10.28.2011

The Blue Goat: RVA Goes Nose-to-Tail

 
As you know, I very recently visited my hometown, Richmond, Virginia. Richmond has pretty sweet restaurants and I have been lucky enough to sample many of them throughout my life. The city is flecked with small, intimate corner cafes and independent bistros with thoughtful food, kind staff and, more often than not, big windows and pressed tin ceilings. And, almost always, a welcoming bar where one can comfortably sit and eat.

To this day that is the style of dining experience to which I am drawn. I prefer small spaces with big food.

Prior to arriving on this particular trip, Paz, Dad and I decided to share a meal out together on my first night in town. We all settled on the Blue Goat, a new venture by Chris Tsui and chef, Kevin La Civita (Osaka, Sushi-O and Wild Ginger) with a nose-to-tail concept. Here in LA we are certainly not for want in this department. We have Animal, Sotto, Gorbals, Lazy Ox Canteen, of course,  Salt’s Cure (my favorite), to name a few. But for Richmond this is pretty damned cool. Their products are also all sourced from local farms including the much lauded Polyface Farm. I was excited.

We had 8pm reservations on a Friday night, rolled in right on time into a bustling scene, and yet were seated immediately by our welcoming and smiling hostess. Take that LA!


The restaurant is occupying what I grew up knowing as Peking, a Chinese restaurant that kicked around for 31 years. I remember their Peking Duck fondly. In a Grosse Point Blank moment, I was shocked to notice that it is entirely unrecognizable in any semblance of my recollection. But it does look pretty great. The walls have been stripped, leaving the original exposed brick. The wooden ceiling, once hidden by another layer of wood, is now exposed. That extra wood was converted into the restaurant’s refinished Douglas-fir tables and, after some digging, Tsui and company found and polished the floor that was used when the building was a grocery store in the 1930s. The space includes a bar that runs the length of the building, as well as spacious, cozy booths, high tables and even a private wine room that seats parties of up to 12 and has a window looking right into the kitchen.


The menu is vast. We were overwhelmed. We wanted one of everything. But we first ordered cocktails. Now y’all know I am by no means a cocktail person, but I figured I was back home and they were doing this whole she-she-la-la cocktail thing everyone’s got their panties in a bunch about everywhere, so why not? I went for the obvious choice as it was entitled, The Only Thing You Drink: Aperol Apertivo, St. Germain, Fresh Squeezed Lime, Rosemary Sprig ($9). I enjoyed it, actually. Dad ordered his standard martini and Paz ordered a glass of Albarino.


We went ahead and got some Pork rinds with gray sea salt ($4) to go with cocktail time. They were straightforward and genius. They managed to be light and airy without the greasy and heavy. The pork flavor came through absolutely and the gray sea salt only brought it forth one step further. I would appreciate a big bag of them now to snack on while I write.


Then we went a little bit crazy…

Daily Shellfish Selection $17 
Local Fresh Raw Oysters (selection of Chincoteague, Upper James & Sting Rays)
With Jumbo Carolina Head On Shrimp Paired
With house made pepper relish and mignonette sauces

This was exactly what it was: fresh, local, beautiful shellfish. I never bother with relishes, mignonettes or the like when I have raw shellfish before me. Just give it to me straight up, no chaser.

 Batter fried, julienne strips of Smithfield Farm pig ear, a sunny side duck egg with crispy Swiss chard ($12)

Oh my. This was decadence. This was my salt fest. Slice through that egg and let all of the textures and flavors marry and this is one hell of a dish. This dish would bowl over any of my pig ear-loving Angelinos, for sure. And most certainly Maggie.

 Hudson Valley seared foie gras over black mission fig quick bread, huckleberry
and plum compote and pomegranate reduction ($15)

Foie is one of my all-time favorite things to put in my mouth. This did not disappoint. It’s exterior was ever so slightly crisped to give way to a luscious, ethereal interior. I even tried it with the compote and didn’t drop to the floor in dramatic convulsions. Even I could see that the flavor profiles were matched beautifully. 

*For you Richmonders reading this: please note that “compromised” fruit is – and always has been - something of a fear of mine.

