Omakase

From the wikipedia entry about “Omakase“:

“Omakase is a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it to you” and it comes from the word for “entrust”.

“The expression is used at sushi restaurants to leave the selection to the chef. It differs from ordering à la carte. The chef will generally present a series of plates, beginning with the lightest fare and proceeding to heaviest, richest dishes. The phrase is not exclusive to service of raw fish with rice, and can incorporate grilling and simmering as well. Customers ordering omakase style expect the chef to be innovative and surprising in the selection of dishes, and the meal can be likened to an artistic performance by the chef. Ordering omakase can be a gamble; however, the customer typically receives the highest quality fish the restaurant currently has in stock at a price cheaper than if it was ordered à la carte. From the restaurant’s perspective, a large number of customers ordering omakase can help in planning for food costs.”

The other day, while I was working with him at Alembic, Danny Louie asked me what bartenders I admired in San Francisco.

I went through the litany of respected bartenders I admire in San Francisco and why.

But later, I was thinking about it, and another candidate for my favorite tender of a bar doesn’t make drinks at all.

Tim Archuleta and his wife run Ichi Sushi in my San Francisco neighborhood.

Tim runs his Sushi Bar more like a neighborhood Sushi Tavern, greeting guests as the come in. Asking them about their families or dogs. Keeping track of the progress of the various diners’ meals at his sushi bar. Pacing people’s meals so they don’t get too full or wait too long. All the while, cutting and serving some of the freshest sushi I’ve ever tasted.

I really admire the spirit he brings to the restaurant and to his guests.

Every time we go in, I usually just say chef’s choice and tell him how much we’d like to eat and what we are in the mood for.

It’s really fun, the way he paces the meal, starting with lighter fare, throwing in a few cooked dishes, and finishing again with lighter, almost dessert sushi.

Watching him work has made me think about how to properly pace and what order to serve people drinks. What drink is best first, what to follow with, what to finish with. If a guest asks you what to pair a dish with, what do you tell them?

Some of the best experiences I’ve had being served by a bartender have been at the Slanted Door, when my wife and I are lucky enough to be served by Mr. Erik Adkins*.

Like Omakase, we give him a framework of what we are interested in, how hungry, do we have food allergies, do we like oysters, etc, and he fills it out with what food is currently best at the restaurant and pairs it with wine, beer and spirits. His knowledge of both the food and drink is amazing but it is his apparent joy at serving us, as guests, with the best he has to offer, which is truly inspirational.

I don’t really have a moral to this story, other than to to point out the self evident: As bartenders, it is important to be aware of the larger context of the guests’ experiences.

I REALLY enjoy making great cocktails and impressing guests with them, but sometimes you have to put away the desire to impress a guest with your cocktail making skill and respect the trust they have put in you, whatever that means, on that on that night, for that particular guest, at that exact moment.

*I will note that I do work for Mr. Adkins at Heaven’s Dog. This is in no way meant to suck up to him, he already gave me a job afterall, just an honest expression of my admiration for his talents as a host and bartender.

What I Learned in Italy (Part 2)

As I mentioned, in Italy there is an Aperitivo time which stretches from approximately 6PM until Dinner around 8 or 9PM.

In Venice, what this means is going out to a bar, noshing on small plates of food, talking with friends, and drinking Wine, Campari Spritz or Aperol Spritz.

One thing I noticed, Venetians don’t really approve of drinking without eating at the same time, especially sitting down and drinking cocktails without eating.

Canal as the sun gets low on the horizon.

Moonlight on a canal in Venice.

Saint in a cage.

For all your incense needs, a shop in Treviso specializing in Church supplies.

Best porchetta sandwich evar, Porchetta Trevisana, at Snack Bar all’Antico Pallone in Treviso.

The Rialto Bridge, in Venice, at night.

Note the Slushy machines at Bar Americano.

A Bellini at Harry’s Bar, in Venice. Well, you kind of have to. Harry’s Negroni in the background.

Harry’s Aperitivo, best bang for the buck on the menu, which our waiter described as, “A Martini with Campari”.

