Category Archives: eGullet

Nurture My Pig…

 

Basically the coolest possible mural...

 
This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a pretty cool event at the soon to open butcher shop- Local Pig…it was the first in a series of pig butchery classes sponsored by Slow Foods Kansas City and taught by Chef and Owner of Local Pig, Alex Pope. The series will go from nose to tail, and this weekend’s instruction focused on the head….braised cheeks, guanciale made from the jowls, pork stock and headcheese created from boiling the trimmed head. On the way there, I couldn’t get a recent Portlandia skit out of my head….possibly the most brilliant one I’ve seen thus far….where everything was just like it was “back in the 90’s”….the 1890’s. Butchering, canning, pickling, microbrewing, handlebar moustaches, and the excessive amount of untrimmed facial hair that is a requirement these days for that “hillbilly hipster” look. Actually, you can’t ding Kansas City too much for getting back to a time where anyone who doesn’t live here in “flyover country” apparently assumes still exists…just like it did back in the 1890’s.
 

The key to a magical afternoon in a young man's life...

This is my pig head. There are many like it but this one is mine.

I have never, and will never, apologize for my enthusiasm for the Kansas City food scene. I don’t care where you are from, if I’m your guide in this town you will eat food that impresses you.  We’ve been getting more and more much deserved press over the past few years, to the point where travel shows and publications don’t immediately feature Stroud’s and Bryant’s and then trundle onward. This is the point at which, if I were a real food blogger, I’d cite all kinds of goddamn examples…but that is not my milieu, my site is more like a teenage girl’s diary. The recognition is due, in large part, to the fact that we have amazing farmers and chefs in the area who are starting to put a hell of a dent in the Sysco Foods, stripmall chain dining that is typical in a town where eating out is a major pastime. Local, sustainable, farm to table, seasonal, artisanal, organic…if I’m leaving out any annoyingly overused terms let me know. But it’s true, we’ve got all that shit and we have an abundance of industry professionals who maximize what is available. As far as this weekend’s event is concerned, we drift on back to the 1890’s to a quaint storefront, down a quiet road past an industrial area that has GOT to have about fifteen “It puts the lotion in the basket!” style kill rooms dotting the landscape as well as the bar from “The Accused”….I’m not kidding you. It’s fucked up. It doesn’t scare me or anything, I’ve lived in worse, and I’m a Buford Pusser style badass. I’d open a bar down there and call it “The Cadaver Dog”. I would take payment in human ears. And the only song on the jukebox would be “Goodbye Horses”.

Class #1 down, three to go....cannot wait for the grand opening.

 

Cool storefront...

 

The front counter and meat case...

 

Looking back into the kitchen and workspace...

 

The "wish list", I am personally wishing they'd put Pad Thai Pate at the top of the list

 

In addition to meat products, they'll offer different salts, rubs, spices, nuts and house infused honeys...

 
 
Offal and charcuterie are two of my favorite things…ever. I kid you not. Even shitty stuff…..I’ll eat the hell out of that horrible braunschweiger in the orange-yellow tube from Price Chopper, canned deviled ham, I’ve never met a cheap piece of pepperoni I didn’t love. They could just come up with a line of processed meats called “GOUT” and I’d be the first in line to try it. SO WHEN I GET AHOLD OF THE GOOD STUFF…..watch out. This is another point at which, if I were an actual food writer, I’d give you the rundown of all of our local sausage makers, artisanal charcuterie gurus, and tie it all together with some historical info and a humorous anecdote or two….but again…LAZY! Justus Drugstore’s Farmer’s Platter, as well as whatever the guys at The Rieger have on the current menu, and most recently the sweet goodness at 715 are all examples of must-try charcuterie as well as nose to tail cooking in general. Different textures all in one bite, unctuousness, richness…there just isn’t anything like it. So when I showed up at Local Pig for our class, it was nice to find that our hosts had gone above and WAY beyond to guarantee us some quality deliciousness…..and they have scratch and sniff business cards.
 
 

Grass fed beef meatballs and guanciale...with a touch of tablescape.

 

Another shot of the food, it was way beyond what I expected for classroom snacks.

 

The money shot....if it doesn't excite and entice you, then it's because you have a rotten soul.

 

I’ve been to a bunch of different events attended BY Chef Pope, but I don’t think I’d ever eaten any of his food before Saturday… never ate at R Bar and didn’t go to either of the Vagabond pop-ups. So I won’t do the annoying high school girl foodie blogger social butterfly name-droppy oneupsmanship thing. But I will say, he was a hell of a nice guy, a great host, and it is obvious the man is very serious and dedicated to his latest venture. And it is always fun to watch someone butcher purely from muscle memory. The class moved swiftly, and was very informative in a way that…if you HAD questions about the basics they would be happily and thoroughly answered, but the assumption was that you came to the table with SOME knowledge and you weren’t eeked out by the carving of meat. I will say that was one thing that will bring me back for the rest of the series….Alex is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic instructor, but the class isn’t geared towards the biggest dumbass in the room like many, many…okay nearly 100% of cooking classes seem to be structured (go roll with the Coffee Klatch contingent out at The Culinary Institute of Kansas City…sweet baby Jesus, the instructors deserve medals and all the oxycontin they can eat).  With it being a Slow Foods KC event, it was a good crowd and pretty much everyone I spoke with was really cool. I know that if he is as successful in this venture as I predict he will be, there will be many, many classes geared towards “The Ladies Who Lunch” in Alex’s future, and for that I applaud him because I realize that patience with morons translates into dollars in the restaurant world. As a different kind of moron myself, I have had to count on that level of kindness. BUT I could never be in the service industry unless there was a need for someone who could make the impatience of the late great Tom Macaluso look positively restrained and precocious in comparison. He was famous for ringing no-call-no-show customers at 1am to let them know everyone at the restaurant was worried sick about them and that their table was still waiting. On a bad night, I could see myself taking a more direct approach, like John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, wailing away on that new Corvette…”Do you see what happens, Larry? Do you see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass???”….sure, I’d be a local hero and I could count on my service industry compadres happily chipping in to post bail, but long story short- I don’t belong in that world. I leave the hosting and the cooking to the professionals. May God have mercy on their souls.

ANYWAY, here is some carnage…..I won’t go into instructional detail, go and learn this shit for yourself, but it basically goes- cut off the jowls, skin them, cut out the inner and outer cheeks, make stock with what remains on the head, make headcheese with the chopped up bits and the stock, rub the jowls down with a spice mixture and cure them in the fridge for guanciale, and braise the cheeks.

Lots of meat in that head! I know, that IS what she said!

 

This will take some serious practice, jowls are one thing but getting the inner and outer cheeks will be pure trial and error.

 

Important note: You must skin your jowls, I think...I plan on it anyway. Because no matter how hard you try, it's tough to get those pigs shaved closely enough.

 

This is what a workspace should look like.

 

Guanciale and braised cheeks-to-be

 

Pork stock...first batch you make is with the whole head, sans jowls and cheeks, and then you recook it with all of the meat for headcheese, and THEN you have this...reduce at will.

 

Chopping the chilled meat that will go into the headcheese.

 

The meat for the headcheese is chopped up and ready for the spice mixture....

 

Then a curry blend was added, along with the hot stock and was portioned out for carryout treats....

 
 Now, anyone who has ever read any of my stuff knows one thing…no matter how normal I sound compared to many of my rants, although I’ve been pretty well behaved here, there is no way I’m letting anything out on the web without “share-proofing” it. I have to address the blessing and the curse of social media as it relates to our food community. I’m totally proud of my town, and I’m not one of those over-protective “as soon as people know about it, it’s not cool anymore” pretentious assholes. That said, the popularity of damn near anything brings with it the “great dumbing down for mass consumption and maximum profitability”.  I’ve got a million examples from Paula Deen and pop-up thermometers on turkey to “street tacos” now available at Taco Bueno and those pans where a red dot appears to let you know the goddamn thing is hot.  But here is a favorite of mine….Greek fucking yogurt.  I guess Greek was just easier to fit on the package than “Hey dumbass, we drained it. It has less water. So between that and the cool marketing we charge you more.  We know your ass isn’t going to go and find some fucking cheesecloth to drain your own…so HA HA HA!”. 

Social media and the millions of food blogs allow whatever is new (or OLD recently made new once again) to be pounced upon with extreme prejudice…it’s not enough to know where your favorite food truck is going to be parked, you have to track it on an app via GPS.  The chocolate Boulevard Beer debacle….fortunes made and reputations tainted within hours.  While I don’t see Local Pig needing security to keep the throngs of Twits in line, I am sure there will soon be specific products that will disappear minutes after they are available.  No harm no foul there, again, I’m not venturing into possessive mode….the whole thing just speaks to the ultra-modern desperation to leverage that 1890’s goodness. We want it to be authentic and artisanal, but we also demand that it be available immediately and in an unlimited supply. 

 Another thing that has fascinated me over the past couple of years, in a town this size dealing with overblown and sometimes unrealistic expectations in regard to foodie hipsterness, is the parasitic relationship between expat foodies and the native malcontents.  I use the term “foodie” negatively here, because I just don’t like it….”foodie” is what someone who doesn’t really know about food has to use to describe themselves in order for everyone to know it’s their thing. It’s like someone with an honorary degree insisting you call them “Dr.”, or the whole “Life Coach” concept…the shit that Napoleonic complexes are made from.  You know, the “maestro” episode of Seinfeld. I like to eat at local restaurants, buy local products and cook like a madman.  If I’m too cool for ANYTHING, it’s calling myself a “foodie”….if you HAVE to put a fucking name on it, then I’d prefer something like “Stud Powercock” or “Consumptive Whore”. 

 So…the expat foodies…those people who have come from much larger metropolitan areas and can never pass up an opportunity to point out why whatever we have that manages to be edible is still not nearly as good as the worst version in the magical land from whence they come.  I’m convinced that these people just couldn’t hack it in the big city, and if we knew the real truth about their foodie exploits in that town it would be like finding out that the alleged former football hero at work who won’t shut up about the good old days was actually the kid who showered in his underwear after riding the bench at every game. Nobody who actually knows anything has to talk that much shit.  If it were not for their parasitic twin, the native foodie malcontent, they may actually shut the fuck up at some point. But no, the malcontents keep them well fed with an inferiority complex that they must assume is shared, or should be, by everyone in this town. EXAMPLE:  Whenever there is an article or online discussion about the availability of vegetarian food in Kansas City the expats will predictably chime in with the usual shit about their hometown, and I can forgive that to a point, it’s the one thing they’ve got.  But those other dicks, who are FROM here are so quick to pile on….and it’s always framed in an incredibly patronizing and self aggrandizing manner….”unfortunately Kansas City isn’t as ENLIGHTENED as the more PROGRESSIVE cities with which I am intimately familiar”.  Yes, intimately familiar. When you consulted your Zagat’s NYC to look up “vegetarian restaurants” before your three day choir trip, there were four pages of listings in Manhattan alone. When you looked up Zagat rated “vegetarian restaurants” in Kansas City, they didn’t even list Fud yet….just Eden Alley and Bluebird Bistro…which sent you into a spiral because the two places listed by Zagat’s weren’t broken out into fifteen subcategories like NYC.  The height of unenlightenment.  Zagat’s, Yelp, and pouting at Outback Steakhouse because you won’t venture two miles from home…that’s your wheelhouse. Even the stupid expat realizes you’re a fucking retard, but you’re the only lackey they’ve got, so they live with it.