 Manakintowne mixed field green salad, Hanover tomato, strawberries, white anchovies, with a pomegranate mint vinaigrette ($7)

Two things in the description of this salad had me at hello: Hanover tomatoes and white anchovies. So much so that I threw caution to the wind with the strawberry factor (see fruit disclaimer above). The salad was perfectly conceived. The only criticism I have is that the tomatoes were either not entirely in season any longer or not ripe. Eagerly anticipating my first Hanover tomato in over a year, I was, admittedly, disappointed. Fantastic dressing, however.

 Fallen Oaks Farm rabbit pate “country style”, bruschetta and white truffle honey ($11)

This was an unexpected treat, brought over to us by the manager, Chris (could it have been my huge camera, perhaps?). I’m so pleased he brought this as it was a surprise hit. The white truffle honey was glorious and this dish’s smoothness and warmth added a perfect follow up to the anchovies and pomegranate vinaigrette. Thanks, Chris!

 House made Ravioli stuffed with braised goat, ricotta and swiss chard with sage brown butter and shaved Pecorino Romano ($11)

This was another I-must-have-this-immediately dish I spotted on the menu. I am somewhat fixated on hand-made pasta at present, and anything with brown butter is a go. Unfortunately the ravioli was a little bit too toothsome and a lot bit too oleaginous. The brown butter was not tremendously visible aesthetically or on the tongue. The braised goat, ricotta and swiss chard insides were remarkable, however.

 Braised pork cheeks over spaetzle ($15)

Hold the phone. Hold. The. Phone. This dish was RIDICULOUS. I wish we had ordered it earlier on in our gluttony as I wanted to savor each and every droplet in each and every bite. Dear Chef LaCivita, Pretty please ship me 284969 pounds of this tout suite!

We all agreed that this was our favorite of the evening.

If you can believe it, we also tried to order the Veal marrow bone with gray sea salt, bruschetta and black olive tapenade ($11) – but (thank God) they were out.

I can’t recall what Paz or Dad ordered in the wine department but I paired my meal with a glass of The Prisoner ($13) and a glass of the Petît Batard ($12) – and they were absolutely tailor-made for the meal.

Listen, the food was great. The service was great. The atmosphere, if a bit loud, was great. I totally applaud that Tsui and LaCivita are giving Richmond diners a bit more credit than they often receive.

I know my dad and Paz will be back, if they haven’t already. I plan to return upon my next visit to Richmond--VERY SOON. And Hell, I’m sitting here in Los Angeles writing about a restaurant 3,000 miles away because I think if you are able, you should go there, too.


One Year Ago: Pecan Shortbread
Two Years Ago: The Grilled Cheese Truck

10.20.2011

Slowing Down.


I have gone home to Richmond and now I have returned home to Los Angeles. I had somewhat of a seminal trip, I must say. While I always appreciate going back home, it is, more often than not, fraught with some sort of mess (usually caused by me). This visit, however, was decidedly different. It was not only mess-free, it was calm and nice (with a lite peppering of pretty great play-times), and it made me honestly miss Richmond.

Don’t get too worried. I don’t see myself leaving LA. Certainly not any time soon.

On my first night there I had plans to have dinner with my dad and Paz. We had reservations at the Blue Goat at eight o’clock. Paz came over a little after seven or so for a champagne toast before heading out. But I just could not relax. I kept looking at my watch and asking Dad if we were okay on time. We had to get to the West End, after all! He told me to chill (which he does a lot). We left at ten minutes to eight, effortlessly found parking and walked in the front door of the restaurant at two minutes to eight.

Um.

On another day I was driving through my neighborhood, The Fan, with My Favorite Rugby Boy when I noticed the car in front of me pulled over to the right and put their hazards on while someone proceeded to get out of, or into, the car. Without hesitation I checked my blind spot and whizzed around them. MFRB grabbed the OMG handle in the car and was, visibly, a bit rattled. I turned to him and said, “What’s the problem?” To which he replied, “I forgot about you Los Angeles drivers, is all.” During that moment that I rolled my eyes at him, I also realized, he’s right. There was really no reason to go around that car. Why couldn’t I have just waited one minute, until they were moving again, and amble along from there? What’s the hurry?

