Tuesday, December 30, 2008

NYE 2008

First Course
Wild Mushrooms ala Crème
Shitake, Portabella and Oyster mushrooms, garnished with Amontillado cream.

Prime Beef Brochette
Skewered prime tenderloin tips served over caramelized onions
with bourbon–Dijon sauce.

Crab Cake
Asian slaw, apricot and mustard sauces.

Sautéed U-10 “dry” day boat scallop served with
smoked tomato beurre blanc

Tuna and Micro Greens
Slices of rare tuna with micro greens, wakami salad and ginger dressing.

Boston Wedge
Bleu cheese dressing, smoked bacon, vine ripened and hard boiled eggs.

Spinach and Prosciutto
Fresh baby spinach served wit a warm prosciutto dressing with
toasted pine nuts and Parmesan crisp.

Filet of Beef
Béarnaise, demi-glace and Wisconsin cheddar mashed potatoes with chives.

Chicken Ballantine
Boneless chicken stuffed with roasted vegetables, goat cheese and cornbread. Served with chicken demi-glace and French green beans.

Cedar Roasted Grouper
Roasted on a sheet of cedar and topped with Burgundy truffle butter. Served with potato croquettes and French green beans.

Lobster Dumplings
Shitake-mirin sauce with sautéed spinach.

Roast Vegetable and Polenta Lasagna
Natural Ricotta and goat cheese.

Chocolate Decadence
Flourless chocolate cake with crème Anglaise and raspberry sauce.

Pumpkin Maple Flan
“Upside down” crème brulee, morello cherry sauce and caramel.

Berries and Sabayon
Fresh berries in a chilled light custard.

Sorbet and Pastry
Green apple, mango and raspberry

For the comfort of all our guests seating are limited to two hours.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Samurai Salad Man Send Off

It's customary in some restaurants to give a departing kitchen member a proper send-off. It's pretty rare someone quits and gives a proper notice so it's a rare treat when you can give a "brigade" brother a fine farewell.

The plan was to wait until the end of the night and send Samurai Man down to the walk-in cooler where upon leaving the cooler we'd all be waiting with ketchup, flour, eggs, etc.

As it turned out Samurai Man wasn't feeling too well but was good enough to come in on a busy night. So we decided to go easy on him and chase him out the back door with arms full of eggs and flour as he was leaving for the last time.

I did manage to land an extra large grade A to the back of Samurai's head. A nice shot from 25 yards if I may say. I was able to get close enough after Samurai took a little tumble in the slippery, wet and icy driveway. Ole Victor must have chased him for a hundred yards to get that scoop of flour onto his head. Everyone else was too far behind to get a shot in, they decided to finish the six top before giving chase.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Saw this blog on OnMilwaukee.com

"The one the great things about this great city is the great places we can eat. No matter what day it is, or what time, it is possible to enjoy a great meal and a great glass of wine. In a city that has more than 1,500 restaurants, there is something for everyone, even those with the most particular tastes

Not only do I love dinning in Milwaukee, but I love serving in Milwaukee, well most of the time. I have been working in and loving the service industry for many years now and have earned my current serving position by years of hard-work, but as I have adjusted to the fine-dinning, high volume restaurant life, I have come across many things that a restaurant of this magnitude can do that others can not, and most obviously is special requests.

When looking over a menu, I always see dishes that I know I would love if there was a small change, for example substitute balsamic vinaigrette for ginger sesame dressing, or substitute vegetable for a starch, and I am not afraid to ask- after all I am their guest and the restaurant wants to make me happy. At the same time, when one of my guests would like Bearnaise sauce with their steak instead of poivre, no problem, absolutely. When a guest would like no artichokes with one of their fish dishes, also not a problem I would be happy to.

The question I am then posing is: When does it become too much? If I am at brunch and would like fried eggs instead of poached eggs, am I going to be upsetting a server, or even worse a chef? At my current restaurant we can do, and will do almost anything for a guest if he/she asks, but is this really necessary? At 700 on a Friday night, when a guest asks for a steak without a marinade, with a different steaks preparation and his dinning partner wants a special salad that we used to have on the lunch menu as their entree, do we always have to comply? Trying to organize with the chefs and the cooks and the customer to create their essentially personalized menu, is no problem, I'm happy to do it- unless it takes all of my attention away from my other guests. Would it be unreasonable to suggest to the guest more feasible alterations? How would I feel if a server suggested that to me? Granted, I know well enough to be reasonable with my requests, but as a very dedicated server I don't want to upset anybody, but I also need to think about service.

Also, if a table has a special request, or many special requests to their dishes I don't think it's unreasonable to understand that it may take longer to come out of the kitchen. When the cook on grill has to spend extra time and attention to create this made-up steak dish, it may take an extra couple minutes, is that also unreasonable?

Just a couple thoughts on the issue, I find it becoming more and more prevalent not only with my customers, but myself as a customer as well.

From a Chef's standpoint "sauce on side" or no pepper etc is not big deal but I draw the line at requests that are so distracting that they interrupt the rhythm of the line. If I have a spare body or if things are going very well we'll be more than happy to do an oddball request but if I have to pull a guy "out of the zone" to make it happen and I NEED him in that zone I'll say no. Any one who has worked the line knows what I'm talking about. That special place cooks go in their head when they are busy as hell and cranking it out.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

That Time of Year

As usual with this time of year things get a little busy with home and work, so the posts may be fewer and farther between.

Just keep one thing in mind.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Slicer Study (For You Knife Nuts Out There)

I've been running tuna carpaccio lately so I decided to do a little comparison of knives, blades and blade types when it came to slicing raw tuna. For carpaccio I'm looking for large thin slices about an 1/8 inch so I cut from a whole loin. The idea is to cut "sheets" of tuna. You can see in the title picture how they're used.

I sharpened each knife just prior to the test.

