Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rural Society - Jose Garces and Louis Goral's Contribution to DC is a Love Letter to Men and Women Of The Grill

Rural Society
1177 15th St. N.W.
Washington, DC

Alex was camping with the Boy Scouts on a Saturday Night. If things were going well, he was probably eating hot dogs cooked over an open fire with his friends. Cheryl and I were also eating a meal cooked over open flames, also surrounded by friends, though we just met them. I'm willing to bet that our meal was a little better.
Rural Society is in the Loews Madison Hotel on the corner of 15th and M Streets N.W in Washington. It is the first restaurant from Jose Garces in the district. He's a JBF Award Winner and has restaurants scattered around the country, with most of them being in Philadelphia.
What brought me to his restaurant though, was the Grillworks Grill. I'd read about it and have run into the man behind the magic, Ben Eisendrath, a few times over the years, but never got to see one of his pieces of work. It's something to behold. More on that below.
We had reservations, but when I saw no one was sitting at the long bar that is in front of the grill I asked to be seated there. The hostess was more than happy to oblige. To the left is Louis Goral, Chef de cuisine.
As I was seated next to the pass, I got to see many dishes that I didn't actually get to taste, which is kind of a shame.
We both got the chef's tasting menu which was well worth the money. Sometimes it isn't at other places. We started out with Morrones, which is a roasted red peppers with grilled, whipped eggplant and anchovies. Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of whole anchovies, but I at one like a good boy. I skipped the rest of them. The other components of the dish were a harbinger of the good things to come.
The salad was arugula with some fennel, nuts, and a fig puree. I guess we were in for a meat-tastic meal and he figured we needed some greens.
The condiments brought out with the bread basket were well-composed. The breads were excellent as well. There were cheese puffs that were perfect!
The shaved, pickled veal tongue was next, served with pomegranate and grape mustard.
Here's where we started really getting into it. Empanadas with Swiss Chard, cheese and roasted onions.

As the dishes were coming, we were treated to a show from our seats. This is THE GRILL. Three individual units, all with two grills apiece. The upright bars you see there holds new logs. When they throw the logs in over the top of those you get a mini-fireworks show. Very neat! As they burn down to red-hot embers, they are pulled under the cooking surface. The grates are adjusted for height by the wheels you see in the picture. The grill surfaces are made of heavy steel Vs and the juices from the meat runs into pans and is used for basting. Wicked smart!
This looks like your normal, every day ravioli right? Wrong. My wife said, "Oooh. Cheese ravioli." I took a bite and said, "OOooh. Bacon ravioli!" It was both.
This was the chef's nod to Washington. A house-crafted 1/2 smoke. For those of you who don't live here, that would be a 50/50 blend of pork and beef sausage.
We moved on to the Fugazza. I was thinking Fugazi, but this is more along the lines of focaccia. Excellent-quality crust with savory onions, mozzarella and oregano. Olive oil keeps the bread moist.
Sparks flying!
Here is some random skirt steaks that I though looked very nice. Speaking of looking very nice, I liked the way these guys worked. It was a pleasure to sit on the pass and watch some dedicated chefs really care about what they were sending out. Not just the taste, but the look as well. More than once Chef Louis refused to send out dishes that were handed to him because they weren't perfect. That is a rarity when you've got a full house and the rail is full of tickets. Respect.
I saw him plating this up and took a few pix because it looked so nice. Chef backed up to give me some room and I said, "No, do what you're doing. I don't want to get in the way." He said, "It's your dish. Snap away."
Rare organic ribeye and lamb chops. These were, bar-none, the best lamb chops I've ever had. They're sourced from Pioneer Ranch in Colorado. I usually feel better about eating local, but if the lamb in Colorado is this good it would be OK by me to fly them into DC first class.
The key to some of the dishes was the rustic ingredients fused with modern flavor profiles and preparation methods, like in the Zanahorias above. Wood roasted carrots braised in cider and vinegar with toasted fennel seeds, then finished on the grill. I attempted these at home the next night. I got pretty close....but only pretty.
Just to prove that not everything here is meat: mashed potatoes with mozzarella curd and garlic. Excellent.
Here's a nice shot of the steak.
This dish was inventive as well. the Pamplona. Pork tenderloin stuffed with wood-roasted vegetables. This was nice, but it showed up late in the game so we took it home.

