Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On the eve of lunch service

While opening for lunch doesn't look like much on paper, it is a whole different beast in physical form. In reality I have the prospect of doubling my workload from what it's been thus far. This is not much of a challenge....but, what if, rather, WHEN, we get busy!!??

The joy of this lunch launching is that I've changed a few dinner items in an attempt to begin an upscale swing in the items offered. In turn, I've come to the conclusion that making sandwiches is not an emotionally satisfying event. I have added five wonderful sandwiches to the lunch menu. Items that are high quality, tasty sandwiches, but it's not at all rewarding. I plan on spending my lunchtime finding ways to improve expenses and increase income.

In mentioning this upscale swing, I am adding to the dinner menu a braised pork belly, a cassoulet, pickled pear salad, and a ratatouille dish that are knock-your-socks-off winners. The pork has a Dr. Pepper glaze that is even better than I imagined it would be. The cassoulet has lamb, pork, beef and duck and is turning into my favorite dish already. I mixed up the classic pear and blue cheese salad by pickling the pears and using them as the acid which usually lives in the vinaigrette, but I'm dressing the greens with maple syrup. Works perfectly; add some diced butternut squash and mm, mm good. Ratatouille is a classic. Even after the movie of the same name, no one has really latched on to this wonderful dish. I've been a fan since my youth, graduating to caponata, but always remembering a good ratatouille. It's one of the rare recipes where a large variety of ingredients work together instead of against each other in order to make something wonderful.

As for the sandwiches, the classic chicken salad is great, in fact I'm eating one right now as I type this, it's good. The Thai chicken wrap is also very tasty, there is a lot going on in that wrap, but overall it reminds me of pad thai, which was our goal. The roast beef is just there to be the best seller because every guy that comes in is gonna get a roast beef and a Dortmunder - done, out the door, while staring at the TV the whole time. Hurray! The grilled cheese is special to me because I love my grilled cheese with onion and tomato, and if it's just right the tomato is warm and juicy and the onion is still sharp....perfect. One of my favorite movies is "The Last Time I Committed Suicide." It's based on a letter written from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac. In the movie, Neal comments that his bedtime beau made the best grilled cheese; melted, yet raw on the this point in the movie, she then went in the bathroom and slit her wrists. I take this to mean this type of sandwich is really, really good!!! Finally the Pan Bagnat - the classic French tuna salad sandwich, have I doomed myself using the French on the menu??? I'm sure I have, but it's a holistic thing. Tuna poached in olive oil, fresh made mayo, hard boiled egg, radish, I mean, there are parts of the world where this is the top seller, come on lunch crowd! You're all educated professionals, have some worldly culinary fun with me!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Lunch Sandwiches

These are our new lunch sandwiches begining this Wednsday, September 26.

Chicken Salad: Diced whole roased chicken meat blended with celery, shredded carrots, red onion, mayonnaise, and mustard. Served on thick cut white bread.

Thai Chicken Wrap: Modeled after Pad Thai whole roasted chicken is shredded and wrapped with carrots, scrambled eggs, peanut butter, and spicy hot pepper jelly.

French Pan Bagnat: Pan-bagnat means "wet bread". The Pan-bagnat is a popular lunchtime dish in the region around Nice, France where it is sold in most bakeries and on most markets. Our version is based around house poached and marinated Ahi tuna, which is fully cooked and flavored with garlic and rosemary. We add Ratatouille, hard boiled egg, radish, and chop scallions to this sandwich served on soft french bagette

Roast Beef: Classic roast beef cooked medium, and sliced swiss on rye bread with mixed greens, and a side of horseradish cream.

Roasted Garlic Grilled Cheese: Thick cut white bread smeared with roasted garlic and stuffed with a slice of tomato, and raw red onion with melted cheddar, grueyer, and goat cheese.

We will also offer the same 4 salads from the dinner menu, and 3 hot small plates as well.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Good Press

This good press appeared in Scene Magazine this week,

I also appeared in a two minute spot on Robin Swaboda’s local morning show.

This is great inspiration going into next week when we launch lunch service starting Wednesday September, 26. Likewise we are modifying the dinner menu next week as well.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Poll Results are in.....

