Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dear Whitney......

I got a call today from my friend Whitney of Chef's Garden in Ohio. Chef's Garden does designer micro greens, baby lettuces, baby vegetables and herbs for the whack-job restaurant crowd. We found them by swiping some labels from boxes of Bull's Blood Beet micro-greens at the Masters of Food and Wine last year.

Whitney has a very sexy voice. This had nothing to do with my order of last March. Really. Chef's Garden has some crazy, cutting edge stuff. And lots of it. Fifty kinds of micro-greens. Crazy heirloom carrots. Six kinds of cauliflower. Insane, designer lettuce. Secret, proprietary Aztec herbs.

We bought from them once.....for Friend AJ's wedding/birth announcement/50th birthday party/whatever last March. AJ is one of four or five friends and clients that I know that would possibly notice the difference between Bull's Blood Beet micro-greens and say.....alfalfa sprouts. I don't mean to denigrate all my other friends and is just that AJ pays attention to this kind of stuff. He is an accountant....with a literary degree from Trinity College in Dublin. Like that.

We were fresh from a week at The Masters, working with David Kinch and the wacky, cowboy-boot wearing twins from Jardin du Sens. Micro-greens were de rigeur.....and actually gave height, spice, texture and color to the hors d'oeuvres.

Hence my order with Whitney.

Last March.

Those of us who know us at AMF and Cachagua Store understand that we are not an economic and industrial powerhouse. One of my more dynamic business friends from Cornell analyzed our business once as a favor: "You are a lead balloon.....just enough gas to get over the major obstacles, but never going to soar to the heights."

I have had that translated into Gaelic, and tattooed on my ass.

When business gets slow, we rejoice. We walk the dogs on the beach, double-dig the herb beds in the garden.....and send the more annoying people, and our friends, actual invoices for our services from the last year or two. Or three.

At Chef's Garden, when business gets slow....they comb their orders of last year: "Whitney, call these clowns in California. Maybe they will buy something. We need it."

Poor Whitney. She had done her preliminary research, and googled "Cachagua Store".


She finally got me on the phone, and gave me the "hey, bud....where you been?" routine. I instantly remembered her...and Chef's Garden. That voice.

They are in Ohio.....Battleground for The New Tomorrow.

My friend and blog-buddy Paparosen had recently been so fired up about saving America that he has flown to Ohio this week to work for Barack.....and struggle against the Forces of Darkness in the Battleground for The New Tomorrow.

And possibly expand his dating pool.....But mostly his trip was about saving America. Really.

Still, in my role as Cachagua Pimp Daddy and in my continuing secret campaign to breed more liberals....I thought: "Whitney. Sexy voice. High end food shill. Twenty-something. Paparosen. Saving America in Ohio. High end food appreciator.....Aesthete. Lover of Bull's Blood micro-greens."

Stranger things have happened. Plus, there is the possibility of future engagement parties, showers, rehearsal, wedding, baby showers, baptisms, renewal of vows, graduations, divorce parties, second marriages.......The lead balloon always needs more air. Where there is life there is.....


"So, Whitney....are you registered to vote?"

"No.....I feel bad, but I am too busy selling great food!"

Wrong answer.

Whitney....there are 500 restaurants on the Monterey Peninsula. Maybe twenty have chefs that even recognize your products. Of those, maybe fifteen have clients that would even be able to tell the difference between your stuff and Safeway. Of those, maybe five would be interested in flying your stuff across the country.....and you have a competitor in San Diego. Admittedly without the sexy voice, but still...

This pattern is repeated across America and Canada.

And.....given your phone call, everyone must be cutting back. I mean, I am not calling up old clients to see if they have any spare daughters that need the pinch must be being felt if you are calling a guy who once bought from you once a year ago.

Where does this pinch come from? People are cutting back on micro-greens. Who is it that is cutting back? The super-rich one tenth of a percent of America who benefit most from George Bush's tax cuts?

In my experience, possibly one tenth of a percent of the one-tenth of a percent of the super-rich are even noticing whether there is Bull's Blood Beet micro-greens garnishing the hors d'oeuvres. Mrs. Hatfield. Betsy Ortlip. One or two others who pass in the night, usually at Mrs. Hatfield's or Betsy's.

For the super-rich...the micro-greens are not an issue. There is so much social and business pressure involved in dining situations at this level that no one gives a shit about the micro-greens.

The ones who care about this stuff are the middle class. The much maligned bourgeoisie. People with just enough income, just enough education, just enough free time and just enough esthetic sense to bother to care about tiny details of culinary minutae like the kind and quality of the micro-green. This is why in Spain....the center of culinary minutae....there are no dress codes in fine restaurants. The middle class is the engine that runs the whole Spanish culinary, artistic and industrial renaissance.

And the American middle class...the bourgeoisie..... have been fucked silly and sideways by every Republican since Ronald Reagan. The jobs are gone, the health care is gone. Education for the kids is crazy expensive. Gas prices are through the roof. Insurance is nuts. Retirement is no longer the Company Pension......Social Security..... it is Smith and Wesson.

Moving on, Whitney. You are in the agricultural business. You grow lettuces, vegetables, herbs, are an ag-chick, basically. You and your employer are struggling because you are holding a fine line and pitching to a specific clientele a gorgeous, but abstract product.

Meanwhile, do you understand that your government just passed a Farm Bill that gave BILLIONS of dollars to other ag-chicks that are following a stupid, deadly, unsustainable path to nowhere? One of my old friends in Colorado runs a family farm of 25,000 acres. He has two employees, one of them his wife. He is not growing micro-greens. The Farm Bill just passed had no love for small farms like yours. The Farm Bill Philosophy is that your company would be better off closing, sending the workers on to welfare, and outsourcing the micro-greens to China....and the sales of the micro-greens to "Jane" from Mumbai. FedEx goes there, too. These South Asian chicks have sexy voices as well.

