Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Eating Out Brandy On A Sunday Morn

Gordon Ramsey is the type of boss that, if I was at a pub and was on my way to take a painfully monster piss and he was on fire, directly in my path to the pisser. I would pinch the end of my wiener and stop to look soulfully into his eyes, so he could see my teeth floating behind my corneas. Then I would doff my hat and walk quietly to the pisser while I listened to his fat sizzle outside the door.

That’s not to say that I hate pro chefs or successful restaurateurs. Just that flavor of knowitall, the "so much better than thou", types. I know why the idea sells in the U.S. It’s the same reason that NASCAR does. We’re all waiting for the eventual assassination of Gordon Ramsey. And all I can be is thankful, that I didn’t graduate culinary school to wind up on that bastard's show to eventually become America's culinary Dick Trickle and metaphorically wreck a wok of boiling sea uchins up his rectum.

Normally it would be hard to identify with Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. But deep in your heart...picture having a deep, dark, unscaleable well, in which you kept Gordon Ramsey. And you would just lower some basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil, then bellow “Put the pesto in the basket bitch! Or else it gets the hose again!” You just got a little orgasmic shudder down your spine, didn’t you?

And that’s one thing that I don’t get at the end of the day. From Mel’s Diner on Alice to today’s modern food reality shows, the resplendent bastard of small mindedness is allowed, nay, expected to rule the kitchen with a cocksucker’s hand. It’s the law that the slower and weaker elements in the kitchen be marginalized and mocked in favor of the self proclaimed “Ferraris of Fire and Grease” jealously hiding simple techniques and skills, to play at back of house politics; letting talent go to waste rather than train them properly.

In it’s own sick way, working in a crappy chain kitchen is like running for local office. Better hope you never dated the head Chef’s daughter but didn’t have the good graces to knock her up. The mid-range, quasi chains are even moreso, in that you need a resume AND a hookup with someone more prestigious than a 3 year dishwasher. And then there are the tippy tops, where you’ve essentially got to be either a legitimate culinary genius at the right cocktail party/cocainestravaganza, or the middle child of a financier who is a 52% shareholders of the restaurant’s LLC and the last head chef got fired for OD’ing at the Christmas party right after he got his profit share.

So what does that leave for the wee, short order cook, with a gleam in his eye and a small down payment? Fuckall. Why? #1, it’s a rare bird that can afford to own their own restaurant space anymore. Why again? Because, it’s easier to rent the space to a succession of failing restaurants, rather than try to make it on your own. So the only way you’re buying a place with seats and a stove is in the least likely to succeed of areas where humans live. Why tertiarily? Because they can wait it out for another desperate sucker with a dream to tank his savings and happily burn his credit to cinders while feeding it into their commercial black hole (with a roof leak).

Those places from the days of yore? The one’s that your parents and their parents loved? Businesses that were started on property those plucky go getter’s were able to buy and finance with their average and modest business?  Gone.  Today, there is next to nothing to own for the less than uber-rich without entering into high risk, shady deals with financiers from “now legitimate enterprises” or have part of the local government in pocket for whatever reason. Permits, permits, permits! What’s right changes by the inspector and whom you’ve “made friends with” versus those you can’t afford to socialize with because you can’t support your overhead and the racket too. Conditional use may well have conditions depending on your yearly donorship, if youse knows whats bein implied.  Per se. 

It’s to the point where you’ve gotta suck a long dick just to have a roving hippymobile lunch truck, because fresh ingredients don’t jibe with the “City Plan”. But at the same time, in high school I was eating off of one of the most non-NSF trucks around and it was approved to feed young Fresno Christian minds at $4.00 per tepid, mayo laden, chicken sandwich, sitting in a 90 degree warmer for 2 lunch hours.  And I never saw the health department show up to ensure our youthful culinary health(s).

Wait…what’s that you say? Because it’s sexy and on Food Network, the city thinks it can generate some REAL income off the backs of penniless grub slinging hopefuls, struggling to make a small business work in a hostile economy? Yeah, that sounds like the Fresno I grew up in. Small industries can’t afford to make Bubba the mayor. But if they’re fashionable and making a buck, we’re gonna make sure we get our’s, motherfucker! Who cares about stifling new commercial potential?

Better to pick a corpse now than wait for it to grow full term and attempt some type of mutually beneficial symbiosis. Suck the bastard dry today, because it might not be there tomorrow. Now there’s a platform a politician can win with! 

Vote bipartisan this year.  It's the right thing to do for Wal-Mart, McDonalds and people richer than you could ever imagine becoming.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Eating Out My Asian Secret

I suppose that the R-N Market on Herndon and Cedar isn’t so much of a real Fresno secret, in that I see their weekly ad all the time. But what their sales in the paper have failed to reveal to me is that the R-N Market is a treasure trove of obscure and interesting Asian ingredients! Don’t get me wrong, I love Central Fish for their Japanese section and the Korea market for their obvious offerings. But R-N market seems to be all over the Pacific Rim with their stock.

