Some food people are real sticklers for words and what they mean. For example: pizza. I consider the pizza at Pizzeria Mozza (developed by Nancy Silverton) to be some of the best pizza I’ve ever had, but there are detractors out there who call it focaccia because it’s so puffy. I’m pretty sure it’s pizza for a few reasons: 1. it’s round; 2. it’s cooked in a wood-burning oven; 3. the name of the restaurant is Pizzeria Mozza.
Still, even I had to raise an eyebrow at the pizza I just made from the cover of this month’s Bon Appetit. The dough is a clever riff on Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread. Though this one you knead, for 12 minutes, and then let it rest–and ferment–overnight in the fridge.
Hey, we’ve got a new banner up on the blog–it’s been a while–so head on over (if you’re reading this on a reader) and check it out. Thanks to Lindy Groening for designing it (check out all her previous banners here) and thanks to my secret helper R.B. for putting it up.
When we were in Berlin this past July, at a restaurant called Renger-Patzsch, our dinner ended with the perfect punctuation mark of a dessert: a chocolate tart with apricots and vanilla ice cream. It was memorable for its combination of elegance and simplicity; a tart isn’t easy to do, but this one, somehow, seemed effortless. I made a mental note that if I were ever going to cook a meal with European flair, I’d end it in a similar way. My moment came on Saturday, after I served that pork shoulder braised in Guinness to some friends.
What’s the difference between a home cook and a chef? For me, the answer lies right there in the pages of Daniel Boulud’s braising book which came out back in 2006. I’m a big believer in braising; nothing makes me happier than to sear a tough piece of meat, stir in some aromatics, add a cooking liquid, and then to let thing go for three hours, only to have the meat melt beneath the tines of a fork when you’re done, the sauce right there without any extra labor. But as for those individual elements–the meat, the aromatics, the liquid–the best I could come up with, if pressed, would be all the usual suspects: chicken thighs, onions, garlic, white wine, etc. That’s because I’m a home cook. Chef Boulud, on the other hand, fills his pages with the most startling combinations: beef shank with coconut and avocado, pork belly with pineapple and plantains, lamb shanks with mint, prunes, and bourbon. And so on Saturday, I decided to channel my inner-chef and make the recipe that called out to me the most: Pork Shoulder with Guinness, Dried Cherries, and Sweet Potatoes.
Man, are you in for a treat. Are you ready? Imagine a slice of fresh, milky mozzarella that’s been coated in panko bread crumbs and fried. That sounds pretty good by itself, doesn’t it? Now imagine that on an eggy roll (Hawaiian sweet bread) and topped with both basil aioli and a spicy tomato jam. It’s hard to even wrap your head around, but I know it’s a real thing that exists because I ate it at the Burnt Truck at the Orange County Fair and ever since it’s been haunting my dreams. Making this at home wouldn’t just be an act of selfishness (I NEED TO HAVE MORE), but an act of charity because if I figure out this recipe that means you get to eat it too and you’ll be just as happy and haunted as I am.
Sometimes you eat a dish that’s so good you have to have the exact recipe, to recreate it at home in such away that it’s indistinguishable from the original. Other times, you try a dish and love it so much that it inspires you to riff in a similar way; not to make that exact same thing, but to make something similar in your own style. The latter is pretty much what happened to me when I visited the Dos Chinos truck in Orange County. There, one of the owners, Viet demonstrated how to make their signature shrimp and rice bowl. It was a positive playground of textures and flavors and when I left, I set about to make something similar at home, but in my own unique Amateur Gourmet way.
There’s a new restaurant trend afoot, one that takes the form of a casual, shoulder-shrug of a sentence, usually uttered by a server after he or she takes your order. It’s the sentence in the title of this post: “Just so you know, food arrives when it’s ready.”
It’s a sentence I heard last night at Alimento, a terrific new restaurant in Silverlake where I had some of the best pasta dishes of my life (more on those in a moment). It’s a sentence I heard last week at Republique with my parents, when they were here for Craig’s premiere. It’s a sentence we also heard at Bar Ama, where we went for lunch with both of our families (pictured above) after scoping out our secret wedding venue downtown. It’s a sentence that didn’t really bother me at first or even, really, grab my attention; but now that it’s becoming more and more common, it’s making me wonder: what’s it all about? And who does this really benefit: the restaurant or the diner?
Sometimes I wake up with a specific craving that has no obvious root. For example, on Saturday morning I woke up with a craving for cornbread. Where did that come from? Was it the fact that I’d been watching the Sean Brock episodes of “Mind of a Chef” at the gym? Actually, that was probably it–strike that first sentence–because in the episode I just watched, he harvested his own corn, shocked the kernels in liquid nitrogen, and made the most incredible-looking corn grits I’d ever seen. I didn’t have grits in my cupboard on Saturday morning, but I did have cornmeal, which is where this idea came from. Then all I had to do was find the right recipe.