Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Out and About

After a long hiatus of not eating out, and looking at a long run in the future, I’ve happened to eat at both the Greenhouse Tavern and Fat Head Brewery within the past 8 days. I’m happy to say that between the two places I spent less than $100, including drinks, which is very impressive and important these days. Generally I liked all the food I ate. I had chicken wings at both places. This isn’t because I’m a chicken wing fanatic, but is why my bill came in so low. Both places did wings differently, and very good. The Greenhouse wing that had no skin, where very crispy, borderline dry, with no sauce, but they where amazingly tender and the meat fell off the bone in a mind blowing fashion. I have to find out how they do that. I’m not a fan of really crisp wings, which these were, but they were very enjoyable. The FHB has two wings on their menu, fried and smoke house. We got the smokehouse with honey chipotle sauce. The wings tasted great, served whole which I liked, and there was a very full meaty smoked flavor. The sauce was pleasantly hot, but overpowered the finesse of the smoking.

Beer, Beer, and more Beer!!! Greenhouse had a nice list of artisanal beers, a limited number on tap though. FHB had some 50 beers on tap. Matt Cole is the brew master there, formerly of Rocky River Brew Co. I was not a fan of RRBC beers. They all tasted the same, and /or overly flavored. This is very much not the case at FHB. We tasted 4 different house made brews and all were very different, flavorful and filling.

The green factor was mostly absent at the Greenhouse. I was hoping the server would pontificate the environmental responsibility of the ceiling tiles or something to draw my attention to the amount of time and money spent on making the restaurant a responsible one. Instead we found half filled labeless wine bottle on our table. After a quick inquiry, a unanimous discussion was made to push what was described as ‘table water’ to the side. I’m not drinking water from a bottle that’s been sitting on the table before I sat down. We were advised of a $5 split plate charge on a pasta dish that we all agreed was rather excessive. Give the explanation that it’s an ‘inconvenience’ to the kitchen did not soften the blow given my personal flexibility with splitting plates or sharing ect…

To charge for bread or not, that is the question. Unfortunately most dinners would agree that a good dinner starts with and overflowing glass of water that is always full, and an endless basket of bread with either butter or oil, whichever the restaurateur want to give me for free. For the environment we stopped pouring water endlessly, but bread? When I see how much goes into making bread, or how much money is spent on bread, it’s very understandable to charge for bread, but what if bread comes with an appetizer and you ask for more (3 people sharing 5 apps). To go against the grind is always hard, and this is something that has creeped up on us recently. In the kitchen I’ll tell you charge them for bread….and extra for the butter….but when I’m at the table I’m thinking, “everywhere else gives me a little piece of bread, what the hell?”

I’d go back to both, without question.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Local poll results

Local may be a word that can best be defined by what it isn’t rather than exactly what it is. For instance, local can be far away, but not too far away, and if you are at the cut off for far away and can see something just over the hill, well then that isn’t too far away either. Geography might only begin to describe what local means, for example Amish, are considered local to this area of North Eastern Ohio no matter the exact location of this specific group of people. Local could very well be defined by growing regions, but even these lines blur, but surely here in Cleveland I would shy away from local citrus fruit for example. All of these are ideas up for conversation, but from the poll results we can all agree on two things that local are not; first, anything grown in the USA, or secondly processed goods that use raw ingredients that are close to the processing plant while neither are close to you.

From what I’ve read in the NY Times the second of these two ideas that we agree are not within the definition of local are exactly the ideas that big business are pushing on use, and I’m both offended and scared by this. Organic labels means very little to me these days. The idea has been watered down to the point it too is better defined by what it isn’t rather than exactly what it is. I’ve discussed organic with farmers and dinners alike and most people convey that “organic” has a feeling of both corruption and elitism. Perhaps I’m interpreting this to the extreme. But it’s a slippery slope till labeling things as local gets the same stigma.

