Szechuan Roasted Eggplant

Recently at the market, I spotted a large basket of eggplants in various shapes and colors. Their fate was not clear to me at the time, but something in the back of my mind was encouraging a Northern Chinese approach.

I’ve seen this dish many times in magazines and on cooking shows, yet never thought to do it myself. Hindsight being what it is, I realize now that it’s because of the remarkable ease of preparation, not to mention its natural photogenic quality. With so many angles, shadows and sauce filled crevices, I ended up with a gorgeous plate of food. It was mainly complimented by the wonderful quality of light on my mom’s porch as dusk hits.

Szechuan Roasted Eggplant

While this may seem like a lowly side dish, it’s far from a throwaway recipe, if for no other reason than its versatility. Use this sauce on beef, poultry or a firm white fish. Pretty much any vegetable with sturdy flesh could be substituted as well. Think about all the times you’ve thought to yourself, ” we have no food”, but you did. Don’t say that, because you did. You failed to notice the brown paper bag filled with zucchini and squash in the back of the crisper.

Beef & Broccoli

I made this along with a hunk of organic, grass-fed top sirloin cut into narrow strips and seared in a cast iron pan with a lot of brown butter. With that I scorched a half head of broccoli cut into florets and then sliced in half to create a flat surface needed for proper coloration. Make sure not to waste the stalks. If you cut them thin they will be tender and will look like miniature green versions of that 70’s style clock cut from a Cypress tree stump, your weird uncle has mounted in his house boats sleeping quarters. Be careful never to overcook broccoli. Use a very hot pan and flash sauté those guys with a big nob of butter at the beginning and end! The marriage of these two items resulted in a southerners rendition of Beef & Broccoli.

Szechuan Roasted Eggplant

  • About 1 1/2 lbs eggplant (Japanese preferably)
  • 1/2 cup prepared Hoisin sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. Tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tsp. sesame oil
  • A couple shakes of Five Spice Powder
  • Canola Oil
  • Salt

Pre-Heat Oven to 400.

With a paring knife, slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/3-1/2″ thick planks and score them on the flesh side to make a diamond pattern. Coat with a thin layer of canola oil, then lightly sprinkle with salt. Lay slices skin side down on a baking sheet. Combine Hoisin, Tamari, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and five spice in a small bowl, then brush it evenly over the eggplant.

Roast for 15- 20 minutes, or until they have caramelized, building a dark Mahogany color around the edges.

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #7

Every so often, the boys of Eat a Duck are bestowed with incredible meals in rapid succession. Sadly we couldn’t share in any food-ventures over the last few days, but if the spread below is any indication, I’d say we still had a successful week in eating.

The wife and I snuck in a visit to Boca: Kitchen, Bar & Market in Tampa and Café Boulud in West Palm Beach before heading down to Miami to see my parents off for the summer. If I’m not eating with Logan, I’m probably eating with Jep, and we did some fine work this weekend. Dim sum at Blackbrick, incredible Japanese spiked Peruvian fare at La Mar and a long-awaited trip for pizza Napolitana at Stanzione 87 were all on the menu. A simple dinner at home with some home-made pesto over fusilli and antipasti of burrata, heirloom tomato and prosciutto from San Daniele.

Logan made his rounds to some of the best eats in Lakeland with Vietnamese from Pho Tan, and BBQ from Fat Maggie’s. Concord Coffee and their Poor Porker supplied pastries seems to be a weekly affair, and who can blame him? The food scene in his town is really starting to show some promise, so I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot more Lakeland restaurants making their way into the recap in the weeks to come.

Look out for some full length pieces in the next few weeks featuring some of the new Miami joints we’ve teased here!

EAD Weekly #7

Polpo Pizza Co. – Sarasota, FL

It seems there’s a pizza renaissance brewing in Florida these days. Recently, Proof Pizza & Pasta reignited my excitement for the almighty pie in this state. Also in Miami, the as yet untested Stanzione 87 stands poised to join the hallowed pizza hall of fame with the likes of Antico. However the pizza revival in the sunshine state isn’t exclusive to the big cities. Heck it’s not even exclusive to having an actual restaurant. That’s because right here in Sarasota, two passionate people and their fire-breathing, mid-century Ford F5 are cranking out some of the best pizza in the south. 

Polpo spread 1

Polpo Pizza Co. was among the first names mentioned when I began asking for eats from my circle of gulf coast food friends. I quickly found that if you didn’t plan ahead, you’d end up on a Nick and Norah type excursion in pursuit of the fabled pies. Polpo doesn’t have a storefront, so there’s no calling in for takeout or delivery, and that’s fine, because Danni and Tom have crafted such an amazing product that you won’t mind driving 20-30 minutes to sink your teeth into that perfect dough.

