Dinner at Forage Restaurant

One of the most exciting, current food trends is allowing the local to shape the nature of a restaurant’s cuisine. Restaurants in Europe, like Noma and Faviken, have been instrumental in spearheading this movement, and now other chefs in the United States are incorporating this philosophy into how they cook. This trend is a very localized farm-to-table movement, where all the details of the restaurant are shaped by this philosophy. (An aside: I am fascinated by how this trend has appeared at the height of the molecular gastronomy movement in cuisine.)

Forage Restaurant in Salt Lake City is presenting cuisine connected with the terrior of Utah, and after a meal there this past Saturday, it is very exciting.

Forage has been on my radar even before moving to Utah. I think I first heard of Forage when the chefs (Viet Pham and Bowman Brown at the time) were nominated for a James Beard award. Viet Pham left Forage in September 2012 to pursue his own restaurant (he has appeared on Food Network a couple of times). Since then, Chef Brown has put his unique spin on the menu paying more careful attention to what Utah offers and trying to look deeply at the question, “What can this place offer? And how can I respect the ingredients?”

For my birthday my parents’ gift to me was money so that Claire and I could enjoy an evening at Forage. I had not been this excited about a meal in a really long time, and was slightly worried that my expectations would be too high and I would be let down. Thankfully, that was not the case in the least; the team at Forage gave us one of the best meals I have ever enjoyed, and definitely the best dining experience in Utah.

Forage only offers a tasting menu, which can be accompanied by wine pairings or non-alcoholic juice pairings. I opted for the wine pairings with each course, while Claire had the juice pairings. When you dine at Forage, I think this is the way to go as the juices were unique and delicious and definitely not an afterthought to the wine (actually in some courses, we both preferred the juice pairing to the wine pairing). The wine pairings were unique and allowed me to try some new wines, like a sparkling Malbec and a dry Gewurztraminer.

(The pictures do not do the food justice, but I was not going to spend 15 minutes to get a great picture of each dish.)

The meal started with five amuse bouches.

Apple and Woodruff

apple and woodruff with fermented honey (this was fresh pressed warm apple cider, quite possibly the best apple cider I have tasted)

Elderberry and Beet

elderberry and beet (beet puree inside of elderberry leather. Thankfully the beet was not overly sweet, so it was a nice bite of the earthy beet with the elderberry fruit)

Crispy Potato

crispy potato with chicken liver mousse (the chicken liver was very subdued and approachable)

Kale with Juniper

kale with juniper (this dish was presented to the table with a glass dome on top, so that when the server lifted the lid, the aroma of the smoking juniper branches engulfed us. The kale was presented as chips and sandwiched between was an egg yolk puree, adding a nice richness to the smokiness of the dish)

Elk and Buckwheat

elk with buckwheat (elk heart tartar with watercress and creme fraiche, served with homemade buckwheat crackers. The flavor of the tartar was quite subdued, I would have liked a stronger flavor from the heart, which felt overpowered by the cracker, but still very tasty)

All of the amuse bouches were excellent, but our favorite had to be the apple and woodruff, if only because a fresh cup of hot apple cider is just so hard to beat. The amuses came quite quickly; I wish they had been spaced out a little more so that we could truly savor each unique bite.

Bread with Local Butter

Before the main courses arrived, we were presented with homemade bread and butter made locally at Gold Creek Farms.

Crayfish and Late Tomatoes

crayfish with late tomatoes (this dish surprised me as it was presented cold. The tomatoes are presented here as ice, but with a super concentrated flavor. Underneath were two nuggets of crayfish with a crayfish panna cotta underneath.)

Fresh Roe and Potatoes with Elderberry Capers

fresh roe and potatoes with elderberry capers (a perfectly cooked potato, displaying a lovely butteriness to it, topped with fresh trout roe and cream. Potatoes, roe, cream…classic combination and for good reason.)

