Monday, September 26, 2005

Other Peoples Restaurants

These past few weeks I have been fortunate to partake in other peoples restaurants. Here are a few things I ate.
First I ate at Cafe Juanita with my old friend Mike. Mike travels up from San Francisco from time to time and we often share a meal. He joined me at Cafe Juanita for a very nice meal.

Here Mike is enjoying his dinner, the dry aged rib eye with a healthy portion of gorgonzola on the top.

This is one of the two starters we ordered. It is seared foie gras with a very nice addition of cocoa nibs on the top. It is nested in warm nectarines. The heating of the nectarines mellowed out their flavor making them subtle and luxurious.

This dish, hard to see as it is, is the braised rabbit. The rabbit leg is boned, and stuffed with an olive stuffing, wrapped in panchetta, and braised in Arneis. Along side is a crepe made of chickpeas and Liguarian olive oil. There are chanterelles all around in a very rich, buttery, creamy sauce made from the braising stock. And the breast of the rabbit, as tiny as it is, flanks the dish.

This is another starter we ordered of Octopus, a chickpea puree, fennell, and a green sauce. I don't remember what the green sauce was, honestly I was too taken with the Foie Gras at the time. I hadn't tasted Foie Gras since the Fat Duck and was having a moment with myself.

Market Street Grill

Russell and I ate again at the Market Street Grill not too long ago.

Here is the roasted chicken that Russell often orders while dining out. He was a vegetarian when he met me, so he rarely does meat. When he does choose meat, it is mostly just chicken or fish. So we have sampled a few different roasted chickens from a few different restaurants. This one impressed me more than any others for presentation and flavor. The petite chicken half sits atop very tender braised chard and a perfect square of potato gratain.

Here is a simple dessert of warm lemon yogurt cake with blueberry compote and vanilla icecream

And this is the crown for the dining out. The plate is Boudin Blanc, potato puree, watercress salads, and a brown butter balsamic sauce. The Boudin Blanc is a sausage made of veal, bread, egg, and cream. The texture was almost like a pudding.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Snap Crackle Pop

My friend Amanda acquired a purse two years ago. Not just any purse. To the naked eye, this purse was a Prada. Amanda toted this purse as though it was Prada. One day in the grocery store, I was pushed out of my spot in the checkout line to hear the words..."Excuse me! Prada coming through!" But alas, no matter how she flaunted it, how she loved it, the label would allays read Prado. And it wasn't at an upscale boutique, but rather a duty free stall (or the trunk of someone's car) in the Virgin Islands that this purse came from. Most likely sitting next to the Goaches, the Fendy's, and the Cucchi's.

There is a dessert on my menu right now that reminds me of Amanda and her Prada.

The dish is Dark Chocolate Rice Pudding with Caramelized Rice Crispies. Anyone with the Pierre Herme Chocolate cookbook will recognize this genius dish.

I made a dark chocolate rice pudding of my own recipe one day. I had tested several garnishes. I found adorable dishes remnicent of soda shops and ice cream parlors of days past. And as I was flipping through PH's book, there it was. The perfect garnish, staring back at me. I couldn't avoid it. I couldn't beat it. Caramelized rice crispies sitting atop his chocolate rice pudding.

So I did it. I followed the instructions, coating the cereal in boiled sugar, letting them cool, and then stirring them in small batches over heat until each one was individually coated in a thin caramel shell. They are like a grown up version of a rice crispie treat. All sugar, but crisp rather than gooey.

And then I put them on my rice pudding and set it to the menu. And I love it, with all my pastry heart. Deeply.

Pierre Herme is often compared to fashion designers, even presenting a yearly line of desserts as a designer would, the last dish always being a wedding cake. So it is not a stretch of the imagination to compare an imitation of his perfection to the imitation Prada that Amanda carried. Pierre Sherme. Pierre Hermet.

But rather than flaunt something that's not mine, I'll be the first to admit the origin of this garnish. It's not uncommon or wrong for one chef to be inspired by another. But it is shameful to pass it off as your own, telling people you invented it. So I guess I'll just have to be the first to thank this man for his inspiration, give credit where credit is due, and pay my respects with good execution.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

An Incredible Feast....Part Two

Here is the second half of the chef/farmer duo's that were featured in last sunday's Incredible Feast held at the West Seattle's farmers market. For a description of the event and the first half of these pairs, scroll down and see my last post.

