Category Archives: Restaurants

BANANAS FOSTER CREAM PIE

Family Sunday dinner was off this week because Carol, her husband, and their daughter had an important school event. Susan and I spent the evening with our grandson, so I decided to fix one of his favorite meals, shrimp and grits. That Southern classic clearly needed a traditional Southern dessert to go with it. I thought about banana pudding ringed with vanilla wafers. What Southern cafeteria or Southern school lunchroom doesn’t have their own version? That led me to cream pie – in particular, banana cream pie – and as I was free-associating, bananas Foster. I know that shrimp and grits is very much part of the Low Country of South Carolina and Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina while bananas Foster is quintessential New Orleans and Brennan’s. Cream pie is more or less middle ground and definitely Southern, but traditional banana cream pie dressed up a bit with the flavors of bananas Foster might be tasty. This is my spin.

The topping is Swiss meringue, but you could top it with whipped cream. You could even set it ablaze with some added heated brandy like a baked Alaska. Then you would wind up with an even more authentic bananas Foster.

RECIPE

Bananas Foster Cream Pie

Filling

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons banana liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 9-inch baked pie shell in a pie pan
  • 2 bananas

Method

  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir to combine evenly. Gradually whisk in milk to form a smooth mixture. Whisk in the egg yolks until they are completely incorporated.
  2. Place the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir for several minutes until the mixture is thickened and smooth.
  3. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cinnamon, banana liqueur and rum.
  4. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes while you prepare the bananas.
  5. Peel the bananas and cut into ¼-inch slices, spreading the slices across the bottom of the baked pie shell.
  6. Pour the cooled filling over the banana slices. Chill the pie while you prepare meringue.

Meringue

Ingredients

  • 5 egg whites
  • 8 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a bowl that can be set over – not in – a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the water bath and beat with an electric mixer at high speed for 5 minutes or until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  2. Remove the pie from the refrigerator. Spread the meringue over the pie being careful to completely cover the filling.
  3. Place the pie with topping under a preheated broiler for only a moment or two until the meringue is lightly browned. At this point it is very easy to burn unless you are paying constant attention.
  4. Remove the pie from under the broiler. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

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EIGHTY HAS ITS PERKS

After the train ride from hell, we joined all of our family in San Francisco. It was several days of celebration: a couple of kids’ birthdays, one family had their Seder while others dyed Easter eggs. Little did I know of the celebration of celebrations. I was instructed to be sure to wear the sport coat that Susan had insisted on packing. All of the family showed up, the children prepared for a day of play and the adults dressed up – unusual for a family gathering. The mystery deepened when a long white limousine pulled up in front of the house. The kids were left behind with the oldest teenager and a sitter in charge. The adults piled into the limo and headed through the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge. I was told we were celebrating my upcoming birthday, but nothing more. The conversation turned to family activities and reminiscences as we maneuvered the weekend traffic in Marin and San Rafael out onto the green expanses of the Delta farms and marshes. It became evident that we were heading to Napa when the flatlands gave way to rolling hills and rows of close-trimmed grapevines.

Enjoying the ride

Finally, we pulled up to a gray stone building that was immediately recognizable as The French Laundry, the legendary restaurant that all of the family knew had been on my must-do list for many years. This was their surprise to commemorate my eightieth birthday.

Arrival

We were greeted by a young man who had known Sarah and Evan since their days in New York where he had worked at Per Se. He and a young woman dressed in black led us on a brief tour of the gleaming kitchen filled with at least two dozen cooks in whites, each stationed at a specialized work space creating one or another beautiful dish. The woman in black then led us through the chilly wine cellar of 13,000 bottles into an elegant room that would be our home for the next four hours of eating. She pushed back a glass door and next a louvered screen to open the room to the outdoors and a beautiful garden scene. Then the performance began. The first act was a ritual sabrage performed by a tall man dressed in formal attire and carrying a shiny sword. With one whack of the sword, he lopped off the cork and bottle neck, losing nary a drop of champagne that he then poured into our waiting flutes after stabbing the sword into the lawn in front of us.

Then the food began.

