5.22.2012

Lip-Face, Mr. California & The Shad Roe.



I’ve never had a cavity. Never until a couple of weeks ago, that is. I only go to one dentist and that’s my dentist back in Richmond. Other than Dr. Fitzugh, who passed away when I was a little girl, Dr. Wade has been my only dentist. And Dr. Wade actually took over Dr. Fitzhugh’s practice. Everything stayed the same. Even the mobiles hanging from the ceiling. And Myrtle, the receptionist. I love Myrtle.

Okay, so I have tried other dentists here in LA. I have tried exactly two and it has been a mess each time. The two dentists wanted to sell and sell and sell. Like used car salesmen. And though nothing has been wrong with my teeth, they have made me feel like I have a mouthful of disaster. The first guy suggested bleaching and veneers. I was only going for a cleaning. The last guy I tried noticed the little chip in my front tooth caused by an over excited dog that was eager to get leashed for a walk. She accidentally made the metal part of the leash flip up and whack me in the tooth. TINY chip. Dr. LA decided to bond it. Within less than two weeks the bonding came off. And, as it turned out, my insurance didn’t cover any of it anyway.

So on my very recent visit back home I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Wade for a cleaning. I discovered he had moved his practice a few blocks west and Myrtle has retired.

I also discovered I had a cavity.

Dr. Wade told me he thought it best we deal with it right then and there. Then Dr. Wade showed me the needle that was about to go into my mouth. Then I cried. I rarely cry, and I cried like a little kid. He even had to play a little kid game with me to distract me from the actual moment the syringe was to make contact. And, Dr. Wade had to administer two injections to fully numb the area.

The Needle.

And so, with my hands clenched into little fists so tight my knuckles were stark white, I got my first filling. That whole part only took about fifteen minutes but it seemed like hours.

As I was leaving the office Dr. Wade told me to use caution when eating as the left side of my face was numb. I felt as though we had been through so much together that I gave him a big, emotional hug. As though we just survived a battle, shoulder to shoulder.

Then I drove back to the house to meet up with Dad and Fred. We were going bike riding along the James River. But not before we stopped off at Coppola’s Deli to pick up a bunch of Italian subs and chips and stuff: lunch. Coppola’s was actually was my first job from back in high school. Really great sandwiches.

We parked at Pony Pasture (a spot on the river where we all spent a good deal of time at when we were kids: also known as The Redneck Riviera), unloaded the bikes and settled onto a huge rock to eat lunch. I was famished and really excited about my sandwich – it was the same one always ordered: The Honey Turkey (honey roasted turkey breast, grilled with onions, sweet and hot peppers, smothered with Swiss cheese on a freshly baked French Roll with leaf lettuce, tomatoes and Dijon).

About halfway through my enthusiastic romp through Sandwich Town, my dad looked up at me with a perplexed expression and said, “Elliott, um… you have blood running down your chin.”

Now, I have bitten my lip before – we all have. But what I did that day was kind of amazing. Without realizing it I was eating my face. It was so gross that it was comical. It was very extreme looking. It took over a week to heal completely.

But at least it didn’t hurt. Yet.

This was right after. It continued to grow throughout the day.
That and the bike helmet made me look like a viable short bus candidate.

We went on with our bike ride, which was beautiful save for the comments from the Peanut Gallery about my lip-face.

The remainder of the day was very relaxing as the pain began to set in. A pain that perfectly illustrated the gravity of what I had done to myself. We wandered around the Virginia Museum, which lives right across the street from my house, and then, while Dad took a nap, Fred and I went on an early evening walk to collect ingredients for dinner.


By the time we got back I was pretty worn out. I assembled a cheese plate with white anchovies in olive oil and Billy Bread that we picked up at the Belmont Butchery and joined Dad out on the back deck. We sipped some wine while Fred got to flexing in the kitchen. He wanted to play with this stuff Dad had in the fridge that he had never heard of before: shad roe.

It was a ridiculously perfect late-Spring, Richmond evening: warm, humid, almost sultry but for the light breeze coming through the 2834658 year old tree that shelters the yard, fireflies, cicadas, orange-y, warm, waning light. Jazz. Cheese. Wine. Dad.


And right as the sun was almost gone completely, Fred came out with our dinner, all plated and everything. And what did this Native Californian, who had never set foot in the South before, much less cooked there, feed us all for dinner that night? All on his own, armed with his smart phone for help, Fred prepared us a decidedly Southern and very much in-season-right-now delicacy; shad roe. And, Dad and I agreed wholeheartedly, he did a damn fine job.

