Monday, June 22, 2015

The Road Trip, Part 10: Salt Lake City & Craters of the Moon

*Just a quick note - as the formatting on this blog keeps some of the photographs pretty small. You can click on any of the pictures to enter a slide show, which will allow you to see larger format photographs*

Previous Entries: 

Day 42:
Jackson Hole, WY to Idaho Falls, ID. 88.4 Miles, 1 Hour 44 Minutes.

We left Jackson heading to Salt Lake City - planning a stop in Idaho Falls for the night to break up the drive and buy us one more day before arriving at J's aunts house - who just returned from a trip herself only a day before. We ate some tacos and slept at a Walmart.

Day 43:
Idaho Falls, ID to Salt Lake City, UT. 214 Miles, 2 Hours 55 Minutes.

We arrived at J's aunt's ( we'll call her: C ) house in the late afternoon, unpacked and acclimated ourselves. We chatted for a while and then decided to go out for a bit while J's aunt went and got some stuff for dinner. We went down to Trolley Square, a kind-of-dumpy shopping mall, to check out Tabula Rasa - a stationery story J enjoyed on previous visits. We swung through Whole Foods and made our way back to C's house. We spent the remainder of the evening preparing a nice dinner and relaxing. Towards the end of dinner, C's husband (E) came home. They gave J a birthday card and brought out a cake that C made the night before as soon as she got home from the airport. 

Day 44: 

J was still feeling under the weather but sleeping in a real bed seemed to help. We got a pretty late start to the day - something that seemed to be a theme for us in Salt Lake City. Our first stop was the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. They were in the process of installing a new exhibit so there was really only one gallery open to view. It was over and done with in a matter of minutes. We made our way through downtown a bit to the Joseph Smith building where we went up to the observation deck - or really just the top floor which has some nice views of the city. 

The somewhat lackluster view of the city
We ventured a little further to the Lion House Bakery - where we tried their famous rolls (free if you ask) - which we ate in a beautiful garden behind the bakery. The rolls were indeed good - but the overwhelming creepy (religious) vibe that this area of the city has was a pretty big turn off. 

It was good
Keeping up with the creepy religious theme we went to a sculpture garden - something we both enjoy doing. This one was called the Gilgal Sculpture Garden was mostly creepy religious things. Cool birdhouse though!

Reminds me of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park!
After the sculpture garden and general weirdness of our activities we decided to get a little bit outside of the city and go look for the Old Saltair Ruins. What this is supposed to be is the very last bits of the burnt remains of a 'Coney Island of the West' - mostly broken dishes and burnt timber. We did not find anything that was conclusively the ruins... as the directions we found online were very vague - but as far as we can tell we were there or pretty close, and the views were nice. 

After we were done on our little excursion we retuned met C&E for dinner at a place called Avenues Proper - one of their favorite places. It was a nice, intimate brew-pub type place with good beer and a nicely executed menu. 

Day 45:

A shot of the farmers market, which does nothing to show how great it was.
We started the day by checking out the Downtown Farmers Market. This was one of the nicest I have seen outside of the Capital District. It ran the perimeter of a Pioneer Park with farmers and produce vendors on one half, and crafts/other goods on the remaining sides. There were also food vendors on a path through the center. Everything looked beautiful. We really enjoyed it. Ive said it before - but Ive been routinely disappointed by farmers markets most places we visit (there are obvious exceptions) - as the ones we have become accustomed to in this area are really some of the best I've seen. 

As we were leaving the market we stopped to grab some subs at Caputo's - a market very similar to Cardona's or Roma's. They also had a nice fish market attached to them, accessible from both indoors and outdoors. We enjoyed our sandwiches. After lunch we drove over to check out a chocolate shop - Hatch Family Chocolates. According to C, they are one of the best in the city - and one of the owners studied in Chicago. On our way from the chocolate shop we stopped at a sidewalk sale that was pretty much a dream come true because of my obsession with Reverware. I agonized over buying the lot and shipping it back to New York - but opted out as we were trying to be frugal. 

