Wednesday, June 30, 2010

All About the Family

It's hard to believe that at the end of this week it will already be July, with the Fourth landing on Sunday. Normally we close on the holiday, but when it breached the weekend the last couple of years we decided to stay open for brunch, before the festivities begin.

Since the Fourth is the biggest grilling day of the year in our country I knew that I wanted to create something that not only reflected this truly American tradition, but what it has also come to represent: being with family (hey, freedom was last week's topic).

On our last trip to NYC my wife and I spent some much needed time with her family, starting with our ritual family dinner at Frannie and Phil's, where Uncle Phil and I collaborate on the menu. A true "foodie", Phil's taste is on par with my own, but due to a bum wing (shoulder surgery) he made a better advisory than sous chef, leading me on a Sunday hunt for the freshest ingredients that Cobble Hill, Brooklyn had to offer.

Frannie and Phil's pantry could astound even the most seasoned chef, from the best olive oil, to muscat vinegar (his AMAZING secret ingredient to a warm beet salad) and even a selection of dried chiles smuggled from Mexico. And then there's the built-in grill on top of his stove... how could I not cook in this kitchen?!?

What I ended up making was large, one pound hamburgers topped with foccacia and a grilled tomato version of salsa that was a mix of something American, Italian and Hispanic; the perfect taste of American summer to offer as the ultimate tribute to the birth of our nation.

Since I couldn't offer gigantic hamburgers, I chose to do a variation of pork cutlets by pounding thin slices of pork loin and breading them with finely ground popcorn, which not only gives them an airy crust but also allows the ever-growing gluten allergic the opportunity to enjoy a fried breading.

I made the salsa by grilling tomatoes and sweet Walla Walla onions that were then chopped and tossed with ground, dried New Mexico chiles that are mild and smokey. I finished the "salsa" by adding freshly chopped cilantro and parsley, and an added bonus of pancetta that was braised to not only tenderize it but also remove the excess salt required to cure it.

As a final note I swirled the plate with Chinese black vinegar that I had reduced with some corn syrup to replicate the common balsamic vinegar reduction that normally adorns these simple dishes but with another dimension of spice and complexity.

I thought about featuring a fancy cocktail with red, white and blue layers to honor the 4th of July but two important truths made me reconsider: 1 - Tommy, our resident bartender/server would deal me a well deserved slap in the face for forcing him to tediously pour layer after agonizing layer, even if it's in honor of freedom, and 2 - the only truly blue liqueur is Blue Curacao (which is dyed) and the only white colored ingredients are cream, and maybe even chilled Ouzo... not a great start for a tasty beverage, so I went another route.

We all go through our cocktail fazes; like for me there was one summer in college where spent tonic bottles leftover from gin and tonics were so prevalent that we started to use them to hold up windows, prop open doors, etc. It has taken me 14 years, until just now, to start appreciating gin again. I'm sure you all have your own sagas; feel free to send them to me if you want.

My older brother, Craig, naturally introduced me to many, many things, including my first drink as well as new (to me) cocktails. Once, he was on a Sloe Gin Fizz kick; another time, when we lived together in NYC, there was the Cherry Lime Rickey. It was by his account a non-alcoholic version made with an Italian cherry syrup, fresh lime and soda water, but eventually ended up with vodka added to it without knowing that the true origin lies with gin.

Now that I have come to terms with using gin's botanical aromatics (thanks to my confusing love for juniper berries) I feel that I can finally offer my own version of this cocktail that combines a little of my past with my present.

Although cherries were once my favorite fruit it's still too early to offer them, so here I went with raspberries instead. With their sweet and tart balance they made a beautiful base for this refreshing drink. After cooking them down and straining out the pulp I poured the remaining syrup over gin and ice along with a healthy squeeze of fresh lime juice and a good douse of club soda to keep it light and bubbly, a true representation on the original.

With Love,


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pride and Joy

It's that time of year!! Pride officially kicks off at 12:01 am Thursday morning and we have a few things planned to help you celebrate and get involved. First, Thursday night is PrideFest, where a portion of each bill goes to support Gay City Health Project which provides HIV and AIDS testing to gay men, and Seattle Counseling Service that advocates for and offers health services to the GLBT community.

