Butterflies in the Desert

“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awoke, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”

Butterfly Walks 02 Butterfly Walks 03 Butterfly Walks 04 Butterfly Walks 06 Butterfly Walks 08 Butterfly Walks 09

My Specials for this Weekend!

SMALL PLATES

 

Marseille Fish Soup $8

My Mother’s pureed Soup made with Dungeness Crab, Loup de Mer, Saffron and Tomatoes

Rouille, Croutons and shredded Gruyere

 

Cheese platter $9

Fiscalini Cheddar, Roquefort and Manchego

 

pizza with fresh Figs, Prosciutto and Bleu Cheese $18

 

spicy pizza with squash blossoms, house made pancetta and my own goat cheese $18

 

warm artichoke tart $16

house made Goat Cheese, roasted Beets, Walnut Oil, Olive Emulsion

 

paleta iberica de bellota $42

Cinco Jotas pure bred Iberico shoulder Ham aged two years

Tomato Olive Focaccia, Green Tomato Jam, shaved Idiazabal Cheese

 

White Truffle Fonduta $75

63 Degree Egg, Brioche Crostini, Fontina Fonduta, shaved fresh white Truffles

 

 

BIG PLATES

 

ricotta cavatelli $28

handmade Cavatelli, spit roast Kurobuta Pork Rack, Arugula and Ginger

 

torchon of kunekune pork $29

crispy Pork, Bautista Creek Cranberry Bean Cassoulet, Mustard Sauce

 

porchetta $35

spit roast whole Pig, Potato Puree, Wilted Greens, Fig Jam

 

white truffle risotto $75/$150

 

Wood Oven Roasted orata $36

Mediterranean Sea Bream, Artichokes and Fennel, Mother’s Milk Olive Oil

 

grilled veal chop $45

Potato puree with Italian Robiola Cheese and wilted Greens

 

veal sweetbread raviolis with white alba truffles $75/$150

Truffle Beurre Blanc

 

white truffle tagliolini $75/$150

hand rolled Egg Pasta tossed in house made Truffle Butter, shaved White Truffles

 

 

SWEETS

 

nutella semifreddo $9

Chocolate and Hazelnut Semifreddo, Chocolate Royaltine

 

ADD shaved White Alba Truffles to anything $125

 

Chef François de Mélogue

WHOOSH! and they are GONE!

“Get Up.  Beau needs food for school”

Those were the exact words that shook me from a deep, heavenly dream of walking through the Sunday market in l’Isle sur la Sorgue with a rustic baguette from the wood burning oven bakery and transported  back to my bed in La Quinta.  “Honey, get up, Beau needs lunch.”

Half awake, sipping my morning cafe au lait, holding communion with distant plantations and tranquil pastures as Antoine St. Exupery once wrote, The joy of living.  Those first swallows of steamed milk and espresso.

“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.”

The smell of garlic and red chili flakes sizzling in olive oil.  I have been up four minutes and the house is filled with the sensual aromas of magic happening on my stove.  The act of transforming raw ingredients into the poetical act of love.  Fresh basil splatters and sputters. adding to the amazing bouquet in our house.  Two little feet running circles around me, still only half awake, I stir the pot.

Chopped fresh onion from the La Quinta farmer’s market and some San Marzano tomatoes and just let it simmer.  AS I do, I look over and notice Beaumont is mimicking me, cooking on his little fire engine red toy kitchen range.  He notices me glancing over and brings a spoonful of imagination for my me to taste and compare to my tomato sauce.  Shit, his is better.

I finish preparing his lunch of Spaghetti AOP with freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan and a drizzle of Mere Goutte olive oil lovingly known in my kitchen as “Mother’s Milk”.  Within three seconds they are gone…  The house is empty except for the sweet memory of preparing something so simple, with so much love, for someone I love so deeply.

Whoosh, they are gone!

Feeling Old… A Time for Reflection

As many of you have already read Charlie Trotter died two days again at the young age of 54, sadly found by his son, but that isn’t really the focus I am intending.  I talked to my sous chef about it.  Keith comes from the Chicago market and actually was the one who told me.  I talked to two cooks who work for me at Figue, one 37 and one 19, neither had heard of Charlie Trotter.  That shocked me.  Google Charlie Trotter and you will see very opinionated commentary on him.  People either loved him or hated him.  I found it fascinating that people who chose this career hadn’t heard of someone who was out there in the forefront, love him or hate him.

