Sunday, November 30, 2008

Koeppel Interview Part 1

Back in early October, I had the opportunity to interview Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed Our World. Over the next few days, I'll be posting the interview in digestible chunks, but if you want to read the piece in its entirety, it is available in both the print, and online versions of the current Wheatsville Breeze.

It’s apparent that you traveled a fair amount to do research for Banana, what areas or populations do you feel are being hit the hardest by banana maladies that Americans may not be aware of?

In terms of being hit hard, I would say that the definition of hit hard is two-fold. The first one would have to do with people who depend on bananas to eat, and pretty much all over the world, wherever bananas are grown, except for our hemisphere, people depend on bananas to eat. Wherever they do, banana maladies are prevalent. We don’t really know about people in Africa, for example, who get ninety percent of their daily calories from bananas.

Wherever bananas are grown, they get very sick, so, you’ll find, for example, in parts of the Congo, Cameroon, Uganda, Tanzania, banana sickness can devastate crop yields by up to eighty or ninety percent. These are people who are dealing with sick bananas, and they’re literally finding that eight or nine out of ten of the bananas that they grow are not coming off the tree. This can lead to starvation. So that’s something we have no idea about, and these banana sicknesses are very virulent, they’re invincible.

Now, on our side of the world, where most of the bananas grown are for commercial use, in other words, they’re the bananas that are grown for us to eat, we don’t have a lot of problems with sick bananas because we spray them against getting sick. The problem is that these sprays in conventionally grown bananas make the workers sick. So the problem with banana maladies is that we cure the bananas and we sicken the banana workers. The sickness of the banana workers has been a problem for sixty years. What you’ll see is that the kinds of sicknesses and kind of sprays have been changed, and that the word from the sprayers is, “well, things have gotten better, we’re using safer chemical now,” and perhaps these chemicals have gotten a little safer, but I would, uh, dispute that they’re safe. And, in fact, even if the chemicals are a little safer, the effects, which can range from cancers, to sterilization, are by no means safe. The other issue is that bananas need to be sprayed more and more as the years go on, because these maladies become more and more resistant.

So, even if thought the most horrible chemicals of all time were probably used farther back in the past, what’s happening now is pretty bad, so the effects of banana maladies is world wide, it’s just who and how they affect that varies across continents.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cold Leftovers

Thankgiving is over. Good. Next year will be better, and will be here before we know it. I enjoyed waking up this morning in a relatively clean house, without having to clean up the wake of destruction that usually envelops my house on Thanksgiving. Instead, I got to make coffee in a clean kitchen, and enjoy my day doing nothing in particular. 

Turkey pile

I ended up not making the radish dish, due to time, but I will and you'll here about it. It's really simple, I've made it before, but it is so damn good. That's because anything cooked in duck fat is good. I did make an apple pie, poached some pears, and made bacon toffee. The end result was interesting.

My contribution

The pears came out fine. I used some leftover syrup I had from the last batch of poached pears I made for a brunch last week. Even the kids liked them. One kid, Caleb, the child of my co-worker Miranda, touched one, but didn't eat it, prompting a, "Don't touch it if aren't going to eat it," speech from some adult. Grubby kid hands all up on the food...

My bacon toffee is still in its beta testing stages. I couldn't find my thermometer, so this left me guessing when to pull it from the heat. This means I need to go buy a) a candy thermometer, b) a regular thermometer. Due to this lack of precision, the candy didn't get hard like a Skor bar, instead it was more like a soft toffee. The flavor was there, and bacon is just fucking good, so I see where it's going, but it wasn't right. Next time. This will be something that I keep up my sleeve for a long time. I mean, it's bacon toffee?! I envision a summer day with some vanilla ice cream mixed with broken pieces of bacon toffee, or a nice salad with bacon toffee in lieu of bacon... Yum.

v1.0

My pie... Oh, my pie. It was so beautiful, it was a shame that it was eaten before it fully cooled. You can chose which lesson should be learned here:
a) don't stay up so late drinking, that way you can wake up before noon to make pie for evening meal.
b) make pie/crust day before
c) hold out longer than two hours before caving for hungry partygoers
d) don't worry about, have another drink
Regardless of lessons, it was a good pie, it just never set up all the way. It was still pretty warm when I finally cut into it. The crust, which is from a recipe that I have been working with for several years, turned out the way I wanted for the first time in a while. Sometimes it gets too warm too fast, which makes it so hard to work with. This year, I employed a more regulatory system to control the temperature of the dough. It made a few trip back in the fridge as other things were worked on. I used honey crisp apples, which are a nice blend of sweet and tart, and keep their shape as they cook. It was moderately disappointing to watch it ooze when I removed the first slice...