Want some fish sauce? They’ve got 4-5 different varieties. Need some sambal oelek? How about 2 freaking gallons?!? Not to mention dozens of different and interesting tinned items, from pickled shallots to tamarind sauces to fearsome fermented fish concoctions. There is a veritable rainbow of new, interesting and downright frightening items available as potential ingredients for kitchen madness.

Their most pleasing section had to be their produce area. It’s a little bit tumbledown in appearance, with some packing boxes doubling as floor displays. But with prices so low and such good looking veg, it’s hard to ding them on presentation. Almost everything was less than a buck a pound, with only red bell peppers edging that out at $1.50 per lb. Which is still insanely better than a buck a pop at the regular supermarkets. Plus they again have an interesting variety available including taro root, daikon radish, varied greens and fresh sprouts. We definitely hit this area so hard that our crisper won’t shit right for a week!

Then we moved on, threading through the aisles and nosing through each section like Indiana Jones, looking to steal cultural artifacts from their native peoples to “preserve” them in a London museum. Ok, maybe not quite that obtusely misguided. Afterall, this is a funtime weekend shopping romp that started out as a quest for green peppercorns so that I can finally make proper Steak Diane, that exploded into a full blown culinary adventure. Certainly more entertaining than going to the movies.

We found a lot of other fun items, green tea mochi, various flavors of shrimp chips (the cheese are actually pretty tasty!), a bunch of different sambals and hot sauces, cookies, wafers and the coolest looking peeler/finger-mangler/lockjaw delivery device I’ve seen in a while. Plus we grabbed some items for curries, udon, rice and some fresh Chinese noodles. AND! We found my guilty pleasure…the Pepsi Throwbacks! And a buck cheaper per 12 pack than anywhere else in town! So, we certainly cleaned them out of those.

The final lap was through the meat and freezer areas. First off, the butcher was fairly well stocked. Not so much in the New York steak area, but more along the lines of stew meats, a few basic steaks and simpler cuts. One big plus is that they carry uncured pork belly, otherwise known as bacon before it hits the smokehouse. I’ve been looking forward to experimenting a bit with this in the future. And of course the fish area was delightfully fresh. And I say that without irony. Too often a fresh fishmonger ruins your appetite with the less pleasant odors of the sea. But their whole meat area smelled like…nothing! Just like a clean butcherey should. Their fresh fish included the usual catfish, shrimp and also bass and a few trout that looked from around these parts. One of them had a bulldog tattoo at least.

And the frozen area was even more insane. Fishcicles from waters all over the world. Some of which I’ve only seen on National Geographic much less on a plate. And a wide selection of varied quick frozen Asian specialties, like dumplings, spring rolls and tons of frozen ingredients, side dishes and desserts. Not to mention here is where they keep their sho jou, which I’m told is pretty much the widowmaker of blackout drunks. We even saw a jug labled: Cooking Liquor; NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION! Which sorta blew my mind, since if you’re cooking with it, wouldn’t it be consumed by a human? But then again, I’ve tasted a few bottles of booze that probably should have carried the same label. Lucky Lager anyone?

Anyway though. After our deep and thorough rooting through their stock, we finally pushed our overburdened cart to the checkout stand. Scant minutes before they were preparing to arm themselves to chase us out so they could finally close up shop. Here’s where I’m really impressed. Not so much at the checker, who was fairly cool, all things considered. But the bill total that she handed us. We exercised nothing resembling restraint. We grabbed anything that appeared shiny or interesting, including medieval vegetable torture devices and new teapots. But after all of that and 3 hours of shopping, our total was only about $150. In a regular market we would have easily been out double that amount and came out with less actual food.

If you’ve been searching for a 1 stop shop for all your Asian cooking needs, or if you’re looking for some obscure ingredients for your favorite dish, you can do a lot worse than stopping into the R-N Market for a minute or 180. Not only do they have a wide and varied selection of Asian dishes and ingredients, they also carry a decent selection of regular Western market items like cereals, bbq sauces and all that. And even if you’re not an adventurous cook, their fresh produce alone is the perfect excuse to find oneself north of Shaw.


P.S.  Oh yeah, and the green coconut curry soup we made for dinner that night curled our toes in Tom Kha Gai rapture. (recipe to come)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Eating Out Mr. Fishy Pants

Mmmm mmm! Choked chicken of the sea over sticky alabaster mouthfuls. So, this past Humpday we wound up opting out of Pub Quiz after meeting Manhole on the very day that KRZR died. Don’t even get me started on that mess. I just hope y’all will avoid listening to any Clear Channel stations in the future. Nevermind all that mess though, it’s dinner time and Mr. Sushi has Ki-rin Iciban, so kampai!

It was raining a bit out and a little chilly, so naturally we’ll start off with a couple bowls of miso soup. It was a nice robust red miso rather than the milder white miso I run into most often. A fairly nice start. So we moved on to our opening roll, which I think was called the White Dragon. Either way it was crab salad with tempura shrimp and cucumber inside and topped with yellowtail and dotted with eel sauce, fairly light in flavor and tasty. Though there’s that tendency with the rolls to be a challenging mouthful, even for a bigmouth like me. Thankfully it wasn’t over sauced and rather picturesquely plated.

