Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Garlic Scapes

My share from Amy's Garden had a nice surprise today. In addition to tiny white turnips, lettuce, bok choy, and chard, there was a bag of aromatic and spasmodic creatures, the garlic scape.  This is the part of garlic that grows above the ground and eventually flowers.  Cutting the scape allows the garlic to focus on bulb making under ground.  Scapes can be chopped up to add a garlicky treat for a stir fry-  I have heard of some folks making scape pesto with all of the usual ingredients ( except garlic and basil).  More to come.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Joel Salatin is my hero

Broad Appetit was a great first-time event. Some great vendors, a chance to eat a cricket and orzo salad and the opportunity to hear one of our nation's great prophets of local food. He has a simple yet compelling message that resounds strongly in our communities. With several new farmer's maarkets in Richmond, it seems that the Gospel is spreading.

Here are a few of Salatin's guiding principles at Polyface Farms from his website.

TRANSPARENCY: Anyone is welcome to visit the farm anytime. No trade secrets, no locked doors, every corner is camera-accessible.

GRASS-BASED: Pastured livestock and poultry, moved frequently to new "salad bars," offer landscape healing and nutritional superiority.

INDIVIDUALITY: Plants and animals should be provided a habitat that allows them to express their physiological distinctiveness. Respecting and honoring the pigness of the pig is a foundation for societal health.

COMMUNITY: We do not ship food. We should all seek food closer to home, in our foodshed, our own bioregion. This means enjoying seasonality and reacquainting ourselves with our home kitchens.

NATURE'S TEMPLATE: Mimicking natural patterns on a commercial domestic scale insures moral and ethical boundaries to human cleverness. Cows are herbivores, not omnivores; that is why we've never fed them dead cows like the United States Department of Agriculture encouraged (the alleged cause of mad cows).

EARTHWORMS: We're really in the earthworm enhancement business. Stimulating soil biota is our first priority. Soil health creates healthy food.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Favoring Curry

This is my latest review in this week's Style Weekly ! Bon Appetit !

Indian cuisine in Richmond is all over the map.

by John G. Haddad

My favorite trip to the Indian subcontinent was actually a weekend in east London. Curry houses line the streets, serving a variety of Bangladeshi and Indian dishes — including chicken tikka masala, which in one poll recently edged out fish and chips as Britain’s favorite dish.Certain flavors and cuisines have the power to transport one culturally, and for a decade I’ve been searching for a curry that takes me back there.

Indian food usually strikes all of my senses: Eyes are brightened by the vibrant colors of the cumin, mustard seed and other spices. The smells of roasting spices laced with sweet coconut waft through the air, while griddles sizzle and the sounds of a raga fill the air.But the sense of taste is the one most crucial. Unlike the jolt of a jalapeño or habanero, Indian spice is richer, more complex and lingering. It’s this magically complex combination that makes the search such a challenge.

Richmond historically has not been a hotbed of fine Indian cuisine. Most native Indians I know regularly trek to Washington, D.C., or New York City for their fix. Or they just eat at home. Nonetheless, I was excited for the return of an Indian restaurant to Richmond’s North Side, the first since Ram Pai moved and his India House on Westwood Avenue became Malabar in Short Pump in 2004.

Moving into the space that used to house L.A. Grill, New India brings diversity to a neighborhood that needs more dining options. On our first visit we were greeted by a young man sporting a largish Bluetooth ear gizmo — so big it was distracting. He sat us in a booth and proceeded to wipe down our table. A low rumble filled the restaurant — the ventilation system directly above our table seemed on the blink and it sounded like we were below deck on an ocean liner bound for Calcutta. Our meal started well — veggie samosas were crispy and piping hot — and the condiment tray included mango, mint and tamarind chutneys and spicy lime pickle. Unfortunately, the naan, straight out of the microwave, was chewy. Entrees were a mixed bag. Chicken tikka masala was palatable but mild, even when we asked for a 9 on the 1-10 heat scale that was offered. The tandoori non-veg grill was virtually inedible — shrimp roasted to a crisp, lamb and chicken overcooked and dry.

