Wednesday, June 23, 2010

New Orleans Night Duck

I was just inspired. The Westword, a lovely little paper in Denver, posted an article on their CafeSociety blog about the best leftovers. There is absolutely nothing I love in this world more (sorry, Mom) than LEFTOVERS. In fact my mom even brought me some leftovers today so I think she knows where my loyalties lie.

I wanted to not so covertly expand upon (steal) this idea but how? Then I remembered a glorious moment, in New Orleans (Yes, Sara and I went to New Orleans but were much too busy and important to blog about it.) We went to Galatoire's for an early bird dinner. Much has been said about Galatoire's (I'm sure) and I agree with all of it (the good stuff). I ate some food, in fact I think I ate a lot of food thus I didn't have the stomach room left to eat all of my entree of delectable duck.

I guess it's officially called "Roasted Duck." Which reminds me of my absolute favorite thing about Galatoire's, no fru fru fancy named bologna. Well, no bologna, actually. You want duck? Order Duck. You don't have to order the "apricot infused glaze of hashish with pumpernickel garnishment toast mixed with an awe-inspiring lumped potato and Count Chocula approved 7-day duck roast." Call me old fashioned but duck is duck, no matter what cereal character endorses it.

Back to the story. So since I couldn't finish my duck. The waiter tried to convince me that I needed to take it with me. I protested, I was in a hotel, I had no fridge, it would become yuck duck. He said no, you're wrong it will be good for hours! Who am I to argue with a seasoned Galatoire's waiter? If anyone knows his stuff, it would be this guy. So I took it and deposited it in the hotel room.

We went out drinking, as one does in New Orleans. This particular night may or may not have involved Absinthe drinking at a Pirate Bar, the details are understandably fuzzy. Upon return to hotel room I was greeted with the best thing that could ever happen! Leftovers! Sitting in their shiny material, just waiting to be eaten! And so I give you Night Duck. That's a look of elation not demonic possession, I assure you.

Working on the Night Duck! Similar but better than the Night Cheese.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Denver Pride Fest/Parade 2010

The only reason you needed to have attended...

Seahorses, Forever!

Also, don't suck like I did. Get your turkey legs early, even if that means eating one at 10:30 AM just after breakfast. If you don't follow this advice you'll end up with a fistful of tickets that then get spent on a (mediocre) buffalo burger with (doesn't look like bacon) buffalo bacon and (too weird, even for me) chocolate dipped bacon (It's cold? It's spicy? It melts?) FAIL, fair food, FAIL.

Don't worry fair readers, I'll get my summer turkey leg, if it's the last thing I do...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pork: the noun, not the verb.

If you ever find yourself in the position of wanting to go to the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, but lack the $1800 or so that it costs to go to the Grand Tastings, fear not. There are options for you.

For (somewhat) reasonable fees, you can attend individual events like the Grand Cochon and get your eat on.

Kevin and I went to the Grand Cochon, the last event of the Classic, on Sunday afternoon. Most of the crowds had cleared out, but there were still around 200 (or more? I don't estimate well) people in attendance at the Hotel Jerome. Food & Wine events are great for people who like free things like branded glassware. They are also very good for people who like cooking shows, the Food Network, and Top Chef. They are also good for people who like to drink in the afternoon. Luckily I fall into all of those categories.

First, the drinkies: there were 10 wineries to sample, but I mostly stuck to the beer. Coworker was concerned I missed out on the wine, but it was hot. I believe pig goes better with beer. Also, free branded glassware. Near the end of the event I discovered the bar, where Hendrick's Gin was giving out what as perhaps the best cocktail I have ever had in my life. Serious. Make it for yourself. (recipe down at the bottom).

Now, on to the most important things. The chefs at the Grand Cochon were competing against each other for the title of King of Porc, and they were all worthy contenders. Each chef was given one whole heritage pig to work with, and they all created some incredibly innovative dishes. My favorites:

