Archives for posts with tag: Dinner

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On a chilly winter’s night a few years back, my hubs and I hit up Aya Sofia – a perennial favorite – for dinner. As we slid into the romantic crimson booth with the drawn-back curtains that hint of magical things to come, I knew, without a doubt, what I was going to order.

That is, until our waiter informed us of the specials; and the special that night was the Adana Kebap … or as he described it … meat on a sword.

Have I ever mentioned my weakness for food on sticks? Seriously, I get downright giddy over corndogs, and cotton candy, and fruit kabobs, and Vienna sausages on plumed toothpicks. There’s just something about skewering my food and gobbling it up.

So now I was going to get meat that was grilled on a sword? (Insert maniacal laugh and happy dance here.) Score!

For the purposes of my restaurant coverage, I don’t write about all the great “specials.” That’s not fair. I want you to love me for what you can get, not hate me for teasing you. So I’ve been patiently waiting, and the wait is over: The Adana Kebap has finally moved from “special” status to be a permanent fixture on Aya Sofia’s menu. Now I can reveal to you all the glory of this dish.

To get to the heart of what the Adana Kebap is all about, I spoke with chef-owner Mehmet Yildiz. Chef Mehmet explained that this dish is native to the city of Adana, which is in the south of Turkey.  The tradition is spicy and hearty, the Adana Kebap delivers a mix of flavors bite after bite.

The meat itself is lamb, beautiful lamb. Chef Mehmet, in the custom of Turkish cuisine, sources his lambs whole and creates the perfect grind and cut for each dish on the menu. For the Adana Kebap, he uses leg meat and fat from the lamb. He works to maintain a balance of 80% meat and 20% fat for a perfect ratio that wraps around the long, metal sword and grills to juicy perfection.

Meat grilling on a sword. Only at Aya Sofia!

Meat grilling on a sword. Only at Aya Sofia!

This dish is not for a person who prefers bland preparations, to be certain. Chef Mehmet seasons the lamb with salt, sweet paprika, and cayenne pepper. Yes, these are seasonings that you likely have in your pantry. The verve with which Chef Mehmet uses the seasonings, however, will make you think there is something super secret in the mix. The first bite bursts with flavor, and each subsequent bite builds on that first taste. The heat comes, but it is a heat that is born of deep, perfect balance; the Adana Kebap is not hot for the sake of being hot.

It’s complex. It’s spicy. Heck, IT’S MEAT ON A SWORD. That’s really all you need to know.

But there’s more.

Chef Mehmet serves the Adana Kebap with traditional accompaniments, which include a grilled banana pepper, cumin tomato sauce, yogurt sauce, sumac onion salad, grilled tomatoes, and pita. It’s a delight for the senses. I enjoy a dip-as-I-eat style so that every bite is just a little bit different from the last. To enjoy the Adana Kebap in a traditional manner, Chef Mehmet suggests drizzling each of the sauces over the grilled lamb before taking your first bite.

In addition to the grilled lamb, there is banana pepper, sumac onions, yogurt sauce, and cumin tomato sauce.

In addition to the grilled lamb, there is banana pepper, sumac onions, yogurt sauce, and cumin tomato sauce.

I mentioned the sumac onion salad. This is a delight that shouldn’t be overlooked. To be honest, at first I thought the onions were pickled because of their purple hue. Nothing could be further from the truth. The sumac offers light floral notes with an edge of tart reminiscent of cranberry. When it’s combined with the onion and parsley, the result is a classy, cool counterpoint to the spicy lamb.

The sumac onion salad is a perfect floral-tart counterpoint to the spicy lamb.

The sumac onion salad is a perfect floral-tart counterpoint to the spicy lamb.

The Adana Kebap serves up history and tradition on one big, beautiful plate at Aya Sofia. Whether you order this or any of the other Turkish delights on the menu, you’ll find that Chef Mehmet brings his passion for Turkish cuisine and culture alive with each and every one.

I can’t close out a post about Aya Sofia without mentioning Alicia Aboussie, Chef Mehmet’s wife,restaurant co-owner, and my dear friend. She has poured her heart and soul into the restaurant’s undeniably romantic interior, and her innate grace and charm is evident in Aya Sofia’s every detail.

photo

My beautiful and talented friend, Alicia Aboussie.

