Showing posts with label chili. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chili. Show all posts

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.

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

Monday, August 2, 2010

Croquer: The Yard

I don't find myself in Santa Monica too terribly often. Some stops over the summer for the ever-fleeting daylight beach hours, sure. But by twilight I'm often driving back east with sleepy sun exhaustion, not dining at one of the many eateries by the sea. I was glad when a theater event recently landed me on the west side with a need for a light late Friday night nosh.
Top of my to-do list was to check out The Yard, per invitation from chef Chris Jacobson (better known as CJ from season 3 of Top Chef) following the chili cook off we judged together last month. The self-proclaimed gastropub's bar hours fit the bill, but the Broadway crowd filled the house, so we worked our way up to the bar for a cocktail while we waited for a table. Their signature whiskey smash combined bourbon, Solerno blood orange liquer, muddled blood orange and mint, topped with crushed ice derby-style in a silver tumbler.
The Yard is a casual, no-frills single room, dimly lit with hanging sunburst lanterns. A massive chalkboard on the burnt orange wall notes what's fresh from the market. And I'm just going to say it, the food is obviously the selling point here. Also, a word about chef CJ. This guy's a true... people's person. He's cooking with one foot in the kitchen, always peeking out to front-of-house. I watched him deliver dishes to several tables, crouching his towering frame beside them to chat for several minutes before rushing back to the line. When I finally caught the social butterfly's eye, he grinned and asked how much chili I'd been eating the past few weeks. I admitted none. Rubbing his hands together he began to plot, raising an eyebrow he said "well one moment then!" and disappeared again behind his curtain.
Once we were seated, first order of business was the paprika spiced calamari with roasted marinara and fried lemon. Our server admitted it was too paprika-heavy for her, but I had to disagree, the mellow kick added a clever dimension to the typical pub fare.
We were urged to take advantage of the stone fruit, prime from the market earlier that day. Offered with burrata, sweet basil, and fruity olive oil, I really wouldn't care what it was, but the peaches were sublime indeed, and the flavors intermingling just heavenly.
CJ suddenly appeared, startling our server who was checking in on us. He carried two heaping bowls of chili. "Try that!" He beamed as the tables around us craned their necks to see what he had brought. In the last several minutes he had whipped up a quick "chili" of turkey, pork, and short rib, with corn, Grafton cheddar, fried onions, shaved romano beans & yellow wax beans, cumin cream and crispy duck skin. Caught up in the moment, tasting the chili as CJ watched, I didn't get a shot of the presentation so forgive the image above (in fact, forgive all of these images taken with my phone!) The chili was actually pretty tasty having not slow-cooked all day, with ample spice and a hearty texture. The crispy duck skin knocked it home.
Asking CJ what of the menu we should try next, he insisted on the octopus salad. How could we say no? The Spanish octopus was grilled and sliced, tossed with farmer's market apricot, piquillo, Italian parsley, and lemon. The deceivingly simple preparation was refreshing and bold. The octopus was not chewy and remarkably complimented by the pungent Italian parsley, cut by the sweetness of the apricot. I would have no qualms suggesting this to octopus connoisseurs and rookies alike.
The dessert was less inspired, but again highlighted the quality of the ingredients. The raw 'deconstructed' peach cobbler ended the meal on a light note, which for late-night is not a bad thing. As we finished up, CJ saddled up at the bar for a quick drink, chatting up more of his customers. I began to sense a community vibe of returning guests from the neighborhood, and CJ as the wily and likable big fish. It made me look forward to returning to Santa Monica and the Yard for more of chef CJ's understated fare. Otherwise, he assured me I'd see him at the next Free Chili - Although I have a feeling next year he might be competing instead of judging.

