Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dish on Dining: Commis

Innovative Tasting Arrives in Oakland Neighborhood
3859 Piedmont Ave., Oakland
Piedmont Avenue neighborhood
PH: 510.653.3902
Prix-fixe dinner only from 5:30 p.m., Wed.–Sun.
Reservations recommended, major credit cards accepted

I usually wait for a restaurant to be open for at least a couple of weeks before I go and check it out. But when a restaurant is headed by a “Rising Star” chef who once cooked at a two-Michelin-star restaurant, I knew I had to get in a visit before it becomes too hot to even ask about a reservation.

That restaurant is Commis, the long-awaited solo venture of James Syhabout, a 29-year-old chef who was named one of San Francisco Chronicle’s 2007 Rising Star Chefs. Commis was the chef de cuisine at the noted Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos and garnered rave reviews when he headed the kitchen in San Francisco’s Plumpjack Café.

Commis also happens to be in my Oakland neighborhood, so when I heard that it officially opened its doors last Thursday, I walked in for dinner the next night on my way home from the gym.

The restaurant is in the former Jojo space, a cozy neighborhood restaurant that closed down a few months ago when the owners decided to leave at the height of its popularity. While some wonder if anyone can fill the shoes of the popular Jojo, I believe the foodies in the area are going to go crazy for Commis.

I don’t know if it was planned this way, but the exterior is very minimal with no signage out front. When I walked in, I was able to score the last walk-in table despite the fact that the restaurant was nearly 90 percent empty. That’s because many of the tables in the tiny space were already reserved.

Commis is French for “apprentice” or “trainee,” which I guess is Chef Syhabout’s humble way of saying that he’s still honing his craft, constantly learning and evolving. But with the design of the restaurant, there’s no doubt that he’s commanding the show as Syhabout cooks with his chef de cuisine in an open kitchen right in the center of the room, surrounded by counter seating.

Despite being just two days old, you sense that Syhabout’s experience in fine dining has been drilled into his staff. The servers are all very professional and friendly, and are all well-suited to explaining the restaurant’s concept and its menu.

Commis offers only a $49 three-course, prix-fixe dinner showcasing seasonal ingredients, some foraged from the nearby Oakland hills. The server says the menu will stay the same during these early days, but the chef plans to change it regularly, even daily, down the road.

On its opening menu, each course offered about three to four options. The only course with limited options was dessert, which offered just two choices.

I also opted for the wine pairings for $29. Because I was doing the wine tasting, I was brought out this glass of German sparkling wine as an apéritif. It was infused with a slice of ginger and some peppercorns. I wasn’t a big fan of the flavor of the wine, but loved the idea of the fresh ginger.

My dinner started with this amuse bouche, a shot glass filled with a pretty peach puree topped off with green foam. The green foam was made using a native plant that starts with an “N.” The server pretty much said the name four times and I still couldn’t recognize it or understand how to spell it. All I know is that the bright orange petal on top comes from the plant and it’s grown in the wild in the East Bay. Whatever it’s called, it provided an herbal-like contrast to the sweet peach puree underneath. The two flavors complemented each other beautifully and it was a refreshing drink on what was a very warm summer night.

The wine that went with my first course was a French Chardonnay. I wish I had all the specifics about the winery and vintage, but it all went by so fast. This particular French wine was slightly dry but buttery with a sweet undertone. This and all the other wine pairings worked well with each course.

For my first course, I had the option of a squash soup, gem lettuce salad or smoked mackerel. But I went with the Soft Farm Egg with Potato and Alliums because it contained crispy pork jowl, which is the cheeks of the pig.

The plate came out looking like a playground of flavors. There were cubes of pork jowl with golden potatoes topped with the soft egg and grilled scallion. Off to one side was a smear of black garlic with pretty purple flowers that I’m guessing came from the alliums.

I really enjoyed the pork jowl, which was slightly crispy but so creamy when you bit into it. The farm egg was soft boiled, so it didn’t necessarily ooze out as much as it was just tender. I would sometimes drag my fork into the black garlic just to get a burst of flavor that I’ve never experienced before. Even the potato cubes had an added dimension of flavor that I couldn’t detect but enjoyed. This emerged as a theme for the night as Chef Syhabout sent out dishes that were complex yet beautiful.

For the main course, there was an offering of roasted chicken or aged beef loin but I settled for the Morro Bay Cod with English Pea Porridge. Another beautifully plated dish with coriander blossoms highlighted the perfectly seared cod, which still had its crispy skin intact, and which I ate every bit of. But I really felt the star of the plate was the English pea porridge that was bright in flavor and smooth in sweetness.

Now, I have to admit that I picked this dish because one of the ingredients listed was “delta crayfish.” And I just liked the idea of seeing a little crayfish on my plate. But as you can see on the picture, there wasn’t one. And I didn’t think about asking about it because I was so intrigued by the different flavors.

Partly I was also too self-conscious to ask my server. Sometimes at a fancy and pricey restaurant, I feel like I’m asking too much if I almost question the chef. Where’s my crayfish? Why did he say crayfish but I don’t see any on my plate!? Yes, I’m sure there’s a polite way to bring it up. But I didn’t want to look stupid. I will say, however, that the foam in the dish had a distinct shellfish flavor, so maybe the crayfish was meant to be only in the broth? What would you have done? If you go to Commis in the next few days, let me know what you find out if you’re brave enough or smart enough to inquire.

The wine with the fish was also another one from France; this time a sauvignon blanc that I enjoyed more than the first wine. It was crisp and young and perfect for the weather and food.

The final course was dessert, which was a Chilled Strawberry-Watermelon Soup with fino basil, black pepper ice cream and bits of vanilla. (The other option was a semi-frozen homemade crème fraice.) The soup was served with the same German sparkling wine that came as an apéritif but served naked without any added elements like ginger or peppercorns.

The strawberry-watermelon soup was very enjoyable and, again, really perfect for the warm evening. It tasted more watermelon than strawberry, but that’s a minor point. I enjoyed the little pearls of watermelon and the ice cream was a luxurious addition (although it didn’t really taste that peppery). Overall, it was an elegant ending to a delightful dinner.

Keep in mind that Commis’ three-course dinner is very French in presentation, which means creativity in small portions. I consider this more of a tasting menu instead of your typical three-course dinner you’d get at a neighborhood joint. But if you’re open to the innovations of Chef Syhabout, then you’ll be treated like a prince (or princess) as you dine on elegance and complexity.

Syhabout’s venture reminds me a lot of Chef Dennis Leary’s Canteen in the city. These two remarkable chefs are hands-on, making fantastic dinners for their customers in a tiny spot. Granted, Syhabout’s space is more refined and fancy than Leary’s homey and eclectic diner, but the intimacy is there.