The next time you’re looking for a dining experience that takes you away from the usual, head to South St. Louis, settle into the lovely Aya Sofia, order your meat on a sword, and Eat It, St. Louis!

Aya Sofia
6671 Chippewa
St. Louis, MO 63109
314-645-9919
www.AyaSofiaCuisine.com

Aya Sofia on Urbanspoon

Macaroni and cheese. I was so excited, those many years ago, when my then-newish-boyfriend told me that that his 6-year-old, a somewhat persnickety eater, loved macaroni and cheese.

My chance to impress the impish redheaded Allen had arrived!

In an instant, I grabbed my fabulous recipe – hand written in blue ink on a sheet of paper from a legal pad – jumped in the car to procure groceries and headed over to Mark’s house to make a comfort food favorite in an unfamiliar kitchen.

This dinner was going to bring us together. This dinner was going to make the unfamiliar both warm and comfortable. This dinner was going to be the first of the many I fantasized about making for the two people who were going to make my life complete.

Perhaps I put too much on the mac & cheese.

I got to Mark’s early and set about chopping; and melting; and adding; and stirring, stirring, stirring; and boiling; and straining; and mixing. After an hour or so, the pan of cheesy deliciousness was ready to bake.

Mark and Allen got home right as I was pulling out the bubbly pan of mac & cheese. I felt like some sort of super combination of June-Cleaver-meets-Martha-Stewart. My vision was happening.

As they walked through the kitchen doorway, I exclaimed, “Hey, kiddo, I made your favorite: macaroni & cheese!”

And this kid, who held my world in his hands, looked around and took in every detail. He then flatly informed me, “That’s not macaroni & cheese. There’s no box.*”

Based on the missing box, he refused to eat.

I, in overly dramatic fashion, shut my self in the bathroom and cried.

Mark, trying to manage the situation, continued to try to get Allen to eat, which led to a battle of wills … which the 6-year-old won.

Clearly, it was not the night I’d imagined. It also wasn’t as heart wrenching as seemed in the oven-heat of the moment. It was our first “family” tiff**, and we survived it. Mark and I did enjoy our dinner eventually and Allen enjoyed a PB&J.

Ten years later, The Boy continues to politely decline my fab mac & cheese. So I now make it as a special treat for grown-up friends and family. Here is the recipe that delights most but fails to measure up to the Blue Box*** in a kid’s best estimation.

Fabulous Mac & Cheese****

12 Tablespoons of unsalted butter

1 Medium white onion, rough chopped (these will be strained out at the end)

3 –4 Sprigs of fresh Thyme (no need to remove the stems. This will be strained out at the end.)

10 – 12 whole peppercorns

6 Tablespoons of flour

5 Cups of whole milk (room temp)

6 Cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 Lb of elbow macaroni, prepared al dente (don’t’ forget to salt your water)

Salt

Pepper

Nutmeg (fresh grated is best)

Step one: Melt the 12 T of butter over medium heat.

12 Tablespoons of meting butter! Everything's better with butter.

Step two: Add the onions, thyme, and peppercorns and simmer for 3 – 4 minutes. Stir constantly.

Adding layers of flavor with onion, thyme, and peppercorns.

Step three: Add the flour and cook for 2 or so minutes, stirring constantly. This is the roux and it will be very thick.

Just add flour for a perfect Roux.

Step four: Add the milk slowly, stirring while you add. When you bring the milk to room temp, you will save a bit of time. At this point, the sauce will look like this.

A little -- or a lot -- of milk gives us the start of a bechamel sauce.

Keep stirring and stirring, which will keep the milk from burning as you work to bring this to just boil.

Start your salted water boiling for the macaroni. When it boils, you’ll want to cook it for 9 – 11 minutes. Taste it at the 9 minute mark. It should be a bit firm, or al dente. Drain and set aside for add at the end.

When the bechamel reaches the boil (over a medium heat), turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to stir constantly for another 10 minutes.

When your bechamel sauce looks like this, it's time to strain out the chunky bits!

When the sauce looks like the photo above, strain it to remove the onion, thyme, and peppercorns.

