Salt Baked Fish

Our early spring menu allows for a variation on our typical serving format in that many of the courses have some degree of tableside preparation.  One dish that definitely has a some captivating cool factor is the salt crusted fish (which may be snapper or bass depending on what is the best available).  Your Spy first experienced this dish is Portugal and a mound of salt dramatically cracked open to reveal a beautiful and perfectly cooked fish was definitely memorable.  This preparation has some interesting history that goes back to as early as the 4th century BC. The basic recipe calls for a whole, round white fish to be cleaned and gutted. Herbal seasoning is inserted into the cavity and then it is encased with as much as two pounds of salt moistened with water and egg whites to hold the shell together.  After baking, the crust is cracked and removed and the fish is served simply.  The salt crust doesn't impart any salty flavor into the fish but rather serves as impenetrable barrier to trap steam and flavor.

Now, the interesting historical perspective is that there have been times in history where salt has been a valuable resource and the luxury of using a few pounds to cook a fish would have been reserved for only the most wealthy of Europeans.  Fortunately, we can bring it to you as part of culinary experience with no regrets!  Spy out.

 

The Call of the Wild

Chef Cipolla is a sportsman and our latest menu has been affectionately named “The Call of the Wild”.  I wanted to share with you some of the secrets behind a preparation for Venison that Chef has absolutely mastered.  He pulls slightly different variations of this dish out of his hat from time-to-time for private events but it’s a real treat to have it on the mid-winter menu. 

First of all, venison has only about 20% of the fat of lean beef and that presents a challenge for a succulent entrée.  Part of Chef’s secret to making venison melt in your mouth is wrapping venison tenderloin in caul fat.  Caul fat or “lace fat” is a stomach membrane that slowly absorbs into the venison when it is cooked sous vide (vacuum sealing in a bag and cooking slowly in a water bath) for 3 hours at 130 °F.  While this may make some our vegetarian fans a bit twitchy, it’s hard to deny the innovation and resourcefulness of this method and, let me tell you, it makes your steak like BUTTAH!

After all that, the venison steak is roasted in a cast iron pan to crisp the exterior and finished with coffee and salt.  Now, stick with me because the sauce for this dish is also a star.  That’s because it’s a sinfully rich and slightly sweet 10:1 reduction of port wine and roasted veal stock that takes 4-5 hrs in itself to prepare.  Add in some micro potatoes with crème fraiche and a purée of fennel and we have a stunning dish.  Enjoy!  Spy out.

Lounge Tapas

Tapas, or appetizers/small plates, have evolved into an entire sophisticated cuisine.  A little bit of “investigative” work earlier this year led me to locals like Bilbao and San Sebastian Spain to check out some authentic tapas scenes.  Although the food was truly fantastic, what inspired me most was the philosophy around tapas.  The Spanish believe that it encourages conversation because patrons aren’t just focused on eating an entire meal laid before them.  I recently sampled many of the tapas offered at The Lounge which range in variety from smoked oysters to pot roast but I was inspired to blog about the Torta Ahogada, (“drowned sandwich”); a seasoned pork sandwich invented in Guadalajara, Mexico in the early 1900s.  Apparently, (and I love these stories) some guy asked for a little spicy salsa on this normal torta and the vendor accidentally dropped the entire sandwich into the salsa vat to which the customer exclaimed “you drowned it!” and then proceeded to eat it anyway.  The rest is history!

Our Torta Ahogada comes on house-made crusty rolls called bolillos which are like stubby baguettes.  The pork is seasoned with lime juice, salt and oregano and then slowly cooked in its own fat for 8 hrs.  The salsa is made from a tomato sauce base infused with chile de árbol; a small and potent Mexican tree chile.  Now, a Mexican street vendor might serve you a Torta Ahogada in a plastic baggy because, well…a pork sandwich drowned in salsa is a freakin’ mess.  Fortunately, our torta is more positioned in the salsa than drowned in it so you can enjoy with as little or as much heat and mess as you prefer.  Try it with the house Margarita (1921 Tequila, pineapple, grapefruit, etc.) or the Shaken (Rum, jalapeno, mango lime, etc.) if you want to feel a little tropical on a cold Pittsford night. Spy out!

