Friday, June 27, 2008

Black Truffles

One of our Servers recently returned from a vacation to Central Italy. While there he visited his family’s farm and went truffle hunting and returned with several prized specimens of Spring truffles.

[Gordon Naccarato holding two truffles. One whole, the other cut into...]

The area in Central Italy known for black truffles is Umbria, and more specifically these truffles came from the town of Gualdo Cattaneo .

The truffles are usually found beneath oak and hazelnut trees.

I am told the mixing of this variety of trees helps promote a certain humus that is conducive to raising truffles. He finds them with the help of a dog that has been specifically trained to hunt truffles.

The Spring Truffle in Italy is called “Scorsone”. They sell for €250-350 [Euros] per kilo. In Winter they go for €650-1100!

These Spring truffles are black with a tan interior. The exterior resembles a black truffle while the interior looks like a white truffle. The flavor is less pronounced than the true black [“Norcia which is the name of the Italian town from which this truffle comes] or the white truffle from Alba, and is also much more economical than either of these two.

These are some of the largest truffles I have ever seen. Each one weighed over a pound!
We recently featured the Spring truffles in a savory Mushroom Barley Soup with locally foraged wild morels, and a thin rustic parmesan crouton.

"Crudo" of ahi tuna with black truffles & reggiano

We have recently been serving these truffles-- shaving them over our “Crudo”: raw ahi tuna garnished with extra-virgin olive oil, shaved reggiano, lemon, Italian parsley, cracked pepper & sea salt. When I first created this dish at Michael’s restaurant in Santa Monica, in the early 80’s it was described by the Los Angeles Times as “the earth meets the sea” for the dusky earthiness the truffle provides as played against the pristine sea quality of the sashimi.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Best Fish Tacos?

One of my goals when I was in Puerto Vallarta recently, was to find the city's best tacos. A number of places were wonderful, but I found myself favoring the authenticity of the street vendors over the many restaurants we sampled.

My friend Karen Neustadt, who sells real estate in Marin County, and I set out one morning to go shopping for a wedding gift. We found some beautiful pewter bowls and serving pieces that seemed perfect.

I bought some for my daughter Mariel and her husband, and Karen found a spectacular bowl for a client that had recently closed on a property. It seemed like we walked all of the old part of Vallarta, and when I mentioned how hungry I was, Karen mentioned that she wanted to go have fish tacos at her favorite street stand "Marisma" which was about as far from the water you can walk towards the mountains and still be in Vallarta. See Map #13.

We finally found it. Just like the many street stands you see all over Vallarta, this one stands out for how exceptionally clean it is. Karen told me she always orders one Dorado fish taco [mahi-mahi] and one shrimp taco. The woman working in the small stand grabbed some masa dough and began hand-making a tortilla--to order (!) then placed the dough on the parilla. She then took a large shrimp, and a large piece of the mahi-mahi and dipped it in batter and dropped them into the deep fryer. Soon the tortillas were bubbling up from the griddle as she grabbed them by the hand to flip them over. Then she placed the golden fish and shrimp on top of the freshly made tortillas, topped them with some shredded cabbage slaw, and handed them to us. They cost about $1.20 U.S. each.

We then looked at the salsa options. One was made from avocado and was very mild. The other was a roasted tomato salsa and was quite spicy. There was also a mild "pico de gallo" which they call "salsa mexicana".

And finally there was a salsa that was fiery hot that was full of sliced onions. I tried all of them, and preferred the fiery one the best.

The tortillas were impossibly thin and delicious, the batter sweet and reminded me of the good corn dog batter when we were kids at the Puyallup fair--the real deal sweet cornmeal [not I might add the poor relative called "crusty pups"] And the fish and shrimp were impeccably fresh...

This was definitely the best fish tacos I had in PV. Later I found that Marisma was featured on an episode of NPR.

I'm not surprised...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ceviche Tostada

A while ago someone asked whether they could expect to see some Mexican-styled dishes on our menu here at Pacific Grill since I got back from Puerto Vallarta.