Secondly, this Saturday is the Capitol Hill Pride Festival, where Broadway will be closed from Roy to John St./Olive Way allowing for local businesses like ours to offer booths or tables in the street as well as a variety of events like music and a Doggie Drag Costume Contest (WOW!), bringing some of that flare back to The Hill before the big parade on Sunday.

Finally, I have my personal contribution to commemorate this special occasion, in a way that I know best - tasty cocktails!!! After an ongoing collaboration with one of our servers, Kari, we ended up with a simple yet effective way to celebrate diversity by infusing Skyy vodka with individual flavors of Skittles candy, creating a rainbow of colorful liqueurs resembling the pride flag.

It is it's simplicity that is astounding, because as long as you allow the candy to completely dissolve in the vodka, thoroughly strain it through cheesecloth and shake it over ice you end up with the perfect balance of alcohol, sweetness and flavor that is undeniably a Skittles Martini!!
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You may not think that my dinner special seems like a direct example of what Pride exemplifies, so allow me convince you otherwise...

Our country was built on fundamentals of diversity and equality, an ideal that was a thousand times greater than the founding fathers could have possibly imagined at its inception, allowing for a world of cultures to flourish and influence each other, thereby creating the society that we live in today, and something that will continually evolve into the future. After every hurdle and every struggle we always come out a little bit better than before, solidifying that notion of "home".

So what I wanted to do was create a variation of a classic American dish that dates back to the Colonial days of our country but with local and cultural additions (along with a few touches of me) to emphasize the steps that we have made, and that dish can only be our beloved chicken and dumplings.

My version is less practical than the traditional because I started with a rich chicken broth instead of the cooking process yielding a broth from water and chicken legs, guaranteeing me optimal flavor, and then adding roasted chicken thighs that were cooked separately so that they are perfectly juicy. To bring the broth to another level I simmered it with red wine and some crushed juniper berries while I worked on the tedious process of the dumplings.

As an interesting deviation from the usual dumplings I made mine with eggs, Parmesan cheese, half and half and semolina flour - a favorite among Italians in order to make great pasta that gives them a texture that is less doughy than all purpose flour but finer than cornmeal. For added refinement I shaped each dumpling into perfect balls by hand as opposed to the Rorschach-Esq versions that adorn the rustic versions.

I finished the dish by sauteing locally available Gai Lan, or Chinese broccoli, that is of the same family as broccoli and kale and has become a modern staple in Chinese-American cooking, along with morel mushrooms, one of my favorite fungi that also happened to be sourced locally, to my delight.

The broth is amazingly light and rich at the same time, while giving way to the creamy dumplings accented by the earthy mushrooms and vibrant greens; a perfect balance of culture and versatility that livens the taste buds as well as the mind!

With Love,


P.S. - A funny side note; many of you are well aware that we change our pancake recipe for brunch weekly, and I have decided to offer our popular Ginger Pancakes in honor of a new addition to my family: Ginger, a Australian Shepherd mix that my wife and I adopted this past Sunday (hey, the food connotation comes naturally to a chef!).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I Can Do It All

As promised before I am continuing on with the seafood theme, though to be honest I was planning on having at least a one week gap in between, but with a menu change coming up I wanted to see if it will work before the menu was submitted to print so I can add it last minute. The short answer is yes. Here's the long answer:

I have lost many hours of sleep stewing over this special, and the funny part is that I was already set on the flavor combinations. Based on a slider dish that I had on the menu at my first restaurant in NYC, I have been wanting to make little taco shells out of three-inch gyoza wrappers that were layered with fresh avocado, raw, yellowfin tuna that had been tossed in a dressing of red onion, sesame oil, cilantro and soy sauce and topped with a fine shaving of local mixed greens and a touch of Sriracha aioli for spice and fruitiness.

So, if I already knew what the plate was going to be, why all sleepless nights? I am constantly trying to come up with new and interesting presentations that are sometimes beyond the means of the equipment that I have. So what do I do? I make it myself. While I have a taco shell fryer, it only makes one at a time, and since I planned on serving five per order I didn't want to stand over the fryer all day, so I created a multi-taco fry basket capable of cooking nine mini shells at one time.

Then I needed a way to serve the tacos so that they wouldn't fall over or slide around. First, I thought about making a metal stand that would hold all five in a row, but later realized that the best (and most sanitary) option would be to make a form out of something edible, and since the dish was centered around an Asian/Latino theme, I figured that there was no better medium than rice.

