Friday, March 27, 2009

French Fry Nirvana

We had a nice mention in the News Tribune today Friday, March 27 in an article about great burgers in the area--our Cheeseburger Sliders were mentioned.

The article went on to compliment our french fries also:

"Pacific Grill’s cheeseburger sliders ($5.50) ... Two small rolls are stuffed with juicy sirloin patties, aged white cheddar and a smear of house sauce similar in flavor to a tangy-sweet Russian dressing.

While the sliders skew small, you’ll forget about that because of the perfect accompaniment that comes with them – Pacific Grill’s garlic herb fries. If french fry nirvana can be achieved, these are it: thinly cut, crispy fried potatoes served in a tasty, salty pile with whole cloves of golden-brown, fried garlic and sage and rosemary leaves that become crispy, crunchy and delicious in the fryer. (Priced $11 on the regular menu)."

The full article can be read here:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sip Wine Bar Opens in Gig Harbor

I got invited to the friends & family try-out for one of the best restaurants in the entire Tacoma area--the new Sip Wine Bar & Restaurant located in the Uptown Gig Harbor shopping complex.
The first Sip opened a few years ago in Issaquah. It was a big hit and several Sips are planned--with two more to open in the Seattle area. Sip serves around 70 wines by-the-glass, and has a cellar of over 300 different wines.
My Pacific Grill sous-chef Cody Reaves was their first Executive Chef and developed their delicious menu.
Opening night for friends & family is an opportunity for the kitchen to practice the dishes. It is always a rocky start getting the choreography down. I expected lapses, faltering service, and the food to have some problems--it goes with the territory. I have opened many restaurants and it has always been a nightmare...

The Gig Harbor Sip is handsome with a stunning wall of wine surrounding a fireplace, and an oval shaped bar for great people-watching. The bathrooms are sexy with a shared vanity area.

And to make sure you don't miss any bar action while you are away from your table--2 large TV's are playing by the sinks spying on the bar!

Our waiter Ben Hollander was fantastic, talking us expertly through the interesting menu full of tantalizing sounding small plates like Black Truffle Popcorn with Hawaiian Black Sea Salt [$5]; Vietnamese Caramel Beef [$12]; Tapas [$11] and so on.

Ben chose a delicious red wine blend for us, and immediately a napkined bowl arrived with some of the intriguing truffled popcorn. (Unfortunately the popcorn had a little too much Hawaiian salt for us to really enjoy the snack, but the wine was delicious.)

Next we tried the Sip Caesar Salad [$10] that arrived looking like a giant squid. It was wrapped in a cold parmesan & chive crêpe, drizzled with dressing and miniature precisely diced croutons that were delicious. Apart from the tasteless crêpe that had no discernible flavor of parmesan, the salad was delicious.
I chose the Loch Duart Salmon [$27] as my main course. It is described as being all-natural Scottish salmon, with a red miso glaze, ginger scented sushi rice cake, and Szechwan pea vines. Although I ordered the salmon medium rare it arrived well-done. Salmon with its high fat content can stand being overcooked better than most fish, and with its miso glaze was still tasty. The pea greens were cooked a little too long for my taste and I couldn't taste the strangely numbing flavor of the Szechwan pepper.
My dining companion Kevin Still ordered the Meyers Angus Teras Major [$27] all-natural shoulder tenderloin with slow-cooked fingerlings & wilted spring greens. The steak arrived beautifully charred and perfectly medium-rare as ordered. The greens were cooked with smoky bacon, but could have benefited from a touch more vinegar to bring out their flavor. The fingerlings Kevin noted, seemed a tad overcooked and were served lukewarm.
The Dessert Trio came with a mini berry crème brûlée, a tiny brownie with Olympic Mt. ice cream, and a chocolate port truffle. The brownie was dry and off the mark, but the truffle was luxurious.

Lastly we sampled Warm Bread Pudding [$8] with Chardonnay Candied Pecans, rich with the flavor of cinnamon ice cream.

I was impressed with the great service from our waiter Ben. The four courses were well paced--no big wait times. That there were a couple of issues with the seasonings or an item overcooked--again is par for the course. As far as I'm concerned it was a miracle we got anything to eat from what I have seen during my long career!

So kudos to the staff of Sip, one of the best restaurants in the Tacoma area!

The Menu has so many wonderful things on it that I am looking forward to try on my next visit, and the visit after that. Also Sip has half-priced wine Wednesdays--which just happens to be my night off.
Sip Wine Bar & Restaurant
4793 Point Fosdick Dr. NW
Suite 400
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
Phone (253) 853-3020

