Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dine on the Dock to Support Local Fishermen

At one time, San Diego had a bustling fishing industry, luring immigrants from Italy, China, Japan, and Portugal. Canneries came and our local fishermen sold to them. We were the "Tuna Capital of the World." But as price competition encouraged canneries to buy from other countries, the local industry began to wane. At one time we had thousands of commercial fishermen in San Diego. Now there are 121 commercial licenses issued and, according to Catalina Offshore Products' Tommy Gomes, only 85 of those holding the licenses are working--and 65 percent of them are over the age of 55.

I'll be working on that story soon for Edible San Diego, but in the meantime, the San Diego Italian Film Festival is presenting a culinary event this week to highlight the contributions of local fishermen like Mitch Hobron, Mike Flynn, Cliff Hawk, and Zack Roach--and promote the use of local fish of all sizes and species caught by local fishermen to supply San Diego chefs, according to Catt White of San Diego Weekly Markets. She is producing the event with the San Diego Italian Food Festival, Slow Food Urban San Diego, and the San Diego Fishermen's Working Group.

Dine on the Dock, will be held this Thursday, May 31 at 6 p.m. at Driscoll's Wharf/Pier 4 (4918 N. Harbor Dr. in Point Loma). It will feature the catch by these local fisherman who have been paired with chefs Chad White (Gabardine), Amy DiBiase (The Shores), Andrew Spurgin (Campine), Melissa Mayer (Martini Media), Craig Jimenez (Craft & Commerce), Pete Balistreri (Tender Greens), Trey Foshee (Georges at the Cove), Lhasa Landry (Lion's Share), and Peter McCall (Whisknladle). Specialty Produce will be providing the chefs with fruits and veggies. The pressure will be on for the chefs, who won't know until the last minute what the catch of the day will be, but it could be anything from sea urchin, local black gill rockfish, and octopus to sand dabs and spider crab. I don't think they're at all worried.

Local Octopus Salad by Trey Foshee
Chad White's Grilled Sardines at Sea Rocket Bistro

The event also is serving another purpose, to introduce San Diegans to the idea of having a local fisherman's farmers market on Driscoll's Wharf, run, of course, by White.

"The idea is that we'd start with a weekly Friday market with fishermen, farmers, and artisan food along the long walkway in from of American Fish, on the water where the fishermen unload," she explains. "Then it would morph into a [San Francisco] Ferry Building type scenario."  

Chef Chad White is enthusiastic about the idea. "How cool would it be to have a co-op on the dock where people can come up and buy their fish fresh! It's important for our fishing community to grow and for us to be known again as a great fishing town."

Victor Laruccia of the San Diego Italian Film Festival notes that they've been involved for awhile now with Slow Food Urban San Diego in their CineCucina event, so a food event wasn't a stretch for a film organization. Then he and Pete Halmay of the San Diego Fishermen's Working Group were introduced and the two saw a nexus between the Italian community and the fishing community.

"We saw a common cause immediately and asked what could we do to pull that together. So we came up with an event of local food cooked Italian style," explains Halmay. "The idea was to show the people of San Diego that there's a vast rich history of fishing in San Diego."

Laruccia agrees. "Italian cuisine makes use of the kinds of fish caught here, so what would happen if we began to introduce dishes that incorporate the kind of fish we have here? And, for the Italian Film Festival, it represents our culture, so we're interested in that. It's education and exposure, but in a way that appeals to the senses."

Throughout the evening Laruccia will also be airing three short documentaries by director Vittoria De Seta. Originally from Calabria, but an immigrant to Sicily, the director went out with a camera himself, making films that preserved the culture of the 1950s, including three about fishing.

Tickets for the event are $85 and available for purchase online at www.dineonthedock.com.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vivace at the Aviara: When Brunch is a Long, Leisurely Lunch

There was a time when I would drool at the prospect of an expansive hotel Sunday brunch. I'd hit the omelet station for big gooey cheesy guac-packed egginess. Then I'd load up on oysters, pile lox on mini bagels with cream cheese, surreptitiously shove slices of bacon in my mouth while canvassing the rest of the offerings. It was bad. And now, of course, I don't even desire it.

So when I learned about the new Sunday meal that Vivace at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort launched last month--essentially brunch that isn't brunch--I was intrigued. They call it pranzo, which means lunch in Italian and what they have in mind is a leisurely, family-style midday meal, Italian style.

