Thursday, December 07, 2006

Restaurant Review HAIKU
Elf Café
Echo Park, CA

greek inspired spices
transcend top-shelf veggie fare
cabbage can excite

Elf Café
2135 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Google Map

More Reviews:
Metroblogging LA


Elf Café and its owners' band Viva K on MySpace

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

U-Turn for Mozza

While speeding back from Beverly Hills this afternoon, I decided to take my usual out-of-the-way detour past Highland and Melrose to spy upon the progress of Mario Batali's new restaurant location. Brown paper and smudgey windows still reside at the Osteria-to-be on the main corner, but much to my surprise the Pizzeria next door, Mozza, looks wide open and bustling with life!

I crank a serious U-turn and pull myself up to the pizza bar as quickly as possible.

I hit the tail-end of the lunch rush, so my timing was perfect. A review of the menu: squash blossom, burrata and tomato pizza -- Done!

As an added bonus, co-owner Nancy Silverton, the famed LA chef and mozzarella guru is manning the pizza bar. Nancy is known as THE purveyor of the freshest cheeses in town -- her cameos at Jar's "Mozzarella Night" and "Grilled Cheese" Thursdays at Campanile have both become LA dining institutions. Now Nancy has partnered with Mario Batali in what promises to be the primo pizza spot in LA.

Perched on my barstool, I watch Nancy and her two pizza chefs go to town. As each pie emerges from the raging wood-burning oven, Nancy inspects the pizza, shouts out pointers to her staff and then finishes it off with a turn of olive oil and a dusting of salt, pepper and fresh herbs. The 10-inch pies are super thin in the center with gorgeously large aerated puffs around the perimeter. Sometimes when the puffs come out a bit charred, Nancy takes kitchen shears to each pie and trims off the overly blackened spots. This pizza is glorious in these "imperfections."

Some of the main ingredients are also added by Nancy at this finishing stage. Dollops of burrata are scooped atop the pie after cooking (the waiter told me the burrata gets too chewy if put in the oven to melt). Nancy also carefully folds paper-thin prosciutto di parma slices and sprinkles fresh rucola atop a just-out-of-the-oven pie with molten mozzarella.

I watch the pizza team create my order my scratch. From what I could see, the chefs' technique consists first of a dusting of semolina flour on the individual wooden pizza peel board. The doughy disc is gently plied with the fingertips, and then placed on top of both fists and stretched in circles by the knuckles until it reaches desired size & thinness. It is returned to the wooden peel and given a paintbrushing of olive oil.

One small ladel of sauce is poured onto the center of the pie, then using the bottom of the ladel the chef traces a spiraling nautilus pattern out to the perimeter to distribute the sauce. He adds my squash blossoms and pops it into the oven. Just over ten minutes later my crispy, bubbling pie is ready for Nancy. She tops it off with the burrata, herbs and seasonings -- magnificent!

I'm big on squash blossoms these days, so I couldn't be any happier with these creative toppings. And the crust: light and thin with an underlying crisp and just enough toothiness in the chew. And the burrata ... ooooh ... need I say more?

The other 13 varieties of pizzas feature finely selected fresh local ingredients and nods to classic italian combinations. And the hallmark of course, the cheeses include mozzarella, burrata, fontina, taleggio, parmigiano, pecorino, cacio di Roma, gorgonzola, and caciocavallo. But that's as much as I'll tell you about the menu -- I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise of such fantastic offerings in LA.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ravioli Role Reversal

It's rare that a ravioli takes me by such surprise. It's even more rare when it takes place at a British gastropub. This was the case of the Tomato Basil Ravioli served at the Village Pub in Barnsely -- a picturesque village in the Cotswolds.

The homemade ravioli are unassuming in appearance: delicate pouches glisten with a thin coating of parmesean cream sauce, monochrome and rather "vanilla" in presentation. But upon first bite, the pouch explodes with an intense tomato basil flavor. It's the inverse of what you'd expect, with a small but potent amount of "sauce" in the filling. I found it outstanding.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Hildon: Water of Choice

They ship it in by the palette at the French Laundry in Yountville, CA. It's the staple "fizzy or flat" at Barnsley House and Village Pub in the Cotswolds. Lately, I've been seeing Hildon's regal blue label pop up in all the right places.

