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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Restaurants

Dovetail's Haute Onion

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john

© Dovetail
Dovetail chef John Fraser



I’ve eaten some porktastic dishes already this year, including the heart-stopping pig’s trotter at the Breslin and Maialino’s excellent “malfatti al Maialino,” malfatti pasta topped with a suckling-pig ragù. But surprisingly, I’ve been leaving most of my meals gushing over a vegetable rather than a meat dish. My most recent vegetable love affair was at Dovetail. The supertalented chef, John Fraser, recently reopened the place after a renovation and expansion and has also added some very clever new dishes to the menu. The one that I dreamed of when I went home that night was, of all things, an onion. Fraser takes Vidalia onions, halves them and then (leaving the skin on) leafs them out, layer by layer, spreading a little butter and Perigord truffles between each layer. He then pieces it all back together before baking it in a salt crust as if it were fish. The result is tender, caramelized onion deliciousness, garnished with maple brown butter, hazelnuts, frisée and mache. If the blooming onion is the height of trashy onion goodness, then this is the pinnacle of haute onion brilliance.

News

Roger Ebert, Best Food Writer of 2010?

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Roger Ebert, the beloved movie reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times, has been battling cancer for nearly the last decade. In many ways it doesn't seem to have slowed him down; he's about the most prolific Tweeter out there after writer Susan Orlean. Yesterday he posted one of the best food essays I've ever read, a blog post about living "Nil by Mouth" and losing his ability to eat and drink. It's more life-affirming than you'd think. Check it out here.

Menus

2010 Vegetable Obsession

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meringues

© Aldea
George Mendes turns beets into a delicious meringue.

 

I’ve already heard declarations that “the Great Pork Decade has ended”, and as carnivorous foodies prepare to crown the next It beast for the coming decade, my hope is for vegetables to rival—if not surpass—meat as chefs’ newest obsession. Already, one of my most remarkable dishes of the new year was a vegetable-centric dish: George Mendes’s brilliant beet meringue at Aldea in NYC. Mendes cleverly juices fresh red beets, adds egg white powder and aerates it; he then dehydrates the mixture overnight at 145 degrees before topping the bite-size meringues with crème fraîche and American Hackleback caviar. Though just an amuse-bouche, Mendes twisted my perception of what a beet can be in terms of flavor and texture. And in today’s New York Times Dining section, Melissa Clark praised the unglamorous rutabaga and provides a delicious-sounding recipe that I plan to make this weekend. Maybe 2010 will be the year that some ordinary vegetables reach pork bun or fried chicken status.

Entertaining

A Little Caviar Splurge

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Kaviari "Kristal"

© Kaviari
Kaviari "Kristal"

A few months ago, wine editor Ray Isle and I enjoyed some amazing caviar at Atelier Robuchon, made all the more intriguing because Joël Robuchon called it his official caviar and said it came from China. We were hoping someday we'd be able to buy tins of it to serve at parties, and now we've just about gotten our wish. Epicure Pantry, supplier to many of New York's finest chefs, just released a version called Kaviari "Kristal," made from the eggs of Schrencki sturgeon farmed in China, and selected and packaged by the Paris-based Kaviari company. Kaviari is guarded about its sources, but assures that these are among the best fish farms in the world. What we do know: The eggs are plump, briny and buttery, with a lovely pop and a clean finish. They'd be great on their own or on a blini; to offset the splurge-level cost ($138 for 50 g/1.75 oz), pair them with a terrific value Champagne.




Ingredients

Are Your Pickles Real?

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© Kristin Donnelly
Arugula Salad with Pickles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the wine business, purists refer to naturally fermented juice (made with wild ambient yeasts) as “real wine.” The same is now true of pickles. "Real pickles” are made by salting vegetables so they form a brine and letting them ferment—the tartness comes from the lactic acid that forms naturally. As delicious as they are, many artisanal pickles like Rick’s Picks are made with vinegar—an acidic ingredient that inhibits bacteria, including the good kind. “Real” pickles have all kinds of beneficial bacteria that are great for digestion and possibly preventing the flu. Chow recently created a video with one of the most passionate picklers I’ve come across—Alex Hozven of Cultured Pickle Shop in Berkeley, California. She makes naturally fermented, wildly innovative pickles with all kinds of in-season vegetables—beets and Tokyo turnips with basil and Thai chile, for instance, and carrots and mustard flower with cinnamon, paprika and cumin—along with “real” sauerkrauts and kimchees. Alex eats pickles with most meals and tells her customers to think of them as a side dish. Inspired by Alex, I'm trying to find fun ways to eat more pickles, so I recently added diced dill pickles (naturally fermented, of course) to my arugula salad.  I’d take them over croutons any day.

Ingredients

Granny Choe's Kimchi

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Granny Choe's Kimchi

Nothing beats the pure flavors and vinegary spiciness of homemade kimchi, and finding that perfect combination in a store-brought jar is next to impossible. Recently I found the closest thing I've ever gotten to it: Granny Choe's Kimchi. The California company began selling kimchi online last year when Connie Choe-Harikul convinced her grandmother to try mass-producing the recipe she learned growing up in Korea. The packaging isn't perfect—the contents are jarred under pressure and can explode, so open with a dish towel over the sink—but the kimchi has just the right amount of bite for me, and the longer you keep it around, the stinkier and tangier it gets. I'm not the only one who feels this way about Granny Choe's—her recipe also won this year's Critter Kimchi Contest in San Francisco. I suggest trying it for making another California favorite, Kogi dogs, or Korean chicken soup.