Mozzarella and Antipasti Bar
There are only three all-you-can-eat stations. Well, four if you count the house-made desserts.

When you first walk in through the breezeway there's the crudo bar with Carlsbad Aqua Farm oysters, Caledonian prawns, shrimp, Octopus salad, and Skuna Bay salmon.

Then there's the Burrata Bar, where chef de cuisine Jesse Paul makes mozzarella and burrata using warm salty water held in an induction burner into which he adds cheese curd. The curd melts and Paul removes it, stretching the curd until it forms a shiny mass. He folds it into a ball, tucking it into itself from the bottom, then shocks it in ice water to set, even as the inside remains nice and warm. Yes, he does all this in front of diners, explaining the process throughout. 

Accompanying the cheese was a tangy teardrop tomato salad, olives, a red pepper salad, a beautiful fennel and orange salad, mushroom Parmesan salad, roasted asparagus, pickled garlic cloves, and a selection of breads.

Finally, there's the Artisan Salumi Bar--a dangerous place for me what with Lonzo, Picante Salami, Coppa, and Prosciutto all available, along with cheeses such as the soft Robiola Tre Latti and Pecorino Toscano. I loved the pickled strawberries and candied walnuts, too. And the honeycomb was a nice touch.

This is the kind of food that's meant for sharing, which I did with my two friends. But it's just the prelude to a true family meal because they also have a menu for the main course and sides that are served family style on platters. Yes, they have ravioli and rigatoni, but we ordered the Waygu Flat-Iron steak with Red Wine Mostardo, the Wood Roasted Jidori Chicken with Fruit Mostardo, and the Roasted Sea Bass served with grilled Meyer lemon, capers, and brodo.

All three were light, juicy--even succulent. I especially enjoyed the sea bass, with its tender flesh and very crispy, decadent skin topped by the capers.

We had to order all the sides. There just wasn't one we could discard. So, out came caramalized cauliflower with anchony, currants, and pine nuts; creamy polenta, roasted peewee potatoes seasoned with rosemary and garlic; and a melange of English peas, asparagus, and spring garlic.

As you can see, the portions are modest. It's plenty for sharing, particularly after feasting at the appetizer tables. And, the food is fairly light. So, you don't leave feeling bloated and uncomfortable, even if--as we did--you linger over your Sunday meal for three hours.

When you dine with a pastry chef--in this case, Tina Luu--you sample all desserts. So between us, we, chef Amiko Gubbins, too, probably sampled everything. I recommend the Torta di Cioccolato e Nutella (chocolate Nutella tart), which was rich but not too sweet, the Zuppa Inglese, the Cannoli alla Ricotta, and the Panna Cotta alle Fragole.

Vivace uses local produce from Peterson, Crows Pass, and Valdivia Farms. The cheeses are imported from Italy, and the salamis are a mix of local (Angel Salumi based in Encinitas) and Italian imports.

With your meal, you're served glasses of Prosecco, but you also have a few cocktail choices. Altogether, it's $45 for the meal, which is served from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. And valet parking is free with validation. We sat indoors, but next time, I'd choose a table on the balcony with its splendid ocean view.

Vivace is located in the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort at 7100 Aviara Resort Dr.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Strawberry, Sorrel and Burrata Salad

What did you do for Mother's Day? My parents and I went for our favorite kind of brunch: bagels, lox, and cream cheese. It's the food we're hardwired to eat. We drove over to Del Mar for deli at Milton's and afterwards I figured Mom would enjoy a trip to Chino Farms since we were already on Via de la Valle.

As we approached the farm, we could see the corn stalks in the fields, but they weren't towering very high yet, so we knew that corn wasn't going to be in the stands, but oh, my other Chino favorite was. Strawberries. Not just the large variety they grow, truly sweet and meaty with long stems still attached, but the smaller French variety, which just takes strawberry flavor to even sweeter heights.

These are strawberries meant to be eaten the day they are picked. We didn't even wait to get back to my parents' kitchen before digging in, remembering a similar experience over 30 years ago when we stopped at Rose Ave. in Oxnard on our way home to L.A. from visiting my sister at U.C. Santa Barbara. There was a stand there that sold strawberries by the flat. Huge, juicy, sweet berries with a  natural liqueur that made us feel drunk. Chino Farms brought those delightful memories back as we devoured their flawless berries.

