Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ensenada. Paleteria y Neveria La Michoacan

On a recent trip to Ensenada Mexico we stopped by the natural marine geyser called La Bufadora. which is located at the end of the Punta Banda Peninsula. There is only three of such things on the planet. One in Australia and the other in Hawaii. La Bufadora is the second largest blowhole in the world, and can shoot upwards as high as 80 feet above sea level. It's about 20 miles from downtown Ensenada. the roads are not marked, so you will have to ask a local the directions. It's worth the drive. As you park in the dirt parking lot above this natural wonder you will see that you have to traverse through a gauntlet of vendors hawking everything from San Diego Charger ponchos to bongs. And of course the many roadside "pharmacies" where toursists can buy Viagra and Soma. Ones an "upper", the other a "downer". Ok, this place is the height of tourist traps. But the only way to get down to the blow hole is to run through all of these blowhards.
At the top of street vendor Hell as I call it is one of my favorite little eateries in Ensenada. A place called Paleteria y Neveria. And if my Spanish is correct, it means Ice cream and Popsicles? I might be wrong on that interpretation. Anyway, there are no ice cream treats here only some very fine eats. The best carne asada on the peninsula. The place is run by 3 lovely ladies and all the food is made by hand in front of you.
This is the way food should be made. It's fresh and simple, with clean flavors and you can taste all of the ingredients. Even the corn tortillas are made from scratch and per order. It doesn't get any better than that.

There is the funniest woman who stands by the parking lot yelling at the people to come and eat the best tacos they've ever had. And she backs it up by saying if you don't like them they are free! Believe me.You will love them. And only a buck a piece.

The carne asada is extremely tender and not to over spiced. I don't really like the overly marinated in citrus juice kind that we are used to. I like to actually taste the meat as well. This stuff had a nice hint of oranges and limes to it. Not mushy as carne asada can get after sitting in citrus juice for awhile. No heat or spice other than black pepper on it. The rest came from great tomatillo salsa and fresh chopped onions and cilantro.

It is the simple food, the food of the people that is the best anywhere you travel. You will always find the soul of a country by trying it's street food. Even here at this "tourist stop", you can still feel the passion and beauty of a simple street taco, Made with love and laughter and served up with a smile.
I think we take for granted the food of our neighbor to the south. And you can see why especially in Southern California we have an over abundance of "Mexican" eateries. Some excellent, but most mediocre at best. I have been to a couple of taco shops in San Diego where if you don't ask for the "real" guacamole. they serve you the "gringo" food coloring and sour cream stuff. To me this is an outrageously racist and disgusting practice. I don't go back to these places. Can you imagine if you walked into an Italian restaurant and ordered a pizza and if you didn't ask for the "Italian" kind. you were served a Tony's 2 dollar frozen one? Absurd.
The food of Mexico gets a bad rap sometimes. But I think it on a par with fine French or Italian. And needs to be elevated to that stature.

Luckily there are a few places opening up around California that have the same idea about the food of Mexico. Even Eva Longoria has teamed up with Todd English to open a very good Latin steakhouse in LA called Beso. There are of course many others as well. I think its way past due. If you ave ever traveled through Mexico you will find exquisite regional fare as you travel across the 31 states that make up the country.
Ok back to the food. we ordered up a few fish tacos as well. they were fried and crispy. Better than Rubios?, you betcha! nice mayoey topping that had a hint of a cilantro base to it. fresh limes and fresh tortillas. Very good. Not the best, but very good.

But the carne asada here is king. really very good stuff.

These tacos for a buck each are packed with meat and extremely good guacamole. And they were very light and non filling.The melding of the sweet fresh corn tortilla with the avocado, cilantro,onions and meat worked so well that after eating just one you knew you had entered taco nirvana.

I love the Ensenada area. It's friendly, clean and relatively safe even during these times of violence around Mexico. The Guadalupe valley is another 20 miles or so out from the city and it is picturesque wine making country. we will save that one for another time.

So if you find yourself in the area. You have got to drive out to La Bufadora and try this little Popsicle stand.



Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Class - Everything but the Bird


A sincere thanks for all who attended the Pasta 101 class last month. I hope you had as much fun as I did. This months Class will be a Thanksgiving event. I call it "everything but the bird". We will make side dishes and condiments for the Holiday. We will make some traditional and some with a new twist.

The Class - Everything but the bird

When - November 14th at 3pm

Where - The Foodopolis Kitchen

The Menu.

Turnips Gratin
A classic baked side dish

Bourbon & Cayenne glazed baked Ham
What more can you say about this dish.

Fresh Brussels Sprout Salad w / Lemon zest vinaigrette, Roasted pecans & Parmesan curls
Fresh and tangy

Mini Pumpkin Souffle

Its what you do with all of those mini pumpkins you have from Halloween.

Baked Apples w / Fresh Whipped cream
And of course smothered in butter and bourbon.

Gravy 101
We will make ours with the giblets and wingtips of the bird.

Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Made from fresh berries and citrus

we will be sampling some or all of the following.

Schwaesdall Winery
2003 Chardonnay
Fruity wine from Ramona

Schwaesdall Winery
2006 Ramona Red
Perfect with turkey.

We will start it all off with a pitcher of what we call Jamaica-ritas. Dried Hibiscus flower margaritas.
Is there a better way to bring in the Holiday season in San Diego than with a margarita?

We hope to see you here!. Don't forget to reserve a spot. This one will go quickly.



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sweet Sicilian Pasta sauce

Serves 4-6
Cooking Time 15-20min.

½ Brown Onion
4 Cloves Garlic
1-28 oz can of whole tomatoes Plus ¼ can full of water
1Tbsp Sugar
½ c Fresh Basil – rough chopped
Pinch of Salt & Pepper
Olive oil

This is what I would call a “Primitive” sauce and it should be chunky. So don’t worry about chopping the onions and garlic into small bits. You can add or subtract the amount of sugar you use. Continue to taste the sauce all the way through the cooking process. Never add the onions and garlic together to sauté as the garlic will burn. Add them after you sauté the onions.

Course chop Onions and Garlic separately. Heat a heavy bottomed sauce pan and coat the bottom with Olive oil. Sauté the onions first until translucent and then add the garlic. And sauté for another minute.

In a bowl pour in the 28oz can of whole tomatoes. And crush the tomatoes with your hands. Then add them with their juice to the onions and garlic. Stir the mixture together. Fill the can ¼ full with water and add that to sauce as well.

Add the pinch of salt and pepper to your taste.

Add the 1-Tbsp sugar and adjust more if needed to your taste. Remember that all canned tomatoes are different and the amount of salt and pepper along with the sugar will be differing from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Let cook for 10-15 minutes enough so the tomatoes start to soften.

Add the ½ cup chopped fresh basil and stir into the sauce. Cook an additional 5 minutes so the ingredients have a chance to mingle with each other. Re-adjust your seasonings.

Serve over the pasta of your choice with lots of grated Romano cheese

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Class - Pasta 101

Hi all, Looking forward to our Pasta 101 class on Saturday October 24th at 3:00pm. Here is the menu of what we will be preparing. We will be learning about the art of "layering" flavors into your cooking.

Spicy Sausage Ragu. - and yes Ragu is a name of an actual sauce and not just a jar of stuff.
Sweet Sicilian Sauce. - Yes, we can be sweet.
No Cream Alfredo? sauce - Like Mom used to make. Ok, maybe not your Mom, but
definitely mine.

Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan.
We will learn a new way to look at this classic dish.

Garlic Bread. - yup, we will get into the Yin and the Yang of the art of garlic bread.

Romaine leaf Spoon salad. - with fresh pears and Gorgonzola cheese.

Seasonal Fruit tartlet. - with Home made Bourbon caramel sauce.

We will also be tasting a few local wines including the following. And maybe a few other local surprises.

2007 - Hawk Watch Winery
Dry Rose of Syrah.
This wine will make you think twice about a "blush" wine.

2006 - Hawk Watch Winery
San Diego County - Synthesis
This is a big fat and happy red.