Torta Ahogada

Torta Ahogada

The Lounge

I may be the Spy in the Kitchen but I want to share some intel and history on The Lounge which recently opened for business.  The Lounge is truly a great example of entrepreneurial spirit and seizing opportunities … the prior retail store was struggling and we saw that developing an adjacent tapas restaurant & bar was not only incredibly synergistic to The Kitchen by providing a gathering place pre/post dinner service, but also as a means to help create more of an evening destination in the heart of Pittsford Village.  We took over the lease in May and immediately went to work on gutting and refurbishing the space.  We decided to renew what we believe to be the original Terrazzo flooring of our funky little historic building (which is super cool… defects and all) and we even had to add a second staircase for extra access to the basement kitchen.  Our goal was to open in August 2016 with an outdoor patio area in the rear but it was determined that some Village Code had to be changed prior to issuance of our operational permit.  Suffice to say, changing a law is a bit of a glacial process and it caused many months of delay.  I will say that despite the many hurdles, the members of the Pittsford Village Board of Trustees were always very professional and, in particular, Mayor Bob Corby, Alysa Plummer and Frank Galusha are truly great stewards and visionaries for the Village!  Anyhow, with a final humbling display of public support, we were ultimately issued our permit in mid-November and thankfully opened for business on 11/30.  Phew!

But we are not done my friends…. alas, modern fire code doesn’t really like basements from 150 yrs ago so we are waiting on a NYS Variance to fully utilize the basement kitchen.  Until that gets resolved, we are a bit limited in the breadth of tapas we can offer (note to self… get Chef Cipolla and his staff on Cutthroat Kitchen because they can deliver a perfect soufflé with a only a plastic spork and a coffee heating pad) but we are fortunately 100% with creative cocktails, local beers and wine.  Furthermore … when we exit our Siberian-like winter in the May timeframe, we are going to build that outdoor patio in the back of The Lounge.  Your Spy will be giddy to sip a wonderful post-dinner cocktail under a warm summer night sky.  I hope you’ll join me.  Spy out.

The Lounge -- before & after

The Lounge -- before & after

Provenance

I appreciate art but I love food; specifically eating food.  In the world of art, provenance is the term used to describe the chronology of ownership and possibly the context under which it was created.  It’s the reason a bloodstained and bullet ridden flag from General Custer’s army found at Little Bighorn sells for $5M.  Similarly, I enjoy food even more when I know the farmer or plot of gorgeous earth that produced a luscious peach or the intricate process that took place to provide me with a Cave-aged Swiss gruyere.  On the fall menu, the “Salt Cod, Chorizo, Potato” is not only a glorious 1st course for the taste buds with Chef Cipolla’s typical artful presentation, but it is also offered with some tantalizing provenance about the dish that makes the difference between a yummy bite and something memorable.  We are told this play on “breakfast” stems from Chef’s love of camping.  The handmade river rock plates were coated to look wetted by a mountain stream.  A spun potato, chorizo, salt cod and manchego cheese “nest” hold a sous vide quail egg that tastes exactly like an entire Adirondack campfire breakfast in a bite or two.  The Spy heard it was quite challenging to convince Chef Cipolla to agree to distributing forks with this course because, after all, it’s supposed to be a camping experience.  Enjoy!  Spy out.

Prepping for a camping breakfast

Prepping for a camping breakfast

Chef's Table

We all know about the explosion of food related programs over the past ten years.  With Iron Chef, Beat Bobby Flay, Top Chef, Cut Throat Kitchen and, more recently, America's Worst Chef's, it seems like almost every angle has been played out on the reality cooking show front.  In terms of documentaries, there are the Anthony Bourdain varieties, Bizarre Foods and all those aimed at persuasion i.e. Forks over Knives, Food Inc., King Corn, etc.  But I want to talk about those that focus on the passion and dedication required to be a head chef.  The level of dedication sometimes borders on insanity entailing all-nighters trying to figure out how to make a dish come together properly.  That passion is reflected in two wonderful Netflix documentaries; "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" and the "Chef's Table" series.

With "Chef's Table", every chef has a different life story of struggles and has evolved passion, talent and a style or niche to the point of making them amongst the top chef's in the world.  A few episodes that were particularly compelling to me were Dan Barber and how he has fundamentally changed what Farm to Table means and Grant Achatz overcoming an inability to taste due to cancer and his creative genius in breaking down barriers between food and art.

But there is a point to this particular blog folks.  I appreciate how some people can view fine dining as ridiculously expensive and pretentious.  Indeed, your Spy has been to some fine dining establishments out there that ARE overpriced and pretentious.  However, the highest elevation of food the you see on Chef's Table and at The Kitchen is all about a pursuit of passion and quest for perfection.  The perfect composition of perfect ingredients, expertly prepared, beautifully presented, enjoyed at just the right ephemeral moment and with service that places you in the ideal frame of mind to enjoy it all.  That is what we strive for and the passion we want to share with you.  Spy out.

