Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More From "The Kitchen"

The baked cheese special - locally produced Chevre and black peppercorn crusted cheddar baked in the brick oven and served with house made toast strips.

Here's another snapshot from the crew at Woodberry Kitchen for our family member living out there in Ireland. How's it going, Chris?

From D.F. to D.C.

The son-in-law (center) waxes poetic, while Chef Ramirez (in white) watches on.

Readers of this blog might remember my visit to El Bajio with Ana and Tia Cristy back in September. While they're known for other dishes, I found their chilaquiles to be spectacular and a style that I've been trying to recreate ever since. It's a wonderful restaurant whose menu I hope to explore a bit more on my next visit to the DF.

How pleased I was to receive an email from Jeff of Southern Skies Coffee informing me that Chef Ramirez would be giving a cooking demonstration this morning at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington DC. So, in spite of waiting until 1:30 in the morning to chat with Ana, I rousted myself out of bed at 6am to begin the long journey down to DC.

After a forty minute commute down to Baltimore's Penn Station, a fifty minute train ride on Amtrak, a 25 minute ride on The Metro (including a train malfunction and two train changes), and a ten minute walk, I arrived at the Cultural Institute just a few minutes shy of the 10am scheduled time. But in true Mexican style, the session would start fashionably late. When I arrived at 9:50am, I was the lone attendee. However, by the time they started, there were about 30 people in the beautifully ornate hall.

The session was led by Carmen Titita Ramirez Degollado, chef and owner of El Bajio, her youngest daughter Maria (a chef who attended CCA in San Francisco) and Maria's husband (also a chef, hailing from Spain).

Surrounded by wood cutting boards, butane burners, glass jugs of agua fresca and mounds of fresh ingredients, Chef Ramirez went to town. First, she started off showing how to make Almendrado, a mole made from almonds, onion and garlic. The second demonstration was on how to make Mole Verde using a wide assortment of greens.

Surprisingly, the preparations were simple and looked relatively easy. I've heard stories about Mexican abuelas spending days grinding and preparing mole. Because of those stories, an attempt at mole always seemed daunting, at best.

I still have to pour through my notes, but here's the best I can do at the moment: the Almendrado consisted simply of almonds, ancho chiles, onions and garlic. Roast the almonds and chiles, saute the onions and garlic, then combine in a blender until pureed. "Re-fry" in oil and it's done.

The Mole Verde on the left and the Almendrado on the right.

The Mole Verde was similarly simple: cilantro, hoja santa, epazote, hoja de chayote, chile poblano, chile jalapeno, chayote, green beans, peas, zucchini, green fava beans, white onion and garlic. Blend the onions and garlic together with some water, into a pot. Blend the leafy veggies, then into the pot. Heat it up and simmer with the chopped veggies and you're good to go.

Of course, it's slightly more involved than that. They didn't talk proportions or measurements so it's going to be a trial and error kind of approach over the next few days.

The flavors (to me) were new and interesting. I thought they could use a bit more salt to give the flavors better pronunciation, but it sparked my interest and I'll have to start making my shopping list for the weekend soon.

But if you're in the DC area (or willing to drive down to DC), then get to Oyamel before Friday to catch Chef Ramirez's cooking in honor of Mexico's Dia de los Muertos.

I'll be there tonight!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Fridge

The Motherlode.

Was trying to organize the fridge after a morning breakfast of chipotle chilaquiles and thought I would share my current stock (starting from left to right):

- a third pan filled with camembert, cheddar and gouda cheeses
- one Haas avocado, just about ripe
- nine pan of crumbled queso anejo
- ziplock bag of queso chihuahua
- 2qt cambro of chipotle chilaquiles sauce (just reheat)
- cup of homemade herb butter
- Queso Oaxaqueno
- Queso Fresco
- 2qt cambro of guacamole
- 2qt cambro of salsa verde
- 1qt jar of chimichurri (hiding behind the guac)
- 1 ribeye steak from Springfield Farms
- 1 vacuum pack farm-raised chopped pork
- 1 pound salted butter from Trickling Springs Creamery
- 1 squeeze bottle of Mexican-style crema

On the window sill, in a six pan, I've got fresh cilantro, green onions and asparagus in water, ready to eat.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

RFTW - Ready For The World

Tempting. But I'm not talking about these guys!

For the past several weeks, I've used part of my weekends to prep food for the upcoming week. Today was one of those days.

In an effort to eat consciously and eat better foods, I'm working hard on preparing my own stuff. In the fridge, I've got a tub of rojo sauce for quick and easy chilaquiles, crumbled queso anejo and a squeeze bottle of crema. But that's not enough.

So today, I had some chiles that I picked up last weekend at a local farm. Don't know what kind of chiles they're hot and I tossed them into the smoker to dry. Since the smoker is fired up, might as well toss in a boneless turkey breast and a half-rack of pork short ribs for good measure.

