Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A New Beginning

Well friends, the time has finally come. By this time next week I will be the official full owner of Table 219. It's a daunting thought for sure, and one of the drawbacks to putting myself in the forefront of decision making is that I won't have the time to continue with this blog. I need to focus on improving the restaurant by emphasizing our strengths and building up our weaknesses.

What does that mean for my specials? They will continue on in the same way that they have been. I plan to dedicate a section of the new website to descriptive weekly updates, start an email list and continue feeding the social media sites, Facebook and Twitter.

As for the food itself I plan to keep doing what I've been doing - making it delicious, and this week is no exception!

It's pumpkin time and I love cooking with the scary little orb. I thought long and hard about what direction to take it and I finally settled on an old favorite: risotto.

When I started at the restaurant it was called El Greco, a Mediterranean restaurant that had an ongoing weekly risotto special that I really enjoyed creating, so I thought this would be a fitting end to this epilogue.

I began by roasting sugarpie pumpkins. These aren't the large ones you see everywhere. Those are so starchy that they are only good for two things - carving and making pumpkin beer. The sugarpies are sweeter and more tender, but much smaller. While they cook I simmer arborio rice in onions and chicken stock until just before the rice is cooked. This allows me to finish cooking the rice to order and infuse the roasted pumpkin that I pureed in half and half. I then added chantrelle mushrooms - a fall favorite - as well as fresh tomatoes and hulled pumpkin seeds.

For the protein I went with a bone-in, skin-on chicken breast that I special ordered for it's size since all that's usually available from my company are huge. I like the portion size that I get from a three pound bird, leaving me with the bodies for stock and legs to save for an already thought out chicken and dumplings special. To pair with the pumpkin, I created a spice blend by combining garam masala, paprika, chipotle powder, California chile powder, salt and black pepper. The spice caramelizes nicely as the chicken pan roasts and I finished the breast by basting it in butter, cloves of garlic and fresh thyme sprigs.

Even though the spice on the chicken plays very well with the pumpkin in the risotto I felt it necessary to bridge the flavors even further by creating a pesto featuring the pumpkin seeds once again along with fresh parsley, cilantro and extra virgin olive oil. The addition gave a brightness to the dish that really created a unique combination of flavors.

Caralyn and I are still working on cocktails for the new menu, and while we were focusing on dessert cocktails I think she came up with one that could be popular at either end of the meal.

By using some of my own limoncello shaken with our new favorite whipped cream flavored vodka and a shot of fresh whipped cream and straining it into a martini glass she was able to replicate an iconic dessert; a lemon merengue pie. It's a cocktail that isn't too sweet to be pigeonholed as a only dessert drink.

To those of you who have followed and supported me through this culinary writing adventure: thank you. You have inspired me as much as the ingredients on the plate.

With Love,


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sausage Party!

Sometimes it's difficult to come up with a protein that is new and interesting. There's only so many things you can do with a chicken breast, and a steak is just a steak. I tend to get stuck on an idea just because I'm bored with the monotony of a simple protein, even though to the rest of the world sees them in a better light.

While I do have a list of the types of meats and seafood that I have used for specials in the past, I realized this past weekend that there is one area that I haven't taken advantage of enough: some of the great sausages produced locally.

We already use sausages from Cascioppo Brothers for our corndogs and our brunch, sides, and I have been using a sweet Italian blend from Isernio's for my sausage gravy that adorns my happy hour fried chicken sliders as well as the chicken fried steak brunch item that I love. I realized that if Isernio's Italian sausage is so great, I bet their chorizo would be too!! So for the idea that I was stuck on simply using pork tenderloin again I opted instead to pan roast a couple of links of the spicy Mexican variety instead.

What I also wanted to do is incorporate some of the seasonal ingredients that I was going to use with a more simple meat, which actually played very well with the spiciness of the chorizo sausage.

For the sauce I had the thought to infuse fresh apple cider with roasted ginger, like you would do for Vietnamese Pho, along with beef stock, caramelized onions, sage, thyme and a small length of cinnamon stick. I originally wanted the ginger to be more pronounced, but I had already used a lot of ginger in the first place and I was really happy with the way that it turned out.
To keep with the Autumn flavors of the sauce I made a puree of celery root, one of my favorite ingredients despite my general dislike for the standard variety (even though they are technically different plants). I used half and half, milk and some water to cook the root along with some potato to help make it a thick, creamy puree that still had some of the deep characteristics that the root has to offer.

