Epic LA Champagne Tasting: The Terry Theise Estate Selections

Noodles 06If you have never been to a Terry Theise tasting than you never have experienced a great Champagne tasting.  Terry has been described as several things but I like best what wine importer Michael Skurnik had to say “The Man, the Myth, the Legend! If it is true that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, Terry Theise has been there and back. A brief perusal of his writing makes it quickly apparent that the man has no reservations about conveying his thoughts and feelings on wine, life, sex, philosophy and general cosmology. In Terry’s world, it’s all inter-related. So, without further ado, we encourage you to jump headlong into the wonderful world of Terry Theise German, Austrian and Champagne Estate Selections. Prepare yourself for a psychotropic experience.”

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scan0042Wow!  I think Terry kind of covers his philosophy on his own.  Needless to say the event is simply amazing.  Lisa, Frederic and myself drove to Los Angeles to attend the tasting at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Noodles 01 Noodles 02 Noodles 10The Roosevelt is a historical hotel near many Hollywood landmarks.  Here is a history from their website: “Bringing glamour back to the Boulevard, Thompson Hotel’s Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel reincarnation resonates with the opulence of its fabled past. The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel has a long history of catering to the show business elite. The hotel was founded in 1927 by a syndicate of Hollywood luminaries (including Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Sid Grauman, and Louis B. Mayer) to house east coast movie-makers who were working on the west coast. Hollywood Roosevelt hotel’s “Blossom Room” hosted the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony, on May 19, 1929. That was also the shortest Oscar ceremony ever, lasting just five minutes, as Douglas Fairbanks and Al Jolson helped give away 13 statuettes. Marilyn Monroe was a resident at the Hollywood Roosevelt for two years when her modeling career took off. Her first magazine shoot was taken on the diving board on the pool behind the hotel, which was recently removed. The hotel’s remodeled pool contains an underwater mural painted by David Hockney.”

The Roosevelt is slightly faded from it’s former luster years but still worth visiting.  The tasting was in their Public Kitchen and Bar (http://www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/la/hollywood-roosevelt/eat/public-kitchen-and-bar)

Noodles 08The Champagne tasting itself featured 105 great sparklers.  The standouts for me included a simple and inexpensive Greek organic sparkler called Karanika.  Here is what Tom Stevenson had to say about the domaine  “I shall be keeping a very close eye on Laurens Hartman in the future. He has the potential to produce a world class sparkling wine and of all the budding new sparkling wine superstars I am currently following, Hartman is the only one not using classic Champagne grape varieties. Xinomavro’s naturally high acid and intrinsically low colour makes it the obvious choice for anyone trying to craft a sparkling wine that is expressive of its Greek roots, but seldom have I come across any artisanal sparkling wine that is as polished as Hartman’s 2010-based second release of Domaine Karanika Xinomavro Brut. It has a silky-smooth mousse that most champenois would die for. Okay, I could quibble about the wine, and I did face to face with Hartman, but it is already the best sparkling wine produced in Greece. With his 2011 on yeast and 2012 still base wine both show promise, it is only a matter of time and experience before Hartman crafts something truly world class.”  A decent bottle worthy of a spot on our by the glass offerings at Figue.

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Frederic was simply gaga over a Portuguese sparkler whose name eludes me.  The jewel of the tasting, however, is the offerings from Vilmart et Cie, an absolutely stunning grower/producer.  Here what Terry had to say In the early days when I first approached Vilmart and started working with Laurent Champs, I had mixed emotions about some of the Champagnes. Please note what “mixed emotions” actually means. It doesn’t mean I doubted the worthiness of the wines or thought they were mediocre. It means I had different opinions about different aspects of the wines. I was thrilled with some, intrigued with all, and wondered whether a couple were too oaky.

Earlier in his career, I think Laurent was flying blind on the matter of oak, and his recent Champagnes have wisely—presented a more integrated and elegant  profile. Yet he is adamantly a vintner first, before he is a maker of Champagne: “We do wine first, then afterward we do Champagne,” he says. Every base wine, without exception, sees at least ten months in casks of  varying size and newness. Once in a while there’s a brief disconnect between fruit and wood immediately after disgorgement, but 2-3 years on the cork make for a dramatic metamorphosis. Matter of fact, I’ve found Vilmart among the most food-friendly of all my Champagnes, because they’re so gracious, so vinous, so lordly in their carriage. It’s clear to me Vilmart is a Champagne estate of unassailable consequence, a must-have for anyone Interested in the possibilities of this most suavely powerful and graceful of all wines. Casks are hardly the point anymore. Organic viticulture, (truly!) low yields, remarkable polish of fruit, and the deliberate patient pursuit of a vision of perfection make Laurent Champs’ estate a gemstone gleaming among the chalk. ”

The tasting is amazing in many respects like you pour your own pours for all the wines except Vilmart.  Last year, Lisa and I resorted to donning costumes and adopting strange accents in our vain attempts to fool the pourer into giving us more.  The 2004 Coeur de Cuvee was absolutely stunning in it’s elegance.  Probably one of the best Champagnes I have had the privilege to drink.  The 2005 was amazing too but lacked the strength of vintage that 2004’s presented.  Other notables from Vilmart et Cie included the NV Grand Cellier brut and the magnum of 2006 Grand Celler d’Or.  I strongly suggest visiting their property in Champagne and drinking their wine whenever the opportunity presents itself.  http://www.champagnevilmart.fr/

The other stars of the show included NV Cuvee Julie from grower/producer Henri Biilliot (beautifully floral fragrances),The rose brut from Chartogne-Taillet; the 2008 Millesime brut from Vallee de la Marne and the 2006 Grand Vintage Blanc de Blanc from Varnier Fanniere.  I want to thank George Pavlov of Wine Wise for the invitation.  It truly is a spectacular event.

