Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Croquer: Salt's Cure

I'm still pretty iffy when it comes to Twitter.
I mean, I tweet... it's just not my forté as far as communication goes. I guess I'm getting the hang of it. "Meeting" some folks and networking a bit. I've definitely never been asked out on Twitter - or have I?
Following Foodbuzz Fest the little bird did deliver one proposition... a tweet from the baking blog goddess Joy the Baker herself:
@windattack @chocomeat i think the three of us should get dinner. there... i said it.
Naturally the Wind Attack and I were down for food fun. But where would our trifecta of particular tastefulness agree on meeting?
Salt's Cure, of course.
It was a happenin' night at the restaurant, a spare, open-kitchen West Hollywood storefront seemingly operating on word of mouth (no signage then). The bar around the exhibition kitchen was lined with pickle jars and twenty-somethings, the high ceiling collecting the room's jabber and sending it back down in garbled echoes. Joy the Baker was fashionably late and looked smashing. Met by candlelight, the three of us smiled cordially (not unlike a good first date), reviewed the bottle list and got acquainted.
Our server helped us select the 2005 Benjamin Silver Syrah. Round, sexy, bold fruit makes this a lovely food wine, but also just a great WINE wine.
Salt's Cure is a glorified butcher shop, so of course charcuterie is the way to go. We started with the pickle plate and built up a board from there. The house-pickled selection included cabbage, cucumber, watermelon, tomato, and jalapeño.
The three cheeses braced by almonds, dates, and honey were the always winning Red Hawk (cow), Camellia (goat), and Stout Cow (raw cow).
We couldn't resist the sultry duck ham. Who knew prosciutto could get more luxe?!
An order of cured lamb shoulder followed the cheeseboard, resting on thinly sliced apples. Delicious.
We split two entrees, snagging the last Lemon Snapper per our server's strong suggestion. What a sublime dish! The fish was juicy and tender, bites melting like creamy lemon-zested butter pats. Atop a mound of wilted kale, fried lemon peel and crisp potato sheers, the dish was a triumph of simplicity. It was unaminous - we were in love.
How long could we ignore the other, more fragrant plate on the table? One taste of the Chili Braised Pork-N-Grits and I was smiling. Akin to a REALLY GOOD tamale, the marriage of steamy corn meal product and luscious fork-hugging pork was -as always- simply trouble. We tried to be polite, but crossed utensils more than once over this dish.
Dessert. First out was a Dulce de Leche Semifreddo, or, an experiment in monochromy. Maybe it was the wine, or the lingering pleasure of the entrees, but I don't recall this one blowing me away (yet I do remember the fresh boiled peanuts on top, which were salty good times).
The other dessert, a Sticky Walnut Heirloom Pumpkin Cake was more favorable, if not suffering from an identity crisis. Pumpkin pie? Sticky toffee woohoo? Cake?? Whatever the genetic makeup, it was a toothsome end to an impressive display from Salt's Cure - A very welcome LA addition, especially in a neighborhood known for... Well, I think there's an Astro Burger close-by?
7494 Santa Monica Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 90046; 323.850.SALT
saltscure.com
Salt's Cure in Los Angeles on Fooddigger
Salt's Cure on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Croquer: Elvira's