Pie

Pretty pie

The success with the crust makes me want to make another pie soon. I like making pies. It's the only baking I ever do, so it's nice to feel good about doing it. Baking is scary to me for some reason. I guess that comes down to practice and familiarity. I don't eat many sweets anymore, so that means I rarely make them, which is no excuse not to gain practice making them for others. Most people like baked goods. I know when I have high quality baked goods versus just so-so baked goods, but overall I'm indifferent. Except for pie. I like pie. Pie can also be savory, and that gives it extra bonus points. Its all about that pastry. Thats the hard part, especially in Austin, Texas. When it's eighty degrees on Thanksgiving, one must be careful when handling their pastry. Until next time. 

Fall Gardening

The weather has been kind to my garden this season. It has stayed relatively temperate so far this Fall, which is nice for the plants, and tricky for your wardrobe. Everything is looking really nice, and today, I planted more radishes to supplant those which have already been harvested. I also did a taste test of the five lettuce varieties that are really starting to find themselves. Each had distinctive taste characteristics that will work well with a variety of complementary ingredients, and together as a mix. Some are acidic, bitter and toothy, whereas others are sweet and tender; a few, peppery and crunchy. Something to look forward to. 

Gardens are cool

Radishes

I pulled up the mystery green that was growing with the radishes. I think it was a variety of mustard greens. Where it came from, I have know idea, I'll eat it all the same. I tasted a carrot, not because they're ready, but because some squirrel thought it would be a good place to bury a pecan. It was just laying there, discarded; left to die. There were no bites out of it or anything, just disposed of. Irritating, but nonetheless delicious. It was very small, and pale, with a nice sweet, carrot flavor. Also something to look forward to. 

Spinach

I've been thinning my Lacinato over the past week or so. This thinning should give the plants more room to settle down and spread out, producing longer, dense leaves. I did the same with the plants that could be either, broccoli, brussels sprouts, or cauliflower. I love surprises. The snow peas are looking nice, some of which got some assistance in the way of twine leads for their trellising. I am growing several of these, more for the leaves than the pods. The leaves, when stir-fried, are divine. No lie. My co-worker, Ralf, turned a few of us on to 1St Chinese BBQ, and suggested that we try the snow pea leaves, which are not on the menu. We did, and they are simple, and delicious. Sometimes they don't have them, but they usually do. 

Lettuce

The Lacinato is starting its ascent

I haven't seen our friend Fuligo lately. The conditions for his return must not be right. That's okay though, I know we'll be reunited soon enough. There is plenty of other activity going on in the garden, plenty of insects, and other critters. 

I've been eating some things out of the garden over the past month or so. Mostly green leafy things, like turnip greens, and arugula, but radishes and turnips have mad an appearance on a few plates. These radishes are very nice, and peppery. They'll mellow out as it cools off, but I'm thankful for their heat now. I have more than enough cilantro, and the fennel is coming along very nicely. I've been tempted to cook one of the baby fennel bulbs several times already. They have been warned. 

Fennel


Arugula and fingerling salad with a poached egg. 

Turnips

Once all the leaves fall from the big pecan, the garden will get a bit more of the southern sun, which will help out my beets, which are rather puny. I've never had very good luck with beets. I'm still waiting on my landlord to bring me some lumber. As I've said before, he often takes quite some time to accomplish things. 

Product Placement

If I could choose one thing that I feel has dominated the collective American Psyche for the past century, I would choose commercial advertising (all mediums). Our entire culture shifted when the admen found the best media possible to get their suggestive voice into everyone's homes: television. We are once again on the same threshold of shifting advertising culture, as the internet evolves and advertising embraces its cheapest venue to date.

