Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Hunt

My cousin, Drew, is more than just my cousin.  He is also one of my best friends.  The guy is just awesome and I can't even count on two hands and two feet the amount of epically kickass times we've had together.  Drew is also into a bunch of stuff that I've never really got into, and because of that, I've learned a lot from him.  One of those things was how to shoot a shotgun.  About a year and a half ago, Drew took me up to Quail Creek Plantation to shoot clay pigeons.  I was extremely nervous because firearms had always made me uneasy but Drew demanded that I go, so I did.  Did I mention that in addition to being a kickass guy that Drew is also the biggest enabler on the face of the earth?  I ended up having an awesome time and was a pretty good shot too.

This year, right around my birthday, I had been talking with Drew about going shooting again as I knew he is always looking for an excuse to go.  It was then that he decided that he would one-up our last shooting trip and take me on a quail hunt with a guide and hunting dogs for my birthday.  The real deal.  Once again, I was a tad nervous but I had a feeling that this would be a great time so I said, "I'm in".  It turned out being one of the best times I've ever had.

Quail Creek Plantation

We woke up on a Saturday morning at 5:30am and were out the door by 6am.  We had got in on a hunt that had become available at the last minute thanks to a cancellation so we had to be at Quail Creek in Okeechobee, FL by 8am.  It was only about a 1.5 hour drive from Drew's place in West Palm Beach, but we wanted to give ourselves some time to get there and wake up.  It was a chilly morning and we were driving with the top down so waking up wasn't too hard.  We arrived at the plantation and checked in.  They brought me a 20-gauge shotgun to use for the day as Drew only had his one 20-gauge because his 12-gauge was with the gunsmith for a tune-up.  A smaller gauge shell is better for hunting the tiny quail anyways.  After signing our waivers and meeting our guide, Eric, a guy about our age who had relocated from Illinois in 2005 to work at Quail Creek, we headed to our buggy which would take us out into the field to hunt for quail.

The Hunting Buggy

The buggy was equipped with a couple of gun racks, comfy seats, some storage space, and cages where the dogs were held.  We donned our orange vests for safety while out in the field and loaded the pockets with shells.  Eric then introduced us to three of the five dogs that would be helping us locate the quail that hide amongst the bushes in the field.  The cages opened and two "pointers" (I forget the actual breed) named Willie and Joker went flying by the buggy, followed by a black lab "retriever" named Storm.  These dogs were tearing up the field, running with great speed and bounding over tall grass and in between the brush while taking a few short breaks to relieve themselves.  I told Eric that I wished I had about one-tenth the amount of energy these dogs had.  He said that they have a high protein diet and will run and run for our hunt as well as an afternoon hunt on a nice cool day like the one we had going for us but he liked to give them a rest and let the other dogs (there were 2 more pointers in the buggy) stretch their legs too.

Storm, Joker, and Willie searching for quail in the field

It wasn't long before Joker and Willie stopped dead in their tracks, nose and paw pointing at a bush in front of them, tail raised high and stiff.  "Whoa dog!  E-zay.", Erik commanded.  "Bird in 'ere. E-zay."  Drew and I took position to the left and right of Eric and the dogs who had this bush surrounded.  Once we were set, Eric called for Storm to come over and flush out the birds.  "Storm!  Bird in 'ere, dog.  Get 'em bird.  Get 'em bird."  Storm prowled up to the bush looking for his spot and, once he found it, darted at the bush.  This sent two quail flying to our right where Drew had the shot, the flutter of their little wings filling the air in front of us.  He missed and Eric decided we'd call it "morning rust".  It actually made me feel better because I was sure I was going to miss a lot throughout the day and I did just that the next time the dogs sent quail flying to my side.  On our third attempt, however, I nailed the first quail of the day and at a decent distance too!  I was pumped with adrenaline and excitement and was now completely over my "first quail jitters".

Willie returning with quail as Storm looks on

"Hunt dead, Willie.  Hunt dead, Joker.", Eric commanded and both Willie and Joker set out to the spot where the bird had gone down.  Willie proudly returned with the quail in his mouth, the bird still squeaking as he approached.  "I guess that one's still alive?", I asked Eric.  "No, you shot it in the head, I'm quite sure it's dead.", Eric replied while I stood there puzzled.  "Why is it still squeaking then?", I asked.  "Oh, that's the original squeaky toy.", Eric said while removing the bird from Willie's mouth.  He held it up and gave it a few squeezes and, sure enough, the bird squeaked each time from the air going in and out of its lungs.  I laughed at what I had just learned and we returned to the hunt.

