Friday, February 20, 2015

Fish and Clams

James and I have been rushing in opposite directions the last couple weeks barely touching down at home.
We finally sat down to dinner, with a visiting friend. No time for elaborate recipes but I wanted a dish that felt special (and impressed a guest) -- and fell into the very strict guideline of my latest "I've got to lose some weight" diet. UGH.
Where I landed was simple savory dish of seasonal halibut with leeks, mushrooms and clams. One pot, poaching broth, tons of flavor.
To start I sautéed thinly sliced leeks (2), beautiful local king oyster mushrooms, and garlic in a bit of olive oil. When the vegetables were soft -- about 7 minutes -- I splashed in a bit of wine. I only had red open which worked just fine with the halibut but normally I would have  used white. I let the wine evaporate away and added in 3 cups of chicken broth. I cheated a bit and added about 1TB of butter for some extra flavor. When the liquid was boiling I nestled my fish in the north, covered the pan and let the mixture steam over low heat for two minutes. The fish was particularly thick so it needed a little head start over the clams. After two minutes I added in the scrubbed Manilla clams (about 2 dozen) covered the pot and continued to cook over low heat fro 7 minutes until the clams had all opened and the fish was cooked through. I brought the broth dish, sprinkled with parsley, to the table along with steamed jasmine rice -- for those still allowed to eat carbs -- and a fresh green salad.
James loves clams but he is not a big fish eater. I was blown away by his reaction to this fish dinner. He loved it, as did our guest. This may be my new go to diet friendly dinner for guests. I'm already plotting versions with snapper and shrimp, delicate tomato sauces and harissa spiked broth.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Republique

For quite some time I was determined to boycott Republique. The restaurant occupies the space that housed Campanile for more than 20 years.
Mark Peel's Campanile was an innovator and powerful influence on the generations of chef's and restaurants to follow. Today we nearly take for granted chef interpreted versions of simple dishes bolstered with first rate ingredients, farm to table vegetables and chef/farmer relationships that produce high quality meat for fine dining tables. Campanile was warm, delicious and truly American. A chef's restaurant before the era of restauranteurs. I loved it and I miss it.
But now there is Republique with Walter Manzke behind the stove. Manzke is no stranger to critic's praise -- having re-opened Bastide and later wowing the press at Church and State. Along the way Manzke found himself on multiple best restaurant lists. Like their predecessors at Campanile Walter Manzke handles the savory and his wife Margarita runs the "bread program," at breakfast time filling the former La Brea bakery space with a selection of pastries, cakes, breads and rolls too sumptuous to ignore. It takes nerve to charge an extra $5 for French butter but Margarita Manzke's breads are worth the splurge. We are living in a golden age of American baking, no doubt in part ushered in by Mark Peel's original partner and former wife Nancy Silverton (now of LA's Mozza).
Perennially crowded, Republique serves three meals a day to grateful LA crowds. Nearly two years after opening dinner reservations seem nearly impossible. So my friend and I wandered in -- well really waited in line to order breakfast and find a spot in Charlie Chaplain's former office.
I can't find fault with the food. The creative menu is executed near flawlessly. Our kimchi fried rice nodded to the popular Korean dish with delicious bites of tender, savory short ribs. Mushroom toast -- hardly an appealing description, paired soft scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms and peppery arugula. The bread is crusty and chewy. A bacon date "pop-tart" though light on the bacon was sweet and savory at once and a tasty foil to lattes I wish were bigger.
I suppose there is room in my heart for Republique. But I can't help but hope -- looking up at the portrait of bad boy chef Marco Pierre White that holds court over the bistro's bar -- that the Manzkes understand the debt they owe to chef's like Mark Peel (and Nancy Silverton) and how their innovation made today's Republique possible.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Father's Office

Since famously fastidious fine dining chef Sang Yoon bought a formerly unpretentious bar called Father's Office in 2000 and opened the kitchen his office burger has earned a devoted following. Esquire magazine famously called it one of the world's best burgers and LA diners spoke of the burgers with no substitutions, alterations or ketchup allowed in hushed, reverent tones. Yoon was, in Seinfeld terms, LA's burger Nazi.
The chef and his dry aged burger topped with caramelized onions, Gruyere and Maytag Blue cheeses, bacon compote and arugula on a slightly crunchy roll moved East when a second Father's Office opened in trendy, popular Culver City.
I've been wanting to try the office burger for years. I'm not sure what took so long. I admit I hate the drive to Santa Monica and tales of endless waits and the terminal crowds probably turned me away. No excuse.
Finally, driving through Culver City I spied an open parking space and wound my way into Father's Office to try the famous burger. Unlike FO's reputation the staff are friendly and welcoming. I ordered at the bar and picked a table. Faster than fast food -- I'm not sure how serving that fast is even possible -- my burger arrived at the table and I readied for a taste of the revered specialty.
Maybe it's the years.
I should have tried it sooner.
I tasted what might have once been a great dish but now was sloppily put together without a care. From the chef who agonized over this combination came a burger no one in the kitchen gave a shit about. (Not my usual mode of expression but I've been marathon watching Louis CK and I guess it's wearing off). My burger had almost no cheese, was almost raw in the center though I ordered medium and lacked seasoning.
Things change. I waited too long.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sycamore Kitchen

