Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I've always believed

that the person running the front of the house plays a major role in a good restaurant experience. But I guess I shouldn't plan on taking the border collies to Grayz.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

4 Questions 4 Gray Kunz

When I asked my friend Eric Gower -- a chef and cookbook author blessed with an exceptionally knowedgeable and discerning palate -- who he'd like to see answer four questions, his response was immediate: "Gray Kunz. The man is a genius."

1. CE: Early in your career, why were you dissatisfied with the traditional four tastes of bitter/sour/sweet/salt?

GK: There were too many tastes in-between that were as . . . more »

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Food Festival, part the second

After a breakfast of good eggs, great bacon and lousy service at Market Bar, J and I filled a few shopping bags at the Ferry Building Farmers' Market and then headed to Berkeley. Specifically to the parking lot of J's favorite wine merchant, Kermit Lynch, where he and Cafe Fanny were hosting Oyster Bliss XVII.
Lynch's flyer had read:

Iced oysters of the half shell and the wines to go with. "Bring 'em on," in the words of the courageous warrior chief known as The Decider. But when we say bring 'em on, we mean oysters and lofts of 'em. And why not some hot little grilled Bordeaux-style sausages on the side? As for the crisp, cold, minerally, dry white wines that go with, leave that to me. I'll be the decider.

The oysters were cold and sweet, the sausages (from Eccolo restaurant) hot and savory and the wines wonderful with both.

And although Cafe Fanny offered five or six different desserts, I knew instantly I'd select the same sweet I'd had at Oyster Bliss XVI: a wide wedge of strawberry-rhubarb galette. Perfection on a paper plate.

Note to Cafe Fanny: promise me that this galette will be back for Oyster Bliss XVIII. Thanks in advance.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Got plastic bags? Re-use 'em!

Cabrillo College Farmers' Market

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I left my waistline in San Francisco

I'm sitting here staring at my lunch -- two hard-boiled eggs and a WASA cracker --while savoring memories of last weekend's food festival. Between noon Friday and one o'clock Saturday I had lunch at The Four Seasons, dinner at Salt House, breakfast the next morning at Market Bar, one perfect macaron at Miette for elevenses followed by lunch at Kermit Lynch's annual Oyster Bliss.
And then I went home and took a nap.

Friday's lunch was a belated birthday celebration with my favorite interior designer. An excellent but light salmon tartare with a watercress mayonnaise left room for two desserts -- shared, please note. Warm chocolate cake is a cliche,but this one was nicely done--with a touch of caramel sauce, which is always a good idea (The strawberries, however, were not Four Seasons worthy.) The blueberry supposed-to-be-financiere was less successful -- a pleasant enough little teacake, but lacking the almondy depth of a true financiere. "Blueberry porridge," sneered the designer. Despite these small flaws, the overall experience -- particularly the high level of the service -- was lovely.

At dinner time J and I walked from our hotel to Salt Box and the look on J's face when we arrived was one I know well --somewhere between mild apprehension and Edvard Munch's "The Scream." The entry space was tiny, the TGIF bar crowd huge and the noise level at 6 or 7 Chronicle bells. But the host led us immediately to a nice window-side table, our server was able to answer all our menu queries and she was prompt with the wine.
From there things just got better and better. My crispy shrimp with (very) spicy green beans, almonds and serrano ham was terrific and J loved the crispy egg with bacon, spring onions and English p--s. (MN: see final sentence in the "About" sidebar.)

Our entrees were superb: dayboat scallops with smoked trout, parsnip-bacon cake and manilla clams and, pictured below, petrale sole with artichokes, preserved lemon and a shellfish jus.

Perfect little linzer cookies accompanied an individual trifle for dessert. An altogether interesting and delicious meal.

To be continued...

Monday, April 14, 2008

4 Questions 4 Tamasin Day-Lewis

At the beginning of February I wrote about Tamasin Day-Lewis's wonderful book, "Where Shall We Go for Dinner?" And now I'm eagerly awaiting an even newer work: a big fat compendium of her recipes -- 1,000 of them -- titled "All You Can Eat," due in May. To complete my personal Tamasin triathlon, she recently agreed to answer four questions. I could have asked her a thousand.

