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Heaven and Hell…

View from our hotel room balcony

Waikiki. I was there for a week recently for my girlfriends sisters wedding. While I got no pictures of the restaurants and food out there (sadly, but I'm not the “shutterbug” type, and I wanted very much not to look like a “tourist”) I want to impart some wisdom I gleaned from the area. If you are the tourist type... it's heaven. If you are the “traveler” type, it's a tourist hell. The true travelers in the audience need no definition of terms. The locals can and will, at any opportunity, bilk the tourists of all the money they can, and shamelessly. Bottom line, if you come from a big city and expect to “get away from it all”, don't let your guard down just because you're on vacation. I know it's paradise, the ideal of the tropical getaway, (No bugs, no humidity, little rain, and 80 degrees all-the-fucking-time? Really?!!!) but don't let the dream that seems to be realized upon touchdown fool you... they WILL try to scam you. Wear your game face. Especially if you plan on doing any shopping anywhere near dusk. Treat it like any other “downtown” area... eyes open, aware of what's going on around you, plan escape routes... Beware of chicks “giving out” lei's, treat people tryin to bum a smoke like you would any homeless person, and be wary of the ever present to-good-to-be-true offer. It is. It's bullshit. Just another scheme to dupe tourists of their money. They live on the creed, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” If you go to Hawaii, and Oahu specifically, visit Waikiki during the daylight hours, do your shopping and eating, and get the hell out! Not that I'm trying to bash the place, but it serves itself up for such treatment, in my limited experience. Those of you who are experienced “travelers” know to ask the locals where to go to avoid the crowds and general bullshit show any destination puts on for the tourists. My experience in Waikiki might be an isolated one mind you, but the locals don't seem to like anyone they might see as “tourists”. The reasons are pretty clear to me, being the tourist hub of Hawaii, they've seen far too many rich assholes that have money to burn on their schemes that they don't seem to like an eyes-forward, alert and intelligent traveler. Ready to call them on their bullshit at the drop of a hat, as my girlfriend, who's from Chicago, did a few times, resulting in... well... “entertainment”... We found this out the hard way when we visited a bar recommended to us by a local. A little dive bar called Arnold's. A “blink-and-you'll-miss-it” type o place located next to an alley that could be easily mistaken for an extension thereof. The door guy was quite courteous, and upon entering the open air seating area Sara and I immediately noticed that every person there was a local. We found a seat at the bar and got the cold shoulder from the bartender. Right before we decided on a seat we saw a heavily tattooed, dyed red haired young woman we'd seen at the hotel hawking flowers and lei's. I tried to be polite, but she turned to the bartender after we met eyes, pounded what was left of her drink, said something to him, and left. After we were seated he asked, “you guys know the flower girl?” My response was (admittedly a poorly thought out one considering the circumstances), “yeah, we saw her at the hotel.” Mind you, never a word was exchanged between us and the “flower girl”, so any ill-will was not expected. We placed our order, and he took his sweet ass time filling it. Bullshitting with the other customers, and generally putzing around before he delivered our drinks. We got the hint. Drinks finished, paid, tipped, out the door. We ended up at a bar in the lobby of the hotel that had nightly karaoke and a beachfront view. The Shore Bird also offered a decent (but far from spectacular) breakfast buffet. They were also the only local bar that seemed to stay open past 11, so most of our nights in town ended there. Sara was still a bit miffed about the cold shoulder treatment we received at Arnold's so she asked our bartender what the deal was. His immediate and quite comical response was, “What the hell did you guys do to get kicked out of Arnold's?!!!” After we related the full story, flower girl variable included, he was at a loss for words, and added that he doesn't see how she would have the pull to blacklist us anywhere, so he dismissed that hypothesis out of hand. I guess the locals just want their dive bars to be tourist free. Can't say I really blame 'em, to be honest, but we're working class fucks that just happened to be lucky enough to save enough to make it out there. Whatever... I'm over it, and was from the time we found our seats at the Shore Bird, but it still seems to burn a hole in Sara's panties... Please don't let me discourage you, though. If you EVER get the chance, fucking GO! Just don't let your guard down because you're on vacation, is all I'm saying. All that aside. All the bullshit. All the tourist traps. All the shameless and total commercialization of native culture to the point of nearly losing itself... the food is good. Not just good, it's fucking AMAZING! Every foodie knows what poke is, or poi, or Ahi. I don't really feel the need to define these terms, but for all it's faults, Waikiki seems to be the hub of not only tourism in Hawaii, but restaurants as well! The North Shore of Oahu is much more rustic. If you want true local fare and local color, that seems to be the place to go. However, if fine dining is your thing, and you have the cash to blow (everything is more expensive in Waikiki) I strongly recommend a trip there.

In the lower right hand part of the image you'll see umbrellaed tables on a patio just above street level, that's Roy's patio and the last table is where we sat.