Watanabe 270 Damascus Sujihiki
The blade has a satin finish so it tends to be a bit "sticky". This is also a case where size does matter. I ran out of knife. If this was a 330 it would have done the job nicely. Light comfortable knife to use. Not one of my favorites.

Nenohi Highest Kasumi 270 Kiritsuke
Again I could have used a little more blade, length that is, the wider the blade the more the protein sticks to it and this blade is WIDE. Although it performs wonderfully on smaller "loins".

Mizuno Tanrenjo 390 Special Blue DX Honyaki Yanagi
No shortage of blade here. Length or width. It cuts smoothly and thinly but gets a little grabby and some tuna separates with the back stroke. Other wise it cuts like butter.

Masamoto 360 White steel Hon Kasumi Yanagi
I say it over and over, "my Masamoto kicks ass". It's my favorite slicer. It gets sharp as hell and as you can see here it doesn't grab the protein. It performed the best over all in this test.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"86" Samurai Salad Man

Our Samurai salad man (aka Blake) has informed us he will be moving on to bigger and better things. He has done the right thing and given proper notice. I thank him for that because I have a sneaky feeling that he will be back.

He's been itching to get behind the line and I think his new position will offer him that. I caution him though, because someone gives you an opportunity it doesn't mean you're ready. It could do more harm than good. Never the less, I fault no one for stepping out and giving it a shot.

Good luck Blake.

In other staffing news:

Justin continues to improve and prove himself valuable. He has been splitting duties between cold kitchen and the line and is doing a great job.

Cacho (my Sous Chef)is still a rock and continues to be the glue that binds this kitchen.

Victor is a serious saute man. That little dude rocks.

Miquel is a happy dishwasher, salad man and 2nd saute. A happy crew is a fast crew.

Lo Lo is doing a great job holding down the fort busting suds.

Jeff, though part time is doing a nice job on saute or in the middle.

Good ole Juan still contributes on the weekend as the "old timer" on salads and desserts.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cook Book Synergy

A tip of the hat to Michael Walsh for facilitating a cookbook discussion on the chef's blogoshere. I'm not an authority but it prompted me to take a snap shot of my cook book shelf. It's grown considerably over the nine years we've been cooking here.

aaahh, just to the point of flaking. Way fresh sable fish aka "black cod", Alaskan spot prawns sauteed with poblano and red pepper, brandy and prawn shell reduction. (yum)

I'm not sure if the onions work. They eat good though.

(I encourage you to click for close-ups)
Find me a prettier salad.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Few Plates

Alaskan Spot Prawns with Truffled Beurre Monte
I always cook these in the shell. It enhances the already exquisite flavor and protects the roe packed on the belly. Both of these are loaded.

U10 Dry Day Boat Scallop
Green curry, micro Thai basil, jasmine rice.

Rack O Lamb

Another look.

Straight forward style

Thursday, November 6, 2008


It's been just over a year now on this blog. Here is a post from a year ago today.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Mission Impossible
Salty, I have a mission if you choose to accept it.I wish to bring 40 international business executives to your establishment for dinner. Prior to dinner we'd like to have beverages and hors d'oeuvres. We'd also like you to entertain these executives during that time. I would also like you to involve these executives in the entertainment. How about getting them involved in the preparation of their dinner. Remember, hors d'oeuvres and beverages will be served during that time as well. You have three hours to accomplish this task. Oh, one more thing. You have one business day to prepare. If the mission is successful you will be rewarded handsomely.(Insert visions of smoldering tape)Hmmmm, I've got a small kitchen that is awkwardly laid out. I must prepare high end, freshly prepared hors d'oeuvres for these discerning customers and immediately turn around and invite these "civilians" into the kitchen to do some work. Then immediately there after serve a four course dinner to aforementioned guests. All in under three hours.No problem. While I'm at it I'll videotape the whole affair and show it to you and your guests on our ten foot video screen while you are enjoying that delicious dinner. My name is Dog, Saltydog.They had a blast. It's 15 hours later and I'm still exhausted. My staff rocked. My wife was as usual a rock. I'm getting to old for this crazy shit.

Kurobuta Pork

My foodie in training asked me about Kurobuta pork. I didn't have an answer so I did some research. Below is from luxury-insider.com. To further the research I procured some Kurabuta pork tenderloins. The obvious difference is the color of the meat. the Kurobuta is on the left. Much darker in color. It also has a different odor. The generic pork tender has a "raw chicken" smell, the Kurobuta smells of prosciutto. A pleasant almost sweet smell. I'll follow up in more detail after we play with it.

What's so Special?
Sweetness and juiciness are two factors that distinguish kurobuta from run-of-the-mill pork. This sweetness and rich flavor come from the high levels of intramuscular marbled fat – the very thing that pork producers have dramatically removed to produce pork that can be marketed as "the other white meat" for the health-conscious.
This high degree of subcutaneous marbling is a result of special breeding techniques that are not very different from those applied to raising wagyu cattle.

The only difference, perhaps, is that there is no massaging of the pig with sake as is the case with wagyu.

How it's Produced

Ever heard of the saying "you are what you eat"? This is literally true for pigs because of the peculiar manner their bodies store fat. Instead of being processed, the fat is deposited directly into the muscle. Therefore, the pork produced from pigs fed on oats and corn will taste of oats and corn. Of course, this simply adds to the natural taste of kurobuta pork.
Depending on the techniques unique to each heritage farmer, the pigs may get peanuts, apples, clover, or even milk as dietary supplements. The use of antibiotics and hormones is frowned upon while humane farming techniques are encouraged.
Unlike industrial pigs raised in confinement, the Berkshires are free to roam and grow at their own pace. This is another secret behind the lush flavors of kurobuta: a stress-free lifestyle.
Compared with commercial pork, kurobuta pork is darker and redder in color because of the thick layers of back fat that develops from a life spent outdoors. During the cold winter months, the hogs developed more of this fat to "tough" it out, and keep themselves warm. This back fat contributes to the flavor and sweetness of kurobuta pork.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

(Off Topic) History in the Making

I don't know if the younger generations fully grasp what a historic election this is. There was a time when I thought I'd never see a black president. There was a time I thought I'd never see a female president. Yes, we are making strides. Yes, we need to make more. I am honored to vote in this election. I am proud to be an American today.

