Monday, June 30, 2008

The Next Food Network Star: Season 4, Episode 5

Someone’s on Very, Very, Very, Very, Very Thin Ice

Previously: They cook for the Coast Guard, Lisa takes a fall and so does Adam (but his was on purpose) and Nipa is tossed back into the ocean. Tonight: It’s the Bon Appétit episode and someone breaks a jar of sauce on the stovetop. Iron Chefs Cat Cora and Bobby Flay get critical.

We open with scenes of Adam doing pushups in his underwear. Shane is working on his hair a lot, but Aaron doesn’t have to worry about that. It’s mostly on the guys in these opening few seconds. Then they leave and arrive at the Food Network kitchen where there’s a row of cute little picnic baskets. In comes Iron Chef Cat Cora, whose hair looks really long and flowing. I think Shane is in love with her because she’s a strong woman that can wield a knife. (His words, not mines.)

Chef Cora says their challenge is to make something out of the six mystery ingredients in the basket in front of them. Then they have to describe the dish in front of the camera.

The contestants open their baskets and starts cooking. It’s a variety of things. For example, Lisa gets Japanese udon noodles, beets, ginger, lemon, chicken and scallions. Oh my gawd, that doesn’t look like udon noodles to me. You know, I think the same thing happened last year where Amy says she was making a dish with udon noodles and it totally didn’t look like it from where I’m sitting in my living room.

Granted, I’m no expert in udon noodles. But like I said last year, all the udon noodles I’ve ever had have been these thick, white noodles that remind me of worms. They’re typically served in a soup dish and the thick white noodles are comforting to eat on a cold day. But these noodles look a bit thin and hardly white, and Lisa’s making it into a cold salad. They actually look more like soba noodles, but I can’t really say for sure. Anywho, it bugs me when the Food Network tries to pass off like they’re experts in Asian ingredients but they don’t use the more common form of the particular ingredient. Aiiiiieeee!

Everyone works on their dish (Shane’s pretty fast with the chopping) and when they’re done, they’re all excited about giving these in-depth descriptions of their dishes. Then Chef Cora drops the bomb that they have to describe someone else’s dish. And Aaron is about to blow! He was all set to talk about his dish (he made a chocolate strawberry shortcake with his ingredients) and had all these witty lines ready, but now has to describe something he’s never seen before. Aaron doesn’t seem to be really good about going with the flow.

They each get 90 seconds and they come up in pairs. First up are Kelsey and Shane, who will describe each other’s dish. Kelsey starts talking and sounds good but doesn’t really say anything specific. She’s just keeps saying “it’s a burst of flavors.” Plus she thought the sauce had a citrus flavor but it was actually habanero peppers and she takes a big swig of water when time runs out. Chef Cora tells Kelsey that she needs to know her ingredients and be specific. Basically, what I said.

Shane opens Kelsey’s dish and he right away say it’s cod, and I’m like, man he’s good because white fish looks like white fish to me. It could have been halibut or sea bass but he zero’ed in on the fact that it was cod. He talks about the aroma of the saffron blending with the fennel and I’m like, this guy is good. His presentation got cut off just as he was signing off, but I’d say his presentation was pretty on the money, and Chef Cora agrees with me again (smile) and says she likes his energy and description of the dish.

The next pair is Adam and Aaron. Adam unveils Aaron’s dish and gets excited that it’s a dessert. He calls it a delicious Napolean when it’s a shortcake, but I guess it could have seemed like a Napolean because of the layering. He’s actually very smooth and talks a good talk, but he takes this massive piece of cake (I guess it tasted really good) and then he can barely talk or even sign off because he’s busy swallowing. I bet they did this right before lunch to see the will power of the contestants. Anywho, Chef Cora says he needs to anticipate the wrap up and not be busy eating on camera.

Aaron does his bit and he’s even worse than Adam with the eating. He tastes Adam’s dish of Napa Cabbage Salad with Turkey and he’s just eating for maybe 5 seconds. Make that more than 8. Oh wait, he’s still eating. Um, shouldn’t we talk about now Aaron? He finally says something about how he tastes mushrooms, apples, etc. when time runs out. Chef Cora calls him on the eating and not talking and how he needs to own the dish. And Aaron looks a bit agitated about how he doesn’t “own” the dish because he didn’t make it, and Chef Cora tells him too bad, because this is the Food Network and you have to be able to describe food no matter where it came from and who made it.

The final pair is Dallas Diva Lisa and Mom Cook Jennifer. Lisa starts first with Jennifer’s pork tenderloin dish, which she says is beautiful. Lisa is paying more attention to being friendly and having more of a camera presence given her critiques in the past. I thought she did pretty well identifying the ingredients. She even threw in talking about dredging the pork to lightly panfry. Chef Cora tells her she still needs to make eye contact with the camera and be more genuine. Ugh, it must suck to be called fake.

Jennifer starts talking about Lisa’s dish, which is the “udon” noodle salad. Jennifer thinks it’s linguine (see, udon wouldn’t be confused with linguine at all). Jennifer is falling apart because she’s not identifying any ingredients and all she’s saying is, “yum, this is good.” Jennifer’s disappointed in herself, and so is Chef Cora.

Chef Cora names Shane the winner, which probably makes him love her even more (if only she played on his team). Everyone seems a bit surprised that he won, but at least it’s a happy surprise like “oh, that’s sweet the kid won something” as opposed to “are you kidding me, the kid won?”

The contestants line up again and this time Cat Cora introduces Bobby Flay. Just kidding! Host Bobby Flay again has left the building and looks like Cat Cora is doing all the hosting responsibilities in this episode, introducing Bon Appétit magazine editor Barbara Fairchild, who was that same woman last year. Also it’s the same prize as last year, which is a feature in Bon Appétit’s August edition. BTW, did you know Chef Cora is the magazine’s executive chef? It’s amazing how these Food Network stars have so many side gigs. I guess it doesn’t pay that much to just be a “star.”

