Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bravo, Top Chef in New York

Ok, three nights in New York. Can't eat 6 courses every night, so I meet friend and fellow venture capitalist Brad for soba noodles in Soho--a famous place, I learn, called Honmura An. Good noodles, very good noodles actually and decent small plates too. But that's not the good part. I thought $80 for two, including two light beers was a bit steep for noodles, no matter how sublime.

Brad says he knows a place next door to get tea and dessert. Sounds a little Castro-district to me, but Brad doesn't ride that bike, so I say lets go. Two minutes later we enter a nearly empty Moroccon tea room. Casablanca is quite literally projecting on the white curtains and we are ordering mint tea and baklava, as the French police are busting into Rick's Bar high above us. But that's still not the good part. Well actually that was a pretty good part.

Then, at about ten o'clock, some vaguely familiar people stroll into the place each with respective entourage in tow (what is the plural for entourage?). They are, I am amazed to overhear, some of this season's contestants on Bravo's TOP CHEF. My wife and I are addicted to Top Chef, which rotates in production with what I think is the only other show on Bravo, Project Runway, which is also a Susan favorite. On Top Chef, 15 pro-am chef's, cooks, cafeteria workers etcetera each compete for circa 15 weeks for something like $100,000, a vending cart and a whisk. Anyway they are here--and now we are here--in an obscure Moroccan bar in SoHo to watch and drink through this week's episode. For me this a little like finding yourself watching the first screening of Star Wars, while sitting next to Jabba the Hut (I am sometimes told by strangers I look like either Bruce Willis or the young Jabba). What a hoot!

I engage the top chefs in idle banter and find out that this is the first time they have seen the actual edited production of the episode and by a vote of 2-1 consider it fairly true to what actually happened. None of them would reveal the outcome of the competition--apparently doing so results in the forfeiture of the whisk.

It turns out that Josie, Cliff, and Sam (the three TC contestants) respective followers consist of some of the most beautiful women I have ever seen--yes all three of them are surrounded by gorgeous women, especially Josie. Andy Warhol was right about each of us getting our 15 minutes of fame. What he didn't tell us is that after those 15 minutes are up, we will be surrounded for some longer period by gorgeous women, whether we like it or not. Is it just me or does this sound ominously like what al Qaeda tells its prospective suicide bombers.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Barcelona Get Your Goat?

So many places, so few meals. The goal of the trip was to visit the famed el Bulli restaurant, located a couple of hours north of Barcelona on the Costa Brava. It took years to score this reservation, which I was unable to get until one of my colleagues, Tom, let slip that his son had worked there, and would be happy to call chef/owner Ferran Adria to request a table. Tom and his son, of course, flew in to eat with us. Thus, Barcelona's own munching opportunities were an afterthought for us, despite the fact that the city has rapidly become a magnet for some of the world's most creative young chefs.

It turns out, that the Hotel Majestic, where we stayed, was home to one of the best classic Catalan restaurants in the city, Drolma. To not ride the elevator down four floors to this culinary gem would have, certainaly been an inexcusable oversight. So, when my partner, Phil, his wife Nancy, and I ventured down to the first floor, we were hopeful, but ultimately focused on a different meal a few days hence, and a few hundred kilometers North.

BIG SURPRISE. Chef Fermi Puig (who worked at el Bulli in the early '80s) slow-cooked a baby goat leg, which transformed into one of the most luscious and memorable pieces of animal I have ever ingested. The sauce seemed to have chocolate touches (one of our party said cinnamon, but I don't think so). But it was the meat, roasted for eight hours at low temp, that created the amazing taste and texture that was now melting in my mouth. I still dream about it. It has imprinted on my brain like a baby duck to its mother. I must replicate it, or get close. If you go to Barcelona, you must, MUST, have the baby goat at Drolma. But don't fill up on other stuff (and there was a bunch of other great stuff), because after you finish your half goat leg, they come back to offer you the other half. Eat it too!

Easter at my childhood home meant baby goat. My dad, a butcher, would drive his light blue pick-up hundreds of miles to some obscure ranch to collect live animals, then deliver them to the processor for----well----processing. Most would go to his customers. One would come home. Then, my grandmother would take the resulting parts and turn them into food. Shoulder became a savory stew with tomato, wine, onions and olives. Rib chops were dipped in egg and lightly breaded; then fried in hot olive oil to become crispy little goat cutlet popcycles with the rib bone forming the easy-grip handle. Then the leg, roasted with garlic, olive oil and rosemary--like a small leg of lamb, similar in texture, but with melting collagen causing a little extra tenderness. And, no lamby or goaty flavor. Young goats don't taste like goat, they taste more like milk-fed veal.

So, now back in the States, I am trying to score baby goats and find eight-hour roasting recipes. My father's sources have long since succumbed. So far, I have leads on three goat sources; one from Alice Waters, who was kind enough to connect me with S&B Ranch in Petaluma. I was able to get one goat from this rancher, but she has since found them to be more work than profit and would prefer to sell me piglets. Maybe another time.

It also looks like a sister of the proprietor of Marin Sun Farms, which produces my favorite organic grass-fed beef, may be raising goats. Traded phone calls suggest that Julie, the sister, might prefer to sell me several at a time--restaurant style. But I went up to the Farmers' Market today to meet her and she seemed open to my request for one goat at a time. She is looking for help in finding ways to prepare goat (a special African breed raised for its meat not its milk), so maybe--if my cooking experiments are successful, I can help her out too.

