Happy New Year

The Eve and the Day

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It all starts on New Year’s Eve and we had reservations for 9:45 at Tablespoon (A New Measure of Bistro), a 47 seat bistro on Polk Street, two blocks from our house. No driving.

Sarah, who was joining us, came over early, and I made an appetizer to start the evening properly.

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Broiled Radicchio
From Julia Wiley’s blog 12/05, there’s a comment on a comment dissing radicchio, looks like it might be from Great Britan. It has a great idea for mellowing the bitter radicchio.

People are mad. Radicchio is delicious! Favourite way is to cut it in thick (one-inch) slices through the whole thing, put the slabs on a baking tray, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, top with gorgonzola + grill (broil). yes it goes really weird colours, but mmm with crusty bread for the amazing juices (this is why you did it on a baking tray, remember??) In fact, I’ve got some less-than-fabulous Gorgonzola that needs using up…. hmmmm.

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After, we repaired to Tablespoon. What a nice setting for New Year’s Eve. Michael Bauer, the Chronicle Restaurant guy said,

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The long, narrow storefront is chicly outfitted with a partly open kitchen in back and a 12-seat bar along one side. The rest of the room is lined with banquettes and about a dozen tables.

A row of mirrors at eye level gives everyone a good view of the bar action. Large drum-shaped shaded chandeliers over the storefront window lend a tailored impression that suits the increasingly upscale pedigree of the neighborhood.

Our table was ready and the room was full of festive folks who had opted for the late seating. The fixed price was for four courses that we were able to choose from about 20 appetizer, salad, seafood, meat and dessert courses.

We dined as follows:

Marcus
Ahi Tuna Salad
Lobster over Vegetable Risotto
Beef Duo
Roast Tenderloin
Brisket
Cookie Plate Baked to Order

Carol
Oysters on the Half Shell
Crabcake with red & yellow pepper sauces
Scallops with celery root puree with black truffles
Panna Cotta with espresso cream

Sarah
Oysters on the Half Shell
Scallops with celery root puree with black truffles
Lobster over Vegetable Risotto
Lemon Tart

Sarah had this to say:

I think the oysters were from Tomales Bay and as usual, they were fabulous. Tasted like I’d just dived into the Pacific. Could have swallowed a dozen, easy. The scallops were my favorite; crispy on the outside, plump and juicy inside. I remember a sauce on the plate that was as attractive as it was tasty surrounding my two little morsels but to tell you the truth, it’s the scallops that were amazing. I enjoyed the lobster with risotto though not as much as you did. The lemon tart was the perfect ending to my seafood platter. It was tart and sweet with a real buttery crust and it paired nicely with a cup of really good house coffee. The house champagne just before midnight was a nice touch too.

Wow! Good stuff. Our waitress was smiling and perfect and the food came in just right portions at just the right pace. But I think the thing that impressed me most was the Vegetable Risotto, which nestled under the Lobster meat. The carrots were al dente and were cut into perfect little cubes that I could feel in my mouth, and when examined, see in the rice. Oh, and the warm cookies were fantastic.

I couldn’t help but think of Bill Buford. In his excellent book, HEAT, he described chopping carrots in the Babbo kitchen.

“Some techniques seemed fussy. Carrots were a trauma.

Evidently, there are only two ways to prepare a carrot: rough cut and fine dice. Rough cut meant slicing the carrot in half lengthwise and then—chop, chop, chop—cutting it into perfectly identical half moons (which, to my eye, had nothing rough about them).

The nightmare was fine dice, which meant cutting every bit of the carrot into identical one-millimeter square cubes.

A carrot is not shaped like a cube, and so you first had to trim it up into a long rectangle, then cut it into thin, one-millimeter planks, and then take your one-millimeter planks and cut them into long, one-millimeter slivers, and then take your perfectly formed slivers, and, chop, chop, chop, cut them into one-millimeter cubes. I seem to have done my first batch almost right—either that or it was late and everyone was in a hurry and no one looked too closely at the geometric mish-mash in the container I’d filled. My second batch involved thirty-six carrots. Normally, Elisa popped round to make sure I wasn’t mangling what I was working on, but she must hav trusted me with the carrots—after all, what can you do to a carrot?—so when she finally looked in I was almost done. She shrieked, “I said fine dice! This is not fine dice! I don’t know what they are, but they’re wrong.” I had been cutting carrots for two hours, and then, like that, they were tossed; they were that bad. I wanted to weep.”

On one of my 7am walks, up and down the Embarcadero, I passed a restaurant. One window looked into a prep area, off the dining room, and there was a solitary young cook picking the leaves off of parsley, putting the leaves in one bowl and the stems in another.

I do that now if I’m not in a total rush. I used to just chop-from-the-top. Thyme and rosemary are easy, just slide your fingers down the stem. With parsley, cilantro, tarragon, you have to pinch off the leaves.

Perfect food costs more.

Wendell and Carol’s gift of Sticky Fingers Pulled Pork came with a note, “Our traditional New Year’s Day dinner is some kind of pig, beans and greens. You’ll have to supply your own beans and greens.”

We did that. I got some lovely Rancho Gordo Golden Eye beans and collard greens at the market and went to town.

I soaked the beans, sautéed a mirepoix (olive oil, chopped onions, celery, carrots) in a pot, added the beans and cooked them in water to well cover as suggested by Rancho Gordo, and there you have it.

A while back, I emailed Eric and Brian inquiring how to cook collard greens. Here are their responses:

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from Eric:
Bill Neal has a great “greens” (of any type) recipe, which is basically to boil about two cups of water with chopped onion and chopped fat back (or fatty pork of choice) and red pepper for half an hour in a big pot, then add the cleaned and chopped greens and let them simmer forever (at least an hour — three hours isn’t bad). What you end up with is greens, plus pot licker which is valuable in its own right as a seasoning for bean soups or other soups.

from Brian:
I always chopped celery into my greens and did ’em in the pressure cooker for about 10 minutes. Also usually put fatback (or bacon), onions and a big handful of parsley. The celery is the best thing that I found that cut the bitterness of the greens but it gets totally obliterated by the pressure cooker. Onions turn to mush too, but so what? You save a few hours of cooking (in both time and fuel).

Here’s what I did, taking a hint from each and adjusting, based on cooking them a couple of times:

  • Boiled 3 cups of water in a pot with chopped bacon, onion and celery, covered, for half an hour.
  • Added the cleaned and chopped collard greens, covered, and cooked for an hour. Tender, good. Throughout, I was careful to keep them at a nice simmer, so as not to boil them dry, as I had previously done.
  • Heated the pulled pork and deftly applied the Sticky Fingers BBQ Sauce (supplied with the pork).

What a glorious way to start off 2007!

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