Takoi, nee Katoi

 

“And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself, “My God! What have I done?”

“Same as it ever was.” “Same as it ever was.”

With apologies to Brian Eno, David Byrne, and the rest of the Talking Heads, they never went away.

That’s the message Courtney Henriette wants everyone to hear.

Yes, the restaurant burned.

Yes, they had to close it up for months.

But that time wasn’t wasted.

The ownership team of Courtney, chef Brad Greenhill, and Philip Kafka went back to the beginning.  Back to life as a pop-up.

After the February 17th fire, they established a residency at Frame, in Hazel Park.  The did a number of pop-ups at Mabel Gray, Grey Ghost, and other locations.

And they kept the team together.  About 75% of the previous staff is here.  Many were kept on payroll during the hiatus.

Now, they’re back in the old location, but is it the same as it ever was?

It might even be better.

What’s changed?

Maybe everything.

The decor is different, courtesy of architect Ishtiaq Rafiuddin.  There is a new wing, housed in a shipping container.  

There’s a new patio, surrounded by a fence.

The restaurant interior has been freshened, new booths installed, lighting reworked.

The bar seems largely unchanged, a Blade Runner speakeasy, but now with a serving window to the patio.  

 

The cinder block walls remain, as does the sense of place.  It’s still weird, Detroit.  You’re at Takoi.

The menu has changed.  While still on a single page, the headings have changed, as have most of the dishes.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of trying many of these new tastes.

I started with a new dish, the Melon Salad.  As background, my late mother and I clashed over melon.  She loved all kinds; I thought anything other than watermelon was a waste.  Mom would have loved this salad.  The melon in question is honeydew and cantaloupe, shaved thin, tossed with cherry tomato halves, dressed with Thai basil, lime leaf, and ginger, atop a cashew crema.  It presents beautifully, as you can see.  How good is it?  I wanted to lick the bowl–the sweet of the melon is enhanced with the brightness of the basil and lime leaf, and the cashew crema adds a welcome richness.  This is a must-have dish, and a great start to a meal

The Fried Cauliflower is also a new dish, one a bit on the sweeter side.  Flavored with tamarind, curry powder, and palm sugar, the dish also gets a kick from the pickled chile and fresh cilantro garnish.  I enjoyed this vegan dish (the menu is very vegan- and vegetarian-friendly).  There’s a pleasant crunch to the florets, the hit of sweetness, and the acidic finish from the chile and cilantro.

 

Charred Broccoli is Takoi’s take on the ubiquitous vegetable.  Broccoli ships well, is available year-round, and is a healthy thing to eat.  What’s not to love?  Well, the taste for one.  There’s a reason most Americans associate broccoli with crudite platters and Ranch dip.  Takoi’s version might change this, convincing even little diners to eat their vegetables.  Grill-charred broccoli is dressed with curry rice crispies, atop more of the cashew crema, garnished with scallion shavings.  It’s a simple dish that simply works.

Grilled Corn was my final vegetable. Chef Brad introduces elote, Mexican street corn, to its Asian cousin.  The result is a charred half cob of corn, slathered with a bit of crema (coconut milk base?), garnished with cilantro, lime juice, and toasted coconut.  It’s a quintessential Thai flavor feast:  layers of sweet, acidic, and citrus.  It’s also messy, like all corn on the cob.  Live a little – eat with your hands.  Mess up your face.  If that bothers your date, they’re not the one for you anyways.  Who wants to hang out with somebody who’s that uptight?

 

After paying full homage to the veggies, we moved on to the proteins.  Chef Brad’s Fried Chicken is very crispy, perfectly moist, and a generous portion.  It’s served with what the menu describes as a southern Thai curry, and roti bread.  Honestly, I was a bit taken aback by this dish.  The curry took me to India, with a taste similar to a traditional Indian massaman.  I wasn’t expecting the sweetness found here, expecting more heat and spicy flavor, the Thai version of Nashville hot chicken, perhaps.

Full disclosure – I was wrong.

I researched this dish, and found that many of the southern provinces of Thailand are populated by descendants of immigrants from India.  Thus, the curries and roti of southern Thailand closely resemble the naan and massaman of India.  The dish is in fact a southern Thai curry, with traditional accompaniments.  And I learned something, which is always a pleasure.  In a world where learning is traditionally divided into “visual” or “verbal” learners, who wouldn’t rather absorb their lessons by “taste”?

I think that’s a school we can all get out of bed for!

The final dish was the Crispy Spare Ribs.  Somehow, I had missed this dish in its Katoi incarnation.  I will not miss it again.

Let’s start with what it isn’t.  Banish all thoughts of barbecued spare ribs from your mind.  These have nothing in common with those.

This dish is four meaty ribs, under a pile of peaches, pickled nectarines, and lime juice, glazed with a magic sauce made from fairy dust and unicorn horn shavings.  The menu describes it as a fish sauce caramel, so we should probably go with that.  But it’s magic.  It’s sweet, funky, and crispy.  

Disciplined eaters can enjoy the interplay of the fruits and the sauced ribs with alternating bites.  But they would be wrong, and you should not date them again..   The correct way to eat these ribs is with your hands, like this, making this exact face:

My meals were accompanied by Cha Yen, the brightly-colored Thai ice tea.  It’s a spiced black tea, with sweetened condensed milk, and a color similar to carrot juice.  It’s a bit sweet, creamy, and very refreshing.  I have tried Thai ice tea in other restaurants, only to be overwhelmed by the coconut milk to tea ratio (hint, there should be more “tea” in tea).  Takoi’s version is perfect.  I can taste it now.

However, what really sets Takoi apart is its service.  The team service, where every server passing the table DID something for that table (delivered a dish, took an empty away, filled a glass, asked if drink refills were needed, etc.), was exhibited on every visit.  It is clearly a part of the restaurant’s DNA, a survivor from earlier incarnations.  It’s a rarity in metro Detroit, let alone Corktown.  It is difficult to teach, onerous to manage, and impossible to fake.

Which leads us back to our original question:  Same as it ever was?

While everything has changed, the people have not.  They’re young, enthusiastic, beautiful, and having fun.  They actually seem to be ENJOYING their time at work, and with each other.  How can that be?

One of my friends taught me that you can taste the love in food.  Grandma’s cornbread tastes best, because she put the love in it.  No one else’s will ever taste that good.  And while you might not know the Takoi team, you don’t have to be around them very long to feel the love.

And you can taste it, too.

Takoi is located at 2520 Michigan Avenue in Detroit.  It is open Mon – Wed 5 p.m. till midnight, and Thur – Sat 5 p.m. till 2 a.m.  Reservations are recommended.  Call the restaurant, at 313.855.2864, or you can book a tasting at tocktix.com.

Red Dunn

 

Detroit’s vibrant restaurant scene just got a bit brighter, with the opening of Red Dunn Kitchen, adjacent to the Trumbull & Porter Hotel.

Red Dunn could be considered a hotel restaurant, a fact that usually means you should eat elsewhere.  Especially in a neighborhood like Corktown, where hotspots like Mudgie’s Deli, Brooklyn Street Local, and Le Petit Zinc are within walking distance of the hotel’s doors.

But hotel guests who venture out without eating at least one meal at Red Dunn are truly missing out.

It might be the best restaurant in Corktown.  In fact, I fully expect to see it on all of the “Best of Detroit Restaurants” lists this year.

