Other People’s Cooking

now browsing by category

Occasionally someone in a restaurant cooks something worth eating.

 

Brining for you

Bob likes to explore local markets and buy things he's never tasted or even heard of, all in the name of science. It's been a banner season for exciting new vendors to Detroit's Eastern Market: The Brinery from Ann Arbor is as much to the sour end of the scale as Slow Jams is to sweet. Brine-master Dave has honed naturally fermented pickle perfection from an alluring array of Michigan-centric ingredients that are sure to please many a mouth. (Aside: I should get an award for that awesome alliteration.) The first thing most eaters know of fermented foodstuffs, even if they don't realize it is Kimchi. Surprise, gang - Kimchi is rotted cabbage, hot peppers and when you're eating the hard core authentic stuff, anchovies or oysters.  The Brinery currently offers two varieties of Kimchi, one with the fish and one without, however the 'with' is being phased out, since the fermented fish is a difficult ingredient to source as locally grown/produced. I've been cleaning a jar of 'with' since I met Dave a few weeks ago. The Kimchi is tart, with the right heat level to warm the mouth without an obnoxious after-burn. (I'm not a hot head, despite my collection of chile pepper based sauces and ingredients) The texture an ideal ratio of crunch to squish and as you can see in the photo, the color is a beautiful fiery orange that can really play a great contrast to many dishes for you plate artists.   Full disclosure: my grandparents tell me I've more polish heritage than anything else. To that end, I've been eating and enjoying sauerkraut my whole life. I approached Storm Cloud Zapper with the highest scrutiny. As with all of The Brinery's products, this european take on rotted cabbage is naturally fermented and naturally colored with all Michigan sourced ingredients. (Dave takes "Made in Michigan" VERY seriously.) This kraut lives up to it's label. It's bright, tart flavors, excellent texture and the striking purple made this my immediate go-to kraut for any meal. This is how kraut should be. If you've traditionally disliked the stuff, swing by The Brinery booth and give it another try, because this is the one that can sway you.     Last on this week's review is a jar of pickles. Detroit, the McClure brothers didn't invent pickling. It's time you knew. In this particular jar The Brinery saw fit to naturally ferment Michigan carrots, garlic and hot peppers. The result: WOW. A full on frontal assault against the ho-hum of the average dill pickle. The pleasing snap and subtle sweetness of a good winter carrot coupled with an undeniable tang of fermentation, matched with a garlic and pepper heat that will definitely put a little sweat on the brows of milder mouths while keeping the hot heads happy as well. This jar was the first to empty. Like all of The Brinery's products, the presentation worthiness of this pickle is top shelf. The three beauties pictured in this article are indicative of Dave's entire product line: everything looks as good as it tastes and tastes as good as it looks. Find The Brinery products at Detroit's Eastern Market, Ann Arbor Farmer's Market and various groceries in Ann Arbor and beyond. See their Web and Facebook pages for more info. -///
A consummate nerd, yet still plays well with others.

Getting into quite a jam

  Slow Jams arrived onto the Eastern Market scene in Detroit last month with an awesome name and a tremendous product line to match. Jams in both traditional and refreshingly new flavors, sure to compliment any application from Sunday morning breakfast to Friday evening's cocktail. Disclaimer: my usual condiment cravings lean towards things based firmly in the tomato paste, fish sauce and chili pepper world, so it is with great delight that I have such high praise to deliver in regards to what I had previously regarded as a category of foods best left to my grandmother. This is a very personal product every step of the way. Made by hand in small batches and sold at markets around the Metro Area by the ladies producing it in their weekly "Jam Sessions", this is as close as one can get to a product without picking the fruit and doing the process themselves. Betsy, Shannon and Christina are creating something that is definitely worth eating. I picked up three  jars during my visit to the Slow Jams Jam Stand on their inaugural Saturday in November  which I felt would represent a good cross section of the product line based on old standards and newer flavors I'd experienced elsewhere as well as something totally new to me in the world of Jam. The goods: Raspberry Basil - I use Raspberry as a barometer for jams and jellies the same way I use Sweet & Sour chicken to judge the caliber of a Chinese take-out joint. If you can't do anything good with Raspberries, you'll be dismissed rather quickly. (Why not grape? While certainly the most common in western culture, I simply don't care for it.) This is indeed a very good Raspberry. The Basil is a supporting player here, subtly rounding out the fruit without every truly making an appearance from the background. It's a good Jam. Lots of chunks of fruit provide texture to go with the beautiful dark red color and no-mistake about it Raspberry flavor. My toast was happy and so was I - they passed the litmus test and I boldly moved on to the next jar, for science!   Sweet Pepper - I've had pepper based jams in the past and while unique, none of them ever had been more than a novelty. Novelty is not a god repeat business strategy. I was very pleased to find a sweet jam base which carried with it a warm savory flavor and ever so slight amount of heat on the edge. There is a great texture here as well as the occasional hint of green from the peppers which tastes like a warm summer day. I'll out myself right now: the Sweet Pepper jam is my favorite. I ate the whole damn jar in two days. On the second day I didn't even have crackers or any other kind of carrier, I ate it with a spoon. It's that good. I ended up buying more the next week. I even went so far as to buy a pepper jam from another local vendor and was disappointed when it paled in comparison to Slow Jam's version. If you only ever muster up the courage to step outside of the traditional Jam box once,  Sweet Pepper is the Jam to do it with.   Tomato & Basil -Never once has anyone uttered the words Tomato, Basil and JAM together in a sentence to me before. It was the double-take moment. Like.. Spaghetti sauce? What the heck is this? A totally new food concept for me, which is immediately followed by acquisition. That's how I roll, gang and I'm rarely disappointed.  Slow Jam's Tomato & Basil jam is no exception. A very good balance of savory and sweet with this jam. Like it's Raspberry inspired cousin above, the basil here is not a prominent player, but stays back to provide a familiar but subtle supporting character. I'll reassure you that there is no essence of spaghetti sauce here. This is tomato in an unfamiliar way - the acidic nature is completely removed. This is Tomato if tomato were every day sweet as watermelon. Like the other two (and I suspect ALL Slow Jams jam) the texture here is every bit as fantastic as the flavor.  