Then there's the tub of chipotles that looked a bit too "smoked" from last weekend. Stemmed those and ground them in the food processor and now have a smaller tub of chipotle powder.

The nice thing about having the tube of chilaquile sauce is that I can ladle a couple spoonfuls into a pan, heat it up, pour over tortilla chips, fry an egg, drizzle with crema, cheese and sliced white onion and I've got a great breakfast in a couple minutes.

But that's not enough, roasted up some garlic and tossed a bunch of stuff - including roasted tomatillos, into the blender for a tub of salsa verde that I can use with tacos or plainly on tortilla chips. There were also some avocados and tomatoes sitting around, so I couldn't let those go to waste. Chop, toss into a bowl, mash, add some onions, cilantro, lime juice, salt and presto! Instant guacamole.

The only thing I'm worried about is that I'm down to my last bag of tortilla chips from Tortilleria Sinaloa. If I'm not careful and don't restock soon, I could be in trouble later this week.

But for now, I'm Ready For The World.

More From The Kitchen

The day's special: Grilled Halibut with kale.

Before heading off to HouseWerks annual Halloween bash and the Gutierrez's flaming pot of goulash, I stopped by Woodberry Kitchen and ended up having another round of plates with Amy. It was the first day of revenue service so we decided to split a couple supper plates.

The special of the day was a grilled halibut with kale. I find kale to be rather chewy and prefer not to look too closely at the texture of the leaf, which reminds me of the textural patterns one finds in tripe. However, the kale didn't taste like tripe but was rather good - for kale. The halibut was nicely done. A slight carmelized crisp on the exterior yet fluffy and thick on the interior. Very enjoyable.

The second dish we had was the Bone-In Pork Shoulder served with a mixed beet torte. The pork is cooked sou vide for sixteen hours and 160F, then finished in a skilled before serving. Because of this, portions of the meat are incredibly tender. Not falling off the bone tender as might happen with slow roasting or smoking for the same amount of time, the fibers still hold together but the texture is silky, soft and refined in a way that smoking or roasting just cannot match. The mixed beet torte was interesting for its' textures and odd bites of sweetness.

The Bone-In Pork Shoulder.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friends & Family - Woodberry Kitchen

Wood Oven Roasted Oysters.

The Friends & Family Meal. I've heard about them, read about them, but I've never been invited to one. Until now.

Just what is this "F&F Meal" anyway? It's the meal (sometimes series of meals) that a restaurant hosts just before their official opening. It's designed to identify problem spots and work out the kinks of a new kitchen, bar, dining room and everyone working in the restaurant. The meals are comped by the house and everyone goes to town.

Last nights' Friends & Family Meal went from 5pm to 10pm. I arrived just before 9pm and the main dining room was packed with about 60 people filling the tables and crowding around the bar. The nice thing about this meal is that you know most of the people there and even though my "date" got sick and couldn't make it, there were plenty of friends to eat, drink and be merry with.

After a bit of mingling, Susan and I sat at the bar to sample the kitchens' offerings. Amy would jump in and out while handling the many details that arise when running a working restaurant and Luisa would join us a bit later.

Fried Hominy with Chile Mayo.

The menu is what's described as "Farm to Table" and the approach is a bit different. On the menu are a list of "snacks" designed to be immediate starters. Mini dishes that whet the appetite without actually being appetizers. Think of them as something instead of bread. From there, you can enjoy a variety of prepared oysters or some small cold or warm plates, or perhaps a salad. Once those smaller portions were out the way comes the supper dishes. A bit heartier and more filling.

Of course, we didn't follow the prescription. We just ordered relatively haphazardly - ordering whatever we thought was interesting.

First round: Wood Oven Roasted Oysters topped with bacon. Served on a bed of rock salt, the oysters were briny and had the taste of the ocean. Roasted just right, the oysters had a touch of heat and the bacon was pliable but crisp. Susan loved them but since I'm not a big fan of cooked oysters, I found them to be okay. Perhaps a bit too salty. Bring on the raw oysters because that's what I prefer.

Next round brought us the Fried Hominy with a chile mayonnaise dipping sauce. Reminiscent of CornNuts, the fried hominy, of course, had that rich corn flavor that was lightly fried and properly salted. The dipping sauce matched well but I found the hominy enjoyable enough that I couldn't resist eating it on its' own.

Raw Oysters, Iced on the Half Shell.

Round Three: Raw Oysters Iced on the Half Shell. Again, briny with the strong taste of ocean. As though your mouth was sucking down the ocean itself - which, for whatever reason, seemed odd to me. Perhaps it's just that I'm used to an oyster without such a strong connection to its' origins. However, they rocked. Served with some cocktail sauce, wedge of lemon and mignonette - I prefered the simple preparation of lemon with cocktail sauce while Susan preferred the mignonette. Unlike the many other places I've eaten where the oysters have flown far enough to earn frequent flier points, these tasted like they were pulled off the river bed that morning.

