Gastronomic Fight Club SM

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: A Chef's review of 'Fat'

posted by Paul Urban
This is a book review of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes from a chef's perspective. Our featured chef for this review is Paul Urban.

Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes

Let's start this off with a big thank you to Jennifer McLagan. Thank you one hundred times over. Chef's, cooks, home cooks, foodies and people that just like to cook have been plagued at our local bookstores as of late with too many "20 Minute Meals," "Low Carb Cooking," and "Kid Meets Grill" type cookbooks. Not that these books should not exist, it's just that they should be banished to the basement of the bookstores and categorized as "books written by accidental celebrities." There should be a disclaimer that purchasing any of these books does not guarantee that any valid information lies within the book. So thanks again. Finally, a book on an ingredient that has been a staple in every form of cooking since the beginning of time, yet an ingredient that has been misunderstood, under appreciated and banished as though it were a tobacco company as of late.

From the beautiful front cover, to the ten or so page introduction, this book was pretty captivating. She covers it all in the intro. Why fat is good for you. Why it has been misunderstood. Why it's okay to like fat, even a few paragraphs on why she wrote a book on fat! The information that follows is no less intriguing. Riding a nice wave of interesting information such as the roots of foie gras, to a recipe that basically tells you to fry pork skin and eat it, I found it to be wonderfully balanced. The recipes are quite simple, using ingredients that are readily available and nothing too intimidating for the novice cook. Butter poaching, confit, rillettes and basic charcuterie recipes are found throughout which made me smile. Charcuterie is a lost art and it's sad because it is a part of all of us. Our ancestors practiced charcuterie. It was used as a way of storing meats with no refrigeration, using all parts of the animal so not to waste the sacrifice, a matter of survival in a sense, yet delicious, and simple.

My partner and I both read the book. (although she read it in one evening and it took me three weeks, but that's a whole other review on which one of us is more responsible, we won't go into that.) We tried a few recipes. We made butter, it seemed necessary based on the book we were reading. It was simple, it was fun and accurate. We made it, we froze it and we ate it over the next couple of weeks. We made rillettes per Mrs. McLagans' recipe. We made ours with quail that we had at home. It's basically meat cooked in fat, then stored in fat so needless to say, it was delicious. This was a pleasant recipe, I was happy to see it in there. Rillettes can seem daunting and intimidating yet they are so simple. The author came about it in a very non-pretentious way, explaining every step and why every step was taken. We did not try the roast chicken recipe but we have both made this in the past in the same manner. It's simple, it involves large amounts of butter and herbs, and it's probably delicious. We have lately switched to the Thomas Keller method. (the Bouchon cookbook) His method is much more simple and involves large amounts of butter, the only difference being that the butter is added only after the bird is cooked. He says to use butter for cooking if you'd like, he doesn't only because when the butter melts, it creates steam, causing the skin of the bird to be less crisp. The point is, they both impart fat, both recipes are simple and wonderful.

All in all, this book was great. Two thumbs up. Tons of interesting facts, myths busted and finally someone sticking up for an ingredient that has been misunderstood for far too long. Several quotes along the sides of the pages throughout the book can get a tad annoying but it's a great read overall with simple, detailed recipes. Thank you Jennifer, you scored one for the good guys. The next time I clean up a ribeye, save the chain to be grilled and shared with my fellow cooks, I'm going to feel a little less guilty........Who am I kidding, I never really felt guilty, kudos none the less!

Title: Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes
A Ten Speed Press Book
By Jennifer Mclagan
Photographs by Leigh Beisch
List Price: $32.50 (Published in September 2008) - Order

Three separate reviews of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes
Alinea, Under Pressure and other cookbooks

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Darwin Bistro - Omaha, NE (CLOSED)

posted by snekse
As of October 21st, 2007, Darwin Bistro has closed it's doors.


This post is either late or really late, depending on how you look at it.

So here's my holiday gift to you all: I'm going to let you in on my new favorite restaurant in Omaha. I might dare say it's also the best, but I think I'm too biased at this point to make that call.

So it's been just over two months since I first ate at Darwin and they've been open a mere 90 days or so (thus the really late gift), but they have hit Omaha with a bang. A quiet bang maybe, but a bang none the less. It's the kind of place that you find yourself making excuses to drag people to or maybe even eat there alone because you're "in the area". By the way, no one's complained that I dragged them there.