Who ever is elected, may he have the wisdom and strength to help make this world a better place.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Ahi (Click for close-up.)

The latest rendition of our tuna entree. #1 sashimi grade Ahi, nori tempura, ponzu, pickled ginger, wasabi, mango-poblano slaw and Asian style red cabbage slaw, golden pea shoots, micro intensity herbs.

It sounds like there's too much going on but I like the variety of flavors you can enjoy with each bite. It's like having it prepared three ways. The nori tempura is surprisingly tasty. A pain in the ass to cook but worth the trouble.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Humboldt Squid

I julienned it, lightly breaded it in panko and gently fried. I'll be marinating some steaks and grilling them as well.

This big ass squid is tender and mild in flavor. A surprise to be honest.

I wasn't happy about the way it was packed. I'll be having a conversation about that.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Scallops and Prawns

Live Scallop with Roe

Alaskan Spotted Prawns
Complete with roe.
(Click on photo for closeup)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wine Dinner Thoughts

Wine dinners are interesting for me because I'm cynical about the whole "wine pairing" thing. Actually I'm cynical about wine in general. For me, I like what I like. I don't buy into the "hints of licorice or green pepper" and similar flavor profiles in wine. Maybe my palette is weak but I miss most of those subtle characteristics oenophiles talk about. Quite frankly I think most of my customers do as well. So I concentrate on the bigger flavor signatures when I pair my food with wine. Tannins, body, oak, butter, grass and other fairly obvious tasting notes. Admittedly I know a whole lot more about food than I do wine and I'm pretty skeptical when it comes to the wine/food relationship. Sure I believe wine compliments food and vice versa but I also think it's a little over done. So with that being said I decided to choose a wine region that I'm not that familiar with nor very fond of. I did that as much for my education as I did for my guests enjoyment. As a result it was difficult choosing the wine for this dinner. No big names, no obvious pairings, no big Cali cabs and chards I've come to rely on. I stepped out of my safety zone for this one and it seemed that the guests had no problem making the leap with me. Not that we did anything bizarre with the wine pairings but we did serve two pinots, one of which came after the cab. I also changed the order of courses at the last minute. I realized at the last minute I would have to serve the scallop on a round plate because of "plate logistics" so I changed the order. The scallop would have to come after the ravioli because I wasn't going to serve the scallop on a round plate. That in my opinion was more important than the wine progression which I planned. The riesling and pinot gris were close enough in the "big picture flavor profile" that I felt I could get away with it.

I wasn't aware going in that Washington State cabs were on the lighter side. I really wanted a big cab to go with the beef and bleu course. As a result I served the beef roasted (as opposed to grilled) and chose a big a pinot to match with it. I also threw in some wild huckleberries to bring some of that mystical "berry" profile out of the Rex Hill reserve pinot.

I'm familiar with Big fire pinot gris and already knew what it would go with. (More about that later)I also knew the scallop would need some heat to go with the off dry riesling. I got the impression from some pundits that that was a questionable pairing but it turned out to be a crowd favorite.

The dessert wine was a little disappointing. I prefer a more syrupy profile so I decided to do a pear tart with goat cheese rather than the peaches (sans cheese) I was planning on.

All in all it was an educational experience for me and what appeared to be a very successful dinner for our guests. Logistically speaking things went well and a few lessons were learned on the food side as well. I will post a my thoughts on the food and the team effort in my next post.

I would like to thank everyone who attended and hope you had a good time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wine Dinner Samples

I'm too whooped right now to reflect on it except to say I thought it went well and I'll post my impressions later.
Seven Courses
Six Wines
78 Guests
546 plates

Red, White and Blue

Lots of Red, White and Blue

Felix the Pig

Felix After (He looks happy doesn't he?)

King Salmon

Lobsters and Chanterelles (before)


They Look Happy too?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Working Copy of Wine Dinner Menu

Red, white and blue

Day Boat Scallop
Green curry, micro Thai basil
Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling, Oregon 2007

Chicken of the woods and chanterelles, fresh thyme pasta,
Oregon truffle butter,baby arugula, parsley coulis
R. Stuart “Big Fire” Pinot Gris, Oregon, 2006

Quinault River King Salmon

Penn Cove mussel nage, sea beans, wild steel head roe
Cooper Mountain Pinot Noir Reserve, Oregon, 2007

Pork Two Times
Tenderloin medallion, carnitas of suckling pig,
wild blueberry jus, spaghetti squash
Three Rivers Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State, 2004

Prime Beef Tenderloin

Dry aged, Wisconsin bleu, wild huckleberries, mashed golden potatoes
Rex Hill Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve, Oregon 2004

Peach crisp, peach crudite au chocolat
Pacific Rim Riesling Vin de Glaciere, Oregon, 2007

Some thoughts on the menu:
The scallops we've been getting in are wonderful and I wanted to show them off. I was looking for a little heat to pair with the Riesling so I'll accent with a green curry sauce (don't worry it won't hurt). The natural sweetness of the scallop should find it's way through the heat and really pair well with the wine.

We inherited a nice dough roller from TYR so you'll be seeing more pastas and dumplings appear at Sebastian's. I've been playing with ravioli and had great results. The peppery flavor of the arugula and the parsley coulis should go great with this Pinot Gris. It's not too "green" so the butter and truffles will go nicely as well.

The King salmon we get from the Northwest is beautiful and is a natural with the light Pinot Noir I'm serving with it. On paper this is the "foodie' course.