And you know what? I’m always in a hurry. I always have to be doing, moving, going. I’m obsessed with time and being on time. There’s never enough time.

After I realized this, I slowed it down. I meandered around the new grounds of the Virginia Museum, I leafed through a magazine, I took a nap, and I wasn’t even crabby when My Favorite Rugby Boy told me he was running late for cooking-lesson-night at his house (bless his heart – he boils chicken and eats it for dinner).

That night I taught him how to make chicken under a brick (fantastic chicken from Belmont Butchery), slow-cooked broccoli rabe, salt-baked potatoes and a roasted cauliflower and garlic soup with rye croutons. I thought the first three items would all be things he could take away and riff on: simple classics that taste delicious. In an interesting turn of events he was most taken with the soup. In an even more interesting turn of events, I walked away that evening with knowledge of a new term: SCRUM. One never does know, does one?

The next day Dad and I drove up to Northern Virginia to visit Aunt Babe. I napped the whole way there while Dad drove. We had lunch with she and her daughter, my cousin, Noel. It was truly wonderful to see them both. I got a ton of recipes and stories and material to work with. Heck, three of the dishes at the next Dinner at Eight are Aunt Babe’s. The funny thing was, Aunt Babe expressed she was pleased as punch to be out of the kitchen and didn’t miss it one bit. One never does know, does one? 

I then napped the entire way back to Richmond while Dad drove.

Me, Aunt Babe & Dad, circa 1999.

For my last night back home I stayed in. In my pine cone jammies. On the couch. I was sort of sad. I realized that I really love Richmond. I realized that I really miss Richmond. I started fantasizing about moving back to Richmond. It’s so beautiful, so straightforward there. I, of course, also realized that it’s easy to feel this way about a place when you spend your days there jogging, wandering, eating, drinking wine, napping, reading and being snuggly.

