Sunday, December 23, 2007
With this in mind, I thought I'd write a short update on what I've been eating but haven't been able to review.
WHERE I'VE BEEN....
405 N Euclid
St. Louis, MO 63108
Starter: foie gras with brioche, maple blueberry sauce, walnut and brown sugar oatmeal, microgreens
Entree: rainbow trout with herbed spaetzle, sauteed arugula, fried capers, brown butter sauce
Dessert: espresso creme brulee
Wine: 2005 Malbec
One of the places that freaks me out of taking pictures. I hadn't been since the remodel of the place and the menu, but I was so pleased to have gone. The hostess seemed to have better things to do (even though we had a reservation), the server was helpful and unobtrusive, and the entire meal was perfect. Everything was perfect. Go there, but don't take pictures. It would be rude.
St. Louis, MO 63104
Salad: mixed baby greens with shallot vinaigrette
Lunch: bangers and mash
Beer: Bare Knuckle Stout
One of the places that didn't need a review. For starters, who really cares about how the food tastes? It's not spectacular, but it's not terrible. To tell the truth, I only went there because I forgot where Tip Top was and didn't feel like calling 411. But their shallot vinaigrette is pretty great, and the house-made sausage has a nicely fine-ground texture with a smoky-sweet taste.
Banh Mi So
4071 S Grand Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63108
I only have the pho.
It may be remembered from my Pho Grand review that Banh Mi So is actually my pho-making local. It's right down the street from my place, the owners are a kind and friendly husband-and-wife team, and while the fluorescent lighting may not be as pleasantly ambient as Pho Grand's, I very much prefer the down-home feel and single-page menu of Banh Mi So.
WHAT I'VE MADE....
Lamb stew with lamb (no, really?), carrots, potatoes, parsnips, yellow onion, garlic, rosemary, honey, vegetable stock, and porter
Mole verde stew with shredded chicken, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, bell peppers, red onion, garlic, chicken stock, and spice mix (chili powder, cumin, few other things added)
Bruschetta with artichoke hearts, pimento, roasted garlic, olive oil, salt, black pepper, thyme, and feta cheese
WHAT I'VE REHEATED....
Kashi frozen pizzas. The Mediterranean is the best, but the Roasted Garlic & Chicken is very tasty with some (okay, a bottle) of Valpolicella.
WHERE I'D LIKE TO GO....
* Stellina Pasta
* Newstead Tower Public House
Monday, December 10, 2007
Then why the hell does it seem like they're stealing my ideas?
In November, I posted reviews of the Courtesy Slinger and the Rotten Apple Ciderhouse. In the December 2007 edition of Sauce, both Slingers and Rotten Apple are featured. Coincidence? Maybe. But it does seem a mite odd.
Hey, editors/writers at Sauce who might have stumbled upon (and I love StumbleUpon) STL Delicious....how about writing me a note, huh? Intellectual property doesn't require permission, but perhaps you could let me know that I'm about to see my ideas in real print.
Or maybe just save some effort and give me a job.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I've worked in the service industry for more years than I haven't, so I know what it's like to have a tip-based income. Because I've served my time (and occasionally still do), I never plan on tipping less than 20%. Ever. That's the jumping-off point. If you suck a little or I didn't like the food, you're still getting that amount. If you're freaking awesome, I'll go to 25 or 30% (let's be reasonable, I'm not made of money).
Look, we both know that tipping is a part of going out, and we know how we treat people who tip like assholes. (Note to anyone who read the above paragraph and has realized that they are crap tippers -- if you can't afford to tip decently, you can't afford to go out.) But the amount I give you is dependent on everything you do up to and including the check. An otherwise great server taking the bill and asking if I want my change makes me feel like I've been tricked. And being tricked makes me feel stingy.
I understand that sometimes, the amount of change given is about the same as you'd expect for a tip. I don't care how much I deserve that tip, I don't care what's considered correct in the customer-server relationship, I never ask if someone wants change. It's rude and presumptuous and I can't believe people still do it.
Want the polite solution?
"I'll be right back with your change."
Saturday, November 24, 2007
220 Main Street
Grafton, IL 62037
If you're reading my blog, you're probably one of those people who knows what it's like to experience a moment of magic, of serendipity, of honest-to-god PERFECT while sitting on a barstool. One of those "kill me now" moments that doesn't necessarily require ecstasy, but that most certainly involves a sense of knowing that, in at least one place, this one, at this exact moment, right now, things are right with the world. Maybe there's a smooth pint of nut brown ale before you, a bartender generous with the samples and the flattery at the helm, and a purely unobtrusive (seriously) guitarist playing "Mr. Tambourine Man" (again, seriously) in the background.
My moment of goodness came earlier this evening when I decided to take a short trip along the Great River Road to the Rotten Apple Ciderhouse in Grafton, IL. Now, I'm not into antiquing, watching bald eagles, riding ferries, or the other sundry exploits common in historic Illinois river towns. But luckily for me, the enterprising people of ye olde days who decided to eke out an existence on the Mississippi also liked to drink. This is how Main Street establishments like Rotten Apple got their start. Luckily for me, I've got friends who discovered Rotten Apple about a year ago and have been bugging me to visit ever since.
