Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Pyle-ing" on the coffee and doughnuts in Dallas

I've been a scofflaw and neglected my blog for the last several weeks while I focused on a blogging project for work. I'm not officially done with that yet, but I needed to start catching up with my Bite & Chew updates before I started forgetting what these pictures on my Blackberry are supposed to suggest. Take for example this mysterious image.

While it may look like a whimsical art project, the fact that it's on a plate should clue you in that this is an incredible, edible dessert creation. I had the pleasure of enjoying (and the pain of not being able to sleep after consuming) this assemblage at Stephan Pyles in Dallas. They simply call it "coffee and doughnuts" but that is clearly a tongue-in-cheek moniker that undercuts this frighteningly decadent reinvention of the working man's classic breakfast combo. The base is a cajeta crème brûlée surrounding a square vessel holding a syrupy espresso flavored hot liquid confection in which sits a skewer of freshly fried powdered doughnuts. After eating this dessert, I didn't mind the fact that I was eating alone at the bar of a fancy restaurant on a business trip. I missed the group dinner earlier that evening at the same restaurant due to tech drama with my corporate blog - why can't every blog platform be as easy as Blogger?

Although the most interesting image I got was the dessert, the rest of the meal was superb. I started my solo meal with a banana empanada with cardamom scented spit roasted suckling pig. Not something I would ever conceive of combining but all I could say was wow! Even the blue corn muffins they served for me to nosh on between courses were incredibly spicy and memorable. My entrèe of barbecued beef short rib with a "criollo" tamale and a dried cherry salsita was enough to ruin every other BBQ beef experience I was to have while in Texas by rendering everything else boring and tasteless in comparison.

Stephan Pyles is a see and be seen-scene, so I was a bit embarrassed to show up in my jeans and polo shirt - bleary eyed from staring and cursing at a laptop for the last several hours. Despite my worn affect, the bar staff couldn't have been nicer. They have a flat screen TV over the bar that, rather than showing a Dallas Mavericks game, broadcasted the live action from the kitchen reflecting their pride in the food and its prep. It was a powerful statement. I even got the chance to chat briefly with an overly friendly rich middle aged couple that was grabbing cocktails before dinner. Nice folks, but they seemed to be moving through the evening in a state of extended foreplay, so I wanted them to keep on moving. They were loving life just a bit too much.

Ah - it's good to be back on my own blog.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Emergency Substitution! Paprika Chicken with Spicy Roasted Bell Pepper Sauce

I had one of those nights where I got too focused on a project at work and the next thing I know, it's 8:30pm and I'm way behind on my schedule of getting home and getting dinner on the table. Earlier in the evening (in a moment of distraction) I had been playing with the Epicurious Widget on my Facebook profile and found a recipe for Sea Bass with Spicy Roasted Bell Pepper Sauce. I had some sea bass that I had bought on special over the weekend thawing at home, so this simple recipe of pan sautèed fish with a sauce of almonds, roasted peppers and cayenne seemed to be a quick and elegant way to do a late dinner.

As I rushed home to find a starving J the BF writhing on the sofa, I went to the fridge to pull out the fish only to find it was still frozen hard as a rock despite the chance to relax in the fridge all day. I offered to try to nuke-thaw it, but J advised against the danger of destroying a $20 piece of fish. I reached for a couple of nice frozen chicken breasts instead.

I then went to pull together what I needed for the sauce. I had roasted almonds so I threw those in a pan to toast. I know that I did not have any fresh red bells, but I had a huge jar of fire roasted red bell pepper strips which I knew would do just as well as a fresh roasted pepper. Tomato paste, on the other hand was a problem. I thought for sure there was an orphan can of the stuff in my cabinet but I was proven wrong. {Insert series of expletives here}

I pulled myself together and thought creatively - what could take the place of tomato paste in a spicy red sauce - ketchup? No, too sweet and runny. Canned diced tomatoes? No, not the right consistency. I ended up subbing in a few table spoons of sweet chili sauce (tomato based). The sauce, after some tweaking turned out more than palatable.