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Burgundy Truffle Season Has Begun

 

 

 

Nothing gets me more excited as a Chef than the beginning of truffle season.  My first batch of truffles rolled in today from Burgundy.  While they are not as pungent or expensive as Perigord they still are beautiful and fragrant.  Here are my specials for tonight!  Please stop by Figue in the Palm Springs market for dinner and be sure to say HELLO!Display0317

SMALL PLATES

 

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata Caprese $16

slow cooked Cherry Tomatoes, Pesto, Sicilian Organic Citrus Oil

house pickled Currant Tomatoes, Fig Vincotto and Di Stefano Burrata

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Salmon Crudo with Citrus and warm Merguez Olives $16

Mint and Citrus cured Salmon, drizzled with 1,000 year Olive Oil

Grapefruit, Kaffir Lime and Mandarin Orange, fried Sausage stuffed Olives

 

Salt and Pepper Moroccan Calamari and Octopus $18

deep fried Calamari and Octopus with Harissa powder, Green Charmoula

 

American Berkshire Prosciutto $18

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata, Brioche Crostini, Fig Jam,

 

Carpaccio of Octopus $18

Truffle Basil Aioli, Arugula and Asparagus Salad, shaved Manchego, Brioche Crostini

 

Turban of Sea Scallop and Burgundy Truffles $30

Spaghetti, shaved Truffles, Cabbage Salad, Beurre Blanc

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Paleta Iberica de Bellota $42

Cinco Jotas pure bred Iberico shoulder Ham aged two years

Tomato Olive Focaccia, Green Tomato Jam, shaved Idiazabal Cheese

 

Warm Truffle Tart $95

Filo, Smoked Bacon and Candy Onion Jam, Burgundy Truffles

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BIG PLATES

 

 

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta in Guazetto $28

Greek Branzino, Mussels and Shrimp in a Saffron Tomato Brodo, Hand Cut Squid Ink Pasta

Buckwheat Pasta with Rabbit Ragu $28

hand rolled Buckwheat Pasta, Rabbit Ragu, Sicilian organic Citrus Olive Oil, aged Pecorino

 

Spit Roast Jidori Chicken $26

Chickpea Fries, Ratatouille, Preserved Lemon Jus

 

Daube of slow braised Wagyu Beef Cheek $36

baked Ricotta galette, Cherry Tomato confite, Pumpkin Seed Crumble, Micro Arugula

 

Whole Roasted Daurade Royale $38

Mediterranean Gilt Headed Sea Bream, Artichoke & Fennel Barigoule, Olive Tapenado

 

SWEETS & TURKISH COFFEE

 

Moroccan Donuts and Harissa Hot Chocolate $9

house made Donuts, Cinnamon Sugar, spicy Hot Chocolate

 

Turkish Coffee $10

Honey and Cardamom flavored Coffee served in a Copper Ibrik

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Morgans at La Quinta Resort

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Sunday night, Lisa and I got a reprieve from Warden Beau and were furloughed for three hours, just long enough to escape for dinner at nearby restaurant Morgan’s.  I have been wanting to eat here for a long time but it always seemed impossible.  I guess my mind wanders to LA hotspots rather than what is in my neighborhood.  Michael Vaughn, executive Sous Chef of the property, has been a regular customer at Figue and every time he comes in I always feel bad I haven’t visited one of his places always promising to get in.

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We arrived promptly at 5:30 for cocktails at their beautiful bar for a round of leisurely drinks.  Lisa started with a Tangerine and Ginger Margarita while I had the Rum Old Fashioned.  The drinks were perfect.  I loved the decor of the bar area as it kind of reminded me of an old steak house with a it’s luxurious wood and glass.  The bar had a beautiful glass case with cheeses.  Next to the bar was a gorgeous outdoor dining area.  While we were enjoying our drinks Brian Recor, Chef de Cuisine, came out to visit.  Jimmy Schmidt is the name brand behind the concept but Brian is the guy who actually cooks.  I don’t mean to slight Jimmy, it’s just for the immediate purposes of filling my stomach with delectable bites I was more interested in Brian’s well-being.

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The hostesses lead us to a beautiful table in the back corner of the dining room.  Our waiter arrived and offered the regular menu and a tasting menu featuring apples.  With too many good choices to decide from we picked one tasting menu and a few dishes of the regular menu.  We started with a plate of oysters topped with Riesling and Hard Cider Granita.  Normally I am a guy who wants brine and more brine but these oysters were delicious.  The brine complimented the sweetness of the granita.  Lisa started with a Gruet Brut and I had the ‘Le Cengle Rose’ from Provence.  The sparkler highlighted the Sea while my rose brought out the apples.  Two great choices for this dish.