Young Roots, Stems, Leaves, with Fruit Vinegar

young roots, stems, leaves, with fruit vinegar (baby carrots and beets on top of a perfectly sublime parsnip puree, finished with a homemade fruit vinegar. Perfectly executed fall vegetables)

Oats and Turnips with Mushrooms

oats and turnips with mushrooms (a full on assault of umami in this course. The previous course and this course fully encapsulated the broad range of fall flavors and the beauty of this time)

Duck with Black Gooseberries

duck with black gooseberries, onion, black bread (this was not on the menu but a special course. The skin on the duck was crackling-esque, while the flavor of the duck was so deep and rich, tempered by the fruit and the lightly pickled onions)

Trout with a Sauce of its Bones

trout with a sauce of its bones (the trout was lightly smoked but still incredibly moist, topped with a briny sauce and New Zealand spinach. The combination of smoke and brine was really quite delightful)

Beef with Cabbage and Wild Onion

beef from pleasant mountain with cabbage and wild onion (beef shoulder sous vide for 48 hours in beef fat with cabbage and onion puree. The cabbage was sweeter than most cabbage I have had before, but still with a slight bitter edge, but really helped to balance the richness of the beef)

I have a hard time picking a favorite main course as they were all executed with such precision and offered unique flavors and textures. Not to mention the order and progression was great.

Frozen Quince and Green Juniper

frozen quince and green juniper (the first dessert was a quince and marshmallow sorbet topped with juniper and lemon verbana. Claire and I both loved this dessert as it was light and refreshing, serving almost like a palate cleanser)

Toasted Acorn

toasted acorn (acorn cake, acorn custard, ground toasted acorns and a salted yogurt)

I really appreciated that both desserts were not overly sweet, but again well balanced with differing textures.

I cannot reiterate how much I loved dining at Forage. It is exciting to see Chef Brown and his team doing something completely unique in terms of a dining experience in Utah.

Quartier Pop-Up at Olive & Thyme

Last time I ate Chef Gary’s food, my parents joined my wife and I at Test Kitchen LA for a Vegetarian Feast of epic proportions. Since that night, Chef Gary has left The Hall at Palihouse Hotel to fully concentrate his efforts on finding a space to open his own restaurant, along with his business partner and front of the house manager, Francois Renaud.

Finding the perfect place has taken longer than either expected, so to keep their talents sharp and to tease us with what is yet to come, the two decided to do a pop-up restaurant at Olive & Thyme on Saturdays and Sundays for the month of May, debuting on May 7.

Chef Gary and Francois have named their restaurant Quartier, which is French for neighborhood, which according to the Facebook page encapsulates their philosophy. They desire to be a relaxed restaurant, committed to the area of town they finally settle in, cooking food that is both beautiful and soulful.

I was able to get reservations for May 7 at 6:30pm and since it was Claire’s birthday week, I was able to surprise her with her best friend, Becky, joining us for the evening.

Amuse bouche: Pressure roasted sweet baby beets, lime, honey, sea salt: So simple yet such a great start to the meal as the natural earthiness and sweetness of the beets really shined. Claire did not know she could enjoy beets until she at this.

1st course: Sweet potato velouté, endive, yogurt: Claire and I both love Chef Gary’s soups. Everything is spot on – the texture, the temperature, the flavors. I do not know how he does it, but I want to learn. The endive was done in a marmalade style with vinegar, which contrasted beautifully with the sweetness of the potatoes.

2nd course: Carrots, greens, shiitake , barley, orange confit: The natural sweetness from the carrots was complemented beautifully by the orange confit sauce (which was simply stunning both in appearance and in flavor), while the shiitake mushrooms and barley grounded the dish preventing it from being too sweet.

3rd course: Asparagus, reggiano 60° egg, brown butter, lemon, parsley: The asparagus were wonderfully tender, with the cheese and lemon acting as natural complements to the flavors. There were also tiny croutons on the plate which not only added texture but were quite tasty as well.

