Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Prettyboy Market

Tailgating in Freeland with some chicken and fries.

I love fried chicken. I can't help it. Sometimes I crave it.

Baltimore's City Paper named Prettyboy Market as the best fried chicken in Baltimore. It's in the middle of the boondocks close to the Pennsylvania state line but I had to try it. And when I say boondocks, I mean boondocks. It's not close to anything. Except corn. But way out there on Middletown Road is the Prettyboy Market.

Maybe I'm just a bit too uban/suburban but when they named Prettyboy Market as Best Fried Chicken, I thought it would be one of those newly chic kind of markets with the nice interiors and fancy gourmet products - maybe even a few tables for seating and a varied selection of fine wines. Prettyboy Market is nothing like that.

It's literally a country market. An old, rundown authentically antique market with the requisite double gas pumps outside that are past their prime. In the county, we're used to Exxon replacing their gas pumps every couple of years with the latest in credit card and multimedia entertainment built in. Not this place. These pumps are old and getting rusty. They look like they've been working hard.

Inside, it's more of the same. The refrigeration units have been here for quite some time. Whole Foods and Wegman's slick this place ain't. But that's the charming part of it. It's real. It's a market for real people. A market for the country. Not a market from yuppie urban slickers who've moved out to the country and want the posh life and deign to beat the "country" out of country because it might lower their property values. No, this place is country, and along with that comes some rather friendly and welcoming country folk who happily asked if I was from around these parts.

Well, yes, if you consider the semi-suburban enclave ten miles south of here as "around these parts," but really: no. I mean, I can sport a Carhartt jacket and John Deere cap like the best of them, but I'm also wearing designer jeans and New Balance shoes, which kinda gives me away as a working the farmers market kind of guy instead of working the farm.

But I'm here for the chicken and a batch just came out of the fryer. Good for me. You order chicken here by the pound, not by the piece. Same goes for the western style fries. Give me a breast and a thigh and they suggested eight fries for good measure. Add a bottle of Dr. Pepper and my meal is $7.41. Not bad for the best chicken in Baltimore.

Unlike my misguided expectations, there's no indoor seating here. In fact, there's no seating at all anywhere on the property. Out to the truck I go to have a little tailgate party while watching the country world go by.

I start off with the breast. It's piping hot. In fact, I opened the plastic bags they were packed in, placed them down on the tailgate and went into the cab to get my camera, came back and situated myself and it was still piping hot. They weren't fibbing about this chicken just coming out of the fryer.

Judging by the looks of it, they use a simple coating of flour and then pressure fry the chicken. It's a bit on the dark side which means that the white meat breast is a bit dry and a bit on the tough side. I'm guessing their cooking the white and dark meat together and the longer cooking time for the dark dries out the white. It's not too dry but definitely on the dry side. Plus the dark crust makes me wonder if perhaps their cook time might be too long.

The flavor is nice but the one thing that lingers in my mind is the mild flavor. It needs salt. More salt. It needs salt to let the flavor pop. As I eat, I'm jonesing for salt. I wish I had some. I search the cab of the truck for hidden packs of salt but nothing. I want to go inside and ask for salt but I don't want to offend, and my urban thinking has me worried that someone might come along and steal my chicken or my camera while I walk inside. It's dumb, I know, but I can't help it.

Now, it's time for the thigh and it's also on the dry side. Not as dry as the breast but perhaps cooked a bit longer than I prefer. The slightly odd cuts on the thigh tell me that they cut their own chicken, which is a good thing. It's nice to see that some craft has actually gone into the food instead of merely using boxed cuts from Purdue.

The thigh's flavor is good but also in need of salt. I'm sitting there wishing they would season their chicken a bit more. I think it would truly make this chicken dance if they did. The City Paper said that no matter how many times they went here, the chicken was always as good as the last time. I'm going to presume today's chicken is the same as the ones that won the City Paper's accolades and I have to wonder if the CP reviewers like salt, cause I think the chicken is good but it could be stellar if it were seasoned a bit more heavily.

The fries are nicely done but compared to the darkness of the chicken, their cook time is a lot shorter. Maybe slightly longer would add a little crisp and, again, a little more salt would go a long way.

Overall, I really liked their chicken, but would I rush out here to the boondocks again just for this chicken? Maybe, maybe not - depending on my mood. But some of my friends live a mile away and we come out here on a fairly regular basis, which means there's always a reason to be out this way, therefore, a reason to just "happen by" the Prettyboy Market for their fried chicken. And next time, I'll bring some salt, just in case. Because I think it could be truly amazing with salt.

Prettyboy Market
20200 Middletown Road
Freeland, MD 21053
Best Fried Chicken 2008

Tuesday Morning

Scrambled Eggs on Toast

It's breakfast time at the ranch and I'm the mood for some eggs.

Lately, I've been really getting into making scrambled eggs. For many years, I just whipped them up in a bowl and then fried them in a pan. The results were usually lackluster scrambled egg pancakes. You know, boring, lame and in need of copious amounts of ketchup to make them palatable.

Happily, things have changed.

Take three eggs (farm fresh, please) and crack them into a heavy pan (non-stick works nicely). Turn on your stove to a solid medium high, but don't put the pan on straightaway. First, cut off a knob of butter. How much? Whatever floats your boat. Really need a measurement? Cut off two tablespoons.

Next, chop some fresh chives. Not too much. Just enough. Maybe about one inch of a small bunch will do. Bust out your always present container of creme fraiche - homemade I'm sure. Don't have creme fraiche? Run to the store and buy some, or sour cream will do in a pinch if you're already famished. Be sure to have on hand a spatula (high temp spatulas are a nice tool to have around the kitchen), a tablespoon and the fabulous duo of salt and pepper.

Drop the dollop of butter into your pan and place it on the heat. Start by stirring the eggs and butter with the spatula. Keep stirring. Break the yolk. Keep stirring. As the pan heats, the eggs will start to cook and cook in little slivers - this is ideal. Keep stirring. Think you're stirring a lot? Maybe stirring too much? Keep stirring. As the eggs cook, take the pan off the heat for a few moments. You don't want the eggs to cook too fast, but keep stirring.

Now, back onto the heat (keep stirring) and keep sitting. Arm getting tired? You're doing it right. The eggs will continue to cook. Before the cooking starts to take off and get away from you, take the pan off the heat. Do this on the heat, off the heat as many times as necessary, but always keep stirring - see why I said to get all your stuff together before you started?

You will reach a point where the eggs are cooked through but still remain moist because of the butter. This is moment of truth. In several swift motions, add the chives, keep stirring, pull the pan off the heat, keep stirring, add salt and pepper, keep stirring and then add one tablespoon of creme fraiche. Stir everything together and you should have cooked and moist scrambled eggs. Viola! You're done.