Almost immediately after taking a seat at the bar, I felt comfortable. The bar itself is pretty small, and you feel as though you're in a cabin. I was told that there was a larger restaurant (non-smoking) upstairs, but I don't see the point in drinking if people around you don't get to kill themselves with cigarettes. I immediately noticed that the beer selection at Rotten Apple wasn't typical of the Midwest. Sure, they had Stag on tap, but the bar draught lines also housed Hobgoblin, Founders Centennial IPA, and Avery White Rascal Wit. True to the place's name, there was a cider available, but I'm not in it for the fruit, my friend.
Another thing Rotten Apple has to its credit is Steve, a truly amazing barkeep (bartender is simply not a suitably-fitting term for him). Steve had been described to me as a man who knew almost everything about beer. Normally, people who know almost everything about beer also know everything about being snotty, combative bastards. Have you ever encountered a beer snob? If you think wine snobs are bad, you've no clue. Wine snobs can at least agree with one another every now and then. Beer snobs hate themselves. Anyway, although Steve is very knowledgeable about beer, he's no snob. He's helpful, he's encouraging, and he gets what nearly all other beer snobs don't -- it's beer. It's fun. It's tasty. It's the perfect beverage to enjoy when you're sitting at the bar with your friends.
I remarked to Steve that I saw a Hobgoblin tap. He replied that they also had a beer called Big Bad Dog, a nut brown ale brewed by Blue Cat Brewing in Rock Island, IL. The photos here are kind of wonky, but you can see Big Bad Dog in the background of the very first pic up top....it's a warm, mahogany-colored beer that doesn't hit the caramel malt note too heavily, and doesn't kick your tastebuds with hops that don't really belong. And points to Steve for serving it perfectly -- the glass wasn't super-cold, and the head was a glorious 1.5 inches thick.
One of the reasons Steve's an excellent barkeep is because he's generous with the samples. My first sample (provided without asking, prompting, anything besides a hint from one beer lover to another) was Blushing Monk raspberry ale, a Belgian-style beer made by Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Blushing Monk runs about $15 a bottle, and contains nearly 12.3% alcohol by volume. Unlike many lambics, Blushing Monk doesn't have the puckery wallop of Sweet Tarts, nor does it have a cloying sweetness that makes a person like they're drinking candy. Instead, Blushing Monk is very much a beer, and it's tartness is well-balanced with a sherbet-like nose and a mellow carbonation. The bottle says it's fermented with "pure raspberries," so I can't say if it's brewed with whole fruit or extract. (Which, let's be honest, most beers contain....it's cheaper, it's easily available, and it really doesn't diminish the taste. Another example to try is New Belgium's Frambozen.)
After trying Blushing Monk, I mentioned how I was a huge fan of Young's Double Chocolate Stout. Steve smiled and disappeared into a small back room. He re-emerged with a glass filled with a very dark beer topped with a ruby-and-coffee-colored head. "Is this....." I asked.
"Chocolate stout and Blushing Monk," Steve answered.
Oh god. Ohhhh god. No disrespect to Graham -- my boyfriend whom I love -- but if I were single, a continuous supply of Young's Double Chocolate and Blushing Monk would be enough to make me decide that not having someone to sleep with regularly might not be a terrible thing. It's the alcoholic equivalent to one of my favorite breakfasts of all time (Eggo waffle sandwich made with raspberry jam and Nutella). It is heaven in a glass.
While enjoying a few more Big Bad Dogs, I was encouraged to take a look around. Apparently, in addition to having what I'm convinced (without really investigating, but whatever) is one of the best beer selections in Grafton, Rotten Apple is also the only Grafton bar with a nearly full set of human remains on display. Everyone, meet "Peg, formerly known as Elaine." I have no idea what that means, but she's a great broad:
Grafton's a bit of a hike for me, and I was there early enough to desire a bit of sustenance. The menu relies heavily on Cajun-influenced foods, but I wasn't in the mood for anything as heavy as dirty rice, grillades and grits, or etoufee. Brad ordered the jalapeno poppers and was gracious enough to let me try a few. Instead of being the chile relleno-style popper you'd assume they would be, Rotten Apple slices jalapeno peppers thinly, coats them in batter, and fries the quarter-sized disks. The pieces are served with a house-made ranch dressing that reminded me of onion and dill dip whisked with buttermilk.
But I had fried catfish and hush puppies for breakfast (I was hungover and Graham loves the Shrimp Shack), and I didn't want something like jalapeno poppers. On a hint from another barkeep, Claire, I ordered the blackened chicken salad.
Meh. I wish I could say that Rotten Apple has great food, because that's what I've been told. I'm sure I just ordered the wrong thing. The salad wasn't terrible, but it was pretty heavy on the iceberg (I think I counted three pieces of the advertised romaine) and pretty light on the roasted red peppers (also advertised). I will say that the smoky, peppery chicken was nicely countered by the sweet corn, though I don't know if that was actually roasted, either (um, again, as advertised).
You know -- I'm not too upset. I was at Rotten Apple to drink, not to eat, and the drinking was good. It's an ideal place for beer enthusiasts and Stag fans (or maybe Miller Lite, if you're into that sort of thing), and it's got just enough kitsch to feel welcoming instead of hokey. After you've visited with Peg, formerly known as Elaine, you can check out the velvet Elvis painting and the collection of dollar bills signed by happy patrons.
Sign your own. I decided to grab ahold of my own piece of permanent decor during my second glass of Avery Brewing Company's White Rascal Wit. The kiss marks are Kat's, but The Rocket Queen signature is all me. If you'd like to see my contribution, check out the door to the bathrooms. I figured most people would be waiting there, anyway.