One could say that Hildon English Mineral Water tops the fine dining and hospitality industry, as far as bottled waters go.

I have yet to see it on the shelves in the states, but my Brit pals found my fascination with the high-class water positively dull. "I dunno, it's been around for years," one friend told me. To me, even the incidentals are interesting.

At first the allure is definitely in the design of the glass bottle and the label. Clean lines, elegant type and a golden crest smack of royal officialdom or some kind of sanctioned purity. Then the quality comes through in the taste and feel of the water. You can actually detect a difference. Needless to say, I bought Hildon hook, line and sinker.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Summer Selection of Oysters and Mussels

I rue the day we enter into the non-"r" months when rumor has it that molluscs should be off the menu. It's late August and I find myself at Thomas Keller's bistro Bouchon for lunch in Yountville, CA. The plateau des fruits de mer looks too tantalizing to pass up. My dining companion, Jose, orders the plateau while I opt for a pot of mussels. Our intention is to share.

The plateau presents a glorious display including fresh creamy curly oysters. My mussels arrive in an ovular Staub mussel pot, drowning in a sea of white wine, mustard and saffron. We are living on the edge, but I have full faith in the chef and his purveyors.

The seafood is delicious and meaty indeed. No meager summertime molluscs here!

I notice the oyster display on the zinc bar reveals the sources: Marin Bay in California, Snow Creek in Washington State, Petit Manan and Bagaduce from Maine, and St. Anne from Nova Scotia. We learn Maine is also the home of the "bouchot mussels."

The truth is, good quality oysters and mussels can be had in August. If the chef is as discerning of the sources as they are at Bouchon, then you're in the clear -- no "r" withstanding.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Restaurant Review HAIKU
West Hollywood, CA

telltale cheap chopsticks
sophomore sushi, teenage scene
food lost in hype ploy

More Reviews:,

730 N. La Cienega Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Monday, July 31, 2006

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

These bright yellow-orange flowers signal summer's bounty. Whether fried on their own, or in a light batter or with a savory stuffing, they turn out a visually stunning and delicious appetizer. And besides, what can be more exotic than feasting on flowers?

There is a fair amount of labor that goes into prepping these gems for consumption, but it's well worth the effort. A staple at any self-respecting farmer's market, make sure you select zucchini blossoms that haven't been bruised or over handled. You'll need to perform the tricky procedure of reaching into each flower and nicking out the stamen. I've tried extracting the stamen with tweezers, but a small pairing knife works best. Don't worry if you slightly tear the side of the blossom a bit, it will hold up when stuffed and fried.

This recipe combines two sources: I borrowed the batter from Italy's much revered Silver Spoon cookbook (Fiori di Zucchine Ripieni e Fritti), while the goat cheese stuffing comes from Mario Batali's Molto Italiano (Fiori di Zucca Fritti). Traditionally, the flowers are stuffed with mozzarella, but as Mario says, "you can use any soft, creamy, delicate cheese."

+ Recipe
Fried Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

12 Zucchini Flowers, trimmed
The Batter:
Scant 1 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg, separated
5 Tablespoons dry white wine
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2/3 - 3/4 c. warm water
The Stuffing:
1 c. soft goat cheese (or fresh goat cheese curd if you can find it)
1 large egg
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper

First, prepare the batter by combining the flower, pinch of salt and egg yolk, wine oil and add 2/3 - 3/4 c. warm water to make a runny mixture. Let stand for 30 minutes. Wish the egg white in a grease-free bowl and fold into the batter.

Next, clean and trim the blossoms by removing the stamen. Trim the stem slightly, but not completely -- you'll want to keep a bit of stem. Rinse the flowers under gentle running water to get rid of any pollen, goo or bugs, and drain them on paper towels.

In a small bowl, stir together goat cheese, egg, scallions, nutmeg and sat and pepper to taste. Using a small spoon, stuff each blossom with 1-1/2 Tablespoons of the filling.

In a 10-12 inch skillet, heat 3-4 Tablespoons vegetable oil for frying. Dip each stuffed blossom into the batter then fry in the hot oil until golden brown -- turning as needed.