All of the Revere Wares!
After J pulled me away from the side walk sale, we headed to the Utah Museum of Fine Art. The museum is located on the University of Utah Campus. It has a nice, well curated collection from around the globe. I was particularly taken by the Pacific Islander exhibit - and its display of ritual and war time costumes.
Just look at that mask!
For dinner, we went to Red Iguana with C&E. Red Iguana is a very popular Mexican Restaurant in Salt Lake City - known especially for its selection of moles. There was quite a line, which wrapped around the building, but it moved pretty quickly. When we sat, our server brought us a platter with some chips and a little bit of every mole they offered so we could compare and contrast - this was a great experience. I wound up with the Mole Coloradito - with pine nuts, almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, ancho, guajillo, and poblano chiles, and mexican chocolate. The mole was served with grilled pork loin. I really enjoyed our meal here - sitting down for a Mexican meal like this, authentic or not,  is not something I do often - as we frequent taquerias more than anything - so it was a nice change of pace. There was a Mariachi band playing in the dining room, something I also havent seen in a while. The whole thing reminded me of drinking pitchers of blended margaritas at La Rondalla in the Mission in San Francisco when I was a teenager.

Killer Neon!
Day 46:
We slept in a bit, so when we got going the only activity we had planned for the day was to visit Antelope Island - an Island and State Park, accessible just north of the city. You drive over a causeway to get to the Island and then you just explore. Its an unusually beautiful place - with large rocky formations, grassland, an enormous amount of wildlife (especially buffalo), and plenty of sweeping vistas. We really enjoyed our time here.
Views like this were the norm on Antelope Island

Im thinking J is annoyed with me about something here

 For dinner we met C&E and a couple of their friends from Rochester, NY at BTG Wine Bar. We all really enjoyed the food (Italian fare like gnocchi, polenta, etc..) and the wine (I think we were drinking Duckhorn). 

Day 47:
We originally were going to leave today but J's mother and another one of her aunts were arriving to visit C&E in the evening so we decided to fart around a bit and stay one more night. We spent most of the day looking for some new clothing (to stay warm in the car). We did make a stop at the Natural History Museum, which seemed like a great museum, and a really cool building - but it was their free day - and Columbus Day - so it was PACKED with screaming children. We were in & out in short order. We got back to the house and chatted with everyone into the evening, talking mostly about our trip up to this point. 

A look into the center of the Natural History Museum

Day 48:

Salt Lake City, UT to Craters of the Moon, ID. 263 Miles, 3 Hours 48 Minutes

We tried our best to have an early start to the day because we wanted to check out Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, on our way to Boise.  This was a bit of a shot in the dark for us, as we couldn't really find a ton of information about the park - and our Parks of the West book only had one photograph. The detour added a hundred miles to the trip, be we felt like gambling and we had been really enjoying our time spent in parks so far. 

While its pretty hard to compare the different parks in the US Parks System because they are all really very unique - when it comes down to it - I think this was my favorite I have been to. Theres really no way to describe how random and bizarre it is. It is truly like you are on another planet. 

From wikipedia: 
The Monument and Preserve encompass three major lava fields and about 400 square miles (1,000 km2) of sagebrush steppe grasslands to cover a total area of 1,117 square miles (2,893 km2). All three lava fields lie along the Great Rift of Idaho, with some of the best examples of open rift cracks in the world, including the deepest known on Earth at 800 feet (240 m). There are excellent examples of almost every variety of basaltic lava as well as tree molds (cavities left by lava-incinerated trees), lava tubes (a type of cave), and many other volcanic features.

Ill just let the pictures do the talking from here out:
Fish eye of the lava field, at a pull off just east of the park. It goes to the horizon.
The first thing we did was get a cave permit - our first - so we could check out some of the caves in the park.
Views from the North Crater View Trail
More views from the North Crater View Trail
We loved the stark black, volcanic soil

The truly amazing hike up to Inferno Cone Overlook

This is a video I took at the top of Inferno Cone Overlook, its fuzzy and choppy, but it should give you a good idea of just how 'in-the-middle-of-nowhere' this park is.

The paved path through the lava filed, heading towards the caves

J, on the descent into the cave.