Duck. Tartare. Saffron. Carpaccio. Those are not words you see on too many menus in Omaha. Amuse Bouche. Truffles(the tuber, not the confectionery). Foie Gras. Foam/Powder/Paint. Those are words you hear even less. Darwin has used them all, thus the origin of my bias. Yes, let it be known - you can put a down payment on buying my love and affection by using ingredients, techniques and presentations usually reserved for fine dining establishments. And if you can actually make everything taste good, consider the deal closed.

So it goes without saying that the food here is good. It would never be called my favorite restaurant if it wasn't. I will not boast that this will become your favorite restaurant. I will, however, defy you to tell me their food sucks or is even mediocre for that matter. For my personal tastes, I think they have the best food in Omaha. When you serve dishes like Duck Confit Empanadas, Bacon-sherry Braised Cabbage, and Lobster Truffle Mac-n-Cheese, it's hard not to think that. Executive Chef, Paul Urban, is pretty much fresh out of culinary school, though you'd never know by the food he presents.

Despite all of that, it is not great food that earns Darwin the "favorite restaurant" title. What puts it over the top is the sense of place. I love that you can get great upscale food in a cozy upscale casual atmosphere. White table cloths and linen napkins - but jeans are acceptable. Let me preface that by saying if you show up in ripped jeans, a T-Shirt and sneakers, you might feel a little under dressed, but a tie, or even khakis are not required (nor discouraged). I think the staff helps tremendously in creating this atmosphere. They are professional, but always genuinely friendly - and they treat their regulars well.

What may actually be the reason this place will thrive is the pricing. It's not cheap, but it's by no means expensive. The average dinner entree is about $18. Lunch is even more reasonable with the average entree being about $9. If you frequently take clients out to lunch, this is a perfect spot at the moment. It may not be in the future as more people find out about our little secret and pack their 40-some seats from 11:00 to 1:00.

Which brings me to the faults I've found so far. Continuing with the thought of bringing clients in for lunch, make sure you make a reservation. Darwin is a very small place and parking is tight during the lunch rush. Also, keep in mind that the kitchen currently consists of Paul and his sous chef. I think they're still finding their groove and can get a little overwhelmed at times, so relax, take your time and don't expect to be in and out in 45 minutes during prime feeding times. This may have been a factor in the next item - seafood. Sadly, I must report that we don't have conclusive proof that the kitchen can properly prepare seafood. We ordered 3 seafood dishes on the same night and all of them were overcooked to varying degrees - though it could have been a service issue as well. Again, they've only been open for a little over 3 months.

For the oenophiles out there, consider bringing something from your own cellar. Their wine list is a bit anemic and doesn't do the food justice. Oh, and they need to replace their furniture. It's basically patio furniture. The chairs leave you with waffle butt and the table legs insist on occupying the space closest to your heels, thereby becoming a tripping hazard as you leave the table and preventing you from scooting the back of you chair any closer than 18 inches from the table. [ UPDATE: New chairs are in and I'm told they are much more pleasing to sit on and move around. ]

Those are my thoughts on Darwin. Admittedly, I'm biased because they make the food I want in an atmosphere I enjoy. So I encourage you to try it for yourself and let me know what you think. Is it the best? Or at least a new favorite? In the mean time, here are the pictures I've taken since they've been open.

Darwin Bistro & Catering Photo Collection
Lots of pictures of Darwin Bistro

Rating: 92

Darwin Bistro & Catering - Make a Reservation
Miracle Hills Plaza at 114th & Dodge

650 N. 114th Street
Omaha, NE 68154
Phone: 402-933-6600

Hours of Operation
Monday - Saturday: 11:00-2:00; 5:00-close*
Sunday: 10:00-2:00 (brunch); 5:00-9:00
* They close when it gets slow, so call first

Brunch Starters | Brunch Entrees
Lunch Menu | Dinner Menu | Tasting Menu

Foodies of Omaha @ Darwin Bistro
INTERVIEW: Paul Urban, Executive Chef - Darwin Bistro (Omaha, NE)

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