The team at Polpo manage this feat by keeping things simple. Working with local growers to procure the freshest produce, staying away from the processed nonsense peddled by lesser pizzerias and paying a close attention to quality has made for a pizza that transcends the dish.

All of those steps are crucial to the creation of an amazing pie, but quality ingredients can only take you so far, especially since so many other restaurants are upping the bar in that respect. You have to be creative to really set yourself apart, a lesson that Polpo actively displays in their ever-changing menu.

Of course this includes the ubiquitous Margherita, both in a traditional and spicy variant, but from there, things get interesting. Their signature pie, The Bee Sting, is an eye-opening spicy/sweet concoction with Calabrese, shaved raw garlic, chili pepper infused olive oil and a liberal drizzle of hot pepper infused honey. The Pig & Goat on the other hand is a smooth and smokey affair with Niman Ranch bacon, rosemary infused olive oil, fresh thyme, peppadew peppers and a Pollack-like application of goat cheese cream

Polpo spread 2

Another unique pie hailed from the opposite side of the Mediterranean. The Smokin’ Moroccan involves a spiced chickpea purée, smoked baby eggplant, Scamorza cheese, feta-lemon cream and a pistachio gremolata.

During one of Logan’s visits, a couple of breakfast time pizzas were on offer. A savory option of tomato, green onion, provolone, house made mozzarella, bacon and a runny egg and a sweeter one with banana creme, Scamorza cheese, banana, bacon and more house made mozzarella.

Polpo spread 3

But not everything needs hunks of cheese to deliver a tasty slice. The Mother Earth (pictured at the top of the page) stays grounded with porcini cream, fresh sliced porcinis, fresh picked arugula, shaved parmesan and a lemon vinaigrette. I swear I detected a hint of truffle in there as well.

The flavors from all of Polpo’s pizzas are at once familiar and unique. They don’t try to get too cute with the combinations, as you can tell each pie is thoughtfully constructed from a taste, visual and even structural standpoint. The more I eat at this pizza truck, the more I understand why they haven’t built a brick and mortar shop yet, as they’d likely need eight arms to keep up with the demand. The temporal nature of mobile eatery, especially one that achieves this level of quality, adds an unquantifiable characteristic the experience.

I think I speak for all of us here at Eat a Duck headquarters when I urge you to check the calendar and get yourself one of Polpo’s gorgeous pizza’s while you can.

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #6

It’s shaping up to be quite the epic contest of Noodle Wars 2015 between James and myself. While I have gotten more strict with my eating habits, there’s no chance I will ever deny myself the joy of eating great Vietnamese food. I may have temporarily dislocated pork shoulder from my daily intake, but that isn’t stopping me from enjoying the extensive menu over at Pho Cali in Sarasota. I opted for a bowl of lemongrass beef bun, with spicy chile and onions. It almost made me forget my fatty pork patties. Jimmy more than made up for my pork omissions. We both have a deep yearning to find that next great menu item that’s possibly hiding on the back page. In this case, it was Ha Noi noodles with pickled green papaya, grilled pork and pork meatballs. What a refreshing feeling it is for each of us to have a place in our respective towns with such high flavor and quality. It’s been a long time coming.

Speaking of a long time coming, a wood fired pizza insurgence is under way. Have you joined the republic? We are feverishly composing our thoughts on Polpo Pizza Co. to express our love for what they are producing. I know there are a lot of pizza people out there. You owe it to yourself to plan a nice beach day in the Sarasota area, with special attention paid to procuring a pizza pie produced particularly by Polpo at the precise period and place Polpo pre-determines to park.

Moving on, we found that going back to our well of old favorites resulted in great rewards. I haven’t been back to Beewon Korean restaurant in almost five years until last week. I found an old picture of my son noshing at the table back then. Poor guy didn’t even have a hair on his head. But he sure was happy taking on their bulgogi beef. While the sure things (Mahans & Oxford Exchange) triumphed, the new stumbled. Deciding after many contemplative passing glances at their storefront on Colonial Dr. in Orlando, I gave Mamak Asian Street Food a shot. While their rendition of Char Kway Teow (a wide rice noodle dish similar to chow fun) impressed, the beef curry meatballs left me wincing with confusion. The curry sauce itself tasted fine, yet the meatballs seemed like they were purchased at IKEA. Truthfully, I guess I should say that I quite enjoy their meatballs. But I expect them to stay at IKEA, in a pool of brown gravy, garnished with Lingonberry compote and not curiously found in an Asian hawker style restaurant. I cant say for a fact they bought them elsewhere or made them by hand, shaped to extremely perfect proportions. They were just very, very familiar to me.  I say maybe give Mamak a shot, but not before going to every single other jaw dropping place in a two block radius. With big guns like Ming’s Bistro, Anh Hong, Little Saigon, and Chuan Lu Garden, Mamak has a lot of competition. It’s by far the prettiest space on the block. So if they can get the entire menu hitting on all fronts, look out!

