Archive for the ‘restaurants’ Tag

Jacques Pepin’s Many Kitchens   Leave a comment

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Jacques Pepin practically grew up in kitchens, which he chronicles in The Apprentice – a memoir with recipes. Born in southern France, he was a child during World War II when the scarcity of food was at its height. He learned to scavenge and worked on a farm before his mother opened a village restaurant when the war ended. This led to several apprenticeships, essentially trial and error experiences, before moving to Paris as a young adult.

Pepin’s writing voice is strong and vivid; the only thing missing is his French accent. His narrative reveals his work ethic, determination and a sense of fun. He goes from a lowly kitchen boy whose first assignment was nothing more than a prank to becoming the personal chef of President Charles de Gaulle – all before making a name for himself in the United States.

His move the New York City was both an adventure (meant to last a year or two at the most) and a leap of faith. Pepin spoke no English. Still, he becomes friends with fellow foodies – long before the term was conceived. Accounts of his friendships with Craig Claiborne, Julia Child and James Beard, among others, are peppered throughout like perfect seasonings to enhance but not overwhelm. Descriptions of meals add further appeal.

It’s fascinating to see his career evolve from cooking to teaching cooking techniques (and more) to authoring cookbooks and hosting television programs. Pepin shares his emotions, his appreciation of well-prepared food and the value he places on family and friends.

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen
A Memoir with Recipes
Four Bookmarks
A Rux Martin Book, 2003
318 pages with index

Perks and Pinot   Leave a comment

Full disclosure: my husband and I were (unaffiliated/independent) guests at the newly opened Jax. We were treated to small plates, cocktails and  the Jax brand pinot noir from the Willamette Valley.

Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar may be new on the block, but this restaurant is no youngster. Downtown Colorado Springs is the newest locale for the Big Red F Restaurant Group, which independently owns and operates Jax.

Jax chef

In addition to tasting several Happy Hour dishes, we were introduced to Dana Query, wife of owner Dave Query who opened the first Jax in Boulder in 1995, Sheila Lucero, executive chef/owner, and Alan Henkin, beverage director. All shared insights about Jax. Although this was interesting and appreciated, it was overshadowed by the food, both in taste and plating.

It’d be a shame, or perhaps a sin, not to have oysters at an oyster bar and wanting to avoid regrets, I happily indulged. The two sauces were almost superfluous. Almost.

Jax tostadaThe tostada with kimchi, avocado and charred tomatoes on a brittle corn tortilla; calamari with a wake-up-the-sinuses mango chili sauce; meaty crab cake not obscured by breadcrumbs or fillers and ahi tuna poke over rice are exactly the kind of appetizers I would order again and again – even when footing the bill.

Jax poke

The poke was a particular favorite thanks to its fresh flavors augmented by roasted spiced cashews, serrano peppers and avocado. However, the dish we specifically requested may have been my favorite: shrimp and grits. Crispy fried shrimp nestled together on a bed of creamy, cheesy grits was a union of texture and taste.

It wasn’t necessary to do anything special to impress me, the food did that on its own.

Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar
11 S. Tejon St.
Colorado Springs, CO

Bestia, the Besty   Leave a comment


Reservations at the highly-rated Bestia in industrial Los Angeles are hard to snare. Although unable to reserve a table, we did, nonetheless, get two seats at the chef’s counter. (Thanks to my brother.)

Some people might not have appreciated the view. However, we were thrilled to have our line of vision occupied by the well-orchestrated crew preparing colorful, creative salads. Interestingly, we didn’t begin our meal with a salad. We ordered one later.

Our well-versed server suggested sharing several small plates. His subtle nod of approval when we decided on the crab crostino suggested we were off to a great start. Ordinarily, squid ink aoili, crab and Thai basil might vie as the leading flavor. Instead they all win.

I can’t resist bone marrow. It’s served here with spinach gnocchetti that we scraped it into.

Next, agnolotti, one of six pasta offerings; house-made, of course. The mini ravioli-like “parcels” were light and savory. Coated with brown butter and filled with braised oxtail, it was silky and surprisingly light. Toasted pistachios and currants added texture and sweetness.

Finally, the chopped salad, a combination of Brussels sprouts, endive, mint, salami, and fried lentils — all thinly sliced, er chopped.

We had to have dessert. Really! Imagine bananas Foster with peanut butter ice cream. I couldn’t. The ingredients, only a playful mind could conjure, was childlike in the best possible way: fun, crunchy, salty and sweet. The ice cream is made in-house.

Bestia is in a reclaimed warehouse. It’s loud, lively and its accolades are well deserved. I can’t wait to return.

Bestia
Five Plates
2121 7th Place
Los Angeles

Cluck Cluck   2 comments

The idea of gourmet fried chicken may seem to be an oxymoron. It isn’t. It’s simply a great rendition of this comfort food. I’ve previously written about Bouchon which several years ago began offering the crispy fare, using its sister restaurant Ad Hoc’s recipe, on Monday nights. This is why I was pleased that my recent visit to Los Angeles included the first day of the work week. My enthusiasm was quickly dispelled when a private event closed Bouchon abandoning us to seek different dinner plans.

Beast sign

Fortunately, there’s more than one hen house in Southern California. Monday also happens to be fried chicken night at Little Beast in the Eagle Rock area.

