Friday, December 2, 2011

Holy Smoke

Holy Smoke Grill roasted Santa Maria Tri Tip
When you cook this your neighbors might think the college of cardinals have selected a new Pope because white smoke will be wafting over the hood. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! This is a California Central Coast specialty. If you are driving from Ventura County to the top of San Luis Obispo County you’ll see these medieval looking grill rigs set up in farmers markets, liquor store parking lots and many other places off Hwy 101. If you smell smoldering oak in the air someone is probably grilling tri tip nearby.
The seasonings here are mostly traditional, primarily salt and pepper. But I like to add a little more spice to it in the form of good Spanish pimenton. You can buy some pretty okay commercial rubs but they do contain things like “flowing agents” which don’t improve the flavor.
Two untraditional things I do are to use an internal brine, and then to serve it up with an Argentine Chimichurri sauce on the side. The brine idea I picked up from butcher Tom Mylan as described in the book PRIMAL CUTS by Marissa Guggiana. He uses an internal brine for prime rib. I’ve used it for that with great success and thought that tri tip was the next outrage I could pull off and indeed it worked. You will, however, need an injector for this but they are cheap. The meat remains moist while you still get that kind of burnt crusty exterior that we love here.
The other untraditional aspect to this yippee-ay-o classic is chimichurri. The Argentines are the masters of the grill and I bow down to them (but only so far) and their chimichurri goes so well with grilled meat that I resort to it all the time as a homemade table condiment.
Wood. Like real oak or else oak lump charcoal. If you resort to briquettes you are a total weenie and have no business getting anywhere near a real grilling station, anywhere ever.
3 ½ pounds tri tip, intact
1 cup water
¼ cup sea salt for the brine, plus ¼ cup additional for the rub
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Spanish pimenton de la vera or piment d’Esplette
For the chimichurri
1 bunch parsley
½ of one bunch cilantro
8 to 10 cloves of garlic, chopped
½ cup good extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon (or so) white vinegar
Large pinch of salt
One day ahead of cooking prepare the brine by bringing water to a boil and dissolving the sea salt into it. It may not dissolve completely but don’t worry about that part. Using your Frankenstein like injector squirt a good shot into the thickest part of the meat. Wrap it and refrigerate overnight.
Make the chimichurri ahead so that it’s there and finished when you need it
Stem and chop the parsley and cilantro
Combine the parsley and cilantro into the bowl of a food processor with the other ingredients except for the olive oil. Pulse a couple of times. Then with the motor running on low gradually drizzle in the olive oil. Let it rest.
Start your fire, preferably using the chimney method
In a pie pan or something similar mix up the ingredients for the rub; the remaining salt, the pepper and the pimenton. Rub all over the tri tip and don’t skimp on the salt part.
When your fire is hot enough grill the meat, turning only once*, until it hits an internal temperature of 130F. Take it off and transfer to a platter and let it rest covered in foil for ten minutes.
Carve and serve along with the chimi as a condiment.
*Note to cooks; it drives me ‘effing nuts to watch amateur patio daddy-o’s constantly flipping steaks and burgers. It only slows down the cooking process to where you just end up with road kill. My own dad was a master at that.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bikini Girls With Machine Guns

Sometimes I find good things by chance---it's maybe my restaurant radar.For about 25 years I lived in Hermosa Beach and the closest town to the south was Redondo. And for some weird reason I will always associate Redondo Beach with the Patti Smith song. Anyway, in a week of utter futility (not going into details) I was encamped in a hotel on PCH. First night of arrival I was absolutely dead tired and looking for a place to eat. Normally LA/CalMex bores the hell out of me but the closest place for anything was Ortega 120, a half block away. So, I entered and found this groovy restaurant bar and dining room decked out in post-punk and Mexican kitsch decor---you know, like skulls and stuff. As it turned out the food was really good. So good that I came back two nights later.

Apparently this restaurant is renowned for its tequila and margerita drinks, but as I drink neither I wouldn't know. But the food was damn good. On my first night I ordered carnitas enchiladas in a chile verde sauce. Two nights later I came back for the chile rellenos. Also really, really good. For some reason New York hasn't figured out Mexican yet, although Chicago has.

And here I have to ad lib that Arizona has made the chimichanga its official state food. If there is a more podunk state in the lower 48 I don't know which it could be. At least in the deep south they know how to cook. For the uninitiated, a chimichanga is basically a deep fried burrito.

On my final night in Redondo I crossed the border into Torrance in search of something Korean. The South Bay is blessed with wonderful Asian restaurants, most of which are located in strip centers, which never discourages me. So I found Yang San Park on Hawthorne Blvd and was in no way disappointed. I ordered a hearty kimchi pork stew, which of course came with six plates of other stuff. It was wonderful.

So if you are in the South Bay I'd give both of these places a nod.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Buffalo Frog Wings

Through the Food Buzz “Tastemaker” program I received a sample of the new KC Masterpiece “Buffalo” marinade. As I’m a big fan of their products I was trying to think of something new and weird to do with it. About a year ago I was dining in one of my favorite restaurants, now defunct and ordered up a plate of these delicious frog legs that were prepped in such a way that they formed into what I refer to as frogsicle pops. So, I’ve recreated something close to that here but cranking it up a bit.

12 frog legs
3/4 cup KC Masterpiece “Buffalo Marinade”
¼ cup superfine flour such as Wondra
½ cup panko style bread crumbs
4 tablespoons butter, clarified
Canola or grapeseed oil for frying
Hot sauce of your choosing; I like Crystal
Blue cheese or ranch dressing (cold) to accompany along with a relish tray of carrots, celery and radish.

