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

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“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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PBS Filming ” Hello Paradise with Joni Ravenna” at Figue

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Host Joni Ravenna filming at Figue YesterdayPBS Filiming 04

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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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Squid Ink Chitarra pasta with uni $18

chilled hand rolled Chitarra Pasta with fresh Dungeness Crab

Sea Urchins and Zucchini Blossom Pesto

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Joni’s Daughter enjoying our Halibut Tajine, halibut tagine│ Moroccan spiced Halibut, roasted Summer Vegetable Couscous – 32PBS Filiming 14

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PBS Filiming 16Please visit Joni’s webpage at http://www.raventv.net/helloparadise.html

 

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

Cotogna: SF’s Rustic Italian Eatery

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I have wanted to eat at Cotogna for a long, long while. The seed was planted by Lee, our fearless leader at Figue, when he mentioned dining there and seeing the rotisserie of his dreams. He was so moved by the experience that he bought a similar model for our restaurant Figue  in La Quinta.  For the first few months, I waited and waited for it to be delivered, dreaming of spit roasting rabbit porchettas, lambs, pigs and chickens.  Rotisseries give food a flavor not matched by roasting or sauteing and a super crispy exterior.

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our Universo Tuscany 180 Rotisserie with Jidori Chickens Spinning!

“I’ve always divided human beings into two categories:
those who resemble a courtyard and suffocate you between their walls-
Then there are those who resemble a garden, where you can walk and be silent, and breathe.”

– Antoine de St. Exupery

Lisa, Beau and I had dropped off our VW bus for routine maintenance at Van Cafe in Santa Cruz in the morning.  The drive to the Bay was punctuated with lively conversation about seeing old friends we hadn’t seen in a long time and the impending eating marathon.  Our friend Peter, with whom I completed the Appalachian Trail with in 2000 would be there with his new wife Eileen and dear friend Gina and her three handsome boys.  We were looking forward to this for weeks.  Luckily we found a spot in front and shaded as Lucy the wunderhound had to stay there. Peter and his lovely wife Eileen showed up  Just as we pulled up.  Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 123 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 124

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All of us at the table doing what we all do best!

Gina had phoned to say she was running late so we started the onslaught of dishes.  The first few dishes were rustic as promised with great depth of flavor.  We started with Leek Sformato with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Pate di Campagna and Terra Firma Farm Tomatoes and Burrata.Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 128 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 129 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 127 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 126 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 136 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 141

We plowed through three bottles of a Sardinian red that on it’s own wasn’t the most interesting wine ever but coupled with the food danced.  The next courses brought Ravioli di Ricotta with a Farm Egg and Brown Butter, Heger Farm Corn Triangoli, Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu, Octopus with Pole Beans, and Heritage Red Wattle Pork.  The thing I loved the most about the pork was that the Chef did not feel the need to tell you what came with it… you simply ate it.  I think Americans are too scared of food in whole to do that with regularity across the country.  I loved it.  I did not notice anyone freaking out that all the secondi were presented that way.

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To finish it off we ordered three Pizze…  Artichoke, Stracchino Cheese and Black Olives; Gypsy Pepper. Nepitella and Flor di Latte Mozzarella; and Happy Boy Farm San Marzano Tomato, Nettle and Sausage Pizze.

Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 142 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 140 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 135Thoroughly sated with indulged with Olive Oil Cake with Strawberries and their Dark Chocolate Budino with Cake Crumble.  Overall I thought the restaurant was fun to eat at.  I would definitely go back… it was great to see old and new friends…

Cotogna is located at 490 Pacific Avenue and can be reached at 415.775.8508, http://www.Cotognasf.com

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Gazpacho la Quinta

Gazpacho Andaluz: chilled Tomato, Watermelon and Vegetable Soup

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“Del gazpacho nu bay empacho”

“You do not get an upset stomach from gazpacho”

~ Spanish Proverb

The name Gazpacho originated from Latin, ‘caspa’ meaning ‘leftovers’.  Gazpacho originated as an Arab soup made from old bread, water, olive oil and garlic.  Shepherds enjoyed the early version but it was substantially enhanced by farmers working hard in the hot sun and were refreshed with the cold soup that not only quenched hunger and thirst but provided much needed vitamins and salt.  After the discovery of the New World, tomatoes found their way into this classic chilled soup.  At Figue, we have added a granite of Piquillo Peppers and pureed watermelon to further soothe the soul.

Come to Figue to enjoy the perfect antidote to Summer’s heat

I’m feelin Shawarmie: Deconstructed Lamb Saddle Shawarma, aka Lebanese Lamb Burritos

Warning: Purists will be pissed off!  This is an upscale expensive version of what commonly is a street food in the Middle East.

Warning # 2: I do not have a tower and I did not use a vertical spit…  I used my traditional spit and basted frequently.

OK, now that I have clarified things I hope to have kept the hate mail to a minimum.  I work at a great Mediterranean restaurant in the middle of Southern California’s desert called Figue.  With temperatures soaring in the mid 110’s to 120’s this time of year I got to thinking what do other hot cultures eat this time of year.  My overheated brain wandered past cool bowls of gazpacho and cucumber soups drizzled with Greek yogurt to the Middle East, specifically shawarma.  Even with the heat I still want real food… that shocked me.  I really thought this time of year I would wither away nibbling on frozen popsicles and salads.  Part of the problem is my friend and boss, Lee Morcus, owner of Figue Mediterranean, absolutely LOVES food too and we talk a lot.  We share texts about food, emails about food, face to face conversations about food. Pretty much every single time we are together food comes up. Lee has to be credited with getting me to put shawarma on the menu recently.  I can’t remember if it was his mouth drooling description of eating shawarma at some point in his life or the fact that he is of Lebanese decent and that triggered my mind.  However it came to be, here is how I have been making it lately.  I apologize to cooks who need exact recipes, this is not one of them.  The first thing is starting with high quality lamb.  We buy our from a small cooperative of farms out East called Elysian Fields.  It is a collaborative effort between former lawyer Keith Martin and Chef Thomas Keller and has often been referred to as “Kobe Lamb” because of the unsurpassable quality.  If you want to taste what lamb should taste like please visit Elysian Field’s website and find a way to get some.

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For our shawarma I used the best cut available, a saddle of lamb.  I boned it out leaving both the tenderloin and filet attached.  Then I made a paste from garlic, cilantro and ginger and spread it all over.

IMG_20130727_131019_455 IMG_20130727_131514_517I sprinkled a spice mix tentatively called “Shawarma Lamb Mix” all over the lamb and tied it up.  The spice mix was basically a mixture of black pepper, cardamon, fennel seed, cumin, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, paprika, sumac and smoked Maldon salt.

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Then I cooked our lamb in our almond wood fired rotisserie and cooked it for six hours basting it frequently with it’s own juices.  Obviously the picture below is chickens (stuffed with herbs and preserved lemons seasoned with Moroccan spices) spinning on our rotisserie…  Sexy, isn’t it?

Figue Training 36We shave the lamb off when it is fully cooked and served it on flatbread we make in house.

Baking Bread 02I top the flatbread with a sauce made from Harissa Paste and Tomatoes, cover with shaved lamb dripping in it’s cooking juices, a salad of cucumbers, red onions and heirloom tomatoes flavored with sumac and parsley and mint, then drizzled with a tahini sauce (tahini, lemon juice, salt, pepper, lamb fat and shawarma spice mix)…  WOW is it good!  I sold out both Friday and Saturday nights.  Come soon to taste this dish!

Here is an incredibly bad shot from my camera phone:

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