Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Restaurant Dispatch from Bay Area: Sir and Star at the Olema, Cotogna & Zuni Cafe

Was happy to spend a little time in N. California this year as it's been a while since I've visited the Bay Area, easily one of my favorite food destinations in the world. Among the whirlwind of culinary activities during my stay (Cotogna for outstanding regional Italian; Sir and Star at the Olema for a quirky & fun meal up near Tomales Bay; Blue Bottle Coffee for some of my favorite coffee in the USA, I made my first trip to Zuni Cafe since the passing of it's chef/owner Judy Rodgers. I was glad that the energy and vibe hadn't changed, the spot was as quintessential SF as ever! And my favorite dish of Judy's to make hadn't changed a bit:

Zuni's Roast Chicken & Bread Salad

Quantity Produced:  Serves 6-8 (Entrée Portions)
Fresh Chicken, Seasoned with Kosher Salt/Fresh Pepper
                         & Fresh Thyme and Parsley Sprig under skin                       3# Whole
Crusty Bread, Slightly Stale/Crust Removed/Cut into 1” Pieces                       ½ Loaf (10-12oz)        
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Extra For the Croutons                                                1/3 Cup
White Wine or Champagne Vinegar                                                               2 Tablespoons
Kosher Salt and Fresh Black Pepper                                                                To Taste

Currants, Dried, Soaked in 1 Tablespoon Warm Water                                 1 Tablespoon
Red Wine Vinegar                                                                                           1 Tablespoon
Pine Nuts, Toasted in Dry Skillet on the Stove over Low Heat             3 Tablespoons
Garlic, Slivered                                                                                                3 Cloves
Scallions, Julienned                                                                                          4
Chicken Stock, Preferably Homemade                                                            2 Tablespoons
Mesclun Salad Greens, Such as: Arugula, Frisee, Oak Leaf, Etc.                     6+ Cups

Preparation Procedure-
Preheat oven to 475˚. Rinse chicken with cold water and THOROUGHLY dry with paper towel. Put a thyme sprig under skin of each breast section. Season completely with salt and fresh black pepper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes if time allows. Arrange cubed bread on sheet pan and cook in hot oven until some color develops, about 5-10 minutes. Turn bread chunks over so browning is even. Combine ¼ cup of olive oil with white wine vinegar and salt/pepper to taste. Toss bread with half of this oil mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper. Soak currants in warm water and red wine vinegar.

Preheat a heavy bottomed skillet or roasting pan on your stove and heat until hot. Wipe and moisture from chicken and set it breast side up in hot pan. Place in center of hot oven and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the chickens onto breasts and roast another 30 minutes. Check to see if chickens are cooked, using thermometer or twisting leg sections (turn easily=done). Allow chicken to cool.

Place a little of remaining olive oil in small skillet and sweat garlic and scallions over medium-low heat. When cooked scrape onto bread and toss to combine. Place on sheet pan and bake bread until warm and golden, 10-15 minutes. Drain the dripping from the chicken into the chicken stock. Heat the roasting pan and add drippings/stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove tasty bits. Remove meat from cooled chicken, skin-on or off it’s up to you. Toss pan juices with crusty bread, pine nuts, drained currants, and greens. Nestle chicken into salad and add extra olive oil/white wine vinegar mixture as needed.

 Oysters at Zuni Cafe
Puppy's Get Sleepy at Cotogna
Kitchen Theater gets old after awhile..

Piedmont Restaurant in Durham

We were frequent visitors to Durham, North Carolina over the past year for a series of culinary challenges at The Cookery ( And while it's not uncommon for us to travel to the same city several times for multiple events, usually we sample everything the region has to offer from a culinary standpoint (ie. "hitting" all of the restaurants/markets, etc.). However, we encountered a first upon visiting Piedmont Restaurant in downtown Durham (, a place me (and my crew) were happy to revisit time and again for some of the most original, delicious "New North Carolinian" food imaginable. Piedmont is a tiny space, but the service is outstanding and the wine/beverage program thoroughly original. I wish there were more places like it on our travels.

They do a wonderful job with native North Carolina oysters, here is one of my favorite oyster preparations:

Cornmeal Crusted Oysters with Bombay Dipping Sauce

Fresh Oysters, Shucked                      12 to 24ea.
Flour                                                   2 Cups
Cornmeal,  Fine                                  3/4  Cup
Cornstarch                                          1/4 Cup
Fine Salt                                              1 Tablespoon

Canola Oil                                           3 Cups

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed stock pot. Dredge oysters in mixture of flour, cornmeal, cornstarch & salt. Fry until bubbles subside, about 4 minutes. Drain on towel lined plate and serve with lemon and this sauce:

Bombay Dipping Sauce

Quantity Produced:  Makes 2 Cups

Ketchup                                                                       1 Cup
Kejap Manis (or 2 T. Soy Sauce + 2 T. Honey)          ¼ Cup
Red Wine Vinegar                                                       ¼ Cup
Dijon Mustard                                                             2 Tablespoons
Sriracha Hot Sauce, or Favorite Hot Sauce                  3 Tablespoons
Curry Powder                                                              1 Tablespoon + 1 Teaspoon
Cumin                                                                         1 Tablespoon + 1 Teaspoon
Fresh Lemon Juice                                                      3 Lemons
Yogurt, Whole Milk                                                    ¼ Cup + 1 Tablespoon
Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper                           To Taste

Preparation Procedure-

Combine, mix thoroughly. Keeps 10 days. 

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Dispatches from San Sebastian, Spain

Had the pleasure of spending a few nights in one of the capitals of modern gastronomy San Sebastian, Spain recently. San Sebastian has 15 Michelin stars spread over eight restaurants, which taken into account that it's approximately the size of Kalamazoo, Michigan is absolutely insane! Here are the two that we visited:


Of all the restaurant meals I've had in my life, the one at Mugaritz certainly falls in the top five. Creative but classic, modern yet distinctly Spanish, and thoroughly accommodating and friendly despite being the #6 Best Restaurant in the World (according to Restaurant Magazine). It certainly warrants a trip to San Sebastian if not Spain and Europe.


I was thoroughly excited to make the long and winding trip into the hills outside San Sebastian to visit Asador Etxebarri. It is the most unique restaurant in that everything is cooked over custom build grills, but is anything but a "grill house". They serve up some of the most exquisite, subtle dishes that you wouldn't know had been anywhere near a grill (they call it "smoke kissed" cooking). That is until their signature slab of crusty, aged Basque beef is served. I won't soon forget my experience.

 Cepes & Shishito Peppers 

 Asador Extebarri

Gooseneck Barnacles