For my first home cooking project I decided to tackle making Merguez, those wonderfully spicy Moroccan lamb sausages best appreciated with a plate of frites (French fries) and a big green salad. Ask anyone from Marseilles about Merguez and their eyes will glisten while they conjure images of picnics past. I myself had pictured casually sipping a glass of Claudia Springs Viognier while gleefully grinding the meat, seasoning it, and then filling the sausage casings as the charcoal briquettes turned from cool black to white hot. It should have been a simple enough task for a big Chef with thirty years’ experience cooking in the finest kitchens across America. Unfortunately, that Zen foodie moment wasn’t in the cards, but thankfully I am naturally stubborn and did eventually manage to make a few strands of Merguez….
Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn… What an amazing book, absolute food porn for us Chefs and foodies alike. The problem is two fold, first, it has me curing everything in sight. I got five Kuni Kuni pigs from Cook Pig the other day. I normally use them all for Porchetta but got a bug up my ass and decide to make a ton of charcuterie. I suppose I should back up and mention that I am Chef of Figue Mediterranean in La Quinta, California. One of the big features of our operation is a charcuterie bar reminiscent of a high end sushi bar. The intent was always that we would make our own charcuterie but I never had much time till now. I suppose the whole opening a restaurant thing got in the way.
So today sous chef extraordinaire Alex Hernandez and myself set about curing everything in sight. Filetto cured with Aleppo Pepper and Orange; citrus and fennel cured lonzo, pancetta, spicy guanciale and my first attempt at coppa… I scared our sommelier Celeste because I told her that I would hang my meat in her wine box since the temperature and humidity was perfect. I think the thought of over 100 pounds of meat hanging next to her great wine selections scared her…
Here are photos from the day’s work sprinkled with a few other forays into Charcuterie world:
Lamb Mortadella made from Elysian Fields lamb… It tastes so good! I have been serving it with house made Fig Pickles
All in all we cured 100 pounds of freshly butchered pork. We used the salt box method which essentially is rubbing every single crevice of meat in coarse sea salt, vacuum packing everything then letting it sit refrigerated for a few days. The basic procedure for all whole muscle meats is the same. What varied and will vary is the seasoning in the final curing. Since my palate of flavors includes France, Italy Spain, Basque region, Lebanon, Greece, Morocco and anywhere else in the Mediterranean I have a lot of historical flavor combinations to pull from, not too mention the mixing of cultures. In six weeks we will have a tasty selection of house meats for our charcuterie bar.
My wife Lisa and I decided to celebrate our 10 year anniversary by dining out in Los Angeles sans Beaumont, our 2.5 year old son. Sure, he loves great food too and I love being with him, but sometimes you just need adult time. I told Cathleen Newmann, Figue’s Vivreau water rep, about our plans and she suggested Bestia, also one of her accounts. The wait list to get a reservation for Bestia is so long that Beaumont would probably have a better chance getting a reservation in his lifetime than me in mine. Cathleen said she might have incriminating photos of the Chef/Owner Ori Menashe, formerly Chef of Angelini Osteria and a certain inflatable goat from a recent trip to Las Vegas and perhaps they might be helpful in getting a ressie. I eagerly asked her to pursue the coveted reservations by all means necessary. The day we wanted to go was only five days away so we started forming backup plans just in case. I hadn’t heard anything from Cathleen till Tuesday when she sent a coded message telling me my reservation at Bestia was secured. In retrospect, the message could of said forget about it, Ori is proud of those pictures, go ahead post away. Hey what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas or something like that.
We arrived ten minutes early for our reservation and were told that no such reservations existed. Devastation. I had already figured out what 18 dishes I had to try on Ori’s kick ass menu. I almost started crying, throwing a Beau like tantrum spewing different names and phone numbers that the reservation might be under. It was a little like a scene from the movie Date Night when Steve Carell and Tina Fey are trying to eat at a trendy city restaurant. Apparently some combination worked and we were seated outside in an atrium-esque industrial setting. It gave the dining experience a wonderful ambiance.
Our waiter quickly arrived at our table and dropped off the cocktail menu and dinner menu and gave a brief history of the restaurant from it’s opening the day after Thanksgiving in 2012. We were so amused by the Bespoke option on the drink list that we asked to learn more. Our waiter told us of their mixologist Julian Cox who apparently is a genius and loves challenges. Tell him an alcohol and at least one characteristic and the guy will blend the most amazing cocktail you ever tried. I went mainstream and said Rum and Sweet. Lisa tried to stump him with Campari and delectable.
I could hear Julian chuckle at our novice attempt to confound him as he sent over two of the best cocktails we ever had in our lives. Mine was called something like a beesting and Lisa’s was appropriately called ‘refreshing’. Her cocktail had this super cool metal stirrer/straw. The evening was starting so perfectly, setting the pace for the culinary onslaught waiting to be unleashed from the Bestia within.
