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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rumenating on us....

I start to think about where we are as a collective culture....America, the world, humankind. Its just so easy to go down the proverbial "Rabbit Hole", and listen to the talking heads, the anger on both sides that has now become our discourse. I think that there is an amazing introspection to be gleaned from extremism, though the ultimate positive message will be distilled from the fringes. By shoring up our beliefs, and ultimately understanding that we are all better for them, there is a solace in the fact that we don't need them. Like everything in nature, we fight for equity; for a sense of equilibrium or symmetry that just feels right, and, knowing our entitlement (or narcissism) we might not immediately recognize it existence. I am so fond of coming out of an argument feeling that I have intellectually bested (read: kicked the shit out of) my opponent (read: friend/enemy/fellow arguer) that I fail to actually take what I should have away from the conversation. One: My point, while well founded, may not have been the only on the topic and Two: The essence of great thought lies in the subtleties between the words. As a culture that is built upon reactionary tones, and only formulating our response based on the last inflammatory thing that someone says, we forget to portray ourselves as we actually mean to.

"Say what you mean, mean what you say." So many arguments and statements are now lead by agenda based, epithets of partisan lingo that no one truly understands that the meaning is simply lost...and all that exists is the knee-jerk reactions that so often amount to less than a bumper sticker of true individual thought. When I find myself in a helpful place to "sort myself out", politically, humanistically, or just within my own misshapen view of what I want to be for my world, I am certainly with someone who is diametrically opposed (or at least at odds) with my soap box, and injects their views in a manner that makes me wince. A deep breath...but I know that the only constructive response has to be rational, and truthful; we begin to build. Eventually, always, I play for a humanistic, love and community based rationale for all problems. I am unapologetic in the fact that I think our solidification and ultimate reunification of everyone, relies on the fact that there is something beautiful and foundational to be brought out of the struggle. No one gets to be right. No one gets to win. Though for that, we all are better for the fight. Open your ears, rise above the static and tease out the real issues of our world.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A hushed dinner...

I have never been on a blind date. Truth be told, I have never actually been on a classic “first-date.” The inconsolable anxiety, lack of basic information about my dining/beach walking/movie-viewing partner-to-be and claustrophobic prison cell of a date situation in general, sounded like a sweat-fest shit-show of the tallest order to me. Though, I recently attended a Hush Denver dinner event, and there is a generalized “blind-datey” feeling that surrounds the night; and it is simply exhilarating. Hush Denver was started by Phil Armstrong, as a way to celebrate and pay homage to the “others” in the kitchen; the grunting, sweating, bleeding mess of line cooks that actually flex the food out each evening. With the growing adoration and deification of the “Chef”, as a celebrity, a shouting drama queen, but very rarely, actually as a Cook, Hush Denver brings the focus back upon the real architects. For tonight, the menu is unknown, our only information is that it will be featuring food prepared by Erin Boyle, of Root Down “fame” and that it is sure to dazzle.

The dinners (for now) take place at Studio Como, (think Ikea, though the customers aren’t all recently divorced men or college students, but Range Rover driving, square toed shoe wearing, upper crusters with a little funk) and the modern chairs and exposed brick walls are oddly at ease with one another, and appropriately industrial. The energy is generally something between a co-ed mixer, a murder mystery dinner and an awesome 80’s party. Our coats are taken, and we are directed by Phil towards the “bar”, (actually a semi-functional display kitchen) and given a Deshler (made by Kevin Burke, Head Barman of Colt and Gray) to sip on. Approximate something between a Manhattan and a Sidecar in a snifter, and you’re on track. This is paired with a passed-app of a Duck Mousse Bonbon, Nutmeg Cookie with Cranberries and Micro Arugula. For me, the drink is too strong for a first and the mousse is tasty, but a little fatty, and rillette-ish, really lacking citrus or acid to cut it a touch. We meet fun new foodie friends, and find a table that suits our sentimentality (dark, back of the room, by the band) and get to drinking, laughing too loudly and most importantly, eating and judging.

