March Went Out Like a Lion

March 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

This line from the musical “Carousel” has been running through my head all day. As I was trying to decide between several topics for today’s post, it occurred to me that March has been a packed month, food-wise! From the arrival of spring fruits and vegetables in the markets, to local (and not-so-local) field trips, to educational and inspiring panel discussions on food issues, it’s been quite a whirlwind. So I thought I’d pull out a few highlights from this month before we give March a big, wet kiss goodbye and head into April.

Spring Did Its Thing
Spring arrived as expected in the Bay Area, and with it the splendor of spring produce. December through February are some of what I’d call “unfun” months for fresh produce — especially fruits and lettuces. I was running out of inspiration for using cold-storage apples and a seemingly endless supply of oranges in all sizes. You can only eat so many kale salads. Even my standby broccoli started to look a little sad. And then came spring!

Colorful assortment of spring vegetables

Spring produce at the San Mateo Farmer’s Market

Berries are back in my cereal bowl (yay!). Little Gems and spring-mix lettuces are the foundation for my daily salads: snip in a few fresh herbs, toss in some pepitas or sunflower seeds for crunch, top with a little protein (tuna, soft-boiled eggs — if there’s time to make ’em), drizzle some good olive oil over everything, finish with a squeeze of fresh Eureka lemon juice, et voilà — a quick, healthy lunch. Dinner might be grilled fish with roasted Nantes carrots and fresh herbs or sautéed beet greens with caramelized onions. Inspiration and creativity is coming from whatever looks good and tastes fresh.

And Now for Something Completely Different
Mid-March, just as gorgeous 80-degree weather arrived here in the 650, I packed up my wool sweaters, pulled out what I hoped would pass for a winter coat, and took myself off to Chicago for the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). That’s right, I voluntarily went to the city of “worst winter ever” as spring was busting out here — and it was totally worth it.

If you’re in the food industry (a cook, writer, photographer, nutritionist, food scientist, recipe developer) this conference is for you. Sessions focus on practical aspects of business for industry professionals and career changers: such as managing your life as a freelance writer or what to expect as a cooking school instructor. But food issues, such as building local food systems and managing food waste get equal coverage.

I had an opportunity to hear Ferran Adrià, head chef of El Bulli, speak about creativity in a way that challenged everyone present to reconsider how they think about food and cooking. Douglas Gayeton, Bay Area artist/writer/activist (from Petaluma!) talked about his efforts to raise awareness about food issues and climate change through a “Lexicon of Sustainability.” Worth checking out are the Know Your Food short films via PBS. They’re 2 – 4 minute films on food and food issues.

I also met John Reynolds, Sonoma chef/writer, and Leslie Lindell, Marin-based photographer, who won IACP’s Cookbook of the Year award for The Stone Edge Farm Cookbook. It’s a beautiful piece of work that is part cookbook and part love story about land and food.

Stone Edge Farm Cookbook: 2014 IACP Cookbook of the Year

Stone Edge Farm Cookbook: 2014 IACP Cookbook of the Year

The business of food is broad and the interests and issues diverse, but the passion for good food and community is universal. I was lucky to be able to participate in an engaging curriculum with an interesting, fun group of people. I came home inspired — and well fed.

Eat Local: Chicago
Chicago is a food town, and I was looking forward to sampling whatever bites I could in between conference sessions. Unfortunately I missed the food tours that were offered as pre-conference events, but I think I made up for it with a few field trips of my own.

Lunch at the Purple Pig
Arrived to a loud, packed restaurant for a late lunch, after getting up at the crack-of-oh-my-god for my flight. Small plates (great for sharing), craft cocktails, and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.

Tramonto cocktail: Tequila Blanco, Aperol, Limoncello, Sambuca Rinse

Tramonto cocktail: tequila blanco, Aperol, limoncello, sambuca rinse

Roasted Butternut Squash, Pumpkin Seeds, Crispy Sage Leaves, Ricotta Salata

Roasted butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, crispy sage leaves, ricotta salata

Oil-Poached Tuna, Green Beens, Roasted Red Pepper, Egg, Vinagrette

Oil-Poached tuna, green beans, roasted red pepper, potatoes, egg, vinaigrette

Dinner at mk
Stellar dinner with long-time friends Brian and Marie at mk. Indulgent? Yes, but oh-so-worth-it, both for the food and the lovely company.

Point Reyes Oysters, served with salumi picante (upper left)

Point Reyes Oysters, served with salumi picante (gotta love getting Bay Area oysters in Chicago!)

