Sunday, January 28, 2007

Obvious Observations!!!

In this past weeks edition of the Free Times, Douglas Trattner wrote the following,

"A chef friend of mine likes to bitch that in Cleveland there are hundreds of restaurants but only one menu. While a wee bit overblown, that statement possesses more than a kernel of truth. Just take a gander at the menus of your favorite restaurants. I'm willing to wager blindly that each contains some, if not all, of the following culinary chestnuts: artichoke dip, crispy calamari, crab cakes, steamed mussels, wedge salad with blue cheese dressing, Chilean sea bass, braised short ribs and flourless chocolate cake

Whoever said that "variety is the spice of life" obviously hasn't been dining in Cleveland."

If there was ever something so wrong, yet so true at the same time I don't know what it is.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Weekly Specials

Soup: Lobster Consomme served with butter poached lobster and root vegetable carpaccio

App: Ahi Tuna Confit topped with a blood orange cream, tabiko caviar and toast points

Entree: Grilled Tuna Steak, Foie Gras potato puree, grapefruit glazed baby carrots, Cabernet wine syrup

Foie: Seared Foie Gras, topical fruit salad, black pepper tuille, mojito Vinaigrette

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Foie Gras Variations

Seared La Bella Farms Foie Gras with Grilled Apricots, Pickled Cherries, Rasberry Vincatto, and Spicy Black Pepper Tuille, finished with Vanilla infused French Sea Salt

This is Three Variations of Foie Gras with a Foie Gras mousse, foie gras and pork pate, and seared foie gras

Seared Foie Gras on country wheat bread served with a lobster-blood orange salad, white asparagus panna cotta, and pickled white asparagus

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Weekly Specials

Soup: Classic pork and chick-pea Pasole
Golden Beet Bisque with goat cheese and balsamic

App: Crab and blood orange salad served with a white asparagus panna cotta and pickled white asparagus

Entree: Sauteed Shrimp and Scallops, roasted garlic potato puree, braised zucchini and yellow squash, garlic-herb butter

Foie Gras: Seared La Bella Farms Foie Gras, grilled apricots, pickled cherries, black pepper tuille, Villa Monadori balsamic vinager

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Story of Camembert

If you've ever wondered what the difference is between Brie and Camembert, this story will explain. If you've never wondered about it, this story will be like learning about Citric acid cycle in the 8th grade — something you remember studying, but can't recall anything about.

A long time ago farmers used surplus milk to make cheese. This was a use-it-or-lose-it time in history before refrigerators and freezers. Brie was a well-known cheese that came from the district around Brie, France. France has a very strict naming tradition — Champagne is a well-known sparkling wine from Champagne; Chablis is a chardonnay from the town of Chablis and Dijon mustard was developed in..., Dijon.

Some time during the French Revolution a farm wife in Normandy hid a priest, who was on the run, from Brie, city. Anyway, you gotta figure that the farmer made the priest help with the chores, so as a result, the priest probably passed on a few secrets from his cheese-making days at the monastery.

Evidently, the cheese was a hit because the woman kept making it and all her neighbors clamored for the recipe. Knowing the value of a secret, she passed the recipe on to her daughter who eventually set up shop in the nearby village of Camembert. One day Napoleon III was in town for the opening of a rail line. During a PR tour of the town he tried the cheese and dubbed it "Camembert." The celebrity endorsement was good for business and she lived happily ever after. The only problem is that Camembert is a style of cheese that can be made anywhere.

