Archive: November, 2008
|Bar snacks at Pub & Kitchen|
|Photo | Michael T. Regan|
- There are lots of one-line adages that I carry around in my head. When in doubt, step on the clutch. Always wash your hands, even if your natural inclination is to say screw it. If Trey Popp's got nothing but praise for a place, it is most definitely worth checking out. This applies to Pub & Kitchen, the fun new eater's bar at 20th and Lombard. Used to be Chaucer's; now it's got the goods courtesy of chef Jonathan McDonald.
- A diverse bunch of tidbits for you in this week's Feeding Frenzy — Di Vino Wine Bar in the former Valentino on the Square, a new branch of Naked Chocolate in West Philly, Caffeination at 21st and Chestnut and word of some super-affordable shmance cocktails at APO.
- David Snyder takes on the curiously Mexican (?) menu at Girard Avenue's Q-Ba. Some stuff he likes, much of it needs fine-tuning. But lo — the chef promises that the menu will soon be changed to feature Cuban classics.
- Nikki-san has a multitude of get-up-get-out offerings for you in her latest What's Cooking — this weekend's Roxy Brew Fest, brunch with author Kim Sunée, a German/Austrian wine dinner at World Café Live and more.
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Looking over my tasting notes for an aged keg of Boulder Brewing's Obovoid Empirical Stout, I'm not sure if I've had a beer or a boozy candy bar.
Not that this weighty stout is sweet. It's not, it's just that the flavors sweeping across my tongue could just as easily describe haute chocolat. "Creamy, chewy, choco, dense," read my notes, "like cocoa powder stirred into ice cream."
Four kegs of the limited-edition Empirical Stout appeared about one year ago at the Belgian Café, and were stored, cool and dry, to benefit from a bit of cellaring. The oatmeal stout had been aged in oak barrels prior to release, and the oak seems to have contributed a bit of tannin and a dry, almost chalky, finish after the intense cocoa flavors have dissipated.
At 7.5 percent ABV, this heavy-hitting stout makes a comforting winter warmer, playing nice with a few intense Belgian chocolates for a lavish end to a simple meal.
Boulder Brewing Obovoid Empirical Stout is available at The Belgian Café (21st and Green streets., 215-235-3500) for a limited time.
|PADMA. You. Me. Bottle of Old Grand-Dad. Sack|
of Totino's Pizza Rolls. Now does that sound like
something you'd be interested in?
"As the saying goes, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere," the transcendently beautiful Padma Lakshmi told the eager contestants on the season premiere of Bravo's Top Chef.
Of course. OF COURSE.
Yes, Season 5 is in New York City. Blablabla so many restaurants that are so good blabla more than half a million industry professionals fighting for six jobs blablabla universal epicenter of all things epicurean bla. anthonybourdain mariobatali ericripert thomaskeller we're better than everyone. We know. WE KNOW.
Sorry. New York always gives me anxiety attacks.
Top Chef is easily the best food show on TV and has always been one of my perennial favorites, and not just because I write articles about turkey burgers and turnovers for a living. People love Project Runway (well, used to at least) due to its almost anti-reality TV reality TV gambit: Yes, there's contrived drama and back-stabbing, but the overriding force driving the show is individual talent and creativity. In other words, you can't lie/cheat/steal/fuck your way through the game on some Real World/Road Rules shit. If you can't make a pencil skirt, you're done.
The same precept can be applied to the Lakshmi/Colicchio variety hour: The viewing populace takes insane pleasure in watching highly qualified industry professionals prepare amuse bouches using preservative-laden snacks they buy out of vending machines, but not because it sucks for them. We just want to see what they come with.
This season's very first Quickfire Challenge, an elimination, had the chefs work on some big apples. (Sigh.) Contestants were instructed to peel 15 with a paring knife, then brunoise 2 cups of said fruit; while top finishers in each round secured their spot on the show, the whittled-down list of stragglers moved further down the gauntlet to the final showdown, which saw them cooking a apple-based dish in 20 minutes. Lauren was tossed back on the ferry she rode in on.
