Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happy New Year!!!

Another year is gone, another decade has passed. A new year can mean a new slate; a chance to make the future better than the past.

The world has many great traditions to help make the new year lucky and prosperous, and in addition to our full, regular menu I'm once again offering a special menu for New Year's Eve to help celebrate those traditions.

The meal starts with a canape of golden caviar harvested from sustainable whitefish and is served on a sourdough crouton with crème fraiche, followed by a salad of frisee, celery root, green apple and crunchy pomegranate with flakes of hot smoked salmon and an herb vinaigrette. In Germany and Poland fish is often eaten to bring fortune because its scales represents coins.

The entree, which I will be offering for the entire week, consists of three ravioli filled with a handmade wild boar chorizo because round things represent coins and pigs are often consumed because they root forward, symbolizing prosperity and also because the fatty meat translates to a fat wallet. To continue with the round theme I laid the ravioli on a bed of lentils sauteed with my own cured beef bacon, tomatoes, roasted fennel and leaves of brussel sprouts for green, the color of money. I finished the dish with a brown butter sauce laced with shredded black trumpet mushrooms.

Since it is often felt that the richer the dessert, the richer the new year will be, I took no chance and created “The Elvis”. I made a peanut butter mousse cake with a brioche crust and a little chocolate ganache swirled in. The cake is then topped with thick slices of banana that I brule, or sprinkle with sugar and caramelize with a torch to mimic gold coins. No “Elvis” would be complete without bacon, so for that great flavor and added texture I sprinkle the plate with cubes of bacon that are caramelized in brown sugar.

Finally, no New Year's Eve celebration can take place without a little bubbly, but I like mine with a little more kick, so I came up with a twist on the classic French 75 that I call a French 2011. I infused dry gin with fragrant jasmine to intensify the liquor. This is then mixed with the juice of freshly squeezed blood oranges that are now in season, a honey syrup and topped with sparkling wine.

With a menu like this, how could your new year go wrong?!?!

With Love,


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beet That!

We have made some changes to our hours of operation due to the upcoming holidays. They are:

Friday, December 24, 9 am - 3 pm (though we may close earlier, depending on how busy/slow we are)
Saturday, December 25, CLOSED
Sunday, December 26, 9 am - 3 pm (Normal Hours)
Friday, December 31, 9 am - 10 pm (Normal Hours)
Saturday, January 1, 9 am - 3 pm (Closed for Dinner)
Sunday, January 2, 9 am - 3 pm (Normal Hours)

On New Year's Eve we will be offering our full menu and featuring a special menu as well. Check back next week for a full description.

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I still can't believe that Christmas is this weekend. It seems like just two weeks ago when I said the same thing about Halloween.

Since we are only open for a few nights this week before another gluttonfest holiday I wanted to offer something simple and light, featuring one of my favorite ingredients: beets.

Beets are beautiful, versatile and delicious. I like them simply roasted (never boiled) to concentrate their sugars and flavor. I feel that the best way to serve them is sliced cold and dressed like a salad, and it is one of the few dishes that I truly enjoy reprising.

 This time I am using the Chioggia, or candy-striped beet, a heritage variety originally grown in Italy that has concentric rings of red and white much like a candy cane; perfect for a dish this time of year. Though cooking tends to allow the colors to bleed a bit, I prefer it over any raw application. Instead I roast them whole in a deep pan covered with aluminium foil and a little water to help loosen the skin. If done properly you can wipe away the skin with a paper towel once they are cool enough to handle. When completely cooled and sliced thinly the beets are dense and meaty but have ultimately lost their crunch. To compensate for this I needed to use the textures of other local, seasonal ingredients.

To dress the beets I made a vinaigrette with hazelnut oil, champagne vinegar, garlic and shallots, and sprinkled them with flakes of Maldon sea salt. I also added chopped, toasted hazelnuts from Oregon (our nation's top producer of them) to accentuate the flavor and add a ton of texture.

Next is another favorite of mine. I finely julienned Granny Smith, or green apples, to create a sort of crisp salad to top the beets. The acidity of the apples really accentuates the earthiness of the beet and makes the flavor really pop. But the one addition that truly speaks from this dish happens to be one of my least favorite ingredients.