At any rate, working out all the uncomfortable details of turning free- range organic livestock into food on on a one-off basis in a healthful, legal and humane fashion has proven to be a challenge, the details of which you will be spared. But I am finally convinced, I can get the goat at some price and in some condition.

The hard part, it seems, is sleuthing out an acceptable plan for preparing the meat. The Internet has been zero help. Paula Wolfert offers a recipe for slow-roasted lamb which, in principle, should apply. This will take some more work , so I may need many baby goats. I'll let you know how it comes out. If you want to be guinea pigs (which I don't yet eat), let me know. In the meantime, I will write a letter to Chef Puig, to see if he just might send me the recipe.

Just to close on Barcelona, while we were hunting goat, I wanted to find great authentic tapas as well. First choice was Cal Pep, but our concierge screwed up and blew our chance at a reservation (a skinny girl who clearly didn't grasp the importance of finding the best food and apparently didn't understand the words "call first thing in the morning on September 1, when they are just back from holiday"). Oh well, a reason to go back.

So Phil checked with his concierge at the modern Hotel Arts, who informed him that a star chef from Madrid had just opened up a new white table cloth tapas restaurant in that very hotel called Arola (celebrity chef Sergi Arola). All I can say is ANOTHER ELEVATOR TRIP TO NIRVANA. Check it out. Also if you go to la Boqeria, the central market try Pinotxo, one of Ferran Adria's "happy places". No white table cloths, but the food! Plus you are surrounded by most of Spain's greatest ingredients.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Spanish Pigs Have Black Feet

For information on finding ingredients and recipes go to
To get the latest foodcrunch post on you mobile phone text the
word "foodcrunch" to 44-636

The first night in Catalonia is dinner al fresco in my Barcelona Hotel. Three reasons for this. One, I need to pace myself over the next week. Two, there are several Spanish ingredients I want to try at the market. Three, its August 30 and most of the places I want to try are closed until September 1. Those Euros and their August adventures.

Barcelona's main covered market, Mercat de Sant Josep/ La Boqueria, is centrally located just south of the Gothic quarter. I went there in search of sheep's cheese and jamon iberico (ham from the patta negra "black-footed" pig) "Bellota" (which refers to the pigs being free-range and fed on acorns). I was also looking for some exotic fruit and a decent local wine to wash it all done. SCORE! I found a Catalonian raw milk sheep's cheese that tasted like a sweet ricotta, but with enough structure to stick to a piece of baguette. I urge you to seek out these anonomous fresh cheeses in European markets. They simply don't exist in the U.S. except at a very few farmers' markets around the country. SCORE 2: Izatzabel, one of my favorite Spanish cheeses, in the pecorino toscano style, but with a sharper edge. SCORE 3: Mediterranean peaches and plums and a 10-euro Tempranillo (red wine) that was perfectly drinkable.

Then the Grand Slam: 150 grams of cured pork leg, sliced thin, from the acorn-fed black-footed (patta negra) iberico pigs--a bona fide culinary treasure, in my judgement, like the white truffles of the Piemonte and the endangered beluga cavier. Much earthier than the Prociutto di Parma of my heritage, this ham is darker in color and has more of a caramel sweetness. It is also less salty and can be more or less chewy than Prociutto, depending on the paricular ham and how it is cut. My experience is that the Spanish cut it more thickly than is typical in Italy. At room temperaure the surface of the slices is pleasantly oilly. Rub a piece on your upper lip and eat fruit!

I also tried several other cured cuts of this animal, including the Lomo (cured loin of the black-footed pig) and Chroizo (a spanish paprika-spiced cured sausage, unlike the raw Mexican Chorizo). It was all spectacular. Once, the first slice of spicy chorizo went down, it was slice after slice until it was completely gone.

So how do we get it here? Go to Spain. Unfortunately, there has been no acorn-fed jamon iberico from patta negra pigs in the United States, because there was no USDA approved processing facility in Spain--but that is all changing. This year a U.S. company called la Tienda began importing iberico lomo and chorizo and will be receiving its first iberco hams very soon. The company has worked directly with Spanish producers and the USDA for half a decade to bring jamon iberico to the United States and you can go to the web site to pre-order yours now. But fair warning, it will be expensive. The stuff I acquired during my trip cost 122-euros (about $146) per kilo. In the meantime, try their lomo and chorizo and get a can of the sweet smoked spanish paprika to juice up your sauces and rubs.

We put in for our ham three or so years ago and will be having a pig-eaten party when it arrives in 2008.

But back to Barcelona. With my ham, fruit, cheese and wine (and British TV), I was in no need of the famed Barcelona night life. Instead, my foodie equivalent of smoking hashish in Amsterdam--partaking of contraband raw milk cheese and forbidden cured pig in a Barcelona hotel was enough for me. I felt like I was putting one over on the puritans at the USDA, and with the price of the ham and measuring it in grams, it was not unlike an illegal drug experience.

Friday, October 06, 2006

It took a month, but FoodCrunch is finally up and running with food ingredient sources, recipes and restaurant suggestions. I hope you enjoy it and will contribute your comments.