Thursday, November 05, 2009

Dispatches from Bordeaux, France

Whoever says what I do isn't tough, should try flying for 18-hours straight and then start wine tasting! Let me tell you, it isn't for the faint of heart : ). Some of the estates visited during my several days in Bordeaux include: Chateaux Pichon Longueville, Chateau Smith Haut Lafite, Chateau Beychevelle, among others. But rather than bore you with a bunch of blurry wine tasting notes, I will share with you a fine recipe from my lone evening cooking in Bordeaux (However, if you're into wine futures go with the 2009 wines from Pauillac). Made from some crusty old bread and farmer's market greens, this gooey, delicious French panade, or bread pudding, is perfect for any country's cool autumn.

Swiss Chard and Tomato Panade
serves 6-8

Extra Virgin Olive Oil ½ Cup
Onion, Peeled/Julienned 6 Cups
Garlic, Minced 6 Cloves
Swiss Chard, Thick Ribs Removed 1#
Ripe or Oven-Dried Tomatoes, Diced 1 Cup
1” Cubes Bread, Crusty 10 Cups
Kosher Salt & Fresh Black Pepper to taste
Chicken Stock, Warm 4 Cups
Fontina Cheese, Shredded 6-8oz.
Reggiano Parmesan, Grated (optional) ¼ Cup

Preparation Procedure: Preheat oven to 325˚.

In large, heavy-bottomed skillet heat oil and add onion. Lightly brown over medium-high heat. Add garlic and continue to cook, lowering the heat to medium. When onion is soft and slightly caramelized, add swiss chard and cook until wilted, 3-5 min.. In a large casserole dish add small amount of onion mixture and top with some tomatoes, fontina cheese and cubed bread. Continue layering until all ingredients are used. Top with hot stock and grated parmesan cheese. Cover with parchment and aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and parchment and bake additional 45 minutes. Serve hot.

Dreary Old London is Now SUNNY

I especially love the city of London, UK. The whole English culinary culture is thoroughly exciting (and I'm not being sarcastic in writing this), especially if you consider it's excellent and varied artisanal foods, multicultural influences and exceptional chef-driven restaurants. Considering this variety and quality, I can think of few cities where I would rather eat than London (and I've eaten in quite a few). So when I was in the capital of the UK recently to deliver a team building program I was fully prepared to deal with what, besides the value of the US dollar to the British pound, is usually the negative part of visiting the isle: its weather. I had my rain slicker and was fully anticipating being 'damp' for the three days of my stay. Well, let me tell you something, with a few hour rainy exception the weather was simply.. lovely. So I left my rain overcoat at home, and made my way to a few new outstanding restaurants. Here are the highlights:

The River Cafe- A longtime London institution, The River Cafe has been pumping out creative, yet authentic, regional Italian food for decades (Jamie Oliver trained there, and doesn't he OWN the UK now?). In much the way Chez Panisse of Zuni Cafe is an institution of N. Californian cuisine, I think of The River Cafe as the perfect example of how the modern Brit likes to eat. Fresh, varied and creative, my meal there was both simple and unforgettable. A hard combination! It's not inexpensive, even before the conversion to PS, and can still be hard to get a reservation for, but if you want to see what so many of the new British restaurants are aspiring for you must visit at least once.

Hix Oyster and Chop House- For a modern, proper British steakhouse meal, I think it would be hard to beat Hix's. The menu is very similar to new age brasserie/gastro pub/retro steakhouse, in that it has creative, well-sourced British standards (Gamey Brown Windsor Soup anyone?) a vibrant, retro atmosphere. The venue reminded me of my days at King Louie's in that everyone was eating dinner at the bar and they all knew one another (more than one my bar mates apologized for there not being enough stools for my party, even though we were merely waiting for our table. Clearly, if you pull up to that bar you're there for the long haul). The oysters were as good as I've had, we tried delicious rabbit speck, and split a South Devon porterhouse steak (and while British meat is not widely regarded, this was a spectacular cut). Plan on finishing with some treacle tart and cobnut cheesecake.

Dispatch from Kansas City

It seems odd, but despite living only three or so hours away I had never visited Kansas City. I'd driven through on many occasions, and flown over the city even more, yet there are cities in Europe I was more familiar with than the "town of Kansas" on the West side of the state where I live. So when I ended up there for a few days in the early fall, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew about the BBQ, which is not my favorite type (too thick & smokey), and about the Jazz, not exactly a connoisseur there either, and had heard quite a bit about the culinary scene developing in the city and it's strong cultural center. Anyway, here are the food highlights of the excursion:

Justus Drugstore a Restaurant (Smithville, MO)- This evolving mecca of farm to table cuisine in nearby Smithville (about 20 minutes North of KC) is quite a treat. Just about the only vibrant place in a one stop light town, it kind of reminded me of where I grew up in Paw Paw, Michigan (although I'm told they're up to three or four stop lights now!). The space is tiny with an open kitchen and elaborate bar set up. It's certainly a locale to visit if you're of the evolving cocktail culture, as their bar team infuses gins and reinvents all sorts of heirloom libations. However the star here is the food, with a limited menu consisting entirely of locally sourced meats, produce and other foodstuffs. I've been partial to goat as a meat for awhile, ever since I had Mark Vetri's braised version in Philadelphia, but I had yet to see it on a menu in Missouri. As a nightly special at Justus' it was one of several delicious and imaginative offerings, also including: Berkshire Pork Mixed Grill; Rabbit & Campo Lindo Chicken. This place is well worth the trip. Also I'm told there is a separate, more casual, menu for the locals. I can't wait to go back and see what that's all about.

Oklahoma Joe's BBQ- I've already established that I'm traditionally not a huge fan of KC style BBQ. I find the sauces too thick and smokey, that they overpower a properly 'cued' piece of meat. So while Oklahoma Joe's BBQ hasn't made me a complete convert, I would certainly go back (often). Located on the rear of a gas station, plan on waiting in line for 20-30 minutes to place your order, at this foodies mecca. They don't try anything fancy, but certainly do the basics with aplomb. The brisket and pulled pork are outstanding, and the burnt ends looked incredible (these are the crispy ends of the BBQ meat). They also have a lot of napkins at your disposal!!