Television, and television shows, just like their radio predecessors, originally had one purpose: to sell products. Sure they entertain you, but they simply exist to provide something stimulating enough between commercial breaks, that consumers (or as they are also known, humans) don't get up and do something else. If you think it's the other way around, you are probably part of their prime demographic base. Thanks to the advertising agencies, we have been fortunate to have been given some real gems over the past sixty years of television, and the future looks digitally bright (and in High Def). 

It's no secret that your good friends over at Proctor and Gamble, and Colgate-Palmolive sponsored midday radio serials targeted at a mostly female audience, starting in the late 1930s, some of which continued onto television, as a means to peddle their soap products to housewives. One of these 'soap operas', Guiding Light, has been on since 1937, making it the longest story ever told. 

In the Nineties, more so than in decades past, Big Advertising got wise that many young people (a prime demographic chunk, Generation X, was becoming a powerful consumer base) were going to movies, and we saw the rise of product placement (Subway in Coneheads, Ford Explorers in Jurassic Park, etc.). Product placement, or embedded marketing, has been around for decades, but for the last two, it has become so blatant, that some movies have used it for comedic effect through outright parody, such as Wayne's World, or as a back handed attack at the advertising industry as a whole, such as Minority Report. Kevin Smith uses it very well to promote the farcical products that give cohesion to the world in which his carachters live, through faux products he has created, like the Mooby fast food chains, Nails Cigarettes, and Discreto Burritos. Product placement is a part of our society, and is probably here to stay. 



Anyway, the reason why I'm even thinking about this has to do with this week's episode of Top Chef. Top Chef is sponsored by brands that are common in American homes: Glad, GE, Kenmore, Swanson, and a host of other food, and appliance companies, as well as Food and Wine magazine. It is a great vehicle for product placement, having a large audience of foodies, food lovers, chefs, and potheads (none of these things are in any way mutually exclusive); people who buy stuff. What caught my eye, was what they were drinking in the storeroom. In the past, I've been angered -- which is pretty dumb -- by the beers that were being drank in the storeroom. Since the brands are obviously sponsors it made sense to me, but it was generally crap. Last season I think it was Michelob, with several scenes of people drinking Michelob Ultra, which from any beer connoisseur's perspective, is a crime against the entire history of brewing beer, and not fit for human or consumer consumption. Dos Equis had the storeroom a few years back, which is also crap in bottle. Syrupy nonsense deemed exotic because it's from Mexico. This year, however, they may have redeemed themselves.

No other than New York's own Brooklyn Brewery was getting some screen time. Brooklyn Brewery makes decent, craft brewed beer, and is not a major player on the national level like Michelob, or even Dos Equis. Brooklyn Brewery beer only recently came to Texas, and has received mixed reviews from my circle of zymurazzi. I sort of like the East India Pale Ale, it snuck up on me when I last had it, but for an American IPA it was subdued, and true to the original idea, except for the 6.8% ABV. British IPA's usually have a bit lower alcohol percentage (3.8% - <5%>

Despite not being the biggest fanboy of this brewery, I really got a kick out of seeing it on Top Chef. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy for some reason; that the consumer portion of my deranged mind felt the tinge of familiarity with the product, and that sense of "I drink that, too..." washed over me. It made me want a beer, even though it was seven in the morning, which means that the advertising worked. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

All Over But The Crying

Breathe out. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

That's nice. The week has come and gone, and I seem generally unscathed. Life is beautiful. Tomorrow will be a fun day of prepping and cooking. I'm not doing it up like years past, when I've been responsible for orchestrating feasts for orphaned Austinites. This year I'm going to someone else's house, and am only responsible for a pie. 

Of course, I'm doing more than the pie, but that's all I'm on the hook for. I've already had a great week of cooking, and practicing technique that will be useful for the rest of my life. More on that later. As for tomorrow, I'll be doing some poached pears, an apple pie, bacon toffee, and some homegrown radishes cooked in duck fat. Yum. 