Now, scoop those eggs onto a nice slice of crusty toast and maybe some breakfast meat with a glass of orange juice and you've got a morning feast.

For todays' breakfast, it was eggs from Springfield Farm, butter and creme fraiche from Vermont and struan bread from Attwater's Bakery.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday Morning

A fried egg topping.

I'm not always a typical breakfast eater. I like to eat whatever comes to mind. It's why I used to love Jack In The Box while living in Hawaii. You weren't forced to only eat breakfast sandwiches, like at McDonald's. Jack In The Box in the 90s offered a limited menu of hamburgers (including their Ultimate Cheeseburger) and french fries all day long. So while the rest of world chowed on breakfast sandwiches and hash browns, I feasted with a cheeseburger and fries. Lovely.

Today, it's time to get rolling and I've got a sandwich on the mind. Specifically a BLTEgg sandwich. And I've got all the ingredients handy!

Start off with three strips of Applewood Smoked Bacon from Springfield Farm, heated slowly in the cast iron skillet until it cooks and crisps. Gotta take it slow to get the right consistency. Tossed a couple of slices of Country White bread from Attwater's Bakery into the toaster for that crunchy texture juxtaposition that I love. A couple of thin slices of havarti cheese to go on top of one slice. Once the toast is done, I hold it in the oven at 200F and let the cheese melt over the crispy toast.

Meanwhile, there's some romaine lettuce hiding in the back of the fridge and I spy a jar of Hellman's Mayonnaise, oh and gotta remember to grab my jar of newly made Tomato Confit (I'm now out of fresh tomatoes). Layer it all together: bottom slice with mayo, tomato confit, lettuce, strips of bacon - and then the final ingredient: fried egg.

Grab an egg from Springfield Farm, crack it into a nonstick pan and heat slowly. This time I want the egg to cook and look evenly white. High heat will carmelize and crust the whites and I don't want that today. Cover with a pan (or cover) to cook the egg evenly on top (no runny raw stuff), season with salt and pepper and slide on top of the bacon.

Top with the other slice of bread (with the melted havarti cheese) and eat.

I had mine with a side of Chili and Garlic potato chips I imported from Canada and a bottle of Sarsi Cola from the Philippines. Tasty.

Hope your morning was as good as mine.

The Sandwich, some chips, a Sarsi and a book.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Growing Up "Goth"

And I dress this way just to keep them at bay
'Cause Halloween is Everyday.

- Ministry

Alicia and The City Paper, April 1987

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as "goth." It just was and nothing more. The late 1970s and early 1980s brought The New Romatic and New Wave periods where people like Steven Strange and David Sylvian made their marks. It was a time of glam and makeup - and we missed it. Completely.

Kirk's photo for the Bored In The Suburbs From Hell Event poster. He's a nurse now.

What may be known today as the definition of goth was then just part of the scene. Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, The Cure, Joy Division, New Order, Dead Can Dance, The Sisters of Mercy and others were just "alternative" - back when "alternative" really meant alternative. Today, Gwen Stefani's poseur-Japanese pop can be categorized "alternative." Hell, back then, even U2 was considered alternative.

Lis is a high-powered D.C. attorney. Mike is a chef.

Truth be told, I'll let stalwarts and Wikipedia argue and debate just what is and is not "goth." All I know is that our crowd lived it. And we didn't have places like Hot Topix to buy clothes or Nordstrom to by Docs. Back then, you had to make your own clothes and travel to 99X in New York City to buy Doc Martens from the English lady who flew to London twice a year to stock up on the latest footwear trends.

And once you had your Docs, you'd better be prepared to fight for them because, somehow, the skinheads formed the idea that only they should have the God-given right to wear Docs. They wanted to beat you up and take them from you.

Jo is now an artist in Los Angeles.

But those were good times. Simple times. No cell phones. No ATM cards. No credit cards. Just your friends and Friday's at Cignel, the Baltimore club that on Friday night would host the avant-garde scene and its' requisite music. From 11pm to 4am, you could dance your heart out, make out on the risers, drink spiked punch, or find someone to get high with or take home in the morning before the sun rose. It was the best of times.

Dina, David and Jenny

Typically, we'd plan on meeting around 9pm at Louie's The Bookstore Cafe on Charles Street. Louie's was ground zero for all the happened in those days. It was the logical and easiest place to meet while eating light fare, drinking hot tea, reading arts magazines and looking cool. The then Annapolis-based WHFS 99.1FM was in its' heyday, Ronald Reagan was president, the Cold War was still threatening Nuclear Winter and no one knew if we would make it through another year without getting annihilated by the Soviets. It couldn't have been a better time for the death, doom, damnation and angst of youth.

Two French Girls - Chad and I were so in love with them.

Today, all that has changed. They've finally given our thing a name: goth - and found a way to market it. You can go to your local suburban mall and outfit yourself as a "goth." Quaint. I'm no longer in touch with "the scene" and I wonder if it still exists, and if so, in what form? Do they still have a club to go to on weekends? Is there a "scene" like Mount Vernon for them to hang out? Is today's "goth" a vibrant, evolving thing? Or has it been reduced to a level of uniform that doesn't allow it to evolve naturally?

The "goth" scene of our day morphed from the Punk, New Wave and New Romantic scenes before us. I wonder if the morphing continues. Whatever the case may be, those were the formative years of life and we learned more than most of our peers how to get along with people of different strata and styles. It helped us to develop into (what I hope are) rounded and open-minded individuals.

Meanwhile, I'll always harbor a quiet penchant for those stylish goth girls of yesterday and today. So please, keep the great hair and great style coming, because even though I don't look like I would ever fit in with today's scene, I still appreciate the lifestyle.

Yes, I went to Senior Prom - with Alicia.

Sunday Morning

The Coulette Brunch

It's Sunday and I feel like relaxing a bit today. Not doing too much. Taking it easy.

Not too long ago I was decrying the coulette steak. Now, I'm an absolute fan. For last week's fundraiser for the Maryland Food Bank, Roseda Beef donated the meat for the dinner. We had some leftovers that became my bounty. The coulette is a small, French cut - about four ounces. It's the hind end of the sirloin, but unlike the description the bartender gave me, it's wonderfully flavorful. She actually said that it was leaner than sirloin (and it probably is) but she didn't sell it. It's small but full of flavor, not to mention deliciously tender. I've been making all week for breakfast - usually with eggs and rice.

Today, I decided for a little twist. Some risotto cakes, some sauteed chanterelles some sauteed asparagus and the butter seared coulette. How can you go wrong?

I've got a bag full of green heirloom tomatoes that I picked up from Reid's Orchards last weekend and they're getting long in the tooth. They're absolutely delicious but we ended up not using them for Tuesday's fundraiser and now they're just sitting there looking pretty but wasting away. The vacuum sealer is still down and I'm at a loss.