A photo, from her perspective
J, for perspective, next to a pile of rubble from a roof collapse.

Another roof collapse. This particular cave did not require headlamps because of multiple roof collapses.

We considered camping for the evening, as we did want to spend more time exploring in the park, but since we were just getting back on the road after a stay in a city, we were short on supply (food) - so we took in as much as we could and then pushed through to Boise.

 From our book:

  • Downtown Farmers Market - Pioneer Park – Sat 8-2, Tue 4-dusk.
    o 350 S 300 W/Salt Lake City UT/84101
  • Curry Friend Chicken – Mon-Wed 11-3 & 5-9:30, Thu-Sat 11-930. Cheap fried
    chicken w curry spices.
    o 660 S State St/Salt Lake City UT/84111
  • Bourbon House – pub, has juicy lucys. 11a-2a o 19 E 200 S/Salt Lake City UT/84111
Free to do:
  • Neighborhood: Sugar House
  • Liberty Park – SLC’s ‘Central Park’
    o 600 W 900 S/Salt Lake City UT/84105
  • Lindsay Gardens – Park in the city’s first neighborhood, next to a cemetery,
    spectacular views of the valley.
    o 417 M St/Salt Lake City UT/84103
  • Utah Museum of Contemporary Art – Tue-Thu 11-6, Fri 11-9, Sat 11-6. $5 suggested.
    o 20 South West Temple/Salt Lake City UT/84101
  • Gilgal Sculpture Garden – 8-8
    o 749 E 500 S/Salt Lake City UT/84102
  • Old Saltair Ruins – 2 miles east of where Saltair is today, just of 180 & sr202.
    Take exit to go to where Saltair is today, on the frontage rd, turn east. Go 2 miles. You will see an old train car w rubble and an old building. Illegal to take artifacts.
  • Chase Home Museum of Utah Folk Arts = free (Mon-Sat 10-3; Fri-Sat 3-6). 1853 Greek revival house; Utahn’s baskets, cradleboards, jewelry, origami, rugs, furniture & spurs
    o 1150 S Constitution Dr/Salt Lake City UT/84105
  • Garden Tour = free (tours Mon-Fri @ 11; Wed @ 7; Sun @ 10:30 / rooftop
    tours Mon-Fri @ 10) 16,500 beddings; pool& fountain; 4 acre prairie rooftop garden with native trees & drought resistant plants
    o 50 W North Temple/Salt Lake City UT/84150 Other:
  • UU Natural History Museum
    o 301 Wakara Way/Salt Lake City UT/84108
  • The Leonardo Contemporary Museum for Science & Culture – Sun-Wed 10-5, Thu-Sat 10-10. $8Students
    o 209 E 500 S/Salt Lake City UT/84111
  • Clark Planetarium – Free exhibits, imax cost $. 10:30-last movie time. - Take a
    trip through the universe; lunar hemisphere; rotating relief globe o 110 S 400 W/Salt Lake City UT/84101
  • Tracy Aviary – 9-5, $6/students
    o 589 E 1300 S/Salt Lake City UT/84105
  • Natural History Museum of Utah – 10-5, wed til 9. $13 adult. o 301 Wakara Way/Salt Lake City UT/84108
  • Utah Museum of Fine Art – Tue-Fri 10-5, wed til 8, sat-sun 11-5. $7/Student o 410 Campus Center Dr/Salt Lake City UT/84112
  • Loveland Living Planet Aquarium – 10-6, $12.95/student o 12033 S Lone Peak Pkwy/Draper UT/84020
  • Hogle Zoo – 9-5, $14.95
    o 2600 E Sunnyside Ave/Salt Lake City UT/84108
  • Wheeler Historic Farm = free / cow milking = $1 (daily dusk-dawn; milking Mon-Sat@ 5; tour Mon-Sat @ 3). 1898 Victorian house; farm animals o 6351 S 900 E/Salt Lake City UT/84121 
  •  Antelope Island – 6a-10p, $10/car. o 4528 W 1700 S/Syracuse UT/84075 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Keeping up with the conversation

Last week, Daniel put up a post where he discussed his feelings on garnishes. Apparently at some point he was lambasted for using lemon wheels on a plate he made for a competition - a story that most chefs have a version of their own that they can relate to.

