Tako Cheena – Orlando, FL

In this world of ours, there are many different kinds of eating establishments to fit various circumstances. After a night of heavy drinking and concert going, my food pyramid consists of  two things, tacos and Asian cuisine. I need one or the other, sometimes both.

Fortunately for my extra-specific alcohol cravings, a little place opened up not too long ago called Tako Cheena. I was driving down Mills Ave., on my way to one of the many fantastic restaurants in the area, when their catchphrase caught my eye so violently I may need retina re-attachment surgery,  “Dim Sum Good Takos”.

photo: www.amplifiedculture.com

The sign alone intrigued me, as I had no clue what was inside. I was hoping for dim sum, as I recall reading the sign incorrectly. As I was saying, I was on my way get food from another place, a banh mi from Yum-mi Sandwiches to be precise. Even though I already had my meal lined up, I couldn’t resist. So I walked in and took a look at the menu. I loved what I saw even though in my heart, I was disappointed there wasn’t any dim sum despite their slogan. What they did offer though, made up for this ten times over. A love affair blossomed that night, Tako Cheena and I have spent many nights together since.

This leads me to my latest visit, although every one has been worthy of written praise, I’ve always seemed to be lacking a camera to document the experience. Good thing I had James with me on this trip. He is like the food snob equivalent of a boy scout, always prepared.

This was his first time with Tako Cheena. I remembered my first time fondly as I watched him eat up the menu with his eyes. It’s extremely concise and leaves no room for fluff. The menu is considerably Eastern Asian. Most of continent is well represented with touches of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indian. The only thing missing was a Russian Borscht burrito. After our orders were placed, I sat back and took in the sounds of the space. The room of half drunk patrons who, like me, were loud and excited to jump in on the feast to soak up the alcohol pond in their tummies that had accumulated throughout the night. The smells were equally intoxicating as aromatic whiffs of smoke from the grill and char siu pork belly, flavored with five spice filled the air. Soon enough our food arrived.

Takos:

The very pork I spoke of earlier in all its glory filled a flour tortilla, topped with a chopped cabbage, green onion and cilantro slaw. That crunchy slaw paired off against the ultra rich and fatty pork was the only thing that kept me from entering a full-blown food trance.

The other Tako ordered was filled with panko-crusted cod and topped with the same slaw.  The fish was fried to golden perfection and was as crisp as snapping a fresh potato chip. It was an awesome take on the fish taco. The most astounding aspect was the sweet and spicy sauce that created a  lacquered sheen over the fried plank. We each had one so no sharing was in order. James was so overwhelmed that he had to get another, just to make sure it was as awesome as he first believed, it was.

Asian Dogs:

Early German immigrants were kind enough to share the frankfurter with us Yanks, and we have thoroughly embraced it as one of our American staples. What Tako Cheena does best, is presenting non-traditional flavors with a certain visual appeal that isn’t automatically dismissive. They take the concept of a hot dog, something we all know and love, and give you something completely different. The first trick is the dog. It’s actually a Chinese sausage that’s sweet, salty and packed with flavor. Then they use the garnish as the way to bring in some classic Asian flavors. The Japadog takes command with seaweed, cabbage, cucumber and a sweet sesame miso sauce. The Banh Mi dog on the other hand, gives a nod to the traditional Vietnamese classic using slivers of daikon, carrot and cucumber pickled in nuoc cham and rice vinegar. Then it’s finished with lemon mayo and chopped cilantro.

Finally we shared an order of Ginger Apple Empanadas. I think they’ve changed the recipe on this menu item a couple of times, trying to get it just right. It’s still on the menu as spring rolls, but the cashier informed me they were actually empanadas. It was a welcome change if you ask me, which you obviously didn’t. It took weeks to figure out that this dessert was really two pastries wrapped into one parcel.  You can have an empanada filled with warm spicy apple filling and stop there, that’d be your dessert and you’d walk away a happy man, but there’s more. To top things off, you have a key lime and sweetened condensed milk caramel to create a pseudo reversed key lime pie. You even could say you have a crust which was made up of the outer edge of the empanada shell.

Maybe I over-analyzed the genius of the chefs vision. Maybe we just aren’t as thoughtful. Either way, this dessert was like much of the food we had that evening. Complex, sophisticated, even modest if you will. At its core, showing respect to the flavors is what’s most important. If you ever find yourself in a stupor say, after a night out at the punk rock show,  there’s no better brain food to be found than at Tako Cheena.

♦ Logan C.

 

Tako Cheena by Pom Pom on Urbanspoon

Prato – Winter Park, FL

Returning to ones old stomping grounds is often accompanied with a certain nostalgia. However the most fun part of visiting your old town, is discovering everything that’s changed since you’ve been gone (sorry Kelly, no royalties for that one). I recently had the chance to visit the town I most think of when people ask me where I’m from, Winter Park, FL. Mr. Crumpton, being the great friend that he is, brought me back there to show me one of the latest additions to Park Avenue, Prato.