 So there you go….Local Pig is opening soon and you need to check it out, and social media is key in turning assholes into major assholes.  I think I’ve got some stuff coming up that may be of interest…as I’m sure I already mentioned I’ll be learning how to make povitica, I’ll go back to some classic religious ranting when I share the tale of the Church At My Grandma’s House, hopefully spring will be here sooner than later, AANNNNNDDD I’m going to buy a meal for anybody who will assist me in doing some site updates here.  Mainly want to get stuff categorized to make it more user friendly, find a better editor than what WordPress gives me, eye-friendly layouts, fonts, that kind of shit….I really don’t get enough traffic to warrant anything major, but if nothing else I need to be more web savvy when it comes to writing/publishing software. AND if that Santorum dipshit gets any more sway he’s going to need his own page on here…..if you’ve been with me for a while you remember 2008…..
 
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Filed under Charcuterie, Chef Alex Pope, Crossroads Art District, culture, eGullet, Farm to Table, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Local Pig Kanas City, Paradise Locker Meats, Slow Foods Kansas City

715- Lawrence, Kansas…

                                                                                                                                                                    

So we all know how this works, I have fun reliving some gratuitous crap that is loosely related to the real subject of the post, and once I’m feeling fully entertained I get around to doling out information on a meal or meals that just leaves you wishing I was the type of dick who won’t let anyone at the table take a bite until I get a picture….”Oh, oh, hold up that butter, I didn’t get a shot of all the butters…WHO TOOK A BITE FROM THE COMPOUND BUTTER!?!?!…Oh man, now I’m going to have to come back here again to get a shot of that BUTTER!  I can’t post ANY of this until I can account for all the buuuttterrrrrs…..if I were my father I’d beat the shit out of ALL OF YOU!”.  Trust me, the schtick is starting to bug me too…it was cool the first half dozen times, now I’m just sounding like any other formulaic food blogger with the possible exception being my implied goal of  consistently low readership.  I’m not out to be edgy or underground, this is the way I actually talk and I genuinely enjoy talking about food related topics. At the same time I have to include stuff that amuses me enough to stay excited about writing anything, and how all of THAT peripheral bullshit fits into the formula is this- I would honestly feel bad if at some point some chef or owner stumbled upon one of my reviews on the interwebs and forwarded or reposted it without first noticing a phrase like “In my confused brain, the juxtaposition of the icy sorbet and the piping hot broth forced me to imagine what it would be like to be a young lady subjected to dueling Jekyll and Hyde ObGyn’s….COLD speculum-WARM speculum-COLD speculum-WARM speculum…..”.   All across Johnson County, scores of Yelpers who were trying to decide between eating at Mestizo and jamming an emery board into their urethra would see THIS jumble of shit and be like…”Hey HON, is it good or bad when the review mentions vagina tools?  I’m so confused now.”  So yeah, I just blow any chance of an actual self-respecting human in the industry counting this shit as “Media” right up front…it entertains me and at the same time it is polarizing enough to let people decide if MY speculum is too hot, too cold or juuuusst right.

So anyway……

I went to some shows at the Outhouse when I was a kid, but it probably wasn’t until around 1991 that I started visiting Lawrence with any regularity….trips to Yello Sub, first run indie flicks like Slacker at Liberty Hall, Love Garden Records…typical fare.  One of the most memorable trips that pretty much set the tone for the next several years happened when I was still an associate pastor in KCK.  I was with our senior pastor officiating a funeral somewhere down near LaCygne.  It was a Friday and I was supposed to be all the way out in Lawrence later that afternoon because a bunch of us were going to see Throwing Muses at The Bottleneck.  Normally, it would be a no-brainer even though we were an hour from home….funerals generally went pretty quickly.  This one got a little complicated when it was discovered that the grave had been dug in the wrong spot, so we had to wrangle the funeral director to confirm the correct plot and then wrangle the guy who ran the backhoe.  This was out in the country in a little country cemetery, the lady who had passed away was an older member in our church and in addition to being the clergy I had to be a pallbearer because there weren’t enough able bodied men to carry the casket.  That fact made me feel bad. What made me feel worse was that I’d done enough funerals to learn about caskets, and these folks had to go with the cheapest possible casket…the silver-greyish felt covered model. And what made me feel even worse than THAT was when we had to set that cheap casket down on the ground and leave it there in the open while we went to sort things out.  So long/depressing story short, they located the right plot and we all stood around as the thunderously loud backhoe ripped up the ground to make room for a little old lady in a cheap casket. 

And it is against that backdrop that I DID make it to Lawrence in time for Throwing Muses.  It was a good show, it was dollar well drink night, and I think I drank about twenty five or thirty rot gut vodka tonics before I had to run out to the car and throw up in the parking lot for the last half hour or so of the show.  That night began a pretty solid tradition of getting so drunk that upon arrival at home I went ahead and slept in the car. For many years, when the question “Where in the hell is Jerry?” was asked the next morning, the reply was often “Did you check the car?”.  Correct answer eight times out of ten.  You are indeed reading this correctly- pastor by day, party animal by night.  That trend lasted for almost a couple of years, at which time I moved to Minneapolis to attend Bible College…then the REALLY crazy shit began….

Since I’m on the subject of getting wasted in Lawrence, I simply MUST bring up what is quite possibly the greatest establishment in the history of lawless redneck counties situated next to a college town….Little Reno’s Paradise Saloon.  Way, WAY too many crazy stories about that place to fit into a food review that takes place fifteen or twenty years later, but I will say…..as a man who ran an adult bookstore for several years and had the misfortune of knowing a LOT of strippers, the Paradise Saloon was the best of the best.  Three dollar drinks, five dollar lap dances, tons of girls, no laws of any kind, and a psychotic bouncer named Meatloaf who loved nothing more than taking misbehaving frat boys out into the parking lot and braining them with his mag-light.  Seriously, it got bad enough that even the Reno sheriff finally said cut it out.  I burned out on strip clubs a very long time ago. They are pretty sad places. But THAT establishment was beautiful.

Of course this is where I could construct a bridge with the cute local girls stripping their way through college  on THAT side, attractive young guys and gals hauling food to older men with mag-light imprints on their forehead on THIS side….too much work.  Back then it was getting our Yello Sub delivery driver buddy stoned for free food, and truckloads of cheap pizza.  Yello Sub remained a constant through the years, and I still love Planet Sub, but at some point life progressed to a point where I could put Lidia’s into the rotation (several lost years prior to the Lidia’s phase, and what a great story that will make once I know more about statutes of limitations), and my regular server there turned me onto Pachamama’s…..for whatever reason, that habit did not survive the move from their original location.  And my dining habits took quite a hit during my last relationship….after attaching myself to a mortgage and moving her in, I was quickly informed that it is the man’s responsibility to be the provider….downhill quickly, etc. etc., flash forward, sobriety, marriage, gravy train with biscuit wheels, yada yada and 715 became the place to check out.

So finally, here we are.  Long story short, after three visits, 715 is an official member of “the rotation”.  It only took 2 visits to make it into the coveted spot, the third trip on Saturday night was just an excuse to go and try some more food.  Even though comparing 715 and The Rieger would be like comparing apples and POV porn, henceforth we’ll refer to it as our “Rieger West”.  The Rieger is like an extended family to us at this point, but considering the mutual love the respective chefs and staff all share, and the extreme high quality of food and service at both restaurants, we’re happy to have them ALL onboard. 

715 is a place that is serious enough about sourcing great products to transcend what is quickly becoming an overused cliché….”farm to table”….it’s the new organic.  The menu is always changing, some days hurt worse than others when I see a daily special that reminds me I’m too lazy to drive to Lawrence on a random Wednesday.  Chef Michael Beard and his crew do food correctly….solid products are given the respect they deserve by dedicating the time it takes to maximize flavor.  You don’t have to go fucking around with food very much when you start with that solid of a baseline.  So first and foremost we have the time and thought that goes into making dishes work on all levels…major “rotation” material.  While I don’t generally count it as a make or break component, the restaurant itself is a great space and that sure as hell does not hurt.  Sure, a nice restaurant in Lawrence is a pretty big douche magnet…former frat jocks who think they’re funny holding a server hostage with a very bad and overused “We have a complaint!” joke, and the cartoonishly thin and stiff turquoise jewelry wearing Portlandia extras who…do…not….stop it with the “Unless you’re in academia it’s hard to understand blah blah blah…..true, oh very true as far as a career in academia…..leave it to academia!….ACADEMIA!!!”.  But hey, I’m thankful for annoying fuckers because they help me narrow down the list of people I want as friends.

Almost as important as the food, an element that is absolutely, 100% mandatory for any restaurant I’d consider as a regular destination….the pride and shared sense of ownership in the front of the house.  We’ve had consistently great service, but if you know me I’m a very, very loyal sonofabitch when I find “my server”…if they are working, I’ll wait for a table in their section if I have to.  And I’m not looking to have my ass kissed, or the hottest hottie, or anything like that…I just want someone who is personable, knows the food, loves the food, is fun to get to know, no cheap waiter tricks, and has enough actual opinions to help guide my decisions as I piece together the best possible meal.  That type of service is critical, I would never, ever be a regular anywhere I could not find it (Mostly talking about mid and upper tier dining…they could throw shit at my head at places like Vietnam Café and I’d still go. Thankfully they do not…).

What I lack in actual writing skill I more than make up for in word count. Taking the time to read all of THIS is an impressive feat. But that shit aside, here is the laundry list of food to the best of my recollection….Sunday Brunch, then apps from 2 visits, entrees and desserts in the same manner….

Beverages– I can’t say enough about how much I love tasty non-alcoholic options…715’s Lavender Vanilla Cream Soda is almost like a dessert, but it is damn fine.  And while I love the “burn my face off” effect a big glass of very lightly diluted Ginger Green Tea Soda at the Rieger has more than anything, the lighter version of Ginger Soda with bits of pulp in it at 715 is a winner too.   My wife has tried a couple of the cocktails and really liked them, but my boring ass cannot speak to their deliciousness.  I don’t drink, but if I still did, none of those cocktails are straight bourbon, so what the fuck good are they?

Smoked Trout Bruschetta– got this during our first visit, Sunday brunch.  Great flakey, house smoked fish with all of the nice little accompaniments.

Pastrami Hash– another brunch dish, pretty hearty, house cured, all that jazz. The first good example of the price being misleading…wasn’t counting on a trucker portion for the money. Big score.

Fried Rabbit and Waffles–  I obviously had to get this for my main at brunch….I mean, it’s fried rabbit and waffles. Front and back quarters breaded and fried up pretty perfectly, and another massive meat missile.  Seriously, for anyone who eats here and does the whole “I expected to get more food for the money”….you need some serious self-examination. Your rotted soul is leaving an empty space where you cram food.

Aranciniarborio rice, stracchino cheese and ragu, served with marinara and hot calabrian chile oil–  this is where stuff really started to get interesting…during our first Saturday night visit. Brunch was good enough to get us back there, but here is where the real show began.  This version of arancini was somewhere between baseball and softball sized, which is no small feat since you need to get it hot all the way through to get a good melt on the cheese without burning the crispy breaded exterior.  I defy you to find anything wrong with deep fried balls of rice, cheese and meat sauce.   The Calabrian chile oil is really something else….I sat there for most of the evening thinking of different  applications for it.  Just the right amount of heat and a ton of flavor.  I will be putting in an order online at Taylor’s Market soon for an array of Calabrian chile goods.

Red Wattle ‘Surryano’2 year dry aged hoof-on pork leg– You order this by the ounce, and on the advice of our server we only got one ounce to  share which ended up being the perfect amount.  My wife goes “oh man, country ham”….she pretty much nailed it.  It is damn good, a lot of flavor and I actually much prefer the texture over far more expensive imported hammy products like Prosciutto.

Lamb Chips w/lemon, parsley and parm– Lamb balls…no mystery here, the awesome photo on 715’s Facebook page put this dish on my radar and was part of the reason we headed out there.  Sliced, breaded, fried….great texture, mild, went very well with the chile oil left over from the arancini. Definintely needs more sharpness of some kind…a few capers in with the lemon and parsley maybe.