I mentioned using Jam in a cocktail earlier and like any article here on the Rogue Estate, I write from experience. I used a dollop of Raspberry Slow Jams Jam in a concoction involving The Rogue Estate's neighbor Valentine Vodka and club soda. The Jam added flavor and sugar in same way one would with a classic shrub, without the fuss.

Slow Jams maintains tastings at their sales table, with featured jams of the week available for your "try before you buy" enjoyment. Each week you will find special flavors available based on fruits available and other seasonal factors. I've yet to try anything that wasn't top notch delicious. With such a good track record, I may even be persuaded to give that old standard Grape another try. Slow Jams can be found on both Facebook and Blogspot for more information including recipes and purchase locations. -///
A consummate nerd, yet still plays well with others.

Quick Shot – Oliver Farm’s Chicken Bratwurst

New for Autumn 2011 from our friends at Oliver Farms, of Fostoria, Michigan: 100% organic chicken bratwurst!  What could inspire me to write about chicken anything? Read on! I received a pack of the brats for review, slow cooked 'em sealed in the vac-bag sous-vide method for 45 minutes, then brought them out to brown & finish in the cast iron. The result: a straight up honest chicken sausage. Oliver Farms uses a light hand on the herbs and seasoning which compliments the meat without overpowering the delicious subtleties of meat which came from real chickens, not battery birds homogenized into briny oblivion. The texture is fantastic. No gristle and chew, nor finely ground mush like mass produced products, but a real pleasant "hey this is real meat" mouth-feel and a satisfactory snap from the casing. As this is a chicken product, the bratwurst can be used as a lighter protein addition in any number of dishes that call for sausage or related forcemeats and will play well with most seasonings and sauces. This and other Oliver Farms high quality organic products can be ordered from their website and picked up at Farm markets located around southeast lower michigan, including Detroit's Eastern Market. See the Oliver Farms website for more information. -///
A consummate nerd, yet still plays well with others.

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_

Other People’s Cooking: Dà Nang Restaurant

Shrimp and Papaya Salad
My fellow Rogue Estate residents and our friends have been making a concerted effort to seek out more of the Metro Detroit area's uncommon culinary gems as of late and it's a trend I'm thrilled to be a part of. We've been discovering some wonderful cuisine and making great new friends along the way. Such is the case with Da Nang in Clawson, Michigan - a contemporary locale offering traditional Vietnamese menu crafted with quality ingrediants, decades of skill and much love. Every dish a work of art that pleases the eyes as well as the palette. The backbone of any Vietnamese restaurant is of course the Ph? or hot broth and noodle soup. Da Nang's is made in the traditional manner, providing clarified broth that is full of flavor but not full of fat. Several varieties are offered including beef, chicken and shrimp with all the usual condiments to really customize your dish. It's a hearty, filling meal that is sure to please and a wonderful introduction to the culture for the uninitiated. A beautiful array of starters, sides and other dishes await your discovery as well - two of note which I've had the pleasure of eating and can highly recommend are the spring rolls and the G?i ?u ??, an amazingly refreshing and flavorful shrimp and papaya salad. I'm looking forward to my next trip to Da Nang and I hope you'll drop in to visit Kim and her staff soon. Share your experiences in the comments.

Da Nang Vietnamese Restaurant is located at One South Main, Clawson MI. Call (248) 577-5130 or visit their website for a full menu and other information.

-///

A consummate nerd, yet still plays well with others.