Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tribute to Hong Kong

I was a little overwhelmed with all of the inspiration that I brought back from Hong Kong, but I simply sat down and wrote out what came to mind first. After a little whittling, this is what I came up with.

Hong Kong is a port city, located on the southeastern coast of China between the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, so obviously seafood is a serious part of the cuisine there. You wouldn't believe the variety offered even out front of restaurants for you to take home to cook. I couldn't believe how bad I wanted to cook on my vacation.

To pay tribute to the glorious seafood I saw I chose these jumbo prawns that I've been wanting to use for a long time now from Viet-Wah, an amazing store in the International District. These things are HUGE!! they're called 2-4s, meaning that there's 2 to 4 prawns per pound, or an average of 4 ounces each. Not your typical salad shrimp!!

Probably the best dish I had was at the Night Market, the area where you can get everything. My wife and I stopped at a sidewalk restaurant that had an amazing cuttlefish dish that was obviously steamed until tender and lightly breaded like a tempura batter with an interesting dipping sauce that I deciphered to be a mixture of shao-xing, a typical Chinese cooking wine, rice vinegar, sugar, and five-spice powder. I feel like I nailed the flavor of the sauce, along with a few of my own special chef touches... ;)

Another major aspect of our trip was (of course) dim sum, and the most predominate dish is glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf, though I used Chinese sausage and dried black mushroom as a filling to make the little package of rice burst with flavor like any good dim sum restaurant would!

Hong Kong had a lot of alcohol, but nothing made locally other than beer, so I had to take my inspiration for this week's cocktail from the heart of the luscious fruits that are available there, like mangoes, so I decided to make an infusion of green tea and vodka to flavor a martini shaken with mango puree and simple syrup to create a tropical drink that reflects a trip to the South China Sea!!

With Love,


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A New Step

We had a blast is Hong Kong! I have a ton of inspiration, from both the city and all of the catching up I did with culinary publications. But since I had to plan for this week in advance to avoid a last minute scramble, those ideas will have to wait. Until then...

This week we are not only introducing a new dinner menu starting Thursday, but also an upgrade to better our brunch menu by implementing cage-free eggs from local Stiebers Farms, and while they feed their hens mostly organic food, that minute amount that they don't is what separates the cost of the eggs by another 50%. We'll try these out on our customers before we upgrade again - not everyone appreciates the value that a humanly raised animal can cost.

To showcase this new addition to our brunch menu I wanted to feature these wonderful eggs as a dinner special first, along with several other tasty bits:

Many months ago I had already tested the idea of softly poaching an egg and then breading it with panko and frying just enough to crisp the outside and warm the yolk without overcooking it.

I've always thought that it would make a great addition to an awesome salad with other rich ingredients and an acidic vinaigrette, so I started with my favorite green: frisee because it's fluffy, crunchy and bitter; already giving great contrast to the dish. I've been curing my own guanciale, or pork jowl cured with salt, herbs and peppercorns that I then hung to air-dry for a month. I finely julienned the fatty meat that's been compared to pancetta (but with WAY more flavor) before cooking it in its own fat until tender. And, just for good measure I used the remaining fat as part of a vinaigrette made with steamed spring onions, garlic, fresh herbs and extra virgin olive oil.

I also added diced vine-ripened tomatoes, the raw green ends of the spring onions and some nice pistachios for crunch and flavor, creating an excellent early spring salad that has enough heft to enjoy as a small entree or light enough to save room for one of my new menu items!!

I had a few of the dates leftover from the special before I left (like I was hoping for) so I chopped them up in a blender with some rum to macerate while I frolicked in Hong Kong like a fool...

When I got back, the flavor of the date had infused beautifully into the rum as expected, allowing me to combine it with other tropical flavors to brighten up our slow spring, like a splash of Malibu coconut rum, pineapple juice, lime juice to cut some of the sweetness, and Peychaud bitters to balance it all out.

With Love,


Monday, April 11, 2011

Getting Ahead of Myself

Usually, in the past when I would go on vacation for more than a few days or an extended weekend past Tuesday, I would pre-write my blog and post it on schedule with the intention to elude from the fact that I'm not actually there cooking during that time. The reasoning was because many people believe that whenever the chef isn't at the restaurant, it all goes to shit. This time I'm forgoing all of that nonsense because I am confident that things will go as smoothly as when I'm there.

