Tag Archives: foie gras

Something Offal is Going On

Something offal is going on in Atlanta.  When I visited the city a couple of months ago, many of the highly recommended restaurants had some sort of out of the ordinary animal offering.

Vegetarians, consider yourself warned.  You may not want to read beyond this point.

Offal is defined as the various non-skeletal muscle parts of a butchered animal that may be eaten.  These include the liver, kidneys, thymus (on menus as sweetbread), heart, brain and tongue.

I’ve always been a pretty adventurous eater.  I remember asking my parents if I could order escargot at a French restaurant when I was about 10 years old (and I’ve loved eating them ever since).  I tried tongue once but couldn’t get beyond the texture, and have had mixed experiences with sweetbreads.  But foie gras is one of my guilty pleasures.

Holman & FinchThough I never ruled out eating other organs, I didn’t really think I’d have the opportunity to try them.  When I saw a variety on the menu at Atlanta’s Holman & Finch Public House I felt oddly compelled to order some.

I could have never guessed I would ever rave about — or crave — heart.  But I have not been able to stop talking about Holman & Finch’s dish ever since I dined there.

The decor of the Buckhead restaurant can best be described as “butcher chic.”  Shades of silver and stainless steel make up the color scheme for the dimly lit bar and small dining area that look like they could be sprayed down for cleaning at the end of the night.  From the pig parts and sausages hanging near the entrance to the large sliding barn doors for the bathrooms, everything about the restaurant says vegetarians unwelcome.

I started off slowly, ordering the steak tartare and pan-roasted rabbit livers.  The tartare was delicious, chopped into small bits with whole grain mustard and onions that gave it a great flavor.  I wasn’t as impressed by the rabbit livers which were overly fried, masking the liver’s taste and spongy texture.

marrow at Holman & FinchI decided to kick it up a notch and ordered the gratin of marrow served with parsley salad and country bread.  I’d had marrow before and remembered it being rich and creamy.  Holman & Finch’s version definitely fit this description.  Served in the bone, the marrow tasted like warm, melting butter.  The bread (great in its own right), made an excellent sponge for soaking it up.  Before I knew it, the bone was empty.  I had to restrain myself from picking it up to lick any remaining bits — a thought that seemed strangely normal and appealing in that setting.

With a few rounds of animal parts under my belt, I felt daring enough to order the ultimate offal — peppercorn crusted veal heart.  The dish arrived unassumingly enough; thinly-sliced rectangular pieces of meat served over parsnip puree in a blood orange sauce.  Had I not seen the menu I might have thought it was filet mignon.

veal heart at Holman & FinchTaking a deep breath, I took my first bite.  My reaction was instantaneous.

Quite simply put, the veal heart was out of this world.

The taste was incredible.  The meat was richly flavored without any hint of gaminess, nicely balanced out by the sweet citrus of the sauce.   And I couldn’t get over the texture.  The meat was all muscle and no fat, without any toughness at all.  It was like biting into a lean piece of filet mignon, only better.  The parsnip puree rounded out the meat and potatoes feel, adding a wonderfully creamy element to the dish.  A forkful of the heart, puree and sauce together is one of the best flavor combinations I’ve eaten in quite some time.

I’m not sure if I was channeling the energy of the calf or if it was the 2 glasses of wine, but something in me seemed to turn primal.  I had an insatiable appetite for heart and I wanted more!

Unfortunately in all my excitement, I hadn’t realized how full I had become.  So it was just as well that the restaurant was out of veal brains.  At least I’ll have an excuse for a return visit.

Holman & Finch Public House is located at 2277 Peachtree Road Northeast in Atlanta Georgia.  They are open for dinner Monday through Saturday and for lunch on Sunday.  Reservations are not accepted.  For the faint of heart, there are vegetarian side dishes and less adventurous fare on the menu.

Attention Atlanta residents and visitors: beginning in March the Amateur Gastronomer is expanding to Atlanta!  If you have a story, wine or event to suggest email editor@amateurgastronomer.com.

Dining at the Fontainebleau: Gotham Steak

The Fontainebleau Miami Beach has a restaurant for every taste.

My pick for best all-around restaurant is Gotham Steak, located in the Chateau section of the resort.  It’s by Alfred Portale, chef and owner of Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City. I was a bit hesitant to try it — one thing Miami doesn’t need is another steak house (though there are more coming this year).  As I found out, the “steak” in the restaurant’s name may be a bit misleading because a lot on the menu will appeal to non red meat eaters.

Wine is a big part of the experience.  Wine lovers will like peering into the two-level glass-enclosed wine tower that makes up an entire wall of the restaurant and perusing the long wine list.  If you’re intimidated by the 500 plus selections, a friendly sommelier is ready to offer a suggestion.  A gentleman named David was very helpful in selecting a great Napa Cabernet Sauvignon I had not previously tried.