Willie and Joker were doing a great job finding quail for us and later on Clyde and Maggie were pretty effective as well when they came in from the bullpen to give the first 2 sprinters a rest.  These birds don't fly too far but man can they hide.  Sometimes we would be able to see them running on the ground away from the dogs too which was kinda funny.  We had to be careful at all times once the birds flew as the dogs would take off after them and sometimes be in the line of fire.  Any sort of wound inflicted on a dog would carry a $2000 fine and the guilt of knowing that you shot a dog, a feeling I was not eager to experience.  There were many shots that I held off on because of this and I know Eric appreciated my caution.  I also held off on a few shots when we had ventured into the more wooded part of the field as I was not eager to get a face full of splinters.

A couple of times the dogs flushed out a covey of anywhere between twenty and thirty birds!  It was almost too overwhelming deciding where to point and shoot so I rarely aimed at these times, operating on the premise that I had to hit something and both Drew and I did just that.  At one point Drew was on fire, the dogs flushing birds his way and him taking 'em down with one shot.  His streak lasted for about 8 birds, including one where he started laughing as Storm literally bounced a quail off the ground twice before it flew and then continued to laugh as he shot it down with one pull of the trigger.  This made us all crack up and pretty much summed up the day as a great time.

At the end of the day we had taken down 32 quail and had a lot of fun doing so.  Hunters are allowed 12 apiece on the hunt but we were having a great time so we stayed out for a few more at an extra fee before the hunt's scheduled completion at 11:30am.  At that point, we unloaded and stowed our shotguns, watched as the dogs leaped back into their cages, and fired up a victory cigar.

 The victors and the spoils!

 We chatted with Eric on the way back about various hunts that they do at Quail Creek which include quail, turkey, deer, and hog.  The hogs actually are quite a nuisance as they tear up fields and leave them prone to slight flooding as evidenced by a field we saw with large lines of what appeared to be swampy marsh.  Once we got back to the lodge, we were greeted by the plantation chef and served a nice lunch that consisted of pork with mushrooms in a mustard sauce, fried quail, zucchini with a cheese sauce that was seasoned with a little cinnamon, some yellow rice, and one of the best biscuits and gravy I've ever had.

Good Grubbin'

After lunch we sat out on the deck at the lodge and enjoyed another cigar while basking in the sun.  It had warmed up throughout the day and ended up being one of those days where I am extremely thankful to be living in Florida.  Eric appeared with two coolers filled with sixteen quail apiece for us to take home and eat.  These weren't the actual quail that we shot, rather ones from a hunt on the previous day as it would've been a few hours for us to wait for our quail to be cleaned.  With hunts going on at a clip of twice per day, I know these quail had not sat long.

Nothing says, "I'm going hunting" like a 1987 Ferrari 328

As we walked to the car, a hunter in a cowboy hat looked at us and said, "Howdy, men."  I thought that was fitting.  We said hello and I turned to Drew and said, "That guy's right.  You see a couple of guys with two bags of quail and a shotgun and "men" is the appropriate way to address them."  We laughed as we loaded up our "hunting mobile" and were on our way back to West Palm Beach.  I was smiling from ear to ear and extremely thankful to have been invited on such an awesome trip.  Another batch of great memories for the good ol' memory bank and a perfect final adventure to end what has been a somewhat tumultuous year for yours truly.  Thank you times a thousand, Drew.  

As we rode I-95 on the way home, I thought of the meal that could be had with our quail and made a phone call.  We'll save that for another post on another day though...

Cobaya Dinner 3: A Trip Up & Down the East Coast

Earlier this year, the Cobaya Gourmet Guinea Pigs group was formed with the goal of providing local chefs with a no-holds-barred creative outlet for creating dishes outside of their everyday menus (or their diners palate range).  A prerequisite for being part of the group and attending the dinners was that you, the diner, needed to be open to eating just about anything, trusting the chef to enlighten you with something that may not be in your culinary comfort zone.  For our 3rd dinner, Chef Jonathan Eismann took us on a trip up and down the east coast, featuring dishes composed of fresh seafood flown in from Massachusetts, Maine, the Carolinas and Florida. The dinner was held at the spot of one of his two soon-to-be-opened restaurants, Fin (the other is a BBQ joint called "Q"), which is right around the corner from his Pacific Time spot.

I won't spend too much time on each dish since I'm way late to the party for writing about each dish.  Mango & Lime and Food For Thought already have recorded their thoughts, so be sure to check them out.

