Monday, August 23, 2010
I have been excited for quite some time about the proposed restaurant Empire State South restaurant with chef/partner Hugh Acheson at the helm. I love his style and sensibility when it comes to food and gathering. His respect for the seasons in his approach to local produce prepared simply and pure creates dishes without pretense. It is admirable as well as delicious. I love the juxtaposition, or rather that it does not seem to be a juxtaposition when you are eating his refined comfort food.
When I found out that the Chef de Cuisine was to be Nick Melvin of Parish and formerly The Inn at Serenbe, I was uber excited. Nick is passionate about his craft, about veggies fresh from the garden, trout fresh from local waters, pickling, local, seasonal, whole animal...I could go on and on. He is profoundly passionate about Empire State South and I can't wait to taste what comes from this motivation.
I am ready for the soft opening this weekend and the grand opening next week. I have talked with Nick about the menu (which he elucidates in great detail) and now I can see versions on the website. I took a tour and oh my is it lovely. The dark wood, the milk paint, the dishes, the antique lighting, the kitchen, the garden, the a la Marzocco GB-5 for espresso, the small batch bourbons, the bocce court. It is all so composed and speaks of a vision.
There are already events like the Farm, Fork and Cork dinner benefiting the Southeastern Horticultural Society whose mission it is to build and maintain learning gardens throughout the Southeast. Empire State South is already reaching out, strengthening the southern community and living up to its moniker.
But wait, there's more...
(isn't she lovely?)
I wasn't aware of the boxed lunch menu! You can pick them up or have them delivered. A twelve dollar adorable and yummy lunch in a tiffin. What a fun idea and what a yummy bunch of choices. The tiffins make me smile because I have a pie carrier that I take with me everywhere that looks very similar. My mom had one. My grandmother had one. My friends love to make fun of it at our annual cookie swap UNTIL they see how neatly my cookies are stored and carried away.
You can get a tiffin too. Look at this one from Ten Thousand Villages. Adorable.
A Malaysian friend of mine sent me a handful of these creamy corn candies. I don't have much of a sweet tooth unless it involves chocolate, but I do like savory desserts. I decided to try one. Inside the pouch was a disc shaped candy in the dullest of food colors, off brown. Not caramel colored, but off brown. Dull. What's that phrase we always heard through school "don't judge a book by it's cover?" Applies here. This yummy, velvety candy tastes like homemade fresh sweet corn made into creamed corn. I am not sure what sort of Willy Wonka magic was needed to make it but i am certain unicorns and rainbows were involved somewhere. These are magical like a dessert and a snack in one, a prelude to dinner if you will.
I need to share them with this blogger . Have you read Who eats this stuff? It is a really charming blog about an Atlantan who tries a new food each day. My kind of challenge.
Back to the Willy Wonka food. Remember this part of the movie when the gum-chewing Violet Beauregard snags a piece of the forbidden three course dinner gum? These candies reminded me of the blueberry girl. Wonder if they have mashed potato gum in Malaysia?
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I found this seasoning and thought it would be good to enhance chicken for tacos and salads. It made me laugh twice. First, when I saw the words around it:"not a candy." Second, when it said it was a fruit and vegetable seasoning. Fruit? The ingredients are a mixture of ground chili peppers, salt, and dehydrated lime juice. So while I was preparing dinner using my own mixture, I sliced up a watermelon and tossed some Tajin on it. Yes, this is indeed a fruit seasoning! So, so good. I just ate a plate of watermelon.
Now I am thinking popcorn, jicama, cucumbers. Ooh tomatoes? yes.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
On Sunday, August 8 I attended the 2nd annual Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival at JCT Kitchen. The atmosphere was filled with positive energy, even in the ticket line. The day was gorgeous. It was hot but what is more cooling and refreshing than a tomato? After chatting with the lovely volunteers from Georgia Organics, I started making my rounds. First stop, Miller Union and tomatoes from Crystal Organics. Steven Satterfield chatted a bit and handed me an heirloom tomato aspic. Aspic? Gross, was my first impression. How wrong was I? This was in my top two dishes I had all afternoon. The aspic had the crisp, clean flavor of tomato broth and each bite of the heirloom tomatoes (yeah green zebras) brought forth a tasty surprise. To compliment it, I had one of Cara Laudino's (also of Miller Union) Electric Boogaloos made with Prairie Organic vodka. I loved the cardamon and muddled yellow tomatoes, simple and perfect.