So, here I am, after work on a Friday night, ending my week just the way that I began it, and after another day of preparation and service, I will be on my second full-week of vacation in nearly four years and my delayed honeymoon to boot. Ironically, my send-off dish will also be my welcome-home one, since I will be putting it on the menu along with other new tidbits the week I get back. Stop by to check out what's new!! In the meantime...

I have to admit that the inspiration of both of these specials came from one source: one of our servers, Justin. Not only did he suggest I offer a sandwich that I made for a friend of his who used to wash dishes here, but he also introduced this week's cocktail special, of which I coined The Nutty Professor. But first thing's first -

I poached firm Bosc pears in Mirin and some simple syrup along with the zest and juice of lemons, infusing the flavors well beyond the first day as they sit in the cooking liquid. I made a sandwich using the same sourdough bread from our legendary French toast by toasting each side like a grilled cheese using Teleggio, a washed-rind cheese that is gooey and a little bit stinky, just the way I like 'em. With the poached pears and a bed of baby arugula for optional bitterness and freshness, the sandwich is a great treat, but it is complimented by some beautiful white, orange and purple heritage cauliflower cooked with butter and chives.

As for the drink, Justin and I share an affinity for whiskey, so he knew that I would appreciate a cocktail that he came across, and while I could be "like a boss" and take sole credit for his idea, I appreciate his enthusiasm to introduce things in order to better our restaurant, so I give recognition here to my friend and employee, and for good reason, too!

He suggested we offer a cocktail that he had tried where a traditional Manhattan was made with Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur, instead of sweet vermouth. I took it a step further and toasted some hazelnuts to use as garnish that float as if to show their true flavor!!

See You Next Week!!

With Love,


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sea Shells by the Sea Shore

As I prepare for my departure to Hong Kong next week I needed to get my ducks in a row and carefully plan my specials for this and the next two weeks, as well as an upcoming menu change, making my disappearance go as unnoticed as possible.

I'm lucky that we're in the budding months of spring to inspire me in these times of need, but as the winter was winding down I developed the foundation for this dish, giving me a head start to all of the new dishes that I have to conceive.

I've been wanting to create a compote composed of green apples, dates and some of our great bacon from Bavarian Meats, which would, of course be a great accompaniment to pork, like one of my favorite preparations: pan roasted pork tenderloin; the ultimate in flavor, price and presentation. How could I go wrong??

I was planning on adding spring onions that I braised in red wine, but even though the spring onions weren't up to par to add themselves, the resulting liquid had the exact acidic balance the compote needed, so I drizzled it in instead.

Looking forward to the season I countered the sweet and sour compote components with the buttery, slightly bitter leaves of  Bloomsdale spinach, an heirloom variety that I sauteed in a mixture of white wine and stewed spring onions and garlic in olive oil.

The dish needed a final touch, and some might actually feel that it would be missing a sauce, so I blended some preserved Meyer lemons that I started a month ago as the base of a classic aioli. The preserved lemon gives the sauce another dynamic layer of flavor... the new reason why we preserve them in the first place.

I put a lot in this week's cocktail. A lot of time, a lot of thought and a lot of hard work. Do you know what's the worst thing about putting so much effort into one idea? the chance it will all crumble into an epic failure.

I've been wanting to make my own gin every since my re-introduction to it with a gin sampler in Portland last year, so I tinkered around with infusing a vodka with the standard juniper berries as well as a few of the flavors from my tasting like lavender, lemongrass and ginger. But even though I make my own gin, it's characteristics could go unnoticed; that is unless I pair it with something else I made, like my own tonic water, for instance.

It's the tonic and not the gin that has left a bad taste in my mouth after all of these years, and unlike most spirits, there isn't much variety when it comes to tonic, so I had the opportunity to create my own after reading a blog on handmade tonic using citrus, allspice, lemongrass and cinchona bark for that essential quinine flavor. Both had to be distilled in order to clarify them, otherwise I would have a reddish/brown concoction that no one would believe was a gin and tonic.

In the end, I was more nervous about this drink than any other because how discriminating gin enthusiasts are (just like scotch or whiskey drinkers), but after one regular's comments along the lines of "as good as a top shelf London gin" that he enjoys, my fears subsided... not to mention the fact that one of the two bottles of gin that I made were already gone by the end of Tuesday night --- as in half priced WINE night. If a cocktail sells that good on a wine night, then I must be doing something right!!

With Love,