Monday, June 30, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Menu

Rolled out the new menu last night. For the most part I'm very happy. I need to work on a couple minor issues.

I'll continue to post photos of some of the new dishes. I may have to use the tripod, I'll need it if I don't use the flash. I don't like the way the food shines when using it. Without it, unless you have a very steady hand you get a blurry photo.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Industry Snobbery

I've been watching interviews at the latest James Beard awards at Lincoln Center in New York City. Or more accurately on the "red carpet" before the awards. If you're not aware, the James Beard awards are the equivalent to the "Oscars" in the movie industry. Celebrating every thing from chefs, authors, designers and restaurateurs. The thing that struck me was the apparent high level of snobbery associated with these awards. The chefs and restaurateurs interviewed come across as some of the most arrogant bunch of fat cats I've ever seen. The theme for the evening seemed to be who can act the humblest. Most of the interviewees were very wealthy restaurant owners or celebrity chefs. Most from New York. I was especially taken by the comments of the gray haired Italian dude who was sweating like a pig. When asked about the state of Italian food in the United States he said it had a long way to go. Seeing the surprised look on the interviewers face the damp Italian guy says it may be OK in New York or L.A. but in between it's a "desert". My guess is this guy has never been close to "fly over country" and couldn't find his ass with a mirror. What an arrogant prick! I often complain about Italian restaurants but to make a blanket statement like that shows the attitude of the James Beard awards and the people who select the winners. They are so out of touch with 98% of the industry and America. I think James Beard would be embarrassed at what these awards have come to represent. Snobs voting for snobs.

Would I want a James Beard award? Of course but it will never happen. Just as 99.9% of chefs in America will never have a shot. Whether or not I'm capable is questionable but the big reasons have been discussed in a previous post. I'm here to serve my customers. I serve what I think my customers want. I'm also tucked away in Caledonia Wisconsin. Not exactly a media hot bed. The same goes for most of my colleagues across this country. We are satisfied with what we do. We are satisfied with making our customers happy. We are satisfied to make a comfortable living for ourselves and our employees. THAT is what the restaurant business is about. It's not about red carpets.

I would like to mention a bright spot in the awards. It is every chef's dream to have that medal with the red ribbon placed around their neck. Adam Seigal's dream was fulfilled when he won the coveted award for Best Chef, Midwest. To Adam I say congratulations! It's nice to see a local chef win and it's even nicer to see someone who serves "real" food win. I have a small connection to Lake Park Bistro where Adam is the Executive Chef. My daughter is a food server there and her best friend, who had worked for me for two years, is a line cook. (I'm proud to say I've prepared him well) We also enjoy the restaurant and traveled to New York earlier in the year to attend a dinner prepared there by Chef Seigal. So I'm familiar with the Chef's style and the Bartolotta organization for whom he works. Chef Seigal serves "real" food with "real" ingredients using tried and true preparation methods. These days the trend in the high end restaurants is to serve multiple course "tasting" menus consisting of five, seven, 14 or even 21 courses of little "bites". Also common amongst these menus is something called "molecular gastronomy" who's practitioners are becoming more and more prevalent among James Beard award winners. This style of "cooking" uses unconventional ingredients and preparation methods, ie: liquid nitrogen, xanthan gum, and others that I have no clue about. The presentation of these plates are often contrived and bizarre. I call it "cooking with smoke and mirrors". Almost like a magic show. The preponderance of these "restaurants" are located in big media centers and get alot of attention. They also cater to foodies who continue to demand something new and different. It is also these foodies who nominate and select the James Beard Award winners. So it is with satisfaction that a chef who still believes in "real" good food won the award.

By the way, what I want to know is, what is the state of American food in Italy?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Working Copy of Menu

Small Plates
Tempura 9
Chicken, shrimp, vegetable
Tuna Tataki 11
Seared rare, wasabi, ginger, soy glaze
Beef Satay 8
Garlic-chili sauce, Asian slaw
Pork Pot Stickers 9
Asian slaw, soy glaze
Lump Crab Cakes 12
Apricot and mustard sauces
Mussels 9
Braised with Champagne cream and bacon
Lobster Claw Cocktail 16
Avocado, lime, peppers, mango, apricot sauce
Grilled Oysters 10
Garlic, spinach, Parmesan
Combination 38
Lobster claws, oyster shooters,
tuna tataki, beef satay
Micro Burgers 12
Sautéed onions, bleu cheese,
Steak Sandwich 12
Beef tenderloin, sautéed onions

