Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Finding the secret

In this new age of celebrity chefs, restaurants easily fall out of fashion as new food trends and even new hot spots steal the foodie spotlight. There is one place however that seems to holds to secret to remaining a constant favorite - Dahlia Lounge. So what is the secret?
Maybe it's because its the first restaurant of chef Tom Douglas, who also helped to define Northwest cuisine? Maybe its because he received the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Northwest Chef in 1994 or that Food Wine named Dahlia Lounge the "Quintessential Seattle" restaurant in 1999. Or, could it be because he 'reigned supreme' over Masaharu Morimoto in an episode of Iron Chef America? Well, we needed to find out for ourselves.

Starting our dinner, we decided to try three items first; the honey lacquered pork belly, the dungness crab cake and the wood grilled Pacific octopus. Each were unto their own, fantastic. The octopus was a pleasant surprise, rich and meaty and not at all what I expected. Of the three, it was my favorite.

For our entrees, we enjoyed the roasted carrot ~ ricotta ravioli with sweet peas, oyster mushrooms and tarragon butter and the spit roasted Berkshire pork rack with grilled spring onions, watercress, rice beans and green garlic. Both were heavenly, velvety and creamy. Yes, creamy! For dessert, the triple cream coconut pie put us over the edge into food nirvana. I can't wait to go back.

Though the 1997 Dalla Valle was tempting (I say with a Cheshire grin) our wallets opted for a half bottle of one of our favorite pinot noirs - Patricia Green - and a half bottle of Sancerre. Both paired wonderfully with each of our dishes.

So here's a challenge, go find out the secret for yourself. For me, having enjoyed such a fantastic meal, the secrets are the culinary inspirations showing up on the menu!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Farm to Table - Culinary Sustainability

This week, a new crop of culinary students begins a six-month educational journey learning to guide our nation's restaurant, grocery, retailer and hospitality industries in the timely shift toward growing, eating and purchasing local and sustainable foods.

Culinary School of the Rockies (CSR) is pioneering a natural path for future chefs craving an unprecedented farm-to-table education through the launch of its Farm to Table Externship.
Students spend the first nine weeks of the course in the classroom at CSR.

Then, on Sept. 8, the off-campus Externship takes them to work on farms and ranches in Colorado's breathtaking North Fork Valley (near Aspen) and in Boulder County. Students will learn firsthand how to source local ingredients from farmers, growers and producers, and the farming experience is topped off by an apprenticeship with acclaimed "locavore" Colorado chefs.
Culinary School of the Rockies began developing the program two years ago as a response to the growing "sustainable" trend -- and the subsequent help- wanted signs in sustainable restaurants. Today, with gas prices soaring past $4 per gallon, the food industry is becoming even more sensitive to local sourcing.
CSR is acutely aware that culinary education requires chefs to know more than just the "back of the house.

Farm to table is a broad trend that refers to sourcing practices that support natural and organic farming and local farms and producers. The movement started centuries ago but has regained momentum during the past 35 years, when organic grocers and farmers markets began attracting the masses.

Nationally renowned chef Alice Waters pioneered this trend in 1971 when she opened her neighborhood bistro, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, Calif. Many restaurateurs have more recently adopted Waters' practices and ideals.
The Farm to Table Externship is new to Culinary School of the Rockies, but the program's philosophy is a natural extension of the school's values. Since its founding in 1991, the school has kept a "green commitment" by sourcing local, fresh products and ingredients when available for its programs and by recycling and composting its waste products year-round.
As recently as June 8, The New York Times featured several of CSR's farm and chef partners in an article, "As Skiers Depart Aspen, Chowhounds Take Their Place." Featured farmer Don Lareau, owner of Zephyros Farm, Ryan Hardy, chef at Montagna at The Little Nell in Aspen, and farmer John Cooley of Rivendell Farm are all participating instructors and leaders of CSR's Farm to Table Externship.
After the three-week farm portion of the externship is complete, students will apprentice for two weeks in award-winning Colorado restaurants with sustainable practices, such as Fruition in Denver, Montagna restaurant in Aspen, and The Kitchen and Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder.