Pork is king in the chef world these days and I have a local source for suckling pig. Once I get around the dirty look the dead piglet gives me it should be delicious. The wild Northwest blueberries should bring out the berry notes in the lighter style cab I'm serving with it.

Ah, beef. Prime beef or Kobe style if I don't have to mortgage the house to buy it. I'll top with a mild Wisconsin bleu cheese (thanks Jeff) and some wild huckleberries. The Pinot going with this one is BIG. One of my favorites. This is the course I would be looking forward to.

This dessert wine is best suited for fruit and I thought peaches would be perfect. Dessert wines are a guilty pleasure that I wish we would sell more of. BTW, I've got some nice ones in the cellar that aren't on the list if ever interested. Word of caution, they're not cheap.

The Wine

Sat down with Bob and Richard from L'fet Bank Wine distributors to taste and choose the wine for the upcoming wine dinner. We tasted two pinot gris, two rieslings, an unoaked chardonnay, two pinot noirs, a cabernet and a syrah. The Cab and syrah were from Washington state the rest Oregon. Of the pinot gris I opted for an old favorite that used to be on our wine list. I had forgotten how much I liked it. There were supply issues at the time so we had to remove it from the list. I'm not sure but I might pair it with some truffled ravioli. Of the rieslings I went with the one that would be considered less food friendly. A little sweeter than the other but I know my customers and they would prefer the sweeter one. (After all this is Wisconsin) I'll pair it with a little spice and natural sweetness. Of the pinot noirs I went with the fuller of the two. Still on the lighter side but will match up well with the king salmon I have planned. The cab was also surprisingly light. Right now I'm leaning toward pairing it with pork done two ways. It is light enough to be followed by another pinot noir. I was looking for something big enough to pair up with beef, a milder bleu cheese and huckleberries. The pinot I'm serving with that course we didn't taste. I'm familiar with it and I predict will be the hit of the evening. A big bold pinot. I also didn't have to taste the dessert wine. I'll be experimenting with the pairing in the next couple days.

I ended up having to add a wine for a total of six. I'll also serve an amuse to start dinner making a total of seven courses.

A little on the food:
I'll be getting in super fresh king salmon from the northwest as well as huckleberries and truffles. I hope to find a mild artisan bleu cheese from Wisconsin if not I may go with Maytag. For the pork two-ways I hope to line up some suckling pig. I'm a little concerned about this because of my love for animals and the "baby" pig is going to be hard to look in the eye. I'll be playing with peaches for dessert and will add a touch of chocolate somewhere. Some people just have to have their chocolate.

I should have the menu firmed up by the end of the day. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Well, Well, Well.

I have to admit to reading Ruhlman's blog from time to time. I read with GREAT interest the issue of "the tasting menu". It seems Marco Pierre White doesn't approve. So now the hippest in the food world are second guessing themselves. And here I thought that MPW was a goof. A former hot shot chef (who I never heard of BTW) who's cashing in on his reputation. I'm glad to see he's jumping on Salty's wagon. Old school has never gone out of fashion. It's the most fashionable who recognize that.

MPW you need to come to Cbass for honest food.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wild Ravioli

Another installment on classic food and preparation. You could have this dish anywhere in the world and it wouldn't or couldn't be any better. I made some large ravioli using homemade pasta, wild mushrooms, fresh herbs and two kinds of cheese, goat and Parmesan.

The sauce is a very simple saute of freshly picked garden tomatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic, S&P, and fresh basil.

The mushrooms used were chanterelles and chick of the woods.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wine Dinner Oct 6th

We've finally set the date for our next wine dinner. It will be held on October 6th, with a pre-tasting at 6:00 p.m. and seating promptly at 6:30. The wine dinners consist of at least six courses with appropriate wine pairings. The cost is $90.00 per person all inclusive. This dinner will feature wines from America's Northwest.

The Distributor: L'eft Bank Wine Co
The first step in composing a wine dinner is to choose the wine distributor. We've done many wine dinners and often use the same one or two merchants. This time around we wanted to give one of our favorite distributors a chance to showcase their wines. L'eft Bank Wine Co. is a small locally owned company that is very easy to deal with and has an excellent Racine sales rep. They also have a nice Oregon and Washington State "book". Picking the date depends heavily on the schedule of the distributors representative that will be presenting the wines at the dinner.

The Date:
We also have to schedule around any currently scheduled special events being held at the restaurant, personal commitments and staffing levels. We try and stay away from Holidays and we need time to promote the dinner. October 6th is a little earlier than we typically would schedule but had to accommodate other commitments.

We got into the habit of doing the dinners on Friday nights but decided to move them back to Mondays. We've been trying to build Friday sales and don't want to stop the momentum. Also Fridays eliminated a few larger groups that used to attend the dinners They are fellow industry employees. Most work Friday nights.

The Wine:
Usually we'll pick a general theme for the wine. A single maker, a region, a style or a single importer. I think the Northwest has some great wines that also happen to be great food wines. I think something a little off the radar screen will be fun and educational for everyone. We've picked the wines we want to taste and will make those decisions on Wed. the 17th. We'll taste about 10 wines and settle on five or six. If we feel we need to taste more we will. We'll be tasting pinot gris, riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, cab sauv and a pinot noir ice wine.

The Food:
I've alreadyn formulated a general menu that I will will aim the wine selections at. I can tweak each dish or the menu according to what's discovered at the wine tasting. I also have a great purveyor in the Northwest that I get extremely fresh fish from and great produce. Anything from razor clams to huckleberries is available to me. Look for various wild mushrooms, sablefish, wild salmon in some form. One thing I know I'll need is a big cab for the final "entree" course.