I am backed up on some blogs, and will spend some of my three day weekend working those out. Expect your spare time to be cluttered with pedantic rants about beers, Canadian singers, food, confit, and life as perceived by a bearded weirdo. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Be Here Now

Welcome back to the present. I'm done with London postings. I will post about Cohen when I've fully processed the experience. So. It's Thanksgiving week, and for those of us in the grocery biz, this is our busiest time of year. It can be fun, stressful, and a bit nerve racking at times, which is all the better to keep you on your toes. Service must be great, we do not want to disappoint our patrons, for they are shouldering an equal burden, often involving in laws. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

London Calling: Lost in the Supermarket

My final day in London found Sian and I on a pilgrimage to the Borough Market. The market was much like a food heaven, or amusement park, absent height restrictions or necessity of death. I enjoy a good farmers market, or even just a proper roadside farm stand. As a grocer, one comes to appreciate these things. Those places are destinations for sleepy Sunday afternoons. Borough Market, on the other hand, is like Mecca. You go there, and you worship every aspect of food; the craft behind it, the serving of it, the preparation of it, and eating it.

The first thing we saw, as we began to navigate the hurried, narrow passageways, was a giant paella pan full of delicious smelling paella. I have been weary of paella Stateside since my last encounter with the soupy saffron rice pilaf I was served at Saba in August. This was a redeeming image for me, I could see the crusty goodness with my very own eyes.

That is a huge pan.

This table was immediately followed by an oyster and Prosecco stand. Could there be a better way to get the stomach conditioned for a long walk through a magical wonderland of gastronomical delight? Probably not. I bought Sian and myself one massive oyster each, and a glass of bubbly. She'd never tried oysters, so this experience could have gone several ways. These were Scottish rock oysters, a variety I've never had; they seemed to be rather fresh, and massive. A little malt vinegar and a toast later, and they were down the hatch. Briny and delicious. I heart oysters. Sian... not so much.

Would this fly on Sixth St.?

Slurp.

Wardrobe malfunction.

Fear.

Unsure of the results...

From there, bubbly in hand, we made our way into the heart of the beast. It was throbbing with intensity; people shouting, chewing, laughing, drinking, and making deals, all creating some sort of supernatural hum. The next stop was at the terrine booth. The man behind the counter had a nice selection of terrines, from a variety of animals. There was a pork terrine that was done in the chunky, country style, that did not contain any offal, which, after some time, I was able to convince Sian to try. She was surprised that she actually liked it. It was very delicious, but, I'm sure she thought that there had to be some kind of guts in there, which made her apprehensive from the start.

Terrines are amazing.

We moved on, tasting fresh cheeses, and meats. Each cheese I tasted was amazing. A great representation of an old British skill. Stilton was everywhere, and there were even a few booths selling gruyeres and alpage style cheese. I love samples. I even had a smidge of some black pudding along the way. This was the only time that I saw any of it on my trip, otherwise, I would have eaten it somewhere... It was amazing. I don't get why we don't eat more blood and guts in this country. They're delicious! I'm not even joking, and I'm sure you, Dear Reader, will be hearing about my pursuits for gore in the future.

British Cheese is great.

More mushrooms than Dead tour.

Look at those brussels sprouts.

Meat from the land of Mad Cow.

Eventually, we stumbled upon a booth selling cider. I love the British ciders. I opted for the dry cider, and it was very, very, dry. It was convenient that my trip managed to correspond with the beginning of the cider season. I was fortunate to have a few over my time across the pond. There was a small beer store set up in the market, that had a great selection of craft beers on hand. Yay, beer!

Cider is easier to make than beer, or wine.

"Please buy my tofu..."

Why didn't I buy one of these?

Cheese never sleeps...

The fish mongers, and meat purveyors, were all selling what appeared to be high quality, super fresh product. There was an abnormal amount of ostrich meat around, which was interesting. I remember that being a fad here over a decade ago, but haven't seen it around in a while. Who knows? Maybe they like the climate.

Fresh diver scallops!

Monkfish are ugly.

Fresh fish.

So many olives.

Produce.