Prato splash

I left Winter Park in 2003, back then, the only Italian restaurant in the area worth mentioning was Enzo’s on the Lake, which to this day stands as one of the best Italian eateries I’ve ever visited. Needless to say, Prato has brought a much needed culinary vibrance to an area which, apart from a few examples like The Ravenous Pig, has been somewhat bland in the restaurant department.

The restaurant decor and design is top-notch, with much attention paid to detail. They nail a sort of hipster rustic feel that may cause some eyes to roll, but I thought it felt sincere and I thought it was fantastic. The sincerity was proven when our waiter, Zach, informed us that all the ingredients were locally and sustainably sourced as much as possible. If the sourcing wasn’t impressive, he then told us that the menu changed EVERY day, at least in some shape or form. Now that is no small task, even for the finest restaurants.

After our group looked over the menu, it was agreed that we’d gladly order every single item, a rarity to be sure. Sadly none of us were born with the last name Hilton or Trump, so we had to make our choices. For me, the soft shell crab app caught my eye immediately. Logan and our wives added more apps with a couple of Caesar salads, the veal breast pancetta and the soft fried farm egg with pork belly. All were excellent choices, the crabs didn’t impress anyone but myself, so I happily consumed them. The veal breast came with this awesome tonnato sauce and slices of some of the freshest beets you’ve ever seen. I’m not a beet man, but this dish was delicious through and through. The soft fried egg and pork belly came with a watermelon rind mostardo. This is the kind of dish I’d have every day for breakfast if I were born into those families mentioned earlier, it was luxurious and decadent, but tapped into that familiar eggs and bacon memory that your brain seems to remember so well. The winner of the app competition in my opinion, were the Caesar salads. Seriously. I know it’s just a simple salad in most eateries, usually an afterthought. This Caesar however, was so fresh and so crisp with one of the best dressings I’ve ever tasted. It had to have been homemade to order because you could taste every ingredient, the Parmigiano, egg, lemon juice, and the anchovies!

Prato dishes

Caesar salad holds a special place in my heart. Allow me to tell a small tale before we move on to entreés. Back in 1994, when I was just beginning to explore the world of food, I was on a family vacation in the Bahamas. We were staying at the Ocean Club in Nassau (the hotel where Casino Royale was filmed) and were eating dinner at the hotel restaurant. Up until this point, I had never ordered a salad, but something in my brain made me think they were delicious whenever I saw my parents eating them. So I mustered up the courage and ordered a Caesar salad and a steak Diane. The waiter returned minutes later with a finely appointed hand cart with a large wooden bowl and all the Caesar fixin’s. He proceeded to assemble the dressing right before my eyes, smearing the fresh white anchovies against the bowl with a spoon, squeezing the lemons and even letting me whisk as he created the emulsion. When I took my first bite, I was hooked. It was one of those moments that changes your life forever, and with that simple dish, I became a full-fledged food lover.

Now where was I, ah yes the entreés. Thankfully, Prato has the foresight to know that people like Logan and myself like to try as much of the menu as possible without filling up the point of discomfort. That’s why they provide the option to order half portions of all their pastas. I took full advantage of this and chose the bolognese tagliatelle with duck ragu and foie gras butter (sound familiar?) and the special sweetbread-rabbit fagottini with pistachio and sage. Both were absurdly delicious, the bolognese was fantastic, a little spicy a little sweet with a hint of nutmeg. Unfortunately with these types of pastas, the foie gras flavor tends to stay in the background, but it was memorable nonetheless.

The fagottini, despite its strange name, was amazing! Even more amazing was that a pasta-holic such as myself, had never heard of this type of noodle before. Fagottini are shaped like little pyramids and are filled with whatever you desire, in this case, sweetbreads and rabbit. The noodles were cooked perfectly, which can be difficult with filled pastas. The sweetbreads and rabbit combo created a wonderfully savory flavor with a nutty finish. This was naturally accented by the crunchy pistachios and finished with the sage and butter sauce.

 

Around the table the entreés were as follows: Mediterranean branzino with heirloom tomatos, fennel and a vegetable medley, veal scaloppine with the traditional accompaniments of crispy capers, meyer lemon and polenta and to round it all out, the Salsiccia pizza with Calabrian sausage, broccoli rabe and provolone picante.

I was fortunate enough to sample all of this before it was devoured by my family. The branzino was a beauty to behold. Bright white fish swimming in an heirloom tomato broth, topped with fresh beans, corn, onions and garlic. The flavor matched the appearance, the pearly fish flaked away and melted in your mouth accompanied with the electric zing of the tomato broth. The veal was another winner, pan seared to a golden brown and perched atop a mound of creamy polenta. The meat was tender and juicy, and was definitely the star of the dish with all the other ingredients playing perfect supporting roles. The pizza finished up the savory dishes in fine fashion. Whenever you bring the freshest ingredients together and pile them on top of kneaded dough to be baked, it’s going to impress. The salsiccia was no exception. The bitter broccoli rabe was a great counterpoint to the unctuous flavors from the sausage and provolone.