Soppresata, Pate, Mortadella Sampler– One thing I need to follow up on here is the Soppressata, I usually think of it as just salami, on the menu it lists it as headcheese, the chunky fattiness definitely says headcheese but it’s sliced thin as hell like salami…just a Basilicata vs. Toscana thing here and I’ve somehow never sampled the latter?  Who gives a shit, the flavor and texture is just dynamite.  This little plate really did end up being one of the best representations of housemade charcuterie I’ve eaten in the KC area.  The flavor and texture of the mortadella was outstanding as well, and the depth of flavor with some spicy sweetness in the pate made it stand way, way out from others I’ve eaten.  Across the board, solid as hell.  To be honest, I’d prefer to just eat the housemade stuff vs. the La Quercia products listed along with them.  La Quercia is obviously fucking phenomenal, but I’m more about the rustic flavor profiles.

Fried Livers– Obscene and total false advertising.  You can’t go and list these fucking things as “fried chicken livers” and then only charge about eight bucks without giving motherfuckers some warning. It’s like back in the day at Sanderson’s when they’d wheel out the world’s largest tenderloin for unsuspecting newbies. Crazy shit.  I will eat any chicken liver any time…from gross and overcooked specimens under the lamp at a prepared foods counter to Go Chicken Go, and everything in between.  For the sake of brevity- huge and batter fried, best livers ever, enough for 4 people.  If I had to make one improvement it would be to maybe throw in some lemon slices or some kind of vinegar based something…..no complaints though, the Calabrian chile oil aioli was fiiine.

FegaloTuscan liver sausage with braised sweet onions, golden raisins and white balsamic– That was one tasty burger patty.  A juicy patty of caulfat wrapped goodness. Really, really rich, minerally, fatty, crisp exterior, heavy dark spices, sweetness, sharp vinegar…ultimate, ultimate dish for a thirty degrees below zero day.  Assuming we ever see another one of those. JINX!

Rabbit RavioliRare Hare Barns rabbit confit over homemade parsnip and goat cheese puree ravioli–  Very solid example of well made ravioli…the pasta was thin enough and the amount of filling was perfect in accentuating both components. The shredded rabbit meat on top was an added bonus.  I really need to try more pasta dishes in the future…so far so good there.

Tilefishseared and served with farro salad, grilled radicchio, watercress and red wine vinegar– You’ve got your fatty liver sausage over there, your light grouper-y seared and roasted filet on this side.  And honestly, the fish dish was strong enough to contend with everything else, the farro, veg and vinegar combo was a very welcome change of pace and stood out. Believe it or not, I’m not ALWAYS in the mood for an overload of animal fat, so it is important that the fish options be worthy of a visit all by their lonesome.

Pork Confit and Spaetzleseared pork belly with chive spaetzle, duck fat seared apples, watercress, fennel and walnuts– I know my 3,000 word reviews are punishing, BUT with this dish we have to go back to last month’s “gay jock hate crime of love” topic. This pork was right at that line, and I have to find out more about the order of preparatory events here….I’ve eaten many times my weight in pork belly, I do a passable version of a Thomas Keller recipe at home, but this rendition took all of the best things about the myriad examples I’ve tried and managed to blend them all into one little package. Salty cure, warm and melty fat, meaty texture, crisp exterior.  I don’t know if it’s the exact same thing that goes into the pork belly salad, I haven’t tried that yet, but I will say…this is something you have to try.  I am never wrong about pork.

Soppressata Pizza– This is what gets the most talk from the 715 fans I’ve spoken with, and it is damn good. You get that headcheese melted down into a pizza and you are on the road to success. Great crust, right ratio of meat/sauce/cheese, seasoned just right, good crispiness giving way to that micro-layer of tongue cauterizing heat. AND it travels well.  We’ll try each of them before all is said and done.

7-Layer Honey Cake– My wife is the dessert fan, and she went crazy for this. I love a good dessert, this one was delicious, but I what I loved and respected most was the construction…very impressive….now that I can do a decent macaron I want to learn how to do this multi-layered rustic entreme thingy.

Sticky Date Cake– Oh, you have to try this and that is no bullshit. This is the type of thing that prompts me to always at least TRY dessert at a new place….for such a small and unassuming little dish it’s a freakin’ monster. Date cake, toffee sauce, ice cream, get it inside you. It’s a world beater.

Lastly, pricewise it’s the kind of place where you can go any direction. We went full-bore with our first dinner there and still barely hit our benchmark $100 tab, which is usually exactly what we spend at Justus, The Rieger, Lidia’s, etc.  Last Saturday we dropped that by ¼ and STILL had way more food than we could ever finish….so honestly, a couple of apps, a shared entrée and a dessert would probably be the perfect amount of food and would make regular “non-date night” visits very doable.  I love the constant Facebook updates that keep me informed of specials, because I am exactly the type of crackhead to make the drive from Parkville on a whim.

SOOO….after thousands of words about one goddamn place, I will shut up after saying- I realize sometimes that my glowing comments make me sound like a Johnson County housewife who never gets to see daylight, but I only usually talk about the places I REALLY like.  So I hope the fact that I know I will never make money on any of this, and the fact that I can (for the most part) eat wherever I want lends some weight to my enthusiasm.  You find a good local place with a solid philosophy, putting out thoughtful food with an emotionally invested team, and you make sure the people on your short list of friends knows to get the fuck over there asap.  I’m not a food critic, I don’t want to potentially mess with anyone’s livelihood just so I can bitch about bad soup, and I’m too lazy to put myself on a schedule with all of this.  This time it’s 715, next time it will be my first experience learning how to make Povitica from a lifelong master, then I’m sure I’ll have some really good fundamentalist-related shit as soon as I’m sure it won’t cause collateral damage, etc. etc.

Now it’s back to my email campaign to get TLC to change the name of “Toddlers and Tiaras” to “WOW! Your Six Year Old is a WHORE!”…..

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Filed under 715 Restaurant, Charcuterie, Crossroads Art District, Crossroads Social Club, culture, eGullet, Farm to Table, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Home Cooking, homemade, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Lawrence Kansas, Michael Beard, Paradise Locker Meats

Best Food of 2011…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 “My son is a homosexual and I love him…..I love my dead gay son!”

 Oh yeah, let’s open this with one of the classics.  It always struck me as strange when Patrick Labyorteaux stripped off his shirt how weirdly fat and muscular he looked at the same time. His core was like a chubby triangle. Great movie, Heathers.  And whenever I think of the most awesome, inspirational bites of food in my life, my mind immediately goes to that awkward funeral….and then to Brokeback Mountain….and then to some Lifetime PSA movie that doesn’t even exist.  This phenomenon is new to me as of this year, after a single bite of food that I will eventually get around to talking about.  But first I must elaborate upon a rating system that I touched on during my trip to DC…..

 2011 was a MONSTER food year, and my rating system is this- If I didn’t like it, unless it was REALLY horrible, you just don’t ever hear me talk about it. I’m not a food critic, I’m not going to bore you with all of the shit that is wrong with a place unless I get poisoned or physically threatened.  If I like it, but I’m not going to rush right back, you may or may not hear me mention it….The Farmhouse here in KC comes to mind as an example. Good food, I’d throw it out there as a recommendation, it’s worth a second and third try at some point, it’s just not going to break into our dinner rotation.  Then there are the restaurants and single dishes that I LOVE….and in the past year you’ve heard me talk about most of those.  I am always trying new places, but I’m a creature of habit.  If I truly love a place, it makes it into “the rotation”….no small feat. Then we go there all the time, and you get totally fucking sick of my Facebook updates from that point forward.

 But THERE IS a personal rating I possess that makes all of the Michelin stars in the world totally superfluous dogshit in comparison…..and THAT rating, which came to me straight from God in the middle of a single bite of food (which I WILL eventually get around to talking about) is….”Gay Jock Hate Crime of Love”.  Or as it will be referred to from this point forward, GJHCOL.  For the uninitiated I am going to break it down for you in a way that will unsettle you like a burp that smells so bad you think you may need to see a doctor.  With that said, I am obviously in no way advocating actual hate crimes if a bite of food sends you over the top.  My brain is just kind of fucked up, and this is how extreme sensory input and my grey matter have to talk to each other if they want to get my attention.

So anyway….in a vision it came to me…..  We are all familiar with those horrible zero budget Oxygen type movies that highlight something that was a relevant issue two years ago.  They always star Meredith Baxter Birney and some twenty five year old actor who is being passed off as the troubled teenage jock or the bulimic princess.  Well, in THIS movie it’s the jock, complete with his awesome letter jacket where he hides his secret smokes a la Greg Brady. But this jock has another, much bigger secret. FLASH FORWARD!  It’s the end of the football season, and the awkward semi-secret newly formed friendship he has developed with a yell leader (even though they’ve been neighbors forever…long story) transforms into an emotional bond that finally reaches its logical conclusion one night when they are in the gym putting some equipment back into the closet (the director had to throw some real softballs out there imagery-wise, Oxygen watchers are pretty goddamn stupid). Long story short, a “hey man…I never told you how much it meant to me when you…taught me how to read” confession turns into a long embrace, which turns into some very consensual kissing, shirts off, no Laboryteaux doughboys though, they are totally ripped, aaaannnnnd….love story turns to TRAGEDY!   With hot tears streaming and snot bubbles the size of grapefruits, the jock suddenly backs away as if struck by lightning.  He begins to emit an “Eeeee…eeeee…EEEEE” noise like that dude who was banging Forrest Gump’s mom, time stands still and the barometric pressure in the immediate vicinity changes so rapidly their ears begin to pop.  In a fit, he rains very vicious yet still ineffective blows down upon the object of his affection…the camera panning away as his conflicted, soul-cauterizing wails continue to boom throughout the halls. Then we fade in to Meredith Baxter Birney, quietly crying as she sits on his bed, wondering aloud what she could have done to help her son who now sits in the county jail….YEAH, maybe a little more understanding from YOUR sorry ass when you forced him to play football after finding him rifling through your makeup drawer and this would aalllll be different….not every child is as perfect as your precious Alex Keaton, whore.

Lots of restaurants, lots of food to cover, but that whole scenario is what flew through my brain after one bite of the following menu item.  “I HATE this thing….I LOVE this thing….I do NOT KNOW HOW TO FEEL SO I MUST DESTROY!  DESTROY!!! BUT OH MY GOD I LOVE IT SO! Eeeee….eeeeee…EEEEEE!!!” 

Categories are out of order, photos are spotty at best, and not everything I talk about will be “gay jock hate crime of love” good….but this little fucker was:

Best Bite of the Year- the Foie Gras BLT at Eola, Wash. DC

The only bad thing about this dish is the photo.  Bacon cured foie gras with a tomato-madeira concoction inside of truffled brioche. As God is my witness, this is one of the richest, most delicious bites of food….ever.  I mean, it spawned “GJHCOL”, just out of the blue.  If you love offal, you will love Eola. So much good shit, go back and read my DC reviews.

Best “It’s a Classic For a Reason, Dumbass”- Citronelle, Wash. DC

I’m not including Citronelle because it’s insanely expensive and I got my ass royally kissed….this place gave me a double whammy of GJHCOL back to fucking back.  First was the Blanquette of Nantucket Bay Scallops..tons of butter and the most perfect little scallops I’ve ever eaten…slight caramelization on the tops, translucent in the center.  Then the death blow- Halibut with saffron lobster sauce….the sauce was the thing…beyond lobster stock, saffron and butter I do not know what all was in there, but it was probably the best sauce of any kind I have eaten in my life.