PB&J

Everyone knows foods that go well together like peanut butter & jelly, cucumber & dill, apples & sharp cheddar cheese, horseradish & beef, etc., but I was intrigued as to why the latest dessert with corn cream & blueberry ice cream blew my mind (see below with flan in the foreground).  Sure, a blueberry cornbread muffin is yummy but a blueberry/corn dessert was a new one for your Spy and that's the sort of thing that really makes me giddy!  So what is it about food pairings?  Well, as you probably know, the taste receptors on our tongues can only sense 5 tastes - salty, bitter, sweet, sour and umami.  Interestingly, that means that as much as 80% of what we taste comes from aroma.  In fact, a term known as the flavor threshold is synonymous with the "odor threshold value" defined as "the minimal concentration of an odor compound that can be detected by human smell".  Fairly recently, folks in the field of molecular gastronomy have been employing techniques like mass spectral analysis to determine the flavor threshold of various foods and attempting to discover new combinations of flavors that, in theory, should work together.  Most of what they have discovered confirm what we already know (surprise...PB&J works) but helped find some "new" pairings like caviar & white chocolate and strawberries & peas.  In other cases, even if a pairing should work in theory, lower level compound combination make it "meh" in practice.  For example, licorice & salmon.  I can't say I ever had this nor do I feel I want to.  However, salmon and fennel is a solid combo and fennel is a similar herb to licorice.  Anyhow.... corn and blueberries work... really well.  Enjoy!  Spy out.

CoQ au vin

Coq au vin was amongst the first dishes that Chef Cipolla was formally taught at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) 15 years ago.  It was also Julia Childs's featured dish in her groundbreaking 1961 cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Classic dishes like Coq au vin reflect a time where a people with a deep love and respect for food, made the most out of less desirable ingredients due to hard times.  Specifically, it is traditionally made using a rooster well past his prime (hint: the Viagra ain't working). Like an ancient version of frying, braise the meat in wine long enough and it's sure to taste phenomenal!   Fortunately, we aren't struggling like 18th century French peasants, so Chef's spin on the dish incorporates young free-range chicken from Fisher Hill Farms in Canandaigua, NY.  It's de-boned and re-formed around a truffle mousse.  The wine sauce is a potent 10x volumetric Burgundy reduction that Hannah (our Somm) has paired perfectly with a Spanish Garnacha that is like deep ruby silk with a fleeting smokiness.  

Enjoy!  Spy out.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Chef had a much needed vacation.  While he was trying to relax and dream up the midsummer menu, your Spy was of course peppering him with a hundred questions.  All I got back was "Yes Montreal! I had 200g of Pâté for breakfast."  That's it.  For a entire week.   Fortunately, Chef is back now and the menu has been revealed.  What I'm going to do first is save you from a bunch of Google searches.  Here's what you may not know:

Amuse-Bouche - Literally "mouth amuser"

Taleggio - a semisoft, washed-rind, smear-ripened Italian Cheese.  It is fruity with a strong beautiful aroma.

Turbot - From our seafood purveyor Browne Trading Company, this fish is an elite seafood selection. It is similar to Dover Sole with a delicate and mild taste and firm, bright-white fillets.

Coq au Vin - a classic French dish of chicken braised with red wine, lardons, mushrooms and garlic.  Chef's interpretation; of course!

Enjoy!  Spy out.

 

Beef Wellington

I had never had Beef Wellington before.  Not only was it never on a menu...like anywhere...but in my mind, Beef Wellington was in the same category as other strange food I might be served as a kid at my great Aunt's house....like tuna with diced olives in a green Jell-O mold.  Based on past intelligence, I assumed the dish was going to be Chef's somehow deconstructed interpretation of Beef Wellington from a long forgotten dream. Instead I was surprised with a textbook delivery that made it very clear what I had been missing all these years.  We have a local, organic, grass fed/grain finished beef brushed with foie gras and duxelles (finely chopped mixture of mushrooms, onions and herbs) wrapped in a puff pastry and baked.  I felt like royalty eating it with all the richness and texture and, as I stated in the last entry; it is seriously filling.  

