Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pub Republic: Poetry in Poultry, and Thick Cut Bacon

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 11:18 AM

Sometimes you just want to throw down about a dish. Thick cut bacon. A dish with healing powers. Thick cut bacon. A dish to thicken the blood, brighten the mood, and get yer mojo working. Thick cut bacon. A dish whose various elements come together in a combination of plain ol' googly-eyed comfort and crispy, primal bliss to satisfy the inner yowling caveman. The Brick Chicken & Brussels Sprout Bacon Hash at the friendly Petaluma outpost Pub Republic is one such dish. Thick cut bacon. Here's how it works: You take a brick, wrap in it some foil, stick it on top of the chicken, and cook the freaking chicken. Behold the result: Crispy, flattened skin of the bird, encasing some juicy white meat so tender a spork can cut it. Thick cut bacon. I'd have taken a picture but for the fear of stealing that dish's soul.

From the menu, it appears that the Brick Chicken is actually a poem, disguised as food:


Free Range
Crispy Boneless
Half Chicken
Brussels Sprout,
Potato Hash

Give that dish a MacArthur Genius Grant! Make it the poet laureate of well-tendered poultry! Thick cut bacon. And salute the power of the non-boiled Brussels Sprout, which also appears on the menu in a munchy-lunchy taco incarnation. Thick cut bacon. Is it time for lunch yet? And here's a question, for the ages: Why would you not order the jumbo Arugula and Pistachio salad to go with the Brick Chick? The $11 salad with the toasted nuts and juicy bites of luscious grapefruit? The one with a Mt. Tam-size heap of fresh, crisp, musky greens, a little shaved fennel throughout, and those little pebbles of pistachio. Thick cut bacon. Oh yes. And I love a restaurant that doesn't charge ya for seltzer water, and whose bartender doesn't give the stink eye for not ordering a beer with your supper. Did I mention the thick cut bacon? Or the thick cut bacon? They also have some thick cut bacon at Pub Republic.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

July 20: Battle of the Grill Takes Over Six Westside Wineries

Posted By on Fri, Jul 12, 2013 at 12:15 PM

What’s better than a grill loaded with meats and vegetables lathered up in a tangy, spicy BBQ sauce? How about six grills matched up with six chefs, who’ve set about to create the most delicious food and wine pairing that they can possibly imagine? The 1st Annual Battle of the Grill competition has created a grill scavenger hunt of sorts, sending event goers from one Westside Road winery to another, for a sampling of grill and wine pairings from each location. Chef and winery pairings include Alderbrook Winery and Healdsburg Bar and Grill; Mill Creek Winery and Michael Mazzanti; VML Winery and BBQ Smokehouse Catering; Gary Farrell Winery and Grapevine Catering; HKG Estate Wines and Kenwood Inn & Spa, and Thomas George Estates and Canetti Italian Roadhouse.

In the style of high-stakes cooking shows like Masterchef, minus the insufferable Gordon Ramsey factor, votes will be tallied at the end of the day and the winning winery and chef gets a Battle of the Grill Trophy and bragging rights for the entire year, until the next battle, that is. No tickets sold at the door. Ticket sales end on Wednesday, July 17. Battle of the Grill turns up the heat on Saturday, July 20 at an assigned Westside Road winery. 11am-4pm. $70-$40.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

'I Don't Want to Eat Octopus'

Posted By on Fri, Jun 7, 2013 at 12:24 PM

I don’t eat octopus. It has a lot to do with respect. If I were less hypocritical, I would probably not eat any meat, even fish. But no, I have standards. An animal has to impress me somehow in order to stay off my plate. There are too many reasons to list why octopus meets this criteria for me, but they are damn smart, adaptable to any situation, can communicate with sudden changes in color, mimic other animals, can crush far more than its body weight, etc.

This kid (I believe he’s speaking Portuguese) doesn’t want to eat his octopus. Not because the taste, but because it’s a living creature. He then launches into a beautiful and articulate diatribe about why he doesn’t want to eat animals, and even makes his mom cry. The weirdest part is he looks a little bit like me as a kid.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cheeseburger Food Porn

Posted By on Tue, Nov 20, 2012 at 3:16 PM


It’s time to come clean: I have been looking at porn on my work computer. But it was for a project I was working on, I swear. Don’t judge me. You know you’ve done the same thing. You’re a little bored, so maybe you check your personal email. A friend sent a link. You look over your shoulder with those shifty eyes and make sure headphones are plugged in and sound at a low volume for double protection. One click and you’re listening to Patrick Warburton (Putty from “Seinfeld,” Kronk from “The Emperor’s New Groove”) elicit descriptions of sinful, naughty, sloppy cheeseburgers.