So please come thirsty and hungry.



Saturday, March 21, 2009

Paris Day 1 - The Cocktail

Paris. It started with a cocktail. Doesn't it always start with a cocktail. That liquid libation that, that shot of inhibition reducing courage. But this was no ordinary cocktail, this was "the cocktail".
We had arrived in France the day before around 11AM Paris time and went from the plane to work as this was no pleasure trip. My business associate drove the rental car out of CDG on a blustery day. The rain came in droplets as I drew a picture of the sun over Paris with my finger on my fogged up window as we drove the Peripherie Highway that skirts around the city. I knew we would be in the "mix" in Paris that night and every night for a week. I let out a sigh just thinking if my liver was up to it. My liver has trained hard for this trip. Like Lance Armstrong, I have returned to France, and the French know how to drink and eat. I was ready. The liver of Lance Armstrong and the body of a God. Unfortunately the Gods body I have is Buddha.

We were staying in the quaint village of Sceaux outside of Bourg-la-Reine about 8 miles from Paris proper.
We made contact with our French counter parts and quickly formulated dinner plans. Those always come first in Europe. Business is conducted over a meal and mass amounts of wine. and that meal will last three to four hours. Reggis had suggested a place he knew of in Saint Michel, one of my favorite areas in Paris. I knew it well. He told us he picked this place because the "guy" was well known for his mixology skills. The game was on. we took the metro from the hotel to Paris as no one in their right mind would drive knowing what we would be drinking most of the night away. We met our counterparts at the metro station that exits to the side of the beautiful fountain of Saint Michel around 9PM as nobody in Paris goes to eat before that. It is an amazing site to come up from the underground and see this fountain and the huge statue of the cities namesake holding a sword towards heaven.

They were waiting for us smoking cigarettes and dressed in the only color that Parisians will be caught in. Black. Paris might be known for it's fashion but they only wear one color here. Black. Black pants, black shoes and God forbid, no one wears running shoes here, not even black ones. And everyone smokes Marlboro lights. we had brought a few cartons of Marlboro lights with us as requested as gifts. apparently the American version of this cancer stick is very much in demand.

After the exchange of pleasantries we embarked on a walking quest to find the guy who is known for his cocktails. We walked and walked and walked for almost an hour. Our guide was definitely lost and he was a local. If you have ever walked the streets of Paris you know that it is very easy to get lost. After a few phone calls we were once again on the right track. I have to admit that I had no clue as to where we were at now. We walked through alleys that had no lights and finally came upon one that was the darkest of all. It just screamed out like a bad horror movie when everyone yells out to the dumb blond, "Don't go down the stairs to the basement!" this was the equivalent, only screamed out in French, Ne pas descandre l'escalier! So of course we followed our guide whom was a business associate of ours, otherwise we would have never gone down this way. And suddenly someone screams out "there it is". No lights on outside and no other businesses open around it, but we had arrived.

I can't tell you the name of the place because it had no lit sign out front. This was a tiny place with 5 tables and a bar that had room for one bar stool. The building must have been hundreds of years old, it was dark and the ceiling was very low. The owner greeted us and had a table ready and waiting, the one lone patron sitting at the bar had to move as there was now no more room for him. It was a surreal evening from the start, Luis Buñuel meets Charles Bukowski. A classic example of Paris, very old building now trendy tiny bistro. The music that was pumping through the sound system was an extreme mix of various tastes, as we sat, the Euro disco classic Daddy Cool by Boney M was blasting away and soon gave way to Yvonne Ellerman singing " if I can't have you" and transcending into German industrial pop. My head was already spinning in a good way. The cocktail guy, who was the owner, sachet up to the table and asked rather coyly if we would like a drink? We told him to hit us with his best shot and so he went behind the tiny bar and started to concoct his best cocktail, he wouldn't tell us what was in it or even it's name. He did all his mixing behind and below the bar he worked feverishly and fast at times he stopped to look around with a look on his face of either checking to see if anyone was watching him or the look might have suggested that maybe he shouldn't be doing this. and then after a few minutes he poured his elixir into a two martini glasses, one for me and one for my Parisian friend. It was a slight golden caramel color with a rose tint to it. It smelled of flowers with a slight herbal woodsy complex nose. It was ice cold and extremely smooth. It flowed down my throat to easily, way to easily. No burn of alcohol. I was told to sip not gulp and after a few minutes I knew why. After my friend and I nursed our top secret drinks for a few minutes I started to feel the back of my throat go numb, starting from my tonsils and slowly moving forward it came. The numbness followed closely by a heat sensation and then the buzz, unlike any buzz I have had before and especially after just one drink and I wasn't quite finished with it.