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After the oysters came their Apple and Chanterelle Ravioli from the tasting menu and Ahi Tuna and Pomegranate Tartare.  I had asked the waiter to pick whatever he wanted.  The Chef kindly sent out his Baja Shrimp glazed with spices and a ragout of cauliflower and white beans.  We both found the ravioli a tad too sweet but the tartare and shrimp were stellar.  With the round of appetizers Lisa and I shared a glass of Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia highlands.

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Our main courses were Smoked Pistachio crusted Rack of Colorado Lamb served with White Beans and roasted Garlic dressed in a Pomegranate reduction and Lisa’s Apple Cider cured pan roasted Duck Breast.  Lisa paired it with the 2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo and I had a zinfandel who’s name eludes me.  Both dishes were tasty and by now we started thinking about our curfew.

Lisa had forgotten about her dessert but thankfully the waiter remembered.  Her Apple Cinnamon Donut Poppers arrived drizzled in Cinnamon Brittle with Salted Caramel Ice Cream.  Sated we left, returning to warden Beau and his army of balloons.

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To make reservations or for more information on Morgan’s or any of the other restaurants at La Quinta resort please go to their website.  It is a gorgeous property with wonderful rooms, shops and best of all several restaurants to choose from.  http://www.laquintaresort.com/resort/

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The Venue: Turkish Sushi?

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Just a short post today…  Lisa and I went to Beaumont’s parent/teacher conference at his Montessori school last night and used the occasion to power down dinner at an incredible sushi restaurant run by owner/chef Engin Onural.  Any parent will acknowledge the difficulty getting alone time.  That in itself is double edged, on one hand it is nice to go on a date with my wife and on the other hand I love my son so much and want to spend every second I can with him.  We took the time to eat al fresco and enjoy great food.

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During the day I continued my weekly/yearly photo assignment of photographing the Desert.  Today’s focus was the Palm Springs windmills, eyesore to some and amazing natural technology to others.  I parked near the Amtrak station and walked around the area in a small sandstorm and shot these pictures.

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We arrived promptly at 5pm with the sole intent on eating a few rolls and having a couple of Onurai’s incredible liquid libations.  The menu offers a typical assortment of sushi rolls punctuated by a few amazing not your normal sushi bar offerings like Onurai’s deconstruction of a prosciutto and arugula pizza.  I have to admit we were full when he came by our table and told us not to miss that one.

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THE BOLD
Snow crab, avocado and cream cheese topped with thin sliced prosciutto served with arugula salad, sliced almonds, pomegranate seeds and pomegranate vinaigrette

What I love about this place is the Chef’s passion.  Being a Chef I love to see it, feel it.  It just makes the experience so much more rich and 3 D.  The Chef here is not Japanese, he is Turkish. That fact adds another layer to the complexity of flavors and the willingness to experiment and create something new.

Venue 06 Venue 05The drinks are another realm of his experimentation.  The restaurant bills itself as a sake bar and lounge.  Lisa and I shared two creative and refreshing drinks, Flor Dulce and the Lotus.

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FLOR DULCE
Sparkling wine, splash of hibiscus nectar with edible Hibiscus flower

Venue 08Great, super friendly staff takes awesome care of you while there!

from their website:

THE VENUE SUSHI BAR &
SAKE LOUNGE

Chic. Modern. Sophisticated. But also casual and friendly.
Ask around. The Venue is the cool hot spot on El Paseo in Palm Desert, popular with locals, out-of-town visitors and food critics who serve up rave reviews.

The Venue is artful, from its sleek décor to the original, ever-evolving menu, enthusiastically created by owner/chef Engin Onural. “This is my art,” he shares. “Each plate is a painting, but I use fish instead of paint.”

No detail is overlooked. Even the exotic specialty drinks are original works of art. Such as the Flor Dulce, which combines sparkling sake, edible hibiscus flower and hibiscus nectar.

Because Engin is a Sake Sommelier, you can also sample a surprising array of fine Sakes, as well as Asian beers and fine wines.

Everything is designed to enhance your enjoyment of a distinctive menu of sushi and other dishes that can only be called “unexpected.” The signature roll, The Venue, is not like any spicy tuna roll you’ve ever ordered. It’s topped with salmon, seared with a blowtorch, with a light sauce of micro greens and tabiko (flying fish caviar). The Bosphorus, which pays homage to Engin’s homeland of Turkey, features shrimp tempura, crab, avocado and escolat, with a hint of heat. That’s just two of the delicious possibilities on The Venue’s menu.

Visit often. You wouldn’t want to miss Chef Engin’s latest creations.

Make a reservation and eat there soon (and often!) http://www.thevenuepalmdesert.com/home.php

 

 

 

Sunday Family Day: Tibetan Dumplings: Who’s Your Momo?