It’s so good, but it’s so, so bad. Almost every single sandwich in the Cheese and Burger Society has bacon. Some have two patties in one bun. One is topped with a fried egg, onion rings and ham in addition to cheddar and beef. Warburton calls it “a one way ticket to Yummyville,” then ask seductively, “Wanna ride shotgun?”

The aptly named Bohemian is, of course, our official preference. A burger with Gouda, fried proscuitto, wilted spinach, sliced turkey and pesto mayo on oat bread. They’re not all great, though. The Crabby Louie cheeseburger has krab meat, avocado, caramelized onion mayo and Monterey jack. That sounds like something from a “Saw” film. “EAT IT OR SHE DIES!!!!!!” “Do I REALLY have to?”

There are 40 burgers in all, the “inaugural 30” plus 10 named after cities. I’d like to think Warburton adlibbed much of the descriptions, because some are just so… weird. Kudos to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, who launched the site this year as part of its Cheese and Burger Society campaign, highlighting Wisconsin cheese. Though everyone knows California and Wisconsin don’t see eye to eye when it comes to dairy products, we all know who has a better football team. And baseball team. And weather. And, well, the list goes on. But when it comes to marketing cheese, Wisconsin, I tip my hat to you.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Farmed Salmon Worth Another Look

Posted By on Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 2:21 PM

Salmon with pear vinegar cream by John Ash
  • Salmon with pear vinegar cream by John Ash

There are two opinions on farmed salmon. One says that salmon is salmon and it’s good for you no matter where it’s from. The other says farmed salmon is horrible for your body and the environment no matter where it’s from. Whereas though the latter school of thought may have once been the case, in the past few years there have been dramatic changes made in the way salmon is being farmed; it now takes another level of investigation to determine what really is the wave of the future.

John Ash
  • John Ash

Chef John Ash has been involved with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program since it launched in 1999. The organization is regarded as the most stringent guide of what’s sustainable in terms of fishing and what’s safe for the human body in terms of minerals and pollutants. Currently, farmed salmon is on the “Avoid” list because of environmental concerns from the process and the amount of fish it takes to feed the salmon. The current standard, according to the Seafood Watch, is three pounds of feeder fish for every pound of farmed salmon harvested. It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that isn’t sustainable, and that’s one of the main reasons the program does not endorse the practice. But if the wild population of salmon continues to be the only source that’s used for food, even with the best regulations on fisheries it is estimated there will be none left by the end of this generation.

“I’m an old guy,” says Ash at a demonstration this morning for a new company offering sustainably-farmed salmon. “I’ve seen the ups and downs of farmed salmon.” He even took a tour in 1981 of a salmon farm in Norway, but it was less than inspiring. “It was like conventional chicken farming,” he says. “You could literally walk across the water on the backs of the salmon.” This created the need for extensive antibiotics and still resulted in low-quality fish. Fast forward thirty years, and companies are still trying to figure out how to sustainably farm the world’s favorite fish, but things are getting significantly better.

Japanese style roasted salmon by John Ash
  • Japanese style roasted salmon by John Ash

For example, Verlasso, the company he was endorsing and which supplied the fish for a cooking demonstration to about 30 students, media members and fish buyers at the SRJC Culinary Café, has found a way to control the ratio of feeder fish to 1:1 by supplementing omega 3-rich sardines, anchovies and herring with omega 3-rich yeast borne from algae. Coloring of the flesh comes not from dyes or chemical agents fed to the fish, but from beta carotene harvested from another type of algae, “which is what makes flamingoes pink,” says Verlasso Director Allyson Fish (yes, that’s her real name). The resulting mixture is pressed into pellets and fed to the salmon. As for Ash’s first farm experience, Verlasso is among a new breed of companies expanding the size of their ocean-based pens, giving the fish enough room to keep them from getting sick en masse.

Jennifer Bushman
  • Jennifer Bushman

Despite the slew of feel-good facts about any company, and no matter how environmentally friendly the farms are, the bottom line boils down to taste. Will chefs and consumers buy this? Does it taste better than what’s available now? With endorsements from Ash and chef Jennifer Bushman, who also spoke on behalf of Verlasso this morning, the tide may be turning on the farmed salmon debate. It tastes good, with a fat percentage closer to wild salmon than any other farmed Atlantic salmon (which is by far the most popular farmed salmon species). Ash said, “I don’t think you could tell the difference,” between Verlasso and wild Atlantic salmon. One caveat to this argument, however, is there may not be a chance to tell the difference. Wild Atlantic salmon are all but extinct due to overfishing. Pacific salmon is a different species, therefore will have a different flavor to begin with, farmed or wild.