I first met Charlie a week before he opened his restaurant on Armitage.  We both had the same Edward Don rep, Wally.   Wally was so excited about Charlie and his project that he wanted to show it off to me.  I was contemplating opening a restaurant at the same time.  Charlie’s restaurant was well laid out and no expense was spared. Charlie’s career skyrocketed where mine just kind of went an average trajectory.  Back then I was bitter about that.  Today I have grown a lot and have no room in my heart for negative feelings or even hatred.

Charlie always struck me as a bit arrogant and over the years I grew to dislike him as a Chef. I could never comment about him as a person but as a Chef  I had heard many interesting stories about his background and claims he made.  I felt I owed it to him and to myself to eat at his restaurant and give it a fair try.  I ate with my mother and was unimpressed.  Too many ingredients on each plate.  I am more awed by minimalism.  We had had the grand tasting menu and two of the courses on the daily printed menu were substituted.  The waitstaff did not even think it necessary to tell us as they brought dishes different than what our printed menu stated.  The first course was very good and subsequent courses became less and less interesting culminating in the desserts scattered across the table that were mediocre at best. Only when I ordered a $400 bottle of a single vineyard Guigal did our table receive any attention.  Trotters was a bit pretentious.  Maybe it was an off night.  God knows I have had many of those.

I feel old because I am now sounding like my father in criticizing the youth of today.  It blows my mind that people do not know who he was.  I wanted to be a Chef so badly I used to go skiing with the Repertoire de la Cuisine firmly tucked in my pocket memorizing sauces and garnishes as I rode the lifts.  The binding came apart and I duct taped it back together.  Every spare second I studied food and Chefs, even ones I wasn’t in love with.  All of us who cook share a bond.  We all chose a career that is physically demanding and unyielding in it’s toughness.  We all have gone through the grind of trying to make it.  The weekends and holidays sacrificed for the art of the kitchen.  The divorce rates, suicide rates, alcohol and drug rates are astounding.  I have gone through a divorce and had my fair share of drug/alcohol related issues over time.  I definitely gave my pint of blood for this career and feel very much like a survivor.

I just read an interesting article about Charlie (read article here).  My favorite line is “I said, ‘From one Chicagoan to another, what would be your last meal?’ And he answered, ‘A 1900 Chateau Margaux,’ ”   I think I may have said the exact same thing.

I bid safe travels to Charlie and heartfelt condolences to his family, especially his wife and son.  I can only imagine the great pain they feel.  I raise a great glass of wine in your honor…  thanks for helping Chicago become a better known food town and thanks for doing your part in carrying le feu sacre…

 

The Story of Life

is quicker than the Wink of an Eye

The Story of LOve is hello and goodbye…

…until we meet again!

Photo Project: Desert in Palm Springs Area

Photo Project: Desert in Palm Springs Area

I have given myself a photo assignment of photographing the Desert in all it’s incarnations.  Today’s focus started as photographing the sun rising over the nearby hills and mountains then morphed into photographing a garbage dump out in the middle of the Desert.  Every morning I walk my dog Lucy in the La Quinta Cove and wondered why I saw so much glass everywhere.  After a major storm had flushed the Desert and filled my walk with more glass and loads of rusted metal I decided to walk further and investigate.  After finding illegal dumping areas all over with tons of broken glass I wondered even more why the city spent a good deal of money to put a roundabout instead of cleaning this pollution up.  

 

Francois de Melogue

But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach, it is also an expression of loyalty to the Earth, the Earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need – if only we had the eyes to the Original Sin, the true Original Sin, the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us – if only we were worthy of it.” – Cactus Ed

Gimme Sanctuary

sanctuary

Sanctuary

noun \ˈsaŋ(k)-chə-ˌwer-ē\

: a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter

: the protection that is provided by a safe place

: the room inside a church, synagogue, etc., where religious services are held

: the place where Beau MacMillan is a deity

About two weeks ago, I got this hair brained idea to get one last weekend before season begins at Figue Mediterranean and I will be too busy for anything except maybe nursing a Mai Tai next to my pool.  The restaurant world can be brutal and one needs a place of refuge where deities nourish your soul and stomach  I thought about a culinary tour of Los Angeles finest eateries or camping in the woods and sucking down a few choice bottles amidst legs of duck confit then it came to me…  go visit Chef Beau at the Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley, Arizona, even the name implies happiness.  We loaded our Jetta Sportwagen and headed through the desert to the Sanctuary.

