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Apr 24, 2014
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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Archive for April, 2011

Wash U. steps up its game in name of college fare

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

041911_DiningServicesMy, has dorm fare changed since our college days. Sure, Pop-Tarts, pizza and late-night microwave popcorn can be the diet of a 20-year-old supposedly engaged in higher education, but at universities like Washington University, healthy choices abound.

Wash U.’s dining services, operated by Bon Appétit Management Co., prepares myriad fresh, from-scratch dishes for pretty much every type of eater – vegan, vegetarian, kosher, gluten-free and those on low-cal diets. It sources produce and artisanal food products from more than 25 local vendors, and it has made a conscious decision to operate sustainably by using waste-reducing equipment in the kitchens, converting spent frying oil to biofuel to power a campus truck, recycling disposable dishware and utensils, and using kitchen food waste as compost for campus landscaping.

Among the latest food-related practices that impress us are the partnerships that Wash U. is forming with nearby off-campus eateries to make healthy food easily accessible to students. Soon, students will be able to use their Campus Card, a debit swipe card, to purchase eats from Bobo Noodlehouse and Kayak’s, both located in the building at the corner of Skinker Avenue and Forest Park Parkway.

Bon Appétit also continues to engage foodies on campus. This week, BA is gearing up for the Second Annual North versus South Champion Chef Competition. On Thursday, April 21, two teams – one from the north side of Wash. U.’s campus, one from the south – each comprised of a Bon Appétit head chef, manager and two student sous chefs, will go head-to-head in an Iron Chef-style challenge. Both teams will have 30 minutes to create a delicious, low-carbon meal. The event begins at 6 p.m. and will be held on the first floor of the Washington University Danforth Center (located at the corner of Wallace Drive and Forsyth Boulevard). The event is free and open to the public. Yours truly is sitting on the judging panel; so come out and say “hello.” For more information, click here or check out the Wash U. dining crew on Facebook.

Just Five: Caramelized Onion and Fig Tart

Monday, April 18th, 2011

041811_Pick5The onion is one of my favorite ingredients; it’s versatile in flavor – sharp and spicy when raw, mellow and sweet when roasted – and thanks to my recent purchase of a mandoline, slicing the tear-inducing vegetable is a cinch. While the combination of caramelized onions and thyme has long been a personal favorite, it’s the figs that make this dish stand out. Now, a fresh fig, when available, is a sexy thing; but a dried version adds a great bite to the tart fruit. I’ve made this recipe in different ways, adding goat cheese or Parmesan, a little cooked pancetta or bacon, or topping it with arugula and walnuts that have been tossed in a simple white balsamic dressing. It’s a wonderful dish to bring to a book club or dinner party, but be warned: last time I made it, all that was left was a few buttery flakes of puff pastry.


Caramelized Onion & Fig Tart

Serves 2 to 3 as an entrée or 6 to 8 as an appetizer

Courtesy of Dee Ryan

2 large onions, sliced very thin
3 Tbsp. fresh thyme (can substitute 2 Tbsp. dried thyme)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 sheet prepared puff pastry
½ cup crème fraîche (Learn how to make your own here)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 dried or fresh figs (if dried, soak in water for about 15 minutes and drain)

• Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
• In a heavy skillet, sauté the sliced onions and thyme in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes until lightly caramelized (watch the heat, they can go from light brown to dark brown very quickly). Remove from heat and set aside.
• Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 12 inches-by-10 inches, and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Prick the puff pastry all over with a fork. Set aside.
• In a small bowl, mix the crème fraîche with about ¼ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Spread the crème fraîche mixture evenly over the puff pastry
• Chop the figs and place them on the puff pastry
• Cover with the caramelized onions and place into the oven for 25 minutes or until the puff pastry is golden.
• Remove to a cooling rack, let cool for about 15 minutes, and serve.

The Scoop: Italian fare gets a heart-healthy overhaul as Trattoria Branica becomes Picasso’s Bistro

Monday, April 18th, 2011

041811_picassosBy day, Dr. Melda Dolan can be found at St. Louis University Hospital, where she has worked as a cardiologist for more than 20 years. Now, Dolan has added a night shift to her schedule. But she’s not at SLU – she’s running Picasso’s Bistro in Chesterfield.

The restaurant, located at 138 Chesterfield Towne Center, was formerly Trattoria Branica, the third of restaurateur Sam Kacar’s Italian eateries in the metro area. The space recently changed hands and Dolan, as the new owner, has changed the restaurant’s name, décor and menu.