Chef Cora stands near those shiny domes again with some mystery dish underneath. She says their challenge is to modernize a classic recipe, and they have to make it from “shopping bag to table” in 45 minutes. That’s kind of crazy if you ask me. I mean, sometimes it takes a long time for me from shopping bag to table because it’s a little like: unpack my bags, watch a little baseball, go surf the internet, clean the rice and start that going, watch a bit more baseball, start chopping some vegetables, find out why my neighbor is screaming in the hallways again, focus on cooking dinner, plate, take pictures of it if I think it’s worth blogging about, and then eat. Even then that’s probably and hour and a half on a good night.

The classic dishes the contestants have to reinvent is Beef Willington (never made it), Coq au Vin (like to order it but never made it) and Turducken (definitely never made this). Shane, as the winner of the first challenge, gets to pick the dish to make and assigns the dish to the others. They’re working in pairs again and he’s still with Kelsey and he picks Beef Willington, which Kelsey jumps with joy hearing because she thinks it’s the easiest of the three. Then Shane assigns Coq au Vin to Adam and Aaron and the Turducken to Lisa and Jennifer. Adam sounds like he says he’s making “cook in oven.” Funny.

So now the pairs have to shop and then cook their dishes at the Café Gray in Central Park, which I’ve never heard of but there are so many restaurants in Manhattan that there are probably many more I’ve never heard of. (I just did a Google search and turns out Café Gray, which was at the Time Warner Center near Central Park, has closed. Well there, I guess I didn’t really need to know Café Gray.)

At the grocery store, Jennifer is climbing the grocery walls and basically looks overwhelmed. Lisa says Jennifer’s kind of scattered and Jennifer says Lisa’s kind of bossy. This doesn’t sound like a good combination. You know who’s a good combination? Shane and Kelsey. They look sweet together and they’re both so nice. I like them.

Adam and Aaron, on the other hand, are having a train episode flashback where Adam didn’t listen to Aaron and he made runny eggs for judge Susie Folgelson. So Adam says he won’t be stubborn this time around. Still, he chooses to buy chicken breast with skin and bone on while Aaron says he should go with skinless, boneless breasts. They both buy the different versions of the chicken and I’m wondering if they plan on cooking together because it really seems like they’re both going in their own direction.

The contestants arrive at the (now defunct) Café Gray and it is the typical shiny new expensive-looking restaurants at that Time Warner Center (which for those who don’t know is fairly new and houses Thomas Keller’s Per Se, among other luxury restaurants). Aaron and Adam go first.

Instead of stewing a Coq au Vin, they’re marinating the chicken in bacon and red wine sauce and then grilling it with mushrooms. The contestants each have to make a side dish and Adam’s making polenta while Aaron is making a pasta dish, which to me already scream STARCH alert.

Adam’s grilling his bone-in chicken breasts and, naturally, it’s taking longer to cook so half-way through their time he throws on the skinless chicken. But you know, he’s cooking them with less time so it still might be raw. Oh Adam, you of the raw food reputation. I’m scared for you, and the Bon Appétit editors.

Aaron checks on Adam’s polenta and it doesn’t seem fluffy, so he starts adding chicken stock. Then they plate in a rush and I’m kind of worries about sweat splashes falling into the food. Also, the pasta is thrown into a bowl and they don’t even have time (or energy I bet) to even fix the pasta neatly into the bowl. It’s all dangling off the edges like they’re serving a children’s platter. Aaron calls it disgusting, and I agree. This is Bon Appétit, people!

Adam and Aaron make their presentation, and there’s a lot of Bon Appétit editors, including thee-of-long-locks Andrew Knowlton, who judges the Next Iron Chef America so you know he’s had some good food to critique. Adam jokes about how his first time making Coq au Vin was 10 minutes ago (everybody laughs) and Aaron comes off even more jittery and nervous next to Adam. Barbara Fairchild notes Aaron’s nervousness and Adam’s wittiness and Cora notes the strewn pasta. One woman didn’t like Adam’s egg-yolk yellow polenta and no one’s getting Coq au Vin from the grilled chicken dish.

Jennifer and Lisa are in the kitchen and Lisa is bossing Jennifer around. They going to make a deconstructed Turducken, so they cook some turkey medallion and make a stuffing with pre-roasted chicken and duck sausages. (I totally would have done a roll of some kind of layers of turkey, chicken and duck breast to mimic the Turducken theme of a small bird in a bird in a bird.) For the sides, Jennifer is making squash and Lisa’s making the stuffing.

Jennifer is cooking her squash slices on the stove top and next to it is a duck confit that Lisa has set aside to get the oil drippings for the stuffing and turkey. Then Jennifer gets some kind of juice jar to make a marinade and I don’t know why but it looks like she bangs it against the stove top. I guess she was trying to loosen the top, but she did it so quickly that she cracks the bottle like she’s christening a ship and the glass and juice splatters all over the stop top.

Jennifer says the glass was kept mostly near the side, but because they can’t be sure, they had to throw away everything that was contaminated by the juice. That includes the squash and Lisa’s lonely duck confit leg. Lisa is maaaaad. But she says she’s trying to be more zen and not a perfectionist.

Then they decide to make a “veloute” which is a fancy French term for a white gravy sauce. Lisa gets it going but when Jennifer tastes it, she says it’s too herby but also says it tastes like a forest. She tries to “fix” it by adding milk and stock and doctoring it, and all this time she keeps saying “it’s too herby, it’s too herby.” And I don’t even think herby is a word. This look like a disaster and finally they decide not to serve the “veloute” because it’s too herby. So you know this dish is going to be dry.