4th course: Halibut, green garlic purée, romaine, blistered tomatoes: The halibut was cooked perfectly – moist and flaky. The green garlic purée added a mellow garlic flavor, while the blistered tomatoes added acidity and brightness to the dish.

5th course: Pork belly, petits pois à la française, potatoes: No words can really do justice to this dish. It was simply put the best pork dish I have ever had. Obviously pork belly is ridiculously fatty, but the fat was just so tasty that we forgot we were eating fat. Everything about the pork was just perfect. Talking with Chef Gary after the meal, he said that he used the belly from a curly-haired Mangalitsa pig from Hungary. Chef Gary wanted to give all the credit to the natural beauty of the product, but it still takes immense talent to do what he did with that belly. The pork belly was so good that the peas and potatoes felt unnecessary in some ways.

6th course: Strawberries, balsamic, fromage blanc, mint: The meal ended with a simple dessert of the four elements listed, and yet it was a great way to end the meal. Light, not too sweet, and refreshing, especially nice after the pork belly.

Cooking in someone else’s kitchen, plus trying to find enough people to wait table, presents its own quirks. Sure there were hiccups, but I knew there would be going in. Yet the hiccups in no way detracted from the evening. At one point, Chef Gary mentioned that Saturday was the first day they had stepped foot into the kitchen. If the meal he delivered is what he does in someone else’s kitchen, I cannot wait to see what he does in his own kitchen.

Another cool tid-bit of information: I will actually be working with Chef Gary this weekend, May 14-15. He graciously extended me the opportunity to work with him and hang out in the restaurant world again. It has been two years since I quit working in the fine-dining world, so I am really interested to see how it feels to go back. Not to mention what I can learn. Stay tuned to read how it goes.

Ode to The Donut Man

I originally wrote this post back on September 6, 2008 after Ty and I tasted the amazingness that is the Peach Donut from The Donut Man in Glendora, CA. Strawberries are starting to come into season here in California, which means the return of the Strawberry Donut. My wife, being awesome, brought home a donut for each of us to enjoy. Thus I thought it only fitting to republish my Ode to The Donut Man.

Bon appetit!

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I have seen and tasted the Promised Land of Donuts, and it is very good. The Promised Land of which I speak of is the Donut Man in Glendora on Route 66, a thirty minute drive from my house in Fullerton.

You are probably wondering, “What makes these donuts any different than the donut shop five minutes from my house? And is any donut really worth a thirty minute drive? After all, aren’t all donuts the same?” Those are good questions and they deserve an answer, especially since up until today, September 6, 2008, I had not had a donut in over a year.

The Donut Man is a little hole in the wall place where you simply walk up to the window and order your donuts to go. I had heard distant rumors of these donuts, especially the donuts that are filled with a pile of either fresh strawberries or fresh peaches. But Ty and I were not without our doubts. Sure people speak of these donuts as the greatest in the world, but how good could a donut really be?

My friend, Ty, and I arrived and I began surveying the racks of donuts, but I could not find the donuts for which we had made our pilgrimage for, and I began to think that the drive was all for naught. But at that very moment, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a heavenly glow of freshly baked and glazed donuts stuffed with beautifully ripe, golden peaches.

Ty and I quickly each got one, along with a few others to eat as we watch college football. But the peach filled donuts were not going to wait. They had to be eaten immediately. Our donuts were packaged up in a box. We found a little grassy knoll that was perfect for eating a donut.

When we opened the box, I think a heard a faint sound of an angelic choir. We examined the donut realizing that these donuts required full commitment on one’s part. The only way in which these donuts could be eaten were firmly grasped with two hands, which would obviously lead to hands covered in sugar.

I picked up my donut to examine the heavenly bliss that awaited me. First the peach slices were in all different sizes and shapes, which simply confirmed that these were peaches that had been hand-peeled and hand-sliced just for the donut. Secondly, the peaches looked perfectly ripe—neither too soft in which case they would simply disintegrate with the sugar nor too firm in which case the peach would not be sweet enough. Nor were the peaches covered with a gelatinous glaze in which all you would taste was the glaze. Rather they looked as though they were simply lightly sprinkled with some sugar. And finally the smell…oh, the smell…the smell of fresh peaches that signal the end of the summer and a fresh donut that smells of a lazy Saturday morning.