I left three baskets with my folks and took the other three home but couldn't finish them that day. So, on Monday, with a ball of burrata from Taste Cheese in the fridge, sorrel in my garden, and new olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Baker & Olive in the pantry I realized I had a spring salad ready to be created.

Sometimes you just have to let the ingredients sing their own song and not fuss with them. So, all I did was wash the berries and the sorrel, toast some pine nuts, slice the burrata and a small red onion, and blend together the lemon-infused olive oil and violet balsamic--both so thick you don't need an emulsifying agent like mustard to make a dressing.

I tore up the sour sorrel leaves and sprinkled the rest of the ingredients over them. It doesn't get much easier--or fresher. Add a toasted sourdough roll to sop up the oil and vinegar left on the plate and that's lunch.

Here's to spring and here's to the Chinos, who never fail to thrill with their gorgeous produce!

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Golden Oil at Baker & Olive

I've been so tickled to see the rise of local olive oils over the past several years, but I have to admit I'm still enamored by the variety of quality oils produced in other parts of California and around the world. So, I was interested to learn about a relatively new North County retail business that focuses on selling premium olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars.

Baker & Olive opened in Encinitas almost two years ago and is about to launch its second shop in Del Mar Highlands in just over a week. Owned by Marion and Paul Johnson, Baker & Olive is all about specialty foods--whether it's their vast array of oils and vinegars or high-end salts, honeys, preserves, marinades, and teas. They bring in locally baked breads, cheese, and olives as well.

But let's focus on the oils and vinegars because this is really why you'll want to go.

I spent some time with manager Sean Fisher, a chef of 30 years who clearly has a passion for these condiments. He works with a purveyor who knows the producers, their families, the groves, and the production methods. In other words, someone he trusts--which is hugely important when it comes to olive oils. It's all too easy to buy oils that are mislabeled, old, mishandled, and just plain lousy. Supermarkets and even some specialty shops fail miserably when it comes to buying and handling olive oil (think five-year-old clear bottles under warm florescent lights) and customers wind up spending a lot of money on worthless oils.

So, you want to know that your purveyor knows his/her stuff. Fisher reminded me that as with wines, cheese, and coffee, terroir is important. Like grapes, the same olive varieties can grow halfway around the world from each other or just miles apart and will have a different flavor, thanks to the soil and the rest of the environment. In fact, environmental conditions can impact the harvest, the quality and quantity of the olives, and the oil from year to year so what you fall in love with this year may not be available the next or may be hugely bountiful and even more delicious.

Fisher emphasizes that Baker & Olive focuses on single varietals from a single estate and single origin and they pay close attention to the harvest date. After all, unlike most wines, olive oil doesn't mature and improve with age. You don't want to hoard it, but instead use it no later than within a year of harvest.

To that end, twice a year Baker & Olive switches the origin of their oils between northern and southern hemisphere producers to reflect harvest and production. That way, you get the freshest oils available.

So, you'll find oils produced in Europe and North America sold in the late fall to spring and oils from Chile, Argentina, and other South American countries in the summer and going into fall when those olives are harvested and pressed below the equator.

Additionally, Fisher notes, all of the oils the store carries are .3 percent acidity and below, meaning that they are more durable under heat and healthier.

There is a full row of natural oils with a range of intensity--butter soft like the creamy California Arbosana I bought to a grassy, slightly bitter Favolosa from Italy. The store also carries a large selection of infused oils, some you'd expect like basil or blood orange, but others that are unusual, such as Persian lime or wild mushroom and sage.

And, as you can see, they provide a good description of the oils and how to use them, as well as tasting cups (no bread; it interferes with the flavor). And, Fisher says, the staff will help customers identify the best oils and vinegars for the way they cook and entertain, even dissuading them from some purchases in favor of others that they'll be more likely to use and enjoy.

Then there are the balsamic vinegars. These are white balsamics from Modena, Italy--most aged 18 years while a couple, like the peach, are aged eight years to keep the flavors in harmony. Again, you'll find both very traditional aged balsamic...

... and you'll find flavors that will blow you away. Chocolate. Jalapeño. Thai mint-lemongrass. And, the one I bought, violet. Yes, violet--which I intend to use to glaze a roast chicken.