It’s that good.

Red Dunn Kitchen’s, well,  kitchen is run by Chef Jay Gundy.  

Jay’s an interesting single guy (he made me promise to write that), a local who took a roundabout route into the kitchen.  He started out studying Automotive Engineering, but dropped out when he found something he liked better.  He’d managed a Pizza Hut for four years, and was offered a job cooking pizza (and other items) at the Alcatraz Brewing Company in Great Lakes Crossing.  There he found his calling.  His passion was rewarded with greater responsibility at other restaurants, working his way up Metro Detroit’s fine dining chain:  Forte, Small Plates, Cafe Via, Fiddleheads, and Tribute.  At Tribute, he worked under James Beard Award-winning Chef Takashi Yagahashi.  Jay speaks of that time as when he really came into his own.

In 2011, with owner Jeremy Sasson, he opened Townhouse, in Birmingham.

And now Red Dunn, bringing along Andy Campbell as his sous and pastry chef (more on that later).

Jay and Andy have just finished the menu, with lunch being the last meal added.  Diners now have the option of outstanding cuisine for any meal.

For breakfast, the “Classic” Eggs Benedict is actually tweaked, substituting speck for the Canadian bacon, and adding spinach and tomato.  If you’re a purist, this might trouble you.  You’d be petty, and wrong–it works, and it’s delicious!

 

 

 

However, the Huevos Benedictos is a more flavorful Benedict, one dragged through Southwest Detroit’s cocinas.  Two black bean cakes are topped with chorizo, poached eggs, hollandaise, salsa, and avocado.  This dish will open your eyes, brighten your morning, and make you drink a quart of their good strong coffee before striding out to conquer your morning.  It’s a spicy, rich dish with contrasting textures, and the hits of citrus in the hollandaise and the salsa balance that richness.

Further complicating breakfast choices is the Crab Artichoke Potato Hash, a savory medley of sweet and Yukon Gold potatoes, lump crabmeat, bacon, eggs, hollandaise, and pickled Fresno chilis.  This dish could easily be a flavorless mess with muddled flavors, but in Chef Gundy’s version, the overall sense is one of balance.  No flavor overwhelms the sweet taste of the crab, and the salty crunch of the bacon complements the sweet potato.  The acid added by the citrus and the pickled Fresnos provide a clean finish.

For lunch, the classic cheeseburger is given respect, as you would expect from the Townhouse pedigree.  Here, the house grind of skirt and chuck is dressed with brandy caramelized onions, tomato jam, and raclette cheese, and served on a sesame seeded toasted bun.  The burger is accompanied by parmesan rosemary fries.  If it’s a cheeseburger you want, this burger has it all:  right size, right taste, reasonable price.

However, you’d be missing the Pork Belly Tacos.  That would be a shame, because they’re awesome.  The pork belly is braised in court bouillon (water, white wine, mirepoix, herbs, pepper), sliced, then deep fried for a crispy crunch.  It’s dressed with cilantro, daikon, carrots, kimchi aioli, and cashews for a taste reminiscent of banh mi, the classic Vietnamese sandwich.  These are beautiful tacos, and diners at other tables were openly ogling as I devoured them.

 

 

 

 

 

But as you might expect, dinner is where Red Dunn really shines, both for entrees and Pastry Chef Campbell’s desserts.

Let’s start with a fish, the Roasted Skrei Cod.  Thoroughly blackened, the fish alone is really too spicy to eat.  The blackening spices are a bit overwhelming.  Ah, but remember, we’re in good hands here, and the balance of this dish is to be found in its whole.  The fava beans, the slightly bitter mustard greens, and most of all, the saffron swim sauce all balance out that heat.  In fact, the overall dish tastes refreshing.  The fish was cooked perfectly, flaky, still moist.  Overall, a winning dish, one I would gladly have again.

 

Or you might choose a chicken dish.  After all, Red Dunn is a breed of chicken.  The chicken here is exceptional, and unique.  On the menu as Fried Chicken Roulade, it’s chicken two ways:  a Coq Au Vin chicken thigh, braised until extremely tender, and three white meat roulades.  The roulades are breast meat, stuffed with a Dijon forcemeat, wrapped in chicken skin, and dropped in the deep fryer for a crunchy, crispy exterior.  The dish is plated wonderfully, atop pesto mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, sweet corn, apple salad, garnished with pan jus.

The house specialty dessert is Chocolate for Two, a trio of (gluten free) dark chocolate delights:  a flourless chocolate cake, a dark chocolate macaron, and a pot de creme, with caramelized bananas.  The plate is finished with fresh berries, and mint and raspberry sauces.  The cake is deeply deeply chocolate, rich yet not too sweet.  The macaron has a properly crispy shell, and is filled with a dark chocolate ganache.  The pot du creme is the same dark chocolate, lightened up a tad with the addition of some white chocolate.  The custard is silky smooth, and deeply satisfying.  And because the chocolate flavors in all three elements are so profoundly decadent, this dish really is suitable as a great meal ending for two.

 

There’s a clear influence of French and Asian on the menu, most notably in the overall balance of the dishes.  Rarely does a single element overwhelm a dish.  Rather, there’s a harmony of ingredients building to a greater whole.

For a restaurant that has just opened, it is remarkable Red Dunn is turning out food of this quality.  That’s really a tribute to Chef Gundy and his team, as well as Dustin Walker, Trumbull & Porter’s Food & Beverage Manager.  Service did vary some over the four visits, but the food stayed at the same exceptional level.  I’d suggest you get here now, before it’s fully discovered.

Red Dunn Kitchen is adjacent to the Trumbull & Porter Hotel, located at 1331 Trumbull Street, Detroit, MI.  Red Dunn is open daily from 6 a.m. – 2 a.m.  Reservations are available on their Web Site, reddunnkitchen.com, or through Open Table.

Copyright 2017 by Tim Flucht.  All photos copyright 2017 by Tim Flucht, and are not to be used without express permission.

Happy 241st!

July 4, 2017 will be America’s 241st birthday.

The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays for a lot of reasons.  It’s near the start of summer, so the extra day off feels good.  The kids are out of school for the summer, so you can spend the time as a family.  You get to celebrate the birth of our nation, and we usually celebrate with barbecues, picnics, and other outdoor activities.

It’s the perfect summer holiday!

I decided I wanted to do something special for this year’s holiday, so I started researching on-line.  What do you get someone for their 241st birthday?

I should have known:  bacon.

Hey, don’t yell at me, I’m only the messenger here.  You can look it up yourself:  http://lmgtfy.com/?q=why+is+bacon+the+perfect+241st+birthday+gift%3F

With that settled, I just needed the right medium,  What dish would be made better with bacon, that is suitable for a barbecue, picnic, or other get-together?

Candied Bacon Crusted Citrus Icebox Pie!

If you aren’t familiar with Icebox Pies, they were quite popular in the 50s and 60s, a simple dessert that was present at nearly every church social, ladies lunch, or family feud.  They’re simple to make, tasty, tart, with a crunchy graham cracker crust.  Really, what’s not to like?

For our purposes, we’re going to toss out that graham cracker crust, and create a new one, comprised entirely of candied bacon.

