The Food Trucks at Coachella 2012

By now, I would hope that food trucks would be ubiquitous in the collective psyche of American food lovers. The trail blazing pioneers in cultural centers like New York, Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco, have inspired other amazing trucks around the country to rise and take the opportunity to share their tasty creations with the masses.

What better place to do this than at one of the largest music and arts festivals in the world, Coachella. I had the opportunity to attend Coachella this year after having missed the last 7 since my first visit in 2004. I came for At the Drive-In, but I stayed for the food trucks. I did some research before embarking on my trip, and found that a handful of the most well-established food trucks would be attending, including: The Greasy Weiner, Border Grill, CoolHaus, Kogi, The Gravy Train and the “om-nom” inducing, Cod Save the Queen. A Sex Pistols inspired fish and chips truck?! Count me in!

I’m getting ahead of myself though. My father and I scouted the food area for a bit before figuring out which trucks we’d really like to visit. I know it sounds out of character for me, but it would’ve been a bit much to sample all 9 or 10 trucks. So we narrowed it down to The Gravy Train, Kogi, and Cod Save the Queen.

The Gravy Train Poutinerie hails from the streets of Los Angeles and serves up some of the best poutine south of Montreal. From their concise menu, we chose the Veggie Poutine, strange-sounding choice for me right? It consisted of hand cut fries, fresh cheese curds, creamy garlic gravy, grilled onions and sautéed mushrooms. If that’s considered a veggie dish, I’m in! With a little added hot sauce, it was the perfect pre-dinner snack. It was a chilly evening, so the whole package was a warming delight. The fries held up surprisingly well under the flood of gravy and cheese curds. While I would have liked a bit more of a garlicky kick, poutine beggars can’t be choosers. Besides, I was sitting in the middle of the desert eating poutine, there wasn’t much to complain about.

Later that evening, we made our way to the opposite side of the festival. The Gravy Train was located near the main stage where we were serenaded by the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Pulp and Bon Iver. Another Los Angeles truck, Cod Save the Queen, was at the opposite end of the Polo Grounds, near the dance stage. You couldn’t ask for a more different atmosphere, as the thumping bass and extraterrestrial light show added a sort of Euro feel to our fish and chips experience, which was amazing by the way. This truck had a great system in place where they have two people standing out front to take your order, which basically nullifies the worst part of the food truck experience, waiting in line.

Our order was taken swiftly and in no time we were holding a piping hot, freshly fried basket of fish and chips. A little malt vinegar and a squeeze of lemon sealed the deal and we were instantly thrown across the pond as we savored our succulent seafood. It was fried so delicately that it crinkled at the slightest touch. Flaky and almost sweet, it was hands down the best fish and chips I’ve ever had in the US, even rivaling our friends in the UK. It was so good that I feel that if, god forbid, some terrible calamity befell Her Majesty, this cod could literally save her. Way to live up to your name guys.

On the final day of the festival after having seen one of my all-time favorite bands, At the Drive-In, we sought out a truck that, thus far, had been unreachable due to a never-ending line of hungry Korean taco hunters. If we haven’t made this point clear in the past, if you see a line, there’s probably a reason, so Kogi had been on my short list since we arrived at Coachella.

We decided to forgo our front row seats for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg in exchange for some Mexic-asian feasting. While Snoop and Dre put on an impressive show, even managing to resurrect Tupac and Nate Dogg, the call of Kogi was too much to resist. It’s a good thing we left when we did, because we were immediately handed a sign reading “End of the Line”, which was promptly handed to the next person who walked up, and the next and the next, until one of the Kogi staff had to come out and put a stop to it. They must be doing well if they don’t mind turning hungry hipsters away!

We made it to the window and ordered two short rib tacos and a spicy pork taco. Both were very simple, sitting on two flour tortillas and each was packed with flavor. They didn’t need to slather ladles of sauce over them, the meat was seasoned so well and was tender as could be. Our favorite was the spicy pork, laced with Asian spices, it was almost like a Korean chicharron.