But I did make a decision. Here it is: I will be going back home considerably more often. I even pulled a classic chick move on the very house in which I grew up. I left stuff that I knew I would have to return to – namely my pine cone jammies.

~~~

And for all of you and My Favorite Rugby Boy, here’s the recipe for that sexy soup.



Creamy Roasted Garlic and Cauliflower Soup with Rye Croutons

serves 4-6

Ingredients:

1 whole head cauliflower
1 large whole head garlic
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
6-8 fresh sage leaves
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper 
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup sherry 

1 cup water
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock, plus up to 2 more as needed for desired consistency
1 dried bay leaf
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 slice crustless rye bread, cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup), toasted
 
Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.


Cut cauliflower into individual florets. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Transfer to a foil lined baking sheet. Scatter fresh sage leaves around the florets. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.


Cut the top off of the head of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap with foil. Place wrapped garlic on the baking sheet. Roast the cauliflower and garlic at 400 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. When the cauliflower is tender and golden remove from the oven.


The garlic will need to roast for a total of about 25-30 minutes. You can remove it to check it's progress as needed - it should smell fragrant but not raw, be golden and tender.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a cast iron dutch oven or medium-large stock pot. Add the onion. Saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Whisk in the salt, pepper, and flour and continue to cook for 2 more minutes.

Add the sherry and water, whisking to combine with the flour mixture. Then, slowly add in the 2 cups broth. Add the bay leaf and roasted garlic cloves. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cauliflower and simmer an additional 5 minutes.


Remove the bay leaf. Working in batches, add the soup to a food processor (or use the trusty immersion blender) and blend until pureed and smooth. Add additional broth during or after blending to achieve desired consistency. After all the batches have been completed, return to the pot. Stir in the cream. Cook until just heated through. Adjust salt and pepper for tastes.


Ladle into bowls, scatter the croutons on top and serve.


Printable Recipe

One year ago: Cream Biscuits
Two years ago: Pizzeria Bianco


10.05.2011

The New to the Old. The Old from the New.


I’m going back home for a short stretch. About a week. Interestingly home has been quite the trending topic lately – in my home. My home here in LA that is. This is my home now. But Virginia, is also, and will always be my home. My home where I was born and raised. I’m excited. I’m also excited that I’m excited.

I haven’t been able to return to Virginia much since I started my own business back in 2004. No more Christmases or other holidays, for sure. It seems like the reasons that have lured me back there in the past five years have been mostly not so great things. I can hardly remember I went back just to go. Hence my excitement.

The extra bonus of going right around now is FALL. Fall is, without a doubt, my favoritest season of all. Always has been – even when it represented back-to-school (and I never liked school). While my City of Angels does have whispers and hints of the different seasons, we don’t really get a proper Fall or Winter. Winter I don’t care a whole lot about. Y’all can keep it. But Fall, oh the love.

One of the things I’m extra super thrilled about regarding this visit is that I have scheduled a whole day to hang out with Aunt Babe. I haven’t seen her since her 90th birthday, which was back in 2007. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been especially taken with Aunt Babe. I write about her A LOT. But, really, I haven’t spent worlds of time with her throughout my life. I don’t know if I know her, really.

But what I do know is that I admire her composure, her calm. I admire her fortitude – she has been the rock of our family, and single, since her husband passed away over 50 years ago and her sister, my Grandmother, Janie, passed away the year before I was born. I admire her sense of family. I admire the fact that she’s, like, 95 years old and doesn’t wear glasses.

I also admire her cooking. One of the things I most looked forward to all of my life, until I was simply unable to attend, was Christmas Eve dinner, in Roanoke, at Aunt Babe’s place. It was, and is, literally my favorite meal of my life. Hands down.

Aunt Babe in the kitchen, with her sassy Christmas duds.

I’m sure it wasn’t just the food. I’m sure it has way more to do with the evening being so traditional, so normal, so warm and so consistent. But I swear I can still taste everything that was served at that meal each year. I’m kind of obsessed with that meal.

Well and so. In case you haven’t heard I’m bringing back Dinner at Eight. Again.

It all started about a month ago. I attended a bloggy Tweet Up or some such thing, and ran into Let Me Eat Cake. I’ve always gotten a super great vibe from this girl. We started talking about Southern food: how it’s seemingly on the rise like never before, how every other issue of every other food or wine magazine is The Southern Issue, how delicious and special it is, and how there is an obvious dearth of it in our City of Angels. That day we made a loose pact to make it happen here.

What better way to start that then to A) get my tail back home to visit Aunt Babe and get all those wonderful recipes from her and, B) share with and feed all of you, my dear Angelinos, this remarkable cuisine, that, while may be a trend, is also a rediscovery of something that was always there. And, hopefully, now here.

The next Dinner at Eight will be A Southern Sunday Supper. The date is October 23, 2011. We will have two seatings with eight diners each. Dinner will be served inside, by the fire. To see the menu, more details and to make reservations, click here.

~~~

Shortly after I posted the menu for the next dinner party, Aunt Babe’s daughter, Noel (my cousin and my middle name) sent me this email:

Hi Elliott,

Connie just sent us a link to your Dinner at Eight and we were tickled to see that two of Aunt Babe's dishes are included.

What spoonbread recipe do you use?  The best (and easiest) I ever tasted was one from Mom's first cousin Flonnie Kinnear.  It's just like the one from the old S&W Cafeteria in Roanoke and other southern cities.  You're way too young to have been there. 

Also, we just finished up the last two pieces of a buttermilk pie -- also from Flonnie, I think.

Love, Noel

~~~

So, I’m proud to say, here is Cousin Flonnie Kinnear’s recipe for spoon bread (and the one we will be serving at the dinner party). I’m printing it as is (even with the Pam!) with the exception of adding Anson Mills as a referral for the cornmeal as their product is unsurpassed.


Cousin Flonnie's Spoon Bread
                                                                                   
Serves 4

1 cup buttermilk
1 cup sweet milk
2 eggs
⅓ cup Anson Mills cornmeal
½ tsp soda
½ tsp salt
1 Tb butter, melted

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Pam a casserole.

Combine all ingredients.  Mix for one minute.  Pour into casserole (or cast iron).  Bake for 20 minutes.