The time had come to take the first bite, and it was then that all doubts were vanquished from my mind. Ty and I simply looked at each other and started laughing and almost crying…I kid you not. No words needed to be said between the two of us, for we both knew that this experience transcended words. We both began to wonder if this donut was what Paul saw and experienced when he was caught up to the third heaven and heard and saw things that were inexpressible in words. This was no ordinary donut that we were eating.

The only way to possibly describe the marriage of flavors that danced through my mouth would be this: imagine taking a bite of a perfect peach and then taking a bite of a fresh donut. Neither of us had ever tasted something so simple yet so amazingly profound. I began thinking that fresh peaches and fresh donuts were made for one another, and yet for 27 years, I had never been introduced to these flavors. The slightly tang of the peaches balanced the sweetness of the donut, so that there was no fear of this donut causing a diabetic coma.

We savored every bite of the heavenly donut, and neither of us minded that our hands were slowly being covered in the glaze of the donut, and knowing that there was no way until we got home to get it off. Any slight discomfort from being sticky was well worth it.

The ride home we both reminisced about the experience we had just shared together, and really could not wait to introduce more people to The Donut Man. Sadly, peach season is coming to an end, so there are only a few more weeks to enjoy these donuts.

One more thing: during strawberry season, The Donut Man does the same thing with strawberries as he does with peaches. I shall be counting down the days until those arrive back on the racks of the Donut Man.

In-N-Out versus Five Guys Burgers

Five Guys Burgers is by all accounts an East Coast Institution. One could say that they are the In-N-Out of the East Coast. However, recently, they have made their way into Southern California, and are “challenging” In-N-Out to burger supremacy. A quick Google search of “In-N-Out vs. Five Guys” leads to a long list of websites where the topic is debated.

I was headed down to Orange County to meet some friends for happy hour at TAPS, but thought I would see if my dad was free for lunch. He suggested that we meet at the Five Guys Burger located in Orange, CA, just off the 55 FWY at Katella and Tustin.

I was eager to try this burger considering all they hype surrounding their arrival and the accolades that they have received wherever else they have gone.

The reason that Five Guys is compared to In-N-Out so frequently is because of the fact that both places offer a very simple menu (Five Guys’ menu; In-N-Out’s menu). They both strive to serve the tastiest burger and fries by using fresh ingredients. Both places cut their potatoes in store, opting, however, for different potatoes—In-N-Out using Kennebec potatoes, while Five Guys opts for the standard Russet.

Being my first time, I ordered the cheeseburger, which my dad informed me comes with two patties. For one patty you order the little hamburger. Unlike In-N-Out, Five Guys offers a wider variety of toppings from which you can choose, all of them being free. My burger was topped with mayo, ketchup, mustard, pickles, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, lettuce and tomatoes. My dad and I also split an order of their fries.

Opening the burger (I forgot my camera; I apologize for no pictures), the first thing that struck me was that it looked sloppy, which made it a little difficult to eat as toppings were slipping and sliding all over the place. I don’t usually have this much difficulty eating an In-N-Out burger (I will admit that I usually opt for a single cheeseburger Animal-style; it has been a long time since I have had a Double-Double, which could suffer a similar fate).

The burger was good; however, it was no where near the level of an In-N-Out Animal-style. The flavor of the two patties definitely stood out, yet felt slightly under seasoned. Because the burger felt like it was sloppily assembled, I would have bites where I would get three layers of pickles and two layers of tomatoes, whereas other bites completely lacked toppings. The lettuce also lacked the crispness that is so amazing about In-N-Out, although I tend to think that In-N-Out tends to put too much lettuce on their burgers.