The dining options range widely and wildly. Our first meal in town was dinner at Roy's right across the street from our hotel (I could see the table we sat at from our balcony). A fine dining, fish centric restaurant from chef Roy Yamaguchi, on the other side of the street was a Denny's... Another block in that direction is a restaurant from yet another titan of the culinary world, Nobu. My focus while I was there was on the middle-of-the-road and up places, having admitted from the get-go that my stated purpose in Waikiki was to eat my way across the city, but there is something for everyone and every price range, and it's all within a ½ mile stretch of downtown. If, like me, you truly appreciate authentic Japanese food, there are more places in Waikiki that have menus in Kanji, Romanized Japanese, and broken English than I've seen anywhere. There are so many Japanese tourists in Waikiki that there's an entire transit system dedicated to them. San Francisco style trolley cars covered in Knaji with Japanese speaking tour guides. I dragged my girlfriend (the aforementioned Sara), her two sisters, and the one sisters new husband (who is decidedly NOT a foodie) to a hole-in-the-wall place less than a block from our hotel called “Tonkatsu” (Japanese food fanatics need no explanation of that term) and despite the fact that I had to decipher the menu for everyone, nobody left disappointed. Pair that with the fact that there was another place next door and another across the street with similarly worded menus, and a few blocks north of that there were whole streets covered with Kanji and the little colored paper lamps that, in Japan, are the neon signs advertising an eatery, and you begin to see my dilemma... too many options to explore within a week for a foodie with a Japanese bent...

Look at the pretty fishy!

However... On my second to last night on the island, coming back from the only “touristy” thing I did while I was there (shark cage excursion three miles out to sea), the bus driver, upon hearing I was a chef that specialized in Japanese, told me that the Man himself, Masaharu Morimoto, had recently opened a restaurant on the island, AND it was within walking distance from my hotel! Suffice it to say, I dropped any dinner plans I might have had for that evening like a hot rock... I've been waiting to be in close proximity of one of his venues for a VERY long time, I was NOT gonna pass this up! I'll spare you the hyperbole and adjectives, just go if you get the chance! Casual feel, open and airy dining room, sleek minimalistic décor, and professional waitstaff all made for an ideal experience. Cocktail suggestion: Morimo-tai. A twist on the Hawaiian mainstay, the Mai Tai, made with the usual ingredients, but with added Kaffir Lime leaf and mint. One appetizer on the menu I absolutely could not resist (I waved off the tasting menu because this item was not on it) was a lightly steamed oyster topped with seared foie gras, uni, and a slightly sweet soy glaze... the most decadent thing I've ever put in my face... Sara liked it too, and she's not big on oysters (I need to work on that, I know...). The other appetizer we got was Wagu Beef carpaccio. Paper thin slices splashed with hot oil and dressed with light soy and fresh Yuzu juice. For my entree I opted for their take on the classic French bouillabaisse. Half of a lobster (tail, claw and guts included), 2 whole head-on fresh shrimp, manilla clams, mussels, scallop, spicy red miso broth, served with toasted baguette slices to mop up the remnants of the carnage. Easily one of the best meals of my life. Expensive, to be sure, but I'm not one to shy away from that if I feel it's worth it. And it was. It was research, you see. Putting a yardstick to my peers, as it were. Just as much to see how I measure up as to taste their work. I was both inspired and encouraged by the experience. Being currently located in South-Eastern Michigan there aren't any Japanese restaurants of that caliber to judge myself against. There are few places of that caliber around here at all, to be honest. My only complaint was that there was no beer on the menu. Wine list, sake list, cocktail list, no beer. This struck me as very odd. Morimoto has collaborated with breweries in the past, so why those brews at least weren't on the menu was puzzling. Compounded by the very seafood centricity of the menu, I found it strange. Fish loves beer, and shellfish in particular, and there was (as I've described) no shortage of aquatic arthropods on offer. There was also a sushi bar on premises that I surprisingly did not partake of. Call it mood, call it focus, call it psychotic... I was more interested in the hot menu on this particular evening it seems.

The view of Kani Ka Pilla from our balcony.