SOURCE Culinary School of the Rockies

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Our Taste for Travel

For us, life's luxuries include good friends who share our same passion for food and travel. That's part of what makes our culinary getaways so magical, and our trip to Virginia and Washington DC was no exception.
After landing at Dulles airport, we quickly freshened up for lunch and headed straight to Black Salt located in the Palisaides neighborhood just outside Georgetown to meet our friends at the first stop of our gastronomic vacation.
A modern styled fish market with chilled granite slabs sitting atop crushed ice featuring the daily catches greets you as you walk in the door, Black Salt is a fresh take on seafood dining. Our friends were already sitting in the restaurant located the back of the market when we arrived. The open kitchen adds to the fun and casual atmosphere of this yummy place for all the senses. Wine flights offer a festive sampling and pairing to variety of menu options, but we opted for a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with our seared ahi salad. The presentation, a deconstructed nicoise salad, was beautiful and equally as tasty. A quick note; make reservations because the restaurant fills quickly at lunch time.
For dinner that evening we headed to CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in D.C. We each chose the the six-course tasting menu created by Chef Eric Ziebold, winner of the 2008 James Beard Award for Best Chef Mid Atlantic, which was presented with the Sommelier's pairing.
A tender mushroom souffle canape was offered as a prelude to the tasting menu which included: an asparagus salad topped with a quail egg, followed by a tempura soft shelled crab over rhubarb gazpacho, then a steamed Pacific Bay sable fish, next we enjoyed rare herb roasted lamb followed by selections from their cheese cart. The dessert was a decadent seven layer chocolate bar.
Having only two hours to enjoy the menu in order to make it in time for the Symphony at the Kennedy Center, the table attendants did everything to accommodate our schedule - which we truly appreciated. After the Symphony we enjoyed evening cocktails at Marcels, an old DC favorite of ours to recap the day's events. A nice little hint: Marcel's offers a pretheatre menu which includes car service to the Kennedy Center. That evening we phoned to have the car service pick us up from the Kennedy Center and take us to Marcel's for drinks, it's very convenient!

Sunday night we headed to Vidalia, a restaurant with a contemporary take on Southern specialities. Again we sampled another great tasting menu. The highlight of the evening for us however was a side-by-side tasting of 2003 and 2004 Hourglass Cabernet.

We took the chance and packed the wines in our suit cases, one from each of our cellars. We agreed that the 2003 was mature and rich and ready to drink. The 2004, while floral and full of fruit ,was a bit too young for my taste and I felt it needed to be cellared for a bit longer. It was such a treat to compare two years of one of our favorite wines.
The next day before heading to our final destination, we lunched at Brasserie Beck. This new Belgian styled restaurant of Chef Robert Wiedmaier, also of Marcel's, is a must for anyone who appreciates true Brasserie fare. The attention to detail is not only evident in the decor and service, but also in the menu selections. Having traveled to Brussels and eaten our fair share of mussels and frites, we can be a bit tough on our critique at times when it comes to finding that special finesse it takes in preparation. Becks did not disappointment us and we vowed to return! In addition, Becks offers guests a list of hundreds (literally) of Belgium beers. Talking to our waiter, he explained that Brasserie Beck is one of the few places in the United States which features some of their listings.
After lunch we headed to our much anticipated final stop for the trip, The Inn at Little Washington. If you didn't know it, you'd think Patrick O’Connell defined the term "Southern Hospitality." The staff greeted us as we drove into the tiny driveway, opening our doors and ushering us into the receiving parlor. We were then immediately served a refreshing cocktail of Proseco and fresh peach puree, similar to a Bellini. From there we were given a tour of the Inn, the outdoor courtyard and taken to our rooms. That afternoon, we strolled through the herb and butterfly garden at the Inn and then visited the quaint shops which lined Main Street. Afterward, we returned to the Inn to enjoy afternoon tea. A very elegant menu of teas was presented and served with small canapes and sweet treats.

Dinner that evening was amazing. You can see why Chefs and restaurateurs from around the world seek out and visit the Inn. We began by selecting three wines: a 2005 Rudd Cabernet, a 2000 Pichon-Longueville and at the Sommelier's recommendation, an Angela Pinot Noir in place of a Ken Wright.
Instead of the tasting menus, we opted to create our own. Our dinner started with a sampling of eight canapes. The sauteed watermelon with chile oil was a refreshing favorite and was followed by an herbal Vichyssoise. For our courses, some of the selections we made included a chilled seafood sampler of Lobster Maki, Tuna Tartare and Ceviche of Diver's Scallop, A "Marriage" of Hot and Cold Foie Gras with Sauternes Jelly and the Inn's Housemade Pickled Cherries from the Inn's orchard, Beef Two Ways (Pecan Crusted Barbeque Short Rib, and a Miniature Filet Mignon Wrapped in Swiss Chard) Veal Sweetbreads Braised in Ruby Port on Pappardelle Pasta with Huckleberries and Virginia Country Ham, and a Parsley-Crusted Elysian Fields Lamb Loin with Minted Grape Leaves and Greek Yogurt Tzaziki Sauce. Desserts for our table includes a sampling of cobblers and the "Seven most Decadent" desserts from the menu - and they truly were! After dinner, we received a tour of the kitchen. From what we were told by Marta our host, the Inn’s new kitchen is referred to as “the most beautiful kitchen in the world” and was added in 1998. The design was inspired by the dairy room at Windsor Castle, the kitchen features an enormous Vulcan range which was made in France. The copper hood seems like it belongs in a story book and is topped with shinning brass trim. Guests may also reserve the kitchen table if desired. As a bit of background about this wonderful place - The Inn at Little Washington was the first establishment in the Mobil Travel Guide’s history ever to receive 5 stars for its restaurant and 5 stars for its accommodation, and is the first Inn ever to receive AAA’s highest accolade - the 5 Diamond Award, for both food and accommodation. We can't believe we were able to share this memorable experience with such close friends who share our same passion for food, wine and travel.