Here’s the shopping list:

1 1/2 lbs. of thick cut bacon

3 14-oz. cans Eagle sweetened condensed milk

3 8-oz. bars of cream cheese

1 1/2 c. lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best)

Citrus fruit, for zesting (see note)

1 c. fresh blueberries

1 pt. fresh raspberries

8 oz. white chocolate

Pantry items – brown sugar, smoked paprika, chipotle pepper powder, cooking spray, silicone star mold(s)

To start, preheat the oven to 385 degrees.  This is a bit cooler than usual for baking bacon, and it will take a bit longer, but hotter temps will burn the brown sugar.

We want caramelization, not charcoal.

So 385 it is.

Cover two cookie sheets in aluminum foil.  You don’t have to do this, but it saves scrubbing them afterward. I’ve done it both ways–trust me, you want to cover them in foil.

Place the bacon on the cookie sheets, as shown.

In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 c. brown sugar (light, dark, pure of heart, it doesn’t matter), 2 t. smoked paprika, and chipotle pepper powder to taste.  Now here’s the thing:  if you were just making candied bacon–which you can using this recipe, and it will be DELICIOUS!!!–we’d use only a bit of the chipotle powder.  Gentle heat, paired with smoke and sweet, makes for a great piece of bacon.  But for this recipe, we’ll be turning that tasty bacon into a crust for a sweet, tangy citrus pie.

We can amp up the heat, as the richness of the pie filling will help smooth it out.

Be generous with the chipotle–maybe a full tablespoon.

Mix the spices until well-blended, and spoon them onto the raw bacon, giving each piece a generous line of spice.  You don’t have to fully cover the slice, as the sugar will melt, and spread.  Just get a healthy stripe of spice on each bacon piece.

Place the bacon in the oven.  Set a timer for 20 minutes.  Watch carefully!

Your oven is different than mine.  Yours may be a bit hotter, or not.

Your bacon could be cut thicker than the bacon I used.

You may like your bacon medium rare (freak!).

The point is, I can’t tell you when your bacon will be done.  There’s other factors at work here.  The bacon will go from crispy caramelized candy, to burnt garbage in about 90 seconds.  That’s your window of success.

Watch the bacon.  If you are cooking it in two sheets, rotate the sheets after 12 minutes or so, so the bacon cooks evenly.

If you burn it, start over.  It will not work in this recipe.

After 18 – 22 minutes, you should have a cookie sheet or two covered in crispy, gooey, porcine fabulousness.

Working carefully, as the caramelized spices are roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun, get the bacon off the sheets, and onto a suitable draining station.  Normally, a plate with a few folded paper towels would work.

Not here.

When the caramel cools, it hardens.  When you try to take the bacon off the paper towels, the bacon, caramelized spices, and recycled bleached paper products will have melded into a single entity.

This entity does not taste good.  But I cannot stress this enough–thoroughly drained bacon is key to this recipe.

Find another method.  Maybe a cake drying rack (coated ones work well, and don’t stick), perhaps parchment paper, it’s your choice.

Here’s what’s important – you have to get as much fat as possible off of the bacon.  Grease will not improve the flavor of the pie.  In fact, it will make it taste pretty horrible.

Drain the bacon, pat it dry, rub it with Dawn dishwashing liquid (DO NOT REALLY DO THIS.  DO NOT WASH YOUR BACON IN DAWN, OR ANY OTHER DISHWASHING LIQUID), take it to the shop and run it through the degreaser (DITTO.  DO NOT DO THIS.), or just give it a good scrubbing with Lava soap (DO I NEED TO SAY IT AGAIN????!!!!).

Drain the bacon, and chop it finely.

Lightly spray a 13 x 9 glass baking dish with Pam.

Or, if you shop at Wal-Mart, with Pat, their generic cooking spray.

Lightly!  We don’t want grease, just a bit of lubrication for the sticky bacon.

Sprinkle, spread, and/or spackle the bacon evenly on the bottom of the baking dish.

Just the bottom–leave the sides alone.  You want a reasonably substantial bottom crust for the pie, and just doing the bottom of the dish decreases the difficulty factor by half.

Once that is done, start zesting your citrus.

No, that’s not a euphemism.

Here’s where you can inject a bit of creativity, based on your group’s taste.

Most recipes call for lemon zest.  You’ll need 3 or 4 lemons.  If you do this, the resulting pie will be very tangy, with a bright citrus punch.

You could use lime zest.  You’ll need 4 to 4 limes.  If you do this, the resulting pie will border on sour, and the flavor will be a bit more complex.

You could use Meyer lemons (as if!), key limes (no!), or organic artisan-raised ugli fruit (ugh, hipsters).  Have fun shopping at Whole Foods.

Or you could use oranges.  You’ll need 2 big ones.  If you do this, the resulting pie will be sweeter, with an almost floral note.

Or some combination of the above.  The point is, by changing only one ingredient, you can make the pies taste completely different.  Which is pretty cool.

After you decide which citrus to zest, get zesting.  You’ll need 3 tablespoons of it.  Mince it to dust.

In a large bowl, combine the 24 ozs. of cream cheese, the contents of the 3 cans of sweetened condensed milk, and the 1 1/2 cups of freshly-squeezed lemon juice.

Side note – yes, you can use the bottled stuff.  The pie will not taste as good.  All of the freshness and zing will be lacking.  Let your conscience be your guide.

Beat this mixture until very smooth.  If you are using a stand mixer, with a 4-horsepower motor, this won’t take long.

If, like me, you are using a hand mixer so old it is actually covered in age spots (No joke, see the pictures.  There’s glue residue from an old label, and some brown spots that will not wash off.  Ever.  I think this mixer may have been my mom’s at some point.  I think she got it as a prize for selling the second-most cookies in her Brownie troop.  That old.), it will take longer.  Much longer.

If you are mixing the ingredients by hand, the smooth mixture and your first social security check should arrive about the same time.  Assuming you’re under 40 when you start.

Don’t mix the ingredients by hand.

Once the mixture is silky smooth, simply pour it over the bacon crust in the prepared baking dish.

Smooth the top with a spatula, or lacking a spatula, a concrete trowel.  Or lick your thumb repeatedly, and use it to smooth out any bumps on top of the pie.  Do not let family members see you do this.  For some reason, it freaks them out.

Your cat, on the other hand, will find this process fascinating, and will probably like you more afterward.

Once the top is completely level, gently place your creation in the bowels of your refrigerator, and close the door.

Let that pie sit in the dark for 4 – 6 hours.  Give it time to think about its life choices, and how it ended up in a refrigerator somewhere in the Midwestern U.S.

Or Canada.

Let the cheese, milk, and citrus work out their differences themselves, and become a TEAM!

And by TEAM, i mean the pie sets up.  The filling hardens, so you can slice it.

As that magic is happening, give yourself a pat on the back, coach.  You’ve done good work today.

Now get ready to decorate.

A flag design seems obvious, as the pie is nearly white, and rectangular in shape.  And it’s the 4th of July, so let’s go for it.

There are at least two ways to do this.

The first way is complicated, time-consuming, difficult, science-y, and, in the hands of an unskilled decorator (me), delivers results worthy of a starring role in the “worst effort” Pinterest thread.

You can read about the first way in the postscript, after the pictures of the finished product.

Don’t do the first way.

The second way is quick, simple, and results in an easily-recognizable output.