By this point, we're well into our meal and the next round brought something a bit more home-y. A deviled egg course made from Amy's grandmothers' recipe. A taste of Pennsylvania Dutch tradition piped through a pastry bag for a slight fanciness. Creamy, smooth and topped with slivers of chipped ham - what's not to love about deviled eggs? Bravo to them for putting it on a menu.

Amy Grandmothers' Deviled Eggs with Chipped Ham

We never made it to the Salads or Cold Plates, although Susan reported that someone else had tried the Various Beets and lov ed it. Roasted Buchanan Valley Pears and Adolescent Lettuces sound interesting and will have to be a point of interest for future visits.

The next round brought us Chips & Dip - three varieties of potato (yukon gold, sweet and blue), sliced thin, deep fried and served with an onion dip. Classic party food with a serious twist. The sweet potatoes were the favorite with the yukons a close second. The blue potatoes we had were more of the skin and a bit tougher. The chips were perfectly fried, slightly translucent (in the case of the Yukons) and stayed properly crisp.

Chips & Dip.

The nice thing about dining with Susan is that she's not afraid of anything. That's a plus. Whatever comes our way, it's going in our mouths. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Time to see what it tastes like. That which doesn't kill us, makes our tummies fuller. I had asked Rebecca if she wanted to come and join us but she had some weak excuses about a "happy hour", but she's too finicky an eater for this crowd so it was better that she wasn't there. Of course, the one person who I wanted to bring lives 2,000 miles to the south, making these kinds of excursions difficult and sporadic at best.

By far our favorite round, the Griddled Scallops with gold rice and special sauce rocked the house. So damn good, I had to get up and tell the kitchen just how much we loved them. Plump and perfectly griddled to a crispy caramel on the outside. Moist and succulent on the inside. Served with a rice that was just slightly crisp in spots an a lightly sweet sauce that was absolutely sublime. Not overpowering like so many sauces. This one was light, just below the radar and a perfect compliment to the sweetness of the scallops. It was almost as though you didn't know it was there. It was that complimentary. It was perfection.

Griddled Scallops with Gold Rice and Special Sauce - perfection.

Next round: Little Lamb Meatballs ina red pepper sauce with fried sage. Served in a little cast iron dish, these meatballs came straight out of the wood-fired brick oven and were piping hot. Once cooled sufficiently so as not to burn your mouth, these were lovely little bites. Slightly tangy. I actually only had one since the dishes were flying at us now and wasn't able to give the meatballs much attention.

After fiddling with the remote and trying to tame the music volume, Amy's dinner arrived. A little something off the menu. A large hamburger patty topped with grated cheese over a bed of greens. Looked pretty good but didn't have any. A little bit earlier, Nelson had ordered the Hamburger on a Roll. That looked good too with a nice red interior and a bag of French fries. The fries were interesting. Very thinly sliced and short, they reminded me of those Durkee Shoestring Potatoes you buy at the grocery store in cans. A real throwback to youth and a wonderful way to play on peoples' memories - without that gross greasiness you get from eating the stuff in the can.

Little Lamb Meatballs with red pepper sauce and fried sage.

For the next course, we decided to go for a Supper plate and ordered the Cast Iron Ribeye (medium) and asked the kitchen to slice it so all of us could sample. The steak came out very nicely but a bit more on the well side of medium. But the rich flavor of the ribeye was still there and quite enjoyable. I'm not a big fan of potatoes au gratin in general so it's always a tough sell to me. That said, the potatoes were properly done. Thinly sliced to a delicate texture and layered with cheese. It's a tasty accompaniment but I prefer rice over just about anything else so my personal bias starts to show when it comes to potatoes. However, I'm sure that those who prefer potatoes over rice would love the gratin. The steak sauce served with the ribeye was mildly sweet and very reminiscent to the sauce served at Peter Luger's in Brooklyn.

Amy's off-the-menu Hamburger Salad.

A free meal is a tempting mistress and I was certainly tempted to try other thiings on the menu but gluttony is a sin and it would have been wildly scandalous to continue beyond the limits of our stomachs. But all was not over, there was still dessert to be sampled.

The dessert menu offered three items and since there were three of us, three desserts it would be. Both the pear cobbler and apple dessert with vanilla ice cream were solid performers, however the standout of the three was the fig ball (can't remember the actual name). A large, round ball of something fig, it exploded with butter on the palate. Delicious. All three of us agreed that it was the dessert to have. So good, it needs further exploration.

Cast Iron Ribeye with cheddar potato gratin and house steak sauce.