He went on to - for lack of a better word - criticize Dominic for the use of a lemon wedge as a garnish on a plate of grilled Sardines. He said;

'if the stated goal is to “use more intelligent garnishes” then this one falls short of the mark.'

I think that garnishes - and using them intelligently - is a much more complicated thing than most people realize. What makes the use of a garnish intelligent? I think most of us would agree that above all else, it needs to serve a purpose. Now, with that being said - what is purpose? Is a garnish not okay if its only benefit is visual? If good food is the ultimate goal, what makes it good? How important is the aesthetic quality of a dish? Is flavor really the only important function? 

In this specific instance - I don't really agree with Daniels assessment on Dominic's use of a lemon wedge. Heres why:

Yes he could have just put a squeeze of lemon juice on the fish and foregone the wedge - and I would wager that he did, in fact, season the fish with lemon before sending it. He also could have used lemon zest rather than the wedge - though it would mostly just add the flavor of lemon, rather than the bight hit of acid that lemon juice would lend. Lemon supremes also may have worked, but they are tricky to use as they often completely overpower your palate - and this is why you seldom see them being used this way. The idea of shaving the lemon is an interesting one - that may be worth exploring. It reminds me of a Shaker Lemon Pie, where the whole fruit is shaved and macerated and finally baked in a pie crust. 

But the reality is that the use of a lemon wedge on this dish goes beyond just seasoning or flavoring the food.  There is a certain quality - a je ne sais quoi - to the actual act of squeezing a lemon over grilled sardines - that I feel strongly is a key part of the experience when it comes to enjoying this dish. There is something instinctual about it - something primordial. The fish is served, Im guessing head off, but otherwise whole. Its thrown over fire - its skin blisters and chars, its fats soften and begin to render. Its judiciously seasoned with flaky salt and that final step to enjoyment - crushing that wedge between your fingers. The aromas permeating through the air - the oils absorbing into your skin. When you put your hand to your mouth later in the evening you are reminded again of the whole experience. So - while the lemon wedge is not the experience itself, it is an important part of it. And without it - the dish is just becomes grilled fish. 

So, in some cases a lemon wedge is fine. Sticking a sprig of rosemary through a habanero and into some roasted garlic, now thats just stupid. 

I am a very visual thinker. Its not unusual for me to just see a finished plate in my head, and then go about creating it. Most times the original idea does not come close to the finished product - but my inspiration is not some obscure flavor, or some new technique or ingredient. Its a picture. This is why I look at art publications and frequent museums when I travel just as much as I read cook books and eat out at restaurants. I can find just as much inspiration in a painting, or photograph, or sculpture, or building as I can on a plate or in a cookbook. So it should come as no surprise that the aesthetic quality of a plate of food is just as important to me as the actual flavors. I say that with a little bit of exaggeration - because I do know that above all else your food has to taste good - but I am trying to convey the point that flavor is not the only factor to consider. 

Just like any medium - there is good art and there is bad art. Its all in the eye of the beholder.  So my poking fun about the rosemary/pepper/garlic thing at Prime - may be unfair of me to say. Its simply not something that I find attractive, or relevant or whatever.  I've encountered people that feel the same way about the way I plate my food. Recently I overheard a woman proclaim 'That doesn't look like any cheesecake I've ever had' - with a very negative intonation, as she sat up and slid her plate back. 

But I also put some thought into my garnishes. I don't use nasturtiums on a dish where their peppery bite would detract from the flavor. Often times you can find pansies or marigold petals on my plates,  which  impart a very mild, sweetly vegetal flavor that really doesn't do anything good or bad. I just like the way they look on the plate. I don't put sprigs of mint on every plate (like I have been told to do at previous jobs) but I do put a few young mint leaves on my mint brownie dessert which indicate and enhance the flavor while looking attractive. I use things like basil, salad burnet, wood sorrel, and lemon balm on my cheesecake not just because they are all complimentary to the composition of flavors but also because they add a nice visual element. 