I think I was smart to try Syhabout’s dinner so soon after his opening because with his experience, the meal was perfectly timed and orchestrated. The problem now is if I want to come back for more, I’m sure I won’t be as lucky in scoring an open table.

Commis’ entry to the neighborly Piedmont Avenue may seem like an odd location for Syhabout’s first restaurant. For years the nearby Bay Wolf (just a few yards away) was the recognized leader of fine dining on the street, but now it can only dream to plate dishes like Commis. What Syhabout has done by opening up in a tiny indiscreet location is create an emerging food destination with Commis at the heart.

Single guy rating: 4.5 stars (A special place)

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

Commis on Urbanspoon

Related reviews:
Canteen: “Make Dennis Leary Your Personal Chef”
Coi: “The High Price of Eating with All Your Senses”
La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar: “Nine (Plus) Courses to Remember for a Lifetime”

Monday, June 29, 2009

NFNS: Season 5, Episode 4

Always Remember to Say ‘Behind’

Previously: The contestants offer their money-saving tips, but Teddy is over-the-top. Jeffrey wins, like, three times? Teddy is sorry about his integrity, or lack thereof. Eddie is sent packin’.

Opening sequence: Whatever happened to the breaking glass sound effect with the music? It was oddly intriguing to me. Now they just play the cliché chef knife sound like “Top Chef.” Copycat.

Opening scene looks really early because I don’t even see the sunrise, but everyone’s getting ready. Jeffrey is doing some karate kick. That guy has long legs. Teddy is excited to being better. It’s always nice to start off your day with that resolve.

The contestants head to the Food Network Kitchen and there’s Bobby Flay already there. Jamaican Jamika is scared of Bobby and his domed platters. He tells them that he’s opening a restaurant in Connecticut this weekend called Bobby’s Burger Palace (everyone’s into burgers) and their challenge is to make the ultimate burger (hey, I thought that was Tyler’s gig) for his new menu.

They have 20 minutes to make a burger that reflects a regional cuisine. Go!

They start grabbing ingredients and then start talking about their ideas for burger. They all sounds pretty interesting: Melissa the Mom is making a Burlington, Vt. burger, Michael a Go-Go™ is making New York Italian burger, Jamaican Jamika is going New Orleans, and Debbie is making Cal-Asian with a Korean bulgogi twist.

What doesn’t sound appetizing is Teddy’s Pennsylvania burger that’s an homage to Amish country. WTF? Doesn’t that mean he can’t use electricity to cook it?

The Health Nut is actually making a San Francisco burger, which is my neck of the woods. And while when you think San Francisco you think crab and Italian influences, she’s going fresh market ingredients and turkey. Doesn’t remind me of San Francisco at all. The grill isn’t hot enough for her and since she’s using ground turkey, she needs to cook it through unlike beef that can be juicy and rare. So she throws the turkey burgers into the oven but still it’s not cooked through. She decides to serve it up anyway. “What can I do? Not serve a hamburger?” she says. I think to myself, hmmm, choice 1: not serve a plate and get major deductions, or choice 2: give food poisoning to the judges. Yeah, smart choice.

They each have to present to the camera and the judges’ panel. Melissa the Mom is up first and she is really on, with her story about college and chili and her Vermont burger with Vermont cheese. And she ends exactly at the 30 second mark. Perfect. Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson are nodding their heads in delight, and all the other contestants are like “oooh, you’re the bomb” when she heads on back.

Jeffrey is all nervous because he’s following Melissa, who did a great presentation, and he doesn’t have a story like Melissa. What? You don’t have any life experiences that involved California and burgers? So he just spends his 30 seconds talking about the flavors of his ingredients in his California burger with a Mexican twist. Susie says she’s not learning anything about Jeffrey’s personality. Bobby says the burger’s taste is sooo Jeffrey, the heat-sweet thang.

Teddy goes up next and tries to “be himself” and talks about Pennsylvania’s Amish country and their fresh produce. In the back, all the contestants are watching with their mouths open in shock at how poorly he does. Bob says he doesn’t like his energy. When Teddy goes back to the other contestants, Jamika tells him point-blank that he comes off like a game show host, which is actually a really spot-on description.

Debbie does her Cal-Asian thing and talks about Korean marinade for her burger, and it’s typical Debbie does Asian. It’s good but it’s now getting predictable like Jeffrey. Susie likes her presentation, though, but Bobby thinks the burger doesn’t have a strong enough Asian flavor. It’s so funny to hear Bobby Flay judging whether something tastes Asian enough.

Michael comes on and talks about growing up in New York and the flavors of Mulberry Street, which is Little Italy. He made a burger with fresh mozzarella and basil and Susie likes his energy and Bobby thinks the burger tastes good with classic Italian ingredients.

Jamaican Jamika is up next and this episode her hair is super curly. I don’t like that look. She’s calm like she usually is talking about her New Orleans burger, but it seems a bit like she’s trying too hard. Bob says it felt like a 30-second informercial. Bobby’s not digging the flavors in the burger.

Next up, Katie and her undercooked burger. She does a straight-forward presentation and doesn’t say anything about the raw meat she’s serving. But Susie notices it right away and is afraid to eat it. Smart woman. She questions The Health Nut’s cooking credibility.

They gather the contestants and Susie announces the bottom two: Katie (no surprise) and Jamika (fall from grace). Bobby announces the top two: Melissa the Mom and Michael. Then he names Michael’s Mulberry Street burger as the winner, and Michael gets all ferklempt.

In the back, the contestants look all stressed and Katie is upset that she knew her turkey burger wasn’t cooked. She gets teary as she talks about how hard she’s trying but the food gods aren’t helping her out.

Commercials. What’s with all the food at Walmart? Now they’re advertising steak. Don’t they sell housewares anymore?

It’s the next day, and the contestants look tired and bored. They really are so out of it at this point. Katie the Health Nut talks about being a gymnast and how she’s still competitive, so she’s going to put more pressure on herself. Jamika on the other hand just doesn’t want to be robotic.

They arrive at the U.S.S. Intrepid, so you know this is the episode where they cook for our men and women in uniform. The color guards march in and right behind them is Guy Fieri, who’s hair still looks like fireworks, but without the red or blue. Katie gets excited because she says one of them could be just like Guy. True, if you spiked your hair and wore your sunglasses behind your neck.