The main challenge involved the remaining chefs shopping in various NY ethnic neighborhoods to create a plate representative of the area. As is the case with any reality TV premiere ep, things are so crowded that it's not only tough to pick favorites, it's also difficult to even register who is who. But as far as I can tell, the top three in this inaugural competition have the chops to get far this year — Hawaiian Gene, who blew Padma away with his unwitting interpretation of Indian cuisine; NY native Leah, who cooks Italian but comes from a "Filipino, Russian-Romanian Jewish background" (what up, sis!); and the challenge winner, Finnish baldheaded Euro shit-talker Stefan.
Favorite moment of the episode: Miami chef Jeff, who to me looks just like the Australian doctor from House, had to cook Latin against Florence-born Fabio. "I live in Miami — I know my Latin," Jeff told the camera with all the force and conviction of a 14-year-old Willie Loman in a middle school production of Death of a Salesman. "He's Italian. It’s a whole 'nother continent."
This is gonna be good.
Whether it's an allergy to chlorophyll, a fear of bread crusts, or antipathy to trying even just one bite of something new, children can be frustrating, picky little bastards at the dinner table.
In her series of toddler's board books, World Snacks (Tricycle), Amy Wilson Sanger introduces the wee ones to festively rendered edibles from around the globe. Simple pronunciation guides and glossaries accompany the bright little books, encouraging small children to become familiar with more exotic foods than chicken fingers and buttered pasta. Sanger's cut-paper and mixed media collages and rhyming text provide a jumping-off point for parents to introduce new foods to wary children.
Serving the young ones a diverse diet is a wise investment in our foodie future: someday our elderly selves will no longer be able to pestle our own pesto or scour the greenmarket for the best beets. Though someday we will be at the mercy of the more nimble generation, I have no desire to spend my twilight years eating fish sticks.
|Rendering of the forthcoming D.P. Dough location|
|D.P. Dough on Facebook|
Watch your back, P'Zone.
D.P. Dough, a growing national franchise with locations in 13 states (mostly around college campuses), is opening at 40th and Chestnut in late December or early January. (Its other Pennsylvania location is in State College.)
Drexel alum Mike Nagao, who's running the venture with brother Scott and partners Jason and Jacquie Hembrey, tells us the company specializes in calzones made with fresh dough and high-quality ingredients. The menu features some 50 varieties — many of which feature awesomely trademarked -zone puns like Falling Rock Zone (potato, bacon, mozz, cheddar) and Danger Zone (hamburger, cheddar, Mexican seasoning, onions, hot sauce) — but there's also a "Construction Zone" option to build your own. They make all calzones fresh when ordered, and also offer breadsticks, wings, salads, wraps and the like. Delivery and late-night hours are a must, of course.
SNACK TIME: Braving the curse of Empyrean, perfume your home with quince, Vitamin C intoxication, Dear Mom, thank you for saving me from Thanksgiving, the prestige tasting of the universe tonight at Per Se
|The enigmatic quince|
Every Wednesday, Meal Ticket pokes around the food blog world to see what's simmering.
- In The Insider, Michael Klein looks in to the liquor license application in the former Empyrean Coffee space at 1921 Walnut. Seems like Monkey Bar owners, the brothers Vasiliadis, are looking to expand their Rittenhouse presence by turning the "odd shaped mansion" into Kashmir, an "'ethno-lounge kitchen' reminiscent of a 'Parisian boudoir in Tangier' featuring comfort food from all parts of the world." If Monkey Bar is doing well enough in this anxious economy to inspire them to open another venue, the bold brothers might be the men to tame the curse of that long-vacant space.