They present their dish and Jennifer admits to breaking glass near the stove so that’s why there’s no squash side or gravy. Chef Cora is disappointed about all the kitchen mishaps. Susie feels their recipe is a cop out on the Turducken concept. BTW, whoever invented Turducken is one crazy chef.

Last up is Shane and Kelsey and they work so well together I don’t feel stressed, even though they are a bit stressed because that’s a lot of cooking in 45 minutes. Usually when I’m cooking, I’m just cooking for myself, but they have to cook for what looks like at least 12 people (and the long-haired god). They’re making cooked spinach topped with beef tenderloin and all sitting on puff pastry cups. Kelsey is making a side of roasted vegetables and Shane is making pearl onions.

They plate up and serve what Shane calls the “No Nightmare Beef Willington.” They say it’s an ode to their moms who had to suffer through making the traditional Beef Willington of their generation (our moms did have more time to cook). Shane does get a bit chatty so Chef Cora has to cut him off. When they’re gone, the Bon Appétit photo editor does say that the dish isn’t very appealing visually but Andrew “100 Brush Strokes a Night” Knowlton says it does have flavor. Bobby Flay (oops, I forgot that he did show up to eat and critique) says Kelsey can speak well about the ingredients but Bob Tuschman says he wishes she’d stop mentioning that she just got out of culinary school.

They’re back at the Carriage House. Once again, they look tired and defeated. They are a sorry bunch. The six walk down the stairs for their critiques and here’s how it broke down:

Kelsey and Shane: Bob tells Kelsey she’s too girly and needs more authority, and he wants her to stop mentioning culinary school. Got it, Mr. Obsessive. Susie says their dish didn’t look attractive, but Chef Cora says the beef was cooked perfectly and the flavor was good.

Jennifer and Lisa: Bob says it was hard to watch Jennifer’s presentation challenge. They also talk about the kitchen mishap and Lisa starts to tear up because she says she’s trying hard not to punch Jennifer in the face right now for ruining her duck confit. Susie says in the presentation Jennifer came out gang buster while Lisa still needs a bit more confidence.

Adam and Aaron: Susie says Aaron spent a third of his time tasting the dish in the first challenge. Bob says the flavor was good but didn’t have anything to do with coq au vin. Then he tells Adam that he’s here just on his personality because so far none of his food tasted good. He even says out loud that he seriously wonders whether Adam should remain in the competition has they head into the final five. Susie tells Aaron not to self-edit because he comes out nervous and not natural. Aaron says he wanted to say some kind of hoopty-ville in his presentation but didn’t think it would go over with the Bon Appétit crowd. Bob tells him to be all hoopty-ville on his bad self.

Chef Cora says Barbara Fairchild of Bon Appétit surprisingly did pick a winner to feature and that’s Shane and Kelsey’s No Nightmare Beef Willington (which I’m sure a food stylist will dress up better than they did). They’re both safe and they leave the room. I love those two kids.

Bob says Lisa’s skills and expertise saved her so she’s safe. Bobby says Aaron needs to bring his game together, and he’s safe to try one more time. They leave, leaving Jennifer and Adam. While Jennifer probably cooks better than Adam, I still want Adam to stay for entertainment purposes because really at this point, I think Kelsey is going to take it all even though she has the cheerleader reputation.

Bobby tells Adam that he’s on very, very, very thin ice from a culinary standpoint. Susie says Jennifer wasn’t skillful in exhibiting expertise. Bob says Adam moving on. Jennifer is gone. She goes up and heads straight to pack without saying anything to the others. What, no hugs? She’s gone and the threat of seeing recipes with carrots hidden in mashed potatoes or spinach in meat loaf is gone.

Next: It’s a spot on the Emmy-award winning (!?! I know, really?) Rachel Ray show, and Susie is uncomfortable. Lisa cries again. If you’d like a preview for next week’s episode, click on the video below.

The Next Food Network Star airs at 10 p.m. Sundays and repeats at 9 p.m. Thursdays. Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday Night Movie and a Slice

Tonight I went to see a movie at the Victoria in San Francisco's Mission District. And afterwards, I thought I'd check out the pizza at Arinell Pizza, which Michael Bauer saved as his final feature of his now-concluded Pizza Friday in the San Francisco Chronicle.

It was about 10:45 p.m. when I got to the tiny pizza spot off the corner of 16th and Valencia Streets in the heart of the neighborhood. Rock music was blasting from a little radio behind the counter where two guys were cooking and serving pizza. It totally fits in with the neighborhood vibe of tattoos and piercings, and suddenly I felt so BR (Banana Republic).

There were already a crowd ahead of me, some even ordering a full pizza to go. Wow, must be some late-night munchies going on somewhere in the neighborhood. This cash-only place makes New York-style pizza, so it's pretty simple with minimal toppings. A slice of Neapolitan pizza goes for $2.75 and the deep pan slice goes for $3. You can add toppings for an extra 50 cents for each topping, but I didn't understand how that worked for the slices because all the pizzas coming out were Neapolitans and I didn't feel like waiting for them to make one with more toppings just for me.

So I got the standard Neapolitan slice, which just came out of the oven. It's a thin crust that's just plain tomato sauce and cheese. It's so thin and big that you really do need to fold it in order to eat it, New York style. The sauce was tasty and the crust was nice and crispy with a real freshness to it.

If you're a traditionalist when it comes to pizza and you're a connoisseur of the sauce and crust, then you'll probably love the pizza at Arinell, which does come close to a New York pie. But if you're like me, who grew up adding all sorts of toppings on your pizza, then you might leave thinking, what's the big deal? You'd probably think, hmm, I could have eaten two more slices with what I got on this thin slice of pizza. And you'd probably think I wish I could wash it down with beer, and then you'd find yourself at a nearby Mission pub jockeying for a seat next to some frat boy and a screaming blond. But maybe that's just me.