So, beer snobs of the world, relax. Beer is good. So is the Rotten Apple Ciderhouse. Take a hint from Steve and the pleased customer who penned the note below....
Saturday, November 10, 2007
3153 S Kingshighway
St. Louis, MO 63139
As you may have gathered by now, I am not a fan of most traditional St. Louis foods. Toasted ravioli is a gummy mess that's not even toasted. Gooey butter cake is a gummy mess that does wonders for the whole "Most Obese Nation" stat. But there's one St. Louis food institution that truly holds a place in my heart. The Slinger.
I had my first Slinger sometime in elementary school. No, I wasn't drinking back then, but Courtesy was a regular destination for my grandfather and I. I wasn't incredibly daring at the time, but after reading the list of ingredients, I figured it was something I could handle. To this day, the mere appearance of the Slinger is a shot of comfort straight to my amygdala (nostalgia part of the brain, I asked a scientist).
Tell a non-native about the Slinger and you'll almost always be met with an expression of revulsion. And really, you can't blame them. Even among lifelong St. Louisans, the Slinger is a sort of litmus test for just how local you're willing to be. I never ask the high school question (seriously, people, did you peak that long ago?), but I'm usually down for a 3am meal.
The origin of the Slinger is disputed, with Courtesy, Tiffany's, Eat Rite, and (for some reason) O.T. Hodges commonly cited as the inventor. I'm not so much concerned with the patent rights, but due to distance, convenience, and greasy spoon-ishness, I choose Courtesy on Kingshighway.
Courtesy's Slinger has the above base ingredients: meat, hash browns, eggs, chili, cheese, and onions. There are variations, but my preference is as follows...
Meat - Hamburger is the standard, though sausage can be substituted. I'm not a fan of on-the-siders, so for me, it's two hamburger patties slapped on the plate.
Hash Browns - One of the reasons I prefer the Kingshighway Courtesy (aside from the fact that Hampton is just too clean) is because their hash browns are usually well-done. This is especially helpful when it comes to Slingers, as there are enough tricky textures to deal with, already.
Eggs - Over-easy is about the only way to go. If you're getting a Slinger, you want a certain level of silken, gooey protein to marry everything together.
Chili - Slopped over the meat and eggs, and enough to cover the entire plate.
Cheese - Regular ol' shredded cheddar is the default at Courtesy. Thrown on top of the chili, it's almost mesmerizing to watch it melt into the plate (give me a break, I don't order Slingers when I'm sober).
Onions - Meh. I'm not a fan of onions in the wee hours of the morning, but I'd never dispute their place on Slinger plates. If you'd rather not have them, speak up. It's a bitch to fish the fine dice out of the mess.Slingers automatically come with toast. You might think "as if I need more carbs," but depending on your level of inebriation, you're probably going to want something dry alongside your Slinger. I prefer a soft drink or iced tea to coffee, and again, it's to help with digestion.
Getting a Slinger placed in front of you is a lot like getting a Death By Chocolate. You know you want it, but you're a little bit anxious of exactly how it works. My advice is to immediately take your fork and stab everything. Break up the hamburger, puncture those yolks, and mingle everything around into a melty, tasty, artery-clogging adventure.
Now take that first bite.
For all the warnings and legends surrounding the Slinger, you'll be surprised to find that it's actually delicious. The hamburger is nothing to write home about, but we're talking about diner-version patties. If anything, it's the texture that anchors the Slinger's sloppiness. The hash browns are crispy, starchy, and excellent for retaining chili. The eggs are runny and smooth. The chili is not at all spicy, but smoky and tomato-y enough to be something you could totally eat a bowl of under other, less intoxicated circumstances. The mouthfeel starts out weird but winds up being exactly what your drink-addled tongue needs.
It's scary. It's strange. It's so freaking good.
Eating a Slinger isn't especially conducive to polite conversation, so just play like the other Courtesy patrons and tuck into it. Enjoy the Elvis on the jukebox. Pick up a ratty RFT if you'd like. Don't try to finish the whole thing. This is no time for heroic measures.
Once finished with this no-longer-terrifying St. Louis diner staple, pick up the check for your designated driver and stumble back to the car....sated, sleepy, and gosh-darned impressed with yourself.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
I especially like someone who has taken a "culinary class here and there" and "worked in a few restaurants in NYC" asking Donatella Arpaia, a woman with successful restaurants of her own, if she even knows what she's talking about.
Makes me want to tie him down, mess with that frou-frou hair, and shove a Slinger down his throat.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
For anyone who didn't pay a whole lot of attention, the prospective chefs had to cook airline food (to steal a line from the show, "think of all the airline meals you've ever had"). Lufthansa's corporate chef took a few moments to brief Symon, Cosentino, Besh, and Sanchez on what can make airline food taste so bad. Altitude equals loss of palate, reheating equals loss of desired texture, etc. The chefs were then told to have at prepping, cooking, transporting, and re-heating.
I'd suspected that Aaron Sanchez was going to be leaving, but I was disappointed in the judges' evaluation of his dishes. The judges seemed to think that Sanchez hadn't listened to the airline food briefing, when in fact, I thought he took it completely to heart. Sanchez's skin-on fish may have tasted terrible, but he did leave it on to coax a bit of moisture out of the nuked entree. His execution was flawed, sure, but don't accuse the man of not listening.
