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It’s not elitism, we really do eat better stuff.


Blueberry Port Slumps with Almond Dumplings

So you've charred the Angus beef filet, underproofed the potato herb rolls and couldn't find the truffle oil to finish the amuse bouche?  Not to worry, despairing dinner party thrower - blueberry port slumps to the rescue! I know your first thought is "What the heck is a slump?  And why would I feed it to people I like and want to respect me the next day?"  Well here's a quick rundown:  A "slump" is like a "grunt" which is merely a charming Midwest way of referring to dumplings, or biscuits cooked by the steam created by a hot liquid.  In this case, the liquid is something sweet, namely a combination of wild blueberries, port wine, and various other ingredients that comprise the hot tub of deliciousness that will cook the almond dumplings. Did I mention it's a crazy easy recipe that one could do quickly and without too much thinking?  I mean, you've got other things going on, so make it easy on yourself.  Use this dessert to add simple closure after an elaborate meal, or just make it to have around when the snow starts falling.  Believe me, it's up there with a big bowl of macaroni and cheese as far as comfort food goes. FOR THE BLUEBERRY PORT HOT TUB: 4 cups of blueberries (fresh, frozen, preferably wild and untamed like Chef Jack likes 'em) 1/2 cup of sugar 1/4 cup of ruby port 1/2 cup water 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (or 1/2 a tsp if you like more) 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg FOR THE ALMOND DUMPLINGS:

Blueberry Port Slumps with Almond Dumplings

3/4 cup all purpose flour 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds (very import to toast!) 4 tbsp. sugar 1 tsp baking powder 1/4 tsp salt 3 tbs unsalted butter, chilled and diced 1/4 cup buttermilk or milk (I prefer buttermilk for its flavor) EQUIPMENT 12 - inch skillet pan with cover food processor From here, it's pretty simple.  Take all the blueberry ingredients and bring to a boil in skillet over medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes to soften the berries.  While this is going on, put the flour, almonds, sugar, baking powder and salt into your food processor bowl, and pulse until combined.  Add the butter, just a few chunks at a time, and pulse until mixture forms soft dough. Now here comes the fun part.  Drop heaping tablespoons of the dough into the blueberry hot tub, reduce heat to low and cover.  Simmer until the dumplings are firm and they pass the toothpick test (comes out clean after insertion),which will take about 20-25 minutes depending on the size of your heaping tablespoon.  Once they're done, deposit into eating vessel of choice and eat 'em while they're hot!   You'll thank yourself and so will your happy guests -  the dumplings will melt in your mouth and the port-infused blueberries will make you forget your troubles.  Slumps rule!