Best “Where In the FUUUUCCKK Did This Place Come from?”- The Corn Exchange, Rapid City, SD

 

The Corn Exchange was an absolute surprise shot between the eyes as far as food and service.  I’d read great reviews, and it was the only “fine dining” option within a few hundred miles of where we were staying in Deadwood that sounded worthwhile.  As with most of these “best of’s”, for more info consult the original write-ups, but I will say….the young people on staff had incredible training and if they so desire will be able to go on to work at ANY high-end establishment in any major U.S. city. Their enthusiasm for the restaurant was as enjoyable as the food. And the food…if you’re anywhere near the area, I give it my highest recommendation.  Above I’ve featured their corn pancake topped with smoked salmon just to give you something to look at.

Best “I Feel Bad for Having to Tell My Local Chefs About It”-  Crab Pasta at The Boiler Room, Omaha, Neb.

The handcut tajarin with peekytoe crab at The Boiler Room was the best pasta dish I’d eaten since I dined at Quince in San Francisco.  And I’m not throwing that reference out just to sound cool, if you know your shit you know that Quince is the real deal. There are a million little intangibles when it comes to toothy perfection in a pasta, and Chef Kulik just destroys it up in Omaha.  GJHCOL level deliciousness. I shit you not, if I saw it posted on their website menu in the afternoon for that night’s special and I had the time to make it up there, I’d seriously consider a spontaneous trip to Nebraska.  The Boiler Room is the real thing, eat there.

Best “Softshell Crab at The Rieger”- the Softshell Crab at The Rieger, Kansas City, Mo.

I know, this one was a surpise winner in this category.  Your asses all knew The Rieger was going to show up here….just a matter of when and what.  No secret that I now just refer to it as “headquarters”, and I do look forward to softshell season 2012.  I’ve eaten plenty of softshell crabs and THESE…they are special.  But there’s so much good shit at The Rieger I just kind of settled on this dish because our time with it shall always be fleeting.

Best “Recovering Alcoholics are People TOO”- soft drinks at The Rieger and Justus Drugstore, and the Van Verde at Bluestem

Now I know these things weren’t all formulated just for my sorry low-bottom ass, BUT I am forever thankful for delicious and thought provoking non-alcoholic options when I dine out.  The Rieger Kola, pictured above, is just King Motherfucker and that’s the way it is. Flavorwise, it is the killer.  I’ve been opting for the Green Tea Ginger soda more often recently, but I always go back to the Kola.  At Justus you simply choose between savory and sweet when ordering a mocktail, and I promise you whatever you receive will be as incredible as any of their alcoholic drinks….okay, obvious bullshit THERE, but hey, they are still awesome.  And honorable mention absolutely goes out to Van at Bluestem…the no-booze version of the Van Verde with all of its cucumber smoothness is the perfect beginning to a five course meal in the dining room.

“Best Storyline”- Port Fonda

Like The Rieger, here is another place that I’ve ranted and raved about since our first visit to El Comedor on the hottest day of the year….July First Friday.  It has been chronicled here at least twice, but has to be included in my personal best-of for this year.  It got its start early this year and since then has exploded in popularity with dynamite walk-up Mexican street food, and a private dining experience that blows the mercury straight out of any hipster-cache thermometer. Great food, awesome people, and one hell of a story.  With the passing of Starker’s chef and owner John McClure this fall, a huge gap was left in our food scene and the fate of Barrio, the taqueria set to open in Westport in 2012, was unknown.  With the type of loyalty and love that makes me proud to be a KC food nerd, the folks at Port Fonda and McClure’s business partner Dan Doty teamed up and that taqueria is still going to open in the Spring of 2012.  The Port Fonda storyline expands and the collaboration and respect that is shared amongst some of my personal favorite people in this town will continue to be legendary. 

Best “Comfort Food- Redefined”- Vietnam Cafe, Columbus Park

One of the major food groups my wife has been missing badly since she moved up here is Vietnamese.  I took her to one place in the River Market where I’ve eaten for years, and we tried a couple of places that were new to both of us.  After a couple of visits to each of the (unrelated) Vietnam Cafe’s we have in KC, the one in Columbus Park just sucked us in.  Pretty much every chef I know and every friend who loves food has raved about Vietnam Cafe, but I never want to jump on a bandwagon even if I trust your opinion.  The place delivers, and has leap-frogged over restaurants like The Corner when we’re seeking soul warming comfort food. The pho, the rice dishes, the crazy low prices, the insanely fast service and people watching….I NEVER eat quickly anymore but I always find myself hoovering in whatever they put in front of me.  We need zero reason to head over there, so if you have not been….go, dummy.

“Best Way to Guarantee You’ll Need Your Entrees To-Go”- The Italian Nachos at Cascone’s

This dish will go on every “best of” list I do for the rest of my life….totally non-traditional, insanely unhealthy and filling, and absolutely mandatory.  Fried pasta chips, ground Italian sausage, asiago cheese sauce, parmesan, pepperoncini’s, black olives, tomatoes…..the only way you’re going to touch your entree is if you’re eating with at least three other people.  Total stoner bliss, death row meal material, this is something that will remain legendary.

Best “Only Reason to Drink Coffee Other Than My Own”- the espresso at Grunauer

You know me, I roast my own coffee and have for at least a decade. I generally only use beans from Ethiopia or Yemen with the occasional use of Sumatran or Indian Monsooned if a good crop is available. I make my shit STRONG, my regular cup o’ joe will leave the flavor of most espressos in the dust.  But the Meinl espresso they make at Grunauer is probably the single best restaurant coffee I’ve ever had.  Usually if I can even detect coffee flavor when dining out I’ll say it’s “good”…so when I actually get flavor overload, then holy shit, I’ve stumbled upon the beverage version of GJHCOL.  More places like Justus and The Farmhouse are doing French Press these days, and there are many choices for locally roasted beans, but Grunauer’s espresso is far beyond anything else I’ve ordered in KC.

Best “Made Me Wish I Was a PMS’ing Teenage Girl So I Could Truly Appreciate It”- the Christopher Elbow/Port Fonda drinking chocolate collaboration

These crazy fuckers got together and took what is ALREADY a ridiculously rich and flavorful beverage (that you can’t call hot chocolate because it truly is “drinking chocolate”) and took it to the next level.  I’m not a huge chocolate lover, but God in heaven, the addition of what tasted like orange peel and spicy chiles made a believer out of me.  No need to go looking for it, it was a one-time thing as far as I know, and you know it was delicious if I’m not even mentioning the freshly fried churros they served with it.

Best “Yes I Am Aware It’s a Polarizing Place, But the Food is Phenomenal and  My Street Cred is Such that I Can EAT WHEREVER THE FUCK I WANT”- Justus Drugstore

The title of this award pretty much sums it up.  Do I know diners and restaurant professionals who do not like Jonathan Justus?  Oh yeah. Absolutely. But until I hear stories about him poisoning Tylenol bottles or happily serving Rick Perry or Sarah Palin, I will continue to be a fan. The man puts out some consistently thoughtful and well-executed food. It is rare for my wife and I to spend a thirty minute car ride combing over the finer points of the meal we just ate, and more often than not that’s what happens after our meal there. And the service….excellent.  If you know me, you know the only chef’s ring I’m going to kiss in this town is Howard Hanna’s, and that’s only because we have the same wedding band….I don’t fall for the fanboy bullshit.  If the food was not top notch I wouldn’t eat there just to remain in the KC dining elite, much less rave about it.  Anyone who doubts my ability to completely alienate and terrorize a REAL douche of a chef, feel free to consult the local archives. 

 

Best “Who Knew That Shit Went Together?” – the Sweetbreads and Scallops at The Rieger

That’s pretty much it. Who knew?  Two of my favorite foods on the same plate together, both executed individually and perfectly.  If I’m a dumbass for not knowing this is some legendary goddamn Escoffier classic, well then fuck ME…

“Best Reason to Own at Least One Chest Freezer”- Paradise Locker Meats

I’d say at this point about 85% of the meat we eat comes from Paradise Locker. We are lucky to be able to buy from a place that caters to many, many top tier dining establishments.  Smartest half hour drive ever.  They know their product, and it’s not like Lobel’s… you don’t have to have an upper-east side salary to afford to buy most of your meat there.  Now, it’s not as cheap as your factory farmed grocery store truckload sale selections…..but the trade-off is YOU CAN ACTUALLY TASTE THAT IT’S MEAT!   We are happy to eat a slightly smaller quantity of a much higher quality product, and the selection is varied enough to make it a lot of fun.  It’s a whole circle of life thing…you support a locally owned operation that supports local farms…a meaty and delicious goddamn hippie dream.

Best “Better Late to the Party Than Never”- the radish pods from Crum’s Heirlooms

This was the year we joined our first CSA because it was the first year our favorite farmers (from whom we buy every week during the season ANYWAY) offered one. There were many, many items we loved and lusted over….kohlrabi comes to mind, mountains of kale, RADISHES, tomatoes….but the big one that stuck out due to its uniqueness (and newness to MY clueless ass) was definitely the humble radish pod.  Everthing that is good about a snap pea and spicy radish rolled into one little package.  Eaten alone, on salads….everything about them is good.  Our favorite thing is to mimic a Rieger dish and top a piece of grilled Farm to Market Bread with a salad that features the pods, radishes and greens, all topped with an over-easy egg.  Definitely loving the CSA way of life and the Crum’s are the best…..cannot wait to see what 2012 has in store for us.

“Best Testaments to the Fact That My Kitchen Kung-Fu is Strong”- Macarons and Sous Vide cooking

I’ve featured both of these things on my blog, so I won’t spend a ton of time here.  Mainly just wanted to say that between learning how to successfully make macarons, and bringing sous vide into my regular cooking rotation, I feel like a pretty goddamn accomplished home chef.  Above you’ll see the assorted macaron colors and flavors that were part of my Christmas gift selection for  very lucky recipients this year, and below that is some Ad Hoc fried chicken that was brined and sous vide prior to frying.  Macarons are a bastard to make, sous vide is like falling off a log….and both result in impressive and delicious offerings.  Oh, most recently the 48 hour shortribs (Piedmontese from Paradise Locker, naturally) shot to the top of my best-ever special occasion recipes….or not so special occasion…whenever I have shortribs on hand counts as special.

Best “I Don’t Often Choose to Read, But When I Do It’s About Food…”- Lucky Peach

Yeah, I like reading some gratuitous Bourdain rambles and I worship David Chang as a fellow lover of finely crafted profanity.  And you KNOW YOU’RE COOL when you can drop little nuggets out of THIS publication. Seriously though, a great read, I’m just about done with Issue #2.  Awesome recipes, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  I feel a kindred spirit when reading Lucky Peach, and it forces me to read….something I swore I would never do again after grad school.

Best “Poised for World Domination”- Colby and Megan Garrelts, Bluestem and Trezo Vino

And we will finish this hell-ride up by bringing it all back full circle….folks that took my expectations for fine dining in KC over the top.  Colby has made like forty trips out to NYC to be continually shot down by the James Beard dicks, and Megan has always been like “you all WILL believe that dessert is just as vital a part of your meal as a first course or main”.  Now I don’t know if any of THAT shit is the impetus behind the juggernaut, but they are vivisecting the local scene like a pageant mom with a grudge.  A second restaurant, a third on the way, any and all collateral damage to the flagship addressed with a vengeance, and the greatest thing of all for those of us who have been there since the doors opened….a cookbook (complete with signings and a media blitz that probably includes the outer banks of Siberia for all I know).   I don’t mean this to sound condescending AT ALL, but “watching Bluestem grow up” has been a total joy.  I eat a ton of different places, I always have some current obsession, but I always know that I can go back to Bluestem and get service and food that reminds me why I continually champion the KC food scene.  Well played, demons.

So wasn’t it great how I included the gay jock thing for no real reason and then only made gratuitous references to it throughout this whole mess in order for it not to be completely unnecessary?  Maybe in 2012 I’ll get a totally new yet still homoerotic vision that ventures into the land of the male g-spot….we can only hope and pray for that.