Growing up in Tucson made me relatively confident about a few things from a young age: 1) Desert survival, and 2) A palate for superior Mexican cuisine. Nestled in the foothills of the Sonoran desert, Tucson is just a short cruise up a dusty old highway from Mexico. I have many childhood memories of warm sunny afternoons in Nogales, our border town, waiting outside of la farmacias beside dried iguanas for my aunts, hunting for the perfect el payaso marionette all day in cobblestone alley marketplaces, trying my hand at bargaining, and my first taste of tequila from a clay cup filled with fresh muddled mangoes and limes. To this day one of my most exciting ambient dining experiences was at La Roca, a restaurant built into the rock walls of hilly Nogales.
Several years ago, one of Nogales' other prized restaurants Elvira's (est. 1927) closed -- But luckily for Southern Arizona's lovers of  Chef Ruben Monroy's blend of contemporary and clasico Sonoran style cooking, Elvira's has re-opened, north of the border.
Now helming the small artist community of Tubac (23 miles north of Nogales), Elvira's new space is a proud frontispiece of Chef Ruben Monroy's other faculties (he holds degrees in both graphic arts and interior design). Metal piñatas, candles, monolithic ceramic pineapples, star lanterns, carved wooden angels and more hanging glass teardrops than you can shake a stick at fill nearly every interior surface. Like his cuisine, Monroy blends old Mexico and new, but through a whimsical looking glass.
My mother, sister, two nieces and I drove down for lunch one brisk desert morning over the holidays. Slightly stunned by the elaborate decor, we were even more struck by the menu - how would we decide when there are five different dark moles alone?
Luckily drinks are a no-brainer. Elvira's house margaritas are as good as top shelf most places, thanks to fresh lime and expert balance of sour, sweet, and salty.
For the little girls we ordered a quesadilla with roasted chicken and chihuahua cheese. The simple preparation was surprisingly outstanding due to superior homemade flour tortillas and plump roasted chicken.
My sister ordered the classic Mole Negro - the "King of Moles" due to its high number of ingredients (34), including chile pasilla, banana, chile cascabel, almonds, and chile chipotle. Robust and delicious!
I got the Mole Atocpan, which came with a back story. The menu printed that this mole commemorates the 75th anniversary of the town where mole was created - San Pedro Atocpan near Mexico City. This is problematic because clearly the town is older than that! However a little research found that in 1940, Father Damian Sartes San Roman came to the parish of San Pedro Atocpan and saw the potential in marketing the town's various moles -until then only made for special occasions- as a way to raise living standards in the area. 75 years ago would roughly mark the initial trips into Mexico City to spread the magic that is mole to the mainstream. To this day every October there is a mole festival in San Pedro Atocpan.
This special recipe is actually one of the better moles I've ever tasted. Somewhat sweet and spicy with incredible richness and depth from raisins, chile ancho, chile pasilla, cocoa, cilantro, cinnamon, and more.
My mother went lighter with the Chile Poblano "Frida Kahlo" - more of a New Mexican dish. The poblano was stuffed with squash blossoms, roasted corn, queso chihuahua, and covered with bean, chipotle sauce. The flavors were tasty albeit simple, yet overall the least winning of our selections.
All in all Elvira's was more impressive than we expected, and a perfect fueling stop before heading down the frontage road to the tiny mission town of Tumacacori where my favorite spice station lives - Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Co.
The intense bouquet of scents that greet you at the door of this humble red brick chili roasting factory and spice shop is tangible. My four year-old niece said she "had a headache" and asked me to go play outside with her due to the smell, yet I was actually starting to get hungry again. An overflowing shopping bag of earthy red chili powders, herbs, spices, mesquite-smoked salts and hot sauces later, we were back on the old highway. Add a fresh tortilla and tamale stop at Mercado Y Carniceria El Herradero back in Tucson and you have, in my book, the perfect Southern Arizona afternoon.

Elvira's
La Entrada De Tubac
2221 E Frontage Rd. Bldg A, Ste A101; Tubac, AZ 85646; 520.398.9421
elvirasrestaurant.com
 
Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Co.
1868 E. Frontage Rd. Tumacacori, AZ 85640; 520.398.2591
santacruzchili.com

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Buvare: Sherry, Shaken Not Stirred


I've been a bad blogger.

It's easy to blame "the holidays", meanwhile watching the weeks tick by, my patient ChocoMeat giving me puppy eyes from its browser tab.
Just as I was starting to feel like Patrick Swayze realizing he's in fact a specter, I received a letter from the Secret Sherry Society, who I first became acquainted with at the International Food Blogger's Conference last August when I enjoyed a happy hour featuring their tasty sherry cocktail concoctions paired with authentic Spanish tapas. I felt very honored as their letter was inviting me to be one of the Secret Sherry Society Vault's guest bloggers of the week. An entire post about my new favorite fortified wine? Splendid! But what would I write about?

Cocktails, of course!

Next thing you know I'm drunk alone in my kitchen on a Saturday morning, stirring Amontillado sherry with Torani Amer, Old Overholt rye, and orange bitters. Several dumped drinks, small victories and one sticky countertop later and I have a final draft, which incidentally references the traditional Basque dessert Peras al Vino. So I named the cocktail after the Spanish pear Conferencia, as it relies on subtle aromatics of dry pear brandy, woodsy cinnamon bark and a touch of orange oil to enhance the smooth almondy character of the sherry. The recipe:


Conferencia

* 1 oz vodka
* 1 oz dry Amontillado sherry (I used Gran Barquero)
* ½ oz Clear Creek Pear Brandy
* ½ oz Dolin Vermouth de Chambery Rouge
* 1 cinnamon stick, broken
* Orange peel


Combine all ingredients in a shaker with cracked ice. Shake lightly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

Because sherry is so food friendly, I couldn’t help but whip up a quick tapa to compliment the cocktail. Get the recipe for these prosciutto and almond stuffed fried olives and read my full guest post at secretsherrysociety.com