It really elevated Coachella to have all these food trucks serving up fresh cuisine to compliment the myriad musical acts performing over the three-day festival. I’m planning on attending Lollapalooza in August, where I’m told the food is even better, so stay tuned for that later this summer. Until then keep on truckin’!

Mise en Place – Tampa, FL

The sad fact is, there aren’t many fine dining destinations in the Tampa Bay area. Orlando has more to choose from in that department due to the many high-end resorts at Disney and the surrounding area.

My wife and I recently planned our 11 year anniversary dinner, but didn’t give ourselves much time to make a reservation. I started doing my patent pending research to find an available table around 2 PM the day of our dinner, needless to say, it was slim pickens. My secret process of “putting things in place,” always starts by looking at the menu. The menu is king. If I don’t see something I am positive my wife will love, it’s time to move on. After narrowing down the choices to a couple possible champions, I begin naming off menu items and descriptions out loud, while my wife was doing her hair and make-up. After seeing at least 30 menu items I would order in a heartbeat, Mise en Place won the menu war. I placed a phone call to reserve a table, and thankfully, they had one left for dinner service.

Mise en Place is not new to me, or the Bay area for that matter. They’ve been around for over 25 years. I first had my taste buds shaken about 5 years ago, when we were celebrating a work related milestone. It was the first time one of my best friends tried foie gras. I can still remember the smile on his face as the luxuriant offal overtook his senses. That’s what you should be looking for in a special meal. Something that will last forever. Mise en Place didn’t disappoint back then and they certainly haven’t lowered their standards since.

They tout themselves as “modern American” with an imaginative twist. The head chef Marty Blitz is always striving to create inventive new dishes for his diners. Look at their menu and tell me you wouldn’t agree with that mission statement. They seem to take on all the current food trends, and elevate them to such great  heights. For example, take my amuse bouche, if you were to put a traditional bahn mi on a plate, no matter how luxurious the taste, it would look pedestrian. But when you break down the flavors and reconstruct them, starting with sous vide lobster, pickled vegetables and lime aioli, and then reuniting everything on paper-thin char-grilled slices of baguette, you’ve got something inspiring.

For starters, my spouse ordered a warm wild mushroom salad, with shaved parmesan and black truffle. Simple enough, however when you focus on how all these complex flavors manage to sing together perfectly, you begin to appreciate the attention to detail and flavor crafting that “Mise” exhibits. I thought, while prying a bite from her cold mushroom-wielding hands, that this dish was like a walk through a forest that leads into a lush garden. My only taste was at first earthy and rich from the mushroom and sweated onions. The taste transitioned as my teeth sank into the tender flesh of the hen-of-the-woods and porcini, I was simultaneously hit with the sherry vinaigrette which had touches of lavender. Finally the truffle took over and reverberated until the next course.

I should say now that I chose not to order a main. There were so many starters catching my attention, that a main course just wasnt going to fit in my budget or gullet. My wife did though, so it was her time to sit and watch the degustation process unfold.

Next up was Korean spiced scallops with a mango mint salad and lemongrass BBQ sauce, lounging atop a pillowy nest of edamame puree and a few drops of miso vinaigrette. The star was the one lightly fried duck dumpling flavored with pickled plum that found its way on the plate.  I wish I could have had an entire plate of those with the lemongrass BBQ sauce. I’ve never been the biggest scallop fan, and I went for a bit of a stretch with ordering this dish but it was a winner and swayed me a bit toward the pro-scallop crowd. I know there are plenty of you out there.


As soon as the first appetizer was devoured, and a new one appeared. That’s my mantra. Like I said, Mise en Place identifies food trends quite well, and what could be a better example of what hip, non-prescription eyeglass wearing beardos love eating than poutine. Mise offered two preparations. One with an oxtail gravy and fresh cheese curds, the other with lobster and brandy gravy. I chose the oxtail, to avoid lobster psychosis (uncharacteristic of me I know). The poutine was presented in a crescent-shaped bowl, which is the way poutine should from now on, always be served. Traditionally the base is frites, with all the toppings dumped on top. This version used a roasted fingerling potato quartered lengthwise, intermingled with the gravy, shreds of oxtail and globes of cheese curds to create a stew. The end result was a fine dish any Québécois would proudly enjoy.