I've always hated celery. I rarely use it, even in stocks because I find it overpowering, even in small quantities; blasphemy in the traditional French techniques that I have been trained in. Perhaps I am ultra sensitive to it - a complete opposite to my perception of ginger root - but what I finally figured out was that I dislike the texture of celery,  and I associated the flavor with that. I needed to forgo that association because I knew the flavor would really make the final product stand out, so I bypassed the fibrous texture by juicing the ribs of the celery stalk and then freezing it in a shallow pan. Once the plate was assembled I grated the frozen surface, creating a finely shaved ice known in Italian as granita.

Along with a pinch of fresh chives the granita really added a whole new dimension to the dish, not only in terms of flavor but also the way the cold crystals melt on the tongue as you scoop up the green apple and beet, with little time bombs of toasted hazelnut pieces to help drive the dish home.

The final installment of my trio of holiday dessert cocktail specials was actually the first one that I came up with, bringing the theme full circle now that we are in the Christmas stretch.

It is probably no surprise that this week's special is a candy cane cocktail since it's the most iconic sweet treat of the holiday season, but what may be a surprise is how good this cocktail actually is, and not just a novelty.

I simply shook Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur over ice with Cruzan Vanilla Rum and peppermint schnapps and strained it into a martini glass rimmed with finely crushed candy canes, with another one hung from the rim.

A final wish of Happy Holidays to you from all of us at Table 219!!!

With Love,


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Got My Christmas Goose Early!

Despite what you hear in carols, cooking a goose has become a relic of Christmas' past. The lack of demand led to diminished availability and, until recently, you couldn't get one if you wanted to. Fortunately there is a small farm in Reardan, Washington, outside of Spokane that has started to raise them for just these occasions.

Geese are in the same family as ducks, with the same "red meat" only they are larger and have a slightly gamier flavor. Since they are still hard to come by they are very expensive, but I really wanted to offer them this holiday season so I had to come up with something that was both economical and intriguing. It finally came to me this past weekend after picking up some pho for takeout.

The Vietnamese noodle soup was a perfect muse for the Christmas goose on many different levels. The broth base is supposed to be rich and flavorful; an easy task for the bones leftover from carving out the meat, which also allows me to use every part of the bird, thus lowering the cost of the final product. Also, traditional spices like cinnamon, clove and star anise used to give the broth it's distinct aroma are the same that many of us relate to as Christmas flavors. Once I made these connections in my mind, the idea just snowballed.

In addition to the spices, the broth is flavored with charred onion halves, called an onion brule, to help add color and flavor, a western technique taken from the French colonization of Vietnam back in the 19th century, much like using pate and a baguette in a bahn mi sandwich. I used the same technique on two large, peeled knobs of ginger split lengthwise to soften their spice and bite, with more flavor coming from green cardamom pods, fennel seeds, black peppercorns and fish sauce. I allowed the ingredients to simmer and meld together all day while I prepared the laundry list of components that comprise the dish.

There's julienned leeks and carrots, chopped napa cabbage, vermicelli noodles, fried tofu, Thai basil, and fried garlic and shallots (subtle yet necessary ingredients that aren't always added to some pho but are essential, in my opinion). On the side I offered the typical condiments of Sriracha hot sauce, hoisin sauce and cute little key limes instead of regular ones since they're in season.

Last, but not least, I used all of the meat that I cut and scraped from the bones to make a "meatball". I say "meatball" because since it's common for the meatballs served in pho to be sliced I just made long logs out of the ground breast and leg meat that I mixed with sauteed ginger, garlic and scallions, soy sauce and breadcrumbs to help hold in some of the succulent fat and flavor. After shaping them onto pans I roasted and cooled the meat before slicing it into little discs, saving myself a lot of time.

To serve a pho at a restaurant like ours in a pho-centric city like Seattle takes a lot of balls (pun intended). I have shied away from trying it in the past because there are so many good places here that serve it, but with a dish as delicious as this one that crosses cultures while focusing on such an iconic ingredient, I have to say... it's perfect!!

For the second part of my three week holiday dessert cocktail offering I am honoring another great interpretation of a classic Christmas sweet: the gingerbread cookie.

I never grew up making a gingerbread house, nor did I ever hear of someone doing so until I started working at the '21' Club in Manhattan, where a pastry chef told me about the intricacies of the art from his past experience. New York City is an amazing place to be during the holiday season, but if you work in the service industry you are very busy from Black Friday through New Year's Day. Needless to say, I never got the chance to learn how to make a gingerbread house.

