Thanks for tuning in to this bi-weekly installment of the series on life at One Block West in the year 2011. This is the April 1st edition and it's been a really busy time since the March 15th edition.
We started off with a South African wine dinner on the 17th followed by a 9-course Chef's Tasting on the 18th. The two back-to-back special menus had us jamming non-stop for three days. By the weekend, I was dead man walking, but was very happy with the way the two dinners came off. The South African dinner was a lot of fun for us. None of the crew has ever been to South Africa, so we were a bit at a loss for menu ideas, but we were able to connect with some chefs in South Africa and with some embassy staffers here in DC to pick their brains for ideas. I had hoped to pilfer ideas by looking at South African high-end restaurant menus on the web, but I found that a frustrating process because their menus look a lot like our nightly menus, except that they are at the end of summer now and featured fresh tomatoes everywhere. Bastards!
The nine-course tasting the following night, Friday, was a huge effort on the part of all the crew. Once you start doing the math—each course had six or seven components—you realize that we cooked a lot of food. I hit the kitchen around 7:30am to make this dinner come off by 6:30pm. This dinner was an exercise in playing with techniques—separating a salad dressing and serving the acid part cold as a granita and the fat component hot—which taught us quite a lot. You never learn anything if you don't push boundaries. Needless to say, I was beat on Saturday morning and had to drag myself to work.
By contrast on the 24th, we did another Chef's Tasting that was seemingly effortless. Because of the way our week went, we did not have time to do any advance planning on the menu, so we started on the morning of the 24th. The late start forced us into a menu that didn't require a lot of advanced prep and that was a good thing. We were able to put on a really elegant menu without killing ourselves. Tastings should run this way every time!
In between these two sets of tasting, the 20th arrived. This is a time of dread for many small businesspeople in Virginia, myself included. Sales tax collected the prior month is due on the 20th. And when we collect sales tax on your dinner, we also collect a local meals tax that goes to our town. This tax is also due on the 20th. While I am at it, I might as well compute and remit the Virginia withholding taxes, which are not due until the 25th, but I like to get all the pain out of the way at one time. Federal withholdings are deposited each pay period by EFT and they actually the easiest of all the taxes to pay. All told, I spend an hour dealing with taxes each 20th. If you could see how my day typically unfolds, you would see that finding an uninterrupted hour to do anything doesn't happen very often.
The renovation of the restaurant continues apace, though that pace is much slower than I would like. At the current pace, it looks to me like we'll be at it for another two months, but we have made great progress already and already it looks like a different restaurant. Over the past two weeks, we have patched a lot of walls in preparation for painting, ordered chargers for the tables, put new candle holders on the tables, installed a new sound system, hung new window treatments, and finally, we have started painting. What a huge difference paint makes!
As part of the renovation, I had thought to try to find a piece of sculpture to hang on the back wall, as a focal point for guests as they enter the restaurant. I had heard some good things about a local artist who had just done a show at a local gallery and who had recently participated in a local charity event. Given the hours that I work, going to galleries and charity events is not an option, so I haven't seen this guys' work. I called the gallery and got his phone number and arranged for him to come look at the space where I wanted the sculpture installed. I was amused by the conversation, a perfect example of salesmanship gone wrong, which ran thus:
Him: "What are you looking for?"
Me: "A found-art, three-dimensional sculpture for this space, something that will be a focal point and that says 'food and drink.'"
Him: "What about animals or fish?" Me: "No, wine bottles, old silverware, old cookware, something that says food and drink."
Him: "What about a crab?" Me: "Do you have a portfolio I can look at? I've never seen your work before and I'd like to see that you are the right guy for the job."
Him: "No, I didn't bring it with me. Besides, each piece is different and yours will be different too."
Me: "Is it on-line? We can go take a look at it now."
Him: "No, it's not on-line. How much do you want to spend?"
Me: "I've never bought a sculpture before so I have no idea what it will cost. What's a ballpark range?"
Him: "It depends on what you want."
Me: "OK, so how do we proceed from here?"
Him: "If you provide me a sketch of what you want, I can build it."
