Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Making It My Own

Even to me it is still amazing where inspiration comes from. More often than not the final product has nothing to do with where the idea originated. Sometimes I will look at an ingredient and it may be at a certain angle, or in an unusual light and it will instantly remind me of something completely different; not even I could explain the connection, but I like to think of it as a "backwards muse". This past weekend was kind of like that.

Gary Snyder, my wife and I met up with some fellow culinary enthusiasts for a serious food adventure on Vashon Island at the highly sought-after Sunday dinner at Kurtwood Farms, which operates primarily as a creamery producing amazing small batch cheeses and is owned and executed by Kurt Timmermeister, a former Seattle restauranteur.

I'll spare you the complete lowdown, since there are already many compositions out there, including an article devoted to him in Food and Wine, but I do have to state that EVERYTHING you eat is produced on the property, minus a few basic pantry items. As a chef, I relished the level of quality that the meat, eggs and produce embodied, but what really blew me away was Kurt's glowing gratification of the fact that the foods that they were serving were quite literally the fruits of his labor.

Before going I was banking on inspiration from the intensity of flavor of local produce in season, but it was the aspect of "handcrafted" that truly exhilarated me. This stirred the desire to not only use the obligatory seasonal vegetables, but to forge the ingredients of my next special myself.

Now, of course, I cannot farm the produce for the restaurant on the balcony of my condo on Eastlake, so I'll source the vegetables from my purveyor Frank's Quality Produce (who has a stand in Pike Place Market) and do the rest on my own.

So I start with protein: I have been wanting to make my own sausages, so I incorporated a recipe I developed for wild game meatballs using coriander and juniper berries by using wild boar and some extra fat for succulence, and encased it by hand. I poached the coils, then finished them off on the grill before slicing into thin rings.

I found that corn has shown up abundantly early in the market so I grilled the kernels, saved them for the final dish, then grilled the cobs again, which I used to make a hearty grilled corn stock that I used as a base sauce for this dish.

Last, but certainly not least, I mixed fresh, blanched spinach with tangy sour cream, grated parmesan cheese, eggs, flour and seasonings that I shallow poached in batches to form pillowy soft dumplings that were combined with the grilled corn stock, tomatoes, reserved corn kernels and sausage, and finished off with fresh chopped dill and more parmesan.

Maybe not my prettiest concoction, but what a wave or flavor it delivers!

~ ~ ~

True to my style I decided to impose a twist on what has now become a cocktail staple in bars and restaurants across America, and even if you don't habla espanol, I bet you know this one word:


Don't get me wrong, Me Encanta uno Mojito, but with everyone else doing it, why not do it differently? So, for this week only we are offering the Thai Mojito: muddled lime wedges and fresh Thai basil, with a lemongrass syrup and coconut rum, all shaken with ice and poured into a chilled martini glass and topped with a splash of club soda to lighten it up and tickle the palate.

Come and Enjoy the Fruits of MY Labor!!

With Love,


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Winning The Lottery

Not surprisingly, one of the most common questions asked of me as a chef is how do I come up with these specials. The ingredients are usually something that they are familiar with, but it's the composition of them that evokes a "Ah, ha!" or "Why didn't I think of that?!" sort of intimacy that they get from one of my dishes. Maybe food is a more tangible art form than, say, painting or woodcarving, but the process is usually still the same.

I will spare you the intricacies of the inner-workings of my mind (unless I run out of things to write about...), but at least for this week's special I can say in hindsight that it looked a lot like a lottery machine: basic ideas that haven't yet come to fruition flailing around until they are sucked up, usually out of order, revealing the final outcome, win or lose.

Well, not exactly. There is always a method to the madness, and there is also the fact that I HATE TO LOSE! - especially when it comes to the success of my food, so I guess you could call it a rigged lottery drawing....

So where do I begin? Well, there is a price point to consider. As a restaurant we pride ourselves on the fact that everything we offer on our menu is $15 or under, including full-sized portions of fish and steak, so more reasonable cuts of meat need to be featured without sacrificing flavor, and as past posts attest, I love the price and versatility of pork (but that doesn't mean some local wild salmon won't make an appearance soon....)

Also, as much as I hate to admit it, this blog has now played a contributing factor in my decision process. I have to stay on my toes. I can't just stamp out old ideas rehashed enough to fit the current trend with seasonal insertions - if I did this blog would read more like The Lawrence Welk Show transcripts more than anything else...