Next up, Hot and Hot Fish Club's Hot and Hot Tomato Salad with fresh corn, field peas, fried okra, applewood smoked bacon and chive aoli. While he gathered my dish, chef Chris Hastings and I talked about his last Farm to Table and Back dinner at JCT. One bit and I knew this would be my favorite dish. The tomatoes from Yoder farms were simply sublime. The fried pickled okra lingers on my palate.
Around the corner I ran into Hector Santiago of Pura Vida and Super Pan with his steamed coconut blts. Loved every bite! I washed it down with Paul Calvert's La Mancha made with tomatoes from Serenbe Farms. Yum-my! He pureeed roasted heirloom tomatoes with agave syrup and mixed with a shot of tequila. mezcal and basil. Kevin Maxey of Craft/Craftbar handed me a pulled pork lettuce wrap with smoked tomato molasses and heirloom tomato relish with tomatoes from Dillwood farms. Delightful.
Kevin Bragg from Prohibition mixed me up a drink with tomato water and Blue Coat gin. We chatted a bit about the pretty blue bottles and our love for Hendrick's gin until our conversation shifted to how fantastic his concoction was. Seriously, It was dangerous. I could drink it all day. I had a quick stop at Kevin Rathbun's table for a Noring farms shrimp tomato soup dumpling with tomato ponzu and then had a gulp of Souper Jenny's smoked 3 tomato gazpacho. It started to settle in that I would be consuming alot of tomatoes today.
Taqueria Del Sol presented an organic tomato (Serenbe Farms) cruda in habanaro viniagrette on a tostada topped with southwestern crema and a generous dollop of caviar. Savory, light and decadent rolled into one. I strolled over to Ron Eyester who was mixing up Woodland gardens cherry tomatoes with Rosebud mozzarella and anchovies. He gave me a generous cupful and I ate every bite. Standing next to me was the sweet Todd ginsberg from Bocado who had a salad of Adam Herrin's farm heirloom tomatoes, avocado, green goddess dressing, cucumbers and delicious radishes. I really loved this dish for the perfect tomatoes, creamy avocado and crisp radish. It was very put together and Todd was charming to talk with while I sampled.
At Farm 255 I tried a confit blt with tomatoes from FarmsFull Moon . The pork belly was incredible and we had a great chat about my love for farmburger while I noshed with a group. From this I was treated to a grilled cheese keaster from Aria with roof top dried tomatoes from Dillwood farms, applewood smoked bacon and chipotle sauce. I could eat this for every meal. It was savory, hot, melty goodness with so much flavor as the ingredients combined into one. This turned out to be the winning dish for Gerry Klaskala.
On the short walk downstairs I said hi to Eli Kirshstein (who may or may not take over the old Repast space), chatted a bit with Savory Exposure and was greeted with *sigh* air conditioning as I walked in the door. I didn't make it far before getting a great hug and a smile from Hugh Acheson. Have I mentioned how excited I am for the opening of his new restaurant Empire State South? He showed me to his spot with Nick Melvin and tried their Woodland gardens tomatoes with pickled shrimp, field peas and boiled dressing. So very simple and southern and good.
I zigged over to the JCT table and was greeted by Nick Horn's smile AND he and Ford Fry's resplendent Killer Tomato Jelly Donut with bacon mayonaisse. Oh. My. It wasn't something you could take bites of but rather pop in your mouth and wait for the flavor explosion. I crave it now. Whippoorwill Hollow Farm provided the yellow tomatoes for Leon's Full Service's The Golden Ticket. Whew! That was good but strong (and just seeing the name of Leon's makes me crave bacon in a glass). Miles Macwuerrie was a treat to watch at the bar.