- Clotilde Dusoulier of the elegantly Francophilic Chocolate & Zucchini explains the mystery of the autumn quince, a fruit that "unlike the pear and apple, its comelier cousins, it opposes the blade with an almost wood-like resistance." Clotilde suggests sharpening up your knives to peel and core this enigmatic fruit before poaching it gently with vanilla beans. Sensual living bonus: a bowl of quince ripening on the counter will perfume your home with an "irresistibly sweet, floral, candy-like scent", an extravagance the puritanical apple would surely consider unseemly.
- For those who don't know they're finished until they are on the verge of a stomach rupture, the CHOW food team has concocted a simple recipe for a mandarin orange digestif. The 151 grain alcohol infused with mandarin peels should speed feast victims from food coma to buzzed burping in no time.
- Thanksgiving contrarian the Urban Vegan encourages readers to adopt a turkey this year, and shares photos and a thank-you note from her turkey adoptee, Apollo. Wonder if 10 cents a day means little Apollo will be going to a less fowl school this year.
- The always-newsy MenuPages blog gushes over tonight's performance by two gastronomic giants at New York's Per Se: Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Per Se) and Grant Achatz (Alinea) are preparing a tasting that will have Big Apple foodies committing suicide, as attending means their lives have certainly peaked. At $1500 per person for the 20-course meal, the event "sold out fairly quickly." A few seats are left for the second extravagant performance, at Alinea in Chicago on Dec. 2.
|From left: Art Smith, Rick Bayless, Daniel Young|
Serious Eats founder Ed Levine posted this piece on possible contenders for the job of White House Chef under the new Obama administration, after the New York Daily News suggested three candidates.
They are former Oprah chef Art Smith, authentic Mexican chef and food oracle Rick Bayless, and NBA star Carmelo Anthony's personal chef, Daniel Young.
I don't know if any of the three are seriously in contention for the job (the reporting was not exactly definitive), but if they are, I think Art Smith would be the odds-on favorite. In any case, the story got me thinking about who could or should get the job.
Levine lays out his criteria for a White House Chef — healthy cooking; points for being a Chicago local; and embodiment of culinary change. No more menus-as-usual for this administration.
After commenters blew up the post with their suggestions (heavy on celeb chefs/personalities like Charlie Trotter, Alice Waters and Anthony Bourdain), the Chicago Tribune picked up the "blogosphere buzz" to analyze the unsurpassed pre-inauguration excitement and speculation regarding the President-elect, to the point where people care about who's going to scramble the man's egg whites.
Tribune critic Phil Vettel shoots down the celebrity chef angle straightaway, 86ing guys like Trotter and Bayless.
I got a phone call from a restaurant critic in D.C., wondering whether Charlie Trotter might be the guy. Which made me laugh. Trotter runs a culinary empire that is totally beholden to his personality and presence; ship Charlie to Washington, and Armitage Avenue might fade away. Besides, Trotter couldn't afford the pay cut.
Ouch, cold reality. Vettel rings up Tony Mantuano of Chicago's Spiaggia, where the Obamas have dined occasionally, to see if he would consider the opportunity to feed the leader of the free world.
"I don't think so," he said. "It'd be like being the chef of a giant hotel. You have to make peanut butter and jelly for the kids, plus private dinners, room service — unless you're a big corporate hotel guy, I'm not sure you'd want it." We'll take that as a no.
Having thus narrowed the field, Vettel puts his money on Smith, concurring with Levine's pick.
Art Smith, one-time personal chef to Oprah Winfrey, is an intriguing rumor for a number of reasons. One, the Oprah-Obama connection; Smith already has the Oprah imprimatur. Two, Smith opened a restaurant — Art and Soul — in the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel in D.C. on Sept. 22; he'll be shuttling between Chicago and Washington anyway. Three, when I called Smith and suggested he was in the running, he was gracious and apologetic but said, "I can't comment on that."
Aha! The telltale confidentiality agreement of top secret culinary headhunting! The U.S. foodie constituency anxiously awaits the announcement of the lucky chef who will plate after-school snacks for Malia and Sasha before directing a state dinner.
