Thursday, March 27, 2008

Le Gourmet Club Hits the Left Bank

We're going to have some fun a la Français with restaurateur Philippe Beltran. His newly opened Bleu Boheme in Kensington has become quite a hit, what with its Parisian Left Bank bistro meets French country classics fare. (You've got to try the pommes frites with lavender!) Now he's headed west to Mission Hills to open his second of three planned eateries, Papa Nanou, Cuisine de Voyage.

We're also going to chat with former Top Chef contestant and Oceanaire executive chef Brian Malarkey about, what else, the current Top Chef competition now airing Wednesday nights on Bravo. No San Diegans in this season's cook off but Brian will help us figure out how our favorites are faring with the judges.

Join Ron James, Robert Whitley and me live online on Friday at 1 p.m. PDT for The Gourmet Club on You can also podcast the show and listen at your convenience.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

On the Avenue

Chef/proprietor Colin MacLaggan joins The Gourmet Club this Friday to talk about what's cooking at Avenue Five in Bankers Hill. His simple seasonal American cuisine has been getting some nice attention and now that the restaurant has been up and running for awhile, we thought we'd check in and find out what he's doing and what new menu items we can expect this spring.

We'll also get an update from Mike Mitchell of Oceanaire and president of the California Restaurant Association's San Diego chapter on new foodie hot spots in town.

Join Ron James, Robert Whitley and me for another meeting of The Gourmet Club at 1p.m. PDT on SignOn Radio or podcast it to listen at your convenience.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tallgrass Beef Follow Up

A couple of weeks ago, in anticipation of Bill Kurtis guesting on The Gourmet Club, I ordered the new customer introductory package of beef from his Tallgrass Beef company. The package includes one pound of ground beef, an eight-ounce flatiron steak, a 14-ounce ribeye, one pound of fajita meat and four two-ounce patties. The package costs $49.95 plus shipping. For me, the total came to $76.02. And, instead of the promised flatiron, I got a culotte steak.

I received the package a week later, courtesy of a reusable cooler stocked with dry ice. I decided to try the culotte steak first. This is a top sirloin capsteak--very flavorful but because it's so lean, it needs a lot of marinating. I put together a Meyer lemon vinaigrette and let the two sit together for about three hours before running the steak under the broiler.

Meyer Lemon marinade/vinaigrette

Grated lemon peel from one Meyer lemon

Juice from half a Meyer lemon (about ¼ cup)

3 cloves minced garlic

1 tsp champagne mustard

1 tsp minced fresh rosemary

Salt and pepper or red pepper flakes to taste

½ cup olive oil

Mix together all ingredients except olive oil, then slowly drizzle in olive oil using a small whisk to emulsify the marinade.

Enough for two small steaks

And the verdict? The little steak was very tender and very tasty. Could I immediately tell the difference between the flavor of this beef from grass-fed cattle and the usual corn-fed variety? Not really. But I probably should have bought something equivalent from the supermarket to do a side-by-side taste test. I still have the others to try and may just do that.

But, I think the bottom line is balancing health and environmental benefits with cost. Certainly, eating free-range grass-fed meat is better for us and better for the animals -- and better for the earth. I like what Bill Kurtis and the ranchers he works with are doing. The challenge is that Tallgrass has a $99 minimal order rule and let's face it, the additional $26 I spent on shipping could have been spent on more meat. This could be one of those situations in which you do a group order with friends. Or it could mean trying to find something similar that's a little closer to home.

One option I'm going to try comes from a grass-fed beef producer out of Uruguay called Estancia Beef. Okay, this is a lot farther from home -- and this causes concerns in terms of the environment -- but the beef is now being sold in San Diego at Boney's Bayside Market in Coronado so my money will go a lot farther. According to the press release, Estancia beef has been a menu item in high-end San Francisco restaurants and is showing up in top LA restaurants as well. This is the first time it's being sold in San Diego.