The first dish was a scallop with a hard sear on one side with the rest left raw and sprinkled with coriander, cilantro, and sea salt with a little lime juice added.  Being a  big scallop fan and very finicky about my scallops, I was both anxious and guarded when I took my first bite.  No disappointment at all.  The texture was perfect and I loved the tiny amount of chew left from the sear (mightve been dipped in egg prior to the sear but Im not sure.  The texture seemed more than just seared scallop but my memory might not be serving me correctly).

Next up were warm curried Davenport oysters from Massachusetts.  I'm not a huge curry fan so this dish wasn't something I was excited to try.  The curry was a bit overpowering for my tastes and the oysters that had been fried crisp had become cold and slightly soggy from sitting before I got to take a bite.  I thought the use of some Trisol here would've been a great way to keep the oysters crisp.

The third course featured a fluke and squid tiradito from Long Island, served "saigon style" with red grapefruit and nuoc cham.  This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.  I especially loved the consistency of the squid which was tender with a slight chew to it.  Funny thing was that I'm not a real grapefruit eater but I loved the way the grapefruit balanced the dish and I ended up clearing my plate of all things grapefruit.  Yum.

Our next dish was a crabcake made from Florida stone crabs and served with a napa cabbage kim chi and accompanied by a black bean vinaigrette for dipping.  This was another dish met with some skepticism from me as I have yet to find a restaurant that serves crabcakes as good as the ones I make at home.  Chef Eismann once again did not disappoint (though I still like mine better :-p).  The crabcake had a wonderfully crisp outside and a meaty inside without being too bready.  The star of the dish for me, however, was the black bean vinaigrette which had an incredible flavor that was heightened by a few drops of what I believe was sriracha that brought a little heat to the sauce.

At this point, I was beginning to feel full and we still had 5 dishes to go!  I was happy to see on the menu that the next dish was of lighter fare - steamed clams from Sebastian Inlet, FL, served in a rocky mountain sake broth with green onion and crushed tomato.  The clams were great but the broth was phenomenal and LOADED with butter.  Mr. Frodnesor and I both decided that drinking the broth directly from the bowl was an awesome idea while we waited for bread to come around and I'd reckon to say that we were correct.

The last 4 dishes were all hunks of white fleshed fish, served in what I would call "main course" portions.  It was clear that Chef Eismann wanted to make sure that we diners would want nothing to do with food for the next 24 hours after this meal with the amount of food we were served and I'm sure I'm not the only one who enjoyed nearly every bite while simultaneously wanting to raise the white flag and surrender with me belly full.  Some quick comments on the final four dishes...

Pan roasted snowy grouper from Miami served with braised fennel and a preserved lemon risotto was first up, bringing one of my favorite pairings of tender grouper flesh and preserved lemon.  I loved this one.

Wild striped bass from North Carolina served with cucumber salad and a mustard oil/soy sauce was another great dish.  The mustard/soy sauce was freakin awesome and paired quite well with the monster hunk of bass we were served.

Hong Kong yellow tail from the Florida Keys served as a whole fried fish that had a really light batter with some red curry in it and was accompanied by some sliced jalapeno pepper and cilantro leaves.  A little dish of sauce comprised of some yuzu, ginger, and soy was great for dipping.  This was a great dish.  I liked the textures of the flesh and slightly crispy skin of the snapper and the flavor of the dipping sauce.

Pan roasted North Atlantic cod from Maine with black pepper potato and a slightly spicy escabeche made of red and green peppers was the final dish and the only one I fully disliked during the entire meal.  I didn't like the flavors of the escabeche at all and also thought this was way to savory of a dish to finish the meal with.

Wild Striped Bass with Cucumber Salad, mustard oil, soy

Hong Kong Yellow Tail with red curry and yuzu, ginger, soy dipping sauce (not shown)

I was glad that we were served a nice trio of fruit sorbet (coconut, pineapple, and lemon I believe) that was drizzled with a little bit of honey which I thought was a fantastic topping, especially as it became slightly hardened from the coldness of the sorbet.

