Monday, July 14, 2014
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Baltimore's Ultimate Exotic Dining Experience at BYOB
So it is extremely exciting that right here in old Bawlmer we now have Corner BYOB's Gastronaut Society. With the modest $50 membership comes a switchblade carving knife as well as the opportunity to participate in not just one, but three very unusual dinners a year. Kudo's to Chef Bernard and everyone at Corner BYOB at the northeast corner of 36th and Roland for taking the inititative to host these events.
Our title image pictures the head of a Lexington Market (Faidley's) procured raccoon. Other parts of it were principal ingredients in a stew that would be one of three items in our sixth---seventh if you count a prelinary kangaroo carpaccio amusant--- course of the evening. Ultimately, this raccoon head was to far exceed its pictured role as a candle holder.
The first main course of our dinner was a platter bearing fried crickets and fried python snake meat with Harissa aoli. The crickets were from Thailand. We were instructed to pick them up by the legs and ingest their fried up but mushy heads and bodies, then discard the legs, which could tend to become caught in one's teeth. Far more than the crickets, I enjoyed the python a great deal, even though just about all amphibians taste pretty much alike: somewhere between chicken and fish, only somewhat tougher.
The next plate bore sea urchin souffle with bay scallops and squid ink pasta. Most important was that the sea urchin was fresh, a far cry in taste and flavor from the uni served in typical Japanese restaurants. Fresh sea urchin---never mind that it's the creature's male sex organs---has a sublime mild flavor. By expanding our portions into souffle, Chef Bernard rendered them yet milder and impossible not to like. Even so, the fresh sea urchin all by itself would have suited me just fine. Everyone also loved the squid ink pasta with it's ever so light, mild, and not at all fishy flavor. Though bay scallops are hardly exotic, having some good fresh ones on hand, Chef Bernard apparently threw them in.
Third course was balut accompanied by an Asian barbecue sauce. Balut is a popular street food in various Asian countries. That its preparation can differ somewhat from country to country is notable when considering just exactly what balut really is. Wikipedia provides an apt description. The word at at my table was that to have previously read the Wikipedia description could detract from the extent that some might enjoy their balut. Notwithstanding, everyone appeared to partake, some more than others. There was plenty of egg-white, which was brownish in colour. The rest tasted to me pretty much like duck liver.
Next came a plate bearing separate portions of razor clams, fresh water eel, and fresh fava beans. Razor clams are frequently available in the Baltimore area at various Asian markets extending along Route 40 from about a mile inside the Beltway to west of Ellicott City. If you like maninose (soft-shell) clams, you'll like razor clams. They appeared to have been steamed in the shell, with appropriately flavored butter. The fresh water eel was delicious, mild and unlike any other variety of eel I'd previously enjoyed. As for the fresh fava beans, let them speak for themselves: so much work to prepare and so delectable.
Course number five consisted of a squid ink baguette, a spoon full of snail caviar, and a mini pancake on which to spread the caviar. People raved about the squid ink baguette, which was very mild. The caviar mystified me.Having once earned a (very meager) livelihood from producing canned chowders, one made from conch another from whelk, each a variety of sea snail, I'd never encountered snail caviar. Chef Bernard informed us, is made from the eggs of a snail that lives on land. It looked and tasted to me very much like trout caviar, a favorite of mine.
And with our final main course came the raccoon stew, served with a side of trumpet mushrooms, a side of ravioli made with several other kinds of wild mushrooms, and oddly, a carrot. Having previously enjoyed trumpet mushrooms and various mushroom raviolis, my focus zeroed in on the raccoon, which would be yet another first for me. Stewed for long enough to be quite well done, it's flavor was more neutral than I expected, despite a faint and very welcome gamey aftertaste. As for the severed head featured in our title picture? It was now that things---at another table---got pretty wild when a diner split it open, and before injesting the eyeballs, chowed down on the brains, which he described as tasting like yogurt. How sweet it was to be dining in a group where someone else proved more adventurous.
Last came desert for which everyone, curiously, still had room. If a bit anticlimatic, whole hibiscus flowers stuffed with goat cheese, everyone enjoyed it. A little over two hours had passed. We were full and happy. I learned that Corner BYOB would be serving this same dinner for more Gastronaut Society members the following night. The next dinner will be in the fall. Corner BYOB promises to announce its menu and a date by summer's end.