Like In-N-Out, Five Guys has their buns made specifically for them at a bakery. Again, it was a good bun, but In-N-Out’s spongy bun wins out. By the time I was nearing completion of the burger, the bun was on its last legs. I want a bun that will be there with me to the end.

Moving on to the fries, I would almost say it is a tie. I would never go to either place solely for fries. Both places make their fries in house, and both fries single fry their fries, which leads to less than crispy results. What also hinders Five Guys is the fact that they use Russet potatoes which are very high in moisture, which will also prevent a beautifully crisp on the outside fluffy on the inside fry.

Finally, our lunch came out to by just over $15.00, I believe, which is slightly more expensive then In-N-Out. The last time I was at In-N-Out, which was maybe a month ago, the cheeseburger meal came out to be just under $6.00.

So there you have it. My take on the In-N-Out Five Guys debate. Five Guys is a very good fast food hamburger, but In-N-Out is still better and will probably always be better. Sorry Five Guys, childhood nostalgia does carry weight in this debate.

I would love to hear what others think.

Chef Gary Menes at Test Kitchen Los Angeles

I do not know how I first heard about Test Kitchen LA, but since it first debuted in August of this summer, the restaurant and concept have received rave reviews. But then again, why would it not considering the restaurant has had some of the best chefs in Los Angeles showcase their talents there?

From Test Kitchen’s website, here is the concept:

Test kitchen is the product of many people’s efforts, but the concept of Bill Chait and Brian Saltsburg.  Test kitchen is a showcase for chefs by restaurateurs and allows for experimentation and testing of new ideas and concepts.  Visiting chefs will be serving dishes they are working on for future restaurant projects.  Mixologists provide innovative pairing opportunities and avenues to express their craft.  Each chef will be working alone or in consultation with Ricardo Zarate, who is currently finalizing his own restaurant.

I had been wanting to go and experience the restaurant firsthand, but the opportunity had never really presented itself, until I learned that my former boss and friend, Chef Gary Menes, executive chef at The Hall at Palihouse Hotel, was going to be doing an eight-course vegetarian tasting menu on November 8. Considering that the dinner was a few days after my birthday, it would be a great way to celebrate turning thirty. My parents also joined Claire and me.

amuse:  faux tuna belly ceviche: The bite consisted of watermelon, lime, cilantro, which was fresh and lively. (Sorry for the graininess of the picture.)

1st course: japanese sweet potato and leek veloute, endive, yogurt, asian pear: The two other times I have had Chef Gary’s cooking, his soups were always amazing – smooth, rich and complex, and this offering was no different. Japanese sweet potatoes are not as sweet as the type we normally associate with Thanksgiving, so the soup was not overly sweet. The endive was presented as a marmalade that added a vinegary component to the dish, while the yogurt added a creaminess. We all used our fingers to get as much soup as possible.

2nd course: carrot, bloomsdale spinach, purple artichokes, preserved lemon: The carrot was cooked sous vide, making the carrot very tender, but not mushy, and preserving the flavor. The spinach added a great nuttiness to the dish, while the preserved lemon sauce added a brightness to the dish.

3rd course: cauliflower roti et puree, apple, mustard seeds, brussels sprouts, vinaigrette aigre doux: Cauliflower was presented in both a roasted form and pureed, which was rich and creamy.

4th course: fennel, orange, pernod, baby broccoli, forbidden rice: This was probably my least favorite dish of the night. There was nothing wrong with it; I simply did not find the fennel very interesting, although the use of orange in the dish really helped to brighten the dish. However, the forbidden rice was quite tasty.

5th course: tahitian squash, wheat berries, grapes, dandelion greens, pickled shallots: This was my favorite dish of the night as I loved the combination of flavors: the sweetness of the roasted squash and grapes to the tang of the pickled shallots.

6th course: parsnips, stone ground grits, trevisso, garlic, parsley: The best way to classify the overall impression of this dish was bitter but in a good way between the parsnip and the trevisso, with the grits adding a nice component to the dish. I just wish there were more grits. (Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of this course.)