I chose calrose rice (a California variant of the japonica variety used for sushi) due to it's stickiness, and from that I came to the realization that the Japanese have a form of sushi called oshizushi, or pressed rice, where boxed forms are used to shape the rice, meat and toppings. I used this technique as inspiration to make my own mold with an elongated plastic box used to separate silverware in drawers with little wooden dowels set inside to create indentations that would cradle the mini tacos. For added sanitation (a chef's and customer's best friend) I used plastic wrap as a barrier when I pressed in the cooled rice that had been tossed with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds for color contrast and a bit of crunch.

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This summer I plan to start focusing on more seasonally based fruit cocktails whenever possible (with next week's Gay Pride drink special being an interesting exception :) ). There are so many fruits out there now that I feel spiritually drawn and quartered when it comes to what fruit I could use, especially as the peaches perfume the air around me as I write this...

Now that the melons have shown their heads I can finally introduce a cocktail that I wanted to offer this time last year but had waited too long before the season ran out. Back then I had the notion that honeydew melon had a hint of licorice within it and the scent had never left me, leading me to pair the second-most sweet-friendly herb with one of our most common melons.

I juiced the honeydews before straining to end up with a pure essence of the fruit without all of the thick pulp, allowing it to soak up all of the fresh flavor of the muddled basil before the Skyy vodka was introduced, leaving a drink that is without added sugar and void of typical mixers; just good fun in the sun.

With Love,


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Succulent Friend

Summer months bring summer words like melons, fresh greens, corn, stone fruit and our local hero: Walla Walla onions. Once spoken they give promise to a certain style of dish that embodies everything that we feel about this time of year in both spirit and cuisine. These ingredients are the cornerstones of inspiration for both chef and home cook alike, allowing us to take full advantage of this season.

This week's idea originated from halves of hollowed out green summer squash, better known as zucchini, that I had slowly roasted to concentrate their flavor and keep them moist, even going as far as using wet towels underneath to prevent the heat from the roasting pan from browning the bottoms, a technique I mirrored while reheating them to assemble the dish.

Even though I started with the squash, the main focus is always on the protein, and since I felt that I needed something that wouldn't overpower its vessel I naturally leaned towards seafood, which meant a visit from my longtime friend, the king crab.

As some of you may know, my love for this sea creature started at an early age and was probably the catalyst that initiated my love for food that lead to me becoming a chef, and yet still today I find its rich and succulent meat irresistible.

But it has become much more to me than that. Now I enjoy the process of removing the meat as much as I do the consumption; it's a meticulous methodology of cracking, twisting, prying and squeezing aided only by a pair of Cutco scissors bought for me by my father-in-law (thanks Bob!!). Just like handmade pasta or a long braise there is a certain amount of Zen to doing it. In the end I stay true to the final product by simply warming the crab in an emulsion of it's cooking liquid and good amount of butter - just like dunking it into a side of drawn butter.

For the base I wanted something fresh and summery, so I grilled whole ears of yellow corn just enough char them a little before I cut the kernels from the cob. To this I made a play on salsa, or more accurately pico de gallo, by adding freshly diced jalapenos, tomatoes, red onion, lime juice and a little twist of Asian with some reconstituted fermented black beans. Finally I drizzled the entire dish with creme fraiche that I made by culturing heavy cream with sour cream to make an uber-rich version of the traditional salsa condiment that was then pureed with fresh cilantro for both color and that authentic flavor.

For the drink special I decided to impart another favorite flavor by adding apple into the mix:

Maybe it's a bit of childhood nostalgia, but I have always loved sour apple (as in Jolly Rancher), so I don't mind using apple pucker liqueur as long as it's in moderation, and after a refreshing brew of herbal tea to inspire me I had a new direction.

In the past I have used an organic hibiscus and agave syrup for many other cocktails, but it seems that this subtle floral concoction is a bottomless well of inspiration. Due to its obvious red color it makes perfect sense to use it as a substitute for cranberry juice in a cosmopolitan, but by substituting sour apple pucker for triple sec and keeping the fresh lime juice and vodka injection I came up with a totally unique cocktail that has depth as well as being refreshing!

