Taste of Lebanon (Malouf's - Sacramento, CA)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

From the Fall 07 issue of Edible Sacramento, Errant Gourmet section, by yours truly. Please support local food and local writing about it, pick up a free copy or have it delivered to you via a subscription which helps support us in covering all local food!

When I researched Lebanese food, I honestly couldn’t find much information about it which made me all the more curious, so when I met up with my editors for dinner, I wasn’t surprised they had run into the same electronic stalwart. Lebanese food was a mystery. So we all decided to sit down at Maloouf’s to finally figure it out.

Maloouf’s is a little family owned restaurant on Fulton, which houses a surprisingly large and comforting interior. The open kitchen is worked efficiently by one man, and is kept sparkling clean.

The menu might be foreign to even the most experienced eater, so I suggest going with a group and everyone order something different and then share. It’s the best way to learn what’s what and figure out what you enjoy.

We were presented a colorful small plate of pickles and kalamata olives to begin with, which was a nice change of pace from the tired bread and butter. We also ordered a plate of homemade bread, covered with oregano and sesame, then topped with some tomatoes and feta cheese.

The kafta kabob was a kind and homey dish. Ground sirloin mixed with parsley, onions, and various seasonings was served over rice pilaf; uncomplicated and delicious. The falafels are a safe bet if you aren’t feeling too adventurous, and were deemed “One of the best falafels I’ve ever had,” by my editor. The food has an overall homemade feel to it, like they’re the meals all the Lebanese moms make after a long day.

The desserts are amazing; baklava is made in house and had nothing I could protest. The knafi, a pastry with shredded phyllo dough and ricotta cheese, is texturally playful. But the aish al saraiah is the true winner here. Toasted French bread soaked in a rosewater (we think) syrup, with a layer of creamy pudding, and ground pistachios. To. Die. For. We even asked for the recipe so we could publish it for you, only to be denied like so many before us eager for the recipe.

The only thing I would avoid would be the yogurt drink. Water, mint, yogurt and salt - it’s like a drinking a vegetable dip; only if you don’t drink it fast enough it curdles and separates. The mint tea however is subtle and comforting and acts as a nice counter balance to the insanely spicy chili sauce condiment sitting at your table.

The menu does have a few rules such as appetizers not being served to a table without a meal being ordered, or lunch menu items having an additional charge when ordered during dinner service. However, the respective menus are tasty and varied, and heck, when it comes down to it, it’s just a dollar.

All and all, a tasty and new experience that was exotic and thoroughly tasty! I think by the end, we were all planning to make a return visit.

Maalouf’s Tate of Lebanon
1433 Fulton Ave, Suite G
Sacramento, CA 95825

A Small Rant About Things That Piss Me Off

Monday, January 28, 2008

In the restaurant and catering industries it's normal to call whatever meat they plan to be using in a dish the "protein." ...the hell? It's chicken. Beef. Fish. Bison. Gator. What I hit on the I-5. Whatever. Protein just sounds so unappetizing and scientific. It sounds like a biology lesson. I understand the purpose of saying, "This dish needs a protein." But if you know it needs beef, just say beef. Really now.

The phrase "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." When you're in a good mood, fine. But when you are in life and buried in god damn lemons, I say do as Bill Watterson once suggested in Calvin & Hobbes: chuck 'em back at life and add a few of your own. When I am pissy, don't say this little lemony catchphrase too me. Otherwise, I will juice a lemon in your eye. I will laugh. I will feel better. Because let's all admit something to ourselves; nothing helps a bad mood more than passing it on.

People who won't try new food. If you have tried it, and know you don't like it, then fine. If you think you don't like it based on how it looks then get out of my kitchen. I'll allow certain things, I won't try tripe for example. Anything that needs to be boiled for like, 5 hours, just to make it edible was never meant to be eaten. However, if you won't try a blood orange because of it's name, or kale because you "don't like greens" then I strike you with a spatula.

Women who have bouffants. No! No! *smack on the nose with a newspaper*
(Same goes to men who are trying to bring back the watch fob.)

Freaky foodie people who are hyper-anti-whatever. And YES, I see the irony in this post. I mean, I love to eat fresh, local, and organic, but dammit sometimes I want to eat Captain Crunch until I vomit or eat greasy french fries from the drive-thru. And you know what? I like it. There is nothing wrong with wanting incredibly over-processed food with enough grease and salt to kill a racehorse if it's only once in a blue moon.

So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

P.S. By the by, school started again today which means a small slow down in posting. Nothing drastic, but I may lull an extra day or two at times before putting up something new.

