Monday, January 5, 2015

Roasted Pork Belly

Pork belly is something special.  Priced like dark meat chicken (which I prefer), you can get top quality pork for less than $4 per pound: pastured, raised without weird feed and drugs, local to your market, and super yummy.

The steps:
  1. Score the fresh pork belly through the fat with a sharp knife
  2. Mix up a rub.  The one featured here included fennel, cayenne, fresh garlic, parsley flakes, salt&pepper, and a generous amount of olive oil
  3. Rub it all into those cuts
  4. 15 minutes or so in a ~ 500 degree oven to get it crisping
  5. An hour to two hours in the same oven ~ 325
When served there will be a serious mix of textures and flavors.  The flesh touching the pan will brown to a crunch; the meat will be tender and juicy; the fat will be soft.  If you prefer "cracklin'" fat, leave it in at 500 longer.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Farmer's Daughter

Located in a converted fuel station garage and at the inflection point where the "North Shore" fades into "North Chattanooga" on its way to becoming Hixson, the Farmer's Daughter has become a favorite spot for a fancy breakfast out of the house.

Their approach is very much in line with my family's current values for food: they source their primary ingredients locally, show a strong bias to sustainable and organic practices, and favor flavor in their preparation.

It may turn out that renovating old garages and gas stations into bars and restaurants is a short-lived fad, but some of the more interesting spots recently opened in Chattanooga are definitely making the most of the trend.
The ambiance inside is reasonably spare given the history of the building; the white walls and bare wood furniture maybe adds to the sense of "cleanliness" of the food.

I mentioned above that Farmer's Daughter has become a favorite breakfast spot for us - of the many times we have visited, all but one or two were before 9am.  The morning menu opens with a sausage and egg biscuit, and I've honestly not ever made it past that option.

This weekend, we decided to give their lunch offering a try.  On weekends, their midday menu is actually brunch focused, but they had a chili cheese hotdog as an "off menu" special, and that's what I chose.  This was an all beef affair, grown and processed at a local farm.  The chili involved some BBQ meat as well, and it was held together on a local bun.
They serve a small variety of local beer on tap, and on the Saturday we were there, all proceeds from the sale of one brew went to a local environmental charity's fund (that's the beer I had - for charity, of course).

I would be remiss not to mention that there is a coffee shop located within Farmer's Daughter, apparently run as a separate business but tightly integrated with the restaurant.  Copacetic Coffee would not be out of place in Brooklyn or Portland, and I mean that in a good way.  They are serious about their coffee, and the passion shows through.  The first time I saw their espresso choices and realized that they paired the milk from different dairies with the different drinks to optimize the flavor and experience of the coffee, I was a little intimidated.  But the coffee is nice, and the baristas are so darn friendly it all works out fine.

So go, check it out, enjoy your meal.  As much as I enjoyed lunch/brunch, I think breakfast will continue to be my family's favorite for this spot.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Beast + Barrel: round 1

I guess it has been a while since I wrote a reasonably formal review of a Chattanooga area eatery...I would like to blame that on circumstances and claim that there just haven't been any new or interesting options to review, but that wouldn't be fair or true.  I'm realizing now that there are actually a few new spots in town that deserve a write up, as well as a few familiar haunts that could stand a refreshed review.

So with a little prodding from my Facebook friends, I'll make a sincere effort to turn this blog back "on".

My family had a dinner plan last night that involved making a pizza at home.  But as they say, the "best laid pizzas of mice and men something something..."  Let's just say that it turned out to be a good night to dine out.  Chattanooga welcomed a new restaurant last week, and in a spot convenient to my office, so we elected to try it out.

I should interject that I have a soft rule on new restaurants...I like to give them some time to work out the kinks before try them out.  Several obvious exceptions to this rule come to mind, like when an actual friend of mine is the restauranteur and I go early and often to provide support, fill a seat, and offer constructive criticism.

