Wednesday, July 30, 2008

RECIPE: Cheese Toast

One of my favorite snacks on our Bar Menu is the Cheese Toast with Melted Tomatoes. It is great as a late night snack instead of pizza, or as a light supper. And it is great for using up any leftover cheeses after a party.

The “melted tomatoes” refers to a method of slowly cooking the tomatoes at very low temperature inside the oven with just the pilot light on until they almost turn themselves into a sauce.

We toss some ripe tomatoes in a little olive oil and chopped garlic, season them—pop them into the oven—and when we get to work in the morning the tomatoes have “melted” into a simple sauce. All they require is a light chopping and folding in some herbs [like chopped Italian parsley, or thyme, sweet marjoram] and some torn basil leaves.

Recently I had a guest request the recipe I decided to put it on the Blog in case any of the rest of you would also like to give it a try.

The cheeses in the recipe can be any leftover scraps of cheese. But realize if you blend a strong blue cheese with fontina for example—the blue flavor will predominate—which isn’t a bad thing if you like strong blues (like I do).

If you don’t want to “melt” the tomatoes you can oven-roast them or use whatever favorite tomato sauce you like in the style of a pizza sauce.

INGREDIENTS: 1 Pound Cheese, any varieties, cubed
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
1 Pinch Salt and Pepper, to taste (only if needed)

For Toast and Melted Tomatoes:
24 Slices Pain Rustique, sliced and grilled
1 Ounce Olive Oil
8 Plum Tomatoes, roasted and chopped coarsely
8 Fresh Basil Leaves, julienned
8 Tablespoons Extra-virgin Olive Oil 4 Teaspoons Garlic, chopped
1 Pin Crushed Red Pepper, to taste


1. Gather 1 pound of cheese pieces (any variety: Gruyère, goat, brie, fontina, although too much blue cheese and it will predominate) cut off any mold or very hard rinds, and cube into 1" pieces.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, add the cheeses, garlic cloves, about 1/2 cup of dry white wine and a big grinding of black pepper. Process for 30 seconds or so, until the mixture is creamy but not too soft.
3. Salt is usually not needed, but taste the mixture and add some if it is.
4. Pack it into a small container that will fit the amount of cheese. It also can be frozen.
5. The fromage fort is ready to use now, either served cold or spread on bread and broiled for a few minutes. Broiling will brown the cheese and make it wonderfully fragrant.
6. Grill pain rustique with some olive oil until golden and charred a bit.

7. Spread the fromage fort onto the grilled bread and set under the broiler until cheese is golden.

8. Add some chopped oven-roasted tomatoes and olive oil in a saute pan. Heat up, until hot add the basil.
9. Garnish the hot cheese toast on a plate with some of the roasted tomato, piling it up on the cheese toast, cross with the other toast, and add some of the tomato sauce to the plate here and there.
10. Drizzle the toast and tomato with some extra-virgin olive oil, and a sprinkle of chopped Italian parsley.

Adapted from a recipe by Jacques Pépin, Food & Wine Magazine
Serves approx: 8
Yield: 2 1/4 cups
Start to finish: 10 minutes [not counting the overnight melting of the tomatoes].

Serving Ideas: The cheese mixture can be served cold on crackers too. Delicious.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Warm Berry Shortcake

With all the wonderful berries at the height of the season, we have been doing our famous Berry Shortcake.

What I particularly love about the warm biscuit, is that we add some crystallized ginger to the dough before baking and a generous pinch of chopped fresh rosemary.

(Ginger and rosemary have a particular affinity for each other with rosemary almost able to fool some as a substitute for ginger).

We make a sauce from the mixed berries, and the shortcakes are made with brown butter making them even more nutty and delicious.

We serve these with either a scoop of ice cream right when the biscuit comes hot from the oven--or with a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sayulita--Paradise found

About an hour and a half North of Puerto Vallarta, and just outside famous Banderas Bay is the charming town of Sayulita, known for its great surfing.

We decided to take a day trip to Sayulita and hang out at the beach. My friends Chris and Cheryl accompanied me on a very bumpy bus ride. We sat in the back of the bus--big mistake! The cobblestone streets of Vallarta would literally throw us out of our seats.

A few blocks walk into this small charming seaside village, and we were ready to find a palapa to park ourselves under for a day in the sun. Here Chris and I are standing in front of a cute home with a thatched palapa-style awning over a charmingly painted front door near the beach.

The jungle-covered hillsides come right down to the beach and are dotted with beautiful vacation homes. The town is very small and reminded me of my first visit to Vallarta, when I was just 14 yrs old.

Our friends had told us to eat at El Costeño, located right on the beach.