Chris Cosentino is a lot like Aaron Sanchez, at least how the latter had been in previous episodes. He wants to cook his way or no way. It's how he likes it or not at all. This is why he wound up serving al dente cauliflower (was it Knowlton or Brown who suggested he had called it crudite? Clever, either way). It's also why, in an effort to combat the altitude-battered palate, he overseasoned the garnish of his asparagus salad, rather than the asparagus itself. I did experience a moment of Cosentino pride, however, when he threatened to burn the camera crew. Personally, I'd have bludgeoned someone with a heavy stockpot.
John Besh would make a terrific Iron Chef. He's technically relevant, he's got a personality, and he knows how to market his food (no matter what Michael Ruhlman had to say about loosely defining "consomme"). Were it not for Michael Symon, Besh would be my pick.
And Michael Symon. God, that guy is cool. His food is good, his laugh is psychotic, and he'd make a great addition to Kitchen Stadium. But what happens to Lola (and the lesser-known but charcuterie-stocked Lolita) if he wins?
And now onto the comments (oh, how I love moderating these)....
This blog has been coming out in fits and spurts, dependent entirely on my disposable income and ability to search out WiFi access. I'm glad I was finally able to knock out another review and check out the comments left by an LtSmooth and (of course!) another Anonymous.
And to Anonymous, who thought I provided a "very American" view of Vietnamese food and that my "description of pho was quite a bit off": I know I haven't posted any full photos of myself here, but based on the hair/lips/skin combo at the top right, have you noticed that I'm....um....American? Or did you perhaps notice my "I've never been to Vietnam" disclaimer? And as for the description of pho, I call it as I eat it.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
3195 South Grand
St. Louis, MO 63118
Right, right. Everyone in St. Louis has already been to Pho Grand. Well, sorry, but I had a mad craving for pho all weekend and my regular pho-making local, Banh Mi So, was closed for vacation. It doesn't hurt that Pho Grand is consistently great and greatly consistent, either. It also didn't hurt that Pho Grand actually got better after it was moved to another location down the street, which is more than I can say for one of my older Vietnamese favorites, LemonGrass.
Speaking of LemonGrass, there are a few choices for Vietnamese if you happen to be on South Grand near Tower Grove. I've been to nearly all of them, and I prefer the cozy, warm, more informal atmosphere of Pho Grand to other places that cover their seats in plastic and space tables to provide elbow room enough for the rudest of Americans.
We walked into Pho Grand at around 6:00pm on a Sunday night, and even though the dining room looked nearly full, we were seated immediately. This was a preview of the service at Pho Grand, which is attentive and efficient. I want to say that it borders on militaristic, but that implies unfriendliness, and that's just not how it is there. For anyone who wants a Chochkie's-type of server who offers to set you up with some chicken fajita poppers while giving you a good look at his dental caps, Pho Grand might not be your type of place. But for someone who wants a swift, competent, and cordial server, please get down to South Grand for some pho.
For an appetizer, Graham and I split an order of Crispy Chicken Wings. They come seven to a plate, covered in a caramelized garlic sauce. The wings were a burnished bronze, coated in a sauce studded with minced garlic and red chili flakes. The sweetness of caramelization was most evident at first, but the heady garlic and the chili provided just enough heat to make these wings not at all like anything you'd get at TGI Friday's. Or Chochkie's.
They weren't soggy, they weren't burnt, and there was enough gristle around the tender globes of meat to make you believe that maybe, just maybe, these wings were different than the ones KFC reportedly has grown mutant Godzilla chickens to achieve. But it was the sauce that made these wings. It may be gauche to run your finger through the sauce when all the wings are gone, but I'm only human.
We'd been encouraged to order our entrees at the same time as we ordered our appetizer, which explains why our server landed my pho and Graham's shaking beef as soon as the last chicken wing left the plate. It didn't seem rushed, though, because the chicken wing plate (still pooled with the glorious garlic sauce) was allowed to stay.
I've never been to Vietnam, but based on what I've read and how it makes me feel, I can only guess that pho is what Vietnamese moms make their kids on sick days. It's the perfect comfort food. You start with a clear broth. From there, cook some rice noodles, protein, scallions, and leafy veggies or herbs in the broth. Aromatics like lemongrass, ginger, and other herbs are used, but what kind and how much depend on the cook. Pho is served basically plain with a plate of vegetables and sauces on the side. Like in most Asian countries, food is garnished by the eater.
Pho Grand has several different versions of pho, including beef, chicken, tofu, seafood, and ones with vermicelli noodles instead of the fatter rice noodles. I chose a version with medium-rare sliced eye of round and beef meatballs. The sliced beef scared me at first. Because it was cooked in the broth, the pink color was gone from all but one slice. Also, the slices were so thin that the meat had crenulated, creating something that looked terrifyingly similar to tripe (Pho Grand does serve a tripe pho, if you're into that). However, they had a very tender, beefy texture in the mouth, a full flavor, and there was none of that sweat-like smell that tripe can produce. The so-called meatballs were actually slices of smooth beef sausage. Again, these were pale from cooking in the broth, but the flavor was so good and they were packed with juice.
My pho had the standard aroma and flavor, but there was also something like either star anise (looks like pinwheels of cinnamon and tastes like licorice) or galangal (spicy, astringent, ginger-like herb). Although pepper is usually served on the side in Vietnam, Pho Grand grated theirs directly into the bowl. To garnish my pho, I usually go with some torn basil, cilantro, lime, garlic-chili sauce, and a few squirts of hoisin (think Asian soy-barbecue sauce).