Zach returned with the offer of dessert. It’s always easy to spring for the sweets when the meal so far has been so fantastic. Instead of choosing between their delectable options, we came to a consensus, “all three!”, I proclaimed. This added to Zach’s already beaming smile, who was having just as much fun watching us enjoy the meal as we were having eating it (well maybe not AS much but almost, he was definitely a welcome addition to our table whenever he stopped by to check on us).

The small platter arrived with our sugary treats, first was a light tiramisu, creamy, sweet and slightly bitter from the espresso, next was an espresso budino with chocolate mousse (the actual description was much fancier but sadly I’ve forgotten it) and lastly a mascarpone cake topped with peach, plum and nectarine with crème fraîche and streusel. None of the desserts survived the onslaught.

Prato dessert

Prato had done it. It had served this boy a homecoming meal to remember and added its name to my pantheon of Italian eateries. How could it not? There were no failures, no missteps and no mistakes, at least none that I saw. Zach’s service was outstanding, very friendly and most importantly knowledgeable. Prato is the real deal folks, they’ve single-handedly raised the bar for restaurants in Orlando and possibly the whole southeast. Hopefully they can keep this performance up in the long term, as both Logan and I intend on returning many times in the future.

Prato on Urbanspoon

Edison: Food + Drink Lab – Tampa, FL

Innovative and complex would be the right way to describe Edison Food + Drink lab, the new Tampa eatery. I would venture to say that moving cuisine forward in such a creative way is just the first step in Edison’s short, yet impressive tenure.

As my day progressed into night, I still had no idea what I would be eating later on. I had planned on going to visit a truck or taqueria for a cheap meal with James after he arrived. That was still the plan until we both decided we wanted a little more than that. When he arrived, we immediately hopped in the car and got on the road. Still not even knowing if our destination was going to be East toward Orlando, or West to the Tampa Bay area. When in doubt,  always follow what the Pet Shop Boys recommend, “go west!”. We had our heading, but no destination, I started frantically downloading and trolling every food related app I could think of. Every restaurant was familiar and not doing it for either of us. When lo and behold I found a place I’d never heard of, which never happens by the way. So I started to check out the menu for this place and it looked like Mecca. A sanctuary for lovers of food and drink. I made a reservation to seal the deal.

photo: www.tampabay.com

When we arrived, the place looked pretty busy for 10 PM. It seemed everyone already knew about Edison but me. They must have heard about our epic meal times from other nearby restaurants, because we were seated at a table large enough for 4, but just the right size to spread out the eventual feast.

As the waiter arrived he asked if we were going to have a drink. I really didn’t have that in mind, but they seemed to have some really enticing draft choices from a few local micro-brewerys. So I went with a well-rounded I.P.A, while James went with a spicy glass of Tempranillo. Before he departed he asked if we had any questions about any of the menu items, (such as the sweetbreads) to let him know so he could help us construct our choices. Before he could take another breath, we both exclaimed, “sweetbreads please!” before we even got a chance to look at the menu, our first order was already placed. I love it when waiters are knowledgeable about the menu and feel confident in making recommendations based on their personal preference. I don’t want to hear “everything is good” when I ask for a suggestion. Sometimes a guy needs to be wined and dined a bit. Ya know, romance me!

It didn’t take long before our first course arrived at our table. It didn’t look the way I had imagined it. However, it was pleasing to the eyes. Accented with a reduced bourbon glaze and some citrus peel essence, along with a few bits of macerated maraschino cherries, this dish was an appropriate amuse, as it was an ode to the classic cocktail the “old-fashioned.” As we started analyzing the dish it was noted the sweetbreads themselves were made into a loaf-like structure. I’ve never seen them constructed in such a way. My conclusion is that they must have melded many sweetbreads together to get this result. As we ate, there were certainly aspects of the dish that were fantastic, but a lot of it didn’t work for either of us. The flavors were without question bold, reminiscent of a different time of year. One more chilling and festive. If I had these sweetbreads prepared more traditionally with a nice pan roasting to crisp them up, with the same flavors, maybe 4 months from now, I’m sure I would have licked the plate. It was a shaky start but I was really excited about the rest of our orders.

Sadly, after our first plate was taken off the table, the waiter informed us that the kitchen had eighty sixed the Foie Gras. Curses! Foie is a lynch pin to any meal James and I enjoy together. Without foie things just fall apart, and seeing that two of our choices involved foie, it was a major blow to morale. Fear not. The chance of having a memorable meal was still in the cards since the menu in its entirety was extremely enticing.

A few moments later, we were presented with a berserker barrage of cold apps. Pickled Key West pink shrimp with a boiled peanut puree, watercress and pickled watermelon rind was fresh and bright with a nod to the deep south. The flavors were sophisticated and subtle with the sweetness of the pink shrimp beaming through. If you see Florida pink shrimp on a menu, I would suggest you take the opportunity to eat one of these treasures that come from Florida’s waters.

