Friday, February 6, 2009
I was on Serious Eats the other day (well, I'm actually on everyday) and I spotted a link to the above picture. Being a fan of both cupcakes and Wall-E, I immediately felt compelled to email the creators of this wonderful food porn, A Baked Creation (you guys rock) and request for permission to post said fantastic photo. I almost considered asking them if they had any intentions of putting the cupcake in a hyperbolic chamber of sorts. Preservation of art. I'm really quite smitten with the many poses of Eve here. She's looking pretty hot.
I'd be too afraid of eating Eve, who is made of fondant, but I have eaten a lot of cupcakes the last couple of years. Recently, there seems to be two developing schools of thought here, there are those that think cupcakes are the shiznit and there are those that don't understand why they have made a blazing revival the last two years. Actually, I feel like Lazy Sunday on SNL was the catalyst... "love those cupcakes, like McAdams loves Gosling" - yeah, they broke up guys. I, however, am an equal opportunity lover and hater. Let me explain.
On my many walking tours through NY (less so in SF), I've been to many a patisserie and experienced an overwhelming amount of underwhelming cupcakes. Considering that cupcakes are quite a simple creation, every one and their mom thought they could make and sell them - which is, of course an asinine assumption at best. I am a cupcake fan, but I'm not a fan of an over-saturated cupcake market. It will destroy the cupcake, heed my words.
My fellow Americans, we are on the verge of a cupcake crisis.
There has not been enough regulation in the world of mediocre cupcakes. Look, it may sound silly to be asking for this now, but I guarantee you that 5 years from now when demand hits a new low, we'll all be seeking oversight into the cupcake industry. I feel like cupcake fever has already peaked in NY and the fallout is coming - Crumbs (many locations), Magnolia, Babycakes, Batch, Sweet Revenge, Burgers & Cupcakes, Cupcake Cafe, Tribeca Treats, Sugar Sweet Bakeshop, Little Cupcake, etc.. A few of these places are quite good, but how are all these places staying around by featuring cupcakes?
And, what the hell happened to PIE?
Thursday, February 5, 2009
As I mentioned before on the blog, I was just in NY for New Year's and I had a chance to dine at many places. One of the more reasonable and elegant meals I had on my East coast swing was at Fleur De Sel. I had a few friends recommend going there and had planned to do so for a long time. The meal, a weekend lunch was very good and it was a pretty classic 3 course lunch for a very reasonable price. The dining room was calm, subtle and very warm. My only complaint was that the waiter did not properly convey to the kitchen that I did not want truffle oil on my soup, but the soup was well made (better without truffle oil of course).
Sadly, I read from multiple NY blog sources that Fleur De Sel will be gone soon and the chef Cyril Renaud is continuing with his casual Breton Bar operation. I salute you, Fleur De Sel and thank you for a good NY memory.
Once again, the financial bug hits and another fantastic restaurant bites the dust. When is the dust going to settle?
Every Wednesday is pretty much a test kitchen day for me. I normally start promptly at 6pm and wrap-up my test session at around 10-12am depending on how OCD I get with re-doing the set dishes until I'm happy with the final product. By Saturday night, I normally have the concept in place for what I plan to do on Wednesday. Last night, the menu consisted of a vadouvan buffalo burger, a crispy greens mozzarella salad and buttermilk biscuits (my 3-4 try overall at perfecting the biscuit).
The burger was great and met expectations based on my initial concept. The seasoning and marinade for the burger included vadouvan (my own), egg, tapioca starch, shoyu, salt, shallot, smoked mirasol chile and pepper. It maybe could have used the slightest touch of acid/citrus, but I'm not too big of a fan of screwing around with a great thing - maybe a shave of meyer lemon zest, but its not important. No salt adjustment was needed to finish. The accompanying acts were ketchup, kewpie mayo, seared mozz, mizuna and a buttery grilled sesame bun. Oh baby!