Grilled baby octopus, celery root puree, peanuts

Grilled baby octopus, celery root puree, peanuts

Fluke with lobster

Fluke with lobster, roasted cauliflower (upper left)

Cake and shake: chocolate layer cake, chocolate fudge sauce, and vanilla malted shake

Cake and shake: chocolate layer cake, chocolate fudge sauce, and vanilla malted shake

Lunch at Beatrix
I was looking for a farm-to-table-style restaurant near my hotel for lunch on the last day of the conference, and Beatrix was the perfect choice. Quick lunch at the bar with a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris. The beet salad is something I might try at home.

Golden Beet Carpaccio: beets, Granny Smith apple matchsticks, arugula, toasted pistachios, toasted quinoa, Meyer lemon vinagrette

Golden Beet Carpaccio: beets, Granny Smith apple match sticks, arugula, toasted pistachios, toasted quinoa, Meyer lemon vinaigrette

Tuna Crudo: thinly sliced tuna, crispy brown rice noodles, radish matchsticks, sprouts, spicy peppers, black sesame seeds, baby green onions

Tuna Crudo: thinly sliced tuna, crispy brown rice noodles, radish match sticks, sprouts, spicy peppers, black sesame seeds, baby green onions

Food Waste at Home and Away
If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’m working on creative ways to reduce food waste in my own kitchen. I’m cooking more and pushing myself to use as much as possible of the food I buy. Food waste was also covered in several of the talks I attended at the IACP conference in Chicago. Chefs and farmers talked about the idea of cooking “root to stalk” — the veggie version of “nose to tail.”

A week after the Chicago trip, I attended a panel discussion in San Francisco co-hosted by CUESA, the organization that puts on the Ferry Building Farmers’ market, titled “Beyond the Green Bin.” While the Bay Area has been a leader in composting and recycling, there’s more we can be doing on the front end to reduce food waste. I’ll be posting a summary of the talk later this week — including the panel’s summary of suggestions for making changes at home and in our communities.

So that’s March all wrapped up nicely. April should bring the first round of stone fruit (cherries and apricots, if we’re lucky), not to mention Easter, Passover, and a plethora of national food “holidays.” What are you looking forward to cooking or eating in April?

Eat Local: Lure+Till in Palo Alto

March 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Lure+Till brings farm-to-table dining with a hip Mission vibe to downtown Palo Alto. Open just a week, the place has already been packed every night — and with good reason.

Cocktails round 1

Crafted cocktails: Olga’s Cooler (left) and P.D.

Centrally located on the corner of Hamilton and Emerson (across from Peninsula Creamery), the restaurant/bar space is warm but not overdone: dark wood tables, comfy upholstered mid-century-style dining chairs, floor-to-ceiling windows on the street side, and an outdoor seating area that will likely be Palo Alto’s table-to-get as the weather warms up. The food, which has a seasonal focus, is delicious and beautifully executed. The hand-crafted cocktail list is contemporary and interesting.

I’m not usually an early adopter of new restaurants. Having worked in the back of the house in a past life, I know what it takes to orchestrate a good lunch or dinner service, let alone all of the customer-facing efforts that go on in the front of the house. Which is to say that any new restaurant has some kinks to iron out during its first few weeks. Yet, early press on this place has been positive, and it seemed like a fun addition to my extended birthday celebration.

Here’s a first look at the dishes my friend Amy and I enjoyed during our dinner at Lure+Till. I’m not a restaurant critic, so you won’t find much in the way of critique here (hint: I don’t write about food I don’t enjoy), but I’ve tried to hit the highlights of each dish. Consider this post an introduction and recommendation to visit. I know I’ll be going back for another round!

The menu has seven categories with four to five dishes in each: Raw, Appetizer + Salads, Nosh, Pastas, Entree, Sides, and Dessert. Wanting to try as many dishes as possible, Amy and I tried to choose at least one from each category.

Raw

Hamachi crudo appetizer. Hands-down our favorite among the small dishes. The hamachi was (dare I say it) supple and oh-so-fresh. The dish had a nice combo of salty, spicy, acidic, and sweet. When a food runner mistakely tried to drop a someone else’s order at our table right after we finished our crudo, there was a split second of moral dilemma.

