Thursday, February 13th, 2014
When Comal was still in its germinal stage, we decided to purchase a wood grill and rotisserie. Our unit was hand built in Florence, Italy by Universo, one of only 3 such grills in the Bay Area. Of course in the months leading up to opening, there were many test dinners in which dishes were developed, but it wasn’t until the fire inspector signed off just days before our soft opening that I was able to fire up the grill and see what she could do. The first thing that was kissed by fire was a ribeye steak sample provided by our butcher. Just simply seasoned with salt and black pepper, we knew that we were on to something.
The grill not only is a cooking apparatus, but truly is a focal point of the kitchen, the hearth, the heart and soul of the restaurant. The intention of the “platos fuertes” portion of the menu is to bring the same sentiment from the kitchen to the table. Just as the kitchen is the soul of the home around which people congregate, the “platos fuertes” are large portions coming from the hearth that are intended for friends and family to gather at the table and share.
Grilled over a combination of local walnut and mesquite charcoal, our 22 oz bone-in ribeye steak is accompanied by rice, black beans, tortillas and salsas, as well as seasonal vegetables. Currently the steaks are served with Brussels sprouts and winter squash sautéed with chile pequin, lime and cilantro. I feel that the act of sharing food is one of the most intimate human connections that we make, and what better was to connect than over a “plato fuerte”.
Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
For those of us that are fortunate when growing up, we have one family member that is a fantastic cook. For me, that person was my grandmother on my father’s side. That is not to say that she didn’t frequently pull freezer burned food out of her oversized freezer. If she had one fault, my Nana had a tendency to over prep, the extra food inevitably landing in this vast, frozen wasteland. Nonetheless, I credit her with passing on the genes for a good palate.
For Comal’s Sous Chef Martin Blas, that person is his aunt, who lives in the Mexican state of Guerrero. Often when I am conceptualizing dishes, I will consult Martin for advice. He has a great palate in his own right. I wanted to put a “plato fuerte” of wood spit-roasted pork loin on the menu, and decided to pair it with a pipian verde. This is a sauce made of pumpkin seeds, tomatillos, and green chiles that is a classic pairing with pork. After pouring over several recipes and a bit of testing, I turned to Martin, who got a twinkle in his eye, fondly remembering the time he was visiting his family and was served a wonderful version by his aunt. “Let me call my Aunt”, he replied. The next day, following her recipe, he produced a fantastic version of the sauce, which we are now serving at Comal, to accompany the juicy roast pork and grilled vegetables. Like the other platos fuertes, it is served with rice, black beans and tortillas. This is one of the many family recipes that have made it onto the menu via our great kitchen staff.
Pork Loin is on the menu tonight, served with grilled vegetables.
Saturday, January 18th, 2014
In the coming weeks, we’re taking a moment to spotlight Comal’s “Platos Fuertes”, which literally translates as “Strong Plates”. When we opened Comal, Matt developed several dishes cooked on our wood grill that could be shared by two or more people. He was inspired by the gracious meals he’d enjoyed in Mexico over the years, where a main dish is at the center and is accompanied by “all the fixin’s”. For Comal, the “fixin’s” include rice, beans, tortillas and three salsas, as well as a seasonal vegetable.
Of all the Platos Fuertes, I would say that our ribs have the most cult status. They are not on the menu every night, so the ribs devotees have figured out that they should check the menu when it’s posted each afternoon before making their pilgrimage. And sad is the night when we “86” the ribs!
Matt offers some insights into his take on ribs, a Mexican classic:
In Mexico, pork ribs would be stewed in a chile adobo. We take more of a American approach, while preserving their Mexican inspiration through the spices used in the dry rub, and the ancho adobo (or chile-vinegar sauce) that is brushed onto the ribs. Smoky, spicy, and sweet, with rice, beans and tortillas they make a great meal to share with friends or family.
They are on the menu tonight, served with Matt’s delicious braised collard greens (w/smoked bacon, habanero and lime)…
JP (with input from MG)
Friday, January 10th, 2014
On one besotted night during my last visit to Oaxaca, the mezcal distiller Alex, who was among my company, made the ludicrous claim (with complete earnestness) that Mexicans invented pizza. His logic was this: the pizza is just a bastardization of the tlayuda, the thin, crispy masa “flatbread” that is a staple of the Oaxacan diet.
According to Alex, many Italians came across the water to fight alongside Mexican rebels during their war for independence from the Napoleonic French government that had decided that Mexico was part of its empire during the 1860’s. The ragtag Mexican Republican army aided by these Italian compatriots waged a guerilla war against the well-equipped French army, carrying tlayudas as a source of food. By nature, since they are dry, tlayudas have a long shelf life, the Oaxacan equivalent of the hard tack that sailors of that era used for sustenance during long voyages at sea. The Italian soldiers were so enamored with the tlayuda, that after the war, they brought them home with them to Italy, ultimately morphing into the pizza that the whole world knows and loves.
Of course I called bullsh*t on this story. Nonetheless, I often have difficulty describing a tlayuda to the uninitiated. I suppose the most accurate description is that it is like a Mexican pizza, but with the monstrosities that Taco Bell has trotted out in the past with that name, I am hesitant to describe it in such words.
While in Oaxaca most often tlayudas will be simply topped with beans, shredded cabbage, queso Oaxaca and tomatoes, the version that we currently have on the menu is firmly rooted in Northern California. It is smeared with a black bean puree, and puya chile salsa, melted queso Oaxaca, and lacinato kale that is stewed down with olive oil, garlic, a few capers, and spiced with toasted arbol chiles. A dusting of queso fresco finishes the dish. In my opinion, it’s a much more delicious way to get your daily dose of kale than via smoothie.
Now, did anyone ever tell you about how matzo balls were invented in Zacatecas?
Friday, December 20th, 2013
Many thanks go out to Morgan Twain-Peterson and Chris Cottrell of Bedrock Wine Co. for bringing some killer wines to our producer dinners that we held last week in Abajo, our cellar dining room. For me, the highlight was the pairing of Bedrock’s Evangelho Heritage Red (composed of roughly 40% Carignane, 38% Mourvedre, with the remainder Zinfandel, Palomino, Alicante, and Mission), with a version of Chiles en Nogada, a classic fall dish. It is traditionally eaten on September 16, Mexican Independence Day (Grito de Dolores), because the dish contains the three colors of the Mexican flag: red, white and green.
This is a complex dish, featuring batter-fried chiles stuffed with a sweet and savory mixture of ground pork and beef stewed with tomato, dried fruit and baking spices. To add to the “baroque” nature of this dish, it is topped with a creamy nut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and parsley. The dish itself is a study in contrasts, savory and sweet, hot and cool, creamy and piquant. The Evangelho brings similar complexity to the table, with pomegranate and spice notes to complement, and great acidity to cut through the richness of the picadillo and creamy sauce. More evidence that Mexican food and great wines can make wonderful partners!
Chiles en Nogada
Bedrock’s Morgan Twain-Peterson holds court