To go with that, we were presented a slender plate of fresh oysters on the half shell with a yuzu mignonette topped with little liquid nitrogen kaffir lime pellets. I had an insatiable craving for oysters earlier and this satisfied that hunger more than I could have hoped for. This was an easy tie for dish of the night, these oysters were so incredibly fresh. I’m sure they were shucked as we were eating the shrimp. The combination of the two different citrus flavors and the chill of the frozen lime juice was gorgeous and refreshing. It majorly sucked that I had to share the order. I wanted to slurp them all up myself.

Beef tartare with Korean accompaniments of house made kim chee and assorted pickles. I thought the banchan was well made and rivaled some of the better Korean restaurants in town. The pickles were crisp and fresh with a healthy amount of vinegar. I’m just not sure it helped the raw beef make its’ presence known. More often than not, when it came to the condiments, the bold flavors muted the true beauty that is a great tartare.

I can without question say that the Cedar Key littleneck Clams with pork belly, salsa verde and scorched tomatoes was not only the dish of the night, but to me, was the best thing I’d eaten in months. A bowl of clams with a cube of glistening belly, drench in a Cuban inspired pesto was freaking delicious. The clams were all perfectly tender as was that hunk of belly that just melted away when my fork touched it. The tomatoes were charred, but succulent and sweet on the inside. The sauce was like listening to Louis Armstrong  play the trumpet. The kind of feeling that makes you want to get up and dance. That sauce honored Tampa’s rich Cuban heritage, as it reminded me of the most brilliant mojo no one had ever thought up until this moment. They knew it was going to make a perfect bottom dweller sauce when they gave us a nice basket of grilled ciabatta. My mind wanders thinking back to the clams.

One thing I failed to mention at the outset is that this restaurant had been open for 3 days when we arrived. I had no idea they had just began their venture into the industry until about half-way through the meal. That’s why I can forgive the lack of Foie and the small missteps in the tartare and whatnot. The kinks have yet to be worked out, and if I would have known that Edison was in its infancy, I might have given them a little time to perfect their processes before spewing my opinion. I don’t want to wait because they deserve praise early and often for all the good that was enjoyed. The technique shown in these dishes exceeded my expectations. It takes much skill, training and courage to put this kind of menu out, especially in Tampa. That’s why I can see a major buzz circulating for this little place in the very near future. As far as the creativity and the emphasis on experimenting, that is what will set Edison Food + Drink Lab apart from the pack.

Edison: Food+Drink Lab on Urbanspoon

WD-50 – New York City, NY

There are restaurants in this world that surpass the simple goal of serving a meal in order to sate the customers hunger. The Joel Robuchons, the Eleven Madison Parks. They transform the banal ritual of eating into an often world changing experience. The absolutely greatest of the great though, manage to simultaneously trick your brain into thinking it’s enjoying something familiar, while your eyes and tongue are experiencing something completely new.

WD-50 exterior & Wylie Dufresnephoto: cookingblogs.tomotiki.com

A recent visit to WD-50, Wylie Dufresne’s private food lab, further showcased this phenomenon. The restaurant, situated inconspicuously on Clinton St., is warm and welcoming with a refreshingly informal atmosphere, especially considering the level of food they produce. We arrived without reservations, but there happened to be room at the bar, so we jumped at the opportunity. Our bartender/waiter got us started with some cocktails and allowed us to look over the two tasting menus.

*Pro tip* If you find yourself at an establishment like this, don’t shy away from the large tasting menu because of the daunting price. You’ll likely never get the chance to eat there again, so spring for the big’un (along with wine pairings). I guarantee you’ll never look back in 20 years regretting your decision. Memories >Money.

Taking our own advice, my father and I went with the 13 course tasting menu with wine pairings. Let the anticipation begin! The first dish to arrive was the nigiri with salsify “rice”, seaweed and sesame. It was immediately apparent that the menu only told part of the story for each dish. As a certain Autobot will tell you, there was more than met the eye. So began our journey of familiarity wrapped in enigma. Half of the fun of the meal was discussing how they accomplished what was on the plate with our waiter, and when the staff still looks impressed after seeing this food day in and day out, you know something special is afoot.

The second dish arrived to another round of excited and quizzical looks (notice a pattern?). Lobster roe “pasta”, charred lemon, green grape with a coriander brown butter sauce. This was easily one of the top three dishes we had that night. How in the world do you make pasta out of lobster roe? My dad and I have been discussing this at length since that night, to no avail.

WD-50 course 1-3

Third, Pho Gras. Yes, that’s Pho and Foie Gras, Wylie…you’re the man. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this? Seeing as how Vietnam is so heavily influenced by France, you’d think someone would have combined a traditional foie gras terrine with a cozy bowl of pho by now. It was spot on, a little spicy with a tang of citrus which blended so well with the foie gras. I shall add a dollop of hoisin with my foie from now on, genius.

