Balaban’s Closing and Joe Bonwich

bonzoIn today’s Post Dispatch there is an article Joe Bonwich wrote about Balaban’s closing. It’s a great piece and there’s some really interesting information about the restaurant’s history.

It’s definitely worth a read if you find yourself with a few minutes to spare.

I also ran across this article recently on thecommonspace.org that Joe Bonwich wrote in 2001 about life as a critic when he worked at the RFT.

If you like negative reviews and wish he’d write more, read it. I agree with him, and he made his case far more eloquently than I did in the “St. Louis Good” forum topic.

And if you’re a person that dislikes the term “St. Louis Good”, he nails it with this one:

…I’m fairly well convinced that our best stack up favorably against the best in all but the very top echelon of American food cities. Yet even the Zagat guides have stopped doing one for our hometown.

More on Sappington Farmer’s Market

sap1.gifSTLtoday.com has an article today with more information about the Sappington Farmer’s Market.

These are some excerpts, but you can read the full article here.

The Missouri Farmers Union has something new to grow.

The statewide group of family farmers is buying the Sappington International Farmer’s Market.

We want to make it local. Our goal is to have as many Missouri products as possible,” Greenspan said.

The market hopes to get enough locally produced items so that it can showcase certain products each weekend, Wood said. The plan would include having representatives from farms and other local businesses demonstrate and explain their products to shoppers.

Do you think it bothered Gail Appleson as it bothered me when she had to type “Farmer’s” instead of “Farmers’” that one time as it’s their name?

4 Star St. Louis

10_mobile_lg.jpgMobil Travel Guide announced its picks yesterday and The Ritz and Tony’s once again recieved 4 Star ratings.

From what I gather it is a lot harder to get a Five Star Mobil rating than it is to get a AAA Five-Diamond. Tony’s did in fact have the Five-Diamond previously, but looking at the 2008 lists, they’ve been dropped to 4-Diamonds and now share company with An American Place, Faust’s, and Giovanni’s on the Hill who also all have 4.

Delicious Simplicity

tasty

I’m trying to find a picture of Meyer’s Horseradish Mustard because my coworker says it’s awesome and I have no idea what it is.

“meyer’s horseradish mustard” into Google Image Search gave me this pic which tracked back to this post from a food blog run by a woman named Susan called IMMAEATCHU.

Hilarious blog name aside, this is a Niman Ranch Hot Dog wrapped in puff pastry and I have to say it looks awfully tasty. Add to that the fact she knocked back a La Fin Du Monde as its pairing, and I wish I’d been at her house last March with a bottle of Sierra Nevada Stout Mustard in hand. A squirt of that would have knocked it out of the park for sure.

What does seasonality mean to you?

Asparagus-m

I want you to weigh in on seasonality.

I posted about this dish back in November:

Seasonal Cuisine at its finest, California figs and Parma ham with a drizzle of aged Balsamic of Modena

Who’s season? Yours or California’s?

Many people disagreed with me then when I said this was a ridiculous usage of the term, but if I can call something from California seasonal, than I can call my mom’s Mexican asparagus from last Friday seasonal as well.

Clearly that’s just not the case, so where’s the line?

Missouri grown strawberries in February were mentioned on the forum.

Just because you can grow something in a hot house or other controlled environment, in what is traditionally not the correct growing season, should you? And if you do, does that make it seasonal?

And what about its quality? Sure I can grow a coffee plant in my home but it wouldn’t want to drink anything that came from it.

Weigh in at the forum.

Dinner to Blog in Record Time

seabass

Porchini dusted Chilean Sea Bass (from Bob’s Seafood), roasted acorn squash, wilted red chard

It would probably be a whole lot more exciting if I learned to make more sauces, but it would also be a whole lot more fattening for a Monday night dinner as well.

spoonsWhich brings me to another point: let’s briefly talk about equipment.

Get yourself a big spoon.

I should have taken a picture of these spoons next to an ordinary one to illustrate the point further, but the spoon on the left is (I kid you not) the Gray Kunz Sauce Spoon. I’ve no idea if they still make them, but I bought it from JB Prince in probably 1998 and they still make them. It was built to Gray Kunz exact specifications, and as ridiculous as that sounds, the spoon really is rad. It’s very deep for it’s nine inch length and holds two and a half tablespoons of liquid.

