Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dinner at Tornado Club

I had a great meal at the Tornado Club Steakhouse in Madison, Wisc., located just off Capitol Square. I had the on-the-bone tenderloin, which was something I had never seen on a menu before.

It was cooked perfectly.

This restaurant has a great ambience -- the exterior neon sign, the music inside and the dark pine walls give it a wonderfully clubby 1950's vibe.

I also took advantage of the restaurant's very patron-friendly corkage policy -- only $20 a bottle (so long as it's not a wine that they have on their wine list).

The wine I brought along was a 2005 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon. Excellent, although I'm sure it would drink even better if it cellared for 2-5 more years.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Eco-Friendly Eating

I saw this N.Y. Times article about restaurants in London serving eco-friendly food. Here is an excerpt:

There is a new crop of green restaurants around London, run by chefs who may want to be at one with the environment but also don’t want to limit their customers to vegan fare.

These eco-friendly chefs — who unabashedly serve plump fish, marbled meats, hearty wines and gooey cheeses — are not only working to reduce their carbon footprint by buying local produce whenever possible, but are also trying to expand their businesses by teaching customers that eating green does not have to be a culinary sacrifice.

. . . Oliver Rowe’s restaurant, Konstam at the Prince Albert, gets over 85 percent of its produce from in and around Greater London. It is written in small print on the bottom of the menu, along with the fact that 50 pence from each soup sold in October goes to a charity to fight hunger.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

". . . And I Approved This Message"

If anyone who visits this blog is wondering why I am spending so much time in Wisconsin, let me quel your curiosity.

The reason for my extended visit to "America's Dairyland" is provided herein. (Just in case any lawyers are prowling my blog, let me offer the appropriate disclaimer: "These cupcakes were not baked, paid for, frosted or authorized by any candidate.")

Their Cheatin' Heart

Millions of Americans will tell you they have a "sweet tooth." But there are competing affections out there.

One of them is coffee. According to this recent survey of java drinkers by Good Earth Coffee, most Americans say it would be harder for them to forego coffee than sweets.

For some coffee drinkers, the affection for java goes to extremes. One out of five coffee drinkers "would rather have a cup of coffee as their travel companion than a significant other."

Yikes. That's not a great commentary on marriage and other long-term relationships.

Spending a lot of time here in Madison, Wisc., is sure made easier for me thanks to the coffee and espresso drinks that can be purchased at Barriques.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Apple Drop That Didn't Happen

This weekend, I had an extra half-hour to kill as I was driving through Southern Wisconsin so I decided to stop at Karberg Orchard just outside the town of Cambridge. My visit turned out to be very educational.

The orchard owner told me that this was his worst crop of apples in over 30 years. The reason he gave me was enlightening.

It was news to me that apple trees typically lose 10 to 20 percent of their apples just before summer begins. Apparently, this allows the trees to adequately supply moisture and nutrients to the apples that remain.

Unfortunately, this past June, southern Wisconsin received 15 inches of rain within the span of a week, just before the time when the "apple drop" would have occurred. This element of mother nature apparently threw Karberg's apple trees a curve, and those trees apparently misread the rain as a sign that they could support the growth of all of their existing apples. So virtually no apples fell to the ground.

The result, according to the owner, was that almost none of his apples grew to their normal size and some varieties didn't quite achieve the normal level of sweetness or tartness.

The Spartans I tasted were good, maybe a little more tart than usual. They would usually be uniformly red, but these had distinct hues of green and yellow. The cider was excellent, but, sure enough, most of his apples would roughly half their normal size. They were discounted to only 60 cents a pound.

Here's hoping that next year's crop brings better things for Karberg.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Restaurant Review: Marcel's

Marcel's is a French-Belgian restaurant in Washington, D.C. that has been open for a few years in the city's West End district. Until last week, I had never gotten around to eating there.

Maybe it was the bad taste in my mouth that lingered from my experiences with the previous tenant of this space -- a restaurant called Provence.

At Marcel's, dishes arrive in tapa-esque sizes. But I like the fact that you can order them in entree sizes if you prefer.

This is not a cheap place to dine. I think the five-course menu was about $75 without wine. Yet the quality of the food is extraordinary, and I'd say it's a pretty good value -- a definite splurge, but not overpriced. From start to finish, we had a wonderful meal. The desserts were okay, but slightly disappointing. But the first 4 courses we had were excellent and, in a few cases, amazing. The lamb with cumin and roast garlic was a tour de force.

The wine list has great French burgundies, but nearly every one of them has a sticker-shock price. The choices of Gigondas are much more reasonably priced.