Friday, February 03, 2012
Purchasing Live Yellow Perch and Wild Crappie
So you can imagine my surprise and elation upon finding them in mid-January swimming around live in a tank at Asia Market at 5100 Baltimore National Pike. This is the same place where I was able to score the duck tongues we wrote about at Unique Culinary Adventures last May. Asia Market has another name for its yellow perch, namely Ta Bong, although I should note that my search for such a species on the Internet ended up blank. A language barrier prevented me from obtaining specific information on how Asia Market was able to source such a delicasy, but I suspect it relates to some kind of tie with the Fulton Fish Market in New York. The price, $21.99, was as scary as it reads, especially when considering that prices at Asia Market on many more common items are lower than at more mainstream supermarkets. It's hard for me to imagine Baltimore's Asian community being into such a native local delicasy as yellow perch. Could Ta Bong be a different species? I purchased, cooked, and ate one, and was unable to either observe or taste any differentiation.
During spring, summer, and fall, live crappies are easier to catch in regional waters, but not this time of year. We found some at Baltimore's Northeast Market and covered the experience at Unique Culinary Adventures in March, 2008 . But finding crappies alive and swimming around in a tank at a local market? To the best of my knowledge, all crappies, just like bluegills, are wild, so how did they make it to this tank? Notwithstanding, $8.99 a pound could seem a hefty tag for such a common and locally ubiquitous (though rarely sold in markets) delicasy. But for those like me, who as recreational fishermen, have come to love them, they could be worth the splurge.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Big News From the 2011 National Oyster Cook-off
It was totally unexpected and has never happened during the 32 years of the Lexington Park Rotary Club's and Maryland Department of Natural Resources Seafood Marketing Program's National Oyster Cook-off near Leonardtown, Maryland every third weekend of October at the St. Mary's County Oyster Festival. At this year's 2011 event on October 15, 2010, a single contestant, namely Loic Jaffres , a local, won every award available for him to take. Those awards were as follows:
- Best in the Hors d'oeuvres category
- Best Presentation
- People's Choice for best overall dish
- Grand Prize for best dish our of all three categories.
Spinach Wrapped Oysters Casino, as entered in the Hors d'oeuvres Category and pictured above were what did it. According to the recipe printed in the 32nd Annual National Oyster Cook-off cookbook, one might have expected a more traditional "casino" style presentation served atop an oyster shell. Serving them this way, however, could render a bit ponderous the tastings offered each year to dozens of spectators. Therefore, both spectators and judges, the latter holed up in a different building, received their Spinach Wrapped Oysters Casino in clear plastic cups as shown in our title picture. Just as well, better perhaps for Loic Jaffrey. Who's to say whether the French born Chef Jaffres, of Cafe des Artistes in Leonardtown, would otherwise have clinched "Best Presentation?" Interestingly, I didn't overhear the judges consider the discrepancy. Surely such an oversight did not relate to bias favoring local contestants. The judges, though provided with recipes, had no information regarding who the contestants were or where they were from. In any event, Chef Jaffrey's oyster dish pleased my palate enough that I ultimately intend to prepare it at home. Sometime thereafter, you can expect a close-up photograph accompanied by exclusive coverage here at Unique Culinary Adventures.
SECOND PLACE: Stuffed Oyster Stickers
by Mark Strejk of Milwaukie, Oregon
by Thomas Faglon of Somerset, New Jersey
Oyster Pot Pie with Bacon Crust
by Amy Angelo of Pennsville, New Jersey
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Sublime Duck tongues
Word has reached me that the envelope pushing Sumile, a former hotspot for Franco-Japanese cuisine in Manhattan's West Village closed over a year ago. I visited Sumile in 2004, after reading in New York Magazine that duck tongues garnished one of the selections on its menu. An old notebook describes one of my choices from that night's small plate menu as having been "Miso cured brook trout, with seared crisp skin, almost raw with ginger pickled shallots and crispy duck tongue salad, the tongues fried to a crisp over slaw shredded cabbage mildy marinated with lemon juice or asian vinegar." As I recall, Sumile's duck tongues offered little substance.
The following year, here in the Baltimore area, I encountered a package of duck tongues at what is now H Mart at Rolling Road and Route 40. Unfortunately, at that time, neither an Internet search nor my vast library of cookbooks proved sufficient for finding a recipe for them. Thereafter, I never again observed duck tongues at H Mart, but recently scored some at Asia Supermarket, 5510 Baltimore National Pike, about 1/2 mile inside the Baltimore Beltway.