Chef Jason Wilson is a relative new comer to the Seattle restaurant scene. While he had been spreading his talent through catering for a few years, his restaurant in an old vintage home in madison park just opened within the past year. The last menu I checked looked tempting with local huckleberries paired with foie gras. His partner for the event was a salty man appropriately named "Oyster Bill" who runs an outfit out of Shelton called Taylor Shellfish. What you see in the picture is a tomato basil gazpacho with a freshly shucked oyster slipped into the bottom. Consumed in one quick shot, the clean salty flavor of the oyster shined through the mildly acidic quality of the gazpacho. The program promised Crush to deliver an English pea and oyster soup with lovage which I had high hopes for. But this replacement left nothing to long for.


Chef Walter Pisano of Tulio was paired with the only cheesemaker of the evening, Port Madison Farm. This farm crafts very nice goats milk cheeses along with yogurt. The cheese featured by Pisano was the goat cheese Brie. This was served on a thin slice of baguette toasted crisp and dotted with a sweet tomato jam to make what Pisano called a Bruschetta. Goats milk creates cheeses that are fresh, lean, and acidic which could be considered the opposite of a ripe triple cream Brie. Port Madison hit the mark with this Brie bringing the usual characteristics of cheve with an added richness that was delightful. And by changing the traditional fresh, zesty tomato garlic topping of bruschetta into a sweet, deep tomato jam, Pisano found a better partner for this cheese.


From a farm called Tiny's Organics came a peach with a big flavor. Chef Blake Caldwell who recently took the helm at Ballard restaurant Market Street grill brought with him a minimalistic, refined style. With Tiny's perfect peach, Blake created the simple, perfect Peach Salad with Mint and Cardamom Creme Fraiche. The peaches were sliced and tossed lightly with lemon juice, honey, and a chiffonade of fresh mint leaves. Over the top was drizzled the lean flavor of creme fraiche barely sweetened and scented with the unmistakable presence of cardamom. Blakes refined simplicity has never failed to excite me, and his treatment of a peach was no exception.


The odd couple of the evening must have been Skagit River Ranch and sushi chef Taichi of Chiso in Fremont. Dare I say it? A surf and turf couple? But these two answered the age old question, "what happens when you give a sushi chef a steak?" To be truly accurate, it was organic ribeye steak from grass fed cows. The answer is Ribeye Steak Bites in Hayashi Demi Glaze over Steamed Rice. This was my father's favorite bite of the evening as he went back for seconds twice. Here he is smiling, his eyes saying, "good stew!"


A kitchen headed by siblings Eric and Sophie Bahn, Monsoon has been using pacific northwest ingredients to enhance their Vietnamese cuisine for 6 years. For this event they were paired with Tonnemaker Farms and given the chance to show off with Heirloom tomatoes. They used these tomatoes to create the other salad (Eva's being the first) with watercress, a sesame vinaigrette, and a topping of sweet crispy fried shallots.


Chef Christine Keff has been receiving over 50 percent of Flying Fish's produce from Whistling Train Farm for years now. (My friend Becca and I recieved 100 percent of our produce from the same little farm last year with a summer subscription.) Whistling Train strives not just to grow vegetables, but keeps chickens for eggs and eating, and raises pigs. Flying Fish took atvantage of whistling trains lemon basil leaves using them as a bed for a lemon basil vinaigrette covered seared scallop.


The flamboyant chef Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez paired with Willie Greens to bring us a basque delight. He used Willies fresh seasonal beans in a salad with caramelized carrots and onions. These nested a hidden artichoke heart that was used to prop a crisp slice of serrano ham up like the feather on a fedora. Over this salad was a dressing made from spanish paprika and a finish of smoked seasalt hand delivered by the chef himself. The composition of the dish was as striking as the subtle and honest flavors.


Rovers, the restaurant that is proud to be the home of "the chef in the hat", was paired with Loki Fish. They were given use of wild coho salmon. With these amazing fish, the chef in the hat Thierry Raututeau prepared them on the rare side of medium rare with a coating of Moroccan Olive-Harissa Tapende. The fish from the chef in the hat was deliciously rich with the deep flavor of olives and the heat of harissa.