And that’s about all I’ve got….Santa was kind, we’re co-hosting a huge NYE party tomorrow night, and all is well.  Happy New Year, pricks.

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Cascone's, Christopher Elbow, Citronelle, Crossroads Art District, Crossroads Social Club, eGullet, El Comedor, Eola, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, General Thoughts, Health, Healthy Eating, Home Cooking, homemade, Howard Hanna, Justus Drugstore, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Kansas City Star, Lucky Peach, Patrick Ryan, Port Fonda, Recovery, Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange, Sous Vide Supreme, The Boiler Room, The Corn Exchange, Vietnam Cafe, Washing DC Food, Weight Loss, weight loss surgery

The Boiler Room: Omaha, Nebraska

There really isn’t any other way to say it than to just say it….I’ve always been a boob guy. As far back as I can possibly remember, that fact has been a driving force in my life when it comes to my fascination with and admiration for the opposite sex. In this I am not alone, but much of the time we keep it under wraps, limiting it to guy-talks, locker room chats, anonymous bulletin board postings, whatever. I’m just out there with it…Russ Meyer is GOD, Christina Hendricks is the prototype for a collection of perfect Stepford Wives, Victoria’s Secret models are built like ten year old boys……..I know what I like and with very few “which of these is not like the other?” ex-girlfriend exceptions to the rule, it has been a fucking lifelong THEME. A goddamn QUEST! How in the hell my ramblings about my chronic alcoholism have unashamedly and transparently become a running theme before I ever rounded the bend into big-tit country is a total mystery to me. For those of you who know me, this news is as big a revelation as the fact I wear too much Under Armour. I’m not one of those loonies who scour the freaks of science websites that display obvious quality of life issues, there IS such a thing as TOO big….but for me it’s case by fucking case. The algorithm is a work in progress.

And no story from my personal X-Files of cleavage lore would be complete without mentioning the city of OMAHA. For it was in OMAHA that I suffered a harsh life lesson after flying way too close to the sun. It was somewhere around 1994, I had spent most of the five prior years in a sheltered churchy-type social construct, and I was really green. Easy pickin’s for a savvy chick with very big issues and even bigger boobs. This was back when just having basic shit in common with a girl meant you were soulmates….”OH! You read RE/Search Magazine too? What song will we play during the first dance at our wedding??”. This girl, who will remain nameless, worked in a diner my friends and I frequented when I was in Bible College in Minneapolis, and sometime after I quit Bible College and went to the U of M she and I became buddies. What I didn’t realize was that even though we began dating and ultimately did start talking about marriage….I was still in the buddy role, but I was also a good provider for her when she needed a ride, money, place to sleep, shoulder to cry on, or whatever. A pretty girl with a huge rack and extreme body issues……looking back at the shit I put up with for minimal reciprocity is hilarious now. She was originally from Omaha, so we’d bounce back from there to Minneapolis to Kansas City back to Omaha…all dependent upon whatever drama she was suffering at that moment in time. It’s probably why I hate all of the Emo shit now….a bitter reminder of the hopeless pussy I once was. A trendy and fashion-forward lifestyle based on being a whiny doormat who won’t shut the fuck up about how much it impacts your tiny heart is just too much for me to think about. So long story short, THAT shit ended badly and I fled Minneapolis to Kansas City. I drank for a few days, and then I began my journey from my ministry license expiring to running the premiere porn store in all the land.

So OMAHA…I spent a lot of time there. A lot of time wandering around the Old Market back when deciding whether to spend what little cash I had on a Snapple or a pack of smokes counted as a financial dilemna. This is what any self respecting hipster from that era would call the POST-grunge days…..more than ten people outside of Seattle knew about Sub-Pop records, and seeing Urge Overkill live NOW meant you had to go to a larger venue than the neighborhood bar where you first saw them. With Kurt Cobain only having a couple of months to live, it would have been wise to talk to him longer when I met him at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, KS……Soundgarden SUCKED, Pearl Jam SUCKED DICK…..to us they ruined a scene we never would have known about had it not been for them “selling out”. Scoffing at the movie Singles when it came out, being the coolest guy in the room for having met G.G. Allin, road trips to Chicago to see The Jesus Lizard or Laughing Hyenas….the springtime of a boy’s life, ultimately ruined by a damning fascination with breasts. In Omaha we’d always spend a weird amount of time shopping at Drastic Plastic in the Old Market, and I’ll never forget the day I finally found my own copy of Bongwater’s “Double Bummer”. Interesting sidenote- the folks who ran Drastic Plastic (still run it for all I know) opened a sister store in Kansas City called Spiney Norman’s. The final location for THAT store was in the exact same place where one of my ultimate favorite restaurants, Bluestem, now resides. Life comes full fucking circle. And some shit don’t change…..still a boob guy, but much to the dismay of my wife and any woman who has known me for the past ten or twelve years….at some point I realized I had testicles.

So there we have it….a little too much memory lane preceding the actual reason for this post….but it’s Omaha-related. When we were there a few weeks ago I couldn’t help but remember the fun and the horrors of life back then. No money, no skills, no direction, no sense, no semblance of the white trash culinary discernment I possess now. I returned to Omaha a conqueror. A man who had gotten his shit together, to some degree, through the years. At the very least, I quit putting up with unnecessary shit…with extreme prejudice. AND I was sober, happily married, employed, and involved enough in the food community to get an immediate answer to the question….”Where should I have dinner in Omaha?”.

Short answer- The Boiler Room. There ARE other good places to eat, but all information pointed to The Boiler Room as THE place to begin. In short- solid, solid place for dinner. And not in that food-tourist kind of way…more in that “I’m a fat guy who knows good food so fucking trust me” kind of way. Oh, foodies of every stripe will love the place, but when I think of good food now it’s more along the lines of where a chef would tell another chef to eat. Beautiful space, but not pretentious. Knowledgeable, engaging and friendly service, but not all up your ass. Simple, homey, regional food themes, executed cleanly with great ingredients.  A proper application of heat…I realize that a fancy way of saying “cooking” would get me gang-banged if I were part of the infamous Bourdain/Dufresne/Chang conversation in Lucky Peach…but a “proper application of heat” is a big thing to me, so I can’t just say cooking.  Texture and temperature in harmony arriving to your table at the height of the marriage.  Yes “the food is still hot when it gets to your table”….I know, fuckers, I know. Big, big deal for me that goes beyond the most obvious. Most importantly- the sense of pride and ownership from the back to the front of the house that is 100% mandatory before I would ever say “go eat there, the place is solid”.

Go eat there, the place is solid. Oh, I’m not going to throw my favorite restaurants under the bus or anything, I’m just saying you’re going to have a great meal. Still a ways to go before something eclipses my scallop and sweetbread dish at The Rieger. Let’s not lose our minds here.

When you are trying a new restaurant, do what we do: over-order. Investigate that shit. If you have the right people in your ear telling you where to go you don’t have to be afraid of getting a tableful of shitty food.   We ended up getting three appetizers, two mains, and just one dessert and a capuccino…I didn’t get a photo of dessert, it was a delicious Early Grey Pots de Creme.  If you’re late to the party when it comes to reading my reviews….I error on the side of enjoying my food and my company when it comes to taking notes or pictures.  Oh, also be sure to mention if you’re coming in from out of town, or if you’ve heard great things about the place, etc. when booking your table….we didn’t get VIP’d or anything, but they did save us a fantastic table on the 2nd floor with the best possible view of the kitchen.  And what, besides bouncy boobies, is as fun to watch as a professional kitchen on a Saturday night?

Hand Cut Tajarin, sweet corn, peekeytoe crab, chives

With apologies to all of my local chefs who regularly serve me wonderful and compelling pasta dishes, this was the BEST fucking pasta I have had since my meal at Quince in San Francisco several years ago.  And ironically, I found out from our server that the dish was inspired BY Chef Kulik’s trip to Cotogna/Quince….in fact, if I remember correctly the trip actually inspired him to have a pasta dish on the menu every night.  This one is a winner, winner, winner….and was a last second throw-in as the third app when I couldn’t decide between it and the pork belly.  Perfectly done pasta, the best possible texture, rolled so thin, cut to a perfect and uniform width,  fresh flavors from what had to just be the milk from the corn, micron-thin bits of chive, and light chunks of crab.  Pretty much worth the 2 1/2 hour drive from KC just to have this. I’m not joking.  World class.

Braised T.D. Niche Pork Belly, cranberry beans, spinach cream, shaved black radish

As far as pork n’ beans go, this was a winner.  First of all, that “proper application of heat” got it to our table right when the fat was still melty but didn’t fall off your fork.  Really, really decadent.  And I like the way they present it….like a very thick bacon slice vs. the ubiquitous cube-o’-belly.  At home I’ve found this to be the best, and the easiest way to present it.  More surface area for that delicious crispy fatty exterior.  The texture of the beans, smooth earthy sweetness of the spinach cream and slightly hot bitter bite of the radish pulled it all together and kept it from being just another study in richness…which is not without its own merit.

Heirloom Squash Soup, bottarga, celery leaf, fingerling potato

Didn’t get a picture of this one, fuckers!  Great soup though, potatoes added some texture, as did the celery leaf along with some fresh bite. Very rich overall, cold weather stuff to be sure.  The addition of just a little bottarga on the top was pretty genius…it lent a certain amount of depth to the flavor with that little hit of ocean brine.  A condiment to be used very, very sparingly…perfect amount here.

California Escolar, potato gnocchi, beef marrow, oregon chantrelles, escargots

Pretty dreamy main course.  The fish had what one may refer to as the “proper application of heat”…flaky, moist, crisp and thin little crouton-like addition to one side.  The supporting cast really took this dish all over the place. First off, my server let me know that they were out of the escargots, but the chef would like to add his housemade sausage instead if that was okay.  Of course it was okay.  Awesome flavor and texture to the little slices of sausage….along with the little chantarelles, some broth and the rondelles of beef marrow, the dish was all over the place flavor-wise.  Very well composed, making an already great piece of fish far, far more interesting.

Braised Nebraska Piedmontese Shortrib, celeriac purée, nantes carrots, grilled eggplant, marrow crumbs

My wife ordered this dish, so since I was neck-deep in my escolar I didn’t try as much as I would have liked.  She loved the marrow crumbs….new to me too, tasted kind of like if God won the annual “Best Alternative to Panko” contest.  The shortribs themselves were very good…I mean, shortribs…one of the best cuts of beef, period.  I forget how much a good celeriac puree can add to a dish….a far better choice than the usual heap of mashed potatoes.  Recently my wife started using smashed white beans as a potato alternative….way more flavor and texture…this puree was a lot like that. I’d never sit down and eat a quart of it like I would potatoes, but the flavor is exactly what you want in a hearty, homey dish like this one.

Again, if you are in Omaha, this is where you want to have dinner.  I want to try Grey Plume and a couple of other places, but The Boiler Room will be mandatory dining when we visit.  

BONUS ROUND!

The “11worth” Cafe…..just had to throw this one in there.  I think my ex-girlfriend lasted about half a shift.  The place is a meatgrinder as far as service and table turning, an amazing military operation. And I’m sure that drunk rednecks and assorted rough trade aren’t as subtle when it comes to scoping boobs…so she bailed pretty fast.  Good, not fantastic, food. Awesome people watching, and you do get a ton of grub for your dollar.  Honestly one of the most impressive operations I’ve ever seen outside of monstrous Asian restaurants and dim sum parlors….the place just churns and fucking burns. Unreal.

 We got a breakfast burrito, and this huge plate of biscuits covered with manhole cover sized sausage patties and gravy that they call “The Robert E. Lee”.  My advice- get the small order. It is massive.