Place the white chocolate in a glass measuring cup, and place the cup in the microwave.  Microwave on high for one minute or so.  Carefully remove from the microwave, and stir.

Is all the chocolate melted?

No?

Back in the nuke, for another 20 seconds or so.

Now?

Cool.  Stir it until smooth, and no lumps remain.

Pour the melted white chocolate into the silicone star molds.  My mold had big, deep stars, so I only got 10 stars.  Your mileage will vary.

Let the chocolate cool for a while.  Don’t put it directly into the ‘fridge.  It makes the chocolate angry.  Let it cool on the counter for a while.

Once the chocolate has hardened, turn it out of the molds.  Discard (eat) any stars with broken points, bad behavior, or Cs on their report cards.

Place the rest in the refrigerator till needed.

In the meantime, take the pie out of the fridge.  It should have set up nicely by this point.

If you see a ring of yellow grease around the edges of the pie, you did not sufficiently drain the bacon.  I don’t mean to be rough on you here, but that pie will not taste good.  It’s ruined, and you have to start over.  I’m not kidding.  Stop here, throw it out, and save yourself the trouble.  Better than serving something everyone hates.  You don’t want your pie to be legendary for the wrong reasons.

If you properly drained your bacon, the edges of the pie will look just like the center:  cream-colored and set.  The consistency should be like a good key lime pie.

Grab the pint of red raspberries.  Pick them over, so there’s no rotten or moldy ones hiding out, then rinse thoroughly.

After the berries have dried, lay similar-sized berries in a row across the bottom long edge of the pie.  That’s the first stripe of your flag.

Now, if you want to be authentic, you can figure out how to make 13 stripes in the 9″ of pie you have on that side.  That means each stripe must be just less than 3/4″ wide, so sort your berries accordingly, and get to work.

Or you can realize that no one is actually going to fly this flag, so an authentic 13 stripes is probably an unnecessary level of detail.

And don’t even get me started on the 50 stars.

Speaking of which, pick over, rinse, and drain the blueberries.  Using the berries, outline a 3 1/2″ square in the top left side of the pan.  That’s where your stars will go.

Pull the stars out of the fridge, and place them in a pleasing pattern within the confines of said blueberries.  How many and what pattern is up to you.  Go nuts.

Once the stars are in place (you can push them down a bit to set them), fill in the remaining space in the square with the blueberries.

Once the blue square is done, add the remaining red stripes to your flag.

Step back and take a look.  Tweak your design, if necessary.  Fill in any obvious holes in your pattern.  Straighten the stripes, or the edges of the blue field.

When it meets with your approval, place it back in the refrigerator.  That’ll help set the berries in place, and ensure smooth slicing when serving.

That’s it.  You’ve created the perfect dessert for America’s 241st birthday.

How does it taste?  Well, the filling is rich, creamy, sweet and tart.  The fresh berries add a pop of additional flavor, and a textural note.  The candied bacon crust adds salt and smoke, another element of crunch, and heat from the chipotle.  It cuts the richness a bit.  Overall, it’s delicious.

Enjoy the barbecue.

 

POSTSCRIPT – How can I get a perfect flag design on this pie, without resorting to fondant, artificial colors, or unnatural chemical additives?

I know, I’ll use fresh strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries to make a puree, and then I can paint the puree on the pie.

That’s what I tried to do.

I took fresh berries, pureed them in a food processor, then strained the puree through a strainer to remove all the seeds.

I heated the puree till just boiling, then added a bit of lemon juice (to hold color and taste), a small pinch of sugar.

I tried dipping a basting brush in the puree, and painting a stripe on some wax paper.  This was a failure; it simply did not work.

Thinking, I grabbed some gelatin, reheated the puree, and added a tablespoon of the unflavored gelatin.

I thought about using more gelatin, but I didn’t want fruit leather.  I would be too tough to slice, and displeasing to eat.  So I just used the one tablespoon in each batch of puree.

I whisked the mixture till velvety smooth, and poured out onto wax paper on the kitchen island.

I did this for both the strawberries (stripes) and the black and blue berries (the blue field).

I let the two batches of puree set up overnight.

The colors were good.  The gelatin provided a nice sheen.  The red puree was a bit pinker than I would like, but certainly serviceable, and the blue was dark enough to work well as contrast against the white chocolate.

I used a paring knife to neaten the puree into two nice clean rectangles.

I cut the blue into four squarish shapes, quadrilaterals, if you must know.

I slowly and carefully cut the red puree into long stripes.

Once that was done, I used the knife to raise a corner of the stripe.  I picked it up, wax paper and all, then inverted it onto the pie.

I used kitchen shears to snip the ends to length, so the stripe fit the pie.

I did the same with the blue rectangle, placing it in the top left corner of the pie.

I then peeled off the wax paper.

That’s when it went off the rails.

The puree had the consistency of jelly.  The jelly and the paper did not part company smoothly.

Rather, some stayed on the paper; some stayed on the pie.

I scraped the runaway puree off the wax paper, and carefully tried to fill in the holes left in the design on the pie.

Trying to create neat, sharp edge lines with loose jelly is an exercise in frustration.

I did the best I could, but this is really not my forte.

The results were, to quote Cher Horowitz, “a full-on Monet.  From far away, it’s OK.  But up close?  It’s a big old mess.”

I sucked it up, threw out the puree, and used a slender spatula to scrape/lift the stripes and blue field off of the pie, then smoothed to cover any remaining jelly.

I then went with the second method above.

I think the mistakes were not using enough gelatin.  There has to be a happy medium between jelly and jerky, one that would make it easy to work with.

I think the wax paper might have been a mistake.  Maybe the hot puree melded with the paper a bit, making clean removal difficult?  Perhaps a silicone sheet, like the one sitting unused in my gadget drawer, would have worked better?

What do you think?  What went wrong with this plan?

Biscuits & Gravy & Love

It’s 5:30 a.m., and Hana Nrecaj is making biscuits.

Starting with all-purpose flour, buttermilk, and other ingredients she won’t divulge, she mixes the dough. Forgoing the use of measuring cups or spoons, she mixes it “until it looks right”, then turns it out into a floured pan for a gentle kneading. Too much kneading, she cautions, and the biscuits will be too dense.

Hana’s in the back room of her restaurant, the recently-opened Biscuits & Gravy, located just off Ford Road, in Canton, Michigan. The restaurant has been open for less than two months, and Hana has been making the biscuits every morning. It’s a labor of love.

It’s been this way for most of her life. Hana and her husband, Joseph, have been in the restaurant business for over thirty-five years.

Born in Kosovo, Hana and her family came to the United States in 1971. They settled in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, just north of Harlem.

Eventually, the family settled in Michigan, where Hana met Joseph. The Albanian families had known each other in Kosovo, and things moved quickly.

The Nrecaj’s celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on February 5th.

They started working in the restaurant business at Ever-Joy Burgers, a slider emporium located at the intersection of Evergreen & Joy Roads in Detroit. While I don’t know for sure, I’m guessing the building looked a bit like this:

Together with a partner, they opened for business on April 5, 1982. Like most restaurant openings, there were a few bumps along the way. In this case, after cleaning all night for the opening, Hana went into labor, about a month early. Joseph drove her to the hospital, where their youngest daughter, Vera, was born.

Although she didn’t tell me so, I think Joseph gave her the rest of the day off.

