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

 

 

 

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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The Story of ‘How We Came to BE’, The Menu Exploded: A Deeper Look at Our Approach

 

“It’s a simple business: Develop good food

and get it into people’s mouths. The rest sort of takes care of itself.”

~ Richard Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You

I once read an article detailing Richard Melman’s approach to designing a new restaurant concept.  The very first step was to create a storyboard that told the story of the new idea, perhaps written by a person who worked there, and was asked to describe life and service in the restaurant.  Everything, from the menu, wine list, art work to even the paint scheme emanated from it.   The idea struck a chord deep inside because I am a visual and small detail oriented person. Since then I have tried to incorporate it into my approach writing menus.

 

a charcuterie market and a spice merchant’s market in Avignon

 

Lately I have been looking for the perfect Sous Chef and Pastry Chef.  I described to a recent Pastry Chef candidate what I was wanting from her, “What I would love is your expression of what should be on the pastry menu of a Mediterranean Restaurant specializing in French, Spanish and Italian with forays into Morocco, Greece, Tunisia, Lebanon.  It is our goal to convey the story, the history of the people, through food.  If somehow you can distill this into pastries than you have gotten what I am attempting.”

I am not trying to be too esoteric; my goal is to take people somewhere, on a three hour adventure from their homes in the California Desert to the shores of the Mediterranean.  I want the experience to be so authentic and real that if you closed your eyes, the flavors, smells and sounds may just well make you believe you are really there.

“The Mediterranean cuisine is one of the most colorful and vibrant in the world, providing sensual dishes flavored with wild herbs gathered from the hillsides; lamb and chicken are often roasted whole over coals; vegetables are abundant and used in a wide variety of soups, bakes and salads.”

 

a whole local pig porchetta straight off the rotisserie

the pig comes from Cookpig in California

 

My inspirations have come from spending a portion of my informative years visiting relatives all over the South of France, to comparative dining to reading a lot online, in books and vicarious trips lived through letters and phone calls of close friends. One of my favorite authors is Colman Andrews.  I recently picked up his book “The Country Cooking of Italy” and came across his recipe for Sguazabarbuz, a variation of pasta e fagioli.  The name intrigued me so much I researched it further.  I came across a web site mentioning the history, “The story tells that on May 29, 1503 Lucrezia Borgia came to Ferrara to marry Alfonso I d’Este and a steward of the Palace, taking inspiration from her golden locks, created this special pasta and passed down the recipe from generation to generation. The pasta is cut into irregular strips, in fact they are called “maltagliati” (cut badly) and if it is cooked in a bean and pork fat broth they are called ‘sguazabarbuz’.”

Another dish making its debut will be a Pistachio, Polenta and Olive Oil Cake served with ‘Spice Road Caravan’ cherries and cherry sorbet.  Individual three ounce cakes made from Sicilian green pistachios, polenta and olive oil batter cooked and served at room temperature garnished with fresh spun cherry sorbet and with what I term Silk Road Caravan spiced cherries.  The Silk Road was a series of paths and trade routes connecting the Mediterranean to Eastern Asia.  The famous camel routes brought cinnamon, nutmeg and other fantastic flavors into the Mediterranean melting pot.

My cake’s origins lay not in a cultural tradition passed generation to generation by any one culture but rather in my head combining bits and pieces of various experiences and references.

Pistachios are native to Western Asia and the Levant between Turkey and Afghanistan.  The earliest traces of pistachios being eaten is 7,000 BC in Turkey, and cultivated and introduced into Europe by the Romans in 1st century AD.  Polenta’s name was originally derived from the Roman staple puls, or pulmentum. Pulmentum also was the Roman’s soldier primary food.  The soldiers were issued grain which they toasted on hot stones and either made into a porridge or baked into crude breads.

Polenta was originally made from millet, spelt or chickpeas, only when corn came from the New World in the 1600’s did polenta’s turn into a cornmeal porridge we know and love.  Cherries originated in Asia and became well loved by the ancient Greeks first appearing in print in 300 BC in the writings of Theophrastus.  By the first century AD, Pliny the Elder had listed eight different varieties under cultivation, some grown in the far off parts of the Roman Empire like Britain.

In America we have the freedom to combine, mix and mutate without the same restraints my French family would face.  They would never dream to mix as freely as I will.  Noted British Chef Marco Pierre White once said the kitchen was his freedom.  The new, still nameless restaurant is my freedom.

Chef François

ps. Vote on the new restaurant name at my FaceBook Chef Page!