I regress, and wait patiently for my favorite farmers markets to open. Only 2 weeks till Lakewood and Kamms.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Must Read

With regard to the current poll, and my personal opinion of the state of food today I urge you to read this piece from the NY times. This is just the tip of the iceburg on how bad things can get. When prepared food companies give up on sourcing raw products in a honest, safe, humane way, the consumer is horribly in trouble. I guess it really comes down to, "every man for himself" in the world we live in today.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Leg of Lamb

Last week I wanted to play with a meat special or two. We are consistently offering multiple seafood specials, and they are moving out the door at a nice pace. Lamb was the perfect option. It’s more interesting that any old cut of beef off the grill, yet it’s familiar enough to draw people’s attention. I left a note to order 10 legs of lamb, when I really only wanted ten pounds. Luckily they ran small, between 2.5 and 3 pounds each. They were butchered wonderfully. They were not butterflied open and rolled up like I’ve seen in the past. The bone was cut out in a way as little of the meat was cut through as possible. The guys down at Dee Jay’s do an amazing job. The flavor profile was great as well. Very nice looking meat with little sinew or fat. I am very happy with this product and hope to find a place for it on the menu for the summer.

My first instinct was to simply roast the whole leg with some herbs, salt and lemon. It took about 40 minutes at 340 degrees to get a nice crust, but a rare inside which allowed a little leeway in re-heating the portions. I cut 6-7 oz portions to order, laying them on sizzle platters with parchment on top and a few drops of water. The platter sat of the flat top for just a few minutes to warm the meat up. We served this with either fingerling potato ‘steak fries’ or rosemary-roasted garlic whipped potatoes, sautéed Brussels sprouts, and either a cucumber-mint cream or smoked tomato vinaigrette. The end result was great. The meat was very tender, and the slow cooking rewarded us with an even doneness throughout.

After selling out of roasted lamb two days in a row it was time to mix things up! It’s been a long time since I had a nice, simple, chunky, fresh Greek salad the way my old friend Nick used to make us. I figured something so pleasantly simple would be a great base for lamb. So keeping with the Greek theme I cut up two legs into one inch dice, roughly 1oz portions and marinated it in dried oregano, black pepper, lemon zest, sea salt, lemon juice, lemon infused oil, and extra virgin olive oil. I don’t make a dressing per-se for my Greek salad, but I don’t like using straight red wine vinegar either. I make red wine syrup consisting of 1 part honey to 3 parts red wine vinegar and the slightest dusting of corn starch of which gets reduced to a loose syrup. I like to use this with olive oil over the vegetables, but the key is giving the whole thing a good hard stir, this way all the vegetables give up a little liquid to the dressing. The lamb got a hard sear for about 3 minutes in a non-stick skillet and a 2 minute rest off the heat where I squeezed a little fresh lemon juice overtop. This was an amazing meal. I don’t eat full meals very often at work, but I devoured one of these salads, and wanted more.

For this coming week I’ve begun work on a long time vision. I’ve had lamb Reuben knocking around in my head for years now, so finally it will happen. When 10 pieces of lamb where delivered last week instead of 10 pounds I knew this was my chance. I took three whole legs of lamb and started them in pickling brine for corned beef as described in Charcuterie by Ruhlman and Polcyn. (As a quick side note, I’m finding this book a true reference. I find myself referring to its pages more and more often. At first glance I wondered how relative it could be on a daily basis, but it provided a great jumping off point for a number of situations, and I can say that I’ve not been let down by any of the recipes.) The legs should be done in the brine tomorrow, Tuesday. I plan to cook them even slower than the roasted ones, an hour and a half at 325. Then cool it and slice it on the machine. I plan to use pickled red cabbage, a thick chunk of Middlefield Swiss, and a house made Thousand Island over rye of course. We will see what happens?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Oh the pain!

I managed to cut my right point finger on the inside crease of the first knuckle. It's a tiny cut. In fact I don't remember it happening, and you can barely see it. It's almost like a crack more than a cut. Surely there is no blood to speak of. Unfortuanatly though, this is the finger I stick in the salt and pepper cups to season food all night. On top of that, I insisted on sqeezing fresh lemon juice on the sautee'd lamb. Now, a little salt and lemon juice never felt so good. Quick math, we did about 12o covers, lets say only 100 ordered entrees, and the other 20 orders a salad or something I don't cook, well, that's nothing, ok, about 3 things. So for every entree I cook at least one side that needs to be salted, then 80% of the proteins are cooked to order so another 80 items to be salted, plus 10 lemons squeezed. Jeeze, that's 190 plus clicks on the ouch meter. Good things I've got two days for that little stinger to heal.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Got Local?