Moving on, Whitney. You sound like you are in your twenties. How is your health plan? You are young, so probably not worried. Young folks are bullet-proof. You probably make....I am guessing.....two grand a month. This comes out to a take-home of $350 a week, max. Then there is your health insurance. My guys your age pay $120 a month, $30 bucks a week for their share. You are down to $320 a week in the take home department.

Except that...... one of my guys your age crashed his bike last year, and had some other problems....despite being preternaturally fit and hardworking.....a hundred hour a week type guy. Fully insured....he was able to work out a deal with the local hospital that he only pays $700 a month for the next five years to them, on top of his monthly insurance premium. That second job he works takes care of that. No worries.....But..... 8am on your day off from your 60hr a week first job....the alarm still goes off.

So, Whitney....what is it like, living with your parents....only because of our health care system?

Moving on, Whitney. You have one of the better jobs at Chef's Garden. You work inside, on the phone. Who are the guys outside in the greenhouses? How many speak English? How many local guys your age can afford to work for the wages that the Latino guys are paid? How many of your high school friends have opted for the "sell some meth, sleep on mom's couch, drink some beer, pick up the odd job" life plan? What is their health care situation? Any good future husbands in that crowd?

Moving on again, Whitney. Have you noticed that the roads around Ohio are fucked. Potholes everywhere. Remember you had to replace a brand new tire last year when you hit that rut? And your Mom's apartment got robbed, and no one even came to take a report? And, after Grandma's stroke, she is in a home two hours a room with four other old ladies with Oprah blasting all afternoon....and she is the only one not drooling into her lap? And those dickheads you might date if they had a clue..... can't afford the $25 per credit at the local community college, or the gas to drive there....or the insurance on the fifteen year old car that is the only wheels in their budget.

And are not fucking registered to VOTE? What is it in your education and background that makes you think that you have to put up with any of this? This is WHY we are allowed to vote, goddammit!

Do you even remember the definiton of "Hope"?

I emailed her the voter registration form for Ohio.

She is calling Wednesday for my order.

Those Bull's Blood Beet greens are looking pretty good.

Back to Quique...

Remember a few posts back when I was actually talking about food?

At dinner at El Poblet, we were so blown out by the politics at the door that we essentially missed the first course......The Essential Oyster. No foto.....we kind of remember the dish....but we were too frazzled by our restaurant wars with the Fucking Pekinese.

I found the recipe and foto at Lo Mejor de la Gastronomia. I can't believe we weren't paying full attention. This was Quique's normal dish.....before he got crazy. The way the recipe is written gives us a small window into Quique's mind.....

The essential oyster

El Poblet

Chef: Quique Dacosta. Country: Spain . City: . Address: Las Marinas, km. 3 . (+34) 965784179.


Without quite reaching the artistic magnitude of his Guggenheim oyster, the “Essential oyster” confirms Quique Dacosta’s grandeur when it comes to preparing this sublime shellfish. It also confirms his architectural inspiration, with glimmering tones reminiscent of the first recipe – a personal tendency that sets the savoir-faire of this brilliant chef apart. On this occasion, the exterior embellishment shines with a mother-of-pearl tonality (he uses the nacre from the oyster shell itself in a complex preparation process), giving light and color to the gelatinized seawater that envelops the piece. An oceanic jelly of wakame reinforces the flavor of the oyster, giving it further identity with a julienne of the same seaweed; both are served as beds on which the oyster is presented. A smoked tea of wakame adds a sophisticated touch to the sapid essence of the dish, profoundly marine and sublimely delicate.

The Recipe

For the Oyster:
130 g of oyster water
70 g mineral water
2 gelatin sheets, 2 g each
1g vegetable gelatin

For the codium tomentosum jelly (Seaweed):
200 g codium tomentosum (velvet horn)
50 g mineral water
2 g aloe vera

For the wakame:
Fresh wakame.

For the smoked wakame tea:
60 g China Terry tea (smoked black tea)
30 g powdered wakame seaweed

The Oyster (Esencia 2007)
Nourish oneself on a single flavor, a single aroma, and a Taste, to interpret a dish.

“Essence” is a new kind of work and investigation.
The essence of certain products or preparations, with a very defined gustatory gene that establishes a link with other products, provides an added strength of its flavors in a single taste.

For the Oyster:

1st step:

Open the Gillardeau Oysters number 0
Open them with supreme caution to avoid breaking, piercing or deforming the Oysters.
Arrange them on a perforated tray to allow the water to drain.
Repeat this process for all the Oysters.
Set aside 130 g of Oyster water.

2nd step:

Melt the previously soaked gelatin sheets in the mineral water and vegetable gelatin.
Once cold, mix with the oyster water.
Leave to sit and gel, then break with a utensil to wrap the oyster sous-vide in this water.

3rd step:

Place the Gillardeau oyster in a retractable bag with 12 g of Oyster water jelly (2nd step).
Seal the small bag, place in boiling water for a moment, then cool in an ice water bath.
Follow by placing the bag in the Roner at 55ºC/131ºF for 2 minutes and then remove and cool in the ice water bath again.

Set aside until assembly.

For the codium tomentosum jelly (Seaweed):

Blend the codium in a Thermomix with the water and aloe vera.
Pass through a sieve and move to a pastry bag. Set aside until needed.
This seaweed has an identical flavor to the oyster, allowing it to strengthen the flavor like no other.
Obviously all seaweed has more than just this flavor, but this one and the wakame present an especially wonderful oyster flavor.

For the wakame:

Fresh wakame.

Cut into a julienne, crosswise, of the same size as the wakame.
Place in cold water for a few minutes before serving to rinse and help maintain the volume.
Arrange at the base of a dish with the codium jelly.