My wife rejoined the party when her spice rubbed duck breast appeared, along with swiss chard that had little strands of  duck leg confit and minced mushrooms, finished off with a touch of blood orange and sherry jus. The duck was beautifully cooked and had the most amazingly crisp skin to boot. Underneath it all, hid a nicely sized cannelloni of foie gras mousse. It was a grand surprise to me since I overlooked it while perusing the menu. Nothing beats homemade pasta. Nothing except shoving duck liver mousse inside a tube of fresh pasta and then nestling it beneath a supple breast…of duck.

 

My last savory dish was porcini dusted foie gras with a ramp, bacon, and corn brick, this was  topped with the tiniest  slivers of pickled shallot. Of course the foie gras was fantastic. It was everything you want when ordering foie. Rich, buttery, nutty with a the slightest mineral tinge. The one item on the plate that messed with my mind was that brick! It played tricks on me. As I took that first bite, all I could do was giggle like a little kid, because that’s how it made me feel. Of course I knew I was eating at a fine dining establishment, but that took me back to sitting at the kitchen table on a summer afternoon eating lunch with my dad and brother. The only thing I thought of was that it tasted like the first time you grabbed a handful a sour cream and onion chips, and shoved them in your mouth. Just one of those familiarities that make you shake your head and smile. Anytime food can transport you to another time or place, it’s a success.

Finally dessert was served.  She ordered chocolate peanut dacquoise, with salted peanut brittle and caramel. To describe the flavor, think snickers bar turned on its head. Something the pastry chef for Marie Antoinette would have thought up.

I chose a goat cheesecake with a strawberry-rhubarb marmalade. The cake and the preserves were brought together with a pistachio cookie bridge. Both selections were edible works of art. Almost as appealing to the eye as to the tongue. The fact that all of my senses were engaged simultaneously by the evenings final morsel was truly a feat worthy of applause.

Mise en Place has been around for as long as many of you have been alive. You wouldn’t know it unless you knew it, because they are constantly looking to improve and innovate. With each visit, they have managed to impress and astound, and I see no reason for this trend to stop.

Mise En Place on Urbanspoon

Fiat Cafe – New York, NY

Despite what you may think, it’s actually quite difficult to find truly tongue tingling Italian food in New York City. You can’t just walk through Little Italy and choose one of the myriad establishments at random. Of course you could just go the safe route and stick with the high-end mainstays like Il Mulino, Marea or Da Silvano. While those may provide amazing meals, they’re painful to the wallet. So where can you go to get a satisfying Italian meal at a price that’s just as palatable? The answer is Fiat Cafe at 203 Mott St.

Fiat Cafe spread

As the name suggests, the interior is sprinkled with artwork, photos and knick-knacks of the famed Italian automaker. Like I mentioned last week with in my Leunig’s post, I got the sensation of being transported to a small cafe in Italy. Stephane, the owner, is a regular fixture. You’ll see him chatting with his customers which is a welcome site to see in a city where most restaurateurs manage their eateries at arms length. Both occasions I’ve eaten there, he has personally welcomed us and taken our order himself. It doesn’t hurt that he and my friend are quite close!

After we had taken our seats, my friend suggested we enjoy a couple glasses of Montepulciano. Of course I didn’t argue, as I figured it would go perfectly with the pasta I was eyeing, but we’ll get to that in a bit. I let me colleague select a starter, an excellent example of Insalata di Mare. It incorporated some of the freshest calamari and shrimp I’ve ever had, it was so tender I felt it necessary to comment on it. The seafood had the level of quality you’d expect from a fine ceviche. It was lightly tossed with a delicious olive oil, lemon, celery and grape tomato mixture.

The main course was up next. I went with a pasta that I had sampled once before, the decadent Pappardelle with Shitake, Oyster and Crimini mushrooms, duck confit, ragout and truffle oil. If that doesn’t hit all the right buttons I don’t know what does. It was silky from the duck fat and truffle oil, with a great acidity from the tomato. The three different mushrooms were a fantastic flavor compliment and the pappardelle was perfectly cooked.