Observations of a Kitchen Veteran

Any of my writing thus far that came off like a rant wasn't intended to, until now.... I will state right up front that this will be a rant. A few things that have been pissing me off for a long time that I just need to get off my chest before I stab someone in the fucking eye. I'll also admit from the get-go that it might just be me, mostly. I expect, and even demand, total professionalism in a restaurant kitchen. I get a little (read as "extremely") agitated when something goes wrong and the person accountable denies accountability and/or should have fucking known better to begin with! I'm also willing to admit that I'm not perfect, but I try to always have perfection in my cross-hairs, and will admit when I was the fuck up. Many of the worlds best Chefs agree, as do I, that perfection is never truly attainable, but should always be strived for. The act of reaching for it as hard as you can will make you a better cook. Indeed, this is true of any profession, but we cooks, those of us serious enough, passionate enough, and (let's face it) crazy enough to undertake this unattainable goal, tend to be a bit obsessive about it. To quote the late, great George Carlin, "I don't have 'pet peeves', I have major psychotic fucking hatreds!" This is a list of a few of mine.... Waitstaff: Ahh, waitstaff, also known as servers, waitrons, waitron units and "the morons".... My friend, my nemesis... First thing I have to say to them is "learn the fucking menu!" Take one home after you know you got the job and study it that night. If you have ANY questions about it I'll quite gladly take the time to answer them. I even extend the invitation to taste anything you're curious about so you can better describe and sell the dish. Whenever I change my menu I even demand that the floor managers gather all the waitrons for this very purpose. Before service at any fine dining restaurant we do whats called a "lineup". "Show and tell" is another suitable name for this practice. It's to educate them on any daily specials/soups for the same reasons, to tell you anything I can about the dish and answer any questions. So fucking pay attention! We're all here for the same reason, to make money! Sometimes descriptions can be lengthy, and things get forgotten. I understand this, but if you're picking your nose, reading a text message, or otherwise not focused during lineup and come back during dinner rush with inane questions, distracting me from getting the food out, don't look surprised when I blow a fucking gasket! Another thing... Nothing! Sits under! The lamp! Got it?! We do not work at Denny's, or Ram's Horn, or fucking White Castle! I've worked very hard perfecting these recipes and during service to get you the food your table ordered, please do not let it wallow under the heat lamp getting dry and over cooked! And be ready for it if you're gonna fucking hover over me waiting to get it! This is probably my biggest "psychotic fucking hatred" about waitrons. I've seen it literally a million times. They stand there at the window staring at you (which is fucking annoying to begin with) and as soon as they see you plating the food for their table they run off to get silverware, or bread, or whatever the fuck they need to have at the table, thus letting the plates bake under the lamp when that shit should have been done while you were staring at me like a dog waiting for me to drop a scrap of food! If your gonna hover, be fucking ready when the food is! Nothing pleases me more than seeing a server grab the plates as soon as they hit the window, and nothing pisses me off more than them running away when it's ready after they've already annoyed me by standing there watching me plate it! In the early years of my career I viewed them mostly with loathing and contempt. Immediately assuming the worst from them all at all times. Lately I've been seeing how befriending them helps. It makes it much easier to get them to do something I might need them to do if I've gotten them to like and respect me, not just fear me and my temper tantrums. Though, there are still a few that when, say, a customer sends something back or they just fucked up an order and need me to fix it, they approach me like a cringing abused child. Anticipating "the look" or thrown objects. I can't say I don't like that, to be honest, or at the very least find it amusing. A Chef I once worked under told me, "There are three kinds of waiters. The technical type, one that knows where the beef is from, what the primary diet of that fish is, what region that wine you ordered is from. This type is rarely very good table side, chatting with and entertaining the guests. Then there's the outgoing type. Great with the customers, talkative, easy to get along with. This type is rarely good with the technicalities. The third is one that's good at both.... we call them 'managers'...." Which brings me to... Floor managers: A good one can be a cooks best friend, a bad one can be your worst nightmare! Managing waitrons is very much like herding cats, so I do not envy you your job.... At least try to keep them organized... Please?! If you know one tends to crack on busy nights, give them a smaller section. If an otherwise good server has a bad night (and we all do), discreetly let it slide. Keeping the kitchen informed of the reservation count on any given night is also a good idea. At the very least, leave the "ressie" book in a place that's accessible so we can look ourselves. If we know a ballpark figure of what to expect for the evening things will run a lot smoother since we'll know (somewhat) what to expect and prep accordingly. And another thing, if a guest has a complaint, don't blow up on the staff before it's investigated. And please, for fear of your untimely demise, do NOT try to tell a kitchen veteran how to cook... Especially if you've never worked in a kitchen! If you haven't noticed, we tend to get a bit testy about that... and we have knives.... I'm not tryin to say anything, just sayin... Disorganized cooks: It's like fingernails on a fucking chalkboard to walk by a cooks station and see a disaster area resembling Baghdad after a bombing. His mise en place scattered and in disarray, dirty towels and pans strewn about, dirty cutting boards covered with bits of herbs and butter and scraps of food. Most of the time I'll just walk away and address it later when the action dies down, because I know myself, and therefore I know I'd try to start the talk calmly but it would inevitably crescendo into a psychotic rant episode. What's worse is when I get in the weeds and need help, but that guy is the only one with the spare time to assist. So by the time we get caught up he scurries off and my station looks like the Tasmanian Devil on crack just whizzed by. Please listen to me carefully, work fucking clean! If you keep things clean and organized it'll make service that much easier! Not to mention the sanitation issues. This is generally the same fucker that NEVER has his sani-water close at hand, if he even has it at all! I keep using a male model for this archetype because women in professional kitchens very rarely fall into this category. The chick in an upscale restaurant kitchen is usually also the biggest ball-busting hard ass in the room, so even if she did it's doubtful anyone would say anything to her for fear of getting your nuts clamped with a pair of tongs, or worse! Dishwashers: Also known as dish-dogs. These unsung heroes have a special place in my heart, probably because that's where I started in the industry, so I know how unappreciated they feel. However, as the job title implies, your job is to wash the dishes. Wash implies "make them clean"! This is not a hard thing to accomplish! If it comes out of the machine and it's still dirty, scrub the fucking thing! DO NOT put it away! If I find it, it's just going to come back to you any-fucking-way! Save me, and yourself the aggravation, and just get it done right the first time! The dining public: As a guy that's been in fine dining as long as I have I can tell you there's a love/hate relationship between cooks and guests. Most cooks view the dining public with what can only be described as writhing contempt. Automatically assuming they know nothing about food or how to enjoy it. Even to the point that when we are payed a compliment the thought that usually runs through our heads goes something like, "that's nice, but you probably wouldn't know a perfect plate if it hit you in the face, so I'm gonna take your kind words with a grain of salt..." In restaurants where customers are paying top dollar for their meal one would assume they'd to be able to appreciate, even expect artistry. Not always the case. We cooks will go out of our way (the dedicated ones anyway) to accommodate a guest that we know appreciates food in all it's various forms. But when a vegetarian, or worse, a fucking soulless vegan, walks into a steakhouse and expects the menu and the whole staff to accommodate them, guess again. Or when a person who won't touch sushi walks into a sushi bar, don't expect to be greeted with open arms. Understand where you're going and that not all places can accommodate your picky, narrow minded little food views.