Fieri tells them they have to make a homecoming dinner for soldiers coming home from Iraq and their families. They each have to make a comfort dish from the pot of ingredients that represent a particular region in America. I spot Hawaii right away and of course I see a pineapple in the pot. Fieri says they have to present to the audience and judges and he reminds them to be sure to tell a story, blah blah blah. Anyone who enters this contest should know already that they should have personal stories galore.

Then Fieri introduces an editor from USA Weekend and it’s the only time we see him so who cares. Basically the winner will be featured in this weekend’s USA Weekend magazine.

Because they’re cooking on a ship, they have limited space so they cook in shifts in pairs. First up are Teddy and Jeffrey.

Teddy gets New York, and the bucket includes apples and duck. He decides to make a BLT but with duck instead of bacon.

Jeffrey gets Maine and there are lobsters and blueberries. He’s totally stumped and spends a lot of time staring at the ingredients. Teddy’s worried for him, but then Jeffrey gets the idea of making pot pies with some kind of blueberry sauce.

Jeffrey’s spending a lot of time on his sauce, and then someone (a production assistant?) tells him he has one hour left, so then he starts scrambling to cook his lobsters. Then he basically throws the lobster with his béchamel sauce and just put pastry dough on top of the pans. I’ve seen pot pies cooked in ceramic bowls but this is the first time I saw it in a saucepan. It doesn’t look appealing. And when it comes out, it looks like glop.

Teddy’s dish, amazingly enough, looks really pretty. And he’s the first to present so he goes out and starts talking about his grandfather who served in WWII and then he loses his train of thought. Then he looks at his hand like he has crib notes but that still doesn’t help him. People seem to like the food, but nobody liked his presentation.

BTW, Guy Fieri looks upset. It’s weird how these Food Network stars think just because they’re not in front of the camera they forget that they’re still being filmed. It’s like Fieri only has that personality when he’s doing his show. Otherwise, he comes off really serious and doesn’t even crack a smile.

Jeffrey serves his lobster-blueberry pot pie and Susie calls it disgusting. Nobody wanted to eat it.

Commercials. That Dove silk chocolate commercial needs a condom. Talk about X-rated ads.

Melissa the Mom and the Health Nut are cooking next. Melissa gets New Mexico, which somehow means skirt steak, honey and chilies? She doesn’t usually cook with chilies, so she tries each one to see what it tastes like. Katie gets Georgia, and she makes a panko-encrusted catfish.

Melissa made a tostada with a mango salsa, and she’s super perky. What’s really odd is she’s still kind of perky when she’s talking about her mom dying when she was 20 and how she grew up in Tucson. She says skirt steak was a big treat for her growing up. Susie eats up Melissa’s presentation, saying she revealed more about herself.

The Health Nut presents her southern meal, and she talks about a cousin who graduated from West Point and how he’s in training and will go to the war in the spring, then she gets all choked up and teary. Then she talks about her catfish and sweet Vidalia greens and squash. Talk about a 360. Fieri liked her story that connected with the audience, and Bobby liked the catfish, but says Katie is in the middle of the pack and they can’t decide if she’s star material.

Jamika gets Wisconsin and that mean potatoes, sausage and beer. She decides to make a casserole but her potatoes aren’t cooking, so she puts them in a food processor. Being a chef, she explains that she already knows what will happen next, which is the texture of the potatoes will be all gooey. Not having a food processor, I never knew this. And that made me think, if Jamika already knew this, why do it? Why not just cut the potatoes more and try to boil them again? It’s like Katie serving raw turkey, you know it’s wrong but you do it anyway? Thus is life on Desperation Road.

Commercials. Jif, the girl making a peanut butter sandwich for her dad is cute and all but how about some jelly next time? It’s a classic, you know.

Jamaican Jamika brings out her dish and she says it looks like slop. “It is what it is” and she does her presentation all cheerful hoping no one will notice the food. She’s actually really funny and puts everyone in the party mood. Bob loves the presentation, and Guy actually likes the flavor of Jamika’s gloop, but doesn’t like the texture.

Michael a Go-Go™ gets Hawaii, my home state. And he hits the jackpot with kampachi (that’s a great fish), macadamia nuts and the ubiquitous pineapple. He’s cooking with Debbie and she gets California, which was just chicken, zinfandel wine and almonds. She decides to make a simple home-cooked chicken dish.

Michael is taking out his fish from the oven on those huge trays and Debbie walks up behind him to check on her chicken. Then WHACK! Michael swings the tray right into Debbie’s eye, or probably more her cheek. She goes down and is hurting, but says she’s fine while Michael is all worried that he just blinded his friend. Michael tells her that she has to remember to say “behind” when approaching someone in the kitchen, and Debbie says she’s sorry that she forgot and that he’s a bumbling idiot. She really looks like she needs ice at this point. She says she hurts so much she can’t concentrate, and Michael a Go-Go™ is all frazzled because he feels terrible.

Which means perfect time to go make your presentation. He goes in and yells “aloha” and then starts talking about how relatives would bring back macadamia nuts to the Bronx and he would get so excited. I don’t believe him. Bob likes his personality and Guy liked his presentation. Bobby Flay says the dish looks like Hawaii and tastes like Hawaii.

Michael goes to the waiting room with the rest of the contestants and tells them that he wants to cry because everything went well but he injured Debbie. I’m sure everyone now thinks he sabotaged her and no one wants to be working near him anytime soon.

Debbie now has ice and of course she’s freaking out. She does her presentation and talks about growing up in the south and being raised Asian. But I don’t see how this connects with California. Bob starts telling the judges about how Debbie was whacked in the face, and again, Bob gets all the insider scoop from behind the scenes. I’m not sure if the judges really should take these things into account. Bobby and Fieri think the dish was bland and needed to be at a higher level.

In the back, all the contestants look dejected and talk about how difficult the challenge was. Geesh, what a bunch of sad sacks.

Commercials. State Farm really has some great commercials. Just saw the one with the cute little girl in the back seat. So sweet! They had that Michael Jackson commercial earlier with the “I’ll Be There” song. Just really emotionally-tugging stuff.

Judgment time. Susie does the spiel on storytelling, saying you can’t be a Food Network star without connecting to the audience. (Got it, think of stories about Aunt Bertha.) Then they critique each of the remaining seven, and it went like this:

Jamaican Jamika: Bob called her presentation delightful, but Bobby didn’t like the whipped potatoes and calls them unappealing. Bob says he was shocked the dish came from her.

Katie the Health Nut: Everyone appreciated how she didn’t jam health down their throats, but still wanted a blend. The soldiers thought she was the girl next door, but apparently one who keeps cooking raw food. Must be that raw veggie movement. Katie says she’s embarrassed and tears up.