Accessible from the lobby of our hotel was another little gem. Kani Ka Pilla bar and grill. Open air bar, nothing but outdoor seating and it was poolside. While with these factors going for it they very well could skimp a little on the food, they don't. The Poke and Quesadillas would be my first recommendation. Served in a large fried won ton cup, the Poke was local Ahi cubed and tossed with just the right amount of soy sauce and a little wasabi for bite. The Quesadillas were pretty much what you would expect, and served with the usual sides of salsa and guac, but they used smoked pork as the protein in them, and they did not suck... The cocktails at this bar were some of the best we had on the island, as well. Another thing that surprised me were the number of breweries on Oahu. I found offerings from at least 4 different local breweries at bars, restaurants and convenience stores in the area. Every bar we went to had at least one of them on tap. The most prevalent was the Kona Brewing company, and the most common of their offerings found on tap everywhere were the Longboard lager and the Fire Rock IPA. Both of which are great, and both of which are on tap at Kani Ka Pilla. They also have a nightly rotating line-up of local musicians for entertainment. Most of which were pretty damn good. There was also a tap-house right around the corner from the hotel called the Yard House that had a multipage on-tap beer menu and a pretty solid food menu. I ordered Jambalaya, and as picky and hard to please as I am about that dish, and Cajun food in general, it was pretty damn good! They're Ahi Poke was pretty spot on as well, but as long as you use absolutely fresh Tuna, it's hard to fuck it up, and every place that offered this dish used local fish, so you won't get a bad Poke in Waikiki. As well, that's the way it should be! In summary, I could have easily spent two or three more weeks in Waikiki just checking out the restaurants if money and time were no object. If you can only make it out there once in your lifetime it's worth the experience. If you're the tourist type, there's more than enough to do, more than enough sights to see, and a lot of history in the area since it's only a few miles from Pearl Harbor and there are more than a couple military museums. If you are the foodie traveler type, I can't think of another reason I haven't already outlined that might convince you to go. I am NOT the beach-going type, I don't give a shit about tanning, I could care less about surfing, just not my thing. I avoid tourist traps, I loathe the idea of anyone thinking of me as such, but I had a lot of fun there. We met some interesting people (all the folks we met from Australia were funny as hell!) we ate some stellar food, and the weather is just as perfect as the travel guides tell you. Just bring a good sunscreen. The sun in Waikiki, like the locals, seems to hate visitors... Jack_

The Social Imperative of Cooking

Come, sit down. You're just in time for the first course.

As a professional cook, I'm often amazed at how few people understand how to cook and the processes involved. I've ranted in the past about those who simply don't have the frame of reference to enjoy high quality, well prepared food, but this goes beyond that. In the age of delivered pick-your-genre food and drive-thru on-demand garbage, knowing how, what and even why to cook seems to be increasingly rare. It shouldn't be. This is as fundamental as sleeping. Everyone should have at least a little knowledge on the subject. There are no greater bonding moments between friends, or family, than sharing the cooking duties and sitting down to enjoy the fruits of that labor. Not a one. Of this, I am completely, and irreversibly convinced. I will concede, however reluctantly, that this view might be a personal bias, but I really highly doubt it. I am consciously trying not to make this a rant, but I feel I need to give you some examples of just how disconnected, just how far the general public has veered away from very basic knowledge about food and cooking, and how little attention seems to be paid to what they (we) are shoveling into their (our) collective faces. Last year sometime, a woman who ordered some shrimp nigiri asked me if the shrimp was cooked. Let me break this scenario down for you, for you to truly understand my frustration. First of all, we don't list it on the menu as “Ebi”, as so many sushi places do. To the sushi savvy, seeing “Ebi” under the sashimi/nigiri listing on the menu it is generally understood to mean “cooked shrimp”. Second, we do not offer “amaebi” which is, under the same conditions, generally understood to mean “raw sweet shrimp”. Lastly (take a deep breath for this) the way we list it on the menu is “Cooked Shrimp”. Okay, I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, as far reached as this might be, that she MAY have forgotten what she ordered by the time it got to her given the fact that she was with friends, drinks were flowing, much conversation was had. It's conceivable that this scenario might be true. However, the final ingredient in the story is the fact that the plate was in front of her. She was looking right at it. Yet still asked the question, “is this shrimp cooked?”. My brain reeled. My disbelief at the question rendered me momentarily mute. It took me a few long and awkward seconds to even be able to cobble together the letters in my head to form the word “yes”, let alone utter them. The fact that she, an adult woman, old enough to get into the casino that I work at (which means she was at the very least 21), could not distinguish a cooked shrimp, sitting two feet in front of her face, from a raw one, sent my brain into convulsions that left me dumbfounded. Not to sound too particular on the matter, but let me give you another, more recent example. We have a roll on the menu listed as “Grilled Chicken Roll”. The creation of my co-worker, it consists of grilled scallion, roasted garlic puree, grilled asparagus, and (as one would expect) grilled chicken, rolled up in the usual American sushi fashion of rice-on-the-outside with nori, a sauce of my design (a thickened soy/citrus/ginger concoction), sweet chili sauce based on Mae Ploy, and micro cilantro. One customer a week or so ago, again, staring right at it, sliced, presented and two feet from his face, chicken well visible, asked if the chicken was cooked... It was CHICKEN! No cook or chef in their right mind would serve raw chicken in this country! The only places I've heard of in the world that can get away with that are in Japan, and even then it's only at places where the chef himself raised the birds and slaughtered them the day of service, therefore he knows that these animals were clean and well attended to to avoid the usual salmonella scare that accompanies factory-farm raised birds. Beyond my usual bitching that most people who are unfamiliar with sushi usually have the misconception that all of the meats served are in raw form. Beyond the fact that the menu clearly, and unambiguously states that these items are served cooked. These people could not discern for themselves, could not tell on sight, did not have the frame of reference or basic knowledge of food and what things look like when cooked verses raw, this seriously distresses me... at a very deep and alarming level...