Next was amaro yolk, chicken confit and peas ‘n’ carrots. This dish snuck in there under the guise that it was simply chicken, peas and carrots with an amaro yolk (amaro is a digestif). It looked simple enough, thin ribbons of carrot, surrounded by a few peas, a pleasant lump of chicken confit at the center and the yolk serving as a subtle sauce. The “peas”, we come to find out, are actually sphered carrots in pea dust. I enjoyed this because you get all the pea flavor without the mushy texture. This felt like an old farmers dish, fresh bright veg, tender chicken confit, bursting with flavor, it hit all the right spots.

Veal brisket with za’atar, plum and mustard followed. This was most definitely tasty, but a little plain compared to what we’d already had and what was to come, so I’ll let this one slide…

To make room for the peeky-toe crab toast with saffron, kaffir-yogurt and arare. I love going to a restaurant and not knowing what 75% of the ingredients are. Arare, I’ve found, are small pellets of glutinous rice. I found it to be similar to Israeli couscous. This dish was amazing, the plump chunks of crabmeat, gingerly removed fresh from their shells as it wasn’t shredded like some cheapo lump crab cake, were tender and sweet as could be. The saffron lent an exotic aroma and the kaffir hit it with a nice sour note.

WD-50 course 4-8

As I was following along with the menu, my heart stopped when I saw the next dish (not in a good way). Sole with black licorice pil-pil, fried green tomato and fennel. Wow, two of my least favorite ingredients on one plate. Despite my initial reaction, I calmly reminded myself that I wasn’t in some shady dive, I was in the capable hands of one of the finest chefs this country has ever spawned. Low and behold, it was licorice and fennel with sole, and it tasted like licorice and fennel and I actually liked it! Once again, my “if it’s prepared correctly, anything tastes good” mantra held up, and Wylie didn’t let me down. The sole was perfect, sweet and tender, each piece flaked away perfectly. A small shmear of licorice pil-pil and a slice of the tomato and I was in business. My mind was running in circles trying to figure out why my tongue had betrayed it’s long standing hatred of licorice and fennel, “not now brain” said the tongue, “I’m savoring”.

Phew, the scary part of the ride was over, it was nothing but pleasure from here on out, lamb sweetbreads with nasturtium buttermilk, zucchini and pistachio was on deck. There are few things better than perfectly cooked sweetbreads, tender, juicy, slightly sweet and the tiniest bit gamey. Paired with the pistachio zucchini crumble and the grassy nasturtium buttermilk, these sweetbreads gave us a whole new experience, like getting your head dragged through a grassy meadow in the early morning.

WD-50 course 9 & 10

Root beer ribs with rye spaetzle and apricot. Once again, awesome. The succulent meat was cut with the apricot spread and smoothed over with the cushy spaetzle. The sauce on the plate was worthy of drinking…but I know there’s a time and place for that.

Alright, only four more dishes, and they’re all dessert! Hang in there folks it’s worth it!

Jasmine, cucumber, honeydew and chartreuse. That’s what the menu said, but it gave absolutely no clue as to what would show up. What DID show up was a bowl containing some neon green concoction. I went to get a spoonful and was rejected. What sorcery is this! It was a nitro frozen chartreuse cucumber honeydew shell which covered over a chilled fragrant soup that was so refreshing I wish I had some next to my bed each morning. Another “first time” flavor experience.

Yuzu milk ice, hazelnut, rhubarb and basil. We just laughed while we ate this one. The yuzu milk ice immediately evaporated when it hit my tongue, leaving me with a creamy coating of concentrated yuzu flavor, it was like David Copperfield transported everything but the flavor out of my mouth. How the heck do they do this stuff? Nevermind, I don’t want to peek behind the curtain, it’s too fun to go into these meals blind!

WD-50 course 11 & 12

This next one was the doom-bringer of all desserts. S’mores. Obviously they aren’t just any s’mores. These included bitter cocoa, meringue and black currant. The meringue was disguised as a marshmallow, with the real marshmallow wisped around the plate with some dark chocolate sauce. Even the stick that held the “mallow” was edible. Decadent, just like I like it.

Lastly, white chocolate and gjetost. There is no such word that starts with G, J, E, T. Maybe Wylie fell asleep on the keyboard when he was writing up the menu late one night. Apparently it’s a type of cheese (pronouned yay-toast). That’s roughly what I said when I ate this thing, delicious. Little droplets of sweet cheese and chocolate rolled around in raspberry dust or something.

WD-50 course 13 & 14

I think it goes without saying, this place is crazy, I couldn’t even pay attention to WHAT, exactly I was eating, I was in a food trance, enjoying every second, sharing smiles and hearty back pats with my dad. Who could ask for a better night.

wd-50 on Urbanspoon

Summer Apps: Fries, Sauce and Pickled Okra

It has been far too long since I’ve had a couple of days off to concentrate on simply relaxing and cooking. My hobby is more often than not, the pursuit of better eating. We all enjoy activities that we’re good at don’t we? Cooking, or the preparation of food is no exception, at least for me.