Michael a Go-Go™: Bob says he’s fun and delicious in front of a live audience but needs to make friends with the camera (I guess that’s better than making love to the camera).

Jeffrey: Bobby thinks his pot pie dish was surprisingly awful coming from him. Bob likes his personality with an edge, but wants to see more.

Melissa the Mom: Bob thinks she’s getting close to finding the right energy for the camera. Susie, of course, loves how Melissa gets personal. They talk about cooking with chilies and Melissa talks about how she tested each one before cooking them and Bob is so impressed that a chef actually tries an ingredient before cooking it.

Teddy: Bobby says the duck-L-T was tasty, but his presentation makes him nervous. Teddy’s face goes from smiles to dejection. He is like a cartoon character.

Debbie: Bobby tried to be sympathetic about the kitchen accident but basically tells her to buck up and rise above the adversity.

Then Bobby turns to all of them and tells them that it’s time to grab the brass ring, reach for the gold, go for broke. Because basically nobody’s doing it right now.

Commercials. There sure are a lot of car commercials now. Hope that means the economy is getting better. Please?

Decision time. The judges name Melissa the Mom the winner. She’s like the one to beat now. Doesn’t she remind you of Sara Moulton? She’ll be featured on USA Weekend and is also safe, so she’s excused.

Also safe is Michael and Debbie. Debbie breathes a huge sigh of relief. Funny how both Debbie and Michael cooked together and now they’re safe together. Guess Debbie doesn’t mind that whack in the face right about now.

Susie excuses the remaining four so the judges can deliberate more. It was so weird right now when she said, “Bobby, Bob and I” because when you say Bobby followed by Bob really fast, it just sounds funny. Bobby Bob. Bob Bobby. Bubbly Bob. Bep Babaluba. I know, it’s these little things that get me through these hour-long recaps.

The three talk about how Teddy is fake and nervous and how Jamika’s dish was awful. But Susie can’t forgive Katie for serving raw food. And they’re starting to get bored of Jeffrey.

The four return, and Bob sends Teddy home right off the back. No discussion or explanation. It’s almost like residual from last week’s elimination because it did look like week Teddy’s food tasted good. Teddy talks about how he kept digging but he never found the real Teddy. I didn’t either, but then again I didn’t dig as hard.

Jamika says this is her wake-up call because she’s never been in the bottom. So she’s going to fight to stay. Can you see her and Michael in a fist fight? I’d pay money for that.

Next time: It’s near the end so you know what that means. That’s right, the live appearance on Rachel Ray’s talk show. Looks like Jamika freezes up and Bobby’s screaming like “cook something” into the TV. Bobby is bummed.

The Next Food Network Star airs 9 p.m. Sundays (and repeats at the same time Thursdays) on the Food Network. Check your local listing. Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.

Previous recaps:
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Proud in the Kitchen: Macy's Big Day Out

It's Pride weekend in San Francisco, and Macy's put on a special cooking demonstration yesterday at its Union Square store, gathering some of the best gay and lesbian chefs in the city. It was an interesting hour of cooking demonstrations, with the chefs sharing fancy recipes for a perfect Pride brunch.

Jennifer Biesty of Scala's Bistro is probably best remembered as a cheftestant on BRAVO's "Top Chef." She was cooking with the restaurant's pastry chef, Tim Nugent, and together they made a seared ahi tuna dish on a slice of toasted ciabatta. Kind of fancy for brunch, but still really delicious just the same.

You can tell this is a fancy restaurant dish because of all the ingredients. There were ahi tuna encrusted with piment d'espelette and then topped with heirloom cherry tomatoes, chervil, French breakfast radish, olive tapanade, aioli and a quail egg. Try making that for brunch!

The second pair of chefs were Janine Falvo of Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar in Sonoma and Adam Jones of Market Street Grill. They made what they called a "Blinged Out Eggs Benedict" that included butter poached halibut, asparagus, and loster-white truffle hollandaise sauce. Above, they're making the biscuit for the eggs benedict.

The plate, when done, looks like a meal for two. This could serve several go-go boys on Pride day, that's for sure.

The final demonstration was dessert from Yigit Pura, who once cooked for Daniel Boulud in New York. Now he's the chef at a San Francisco catering company called Taste Catering. Not only does he make sweets, but Chef Pura's major eye candy, dontcha think?

He made these strawberry parfaits with buttermilk panna cotta. The samples they passed out tasted amazing. This kind of look perfect for the July 4th weekend coming up, right? I would include the recipe, but it's more than four pages long! Maybe you should just have Pura cater this for you.

Happy Pride Day!

Previous cooking demos
Charcuterie Guy: Taylor Boetticher
Creating Elegant Vegetarian Dishes
Cooking Demo by Joyce Goldstein

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What's In My Frig?

I got a couple of bottles of these Honest Tea on sale at Whole Foods. It's organic. It's made of fair-trade tea. And it's not too sweet. But the real reason why I buy this particular flavor, called Peach Oo-La-Long? Because it has Opus on the label. :)

Opus from the old Bloom County cartoon strip was one of my favorites to read. Apparently, the creator Berkeley Breathed was a big fan of Honest Tea and he went into an agreement with the Bethesda, MD-company to put Opus on this one flavor, and only this one. So I've tried other Honest Tea flavors and, really, this is the only one I like. Come on, it's Opus! Who wouldn't love it?

Friday, June 26, 2009

In the Kitchen: Chicken Curry Recipe

Here’s another cooking demo for you, and this one is all about curry. I know, you’re thinking, Single Guy, why make curry in hot weather? It’s that age-old Asian belief that in hot weather, you should get your body hot as well and that maintains the equilibrium. Plus, I live in the part of the Bay Area where you still see people wearing scarves at night around this time.

Curry is also one of my favorite things to make because it’s pretty easy, at least the way I make it.

My apologies if this video seems a bit choppy, but I have a tendency to chatter on. And this time I decided I didn’t want to post another two-parter video. So to keep within the YouTube limit, I had to edit down the video to 10 minutes. Hopefully you’ll still get the gist of the demo. If not, I have the full recipe for you below. Enjoy!

Chicken Curry
Copyright 2009 by Cooking With The Single Guy

3 boneless and skinless chicken thighs (about ½ lb.)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 sweet onion, diced
1 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1 t white pepper
2 T curry powder
1 t ground cumin
2 carrots, chopped
2-3 small potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup sugar snap peas
1 ½ cup chicken broth (or 1 can Swanson’s chicken broth)
1 cup water
1 cup coconut cream (or coconut milk)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T cornstarch
Salt to taste

In a small bowl, marinate the chicken with the white pepper, soy sauce and sesame oil. Set aside.