Once your garnishes are mixed, it's time to eat. Chopsticks are used for the solids, and spoons are used for the broth. While it's totally acceptable to slurp your broth, please don't tip your bowl to your mouth like you're drinking cereal milk. (Yes, I understand how that sounds, but I've seen Midwesterners eat, okay?) Another thing to remember is that although pho is soup, it's filling like a stew, and it doesn't re-heat very well. This might be my only complaint about Pho Grand, because the enormous bowls of steaming, tasty goodness are just about impossible to finish.
Graham got the shaking beef (Bo Luc Lac). This is tender, peppered beef chunks sauteed with onions, garlic, chili, and sometimes (though not at Pho Grand) pineapple. The mess is served with rice, cilantro, julienned carrots, and the standard tableside garnishes. Graham raved about it, and I believe he also said "Dude, even the rice is good." Luckily, I have a very generous boyfriend who doesn't mind if I nick a piece (or four) of beef off his plate. Luckily, he's got a girlfriend who's enthusiastic about letting him try some pho.
Dessert isn't a very big deal in Vietnamese cuisine, at least not in the standard American way of doing it. However, I am who I am, and that is a person who loves sweets. To remedy this, we each ordered an iced coffee.
Vietnamese iced coffee is very different from anything you can order at Starbucks (thank god). For starters, the coffee itself is very strong, French-roast coffee. Pho Grand's menu advertises that theirs is French chicory coffee (chicory is a root with a very bold, bitter taste, and using it in coffee is common in French-colonized places like New Orleans and, well, Vietnam). The coffee comes to your table as a glass topped with a metal strainer. You wait for the coffee to strain into the glass, which already contains a few inches of sweetened, condensed milk. Once the coffee has drained, you mix the two together and fill your glass with ice.
It's dense. It's syrupy. It's strong. It's bitter. It's sweet. It's the most awesome coffee drink you've ever had and will (hopefully) break you of that $5.00 a day Frappucino habit. Pho Grand's iced coffee is some of the best in St. Louis. I highly recommend ordering a glass no matter how full your pho left you.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
I think that modern medicine is all wrong. Fat, salt, dairy, eggs, and all that other goodness isn't what's going to lay me down with a heart attack. It's actually going to be The Next Iron Chef America's fault. Two episodes in and I'm addicted to this show. I bite my nails (what little of them I have left), I pace the room, and I catch myself almost pressing the mute button because I can't stand the suspense anymore. Seriously. It's insane.
My favorite is already Michael Symon, probably because I read Michael Ruhlman's The Soul of a Chef and really liked his style. Based on what I know about the other contenders, I was also pulling for Traci des Jardins, who surprised the hell out of me by getting eliminated at the end of the first episode. I knew about Gavin Kaysen from last month's Food and Wine's Best New Chef's issue (his recipe was Greek salad with feta cheese mousse....mmmm, feta). I vaguely knew of John Besh, but that was mostly because of his previous Iron Chef America appearance.
The other contenders -- Chris Cosentino, Jill Davies, Morou, and Aaron Sanchez, I knew nothing about. Of these, Jill Davies is already gone (last night, weird partially-frozen salad the problem). Chris Cosentino seems like a kickass line chef, but kind of an asshole that I really wouldn't want to go drinking with out of fear that he'd call the bartender names and punch someone in the back of the head for no reason. Morou seems like a freaking assassin, and I mean that in the best possible way. He's fast, he's smart, he's sneaky. I think that he's definitely got a shot. Aaron Sanchez hasn't done much besides piss me off. He's frequently caught touching his food after time has been called, and once whined to Alton Brown about not being able to plate his food after the challenge was done. "Are you kidding me? Seriously?" Um, dude, have you ever seen Iron Chef? Either version? You can never plate after time, that's part of the game!
If anyone wants to know how to reach me next Sunday, it's safe to say that I'll be crouched in the corner of my couch, sweating and swearing and trying to remember what cheap action movies The Chairman has been in.
Friday, October 12, 2007
I'll deal with the good and the bad, at least I'm being read. But I would also like to remind everyone that I never claimed to be doing or making anything new. Remember, I'm just your average citizen who likes to eat. Most of the people I know are the same way, and I'm not about to spend $40 to cook something fancy at home that people might be afraid to eat (though someday I will take a risk and introduce them to oxtails). But you know, if I can make someone feel more proficient about making some relatively simple pasta, I'm going to. But thanks, Anonymous, for saying you might come back. Welcome in the first place.
On with the show....
It's a Rant because I'm fairly poor right now, at least until my paycheck next week. This issue has been on my mind, anyway, and I really want to know WHY so many restaurants in St. Louis find it impossible to cook a hamburger to order.
Maybe my upbringing screwed me. I was raised in a family of enthusiastic cooks, eaters, and carnivores, so cooking something medium rare to medium was never a mystery. When it came to meat, pink tasted better. Blood meant flavor. Bring on the gore. Unfortunately, 8 out of the 10 times (mostly a guess, I'm really bad at math) I just want a hamburger in a St. Louis establishment and order it medium, I get well done. If I'd wanted gray I would have asked for it, wouldn't I?
This happens everywhere, even the restaurants who are supposed to know what they're doing when it comes to burgers. O'Connell's, Blueberry Hill, McGurk's, Affton Cafe, et al. In fact, the only place that hasn't let me down is Fast Eddie's, but I'm a Southsider and those drunk Sundays with cheap eats don't happen often.