For the smoked wakame tea:

Dry the wakame leaves in the oven at 35ºC/95ºF. Blend and pass through a sieve.
Mix with the smoked China Terry tea, which we used in 2003 for the prawn with vegetable charcoal.
At serving time, sprinkle a very small amount of this smoked seaweed tea over the oyster jellied in its water.


At the bottom of a cold dish, place the codium jelly and wakame julienne. Place the oyster on top, freshly out of the retractable bag.
Sprinkle with the smoked seaweed tea.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hi! I am from the Government....and I am here to help!

This is apropos of the dramatic destruction of the errant satellite last weekend.

Ignoring the conspiracy wingnuts who were convinced that it was a nuclear.....sorry, nucular....weapons platform that might destroy a city.....what could possibly go wrong with our almost trillion dollar Star Wars space program.

Who needs universal health care when you have cool stuff like this!!

Click here for help from the experts....

I rest my case......


A few posts back I talked about 1968 rearing its ugly head again.

Today I was reading my New York Magazine (Feb 18 issue) and in the center section I was baffled. Products to watch included a portable typewriter. A Princess phone. Huh? Kitschy comeback. The restaurant section had a whole thing about women in pants suits being denied entry to fancy restaurants like: Cote Basque (Lynda Bird Johnson was made to don a paper skirt); Lafayette (Ethel Kennedy was not allowed further than the bar, even though she had a broken leg in a big cast: "Madame, today you wear a pants suit. Tomorrow? Your birthday suit?").

The hot restaurants were Maxwell's Plum.....Lutece; Cote Basque; Szechuan Taste; 21. The style paige showed a paisleyed beauty and a long-haired guy in stripes who talked about difficulties in the business world with his long hair. There was a room designed by Frank Stella.

What the hell? Jane and I got thrown out of Lafayette, too.....for the same reason. And Jane in those days looked like Julie Neumar (the original Catwoman....she still does, come to think of it). My friend and mentor chef Etienne Merle dumpster dived Lutece and found Knorr-Swiss powdered hollandais and powdered demi-glace. The proprietess of Cote Basque was Henri Soule of the Pavillon's mistress and cashier. Maxwell's Plum was owned by the same guys as Tavern on the Green, where I worked......and you had to bribe the bartenders for a seat at the bar and introduction to hot chicks....or any chick at all. Frank Stella's nephew Jack was my massage teacher at Mid-Valley, and lives in a mobile home behind Monterey Institute of Touch.

How do I know this? Aren't all these people dead?

Well, yes. It was a flashback edition. From 1968.

Whew. I guess everyone is doing this nostalgia thing.

Meanwhile, the reason I brought up 1968 was that whole stirring of hope feeling I was getting from the Obama phenomenom. After that post, I came in to work and found a wrapped present of both of Barack's books.....a gift from a reader. Wow. Thanks!

The dark side of the 1968 thing was my fear that The Machine will eat Barack. Today, Dianne Feinstein endorsed Hillary. DiFi is the Dick Cheney of the Democrats.....the Dark Force of Horrible Corruption. "Luuuke! I am not your.....mother.....) Why would DiFi jump onto a sinking ship? Does she know something?

Forty years ago two assassinations ended that whole "dream" thing. I hoped that Barack has some good security.

It turns our Barack has had Secret Service guys longer than any recent candidate. The Senate made a point of getting the guys with the plastic earpieces on the case last May. Barack plays basketball with the boys. All is good.

Except for this, reported by my Seattle friend, Jesus' General (The General is not a Homosexual).

There is a nutball right wing radio nut named Hal Turner (a former Republican official and congressional candidate, FBI informant and regular Sean Hannity guest) On his show the other day, and on his website, he had this to say on the possiblity that Barak Obama may be the Democratic nominee:

The REAL Barack Obama:

Is THIS the type of guy you want running America? I Don't!

In fact, I'm starting to come to the realization that it may be up to a sole person, acting alone, to make certain this guy is never allowed to hold the most powerful office in the world. Sorry it may have to be that way, but it may.

Uh......freedom of speech? This same guy posted the home address of a federal judge in Chicago who had ruled in an abortion case. The judge was later her home.

I think I have a headache........

Global Warming Update......Truffle Shortage

Now, this whole climate change thing is getting serious. I am especially shocked that Al Gore missed this important clue to catastrophic sociological and ecological change: global warming is killing all the truffles! How could Al ignore this....especially with his diet?

It seems that truffle production in France, Spain and Italy is down seventy percent and more. Prices are skyrocketing....and fraud had reared its ugly head. Phony truffles are appearing in restaurants and gourmet shops even in France.

The source of the counterfeit tubers? Where else? China!

The cause of the shortage is a long-term drought. Shortages have been severe going all the way back to 2001....possibly there is an Al Queda connection? Rainfall is down from 40 inches in truffle country to about 20.....with no relief in sight. The ground is hardening up.....truffles that do manage to grow are struggling, and the average size is dropping as well. Truffle production in Provence is down from 33,000 pounds in 2002 to less than 10,000 last year.

In a sure sign of imminent catastrophe, the French have actually had to adapt some things from the more truffle pigs! Even the best trained pig gets his or her share of the tasty tuber.....and at $600 a pound wholesale.....the frugal French finally have given in and are using truffle dogs like the Umbrians.

And, that is $600 a pound for black truffles. White truffles are truly through the roof....running more than $2500 a pound. Last year a three pound, four ounce white sold for $330,000. The gentleman who bought it, Stanley Ho the gambling czar, invited 200 guests and hired two chefs to prepare a feast for his buddies just days after his monumental purchase.

But....proving once again that there is a God, and She has a sense of humor.....Stanley missed his own truffle feast due poisoning.