Still cookin'!
I usually only Tweet once when I go to a restaurant, but I got excited when I tasted this. The management tweeted back asking what my favorite dish was and I told them they'd have to wait to read my post. This was it. The Flan. A standard dish that is served in so many places, yet taken to a level of flavor that I've never tasted before. The texture was perfection, but the taste was a knife-edge balance between caramel and burnt. It can happen in the blink of an eye as anyone who's ever cooked it before can attest.  You don't get anymore on-the-edge than this was. Perfect umami. Bravo!
We sat for a little while and watched some more of the kitchen ballet while we had coffee. It was a good night.
The service throughout the night was exemplary. We chatted with the manager a few times and the chefs were happy to share their knowledge and passion for what they were doing.
Being able to do that in the middle of a Saturday rush means you got it handled.
Well done.
If you'd like to learn more about Grillworks and how you can get one of these puppies installed in your kitchen or at your house, check out the website here: http://www.grillery.com
Tell them you read about it on Pleasures of the Table.

Rural Society on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Home Cookin' - Possibly the World's Best Chili

I know, everyone thinks they have the world's best chili recipe.
I stole this one from someone else, so I don't have a dog in the fight personally, but I can tell you it is certainly the best chili I've ever tasted.
I found the recipe here: FoodLab Best Chili Recipe
His description of how he came up with the recipe and the methods he used to achieve the most awesome chili ever had me sold.
The photos that follow here are from my second attempt at this. Don't be alarmed by the cost or quantity please. I made a 3X batch because it is a bear to make. If you're going to cook for six hours and destroy your kitchen you might as well make it worth-while, right?
Ok, so here is the ingredient list below. I've inserted in parentheses and underlined anything I substituted or did differently and the reason why. Enjoy.


  • 1 pound dried dark red kidney beans
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 quarts water (I used canned dark red kidney beans)
  • 3 whole Ancho, Pasilla, or Mulato chilies, seeded, and torn into rough 1-inch pieces (about 1/2 ounce) (I used dried Ancho because they had them at Balducci's)
  • 2 whole New Mexico red, California, CosteƱo, or Choricero chilies, seeded, and torn into rough 1-inch pieces (about 1/8 ounce) (I used dried California because they had them at Balducci's)
  • 1 whole Cascabel, Arbol, or Pequin chili, seeded, and torn in half (I used dried Pequin because they had them at Balducci's)
  • 5 pounds bone-in beef short rib, trimmed of silver skin and excess fat (I used what is known as Chuck Flap or Boneless Short Rib because I didn't want to mess with the bones. I used bone-in short rib last time, it was great, but a pain in the butt. I also added 1 package of Veal Demi Glace De Veau Gold to make up for the flavor I was missing from the marrow.)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth (preferably home made), divided
  • 2 whole anchovy fillets (Omitted, substituted fish sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon marmite
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds, toasted, then ground
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, toasted, then ground
  • 2 whole cloves, toasted and ground
  • 1 star anise, toasted and ground
  • 1 tablespoon extra-finely ground coffee beans
  • 1 ounce chopped unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced fine (about 1.5 cups)
  • 3 fresh Thai bird chiles or 1 jalapeno, finely chopped (I used Jalapeno)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup vodka or bourbon (Bourbon, 'cause Bourbon)
  • 1 tablespoon Buffalo-style hot sauce, such as Franks RedHot (or more to taste) (I used Frank's)
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (I used light brown sugar and added molasses)
  • So let's get started, shall we?

