Friday, July 23, 2010

Michael Solomonov

Michael Solomonov aka Israeli Cuisine Jedi Master

I said I was going to highlight a number of our absolute faves from The Great Chef’s Event last month in Philadelphia. Regina and I decided that we would start out with our favorite dish from the whole event and work our way back to maybe the fifth dish.

If you look at any of the “Best of” lists in Philadelphia, Michael Solomonov’s Zahav is a name that comes up again and again. Admittedly – I’ve never been. After sampling his lamb kebabs I have to say that Zahav will be on my list of must haves the next time I’m in Philadelphia. Since I'm a barbecue animal, Michael's Percy Street Barbecue will also be on the list of places to go.

I think one of the things I love so much about these events is that such a small bite of food – if done well – can make a huge impression. It’s like some giving you one paragraph from a book and asking you if it was good enough to make you want to read the entire thing. As far as two bites go – this was one hell of a dish.

When you attend the event they give you a book that has a brief blurb about each chef, in some cases the chef includes the actual recipe for their dish from the event. This lamb kebab was in very high demand – so much so that they couldn’t keep up with the line. This recipe is one of the more simple things you’re ever going to make that tastes this good.

There are a grand total of seven ingredients that makeup these kebabs. When we had them at the event I think they rolled them in sausage-like form and then cut them into ¾” – 1” disks and then put them on a skewer flat. When I made them I skewered the entire sausage and then sliced them into disks.

I don’t know that these were the exact recipe from the event - but it was damn close. For whatever reason I don’t remember the pistachios being in there, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t. The wheels actually started turning as I ate these things. They’re so delicious that I though, “You know what? The hell with cutting them into disks; I could cook them as lamb sausages on a bun with some tahini and feta.” At the event I think they cut them into disks and then laid them flat, skewered them, and then cooked them four minutes on each side. (I cooked them like sausages and then cut them.) I think cutting them and grilling them flat is much more attractive.

Thanks for the awesome recipe Michael.

Lamb Kebabs with Iranian Pistachios and Mint

Lamb Kebabs with Iranian Pistachios and Mint
by Michael Solomonov

  • 2 lbs. ground lamb
  • 2 tbsp minced Spanish onion
  • 1 tbsp chopped mint leaves
  • 2 oz. coarsely ground Iranian pistachios
  • ½ tsp baharat (available at Middle Eastern markets; I was told at the market to use 7 spice)
  • 1 tbsp crushed Urfa Biber peppers (available at Middle Eastern markets; they did not have this ingredient, but said I could grind crushed red pepper in a spice grinder)
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large stainless steel mixing bowl.
  2. Using your hands, knead the mixture for approximately 5 minutes, or until the meat looks doughy and emulsified. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until the mixture is thoroughly chilled.
  3. Divide the mixture into eight equal parts and roll each piece into a sausage-like shape. Form each kebab around flat metal skewers. Refrigerate the kebabs, on the skewers, for another hour.
  4. Cook the kebabs over hot coals for 4 minutes per side, or until medium rare. Serve immediately with rice.
As is often the case with recipes that call for "out of the ordinary" ingredients, I had to troll through the Middle Eastern markets to try and find certain items like Urfa Biber peppers (which no one had). I ended up trying a few places and here are some thoughts:

Al Madina Imports
11550 Lorain Road
Cleveland, OH
The owner - I'm assuming he was the owner- went around the store with me and tried to steer me in the right direction. He did inform me that baharat simply means "spices". He assured me that it more or less referred to seven spice. The store was certainly the smallest of the three I went to. No AC. (Not that Cleveland has too many 95 degree days.)

Sahara Supermarket
3353 W. 117th St.
Cleveland, OH
A much larger store than Al Madina, but there was also no AC. There was a larger refrigerated cases with all kinds of stuff. Cleaner and much larger than Al Madina.