Meanwhile, the fake Chinese truffles sell for only $60 per pound. The French government has full-time truffle inspectors who hit the wholesale markets and farmer's markets to try to stem the tide of Chinese fakery.

Spain has similar problems. The drought there is causing Montana-style forest fires all through truffle country, destroying the natural habitat of our friendly little fungus. The Spanish have figured out how to farm the things....but as always, wild is better. does $600 a pound translate to the plate? In San Sebastian at Bar Ganbara, Amanda was thrilled to find a pile of fresh, local truffles amongst the daily haul from Sr. Hongo. 900 euros a kilo. This is a bar, though there is a restaurant how do they serve them?

Truffle and eggs. A healthy scraping of fresh black truffle over two scrambled farmhouse eggs. The owner let Amanda pick her truffle, and went back to the kitchen cook the dish himself. Conversation in the busy bar stopped when he returned. The aroma filled the bar.....and the locals and tourists looked at us as if we were mad.....we were also regular consumers of platters of wild mushrooms and gooseneck barnacles, which only the truly dedicated locals eat. And mostly old dedicated locals.....

Look what Santa brought Amanda!

Cost? 25euros. $37.50. Kind of expensive bar snacks.....but dammit, Maude: how often do you get fresh, local truffles....... outside of Umbria?

And maybe even now its a rare treat in Umbria........

Global Warming Update....Cow Farts, Take 2

First off, apparently nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas) is a forgotten greenhouse gas.....310 times more powerful than CO2. Who knew? It comprises 9% of greenhouse emissions and is growing by .25% a year.

The cause? Those damn farmers. Soil bacteria release NO2, and those damn vegetarians are going to be the ruin of us all. Why are they doing this? Probably because with their advanced, healthy and morally appropriate diets they will look so much better than the rest of us in those monokinis we will all soon be wearing on our sunny Arctic vacations.

Nitrous is a famous restaurant gas. It is used in the pastry kitchen to make whipped cream. You put in your flavored or colored cream in the dispenser, charge it with nitrous, and off you go. As the nitrous expands it cools better than O2 or C02 and you get better fluff.

Whipped cream dispensers are famous sources of joy for busboys the world over. Denied access to the bar, and the champagne everyone else in the kitchen is drinking.....they usually have free reign in the walk-in cooler. At Silver Jones back in the day, we finally gave up on having functioning Redi-Whip to finish our sundaes, and hand whipped everything.

In Europe there is no such thing as Redi-Whip, of course. We had containers and big tanks and charged our own. In America they have something similar called Whip-ettes, but they are little tiny things.

When I came back from Europe as a wee chef upon landing in New York my first stop was a medical supply house for a big tank of nitrous. I got the call from my old Cornell buddies to come to Telluride, Colorado to open the Sheridan Hotel Restaurant....and in no time I was on my way in a drive-away car with a case of Wild Turkey, my knives, and my nitrous oxide tank.

Telluride was such a small forlorn town in those days that there was no need for pastries on a European scale. There were 800 residents year round.....and 16 restaurants, three of them French. The citizens would walk the streets in the evenings, hit some bars.....and then all descend on one or two of the 16 joints. It was feast or famine.

Meanwhile, the cooks and waiters stood around and waited for the nightly verdict. At first we drank to pass the time (along with the nitrous, all kitchens have Myers rum!).....and then if we got hit, we stumbled around, cutting ourselves, dropping trays, burning each other......Not good.

Then the town district attorney flew in a WWII bomber full of pot from Columbia, and successfully landed it the desert out by Four Corners. The town was awash, and the town marshal was in on it, law enforcement was lax (the town judge owned the sauna/massage salon underneath the Opera House and held court steaming and in the nude from time to time). We tried smoking the DA's pot, but it was super strong for us yahoos, and we wound up burning, bumping, dropping and cutting each other during the rush just like with the booze.

Then, I remembered the tank. Problem solved. We would stand around and wait for the to speak....throwing darts and taking hits off the nitrous tank. If we got slammed, a couple of deep breaths would bring you back to level. One did have to be careful not to blow up ones lungs too far.....

There was no down side (who knew about Global Warming?). Well, there was the time when the landlord brought in some potential investors. It was deadly slow, and we were working on menus in the lounge taking hits off the tank. Just as Larry came in with the money men I took an extra big hit, held it.....and passed out on the floor.

The tank was a catering success as well. I remember doing a party in the City Hall down the street for all the local bigwigs. We brought along the tank for some unknown reason, and before too long had a line of mountain politicos stretching out of our kitchen into the main party. Simpler times.

After two years of mountain madness, we had to depart Telluride. We sold the business (which somehow ran at a profit) and a lot of our stuff. The tank was bought by the D.A. who owned part of a resort hot springs in the mountains called Dutton Hot Springs.

At Dutton, there was no electricity......and actually..... no road in, either. Four wheel drives could make it in summer, but in winter it was cross-country skiis and snowmobiles. There were rooms, the hotsprings....and a volleyball court. I think it was a clothing optional volleyball all seasons. There was a Sears building over the hot springs, some chaise lounges.....and a dental chair. And my nitrous tank!

Painless, clothing optional teeth cleaning. Eat your heart out, Golden Door!

Hillary found your pot.....

Thank God for professional writers, back on the job.

I could not pinpoint what was so irritating and annoying about watching Hillary Clinton. Amanda and I have reached the point that we turn her off faster than we turn off George Bush. At least Bush has some amusing, grimacing faux pas.....and we know we will soon be done with him forever. Our loss, Paraguay's gain.....

But Hillary.....what is it about her that causes me to recoil? Well, except for taking all that pharmaceutical money and somehow promising universal affordable health care.....and taking all that arms merchant money and promising an end to the war......and promising a new era of jobs for our rustbelt with the ghost of husband Bill's friggin' NAFTA hovering over her shoulder.