In a large saucepan or pot, warm the oil over medium high heat and add the chicken to brown on both sides. (About 1 to 2 minutes on each side.) Then toss in garlic and onion and cook until onions soften (about 3 to 5 minutes).

Add chicken broth and water. Cover and bring to a medium simmer.

In a small saucepan, warm the curry powder and ground cumin. Then throw everything in with the chicken. Add carrots and cook for about 10 minutes, then add potatoes and cook until all the vegetables are almost tender (about 15-20 minutes, the length depends on how chunky you cut your vegetables).

Just when the vegetables are almost done, add the sugar snap peas and coconut cream. In small bowl create a cornstarch slurry by mixing the cornstarch with a bit of water. Slowly add this to your curry (you might want to bring up the heat so the curry is near boiling) until thickened to the consistency you like. Taste the curry and add salt as needed for taste. Serve with steamed rice.

Makes 6 servings. Pair with a glass of Riesling.

TIP: There’s a variety of curry powder. I personally like this brand called S&B Oriental Curry Powder that you can find at most Safeway stores. The can has a yellow and red label. The curry itself is a yellow curry and on a milder side. If you want spicier curry, try something from the Asian or Indian grocery stores.

WATCH THE HEAT: When adding the vegetables, you’re going to bring down the temperature of your curry pot so you may need to adjust the heat to bring the pot back to a nice simmer, and then you can lower if needed.

Other cooking demos:
Making Mapo Tofu
Making Won Tons
Making Paella in Two Parts

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Back for Seconds: Barlata Tapas Bar

This is an occasional report on return visits to restaurants that I’ve already reviewed.

Settling in Nicely in Temescal
4901 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
Temescal neighborhood
PH: 510.450.0678
Open daily, 5 to 11 p.m.
No reservations, major credit cards accepted

Original visit: March 2009

I was happy to see the addition of Barlata and its Spanish tapas in the Temescal neighborhood in Oakland when it opened earlier this year, and recently I returned with my neighbor Joe for an early Sunday dinner.

The interior remains fresh and festive, with the brightly colored decor and a long chalkboard menu on one wall.

Everyone had the same plan as we did and arrived early for dinner, so the room was already packed. But we only had to wait about 20 minutes before a table opened up.

(An interesting observation is that the room was very packed when we started to eat, but by the time we left around 8 p.m., which I consider the prime dining hour, there were quite a few open tables. So maybe eating early isn’t necessarily the best bet here.)

Looking at the restaurant’s all-Spanish wine list, I went for a different wine than the last time and selected the Marques de Campo Nuble crianza, a Rioja. It was well-rounded and full of body, but went nicely with my meal.

It was the first time for Joe at Barlata, so we ended up getting a couple of dishes that I ate the last time. But I also pushed for some new items.

Joe got the soup of the day ($5), which was butternut squash. It was a beautiful color and well seasoned, but the texture was a bit thick. I did like the drizzle of olive oil on top.

The Xato Salad Frisee ($8) was a beautiful plate of frisee mixed with bright orange bonito tuna chunks with salted cod and olives. A couple of anchovies lay on top. The dressing was a light tangy vinaigrette that balanced well with all the ingredients, which were everything I enjoyed in a salad so this was a winner in my book.

Pincho Moruno (Lamb Brochette, $7) were two skewers that lay on top of a cucumber salad and topped with a red pepper sauce. I thought the lamb was perfectly cooked and still had the slight, deep lamb flavor that I like. The cucumber salad was a refreshing counter to the intense flavoring of the lamb.

Mar I Muntanya (Lamb Meatballs with squid and chocolate and tomato sauce, $8) was a dish I had last time and enjoyed, so I recommended it again for Joe. Even though we already had the lamb skewers, the meatballs were slightly different with the chocolate-tomato sauce and the squid on top. The flavor was a bit lacking this time from what I remember, with less oomp.

Lata de Chipirones (Baby Squid Stuffed with Fennel Sausage with ink sauce, $8) is another repeat dish. I really remembered the interesting presentation in the lata can and the tasty sausage stuffed inside the squid. This dish was perfect once again for its taste and presentation.

A new dish we tried was the Gambas Ajillo (Tiger shrimp with garlic, olive oil and adobo sauce, $10). Apparently, this is a popular dish to order and it creates quite a commotion when it comes sizzling on a platter onto your table. The women next to us watched it settled down and asked us if the shrimp were spicy. After a few bites, we told them they weren’t but that they were very tasty. Despite the fiery color, the shrimp had a stronger garlic flavor with just a hint of Spanish seasoning.

All the small plates added up to a fun night of eating a variety of dishes at an excellent pace. The servers didn’t rush us and they brought out — at the most — two orders at a time so that our table wouldn’t get crowded.

After two visits, though, I felt like I’d nearly tried everything I probably would order on Barlata’s extensive menu, which made me hope that more seasonal dishes will be introduced down the road for some variety.

Still, Barlata continues to draw the crowds, and the combination of Spanish wine and delectable tapas is leaving a strong mark on this emerging foodie neighborhood.

Update experience (previous 3.75 stars): Holding strong at 3.75

Barlata on Urbanspoon

Related posts:
Barlata: Small Bites Make a Big Splash in Oakland
César: Spanish Flavors Wake Up Piedmont Avenue
Laïola: Scrumptious Small Bites with the Neighborhood Crowd

Monday, June 22, 2009

NFNS: Season 5, Episode 3

Summering with the Barefoot Contessa

Previously: It was a holiday celebration, but Teddy and Brett didn’t give any holiday cheer to Melissa, whom they helped plate her dish and then took all the credit for it. Karma’s a bitch, so that meant it bit Brett in the butt and he’s out. Tonight: Ty-Flo’s in the grocery store and the Barefoot Contessa has some friends coming over. Is Melissa planning to serve raw chicken? And more tears to come.

Is it just me but does it seem like there are fewer Food Network stars in the opening promo? It’s like they’re running out of big names. They better get cranking on the star-making machine.

Opening scenes of food carts in Manhattan. The contestants are waking up and Melissa feels the tension after Teddy threw her under the bus. (It was actually more Brett who did the throwing, and Teddy went along for the ride.) Michael misses home, and yes, his hair does stand up when he wakes up.

The contestants arrive at a grocery store called Stew Leonards and there’s Tyler Florence looking like he’s ready for a ski trip. He tells them “settle down.” Class is in session. Professor Ty-Flo tells them they have to shop for a budget dinner party, spending only $60 for 12 people. (That’s $5 per person, which is how much I spend for lunch, not dinner.) He also tells them they have to record a 30-second tip in front of the camera on how to stretch your food dollar. Melissa the Mom is stoked because you know moms and coupons.

