Sunday, February 25, 2007

Elevated Alpine Cuisine


My experience at the Cloud Nine Bistro qualifies as a true epicurean quest. At 10,740-feet elevation in the Aspen Highlands Mountain and Ski Resort, you can only access the aptly named restaurant by chairlift or snowcat. If that's not enough, they also require a reservation.

After multiple runs of ripping moguls or cruising wide lanes, you take a mid-mountain chairlift and ski down to a little green wooden shack. A former ski patrol lodge retrofitted for fine dining, it couldn't be more cozy and authentic.

Hungry diners burst through the door out-of-breath rosy-faced and windburned, squinting, sweating beneath bulky layers. Inside, steam rises from the kitchen fogging up the windows. The fireplace crackles and fine meats sizzle. Crystal wine glasses chime.

The decor is charming and decidedly alpine, full of ski signage, plaques, and paraphernalia. French blue checked curtains adorn windows looking out onto partial snowdrifts, icicles, and snow blowing horizontal. Wrought iron Raclette ovens sit in wait atop the tables for large parties. As you begin to feel the warmth and your sense of smell detects the aromas, you realize heaven resides at Cloud Nine.

At this point, there is only one thing on my mind: Fondue.

Oozing molten gold.

Cloud Nine has two traditional European-style fondues on the menu: cheese fondue and Raclette -- Swiss raclette cheese served with cornichons, air-dried beef, and potatoes, all cooked on the table-top ovens.

The best thing about fondue is the transformation it undergoes while you're eating it, from bubbling liquefied cheese, to a rich thickening gluey goo, and, finally, to the crusty carmelized bits on the bottom.



The second best thing is the wine paring for digestion's sake. We opt for a 2004 Gruner Veltliner (Wachau Gruner Veltliner Federspiel), which is lovely.

Other options on the menu are equally mouth-watering. Cloud Nine offers high quality organic ingredients from local producers, as well as world renown purveyors. Our second course is the daily special: Gruyere stuffed pheasant sausages wrapped in pancetta with savoy cabbage and yukon gold mashed potatoes. In a word, it's "to die for."

Meanwhile at the eight-top table next to us, a crowd of Patagonian ski instructors fire up their Raclette ovens. The process goes like this: First melt a hulking knob of butter on the top grill, then add 25-30 whole cloves of garlic. Let that go a bit, then add large potato wedges to cook in the buttery, garlicky goodness. Next comes the air-dried beef and raclette cheese. There are triangular-shaped iron skillets that fit into the middle section of the oven. Place a piece of beef in the skillet, top it with a slice of raclette and insert it into the oven until the cheese melts. Eat the beef and cheese with the potatoes and cornichons.

The Austrian chef and owner, Andreas, is happy to share stories with us. He insists on a complimentary sip of dark walnut liqueur before heading back out on the mountain. "It gives you a little spring on the slopes," he tells me. And we're all about good food and good form.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Apres-Ski Sampling

Fondue and Kirsch are hallmarks of apres-ski in the Alps. In Aspen, CO, we found some flavors and tasty bites that are new to the menu.


(Clockwise from top left)
Warm Goat Cheese Fondue with Sweet Potato Chips - $12
39 Degrees at Sky Hotel

Devils on Horseback
Bacon-wrapped dates and parmesan - $9
39 Degrees at Sky Hotel

Kobe Sliders
3 mini-burgers with carmelized onions and Herkimer white cheddar - $18
ZG Grill, Aspen Highlands

Lamb Cigars
Filo-Wrapped marinated lamb, pine nuts, currants, harissa, preserved lemon - $9
39 Degrees at the Sky Hotel

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

2.21.07: Wednesday Round-Up

Cherry-picked articles in this week's Food & Dining sections across the nation, by yours truly:

New York Times
Tracking the origins of a spaghetti sauce recipe and finding much more, by Kim Severson
+ RECIPE: Italian Meatballs
+ SLIDE SHOW: Making Italian Meatballs
+ RECIPE: Zappa Family Spaghetti Sauce

Tasting 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, by Eric Asimov
"Some Sunny French Accents for a Cold-Weather Braise," by Florence Fabricant
+ RECIPE: Short Ribs Provencal

Gordon Matta-Clark's Food utopia, included in the late-artist's retrospective at the Whitney Museum. By Randy Kennedy

Los Angeles Times
Pork dishes fit for the Year of the Pig. By Russ Parsons.
+ RECIPE: Ragù with pork ribs, sausage and pancetta
+ RECIPE: Cider-brined pork chops with wild rice
+ RECIPE: Five-spice roast pork belly

Much Ado About Chinese greens, by Amy Scattergood.
+ RECIPE: Scrambled eggs with garlic chives
+ RECIPE: Fu yu ong choy (stir-fried water spinach with spicy fermented tofu)
+ RECIPE: Stir-fried baby bok choy
+ RECIPE: Ru yi cai ('As you wish' vegetables)

SF Chronicle
Yet another take on long-cooked Italian sauces: "Seduced by Sugo," by Tara Duggan.
+ RECIPE: Nopa's 9-Hour Bolognese
+ RECIPE: Veal & Green Olive Ragu with Strozzapreti Pasta
+ RECIPE: Sugo D'Anatra (Duck Sauce)

A carnivore in love with vegetarian cooking. By Amanda Berne
+ RECIPE: Farro Risotto with Roasted Mushrooms & Chard
+ RECIPE: Shirred Eggs with Greens & Gruyere
+ RECIPE: Triple Citrus Salad

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Found: A Delicious Winter Caprese


Attention Mozzarella-Tomato-Basil Lovers: No need to lament the state of tomatoes during these dark winter months when Mario teaches you can always resort to roasting. The slow-roasting method reveals the flavor in these seemingly pallid duds.