Except for that stuff......

If that is ''experience'', I have already ''experienced'' it........

Last night on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart ran a clip of ''Angry Hillary'' slamming Obama for some campaign-related slur: "Shame on you! Shame on you, Barack Obama!"

Jon: "Barack.....Hillary found your pot!......and boy is she mad!"

Thanks, professional Daily Show writers! You hit the nail on the head....Hillary is your mom, and she just found your pot. A respected and beloved authority figure who is completely out of touch, and no longer in control of your choices....... and whose embarrassment at such quickly turns to anger.

I have "experienced" this as well.......


Change channel.

P.S. Dianne Feinstein (aka: Slimy Old Whore).....the queen of faux-liberal carpetbaggers.....who championed the credit card and bankruptcy bills that did so much for us working folk, and who recently gave us an anti-abortion nut federal judge FOREVER.....(How are things at Chevron, Dianne? And how did repealing that Alien Torts Act work out for you?).....

.......Just endorsed Hillary.

It is The Attack of the Mondale People!!! Hillary is lagging McCain by a couple of points, and is twelve points behind Obama.....and these old saggy whores are jumping on her sinking ship, bolstered by a fear of loss of privelge and a sense of entitlement that would make Tom DeLay blush in his hot tub......

Sunday, February 24, 2008

El Poblet.....I Can Die Happy Now......

Sherman.....set the WayBack machine for Sunday, January 13.

We had long awaited brunch reservations at El Poblet in Denia,south of Valencia.

Problem. We were hungover and in Barcelona.....a mere 500km away. Thank God for the extra driver: Conall.

Chauffeur, bodyguard, photographer, reality Czech.........

Conall....our family Bohemian...... knew that lunch was going to be over the top. A sinful excess...not justifiable in any possible system of values.

I responded thus: Think of it as Opera...or Ballet....or a Broadway Play. And, instead of the cast working for a thousand other people, they are working just for one table at a time. Our table. We are supporting the arts.....and we get to eat!

I heard about El Poblet from David Kinch of Manresa......the only restaurant in California that comes close to Spanish standards.....

Let me rephrase that. Manresa is the only restaurant in California that competes at a modern Spanish level of excellence and creativity....right in there with the big boys. Eat your heart out, French Laundry! Anyway, last year David ate at Mugaritz, then drove to El Poblet.....then drove back......and then drove back again. He could not decide which was the best restaurant in Spain, you see.

One winter in Kitzbuhel I tried to figure out which was the best American novel of last century, Gravity's Rainbow or Sometimes a Great Notion. So I read Gravity's Rainbow, then Sometimes a Great Notion.....couldn't decide....and did it again.

I sat in my room during blizzards with two paperbacks........I didn't have to drive 600km each way, four times.....and I wasn't spending spend a grand a pop. David is mental. Kind of a perfectionist.

You should see his food......

The eminence gris at El Poblet is Quique DaCosta, a thirty-something who has been running the show for an improbable amount of time. He is an actual genius.....eating his food is like listening to Mozart play as a teenager must have been. Quique is definitely the most fun name to say in Spanish: "Kee-kay"......and it is refreshingly close to "Kooky" in the nicest possible way. El Poblet is rated two stars by Michelin, the same as Mugaritz.

The town Denia that is home to this jewel is a seaside burg like Hermosa Beach. When we lived in Hermosa we called it the white ghetto. Or like any town on Long Beach Island in Jersey. In winter, most of the beach front houses are empty. There is a KFC and a Burger King.

Of course, being Americans and...... despite the five hour drive.....we were early. And frantic with anticipation. Here is the photographer, violating various local ordinances, and burning off nervous energy.

And here is the tasteful strip mall next to the restaurant:

And here we are, five hours later in front of the actual restaurant.....possibly inebriated.
(Note the caution light....very apropos).

The restaurant itself is all glass everywhere. The kitchen is open, the bar is open, the wine cellar is open....and the dining rooms. No secrets.....except how in the world Quique creates his amazing dishes.

Like Mugaritz and Sant Pau....there are handouts. First, the napkin ring: (you click on this to make it bigger.....)

"I prefer to Conquer, not be conquered"
"Fusion is a mixture of lineage, products, cuisines, cultures, sentiment, philosophies and knowledge.
"From them we come, them we are, and there we go......"

More philosophy:

And a menu even. This is such a long, weird post that I am only showing the English menu.....wildly translated. Take my word for it, the Spanish version is similar. The author: picture a UC Santa Cruz food science major, with a MA in art, nineteen years in the most competitive kitchens in the world, some LSD....and some important missing neurotransmitters.....

By the by.....we always had the waiters speak to us in Castillian in Spain. The flow and poetry of the Castillian words turns the menu items and descriptions into mini-arias. You can always ask later if you miss something first time around. Who cares anyway?

Quique has a couple of different menus. There is a five course deal, and an a la carte menu. The a la carte stuff is expensive enough that you are always better off doing deep if you are having more than two courses. Still, there were all kinds of folks eating that Sunday.....many of them just came in for a nice fish dish after Mass. This is like taking the Maserati Countach over to Kasey's for a six-pack, but not matter. Us......after a five hour drive......we were swinging for the fences.

The maitre d'hotel is a Frenchman, Didier Fertilati.....fresh meat in Denia from The Fat Duck in England. Didier speaks all of the languages perfectly, so we were screwed from the get go. We orginally were bringing Txema, who worked at Mugaritz with Brendan, and I had mentioned this when I made my reservation months back. I implied that we were bringing an actual current Mugaritz person. We brought along Conall, a non-Mugaritz person instead. Didier was on us like white on rice: he knew everything about Mugaritz, and instantly knew that we didn't know shit. His best friend was the chef de cuisine, Paco.... that made Brendan's life a living hell in Erenterria......and who had quit six months ago and opened a new place in Madrid, taking with him and marrying Ruth, the Mugaritz winesteward......who used to work at The Fat Duck with Didier. See?