We walked around in circles for about an hour, before deciding that we should probably have lunch. I chose the paella with prawns, and Sian had some sort of Greek wrap thing, that was filled with feta, and lamb, I think. What ever it was, it was good. The paella was very nice; crusty, and full of flavor. The prawns were large, and tender, with a taste reminiscent of well prepared crawfish. Success...

The tin container made this classy.

What we needed was some booze to wash all this food down. Fortunately for us, there was a wine bar right there! La Cave. Despite having just stuffed ourselves on loads of high quality food and drink, we went for a five cheese cheese plate to compliment our bottle of Cabernet Franc. I used to be known for good judgement, but I may faltering these days...


Remember your failure in the cave...

I cannot find this wine on the interweb.

Cheese is the best dessert.

Cab Franc... You just don't see much of this guy around. My first experience with this grape was about three, maybe four years ago, when Shaddley, Mitchell and myself went out on a little Hill Country winery jaunt. We ended up at the Spicewoods Vineyards, where we had our third tasting of the day. I remember that this wine stood out to me, and I picked up a bottle. I saved it for a while, and cannot recall the particulars about when, how, with whom or what it was consumed.

Anyway, it is a very drinkable wine, with a far less heavy body than its offspring, the Cabernet Sauvignon, and a flavor profile that lends its flavors complimentarily to foods, rather than completely dominating them. Something you could have with a meal that didn't consist of heavy sauces and steak. I would like to find some more of this and drink it. Shadd? Get on this, if you aren't already. Please and thank you.

La Cave was a nice way to end the trip to the market. I felt content with what I'd seen that day: the love of the art of craft cuisine, each little booth representing specified skill sets executed with perfection and care. We sat and enjoyed our wine, ate our decadent triple cream bries, goat cheese and grapes; laughing in the face of the fleeting nature of time as it slipped into the abyss on this voyage that is life. Vacations are cool.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

London Calling: Brand New Cadillac

I was told by Cory prior to leaving, that I had to ask Sian's mother to take me to 'that one restaurant'. Easy enough, though extremely vague, I did just that. She knew exactly what I was talking about, and we made plans to go out for Sri Lankian food Thursday night.

A good meaty curry is hard to beat. Being Austinites, most Indian restaurants that are available to us tend be of the South Indian vegetarian variety, such as Swad, or some posh caricature, such as the Clay Pit, we are lacking the meaty curry variety of Northern Indian or Punjabi cuisine. Sri Lankians like to eat meat, focusing on sea food, mutton, and chicken.

Thursday came, and I was very excited to have a go at some delicious spiced meats, and yummy breads. We drove North. Whether it was Easterly or Westerly, I have no clue. We could have driven around the same roundabout for thirty minutes, because I had no idea where we were in relation to anywhere else I'd been. We arrived in some neighborhood, that looked like every other neighborhood, found a parking spot, and walked a few doors down to the Chennai Masala.
Indiscrete...

At first glance, our restaurant of choice seemed like it could be anywhere; one of those gems tucked away in the back of some forgotten strip mall in Middle America where everything seems to have been transported from some ancient era. This place was classy, and the menu was long. Menu sections jumped between veg and non veg; a little bit for everyone. The customers seemed very civil, and elegant. We would undue this feeling in a few moments. The other diners shared plates of food, used utensils, and seemed reserved, or refined. We ordered eight dishes to split between three people, and devoured them all with our grubby hands in  a matter of minutes. 

We started with two fish cutlets. These were similar in texture to a vada patty, yet had the flavor of fish. The onion chutney that was served with them, was a great compliment to the fried goodness on this little plate. 

Crispity, crunchity...

After that teaser, our food started to arrive a bit faster: two mutton masala dosas,  pepper fried mutton, fish curry, squid devil, chicken livers, seafood kottu, and some fresh chappati. We soon had covered our entire table in food, and were reaching across each other, through other's arms, around vessels of steaming curry, and under dishes being passed. It was madness. Hands clutched at bread, plunging into a dish soaking up gravy, and retracting with piece of tender meat between moist fingers. Very visceral, and fulfilling. 

Liver!

Squid curry...

Dosa's are always so big. 