With Love,


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Abstract Compositions

I have realized lately that it has been a while since I have had any kind of fish or seafood special. True to form, once I sat down at my desk with a starting point like that, my mind lights up like a campfire - first there's a spark, then two, and before you know it everything is ablaze. There's nothing I love more than inspiration and direction. Normally I have this rule about spacing out the featured proteins of my specials, but with seafood it's easy to dream up summery ideas, so I accede to the old adage about rules being meant to be broken.

The thought of seafood has probably been on my mind lately because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that is threatening the Gulf's marine life. My best friend, Greg, runs a fishery in the middle of the Florida Keys, and when we last spoke he relayed his concerns that fishing off of Florida could be suspended for five years if the well couldn't be contained... that was two weeks ago.

With that in mind, it doesn't take much to scare price jumps, whether warranted or not, so why not start by focusing on something local, like my nemesis the salmon.

It may sound bizarre to think of salmon as an adversary, but as a chef I have cooked uncountable portions of it due to its popularity in both flavor and health benefits. After a while the smell of the prized oily fat just gets to you, but if it's any consolation, I can't stand beef tenderloin either. But being transplanted here, away from the abundance of east coast Atlantic (tie-dyed/farm-raised) salmon has helped, with varieties like King, Chinook and Coho as members of my new fraternity to help steer me into the right direction.

I chose to use Coho for this dish because it is still a readily available species of salmon that has a relatively high fat content but is still priced reasonably, and with quality ingredients like this it is best to mess with it as little as possible, so I simply season and roast it skin side down in a hot saute pan in order to crisp the skin underneath while leaving the flesh on top soft and flaky.

Once the salmon is cooking I saute a split king oyster mushroom that I had scored with hatchmarks to emulate what I used to do with foie gras due to the texture that the mushroom has when cooked through, but without all of the ethical concerns. With its massive size I add the mushroom along side of the salmon filet to finish cooking while I use the remaining clarified butter to crisp thick slices of fingerling potatoes. With that going, I start reheating the duo of sauces that I had prepared earlier.

The first sauce is perhaps the soul of the creation, inspired by the remaining case of pea vines from last week's special. Despite still being able to offer them as a sauteed seasonal vegetable side dish, I had enough to make a sauce by wilting the leaves down in onions and garlic that had been poached in white wine. I then pureed everything with half and half to add a richness to the vibrant pea flavor that the vines had given up.

To counter the succulent pea vine puree I needed an inverse of both color and flavor, so I used a variation on the classic roasted red bell pepper sauce, but by steaming the chiles instead. By steaming the peppers I was still able to remove the chewy skin while retaining its true essence. After blending with onions, garlic, red wine and red wine vinegar the sauce was as velvety and bright as I could have hope for.

When I had finally layered the two sauces with alternating erratic spoonfuls, each plate was truly unique in that the presentation is organic and personable because no two plates were exactly alike, allowing the colors to glow beneath the salmon as a visual example of the complementing ingredients: from the rich and flaky salmon compared to the crispy, chewy potatoes or the precise cuts on the mushrooms to the Rorschach-like patterns of the sauce.

Last week Stacey had made a request to add St. Germain elderflower liqueur to our bar supply, a decision that both surprised and delighted me. First, I have been wanting to tinker with it in cocktail special for quite some time now but the cost was too high to bring in a specialty item for just one week, but even more intriguing was what was she planning to do with it??

It turns out that her intentions were to use it where it would shine best: as a part of our special sparkling wine cocktails that we sometimes offer during brunch, perhaps like classic offerings like the French 77 with St. Germain, lemon juice and champagne, or .... or.... well, maybe she hoped that I would come up with something tasty myself.

Though this one is geared more towards dinner than brunch, rest assured that I will come up with an elderflower libation that will go with your French toast, but with more punch than crunch. In the meantime let's try this:

Elderflower liqueur has a floral sweetness that only the fortunate ones who have ever tasted honeysuckle directly from the flower can understand. It reminds me of my childhood on hot summer days. Now that I'm an adult, so do refreshing cocktails!! So I paired the two by first pouring a base of Absolut Vanilla vodka at the bottom of rocks glass full of ice along with a splash of St. Germain, pineapple juice and topping it off with a heaping pour of sparkling wine for lift!

With Love,