I'd understand the "oversight" if I ordered a burger in a finer place and the cooks wanted to punish me, but jeezus peezus, we're talking pub atmospheres here. The Eater cannot live on french fries and beer alone, no matter how much she would like to.
If anyone knows of a place that honors the tradition of simple, slightly bloody ground beef, let me know. I'll even be happy to drive awhile to get there.
And in case anyone's interested, here's a brief shot from the PETA (people eating tasty animals) party I attended this past weekend. The list of food I had consists of deer stew, red beans and rice with turkey neck bones in the mix, meatballs in simple marinara, crawfish etoufee, bison sausage, and elk burger (cooked perfectly!). Like a champ, yo.
Monday, October 8, 2007
A recent exception was the latest issue of St. Louis Magazine, named The Restaurant Issue. After I skimmed past the "society pages" (if that's what you can call them in this town), I got to check out the Almost Perfect Best New Restaurants (clever title), osmosize How To Be a Critic (to be helpful, especially for the Anonymous commenter who simply wrote "give it a rest"), and read an article about super-smart restaurateur Larry Levy.
Bonus points for Matthew Halverson, whose article "Hot Plates" admits that while there may be a Latin cuisine boom in St. Louis, it's really nothing new for the rest of the country.
This issue makes me feel all tingly inside.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Clockwise from left to right, you're looking at gnocchi, tomato-basil marinara, a merlot-malbec blend, kosher salt, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, chicken sausage, and garlic.
Instead of something typical like spaghetti bolognese (that's spaghetti with meat sauce, by the way), I felt like making some Gnocchi Pomodoro with Salsicce del Pollo and Roasted Garlic (and that's gnocchi with tomato-basil marinara, chicken sausage, and, well, roasted garlic).
Let's start with the sauce.
I'd like to take this opportunity to defend sauce-in-a-jar. First of all, I hate large pieces of tomato. Second, I'm not spending $10.00 on fresh herbs. Lastly, I'm not an Italian grandmother who has all day to spend on Simmer. Thus, Trader Joe's Tomato Basil sauce is about to get an upgrade.
1. ROASTED GARLIC
Roasted garlic has a great, mellow flavor that works well in the background of an acidic tomato sauce. Personally, I feel that you can never have enough garlic and rarely enough olive oil, so this steps includes plenty of both.
First, preheat your oven to 325.
Take two or three cloves of garlic and peel them. I do this with a blunt object (actually an empty sake bottle). Placing the garlic on the board and thunking it once will break the hard base, which makes the skin crack easily.
Once garlic is peeled, trim the ends and smash the cloves. Smashing is quicker than dicing, plus I get to play with my chef's knife (NEVER a garlic press, which is a tool of the unholy and robs garlic of flavor and aroma). To do this, place cloves on a board and position the flat side of your knife blade over them. Then, press down firmly on the other side of the blade with your hand like you're stamping a paper. See?
Next, make a small foil packet and cover the bottom with a thin layer of olive oil. Place the smashed garlic inside and keep packet in the oven until the garlic is golden brown and mushy. (Do NOT burn garlic - nasty, nasty, nasty!)
2. COOK SAUSAGE
Ina medium saucepan, heat about 1/6 or 1/4 of an inch of olive oil. Keep the burner on Low, because olive oil has a low smoke point. You don't want it to start burning off before you get anything in there.
While the oil heats, prep the sausage. Trader Joe's carries an awesome chicken sausage with spinach and fontina that I could eat hourly if I was allowed. In order to use them in sauce, you first have to remove the casing. With a paring or sharp steak knife, cut a slit lengthwise along the side of the sausage. Pull the casing apart and remove the meat.
Now that it's all loose and crumbly, break up the sausage into pieces. Drop the pieces into your oiled saucepan like in the blurry picture below.
Your heat should be a Medium Low now, and your garlic should be roasted. Add the garlic to the sausage and stir to coat everything in olive oil.
When the sausage is partially browned, add your handy sauce-in-a-jar. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir every so often to distribute fat and deliciousness.
3. BOIL WATER
To cook pasta, first you've got to boil some water. Easy, right? You'd think. When you're boiling water for food (as opposed to for sanitation, but I don't live in India...or Festus), there are two things to remember.
- Thing 1 - Keep a strong boil. This means that when your food goes in, the water keeps boiling. If it doesn't, this is called "losing the boil." Losing the boil throws off your cooking times and means you're an inattentive bastard.
- Thing 2 - Water needs flavor. Unfortunately, most people are guilty of underseasoning their pasta water. Whaaa? Yes, season your water. With salt.
Salt is a big deal. Wars have been fought over it (Solaria, Rosettia, Rome, France, Germany, Spain, even Texas). People don't realize the importance of seasoning in the history of armed conflict. Instead of fighting for the right to drive big-ass SUVs all over the planet, people used to fight for flavor. Saffron (Saffron War, 1374), nutmeg and cloves (Indonesia, 1600's), cinnamon (Java, 1825), and chocolate (Cortes' invasion of Mexico, 1518) sure beat the hell out of gasoline.
Now, Thomas Keller says that boiling water should taste like the Atlantic Ocean. Well, I've tasted the Atlantic Ocean, and not only is it gross, but my house isn't the French Laundry. (Forgive me, Thomas, for I have sinned.) For me, a small palmful of salt is enough.