They start scrambling to find things to buy and each contestant takes turns going up to Ty-Flo to record their tip. First up is Teddy, and he starts screaming into the camera. STOP says Ty-Flo, and he’s like, “are you always like this?” Teddy gives some tip about ground beef and meatloaf but I didn’t really understand it. Doesn’t matter because Ty-Flo thinks Teddy is cartoonish. Teddy’s like, OK.

Next is Jeffrey, and he talks about making crepes for dessert, which sounds difficult but he says can be cheap because you can just use Nutella instead of spending money on fruits. He says he makes it with his daughter for breakfast. Tyler likes Jeffrey’s smooth presentation, and I was impressed that he said a lot and was still able to come in under 30 seconds.

Meanwhile, Michael a Go-Go™ is busy trying to figure out what to buy. And then he says most of his dinner parties include tons of cheese and appetizers and typically costs $1,000. Um, are you sure that’s not your bar tab, Michael?

Melissa the Mom does her tip about green onions and how you can keep the roots and the white parts and put them in a glass of water and it’ll regenerate and you’ll have more green onions. Ty-Flo liked the tip, but I’m thinking, um, you usually get more flavor with the white parts so if you don’t use it because you’re busy growing green onions, then really you’re missing out lady.

Michael a Go-Go™ is up with his tip and he starts talking about entertaining on a budget, and he seems all over the place. He’s not even looking at the camera and Ty-Flo has to point him in the right direction. STOP. Tyler tells Michael that he’s not making any sense. Michael admits to that, and Ty-Flo mutters to himself, “utter nonsense” but it sounded like “udder nonsense” to me. Ha! That would be funny huh? You know, Ty-Flo is in cow country now that he lives in Marin, Calif., so maybe he did mean “udder” nonsense. Ha! I crack myself up.

Jamaican Jamika can’t find anything she wants at the store for her salmon. Ugh, salmon? She just made that for the Good Housekeeping magazine feature. I’m getting bored of salmon. Then she does her tip about re-using marinade, and even she realizes that that was a stupid tip because marinade that had raw meat sitting in it will still have the bacteria even after you remove the meat.

Debbie does her tip about using squash and zucchini, and Tyler tells her “you have no message.” Ty-Flo is brutally honest today and I love it. He’s like a grouchy law professor. Ty-Flo: “Ms. Debbie, cite the relevant case to support your argument.” Debbie: “But Professor Tyler, I just want to make dumplings.” Ty-Flo: “STOP. This is just udder nonsense.”

Eddie is next and he says he’s more nervous to be in front of Ty-Flo. He says something about using fresh herbs as a garnish, and I didn’t really get how that saves money. Tyler doesn’t think Eddie’s message is clear either.

Katie the Health Nut seems frazzled but she does her tip and starts talking about shopping for organic. STOP. Ty-Flo says she’s off point. Then she talks about how protein can be expensive so you should focus on grains and beans. Ty-Flo’s like “hallelujah” but I was more like, really?

After they pay for their groceries at the checkout, Ty-Flo tells them that Michael a Go-Go™, Jamaican Jamika and Teddy didn’t get the challenge. Tyler says Jamika’s tip about reusing marinade is going to kill someone, but he does like her energy. He tells Michael he’s lost and Teddy is a used car salesman. Teddy says he’s going to tone it done, although it sounded like he says he’s going to tune it down.

After all that, Ty-Flo names Jeffrey the winner and he gets an advantage but of course he won’t know what the advantage is until later.

Commercials. Today’s trivial tip from Terminix: cockroaches carry 3,000 infectious diseases. Doh.

It’s the next morning, or they’re using the same wake-up footage from earlier in the hour because they’re showing Melissa the Mom putting on makeup again. I mean, yeah, she probably puts on make-up every morning, but do we have to be treated to two scenes of her putting on makeup?

They jump in the van and head to East Hampton. Everyone’s trying to figure out where they’re going, but some of them already have a feeling that they’re heading to, no, not Martha’s, but to Ina’s place, better known as the Barefoot Contessa. (Even though Ina Garten’s laugh has had to grow on me over the years, I have to say her show is one of the few cooking shows that I watch consistently. And she hasn’t wavered from her demonstrating cooking unlike other stars who have hit the road, although sometimes she does do travelogues from Paris.)

They walk into the Barefoot Contessa’s beautiful home (which actually might not be her real home but just her studio home, but knowing her she probably owns several homes), which she calls her barn. Garten tells them they have to cook for her friends and the judges. Everyone gets excited until Bobby says they have to work in teams, making three courses.

Jeffrey gets to pick his teammate since he won the shopping challenge so he picks Michael (I would have picked Debbie). Speaking of Debbie, she’s worried she’ll be paired with Teddy (I’m guessing everyone interviewed they didn’t want to be with Teddy) and of course, Bobby names Debbie and Teddy as the first team. Other teams are Eddie and Melissa the Mom, and Jamaican Jamika and Health Nut Katie.

They have one hour to cook their dishes and then two minutes to present to the dinner guests. But the Food Network is really walking on egg shells around Garten (I guess when you’re a Contessa you get that royal treatment) and Bobby says they don’t want to mess up her set so instead of all four teams cooking at once, they’re going to cook in shifts. Which seems weird for the dinner guests because that must mean they eat twice with one hour between each sitting. (I bet a lot of booze was passed around between servings.)

Cooking first is Teddy and Debbie’s team and Eddie and Melissa. They plan out their menu and Debbie decides to do a vegetable linguine for an appetizer and they decide to collaborate on a Pan-Asian meatloaf for the entrée. Teddy agrees to do the dessert as his dish, and he’s going to make an English trifle.

Over at Eddie and Melissa’s world, Eddie plans on a watermelon-sweet onion salad and Melissa does a lemon-thyme chicken. They agree to work together on the dessert.

So far Teddy seems to be getting along with Debbie. They’re actually working really well together as they mold the meat loaf, and they’re loving the sweet-sour sauce they’re creating to go with it. But over at Eddie and Melissa’s, Eddie is constantly talking about how he doesn’t want to be with Melissa and how he’s just looking out for himself. There’s no I in “team,” Eddie.

Commercials. Dixie, please stop pushing your paper plates. You’re clogging the landfills with your seduction of America’s lazy people.