Arinell Pizza, 509 Valencia, San Francisco. PH: 415.255.1303. Open daily from lunch to dinner, till midnight on the weekends.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Eat Meat

When I visited my family in Hawaii last month, I noticed that they ate a lot of meat. I rarely eat red meat, but hanging around them made me have the urge to eat meat. But I always think it's unhealthy eating meat, and that's when I decided to make it into a salad. [[Re-reading this post makes me realize I have to stop posting at midnight because I write like a 4-year-old when I need sleep. Ha!]] So that's how I came up with the recipe below for my Meat and Potatoes Salad. I decided if I'm going to eat meat, I might as well add some roasted potatoes too. It's all good if you toss everything and call it a salad. You can make the ketchup-based dressing I made, or just use your favorite store-bought creamy dressing. Enjoy!

Meat and Potatoes Salad

Copyright 2008 by Cooking With The Single Guy

8 oz. Flank steak
1 lb. (16 oz.) fingerling potatoes
3 to 4 cups baby arugula
half a yellow bell pepper, finely diced
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced with a mandolin
olive oil
salt and pepper

For dressing:
1.5 T honey
2 T ketchup
1.5 T Champagne vinegar
3 T extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Cut your fingerling potatoes lengthwise into halves or quarters and spread out on a cookie tray. Drizzle olive oil all over and season with salt and pepper. (Toss the potatoes to make sure they’re all evenly coated.) Bake in oven for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown and cooked.

In a bowl, whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together until creamy. Set aside.

Drizzle your flank steak with olive oil and then season with salt and pepper (on both sides). Warm a non-stick skillet over high heat and sear your steak, about 1 to 2 minutes on each side (depending on the thickness). Remove from pan and allow your meat to rest for at least 5 minutes. You’ll slice the meat right before you serve the salad.

Remove the potatoes from the oven when done and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. Split the dressing into two bowls. In one bowl, add the slightly warm potatoes and toss to coat with dressing.

In a salad bowl, add arugula, fennel and bell pepper. Add some dressing and toss with potatoes. Then slice your steak and add to your salad. Serve immediately with toasted rosemary bread (I recommend the rosemary loaf from La Brea Bakery).

Makes two servings. Pair with a glass of rose wine.

TIP: Instead of drizzling your potatoes in olive oil, buy the spray can with extra virgin olive oil and just spray your potato slices. The spray allows you to have a more even coating.

OVERNIGHT: If you’re like me and make this salad just for yourself, you can split it over two nights for dinner. But you want to make sure to cook the flank steak fresh each time. So cut your flank steak into two pieces, and cook each one right before you’re about to eat it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dish on Dining: Lime

A Party Where Food is an Accessory
2247 Market St., San Francisco
PH: 415.621.5256
Open for dinner daily, 5 p.m. to midnight (until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday); weekend brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

Since this weekend is filled with Pride events (the massive parade is Sunday), I thought I’d spotlight a restaurant in San Francisco’s oldest gay neighborhood—the Castro.

The complaint is that there really is no destination restaurant in the Castro, just a few decent joints. No celebrity chef has found his or her way to the Castro (not even Lesbian favorite Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake and the new Orson in SOMA).

So when my friend Angel from Chicago was coming into town and said he wanted to “party,” I had some difficulties thinking of the perfect spot. I eventually settled on Lime, a restaurant/lounge that opened four years ago on the edge of the neighborhood on Market Street.

I’ve never been to Lime, but every time I walked by it seemed to be a really funky chic bar with its Scandinavian-like décor and neon-color scheme. (What’s really odd is it’s called Lime but the predominant color is day-glo pink.) Last Friday night, I met Angel and his partner, Bob, who were already having a drink at the marbled bar.

If you recall, last week we had a heat wave in the city and Lime’s air-conditioning wasn’t working. (At least that’s what they said. For all we know, they could have just had it off to save on their energy bill.) So it felt like summer in New York, where people perspired in minimal attire with a cosmo always in hand.

For me, I settled for a white peach bellini, which is one of Lime’s signature drinks. It fell flat. The champagne tasted like the bottle had been opened for awhile and the peach puree was a bit too sweet. While at the bar, I noticed that a lot of people were ordering mojitos because they had enough mint to cover a whole parade float. (I exaggerate, but not really.)

I did enjoy the music pumped in by the DJ. They were all tunes that I recognized, unlike the pulsating techno-electronica crap that often fills the dance clubs. But because of the music, it made it difficult to hold a nice conversation without straining your vocal chords.

We moved to our table when our other friend George arrived. That’s when I started to look over the menu, which is an eclectic collection of small plates “meant to share,” our waitress informed us. The selection is grouped by price points, ranging from $5 to $13.

We ordered a bunch of stuff “to share” and here’s what came out: (BTW, the food came out pretty quickly after we ordered.)

Seasonal Salad ($5) with organic greens and seasonal peaches. It was very light and refreshing.

Tagarashi Fries ($5), shoestring fries tossed in a Japanese 7-spice chili pepper. As some of you know, I don’t like eating fried foods, but ordered this for the table because I knew others do. I did try a bit of it and it was really spicy. Not every piece was crispy, so I didn’t think it was very successful.

Fish Tacos ($9), cornmeal dusted mahi mahi with avocado, sour cream, tomato salsa sitting on mini tortillas. (The dish typically comes with three tacos but you can add a fourth at an additional cost.) I liked the fact that the fish wasn’t deep-fried like some other fish tacos and it had a very light twang of acidity to balance the fish.