At this point, add all six cups of your shredded sharp cheddar to the bechamel and mix until it’s creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Grate a bit of nutmeg, too, and continue to mix.

Add your cooked macaroni and pour into a baking dish.

photo (4)

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and divine.

Remember, if your 6-year-old doesn’t like it, there’s more for you. I promise, if you’re 7 or older, you’ll love to Eat It, St. Louis!

* Ah, the box. This was an important lesson for me. Sometimes, when it comes to a kid, less is more. They are learning lots of new things every day. At the end of the day, they need something familiar and easy; gourmet mac & cheese really doesn’t fit that need.

**The best news is that our struggles as a blended family are few and far between; and if this is the worst of it then I’ve got a lot for which to be thankful.

***In all truthfulness the Blue Box rocks. I don’t know what it is about the powdered cheese and the glowing orange sauce it renders, but it’s good.

****Be sure to allot yourself plenty of time. You will be standing over the stove for about an hour. Also, if you make it early and let it sit for a bit, the flavors will really come together. This stuff is really delicious.

But there is a San Francisco. Ashleigh Brilliant wrote this, and quite honestly no truer words were ever penned. Every time I arrive in the City by The Bay, my soul simply sings.

When my singing soul needs sustenance, there is no shortage of bistros, grills, and eateries of all sorts to fuel the symphony within. Just wandering through the streets – which are teeming with life from pre-dawn hours to well after Midwestern bedtime – presented me with global fare and delicious options that made my choices difficult. I had the feeling, however, that no matter what my choice I would have no regrets.

My gut … as usual … was right.

My first stop was for a late lunch at the lovely bistro, Le Central. It was late enough in the afternoon to have the lunch crowd gone. There were a couple of regulars and a cheery bar tender who was happy to have me sit at the bar. I ordered my favorite French lunch of escargot and big glass of red wine, and relaxed into the atmosphere.

One of the most fabulous characteristics of San Francisco is the unabashed openness of the people. Whether they are native to the city or travellers, like me, there is little fear of striking up conversation and enjoying the community that sharing a meal provides. At Le Central, Toni the bartender; Gloria, the executive who heads up global HIV/AIDS initiatives for a bioscience company; and Sandra, her vibrant, funny, lifelong friend, scooped me up into their conversation. They told me about a trip they’d taken to Bali. We shared a “St. Louis Connection.” They told me about the majesty of Yosemite and the Ahwahnee Hotel. We talked about idealism and the real-world practicality of it all. We talked about cancer and we talked about living.

It was like I was supposed to be there, with them, on that glorious day.

When my escargot arrived, complete with half a baguette and full-fat French butter, my senses were electrified. The perfectly tender snails were basking in little pools of butter and garlic. The splash of Pernod gave them a signature sweetness and edge that makes the escargot a must-have dish. And good God; mopping up that divine sauce with the baguette was an act of pure decadence.

I was so very thankful to have my ad hoc lunching companions. Our spirited and convivial conversation kept me from eating so fast as to embarrass everyone and exposing myself as a glutton.

As my late lunch came to a close and my merry group said our goodbyes, I walked on clouds back to my hotel relishing in an afternoon that was better than anything I could have hoped for. I was grateful and my soul was humming a happy tune.

Le Central on Urbanspoon

Never one to skip a meal (seriously, have we met?), I set my sights on a late-ish dinner. My destination for this meal was no mystery. Armed with a recommendation from Paul*, a foodie Facebook friend from Phoenix, I got ready to make my way to the Tadich Grill in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District. Paul’s instructions were simple: Order the cioppino and a cold beer, you won’t be sorry.

The Tadich Grill is a little bit old-school. When you go the website, there is only a page that says it its “website is coming off the grill soon.” So, not knowing quite what to expect (Is it a fancy place? Will it be weird if I’m dining sans companion?), I decided to go for a casually cool look, packed a book, and hailed a taxi.

As I walked through the door, the hustle and bustle let me know that I’d arrived as just my kind of place. The waiter behind the bar hollered out, “ONE!?!?” I similarly hollered back, “YES!,” and he directed me to a seat at a long, art deco bar. It seemed as though nearly all of the restaurant were flying solo.