If you love foie gras, you’ll want to order Gotham’s foie gras as an appetizer.  It’s served with roasted pineapple in a ginger reduction.  The foie gras is perfectly prepared and melts in your mouth.  The portion size is on par with other SoBe restaurants but you’ll definitely wish there was more.  Another standout appetizer is the charcoal grilled octopus served with grilled fingerling potatoes, leeks and caperberries.

For the main course, the miso marinated black cod is delicious.  It’s buttery and light and served in a soy lemongrass ginger sauce that’s so tasty you’ll wish you had a spoon.  Fortunately there’s sticky rice to absorb it.  Besides Nobu (which is in a league of its own) and Go Fish (one of my favorite restaurants in the Napa Valley), this is the best black cod I’ve eaten at a restaurant.

Of course you can’t forget about the steaks.  The wide selection of cuts are cooked exactly to your liking and served with three different sauces.  The 50 day dry aged filet is something else.  Our server, a charming man from New Jersey, proudly told us that Gotham is the only restaurant in Florida that serves this steak.  At $110 it’s very expensive but worth trying on a special occasion.  The aging gives it a tangy and creamy taste, almost like blue cheese.  The flavors are so unique you won’t want to change them with the steak sauces.

What’s a steak restaurant without side dishes?  I recommend the wild mushrooms.  They’re lightly sauteed to preserve a nice woodsy taste and aren’t oily or mixed in with onions and garlic like in other steak restaurants.

If you have room for dessert, try the peanut butter coupe.  It’s like a big ice cream sundae, without all the whipped cream to take away from the peanut butter ice cream and chocolate fudge.  It’s a tasty and satisfying end to a nice meal.

Gotham Steak is open for dinner.  When you make a reservation, request the lower level of the restaurant.  It has a more intimate feel than the upstairs area and gives you a nice view of the open kitchen.

For more information on Gotham Steak click here.

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Dining at the Fontainebleau: Scarpetta
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Dining at the Fontainebleau: Scarpetta

Scarpetta is Fontainebleau’s Italian restaurant, located in the lobby level of Sorrento.  It’s by Scott Conant who recently opened a restaurant of the same name in New York City.

Peering in through the entrance, the restaurant gives off a very hip nautical vibe.  The color scheme is a soothing light blue, gray and light brown.  A mosaic with a circular pattern runs across the wall and behind the bar.  A large outdoor seating area overlooks the resort’s pools and is great for dining alfresco on nice evenings.

My experience at Scarpetta didn’t start off so great.  I had to wait 30 minutes for a table, even though I had a reservation.  The good thing was the bartenders were very friendly.  The manager was apologetic and once we were seated the staff was very attentive.

As Scarpetta is an Italian restaurant, the majority of the wine is Italian.  Fortunately there’s a sommelier on hand to help you choose among the many bottles.  What’s surprising is there are no American wines.  If you want something outside of Italy, your only option is a French wine.

The servers were a bit aggressive when it came to refilling our wine glasses.  I’d take a sip and someone would come by and refill the glass.  It seemed there were several servers who roamed around refilling glasses.  One would pour in a little, then another would pour a little more — even if you hadn’t taken a sip in between.  It felt like they were pushing us along so we would order another bottle.  We didn’t.

Our server was extremely well versed on the menu.  He went over it before we ordered, explaining what each Italian term meant and going into detail if we asked about a specific dish.

At his recommendation we ordered the homemade duck and foie gras ravioli to start.  The pasta was light and the creamy center oozed out when you took a bite.  The flavor was rich and delicious.  It was a generous portion and very filling — you could order it as a main course.

One appetizer I really liked was the grilled octopus.  It was served with black lentils and celery salad.  The octopus had a great fresh taste and was cooked just right so it was still very moist.  I preferred Scarpetta’s grilled octopus to Gotham Steak’s version.

The main courses were a bit disappointing.  The black cod, served with concentrated tomatoes and roasted fennel, was overcooked and didn’t have much taste (Gotham Steak wins on black cod).  The Branzino ‘Acqua Pazza’ (meaning crazy water) was slightly better.  It’s served in a tomato broth with cous cous and lobster.  The branzino was light and delicate but the lobster was very chewy.  Both the fish and the tomato broth seemed to be lacking in seasoning.

My favorite Italian dessert is tiramisu so I had to order it when I saw it on the dessert menu.  Scarpetta offers a deconstructed version called “tira mis su.”  It came out looking like an open-faced unmelted s’more — a small espresso-soaked cookie underneath a log of mascarpone cream covered in what tasted like ground up chocolate-covered espresso beans.  Unless you love mascarpone cream, it’s way too much of it.  I prefer it in smaller doses, like when it’s spread between lady fingers in traditional tiramisu.

