Thursday, April 30, 2015

Miso Butter-Glazed Salmon

Here at the Canteen, we're always seeking out variations on our tried and true recipe rotation; in this case, I was able to identify an alternative to the salmon with mustard sauce that shows up on the house menu approximately once a month. In the latest issue of my Food & Wine Magazine, Chef Jenn Louis (of Lincoln Restaurant fame in Portland, OR) contributed a quick and simple recipe for salmon filets roasted with a miso butter glaze and served with a radish salad. Chef Jenn's version uses red miso; however, I was able to substitute in blond miso (which I had on hand from my vegetable soup from a few months back), yielding an umami-pack spread when combined with softened Kerrygold Butter. After rubbing the filets with canola oil and dusting with salt/pepper, you apply a dollop of the glaze across the top and roast them in a 425F oven for about 15 minutes. The finished dish is a little on the rich side (I could probably cut back on the butter a bit and not miss out on anything), but still darn tasty - I didn't even bother making the radish salad or the sesame oil/rice vinegar dressing as radishes are not particularly popular in this household. I'm now on the lookout for further uses of the miso butter I've got left over (feel free to send any suggestions my way)...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Olde Bay Cafe

Before we moved to Florida, I would have guessed that the vast majority of the restaurants in the state would be of the dockside fish shack variety; that is, small, shot-and-a-beer type saloons with Doobie Brothers playing on the stereo, salt-spray ocean odor wafting through the open windows, and piles of fried seafood available to anyone who wants it. Grizzled fishermen would be perched at the bar, staring at a NASCAR race on the big screen while tourists from Iowa wandered in, briefly surveying the menu before leaving in search of a tiki bar.

Now that we're here, I see that the reality is a little different. Most eateries in the greater Tampa area are pretty much the same as they'd be elsewhere, the usual mixture of fast food, sit-down chain outlets, quasi-ethnic ventures (a surprising number of joints serving both sushi and Italian food, for example), and a smattering of high-quality, more trendy establishments. Finding the fish shacks proves to be more difficult, but they do exist, if not quite exactly in the form I envisioned. When our local food critic, Laura Reilly of the Tampa Bay Times, released her listing of the top 50 Tampa Bay restaurants in 2015, I was startled to see such a place included on the roster, the Olde Bay Cafe in Dunedin, which can, in fact, be found dockside on the harbor, with more boats than cars parked next to it. When Mrs. Hackknife and Hackknifette wanted to meet junior and me for dinner after a mom-daughter beach afternoon, this is where we decided to rendezvous.

The place is small (we'd walked by a few times before to/from the dock to watch the sunset and I'd never noticed a restaurant there) with all seating outdoors (except for 3 or 4 barstools inside) so patrons can better enjoy the balmy tropical climate.

What you see to the left of the bar above is the kitchen. The whole kitchen. No fryers (you can't get popcorn shrimp here), just a stove for pan-searing and an oven for finishing, plus refrigeration and a little prep area. With such a limited space, you would guess that the menu would be brief, and you'd be correct.

Appetizers run the gamut from crab cakes to ahi tuna. We went for the blue crab fish dip (simply delicious) and a half-dozen plump, briny Gulf oysters, one of which had already slid through my gullet before I took this picture.

Had we been ambitious enough to catch our own fish (unlikely), the cook would have prepared it for us ($8.99 per person, including salad and 2 sides). Instead, I opted for the fresh grouper sandwich with a side of potato chips and a tasty cup of house Asian noodle salad (Mrs. Hackknife chose a pair of fish tacos). While not the best grouper sandwich I've ever had, I'm convinced that the craft beers on tap (no Bud to be found) and the shoreline setting made everything taste just a little better. For now, Olde Bay Cafe seems to most closely represent the fish shack I had in my imagination (but I'll keep looking for others)...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Locale Market

After our stellar meal at Farmtable Kitchen, the missus and I returned to Locale Market a few weeks later for lunch at the upstairs wine bar with some friends. The market's main entrance is via the mall's expansive courtyard, but patrons can also enter through an entrance along 2nd Avenue N.

Once inside, you'll encounter wall-to-wall shelving and cases of products ranging from fresh pasta, craft beer, produce, sandwiches to-go, seafood, meats, cheese, bakery goods, prepared salads, ice cream, coffee - the list goes on and on.