(Note to file: The book and taxi were both unnecessary!)

Although I glanced at the menu, which was extensive, I simply followed Paul’s directions and ordered the cioppino and a Stella Artois. The meal that came to me was out of this world.

To start, when you take your seat, there is a huge hunk – yeah, HUNK – of sourdough bread waiting. It might make you think that the grill skimps on its portions. Rest assured, that is not the case. When the main attraction arrived in a trough-sized dish, this stew was packed with sea food: Clams and mussels; scallops and shrimp; halibut and Dungeness crab. It was perfect.

Here’s something to know. Often the various components of a mixed-seafood anything can be uneven in the cooking which can make for tough scallops, rubbery shrimp, or all-around blandness. This was definitely not the case with the Tadich Grill cioppino. Whether or not every piece of seafood was cooked individually I do not know. What I do know is that every bite was tender and sweet and flavorful in just the right way. It was amazing.

As I took each bite, a hint of heat punctuated the brilliant flavor. At no time did I run out of the “good stuff.” As a matter of fact, I got full before the magnificent trough was empty and failed to finish my meal.

Um … that never happens. I was sad to leave such goodness behind.

With a heavy heart, and a full tummy, I settled up my tab and walked back to my hotel, mostly uphill, and as always, in high heels. My soul was beginning to sing a sweet lullaby.

Tadich Grill on Urbanspoon

As the sun was coming up on the next day – a real work day for me, as I was there as a freelance marketing representative for Elsevier, the world’s largest STM publisher – I had a bit of a food hangover so breakfast was out of the question. It was an easy pass, however, because I knew what was ahead for the evening: Dinner at Ame, the Michelin-rated restaurant in the chichi St. Regis Hotel.

First, the St. Regis is so deluxe that the only sign is a small white plaque near the entrance. I loved it!

My dining companions for the evening were Cynthia, an executive publisher and a mentor with Elsevier; Dr. Doug Zipes, editor-in-chief of HeartRhythm Journal and author of the thriller, The Black Widows; and his lovely wife and managing editor, Joan. It was an evening filled with smart chat, big laughs, and great food.

My meal began with a beet salad, which was presented in the most artistic way. These lovely roasted baby beets, both sunshine yellow and vibrant red-purple, were positioned around the plate vertically and also sliced and placed horizontally. Goat cheese crème fraiche dotted the plate and made for a perfectly delicate dressing (if you can call it that). Plus, it looked really pretty when I dragged the red-purple beets through the white and little trails of pink were left behind.

The evening we were there, Ame’s special was sea bass – a personal favorite – with grilled octopus. Really … I eat snails … how could I say “no” to grilled octopus? This is, after all, one of the primary reasons it is fun to dine at fancy-schmancy restaurants: you get good stuff.

To be certain, the sea bass was perfection. The grilled octopus, however, was the star of the show. A visual treat and a tasty nosh, it had a delicate smoky quality from the grilling that refined the usually sweet sea treat and elevated it from mere calamari.

The experience at Ame was made a little extra-special-wonderful because of the deluxe service. Let’s face it, Michelin stars aren’t handed out willy-nilly. No, they are earned through a combination of innovative cuisine and well-trained, attentive-but-not-intrusive staff. The team who took care of our table – we asked lots of questions, switched up described preparations, and bantered shamelessly – was accommodating, light-hearted, and put the exclamation point on our evening.

At the end of our meal, our entire party felt indulged and pampered.

Replaying the night’s repartee and repast as I taxied back to the hotel, the pace and volume of my soul’s concert changed as frequently as a newly licensed 16-year-old changes the radio station. I was giddy and bubbly and happy to have been included in such a lovely evening.

Ame on Urbanspoon

On my last full day in San Francisco, my colleague, Matt (who’s a delightful foodie, too!), and I decided we would venture out of the usual downtown area and try a restaurant that @Kimberly9938 (one of my fabulous foodie Twitter followers)* had recommended with great enthusiasm: Nopa.

To quote Usher, “wow, oh, wow!”

At the onset, it was great to hit up a neighborhood. Nopa is located in the heart of the Northern Panhandle – hence the name – area of the city. Modest homes (although not likely modestly priced … it is San Francisco), markets, delis, and shops lined the busy streets. Young families were out and about carrying on life that was different from Downtown.