If you dont’ feel like ordering that, don’t sweat it, you don’t have to buy a super fancy spoon–though it is only about $9–and the spoon on the right is also excellent. I don’t know precisely what shop it came from as I got it from the Racquet Club Ladue, but it was definitely from a local restaurant supply store.

Anyway, as I’m the cooking equivalent of a gear-head, I have quite a few cooking specific spoons of which four are about this size. As the name of the first spoon implies, if you’re not feeling up to the culinarily-chic spatula techniques you see today, you can use them for saucing plates as a late-90’s-technique shout-out. But they’re also great for plating things like risotto thanks to their depth and lack of the long cumbersome handles of other large spoons.

However, this is another example of why you want a big spoon, and the reason I’m bringing it up:

Notice the color on the sea bass? It’s a result of having a scorching hot pan to sear the fish, but it’s also a result of butter and the technique utilized with the spoon.

Maybe one of the chef-readers will chime in and inform me that I’m a hack, but my technique for cooking fish goes something like this:

  1. Turn oven up very high (I literally turn it all the way up)

  2. Pat fish dry with paper towels and season it. (Patting it dry helps to prevent it from sticking or not browning nicely.)
  3. Heat saute pan until uber-hot

  4. Put oil in uber-hot pan and watch for it to sort of shimmer

  5. Once shimmering, put fish in pan and do not touch it until it releases (If it never releases your pan wasn’t hot enough when you put the fish in. Better luck next time.)

  6. When released, flip fish and sling in a knob of butter (in tonight’s case it was the bonus black truffle butter courtesy of Kevin Willmann).

  7. When the butter melts and begins to turn brown, grab your spoon, tip your sauté pan back towards you so the butter runs to your side, and begin ladeling the butter over the top of your fish. You will literally see the color change before your eyes as it takes on that nice golden color you long for.

  8. When satisfied with the color, stick the fish in the oven until your desired temperature is reached. (If you’re not immediately plating be sure to take it out of the pan when you remove it. Fish overcooks fast and the pan will do the job in no time short.)

Happy cooking!

Green Eggs, No Ham

eggs

I’ve seen varying shades of brown eggs. And I’ve obviously seen white eggs.

But, outside of Easter, not until Matt gave Mike and I some eggs from his chickens a few weeks ago had I seen eggs ranging so wildly from brown to blue to green.

And of course nothing says fresh like hay and chicken poo.

Excuse me, where is the restroom?

bathroomAs this is a food blog I could do the appropriate thing and tell you all about my dinner last week at Araka. Perhaps I could even write about the meal I ate there a couple days before Christmas, and how in both those meals, while I definitely ate some good things, I ate a couple flawed dishes as well.

Instead, however, I want to talk to you about something we can all relate to. From the pickiest of gourmands to the diners thrilled each time McDonald’s brings back the McRib, I’m talking about bathrooms — everybody needs them.

If you frequent enough restaurants, even if you’re one of those people that can only take care of the business on your home throne, sooner or later there comes a need that can not wait; one that sends you on an embarrassing quest in search of the restroom.

You hope in these situations that the bathroom will maintain the same level of quality as the rest of the restaurant. And sometimes — hopefully not often — in certain restaurants you cross your fingers and pray to the god you may or may not believe in that the bathroom is maybe even a touch better than the rest of the joint.

bathroom1

This retro throwback, for instance, is from a bathroom I was recently faced with. It’s been along time since I’ve see one of these babies, and when you go toe-to-toe with one, you really do have to ask yourself: is it maybe more sanitary to not wash my hands?

It was a question I pondered long enough upon entering the bathroom that I had time to snap the picture while coming up with my game plan, but fear not, I did wash them — before drying them on my pants!

While not dirty in anyway there are also restaurants where the bathrooms just don’t meet your expectations not because they’re dirty, but because they’re a bit run down in comparison to the vibe the rest of the place is going for.

I know it’s because it’s technically the hotel’s, but on my last visit, with a steel trashcan complete with a kicked in dent, An American Place is a pretty good example of a bathroom that’s awfully worn down compared to the opulence of the restaurant it’s attached to. Plus, with lighting so bright compared to the restaurant that it’s like walking straight into the sun, they go for a double by adding another bathroom flaw.