Holy Land Imported Goods
12831 Lorain Road
Cleveland, OH
This was my favorite of the three stores. They probably only beat out Sahara because they had the AC cranked (the others might have had it but it wasn't very cool inside). The selection is very good here and the store is very clean.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Zingerman's Roadhouse

If I had one word to describe Zingerman’s anything it would be "details". Attentive, friendly, knowledgeable service can be found at any of the various outlets in the Zingerman’s franchise of endeavors. You can bet that someone has brought back some of the best and intriguing food stuffs from afar and brought them back to Ann Arbor to share with their customers.

Zingerman’s Roadhouse is a homey sit down restaurant with a slant toward bringing back the best that regional cuisine has to offer. As with the other arms of the Zingerman’s empire, the best of the country’s best regional gems have been collected under one roof. From crab cakes to corn dogs, brisket to ribs, regional traditions have been put on the menu for all to enjoy.

The Roadhouse offers a good selection of locally brewed beers on draft as well as an impressive list of bourbons. If beer or bourbon isn’t your thing, the bar also offers a vast selection of nostalgic cocktails.

Zingerman's Roadhouse Oyster Mulch

As you walk into the restaurant you see a teapot shaped trailer out front. This trailer serves food breakfast, lunch, and dinner to go. A sign pointing you in the opposite direction of the trailer sends you to the front door (which has spent oyster shells whose gifts were enjoyed some time ago). I actually found the oyster shells much more interesting to look at than the typical mulch you find outside most sit down restaurant.

The Roadshow Trailer (in the shape of a tea pot)

One of the first things I noticed upon walking in is the salt and pepper shaker collection. I suppose it’s one of those things that you never really think about collecting until you…well…decide to collect them. I’m not quite sure how many they have, but it’s pretty obvious these things are really old and pretty cool.

Vintage Salt + Pepper Shakers

The food here represents a wide array of down home favorites from across the country. I have a particular affinity for North Carolina barbeque, so I locked onto the pulled pork sandwich almost right away. I think one of the cool things about anything Zingerman’s is that they really want you to be happy with what you get. Not sure what kind of sauce I wanted on my pork, the server suggested that I try all three and decide what I want. After a few minutes she came back with all three sauces for me to try – with a small shred of pork in each one! I was impressed – it would have been very easy to just squirt a dab of each on a plate and hand it to me. Smalls things like this really grab my attention.

After settling on the South Carolina Mustard sauce (highly recommended), I told the server that I didn’t need the bun. When she asked if I wanted another beer I passed because I had to drive back to Cleveland that night. Would you believe since I passed on the bun she gave me a bottle of iced coffee for the ride home? *Excuse me while I dig around in my pocket and pull out another gold star.*

A popular complaint people have is that it’s a few dollars more for the food than it should be. I suppose if we were comparing apples to apples it would be, but the quality of the ingredients -as compared to conventionally produced food - and the level of cooking certainly warrant a slightly higher cost. If you pair the quality of the food with the enthusiastic service that Zingerman’s instills in their staff…well….I think the price point is appropriate.

Zingerman’s Roadhouse isn’t for everybody. If you’re looking for the maximum amount of food for the least amount of money (there's a Golden Corral in Westland (734)641-9163), then this is definitely not the place for you. If you want well researched cooking methods that stay true to their region of origin with an appreciation for quality ingredients, then Zingerman’s Roadhouse definitely needs to be on your list of Ann Arbor stops.

Zingerman's Roadhouse
2501 Jackson Ave
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
(734) 663-3663

Zingerman's Roadhouse on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Great Chef's Event

This time of year offers no shortage of opportunities to attend charity events with an emphasis on food. Last year we decided to make the trek to the Culinary Vegetable Institute’s event benefiting the Veggie U program. A few weeks before that, Regina was fortunate enough to be a fill-in for someone’s seat at University Hospital’s Five Star Sensation.

