Blog of an aspiring foodie

Archive for October, 2003

I want to like you – PLEASE LET ME! (BACKPOST)

Posted by beer_chris on 30-October-2003

Sometimes, when you really, really want to like restaurant, even when the dishes are no good, you want so much to give them the benefit of the doubt that when you finally realize the food sucks, the disappointment can very nearly blind you to what might have been good about the place.

This happened to me at Side Street Brewing today. I really want this place to succeed – heck, I even ordered the most expensive item on the menu on my first visit in my own attempt at contributing to the cause. But tonight's visit just couldn't be made right by my wishing. Last time in, I had the filet (23.95), and it was cooked just right (perhaps a bit overdone), and seasoned to perfection. I was surprised at the quality of a just-opened place with no one inside (save for me and my friends), especially a brewpub. Pub grub ain't what Michelin stars are made of, after all, but the steak was very good.

This time in I ordered the bratwurst platter – pub grub at its most pure. 1 lb of bratwurst boiled in beer and served with sauerkraut, 10.95. Well, what I got could not have been 1 pound of brats – it was maybe three links, perhaps close to a pound if soaking wet. As I ate it with the HOT mustard, I noticed that it was exceedingly greasy, but in a filler kind of way. The meat was ACME brick pink, the casing tasteless and stringy, and the sausage itself yielding but uninteresting – no texture, just 'substance'. If it had been boiled in beer, it was long before it was prepared for me – this sausage had come straight off the grill. After 2 links, I was finally able to admit to myself what I was eating – Ekrich pork sausage from the grocery store, which I had made for myself many times on lazy nights when I didn't want to cook anything complicated. Additionally, the sauerkraut was obviously canned, as it tasted like shreds of paper towel soaked in vinegar. It complimented the cheap sausage well, but that's not saying much. If it couldn't be any more obvious, it had been scorched slightly on the grill – obviously removed from the can and thrown on for a quick 'warm-up' before serving. To add insult to injury, the rim of the plate had been sprinkled with paprika – I guess to add a little 'oomph' to the presentation. It came off as white-trash pretentious, like using a cloth napkin with your Kraft Easy-Mac and ketchup.

My $10.95 would have bought me 2.5 lbs of the fantastic Kielbasa from Central Market, probably with enough left over for a can of sauerkraut.

When the bartender/waiter/owner's son came to clear the table, I (half-joking), asked him where they got the sausage. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I dunno, a pig?”. I didn't expect “On special at Fiesta”, but I wasn't expecting the smart remark back.

This ain't Tony's.

You know, I want to forgive this error – and I probably will, long enough to go back and try their house brews when they are available – but a brewpub can make all the great filets it wants – if it can't get the pub grub right, it's on the wrong track.

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Random thoughts on sauces (BACKPOST)

Posted by beer_chris on 27-October-2003

Sauces are really extraordinary things. They concentrate flavor, and bring out the subtlety of a combination of ingredients. Even when paired with strongly flavored dishes (sometimes especially so), they can bring out subtleties in their constituent ingredients that can compete with the strongest flavors. I was reading an essay by Steingarten (Return) that discussed the best components of Thai food. One of the maxims of Thai cooking (and of most Asian cooking, I guess), is the tenet of hot, sour, salty, sweet – that great eating experiences must consist of these 4 standard flavor combinations. I think sauces are effective because they deliver flavors within these rules – a good roux is salty, from the butter base and seasonings, is slightly sweet, from the natural sweetness of the flour, is sour, from the toasting of the flour, and is hot because of pepper. Another key component is the fat base on which all of this is delivered. Whether built up from the 'fond' (a topic for another blog entry) or made from butter or cream, it's the fat that coats our mouth and pushes the flavor subtleties into our consciousness. Perhaps pectin is the fat of jellies – that thick, viscous coating that enables transportation of the flavors.

Good dishes just wouldn't be the same without the fat-rich, flavor rich sauces that go with them. Eating a piece of prime steak is an experience, but eating it with a pan sauce can be heaven, depending on the creativity and experience of the chef.

