Showing posts with label rabbit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rabbit. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Croquer: Grüner

As soon as I moved away from Portland, something seemingly magical happened (coincidentally, I'm sure).
Everyone was raving. Long before the Alpine craze spread like wildfire, downtown Portland's Grüner was winning diners over with their "greener" (which grüner means in German) approach to goulash and spätzle. Perhaps it was my visit to Bavaria and the Austrian Alps in my formative years, but old-world Middle Europe is my soft spot. Upon my visit back to Portland, Grüner was at the very top of my list.

Brooke and I met up with Portland(-by-way-of-LA) transplant Anna of Banana Wonder for happy hour on Grüner's sidewalk patio, rumored to be one of the best happy hours in town. After one glance at the exceptionally reasonably-priced menu I understood why.

I couldn't deny the allure of the Aquabeet cocktail, with Krogstad aquavit, beet gastrique, and lemon juice. It was bright, earthy and refreshing. And strong!

The Dangerous Summer was a fitting choice for the day, which Brooke and Anna enjoyed, comprised of Appleton Jamaican White Rum, Maraska maraschino, raspberry syrup, lime, and flamed lemon. A little too easy to tipple...

Essentially, we ordered one of everything... Starting with the signature beet pickled hard-boiled eggs.

The duck liver mousse was forceful and pungent. We all sampled it silently, politely admitting later that we favored it least of the bunch.

On the other hand, the house-made liptauer cheese with radishes, celery and pretzel croutons could have come in a much larger crock, as we devoured it in seconds.

I insisted on the rabbit frankfurter, brioche bun & dill pickle relish, which was buttery and tasty. I wanted to order a second to get a larger bite, but wisely waited for everything else to come out first.

Anna is a bit of a pretzel freak, and I am right there with her. We were both disappointed not to see Grüner's on the happy hour offerings. Our server apologized as it only appears as a side on the dinner menu, but after some begging agreed to oblige our request. A curious braid, this pretzel was almost a baguette hybrid, but with good flavor and chewy crust/flesh ratio. Anna seemed to give it a thumbs up.

Gosh, we were still hungry. Time to call in the charcuterie — salami, spicy coppa, cornichons & mustard tided us over until the big sausage came.

It wouldn't be Alpine cuisine with bratwurst, and Grüner's is plump and delicious, covered in sauerkraut alongside sweet mustard. This is truly all I need, and a wise way to finish our Germanic snackage fest. We called for our check, which arrived in a gorgeous piece of literature on Weimar Culture. Had only they dropped that sooner, we may have left sated and smarter.

527 SW 12th Ave. Portland, OR 97205; 503.241.7163
Grüner on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 30, 2010

Croquer: Restaurant August

Saturday night, and hot as a billy goat in a pepper patch. It was also one of New Orleans' quintessential celebrations, White Linen Night. Every summer on the first Saturday of August, the city’s Warehouse Arts District brims with white linen-clad folk wandering the galleries along Julia street, fanning themselves and quenching their thirst with copious amounts of wine. Restaurant reservations in the neighborhood are apparently impossible to come by, so luckily we had booked our table at John Besh's Restaurant August -just blocks from Julia Street- several weeks prior. Besh's flagship award-winning restaurant is located in a gorgeous historic four-story French-Creole building circa 1800, soaring wood-framed windows bound in solid brick walls.
We were seated at a round table at the room's central meridian, feet from Besh's framed 2006 James Beard Best Chef medal. Service was meticulous and labored; One sip of water and a pitcher was topping off the glass. Our server sent the sommelier over while we flirted with the extensive list.
The shockingly young steward guided us to the perfect bottle to best match all of our entrées and our price point, the Leviathan 2007 Napa Valley Red Wine. Made by Andy Erickson, the winemaker for Screaming Eagle, Leviathan is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot with deep dark fruit & spice and a long luxurious finish.
An amuse-bouche arrived, housed in a brown egg shell, described as a savory fish stock mousse with sabayon, bowfin caviar and brioche. The deep salty custard, light alcoholic cream and accoutrement made for a stunning starter.
From the special farm-to-table prix fixe, we ordered a starter of cane syrup roasted Louisiana figs fresh cheese, pimenton candied almonds and Pedro Jimenez sherry. Simple but elegant.
The salad of heirloom beets, crab meat, cherry wood bacon, mizuna, and quail eggs was a lovely balance of texture and smoky/fresh flavors.
Our third gorgeous small plate was cane glazed pork belly and grilled Ruston peaches with pickled chantrelles and aleppo pepper. I wished for more pork belly, but loved the melange of bright flavors.
There were two entrées that called to me, but like a greyhound race the bunny won again. This rabbit was slow cooked, wrapped in La Provence bacon with white bean stuffed baby sweet peppers and heirloom tomatoes. The dense and luscious rabbit was quite nearly upstaged by the exquisite house-cured bacon, raised on Besh's own farm. The adorable stuffed peppers were a crunchy delight.
Larry's entrée, the slow cooked beef ribeye "coulotte" with Jim Core's silver queen corn and smoked bone marrow was melt-in-your-mouth opulence. He seemed to be enjoying it, so I didn't levy a second bite.
Michael tenderly explored his gorgeous plate. He had ordered my second choice (which I was fearing should have been my first), the cutely named "sugar and spice duckling" with McEwen's stone ground grits, roasted duck foie and local peaches. "Oh.. my.." and Michael went silent.
"I think we should share," I said then, knowing he had the winning dish. One heavenly bite of the sweet delicacy made me beg to split our two entrées, on the condition he could finish the foie. If prosciutto is the chocolate of meats then this was surely the Christmas of meats. Let it snow! 
After a meal like this, dessert saldy isn't an option, it's an obligation. A digestif, an espresso, a bite or two of sweet in conversational afterglow is the only way to respect such a gift. Michael and Larry ordered a Tawny port, but it was a warm night, even in the dining room, so I craved something chilled. Our server tempted me with the Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc (Honig, Napa Valley, 2006), and won. The golden honeyed intoxicant tasted like fresh autumn fruit, a soft pleasure to roll upon the tongue.
The gentlemen insisted on the Napoleon, which I may have skipped - but was glad we did not. The layers of brittle nougatine were cemented with bittersweet Valhrona chocolate bavarois, topped with salted toffee ice cream. Salty sweet perfection.
Meanwhile, I insisted on Pere Roux's banana rum cake with Creole cream cheese icing, a small picturesque crown befriended by plump berries and a sliced fig. The liquor lent a sweet moisture to the subtle banana confection, and perfectly paired with my dessert wine.
One last kiss arrived in the form of small dark chocolate ganache cups topped with cocoa nibs and a salted brittle, but I could not partake. Well, I lie, I took one nibble before easing back into the round of my chair, breathing slowly and watching a tablecloth across the room float effortlessy across a table, quick hands smoothing its edges in a seasoned arc.