  • Chef Devin Knell of the French Laundry's Pork Belly "pop tart" with lardo. I love pop tarts. I love pork belly. Nuff said.
  • Chef David Varley of the Bourbon Steakhouse's ground pork- and mushroom-stuffed pastry pocket. Oh my. Bliss. Mushroomy, earthy, bliss. He later won. A well-earned crowning. He also made a delightful "Porkeo" sandwich cookie with sweetened lard as the filling.
  • Chef Matt Steigerwald of the Lincoln Cafe's entire menu - pork belly spring roll with avocado, pork head and shoulder pozole, and roasted pork loin sandwich with stone-ground mustard and house-cured pickles. Some very different international flavors, but all were constantly wonderful. I would bathe in the pozole broth if possible.
  • Chef Scott Romano of Charlie Palmer's at the Joule's excellent, smoky-spicy sausage and sweet mustard.
  • Chef Jason Barikowski of Olympic Provisions had some really lovely offerings, including a spreadable andouille sausage, pig's foot and tail bean stew and what was quite possibly the best cupcake I have ever had.
It was so good, in fact, that Kevin and I went to ask the chef how they made it. My guess: creamy topping was lard or whatever. It was delicious. Like the best red velvet cake you've ever tasted, only better. Nicely textured, almost the density of a brownie. Creamy inside and out. I almost cried it was so good. So we go ask about it.

"Well, it's a chocolate cupcake. With a little vanilla cream on top...sprinkled with some vanilla sea salt. Oh, and the cupcake batter is made with the BLOOD AND BLUBBER OF THE PIG."

I'm not really a squeamish person, but I am kinda glad I didn't know what was in it initially. Ahem.

An especially nice treat was Chef Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja's "lamb lounge." Her lamb loin with sweet pea, grilled red onion and mint salad, and lamb sausage with tomato jam would make a believer out of anyone who's not a fan of lamb. Both were perfectly cooked, well-balanced and fresh.

Other highlights: a whole pig breakdown by butcher Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats in San Fransisco was...enlightening. In fact, the whole theme of the event - heritage pigs, whole-animal preparations, offal and sustainable farming - was really an inspirational experience. Responsible eating doesn't have to mean giving up on animals whole hog (get it? get it?) but being thoughtful about the animals you do eat - supporting local farms, making an effort to eat fewer processed foods, and returning to the thought process of an earlier generation. If we are to be true stewards of the land, we need to enjoy whole products - even if that means blood in your cupcakes.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sonic, where I've been for the last 7 months

So guess what?
I love Sonic.
All you haters can suck it. In fact I'll suck it for you, through this magical straw that provides me with the deliciousness that is a cranberry limeade.
A cranberry limeade that I bought nearly three hours ago that is still cold due to the Sonic genius that is some kind of modern physics marvel. (Physics makes us all its bitches) The equation is no doubt something like this: delicious limeade + extra corn syrup in the flavor of cranberry x ingenious Styrofoam cup ^(cute little crushed ice) = Cold for hours of happiness. Ahhhhh.

And one day I truly do intend to get the frito pie, I will, you'll see.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Junction's not a tourist destination.

Grand Junction isn't a tourist destination. So, when stuck in town buying certain things you can't get up valley - a bridesmaid dress and comics, what a combination - there's not a lot of places you can go.

Junction is, as Sara says, the capital of chain restaurants. Kannah Creek Brewing Company is a welcome sight to the rest of watered down margaritas, dime a dozen drafts of Mass-Produced Light and taco stands around.

True, when you walk in, you get a crazy whiff of a mixture of yeast, hops and spaghetti sauce. But on a warm spring day, the patio is jam packed with kids from Mesa State along with the energy of last night and relaxing Sunday chatter. The walls on the patio are a bit high, and block your attention from anything else but the people sitting around you, but you take what you can get down valley.

Beer wise, a good selection of microbrewed stuff. They just won a Gold from the WBC for their Lands End Amber - and it was good brew, if straight forward. Most of their other beers seem similar and the refrain is the same: good stuff compared to a mass market brew, decent for Colorado beers, but taken in Western Slope context, delightful.

If you're stuck in Junction, take a gander. I had fun.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Might as well stop eating now.

I'm going to tell you a little story. And it might make you roll your eyes a little, and it might make you take me a little less seriously, but it will most certainly put the events of a certain evening at Fruition into perspective.

The first night Kevin and I ate together, I knew I would probably keep dating him because he traded plates with me halfway through the meal. This is an odd thing on which to base a relationship. I'll admit that. But food is really, really important to me.

Flash forward a few dinner dates. Somewhere around TAG. Kevin and I come to the realization that we need to talk about our entree choices because we usually end up wanting the same thing. His mom thought it was hilarious. (I can see your eyes rolling. HANG IN THERE.)

Fast forward again. It's a Friday and we've got a very rare 6:45 reservation at Fruition. The maitre d' is charming. He wears a bow tie. He tells me he likes my dress, says women don't dress up enough in Colorado. I appreciate this.

(Sidebar: you may remember that the maitre d' at Six89 had a bow tie. Then we had an excellent meal. Fruition's maitre d': bow tie. Fruition's food: mind blowing. Coincidence? I think not. I'm thinking of adopting this as a litmus test for restaurants I visit, similar to how I usually buy bottles of wine based on their labels. It hasn't let me down yet.)