Finally, to balance some of the sweetness of the sauce I sauteed broccoli rabe, or rapini, in onions and garlic with a little butter and extra virgin olive oil. The bitterness of the rapini is also commonly combined with the likes of sausage, especially spicy ones, so it fit really well into this dish. 

Last year I had made an attempt of creating a caramel apple cocktail for this season but I wasn't as successful as I would like to have been. That was probably due to my lack of bartending experience and the fact that, at the time, I didn't have the experienced staff that I do now to confer with.

One of my new servers, Carolyn, has had a lot of bartending experience and has offered one of her cocktails - a Fuji Apple - to be added to the expanded drink list that I plan for Americana,  the future of Table 219. We had the chance to work the drink further and finally perfect the seasonal cocktail that I originally wanted.

We started by muddling fresh lime wedges with ice before adding the unlikely Southern Comfort with Apple Pucker and Baileys Creme Caramel. It's shaken and strained and garnished with a slice of a lady apple - a cute little varietal that reminds me of a crab apple, but much sweeter and more flavorful.

With Love,


Wednesday, October 12, 2011


It shouldn't come to much surprise that sometimes my inspiration comes from one of my own home-cooked meals; afterall, comfort food is the foundation of Table 219's ideology. So when I cooked an iconic dinner for my wife and I on Monday, I realized the potential for a special.

I cooked whole wheat spaghetti with turkey pesto meatballs for us, and I said to Anna "this dish never gets old!". I then remembered once trying out an idea where I made a pasta with pureed Moroccan oil-cured olives, so I went with a play on that Italian-American classic that is ingrained into our society.

I made the pasta by pureeing the pitted olives with whole eggs and then mixed that into regular flour to form a dough that I rolled and cut with a Kitchenaid attachment as opposed to the traditional pasta extruder. Not exact, but close.

For the meatballs I took a cue from the lamb burger on our menu by mixing two parts of ground Anderson Ranch lamb from Oregon with one part all natural beef from Northwest Natural to tame some of the gaminess of the lamb. For a  Moroccan flair I mixed in my own blend of spices like coriander, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, turmeric, parsley, preserved lemon and some breadcrumbs to retain some of the delicious fat within the meatballs.

My sauce is also something more than your usual marinara: I slowly cooked onions and garlic in extra virgin olive oil before stewing them with tomatoes andred wine. I finished the sauce by adding spice like dried chipotle pepper, chile flakes and Sriracha chile sauce as well as blending in fresh oregano and basil. The sauce has such a zip and powerful flavor without being too overbearing!! 

Now that the word is out with my purchasing of the restaurant everyone wants to get their piece. Sometimes it's annoying due to all of the solicitors, but every now and then there's some good that comes from it.

A liquor rep of ours, Lucy, came by touting some new products to replace some of the top shelf liquors without the premium prices. One of her product lines is Effen vodka which I've had success with their cucumber version, but since that's their most popular vodka she wanted me to try out one of their other flavors: black cherry.

After speaking with one of our new servers, Carolyn, also an experienced bartender, she suggested this week's drink special: a Cherry Drop.

Similar to a lemon drop, it's made by muddling a fresh lemon wedge, adding a splash of simple syrup, a healthy pour of Effen Black Cherry vodka and finished with my own brandied cherry made a couple of months back with some leftover cherries from another drink special.

With Love,


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Americana Dream

One of the few guarantees is life is that things inevitably change. Fortunately, sometimes that change is for the better.

Over the past month or so I have been in negotiations with my business partners, Gary and Stacey, to buy them out, making me sole owner and operator of the restaurant and now we are in the home stretch to make that happen. As of November 1st the place will be mine!

What will be different? Not that much. While I'm planning to make some minor cosmetic changes to better solidify the style and brand of the restaurant, the one thing that I won't change (and the biggest concern of our regulars) is the menu. I still plan on offering the same great food for brunch and dinner, only changing what I would've made anyways with a few nice additions.

Unfortunately, the one thing that will change for the worse is this blog. Since I will be taking on the additional duties that two other have been doing I won't have time to continue writing the beautiful descriptions like I have been. I will continue uploading my weekly specials to Facebook and Twitter (and hopefully to a new website for the restaurant) as well as a weekly e-mailing list that I will be setting up soon. So it's a loss for some and a gain for others; I hope!!