Perhaps Fred is a Southern boy at heart. Heck, you should have see how happy he was to encounter his first honeysuckle and his first firefly in the same night!

My lip was still massive, but the comedy of it all, the absurdity, made it an instant cult hit in the antectdotal department. I had a new story. And I know I will tell it often.

What an incredible day.


* It’s hard to go wrong with roe. Sturgeon eggs make delicious black caviar. Salmon eggs, meanwhile, make sumptuous red caviar. Cod roe is the stuff of excellent taramosalata and tuna roe of fantastic botarga.

Shad roe, however, is especially savory — if for no other reason than because it’s so rare. While one can usually enjoy caviar or cod roe year-round, the shad roe season is short. Really short, in fact, as it typically lasts just a few months, from March until May, while the shad are making their run as far south as the Chesapeake Bay and as far north as southern New England.

Shad are one fish where the eggs are valued more than the fish itself. Shad roe is vaguely fishy, but not overpoweringly so, and the texture is similar to a good meatball -- soft yet meaty. Shad roe cooked in bacon fat, served with lemon and a fresh spring herb is the classic way to cook this delicacy, which only comes around in late spring. The keys to this dish are very fresh roe, very good bacon and a zingy herb to accompany it.


 Classic Shad Roe with Bacon & Fresh Herbs
(recipe adapted from Hank Shaw)

Ingredients
4-6 lobes of shad roe
1 tablespoon. salt
2 cups cold water
6-10 pieces of smoky, thick-cut bacon
Flour for dusting
1 lemon, quartered
Fresh herbs such as chervil, fennel or parsley to garnish

Directions
Mix the salt and water until it's dissolved. Submerge the roe in the brine in refrigerator overnight.

Cook the bacon in skillet until crispy, then set aside to drain. Keep skillet.

Meanwhile, flour, salt & pepper the roe and set aside while bacon cooks.

In the same skillet, turn the heat to medium-high and cook the shad roe for 1 minute. Turn the heat down to medium, then cook for another 2-3 minutes, until golden. Turn and cook the other side for 2-3 minutes. Careful not to overcook as the roe can become quite chalky.

To serve, arrange the roe on a plate, place the fresh herbs on the crumbles of bacon on top. Serve with a lemon wedge.


NOTE: If possible, begin dish a day ahead to brine the roe.





5.18.2012

Out of the Past(ure)



Lately I have been homesick. Really homesick. In no small part for calm and simplicity.  Many things recently have been so Sisyphean here in my City of Angels. Or so it seems.  Everything is so big and heavy and more difficult than necessary.  People appear to be filled with drama or anger, or both, and take it out on the other drivers (or pedestrians) on the road, the Census taker on the other end of the phone line, or their server in a restaurant. I can hardly say I blame them. It’s a vicious cycle that I have fallen prey to as a result of my own recent circumstances: the nightmare of my unpredictable and mean-spirited next door neighbor, my evil, evil landlord (EVIL. GRR.), Beso’s doctor who won’t call me back, running into one someone I’d rather never lay eyes on again during lunch at Cheebo, money, driving, gas prices, traffic, crowds. A little jaunt from Point A to Point B, more often than not, seems a fairly substantial undertaking.  Not to worry; buck up I will.

So very recently I went back home for a visit. Fred came with me. I was overwhelmingly excited to see my dad, Paz, Spencer and everyone. I was mostly looking forward to chilling out, slowing down. To walk places. To munch a ginormous sandwich from Coppola's Deli on the James River. To lounge on my back deck. And to eat. Okay, and to drink some wine.

On our first night I trumped Dad’s call to go to Acacia (his fave). I had been there. I wanted to try Pasture. I had been hearing good things. It was new. It just opened last November under chef Jason Alley, who we know from his RVA standby, Comfort, along a stretch of Grace Street that has likely waited far too long for a little attention.


Upon entering, the space sort of took me aback a bit. It didn’t feel like Richmond. Instead of small, intimate, cozy and warm, it was big and airy and shiny and modern. It was very designed. Actually, I felt like I could have been in LA.

We had a drink at the large, wood bar (full bar) while we waited for our table. Dad and Fred had cocktails and Dale and I wined. After only about ten minutes we were seated.