That brings up another good point, that sauces can be the prime source for creativity for the chef. A great chef can take a standard recipe dish, something we've all had many, many times, and make it stupendous, a wonderful culinary experience, by adding a sauce that melds and combines the pure flavors of the dish with some new, exciting ones in the sauce. Perhaps that's why gravy is so much a part of home cooking – good gravy makes the meal. Bad gravy doesn't necessarily detract from it, but it doesn't add that extra 'oomph' that makes good food great.

More pontification and experimentation required in this area.

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Thoughts on this blog, and my Chilean wine and food tasting class (BACKPOST)

Posted by beer_chris on 23-October-2003

This isn't your standard blog. I poked around on LiveJournal, and on Scott Keith's current blog of doom site (JoeUser.com or something like that), and got scared away by structure. I'm not sure I'm actually ready to make any kind of real commitment to this effort, and paying or giving out my contact information is just too big a step to take at this point.

For now, I'll just make do with Notepad, Word, and the space I get with my broadband account. We'll see if this really goes anywhere, and if I even want to have other people read the entries. Who knows where it will go? I at least would like an outlet for my thoughts on food, and my growing obsession with the 'foodie' subculture. That said, I am notorious for starting grandiose (or even small) projects and abandoning them mid stream. Maybe this will be an outlet, maybe not. I haven't really thought enough about what this means to me to know if it will really provide me any value.

At least I can recognize that the only real purpose of a personal web page is to be personal, not to entertain others. That's a step in the right direction, I think.

I got Mommy a class for her birthday, and we went to the Chilean wine and food 'tour', led by a husband and wife pair of Chilean experts vis--vis their daughter, who has lived in Chile for some amount of years. All I knew about Chile was that it was pretty much the entire Pacific coast of South America, penguins live in the south because it is so close to Antarctica, and ExxonMobil just sold a copper mine there to the government. The dishes we prepared in the hands-on class were pretty good – we started with a Chilean torta thingy, pork tenderloin with guacamole and mayonnaise on some type of Chilean bolillo – good. Next was prep for the main course – a corn casserole with browned chicken pieces and empanada meat. The empanada filling had olives and golden raisins in it – I made that. We browned the ground beef in butter, and then drained the fat, and did not use it for anything. I found that odd – I've never browned ground beef in anything but its own fat – we used 4 tbsp. of butter and 2 tbsp. of olive oil. Odd, especially because we didn't reserve the fat+beef tallow for any other use.

Once combined, we seasoned the mixture with about 4 tsp. each of turmeric and this wonderfully aromatic Spanish paprika – smoky, spicy. I've smelled this before, and aside from the normal paprika aromas I described, the stuff has this wonderful aroma I can only describe as dark and wet – it reminds me of the smell of river rocks in the Guadalupe river – the ones that are washed clean in the main channel. They have an earthy, clean smell, and this paprika captures it. Not exactly Food Club!

We had a really great salad of parsley, cilantro, tomato and the mildest white onion, mixed with a little garlic and olive oil. Great, simple flavors. Dessert was a cream and egg custard, not nearly as sweet as Crme Brulee, made with half-and-half and mixed with stovetop caramel (sugar solution mixed continuously in a small skillet over an open flame until it 'caramelizes' or turns brown. This made for a darker, richer tasting custard.

Wine was good, not fantastic. Chilean wines are ridiculously cheap – the most expensive was vintage (2001?), had really complex flavor, and was something like $20. The name escapes me. I'll have to post another entry about the wines and the stuff I learned about buying Chilean wines, the various producing regions and D.O. ratings. Food-wine pairing was forced, nothing really went magnificently well with anything else, except for the white (which admittedly, goes well with everything). In fairness, I don't think the wine was really meant to go with the food anyway, since the wine tasting was focused on introducing us to varieties we can get at Kroger but aren't the mainstream Chilean producers.

All in all, a fun experience, and a good introduction to the Sur La Table courses. I definitely want to do one of these hands on courses again, and maybe try something similar at Central Market. Not for the uncomfortable in the kitchen, though – all of us, save for one, were experienced cooks, and we were expected to just kind of grab and go on the recipes, with the help of the assistants. The one novice ended up helping with the salad, and that's about it. Instructional hands on might be better if I book something with Jaime.

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