Anyhow, the restaurant was busy, and had the feeling of a friendly bustle for the entire time we wee there (nearly 2.5 hours). Our seating wasn't perfect (a bit closer to the draft from the door than I might have liked), but I think we were just happy to have a table...and I was happy to watch the bow-tied maitre d'.

The crowd skewed slightly older, but there was a diverse mix. Midway through our meal, a couple seated at the table next to us were celebrating a birthday dinner. One of the diners gave his partner a first edition copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Seriously. Click that link. I think that is a pretty good indicator of how seriously people who eat at Fruition take their food.

This wine list was extensive, though the selection of wines by the glass was somewhat limited. Understandable, because this is the kind of place where you want to linger with a bottle of wine. I ordered a pinot (big surprise) and Kevin ordered a zinfandel. One of the rotating cast of characters that served as erstwhile waiters (while ours was...I don;t know...practicing his maddeningly vague accent?) brought bread, with butter, sea salt and herbs.

Round One: Starters

Winner: Kevin

Veal cheek pot pie, in the cutest little cast iron pot I've ever seen. Kevin said he wished he had about five more. Or a giant one. Or five giant ones. The puff pastry was flaky, the vegetables perfect (not too mushy). Of course, i can't accurately speak to the wonders of this dish, as I only got about one bite of it. This was very abnormal behavior for my dinner date.

I had a microgreen and winter vegetable salad with hazel vinaigrette and prosciutto. It was delightful. But I really wanted that pot pie.

Round Two: Entrees

Winner: Sara

Both of us wanted to order one of two things: confit pork shoulder, or beef culottes. I (maybe a little sneakily) ordered first so I could get the pork, and it was the best selfish decision I've ever made. Confit pork shoulder (click here for a definition) served over sweet potato polenta, with a salad of pears, candied walnuts, red grapes and microgreens. This dish was an example of how simplicity can sing - how the fruit brought out the sweetness int he slow-cooked pork; the bitterness of the walnuts balanced the richness of the polenta. I almost cried a little. I reluctantly parted with two bites. Very strange behavior indeed.

Kevin ordered the beef, and it was excellent. I had some. There were potatoes and carrots involved. It was beautifully cooked. But I just don't remember it. Sometimes, the best things in life overshadow even the really good ones. (See also: Pirate's Booty vs. Cheetos).

Round Three: After Dinner Drinks

Winner: Depends on how you define "winner"

I ordered a Muscat. Kevin ordered Scotch. I really enjoyed my dessert wine. Kevin really enjoyed his Scotch. So much so, in fact, that he wondered why I do not enjoy Scotch. So I tried some, and very nearly died. I think he was punishing me for not sharing more pork. It was worth it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I have a thing for hipster bars

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I've been really hard on the DC restaurant scene in the past. Seems to me like they're contrite because they have to appeal to both left (communist) and right (boring) sensibilities in a town like Washington.

So that seems to be the problem with the "nice" restaurants. Every place that's no-frills, or cheap, has been at least decent, and a couple have been really good.

I was in DC this weekend for work. My twin brother, who is much a more talented writer than I, and better looking to boot, lives in DC with his wife Javi. The three of us get along for lots of reasons - a shared mistrust of politicians, a desire for the snow to go away, and a love for food that some would call perverse.

Anyway, they fed me a couple of times and gave me a couch to sleep on one night.

Before I get to the restaurant portion of this blog, I must tell you of one place that's starting to feel like home to me in DC - the Capitol Lounge, at 229 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. We've been a handful of times, and their pub fare is decent, affordable and touts the right amount of grease. Also, they have Dale's Pale Ale on tap, and that makes me feel right at home.

It's apparently a Michigan State bar, and that's okay, because while I might prefer U of M, most of the people inside are nice folks, a welcome relief from the DC bar scene.

Anyway, food. On Sunday night, we ended up at a place called Bar Pilar. Everything about this place screams hip, and when we sat down and had an immediate problem with our waitress, I was thinking, "Here we go, again." After receiving our drinks, the place started to fill up and our waitress went from late to absent. But that's DC, so I won't mention her again. We tipped her well, cause God Bless Her, SHE WAS TRYING SO HARD, but there's only so much of being ignored you can take.