Breakfast Cupcakes (Almond Cupcakes With Pecans and Currants)

Friday, January 25, 2008

I was in the mood for something really simple after a long and quite shitty day, plus with no breakfast foods in the house I wanted something that would be good in the morning. I think this cupcake borders on being a muffin, but considering I topped it with loads of turbinado sugar I am calling it a cupcake. I suppose you can give it a smear of butter after warming it up in the microwave or fresh out of the oven.

I based the recipe off of goji berry pecan cakes at La Tartine Gourmande, the measurements are the same but the ingredients vary. The cupcake/muffin uses half all-purpose flour and half almond flour and is studded all throughout with black currants and chopped pecans (left over from the Acorn Squash Cupcakes). It's a recipe that's easy to throw together after work, and has some tasty results. It also makes a small batch recipe so you'll only get nine cupcakes, so no worries about having hordes of tasty treats in the house tempting you.

Breakfast Cupcakes
Makes 9 cupcakes / 350 F oven

What You'll Need...
7 ounces of unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup of sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup of almond flour
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 cup of currants
1/2 cup of chopped pecans (or other nut)
turbinado sugar

What You'll Do...
1) Preheat the oven at 350 F.

2) Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

3) Beat in the eggs, one at a time, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

4) Add the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Fold in the pecans and currants.

5) Scoop into cupcake papers, about 3/4 full. Sprinkle turbinado sugar on top. Bake for 17-20 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.

Edible Sacramento - Winter 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The newest issue of Edible Sacramento is out! Be sure to pick up your copy and check it out. I reviewed Willie's Burgers, Hina's Tea, Korea House, and Babycakes, Teresa's Urkofsky's -pictured left- adorable new shop which is truly fabulous and mighty tasty (I've dropped by a few times already)! Hope you all enjoy and be sure to eat local, and read local. You'll also find some notes about olive oil, squirrels, and maybe be slipped a little bit of tongue (as a recipe from a focus on offal). It's a fascinating issue with a lot of articles to highly peak the interest of any ardent foodie! I high suggest you go pick up a copy or go to the Edible Sacramento website!

Your mom is a salmon cake.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I shit you not, this actually happened today.

Silly Man: Hey, you bake a lot right? You're always bringing in the baked goods?

Me: Yes, that would be me.

Silly Man: I had a quick question, I was wanting to do a nice dinner for a date I have tomorrow and was thinking of making a salmon cake.

Me: I'm sorry...? (One, this is not baking. Two, since when were salmon cakes synonymous with trying to get some on a romantic date?)

Silly Man: You know, a cake made from salmon.

Me: I think you have the wrong idea about salmon cakes. They aren't actually cakes, they're like crab cakes. You know, like patties of fish.

Silly Man: Well, that sounds horrible. Why would anyone eat that?

Me: As opposed to like, a birthday cake with salmon?

Silly Man: Well, it seems silly to call it a salmon cake.

Sure does apparently.

The Ups and Downs of Dining in Capitol Alley (Ella - Sacramento, CA)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ella is the brand new restaurant venture of the owners of Selland's Market and famed The Kitchen restaurant. Down in Capital Alley where the the lawyers, men of buisness, ladies who lunch, and capital capitalists run the rat race adorned in power ties and days filled with martini lunches, it is THE place to be.

Ella is, for lack of a better word, breathtaking. Stunning. Gorgeous white hanging belljar lighting, vaulted ceilings, fine wood, well crafted beige tweed furniture reminiscent of the 50's but made contemporary, and long white top to bottom curtains. The bar is stunning, the all glass wine cooler is statuesque and intimidating. many surfaces have been tiled in antiqued wooden window shutters, all mottled and in an assortment of colors that stun and transfix your eyes, leading them to devour the rest of the setting. It is amazing.

As such, you should expect the prices to reflect this dining equivalent to a modern art museum. And equally as such, I have not been able to eat there on my lower middle class salary. Thank god for the Dine Downtown event, where all the nice places in Sac have a three course meal for $30 (not including tax and tip). So I gathered up a friend and we went out to Ella to steal inside and see what the buzz was about.

The potato leek soup I had was the best soup I've had in a very long time. The soup was laced with Meyer lemon zest and was silky smooth. A few bits of pan friend potato helped juxtapose the soup and made it very tasty. I plan to rip off the idea later. It was all drizzled with the most delicious olive oil. Ooo! It made me giddy and happy sipping that soup!

The steamed petrale sole with lemon caper brown butter sauce and arugula was equally impressive. Sweet, pleasantly salty and sour, it was amazing. Exactly how fish should be prepared, simply with only a few ingredients to help emphasize the fish. Delish. My god, it was the definition of what California cuisine should be.