Daniel chose the pork chop with favas, carrots and mushrooms with a healthy side of truffled polenta. It looked and smelled amazing, and while I was only able to sample the polenta, which was ridiculous, Daniel seemed to enjoy himself as the plate was spotless by the end of the meal! I don’t blame him since I greedily devoured my pappardelle without even offering a bite. 

It was just a fantastic experience all around. Fiat Cafe is one of those restaurants where you feel comfortable the instant you walk in the door. However you don’t necessarily have to carry yourself there if you’re feeling lazy. Luckily, my office is within the delivery radius, so when the weather takes a turn for the worst, but I still have a penchant for pasta, I can give them a call and have the exact same quality dish sitting in front of me as I would get if I were there. All three times I’ve ordered in I’ve been impressed with the quality. Usually the food suffers slightly from the trip between restaurant and your door, but Fiat’s pastas hold up quite well. The pappardelle has made an appearance here, as well as the Bucatini a Matriciana, one of my all time favorite Italian dishes. My most recent delivery experience, and another pasta staple for me, was the Spaghetti Carbonara. This pasta is easy to screw up. Often you’ll find it heavy and lethargic from too much cream, cheese or egg. This was anything but. The cheese and pancetta coated my tongue in a velvety layer of flavor. This was offset by a nice amount of red onion that added brightness and helped cut the fat so the flavors could shine through clearer. Totally luxurious and absolutely delicious.

So if you’re looking for an Italian meal that won’t break the bank, while not sacrificing quality, Fiat Cafe is a must. The owner, Stephane Iacovelli has been kind enough to indulge me by answering a few questions, so stay tuned in the days to come for a little more insight into this wonderful SoHo gem. Mangiamo!

Fiat Cafe on Urbanspoon

Pinky’s Diner – Tampa, FL

I propose a duel to you and all who oppose me! A duel you say? Anyone who thinks they can one up my fast breaking restaurant spotification talents, come forward. The gloves are off, come and get me pal. While braggery is never going to get me anywhere, I have to say, my skill at finding the best breakfast spots in any given city, is unmatched, it truly is a blessing to behold.

Not only did The West Egg Cafe in Atlanta deliver the goods, but now I have a place just as praiseworthy if not more so, right here in my backyard.

Pinky’s Diner is located in the Palma Ceia neighborhood in South Tampa. It is an amazingly trendy area for restaurants and the like. They’ve got so many yogurt shops that the “Live and Active Cultures” people can’t keep up with demand.

Here is the low-down on Pinky’s. They consider themselves to be an upscale diner. Let’s just throw the word diner out the window, so that you don’t get the wrong impression. Don’t get me wrong, I love Diners, Drive-ins, and even the occasional Miller High Life serving Dive. This place is none of the above.

The atmosphere is cozy and welcoming. The decor is reminiscent of a Northern style kitchen, mixed with a touch of cabin by the lake. There’s a coffee bar filled with regulars who looked like they knew the drill, it must have been self-serve. The special of the day is written on a giant blackboard at the end of the bar. This is where the magic starts for me. All the visual appeal of the interior means nothing if the menu and subsequent food are anything less than awe-inspiring.

Well the menu rocked me. With offerings like pancake sandwiches, and omelette filled with prosciutto, jalepeno-cheddar grits and the chefs house made bacon. It’s not just a gimmicky tease, the bacon is cured on site by the chef, trust me, I asked.

After serious deliberation, my wife decided to go a bit off the usual breakfast radar by ordering the jalapeno grits, house-cured bacon, half avocado and a cup of tomato bisque. This is what I’ve come to expect from her and her non-conventional breakfast ways. I can’t say I’m much different though. I have to say that the bisque was a revelation for me. Thickened using an olive oil base, there was no dairy whatsoever in the soup. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a unique tomato bisque. The tomatoes were so fresh and intense that it was like someone took a San Marzano and just pulverized the flavors right into your mouth. Combined with the slightest of balsamic and basil hints, I completely fell for that soup.