I was pleasantly surprised at the food, though. We all shared plates, and the portions, while small, were reasonably priced. Javi: Cremini mushrooms that reminded me of the county fair and a Shrimp risotto that only I liked. (Andrew said it was too creamy. Javi didn't say much about it at all, which means she just wasn't a big fan.) Andrew: Caramelized Exotic mushrooms that were really earthy and meaty. Duck Confit in a homemade dijon mustard, cooked fantastically with a crispy outside and juicy in. Me: Roasted potatoes with rosemary and a lemon-garlic aioli. The potatoes were cooked well and flash fried in what tasted to me like a thinned down bacon fat. And I also had suckling pig that almost caused me to forget how far I was from home.

They both loved it, and so did I, aside from the minor freakout I had about almost losing my wallet. "The food's probably the best I've had in DC so far," Andrew said.

I second that emotion. It's sort of close to one of the many bad parts of town, and in the middle of being gentrified. Dangerous! But it's worth the drive to NW, and it's worth wading through the scarf-wearing, tight-jeaned, let's-drink-PBR crowd. Lots of times, these people will eat any old thing if it's moderately priced and they hear from their dealer that "it's good," but this time, these hipsters are lucky that the chef of Bar Pilar actually cares about the food he's serving to a bunch of ironic JD Salinger disciples. Me included.

Monday, January 18, 2010

This is where a pun on the word TAG would go.

This blog is allegedly about food, and not relationships. If you're looking for a relationship blog, check out Kristen's newest addition to her writing portfolio, Kristen's Fishing Trip. (I don't know if that's supposed to be a secret blog or not. Either way, it's a riot and required reading in my house. [And cubicle. And on the couches of anyone with a sense of humor.])

Therefore, I will only briefly mention that Sara and I went to TAG on Saturday night, and that it was sort of a big deal, because one of us met my mother. And seeing as how I lived under the same roof as my mom for 18 years, it probably wasn't me who was meeting her for the first time. Although we were strangers for the better part of my teens.

When you're deciding on a restaurant in a situation like this, you can go one of two ways: Slum it, pick Village Inn, and hope the food makes everyone decide to call it an early night - or you can pick a fancy restaurant and hope the strong drinks (fingers crossed) make it bearable.

So, very serious things aside. TAG is famous 'round these parts for making their own tonic water. I don't drink many gin and tonics these days, because they get me into the Villegas version of "trouble." Needless to say, I've had my fair share of gin and tonics. And the gin and tonic at TAG is really good stuff. Even though quinine can be nasty stuff, it's magical when included in homemade tonic made with Cinchona bark. By the way, I just earned my two-wikipedia-links-in-one-sentence award.

So we started with a salad (come on, Mom. Live a little.) and two appetizers - the Hiramasa and the Duck confit sope cakes. The sope cakes were very good. They sat on a bed of guacamole and were savory, warm and flavorful. The winner of round one, though, was the Hiramasa - which was pan-seared, had a small amount of truffle oil drizzled on top with and a little myoga.

And, oh yeah, a slice of jalapeno and pop rocks on top. What started as a "What's sizzling?" thought in my head led eventually to, "What's pink on my plate, and doesn't smell like roe?" And eventually ended in my saying out loud, "Holy God, those are pop rocks." Very creative, Troy Guard. Cheeky monky. It was a great way to start this experience.

Main course time. My mother had the safe choice, which was cooked extremely well and still delectable: Caramelized sea scallops. She reported them to be "perfect."

Tamarind mustard braised short ribs was the entree du jour for Sara. Pear, yuzu (or some citrusy fruit) the rib...a great plate, full of balanced flavor. The citrus did it well, I thought. And I never met mustard that I didn't like. Tamarind mustard should be required on all hot dogs. Hear that, Montforts?

No fork needed, although for the sake of appearances, she kept her butter knife on the plate. Polite company apparently uses a knife to cut ALL meat, even when it's not necessary.

And I had Szechuan Colorado Lamb, with couscous and Dragon Sauce...a touch spicy, but in a good way. Lamb is one of those meats that needs another flavor to contrast with when prepared correctly. (And it's uneatable when cooked wrong.) The Szechuan influence is a standard choice, but executed correctly here. The couscous is a welcome addition of an entirely different texture.

I have my problems with Lodo eateries, and especially Larimer Square restaurants. We were seated right next to the door, which wasn't fun. But someone has to sit there, so oh well.
But TAG is a nice place to go, even if it is a little pricey, and can sometimes come off more about appearances than food. Which is not a problem, because, let's face it, I'm can be sort of about appearances. All of this coming from a guy who uses the word "classy" more than Donald Trump.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Joy of In-N-Out

and the good news that's it is moving eastward into cold places. This picture was captured by my brother last week in Salt Lake City, Utah.