I’ve played with the idea of starting up my own food cart at the local Farmers market starting in September. An idea that feels more and more real as the days go by. Although it’s not a sure thing until I actually take possession of the necessary equipment.

It has been decided after many months of being mentored by my good friends at The Poor Porker, that an ideal option would be to specialize in the most amazing french fries you can find, something most of us absolutely adore. I’m betting on this reasoning at least.

After months of researching and testing different fry techniques, I’m confident that I’ve got the process to where I can put out a high quality product that will be easy enough to execute at a high level of output. Well, higher than what we home cooks would be used to. Unless of course you normally cook 50 lbs of Potatoes at a time.

With the “perfect” fry, which is what I strive for, comes the other important goal. Giving my local friends and acquaintances of the Farmers Market a change of pace in the flavor department. I want to help show off some of the incredible tastes the cuisines of the world have to offer. I know it will start off by being simple, maybe just using different spice blends and sauces. But I think everyone deserves to take a trip to Paris or maybe the coast of Morocco, even if you can’t afford the airfare. Honestly, I’ve never had a chance to go to Europe. That doesn’t mean I have to limit myself to my region of the worlds typical flavors. Why would I want to punish my tongue for my own financial inadequacy?

This leads me to this past weekend where once again, I found myself practicing fries, my sauces and hospitality in general. I’m not going to keep my technique a secret because the process is widely known. I use a double fry method, where you cook the potatoes at a low temp to cook them through. Then you follow with a higher heat, and a shorter cook time after freezing them overnight. This makes them creamy on the inside, crispy and golden brown on the outside. I know you can make these at home. Although, you don’t need to now that you have me!

image

Saturday I tested out my cookery accompanied by my homemade Ketchup that I will actually not give many details about, except that it has my wife’s approval which is the most important thing in the world to me. Everything else I think will be fair game.

Such as the Meyer Lemon Aioli I plan on serving every once in a while.

You can do it by hand, which I think everyone should do at least once in their lives, to really appreciate the old world elbow grease that goes into it. Or you can be a weak little baby and use a food pro. All you need to do is this:

Throw 2 garlic cloves (or if you’re Jimmy, 5 or 6), the juice and zest of a Meyer Lemon, 1/2 tsp of salt, 1 room temp egg yolk, and 1 teaspoon of cold water in a small food pro. You should have set aside about 3/4 of a cup of Olive oil into some sort of easily pourable container. First pulse the food pro with little drips of the oil at a time. Literally, drip by drip. As the mixture begins to emulsify, slowly add a little more oil. Just a little at a time. Listen. This isn’t swing dancing. It’s not slow, slow, quick, quick. It’s slow, slow, slow, slow. From experience I know that doing it too fast isn’t a wise course of action. On the same note, going super slow has never produced a failed attempt. Hey pal, I’m talking about aioli!

If you do choose to make fries and this aioli, maybe you can make a little spread of vegetable based apps to counteract the luxurious richness of the frites and sauce.

My recommendation would be this play on an old southern classic, okra  pin wheels. This only has 3 components and they all come pre-made so all you have to do is be like the Avengers and ASSEMBLE!

image

Here’s what you need:

1/4 of cured meat such as Speck, Serrano, or Prosciutto. Or just smoked ham if you can’t find anything else. I would highly recommend finding you closest purveyor of La Quercia  meats, and stocking up on their quality goods.

1 Jar of Pickled Okra. Don’t freak out about this. It’s not slimy when you pickle it. Trust me it’s awesome.

1 tub of either European style sour cream or just regular cream cheese.

Take your meat and lay it on a cutting board. Take a schmear of the cream and spread it to make a thin layer on the meat. Take a stalk of okra and cut off the top and place at one end of the meat cream marriage. Roll up like a cigar. activities into 1 inch pieces and place on serving dish. Willingly accept the hugs and kisses of your loved ones as they shower you with praise for concocting such a triumph in simple elegance.

2012 Best Fantasy Football Draft Party Locations Mock Draft

I would like to share with you an article I had the privaledge of writing for my dear friend. He runs  a Fantasy sports blog that occasionally touches on food topics. He guest blogged a post for me recently and now it’s my chance to return the favor. I hope you enjoy.

The article originally was posted at DavidGonos.com

For all your soon to be Fantasy Football needs, I advise you give his site a look for valueable information.

How many more years do you think it will take for the Hallmark people, or if you’re a rich dude, the Papyrus people, to figure out that a Fantasy Football draft is actually a holiday? And where do you celebrate such a holiday? Where does one go for the best Fantasy Football Draft party?