Tuna Poke ($12), the diced ahi tuna served raw with cucumber and avocado and won ton chips. The won ton chips were too small to really pick up the tuna cubes, so I ended up just using a fork to eat the Tuna Poke and crunching on the chips as a side.

Baby Back Pork Ribs ($13) was this beautiful tray of barbeque ribs with a side of cole slaw. The meat easily came off the bone and the flavor was solid and not too spicy. I liked it.

Mini Burgers ($9) (again, we added a fourth because it usually comes in three), burgers covered with white cheddar and served with special sauce and pickles. It was cute and the meat was nicely cooked, but the white cheddar was odd. It melted in an odd way like it was stretched cotton on the burgers instead of cheese. It didn’t seem to add to the flavor and it may have been more inventive to use another type of cheese.

Ricotta Gnocchi ($8) with shitake mushrooms, thyme and parmesan cheese. The gnocchi came out looking slightly burnt and the mushrooms had a slight rubbery texture. It was interesting but not necessarily a favorite.

Pork Quesadilla ($8), braised pork in a mole sauce with mango salsa. This was fresh and easy to eat, but nothing really special.

Pan-Seared Salmon ($10) served with a big glop of barbeque sauce on a bed of greens. The salmon was tender but seemed a bit overpowered by the sauce. And I didn’t feel the bed of greens really complimented the salmon, other than to just dress the plate.

We ended with two desserts: a tray of mini red velvet cupcakes and a coffee-flavored crème brulee. The mini cupcakes were cute, of course, and had a good taste and texture. But the crème brulee was a bit off with the coffee flavor, and the sugary top shell wasn’t as crispy.

Angel thought everything was good, but both he and George (who he knows from Chicago) felt we could have gotten something better in Chicago. Even though I haven’t eaten at a lot of places in Chicago, I would tend to agree. While the food at Lime is solid, it wasn’t necessarily creative or offered any new tastes.

What really seems popular at Lime, which isn’t on the menu, is the parade of beautiful people who come to the bar for some S&M action (stand & model). Yes, we were in the Castro so there were a lot of men, but Lime also seems to attract a mixed crowd, some coming from outside of the city.

Lime definitely delivered the party atmosphere for our Friday night, but the food was not the star attraction. It’s good for some lounge bites, but more for the people-watching.

Single guy rating: 2.75 stars (predictably solid)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Lime on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Next Food Network Star: Season 4, Episode 4

Like a Fish Out of Water

Previously: The contestants package themselves for Martha, and Adam is on his knees, Kelsey cries (did she force it?) and Jeffrey is out but still feeling awesome. Tonight: Ultimate Tyler is on, it’s a rainy day on a Coast Guard boat, and we finally get to see Dallas Diva take her infamous fall for Iron Chef Michael Symon no less.

Opening scenes of foot traffic in Manhattan. Those people know how to walk. Back at the Carriage House, we don’t get any scenes of contestants waking up. Instead, we jump to them entering Studio B of the Food Network. It’s all business today.

In comes Tyler Florence and now Marin County resident. He tells them they each have to make a 60-second technique video, which is a quick demo (has to be quick for 60 seconds) on a culinary skill. While I think it’s great that the Food Network is testing the contestants’ skills, I have to say I think it’s kind of unfair that they have no time to prep for it and they don’t know what skill they have to demonstrate until they unveil the tray in front of them.

So here’s how they did:

Adam is up first and he finds a whole artichoke and he has to break it down, like I said, in 60 seconds. (Even my demo took 6.5 minutes.) He cuts the artichoke in half and starts to spoon out the prickly needles in the center. He’s about to marinate the artichoke with lemon juice (a good idea to avoid it turning brown) when time’s up. Tyler tells him that he was sloppy when he should be slick. But he gives him the funny nod.

Aaron gets a pineapple, which isn’t too tough I think. But then again I grew up in Hawaii. He starts talking about something and then he cuts off the crown of the pineapple and does this neat thing about garnishing, cutting the crown in half and talking about brunch. Um, Aaron, are you going to cut the pineapple or what? Ooops, time’s up. And his pineapple is still in tact, except for the top and bottom. Tyler says Aaron needs to learn to cook and talk at the same time. No kidding.

Kelsey has to French a rack of lamb. If you recall, last week the judges said Kelsey was over the top and came off too forced. So this time she’s telling herself to tone her energy down a bit, as much as any cheerleader can. She starts off by cutting off a piece of the rack of lamb and then starts scraping the sides of the bone to French it. I give her credit for toning it down a bit, but it’s still a bit well-rehearsed. But maybe that’s a good thing because at least I was able to get some information from her presentation even though time ran out. Tyler thought her approach was good and he commented on her good energy, which made her happy. They do a weird elbow bump (instead of using their fists) when they pass each other, which I’ve never seen before. Must be a chef thing.

Shane finds he has a coconut, which I actually think is a bit unfair because how often are you going to cook with a coconut? This is just plain mean, Food Network producers! Anywho, Shane says he’s going to attempt to just show how to get the juice from the coconut, so he uses a nail to puncture a hole in the soft spot and he’s excited because the nail went in pretty easily. But when he turns the coconut over, nothing comes out and time runs out. Tyler says he has to act like he knows what he’s doing even if he doesn’t, but he likes his energy too.

Spice/Curry Queen Nipa gets to clean fresh squid. When she unveils the tray, she looks like she’s about to toss her breakfast. But she tells Tyler that she has no idea how to clean a squid. So she fakes it. She forces the squid apart using a knife, and just cuts it into bits. Tyler literally drops his mouth and looks shocked. She didn’t even pull out the black liquid part that will totally squirt on you if you bite into it. Anywho, the piece she cuts looks so pathetic but she acts like she did a good job “cleaning” the squid. Tyler asks how she thinks she did, and she says she acted like she knew what to do. He disagrees, of course, and says she really should know how to clean a squid. I guess she never made a seafood curry.