For the next two decades, they opened, closed, bought, and sold restaurants in Michigan and Florida. Sometimes with partners, sometimes alone. Almost always open all night. They were rehabbing a restaurant in 2001. 9/11 happened right before their opening.

It was a tough time to open a restaurant. Joseph had a stroke. They moved to Florida, hoping the warmer climate would help his recuperation.

The girls were older, and Roza opened a restaurant, The Morningstar Cafe. Roza ran the restaurant; Hana brought her work ethic, and her recipes. They kept the 140-seat restaurant full, and they were NOT open 24 hours.

However, Roza missed her Corporate job, and she returned to Michigan after three years.

Hana tried other jobs in Florida, but none really worked out. She loved to cook, and missed her daughters (Vera was also in Michigan). Hana and Joseph moved back to Michigan in 2015.

After a year, they started looking for space. In a strip mall off of Ford Road, Moo Cluck Moo was closing, and the cozy space seemed right.

They opened on April 10th. Hana runs the kitchen, and Roza and Vera are there to help on the weekends.

It’s a family business in every sense of the word.

The menu is a single large sheet: breakfast on one side, lunch on the other.

Everything is homemade, except for one thing – the chocolate cake.

For breakfast, the obvious choice is the restaurant’s namesake. For $5.50, you get two giant biscuits, smothered in sausage gravy. The biscuits are large, with a crisp exterior, and an interior with a wonderful crumb. They are among the best I’ve tasted.

The sausage gravy features a tasty sausage, one with plenty of sage and spice. There are irregularly-shaped chunks of sausage in the gravy, reminding you that you are eating food made by a person, not a machine. The gravy itself heavily flecked with black pepper, and the overall taste is that of home, comfort, and love.

The portion is large – the picture shows a half-order, available for $4.

Roza is a fan of Eggs Benedict, and you can see her influence on this portion of the menu. I have tried two of these, and suspect they are all delicious.

The Southwest Benedict has chorizo patties, poached eggs, and one of the best sauces ever, a chipotle hollandaise. The hollandaise isn’t kidding around – there’s some serious heat in it, so beware. But overall, this dish is so good it should be illegal.

The French Benedict is a direct Roza creation, a flaky croissant topped with ham, Swiss cheese, poached eggs, and hollandaise. Once you taste this, you’ll wonder why it’s not on every brunch menu. The nuttiness of the Swiss cheese plays against the saltiness of the ham, the richness of the egg yolks, and the bright citrus of the hollandaise to make a flavor profile that is more than the sum of its parts. I will caution this is a rich dish.

Pancakes are giant, bigger than dinner plates, in stacks of three, which will easily serve two. For $6. Breakfast for two adults for six bucks. Amazing!

The pancakes can be ordered with berries, nuts, Nutella, and other toppings for a small additional charge. As you can see in the photos, it’s money well spent.

The pancakes feature a buttermilk batter, and they rise a bit while cooking. However, the pancakes are griddled in a bit of butter, creating a crispy crust on the outside. It’s a different textural element, and a bit unique.

Omelettes seem more normal sized than the other menu items, although they are stuffed to bursting, as you can see.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the breakfast meats. While I already described the sausage, the bacon is worthy of discussion as well. Why? Because it’s great bacon. While almost all bacon tastes good, great bacon is something else, a lovely mixture of smoke, salt, and porky goodness. In the picture, you can see Russell par-cooking a bunch prior to open. He finishes the bacon to order–on the grill, not by dunking in the fryer, like some other restaurants. You can definitely taste the difference.

One final thing – note a few things in the picture below. Russell is wearing gloves as he handles the food. Notice the stove next to the grill, neatly wrapped in aluminum foil. This makes cleaning easy, and keeps the stove much neater. Clearly, cleanliness and sanitation are important here. You can also see how fresh the vegetables are that are cooking on the grill. These are all signs of a quality operation, and a cook that knows his craft.

At some point, I”m going to have to flip over the menu, and start trying some of the lunch items. Knowing how good the bacon tastes, the BLT, with a griddled biscuit (!), seems an obvious place to start.

However, the breakfasts are so good, it might be a while before this happens.

During the month of June, you can get 10% off your food bill at Biscuits & Gravy. Simply tell them you saw this article, and the pictures of the lovely Hana and Roza, on I Write for Food, and they’ll take 10% off your check.

Hellfire and Salvation

Don Button is a true believer.

He wants you to believe, too.

Don is an evangelist, preaching about Hell Fire.

And habaneros . . .

Recently, while shopping at Holiday Market in Canton, I overheard a man talking about Scoville units, capsaicin, and Hell Fire. I approached the table, and met Don Button, the owner of Hell Fire Detroit.

Don believes in capsaicin, the chemical that creates the heat in hot peppers. Capsaicin and chili peppers have been used medicinally for centuries. Ironically, its primary use has been as a pain remedy.

Capsaicin has been used as a therapy for arthritis, to fight inflammation, and to suppress appetite. It also is commonly used to create a euphoric feeling, as the body reads the heat from capsaicin as “pain”, and releases endorphins to combat its effects.

Endorphins are the neurotransmitters your body releases when experiencing stress, fear, or pain. Endorphins are responsible for “runner’s high,” the euphoric feeling during exercise. They’re responsible for the rush of relief after watching a horror movie. And they react to capsaicin, creating that same feeling of euphoria, after eating hot food or peppers.

Don wants everyone to feel that, and he’s started a company to bring capsaicin to the people. Hellfire Detroit is a hot sauce company, producing four very different hot sauces: Poblano, Cherry Bomb, Manzana, and Habanero.

From a small facility in Warren, Don and his co-packer, Al Pronko of Pronko Enterprises, craft each batch of hot sauce, using only four ingredients: peppers, distilled water, apple cider vinegar, and salt. The resulting sauces are gluten free, vegan, and vegetarian. They’re also about as natural a product as can be.

The process starts with the peppers. On this day, Cherry Bombs, brilliantly beautiful red peppers, are the main attraction.

After coating with olive oil, the peppers are loaded into a small drum roaster.

The propane burners light with a roar, and the drum begins rotating, tumbling the peppers past the furious flame. Immediately, the peppers begin popping, as the stems burst from the heat.

The tumbling continues for a few minutes, until the peppers have achieved an overall char, and the roasting has deepened the flavor of the peppers.

The roasted peppers are stemmed. Since most of the capsaicin resides in the seeds and pith, both are left in place.

The roasted peppers are loaded into a large pot, and mixed with three other ingredients. The mixture is blended to a puree, then cooked for some time. The puree is allowed to cool slightly, and is loaded into the dispenser.

Rows of sterilized 4-oz. jars await.

Each jar is individually filled, inverted to set the seal, then labeled.

Jars are available for individual sale, or in 4-pack gift boxes:

But most importantly, how does it taste?

We tasted all four sauces, working from the most mild (Poblano), through the hottest (Habanero). One thing to keep in mind: the hotness does vary between batches. The team is using a natural product, and the peppers can vary in heat from batch to batch. That’s why the Scoville units on the label are shown as a range, rather than a number.

The Poblano has a very vegetal taste. It tastes very green, and has little heat. It is a good starter sauce for someone who is just getting started in capsaicin culture.

The Cherry Bomb is more flavorful. It has a deeper taste, from the roasted peppers, and the seeds provide a noticeable level of heat. This is a good hot sauce to add to a cheesesteak, or pour on some nachos.