Back in the kitchen, Melissa’s stressing out as usual about cooking her chicken because she doesn’t want to serve raw chicken. Um, good plan. Eddie’s proud of his watermelon-sweet onion salad and I’m kind of wondering about it. I’m not a fan of onions, but I do like watermelon salad. I think the combo, though, isn’t going to work no matter how much feta cheese you put in it.

Melissa the Mom is picking up on the fact that Eddie doesn’t like her. She says he’s talking mean to her, and I have to agree. In fact, Eddie’s kind of being a jerk.

Teddy is all excited about “his” meatloaf, until he remembers that he’s working with Debbie. Then they have five minutes left to cook and that’s when Teddy remembers that he has to make the dessert. OMG, talk about absent-minded professor. How can you make a good dessert in five minutes? Apparently you can’t because Teddy whips together some pudding and cuts up some cake (I bet it’s angel food cake because you know how Debbie loves that) and then slaps some strawberries on top.

The Barefoot Contessa greets all her guests in the friendly, hugging way she always does and they sit down with the judges (Bobby, Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson) for the first presentation.

That’s Melissa and Eddie, and Eddie puts on his smiling face, which is so weird because he didn’t smile at all when working with Melissa. Melissa is bubbling as usual and talks about how she’s the pantry queen and makes dinner out of desperation by looking at what’s in the pantry. For their dessert, they collaborated on a banana fosters Nutella quesadilla.

Ina says Melissa glows in the dark, which is a compliment about her presence. But she doesn’t like her chicken, which is cooked but has no flavor. She likes the quesadilla, but people didn’t like the salad because, duh, the onions overpowered the watermelon. One guy says their personalities were better than the food, so they’re lucky we still haven’t invented taste television.

Debbie and Teddy present their dishes and he’s like another person. He’s totally calm, and he credits Debbie’s calmness for bringing him to a zen moment. Debbie says she’s proud of Teddy because he came off the most real so far. Bob likes their meatloaf but Bobby hated the dessert that really came off store bought. But watching these critiques, I really noticed that most people were differing to Garten and letting her do most of the commenting. She really is like a goddess on the Food Network.

After the commercial break, it’s the second shift and Michael and Jeffrey starts planning their food. (I wonder how they kept them from talking about their food for an hour while the first teams cooked?) Jamaican Jamika says she doesn’t feel like she’s melding with Health Nut Katie. Their dishes are clashing with her making an Asian marinated salmon and Katie making Italian pasta with chicken sausage.

Jamaican Jamika is worried weather the store-bought marinade will have enough sweetness, so she squirts an orange onto her baby salmon slices. (They do look pretty small, but I like that trick for a quick citrus bite to the salmon.)

While Jamika worries about sweetness, Jeffrey’s worried about spice. His soup might not have enough of it so he adds back the seeds from his chilies.

Nine minutes left to cook and Michael a Go-Go™ is falling apart. He cuts himself with his knife and then smoke is in his eyes and his mascara is running. Yep, you read that right. He says he’s off today, or more correctly he says he’s “oweoff.”

Seeing that Michael’s a mess, Jeffrey tries to prep him so that Michael doesn’t drag him down with him. They’re up first so they present their tomato soup, which was their combo effort, and then Michael’s broccoli rabe with sausage and grilled chicken. Jeffrey has to prompt him to talk about boiling the broccoli rabe. For dessert, Jeffrey made his Nutella crepes and he talks again about how he and his daughter would make it for breakfast together.

One of the guests asks Michael what’s on top of the soup and he totally blanks out and flummoxes for a bit until Jeffrey jumps in to explain the crouton.

The Barefoot Contessa likes the presentation of their dishes, calling them elegant. And Bob Tuschman says he couldn’t tell that these were budget dishes. Most people wanted more heat in the soup, while most liked the entrée. Garten thinks Michael was all over the place in his presentation but Jeffrey was able to connect with her.

Jamika and the Health Nut are next, and Jamika is smooth as usual. She’s always so warm and friendly in her presentations. They mostly just talk about their dishes.

Garten says she likes the salmon and that they were cooked really well, but she didn’t like the two dishes together. She feels the collaboration wasn’t there. Tuschman is still bothered by the Health Nut’s healthy eating messages. This is why he’s not working at Cooking Light.

Commercials. What’s with Superpages.com? Why can’t they call themselves the Yellow Pages any more? I don’t need Superman to help me Google something.

Judgment time. Melissa the Mom is still nervous about her chicken and Eddie looks bored.

At the judges’ table, Bob says Garten is the most beloved Food Network star, which is probably true although I bet Paula Deen is battling for that title. Then they get into the team critiques and it went along these lines:

Jamaican Jamika and The Health Nut: They didn’t have any collaboration and their “international” theme was a cop-out. Still, everyone loved the well-cooked salmon by Jamika. Katie, not so much.

Jeffrey and Michael a Go-Go™: Couldn’t tell the dishes had a budget, but soup not spicy enough after all the promo, and Bob dinged Jeffrey for telling the story again about his daughter making crepes with him for breakfast. (In Jeffrey’s defense, there’s no way to know that the 30-second tip he taped would be seen by Garten’s guests, and I’m not even sure if it was. So it may just be Bob who heard the story twice, but to others it’s brand new.) Michael, on the other hand, is off his game and he blames it on being homesick.

Eddie and Melissa: Bobby calls Eddie on his eye rolls, which Bobby saw on the tape from their work in the kitchen. BUSTED! Bobby tells Eddie to have some chivalry in the kitchen. They felt Melissa’s chicken dish needed more seasoning and Eddie’s onion-watermelon dish was overpowered by the onions, and that’s when Eddie says he made this many times from a Paula Deen cookbook, which makes everyone drop their jaws and roll their eyes. (Eddie is really in this, I-don’t-have-a-clue mode huh? If you’re going to compete, don’t plagiarize other people’s recipes.)

Debbie and Teddy: They liked Debbie’s dish but Susie calls Teddy’s dessert “an abomination.” Then Teddy tries to distance himself from the dessert by saying the meatloaf was more his dish. That is so uncool because he worked with Debbie on the meatloaf and now he’s trying to pass it off as his own. Oooh, he’s a real cheater. Debbie calls him on it and says she has a problem with his honesty and integrity. I do to. So do the rest of the judges, and the viewing public. Teddy, you’ve sunk lower than any Next Food Network Star contestant has ever sunk. And that includes the whole JAG false resume fiasco. Teddy the Cheat cries a bit.

Commercials. Bank of America is pushing its “clarity commitment,” which supposedly are home loans that are easy to understand and clearly stated. Yeah, it’s clear you’re charging an arm-and-a-leg in interest.