It wasn’t long ago that a term like “local organic products” drew a small, yet committed crowd of individuals who had similar ideas about farming, food distribution and environmental responsibility. Today it seems that everyone from the President to the free soup kitchen wants to use these kinds of bold statements in a very general sense. Look at how big business snatched up the term ‘organic’ twisted it, and chipped away at its meaning leaving us with little more than undersized produce with a bright sticker on it declaring its organic-isity. Ever wonder how that adhesive on the sticker could possibly be healthy to digest? The same is being done with the idea of “local” and the big boys are gearing up to destroy yet another adjective that once was very meaningful.

Kim Severson examined some of these ideas with a bit more objectivity in this week’s NY Times, it can be found here.

I’ve posted a new Poll that centers on this information, thanks in advance for polling.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Poll Results

Another poll comes to completion, and we are lucky to have a total of 30 votes placed. That is a record so far, thanks to everyone who participated. I’m very impressed by the results. I’m not a big fan of the pot luck. I’m sure if we could get a group of chef friends together all willing to shell out a few bucks and the results would be fantastic. Unfortunately, Aunt Edna, Uncle Bob, and the neighbors three doors down all get involved. I’m not un-appreciative of their enthusiasm, just the quality of their output. But, from the looks of these poll results, if I was to invite my blog readers to pot luck, we would be very pleased.

Where did the votes fall? Most people are looking to ‘wow’ us with their pot luck creation, and we sure can’t complain about that. A good number of individuals are born leaders and jump on the proteins, the bulk of any meal. There is always space on any pot luck for more protein. Man cannot live on macaroni salad alone….no matter how good it is. A few people would not hesitate to stick with what has worked in the past, and there is nothing wrong with this approach. If it ain’t broke, don’t try fix’n it. A very small majority of people, in fact only 2, would try pulling the wool over our eyes playing the old switch it out game with some of their dirty old dishes and store bought food. I don’t condemn this, if you can’t, don’t want to, or buy something really good, then go for it. Lastly, stone soup!

Stone soup is not a real dish, at least not in the way I intended it. Stone soup is something of a personal philosophy that cooperation among differing people will result in a greater good. The story of Stone Soup is a Grimm Brothers tale in which 3 travelers/soldiers are wondering the country side in search of nourishment. While not a single person in the city they come upon is willing to furnish them a meal, each person is willing to donate a small garnish to the pot of soup the travelers started by adding a stone to a pot, and offering the end product to the community as a whole.

I like the idea of stone soup, it’s a romantic tale, it shows people have heart, a true love for each other. It’s got 1967 Haight-Ashbury written all over it. Everybody gives a little and you end up with a lot. No CEO bonus money, no buy-outs, no stimulus…no organic, no GMO, no E. coli….no interest rates, jobless rates, or rat race. A single person with a pot and a stone, yet in this day and age we’re worried he would hit us with the stone and put all our pot luck delicacies in his pot and run off.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


At first glance asparagus is not all that special. It's available year round. It's consistently sized and priced. It's a standard on a lot of restaurant menus, and is almost universally liked. We can identify it in the restaurant by its awkward and bulky plastic box. Most people don't understand what white asparagus is, cooks included, but it's a rare find at the local grocery. We identify asparagus as a spring harvest, but eat it year round sourced out of South America.

If this is your general opinion of asparagus please check out this quick read in the NY Times.

My opinion; I tend to make asparagus for myself only when it's a local harvest. I've worked with a lot of asparagus in my time in the restaurant, and every once in a while you get some and say, "Damn, that's tasty," but who knows what the next case will taste like. I'm finding it difficult to instill the superiority of local asparagus in my staff and patrons, I think because it is so widely available year round. Even I have a renewed appreciation for asparagus after reading the Harold Magee piece. I will keep trying.

Monday, May 04, 2009

New poll

The last poll drew alot of attention, 23 submissions! And with very interesting results to show for it. I figure with the graduation, picnic, shower season in full gear, where do you stand when it's your chance for culinary glory? The new poll is currently open.

Last weeks pics

Wild Alaskan Salmon, sweet corn risotto, house cured bacon, pearl onions and ramps.

This is a row of plates waiting for rainbow trout; fresh artichokes, pearl onions, radishes, English peas and golden beets with a smoked tomato vinagrette.