Certainly I don’t mean to suggest dimmed lighting to cover up the sins of an unclean bathroom, but is there anything more jarring then walking from a dark restaurant into a disproportionately bright restroom?

There are also flukes; places where the bathrooms are particularly nice compared to the restaurant you’re in.

kohler.jpgStellina Pasta Cafe is one of these places. Not that their restaurant isn’t nice, but it has a mild identity crisis as it sits in limbo between order-at-the counter fast food and casual upscale dining. Yet they have one of the nicest restaurant bathrooms in St. Louis.

The first thing that hits you is that they have one of those fancy vessel sinks with the spout and handles that come right out of the wall. On the floor and wall they have a great deal of detailed tile work that looks like someone definitely spent some serious time on that bathroom.

They also have really nice towels to dry your hands with. That might not seem like a big deal, but who hasn’t dined at Niche and noticed they use actual cloth towels instead of paper towels? While unnecessary, it’s a touch of class that does not go unnoticed.

As you can see, like most things, this is something I’ve considered more than the average person, and not one to hold back an opinion, the obvious question is: Where do these exquisite shrines to your public needs await?

Truffle’s is one example of a really rockin’ bathroom. Although it’s another story entirely I worked there for about thirty days around the time they first opened. Easily containing a top contender for the 7 wonders of the men’s bathroom world, they have one of the urinals from the original American Theater. And it’s no ordinary toilet as it’s absolutely the biggest I have ever seen. Standing about five feet tall I would describe it as art deco, and as I recall, the whole thing was carved from a solid chunk of marble stretching from about my upper chest all the way down to the floor. Smaller men could just step right in, and children, forget about it — play it safe and send them to the stall because they would surely be swept away.

But of course the real point of this is that Araka’s bathroom…it’s slammin!

arakadoor3.jpg arakahandle.jpg
arakasink1.jpg

From the moment you grab the door handle and its interesting texture strikes you as you pull it open, to the moment you exit realizing that as cool as it looked on outside it’s nothing compared to it’s warm glow within, when David Schefer Design was designing Araka they didn’t stop in the front of the house — oh no — they took the vibe right on into the oft-overlooked but always necessary bathroom.

Inside walls are lined with sleek masculine tile, and beautiful wooden stall doors are outfitted with shiny chrome handles that (thanks to my TLC vocab) really pop.

And “sinks” are a thing of the past. Illuminated from the direct lighting above, water simply runs down the sloped contours of textured sea foam green glass where it collects in a shiny metallic trough running the length of wall.

And so, with even the choice of soap seeming deliberate as the neon orange liquid glows from within, in the world of restaurant facilities, if I’m handing out stars, Araka’s bathroom is a true five star affair.

starstarstarstarstar

Who knew…

burgerit would take burgers to get us another national restaurant mentioning?

From Time.com:

…Hubert Keller (San Francisco’s Fleur de Lys) has opened a second Burger Bar in St. Louis, Mo.; he already sells 1,400 burgers each weekend night in Las Vegas.

It’s nice to see St. Louis in the national press a little more recently, but I think we can all agree it would be nice if it wasn’t for this.

Though, apparently, “burgerphilia has become so acceptable among foodies that two books on the subject are coming out this year: Hamburger America, by documentarian George Motz, and The Hamburger: A History, by New York magazine online food editor Josh Ozersky.”

But you shouldn’t care because if you’re really that interested in reading about hamburgers, you should be reading John T. Edge’s Hamburgers and Fries. From fried chicken to donuts, every book that guy writes is fantastic.

One More Thing About Plastic Bags

paperbagsI know this isn’t food related other than we need bags to take home our booty, but I recalled reading something previously about plastic bags actually taking less energy to recycle than paper bags.  Fleet Feet Sports, in fact, even has a statement on the sides of their plastic bags about their being easier on the environment to recycle — contrary to popular belief.

I thought it was pretty interesting information at the time, and as nobody ever believes me when I bring this up, I did a little scouring today and tracked down some of the info in this nice picture from the Washington Post.

Obviously the best thing is to not use the paper or plastic bags the store provides in the first place, but I thought you’d at least like to see a little hard information to back up my viewpoint that Whole Foods is doing it more for the image and bottom-line rather than the environmental aspects.