Saturday, October 23, 2004

Grocery grabbin'

Today Kitchen Monkey and I went to the southern reaches of Sarasota to get groceries from an Asian market. While we were in the neighborhood--if you could call it that--we also went to Geier's, a German butcher/grocery, and an Italian grocery whose name escapes me. I believe it was called Casa Italia.

At any rate, on our first stop we browsed the cramped aisles of the Asian grocery at length. When I say cramped, I mean that when you come to an aisle with someone else in it, you pick another aisle. Still, this didn't keep us from getting a fair amount of strange and necessary supplies, including potato starch--for the negimaki recipe in this month's Saveur--mae ploy sweet chili sauce, udon, edamame, some prawn chips, and a spicy indian puffed rice snack. The suppin' simian came out of there with a wok, some daikon, fish cakes, and lots more. Maybe next time I'll just have to get the Cheer Up brand sardine flavored broad beans. Maybe.

At Geier's I got a smoked pork tenderloin, some coarse mustard in a really neat jar, some caraway cheddar and a loaf of Bavarian rye. The cheese is a little too intense on the caraway, but it is pleasant in small doses. Part of me thinks it might make a good omelette if I used it sparingly enough. Speaking of omelettes, thats where a portion of that tenderloin is headed for sure. Think very lean, very smoky ham.

I didn't come away from the Italian grocery with anything--except the knowledge that Marcella Hazan's son teaches cooking there, and she's doing a signing there in December. Monkey got some jamon serrano, manchego and wine. I might have to come back and get some carnaroli rice to make risotto with. I've only made it with arborio and I'm curious to see if there's a difference.

Speaking of risotto, I had a very rich, perhaps overdone, bowl of risotto last night. After seeing Iris Dement at the Palladium in St. Pete, Renee and I had dinner at Cafe Alma. To give you an idea of the atmosphere and staff, there was a kafka book sitting on the hostess stand, and directions to the bathroom involved "make a left at the dj booth." The decor of brick and wood was dimly lit and comfortable, despite the pounding house music. The menu, as you can see on their website, is filled with a variety of exotic, some would say disparate, elements. I was skeptical of this, as I oftentimes am of laundrylists of ingredients.

The food was good, but cluttered. The pumpkin sage ravioli was sweet and the flavor clear, but the fact that it was topped with blue crab, crispy pancetta and brown butter made things a little confusing. The combination of crab and pancetta was good, but the bacon and butter made things a little slick. All of the ingredients used in our dishes were very good on their own, but they sort of stumbled over each other when put together. The porchini risotto was very earthy, but gritty, I suspect from some residual dirt in the mushrooms. Topping it with an excessive amount of gorgonzola, balsamic reduction and a piece of duck confit was a little much. The duck was excellent, but there was so much going on in that bowl that I couldn't really concentrate, and after having a few tastes of each component, I was too full to really enjoy anything. Would I go back? Maybe. The quality of the ingredients is there, but they just need to have a little restraint in using them.


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