We coincidentally timed our walkthrough while Chef Matt was performing surgery on another swordfish, this time downstairs at the seafood counter to the delight of onlookers (I nearly backed into the pointy bill when I was contemplating various flavors at the gelato bar - fortunately, the safety lemon prevented me from having to make an awkward and unscheduled visit to the proctologist).

Piscine crisis averted, I ended up choosing the Nutella gelato. It was smooth, creamy, and refreshing.

Our food at lunch was delectable as well (no, I didn't have dessert first - I'm going slightly out of sequence). The table all shared an appetizer plate of what's described as "malfatti" on the menu (which translates to "poorly made" from Italian), gnarled and crispy fried sheets of fresh pasta sprinkled with parmesan and local Anna Maria Island bottarga, then served with a dollop of herb foam. My suspicion is that the pasta sheets used in this dish are discarded, off-spec orphans (hence the name), but you certainly can't tell from the taste that anything went awry in the kitchen.

The bowl of dark tagliatelle with Key West shrimp and Two Docks clams in a wine-butter sauce that I had for my entree was definitely ON spec. Nothing to see here (I mean, my plate was empty in a hurry).

I promise that the next blog posting will not involve Farmtable, Locale Market, or anything remotely related to St. Petersburg. I don't want to get into a rut...

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Farmtable Kitchen (Locale Market)

The present time is April 2015. I've now had the pleasure of exploring Tampa Bay area cuisine for a full two years and I've learned a lot, like Cuban restaurants are as ubiquitous here as hot dog stands in Chicago and Florida might actually offer beef that's as impressive as the seafood that gets pulled from its surrounding waters. Mrs. H. and I have had (among other things) elegant tasting menus, down-n-dirty tacos, sublime pho, tasty grouper, spicy datil peppers, deviled crab, sofkee, a half of grapefruit slathered with chicken livers, and enough yellow rice/beans to feed a small Caribbean nation. But one thing we hadn't discovered was a local dining establishment that combined the best aspects of today's gastronomy; that is, a rarefied meal featuring equal parts high-quality and regionally-sourced ingredients, inventive and well-executed dishes, tremendous flavor, attentive service, and theatrical flair. I am excited to say that I believe we have now found such a dining experience in our adopted city at a place called Farmtable Kitchen in downtown St. Petersburg.

Farmtable Kitchen is one portion of a foodie complex named Locale Market, a larger venture spearheaded by celebrity chef Michael Mina (operator of restaurants nationwide) in partnership with local chef Don Pintabona. Open since December of last year, Locale takes up a decent chunk of real estate in the upscale Sundial shopping complex, with several food counters on the first floor (some offering take-out and others selling fresh ingredients) and a wine bar/restaurant upstairs. When we booked our table at FK (using the online ticketing software developed by our friends from Next/Alinea in Chicago), I was curious enough just to see what the marketplace was like as, to the best of my knowledge, there hasn't been any equivalent of this type of business around town (I'll have a future posting on Locale in the coming weeks). Prior to our meal, Chef Don and his head server Ron gave our small group a champagne tour of the market stalls before heading to the private dining venue on the second floor.

At the moment, seating for Farmtable Kitchen is limited to a single communal table (which sits about 12) in a small, rustic room with sliding barn doors closing it off from the rest of the wine bar and fishbowl glass on an adjoining wall (presumably to make other diners jealous as they head to and from the restrooms). We were comfortable (if not a bit cramped) and happy to talk with similarly-obsessed food nuts while waiting for our 8-course meal to begin.

Chef Don and Co. wasted no time in securing everyone's attention. Before too long, a whole swordfish perched on a rolling cutting block drifted by our fishbowl glass and was parked next to us, causing all conversation in the room to immediately cease. After the obligatory photos and a brief aside from Chef Matt Dahlkemper, the swordfish (which had been caught near Jupiter, on the Atlantic coast) was fileted tableside, seared with a blowtorch, and presented on a plate along with toasted peanuts, saffron threads, nam prik (Thai chili sauce), and a small salad of avocado and Lambeth Groves grapefruit.

The wine paired with this lovely dish was a Robert Weil "Tradition" riesling from the Rheingau region of Germany. In case you're curious, we were told that the remainder of the fish would either be sold at the fresh fish counter downstairs or used for other dishes in the restaurant.

Our second course (labeled on the menu as "Foraged/Garden") was a simple, yet punchy bowl of Faithful Farms beets (grown just across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Palmetto) presented in a few different ways (raw, cooked, and dehydrated "soil"), bull's blood greens, and an infusion of hickory smoke, a combination of tastes and textures I absolutely loved. An uber-grassy Round Pond sauvignon blanc from Napa was chosen to accompany the beets (Mrs. Hackknife enjoyed this, but it wasn't my favorite).