Hand cut pasta ribbons with Wagyu beef bolognese and Argentine sardo... I actually said, "Wow, it's like half-assed Hamburger Helper. Yes, cheese burger pasta from a box would be way better than this." Pass.

The house made ice cream was decent. Vanilla, coffee, and toasted coconut ice creams. Simple and good, but if you have an ice cream maker at home, you can do the same. The brownie with chocolate chip cocoa nib ice cream, fudge sauce and toasted almonds was amazing. Very fudgy, very filling, very cocoa-coma inducing. A+ for sure. Surprised I didn't see other more innovative desserts on the menu, like the kind Shuna Fish Lydon does at Sens, considering how upscale and innovative the design of the restaurant it, but it does a fine job none the less.

There was an oddness to the evening. You see, I work for non-profit, for freelance, and for a stipend. I'm not exactly rolling in cash. So when I told them I was there for the fixed price meal and that no, I would not be having wine that night, I felt off put. Like we were left to our own devices and they would serve us as they were required to since I made a reservation. It wasn't said, it was very subtle, barely even perceptible. But still, my dining companion and I noted the vibe. We felt a bit like outsiders.

And I mean outsiders again. You see they canceled my first reservation because someone bought out the restaurant and they wrote my phone number down incorrectly, so I was never told. Had I not called the day before I never would have found out or been seated. So after talking to a manager about being seated the next day so I could participate in the special deal, they finally said no problem and they would offer some wine for having to change my reservation (they didn't).

Really, it was amazing... but I'm not sure I would go again. The portions are a bit lacking and it will take three courses to fill you. That, plus wine, for a normal dinner will break the bank for most people. Tuli will give you the same or better for much cheaper in my opinion. If you can, go to Ella to experience it. It is worth it, but only about $30 for a meal worth it.

1131 K Street, Sacramento

Chocolate & Pink Peppercorn Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache

Friday, January 18, 2008

From the cupcake archives...

Chocolate and pink peppercorns... I seem to have been seeing a lot of that particular flavor combination lately so I decided to give it a try myself. After hunting for the said exotic coco combo and trying a candy version for myself I discovered that it's actually quite tasty. Pink peppercorns aren't like your average peppercorn, their much lighter in the actual pepper flavor than black pepper and have a slight floral quality to them. Combined with the chocolate it's fun, different, and perky. It's the best I can do to describe it.

I can see how some people might not like it though, it steps away from the Hershey bar comfort zone that most people have snuggled themselves into, and it's an adventurous and challenging taste to be sure. I think you won't know until you try it yourself, but you'll either love love love it or you won't care for it. In this household I liked it, Rob didn't. Eat Beast also ate one, but taste isn't a factor for him when it comes to food.

At work, people seemed to really respond positively to it, with a request or two to make them again. My co-worker Ron e-mailed me, "Very nice, light texture, the pepper adding a surprisingly interesting dimension, and highly desirable, minimalist frosting." My friend Megan noted, "I still think that chocolate and pepper make a great combo - in fact, making it even more chocolaty and more peppery would rock, but I like extreme tastes with those two foods." After which we had a discussion on how to describe the sensation that pepper creates in your mouth. A good question that can only be answered after eating more of these cupcakes.

I placed some ground peppercorns in the cupcakes, steeped them in the cream for the ganache, and crumbled some on to ensure various layers of chocolate and pepper flavor. Probably one of the strangest and most exotic cupcakes I've made to date. I think any culinary dare devils and risk takers out there will well appreciate this cupcake combo. So how adventurous are you?

Chocolate & Pink Peppercorn Cupcakes
24 regular cupcakes / 350 degree oven

What You'll Need...
200 gram bar of Valrhona 61% cacao chocolate
3 sticks of butter, room temperature
2-1/4 cups of sugar
8 eggs, room temperature
1-1/4 cups of flour
1/4 cup of cocoa powder, unsweetened
1-1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
pinch of salt
3 teaspoons of ground pink peppercorns

What You'll Do...
1) Melt chocolate and butter over a water bath.
2) Add sugar and stir, let sit for about 10 minutes.
3) Beat in an electric mixer for 3 minutes.
4) Add one egg at a time, mixing for 30 seconds between each one.
5) Mix the try ingredients, and sift them into the mixture. Mix until just blended.
6) Stir in the ground peppercorns.
7) Scoop into cupcake papers and bake for 20-24 minutes at 350 or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Chocolate Ganache
What You'll Need...
8 ounces of 61% cacao chocolate bars
1 cup of heavy cream
1 teaspoon of pink peppercorns plus extra for decoration

What You'll Do...
1) Chop chocolate and place in heat proof bowl
2) Heat cream and peppercorns on stove over medium heat until bubbles form around the edge.
3) Pour cream over chocolate, let sit for 1 minute then stir.
4) Let sit for 15 minutes, then dip and swirl cupcakes in the ganache. Decorate with pink peppercorns.