The back room of Marcel's is carpeted so the cacophony of noise that was always annoying during the days of Provence is no longer. You don't have to shout to be heard by your dining partner.

Gayot's website rates Marcel's as a 16 out of 20 points, which is a very good score. However, I think the case could be made that Marcel's may be one of the top 3 or 4 restaurants in Washington, D.C. -- not quite as accomplished as Citronelle, but every bit as superb as Ten Penh or Tosca. I've only made one visit to Marcel's so perhaps I'm getting a little ahead of myself, but I am sure as hell looking forward to visit #2.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Defiling a Lovely Bottle of Wine

In this article, Slate's Mike Steinberger explores how the financial crisis has affected the wine world. I especially loved the way he opened his article:

Last week, New York magazine published an article about an unnamed Lehman Bros. trader coping with the firm's sudden demise and his lost riches.

One thing caught my eye: On the day it became clear that Lehman was kaput, the trader pulled a 1997 Barbaresco Santo Stefano out from under his desk, and he and some colleagues proceeded to drink it from paper cups.

The producer went unnamed (Santo Stefano is a vineyard), but the story said the wine cost $700. I e-mailed the writer, Gabriel Sherman, who told me the bottle was a double magnum.

Piecing together these details, I'm reasonably certain that the Lehmanites were numbing themselves with the 1997 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano. Giacosa is a winemaking god, and reading about the shabby treatment accorded his wine — stored under a desk! drunk from paper cups! — prompted the first real schadenfreude I've felt since Wall Street went on life support.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Romans Were Foodies

Jean-Francois Revel's book Culture and Cuisine quotes a Roman poet named Juvenal, who wrote in about the 4th Century:

"There are great numbers of those . . . who have no other reason to live than the satisfaction of their palate.

"He who serves the choicest and best fare is the deepest in debt among them, and can see ruin already awaiting him . . . Meanwhile, however, cost never stands in the way of their fancy."
Revel also makes this observation:

Certain sumptuary laws even decreed that dinners be given with the doors open so that the police could check on what was served, and a certain consul declared that he was unable to dine out for fear of being obliged to summon his hosts for questioning the next day!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chocoholics Take Heart

I'm not what you would call a chocoholic, but even I am curious to check out CoCo Sala, a new chocolate boutique near 9th and F Streets on the edge of downtown Washington, D.C.

Here is the eatery's Monde du Chocolat menu. It features 3-course chocolate "flights." One of them includes churros with cinnamon cream and dulce de leche dip.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Apple Pie With Cider Sauce

On Saturday, we drove out to this orchard (located about 75 minutes west of Washington, D.C.) and I bought about a dozen apples. Half of the apples were Yorks, and the other half were Granny Smith.

I was in the mood to make a pie, and I had never before made one with York apples, which are considered among the best apples for baking. I used 4 Yorks and 2 Granny Smiths in the pie.

I was very happy with how the pie turned out. But I added a twist that I really liked. It was a cider sauce to serve with the pie.
I sort of borrowed from a couple of different recipes I found on the web. I started with about 3/4 cup of apple cider and a cinnamon stick, and brought it to a boil over high heat. The liquid was reduced slightly, then I added about 4 tablespoons of butter, 2 tablespoons of molasses and 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, stirring the whole time.

I placed 2 tablespoons of arrowroot into a coffee mug. Then I poured 2 tablespoons of apple cider and 2 tablespoons of Calvados (apple brandy) into the same cup, stirring it thoroughly to dissolve the arrowroot into the liquid.

Then I added the liquid in the coffee mug to the saucepan, stirring to incorporate as the mixture continued to bubble. The cider mixture started to thicken about 4 to 5 minutes later and I removed it from the burner and discarded the cinnamon stick. (If your sauce is still too thin, mix a little more arrowroot with a little more cider and then add this mixture to the sauce.)

I spooned the sauce alongside the pie and added a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was a nice way to welcome autumn.

Soup Is a Smart Choice

I was surfing and reading some web articles last night, and one of them was this article in the British newspaper The Independent.

To keep slim and trim, it recommends starting meals with soup.

. . . eating soup, particularly the broth-based vegetable kind, before your entrée fills you up so you eat less during the meal . . . A two-year French study of 2,188 men and 2,849 women found that those who ate soup five to six times a week were more likely to have BMIs [Body Mass Index] below 23 (considered lean), compared with infrequent or non-eaters whose BMIs tended to be in the 27 range.

Obviously, they were not eating cream-based soups.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

But Was It Made With Mayo?