Eating at a dinner with food lovers is much akin to watching previews at a movie. After each bite (or preview) everyone leans in to give their two cents about the thumbs ups and thumbs downs of the offering. Our first course was a Kabocha Squash Soup, with a Cilantro-Squash Seed Pesto, Smoked Brown Sugar and a Lime Crème Fraiche, paired with a Spanish Sitios Bodega, Verdejo/Sauv Blanc blend. The thumbs are up, the crowd is hushed…save a couple “ooh’s” and copious slurping. The soup is executed perfectly: velvety, rich and the Lime Crème Fraiche adding a light crispness that brings all of the flavors together. The wine is humbled by the soup, and falls a touch flat. The table’s bowls are all cleaned thoroughly.

Onto the three main protein courses, with an unfortunate common theme: cold plates. Seared Scallop with Braised Root Vegetables, Pork Belly, Mushroom Jus and Yucca paired with a Opawa New Zealand Pinot Noir. The dish is conceptually quite nice, but the salt is instantly overpowering. The scallop was seasoned well, seared well, but the tepid, brodo-ish vegetables and broth must have been salted before braising and reducing, and the compounded seasoning is just too much. In addition, the “pork belly” was a thin, tangled piece of bacon, which, yes, is in fact pork belly, but stretching the description a bit. The Opawa pinot is bold, inky and delicious, ending up as my favorite amongst a group of interesting pairings. For our third course, Braised Lamb with Israeli Couscous, Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Jam paired with an interesting and delightful La Garrigue, Southern Rhone blend. The dish is really excellent: the lamb is cooked perfectly for me, with crispy seared nibbles on the outside, and a perfect mid-rare on the interior, the tomato “jam” (more like a sweet tomato paste, but great) adding just the right flavor nudge and a complex, herbed take on the couscous. The dish is simply lukewarm at best though, leaving me wishing for a rented hotbox in the kitchen to keep the plates like, Mexican restaurant HOT! Fourth course, third protein: a Pan Seared Blue Marlin, with Blood Orange and a Jungle Broth, paired with a Bonny Doon, Roussanne Grenache Blanc; a wine that I truthfully don’t remember having. The marlin was seasoned and cooked very well, only, it happened probably 20 minutes ago. I am reminded of my banquet serving days, eating cold leftover plates in the hotel back hallway, and thinking how great they would have been, hot and fresh. The blood orange and jungle broth are an interesting nod to Thai jungle curry or country curry, with peppery, soft notes, but falls short of truly fitting with the marlin. All of the mains had a potential for greatness, but a couple seasoning missteps and serious temperature concerns (easily fixed with a plate warmer) kept them from attaining their full “Oh my God!” factor.

Second star to the right, and straight on till morning…we enter Dessertland. A jiggly and sensual Rose Panna Cotta, with Lemon Saffron Sorbet, Clover honey and a Lemon Tuille is placed before me. With a Moscato in my hand…I smile. Now, read this knowing that the Pastry Chef from Root Down, Samm Sherman, is a friend of mine from culinary school, but I am not biased: the dessert was great. Save for the rose petal on the plate, (NO inedible/non-functional garnishes!) the dish was delicious. The panna cotta had just enough of a hint of rose, and was a consistency just perfect for squishing through my teeth (my preferred eating method), and the lemon saffron sorbet was uber-sweet and saffrony, a combo that I was concerned about. Eaten in one forkful, the plate was delightful, all elements singing in harmony.

As was discussed at my table, eating at Hush Denver is about the mission: Give the underlings some light to shine in, support local eateries and do so with the fellowship of foodies and fun-loving gastronomes alike. I am always happy, full and a bit buzzed after a Hush meal, and leave with great new friends and a head full of conversation. There were some stumblings in the meal, but ask anyone that was there: it was fun as hell. The Chefs are putting themselves out there, with no walls segregating us, and making a symphony come together out of thin air. It’s at the very least an exciting, mysterious adventure in foodery and a chance to be in a think-tank of discerning and intentional eaters. I will be at every Hush Denver event; in anxious anticipation of my “blind-date”, red rose in hand…waiting to be wowed.