David Chang, a carnivores hero

David Chang, owner/executive chef of the Momofuku restaurant group in New York has become a hero to all carnivores. I recently heard from multiple sources a story about him that made him the envy of meat loving chefs everywhere. Apparently there was a complaint at one of his properties that there weren't enough vegetarian offerings on the menu. He went to work on that immediately! The next day every single item on the menu had bacon incorporated into it! Go David!!! Speaking of vegans, kill yourself.... seriously.... If your gonna drag your weak, pasty ass out to a non-vegan restaurant for whatever fucking reason, eat before you go. It's insulting to me and my efforts and my hard work for you to come in and tear apart a dish with your fucking finicky eating habits. Or force me to drop everything and pull something out of my ass to feed you. Humans evolved as OMNIVORES! We have canines for a fuck-damn reason! Do the future of the species a favor and either recant your blasphemous ways or remove yourself from the gene-pool however you see fit! Might I suggest hanging, or a shotgun blast to the head will surely get the job done... Fuck you... Fuck your politics... Fuck your bleeding heart, limp wristed, whiny hippie bullshit... Go die! While we're on the subject, there's another sect of the vegetarian camp that pisses me off just as much as the vegans, though for entirely different reasons. That would be the "pesco-vegetarians". These are walking sacks of brain-dead meat with eyes that won't eat animal flesh.... but somehow fish don't count as animals... Apparently, they only appall the consumption of the cute animals, and have actually formulated a twisted non-logic that says fish aren't animals. You're not a vegetarian if you eat fish, you retarded fucking asshats! Maybe I'm coming at this train of thought the wrong way, if so there should at least be a different label for this group of fuckwits. Picky eaters are a different story when food allergies are involved. If you are honestly deathly allergic to foods, or are one of the poor bastards that's a celiac, we understand and will happily do what we can to help you. The occurrence of honest food allergies in humans is pretty low, however, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% or lower of the population. But it seems like they ALL go out to eat for every meal! This is due to false positive tests, which occurs 40-50% of the time, and just plain dip-shits that say they're allergic to a food just because they "don't like it" and because they know we HAVE to take allergy claims seriously. Onion allergy claim is my favorite one. Most foods have onions of some kind somewhere in the preparation and the flavor of them that comes through in most cases is mild and almost unnoticeable. Assholes that don't like eating onions whole in any form tend to be the most common offenders of this. In any case, if you have a true onion allergy (which, by the way, most doctors have never even heard of!) there's not much I can do for you. There are onions in the ALL of the stocks we use, all of the soups, most salads, salad dressings, most starch preparations, a good portion of the vegetable preparations, and in meat marinades. If you don't like onions, just fucking say that! Ask for them to be omitted! That's not a problem. Don't sit there and lie to the server or cooks face because YOU "don't like the texture" or what-the-fuck-ever! If you have a real allergy to them, though, you're pretty much screwed. Sorry to say. "V.I.P.'s": This comes up all the time, especially in fine dining restaurants. The General Manager will come into the kitchen and say,"There are VIP's at table 6, take care of them. Make sure their plates are perfect." Now, I may be in the minority here among professionals, but my psychotic O.C.D. won't allow me to put ANY plate in the window that isn't as perfect as I can humanly make it. So taking "extra special care" with a tables food is pretty much impossible for me, I do that with EVERY table! You want me to give 'em a slightly larger portion? Sure! I can do that! You want me to send out a little freebie appetizer, or maybe a dish we've been experimenting with? No problem! I can't really do any better than I would for any other table, though, 'cause I already do my best on every freakin' order! And please don't ask me to go out to the table and talk with these people! A) I'm busy. B) I'm not good with people, and generally don't like them. And C) Most "VIP's" are total self-absorbed douche-bags, or worse, try to tell a cook HOW TO COOK! In any case, the situation could end very poorly. If it's a personal friend or family of someone in the restaurant, no problem. It's just that most VIP's aren't really accustomed to the way cooks in general talk and behave. We're normally not very good at censoring ourselves. Our crude language and gallows humor will most likely offend their sheltered little ears. That's one of the reasons we're in the kitchen, locked away from these people, and YOU are out on the floor. Leave us to our cooking, and we'll happily let you deal with the public, with your fake painted on smile. Well done: Possibly my biggest psychotic fucking hatred of all! Squirmy little shits that get squeamish at the sight of a little meat juice or blood on their plate. Marco Pierre White has been known to kick these fucktards out of his restaurant, and Bourdain talks about how he used to employ the saving of the older, almost unusable (but not quite sickness inducing) cuts of meat for these orders, marking them "reserve for well". This may sound disgusting, but when you cook the crap out of it you won't notice the difference, and I'd rather save the nicer cuts for people who will actually appreciate them! My personal approach to these nitwits is somewhere in between. I'll use an older cut that's filled with gristle and big chunks of fat and purposely burn the shit out of it. Again, I've worked very hard on these recipes, obsessing about them, developing them, even sleepless nights working them out in my head, not to mention the time it took learn how to cook it properly. Now this mush-mouth comes along and wants me to ruin it? You want me to paint a clown face over the Mona Lisa while I'm at it? Just because you like clowns? FUCK YOU! You'll eat that burnt piece of shoe leather I give you and like it, or you'll get nothing at all! I don't give a flying fuck if you aren't happy with it and NEVER come back! That's actually my goal here! So fuck off, and go back to your hut you fucking peasant! Dishonest menus: Anthony Bourdain wrote in a passage from Kitchen Confidential that "mise en place is my religion". I couldn't agree more, and would like to take that a step further