That's when I decided to give them a little confit action. Peeled the tomatoes by scoring, dip in boiling water for 20 seconds and cool in an ice water bath. The skins should peel off easily. Core and seed the tomatoes - reserving the loosey and juicy stuff for juice. Line an oven pan (or casserole) with fresh basil (I raped my lone basil plant, poor thing) and line the pan with seeded and cored tomatoes with the core side down. The tomatoes should be one layer but be crowded in the pan.

Sprinkle the tomatoes with sea salt and then coat liberally with olive oil and bake in the oven (convection off) for 50 minutes at 350F. Tomatoes are done when they've browned but are still slightly firm. Eat the tomatoes and reserve the oil for seasoning - it is now infused with the flavor of tomato.

I've poured my tomato confit in a jar and placed in the fridge for eating soon to commence.

Tomatoesin the oven confit-ing.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Too Many Cocks Spoil The Breath

In the studio converting "Take One" by Front 242.

Leave it to the angst and anger of the late 1980s to come up with that title for à;GRUMH's 1987 twelve-inch single release of "M.D.A." It's hard, it's succinct and it's downright offensive. Bastards.

The residual rains from Hurricane Kyle continue to keep the estate soaked to the bone. In fact, I'm watching a veritable river flowing past the back door and a new lake forming on the neighbor's property across the way. Good thing we're not in lowlands or I'd be bailing instead of merely cruising at home.

Instead of heading out into the weather to seek my fortunes in the bosom of women across this great city, I've decided to stay in and concentrate on my music. For the past couple of years, I've been on a very slow campaign to convert my sizable collection of vinyl into the digital world of mp3s, iTunes and iPods. While a number of releases have been released or re-released as CDs, why pay more when I already spent the money years ago? All it takes is a little time and a little patience - not that I have vast reserves of either.

The problem with converting vinyl to digital is that it's a Labor Of Love. Like the way we used to make cassette tapes for friends and girlfriends, digital conversion is a real pain in the butt. It's in real time. There's no 12x conversion like there is when converting a CD. There's no simple, drag and drop functionality, like when you're creating an iTunes playlist and burning it to CD for some mid-riffed hottie.

No, this digitizing thing is serious business and it requires concentration. Are the levels set correctly? Is the record clean? How is the stylus? What are the conversion settings?

In order to capture the warmth and luxury sound of analog, I'm using vintage equipment for that authentic club sound. Technics 1200MK2 turntables outfitted with Stanton 680EL "Disco Duty" cartridges relay the sound to a Numark PPD mixer that feeds an analog signal into a Power Computing PowerTowerPro Mac Clone upgraded to a G3 366MHz processor. Digital conversion is being handled by an application called Coaster: sample rate: 44100, sample size 16.

Considering the newest piece of equipment is the 1997 era PowerTowerPro, state of the art this setup isn't, but it does a good job.

Now, the audio purists out there will want to decry the use of such antiquated equipment and such low sample settings (Coaster is actually maxed out), but let's face it - I'm not listening to any of my music critically. I don't have a sound room with an audiophile setup. My main listening is done by the computer where I'm running Tannoy BPM-6.5 Near Field Reference Studio Monitors powered by an Alesis RA-100 amplifier through an Alesis PowerMix16 FireWire mixer. Other than that, it's on the road in a noisy truck or on an airplane through an iPod Classic 160GB - none of which can ever be considered "critical" listening environments. So, my audio needs are quite simple.

The interesting (and odd) thing about all of this digitizing is that I'm actually listening to the songs in their entirety. Odd because I used to be a club and radio deejay and you never really started at the beginning or made it to the end of a song when you were mixing them together. I'm hearing segments of songs that I maybe never heard before - even though I had played the song hundreds of times over.

Anyway, enough with the chatter. Here's a list of what I converted today:

Front 242 - Take One
Book of Love - I Touch Roses (Dark Rose Remix)
Book of Love - Boy (Peter Rauhofer Club Mix)
à;GRUMH - M.D.A.
Ministry - Halloween Remix
Ministry - Nature of Outtakes
Nitro Deluxe - Let's Get Brutal
Robotiko Rejekto - Rejekto!
Nitzer Ebb - So Strong So Bright
Nitzer Ebb - Warsaw Ghetto
Philadelphia Five - Baby Do You Wanna Bump
B-52s - Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland
Renegade Sound Wave - Cocaine Sex
The Cure - Why Can't I Be You?
Laibach - Life
The Weathermen - Deep Down South
Commodity Fetish - Iron Hop
Skinny Puppy - Dig It
Icicle Works - Whisper To A Scream
C.C.C.P. - American-Soviets
Nitzer Ebb - Murderous
Front 242 - Master Hit
The Weathermen - Poison!
Alien Sex Fiend - The Impossible Mission
Cabaret Voltaire - I Want You
Secession - Fire Island
Skinny Puppy - Assimilate
Ministry - Stigmata
Book of Love - Modigliani (I Dream of Jeannie Remix)
Book of Love - Modigliani Requiem Mass
The Cult - She Sells Sanctuary (Howling Mix)
Bronski Beat - Hit That Perfect Beat
Sisters of Mercy - Temple of Love
Time Zone - World Destruction
Sisters of Mercy - This Corrosion
Book of Love - I Touch Roses (Daniel Miller Remix)
Book of Love - Boy (Extended Mix)
Gary Numan - Cars (Extended E Reg Model)

Is It Raining With You?

Here comes the rain again,
Raining in my head like a tragedy,
Tearing me apart like a new emotion.


It's going to be Peach Jam.

After a morning touring what may be our next food adventure, the skies opened and it started to pour. What better time to stay at home and get cozy in the kitchen?

As is my usual predicament, I seem to always have fresh food in the house on the verge of going bad. I have all the good intentions in the world to process the products right away but my plans always go awry - maybe it's a problem that I'm never home and only come home late at night to crash out.

There's a pile of peaches from Reid's Orchards sitting in the corner by the vac pot brewer that need my attention. The gaskets on my vacuum sealer broke last week so I'm without a sealer until the parts arrive. Lame. So much for freezing, time to make more jam.

Jam is starting to get pretty easy. I'm without that magic box of pectin that Maria used so it's back to the old fashioned way of adding sugar, heating, stirring and reducing for a couple of hours. Filled a two quart container - not bad for a rainy Saturday.

Filipino Southern Chicken Mashup

Now, time for some lunch. I've been thinking about pairing a Filipino-style preparation for fried chicken with a Southern method that I know. It's been on my mind for several months now and I might as well give it a go.

First, marinade the chicken (free range from Springfield Farm) in a mixture of lemon juice and patis (fish sauce). Of course, I'm presuming you've learned to cut up a whole chicken yourself, saving you the additional expense of purchasing pre-cut chicken.

