Category Archives: 2015

i8tonite: with James Beard Award-Winning Chef Naomi Pomeroy from Portland, Oregon’s Beast featuring her recipe for Lacquered Duck Confit

NOTE: This is the first post of 2016. You would think I would write something with a little more auspiciousness or something marking the occasion. However, I loved this story from 2015. I feel Naomi Pomeroy is a great chef making amazing inroads into an industry dominated by men. The recipe — although difficult is amazing. I would love to highlight more entrepreneurial female chefs like her, Kelly Chapman of Macolicious and Monica Glass.

I’ve been to Portland and had delicious food many times but not to Chef Naomi Pomeroy’s restaurant Beast. Portland has become one of the great food cities of our country. It’s placement on that list is certainly attributable to Chef Pomeroy.

Naomi with greens by door - Alicia J Rose
Photo Credit: Alicia J Rose

She has many accolades including stories in Gourmet and Elle Magazine; Bon Appètit named her one of the top six of a new generation of female chefs in September 2008; Food & Wine Magazine recognized her as one of the 10 Best New Chefs in America for 2009. In 2010, Oprah magazine named her one of the Top 10 Women to Watch in the Next Decade, and Marie Claire named her one of the top 16 Women in Business. She has given several lectures on creativity, including a TedX talk given in 2013.

In the local Oregon publications, Portland Monthly voted Naomi Chef of the Year in 2008. Beast was honored as Restaurant of the Year in 2008 by the Oregonian and chosen as best Brunch by the Willamette Weekly. Naomi has been the sole owner of Beast since 2009 when she paid back her investors.

In 2010, 2012, and 2013, she was selected as a finalist for the James Beard Awards in the category Best Chef Pacific Northwest. In 2014, she was selected as the recipient of this prestigious award.

How long have you been cooking? Since I was 5.

What is your favorite food? Corn Dogs.

What do you always have in your fridge? Condiments.

What do you cook at home? Right now I’m working on my cookbook, so whatever recipe I’m testing. Currently, that means a lot of soufflé.

What marked characteristic do you despise in your customer? I hate it when people really examine their food, pick it apart, and look at it too long before the eat it. I’m standing right in front of them!

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer? When people come up after a meal and take the time to say that they loved it.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex? Pyrex, I don’t cook in plastic.

Beer, wine or cocktail? Rosé.

Your favorite cookbook author? Madeline Kammann.

Your favorite kitchen tool?  Ricer.

Your favorite ingredient? Demi-glace.

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen? Scoop ice cream.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook? Indian.

Chef you most admire? José Andrés.

Food you dislike the most? White pepper.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food? One. Not food.


Lacquered Duck Confit with Cracked Green Olive & Armagnac Prune Relish

Serves 8

For the spice blend:

  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorn
  • 6 whole allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1/2 stick cinnamon
  • 6 juniper berries
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 4 bay leaves

For the duck:

  • 10-12 duck legs (preferably 6-8 ounces each, from Muscovy ducks)
  • 1 head garlic, cut into quarters (no need to peel the cloves)
  • 1/2 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 3 quarts duck fat (more if the duck legs are closer to 10-12 ounces)
  • ¾ teaspoon salt per leg for duck /8 teaspoons

For the lacquer:

  • ½ cup aged sherry vinegar
  • ½ cup muscovado or dark brown sugar
  • ½  teaspoon salt

For the relish:

  • 1 cup cracked and pitted castelvetrano olives
  • 1 cup Armagnac prunes, quartered
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced
  • 1 generous pinch chili flake
  • ½ teaspoon fennel pollen
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Make the spice blend: In a medium skillet, lightly toast all spices, with the exception of the bay leaves. You will know the spices are properly toasted when they begin to slightly change color and their aromatic oils begin to release a lovely fragrance.

Add the toasted spices and bay leaves to a spice grinder (or a coffee grinder reserved for this purpose) and finely grind. Shake spices through a mesh strainer to ensure that there are no large, un-blended spices. Re-grind as necessary.

Make the duck legs: Rinse the duck and dry it well on a paper towel. At the end of the long bone opposite the meaty side, use a sharp paring knife or good kitchen shears to score all the way around the circumference of the bone to cut away any tendon, which helps prevent any meat from tearing. This will create a more beautiful presentation.

Combine the salt with the spice mix. Season each leg with about ¾ teaspoon of the salt-spice mix, evenly on both sides, and place in a single layer in a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish or Dutch oven. Place the dish in refrigerator overnight.

The next day, take the duck legs out of the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 325°F. Remove and dry each of the duck legs. Clean out the dish and return the dried duck legs to it. Add the garlic and thyme. In a small saucepan over low heat, gently warm the duck fat. Pour the fat over the duck legs so that they’re completely submerge and covered by at least ¼” of fat. (If necessary, some of the legs can be moved into a second dish and covered in fat, so long as they’re all still completely submerged, meaning that you may need a little more fat.)

Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit over the top of the dish, then completely cover the top with foil. Place the dish onto a sheet tray to catch any bubbling fat that might spill over into the oven. Place the dish into the oven and set a timer to check on it in one hour. Depending on the size of your legs, they can take anywhere from 1 ½ to 3 hours to cook.

You’ll know the duck is finished when you carefully remove one leg from the fat and place it on a plate, then, using your tongs, press down with medium pressure at the place where the meat and the bone join in the crook of the thigh. The meat will begin to release easily from the bone.

When the duck is cooked, remove the foil and parchment and allow the legs to cool for 20 minutes in the duck fat before moving them onto a parchment-lined sheet tray. Reserve the duck fat in a plastic container and place the sheet tray with the legs in the refrigerator overnight.