We tried laying out in the sun for awhile but it was just too hot.

Sitting in our beach chairs drinking a cold cerveza with lime and watching the surfers was great.

We found a spot on the covered patio adjacent to the beach where we could keep an eye on our belongings. Seated next to us was an older woman I imagined to be in her seventies and someone's eccentric Grandmother.

She was slurping on a straw from the largest Margarita imaginable.

We immediately decided to follow her lead and ordered one of our own.

At $5 /per -- I wasn't expecting very good tequila--but the drink was delicious. It was so huge we ordered 3 straws. And it seemed like it took us the better part of a half hour to finish the one drink.

When we had, I noticed that Grandma's drink had barely diminished...and she took the rest of her's in a to-go container, and drank it as she weaved down the cobblestone street to continue her day.

Next we ordered some food.

I wanted to try the cóctel de camarón [shrimp cocktail]. Interestingly--it was served piping hot in a broth with chopped red onions, tomato and diced cucumbers on the side, with additional hot sauce and limes to squeeze.

It was really more like a shrimp soup that you could add condiments to...

On the side, at almost all restaurants, they serve totopos --like our tortilla chips, that are baked flat and look similar to tostadas. Unlike freshly made tortillas which have no salt and because of their high moisture content can spoil in the heat rapidly, totopos are made with salt and can last days without getting moldy in the heat and humidity. They seem a tad thinner and more delicate than the tortilla chips we eat here.
Cheryl ordered the whole red snapper. It came with Mexican rice and french fries. The limes in Mexico are much smaller than the Persian variety we have here in the States and are so much more delicious.

I ordered the fish tacos, made with Dorado [mahi mahi]. The fish was kind of boiled, and overcooked. I would have preferred something from the grill with some charred flavor on it. But they were still ok. They also came with the double-starch of fries and rice. And "salsa Mexicana" or what we refer to as pico de gallo.
We enjoyed the meal and betting whether Grandma would be able to finish her Margarita. We spent a little time walking around the town after we laid out in the sun a while longer, wanting to prolong our day and also I think to put-off riding on that horrible bus back to town.

Cheryl Franco, Gordon, Margarita and Chris at El Costeño

I would have loved to go back to Sayulita one more time on my trip, but we didn't get the opportunity. It reminds of the Mexican seaside towns of old, before too much development and condos everywhere.

Make sure when you go to Vallarta that you make time to visit Sayulita!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Flatbread "pizza"

An old favorite dish that I have been doing since the mid-eighties [borrowed from uber-chef Wolfgang Puck] is his Smoked Salmon Pizza. Wolf started serving this dish at the original Spago in West Hollywood on Shattuck Drive. He called it Jewish Pizza for the cold-smoked lox served on the just baked pizza dough.

The dough is blind baked, crème fraîche is added to it, some red onion and capers, sprigs of dill, cracked pepper and a squeeze of lemon. For his really great customers he would add an extravagance--fresh sevruga caviar.

Lately flatbread has become popular as an appetizer--a smaller cousin of pizza, and a perfect way to serve this delicious appetizer.

One of my favorite places to eat in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle is Black Bottle, a nice neighborhood place that serves small plates of interesting inexpensive appetizers, and good wines by the glass. Recently I fell in love with their flatbread of béchamel and prosciutto [$9] which they serve in charming fluted tart pans.

We recently got some of those tart pans in stock here at Pacific Grill, and I have since been experimenting with different flatbreads served this way. The smoked salmon version was a big hit. I am contemplating serving the flatbreads in this style on our Lunch Menu, and adding it to our Bar Menu.

This is a great appetizer for a party, or a light lunch, and part of the charm is serving the flatbread in the fluted tart pan that it is baked in.

If you plan on serving the cold-smoked salmon you first blind-bake the dough. Then assemble the toppings, and reheat the tart just from the bottom. Do NOT put the smoked salmon in the oven as you don't want to cook it. Just place the tart pan on a griddle, or on top of a barbecue for a minute or two, just so the dough becomes hot and re-crisps.

If you are making a more traditional pizza you would bake the entire pizza in a hot oven. Heirloom tomatoes & fresh mozzarella would be a great flatbread to make now that summer tomatoes are here, with a judicious drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, and a scattering of freshly torn basil leaves as a garnish right as it comes out of the oven bubbling hot; or grilled radicchio with pancetta & fontina cheese--with maybe a sprinkle of red chili flakes.

I always try and serve a pizza with just a few main ingredients-- limiting the toppings to no more than 3, or the pizza becomes what Chef Mark Peel dismissively refers to as a pantyhose pizza--one size fits all....