This poll posted over the most perfect past 8 days in which we Clevelanders have been blessed with the passing of summer. It seems almost like a loaded question to ask at this time of the year. As expected "Falls Bounty is what draws people out to restaurants far more than patios or snow storms. Ironically "Springs rejuvenation" does little for customers. For a chef the regrowth of Spring is a welcome cure for the Winter blues.

Fall is also my personal favorite season of the year in which both to dine out and to cook. The fundamentally different thing between Spring and Fall for me, with regard to my cooking is that every Spring I want to try new things with the same ingredient. In the fall I am excited to get the same ingredient in so I can prepare them in the same way I enjoyed last year, and the year before. We all have our favorites; butternut squash soup, chowder, root vegetables, or braised..... well, braised anything really.

The menu at Wonder Bar will be changing soon with a strong turn toward seasonal dishes. I will be adding a pear and butternut squash salad, braised bacon, bean stew with lamb and duck, and keeping the wholesome chili and mac & cheese.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Another Week-end in the Books

After considering whether or not to even incorporate specials this weekend, Joe and I decided to keep pushing ahead. We took it as our mission to make the simplest, most common likeable dishes and let them sell themselves.

The soup was full of flavor, but might have sold better if it wasn’t 80 degrees outside with 100 percent humidity. Cocktail shrimp is so easy, and so common, we sold more of these than anything else all weekend. Beef has been one of our top sellers, but it’s difficult to justify its cost sometimes. Well, I solved this by building up the plate with a thick slice of potato and topping it with a sunny-side-up egg. Even the pudding sold, a few, but it tasted very good. I thought it was a little too firm, but I watched one customer eat two bowls. Guess I wasn’t the only one who thought it tasted good.

For next weekend I’m looking at more of the same. A stuffed shrimp and a beef dish. Maybe I should lay off the soup till the weather makes a definite turn. Something sweet......?

Sweet Corn Chowder w/ Honey-Cheddar Scones

3 Citrus Poached Shrimp, Tomato-Horseradish Aioli

Steak and Eggs w/ Baked Potato, Roast Garlic-Peppercorn Cream

Homemade Butterscotch Pudding

Week-end Pics

Steak and Eggs

Citrus Poached Shrimp

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tapenade re-visited

Over the weekend I had a discussion with another chef friend of mine about the origin of tapenade. She believed its origin to be Spanish, while I thought it was French. After a short discussion, we decided to go with a generic Mediterranean origin making us both correct to a point.The definition of tapenade has been manipulated by today's chefs to encompass almost anything pureed into something almost as smooth as a paste. Beans, tomato, cheese, shrimp and bell peppers are all ingredients that I’ve used in tapenade. When thinking about a more traditional tapenade, olives are the star.

While I don't have a specific recipe that I call my favorite, I will share some guidelines on what has worked for me in the past.

First, saltiness! Olives kept in a brine tend to be very salty. They can be drained, rinsed, or might even need to soak in lukewarm water to draw away some of the salt. Unfortunately, this does nothing to help the flavor of the olive. While they might be more expensive, oil-cured or marinated olives have much more flavor without the salt. To help get over the higher pricem don't send the marinade down the drain! Save the oil and use it in a vinaigrette.

Second, knife -vs- food processor. Without even going into the ingredients that might end up in a tapenade, it is important to understand that some foods just should not be put in the food processor. In my opinion, raw garlic, red onions, and leafy herbs are things that should not be processed, rather use a sharp chef's knife to cut the food. Opposed to ripping, tearing, and smashing the food which is what the food processor is doing a good amount of the time.

Finally, ingredients. I've made a lot of tapenade in my time, and the size of the batch directly reflects the number of ingredients. When I offered tapenade as part of bread service it was a simple olive puree. In contrast, when I’ve served olive tapenade as the sauce for a tuna dish it became quite complex. The most simple recipe would include oil-cured olives, roasted garlic, lemon juice and basil. A more complex recipe would have the addition of capers, anchovies, red onion, parsley and thyme. To give you exact measures would not prove to better things; you have to taste it. The makeup of your olive mix determines a lot, I prefer more kalamata than green. Overall the mixture should be at least 90% olives. Adding more doesn't always mean better, so keep things simple

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Tapenade is a Provençal dish consisting of pureed or finely chopped olives, capers and olive oil. Its name comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapéno. It is a popular food in the south of France, where it is generally eaten as an hors d’œuvre, spread on gourmet breads such as baguette or ciabatta. Sometimes it is also used to stuff fillets for a main course.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Poll Results are in.....