When done, place blossoms on paper towels to drain. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Dinner Music

Tonight at Beck's concert at the Wiltern in Los Angeles, CA, stagehands brought out a dinner table replete with placesettings, then the band members put down their instruments to sit for a mid-show snack while their shaggy-haired troubador carried on with acoustic guitar and harmonica.

It was an odd sight for a rock show, but then again it followed live marionettes and a puppet cam.

During Beck's four solo songs, the five band members feasted on salad, a bowl of fruit, red wine and water in wine glasses until they could no longer resist the contagious groove and started using their utensils and serving vessels as impromptu percussion.

In contrast, the marionette mise en scene had the muppet band members eating what looked like fake pieces of red meat.

I plan to find out exactly what was served at the show through my industry insider connections. I'll be sure to report back.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Kristina's Famous Goat Cheese Guac

Who knew a pairing of goat cheese and avocado would yield such outrageous results! We had this rich, creamy guacamole-goat cheese spread as a prelude to our spanish/cali/mex BBQ fare at Jim & Kristina's house in Silverlake. Piquant and super savory, it elevates the avocado and takes your party guests by surprise.

Avocado Goat Cheese Spread

3 Ripe Hass Avocados
4 oz Goat Cheese (Crumbled if you can find it)
1 Lime
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Be sure to find ripe avocados that aren't overly mushy. Halve each avocado & remove the pit. Cut a crosshatch pattern into each avocado half and squeeze out the cubes into a bowl. Add the goat chesse. Add juice of 1/2 lime. Mush together by combining with a fork. Fold in 1 T. Olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. (Adjust the seasoning to your taste by adding more lime juice or olive oil as you see fit.) The spread should look very light green and almost whipped with occasional chunks of avocado and goat cheese.

Serve with Tortilla Chips or Flatbread.

Purslane, If You Please

This weekend, I found some perky little bunches of Purslane at the Hollywood Farmer's Market. I've been eager to make a Purslane Potato Salad recipe I saw years ago in Saveur magazine, but have since misplaced the issue (sadly).

Purslane is a green herb with ample, oval leaves and a mild bite. If Mache and Argula had a baby girl, they would name it Purslane. There's a chewy depth in its texture and it's visually appealing with abundant uniform leaves. Plus, Purslane offes an added bonus of being one of the most nutritionally rich leafy greens out there with vitamin E, vitamin C, beta carotene, protein and essential omega-3 fatty acids.

Culling from a few recipes online and my memory of the photo published in Saveur, I took a stab at my own version -- with excellent results.

Purslane Potato Salad

(Adapted from,, and a fleeting memory of a Saveur article)

3 lbs Fingerling Potatoes, such as Russian Banana, Red Thumb, French Fingerling, Ruby Crescent
4 Baby Spring Onions (scallion size, thinly sliced)
2 Celery ribs, thinly sized on the bias
2 cups Purslane leaves

4 oz. Plain Yogurt
1 Heaping Tablespoon of Coarse Grain Mustard (Moutarde a l'Ancienne)
1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Boil the fingerling potatoes in salted water until tender. While they are cooking, combine the spring onions, celery and purslane leaves in a large salad bowl. Drain potatoes and run under cool water to cool down. Let potatoes rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Slice some fingerling potatoes in half lengthwise and some into 1/2-inch discs. Add slighly warmer than room temperature potatoes to the bowl. The heat of the potatoes should make the purslane leaves wilt a bit.

In a non-reactive bowl, place yogurt, mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix with fork until well-combined.

Pour dressing into the salad bowl. Toss until ingredients are well covered. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, June 05, 2006

What Goes With Pink Champagne?

Or to be precise, the new release of Dom Pérignon's Rosé Vintage 1996.

In a near-improbable turn of events, we ended up attending the launch party for Dom's latest in Beverly Hills, CA, hosted by L'Hero himself, Karl Lagerfeld. It was a celebutante extravaganza at a posh BH pad with a kick-ass art collection featuring a couple of Damien Hirsts, a Luc Tuymans painting, a floor-to-ceiling Donald Judd sculpture, a Robert Gober sink, and a Jackie Kennedy painting by Warhol to name a few -- where pink Dom was flowing like water all night long.