In our current times, where man has deft control of temperature, fat percentages, and micro-organisms, there are two main differences between the two cheeses. First, brie is made with more butterfat, making it oozier and creamier. Second, Camembert is made with Penicillium camemberti, while Brie is made with Brevibacterium linens. It has been my experience that the two cheeses look exactly the same, and eat very much alike. Depending on the desired preparation it seems clear that when we want something more firm we choose Camembert, it’s that easy.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A new year of Weekly Specials

Soup: Bell Pepper Bisque with pancetta, goat cheese and basil oil

Salad: Fresh Hearts of Palm salad with frizee lettuce, pine nuts, raseberries, basil-lime vinagraitte, raseberry vincatto

Entree: Blue Cheese encrusted Stripsteak with porcini mushroom risotto, grilled white asparagus, carmalized onion vinagraitte

Daily Foie: Seared Foie Gras with cippollini onion gratinee, arugula salad, Villa Monadori Balsamic Vinager

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Braised Red Cabbage and Spatzle

What we have here is a real treat, true comfort food. These two dishes separate are good, but together are fantastic. If you do the shopping right the whole thing would probably cost under $10 for a couple days worth of wholesome goodness. At the restaurant we serve this with a seared boneless half chicken. The best part is the process. For an hours worth of work, the house fills with a wonderful scent of cabbage. You get a nice warmth from boiling the spatzle, and when it’s over, the results are immediately irresistible.

Braised Red Cabbage

3-4 # red Cabbage, cut into 1/4 inch wide strips
1 red onion, and 1 apple are optional
1# bacon
½ cup each honey, red wine vinegar
1 tsp each cinnamon coriander, anise seeds
½ tsp clove

It seems like a lot of cabbage, but your likely to discard some rough outer leaves, and the core we do not use. I like to use a fair amount of bacon, one pound is a minimum. At the restaurant I like to grind the bacon, but that seems too much for a home project. I would julienne the bacon if I bought it already sliced. In a oven ready pan lay out the cabbage, sprinkle over the spices, top with the bacon, and pour the honey and vinegar over everything. Cover this with foil, and bake at 350 for an hour. After an hour you should have tender cabbage, rendered bacon, and a fair amount of liquid at the bottom of the pan. At this point I like to stir everything up, remove the foil, and let the dish cook another 10 minutes or so to concentrate the syrup at the bottom.


2# flour, about 1 quart
2 large tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
2 cups whole milk, or buttermilk

First thing to do is get a pot of water on to boil, make sure to add lots of salt to the water. You also need an ice bath, so empty out your ice cube trays and start more. The easiest way I find to mix this batter is to put all the flour in a big bowl, pick a bowl a little bigger that you might think. Build a little well in the middle of the flour and put the eggs and mustard there with ½ the liquid and gently stir this up as to break the eggs and slowly incorporate more flour. Once this little mini mixture seems thoroughly incorporated, mix in all the liquid and almost all the flour. I find it easier to adjust the consistency by adding flour to make it thicker if need be. The final batter should be quite thick, a lot thicker than a pancake batter, but only slightly thinner than a freshly combined bread batter. You should find it tedious, almost difficult to stir, then it is thick enough. When the batter is nice and tight, and thick, you get nice large spatzle. If the batter is too thin you end up with little droplet like spatzle.

The spatzle batter needs to be pressed through something with holes directly into the boiling water. The first thing I would look for at home would be a colander. Using a spatula, a spoon, or even your hand, put about a cup of batter at a time into the colander, and press down pushing the batter through the holes. By pushing down, you encourage long, thick spatzle to drop. If you push the batter over the holes in a scraping motion, you get smaller spatzle. The dumplings need to cook for about 3 minutes, then go into the ice bath. They need to be cooled before further cooking otherwise they tend to melt away.

Once all the batter has been cooked and cooled, drain off and dry the spatzle. The spatzle should be getting done right about the hour mark for the cabbage, so while the foil comes off the cabbage we need to get a large Sauteed pan on medium high heat going, with a nice wad of butter. As soon as the butter melts, add some spatzle, a nice thick crowded layer is ok. The spatzle should begin to brown up on the outside producing a quality crunchiness surrounding a soft, moist center. When the spatzle are browned up nicely, I like to add some chopped up parsley and thyme, and maybe some more butter if things seem a little too dry. The spatzle should have a crunch, but they shouldn’t tink the pan like a popcorn kernel would, that would be too dry. At his point, the cabbage is done, and hot, the spatzle are ready, and upon mixing the two together, well you will see for yourself what happens next.