The chicken needed more help as the original recipe leveraged just salt and pepper seasoning for the assertively flavored sea bass. To bring the nuke-thawed chicken to live, I sprinkled it with sea salt and a generous amount of smoked paprika. In the end, I think I had a totally different recipe, but it was much enjoyed in my house. Here is roughly what the recipe was after I screwed with it.:

3/4 cup fire-roasted jarred red bell pepper strips - drained well
1/4 cup roasted almonds - lightly toasted
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 TBS red wine vinegar
1/4 cup Sweet Tomato Chili Sauce (like Heinz brand)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

2 6-8oz Boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 TBS Smoked Spanish Paprika
Fine Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1 TBS Olive Oil

Place first 6 ingredients into food processor and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper and generous amounts of paprika on both sides.

Heat 1 TBS Olive Oil in 12-inch non-stick pan over med -high heat

Cook chicken in hot pan 5 - 7 minutes per side until done

Serve chicken with 1 Tbsp of red pepper sauce over top with extra on the side.

This went well with a side of good quality cooked truffle pasta tossed with butter, freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano, salt and pepper and a mixed green salad with a fresh honey Dijon vinaigrette.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Let 'er cook a little longer - Indio Mexican Cuisine

After much anticipation for Indio - the new Mexican place in Uptown, I failed to follow my own rules of avoiding new restaurants in their first week of being opened. The smells wafting out as I walked past and seeing the warmly candle-lit space that had been empty for months enticed me to give it a try about a week ago. J the BF and I walked over to check it out for a late Friday dinner.

The menu is a mix of usual suspects for appetizers with a Yucatan-inspired upscale portfolio for the main courses. They offer a decent happy hour menu and the cocktail list looks promising. The wine lists is limited, but acceptable. In terms of execution on all this . . . well?

We started with their Huasteco (guacamole) which was very chunky, fresh and flavorful, but served with a scant amount of freshly fried tortilla chips. J had the Flauto de Pato (Duck Flautas) while I veered toward the adobo marinated seared ahi tuna served over roasted mashed potatoes with tequila lime butter and pineapple relish. I found my dish very good, though basic with a slightly messy presentation, while J was not as impressed with his.

While we were relatively pleased with the food, we were victimized by the usual new restaurant blues. J's Diet Coke arrived as a flat metallic syrup over ice, while my cocktail, a Mojito A La Diabla (basically a mojito with chile de arbol) arrived flat and flavorless as well. Clearly, their fountain was not calibrated or working properly. The service was painfully slow, due in part to them having to hand-write and process orders, and our server was awkward, nervous and at one point locked herself out of the back door. Some patron sitting near the back took pity on her and let her back in.

All in all, Indio has promise and the makings of a good neighborhood place (if you don't mind dropping about $50 - $70 for dinner for 2), but we're going to let her simmer for a few weeks to work out the bugs before we go back.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pork Feijoada at Birchwood Cafe

"Brazilian black bean stew with smoked ham, bacon, roasted pork shoulder and spiced sausage served with braised greens, fried plantains, cashews and jicama relish, jasmine rice and Birchwood banana bread."

That was the description for the Pork Feijoada scrawled on the constantly changing menu chalkboard at Birchwood Cafe. I had to immediately enter it on my phone and post to BiteandChew so I would remember it, but after eating this stew, it was hard to forget. I find that Birchwood is one of the few restaurants that doesn't need to "romance" the descriptions of its menu items. Their creations are so intriguing, they need only to tell you what's in the dish to get you excited - no sex-ing up of the menu required.

is a traditional take on pork and beans in Portugal and Brazil. Birchwood prepared the dish in the Brazilian tradition down to their inspiration for the sides of greens and fried plantains. According to Wikipedia, it is traditionally washed down by cachaça, caipirinha or beer (only beer was on offer at Birchwood). Don't expect to go there looking for it though - their menu changes weekly and I have never seen one of their entrees on the menu repeated, so they may have already moved on to the next adventure.