Lisa has to truss a chicken, which is a good demo to do and she could probably do it in 60 seconds (although, again, my demo was a little less than 2 minutes). She grabs some twine and grabs the legs of the chicken and ties the two together, which isn’t that fancy but I guess it’ll do. Tyler says she wasn’t engaging the camera. Lisa says she’s having a hard time looking into the camera, but realizes she has to be an entertainer. I think she’s pretty entertaining already with her wacky outfits and hyper personality. Wow, in her interview her eyes look like she’s been crying or she hasn’t gotten enough sleep. What’s up with that?

Jennifer has to shuck an oyster. Hmm, I love oysters but have never shucked them myself. I think it can be pretty tricky. You know who doesn’t love oysters? Jennifer. But she jumps into it anyway and says she hasn’t done this in a long time. Then she explains that she’s sensitive to oyster so that’s why she hasn’t opened one in awhile. She never really opens it. Tyler looks sad for her. She thinks this could be the reason she might be going home. Tyler says not to apologize on camera because viewers will change the channel if they think they’re watching someone who doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

Then Jennifer breaks down and walks out of the studio, crying in the hallway with her back to the camera. (The cameraman is either feeling really awkward that he has to film this or he’s just eating it up as more reality show drama.) Jennifer even konks herself on the head with her hand, you know, like those V-8 commercials except she’s calling herself an idiot. She pulls herself together and walks back in where hunky Tyler consoles her and tells her that he likes her presence and she just has to bring it.

Tyler names Kelsey the winner of the challenge, and even though it was pretty good, it really seemed like she won by default because the others were just so bad. Her video will be on the Food Network home page (although it’s not on today when I just checked, so maybe they still have to tweak it). Nipa looks mad, but she says she just feels overwhelmed being surrounded by all the experts in the bunch. Oi.

Commercials. Sorry to say, again there has been no new commercials to comment about on this season of The Next Food Network Star. So I won’t be recapping the commercials unless I see something new.

The contestants arrive in the Food Network kitchen and someone moved the fish counter from the local grocery store into the kitchen because there are tons of whole fishes. Iron Chef Michael Symon walks in. BTW, anyone else wondering where’s Bobby Flay? He’s kind of hot and cold with this whole hosting thing. Aaron is all excited to see Chef Symon, but I’m wondering if it’s more the brotherhood of bald men working here.

Chef Symon says he’ll be a guest judge this week, and he introduces the senior executive chef of Red Lobster, Michael LaDuke. Who knew they had a senior chef? Symon says the winner of this challenge will get a dish on the fish special menu at Red Lobsters across the country. Everyone looks excited but I wonder if they realize connecting to Red Lobster can bring on the “sell-out” criticism as Tyler has found with his Applebee’s commercials and Guy Fieri with TGIFriday’s?

The contestants have to make two fish dishes using the fishes in front of them and a secret ingredient ala Iron Chef. Though the ingredients aren’t so secret since they’re sitting in containers in front of the contestants. They’re kind of out there, though, and include: whipped marshmallow, coffee beans, cereal, cola, caramels, grape jelly and white chocolate.

They all get to pick their fish and secret ingredient, and Kelsey goes first as the winner of the earlier challenge. Adam picks up a halibut and kisses it for no particular reason, which even makes Chef Symon cringe. Nipa is last and she freaks out just looking at the fish. She won’t even pick it up and Symon has to coach her on to grab it. I don’t get how she can be a cook and never worked with fish?

They have 60 minutes to prep their food and they all start scrambling in the kitchen. Chef Symon pretends he’s Tom Colicchio of Top Chef and walks around checking up on everyone. Nipa is totally not into her fish, which she has to fillet. The Food Network has provided everyone with some fillets already, but the contestants also have to cut a few of their own from the whole fish they chose. Nipa is massacring her rainbow trout and she’s only able to cut just this tiny piece of the fillet, if you can even call it that. It looks like maybe two inches. Then she goes and dumps the rest of the fish in the trash. Ugh, what a waste.

Jennifer is making a cereal-encrusted mahi mahi. She looks happy about it, or excited. I’m just glad she’s not crying any more. Aaron is making cola-marinated cod with a kick of hot sauce. He’s grilling it and there’s no sizzle so his fish is sticking and they look sick, like falling apart sick.

The contestants are now in their white, unmarked van and it’s storming in Manhattan. But they’re heading off to an undisclosed location where they’re going to serve their fish. They arrive at a pier and Adam says he sees a really big boat, but it obviously has the word Coast Guard on the side. Lisa is sweating because she made tartar and this doesn’t look like a tartar kind of crowd.

Chef Symon and some Coast Guard guy welcomes them in the rain at the top of the ship, and then they’re told they’ll be cooking for 30 Coast Guard men and women.

Kelsey is up first and she starts cooking in the galley. She says they also have to do a 2-minute presentation to the “Coasties.” She does seem a little more calm than normal. In fact, she’s almost normal and not the perky cheerleader we’ve come to know. She made a fish cake with tilapia and a chipotle mayonnaise and a macadamia nut-encrusted fish with white chocolate cream sauce. It looks interesting. Judge Susie Folgelson comments that Kelsey seemed more authentic. The “Coasties” seem to like the fish.