by saying "the menu is my Bible" (you can quote me on that!). The plate that lands in front of the guest had better fucking be what the menu description said it was! The biggest lie perpetuated on menus is the ever present "wild mushrooms". Be it "wild mushroom risotto", "sauteed wild mushrooms", "wild mushroom compote", or "wild mushroom soup". Most of the time this means they used a blend probably consisting of Shiitakes, Portobellas, Criminis, White Buttons, maybe some White or Blue Oysters, and maybe even Trumpet Royales. While some of these are certainly exotic, NONE of them are wild! They are ALL cultivated! This is yet another of my biggest psychotic fucking hatreds! Blatant dishonesty in menu wording to make a dish sound more appealing. Believe it or not, this practice of lying to the dining public extends farther than you think. Even into the realm of sushi! Ever had Red Snapper at a sushi bar? You may think you have, but in actuality MOST sushi bars use Red Tilapia and call it Snapper. There are several reasons for this. The first being it's cheaper and looks so similar when cut into the small pieces required only a well trained eye can discern the difference. Then there's the fact that real Red Snapper looses it's color quicker and therefore doesn't keep for more than a couple days. It also doesn't freeze as well. Yes, contrary to popular belief, most sushi fish has been frozen, but there are good reasons for this that even I can't bitch about, primarily to kill parasites. The final, and maybe biggest reason this ruse is so far widespread is the unreliability of the fresh product. Red Snapper is a delicate fish that needs to be served as close to catch as possible, so it's a dice throw when you order it whether or not it will be of high enough quality to serve it raw. Health Inspectors: As soon as you see that strange face with a clipboard walking through the kitchen you know it's that time again, health inspection. Nothing gives cooks the feeling of walking on egg shells like one of these megalomaniacal power-tripping twits. Not that I'm saying they aren't needed, but the fact is most health codes were written for keeping in line the slack-jawed, hockey helmet, nose picking fucktards that work for street vendors, fast food chains, and chains like Denny's. In short, the lowest tier of this profession. The ones that don't know any better, don't care, or don't understand the germ theory of disease. In most cases those of us in the upper echelons of the industry understand better than the inspectors what is risky and what isn't. The constant changing and morphing of the health codes just adds to the frustration. They seem to delight in the fact that they know since their last visit their cryptic and sometimes illogical canon of guidelines has changed, and they also know you are unaware of this. Therefore they have no problem citing you for an infraction that just six months ago was a non-issue. They also seem to enjoy citing you for things they don't even recognize without asking any questions. I was cited once for "open container of gravy at room temperature". When, in fact, if the hyper-vigilant fuckwad would have asked me what it was it wouldn't have been an issue. It was roux, not gravy... butter and flour are the only ingredients, it's cooked thoroughly, and they are BOTH safe at room fucking temperature! In most restaurants the health inspector visits every six months or so, and it's usually unannounced. So whenever they show up there's a covert mad dash in the kitchen to make sure the walk-ins are organized, everything labeled and dated, and all is up to the last known set of standards. Passing an inspection 100% is nearly impossible, though, because even if the inspector can't find anything to bitch about, in most cases they will just look harder until they do. Not wearing gloves is their favorite citation. It appears they would have us sleep in the damn things, and the procedure they want us to adopt most of the time is impractical at best and not cost effective by any sense of the term. I once worked at a bar that served a lot of burgers, and the health inspector said he wanted to see the guy running that station put on a fresh pair to pull them out of the cooler, another to toast the bun, another to handle the toppings (which were getting cooked anyway) and yet another to season and put the burger on the grill. That's 4-5 pairs of gloves for EVERY burger sold, and we sold around 200 every lunch alone! Close to 500 every day! We got 4-500 fresh burgers in every morning! Do the fucking math! That's a huge expenditure in latex gloves! Most of the time they're getting served medium and medium rare, so the customer OBVIOUSLY understands that it will be undercooked, and menus are fucking REQUIRED to include advisories about undercooked meats! So how is this an issue at all so long as the cook in question washes his hands on regular basis?! Which, by the way, is another thing they harp on about, so every cooks station is within reach of a hand sink. They also like to drone on about the paper towel supply at each of the 4-5 hand sinks located throughout any kitchen. All the dispensers need to be full at all times, as if the paper towel fairy must be on his toes and replace every single used towel with a fresh one immediately! This is usually not a citation worthy offense, but they will still yammer about it every single time they come through. If the dispensers are less than totally full, you're gonna hear about it. We'll fill it back up when it's empty, asshole! I'm not gonna waste any time of my already hectic day to refill the paper towel dispenser if there are still usable towels in it! Get a fucking life, and get over your over-compensating Napoleon complex! You have the power to shut us down, whoopty-fuckin-doo! If there is honest reason to do so, go for it! If there isn't, again, we have knives.... a lot of them... and grease traps that conceal bodies quite nicely.... I'm not tryin to say anything, just sayin.... Parting words: I hope this little tirade enlightens somebody that needed it. Even if it does not reach any of the groups mentioned it was written as catharsis to begin with, so it's already served it's purpose. To me, anyway. I'm guessing most people browsing the food blogosphere don't fall into any of these categories, so self therapy is probably the best I can hope for, but I know there are those that find my rants amusing. In all honesty, so do I! So self entertainment was also accomplished. Phew, that feels better already! Now hopefully I won't be quite as aggravated the next time a waitron fucks up or some douche-cunt orders well done lamb chops..... but I wouldn't count on it... I know myself well enough to know better... Jack