119 Broadway; Santa Monica; 310.395.6037
The Yard in Los Angeles on Fooddigger
Yard Santa Monica on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 28, 2010

Croquer: Free Chili 2010 in review

America may have lost this Saturday (..the first -and last- sports reference on ChocoMeat), but Texas helped ease the pain at Brennan's Pub in Marina del Rey with the Third Annual Free Chili cook-off. What started with a Jameson shot with fellow judge Chris "CJ" Jacobson (a fan favorite from Bravo's Top Chef and chef at Santa Monica's The Yard) ended with a belly full of spicy chili, cold beer, and an all-around rip-roaring good time.
Competition was tough - These folks were NOT messing around!
Free Chili co-founder Matt Brennan flexes his Meat Hammers.
The Chili Cone man.
3rd place winners, second year in a row!
The Captain came in 2nd (his Wisconsin cheddar cornbread was bomb).
Free Chili co-founder Adam Ford and the day's landslide winner, chili champion Nate Ford.
Judge's Table: Chris "CJ" Jacobson, Mackenzie Miller (of the Texas Exes), and myself waxing poetic on our blind tastings.The chili was judged sans accoutrements, a controversial rule the Texans were steadfast on.
The Free Chili 2010 posse. Hey, everyone wins! Well, except for the chili awarded with the "Golden Skidmark" (lowest score)... Those ladies were not stoked!
A happy foodie family. Judges with Free Chili co-founder Aileen Burdock.

Looking forward to Free Chili 4 next year! Perhaps I'll even enter the competition myself...

Photos courtesy of Barbara Bialkowski

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Croquer: Free Chili 2010!

Join Chocomeat this Saturday, June 26th 2010 at 1:00pm for a serious Texas-style chili cook-off!
Organized by some Texans who know good chili, the Third Annual Free Chili promises some stiff competition and a whole lotta hotness!
I will have the honor of judging the contesting chili alongside Chris "CJ" Jacobson, who was a contestant on season three's Top Chef and is currently the chef at Santa Monica's The Yard, and Mackenzie Miller, a native Texan who was born into chili and also organizes the LA chapter of the Texas Exes.
All are welcome to try their hand at the chili competition, but forewarned though there are no ingredient restrictions, keep in mind these Texans are hardcore! "You can come with chicken green chili with white beans...but you get no respect. That being said, in 2009 a vegan chili placed 3rd in the fan favorites..."
Partaking in enjoying the chili is free and open to all, and what better way to spend a beautiful sunny afternoon on the coast? Austin's own Tito's Vodka is rumored to have a presence as well - Never a dull addition to a FREE chili fest.
More details on entering and attending can be found at
Did I mention it's free? 

Saturday, June 26th 2010 at 1:00pm
Brennan's Pub
4089 Lincoln Blvd. Marina del Rey, CA 90292; 310.821.6622

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Recettes Secrètes: Quick Chipotle Taqueria Style Salsa

The beauty of this last minute quick and easy salsa is that there is no hard and fast rule.. Tailor to your taste buds. I like my salsas smooth and spicy, but also a little sweet and salty! I made this one based off of a smokey salsa negra my friend Nicolette made for a dinner party a couple of months ago. *Of course roasting your own chilis would make it even more special, this is merely a quick alternative for those times you're SO bogged down frying your handmade chips and stuffing masa into cornhusks with guests on the way that you just CAN'T begin fire-roasting so late in the game! ;)

In a food processor (or blender) combine:
• 1 onion, coarsely chopped
• 1-2 cloves of garlic
• lime juice
• cilantro
• fresh jalepenos
• green chilies (canned)
• can of tomatoes (I use a new TJ's product of fire-roasted tomatoes and green chilis, canned together)
• 2-3 chipotle peppers (in adobo sauce, canned; in Mexican grocery aisle)

Season with salt, pepper, and paprika.
Add chili powder to desired spiciness...

Monday, March 23, 2009

En Vitesse: Monday Night Dinner

Poblano pepper stuffed with soyriso, ricotta, and monterey jack, baked in salsa roja, with spicy chili-lime green beans.