In the meantime I still have a special to introduce.....

Since the temperature is falling suite with the time of the season I felt it right to begin offering specials with flavors more reminiscent of what we taste when we think of autumn. 

I've been wanting to have a dish with roasted figs for a long time and there's few better meats that pair well with fruit than pork, so while I slowly sear thick cuts of pork loin that I tied with butcher's twine in order to maintain a circular shape I roasted fresh mission fig halves to concentrate their sugars and to create a more robust flavor.

For the sauce I didn't have pork stock on hand so I combined beef and chicken stock instead and reduced them down with an equal portion of red wine along with a blend of spices called Garam Masala which is an Indian spice blend containing cinnamon, black pepper, fennel, cloves and other autumn favorable spices, to which I enhanced with a cinnamon stick, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary and whole allspice berries. 

Another great ingredient and pairing for this season is braised cabbage, which is available locally this time of year. I cooked it in onions, garlic and a little fresh thyme that, for some unknown reason, tastes like fall to me.

Even though I offered a gin drink last week I couldn't resist this one, especially with the flavors of the entree special above.

Since October is synonymous with fall to most of us I intentionally poached pears with sugar, cinnamon sticks and allspice berries for last weekend's French toast topping so that I would have the remaining cooking liquid for this week's drink special. Clever, eh?

I felt that the autumn spices of the pear poaching liquid would make a really interesting combination with the complex flavors of a dry gin, so I made a twist on the classic gin fizz by shaking the pear liquid with Gordon's gin and egg white powder and topping it off with club soda for that classic feel. 

Only a few more week's to go!

With Love,


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A New Style

Now that we are officially in the cusp between summer and autumn I can create some truly unique dishes that could only be done in this short window of time.

Despite the delivery fiasco the last time I used ling cod for a special I couldn't deny what a great product that they normally get. With the skyrocketing prices of fish and seafood these days I really appreciate the ability to offer fresh, line caught fish from off of the coast of Washington (Neah Bay, to be precise) at a price point within our range. It is moist, flaky and delicious. I couldn't wait to use it again.

I wrapped hefty seven ounce portions of the cod with paper-thin slices of prosciutto to subtly infuse it's salty goodness the way that one would use bacon for more bolder proteins. The wrapping creates a barrier and allows me to simply place the fish in a pan and roast in the oven, keeping the flesh from sticking.

To pair with such a delicate fish I used several flavors of the season, starting last weekend when I pureed very ripe, end of the season heirloom tomatoes and poured the pulp into a bowl lined with a cloth napkin, tied the ends and hung the sack in the refrigerator, allowing the liquid to slowly drip over the weekend, yielding what is known as "tomato water". Once extremely popular when I started cooking in the Nineties it has fallen out of favor and out of mind until I read an article about it in the New York Times that made me decide to use it here. I simply warm the crystal clear broth with a pinch of kosher salt to allow for the pure flavor to shine.

For the final components I roasted halves of new crop spaghetti squash until tender and scrapped the strands out with a fork that I warmed in the oven while the fish cooked. I also sauteed chopped, local spinach and used a large ring mold to layer the two as a base for the finished ling cod.

As a first for Table 219 I was finally able to showcase a presentation that I've been wanting to utilize for a long time now. By putting the tomato broth into one of our tea kettles I was able to compose the plate with slices of jalapeno pepper topped with little domes of heirloom cherry tomatoes and having the server pour the broth into the bowl at the table; a simple little touch that really makes an impact.

Still grasping at the last bits of summer I wanted to have a drink with one last summer fruit: blueberries.

I have favorably combined blueberries and gin in the past so I wanted find other ways to use fruit with gin, and then I came across the Singapore Sling.

For this sling I muddled fresh blueberries, a lemon wedge and mint leaves, then topped it off with with gin, pineapple juice and a little egg white powder to give it a foamy top after I shake it all together.

Though I am happy with the cocktail, it led me to other ideas that I think could be better. Maybe you'll see a "Seattle Sling" on our cocktail list soon!

With Love,


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Indian Summer

For my birthday my wife and I treated ourselves to one of our favorite restaurants in the Seattle area: The Herbfarm in Woodinville for their "Sketches of Summer" themed dinner.