From London's Daily Mail newspaper:

The meat had been cooked, the sandwich almost assembled and assorted Guinness Book of Records dignitaries were patiently waiting by to give it their official stamp of approval. But cooks in Iran were left in despair after their bid to create the world's longest sandwich failed when the crowd started eating it before it could be measured.
Event organisers had planned to stuff the 1,500-metre-long sandwich with 700 kg. of ostrich meat and 700 kg. of chicken, and display it in a park in the capital Tehran.

But as the sandwich was being measured, chaos ensued. The giant snack was gone in minutes, leaving the three Guinness representatives with a problem.

. . . The giant snack was gone in minutes, leaving the three Guinness representatives with a problem.

The stunt had been organised to encourage Iranians to eat a healthier diet. Ostrich meat is far leaner than much of the Iranian diet with as half as much fat as chicken, lots of iron, and very little cholesterol -- as well as being extremely tasty.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cutting-Edge Cabs, Slap the Puck . . .

The Nov. 15 issue of Wine Spectator just arrived. It has some interesting articles. Among the highlights:

* A cover story called "The Cabernet Report" that rates hundreds of wines. The twist to this article and CabSav ratings is that Napa is no longer seen as the sole California locale for excellent CabSav. Both Sonoma and the Paso Robles region are considered rising stars for CabSav production.

* A total "puff piece" on celeb-chef Wolfgang Puck and how much time he devotes to charity events. Considering all of the money Puck makes by selling his name to such ventures like the lousy cafe-cum-snackbar at O'Hare, he should be giving loads of it away.

* The French government is going to increase the size of its Champagne appellation by more 10%, allowing 40 villages to grow grapes with this designation.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Slice of Fame

In case you missed it, this past weekend a man named Joey Chestnut claimed victory. His achievement? He managed to eat 45 slices of pizza in 10 minutes.

According to the website, he's very experienced in the field of competitive eating:
There are different methods for making pizza slices easier to swallow, but the 24-year-old California native stuck with the tried-and-true -- folding his and squeezing them in order to get them into his mouth.

Chestnut gained fame on the eating circuit after winning the Coney Island contest in 2007 and then again this year. He also won a hamburger-eating contest in Tennessee last month, taking in 93 Krystal burgers in eight minutes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I Could Go for Some Pho

As the weather begins to turn cold, I start thinking of soup. One ethnic variety that I enjoy is Vietnamese Pho.

I did some surfing on the web tonight and I came across this website that had the following information on the soup known as Pho:
If you can imagine beef noodle soup for breakfast, then you decidedly want to try Pho, a Vietnamese dish that has been around for nearly 100 years.

. . . Pho (pronounced "phir" in English) is influenced by the Chinese and French cuisines, and was believed to have originally derived from a French soup, "pot au feu" (pot on fire), which Wikipedia defines as a French beef stew. This is usually a mixture of cuts of beef, vegetable, and spice.

Pho had its humble beginnings nearly 100 years ago, and at that time was basically boiled beef, broth and noodles. It has since evolved into much more than that. During the war in Viet Nam, when beef became scarce, a pork version (pho lon) evolved.

The web page also includes a recipe for Pho.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One Hell of a Transition

In today's Washington Post, Jennifer Huget profiles Jeff Henderson, the former drug dealer who has become a rising-star chef with his own TV show on the Food Network. Here are excerpts:

. . . It's been just about 11 years since [Henderson] was released from a 10-year prison sentence for dealing cocaine (and bringing in a profit of some $35,000 a week).

He went into jail a 24-year-old criminal. He emerged a chef. Now executive chef at Las Vegas's Cafe Bellagio and author of a best-selling memoir ("Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras") and a new cookbook ("Chef Jeff Cooks," Scribner, $30), Henderson attributes his conversion to his jail-time discovery of cooking.

His failure to show up for litter pickup duty one day had him banished to the kitchen, where he learned to cook within the confines of the prison's limited menu and established himself as a reliable, even standout, member of the kitchen team.

. . . On his new (TV) show, Henderson works with six young people whose lives -- some marked by abusive home situations, one marred by drug addiction -- aren't too different from his own early adulthood. He laughs as he talks about introducing them to raw oysters; his requirement that they each swallow one whole met mostly with revulsion . . .

"I challenge the kids to taste, taste, taste," Henderson says, nudging them toward healthful foods. "

A lot of them had never seen yellow squash, heirloom tomatoes, yellow cauliflower" -- those nutrient-dense, richly colored vegetables that brighten the food pyramid. "It's all about education and exposure," he adds. "Exposure is the foundation of change. You have to experiment, try different things that are outside your traditional ethnic or childhood palette.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Two Cathedrals of Fine Dining

I just returned from several days in New Orleans.