Getting Curried Away with Ice Cream

The stars of the show.

The theme was Curry, in all it's various forms. Well, 5 of it's forms, to be honest. There are more than that, but how could you fit it all into one meal while trying to showcase each one? Masman, Red, Green, Yellow, and the one we will be focussing on today, Madras. I hosted this one. My house, my menu. The most interesting course (to me at least) was the dessert. Me, with my self proclaimed dessert indifference, had an idea for one. Being my first try at it, the original results were a little heavy on the mint, so this recipe will be a little lighter with it. Regardless, the results were amazing, and went well with both the Mango tart served with it (provided by Raquel) and the Bourbon County Stout, from Goose Island in Chicago, that was chosen to pair with it. Because the mint was so strong it fought with the beer a little bit, at least I thought it did, no one else present commented on it. Truth be told, I hijacked the base recipe from "The French Laundry" and tweaked it to get the mint and curry in. So here it is:

The Madras curry singled out

Madras Curry, Vanilla, Mint Ice Cream: The ingredients: 2 Tablespoons Madras Curry paste 1 Tablespoon Fresh Mint chiffonade 2 cups milk 2 cups heavy cream 1/4 cup sugar 1/2 vanilla bean, split 10 large egg yolks 1/2 cup honey (preferably wildflower) The procedure: In a 1 quart saucepan over medium heat toast the curry paste lightly, stirring the whole time. When fragrant and starting to brown slightly, add the cream, milk, and 2 tablespoons of the sugar to the pan. Scrape the vanilla bean and add it to the pot with the pod. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and allow the flavors to infuse for 30 minutes. Rewarm the mixture.

Madras curry/mint Ice Cream with Mango Tart.

Meanwhile, in a mixer or metal bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until thickened and lightened in color. Gradually whisk in one third of the warm milk mixture to temper the eggs. Return the mixture to the pan and stir over medium heat until the custard has thickened and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Add the mint chiffonade to a bowl set over an ice water bath and pour the hot custard through a strainer over it and stir in honey to combine. Let the custard cool at room temperature, move to a container to refrigerate for at least 5 hours. Overnight will give you an even creamier texture. Freeze the cold custard in an ice cream machine. Remove to a covered container and freeze for several hours, or until hardened. Or for a shorter time if you like it softer. Scoop and serve. I've made ice cream in the past and I always wonder why people think it's so hard and time consuming. It really isn't. Home made ice cream can really add flair to a dinner party and give the guests a sense that you went all out. So give it a go! The recipe above can be tweaked to provide a myriad of variations, too! Next up I'll be reviewing this years crop of Oktoberfest options including the classics and whatever little known micros I can get my greasy paws on. So until then, make some damn ice cream! Jack

Pleasure and Pain: A Night Out at the Estate

So it was decided among the four of us that comprise the core of the group that we were gonna go check out a Filipino restaurant. This particular place was located near a corner we all knew well, because next door to it on one side is a Japanese grocer we'd all been to before, and on the other (right on the corner) is a Brew-pub I've been meaning to check out. On top of that, Da Nang (mine and Bob's favorite Vietnamese restaurant) is across the street on the corner. Raquel had been to this particular Filipino restaurant, Royal Kubo, many years ago and said it got her seal of approval. Herself being of Filipino decent, we took her word on it.

Noble Fish (sans patio)