As my draft looms right around the corner, my wife is becoming more and more cognizant of how important this is to me. She knows I won’t be useful in the weeks that lead up to my Sept. 2 draft. As the commissioner of my long running Memorial League, (A Memorial League is a league that pays tribute to a fallen soldier from the sports, entertainment or music Industries. Past examples include Michael Jackson, Randy the “Macho Man” Savage, Manute Bol, etc.) And much time is needed for preparations regarding Draft Day festivities.

I have to:

  • Get verbal and monetary confirmations of participation.
  • Study the rules and make any necessary changes, as well as make a spreadsheet for owners.
  • Ask for time off work to recuperate.
  • Think up cool team names that are appropriate to the theme.
  • Make a draft board –
    but most importantly …
  • Reserve a location for the festivities.

Having fun is probably the only reason my friends come back each year. It sure isn’t for the money. That’s why it’s so important to pick a spot that is conducive for an ideal draft. Over the years I’ve tried many sports bars in the area I live in and none have really stuck.

There are some amazing places that you can go for your Fantasy Football Draft Party this year, depending on where you live. All you have to do is make sure that wherever you choose, the establishment provides amazing food, adequate beer selection, enough space for everyone and their paraphernalia, and a good atmosphere to make things memorable.

I’ve looked high and low, then east to west, searching out America’s best locations. Without further delay I present my:

2012 Best Fantasy Football Draft Party Locations Mock Draft

1. Lagasse’s Stadium – Las Vegas

Lagasses -- Best Fantasy Football Draft Party Locations

I doubt Emeril spends much time keeping up on all the latest Fantasy Football trends. However, the people that run his empire sure know how to welcome us degenerates. Much like NYC, Las Vegas has no football team. But who wants to sit exposed to the elements at a live football game when you can bet on all of them from a comfy arm chair with a free adult beverage in your hand? This is the sports bar of your dreams, with more televisions than you can imagine, a great Emerilized menu and the ability to place a bet right inside the restaurant. But wait there’s more! You can even reserve a private skybox so you can use as much coarse language as necessary when your “friend” tries to offer up a less than savory trade proposal.

2. Foley’s – New York City

Foley's -- Best Fantasy Football Draft Party Locations

To me, New York City is Mecca. If I were to plan a trip specifically for me and my friends to hold a live draft, it would be here. And while technically, the city itself has no professional football franchise inside its island’s borders, it makes no difference to me or the other 3 billion residents of the five boroughs. To find the best location all you need to do is point your finger directly toward the Empire State Building. Then walk across the street and you’ll find Foley’s. Good food, great beer, tons of amazing memorabilia, old-timey urinals, big space in the back for a draft — and you can’t beat that it’s in the center of the universe.

3. Hottie Hawgs – Atlanta

Hottie Hawgs -- Best Fantasy Football Draft Party Locations

BBQ must be considered when it comes to seeking out a possible ultimate Fantasy Football Draft Party location. And in this case, you have to weigh two factors. First off, Atlanta is super fun. It’s where the playas play. And we ride on them things like every day. Big beats, hit streets, see gangsta’s roamin. ‘And parties don’t stop til’ eight in the mornin’. And second, HottieHawgs has ridiculously incredible BBQ. Just about the best you’ll ever have. They also have a nice little private seating area with a tequila bar on the side that will make anyone passing by jealous that they didn’t think of the Hawg for their yearly pilgrimage.

4. Slaters 50/50 – San Diego

50-50  -- Best Fantasy Football Draft Party Locations

No, I’m not going to describe to you how amazing a 50/50 soda pop is. Although it is quite delicious, it’s not the same 50/50. And no, I’m not talking about the club Jose Canseco should be in if he took better steroids. The 50/50 I’m trying to talk about is the king burger joint of Saint Diego or as the German’s call it … you know the Anchorman reference right? It has won numerous accolades year after year and is definitely worthy of our praise. Their mission is to serve the best burger known to man. What do you think 50/50 means? If you guessed 50% beef and 50% bacon, you would be correct and probably be booking your tickets to SoCal on Priceline right now. They even encourage creativity in the form of toppings by inviting you to create your own burger with the help of their 75 or so condiments. I don’t know math, but that seems to be quite a lot of choices.

5. Senate – Cincinnati

Senate -- Best Fantasy Football Draft Party Locations

You don’t have to commit strictly to hosting your Fantasy Football Draft at a sports bar per se. If you have a small level of sophistication, a gastropub might be a goldmine for you and your crew. Senate Pub is probably the best thing Cincinnati has going for it, other than drafting that red-headed freak from TCU last year. The food menu is impressive with selections ranging from the Lindsey Lohandog with goat cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, arugula and balsamic,  to a Lobster BLT with bourbon smoked bacon, basil aioli, paired with duck-fat fries. For dessert? Foie gras crème brûlée and brandied cherries, of course!

[Editor’s note: … It just moved.]