Chef Eismann came out at the end to thank us for coming and received a nice round of applause from the group.  With 34 diners, this was by far our largest dinner group yet and I think that Chef Eismann did a great job.  This Cobaya dinner was a bit different than the previous two as the Chef didn't come out to explain each dish but I guess it was understandable as I knew he also had a separate beer dinner going on at his neighboring restaurant, Pacific Time.  I later learned that some of the dishes we were served are to be featured at Fin and I look forward to dining there in the future when I'm in the mood for a great seafood-style meal.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Paradigm: Redux

Art Basel - an international celebration of all forms of art.  The city of Miami serving as a canvas for sculpture, paint, clay, paper, metal, photography, and many other casual ways to stimulate one's mind.  It really is a sight to be seen.  However, it is also a sight to be tasted.  After all, food is art, isn't it?  Well the group at PH2 put together an event to showcase just that, pairing a local artist with local chefs for an event called Art|Dining|Culture.

I attended the dinner event on Friday night.  The art of Stephen Gamson was featured along with the gastronomic art of Chef Kurtis Jantz and Chef Chad Galiano.  Having experienced the chefs' cooking before at Neomi's, I was fired up.  These guys really shine when given the opportunity to create and I knew they would be placing a heavy emphasis on pairing dishes with Gamson's artistic style.  Since my artistic style with the iPhone camera isn't so hot, I didn't take many photos of the dinner but Mr. Frodnesor has posted some here.

A horrible picture of the menu

I'm gonna go with my gut and say that the first course meant to say "Stick" Figure Antichuchos.  Skewered grilled baby octopus and skewered fried chicken liver plated vertically with whole slices of lemon and lime lying on the plate resembling "heads" for the stick figures captured the playful simplicity of Gamson's art and made for a nice presentation.  The octopus was tender with the right amount of chewiness for me but the chicken liver was my favorite.  The liver was fried in a flour mix that included a substance called Trisol that I had read about on Chef Chad's blog previously but never experienced.  It allows for a much crispier texture when used for tempura or fried food and the chicken liver really showcased just that.  It was a perfect crisp that stayed that way even after sitting in a tiny pool of aji panca sauce which paired well with the liver.

The next course featured 2 different tails - oxtail in the form of a meat pie and lobster tail in a lobster salad.  The meat pie came with a nice glob of pepper jelly on top that provided a little heat and moisture to the crisp dough of the pie, while the filling was warm and tender.  I enjoyed the crisp green beans in the lobster salad as well as the flavor of the airy micro-corn cake that came with it.

Apparently, a few months back Chef Kurtis asked for Mr. Food for Thought's mom's pickled shrimp recipe and obtained it with ease.  He apparently worked on his own rendition, pairing the pickled shrimp with a crisp slaw made of shredded brussel sprouts and honey mustard, giving homage to the recipes' origin by naming the dish, "Frod's Shrimp Dickles".  Homemade cheez-its provided a difference in texture along with a distinctive cheesy flavor that I enjoyed but a few others questioned the relevance of.  Surprisingly, for someone that prefers hot dishes over cold, this was one of my favorite dishes of the night.  Perhaps a Chef Kurtis vs. Grandma Frod "Throwdown" is in order?


Getting back to food as art, our next dish went back to the basics of simplicity both in it's title, "Meat", and its presentation.  A styrofoam tray with a slider-sized patty of 45C beef tartar that had been mixed with a 64C egg yolk, onion, and parsley and then shrink-wrapped placed in front of each table guest.  A few tiny salt dishes filled with caper salt and some tiny squirt bottles of "whas dis here?" sauce (say it fast) also made their way onto the table.  We were instructed to sprinkle some caper salt on the meat and top with a little of the sauce.  The couple next to me looked a little mortified.  The guy had come to the dinner at his girlfriend's request to do "something different" and this was clearly different.  Nevertheless, they both threw caution to the wind and dug in just like the rest of us.  I liked the saltiness of the caper salt with the tartar and managed to ration my whas-dis-here sauce appropriately so its flavor didn't overpower the dish.  The couple next to me seemed to like the dish as well, or at least I got that impression upon seeing both of their plates clean.

For our next course, the chef's channeled their inner Aesop and produced a Golden Egg, its regal self presented on a pauper-like egg carton.  The top of the eggshell was removed and the shell emptied and then refilled with a portion of black pepper and truffle scrambled eggs.  This was another simple yet wonderful dish that had many diners near me declaring their love for all things truffle.