The meal was filled with French Laundry classics. First were coronets: black-sesame-studded tuiles shaped into cones filled with crème fraiche and salmon tartare. Whimsical, beautiful, and tasty at the same time. Each coronet came in a little silver stand that was centered on the huge blue Limoges service plate. They outshone the accompanying “Ritz crackers”, tiny little cheesy biscuits, in visual drama but not necessarily in flavor. Both offerings were delicious.

Next came a small white bowl that nestled two perfect white asparagus tips and a dark disc of Perigord black truffle, Holland White Asparagus “Vichyssoise”. It was a little sad to see the composition disappear beneath a small lake of creamy soup, but the flavor made up for the visual loss.

Then came what is arguably the restaurant’s most famous dish: “Oysters and Pearls.”

Hen Egg Custard with ragout of Perigord truffles served in an egg shell with a laser-sharp rim and topped by a chive imprisoned between two impossibly thin, matched potato wafers

Éleveges Perigord Moulard Duck Foie Gras “Torchon” served with wine-poached sour apple, wild sorrel, and fennel “gastrique”

Sautéed Fillet of Mediterranean Turbot served with cream braised La Rotte potatoes, buttered brioche and black winter truffle emulsion. The fish and truffle emulsion were a perfect flavor combination.

Alaska King Crab “À La Plancha”  served with bantam hen egg “gnocchi”, winter radishes, garden celery and “Consommé Madrilène”. The fragrant, flavorful broth tied everything together.

“Bread and Butter” was a perfectly formed  rosette “Parker House Roll” with a center of roasted paprika and served with a  quenelle of Diane St Clair’s Animal Farm butter.

Devil’s Gulch Ranch Rabbit satsuma “Suprêmes”, served with glazed garden turnips and arrowleaf spinach

Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb with pea shoot “Pakora”, slow-roasted Nantes carrots, and Spanish caper-brown butter jus

“Gougère” Andanta Dairy “Etude” and Australian black winter truffle “Fondue”.

Tropical Fruit Ambrosia young coconut puree, lime scented golden pineapple, Matcha “Genoise” and Cherimoya sherbet

“Gâteau Pear and Caramel” caramel mouse with pear compote and “Pain de Gênes”

“Mignardises” – handcrafted chocolates and truffles of many flavors and beautiful coatings

To be sure, it was a most amazing meal. But the best part was to be surrounded by family and to share remembrances and stories that had already been retold many times and to laugh with one another. It was a wonderful way to mark eighty years of being on this earth, and this post is one way for me to thank all of my children and their loving spouses.

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SEEING STARS

Today is a celebratory event in our family. The announcements for the 2018 Michelin star restaurants in the Bay Area had been delayed because of the terrible fires in the Napa/Sonoma region. Sarah and Evan were on tenterhooks because Rich Table had been dropped from Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list from last year. That meant they were either going to get a star or they were going to get nothing. Originally the stars were to be announced one week after the Bib Gourmands, but on the eve of the announcement. Michelin decided to delay. That was a good decision because some of the restaurants were threatened by the fires, and those that weren’t were cooking food for the fire victims.  Sarah already had experience with that. In 2001, she worked at Bouley in Lower Manhattan a short way from the World Trade Center. The restaurant was closed for months after 9/11, and each day for weeks she helped cook meals and then transport them to the site.

Back in San Francisco, there was no further notice about when the list would be released until yesterday. The wait was agonizing, and the silence, of course, stimulated social media gossip including one person who allowed it would be March before the announcements came. No way! Michelin has books to sell.

All morning long I checked my cell phone. Nothing. Until I got a text message from Sarah that burst into a flurry of stars. There were no words, but the message was clear.

It’s official: Rich Table has been awarded one Michelin star. That matches Michael Mina where Sarah worked as sous chef. As well, Coi, where Evan worked as chef de cuisine, has gained its third and ultimate star.

I know that Sarah and Evan plan to celebrate this evening. We are also going to have our own little celebration.