2006 in Review

Year in review

I’ve read every local news outlets year in review, whether it be world news or simple restaurant opening and closings. I’ve found little substance behind the blurbs of news. It’s like looking at old newspapers and being reminded of all the articles you read, but forgot, and in most cases for good reason. What really happened in the past year is more a personal questions opposed to a statement of facts that did in reality occur during the past 365 days, and that is what I want to share. If you are interested in which restaurants opened, closed, relocated, and or restaffed I offer you the links to the left, as for what happened to me the past year, I will tell you. These are the top 5 topics of the past year.

Number One: The year started off in rough waters. The prospect of a change of ownership hung over the restaurant like a bachelor party or cigar smokers. The tension was thick. Fortunately, the transition was as seamless as could be imagined. One day you knew who owned and operated the business where you worked and gathered a paycheck from. The next day it was something of a mystery, the doors opened for business, cooks clocked in, diners payed their check, but to and from whom did the spoils go? No one was fired, demoted, or badmouthed, yet no one was introduced, promoted, or given a raise. The staff spent the next few days examining the new faces that tapped away at computers and dialed safe codes, and as best a batch of bumbling restaurant workers could do, they put 2 and 2 together.

Continuing on a good note with the change of ownership came significant physical improvements to the restaurant that made my work all the more enjoyable. Doors and walls where knocked down or cut into, chicken wire fence was replaced with large walk-in cooler storage. Internally installed AV equipment appeared along with wi-fi, and holy cow another small bar appeared. All of this leads one to believe that the business is in fact a success and heading in a positive, upward growing position. Unfortunately, the lack of ‘ownership’ has left most with a question mark for the future. Where is this business heading? What goals are the restaurant striving for?

Number two: Who can you trust. Easy come, easy go is how I like to distance myself from most co-workers. I hope that they come on slow and contribute to my work. I hope that they leave slow and contribute to their work in the process. I believe that staff turn-over and promotion within the industry as a whole is positive. I’m not at all offended if my dishwasher finds a cook position and leaves, or my cook finds a sous chef position and leaves. I’d rather not they leave in a fit of hell and fury on a Friday night, but everyone is going to move on eventually. This is something I respect. Unfortunately, within the past year I’ve not had one staff member leave on such a positive note. I’ve had one guy go to jail, two guys go to re-hab, another drug addict that is just on the street. I’ve had someone work all of 4 shifts before they showed up absolutely hosed resulting in their termination. The kicker is they wanted a pay check!!! Who can you trust? Well, I guess it’s back to the drawing board this year.

Number three: It has been a pleasure to meet a lot of people at the restaurant. In any week I likely see close to 500 different faces. It has been like that for years now, so to spot an athlete, musician, doctor, or old friend is somewhat common if you’re looking hard enough. For me two people stand out. Paul Kahn from Blackbird restaurant in Chicago dinned at the restaurant a few months ago and I was lucky enough to have a few words with him. I have great respect for the food he prepares at Blackbird, as well as the experiences I’ve had there twice in the past. His restaurant is close to perfectly white, and designed with silk and sultriness. The food is point on. I’ve labeled his style mid-west chic. This is due to the ability to take mid-western comfort food, both ingredient, recipes, and concepts, and make them cool and accessible to modern restaurant trends. Paul Kahn has also been published in Art Culianire Magazine, with an impressive spread. Art Culinaire is one of my future goals, so it’s quite inspirational. Blackbird has allowed me the best overall dinning experience and I’m glad I was able to convey that to Paul personally.

The second person I’ve most enjoyed seeing at the restaurant is Joe Jerivicious. When I was young and in high school I was lucky enough to play football against a lanky tall kid who caught every football thrown his way. Fortunately, this kid went on to make it big, hit the NFL, played in some big games, and now plays for the hometown team. That is just a great story, and I’m glad to see him every time because it inspires me to work hard. Joe is also active in the March of Dimes Foundation, and it was an honor, even in a rather distant way, to work with him during a recant benefit in which the restaurant served lobster nacho.

