Thursday, July 23, 2009

What I Cooked On My Summer Vacation

I made it out to San Francisco last month for a fantastic week long vacation. I stayed with my friends Jeannette and David and spent most of my time eating very, very well. This is the first of two posts discussing the wonderful things I consumed on that trip.

This post shows off some of the work that David and I did in the kitchen during my time there.

Next time I'll show you what we dined on at San Francisco and Napa's wonderful restaurants.

Thursday David and I walked through the Ferry Building and picked up a whole striped bass that we grilled in their garden. We stuffed it with a bunch of herbs he had lying around the house and served it over papparadelle that we made from scratch.

For the record, the striped bass started it

I had never made pasta before, so this was an enlightening experience. I enjoyed the process so much that I have since purchased my own pasta machine.

On top of the fish and pasta, we tossed in some fresh veggies that we bought at the Ferry Building's farmer's market. We also made a sauce from fresh corn and milk that worked beautifully with the pasta and morels, if not the fish or veggies. See the results of our work below.

Mise En Place - Morels, Carrots, Snap Peas, Wax Beans

Striped Bass, Flat Leaf Parsley, Hysop, Thyme, Rosemary

David rolling out the pasta sheets

Fresh Corn Sauce

Trust me, there's a striped bass in there somewhere

The finished product - Whole Roasted Striped Bass over Home Made Pappardelle, Morels, Carrots, Sugar Snap Peas, Wax Beans

On my last day in town, David and I put on a brunch for about 20 of his friends. I got to play sous chef and waiter, and it was a blast seeing everyone enjoy themselves (and the food) so much.

Here's what we made:

The Menu

Crispy 36-Hour Pork Belly, Vidalia Onion Jam, Russian Black Bread

Wild Mushroom (Chanterelle, Maitake, King Trumpet, Porcini) Omelet, Fromage Blanc, Heirloom Tomato Salad

French Toast Sticks, Fresh Strawberries, Diced Strawberries, Strawberry Puree, Basil Whipped Cream

David Plating the French Toast

The Americanized Croque Madame

The Completed Pork Belly Sandwich

Look out for my next post when you'll find out what exactly the dish called Carte De Musica is.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Don't Forget The Drinks

Eating well isn't my only pastime.

I also like to enjoy a frosty beer, a fine wine or a well-crafted cocktail from time to time as well.

The one issue I have with buying drinks when out is whether the juice is worth the squeeze.

By that I mean, why pay six dollars for a beer when I could have the same exact same brew from the supermarket for less than a dollar a bottle? What reason do I have for dropping ten bucks on a gin and tonic when I can concoct my own for a tenth of the price? What's my motivation for ordering a forty dollar bottle of wine that retails at my local wine store for $13?

In certain instances there may be unique offerings in terms of selection (hard to find brands) or liquid delivery method (draft or cask ales), but in general, a great majority of the drinks ordered by bar and restaurant going patrons are familiar to their future imbibers.

When I drink outside of the house, I tend to order based on three ideals (in order of importance):

1) Beverages that I've never heard of

2) Beverages that I've never before had the pleasure of experiencing

3) Reasonable markups on beverages that I am familiar with (and enjoy)

I understand the need for restaurants to provide customers with the option of drinks they are familiar with to ensure that non-adventurous customers can quench their thirst. However, I believe that it should be the responsibility of any restaurant worth it's salt to provide diverse and unique options for those patrons interested in trying something new.

In that vein, here are some of my favorite restaurants and watering holes that also have superb libations to match their vittles:

Tailor's Solid Cocktails (yes, that's white russian rice crispies)

Tailor - They aren't cheap, but I guarantee you that you've never had anything like Eben Freeman's Cocktails. They just filed for bankruptcy, so go check them out before you no longer can. The free curry popcorn at the bar is about as addictive as it gets.

The lair of the Chang and Wylie Dogs, and Bacon infused whisky

Please Don't Tell (PDT) - Finding your way into this hidden drinking den is only the beginning of the fun. Creative drinks using fresh, seasonal ingredients are the standard at this clandestine cocktail lounge. More importantly, there's nothing quite like quaffing a pitch perfect cocktail while chowing down on phenomenal junk food (Jalapeno Cheese Tater Tots anyone?). Be sure to check out their celebrity-chef haute dogs.

Even the bar stools are appetizing

Terroir - Wine bars can be snooty, overpriced and boring. This place is none of those things. Run by the fine folks at Hearth and Insieme, Terroir's staff will gladly educate you about the wines you're tasting while feeding you excellent morsels of interesting foods.

Five and Ten - I adore Five and Ten for about a million different reasons, but one of my favorite reasons to love it is their beverage program. Every liquid on hand is carefully chosen, from local craft beers (Terrapin!, Sweetwater!) to classic and modern southern cocktail favorites (Mint Julep, Southern Sunrise).

Don't be dismayed if your date gets distracted by the wine list

Their wine list is a tome worth checking out even if you never plan to step foot in the restaurant. It evokes the pleasures that the wines it lists provide, and uses humor, Rochioli, Sonoma, 2005 (the cult classic), or Loire, Dom. St. Nicolas, Cuvee Jacques, 2004 (full, bright; speaks fluent terroir)), gravitas (Billecart-Salmon, rosé, NV, Champagne (complex beyond belief; true bliss)) and food imagery (rose, Pax, Sonoma County, 2005 (sought after; berries, roses, nilla wafers)) to describe the many wines on offer.

Even wines by the glass get chef's notes in their descriptions. It's one of the few wine lists that is actually fun to read, and its evident that those involved clearly had a blast coming up with it.

So I challenge you as diners to seek out something new and interesting when you go out, whether it be food, drink, atmosphere, or hopefully, all of the above.