Curious Appetite

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Thoughts on Florence’s dining scene (on Eater!)

(photo credit: Gurdulu’ Firenze)

Hey guys! I’m really stoked about the latest feature I wrote for Eater.com (and if you don’t know what Eater is- it’s basically a handy site/online mag for food & drink culture news)

This was a piece that marinated in my brain for some months. I got to talk to many awesome chefs and food purveyors, and best of all- my understanding of cuisine went a little bit further down the rabbit hole.  Continue Reading

The Peace of Wild Things

THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

I would like to know how my readers feel about eating GMOs- so please take 2 seconds to answer. This post was prompted by the latest food documentary GMO OMG. Which, by the way, is probably like the upteenth movie to try to raise awareness of the horrors of GMOs. I don’t know anything, but what I think is that GMOs are a direct attack on the essence of human existence: food.

Take away the environmental, economic and political risks. What you have left is a threat to the agricultural age. Why is this a threat? I don’t know…splicing genes to make corn produce it’s own pesticide? Whatever happened to traditional methods of farming that protect naturally against pests? How is biotechnology going to feed the world, exactly? Why don’t you take the billions of dollars of biotech research and I don’t know…give people food? Stop stealing their land? Stop speculating food and gas prices so that food is accessible other than the dollar meal at McDonald’s- which BTW is the real destination for GMO corn (not these starving children the biotech industry claims to be feeding). Don’t people realize that to genetically engineer agriculture…takes resources in itself? Clean water and electricity to run the facility? Plastics which end up in the trash or demand petrol? The world is a never ending paradox!

What I will say is that at a certain point, food as we know it will cease to exist. Soylent Green will become a reality. I bet many of my readers will have an argument for GMOs.

Go ahead, allow these corporate entities destroy human agriculture and mute our voices (see Perry Schmeiser case) . Let’s see how the future feels about that.

Whoopdeedoooooooo!

Yours in cynical sarcasm,

Curious Appetite

Eating in L.A.- Lukshon, Father’s Office, Bay Cities Deli & Bossa Nova

Every so often, I make the random jaunt to L.A. for family visits. I usually make a respectable effort to put my feelers out into the local food culture there, which is not too hard to do. In a certain sense, L.A. is a true foodie mecca. Its a honey pot of agricultural abundance, ethnic food gut busting hole-in-the-walls, Middle-eastern/Mediterranean food markets, raw food and all things fringe gourmets and the place where organic became “cool”. I can’t begin to describe how explosively abundant this place is for all of our gastronomic fantasies. But L.A. also represents a huge paradox as a sunshine metropolis of tormenting traffic, insanely sterile, cookie-cutter strip mall urban design, material girls, hair gel, obsession with all things vain and plastic, nonsensical local government and poor fiscal policies. Not to mention, its unyielding familiarity to some of the worst pollution in the country. You hope for a windy day here in order to blow the smog aside just long enough to get a view of the rolling canyons. I have a love hate relationship with L.A. and Orange County, my (sorta) hometown.

Prior to arrival, I do some research. I come up with a list of establishments I have hopes of visiting and believe my family would be so impressed with, but to my surprise, I am usually met with “What?! That’s on the East Side! You know how much traffic that means?”

In Seattle, people will drive 2 hours North to Skagit Valley, on a Saturday a.m. with 1.3 hrs of sleep, to get fresh raspberry french toast from a place called “Calico Cupboard”. We don’t mess around. So it was quite foreign to me, the concept of limiting yourself a scrumptious meal based on something as temporary as “traffic.” But eventually I did realize just how deep this trama runs during one of my foodie visits, which was at Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery. The realization was made after a conversation with a young surfer-looking Ray-Ban sporting gentleman which consisted mostly of all his traffic and parking horror stories which eventually prompted him to move to NYC and never look back. Sheesh, this guy is messed up. (Yeah- what 20somethingyearold isn’t) I just wanted to chat to someone while eating my sandwich, but now I get it, okay? Traffic steals your soul in L.A.

Anyway, I found and  read up on Bay Cities and apparently this was the legit spot for sandwiches of the grinder genre. Upon walking in, I was immediately comforted by its familiar chaos. The kind that I’ve experienced mostly in delis in Rome and Naples. Its the kind of place where you take a number, keep your hands to yourself and listen carefully for your #, for if you don’t slam it on the counter within 3 seconds, they are already onto 6 numbers ahead of you. And be careful about taking pictures, they might ask you kindly: “Hey! You! No paparazzi, aiiiight?!”

**disclaimer: these pictures are s*** quality and I fully admit that in hindsight.

Instead of all you see here, I went with the critically acclaimed: Godmother. With the WORKS. Oh man, talk about a heart attack on gluten. The crohns people shouldn’t even be looking.