Course #3 featured a tree stump plate topped with slices of luscious prosciutto di parma and a little sandwich of oozing taleggio cheese on artisan olive loaf from the bakery downstairs. The richness of the ham and cheese perfectly melded with a glass of bright Corsican rose wine (Clos Canarelli), a bottle of which was brought home to the Canteen after dinner.

Chef Pedro Arreaza subsequently entered the room to prepare our pasta course, three pockets of cappellacci pasta filled with a mixture of blue crab and marscapone, topped with tarragon, lobster-infused butter, and a bit of black caviar. The chef joked that almost everyone asked for more of these once they finished and I could understand why after making them disappear in short order. The wine pairing for this dish was a bit unusual, a glass of funky Tahbilk marsanne (a white grape normally associated with the Rhone region of France) that I found overpowering by itself, but mellowed out by the rich pasta and sauce.

Next up came a palate cleanser of sorts (dubbed an "intermezzo" on the menu), two fruit and vegetable based shooters. The first was a vibrant green shot glass containing pureed kale, spinach, and mint with a minted salt rim (like a healthy virgin margarita), plus a tumbler with strawberry juice, scarlet radish, honey, and dehydrated strawberry petals. While refreshing, this was the one course I wasn't particularly crazy about.

Chef Matt returned to the space with another visual aid, this time a hunk of 80-day dry-aged prime beef from the meat locker in the market downstairs. Pieces of this beef had been sliced off and seared medium rare for our dining pleasure, then placed on a plate with a similar cut of wet-aged beef for comparison.

The beef was served with a bit of wilted baby spinach from Faithful Farms, some trumpet, maitake, and alba mushrooms (which I politely declined), and a smear of bold chimichurri-chipotle aioli sauce. Both slices of beef were divine and, as expected, I had a slight preference for the minerally tang of the dry-aged meat. Not pictured was a tasty country sourdough roll from the bakery downstairs (gone before it could be memorialized in pixels) and two glasses of wine, a delicate red Bordeaux (Chateau Coutet Saint-Emilion) and a vibrant Joseph Carr cab sauvignon from Napa.

One last tableside prep followed, this time a "pre-dessert" featuring a scoop of Tahitian vanilla bon-bon (which is what they call their house-made ice cream) flash frozen in liquid nitrogen, then topped with a heady dose of LAMILL espresso.

Now sufficiently jazzed by sugar and caffeine, we happily dug into our final dish of the evening, a deconstructed s'mores consisting of a long, thin slab of Valrhona milk chocolate ganache, oat graham base, dollops of browned campfire marshmallow, crispy chocolate curls, and a dusting of cocoa powder. Divine solo, this collection of sweets fared even better with the Alvear Pedro Ximenez Solera 1927 sweet sherry that accompanied it (if any of you would like to gift me a bottle, Father's Day is coming up).

The consensus opinion of the communal diners was that this meal (the whole experience, really) had been spectacular, breaking new ground in our local dining scene. I am keeping fingers crossed that Chef Don and his talented crew at Farm Table are able to sustain their early success and get the word out to folks on the far side of the bay that their new venture is well worth the drive over to St. Pete. The other chefs in town should be on notice that the fine dining bar has been nudged a little higher...

Friday, April 3, 2015

Slyce Pizza

Among the numerous discoveries we've made about the Indian Rocks Beach area (which include uncrowded beaches) is what we believe to be the greater Tampa Bay area's leading pizza so far; that is, Slyce Pizza Bar, just across the road from the Gulf of Mexico at 311 Gulf Boulevard. Although not quite the equal of the pies available in Chicago (but, then again, is anyone?), Slyce offers some inventive (if not outright bizarre) topping combinations like the "Pear a Dice" (olive oil, sliced pear, gorgonzola, mozzarella, and prosciutto) and the "Coney Island" (beanless chili, sliced all-beef hot dogs, cheddar, diced white onions, ketchup, and spicy mustard), plus a decent selection of craft beers on tap and bottle (although they have a tendency to run out of the more popular varieties). After several hours of baking in the warm Florida sun, there are few better things than sitting in an air-conditioned restaurant sipping a Wit bier and indulging in a slice of red clam pie (see photo above). If you happen to be in town during tourist season, be sure to show up early to avoid a long wait for tables...