15 March 2007

Better than being in the audience on Food Network!

Last night, I took Ben out to this place that we've been meaning to go to for quite some time now. It's called A Chef's Kitchen. It's the brainchild of John and Wanda Gonzalez. John started off cleaning dishes in a restaurant at age 14. In his culinary career, he worked as a line cook at the Ritz-Carlton in Tyson's Corner and soon became head chef there. He and Wanda decided to open their business (in Williamsburg, VA) after watching Emeril on Food Network and deciding that it was unfair that not everyone in the audience was able to taste the food. Thus, A Chef's Kitchen was born!

This month's menu was delicious, and I wish I had the money to go all the time. I think I can settle for once every other month, for a special occasion or with someone special. Luckily, they give us copies of all the recipes and good tips on how to prepare everything. Also, all the wine in the store (no matter where it comes from) is only $10. I went home with a really tasty Hillinger Pinot Grigio from Austria. Ben really liked the Dolium Malbec from Argentina, but I didn't care too much for it. Another great thing about the store is that they sell great spices that I can never find in a regular grocery (and sometimes not even at Medik's). Oh... one more thing before I get to the menu, John told us about this great Spanish grocer called La Tienda. They sell stuff online and ship, but they are also local. I'm gonna check it out soon-ish. Here's the rundown of the menu:

Soup Course: Early Spring Pasta Fagiole Soup with Baby Arugula and Oven-Dried Tomatoes

This was great. The pasta was cooked perfectly, and it could probably be a hearty meal all in itself if it were a bigger portion. The balance of flavors was spectacular, and it was surprisingly easy to make. This was pared with the Pinot Grigio, which was also an awesome match.

Salad Course: Asparagus and Artichoke Salad with Toasted Walnut-Parmesan Vinaigrette and A Chef’s Kitchen Skillet-Baked Corn Bread

The asparagus was great, but the artichoke was a little too much for me. The dressing seemed really easy to make (and alter to my own tastes and flavors), so that was a plus. Oh, and the corn bread was delicious! I definitely need to invest in a good cast iron skillet now. I'll make corn bread all the time.

Seafood Course: Pan-Seared Diver Sea Scallop with Truffled Rutabaga

John pointed out to us that a lot of pan-seared scallops that you see on TV or in restaurants are dredged in flour. So, in fact, it is not the scallop that is getting seared, but the flour on the outside. He said the trick is to get your pan super hot so that you won't need to dredge the scallop in flour. The scallops had just been picked up fresh that morning from a man in Norfolk. Just a simple salt and pepper will be all the seasoning you need.

This was my first time eating rutabaga, and it tastes surprisingly similar to cauliflower. I like that. The green ring is an infused oil, and a sprinkle of finely diced red pepper finished the dish. This dish was paired with a wine I didn't care
too much for, so I didn't take note of what it was called.

Meat Course: Mixed Grill of Certified Hereford Beef Filet, New Zealand Lamb Rack and Homemade Chorizo

I don't care how much it costs, Hereford Beef is the best. If you don't know much about Hereford Beef, click on the link and you'll be sold. It was so juicy and tender. The lamb was also cooked perfectly. Oh, and the homemade chorizo. . . EXCELLENT! I am going to make some and put in my freezer so that I can have it any time I want. The meat course was served on a bed of sauteed butternut squash. Sam (the sous chef) just sauteed it with some olive oil, salt, and cayenne pepper. This dish was paired with the Dolium.

Dessert Course: Zesty Lemon Cheesecake with Candied Medjool Date Chocolates

The dessert was a little on the lemon-y side, but still very good. And the Medjool Date was spectacular. John told us that this recipe was something that he's had for decades. That they always used to make it when he worked at the Ritz-Carlton, and the executive chef before him took the recipe with him to a restaurant he opened out in Colorado. He also gave us some great tips on how to make the crust and change it up from lemon to orange cheesecake.

I was starting to lose hope that I wouldn't get a cheesecake done for HHDD #10, but I think I'll be able to pull some inpiration from this one.

In addition to the wine, I ended up purchasing this nice big box of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt that should last a year (or so) and a 2.5 oz. container of La Chinata smoked paprika, which I've never cooked with before, but only because I couldn't find it in the store. I'm excited to start cooking these recipes and just trying out new things with what I learned from this class. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is in the area (traveling or visiting), and I'll probably return to this place a few times while I'm down here.

Oh, one last thing, Sam and John both mentioned that a really good conical strainer is a must have in the kitchen. Direct quotes:

- "It makes everything taste good."
- "It costs some ungodly amount I won't tell you."

Here's one similar to the one that they were using: Chinois with Stand. Smaller, and probably not as expensive, but still does the trick.

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