Many new friends were made at this meal, and many old bonds strengthened.

I was first inspired to write this after the incident with the woman and her shrimp nigiri, but it was also very shortly after I read Anthony Bourdains most recent book “Medium Raw”, in which he dedicates an entire chapter to this very subject. So, upon recalling that chapter, I thought to myself, “he said it way better than I ever could...” thus, my inspiration for writing this piece waned. Bob also wrote a similar post on the subject. Link to that at the end. The more recent inquiry about the chicken roll, combined with a brief conversation on the subject with my compatriots here at the Rogue Estate, have convinced me that this cannot be reiterated enough. Indeed, we should be shouting this from rooftops. The act of cooking for oneself, or friends, or family, has nearly become extinct, it seems, in this country. I'm trying very hard NOT to soap box here, I'm merely trying to point out a fact that is very disconcerting to me on a great many levels. Maybe that is the very definition of “soap boxing”, but fuck it, I'm too far in to stop now... I truly believe it to be a social imperative, one of the things that family and community are held together by. Everyone, repeat, EVERYONE should have some basic cooking skills. I'm not trying to say all humans should spend time in a restaurant kitchen, that sort of thing is best left to the seriously deranged, I'm just suggesting that the country we live in, the good ol' U.S. of A., would be a better place for it. It's certainly a more economical approach, and given the economic status we face, that makes as much sense as any other reason I could possibly give. And as much as I hate to sound like I might be leaning to the right here, it is, more than most activities, an exercise in family bonding. I'm also not expecting anyone without a seriously bent psyche to sit down and read Escoffier cover to cover, nor am I expecting a reasonably sane person to study and memorize anything Keller has ever said in the history of ever. But there are some basic skills that should be taught to all mammals that possess opposable thumbs. Most of which a reasonably intelligent monkey could be taught. So there are no excuses. First would be knife skills. The ability to dice an onion or chop celery without losing a digit is a worthwhile and simple goal. Knife maintenance is another good thing to know, since the most common cause of cutting oneself in the kitchen is a dull knife. Basic cooking techniques would be next on my list. I'm not saying everyone should know intuitively how to make a beurre blanc from scratch that won't break after 6 hours in a steam well, I'm talking about basics. How to roast a chicken or turkey without overcooking it is as good a place as any to start. You don't need to cook the hell out of it, and for fucks sake, pull that pop-up timer out as soon as the bird is thawed enough to do so, and throw the thing away! Get yourself a meat thermometer. Seriously. Go! They're very cheap, and they'll prevent you from ever having to suffer through a turkey breast with the texture of drywall ever again! 165 is the magic number here, people. That's the internal temperature at which salmonella dies. 165 (F). Learn it, live it, love it! No bird on the face of this green Earth need be cooked beyond that. Proper handling of red meats is another useful skill-set. The barbaric abuse of steaks has gone on long enough. My disdain and utter contempt for “well-doners” is very well documented, but proper cooking and resting are essential to this endeavor, and a very poorly understood subject by most. The most important part is the resting. Whether you're shooting for medium, medium rare, or even rare, you need to let the meat rest before diving at it, knife in hand. I would MUCH rather cut into a piece of meat that's lukewarm than one that's overcooked or dry from improper resting. There are a couple reasons for this. Mostly, we're dealing with thermodynamics here (science!). The hotter a liquid is, the faster it moves around. Same is true of gases, but in the case of a Black Angus Strip Steak, we're talking about the liquids, the fat and juices and (get over it or stop eating steaks) the blood contained within. If you cut into that perfectly grilled hunk of meat-lovers heaven when it's too hot, all those juices will come rushing out and you'll be left with a perfectly cooked, but dry hunk of leather. You've just committed as close to what I would call a “sin” as I can muster. As David Chang puts it, in no better words than I could ever come up with, “this makes you an asshole...”