The Manzana remains my favorite. Manzana peppers are a bit more exotic. In fact, the color varies significantly, and quality control requires the team to occasionally reject a shipment for that reason. However, the chartreuse color is appealing, the peppers flavorful, and the heat level . . . appreciable. This seems a fine condiment to add to recipes. I believe it would be a great add to a tomatillo salsa.

We saved the Habanero for last, mindful of the Scoville units shown on front. At 100,000 to 300,000 units, this sauce is 75 – 100 times hotter than your average jalapeno. And it is.

The heat does not hit immediately. In fact, after a few seconds I thought, “Wow, that’s not really that hot!”

Twenty seconds later, I realized I was wrong. This sauce is hot. Not mind-numbingly hot, not crying-over-my-poor-decisions hot, but genuinely hot. It’s uncomfortable, and you will be reaching for that glass of milk or water.

This is the one you give to that friend who claims nothing is ever too hot for him. It may not change his mind, but he’ll know you were thinking of him.

Interestingly, about twenty minutes after eating the Habanero, I did notice a smile on my face. Whether the endorphins, or the fact the Habanero burn had finally stopped, I was definitely in a better mood. Perhaps there’s something to this after all.

Hell Fire Detroit hot sauces are available on-line and in 90 Michigan grocery stores and gift shops.

Click over to hellfiredetroit.com to order, or to find the store closest to you. For our readers, simply enter the discount code “iwriteforfood” for free shipping on orders over $20.

Lazy Days, Vacations, and Sweet Corn

Originally published July 7, 2015 – Since I’m headed off on vacation for two weeks, I hope you’ll allow me the liberty to cheat a bit on this week’s post.  I’d like to share one of my favorite new recipes, something that will come in handy on summer weekends.

It’s a pretty simple recipe, but with great results – Charred Corn on the Cob with Compound Butter (liberally adapted from an episode of Cook’s Country).  And you might even get a chuckle or two as you read along.  It’s intended for a charcoal grill, but I suppose gas would work, although I haven’t done it that way.

Shuck your corn, while the briquettes heat up.  If you’re not familiar with starting a fire, please see “To Build a Fire,” by Jack London (http://www.amazon.com/Build-Fire-Other-Stories-Illustrated-ebook/dp/B0082GYWHG/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435004795&sr=1-1&keywords=to+build+a+fire).

It doesn’t really matter how many briquettes you use, as I assume you’re cooking the corn along with burgers, steaks, or other flame-kissed animal protein deliciousness. More than one briquette, fewer than the whole bag. Unless it’s a small bag.

Set them on fire using your favorite method: matches, road flare, Zippo, chimney, toxic lighter fluid whose petrolatum-based flames will take years off your family’s lives (hey, it’s your call), napalm, flamethrower, whatever.

Once the coals are hot, put the ears of corn directly on the grill grate, over a hot spot on the grill. Cover, don’t cover, really doesn’t matter. Just get the ears over some hot flame/coals. Leave ’em alone for a bit.

Go back inside, and grab a stick of softened butter, which you sat out on the counter earlier. What? You didn’t set the butter out to soften? But I said we’re making compound butter. How did you think that was going to happen? The butter fairy? Wow, I’m not sure you’re ready for this recipe. Sit down over there and think about your life decisions for a moment.

Or, pop it in the microwave on high for 10-15 seconds, just long enough to soften — NOT MELT — the butter. Place the softened butter in a small bowl, and combine with some herbs: equal parts tarragon, basil, parsley, etc. Those three work really well, but it’s up to you. Fresh is better, but dried works too. Put enough in that you can see herb in every bit of the butter. Mix it up; should look kinda green.

Back to the grill. Rotate the ears of corn a third of a turn or so, moving the charred side up.

Back inside – grab a 13 x 9 or larger pan (size depends on how much corn you’re cooking). 13 x 9 will handle 6-8 ears. If you’re cooking all the corn in Kansas, you’ll need a bigger pan. Use a disposable if you’re too lazy to wash it after. If not, aluminum is fine.

Glass will work, but will probably get REALLY messy. So if your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/life partner/significant other/posslq has a favorite Corning Ware pan handed down from great great grandma Corning, you may want to re-think your choice.

Anyways, however you decide, you now are in possession of a pan. Depending on how long this internal debate and external decision took you (longer for indecisive ones who didn’t put the butter out to soften), you may have turned your charred corn into tragically burnt corn, and have to start over.

However, if you are a Master and Commander, and decisively grabbed that darn pan, you’re still on schedule. Plop that big ol’ blob of compound butter right in the middle of that pan. Grab a roll of aluminum foil, grab the pan, and head back out to the grill.

Your corn is now nicely charred on two of its three sides . . .

Really, you’re gonna make me say it?

Fine, rotate the corn another third of a turn, so the remaining uncharred side can join its happily-blackened family of kernels.

Once the corn has sufficiently blackened on each side, start pulling the corn off the grill. Give it a quick turn through the compound butter in the pan, and push it off to one side of the pan.

Do this for all the corn, so the pan is full, and each ear is happily glistening with herbaceous butter. Cover the pan with the foil, tightly.

Put the pan back on the grill, on the cooler side. Use the hot side for whatever animal protein, hardy tofu (LOL – tofu!!), or gluten-free vegan bean burger (seriously, stop–you’re killin’ me) you plan to serve.

While your carnivorous feast cooks to medium-rare or medium (the only two real options), the corn will be steaming in that herb butter, and the moisture the heat has caused the kernels to expel (corn spit — funny).

Once you’ve finished grilling, take the entire pan of corn off the grill. Take it back inside. CAREFULLY peel back the foil. Superheated steam will come out. Having your flesh in the way will offer further medium-rare dining options for the carnivores in your house, or zombies marauding through the ‘hood, so you might want to keep your fingers at some distance.

Or poke a few holes in the top of the foil so the steam escapes first, then peel it back.

While wearing a fluorescent safety vest, you gormless ninny.

Saddle up, peel it back, and deal with the consequences.

The corn will smell tasty enough to attract crows from three states over. It will be charred, tender, and glistening with butter and bits of herbaceous deliciousness.

You have choices: right off the cob in the traditional manner, or sheared from the cob, like alpaca from your favorite llama, for oldsters with dentures, or youngsters presently wearing dental appliances I paid for.

If you have leftovers, charred corn salsa is wonderful, although not a recipe I’ll be covering here today.

Ditto charred corn chowder, with bacon, leeks, and potatoes.

Hey, that gives me an idea . . .

 

What’s Your Passion?

Originally published July 27, 2015 – You’ve heard the quote a thousand times, “Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”  To the best of my research, a quote from Harvey Mackay, author of Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt.

We all have jobs.  Some of us have jobs we love.  Some of us have jobs we are passionate about.  Rarely does anyone have a job that IS their passion.

While watching the Brickyard 400 NASCAR event yesterday, I was thinking about this.  The network was showing a feed of Roger Penske, atop the garage, watching the track as one of his drivers, Joey Logano, was preparing for the green-white-checkered sprint to the finish (Joey ultimately finished second to Kyle Busch).

It’s well known that racing is Roger Penske’s passion.  He’s a legendary competitor in both NASCAR and IRL circles, and his 16 wins at Indy tops all owners.  But it’s not his day job–it’s “just” what he does on weekends.