On a second trip I sampled the requisite lunch buffet and was even more disappointed. I brought along an “expert witness,” a native Indian friend who concurred that New India failed to deliver. Dishes were overcooked and mushy, vibrant colors dulled into a monotonous series of chafing dishes. Even the rice failed — cold and plain, without a hint of color or care for detail. As I lamented Ram Pai’s departure from the neighborhood, I decided to visit his newest venture, Malabar, for some buffet benchmarking. At Malabar, Pai offers many of the same dishes as New India on his buffet — but that’s where the similarities end. Dish after dish was perfectly spiced, piping hot and artfully presented. Basmati rice was dressed up with carrots and peas; breads (naan, puri and dosa) were fresh from the oven and the perfect vehicle for coconut chutney. The day I visited, I was one of two or three non-Indians there — a comparison point for other restaurants in town.

To be fair, I know that I can’t hold a Richmond restaurant to the same standards that I experienced in London. But New India needs to work to compete with its West End counterpart.I decided to try New India’s takeout options. When I walked in to pick up my order, I was bowled over by an overpowering smell of curry hanging in the air like a wet blanket. Clearly the ventilation system isn’t up to snuff. But this takeout meal was better than my two previous visits. Garlic naan was fresh but not particularly garlicky; puri (a whole-wheat bread) was a bit greasy and certainly not “puffy” as described. Chicken jalfrazie, with a heat index of 9, was spicy but one-dimensional.

New India has lots of room for improvement; for now it will become an option for takeout. Unless great strides are taken in care and consistency, it will remain merely one of a stack of menus for perusal when cooking at home just won’t do. S

New India ($$)
5516 Lakeside Ave.

Lunch buffet: Monday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m.;Friday-Saturday, 5-9:30 p.m.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Broad Appetit this weekend !

The inaugural Broad Appétit Food Festival will take place the afternoon of May 18th just east of belvidere on Broad St. It will feature Richmond’s favorite food purveyors, restaurants, chefs and artisans. The event is free to the public and is designed to feed your mind, body and soul with an eclectic mix of crafts and art, more food than you can imagine and a huge kid’s area with puppet shows and story-telling. A performing arts stage will host musical acts and performance artists, and demonstrations will be on hand from fascinating folks like our nations leading Bug Chefs and food revolution leader Joel Salatin.

Here is a great quote by food revolutionary Joel Salatin:

Dancing with Dinner

"The industrial global food system divorces people from their historical food relationships. The relationship humans enjoyed with the food on their plate no longer exists. Between the distance, the packaging, the processing, and the anti-human-ness of factory food, eaters no longer enjoy their dinner date.

They are paranoid of her, wondering if she will nourish them, sicken them, or destroy their air and water. Rather than a soul-satisfying intimate act, eating is practically a chore at worst, and an afterthought at best. By patronizing local food producers, eaters rediscover their heritage relationship with food. The transparency creates integrity. Dancing with dinner re-creates the imbedded, indigenous community food system.

It restores the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker to the village. That means socially, environmentally, and economically synergistic food systems. Indeed, it means a responding partner at dinner. Enjoy." - Joel Salatin. To learn more, visit polyfacefarms.com.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

New York Chronicles Day 3

By Sunday we were wiped out- miles of sidewalk behind us and many great meals in our bellies. We took it a little bit easy. Started the day with Starbucks- the new Pikes Peak roast for me and a Chai Latte for Susannah- I stopped at the local deli for one of my favorite New York breakfast sandwiches- a fried egg on a Portuguese roll and we picnicked in our room.

We walked up through the park uptown towards the Whitney- the Pope was staying on 5th Ave, so there was quite a spectacle in the streets- I found it interesting/ironic that he was staying in an apartment that was formerly owned by Andy Warhol. Before taking in the Biennial at the Whitney, we needed sustenance. Luckily I had made a reservation at Cafe Boulud. I have been following Daniel Boulud's career for years, and I was excited about visiting one of his restaurants, even a B level one. Well maybe B +, but certainly at a more reasonable price point than Daniel. There is a feeling of understated elegance in Cafe Boulud; the subdued atmosphere was welcomed on a Sunday morning after the frenetic energy at Chang's Momofuku or the red-hot dell'anima. We came for Boulud's food, and we were not disappointed.

I started my brunch with homemade charcuterie- an artfully arranged platter included a goose liver terrine and two types of prosciutto- pork and duck. The portions were small, but gorgeously laid out- every bite was packed with rich flavor.

For an entree I had Maine Crab Benedict with Peekytoe Crab, Poached Egg, Spinach, and Lemon Sabayon- an orchestra of flavors, subtly combined.

Dessert was refreshing- a grapefruit and lemon thyme vacherin- again, subtle yet bold flavors, artfully arranged.