For the relish, combine the olives and prunes in a medium mixing bowl. In a small saute pan, warm half of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add shallot, garlic and chili flakes. Lower heat to ensure nothing gets color. Add fennel pollen. As soon as the shallot and garlic are translucent, after about 5 minutes, remove them from heat and add to the prune and olive mix. Add sherry vinegar and additional olive oil and stir. Set aside.

On the day of serving, make the lacquer: Pull the duck legs out of the refrigerator and bring them to room temperature.

In a small saucepan, heat the sherry vinegar over medium-high heat. Add muscovado sugar and salt and bring to a boil until slightly thickened, 3-4 minutes. Set aside.

If this mixture has thickened too much upon cooling, add a splash of sherry vinegar. Its consistency when hot should be slightly thinner than honey (when room temperature it should be thicker, but still brushable). Leave this out at room temperature; it will harden it it gets too cold.

Preheat oven to 400F°. In each of two medium-sized nonstick or cast iron (oven-proof) pans, heat 2 tablespoons of the duck fat used to confit the duck over medium-high heat. Sear the duck legs, skin side down, weighing them down onto the pan with a heavy plate, until golden brown, approximately 1-2 minutes. Check frequently for an even, golden brown, crisp surface. Remove the plate and flip the legs.

Brush the legs with a thin layer of the lacquer. Add about ¼ cup water to the bottom of each pan to prevent the sugars from sticking. Move the pans to oven and cook until the lacquer is bubbling, 5-6 minutes.
Remove the pans from the oven and serve immediately. Serve with cracked green olive & Armagnac prune relish.

 – The End. Go Eat. –

i8tonite: My Favorite Recipe from 2015: French Apple Cake and Becoming Us

 

Photo: Michael Stern
Photo: Michael Stern

I8tonite is simply about food. On the surface, we hope — along with the contributors — to engage the reader in what chefs cook, what makes them human and why they love their profession. (Chefs love their work.) We want to share new recipes we’ve discovered and talk to food industry people. We want to learn. As we’ve said in several posts – without food, we can’t be artistic, physical, intellectual or emotional. Food, water, and shelter are fundamental human needs.

Underneath, we want food to be a main topic of discussion  – whether it’s becoming a vegan, how to butcher a pig, pick coffee beans or discuss biodynamic wineries – but try and leave the politics out of it.I8tonite is not meant to be solely a cooking blog. As the creator of this blog, I don’t have that warehouse of culinary knowledge. Although, I do have a vast amount of food experience including working as a waiter and bartender as well as in hospitality marketing. From these practices – which meant a lot of travel – I ate very well and learned cooking techniques from culinary teachers including Michelin-starred chefs, well-known cookbook authors, and international epicurean eateries.

Photo: Michael Stern
Photo: Michael Stern

Working in restaurants taught me another thing: chefs love other chefs. They admire the work of their peers. Therefore, I8tonite is meant to be a storehouse of what other chefs and people in the food industry are cooking – for the professional and the home cook. I8tonite will not only focus on chefs who have publicists, but the unheralded cooks are who are chopping onions somewhere in Peoria, Arizona or  Ubud, Bali.

In the five months, since I’ve devoted myself to i8tonite, the blog has amassed unique monthly views of over 12,000. How? Well, I’m a damned good marketer plus i8tonite was meant to be different. It’s supposed to showcase the cook as a creative individual and where they get their inspiration. It’s also meant to inspire by learning what and who inspires them. For me, there is no better indication of who you are than by what you eat.

Photo: Michael Stern
Photo: Michael Stern

The other key to the blog is that I cook religiously. Others go to church, I go to a stove. People can quote scripture from their chosen faith, I can recite a recipe. Same thing…but not. The commonality resides in a spiritual devotion.

As the readership develops, we grow and learn together. With i8tonite; I want people to become motivated by the chefs, food people and places we cover.  Editorially, we want the reader to get inspired by the individual behind the recipe’s development, and then possibly become creative themselves and write a cookbook, a cooking blog, become a chef, start a garden, or just become a more conscious eater.

#             #             #

Photo: Nolan Williamson
Photo: Nolan Williamson

As my parting gift to 2015, I wanted to share my Favorite Recipe of the Year: Dorie Greenspan’s French Apple Cake from her cookbook Around My French Table. I’ve made it about a dozen times, and it’s now committed to memory. I also played around with the fruit and the required liquors which are not necessary but hey – everything is good with a glug or three.

It was a close contest between cake and poultry. I thought about Sascha Martin’s Hungarian Paprikash –I make it almost weekly — found in her memoir “Life from Scratch,” a book full of hope and lovely recipes. Ultimately, sweet won out over savory and adaptability over dependability.  Regardless, they are both delicious. I encourage you to read Martin’s book and her blog: Global Table Adventure. Both are memorable

Dorie Greenspan’s French Apple Cake

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Other adaptations and suggestions:

  • Chopped crystallized ginger and substituting Bloomery Sweetshine’s Ginger or Domaine de Canton for the bourbon.
  • Calvados, a brandy made from apples, is also an excellent choice instead of the dark rum.
  • Pineapple and peaches can be used in place of the apples. The cake will still be moist.

Let’s Make This Puppy: 

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch Springform pan and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet parchment paper.
  • In small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt
  • Peel, core and cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.
  • In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and mix for a minute or so to blend. Add the liquor and vanilla.
  • Stir in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter
  • Fold gently after each addition so that you have a thick batter.
  • Add the apples fold in the apples, rotating the fruit so that it’s coated with batter.
  • Scrape the mix into the springform. Flatten the top so it becomes even in the pan and along the sides.
  • Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • Run a butter knife around the edges of the cake before removing the pan.

