Fried Chicken with Macaroni and Cheese @ Willie Mae’s Scotch House, New Orleans.
I’m back. Maybe you hadn’t noticed, but I’ve been on a long blogging hiatus, partly because of my annual trip to New Orleans, which I usually take in early April. Here’s a couple of food pics from that trip, and dozens more can be found on my Instagram feed (located in the sidebar at the right). Overall, New Orleans is a tough town for photos, and many of my favorite places had poor lighting, so I just used my iPhone camera in those situations. When I did find good lighting, I used my camera.
After assaulting my arteries for a week, I returned home to Napa to begin an ebook, which I have been diligently photographing for the last month. That’s the main reason why I haven’t been blogging. My publisher and I are pushing for a late-Spring deadline, which means that I have to keep pressing on. The ebook is going to be a concise and well-curated Napa travel guide, much in the same spirit as this blog. I’ll go into more details later, but chew on these pics in the meantime.
Barbecued Shrimp Po-Boy @ Liuzza’s, New Orleans. Note that the word “barbecue” means something entirely different in New Orleans.
First, the Main: The New York Steak Sandwich, cooked Medium Rare,
with Onion Rings @ Redd, Yountville.
Now that I no longer spend my days in a Michelin-star kitchen, the idea of fine dining has become more appealing to me. Perhaps familiarity does breed contempt — not that I hate fine dining. It’s just, sometimes you have to come up for air, right? Of course, even if more fine dining is my mission, I’m still going to opt for a steak sandwich if I see one, especially one that features my favorite cut of beef, the New York strip (the rib-eye is a close second, but I still favor the intense flavor of the New York, even at the expense of marbling). And also, I have a track record for ordering humble sandwiches from Michelin-star restaurants. The steak sandwich at Redd is dressed with arugula, caramelized onions, and horseradish aioli, and it’s served upon a toasted brioche bun. The steak is cooked to your requested temperature, so nothing is left to chance. Quite good.
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Next, the Appetizer: The Pork Belly @ Redd, Yountville.
The pork belly appetizers has been a staple of Redd’s menu, perhaps since the restaurant’s beginning, although I’m not absolutely certain of that fact. However, I can tell you that I’ve had this dish several times over the years, so I do know that it does have some history. Tender sections of braised pork belly are accented with apple puree, soy caramel, and burdock root. Great flavor combinations at work.
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And Lastly, the Dessert: The Butterscotch Pudding @ Redd, Yountville.
A stealth dessert, Redd’s Butterscotch Pudding disguises delicious flavor and texture beneath its benign, beige two-tone shroud. The upper layer of vanilla anglaise features the delicate, airy consistency of foam, while the lower layer of pudding delivers rich butterscotch character. In between these two layers, salty pretzels add a crunchy counterpoint to this dessert, alongside small bits of toffee. Pine-nut shortbread cookies provide the final element. Redd has offered other butterscotch desserts in the past, and this flavor seems to be a restaurant favorite. Recommended.
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The Chinatown Duck Burger @ Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena.
The Chinatown Duck Burger at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen has long been one of my favorite burger variations in the Bay Area (by variation, I mean a non-beef burger). And what’s not to like? Freshly ground duck, grilled and smothered with an umami-rich shiitake mushroom ketchup, and garnished with just a touch of arugula for color. The duck burger is accompanied by a side of Chinese-style mustard sauce for good measure, and of course, french fries. An up-valley classic, for sure.
Tacos Las Plancha (two carne asada, one al pastor) @ La Morenita Taqueria, Napa.
Even on weekdays, the parking lot of La Morenita Market remains a bustling hub of activity, perhaps the one small place in Napa that can remind me of my decade in Los Angeles. In the height of summer, the parking lot’s soundtrack is a melange of norteño music and Spanish talk radio, with pockets of folks congregated next to their vehicles, half-listening and half-socializing. It’s a relaxing scene, and one that always reminds me of “Saturday in the Park” by Chicago, even though the lyrics aren’t a literal match (not even by a long shot, actually).