With that rule in mind, I have titled this review "round 1" because I fully intend to pay the Beast + Barrel a second visit in a week or two and this review will focus primarily on some obvious "pros" and will leave the "cons" mostly aside for the time being.

The space: for folks familiar with Chattanooga's North Shore neighborhood, B+B is replacing a restaurant/bar called North Shore Grill.  They purported to be a crab/shellfish kind of place as I recall, but their real Raison d'ĂȘtre seemed to be as a place for men and women of a certain age to meet other men and women of a certain age.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but their offering did not really speak to my family's needs at this point in time.  To my eye, they have done little in the way of physical remodeling, but the space is comfortable and open, with nice views to kitchen.  We sat on a patio overlooking Coolidge Park with views to the Market Street bridge.

The food: they are calling themselves a smokehouse, and there were definitely some menu items in that vein (a bone marrow appetizer, rib entree...), but due to some opening week supply chain issues, we were not able to sample our first choices from the menu, so I'll hold comment on the food until round 2.
The drinks: this section of B+B's offering is an easy "pro": their cocktail menu is separated into pre-/post-dinner, specialty, and classic concoctions and all are at a price point that stand in sharp contrast to the opening cost strategy taken bye some other newish Chattanooga spots.  They also offer wine on tap - this is a revolution whose time has come.  Just like beer can be kept fresh with a well designed keg and tap system, and can consequently offer bars the opportunity to offer reasonable per drink prices on a variety of interesting brews, these (relatively) new wine systems help ease the per glass cost on fun wines.  Alas, our first choice from this menu was also not available last night...but we will try again.
One unqualified success for the evening?  They offer a smoked corn side item, and our little connoisseur cleaned the cob in a way that would have made his great-grandmother Bernice super proud (although she may have also had choice words about his hairstyle...).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Eggplant Parmesan

My grandmother Bernice, my dad's mom, used to love going to Olive Garden to eat their eggplant the extent that it became a bit of a family joke.  "Where should we take Grandmother to eat?"..."Olive Garden"..."What do you think she'll get there?"..."Eggplant parm"...

On our last trip to Costco they had these bags of baby eggplant, 4 to a bag, and they were so pretty under the warehouse lights that I knew I must have them.  And what can you do with eggplant besides parm?  (actually, we have another very tasty eggplant recipe, but it's still a variant of the parm)

 Yep.  We have all that.

 My wife lived in Italy for a year and is normally in charge of the pasta sauces and marinara in general, but tonight I took on the task.  San Marzano tomatoes are always a good place to start.

 I sliced up a couple of the baby eggies - these filets were a little less than 1/2 inch thick.  I salted them a bit to sweat on each side, and wiped away the sweat.  At the same time, I started some red onion and garlic in a sauce pan with olive oil and pasture butter, then chunked in the tomatoes to simmer a bit.
 For the eggplant, I dredged it in egg+milk+flour and fried it in hot canola oil.  Breadcrumbs are probably more authentic, and I had none!  So flour it was.  After a good bit of frying (an inserted fork pulled out cleanly), I set the 'plant on some paper towels to dry a bit, and grated some parmigiano reggiano on top.

 The sauce was all steamy and bubbly and garlicky.  I added some salt and pepper - a taste from the spoon revealed an unexpected sweetness!  (my wife reminded me about basil, so we dropped in some of these frozen basil herb nuggets we found at the organic grocery)

I warmed a baking dish a little and then ladled in a base layer of the sauce...
 ...and then the fried eggplant filets (they almost fit in the dish without overlapping).  Then I spooned some more sauce on top, added some slices of fresh mozzarella, and put it all in the oven to get warm and gooey.

And then it was time to serve it up!  While it may not compare well to the Olive Garden's version, ours turned out to be pretty tasty.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Aji - Collegdale Peruvian

[editor's note: this is a second attempt.  the first was composed on-phone, and when complete and submitted, the first attempt vanished into the aether.  argh.]