Number Four: I’ve been drawn in to the cowardly act of picking a favorite book over the past year, and I’ll go as far as to pick two, because two new books might last only half as long as one good old one. I doubt if this is the case for these two volumes. 'Charcuterie' by Ruhlman and Polcyn is fantastic. While it might well have been released last year, it has taken me the past year, a meat grinder, and a bunch of salt to test out the theories and recipes in the book. I’ve found them to be solid, well organized, and thorough. I’m sure 'Charcuterie' is a book I’ll be checking back to for many years.

It has occurred to me in the past that Andrew Dornenburg and Karn Page are quality writers. I’ve used 'Culinary Artistry' as a reference for the past 5 years. 'Becoming a Chef' made my early days exciting, and their writing from the view point of a food critique was amazing. 'What to Drink with What you Eat' is my new best friend. I am absolutely positive that the next wine dinner menu I write will be expodentionlly better than the last without the help of 'WDWE'. An amazing work, this is not comparable to any wine book available. Being a Chef, wine is part of your day, cooking, de-glazing, drinking, but we haven't had to put much thought into it, until now. If you wanted it red, put red wine, otherwise put white, and no matter what ending volume, one cup usually suffices. WOW, we just turned things on there head with this book. I’m so excited to go into the kitchen again with this knowledge.

Number Five: I’ve discovered two restaurant in the area that I found impressive, inviting, inventive, unique, and worth a return visit. This is quite the statement, because the math tells me in the past year, 365 days, I’ve had about 600 decant meals, and to say a quarter of them I where eating out, then I’ve had about 125 experiences of dining out this past year. I’ll forgo my favorite pizza place, or fast food drive thru indulgence, and go for quality.

Melt in Lakewood is an absolutely fabulous concept followed with quality execution. The food, the feel, the service, is all what you wish you had at home. The menu is engulfed in an old vinyl album cover, you remember those monsters. Somehow they collected all the hits too, I’ve had Twisted Sister, Motly Crew, and Black Sabbath on my recent visits. Basically we are talking about a sandwich shop, Melt beckoning the spirit of grilled cheese, but way better. The food you get at Melt is exactly the food you would make at home if you could, but you can’t. The bread is cut thick and incases not only cheese, but coldcuts, brats, fried fish, chicken and veggies. Some sandwiches are all together tempura deep fried, but they all come with hand-cut fries and a cabbage slaw. Now to be honest, sometimes the fries are limp or the cabbage is saucey, but I came here to get what I wish I had at home, and damned if Mom gives a shit when the fries are a little limp. Melt is the kind of place I could go to once or twice a week for a good long time. You don’t have to break the bank, the beer selection is better than good, and the food, well, in heaven every meal will be enveloped between two double thick slices of bread, and served with fries and slaw.

I’ve long held the opinion that the amount of wine you drink while dinning out should directly reflect the distance you travel to any dinning destination. For the past three years Boulevard Blue has been open, and I’ve considered it a dangerous personal trek to that area of town. Barriers are meant to be broken, and recently they exploded with my enjoyment of dinning at Boulevard Blue. The room itself has a playfully light blueish silver glow, like a cloud Yet all the furnishings are dark making for a very warming space. The amount of white space and steel demands a comparison to Blackbird, and both places are just impeccable. The food at Boulevard Blue was quite impressive. Quality dishes, with quality ingredient, prepared and presented in a thought out manner that demanded respect for the chef. The Three Little Pigs entree is my new favorite entree in town It consists of three preparations of pork, compounded with a bacon wrap, and sauces. The drinks at Boulevard Blue are expertly prepared as well, I sampled my sisters Carribean Cocktail that was served layered in a martini glass. Every lady should be so happy as to get a layered martini drink. Even the 5 or so draft pours drew awe from me, I would have had one of each if the opportunity was appropriate. Everything about Boulevard Blue was exceptional, from the valet, to the well kept restroom, and for this I’m bound to return.