Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dinner Menu Pics - Latest Versions

We're getting closer to where I would like things to be - just in time to change the menu again. After three weeks (one soft opening week and two regular weeks) we've seen nights where we were packed beyond capacity and nights with only 2 diners. To all of my friends across the globe -disregard the old rule that you should never visit a restaurant in its first month. Go, be patient and understanding, and know that somewhere in the back is a staff that has poured their heart and soul into preparing a meal for someone - and if there is no one, it is very gut punching. So support your new restaurants.

However, one perk to slow nights is that I can take a few pics of our dishes as they've evolved over the past weeks.

Our amuse has prettied up with the help of a tuile stencil - New Mexico Fields: parsley sugar, local bee pollen and local lavender

Every diner now gets fresh made pretzels with hot mustard. I'm still working on this to make it a more appropriate bread course for us, but they're really good.

Chayote Soup, Mexican crema, Manchego crisp, white truffle oil, dulse powder

Beef heart salad - my favorite dish and previously highlighted HERE.

Still needing work is the fried goat cheese salad (beet gelée, mixed sprouts, goat cheese)

The show stealer - unagi, bonito dashi, red cabbage sprouts in a smoke filled jar

Savory avocado ice cream and mesquite blini

I've served this by itself, but its intended for the embutido (which is still our top seller) - Niman Ranch bacon powder with garlic gelée

The other entrees and desserts have had pics in previous posts, but here is the burger that is getting huge raves - 2/3 local bison, 1/3 local beef, pretzel roll, fresh aioli, smoked pepper molé, onion rings and sometimes I toss some guacamole on for good measure. I've had to downsize due to complaints of it being too big - TOO BIG! Its now just a measly third of a pound, but because the meat is so lean my half pound burger was too much for even the biggest eater.

And for staff I made the local favorite - green chile cheddar burger.

Each night the dishes evolve and improve and I've been adding components because I'm getting more comfortable with my prep. Unless there is a major development, I'll stop posting dinner pics until my next menu evolution which I expect in late April as the local produce shifts.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review: Artisan Breads Every Day

Peter Reinhart has produced another knockout bread book… but do we need it? Whereas the advanced baker may find this material redundant, those who are still rising to the occasion will find the consolidation of up-to-the-minute techniques in Artisan Breads Every Day easy to digest and incorporate.

You can read the full review at The Gastronomer's bookshelf.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Report from a respite

I rarely remember my dreams so when I do, I listen.

The first morning of my day off I awoke coming out of a dream where I was walking around the back yard of our store, except in my dream, it was my house. I sensed something else was out there. It was dark. It was cool, but muggy. I knew I wasn't alone.

I took a few steps into our parking lot where the light would be better. Our ongoing construction had made the back of the store dark and a bit spooky since I've been arriving in the dark and leaving in the dark. I heard a slight scuffle in the gravel not far from me. I turned.

Just feet from me was a skunk, tail raised, eying me unpleasantly.

I bolted before she could aim her tail's stench in my direction. I didn't understand why I didn't smell her the moment I stepped out back. Without looking back I knew she was following me. When I got to the back door I realized the work ladder was still set up from my earlier inspection of the roof so I quickly climbed the ladder to get away from the striped stalker.

As I reached the roof I looked back and saw that she was climbing the ladder after me...how!? I turned and saw two of the tiniest baby skunks I had ever seen, gently picked them up and cuddled them. I quickly recognized my mistake as the momma reached the top rung, turned her rear toward me, lifted, and...I woke up.

The dream analysis is clear. My roof still has another leak and I shouldn't finish my drywall just yet.
I recently hired a new kitchen staff. We moved my last staff to serving where he is better suited, and I had brought in another person who didn't last the week saying, "I think you have unrealistic expectations." And finally I found this completely inexperienced Boston boy. Americans (or lovers of American urban films) will understand the stereotype of a stubborn Boston Italian. This guy knows little of a commercial kitchen (like me two years ago), but no matter how many times he messes up, I grumble (or yell), and he has to start over again, he keeps coming back. He's a bulldog and he's not letting go of his bone. That's what I saw in him and why I thought he was worth the investment. I mention this because at the end of his final shift of his first week he said very simply and without explanation, "You're an animal." And he walked out.

