Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Parts & Labor

We finally went to Parts & Labor. And I almost hate to admit that I loved everything about it.

Why do I hate admitting it? Well, for one thing, it's not much fun to write a review for a truly delicious meal. What else can be said other that dishes are delicious, amazing, tasty, well-prepared, outrageously good, and near perfect? And I can use all of those commendatory words for Parts & Labor.

For another thing, and I know I'm probably in the minority here, I think Spike Gjerde's restaurants are a bit pretentious. Like not serving lemons or soda (soda!) in cocktails at Shoo-Fly because neither are local products. (That policy has changed, due to public outcry. Sometimes you have to give the people what they want.) But Parts & Labor hits all the right notes--good food, good drinks, extremely pleasant service. We even got a table by a window, which made for good photos.

Charcuterie - smoked boar sausage, lomo, bastirma
Parts & Labor is very meat-centric, so vegetarians beware. The building, once a former tire shop, also houses the butchery for the Gjerde empire. Meat comes into the place whole (as in whole pigs and cows) and exits as sausage, charcuterie, and other meaty delights.

We started our meal with a selection of three items from the "salt house," aka charcuterie. There were six or so choices from which we selected a salami-like smoked boar sausage, lomo (a dry cured pork tenderloin), and bastirma, a highly seasoned air-dried beef. The latter, with it's curry-ish flavor, was the table's favorite, but all were outstanding.

Enormous lamb kielbasa
We tried the lamb kielbasa from the sausage selection of the menu. At $12, it was the most expensive selection on the list, but it's extreme deliciousness made it worth every penny. Plus, it was huge. The sausage's smokiness balanced the lamb's usual slight gaminess, and it was juicy and nicely seasoned. I think it was my favorite dish out of all, and we tried a lot.

Pork chop
My Dad is a bit of a fussy eater, and he likes his meat on the well-done side. It would have been a crime to order the restaurant's dry-aged beef well done, so we talked him into the pork chop, cooked to the well side of medium. It was moist and tender and even Dad enjoyed it.

16-oz rib eye
He wouldn't have enjoyed the rib-eye, which came medium-rare. Perfectly cooked and rested, the steak had a nice crust and added flavor from a topping of compound butter and bed of chimichurri sauce.

Korean short ribs, slaw
The Korean short ribs were a pretty close approximation of the kalbi one finds in a Korean restaurant, only, I think, more tender. The sweetness of the marinade was offset by a tangy slaw that would have been the only vegetable on the table had I not reminded our party that man does not live by meat alone.

Wood ash hominy
We tried a dish of hominy, which had a strong corn flavor and reminded me of the Southwest. At a book signing recently, someone lamented that hominy is seldom seen on restaurant menus these days, and to that I say...get thee to Parts & Labor.

Dirty rice with chicken livers, blood sausage, okra
I think the only dish that I had a complaint about was the dirty rice. While there was plenty of "dirt," in the form of chicken livers and blood sausage, I wanted it to taste even more funky.

Grilled potatoes
The grilled fingerling potatoes were buttery and perfect...

Hearth wok with swiss chard, banana peppers, turnips, mushrooms, fermented tomato, benne
...and the Hearth wok was a bowl of deliciousness. I guess I could complain that the serving was too small, compared to everything else on the table, but the combination of flavors was really nice. A little sweet, a little sour (but not agrodolce), a little salty.

After we pigged out on meat, we ordered dessert. It was, after all, my brother's birthday. He chose the chocolate lard cake. Don't worry, it doesn't taste of lard (maybe a bit disappointingly), just of rich chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.

Chocolate lard cake
Dad chose the blondie topped with peach conserve and an intriguing salty ice cream. This thing was huge, definitely share-able by two or more people, so I helped him. I had ordered only a single scoop of goat's milk ice cream, which was pleasantly goat-milky.

One hot blondie with salty ice cream and peach conserve
Mr Minx went for a peanut butter and bourbon concoction. It was good, but my favorite part was the super coffee-y ice cream that had noticeable bits of ground coffee beans. I wished I had ordered that AND the goat's milk flavor, but I had plenty to eat with sampling everyone else's desserts.

Bourbon caramel Peanut tart with coffee ice cream
Yes, we made complete pigs of ourselves, and I suffered when the bill came. But it was a special occasion and worth the splurge. I think on future visits we'll limit ourselves to 5 or 6 dishes, rather than 9. And maybe skip dessert. Or maybe we'll just do it all over again.