Picasso’s Bistro, which transitioned officially on Friday of last week, focuses more broadly on Mediterranean cuisine than the strict Italian fare of Trattoria Branica. The menu includes apps and salads, as well as chicken, seafood, steak, veal, pork and pasta entrées. Many of the items are Dolan’s own creations. Although not a trained chef, Dolan grew up in Istanbul in a family where everyone cooks, sparking her love for the kitchen. “I have been cooking for the last 30 years of my life. I do not use cookbooks; I just create,” she said.

Dolan hopes that Picasso’s Bistro can be another outlet for her medical mission, that of instilling lifestyle changes and fighting obesity. Thus, the restaurant focuses on serving heart-healthy Mediterranean fare using only fresh – never canned – ingredients such as olive oil instead of butter and fresh, house-made bread. Among the dishes that Dolan touts is her roasted eggplant served with tomato, garlic and olive oil, as well as plates that spotlight rarely used fish such as delicate sea bream and branzino. Dolan also hopes to use the restaurant to teach classes in healthy cooking to heart patients, expectant mothers and others trying to improve their eating habits.

Those looking to check out Picasso’s Bistro can find extra excitement during Easter brunch, when the restaurant will be offering a chocolate egg hunt for the little ones; Mother’s Day brunch, where the women of the day will receive a $10 gift certificate to be used on a future date; and on Friday and Saturday evenings (and Wednesdays beginning in May), when live music will fill this vibrant space where the décor now reflects the abstract style of the famous Spanish painter after whom the restaurant is named.

Drink This Weekend Edition: Income Tax Cocktail

Friday, April 15th, 2011

041511_taxdrinkWhether you’ve already filed your taxes or, like millions of other Americans, you plan on getting the dreaded task done by midnight on Monday, you deserve a drink for all that paper pushing and number crunching. In recognition of the necessary evil that Uncle Sam first proposed in 1812 – and which was instituted upon us in 1913 – we invite you to drink the Income Tax. Shake it up, pour it out and wait for those tax returns to roll in.

Income Tax Cocktail

Serves 1

1½ tsp. dry vermouth
1½ tsp. sweet vermouth
1 oz. gin
1 dash bitters (preferably Angostura)
Juice of ¼ orange

• Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

The Scoop: Ernesto’s Wine Bar hires new exec chef

Friday, April 15th, 2011

041511_ernestosChef Ryan Sexton has been hired to serve as the new executive chef at Ernesto’s Wine Bar. Tom Revie, owner of the Benton Park wine bar and restaurant, has been looking for an exec since chef Cassy Vires left the position last November. Revie told The Scoop that Vires had hired Sexton on a part-time basis to work brunch at Ernesto’s when the restaurant opened in October 2009.

Sexton, who earned his culinary degree at the Kendall College in Chicago, worked as sous chef at a few Chicago restaurants including The Pritzker Club and Sangria Restaurant and Tapas Bar. Though he was trained in classic French cuisine, his interests reach over into Spanish and Italian cooking and he’s passionate about working with local ingredients. Here in St. Louis, Sexton was a member of the team that opened Cielo, the restaurant atop the Four Seasons Hotel downtown, and he most recently served as sous chef at Frazer’s Restaurant and Lounge.

First on Sexton’s list: preparing new items for Ernesto’s spring and summer menus. Look for a new menu on the restaurant’s Web site and at its Hawaiian-themed patio opening event on June 4.

Tweet Beat: The week’s best tweets from STL foodies

Friday, April 15th, 2011

080610_twittericonAre you following us on Twitter? Come on, get Saucy @saucemagazine

beerwinewhisky
I need coffee. I had jelly beans instead. This conference call may not go well. #Crashing #Zzzzzzzz

MoEats
@amveats @FoodSnobSTL the only part of turkey I like is the skin and the gravy.

stlouisbeer
Weak sauce. I’m a hipster? — Drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon — http://untp.it/epyafD

kzieff
The blue hairs are storming the candy stand like their husbands did the beachs of Normandy back in 44!!

familystylefood
I love my endorphins. All natural, organic, locally harvested morphine

emileemurphree
I want to go to there. RT @salumebeddu lasagne today: stuffed w/ a spicy salsiccia ragu, fresh ricotta and passato tomato sauce. Ma buono!

cookingkid
I got home from work to find 4 cs. Barq’s red creme soda, rice dressing, & the gambit restaurant edition. I love when mom visits.

13blog
So, my exwife and her boyfriend are talking to me on IM about what foods I cook….(my life is weird.)

Think you should be on this list? Follow us and let us know @saucemagazine

UPDATE: The Scoop: Chef changes at The Crossing, Terrace View

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

041411_crossingThere has been a change at the back of the house at chef-owner Jim Fiala’s The Crossing. Ian Vest, who had been running day-to-day operations in the kitchen, has left the Clayton restaurant to pursue a culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Assuming the position is Matthew Abeshouse, who served as executive chef at Franco until this past January.