Monday, September 12, 2005

An Incredible Feast....Part One

Each Sunday the West Seattle Junction is home to one of Seattles many farmers markets. Here those who till the earth, tend the livestock, harvest the seas and lakes, forage through the forests, collect the bees busywork, and craft cheeses bring their bounty to share with the public. Often those first in line as these markets open are the chefs who's restaurants are in the neighborhood. These chefs, knowing that outstanding cuisine starts with beautiful products, are eager to bring the fruits of these markets into their kitchens.

This special relationship between farmer and chef was celebrated this past Sunday evening in the west seattle farmers market. The first annual Farmers Market alliance diner, dubbed "An Incredible Feast" paired 18 of the city's chefs with farmers, foragers, ranchers, fishermen, and cheese makers. The farmer, or producer, donated one of their signature products, and the chef's in turn created a dish to feature both the farmer's jewel, and their own cuisine.


Amy McCray, the chef I work for at Eva was partnered with a farmer named Mai Cha. I have often patronized Mai's booth, but only for the bright bouquets of flowers that I cant leave the market with out. For this event it was Mai's Amaranth, or Chinese spinach, that Amy put to use. The leaf is a striking dark green with a spray of crimson running up the center vein. This leaf became the green in a country Greek salad called Horiatiki. Tossed with the amaranth was cherry tomatoes, red onion, small white lima beans, and Bulgarian sheeps milk feta in a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing. Amy invited me along to work, but let me run free half the time to taste, photograph, and mingle with other restaurants.


Brasa chef Tamara Murphy took time out of her busy schedule not only to organize and host the event, but to work with a farmer as well. Here her team is plating Brasa's signature Roast Suckling pig with Anderson Farms Pluots. Pluots, a cross between an Apricot and a plum, bring the best of both their parents with the sweetness of the plum and the fragrant tartness of an Apricot. For this dish Murphy grills the pluot halves for just a few minutes and dresses them with balsamic vinegar and thyme. The flavor of the pluots was lean and intense, and a nice balance to the rich tender pork.


My first glimpse of Cascadia chef Kerry Sear was outside the market as he zipped up in a bright yellow Mini Cooper painted with block letters spelling the word "Miniburgers." I guess this sweet ride is one of the perks of his job. Once inside he went to work preparing his dish of Mixed Shell Bean Ragout with Smoked Lamb Breast and Herb Salad. His partner was Gretchen Hoyt of Alm Hill Gardens who shared with us the shell beans.


Chef John Neumark was lucky to partner with a Tonasket farm called Billy's. This luck brought him what must be the sweetest of the late season strawberries. He paired these beauties with a Moscato Zabiglione. Moscato, or Muscat, is a musky grape, often believed to be one of the first varieties to be cultivated. This grape is often used to make sweet dessert wines, like the Italian Moscato. Here this wine is used in a simple Italian preparation of Zabiglione, and dripped over the fragrant, sweet berries. The flavor of the Moscato was definitely NOT lost in the cooking process, leading one mother to pull a sample out of her child's hand, and me to reach for a second.


Earth and Ocean, the restaurant in the W Hotel was paired with Cliffside Orchards. An orchard in Kettle Falls, Cliffside shared a trio of fruits, cherries, peaches, and nectarines. It was the Pastry Chef Sue McCown that took on the challenge of three fruits. She made a virgin sangria with puree's of the three fruits, thinning the thick goodness to a drinkable consistency with a lemon verbena syrup. The results were so delicious I doubt a single sampler was aware of an alcoholic absence.


There is a young man named Jeremy Faber who roams the wild, collecting edibles and bringing them to restaurants and farmers markets. I first encountered him a few years ago as he brought mushrooms, and greens like wild sorrel leaves to Lampreia. Now he brings Huckleberries, mushrooms, and even large Columbia river salmon to the kitchen at Eva, and is one of Amy's favorite people. For this event he paired with Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita and provided her with chantrelles and huckleberries. She used these to create a dish of Moscovy Duck Breast, Chantrelles, and Huckleberries with a Sherry Syrup. The dish was such a hit that by the time I got through the line, the duck was gone. But the remaining chanterelles with huckleberries were delightful.