. Actually, that quote was in reference to overcooking a good piece of meat, but in principle we're talking about the same thing. Pan searing is another very simple and extremely useful skill to have. One that I've written about before, link to that at the end. This one takes a bit more skill and practice, but nothing more than 2 or 3 tries should get you well enough adept at it. This is a technique highly favored among professionals for it's ease and because it allows you to build a sauce in the same pan that will, no matter which direction you want to go with that sauce, invariably fit perfectly with the protein at hand since it will have the flavor of it, at it's best, most flavorful point, naturally incorporated. See the link for a more detailed description of that procedure. Vegetable cookery is another great skill to understand. The ubiquitous “green bean casserole” that pops it's ugly head up at far too many family functions across the country is usually an eye-rolling, cringing, or moanful occasion for me. It's almost always made from canned beans. You know the ones. The olive drab, army green, mushy and nearly flavorless variety. Just as infuriating are the canned fried onions that adorn nearly every variation. This is, quite simply, pure laziness. It takes nothing, literally no time difference, to make this dish with (wait for it) fresh beans! As far as the the onions are concerned, if you don't have a deep fryer handy in your kitchen, just leave them out. No one will mind, or notice the difference if fresh beans were used to begin with, trust me... And if you value your life, please, PLEASE do NOT use a canned “cream of something similar to mushroom” soup as the base... Again, that's just utter laziness. Saute some mushrooms with some onions and make a bechamel. Roux, onions, garlic, mushrooms, milk and/or cream, 15 minutes, done. Some vegetables lend themselves well to long cooking, and some very much do not. The distinction is an easy one to make. It's all about the raw texture, for the most part. There is some variance, dependent on individual factors, but this is a good rule of thumb, I think. Hard vegetation, like carrots, daikon radish, and acorn squash, to name a few, can stand up to long cooking times, and in some cases absolutely need it. Crisp plants, such as potatoes, summer squash, and zucchini, are better suited to moderate cooking, just until soft enough for a knife to pass easily through. Green vegetables generally need only a quick bath in hot water, butter or oil to be at their best. These would include things like spinach, green beans, broccoli, and asparagus. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Tomatoes, for instance. I can eat a freshly picked, raw tomato like an apple and only want for a salt shaker to be completely content. I'm also a huge fan of the long, low and slow cooked sauces derived from the same vine. This is a “gray area”, to be sure, but nothing that needs a pro chef or rocket scientist to figure out. Am I preaching to the choir here? Am I simply venting? I'm ok with that, mind you, if this is the case, but I truly think, believe, no, I know in my bones that we as a culture need to re-evaluate our relationship with food. With morbid obesity, childhood diabetes, and the sheer laziness that allows evil empires like the Colonel, Ronald, and the King to inflict these atrocities upon us, running more than rampant (they're running the fucking show!) I think, now more than ever, there is a need for a change in the Zeitgeist. A major overhaul in our attitude of, and demand for, better options. A return to the “family meal” would also go pretty far to help curb these trends. I have no such delusions as to think that it would completely answer the issue of poor public health, but it's the only logical place to start. There are a few moral quagmires and minefields in this debate, I recognize this. The “going green” and “organic” movements among them. The family in the slums of Detroit, for instance, aren't buying the Sav-More frozen chicken nuggets because they're the best tasting, best for you, good for the environment, or organic. They're buying them 'cause they're $4 for 5 fucking pounds... Income level plays it's part on what people eat as much as when and why, so only buying organic products is simply not an option for some. The general blasé attitude toward food that seems to have dug it's heels in very deep also contributes to this lack of public interest in seeking out locally produced ingredients, which, on balance, should not only be cheaper, but fresher than other options. Here in Michigan, we are privy to some of the best produce in the country. Our strawberries are stellar, our apples are better than anything out of Washington, our cherries are something of legend, the list goes on and, I assure you, on. Yet, you rarely see these products at the local neighborhood grocer, even when they are in season. Because the locals aren't asking for or demanding it. In most cases, they aren't even aware of the fact. It all comes down to public awareness and cultural apathy. I'm starting to feel a little more soap-boxy than I wanted, or surely, intended to. Though it all ties together, I also feel I'm getting a bit off topic. So I'll wrap this up. If we as a nation want to steer away from the corporate machine that is all to happy seeing us buy their crap disguised as food, knowing full well it will destroy our health, the journey starts at home. At the corner grocer. At your dining table. This will be a battle, of that I am not in denial. The battleground will be your dinner plate. They are a powerful many, but you really can decide the outcome. Learn a few simple cooking techniques/skills, find something you really like and learn to cook it well. Make it your “specialty”, and if you take a shine to the process, learn a couple more! It will serve you, your friends, and your family well, and in the end, will help build stronger relationships with them all. It really is as simple as that. Jack... Pan searing revealed. Bobs take on the subject.