For me, it’s photography.

I started out as the school yearbook photographer, shooting (horrible) black and white 35mm photos, either wasting film in poorly-focused shots, or destroying good shots in the darkroom.

I used a school advisor-provided metal body Canon that weighed about 10 lbs., even before attaching the dumbbell-sized telephoto lens.  Between the lens shake from trying to hold 15 lbs. of camera equipment on a moving target (usually a basketball player), and the poor focus from my uncorrected myopia, every shot was an adventure.  Looking back, I’m amazed there were enough decent shots to fill out the pages.

(And no, this isn’t where I’ll be posting a blurry, black and white shot of someone with feathered hair, too short shorts, and over the calf striped tube socks driving to the hoop.  Besides, you just pictured it in your mind anyways.)

But if you’re passionate about something, you keep at it.

You try harder.

You practice.

You learn from others.

You read how to get better.

You get glasses.

You burn through film, looking for that perfect shot.

You upgrade your equipment.

You curse the digital revolution, as you just learned a level of competency with your film camera (still a Canon, although lighter).

You fail.

Over and over.  Thousands of shots:  blurred, out of focus, out of frame.

You keep learning, from small successes along the way.

But mostly from the failures.

You keep climbing.

Because it’s your passion.

You flirt with the other brand

You buy one, hate it, go back to Canon.

You upgrade to a digital set-up.

You study the work of betters:  Adams, Mapplethorpe, Avedon, Leibovitz.

You try to develop your eye.

You get Lasik.

You shoot thousands of shots.

You delete thousands of shots, because your standards are now higher.

You thank God for digital.

You refuse to Photoshop.

You shoot outside your comfort zone, literally hanging ten over a thousand foot drop at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, because it’s the only way to get the iconic shot.

You get the shot.

You upgrade again, because now you NEED to.

You meet an architect on a flight to New Orleans.  He asks why you “take pictures.”  You instinctively respond, “Because it’s how I see the world.”

You have an epiphany, realizing it’s true.

You shoot your daughters’ marching band competitions.  You focus on them through the telephoto lens, and through the magic of mirrors and magnification,  you really SEE them.

You keep shooting – every vacation, every business trip.

You have some kind of camera everywhere you go.

You shoot circuses, car shows, iguanas, elephants, mountains, canyons, and flowers.

You shoot a 1,700-lb. bull stomping a 160-lb. cowboy.

You do this for the better part of four decades.

And you think “I’ve found what I love.”

 

 

Footnotes:

1)  All photos copyright 2015 by Tim Flucht ; all rights reserved.  2)  The site only allows low-res uploads.  3)  What do you call a group of butterflies?  I had to look it up after shooting these.  4)  You can find Mr. Mackay’s books here:  http://www.amazon.com/Harvey-Mackay/e/B000AQ8WKO/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1438022891&sr=8-2-ent  5)  A flutter of butterflies, or 6) A kaleidoscope of butterflies.

Serendipitous Sushi

Originally published August 11, 2015 – “Occurring or discovered by chance in a happy or beneficial way,” is Google’s definition of serendipitous, and it’s a good description for last evening.

I stopped off at one of my favorite local restaurants, Izakaya Sanpei, on Joy Road in Canton, MI.  Izakaya is a Japanese restaurant, and while I have never traveled to Japan, the food seems authentic (meaning, it may be, but I’m not qualified to say so).

I sat at the sushi bar, rather than a table, and in short order, was working my way through a plate of shumai (shrimp dumplings) and a bowl of tempura soba.

But that’s not what this post is about.  I mean, the food was great, the dumplings small bits of seafood deliciousness, the tempura perfectly light, topping a bowl filled with rich broth and buckwheat noodles.  The food is always good at Izakaya; that’s why I eat there.

But tonight?  Well, tonight I saw something different.

About halfway through my soba, I noticed the sushi chef preparing a very large bowl.  He had a wonderful arrangement of fish, a large seashell, a flower, lemon slices, and other garnishes arranged around the bowl.  When he poured a bit of water into the bowl, it began smoking, overflowing the bowl, creeping across the counter.

I snapped a quick photo as the waitress was carrying it away, then started to talk to the chef about its preparation.  I found it was their special of the day, fresh aji (small Japanese mackerel) and fresh conch.

Fortunately, as we were talking, two more orders came in.  I was able to watch him prepare the entire dish, beginning with filleting the aji, and bracing it with chunks of cucumber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once that was completed, he took the ahi meat, and mixed it with chopped vegetables, perhaps gobo (burdock root) and perhaps jalapeno, creating a fresh fish salad.  He then arranged the salad on the fish, and garnished with scallions.

He then took the conch shell, rolled a ball of wasabi paste, and used that to stabilize the shell, now next to the fish/salad combination in the bowl.  Pulling a whole conch from the chiller, he began cutting thick slices of the conch, arraying them across the shell.  I thought the thickness of the slices a bit unusual, as conch is usually pretty tough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a few more garnishes, the dish was finished.  He poured water over the dry ice, and the presentation was complete:  a beautiful sashimi dish, artfully arranged, with special effects to take it over the top.

I complimented chef on his work, as the owner came over to join our conversation.

I was pleased to meet Harold Kim, owner of the restaurant.  We talked about the unusual preparation.  Mr. Kim told me he wanted to serve very authentic food, and sushi needs to be more than just rolls.  He had interviewed Chef Sang J. Kim, and they shared a desire to serve more traditional Japanese cuisine.

The menu is already extensive, but there is now a second menu of Japanese appetizers (you have to ask), for those desiring more of the traditional experience of small shared plates, drinks, and conversation.

They also have arranged to provide local tastes to their Japanese clientele, or to those who wish to enjoy similar delicacies.  So they’re eating “local”, but “local” is home, not the restaurant location.  Doing so requires a long supply chain.

Each Wednesday, they receive a “mystery box”.  Flown directly from Japan, the box contains fresh local fish.  Mr. Kim receives an email with a picture of the fish as it is crated for the flight (the first notification of what type of fish he will receive), and it arrives in Detroit twelve hours later, less than a day out of the local (Japanese) waters.

The fish is served fresh on Wednesday evening, and is gone by Thursday afternoon.

I mentioned the conch, and the thicker slices I had noticed.  Mr. Kim told me that Chef Kim does not prepare the conch in the traditional method, which does toughen the meat, and requires thinner slices.  Because his method does not toughen the conch, the thicker slices are still enjoyable to eat (similar to the hamachi you see in the top photo, my dessert for the evening.

There are also plans to expand a bit more into yakatori, Japanese charcoal-grilled skewers (Raku, in Las Vegas, is an outstanding example of this genre – http://raku-grill.com/grill/index.html).  While he cannot offer the 100 or more varieties offered in an authentic yakatori grill (more than 20 of chicken alone:  thigh, skin, breast, hearts, livers, etc), Mr. Kim does want to offer a few more.  Again, for smaller shared dishes, and communal conversation.

It was a very enjoyable evening, at a wonderful restaurant, learning more about sushi and Japanese tradition, such as the sushi press in the photo below.  It’s used to press the seasoned rice into rectangles, rather than the hand-formed mounds one usually sees.

I was looking for a delicious meal, but found a master’s course in sashimi. Serendipitous, indeed!