Grain bowls are all the rage these days. Once relegated behind the dimly lit doors of  health food stores and vegetarian restaurants, today's trendiest spots (and more mainstream Chipotle) feature rice or quinoa combos even a meat eater can like.
Today I ventured into LA's Sycamore Kitchen, a casual spot run by the Michelin starred couple who brought the tasting menu specialist spot Hatfield's to Los Angeles diners.
I ordered at the counter and settled in for their Jerusalem bowl, a bed of wheat berries, barley and lentils accented with za'atar spiced chicken and roasted green chilis topped with 2 fried eggs. With one bite I thought. . . "Why don't I cook like this at home?"
A simple collage of flavors that could be a really good day at the Whole Foods salad bar, grain bowls -- like Japan's donburi or Korea's BiBimBap -- are a perfect vehicle for leftovers and the components can be prepared in advance. Brought together with a spirited sauce (pesto, tahini, vinaigrette) your collection of grains can be a special dinner or lunch ready in a flash. Avoiding the sprawling bakery counter at Sycamore Kitchen isn't easy but digging into a heathy breakfast on the their pleasant patio is.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Steak and Potatoes

We had so many guests and big meals over the holidays in the aftermath we were surviving on leftovers and fruit for days. With James packing for a trip I couldn't let him face one more plate of re-heated green rice and salad. I had to make a dinner he would remember (and want to come back home to).
I couldn't just let the leftovers go but I could disguise them. Starring into the white void of a bowl of mashed potatoes I added in 2 egg yolks, 2 TB of flour, S&P, and 1/2 cup of grated parmesan. After thoroughly mixing I rolled the newly formed mixture into walnut sized balls which I left to chill in the fridge.
Meanwhile I marinated sirloin tips cut into manageably-sized triangles. Kind of a leftover too, the sirloin was the last package of meat from our recently expired CSA membership. I mixed one of my favorite flavors harissa (1/2TB) with 4 chopped cloves garlic, 1 TB brown sugar, 2 TB soy sauce, and 4 TB olive oil and left the meat to marinate (refrigerated) until dinnertime. Easy. Dinner waiting in the fridge just waiting for a salad.
Just before I was ready to serve I heated 1/2 inch of canola oil in a sauce pan and breaded the potato balls first in a beaten egg and then in seasoned bread crumbs. The potato croquettes fried for about 2 minutes on a side until golden brown while the meat sizzled in an olive oil coated pan for 3 minutes on a side.
A flavor twist on an American classic combo.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Double 8 Dairy

The holy grail of gelato.
I've known about Double 8 Dairy for a while now and even came close to finding time to sign up for a tour to meet the buffalo but I haven't been able to try it. Until now.
I searched out the gelato cart in Pt Reyes. Nothing. I got no response when I tried calling the dairy to find out where their product is sold (other than restaurant accounts like French Laundry, Osteria Stellina, and A16). Then when I least expected it, while lunching at Marin Sun Farms (a favorite burger place near the dairy's farm in Valley Ford) I spied the orange and red package. I quickly grabbed two flavors and paid before I even checked the price.
The gelato has the same clean, clear taste as buffalo mozzarella. There is no fatty aftertaste as you can get with American style ice cream filled with cream and eggs. Buffalo milk has a much higher fat content than cow's milk so no additional cream is required. The simple 3 ingredient recipe (and artisanal process) pays off in the fresh flavor.
Andrew Zlot of Double 8 Dairy is not the first American to try water buffalo farming. But most operations have failed. Buffalo (especially the buffalo in North America that haven't benefited from the superior genetics of centuries of milking expertise) are known for low milk production. Low production combined with cheese making which reduces the milk's weight before it's ready for market make for a difficult bottom line. Double 8's genius is that they started with gelato. Instead of a pound of cheese for every four pounds of milk they get 2 pounds of gelato for every pound of buffalo milk. Still not an easy path, but developing a premium delicious niche product with little waste might just be the start a new dairy needs. And it may -- I hope -- keep them alive until they start cheesemaking (and building up the herd) down the road.
For now I'll keep searching out their cheery packages (though honestly if I didn't know the name of the dairy I'd have missed that it was buffalo milk from the package design) and bringing home this special treat for James.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Meyer Lemons

Delicious nearly sweet Meyer lemons.
Native to China a sample of the tree was first brought to the US in 1908 by -- you guessed it, Frank Meyer, a USDA employee. Largely thought of as ornamental as in their native land, Meyers flourished in the states until the trees (mostly reproduced by cloning) were found to carry a virus dangerous to other citrus. In the 1940's most of the Meyer lemon trees in the US were destroyed. It took until 1975 for a new disease free "improved" Meyer lemon tree to be released. Still seen mostly for their beauty Meyers didn't become a popular culinary ingredient here until the 1990's when chef's like Alice Waters promoted the fragrant delicacy.
Thought to be a cross between a lemon and an orange (or a mandarin), their thin skins make shipping difficult so Meyers are rarely commercially grown (though I am seeing them more and more in stores like Whole Foods). If you're lucky enough to have a tree or a farmers market nearby try substituting this winter fruit for regular lemons in sauces, vinaigrettes, and cakes. Make a jar of preserved lemons. You won't be disappointed.
Or better yet -- plant your own. I harvested this healthy crop from a potted tree that lives year round on our sunny south facing porch. A winter treat with more to come.