When we arrived at Nopa – and yes, if you’re downtown a taxi is totally necessary – we were welcomed into a warm environment where community was clearly intrinsic to the philosophy of the restaurant. A large community table is situated by the bar, and the places there quickly filled in with diners and drinkers who shared easy smiles and exchanged hearty, “hellos!”

Matt and I chose to sit at the Chef’s Table, which looks directly into the kitchen. As colleagues, we could “talk shop” all dinner long. Sitting in this place, however, at this time, we were able to engage with the sous chef and talk about … what else … food and our love of it.

Rather than stick to a traditional dinner, we jumped right into the community atmosphere of Nopa. We got twice the bang for the buck by agreeing on two appetizers and two entrees and sharing them between us. Matt chose the flatbread with bacon and shallots. I chose the giant white beans, tomato, feta, oregano and breadcrumbs. Both the flatbread and the beans were baked in a wood-fired brick oven.

Now, those of you who know me know one thing: I don’t like bacon. Yes, I eat pork. Yes, I LOVE sausage. I really just don’t care for bacon. As we were watching the flatbreads come from the oven, I found that I couldn’t resist and I was glad that Matt had ordered one up. It was divine. The bacon was perfectly done – not too crisp, not too limp — and full of amazing flavor. The sweet tang of shallot complemented the meaty pork. And the finish of olive oil made it just perfect. My, oh, my! (Another Usher reference.)

My giant white bean bake (for lack of the better descriptor) hit me in my giant comfort food spot. Simple and beautiful; warm and thick; aromatic and bubbly, the dish came straight from the brick oven. While I know we’d agreed to share our dishes, I was a little sore that I’d promised to share this one. It was the kind of dish that you eat a little too quickly because you’re afraid someone might take it away.

For the entrée, Matt ordered the grilled pork chop and I ordered the 9-hour Bolognese with house-made pappardelle. Let me be clear: The pork chop was the way to go.

Way too often, whether I’m at home or in a restaurant, pork is always overdone. A little too white all the way through; a little too dry.

At Nopa, the grilled pork chop, which had to be at least an inch and a half thick, is just a little pink in the middle and juicy. So juicy, in fact, you’d think they injected the chop with jus. But no, the pork chop is simply a superstar example of perfectly grilled meat. It brings out the Fred Flinstone in the daintiest woman; it speaks to the unapologetic carnivore within; it makes you want another portion even though you know it’s preposterous.

My Bolognese was good. Very good, in fact. But I really wanted my very own pork chop. And one to go!

The evening of incredible food, communal dining, and awesome people (my colleague, our cool and edgy waitress, the sous chef, and the patrons on either side of us) created an experience that was at once chic and unselfconscious. My soul was in the San Francisco swing of things, singing out in happy, hippy, poetic tones that felt like the shining sun.

Nopa on Urbanspoon

San Francisco is my heaven, and I’m so lucky to have been there time and time again. I feel like a better, brighter version of me came home. For me, that feeling comes from the meals I shared, the people I met, the adventure I charted for myself and the beautiful music that the whole experience created within my soul.

I wish I could share the happy song I hear with all of you; but, I’m tone deaf. So please, go find – or revisit – your heaven, venture into a new place, chat up the folks next to you, engage your waiter or waitress, listen closely to what happens in your soul, and Eat It, St. Louis!

* Thank you to Paul and Kimberly, a Facebook friend and Twitter follower respectively, who guided me to great places in San Francisco. I love social media and how it enables people with similar interests to connect and share. Thank you for pulling your chairs up to my table and being part of the conversation. Without you, this post would have been only half as long … and half as interesting!

Foodbuzz

Lamb Chops, Roasted Asparagus, Bleu Cheese Mashed Potatoes with Balsamic, Rosmary & Garlic Reduction

Life is complicated and life is messy. For me, Sunday supper is a time, a day, and a place where I am able to carve out a simple and uncluttered port away from the storm. It has always been a time to reconnect with family and friends. Bringing everyone around the table affords us the opportunity to talk about the week past and plan for the next.