Delicious fish curry; amazing gravy.

Mutton, mutton, who got the mutton.

Have migas met their match?

Some of the standout dishes of this affair were the chicken livers, the pepper mutton, the dosas, the kottu, and the fish curry. So that was most of them. The dosas were filled with braised mutton, potatoes, green peas, and carrots. This is a departure from the normal, samosa-like filling you'll get at a vegetarian eatery. 

Both the livers and the pepper mutton featured a liberal amount of curry leaves, which impart the flavor of capsicum without all the heat associated with peppers. For me, the livers may have been the allstar; I kept plucking at them with bits of dosa or chappati. The kottu was a new one, it was similar to migas. Several types of seafood fried with cut up bread, with a heaping pile of fresh serranos and egg. I really enjoyed this plate of food. The fish curry was divine; little steaky bits of fish in a spicy, red gravy. It had us all going back just for the gravy. 

In the end, our highly uncivilized demeanor fit well with our cuisine, and company. I would have felt bizarre to eat the fare we had with forks factored into the equation. The whole experience was made that much better by having my hands in the food. Sian and her mother, Shanez, were the perfect companions for such an endeavor; as well as guides through a cuisine that was truly foreign to me. Thanks ladies. I will have to return the favor in my hometown next time. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

London Calling: Career Opportunities

Before I ventured across the pond, I found a pretty cool article in the New York Times that highlighted a few eco-friendly gastro-tourism locations. I chose one of them to check out first, The Duke of Cambridge, the first and only certified organic gastropub in all of England, and possibly the World (but I have nothing to base that on, really). The Duke of Cambridge is tucked away off the High Street of the Angel area of Islington. Definitely more of a destination than a place you would just walk by and go into.

Chill as hell, even on the outside.

Organic.

The Duke specializes in locally sourced, organic produce, including meats and cheeses, beers and wines. What meat can't be sourced organically is wild, and still local. Working at Wheatsville has definitely shaped my diet around consuming both local and organic products; values that for me extend beyond buying choices, and onto the plates I serve friends and family. This place was heaven sent.

I went there first on Wednesday, after my five blog post worthy day, and arrived early, just before they opened. I was the first customer in the building, just after noon, and I ordered some coffee, as a lightly bearded staffer delicately wrote the lunch menu in chalk on a large black board. I looked through a very well laid out and informational drink menu. Five of eight beers were certified organic, including St. Peter's Best Bitter. They had pages and pages of organic wines to chose from.

The coffee service was very smart; a single serving Mocca pot served on a small cutting board with turbinado sugar. I was glad to actually have some black coffee, and not just the normal watered down shot of espresso that I had been being served at other establishments.

White coffee? No way, I like it black.

The cooks were busy with the day's prep; the comforting and familiar clangs and hisses coming from the kitchen. A woman came in, who turned out to be a rep of an organic beverage distributor based out of Devon. We spoke across tables for a while before she joined me for lunch. Her name was Rebecca, and she was in London for the week to get orders from her clients. We spoke about a wide variety of topics; she was great company for what would be a great meal.

The lunch menu was long, and full of appealing dishes. I chose a soup and a main. I ordered a beer before I ordered, a St. Peter's Organic Best Bitter. I have long been a fan of St. Peter's beers. Back in '05 when I started home brewing, I originally exclusively bottled my beer in their fancy flask shaped bottles. Their beers were a big hit with the locals back in Austin. The Best Bitter had nice bittering hops, and a great color. It really was one of the finest bitters that I've ever had. Of course, it was perfectly pulled, and something about that frothy head just makes a pint. It weighed in true session style at 4.1% ABV.

I drank my beer somewhat quickly, as I spoke to Rebecca; waiting for our soups. The soup that day was a red lentil and chorizo. When it came out it I was stoked. It looked great, pureed, but not beyond recognition; more country farmhouse style, than posh London eatery. The flavor was intensely savory, and nicely spiced. Bay may have been the easiest single flavor to pick up on, but notes of coriander, and a touch of cumin were there as well. The chorizo imparted just the right amount of fat to soup to give it the amount of body that pureed soups can sometimes lack.