So, to answer our question, what did go with the pink champagne that evening:
+ Salmon sushi layered with fresh ginger and a dollup of pink "spicy" sauce resting a top a generous square-shaped platform of tightly packed sushi rice
+ Chocolate chip wafers & white chocolate ice cream sandwiches
+ Shish-Kabobs (details fuzzy)
+ Stuffed lamb chops (stuffing unknown)
+ Seared tuna with julienned vegetables
+ Mini pizzas (toppings uncertain ... blame the bubbly)
+ Seafood curry with udon noodles

+ A-List celebrities: Karl Lagerfeld, Eva Herzagova, Beck, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Pierce Brosnan
+ B-List celebrities: Jessica Simpson, Courtney Love, Jared Leto, Roman Coppola, Brian Grazer, Jeremy Scott, Ben McKenzie, Kim Karshdanian
+ C-List celebrities: Maria Bello, Brittany Murphy, The Sparks, Devendra Banhart, Mickey Rourke, Vincent Gallo
Photo Hosted at
Most memorable of course was the glistening fruit and crisp dry finish of the Rosé Vintage 1996. It's doubtful I will ever have access to that much Dom Perignon again.

Second most memorable was Karl and Lindsay Lohan's matching driving gloves. Or Karl and Paris Hilton's matching ponytails.

To gawk at more details of our evening, click on the below image to view our photo gallery on Buzznet: Karl Lagerfeld & Dom Perignon Party.
Photo Hosted at

(Photos by Brett Cody Rogers)

Chardonnay Is Chav

It’s official. I’ve been trying to make a move from Chardonnay for some time now, but needed more reason than Teddy telling me how pedestrian it is. (As knowlegeable and convincing as Teddy is, it's really a question of me spending the time to get to know the other whites and not just dismiss them as too sweet.)

Recently Jake Miller presented another reason, declaring that "Chardonnay is Chav." Apparently it's trendy for Chavs (my fave new Brit slang term – see “When in London … Must Have Mutton”) to name their daughters Chardonnay after the character on Footballers' Wives.

My first step: At The Ambassador in Exmouth Market, Luke Wilson (the non-actor but discerning oenophile) introduced us to a vin de Savoie by Domaine Chignin. An exceptionally drinkable well-balanced light white that could very well take me away from Chardonnay.

For more (studied) answers, I will consult Alder Yarrow's formiddable wine blog, Vinography, recommended by Jefferson.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Samphire, Jewel of the Sea

There are always a few surprises when sampling menus in a foreign country. One of the best this time around was samphire, described by our waiter at Bistrotheque in Bethnal Green as “a spindly form of seaweed that tastes like spinach.”

What arrived, serving as a soft bed for the Poached Wild Trout, were long thin shoelacey greens sauteed in savory lemon oil and butter. These tender tendrils carry the sauce with a delicate saltiness.

(Photo by Brett Cody Rogers)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Oh the Sandwiches!

When in London, I can never say no to the simple prawn sandwiches. Suddenly I'm giddy over the iceberg lettuce, sliced sandwich bread, and the variations in mayo. I make it a point to try as many varieties as possible.

I experienced a version of this classic at a great little Fleet Street-meets-Halls of Justice joint called El Vino featuring prawns in a sweet chilli mayonnaise with iceberg lettuce on fresh seedy granary bread. The Tate Modern Café 2 serves theirs with lemon zest. I noticed the mayonnaise is a bit thinner in consistency than here in the States – not at all stiff or globby. Then my pal Ralph told me that it most likely is not just mayo, but a traditional sauce called Mary Rose sauce.

Mayo or Mary Rose aside, I find these little delights just divine.

(Photo by Brett Cody Rogers)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fish & Chips at The Approach Tavern:
I Have Arrived

You know you've finally landed in London after your first meal of fish and chips in a pub.

What arrives at your table is a gorgeously puffy piece of cod in a substantial batter, golden fried to perfection with the proper balance of grease and salt; thick wedges of chips and a subtley sweet puree of mushy peas.

My half pint of choice is the Belgian ale, Leffe -- pronunciation of the last "e" is questionable.

