Monday, October 27, 2008

Nantucket Tasting Tour: Oran Mor

On the final night of our visit to see Sean and Sue, we went to Oran Mor, a restaurant they had been wanting to try. Good luck for us to have visited when we did.

The restaurant is a series of small rooms upstairs in an old converted house near the water in Nantucket Town. As elsewhere, the crowd was a little stuffy and we heard multiple people marvel at Sean's extended, pointy goatee (Sue calls him, alternately, Mr. Whiskers and ZZ Top), wondering if he was "in a rock and roll band."

Maybe to shake off the threatening clouds of formality, someone suggested ordering a lot of things and sharing them so that we all wouldn't be marooned, alone, in our personal three-course islands.

My favorite dish of the night was this: Hudson Valley foie gras served with toasted brioche and (I think I'm remembering this correctly) balsamic-pickled brandied cherries. Usually, foie gras is just so smoooth I find it hard to like, but here it was served with just the right combination of flavors and texture. The rich, buttery brioche was nice and toasty on the outside but still yielding and bready on the inside, and the unusual boozy piquancy of the cherries totally worked with it.

Nantucket Tasting Tour: Sconset Market

Sue then led us to the little general store up the street, where we got ice cream:

And ate it while strolling down the most charming seaside lane I've ever, ever stepped foot upon:

It seems like it would be utter misery to live there, because you'd always feel obligated to be doing something appropriately charming, and there's only so many hours a day you can tend flowers, whitewash a fence, or pour tea for guests out on the verandah.

This lane was so cute I don't even remember eating the ice cream. It's a total flavor blank. Charm-induced taste amnesia. Oh well.

Nantucket Tasting Tour: Summer House

Our last full day visiting transient island-dwellers Sean and Sue, we piled in the Jeep and drove towards the long peninsula of sand that ends at the reconstructed and now solar-powered lighthouse. When I returned to California, I discovered all sorts of Scott-related things, like that his great-grandfather was the lighthouse keeper in the pre-pre-solar days. Back when the light was powered with whale tears or something similarly, authentically Nantuckan.

After getting lost, getting found (through Alexis' creepily Big-Brothery phone that knew where we were so could tell us where to go), driving along the beach, climbing the lighthouse, sticking our feet in the water, and driving back, we went to the Summer House for lunch.

We sat at the bar and watched the shiny people laze about in $3,000 robes by the pool. The bartender made me an approximation of a Pimm's Cup. And we listened to the bartenders gossip and ate lobster pizza, another version of a tuna tartare sundae, and crab cakes. With a microgreen hat:

Nantucket Tasting Tour: Boarding House

A muddled but delightful combination of the aforementioned passion fruit cocktail, a comfortable table in the dining room, another bottle of wine, and the total willingness of the group to order and share everything anyone was even slightly curious about led to my favorite kind of full: the one where you had a few deliberate bites of many things and gotten to talk your way through it with other people who are as giddy about the tastes as you are.

We had an interesting antipasti plate with a tomato-pomegranate spread, a chickpea and raisin terrine, and something with carrot that I do not perfectly remember. We also tried a pizzetta (pizza named after me) topped with black truffle cheese and mission fig, a pretty pasta, the well-named chicken under a brick, and a few more dishes that I no longer remember. (Until I was in my late 20s, I could be counted on to always remember everything that I ate in social atmospheres, even years later. Alas.)

For dessert, we got something that I'm totally going to make sometime and people will, in turn, steal the idea from me and in this way thousands of people will end meals happy and satisfied, indulged but not overwrought. Nostalgic but hip.

It was this:

Warm chocolate-chocolate chip cookies and little milkshakes in generous shot glasses.

It's like a French Laundry sort of thing, like coffee and doughnuts or peanut butter and jellies, only it doesn't take 47 hours, a $100 chinois (how I covet thee, and Thomas Keller swears I would be a better person with you in my kitchen), six yards of cheesecloth, and 200 sous chefs to make.

Nantucket Tasting Tour: Boarding House Bar

When you're with Sean and Sue, any trip to any restaurant begins at the bar. Often, if the seats are comfortable and the mood is right, things progress no farther, at least geographically. We had learned this much by the time we entered the Boarding House for dinner, about 10 minutes in advance of our reservation. We grabbed a corner of the bar and Sean led the charge by suggesting we order this particular passion fruit cocktail. Sean and Sue might, even as I write this, be opening a bar somewhere in the Caribbean, so for them, sampling the cocktails where ever they go is not just habit, it's forward thinking as well.

Oh my god it was good. I don't like sticky sweet drinks. In fact, a lot of the time I'm not even a huge fan of juice but this...this went straight into my top ten favorite cocktails of all time list. To me, most sweet liquids taste narrow and light. They hover lightly on the tongue as if both of us know they're not there to stick around for a chat, not there to titillate. They're just the forgettable delivery mechanism.

But this had flavors that roamed, that really worked the room. There was a bit of citrus, the mild natural sweet of passion fruit, the colder than cold efficiency of vodka. It was a sipping pleasure. And it came in its own little martini shaker. Love.

Nantucket Tasting Tour: Steamers

Alexis and I, new to steamers, were unprepared for the sight. They seem normal and clamlike on the outside, even served in this case with an unintimidating slice of toast. But then you open them, and out pops this:

And it looks like eight kinds of gross. Add to that the phallic unsheathing that is part of the preparation for eating and it's amazing this is something it's acceptable to do in public.

Dipped in butter though, they're reasonably tasty.