Yes indeed.
[Pacific Grill's Octopus Ceviche Tostada].

It was great to be sitting in the hot sun under a palapa on "Playa de los Muertos" [beach of the dead] listening to the strolling mariachis as they played --as I was doing with my friend Karen Neustadt here in the photo-- and be able to order a ceviche tostada of local dorado [Mahi-mahi]; and have it delivered a few minutes later [with a bucket of icy Coronas or Pacificos with lime] right to your beach chair in the sand a few feet from the Pacific ocean....

Wherever I went in Puerto Vallarta I found myself wanting to order refreshing ceviche. So light and delicious in the heat and humidity, it is the perfect vacation food.
[Ceviche of Dorado on PLaya de los Muertos beach, Puerto Vallarta.]
Here on the beach at Boca Tomatlan, a very bouncy bus ride south of Vallarta, my friends Cheryl Franco, Carol Clarke, myself & Karen Neustadt, and I ordered ceviche of mackerel, and octopus.
We didn't care so much for the strong oily flavor of the mackerel ceviche to the left...
But the octopus was a huge hit.

At one restaurant, they didn't even have ceviche on their menu--but when I inquired--they said they would be happy to make one for me! [See the results ringed with sliced cucumber]

...and when I got back to Tacoma I found myself dreaming of ceviche...

Lately at Pacific Grill we have been experimenting with baby octopus ceviche [first simmering the octopus in a beer court bouillon to help tenderize it] then marinating it in citrus juices, onion, lime, chilies, cucumber, tomato and mango, and lots of cilantro with a generous sprinkling of sea salt. Vary the list of ingredients to suit your taste--more chilies if you like it spicier, and serve it on a crisp corn tortilla, as a tostada--or serve it in martini glasses with tortilla chips on the side for a sit-down dinner. Or for a more casual setting, in a large bowl with chips for scooping.
I also like serving lime wedges on the side in case the guests like a little extra lime [as I do].
Hint: I always tell my chefs to think of ceviche like a margarita tastes-- it should be limey and a little salty....

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Pacific Grill Goes Green[er]

[why we made the switch to battery-powered candles] ..........At my daughter’s recent wedding at the W Hotel, Seattle, I noticed they used battery-powered votive candles in their trendy bar…I started asking myself some questions.
Why would this premiere boutique chain of Hotels risk the ambiance of a real flickering flame for a “fake” one? But once I wrapped my brain around the fact that the 'W' could do it, I started realizing all the benefits it could bring to Pacific Grill, and our attempt to try and go greener. As it is, we recycle all of our cardboard boxes, paper, all glass from liquor, beer and wine.

About a month ago we made the switch to the battery-powered votives and I am never looking back!

First of all, the battery powered tea lights are provided to us free. We only purchase the batteries (which are recyclable). The batteries last up to 55 hours whereas the tea lights that burned oil lasted much less than that, so that the entire votive tea light fuel cell was thrown out every day and a half or so....And the LED lights last 17 years!!!
We have about 60 tables so you can see what a tremendous waste it was and contributes to the landfill problem. Plus the toxic fuel oil would get on waiter’s hands, and also into the landfill.

The LED votive batteries are recyclable. It also works out to be less labor intensive, as they are changed much less frequently.

Other benefits include less labor cleaning the votive holders than before. No wax mess, no dripping, no soot entering the air our customers are breathing. Less breakage. No fire hazard (many customers have accidentally set fire to a menu that got too close to a live flame in the dining room, and one customer’s clothing even caught on fire)!

Ambiance-wise I cannot detect any difference.

The LED flickers realistically, and the candles give off a nice authentic look. We did have to get frosted glass so that you cannot see the candle is ‘fake’. The battery powered candles' wicks continuously vary their random fluctuations mimicking the behavior of fire burning candles.

Oh-- and did I tell you they save us about $700/month!? Hopefully some other restaurants will adopt this modest change.