Artifact Coffee barista Marietta was on hand to prepare for me a dark and lovely cappuccino with monk's head foam. I didn't get a picture of it, but it was pretty darn good for a coffeeshop and absolutely smashing for a restaurant (the difference being that most restaurants serve absolute swill as "coffee"). Dark chocolate notes and a nice finish. It was really good up until the point that I started concentrating on holding my pinky up while drinking and ended up pouring some cappuccino down my shirt. Good thing I wear black.

My view from the bar.

All that food, what about drink? The bar is well-stocked with both spirits, wines and soft drinks. Personally, I'm no longer a big drinker so I didn't get a chance to drink as much as everyone else. I stayed with the house-made sparkling water and imported Mexican Coca-Cola. The wine list looks pretty good and if you do go, I heartily recommend the Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon. At ninety-eight dollars a bottle, it's the priciest on the menu, but I had the chance to sample it earlier in the week at the staff wine tasting and it absolutely rocked. Fruit, black currant, body - delicious and highly recommended.

Pear Cobbler with creme pouring sauce.

Lingering around after service always affords a special glimpse into the workings of a restaurant. How does everyone interact? Do they like each other? Who's sleeping with whom? It's still early so the intrigue hasn't built to a fervor. Yet. Everyone's still calculating their moves, building their "sea legs."

So, do I recommend the Woodberry Kitchen? Well, of course I do. As someone who tries various restaurants and writes about those experiences, this one is pretty different - the owners are good friends which, of course, I cannot separate from a potential bias in favor of the restaurant. Heck, I smoked the chipotles, sourced the Coke and have some equipment on loan - of course I think the food is good. But really, just as with the other posts, it's up to you to visit for yourselves and decide if this is just a fluff piece or typical of this blog. I think you'll find the latter as well as a good meal made with great local ingredients at Woodberry Kitchen.

The fig ball dessert - amazing.

Apple Cobbler with vanilla ice cream.

Most of the Woodberry Kitchen Family on opening day.

Woodberry Kitchen
2010 Clipper Park Road
Baltimore, Maryland

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Running For The Border

Perhaps it's part of my own indulgence, although I'm telling everyone that it's part of our attempt to rid The Spro's menu of all HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) products, but our first order of "Mexican Coke" arrived today.

After a number of failed attempts to connect with the local distributor of the fabled "Mexican Coke", I finally met with a representative and placed an order: 12 cases of Mexican Coke and two cases each of Jarritos Tamarindo, Jarritos Mandarina, Jarritos Limones, Jamaican Ginger Beer, Sidral Mundet and one case of Senorial Sangria.

While I've always been a fan of the Tamarindo soda and The Spro has always carried the Mandarina, it's the Coke that I've been secretly lusting after. It's that crisp zing that only cane sugar can provide that makes Coke worthwhile. Combine that with the lively phosphoric acid and eliminate the heavy coating that comes from the HFCS and you've got a Coke worth drinking again.

And I'm stoked.

So the tally goes: four cases for The Spro, seven cases for Woodberry Kitchen and one case for the fridge at home - for papi chulo.

BTW, if anyone local wants a case, let me know. It's $30 for 24.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Smokin' & Chillin'

Organic red jalapeno peppers ready to smoke.

I spent the weekend smoking some organic red jalapeno peppers from One Straw Farm this weekend and turning them into authentic Mexican-style, direct from Hunt Valley, chipotle chiles. It was a side project I did for Spike and Woodberry Kitchen. One case of peppers created about 20 liters (by volume) of chipotles.

I had never smoked chiles before so much of this was experimentation. Not enough smoking and drying and the interior would be too moist and rot. Too much smoke and the pepper would blacken, turn brittle and be completely destroyed. Finding just the right medium turned out to be quite a task.

The case of peppers from One Straw Farms.

Through trial and error, I discovered that the optimum chipotle could be produced at roughly 220 degrees Farhenheit in about eight hours. That was on Friday. In the rain. On Sunday, the same parameters developed chipotles that were too dry and brittle. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I had miscalculated and forgotten to take the weather and humidity into account in the drying process. Mistake.

But in the end, we ended up with some really nice chipotle chiles that will be making their way into one of your dishes at Woodberry Kitchen soon.

As for the other peppers that were deemed "well done"? I stemmed them and ground them for chipotle powder. And promptly wiped my eye and forehead after working with the powder...

The finished chipotles ready for delivery.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Moon Over My Short Ribs, Tul

The short ribs, Sang Style, ready to eat.

I was back at it today with the short ribs from Springfield Farms. Marinated them briefly in the Sang Moon Kal-bi recipe and tossed them into the smoker for about six hours while I went about my business.

They turned out okay. Again, the cut is too thick for such a short marinade that I'm thinking an overnight marinade might be better. The meat was good but the flavor didn't really penetrate. However, the slow smoke created a rich texture and wonderful aromatic. The meat was stringy and fell apart beautifully.

But more experimentation is required.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Facing A Brave New World

They say that all good things must come to an end.