The Dinner:
Usually 70 or so guests will attend. It's challenging feeding 70 people a six course dinner. I'm old school so nothing gets pre-cooked before hand. Once the amuse rolls it's a sprint. Lots of plates, lots of glasses and lots of silverware. The dishwasher is probably the busiest guy that night.

The Customers:
Most attendees have been to one of our dinners before. Some have been to all of them. Most are regular customers and some come only for the wine dinners. All have fun. By the third course the room is noticeably louder. By the end of the night it sounds like a big party. These aren't snobby affairs they are a great experience that's alot of fun.

I'll be posting about the wine dinner as we proceed with the planning. I'll include my notes about the wines after I taste them tomorrow.

If you are local and didn't already recieve an e-mail about the dinner contact me and I'll make sure you are on our e-mail list. salty@saltyskitchen.com or through our contact page at sebastiansfinefood.com

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Day

The day, not today but more accurately the date. This day in time.

I've had a busy day but in the back of my head it was there. A couple people mentioned it, but seemingly didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want this day to go by without reflecting on it. So as I sit here at the end of this infamous day with tears in my eyes. I recall the feelings of seven years ago. First hearing about it as it happened on the radio. Then minutes later watching it live on TV. Thinking to myself that those towers were going to come down. And to my horror minutes later they did. As I sat there by myself watching I had one thought in my head. I wanted to be there. Not on the street looking up but in the stairwell racing up. I knew what those guys were thinking. I knew they doubted they would ever see their loved ones again. I knew they were doing their jobs no matter what. I knew they wanted to do what they were entrusted to do. I knew they were about to make the ultimate sacrifice. I knew I wanted to be there.

There is a saying on the fire department that you offer when departing company with a brother. "See you at the big one". It's in reference to catching up with old partners and friends when you go to a really big fire. Half the department may be there and you see alot of old faces. I imagine I'm not the only former or active firefighter that wishes he was at "the big one". Those of us who weren't there missed the biggest one of all time and in some bizarre way are jealous of those who were. That includes my 343 brothers who didn't make it back down those stairs.

May God give peace to your loved ones.

Someday I will see you all "at the big one".

Challenging Eat local

Ah, never mind. Rant deleted.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chx Ballantine (Ballotine? Gallantine?)

As part of the "Eat Local" event this week I thought I'd break out the ole Ballantine. A deboned chicken that's stuffed, rolled and sliced. I picked up all the ingredients at local farms located between my house and the restaurant.

For ballantines 0r gallantines (Gallantines are served cold but the method is the same.)you have to debone the bird in a way that leaves it intact as possible. I roast the bones and make a chicken demi to serve with it. I had some fresh thyme in the garden so I infused the demi with that. The filling is made with ground chicken, organic eggs, local vegetables and seasoned with parsley and thyme from the garden. I posted a video of the process on youtube and it should be on my video bar. I'm a little out of practice so the video is a little long.

The way I prepared this dish is exactly how someone would make it in the country side of France today or two hundred years ago. It doesn't get much better. No nitrogen, no xanthan gum, no trapeze to present it on. Straight forward simple food made with fresh local ingredients. That is my definition of world class cuisine.

Call me old school, I don't mind.

(Editor's Note: I'm amazed how many people find this site by googleing "gallantine". For those of you who would like to see a video of de-boning the bird for a gallantine go to youtube saltydog55252)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


With harvest season here I thought I'd make some fresh pasta to help highlight the fresh flavors of the season. I like a nice rustic egg pasta.


Two special weeks are happening in September. During the second week we are participating in the "Eat Local Challenge". We'll be featuring at least one dish consisting of local ingredients. It's harvest season so look for great produce, salads and free range "Chicken Ballotine". A ballotine is a whole bird that is boned and stuffed. The trick is to de-bone it in such a way that you leave as much of the bird intact as possible, stuff it and slice it like a loaf of bread. It's a great presentation and perfect for dinner parties. I'll try and video the de-boning method and post it in the video bar. I'll also be previewing the dish this Friday evening as part of our prixe fixe Friday menu.

During the week of the 21st we'll be participating in "Dine Out America". A portion of the week's sales will be donated to Share Our Strength to fight childhood hunger. I'll be running some interesting specials that week to try and reward our diners for doing their part to end childhood hunger.

I'm looking forward to both weeks. We hope to see you.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lessons and Mistakes

Many people have asked me "what happened to The Yellow Rose?" Actually it's a question that comes up constantly in conversation. I try and give a brief dispassionate response but it's difficult. Many issues are involved, some pertaining to the restaurant business in general and many relating to this city specifically. Now that we are officially done I'd like to express some observations.

When the opportunity to purchase The Yellow Rose was presented it seemed like a no brain-er. It was a beautiful fully equipped restaurant with event facilities in the heart of downtown. Other than the country clubs they were also our biggest competitor and if we didn't buy it who would? I was all gung ho but my wife who is cautious and much wiser than I hesitated. Never the less we proceeded forward. After months of negotiations the deal was done and we opened on September 19th 2004. Along the way we learned alot about this town and ourselves. Me in particular.

Observations and lessons learned:

We attempted to attract the conservative old school customers that were frequenting long established "supper club" type restaurants:
*It didn't happen. Folks in this town tend to patronize the same place over and over. They go to "their bar", or "their restaurant" or "their fish fry". These same people don't seem so concerned with quality or service. I chalk it up to not knowing any better or simply not caring.

*We priced the menu less than our other restaurant and kept the quality high. As a result our bottom line wasn't as strong and profits relied more on volume. In hind sight I should have cut quality and prices. Customers here tend to dine by price not menu. When customer counts started dropping trouble started.

As previously mentioned we went for the "classic American" menu relying heavily on center of the plate and classic preparations. The "new" customers didn't notice the difference in quality but did notice the small increase in the dollars they were spending. A classic example is the annoymous writer reponding to a story in the local paper about The Rose, "They charged for refills on soda!!!!" He was incredulous. Here you are in a beautiful linen draped restaurant that just screams class and he's bitching about free refills. Sheeesh.