Think every cured meat that exists then smother it nicely with olive oil, dijon, provolone, pepperoncini in between the chewiest buttery sourdoughy Italian roll, a heart attack and you’ve now been blessed by the Godmother.

A particularly noteworthy joint I attended was Asian fusion extraordinaire Lukshon in Culver City, L.A.. Delish delights involved soft, moist marinated and cilantro dressed duck rolls, lemongrass & coconut cream tender short ribs, chinese eggplant fries w/ fennel raita, heirloom black rice w/ lamb bacon and fried egg and little precious custard and brittle desserts on the house! Our server was amazingly sweet and enthusiastic. Another observation about an eater L.A. trend is wine on tap, this place had several dazzling Cali whites on tap (wine in kegs, not bottles) including complex Asian-flavor food-friendly Rieslings. Yum!

On the weekend I heavily enjoyed Bossa Nova, a top notch Brazilian go-to for many L.A.lalers, someone told me to not mess around with anything but the ribeye steak and plantains. But that sounded kinda too safe and boring. I’m an adventurous eater, so I went with a Coxinha (a typical Brazilian “street-food” pyramid shaped delicacy of shredded chicken and cheese and then breaded and fried) and the Linguiça Frita (sausages!) with Yucca flour, fresh salsa and extra plantains.

Then for last supper, I visited Father’s Office. Which, has a sort of following and is obviously pretentious by its purposefully inappropriate name and “Office Max” marketing theme. Oh brother, give me a break. I don’t quite get your niche…yelp reviewers praised them mostly for their carmelized onion bacon burger w/ blue & gruyere, but as I learned during my visit that this burger (by the way trademarked- eye-roll please!) was the ONLY burger on the menu’ and like 3 other menu items including random things like ribs and bacon fried brussel sprouts. So bizarre. And if you go to the website, it’s increasingly more cryptic. They have no menu’ online, however you’ll assume the tab for office supplies is a cute name for menu’. Oh no, its actually a link to get Father’s Office (FO) logo crap like shirts and a skateboard (?!).

Word to the wise: Don’t ask for ketchup.

Exhibit A: “May I have some ketchup for my fries?”…”We don’t do ketchup, ma’am.” I was pretty baffled by the attitude, fluff and snobbery in this “office”. Besides the incredulous no-ketchup policy, they don’t permit substitutions or modifications since they assume their shit don’t stink (maybe I want sweet potato fries instead of boring ol’ showstring ones ). What the hell? What if I didn’t want some greasy egg oil glob of garlic aioli for these FRIES and BACON burger…sheesh!!! But I have to say, after all the grating irritation I was totally placated by the (trademarked??!) juicy flavor stricken burger and the malty, spicy seasonal Cali beers on Tap

A couple other places I visited were Salute Wine Bar and Versailles Cuban Cuisine. Oh man, Versailles was phenomenal. The kind of random vinyl table cloth restaurant on a strip of car dealership highway-kind worthy of every woo and yay known to Cuban pork and mojito heaven. Salute on the other hand was a total crap house. Un[wine]friendly Seaweed Beignets that tasted like salt balls wrapped in nori and cream puffs, pizza with like 3 pieces of porcini on stale dry dough, and pathetic sub-par wines on that you had to self-serve using a dispensing card to keep track of your overpriced 2 oz pours. And then this off-balance, scratchy dessert of pickled fennel, orange, (dry, chewy tasteless mush) sponge cake and dots of creme fraiche that really lasted like fish. It was terrible.

One of the absolute worse and reckless establishments I’d ever seen, and I’ve never met a wine bar that I didn’t like. But this, man no. Salute really should fire its chef or give him some serious culinary intensive therapy.

Otherwise, I encourage you the very same delicious stay in Los Angeles, just avoid Salute on Main St. 🙂

Chocolate BEET Nutella-Inspired Ganache CAKE.

Eat your vegetables—-for dessert! Yes, for real. Carrot cake, zucchini bread, now chocolate beet cake! Beets are one of my favorite root vegetables and here in the Puget Sound we are lucky to have them almost year round. Although in the fall & winter-like months, their bulbs tend to be bulkier which makes them easier to prepare into casseroles, roasts and soups. The beet has a looooong history, some believe it’s cultivation dates back to the 2nd millennium B.C.! Nowadays they are commercially produced for table sugar and there is even a hot controversy involving the little beet and the unstoppable GMO. Since about 1/2 of all our sugar in America comes from beets, (un)naturally the powers involved with mutating American Farmland have figured out how to capitalize on this rich sugar bulb now with a Roundup Ready GE Sugar Beet. Although the USDA has approved of this uncertain science experiment, you don’t have to. You can make this delicious moist buttery nutty chocolate cake with local organic beets found at Puget Sound Farmer’s Markets (or any local natural grocer/co-op) grown with love by Rents Due Ranch or Ralph’s Greenhouse and save yourself the mystery genes. This cake can be made even more local with Stone Buhr’s Washington White Flour (locally produced and small batch milled by Shepard’s Grain), farmstead eggs and fresh butter from the farmer’s market (or local co-op or natural grocer).