BOTW–Ovila Saison

Ovila Abbey Saison

For centuries, the monastic tradition has followed the Rule of St. Benedict–Ora et Labora (prayer and work.) This Saison farmhouse ale is in honor of the noble labor in which the monks engage. Hazy blonde in color, these rustic ales are designed to be complex and contemplative but also refreshign and drinkable after a day in the fields. With earthy and spice aromas this Saison has notes of green grass, and a faint citrus tang. The body is light and layered with fruit and spice accents and a dry, peppery, and refreshing finish. Released June 2011.

Sliced tomatoes, Basil, and vinaigrette.

Cap of the Saison. A very, very enjoyable beer. You’ll often catch me enjoying a small one of these when I’m off the clock after Savoy Night at Alembic Bar.

Steak rubbed with salt, pepper, and spices.

Heat that cast iron skillet up hot and sear the first side.

If you don’t set off the fire alarm, you’re doing it wrong.

Roasted potatoes, coming out of the oven.

After searing, we rest.

Tomatoes with Basil and Arugula in a Balsamic Vinaigrette.

Joseph Swan 2006 Zeigler Vineyard Zinfandel

According to winemaker Rod Berglund: “Noticeably sweeter with aromas of fresh blackberry cobbler. In the mouth it is a big wine with the richness and acidity of a light port. The fruit is bright and focused, and, like the Stellwagen, it has excellent balance. Great by itself, with cheese or with dessert. I can’t wait until the wild blackberries ripen as I am going to pick a bunch and make a blackberry cobbler to try with it. Yum!”

Cast Iron Seared Ribeyes, Braised Russian Kale, and oven roasted fingerling potatoes.

Who can resist a St. George Single Malt Whiskey Flavored Gelato Bar?

WOTW–Gypsy Boots

Romano Beans Roasted with Maitake Mushrooms, Garlic and Herbs.

Steelhead, ready to be topped with sauteed aromatic vegetables.

“I am trying to be patient with your shenanigans.”

Lighting the Candle.

When the beans and mushrooms were roasting, I added some Early Girl tomatoes from Two Dog Farms on top of them. Then I tossed them both with Frisee, sort of a vegetarian variation on the normal warm french salad. I was on the fence about adding cheese, but a poached egg would have been really nice. Still, a very tasty salad.

Souvenir from our last trip to New Orleans.

Michele was taken in by Winfred Wong’s glowing writeup of this wine on the BevMo shelf and the back label. “One travels the world over in search of what one needs and returns home to find it…the Sonoma Coast.” As much as I appreciate the sentiment, and as much as I do like the Sonoma Coast, Gypsy Boots’ Pinot Noir was really not very good. Barely above “plonk” level. At least it was not expensive.

“No, really, I am being very, very patient with your goofiness, and I would like some fish, please.”

Steelhead braised with aromatic vegetables, quinoa pilaf.

Reform Club

First, just a reminder that Sunday, September 25, 2011, is our monthly exercise in folly, Savoy Cocktail Book Night at Alembic Bar. If any of the cocktails, (they also have a great beer selection,) on this blog have captured your fancy, stop by after 6 and allow the skilled bartenders, (and me,) to make them for you. It is always a fun time.

One of the nice things about working in restaurants, is when you can go out and enjoy the fruits of your friends labors.

In this case, a popup in the Specchio space called Reform Club. The meal and beverage pairings below were done by Allyson Harvie (Citizen Cake, Ragazza), Becky Pezzullo (Undercover Supper, Bar Bambino), and Dion Jardine (Slanted Door, Heavens Dog). I don’t know Allyson or Becky very well, but I worked many, many nights with Dion when he was working at Heaven’s Dog.

corn soup, eggplant caponata,
tomato, basil, balsamic
(and pork)

Dry Gin, Blackberry puree, Sherry.

roasted fig salad,
ham, almonds, ricotta salata

Aged Rum, Lime, Ginger Syrup, Egg White.

mixed heritage pork roast: belly, sausage, loin,
mustard spätzle, braised chard, market fruit

baked gravenstein apple
cinnamon, raisins, butter, brown sugar
(and pork)
Paired with a Chenin Blanc from Chatueau Soucherie.

There may also have been shots of Angostura Bitters…

The next Reform Club Dinner is planned for October 16, with a menu and chef soon to be announced. Join the mailing list, follow the twitter, “like” them on facebook, read their tumblr, support my friends’ labor of love, and have some awesome food and drink!