7th course: “petite pois francaise”, snow peas, smoked pearl onions, potatoes, hearts of romaine, jus d’onion: One could call this the meatiest of the dishes presented, especially the sauce, which was so incredibly rich and nuanced, I would have sworn that there was some sort of meat in it. I was tempted to pick up my plate and lick it clean it was so tasty. The dish was presented almost as a hearty stew, yet without the mushy, clumsy feel that sometimes accompanies a stew, added by the fact that Chef Gary cooked every component separately, yet still managed to have all of the flavors combined. Amazing.

8th course: quince, vanilla bean, mascarpone, black pepper, vincotto: This dessert was a great way to end a fabulous meal. The spiced cake along with the mascarpone and quince simply screamed fall.

This was a great meal in all respects. We all left quite satiated, and not missing meat at all. It reminded me of the bounty of produce and the beauty of vegetables. Too often I simply try and find a vegetable so that I can have a balanced meal, but here Chef Gary reminded me that vegetables can shine given the freshness and the preparation.

Thank you Chef Gary for another wonderful meal!

Date Night and Dinner at Eureka!Burger

Claire’s usual Thursday evening class was cancelled, and I had the day off from work, so we found ourselves with the strange phenomenon of an evening to spend together. The night before, Claire voiced her opinion of wanting to go out of the house, so on Thursday I tried to come up with options on where we could go.

Friends at work had been encouraging me to visit Eureka!Burger in Redlands, telling me that the burgers are good and that they have a good selection of beers on tap. When I told Claire about Eureka!Burger, she agreed that it sounded good, so off we went. Plus we had heard that on Thursday nights in Redlands, there is a Farmers Market, so we figured we would walk around the market after dinner (we actually never made it to the market as I assumed it was in a certain place and it was not).

We arrived right before 6pm, so we were able to get the Happy Hour prices for beer ($2 off), so I started with the Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar, which is an English Brown Ale, and really enjoyed it. It had a great flavor and was really smooth, like a Newcastle, but a lot better. Claire ordered the Hanger 24 Orange Wheat, and absolutely loved it. I am not a huge wheat beer fan, but with the slight taste of orange, I find the beer very enjoyable.

I had perused the menu online, and so knew that I was going to order the Fig Marmalade Burger. The burger is topped with homemade fig marmalade, melted goat cheese, crispy bacon, chopped tomato and onion, arugula and a spicy porter mustard sauce.

The burger arrived a really nice medium rare, which is how I ordered it. The bun was soft yet did not fall apart. The fig marmalade added a great sweetness to the burger. Occasionally I would taste the goat cheese and the brightness it yielded to the burger. The bacon added a great texture contrast and saltiness to the burger. A couple bites into my burger I had to reach for a menu to remind myself all that was on the burger because the dominant flavor on the burger was the spicy mustard sauce. The mustard was great, but it seemed to overpower the other parts of the burger, the parts I was actually most excited about. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the burger, but I think the burger would have been that much more special without the mustard sauce.

Claire ordered the Turkey Cobb Burger (I unfortunately did not get a picture of her burger).  The turkey patty is topped with all the workings of a traditional Cobb salad – bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and blue cheese. However, her burger, like mine, was also topped with the spicy porter mustard sauce, which again dominated the flavors of the burger.

Every burger comes with handcut potato fries, which I found good, but again not great, as they were not crispy enough. I wonder if they single fry their fries, like In-N-Out. So if you like In-N-Out fries, I think you will like these. Claire opted for the sweet potato fries, which are $1.25 extra, and they are quite tasty. The fries are glazed in honey and cinnamon. I especially loved the cinnamon flavor, as it balanced the sweetness of the fries.

The best part of it all was just being outside the house. Claire and I are natural home bodies who need quietness especially with all that is going on in both of our lives. Not to mention that we have been trying desperately to save money. But on Thursday night it was great just to connect over a dinner out. Every now and then we need a change of scenery, and Eureka!Burger provided just that for Claire and me.