Monday, October 18, 2010

Mer e Terra

This weekend's fall dinner party menu mixed French and Italian. A fine combo -- we'll hang out near the French/Italian border anytime, especially the environs of Roquebrune or Cap Martin.

The raw materials:

Scallops from McCalls in Los Feliz and Butternut Squash from a local farmer's market.

The result:

Baby Romaine Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette and Salt & Pepper Seared Sea Scallop (U8)

Fresh Pappardelle with Melted Leeks, Roasted Butternut Squash in a Brown Butter Sage Sauce

Recipes follow.

Salade //

Baby Romaine Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette and Salt & Pepper Seared Sea Scallop

Toast 1/3 c. whole hazelnuts (in toaster oven or iron skillet on stove top or in oven) until fragrant, browned, but not burnt. Let cool slightly.

Place hazelnuts in plastic bag and pound with mallet until coarsely chopped. Put in bowl, add 1/2 tsp finely diced shallot, then add 2 tsp Sherry Vinegar. Let sit for 5 minutes so the flavors combine. Add about 1/2 cup olive oil (to taste really) & then mix with a fork. The vinaigrette should appear broken and loose, not emulsified. Put aside until ready to compose salad.

Wash/soak baby romaine or any other mild market lettuce with ice cubes in water to crisp (1-3 mins), then remove cubes and spin dry. Pat dry gently with paper towel or tea towel to remove any moisture. Put dried lettuce in bowl and toss with spoonfuls hazelnut vinaigrette until salad is nicely dressed, but not drenched. Plate the salad on individual plates, as you want each serving ready to be crowned with a seared scallop.

Put iron skillet on high heat. Add olive oil. Rinse scallops and pat completely dry. Season each side w/ kosher salt & freshly ground pepper. When oil is smoking, add scallops to the pan, but space them far apart as possible. You may need to cook them in two batches if you have more than 4 or 5 scallops. Cook for 2-3 minutes on first side to get a nice caramelized, crusty sear, then flip with thongs to the other side. Cook for 2 minutes or less. Immediately transfer each scallop to the awaiting salad plate and place on top at an appealing angle.

Primi //

Fresh Pappardelle with Melted Leeks, Roasted Butternut Squash in a Brown Butter Sage Sauce

Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Peel and cut butternut squash into bite-sized cubes. Put cubes in a bowl and toss with olive oil, salt & pepper, and fresh grated nutmeg. Place butternut squash cubes on baking sheet and roast about 30 minutes.

While the butternut squash cooks, begin the leeks. Cut the white part of 2-3 leeks into 1/8-inch thick discs. Rinse in a bowl of water to remove any dirt between layers. Melt 3-4 Tbsp unsalted butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add leeks to melted butter & season with salt & pepper, fresh thyme leaves if you have them. Cook until they begin to wilt, 5-10 minutes, then add 3 Tbsp water. Once liquid boils, lower heat and cook until liquid is almost evaporated and leeks are very soft, another 10 minutes. Remove from heat, place leeks in a bowl and set aside until later.

Begin cooking water for pasta, lightly salted.

Cut sheets of fresh pasta (I had 8 sheets) into wide pappardelle ribbons. Set aside.

Check butternut squash after 20-25 minutes to see how done it is and turn with spatula. Remove from oven when soft & slightly caramelized, but not burnt. Save for later.

Clean 6-8 large sage leaves with a damp paper towel and then pat completely dry.

Next, cook the fresh pasta. Throw it in the boiling water for between 2-3 minutes -- but no more than 3 minutes! Drain & immediately put in large pasta serving bowl.

In a small saute pan or sauce pan, throw healthful caution to the wind and melt 2 sticks of unsalted butter. Watch the butter closely, once it start to slightly caramelize and turn brown, toss in the sage leaves (they will crackle and spatter in a lively manner), then quickly remove the pan from heat so the brown butter doesn't burn.
Remove the sage leaves with thongs and set aside on a small plate.

Pour the brown butter sauce over the pasta and toss gently until it is thoroughly coated. Add the melted leeks and butternut squash and toss again gently until evenly distributed. Crumble sage leaves over the top.

Enjoy. Start with a Chablis, end with a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and envision the Med.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lunch Hour: Smokin' Willie's BBQ Truck

There's nothing worse than showing up late to a barbecue because of a conference call that went too long, and having only scraps remain. (And missing the raucously fun live honky-tonk pop band to boot.)