Friday, July 11, 2008

Corn on the cob

We have been doing a fun Main Course this last week, now that it feels like Summer might be around for awhile [and decent corn can be found in the market] Baby Back ribs with our Jack & Coke barbecue sauce, cole slaw, and my favorite side for summer--deep-fried corn on the cob!

The corn is deep fried for about 2 minutes until it is looking a little worse for the wear--mottled brown here and there--yet golden and cooked. We toss it in unsalted melted butter with some green Tabasco sauce thrown in to taste, chopped cilantro, salt and fresh cracked pepper.

The corn is addictive cooked this way--super fast too. Now, I realize you don't have to deep fry the corn--you could grill it over coals on the barbie in the back yard and it would still be delicious, but I had corn cooked this way last summer at my favorite Tom Douglas' restaurant--Palace Kitchen--and couldn't wait to play with it here at Pacific Grill. I like mine even better than his--simply because I love the green Tabasco butter with it!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chef's Tasting Menu

Here at Pacific Grill, I frequently get asked to donate an item to help raise money for a school or another worthy cause.

Sometimes we donate a cake to be auctioned.

Sometimes we donate a cooking class or food demonstration whereby a group of 6-10 people will purchase at auction a multi-course meal demonstration where they come to Pacific Grill and watch us cook an entire meal as we discuss technique, and give out recipes. This is always a fun class and you get to eat each course after we cook it!

Other times we donate an entire Chef's Tasting meal, pull out all the stops, and really get creative.

My Executive Chef, Aaron Valimont, and myself then collaborate on a special Chef’s Tasting Menu oftentimes paired with a unique wine served with each course.

Recently we served such a meal in our Private Dining Room, which is located in the excavated vault beneath the 15th street sidewalk.

The Menu was as follows:


Tate’s Ahi Poke

Grilled Grape Salad
house-made ricotta, grilled grapes, roasted golden beets, arugula,
& white balsamic vinaigrette

alaskan halibut, stewed cannellini beans, apple-smoked bacon & basil
Kobe Tri-Tip
idaho snake river farms kobe tri-tip, papas bravas, romesco & chimichuri sauces
Leg of Lamb Brochette
harissa, grilled bread salad, cucumbers, olives, feta & oregano vinaigrette
Goat Cheesecake
pinenut crust, grilled honey-glazed apricot, apricot sauce

Our apprentice this summer, Tate Edwards was put in charge of the “Amuse Bouche” [amusing bite] to get the meal started. Being that Tate is from Honolulu, he decided to make a small taste of Ahi Poke, which was served on a small round of jasmine rice.

Here Tate can be seen putting his final touches on the amuse Bouche just before it was served.

The activity in the kitchen is electric as the dishes are generally ones not found on our menu, and several of the chefs gather in frantic activity to make sure each course is executed precisely. The choreography between the waiter and the kitchen is essential so that the previous course is cleared away, dishes and silverware re-set, and the next wine gets poured before the next course is prepared to order--all the while we are doing maybe 200 other dinners in our main dining room!

For the salad course we served grilled grapes with delicious house-made ricotta cheese, wonderful earthy golden beets, a tangle of pungent arugula, and a vinaigrette made with white balsamic vinegar and vanilla bean

Next up was the fish course. We sauteed fresh Alaskan halibut with buttered crumbs, and made a little stew of cannellini beans with some Nueske's apple-smoked bacon. Nueske's makes the best bacon in the United States [from Wisconsin]. This bacon costs almost $9/lb wholesale! And worth it--if you can find it! I love the way beans taste with bacon, and they way the texture of the beans plays against the texture of the fish, and the smokiness the bacon adds. A little fresh Italian parsley and a squeeze of lemon, was the only garnish the dish needed.

For summer I love to grill tri-tip and the weather here was finally starting to actually feel like summer so we brought in some Kobe tri-tip from Snake River Farms in Idaho. This is not true kobe beef--but is cross-bred with Black Angus, and is delicious. Aaron made a great dry-rub, we grilled the meat medium rare and sliced it thinly across the grain. We served it with a famous Spanish tapas I had all over Barcelona "papas bravas" [brave potatoes] as the potatoes are quite spicy. We used an heirloom fingerling potato, and tossed them in a spicy chile sauce. This course was served with an Argentinian wine so we fittingly chose a chimichuri sauce to go with this simple grilled meat. We garnished with charred rosemary needles, that we stripped from the branches after roasting, sprinkling them over the sliced meat. Charring then roasting the rosemary gives it an appealing crunchy texture.