Ian was gonna be joining us late, around 8:00, so the plan was this; Bob, Raquel and I would meet at Noble Fish, the Japanese market with a small but excellent sushi bar in back, and upon Ian's arrival the four of us would venture to Royal Kubo next door, and finish the night at the brewery on the corner. The night did not go as hoped.... The decision was made that I would drive to Bob's and the two of us would car pool from there. We arrived a little early at about 7:00, and parked in front of Da Nang, since it's all within walking distance. Da Nang now has a new patio, and as we walked passed we noticed the owner out at one of the tables. We stopped for greetings, a short conversation, and Kim asked us if we were going to be needing a table. We told her of our plans, she quickly and half jokingly chastised us for not coming to see her. We explained that most of us had never been to Royal Kubo and wanted to check it out. We parted and made our way to the market (we probably would have gone back for a brief goodbye anyway, we were thinking). Bob and I arrive at Noble, do some shopping, and Raquel arrives. We all continue browsing the aisles, commenting, cracking jokes, trying our hardest to restrain ourselves from buying everything in the damn store! Quite a few gems were found, I stocked up on few things I wanted to have around and bought a new Makisu for work (rubbing it in that MY bill would be tax deductible because of this). Bob, in typical fashion, dropped a large chunk o change, one memorable item were these crabs no bigger than a quarter, fried whole, seasoned and sealed in a plastic bag like potato chips. Raquel showed quite a bit of restraint with only a few items purchased. We all retired to Nobles new patio (seems to be a rash going around on that corner, all the places we visited in that immediate area had brand new patios) and awaited Ian, snacking on some of the booty begotten from the market. Those little crabs were awesome! So tiny that fried, as they were, the shells had a crunch like a thick cracker, and the crab flavor was intense. Bob and I both immediately wanted a beer to go with them. Ian arrives and decides he can't be standing if front of Noble and not pick SOMETHING up. He goes in to emerge a few minutes later, having shown the same restraint Raquel did with only a small bag of plunder. We all make our way next door to the restaurant. Upon entering we stood confused... There was no "Seat yourself/Please wait to be seated" sign, and no employees in sight. Spreading out slightly and moving into the minimalistic decor of the sparsely populated dining room, walking toward the large curved bar directly in front of us, scanning the doorways for any sign of movement that might indicate that they actually WERE still open. I overheard a bit of the conversation from one of the tables we passed, not catching any details, but they were apparently confused about something to do with their bill. Soon a lone waitress (and only employee, it seemed) emerged and gave us passage to seat ourselves. We decided on a table, and after a wait of a few more minutes, she made her way to our table, menus in hand, and scurried off. We looked over the "menus" placed in our hands with something like bewilderment. They were two pages of worn paper stapled together, photocopies of what was obviously a real menu at one time. Bobs was stapled together backwards, and there were items on them that were crossed off in sharpie. Things did not look good... Bob made the suggestion to leave at this point, but I was gonna try to look past this, trying to be optimistic. Maybe the food would be worth it!(?) The server returned a few minutes later to take our drink orders. I was first and asked what beers they had (no surprise there) but the server was struggling to recall the bottle list. I ordered the first non-crap offering that came out of her mouth just to cut the pain of her awkwardness short. Kirin, an Asian beer I'm quite familiar with. It came to Raquel, she asked if they carried any Plum wine. The waitron standing before us looked confused. She hesitantly asked, "Is that like sake?" Raquel's stammering response was, "No.. it's... like Plum wine..." with an obvious 'duh!' look on her face. Waitron unit then informed us she was unsure, and mentioned that she could go check if we so desired. Bob said, "Could you please?" with what was, apparent to the group, the intention of getting her to leave, promptly. "Let's go..." were the words from Bob's mouth as soon as she was out of earshot. My response was, "Noble's next door, they have a sushi bar, and Da Nang is right across the street..." It was decided, instantly and unanimously... Da Nang. Almost embarrassed at the thought of walking out while the hapless server fumbled through coolers in the back to put together our drink order, I tried to make it out the doors before she made it back, but I knew there was no time for that. I saw through the window in the door to the kitchen that she had, in fact, located the Plum wine. I heard Bob's voice from behind me remark, "It's ok, we're just gonna leave." Knowing who he was talking to, I didn't even turn around, the door was just a few feet in front of me... Out on the street, on our way to Da Nang, a memorable part of the conversation was Ian's comment of, "That was like walking down the street and seeing a guy laying on the sidewalk that just got the shit kicked out of him." The sentiment struck home with all of us. The cringing pity at seeing someone who'd just had insult added to injury, whether he deserved it or not. Strolling into the dining room at our new destination, Kim had a look of delighted surprise when she saw us, quickly ushering us to a table on the patio. After being seated Bob asked her, "Why didn't you warn us?!" Kim's diplomatic reply was, "Well, I didn't want to badmouth the place, I wanted you to find out for yourselves." "You still coulda warned us!" Bob snipped, in typical Bob fashion. Throughout the rest of the evening, periodically and from out of nowhere Bob would say, "God, that place sucked!" (even on the ride home). Upon being seated, Ian informed us that we were "breaking his cherry" as far as Vietnamese goes. The response from the rest of us was an almost simultaneous, "Huh? Really?!" We were not disappointed in the least, but that was no surprise, we never have been there. The next hour and a half was perfect. Kim, always attentive, came out periodically to chat. We all shared appetizers; spring rolls with shrimp, scallion and pork along with a papaya/mango salad with shrimp and sweet lime dressing. Ian and I had a few glasses of wine between us, sampling each others of course, and we all got the Pho. That beef, noodle and broth soup that is the pretty much the national dish of Vietnam. Raquel, surprisingly, got the tamer version of what the boys got. She's not one to back down from odd foods, but she apparently has an aversion to the tripe that was in the version the rest of us got. Not like us to order identically when at a restaurant, but we KNEW it was gonna be amazing, and Ian, never having had Vietnamese before, felt it only appropriate to start with Pho. They have a Malbec on the wine list (can't remember the name, though) that Ian and I were pleased to find goes with Pho quite well. It played well with the basil, melted into the broth, and embellished the chili peppers. Malbec is my favorite varietal, so finding out almost by accident that it pairs well with one of favorite dishes was a huge bonus. The night air was very pleasant out on the patio. Not hot and humid, as it's been lately, but comfortable with a slight, but cool breeze. Therefore, the massive quantities of Sriracha, raw Jalapeno, and chili paste we were shoveling into our steaming bowls of beefy, brothy goodness (especially Bob and I), didn't make us sweaty and miserable. It was the perfect meteorological accompaniment. We were blissfully content. It seemed we had achieved nirvana... The meal wound down and Kim was closing up shop at this point. We all ate way too much. The saving grace was it was all very light on the stomach, so we weren't uncomfortably bloated, just satisfyingly stuffed. Bill paid, tip given, goodbyes said, we made our way to the brewery. Ian and Raquel headed straight there, Bob lingered a bit to chat with Kim, while I ran our haul from the market to Bob's Jeep. In the ram-shackle interior of the Black Lotus Brewpub, we found ourselves a table (the patio didn't have any tables available that would accommodate four) and quickly realized there was going to be live music on the stage right next to the table we chose. Raquel is the bass player in a cover band, and I, being an ex heavy metal frontman, didn't mind the thought of live music, but it was mentioned that this wasn't exactly what we had in mind. The waitress was a bit slow getting to us, and getting us our drinks. Ian and I were the only ones that ordered, we got the tasting, all brewpubs have them. A collection of small glasses, six at this venue, each containing a different beer made on site. By the time our order arrived the band was already in the middle of their first song. Instrumental jazz, and, as it was later commented on by all of us, very well executed. Those guys knew their instruments. The beer, while not horrible, really didn't impress. The flavors were dull and flat. Too many micro breweries tone down their brews to appeal to a mass audience, or maybe the brewers are over-reaching their abilities and palates (also common among chefs, might I add). I say, have the balls to stand out from the herd! In the case of the Black Lotus I think it was an over-reaching brewer. He was trying to do a few things different, but, unfortunately, they fell short. The pilsner was forgettable, the apricot pale ale was decent at best (Magic Hat #9 is by far superior), the seasonal heffe-weizen wasn't very "heffe", the IPA was dialed back a bit, and the dunkel weiss had no spark. I don't even remember what the sixth one was... Bob was heard to say at one point, "I've never seen two guys not enjoy that much beer!" There wasn't a lot of conversation, the band was a bit loud from our front row seats, Ian and I pondering the beer, Bob texting friends about our adventures this eve, and Raquel and I watching the band, impressed by the performance. While the music wasn't our "cup o tea", they were talented. About six songs into their set we had finished our drinks and finally got our bill from the server. Paid, tipped, run for the door. By this time it was about 11:00, and out on the street saying our fair-well's for the evening the emotions were quite mixed. However, we were still pleased with it all. Despite what could have been a very unpleasant taste left in our mouths, it was Da Nang that washed it all away. Kim, and her staff, had saved the day!

