George got married yesterday–hooray! My contribution to the wedding was bringing pulled pork for the dinner. I’ve made pulled pork about half a dozen times now, but this was only the second time I was using my sweet new Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker (aka “Weber Bullet“). As you’ll see, though, I couldn’t fit all the pork (about 75 pounds all told) into it, and there’s no way in hell I was going to do two batches, so Nelson (my pork shoulder mentor/idol) lent me his bullet as well for dual smoking action!
I started with 3 pounds of molasses and 4.5 pounds of salt mixed with three gallons of water for the brine.
Our biggest cooler was just capacious enough to contain the 9 boneless pork shoulders as they brined overnight:
On Friday evening after work, I pulled them out of the brine. They were visibly plumped and brown from the molasses. Then I started in on making my secret rub, which is not actually a secret. In fact, here’s a picture with all the ingredients. OK, I’ll just admit that this is the Cook’s Illustrated basic barbecue rub. Are you happy? Didn’t you find it more intriguing when it was a secret?
I rubbed the shoulders and tied them to get them ready for the grill. Check out the awesome leather apron that Leslie got me for the occasion!
Next, I prepped the two smokers, filling the water pans and adding cold charcoal to the fire rings. I started a chimney worth of coals and added just about 10 hot coals to each ring. These 10 would light the others and slowly spread the fire over the next 8-10 hours before the first time I had to add fuel–this amazing technique for no-maintenance fires is called the “Minion Method,” and I can’t say enough good things about it. It almost sort of lets you sleep through the night.
With the fires lit, I stacked the pork two stories high in both smokers, and we were off.
(Not pictured: the next 15 hours of maintaining the smokers’ temperatures within 10 degrees of 225 with the help of just one remote thermometer, a headlamp, and a light touch on the air vents surrounding the fire rings. Let’s just say I was pretty tired by the time we got to the wedding.)
And just like that, we’ve got barbecue!
Leslie and I were forced to do a quick taste test before serving it the the wedding guests–just looking out for their well being!
You heard that right, folks: Leslie and I finally made it out to that ultimate west-coast food Mecca: The French Laundry. The trip was sort of a combination long-delayed graduation celebration combined with an anniversary dinner. That’s enough justification, right?
It would take quite a while to describe the whole meal (officially nine courses, but also two bonus amuse bouche and an extra dessert course). If you really wanna know every detail, here’s the menu with our notes:
We arrived about half an hour before our 9pm reservations, figuring there would be stuff to see. And sure enough, there was! Right across the street from the restaurant is the incredibly well manicured restaurant garden, where they get a lot of their produce. Representative pic:
The garden was right off the road, in the middle of town, almost like a public park. It had no gates or entry control at all, so we just walked around through it. Very fun. So I guess what it takes to support sustainable urban agriculture is… to use it to supply a super-high end restaurant across the street.
The food itself was… well, just plain outstanding. It was course after course of expertly combined ingredients (LOTS of them, and never one repeated!), always in harmony, always with high-art-grade presentation. The second amuse bouche was a “coronet” of salmon, but obviously it’s supposed to look like a tiny ice-cream cone. So fun!
I got pictures of several more of the courses, but not all of them, and posted them on gallery. I’ll put one more in here for fun, though, check out this crazy-ass dessert (too many ingredients for a succint name… maybe just “anglaise?”):
The interior of the restaurant itself was pretty interesting… it was in an old house, and it felt pretty cramped (the staff and diners were constantly impeding each other up and down the narrow stairs, for example). I overheard one of the servers say it had 16 tables, which sounds about right. Most were 2 and 4 tops but there were a few bigger, and a private dining room with a table for 10 (every table was constantly occupied, of course!).
We sat down promptly at 9, after I was fitted with a borrowed jacket. Such an anachronism, requiring jackets for men, at a modern restaurant on the west coast! My shirt, tie, and slacks made me better dressed than many of the other male diners I saw, but there’s still something magical about a ratty sport coat that makes you acceptable I guess.