For the past five and a half years, I've been keeping a mistress. A not so secret mistress. Sixty-six months. And now it looks as though it will have to end.

That mistress has been my steady companion through thick and thin. Feast and famine. Friends and foes. Good times and bad. After such a long time, it's tough to let it go. But let it go I must.

CapitolSwell and I went down to Les Halles last night for a typical outing in DC. The air was cool but very comfortable to sit outside. The patio was crowded and we ordered some of our usual dishes: macaroni and cheese, steak tartare and the favorite, onglet a l'echalote.

Usually this is a meal to get excited over, but this time things fell flat. We discussed this over dinner. Was there a problem with the food? Does it taste different? I don't think so, but maybe it does. Whatever the case, the food was different to me. It wasn't that rich burst of flavor, those wonderful textures. Okay, maybe there was a bit too much proscuitto and bacon in the mac 'n cheese and maybe we were spoiled about a year ago when they ran out of baguettes and had to bake some fresh. But there was more to it than that - even the onglet was flat.

A few months ago, we dragged Spike down to Les Halles and you could tell afterwards that he wasn't thrilled. I didn't understand then but I think now, I do.

After pondering just why the food wasn't as good as before all the way home, overnight and throughout the day, I finally came to realize just what had happened. Les Halles hadn't changed. They still offered the same French brasserie fare I came to love many years ago and still did that food consistently. The difference was that I had changed. My understanding and expectations of food had changed. I have been eating better quality foods and my body could now discern the difference and it was ruining my relationship with my favorite restaurant.

But one just cannot go back. I've tasted new delights and am now ruined forever. How can one go back to commercial, corn-fed meats after romancing grass-fed, free-range? It's impossible.

And so I now must bid a fond, if reluctant adieu to my longtime mistress, Les Halles.

I now face a Brave New World...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

La Concha a Woodberry

Enjoying a concha from La Flor de Puebla with coffee from Tulsa's DoubleShot Coffee on the darkened bar at Woodberry Kitchen.

Man of La Concha, Otra Vez

Conchas a la Bimbo.

In my continuing search to find authentic Conchas in America, like the ones I had in Mexico City, I ventured down to Riverdale, Maryland because I had heard about the conchas from a bakery there called La Flor de Puebla.

During my visit, I stopped off at the local Mexican market and grabbed the conchas they had in stock and decided that we would have a "Concha Shootout" at The Spro, so I gathered all the conchas I could find.

And the conchas came from all over the place. We had conchas from Rasita Bakery in Kensington, Panaderia El Latino in Washington DC, El Amigo Bakery of Annapolis, the aforementioned La Flor de Puebla, and Mexico's ubiquitious baker: Bimbo.

The conchas wait being eaten.

The terms of the shootout were simple: just which one tasted best. On it's own and with coffee. For the coffee, we had the very nice Panama Carmen Estate from Hines Public Market Coffee prepared the way I like it - in a French press.

In the end, there wasn't much science to the evaluation. Strictly subjective. Unfortunately, I found the conchas from El Amigo and El Latino to be too dry and not sweet enough for my tastes. The concha from Rasita had a nice, mellow sweet flavor and a soft, fluffy texture. The bread was quite yellow in color, but still quite enjoyable. The Bimbo concha was about what you could expect from a major, nationwide baker - nothing too exciting. Lots of preservatives and just a middle of the road kind of flavor.

The carnage after.

For me, the winner was the concha from La Flor de Puebla. Soft, light, airy, lightly sweet. Delicious. Delicate. Not quite as good at the one I had at Bondy in Polanco, but definitely in the right direction. It's a refreshing treat.

Now, if only if La Puebla wasn't so far from my house...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Not So Big Tummy and The Angry Pozole

French fries comprises the first course at Taqueria Tres Reyes.

I was in Riverdale, Maryland today in search of Conchas. It's an exhausting search that makes one hungry and I figured that there must be something tasty in the area people call "Little Mexico."

Which is how I found my way to Taqueria Tres Reyes - driving along Kenilworth Road, spotting it to the left and hitting a U-turn to get there.

The setting is classic American Hispanic. About forty Hispanic (presumably Mexican) workers hanging out by the corner in what is growing to be an American ritual - hanging out until someone comes along to offer you daywork. At first, it's slightly unnerving, until you realize what's going on, then it's old hat.

Taqueria Tres Reyes is a down home kind of joint. It's nothing fancy. It looks like it used to be some other kind of fast-food eatery in a previous life - perhaps a drive-inn, perhaps a burger joint. Whatever the case may be, it's old and kinda rundown and the exhaust hoods in the kitchen look like they're from the 1930s.

The Angry Pozole accompanied by some radishes and fried tortillas.