WE sipped wonderful cocktails and looked at the fig tree and cactus’s next to us. I ordered four small plates and asked the waiter t space them out in the proper sequence. We wanted to enjoy each one separately and deliberately. Chef Ori is known for several things. The thing that attracted me to him was the home made pickles and charcuterie, with the pizzas and pasta not far behind. The first dish out was a amazing Kanpachi crudo with Squid Ink bottarga, breadcrumbs, chili oil, lemon and scallions.
The honey flavors in my rum cocktail actually worked well with the dish. My only complaint or comment was it could have used a touch of salt. The crudo did what it was suppose too, it whet the appetite for the next round. We ordered a bottle of 2007 Kabaj Cuvee Morel, a Slovenian Cabernet/Merlot, Cab Franc blend while waiting for the next dish. The waiter could exactly take our desire for an earthy old world wine and translate it into liquid love. I wish I had gotten the name of the waiter as he was extremely knowledgeable, enjoyable to talk with and exactly what a waiter should be.
Chef Ori’s selection of house made charcuterie came next. The Coppa di Testa with house made mustard was delightful. I loved the fact that no one mentioned what part of the pig this came from. You just ate it. Us Americans are needlessly so squeamish about eating certain body parts. The earthy wine sang songs with the various salumi on the wooden board.
Next up was the pan seared Octopus and Calamari with fennal, mixed mushrooms, arugula and aged balsamic. The mushrooms worked so well with the octopus and calamari. Yummy!
Next up was Grilled Lamb Tongue Crostino with Garbanzo Bean Puree, Salsa Verde, heirloom Carrot and Lemon Cucumber pickles. An explosion of yummy flavors and textures. Lisa loved the lamb but kept thinking of Mick Jagger’s tongue. I made a few ill timed imitations of our son’s lamb doll asking where his tongue went. By this time we were getting full. WE debated purging ourselves and continuing… the food is that good! We were up between Pistachio pasta with a goat ragu, a sea urchin pasta or the Agnolotti alla Vaccinara, Cacao parcels with braised Ox Tails, Burro Fuso, Grana Padano, Pine nuts and Currants. We decided on the last one and were completely blown away by the depth and range of flavors.
Sufficiently replenished and satiated we passed up more pasta, pizza and possibly an orata for two desserts. I normally rarely eat dessert. In America desserts are just to one dimensional and sugary for me. However, Ori’s wife Pastry Chef Genevieve Gergis makes unbelievable desserts that could forever change my mind. I won’t repeat what I said to the waiter about the desserts… but it was all good.
The desserts we choose were the valrhona fair trade bittersweet chocolate tart with salted caramel and the ricotta fritters with fresh strawberry jam, brown sugar gelato and whipped cream. The crust on the chocolate tart was everything a perfect crust should be, crisp, flaky, sugary, yummy. The ricotta fritters were my kind of dessert. I may have to try to make them at Figue when I go to work this weekend.
All in all, we had a fabulous time. The food and service were unbelievable, I do not know Ori so I apologize about my bad humor. You rock! Dining here has revitalized me in my quest for culinary perfection. It is so nice to go out and be stimulated and blown away!
I highly recommend eating there. Location: 2121 7th Place Los Angeles CA, 90021; Telephone: 213.514.5724; http://www.bestiala.com/index.php
One of the focal points of our new restaurant Figue will be the charcuterie bar. This has been a hard concept for me to get my brain around. Not hard in the sense of what to serve but more how to serve and how to approach it. On the offerings side of the debate I want to feature the absolutely sexy Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests, called dehesas, along the border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during this last period. Bellota jamones are prized both for their smooth texture and rich, savory taste. A good ibérico ham has regular flecks of intramuscular fat, marbling. Because of the pig’s diet of acorns, much of the fat is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. Other offerings will include a wide range of locally prepared charcuterie from salumi artisans like the Meat Men in San Diego whose cured meats are absolutely amazing (go to their site here), Paul Bertolli’s incredible handcrafted Fra Mani line (visit Fra Mani here), Cristiano Creminelli’s amazing salumi (visit Creminelli’s here) to producing some of our own mortadellas, lonzo’s and the like. So many great cured meats to offer so little time!
The real debate raging in my head is how to present it in a way the guests will get. I keep coming back to the point that I want our 10 seat “salumi bar” to be like a sushi bar in spirit. I want interaction between the cooks manning the hand cranked slicers and the guests enjoying the show. Meat will be displayed in small glass cases similar to sushi display cases and also hanging on hooks behind. I hope my staff will work this station with the excitement of a child waking on Christmas morning!