When I'm cooking pasta, I also like to add a little olive oil to the water. It prevents the pasta from sticking and imparts a little flavor.
Gnocchi is a potato-flour dumpling pasta that looks like tiny loaves of bread. It's chewy, doughy, and fantastic about absorbing sauce. Be careful not to overcook (3 to 4 minutes, tops), because gnocchi can get gummy fast.
Add gnocchi to your boiling, salted, possibly oiled (according to your preference) water. Step back and admire your culinary prowess.
It's been 3 to 4 minutes tops, and your gnocchi's done. Take the pot off the burner and dump into a strainer. Toss the gnocchi a few times to remove excess water. Plate immediately (cold gnocchi gets gummy, too).
Cover gnocchi with your salsicce del pollo and roasted garlic pomodoro.
Cover THAT with shaved or grated Parmesano-Reggiano. I prefer the pre-deconstructed kind, but that's because I'm a klutz who doesn't trust her fingers near a grater. If you're less of a spaz, feel free to get a wedge and grate it yourself. (But for the love of god, do not ruin everything with Parmesan-in-a-can.)
Look at what you've done. Thank you, thank you.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
The following photo and award categories have been taken from Michael Ruhlman's blog, which is eons more awesome than mine will ever be....
Awards to be given include the Alton Award (food personality who can actually cook), the Fergus Award (best performance in offal), the Rocco Award (worst career move by talented chef), the Chef's Chef Award (least heralded yet most deserving working chef), and the Mario Award (chef'restaurateur who best multi-tasked, merchandised, multi-performed, and generally whored him or herself yet still continued to make significant and valuable contributions to the restaurant landscape).
If anyone could possibly hook me up with an afterparty invite, I'd love to buy Ruhlman and Bourdain a drink (or a dozen, in Bourdain's probable case).
Monday, September 24, 2007
The above image was taken from the Taste of St. Louis Web site because I was too hungover to remember to take more than one picture of the event. So it goes.
Last year at Taste of St. Louis, some of the booths left me wondering why some crews had chosen to feature a food that was better prepared from an in-house kitchen, rather than the weak burners and steam baths of an outdoor festival. Well, Self, thanks for opening your big fat mouth. Gone were the spring rolls and rock shrimp beignets of 2006. This year, nearly every booth on Macy's Restaurant Row seemed to say "To hell with it, let's just grill some meat."
We started out with the steak empanadas with red pepper coulis from Minions. It was probably not such a bad thing that the advertised basil aioli accompaniment was MIA, as I have issues with mayonnaise-based sauces kept in 90 degree weather. The fried, greasy meat-filled empanadas would be a spectacular drunk food, far better than the oil envelopes (sorry, I meant Jack N' The Box tacos) my friends seem to prefer, especially with sweet, red pepper puree substituting for buttermilk ranch dressing. But that's the problem -- as alcohol sponges, the empanadas are great. As hangover recovery food, they're just a step above pizza rolls.
Thankfully, Mirasol's booth wasn't far away from Minions', and they were offering savory duck and pork meatballs called albondigas . The dour little goth girl at the register called them ale-bone-DAY-goes, but I'm not one to quibble over semantics when I'm hungry. For $6.00, we were handed a small bowl filled with four 2-bite meatballs drowning in an ocher-red sauce. Drunk, hungover, or sober, this is what I like. Meatballs made with rich duck, chewy pork, and visible chunks of garlic, spurting clear juice with each bite and dripping with sauce. (Sounds sexy, maybe I should author me some erotica.) Eating them was tricky, but I long ago mastered the art of leaning face forward, clothing back, fork in mouth with elbow bent perpendicular from body. This is a valuable skill to have when single and eating over the kitchen sink.
The sauce for the meatballs wasn't like marinara, and it didn't carry the chili wallop I was counting on from a "Nuevo Latino" restaurant. Instead, it was more like tikka masala, a type of Indian gravy flavored with almond paste, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, tomatoes, and onion. I checked Mirasol's menu this morning, and saw that their sauce is made with cashews and ponca chili. If I were to make it myself, I might try poblanos for a smoky, subtle heat.
Lest you foolishly assume from the first paragraph that I've got something against grilled meat, our next stop was Roxane's booth for smoked pulled chicken. The people staffing this booth were some of the friendliest at Taste of St. Louis (unless you count L'Ecole Culinaire students, but they simply haven't worked the line for long enough yet). A perky woman informed us that they had just run out of the pulled chicken, but we could have pulled pork if we wanted it. We did, in addition to some jerk chicken wings.The chicken wings were excellent; giant specimens with the perfect ratio of char to fatty skin to moist meat. The scotch bonnet jerk seasoning was a gradual, sneaky sort of spice that kept my lips warm but didn't sear my tongue off. There could have been more jerk on the wings, but they'd just come off the grill ands hadn't had the opportunity to rustle around with the excess spice that had fallen to the bottom of the buffet pan.
The pulled pork was another story. The meat was so wet that it was practically whipped, the supermarket bun soggy and cold. The sauce wasn't the Carolina-style mustard sauce you'd expect from pulled meat (like I said, erotica, here I come!). Instead, it had an intense, puckery tang from Roxane's own sauce. An employee explained that it was ketchup mixed with tomato jam.