Give an old school French maitre d' a free swing at you, and you are fucked. Anyone remember when Laverne and Shirley went to the French restaurant with Lenny and Squiggy? It was like that. Amanda started referring to Didier....and still "that Fucking Pekinese".

I have to admit that all Didier's ice and cold steel were well deserved. El Poblet is the Big Time, and we played it Small Time.

Ugly Americans.....Busted!!!!

Our nerves were shot, and we barely were able to focus through the choice of olive oils and breads. No way was Conall taking fotos and getting busted again. So..... we missed some images of some courses and the amuses bouches. Luckily the waiter was a very kind and cool Neapolitan, and Conall and he were able to exchange some pornographic Neapolitan slang that chilled everything out. And the winesteward was a humble local guy with no issues, an amazing palate, and great vision and understanding of his wines and the dishes. Jose Antonio Navarrete....what a beauty.

Like true professionals, we rallied.....and noticed among the handouts some press for Quique's new cookbook....only 99euros. We ordered up a copy...and asked that it be signed for our missing Mugaritz chef friend, Brendan.....Seriously treading water......

Flailing, actually.

After some Cava, and after realizing that everyone else in our dining room didn't give a shit about us.....Conall got back on track with the camera. The Cava helped. The oyster went unrecorded.....but everyone does an oyster (and an egg) these days. Quique's was surrounded in a gel of seawater and oyster liquid....Nice, but we can do that, too.

Then: "Abstraction of the SeA"....evoking a gush of the sea. Seaweed and mushroom salad on a layer of potatoes with almond aioli and a seaweed veil. Nothing was normal. The potatoes were laminated or something....not like grandma's....All the textures and shapes varied all over the map. A shy, warm-up snap from Conall:

The wine Jose Antonio chose for these first two courses was Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana....the single vineyard sherry we also had from David Escoset at Sant Pau. Crisp, clean...wonderful fragrances that wove in and out of the flavors and scents from Quique. I was amazed to discover later that it is a sherry. Wow.

Next, the Hoarfrost.... an insane excercise in tableside cryogenics, with a covered dish with smoke injected with the nuts and the local prawns, and the smoke and mirrors......And delicious.

Next, one the two best dishes I have ever had in my life: The Living Forest. A walk in the woods.....mushrooms in four or five textures: chips, dust, natural, tissue paper made from shrooms......Five guys five minutes to make....and it still arrives warm at the table. Worth flying to Spain, the five hour drive....and flying directly back home, if you had to......

Next......Chunk O' tea infused green apple with stevia rubaudiana and aloe vera:

OK.....a brief break to pee:

A steel chair with letters projected on to it. Don't all men's rooms have chairs? Who was that Senator from Idaho?
The sink.
The urinal....

The urinal flushing.....

The commode.....

Back to the food......

Next: Fregola Sarda......Sardinian durum wheat balls with monkfish and tears of green peas with licorice.....somewhere under the "lagrimas". If you are about to scoff at the foam as being so last century, don't. Think: World's Most Flavorful Treasure Hunt. And the foam added just the right amount of accents and contrast to the couscous and monkfish.

Onwards.....By the way, it is now 3:43. You have been seated for an hour and forty-five minutes.

Next: This is Quique's idea of PrAwn, Denia's rose; PrAwn, Denia's red:

Two species of prawn, with a broth. The bronze chips are somehow made entirely of onion. As is the flower petal.

Are you exhausted yet? No.....

On to another top ten dish: Valencia's Other Moon. Caviar. Squid ink crustycrunchie things.....

No resting! Rally! Next: Red Mullet "Mark Rothko" saffron:

We knew Mark Rothko, but the Neapolitan was happy to bring us a Rothko book to refresh our chi anyway.

Quique looks everywhere for inspiration. At Arzak, Juan-Mari has Xabi Guttierez to be the art guy/scientist in the back. Quique is on his own.

Quique does the light sculptures on the walls.

Halogen. Copper foil. Simple and cool. My bad foto, not Conall's.

Quique does the sculptures on the tables. We had a pile of eggs for a while that, as the wine we were drinking built up, became more and more phallic. We asked to change out the table sculpture....

Here is Amanda caught between kitchen and wine cellar with the rejected egg/penises........

We switched out for Chef Running Into the Wall........

Quique has the flip side: Chef Emerging From the Wall. I can relate.....

Next: Rice with cherries and cherry caviar. A "normal" we can do this in Cachagua.

The first dessert: White.......
What the fuck!?! Candy with zabaglione......
Oh...served on slate.

Next: Velvet of hazelnuts. OK, I can kind of picture this.....More crunchies......

Next: On to the second best dish I ever had in my life: Giandura of five citrus fruits' skins
Intense citrus flavors, great textures, different temperatures......

Decent presentation.


Some random drunk....

In awe.

About halfway through the meal, the "Fucking Pekinese" reappeared. He had our signed cookbook in hand, in a nice bag. He regretfully informed us that due to the pressures of the job, and the intense work load involved in being a genius, Quique could not spare the time to greet us personally. Quique needed his rest, you see. More ice and steel.

A couple of courses later, a random kitchen guy appeared.....possibly the chef de cuisine. He was humble, not a big eye-contact guy, and possibly bereft of any English language skills ....or any Spanish-spoken-by-English-language-folk skills. Still, it was nice.....We are Workers, and appreciate being recognized by Workers....We thanked the man.