Finally, we finish at home. We try to eat what’s in season and tastes best, wherever we live. In Florida, we’re seeing a burst of peaches on the scene. They’re mainly smaller and thinner skinned than their relatives that hail from Georgia in my opinion, which results in a more concentrated flavor. We found some gems at Sweetwater Farms yet again. Large heads of broccoli, Japanese eggplant, and a slab of grass-fed sirloin from Providence Cattle proved to make a wonderful version of a New York style Chinese take out favorite; Beef and Broccoli. Another Stone Crab season has come to an end. I got my last chance to enjoy my favorite claw based foods. For one day last week, Whole Foods had them on special at their beer bar for 2$ a claw, so I took advantage of the situation. When you see that kind of deal, never pass it up! We’ll see you next week!

EAD Weekly #6

Pho Tan – Lakeland, FL

A Rooster and the Till outpost could have arrived in town and it would have taken second fiddle to the new Vietnamese place, Pho Tan, that just opened over in no man’s land USA, aka the Combee settlement in Southeast Lakeland, Florida. You have to understand my plight, my yearning, and my overall displeasure pho my local food scene be-pho you understand why a legitimate Vietnamese restaurant means so much more to me.

Here’s a little back story to prove my love.

I preface this by apologizing pho bashing the only other Vietnamese place in town, but it helps tell the story. When the other “Viet” restaurant in town opened about two or three years ago, how excited I was! The cuisine of Vietnam has gradually caused to become one of my favorites. From bánh mi to com dia, and all the delicious bánh bao. At long last I wouldn’t have to drive over an hour to sample these delicious dishes. Oh how wrong I was. The food was as sad as a fatherless child, yet disreputable sources continue to bestow either 4 ½ stars or a 95% approval rating, which means people are still giving them their business.

Pho Tan spread 3

It’s my hypothesis that the general population in town doesn’t know what authentic Vietnamese food tastes like if this place does it pho them. To be fair, I’ve never been anywhere close to the Mekong River, so my comparative knowledge spans from the ethnic crossroads found in neighborhoods I’m very familiar with in Manhattan, Orlando and Tampa. All of which are offer much greater quality than this terrible incarnation we had.

About two months ago, I drove into an old dingy parking lot by accident after needing to make a U-turn to get out of Combee as fast as humanly possible, and noticed the sign pho Pho Tan. At first I thought I was mistakenly seeing a sign pho a salon, the letters spelling ‘Phoenix Tan’, having long fallen off. I imagined a glowing bird ascending through the flames, sporting a pair of Wayfarers pho retinal protection. It couldn’t possibly be a restaurant could it? Fast forward to this past Sunday, my phone starts blowing up around 11:30 am with close friends who know my hatred pho the Viet restaurant that shall not be named, telling me that I have to check out Pho Tan! All day I was bombarded with pho-tos of pho, bun, bánh mi and rice paper rolls. So I went, that very night with ZERO expectations.

My wife wants to hate Pho Tan. She doesn’t think it’s possible to have even a handful of decent places to eat in town. I don’t disagree with her based on what’s around, yet my hope never dies. It’s a general theme between us lately; the impression of pre-conceived hatred. I just want it to be good. Good enough to where I can say “ Hey, I don’t want to drive out-of-town pho dinner tonight, you want Pho Tan?” That’s all I ask. Sadly, that’s how bad it is here sometimes. The bargaining chip pho me were the gushing reviews from my friends. I think pho the most part, I surround myself with people who have great taste and true discernment. If they like it, I should too.

Pho Tan spread 2

We ordered a plate of steamed chicken dumplings; a rare starter at most Vietnamese places. They came with an out of character dipping broth. Pho the most part we got them pho the kid; he likes stabbing them and making dim sum lollipops. It was mildly pleasing, yet I considered it somewhat a precarious start as they were highly fragile. I like the flavor but wasn’t ready to give up on Anh Hong. The brothy sauce was so noteworthy, we held on to it pho the duration of our meal, no matter how many times our sweet waitress tried to pull it from the booth.

We loved the Com dia, with grilled beef & shrimp, a perfect fried egg and the best stuffed shrimp paste in fried bean curd I’ve honestly ever had. It was light and crispy with a mousseline of herbaceous shrimp paste stuffed inside. I can’t imagine finding a better version anywhere else. It was a shame that my wife’s lemongrass chicken and spring roll bun, didn’t hit a ground rule double with her. She didn’t like the cold noodles intertwined with the hot chicken. Whatever they do to the lemongrass chicken is impressive, yet the dish itself was let biggest let down. They also need to give us a holy trinity of herbs (cilantro, Thai basil and mint), as only a few are co-mingled, with only sprouts and nước chấm on the side. If they could tweak that slightly, I think it would be passable in her eyes.