6. Public House – San Francisco

Public House -- Best Fantasy Football Draft Party Locations

What you will first notice about Public House is the immense wall of kegs that separate the bar from the dining area. It really is quite impressive. To any beer lover, the quality of beers made available is one for the ages. Specializing in local brews, they have dozens on tap and even more in the bottle. They even have a special brew all their own: The Public House Billy Sunday Bitter. And the food matches the care put into the beer selection with a little help from Managing Chef Traci De Jardins, a multiple James Beard Award winner. (Winning a James Beard award is like winning the Cy Young Award for food.)

7. The Brickhouse Tavern and Tap – Tampa

Brickhouse -- Best Fantasy Football Draft Party Locations

How many other sports bars offer draft beer in so many different sizes? Pint, 20, 36, and 72 oz!?! Literally, you can get towers of beer! They even have 40s, micro- and mini-kegs. They offer quality brews — and lots of them. Everything you could ever want in a tavern is right in front of your eyes. The food is a cut above traditional pub food as well. With Kobe beef burgers, and fried chicken and waffles to boot. The atmosphere is very welcoming. Even my wife likes this place! If you go, ask your waitress for her baseball card. You might go home with a souvenir. They have various locations around the country, so this place might actually be near you!

8. Chickie’s and Pete’s – Philadelphia

Chickie's and Pete's -- Best Fantasy Football Draft Party Locations

Crab Fries! I don’t really know technically what they’re made of, but I want some right now! This place is kind of an anomaly to me since they tout themselves as a sports bar specializing in seafood. The two don’t usually mesh well. I think as Fantasy sports fans, one of our 10 commandments goes along the lines of “Thou shalt not have gross fingers when selecting Doug Martin in the third round.” Most of us, no doubt, need to have easy access to our iPhones or laptops when the draft gets heated. It’s kind of difficult when you’re reaching for a wet nap every 5 minutes. But combine great seafood, with something called a Lobster Cheesesteak, along with those world famous Crab fries, and you’ve earned yourself an exemption.

[Editor’s note: I actually had Chickie’s and Pete’s Crab Fries at Citizens Bank Park in Philly in 2009. They were pretty awesome! Basically, they are just regular French fries that have been dusted liberally with Old Bay seasoning, which is the main seasoning mix dumped into most crab boils. Oh, and I got the cheese sauce to dip the Crab fries in. I didn’t get fat on accident.]

9. Anchor Bar – Buffalo

Anchor Bar -- Best Fantasy Football Draft Party Locations

You have to include the birthplace of Buffalo Wings in any sort of sports bar/food eating draft. Without the invention of the chicken and then the subsequent hot sauce bathed Drummy/Flapper discovery of 1964, most of these places on this list wouldn’t exist. Instead, you would have to hold your Fantasy Football Draft Party at a place like Stuckey’s or Perkins. So get this, not only did some old Italian lady invent — by accident — the most famous of bar foods, she also accidently created the perfect paring of blue cheese dressing and celery. Was she a genius or just an idiot savant?

10. Melt Bar and Grilled – Cleveland

Melt puts a new spin on the same old bar food and the often predictable selection of brews. It does so in a setting perfect for your Fantasy Drafting needs. If you think about it, isn’t grilled-cheese sandwiching a perfect activity during those tense moments in the war room? For the most part, they are neat and tidy in their own little package, filled with cheese, and most importantly, they have the ability to soak up all the alcohol you’re drinking too much of.

11. Mallies – Detroit

Mallies -- Best Fantasy Football Draft Party Locations

Maybe you are a hardcore Fantasy Football aficionado and enjoy punishing yourself with an occasional 24-team manly man super league. You say that’s impossible due to the fact that there aren’t enough QBs for every team to have a backup? Not my problem. The problem you’ll have is trying to find that one single menu item that can feed such a hungry group of obvious winners. Look no further. At Mallies, you can order what, as of right now, is the biggest hamburger in the world. Coming in at a William “The Refrigerator” Perry-like weight, the 338-lb. Guinness Burger can be yours for a modest $2,000. Don’t forget, Mallies delivers!!!

1.12 Auto Battery – Seattle

Auto Battery Seattle -- Best Fantasy Football Draft Party LocationsIn a city like Seattle, there are so many other great things to do other than watch everyone’s favorite neon green sea bird stumble and bumble their way to mediocrity. You have got to have something special to pique the interest of Seattle sports fans. The food is really what is so inviting at Auto Battery. For starters, who would try and resist scarfing down some deep fried cheese curds, Cordon Bleu bites, or Wasabi Hot Dog Eggrolls? Or who would resist a deep fried Danger dog wrapped in bacon, fried onions and hot chili sauce? Not me. I won’t resist.

If you know somewhere that might be a better spot for a Fantasy Football Draft Party than any of these, we can go toe-to-toe on this most important of topics. Or maybe you’ve got a funny story involving drunken revelry at a past live draft. What say you?

Don’t forget to check out Davidgonos.com for all your hilarious yet informative Fantasy sports banter.