So anyway, in keeping with the food theme of late, here is another offering. And I made sure to keep enough time between posts to just be annoying.  Lots of good dinners and events coming up throughout the holidays for us.  We’re co-hosting a NYE party featuring some catered Port Fonda pork, and god knows what meals we’ll be enjoying at our regular haunts.

OH, I never end my food review posts with some annoying sign-off, but if I WERE going to do that now it would be something like….. When it comes to being seductive and satisfying, The Boiler Room in Omaha sure has one HELL of a rack!

See why I never do that shit?  It just ruins everything.

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Filed under 11Worth Cafe, Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Bariatric Surgery, Blogroll, Chef Kulik, culture, dating, eGullet, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, General Thoughts, Health, Healthy Eating, Home Cooking, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Nebraska, The Boiler Room, Weight Loss, weight loss surgery

Making Macarons Is A Lot Like Autoerotic Asphyxiation…

You either walk around for a few days hunched over with neck pain, belt burn around your throat and one of your eyes partially obscured by blood from burst vessels- all the while grinning in oxygen deprived euphoria….OR…..someone finds your shit-sodden corpse hanging from a beam and they may or may not have the decency or state of mind to zip you back up or hose any incriminating DNA off of the floor before the coroner’s office arrives and gets their biggest laugh of the week. A lot can go wrong. A lot. Can go wrong.  In some cases, there is no such thing as TOO MUCH preparation or forethought.  And there is no shame in assigning a spotter to help insure everything ends safely and with the most rewarding results.  Autoerotic asphyxiation, strangulated masturbation, whatever you want to call it….truly parallels the creation of French macarons in its potential for embarrassing, irrecoverable tragedy, as well as the siren song of exquisite perfection…that highly prized yet painfully shy golden ticket that awaits you at the end of painstaking planning, artistry, and a little luck.  You’re either some idiot who killed himself jacking off, or you manage to take an otherwise overdone and underappreciated process and wring it dry by taking it to its fullest logical capacity.  There is a sense of dread involved with both…dread that is overshadowed by the promise of glory.  There is fear, the need for practice, and a Zen-like focus on the smallest details.  Lots of research and hopefully the ability to know when it’s time to cut your losses, back off completely, regroup, and save that victory for another day.  Your mind has to be right, and your mind has to stay right. If your mind isn’t right you are in grave danger.  Because failure can cost you a lot. It can cost you your fucking LIFE!  Or it can cost you at least twenty dollars in ingredients and an hour’s worth of prep.  Which of those two endings is scarier?? We would have to bring Plato back from the dead to ponder an actual answer to THAT question, my friend.  But I don’t think even he would know….we’re getting into uncharted philosophical territory….so I will just go about the task of education rather than force you to ponder the unanswerable…..

I was taught to make macarons by a professional pastry chef, and I have been making them for quite a while know….just shy of three weeks.  So I’ve learned a thing or two.  Mostly…the thing is, there is not one single thing you can do on-the-fly with these little bastards.  Call it mise en place, getting your shit together, whatever you want….you had better have every single thing prepped and measured ahead of time.  And get used to using the metric system, with baking that’s just the way it goes. If you hear me saying it, it really is true. There are some specific points at which you can blow the entire batch, and it isn’t like you can make some adjustment to save it…it’s not steak soup. 

Here are the ingredients I use because they are what I used in class. I know there are about five hundred different recipes out there.  I have no clue about those. This is the only one I know. If you’re tempted to let me know a better way, don’t.  I don’t care. If you’re some purist who would be appalled that this recipe is somehow lacking or not authentic….there’s no way in hell you made it past the first paragraph because it sent you into flittering fits of aghastment, so I’m not too worried.  ON THE OTHER HAND, if you’ve got some great ideas for butter creams, curds, savory fillings, etc….THAT I’m interested in.  And don’t try sneaking in the information I’m not looking for when you share it.  

200g almond flour (Bob’s Red Mill….forced through a small mesh strainer w/a spoon to get rid of large chunks)

200g granulated sugar

200g powdered sugar

150g room temperature egg whites separated into 2- 75g portions

Pinch of salt- I just put that in the almond flour from the get-go

50ml water

Hardware- piping bag fitted with an 8mm tip, flat bottom sheet pans fitted with parchment paper (you HAVE to have parchment paper), and as far as all of the other shit…because I hope for your sake you’re not going to try and learn from ME on your maiden voyage or the hardest thing you’ve done are cupcakes…I’m going to leave it to you to figure out the rest; mixer, candy thermometer, good pan for cooking sugar, etc., etc…..

In case I didn’t mention this before- HAVE your SHIT ready to GO.  Everything pre-measured in its own little bowl, parchment cut, thermometer firmly attached to your pan which is already sitting on the stove, pastry bag fitted with a tip and sitting upended in a tall glass, mixer clean and ready, etc. If it can be done ahead of time, do it ahead of time. 

The first thing I do is just put one of the 75g batches of egg whites into the mixer and start the whisk on the lowest speed.  I also go and add the granulated sugar and water into my pan and leave the heat off.

Then, I go and whisk the powdered sugar thoroughly into the almond flour, to which I then add the other egg whites and mix until I’ve got a good, sticky dough.  This is one juncture where you could add food coloring (gel is preferred over liquid), but for the batch I’m featuring today I left coloring out completely due to a tragic attempt on Saturday that ended with the equivalent of the coroners taking Abu Ghraib-style photos next to my dead body.  The dough ended up being too runny…and it could have been ten different things that contributed to it, but you eliminate the most obvious one first…in this case, gel coloring due to the liquid it added into my macaronage.

This is where shit starts getting more touch and go…..basically, you want to get those egg whites in the mixer whipped to stiff peaks right at the same time your sugar mixture on the stove reaches softball stage.  I have not yet found the perfect timing to this, so I offer no finite advice on when to start what.  But this is the point where the belt starts to cut into your neck a little bit.  A spotter would not be the dumbest thing to have here.  You don’t want to overbeat the egg whites, and you need to have that sugar within a couple of degrees for this to go just right. BUT….long story short, when your egg whites are at a stiff peak, and the sugar is at soft-ball temperature, you take the hot sugar over to the mixture and slowly pour it down the side of the bowl into your whites…..and the mixer goes on high and stays on high.  Most of your weight is being supported by the belt right now, it is fully cinched and you’ve got a pretty long journey to joy and safety from here, so be mindful.

With the hot sugar introduced to the bowl, feel the bottom to see how hot it is. What you want to do is let it roll on high until it cools way down….8 or 10 minutes. At the end of that time you should have a pretty delicious looking Italian meringue.  It’s pretty strong stuff, so you don’t have to be a total pussy when folding it into the awaiting dough…to about 1/3 of it at a time and avoid getting any crystallized sugar in there from the sides of the mixer bowl. 

I think this whole process is best if it’s NOT done in a particularly warm kitchen….just thought I’d throw that in there.  So you mix your meringue into your dough until all streaks are gone, coloring is incorporated, etc…….now you’ve got “macaronage”. 

From here, it goes into the pastry bag and you want the tip to be flush with the parchment paper and pointed straight down…..do about a five-count’s worth of piping….a little bigger than a quarter.  This was my first experience with piping anything, so you’re kind of on your own here. Once you’ve got all of your dough piped onto all of your sheet pans, be sure to bang them on the counter to make sure the tops flatten some and any big air bubbles work their way out.  Do not be shy about how hard you pound them on the counter….if your dough was done correctly it’s pretty sturdy. 

CRITICAL JUNCTURE-  the coroner’s office is waiting in the wings for this very moment- you have to let your dough sit out for at least thirty minutes.  The tops have to dry out some and get a skin built up so that when they bake, the skin forms the top crust and raises up to let the macaron’s “feet” fully form.  If you try bypassing this step, just go ahead and throw the batch away.  If after thirty minutes there isn’t a firmer, barely tacky top on your cookies, or if the dough has deflated and oozed into imperfect oblong shapes…throw them all out.  Of course, you can still cook them, they’ll taste good, you just won’t have macarons.

As your cookie dough is drying, start your oven and this is another thing you’ll have to experiment with…..but 310F is a safe place to start, so get it preheated.

When putting your baking sheets into the oven, DO NOT OVERLOAD IT.  You want plenty of circulation for evenness of cooking… half of this “successful” batch I did was ruined due to my impatience when I put too much into the oven at once.  Keep an eye on them, they’ll go for around ten to twelve minutes…..but the thing of it is, you want to see feet. If you don’t end up seeing feet, you’ve accidentally killed yourself somewhere along the way.  Feel the tops to see if they’re done enough for you….it’s kind of like pushing on an eggshell- if you see feet and it feels like the top will crackle under the weight of your finger, you’re probably good to go.

Of course, let them rest until completely cool and then run the thinnest spatula you have underneath to loosen them from the parchment.  

I’m not going to explain any more from here.  If you can’t figure the shit out from here, you’re dumb. Make sandwich cookies….have fun with flavors.  I didn’t want to spend too much time on butter creams or homemade curds until I had my shit down pretty tight, so in order for my macarons to still sound LEGIT, I went and bought some authentic English (the fucking INVENTORS of strangulated beatin’ off) citrus curds with which to fill my cookies.  The sky is the limit though, go figure that shit out. 

Oh yeah, don’t use that fucking edible pearlescent powder like I did because you feel insecure about naked non-colored macarons.  That shit is a nightmare.  You can’t get it all washed off of your hands and you walk around looking like a team of drag queens have been playing hot potato with your face. 

But that’s about it….macarons are challenging, but are more than worth running the risk of an erotic and embarassing early death.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, autoerotic asphyxiation, baking, Bariatric Surgery, cookies, Crossroads Art District, culture, eGullet, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, French Pastry, General Thoughts, Health, Healthy Eating, Home Cooking, homemade, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, macarons, pastry, Weight Loss, weight loss surgery

Being A Good Customer…

This week one of my favorite restaurants (“El Comedor”) that I’ve mentioned at least twice in my blog got an across-the-board four star review in the Kansas City Star ( http://www.kansascity.com/2011/09/14/3140292/review-uniquely-superb-port-fondas.html ). Well deserved….it’s the right combination of everything that is good about food and fun about eating, and I could ramble about Port Fonda, Patrick, Max and Katy all day long…but it’s just a jumping off point for what’s really on my mind. I have helpful knowledge to share today, goddammit.

I’ve eaten in El Comedor more than once and looking forward to going again… I’m insanely happy about it and proud to be a part of  the communal love shared by a great group of KC chefs, BUT there is a pretty long progression and a distinct learning curve when it comes to that sort of situation being a normal part of your life…especially considering the fact that I’m not in the service industry, I’m not an entertainer, journalist, hipster, millionaire or anything of the sort. I’m just a dude who loves going out to eat. To be honest, there are some intangibles here that I cannot help anybody replicate…I’m pretty good at mixing with just about anyone, I have a wicked sense of humor, and for God knows what reason I’ve always just kind of drawn people in (the freak magnet part of that is a big downside). I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit in my day, so I’m at ease in damn near any social environment. Worst case scenario, I was a pentecostal minister turned porno dealer prior to my very vanilla IT career, so I can be a good little dancing monkey and provide endless stories from back in the day. And that’s not even counting the drinking adventures….hoo boy.