301 Tchoupitoulas St. New Orleans, LA; 504.299.9777

Restaurant August on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 20, 2010

Croquer: Cochon

Once night fell over the French Quarter, the bayou heat took on a downright sultry character. Storm clouds broiled above as we approached Cochon Restaurant's glowing marquee on a dark corner of the warehouse district, the red hot sign seemingly scorching the thick air.
I had great expectations for Cochon... Following my last visit , I had heard nothing but raves about James Beard Award-winning chef Donald Link (Best Chef: South, 2007), the Cajun comfort of Cochon, and his first restaurant Herbsaint. I greatly regretted missing it, and thus it rose to the top of my to-do list for this trip.
The single-room concrete-floored warehouse was bursting at its bricks with a roar that translated a strong sense of community and much jubilant feasting. Diners filled every table and lined the open kitchen bar, a wood-fire oven blazing behind a roasted suckling pig, which was slowly being carved and served as the night's special.
Though the menu is only one page (same for both lunch and dinner), I found it difficult to focus at all on what to get, from the small plates to the boucherie to the wood-fired offerings... Everything sounded divine. Luckily our group of four decided to start with a handful of starters which eased my anxiety. As did the brisk Sazerac...
The fried Boudin balls arrived first, served with pickled peppers and Abita beer mustard. This Cajun variation on a Boudin Blanc, instead of using sausage casings, rolls the white pork and rice mixture into balls, batters and fries 'em up. Scrumptious!
The Crawfish Pie was only slightly underwhelming to me, but perhaps because I was inappropriately expecting a dish along the lines of Jacques-Imo's intense Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake (one of the tastiest things I've ever eaten). This was a personal-sized hot pocket-type pie, to its credit housing a nicely savory crawfish goulash.
My favorite dish of the night (dare I say, possibly the trip?) was Cochon's Wood-fired Oyster Roast. I don't know WHAT they slather on these bad boys, but sell me a bottle, we're talking serious umami. Spicy, creamy, and a touch sweet, the fat oysters are roasted until practically bursting, with a fresh clean flavor that says "aren't you GLAD you weren't foolishly afraid to eat me??" YES.
For my entrée I found myself (as tends to be the case in NOLA) attracted to the bunny dish. The Smoked Rabbit & Greens with Cornbread Dumplings came served in a cast iron pan, the "dumpling" dough (more akin to cornbread biscuits) spooned right on top and cooked in as the dish simmered. The flavors were deep, smoky and warming, my only reservation was over the water that was collecting from the greens, quickly consuming my dumplings and rendering them into liquid grits. I found I had to eat the dish quickly, which I suppose wasn't a terrible thing.
While the rabbit dish is classic Link, the Corn Flour Crusted Ham Hock with Maque Choux & Black Eyed Peas that Bruce ordered was the Big Guns. The rich intensity of the meat here proved to me that Link not only respects his meat, but that he's a true master at preparing it.
The restaurant's namesake Louisiana Cochon with Turnips, Cabbage & Cracklins was winning, as expected. Larry found his pork a tad on the dry side, but Michael seemed pleased with his plate. Like the other proteins, the pork's depth of flavor played center stage here, a monochromatic dish that didn't need any green to feel balanced.
Throughout the meal, mischievous heat lightning occasionally lit the warehouse window panes and by the time our entrée plates were cleared had broken into a torrential summer storm. The idea of battling the elements in our summer clothes (and with my case-less camera in tow) was  less than appealing, so as stuffed as we were two desserts were selected to "pass the time." The Lemon-Buttermilk Pie with vanilla whipped cream was classic and tasteful, but a little lackluster after such an incredible meal.
The Pineapple Upside-Down Cake however surprised us all. Suggested by our server, the cornmeal cake with coconut-lime sorbet & dulce de leche was elegant and tantalizing.
Once the rain subsided (and after I purchased a bottle of Cochon's house-made hot sauce and Link's 2010 James Beard Award-winning cookbook Real Cajun - check out some recipes here) we ducked out into the even more humid night, quickly checking out Cochon Butcher next door before heading back to the Quarter.
Butcher specializes in house-cured artisan meats and sausages - all made on site. The store also offers Cajun specialties like Boudin, Andouille, Tasso, and Cochon's line of condiments.
In addition to the sandwich menu (Muffuletta, Pastrami, Cuban) Butcher offers small plates and salami tastings paired with an eclectic list of wines selected by wine buyer Joe Brian, and seems like a relaxed overflow option for when the restaurant is packed... Which is often, and now I know why.

930 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA 70130-3820
(504) 588-2123
Cochon Restaurant on Urbanspoon