Once the chicken has been coated with the liquid, spread on a baking sheet and place in the fridge for half and hour to chill and dry out the skin. The drier the skin, the crisper it will be in the fryer. After a half hour (or so), dredge the chicken in flour and shallow fry in a cast iron skillet until the skin turns golden brown in 375F canola oil. I've got a convection oven, so I've also set up a baking sheet with rack to finish the chicken.

In first are the thighs and legs since they'll take the longest to cook (about 25 minutes), then the white meat and I'm working them in batches. Once the skins have turned golden, they go into the oven until done. I do the wings last because in ten minutes, they're done.

The chicken is crisp, juicy and moist. The lingering flavor of the fish sauce and lemon is there, but it's just a whisper. To my tastes, the flavor mixed with the crispy floured skin is kinda weird. Odd. Different. I'm not sure if I like it. It's a true mishmash of Filipino and Southern styles and I just don't know. Maybe I need to eat more to be sure.

There's still more to test. I wonder if a longer marinade will make for better flavor. Those that tried it, liked it. I just don't know if I really liked the combination. Yet.

Friday, September 26, 2008


America is sinking.

Late August is traditionally a slow down for business as everyone and their mother heads off to the beach or some other vacation spot in a last-minute desperate attempt to savor and save their summer. It's normal. As we approached the middle of August, I scaled back the orders from our vendors with the intent of returning to normal volumes after the first weekend in September.

It's nearly the end of the month and our ordering levels have not returned to pre-August numbers.

Is the falling American economy starting to impact? I'm hesitant to say 'yes' but can't help but to feel it in my bones. And with the downturn in the economy, is this the wrong time to start new ventures? Isn't this the time to pull back and shore up defenses? Or is this the time to push forward and expand?

That's the issue I've been wrestling with this week.

Since mid-summer, I've been considering a space downtown for a second coffee shop. It's in an old, stone building and up a flight of stairs from one of the busiest streets (in terms of both vehicular and pedestrian traffic) in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. At 900 square feet, it's got some character and I think could turn into a very cool coffee and food experience and be a place where we really can get down to experimentation and exploring coffee and cuisine.

Granted, foot traffic isn't like Washington D.C.'s Eastern Market or San Francisco's Mission or Portland's Belmont, but it's gotta be one of Baltimore's busiest neighborhoods in terms of foot traffic - and I've been observing it at all times of the day and night. There's an equal footprint of floor space underneath the shop space for storage or development and the building also has nice apartments that I can rent to use as lab space slash crash space.

A number of my friends who are familiar with the space think it's a great space for a coffee shop. The problem is that some of my closest friends who are business owners, bar owners and restauranteurs are either lukewarm about the space or totally against it. I'm worried that perhaps I've spent all this time thinking about the space that I've lost perspective on its' suitability. Plus, the falling American economy is starting to worry.

All of which is coming to a head because the land lord called me earlier this week stating that he did his research into me and wants my group to be the tenant in the space. $1600 a month for 900 square feet. Plus the cost of building out the space, equipping it, stocking inventory and training new baristas and cooks. It's a daunting task for a space that some of my close friends are telling me that it isn't worth it.

When it rains, it pours.

Then there's the other offer - another restauranteur I know has offered me to take over part of one of his restaurants on weekends and offer Filipino food. A friend of mine is a great cook and is interested to break off from what he's doing now and give it a go. In reality, the financial downside of this venture is quite low. The restaurant is already fully equipped, they just need more business. There's a growing number of Filipinos in the area that need a place to eat and it could be a good way for us to hone our restaurant chops with almost no investment.

It won't be fine dining but it might be a way for us to play and experiment with traditional Filipino classics - something I've been thinking about for quite some time now because I've convinced myself that there's a way to marry sous vide and Kare Kare.

All week long, I've been pondering the possibilities and trying to figure out what to do. I'm not worried about the coffee end of the coffee shop. We make beautiful coffee and I'm excited at the prospect of training new baristas and introducing our flavor of coffee to a new neighborhood. But is it the "right" space for the project? Have I been seduced by the idea of opening a new space? Seduced by the idea of building a lab? Seduced by the lure of a new Pad For Seduction? I can't say that I haven't been seduced and that I'm looking at the whole thing with perspective, and that scares me. No one wants to sink tens of thousands of dollars into a place just to have it make ends meet.

Much to think about this weekend. I have to make a decision by the end of the month.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Books That Bind

I've been steadfastly awaiting the publication and arrival of The Alinea Book by Grant Achatz. I purchased it back in the spring for an October release. I paid fifty bucks for it and I'm sure it's going to be amazing.

For the uninitiated, Grant Achatz is the chef who's on the vangard of American cuisine. Worked for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, opened Trio and then exploded with Alinea. Dinner at Alinea is a maelstrom of cutting edge cuisine and the cookbook is supposedly going to detail how to create some of his more fanciful courses.

I find books on food and cooking to be wildly fascinating. At any point in time, you'll find at least one book in my vehicle - not to mention an assortment of rags like Food Arts, Restaurant Hospitality and Barista Magazine. And while I don't usually follow recipes in these books verbatim, I use them as springboards to help me figure out my own ideas and interpretations. Or, as I'm forced to do this week, figure out how to process a case of kale that Earl Martin of Martin Farms gave me on Sunday.

What in the world a guy like me is going to do with a case of kale at home has been perplexing to say the least.

I'm not even a fan of kale.

With that in mind, I thought I would share a list of some favorites in my ever-growing collection. By no means is this my entire collection or an exhaustive list, but these are some of the books I turn to quite frequently:

Professional Cooking - Wayne Gisslen
The French Laundry Cookbook - Thomas Keller
Essential Cuisine - Michel Bras
*** Chef - Gordon Ramsay
Les Halles Cookbook - Anthony Bourdain
The Zuni Cafe Cookbook - Judy Rodgers
In Search of Perfection - Heston Blumenthal
Further Adventures In Search of Perfection - Heston Blumenthal
The River Cottage Meat Book - Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall
Mexico One Plate at a Time - Rick Bayless

While those are the ones I turn to most frequently, these are the ones I turn to next frequently:

Memories of Philippine Kitchens - Amy Besa & Romy Dorotan
Roy's Feasts from Hawaii - Roy Yamaguchi
The Choy of Cooking - Sam Choy
The Art of Modern Cookery - Auguste Escoffier
American Cookery - James Beard
Terrine - Stephane Reynard

Books that I use for reference:

The Elements of Cooking - Michael Ruhlman
How To Read A French Fry - Russ Parsons
Culinary Artistry - Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
What to Drink with What You Eat - Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

Books that I'm slowly warming to:

Vegetable Love - Barbara Kafka
Espresso Coffee - Illy & Viani

Books that I lust for:

Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide - Thomas Keller
Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing - Ruhlman , Polcyn & Keller
Au Pied de Cochon The Album - Martin Picard
Sous Vide Cuisine - Joan Roca & Salvador Brugues
Foie Gras - Andre Bonnaure
Patisserie Pierre Herme - Pierre Herme
Paco Torreblanca Book - Paco Torreblanca

Book that I'm ashamed to admit that I do not own (yet):

Larousse Gastronomique

And finally, the books that I'm afraid that I may never be able to afford:

El Bulli 1983-2007 - Ferran Adria

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Between A Porcupine And A BMW...