Here's a tip from Fisher for creating a balsamic glaze. Instead of reducing your balsamic over heat and possibly burning it, simply pour what you need into a flat ceramic or glass dish--the more real estate the better. Cover with cheesecloth and let it sit on the counter overnight. By morning, the evaporation process should leave a thick reduction you can use as a glaze. Easy.

I particularly liked that, given the range of these exotic flavors, Fisher has put together lists of potential combinations and applications that are up on a blackboard behind the counter and on the website. So, for instance, you can pair the Persian lime EVOO and Cranberry Pear Balsamic to dress a gulf shrimp, citrus, and avocado salad.

Along with retail customers, Fisher has been working with chefs around San Diego, including Paul McCabe of Delicias, Joe Magnanelli of Cucina Urbana, and Jeffrey Strauss of Pamplemousse Grill. So, you'll find these oils and vinegars incorporated into menu dishes around town.

Baker & Olive is located at 165 S. El Camino Real and later next week at 12925 El Camino Real in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What Are You Doing This Month? Three Places to Be.

Like you, I go through phases when I'm almost never home and it looks like I'm about to hit one again--there's just so much going on for food lovers in May in San Diego. I'm just going to mention three I think you should pay attention to. I've linked to the sites at the top to send you to more information or ticket sales.

GMO Labeling forum and fundraiser at Warwicks, May 4 at 7 p.m. There is a battle going on over genetically modified (or engineered) organisms. This is a plant or meat product that has had its DNA artificially altered in a lab. You might be aware that corn, for instance, is now commonly engineered to produce pesticides in its own tissue. There have been no long-term studies of GMO safety to humans and there's no labeling required in the U.S. to alert consumers that food they buy has been genetically modified (unlike many other countries, which do require it). There is an effort to put a proposition on the November ballot in California that would require food sold in retail outlets in California to be labeled if it includes genetically modified ingredients. It's called The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. You can learn more about the ballot measure, GMOs, and labeling at this upcoming forum hosted by the La Jolla Village Merchants Sustainability Committee. It will feature:

  • Nancy Casady: Member, California Agriculture Board & GM, People's Food Co-op in OB
  • Mike Copass: Genetic engineer & microbiologist
  • Fernando Aguerre: Reef co-founder & president, International Surfing Association
  • Isabel Cruz: Restaurateur (Coffee Cup, Isabel’s Cantina & Barrio Star) and farmer (Stargazer Farm)
  • Moderator: Michelle Ciccarelli Lerach, attorney & owner of Cups/Cups Culinary, La Jolla 

Eat. Drink. Read. A Culinary Event for Literacy at the NTC Promenade McMillin Event Center in Liberty Station, May 16 at 5:30 p.m. Reading and food are a natural pairing. This year's lineup of chefs is as inspired as the books they chose to base their dishes on, including Whisknladle's Ryan Johnston (Playing for Pizza), Urban Solace's Matt Gordon (A Moveable Feast), The Red Door's Miguel Valdez (The Odyssey), George's Modern's Trey Foshee (A Sheltering Sky), Gabardine's Chad White (Ugly Fish), Eclipse Chocolat's Will Gustwiller (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Craft & Commerce's Craig Jimenez (Beyond the Reef), and more. Plus, there will be drinks courtesy of Stone Brewing Co., 12 Signs Wine, Honest Tea, Solar Rain, SOL Market, Craft & Commerce mixologists, and DiningOutSD. Tickets are a steal at $60 and the proceeds help support the vast array of local literacy projects supported by the San Diego Council on Literacy.

Le Dîner à San Diego at an undisclosed location on May 25 at 6 p.m. They've taken place in France, Germany, and last year in Chicago, New York, Altanta, and San Francisco. Now it's San Diego's turn. Here's your opportunity to participate in a giant flash mob pop-up picnic dinner. For $25 a person, you show up (the where is still a mystery and part of the fun) dressed in white with a picnic meal, drinks, dishes, utensils, linens, chairs, etc. The organizers provide a table, entertainment, and who knows what else. Don't want to make your own meal? No prob. Le Dîner à San Diego has partnered with catering firm Campine and Snake Oil Cocktail Co. Now you can buy tickets and a five-course meal with champagne for $50 a person. We're talking house-made pâté, local charcuterie, a spring quinoa salad, roasted whole jidori chicken, and more. It'll be an intimate dinner of up to 4,000 and proceeds will benefit Slow Food Urban San Diego, which will organize school field trips through the group's farm-to-school program.

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