Beautiful meat from The Teet...OKA Harris Teeter. It was more expensive than the pitiful short ribs at Giant, but $1.00/less per lb. than the good looking short ribs they had at Balducci's. Once again, this was a 3X batch that I made, so you can either go 1-2lbs of this or 5lb of bone-in short rib per the recipe.
This is what you get...two of these in the package.
You'll want to trim away as much of the fat and silver skin as you can. Cut the meat into 1" thick chunks. You're going to brown these and you want them to take a nice sear. It's part of the incredible umami construction that makes this recipe what it is.
Salt and pepper liberally, then sear either in a Dutch oven or heavy skillet.
Put the meat in a pan when you're done. You want to let it cool a bit so you can work with it. Don't discard any juices, we're going to use them.
I followed the advice in the recipe and nuked the dried peppers for 30 seconds. They came out pliable and easy to work with. After you tear them up you're going to throw them in the pan you cooked the beef in with the chicken stock and let it simmer until the peppers are nice and soft.

If the smell of the meat didn't do it for you, this step and the next one will. It starts to smell really good here.
You're going to toast all of your spices including the cumin, coriander, cloves, and star anise. Keep an eye on them, they'll burn easy.

Mmm. Spicy!
Gather all the spices and put them in a coffee or spice grinder. 

This is going to go in the blender with the peppers that have been simmering.

Turn off the pan and let it sit for a few minutes. You can start cutting your meat up while this is cooling.
Once it's cooled a bit, put the peppers, spice mix, soy sauce, Marmite, and fish sauce in a blender and puree the hell out of it.  Give this a taste. It's unreal. By the way, do yourself a favor and put a kitchen towel over the top of the blender. Better safe than sorry and repainting your kitchen. 
Cut the cooled meat into chili-sized pieces and place in a bowl.

At this point you're going to add some oil to the final vessel and cook the onions until soft, then add the garlic, oregano, and fresh Jalapeno. Cook that for an additional five minutes.
Pour in the chili paste. I put the remainder of my chicken stock in the blender and pulsed it a couple of times to make sure I got as much of the paste out of it as possible for use in the next step. Cook the chili paste and onions/garlic until it starts to fry. Do that for about 5 minutes, then put the remainder of the stock in the pot, making sure you scrape up any goodness from the bottom of the pot. Add the beef, any reserved juices, and the bay leaves. Bring it to a simmer, then turn it down as low as possible and cover loosely. Let that go for an hour, stirring occasionally.
After that's been on for an hour, you're going to add your beans, crushed tomatoes, and cider vinegar. Let that go for another 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
When you're ready to serve, stir in the sugar and bourbon, then plate it.
Serve with your favorite chili toppings.
This chili is dark brown and so flavorful that you need to go through the experience from smell, to first taste, to roasty-finish and savor it.
Hope you all enjoy your chili. I sure did! Hit me up with questions/comments/rude remarks.

The Shack - Big Town Awesome in Staunton

The Shack
105 South Coalter Street
Staunton, Virginia 24401
I've been meaning to get to The Shack since I first heard about it. 
We go to Snowshoe Mountain twice a year and Staunton is kind of on the way for us.  So onto the food. I apologize in advance for the picture quality here, but it was very dark in the restaurant. What you see above is the chicken liver mousse. Think Michel Richard's Faux Gras.  Very nice. Alex and I both loved it.
The bucatini above was sausage with rabbit gravy if I remember correctly. The menu changes frequently here so if you don't take one with you the night you eat there you're out of luck for later research. Hand-made pasta doesn't get any better.
Big fries served hot and crisp? Yes please.
This was Cheryl's Fried Quail and Biscuits. The quail was perfectly done and the biscuits were just like grandma's. Awesome.
I got the pork belly with veggies and parsnip puree.  The flavor of the pork belly was on point, but the texture wasn't what I'd come to expect in a dish like this. The Source and NoPa don't lose any ground here.
This flourless chocolate cake was perfection. Every one of us took a taste, closed our eyes and went, "Mmmmm." 
Panna cota with crispy topping. Interesting combinations here. The chocolate was my favorite, but Cheryl really liked this one.

So is this place worth the trip? Yes. It's easy to very small and easy to miss, but don't let that stop you from trying. Ian Boden is doing some things down here that are special. Staunton is very lucky that he landed there. 
A note on the service: I was reminded of Rose's Luxury and Komi. Professional, knowledgeable, but also very casual and friendly Bravo there.
It's only open Wednesday through Sunday, and they take a limited number of reservations on Friday and Saturday, which is when Ian does the tasting menu. I'd hit it then if I were doing this again.