Unfortunately, even though 6:30 Sunday evening rolls around every week, Sunday supper can get lost. In the summer, random rounds of golf go a little long or what started out as a stroll around the neighborhood turns into a full-blown hike along the river. In the winter, it’s either a rush-hour show and big tub of buttered popcorn or the it’s-too-nasty-to-go-to-the-grocery argument that inevitably sink supper plans

Sometimes, however, I simply crave it. Yesterday was that day, and I needed the rigor and the work and planning and the escape that Sunday supper offers me.

As I mentioned, life is complicated. If you’re living a full life, how could it not be? I have a blended family, and I’m fortunate that I get along quite well with Mark’s (my husband’s) ex-wife. As a matter of fact, we spent a very pleasurable day together rooting on our son, Allen, while he competed in an equestrian event. It may not sound terribly complicated; but try writing it all out in a way that honors every relationship without overstepping boundaries. It’s complicated. And I’m not sure I did it justice.

But anyway …

It was a long day, and sometimes even routine life-management-activities leave me a bit drained and lacking focus. I left the event feeling like I needed a little comfort. When I say “comfort,” I really mean a good meal I prepare. Embarking on the nearly one-hour drive home, I started to flip through my mental recipe box to decide what Sunday supper should include.

Ah-ha! In honor of spring, lamb was the perfect choice. I took a short detour to Straub’s – a local gourmet-ish market – for lamb chops. I also picked up delicate asparagus. Things were shaping up nicely.

Once home, I prepared a lovely balsamic, rosemary, garlic marinade* for the chops, chilled a bottle of rosé, and checked in on my email. And then things got messy … emotionally.

Kathy, my step-mom, had emailed** to let me know that the new (experimental) chemotherapy treatment my dad*** is enduring is having the worst side effects of any treatment he’s had to-date. The bottoms of his feet feel like they are sunburned when he walks. He also cannot talk or eat without severe pain because of what chemo has done to the inside of his mouth.

My dad – a big, strapping, red-headed Irishman – has had sunburned feet before. (There was an unfortunate incident on a beach in Italy many years ago.) Ultimately, he can work with that. It’s rotten, but workable.

He’s never, however, ever had a problem talking or eating. That, my friends, is simply rotten.

Dad and Kathy are facing new challenges with regard to pain management and nutrition. And here I sit writing a food blog. (Irony, anyone?)

I was relieved to have the work of supper in front of me. The hustle and bustle of the kitchen allowed me to avoid talking. Rather, I simply asked Mark to read the note Kathy sent me. He did, and he granted me the space to continue to work quietly.

When everything was ready – lamb chops, roasted asparagus, bleu cheese mashed potatoes – we sat down to our Sunday supper and I was ready to talk: about my day; about my dad; about last week; about next week.

And I had a glass or two of wine.

Into every life a little wine must flow ... or something like that!

I’m thankful that my life isn’t any more complicated than it needs to be. While I hate the “messy,” I’m motivated to help Dad and Kathy find a fix for what I’m hoping is a temporary setback. And I’m glad I followed my instinct and created a proper Sunday supper.

Think about the meal you might make next Sunday and the benefits you and your family will enjoy. Perhaps you’ll create a great memory. Maybe you’ll give someone in your family the space he or she needs to talk. You just might find your own rhythm and focus that gets your week off on the right foot.

Regardless, just do it and Eat It, St. Louis!

*If you’re interested in this easy marinade recipe that works with pork and chicken, too, you can find it in Nick Stellino’s Glorious Italian Cooking, page 125, or click on the link. Until I understand all the copyright ins and outs, I’ll simply direct you to previously published recipes.

**Dad and Kathy live in Tampa, FL, so we rely heavily on email, Skype, Facebook, and texting. We are totally hip!

***Yes, my dad has cancer. No, I don’t talk too much about it. We, as a family, take it day-by-day and we are grateful for every single one. ‘Nuff said.

Foodbuzz

This is a slogan that Penzys Spices makes available on a bumper sticker. The pithy little saying speaks to the way love translates itself through food.

Last Saturday night, a fashionista and an architect made a room full of people feel very loved. My husband, a gardener, two teachers, a non-profit executive director, a senior-housing specialist, an IT guy, and I – your humble blogger – gathered around a dinner table to share tasty food, engaging conversation, and a lot of laughter.