But no matter how tasty farmed salmon is, wild salmon will always be preferred by top chefs. David Holman, executive chef with the Charlie Palmer restaurant group in Reno, said he has to keep salmon on the menu year-round due to customer demand, but chooses to offer wild salmon when in season. He says customers are always informed of the origin of their fish.

SRJC culinary students taste the lecture
  • SRJC culinary students taste the lecture

Holman cited showcasing local ingredients and seasonal bounty as reasons, but it’s no coincidence that wild salmon does taste better. As a former fishmonger, I have never had anything from a farm that tastes as good as wild salmon. Consumers know this, too. Wild salmon, even at $25 per pound, was nearly impossible to keep in stock when we could get it. Farmed salmon, despite being from a sustainable farm similar to Verlasso, sat neglected in the corner of the case even though it was half the price.

Jodie Lau, of Sonoma County supermarket chain G&G, was on hand with other executives from the market. All seemed impressed with the fish and the company, and Lau said she hoped the market could look into ways to begin carrying the fish year-round. If offered at $10.99 per pound retail, it would be comparable in price to other farmed salmon of lesser quality.

Verlasso is trying to break the stigma of farmed salmon not just for profit, but for the future of the world’s fish supply, says Allyson Fish. The company is working with Seafood Watch in hopes it will become the first farmed salmon to earn a “recommended buy” from the organization. It’s one of six aquaculture companies, the only one producing salmon, vying for this certification. By shooting for the top, this opens the door for other groups like the Marine Stewardship Council to look at farmed fish in a different light, and hopefully help change public perception through education.

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Ike's Place Finally Opens in Santa Rosa!

Posted By on Sat, Jul 7, 2012 at 7:12 PM

Ike Shehadeh, on opening day in Santa Rosa
The line was out the door, the parking lot was full, and the kitchen was bustling—meaning that yes, finally, after two years of permit wrangling, Ike's Place opened today in the former Merv's Little Super building on Mendocino Ave. in Santa Rosa.

Who should be delivering the sandwiches personally but Ike Shehadeh himself, clearly relieved to finally take down the "Coming Soon" banner and start serving his world-renowned sandwiches. In fact, in the 20 minutes I was there, I saw him hug at least a dozen customers.

If you're not familiar with Ike's Place, you will be. After all, this is a place that was evicted from its original location on 16th Street in San Francisco for essentially being too popular. Sure enough, for today's opening, and with only a Facebook posting as an announcement, the crowds turned out in droves.

I ordered a sandwich called the Matt Cain—the San Francisco Giants have a heavy presence at Ike's—and chatted with Ike a little bit about why he chose to open in Santa Rosa. Turns out his girlfriend is from Sonoma County, and in addition to his residence above the original Ike's Place in San Francisco, he now has a downtown apartment here in Santa Rosa.

So what's unique to the Santa Rosa spot? Customers will notice the local touches on the sandwich menu—the 'Luther Burbank,' the 'Charles Schulz,' the 'Deep Throat,' the 'Natalie Wood'—but in actuality, those are mainstay creations of Ike's Place that have simply been given localized names.

What's truly new are a few of Ike's sandwiches that are making their debut here in Santa Rosa. There's the 'Adam Richman,' which Ike and Adam designed on Man vs. Food: "It's a fried chicken cordon bleu, ham, honey, pesto, avocado. I really like that one," says Ike. Also new is the curiously named 'Don't F with Elvis Kieth' ("Elvis Kieth," misspelling and all, was Ike's high school nickname), the 'Huda and the Jillyfish,' the 'Dan Marino,' and the 'Scogee the Caveman.'

The sandwiches at Ike's aren't cheap—I ordered two sandwiches, and was surprised to have to fish for more than a $20 in my wallet. But holy shit, my sandwich was good. Hours later, while telling a friend about how delicious it was, I realized that I could still taste it. That's love.

"My lease is here for 20 years," Ike told me, after giving me a hearty opening-day hug. "So we'll be here."

Ike's Place, 1780 Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Guy Fieri Afraid of the Pit?

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2012 at 3:12 PM

Guy Fieri at the 2011 Wine Country Big Q. Photo by Derrick Story.

Guy Fieri will be in attendance at the Wine Country Big Q barbecue competition at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa July 14, but he won't be cooking. He has hired a ringer to lead his Tex Wasabi team to what he hopes will be a second straight Grand Champion title and berth into the KC Royale BBQ Championship.