The highlight of the dessert was the chocolate olive oil mousse that was served with small chunks of espresso granita.  The granita melts in your mouth, filling it with a refreshing burst of chilled espresso.  It balances out the heavier mousse nicely.  I couldn’t get enough of the combination.  The mousse and granita deserve their own spot on the dessert menu.

My verdict after dining at Scarpetta: stick with appetizers in the lounge at the bar and order the chocolate olive oil mousse on its own.

Scarpetta is open for dinner and Sunday brunch.  For more information click here.

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Nightlife at the Fontainebleau: Bleau Bar and LIV

Tasting Notes from the New York City Wine & Food Festival

When I think of New York City, I think of food. I think about great restaurants, amazing chefs and extensive wine lists. I think about pizza, bagels, the tempting smell of hot pretzels and roasted peanuts, those dirty water dogs I stay away from but my guy friends can’t resist, and even the tap water. New York is the city that never sleeps thanks to its eateries that stay open 24 hours, serving up at 3 am some of the best food you’ll have any time of day. It seems a festival celebrating food and wine in New York is long overdue.

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival. It was held in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, near the Food Network studios in Chelsea Market. The festival is organized by the same people who do the one in South Beach so there are many similar events. My favorite is the grand tasting. Instead of on the beach, this tasting was set up on a pier stretching out into the Hudson River.

Armed with my Waterford Crystal wine glass, I decided to start by finding a good white wine rather than going for my preferred reds. One of my favorites was a 2006 Chardonnay by Stonestreet from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. It’s made with grapes grown on mountain lots at an elevation between 700 and 1,800 feet and aged six and a half months in small French oak barrels. It’s crisp with fresh flavors of green apple and well balanced with just the right amount of acidity. The taste of French oak comes through with a smooth taste of toast and vanilla. Stonestreet has three other Chardonnays; they weren’t available at the tasting but I hope to find them at a wine store. The 2006 Chardonnay costs around $28.

My other favorite whites were from Carmel Road Winery, in Monterey County. They had two Chardonnays, one from a single vineyard source, the other from four vineyards. I enjoyed tasting them side by side to taste the differences between the two. The 2006 Carmel Road Monterey Chardonnay is sourced from four vineyards. It’s crisp and fruit forward, with a taste of green apple, pear and citrus. It has a firm acidity and great minerality. It costs around $14, which makes it a great deal. The single vineyard 2006 Carmel Road Arroyo Seco Chardonnay took that great taste of green apple, pear and citrus to the next level, with a more elegant taste and a finish of hazelnut. It’s more expensive, around $35 a bottle.

On the red side, I was surprised how much I enjoyed two Portuguese wines. They were both made by Callabriga, a winery I’m not too familiar with. They’re made with native grape varieties, predominantly Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), and using the most advanced winemaking techniques. The Alentejo (with the orange label) is made from Tinta Roriz and Alfrocherio Preto grapes grown in the southeast. The terroir comes through with a great earthy taste from the area’s volcanic soil. It has a nice amount of tannins that give it a pleasant mouthfeel. My favorite of the two was the smoother and more complex Douro (blue label). Tinta Roriz grapes are blended with Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca grapes from the northeast; these two grape varieties are used to make Port. It’s bold and elegant, with deep red fruits, spice and a hint of smoke and tobacco. I’m not sure exactly how much these wines cost, but I believe it’s around $15 – $20, which make them a great deal.

Another wine I enjoyed was Escudo Rojo from Chile. A closer look at the label revealed it’s made by Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Apparently the Rothschild family bought land in Chile in the mid 1990s, which led to the creation of this wine. It’s a blend of Bordeaux varietals with a distinct Chilean style. The wine is a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Chilean Carmenere. It has a spicy and complex taste with bold red fruits, a nice earthy taste and a good balance of tannins. It costs between $10 and $15, making it an excellent deal.

Many of the food offerings were so good I sneaked a second portion. There was freshly sliced prosciutto that melted in my mouth, with a great buttery and salty taste. Foie gras from the Hudson Valley was rich and creamy. My favorite was a carrot soup from Devi, an Indian Restaurant on East 18th Street. It was thick and yet still light, with a great taste of fresh ginger. My favorite dessert was a root beer float made with Stewart’s root beer, butternut squash ice cream, ginger cream and Amaretti cookies. I love root beer floats and would have never thought to try them with a flavor like butternut squash. It was sweet with some spice, a great fall twist on this classic treat.

As the sun set and the tasting came to a close, I left the tent with slightly purple lips and a full stomach. I really enjoyed tasting wines from wineries and regions I was not too familiar with, and hope there will be even more of those next year. I can’t wait to see what new wines I’ll get to try at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February.