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We shared the richest and fullest family day to date.  The day started early as it always does when you have a precocious two and a half year set on proving his place in the family structure.  I just wish his coordination matched the age of his mind and he could act on his thoughts.  Beau wakes us up with promises of ‘presso.  My half awake early morning brainwaves conjure images of the perfect espresso rich and creamy with it’s crema perfect like at Insight Coffee in Sacramento.  Thoughts wander to Antoine St. Exupery’s passage from his amazing book “Wind, Sands and Stars”, “The joy of living, I say, was summed up for me in the remembered sensation of that burning and aromatic swallow, that mixture of milk and coffee and bread by which men hold communion with tranquil pastures, exotic plantations, and golden harvests, communion with earth.” .  My java filled dream bubble rudely popped by Beau’s impromptu impersonation of a dinosaur complete with screaming at the top of his lungs and menacingly lunging at us.  I suppose in the long run, a two year old screaming Dinosaur gets me out of bed faster than coffee.

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Lately mornings have been more tolerable as cooler weather patterns have moved in.  We decided on a walk in the Desert just south of the Top of the Cove, where we live.  The slow season out here is great in the sense that you rarely see anyone walking in the Desert.  The explanation is two fold, (a) most people leave this are for the hot summer months and (b) only a fool takes a long walk in the Desert with 126 degree temperatures.  We walked through an area that  a flash flood recently ravaged.  The devastation was amazingly surreal and permanent, forever altering the landscape, where piles of rocks once stood, only dried plates of dirt and sand remain.  Beau enjoyed himself jumping on these natural tiles and smashing him imploring Daddy to join the destruction.

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Sunday Family Day 092213 03I was set on cooking an Asian based fest for Gary and Joan, Lisa, myself and Beau.  I had purchased three pounds of calamari, one whole Tai Snapper, fresh pork from De La Ranch and some ground beef to cook with.  The menu was Tibetan Beef Dumplings with Ginger Tomato Sauce, Pork and Cabbage Dumplings with a Ginger dipping sauce, Salt and Pepper Calamari, Crispy Tai Snapper with Green Papaya and Scallion Oil, finished with barbecues Pineapple with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream drizzled with a (Pyrat) Rum and Vanilla Bean butter sauce.  I prepped feverishly for two hours trying to get as much done as quickly as possible.  Strange, you’d think I hated cooking on my day off.  Truth be told, cooking is love and what a great way to show love, one stomach at a time!

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We ventured to Beau’s favorite playground, the Blue Playground, just off of 111 and Adams.  Beau danced in the water like a dervish spinning and whirling to some hidden, ecstatic inner voice and rhythm, endlessly circling the fake palm tree squirting water all over. The women of his tribe chased him as he ran around the tree stopping momentarily in the safe harbor of mama or dada’s lap.  Water had transformed our little dinosaur.  WE stopped at Home Depot for a few things to garden with.  I converted our Guatemalan drink cart into a garden planter and made a pot of herbs for Joan and Gary as a thanks for the help they give us raising Beaumont. Beaumont passed out hard, for twenty minutes, not as long as we hoped but enough to re energize him and prime him for Dama and Putz (grandma and grandpa) arrival.

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For seven years I dwelt in the loose palace of exile.
Playing strange games with the girls of the Island.
Now I have come again to the land of the fair and the strong and the wise. Brothers and Sisters of the pale forest. Children of the night. Who among you will run with the hunt? Now, night arrives with her purple legions. Retire now to your tents and to your dreams. Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth. I want to be ready.
– Jim Morrison

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Dama and Putz arrived and Lisa elevated the mood with her Golden Lions.  One day I will have to transcribe the recipe for Daniel Boulud’s amazing cocktail, fresh ginger juice, Pyrat rum, lime.  Together we shared plates of Sha Momo (Tibetan Beef Dumplings), Chinese Pork and Cabbage Dumpling, crispy fried Tai Snapper, Salt and Pepper Calamari and a refreshing roasted Pineapple with Vanilla Bean and Pyrat rum sauce…

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Beaumont sporting his Pumpkin Lights from Dama

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Long after the night ended and our dinosaur was fast asleep, we enjoyed a flute of Prosecco promising that every Sunday should be like this…

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whole Tai Snapper frying, waiting to be covered with julienned green papaya, scallion oil and a Thai fish sauceSunday Family Day 092213 06Kaffir Limes look so much like a Shar Pei crossed with a Lime

 

 

Sha Moma: largely stolen from Andrea Nguyen’s amazing dumpling book that ought to be a part of everyone’s cook book collection called “Asian Dumplings”

Filling:

3/4 pound ground Beef

1/2 cup Onion, chopped fine

1/3 cup Scallions, chopped

1/4 cup Ginger, minced

1/4 cup Garlic, minced

Salt and Sichuan Pepper

2 tablespoon Canola Oil

6 tablespoons Water

Mix everything together, rest one hour

Dumpling Dough:

2 cups Flour

3/4 cup boiling water

Mix in food processor with plastic dough blade, rest two hours.

Cut small lumps of dough and roll thin with wine bottle or rolling pin.  Take a big spoonful of meat and wrap around.  Put into a cabbage leaf lined steamer and cook 12 minutes.  Serve with a tomato sauce made from scratch adding cumin, hot peppers, copious quantities of ginger root, mint and cilantro.