I hit two of my favorite restaurants: Cochon and Herbsaint. And I was joined by my friend, Robert, to visit a few of the grande dames of New Orleans cuisine — Galatoire's and Brennan's, which are only a block apart in the city's French Quarter.
Brennan's is known as a prime venue for brunch/breakfast. The restaurant with the distinctive salmon-colored stucco facade is located on Royal Street on the site of a building first constructed in 1795 by the great-grandfather of French painter Edgar Degas.

The 3-course brunch is priced around $35, expensive but not excessively so for the experience.
Our food was tasty, and the house coffee at Brennan's is superb.

The only thing that bothers me about the pricing is that two of the five starters carry supplements — additional charges above and beyond the prix fixe. Three of the five desserts also carry supplements. My view is that supplements should be rare.

We had lunch on Saturday at Galatoire's, located a block north on Bourbon Street. The restaurant facade is surprisingly austere for the reputation that Galatoire's enjoys.

The restaurant observed its 100th year in operation only a couple of months before Hurricane Katrina walloped the city. The atmospherics are great, but diners should stick with the more traditional creole seafood dishes, as opposed to filet with bearnaise.

Actually, Friday lunch is the day when the scene at Galatoire's is most worth observing. The local glitterati are out in force at Galatoire's on that day. To get a vivid picture of what that day is like, you might read this article by food and culture writer Pableaux Johnson.

And, yes, that's exactly how he spells it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Policy Is on the Menu

In the New York Times magazine, Michael Pollan writes:

Dear Mr. President-Elect,

It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food. Food policy is not something American presidents have had to give much thought to, at least since the Nixon administration — the last time high food prices presented a serious political peril.

Since then, federal policies to promote maximum production of the commodity crops (corn, soybeans, wheat and rice) from which most of our supermarket foods are derived have succeeded impressively in keeping prices low and food more or less off the national political agenda. But with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close.

What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security.

Food is about to demand your attention.

The entire article is here, and it's worth reading.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mustard Greens

I am in New Orleans again. Today I had a side order of sauteed mustard greens with my lunch. One nice thing about mustard greens is that they are not as bitter as kale or collard greens.

The mustard greens were served with small morsels of ham and pork fat. (Hey, this is the Big Easy, after all.)

I'm going to try to make them at home, but I'd prefer something lighter than this. I found this recipe online at Simply Recipes for wilted mustard greens, and it sounds good.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Gender + Dining

It was the subject of an interesting article in the N.Y. Times. Some excerpts are below:

To Jenny Moon (co-owner of the restaurant Apiary), the whole business of giving menus to women before men, taking orders from women before men and clearing women’s plates first just didn’t make sense, not in the East Village in 2008.

. . . At most upscale restaurants [special] software lets servers note both the position at a table to which a dish is going and whether the diner is female, so the food’s couriers can plot to present dishes in a gender-conscious sequence.

For instance, servers at some restaurants can electronically punch in “L” for “lady.” But Apiary installed its software without that option. Maybe a gentleman’s dish would be set down ahead of his female companion’s. Would anyone really care?

Yes, as Ms. Moon said she learned when reading a customer comment card one night. “Serve ladies first!” it said.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Where That Food Stat Came From

From an article written by's Jane Black:

Back in May, chef Dan Barber noted on the New York Times op-ed page that $4 per gallon diesel fuel means "it's no longer efficient to transport food 1,500 miles from where it's grown." When Wal-Mart decided to start buying more local produce last July, the company issued a press release stating that an average meal travels 1,500 miles "before it gets to you."

The stat has popped up in Newsweek, Time, even Slate's own 2006 "Green Challenge."

Not since Newsweek announced that a woman had a better chance of getting killed by a terrorist than getting married after 40 has a statistic been embraced so enthusiastically.

There's just one problem. It's only sort of true — and only if you live in Chicago.

The full article can be accessed here.

Nice Presentation

The recipe that Olga posted on her blog for Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Soup sounds close to one that I have made.

Her ingredients are a little different from mine. She uses honey; I use molasses, which I love for its smokey sweetness.

But what really impressed me about Olga's recipe was the presentation. I don't know how she cut that slice of green apple, but it looks so cool.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Trillin's Tour of Tastes

Calvin Trillin is an excellent writer, and food is a frequent topic of his articles.

I would have liked to have been one of the 35 lucky people who were able to snag tickets to Trillin's recent "gastronomic walking excursion."