Speaking of royalty, I made a feeble attempt to research the history of the "Wellington" part of the name (because the beef part is obvious).  If I was a pathetic Spy, I would be telling you it was named after the famous Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.  However, there appears to be more than enough evidence to reject this prevailing wisdom including theories that it was named after a party in Wellington, New Zealand and the fact that there are no references to the dish in 19th century British cookbooks. Indeed, the "Oxford English Dictionary pinpoints a 1939 guide to eating out in New York City as the first reliable reference" to Beef Wellington [Hyslop, Leah].  So the source of the name will remain a mystery for now. If any readers have more insight please comment!   Cheers!  Spy Out.

Patience and the Multi-Course

A multi-course prix fix meal is relatively rare in Upstate NY so it's not unusual for first time diners to have misconceptions about what to expect.  I'm going to address a couple in this post; namely "How much food are we talking about? and "How long will service take?"  Let me first say that your Spy is a 6'1", 180 lbs male with a metabolism like a short tailed shrew (it passes out if it doesn't eat like every 10 minutes).  When I get the first couple courses of a multi-course in front of me I have to resist the panic generated by the primitive core of my brain.  Usually any female companions are giddy with beautiful plating and delectable food.  I appreciate the aroma of lavender and truffles and seeing food as art as well but ... my body wants calories!  So look folks, a fine multi-course meal is like an symphony or dare I say the way sex should be.  You have to have patience and let it build.  Chef Cipolla has a plan.  He wants you to be asking for more in those first few courses.  It will crescendo and you're going to be sensually intoxicated.  Take a look at the Beef Wellington in the current 5 course.  The Spy had a big smile on his face with this very substantive slice of culinary perfection.

The primary differences between a 5 course and a 7 or 9 course are variety and dining time rather than food quantity.  That said, a longer dining experience means you have more time to digest, enjoy more wine pairings and company etc., so the 2nd service makes for a more complete experience.  The current 5 course at 5PM takes approximately 1 hr 45 min with patrons easily able to make a 7:30 show or party anywhere in town.  The current 7:30PM seating lasts about 2 1/2 hrs if you linger and chat with Chef Cipolla when makes his round of the dining room.   Cheers!  Spy out.

Keeping it Regional

I wanted to recognize a few of our wonderful purveyors.  It's simple, if you want the very best tasting food a good place to start is high quality ingredients and we are honored to have some of the best regional purveyors available.  I have previously mentioned the renowned Brown Trading Company (https://www.brownetrading.com/) from ME is a wonderful seafood purveyor who often sends us notes about what products are doing well on the day boats.  Even more locally, we are grateful to utilize the Headwater Food Hub (http://headwaterfoodhub.com/) which connects us to some of the freshest local and sustainable food.  For example, the rabbit from current menu comes from Allens Hill Farm in Bloomfield and the ramps in the same dish are wild foraged.   First Light Farm and Creamery https://www.facebook.com/FirstLightFC/ has been our go-to source for cheese since day 1 and I may remember the drunken goat cheese they once provided us until the day I die.  My final shout out goes to our fabulous coffee partners; Glenn Edith Coffee Roasters https://www.glenedithcoffee.com/.  Folks, I'll tell you honestly, my bar for coffee is pretty darn high but their single source beans combined with the carefully tuned "pour over" preparation conducted by Jay; our maître d', always produces a cup of coffee that is nothing short of extraordinary.

Ahh....Coffee!

Ahh....Coffee!

 

 

 

 

 

Wine Pairing -- Thinking about Spring

Our Sommelier, Hannah, has composed a beautiful wine pairing for our early spring menu.  I wanted to get into her head and try to appreciate the thought process behind a pairing like the flavor profiles she's keying off of and how she finds options that typically enhance our diner's appreciation for wine.  Here's what she said:

"When I think of Spring time I think of fresh green grass and awakening of all things asleep during the winter. With that in mind, Chef Joe has created a beautiful dish consisting of house made Burrata, balsamic ‘caviar’, a pickled tomato and a fresh, palate cleansing basil sauce. When I first tasted this dish, I immediately thought of the bright acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc is grown all over the world and in many different styles.  It differs in style from the grassy, citrusy, gooseberry-like New Zealand wine to the mineral driven Loire Valley wines. Seeking something different, I chose a wine from a very small appellation (250 acres) in northern Burgundy;  La Chablisienne Sauvignon de Saint Bris 2014. The Saint Bris appellation lies a little less than 10 miles from Chablis in northeastern France and is somewhat of an anomaly in Burgundy, which is well known for reds made from Pinot Noir and whites from Chardonnay.  The wine is reminiscent of Chablis, which tend to be full of pleasant acidity from the far northern location but the La Chablisienne Saint Bris also has beautiful aromas of lemongrass, lime and fresh green herbs. On the palate, it has terrific minerality and balanced acidity. It is a perfect match for Chef Joe’s pickled tomato course."