I also like the idea of a garnish forcing interaction with a plate. I loved that when I had a vacherin on my menu people were forced to peel away slate like shards of crispy meringue to expose the frozen core. I like that our servers suggested they eat the whole thing like chips and dip. I like that people played with my food. 

An early version of the vacherin

My Sous Chef, Bryan, has been helping enormously. He used to work at one of my favorite restaurants, Woodberry Kitchen, which I would frequent when I lived part time in Baltimore.

I had my first CSA pick up of the season this week - I cannot believe I haven't got my shit together in the past and purchased one. The quality is exceptional, all the stress in figuring out what to buy is taken away and its fun to spend the evening prepping, preserving, and planning what to do with everything. 

'The wall is the artwork' Vic Christopher. This is something he said in passing during conversation and really resonated with me. 

Currently we are going through roughly 30 pounds of rhubarb a week at the restaurant. Its been tricky getting local strawberries through our regular channels - meaning I usually only pick them up at the market on Saturday mornings. Since we are closed Sundays - Tuesdays...well like I said, its been tricky. I have some plans for processing them so I can use them throughout the week. Frozen desserts are just around the corner.  

Dominic - since my last post, you have put up two - and they're both great. I loved the stream of consciousness in, 'More or Less' - and hope to see more of that format from time to time. 

We are eating a LOT of tacos, and making a lot of tortillas - both wheat and corn. Its amazing how - even a poorly made tortilla is delicious when it is fresh. 

While doing some...lets call it ...'r&d' - I rehydrated some Chipotle Moritas with a lot of vinegar, brown sugar, oregano, cinnamon, and thyme and let them cook and reduce to a molasses like consistency. This...'stuff' is earthy, spicy, sweet, beautifully smoky and utterly delicious and am pretty sure I will use it to make an ice cream sometime this week. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Rip Off

Dominic, this post is not just inspired (read: I am ripping off your format for this one) by your writing, but intended to give you a nudge to keep at it. I know its hard to find time and inspiration but good ones are so hard to find and - yours is good!

I am in awe of people like Daniel, who update their blog daily  - and when he is not being a walking advertisement for yelp - his posts are often thoughtful and well articulated. 

Like I said in my last post, I don't lack ideas for writing (I  have notes written everywhere, and several unfinished drafts here waiting for revision), however I often lack the inspiration. Because of my work schedule, I always wind up writing late at night (or in this case, when I should be heading into work).. and nearly every time I type a dozen variations of the same sentence and then give up. You can't force it, I suppose.

This makes me often debate about 'borrowing' Dominic's format - and just filling the page with little bits about this or that. My ideas are often fractured, and sometimes there really isn't anything more to say than just one or two sentences. 

Perhaps I'll simply add a few little lines like this to each post - giving me the opportunity to say some things without too much expansion - as well as alleviate some of the pressure to write more than just a few paragraphs on one subject.  

Mazzone is opening a BurgerFi in Saratoga. J and I ate at one by our hotel when we were at a wedding in Florida last year. I can say with confidence that it will be his best restaurant. Take that however you like. 

People shouldn't believe everything they are told. Even the good ones aren't always so good. I often see people praising local businesses for things that I know to be untrue from my own experiences working at these places, or from first hand accounts of people I know well who work for them. 

I find myself torn about bringing stuff like that to peoples attention. In person, I will gush. Written down, its a different story. Im sure you're at least aware that this industry is built on networking. Its how I went to school - two times, in two different states. Its how Ive gotten every job I have had and booked every stage Ive done. Once you have a reputation for airing dirty laundry - things change. And that reputation will follow you. 

On the other hand - people outright lying about their food, their practices, and methods causes problems much deeper than just misrepresenting themselves. Because of the prevalence of this practice - the collective palate of this region has changed over time. When someone says 'Why does this crème fraîche taste weird?'- my answer is, 'Because its not sour cream'.

I also feel conflicted about criticisms on local businesses. I know daily struggles involved, I know the stress and the difficulties. I want to support the small guys, as much as I possibly can - not deter people from checking them out. I told Daniel that I would methodically go through his list of recommendations now that I am back in Upstate NY for a bit. So far, my thoughts on many of these places haven't changed. 