Hamachi crudo appetizer

Hamachi, Smoked Olive Oil, Citrus, Sliced Chili

Alaskan Halibut. Actually we tried the halibut two ways: with and without the beets, radish, and puffed rice. Due to what I’ll call a first-week snafu, our halibut showed up naked at first, leaving us wondering if there was a disconnect on the menu or in the kitchen. Fortunately, a quick question to the manager cleared things up, as he quickly and graciously remedied the situation by offered a second chance at the dish. So glad we took him up on it! While the halibut on its own was absolutely lovely, the intended additions elevated the dish by adding flavor and texture. Worth the do-over! (And thanks again to Lure+Till’s manager who was so accommodating.)

Alaskan Halibut, Chopped Yellow Beets, Radish, Chive Blossoms, Puffed Rice

Alaskan Halibut, Chopped Yellow Beets, Radish, Chive Blossoms, Puffed Rice

Nosh

Deviled Eggs. I love that deviled eggs are retro/hipster/whatever enough to turn up on menus again.

Deviled Eggs, Chive, Shallot, Mustard, Aioli

Deviled Eggs, Chive, Shallot, Mustard, Aioli

Entree

Scallops. Yes, there’s a lot going on here, but it all plays nicely together! The scallops were cooked to that perfect point of being just tender but not underdone. The Cotechino sausage… all I can say is “little cubes of deliciousness.” As with the rest of the dishes we tried, texture and flavor are key here, both in individual components, and in the way that the dish comes together. Sweet, savory, spicy, creamy, crunchy, fresh — it’s all in there.

Scallop entree at Lure + Till in Palo Alto, CA

Seared Diver Scallops and Cotechino Sausage, Sweet Potato and Orange Puree, Chorizo Oil, Pistachio, Cara Cara Orange

Sides

Kale. Our token “greens” plate. The Meyer lemon added brightness, but we were missing the Marcona almonds. The salt and crunch of the almonds would have really rounded out the dish. (It turns out that the dish was mistakenly marked for “allergy” on our ticket. Good news is that the front and back of the house are sensitive and responsive to food allergies. Make sure you tell your server at the beginning of the meal.)

    Sauteed Kale, Marcona Almonds, Meyer Lemon

Sauteed Kale, Marcona Almonds, Meyer Lemon

Grits. Oh my — this! This is the dish I’m still craving. I was thinking, as I was eating it, that I really wanted it again for breakfast the next day. So simple, and yet, so indulgent and satisfying. The grits were cooked to a perfectly smooth consistency (not too porridge-y nor crunchy), the house-made sriracha is spicy but not overwhelming, but let’s face it, they had me at “slow-cooked egg.”

Baked Heirloom Grits, Slow Cooked Egg, House Made Sriracha

Baked Heirloom Grits, Slow Cooked Egg, House Made Sriracha

Dessert

Just FYI, the dessert selections are on the back of the menu (along with wines by the glass, craft beers, and non-alcoholic beverages). If you subscribe to the “Eat Dessert First” philosophy, start here and plan your meal accordingly.

Bananas and caramel. A beautiful plate, and the parfait, caramel, and banana were lovely. Unfortunately, the canelés (a classic French pastry with a crispy exterior and custardy interior) were overbaked, which was a shame. I really hope this was just an off night for the the canelés because I’d love to try this dish again. Note to the gluten-free types: canelés are made with flour.

Caramelized Banana and Giandjua Parfait, Caramel, Rum Caneles, Roasted Bananas

Caramelized Banana and Giandjua Parfait, Caramel, Rum Caneles, Roasted Bananas

“Whoppers!” I enjoyed all of the elements of this pretty, candy-inspired dessert. I just felt that it needed something more than the meringue/honeycomb crumbles to bridge the gap between the mousse and the ice cream. As both are rich, frozen, creamy components, I wanted a dense cake disk or crisp chocolate component to complete the dish.

Malt Ice Cream, Huckleberries, Earl Grey Chocolate Mousse

Malt Ice Cream, Huckleberries, Earl Grey Chocolate Mousse

 

So, have you been to Lure+Till yet? If not, are you planning to go? Share your thoughts.

Details
What: Lure+Till
Where: 180 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301 (inside The Epiphany Hotel)
Parking: Valet stand on Emerson. Street parking. Lots nearby.
Phone: 650-666-3320, x3320
Hours: Mon – Thu: 8 am – 11 pm, Fri – Sun: 11 am – 11 pm
Price: $$
Bar: Crafted cocktails, wine, beer
*Tip: As of this writing, I’m still craving these must-try dishes: Hamachi crudo, scallops, grits

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