(Photo by Brett Cody Rogers)

Restaurant Review HAIKU
St. JOHN Bar & Restaurant
East London

haute brute fare at this
"nose-to-tail" establishment,
meat not for the meek

More Reviews: London-Eating, Time Out London

St. JOHN Bar & Restaurant
26 St. John Street
London UK EC1M 4AY
020 7251 0848

Monday, May 15, 2006

When in London ...
Must Have Mutton

OK, ok ... before I get lambasted by my Londoner pals whose tables would be graced by nothing but the finest, most tender spring lamb, let me correct myself:

When in London, one must have the succulent lamb.

Mutton, of course, is the flesh of an adult sheep that can be tough at times. I've also been told that in slang terms, mutton (as in "mutton dressed as lamb") is a woman past her prime who sadly dons the trendiest wear for twentysomethings from TopShop, H&M, and the like. Mutton is second only to my favorite bit of new slang learned so far on the trip: Chav. A Chav is defined as someone sporting "white trainers and fake Burberry." It follows in the line of naff.

Needless to say there were neither chavs nor muttons present Sunday evening at the Barbican where Charles Kassouf and Katie Barry prepared a gorgeous leg of lamb to serve as our Sunday roast. Nothing could be more delicious or fitting for our springtime visit to England.

Roasted Spring Lamb
Sauteed Savoy Cabbbage
Roasted New Potatoes With Herbes de Provence
Roasted Butternut Squash Rubbed With Harissa
Cannelli Bean and Bell Pepper Salad
Freshly Baked Pita Bread

The Kassoufian Method for Succulent Spring Lamb

Score the leg of lamb and rub in 1/4 cup olive oil, 3 cloves of minced garlic and minced fresh rosemary. Broil in oven on high heat, 200 C (450 F), until the top flesh carmelizes nicely with the embedded herbs. Turn the heat down to 170 C (300 F) and roast "slow and low" for approximately 1-1/2 hours. When it's done, the lamb should reach an internal temperature of 140 C.

Charles' Homemade Pita Bread

(Adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

Combine in large bowl (or bowl of heavy duty mixer):
3 cups bread flour
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/4 cups room-temperature water

Mix by hand or on low speed for about 1 minute to blend all ingredients. Knead for about 10 minutes by hand (or with dough hook on slow to medium speed) until the dough is smooth, soft, and elastic. Add flour or water as needed; the dough should be slightly tacky, but not sticky.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and toss it once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Punch the dough down, divide equally into 8 pieces, and roll the pieces into balls. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. If you do not have a pizza or baking stone, place baking sheet upside down on an oven rack to serve as hearth.

On a very lightly floured surface, roll out each ball of dough into a thin round, about 8 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick. Spray the stone or baking sheet with a mist of water, wait 30 seconds, then place as many dough rounds as will fit without touching directly onto the hearth.

Bake until the dough puffs into a balloon, about 3 minutes, wait 30 seconds, then remove each bread to a rack to cool. If you leave the breads in the oven too long, they will not deflate to flat disks.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Restaurant Review HAIKU:
Downtown LA, CA

a pho so simple
clearest broth, silken veggies
heart stops tastebuds weep

More Reviews: Daily Candy

426 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 623-1973

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My Favorite Mycologist

Gary Wolf uncovers the obscure and grotesque rush of the
morel mushroom trade, in the New York Times Style Magazine's
Living Spring 2006 special issue.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Easter Spring Fever

This year, the idea of making a variety of green-colored dishes for our Easter table was downright thrilling to me.

After two farmers market visits, five grocery store stops, a 40-minute crosstown trek to a European specialty food shop and three flower shops, I was finally armed with the elements needed to realize my master Easter dinner plan.

Through careful consultation, I crafted a menu from my fave cookbooks. Thomas Keller came out on top with 3 dishes compared to Mario's 2 and Daniel Boulud's 1.

Big lesson learned: Fava Beans, though exquisitely seaonsal, are definitely NOT WORTH IT as an ingredient in a dish prepared under a major time crunch. (Sous-chef hubby Brett Cody Rogers will attest to this.)