There were lots of upper east side neighborhood regulars for brunch- drinks came out without being ordered and the house phone brought to several tables. In fact, a restaurant critic was at a nearby table and we overhead him speaking with Daniel's wife on the phone. Daniel never did appear. Apparently there was family in town from France.

After a wander through the Biennial, which is always fun and head-scratchingly challenging , we waled by the boutiques on Madison, stopped in the APPLE store, heaving with pilgrims on a Sunday afternoon, and made our way back to LaGuardia for a flight home.

Our last meal of the trip was not our best- security had taken away some treats we had packed, so Chilis was the last stop on our whirlwind culinary adventure weekend.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

New York Chronicles Day 2

Saturday morning we started the day at the popular Belgium chain Le Pain Quotidien. Communal tables are laden with baskets of baguettes, fresh rolls, croissants, and pastries. The air is filled with smells of rich coffee. I ordered several organic soft-boiled eggs- tap tap tap with my knife to gain entry- bread was served with fresh preserves, nutella, and honey. After breakfast we walked down to Grand Central where an Earth Day Fair lined the streets around the station. We talked to lots of folks about green initiatives, building supplies, animal rights, and clean air. We continued on through the Garment District where Susannah reveled in the treasures of the trim shops, walls lined with ribbons, and buttons and other decorative elements.

Lunch took us down to Chelsea to Cookshop. Walking through the threshold is a liminal moment- it’s a comfortable space, sparsely decorated yet filled with life and focused on simple food. “The butcher and the baker were the first chefs, if you ask me, states Chef Marc Meyer whose culinary passions run deep for sustainable ingredients, humanely raised animals, and the support of local farmers and artisans.” Meyer's menu reflects that sensibility. I started with a Bloody Mary that was perfect-salted rim, huge olives, a nice zingy flavor. I took 2 starters for my meal-

Escarole, fried egg, lemon-anchovy dressing & shaved Gran Padano

This was a divine salad- the escarole wilted under the heat of a fried organic egg- the dressing was a perfect combination of the saltiness of the anchovy and Gran Padano with a huge burst of sunshine lemon to give it some oomph.

Seared Montauk Squid, frisee, black olives, toasted almonds and saffron aoli

This had almost too much going on- the local squid was tender and fresh- the olives almost overpowered the natural sea flavors.

After wandering through a slew of Chelsea galleries and the Center for Book Arts, we shopped in the Union Square Greenmarket - lots of looking- ramps were in season, lots of apples, baked goods and the first glimpses of Spring. Spent the early evening back at our flat before heading out to the West Village for drinks and dinner. We started at the Spotted Pig for a few drinks- a very popular new Gastropub with Chef April Bloomfield ( great pedigree including 4 years at the River Cafe in London, Chez Panisse, Bibendum...)- I had eaten there in December, and wanted Susannah to experience the buzz. After a few drinks we headed to dell'anima, an evening that I had been anticpating for weeks. Opened in October by Joe Campanale, a sommelier from Mario Batali's Babbo, and Chef Gabe Thompson, who cut his teeth at Le Bernadin and Il Posto, this hip little 45 seat restaurant has been packing a lively crowd for months. The only reservation that I could get a month or so ago was 10 pm on a Saturday Night.

Started the evening with one of my favorite cocktails, a negroni- it usually a combo of campari, gin and triple sec- Dell'anima's version was stunning - it started with macerated roasted orange at the bottom of the glass that was muddled a bit- topped with gin, campari, and cinzano rosso (vermouth).

We started with Bruschette- a basket of hot grilled bread was served with ramekins of toppings to try including one with hearts of palm, radishes and chives, another a Lily confit, a third with parsley pesto, and finally a sultana mostarda with plump and juicy raisins in a mustard sauce.

Insalate included one with chicories, fresh ricotta, and a campari- honey dressing. The ricotta is made locally, and in fact our friend Dave with One Girl Cookies uses it in some of his recipes. Susannah's was truly outstanding- lettuce hearts with roasted olives, marcona almonds, lemon crema, and gorgonzola.

Pasta courses included a Tagliatelle alla Bolognese for Susannah- the sauce was rich yet tender- it melted in your mouth. I took a Puttanesca sauce over fresh fettucine, black with squid ink. A spicy tomato sauce laced with anchovies, capers, and hot pepper.

We drank a 1996 Barbera "Vigna Clara" Viberti- a nice medium bodied wine with some fruit on it.

Dessert was a triple chocolate confection- the perfect end to a great meal.