We ordered our spawn a single buttermilk pancake and some of the bacon to share. They don’t really have a kids menu, but there are enough a la carte options that you can compose one yourself at a very reasonable price.

I looked over the menu front to back, and like a poker player going all-in I started bluffing a bit so as not to show my hand. “The Oatmeal Pancakes look scrumptious, don’t they? What do you think? Shall we share a breakfast Cuban Sandwich?” I admit it. I’m a liar. The choice was made for me before I even sat myself at the table. That stinking daily special was staring me down and I was helpless to it’s power.

It starred a 6 oz pork chop that had been brined in a sweet and savory solution and finished on the hot flat top to give it a nice brown finish. If you don’t believe that brines actually exist or carry any merit, why don’t you give Pinky’s a shot. Either that or suck on an egg. The chop was paired with two eggs made your way. Which in my opinion, should always be over-easy. It also came with two poblano hash brown cakes to sop up the velvety egg yolk. The one thing that completely sold me on Pinky’s was the final accoutrement that gave my meal purpose in its short time on earth, was the maple-infused hollandaise that I began feverishly slathering onto anything that wasn’t nailed down. It was just about the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth before noon. To combine a creamy butter and egg yolk mouth-feel, with a touch of lemon, alongside the infusion of maple syrup is genius indeed. Again, I dare you to find a single breakfast locale within a reasonable driving distance that delivers on all the major categories. Taste, comfort, and even price. With two cafe con leches and an apple juice, all this cost about $27. If you think you have me bested, I’ll get my dueling gloves ready.

Pinky’s is only open for Breakfast and Lunch, because that’s as long as they need to be open. If you get there at 2, you will go home hungry or unsatisfied.

Pinky’s Diner – 3203 West Bay to Bay Boulevard Tampa, FL 33629 – www.pinkysdiner.com

Pinky's Diner on Urbanspoon

Leunig’s Bistro & Cafe – Burlington, VT

Any self-respecting restaurant with an ounce of ambition strives to create an environment that transports the diner, either through atmosphere or food, preferably both! Few actually achieve this feat, but when they do, it makes for a truly memorable experience. Leunig’s Bistro & Cafe on beautiful Church Street in downtown Burlington, VT, succeeds on all fronts. The atmosphere nearly convinces you that you’ve been in Paris for a week and you’re sitting in your favorite neighborhood eatery. The decor has an aged patina that gives the illusion that this place has been around for decades. The staff also keeps up the image with their white aprons and black ties that recall old French brasseries. That’s all well and good, but as we always say here at Eat a Duck, it’s all about the food, well Leunig’s doesn’t disappoint.

Leunig’s has been one of our standbys for years, one of the main draws are their delicious, crisp white truffle fries, and you’d better believe that’s what drew us there this time. As soon as we were seated by our favorite window we ordered two French 75’s and an order of white truffle fries. A French 75, for the uninitiated, is something of an old-fashioned libation, it consists of champagne, lemon juice, simple syrup and gin (sometimes cognac). It’s the perfect springtime drink and it pairs perfectly with traditional brasserie fare. I’m getting away from the fries, oh the fries. These fries are what you always wish the sad fries on your plate could be. They are golden brown and perfectly crisp without that mushy potato mash that usually results from cooking too quickly. With a healthy sprinkling of truffle salt and parsley, you’re good to go. It’s served to you in a large wax paper cone, the result of which is a truffle party at the bottom where all the salt collects. Talk about motivation to eat the whole thing! 

This may sound blasphemous, but man cannot live on truffle fries alone, so we sprang for the Trio of Vermont Sliders. No tired old beef here, all three proteins are locally sourced and found in generous supply in Vermont’s verdant hills. First up was rabbit with caramelized leeks Vermont smoke & cure peppered bacon & chocolate chèvre, followed by venison with cinnamon aioli, caramelized shallots, apples and Vermont cheddar and finishing out this fantastic set, a quail patty topped with port and fig compote and a healthy slab of seared foie gras. What awesome pairings! Chocolate goat cheese with bacon and leeks? Yes please! Even the unusual cinnamon aioli was absolutely delicious. It’s rare that I get surprised by a new flavor combination, but these three little burgers woke me up. Each went so well with their respective proteins, none being out-shined by their toppings. If I had to order them, it would go quail, venison, rabbit. Foie gras holds a special place in my heart…or is it my mouth. 