One of the more memorable dishes was in the beginning of the meal featuring (among other things) a morel mushroom filled with caramelized cauliflower puree. It was one of the most amazing bites I have ever taken! The only complaint that I had was that they didn't give me a bowl full of them. When the chef made his rounds at the end of dinner service I commended him on a great meal and informed him that I will be stealing that idea.

I sat on that idea for two months now, thinking of how I would do it my own way. I have already known the wonders of caramelized cauliflower, but I knew that there is no way that I could offer an affordable special and use authentic morel mushrooms, so I decided to recreate the earthy duo with meaty lobster mushrooms instead.

So I heavily seared florets of cauliflower in olive oil until well browned before adding chopped onions and garlic, cooking even further until all was well browned. I pureed the mixture with just enough half and half to allow the blender to create a silky smooth sauce.

Lobster mushrooms are actually a fungi that grows on specific types of mushrooms that gives them a reddish hue like a lobster as well as have a seafood-like flavor. I simply saute thin slices of them in a little butter and freshly chopped chives because, for some reason, I really find that the subtle herb really brings out all that mushrooms have to offer. To further enhance the flavor of sea within the mushrooms I seasoned them with some Hawaiian sea salt that is now a part of my culinary arsenal.

To balance the sweetness that came from the caramelization of the cauliflower I decided to saute finely shredded treviso, a bitter lettuce like an elongated radicchio, along with baby arugula, onions, garlic and butter just long enough to wilt them down.

Not that my choice of pan roasting bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs was an afterthought, but let me be honest, it was the last component needed to finish the dish. The plate really could be served as a complete meal without it, but I wouldn't sell that many either, so I sprinkled two thighs with freshly ground coriander, salt and pepper and seared them briefly before sending them to the oven to finish.

I promised myself that I would create more punch drinks to fill a void in a chapter of a potential book on cocktails (not that I have enough on my plate already...), hence the back to back punches these two weeks.

A punch is categorized as being a drink made with fruit juices, which is why the summertime is a great time to offer these delicious beverages!

In addition to the mushroom/cauliflower combination that I've been holding onto I've also been day-dreaming about a drink that is made with a toasted almond syrup and an almond rum. Since I love cherries, I automatically realized how wonderfully they go together!

I toasted some sliced almonds and divided them; half went to steep in a simple syrup and half went into a bottle of rum that I sped along the infusion process by using a wine vacuum pump.

I assembled the drink in a pint glass full of ice with the almond rum first, followed by the almond syrup and plenty of pure cherry juice!!

With Love,


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Swatting the Buzzword Bee

One thing that really bothers me about the cooking shows on TV is how they always seem to throw around the same buzzwords like "big, bold flavors". The fact is that it's easy for them to create a dish that way; that's why you see bacon and butter in so many of their recipes. It's a crutch that they rely on in order to churn out recipes for cookbooks. After all "fat is flavor"...

The true art of cooking lies not in the best bang for your buck but in the perfect orchestration of subtle flavors. That's where I like to play. Sure, I create high-impact dishes, but it's specials like this one that really show my range.

Like I've stated many times before, I love this time of year. It's the best of both worlds - the crest of summer's bounty leading into the wonderful flavors of autumn. I wanted to create a dish that is a culinary snapshot of this exact moment.

Since tomatoes are on the out for the year I wanted to make one last grab for them, especially with the beautiful yellow and red beefsteak tomatoes available locally from Imperial Gardens (in fact, they supplied a majority of ingredients for this special). I wanted to stuff them so I lopped off just enough of the bottom so they would lay flat and cut off the top thick enough to create a lid and allow me to scoop out the flesh. In order to keep the fresh flavor for a hot dish I sprinkled the inside with Hawaiian sea salt and baked them in the oven just enough to warm them through to order.

For the filling I lightly sauteed rock crab meat with ingredients indicative of the season like fresh yellow corn, oregano, a touch of handmade chili powder and roasted turban squash, a varietal with a flavor like the cross between a pumpkin and butternut squash named for resembling the middle eastern headdress. I also steeped the pulp and seeds from the squash in butter long enough to extract the flavor before straining and using to cook the filling.

