Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thai mussels and shoddy service

I've now ventured to the pastry side at culinary school and it's a complete 180 from the savory side of the kitchen. It forces me to slow down, be more patient and think logically about how ingredients work in conjunction with each other. Our past class concentrated on cookies, brownies and bars. I was paired with a talented friend from class and we immediately got busy making an array of sweets.

After 4 hours of mixing, piping, slicing and chopping, we finished with an assortment of gingersnaps, apricot and toasted hazelnut cookies, cream cheese brownies, nut cookies, carrot cake cookies and whole wheat crackers. Although our gingersnaps were the most successful, the cream cheese brownies were my favorite! Next week we concentrate on pastry dough.

A few nights later, fellow chef-in-training and friend of mine hosted a supper club at her home. The theme was Southwestern and there was a smorgasbord of delicious (and spicy!) food including smoked pork tenderloin, grilled pork tenderloin with an orange tomatillo salsa, salad with cilantro lime vinaigrette, spicy tuna nachos with a chipotle mayo, southwestern eggrolls with chorizo and an avocado cream, poblano cream sauce, chili grits and orange almond flan for dessert.

To keep up with the delicious Southwestern theme, I made an inspired dinner a few nights later. The menu was:
Pulled orange chicken tacos with chimichurri, scallions, red onions, cilantro, manchego cheese and lime juice

For the chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I bought the Southwestern marinated breasts at CM)
zest and juice of one orange
salt to taste

Grill the marinated chicken on a grill or grill pan until marks form. Add the orange juice and zest and finish chicken in the oven until just cooked through and moist. After chicken has slightly cooled, shred into large pieces and set aside.
I built my tacos with pan-fried whole wheat tortillas, chopped scallions, cilantro, red onions, shredded manchego cheese, shredded chicken and fresh lime juice.

Serves 2-3

Guacamole with baked chips

I made my "signature" guacamole then added a twist with orange at the end. The result was delicious and the orange lended an unexpected freshness.

2 ripe Hass avocados
juice of three limes
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tbl orange zest
1 clove minced garlic
1 tbl extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup minced red onion
salt to taste
Mash all ingredients together until chunky. Garnish with cilantro leaves, a squeeze of lime, fleur de sel and serve with baked tortilla chips.

This week, I was finally able to dine at the notorious French restaurant, St. Emilion. I was eager and excited to try St. Emilion but was my mood quickly turned sour minutes after I arrived. Although we were warmly welcomed by the owner, we were ignored by our waitress the entire night- my champagne glass was empty for 10 minutes, she never checked on our food and she acted insulted when asked if the chocolate tart was made in-house. Apparently it was...although it tasted store-bought and previously frozen.

In terms of the food, I was extremely content with the appetizers, salads and soups but left underwhelmed and a bit peeved with the entrees and dessert. For appetizers, our table shared:

Grilled sea scallops with a mango tomato confit
Gnocchi with spinach pine nut pesto
Roasted tomato soup with duck confit
Butter lettuce salad with lardons, walnuts and a house vinaigrette

The sea scallops were buttery, perfectly cooked and light. The gnocchi was light as well and delicious with the spinach pesto- I was left wanting more. The tomato soup with duck confit was the best dish of the night. The creamy soup had a spicy kick to it and the duck confit was a perfect savory addition. The salad was ok... a bit bland and underdressed.

For our entrees, we shared the:

Sole almandine with asparagus and a potato thyme gallete
Rack of lamb with haricot verts and Israeli couscous

The sole was cooked nicely but the asparagus was bland and the potato gallete was greasy, under seasoned and unappetizing. Although the lamb was served in a beautiful tagine, it was fatty and tasted of burnt mustard. The Israeli cous cous included chorizo, celery and tamarind and gave me a bitter, sour aftertaste. Like the asparagus, the haricot verts were under seasoned.

For dessert, I ordered a glass of tawny port and the table shared a raspberry and a chocolate tart....I've had better. Although I enjoyed the appetizers at St. Emilion, I will not return due to the neglectful service and mediocre entrees.

Later in the week, two chefs up at school and I were testing components for a flavors and flavoring class. The head chef came up with a light and delicious pesto idea and I had to share it. The pesto was a combination of garlic, fennel, toasted walnuts, orange zest, preserved lemons, Italian parsley, feta, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and olive oil- the pesto was fantastic sauteed with shrimp or would be a great dip for pita bread.

Also while experimenting, I took advantage of some interesting fresh herbs (chocolate mint, stevia, orange thyme, candy mint, lime mint) and made a couple simple syrups to have on hand- lime mint simple syrup and ginger orange simple syrup.

Friday evening, I headed to Dallas for a fun night with good friends from the past. For dinner, I met my girlfriend Justine at Sala Tex-Mex. Although the location was a bit iffy, the restaurant was modern, inviting and the food was straight-forward and tasty. We split the guacamole, sour cream chicken enchiladas (recommended by the waitress) and spicy nachos with chicken and beef. I left content- the service was great, the food was delicious and the tequila list was extensive.

After an eventful night and a date with Grey Goose, we had a girls brunch at Toulouse the next morning. Amongst freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice mimosas, we started with the Thai mussels with coconut milk, curry, lemongrass, ginger, cilantro, lime and plenty of bread for sopping the delicious broth. Next, I ordered the lump crab florentine served benedict-style and it arrived cold. Although the mussels were fantastic, Toulouse wasn't as good I expected it to also burned a hole in my wallet.


1 comment:

sammyss said...

At St. Emilion, I hope you had a word with the owner who "warmly welcomed" you. His staff needs to feel some of the heat.