Burlington might not be the typical tourist hub that would obviously have amazing food choices, but if you find yourself in the green mountains, take a stroll down Church Street and check out Leunig’s Bistro & Cafe and enjoy your little slice of Paris. 

Leunig’s Bistro & Cafe – 115 Church Street,  Burlington, VT 05455 – (802) 863-3759 – www.leunigsbistro.com

 Leunig's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Langoustine & Daikon Dumplings

All jokes aside, this recipe is strictly business. There’s nothing better than making something spectacular out of the empty abyss that is your fridge. It’s one of those nearly impossible tasks, like trying to understand the plot of LOST starting in Season 3 episode 6. I knew my protein would be a bag of frozen Langoustines I had procured from Trader Joes in Atlanta. I had been hoarding the little buggers for 2 months trying to think of something worthy to make with them.

I had previously planned on making Kimchi Dumplings, but that never happened. I had all the ingredients but never made the actual condiment. I even had an unopened package of pre-made wonton skins that were close to meeting their shelf life. Everything happens for a reason, so on to bigger and better things!

 

I opened the produce drawers and started selecting that would compliment each other well in dumpling form. Daikon Radish, a mix of Hedgehog and Shitake mushrooms, green onion, garlic, ginger, and cilantro would join my crustacean as the filling. According to my wife, the result was nothing short of magical. She is a dim sum and dumpling hound, so if she was loving them, I must have nailed the flavors. Subtle but distinctive with none of the components losing their luster. To make this even easier and possibly cheaper, you could sub out Langoustine in favor of Shrimp. You could also change the Shiitake out for Crimini or even white buttons. On the other hand, you could go Grape Ape crazy and sink my “Battleship,'” (In Theaters May 18) With Lobster and Matsutake. Either way, here’s how to recreate the magic.

To make about 20 Dumplings:

  • 1/2 Pound Langoustine
  • 6 oz Sautéed, then Diced Mushrooms (Shiitake Preferably)
  • 1/2 Cup extremely fine diced Daikon Radish
  • 1/4 Cup chopped Cilantro
  • 1/4 Cup thinly sliced Green Onion
  • 3 Minced Garlic cloves
  • 1/2 Tbsp Minced Ginger
  • 1 Tbsp Tamari or Soy Sauce. (Or more depending on your taste)
  • 1/2 Tsp Coarse Sea Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp Ground Pepper
  • 1 Package square Wonton skins
  • Sesame oil for cooking

To make the filling:

First thaw out your shellfish (remove the shells and de-turd if necessary)

Pour a teaspoon of the sesame oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Place mushrooms in and cook until the water releases from them and then evaporates out of the pan. About 7 Minutes. Set aside and let cool.

There is no simpler way of telling you the next step than to just throw the finely diced Daikon, Cilantro, Green Onions, Garlic, Ginger, and thawed Langoustine into a medium bowl along with the Tamari, Salt and Pepper. Once the Mushrooms have cooled throw those in too! That’s it for the filling.

Next is the more time-consuming part. You can either assemble all the dumplings ahead of time or make them in batches as you go.

To assemble: take 1 wonton skin in hand and place a teaspoon of the filling directly in the middle. You’ll need a bowl of warm water to dip your finger in, to create a seal for your dumpling. Brush 2 sides of the edges of the wonton and then fold over to create a triangle shape. Then pinch the wonton all the way around the edges to completely lock in the filling. You can attempt to make the dumplings look pretty by crimping them in pattern for a more authentic look. It wont change the taste really, so don’t worry too much about it. If you want a more traditional looking piece of dim sum, then by all means do work!

To cook you can take a couple approaches. You could steam them in a basket the way siu mai is prepared, which is nice and would work well. It also requires zero oil if you are concerned with fat intake. I followed more of a potsticker method.