Taste of St. Louis isn't just about food, though, it's about emerging music (yay for my friends in Ashborne, who opened for Bad Company on Friday night!) and local art. All well and good, but this is a food blog, and kids, no matter what the burnouts who hang out in the alley behind 7-11 say, you really shouldn't eat what comes out of a spray can.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
PLUS! I talked to one of the employees (might be an owner, I'm not enough of a jackass to play investigative reporter) and mentioned that I'd reviewed the place last weekend. He thanked me. Maybe because I said that I hearted the sandwich.
And later, Graham's making steak fajitas. Mmmmmm......
Monday, September 17, 2007
Right now, St. Louis is in the middle of that maybe-a-month-long-but-certainly-nothing-more-than-that time of perfect weather. The humidity that makes our lungs feel like soaked sponges is gone, the damp chill of October hasn't set in just yet, and even in the middle of the day, conditions are just right for eating outside.
This past Friday, Graham and I went to the Macklind Avenue Deli at Macklind and Murdoch in South City (get used to this area, as I dislike driving long distances when I'm already hungry). I remember the place as being called Krekeler's, a kind of corner store across the street from a portrait studio my mom took us to. Within the past year, it has been transformed from a corner store to a full-fledged deli with a bitchin' beer (domestics, imports, micros and plenty of Bud products if you care) and wine selection. While Krekeler's had not much besides a bike rack in the past, Macklind Avenue Deli has a cute outdoor seating area with umbrellas and wireless.
Macklind Avenue Deli has chips, snacks, ice cream, desserts, and sides like slaw and potato salad, but we stuck with the sandwiches and beer. I only mildly regret this; although I was full from one half of the sandwich, I really wanted to try the mustard seed-studded potato salad that looked nothing like the demon-yellow mayo (alleged mustard, LIES!) sludge you're used to buying at Schnuck's. Another thing I mildly regret is only getting one beer apiece. Yes, we had to work later, but Macklind Avenue Deli has three kinds of beer on the shelves -- room temperature, refrigerated 6-packs, and refrigerated single bottles.
The staff looks like former cafeteria ladies who could smack the crap out of you, but instead choose to smile and get the massive sandwiches ready within a few minutes. I ordered the Southwest Turkey sandwich, with pepper jack cheese, Boar's Head Sausalito turkey breast, lettuce, red onion, tomato, and chipotle sauce on floured ciabatta bread (no tomato for me, though). Graham got the Carl's Poor Boy (not a Po' Boy, though, more like a King of the Hill). Two sandwiches, a St. Peter's IPA and a Blue Paddle totaled about $19.00, which is no more than what you'd pay at Bread Co.
My sandwich ROCKED BALLZ.
I'm so glad I got over that not liking spicy foods thing, because Macklind Avenue Deli's creamy chipotle sauce was hot enough to make my lips tingle a bit, but not so hot that it overpowered the seasoned turkey breast and standard shredded lettuce. I'm also glad I got over the whole hating onions thing, because the ones on my sandwich were crisp and piquant (haha, yeah, it's a food blog now). This sounds like I'm reaching, but I'm the daughter of a produce man and I hate -- I HATE -- when simple things like sandwich veggies get overlooked. The chewy ciabatta bread provided a very decent counterpoint for the hotter bites and held up well to the thick layer of pepper jack.
Graham's sandwich was all right, but the bland dressing could have been made with a little more vinegar. A touch of acidity works wonders on a heavy on the meat/heavy on the cheese sandwich, and I don't think the tomato he left out would have stood up very well.
There's a dessert counter, too, and unfortunately, I was too full to partake (though I was interested in the chocolate zucchini cake, an example of one of the only times vegetables and chocolate are permitted to be together ever). Graham got a lemon "tart" before we left, and I place that in quotations because it wasn't very tart at all. Cloyingly sweet with a crumble crust and confectioner's sugar on top, if I'm going to eat something that sweet, I prefer that it contain chocolate and cleverly-disguised illegal substances. I kid, I kid.
As you can see from the photo at the top, Macklind Avenue Deli is open until 8pm on weeknights, but not shown is that the patio doesn't close until ten. The whole place closes up at 4pm on Sundays. Remember, you're still on the South Side, and most of these people still make dinner by 5pm.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
This blog was born from the frustration I've experienced with the St. Louis food "scene." (Quotations are because I have no other way to describe it; I'm not the type of person to use the word normally.) As you may have noticed in my sidebar up there, I hate toasted ravioli. I've had ice cream far better than that of Ted Drewes', and I think that gooey butter cake is gooey, and that's just about it. I can't stand that the RFT Reader's Choice (or whatever) poll has named TGI Friday's as the best appetizer selection several years running. It bothers me that people in this town seem to like things because they're supposed to, and they don't seem to know how to want any better.
Probably, this blog is partly due to my spiteful nature. I want to give a big Finger to everyone out there who's never wanted more than bourbon-glazed boneless chicken wings (wings aren't fucking "boneless," just be honest and call them chicken PARTS) on red-checked tablecloths while some suburban brat wails in the background.
But I also think that St. Louis has so much potential, and part of the reason we still have so many independent and family-run places is because some people, in some places, continue to patronize them for a simple reason - they're good. I want to show my friends and anyone else who cares where these places are. I also want to make people less afraid to try new things or spend a little bit more on the good stuff.
I'm really excited about this blog, and I hope that if you're here, you'll visit again. Feel free to post a comment or write firstname.lastname@example.org if you have something to say, recommend, or ask.