I liked that the oil was kept in the St. Peter's flasks.

Can you smell the chorizo?

I ordered a Kent Goldings Ales, which was made with Kent Goldings hops, a low alpha acid hop that is debatably a Noble Hop (the Brits would say yes; Germans, no). This beer was very light in body and taste, which aided the ease of its drinkability. Very nice, very simple. Sometimes with beer, back to basics is an art. American brewers, in what I think is a way to stake out individuality, tend to overdo everything, and it is nice to go back to roots and see that sometimes less is more.

My main came out after some time, and it looked stunning. Braised rabbit with an orange sauce, mash, and cavalo nero (lacinato kale). I am a big fan of rabbit. It is something that I grew up eating, and in Britain is considered the poor man's chicken. Rebecca and I discussed the culinary movement going on in England and the States of popularizing peasant food; making it gourmet, and upscale, like what was going over at St. John.

Sometimes, rabbit can be a bit dry due to its extremely low fat content, but this rabbit dish, for the most part, was very succulent. The orange sauce complimented the taste of the rabbit, without overpowering its delicate flavor. It was warmly spiced with anise and clove, and that made it feel very seasonal, and bright. The mash was actually one of the finest I've ever had. Very smooth, with a rich buttery flavor. The kale was perfectly cooked, and went well with the orange sauce.

Coney and mash.

Simple but divine.

Overall this trip was a success. I left feeling full, but not too full, and pleased with my choice of lunch destinations. The next day, I was making plans to meet up with a friend from Austin that was studying in London, and she suggested that we go there. I ecstatically agreed, and found my self back in Islington again on Friday.

My friend Mary was waiting on me outside; this time we weren't the first people in there. The waitstaff seemed weirded out that I was in there again for the second time in a week. I had coffee again, as Mary and I played catch up. The menu was completely different than the time before, which was great, and everything sounded amazing.

We shared a salad and an entree, and I eventually ordered a St. Peter's Bitter, which, when I did, the waiter said, "I thought you'd want one." That was comforting, I guess. I also tried a ECO Warrior Pale Ale, which was very nicely hopped, and very light in body. A far cry from an American Pale Ale, which generally tries to blow you out of the water with their hoppiness, like the ever ubiquitous Sierra Nevada.

Our starter was a a warm duck confit salad with roasted swede (rhutabaga). The greens were a nice mix of wild lettuces, rocket (arugula, roquette), cilantro and parsley. I don't even think that there was a dressing, now that I think about it, but it was quite moist; the duck confit was enough to get the Queen wet. The swede was delectable, and sweet, holding up well with the flavor of the duck. The mixed greens had a great bitterness with peppery backbone. It was a damn fine salad, I must say.

Confit me.

Our entree was also very nice. We had a whole red mullet, roasted, with, potatoes, turnips, kale and a salty, delicious black olive tapenade. The fish was unbelievably sweet and fresh. I dissected it with clumsy precision. It was nice to be eating such fresh fish. I've always been snobby with fish, and it's easy to tell when something is super fresh if you grew up fishing. The root vegetables were cooked until fork tender, just the way I love them, and the kale was delicate and superb. Around this time a large group of twenty-somethings rolled in and got friendly and loud. It made for nice atmospheric noise, and complemented the pub feel of this, until then, quiet establishment. 

What are you looking at?

Mary and I continued chatting over a plate of stilton, with watercress, a lovely apple chutney, and a few bisquits. This country has really made me appreciate chutney. It seems to always be served with cheese, and I can get behind that as a gourmand. Stilton has long been one of my favorite blue cheeses, but eating it in England has sealed the deal. Mary had cup of tea, and I had another beer. Our meal was great, and just light enough not to weigh either of us down, before we shuffled off to a little museum in Canonbury. 

When I die, I want to come back as Stilton.

I recommend taking the time to go to The Duke of Cambridge if your going to be across the pond any time soon, or ever. They've got their shit together, and offer up some fantastic food, with high quality locally sourced organic seasonal produce. Providence. When I go back over there, and I will, I will be sure that it is one of my first stops... maybe after St. John...

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