We also ordered a grilled chicken bánh mi, not realizing it would come with the same lemongrass marinade. I may have opted pho the grilled pork had I known, as I was suffering from lemongrass overload. Nevertheless, there were wonderful flavors on the inside from the jalapeño, cilantro, mint, pickled vegetables and lemony mayo. However they used a large segment from a whole baguette which caused an uneven bread to filling ratio, unfortunately favoring the bread. This could easily be fixed by buying mini baguettes over whole loaves. Get them at Publix! That’s how Saigon Deli does it!

Pho Tan spread 1

I knew Lakeland had a small Vietnamese community somewhere out there, as a large group showed up as we were just finishing our meal. By the time we left, the place was packed full of happy eaters. I wonder how those who migrated from Vietnam feel about a place that undoubtedly reminds them of home? Imagine moving to the opposite side of the world without access to your favorite Cuban joint, and then one day, Arco Iris opens down the street. I would cry. We need to support this place so it sticks around.

Comparing Pho Tan to the other place is like comparing Tartine Bakery to Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s really a great spot pho Lakeland, with better ingredients and way more authenticity than any other spot in the area. Just look in the kitchen. You’ll likely see a sweet looking old man painstakingly stirring a 20 gallon pot of pho with what appears to be a canoe oar. While It doesn’t beat my favorite places in every category, as you know, I wasn’t really expecting it to. Even the best Vietnamese I’ve eaten in other parts of the country have their particular strengths and weaknesses. Pho the price and overall experience, I think I speak pho everyone who desires good Vietnamese food; “Welcome to Lakeland, please stay!”

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #5

This week we kept things fresh starting with our friends at Clementine Café serving up some seriously delicious tacos to rival the best Mexican street fare. Pho Tan, Lakeland’s own Vietnamese hangout makes an appearance showing that even little towns in the heart of Central Florida have international tastes. Logan has a nice write up coming out later this week, so stay tuned. The Poor Porker wowed us with their insane ‘crack cookie’, while Miss Rose at the Sweetwater Organic Farm in Tampa offered her own interesting sweet treat, sesame seed mung bean balls. Old standby Yummy House delivered its biweekly dim sum feast with style, impressing each time with piping hot dumplings made to order. Fresh off the boat from the UK is Yo Sushi. The UTC mall in Sarasota has been bestowed with the well-known conveyor belt sushi restaurant, the first of four US locations slated to open in the next few months. From the insane line, it looks like mainstream America may finally be ready to embrace ‘kaiten’ sushi. Look out for a full post after we’ve had a chance to run them through their paces.

Eat a Duck Weekly #5

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #4

Eat a Duck took a break from editing and arranging our weekly recap to concentrate on spending some quality time with family. That doesn’t mean we stopped eating great food! Actually, we probably eat way better when we gather in familial packs, as Jimmy’s dinner at Indigenous in Sarasota will show. He dined there with his pop last week, who, in all honesty is the patriarchal figurehead of the Eat a Duck empire. He sort of introduced both Jimmy and me to fine dining togetherness with our trip to Joël Robuchon all those years back. What a treat it was to have James Beard award nominee Steve Phelps come visit the table to say hello.

In a post that needs, and will have, a spotlight all its own, Jimmy and I both ate at Polpo Pizza Co. on the same day, but at different times. I’ve touted it as the best pizza I’ve had in Florida since I had my first bite. That statement held true after taking the spicy Moroccan with me on my way to Ft. Myers. Wood fired at around 900°, (as all pizzas should be) then topped with smoked eggplant, lemon goat feta crème, spiced chickpea purée, rosemary oil, scamorza cheese and pistachio gremolata. I know it’s a lot of stuff to process, but it all worked beautifully.

Of course there was a grand assortment of dim sum had by all. Cumulatively, we ate at 3 different spots; Yummy House, China Yuan and Ming Court. Not to mention yet another trip to regular hang outs Poppo’s Tacos, Fat Maggies and Pho Cali

I seemed to be imbibing quite heavily on tasty pastry dependence, making my way from Lakeland across the state to Southwest Florida. Hitting up Born + Bread Bake house, Concord Coffee, The Poor Porker, Locale Market, Sarasota Tea Co, Perq Coffee Bar, and Sweetberries frozen custard along the route.

We can not forget to self promote. During the last 2 weeks, our alter egos The Root Frites had two great services in downtown Lakeland, with three amazing flavor combinations; The Cuban Missile Frysis, The Californian, and The Turkish Delight.

The last night of our weekly recap eligibility ended with a family dinner, as my uncle Greg came down for his semi-annual visit. I had the privilege to cook for him as well as my immediate family. We enjoyed a succulent brined, slow roasted chicken, sautéed garlicky collard greens, mashed potatoes, and an all too complex version of Greek salad. Hope you had a great couple of weeks in food just as we did!

EAD Weekly recap 4