Next up, we attempted to order their beef ta-ta, which I have to guess was a riff on tartare. It pretty much sounded like the beef sashimi that we get at Yoshino’s. But alas, they were beefless. And there was sadness. But we rallied around a plate of regular tuna sashimi. Really nice and clean tasting, however the daikon or whatever it was that they used as a garnish, smelled like it had lightly brushed some unwashed orangutan balls before being shredded as a platform for our fish. Not overpowering, but there was a mild, noticeable funk. So, onto their rainbow roll. It’s pretty much a cali roll with a random selection of fishes on top. I got the bit with a bit of tuna and a bit of whitefish on top. Again, nice tasting, the fish tasted really light and clean.

I noticed that their prices for nigiri sushi (just fish on rice) was like $4.50 for two pieces. That’s a bit high considering the portion size and simplicity. The fancier rolls were $9.00 and had quite a bit more ingredients and complexity, not to mention were just generally more food. So, I hop off the sushi train and try out their Japanese ramen bowl. At $5, it’s about the same price as 1 order of sushi and it’s HUGE! I got a giant steaming bowl of dashi, noodles, carrots, bell peppers and a mild cabbage (probably Napa). The broth was excellent, there was that nice smoky flavor from the bonito flakes, with the carrot and bell pepper adding a little hint of their flavor to it all. That was the dish that put me down, I barely got halfway through it before waving the surrender flag.

One thing I have to compliment for sure was their service. Their greeter had us seated immediately and had our drink orders, which arrived promptly. The sushi chef introduced himself and pointed out a couple specials and let us peruse through the menus. He was never far off and all it took was eye contact for him to take another order. Plus as we were rapping up, a couple of the guys stopped by and chatted with us a bit and ribbed me for not finishing my ramen. They really made us feel welcome.

All in all, I really had a nice time at Mr. Sushi. The service and piscine quality really went a long way to outshine some funky radish and slightly high sushi prices. Plus their menu is fairly widely varied, with some Korean and other choices besides their Japanese and sushi items. And with the streets down for repairs in the Tower, just about everybody could deal with us stopping by to try something new. So grab a sake to ward off the early chill of autumn and enjoy a jaunty jaunt in the Tower.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Eating Out A Bad Habit

Lordy, it seems like it’s been an age since we’ve last reviewed anything restaurantish around town. A mean economy can subconsciously make one a little less experimental in their eating. I’ve been hitting a lot of familiar and favorite places. And while it makes for boring blogging, I’m glad to do my part to keep the places I love, open. But that doesn’t preclude us entirely from trying anything new.

Case in point was the other night, we wanted hamburgers, but didn’t want the usual drive thru at the local choke and puke. When I suddenly remember that there was that new chain’s test location over in Fig Garden. At first I thought it was EurekaBurger!, but alas, they’re on the other side of Fresno’s Mason-Dixon Line. It was The Habit, a Californiacentric chain based out of Santa Barbara. Not as local as I was hoping, but heck, it’s something new.

So off we scoot for a to-go order that we can snarf down in the warmth of our own living room. I go for broke and get their double burger with bacon, plus fries and a strawberry malt. Everything was still a nice temperature upon arrival at the Hobbit Hole, which is a pretty good sign that they actually made the food to order and it was all able to come out at the same time. Although, I’m told they were rather camera shy. Tsk tsk tsk. Can’t a blogger get some visual material and not be looked at like someone preparing a lawsuit or have to kiss the ass of the manager prior, creating the very furor that a food blogger is looking to avoid? This town needs an enema!

On to dinner. First thing I notice upon unwrapping the burger is that the bottom bun is very soggy. Either thin mayo or sweating lettuce or both were to blame. Halfway through the burger it had entire disintegrated, so I was forced to hold that last bit by the patty itself. A big downside of shredded lettuce, besides it giving up water like no other, it also wilts rapidly and therefore loses all worthwhile texture. Gross. The patties were a bit dry and overdone. Not that you expect medium rare, but a burger can be done all the way through and still be moist. The other problem is that I order mine without onions, but their grill is so inundated with their flavor that I spent 5 minutes picking through the lettuce looking for the offending shred of onion my nose declared MUST be in there. And sadly the bacon was overdone as well, what wasn’t dental bill boostingly crunchy was pure rubber and lacked flavor. Overall, an edible burger, but far too expensive to be that unimpressive and have that many faults.

The French fries, which I’m told many consider the bar by which a burger joint is judged, were also sadly lacking. The seasoning wasn’t anything special with no distinct flavors, with a chewy yet gummy texture. It’s odd for French fries to stick to your teeth like taffy. At least the malt was enjoyable. Although if a place screws up ice cream with malt powder and milk in a blender and topped with whipped cream, they should probably have corks on their forks, if you know what I mean Rupert.

Alas, I can’t really recommend them to a discerning public for either flavor or value. But I can always beat the drums of my favorites like Yoshino’s, Cracked Pepper Bistro, The Landmark and Don Pepe’s. Plus there are plenty more nooks and crannies of the Fresno foodiverse for me to probe. I’m thinking with the change of the seasons I need to snoop around for some soul food and barbeque. To the streets!