters at one of the places there impossible, especially if I'm with a bunch of colleagues who just want to eat and aren't going to be into a long meal at someplace like Bayona or Stella!.  And sure enough, my meal there this time was highlighted by the excellent company---pragmatist quantum mechanic Chris Fuchs, category-theoretic quantum sculptor Bob Coecke, and epistemic game theorist Adam Brandenburger---rather than the food.  (My shrimp and grits were decent, but the grits too garlicky and over-flavored and the bacon-wrapped shrimp nowhere near as flavorful---except for the bacon---as the ones at Herbsaint, while an appetizer of fried oysters on the half-shell with beurre blanc  would have been better as just a straight pile of fried oysters.  Bob liked his barbecue shrimp, though (which I've also thoroughly enjoyed there on other occasions), and Adam his fish.  But anyway, while waiting for dinner, an extremely tall, distinguished Southern gentleman bartender made me a Sazerac---the drink identified with New Orleans, made from Sazerac rye whisky, bitters, simple syrup, the glass rinsed with Herbsaint liqueur or some other Pernod-like liqueur, or absinthe in the old days.  Truly tasty---no skimping on the high quality whisky.  I had two decent Sazeracs over the next few days---the better of the two at the Napoleon House bar, a more mediocre but still quite drinkable one at Pravda (standard bar for Bob Coecke and crew on their New Orleans visits, slightly odd Soviet/Goth decor, but quiet enough for conversation).   So, if you too end up seeking refuge in Mr. B's from the roiling masses queueing for oysters or for a seat at the Redfish Grill, just have a Sazerac and enjoy sitting or standing at the long wooden bar with brass rails---then try the barbecue shrimp, complete with bib, if you're staying to eat.  "Barbecue shrimp" isn't barbecued---it comes in a bowl full of butter, spicy sauce, and you eat it with your hands, soaking up the sauce with bread.  I don't think I've had it elsewhere for comparison, but Mr. B's was plenty tasty both times I had it there.