Goat Cheese Tart and Arrugala 7
Caramelized onions and apricot dressing
Grilled Romaine 6
Balsamic vinaigrette, gorgonzola cheese
The Wedge 6
Romaine, onion strings, bacon, basil vinaigrette
Mixed Greens 4
Spring lettuce mix tossed with basil vinaigrette and shredded parmesan.
Side Dishes
Onion Strings 5
Asparagus stir-fry 7
Mushroom Sautee 5
Creamed Spinach 6
Today’s Vegetable 4
Garlic and Chive Mashed Potatoes 4
Bleu Scalloped Potatoes 4
Pomme Frites 4

Grouper 25
Sautéed in sesame flour with mango-pepper slaw, lime butter, and fried plantains.
Salmon 19
Grilled, served “Sandefjiord” with potato pancake and Scandinavian style dill sauce.
Scallops 25
Sautéed natural scallops, served with
potato croquettes, spinach, and
smoked tomato butter sauce.
Lobster Dumplings 26
Pan fried shitake-mirin butter
Fruit of the Sea 23
Lobster consommé, fresh fish of the day, scallop, shrimp, mussels, noodles
Chicken 19
Wild mushrooms ala crème and
cheddar mashed potatoes.
Pan-fried Noodles 18
Crisp Asian style noodles topped with stir fried vegetables and tofu in spicy Kabayaki sauce.
Bistro Steak 20
Tender flat iron steak, grilled, sliced and served with demi-glace and pomme frites.
Tournedos of Beef 26
Twin beef tenderloin steaks, served with
wild mushrooms ala crème and
cheddar mashed potatoes.
Filet Mignon
Dry aged, “barrel cut” beef tenderloin.
Served with demi-glace, béarnaise and
bleu cheese scalloped potatoes.
8oz 30
12oz 39
Bone in Rib eye 32
Bourbon-Dijon sauce with garlic-chive
mashed potatoes.
Rack of Lamb 32
Coated with Dijon, garlic and panko, roasted and served with rosemary demi-glace and bleu cheese mashed potatoes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Great Debate

I'm currently working on the new summer menu. As always, each time I do a new menu, I'm confronted with the same dilemma. Do great food that I can be proud of and satisfy the broad range of customers that we serve. Sure, I'd love to "Kellerize" the menu but afterall this is Racine Wisconsin and I have bills to pay. Not to mention my employees have bills to pay. If we go foo-foo we'd all be out of a job. I'm afraid I have to walk that line between cutting edge and tried and true. One common thread between both approaches is great product. We may not have the poshest menu in S.E. Wisconsin but we don't take a back seat to anyone when it comes to quality. Quality is the essential ingredient in any great restaurant's coffers. Which brings up another dilemma, price. Quality costs money. Even though we have a reputation in town of being expensive our menu prices are well below the top-notch restaurants in Milwaukee, our neighbor to the north. Our portions are also larger. We're putting bigger and better product on the plate but still charging up to $10.00 less than alot of restaurants. Take our ribeye for example. We sell a gorgeous 18oz, bone-in steak, with cheddar mashed potato, vegetable, demi-glace, garlic compound butter and bread and butter for $30. I've recently seen the same steak priced well into the 40s and it was simply steak on a plate with a little au jus.

The economy isn't helping out. Especially around here. This area still has the highest unemployment in the State, gas prices are affecting the dining habits of many local customers, energy costs are rising and it's an election year. (never a good time for restaurants) Not only are my customers feeling it, so are we. With that being said, I have to get this menu done. I have to increase profit margin and not pass all the costs to the customer. I also refuse to serve crap or "fake" product that I see happening all over.

We are also changing the format of the menu as well. It will be printed on legal sized card stock with our logo watermarked on it. We will also mount the menu on a leather bound menu backer. It makes it easier to handle, read, store and change.

I hope to be done this week.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Back to the Good Ole days!

Back to the good ole days! As I've said many times in the past, "I'm a cook, first and foremost". It's what I do best. In my perfect world I would go to work, put on a white shirt, grab a knife and start cooking. We took a big step closer to that perfect world when we announced that we'd be closing #2 (AKA The Yellow Rose) at the end of the month.

Our lease is up for renewal and the timing seems just right to pull the plug. The building owner wants to expand into the space, many of our employees were about to move on and we've been craving the good ole days of owning only one restaurant. I plan to take this opportunity to really see what we can do in the kitchen at #1. I may even start baking. (gulp?)

