Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Just Peachy!

In the past I have tried to space out my specials that contained similar ingredients to keep each week new and different, but for the last two years the summer's treats have been delayed by about a month due to weather, and when that happens good ideas fall by the wayside, never to return if I put them off.

When I have leftover fruit like the peaches from last week's special I usually either cook it down or freeze it to be used for brunch smoothies, but they were so flavorful that I had to use them again. So since I had to cook them in order to keep them I went with a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce made by quickly cooking the whole peaches in water and shocking them in ice water so I could peel the tannic skin before blending the sweet flesh with spices, soy sauce, Worcestershire, brown sugar, maple syrup and cider vinegar. To meld all of the flavors I threw it all in a pot and brought the sauce just to a simmer and allowed it to slowly cool.

I debated on adding chipotle - smoked jalapenos - to the sauce for spiciness to balance out the sweetness, but then I thought "what better way than to add that heat in the form of a dry rub on a steak?". Not only do dry rubs add flavor, but also what is called "bark", the charred crust that embodies great barbecue. I made mine with salt, brown sugar, chipotle powder, cumin, coriander and Chinese 5-spice.

Instead of some cut of meat that needs a long, slow cooking that's typical of barbecue, I went with something more indicative of summer, like a steak. Initially I wanted to use a flat iron steak due to it's flavor and consistent size and shape, but when I got to the store they were out, so I went with the next best thing - flank steak.

Flank steak comes from the region of the cow just below the strip loin and behind hanger and skirt steaks, so it's among great, flavorful cuts like the flat iron. The problem is that it's not always the same thickness or width, which only means more work for me and nothing to you!

To bring all of the flavors together and balance the dish to a zen-like perfection I made use of some local, organic dandelion greens for their fresh, vibrant and bitter attributes.


Yes, like what grows in your yard, and, no, not at all like what grows in your yard.

I used to serve a wonderful dandelion greens salad with a honey-shallot vinaigrette at a previous restaurant that at some point I want to revive, but for this dish I wanted to lightly saute them in butter, onion and garlic until just wilted to act as a bed for the steak and a barrier for the sauce so that you, the diner can combine as much or as little of each flavor components as you wish.

As much as I love coming up with new ideas for both dinner and drink specials, it's refreshing when one of our own steps up to help with the creativity.

A couple of weeks ago one of our servers, Justin, and I were talking about what we could do for a drink special, and we bounced around the idea of using pineapple in a margarita, which led to infusing chopped pineapple into tequila over time as well as muddling it to get it on both fronts, and a joint idea was born.

Two weeks later the tequila was ready, and once strained, it was added to muddled fresh pineapple pieces and lime wedges with a splash of sweet and sour mix, yielding a powerful concoction of fresh flavors with high octane!!

With Love,


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Shining Bright

Summer is here again!

As the calender brings the longest day of sunlight for the year I felt it necessary to create two specials that will each be as bright and vibrant as the summer sun.

Inspired by one of my early influences, Ming Tsai, I have been wanting to implement his spin on the classic dish steak au poivre, or peppercorn steak, where he uses all five peppercorns to encrust a filet of beef: white, black and green with their cousins the pink and Schezuan varieties. But due to the season I wanted to see it on a nice Ahi tuna steak which can hold up to the spice of the peppercorns just as well as filet mignon. I pressed each piece into the coarsely ground peppercorns and seared them in a hot pan just enough to toast the crust while keeping the fish a vibrant rare.

Being the first day of summer it was only natural for me to offer a chilled entree, so I thought about what would pair well with the peppercorns and I came up with a beautiful combination of shaved fennel, English cucumbers, pea shoots and the big kicker - sliced peaches. This fresh salad sparkles with harmony, especially with the subtle addition of toasted celery seed and flaky Maldon sea salt to finish it.

Finally, I needed a sauce, so I took a note from a special in the past and elevated it. I steamed yellow bell peppers, peeled them and simmered the flesh in heavy cream before blending and straining the sauce, chilling it and pouring it into a whipped cream canister which creates a silky smooth mousse that's full of flavor and is as light as air.

The other half of my summer celebration specials is a complex combination of ingredients that add up to one simple word: refreshing!