Have some thoughts about buying meat in San Diego? Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cheese Chat on The Gourmet Club

For this Friday's meeting of The Gourmet Club, San Diego cheese whiz Gina Freize will be joining us in studio. Gina and her husband Roger own Venissimo in Mission Hills and last year bought Aniata Cheese Company in Del Mar. Gina will update us on new spring cheeses (yes, many cheeses are seasonal) and, in anticipation of St. Patrick's Day, talk about Irish cheeses. And, I'm sure that between Gina and Robert, we'll get some insights on pairing wine and cheese.

And what about pairing cheese with meat? The San Diego Union-Tribune's Doug Verkaaik will be with us to talk about the great San Diego hamburger search. Got a favorite place? Call in and let us in on your local burger preferences.

We'll also have Mike Mitchell of Oceanaire and president of the California Restaurant Association's San Diego chapter give us the lowdown on new foodie hot spots in town.

Join Ron James, Robert Whitley and me for another meeting of The Gourmet Club at 1p.m. PDT on SignOn Radio or podcast it to listen at your convenience.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

No Place for Vegans This Friday on The Gourmet Club

Where’s the beef? This week it’s on The Gourmet Club. We’ll have longtime television journalist and now rancher Bill Kurtis on the show to talk about his new book, The Prairie Table Cookbook, and his grass-fed cattle operation, Tallgrass Beef Company. According to Kurtis, free-range cattle feeding on grass in the pasture from birth to harvest, free of hormones and antibiotics, result in a health food -- beef with more concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acids and ALA (alpha linolenic acid). And, it reduces environmental stress.

Also with us will be Jim Barrasso, owner of Firefly Grill and Wine Bar in Encinitas. On April 3, the restaurant will hold a wine pairing dinner they’re calling “Celebration of Artichokes 2008.”

Finally, our good friend Mike Mitchell of Oceanaire will be in studio to give us an update on dining hotspots around town.

Join Ron James, Robert Whitley and me on Friday, March 7 from 1 to 2 p.m. at, or podcast the show and listen at your convenience!

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Caffe Calabria Expanding Offerings

All sorts of interesting and potentially wonderous things are happening at this North Park coffee roaster/coffee bar/cafe. In fact, the next "/" will be retailer as Arne is getting the back of the building ready to open a retail shop. Already, he's been selling bags of beans and tea, as well as coffee-making equipment, but he's also got some marvelous chocolates for sale, including Eclipse Chocolat bars and some more exotic varieties from Amedei in Tuscany and Claudio Corallo in Africa.

Arne is particularly excited about the Claudio Corallo chocolates because they come from a sustainable plantation called Terreiro Velho, in São Tome e Príncipe, a small African island nation on the West coast of the continent. Corallo has a very interesting story, which you can read about here.

I tried the "Soft" chocolate, tablets of 73.5 percent cocoa. It's slightly sweet, nutty and crunchy (thanks to the cocoa nibs), made only with cocoa, sugar and cocoa butter.

Amedei is based in Pisa and owned by brother and sister Alessio and Cecilia Tessieri. The beans come from growing regions that include Grenada, Jamaica, Madagascar, Trinidad, Ecuador and Venezuela. The beans are processed by the Tessieris in Italy and the recipes are created by Cecilia, a Maitre Chocolatier. Arne had me try the Toscano Brown, a luscious milk chocolate bar that is nevertheless restrained in sweetness. According to Arne, Caffe Calabria is the only shop south of Beverly Hills selling Amedei chocolates and only one of seven in all of California.

I also got a chance to taste a delicious cup of coffee from Caffe Calabria's new Clover machine, a large piece of technology that drop kicks the French press concept into the 21st century by allowing the barista to control the temperature and pressure of a single cup even as the machine compresses the ground coffee into a tight puck to extract the flavor.

Arne tells me that they're still refining their Clover coffee, working on getting that combination of temperature and pressure just right before they start serving to customers. So, stay tuned.

And, for those of you, who, like me, love the fresh roasts they sell but don't live close enough to stop by weekly (or whenever) for a pound bag, Caffe Calabria is going to start a subscription service in the near future. Sign up and you can get your coffee delivered at an interval that works for you so you don't have to put extra bags in the freezer. I've been assured that those of us who have come into the store and signed up will soon be getting an email blast with all the details.

Caffe Calabria is located at 3933 30th St. just north of University Ave. in North Park.

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