Here in Seattle things are a little calmer this time of year and I actually got the chance to make my first gingerbread house this past weekend after eating my takeout pho, but I refuse to post pictures since I bought a pre-baked kit. Maybe next year...

Instead of the gingerbread house I am offering something much more manageable than a house - a tasty cocktail made by shaking Absolut Vanilla vodka, gingerbread liqueur, half and half and Kahlua with ice and straining it into a martini glass that is garnished with a skewer of assorted gum drops!!

It is surprisingly light despite the dairy and Kahlua, and isn't too sweet, even with the gum drops!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Table 219!!

With Love,


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Not Exactly Kosher

The holiday season is a special time of the year to me. I grew up celebrating Christmas while my wife celebrated Hanukkah, and while neither of us practice our religious heritages we still enjoy the traditions that go along with them, combining the two whenever possible, like a Christmas tree decorated in the Hanukkah colors of blue and silver, or a modern menorah on the fireplace mantle surrounded by stockings, garland and baubles.

Last weekend we started a new holiday tradition by cooking latkes, potato pancakes made with egg, flour, grated onion and pan-fried in oil to represent the single day's worth of oil that lit a menorah for eight days until a new supply could be obtained, which is why a menorah is now represented with eight candles (and another one in the middle to light them). Traditionally they are served plain, with sour cream or with applesauce, but for those of us who don't follow the strict Jewish dietary guidelines a flavorful substitute for oil can be schmaltz, Yiddish for chicken fat. I took it a step further and cooked ours in duck fat and served them with Fage Greek-style yogurt and unsweetened applesauce on the side.

The result was so good it inspired me to create a dish to honor these final days of Hanukkah, in my own way of course...

I grated raw potatoes and rinsed them in cold water to remove the excess starch and wrung them free of as much water as possible which ensures a crispy exterior while keeping the interior from being pasty. I tweaked the recipe by slowly cooking finely sliced leeks in butter until soft before adding with a little egg and foregoing the flour, which makes it much harder to keep them from falling apart but allows our friends with the gluten allergy to be able to enjoy it (THE most common food allergy question I get these days). Like at home I pan-fried them in duck fat while pressing the mixture into a metal oval mold to help keep a refined shape.

I personally like to have both sour cream and applesauce with my latkes, but I also dislike any dish to be straightforward, so I nestled two latkes on top of a compote made from Asian pears cooked down in apple cider vinegar and sugar into what must now be my now signature sweet/sour condiment, and then finished them with tiny dollops of sour cream.

For the vegetable component I knew that cabbage would be a great accompaniment, and I have been wanting to find a place to implement an idea that I've had to braised red cabbage with a bottle of all natural red hibiscus cocktail mix that is only lightly sweetened with a touch of agave nectar. I have really been stuck on the apple/hibiscus correlation for a while now, and since apples are a common addition to braised cabbage I felt that it fell right into place here, especially in reference to the latkes.

As is often the case with me I credited the meat portion of this special as being the main focus when describing the dish just to keep with the way customers expect to hear it explained, but this ingredient is by no means an afterthought. Some lean beef belly had just became available to me from a Walla Walla farm called Thundering Hooves (I love that name...) and after a sampling I bought about 50 pounds of it; half for this special and half to be cured and smoked into beef bacon for a later use....

The bellies were smaller and leaner than you would expect, with a meat and fat structure that reminded me of brisket, a cut traditionally braised for Jewish holidays and special occasions, perfect for this kind of dish. And while braising is the easiest way to transform a cut like this into succulents pieces, in the right hands (i.e. mine), slowly roasting it would achieve a richer flavor with less fat.

I first rubbed the meat with kosher salt, not to make it kosher but to help draw out some of the blood, although it is the same technique and reasoning, minus the rabbi. I then sprinkled a generous mixture of Chinese five spice powder, freshly ground black and pink peppercorns, granulated onion and garlic, brown sugar and few other little secrets. I then slow roasted the bellies in the oven at 325 degrees for about 6 hours, using a spray bottle to mist the meat every hour with soy sauce to baste it with flavor and moisture. Once cooled and portioned I reheated the meat in a rich beef broth to keep it moist and flavorful.