The Steak in my Heart…

It occurred to me the other day how few people understand the enigmatical U.S.D.A. beef grading system, or the differences in cattle varieties and their origins. So that seemed as good a topic as any to cover next. Different cuts and where on the animal they come from is something else I should probably cover briefly, as well, since that too seems to be a mystery to some. Let's talk about marbling first, however. Marbling refers to the veins of fat running through the muscles of the animal. Not the fat surrounding them, but the fat running through them. The U.S.D.A. has three basic meat grades. Select being the lowest (meaning least amount of fat marbling throughout the meat), next comes Choice, and then Prime is at the top. The prices inflate dramatically according which grade and cut you choose.

Prime, Choice, and Select grades side by side

Cuts: A quick lesson on butchery. When a carcass is broken down it's cut into four "Primals" in the U.S., and from there the sub-Primals and separate cuts of meat we end up with. The tougher cuts, which tend to have less marbling, are almost always the cheapest. Examples of those would be Flank, Rump, and Brisket. The tenderloin (Fillet Mignon) being an exception to the rule of less fat=tougher meat, is the most tender. Basically, the further you get from hooves or tail, the more tender the cut of meat will be. The tenderloin is located under the ribs in the center of the animal. Ironically, the tougher cuts tend to have more flavor. Fillet Mignon is probably a chefs least favorite cut because it's nearly flavorless so it needs a lot of help to coax out what flavor IS there. But it's the biggest seller in steak houses because it's the most tender and most expensive, since it's a very small loin and you only get about 10 pounds of it per average sized steer. An exception to the marbling/flavor/toughness rule would be the Flat Iron, which is a relatively new cut, meaning it wasn't until recently that butchers figured out how to market it because of a large strip of inedible sinew ("silver-skin" in industry jargon) that runs through the center of the muscle. A quick and economical way to remove it was developed, and now Flat Irons are a big hit with restaurants because they pack a lot of flavor AND have good marbling AND they're relatively cheap.

Flat Iron Steak

The most popular steaks outside of Tenderloin, being Ribeye (a.k.a. Delmonico), NY Strip, T-Bone and Porterhouse, all come from the muscle that runs down the back and above the ribs of the animal. These are all derived from one of two sections (or sub-Primals), the Rib Loin or the Short Loin. From the Rib Loin we get Ribeyes if cut into steaks, or Prime Rib if roasted whole (the name "Prime" Rib does not reflect the grade in any way). From the Short Loin we get Fillet, Strip, T-Bone and Porterhouse steaks. The only real difference in any of these is the way the Primal is broken down. If you just saw it into steaks you get bone-in Strips, T-Bones, and Porterhouse. If you de-bone it, you get Fillet, and boneless Strips. Confused? Ok, the large muscle on the one side of the bone in the T-Bone and Porterhouse is the same muscle as the Strip steak, just not be-boned. The smaller muscle on the other side in a Porterhouse is the Fillet (don't worry, I'm including diagrams). The tiny bit of meat on the other side of that bone in a T-Bone is the tail end of the Tenderloin, because the loin tapers at both ends. So, the only difference between T-Bone and Porterhouse is where on the loin the steak is cut from, be it where the Tenderloin is thicker or near the end where it tapers off.