A lack of qualified employees remains a problem. We just couldn't staff it with enough reliable, skilled and trustworthy employees.

The Downtown factor:
Getting the locals downtown is and will be a problem for years to come. Lack of acceptable parking and a crime stigma exists among the locals. The biggest fans of downtown are the out of towners. A few crazies walking around doesn't help either. There is alot of low income housing in or near downtown.

Increased competition:
Several new restaurants opened downtown and enjoyed their "honeymoon" period resulting in fewer sales at The Rose. Pricing was also an issue. We had a beautiful restaurant with large overhead, full linen, nice plates, heavy flatware, etc. People didn't seem to care. They'd rather save a dollar and eat with paper napkins and boring surroundings.

Four years ago we were all much better off than today. Enough said.

It's a ghost town downtown in the winter. This year was an especially harsh winter.

Tourists and Boaters:
Dwindling numbers

The biggest hitter in town seemed to forget about us after it changed hands. The former owners ARE the biggest hitters in town. Other companies are cutting back. (see economy)

Due to dwindling numbers we couldn't afford solid management. Realizing where our bread was buttered we had to tend to the restaurant that was making money.

Menu Change:
We changed the concept to a more casual "Southwest American" menu and decreased prices. It helped but all the other factors were just too much. Plus some people didn't understand what "Southwest" was.

The City
City government is clueless. They are only concerned about the short term buck. They also make it very difficult to do business.

In the end all of the factors above contributed to us splitting our customers between the two restaurants. It was what we feared from the beginning.

At the time we made the decision to purchase The Yellow Rose we weren't familiar enough with the dynamics involved. We are a little cloistered in Caledonia and a little spoiled with the apparent ease of doing business there.

What would I have done differently? Not done it at all.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sad Day

It's sad because it was a beautiful restaurant that on it's worst day was still the best restaurant in the "City" of Racine.

Mistakes made. Lessons learned.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thought of the Moment.

I just stumbled across Bourdain's show. I used to get a kick out him. I think he's become a parody of himself. If he wasn't getting paid I think he'd be ashamed of himself. As far as the gig goes I'd take it but then I'd have to make snarky comments about myself.


I have many new readers so I thought I'd bump this old post. It is the only reflection of my firefighting days on this blog. I have a few that I've composed but I'm reluctant to post. Most are very dark memories that I write more as therapy than wnything else. I've been tempted to post them but I think this blog is no longer the proper venue.

Monday, November 19, 2007
Carbon Moment?
This may seem random but it tells something about me.

I had a strange dream last night. I was in a poetry class and the professor calls on me and asks me a very long winded question. It was so long and verbose that he lost my attention until the very end. All I heard was "describe the carbon moment in your life". Huh? Not knowing what the hell he was talking about I took a stab at it. I figured he was asking about a "defining moment" in my life. I asked if he wanted the short or long version of my answer and he replied, "the short if it's good enough". "If not I'll ask you to expound on the subject".

Ok. "death". He asked me to clarify.

That's when I woke up. It got me to thinking. Did I have a defining moment in my life? Something that has shaped me? Some specific event or time that had a profound affect on me and my life? Something that really "defines" or describes me and how I approach life in general? Yes. There is, or was, or still is. However you look at it. It's something I've been aware of for a long time but I never traced it to a specific moment until I thought about it while I lay there in bed trying to get back to sleep. It was the first time I made the conscious choice to lay my life on the line. It was 18 years ago. On the southeast side of Milwaukee. I had one year on the job as a Milwaukee firefighter. We responded to a house fire in the middle of the day. It was a relatively large two story structure located on a corner. At one time it was either a small grocery store or a tavern with a small hall attached. You see these types of structures all over in the old areas of town. Back in the day the neighborhoods were dotted with corner bars and grocery stores with living quarters above. Now-a-days they are converted to duplexes. One apartment up and one down. It was the lower unit that was on fire. We were the third engine in. Disappointing because the third engine was a "bridesmaid". You usually didn't get to put the wet stuff on the red stuff. You might help lay some lines help ventilate or protect an exposure. We got there shortly after the first two engines. The lower unit was heavily involved in fire. Thick black smoke belched out of most of the windows. The ones that didn't cough smoke were spewing flames. It was a "good" fire. We assisted the first and second engine companies lay lines. (hoses) Things move fast when you get on a fire scene. It's controlled chaos but the boys on the MFD are very good at what they do, they make it look almost like poetry.

I was working on a different shift that day. I was also working with an "acting" boss. Not a promoted person but a firefighter acting as boss. The senior member of the crew would fill in if the real boss (officer) needed to get away for training or personal time. The acting boss was Paul. The "cub" or rookie of the crew would be glued to the boss's hip. The cub was me. I had about a year on the job. I had been to fires before and had proved myself to be capable. Still very inexperienced as far as firefighters go. There is a saying on the job that until you got five years on, you're a liability. I really didn't know shit.

As we proceeded to lay the other engines lines a report came in about children trapped in the apartment on the second floor of the burning building. I have a hard time describing how a firefighter feels when he hears that. You can only imagine. This is why we fight fires. This is why we do all the mundane and dirty jobs while working our 24 hour shift. This is it. This is what it is all about my friends, this is life.