To keep with the freshness of the main components I wanted a sauce, rather sauces, to further complement the dish. First I steamed fresh pimento chiles (yes, the kind that you find inside of the olives sunken in you martini) and then blended the deseeded flesh to make a vibrant, tangy puree. As a counter component I made a cold cream sauce by blending fresh cilantro and parsley with warm cream (so that it won't churn into butter). Both sauces create a yin and yang in flavor, color and presentation to help complete the plate.

I also wanted to keep with the waning seasonal ingredients for the drink special by utilizing the last of the available nectarines along with the (late) beginning of local blackberries.

One neglected area of cocktails that I always seem to forget about is the "punch". A punch is a drink that is comprised of many different ingredients and usually containing some form of fruit juice. To me, a punch symbolizes a festive atmosphere, something that I feel like embodies what we try to achieve at our restaurant.

For this punch I muddled four fresh blackberries (they're big this year) and then I filled the pint glass with ice, added brandy, aged rum, fresh nectarine juice and lemon juice to help cut through the sweetness. It's a tasty, refreshing beverage that creates a little party on the palate!

By the way... local ingredients aren't buzzwords; they're just the way to get the best flavor!!

With Love,


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Organic Mind

Even though I offered a dish featuring curry last week I didn't think twice about doing something similar this time around. I have realized that my best specials have come from not overthinking them and allowing it to be more of an organic process of my mind working it out. I'm not saying that I don't put any effort into them; it's more like placing rocks in a stream to control the flow.

Last week I used a sweet curry powder because I liked the combination of it with soy sauce, but really curry powder isn't authentic Indian at all - it merely mimics the flavors found in traditional curries. I once lived in Jackson Heights, Queens in NYC where many Indian immigrants say has the best Indian fare in the city, which in turn really means the country. Since moving here to Seattle my wife and I have sought out good Indian and have only found one that even comes close: India Express just down the street on Broadway (feel free to email me your favorite spots). Finally I hunkered down and learned as much as I could about the cuisine from books, magazines, Internet and cooking shows. I realized that, like all cuisines, Indian food has its fundamental techniques and ingredients, and once you understand them you can make most dishes.

One of my favorite Thai dishes is a pineapple curry fried rice so I wanted to make a similar special but one spanning across Africa, the Middle East and India by combining similar flavors into one entree that has now become a staple meal in our country.

Basmati rice is normally used in Indian cuisine, but it is very costly. I've found that jasmine rice is nearly just as floral and nutty as basmati at a fraction of the cost, and creates a direct link to the concept of Thai fried rice. I simply cooked the rice in salted water with plenty of bay leaves for their subtle fragrance as well as a nod to traditional cooking. I spread some of the cooked rice over baking pans for the first night to simulate the reason why fried rice was created in the first place: to use leftover rice!

For the protein I went with lamb for its strong flavor and a Moroccan-style rub to season it, but I wanted to make sure that the lamb was moist and tender, so I utilized the technique called "sous vide" or under vacuum, to both marinate and cook the meat. By using a vacuum sealer right after rubbing lamb sirloin in olive oil, paprika ginger, garlic, chile flakes, a little cinnamon and turmeric I not only forced the flavor deep into the meat instantaneously but drew out the air around it so that I could cook it in a 145 degree waterbath controlled by a temperature regulator so that it was medium rare through and through before chilling and dicing. 

For the Indian flavor in this dish I created a heavily spiced coconut curry by first slowly cooking Walla Walla onions, garlic and ginger in extra virgin olive oil. While that cooked I toasted whole spices like fenugreek, cumin, coriander and fennel seed to release their oils before grinding them and adding to the stewed onion mixture. I also added coconut milk, cilantro stems and a little water to allow for evaporation while it simmered. I pureed and strained the curry and used it to finish the rice. For another dimension I added dried currants and cashew pieces as a nod to the delilcious way that they treat their rice in Turkey.

Before the summer gets away from us I wanted to use as many of the great summer fruits as long as I can until they're gone.

Even though no fruit embodies an American summer like watermelon, I find that it tends to overshadow its delicious cousin, the honeydew.

I wanted to use flavors that play well with the honey notes that lend to the melons name so I muddled mint and added aged Cruzan rum, juiced honeydew, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and a splash of soda and lime juice to balance out the sweetness.

Wow!! What a drink!!

With a little luck (and know-how!) I hope to give one last nod to the melon family and use cantaloupe in next week's drink special, but don't hold me to it!!

With Love,