The End. Go Eat.

 

Finding Food, Friends, and Conversation On The Road – My Most Memorable Meals of 2015

This is a memorable guest post from Penny Sadler, blogger at Adventures of a Carry-On. 

My best meals of 2015

I grew up in a big family, but as a teenager there was a period of time when it was just my dad and I living together. Neither one of us was a whiz in the kitchen, so we often ate dinner out. Those early dining experiences ingrained in me a love for delicious food and conversation. They shaped who I am today – a good listener and a good conversationalist, with a penchant for excellent food (preferably cooked by someone else), with a healthy dose of listening and sharing by all parties at the table.

Writing about my top five most memorable meals of 2015 was easy…except that I had so many memorable meals. When I really thought about the meals that stood out for me, I noted that I was always traveling. From San Francisco to Piedmont, Italy, 2015 was a year of new food experiences and wine pairings. Another reason these meals were memorable…all of my favorite meals this year included reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances or dining with new friends. And of course, great conversation.

Cacio e Pepe at Locanda - one of my favorite meals this year
Cacio e Pepe at Locanda – one of my favorite meals this year

California: Locanda – The Mission: Let’s begin in San Francisco, voted the best food city in the USA by Bon Appetit Magazine.  I can’t disagree. I had several memorable meals in San Francisco. but the one that really stands out for me was dinner at Locanda  in the Mission District. Owners Craig and Annie Stoll have turned to Rome for the inspiration behind Locanda – and for this reason, I was eager to try it.

Aside from being some of the best Italian food I’ve eaten in the US or Italy (there’s an Italian who is going to argue with me about this I know), what made this meal special was my dinner companion. I met Jody on New Year’s Day in Cambria, California, under not the best of circumstances. I fell on the beach and couldn’t get up. Jody rescued me. Jody lives in Mill Valley, I live in Dallas. We met up in San Francisco almost a year later, and had an amazing dinner and wine pairing at Locanda.

Locanda - home to one of the best meals I ate in 2015
Locanda

I decided to try the Cacio e Pepe for a primi. It’s about as basic as you can get – pasta, cheese, and pepper with some olive oil. And yes, it did remind me of Rome. For an entrée, I had the Pancetta-wrapped Mary’s Chicken with Anson Mills polenta and grilled turnips.  I rarely ever order chicken, but Mary’s Chicken is a family-owned business that has been raising free-range, organic chickens for three generations.  The dish had the perfect blend of flavors – slightly salty, savory, and the perfect portion size. The sommelier paired it with a Francesco Rinaldi Barbaresco. The dark red fruit and licorice flavors of the wine were a perfect balance with the savory notes of the pancetta and chicken. Jody had the Berkshire Pork Saltimboca paired with a lovely Beaujolais. She left with a doggie bag. For dessert, we had a Barolo Chinato. It’s a dessert wine with aromas of stewed fruit, but not too sweet. Lovely.

No matter what you order at Locanda, you can’t go wrong. We loved everything.

Locanda chef making pasta - one of my best meals of 2015
Locanda chef making pasta

Since I’m a recent WSET (Wine Spirits Education Trust) graduate, I did take note of the excellent wine list at Locanda. Many Italian wines from Piedmont were included, and I was pleased to see I’d visited several of the wineries on the list. One of them is part of this article, as I also had an amazing meal there. Read on.

Locanda, 557 Valencia (San Francisco)

 

Acquolina - location of one of my best meals of 2015Aquolina – North Beach: I spent Thanksgiving Day in San Francisco mostly walking around the North Beach neighborhood.  There was a place right on the corner facing Washington Square with lots of windows and sidewalk seating that looked inviting. I grabbed a seat at the bar, ordered a spritzer, and watched the crowd for a while. I was scouting for a place for myself and a friend to have Thanksgiving dinner, but we didn’t want to spend a fortune on a pre-fixe menu.

Aquolina was serving their regular menu, casual Tuscan-style Italian,

Pizza with speck and mozzarella from Aquolina - one of the best meals I ate in 2015
Pizza with speck and mozzarella from Aquolina

in addition to holiday specials. I saw a few pizzas being served and decided that was where we’d have dinner later. We ate a wonderful thin-crust Roman-style pizza, with mozzarella and prosciutto. Delicious! It was the perfect antidote to a traditional Thanksgiving meal…and I got to dine outside on a crisp San Francisco night with a friend who happened to be in town that week.

Aquolina, 1600 Stockton St. (San Francisco)

Courtesy. Harmony Cafe
Courtesy. Harmony Cafe

Harmony – San Luis Obispo County: South of San Francisco, just off of Highway 101, is the tiny town of Harmony,  population: 18. I was starving, so stopped to see what I might find in such a small place.

The moment I stepped foot inside the Harmony café, I felt like I was in Italy. And guess what? Chef Giovanni is

House-made butternut squash pasta with a light marinara sauce at The Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough - part of my best meals of 2015
House-made butternut squash pasta with a light marinara sauce at The Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough

indeed Italian. He made me a butternut squash pasta with a light marinara sauce, which paired well with a glass of pinot grigio. While I waited, I chatted with other customers who told me they were regulars there – they return every year on vacation from New York. That’s how good Chef Giovanni’s food is. For dessert, I had the house-made tiramisu.  Pasta and tiramisu in one meal is an indulgence I don’t often allow myself. But tiramisu made by an Italian is the next best thing to going to Treviso, the home of the original tiramisu.

Chef Giovanni, The Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough - location of one of my best meals in 2015
Chef Giovanni, The Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough

Note: Harmony Cafe has relocated to Cambria, and is now called The Harmony Cafe at the Pewter Plough. Chef Giovanni is still cooking in the kitchen.

Harmony Cafe, 824 Main St. (Cambria)

 

Piedmont, Italy: Barolo

why go to Barolo, Piedmont, Italy @PennySadler 2015
Photo by Penny Sadler

In September, I toured the wine country of Piedmont, Italy. I completed my Wine Spirits Education Trust certification in August (you can read about it here), and the time seemed right for this trip. Many of the wineries in the area also have dining rooms and tasting menus serving regional dishes paired with the local wines. I recommend La Foresteria at Cantina Marchesi di Barolo, in Barolo,

Angelo, Me, and Valentina Abbona, the Marketing Manager and owner's daughter at Marchesi di Barolo, location of one of my best meals of 2015
Angelo, Me, and Valentina Abbona, the Marketing Manager and owner’s daughter at Marchesi di Barolo

Italy. Here I met up with an Italian friend who had hosted me at his home in Italy over two years ago. A reunion over food and wine in Barolo doesn’t sound too shabby, does it?

 

 

 

Marchesi di Barolo - the location of one of my best meals of 2015
Dining room, Marchesi di Barolo

There are three menu options, and depending on how hungry you are, you can chose three to five courses. Whatever you do, you must try the veal with tuna sauce (veal con tonnato). I thought it sounded disgusting until I tried it. Buonissimo! It was paired with the Gavi di Gavi, a wine I enjoy drinking on its own – it was perfect with this dish. The desserts were to die for, as well.

The Moscato jelly with fresh fruit served with Moscato d’ Asti

The Moscato jelly with fresh fruit at Marchesi di Barolo -dessert from one of my best meals of 2015
The Moscato jelly with fresh fruit at Marchesi di Barolo

Zagara tasted crisp and fresh. I could have eaten a gallon of it. The ambiance was very elegant, with white tablecloths, delicate stemware, and enough silverware to make me feel like I was in a scene from Pretty Woman.

Marquesi di Barolo, Via Roma 1

 

Opera Tailgate dinner at La Posada ©Amiel Gervers Photography
Opera Tailgate dinner at La Posada ©Amiel Gervers Photography

Santa Fe, New Mexico: Now, believe it or not, I do have one amazing dining experience to tell you about that was not Italian, nor in Italy or California. This memorable meal was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, another well-known foodie city. It was, and remains, the most unique dining experience of my life so far. Yes, I think I can honestly say that.

Opera Tailgate dinner at La Posada ©Amiel Gervers Photography
Opera Tailgate dinner at La Posada ©Amiel Gervers Photography

Prepared in the parking lot at the Santa Fe Opera, the locals call this dining a tailgate party. We had our table set up under a beautiful white tent.  Executive Chef Todd Hall, from La Posada de Santa Fe, prepared a four-course meal for us while black tie waiters served us grilled bacon wrapped peaches, lobster in little gem lettuce, and ahi tuna, paired with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Those were the appetizers.

The second course was a salad of Sicilian burrata, asparagus, boiled

Salad of Sicilian burrata, asparagus, boiled egg, and lemon curd aioli, La Posada de Santa Fe ©Amiel Gervers Photography
Salad of Sicilian burrata, asparagus, boiled egg, and lemon curd aioli, La Posada de Santa Fe ©Amiel Gervers Photography

egg, and lemon curd aioli. To die for. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Ever. I could have made the main course out of that.

Next up was Prawn and Diver Scallop Brochette on a salad of chilled

lemon mint tabbouleh, icicle cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, and yellow watermelon, paired with a buttery chardonnay from Walt vineyards. Wait, did I say the second course was the best thing I’ve ever eaten? Honestly, the entire meal was a work of art. The combination of flavors and textures was sublime. I will never forget this meal.

Opera Tailgate dinner at La Posada ©Amiel Gervers Photography
Opera Tailgate dinner at La Posada ©Amiel Gervers Photography

And then there was dessert: a dark cherry tartlet with Kahlua salted caramel ice cream. Swoon! The sad news is, we barely had time to inhale this heavenly creation because we were being swept off to see the opera.

My suggestion: go to the newly remodeled Julia,  at La Posada de Santa Fe. Todd Hall is a James Beard-recognized chef and Julia is a beautiful, warm environment. The experience may not be the same as a tailgate party at the opera, but the food is sure to be five-star, and the warm and inviting atmosphere at Julia is pretty swanky, too.

La Posada de Santa Fe, 300 East Palace Ave. (Santa Fe, New Mexico)

The End. Go Eat. Happy 2016.

 

From Ohio To Newfoundland: My Best Eats, 2015 Edition

What a year this has been! It started last December, when I was one of the top travel bloggers in the world to visit the White House for a special summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. There was plenty of great food in DC (food trucks!  and on the way, Cleveland’s Westside Market!) – a fantastic prelude to this year.

2015 heralded many trips, including a trip to Turkey in May, with Turkish Airlines, weekends at our cottage in northern Michigan (with grilled meats and fresh tomatoes), an epic Canadian road trip – driving from Kalamazoo, Michigan all the way to St. John’s, Newfoundland!, forays into Ohio and over to Stratford, Ontario, and circling back to a cozy Thanksgiving with family that live close by. Here are the highlights. I think you’ll notice that the underlying theme is friends and family – because who else do we want to share meals with?

that popcorn mango creme brulee... one of my favorite meals this year, in Istanbul
that popcorn mango creme brulee…

Whilst in Turkey, I had many memorable meals (because, after all, Turkey is known for its delicious cuisine!). From the huge, dripping

Honeycomb at breakfast in Istanbul - one of my favorite meals this year
Honeycomb at breakfast in Istanbul

honeycomb on our breakfast buffet to freshly baked simits slathered with nutella to roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob to Turkish tea and coffee and freshly squeezed strawberry juice, we did not go hungry. I loved the meals of fresh fish, yogurts, and grilled meats, but the highlight for me was at 360 Istanbul, a rooftop restaurant that served traditional Turkish cuisine with modern twists. I had the kebabs, and a gorgeous salad, but the highlight was the dessert – a creme brulee with mango sauce, salted caramel popcorn, and a nutty caramel ice cream. It was a melange of every taste you can imagine – sweet, salty, umami, smooth, crunchy, syrupy, icy, warm. The view was pure Istanbul, wide-ranging and gorgeous; the company was delightful.

the view from the terrace at 360 Istanbul - site of one of my favorite meals this year
the view from the terrace at 360 Istanbul

 

Toronto hit my 2015 best food list because of our lunch at America Restaurant, by Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants, located on the 31st floor of the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Our daughter enjoyed a cauliflower macaroni and cheese that she said was the best she’d ever had; Ed had a delicious Wellington beef burger with brisket, slaw, and artisanal bun. I had the speckled trout tartine – this genius dish consisted of grilled piece of house made sourdough bread, with French remoulade sauce, daisy capers and elderberries and leafy greens, finished with pieces of sous vide smoked speckled trout, served rare. This dish? It is one of the best things I have ever eaten – the crunch of the bread combined with the creaminess of the trout and remoulade, and the fresh and pickled accoutrements – it was perfect. We enjoyed a great view, lovely art, and excellent company, including a new friend that felt like family.

Smoked trout tartine at America Restaurant, Toronto - one of my favorite meals this year
Smoked trout tartine at America Restaurant, Toronto

 

Newfoundland
St. John’s gets a three-fer for the nod for favorites, with a plus. The plus is an event we went to on our very first night on the Rock – Food Day Canada. There were chefs from Newfoundland, as well as from all over Canada, each showcasing the best of their restaurants and regions. I can’t even begin to say how great the food here was, but I will say that I have built a healthy respect for the chefs, farmers, and producers that work within the island and the weather to create such imaginative, delicious food. (Interviews to come!) Also, please note that while I have many favorite restaurants in St. John’s, I’ve focused on fine dining for this 2015 roundup.

Tavola
Tavola, a small Mediterranean bistro, is located downtown. What the unassuming facade hides is a treasure within. The food, mostly small plates, is a mix of Mediterranean and local. Take, for instance, a dish I’d sampled at Food Day Canada and was delighted to find on the menu: BBQ Smoked pork shoulder with Newfoundland Molasses Baked Beans, a roll of crispy chicarron, and a swoosh of arugula puree.

BBQ Smoked pork shoulder with Newfoundland Molasses Baked Beans, a roll of crispy chicarron, and a swoosh of arugula puree. at Tavola, St. John's, Newfoundland - one of my top meals in 2015
BBQ Smoked pork shoulder with Newfoundland Molasses Baked Beans, a roll of crispy chicarron, and a swoosh of arugula puree.

Now, let me tell you why this is so amazing. First, the Rock is known for its baked beans. And, as a midwesterner, I can attest to the nourishing properties of baked beans, especially in the cold winters, but also for fun in the summer. These baked beans? The absolute best I’ve ever eaten. A humble dish, elevated to the stars. Now, I must mention (because my brother is a firefighter, and you know how they love food and work hard on bbq dishes) the bbq smoked pork shoulder. There were crispy bits. The kind you long for, covet when someone else is pulling the pork, snitch when you’re pulling the pork, guard with a fork when there are poachers about. LOTS of crispy bits. Any restaurant that serves this? Immediately in my favorites list. Tavola on that list? CHECK.
The second reason why I love Tavola? It’s owned by Great Big Sea musician Bob Hallett. I was lucky enough to dine with him that day, and hear stories of growing up in Newfoundland, fish, halibut (did you know they are enormous?), community, and bringing the meals he loved while touring home. It isn’t often you dine with a famous musician – even less so, I’d imagine, one that is so down to earth, friendly, and welcoming.

Fresh oysters at Adelaide Oyster House, St. John's, Newfoundland - one of my favorite meals this year!
Fresh oysters at Adelaide Oyster House, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Adelaide Oyster House
While this happening restaurant is somewhat loud and a bit hip for this mama, I have to say that not only was the service incredible, but the food was extraordinary. Adelaide Oyster House has won many awards – and in one visit, you can see why. I had the kale salad (don’t hate – it was sooooo good!); we also ordered oysters (of course), fancy cocktails, fish tacos, charcuterie with olives, and a birthday cake/dessert plate that needed to be tripled. By the end of the evening, we’d danced in our seats (and out of them) to the fantastically curated dance music, made new friends with our servers and chefs, and cemented friendships over food – the best way, isn’t it?

Kobe beef lettuce wrap with pickled vegetables, wild rice puffs, and special sauce at Adelaide Oyster House, St John's, Newfoundland - location of one of my favorite meals this year!
Kobe beef lettuce wrap with pickled vegetables, wild rice puffs, and special sauce at Adelaide Oyster House, St John’s, Newfoundland

 

Mallard Cottage
Chef Todd Perrin of Mallard Cottage has not only restored an historic cottage in Quidi

Myself with Mallard Cottage chef Todd Perrin - site of one of my favorite meals this year! St. John's, Newfoundland
Myself with Mallard Cottage chef Todd Perrin

Vidi Village, but has brought back traditional Newfoundland cuisine – with a twist. There’s an herb garden outside, and across the alley, another garden. The fish is freshly caught, and on Sunday brunch, there’s a $10 CAKE TABLE.

Chilled lobster bisque at Mallard Cottage, St. John's, Newfoundland - one of my favorite meals this year
Chilled lobster bisque at Mallard Cottage, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Now that alone should do it for you, but let me tempt you with other things we ordered at our table, including a fresh Caesar salad with cured pork cheek and piled high with thinly grated parmesan, a fresh scallop ceviche, a chilled lobster bisque that was the best soup I’ve EVER EATEN, fresh halibut, cod, fresh Newfoundland scallops, and a dessert assortment that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

 

Mallard Cottage, St. John's, Newfoundland - one of my favorite places to eat this year!
Mallard Cottage Menu

 

New Brunswick
New Brunswick, Canada, was a complete surprise. I had no idea of the fresh seafood along the Acadian coast, the locally sourced food, the creative cuisine, the beauty of the landscapes, and the rich cultural heritage. My best meal here was in Miramichi, at 1809 Restaurant, along the Miramichi River. Yes, I loved it so much that I interviewed Chef Jesse MacDonald for i8tonite.

Divine stuffed haddock at Rodd 1809 in Miramichi, New Brunswick - one of the best meals I ate this year
My stuffed haddock – divine!

The seafood chowder was the best I’ve ever had – even with daily seafood chowder eating in Ireland – and my stuffed haddock
filet was divine. We dined out on the deck at sunset, enjoying the ambience, company, and delicious food. Our time in Miramichi was too short, but filled with great meals, excellent company, interesting conversations about place and food, and a warmth that the Rodd Miramichi so beautifully filled in our travels.

Montreal
Montreal gets two best food nominations – and I know that if we were there longer, it would have been many more. Another reason to go back…

Oh! Dumplings
Let me tell you how much we love dumplings. Wait, it can’t fit into this very small paragraph. Let’s just say top 3 foods our family loves. So when we were in Montreal, a visit to Chinatown was a must. We’d had great dumplings in Toronto, but not SUPER GREAT dumplings. Canada needed to step up to the plate and bat some excellent dumplings our way.

Dumplings and one of many scallion pancakes we ordered at Oh! Dumplings in Montreal - one of the best meals I ate this year
Dumplings and one of many scallion pancakes we ordered at Oh! Dumplings in Montreal

Meandering through Montreal’s Chinatown almost seemed sacrilegious – why weren’t we getting Montreal smoked meat? The lure of the dumpling, I answer. We found Oh! Dumplings, right next to a square where a hundred people or so were dancing. It was a sign. We ordered some of the 12 types of dumplings here, and then the scallion pancake, because the table next to us kept ordering more of them. Well, it’s a good thing the dumpling ladies were fast at making the fresh, juicy dumplings. Everyone left happy, including we three. Canada’s dumpling reputation was restored.

Making dumplings at Oh! Dumplings, in Montreal - one of my favorite meals this year
Making dumplings at Oh! Dumplings, in Montreal

 

Breakfast at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth
Often, hotel breakfasts are meh. Cold cereal, hard apples, gross coffee. The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth changed all that with their luxurious breakfast buffet. Now, the thing that enticed me most

Bread station at the Breakfast Buffet at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, Montreal - one of my favorite meals this year.
Bread station at the Breakfast Buffet at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, Montreal

was the bread station. LOOK AT THESE GEMS! But if you didn’t want to carb out, there were several kinds of yogurt, an array of cut fruit (11 bowls!), pitchers upon pitchers of fresh squeezed juices of all kinds, and the spacious hot bar. Here, you could get a made to order omelette – or 3 other kinds of eggs, several kinds of sausages, plenty of bacon, french toast, crepes with a brown sugar glaze, several kinds of breakfast potatoes, and, my favorite, a European-style array of many sliced meats and even more gourmet cheeses. The coffee was delicious, the environment was beautiful and elegant, and the service, well, these waiters know their stuff – and are funny, to boot. We fueled up here and were satisfied until dinner. It was the perfect start to every day in Montreal.

Guild House
Closer to home (in Columbus, Ohio), we enjoyed an incredible meal at Guild House. One of the Cameron Mitchell Group restaurants, this new restaurant is worth visiting. We loved it so much that we interviewed Chef Patrick Hofer for the Chef’s Questionnaire here at i8tonite.

the toast with burrata, avocado, pickled red onion, and salsa verde at Guild House, Columbus, Ohio - part of one of my favorite meals this year!
Toast with burrata, avocado, pickled red onion, and salsa verde at Guild House, Columbus, Ohio

The restaurant is beautiful, has outstanding talent in the kitchen, and sources locally and organically when possible. As the Guild House notes on the menu, “There’s a lot of love on every plate.” We had extraordinary appetizers (be sure to get the cheese plate with house made crackers and local sourdough toast), entrees (Lillie said that lasagna was a masterpiece, and the best lasagna she’d ever had – and she’s a lasagna connoisseur), non-alcoholic shrub beverages (swoon), and desserts. My favorite was the toast with burrata, avocado, pickled red onion, and salsa verde.

Prime rib cap, sweet onion relish, Pointe Reyes blue cheese, mustard vinaigrette at Guild House, Columbus, Ohio - one of my favorite meals this year
Prime rib cap, sweet onion relish, Pointe Reyes blue cheese, mustard vinaigrette at Guild House, Columbus, Ohio

OR the Prime rib cap, sweet onion relish, Pointe Reyes blue cheese, mustard vinaigrette. Let’s be honest – you can’t go wrong with anything on this menu. It also features in my mind as a top pick because it was here that our teen daughter announced that she was a gourmet cuisine aficionado. Now, while I’ve known this for years, it was this restaurant that sharpened her instincts for dissecting a menu, picking out the bits that attract you, and chatting with the waiters and chef to learn more.

 

Closer than Newfoundland, a visit to Stratford, Canada taught me a great deal about this well known theatre town. There is so much going on here with the food scene that I can’t wait to go back and eat. Every meal was a treat, and much of it is locally sourced. One of my favorite meals was our lunch at Mercer Hall Inn.

House smoked beef dip sandwich, seasonal slaw, fries & jus at Mercer Hall Inn, Stratford, Canada - one of my favorite meals this year
House smoked beef dip sandwich, seasonal slaw, fries & jus at Mercer Hall Inn, Stratford, Canada

The meal was outstanding – truly, some of the most clean and fresh tasting food I’ve had in a long time. We went back into the kitchen with Chef Ryan O’Donnell – and saw some of the ingredients he was working with, including freshly baked bread, wild rice crackers, and gorgeous, colorful vegetables straight from local growers. He’s an artist, with a full palette of organic, local food to create with – and an instructor at the Stratford Chef School. Mercer Hall also features tea from Tea Leaves – home of Canada’s first Tea Sommelier, Karen Hartwick – a genius at delicious, enriching teas.

 
Thanksgiving was special. I loved it for the family, for cooking

Thanksgiving Dinner - one of my best meals of 2015
Our Thanksgiving Dinner – delicious, familiar, and full of love

together with my mom and aunt and daughter, for the tablecloth and dishes and place cards we use every year, for the decorations that are familiar and the dishes that we tweak a bit each year (or not). It’s the perfect combination of tradition and deliciousness, and is always a highlight of my year.

 

 

 

 

And the coffee:
We moved to Kalamazoo this spring, although I’ve lived here before and grew up a half hour away. I am so happy that there are many great coffeeshops in town, including Black Owl (purveyors of Kalamazoo Coffee, roasted out back), and Something’s Brewing, home of delicious coffee and homemade cinnamon pop tarts. Yep.

Delicious coffee (and tea) at Black Owl Cafe, Kalamazoo, Michigan - one of my favorite places to eat this year!
Delicious coffee (and tea) at Black Owl Cafe, Kalamazoo, Michigan

 

 

When you think back to your favorite meals, what made them so great? For me, it’s a combination of company and delicious food. Luckily, I have had plenty of both this year.

 

The End. Go Eat.

i8tonite: My Most Memorable Eats of 2015 & Moving to the Southwest

Grand Canyon_A. DuarteAt the beginning of 2015, if anyone predicted that I would be living  at year’s end in Phoenix — or starting my food blog for that matter, I would have howled with laughter. Me? In Phoenix? The American Southwest? Writing? Besides, press releases and commenting on Facebook? Yet, I am listening to my fountain cascade into the plunge pool and writing this lengthy post. I open the front door daily to walk the dogs and am awestruck with a view of Pietesawa Peak, crowned by blue skies and cottony clouds. Holly, our eleven-year-old Pitbull waddles past the security guard gate and the golf green, trying to keep up with J.J., our seven-year-old French bulldog, who likes to chase after rabbits. The bunnies hop around on our neighbor’s sixteenth golf hole, the nearby Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Arizona Biltmore – a mere five-minute walk to luxury pools and spas.  I look at all this splendor with gratitude. It’s also coming from a person who – 25 years ago — thought he could never leave  Manhattan, then the center of my Universe.

Kevin Dooley 2
Photo by Kevin Dooley

As I grow older, and I’m grateful I am,  the center of my Universe has expanded. Eventually, the Northeastern winters drove me to Los Angeles for 16 years, with 3 years in San Francisco for good behavior. Spiritually, I never felt either city was home though. They both seemed to be stopping points. I never really wanted meant to stay as long as I did. However, where do you go after Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco? These are our national hubs of entertainment, technology and finance. International culture is unsurpassed in these meccas.  You are supposed to want to be there. Did I think Miami? Paris?  Back to New York? Phoenix wasn’t even a thought.

Photo by Kevin Dooley
Photo by Kevin Dooley

After much discussion, Nick took the offered Phoenix position and we came out to look for a house. Instantly, we fell in love with the desert landscape, rich culture, sheer vastness and low-cost of living. Phoenix, in my eyes, is North America’s hidden gem, but it’s hard to hide the 6th largest city in the United States. However, it feels protected. Off the beaten path, waiting to be discovered. Tourists may come and visit one of Arizona’s 300 resorts but until you become a resident, hike the trails, meet the people, work and become a Phoenician do you understand the city’s natural splendor and sophistication.

I reckon The Valley of the Sun is physically the most attractive place I’ve ever lived. Red mountains are dissected by roads and Camelback, the dromedary rock formation casts its legendary shadow over the valley. It’s peaceful sentinel-like presence feels protective, calming and inspiring.

As we enter into the remaining days of 2015, and for the coming year, I urge you to allow change to happen. Step out of your comfort zone. The things you would say no to trying…try.  Explore new possibilities and never say, “Never.” I’m so glad I did.

Photo by Alan Stark
Photo by Alan Stark

Before I begin my 2015’s five – whoops, six most memorable food experiences, I need to let you dear reader know I still talk about these eats. That’s why I choose them. Some are new, some are not.  I would go back to eat them time and again. Additionally, I paid for each one of these meals. Nothing was given gratis or comped, so I have nothing to gain from telling you about them.