Also on Route 40, on the other side of the Beltway at 9180 Baltimore National Pike, the restaurant Asian Court offers on its menu a selection featuring duck tongues with chive flowers. I tried them with the intention of posting about the experience here at Unique Culinary Adventures, only to discover that Baltimore's own Minx had beat me to it. The Asian Court dish is pictured at left. It was all right, though the duck tongues were slimy and messy to eat.
However, using a simple and straight-forward preparation shared by Chichi Wang under "Nasty Bits" at the Serious Eats web site, I found duck tongues to be sublime ---addictive even. Anyone who likes chicken feet---I wont comment here on duck feet--- is bound to absolutely love duck tongues. Like chicken feet, the experience is about extracting luscious fat encased betweem thin cartilege and bone. Unlike chicken feet though, duck tongues needn't be messy. Each tongue is consumed with a single stroke where front teeth remove the cartilege and fat from a single bone that can then be put aside leaving nothing to spit out. Best of all, when prepared as Ms. Wang instructs, with a very thin coating of beaten egg white and cornstarch, a crisp exterior encases and traps their luscious substance.
Perfect as this recipe turned out, it's possible that a bit of seasoning or sauce might enhance them even further. Ms. Wang mentions "hints of curry like cumin or turmeric," as well as oyster sauce, Worcestershire sauce, "or anything else savory that's sitting in the cupboard." Coming up with the perfect combination of embellishments could prove to be an intriguing task and conceivably even a means for moving duck tongues closer to the culinary mainstream.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Live Blues, Louisiana Cookery, and Diversity on Harford Road
To the best of my knowledge, Baltimore has never before seen the likes of the new Chef Mac's and All That Blues at 4709 Harford Road in Baltimore's Lauraville neighborhood.
To Maclonza Lee (aka Chef Mac), it's all about the food. He insists that his Louisiana style seafood, meat, and vegetables be fresh as well as freshly prepared. The menu for Tuesday through Thursday, noon til 8 p.m. , offers much the same fare as the menu from the former Chef Mac's Louisiana style carry-out several blocks south at 4311 Harford Road. On weekend nights, this menu gives way to buffet style (Cajun seafood on Fridays, prime rib on Saturdays)as top regional blues bands keep comfortably packed the spacious room previously the Parkside. To attract more business during the week, expect local jazz bands to soon be playing on Wednesday nights.
Recent blues acts have included Clarence "Bluesman" Turner (pictured at left), Charles "Big Daddy" Stallings, and Ursula Ricks. Twenty dollars best paid at the door upon entering to Chef Mac's leading lady and soul mate Leslie. covers the music and all you can eat from 7 p.m. until 11. For beer, wine, or liquor, it's BYOB. Unlimited set-ups are available for all who want or need them.
A bar lines the north wall at the front end with convenient perches for solo patrons. To the right of the bar are tables. Additional tables and, on Friday and Saturday nights, the buffet table graces the far end of the room. The stage where the band plays, with space in front to dance, comprises the center portion.
Particularly intriguing is the sociology of this uptown blues club scene. At just about all of Baltimore's other live music nightspots, the crowd is much younger. At Chef Mac's they're mostly 40 and older. Twenty years ago in Baltimore, the blues drew a younger crowd, mostly white folks. Now they're older, and their African-American peers, who once eschewed blues as music of oppression, have come to realize what they were missing. Bottom line: you wont find a more diverse crowd anywhere else in Baltimore. That's the way the patrons like it, and Lauraville is a perfect neighborhood for this to be happening.
The absence of a liquor license is not yet an issue with either Chef Mac or his rapidly growing clientele. Twenty dollars and BYOB with a full buffet along with this kind of music is a value that speaks for itself. Chef Mac admits that "the thought(of a liquor license) is there," but states: "My main focus is not that." For the time being, he says he'd rather hold onto his wallet and keep things as they are.
Chef Mac has not advertised. In fact, he's done little if anything to generate publicity. "I want people to find out about this place by word of mouth" he explains. "You see these places do all this advertising when they open up. Then they get a slew of customers and the service is bad. They don't know what they're doing yet."
Chef Mac's and All That Blues is a treasure not only for the Lauraville-Hamilton neighborhood, but for Baltimore. It very much needs more patrons during the week. On weekends, however, their number has grown by leaps and bounds. Last weekend, every table was filled. What evolves from all this will surely be interesting. There's nothing else like Chef Mac's and All That Blues in town.