As for drinks, they initially brought out their wine list, on an iPad I shit you not. There we were, in this elegant restaurant, with the blue glow of a frickin’ iPad blinding us. I guess in someone’s demented mind (Thomas Keller? Yep, I’m sure this was his idea) this was trendy and a cool solution. Luckily, we didn’t really have to interact with it: we just gave our server a budget ($150/person, wince) and she brought all the pairings, which were great on the whole. They even included a champagne made exclusively for the French Laundry! They’re mostly written in our notes on the menu.
After working our way through every last course, we speculated as to the time and were pretty shocked to discover it was 12:45am–we’d been eating for almost 4 hours! I guess that’s the kind of marathon meal of relentlessly excellent food you’d want to have experienced before being handed this:
Yeowch! At least the tip was included.
Overall, it was an amazing experience. There wasn’t anything about any individual dish that was unlike what we’ve eaten before–we’ve had courses at several places (most recently Commis in Oakland) that could go head-to-head with anything served at the French Laundry. The difference was the scale of the meal, the ambitiousness and variety of the ingredients, and the complete consistency of the flavor and presentation.
Will we go again? I doubt it… when we eat we’re more interested in exploring new things than seeking out extremes. It was a fun adventure, but I think there’s more to learn by eating everyday examples of regional food from all around the world (plus, that’s the stuff we could actually cook!).
Still, I’ve got to say: The French Laundry is a shining example of what complete, single-minded obsession with great food can yield. Wow.
A couple of weeks ago, for a contest at work, I created a full 360-degree panoramic picture of our backyard. I used Hugin to stitch together over 140 shots from our dinky little Canon point-and-shoot. I decided to convert it to a “little planet” projection (also known as a stereographic projection) because I think it captures the sensation you get of having your own little world in our backyard on these beautiful Saturdays.
This weekend, I teamed up with Laurel (swimmer extraordinaire) and Debbie (cycling master) for a sprint triathlon at Lake Barryessa. Besides getting up at 4:30am to make it to the start line, it was an awesome time. We took 2nd place in the co-ed relay division! As a bonus, I also ran my best 5k ever at just under 21 minutes. Here’s the team soon after our glorious finish:
Debbie has more pictures on her flickr page.
I think they are going for mediterranean food, although if you hadn’t told me that I would have guessed it was just the usual worldly Californian that you see so much around here. I liked the way the restaurant was set up: An old, many-times-refurbished craftsman house with a modern, enclosed deck added to the front for extra seating. Although we sat inside, the deck looked and felt really pleasant.
We started with a grapefruit, avocado, and mango salad with miscellaneous greens that seemed to be spinach and arugula. It was my least favorite dish of the night, mostly because it had this creamy cumin dressing that totally dominated the way everything tasted in my mouth. I get the combination of avocado with cumin, but the sourness of the grapefruit and mango just couldn’t stand up to the aroma.
We also had “duck liver flan” which as far as I could tell was purely a euphemism for foie gras. It was delicious as usual, and served with a nice selection of little pickled this and that (cornichons, shallots, olives).
For the main course, we shared roasted duck with peas, fava beans, artichokes and pancetta. This was the star of the night for me: the duck was perfectly rare in the middle, with a nice crusty coating of fat on top, and the rich, mild combination of vegetables and pancetta was a great accompaniment.
(Not my picture; taken by Flem J. off Yelp, and of a slightly different duck dish. But that’s what the duck looked like).
We also had the Bomba di polenta: polenta layered with short ribs and fava bean greens. The flavor base of this was wonderful, with a great pan sauce covering the plate and smothering some random mushrooms (shitake, and even a few errant chantarelle chunks). The main event though was kind of disappointing: the polenta cakes were all chewy at the edges and I could barely find any trace of the short ribs (though the chunks I did find were darn tasty).
Overall, I’d eat there again, but not before we get through a few more of the east bay places on our list.
Well, things are winding down here on our birthday week at tahoe. We skied our last day today at Northstar, our sixth, with one day before that at Sierra. I think my body is finally demanding a break, so it’s probably for the best. As usual, a pictorial record of all the fun can be found at the gallery.
