March 11, 2014
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About 15 years ago I stopped in Luling, at City Market, and had the best brisket of my life. I'd never imagined that brisket could taste like that: smoky, fatty, rich and so soft that it simply melted between the slices of white bread. I've been thinking about it ever since.
The other day in Austin, I had brisket that was even better at Franklin's. I was stunned by the flavor, the texture, the sheer amazing wonderfulness of what I was eating. (The ribs were great too, the sausage superb, and I was crazy about the espresso-enhanced sauce. But it was the brisket that simply stopped me cold; I'd been waiting to taste that for 15 years.)
In this case, the picture simply doesn't do justice to the food. What I should have taken pictures of was the line: people get there in the middle of the night, curl up in sleeping bags and wait. It's that good.
The people who work there are all wonderful too. Warm-hearted. Happy in their work. This is Benjy. He's a musician, and he's known Aaron Franklin his whole life.
And this is Aaron Franklin, barbecue pitmaster extraordinaire. My friend John Markus told me not to miss eating his food, and I'm eternally grateful. What he didn't tell me is that Aaron is a musician – from a family of musicians – and that his grandfather was one of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys. That's royalty of another kind.
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How lucky am I? Returned home to find these gorgeous dried persimmons waiting for me, courtesy of Nancy Singleton Hachisu. She's also making persimmon vinegar, which she says is fantastic. Can hardly wait to taste it.
Now the question is: how soon do I eat these lovely little morsels?1 Comment
Spigariello (or as it's sometimes known, spigarello).
My last visit to the Hollywood Farmers Market, and to my great sadness the Santa Barbara fish man wasn’t there. Of course he wasn’t; the weather had turned violent, with storm skies all week long.
I missed the beautiful sea urchins, black prickly spines waving menacingly from their tubs of sea water. And I longed for just a few more of those ridge back shrimp which never make their way back East.
But there are always treasures here, unexpected finds, new discoveries. Today it is this spigariello, a member of the broccoli family I’ve never encountered before. More leaf than bud, it looks like underdeveloped broccoli rabe. I reached out, pinched off a little taste and put it in my mouth. Delicious! The leaves are sweet, with an underlying darkness, a bitter note that hits you right at the end. I wondered how the flavors would be transformed by heat.
At home I washed the leaves, then pulled the slim branches off the thick stalks and blanched them for a couple of minutes in copious amounts of boiling salted water. When the leaves changed color I plunked them into an ice water bath to set that shade of green. Then I wrung them out, sauteed them in olive oil, with a bit of garlic and just a hint of chile.
Broccoli-loathers, beware: this stuff will change your mind.1 Comment
Eating fast and furiously as I prepare to leave Lotus land. The food here is just so good now!
A few high spots.
Shanghai #1 Seafood
Old Alley Pork: Chunks of deeply burnished pork. Sweet and rich, this amazing confection barely seems like meat; it's been transformed into something that seems to have been created by a baker.
Braised Three Strings: Shredded chicken, ham and squid, that looks so innocent in its little puddle of broth. But this subtle dish is sneakily addictive: my chopsticks kept reaching out for one more bite.
My go-to restaurant and one of the most comfortable places in town: a seat at the bar is always waiting and the food is reliably wonderful. With its dark lighting and deep seats, Jar has the feel of a glamorous thirties restaurant. And should you actually want to talk to your companions – this is the place.
A few weeks ago there was a green garlic soup so subtle and delicious I had to have a second bowl. The potato chips are famous. But what I find myself ordering, again and again, is the lemongrass chicken. It’s the juiciest most delicious chicken I’ve ever eaten, and sometimes, when I’m not in LA, I find myself dreaming about it.
The sheer exuberant roar of this extremely hip restaurant in the downtown Arts District makes it difficult to concentrate on the food. If there’s a louder restaurant, I have yet to find it. Lots of offal on the menu, although some of it is underwhelming. (I found myself comparing the heart tartare to the one Chris Cosentino makes – and it’s no contest.) But I loved the tender beef meatballs with their well-braised beet greens. My favorite dish however, was this:
One of the most talked-about restaurants in town, and no wonder. The old Campanile has been lovingly refurbished, keeping the bones of the place but making it somehow even lovelier. The entire front dining room feels like one huge communal table, open to the kitchen, and extremely lively. In the morning it's a perfect place for excellent croissants and coffee.
The rear dining room has the same menu as the one in front, but it’s more grown up back there, a place to talk and sit quietly enjoying Walter Manzke’s beautifully crafted food. The menu is quirky – the chef refuses to recognize boundaries – which is rather brave. It’s as if he’s saying, “These are dishes I like.” I liked them too, from the wonderful risotto, the uni on toast with softly scrambled egg, and the beautifully cooked filets of branzino in an elegant Thai sauce.
But the must-have dish is the tarte flambee, Manzke’s version of the Alsatian classic bacon tart. This one is so rich with caramelized onions and smoky bacon the tart itself seems to have vanished until all that's left is pure unadulterated flavor.
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