We have actually been to Aji a few times before, but I had not thought to blog about the experience.  That was an oversight, now to be corrected.

Collegedale is community near Chattanooga, wrapped around the campus for the Seventh Day Adventist Southern university.  It's a short drive from our neighborhood, and there is a nice walking path and playground there for some active family fun.  Collegedale's commercial development is primarily of the strip mall variety; as it turns out, strip malls are often allow small scale ethnic eateries to flourish.

Aji is focused on Peruvian foods, and is staffed by folks who appear to be of Peruvian extraction.  The space is simple, with maybe 8 tables, and is decorated with large format photos of llamas, people in Incan costume, and amazing mountain vistas.  The menu is biased to fish and veggie options (Seventh Day Ad.s are vegetarian); Aji is one of few places in the area to offer ceviche, and theirs is worth trying.

This day I opted for the Chicharron, freshly cut nuggets of fish rolled in a seasoned batter and fried.  The fish is served simply on a bed of lettuce and fried yucca, and topped with some lightly marinated onion.  On request, they brought me a side of a spicy red sauce for dipping.  My lunch was fantastic.

In likely deference to the 7DA's celebration of the Sabbath, Aji is closed on Saturdays.  Also, while they offer a splendid array of S. American fruit juice drinks, they do not offer beer or booze.

We like Aji and will return.  We also want to particularly support small, local options that offer food from outside the SE Tennessee mainstream.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

212 Market

I've known about this spot for a while, and not just because they are perennial sponsors of the local public radio station.  One lovely prom night in the early 90s, my party checked in at 212, briefly, before heading across the street to TGI Fridays.  Those were simpler times.

Tonight, we got a seat on the upstairs patio, so we decided to stay for dinner.  212 focuses on fresh, local, and organic ingredients.  We knew the food would be up our alley.  Unfortunately, the space (the inside dining rooms and bar) have not changed since that night in the 90s...we won't hold it against the place, but they could really use a new paint job.

We opened with some cocktails (mine was called "honey badger", haha) and their pork belly appetizer.

(the pictures aren't great tonight - maybe a combination of the strong evening sun and the shadows, or maybe the terrible photographer?)

Both of us chose fish options off of the daily specials menu: she took the salmon and I chose trout.

Her salmon was lovely, and my trout dish was nice - I'll spare you that picture.

All in all, the dinner was well prepared and the service was nice.  I might think that 212 is still at a price point and atmosphere better suited for "special occasions", if not prom nights...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Totto Sushi

It was a dark and rainy we went out for sushi.

View Larger Map

We had seen Totto on previous trips to Frazier Ave.  This new (apparently newer than Google's last streetview pass through) is between BrewHaus and Stone Cup coffee, two places that we like pretty well.

Chattanooga and sushi may not be a match made in heaven, given that the nearest coast is hundreds of miles away, and the nearest major airport, in Atlanta, is about a 2 hour drive down I-75...the point is that there is not a ready supply of super fresh seafood.

But all in all, dinner tonight was not a disappointment.  I generally defer the ordering of rolls to my wife, and she picked three diverse options and we tucked in.  The boy had some chicken fried rice, as well as some broccoli and sundry items taken from home.

One (positive?) thing that stuck out about Totto was the beer menu and pricing...they had a wide selection of bottled domestic and "Asian" beers, and the menu as well as several permanent looking signs around the room advertised the beers as "half price".  Indeed, they sold us 20 oz Kirin Ichibans for $3.75, which is roughly half of what we pay at our neighborhood Thai spot.  I worry what this scenario means for Totto in the long economic run...

Service was not a high point, although I would allow that maybe the one lady working the tables was having an off night...she did seem very preoccupied with her cell phone, but maybe when we try Totto again (and we will!), things might shake out a little differently.

Sorry for the lack of pics - working chopsticks with one hand, tending the boy with the other, and drinking 20 oz KI with the third leaves no hand for the camera!