Clare sent me this hilarious animation created to accompany a real transcript of a call Lyndon Johnson made to Haggar to request a few custom pairs of pants:
We’ve reached the point now where we get all our TV and movies from the internet, and so we don’t have a cable subscription. This setup is fine except for every so often when we want to watch something live–sports or awards shows (okay, when Leslie wants to watch awards shows). In these cases we head to a friend’s house or a bar. But not anymore!
It occurred to me that it couldn’t be that complicated to corral some radio waves into my TV’s built-in digital tuner. Right? So I plugged an old FM antenna and I got some pretty crappy reception. Thankfully, the internet was ready to instruct me how a piece of wood and six coat hangers was all I needed for HDTV sports utopia. You can see the result above.
The thing works great! It enabled me to watch the Rangers get crushed live and in person. Hooray! I guess.
We spent last week with friends in Maui. Just, wow.
Days were mostly spent recreating Corona commercials, snorkeling, and eating huge quantities of food. Check out the gallery for the full story.
You read that right! It’s the return of restaurant mini-reviews here at overt.org. I have a huge backlog that has been a mental block for years now, not to mention the fact that I started these reviews as “Berekeley Food” and now I live in Oakland and eat in San Francisco quite a bit. So here we are again, with a bit of rebranding.
Hibiscus is a newish restaurant in downtown Oakland with a Caribbean/soul-food feel. It was started by Sarah Kirnon, former chef of The Front Porch in San Francisco. The Front Porch is a fun place, crowded, busy, and unpretentious but with deservedly legendary fried chicken. Hibiscus is definitely going for something more upscale, but the menu reminded me a lot of the same basic themes.
To start, we had a very fresh and tasty squid ceviche that was not as sour as a lot of ceviche tends to be, so the flavor of the peppers and onions in it really came out.
I was sorely tempted to just score the fried chicken at Hibiscus so I could compare it to its ancestral roots. Instead, I went on a limb and tried the pepperpot, which was a stew/braise with (among other things) oxtail, pigs feet, tripe, duck leg, and cassareep (cassawhatnow?). It looked something like this (I didn’t take any pics so I stole this one from Yelp):
The sauce was delicious. It was infused with scotch bonnet pepper oil and the cassareep turned out to have this really fun sweet/bitter thing going on. I actually kinda enjoyed the tripe, the oxtail was good but difficult to access, and the duck leg was the best thing in there. I couldn’t handle the pig’s foot. Just no meat on it anywhere to be found but plenty of fatty pig skin. Oh well.
Leslie got the fried chicken (photo also stolen):
It was outstanding. Nice and crisp on the outside, even the white meat remained tender and moist. It had clearly been brined for a while. I’d say it definitely stood up to its Front Porch forbears.
The prices were a bit high, I thought, for the food and location, but the ambiance was nice and I hope that more restaurants pop up in the area. There’s a chance we’d come back, but there’s so many more places to get to first.
Rock Band 3, due out this holiday, has a “Pro” mode that lets you play using an actual electric guitar, while being scored playing actual guitar tablature.
It’s like my dream come true! Back in college, I spent an unseemly amount of money on a Fretlight guitar after seeing one at the Experience Music Project. It’s an electric guitar with LEDs underneath each fret, which can light up to demonstrate fingerings. The trouble was that the software sucked. It showed scale patterns and chord progressions, but there was no validation that you were doing the right thing nor sense of progression.
Now I can channel my unreasonable urges to master video games into the skill of actually playing guitar. Oh, please, be as awesome as I think you are.
Last weekend was the debut race for Doug’s 1986 300ZX Turbo: Sears Pointless 2010. Unbelievably, the car came together in time and ran all 16 hours over two days, green flag to checker. Doug has some pics on his page, and I’ve uploaded a few of the professional shots of our car to gallery. Here’s one of me dealing with some traffic:
We had a video camera in the car, which was unfortunately mounted to the roll cage, so it was pretty shaky on acceleration. If you can stand it, here’s a video of Tommy at the race start:
The whole weekend was a blast. I drove a total about about 30 minutes on Saturday and an hour on Sunday—and that was plenty. It was simultaneously amazingly fun and terrifying and stressful. I did rub another car once on each stint, but always came out clean—no black flags or spin-outs! I’ll get some more pictures up soon.