Years ago, while working as a clerk for a judge at the First Circuit Court, State of Hawaii, I had the interesting opportunity to watch lawyers argue the law up-close and personal. I always found the argument to be invigorating. That debating of the issue and defeat of your opponent - it was exhilarating.

And while I took law classes at the University of Hawaii and thought about becoming a lawyer, I realized that I didn't want to be some jerk-off lawyer driving a BMW, I'd rather be some jerk-off movie guy driving a Land Rover. Oh well.

Fast forward to yesterday evening where I was called to an emergency session of an organization that I was once its' president and still remain in an advisory position to this day. Recently, an election of new officers had been held with the official slate from the nominating committee handily beating out the other candidates by a 30% margin.

The session was being held to address the concerns and official protest by the presidential candidate who lost and one of the officers of the current board. I was in attendance to listen to the complaint and see if there were indeed any violations during the electoral process.

Listening to the recitation of the complaint and the many "whereas" statements, one thing became clear: everything stated by the plaintiffs was hearsay and circumstantial (at best). Besides a single sheet of paper stating their complaint, there was nothing else. No supporting evidence, no corroborating witnesses. This was a hotly contested election where the candidates had their own observers watching the electoral process and observers who watched the actual count to insure that there was no tomfoolery.

In fact, during the election, there was no issue raised or complaint made about the process. One teller in attendance stated that she didn't find any errors during the process itself as she was observing it - and she was on the side of the plaintiffs. Odd.

It was then that I decided we need to prosecute their case against them. Hold them to a standard that required supporting evidence. Truth be told, if they had provided supporting evidence of improper procedures and mishandling of the election, I would be in favor of nullifying the election as they were asking. But I'm not going to send an organization into turmoil just because they said that one flew over the cuckoo's nest - I need to see evidence.

Quite frankly, I was a bit disappointed. I wanted to face a worthy opponent, not some guy offering his opinion and hearsay "evidence." Not some guy who wanted members of the election committee to incriminate themselves with his leading questions. I wasn't going to let it be easy for him.

My task was to parry his arguments and show that they were full of holes. Place doubt and the realization that the plaintiffs offered nothing but a piece of paper that stated a hollow complaint in the minds of the board. They would decide the outcome but they needed to see that this was all a hocus-pocus sham that held no weight under scrutiny.

At times it was a bitter battle but I thought it was fun. A lot of fun. And when the board voted overwhelmingly against the complaint, it was exhilarating. Victory. Nothing tasted sweeter. In the end, eleven members voted against the complaint, four abstained and one voted in support of the complaint. The presidential candidate who lost was one of the complainants and currently sits on the board with a vote - instead of voting in support of the complaint, the candidate decided to abstain thereby throwing her partner complainant under the bus and leaving him as the only member voting in support of the complaint. Even other members in support of the complaint decided to abstain rather than cast their vote.

With victory in my hand, I left the building invigorated and pumped. Nothing feels as sweet as a victory. Made me think that I could've been a great trial lawyer.

Problem is: I'm really not a BMW kind of guy.The

Monday, September 22, 2008

Steakwork and Paperwork

Today is a day at home wrestling the never decreasing piles of paperwork and bills that The Spro constantly generates. The amount paperwork never ceases to amaze me and I never stop complaining about it, but as one of my friends pointed out: the day the bills stop coming is the day you go out of business. Hmmm, tempting.

In order to ease my pain, a proper breakfast is in order to keep my energy up and things humming. Luckily, I rolled out to Springfield Farm yesterday to pick up our egg order and grabbed a couple of steaks in the process.

Now, a one pound steak is just too much, so I trimmed out my favorite part of the ribeye - that ribbon of fatty meat running along the perimeter of the eye. It's marbled, it's tender, it's juicy. It's basically the best darn part of the cow. And it would all be mine.

It was also a good chance to add extra seasoning to my much neglected carbon steel crepe pan. Just heat to searing, add some olive oil, a little Vermont butter and sear that sucker proper. Turn and toss in a 400F oven for four minutes and you're good to go.

Add a couple of farm fresh eggs and some hot steamed Jasmin rice from Thailand and suddenly morning breakfast becomes an event.

Now, back to the paperwork.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Alice's Cafe

Cindy and Chad have taken over a small cafe in Reisterstown, Maryland. It's a small and cute place with five tables and a very homey feel to it. On the way to the location, I wasn't sure what to expect. I figured it would be some rinky dink joint with white walls, drop ceilings, flourescent lighting and formica tables. You know, the typical suburban cafe. It was anything but.

Truth be told, it was absolutely a charming space. Inside a victorian house, the previous owners kept with the theme and recreated the dining room to the period. Lovely. In the back, the reception/counter area had been modernized while maintaining the victorian theme. Only in the kitchen did the place take on a clean and modern look.

Neither Cindy nor Chad are restauranteurs or cooks. She's a former deli manager and he's a fireman. They're just chasing a dream, which is a beautiful thing but it can also mean a disjointed approach to the business. Right now, they're taking the time to learn the business and figure out their own skills and where they want to go.

I don't know what I was expecting but I was expecting a larger and more varied menu. Currently, the menu is limited to soups, sandwiches, salads and pastries. I expected hot foods but that's not available yet. I was in the mood for hot food, but a toasted club sandwich would have to suffice. Chips or macaroni salad? Is the salad made in-house? Yes? Then, I'll have the salad.

Club sandwiches are almost universally disappointing. Layers of dried out turkey with bacon, lettuce and tomato piled on high with bread. It's typically too dry and too large to eat. I don't know what I was thinking but I would be pleasantly surprised. When my sandwich came out, it wasn't stacked on high with piles of iceberg lettuce, this one was perfectly toasted with layers of thinly sliced turkey and ham interspersed with bacon, lettuce and tomato with American cheese slices.

You may be thinking that sliced American cheese is pretty low brow, and it is - but gosh do I love a good American cheese. And this one was layered just right in the sandwich. Each bite was moist and flavorful with hints of salt and that slightly gooey-ness of American cheese. Maybe it's just fond childhood memories of American cheese, but it works.

The macaroni salad was also good. Light, flavorful and a nice accompaniment to the club sandwich. From there, it was onto a taste of their desserts. A slice of lemon cheesecake with lady fingers wedged inside was a pleasant treat, although the kitchen could take it a bit easier on the strawberry squeezed onto the plate. Just a little will do. No need to make it too busy.