The "crispy" greens salad was pretty much a spin-off concept from a set of garnishes I was doing. The greens (rapini flowers, ancho cress, carrot greens, fennel greens) are coated lightly in oil and salt and then slow roasted to crisp. I would have preferred to use buffalo mozz bocconcini, but I cut up some soft mozz balls in small wedges instead. Garnish with olive oil, fleur de sel and finish with blood orange gastrique. Texturally intriguing, but really lacked depth of flavor. I guess it was simply a case of putting together too many subtle elements. The texture of the greens really over-matched the gumminess of the mozz. Everything would probably stand better as supporting elements - I was probably conceptually forcing circles into square pegs. At least it looks pretty, right?
There's really nothing stopping me at this point from serving biscuits of some form as my "bread" starter for my future menu. I understand that people fear the fat in biscuits, but they'll just have to skip the bread course at my future place. I don't have the patience and appreciation for basic sourdough and plus, biscuits taste better with fruit compote. As you can see, my biscuits came out beautifully and were very fluffy. Biscuits are amazingly easy to make, but are frustratingly complex to perfect. The ingredients are simple - 3 items: butter, self rising flour (you can use baking soda, baking powder and AP substitute instead) and buttermilk. Amazingly, within those basic rules and ratios, you have a world of variation and rules. Basic things to consider in terms of technique:
-butter must be cold and must not be over-obliterated by a processor when mixed with flour
-what type of buttermilk you use may affect the ratio of your dough, so whichever recipe you decide to use, you need the proper experience to make a judgment call on how dense the dough is before folding. Get a feel your dough, know your dough, love your dough...
-do not knead it to death, it is not bread, no one is looking for gluten structure here
-figure out how to layer butter properly to incorporate into pre-folded dough
-roll dough into AP and not self rising blend because it has an aftertaste
-2 mins before you finish, brush bottom of biscuits with butter (often overlooked)
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Green Chile Kitchen is where I get my burrito fix. With all apologies to the fantastic Little Chihuahua and El Farolito kitchens, there is no Mexican place out there that I feel healthier and happier dining at than Green Chile Kitchen. Key word here is healthy. Their ingredients are always fresh, their chicken is always tasty (and P.C.), and the dining environment (super casual, order at the register and find a clean comfortable seat) is always enjoyable. I'm not here to talk about Green Chile Kitchen though, but this recent review from SFBG came up today and Paul Reidinger (resident SFBG critic) proclaimed the following about my favorite Mexican place:
"You would expect that a restaurant with "green chile" in its name would serve at least one memorable dish with green chiles, and Green Chile Kitchen does. In fact, the restaurant serves a host of memorable dishes (some with green chiles, many others without) and, because it's in the middle of NoPa rather than at, or just past, the edge of it, Green Chile could be the best restaurant in NoPa. Much would depend on our understanding of NoPa: region with definite borders or state of mind?"
Keep in mind that Nopa contains a lot of restaurants in its "region with definite borders" (makes no sense, I think he meant a region without definitive borders), therefore, putting out such a bold statement may resonate in many Nopa neighborhoodies' and other SFers' minds. I, however, realize that the last thing I want is for a place that very few consider their own secret to belong to the legions of others.
On the flip side, I love that a well deserved place gets its publicity and its due. We are in a struggling market and any bit of notice becomes a welcome service to the restaurant. I fail to believe Green Chile struggles (packed almost all the time it seems), but I'm happy that it is getting some very much needed attention. Sometimes I fear some restaurants are too "under the radar" and fall without getting the deserved praise, but I am pretty torn about the whole thing. When it comes down to it, I wish that a good restaurant gets every bit of publicity that it can garnish, but I'm also hoping someone can save me an open seat every once in a while.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
I love wine.woot.com. I don't buy every week from them, but they always seem to have some pretty sweet stuff. If you do not know woot.com, it is an awesome website that sells 1 thing a day. Normally they sell something at an awesome price until they run out of inventory. Wine.woot and shirt.woot are their associated sister sites that sell wine and t-shirts in a similar fashion. The special wine this week happens to be Corison Kronos Cab. Now, I'm a big value guy and $85 bucks for a bottle of cab is far from being the best value in the toughest of times. However, if you have $85 and you LOVE (not like, but LOVE) big redheads, I say pony up. Despite the whopper of a price tag, it is one of the very best cabs you can get your hands on.