Farms

Day 6: Homeward Bound

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Late that night after dinner at Vetri, we hit the road towards New York City. I hated to skip over my native New Jersey without even a single stop, but six days was a long time to be away from my wife and newborn son, and I missed them both. It was time to go home.

By way of summing up the experience, it's hard to pick favorites. I learned more than I thought I would on this trip, and was glad I had members of my team with me to share in the experience. We all found fresh inspiration in the people we met along the way, all of them committed in one way or another to good food: whether growing it, catching it, distributing it, or cooking it. I enjoyed the chance to form deeper relationships with Anson Mills and Rappahannock River Oysters, and feel that in Cane Creek Farm, Culton Organics, and Samuels & Son I've discovered new suppliers whose products I'm excited to use in my restaurants.

And so, at the end of this six day journey, there's only one question that remains in the back of my mind. Where should I go next?

Farms

Day 6: Dinner at Vetri

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Dinner at Vetri

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Dinner at Vetri

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

Although I've been friends with Marc for years, this was my first time eating at his acclaimed restaurant Vetri. It was well worth the wait, and I came away thinking that his impossibly thin, buttery pastas and tender baby goat could hold their own against any I've had.

As has been the trend during this trip, our menu featured several of the items we saw earlier in the day at Culton Organics and Samuels & Son. Line caught fluke became an amuse of fluke crudo with Culton Organics' Spitzenberg apples and lemon. Swordfish was mixed in with paccheri pasta and tomatoes, basil leaves, and fries cut from Culton Organics eggplant.

Tom Culton's cauliflower was transformed into a flan, served with house cured guanciale and quail egg. His squash became the filling for agnolotti with amaretto cookies and sage. A side of his Brussels sprouts, charred and served with shaved truffled pecorino cheese, accompanied our baby goat course. Tom's cardoons made it into a deconstructed Bagna Cauda, served in a warm bath of anchovy sauce with baby vegetables and salt cured egg yolk.

Chefs

Day 6: Onward to Samuels & Son

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Chefs Shane McBride and James Tracey inspecting a tuna head

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Chefs Shane McBride and James Tracey
inspecting a tuna head

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

Anyone who has ever spent time in a fish market can attest to them typically being pretty smelly, messy, old-fashioned places. So, I was more than a little bit surprised when we pulled up to Samuels & Son's headquarters. Samuels just moved out of Philadelphia's historic fish market and into a brand new $20 million facility that was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

The new facility was clean, spacious, and brightly lit, with fish of every variety you can think of stacked neatly in boxes row by row. Everything from the cutting rooms to the loading bays was temperature controlled at a constant 34 degrees. With the help of refrigerated trucks, that meant that a fish can be kept super cold (but never frozen) from the moment it gets plucked out of the ocean to the moment it arrives at a restaurant, an innovation which makes a big difference in freshness terms.

Even more state of the art was the facility's ozonated water system. Ozonated water has antibacterial properties, allowing the fish cutters to constantly sanitize both their work surfaces and the fish itself without introducing any chemicals.

The facility is a big step forward in the way that seafood is processed, and I was impressed by how much Samuels & Son was willing to invest in providing their customers with a better product.

Farms

Day 6: A Morning at Culton Organics

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A morning at Culton Organics

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
A morning at Culton Organics

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

When it came time to decide where we should stop north of DC, my first call was to my friend and fellow chef Marc Vetri. Marc has two highly regarded restaurants in Philadelphia, Osteria and Vetri, and I knew that he'd have great suggestions for food producers to visit in the area. Number one on his list was Culton Organics, a family farm in the heart of Lancaster County which supplies fruit and vegetables to his restaurants. Marc loved the place so much that offered to join us if we visited.

So, on the morning of day six we were Pennsylvania-bound. I invited the chefs of my three New York restaurants, James Tracey, Shane McBride, and Lauren Hirschberg, thinking this would be a good opportunity to spend a day together outside the kitchen.

Culton Organics is run by a guy named Tom Culton. Tom took over his family's 55 acre farm when he was 20 and has been working it for the past nine years, only growing as much as he, his grandfather, and his girlfriend can handle. Currently that means just half of his acreage is in fruit and vegetable cultivation, but Tom is not interested in growing his business, insisting that bringing on extra help takes the joy out of farming for him.

We took a walk through Tom's fields, which were amazingly lush considering that he doesn't use pesticides, weed killer, or man-made fertilizer. He doesn't even irrigate. Tom keeps the land fertile using crop rotation, growing a wide variety of produce (from cardoons to artichokes to fraise de bois) on land that has been farmed by his family organically for the past 100 years (yes, you read that correctly, and it is a very rare achievement). Tom also takes frequent research trips to Europe, studying a new crop or farming method in Italy or France in order to apply it to his own farming.

The icing on the cake of our visit to Culton Organics was when Tom invited us back to his 19th century farmhouse for a hearty lunch: pig's stomach stuffed with pork sausage, new potatoes, and celery, accompanied by homemade apple sauce. It was one of the best home-cooked meals I've had in recent memory.

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