In keeping with the holiday theme I have decided to offer holiday-influenced cocktails for the next three weeks. The only downside to such a dedication is that outside of a play on words (like a Grey "Goose" Martini), most holiday inspirations tend to be better as translations of desserts and therefore sweet, which I think isn't necessarily a bad thing due to our lack of dessert drink options. So here is the first of three holiday drink specials that can be drank as either an appetizer for the sweet-toothed, or as a dessert.

The first of my holiday trilogy is the Toffee Martini, inspired by a typical handmade gift made of caramel and nuts. I came up with a toffee flavored syrup by caramelizing sugar in water until it was a beautiful amber color and cooled it down with cream, water and a touch of bourbon vanilla extract. Once strained and ice cold I shook it with Absolut Vanilla vodka, Baileys Creme Caramel and a splash of Frangelico hazelnut liqueur before straining it into a chilled martini glass.

As a final note, while it isn't unusual for my to have a dessert special, it is unusual for me to have it finished on Tuesday after my busiest day preparing the restaurant for the week as well as the aforementioned specials, but this one is important, especially due to the celebratory nature of this blog entry.

Since I had some chestnut flour leftover from my Thanksgiving special and due to the lack of people who've actually enjoyed chestnuts during the holiday season I decided to make a Chestnut Mousse Torte by whisking cream with chestnut flour that I folded into a mixture of meringue, more chestnut flour and gelatin set over a crust of oatmeal, brown sugar, almonds, flour, ginger and cinnamon. To give it that true seasonal flavor I topped it with handmade egg nog ice cream and a fresh dusting of nutmeg as well as powdered sugar to symbolize a dusting of snow.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Table 219!!!

With Love,


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Bacon Paradigm

There are many pairings that are perfect together, as if they were cosmically meant to be, like wine and cheese, coffee and doughnuts, cookies and milk; and of course there are the things that go with what many believe that could be the center of the culinary universe: bacon.

And why not? I mean, how many ingredients are either directly related to, or greatly enhanced by the addition of bacon in classical preparations alone? I started thinking about how all of those ingredients could come together in a sort of bacon paradigm, where every ingredient used has either a direct relationship with, or is at least greatly enhanced by the addition of bacon.

By now, scallops and bacon belong to the former of the two categories because I'd be surprised to find someone who has never had a bacon wrapped scallop, without religious recourse, of course. But there are many other branches that relate to bacon like apple, anise, and cabbage.

Once I started thinking about these relations the dish just fell into place like the aligning of the stars on planet Bacon, guiding me to my destination.

Of course, a great combination of bacon this time of year is with brussel sprouts. I pre-cooked julienned portions of bacon and reserved the fat just to use it to caramelize the little cabbages before finishing them with the remaining bacon strips, some chopped pistachios and fresh chervil for its mild licorice flavor that compliments both the bacon mentioned above as well as the apple mentioned below.

I seared scallops as the "main" focus for the dish, but the heart lies within a puree of cauliflower, green apples and slowly cooked onions and garlic that has the creamy, almost nutty flavor of the cauliflower with the crispness of the tart apple that I accentuated with a touch of apple cider vinegar to make it pop and balance out the richness of the fatty bacon. Giving the dish a simple topping of freshly julienned green apple tossed with some more pistachios and chervil seemed like a fresh and inviting finish to the dish.

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It's hard to come up with cocktails made from fresh, seasonal ingredients this time of year that don't involve apples, pears, or pumpkin. Fortunately, this time of year offers a few gems that help lift the spirits from the mundane attributes of autumn/winter like pomegranate, tangerines and the object of my focus, the kiwifruit.

I remember as a child how exotic the kiwi was to me; the bizarre skin around a sweet and tart flesh that looks like an amulet when sliced. In the early stage of my career I learned two things about the kiwi. 1 - the juice irritates the hell out of my skin, and 2 - an amazing way to remove the skin is to cut off the ends with a knife and slip in a small spoon underneath and slide it around like an avocado, both of which I remembered to my astonishment and dismay today.

Since the pulp can be thick and the black seeds seem to be indestructible I decided to use a mechanical juicer to extract all of the flavor from these little babies. Due to their natural balance of flavor I didn't need to add any lemon or lime juice and very little simple syrup, especially since I felt a natural pairing for them was rum. One thing that I did need was something as bright and green as the kiwi, something like freshly muddled mint leaves, giving me a perfectly balanced cocktail that says "sunshine" even as it rains!

It brings a whole new meaning to "Going Green"!!!

With Love,