Asparagus with a Citrus Gremolata
Artichoke and Fava Bean Stew, MARIO BATALI
Potato Gratin, DANIEL BOULUD
Peas and Morels with Onion Confit, THOMAS KELLER
Cauliflower a la Grecque, THOMAS KELLER
Bibb Lettuce Salad with Herbs, THOMAS KELLER
Ham, spiral-cut from Whole Foods
Kielbasa, homemade from J&T European Food in Santa Monica, CA

Friday, March 17, 2006

St. Patty's Rerun

Here's a story about the classic New England Boiled Dinner that graces our tables on St. Patrick's Day, titled "Savoring Irish Legacy." It appeared in the before-its-time food blog,, circa 1997. (At the time, we didn't even know it was a blog.) was a side project founded by my then-colleague, the multitalented Adam Powell. It was featured in's Test Patterns section -- a playground where Wiredlings could launch their own passions or quirky ideas into sitelets.

Make sure to check out the great stories on penned by cyberfoodies of yesteryear.

RECIPES for Irish Soda Bread, Corned Beef and Cabbage within.

Restaurant Review HAIKU:
Silverlake, CA

sparse, low candlelight
sharp persnickety sauces
ambitous mood food

More Reviews:, LA Times, LA Weekly

Blair's Restaurant
2903 Rowena Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(323) 660-1882

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

3.15.06: Wednesday Round-Up

This week's Dining section picks according to me!

New York Times
+ Winter Squash gets special treatment
+RECIPES: Masala Winter Squash, Roasted Winter Squash With Seared Cod, Winter Squash and Pork Stir-Fry.

+ Lowcountry Cuisine: Charleston, South Carolina A great city with a cuisine of its own and a growing restaurant culture.
+ LISTING: Restaurants to visit in Chaleston, SC.
+ RECIPE: Shrimp and Okra Beignets with Salsa and Cilantro-Lime Sour Cream. Scrumptiously southern.
+ RECIPE: Fried Green Tomatoes and Shrimp Rémoulade .

Los Angeles Times
+ The Sichuan Peppercorn Returns It's no longer banned and ready for action.
+ RECIPE: Charcoal-grilled Sichuan Beef With Cilantro-Shallot Sauce.
+ RECIPE: Cold Chicken Slices With Sesame and Sichuan Pepper.
+ RECIPE: Honey-lacquered Squab With Gingered Nappa Cabbage and Fennel-Pear Purée.

San Francisco Chronicle
+ Odd take on St. Pat's, but I'm game. RECIPE: Wasabi Pea-Crusted Chicken Thighs
+ The Tipperary Cocktail tells a tale from 1916.

The Salt Spectrum

At a recent outing in Eagle Rock, we experienced a unique appetizer at the fine veggie restaurant, Fatty's. The dish was Roasted Name Root with three Artisinal Salts for dipping. Part of me scoffed at ordering a $9 appetizer that's basically salt and a starchy vehicle, but the curious salt lover in me said what the hell.

An artful arrangement of transculent pink, smokey grey and pristine white salt crystals arrived at our table plated in little piles with starchy cubes that could have passed for home fries. A printed piece of paper with a list of the salt varieties came with:
"Pink: Hawaii's Alaea Clay Salt
White: Japan's Jewel of the Sea
Grey: Denmark's Viking Smoked Sea Salt"

The taste variations were definitely detectable from nutty to floral to smokey, but the dish itself had more of a novelty factor than anything else. It's clear the best uses for these sublime salt options are to finish a simple dish, such as Crudites or Roasted Veggies.

If you are looking to expand your salt collection beyond Morton's and into the realm of color, there are many options at local grocers and specialty food shops. My local epicurean shop carries 12 different varieties of salt including a dark pink Hawaiian Clay Salt and a lighter rose-hued Himalayan. Williams Sonoma offers a collection of six Finishing Salts for $29.

Note: Love salt and you're a history buff? Then you have to pick up Mark Kurlansky's fascinating retelling of world history through the eyes of Salt.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Brewed by the Sea

Behold, the Avocado Honey Blonde.

This elixir is the brainchild of the crafty kids at Island Brewing Company microbrewery in Carpinteria, CA – an idyllic little coastal town nestled between the rising slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the rolling Pacific surf. Here is where the lucky arrive to sip some mighty brews in a chill setting.

But wait, did you just put your mushy avocado in my beer?
Not quite.