Fresh artichoke and ramp brushetta. First we soaked the bread in browned butter, then topped it with a ramp pesto, sliced artichokes and parmasean cheese before toasting it and topping with a chifonade of ramp tops. I want to run this again but with Lake Erie Creamery Carphilly cheese melted over top.

House cured bacon that is sliced up and ready to go. I was really happy with how this bacon turned out. It's Curly Tail Ranch pork that I cured it for 7 days in equal parts sugar and salt with garlic, thyme, and chili flakes. After rinsing off the cure I cooked the large pieces at 200 degrees for 2 hours. The sweet and salty flavor is really enjoyable without cooking the bacon any longer. I thought the slices of this bacon that I crisped up lost alot in depth of flavor. The process is really simple, It's definatly worth doing again.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

My Favs

Cory over at Trials of a Young Cook set me up on this one, his post is here. My opinions are as listed:

Favorite Domestic Beer: Steel Reserve
Favorite Import Beer: Moylan Brewery, imported to Cleveland from Cali
Favorite Red Wine (varietal): Chimney Rock Cab.
Favorite White Wine (varietal): Camus Conondrum
Favorite Liquor: Wild Turkey 101
Favorite Non-Alcoholic Beverage: Water
Favorite Candy: Jelly Beans
Favorite Movie Theater Snack: Popcorn
Favorite Carnival Food: Soft Pretzle
Favorite Chip: Vinager
Favorite Vegetable: Fresh Artichoke hearts
Favorite Fruit: Banana
Favorite Protein: Eggs
Favorite Cheese: Right now, Lake Erie Creamery Tomme, epouisse a close second
Favorite Nut: Toasted sliced almonds
Favorite Dessert: Aged manchego with truffle honey at Momocho
Favorite Cookbook: Culinary Artistry by Dornenburg and Page
Favorite Knife: Pink knife from Target that no one else touches
Favorite Cooking Style (technique): Sauces, everything from reductions to vinaigrettes
Favorite Food Show: Bourdine’s No Reservations, I like the travel parts too
Favorite Mexican Restaurant: Momocho
Favorite Asian Restaurant: Buddikan, Chicago
Favorite Bar: The Lodge, Chicago
Favorite Fast-Food: Rally’s
Favorite Cheap Eats Restaurant: C-town pizza delivery
Favorite Fancy Smancy Restaurant: Bistro Pierrie, Philly
Favorite Local Restaurant (any): Subway, consistency!
Favorite Not So Local Restaurant: Morimoto, Philly

What Would Your Last Meal Be: Foie Gras and sweetbread wrapped in bacon, and smeared with maple syrup then slow roasted and served over brioche with a stone fruit gastrique, sliced almonds, and flambae’d with drambuie, and to drink a bottle of Makers Mark, and for dessert, one ripe mango.


So, what's been going on?

Wild Alaskan Salmon is available, at 18$ per pound, it’s gonna be a long season.

Alaskan Halibut is beautiful, and half the price.

Fresh artichokes are available, so are English peas and pearl onions.

I like shucking peas, don’t mind trimming artichokes, absolutely hate peeling pearl onions!

I visited Murry Hill Farms in Wakeman, Ohio. It’s a wonderful place. Makes me want to live on a farm.

Fiddleheads are in too, but I don’t mind cleaning them.

Fresh picked Asparagus from Murry Hill Farm is awesome, so are the Blue Eggs!

When is the farmers market going to get started already? Lakewood? Kamms?

Organization is the key to success.

At the restaurant we buy milk in a five gallon bag that we pour into a bucket with a spout that has a label that reads, “Leaky”?

The Black River Café sign is very small, and oddly placed, if you can’t find us, we are across the street from Subway.

After all the fuss, now my dad want’s to try sushi.

If you where the only two people in a restaurant 20 minutes after they closed would you feel uncomfortable?

I need to learn how to make 2-3 unique desserts and stick to them.

My 40 minute commute is sometimes tiresome, sometimes relaxing.

Why isn’t the volume level of music in the dining room ever consistant from night to night?

The volume level needs to be adjusted as to mute the sound of our foul language coming out of the kitchen.

I bought a pink knife with hopes no one would ask to use it, this stategy has worked!

Lamb meatballs with tomato sauce and feta has been the only special that bombed so far.

Why do the Sysco croissants suck so badly? Can you say, “Flake”

Lake Erie Creamery and Mayfield Creamery are two very awesome local companies.