T-Bone Steak

Porterhouse Cut

Boneless Strip Steak

Tenderloin Steak, or Fillet Mignon

Grading: When the butcher get's his hands on the steer it's already been cleaned and halved. The very first cut he makes in the hanging carcass is between the 12th and 13th rib, and that cut separates the Rib Loin from the Short Loin. This done, he quickly evaluates the grade by examining the fat marbling in the cut surface of the Short Loin. In days past they would then roll an ink stamp over the fat indicating the grade. This is no longer in practice, however, but most of you probably remember seeing the blue ink on the fat layer of the steaks in the butchers case at the local supermarket or butcher shop. That's what that was, the grading stamp. Now, just to further confuse you, I'll talk about cattle varieties. Black Angus is very popular here in the U.S.. Black Angus cattle are a breed that was imported from Scotland in 1873, and have since been bred to acclimate the breed to the slightly warmer American climate.Certified Black Angus simply means it's been deemed to be of top quality among the herd. I've heard that Scotland has the best tasting beef in the world, but I've never had Scottish beef, so I can't tell you first hand. Judging from Black Angus, though, I wouldn't doubt it... A chef I used to worked with and myself did a blind taste test once between CAB (Certified Angus Beef, CAB is more industry jargon) and U.S.D.A. Prime. At the time I worked at an upscale steakhouse that served only Prime, until (that is) the big "Mad Cow" scare drove the price nosebleed high on Prime, as if it wasn't high enough to begin with. This forced the owner to look at other products. So the chef and I tasted, side by side, a medium rare CAB NY Strip and a medium rare U.S.D.A. Prime NY Strip. We BOTH liked the CAB better. It tasted more "beefy" than it's Prime opponent, which had a quite subtle flavor.

The Marbling of Kobe

The word "Kobe" is getting thrown around a LOT these days. The SUPER marbled and SUPER expensive breed of cattle. This refers to a Japanese cattle variety, that much I'm sure most of you know. Here in the States, however, most (if not all) of the "Kobe" sold is a cross-breed of Japanese Kobe and American Black Angus. This cross-breeding allows for the signature Kobe marbling in an animal that's better suited to the different climate here in the States. In Japan, they belong to a group of breeds called Wagyu breeds (another word getting tossed around in the restaurant world like a midget at spring break). Of these, Kobe is actually the most affordable... if that tells you anything about the rest of them. Mishima, another Wagyu variety, is somewhere around $150 a pound! And that's in Japan! Good-fuckin-luck gettin your hands on it here! Even IF you could (and it's a damn big "IF") that price would probably double. That astronomical amount is due mostly to the fact that only about 100 head are raised every year. Ground beef: Something that has bugged me for years, that Anthony Bourdain addresses in his most recent book "Medium Raw", might I add, is why the hell does ANYONE bother with Kobe burgers? Kobe has a very subtle flavor, and most burgers aren't going for subtle... On top of that, the whole reason you buy Kobe is for the marbling, the fat content. When you grind the meat you can add as much fat as you want. The industry standard is pretty much 80/20. That means 80% meat, 20% fat. That throws the whole concept of Kobe right out the window! You want higher fat content in your burgers? Grab some some suet and throw that shit in the grinder with the meat! Easy! The way I see it, Kobe is really only good for a few cuts. Those would be Strip loin and Rib loin. But what about the Fillet (a.k.a. Tenderloin) you ask? Rubbish, I respond! Fillet has almost no fat at all, Kobe or not. So what's the point? Angus is much better suited for any application where Fillet might come into play because it has, as previously mentioned, a kick-you-in-the-teeth beefy flavor. The reason I say these are the only good cuts of Kobe is because they are the ones that will best showcase it's natural gifts. Kobe Prime Rib, Ribeye, or NY Strip are the ONLY way to enjoy Kobe. All other cuts, you're better off using Angus since a lot of the tougher cuts require more cooking time, which means more fat loss, and, as I've already mentioned, the Fillet is nearly useless. Despite all this bitching, I must say, a room temperature, thinly sliced piece of raw Kobe strip loin dipped lightly in soy sauce (Kobe sashimi, if you will) is fucking HEAVEN! Room temp because the fat softens, trying to eat cold beef fat is like chewing on Play-do... So, in the grand scheme of things, of the most popular breeds and grades of beef, the flavor breakdown goes something like this in my opinion: Select Choice (good cut of meat, and most bang for the buck) Prime CAB (Certified Angus Beef) Kobe (for those limited few cuts I mentioned) The price breakdown is a bit different, however, looking more like this: Select Choice CAB Prime Kobe The flavor breakdown for the individual cuts goes something like this: Flank, Flat Iron, anything from the Round Primal (hind leg) Anything from the Sirloin Primal (hip area) Brisket, Short Ribs, Skirt Steak, anything from the Chuck Primal (shoulder) T-Bone, Porterhouse Boneless Strip Steak Ribeye and Prime Rib Tenderloin or Fillet Mignon To conclude: You will NEVER go wrong with Certified Black Angus beef! Almost universally better tasting and (depending on the cut and application) middle of the road as far as price point goes. For the cuts that are leaner, or if you're gonna do a braised dish (which will render all the fat out anyway), Select or Choice will work great. But, if you're lookin for a steak, that American classic, just a big chunk of grilled or seared beef, Black Angus beats ALL in most cases! My personal favorite cuts for a steak are Flat Iron, Strip (bone-in or T-Bone), Sirloin, and Ribeye (a bone-in Ribeye is often called a "Cowboy Cut"). For a braised dish you can't beat Short Ribs, and Rare seared Flank get's honorable mention for steaks, though it's best used sliced thin for sandwiches. On a budget, though, Flat Iron for the win. Maybe even NOT on a budget! It's THAT good! Now that I think about it, I've never had a Kobe Flat Iron.... It might just change my opinion and add another cut to the list of Kobe superiority... Well, I hope that cleared up any confusion you may have had while pondering the myriad of choices at the meat counter looking for the right hunk o dead cow. Until next time, live well, and eat better beef!!! Jack Video on YouTube of CAB steer being butchered

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