The coffee though was perfunctory. It's nice to see thoughtfulness in terms of French pressed at the table but some basic concepts are missing, like freshly ground coffee to order and an understanding of just how long it takes to steep the coffee before pressing the plunger (4 minutes). There's also a desire to add these paper filters to the presses which just confounds me - why? The beauty of the press is the minor sediment left from the brewing method. Adding the paper filter removes the sediment and essential oils of the coffee - everything which makes pressed coffee so noteworthy.

In the end, it was a pleasant time and I think there's much promise for this place and its' new owners.

Alice's Cafe
213 Main Street
Reisterstown, MD 21136

The Cow

Vanilla Chocolate Custard Twist - Regular Size.

While waiting for my friends to meet me at Alice's Cafe, I wandered next door to a place called The Cow. It's a dessert place offering a confusing variety of frozen custards and Italian Ices, not to mention the necessary espresso drinks (why?). It's a cute looking place with a big cow out front and since the weather was warm and beautiful, I thought "why not?"

Meandering up to the counter, I find an attractive server who's a bit young but quite striking. Not only for her looks but also because of her friendly smile, great demeanor and positive customer service attitude. Quite frankly, if this place were closer to Towson, I'd offer her a position at The Spro.

Instead, I'm contented to note her in my mind and let Cindy and Chad know about her. She seems like she could be a good worker, maybe their could hire her instead.

There's a couple of choices when it comes to custard: vanilla, chocolate or twist. Kiddie, Regular and other sizes (I didn't ask). Cup or cone, or she would put a cone with the cup, if I wanted. I decided on the regular twist cone. Perhaps I should have ordered the kiddie.

Standing outside The Cow reminds me of the heyday of Jay's Shave Ice. In the world of frozen desserts, bigger is better and The Cow doesn't disappoint on the bigger category. The regular custard is absolutely fricken' huge. And I mean HUGE. It's a good eight inches of towering frozen dairy and eggs balancing precariously on a cake cone.

I take a lick and it's okay. It's rich and thick but there's a waxy film to the custard that I just don't appreciate. And it's pumped out of an Electro Freeze soft serve ice cream machine instead of a proper Ross Frozen Custard freezer. But the waxiness is unnerving.

Undaunted, I press on. The tip of my cone breaks off. The custard is melting faster than I can lick. Lick, lick, lick. Heavens, I almost never lick this much in the daylight! I'm falling behind. It's trickling onto my fingers. I can't keep up. I must eject.

With some tricky tongue maneuvering and swift fingers, I plop a four inch piece of custard into the rubbish bin. I can't keep up. It's too much. It's something that many operators and people haven't learned in America: more is not always more. Personally, I wish the flavor and texture of the custard were stellar and the serving size one third of what I had. Give me a taste of something to dream about and crave. Instead I'm ambushed by waxy and inferior custard.

I could use some Dave's Ice Cream right about now.

The Cow
201 Main Street
Reisterstown, MD 21136

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Thin Side of Fries

Rosemary Garlic French Fries

I can't recall how many people have told me over the years that Brewer's Art has "the best" French fries in Baltimore. They're to die for, or so I've been told. But for whatever reason, I just never find my way down there to try the fries myself. Until today.

With the spirit of the Best of Baltimore in the air and Brewer's Art once again winning the Best French Fries category, I made a point of it to stop there on the way home after the Mid-Atlantic Restaurant Expo at the convention center. I made a deal with myself that if I could easily find a parking spot on Charles Street (in the middle of rush hour), I would stop.

There was an open spot a half-block away and I had to make good on my promise.

I squeezed myself onto the end of the bar and since they make their own beer, I decided to try one - their Proletary Ale, a dark musty beer that was pretty good. I'm not really a beer connoisseur so you'll have to check it out and decide for yourself. It was similar to Murphy's Stout and lacked the creaminess of a Guinness.

The menu has a good selection of stuff and I'm tempted by the steak frites. Described as a grilled coulotte steak with fries, I have no idea what a "Coulotte Steak" is so I asked the friendly bartender. She said it was the end cut of a strip steak and very lean. For some reason, in my mind "lean," "steak" and "tasty" do not usually go together. I decided to go with a simple order of the Rosemary Garlic Fries and a Crab and Corn Salad.

Crab and Corn Salad

The salad was nice. Simple. Plain. Squeezed into a mold and topped with rocket greens. Not bad. Not much corn so the flavor was lost but there was ample crab but I think it needed something to make it pop. Salt and some lemon juice might be nice.

After a few moments the fries that everyone raves about arrived. They give you a good amount. Really thin fries that are blanched and then finish fried with rosemary, garlic and salt, served with a side of mayonnaise. Time for the big moment.

To be honest, I'm not a fan. First off, I really don't have an appreciation for really thin french fries. Thinner than McDonald's, these are almost the same thinness as those Durkee french fries you buy at the grocery store in the can - and nearly the same in texture and oil content. The rosemary is nice and I think there's garlic in there somewhere but fries of this size just don't hold up. They're too thin to hold temperature for very long and quickly, my fries had gotten cold. Not to mention that I found my fries to be a bit on the greasy/oily side.

I think part of the problem is that the thinness of the fries allows it to cook through too quickly, creating fries that are more crisp and crunch rather than a balance between the crisp exterior and the steamed creamy potato on the inside. These fries really were closer to Durkee than anything else. And I'm just not a fan of mayonnaise with my fries. It really does nothing for them - just adds more fat.

Perhaps I also just don't have an appreciation for beer. I'll drink it from time to time but I don't love it. A number of people have said that these fries are the perfect accompaniment to beer and I have to disagree. There's so much oil and fat going on that you need something acidic to cut through it all and cleanse the palate. And the only thing that will suffice is Coke. Let Coca-Cola's phosphoric acid cut right through all that oiliness.

For the record, I prefer a thicker cut of fries a la Brasserie Les Halles in Washington DC. They've got the recipe down. I want that balance of crisp exterior and soft, creamy interior. Add some salt and what else do you need? Nothing. It's just beautiful, potato goodness.

I wish more places would perfect the basics before adding all sorts of whims of flight and fancy.

Brewer's Art
1106 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

The Obama Watch

This mornings' CNN.com Front Page.

Democrats still have a serious problem on their hands.

A day closer to the election is dawning and still no sign of Obama in the media. This morning's CNN.com Front Page mentions either McCain or Palin in at least five separate pieces but not a word on Obama.

We're looking for coverage on Obama, but we're not seeing any...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Best Cup of Coffee 2008

The City Paper's Best of Baltimore Dining Art by Mel Guapo.

It's not too far past midnight and I'm sitting here in a mixture of feeling stoked and shocked - all at the same time.