Pour 1/2 tsp of sesame oil in a non stick saute pan on medium-low heat. Place as many Dumplings as you can fit comfortably down in a non-stick pan and let brown on one side for about 1-2 minutes. Then take about a 1/8 cup warm water and pour in pan. Put a lid over it (preferably a glass lid so you can see your dumplings cooking) until the wonton is translucent. You want to make sure you have cooked the dough through before removing the lid. This should take about 5 minutes at the most. When the are done they will be very hot inside from the steam, so let them cool for a bit.

•PRO TIP• It’s best to make 1 test dumpling before cooking a whole batch. Doing so will help you determine if your flavors are on point.

I was really tired, so I didn’t make a dipping sauce myself. I just used a premade Trader Joes Gyoza Sauce. However, if you have the ingredients you can easily make a bath for you dumplings by combining Soy Sauce, Rice Wine Vinegar, a squeeze of Lemon, finely sliced chives or green onions, ginger powder and either sesame seeds or a few drops of sesame oil.

I promise you, you can do this! Once you master the art of Dumpling assembly, a whole world will be opened to you. If it were that difficult I wouldn’t bother sharing this accidental discovery with you lovely people.

Mushroom Pasta

Alright everyone, I’ve got another quick, easy, cheap and most importantly, delicious pasta recipe on deck. This time the star is one of my all-time favorite ingredients, mushrooms. The great thing about this pasta, is that the level of luxury scales with your budget without sacrificing flavor. So whether you find yourself with $10.00 to your name or you own a tower of cash that you can dive into like a swimming pool, you’ll still end up with a comforting and tasty dish. Here’s what you’ll need (for the mushrooms it’s your choice based on budget and taste, anywhere from the lowly button to morel. Some work better than others, you want a mushroom that will give you a nice creamy texture when you sautée them, I usually go with crimini or shitake, although a few morels have snuck in there once or twice):

• 1 lb pasta – long noodles work best here (i.e. linguine, bucatini, spaghetti)

• 1 1/2 lbs mushrooms – roughly chopped

• 1 1/2 large onions – minced

• 5-6 cloves of garlic – minced

• EVOO

• Red Chili Flakes – optional

• Salt & Pepper to taste

Get yourself a large high-sided sauté pan and coat it with a healthy splash of olive oil. On medium-high heat toss your onions in. Cook for a couple of minutes and then set the heat to a low sauté to let them sweat while you chop the mushrooms, this will give them enough time to really let their sweetness out. Fill a large pot with water and set it on high heat, remember to salt the water generously, you want it to be cloudy so the noodles soak up some flavor. Salt the onions and then throw the mushrooms in the pan, it’s going to be really full at first, but don’t worry, when they start to release their moisture, the pile will reduce to a more manageable size. I like to drizzle a little olive oil over the mushrooms to help incorporate them with the onions. Once the mushrooms have cooked down, season the mixture liberally, those mushrooms will soak up a lot of flavor. Now you can add a dash or two of red chili flake to give it a little heat, this works great with the savory mushrooms and the sweetness from the onion. When the water is at a rolling boil, toss in your pasta, make sure to stir for a little while until the noodles loosen up to prevent clumping. A few minutes before the noodles are done, make a space in the middle of the mushroom-onion mixture, add the garlic and cover it over with the mushrooms. This will let them cook down a bit while still retaining some of its raw kick. Season one last time, drain the noodles and combine in the large pot. Let it cool a bit to let the sauce infuse the noodles with flavor and serve generously with Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese, a little parsley is a nice touch as well. 

Yields 4 servings

L’homard Rouge – Lakeland, FL

Time and again, I find myself pleading with you to go out and eat at your local family owned, “mom-and-pop” type restaurants. You know, the kind of places that are striving to use fresh locally sourced ingredients. I love these places because you aren’t going to find this food anywhere else. A delicacy that you’d find in Orlando, you might not be able to find in the fine dining establishments of North Dakota.