Although stores like Target and Wal-Mart are definitely cross-cultural here in California, it seems like La Morenita Market fills in many of the gaps for Latinos; while Target and Wal-Mart might feature Spanish on their store signs, La Morenita actually offers many Latin American brands. From the street, it is easy to dismiss La Morenita as another supermarket, since the store itself dominates the property. However, a small restaurant space — called La Morenita Taqueria — resides at the back of the main building, tucked away into the corner of the strip mall’s narrow parking lot.
I like to order the #12 plate, which consists of three tacos a la plancha, as pictured above. These tacos — named for their preparation on a flat-top grill — are a welcome departure from the typical two-ply, three-bite tacos offered here in Napa. The tortillas themselves are thick and sturdy, dense with corn flavor, and spotted with char-marks the size of coins. The interior of each taco is almost reminiscent of a quesadilla: a morass of meat, melted jack cheese, salsa roja, chopped onions and cilantro, and a thin avocado wedge. The cheese that oozes onto the griddle during cooking makes for a deliciously crispy first bite.
The Pulled Pork Sandwich @ BarBersQ, Napa. Delicious.
And the Macaroni & Cheese is not to be over-looked.
Bacon has become the easy punchline these days. This ethos of “add bacon to it, make it epic” is bound to jump the shark sooner or later. Not that I’m predicting an actual bacon backlash. Bacon will certainly not become disco (which I actually happen to love, but that’s for another time). But honestly, hasn’t bacon been either mixed, combined, or infused with just about everything feasible at this point? It’s officially become overkill, and as a result, bacon has been rendered (pun intended) a creative short-cut of sorts. A culinary crutch. Having pretty much seen it all at this point, I’m now looking for something more elegant from bacon — not just bacon for bacon’s sake. Is this a treasonous stance? Perhaps. But let’s just remember that there are other parts of the pig, such as the butt, which is actually the shoulder, that we ought to celebrate. After all, pulled pork requires just about as much effort as bacon, and when executed correctly, can be equally as captivating.
Why, yes, these are noodles. Thanks for noticing.
I turned up a copy of the “Carnation Cook Book” at a used-book shop in Santa Rosa the other day, and for a measly $2, I had to rescue it. Written by Mary Blake in 1935, this promo pamphlet is chock full of product placement, bound with staples, and just under 100 pages long. I believe this little cookbook was probably a giveaway, or perhaps cheap mail-order fodder, but I’m not totally certain about how it was originally distributed. As the author, Blake is credited as being Carnation’s “Director, Home Economics Department,” which fascinates me as a chef. Corporate recipe testing, and in that era — I wonder what the kitchen looked like, and how Mary Blake had become accomplished as a cook. Or did she cook anything, and only supervise a staff?
The photograph above is what sold me. I flipped past it and did a double-take. Wait, were those noodles? Mind: Blown. Of course, ring-molded food was common in the 30s and 40s — Jell-O was well on its way to reaching peak popularity with the Baby Boom, and the ringed form was becoming ubiquitous — but the noodle element was truly unique and weird. One step closer to unnatural looking food. Still, I wondered if this dish could somehow be delicious, perhaps if someone took extra steps to dress it up with good ingredients, such as fresh fettuccine and a proper sauce Allemande.
As part of the promotion, the “Carnation Cook Book” depicts a can of Carnation Irradiated Milk. The classic label seems quaintly ominous — the word “irradiated” would never be proudly promoted on a label today, since it seems to imply radio-active exposure. However, Carnation’s milk was only irradiated with UV-rays, from a simple carbon arc lamp, for increased vitamin D. Nothing heavy duty. And certainly not in the same category as the vegetable radiation that sometimes makes headlines today (that process, allegedly, is akin to passing through an airport metal detector, but who the hell really knows for sure).
Anyhow, do you think you have the nerve to bring a noodle ring to your next potluck? I sure hope so. I’ll scan the recipe onto my Facebook page later this week, along with a couple other good ones.
Despite the noodle ring, this little cookbook is pretty decent. In most cases, the recipes can be reverse-engineered to accommodate regular milk, so at its core, it’s just good old-fashioned American cookery.
