Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Things to Come

Barring any of the unforeseen circumstances that usually cause things to go wrong in a restaurant we plan on introducing a somewhat significant menu change at the start of next week. For the most part our menu has remained the same since the birth of the restaurant two and a half years ago - an intentional tactic to ease the transition for the former El Greco patrons and draw in new fans. Now it's time to turn to a new page.

Specials are generally used as a way to test a dish to see if it has the mettle to make it onto the menu, the best example of which is the Tuna Tartar Tacos that I added on the last menu change and has outsold even the previous best sellers. This is important to note, because though I never put an item on the menu that I didn't think was great, sometimes they just don't sell that well, so when it's time to print up new menus we go over the number of sales for each plate, starting at the bottom.

So what's going to go? The first to get the axe are the ribs; though they sell well, they are ordered more in the summertime and therefore will be a seasonal addition. To replace them will be a heartier version of my Pork Loin Rockefeller that I have been wanting to add since its inception last year. Other castaways include the Roasted Garlic Sandwich, Banana Foster and the coup de grace: the Crispy Penne. To replace them is my former signature dish Scallop Wellington with a Spinach Cream Sauce, a Polenta Lasagna with Marinated Eggplant and Basil Pesto, and an Angel Food Cake with Nutella Glaze and Whipped Cream.

The final change is the fish, which is the one area of the menu that actually did change often as an homage to the Fish du Jour offering at El Greco. Like the Tuna Tacos, I knew that this dish would be a hit so I once again jumped the gate to bring our customers an early taste of what's to come.

In our price range I have to be crafty in order to be able to offer a fish entree. Even though farm raised fish is a major sustainable option (excluding "Atlantic" or farm-raised salmon from consideration), most customers prefer the real thing, not that there's anything wrong with that. So I chose the versatile Pacific cod as a good middle ground since price tends to reflect demand and demand reflects the availability or stock of a species, fitting both of my needs.

To prepare the cod I simply baked a fillet on parchment paper instead of oil to help keep the bottom from drying out. While the fish is cooking I sauteed great northern beans (aka Navy beans) that had be cooked in a combination of clam juice and fish stock along with onions and garlic, fresh thyme, butter and wonderful mustard greens that were grown locally but owe their popularity to the south.

Autumn is the season for earthy flavors, the best of which can be found in luxurious black truffles, which go hand-in-hand with the creamy beans and spicy greens, but are subtle enough to not overpower the delicate cod. Since fresh truffles are out of our price range I was able to find real canned versions from a great company that even my idols use, of which I whipped into a butter seasoned with black truffle sea salt to finish a broth made from the leftover truffle juice and vegetable stock.

In the end the dish is a wonderful marriage of American culture and ingredients elevated by the European influence of black truffles; a taste of luxury with a moderate price.

Lately I have been enamored with Pimm's Number 1, a gin based liqueur that has been around since 1823. Though they used to produce five more varieties (up to No. 6) based on other spirits, the No. 1 is the one that stood the test of time, and while I would love to use it in some new way that would break it free from the Pimm's Cup mold, it just has too much of unique of a flavor, always leading you back to that classic cocktail. So instead of trying to find new flavors to mix Pimm's with, I decided to add to those ingredients that already go with it.

The best Pimm's cup is made by combining equal parts of Pimm's and a lemon-lime soda, like Sprite, with a slice of cucumber over rocks in a tall glass. I figured that since the cucumber is a natural pairing to the gin-based liqueur, and ginger is a natural pairing to cucumber, I could muddle fresh ginger slices as a base for a Pimm's Cup, and instead of the Sprite I could use ginger ale to top the sunken slice of cucumber that gives it a suprise burst of flavor with each draw of the straw.

With Love,


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