Saturday, November 06, 2010
However, to the best of my knowledge, no one else has yet uncovered this particular Caribbean goat curry dish, for which the recipe and main ingredient hail from Baltimore's Downtown Farmers Market. Arousing my curiosity was something I read several months ago that convinced me the goat meat from Jeanne Dietz-Band's Many Rocks Farm in Washington County was special and different. Particularly encouraging was that Jeanne's goats were free from animal hormones and antibiotics. Their diets, meanwhile, consisted of grass, locally grown barley, and soy.
I also suspect Jeanne's recipe for "Caribbean Goat Curry," had just as much to do with my extremely pleasant experience. It turned out perfectly on first attempt despite a couple of minor questions arising during preparation. Having asked Jeanne about them when returning the following week, here it is. Any deviation from the specifics of the recipe provided by Many Rocks Farm will be shown in Italics.
- 1 pound Many Rocks Farm goat meat in small cubes. ( Jeanne sells meat cut into the proper sized cubes in approximately 1 lb. packages .)
- Finely Grated Lime Rind and Juice (The grated exterior rind and juice of one Persian lime proved sufficient.)
- 2 Cloves Garlic Crushed
- 3 Tablespoons Oil (I used vegetable oil)
- 1 Medium Onion, Finely Chopped
- 2 Teaspoons Curry Powder (no specifics were provided. I used generic, and it worked fine.)
- 1 Teaspoon Cumin
- 1 Tablespoon Tabasco Sauce
- 2 Tablespoons Tomato Puree (Because some of the last really good local fresh tomatoes of the season were available at the farmers market, I removed the seeds and skin from one, ran it through the blender and used 4 tablespoons since the taste was milder than with a canned puree.)
- 2 Ounces Creamed Coconut (Use what has settled at the top of a can of unsweetened coconut milk and save the rest of the coconut milk for another purpose.)
- 1 Teaspoon Salt
- 2 Tablespoons Fresh Coriander (cilantro) Finely Chopped
- Cooked Rice for Serving
Place the meat in a non-metallic bowl. Add the grated rind and lime juice along with the garlic. Stir well, cover, and marinate overnight in the refrigerator. In a large pan, heat the oil and cook the onions until soft. Remove onions. Sear meat on high heat until sealed. Lower heat and stir in the curry powder and cumin and cook for 1 minute. Add the Tabasco sauce, tomato puree, and creamed coconut and cook for 5 minutes. Add the salt and approximately 1 1/4 pints of water, and return the cooked onions---Jeanne's recipe didn't say to return the onions, but she agreed with me that this could be a positive---bring to a boil, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours until meat is tender. Stir in fresh coriander and serve over hot rice.
Note: Do not despair that the consistency of the sauce with this curry is thin enough to be like soup. That simply makes it all the better, especially when served over plenty of rice.)
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Talara: A Concept Baltimore Long Needed
Unique Culinary Adventures needed a push, and it came last week. What can I say when an operation like Nakturnal bestows the honor of shooting me an email out of the blue entitled, "Love 'Unique Culinary Adventures Blog! Can we Partner?" The only requirement was to enjoy a complimentary "tasting" at Talara.
Obviously Nakturnal's Charli Bales had read enough of our posts to have noted that ceviche was a favorite topic. Little did she know, however, that independently of blogging, I'd been hounding people in the restaurant business for over 20 years about the need for a ceviche bar in Baltimore. Finally, late last summer, one arrived when Talara opened its doors at the southeast corner of Fleet and President Streets. It didn't take me long to get to this instant hotspot with its multiple ceviche offerings and wonderful drinks. Of course, Talara is more than that. Nuevo Latino is the larger concept, with emphasis on tapas, especially ceviche.
The layout makes for quite a scene. Within a single neon lit space enclosed by floor to ceiling windows and walls featuring Cuban art are two bars, extensive counter seating, and plenty of both normal tables and high-tops. From the latter, patrons can observe everything from the preparation of ceviche to the crowd inside and out.
As for "bedidas," Mrs. Yi and I consumed between us over the course of the evening a blood-orange margarita, a caipirnha, a cucumber mojito, and a pisco sour. I've tried all these drinks at the relatively few other spots in town that offer them, and never enjoyed them more than at Talara. Also available is a good selection of beers and wines, plenty which are Spanish or Latino. Even better, during Talara's Baltimore Happy Hour, cocktails are priced at $5, a glass of wine is $4, and a beer $3. In addition, comes a happy hour menu of $5,00 tapas, including two of the selections we most enjoyed at our dinner (Shrimp and Tropical Fruit Seviche and Salmon Asian Tartare on Sushi Rice). Best of all is the happy hour time frame: from 4 to 7 Monday through Friday, and---get this---10 p.m. until 1 a.m. on Saturday night.