The Spro has won the City Paper's Best of Baltimore 2008 "Best Cup of Coffee."


Holy Shit.

Part of me wants to kneel down and Thank the Lord. Part of me wants to cry. Part of me wants to jump up and down. Part of me wants to streak naked down the streets of Towson. I'm struck with a sense of accomplishment. After all, it's been nearly ten years since we started Jay's Shave Ice in a little shack in Timonium producing the highest quality product that we possibly could - and consistently being ignored by our local press. I'll admit, it was a bitter pill to swallow every year that the Best of... came out and we were never listed.

And it was just a few weeks ago that we were profiled in Baltimore Magazine, not to mention the book Coffee Drinks being released and a mention in one of the Mexico City dailies, it's been a media busy few weeks for us at The Spro.

It's like it's all coming at once.

But none of this is possible without a great team backing you and making it all happen. Not to mention a group of people whose work and toil were built upon, culminating in today's recognition. People like Al and Polly and our parents, who helped us get started oh so long ago. A legion of hard-working staffers at Jay's Shave Ice - many of whom we are still friends with today. Mentors like John Sanders and the crew at Hines. Coffee friends like Nick Cho, Daryn Berlin and Jon Lewis, who have inspired and helped us along the way. And, of course, our very hard-working barista team at The Spro: Arianna, Glenn, Beta, Ruth, Katie, Cristy, Ana and Allie. Not to mention Jennifer Haire and the wonderful people at the Baltimore County Public Library who've welcomed us into their home.

Hard to believe, but surprisingly incredibly satisfying.

I guess I'll be going to the Best of Baltimore Party on Thursday night...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Obama Who?

Obama surfs Sandy Beach. Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Not too long ago, Barack Obama was amongst the glitterati of the election season. Trim, fit and the man for change, he was the guy who was running full-bore towards the White House. He thundered in front of 85,000 people during the Democratic National Convention in Denver. He even took the time to visit his grandmother and body surf at Sandy Beach in Hawaii.

But today, Obama is looking rather vulnerable. He's looking quite petty. In fact, we're looking in the media for him and we can barely find him at all.

It's been known for months now that John McCain would be the Republican candidate for president. Sure, he's a veteran, but he's old, he's slightly grumpy and he's part of the Washington establishment (like Hillary) that has been grinding its' citizens into pulpy bits for the past twenty-five years. The reality is that no one has really paid him much attention other than the most die-hard and grizzly of republicans.

And while the democrats have been handily winning the media frenzy with Battle of the Century between Obama and "it's my presidency by virtue of monarchy" Hillary Clinton, the republicans have been lost in the frenzy. That is, until they took out their bat (or is it golf club?) and smashed the public and the media in the head with Sarah Palin.

In one clean stroke, the republicans tore away the spotlight from Obama and democrats nationwide are more pissed than ever.

Like a puma, those crafty republicans let Obama and Company take the spotlight. Afterall, it's mid-July, election is too far away. Now that we've reached September and the final sprint to the presidency, they've come out of the bushes with guns ablaze. Democrats are pissed.

They really need to be pissed at themselves and their leadership.

Sarah Palin on the election trail to governor. Fox News.

Palin's got everything that Hillary doesn't. Palin actually grew up in the state where she was elected mayor and then governor. She's worked to eliminate corruption. She lowered her own salary by $4,000. She sold the governor's private jet instead of using it. Her expenses as governor were 80% less than her predecessor.

Then, there's the other side: she's pro-life, pro gun, pro religion and pro everything that Democrats hate. She fired those in public office who didn't support her. She got sued for it, but let's be honest - who wants to work with people who would work against you? Think about your own workplace and how much nicer it would be if you could get rid of all the asshats who conspire against you on a daily basis. Nice, isn't it?

TrooperGate chronicles a story about how Palin was trying to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from the Alaska state police. Considering that her sister was getting divorced from him and they were in a bitter custody and divorce battle, who can blame her? If you had that power to influence and screw around with that asshole who fucked over your sister, wouldn't you do the same?

The problem for Obama is that he's barking up the wrong tree. He tells us that McCain is old. Does he not think we watch tv or view images? He tells us that McCain doesn't know how to use the Internet. Neither does my father but do I hate him for it? If anything, I'm thankful that he's not sitting at the computer forwarding me spam messages that his friends sent him.

Once Palin emerged, Obama goes on the offensive about her lack of experience. Really? This kind of attack from the guy 99th on the list of Senate Seniority? Wasn't there a promise for change somewhere? What's with the sudden "change" to old school tactics? Especially when he's challenging a governor making daily decisions while he's out campaigning across America instead of attending to business in session. There's a disconnect here.

And what people are looking for is a connection. With so much going on in the world, can a candidate truly relate to the common person? Hillary couldn't. McCain is still too far removed. Obama once seemed like the man.

Democrats cry about Palin's lack of knowledge on the "Bush Doctrine." Just what is this doctrine anyway? Can anyone tell me what it is? Other than oil and screwing the people, that is.

For all of her faults, Palin comes across as a regular person. Someone who's worked her way up. Her "First Dude" husband works in the field. She's got kids. One is pregnant. At a time when many people would say "get an abortion", she's sticking to her pro-life position. Even though it means her daughter has to carry the child.

Whatever the case, it's September and this is it. The final run for the presidency. Bush will be out in 120 days. Who will be the next president of the United States? For a long time, Obama looked to be the de facto choice of America. Now that Palin's in the running, he's got a lot of work to maintain his momentum.

And democrats whining about Palin won't help Obama.

Besides, she's a veritable hottie riding in on a dog sled with those Tina Fey glasses...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Tempting of The Face


It's everywhere. Everyone is doing it. And, happily, they don't allow you to put up silly wallpapers and graphics like MySpace.

Some people are addicted. I'm just going along for the ride and finding all sorts of friends old and new along the way. Originally, I didn't even want to do the Facebook thing. I already had pages on MySpace, Friendster and LinkedIn - wasn't that enough? But a good friend forced me to join and here I am updating the "Jay is..." every few days and chatting with old friends in my spare time.

Then, the unexpected happened. I found someone I hadn't spoken to in eighteen years. I don't know what possessed me to punch her name in, but I did, and there she was. Maybe I should say "hello." Maybe I shouldn't. I didn't act very kind the last time. It wasn't my finest moment. Back then I was young, arrogant and egotistical (I'm much mellower now, I promise). I thought the world was mine and I could do no wrong. In short, I fucked it all up. And fucked it up good.

When faced with decisions of a perilous nature, I consult with friends of the feminine kind. They're unanimously supportive about going for it. "How bad could it have been?" Lupe asked me. Pretty bad, I think. I spoke some pretty harsh words that I immediately regretted but was too absorbed in ego to admit that I was wrong. Dumb.