Of course, I'm not here to worry about the decor, which is Formica-chic, I'm here to try the food. But before anyone can eat the food, they have to experience the service, which is almost atrocious. Besides myself and the one white guy eating with some friends, everyone else is (presumably) Mexican, ranging from the rough and tumble general worker to pseudo-suburban type, but the girl behind the counter takes the cake.

She's curt, brash and I think she's also rude, but I can't be sure because she's speaking to me only in Spanish.

And my Spanish sucks.

But there's the attitude. The "hurry the fuck up and order you pinche puto" kind of attitude. And she's got it. In spades.

However, this is my world and she's just living in it so I'm not going to let her spoil the fun. The attitude? It's part of the flavor because, I notice later, she's rude to everyone. As she goes along asking me if I want ketchup with my fries or the order to here or to take my Coke now, I'm barely keeping up with her Spanish and make rudimentary "Si" to keep the pace. I also feign that I'm preoccupied with other things on my mind, which means I'm not really listening and it doesn't seem out of place that I don't understand her right away. Of course, the truth is that I'm paying close attention to what she's saying and it's taking me that long to recognize the words I do know and decipher the rest by filling in the blanks with wild guesses.

Finally, that pain is completed and I sit and wait. And wait. And wait. When I sit, the taqueria is pretty full and by the time my pozole arrives, I'll only be one of two people left. Not too long into my wait, the french fries arrive. They're the typical wide-cut, frozen Simplot kind of fries and while I find processed foods detestable, I can enjoy these fries since they're crisp. The ketchup provided as a side is cheap and watery but since I don't usually like ketchup on my fries, no worries. Hit them with a bit of salt and all is good. Not fantastic, mind you. But good.

After quite a bit longer, my fries are gone and I'm still waiting.

After still yet more time, my pozole arrives and it's angry. Unlike the pozole I've had at other places, this one is huge. I mean freakin' humongous. No wonder it costs nine dollars. It's huge but looks freshly made. The soup is a deep, angry red that's just off the boil which means it's searingly hot - the way a good soup should be served. After some careful sips, the broth is deep and rich. It's heavy on the chiles and the cumin which gives it that deep, smoky character. It's good. Damn good. Rich in a way I haven't experienced with pozole. The flavors are multilayered and so are the textures. The pork is soft and stringy while the rest of the bowl is chock full of hominy. Hominy that looks like it exploded. Any thicker with hominy and you might think you were eating a soupy Mexican bowl of grits. Chunky grits, that is.

Once the bowl has landed, I Thank The Lord that I didn't order a couple of tacos as a side dish. That would have been suicide. The bowl is too much. Way too much for this tummy to finish. I work and work on the dish. I'm sweating. I'm struggling. I'm huffing and puffing and it's blowing my doors down. I can't finish it. I am defeated by this angry pozole.

But it was good.

Taqueria Tres Reyes
5403 Kenilworth Avenue
Riverdale, MD 20737

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

DoubleShot Through The Heart And You're To Blame

The filmmaker behind The Perfect Cappuccino, Amy Ferraris, was in town the other week for a family wedding and we ended up touring around some of Baltimore's famous centers of good food, namely The Spro and Belvedere Square. During our day together, we chatted about the many different personalities in the industry that she's met while making her documentary and the lively Brian Franklin from DoubleShot Coffee in Tulsa, Oklahoma came up.

Brian is the vocal owner of DoubleShot and host of the AACafe Podcast who went up against the behemoth Starbucks in a David vs Goliath type of shootout when Starbucks wanted to stop them from using the word "doubleshot", alleging that it was an infringement on their trademark. Brian won.

Amy suggested that I try Brian's coffee and offered to contact him on my behalf. It was a nice gesture because I hate asking fellow industry types for samples of their coffee. I'm embarrassed, really. I had met Brian for the first time during this years' SCAA Conference in Long Beach, but it wasn't the first time I'd heard of him.

I first heard about Brian while he was talking smack about the Podcast that I co-host. His AACafe Podcast had the same complaint that many others in "the biz" have: it's too damn long. Waaah!

Granted our podcasts can run up to two and a half hours in length, but it's like a morning drive radio show - you don't have to listen to it in one sitting. Listen to it in bites and pieces, on the way to work and before you know it, the show's over until next time.

But I digress.

Two pounds of coffee, a package of Nissin Ramen and two DoubleShot Coffee stickers arrived today. We tore into the Kenyan coffee right away, pressing out two 48z press pots of the stuff. Really nice vanilla and woodsy notes. Planning on using the coffee for tomorrow's Concha Tasting. The espresso will end up in our guest grinder for free sampling to all comers until its' all gone. With the espresso, I'm getting some definite hints dried cherry.

Thanks Brian for the coffee!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Different Is Good - Cinghiale

My older cousin, Ate Ellen has been in town this past week - "ate" being pronounced: "Ah-teh" and is the Filipino honorific used for older female cousins within a family. She's here visiting from the Philippines and has been hanging around the house, enjoying her vacation and doing as little as possible. She's also been advising me on certain Spanish-style traditions, so I don't muck things up with my American approach and mentality. To thank her, we went out to eat on her last night in town at the new Cinghiale-Osteria in the Harbor East project of Baltimore.