For both Mrs. Yi and me, the culinary highlight of dinner was a "seviche sampler" (spell it ceviche or seviche; either is correct). It is pictured above and features all seven seviche selections, for which patrons choose from the always fresh selection of seafoods available. The enormous variety of other ingredients comprising the various seviches are described in detail on Talara's menu. Shown clockwise from top left in the above image, we enjoyed the following:
- Traditional seviche (crab)
- Curried tropical fruit seviche (shrimp)
- Asian tartare (aji)
- Tiradito (salmon)
- Avocado and corn seviche (diver scallop)
- Fire and ice (conch)
- Ginger Tataki (yellowtail)
While Unique Culinary Adventures often ignores what isn't new, undiscovered, unusual, overlooked, or forgotten, at least by local standards, Talara understands that here in Baltimore, it's good business to please as many people as possible. Even before our drinks , we were served a trio of chips (plantain, malanga, and tortilla) and salsa (black bean hummus, curried tropical fruits, and "house" (tomato et al). Then came a very basic but impossible not to like mini tostadas platter featuring chicken breast, beans, white cheese, and tomato salsa. The ceviche was next, followed by a "mid plate" (aka small entree). Mine was a wonderful filet mignon a la plancha (that means cooked quickly over very high heat on a salted griddle or iron skillet) with chimichurri sauce and accompanied by a wild mushroom saffron risotto, grilled asparagus, and Tempranillo (that's a Spanish variety of grape) demi glace. At $19 it was the most expensive item on the menu. Mrs. Yi raved about her chorizo wrapped diver scallops with roasted corn and goat cheese polenta, wilted spinach, and tamarind barbecue sauce.
Talara has introduced to Baltimore a concept that in other cities has evolved into a major culinary phenomenon. Just as when sushi first arrived here in 1980 at Shogun on Charles Street, it took a while for other players to jump into the game. That has not happened here yet. For sure, one reason why is because Talara is going to be hard to beat.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Oysters Savannah Pirates House
Next coursewas the conch chowder pictured at left, made with fresh Honduran conch purchased at Wegmans. Being low on bacon, we sustituted goose fat to start off the onions, garlic, conch, green peppers, celery, and carrots with a few pinches of dried thyme and oregano for sesoning. The broth consisted of a mixture of chicken stock (from cooking the chicken for chicken salad), bottled clam juice, and all the juice from the can of diced tomatoes that were added once the raw vegetables were somewhat cooked. The result was stupendous. Of course everyone added a little dry sherry and hot sauce to taste.
After the chowder came plates of Haitian grillots, chicken salad, and Bengalese cabbage as shown on the plate at right. Incidentally, the picture that accompanied our 2007 post with the recipe for grillots has become a hot destination on Flickr with 2,799 views thus far . It's also one of the most popular recipes ever posted at Unique Culinary Adventures. So is the Jake Slagle's chicken salad.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Mrs. Yi's Fried Green Tomatoes
Green tomato season is happening right now.. So it's been ever since the tomatoes in our back yard stopped growing in mid-September and began to redden sparingly. For the dish we're about to share, we plucked four small green tomatoes. They yielded about 15 one-third inch slices.
Here's the recipe:
4 small green tomatoes, or perhaps 2 large, or 3 medium
1 cup flour
1 3/4 teaspoon Lawry's Seasoned Salt
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Indian curry powder
healthy squirt of lemon juice
Slice the tomatoes into 1/3 inch slices. Season 1 cup of flour with 1 1/4 teaspoon of Lawry's Seasoned Salt. Dip tomatoes in flour so they're well coated and put on a plate. Save the remaining flour. Meanwhile pour canola oil into a frying pan until 1/4 inch deep and place over moderate heat. Beat 2 eggs with a teaspoon of water. To the flour that's left, add the 1/2 cup of cornmeal and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of seasoning salt. Dip floured tomato slices in egg and then in cornmeal making certain they're well padded. Then fry them up in the heated oil til light golden brown and sure to be crisp, about 7 minutes, turning and testing as you see fit. Rest on a double folding of paper towels to drain. Mix the the three ingredients for the curry mayonnaise to be served on the side.