After my introduction to Aperol when using it for a drink special a few weeks ago I realized its infinite potential in the realm of refreshing cocktails. This time, instead of showing how well it could enhance other flavors I wanted to use fresh ingredients to bring out the aperitif's subtle nuance of flavors.

We start first by muddling fresh grapefruit and lemon with ice, which draws out the essential oils from their skins. Then we pour on the Aperol, vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, orange bitters and a splash of St. Germain elderflower liqueur to add that unmistakable floral flavor that makes you think that you're sitting in a flower patch and not in a restaurant on Broadway!

With Love,


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pizza, Pizza!

Enough time has passed in my career that I can now openly admit that while waiting for acceptance and admittance to culinary school I worked as an assistant manager at a Little Caesars pizza chain. Why do I view this as a little dirty secret? Well, it's far from what an aspiring chef would be happy doing, let alone the reality that I was among the least experienced of my class in the CIA.

It wasn't until now that I can finally admit it, but the fact still remains that I actually liked working there. My co-workers were already my close friends, and back then in the mid-to-late 90's they had the best commercials (dreamt up by the company's owners, NOT ad agencies).

While it was a far cry from the wood-fired ovens that I had previous experience with, I still had an affinity for some of their products; I still crave their "Crazy Bread", especially when under baked and doughy. (!!!)

This must be why I continually gravitate to the flatbread idea, because it's an interesting twist on an iconic classic with unlimited possibilities. That, and the increasing pressure from co-owner Stacey for me to revive this delectable treat.

To keep it interesting, I first made a dough based off of my basic foccacia recipe but with a healthy dose of freshly chopped local herbs - parsley, rosemary, chives and thyme. I stretched the dough thinly over the back of baking pans and partially baked them before cutting them into into the rectangular shapes that fit my favorite wooden plates.

I chose a variety of toppings that represented the season as well as what we already do here at Table 219, like the beautiful sun-dried tomato strips that I use for the pesto on the grilled tofu dish, finely sliced, local shitaki mushrooms, Isernio's Italian sausage that makes up the gravy for our chicken fried steak and happy hour skewers, and fontina cheese used in my pancetta mac'n'cheese. 

Now that I have method down, maybe this delicious dish might make the cut for the next menu change along with a previous special favorite, wild boar enchiladas!

For the past month I have been slowly infusing white rum with a split Madagascar vanilla bean, giving me enough time to find the right inspiration.

I really wanted to have a Cuba Libre made with my own cola, but the laundry-list of essential oils that I would have to buy would be enough to make several gallons, so I instead went with a micro brewed version made by Virgil's to do it for me!


With Love,


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I Am Serious... and Don't Call Me Shirley!!

Even now, eight weeks after my trip to Hong Kong it is still influencing my specials. Sure, I would love to be able to line them up week after week in succession, but I prefer to offer a great special as opposed to making sure I stick to some sort of format.

But this week's inspiration is drawn from a surprising source: an airplane meal!!

Before you turn away in disgust, allow me to explain; First of all, we weren't on Southwest, Delta or United. We travel in style, so we took Korean-based Asiana Airlines - rated the best in northern Asia due to exceptional service and meals created by chefs. They created dishes that travel well, can be heated easily and, most of all, taste good.

We had simplified versions of our favorite Asian dishes like bibimbap, congee and the inspiration for this week's special: lettuce wraps.

It's really the taco of the orient; a combination of meat, sweet, sour, spicy and crunchy. And even though it wasn't the first time I've have lettuce wraps, there is something about having really good food on an airplane really made them stick in my mind.

Since I was working with all of the bold flavors that Asia has to offer I needed a meat that could hold up to them, so I went with lean and gamey venison, something so far off of the radar from what anyone would expect from a dish like this that you have to be intrigued, and that's half the battle.

To make the filling I made a white coconut curry with cardamom, coriander, lemongrass, lime leaves, ginger, garlic and Walla Walla spring onions in place of the obligatory scallions for that iconic Washington touch. Once reduced with mirin for sweetness I strained the sauce over the ground, cooked venison and stirred in chopped cilantro.