In addition to Hannah's expertise, we are thankful to have a wonderful partnership with Opici Wines which has stayed boutique and family owned for a century. http://opiciwines.com/  The ever effervescent Anna Ellis went far beyond the call of duty to make our early pairings work.  Thanks Hannah and Anna! 

A Rose & 3 Whites from Hannah's pairing -- The La Chablisienne Saint Bris is second from left

A Rose & 3 Whites from Hannah's pairing -- The La Chablisienne Saint Bris is second from left

Parlez-vous français?

While French cooking techniques and sauces are classic and time-tested, it can be a bit intimidating if you didn't do so well (like me) in HS French or didn't graduate from the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) like Chef Cipolla.  For the current menu, Sous-vide and Béchamel are worth knowing.

Sous-vide (translation = "under vacuum") is a method we use where food is sealed in airtight bag then placed in a water bath for many hours at a highly regulated temperature (137.5 °F for example). The technique allows an item to cook evenly and perfectly while retaining moisture.  When Chef uses sous-vide for vegetables like celery or bok choy they are transformed from crunchy and stringy to tender and buttery.  Our Sous-vide machine sits just behind the plating counter shown below.

Sous-Vide machine - the temp of the water bath is precisely controlled and the ingredient is in a vacuum sealed bag.

Sous-Vide machine - the temp of the water bath is precisely controlled and the ingredient is in a vacuum sealed bag.

Béchamel is one of the 5 "Mother Sauces" in French Cuisine.  It is a white sauce made from butter, flour and milk and named after a financier who held the honorary post of chief steward to King Louis XIV.  King Louie was apparently a big fan of the sauce when expertly prepared (like me) and one can only assume that failure in preparation resulted in a low life expectancy.  Given its history, Chef's Béchamel & Hake feels like a fish fry & tartar sauce for the rich and famous!

Pavlova & the Ballerina

I'm on a roll and also feeling like something sweet which brings me to Pavlova.  While our Chocolates always come with surprises from our talented pastry chef Lizzy our final dessert, Pavlova, may be a complete mystery to you.  Pavlova (the dessert) is believed to have been created in New Zealand in honor of the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova after her tour in the 1920s.  The pictures below shows Anna (and sheep) in New Zealand which is getting me thinking about a mutton curry....  Anyhow, Anna performed 38 shows in 39 days which I can only assume made her ravenous. LoL. 

Pavlova is fundamentally a meringue-based dessert typically served with fruit and remains quite common in Australia and New Zealand.  It is significantly more fragile than meringue with a delicate crisp crust and sweet marshmallow-like center.  Our interpretation has a gooseberry/cranberry compote with a sour meringue and is like Swan Lake performed in your mouth.  Please comment on your experience with Pavlova!

What's a Diver Scallop?

Our Diver Scallops come to us on-demand and ultra fresh from Maine via the famous Browne Trading Company.  They are big (equivalent to a U10) and a true "diver" scallops in that they are hand harvested by divers vs. net dragged.  According to Browne Trading Company, less that 1% of all scallops are really hand harvested.  But "So what?" you might ask.  The hand harvesting eliminates grittiness and arguably results in more favor because there is little to no harvesting stress prior to refrigeration.  Furthermore, this form of harvesting is much easier on the environment than dredging.  Here's a picture of this beautiful course.

Diver scallop with a Riesling beurre blanc and a ramp jam

Diver scallop with a Riesling beurre blanc and a ramp jam

First Blog --- Opah!

We have a passion for food and for educating our diners.  Anyone that has dined with us before knows that Chef Cipolla expertly describes the ingredients that comprise each dish and typically shares some story behind the dish's creation.  However, there is never enough time to go deeper and share more interesting facts about what might be unfamiliar culinary territory.  Therefore, we have decided to start a blog that is meant to be informational and fun about each menu.  First up and also our first course in the early spring 2016 menu is .... Opah!

Opah, also known as Moonfish, is beautiful Frisbee shaped tropical fish with red fins and silver body that can grow to 2 meters in diameter.  The cool fact about Opah is that it's the only truly warm blooded fish meaning that it can consistently keep its entire body warmer than its environment.  Our Opah is line caught sustainably off the coast of Hawaii and flown to us nearly whole.  The fillets have a orange color and a firm texture with an even higher oil content than salmon.  I'm not going to reveal the full preparation (you'll have to see that for yourself) but it is a ceviche style (e.g. raw but cured in citrus juices).