 

Friday Night Specials at Figue, A Photographic Journey

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Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta with Uni $18

chilled hand rolled Chitarra Pasta with fresh Dungeness Crab

Sea Urchins and Zucchini Blossom Pesto PBS Filiming 09

Diver Scallop, Piquillo Pepper Granite and Lime Crudo $16

Mexican Diver Scallops drizzled with Kaffir Lime Ginger vinaigrette

Piquillo Pepper Granite, Bautista Creek Finger Limes and Organic Sicilian Hot Pepper Olive Oil

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Crunchy Moroccan Scallop $16

Mexican Diver Scallop wrapped in Potato, Green Charmoula Vinaigrette, fried Mint

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Bistilla Spring Rolls $16Ras el Hanout spiced Chicken with Green Onion Spring Rolls, Marcona Dipping Powder

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Di Stefano Artisan Burrata Caprese $16

Slow cooked Cherry Tomatoes, Pesto, Sicilian Organic Citrus Oil

House Pickled Currant Tomatoes, Fig Vincotto and Di Stefano Burrata

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Carne Cruda $19

hand chopped raw Beef Filet Mignon tossed with Lemon Juice, smoked Maldon Salt, Arugula and Truffle Pesto, shaved Parmesan, Brioche Crostini

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Turkish Coffee $10

Honey and Cardamom flavored Coffee served in a Copper Ibrik

Figue Food Sept 2013 21Mignardises: Basil and Pine Nut Milkshake with fried Basil

 

Photographed by Chef Francois de Melogue 2013

 

 

 

Why Small Farms are Important: Support National Eat Local Food Day September 22nd.

“The joy of living, I say, was summed up for me in the remembered sensation of that burning and aromatic swallow, that mixture of milk and coffee and bread by which men hold communion with tranquil pastures, exotic plantations, and golden harvests, communion with earth.”

Antoine de Saint Exupery

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It has been said that food can be either the greatest form of medicine or the slowest form of poison depending on it’s pedigree.  Where our food comes from and how it gets there is important, but It’s deeper than that, family farms are good for the American psyche and our local economy.  Family farms are generally defined as small operations run and worked by family members.  Small organic farms tend to operate more sustainably, both economically and environmentally, than their corporate counterparts. Family farms support and enhance local economies while corporate farms remove wealth and destroy the earth with their overuse of harmful chemicals and disastrous farming practices.

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“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”

– Wendell Berry

There are five million less farms in America now than there was after the Depression.  In 1900, 32% of Americans worked on farms now less than 2% do.  Industrial farming has taken over.  75% of agricultural product is produced by 6% of the farms.  Part of the blame lays on our Federal governments economic policies governing not only prices set for products but in it’s relentless support of corporations by instituting ridiculous conditions to which small farmers must adhere.

“The passive American consumer, sitting down to a meal of pre-prepared food, confronts inert, anonymous substances that have been processed, dyed, breaded, sauced, gravied, ground, pulped, strained, blended, prettified, and sanitized beyond resemblance to any part of any creature that ever lived. The products of nature and agriculture have been made, to all appearances, the products of industry. Both eater and eaten are thus in exile from biological reality.”

– Wendell Berry

Family farms shorten the food chain and bring us closer to healthful and diverse food supply.  We develop relationships with the farmers, foragers and fishermen that feed our family’s.  We become a community, together.  Organic whole foods are unprocessed, natural foods in their original form which are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber as well as all of the hundreds of phytonutrients that work together in the proper amounts to give our body exactly what it needs to be healthy. Unlike processed food, they do not contain added flavors, colors or preservatives.

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My wife Lisa and two year old Beaumont have been eating whole foods for the last eight years almost exclusively.  90% of our diet comes from small farmer’s like De La Ranch, Bautista Creek Farm or Johnny’s Garden that we buy from at the Palm Springs Farmer’s Market.  Our weekly menu is decided on what we find that is in season rather than what a magazine tells me to eat.  As Michael Pollan once said “at home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind.”  Our Sundays are saved to enjoy the bounty of small organic farms as a family.  My son Beaumont sits on the corner and helps cook, or at least his toy pig ‘Baby’ does.

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Some small farms have Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.  Michael Pollan says “C.S.A. reconnects you as an eater with the source of your food, offering a vivid reminder that, whatever we eat, we eat by the grace of farms and farmers, of the land, the weather and the season — not supermarkets. The C.S.A. means I also eat in the knowledge that I’m doing my small bit to defend a gorgeous patch of bottomland along Cache Creek outside the tiny town of Guinda from the oncoming wave of sprawl that threatens to engulf California’s entire Central Valley into one big, wall-to-wall housing development.”