1. CE: Last year, I had a wonderful biking trip in Puglia including a delicious multi-course meal at the home of a man active in the Slow Food movement.

I know from "Where Shall We Go for Dinner?" that most of your culinary experiences in the region weren't nearly as happy. Was that one of your worst food trips?

TDL: No, the trip to Puglia was hellishly . . . more »

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Cake for Company

Since I knew they were comin' I baked a cake.
And because they were coming from across the country (and, in the case of one of them, from across a lot of years) I wanted it to be wonderful. When I want wonderful, I frequently turn to Nigella.

Nigella Lawson's Clementine Cake
from "How to Eat"
4-5 clementines, about 1 pound total weight)
[Margin Note: Since clementines' brief season had passed, I used tangerines. Nigella notes that you also can use an equal weight of oranges]
6 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 + 1/3 cups ground almonds
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder

Put the clementines in a pot with cold water to cover; bring to the boil and cook for two hours. Drain, and, when cool, cut each fruit in half and remove the seeds.
Then chop everything finely -- skins,pith, fruit -- in the processor (or by hand, of course).

Preheat the overn to 375-degrees F. Butter and line an 8-inch springform pan. [M.N.: I buttered but did not line. I should have lined.]
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the sugar, almonds and baking powder. Mix well, adding the chopped clementines. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for an hour, when a skewer will come out clean; you'll probably have to cover the cake with foil after about 40 minutes to stop the top burning. [M.N.: My cake was done in a little over 50 minutes. Start skewer-testing early.]
Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a rack -- but in the pan -- until cake is completely cold. I think this is better a day after it's made, but I don't complain about eating it any time.[M.N.: I think it's a *lot* better the day after it's made, which inspires me to get it done ahead, saving both prep and clean-up time the day of a dinner party.]

Nigella calls this "the easiest cake I know." Hmmm. I think Sylvia Vaughn Thompson's Fresh Ginger Cake might be easier -- it's certainly quicker -- but I'll concede that the clementine cake is even more delicious. Almost as delicious as spending a long food-and-wine-filled evening with old and new friends.

Postscript:Why no photo of the unmolded cake? Because I sent it to the living room but stayed behind in the kitchen for a few minutes to brew coffee. My plan was to join everyone, take a quick photo and then give each of them a thin, thin slice (it's a very rich cake)accompanied by a dab of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a big spoonful of raspberries.
There were eight of us. This cake easily serves 10-12. Coffee in press-filter carafes takes only a moment to make, but by the time I rejoined the party, Someone had whacked it into eight big pieces and served all but mine.
I try -- in this day of moderate eating and controlled sugar consumption -- not to force feed a guest a horse-choking-size piece of cake. No one, however, complained. And there were no leftovers.

Monday, April 7, 2008

4 Questions 4 Hubert Keller

If I were going to cast a movie set in an elegant French restaurant I'd pound my desktop and bellow to my minions: "Get me Hubert Keller!"
And if said minions had been to San Francisco's Fleur de Lys, met the tall and handsome Keller and his stylish wife, Chantal, and enjoyed the food in the restaurant's gorgeous fabric-draped dining room, they'd immediately reply: "Brilliant, C.E.! Brilliant!"
And they'd even mean it.

Trained by culinary giants such as Paul Bocuse and Paul Haeberlin and then selected by Roger Verge to run the kitchen at Moulin du Mougins, Heller left France to become executive chef at Verge's Cuisine du Soleil in Brasil. After two years, Verge sent him to San Francisco to run Sutter 500. Deciding to stay in California, Heller became co-owner and executive-chef of Fleur de Lys in 1986.
Recently he has opened restaurants in Las Vegas and St. Louis, but Fleur de Lys in San Francisco will always seem, to me, like the jewel in the crown. It was the first luxury restaurant I visited after moving to California -- and I still love it after all these years.

I was sipping a delicious little cup of his white gazpacho with vanilla oil (pictured and praised here by Pim) when I asked Chef Keller if he'd answer questions for my blog.