Larry calls me the chef who never sleeps. My workaholic mothers says I work too much. Our Silver City friends say I work too hard. And they're all right. Boston bulldog nailed it though, I enjoy finishing my day knowing it wasn't wasted. I bust my rump putting out good food in a beautiful presentation (or at least I like to think I do). And that is what makes replacing me for my new kitchen position so hard. I know what I want to do. I know how to get it done.

This small bit of rest did wonders to clear my mind. (Truth be told I am writing this on Sunday afternoon after just a half day of rest, but I feel like I've slept for weeks.) I'm already reworking, refining and adjusting my recipes in my head. I've already thought about how Vatel has influenced my life and how I want dishes that are bigger and better.

So I am, with little rest, already reflecting on the past few days, weeks and months. I'll try to do that with a bit of structure since my mind is rambling.

Our building
If you're a Facebook follower, then you know we've been remodeling our store to add a new space. This project was estimated to be completed in January. Weather has put us back, but we're done next week. The groceries will be moved to the new space in the back (where the baby skunks are foreboding more leakage issues) and the restaurant will take over the front. A few months back we saw in our financial statements that the café had become around 50% of our revenue - that was a mix of increased café sales and decreased grocery sales due to the economy. Tyler wisely asked why our space wasn't following the trend...so groceries will be downsized a bit.

This move is making me very nervous since it will be harder for customers to find the groceries, and I'm concerned that we're going to harm that part of our business - the part that got us started. But, I'm going to ride that ride. When we pull all of the shelves to move them in back I'm afraid of what we'll see. We moved the store from its previous location to the new building almost overnight. I expect to see unpainted walls, missing trim, cracks and who knows what else. Extra work.

The biggest concern is the day I sign off on the construction, the bill comes, and it won't be cheap. That is the biggest issue that makes me want to work for someone else instead of having my own place.

The menu
Not so much 'the menu' as the evolution of a restaurant. I want to create something important for our town. There are two other good restaurants in town and what we're doing is a good addition, not a replication. The initial feedback has been overwhelming. I've had lots of "Best meal I've had in Silver City," "Best meal I've had in years," "Best meal I've ever had." So I'm not complaining in the least. But I haven't been completely satisfied with any of the meals yet.

I also had my first complaint. His reservation is in two weeks. He walked in and told me all of the things he hated about Batali's restaurant and every other restaurant he's ever eaten at. Geez. I can't win on that one can I? The other night I switched my attitude toward his comments and took it as a challenge. Bring it on Batali-basher! I'll make you a meal that you can't complain about!
I've also been thinking about one of those two restaurants in town that I respect, which I gave a positive, but cold review on eGullet. No need to rehash my criticisms. Now its my turn. Every diner has an opinion. The first few made me angry. "Why don't I walk into your cubicle and tell you how I don't like you're writing, your graphics, your layout, your..." Why is it with chefs, artists, writers, we feel the need to tell them what we don't like? But that's the business isn't it. I've learned that if I'm not ready to hear it, don't put myself in a position to listen. More importantly, remember my detractors when I am critiquing my peers.
I've been really happy to have found DeepPlate right when I did last month. Instead of thinking about plating in terms of the food, I now think about how the food and plate interact. You can have beautiful food, but on the wrong plate it just looks...off. Think about the Mona Lisa magnet on your refrigerator. The food is being painted on a canvas. Pick the right canvas. That is my new goal. And speaking of that, my earlier pictures of my dishes...you wouldn't even recognize my courses anymore. I'll have to get some new pics up now that I'm more in control of my kitchen.

My life
My life in this blog seems compulsively focused on cooking, however, I do enjoy things other than cooking. I really enjoy my writing for TheGastronomersBookshelf. I've never considered myself an especially good writer, but I enjoy doing it, and given enough creative time I think I do readable work. Reviewing cookbooks is fun because they challenge me - even the lowliest of books. I enjoy reading and cooking out of books that aren't in my comfort zone. This is the same reason I do all of my online cooking challenges.