To pair with the rich, gamey filling I created a series of pickled vegetables like cucumbers, red peppers, baby white turnips and red onions uniquely flavored with rice wine vinegar, mirin wine in place of the classic sugar, Chinese five spice powder and a touch of Sriracha chile sauce.

Finally, I bring it all back to the original Korean inspiration with a sauce that is traditionally used for bibimbap that is simply gochujang, a wonderful fermented chili paste that's sweet and spicy, blended with sesame oil, soy sauce and a little water to thin it out. With some bibb lettuce, fresh mint and Thai basil there are a hundred different combinations that you can create on your own with just one beautiful plate!!

We restaurant folk stick together. When I asked one of my friends, Milla, a bartender from Charlie's next door what I could do with a bottle of Effen cucumber vodka that we couldn't seem to sell, she came back with this brillant idea!!

She knowingly looked at me and simply said "Cucumber Kamikaze.", then laid out how I should do it.

A kamikaze is a citrus cocktail made with vodka, triple sec and fresh lime juice, but with the way cucumber and lime interplay, Milla knew what is best!! 

Thanks, Milla!!

With Love,


Wednesday, June 1, 2011


This week began with the first of many Tuesdays where I am mentoring a young, aspiring chef through a program that pairs underprivileged people with restaurants to help teach them a trade, much like the Farestart organization that we love so much to support.

I can't take credit for the idea; Stacey first employed Nathaniel at our sister restaurant, Geraldine's Counter, as a busser, but asked me to bring him in on Tuesdays to help me on my biggest prep day while teaching him my Jedi culinary ways.

I can't pretend to be able to understand where Nathaniel is coming from or what he's been through; all I know is how important it was for me for the great chefs of my past who took the time to show me the ropes and share their knowledge and insight with me. I felt that if I could spark that same fire of passion for cooking that I have in someone else and help turn their lives around for the better, then why not try??

I wanted to showcase a dish for Nathaniel that would explain what I like to do here at Table 219 - taking those classic Americana dishes and putting them through the wringer of my mind; twisting and turning the idea until it comes out its own, unique dish.

I've had the idea for a shrimp 'n' grits au gratin in my notebook for a while now but I never had the appropriate cooking vessel, until now. At risk of repeating a similar presentation so soon I went with the same dishes that I used for my (future menu staple) wild boar enchiladas two weeks ago. In hindsight, I believe that self-imposed risk was more than worth it.

I first poached medium-sized shrimp with the shells still on in an already flavorful shrimp stock to make sure all of their flavor stay inside. While the shrimp cool and are peeled I used the cooking liquid along with half and half to cook the grits, finishing them with freshly grated Grana Padano, an Italian hard cheese similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano but more subtler and less nutty, perfect for debunking the "no cheese with shellfish" myth. That's right - MYTH!

I fold in freshly chopped chives and parsley that are abundantly available locally before baking the mixture in individual dishes with even more cheese on top until bubbly and delicious. I added a side of grilled sourdough bread that makes for a perfect bridge for the au gratin from dish to mouth!

The only thing missing is the obligatory vegetable, only this time it's something that threatens to outshine the main focus of the dish:

This spring/summer cusp is really the best of both worlds. I used Walla Walla spring onions that I slowly cooked in butter, sweet curry powder and a splash of soy sauce to bring that umami flavor. I used the curry butter to saute local, organic shitaki mushrooms, first of the season yellow corn and vibrant pea shoots to give a beautiful taste of the season with a punch of flavor!! 

To offset the somewhat rich aspect of the au gratin I thought that a light and bubbly cocktail would fit the bill.

With fresh blueberries now coming in from California I wanted to infuse them in vodka, but I didn't have the chance to do it ahead like I normally do, so I used a new technique that I learned which involves quickly chopping the blueberries in a blender with the vodka, funneling the mixture back into a bottle and drawing out the air with a wine pump that creates a vacuum in the bottle normally used to preserve the wine. The technique does in one hour what would normally take at least a week!

To further enhance the blueberriness we muddle a few with ice before adding the infused vodka, Aperol - an Italian aperitif that has a lot of flavors going on like bitter orange, rhubarb and cinchona, the bark that I used as the foundation for my tonic water recipe a couple of months ago. It's the original ingredient in a spritz that's topped with sparkling wine, which led me to this combination.

With Love,