Monday, August 29, 2011

Tartine Lemon Bars

We like bright summery desserts for bright summery picnics. There's really nothing like eating the sweet tartness of a lemon bar as summer draws to a close.

Our "go to" cookbook has been from Tartine Bakery. I have made a number of things out of this book and they have all - with the exception of an ill-fated genoise cake - turned out on the better side of exceptional.

There are recipes and then there are recipes. I don't know how long it took them to write this thing, but they basically take the keys to the Tartine kingdom and toss them in your lap. I can't say enough great things about this book. Get it now!

Before the leaves begin to fall we wanted to try the lemon bar recipe. It is considered bad form to eat lemon bars after Labor Day, right?

Tartine Bakery Lemon Bar

As was the case with damn near everything else we've tried from this book, the lemon bars were spot on. The nuttiness of the brown butter crust, cut the tartness of the lemon perfectly.

Here is a link to the recipe.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Underdog? No. Not Well Known? Yes.

The Interior of the Former Sail Shop

Chez François is my favorite restaurant in northeast Ohio. Mind you, it is on the very, very western edge of the boundary, but as far as I'm concerned the Chez squeezes into the NEO. While I wouldn't describe myself as necessarily being a francophile, I do have a deep appreciation for well crafted, well thought out food.

But this is not an ode to Chez François, it's a love letter to his little brother Touché.

Housed in a former sail shop that is now the upstairs of Chez François, the bar area is known as Touché. Two-Chez, get it? This charming little bar offers up the crafty food of the more formal downstairs (jackets required), with the flip flop wearing people upstairs.

There are no reservations, which could be a turn off for East Siders (like ourselves) who made the trek all the way out here for dinner. It should be noted that after school starts, there is less of a risk of the place being packed on a weekend night. In the dead of summer you might be waiting a while if you arrive after six.

They offer a prix fixe menu as well as a variety of smaller type plates that are either suitable for sharing or can be ordered as entrees. I opted for the Panini Croque Monsieur ($12.95) and the Pommes Frites, Poutine ($8.95). The Croque Monsieur was not in its typical "fork required" form, but rather a sandwich that was able to be picked up and eaten with your hands. The frites were top with an addictive wine sauce and generously covered with Roquefort cheese.

Panini Croque Monsieur

Regina actually cherry picked an Alaskan Salmon dish off of the prix fixe menu that they charged $15.95 for. She was very happy with the dish itself, noting that the portion size was just right for the price.

The wine and specialty drink selection here is much more diverse than that of the beer. Since it was such a beautiful summer day, I actually passed up the beer all together and opted for a couple of mojitos.

Touché is a great night out (totaling $66 with tip). I've always found the service to be friendly and professional. I can honestly say that I've never had a bad meal in either the bar or the restaurant.

Most people dis it because they say it's too far to drive. I can't say that I'd really argue with that. What I will say, is if you want superlative food and service without the need to get dressed to the nines, Touché should be on your radar.

Touche: A Wine/Martini Bar
555 Main St. (Upstairs)
Vermilion, OH 44089

Touche: A Wine/Martini Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

There are Good Food Trucks, and Not So Good Food Trucks

To some degree I think food trucks are given a little leeway when it comes to quality and the price of what they sell. The novelty, to some extent, seems to tip things into "I'll give them the benefit of the doubt" or "they have limited space so it's good for what they have to work with" territory.

The Cool Haus ice cream truck pushes both of these notions to the limit.

One of the Best Food Truck Designs

Cool Haus gets above average marks for website, concept, truck design and innovation. As far as taste goes - it absolutely sucks. Sorry, I'd be horrified if I went to an ice cream shop and they served this stuff to me for the princely sum of $5 a piece, or whatever they were.

You can eat that wrapper, but it tastes like the photo cake film

I give them credit for the edible wrapper. I think that's a novel idea. But let's think about this. If I just hand you my dirty ass $20 bill and you gave me back my dirty ass change (with my bare hands), do I really want to eat the wrapper that is having money shmutz rubbed into it? Perhaps a paper wrapper would have been a better idea.

The ice cream is heavy on the "ice" and short on the "cream", if you get what I'm saying. Hard as a rock. Refrozen ice cream completely sucks. What could make it worse? How about sandwiching between over baked brick bat cookies?