Saucy readers may recall that Vest was spotlighted among Ones to Watch in the October 2010 issue of Sauce. More recently, Vest bested his boss this past February when he emerged the winner of Chef Wars, a culinary “Iron Chef-esque” competition that pitted the chefs at each of Fiala’s four St. Louis restaurants against one other, with the victor taking on Fiala himself.

Abeshouse will be preparing the meal for the Peay Vineyards wine dinner that’s set to be held May 10 at The Crossing.

UPDATE: It looks like The Crossing isn’t the only one of Fiala’s restaurants that is welcoming a new face into the kitchen. Fiala told The Scoop today that Jonathon Olson will now be helming the kitchen at another of his restaurants, The Terrace View. Olson served as executive chef at Erato Wine Bar and Restaurant on Main Street in Edwardsville until last summer. Like Vest, he was named one of our Ones To Watch back in 2009.

Meet Hector Santiago, “The Chile Whisperer,” and a cheftestant at this year’s Top Chef: The Tour

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

11_hectorLast time we checked, Ina Garten wasn’t being hauled around the country in a trailer to emerge periodically and whip up brunch for her fans, but for four years now, Bravo’s Top Chef has pretty much done just that with its stars. The TV show, which just wrapped up its eighth season, sends a custom kitchen-trailer on a 20-city tour each spring, and former “cheftestants” compete anew, sharing delicacies with local-celeb judges, including Sauce editor Katie O’Connor, and audience members alike.

Top Chef: The Tour, sponsored by Charter and L’École Culinaire, begins right here in St. Louis at Soulard Market, this Friday, April 15, with live interactive shows at 10:30 a.m., noon and 1:30 p.m. The 2011 tour features Nikki Cascone, who made it through nine episodes of season four, and Hector Santiago, who lasted four episodes in season six. Santiago, a Latin-cuisine specialist who hails from Puerto Rico and owns Atlanta’s Pura Vida Tapas & Bar, is once again ready to rumble – and to dish the dirt from behind the scenes at Top Chef.

Are you excited about competing in Top Chef: The Tour?
Yes, this will be kind of different from the competition on TV. Instead, it will just be me and Nikki. I’m curious to see who will win.

Will there be mystery ingredients for the challenges?

Yes, but we also get to bring one mystery ingredient ourselves. We have to figure things out on the fly, and we have 15 minutes to cook. Fifteen minutes is not a lot of time to make ribs, for instance, so I will have to go to Pappy’s for my ribs later. (Laughs)

How much pressure did you feel on Top Chef?

Quite a bit, having a camera almost on top of you changes things. We were always in a hurry, but we had to take a little time to make stuff look good, too. Once you’re in the groove, you tend to forget the camera, but you never forget the clock – you have nightmares about it.

And with each new episode, more pressure …
Yes, and it can be difficult to read the judges: Will they like this? Will they like that? A lot of people still wonder if it’s for real. And it is. The clock is real. One thing that’s fun about the tour is that we are just saying, “Let’s go for it, let’s have fun and have fun with the guests.”

What about the temptations of filming in Las Vegas, where season six was taped?
They put us in a great house overlooking Las Vegas. We were sitting there every night looking out the window, thinking, “It looks great, but it’s so far away.” I had not been to Vegas before. I got to have fun there, and go to some great kitchens there. It’s not like in New York; there are no space restrictions. It’s our biggest dream as chefs to have huge kitchens like the ones we got to see.

What might you have done differently on Top Chef?
I feel where I missed my mark was in cooking my food, and forgetting what was going on around me. Sometimes I would have someone amazing next to me, and dominating, like Kevin Gillespie [of Woodfire Grill in Atlanta]. I should have looked around me more to make sure I was making something as amazing as he was.

How has Top Chef advanced your career?
People come by my restaurant because they saw me on the show. People don’t care if you lost or how you lost, just that you were there on the show. When I left the show, I thought I was screwed, I wanted to grow a beard and hide so nobody would harass me. (Laughs) Two weeks after I lost, I was in New York at a conference, and my last episode was airing. Everybody there was so supportive of me.

There’s always drama on Top Chef – who bothered you on the show?

There’s a lot of drama, and it was a concern going in, to avoid it as much as possible. That not how I am. What you see is what you get with me. Me and Mike Isabella had a little disagreement behind the cameras, but it didn’t escalate, we came to an agreement. To be in this business, most of the time you are a little crazy, and you put all those people together, it’s like putting a lot of peppers in a pot and not expecting it to be hot. (Laughs) And it was fun – if everyone had the same personality, it would be boring. Chopped is so boring. You need a little bit of action. But at the end of the day, we wind up cooking together, we have common ground.