One place I have tried and I go back and forth on is Lucky Corner, in Troy. I spent a good part of my twenties (essentially) living with a Taiwanese family and have grown to love Taiwanese cuisine. These guys have the best in the area. Its not the best Ive had by any means - but its still better than others...and they're new. Still finding their feet. Go check them out. Encourage them to offer more traditional Taiwanese and scrap the dumpy American Chinese. Encourage them to cook the way their mothers did. Not only is there a large Taiwanese American community in this area, theres a large community of people with interest in more traditional Asian cuisine. Look at A La Shanghai's success.

There is a reason why you don't see chefs hanging out at some of the 'nicer restaurants' around here on a daily basis - and it isn't the price point. 

Ive been trying for several weeks to book a table at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Our schedules make it so only one day of the week works. They book two months out on to the day. This makes it tricky to get the table you want. I got the table this morning. I had an easier time booking a table at Alinea in 2011 when they were the 6th best restaurant in the world. According to the same list, updated yesterday, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is the 49th best in the world (Alinea has dropped to 26). 

I am always hesitant to drop that kind of money on a meal, especially because some 95% of meals I've had at restaurants of that caliber have been...lackluster. But, I have admired Dan Barber for many years - I even thought about working for him for a while (again with the networking, a friend in Chicago knew people on the pastry team). The food at Blue Hill speaks to me in a way that most does not. I am hopeful. 

The other 5% of those meals? - they have been some of the most transformative experiences Ive ever had. 

Apparently the FDA is banning trans fats in restaurants nationwide. This reminds me of when Albany county did the same and some bakeries cried about how it would negatively affect their products. Ive never seen a better example of businesses outwardly admitting they are selling shitty products. I have not been to either since (not that I was much of a patron before..) although, now that I think about it, I would bet their product is better now.

I now have a sous chef, for two days a week.

If Fancis Mallmann isn't on your radar, he should be. I've never dreamed about dropping everything to go work for someone as much as I do with him. There is an episode of Chefs Table (on Netflix) about him. Here is a quote, in response to this article in the New York Times, about issues with the Pellegrino Top 50 List:

Francis Mallmannbuenos aires
Thanks so much for choosing me as one of your voting members but
I have decided not to vote any more in your awards. I have been feeling this way in the last two years, and now I can´t do it anymore.
As you know, cooking is a romance with produce, space, service, timing and silence. This runs counter to the sentiments I observe in so many of my colleagues who are so concerned with the awards that they spend the year lobbying the electorate, jetting to conferences, and, in my view, wasting precious time: walking away from the true values of what restaurants are.
Awards created a fictitious, hyper-competitive ambiance for our cooking culture.
Innovation seems to be the prime value. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it has moved us away from valuing craft in pursuit or so-called art. Young chefs attempt to cross bridges, long before they should just for the sake of being new, different and famous. Art is an intellectual thought, and eating good food and wine has more to do with the senses and with sharing. Wine and food makes us more acute, witty, trenchant. Only then can it stimulate our thoughts and improve our communion with our peers, friends, lovers. Certainly food can be intellectual, but in a more silent, dare I say humble, way.
To be sure, I have been greatly honored to be number 7 on your list the first year.
Its just that my cooking life has no links with these awards anymore.
So I wish you all best,
Let us break bread together.
Francis M.

I am turned 29 this past week.  I plan on making the last year of my twenties (as well as my last year in New York) count for something

In my 28th year:

  • I was fired from a truly awful job and lived to talk about it
  • I found a new job and love to talk about it
  • I rediscovered my love for gardening
  • I rediscovered my love for working
  • I learned the importance of mentoring people
  • I learned to relax a bit (this may be hard to believe for those of you who have only known me a short while)
  • I ate so much chocolate ice cream in one sitting I puked
  • I paid off all of my credit card debt
  • I visited 42 states and put well over 30,000 miles on my car. This leaves 7 that I have not been to - a few of which I will cross of this summer.
  • I was able to share so many of the things and places that I love with someone who I love
  • I found somewhere new that I will call home soon