This is big time barbecue. This is one of just 29 officially sanctioned Kansas City Barbecue Society events in the state, and the only one in the North Bay. There are two dozen teams competing, and each has paid a hefty $300 for the privilege, in addition to bringing their own meat. There are over $7,500 in prizes available in seven categories. The winner gets a chance to compete in the World Series of BBQ, the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo, with over $300,000 in prizes available.

Ever seen the TLC show "BBQ Pitmasters?" This is that same circuit, and some teams from the show might be there, though not Californian Harry Su (he will be in London at the time, says event organizer Judy Walker). This is show-up-the-night-before-and-season-your-grill BBQ. This is rain-or-shine BBQ. This is two-coolers-of-beer BBQ.

But why isn't Guy "Full Throttle" Fieri manning the grill for this prestigious competition? Is he too popular for mere barbecue cookoffs? Too busy to hold a spatula? Will there not be enough television cameras or radio microphones? One might begin to think Guy's lost a step, perhaps he doesn't have the chops anymore? It almost creates demand for a Anthony Bourdain "Into the Fire" style episode of one of Guy's TV shows to see if he can still hack it in a kitchen.

Or, maybe he wants to win so badly that he hired the Joe Montana of barbecue. The guy who, with tongs in his hand, is unbeatable at his game.

The man's name is literally Dr. BBQ. On his birth certificate the name Ray Lampe is crossed out, and written in red pen (or is that sauce?) next to it is "Dr. BBQ."

Ray Lampe, AKA Dr. BBQ. Photo courtesy

Here are a few of his qualifications to be cooking under the Fieri name:

-Expert judge on the Food Networks "Tailgate Warriors with Guy Fieri."
-Appeared as a BBQ expert on "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives."
-Cooked in over 300 BBQ contests and won over 300 awards.
-Written five cookbooks and is currently working on a sixth.
-Featured on numerous TV shows and in several magazines.
-Won the Wine Country Big Q for Fieri's team last year.
-Spokesman for the Big Green Egg, a formidable (and expensive) charcoal grill.
-Looks like Guy Fieri if Guy Fieri were in ZZ Top.

The competitions include brisket, chicken (any cut, though judges generally prefer thigh), pork ribs (any type is acceptable but spareribs are most common), pork shoulder (butt), leg of lamb and "mystery meat." The judges also determine a Grand Champion, who will be entered into the American Royal Invitational in October. Competitors include rookies, amateurs and seasoned veterans. Not only will they be cooking for qualified KCBS judges brought in from all over the state, they will be cooking for the general public, who have paid $20 to $45 per ticket to slather their faces and coat their stomachs in sauce and delicious animal fat.

Dr. BBQ knows the prescription for a winning brisket, but he will face some tough competition this year. Arizona's IAB (Ineed Another Beer) 30 BBQ, which is ranked No. 18 in the nation, just happens to be in town. And seeking revenge is Casual Smokers, from KC, Mo., who finished second, just behind Tex Wasabi in last year's pork shoulder category.

But no matter who wins, its unlikely anyone will go home feeling empty. The event is a fundraiser for the Children's Museum of Sonoma County, and barbecuing is just fun, even when it's hard work. Eating barbecue is even more fun, especially when you don't have clean up.

The Wine Country Big Q KCBS sanctioned BBQ Competition is July 14, 1 to 5pm at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa. Tickets are $20 for youth, $45 general admission (including bbq, wine tasting, live music from Pete Stringfellow band and others). 707.523.3728.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

French Laundry’s in the HenHouse

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 at 2:58 PM

HenHouses Shane Goepel making Oyster Stout
“I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I think how it happened was that they got a sample from a friend of a friend,” says Shane Goepel. “They emailed us back saying that wanted to carry it.”

Goepel, brewer at HenHouse Brewing Co. in Petaluma, is understandably excited about the news that the French Laundry will be offering HenHouse’s Oyster Stout on their menu. “We’re really excited to have a different clientele,” he adds. “It’s cool to be represented in such a prestigious restaurant.”

As mentioned in Ken Weaver’s Bohemian profile of the small craft-brewers, HenHouse’s Oyster Stout is brewed in two variations: one using crushed oyster shells—the type soon to be offered at Thomas Keller’s Yountville icon—and one where the whole oyster is thrown in the batch, an unusual procedure HenHouse has been experimenting with. All HenHouse’s oysters are sourced locally.

Goepel doesn’t foresee an immediate increase of production of the beer, and as of right now, Henhouse is already operating at 100 percent: three men with daytime jobs and a passion for brewing beer. “All of us would love to give up our day jobs, but we’re a small system, and we’re really working at it,” Goepel says.

“We love to make this beer, and we’ll make this beer for as long as the brew is in operation. We’ll make as much as we can.”

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