Bakers and cooks are two different breeds. A cook is impetuous and hot-tempered; he wields sharp knives and deals only in flame and flesh. He is the one-night stand — the dish that, for all its lusty flavor, is gone in five minutes.
A baker, by contrast, is gentle and patient. His ratios and measurements are precise, with adjustments for weather. Much like a relationship, a bad start will not yield profitable results. The baker enters into a bond with his bread, giving it time and space to rise and become more than it was.
Wes Johnson may have started out as a cook at Marigold Kitchen, but at Zahav he has come into his soul as a baker. He arrives every morning at 8:30 to begin the process that results in the startlingly good laffa that accompanies Zahav's hummous and lunchtime sandwiches, a process he learned in Israel.
Prior to opening the restaurant, executive chef/co-owner Michael Solomonov took his key staff to Israel, where they embarked on a whirlwind culinary tour of the flavors of the middle east. CP staff photographer Michael T. Regan accompanied them; his visual documentation and Pervaiz Shallwani's article on their journey can be seen HERE.
Johnson preceded the Zahav staff to Israel by two weeks, staying with Solomonov's mother in Karsava. Mrs. Solomonov phoned bakeries all over Israel, finding out who would take on an American baker eager to learn their techniques.
"Every person I was learning from spoke Arabic, which I don't know a word of," explained Johnson, "Chef's mom is a schoolteacher, and she took me to her class, where they taught me the Hebrew words for flour, sugar, salt."
Johnson makes a batch of dough every day, which he shapes into about 90 small balls and allows to proof and rise in Zahav's walk-in refrigerator. The traditional taboon, a beehive oven constructed of bricks, is fired every morning with hardwoods to reach a baking temperature of 750 degrees Fahrenheit.
"A lot of restaurants have fresh-baked bread, which is bread that is all baked in the morning and then heated up to order. When you order hummous here, we roll out and put the dough in the oven that second," Johnson tells me as he rapidly rolls out a round of laffa. He places the dough round on a peel and slaps it firmly to the bottom of the oven. As if by magic, it begins to balloon out and puff, turned with tongs to cook evenly. Barely 20 seconds later, the laffa emerges from the oven, crisp and just slightly blackened on the bottom, the top tender and chewy. It's garnished with a sprinkle of za'tar, a common Middle Eastern spice blend, and a drizzle of olive oil before service.
"They don't even do it like this in Israel any more," Johnson adds, as he deftly turns another round of dough in his hands, his fire winking in friendly agreement just behind him.
All photos by Felicia D'Ambrosio
"It's been four years," Richard Blais told me when I asked him if his foie gras milkshake — the item that seems to cling to the Atlanta chef's trouser cuff like a bristly, gavage-fed burr — would be making an appearance on the Celebrity Chef Tour menu he cooked up Nov. 6 at Tangerine (232 Market St, 215-627-5116).
"It's kinda like my 'Free Bird,'" the Top Chef: Chicago finalist added. In other words, lighter-fumbling goofs like myself scream for it even though the band is more interested in playing the new stuff. (Adam D. Roberts of the Amateur Gourmet described the shake as "so funny and absolutely delicious" in a 2004 review.) But hey, I had to ask. And honestly, after tasting Blais' creations — the CCT is a multi-chef, multi-market event benefitting the James Beard Foundation — its absence was rendered irrelevant.
"The first time I ate here was last night," Blais told me before the his first table course — a perfect sliver of hamachi cozied up with scrumptious fried sweetbreads and a binding smoked mayo — hit the cloth. "They do tasty food, I do tasty food." Such a statement might seem unbecoming out of context, but Blais' enthusiasm acts as a sort of filtration system for any implied boastfulness. The guy who made his mainstream bones on the fourth season of Top Chef (and Iron Chef: America) gets excited about cooking, gets excited about sharing his grub and gets really excited when nerds like me grill him about it. (You should read Blais' amusing essay about his post-Bravo existence.)