Of course I love my time with my dogs.

Our walks have become another dreaded physical exertion at this point, but that's only temporary until I get my new schedule resolved. I really look forward to taking my Lexi girl out for another trek into the wilderness (and I'm sure she's tired of being in the house all day.)

And then there's Tyler. He recently finished his stint as interim pastor at our church and so he'll have a bit more time to catch up. With all that we've been doing the past few months our time together has really been dwindled down to a few hours on Sunday nights, but we're both committing to getting our quality time back to where they were.
A bit of a ramble, but there's been a lot on my mind, and I've had to backseat all of this to focus on chopping onions and such, so if you made it to the end of this post - thanks. I'm looking forward to creating and sharing something new with all of you real soon.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A day off

My first day off in over three weeks and most of my days have been 18 hour days...I'm really wiped out. I do have an hour of work in the morning for a small cater, but then I'm going to rest and relax. Things have progressed so much in the past three weeks, I'm looking forward to sharing my reflections.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Read all about it

Nice article about the new dinner restaurant in our local Gannett paper.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Dinner Menu - Pics

Let me get my whining out of the way first. These pics stink - I have a darker kitchen and didn't have enough time to set things up well. Second, my plating is downright poor in some of these pics since these came from one of my first nights before I had the kinks worked out. Last night's dishes looked so much more beautiful and flawless. Okay whining done - just look past the flaws (and professional chefs, remember, I'm a one man show in the kitchen).

To recap - I've been working with the local growers and producers to find a system that works for all of us. The problem is that most of them don't have enough to supply me, so I've developed a menu that focuses on the animals that I can purchase year-round (primarily bison and beef), and that core menu will stay consistent for about a month. Each Monday, the other growers and producers call me to tell me what they have to sell. They know my buying priorities are 1) Indigenous, 2) Unusual, 3) Micro, 4) Organic...but all have to be from our surrounding area. With their offerings I then build a menu around the core items, so the menu will constantly change. At this time of year I'm limited to sprouts and greens and a few other smaller items, but spring crops will be coming soon.

Everyone gets this amuse bouche - parsley sugar disc with local bee pollen and lavender.

One of the apps - mesquite blini with savory avocado ice cream and Chinese cabbage sprouts.

White truffle potato puree (Roubochon method) with wheat grass and sunflower sprouts.

The show stopper - hickory smoked filled canister of steamed unagi and bonito dashi with red radish sprouts. When the canister comes to the table all you see is smoked and once opened the smoke releases to reveal the dish. This pic is of the smoker tube ready to release its smoke.

24-hour beet/turnip with crema and parma tuile.

My previously posted blue corn taco with pork belly.

The most popular entree - Mark's embutido with broccoli sprouts, carbonated grapes and saffron bonito rice.

Very gooey passionfruit flourless chocolate cake with caramel

Apple pie - 24-hour apples, green apple mousse, cinnamon tuile, salted caramel

There are six other dishes that didn't get photographed which I'll try to add later. So far, the burger - which is really good is not selling, nor is the beef tagine, except when I fed the growers and producers who loved it. I'm very tired and will be posting reflections soon.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Book Review: Torreblanca 2

Paco Torreblanca, famed far more in Europe than the rest of the world, has been named the Best Master Artisan Pastry Chef in Europe, author of the Best Pastry Book of the World twice, and is an ambassador for the Barry Callebaut Group, as well as owning Totel pastry shop.

A serious, no-nonsense book for people who take pastry seriously, Paco Torreblanca 2 focuses on integrating natural ingredients into microcosmic eye candy. Utilizing a variety of sugars, the “Picasso of Pastry” creates sugar bookmarks, envelopes and shot glasses. Of most renown in this book are Torreblanca’s liquor caviars created by injecting sugar and alcohol into a corn starch mold.