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Lunch at Le Grand Vefour

After a weekend of great food and great wine, I somehow found more room for foie gras at lunch Monday. We ate at Le Grand Vefour, a posh lunch spot just off the Palais Royal, where the Parisian power hitters come to eat and talk business.

The restaurant is more than 200 years old. It’s decorated in 18th century style, with red velvet couches around the walls of the small room. The tables form a rectangle around two waiter stations in the center of the room. The service is impeccable. Several waiters dressed in tuxedos attend to each table. There’s constantly a flurry of black and white, waiters making sure no water glass ever is less than half full, bread plates are never empty, and finished plates are cleared right away.

Lunch was four courses, including a cheese course. Add on all the extras, like amuse-bouches and petit fours, and you’ve got quite a meal. Before we ordered, we were offered a small bite prepared by the chef. The chilled avocado soup and fresh orange was a delicious introduction to the flavor combinations yet to come.

For the first course I ordered “pressé de foie gras de canard et petits pois au naturel,” which had a generous portion of foie gras and fresh vegetables seasoned with vinegar and rolled together to look like flowers. For the entre I ordered “dos de cabillaud cuit meunière, courgettes jaunes et vertes apprêtées aux graines de moutarde et curry.” It was delicately prepared cod, served on a bed of zucchini and yellow squash, served with an olive oil foam.

Next came the cheese course. Le Grand Vefour has one of the most impressive spreads of cheese I’ve seen in a restaurant. I counted at least 30 different kinds. It was hard to pick only three, but harder still to eat all three because I was already so full. I selected two different chevres and a fairly strong camembert. After we were served a palate cleanser – a light lemon gelatin with raspberries and candied ginger. Then came the petit fours – macarons, chocolate tarts, madeleines, and orange and grape jelly candies. After all that our dessert arrived. I ordered the “palet noisette et chocolat au lait, glace au caramel brun et prise de sel de Guérande.” It’s one of the more spectacular chocolate desserts I’ve ever seen. It had two parts – first, a round chocolate cake with layers of rich chocolate fudge and covered with chocolate sauce. Next to it was a tube made out of chocolate, plated vertically, filled with chocolate cream and fudge, and topped with butterscotch ice cream. It was so delicious and decadent but I could only manage a few bites since I had already eaten so much.

Finally came the end to any great meal in France – le café. And it was served with even more food! The waiter cut a slice of a cake called gateau de savoie. It tastes like sponge cake but is a bit more dry. It’s made without milk or butter, and baked in a bundt-style pan to give it a neat texture on the outside. The waiter then brought around an offering of caramel candies and fresh lemon-flavored marshmallows. I tried a marshmallow but didn’t have room for anything else.

After two and a half delicious hours we ordered the check. I spent the rest of the day walking around Paris, trying to work off all the food.

Beaucoup de Foie Gras

It’s my fourth day in Paris and I’m proud to say it’s my fourth consecutive day eating foie gras. I don’t like the concept of force-feeding a duck or goose, but it tastes so good! And besides, I’m in France where they prepare it best. To not try it here would be an insult to the country!

I arrived in Paris Friday morning for a friend’s wedding extravaganza. And the word extravaganza is no exaggeration – three evenings of celebrating, culminating with the wedding Sunday night at a chateau an hour outside of Paris. Each night began at 8 and ended on average between 3am and 6am.

Friday night we boarded a yacht for a cruise along the Seine – truly the perfect way to begin a week in Paris. We sipped champagne as we passed by familiar sights – the Eiffel Tower illuminated in blue, Notre Dame and the Ile St. Louis, and in the distance, Sacre-Coeur glowing white on top of Montmartre.

After the sunset, we were invited inside to eat. There were several food stations including one just for foie gras. There was sliced foie gras on thin bread, foie gras “lollipops” that you could dip in a variety of sauces, and foie gras flan served in individual shot glasses. I tried all of them – and more than once. The flan was incredible though I could only eat one; it was about ten times as rich as normal foie gras.

The next night we went to a party just outside of Paris at a former wine storage facility that now houses turn of the century carnival games and rides, even a carousel. Everything has been fully restored and we were allowed to play all the games and go on the rides. The carnival atmosphere was completed with sweet drinks in a variety of bright colors, tons of candy, and performers juggling and riding unicycles. It was updated with caviar and of course, foie gras. The highlight came after the sit down dinner with the presentation of dessert.

A woman entered dressed like a 17th century French royal, complete with a hot pink wig and hoop skirt. When she got closer we saw her skirt was made with pink cotton candy. Guests were able to come up and take off the cotton candy. The men seemed especially eager to take off the cotton candy.

The wedding at the chateau was nothing short of spectacular. We were handed glasses of champagne when we arrived, and taken to the ceremony site in the chateau’s garden by horse-drawn carriage. And in keeping with the theme of the weekend, there was foie gras in several of the passed hors d’oeuvres and in the first course.