I will admit I have never been given a reason to venture interest in the Hotel Monacoo's restaurant Sazarac. But after tasting Chef Jason McClures simple preparation of the Martin Family Orchards Peaches, I have one. The simplicity of the preparation showed Jasons willingness to step back his talents, and let the peach speak for itself. To me this shows humility, and respect for the food. It is far to easy to think you need to do more, featuring your skills over the flavor of a fruit, or food. This was not the case as Jason paired Perfectly Ripe Peaches with Arugula, Manchego, and Toasted Almonds. The flavor of the peach stood out remarkably while the spiciness of the arugula, the richness of the manchego, and the nutty flavor of the almonds set a layered and balanced backdrop. A reduction of balsamic drizzled over the top seemed to possess all these individual qualities, rich, tart, nutty, spicy, and sweet, and tied the dish together.


"Razzleberry?!? Who's ever heard of a Razzleberry?" I said in my best Veruca Salt voice as I was handed a cup of Razzleberry Tomato Gazpacho from the guys at Madison Park Cafe's booth. My comment was greeted with laughter and the statement, "I know, it does sound like some crazy Willy Wonka fruit!" But come to find out, Razzleberry is a heirloom tomato provided by Wade Benent at Rockridge Orchards. This Wonkaland tomato was turned into a gazpacho and playfully paired with an apple cider sorbet. The texture of the sorbet was nice with the chilled soup.

This covers about half of the restaurants that shared their talents, and has exhausted my time for the evening. Rather than strain to fit them all in I am opting to post the second half soon and give each the attention they deserve. Soon....

Friday, September 02, 2005

Ring-a-ding dong

It's shameless, I admit. But I did it. I put a ding dong on my menu.

I'd say it was the kid in me, but my mom gave us rice crackers with peanut butter, fruit leather, and nori as snacks when we were kids. Perhaps it's the part of me that thrives on nostalgia, or the girl in me that loves all things cute that led to the campy hostess treats appearance on the menu this week.

This miniature vanilla cream filled devils food cake is covered in a rich chocolate glaze, and then decorated with white chocolate piping. And this isn't your run of the mill chocolate cake. The recipe uses 4 shots of espresso and a healthy dose of buttermilk. The filling is a rich vanilla buttercream rather than the crisco whipped with corn syrup that would mimic the commercial product. The resulting treat is moist, rich, and delicate.... Really a fork and knife affair rather than the hand held version that comes wrapped in foil.

Yes, I know I have decorated the ding dong with the traditional hostess cupcake garnish. And before the chocolate glaze is applied, the cake resembles a Suzy-Q more than a ding dong. So it's really a medley of Hostess treats all participating in this nostalgic delight.

The ding dong does not stand alone....

Instead, it is participating in the After School Snack. Eva has a slot on the dessert menu called "The Eva Trio". This is an unchanging frame for me to play with. As a tribute to the children's return to school, I chose to do a playful take on nostalgic treats of childhood.

On the left is obviously the ding dong in all it's glory. In the center are three tiny lemon bars. And on the right is the vanilla/orange creamsicle swirl ice cream that we used to eat out of those plastic cups with the tiny wooden spoon. (If only I could get my hands on the tiny wooden spoons.) Garnishing the plate is a "circus" of animal crackers.

I started off using a recipe meant to replicate the original Barnums Circus Animals that come in the little circus train car box with a string handle. The recipe used corn flour, which I liked. But the resulting flavor was that of, well, cardboard. So for now I have reverted to Pierre Herme's fragrant orange tart dough (very tender, very flavorful) while I develop a recipe that incorporates the corn flour.

This is a rather untraditional circus. But if you think of it as a Pacific Northwest Circus, then it works. Here we have the parade of animals being led on the right by my favorite character, the Moose. Behind him is a pony, a pig, a bunny, and an elephant. Since this photo was taken 3 more animals have joined my circus.... A chicken, a goat, and thanks to my mom, a salmon.

Amy and James recently entertained their two nephews who offered help in researching this plate. They did however inform us that Animal Crackers are not snack to be had after school, rather, you eat them during school.

So after the grown ups send the little ones off to school with lunch sacks full of goodies, they can come in and enjoy a few of their own.