Being such a lover of good 'cue, I was ready to hunker down and salvage the last savory bits of pork and potato salad. Luckily, Camille was there to save me from myself and point me in the right direction: Smokin' Willie's BBQ truck was parked just a few steps away down the patio ramp. Enter ray of hope!

The LA food truck sensation has been widely reported by my fellow food bloggers, and with all the local varieties out there we've nearly reached critical mass. So I guess I'm a little late to this party as well. Though I must admit, the Great Hot Dog Letdown of 2008 at the much-lauded Let's Be Frank truck in Culver City left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth for "gourmet" mobile meals.

As I approached the truck, I saw a frenetic Willie drenched in sweat and working overtime to serve the lunch rush. People were no longer ordering, Willie was just maniacally tossing tacos, sliders, and sandwiches out his window. He gave me one look and shouted, "OK, she's gotta get my killer one!!"

What arrived was a no-frills BBQ Meatball Sandwich on a bun with two slices of mozzarella cheese. I appreciated that Willie's meatballs came lightly dressed in his signature tangy barbecue sauce and that the cheese wasn't melted. It was just the right balance for a hot day -- nothing too sticky, sloppy or unwieldy, and the flavors presented themselves in a bright clean way. The meatballs were dense and succulent, as one would hope.

Next up was a Pulled Chiptole Chicken Slider. The first bite had very surprising zingy citrus palate and made me realize what an over-chipotletized world we live in. Well done, Willie -- you've mastered that fine line between flavorful and flavor-overload.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Concept, High Spirits: Bar Bouchon

Today, I found myself in Beverly Hills before the lunch rush and decided it was high time to pay a visit to Thomas Keller's recently opened Bouchon Beverly Hills.

Thinking I'd try my luck for a lunch reservation or at the very least scope it out for a later date, I arrived to find an unexpected and even more enticing option for the solo patron: the Bar Bouchon wine bar.

Intimate, no reservations taken, a newly crafted small plates menu, and chic outdoor tables alongside a perfect European-inspired garden -- my heart quickened as I eyed up all the empty spaces.

After a quick tour of the stunning and grand bistro upstairs, I decided to grab a seat at the more casual wine bar for lunch.

Bar Bouchon is appointed with all the elements that characterize Bouchon Bistro (and the bistros of Lyon, France, for that matter): the pewter bar, classic bistro mirrors, chalkboard menus, gladiolas, vibrant floor tiles, as well as a window into the kitchen à la Bouchon Bakery.

The bar hosts a modest 8 chairs, plus 6 more at a side counter bar and probably 8 tables outside. The delectable creations by the pastry chef sit atop the end of the bar in glass cake plates near the kitchen. An abbreviated raw bar display of succulent pink shrimp and oysters on an ice bed rests below a variety of vegetables perfectly preserved in glass mason jars.

Dizzy with the thrill for this kind of food and its culture, I felt I had found a new home in LA.

Ryan, Bar Bouchon's manager, and Jesse who was manning the bar gave me the lowdown on Thomas Keller's new concept. Bouchon Bar is the more relaxed cousin (no bow-ties), but same high-quality food as Bouchon, and features a tapas-style menu of smaller plates. They've added a "Jardin" section of vegetable appetizers -- fennel, beets, cauliflower, etc -- and include some of Bouchon's greatest hits: olivade, salmon rillettes, macaroni gratin with truffles, tartines, salads, seafood raw bar, cheeses, charcuterie and special Plats du Jour. I opted for two items on the Plats du Jour menu: a chicken curry tartine and a bowl of cauliflower soup. Both were divine.

The bar is stocked with artisanal and carefully curated spirits. You won't find Grey Goose, Belvedere or any of the well-known premium brands. Instead their vodka choices are Russian Standard and Charbay from California. Beers on tap include White Apron, made for French Laundry by Russian River Brewing Company and Blue Apron, made for Per Se by Brooklyn Brewery. Bar Bouchon also introduces the Vin de Carafe label -- a partnership between Keller's team and various producers and winemakers in the Napa valley -- at a very nice price point. I had the white Vin de Carafe with lunch, which was a very lively and yummy Chardonnay.

Keller opened Bar Bouchon three weeks ago and is testing the concept here in Los Angeles with hopes of expanding the brand and opening in more locations. I, for one, consider us extremely lucky!