Being the third engine "in" we weren't engrossed in a specific task Paul immediately turned to me and said "let's go kid" (I was 30 years old) We got half-way up the back stairs and donned our "masks" (breathing apparatus) and proceeded to enter the upstairs apartment. There are schools of thought on many fire departments that you never do a search above the fire without a line. (hose charged with water) It not only can put out fire if need be it is also your life line to safety. More than one firefighter has lost his life getting lost in a two bedroom apartment. This one was a large three bedroom above a raging fire. It also had an odd floor plan. It wasn't your typical German duplex, Milwaukee bungalow or Polish flat. We knew how those were laid out. Generally speaking if you've seen one you've seen them all. Without hesitation Paul crawled into the apartment. You are also trained "two in, two out". I was glued to his hip and had to go. It was absolutely pitch black. I mean black! You could not see your hand two inches in front of your face. I might as well had my eyes closed. It was also extremely hot. We began our search in a clockwise pattern around the apartment. Keeping literally in touch with one another with our axes stretched out in our hands trying to cover as much space as possible. Under beds, on beds, in closets. (kids tend to hide in fires) I wasn't sure if I wanted to find them or not. I was also scared shitless. The further we got from those stairs the more nervous I became. Our breathing apparatus contained 30 minutes of air in optimal conditions. In a fire where you are exerting yourself and also scared shitless you're lucky to get 15. We had 15 minutes to find these kids and find our way out. I kept running into things, kitchen table, couch etc. You don't stand up in a fire, you crawl. You'll never find a real fireman standing or walking in a decent fire. Meanwhile we could hear the chatter on the radio. Listening for reports of the kids. Maybe they got out? Maybe they were really at school? We could also hear the other companies making progress on the fire. All the windows on our floor were being smashed around us. The ladder companies were doing a good job of ventilating and the heat and smoke were lessening. My warning bell starting going off. Your SCBA (breathing apparatus) would sound a warning bell when you had five minutes of air left. (more like two in real life)I was really shitting bricks at this point. Paul yelled to me not to worry and keep searching. (gulp!)By the time my air finally ran out completely you could actually see where you were and kind of breath the air. The boys downstairs had put the fire out. Paul knew the crews at that fire and had the confidence that they would have it under control enough for us to continue with or without air. We were joined by other crews and really tore up that apartment looking for those kids. None found. False report.

When we got outside Paul told me I had done a good job and went about the business of picking up hose and cleaning up. He acted as if we just went for a walk in the park. I just spent 20 minutes of the most exhilarating, horrific, unreal experience of my life and he shrugs it off like another day at the office! That's when it hit me. It was just another day at the office.

The point I'm trying to make is until you've put your toe over that line you don't know what's going to happen. Will you cut it or not? Betting your life on your co-workers skills, your training, your confidence that someone isn't going to fuck up and get you killed. Until you've gone there you're not a member of the club. I imagine soldiers and cops feel the same way. Which reminds me. Before Paul was a fireman he was a cop. He also had the rare label of killing a man in a gun battle while on the job. Before that he was a Marine who served in Vietnam. I guess for him that search and rescue was just another day at the office. As someone once said, "in life there are players and there are spectators." I knew from that day on I wanted to be dealt in.

It wasn't too many years later that I had a cub on my hip. We also would take walks in the park.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Top Earning "Chefs"

I found this interesting.

How much does your favorite celebrity chef earn in a year? According to the latest Forbes list of top-earning celebrity chefs, Rachael Ray leads the pack.

Is there anybody else you think should have made the list? Where is Emeril?

1. Rachel Ray- $18 million
2. Wolfgang Puck - $16 million
3. Gordon Ramsay- $7.5 million
4. Nobuyuki Matsuhisa - $5 million
5. Alain Ducasse - $5 million
6. Paula Deen - $4.5 million
7. Mario Batali - $3 million
8. Tom Colicchio - $2 million
9. Bobby Flay - $1.5 million
10. Anthony Bourdain - $1.5 million

I'm not surprised. The older I get the more I realize it's all about marketing the package. Yes there are some very talented Chefs on the list but there are a couple clinkers as well. (Paula Dean was especially surprising)

Even the real Chefs on the list know it's about marketing and oppurtunity.

Another Chef's Blog

As you know I've been searching for chef's blogs on the web. A good place to find them is on other chef's blogs. I found one on Michael Walsh's blog, View from the Kitchen. I just added the link to "Cuisinier's Kitchen" on my link list. I just started reading it so I'm short on info but the Chef appears to be a talented guy cooking in Seattle. Definitely an upscale restaurant serving the latest "haute" cuisine. It's looks like a big place, possibly a hotel. Seattle is a foodie town with plenty of fine diners with deep pockets. A great place for a chef to be working. Chef's often lament (myself included) about how far you can go with a menu in a food challenged city, Seattle is not one of them.

I also added a link to "Eat Wisconsin". A local guy who enjoys food and posts regularly. Mark Czerniec's blog is another local foodie whose link is on my list. In addition to Chef's blogs I also include local writers who aren't in the industry. I think it's important to network locally to promote the area's dining scene and each others blogs.

Speaking of blogs, one thing I've noticed while searching is that one thing many of these blogs have in common is a link to Michael Ruhlman's blog. If you've never heard of him he's an author who writes extensively about food and has appeared on Tony Bourdain's show as well as a judge on Top Chef. I never heard of him until an author acquaintance of mine mentioned he got a boost in sales when Ruhlman reviewed his book. I guess that's why so many foodies and Chef's include his link. The hopes of exposure. Everyone wants to be read right? When I came across his blog I added his link and shot him an e-mail about mine. He responded he'd "take a look" but he must not have found much to like. No further communication or link. I understand he probably has people falling all over themselves trying to get his attention. You can't list every one's blog. So unlike my fellow bloggers I removed his link. The least he can do is remove the ones from his blog that haven't posted in months. Besides he's not a foodservice pro and he aint local. Sour grapes? Maybe but I like people who get their hands dirty.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ah(I) Tuna!