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Chef Pacific Grill

Jessica Armstrong, Ross Lewis, Eric Gray, Ian Thompson, Mike Hempel
After our previous chef, Aaron Valimont, moved to Marysville we began to search for a new chef to replace him. Recently we hired Ian Thompson. He has already started wowing our dining room with interesting new specials like his Scallops “Crudo” ~ thinly sliced raw sea scallops, ginger, mint & vanilla salt; Crispy Salmon Fritters with cucumber, apple, ginger, cilantro & black pepper tartar sauce; and Mahi Mahi with cannellini beans, pancetta, arugula, broccolini & lemon butter.
Here is some background on Ian in his own words:
I was born and raised in Gig Harbor, Washington. My restaurant career began at the age of 15 washing dishes at Gig Harbor Spiro's. Soon after I became a cook and started slinging out pizzas and pasta.
It did not take me long to fall in love with the chaos of kitchens.
I began culinary school at the age of 18 at South Seattle Community College.. While attending school I was a member of the SSCC hot foods competition team under Chef and mentor Stephen Sparks.
Also during this time I floated around through various line cook positions in different restaurants including Coastal Kitchen and Primo Grill. I then joined the opening crew at El Gaucho Tacoma under Executive Chef Sean Quinn. There I worked as line lead and in banquettes.
Quinn sent me out to their Sumner location, The Garden Cafe at Windmill Gardens to be their wedding caterer. I then became Sean's Sous Chef at the Garden Cafe and ran both the catering and restaurant.
Quinn was the opening Executive Chef of Asado Restaurant and brought me on as his opening Sous Chef. I became Chef of Asado upon the opening of their Masa location across the street. I worked as Chef of Asado until September of 2007 when I got an opportunity to go back to school. I went back to SSCC to attend their new hospitality management program, which I am set to graduate this June.
While in school I have learned all aspects of restaurant management, while at the same time working on my cooking skills for Chef Vicky McCaffrey at Yarrow Bay Grill. I was only member of Vicky's team for about 6 months, due to an opportunity to study overseas.
I have spent the last 6 months working on my degree in Copenhagen, Denmark. Now I am back and happy to be on board at Pacific Grill.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Secret of Great Chicken Soup

When I was a little boy my grandparents owned a restaurant called the Little Ritz on Pacific Avenue near Parkland and just before Spanaway. (Many years later the first restaurant I ever owned in Aspen, Colorado, was coincidentally called The Ritz before I purchased it--renaming it Gordon’s.)

A humble café, I loved hanging out in the kitchen with my grandparents (we called them “Nana and Papa”), and helping make french fries by placing peeled Russets into the french fry cutter, lifting the weighty cast-iron handle and pushing the potatoes through—and watching as hundreds of perfectly cut french fries fell miraculously into the bowl.

My Italian grandfather Frank Naccarato (Papa) was a great cook, and was famous for his soup. I remember sitting in the restaurant watching homeless people wander in off the street (“bums” Papa called them). But he never refused to serve them—even if they had no money. Papa always had a nourishing bowl of minestrone to give, and more than once I saw him slip them a little money as they walked out the door.

When my mom and dad would take us to eat at the Little Ritz, sometimes Papa had just finished making a huge pot of minestrone, and after dinner before we left he would take a one-gallon glass jar and fill it with soup for us to take home, screwing the metal lid tightly.

I loved watching Papa make soup. I would stand next to him and watch as he stirred the vegetables in some olive oil until they were softened, then adding homemade chicken stock, chicken meat and herbs to the large pot simmering on the stove. I don’t have the recipe but I remember how delicious it smelled and tasted.

Then one day many years ago, when I was at The Monkey Bar in Hollywood, California, the owner, Alan Finkelstein, walked into the kitchen and seeing that I was making chicken soup, commented that his Jewish Mother’s secret ingredient was to add some diced parsnips to the vegetables (along with carrots, onion and celery.)

So I took his suggestion and added the parsnips. His Mom also put egg noodles into her soup, so I made it that way for Alan. I roughly chopped the noodles so they would fit onto a soup spoon—I hate to have clients spill onto their expensive clothing with noodles that are too slippery and long to easily eat. I also had to add fresh chopped Italian parsley, dried oregano—and on a whim I threw in some fresh chopped rosemary.

When I tasted the soup I was instantly transported back. It was as if I was standing in Papa’s café in Parkland tasting my childhood again. I stared into the stockpot brimming with jewel-like vegetables tasting the rosemary and the sweet perfume the parsnips lent the broth—I was once-again standing in Papa’s kitchen watching him tend his soup.

Papa died of cancer when I was just eight years old—just before President Kennedy was assassinated and just after Marilyn Monroe died. I can still hear his raspy laugh and feel his rough beard against my face when he would hug and kiss us kids.

I never got his recipe for minestrone.

But I know the secret to great chicken soup.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Crab "Puppies"

When I had my restaurant in Aspen many years ago, I worked with a wonderful chef, Susan Sinnicks, who was from Charlotte, N. Carolina. She was talented, and being from the south, of course—very polite.

Despite this, she earned the nickname “salad bitch”—a name she wore proudly on a button she had made for her chef jacket. I also called her Miz Susan to tease her charming drawl.

One day Susan brought into work the “White Trash Cookbook”, a hilarious satire filled with recipes like “Cooter Pie.” First you take a live cooter [turtle] and wait for him to stick his head out from under his shell. When he does, you grab it …. and “Mock Cooter Pie”; and “Our Lord’s Scripture Cake”, and so on.

