Saturday, January 23, 2010

Off to the races!

Happy New Year! As usual, it has been a time of festive frolic and also seasonal quietude. The intermittent busyness punctuated with moments of reflection has made for a jumbling of my thoughts. And, of course, just as I try to right (write?) my cognitive ship, the rush of January is upon me.

Since I last wrote, I saw Paul (the apple guy) again. He still had some apples left three weeks after Thanksgiving. In fact, he was chatting with another regular Market customer who I have gotten to know. The last apple of Paul's season is the Rome Beauty, as I have written about. And while it has merits, it is not particularly crisp. Given it was a rainy day, the puns started flying and I left with apples, Gravenstein apple cider vinegar, and a piece of mistletoe to cries of "Merry Crispness".

Crab season is especially delicious this year. Growing up in the Northeast, the large crustacean I am most familiar with is the lobster, but the longer I live in Calfornia, the more I look forward to Dungeness season. While crab is not quite as rich as lobster, it is also less prone to drying out during cooking. (See unrelated lobster note below).

We had some delicious seasonal reverie. I previously wrote to you about duck. The lamb was (and is - we have braised shank and an uncooked part of the leg in the freezer) excellent. For New Years' Eve, we drove down to Carmel Valley and splurged on a visit to Marinus. We have been here several times since it opened and were fans of the executive chef from his previous restaurant, the Pacific's Edge. I would generally avoid a holiday prix fixe, but at this place was willing to give it a try. And the meal was very good. The stand out dish for me was the butter poached lobster dish. I had read about Thomas Keller's approach to lobster in The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman, but had not had it and Marinus' Cal Stamenov did an excellent rendition. The lobster meat is so tender; it is nothing like a traditionally boiled or steamed lobster. It can be cut with a fork and the usual richness of the meat is accompanied by a succulent mouthfeel as opposed to lobster's tendency to rubbery. The other highlight restaurant-related, though not culinary per se, was that towards the end of the meal, the couple at a table just near us, who were clearly regulars received a visit from the Chef. I had never seen Stamenov, but was impressed he was in the kitchen on NYE and, though his jacket was pristine, had a dirty apron. Overhearing his conversation with this table, he asked what they had and was delighted the man had one particular dish. He said that it had come from his station. Huh? He is actually working a station. Stamenov may not be a household name, but he has endorsements (as evidenced by the embroidery on his jacket) and is a pretty heavy hitter. Here he is not only overseeing and expediting, but is working a station. We were duly impressed, left feeling wonderfully fed, and ready to take on 1/1/10.

Regards, Alex

2 Comments:

Anonymous Reger said...

I've read all of Ruhlman's 'The _____ of a Chef' series and find them very interesting. It's probably somewhat your influence coupled with the emergence of Top Chef on TV that's got me into the inner workings of professional kitchens and food prep in general.

Tom

7:44 AM  
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