Beast chicken

Little Beast fills the space of a comfortable, craftsman style house. The menu features small plates and seasonal dishes. Happy hour includes drink specials and half-price appetizers. We ordered the charred peaches with burrata. Grilled halved peaches are smoky and summer sweet. The soft, creamy cheese provides a nice balance, while croutons add texture. Slices of prosciutto help send this over the top.

Back to the raison d’etre. Fried to a golden caramel color, four pieces of chicken share the plate with cole slaw and two thin, but surprisingly, flakey biscuits. The crunchy coating is peppery and the meat is juicy. The slaw is made with a vinegar-based dressing featuring sliced almonds. The biscuits can be slathered with the accompanying whipped butter and amber honey.

The servings are large, which makes Tuesdays the day for leftover fried chicken.

 Little Beast

Four-and-a-half Plates

1496 Colorado Blvd.

Los Angeles

A Table for Everyone   1 comment

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In a way I’d love to frequent a place often enough that I’d be known, if not by name, perhaps by where I liked to sit or what I ordered. Colman Andrews recounts the numerous places around the world where this is the norm for his dining experiences. In My Usual Table: A life in Restaurants, Andrews shares his earliest recollections as a child dining in many of the landmark eating establishments in the Los Angeles area. As a kid he, with his family, was a regular at Chasen’s, the Brown Derby and Musso & Frank Grill (only the latter remains today).

Where does one go from there? Apparently, everywhere. Andrews grew up to be a wine connoisseur, dining critic and co-founder of Saveur magazine. He’s also authored several cookbooks.

My Usual Table is an eat and tell memoir with casual and not-so-casual name dropping: Wolfgang Puck, Ruth Reichl, Alice Waters, among others. Some meals are described vividly, some barely mentioned while he focuses on those associated with the meals. What’s most fun is following Andrews’ time line, which precedes, for example, the farm-to-table concept to the present.

Andrews is a fine story teller, but his voice begins to wear thin about 2/3 through. It’s difficult consuming and digesting such rich, often heavy fare for too long. I enjoy dining out, but there’s nothing like a home cooked meal or an occasional burger for basic sustenance. I’m happy, afterall, to have my usual table be in my own dining room.

My Usual Table: My Life in Restaurants
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Ecco, 2014
311 pages

A Night at the Bistro   Leave a comment

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A bistro is most often associated with Europe. It’s typically a small, neighborhood eatery emphasizing good food in a casual atmosphere. Except for the first part of the definition, Union An American Bistro in Castle Rock fits the bill, but the effort is strained – and it’s difficult to explain why. The service is great, the menu vast, and the beautiful wood floors and brick walls create a contemporary, albeit noisy, ambiance. Yet, Union lacks a sense of natural ease with itself. Maybe it’s the menu.

There’s Thai, Mexican, Italian; there’s blackened, sticky, grilled, roasted; there’s flatbread, salads, sandwiches, entrees. And, there’s too much cleverness: salmon tots, poke tuna nachos, jalapeno bratwurst burger. In the end, the more traditional fare is what we found appealing: a Bacon Cheeseburger, the Cobb Blackened Chicken Salad, Chicken Salad Club Sandwich and Salmon with Risotto.

Again, the service was exemplary: attentive and no trace of judgment in our request for substitutions or alterations to our decisions. Further, we never felt rushed to order or to eat even though there was a wait for tables.

The flakey salmon was the perfect vehicle for the velvety dill sauce augmented by fresh ground pepper. The risotto was creamy and the bits of smoked applewood bacon provide texture – and, well, you can’t go wrong with bacon.

I usually drive past Castle Rock to or from Denver. Although I may not return to Union, it made me realize the town offers more than the fast food places visible from the interstate.

Union An American Bistro
Three plates
3 Wilcox St.
Castle Rock, CO

Family Dinners   Leave a comment

BreadandButter
Bread & Butter is bound to appeal to foodies. Author Michelle Wildgen combines her talents as a writer with her past restaurant experience to tell the story of three brothers with two competing eateries in their hometown.

Leo and Britt have been running Winesap, their fashionable restaurant for more than a decade. When their younger brother, Harry, returns home they find it difficult to be enthusiastic about his plans to open another upscale establishment in a weak economy. Yet, it’s not just the competition that has the older two apprehensive. Harry has bounced around from educational pursuits to various jobs in the years since he’s been gone. Leo and Britt are certain Harry lacks the stamina, knowledge and commitment to run a successful business. They see him as a neophyte, and Harry, who wants their support, is driven to prove them wrong.

Wildgen has created likeable, sometimes exasperating, characters whose voices and situations ring true. Eventually, Britt signs on as Harry’s partner while maintaining his front-of-house role at Winesap. Tensions mount as expectations, many unfounded, lead to several surprises when Harry’s place opens for business.

Descriptions of food, prepping for dinner service and the relationships among the employees (and owners) are vivid and realistic.

Ultimately, the siblings have credible culinary chops; they also have difficulty relinquishing family issues precipitated by birth order. This tends to bog things down a bit. Wildgen emphasizes that sometimes family members are often seen as what we want them to be, rather than who they truly are.

Bread & Butter
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Doubleday, 2014
314 pages