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RT ROTISSERIE-STYLE CHICKEN SOUP WITH FARRO

RT Rotisserie has been chugging along since its opening, refining the menu, adjusting staffing patterns, getting the delivery system worked out, and tinkering with other details related to opening a new restaurant. One issue that they have faced from the beginning is what to do with roasted chicken left at the end of the day. Planning supplies is one of the most difficult challenges that a restaurant, especially a new one, faces. Of course, you don’t want to run out while a customer is waiting for his or her order, and you don’t want to have so much leftover that it gets tossed out. If rotisserie chicken is your thing, the solution is to turn roasted chicken into chicken soup. Whole roasted chicken makes a delicious takeout, and roasted chicken on a Dutch crunch roll with a choice of sauces is what many customers are after. Unfortunately, chicken soup gets second billing. That’s too bad, because as far as I’m concerned, RT Rotisserie chicken soup should get star treatment. It is unlike any other chicken soup that I have ever eaten. It has a robust, earthy flavor, and it is filled with chicken and what I judge to be farro. As well, the broth is brimming with unusual vegetables and a blend of herbal flavors. It should be obvious that RT Rotisserie is not going to reveal their recipe, so I have tried to reconstruct the soup. Let me hasten to note that this is not the original version – and it is nowhere as good as the original. Still, it is a pretty good chicken soup in its own right. Since I don’t have a brass and enamel French Rotisol rotisserie in my kitchen, I had to do some substituting. I fried the chicken with barbecue dry rub and then finished it off in chicken stock. That gave the stock a roasted flavor that mimicked the real thing. You could use more or less farro, or you could substitute wheat berries or barley. There are lots of other substitutions that you can make the soup your own. As for me, I will have to be satisfied with my version until my next trip to San Francisco.

RECIPE

RT Rotisserie-Style Chicken Soup with Farro

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken thighs
  • buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • dry poultry rub
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 quarts (8 cups) chicken stock
  • 1 cup dried farro
  • 3 baby bok choy
  • 1 cup chopped mint leaves
  • 1 cup chopped basil leaves
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup chopped parsley leaves
  • 5 scallions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Place the chicken thighs in a sealable container, cover with buttermilk, and add salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally. Remove the chicken thighs from the buttermilk mixture, pat dry, and coat generously with dry poultry rub. Place in the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight. Fry the chicken thighs over medium heat in a heavy pan with canola, turning occasionally until browned on both sides. In the mean time, bring the chicken stock to the boil in a heavy soup pot. Transfer the chicken thighs to the boiling liquid and cool at the simmer for 15 minutes or until the thighs are cooked through. Remove the cooked chicken to a plate to cool. Remove skin and bones from the thighs, cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
  2. Return the chicken stock to the boil. Stir in the farro and cook at the simmer for 20 minutes or until the grain is soft.
  3. Cut the bok choy in half crosswise then in fourths lengthwise. Add to the broth and return to the boil. Stir in the mint, basil. cilantro, parsley, scallions, and white and black sesame seeds. Return to the boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the bok choy is tender. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve while still hot.

Cook’s Notes

  • Undoubtedly you could skip the buttermilk brining, the dry rub, and the overnight drying, but I think that contributes to the rich flavor of the soup.
  • Our family uses a dry poultry rub for barbecuing chicken. We have had the recipe for years, but there are many dry rubs commercially available, and probably your family has its own favorite.
  • Farro is a grain that has been enjoyed in Italy for centuries. It has become increasingly popular in the United States, especially in restaurants. Farro usually refers to emmer wheat, a relative of our usual wheat, but it may also refer to other grains. You should be able to find it in a large, well-stocked grocery store, but if you can’t you can easily substitute wheat berries or pearled barley. For that matter, you could substitute rice or pasta. The amount is up to you.
  • One way to tell when the soup is cooked is to look at the white sesame. It will tend to float on the surface until it is cooked. That’s a good sign that the soup is ready.

 

 

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THE BIG DAY HAS ARRIVED – RT ROTISSERIE OPENS

After months of planning, construction delays, major renovations, and recipe testing, RT Rotisserie opened during the Memorial Day weekend. The first day was a big success: A good-sized group was lined up before the doors opened, and the line at the order counter continued unabated through the lunch hour. There were the to-be-expected opening day hiccups. Staffing could have been different. Some of the dishes needed adjustments. Menu changes were already under discussion. And, of course, there was the inevitable and predictable plumbing emergency. In spite of all of that, the opening went smoothly, and Sarah and Evan returned home well after midnight, satisfied with the day.