Another product I scrutinize is tuna. Not only the tuna I serve but the tuna everyone else serves. I enjoy good tuna and my customers have grown accustomed to quality fresh tuna. Too often when visiting other restaurants I am served a frozen tuna product that has been altered to enhance the color of the flesh. To the best of my knowledge it's a cold smoke process that permanently turns the meat a bright pinkish red color. No matter how old that tuna gets it's still the same fluorescent pinkish color. You may have seen it at your grocery store in the frozen fish section. The tuna is usually triangle shaped and often packed two to a pack. Many restaurants serve it because tuna is a tricky animal. It spoils quickly and the flesh of fresh tuna begins to turn gray when exposed to air. So it's difficult to slip it by the customer. How do you know it's safe to order tuna in a restaurant? Two big factors, the restaurant's reputation and price. Good tuna is not cheap, bad tuna is.

There are different types of tuna varying in quality. The most precious is "Bluefin". Used extensively in sushi and sashimi. It's VERY expensive and is becoming scarce. Next down the tuna chain is "Big Eye". Very nice tuna and a good alternative to Bluefin. Then comes "Yellowfin", this tuna is probably the most abundant among restaurants that serve fresh tuna. It's not as expensive and is still a nice product. It's also broken down into grades of quality. Number one being the best, then two++, two+ and two. It's further broken down by size. The smaller the fish the less expensive. Bigger fish have a higher fat contact. In tuna and many other fish fat is a good thing. The bad thing is the fatter the fish the higher the mercury content. It is most prevalent in Bluefin. They are larger, dive deeper, and have the highest fat content. There was a recent study done in New York city studying Mercury levels in tuna and the amounts were alarming. The highest levels were found in Bluefin. I'm not suggesting you refrain from tuna, you would have to eat tuna often to worry about it.

Other types of tuna are Albacore and Skipjack. I'm seeing Albacore sold fresh and is also used in canning. Skipjack, also known as Bonito is canned and dried.

A couple of terms that are associated with tuna are "Ahi" the name for Yellowfin tuna, "Maguro", the Japanese term for Bluefin tuna and "toro", the fat under belly of Bluefin (Abolutely delicious).

Because of the severe shortage (and the price)of Bluefin I serve Big Eye and #1 Yellowfin. Still great products if you can move enough to keep it fresh. Hence the reason why so many restaurants serve the frozen variety.

I've included a link below about sushi tuna. I encourage you to try it. I like it seared rare with a little soy glaze, pickled ginger and wasabi. Rare seared tuna is also known as "tataki". I also feel it should be eaten with chopsticks. I hate it when I'm served thinly sliced rare tuna with a fork. When we go out I'm going to have to start bringing my own chopsticks with me.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Go Time

Just took a break at Death's Door before heading into the home stretch of the dreaded yet much anticipated month of August.

I'll be posting soon. A little about the restaurant scene in vacation spots and the untidy business of cleaning up the results of a bad decision.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Love My Tender

I have fought more battles over beef tenderloin than any other product. I have five menu items that are garnered from beef "tenders" including my biggest sellers filet mignon, in 8 or 12 ounces. I also serve tournadoes of beef, twin steaks cut from the tapered ends of the tender, beef satay using smaller trimmings and a steak sandwich. It's important that I get good tenderloins. They are not created equal. The U.S.D.A inspects and grades most commercial meat products in this country. Any beef products for sale to the public must be inspected. If the product is shipped over state lines it must be Federally inspected. USDA grading is voluntary. So if you see meat for sale at the local grocer that says USDA inspected it is usually meant to confuse the customer. ALL meat must be inspected.

The grading system for beef is "Standard" (sometimes referred to as commercial), "Select", "Choice" and "Prime". Within each category are sub-categories in regards to marbling or "yield grades". So when I order USDA "Choice" from a purveyor it may not be the same quality as another suppliers "Choice" product. Also there are some unscrupulous suppliers that will fudge the system and try to pass off "Select" for "Choice" and "Standard" for "Select". I specify USDA Choice for all my beef products. I also require yield grade 3 to 5. The higher the yield grade the more marbling (flavor) there is. I also want to mention "Angus" isn't a grade, it's a type of beef cattle. Because something is "Angus" does not make it better. The Angus folks have done a nice job of marketing. I usually try and avoid it. It's not worth the added cost.

Alot of restaurants serve "Choice" beef. Few serve "Choice" tenderloins. The reason? They are very expensive. Even some of the big "steak houses" don't serve "Choice" filet mignon. What is usually served is the same product you'll find in the grocery store, "cow" tenderloin or "Commercial" grade. An eight ounce cow tender will cost about three bucks. The same portion of "Choice" product is between 10 and 12 bucks. So when you're looking at a menu, think about the cost of the steak, and everything that comes with it and ask yourself if this restaurant is selling me a quality filet mignon at $19.95?

In addition to the grading, age is important. I like to "wet" age for 21 days then dry age for another seven. Proper ageing makes for a firm yet tender steak. My test for for tenderness is literally "fork tender". You should be able to cut through an eight ounce filet with a fork. Granted it won't cut easily but it should cut through.

Within the tenderloin itself is a difference in quality. The best cuts, typically filet mignon, come from the "barrel" or "Chateau" section of the tender. That's the very center from which only three "barrel" steaks can be cut. (The photo above is a 12oz Choice, barrel cut filet.) Next is what is referred to as "center cut", the portion of the tender that begins to taper. Then there is the "butt" and the ends. All quality product but best suited for specific uses. If you look at the beef tenderloin video in the side bar you'll notice the smaller steaks being cut from the tapered section of the tender and the larger ones from the center.

We serve a "barrel cut" filet mignon and tournadoes which are "center cut", if you watch the tenderloin video on the video bar you can see the larger steaks being cut from the barrel and the smaller filets from the narrower sections of the tender.

Most steak eaters have their preference of cut. I happen to be a "filet guy", many people I've talked to believe the filet lacks flavor and prefer a New York or ribeye. I contend that they probably haven't had too many good quality filets. In my opinion a well marbled, aged, "Choice" filet eats as good or better than just about any other cut. Just be prepared to pay top dollar for it.