At Figue Mediterranean, located in La Quinta (California) where I am employed as Executive Chef I buy from several small producers.  Every week I get a listing of products from dozens of farmers at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.  I actively support the Palm Springs Farmer’s market and have several people who bring me bags of oranges, lemons and figs from their gardens that they cannot use.  My pork comes from the absolutely best pig farmer’s in the country CookPig.  We even forage for wild dates and other items we can use on our menus.  Food provides a soul satisfying and healthy connection between the Earth and ourselves.  Like St. Exupery said, we hold communion with distant farms by simply drinking our fair trade coffees and teas.  It offers our guests a very seasonal and fun way to dine that is a bit more spontaneous.  Last week I came up with seven dishes based on walking through my farmer’s market.  Our guests are sophisticated and demand healthful food.  They realize the link between whole, unengineered foods.  Here are my specials:

“Find the Shortest, Simplest way between Earth, the Hands and the Mouth”

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata Caprese $16

Slow cooked Cherry Tomatoes, Pesto, Sicilian Organic Citrus Oil

House Pickled Currant Tomatoes, Fig Vincotto and Di Stefano Burrata

Maman’s Provencal Salad $12

Bautista Creek’s simply gorgeous French Yellow and Green Beans, Fingerling Potatoes

and Tomatoes lightly flavored with Basil and organic Vallée des Baux Olive Oil

Karniyarik $14

Johnny’s Farm Eggplant stuffed with Elysian Fields Lamb, Sweet Onions and Pinenuts

drizzled with Tahini Sauce, Harissa Sauce

Diver Scallop, Piquillo pepper granite and Lime Crudo $16

Mexican Diver Scallops drizzled with Kaffir Lime Ginger vinaigrette

Piquillo Pepper Granite, Bautista Creek Finger Limes and Organic Sicilian Hot Pepper Olive Oil

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta with Uni $18

chilled hand rolled Chitarra Pasta with fresh Dungeness Crab

Sea Urchins and Zucchini Blossom Pesto

Calamari and Octopus Salad $18

plancha fired Calamari and Spanish Octopus, baby wild Arugula,
Shiitake Mushrooms, aged Guisti 12 Year Balsamic, ‘Mother’s Milk’ Olive Oil

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota $32

shaved 2 year Iberico Ham served with Tomato Olive Focaccia, Fig Jam

14 month Mahon Sheep Cheese, house Pickled Okra

BIG PLATES

Pici with lamb Sugu $28

hand shaped rustic Pici noodles topped with slow cooked Lamb and Tomato Sugo

Roast Loup de Mer Rivieria Style – $38

Sea Bass, Swiss Chard, Reggiano Parmesan, Tomato and Garlic Confit, Saffron Jus

SWEETS

Sticky Toffee and Date Cake $9

uber moist locally foraged Date cake, Sticky Toffee Sauce

On September 22nd, Figue is proudly taking part of National Eat Local Day, a collaboration started by Chef Sarah Stegner and PR maven Cindy Kurman.  “Our hope is that leading chefs across the country can work together to raise awareness of the importance of supporting our local sustainable farms. We hope to increase the flow of local sustainable food to the restaurant tables across the country in order to protect our farm lands and to ensure their success so future generations have access, said Stegner.

Joining the two in their efforts are restaurateur Alice Waters and her chef Jérôme Waag at Chez Panesse (Berkeley, CA), Alison Price Becker (Alison Eighteen, New York City), Stephanie Pearl Kimmel (Marché, Eugene OR), Francois de Melogue (Figue Mediterranean, La Quinta CA), Mark Grosz (Oceanique, Evanston IL), Paul Fehribach (Big Jones, Chicago IL), Jamie Leeds (Hank’s Oyster Bar and Lounge, Washington DC), Nora Pouillon (Restaurant Nora, Washington DC), Norman Van Aken  (Miami, FL) and Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris (Prairie Grass Café, Northbrook, IL) and Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill and Topolobampo). The list is growing rapidly.

FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE VISIT THE WEB SITE: http://nationaleatlocalday.com/

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Figue is preparing our Diver Scallop, Piquillo pepper granite and Lime Crudo.  Mexican Diver Scallops drizzled with Kaffir Lime Ginger vinaigrette, topped with Piquillo Pepper Granite, Bautista Creek Finger Limes and Organic Sicilian Hot Pepper Olive Oil.

Chef Francois de Melogue…  I support local farm to table so much I even had my VW Westfalia tattooed

The Magic Bus

“Odd as I am sure it will appear to some, I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening. A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating.”

– Wendell Berry

Here are some pictures from two of my favorite farmer’s markets, UC Davis’s and the X Street Market in Sacramento:

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168: Our Amazingly Lucky Number!