Street Food on Steroids

Okonomiyaki... you know you want some... so just admit it already...

A recent theme for one of our Chef Night debaucheries was the egg, and all it's glory. The assignment was everyone bring a dish, or the ingredients thereof to assemble on sight, centered on the egg. While Raquels Sans Rival, a Phillipino desert that's little more than egg white, sugar, butter, crushed nuts, and alchemical magic may have completely stolen the show, my Okonomiyaki was a contender. This is a little known food here Stateside, so let me explain... In Japan there are regional cuisines that differ as widely as what you'll find in France and Italy. Most of my Japanese inspiration would be considered firmly Tokyo derived. The flip side of that, and some say the superior one, (though to me it's apples and oranges) would be Osaka style cuisine. In Osaka there's a very heavy and dedicated food culture, with much more emphasis on street food than in Tokyo. Okonomiyaki falls into this category. Osakan street food, and as we found out, it may well be the perfect drunk food (sliders aside), and it absolutely LOVES a good beer! It is essentially a pancake with a laundry list of additives. The ingredient list may be extensive and intimidating, but don't let that scare you off! It's very simple, rather quick, and astoundingly good! Though you WILL need to become friends with someone at the local Japanese market to get the right items if you're not familiar with them already, but trust us... it's worth it! If you really can't find some of these ingredients, don't stress and give up on Okonomiyaki. Most of it's ingredients are easily substituted, and, in fact, mine was just created from what I had to work with at the market (extensive though it was). Toward that end I will indicate with a "*" which items are essential, the rest are interchangeable with whatever suits your mood, your market, or your budget. Also of note, quantities are VERY approximate! This is a real "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" kinda dish, as long as you have enough batter to coat what you throw in it, you'll be fine! Enough with the babbling, here's the recipe for my version of Osakas favorite dish, Okonomiyaki. The ingredients: 1 cup sliced Shiitake caps (I used the plump Japanese kind, but the flatter variety found in most grocery stores will do) 1 cups shredded Napa cabbage 1 cup chopped Mizuna (Japanese Frisee, more or less) Half pound of Bay Scallops (the little guys) Half pound of Shrimp tails (cleaned, deveined, and chopped) Half pound of large diced cooked Octopus tentacles Half cup dried Baby Shrimp *Enough bacon or sliced pork belly to cover one side of each pancake *1 cup sliced scallion *Half cup grated Yamaimo (Japanese mountain yam, cornstarch in a little water might get you there, but I doubt it) *3-4 eggs *Half cup Pickled Ginger baton cut (not the thin sliced kind served with sushi), or to taste *1 teaspoon Baking Powder *1 cup Flour *1 cup water *1 oz. bonito flakes *1 small strip of Konbu Garnishes: *Mayonnaise *Okonomiyaki sauce (it might simply be called "Okonomi Sauce" at the market) Ao Nori (powdered dried seaweed) Ikura (Salmon roe) Quail eggs (we used them raw, but fried over-easy would be awesome too) Procedure:

the batter before the guts are added

Start by making a small batch of Dashi stock. Put one cup of water in a pot and add the Konbu. Bring to a simmer and add 1/2 an ounce, or one tightly packed Tablespoon Bonito flakes and steep just below a simmer for 20 minutes. Kill the heat, add the dried shrimp, and allow to steep until you need it. Now do all of your knife work. Chop the Shrimp, clean the Scallops, shred the Napa, slice the Shiitakes, ect. Pull the Konbu out of the Dashi stock (leaving the Bonito flakes and dried Shrimp) and in a mixing bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients add the flour, grated Yamaimo, baking powder, and dashi stock together. Mix until smooth. Now add everything else but the bacon/pork belly.

the finished batter, ready to cook

Preheat a nonstick pan with a little oil (sesame oil would be killer, but not needed) over medium high heat. Once heated, ladle 8 oz. or so of the Okonomiyaki batter into the pan and spread it out with the back of the ladle. Lay strips of the bacon/pork belly on top and lightly cover with some of the liquid batter. When browned, flip over and brown the other side. When browned well, flip back over and cook a little longer to ensure the batter is cooked through. Remove from the pan, add a little oil and repeat until you've used all of the batter.

batter down, laid on the bacon, and lightly coated with additional batter

While still hot, spread mayo over the entire surface, drizzle on the Okonomi sauce, sprinkle with scallion, Ao Nori and the rest of the bonito flakes. Here's where we diverged from the traditional with the raw Quail eggs and the Salmon roe... but we're just crazy like that...

flipped and almost ready to greedily devour!

As I said before, PLEASE do not let the ingredient list or detailed preparation scare you off. This was stupid good, way easier than it looks and loved just about every beer we threw at it! If you're still intimidated, I'll include a link to the Youtube video that inspired me to make this mind-blowingly simple and damn good Japanese street food favorite! She makes hers with instant Dashi, but that was unacceptable to me since it's so easy to make fresh. I should also mention that even though some of the ingredients are rather exotic, and some are downright obscure (Yamaimo? Mizuna? really?) the finished product is in NO way offensive to the western palette. So hunt these things down and give it a try! If you don't love it you should stop trying to cook and just stick to Banquet frozen whatever and TGI McKnucleheads... Jack....

Haute Beer?