The warmth that started in the back of my throat was now travelling down the rest of my body as if my mind had just emptied it's bladder internally and this warm brain fluid was spreading down the pantleg that was my body. I felt flushed and tingled. I could barely speak as the numbness from my mouth had now sealed it shut like sucking on an unripe perssimon. I really started to panic a little but couldn't show it externally as it would not be a manly thing to do. I mean you can have a heart attack at the table but as a man you cannot say " wow, I think that drink was too strong", that just doesn't fly. After a few minutes the effects of that mystery drink started to wear off as my mouth regained consciousness I drank mass amounts of water. that was an amazing drink. I now wonder if I was subjected to some super secret government elixir and I have nightmares of waking up in the middle of the night with visions of a French creature bursting out of my chest.

The food as I remember was not as much of a thrill ride as the drinks. I had the Foie gras of course to start and it came in a rather unusual way in which I have never had before. It came in a bowl and was topped with a fried over easy quail egg. I wasn't that impressed with it. It had no flavor to it. this place was very dark and it was very hard to take pictures. the French or should I say Parisians, don't like people with cameras.

For my entree I had the Risotto with wild mushrooms. Nice texture and flavor to this dish but definitely very different from traditional Risotto which is more soup like, this was very dry and relied on the mushroom sauce for most of its character. Each course took at least 30 to 40 minutes to come out to the table. As most places in Paris a meal will last a few hours. the dishes come out very leisurely which of course gives you ample enough time to consume more wine, which of course we did. This place had a fantastic wine list. It wasn't 70 pages long, just 4 pages in length, but had the best of French classics. Great Bordeaux and Burgundies. We ordered up the Château Hauchat a Bordeaux from the Fronsac wine region of France. Great wine. We ended up ordering five bottles before the night was over.

You either love French wine or you don't. It is very different from the fruit forward approach of California. It has more to do with the soil and area than the actual fruit. I love both styles.
And so my adventure through Paris began. We ended up having to literally run to the Metro as the last train back to our station left at 1am.
Somewhere in Paris

Friday, February 13, 2009

Frankie Doodles - Spokane

Spokane the big little small town of the Pacific Northwest. The red haired stepchild of the Emerald city Seattle which is a fifty minute puddle jumper plane ride over the snow capped mountains. I like this town. Mayberry RFD all grown up and on its own terms. A city with striking contrasts of tastes and social life. As I gaze out the window of my hotel, across the highway I spot the one place that everyone in Spokane has gone to at least once in their lives. Frankie Doodles. If your not from the area and you are just driving down I-90 you will probably miss it as the large neon sign never has all the lights working a the same time. It could read, rankie oodles or fran dood or anything other than Frankie Doodles.This place has been here for at least 40 or 50 years. Classic open 24 hours 7 days a week 365 days a year roadside diner. Like Denny's, nobody ever sets out to go there, you just end up there. usually after an evening that ends up with you or one of your friends saying something like, "Dude, I can't drink anymore, I need to eat". and it's usually around 3am. During the day the regulars wander in. the over 60's crew, The lumberjack looking guys in their 40's. I actually saw a rather large bearlike guy walk in wearing a stove top hat. I was in awe. Definitely a locals place. If you are a connoisseur of this type of fare you will feel right at home as you are greeted by the gruff but friendly counter waitress as she yells out, "sit anywhere ya want hun". These well seasoned vixens of roadside dinerville have all the same personality. And I find it comforting somehow. A good diner will make you feel like you snuck into a scene from the movie Fargo.