Bobby names Jeffrey and Michael the winning team. They’re both safe and excused from the room. Also excused are Debbie, Jamika, Melissa and Katie. That’s all the girls, so that means Teddy and Eddie are left.

Upstairs, the safe contestants chat about the Teddy fiasco and Jeffrey calls Teddy self-destructive. Jamika is all like “here we go again” and they talk about how Teddy threw Melissa under the bus last week. Debbie feels like she’s been sucker-punched after having a mildly pleasant time working with Teddy the Cheat.

The judges talk about the two guys after they’re excused for a moment. It’s interesting how the judges are actually saying who they want out, I guess because it’s obvious that both men are pretty much goners in the next two weeks. Susie is frustrated with Eddie, saying he’s amateurish in the kitchen. Bob votes for Teddy and Bobby wants to kick out Eddie.

Upstairs, Teddy the Cheat apologizes and cries in front of the group. He blames the cameras for bringing out the bad in him and he says he’ll now try to bring the good. Yeah, it’s always the camera with these folks. Or the editing.

The two guys return for judgment and Bobby sends Eddie home, and Eddie says “no problem.” I would have rather seen Teddy go first before Eddie, but I guess the producers wanted to see what scheming, screwed up mess he’ll get himself into next week.

Teddy, of course, is all relieved and he admits to making some bad decisions to the group. Debbie says she hoped he learned from his experience. I wouldn’t put any money on it.

Next time: Guy Fieri and his big hair shows up, and they all go on a big Navy ship. Must be Fleet Week. Debbie gets whacked in the eye with a pan, and Bobby says no one is grabbing the title. (Really? I thought Jamika and Jeffrey have been doing pretty well so far. I guess that’s not saying much in Bobby’s eyes.)

The Next Food Network Star airs 9 p.m. Sundays (and repeats at the same time Thursdays) on the Food Network. Check your local listing. Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.

Are you a star?
We're not even half-way through Season 5 and the Food Network has just announced a call for applicants for "The Next Food Network Star" Season 6! If you think you have it to be on the Food Network, go to www.foodnetwork.com/star to submit your application. They're also having open calls in select cities. San Francisco is a logical stop, and casting directors will be here on July 26 at the W Hotel. Spruce up that frying pan!

Previous recaps:
Episode 1
Episode 2

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Food Gal Dinner

I rarely make it down to the South Bay, but when you get an invitation to a home-cooked dinner from Food Gal, you find any means to get there. So that's where I was last night for a lovely dinner by my friend Carolyn, who pens the delightful Food Gal blog.

If you're a regular reader of Food Gal, you know that she loves to bake. That's why I decided to showcase first this beautiful peach-and-blueberry cake Carolyn made for dessert. Doesn't it look perfect for summer? The evening was an actual perfect summertime dinner. But I'm getting waaay ahead of myself. There were other great food before we got to dessert.

When we arrived, Carolyn had some snacks for us, including a plate of salumi and this spread made of goat cheese and pesto and topped with bay shrimp. I liked how the goat cheese softened the taste of the pesto and also creating a beautiful shade of green to play off the pink shrimp.

Carolyn's married to Meat Boy, so of course he was manning the grill cooking this toploin that he marinaded himself and cooked to the perfect temperature. (Oh, speaking of meat, Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. Hope someone's grilling for you today!)

Joining us at dinner were other food bloggers, including Nate and Annie of The House of Annie and Andrea Nguyen and her husband. Andrea is the noted cookbook author of "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen" and has two blogs. One called Viet World Kitchen and her new blog Asian Dumpling Tips, which she started in conjunction with her latest book about dumplings coming out in August. Rounding out the table was Terrence Khuu, a Bay Area chef who has cooked at places as Le Colonial.

BTW, you're probably wonder what I cooked for this dinner, and I didn't. When Carolyn plans a dinner, she thinks of everything. So I brought a bottle of wine, which was a white Torrontes wine from Argentina. You know I've fallen in love with Argentine wine since my trip last year, and the Torrontes is a bright floral and fruity wine that's ideal for warm weather. You should look for it at stores and try it!

Among the food served at dinner was this tasty chicken dish, which added a real Mediterranean feel to the dinner. And why not? Carolyn used a recipe from the Pinxtos cookbook by Piperade Chef and Owner Gerald Hirigoyen.

The chicken thighs were cooked on the grill by Meat Boy and then sat in a bed of sauce made of peppers and tomatoes. I know people say food bloggers use the word yummy too often, but YUM-MY!

At the end of dinner, Carolyn brought out a bottle of absinthe that she blogged about awhile back. Since she and Meat Boy aren't big drinkers, they've been trying to get rid of this bottle of absinthe by offering it to anyone who comes to their home. Three of us decided to give it a try. Carolyn said the proper way to drink absinthe (this alcohol was popular in France and then banned for many years before it came back a couple of years ago) is to pour it in a glass with ice. Then the olive-colored liquor turns cloudy.

The absinthe has a really strong licorice flavor, or sometimes like fennel (both tastes very related). I didn't think the alcohol was necessarily very strong and wondered what the big whoop-de-do was all these years. I actually liked drinking it without ice as a shot (yeah, I'm a lush like that) because you get a tingle and the licorice flavor isn't as dominant.

Speaking of unusual food and drink, Chef Terrence brought this jackfruit for dessert. Popular in Southeast Asia, this fruit is very hard to explain. To me, it looks like Hawaiian breadfruit, and it can grow to humungous sizes. Above, Andrea prepares to take out the fruit. I know, it's like major surgery, but really she's wearing the glove because the fruit has a web-like stickiness to it so the gloves just makes it easier to handle.

Chef Terrence and Annie jumped in to help get the most out of the jackfruit. Annie, who's originally from Malaysia, is a big fan of jackfruit, and describes it as "heavenly." But for me, I have to disagree. The fruit isn't one of my favorite Southeast Asian fruit. I first tried it in Vietnam and thought it was weird, and the same again last night. It's creamy with slight hints of banana, but doesn't a bowl of it look like eyeballs at a Halloween party?

This is the kind of dessert that's more my style, and we get back to Carolyn's peach-and-blueberry cake, which she served with some whipped cream. The cake was like a cross between a pound cake and a fruit pie because of the soft interior and crispy exterior. The fresh peaches cooked down to create a custard-like filling right in the center. It was both beautiful and refreshing to eat.

It was a fun evening of good food and lots of talk about, well, food. Thanks Carolyn for including me and for a wonderful evening. Cheers to you!

Related dinner posts:
"Sunday Supper at Jessie's"
"The Makings of a Seductive Supper"
"Home Cooking: A Conversation with Dan Perlman of Casa Salt Shaker"