When we received the invitation to Supper @ Six from Jennifer and Peter Marks, we were – of course – delighted. I’ve known Jennifer mostly professionally for years. In recent months, our professional acquaintanceship has extended itself to a lovely personal friendship. I was looking forward to bringing our husbands together, too. Both men are smart, funny, and talented; if they had nothing else in common, they could talk about their adoring wives.

This was more than two couples getting together for dinner, however; this was a full-fledged dinner party. The intrigue of new names, new faces, new stories, and new perspectives danced in front of Mark and me all week. We really looked forward to the evening.

Finally, Supper @ Six was upon us, we arrived (bottle of wine in hand), and Jennifer greeted us warmly. Uncharacteristically, we were running late, so we managed quick introductions and slid seamlessly into comfortable conversations. Wine was flowing and delicious bruschetta and fresh crudité whetted everyone’s appetite.

The aromas emanating from Jennifer’s kitchen were magnificent. Her preparations of roasted vegetables (which included my absolute favorite: Brussels sprouts) and butternut squash risotto, were soulful and rich. As she opened lids and stirred pots, each of us eagerly anticipated the meal to come. The dishes she was preparing also gave us – her guests – an immediate conversation point that allowed us to connect with each other. The symphony of voices was fluid, graceful, and genuine.

Peter presented the evening’s centerpiece: a gorgeous platter of barbequed chicken. Yes, it was skin-on, bone-in and cooked to flavorful perfection. There wasn’t one of us who wanted to delay getting dinner underway. You’ve never seen so many people jump to get the table set!

As our group assembled around the table, we established a sense of community. We raved openly about the fabulous dinner that brought us together. We shared stories of our kids; compared notes on the challenges we face in our quickly changing world; talked about literature, and music, and art; and laughed about the crazy situations we find ourselves in from time to time.

Before we knew it, it was 11:30 and time to leave.

Jennifer and Peter planned, prepared, and gave us a tasty meal. And we felt warm and cared for and – well – loved. Thank you for providing a wonderful total experience for each of us.

I urge everyone to do the same thing for the people who decorate your life. Plan a simple but tasty menu, extend a warm invitation, and Eat It, St. Louis!

* Thank you, Tony Havlin, for telling me about a bumper sticker that led to a most appropriate title.

(Because I am a terrible photographer, I didn’t do justice to the dinner party. Sorry for the lack of photojournalism. Bear with me, folks.)

Foodbuzz

Actually, smoking is heavenly, and the best way to pick up the habit is to order the Smoked Chicken Wings at The Shaved Duck. Dark and lovely, smoky and spicy, these wings are the casually sophisticated and elegantly complicated counterpart to the commonly available, hot-with-vinegar-heat, neon orange variety.

Low and slow is the key to infusing the wings with more flavor than you ever imagined could be concentrated in these meaty morsels. Chef Kat Kobylarek treats the wings with a special rub of between 15 and 17 spices (yeah, it’s a secret!), and then smokes them for three hours at approximately 220 degrees. Her wood mix is 75% hickory and 25% oak. The result is 100% perfection.

Now, for any of you who have tried to smoke skin-on meat, you know that it never really crisps up to its full potential. The meat is, of course, juicy, tender and full of flavor, but you just don’t get that divine texture that crispy skin can deliver. Chef Kobylarek has solved that problem.

That’s right … she pops them in the fryer to get them crispy. So now you get spicy, tender, juicy, flavorful, and crunchy all in one deeply satisfying, I-can’t-talk-I’m-eating bite.

But what’s this beautiful, sienna* -colored sauce on the side of your plate? Why, it’s the boom boom pow that will knock your socks off. Chef Kobylarek has devised a fabulously flavor-layered mango-ginger-habanero sauce that brings the heat in the most vibrant way possible. At once sweet and savory, the heat builds as you add it – carefully at first, then with wild abandon by the end – and you’re addicted.

No order of wings is totally complete without a great beer. While I would love to talk up the crazy-good Left Hand Stranger** I recently fell in love with at The Shaved Duck, I can’t. Bar Manager Matt Fournier keeps his four taps and eclectic bottle selection constantly changing. No matter when you go, you’ll find fun, funky, palette-pleasing, experience-broadening brew choices that will enhance your experience.