Many lessons were learned.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ivory King salmon

My Northwest guy called and said a "day boat" loaded with Ivory King Salmon just got in. It will be at my door tomorrow. Might as well do some razor clams while we're at it. The Ivory King is indeed a rare treat. Reprinted article about the Kings below.

Organic asparagus is still be harvested as well as gorgeous organic baby spinach. Look for soups, salads, side dishes and more. I did a cream-less puree style asparagus soup last week that was killer and sold like hotcakes.

By Melissa Campbell, Alaska Journal of Commerce, Anchorage
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 12, 2005 - Whenever Sherry Tuttle sees white flesh when she and her fishing crew are filleting the day's king salmon catch, it's celebration time.

Catching a white king salmon is a treat. The fish make up less than 5 percent of her catch, and many of her East Coast customers covet the variation of the great king.

"I have a lot of chefs who would like me to send them nothing but white king salmon," said Tuttle of Rose Fisheries in Sitka. "On the West Coast, if they accidentally get one, they don't like it."

White king salmon, sometimes referred to as ivory kings, are fast becoming the new, gotta-have salmon dish in East Coast restaurants.

Michael Mullen, sous-chef at Harry's Savoy Grill and Ballroom in Wilmington, Del., loves to see them in the mix.

"The different color ... it's intriguing," he said. "The ivory seems more special around here; nobody here uses white king."

People across the board -- even in Alaska -- seem to love them or hate them, said 10th and M Seafoods' Dannon Southall.

"We've got a few select people who love them and want us to hold on to them," he said. "Then we have some who come in and say, 'What the heck do you have here?' Some stores think they have some kind of disease. If they've not seen them before, they freak out. But if they know about them, they drool over them."

Over the past couple of years, especially, white king salmon has become a much-awaited culinary delight for many salmon lovers. Unfortunately, fishermen can't offer their customers a steady supply of the fish.

On the surface, the white kings look exactly like any other king. Like a Cracker Jack prize, you don't truly know what you have till you open it up.

Salmon of all types get their pink and red flesh through a pigment called astaxanthin, a member of the carotenoid family. Astaxanthin is found at various levels in most sea critters. It's what makes lobster shells red, for example. It's also found in shrimp, krill and algae, which are good dinner fare for salmon.

Astaxanthin is also sold in natural health stores as a human antioxidant, relieving arthritis or joint pain.

But some king salmon cannot absorb astaxanthin, leaving their flesh a smooth ivory shade.

White kings should not be confused with being an albino, which would affect the coloration of the skin and eyes.

White kings make up only about 5 percent of the total king population, said Randy Rice, a biologist with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. They are found primarily in Southeast Alaska waters, though a few have been reported in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada.

Fishmongers never know how much white they'll get, if any. A 1,300-pound king salmon shipment to 10th and M in late May had 200 pounds of white kings, Southall said. Other days, the store may get one white in an entire shipment.

White kings are touted as a milder, more delicate fish when compared to their redder counterparts.

"They do taste different," Southall said. "They're richer in taste. You can definitely tell the difference. I love 'em."

Research has shown that there are no significant differences in muscle compositions of moisture, protein or lipid.

"Some people swear they're better, and some people swear they're worse," Rice said. "Nutritional analysis shows there's no difference between the two. Most scientific people say there's no difference, besides the color."

White kings haven't always been so easy to sell. Tuttle said that a few years ago, she would get up to 60 cents less per pound compared to the typical red king. So she used to keep them for herself. That won't fly anymore.

Her customers have to come first. Sous-chef Mullen is among the grateful.

"The ivory king cooks up nice," he said. "It stays together a bit more than the red."

One of his favorite dishes: pan-seared ivory king wrapped in a nori wrap.

It offers a beautiful color contrast, he said.

Asked if the kitchen had ever served white and red king in one dish, Mullen said, "No, but that's not a bad idea. Hmm, I'm thinking of a couple of combinations right now."


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Nairagi Toro and Soft Shells

Nairagi Toro (Pacific Striped Marlin)
Visible fat marbling makes it a shame to cook this grade of Nairagi. Extremely rare and reminiscent of ahi toro for its valuable oil content, this is a sashimi lover’s dream. When cooked, its presentation-like cream orange color turns to a mild pink and maintains moisture. Raw nairagi is a little known secret of the Hawaiian islands. Texture qualities offer a candy smooth firmness which makes great tartar, poke, or simply sliced.

Soft Shell Crabs

I'll also be doing a mixed organic lettuce salad with Flashy Trout's Back lettuce and Italienescher lettuce with a Japanese style dressing. (Freshly picked from Tim's organic farm in East Troy.)

Flashy Trout's Back