We had travelled from Los Angeles to take care of the boys during opening week. That’s a challenge for a couple of old folks, but we managed to keep the little ones entertained. They only asked, “Where’s Mommy?”, a few times. Still, we did get a chance to try out the food at the restaurant. Our son and his family came up from Silicon Valley. They had originally planned to go on a canoeing and camping trip in the Sierras, but the road to their favorite lake had been damaged during the winter’s heavy storms. Instead, they joined us in a trip to RT Rotisserie after the lunchtime rush. Still, I think there was a little shock when eight of us appeared in line in a smallish space that seats 49. Later we learned that other large family groups had come in earlier in the day.

We enjoyed several things from the menu. First was the centerpiece of the offerings, rotisserie chicken. Preparation includes an overnight brining in house-made buttermilk fortified with brine and several herbs and spices. Then the brined chicken is air-dried in a large refrigerated walk-in for a day so that the skin will roast to a tasty crispness. Huge slabs of pork belly undergo similar treatments before they are filled with a tasty stuffing and then placed on the spit. Most surprisingly whole heads of cauliflower are given a similar preparation before they are roasted. When they came to the table in their own special sauce, they were unlike any cauliflower I have ever had. They could be a meal in themselves.

A parade of sauces, including chimichurri, Douglas fir sauce, brought the main items to new levels.

Sides were delicious: umami-dusted sweet potato fries, grilled potatoes, and a chicken soup with a rich broth filled with chunks of chicken, chopped vegetables, barley, and fragrant herbs. Dishes of strawberry- and milk-flavored soft serve ice cream in swirls kept the kids entertained while we waited for our food. Unfortunately we did not get to sample Sarah’s dessert, chocolate sablé ice cream sandwiches.

After all that food, we went home and tried to squeeze in a nap. With what must have been a sugar rush, the boys would have none of that. But they and we had had a good day, and RT Rotisserie seemed to be off to a good start.

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RT ROTISSERIE NEARLY THERE

A couple of weeks ago we went to the Bay Area for a few days to celebrate some family events and to give a hand where we could. Peter and René planned to celebrate their wedding anniversary with a stay by themselves in a nice San Francisco hotel. Ukulele lessons, soccer games, and practice for a science fair got in the way, so the whole family came to the city for a brief overnight and a visit with Sarah and her family in their new house.

Sarah and Evan decided that the stress of opening a new business was not enough, and so they also chose to buy a new house.  It is a remodeled century-old house near Ocean Beach with more room for their two boys than their small and seemingly shrinking apartment in the Presidio. Now they face the joys and travails of homeownership.

While we were there, Sarah worked on cannoli for  a special Italian wine dinner at Rich Table. Evan also worked on the Italian dinner menu along with supervising the painters and carpenters putting the finishing touches on RT Rotisserie. The original  goal was to have the restaurant inspected and opened within the week. Stress! That hasn’t worked out. City permits and inspections always take longer than one expects, and construction always gets slowed down by an unanticipated problem with plumbing, or a brick wall, or some such thing. Now the opening date seems established as Memorial Day weekend. We plan to return to San Francisco to give a hand with the boys so that Sarah and Evan can give full attention to the opening.

Rich Table had incorporated many of Sarah and Evan’s ideas about what a restaurant should be. They wanted the food to be sophisticated, the menu to change constantly, and the atmosphere to be casual enough that the diner can relax and just enjoy the food. They have certainly realized their goals.