Parts & Labor on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fish 'n' Chip Fridays at The Corner Pantry

Visit The Corner Pantry (6080 Falls Road) on Fridays for real British fish and chips! Chef Neill Howell will be serving up beer-battered cod, house-made chips, and the traditional side of mushy peas, accompanied by tartar sauce and malt vinegar, every Friday from 11am - 7pm. It will even be served on newspaper, as they do in the UK.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Baked Mushroom Spring Rolls

At last year's (2013) Summer Fancy Food Show, I had a taste of The Ginger People's Sweet Chili Ginger Sauce and fell in love. It's a lot like the sweet chili sauce one finds accompanying fried things at Thai restaurants, only better. When I found it at the grocery store (I do believe it was MOM's Organic, but it may have been Whole Foods) I bought a bottle...which then languished in our pantry for at least six months.

Every time I opened the pantry, I spotted the bottle and made a mental note to make spring rolls at some point. Every time I closed the pantry, I forgot that thought. (Hey, I'm old. Memory's not what it used to be.) Except the very last time, when I remembered to write "spring roll wrappers" on the grocery list hanging on the fridge all of 18 inches away.

I decided that vegetarian or vegan spring rolls would be easier than the meaty sort, so mushrooms also went into the shopping cart that day, as did a head of cabbage.

I was making cole slaw for another meal, and after I chopped up the cabbage, I saved a cup of it for the spring rolls. In retrospect, I could have used more cabbage and fewer mushrooms, but I liked the idea of mushroom spring rolls. They would seem meatier, so we wouldn't miss the, er, meat. And a fear of frying (in addition to a fear of absorbing too much cooking oil/not needing those extra fat calories) led me to bake the spring rolls. Baking produces a crunchier eggroll than frying does, but it's also not greasy, so not a bad exchange.

You, of course, can make these the way you like. Heck, put some ground pork in the pan with the mushrooms if you want. I won't tell.

Baked Mushroom Spring Rolls

1 pound of mushrooms (your choice), chopped
2 teaspoons vegetable or olive oil
Big pinch of salt
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Soy sauce
1 package egg roll wrappers
3 scallions, chopped
Cooking spray

In a large pan set over medium-high heat, cook the mushrooms in the oil with a pinch of salt until they give up most of their moisture. Add the onion and cabbage and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook an additional minute. Season with sesame oil and soy to taste. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature/refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare a baking sheet by topping it with a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment. Keep a small bowl of water at the ready.

Take one spring roll wrapper and arrange it so the corners are facing the compass points (the southernmost/bottom point should be pointing directly at you). Place two heaping tablespoons of the mushroom filling in the lower center of the wrapper; top with a sprinkling of the chopped scallions. Fold the bottom point up over the filling, then fold the east and west points in to form an envelope. Dip a finger in the water and apply it to the northernmost tip. Roll the whole thing up and place on prepared baking sheet.

Repeat with the remainder of the filling. I got 12 rolls; you'll get more or less depending on how generous your "heaping" tablespoons are.

Spray tops of rolls with cooking spray. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until bottoms have begun to brown. Using tongs, turn rolls over, spray with more cooking spray, and bake an addtional 10-12 minutes, until rolls are crispy.

Serve with your favorite spring roll dipping sauce.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Roasted Poblano Soup

I'm a big fan of poblano peppers, so when I see them at the farmers' market, I buy 'em. In the past, I've stuffed them, used them in pimento cheese, chili, and in black bean soup. This time, they star in a soup of their own. It's a bit spicy, only somewhat creamy, and overall fairly light. We ate it hot, but it would be lovely served chilled as well.

Roasted Poblano Soup

1 pound poblano peppers
1 cup diced onion
Olive oil
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
Handful of cilantro, both leaves and stems, roughly chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup half and half
Pinch smoked paprika
Pinch ground cumin
Pinch ground coriander
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup cooked corn kernels

Roast the peppers over a gas flame or on a grill until blackened all over. Put them in a plastic or paper bag to sweat. When cool enough to handle, rub off the blackened skin then deseed the peppers and cut them into strips.

Sweat the onion in a bit of olive oil for a minute or two before adding the pepper and garlic. Cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the half and half and seasonings (you can add more to taste, but don't add so much as to overpower the flavor of the peppers). Add salt and pepper to taste and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Remove soup from heat and allow to cool. Place cooled soup in a blender and whiz to puree.

Garnish soup with corn kernels and some cilantro.

Serves 2-4

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