Hyper Sac Food Blogger Force Team Go!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The name of this post entertains me but aside from that this post is my cop-out post due to writer's block. Still, it's a good chance to highlight some local bloggers who really deserve some limelight and your clicking over to them.

Tastes of Life - A Swedish real estate agent who moved to Nor Cal. With a eager desire to learn about wine she produces straightforward breakdowns of various wines with robust and clear notes about appearance, aroma, and taste. For someone who is eager to learning about wine, I like to catch up with her every so often and have used her advice to make well studied wine purchases that have yet to disappoint.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook - Hank Shaw, a local political writer, is a well versed hunter, angler, gardener, and cook (duh). The man has not had to buy his own meat in years, and for the omnivores and carnivores out there, it's quite admirable. Not for feint of heart, expect to hear all about hunting and fishing. While it's not something I do myself, I find deep fascination for his closeness to his food. Hank has a deep, visceral connection to food that even the most eager foodies usually lack. It's respectable, and damn it the man taught me how to cook up a tasty wild duck and loaded me up with enough antelope to last me quite a while. Hunting - it's how you'll survive when the zombies take over. You'll also find some tasty recipes and some nice wine reviews as well, so be sure to check it out.

Tea Party Girl - Run by the lovely Jenny Wells, while not normally something I read on a regular basis, it is something I highly respect. Her writing is well thought, clear, and prolific. She has a very straight lace about her, possibly some doilies as well, but I respect her dedication to her subject. She touches on how to host Victorian style parties and the most basic of table manner's every child should learn -amen- and does it all with what must be a very Martha Stewart-esque smile (but without the child eating evil smile the homemade diva has).

Decorum in Public - This Post is Rated "R"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Every once in a while I like to relate a tale of gross social incompetence and the general lack of public common decency that seems to run wild. Today though I would like to address the idea of general speech out in public. Certain conversations should be kept to lower levels for the sake of saving everyone else the pleasure of knowing your business.

Don't get me wrong, I'll trade dirty jokes, seedy secrets, and talk sex and debauchery at a restaurant table with friends no problem. In fact it's a hobby. Yet I keep my voice down so that only the people at my table need to hear it.

However certain people have apparently skipped this chapter in Miss Manners' guide to decorum. Take the following example, set in the baking aisle at a local Whole Foods, one girl, chatting with her friend shrieked aloud:

"Oh my God, I do not need anymore yeast. I just saw my gynecologist and I swear to Jesus, if it gets anymore yeasty down there I'm gonna give birth to a fucking sourdough loaf."

After I stopped laughing my ass off - you have to admit, it was hilarious - I noticed how one parent seemed a bit pissed and another girl just went red and a bit shocked at overhearing it. Seriously, any sort of bid'ness you got going on in your general crotch/groin area, I really don't need to know it. Especially if I don't know you.

Example two, heard at work:
"Oh lord, that is the last time I eat a chili dog and my fiber pill at the same time!"

Ew. Just... ew. We don't even need to discuss this one.

Example three:
While grabbing some wine for a New Years party, one girl was on her phone and noted, "Girl, I don't know about you, but tonight I'm gonna get me some DICK!"

So elegant. So ladylike. So, so nasty. Honey, put your peaches back in the can and take 'em home. We don't need any of that up in the market.

So please, remember. People are always listening and may not want to hear it. If you plan to discuss such things, keep your voice down a bit. I'm not condemning, part of me is reminding myself. I know I've voiced my own exploits out loud, especially after imbibing a little (or when bored and going for pure shock for fun). So we're all a little guilty; we just need to watch our voices a little. ;)

Grandma's Recipes #2 - Vanilla Meyer Lemonade

Sunday, January 13, 2008

When I found this simple and easy recipe for vanilla lemonade, I decided to make a few tweaks. Her recipe called for some vanilla extract and for regular lemons. I decided to go with sweeter Meyer lemons, as I had a spare bushel of them lying around, and since I still have insane numbers of vanilla beans, I went with that for a purer flavor.

I used one of the beans from my "Used Vanilla" jar, vanilla can be used more than once so after use, I just wash the bean off, let it dry, and pop it in a jar. Each bean can get about 5 good uses out of it. After that I just pop it into a jar of sugar for vanilla sugar. Fresh vanilla is fine too, but this is a great recipe for old beans.