Chicken Soup with Kale, Potatoes, and Sweet Corn

Sometimes you have to make your own damn chicken soup…

Chicken Soup with Kale, Potatoes, and Corn

INGREDIENTS:

1 Chicken Breast, Bone in
Chicken Stock

Olive Oil
3 slices bacon, diced
2 Tablespoons Flour

1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
dried Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Spanish Spicy Smoked Paprika
Dry White Wine (or Dry Vermouth)

1 bunch Russian Kale, leaves chopped
2 Baking potatoes, peeled and diced
2 ears Sweet Corn, shucked and kernels removed from cob
Fresh Sage leaves, sliced
Salt and Pepper to taste

METHOD:

Place Chicken Breast in a pot large enough to hold it. Cover with Chicken stock, bring to a near simmer, reduce heat, and cook until done. Remove Chicken Breast from stock, debone, and dice meat. Reserve stock. In the bottom of a pot large enough to hold about 2 quarts of soup, brown bacon in olive oil. When crispy, remove bacon and reserve 2 tablespoons cooking oil. Return oil to pot, and saute onion, carrot, and celery until tender. Deglaze with White Wine and reduce until syrupy. Stir in flour and cook until fragrant. Slowly stir in Reserved Chicken Stock, stirring to prevent clumping. Bring to a simmer, when it gets close it should thicken. Add Kale Leaves, Thyme, and Paprikas. Bring back to a simmer. Add Potatoes and cook until almost done. Stir in sweet corn, sage leaves, and bacon. Check seasonings and when potatoes are tender, serve with crusty bread.

As usual this was an improvisation based on standard techniques and what was available at the grocery store but, Mrs. Flannestad liked this version so much she said I had to write it down.

Tuna Casserole

Now that Macaroni and Cheese area has been thoroughly gentrified, maybe it’s time to start colonizing some of the other neighborhoods of my Midwestern childhood.

It’s fine enough, when you hear a chef talk about their youth in the bucolic countryside of Austria, or how they had their Oyster epiphany visiting family in Brittany.

Yeah, it’s fine, whatever, if you’ve earned what you do. But sometimes I wonder, how could you not? You’re not even having to try, basically just waking up with a pedigree which includes the best food in the world.

But can you make a decent Casserole? How is your “dish to pass”?

Tuna Casserole

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 Pound Pasta

1/2 onion, chopped
8 Mushrooms, sliced
Olive oil or butter

2 TBSP Butter
3 TBSP Flour
1 Cup Warm Milk
1 Cup Warm Chicken Stock
Nutmeg
Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper

1 Can Tuna, preferably Italian
Frozen Peas
Spinach, roughly chopped
Fresh Thyme
Bread Crumbs (Or to be more authentic, crushed potato chips)

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Put on water to boil your pasta. Slightly undercook, drain. Saute the mushrooms until they have given up their moisture. Add chopped onions to pan and cook until tender. Deglaze with dry white wine or Dry Vermouth and reserve. In a sauce pan, melt the butter. When it is melted and the water cooked off, add the flour and, stirring constantly, cook until it smells of toasty bread. Stir milk and chicken stock into roux, a little at a time at first so it doesn’t clump. Bring liquid to a near simmer, it should thicken nicely. Grate nutmeg into sauce and check the salt level, it will probably need quite a bit. Combine all ingredients, except bread crumbs in oven proof dish (Or pasta pan, if it is oven proof. One less pan to wash.) Top with bread crumbs and cook until it is bubbling and the bread crumbs are toasted.

Enjoy with the not too fancy beverage of your choice.

Not that I can really complain, I had a great upbringing, it’s just that the foods which were awesome in my youth still aren’t really enshrined as shining examples of world cuisine. For example, pies, cookies, and doughnuts. My grandmother was a great cook, a fantastic cookie baker, but not much for recipes. I’ve never had cookies, fry cakes, or pie crusts as good as hers were. I think those tantalizing treats are probably lost forever. Though, I just about started weeping when they served a Krumkake with our dessert recently at Bar Tartine. Even the fantastic t-bone steaks my Dad would grill in the summer. Oh, though, the best example were the strangely named “Corn Boils”. Sweet Corn fresh from the field, soaked briefly in salt water, and grilled over hardwood. Every time I smell the sweet smell of burning corn leaves, it takes me back to those hot Summer nights in Wisconsin.