And with a Vatelesquian sensory orgasm, Torreblanca moves beyond sugar (Torreblanca also covered sugar in his out of print La Seducción de Azúcar and his more recent Colección), this book includes treatments of milk (skins, dried foams), jellies, fruit papers, and macarons.

You can read the rest of the review at The Gastronomer's Bookshelf.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Recipe: Honey Saffron Ice Cream & Chocolate Cous Cous

Here's my second entry in TobiasCooks' Moroccan cooking event.
5th cooking event mediterranean food - MOROCO - tobias cooks! - 10.02.2010-10.03.2010

Chocolate cous cous
450 g AP Flour
55 g Cocoa powder
4 Eggs
2 Whites
Knead, rest 30, roll, cut into small bits and dry.

Saffron Honey Ice Cream
1 C Milk
1 C Cream
3/4 C. The rankest honey you can find (I used Bee Chama Buckwheat honey)
6 Yolks
A good pinch of saffron threads

Heat milk and cream. Whisk yolks and honey. Temper yolk mixture with hot milk mixture and add saffron. Cook until it coats the back of your spoon. Chill overnight and then freeze in your ice cream maker.

Boil the cous cous in a sugar water bath and serve the ice cream on hot cous cous. Since neither component is overly sweet this is a nice ending to a spicy and hearty tagine.

Monday, March 8, 2010

pics coming...I promise - New Dinners

Basically all of my pics stink which is fine since my plating, while good, was not where I want it to be. Here's the only pic worth sharing - the amuse bouche that each guest received:

This parsley sugar plaque held local bee pollen and lavender buds. I'll post the rest of the menu this weekend since its my first week of dinners for paying customers. Most of the kinks are worked out, but I'm desperately trying to find a morning prep person so I can shorten my 16 hour days.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Deep Plate - My Latest Goofing Around

Like I need one more thing on my plate! I recently started following the Bauscher blog where they run a monthly event in which chefs create dishes to accentuate their dishes. To me the challenge is to not just throw something on the dish but to plate in a way that works in conjuction with the dish to elevate the experience. Here are two attempts on March's plate:

From my new menu - Blue Corn Pork Belly Taco (blue corn tuile, sous vide pork belly, salsa fresca, crema avocado).

I like this pic better but it doesn't show the plate as well.

And you'll recognize this as my recent heart salad.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Curious Blogquat: Recipe: Dessert Tagine

The Curious Blogquat: Recipe: Dessert Tagine
Tobias Cooks

Recipe: Dessert Tagine

For my new dinner menu I wanted to create a dessert tagine and I used the opportunity to participate in a fun cooking challenge over at TobiasCooks.
5th cooking event mediterranean food - MOROCO - tobias cooks! - 10.02.2010-10.03.2010
I'm working on a second recipe that involves chocolate cous cous, but I wanted to do an easier attempt first. The basic concept is a steamed pudding/cake that is steamed by fresh citrus. This is one that anyone can do even if you don't have a tagine.

Oven to 350º F. Butter metal rings or ramekins.

143 g (5 oz) Dates
Ginger nub
Serious pinch of salt
1 T Vanilla paste/1 t vanilla extract
1 t. Baking soda

254 g (9 oz) Unsalted butter, room temp
133 g (4 2/3 oz) Palm sugar or brown sugar
45 g (1.5 oz) Candied ginger
Zest of one orange

223 g (7 7/8 oz) AP Flour
1 t. Baking Powder
1 Egg

Put dates, ginger, salt, vanilla and one cup of water in small sauce pan. Cook about 10 minutes. Turn heat to low and add baking soda. The mixture will be ugly. Cook three minutes and remove from heat. Remove the ginger and set aside.

In a mixer using a paddle, combine the butter, sugar, candied ginger, and zest. Beat for two minutes on medium. Add the date mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and baking powder and mix just until combined. Divide the mixture between the rings.

Surround the rings with freshly chopped oranges, lemons and grapefruit. If using a tagine, cover and set in oven for about 30 minutes. You want the cake to be set but loose. I bake 25 then turn the oven off and let the tagine stay covered to continue cooking.

Whip some cream or add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and enjoy.