Freshly baked foccaccia with an excellent olive oil.

I'll be honest, while I had heard a few positive comments from friends who had gone down to Cinghiale in the first couple of weeks, I wasn't expecting much. There are many who expect great things because they love the sister restaurants: Charleston, Pazo and Petit Louis. I am not one of those people. I've found the sister restaurants to be lacking and I find the "it" scene at Pazo to be utterly detestable. I spent one too many years in the movie business and want none of that celebrity tomfoolery.

First of all, Cinghiale is a beautiful space. I've heard rumors of them spending four million on the place and it looks it. Beautiful craftsmanship in all of the details, from the tile to the boar's heads to the very sexy wine storage. I wish I toured the kitchen. We ate on the Enoteca side (by the bar) since it was nearly 10pm when we arrived but were offered the restaurants' entire menu. Nice.

On the left, califlower, tuna and roasted boar terrine. On the right, parma ham and fresh figs.

Cinghiale is different than other Baltimore Italian restaurants. I see it as a more rustic, country cooking rather than the southern-style red sauces that dominate much of the Italian landscape here. Not that southern is bad. It's just ubiquitous and expected - and I have to say that Cinghiale gave us the unexpected.

Overall, we were in new territory with Italian food and what better reason to order a little bit of this and a little bit of that when you don't know exactly what to order!

Il Fritto Misto - Crispy vegetables, Milanese stylle, brown butter & lemon. Heavenly.

Our first round started off with a variety of items, from marinated califlower to a tuna salad, roasted boar terrine, Parma ham and fresh sliced figs. The execution was nice but I found the flavors to be subtle and almost bland. Everything was well prepared, there were just no powerful flavors. The califlower was crisp and punchy in texture but mellow in flavor. Same for the tuna and terrine. The Parma ham was very thinly sliced and piled on the plate and the figs were beatifully fresh but lightly sweet.

The next round brought us the crispy vegetables and raw beef. The beef was decent. Thinly sliced and covered in an arugula olive oil puree. Again, the flavors were subtle and delicate. Well-executed, but nothing to fantasize about.

Il Carpaccio - raw beef, baby arugula, "EVOO", parmigiano.

The crispy vegetables or Il Fritto Misto took a departure. They were excellent. Fantastic. Probably the best course of the meal. Perfectly seasoned breading, perfectly fried and the flavors were delicate, multi-layered and intense. I will always remember the red bell pepper. It's flavor popped on my senses. Amazing. Sublime. I wanted more.

Seems that chef Stefano Frigero is moving the restaurant in a seasonal direction with more locally sourced ingredients. This is a good thing. And it's good to see our friends from Springfield Farm listed on the menu with their farm-raised rabbit. This time the rabbit is encased in tortellini. Like the other courses, it was delicate, nuanced but not bold. The rabbit was ground to a very pleasing texture that was crumbly without being that pasty mash so many other tortellini stuffings insist on being. Served in a light broth, it was pleasant.

Springfield Farm raised rabbit tortellini.

Next round kept us om pasta territory with sausage stuffed ravioli. Again, nothing bold. They were okay. Nothing memorable except for the execution. Wish I could say more but this was the "John Doe" of our meal.

Our meal ended with an order of the rice pudding with pears and a baked chocolate bar. I have to say that I loved this round. Second only to the fried veggies. Sweet without being overpowering. The rice cooked to the perfect texture that's not soft but not hard, the pudding creamy, the pears crispy and the chocolate the perfect accompaniment.

Sausage stuffed ravioli.

All in all, it was a good time at Cinghiale. It wasn't "the best" Italian meal I've ever eaten. It was well-done and wonderfully executed. The flavors, while not bold, were new and different in the city - which makes it a refreshing change. Because it's so different than other Baltimore Italian restaurants (and the sister restaurants as well), it can be a bit difficult to make sense out of Cinghiale. If you're looking for veal parmigiana or fettuccine alfredo then you're not going to like this place. But if you're looking for good food that's different and going to expand on your understanding of Italian cuisine, then Cinghiale is the place.

I know I will be going back just to see what's new.

Rice pudding, pears and a chocolate bar.

Cinghiale Osteria
822 Lancaster Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Baltimore's Best Wings?

An order of hot wings and fries.

Ever since I've known him, The Lerch has been exclaming how the best wings in Baltimore are at Kisling's Tavenr on Fleet Street in Canton. Heck, I hadn't heard of Kisling's until I met The Lerch, I was going to have to check it out.

After several years, I finally made it down to give them a try. On a Sunday evening.