This was extremely difficult to eat. So much so, in fact, that we tossed them both in the bin after about three bites. The rigid cookies forced the ice cream out of the sandwich like a rock hard turd.

I think to some extent people will say that it's awesome simply because of the novelty. While I don't love the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck, I think the product they sell actually decent ice cream.

To read some people's opinions - Cool Haus is absolutely awesome. With all the good gelato shops in NYC, I just can't get behind what Cool Haus is selling.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Saving Haiti One Bean at a Time

Whenever Regina come back from Philly we take the scenic route up through Lancaster County (stopping at Talula's Table in Kennett Square), going up through State College (stopping at Wegman's) and then continuing on west on I-80.

Don't get me wrong, I think Talula's Table is an absolutely fantastic place. In fact, they've opened a new spot in Philly called Talula's Garden (in partnership with Steven Starr) that just made Bon Appetit's list of Best New Restaurants of 2011. Anyway, my wife goes nuts in this place. Amy Olexy has the ability to push every last one of my wife's "Cheese Buttons". The cooler fills and the cash register whirs as she runs the gauntlet of the cheese case along the back wall. [This Toy Cow Creamery post was first hatched by a visit to Talula's Table]

While she was in the midst of another cheese binge, I started to read a story about La Colombe Torrefaction's Atelier coffee from Haiti. Now mind you, I guzzle coffee like it's air. And whenever I'm in Philly, my drug of choice is La Colombe. Thankfully the days of walking all the way from Old Town to 19th St. are over since more cafes and bakeries have begun pouring their coffee. There's even a few in NYC and one in Chicago now.

So whenever I was in La Colombe's shop I'd see this pricey bag of Haitian coffee called Atelier. I don't remember exactly what it costs, but it wasn'tt cheap and I had to wonder if the price was a third world sympathy tax or it was actually that good. Well, while the family cheese addict was working her magic, I had a chance to read the story behind this coffee.

I'm not going to rehash the whole thing (you can read it here or even better watch the video below), but imagine "The Most Interesting Man in the World" (It's not often I drink coffee, but when I do - it's Atelier. Stay thirsty my friends.) hunting for coffee in the mountains of Haiti. The story seriously follows that kind of storyline. Essentially this guy found an old coffee bean that was grown way back in the day. These coffee trees were growing wild on this financially devastated country. You really do have to read the story - I found it very interesting.

Needless to say, I bought the coffee. Always a sucker for a great story, I really wanted to see if it was everything the story said it was. When I got home I ground some up and cranked up the Technivorm. Just the smell of the steam coming out was incredible. I poured about half a cup, thinking I might have to doctor it up a little bit with another stronger batch. If I've had a better cup of coffee and can't remember it. On this occasion there would be no doctoring going on. Absolutely fantastic stuff. No cream. No sugar. I'm not 100% sure, but I think I do remember angels singing momentarily. This was about as perfect a coffee as I could ever hope to drink.

If you have the funds. If you have the curiosity. If you love a good story. If you root for the underdog. And most importantly, if you love great coffee - La Colombe's Atelier is one of my favorite things.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Lime Truck

Am I the only one who wants to see the guy in the middle completely slice off his thumb?

Apologies in advance for the title. I had to grab your attention somehow. This isn't really about The Lime Truck. *Thank God*

I wasn't sure how much I was going to enjoy the The Great Food Truck Race, but I've actually found it fairly entertaining. Naturally the only reason I'm watching is because of Chris Hodgson's Cleveland representation.

I will say that to some degree I feel like it has become a bit of an arms race. After watching the original show, it's clear that most of the teams have done a pretty good job of doing the homework and setting themselves up ahead of time in terms of lining up food purveyors, identifying local ethnic communities, etc. The latest Salt Lake City episode was a pretty good example of that. People were getting food on credit, having ready made customer appreciation days held - just crazy stuff that pretty much made the small amount of seed money a trivial matter.

As with just about every reality show there are good guys and there are villains. Chris Hodgson (up to this point) has been cast a good guy. The Lime Truck guys from SoCal have basically attained d-bag status through their countless examples of hubris contained in interviews. These Lime Truck guys (pictured above) annoy the absolute shit out of me. The one in the middle is a complete dolt. Take those silly headbands off! Sorry - that's just the way I feel.