Beer makers have long brewed merely for dudes that just drink beer, and not with food pairing in mind. While in some cases this still makes for a great beverage to pair with food, a good portion of the time this is not the case. Especially here in the U.S. where brewers tend to take traditional styles and amp them up in some way. A good example of this the classic British style the Pale Ale. Medium bodied with a subtle but pronounced maltiness balanced by a mild hop bite, the benchmark of this style is undisputedly Bass. Enter the American Pale Ale... typically lighter in color, equal in body and malt, but way more hops than their counterparts across the pond, Seirra Nevada is probably the ambassador of this offshoot. Other specimens of this phenomenon abound, from Russian Imperial Stouts that drink like motor oil (Old Rasputin) to IPA's that are little more than alcoholic hop flavored beverages (Two Heart). Don't get me wrong, this is not always a bad thing. I'm quite fond of a lot of these over-the-top American interpretations of classic European styles, and in fact Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale is one of my favorite domestic beers. The fact remains, however, these steroid-jacked iterations are often too much beer to successfully pair with any food outside of the realm of pizza. Fear not, though, foodies of the world, as there seems to be a growing number of breweries that are taking food and beverage pairing into account when formulating recipes. Realizing finally what the French have known for centuries, that a beverage can enhance the food it's paired with, and vice versa, a few breweries across the globe have started to embrace this concept. Chefs as well are starting to notice the potential beer holds as an alternative to wine as a beverage to pair with their creations, adding a new spin, more variety,and deeper complexity to the traditional pairing options. In fact there are a couple world renown Chefs that are joining forces with breweries with this goal in mind. To help the breweries understand what the Chef wants to see, what their food needs as far as pairing is concerned, and to help the Chefs understand how the breweries accomplish this. Ferran Adria, known the world over for his ground breaking mad scientist approach to food with his impossible to get into restaurant in Spain, El Bulli, is one such Chef and probably lead the charge. He brought his sommelier team to Estrella Damm brewery and met with their brewmasters. The result of this alliance was "Inedit". A medium bodied, golden-amber colored beer flavored with orange peel, liquorice, and coriander, it goes well with a vast array of foods. From shellfish to light game to salads and charcuterie, the pairing choices are myriad. The breweries website, and accompanying YouTube videos describe the flavors and proper serving methods better than I could, so I've included a link at the end. The only foods I'd avoid serving with this are those with big flavors, such as red meats, grilled or brasied meats, stronger game like venison and bear, ect. For those items, there is another... The brewers at Rogue combined forces with another titan in the food world, Masaharu Morimoto, to come up with their Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale. We've enjoyed this at more than one meeting of the Estate and I've touted it's excellence more than once here, so to avoid sounding like a broken record (or obsessed fan-boy) I'll simply include links to those write ups at the end. There are many other chefs that are getting as involved as Ferran Adria and Morimoto. Does the name Thomas Keller ring a bell? Yes, he's been serving beers as the beverage pairing for certain courses at the French Laundry and Per Se for quite some time now, and in fact his chef at Per Se got together with the local team at the Brooklyn Brewery to craft a brown ale to go in a holiday gift basket for their investors and they had plenty left over to go on the menus at Per Se, the French Laundry and other Keller restaurants. It was so successful their will be more to come from that collaboration. It seems my favorite beverage is finally getting the recognition and status it deserves, putting it firmly in the "luxury" category of beverages due to the myriad of craft breweries springing up that take their beer every bit as serious as the vineyards of Bordeaux. As a chef, beer nut, and home-brewer I've been touting the merits of beer as a potential equal to wine as a food pairing beverage for nearly a decade. In my early tenure writing for this site I dedicated a post to it (link below). This follow up was inspired by a meal we had last month featuring several beer and wine pairings. A meal that also inspired my last two posts... yeah... it was pretty epic... It is one of my fondest hopes that more brewhouses hear this call and join the charge, and more chefs see this potential and encourage it. The result will further the development of both disciplines and produce a more open dialog between brewers and chefs. More fine beers listed on menus under "recommended beverages" for each dish, the exploration of new culinary territory, and a greater sense of pride for all involved. Who won't benefit from that? Jack

The Making of a Great Couple

The featured wines of the evening

Ian and his wife Linda recently made a trip to the northern Michigan wine country of Old Mission peninsula and brought back a pirates cache of wines. So, the mission he set before us, should we choose to accept it, would be to construct a menu around four of the wines they brought back. He sent us the list with the tasting notes and pretty much said, "go crazy!" Due to extenuating circumstances I ended up planning most of the meal. It was a huge learning experience on my part, as I'd never really started with the beverages as the impetus for creating a menu. This did not intimidate me, however, I saw it more as a challenge, and challenges are always a learning experience. At our meetings it's usually a given that once a menu is set Ian will bring wine pairings and I'll have beer pairings in tow, but since the focus of the evening was the food/wine interactions, I thought it best to leave it alone and approach the barley derived offerings from a different angle. I used them as intermezzos, rather than to pair with the dishes on the table. My concept was to use them to bridge the gap between courses, and create a flow of interconnected flavors with each dish and it's wine accompaniment.

Little cups of seawater, naturally self contained, needing little to no alteration...

The first course, as requested by Ian, would be oysters to pair with Chateau Chantal's "Tonight". A slightly sweeter than usual sparkler. With a drop or 2 of Tabasco on the Blue Points that were selected to counter the sweetness of the beverage (and because Tabasco on Blue Points just kicks ass) the mollusks and fizzy made a great couple. The brine of the oysters, the acidity and slight kick of the Tabasco countered and complimented the mild acids, sweetness and carbonation of the sparkling wine. Course one down, and a great success.

The first two beers of the evening.