The drive from Palm Springs is very easy and only took about four hours door to door, depending on how many playgrounds your three year old insists on stopping at.  We arrived at the Sanctuary and immediately felt the truly sincere and gracious welcome the entire staff gives.  I have been to many great resorts, hotels and inns in my life and sometimes have experienced staffs who are annoyed by your presence.  At the Sanctuary, they make you feel like your are a loved family member they haven’t seen in years.  Everyone from the valet to the check in attendant to the gentleman that shows you your room was beyond kind and helpful.

Sanctuary 01 Sanctuary 03We were given the Turquoise X Spa Room, a wonderful two room suite with a great balcony and many other incredible amenities.  Lisa took to the room like a fish to water.  We called room service and ordered two cocktails to quickly get us into the vacation mode. We were meeting Chef Beau MacMillan, Beau Mac, for a pizza party thrown at a friend’s house and I needed to shake the road off.

Sanctuary 05I have known Chef Beau for many years.  He actually started working with me several years ago at a small restaurant in Carver, Massachusetts called the Cranebrook Tea Room.  As a Chef you have many youngsters work for you and it is hard to keep track of all the people you meet.  I had forgotten about Beau till one day he called Claudia Springs Winery, where I was working in 2010, to track me down.  My boss, Bob Klindt, being the great boss he was, took Beau’s info and said he would pass it on.  Bob called my office and said some guy named Beau was looking for me.  Being cynical,  I quickly responded ‘did he say daddy or IRS or any other keywords that may help me remember why that name was familiar’.  Bob chuckled and had me call him.  It took two phone conversations before I remembered Beau fully who now had become a national celebrity and TV star.  Yes, 14 years of not owning a TV made me rather ignorant when it came to pop trivia.  We eventually hooked up and did a lunch and learn program at Elements, the Asian inspired restaurant at the Sanctuary and a few other events Beau was gracious enough to include me in. Sometimes being a Chef is like being a father, you take such a personal interest in those who learned the craft under your tutelage, they make you proud then they leave the nest to forge their own life and identity.  Over time, they call you either from a psychiatric ward after they’ve gone postal or when life is particularly good. Thankfully Beau called me because life had shined it’s lovelight on him and blessed him with a joyous career.   When I googled Beau and saw both the Chef and the man he became it made me super proud.  Anyone who knows Beau or is fortunate to cross his paths quickly realizes what a genuine and wonderful person he is and what an immensely talented Chef he has become.  The Sanctuary is far better off having Beau leading the culinary charge or as an employee told me this last trip  Elements is Beau.  He could not have been more correct.

ChefBeauMacMillan

We had a few hours to kill before the pizza extravaganza and tried fruitlessly to get our son Beaumont down.  Every time we got close he popped up.  Eventually we headed to the party and hoped for the best.  To our, and especially Beaumont’s delight, the house we went to was a child’s paradise with slides, pool and Thomas the train train set.  I am so embarrassed I did not remember everyone’s name because they all were so amazingly kind and wonderful.  We drank Champagne, downed a bottle of Beaumont’s wine.  In 2010, little Beau’s birth year, I made a barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon with Bob Klindt to last Beau’s entire life and to have something to remember his Daddy by.

beaumontThe party was awesome.  Beau and I threw pies and I made some baked figs like we do at Figue.  I had a great time… thanks to all that were there.

Sanctuary 11 Sanctuary 12 Sanctuary 13 Sanctuary 14 Sanctuary 15At the end, or at least as long as little Beau let us stay before the inevitable meltdown, we watched Guy Fieri’s new Food Network show with some of the folks involved.  Here is my short shameless plug: make a food show about the son of a Chef who grows up cooking and his relationship with food – a kids cooking program.  I know most shows are reality based competitions and I don’t know crap about TV but my little son started his life eating Duck Confit with Truffles and helps cook whenever he can.  OK, plug over.  The other thing I feel compelled to mention is Guy Fieri’s twin works for me…

Figue July 2013 11

We drove back to the Sanctuary not the least bit hungry and thirsty but managed to do some damage at the Edge Bar. I wish I could say I took that picture below but I “borrowed” it from the Sanctuary’s photo collection online.

download (1)We indulged in a few cocktails before heading inside to eat.

Sanctuary 25We thought about eating at the newly renovated Jade Bar but decided upon sitting at a proper table.  It is not often we get to dine without our son.

Sanctuary 22 Sanctuary 28We enjoyed many fantastic dishes, shoo, they all were fantastic.  I apologize about the photo quality.  Normally I am a bit more anal about getting the shots right but somehow alcohol influenced mt skillset.