This recipe is fast and straightforward with a lot of payoff in the end. Sweet and sour lemonade with a refreshing taste of vanilla in the background. Perfectly delicious all year round.

Vanilla Meyer Lemonade
What You'll Need...
1 cup of Meyer, or regular, lemon juice (about 4-5 lemons)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/3 cup of granulated sugar

What You'll Do...
1) Juice the lemons for the juice, being sure to strain out pulp and seeds. Add 4 cups of water and stir.

2) Combine the sugar, vanilla bean, and 1/2 cup of water into a saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Pluck out the vanilla bean, wash it and dry it, then store for future use. let the vanilla simple syrup cool and then pour and mix into the lemonade.

3) Chill and serve over ice.

Beet Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache and Candied Meyer Lemon Peel and Beet Sticks

Friday, January 11, 2008

This is one of those cupcakes that has been on my to-do lists for about, oh... a year. Seriously. I finally got around to doing another cupcake in general as well. It's been a few months, but I needed a break to work on other projects, do school, do holidays, try other types of baking and so on. So no worries, we are back on track and I haven't given up the cupcake ghost.

I admire beets, their deep red, staining color. Their intensely earthy and sweet flavor. Their musky scent. Sure children the world over anathematize them, but when part of a rich, fruity, and velvety beet cake who can resist? They add lots of sugar and flavor to the cake and keep it nice and moist. For those of you who have never had beet cake, I assure you, you are missing out.

I was originally planning to pair them with some candied kumquats but after three stores searching I quit the kumquat search. I instead candied some beet matchsticks and Meyer lemon peel. These fruity counterpoints, held in place with a simple ganache, make for a deeply sweet and curious tasting cupcake that elicits small moans with each bite.

Chocolate Beet Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes / 350 F
Adapted From Cook & Eat

What You'll Need...
2 cups beet puree (about 3 large beets)
1 cup of unsalted butter, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup tightly packed brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoons of salt

1) Peel and chop the beets and wrap in foil with a dab of butter and roast for one hour at 350 F. Puree in a food processor and let cool completely.

2) Mix together the melted butter, sugars, eggs, and water until smooth.

3) Combine the cocoa powder, flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly sift into the wet ingredients until just combined.

4) Fold in the beet puree. Scoop into cupcake papers about 1/4th of the way full.

5) Bake for 20-24 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (it will be red, but should have no cake on it). Let sit for a minute then, let cool on a wire rack.

6) Pour in chocolate ganache, and decorate with candied beet sticks and lemon peel. Let sit until ganache hardens.

Chocolate Ganache
What You'll Need...
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
7 ounces of quality chocolate

What You'll Do...
1) Melt the chocolate in a double boiler with half the butter. Stir and let melt.

2) Take off heat and add the rest of the butter. Stir. Let sit and cool for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Be sure to keep an eye on it as once it hardens it's almost impossible to work with.

3) When well thickened, pour into cupcakes and let cool, or if your cupcakes have mounds, dip and swirl the tops and let them cool. Decorate with candied Meyer lemon and beet.

Candied Lemon Peel & Candied Beet
What You'll Need...
Peel (no pith) from 2 Meyer Lemons
1/2 a beet, peeled and chopped into matchsticks
2 cups of sugar
3/4 cup of water

What You'll Do...
1) In a pot of cold water, add the peel and bring to a boil. Discard the water and add new cold water and bring it to a boil again. Repeat this two more times (a total of four) to remove any bitterness.

2) Boil the beet matchsticks for 3 minutes to soften them a bit.

3) Boil the sugar and water together to make a simple syrup. Add the peel and let boil until slightly translucent. Add the beet sticks and boil for 2 minutes.

4) Let them cool and dry. Roll in sugar if desired.

A Food Focused Day

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

7:45-1:30 - Volunteered at the Sacramento Food Bank with some awesome people. Begin to crash slowly as was out the night before dancing until 3 am. Very fun helping people out who need it. Helps bring me back to reality where not everyone can enjoy food the way I do. Spilled expired yogurt into my gloves and made hands sticky and smell. So not cool.

1:45-3:00 - Had lunch at Bistro 33 in Sacramento. Pleased at the sammiches, even if they got my order wrong. Too tired to complain. May seek vengeance later, but doubtful as I am lazy.

3:30-3:50 - Went to Corti Bros. looked around with Ashley and Raul. Almost passed out in a display of Chardonnay. Realization my broke ass would be screwed after trying to pay for dozens of bottles of wine kept me awake.

3:50-4:00 - Got lost in Sacramento. Knew we should have turned right at Broadway.