And here’s what happened next…

Pimento cheese, crackers ($4). I am, admittedly, a huge pimiento cheese fan (note; I prefer the use of the optional I after the M and before the E (pimiento)). I love my mom’s recipe. The Duke’s mayonnaise and the zested sweet onion are key in creating the perfect texture. The slightest dash of Worcestershire is vital for that little somethin’ somethin’ that ignites your palate. Alley’s pimiento cheese was really nice, and more importantly, it was true. He served it topped with chopped fresh chives and alongside Ritz crackers. I applaud his confident choice of using Ritz rather than giving into the compulsion many have to bells-and-whistle it up with arm candy like crostini.


Deviled eggs, house cured rockfish roe ($5). Up there with the pimiento cheese love is my, perhaps, even greater affinity for deviled eggs. I make a mean one, myself. Again, I usually push to keep it simple. But Alley’s deviled eggs surprised and impressed me immensely. They were fresh and bright and rich without being cloying. They were simple and comfortable but different and exciting. That rockfish roe was a beautiful accompaniment to both the eyes and the palate. This dish was the New South. Classic dish, local ingredients, with a flare. In the right place. Taking the local rockfish and using the roe, the caviar if you will, was just perfect.


Marinated beets, chopped salad, avocado ranch ($9). This was a pleasant and ample salad. It was not, however, what I know to be a chopped salad. The greens were a little uninspired, calling it a day with just the romaine - but the beets were delicious, beautifully mandolined and served under the greenery which added an interesting visual effect.

Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, preserved lemon, pecan ($6). My father, who taught me so very much about food, the man who always insisted I, at least, try everything, the man who will eat anything, will not eat a Brussels sprout. He LOVED this dish. Jason Alley, that is one amazing feat. I will leave it at that.

Braised pork belly, ginger gravy, braised celery, celery leaf salad ($11). To be brutally honest, I’m a little burned out on the token pork belly dish every chef feels the need to pepper into their menus at present. Remember the sun-dried tomato tsunami from the 1980s? That being said, it is something I still enjoy putting in my mouth. I found this incarnation to be too busy. I agree that often pork belly, like foie gras, pairs well with a sticky sweetness, but the ginger gravy was too gelatinous and the sweetness sort of overwhelmed the meat. I really loved the peanuts in there, though.


Fingerling potatoes, apples, shallots ($5) add duck fat ($1). We added the duck fat. In fact, we ordered this one because we saw the words duck and fat next to one another. I would have liked to see these taters with a little bit of crispety-ness and a hair's breath more salt.


Carolina Gold rice, mushroom gravy ($7). I’m not certain that I have ever experienced Carolina Gold rice before, so I won’t pretend as though I have. I will say that, as a result of my ‘first time’ I will not be likely to order it if I spy it on a menu again. This was tremendously watered down long-grain rice topped with also watered down, flavorless mushroom gravy. None of us at the table had more than a taste.

Fried Barcat oysters, spicy tartar sauce ($10). This dish, these oysters, was fabulous. Some of the best I’ve had. Anywhere. The breading (Anson Mills?) was crisp and light and allowed the fresh, tart, impossibly juicy, and beautifully briny oyster to shine right on through. The tartar sauce was tart, citrusy and acted as an apt accomplice to those brilliant oysters. Kudos.


Olde Salt clams, cabbage, bacon, butter, lemon ($12). This was everyone’s favorite dish of the evening. Though a little more thought could have gone into the plating – one piece of un-toasted bread tossed on top, and the cabbage haphazardly strewn about over the clams – the flavors and textures were astonishing and delectable. 


Banana flan, peanut brittle, slated caramel ($7). I was reluctant because of the banana factor (and that I’m not much of a dessert person), but Fred made me taste it. And I’m glad he did. This was an absolute standout. Airy, delicate and rich. Subtly sweet with a crunchety brittle and salty caramel. Faultless.


“Rice grits” pudding, roasted pineapple, passion fruit, vanilla bean ($7). For those who know me, it’s obvious that this is not a dish I would order or even really want too close to me. But, that being said, those who tried it, loved it. In fact, this is one of Susan Winiecki’s, editor of Richmond Magazine, favorite desserts around town.


There were a lot of hits and only a few misses. I enjoyed my evening at Pasture. We all did. But what stuck with me was that it felt as though it could have been anywhere, in any city. It’s a destination restaurant but not necessarily an occasion restaurant. It's certainly worth a visit to this 'just getting turned around' neighborhood, because likely you won't just meander on in while walking, riding your bike or really even cruising around to or from something else. For example, I asked my dad if he liked Pasture and he said definitely. I asked him if he would frequent the place and he said he doubted it.