A very decisive 50% of respondents found the food to be the most memorable aspect of their best restaurant experience. I’m not too surprised by this outcome. Great service is something that is elusive and hidden, such that if things go as planned you don’t bother to give the service much of a thought. "Atmosphere" is broad term which got the least amount of votes. When I created the poll, I was thinking atmosphere in terms of both the restaurant's ambiance as well as the company with whom you were dining. Perhaps I should have separated those concepts, but I’m not sure it would have mattered. Clearly, food is the decisive factor to a great restaurant experience.

My personal vote went to "great service." I say this because of, for example, the service we got at Everest restaurant in Chicago a few years ago. Great service is not defined by the fact Lucy-in-pigtails didn’t charge you for all 6 Bud Lights you ordered and cut you an extra large slice of pie. Everest was a once in a life time experience for me, at least so far. The food was good, but being a chef I know that if you look hard enough you will find good food on any menu, and if not, I can cook for myself. What put this experience over the top was the quality of each staff member as well as the sheer number of them. There was someone in the lobby to get us on the elevator, someone to lead us off the elevator to the restaurant, a host who took jackets and seated us at our table. There was a different person who each poured water, took the food order, delivered martinis, took the wine order, opened and poured wine, re-folded your napkin if you got up and brought new flatware. Each course was a circus of plating table-side with the essence and craftsmanship that smacks you in the face. Broths and sauces, garnishes and plates whirled around my head like a fairytale or a daydream, all landing flat on the table in front of me, arranged like a picture, appropriately aligned with not one stray drop on me, the table, the floor; nothing was out of place or inappropriate.

"Perfect food" did win the poll, and if not for my experience at Everest I would have voted for food as well. I think it’s no surprise that people go to a restaurant with the expectations that the food be very good. Perfect is elusive and rare, but that is what makes it so special. For me, as a chef, I'm not embarrassed to say that some of the best food I’ve tasted has been food I’ve cooked myself, and some wasn't even food in a restaurant. I made a Christmas Cassoulet two years ago that was maybe the best meal I’ve ever had. This is the exception; it seems most people cook at home for survival, not satisfaction. This is good for me, because people come to the restaurant, where I can make every attempt to cook a memorable meal for them with Perfect Food

New Kitchen Tool!!!

My new Japanese mandoline finally arrived by mail delivery on tuesday, and I've promptly got the scars to prove it.

I'm glad it was new, and sharp otherwise I might have ripped a piece of skin off instead of these wonerfully precise jullienne slices.

This isn't the moment after the tragedy, it's just a dirty mandoline, a very sharp and dirty mandoline.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Another Week Bites the Dust

I tried to run specials again, and again complete failure. Everyone praised the dishes and I think both are nice dishes; the problem is that no one is coming to WB for the food. It's an afterthought, and as the chef I have to take measures to change this perception.

I found fresh lima beans at the West Side Market. DeCaro Produce usually has a unique selection of vegetables, specifically root vegetables that no one else has, and they had the lima beans. I made a succotash with goat cheese and fried egg. The final dish was outstanding, fresh tasting and local. We sold one, and it tuned out the guy really only wanted the fried egg

There is nothing more classic and easy to sell as a dish of figs with blue cheese and prosciutto. We serve it warm with pickled vegetables and maple syrup. How I can not sell $5 a pop....something is seriously out of balance.

This is our mac and cheese. Classic elbow macaroni with Bechamel and Gruyere, topped with Camembert and served with the optional duck confit or truffle bread crumbs.

This is a hybrid potato skin/twice-baked potato. We make a filling with potato pulp, shrimp, scallions and tomato, overstuff the potato skin and bake with cheddar on top. Served with an herb mayo, this dish has become quite popular.
Posted by Picasa