4:00-4:10 - Accidentally found great Chinese butcher. Elise picks up 2 pounds of chicken feet for cooking. Or maybe witchcraft. I wasn't really paying attention. Sleepy sleepy sleepy.

4:10-4:15 - Fell asleep. Drooled on self. V. unflattering.

4:15-5:00 - Went to see Dennis and Mary. Had a delicious conversation along with a delicious grilled cheese sammich with home cured salmon and lemon confit. Dennis and Mary excellent people as always. Chatted over plots for a cream de' toasted almond (but say it in actual Italian). Was gifted with preserved lemons done far better than my own and a bottle of limoncello. Score. Heart Dennis so much.

6:30 - Got home. No remember anything. Too sleepy. Thighs hurt from dancing on a box in front of a lot of people after too many drinks. Brain hurt. Can't remember why my hand smells like gross milk. Sleep.

Truly Tasty at Tuli (Tuli Bistro - Sacramento, CA)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Sleek granite and a colorful tile backsplash flank the bar and quickly guide your eyes upward to their own little wood burning pizza oven giving a sense of comfort and coziness. On the other side of the bar a meticulously clean and organized kitchen - one such that would strike a mixture of envy and awe into any cook - is coolly patrolled by striking hot chefs (double entendre with clear intent).

Ambient lighting and well planned seating parallel the opposite side of the narrow Napa-style alley corridor to the expansive and surprisingly comfortable outdoor seating. Surprising in that when I visited it was actually raining hard enough that animals were walking down the streets in pairs. They had pulled down the awnings which made it snug, warm and inviting, like the tent of a Arab prince in one of Sheherazade's stories.

Dinner at Tuli has been something I had been waiting for for a long time, and after hearing all the hype I was eager to check it out as soon as possible. Chef Adam Pechal, a local boy, was educated in New York and graduated top of his class. He then moved around the U.S. learning varieties of cooking genres and styles from Fandango restaurant in Seattle to training at Bouchon with Thomas Keller. He then came back to Sac and worked River City Brewing Co. and Ristorante Piatti. Pechal has now been able to open his open place with an eclectic, seasonal, and ever changing menu that demonstrates his finely honed skills.

After being greeted and seated we were guided through the small menu. The menu was small compared to other places but for a reason; the menus for lunch and dinner are different and can change daily based on fresh ingredients, so each visit will be unique, and as such menus are printed on simple everyday paper stock.

The staff seemed on the ball the a bit... hover-y. There seemed to be four people in the kitchen and five on the floor. For a tiny place the staff almost matched the number of patrons, and we were attended to by maybe four different people throughout the night. Not that there was a problem, they were all very bubbly, friendly, knowledgeable, and polite; just an observation on the noticeably large number of staff. Though given, you never need worry about being abandoned, it's just a bother having to constantly pause your dinner coversation.

The Chop Chop salad (finally, someone is playing with the titles of their food again and not just listing it all off) consisted of finely chopped romaine and radicchio with cubes of cucumber, tomato, fennel, and strips of salami all eloquently dressed in a blue cheese vinaigarette. The cucumber and fennel acted as the perfect chilled counterpoints to the smokey blue cheese, and the salami sensibly cut through it all in it's grand saltiness. One of the most well crafted salads I've ever had in Sac.

The humorously named Sleeping Ninja was the biggest hit of the night - tempura fried ahi with jalepeno mayo, mandarin ponzu sauce and watermelon radish salad. The tuna was a bit overdone, but just exploded with flavor due to the mayo and ponzu, with the tempura just adding enough crunch to offer a perfect study in texture. The watermelon radishes were tops and are a personal favorite of mine as I make snacks of them with lemon and mint regularly. Total props.

The Humboldt pizza was good, nothing to write home about but quite shibby. Very Italian-Mediterranean, the arugula pesto lacked the pepper I prefer (though I always prefer it crazy spicy, so that's just me) and it paired well with the nicoise olives and goat cheese and mozzarella and tomatoes. Still, something was lacking to really bind it all. Not sure what, but it was in agreement to those who tried it that while tasty something was missing.

Afterwards, Chef Pechal dropped by and checked up on us and after a delightful little chat we thanked him for the delightful meal and promised to return. In the few short moments, you could tell he was a delightful man and you could see where the spark in the food came from.

Overall, Tuli is a fantastic place. Hip and cool without being oppressively trendy, it's bound to become a cornerstone of the Sacramento dining scene for years to come.