I stumbled across this quote of Jason Alley’s: “I want people to feel like they are getting out of town when they come here.”


Maybe that’s what Richmonders want and need. To feel like they’re getting out of town.

But coming from someone who has lived in big, ole, crazy, sprawly LA for the past ten years I think Richmond has fantastic food, incredible restaurants and amazing people cooking the food in their kitchens. And for the most part they are on the smaller side, welcoming and without pretense. But I get it - I dig Pasture and I can see why Richmond digs it, too. The thing here is I’m homesick, I want to be back home and when I’m there it’s hard to even imagine wanting to get out of town.

*For those curious about my title choice, click here.



5.02.2012

Shopping.



I’ve never really been a shopper, per se. Apparently I used to have small anxiety attacks at the mere thought of going into a shoe store when I was younger. I guess the shoe salespeople at  Thom McCann really upset me. Likewise – and a lot more recently - I would get antsy at the thought of the greeters at The Gap. Their Black Hole Sun like smiles and overly effervescent and solicitous welcomes kind of freaked me out. I would find myself zipping in and trying desperately to dodge them. They always won.

When I go shopping with friends I am always the first one to be over it. I find trying on clothes, taking things off and on and off and on, really tiring. I always get sweaty. I find stores that aren’t organized properly to my aesthetic to be wearying to sort through. As a result, as a shopper for clothes, shoes and the like, I am both deft and impulsive.

But put me at a farmers’ market, a larder, a grocery store, an Asian market or a tienda and I will methodically go down each and every aisle and scrutinize, poke and ogle every, single item. I can linger forever. And when shopping for food stuffs I am neither deft nor impulsive.

This past weekend I stayed mostly over at Fred’s place on the Eastside. On Saturday we rode our bikes to the Silverlake Farmers’ Market. We started out at the western end of it and ambled, slowly, through each and every stall – even the non-food related ones. I even found an old copy of Raymond Chandler’s The Lady in The Lake for six bucks. We grabbed a couple of iced americanos, a bunch of carrots, a pound of wax beans, some sprouted broccolini, a demi-baguette, and three beautiful heirloom tomatoes. I carefully packed our tiny bounty into our baskets and we rode on.

The next day, after being super lazy, we decided to go on a late afternoon bike ride. This time we took Besito with us and rode in the other direction and ended up in a sweet little nook of Echo Park peppered with shops and markets and people. There I discovered the most adorable, teeny, tiny little neighborhood green grocer called Cookbook. They sell meats, cheese, bread, fruit, veggies, coffee, olives, cornichons, sweets, and some fresh prepared foods. I was in heaven. My teeny, tiny heaven.

And so there I picked up a small ball of burrata, some fresh strozzapreti,  and some caramel ice cream. Yes. Caramel ice cream. Again, I carefully packed our even tinier bounty into my basket, so as not to crowd Besito in Fred’s basket and we quickly rode home. We couldn’t have that caramel ice cream melting on us. Yes. Caramel ice cream.

Food-wise we had a bunch of stuff to work with. We also had our usual Sunday evening plans to watch Mad Men and then Game of Thrones #nerdalert. It was a warm day and a warm evening. I took inventory.

I noticed that I had brought with me some shopping from my garden; dandelion greens, kale and a cornucopia of fresh herbs.

Then things came together. After a weekend of casual food shopping we made a delcious meal incorporating elements from all of our stops. We went alfresco with zebra tomato, pistou basil and burrata crostini during Mad Men and a dandelion green, white bean, and tuna salad for Game of Thrones. All of this we paired with a couple of rosés from Domaine LA. And, of course, we capped off the evening with a couple spoon fulls each of that caramel ice cream. Yes. Caramel ice cream.

Ah, Sunday.

Me – I guess I DO like shopping. Hell, I’m a shopasaurus. I did buy a particularly special pair of shoes somewhat recently - not at Thom McCann. But, I guess mostly it just depends on what I’m shopping for.


 Zebra Tomato, Pistou Basil and Burrata Crostini

Serves 4

Ingredients
1 baguette, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 Zebra Tomatoes (any color) sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 lb fresh Burrata Cheese
1 bunch of Pistou Basil, chopped
Maldon salt
Freshly cracked black pepper

Directions

Toast or grill the slices of baguette and brush with olive oil. Rub toasts with cloves of garlic.
Assemble beginning with slices of tomatoes and then a dollop of burrata and a sprinkle of the basil. Top with a droplet of olive oil, salt & pepper.