The last course before dessert was a hearty hunk of pork belly topped with a banana foam and cilantro cocoa kettle corn.  A few spheres of yogurt that had been sprinkled with a white chocolate powder flanked the pork belly on each side.  I loved the combination of banana and pork flavors.  Definitely something I'd never had before.  Adding in the white chocolate powder mixed with the yogurt made the dish even more savory.  This one would have been my favorite overall but my hunk of belly was more meaty and didnt have as much of that fat that I love.  Thinking about that though, it was probably a blessing in disguise as my pork belly intake has been somewhat high as of late.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I am not a dessert guy.  Dessert for me usually consists of cheese and/or a nice bourbon, grappa, or port wine.  However, dessert was part of this meal so it was only right for me to eat it.  Pastry Chef Jenny Rissone was responsible for dessert and the presentation was beautiful.  A dulce de leche gelato encased in a green sugar globe sat on the left side of the plate with a little pile of what I suspect was a raspberry powder next to it.  To the right, 3 crisp meringue "walls" stood erect, with bits of monstera deliciosa fruit sitting in between them.  A green stripe of what I think was the coloring used to color the sugar globe went from east to west on the top part of the plate, so perfectly applied that I thought it was actually part of the plate design.  The meringue was phenomenal, so crisp that you had to apply a little pressure to slice through it.  I loved its sweet flavor and crunchy texture.  It was my first time trying monstera deliciosa and I loved it.  It had a slightly mushy texture and a fruity flavor that reminded me of jackfruit (another fruit I experienced for the first time recently).  The gelato/sugar globe combo was way too sweet for me but others seemed to enjoy it.  I also liked that you could add in a little of the raspberry powder to change up the flavors if you wanted.  This non-dessert guy enjoyed dessert.

During the meal, Steven Gamson was introduced and talked about his background and the inspiration behind his art.  It was cool to learn a little more about the artist and what motivated him but it got a little lengthy and somewhat sales-pitchy at a few points when his agent chimed in.  It was a tad awkward and a bit of a turnoff.  I did enjoy a few of his pieces, however, and was pleasantly surprised when I saw some of his works gracing the walls of Coral Bagels diner when I went for brunch the following morning.  To me, its simple art that allows you to create your own story and/or interpretation of what it means.  Cool stuff and definitely has a local Miami vibe.

Overall, I thought the meal was phenomenal but there were a few things that bugged me.  For one, tickets originally went on sale at $200 or $350 if you wanted to attend a cocktail hour and receive a limited piece of artwork from the artist.  As part of the Cobaya group, I received a $50 discount which made the price of having dinner a little more feasible and I liked the chefs so I purchased on the day tickets became available.  Well, I was a little miffed when "black Friday" came about and a $100 discount was offered.  A Deco Drive promo also offered a $100 discount a few days before the event.  So, in other words, I made a commitment to an event only to have ticket sales come up short and thus a greater discount offered.  This left me, a supporter of the event, feeling like I got a bit of a raw deal.  But whatever, I was there to support Chef Kurtis and Chef Chad anyways so I got over it. The other shortcoming for me was that I thought that the wine that was offered during the dinner was a bit pedestrian for the price of admission.  Luckily, a few diners by me brought bottles of wine and were generously sharing with our end of the table.  I guess my point is that I've been to many dinners that were very similar to this concept, sans artist, and most weighed in at $75 (BYOB wine) to $120 (wine featured as a part of the meal with a different vintage paired with each course) with anywhere from 8-12 courses featured.  In fairness though, previous dinners have been held at restaurants and not in a private location that I imagine deserves a little coin for offering up the space.

Again, the meal itself was a home run.  Chef Kurtis and Chef Chad put on a great show in the kitchen, on the plates, and in showcasing that they are comfortable in this type of setting where the chef is not only cooking but interacting with the diners as well.  I keep waiting for the day that these two are lured away from Sunny Isles to an area where they can gain more exposure and I'm certain it will happen someday.  Until then I'm hoping to see them featured at a Cobaya dinner or another event like this PH2 event.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog and Chef Chad Galiano Featured on Deco Drive to Promote PH2 Dinner

Finally caught this Deco Drive piece that featured Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog (of Gastropod fame) and Chef Chad Galiano (of Neomi's fame, former home of the Paradigm dinner and part of the inspiration for the Cobaya Gourmet Guinea Pigs) promoting an Art Basel dinner at PH2, who provided the venue for the last Cobaya Dinner which also featured Chef Jeremiah.  I actually attended the event on Friday night which featured the art of Stephen Gamson paired with the culinary art of Chef Chad and Chef Kurtis Jantz (also of Neomi's) and I will be posting about that soon.  It's good to see these guys getting some love from the media.  They deserve it.  Cooking is an art form in itself and these guys are inspirational artists.  Funny to see Chef Jeremiah go all Hollywood with the shades too haha!

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Note to Deco Drive: how about an embed code??