Nantucket Tasting Tour: Captain Tobey's

We sat down and kicked off the lobster roll quest. The first lobster roll coasted atop a glorified hot dog bun and some lettuce, piped with some kind of mayo-plus sauce, and served with seasoned bar fries. It was a pleasant eating experience, but I still suspected that there was just something New Englandy that I would just never understand enough to properly appreciate the lobster roll.

Speaking of cult foods of the salty Northeast, Sue then introduced us to steamers, one of the least attractive foods I've seen in decades.
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Nantucket Tasting Tour: It Begins

Our charming Nantucket hosts Sean and Sue are serious about two things: eating and drinking. No wait, that order isn't right. Drinking and eating. (Editor's Note: This all happened in August. It's been a busy few months. Marriage, obsessing about the election, etc.)

They picked us up from the airstrip in a Jeep all pasted up with those sticker permits that let you drive on the beach and we headed for the Cherry Pit (pictured here), a grey-washed little lean-to behind the larger house named the Cherry Tree on, of course, Cherry Lane, about a seven-minute walk from downtown.

We would eat our way through Nantucket, they promised. I was giddy. We started at the Brandt Point Bar at the White Elephant where we kicked things off with drinks, crispy crab and lobster cakes, and ahi tuna martinis. We sat at the bar outside, overlooking the harbor and its boats, its promenades, and its beaches teeming with children glowing with health, manicured mothers, and men in pink, ahem, Nantucket Red, pants.

We continued to hang out, discussing our food conquests yet to come and that's when I mentioned that, while living in Boston years before, I had only had a single encounter with the famed lobster roll. I described my memory of it--a slice of Wonderbread folded around lobster meat and drizzled in melted butter--and they jumped to assure me that there was more than one way to make a lobster roll. And then Sean got on the topic of steamers, which led us first to a bar on the waterfront and then, when we discovered that they were steamerless, over to Captain Tobey's.
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Friday, October 24, 2008

Berkeley Turkey

Joel and I are hosting our first Thanksgiving this year. Right now it's looking like we'll be about 18 people all together, and it seems like time to start thinking about the turkey.

Here's what I've discovered so far:

In the Michael Pollan high-five hierarchy, the things to look for in a turkey are: local, organic, free-range, and heritage. There are eight breeds of heritage turkeys. They differ from conventional turkeys in that they grow more slowly, are proportioned more normally (not like the Pam Anderson of fowl), and have a richer taste.

The Russian River Convivium of Slow Food is offering a limited quantity (180) of 4-H-raised heritage turkeys. You have to order early and go to Petaluma to pick it up. Turkeys are $7.50/lb
Order form

Slightly more affordable local options.

Mary's Free Range Turkeys: Available for pre-order at some grocery stores and butchers around town. According to some sources, they sell heritage breeds as well, but I don't seen anything about it on the website.

Willie Bird: Free-range and organic, but as far as I can tell not heritage.

Diestal: Family-owned farm and range-grown birds.

Other handy dandy links I'm keeping on-hand:

- SF Gate article about heritage turkeys: Yeah, it's from 2005, but it's a pretty good primer.

- List of local grocery stores with heirloom turkeys

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cloud Dessert

Last year I saw this delicious looking cloud, and ever since have had my eye out for the equivalent dessert. Recently, Nancy gave me the cookbook A Year in My Kitchen, written by Skye Gyngell, head palate at the Petersham Nurseries Cafe in London.

In the autumn section, I found a dessert that looked a lot like clouds. And seemed like it might taste like clouds too. Last night, we did a Gyngell-inspired dinner over at Nancy's, and after feasting on the fantastic combinations of sweet, savory, and meatily complex flavors of lamb with prunes, corainder (cilantro), and spices; sweet potato puree with tamari, maple syrup, and chili; and roasted squash with roasted tomatoes, feta, and basil oil, we tried it out.

The cloud dessert is called apple and eau-de-vie snow. The quick summary is that you stew Pippin apples in a vanilla-sugar syrup, blend it in the food processor, whip egg whites until they're stiff, blend the two elements together, and then put the mixture in the ice cream maker. As it's turning into a frozen cluster of clouds you add the eau-de-vie (I actually added Calvados because it's what I had on hand). The result is a light, cold but not too icy, apple with a kick, truly white as snow dessert that's unlike anything else I've ever had. It is apple clouds.

Here's the recipe:

Put 8.8 ounces of sugar, 500 ml of water, and a vanilla bean pod split in half in a pot over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar, and then bring to a simmer.

Peel, core, and chop 6 Pippin apples, then add them to the syrup mixture and cook for about 5 minutes, keeping the syrup at a simmer, until the apples are tender but not mushy. Turn off the heat and let the apples hang out in the syrup until they are cool.

Remove the apples with a slotted spoon and blend in a food processor along with 2 tablespoons of the syrup until it's pale and smooth.

Whip eight egg whites (since they're eaten raw, look for free-range, small-farm, organic eggs) and a pinch of salt to firm peaks. Add the apple puree. Now here she says blend lightly with a whisk, but the weight of the apples doesn't facilitate an easy blending, so I'd suggest folding with a spatula instead.

Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and process. This amount makes enough for two batches in a standard home machine. When the mixture starts to look like ice cream, add two tablespoons of apple eau-de-vie (or calvados) and continue to churn until it you have a "soft, feathery, light slush." Serve immediately.

Friday, October 17, 2008


A few weeks back, Monterey Market was selling these amazing (among the best tomatoes I've ever had) dry-farmed tomatoes from Sealevel Farms. Cutting them open, I found all sorts of resemblances. Here we have...tree.
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And here is lightning (the tomato is not mealy, it's just glistening)
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