The Nutella-inspired ganache is easier than cake. Not only are beets in season and local, but so are hazelnuts! I just roasted these in the oven with a little bit of sugar until the skins popped off then beet them to a pulp in a coffee grinder then added to the chocolate ganache pot. So simple yet luscious! See for yourself!

Here is what you will need:

Dry ingredients in one bowl:

1 cup of flour (I used Shepherd’s Grain WA flour, its local and affordable!)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 tbsp cocoa or cacao

Wet ingredients:

5 eggs, separated

variation: 2 whole eggs and 3 egg whites (or 3/4 cup liquid egg whites)

1 cup of sugar

Chocolate cake base:

1 cup of beet puree’ (made with 2 medium bulk beets or 1 large bulk beet)

8 tbsp butter, or one short stick

1/4 cup espresso, instant (for ease) or 1/4 hot water

1 cup 62% semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used the Sunspire Fairtrade chips from PCC Natural Markets, less than $5 a bag!)

Chocolate-“Nutella” Ganache

1/2 cup skinned ground hazelnuts, dry roasted in the oven with a sprinkle of sugar

1/2 cup 62% semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 heavy whipping cream

1 tbsp sweet Marsala or whatever sweet wine you have around

This cake has a lot of little tasks so here is how I suggest you break it down: Beets—>Ganache—> Hazelnut roasting—-> Cake batter prep—->Oven @ 325* for 40 minutes = voila’!

Beets: scrub your beet(s) and start boiling them skin on. It will take about 1/2 hour for the beets to full boil to softness and make the skin just slip off under cool water. When beets are boiled and skinned, cut into chunks and puree them in a food processor or blender.

Roasted hazelnuts, for ganache and cake topping:

Put the hazelnuts in a thin oven-safe pan and sprinkle some sugar on. Set temperature to 350* in a toaster oven or oven making sure to give them a shake and roll around every few minutes. Roast time total should be about 15 minutes. They will be ready when you see skins starting to pop off and brown. Let these cool wrapped in the middle of a clean towel.  In the towel, try to rub off all the skins. Reserve half  for the actual cake topping. The other half once skinned and cooled, pulverized in a coffee grinder. Pour into ganache when ready. Turn over down to 325* for cake baking temperature.

How to make the ganache:  add chocolate chips and heavy cream to a small saucepan on medium-low heat. Add in the Marsala or sweet wine. Whisk till this gets a bit thick then take off the heat and allow to cool. You may now mix in the pulverized hazelnut “meal”.

After ganache is made and beets are still boiling…

Chocolate cake base (the wet ingredients): melt 1/2 cup of chocolate in a small saucepan on very low heat and make sure to stir and scrap. Add espresso or hot water once chocolate is mostly melted. Cut butter into chunks and let it melt in careful not to stir too much. Fold in egg yolks and mix until uniform. And lastly, fold in beet puree’.

Now with an electric mixer, whip egg whites until stiff and frothy. Add in the sugar slowly and stir in with a spatula. Now you can fold in the egg white mixture with the chocolate mixture and have your self a chocolate base.

Dry Cake mix: In a dry bowl, sift flour with baking powder and cocoa powder.

Take the dry mix and now add it to the wet chocolate beet and electric mix until a batter forms. Don’t be alarmed, this batter will seem pretty runny but it will bake very dense and moist, you’ll see…:)

Take 2 9in cake pans and butter it up or as I did, coat pans with a coconut oil spray. Fill each pan about 3/4 full or even a little more, just be careful not to fill it to the rim. Bake for 40 minutes at 325* (no peeking and no over baking!)

After 40 minutes, take out and allow to cool. Once cool, remove from cake pan and spread ganache on top. Take the reserve hazelnuts, cut them in half and top away!

This cake will be a hit for the holiday festivities this year. Its deep, its rich and best of all it utilizes what’s in season and local. The thick chocolaty flavor exploding hazelnut puts the panache in this ganache!  If you really want to splurge, I recommend pairing this cake with a dessert wine like Banyuls or a Tawny Port. Cheers!