Since we pretty much limit ourselves to one of these things a year (due mainly to cost), we were very excited to attend The Great Chef’s Event in Philadelphia benefiting Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand was started by little girl named Alexandra “Alex” Scott. While fighting cancer herself, Alex decided to open a lemonade stand so she could raise money for her hospital and “help other kids, like they helped me.” Alex ultimately lost her battle with cancer at age 8, but not before she raised a million dollars for her charity. The foundation that bears her name has raised over $30 million.

That money has helped to:
• Fund more than 150 cutting-edge research projects
• Create a travel program to help support families of children receiving treatment
• Develop resources to help people everywhere affected by childhood cancer

If Alex’s story doesn’t define the word “inspirational” – then I don’t know what does. She achieved more in her eight years than most people do in a lifetime. So you can imagine the pressure that Marc Vetri’s Vetri Foundation for Children felt to put together a first class event for such wonderful charity.

Marc Vetri

The lineup for this event was absolutely incredible:

• Nate Appleman – Pulino's Bar and Pizzeria
• Kiong Banh – Twenty Manning
• *Joe Bastianich – Winemaker and Restaurateur
• Franklin Becker – Abe and Arthur's
• Paolo Benigni – Osteria La Brughiera
• Jonathan Benno – The Restaurant at Lincoln Center
• John Besh - Besh Restaurant Group
• Chris Bianco – Pizzeria, Pane & Bar Bianco
• *Brooklyn Brewery
• Marco Canora - Hearth
• Jennifer Carroll – 10 Arts
• Tom Colicchio – Colicchio & Sons
• R.J. Cooper – Vidalia
• Gina DePalma – Pastry Chef Babbo
• Neal Fraser - Grace Restaurant
• Clark Frasier & Mark Gaier – Arrows, MC Perkins, Cove, SummerWinter
• Katsuya Fukushima - Jose Andres Catering with Ridgewells
• Jose Garces - Garces Restaurant Group, Iron Chef
• Paul Kahan – Blackbird, Avec, Publican, Honky Tonk Tacos
• *Tom Kehoe – Yards Brewing
• Jean-Marie Lacroix - Max & Me Catering
• Barbara Lynch – Menton
• Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson – Frasca, Scarpetta Vineyard
• *Donnie Madia, Jason Cott, Toby Maloney - The Violet Hour (Chicago), Alchemy Consulting
• Joseph Manzare – Zuppa, Globe, Tres Agaves
• Matt Molina & Nancy Silverton – Osteria Mozza, Pizzeria Mozza
• Masaharu Morimoto – Morimoto, Iron Chef
• Emilio Mignucci – Di Bruno Bros.
• Ken Oringer – Clio, Uni Sashimi Bar
• Graziano Pinato – Taverna Colleoni Dell 'Angelo
• Michael Psilakis – Kefi, Guf and Gabriel, Eos
• Julie Robles – Tavern
• Marco Rossi & Francesco Cereda – Osteria Le Cantine D
• *Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
• Michael Schlow – Radius, Via Matta, Alta Strada
• Michael Solomonov – Zahav, Percy Street Barbeque
• *Tim Staehling - Mixologist, The Hungry Cat
• Daniel Stern – Midatlantic, R2L
• *Carol Stoudt – Stoudt's Brewing Company
• *Bobby Stuckey – Frasca, Scarpetta Vineyard
• Michael Symon – Lola, Lolita, Roast, Bar Symon, B Spot, Iron Chef
• Sue Torres – Suenos
• Marc Vetri, Jeff Michaud & Brad Spence – Vetri, Osteria, Amis
• Paul Virant - Vie
• Jonathan Waxman – Barbuto
• Rocco Whalen – Fahrenheit, Rocky River Wine Bar
• *Naren Young - Head Bartender, Locanda Verde NYC

To say that I was pumped to attend was an understatement. I’ll talk more about the highlights from the actual event in the following weeks simply because I know if I do it all here the post would be a mile long.
Smile Rocco

If you’re a Clevelander there’s a good chance you picked up on the fact that Rocco and Michael (he wasn’t actually in attendance but he did send a couple guys from Lola) were on the list. It’s great to see the Cleveland food scene represented in such a strong lineup of chefs.