Of course, you do want to go for the best tomato your market has to offer. To me, this means some kind of hothouse cherry tomato variety.

Picky purveyors Ricky and Lesley served up a pre-Lost viewing meal with Mario's Winter Caprese recipe as the powerful prelude. The dish achieves something similar to that of its summertime predecessor -- with warm, slow-roasted tomatoes, oozy mozzarella, dark pesto dollop and toasty pinenuts -- it is appropriately of the season.

Mozza's variation includes burrata instead of mozzarella di bufala bocconcini. A delicious modification, especially if using Gioia's burrata, the local California favorite.

If you decide to go burrata, be sure to go easy on it (this is difficult). The key to this dish's success is the balance of its ingredients. On our last visit to Mozza, Nancy Silverton was not manning the mozzarella output and we received a lavish amount of burrata in our caprese. True to the law of diminishing returns, I realized there can be such a thing as too much burrata.

+ RECIPE
Winter Caprese Salad

(from Molto Italiano by Mario Batali (HarperCollins, 2005), page 30)

6 Plum tomatoes, cut lengthwise in half (or large cherry tomatoes)
3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parigiano-Reggiano
3 cups fresh Basil Leaves, plus a few more for garnish
2 tablespoons Pine Nuts
4 large Bocconcini from buffalo mozzarella cut into quarters (or Burrata)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Place cut side down on a small baking sheet and bake for about 2 hours or until the tomatoes are softened. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and let cool.

Transfer the cooled tomatoes to a colander and set aside to drain while you make the pesto.

Combine the garlic and Parmigiano in a blender and pulse until the garlic is roughly chopped. Add the basil and pulse 7 or 8 times, or until the leaves are shredded. With the blender running, slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup of the olive oil, blending until smooth.

Toast the pine-nuts in an 8-inch saute pan over medium heat, tossing frequently, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.

To serve, arrange 3 tomato slices cut side down on each plate. Place a ball of mozzarella (or scoop of burrata) in the center, and spoon 2 tablespoons of the pesto onto each ball of mozzarella. Sprinkle with the pine nuts and garnish with the basil leaves.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

2.07.07: Wednesday Roundup

The cream of the crop in this week's Food & Dining sections:

New York Times
The exceptional qualities of unlaid eggs, by Marian Burros
+ RECIPE: Buttery Polenta With Parmesan and Olive Oil Fried Eggs

Evening Wear for Eggs: An American breakfast tradition gets dressed up for dinner
+ RECIPE: Garlicky Swiss Chard

The Minimalist Argues for Mackerel
+ RECIPE: Mackerel Fillets Simmered in Soy Sauce

The Scoop on Surinam Cherries

Los Angeles Times
Net Net on Nettles
+ RECIPE: Nettle Polenta
+ RECIPE: Nettle Frittata With Green Garlic and Ricotta
+ RECIPE: Nettle Tapenade With Anchovies and Crostini

High Time for Crepes: History, Tradition and Method
+ RECIPE: Sweet Crepes.
+ RECIPE: Galettes (Buckwheat Crepes)
+ RECIPE: Galettes Filled With Shrimp and Scallops
+ RECIPE: Apple and Calvados Crepes
+ METHOD: How to Cook Crepes, plus a step-by-step slideshow.

Los Angeles: Kimchi Capital of America

San Francisco Chronicle
Maple Syrup Makes a Move
+ RECIPES:
Maple-Roasted Squash Soup
Apple, Cranberry & Maple Crisp
Caramelized Maple Brussels Sprouts
Maple Almond Souffle Pancake
Pecan-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Maple-Dijon Sauce
Pear Salad with Blue Cheese, Hazelnuts & Maple Vinaigrette

Year of the Fickle Fungi
Chef Rob Hunter's quest for local wild mushrooms
+ RECIPE: Black Chanterelle-Duck Confit Spring Rolls with Blood Orange-Truffle Dipping Sauce

Mexican Cowboy Comfort Food
Gabriel Fregoso, chef and owner of Las Camelias restaurant in San Rafael, CA, recreates a traditional northern Mexican lamb stew
+ RECIPE: Charro's Chamarro ("Cowboy" Lamb Shanks)

Make-Ahead Black Bean Sauce
A time-saver with many tastey options, by Tara Duggan
+ RECIPES:
Chinese Black Bean Sauce (Adapted from Simply Ming by Ming Tsai)
Clams With Chinese Black Bean Sauce
Chicken & Broccolini with Chinese Black Bean Sauce

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Choice Chocolate

 "chocolate" recommendations at ThisNext

The tastemakers over at ThisNext.com curate their favorites in the world of chocolate. Some yummy and unique options for Valentine's Day.

Personally, I reside in the 70% cacao and higher camp.

So does chocolatier Kathy Moskal of Vere -- as featured in this week's New York Times' Dining section article "Pure or Molten, Chocolate Prepares for Its Day" -- who details the benefits of her confections.