Just as we were finishing....Jose Antonio and the Neapolitan reappeared. Apparently, we had achieved some non-Didier related level of coolness, and they bought us a round of grappa. Thanks, boys.....After nine wines and a bottle of Cava, we were feeling a little neglected in the alcohol department.

We carefully negociated our way to the exit. On the way out, Quique's office is right there....with a big glass window. Inside, there was the geeky chef guy we had talked to earlier.....clearly a low ranking guy, since he was still working at 5:30pm on a Sunday. He was conferring with a waiter about the menu, and Jose Antonio was there, printing up a copy for us of our wines. For my Wine Geek friends:Jose Antonio came out with his list, and the chef geek came with him.

It was Quique. Still the winter slack season, on a Sunday....probably at hour 120 or so for that week.

David Kinch was conflicted about the difference between Mugaritz and El Poblet.

At Mugaritz, as even Didier confirms.....Andoni Aduriz, the chef, is rarely there.....and almost never in the winter. Andoni is a gifted chef......a wonderful, genius chef.....but he has his eyes on the prize. He loves publicity and self-promotion.

Quique just works.

Like David Kinch, come to think of it.

Skill and genius are the only tools that get sharper with use.....

Our jury is in....

Quique DaCosta is the best chef in Spain.

Oh.....lunch was:

A Thousand Dollars.

Not cheap.....

Well, maybe.......

What would you pay to listen to Mozart, played by Mozart?

And....we got to eat!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sant Pau....Take 2

Many of my friends and co-workers are actual Wine Geeks. These guys love wine, and work in various aspects of the wine business. Realizing that they will never be able to afford: a house, health insurance, retirement, or marriage under our current administration they have decided to spend all their disposable income on art......the art contained in wine bottles.

These people noticed that I did not include the wines served in my Sant Pau post. In that post I went on a bit about David Escofet, the sommelier....and how perfectly he read our situation, matched the wines to the food....and our politico-socio-economic-culinary milieu. (David was the good cop....Ugly Betty The Waitress was the bad cop, and Ugly Betty was probably actually right about us).

At least one of these Wine Geeks is contemplating selling all his assets and going to Spain to eat and drink for however long the sale of a new truck will get him. I am posting the bill for the lunch for three at Sant Pau just for his sake. I hate to say it, but if I were he.....I would also sell my truck, fly to Spain and eat and drink at Sant Pau. There would be some nickels left over for El Poblet, Akelarre, and a month with Txema....and you can always get another truck.

Some role model, me.....Ars longa, vita brevis.

Here is the list from David Escofet at Sant Pau:

Berta Bouzy Mont-Ferrant (D.O. Cava) I don’t have Flash5 or Shockwave 8, so I can’t give you the tasting notes….but Mont-Ferrant was one of the first Cavas to be established…and this is one of the rarest and most obscure. As you all know, I am a champagne whore....and the fact that David served us this wine told me that: 1) he was on our side; 2) he was not mad about George Bush; 3)he witnessed, understood, and supported the scene in the lobby where we kidnapped Conall and made him spend a month's rent on lunch.

Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana-Vinicola Hidalgo (D.O. Jerez) This is a single vineyard sherry which is a relatively new concept in Jerez. It is full and dry with good intensity and a fresh, delicate fragrance coming partly from longer ageing than standard Manzanilla. This wine was also served to us with a similar course at El Poblet by the OTHER of the two contenders for Best Sommelier in Spain. Upon our return, we did a party for Kohler, whose CEO is a Sherry nut. I found the last five bottles of this wine in America in a shop in New York and flew it in for our lunch. Price including next-day air was only forty bucks.....Seriously cheap for an amazing bottle of wine.

Marques de Riscal Sauvignon Blanc ’06 (D.O. Rueda) This was the ironic choice. We were the Ugly Americans...if this was the only dinger, we earned it.

Otazu Chardonnay 2006 Palacio de Otazu (D.O. Navarra) Señorio de Otazu…..100% chard, French Oak, from the Pamplona Valley….Amanda hates California chardonnay and LOVED this wine. Way old school, gorgeous vineyards and caves.

INO Garnatxa Rosada (D.O. Emporda-Costa Brava) Delicious rosé from the neighborhood. Garnatxa means grenache. I brought a bottle home....the only bottle I carried. Sometimes the local stuff, paired with the local food....knocks it out of the park.

Nun Vinya Dels Taus 2005 (D.O. Penedes) Organic/Biodynamic...100 year old vines...nose of rich lemon custard - beautiful...medium-full in body, chock full of lemons and honey, high acid, white pepper, full throttle...20+ seconds on the finish. Delish.

Atteca 2006 Old Vineyards (D.O. Catalunya) Meticulously hand harvested clusters of fully matured Garnacha grapes were selected from only the finest hillside vineyards planted over 3,000 feet above sea level. These vineyards were planted in the last decades of the nineteenth and the first decade of the twentieth centuries. Over a hundred years ago the local growers knew that the combination of poor gravelly slate soils, high altitudes, and arid conditions produced the best grapes. The wine, Atteca, produced today upholds these long held beliefs. Deep rich blackberry flavors persist on a long supple finish and are highlighted by the vibrant shimmering claret color."

The Atteca is made from 100% Old Vines Granacha Old Vines, 80-120 years, and is 14.5% alcohol. It has a dark red/purple coloring and a fruity nose. On the front palate, there is a rush of berry fruits, including raspberry and some blueberry. This led to a long finish with some spicy notes. It is a full bodied wine that fills your mouth with vibrant flavors. Its tannins are relatively mellow.

Cream Gutierrez Colosia (D.O. Jerez) An Oloroso sweetened with rich Pedro Ximenez. Its colour is dark. Its aroma is round, crisp and velvety, being full bodied on the palate with an aging at least five years.

Jorge Ordoñez 2006 Selecion Especial Moscatel (D.O. Malaga) 90 pts, The 2005 Seleccion Especial is a lovely elixir with floral and tropical aromatics and flavors of peach, apricot, mango, and kiwi. The fermentation is stopped when the wine achieves 12% alcohol leaving 120g/l of residual sugar. On the palate it has a supple, viscous texture and good length ; Seleccion Especial are from vineyards over 50-years-old, harvested from hilltop locations approximately 1,800 feet above sea level. The 100% Moscatel de Alejandria grapes are hand harvested then go through a 'Draconian' selection process. The grapes are then dried under the roof of a building at the bodega where the doors are open during the day and closed at night, creating a very slow and even drying process.' - Robert Parker

Pedro Ximenez Sacromonte Iñaños (D.O. Jerez) Beautiful deep amber. Wonderfully subtle and refined with a most beautiful cedary nose. Stylish yet delicate. One of the finest examples of olorso on the market today.

And the bill:

Like I said: Ars longa, vita brevis.....

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Spanish Royalty.....

The Bar Inopia napkin ring: the Adria family, back in the day....

Txema and some old guy.......

A quick catch-up for all of y'all with real lives and real responsibilities.....

When I say "Spanish Royalty", I am talking about modern Spanish royalty. Things have changed. In Spain, in the new millenium......Britney does not exist on the horizon. Lindsay Lohan? Not even close. Hillary is not part of their reality. Barak.....yeah, baby....different story.

One is much more likely to find chefs in the gossip columns than rock stars or politicians.

The number one chef in Spain....and in the world, actually....... is Feran Adria.

Well, correct that.....The Spanish claim that one of their soccer teams (Real Madrid) is composed of Galactic quality on that level, Feran Adria is also a Galactico.

His restaurant, El Bulli, is the most famous restaurant in the world. Hidden away in a cove north of a quiet fishing town called Roses, El Bulli is only open from April to October. Reservations open on Halloween, and a year sells out in fifteen seconds, on line. There are websites you can go to that will help you with your application for a table: who you know might help, what you know might help, your timing might is a lot like websites that help you win the lottery. And, unlike the will pay $800 each for lunch at El Bulli if you win......

Feran is from a quiet working class family in Barcelona. He still lived in the family house in the off season....well, until his marriage......

Feran has a brother, Albert. Albert is responsible for all the crazy desserts.....sorry, not crazy.....inspired. OK...crazy. Parmesan olive oil ice....sheets of glass stabbed into your chocolate something something that shatter and melt when you touch them....or think about touching them.

Meanwhile, Albert and Feran are still hard-core Barca people. They bought a place on the west side and opened a bar that would serve traditional local food to locals. To help run the place they hired a buddy from the old 'hood, Joan....and a couple of other buddies from the soccer team to help cook.

Part of the Adria mystique.....a major the connection to Barca and Catalunya and the traditions of the past. I guess the secret we learned a while back is now out....Feran is closing El Bulli and going to open a traditional Catalunyan restaurant.

Well, he already has one: Bar Inopia.

For Americans, Inopia is a weird cross between a sushi bar, a Baskin-Robbins, and a Starbucks. There are few tables, mostly standup things. Everyone sits at the bar, and all the cooking is done behind the bar in plain sight. The food is traditional, local fare....with the emphasis on freshness...and total skill and perfection in the execution.

The chef is our friend, Txema....or Chema. Brendan met Txema at Mugaritz back in the day. They were among the 30 or so young chefs thrown into the snakepit that is a modern Spanish two-star kitchen, and they were among the few that floated to the top. Txema had 15 he had already worked in Barca.....and at 17 he had already pulled a spot at El Bulli. This is like pitching for the Yankees at 15.

Albert and Feran believe in farming their guys out to learn new skills.......hence sending Txema to Mugaritz in Errenteria on the other side of Spain from Barca.

Brendan and Txema shared a room in Errenteria with four other chefs...there was almost enough room between the bunks to walk or slide by without waking the other guys up...but it didn't matter since they were only in the room about four or five hours a day. Txema and Brendan saw each other as kindred spirits.....and formed that Band of Brothers bond that used to require actual combat and exposure deadly force. Txema is the kind of friend that corny writers write about.....

When Amanda and I first came to Barcelona, we had long anticipated reservations at Comerc24. It went badly wrong, and Amanda wound up with food poisoning....we were poised to flee the city without seeing Txema. I called him and gave him the news....and he told me to wait five minutes and call back. When I did, he had talked to two guys at the bar, and arranged a comped penthouse suite on the Passeig de Gracia (the Fifth Avenue of Barca)....just because he and his boss did not want us to have a bad impression of their city.

Txema is a baller.....leaps tall buildings at a single bound....Kind, old soul. When Amanda explained the old soul concept to him, he stepped back with a big smile and said: " I get it! This is why it is so hard....and so easy!"

And he has worked a 100 hour week since he was fourteen. Right now he does a sixteen hour shift at Inopia.....well, there is a two hour break.....five days a week. He is off on Sunday, when he visits his mom and dad. On Mondays he goes in and does a graveyard shift at Escriba.....right now the world's best pastry shop. At Escriba, Txema is a one talks to him, and he does all the grunt work. He is just there to learn.

This summer Txema has a stage scheduled at Michel Bras.....and in the fall he is due to go to The Fat Duck. Next winter he is already scheduled for The Cachagua Store. He is so excited about that posting that he is already wearing our chef coat at every Albert Adria's restaurant. He wore our coat when he did a week stage at El Bulli this summer, and when he did two days with Rafa in Roses.

Wild mountain honey, and soft ripened sheep cheese.....both from secret sources in villages in the mountains outside Barca. Oh, and melocton (peach) liqueur made in house......

Txema is the man.....