PAIR

Pair is a little nook in the almost Wedgewood, nearly underrated, neighborhood of Seattle.  It’s perched on a steepish hill with a tender view of a local cemetery.  The inside decor is nicely inviting, with a picnic table-like set-up and a cozy bar area where this dinner was nested.  Pair is trying to be the neighborhood date and foodie joint with an emphasis on a locally sourced, euro-inspired seasonal menu and strategically paired quality wines that the average person would never be able to pronounce.

The house white was an Italian Pinot Grigio and the red was a Montepulciano.  Eh, pretty basic.  I thought it was strange that the house wines were imports, and this joint is claiming to have a bleeding local heart.  I did eventually move up to a menu merlot/cab/syrah wine from Walla Walla that blew my socks off. Talk about delicious! Very fruity spicy and equipped with a thick body. We ordered a cheese plate along with our 3 small plates and the server asked if we wanted the cheese plate before or after the plates. And what a concept! Duh, right? Clean your palate (and surrogate your sweet tooth) with some yummy cheeses and red wine AFTER a ton of complex flavors.  

Sauteed Chard with sliced carrots, raisins and pine nuts.

Nill ingredients of which seem local. Ok, maybe the chard. But last time i checked pine nuts came from china and raisins probably from a box. Sorry im being nit-picky but if you’re gonna call yourself a locally sourced restaurant then make a little more sense. You could have used hazelnuts and cherries and ditched the carrots, actually it was like 2 pieces of sliced carrot that seemed way too robust to be from WA, as our growing season has been lame due to equally LAME temps.  The plate was OK. I could have made it better myself, by adding a lil pepper and cumin and maybe even truffle salt. For a whole lot less than 9 dollars. It was certainly anti-climatic for foodie expectations.

Manila Clams w/ Salumi Guanciale and large cannellini beans.

Ok, so Guanciale is pork cheek and Salumi is the brand that Pair sourced its Guanciale (aka THE Seattle salumeria). I thought this was going to be really unique since Guanciale has a very delicate yet porky smokey bacony melt in your mouth kind of feel. But there were like 3 pieces in the whole thing which seemed more like pancetta than guanciale and the clams were too chewy. The broth was pretty mediocre, it was as if some boxed chicken stock was poured over already boiled clams and then cooked some more. Maybe threw some sage in there to throw the eater off. The only redeeming quality were the beans. They were cooked perfectly and absorbed all the flavors of the Guanciale and Clam juices very nicely.  I liked making a little wrap of Guanciale a bean and a clam. When all nestled together, it made the dish worth while, left to their own devices: boring.

Potato Leek Gratin.  My favorite dish.

But you really can’t screw up a Gratin unless you really burn everything and even toast. Its potatoes baked with olive oil (sometimes butter) gruyere cheese and breadcrumbs, how is that not good? AND with Leeks? Delicious! But also the least seasonal and local of the bunch. Ok, maybe the potatoes were local.  Keyword: WERE,  from last season.  Nevertheless, a potato bake with heavy cream and cheese should never be a seasonally offered (advertised) plate in the summer, even if I am wearing my cable knit sweater at night here in the PNW. It was fantastic though, gruyere very creamy and gooey, breadcrumbs fried baked in the plate’s natural oils and buttery firm yet tender potatoes. NOT atkins friendly by any means.

The highlight of  the night was the 3 cheese plate. It came adorned with julienned dates with walnuts and a tiny tub of (i hope) local honey.

PAIR

Le Bleu des Basques- A blue veined cows Basque cheese wedge.  It was pretty creamy, bluey, more sweet than spice. Firm and not crumbly. Cream indeed. Paired greatly when dipped with honey and crunched in a walnut.

Caprifeuille- This was a delightful almondy french goat chevre. Pretty firm, a lot of goat chevres crumble and seem too chalky to me, the firmness indicated to me good quality cheesemaking, with attention to moisture details. The cheese also didn’t have that gamey “barty” waft to it most goat cheese have, which also is a check plus for artisanship. I read in Edible Seattle that the gamey, they call “Barty”, aroma is actually pheromones produced by does in the presence of billy goats, a good cheese maker knows to separate the boys and girls for milking season.

Aragonès- A spanish washed rind cow/sheep milk hybrid. It was sooooo good, pretty firm and slicable witha nutty sweet cream sheepy finish.

Verdict: If you live in this neighborhood, you don’t have much choice for fine dining and as long as you don’t mind the view of the cemetery you got your self a descent dinner spot. I wouldn’t recommend coming to this place more than once if you are coming from cooler foodie friendly quarters of this emerald city. Its good that Wedgewood has a nook for good wines and cheeses (that are mostly French) and a good back-up of creative (so called local) small plates that you yourself can then go home and probably make better at home. In your very own, local kitchen.

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