I'm always curious about what connection the chefs have to an event like this. This is what Rocco had to say:

"Marc Vetri and I met at a James Beard dinner we did together in New Orleans back in 2002 with John Besh, the rest is a love story, great chef, great mentor, best Italian cook in the country."

Trust me, he's not kidding when he says that he's the best Italian cook in the country. If there is a must see restaurant in Philadelphia - Vetri is it.

I wanted to get this up because some of the same names (Appleman, Michaud, Vetri, Whelan) have appeared on the list for Michael Symon’s Food for Life event at Lola on August 1st. I don’t usually promote things that I myself am not attending, but this is something I would have gone to had I not blown my charity cabbage on The Great Chef’s Event last month.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Some Pizza Places

I am an admitted barbecue and pizza fanatic. Whenever I travel, these are usually the two main food groups I look into when visiting. Barbecue is actually pretty easy to scope out; the problem is that you have to pretty much sample their chicken, ribs/pulled pork, and brisket in order to be able to properly judge the pitmaster's abilities. With pizza, you can pretty much after one slice just how good - or bad - their product is. Very rarely is a second or third visit required to give it a thumbs up or down.

As far as Cleveland goes I think I've pretty much had what people routinely call their favorites. I don't typically find myself in the Akron/Canton area all that much, so I really can't say that I've sampled the notables there. Here is a small list of pizzerias I've been to in the last month or two with a brief description of what I thought.

Upper Crust Pizza, Chicken & Ribs
15631 Puritas Ave
Cleveland, OH 44135
(216) 267-0500

Upper Crust Pizza, Chicken & Ribs on Urbanspoon

This was a recommendation from my brothers-in-law. With the amount of pizza that is ordered by the two of them I knew I had to try it. While over a friend's house that lives in the neighborhood we decided to give them a try. As with the other pizzas in this review, this is what Peter Reinhart calls pizza americana (a catchall term for mainstream American pizza). We ordered a pepperoni and sausage that held up pretty well to delivery. I would describe it as moderately greasy, with a thinner crust under the cheese than you find with most pizzas of this genre. Upper Crust Pizza certainly qualifies as a decent neighborhood pizzeria, but nothing to go out of your way for.

La Pizzeria
2188 Murray Hill Road
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 229-9050

La Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

The name seems to suggest that it's somehow Italian, hence closer to a napoletana style. Don't be fooled. LP is americana all the way. Thankfully they sell it by the slice - so this little experiment only set me back a couple of bucks. It could have been that the person making the pizzas was being entirely too generous with the cheese, but the dough underneath was borderline cooked. Could it have been an isolated incident? Maybe. Even so, cheese aside, I think La Pizzeria is an average pie in the Unversity Circle/Little Italy area.

Reddi's Pizza Parlor
5781 Dunham Rd
Cleveland, OH 44137
(216) 663-6652

Reddi's Pizza Parlor on Urbanspoon

One of my wife's friends was pimpin' this place. Reddi's Pizza Parlor is your classic neighborhood sit-down pizza place that you remember from your childhood. Serving up a classic pizza americana, Reddi's turns out an above average product. The crust (or cornicione as it's technically called) is not large like Antonio's but has a similar feel to it, but smaller. The sauce and cheese are properly portioned to where the grease doesn't get out of control. The staff was also really friendly - with the cashier being way above average in beauty. I think Reddi's is actually above average for the area. Should you have a reason to be in the Garfield Hts, Walton Hills area I would recommend giving them a try.