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In the Chinese culture, the number “1 6 8” is filled with the promise of abundance, good fortune and prosperity, and means “may your journey be prosperous from beginning to end.”
May your journey be prosperous from beginning to end…  That is an epic understatement when it comes to the talents and cuisine of Chef Hisashi Yoshiara.  Lisa and I went to 168 in Pasadena because of my connection with their General Manager Phil Roberson.  I was sitting at my desk working and had some fond thoughts of Phil exactly at the same time he texted me.  After some idle chat he told me about this cool pan Asian restaurant he was working at.  Being an avid fan of Asian fusion I could hardly resist the temptation.  I google where he worked and read up on their Chef.  I have to admit I came with super high expectations and was absolutely blown away by the food, service and atmosphere.
168 25 168 27We were promptly seated by the gracious hostess at an outdoor table in a beautiful small courtyard.  We chose outside because 93 degrees in Pasadena just seemed cool compared to the 108 degree day at home when we left La Quinta.  We chatted with Phil for a few moments and asked him to have Chef Yoshiara honor us with whatever he felt like cooking that day.  I absolutely love when Chef’s pick what I eat.  The complete surprise of the moment not knowing what is coming next is amazing.  I often wonder why restaurants do not offer that and why guests do not ask for it.  Try it next time you eat out.  You may get a course or two you do not like but overall you will get food you probably would not have ordered and after trying wonder why you never ordered that.  The surprise of having a table laid with eating implements and trying to figure out based on that what you are about to eat is amazing.  Chef Yoshiara is exactly the guy you want surprising you.
168 06Round One: Three Coolers and Asian Bagna Cauda
Phil brought us three coolers to sip while our first course was being prepared.  All three were delicious but the Strawberry Basil one blew both our socks off.  The other two were an orange juice and star anise flavored one and a cucumber and mint one.  The orange one was good and perhaps could of used a bump more star anise flavor.  I like the cucumber and mint one a lot.  Lisa felt it was the plainest. Despite minute differences they were a fun way to start the meal.  Phil brought us two amazing cocktails, Red Dragon made with soju, watermelon and kaffir lime syrup and a wingspan, made with sake, house made ginger beer and honey mint.  Both were perfect and yummy.  Soju is kind of a distilled version of sake.
While we were sipping our drinks the bagna caudo came out.  Now you are probably thinking ‘hey, what is an Italian dish doing on a pan Asian menu?’  Yes, so was I.  It turns out that first of all Chef made an Asian version deliciously crafted with white soy and more traditional ingredients and secondly he did it as a tribute to his Italian wife.  That may have earned him brownie points but got me into a bit of trouble with the Mrs.  I know have to put something Asian on my menu and tell my wife it is because I adore her that it is there.  The Bagna Caudo was brilliant.  We dipped bok choy, carrots, peppers and bit of bread into the insanely delicious anchovy and white soy dip.  I would have drank the remaining dip had we not been sitting so close to the waiter station.  It was that good.
168 07A spicy Ahi Tuna taco with Asian Guacamole followed.  WOW.  It was everything the name implies… crispy, crunchy, tasty, spicy, yummy.  I am not sure what else I could say.  As the picture clearly shows, the shell was absolutely spot on perfect.
168 09 168 10What followed next is a prime example of something I probably would not have ordered but holy crap is it amazing.  It was simply, and Chef forgive me for botching the ingredients, simply an eggplant steamed in miso sauce.  Yes, that simple.  Simple food is something people take for granted.  A lot of Chefs believe more is always better.  To me, the true talent of a Chef lies not in how much he can stick onto your plate but how much can the Chef strip away and blow you away.  This dish had two components.  No hiding behind slabs of foie gras, truffle shavings ort a plethora of other things… this was a simple fat slice of Japanese eggplant and miso sauce.
168 13 168 12The next dish absolutely made me cry in it’s beauty and taste. A potato wrapped sea scallops cooked and served in an emerald green pool or green Thai curry rich with galangal.  The sauce had this beautiful warming glow to the lingering taste.  The potatoes and scallops were just cooked so perfectly.  I could have eaten five more orders they were that good.  Phil served us a beautiful sake served in a shot glass sitting inside a small wooden box.  It is a sign of prosperity when you pour an over the top a shot of sake.
168 11The cool sake offset the lingering spiciness of the curry.  BRAVO!
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About this time we started to get fuller and wondered if this was the last main dish.  Chef prepare a beautiful dish of Alaskan Black Cod lacquered with Ponzu sauce and served with micro croutons and a steamed baby turnip filled with even more ponzu sauce.  It was amazing.  Those familiar with the chain of high-end Hawaiian restaurants Roys will be familiar with that fish though they call it Butter Fish.  The fish just falls apart in creamy heavenness.  Yes that is now a real word.  We finished eating and wondered what dessert would look like.
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Just then, our waiter brought a tray of serving utensils that indicated dessert was not forthcoming.  Two smaller bowls appeared then the mother ship came out the kitchen area and towards us.  Having peeked at the menu early I knew we were getting a ramen noodle soup.  The slight awkwardness of our waiter lended a wonderful level to the dining experience.  He was a young fellow who seemed just as excited about the food and 168 as we felt being newbies there.  It added to the Christmas like feel of wondering what you were getting next.  The noodle soup was made with Kurabuta Pork, noodle and thin shaved Japanese peppers.  It was phenomenal.  Phil paired this course with a Syrah that danced with the spicy flavors quite well.
Lisa had hit saturation point.  I did too but could not stop eating the noodles and broth.  They were addictive.  By then the heat of the day coupled with too much food and alcohol got me sweating.  Phil noticed and dragged us inside for the dessert course.
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I normally am not prone to eating desserts.  It melted in my mouth and made me wish I had the balls to ask him for the recipe.  So feathery light and perfectly cooked.After dessert the Chef came out.  I complimented his abilities and vowed to return soon.
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It truly was an honor eating there.  Phil was an amazing host and we enjoyed catching up on his family and what was going on with his life.  I strongly recommend w=eating at 168 in Pasadena if you love Asian Fusion.  They are located at : 168 west Colorado boulevard, old Pasadena, ca 91105 and can be reached at 626-793-8008.  To see their web site please go to http://www.168pasadena.com/
Phil took us on a small tour of the vast complex.  Private dining, great bar, outdoor seating…
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cool, practical decor made with orange spray painted dead tree limbs168 28
Chef’s Play Ground168 26
Private Dining Area
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Cool fixtures from their Sushi Bar168 23 168 27

