Saturday, March 30th, 2013
When the days begin to get noticeably longer, we see the first strawberries of the season. For most chefs, this first sighting brings much excitement, as we no longer have only citrus to rely on for our pastry needs. While considered by many strictly a spring fruit, here in the Bay Area, the strawberry season begins in spring and runs through most of the summer. Many of the local strawberries are grown between Santa Cruz and the Salinas valley, where the coastal fog keeps the berries cool at night, even when the daytime temperatures soar. I’m always amazed to find still delicious strawberries in September as we are turning the corner into fall.
One of the Mixtec farmers in Salinas, who is growing chiles for us this year, offered us the first picking of their strawberry crop. They will be accompanying our Arroz con Leche as “Fresas Locas”, strawberries tossed with lime juice, sugar, chile arbol and mint. Spring has arrived.
Sunday, March 24th, 2013
We have a new cocktail on the list just in time for longer days and warmer temps: SPF 2020. Apparently the secret is already out, as it’s quickly vaulted near the top of our cocktail sales ladder. As noted above, our often eloquent barkeep Matthew Campbell describes SPF 2020 as “Sand between your toes in liquid form”. There’s not much I can add to that pithy summary, but I’ll at least offer a little context.
SPF 2020 has all the makings of easy drinking, tropical drink nirvana: tasty rum (Matusalem – a traditional Cuban rum now made in the DR), strawberry, blood orange, and lime. Our special sauce in this one is spiced dram – a house-made liqueur of cinnamon, clove, mulato chile, allspice and vanilla – cooked up in the Comal lab by Matthew and Tony. The dram’s spicy notes nicely offset the tropical drink “fruit bomb” effect, especially when coupled with the St Germain.
The “cherry on top” in this case is a green strawberry, cooked sous vide in syrup. All in all, a rather culinary take on what is usually a very simple drink – and while the end result is certainly easy drinking, it is also deceptively nuanced and complex.
As I prepared this piece, I turned up this, err, fanciful account of how St Germain is produced – as Scott Baird put it, “If you believe the account on their website, I’ll sell you the bridge…” – pay particular attention to the impressive lamb chops on the guy behind the bicycle in the second photo.
JP (with notes from Matthew Campbell)
Saturday, March 23rd, 2013
Click here to read the Wall Street Journal piece featuring Matt Gandin’s recipe for matzo brei chilaquiles.
Thursday, March 21st, 2013
I could eat artichokes every day of my life. In addition to being arguably my favorite vegetable, they also hold many fond food memories for me. When I was growing up in Orange County, there were still many farms. And each spring, in addition to strawberries, most of the farm stands also sold freshly picked artichokes. My mom used to just simply boil them whole. As a family, we would sit around the table, picking the leaves, dipping them in drawn butter, and scraping the tender bases off with our teeth. My dad would claim the meaty hearts for himself.
Although not a commonly eaten vegetable in Mexico, I couldn’t live with myself if I let artichoke season pass by without putting them on the menu. I have taken inspiration from a dish that is a traditional vegetable accompaniment to a meal in Mexico, potatoes and rajas (roasted Poblano chiles) stewed down with onions and garlic. I have replaced the rajas with the tender inner parts of the artichoke, and flavored the dish with Serrano chiles and epazote, a strong herb similar in flavor to the Italian herb nepitella. This side dish is currently coming with our wood-grilled ribeye steak, but can also be ordered on its own.
Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
As Matt mentioned in a previous post, our friend Beth LaDove at Modern Farmhouse in San Rafael is growing a number of hard to find chiles and herbs for us, including the classic Oaxacan chile the chilhuacle negro. She’s off to the races again this early spring – here are the chilhuacle sprouts to prove it!