I met my sisters at AMP 150 for a few drinks and was very surprised at how good the Mushroom Flatbread was. While I'm not even going to pretend like it was pizza, the cracker-like appetizer was absolutely delicious. It was essentially a shit load of diced up Killbuck Vally Mushrooms with some sort of citrusy flavor to it on top of an oblong cracker thing. I don't like mushrooms, but this was the best thing I've eaten with fungi since the scrumptious steak at Downtown 140. If you go, you must try.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Zingerman's Deli

Zingerman's Delicatessen

Put the words “food” and “Ann Arbor” in the same sentence and most people will immediately think Zingerman’s Delicatessen. The crown jewel of Ari Weinzweig’s specialty food empire has been serving up bountiful sandwiches and inventive side dishes for nearly thirty years now.

Food enthusiasts around the world have made the pilgrimage to this jewel of a city to sample cheeses, breads, and various other food stuffs whilst waiting to get their hands on one of the many sandwiches on the Zingerman’s menu.

Chances are that if you come during the typical hours of lunch or dinner there is going to be some type of line. Not to alarm anyone, but the line looks much worse than it is. Fairly fast moving, the legendary customer service that all of the various Zingerman’s outlets have, do a great job of keeping things moving without turning it into an anxious experience.

As you wait in line, the small bakery counter is set up on your right. The normal lineup of breads is offered along with a few specialty breads that seem to go pretty fast. If buying bread is what you truly have your heart set on, you can head across town to the actual bakery where the supply is much more robust. We’ve found – as in the case of most bakeries – that the supply at the deli seems to really take a hit at lunch. My neighbor has me pick her up a couple loves of bread every time we go. A good sandwich always starts with good bread and Zingerman’s does bread very well.

On the left hand side is the cheese counter. While I would say that the prices seem to be a couple of bucks higher than you find at home; the selection is absolutely awesome. Again the service is extremely accommodating. The staff at the counter is very well versed in the origins, ripeness, and makeup of all of the cheeses they offer. Even if you aren’t a cheese person it really is a lot of fun to talk to them and sample some things you normally wouldn’t try.

In the very back of the deli is where you place your order. The case in the back has all of the sides that are available for that day. If you’re looking for the deep fried stuff you aren’t going to find it here. If given the choice, I would never eat another French fry again if I had daily access to some of the sides. While the prices may seem a little steep it becomes readily apparent after the first bite that they are using quality ingredients and a lot of them.

After ordering you go to the cash register that is located to the right. On this side of the building is a pretty good selection from the famed Zingerman’s Mail Order catalog. A very good selection of balsamic vinegars, olive oil, jams, and other specialty foods that would most likely make the list of “Stuff White People Like”. And like everything else, the very friendly staff is more than willing to let you try a sample of anything – seriously.

Zingerman's Next Door

After a short wait the food is brought out to you by, you guessed it, a friendly and helpful staff member. While the seating is outdoors, they do set up a heated tent for the colder months. There is also seating in the Zingerman’s Next Door. No matter where you end up sitting, the tireless staff will eventually unite you with your food.

I think the food here is great. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had anything that I would consider average. The sandwiches come in a regular and large size. The large is pretty damn big, so if you’re ordering sides I’d suggest exercising a little restraint and order the regular size. In the past I’ve ordered the Jay’s BBQ Chicken (probably my favorite), the D-$’s Cuban Conundrum (very good), Frank & Kathy’s Half-Italian Sub (okay, this one’s good, too).

As good as the sandwiches are, one would think the sides are just a throw in. Hardly. Let’s put it this way, if you brought the Carrot Top or Swiss Potato to a family picnic and walked away for ten minutes, you would be out of luck. It would all be gone.

If you come to Ann Arbor you have got to come here – as well as their other outlets (Next Door, Bakehouse, Roadhouse, Coffee Company, and Creamery). The staff here is very knowledgeable as well as eager to share information about all of the products they carry. Zingerman’s is the crown jewel in a city full of wonderful gems.

Zingerman's Delicatessen
422 Detroit St
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 663-3354

Zingerman's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon