Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"She Keeps On Passing Me By"......Meritage Restaurant

   Anybody remember The Bermuda Triangle? It was the "boogieman" of my childhood. It didn't matter what you were riding in back then, that was an area you wanted to avoid. Ships, planes, and people went missing. And the stories of the Triangle went missing. I miss the Bermuda Triangle. I remembered the "unexplained phenomena" of the Triangle, because I think I might have experienced a interesting phenomena. On the corner of 20th and Lombard there is a restaurant that can sense me coming. After it senses me coming it unleashes mystical powers to keep me from eating there. It heard I wanted a Thursday Night special of Korean Fried Chicken a few months ago. It knew I worked Thursdays. It probably called my boss to ensure I would never get the night off or be able to leave early.
   It has recently heard of my fascination with foie gras. It knew its foie gras dumplings would lure me in. And for 3 weeks it kept me away. I believe the Adjustment Bureau was trying to keep me from meeting my dream girl. I wonder if my Elise was a Latina redhead. After all of Meritage's methods failed and I made it through the doors, it ran out of the dumplings. The two dishes I had at the bar were amazing. It made me realize what a gifted kitchen would be able to do with those elusive dumplings. Instead I leave unfulfilled. I guess I know what all those people who kept watching Lost (after I warned them not too) felt like.

The Skinny Fat Kid

500 S 20th St
Philadelphia, PA 19146-1302
(215) 985-1922

"Everybody look at you strange, say you changed Uhh! Like you work that hard to stay the same"........Eleven Madison Park

    You can eat anywhere. The streets of New York are littered with places to fill your belly. Dining however is something different. There has been talk lately of the supposed death of fine dining. I get why people can feel this way. The public seems to have lost interest in dressing up. They have lost perspective of cost due to economic concerns. Casual and affordable are attractive, yet we need to remember how important dining out can be. Eating out can satisfy your appetite. Dining out can satisfy more.
   After my tour of Hudson valley Foie Gras I headed into to NYC to dine at Eleven Madison Park. I went for foie gras, but left with much more. I remember holding the application for Eleven Madison in my hand during my job search in New York years ago. I could tell from the questions on the application that this place was serious. The accolades they have received in the years since are well deserved. They aimed for excellence and have achieved it. I found myself wondering what might have been if I didn't take another job offer back then.
   Eleven Madison has moved away from a la carte dining and now offers just two choices of tasting menus. They have made cosmetic changes as well. They removed tables, moved server stations to lessen noise in the dining room and even repositioned the host stand. All these in an effort to make the dining room more comfortable for guest. The menu is now a 4 x 4 “grid” which just lists the main components of the dishes the chef is offering that evening. A four course tasting ($125) allows one choice from each of four rows. The top being cold preperations of first course apps. The second row is hot appetizers, third is your main course and fourth dessert. My selections for the evening were Foie Gras (first), Snapper (second), Pork (third) and Lemon (fourth).
   Some may think $125 for dinner is expensive. It is in theory, but after dinner at EMP I felt it was a steal. The four courses you choose are not the only dishes you receive for the cost. There are several courses of amuse bouche that awaken every part of your palate. The rich flavor of the uni panna cotta, and earthy black truffle beignets. The simple clean flavors of fingerling potatoes and the salty sturgeon zabayon. Before my first course arrived I was blown away by the effort and execution of the culinary team. I was also impressed with how effortlessly our server guided our experience and made wonderful cocktail suggestions for my dining companion. I knew early on that I was in for a meal I would never forget and was already planning my next visit.
    The first course was foie gras torchon. It was served over a quince gelee and accompanied with a chocolate brioche. I really would love to be able to make torchon this good. I would also love to see what the $195 tasting menu holds if dinner was this good for $125. Dinner at EMP did more than provide me with sustenance. It made me think about who I would like to share the experience with in the future. It made me remember lost loved ones I will not be able to share it with. It made me want to be a better cook. It made remember why I love the restaurant business. That is something that eating can never do. 

The Skinny Fat Kid

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
NY 10010
(212) 889-0905

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"I’m really too young to be feelin this old".......The Fat Kid and The Farm

   I sometimes forget the disconnect. The packages that contain our store brought sustenance don’t tell the whole story. The butcher at the supermarket is just a guy behind the glass case. The animal could have been butchered anywhere. The “organic” label has a list of qualifications that change daily. The misinformation age is full of citizens who now get their facts from Wikipedias and Urban Dictionaries.
  I tire of seeing articles about foie gras bans turn into discussion of ducks nailed to the floor and force fed. I am sure there are horrible farmers out there. There are also farmers who still care about the animals and the earth that provide our food.
   The words “Hudson Valley Foie Gras” have appeared on many menus at restaurants I have visited over the years. I never knew much more about them except that they are held in high regard for their quality. In order to learn more about the process of producing foie , I wanted to go to the source.
Just over three and a half hours away in Ferndale, NY HVFG is a 200 acre farm that raises Moulard ducks. They sell not only foie gras, but duck breast and other assorted duck products. I was lead on my tour of the farm by HVFG’s Marketing Director Rick Bishop. This was not a ‘white glove tour”. There were no parts of production hidden from us. I saw it all from the adorable little ducks roaming around the barns to the gavage process. I stood in the room where the ducks are butchered for meat and also in the packing area of the facilities.There were no nailed feet. When Hudson Valley says they have “cage free” foie gras you can believe them. In addition to the work that HVFG had been doing on there own there has also been outside help.
    There has been continued work with the help of a humane auditor to continue making the raising of these ducks as natural as possible. If you do not meat I am sure you can find issue with animals being killed for food. If you do eat meat I think it is important to think about where your food comes from. I personally like to buy from farmers markets as much as possible and to buy from producers who run operations where respect for the animals is of utmost importance.
   Visits to HVFG have even been successful in converting some former opponents of foie gras. Several supporters of bills to ban foie in different cities and states across America have changed their minds. A few have even changed sides and become allied with HVFG. I left with a further respect for farmers in general and desire to visit more farms in the future. I also though about having a pet duck because the little ones were so cute.  I now am going to follow my food to one of its many destinations, a restaurant in Manhattan.

The Skinny Fat Kid

Hudson Valley Foie Gras
80 Brooks Road, Ferndale, NY
(845) 292-2500

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

   Stephen Starr gets ambience right. Visiting any of his restaurants can be like walking into another world. I have walked past Parc on Rittenhouse Square and gotten the feeling any moment the cafe would explode. Tables would start to fly through the air, cardboard boxes would be launched skyward. Leonardo Dicaprio would then rise and walk toward me to give me my $12 back and apologize for stealing almost 3 hours of my life. I live in the real world not the dream world, so I just eat food.
   Starr's latest The Dandelion recreates the English pub. The design team once again did an amazing job and the culinary team delivered as well. The chicken and duck liver parfait was great. A large fist-sized portion came served with grape chutney, cornichons, and brioche. In the future I will definitely share this with someone else especially when it my second foie gras of the day. I was also impressed by the aroma of the fish and chips, but will save trying that for fish and chips month.

The Skinny Fat Kid

The Dandelion
124 S. 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 558-2500