Tuli Bistro
Corner of S and 21st Street
Sacramento, CA
Tuli Bistro's Myspace Page

Kiwi Sorbet

Given, it is the middle of winter, but sometimes a frosty treat really is what I want and why miss out on kiwi when it's in season right now? (Kiwi's in spring and summer are imported.) So why not throw together a simple and easy kiwi sorbet? Clean, easy, and delicious.

Kiwi Sorbet
What You'll Need...
9 kiwis, peeled and diced

1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of water
a squeeze of lemon juice

What You'll Do...

1) Boil the sugar and water together into a clear simple syrup.

2) Peel and chop the kiwi's. Blend them until well liquefied.

3) Mix the kiwi puree, lemon juice, and the simple syrup together. Chill. Then add to your ice cream maker as per the manufacturer's directions.

The Game is On

Saturday, January 5, 2008

...The table, that is. I recently went to the home of some good hunter/foodie friends of mine for a delightful dinner party. Hank and Holly are good old fashioned hunters who take great pride in all the jolly aspects of carnivorism. When we arrived we were informed that practically everything served to us that night had been killed, cleaned, and prepared by them, and in the case of any greenery, grown by them. It was destined to be an impressive meal to be sure.

The night started out with red wine, martinis, and delicious amounts of home made snacky bits. Homemade dill pickles, smoked king salmon with mustard (which had been caught as a 32 lb. salmon from the Sac River.) pickled okra, Greek yogurt cheese with pomegranate seeds, a deliciously spicy smoked shad with garlic aioli (props for putting that together from a very bony fish). All of which tickled the taste buds.

However, in my opinion, the best antipasti platter was the cured meat plate. Wild boar finocchiona with fennel, antelope bresaola, antelope peperone, Bledsoe pork salchicon (paprika salami), and lardons of guanciale (aka: best bacon ever). Remember that line from the movie Contact about how they should have sent a poet? Yeah... this was its edible equivalent.

We all then sat down, most of us with wine in one hand and a martini in the other - as if there were any other way to attend a dinner party. Hank then presented us with bowls of wild duck broth. Simple. Easy. Very flavorful. It was gamey and slightly pungent, with a slight flavor of maybe barley or some other kind of grass in the background.

We were then served a delicious homemade rosemary pasta prepared by Sac Bee writer Amy Pyle (who is absolutely fabulous, by the by). The pasta cavorted with a sultry venison sugo, which together made for an woodsy dish with delightful green and grassy notes. This was followed by a delicious salad of mixed greens and a dressing of warm duck fat and Meyer lemon.

As the conversation grew and intensified, so did the dishes and spirits lifted further than ever before. A simple side of leeks and crimini mushrooms topped with gremolata proffered an assortment of meaty and heady scents, a perfect opening act for the main course. Slow roasted elk, and idea of gamey taste had been inoculated into my mind but it was surprisingly tame and paired well with the gin and juniper sauce.

The night was finished with glasses of port and pear preserved two ways. One in particular being stewed in red wine, and served with a side of homemade vanilla ice cream (using some of my Tahitian beans, yay!).

Overall, it was an amazing meal, one not to be missed. It really showed the diverse flavors and profiles of wild game. I felt it brought me closer to the sources of food and I was provided with a look at hunting that I never had before, rather than one of indifference and at times revulsion, I was intrigued and amazed and found myself wanting to learn more. Part of food is understanding that it might not always be pretty, but it is an essential part of eating, life and the world. Simply putting out of your mind that the food on your plate may have once been running around is irresponsible of the fervent food lover. So while I doubt I'll be shooting my own ducks any time soon but I certainly have a new respect for those who do and know how to prepare it so deliciously well. Special thanks goes out again to our dinner's hosts!!!Cured meat picture by Elise Bauer.

The Hidden Kitchen (Updated Review)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

This article was one of the first I did for Edible Sacramento Magazine back in Winter 07. I still love the Hidden Kitchen and still go when I can. For anyone who loves food and lives in Sacramento, it is a MUST go destination.

I wish I had been alive back during the 20’s. Getting all dressed up, talking to the right people, knocking on a beaten door in a darkened alley, speaking the secret word and being led into a jaunty bar to drink sidecars with the fabulous people also on the sly. Thank God for the next best, scratch that, far better thing. The Hidden Kitchen.

The newest in the trend of underground restaurants, which are more like secret dinner parties, has come to Sacramento via a classy married Land Park couple. Dennis is the chef, and Mary acts as sous chef; they’ve been hosting their dinners since April and their fame and renown has begun to spread like wildfire. For a suggested donation of about $45 for the cost of ingredients (a steal considering what we all ate) I had the best meal ever served to me in Sac. Mason’s, Waterboy, Paragary’s and the rest of you beware.Upon entering their tastefully chic home and being welcomed by the HK’s pooch Bocce, my dining partner and I were treated to champagne to start off the evening. We soon sat down to table set like a work of art, and began chatting with our dining companions whom we soon became fast friends with. Dennis soon came out to explain that our meal would soon begin.