So I had to create a dish to honor Susan which became “Miz Susan’s White Trash Salad”. It had cornmeal breaded fried chicken on it and instead of croutons we added small crispy hushpuppies.

The salad was a huge hit! I had never made hushpuppies before—indeed at the time I didn’t even know what they were. So Susan made a batch, and wrote down a recipe right then out of her head that was perfect, addictive, and delicious.

Hushpuppies, as you may already know, are a southern side-dish commonly served with fish. They supposedly got their name when fishermen tossed pieces of fried batter to their hungry dogs (instead of the fried catfish) & said: “now--hush puppies”! I don’t know if that story is true, but it is a good story.

Later when I was working in Hollywood CA, as chef of the infamous Monkey Bar restaurant, I came up with an appetizer that was a cross between a hushpuppy and a crabcake that we named Crab “Puppies”.

This appetizer became one of the most popular on my menu. In fact one record producer used to drive up to the door and phone the front desk before he valeted his car, to make sure that we hadn’t yet sold out.

I used Miz Susan’s basic hushpuppy recipe, although I used a bit less black pepper and crushed red chilies, and I also added some cilantro, and of course Dungeness crabmeat. We served the Crab Puppies with a homemade Black Pepper Tartar Sauce, and a squeeze of lemon.

The other day I decided it was time to bring the appetizer back to my menu here at Pacific Grill. It has become a hit again, all these years later.

I love the way the sweet molasses and cornmeal play against the rich crab, cut by the heat of the chilies and pepper, brightened by a squeeze of lemon. The rich tartar sauce helps quench the tingling heat on your tongue, and you can’t help wanting to take another bite…

Tasting them again after all these years sure reminds me of Susan, her talent in the kitchen, generous smile and laugh, southern charm, and great hugs.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tuna Melt

A nice articled appeared today in the Weekly Volcano's Blog "SPEW"
reprinted by permission
photo by Ron Swarner

Genius: Pacific Grill's tuna melt


Yeah, we already know he’s a culinary genius, but Tacoma's award-winning chef Gordon Naccarato knocked me off his Pacific Grill chair with his tuna melt. The open faced grilled ahi tuna sandwich off his Pacific Grill's lunch menu deserves to be bronzed. I know it’s one of his favorites, too. He tried to take it off his lunch menu once, but people cried in the streets. It’s back on, thank goodness.

I caught up with Naccarato for the scoop behind this dish.

WEEKLY VOLCANO: Who came up with this creation?

GORDON NACCARATO: Many years ago when I had my restaurant in Aspen, I was looking for a modern update on the classic tuna melt for my lunch menu. I think back then I used a New York white cheddar and served it without the bread (back before there was any decent bread in the U.S.) and used an opal basil butter … but I loved the white cheddar with the fish. When we were kicking ideas around for another sandwich for PG I remembered the dish from Aspen and how delicious it was. I wanted the sandwich served open-face on top of grilled La Brea Bakery bread. I love grilled bread. Everything tastes better with grilled bread — just like everything tastes better with bacon!

VOLCANO: Why do you think it works well?

NACCARATO: The combination of the vintage cheddar cheese with the soft, rare flesh of the tuna is very satisfying. The charred warm exterior of the flesh contrasts with the cool rare center. It all plays well against the contrasting texture of the grilled rustic bread. The charred rosemary mayonnaise is another layer of lusciousness. Charring the rosemary provides a slight natural smokiness. The grilled onions provide a sweet note against the rich cheese, and the tomatoes provide an acidic note of punctuation. I love watching people take a first bite of this dish; it always elicits a satisfying smile.

VOLCANO: What kind of beverage goes best with it?

NACCARATO: I would think either a refreshing wine, or beer. A Washington Pinot Gris would be good. It has medium body, and hints of apple and pear that would taste great with the cheddar, and it has enough acidity to cleanly cut through the rich dish — or a Belgian golden ale called Duvel, that we have right now, would be nice — as it is light bodied and has notes of citrus that would be refreshing against the rich fish.

VOLCANO: What sandwich did your mom always put in your lunch box for school?

NACCARATO: A tuna fish sandwich on Wonder Bread, made with mayo (never Miracle Whip — YUCK) and pickles and iceberg lettuce.

VOLCANO: Plain, super heroes, or sports figures — what was your favorite lunch box?

NACCARATO: My favorite Lunch Box was a brown bag … except for the time I set it on the ground and ran back inside my house to get a book I forgot, and when I came back outside the neighbor's dog had peed all over my brown bag lunch!

VOLCANO: Nice. Do you have anything in the works to grace your lunch menu soon?

NACCARATO: I am planning our spring menus right now, and I am always thinking about new sandwiches — like when I put our version of a sloppy joe on the menu with roast pork shoulder in tomato sauce over grilled bread with shaved reggiano. I love tweaking classic sandwiches. Maybe I should do a patty melt on grilled rye, gruyère cheese, Russian dressing and sauerkraut — but a REALLY good version — or why bother?

Pacific Grill, lunch served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday
1502 Pacific Ave
Tacoma WA

Article Reprinted by permission