Adam’s cooking and he’s moving fast. He’s also kind of messy. He sees this step in the doorway leading up to the dining area and he thinks it’ll be funny if he walked out and tripped. Physical comedy, I get it. Unfortunately, none of the Coast Guard people or the judges got it. They all end up staring at Adam like he’s from Mars or something. He’s just dying out there trying to salvage his presentation by talking about his olive oil poached halibut with crepes. The judges later wondered what just happened and Susie says Adam came off like a bozo. Also, Bob Tuschman says Adam’s fish smells fishy. And Chef Symon says that comes from overcooking the fish and the oil comes out. Ah, I get it. I’ve been to several restaurants and had that smell of fish come at me with my plate and I always comment on it and my friends never smell it. Now I know the kitchen cooked my fish too long! Thanks Chef Symon for vindicating my nose! BTW, Symon called Adam’s presentation a train wreck, which is a mess given that the train episode was two weeks ago.

Jennifer presents her beer-battered mahi mahi with mango salsa and fruit-cereal encrusted fish with coconut. She kind of jokes whether they’re scared of eating her cereal fish, and pretty much tells them, good luck with that. When she’s done, she realizes that she apologized again about her dish when she’s been told by the judges not to apologize. Sorry judges! Jennifer says there’s a whole different Jennifer back home who’s confident. Maybe she should make a switch with that girl before it’s too late.

Nipa made a tandoori trout and one marinated with her secret ingredient of grape jelly. It really just look like fish with a pile of mush on top. And her presentation was just as mushy. She introduces her fish dish and then does a quick demo of a Bollywood dance. And it looks a little like “Walking Like an Egyptian” but not. It’s kind of weird to watch at home and we’ve got the music going in the background. Just imagine what it was like for the poor Coast Guard people who watched it without any music except the music in Nipa’s head. One Coast Guard guy said it was so awkward he had to look away (but I’m sure he didn’t because it’s like a car crash that you just have to rubber neck).

Lisa, who so far is the only contestant I have a nickname for (sigh), is doing her Dallas Diva thing around the kitchen and then it happens. She slips while holding a container of sauce and like true Lucy form, the container goes flying up into the air and the contents pours down like rain and then the container drops on Lisa totally empty. It is a mess. I totally feel for her (and so does Adam who rushes in and looks scared for her but can’t really help her since it’s her gig). She gets up and says she’s fine, but the next minute she’s outside in front of the room of guys and judges looking like she showered in her clothes.

She does a good job of self-deprecating to make the best of the situation, and then she has this real moment where she says her brother is in Iraq and how it’s an honor to cook for the Coast Guard, then she gets choked up just a bit before she leaves. Bob Tuschman gets choked up as well and really liked her real presentation instead of the phony fashion Dallas Diva we’ve come to know. But the Red Lobster guy isn’t digging her tartar for the chain’s menu.

Shane does his sole with orange cream sauce and a parsnip roasted garlic puree with the marshmallow. His presentation was pretty average and generic. He’s like Kevin reincarnated. Chef Symon says the fish was the better tasting so far. It’s moist and the technique is good. The Red Lobster guy says either one of his fish could go on the menu.

Last up is Aaron and his crumbling, flakey cod. He talks about his fish dish and I really didn’t understand what he made. The cod is overcooked and a big mess in the eyes of the chefs. Bob still wants Aaron to tell a story.

They’re all back at the Carriage House, and again they are the most stressed out looking group of people heading into elimination. They face the judges with Bobby Flay still MIA. So it’s just Susie, Bob and Chef Symon.

They get their individual critiques and here’s how it went:

Lisa needs to connect with the camera and she missed the Red Lobster boat with her tartar dish, but she was the least perfect Lisa which is the Lisa Bob wants to see.

Shane gets called the child prodigy by Symon and is told that he needs to be more convincing with a coconut.

Adam was organically humorous on his technique demo, but not so with his falling down at the Coast Guard boat. Plus, Symon spit out his crepe after taking a bite. The judges tell Adam he needs to grow up.

Nipa giggled her way through her demo, which Tuschman read as disrespectful, and Chef Symon was offended by her butchering and tossing of the whole fish.

Kelsey gets all the good marks this week, for a good French lamb demo with solid energy and two good dishes to choose from for Red Lobster.

Aaron’s food was disappointing this week, and the judges still don’t know who he is because he doesn’t share anything about himself.

Jennifer’s cereal fish was too sweet and despite her warmth, she’s killing herself with her apologies. Then she starts to cry and Shane and Kelsey next to her tries to pat her on her shoulder. I don’t think there’s been an elimination round this season without tears.

Chef Symon starts by naming the Red Lobster winner, and it’s Kelsey, which is actually fitting because I think she’s really Red Lobster’s target audience. You know, wholesome and blond. They chose her white chocolate macadamia nut-encrusted fish for their menu. She’s also safe, and they give a pass to Lisa and Shane as well. So the three are excused.

Then they do this weird thing where they ask the remaining people why they think they’re on the bottom this week. That gets Jennifer crying some more as she talks about growing up fat and insecure. Aaron then realizes he hasn’t spilled enough of his personal life onto TV and he spits out that his son ran away from home right before Aaron came to do this show. Wow, now that’s sharing too much information. How does that relate to his cooking? That would be more a Lifetime movie about the cook who becomes successful but wants to find his son so every week he cooks his son’s favorite dish so that he’ll come home to eat it. Now that’s a movie. BTW, Aaron never says how old his son is. If he’s 21, then I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s “running away from home.” But if he’s like 15, then I would be like, “um, Aaron, why aren’t you at home looking for your son instead of spending time in New York?” This whole TMI moment is a bit strange.

Anywho, Jennifer and Aaron are safe and they are excused, leaving Curry Queen and Funny guy Adam. And I so hope it’s Nipa who goes home. The judges agree with me and send Nipa home, and she leaves saying she doesn’t know if she ever really wanted this at all. Nice, thanks for taking up space with your dead weight.

Next week: Some one breaks a jar, there’s a lot of smoke in the kitchen, Jennifer is frustrated at the grocery store, and someone is on very thin ice with the resurfaced Bobby Flay.