Finally, to be honest, my mother and step-father were in Seattle this weekend, so I tried to think of a dish that they would enjoy, from both an accessible standpoint as well as something that would intrigue the palates of world travelers.

So here are the winning numbers:

I started with a whole loin of pork, trimmed of any fat and cut into one inch thick medallions, which were marinated in a blend of extra virgin olive oil, shallots, garlic, lemon zest, lime juice, and a medley of herbs. After resting for a couple of hours I pounded each fillet into tender quarter-inch cutlets to be double breaded with sourdough soft pretzels that have been dried and ground into a fine powder, with a mixture of eggs and sour cream to both bind the breading, and to accent the subtle tartness of the sourdough pretzel crust, which is finished by pan-frying the cutlet to order in clarified butter (think of it as a pork pretzel Milanese).

Then I topped the crispy foundation with a salad of watercress - a leafy green within the mustard family that has a slightly bitter and peppery note to it - grilled Walla Walla spring onions, slow roasted tomatoes (a favorite of mine;), finely grated manchego cheese and dressed with a truffle mustard vinaigrette which complements the pretzel crust even more so than the watercress.

A dish even a Mother could be proud of!!!!

This week's drink special was inspired by a recent walk through of our local Asian market, Uwajimaya, a favorite muse of mine. I love strolling the aisles to mull on upcoming dinner specials for the restaurant, and for home as well. While there recently I had come across a bottle of organic hibiscus syrup sweetened with pure agave. Hibiscus is a type of flowering plant that has a wide variety of uses that are healthful such as a natural diuretic and a potential to reduce high blood pressure, but I have to be honest, my use of hibiscus is far from such intentions.

I love it's floral notes with a sweet and sour flavor that I could name ten uses right off of the top of my head, but the first thought that came to me was how beautifully it would work as a margarita. So with a healthy dose of Hornitos Plata tequila and an accent of lime and Triple Sec, the Hibiscus Margarita is here for your enjoyment!!!!!!

By the way, the first most asked question of me as a chef is "What's your specialty?". For this I only have one answer: To be a great chef I must have many specialties; to limit myself to just one would be limiting my guests to just one.

With Love,


Wednesday, May 13, 2009


As often as possible I like to create specials that really emphasize our restaurant's concept, though sometimes I find it too limiting and enjoy playing outside of it boundaries. What is our concept? It is a common question from those who peruse our menu, and even if I were to admit that it isn't blatantly obvious, it is still a concept by definition - not a theme. If you want a theme restaurant, try Epcot. No, what we have is something we like to refer to as New Americana; a slant on food that symbolizes American Cuisine. It is a double entendre that embodies us not only as who we are now as a country, but that of those foreign cultures that also comprises us. Without this influence we wouldn't have pizza, chicken fried steak - and yes, even what we all call Chinese food...

This time, though, I wanted to present a dish that is solely American and not a new generation of another; So this week, as promised in another post, I am featuring a variation on Buffalo Chicken Wings after months of requests for them.

At first I was reluctant to have wings as a special, even though I have toyed with the idea for some time now. For one thing, hot wings are a simple dish - only four ingredients comprise the entire ensemble, and barring a complete transformation of those key ingredients (i.e. by means that are known as "Molecular Gastronomy"), there is only so much that you can do with them. I wanted to create a faithful representation without compromising the original integrity of the iconic dish, while reflecting who we are as a restaurant, and implementing my personal style of cooking (Yes, sometimes those two are not always one and the same since I tend to push the envelope of what is expected from a restaurant of our type in order to create exciting dishes for both our customers... and myself).

How do I implement my style? Well, normally chicken wings are deep-fried for quick searing and to keep them moist, but since we only have one fryer - and a good following of vegetarians - I didn't want to blemish the purity of our frying oil by cooking meat in it, so instead I went on the other side of the spectrum and pan-fried the pieces in DUCK FAT!!! It is a medium that imbibes a subtle yet great succulence, and it takes an traditional method one step further without imposing on the dietary needs of other patrons. It's WIN WIN!!!!

Now for the heat - I was inspired by the harissa hot sauce that I made for a previous special, which in turn was inspired by our former incarnation as a Mediterranean restaurant known as El Greco, without which we would not be who we are today, and for which I owe for the great Tzatziki Sauce that I used to replace the blue cheese sauce that traditionally accompanies wings. Finally, I had to have celery; for reasons that span from garnish to added fiber, I couldn't get away from using this vegetable that I now publicly admit, I HATE; but it isn't about me, it is about the food, so I forwent the traditional sticks and finely julienned the ribs, then soaked them in ice water to create "curly cues" .