This is the tricky step; using a very sharp knife cut into the tendons and trim off the meat along the lower portion of the leg. There’s not much. This is called “frenching”. What this will do is cause the meat, when it’s sizzling hot, to ball up like a lolly-pop.
In a wide flat Pyrex tray pour the buffalo marinade, add the frog legs. Make sure they are well coated. Cover the tray with cling wrap and allow to rest refrigerated for 30 minutes to one hour. Turn once or more during that time period.
When you are ready to cook heat up the oil in a deep dutch oven or fryolater. It should be at least 375F.
While the oil is heating dredge the “wings” in Wondra followed by panko. One by one drop them into the hot oil. DISCARD the marinade.
When the wings are sizzling hot remove them and place on a rack to drain.
Heat up the clarified butter in a sauté pan. Add the wings and season to taste with hot sauce---keep at hand at the table. Serve immediately with your condiments.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Crazy, Silly, Happy

Because I spend a lot of time traveling I frequently make startling discoveries in unlikely places, like say, Irvine, CA. I've now been back to the Diamond Jamboree shopping center about 10 or 12 times and it still knocks me out with its crazy Asian vibe. I love it. I adore it. It's located at Alton Parkway and Jamboree although it's easier to enter from the Von Karman side. If you are flying into John Wayne it's only a short detour from Hotel Terrace (Dyer Rd at 55).

You can find a fantastic Korean grocery in HMart, a dim sum parlour at Capital Seafood, a noodle shop at Ajisen (see photo, that's where that crazy, transgendered version of Bob's Big Boy greets you) and especially a totally amazing bakery, 85° C (as in centigrade). The latter always has a long line running out the door. Once you figure out the system, you get in line to get enter, grab a tray and some tongs, pick out pastries that will make you swoon, and get in another line to pay for them.

Each time I go back to Diamond Jamboree it becomes a new, exciting experience. A few nights ago I was dining at the bar at Tokyo Table and two Asian-American guys working in commercial real estate sat down next to me. Great dinner company. One, Tony, gave me a long list of places to dine in Orange County. They also insisted on sharing their sake with me. Did I say I love this place? I can't wait to return because I always discover something new.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

March as I Left It

April is not the cruelest month, it's really March. Ask Caesar. We spent most of March traveling to places you don't want to visit. With a mouth full of rocks (Foreign Legion term)we set out for Arizona. Our trip was bookended by airports bearing the names of right wing icons; out of John Wayne into Barry Goldwater and back again.

Before departure left car with sister and had dinner at Lucca in Irvine which was actually really good. Armandino Batali salumi with La Quercia prosciutto. Lucca is located in a shopping center in Irvine. Given that Irvine has no real city center that's not surprising.

In the morning Pierino was off to AZ. Picked up a Nissan something or other from Hertz and drove straight to Tucson. Dinner at Sullivan's was not so bad. No complaints---yet. Late Monday it was back to Phoenix, the Vortex of Evil. We camped out in Chandler, a hotel in an office park with nothing but chain restaurants in the vicinity. So we set off to a restaurant which we've blogged before, Anise. To our shock and horror it was closed. Another victim of Maricopa County's bizarre politics. This state is populated by anti-immigrant know-nothings who control the state legislature. When they're not smashing their cars into each other they're passing laws establishing an official state gun!

During a week of seriously bad meals we enjoyed lunch with a very dear friend who owns a bookstore in Tempe. She'd spent the morning with a "legislator" pushing for the state to collect sales tax on on-line purchases. These libertarian chuckleheads don't get the fact that it might bring in $65million in revenue to a state with more than 14% unemployment and massive debt. Meanwhile the governor is spreading urban legends about headless bodies in the desert and their convention business has all but disappeared thanks to stupid anti-immigrant laws.

Pierino got serious sticker shock upon returning his Nissan Whatever. We had a decent weekly rate from Hertz but there was an additional 50% in taxes and surcharges on top of the base rate!! Checked with Hertz and only one of the charges was their's and it was fairly minimal. Everything else was Maricopa/Arizona surcharge and then tax on the surcharges. Why is the state losing tourists and conventions? Because they are IGNORANT HOE HANDLES that's why. And they balance it out with bigotry and patriotism.

Upon return to Los Angeles Pierino was able to meet his good friend Kim, author and editor, and escort her to dinner for her birthday weekend. Kim had the misfortune of spending her birthday in Anaheim for work reasons. Despite what the sign say's, it's not the happiest place on earth. So, off to AOC for appetizers and then an unbelievable dinner at Providence. Problem was both of us wanted to order the same things. There were two indecently delicious amuse-bouches course which we can barely begin to describe. One was a "Screwdriver Bubble" which looked like a raw egg. There's your molecular gastronomy in action. Kim and Pierino both chose the Chitarra Pasta with Sea Urchin which was heartstopping. And after, they brought out a little birthday offering for Kim. Michael Cimarusti of Providence is up for a Beard award for Best Chef, Pacific.

Pierino returned to Paso Robles long enough to prepare St. Patrick's Dinner for the Oak Creek Commons commoners. Pierino cast it as French Patrick's Day; vaguely Irish dishes with a serious French twist.

Barely up for air, we swam (almost literally) back south. Worst rain on Hwy 101 that we've seen in twelve years, at least. More cars smashing into each other or into inanimate objects. A sporty looking car that had zipped by us wound up crunched against the median a few miles ahead.

Closed the month with a visit to our tax guy. After that, we had to indulge in a couple of glasses of pastis and a meal cooked with friends. Our appetizer course turned out well; "The Red and the Black"(pictured). This was roasted red pepper stuffed with black quinoa and aioli as a condiment.

And then it was April...