The honey in the Avocado Honey Blonde Ale recipe comes from bees who got busy in an avocado grove. The essence is in there, even if the taste is not. To me, this equals the exotic.

I sampled the limited release at the grand opening of the Island Brewing Company’s tasting room and new headquarters. Done in the method of a classic Kolsch-style ale with Czech saaz hops, it goes down super smooth and refreshing with faint notes of honey.

This particular variety is a whimsical deviation from Island Brew’s strong stable of award-winners, including: the Island Blonde, the unfiltered Bavarian Island Weiss, the Brit-inspired Nut Brown Ale, Paradise Pale Ale, Island Pale Ale and the formidable Jubilee Ale. Their beers are true standouts -- and an experience. For the time being, these brews can only be experienced locally. So go there!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Wednesday Round-Up

Yiipppeee ... this week's Food & Dining Section is out!
Here's my filter of what you need to know:

New York Times
+ Trader Joe's in Union Square. Now there's really NO excuse for me not to be living back in NYC.
+ Les Dames du Boeuf: Mid-Century maitrons with discerning palettes and a taste for non-trendy nostalgia. What a great club!
+ RECIPE: Duck and Andouille Étoufee (NOT Emeril). One New Orleans chef's variation on a roux.
+ RECIPE: Warm Feta Salad with Ouzo Vinaigrette. Sounds yummy and features my favorite winter root, fennel.
+ VIDEO: Spiced Winter Ribs (cooked indoors). Here's the RECIPE in case you're video challenged.

Los Angeles Times
A bit paltry this week.
+ Here's an article championing Celery (zzzzzzzzzz). Recipes for Cream of Celery Soup, Dungeness Crab with Celery Salad, and Daniel Boulud's Celery Duo within.

Seattle Times
Some Pizza recipes, if you please. Including West Coast White Pizza, Barbecued Chicken and Cheddar Pizza, and Portobella Mushroom, Green Onion, Pesto and Fontina Pizza. Chacun a son gout.

San Francisco Chronicle
+ Hey, I'm into Fritters, too! A sampler of high-class Croquettes, featuring Celery (it's really on a west-coast tear this week) Root and Potato Croquettes, Lentil Croquettes rolled in Pumpkin Seeds, Shrimp & Lemon Croquettes, Chicken-Almond Croquettes, Braised Beef Croquettes with Cornichons & Capers.

+ The exquisite and involved Bella Noche Cocktail from Hawthorne Lane restaurant. Kumquat and Blood Orange infused vodka, Blood Orange syrup, Nocino della Cristina Walnut Liqueur. Mmmmm, blood oranges ... winter never had it so good.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Restaurant Review HAIKU:
Sandwiches by the Sea
Palm Beach, FL

paper thin cold cuts
really do make a difference
number one hoagie

Sandwiches by the Sea
363 S. County Road
Palm Beach, FL 33480

Saint Mario & The Sage-Skate Caper

Each culinary endeavor I undertake is performed beneath the benevolent and forgiving gaze of my patron saint Mario. Brett painted the above likeness of chef Mario Batali from the image on a spaghetti sauce jar as a birthday gift. For me it's not unlike a Petrarch/Laura scenario applied to the exercise of my nightly supper.

We love Mario for his passion, knowledge and accessability. Not to mention his magnanamous nature and eloquence. And he's a neighborhood regular who always (or usually) has time for his other neighbors.

One day at the Union Square Greenmarket (Farmer's Market) in NYC's Greenwich Village, I encountered fragrant and bountiful bouquets of Sage and decided THAT ingredient was to be the foundation of my dinner. It was a very special night because Brett and I were going to Radio City Music Hall to see Bjork perform -- a first for both of us. (He's even more reverential of Bjork than I am of Mario, but we all know his worship treads into the most secular of desires.) So it HAD to be seductively scrumptious.

My first thought: a FISH DISH! But I was stumped by the variety and method.

Enter Mario, deftfully snatching up green produce beside me. I turned to him and asked, "Mario! If you could cook any fish dish that includes Sage -- what kind of fish would it be?"

