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.