The thing that is also awesome about this site is that the winemaker normally shows up on the blogs and answers almost all the questions about their wine. The questions aren't normally very easy and it takes a lot for someone to try to justify and explain their product amongst a group of such divergent and dissenting opinions (ahem, like most serious wine drinkers/snobs). It is super educational - especially when there are intense discussions on technical approaches, terroir, philosophy, and history.
Here is a sample of Cathy Corison's blog entries on woot. This one is in response to the price of her Corison Kronos (normally at least $120):
Some thoughts on wine pricing. It is very expensive to make Cabernet like this, especially Kronos Vineyard.
I am the luckiest winemaker around to have this gnarly old vineyard on the Rutherford bench, but as a business proposition it makes no sense at all. It is one of the last old Cabernet vineyards in the Napa Valley- planted to St. George rootstock in the early 1970’s. Somehow it fell through the cracks in the rush toward AXR-1, which was much more productive and made great wine (only one problem, however, one of its parents is V. vinifera, the European wine grape variety, which rendered it insufficiently resistant to Phylloxera, a root louse that kills grapevines by feeding on their roots). Scattered, scraggly clusters of BB-sized berries are typical and responsible for the pitiful yield.I get a whopping 1½ ton/acre, and that’s a 13-year average. With modern spacing, trellising and rootstocks I could easily get 3 tons/acre on this dirt and still make world-class wine. That said, it has been a gift to make wine from these veterans. One of the last vineyards to be picked in the Napa Valley each year, it limps up to 24 Brix with inky color, amazing intensity and complexity which results in a lush wine with between 13.5 and 14% alcohol and great balance.
I use only French oak and though I don’t want you to taste the wood, I couldn’t make this wine without an annual infusion of 50% new barrels. At the dollar’s weakest moment a while back, those babies were $1,200 apiece!
Napa Valley benchland Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are rare in the world of wine and very expensive.
The wine spends two years in barrel and then two years in bottle before I release it. No sane business person would inventory something for four years before selling it.
The attention we take to detail is expensive too. $20 Cabernet is made with much less expensive grapes in much bigger lots taking many shortcuts. I enjoy both, saving the rare, expensive wine for special occasions.
Monday, February 2, 2009
I am a big Dan "The Man" Barber fan and I do very much enjoy the blunt shoot'em up style of Tony Bourdain. So it pleases me quite a bit when the two of them decided to offer up arguments and stories in support of the continued consumption of humane foie gras.
Chef Barber stated his case for loving, cooking and needing foie in a proverbial middle finger to critics at the Ecological Farming Conference. Eat Me(at), PETA. I know, bad pun. The Bay Area Bites blog was all over this, which can be read here. A lesser man would have likely gone into an appropriate lecture and discussion about sustainable this or farming that, blah blah blah, but not The Man. My friends, this is the stuff of legends.
Mr. Bourdain did not disappoint as well, pointing out the heroics of Chicago hot dog man, Doug Sohn in his blog today, as seen here. Tony, it seems, is every bit as proud as I am of Chicago's overturning of a ridiculous foie ban. Sadly in California, we still have to deal with the impending doom of a 2012 foie ban. Hopefully that will never come to be - too many lives would be damaged by the after effects. Hopefully we can all do our part to keep foie on our plates and in our stomachs. Eat foie, be happy.
Cue the duck!
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Market was kind of quiet today. There were a lot of people looking and snooping around, but there really weren't that many people buying. It was an absolutely beautiful day. I didn't end up buying too much, some mizuna arugula, rapini flowers, moro blood oranges (I prefer Sanguinello), Star Thistle honey and some broccoli florets. To be perfectly honest, most of the citrus I've had is unbelievable disappointing. The mandarin's are juicy, but lack any citric depth. The cara cara oranges aren't close to being sweet yet. The pomelo and grapefruit were probably a better buy than the oranges. I did however do some sweet maneuvering and happened to trade for a bunch tasty of mozzarella balls. It was t0tally behind the scenes wheeling and dealing going on. Nothing really new to buy or report - kind of disappointing. Pictures look good though.
Onto the food porn:
Onto the food porn:
"Wow, these branches are really nice, I'm going to buy a bunch."
"Yeah, totally, that bunch looks like it just got cut from my tree outside."
"Yeah, totally, that bunch looks like it just got cut from my tree outside."
A vegetable with Madonna's 80's bra fever. Pointy.