FIDEUÀ Recipe│ Rustic Catalan Pasta Paella, Monkfish, Clams, Shrimp, Aioli

Fideuà │ Rustic Catalan Pasta Paella, Monkfish, Clams, Shrimp, Aioli

Chef François de Mélogue

 

Ingredients for four servings:

¼ c.                            Olive Oil

1 T.                              Garlic slivers

pinch                         Saffron

16 pieces                 Shrimp

12 ounces                Monkfish, cut into four pieces

12                                Manila Clams

1 pound                    Fideuas Noodles, toasted

1 c.                             Tomatoes, Diced

1 T.                              Paprika

2 c.                             Chicken Stock

1 c.                             Tomato Sauce

¼ c.                            chopped Parsley

1 T.                              Butter

 

To Order:

 

  1. Heat olive oil, add garlic and cook till they start to turn brown.
  2. Add saffron, paprika, seafood, and toasted Fideo noodles.
  3. Add diced tomatoes, chicken stock and tomato sauce.
  4. Cook till pasta is done, about five to ten minutes.
  5. Finish with a little butter, chopped parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
  6. Stir a big spoonful of Aioli into cooked pasta and garnish with yet another heaping spoonful!

 

Chefs Notes:

 

Fideuà: Valencian Pasta ‘Paella’; the main two differences from Paella is that Fideuà is made with Fideus noodles (toasted noodles resembling one inch segments of vermicelli) and that it is made almost exclusively with seafood.

 

 

The Dream Phase

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Any building process is a bit disconcerting to watch, initial progress is played out like Benjamin Button’s life story starting from old age and ending in infancy.  Our space started out a constructed, beautiful restaurant full of equipment and plates waiting to be given life by a human hand and now it is stripped of flesh with bare wires hanging down like a neglected skeleton left to disintegrate into dust.  Yet everyday we are one step forward in the rebirth of what will be one of the most beautiful and exciting restaurants in America.

Opening a restaurant is a wonderful and demanding experience. Prior to opening is what I term the dream phase where all your thoughts and passions and ideas are possible.  We are creating an entity and giving life to inanimate objects.  It reminds me of a quote from Giuseppe Cipriani who once wrote: “Imagine a world made up only of objects, A world of idle tools, A restaurant of nothing but tables and chairs, A large empty theater or a deserted plaza in summer. They cry out for the service of man, the service to give them life. We call on man to display his splendid capabilities. And We observe with undivided attention, Because the little nuances in the quality of his service give a flawless measure of his mind, they tell us frankly what his soul is worth, Because, To serve is first to love.”  

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Designing a menu is daunting task for any food lover.  What to put on the menu?  What to leave out? I love food too much to shun certain dishes.  Our concept is Mediterranean, literal and abstract.  The region encompasses so many different flavors how do I narrow it down and distill it into something cohesive, recognizable and enticing?  I have always approached menu writing like an artist may approach painting.  I cook with a palette of flavors ranging from Spain to France to Italy to Greece and Middle Eastern influences.  Within that framework are ingredients, techniques and a cultural treasure trove of dishes unique to certain cultures. On the literal level, I may do a bouillabaisse that my Marseilles raised mother would say is authentic… on the abstract level, maybe a porchetta that is more French than Italian because I am adding Swiss Chard, fire roasted Red Peppers and freshly ground pork rather than relying solely on the herbed spit roast pork.  I do not want to be limited by country boundaries and traditional rules that were formulated because something grew there or didn’t grew there therefore it is not part of the heritage of the dish.  An early mentor once told me “Escoffier would have used aluminum foil had it been  invented in his lifetime.”

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My edible paintings will explain how the history of Mediterranean food and culture is one of conquerors, immigrants and trade.  Each wave brought far off ingredients and cooking techniques and a melding of the peoples.  For example, Provence has a long history of being colonized by foreigners. Early Ligurian and Celt tribes intermarried with the local people.  Phoenician galleys brought Greek traders and eventually founded a trade post in Massalia, the future city of Marseilles. The Greeks gave Provence olives and grapes.  The expansion of olive groves and civilization went hand and hand with the expansion of the Greeks and Phoenicians. It has been said that the Mediterranean ends where olives cease to grow.    The Romans came to help protect the besieged Greeks.  Eventually claiming the region as theirs and forming ‘Provincia’, the first Roman Provence outside of Italy.  The Romans built some of their greatest cities, Nîmes, Arles and Orange.  Anchoïade, the sauce made from Anchovies, Garlic and Olive Oil is a close cousin to the famed Roman sauce Garum.  Salt cod came from the Romans.  The Moors at one point controlled 3/4 of the Mediterranean.  Only the Roman Empire reached further.  The invading Moors brought the habit of serving many small vegetable appetizers as well as a preference of saffron flavored rice to potatoes. They introduced lamb, eggplant and almonds.  Many of Marseilles’ residents are descendants of immigrants from Italy, Spain, and North Africa. Marseilles was also a major resettlement point for former colonists who returned to Europe when Algeria became independent in 1962.

The cuisine and culture of the people continued to be influenced by galleys that sailed to distant outposts in the Far East and North Africa. Marseilles and other Mediterranean ports were major points on the trade route which brought exotic ingredients like saffron, olives, tomatoes, salt cod, eggplants, peppers and many other staples to Provence.  Immigrants and ship crews brought different techniques and recipes.   Salted codfish from the New World was being eaten in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and other nations. Tomatoes from the Americas became an important part of the diet.  Arab traders brought various fruits and vegetables. Each culture left their own unique imprint on the people, culture and gastronomy of the Mediterranean.

Now back to the dreams, drools and menu writing…