When I was talking to a food critic outside the trailer a couple of weeks ago, they jokingly asked me who I had to pay off to keep scoring the hands-down hardest to get table in the city….probably one of the toughest in the country at this point. My inferiority complex tells me that the chef is just having mercy on the poor retarded kid, and while that may be true enough it isn’t anything I’m going to advertise, so I just said….”I think being a nice person who is obviously there for the food and fellowship goes a long way”. The whole hipster/coolest kid on the block angle doesn’t mean shit to me….the restaurants that are still on my bucket list are far, far outnumbered by the great places I’ve already visited. And nothing makes me want to vomit more than a restaurant being “THE scene”. If Patrick was just some dude doing this same type of thing in a trailer in his mom’s driveway, if the food was still that good and I could bring my friends along, I’d fucking eat there any time. I don’t give a FUCK about the velvet rope aspect. YES it is FUNNY to know how many completely clueless people who haven’t done their homework email him thinking that the type of annoying persistence that gets them some comped spinach queso dip at Chi Chi’s is going to get them a Comedor booking. BUT I would rather light a candle than curse people’s darkness, so today what I have for you is at least a brief beginning to what I think of as “being a good customer”. If you’re an idiot who already thinks what I mean by being a good customer is bending over for a crazed egomaniacal autocrat of a chef so that I can be one of the “cool kids”, you’re in luck….my dick needs sucked. So get to it, and then go enjoy some fucking slop at the goddamn Ted’s Montana Grill you love so much because they let you be the customer who is always right.

#1- YOUR PRIORITIES HAVE TO ALREADY BE A LITTLE FUCKED UP-

It’s all about what you value….the value of me and my wife’s cars combined is probably around three or four thousand dollars. I know people who go out and spend forty grand on a new Lexus and then piss and moan about spending ten dollars on a lunch, because spending that much money on food is just STUPID. If you’re just a casual diner who doesn’t branch out much and chain restaurants are your thing because they are consistent and familiar, you’ll get some decent food and maybe awesome service from time to time, but the world of serious dining is probably not for you. And that’s cool man, everyone has their thing they love….cars, guns, scrapbooking, stamp collecting, Chiefs season tickets…whatever. Dining for me is an obsession and something I truly love and enjoy…I love a million things about it, and I have put in the time and work required that allows me to blend into that community and make great friends who feel the same way about it. The food is just one aspect of the big dance.

#2- COMMON COURTESY, how in the FUCK don’t people realize that?-

I’m a fun guy, I’m engaging. I bring a lot to the table. Most of all, I’m a nice guy. If you’re nice to me, I’m in your corner and I’m a handy sumbitch to have in your corner. Simple things, man…if you’re going to need to split checks, mention that shit right at the beginning…no fucking suprises at the end of the meal where everyone tries to figure out who is supposed to pay for what appetizer. Be clear at the onset. OR, shit like- if you drink at the bar before you are seated, tab out before you go to your table, don’t have that shit transferred to your dinner bill. Pay your bartender, tip your bartender. Really basic shit….some substitutions are fine, leave off the cheese, dressing on the side, etc. etc., but there are people who try to completely rebuild the menu on a slamming Saturday night…want Caesar dressing specially made WITHOUT anchovies, crazy stuff….horrible human beings. Nightmares of the planet who pretend to have some weird allergy just to get their way. Make reservations if the place takes them…don’t go walking in on a Saturday night and be shocked that your ass is waiting two hours for a table IN the men’s room (and then when you ARE seated, act like a total pissed off asshole expecting them to blow you for your trouble the whole time because you’re too stupid to take the time to book ahead).

This could go on forever……..too many examples, but here is the big one-

TIP! And I begin this under the assumption that anyone reading it already knows shit like you tip on the original amount if you’re using a Groupon, coupon, gift certificate, whatever. If you don’t know THAT shit, then go start hoarding cats and get to know the state worker who will be managing you. If I am a “regular” somewhere, it is a place where I tip at least 30%…it’s also a place where I have a regular server, but even if that person isn’t working that night, then whomever takes their place still gets 30%. And to be clear, for any piece of SHIT reading this who doesn’t count tax, alcohol, etc. when calculating the tip….you tip off of the highest number, dumbass. Tax, wine, what the fuck ever…it counts, it ALL COUNTS! If you have some egocentric retard logic that says otherwise, you seriously deserve to have someone fuck up your face….restaurants for you are just places for you to compensate for your lack of power and control in your real life, so stay the fuck at Ruth Chris or McCormick and Schmick and all of those bullshit chains where they are happy to treat assholes like royalty. Seriously, you can know all you want about a chef and be a kiss ass and all that, but it’s your front of the house people who make shit happen…the amount of free food, great tables and VIP treatment I get is pretty cool….and you know how that happens? I’m a nice guy….low maintenance, genuinely invested in the experience, and I take care of my people. Common fucking courtesy. Politeness. If I have an early Saturday night reservation I don’t linger over coffee…I give the valuable real estate back so someone else can sit down and buy food. Simple respect….things often forgotten these days.

#3- LEAVE THE CHEF THE FUCK ALONE-

Okay, you’re impressive. You know the guy who just got the big review and you are also showing off your “faincy” new dress on a hopping Saturday night….so that trip across the dining room and straight back to the kitchen would probably be greatly appreciated by him, right? No. It’s not right. It’s wrong. It is so wrong. It’s Saturday, there are people at work who are making the place worthy of that review you just read…don’t go messing up the flow with a goddamn panty raid on the kitchen. As they have time, chefs make the rounds….they know that PR is part of their job, and all of my bitchiness aside, they probably really do like you and appreciate the fact you want to talk to them. Most chefs are very, very cool that way. But the time they have available forces them to be strategic with their table visits….chances are good that on a Saturday night they’re going to have to schmooze with a less-savvy/big money group or perhaps other industry folks who are visiting from another city when in fact they would much rather be chilling with you or another cool regular. That’s how it goes, don’t take it personally, and don’t be a whiny suckup. Have some self respect for Christ’s sake.

#4- KNOW FOOD-

Understanding different methods, ingredients, seasonality and things of that nature really make you a valuable customer….especially if your server is bombarded with people who need every fucking ingredient and word explained to them. Enthusiastic, collaborative discussion about food is therapeutic…you bond with people over that shit. It sets you apart from the weekend warriors because you know food well enough to be there for THAT. Overly simple, but this is really at the heart of it all. It’s exciting. It’s why we love food.

#5- ORDER RIGHT, DUMBASS!-

I swear to God, nothing pisses me off more than when someone I know FINALLY visits a restaurant I love that they’ve asked me a million questions about, and then acts like they are doing ME a favor….only to come back with THIS bullshit:

“So, we finally visited whatever-the-fuck-restaurant!”

“Yeah, how was it?”

“Well…it was okay, we didn’t really see what all of the fuss was about.”

“Seriously? What did you guys order?”

“We both got the house salad and shared one of the appetizers.”

Aaannnnd SCENE! I shit you not, people are that stupid. First of all, wasting real estate on a Saturday night like that is enough to knock them in the head. Secondly, BOTH of you ordering the safest, plainest possible thing and THEN only venturing in far enough to SHARE one damn APPETIZER….is more than likely, and I am no psychic, but it’s more than likely not going to be the greatest sampling you need to get an accurate accounting of the flavors offered. And of course, then I’m the idiot who actually goes there all the time as they go around the office with their emperor has no clothes bullshit directed at me.

Order right. Trust your server. Check out the specials. If the chef is pumped about a specific dish or ingredient…chances are it’s not going to suck. Don’t all order the same thing. Don’t look for a great burger at a Vietnamese joint. Don’t use goddamn Texas Roadhouse as your measuring stick. Be realistic. Oh, and these are not poor people I’m talking about, I’d never ding someone for not being able to afford the full smorgasbord, I’m not an asshole….these are professional people with enough money to order an actual meal…and they are stupid. Don’t be like them. Don’t be stupid.

#6- THINK LOCAL, LIKE THE FUCKING HIPPIES-

This whole dining thing is part of a much, much larger picture….get to know that picture. Buy as much local product as fiscally possible, get to know your farmers and your suppliers, get into the seasonal nature of cooking and GRAVITATE TOWARDS the types of restaurants and chefs who operate in that manner. It’s really simple, but it’s a vital link to that community….I personally know the farmers who provide much of the produce we eat in our home, and they also supply the restaurants where I eat…I literally shared one great meal with my butchers and one with my farmers in El Comedor…both times eating food THEY personally provided TO the chef. The goddamn circle of life and all that….get to know people, you’ll get to know the people that THEY know, and at some point you’ll be where I’m at….never having to worry about whether or not my meal will be good because it’s either a place I already love OR it is a place personally recommended to me by those people whom I already know and trust. Top tier five star dining, hole in the wall Mexican with fucking crime scene tape on the floor, and everything in between…all awesome.

Granted, money and calorie-wise the majority of your meals are going to have to be eaten at home…and here is the bonus- sourcing great products and learning tips, recipes and various recommendations from suppliers and chefs improves your home cooking exponentially. Being a good home cook makes me a better diner and vice versa…it becomes much easier to identify truly great food when I can connect with a dish because it’s something I want to try and replicate OR it is something so far beyond me I could never pull it off.

#7- SOME SIMPLE SHIT TO LOOK FOR-

It is only possible to visit so many restaurants per month, and it is important to continue to take recommendations and keep trying new places in addition to your favorites.  We have what we refer to as “the circuit”…it’s a group of Saturday night date night level restaurants that include places like Lidia’s, Justus Drugstore, Bluestem, The Rieger and obviously Port Fonda/El Comedor.   We’ve got a ton of other places for all sorts of ethnic, casual and greasy spoon meals, but the aforementioned places are some of our tried and true places where we’re pretty serious regulars when we want a “nice” dinner.

Long story short, what gets my regular business besides creative, delicious and spot-on cooking is a very basic thing….a shared sense of pride and ownership.  When the chef is all about their town, farmers, producers, etc., and the staff is all about their chef and genuinely love the food and want YOU to have a great time and love it like they do…THAT is the magic. That’s the dance, and it is what makes me excited to be there and to keep coming back.  I know that only makes sense to a handful of people, as evidenced by the “wham bam thank you maam” types of chain-loving folks I encounter. 

#8-SPREAD THE WORD-

I’ll be honest, I’m not some fucking patron saint of service industry good will and cheer.  There are some very grand, touchy feely moments and the highest hopes for your favorite chefs and all that, but there are also moments when it’s good to be king.  When you’re entertaining relatives from out of town and you’re showing off your favorite restaurant to them on a slamming Saturday night, and your server happily approaches your premium perch to inform you that the chef knew you were coming in so he held back the last two orders of softshell crab they’d probably have available for the season, and you get to sit there munching away while the table of moneyed yuppies next to you watches and collectively shit themselves because the dish wasn’t available to THEM….there is no price you can put on that.  Or another good one….getting a peak at a cool ass cookbook that won’t be available to the general public for a couple of months.  I share a lot of love and respect with many local restaurateurs, but when it comes down to brass tacks….they are there to make a goddamn living. Nobody wants to be a starving artist here, kids. If I like a place and I like you, I want you to love the same place and go there often.  BUT I’m also pretty cool about not using a restaurant as a dumping ground for every scenester or stingy, hard to please asshole that I know.  I’m pretty much a total dick about whom I will or will not spend time with; I just don’t like wasting time with dipshits. And I’m assuming the same can be said for any cherished server who would give me the stinkeye for blindsiding them with a douche.  You spread the word…word of mouth is how I do business in 99% of my various transactions…I want my money to stay local and I want to build relationships. RELATIONSHIPS….are key here.

In summation…I’m in kind of a weird place because I do not have a venue other than this blog to ramble about all of this shit….and that is honestly not my goal.  I’m a huge egomaniac, so I believe my writing is better than a lot of the popular bloggers and critics. And if people want to read my stuff, great, but I’m not going to shorten it, learn proper grammar or clean anything up just to be featured in some fucking rag.  And I’m not a food critic, that is a very important distinction for me….I do find restaurants I’m not crazy about, but unless someone is just a total FUCKER I’m not going to take the piss out of a place; I just don’t write about it and I don’t go back.  Between Yelp and the various food boards across the internet, one important thing gets lost…you can be real damn brave behind a keyboard and lose sight of the simple fact that you could unnecessarily and unwittingly fuck with someone’s livelihood.  I only know of one….okay two….chefs who would go out of their way to give you the finger if you said their food sucked.  One is just a goddamn savant and I will forgive it, and the other is locked away in the bowels of some hotel kitchen where he can’t do too much harm. The vast, vast, vast majority truly and from their heart want you to enjoy your meal and they appreciate your business.  If you don’t like something they want to make it right, and before you take to the internet to light them up I think you should give them a chance to make it right, or at least let THEM know about your issue before you start your march to the sea.  You’ll never meet someone more meticulous and self-conscious than a great chef.  And when you find that special blend of alchemy that is evidenced from the front to the back of the house, it deserves to be loved and respected, and it damn sure deserves to be shared.