You will somehow lose your license to be a diner I think if you don't have Chicken Fried Steak on the menu. When I'm on the road and it looks like a diner will be my place of choice for a meal. I have to order it. I don't really know why, but I have an affinity for this artery clogging dish. I mean I have ordered Chicken Fried Steak in diners around the country and guess what? I believe I found Chicken Fried Steak nirvana.

I started my meal with a soup called "inside out stuffed pepper", and yup, that is exactly what it was, only more like a stew than soup. thick and rich tomato with lots of paprika, chunks of hamburger and strips of green pepper all bound together via the starchiness of white rice. this was an outstanding dish. came with two bags of what were once saltine crackers that have probably been on more tables than Anna Nicole Smith in their life.Only these were never used only to be thrown back on the pile. they were reduced to little plastic bags filled with cracker dust, The equivalent to hillbilly pixie dust.

My Chicken Fried Steak came next and with a cold Coors lite. You can't drink nuthin fancy with this dish it would ruin the subtle nuances that the combination of greases bring to it. Beer is only used as a Drano substitute, to clear the pipes so the next heapful can slide down.
The dish came with a huge scoop of fresh mashed potatoes, with lots of chunks. I like my potatoes chunky like this. And of course smothered with the same Sausage gravy that covered the Chicken Fried Steak. The mashed potatoes had an awsome buttery texture and taste to them. they were really light and creamy. they weren't dry but very moist and surprisingly airy.

And of course no diner would ever serve this dish without a side of something that once was a vegetable, most times this means a large slotted spoon full of either canned diced carrots or in this case, the ultimate, green beans. Something about the tang of that metal can as it mixes with and becomes one with the green beans and changes its molecular DNA that brings out the best of roadside food. It's clean metal taste reminds one always of Elementary school cafeterias.

The gravy itself is literally the glue that binds all of this together. The sausage gravy at Frankie Doodles is one of the best out there. It has everything you want in a roadside diner sausage gravy. Large bits of fried pork sausage mixed with flour and either oil or butter roux, with some whole milk thrown in for nutritional goodness. The roll that came with the meal was an odd piece of dough. You normally would expect a biscuit type roll, very dense and heavy. something that can withstand the girth of this plate. But the rolls here are very light, similar to what is called Hawaiian bread or a brioche type roll without the sweetness and very bland. It came out light and spongy and before my eyes within minutes it had morphed rather quickly into a stale and tasteless hockey puck. I was amazed at this quick transformation. Like pulling out a slice of wonder bread in the desert. that's how quick this thing went bad.

The Chicken Fried Steak was a nice tenderised piece of beef. It was very lightly breaded and the breading actually had a fresh floury breadcrumby taste to it. Normally with this dish you get a piece of hammered beef that is dredged in way to much flour then fried till its black and the gravy is used to cover up all the burned parts. Not here. I could tell that the fried steak was not pan fried but dropped in a vat of hot fat and by the taste of it probably the same fryer as they use for french fries and onion rings.
Frankie Doodles hasn't had an exterior or interior paint job in at least 20 or more years. The carpet is worn out and the counter stools upholstery is cracked and wearing. The decor is just classic 1960's American diner and the folks who work here have been around the block a few times. We look at high end restaurants with classically trained chefs as a barometer of class and taste. but we always forget the diner cook and his or hers ability to crank out mass amounts of traditional regional fare without going to culinary school. There is an art to both styles.

And on every table is this work of pop art. an artsy display of filled condiments on every table. the beauty of this symmetry has more pop art value than any Warhol litho to me. I love places with heart and passion. it can be a Michelin rated restaurant or a taco truck on the streets of Los Angeles. it doesn't matter. if the place has passion and heart. it comes through in the food. This place might not be for all, but then again eating snails with an over priced Bordeaux ain't for everyone either.

Frankie Doodles
30 E 3rd Ave
Spokane WA 99202
(509) 747-9267

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