I know envy is embarrassing, and I shouldn’t be grumpy or jealous of others’ experiences.

I have mine, and they’ve made me who I am. Given me the taste for the food and drinks that I have and allowed me the chance and ability to sometimes share it with others. And, no, I don’t really want to pay $24 for a fancy version of Tuna Casserole. Thanks, but no.

WOTW–Navarrouge

Spatchcocked Chicken, rubbed with Sage and Spring Onions.

Started Roasting some small yellow potatoes with a couple Rosemary Sprigs. When the potatoes started showing some color, I removed the Rosemary sprigs. Put the chicken on top and roasted until done.

Side dish is a spicy succotash of corn, chard leaves, chard stems, and onions. Made a pan gravy with the drippings.

Served with a bottle of Navarro Vineyard‘s delicious table wine, Navarrouge.

BOTW–Autumnal

First, just a reminder that Sunday, August 28, 2011, is our monthly exercise in folly, Savoy Cocktail Book Night at Alembic Bar. If any of the cocktails, (they also have a great beer selection,) on this blog have captured your fancy, stop by after 6 and allow the skilled bartenders, (and me,) to make them for you. It is always a fun time.

Friends gave us a bunch of really awesome Meyer Lemons. What better to do than to turn them into Lemon Merengue Pie?

Stillwater Autumnal

This deep amber hued ale takes it’s inspiration from Germany while still nodding to the Belgian farmhouse tradition. The base is comprised of German two-row, wheat, Cara-Munich, and roasted barley. Generously hopped with a blend of Perle, Spalt, and Hallertau Mittelfrüh and fermented with a rustic Belgian farmhouse ale yeast. These elements together provide a melange of earth and fruit aromas backed with hints of caramel with a dry clean finish.

I hadn’t researched a lot about Stillwater, aside from trying a couple of their bottles when I saw them in liquor stores. Interestingly, turns out, the brewer is a “Gypsy Brewer”. He rents overflow capacity from breweries and then visits and brews collaborative brews with them.

‘Gypsy Brewer’ Spreads Craft Beer Gospel (on npr)

We’d tried their sage spiked Saison Cellar Door before, but I think we liked Autumnal even more. It was pleasing and easy to drink.

Risking life, limb and fingertips running some amazing patty pan squash through the ceramic mandolin.

Balsamic vinaigrette, marjoram, arugula, and small tomatoes.

On the plate!

Roasted a pork tenderloin on top of a winter squash with onions and potatoes.

Got advice on this wine from one of the wine guys at K&L Wines. 29 Songs is a big ass Northern California Syrah, juicy and delicious. The wine guy suggested it, “wasn’t exactly a food wine,” but we enjoyed it with our dinner anyway.

Unfortunately, the lemon meringue pie didn’t turn out quite as well as I was hoping. For some reason the custard didn’t quite set. On the other hand, the Meringue was awesome. Ah well, nothing wrong with Lemon flavored version of, “œufs à la neige” in a pie crust! Great dinner anyway!

Bachelor Night 03

From Drop Box

Of course the way to start some quality Dog Boy weekend time is to take a trip to Fort Funston! Happy Dog, Happy Man!

Then fry some leftover baked potatoes with onions. Fried potatoes, not hard. Why do they suck most of the time in restaurants?

And serve the fried potatoes with leftover hamburgers on a toasted English Muffin.

From Drop Box

Some time passes. What would a Bachelor Afternoon be without a nap? Anyway, dinner for one at Gialina. Roast Chicken Breast with a Panzanella salad and a glass of wine. We’ve been going to Gialina nearly once a week since it opened and it remains about our favorite nearby restaurant.

Somehow ending up in Berkeley of all places, at the Albatross Pub, with friends, recently re-arrived in the Bay Area.

From Drop Box

They do have tasty beer at Albatross Pub, who can complain about Moonlight Brewing‘s Bombay by Boat?

BART back to San Francisco, and another night gone.

I guess “Sucker Punch” will have to wait until tomorrow.