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Calvin Trillin’s Pretty Mouth…

Okey dokey, heavy food content this time around. A couple of weeks ago I completed an 8-day food blog over on eGullet…specific to my version of Kansas City dining.  I know I love to rain piss down upon the socially inept and mind numbingly self-aggrandizing aspects of the way the site is run, but to be completely honest there are some really cool people over there who are all about food….big time.  Tons of unpretentious folks who approach the subject like I do….in that all-or-nothing completely unhealthy, OCD kind of way.  Oh, and it was how I ended up meeting my wife. So it was kind of a blast putting my energy into sharing a week’s worth of meals in painful detail, complete with pictures and tons and tons of rambling.  For anyone interested in wading through it, here you go:  http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/139733-eg-foodblog-zeemanb-2011/ 

When I write, the only time I’m used to editing myself is in work related emails. Other than that, I just go with whatever entertains me at the time.  I do my best to write in my actual voice, not in some awkwardly concocted affectation. I knowingly break many rules of grammar because of how I want it to sound. And my voice can be pretty filthy. Some very bad things.  Writing at eGullet was kind of like pissing your pants slowly enough so as not to draw attention by making too big of a bloom in your trousers too quickly. You just kind of edge around a lot of shit, make sure not to cuss, it’s not torture or anything but there are times when you just want to cut the fuck loose and write for the smallest minority of people who would find it hilarious.  And I mentioned that fact once or twice…and that is the inspiration for this post.  The following paragraph is an actual excerpt from the eGullet blog. If you are mainly familiar with my writing here, you may notice some differences.  What follows that is a longer version of the same type of thing, but written for HERE.  Enjoy. 

EGULLET:

“Recommending restaurants to co-workers…it may have already been chronicled on this site, no idea, but for me it’s a sticky predicament. I don’t ever want to come off as snobbish, because I hate those people…they don’t really enjoy food, dining out is just another way they can feel the control they crave. BUT I also don’t want to screw over one of my favorite restaurants by sending over a doofus. OR, have them come back saying the food was a rip-off because it didn’t fill them up, or it sucked because they can’t believe three scallops cost them twenty bucks. I generally try to gauge who the person is foodwise, and at the very least point them to a place that is local and dependable. It’s usually not the place they heard me raving to a friend about, which can also raise questions or hurt feelings (because people treat work too much like life, and you are their spouse or sibling…another topic entirely). I’m just protective of the places I love…I want the people I send there to be the type of folks who like to build relationships with restaurants like I do, and when you work someplace where a “normal” lunch outing is gorging at the local Chinese Buffet or the 5.99 salad and breadsticks at Olive Garden, those people are rare. Again, to each his own, General Tso’s chicken is awesome, I love Red Lobster, but the bottom line is “value” is important to everyone but it also happens to have one of the most subjective definitions on earth. I “value” bringing my lunch to work 99% of the time and having one really nice weekend dinner at one of my favorite joints a couple of times per month, vs. an array of $5-$8 lunchtime chowfests that probably end up costing about as much as my one dinner. Anyway, just throwing all of that out there. Rambling to impress myself at how I’ve written this much without letting Profanity Jerry off the chain…”

HERE:

As far as my dining habits and knowledge go, I never want to come off like a dick. I hate dinner “collectors” who look at it all like a big spreadsheet or fucking baseball card collection.  You can’t just relax and talk about food around these people.  They’re prone to bouts of heavy breathing as they pump you for information about some dish you got to try before they did….like they’re forcing you to recover a lost molestation memory or something.  I was actually happy when I heard El Bulli was closing just because I knew how badly it would tweak the nipples right off of those boors.  They had the space on the wall next to the plaster cast of Thomas Keller’s schvantz saved for some token of their visit to Catalonia…a server’s pinky finger perhaps….and now it can’t happen….the irritation of never having the option to eat there is more than worth the knowledge of their pain.

Oh, and of course the control freaks who feel like it’s their job to teach the restaurant how to perfect the craft of making them the center of the goddamn universe.  THOSE people never shut up, and reading a food review from them is like reading a coroner’s report and it’s always prefaced with the artful cocksmanship of either dropping every restaurant name possible or recounting in detail their five thousand prior visits.  They want to establish the fact that they probably know more than you do.  These are the dicks you see walking to the kitchen on a slamming-busy Saturday night so that they can grace the chef with their presence; creating an awkwardness and traffic jam of which they remain totally oblivious.  And then they march back to their table and figure the price of the meal without tax and alcohol before tallying the tip.  The next day they wake up and chronicle the rise and fall over time of some specific dish they ate the night prior, they are way more about the stick than the carrot and assume their target is appreciative of that fact, and when they complete the review it totally slips their mind to title it “Someday My Kids Will Award Me a ‘World’s Worst Bastard’ Trophy Before Filing Me Away in a Home”.

Now, I don’t mind coming off like a dick to THOSE people.  Being viewed as a mouth-breathing, shit-flinging Philistine by them is probably a good thing.  But basically-  I love food, I dine out a lot, I research the living shit out of a town foodwise before I arrive, but the bottom line for me is not only the enjoyment of the food but the act of dining itself.  Spending time with people you love and admire, great food and deepening your relationship with your local food community. With various exceptions, it is for the most part a very protected event for me. That is where the weirdo control freak in ME comes out.  And I say all of THAT to say- it scares the shit out of me if I ever recommend one of my favorite restaurants to someone I’m not 100% sure about.  That is one major burden that comes with being “the food guy” to everyone you meet…especially at work. You don’t want to come off like one of the aforementioned total bastards, but more importantly…you don’t want to put the dick to your favorite restaurant by unleashing a slew of motards on them.  Yes, I was one of those motards once upon a time, and I am keenly aware of the new experiences needed to grow beyond that. That’s why I really do put thought into recommending good, local restaurants when anyone asks, based on what I think they’d like yet still pushes them out of their comfort zone a bit. What I’m talking about HERE is keeping my personal temples of gastronomy pretty close to my chest when in mixed company. 

The greatest truth is this- the co-workers who push you the hardest to hook them up with your favorite restaurant will always be the biggest dipshits about it.

First, I do realize that it took having my stomach stapled to keep from eating myself to death.  I GET IT. And the fact that I don’t, and can’t, eat nearly as much at one sitting as a hungry eight year old is not lost on me. But STILL, the most common worrisome thing I hear from a co-worker who asks me about a restaurant after hearing me talking to SOMEONE ELSE about it, is along the lines of “Now, am I still going to have to go and eat at McDonald’s afterwards to feel full?”.  Well, yes motherfucker, you ARE going to have to eat at McDonald’s!  I’m sorry that the seared diver scallop dish at Bluestem doesn’t have an all-you-can-eat option. I guess it should. I guess you should be able to stuff your gut wherever you go until you resemble a monster from Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”….eating and shitting, eating and shitting, eating and shitting, right there in your seat. For every goddamn bite you take, your body is forced to expel waste to make room.  Quality, flavor, atmosphere, fellowship…..all of THAT bullshit takes a backseat to making the whole world one big casino buffet. If it were my fucking BOSS asking me that question I’d still give them the address of an empty parking lot far, far away from any of the places I eat.  Eating to the point of almost puking for minimal cost is the gold standard of quality here in the Midwest.

The “greater the money greater the gorgefest” crowd aside, the ones who scare me the worst are the fucking cheapskates.  I’m not rich, I don’t pretend to be rich, but apparently some people hold a weird grudge against you for spending what they think is way too much money on dinner. They act like you are a mentally retarded socialite even though they make at least as much, if not more, than you.  So when they do you the great honor of harassing you for intel about your favorite place prior to going there and expecting to have their asses wiped all night long, I guess you’re supposed to feel lucky.  For those pricks, the food is NEVER, EVER going to be good enough to justify the price…so I am very specific with them- my wife and I usually spend between $100 and $130 including a generous tip when we go out for a “nice” dinner about once or twice per month. In the fine wine and dining world, that isn’t jack shit, but for that amount you can eat well almost anywhere in Kansas City if you’re not drinking wine or booze. About twice per year we’ll double that and go top-tier dining.  We make up for our spending by taking our lunch to work nearly 100% of the time and eating dinner at home at least 90% of the time.  Eat out less often so that when you do it can be spectacular…that’s how we do things.  And when we eat out, it tends to be a different experience than a lot of people will get…I don’t get fucking blowjobs and a key to the walk-in, but I’ll get some extra chat-time with the chef, or a comped dish, I always have a regular server who treats me great…and I can always count on a good table.  I’m not special, I’ve just invested time in building relationships with the places I love….and I’m super low-maintenance, pleasant, I don’t need a ton of shit on the menu explained to me, I don’t ask for substitutions, and I’m a good tipper (30% is the norm at my regular haunts, sometimes more, we enjoy spreading the love).  I’d never eat at a place where I’m treated like a king and everyone else is treated like low-lives, there are just benefits to being a serious regular…and the cheapskates can never understand that shit. Anything above Olive Garden money and the server had better be willing to act as a footrest.  

I really don’t know where the chip on the shoulder comes from, but I know that no matter how many times you explain it in detail for them and do everything but tell them “don’t go, you’re not going to like it”, they are still going to go and they are going to be an inconsolable dick the whole time. They are the aforementioned control freaks in training. When it comes time to pay the bill they’re going stand there all wide eyed and breathless and shit like Major Toht in the tavern scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  They’ll probably retrieve a coin purse to collect their exact change…and then pull out three fucking quarters, put them in the server’s open palm, take the time to shut their hand back over the quarters, pat their hand, smile at them and then creepily, Lost Arkily, whispers something like  “Yeesssss, for youuuuuuuuu..”.  Then they’ll saunter off with a little limp.  But they don’t even have a limp!  At least not when they came in! What in the FUCK? Just thinking of that shit and being involved in any way with dicking over a favorite restaurant just makes me want to end it all.  What a nightmare.

There are a ton of other possible scenarios, none of them good.  People who compare everything to their favorite chain…or the ones who will hang out for an extra hour at their table after dinner is over, whittling a big pile of oak shavings onto the floor on a packed Saturday night. Sure, I do know normal human beings who have been very happy with my recommendations in the past. I’ve just seen it go the OTHER way enough times to make me super protective of the places I love. If someone came back from a trip to Lidia’s bitching because the heritage breed rib chop didn’t hold a candle to Outback, I don’t think I could be held responsible for my actions. I know that taste is subjective, I just don’t want to be an enabler for these morons. 

So that’s it.  If you know me or have eaten a meal with me don’t go and get all self-conscious, you fucking egomaniac. This isn’t about you. It’s about the people we bitch about from work who we’d never friend on Facebook no matter how many times they send a request. I’m not good for a whole lot, but I’m a hell of a dining companion.  Go and read my eGullet blog, it’s got some good stuff despite the fact I was chained up pretty tight.

OH, some local chefs have put together some kind of invite-only after hours get together for this Monday morning- midnight to 3am.  I don’t know a whole lot about it, I’m interested to see what it’s all about….an eclectic group of people eating and chatting is what I know.  And boy am I cool. I made the cut. Maybe I’ll invite a bunch of these work pricks and try to fool everyone into believing I’m doing performance art.

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