While I find the show entertaining, I'll probably only watch it until Hodgson's Hodge Podge's truck gets eliminated. Here's an interesting article talking about Hodgson's run up to the show. Judging by what I've seen up to this point he should do pretty well. Hodge Podge's concept is well suited for TGFTR. Being a one trick pony seems to catch up to those who can't adapt outside their genre. Being that they're...well...."hodge podge", they aren't cornered into any one type of food. If last season is any indication, Cleveland will have another chef in a food show finale.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Few Quick Hits

Battiste & DuPree
Junior Battiste can still bring it. Regina and I went there with the in-laws last tonight (f-i-l is from Louisiana) and he thought it was very good. Always looking to expand my horizons, I opted for the General Jackson Chicken and it was pretty fiery.

I can't tell you how hard it is for me not to get the Shrimp Po' Boy. My little 4'10" mother-in-law lowered the hammer on that sandwich. I mistakenly thought she'd tap out somewhere around the halfway point. Save for a few bites of bread, that sandwich was gone. (No scraps for me.) I was interested to find that he typically gets the bread for that sandwich from On the Rise. Am I surprised? No, every great sammie begins with great bread.

Market Garden
There's a reason why I wait and visit a few times before I put up an in depth post. They have absolutely nailed the space - especially the outside patio. I only drank one kind of beer (a few Pearl Street Wheats). I don't typically like to try a bunch of different beers, so with it being summer I did what a good boy would do - the summer beer thing. That particular beer is decent, but for the most part the style is fairly fool proof.

I will say that, at the urging of my brother-in-law Walt (of Fat Casual fame), demanded that we do the Ellis Cooley inspired Pickle Back. This curious concoction consists of a shot of Jack quickly followed by a shot of pickle juice. The crazy thing is it works. The pickle juice neutralizes the Jack and the Jack neutralizes the pickle taste, leaving you with a cool cucumber tinge in your throat. It's not on the menu, but it should be. They make their own pickles. What the hell?

The food is, shall we say, a bit bland. I don't mean to sound like it's bad food - it isn't. It's executed just fine, but there was a general lack of flavor that most everyone in our party agreed on. I think as a newly opened restaurant that is the easiest fix. Our service was good. The energy was high. The space rocks out. The food just needs to be punched up. There's certainly enough here to bring me back.

I wanted very badly to like this place, but this is definitely uncharted territory in Cleveland. I think I'm going to wait a couple more months before I go back. It takes some serious balls to do what Sawyer's attempting here. I'll be very interested to see how things evolve over the next few months.

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Favorite Fish Dish

Favorite dishes have different meanings for different people. I actually think the nostalgia of where you where, who you were with, or what was going on when you first had it, has a lot to do with gaining entrance into your Pantheon of ultimate dishes.

For me the Ginger-Crusted Onaga with Corn, Mushrooms, and Miso Sesame Vinaigrette at Alan Wong's in Honolulu represents everything I love about Hawai'i. The Hawaiian Onaga, combined with the heavy Asian influence (especially on Oahu) and island grown vegetables combine to make this positively sublime entree.

Ginger-Crusted Onaga with Corn, Mushrooms, and Miso Sesame Vinaigrette

During the brutal Cleveland winters I often find myself pining for the sweetness of the fish, the crispiness of the ginger scallion crust, the freshness of the corn you can only get from warm summer-like temperatures. It takes me back to vacations past with my wife (and best friend). These memories are the currencies that provide me comfort during the dark cold days of winter.

As far as restaurant translated dishes go, this one is absolutely spot on. Be warned: there are many small component oils and waters that combine to make the final product. I would suggest making the Ginger Scallion Oil and Chili Pepper Water the day before. These are not difficult things to make, but they do take time. If you have the patience to properly execute each step, you will be rewarded with a dish that literally tastes like it just came out of the kitchen at Alan Wong's.

If you're east of the Rockies you are most likely going to have a difficult time getting your hands on Onaga from Hawai'i. For home gamers like me (in the Midwest) who want to keep it reasonable in price, Snapper from Florida can be substituted. You can access the recipe from The Food Network here.