Let’s start:

Photo Courtesy of Carson Kitchen
Photo Courtesy of Carson Kitchen

Carson Kitchen, Las Vegas, Nevada: Chicken Fried Skins, served with Smoked Honey Dipping Sauce ($9). The late Chef Kerry Simon, who died early this year with complications related to Mulitple Sclerosis, was a master of New American cooking. He imbued his dishes with a sense of humor and surprise.  This dish is indicative of that experience. Who is going to order only chicken skins with a side of smoked honey? Well, I did. Three orders of the crunchy, salty, deliciously deep-fried morsels with the side of lightly smoked sweetness. I would never make this at home. Let’s definitely score points for that understanding.

Courtesy of Factory Kitchen
Courtesy of Factory Kitchen

Factory Kitchen, Downtown Los Angeles, California: Handkerchief Pasta with Almond Basil Pesto ($19). I was living in San Francisco when I ate at Farina which is where I first had Chef Angelo Auriana’s superb pasta. I was in the middle of a fight with an ex. I try not to remember him. However, the sheet-like folds of pasta expertly painted with a light basil pesto, I remember. It wasn’t until I went to Factory Kitchen did it come back hauntingly. This time, I was celebrating one of my best friends birthdays (Shelley Levitt) in Los Angeles. We ordered the Ligurian-style noodle with green sauce. One bite, I knew I had eaten it once before. It’s so good that even years later I remembered it, except with this experience, the atmosphere was much more light-hearted and loving to enjoy it.

Photo Courtesy of Tropicale
Photo Courtesy of Tropicale

The Tropicale Restaurant & Bar, Palm Springs, California: Brown Sugar-Brined, Double Cut Kurobata Pork Chop ($28). A little over a year ago, I discovered my longtime friend Chef Scooter Kanfer had encamped to this boisterous watering hole in the resort town of Palm Springs. About 10 years ago, she was the chef/owner of a stunning little place in LA’s Larchmont area called The House. Here, she received national accolades with her inventive takes on homespun items like macaroni and cheese and my favorite milk and cookies which is milk served in a whiskey shot glass accompanied by shortbread animal cookies. Now, she is under less pressure as the Chef de Cuisine of Tropicale but her food is still the best. I choose the Kurobata Pork Chop because she recommends it to me every time I see her. The only other place I ate this type of big, flavorful battering ram was at Cindy Pawlcyn’s Napa Valley-based Mustards Grill. I wasn’t in Napa this year but this may be the best pork chop in a restaurant ever.

Courtesy of Hollywood Pies
Courtesy of Hollywood Pies

Hollywood Pies, Los Angeles, California: The Hollywood Pie ($27). I was never a lover of deep dish Chicago style pies. I didn’t get it. And then, I ate from this blink-and-you-miss-it spot. Jesus made this pizza for me. Seriously, that’s one of the names of the pie-makers. Everything from the crust to the cheese, the pizza sauce, homemade meatballs is made in-house. Unfortunately, getting a pizza isn’t always easy. They take forever to make (up to an hour). Sometimes, they don’t even pick up the phone to order one. This deep dish thickly crusted – like a casserole – is from heaven. Chewy, hint of heat in the sauce, pull until it snaps mozzarella…..trust me, Jesus made it.

Courtesy of ICDC
Courtesy of ICDC

ICDC, Los Angeles, California: Salt & Pepper Caramel Doughnut/ Buttermilk Brown Butter ($2.50). ICDC, which stands for ice cream, donuts, and coffee, is a dream child of Amy Knoll Fraser and Pastry Chef Maria Swan. I don’t know Maria. I would love to know Maria. I would love Maria to make me  a donut every day for the rest of my life. The Salt & Pepper Caramel along with the Buttermilk Brown Butter are heavenly puffs of circled dough with a little richness (butter or caramel) and a surprise (salt & pepper and not just butter but browned butter). If you have never had a seasoned donut or a browned butter donut – it’s wrong. Just wrong. It’s like being a virgin and everyone around you talking about sex.

Courtesy of Breakfast Club
Courtesy of Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club, Scottsdale, Arizona: Huevos con Masa ($9). On our first trip to Phoenix, we got hungry as people do at the beginning of the day. We had appointments to look at houses and needed to fortify ourselves.  We went to dine at place at 8 am. Twenty-minute wait. We left. Found another highly recommended eatery with a wait-time of twenty-minutes. Nick and I are starving, and it’s 9 am. On the third try, we arrive at Breakfast Club. They have a wait time too. We sit at the bar to avoid the wait time. It’s packed.  Maybe 9:15 am on a Wednesday morning. I order the Huevos con Masa, a creative southwestern version of eggs benedict. Instead of hollandaise sauce, a pork green chile is served with poached eggs and chipotle cornbread. Eating it, I thought it was worth waiting for the discovery. The chile, a little heavier than I normally would eat for breakfast, is rich but compliments the poached eggs runny yolks. The cornbread has just enough heat and is incredibly moist, with flecks of chipotle. The Valley of the Sun breakfast experience also prompted me to write a story on the area’s breakfasts.  (Note: If you like blonde, athletic women serving your food in skin-tight, black fitness wear, this is the place for you. Do not come if you want to see a brunette or red-head. Hell, I don’t think there was a curl in the place, either. Just sayin’.)

Places and dishes of note: Nobuo at Teeter House, Pork Belly  Buns (Phoenix, Arizona); The Original Breakfast House, Cinnamon Rolls (Phoenix, Arizona); Revolutionario, Falafel Tacos  (Los Angeles, CA); Khin Khao, Khao Mun Gai (San Francisco, CA); Pizzeria Bianco, Margherita Pizza (Phoenix, Arizona).

The End. Happy 2016.