Luckily, Sundays mean $5 wing night. Five bucks for a ten piece order that's normally about ten bucks. Fresh cut fries? Sure, that sounds good - and so does the $5 steamed shrimp special, but hold the cocktail sauce 'cause I'm trimming down on excess. Unluckily, they had run out of shrimp so I went with the steamed mussels.

Kisling's is a tavern. It looks like a tavern. Wood here, wood there, some neon beer lights and several big screen TVs spewn about so that patrons can catch "the game." It's your typical Baltimore watering hole, except with a waitress that's actually cute, not to mention friendly (but not that friendly, not that I'm interested).

Things moved swiftly enough from there. More water, more iced tea and within ten minutes the fries arrived, followed by the wings. Not too much longer and the mussels arrived and I started to become self-conscious about all these plates on my table.

The fries looked pretty dark and I think this means that the oil they were fried in has had it. Time for new oil, please. The flavor was pleasant and the fries enjoyable. Just give me some salt and some wings and everything will be alright. I'm used to the French style of preparing mussels with white wine, butter, onions and garlic, so the steamed route is something new for me. Steamed mussels, even though they're steamed with onions, are a bit on the bland side. There's not much in steam to spice things up, but the soft onion wedges were nice to have.

But really, we're here for the wings and it's time to discuss how they were, which was okay. I don't know who said these were "The Best" in Baltimore, but that's pretty optimistic. The wings were good. They were tasty. But they were also on the thin side. Fried nicely and with just the right amount of hot sauce. I could eat another ten. But would I drive all the way into the city just for Kisling's wings? I can't say that I would. It's good, but Hooter's is closer.

Kisling's Tavern
2100 Fleet Street
Baltimore, MD 21231

Ultimate Sandwich

In the DVD for the movie Spanglish, Thomas Keller shares the recipe for his "Ultimate Sandwich," the perfect thing for late-night eating with a beer. Something to whip up in the kitchen with what you have on hand.

I thought I'd give it a try using some of the stuff I liked best.

- Hand-sliced Country White bread, toasted
- Chihuahua cheese from Mexico, melted on the top slice
- Locally grown butter lettuce
- Two large eggs from Springfield Farms, fried over easy
- Free range bacon from Springfield Farms
- Locally grown, fresh tomato - three slices
- Hellman's Mayonnaise, spead generously on the bottom slice

By the way, that's also how I layered the ingredients. Served with heated Ketchup Potato Chips I imported from Canada and a bottle of Mexican Coke.

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


The Clan milling about before the main course at Ceviche.

On Saturday night, the Clan gathered to celebrate Rod, Christian and Emma's birthdays at Ceviche in Silver Spring, Maryland. As always, it was good to see and hang with old friends. I just wish we would choose better restaurants.

This is not to say that my friends don't know how to choose a restaurant, it means to say that I wish more restaurants served better quality food. Overall, the food was okay. It wasn't bad. But it wasn't good either. Just average, uninspired fare. But I'll give Ceviche the benefit of a doubt since it was a Saturday night, it was extremely busy, we were a group of sixteen and the fifty seat dining room was being served by one waiter and one runner.

Beef Empanada with fried plantains - the stuffing was very similar to the Filipino Empanada.

Ceviche is a "Latin restaurant" - one of those catchwords that's similar to "pan-Asian" and anything trying to encompass everything is going to stumble. And Ceviche stumbles.

First off, where was the pork? If this is comida Latina where did it go? There was no pork on the menu. At all. No pork in a pan-Latin restaurant. Unbelievable. The Virgin of Guadalupe is furious.

Otherwise, it was a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Some Peruvian, El Salvadorean, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Argentinian, Spanish - there was something for everyone and nothing that stood out as a powerhouse. Actually, the most flavorful thing was the fried stuffed corn masa. That was pretty tasty.

The Ceviche - sadly, just perfunctory.

I could go on, but I won't. It might not be nice. Suffice to say that Ceviche is designed to cater to the benign masses working at Discovery Channel across the street. Those denizens who want a Latin twist from the hoardes of national chain restaurants downstairs. It's great if your experience with Latin food is Chili's, but perhaps not so great if you regularly eat at the various Peruvian, Mexican or other ethnic joints.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but the highlights were the stuffing in the beef empanadas which, if they had peas, would have been almost exactly like the classic Filipino Empanada stuffing I grew up on. The tamal wrapped in banana leaf had a pleasant flavor that's reminisent of the Puerto Rican pasteles or the tamales from southern Mexico.

Fried Yucca - mas a meno.

The stuffed corn masa- pretty tasty.

The Tamal with chicken.

Black Beans and Rice.

Filet with chimichurri - nothing inspiring.

Chocolate Cupcake with Strawberry Icing - Hate to say it, but the best course of the meal was from CakeLove.

Ceviche Restaurant
921 Ellsworth Drive
Silver Spring, MD 20910