Friday, October 9, 2009

Bone Marrow--"Light of my life, fire of my loins."

For fall break Kent and I went to Cleveland solely to eat. First and foremost, we wanted to eat at Micheal Symon's Lolita. Our expectations were high, and after rereading Micheal Ruhlman's write up of Symon in "The Soul of a Chef," I was ready to visit a place I'd only read about in a book before.*

I believe that a truly incredible restaurant experience should expose you to something new and inspiring. You might also say it should be innovative. Of course Revolver delivered that with the pawpaw creme brulee. And when I went to Lolita tonight, there was also a revelation, in the form of Bone Marrow.

The first thing to remember when going to a restaurant, is that you must know how to order correctly. For me, ordering correctly involves being slightly daring, but also knowing what fits my mood. Luckily, I ordered well. I was torn between two appetizers: the fried chicken livers with oyster mushrooms and polenta, or the bone marrow with grilled baguette.

Usually in these situations, it is wise to defer to the server. As a former server, I know that I was always honest with guests, and that I developed a good palate because of the exposure to new dishes I had at the restaurants I worked at. My server, who was impeccable by the way, was ecstatic about the bone marrow when I asked. Sure, I've had sauces infused with bone marrow. It's a classic French technique, one that Julia Child herself was proud of. But to have it served straight, when it's known mostly for it's gelatinous qualities, intrigued me.

In this particular presentation my server explained to me, the bone marrow was served in the bone, split. The marrow is to be eaten "like tapanade" but without the olives. So, I ordered it.

Another part of ordering well, is rationalizing against the dishes you don't order. I began stacking up the cons list for the chicken livers. First, one of the only decent dishes Easy Street restaurant back home in Bowling Green makes is fried chicken livers. I order it all the time, so I supposed I could forgo livers this time. Plus, I need to make chicken livers for Amanda soon to make up for the chicken feet disappointment.

The bone marrow was delightful. Marrow is incredibly rich and really fatty. It's also sort of sludgy and gray. Like I told Kent, the secret of a good chef is finding a way to make pure unadulterated fat palatable. Think pork belly, think duck confit, absorbing impossible amounts of fat as it poaches. Or now, think of bone marrow.

It arrived at the table as promised, an eight inch long bone, split in half. The marrow was sprinkled lightly with a salsa verde: a mixture of poblano chilis, green onions, cilantro, and tomatillos. The result was a dish that was carnal, and as barbaric as digging marrow from the bone can be, but also refined, by digging it out with a demitasse spoon. The salsa verde, with its bright acids balanced and rounded the richness of the marrow, and the baguette, scored with black grill marks, and which was slavered with olive oil and rubbed down with garlic, lent a spicy smokiness to the dish as well. As a garnish, slices of sweet pickled onion further played with the slight spiciness of the salsa verde. It was bone sucking good.

* "The Soul of a Chef" is the best place to read about old school Symon. This was back before Lola, Symon's first restaurant, moved downtown, and Lolita took its place. So, technically they're not the same restauarant, but Lolita today is closer to the Lola that Rhulman writes about.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pawpaw Adventure Part Two: Hoopla

A little information is a dangerous thing, as any dilettante can tell you. Being a neophyte pawpaw enthusiast, my first stop for information was, of course, Wikipedia's entry for pawpaws.

After reading about pawpaws, I was even more smitten than before. I suppose it's like having a great date, and then looking for your date's profile on Facebook. When you see your date's Facebook profile it only makes you fall a little bit harder for them. So it was with the pawpaws.

First, I admired their tenacity. Pawpaw is the only member of the family Annonaceae that can hack it outside of the tropics. They think nothing of harsh Ohio winters.

However, they are a little finicky. Pawpaws cannot self-pollinate, and their blooms are vapid and weakly perfumed. So they have trouble attracting pollinators. Pawpaws' main pollinator is the fruit fly. This made me feel a bit better about super race of fruit flies I have been inadvertently breeding in my kitchen--fruit flies that are impervious to traps of any kind. I should have bottled my fruit flies and taken them to the pawpaw grove when the trees were blooming. I also found out that some pawpaw growers place road kill under blooming pawpaw trees to attract pollinating insects or hang chicken necks from the branches, which rot and attract flies, to insure good cross pollination.

Even after imagining rotten meat swinging from the boughs of pawpaw trees, I was mostly in shock that I had never heard about pawpaws before. My first theory was that pawpaws simply aren't suited to industrialized agriculture like apples and oranges. According to Wikipedia, "the shelf life of the ripe fruit is almost non-existent, for it soon ripens to the point of fermentation." Slow food international seems to confirm this when they inducted the pawpaw to the US Ark of Taste in 2004.
As the US Slow Food website explains, "To qualify for the US Ark of Taste, food products must be:

"Outstanding in terms of taste
—as defined in the context of local traditions and uses" (Check: pawpaws have a hauntingly tropic flavor-somewhere between a mango, pineapple, avocado, and melon.)

"At risk
biologically or as culinary traditions" (Check: Who the hell has even heard of a pawpaw?)

"Sustainably produced "
(Check: Most pawpaws in Ohio are wild, and pawpaws have few to no pests and require NO pesticides to grow well. In fact, a safe, organic pesticide can be made from pawpaw seeds.)

"Culturally or historically linked
to a specific region, locality, ethnicity or traditional production practice" (Check: Pawpaws only grow in specific parts of the US. Including Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio.)

"Produced in limited quantities
, by farms or by small-scale processing companies" (Check: Pawpaws particularly short window of peak ripeness and rather soft, delicate fruit make it impossible to ship it thousands of miles.)

Armed with an amateur's knowledge of pawpaws, I decided to call Dave Reese at
Kaleidoscope Farms.

(Now I have extensive experience locating things outside of the formal economy. A few phone calls, some Internet networking, and miraculously, the universe responds to my wants and whims. For instance, I've found free chicken wire, whole fresh hogs heads, raw goat's milk, chicken feet, and pure-bred Border Collies, to name a few. Because of this, I'm used to calling up complete strangers and meeting them in remote locations. {Sometimes they have shotguns, as in the case of procuring the pig's head.}

Dave was generous and friendly, and I instantly knew I had a good connection for local pawpaws. He offered to get me a copy the Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association cookbook, entitled "The Edible Pawpaw, and I gladly took him up on the offer. We arranged for an evening to meet and go pawpaw picking on his gorgeous property, about 10 miles outside of Findlay.

If you want the whole account, click over to AMR's Everyday Palate.

Stay tuned. For Part Three: Pawpaw Adventure Faux Pas.