The brochette of leg of lamb was a boneless sirloin cut, very tender and charred rare to medium rare. We made a Greek-styled panzanella [bread salad] with Kalamata olives, rustic grilled La Brea Bakery ciabatta, feta cheese, cucumber, sweet Walla Walla onion and a spicy lemony oregano vinaigrette that we had also marinated the lamb in. And garnished the plate with a smear of harissa.

The dessert course lined up and waiting for the waiters to carry them into the dining room...

For dessert we chose to do a robust goat-cheesecake, made with a French Montrachet. The crust was a combination of pine nuts and almonds [which goes particularly well with apricots] which made a very delicate crust. The apricots were glazed with honey and grilled which added another dimension of sweetness, the sweet flesh caramelizing and adding depth of flavor that could stand up to the more pungent goat cheese. We also ran a blow torch lightly over the top of the cheesecake like we do a crème brûlée.

We offer our Private Dining Room and our special Chef's Tasting Menus to all our guests who wish to create a wonderful memory. Leave the menu up to us, come hungry, and be prepared for a culinary adventure! Please call our General Manager Chip Venzone to make a reservation.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bite at the Murano

1320 Broadway Plaza
Tacoma, Washington 98402
(253) 572-3200
(888) 862-3255
I have heard good things about the Hotel Murano, so I decided to take my daughter Mariel, visiting from Los Angeles, and longtime family friend Tate Edwards from Honolulu, who is here apprenticing in my kitchen at Pacific Grill for the summer, to Lunch there.

The Murano is chic and beautiful—reminded me a little bit of the sexy stylishness of the W Hotel chain, with it’s impressive modern art, and chic votive candles in the lobby.

Their restaurant BITE is located on the 3rd floor. It is a nice modern space, the staff very polite and attentive.

The waitress described the “fries and gravy” as a good starter [served with a mushroom zinfandel gravy & gorgonzola cheese]. We passed, but it did sound interesting in a messy comfort food sort-of-way.

I went for the “limoncello cured salmonon sesame flatbread, chive crème fraîche, and red onion gremolata. It looked beautiful as the plate was set before me. I didn’t taste any sesame in my flatbread crackers, and the crème fraîche was a little sparse for my tastes. But the dish was good if not spectacular. The fish was a little too sweet which may have been the fault of the Italian Limoncello liqueur, since there is no citrus juice in it but rather it is made from the rinds.

Also, the gremolata that was piled on top was made from orange zest instead of lemon, which also lent another hint of sweetness. [I should have ordered a lemon wedge to squeeze over the dish, it would have benefitted from the additional acid].

Mariel had the “green market” salad with roasted beets, haricots verts, onion, cauliflower, butternut squash, scallions, walnuts, and ricotta salata, with a sherry-shallot vinaigrette. She complained about how under-cooked the vegetables were, and after I tasted it I had to agree—all the vegetables were hard and raw tasting.

She pointed out that the haricots verts were unappealingly thick—almost as if they were blue lake beans. A lot of damage has resulted from the idea to undercook vegetables al dente. I tell my cooks to cook the vegetables so that they are tender to the tooth—not mushy—but that they should not snap when bitten and certainly not taste raw.

The other vegetables were also underdone, and the butternut squash—stained with the dark red juice from the beets—looked and tasted like an unripe nectarine.

She had ordered the salad with additional chicken, which she fished out and ate, but did not finish the salad.

Tate ordered the “classic reubenwith corned beef, sauerkraut and swiss griddled on seeded rye, but the sandwich came out on marbled rye bread instead. The sandwich was served on an impressive-looking mountain of “herb fries”. But the fries tasted like they had cinnamon on them. When we asked, the waitress said no , only basil & parsley, garlic, salt & pepper. We all swore there was a mysterious sweet cinnamon flavor to them. We wondered if something was fried earlier in the oil that imparted that flavor? Anyway the fries had that crunchy coating [potato starch] that so many fast-food type chain places put on their fries now to retain crispness and heat.
Tate said the sandwich meat was a little dry. But other than that he enjoyed his meal [although his starter salad he didn’t finish as the balsamic dressing he said was much too sweet].

I have heard great things about the breakfast served at BITE, and I recommended it to a friend today who had out-of-town company. When I inquired about Brunch I was told they only serve breakfast, but the waitress brought me a Breakfast menu to peruse—indeed she gave me all their menus to keep.

She was very polite, and helpful.

Altogether our bill came to about $60 [including tip] for the 3 main courses, one starter salad, and one glass of Pinot Grigio—the rest of us had tap water.

Although our meal was a little uneven, I am going to go back to try their breakfast, recommended to me by picky foodies but-knows-their-stuff clients of mine.

I love this urban-chic new place on Tacoma’s dining scene. I hope the food improves a notch or two to match the stylish surroundings.