RT Rotisserie has a different origin and a different vision. Sarah and Evan found a space just a block from Rich Table. It was in an old building in the style of the neighborhood and had been vacant for a couple of years. In its most recent iteration it had been a Chinese takeout, and the space needed a lot of renovations to make it workable. Rich Table had been opened on a shoestring; RT Rotisserie would require substantially more investment. Earthquake mitigation retrofitting was required. The basement floor had to be dug out with a new, lower floor. Walls were moved, and the insides were completely torn out.  The outside wasrefinished, but in keeping with codes about historical preservation. After six plus months of renovations, the space is beautiful and inviting. Planters with live plants adorn the walls. Shiny new chairs and tables are lined up. Brand-new walk-in cold room and freezer are in the basement. But the stars of the new equipment are a soft-serve ice cream machine and a beautiful red and polished brass rotisserie oven from France that could be a decorative piece instead of being the workhorse of the operation.

That says a little about the vision and the menu. The restaurant will welcome sit-down customers, but it will also encourage walk-ins and take-outs. The menu will be simple, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have the flavor and presentation that Rich Table has become noted for. The rotisserie will be used to roast porchetta, chicken and – for vegetarians or those who just like the taste – cauliflower. Sally Hurricane’s famous fried chicken will be available, and there will be a good choice of Rich Table-style sides. Who knows what they plan to do with the soft-serve, but I am sure it will be delicious. Good choices of beer and wine will also be available.

They’ve asked me to provide some of my images for wall decoration. I am deeply honored.

I can hardly wait to see the grand opening. I hope that it will be a big success.

 

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DEATH VALLEY AND THE FURNACE CREEK INN

Last year there was a wildflower “super bloom” in Death Valley because of ideal rain and temperature. We couldn’t go. This year, because we now live in California and because of the enormous rains, we thought we would visit. We were a bit disappointed because the flowers were sparse. Still, we had a good time. As we had in the past, we entered the park from the town of Lone Pine that sits beneath Mt. Whitney. The Sierras were still covered in snow, and the view was spectacular.

The road took us along the edge of Owens Lake. Sand blew across the road as if we were in the middle of the Sahara. The once-huge lake was nothing but a salt flat, reminding us of the movie, “Chinatown”, and the politics that brought water from the region to boost the growth of Los Angeles. From there, the road plunges down 4,000 feet to the valley floor. Along the way, there are hairpin turns and several view points. In particular, the view from Father Crowley Point lets you peer into the deep and colorful canyons below. It is easy to understand the many metaphors including Hell and Death that have been used to describe the place.

As we descended, we saw a few wildflowers, but there were few places to stop on our journey. There were no flowers when we reached the first bit of civilization at Panamint Springs, and so we drove on without stopping. Stove Pipe Wells was filled with people in campers looking for a place to spend the night and hikers returning from a visit to the impressive sand dunes. We checked in with the ranger just as he was closing the office and then headed another few miles to Furnace Creek. The Ranch is a large development of restaurants, gift shops, motels, and camp grounds. The Inn is another mile or so further and rises up out of the desert like a mirage.

The Inn is a sprawling complex set against a steep hillside and surrounded with green lawns and palms of many varieties, including dates. There are bougainvillea, oleander, and flowers throughout the grounds. Although the place is a natural oasis fed by springs and a constant stream, it has the surreal appearance of something from the Arabian Nights.

Furnace Creek Inn was built in 1927, the same year as the beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. It was envisioned as a magnet for wealthy tourists traveling by train and later by automobile. Over the years, it has attracted many movie stars and politicians. Unfortunately, these days it is a little down at the heels, and the service is a little uneven. There are reported plans to refurbish the inn, and that will be great, Still the main reason one stays at the inn is to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the sunrises and sunsets.

Food is better than you might expect out in the middle of the desert. The bar drinks were delicious even though they didn’t have many call brands. The breakfasts were huge and  flavorful even though the waffle iron was broken and they were out of maple syrup anyway.

Highlights included smoked salmon crostini. The citrus duck was tender with crispy skin, the fat completely rendered, and the meat cooked to a barely pink. The salmon was well cooked and came with a radish coulis and a potato puree in the form of a pear and deep fried.

After our stay we traveled to the south end of the park. That turned out to be where the flowers were. Then we drove to the Mojave Reserve, a place we had never been before. Right in the middle of the reserve is a preserved train station that played a major role in the war effort in WWII. More wildflowers, and enormous pink-colored sand dunes.  Then back to fighting the traffic on the interstates until we made it home safely.

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