Working with Tangerine head chef Todd Fuller and the rest of the kitchen team at Stephen Starr's sexy Mediterranean sit-down, the fast-talking Blais cranked out seven courses (this included a round of passed hors d'oeuvres), many of them featuring elements of the tormented culinary discipline food writers love (and pro cooks hate) calling by name — molecular gastronomy. Please let me know if you've ever met a chef who doesn't despise that term.
Blais, who's worked under chem-slinging big guns like Thomas Keller and Ferran Adria, rattled off the "arsenal of toys and equipment" he and his sous chef Jared pack for various guest chef gigs — transglutaminase (meat glue, ladies!), methyl cellulose, xanthan gum. I'm personally fascinated by all this stuff, so I was eager to see what kind of Minority Report-type insanity would be flying out of the kitchen's double doors.
Color me confused, but then immediately delighted, when the plates we received featured — gasp! — recognizable elements. The second course, a perfectly seared wedge of foie gras served with teeny gnome pancakes, concord grape and a dollop of BLiS maple syrup fashioned into a creamy poof via Versawhip, was breakfasty, mop-it-all-up-into-one-bite fun. The fifth course, a healthy, fatty-ribboned portion of brisket accompanied by parnsips and a set-off teaspoon of geléed Worcestershire sauce, hit all of bubbe's requisite belly-warming notes. None of Blais' plates were impenetrable, twee or self-absorbed. Yes, he uses techniques that tend to freak some people out (remember, Philly?). But in my opinion, he's a great example of a chef who employs these so-called "molecular" practices to enhance already-great ingredients and ideas. It's not chewable Chem 101 for the sole sake of subatomic rings-of-Saturn cookery. It's just food that tastes good.
Right now, Blais is working on opening the first location of Flip, his "cheffy burger" concept, down in Georgia. (Check out some menu previews here.) If all goes as planned, he'll expand to New York and L.A. — maybe even Philly. Two hundred national units is the on-paper goal right now. Blais really cheese-grinned when telling me about the liquid nitrogen milkshake bar facet of Flip. "It's exciting — you gotta wear goggles!" he exclaimed, snapping pantomime protective eyewear onto his face.
And no, I didn't ask what you think I asked.
Steak and Kidney Pie
Chicken Fried Rabbit, Lardo and Ham Toast
Bronzino en Saor
Hamachi with Fried Sweetbreads and Smoked Mayonnaise
Foie Gras with Pancakes and BLiS Maple Syrup
Wild Striped Bass, Romanesco, Curry, Brown Butter Foam
Pork Belly, Giant Beans and Pickled Radishes
Brisket with Parsnip and Worcestershire
Red Velvet Tartar
|Not just for New Year's.|
Champagne is more than just a glass of bubbly on your birthday. It is also a place, one of the coldest grape-growing regions in the world, and a wine designation that is controlled by the French appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) — an organization that famously lacks a sense of humor when its names are co-opted.
That bottle of sparkling wine from Cali? Not Champagne. Italian asti with dessert? It might be good, but it ain't Champagne. The first-ever Philadelphia Phiz Fest will attempt to cure the plague of imprecise language by administering knowledge directly to the tongue. Representatives from famed French Champagne producers will be pouring their magical ferment, accompanied by local chefs pairing bubble-friendly foods. Nationally recognized wine maven and press darling Marnie Old will make an appearance at the party, as well.
Moet & Chandon, Veuve Cliquot and Taittinger will be amongst the venerable houses represented at the Phiz Fest. Zinc Bistro a Vins, The Capital Grille, Les Bons Temps and City Tavern will be making sure all the bubbles don't go to your head (too much) with tasty nibbles. For those who don't want to appear too frivolous, drink assured that net proceeds from the event will benefit the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
Phiz Fest 2008, Thursday, Nov. 13, 6-8:30 p.m., $55, Ballroom at the Ben, Franklin House, 834 Chestnut St. Purchase tickets here or call 610-649-6330.
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