Sanctuary 30

Fire Roasted Oysters, Spinach, Lop Chung, Hijiki Aioli, or what is left of it.  This is one of the best dishes I will ever eat.  I am an oyster snob.  I want nothing more than an oyster and lemon, maybe.  I never eat cooked oysters.  HOLY MOLY!Sanctuary 31

Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Shrimp Toast, roasted Scallop and Mandarin Teriyaki: a beautiful marriage of land and sea.  I order foie gras whenever I can because in California it is easier to buy Jamaican herbs than it is foie gras.Sanctuary 32

Octopus a la Plancha, pickled Mustard Root, Celery Hearts, Fingerlings and Smoked Paprika.  A great dish.  My only slam is now that at Figue we have a new way of cooking octopus it is hard to eat it any other way.  Beau’s was very good but our method is better.  Please do not take that as critical.  It is more like picking fly shit out of black pepper.Sanctuary 33

Artichoke Tart, local Goat Cheese, Preserved Lemon and Balsamic Chili glaze.  One word:  YUM!Sanctuary 34 Sanctuary 36

We ate the Char sui Pork Belly which was out of this world stellar yummo.  We were so stuffed I felt like that scene in Monty Python where a waiter (John Cleese) is trying to feed just one thin wafer mint to a guy who already has gorged himself on the food, see here.  Caution it is disgusting!Sanctuary 37We came back to our room to find Beaumont had fallen asleep sitting up…  Oh what a joyous and stupendous night.  Lisa and I thank Beau and his team at Elements and all the kind folks at the Sanctuary for giving us that safe haven for the weekend.  It was paradise.  I strongly urge any one of my three readers to venture to Arizona and enjoy Beau’s magic…  For reservations and more information please go to the Sanctuaries web site: http://www.sanctuaryoncamelback.com/index.html

2003 Paul Hobbs Richard Dinner Vineyards Chardonnay and Roast Chicken: a Match in Heaven

Image

 

 

Admittedly I am not a huge proponent of California wines.  Both my wife and I worked for wineries in California for several years and have drank our way through many greats.  I enjoy them.  Yes, there are great California wines, but if you asked me what my last drop of fermented grape juice to pass thru my lips would be, I would answer a great Bordeaux or Burgundy.  Please do not say anything about elitism.  It simply is preference.  I too wish those wines would be friendlier on my pocketbook.

Several years ago a close friend who works for wine distributor Michael Skurnik confided that I ought to check out Paul Hobbs Winery and invest whatever I could into bottles and cases.  I took note because Peter is a Burgundy hound and when he goes gaga over something I know it has to be special.

097

After last night’s bottle of 2003 Richard Dinner Vineyard Chardonnay I say with utmost confidence that Paul Hobbs’ wines are liquid magic. Peter was right and damn, I wish I bought a truckload.  I have gotten to the age in my life where I am more impressed by simplicity than overworked complicated things.    The less you manipulate, the better.  Making wine is no different than a Chef’s approach to food.  We met Paul’s brother Matt for a tour and tasting that included several barrels and bottles.  He was an incredibly knowledgeable and gracious host who conveyed his love of the family wines to us.  We loved them when we tasted them seven years ago, but last night was one of those rarefied moments of life when all the stars line up and bliss happens.  I adore wines with some age on them, even whites.  I cracked the Richard Dinner Vineyard Chardonnay open and poured the straw colored ten year old Chardonnay into our glasses.  The nose was ethereal with the first taste bringing citrus and melon dancing on my tongue.  Pure magic!

100 104 098

From their web site: ‘Meticulous vineyard management followed by minimally-invasive winemaking techniques allows us to produce wines that express their vineyard origins with finesse, complexity and authenticity. Paul Hobbs wines are fermented with native yeasts, aged in French oak, and bottled unfined and unfiltered.’  Nature at it’s best.  When I cook, it is not about how much I can do to manipulate food but how little I can do to bring out the flavors.  The perfect chicken, the perfect onions, fleur de sel, hand picked herbes de Provence.  No mirrors to hide behind.

I simply seared then roasted a chicken from De La Ranch, one of Southern California’s premiere organic producers.  I roasted the legs, thighs and wings on a bed of caramelized onions then added the breasts at the end so they wouldn’t dry out.  I deglazed the pan with a cup of Paul Hobbs chardonnay  while I plated the onions and chicken.  I added a spoonful of Fallot Dijon mustard and a nob of Spring Hill butter and reduced it to sauce consistency.  I napped the chicken with the Dijon sauce and served it with a sauteed mixture of fregola, sweet corn and sauteed zucchini blossoms.  I figured a slightly classic Burgundy preparation needed a Burgundian varietal.  A True match in heaven!