Chat up Matt a little bit. Ask him what’s new. Let him know what you generally like. He’ll guide to you to the exact right selection. This definitely is the place to push your beer boundaries!

Now you know what NOT to miss at The Shaved Duck. You’re biggest decision will be whether to insist on your own plate of Smoked Chicken Wings, or play nice and share with your dining companions.

Note to file: If you and I ever hit up “The Duck” together, you’re on your own!

Thank you, Chef Kobylarek, for smoking. You’ve elevated the humble – and often pedestrian – chicken wing to a new level.  The cravings between visits can be excruciating, but the soulful satisfaction that sets in when the wings hit my lips is bliss.

Take it from me: Head to The Shaved Duck, breathe in the smoke, order the Smoked Chicken Wings, and Eat It, St. Louis!

* If you don’t have the big box of 64, the color is like a shade of burnt orange.

** Pale Ale brewed in Longmont, Colorado. Not the Heathcliff-ish fellow in the corner.

The Shaved Duck
2900 Virginia Avenue
Saint Louis, MO 63118-1227
(314) 776-1407

Shaved Duck on Urbanspoon

Foodbuzz

The object of my affection at Trattoria Marcella is but a humble thistle elevated. May I introduce you to the Stuffed Artichoke? Masterful and unique, its full-globe presentation makes me swoon. It’s simple and gorgeous. How Chef Steve Komorak turns out a perfectly executed full artichoke every time is part of its mystique.

But he does, and for that I am inspired.

In their raw form, artichokes are tough and fibrous. There is a furry little heart in the center that needs to be removed before you dive in. Sometimes there are thorns. It makes me wonder if the same person who peeled the first banana and cracked the first coconut is the same person who decided he’d try to eat an artichoke. Seriously … this would seem like the stuff of dares.

Thankfully, someone accepted the dare and the artichoke was cultivated, finessed, and served.

When you order the Stuffed Artichoke, be prepared. What arrives at your table is breathtaking. The gorgeous green globe is stuffed with cous cous and toasted pine nuts. You can smell the herbs and parmigiano marry up with the peppery olive oil, which Chef Komorak procures specifically from Italy’s Umbria region.

As you peel back the leaves, layer by layer, your experience will change. The first layer or two are hearty and they stand up to help you get the flavorful stuffing to your mouth. It would seem that the leaves were made to be spoons, but not so fast. There is meat in those leaves! And oh my, it is delicious.

(Hint #1: Use your fingers and don’t be shy about pulling the leaves through your teeth to get every bit of artichoke meat you can. Leaving behind any morsel of goodness is a crime!)

Eventually, you’ll realize that you’ve come to very tender, very meaty leaves that seem to melt when they hit the edge of your lips. You’ll also notice that your hands are a mess and you might blush slightly to realize you’re licking your fingers. Let’s face it: It is a sexy, intimate thing, eating an artichoke in public.

And then, just when you think your experience could not improve … you see a lovely bed of cous cous and cheese on top of the artichoke bottom. This, my friends, is the little bit of heaven you’ve been craving. If you have to, Rochambeau* with your companion – best two out of three – to take full possession of bottom and don’t look back. It’s that good.

(Hint #2: Squirrel away a piece of the crusty bread ingot that comes when you’re seated. It is perfect for mopping up all of the yummy goodness left in the bottom of your dish.)

Take it from me, stuffing an artichoke and making it edible can break even the most dedicated home cook. I’ve tried and it takes hours, and hours, and hours of steaming and boiling. I’ve also scraped my hands on the tough raw exterior and pouted in frustration when none of it worked.

Now there is no reason to fret or pout. There is a restaurant where it works. So, I say, “Cheers to the magic Chef Komorek works in his kitchen!” Make your reservations, ask for the Stuffed Artichoke, and Eat It, St. Louis! You’ll be happy you did.

*Rock, paper, scissors

Trattoria Marcella
3600 Watson Rd
St. Louis, MO 63109
(314) 352-7706

Trattoria Marcella on Urbanspoon

Foodbuzz
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