The Grilled Sourdough Crab Sandwich @ Crazy Crab’z, AT&T Park
Some of you may not know that I cut my teeth as a sports writer back in college. I worked with some great folks, a couple of whom actually carved out fine careers in the business of covering professional athletics (Alan Shipnuck and Eric Branch were old colleagues of mine — we were stacked). But sports writing wasn’t for me. Ultimately, I was put off by the odd hours and the deadline pressures of sports journalism. So I decided to become a chef, instead. Nowadays, I don’t invest the emotion into sports as I once did, meaning that the highs aren’t as high, but lows aren’t as low, either. Today, I guess that was a good thing; I’m currently reeling from San Francisco’s Super Bowl loss tonight, but I would’ve taken it much more to heart when I was younger and more volatile. Still, the last two minutes of the game will haunt me for quite a little while. Here in the Bay Area, we have no choice but to turn our attention to the long and leisurely stroll which is Major League Baseball. The foundation of a dynasty has already been set at AT&T Park. Time to build it.
The “Bay of Pigs” Cuban Sandwich @ Best Lil’ Porkhouse, San Rafael.
Served with mac and cheese.
Two people with normal appetites could probably split the “Bay of Pigs,” pictured above, and leave San Rafael’s Best Lil’ Porkhouse feeling plenty full. It’s an utterly massive sandwich, dense with pork, and although it may not boast as many ingredients as, say, the torta cubana at That’s It Market, the “Bay of Pigs” can certainly match its Mission counterpart pound for pound. BLP’s spin on this classic sandwich is its pulled pork, which accompanies the typical trio of ham, pickles, and melted Swiss. The pulled pork is abundant and delicious; the ham is sliced almost thick enough to be a steak; and the house-made pickles are substantial coins in their own right. Mustard and mayo are standard, and BLP offers four different varieties of house-made barbecue sauce. A side of macaroni and cheese, garnished with minced bacon, ups the ante considerably.
Hand-painted citrus juicer, Japan, 1930s-1940s.
Heritage Culinary Artifacts has been a staple at Oxbow Market ever since the venue opened in 2008, but the shop will close at the end of January after a five-year run. I definitely enjoyed browsing the ever-evolving display of antique cookware, which is already available for purchase online. Owner-curator Lisa Minucci has a great eye for original pieces, and she has traveled the world to procure a truly unique collection. I always felt that Heritage had a museum aura about it. It’s only by sheer coincidence that I finally got around to pitching this feature to Lisa a couple weeks ago; that’s when I first discovered that she was set to close her brick-and-mortar shop.
I’m a born collector, beginning with baseball memorabilia at an early age, followed by vinyl records, cookbooks, pulp crime paperbacks, and of course, wine. I also collect a few kitchen-related items, though my scope is mostly limited to vintage Pyrex, promotional glassware, and cast iron pieces. It’s no surprise that, as a chef, the collection at Heritage fascinates me. On a side note, Lisa and I actually have a Martini House connection: She was the restaurant’s original sommelier, and I was a pastry cook there (although we did work at Martini House at different times during its 11-year run). Napa seems like such a small valley sometimes.
Click on any picture for the full-screen photo. To view more items, or for purchase inquiries, please visit Heritage Culinary Artifacts.
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Meat press, France, 1800s.
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Mounted cork puller, America, late 1800s.
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Egg grading scale, America, early 1900s.
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Wine barrel driller, France, 1800s.
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Wine barrel driller, Rhone Valley, France.
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Pocket (hobo) stove, America, late 1800s.
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Hand-painted porcelain beer stein, Germany, 1910.
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Gravy boat by Eva Zeisel, America, 1940s. As an artist, Eva Zeisel cultivated a distinct linear style, which was captured in her “Town and Country” line of pottery, produced for Red Wing in 1947.
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Zig-Zag corkscrew, France, 1954.
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The pig has many forms.
Submitted for your approval, this sandwich from Slow in Berkeley represents my last unmentioned morsel from 2012. This post has been on my back-burner since December, and its completion kind of got lost in the holiday shuffle. I should mention that, in the realm of pulled pork sandwiches, the version at Slow might not have show-stopper looks, but it is very well made, and it’s under $7. In terms of accoutrements — that is, bread and fixins — the sandwiches at Slow can vary quite a bit, which is to the restaurant’s credit (Slow sources its bread from Acme, not a bad choice, either). On this day, the Niman Ranch pork was adorned with coleslaw, and the side of potato salad was delicious and bountiful.
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