Sunday Family Day Part Deux, Apples, Pear Tart and Hard Cider

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“It was definitely a Sunday tart, gazed at with admiration and eaten with relish on those Sunday noons, with the narrow street outside on the same level as the room and the sky purplish-blue when the weather was stormy, or aflicker with gold when the sun was shining.” – Proust

How could I not make it?  We began the day with the chief goal of not leaving the house and enjoying the bounty of foods bought from small farmer’s and ranchers at the Palm Springs Farmer’s Market the day before.  By eight a.m. we were dunking slabs of Phillippe’s rustic boule slathered in hand-beaten French butter into our plate of Oeufs a la Coque, made from De La Ranch eggs cooked precisely three minutes.  Beaumont was intent on copying our actions verbatim, deliberately piercing the runny yolk with his bread spear splashing saffron hued eggs onto his fingers and plate.  He seemed like a miniature gourmand trapped inside a small child’s body frustrated by the new bodies inability to follow the old minds thought.  For a flashing moment I saw Beau as an old man deliberately enjoying his meal.

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I looked over to the wall of books in our dining room and “Dining with Proust” just caught my attention as if it were meant to be.  I flipped through the pages and immediately stopped on this line:

“The chief reason for going to the farm when they felt the need of a little refreshment was a wish to see her and to be in her home, much as some people frequent certain restaurants, though the reason they give may be that the cider is better there than elsewhere or the cheese particularly good.”

That line set about a catalyst of food dreams inspired by books needing to become realities.  The first food dream manifested itself as apples bought from the Asian woman at the market stuffed with a mixture of leeks, creme fraiche and goat cheese.  Lisa and I both read Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis.  Rue Tatin is the kind of book that is so graphically written that you feel like you are there eating with her at her home in Normandy.Ultimately Lisa, Beau and I will live in France and this book accelerates the process.

Baked Apples stuffed with Leeks and Goat Cheese (paraphrased from Susan Loomis)

4 Apples, I used Fuji – peel and core creating a large cavity to stuff

5.5 ounces fresh Goat Cheese

2 T. Creme Fraiche

2 Leeks – use mostly just the white part.  I cut into large dice and soaked in salted water to remove dirt and grit that hides in the layers

4 T Butter

2 cups hard Cider

Directions:

Saute washed leeks in two tablespoons of butter till super tender.  You want to cook the leeks slow so they do not color.  Mix with goat cheese and creme fraiche.  Pour into apple cavity.  Top with remaining butter.  Put into baking dish with cider and cook for 45 minutes at 400 degrees.  Enjoy with a beautiful green salad.

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After a long walk in the Desert with Lucy we rested and prepared for round two.

Proust’s Pear Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

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Ingredients for one nine inch tart

One sheet Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry Sheets

Four Pears

2 ounces Butter

1 c. Powdered Sugar

Directions

Roll puff pastry sheet out slightly larger on a floured surface.  It should drape over your tart tin by two inches.  Fold over edge and crimp with fingers.  Quarter pears and remove core with paring knife.  Cut each quarter in half and arrange in a circular pattern in tart shell.  Brush pears with melted butter and sprinkle with half of the powdered sugar.  Bake at 400 till tart is brown and pears are lightly browned.  Cool slightly, sprinkle with remaining sugar and serve with powdered sugar.

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Barlata: My Spanish Tapas Diner

I love Barlata.  I am not sure exactly what tickles my fancy about the place.  I have eaten better tapas, had better service and seen better decor but yet something still pulls me to the place.  The last time I was there was a few short Image

hours after gorging at Cotogna.  I decided on Barlata as I can sit outside with my dog and my two year old son can run around without offending any serious diners.  Lisa and I were meeting dear old friend Jim Laffer and hopefully Cindi and Jackson.  We were the first there and immediately commenced ordering food and two bottles of Spanish wine.  We plowed through the menu of familiar dishes and laughed with Jim.  I love going to Barlata because it feels like putting on an old comfortable well worn shoe.  No surprises – you know exactly what to expect.  A perfect place to enjoy being.

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One of my favorite category of dishes there are their Latas.  They use old tin cans as serving dishes.  It is a novel concept in our country where everything is disposable and we certainly dispose of it.Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 164After stuffing ourselves for a second time we headed to our car completely sated… I chuckled at the Beer is Good sign and thought of all my beer making buddies who would raise a pint at such a sentiment!

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Barlata is located at 4901 Telegraph in Oakland.  Reservations can be made at: 510.450.o678 and you can see their menu at: http://www.barlata.com/index.html