Saturday, September 6th, 2014
While Labor Day signals the unofficial end of summer, we who live here in the Bay Area know that the best weather of the year is yet to come. The days are certainly shortening, but we will be blessed for the next two months with an explosion of summer produce even as the first pumpkins are showing up at market. Many folks pushed heirloom tomatoes onto their menus months ago, but in my opinion, the peak of our local tomato season is from the beginning of September through the first significant fall rains, usually around Halloween.
Tonight we will be debuting a new heirloom tomato salad that also features local heirloom muskmelons and cucumbers. Tossed with a red wine vinaigrette and spiked with toasted arbol chiles, the salad is finished with chopped black olives, raw goat feta, and sunflower seeds providing brininess, pungent richness, and crunch respectively.
Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014
Comal’s ‘Oaxacan-style’ grilled corn was recently featured in East Bay Express as one of “three great corn dishes to try before the season ends.” Click here to read the full article.
Friday, August 29th, 2014
Finally, a drink I don’t have to begin describing by saying “we worked backwards on this one.” Andrew and I first tasted a new organic coconut-rum months ago and immediately knew we had to use it – it’s delicious. We also immediately knew it would fit perfectly with crushed ice and plenty of Matusalem rum in the “seasonal patio cocktail” slot on the cocktail menu. These have typically been fruit-driven, beach drinks: refreshingly easy and a bit of a guilty pleasure.
Seeing no reason to deviate from this model, I went straight for the guava, which has proven to pair well with coconut in our most popular agua fresca. Next came the kaffir leaf, which pairs well with guava, but had the unintended effect of making things taste like Thai food – tom kha gai soup specifically. We pulled the ginger element, dialed back the kaffir and went back to the drawing board. I tried various teas and pineapple juice to cut the guava’s thickness, but it wasn’t until I saw the pan of watermelon scraps in the prep kitchen that everything sort of clicked.
I try and re-appropriate anything the kitchen is using in their dishes whenever possible and this seemed like a no brainer – blend the scraps, save the juice. Lime and Falernum provide the brightness element with a touch of tiki on the back end.
Remembering a conversation Andrew and I had last summer about a salted melon garnish, we ended up using our marinated watermelon cubes from the salad as they’re dressed with all things delicious: lime, mint, chile arbol and salt.
Thursday, August 28th, 2014
(above: Chilipepper Rock Cod “Zarandeado” – pictured here with grilled spring onions and asparagus)
A few years before Comal opened, I was feeling a little burnt out from my previous job, having gone a couple of years without taking significant time off. What I needed more than anything was a “lay on the beach” type of vacation. I remembered that I had won the use of a condo in Puerto Vallarta at a silent auction the previous year, and decided to cash it in. With a former roommate and fellow chef in tow, we headed off to Mexico.
Whenever I travel, especially abroad, eating the local specialties is always an important part of the experience. While in the taxi en route from the airport to the condo, I asked the cab driver what local dishes should not be missed. Immediately he responded that we should make sure to have a fish “Zarandeado”.
“Zarandeado” refers to the action of rotating the fish over the wood coals while it is cooking. What makes this preparation truly distinctive is the rub that is smeared on the fish. It is a mayonnaise-based marinade that has some flavors that one would expect to find in Mexico, and others that are truly surprising. Traditionally it is flavored with tomatoes, chiles and garlic. It also contains soy sauce, an ingredient introduced by the sizable Chinese immigrant population in Puerto Vallarta. This rub creates a fantastic crust as it caramelizes the skin while the fish is turned over open coals. The best restaurants in Puerto Vallarta for seafood are right on the beach where the fishermen dock with the daily catch. One can select an extremely fresh fish, have it cleaned, rubbed, and on coals over a pit dug in the sand within minutes after it has been landed.
This was the inspiration for the dish that we run at Comal off of our wood grill, showing up on the menu most often during the summer months when we have our best local catch. It is accompanied by grilled vegetables and, like our other “Platos Fuertes”, it comes with rice, beans, tortillas and salsas.
For those who want to try making it at home, check out this recipe in Food & Wine that describes our take on this classic dish.
Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
Lots of activity in our rooftop garden these days! We’re harvesting tomatoes and gearing up to harvest much more in the coming days, including various chiles, chard, hoja santa, epazote and more. Thanks again to Josh Arnold for his tireless efforts…
Above: The rooftop in full swing.
Above: Amelie lends a hand with tomato picking.
Below: Poblano chiles nearly ready to pick.