Hence, another slice of Americana!

Now, I know it has become cliched to feature another cocktail with the forbidden M word, but I have been waiting all winter long to utilize watermelon, and when it made it's first appearance at the market, I jumped on it! I have many plans for this big boy (more food foreshadowing...), but for now I couldn't pass up the opportunity to pun it up for a fresh start to entice the summer thirst!

With my trusty, yet erratic juicer in hand I mowed through the red flesh of a fifteen pounder with ease, and despite it being the first watermelon of the season, it didn't need a grain of sugar! So I splashed it with a bit of lime juice, doused it with a lot of vodka, and garnished the rim with a thick wedge of it just to prove it's purity.

Despite my way with words, my kryptonite is my lack of ability to name cocktails, so I am forced to settle on the obvious:

The Watermelon Martini.

I know that my cocktail naming abilities SUCK! But are you any better? Come in and give it a name, or mention this blog and it is yours for $4!!! You won't find a better deal on fresh-made cocktails like this anywhere in Seattle, and if you do, drop me a line - The first round is on me.

With Love,


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

One of the greatest things for me about being a chef and cutting my teeth in New York City is the array of associates that I have worked with over the years; a kaleidoscope of characters, who despite thousands of miles of diversities and cultures still consider each other "family" - one that is drawn from a different type of bloodline: restaurant workers.

Of those many, it is now not so subtly known that may of the faces you see in kitchens these days are from Central or South America, and more often than not they are from Mexico. I have worked alongside Mexicans for all of my career, and in the true form of friends I have adapted their ways, their mannerisms and their language, so much so that I have even absentmindedly responded to my wife in Spanish. So when we moved to Seattle there was a part of me that was afraid that I may be unable to continue that connection, until I joined this restaurant, and my cohorts: Alejandro and his cousins Alma and Pepe; some of the strongest and most dedicated workers that I have had the pleasure of working with.

My Rock, Mi Amigo, Alejandro
So when it comes to composing an idea to celebrate their heritage, I, um....., well, exploited the stereotype and went with a variation of the Margarita. I know, I know... but I validated myself when I handed Alejandro one of these cocktails and received an enunciation very specific to him: "Mmmm! Bery Goood!", and with that sweet smile of his, I knew that I had a winner.

For me, it was simple; the local grocery store had a sale on fresh mangoes. Our friendly Washington State controlled liquor store had a nice mango liqueur. So I stripped the fruit and simmered the pulp in water with some sugar and a pinch of salt to bring out the flavor, then once cooled I blended it into a fine puree with the mango liquor, resposado tequila and some fresh lime juice to brighten it up - but we at Table 219 like to push things just beyond the norm, so I stirred in fresh juiced jalapenos, minus the seeds, to enhance the flavor of the fruit without overpowering it with spiciness. It may sound a bit out-there, but think of it with the same affection as a drunken mango salsa....

Though it may not tie in with the "Cinco de Mayo" theme, this week's dinner special holds true to Table 219's concept of Americana... a thought that, to us, encompasses not only the history of food within our country, but that of the rest of the world via those who join us. Sometime I hone in on the classical dish by adding my own twist on it, sometimes I embrace our diversity and spin off into a different direction. With this approach in mind I chose to play with the idea of the flatbread.

To most Americans flatbread is mostly noted as a pizza, and many friends of mine run amazing pizza restaurants, so I am not trying to dispute their greatness here; instead I merely want to emphasize the possibilities of the medium that is fun, yet accessible.

I like to play with different shapes, so I worked a focaccia dough recipe that I have leftover from my time at the '21' Club into long, thin sheets and par-baked them into ready-made canvases 15 inches long and 5 inches wide. As a base I brushed the dough with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled it with fresh cut thyme, oven dried tomatoes, Bavarian Meats bacon (a local producer, and seriously the best bacon I have ever tasted in my life, EVER!!), with char-grilled red onions and creamy fontina cheese....finished with a spray of wild, organic arugula pesto.

In the end, I think that these speicals salute all of those that I have worked with, and all of us that have inspired each other. So I toast to you, my past and present brothers and sisters; with all of our differences, we are still the same...

With Love,