Sadly, I have one bottle left.  I will prepare the exact same dish again, no changes.

I strongly suggest stockpiling Paul Hobbs’ wines.  They are phenomenal.  Visit their web site: http://www.paulhobbswinery.com/

107

Here is the cut sheet for the wine we drank last night!

Vineyard
¨ Owner/Mgr: Caroline and Patricia Dinner /Joe Votek
¨ Appellation: Sonoma Mountain
¨ Clone: Old Wente, Robert Young selection
¨ Vine age: 21 years
¨ Site: Hillside, northern exposure, gray clay-loam and
gravel with sub-soil lens of volcanic tuft
¨ Yield: Less than 1 ton /acre

Harvest
¨ Harvest Dates: October 2 – 9, 2003
¨ Harvest Brix: 24.2° – 25.0°
¨ Growing Season: The 2003 growing season began as a difficult one
with hot and cold spikes. Rain in late spring
prolonged bud break, and resulted unusual
ripening patterns. Diligent work in the vineyard
throughout a consistently warm summer resulted
in wines of complexity and power.

Winemaking
¨ Hand-harvested grapes
¨ Whole cluster press
¨ Barrel fermented with indigenous yeasts; 2 months to
completion
¨ Concurrent spontaneous malolactic fermentation in barrels;
6 months to completion
¨ Aged 15 months in Francois Freres, Seguin Moreau, Cadus,
and Alan Fouquet French oak barrels; 89% new
¨ Unblended, unfined and unfiltered; bottled January 2005

Notes
¨ Cuvee Agustina, named for my daughter, is a selection of the
best barrels of our Richard Dinner Vineyard Chardonnay. It is
produced only in the very best vintages. Warm gold in color
with a nose of honeysuckle and spice, this wine is unctuous
and mouth-filling. On the palate, flavors of pear and spiced
apple intermix with lively notes of orange blossom and lemon
custard, which linger through the enduring, velvety finish.
Alcohol 14.8%

201 cases produced

Paul Hobbs Winery
Sebastopol, California Tel: (707) 824-9879 Fax: (707) 824-5843
http://www.paulhobbs.com

Tonight’s Specials: OK, sorry Kitchen Crew, I had too much coffee and want to CRUSH IT TONIGHT at FIGUE

Figue+Desert+Smash+hi+res-106-2399067727-Opictured is my opening Kitchen Crew, some have moved on and some are still with us!

SMALL PLATES

Soupe de Poissons $10

Marseilles’ famous puréed Fish soup, Rouille, Parmesan

Little Flamenco Dancers $12

Pork, Serrano Ham and Fontina Cheese involtini; Tomato, Olive and Caper sauce

Margherita Pizza $14

Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella

Amatriciana Pizza $16

house cured Guanciale, San Marzano Tomatoes, Pecorino

Pizza alla Diavolo $16

shaved Salumi, Garlic and Red Chili Flakes

Scallop Crudo with Piquillo Pepper Granite $16

Mint and Citrus cured diver Scallop, organic Sicilian Citrus Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper Moroccan Calamari and Octopus $18

deep fried Calamari and Octopus with Harissa powder, Green Charmoula

AMERICAN BERKSHIRE PROSCIUTTO AND BURRATA $18

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata, Brioche Crostini, Fig Jam

Carpaccio of Octopus $18

Truffle Aioli, Arugula, Asparagus & Truffle Salad, shaved Manchego, Brioche Crostini

New Caledonia Sweet Blue Prawn Crudo $18

Sashimi grade Spot Prawns, Tomato Confite, Artichokes, Basil

Papillon of New Caledonia Blue Prawns and Burgundy Truffles $30

crispy Butterflies of sweet Blue Prawns, Cabbage Salad, Truffle Beurre Blanc

Paleta Iberica de Bellota $42

Cinco Jotas pure bred Iberico shoulder Ham aged two years

Tomato Olive Focaccia, Green Tomato Jam, shaved Idiazabal Cheese

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

Crispy John Dory $32

New Zealand St. Pierre, Chorizo Croquette, Saffron Aioli

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

Filet of Beef with Artichokes and Truffles $48

Potato Puree, caramelized Onions and Bacon, Artichokes & Burgundy Truffles

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 prepared and served in a copper Ibrik

When asked by a social-climbing Paris hostess how he liked his truffles, Curnonsky replied,
“In great quantity, Madame. In great quantity.”

 

~ Curnonsky (Maurice Edmond Sailland), French writer (1872-1956)