Mario contemplated this for exactly four seconds and rebounded, "Why, Skate Wing of course! It's a classic bistro dish! Just cook the Skate Wing in butter, throw in the Sage leaves, let the butter brown then finish it off with some Capers and a squeeze of Lemon. Perfection."

It sounded delicious to me and I had never tried to cook Skate Wing before -- an even more tantalizing challenge!
I thanked Mario heartily and merrily hopped on my way to Dean & Deluca to complete my mission.

I spotted the Skate Wing straight away in D&Ds fresh fish display. I ordered one pound of the Skate Wing, when the luxury fishmonger delivered the blow:

"Well, the only problem is that this Skate Wing isn't filleted. The guy who fillets the Skate Wing won't be in until tomorrow at 10 AM."

Not satisfied, I couldn't help but insist in rapid fire, "Am I not standing in Dean & Deluca?? Are you not the fish guy?? Why can't you fillet the Skate Wing?... Can I give it a try at home if you tell me how?"

"Umm ... sorry lady, but I've worked here for 3 years and even I can't fillet a Skate Wing. The bones are really small and intricate." (ED note: Liar.)

Deflated does not even approach how I felt. My dreams of Mario's Skate Wing were going up in smoke before my eyes. I was running out of time to get the ingredients and make dinner before we had to head uptown for Bjork, so I knew I had to accept defeat and make due.

I headed to the fresh ravioli section and bought the most obvious accompaniment to a brown butter and sage sauce: Butternut Squash Ravioli. Yes, Mario has a nice recipe for that dish, too, but it's just not the same as a recipe relayed to you in the oral tradition by a master chef.
Bjork won that night.

Skate Wing, Classic Bistro Style (According to Mario Batali, interpreted by me)
2 Skate wings, filleted
1 Stick butter
10 Sage leaves
1 Tbsp. Capers
1/2 Lemon juiced

Melt butter in a large 10 or 12 inch skillet. Add Sage leaves and cook 2 minutes. Add cleaned Skate Wing season with salt and pepper. Saute on medium high heat for 2-3 minutes per side or until opaque. Move Skate Wings to a plate and turn up the heat til the butter is browned. Add caper & squeeze of lemon juice. Cook until sauce is reduced, about 2 minutes. Pour sauce over Skate Wings and serve.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Fish Cooked in Sea Water

On a recent trip to the Yucatan peninsula, I happened upon a superb rendition of a semi-poached fish dish. It’s about as simple as it gets: poaching the fish in its native seawater, but the results are a gorgeously plump, succulent and meltaway fish. Alessandro, Genoan chef and co-owner of Posada Margherita explained the cooking method:

“You cook the fresh snapper in olive oil with whole cloves of garlic, and when the olive oil gets very hot – but not hot enough to burn the garlic -- you put in one glass (wine glass?) of seawater, the juice of one lemon, then toss in fresh chopped tomatoes and and cover until the fish is cooked through.”

I considered filling a plastic water bottle with the Carribean’s finest to recreate the magic, but decided against it (after recalling a sour memory this summer of taking a pre-emptive swig from a bottle full of Rocky Mountain lake water before the purification tablets had run their course, ewww.) Instead, I recreated “seawater” by diluting my Fauchon “Sel de Mer” in boiling water: 3 Tbsp. per 1 cup of water. Another option is plain Sel Gris, which has a high content of sea minerals.

However, you can’t discount using a snapper that’s been freshly snatched from its seawater to achieve the original dish’s level of outrageous deliciousness.

Fish Cooked in Sea Water (As recounted by Alessandro and interpreted by me)
1/3 c. Olive oil
1 lb Fresh Snapper fillet
8 Whole garlic cloves
1 Wine glass of "seawater" (see below)
2-3 Fresh plum tomatoes, seeded & chopped
Juice of 1 lemon

Boil water and dissolve 1 Tbsp. of Sel de Mer or Sel Gris in 1 cup of hot water. Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Clean the snapper and pat dry. Season lightly with pepper. Add garlic cloves to the oil in pan & swirl around to seaons olive oil cook for 1 minute on medium to high heat. Add the snapper, cook 3-4 minutes while the oil continues to get very hot, but the garlic cloves do not burn. Add the 1 cup of faux seawater, juice of lemon, chopped tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium and cover. Cook unti snapper is opaque throughout.