 

Six Photos; Six Stories

Originally published August 24, 2015 – Photo #1 – Horseshoe Bend, outside of Page, AZ.

At the top of the column, that’s the iconic shot of Horseshoe Bend, just outside of Page, Arizona.  The Bend is a meander (isn’t that a great word?  And technically correct!) in the Colorado River, one of the most photographed shots along the waterway.

To take this photo, you need two things:  first, a wide angle lens, one that can encompass the entirety of the scene in front of you.  Second, you’ll need to stand absolutely on the edge of a 1,000-ft. drop.  No guard rail, no fence, no nothin’!  Just you, the edge, your tootsies dangling over the drop, and constant prayers there isn’t a stiff breeze in your immediate future.

And, if you’re like me, you’ll have to take several shots.  Shaky hands really blur the shot (heights are not really my thing).

Photo #2 – SEMA Show, Las Vegas, NV.

The SEMA show is one of my favorite events of the year.  I’ve been fortunate enough to attend for several years, and one of my friends, John Waraniak, does a great job with a track on Technology and Connected Vehicles.  It’s a “can’t miss” if you’re out there.

As you can imagine, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cars to see.  And I have hundreds of those photos.  However, for this shot, I saw the reflection on her glasses, and snapped off the shot.  She is one of the booth ladies manning –is that an oxymoron? — the Galpin Auto Sports display (if memory serves).

To get the shot, I broke one of my rules.  Before photographing someone, I used to always ask permission, even in a public place.  It seems polite.

However, what I’ve found is that people stiffen up once you ask, or you might miss a shot or moment.  So now, I take the shot, and ask permission later.  I show the photo to them, and usually take one or two more.  But they rarely match the candid shot.

Does anyone else have this issue?  How do you deal with it?

Photo #3 – Miravalles Volcano, Costa Rica

Admittedly, a cheat, with a series of three photos, rather than one shot.  However, I was pretty happy with the detail in these.

On our second vacation in Costa Rica, we took a day trip to the hot springs at the inactive Miravalles Volcano.  The trip features a rain forest hike to three waterfalls, crossing some swinging, swaying cable bridges, then a trip through the geothermally-heated features:  steam room, hot springs, mud baths, etc.

But the finale!  A concrete waterslide, probably 1,000 feet long, winding down the mountainside.  The start features a giant cistern, which is filled to the top.  You sit down in the U-shaped concrete slide, wearing a helmet, and an inner tube.

The inner tube is crammed over your shoulders.  It’s there to keep your head off the concrete, and your arms pinned to your sides, as dry, rough concrete (the side of the slide) is not kind to skin or bone, and I have the scar to prove it.

Once you’re lined up, they open the cistern, and several hundred gallons of water hit you and your tube, launching you down the side, feeling very much like a champagne cork.

The slide twists and turns, always accelerating downward, feeling very out of control.  You end up in a large pool at the bottom.  Depending on survival rates, and impulse control, you can hike back up top and do it again.

These photos are two of my kids, Sammy (she’s the one holding her nose) and Drew, at the bottom of the slide, as they hit the pool.

Bonus Shot – Monkey Head Rock, Gulf of Papagayo, Costa Rica

The only photo in the group shot with Nikon, a candid portrait of my daughter, Kat, as we were aboard a small boat, on our scuba trip.  It was her second time diving.

It’s my favorite shot of her, as it perfectly captures her personality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo #4 – Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Our first trip to Costa Rica included a stay at the Hilton Papagayo Resort and Spa (no longer a Hilton, as of 2/15).  This was a beautiful property directly on the Gulf of Papagayo, on the Pacific side of the country.

The resort grounds were beautiful, with wonderful tropical landscaping, and beautiful flowers throughout.

Since I usually wake early on vacation, and the rest of my family does not, I usually grab my camera and roll out quietly.  I’ll spend an hour or two photographing whatever I can.  On this vacation, that usually included iguanas, coatis, the occasional howler monkey, and lots of flowers.

In this case, the plant was still dripping from an early-morning shower.

 

 

 

 

 

Bonus Photo – Hilltop overlooking the Gulf of PapagayoDrew and I took an evening hike, looking for a few good shots.  When we got to the top of the hill, two gentlemen were there, watching the sunset.

They had the right idea – it was spectacular.

Drew was mesmerized, and I snapped off a quick shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo #5 – Tucson Rodeo, Tucson, AZ

Ever wonder what it feels like to have 1,700 lbs. of angry bull stomp on your chest?

Yeah, me neither.

But this cowboy can tell ya.  He got thrown about 3 seconds into his ride, and before the bullfighters (no longer rodeo clowns, I found out) could get to him, El Toro decided to stomp him for good measure.

Fortunately, this cowboy wears a helmet (some bull riders still wear just a cowboy hat), and a protective vest.  So he was able to limp away after this, with a few cracked ribs to remember it by.

 

 

 

 

Bonus Shots

Shortly into another ride, after getting thrown, the cowboy was down on the ground.

The bull was angry and aggressive, looking to even the score.

The bullfighter threw himself between the two foes, buying time for the cowboy to get clear, by distracting it with a new target.

This is NOT a still life study – the bullfighter ran through, putting his hand on the bull’s head to keep a bit of distance, as the bull was charging the cowboy.

The cowboy scrambled to safety.

By the way, to show how tough/stupid/brave/all three the bullfighters are:  if you look on the right side of his ball cap, you can see the edge of a bandage.  The previous day, while guarding a rider, he was gored by a bull, and almost lost his ear.  He was back doing his job the following day, with his ear stitched back on, covered by a large bandage.

 

 


Here’s the moment it all starts.  The gate man yanks the gate open, the bull charges from the pen, and the rider holds on for eight seconds, if he’s lucky.

What happens if the gate man doesn’t get out of the way in time?

 

 

 

 

 

He ends up with a right leg that bends in two spots.  He did make it over the wall to (relative safety), and was taken to a local hospital.

He was in the ambulance with a busted thigh, as I was walking out of the rodeo.  I stopped and showed him this picture; I figured he earned it.

He said something along the lines of, “Well, it ain’t sposed to bend that way, is it?” and laughed.

Rodeo people are TOUGH.

 

 

 

Photo #6 – Upper Antelope Canyon, Navajo Reservation, outside Page, AZ

Upper Antelope Canyon is one of the most beautiful spots in the world.  Formed by eons of wind and water erosion, the canyon is presently about 120-ft. deep.  Located on the Navajo Reservation outside of Page, AZ, the canyon is considered a sacred place.  To tour the site, you must use a Navajo guide.

This shot is of The Cathedral, one of the larger rooms in the canyon.  If you look at the right center of the photo, you can see the bear that guards the room.

Shots in the canyon are long exposures, 30 seconds or more.  The wider your lens, the happier you will be with the final shots.

You have to shoot on a tripod to avoid blurring the shot, but the colors are amazing.  This photo hasn’t been retouched; that’s really what it looks like.

It was humbling to be in the midst of so much beauty.  Our small group was led by Pat, a Navajo who has probably forgotten more about photography than I will ever learn.  He was an incredible guide, helping us capture great shots.

Bonus Shot


Still in the canyon, looking at The Candlestick.

I hope you like the photos and stories.  If you did, please leave a comment, and feel free to share this post with others.

Thanks!