There was quite a crowd near Livingston's table but luckily I was able to share with a stranger and enjoy Gary Mennie's Riverview Farms tomato shortcake. Everything was so lovely at every table that I wish i had taken photos but most of the time I was balancing a plate and a glass until I was able to put it in the compost bin. The what? That's right, everything was served in and on compostable dishes/cups. Same goes for the cutlery. Loved it.
Carvel Grant Gould created a warm goat cheese cheesecake with applewood smoked bacon and tomato fig jam from Moore Farm and friends' tomatoes. It was luscious and perfect. I am a big fan of savory desserts and this hit the spot. I headed over to Restaurant Eugene's Tom Cola and tried a swig. It was sweet and good with Prairie vodka, tomatoes from Love is Love farm, lime, allspice, and of course, Coca-Cola. I was delighted to see John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford MS
at a nearby table. His roasted Mortgage-Lifter Tomato Biscuits with bacon rillettes, basil aoli and arugula were out of this world. Read about him in this month's Food and Wine. I want to make this recipe.
I then popped over to Andy Minchow's Holeman & Finch table for a Tom Cat tonic. I was mesmerized watching the mixologists work with tomatoes from WA Hennessey Farm and even more enchanted with the drink. Lovely. After I picked up my drink I chatted with Mike Lata of FIG. We talked about his upcoming Farm To Table and Back dinner at JCT in December. Looks like I will see him twice in one week for that and a jaunt to his Charleston restaurant, one of my all-time favotires. His dish was an heirloom tomato (Crystal Organic) tarte tatin with fromage blanc. The dish was so simple yet so refined. Joe Truex's Watershed table was next with a delicious tomato (Dillwood Farms) pie a la king. "One bite" he said. I listened. It was divine. My mouth was full as I said hello to JCT chef/owner Ford Fry who was having as good a time as the rest of us. I was a bit distracted by Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit sitting behind me on a bench. His photos don't do him justice.
La Pietra Cucina prepared a wonderful Panzanella with thai basil and compressed red cabbage with tomatoes from Stoke's Farms. Great flavors. Over by the Pacci table, I talked a moment with Running with Tweezers. She was a big fan of Keira Moritz' heirloom tomato sorbets and ice creams. They were very cute and just the right tasting size in their lil bitty cones.
Before heading back outside, I stopped at Lara Creasy's bar for he Love Apple, Sugar Baby granita. I fell in love and I told her so. Not only was it perfect for such a hot afternoon, but it was so full of tomato flavor. It paired nicely with my heirloom tomato corn dog with brandywine ketchup from chef Linton Hopkins. This delicacy is what i had in my mouth when I ran into Melissa Libby and chatted a bit about how fabulous the event was and how much fun the band was. The Spazmatics are adorable, almost as much as Melissa.
Scott Serpas offered me a shot of garden tomato with pickled shrimp and celery crema. It was yummy, especially the celery crema. Great flavor combo. I was quickly introduced to Brian Stanger of Abattoir and handed his very creative Mason Dixon Sangrita made with tomato juice, chile sauce, and pomegranate juice and tequila. Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill had adorable tomato ice cream sandwiches with tomatoes from Moore Farms and Friends. It was neat to see he and Eli Kirschtein standing next to one another with a gaggle of lady admirers.
I ended my spree of tomato eating with one of the best things there. Anne Quatrano had Hawaiian shaved ice with heirloom tomato herb waters with tomatoes from Summerland Farm. I chose tomato melon for mine and then was told I could add tomato moonshine. "Do it" I said. So, so very good with smoked salt on top. I ate/drank every bit while watching the Spazmatics and took a cookie to go.
Through this adventure with the love apple, I learned that I really like tomatoes prepared in many ways. I only didn't like a few of the dishes. I did miss one, however. 5 Seasons had olive oil fried heirloom tomato ice cream with foccacia crust and lavender infused tomato. Sad to have missed out. Sounds incredible.
The event was so well put together. From the Chefs paired with farms to the band, mixologists and environmental materials used. To top it off, the money raised goes to Georgia Organics. Even Jennifer Popovich Graphic Design, who designed the chef display cards and programs, donated her time and services. Bravo all!
Next year I hope to attend and see much more attention to the farms.