I thought I was running out of these types of restaurants in my tiny hamlet of Lakeland, but then, like Poseidon rising from the sea with his mighty trident, I discovered an eatery that has shaken the very foundation of what I consider to be haute cuisine. Nestled conveniently off of the most trafficked road in town, lies this lovely little joint. You would drive right past if you didn’t spot their gigantic brightly lit sign which screams “homemade authenticity”. When I saw it, I couldn’t help but pull in for a meal.

As I walked into the main waiting area I was warmly greeted by 3 sharply dressed hostesses that put me down on the waiting list. It was about 4:45 on a Sunday afternoon, so naturally there would be a 1-1/2 hour wait for two . I got hint for the reason behind the wait from a patron who was just about to be seated. She said “We drove all the way from Delaware just to eat here!” The wait made even more sense now. With age comes experience and wisdom, so if you find yourself surrounded by octogenarians, you’d better be prepared for a gastronomic odyssey.

On to the Meal!

Have you ever faced the horrible conundrum of wanting everything on the menu? Ugh tell me about it! This place caused a beautiful twisted fantasy in my mind of painful decisions, ultimately leading to a full-blown physical and mental breakdown. It’s like trying to decide which child you are going to save when your car is sinking to the bottom of a lake after falling asleep at the wheel again.

Starters were picked using the tried and true “eenie-meenie-miney-moe” technique. The famed Shrimp Nachos, thankfully, came out victorious. I mean, listen to the description: crispy, multi colored tortilla chips topped with tender shrimp, creamy cheddar and monterey jack cheese, fresh pico de gallo, jalapeño peppers and sour cream. I really love that they distinguish between the texture of the cheeses. Nice touch. You can never have too creamy cheese. The flavors were good. My wife was left with the silver medal of appetizers. Crispy deep-fried and might I say eerily perfect calamari rings. A generous portion alongside even more fried bits of broccoli and red bell peppers. This heavenly combination sounded so tasty I ordered two more plates post-haste. Not to mention the yin and yang of flavors that married together in a beautiful metamorphosis, that being tangy marinara and creamy ranch. I just had to ask the waitress to mix the ranch with the marinara for the next go round.Overall, it was pretty good.

Next we were presented our entrées after a home run of an appetizer course.

I’m always looking for the freshest and most local of ingredients. So when I saw the Catches of the day, I asked the waitress for the two-way combo platter. Mind you, I’m from Florida, and I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to have the most amazing Atlantic Salmon, and Rainbow Trout swimming freely and abundantly in my lakes and oceans. Since this was something of a special night, I went all out and had my fresh catch “oven broiled.” I know, I know, ultra gourmet, but what’s wrong with treating yourself now and then? The fish had a real flavor to it. If I could only use one word to describe it, I’d say it was good.

My partner decided to embarrass me with her lobster ordering abilities and got cracking on ordering the largest variety of Lobster centric dish known to either human or crustacean. It’s known as the “Lobster Lovers Dream”, I call it my wallets worst nightmare. Hey, it’s for my sweetie so it’s worth it right?

What do you get when you add rock lobster, regular lobster and Shrimp Linguine Alfredo, alongside a scampied lobster tail? Other than a higher cholesterol level? You get endless amounts of decadence. To take the “Dreams of Lobster” to the next level, she added creamy Langostino Lobster Mashed Potatoes as a side. Such a smart move because when a restaurant has to inform you that you’re getting “Langostino Lobster” folded into your creamy potatoes, you don’t even need to question the quality. Our waitress asked how she enjoyed her Lobsterfest, her reply? ” It was good.” To throw things overboard, we used the last bit of room left in our gullets on a lovely boxed New York Cheesecake, topped with freshly flown in California Strawberries, how much more authentic can you get? I just wish we had Strawberries in Florida this time of year. To try and describe the meal would not do it justice, but if I had to be concise, I’d say it was good. This is the kind of place that could never be turned into one of those cookie cutter chain restaurants you see popping up in Anytown, U.S.A.

Here, it’s all seafood on a level rarely, if ever, seen elsewhere. It’s about an unrelenting respect for the customer. It’s someones deep seeded love for what they do and setting the standard so high, that no one will ever be able to achieve that mark without serious dedication to their cause. Nobody is dedicated like Red Lobster.