After the episode, there was this infomercial with that Red Lobster chef and Kelsey to introduce her dish on the Red Lobster menu. She looks poised and smooth as always but I couldn’t hear the whole thing because my tape ran out. Oh well, go to Red Lobster if you want to find out more. And if you want to see previews of next week’s show because my above teaser wasn’t enough for you, just check out the video below.

The Next Food Network Star airs at 10 p.m. Sundays and repeats at 9 p.m. Thursdays. Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

More Than Chocolate at G.Square

I can't remember the last time I was at Ghiradelli Square at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. All I remember is that I never really bought anything from the stores at this beautiful red-brick complex that has fallen prey to the tourist-label.

But this weekend, the developers who are trying to revitalize this landmark square tried to entice back locals with free food and wine. OK, I'll bite.

The two-day "Savour the Square" event was supposed to be an unveiling of the "new" Ghiradelli Square. But when you arrive, you still see a lot of scaffolding and a few stores (including several big-name ones) still not open. So I really didn't get how this was an unveiling. I think if they waited a month, it would have been even more attractive and festive. But hey, no one called me to be their event planner. (They really should, though.)

One store that was definitely open and a welcome boost to the square is Kara's Cupcakes, which started in the Marina's Chestnut Street area and opened this second location late last year. (Now I hear Kara's Cupcakes is expanding to San Jose.) This Fisherman's Wharf location had the trademark pink cuteness, and I couldn't resist getting the classic Fleur De Sel cupcake, which is a chocolate cupcake filled with caramel and topped with a sprinkle of fleur de sel sea salt. Hmmm, so good. (But definitely one that can't be eaten without milk!)

A few of the stores yet to open set up booths to introduce themselves to the crowd that gathered this weekend. That included this table from the soon-to-open Crown Crumpet, a tea salon. I love the idea of another tea salon in the city, especially one with a very English motif. I hope it's good, though, because the cookies I sampled weren't very promising. It was a bit stale, but it may be from sitting in the sun all morning. It was a hot day so I didn't try the tea, but tried the iced tea, which was super cold and refreshing. What was odd, though, was I asked the girl what kind of tea was used to make the iced tea and she simply said "black." Duh, there are thousands of black tea and depending on what you use it can totally change the nuance of your iced tea. Oh well, at least it was cold.

One of the stores I'm really looking forward to opening is Marche on the Square, which is a French-inspired market. It's set to open next month. If you've traveled in Paris, you can imagine beautifully displayed aisles and exquisite food stations. At least that's the promise of Marche's U.S. owner.

Even though Marche wasn't open, that didn't stop it from promoting itself. It set up a booth outside for a sushi demonstration by its chef Mario Matos. [So a couple of people pointed out that this chef is actually named Mario Perez and he goes by “Mariomoto.” So I must have heard wrong. Who knew this guy was so popular?] Sushi will be a regular offering at Marche along with more traditional French offerings like crepes. Chef Matos demonstrated how he plates a tuna sashimi dish and he made nigiri sushi as well as maki rolls. People swarmed around him grabbing the free samples as soon as he cut and plated them. They went fast! I got to try only one piece of maki roll with fresh tuna and salmon and it was great.

The highly touted and anticipated second restaurant from Gary Danko will open at Ghiradelli Square, which is actually just a few yards away from his current fine-dining restaurant. This one is supposed to be an American brasserie, but not sure if that's the actual name as well. I would be interested in trying this more casual outlet of Danko's, but not sure how it can attract more locals to shop at the square. When I go for dinner, I usually don't shop afterwards. But that's just me.

There actually aren't a lot of stores to really stroll and visit and I still felt Ghiradelli Square is very touristy. Most of the other levels once used for boutiques have been transformed to luxury apartments. Great, that's all we need is another luxury condo in San Francisco. But of all the stores that were at the square, Cellar 360 was the most interesting.

Cellar 360 is a huge space dedicated to wine. They have a wine bar for daily wine tasting and on the opposite end they have a food counter selling sandwiches and salads using fresh, organic ingredients. In the center are an assortment of wine for sale as well as cute wine accessories. Cellar 360 is also promoting itself as a culinary education center, so I guess they'll have regular classes or events at this special room in the back. On this weekend, especially for "Savour the Square," they had a special wine tasting and the people was like a mob behind glass as they packed themselves into the glass room.

See the crowds? It was crazy. But I guess that's what happens when words gets out that there's free food and wine.

They were pouring wines from Penfolds, which is an Australian winemaker. Here this woman is pouring a shiraz. It was OK, not really mature yet and a bit tannic for my taste. But nobody cared. They were all into the free tastings.

On hand for the event was Penfold's owner and winemaker, Peter Gago. He was like a celebrity winemaker (I didn't know any existed) because I saw one guy buy a bottle and ask him for his autograph. Those oenophiles are worse than groupies!

I have to say the free bites were more exciting than the wine. Here the Cellar 360 kitchen made asparagus spears wrapped with beef. Oh. My. Gawd. It was soooo good. The beef was seared to perfection. I didn't even bother with the dipping sauce because it had so much natural juices from the meat.

These little toast bites were also amazing. They were just roasted tomato chunks dressed in olive oil and topped with a thin slice of cheese. The toast was so crunchy and light, and everything just was so perfectly simple but well-balanced. Mmmm.

When I walked out I was surrounded by leashes and little dogs. Turns out there was a dog fashion show put on by boutique dog store Yap. These dogs were really working it. ;-)

It'll be interesting to see how successful the new Ghiradelli Square will be. So far it looks like it has a long road to go before locals face the tourists and expensive parking of Fisherman's Wharf just for a few moments of shopping at high end stores like Marche. Then again, there's a chocolate fair at the square in September. And chocolate is the universal language of success.