To lead us into the next course I chose a beer from the Rogue brewery. Their Chipotle Ale, a light beer in Mexican style with mild smoke from the peppers and almost unnoticeable heat. The spice tied into the Tabasco used on the oysters and the smokiness was a crescendo into the curry used in the next food/wine selection. The next offering may have been the star of the meal. An Asian style soup, leaning heavily on Thai influences, that included pork loin, madras curry, a carefully selected small variety of vegetables, and coconut milk. Garnished with fresh cilantro, Bosc pear battons, crushed toasted cashews, and thinly sliced scallions, it met the wine chosen (Brys Estate Gewurztraminer) and it was love at first bite. The wine is a semi-sweet, so I used lime zest in the recipe, rather than juice, since the wine had it's own balance already. So I knew adding the lime juice, and all the acid that comes with it, to the soup could possibly over power the mild acidity of the wine. Lemongrass would be another option, and equally well suited, but I didn't see any when I hit the market. The sweetness of the pears and the brightness of the cilantro made the semi-sweet wine dance on the tongue, while the curry played well with the nose and mild dryness. The toasted cashews did their fair share, too, in bringing out the minute hint of oak in the wine that might otherwise have gotten lost in the melee. Without ever tasting the wine ahead of time, I'm happy to say I nailed this one! Everything about the pairing came together better than I could have hoped for! (Recipe for this soup here) The beer chosen to flow us into the next course was again a brew from Rogue. The Morimoto Black Obi Soba ale. Since I've already reviewed this one, I'll spare you the details, just click that link for tasting notes. It did it's job in tying the curry and pork into the next course. The mild notes of roasted nuts and caramel did well to tie the curry in the soup to the glaze on the roasted leg of lamb, the maple on the squash, and the cranberries in the risotto. (Review of this beer here) This was the main event. Mustard/Plum glazed roasted leg of Lamb, risotto of barley with Michigan cheddar and cranberries, and maple roasted spaghetti squash. This plate was built around the wine 2 Lads Cabernet Franc. While I would suggest using a smaller cut of lamb than a whole leg since not every bite gave the caramelized plum glaze that was the key to the pairing for the lamb and the wine, it still, by no means, sucked! Ian discovered this the hard way, as he went straight for the interior of the leg. Missing out on the glaze, he commented that the lamb wasn't matching the wine very well. Though, he recanted after scooping up some of the glaze in the bottom of the roasting pan, lamenting his decision to go solely for the less done cuts. Can't really say that I blame him though. Duck would be a great pairing as well, if done in a similar style. All that aside, the plate and the wine went together quite nicely. Not as well as the other courses, but by no means a failure. The fruit and berry in the nose and pallet of the wine mingled well with the plums, and cranberries on the plate, while the mustard and maple interacted with the mild tannins in the wine.

After the Lamb, and before dessert.

The next course was a beer chosen to be a pallet cleanser, leading into dessert. This was the wild card, as I had no clue what dessert would entail at this point, but I knew what to look for toward those ends. I was looking for something that was light, acidic, and possibly had some citrus related ingredients. I settled on Dogfish Head's Namaste. I had never had this one before, but by the label it seemed to fit the bill. A lighter beer brewed with coriander, orange peel, and lemongrass, it seemed only appropriate given all the Asian influences of the meal. Not nearly as 'over the top' as most offerings from that brewery, and as a palette cleanser, it did it's job well. By the time i finished a small glass of it I could no longer taste the lamb. Our resident baker, sadly, could not attend this time out, so dessert was a last minute purchase of apple-caramel crumb cake. "Anathema!" you might be screaming right now, especially if you've been following this site AT ALL! Even the best laid plans can fail, however... While not ideal, it did manage to play with the 45 North Peach Cremant well enough (though the spongy texture of the cake was very 'Twinkiesque'). 45 North's Peach Cremant is a light sparkler with white peach juice, so it paired with the apple and caramel sufficiently. Though, by the end of the meal we were almost on overload so the simplicity was probably a good thing. To be honest, I was really hoping to completely miss the mark at least once. Insane, say you? Why would I possibly want to disappoint THIS crowd?! It would have taught me what NOT to do in food/wine pairing, which can sometimes be a more valuable lesson than getting it right. It is my hope that this post gives you a better understanding of the intricacies of food and beverage pairings. Many factors need to be carefully considered to find that perfect match, if such a thing exists. Oak, acid, specific fruits, specific nut, specific berry, and even "dust" flavors are all terms that have been used in wine tasting notes, so the foods paired with them need to ebb and flow with the beverages. Even cooking technique needs to be considered. Coffee and peach? Might sound like an odd pair, but not if you grill the peaches! As we did this summer on our pizza night with a grilled peach turnover and vanilla ice cream paired with a coffee stout. The coffee amped up the vanilla and grilled flavors to a "punch in the mouth" level and the sweetness of the stout put the caramelized peaches on a pedestal. So here's to learning experiences! I hope you have a few of your own in the kitchen. Jack... (Click here for the full photo gallery of this meal) Chateau Chantal Rogue Chipotle Ale Brys Estate Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale 2 Lads Cab Franc Dogfish Head Namaste 45 North Peach Cremant