According to the N.Y. Times:

The tour stems from the Sunday strolls he would take with his wife, Alice, and their two daughters. Starting from their home in Greenwich Village and ending in Chinatown, they would stop to sample some of the city’s best ethnic dishes at various Old World and hole-in-the-wall establishments. “They come and they go, these places,” Mr. Trillin said.

After an initial taste of sopressata, the group rounded the corner of Sullivan and Houston Streets and bags of cellophane-wrapped sandwiches from a Chinatown restaurant were handed out by tour assistants.

. . . As the group continued down Sullivan Street toward the Grandaisy Bakery for a few bites of potato pizza, Mr. Trillin said he never had an interest in reviewing restaurants. Writing about eating, he said, was a way to report on the country in a richer, more humorous fashion.

“I’m not interested in finding the best chili restaurant in Cincinnati,” he said. “I’m interested in Cincinnatians fighting about who has the best chili.”

Monday, October 6, 2008

Prowling for BBQ in Kentucky

I traveled this weekend to Kentucky for a friend's wedding, and I found the time to make a couple of barbeque stops.

After hearing last year that barbequed mutton is a specialty in parts of Kentucky, I was curious enough to want to try it so I stopped on the southern end of Louisville at Ole Hickory Pit Bar-B-Q.
The mutton sandwich I had there was very good — slightly gamey, but not as much as I had feared. I still prefer the flavor of barbequed pork, beef and chicken. The BBQ beans that Ole Hickory served were mediocre.

A few days later, I had lunch at Ken-Tex BBQ near the town of Shelbyville, about 20 minutes east of Louisville. The chopped pork was excellent, and the beans were above-average. The only disappointment was the corn bread they served with it (which was dry and tasteless).

Those Wimpy Coffee Stirrers

I have a pet peeve.

Far too many coffee places (especially Starbucks and the other chains) have these pencil thin wood or plastic stirrers that do a miserable job of actually incorporating the coffee with sugar, artificial sweetener, cream or whatever else you've added. The reason is simple: these skinny pieces of wood or plastic don't have a sufficient surface area to actually move an ample amount of liquid. That surface area is key.

I end up using a plastic spoon because the skinny wood or plastic strips just don't accomplish the task. I hate to waste the plastic spoon, but there's no place at Starbucks or Corner Bakery to leave it for others to use.

Locally owned neighborhood coffee houses seem to be better at having real metal spoons available, and the spoons are meant to be used by anyone who simply needs it to stir their coffee. Since no one is eating off the spoon, no one seems to care if it has been used by someone else.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Cupcakes With a Kick

So wouldn't you know it? Only a few hours after I wrote that last post about Tokyo's fish-flavored ice cream, I ran across a recipe that is almost as funky, but something I would definitely try.

Over at the blog Picky Apple, I stumbled on this recipe for Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes. If you're only interested in the recipe, scroll down. But I enjoyed reading the blogger's explanation as to what led her to develop this recipe.

The photo looks good, although the blogger doesn't sound like he/she was dazzled with the final product -- "they turned out decent, though the buttercream wasn’t as smooth as usual."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tokyo's Twist on Ice Cream

What's in the sealed tub to the right? I'll get to that in a moment.

The new issue of Travel & Leisure magazine has an article by Anya Von Bremzen entitled "Tokyo's Next Bite." In one neighborhood of Tokyo, there is an indoor mall of shops and attractions called Namjatown.

According to the article, one floor of Namjatown has a sweets shop-cum-theme park called Ice Cream City.

Sounds like a lovely metropolis, eh? Well, many of the ice cream flavors would cause an American to cringe. Von Bremzen writes:

After threading past some gelato stands . . . we raid Cup Ice Museum, a theme park within a theme park, for small cartons of the frozen stuff.

Among some 300 flavors on offer are Christmas Island salt, soy chicken, and preserved cherry blossom.

In the dainty tubs of pearl ice cream — today's top seller — customer's might chance upon a real pearl.

And who knew that eel ice cream could taste so compelling, with its caramely salty-sweet teriyaki kick and a dusting of sansho pepper?

I'm someone who enjoys eating unagi at sushi bars so no one can call me squeamish, but I must say that I would not order eel ice cream. I'm curious, but I'm not that curious.

But, as it turns out, eel is only one of the bizarre flavors of ice cream that are sold and served in Japan. If you can believe it, that tub of ice cream pictured above is octopus ice cream. That's right . . . . octopus.

Meat or seafood flavors just seem so bizarre and so wrong for ice cream. But I guess it depends on the hemisphere in which you live.