I don't know what I will do. I haven't decided. Maybe it's too late. Ah, what's the worse that could happen?

Damn you, Facebook. Damn you to Hell!!!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Everybody Wants To Be In A Book...

I hope you won't mind if I indulge myself a little.

Back from Mexico City, I'm once again behind the bar at The Spro for a couple of weeks. Back to find a nice bag of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe from Hines Coffee in the queue with it's heavy blueberry character calling my name, begging me to brew a cup or four. I can't resist.

And yes, you're eyes are not deceiving you - there is some amount of half and half cream in that cup (from Trickling Springs, no less) and a half teaspoon of sugar (cane, pure).

As I'm preparing my coffee, in comes the UPS guy with a small package from Ten Speed Press in tow. Hmm, I don't remember ordering any books before my trip to Mexico. Then it hits me: this must be an advance copy of the book I shared a recipe with. I tear into the package with reckless abandon.

I once wrote somewhere on the Internet: "Everybody wants to be in a book. Until they're actually written about. And it's true. It's fun being the subject of an article or included in a book. But you never know what they're going to write about you until it's too late. God forbid they might write an accurate portrayal of you for the world to see - and you're an asshole.

That would be bad.

Luckily, my write up in Michael Turback's Coffee Drinks isn't that bad. It reads:

"I like the ideas of using memories to trigger positive responses," explains Jay. His signature drink, in a mad-scientist-tinkering-in-his-lab way, invokes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches of our youth. A rediscovery of the American childhood experience is magically captured for the adult palate in a deconstructed formula, presented in three acts: a shot of espresso stirred with hazelnut butter and a side of grape gelee, all washed down with cold, frothed milk."

Not too bad. Although one of my staff facetiously remarked that hazelnut butter is something that "everyone" has at home.

Every victory has to have detractors.

So please run out to your local bookstore and buy a copy of "Coffee Drinks." It's a great book filled with recipes from many of the baristas I respect. Baristas like Chris Deferio, Lem Butler, Steve Fritzen, Dismas Smith and the incomparable Jon Lewis. Ask for it. Demand it. Stand in line for it. It's only fifteen bucks (ten at Amazon.com).

Just a note: we don't make any money off the sale of the book. I'd just like to see the word of coffee spread throughout the kingdom.

Coffee Drinks
by Michael Turback

photography by Leo Gong
2008 Ten Speed Press
ISBN-10: 1580089267
ISBN-13: 978-1580089265
Hardcover, 104 pages

Mexico City: Biko

Reg, Arturo and Cleofas offer a toast.

For our final meal together in Mexico City, Antonio, Arturo and Cleofas treated us to the cucina vangardia of Restaurant Biko in Polanco where we had the seven course menu de degustacion. By now, I'm starting to feel like an old hat with multi-course tasting menus, but it's always interesting, educational and delicious to sample the cuisines of different chefs.

Offering a Basque-inspired menu, chefs Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso have created an intimate world to present their take on cuisine. Wedged between the fanciness that is Presidente Masaryk Avenue in the fashionable and ever-so-expensive neighborhood of Polanco, Biko announces that it's set apart with it's private portico in flat black offering recipes written on the walls in chalk. A private elevator whisks you above the riff raff satisfied with Abercrombie and to the upper levels where only Chanel will suffice.

Antonio, Sonja and Sarah.

Step out of the elevator and the receptionist is waiting to whisk us into their private wine cellar dining room.

The wine cellar is a dark and gorgeous place. Black walls with illuminated wood and glass wine bottle storage makes for a lush cocoon to insulate you and your guests from the vagaries of the Chanel laden crowd. It's dark, moody and feels just like Admiral Cain's quarters on Pegasus in the television series Battlestar Galactica. If you've seen that show then you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

A large wooden table dominates the room with inlaid black place settings and stainless hose clamps performing as napkin holders. It's unique and fun, and instantly reminds me of Wylie Dufresne's WD-50 in New York City.

On the other side of the restaurant is the main dining room clad in slatted walls and bathed in white. It's a room for seeing and to be seen. It's a place for the hip and upcoming while the private dining room is for those who do not wish to announce their desire to be seen. In other words, it's my kind of place.

I've decided not to go into too much detail about the food and let the images speak for themselves. The food was good. For my money, I thought the wrapped scallops was just rockin'. Their sweetness was stunning and their texture was perfect.

The stuffed chile was also another hit, though I didn't think the foie gras was very pronounced. The escolar was absolutely delicious and appeared a couple of times during the evening. The americano was to be expected: terrible - but at least there was a lot of sugar around.

The medallions of Manila mangos were beautiful and the accompanying tonic foam rocked my world - I'm working on recreating it. And finally, of the Alegrias, the chocolate covered cereals and sheet of white chocolate were my favorites.

Have a look and I'll let you decide for yourself.

Picas de Aperetivo - Beet Root Soup

Picas de Aperetivo - Spoon of ceviche and mushrooms with fried plantain.

Callo de Hacha y Camaron con Recaudo y Ensalada

The Ensalada

Pimientos Rellenos de Pato y Queso de Foie.

Escolar con Gelatina de Pisto y Amaranto

Cordoniz Empalomada

A "side" of "lasagna" for Cordoniz Empalomada


An as expected Americano.

Tocinillos de Mango con Crema Limon y Mango


Alegrias - dark chocolate truffle, white chocolate sheet, cereals in chocolate and sweet toasts.

407 Presidente Masaryk
Mexico City
+52 55 5285 2064

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Mexico City: Mercado Lazaro Cardenas

The Mercado

El Mercado Lazaro Cardenas.

Also known in this blog as: Mercado Del Valle.

Actually, I don't think anyone I met in Mexico City called it anything other than the mercado in Del Valle - at least not to this gringo. Of course, I'm American - I don't need to know its' proper name. It is whatever I think it is. Just like back in the States:

"Hey, you must be Mexican."

"No, I'm from Nepal."

"Whatever. You look Mexican to me."

And around it goes as we foster brotherly love and friendship around the world.

Thought that I would share the images of our visit last Saturday to the market in Del Valle. While it was a Saturday and not as busy as I thought it should be for a Saturday morning, we did find some interesting foodstuffs to consider. Oh, how I wish I had a kitchen to work out of and a couple more weeks in Mexico City. So many things to sample and try. Enjoy.


Pig parts. Yum.

Isn't "Fresh Fish" an oxymoron in Mexico City?

Beef Tripe aka "wet dog"

Corazon de Beouf


Y Muchos Chiles

Looks like smoked yams to me.


Vegetables Galore

Butchers preparing American commercial pork. I weep for Mexico.

Flor de Calabasa

Piloncillo and other sugars.

Freshly milled Mole Rojo and Mole Negro

So many varieties of dried beans.

Steaming hot Menudo ready for the eating.