How do you incorporate the cuisine of your native Puerto Rico into your food?
For me it’s not just Puerto Rican food, but Latin American food. I try to use a lot of ingredients from a bunch of Latin countries. At the end of the day, my major base of cooking is sofrito – the mix of sautéed onions, pepper and garlic, and the versions of that all over Latin America, and the world, really. It’s just like the mirepoix [sautéed onions, carrots, and celery] at the center of French cooking. I like to keep it very non-denominational. We have so much common ground. That’s what I hope to do back in Puerto Rico someday, to introduce some other concepts there, too.

What’s an ingredient you’re enjoying using now?
Peppers, still. Peppers are the big thing at my restaurant, and it’s not just about heat. It’s about controlling the heat with different techniques, and delivering great flavor without burning the hell out of you. I do have some sauces that will practically burn your ears when you eat them, but it’s about control and balance. I want people to say, “That was so delicious that I want to eat another one.”

They call you “The Chile Whisperer.”
They used to, yeah. We’re using ghost peppers in the summer now. We have a local producer who grows them. They’re dangerously fun. We are making a ketchup with them. We dehydrate the pepper in sugar and vinegar, and we do a burger called the Fire Burger. When you eat it, your ears sweat and tingle. People love it. We eat them here at the staff meal every Friday.

How do you like that Top Chef: The Tour kitchen truck?

We use it all over, and it’s well equipped. I want to take it with me and run a business out of it. I had a burrito stand, and people loved it, but it got shut down, so maybe I need to get a truck now.

People actually get to taste your food at the tour stops. That’s what we want to do when we watch the TV show.

Whatever we make up there, you get to try it. They haven’t made a TV that can do that yet. [Laughs]

Stocking Up: Starting the season off at Maplewood Farmers’ Market

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

041311_lettuceIn St. Louis, you just have to accept that while the calendar says spring, it can feel like the dead of winter when you step outside. Of course, the next day it may feel like the dog days of summer. This bifurcated existence can be easily felt around area farmers’ market as some vendors show spring offerings right alongside those more commonly associated with winter.

There’s no better example than at the Maplewood Farmers’ Market where several vendors are offering “spring mix,” a blend of tender young greens perfect for a light salad. Last week we spied mixes including romaine, green-leaf lettuce and arugula. Some farmers offer pre-bagged mixes while others offer these greens by the pound. Buy enough for the coming week and store the lettuces loosely wrapped in your refrigerator (add a damp paper towel to increase the shelf life) for a quick side salad.

Although it’s only the second week of the market season, this may be the last week for some of the cold-weather greens like spinach. Grown in a greenhouse, these large leaves may be a little tough for the average spinach salad, and since we had already filled up on spring mix last week, into the cooking pot went these leafy greens. A quick sauté, finished by a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of lemon juice resulted in a tasty side dish for grilled salmon – the perfect late winter/early spring combination.

Three reasons to dine out and give back

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

041211_DineOutSt. Louis is one of the nation’s most generous cities, ranked 8th nationally, based on per-capita giving among large cities in 2009. We in the Gateway City know that charitable giving is important; it’s just a matter of deciding who should get our charitable dollars. Here are three ways to make your dining dollars support some worthy causes right now.

1. Give Back Mondays at Ruth’s Chris Beginning yesterday and running through the end of the year, when you head to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse downtown or in Clayton on Mondays and order the Give Back menu item of the month, 10 percent of sales will be donated to Backstoppers, a group which supports families of public safety workers in the greater St. Louis area who have died while on duty.

2. The Ripening of the Mad Tomato Chef-owner Vito Racanelli Jr.’s new restaurant at 8000 Carondelet Ave., in Clayton is set to officially open May 6. However, you can get a preview of Racanelli’s Southern Italian cuisine by attending the opening fundraiser party on Thursday, April 28. Half of the proceeds from your $30 ticket will support St. Louis area food bank Operation Food Search. Make your reservation by calling 314.802.8883 x 399.

3. Dine in the Dark to help fight blindness. Guests who attend Dining in the Dark at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac hotel on May 11 will don light-blocking blindfolds while dining and use their sense of smell, taste, sound and touch to gain heightened awareness of blindness. Proceeds from the event will support the sight-saving research efforts of national nonprofit Foundation Fighting Blindness. To purchase tickets, visit fightblindness.org or call 847.680.0100.

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