The menu was fresh, seasonal, creative, and stood on its own merits without being presumptuous and haughty; a delicate balance few chefs can manager. Yet here a local couple had perfected it. We started with a delectable tea smoked duck breast. Two slivers of perfectly cooked duck breast meat with a nice amount of duck fat sat before us. The duck had been crusted in peppercorns, and smoked with earl grey tea for 12 hours in a wok, and served with a plum applesauce. Smokey, slightly gamey, with notes of citrus and the tender prick of spice… it was heaven. And this was just the beginning.

A green onion goat cheese galette was surprisingly light and a great counterpoint to the peppery arugula and watercress salad with a meyer lemon dressing. A deep musky portobello brodo with truffled ravioli soon followed, its heady aroma intoxicating us.

As he explained the beef duet you could hear the passion and pride in Dennis’s voice. The entire table moaned at the food and hung on his every word. We were engulfed in the ardor he enflamed. The slow roasted short ribs fell apart and melted in your mouth, while the strip steak was firm and juicy. This was served along a svelte n’ savory carrot puree made with some of the juices from he short ribs, and cippolini agridole with its sweet come hither introduction and bitter bite at the end. The potato gratin laced with truffle oil was bit cold, and a tad off but the earthy flavors rounded out the dish well.

Lastly a delicious meyer lemon tart was served, there was some debate about the crust’s integrity but I adored it. For me the tart filling was so tangy that I couldn’t finish. It was almost too intense, I had to force myself to stop eating half way the flavors were so powerful. A beautiful homemade limoncello was served as an aperitif. Lemon, vanilla, cream… it was ephemeral. We all asked for the recipe, and he was kind enough to provide it.

Wines were abundant as all guests were required to BYOW. This allowed everyone to have a lot of options when it came to tasting. One particular Vincent Arroyo JJ’s Blend seemed to capture many of the guests with its complexities and flavor palette.

The night was an experience. You leave with a sense of camaraderie after making friends with the other guests. You play with the memories of all that you tasted, eager to come back for more. You wonder to yourself, “Could I start my own underground restaurant?”

Ask Dennis, he did. And it is fabulous.

Update: I later went to another delicious dinner there. Grape and gorgonzola galettes and the best herb crusted lamb I ever had was on the menu. I still hold that the Hidden Kitchen is by far one of the best places you will ever eat in Sacramento. Dennis rivals places like Mulvaney's and Ella and at times beats them, hands down. There was also a strawberry version of the limoncello, which was like the smoothest and most adult version of a strawberry milkshake ever. It was comparable to all the memories of all that was good in your childhood.

Making Preserved Lemons

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

So I have been hell-bent on learning Moroccan cooking the past year or so and I am finally getting to it. First I picked the olives and now I have the preserved lemons on the way. Elise gave me some fresh Meyer lemons to use so I can't wait to see how their sweet flavor develops. Preserved lemons can be a bit testy and go bad easily so I decided to make them in two different ways.

Method 1: I cut the lemons into most quarters, though still connected at the base, and packed them with salt. The method is in detail on Simply Recipes.

Method 2: I just cut the lemons into quarters all the way through and alternated layers of lemons and salt (a mixture of sea salt and kosher salt). I also used some coriander and bay leaves in this jar for a bit of extra flavor. Afterwards I topped it off with a bit more salt and lemon juice.

The end result should give me some nice preserved lemons. The fruit isn't really usable which is fine because the peel is what you want. Chopped up into tagines or other dishes they give a heady perfume of fruit, salt, and citrus which just permeates the dish.

Wish them luck!

What Will Be Unpeeled?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Another year has come and gone, left behind is a path of destruction, shining hopes, accomplished adventures, sad partings, new beginnings, and everything in between.

We're told to learn from our mistakes, but that doesn't always take. Crimes of passion can be done time and again, regardless if we are aware of their consequences. Yet we plod forth, into the unknown and we brave what dreams may come.

What's the best way to make God laugh? Tell him all your plans.

We all have ideals and resolutions (most ready to be broken) but in the end we have no idea what the future year may bring. New love? Exotic locales? New jobs? New children? New experiences? You never know what will happen in a year let alone the day (who expects to be mauled by a tiger or to win the lottery when they wake up that day?).

So you just have to go forward, peel away each new day and see what comes forth.

Happy New Year! =)

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