1. What is the biggest challenge in running a restaurant as elegant and beloved as Fleur de Lys?

Over the last 20 years the dining public has changed. Twenty years ago there was a different expectation than that of the diners today. To find the balance between classic and fresh in order to satisfy both expectations not only has been a challenge but it's also been part of the excitement of the business which we've embraced as our life.

2. I know you were in Alsace earlier this year to celebrate your mother's 80th birthday. What did you cook for her while you were there?

Cooking for my mom is such a challenge that I prefer to take her out to friends' restaurants. Of course the most important thing was to be with her to celebrate her 80th, with the entire family. She was so, so happy.
[Chantal Keller added: "Even though HK is a chef, his mom will always tell him how to do things in the kitchen...really funny when you watch them."]

3. What is the most important thing you learned from Roger Verge about running a kitchen?

From Roger Verge I discovered a very colorful and happy cuisine, but also how to manage a 3-stars Michelin kitchen and to turn out a great food cost.

4. Your PBS series, "Secrets of a Chef," was delightful. When will we see new episodes?

We just finished filming at Jeriko Winery; now we have to do Las Vegas and St Louis. We double from 13 to 26 episodes. The new episodes will air in the fall, 2008.

Margin Note: Keller's web site has an extensive collection of recipes from earlier episodes of "Secrets of a Chef."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Loving Lola

Last week I made a quick trip to Dallas, Phoenix and Barcelona.
OK, I lied about the Barcelona part. But the dinner I had at Lola Tapas in Phoenix was so evocative of my favorite Spanish city I kept turning to J and saying, "I love this place. I LOVE this place."

Housed in a tiny building, the interior is dark and cozy, with a pressed tin ceiling and a large, charming photo of the owner's daughter, Lola, on the far wall. All the seating is communal: most of it at two long wooden tables. Co-owner and co-chef Felicia Ruiz Wayne told me she and her husband, Daniel, consider the table-sharing as important as the food: "When we lived in Europe for a year, we loved the way many casual restaurants felt like family gatherings. Sometimes people come here early and sit at the far end of a table so they can be private, but as the restaurant fills up, they soon find themselves talking and laughing with strangers."

Of course they do. The food is so delicious you soon find yourself bonding with your tablemates over the excellence of the garlic shrimp or the lusciousness of the Tetilla cheese blended with honey and reserva sherry vinegar.
"We get everything possible from Spain," Ruiz Wayne told me. "The olive oil, the sausages, the cheese, the olives."
The menu is limited to nine tapas plus two especials del dia. J and I pretty much ran the list -- twas more than we needed, but since we don't get to Phoenix -- or Barcelona -- nearly often enough, we embraced our inner gluttons.

The following recipe comes not from Lola Tapas but from the Spanish city of Merida, via the superb "Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain" by Penelope Casas. I served this at a housewarming and even though it isn't the most attractive dish (in fact, it looks a bit like a dog's dinner), my guests raved.

Sausages with Sweet-Sour Figs

Prepare the figs one day in advance
1 cup sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 stick cinnamon
4 cloves
1 slice lemon
1 pound fresh small figs or 1 pound bottled figs in syrup, drained

Combine sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, cloves and lemon in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Add the figs, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes if using fresh figs, just five minutes for bottled. Cool the figs in the syrup and let them sit, covered, at room temperature overnight.
The next day, cook 1 and a half pounds sausage (I use sweet Italian) in 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons white wine until the wine evaporates and the sausages are cooked and brown. Remove them to a warm platter and pour off most of the fat. Deglaze the pan with 4 tablespoons water and two more tablespoons of wine. Add 2 teaspoons of tomato sauce, salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, for two minutes.
Drain the figs and discard the syrup. Add them to the pan, along with the sausages. Cover and cook briefly until the figs are heated. To serve, cut each sausage into 3 or 4 slices. Cut the figs in halves or quarters, depending on their size. Spear pieces of sausage and fig on toothpick and transfer them with the sauce to a serving dish. These can be assembled in advance and reheated, covered, when ready to serve.