Can you imagine me saying to my tasting customers, "If you write out a menu for me, I will cook it for you."? Nuts. This guy lost the job from the get-go. What artist trying to get a commission arrives without a portfolio? Seriously.
Alsoover the past couple of weeks, I'm working on a web site update. Our site is very tired and old-fashioned and like a lot of old sites, has grown by accretion. It's time to go back to the drawing board and simplify. Rather than do it all myself this time (the current site looks like a DIY hack), I have engaged a designer friend to put together the basic site from a design that we did a couple of years back. I will still handle all the content. Looking forward, I believe this means that this blog will no longer be hosted on blogger, but will become part and parcel of the restaurant web site. Stay tuned.
I mentioned back in January that I had an interview with a writer for the National Culinary Review about kale. The article was just published; writer Laura Taxel did a fine job talking about the underutilized kales.
More signs of spring are everywhere. We had a glorious two-week run of rockfish when it was both plentiful and cheap, direct from the Chesapeake. But within two weeks, all the local fishermen had exhausted their tags and the price jumped from $7 to $10 and now $15 per pound. Our microgreens guy has returned after turning off the heat in his greenhouse for the winter. Cabbages that overwintered are looking gorgeous now at the farmers market. New items at the market: microradishes, arugula, wild watercress. Things are looking up, but morels are still not in yet. I cannot wait for them any longer. I want my morels!
Finally, given that it is April Fools' Day. I want to leave you with a copy of tonight's dinner menu. I have no idea how customers will react. I am sure that most will chuckle a bit and I am equally sure that I will piss someone off.
Friday, April 1, 2011
Greens, Egg, and Ham $80
Frisée with Crispy Prosciutto and Bacon Lardons Topped with a Poached Egg
A Clockwork Orange $80
Mediterranean Salad of Oranges, Almonds, Feta, and Microgreens
Monster Mâche $80
Mâche, Hazelnut, and Goat Cheese Salad
Scalloped Potatoes* $100
Prosciutto-Wrapped Sea Scallops on Potato-Bacon Chowder
Shrimpy Sausage $80
Shrimp and Chorizo Skewer; Pimentón Sauce; Roasted Red Pepper Salad
On a Roll $80
White Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato & Pesto Bruschetta; Herb Oil; Shaved Pecorino
There’s a Hare in my Soup $80
Cream of Rabbit Soup with Local Vegetables
Mussel Bound $90
Baked Gratin of Prince Edward Island Mussels, White Sauce, Chorizo, and Roasted Red Peppers
Leaning Tower of Pizza $100
Napoleon of Mini Flatbreads with Caramelized Onions, House-Cured Duck Confit and Gorgonzola
How Boaring! $90
House-Made Terrine of Wild Boar Flavored with Cranberries and Porcini Mushrooms
Pasta la Vista $250
Black Trumpet and Hedgehog Mushrooms with Pancetta, Wide Egg Noodles, Spinach, and Cream
Where’s the Beef? $200
Bread, Sautéed Shiitakes, and Roasted Poblanos Set in a Savory Sweet Potato Custard
Crabbie Patties $260
Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes; Farmers Market Slaw
Half-Baked Tuna* $420
Yellowfin Tuna Served Medium Rare; Herb and Caper Bud Sauce; Red Russian Kale
Roe, Roe, Roe Your Boat* $260
Roasted Shad Roe; Rapini; Lemon, Bacon, and Caper Sauce
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish $240
Red Snapper with Smoked Bluefish Cream; Local Chinese Broccoli
Yam on the Lam $220
Local Lamb and Vegetables in Gravy Topped with Sweet Potato Purée and Baked
You Jerk! $220
Jamaican-Style Jerked Oxtail on Creamy Polenta
Fowl Play: Holy Mole! $200
Chicken in Classic Peanut Mole (Mole de Cacahuate); Rice and Beans
Minuet Steak* $330
Filet Mignon; Local Chinese Broccoli; Roasted Fingerling Potatoes; Stout-Bacon Sauce
Until next time, when I hope I can speak glowingly of this years' morel crop.