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The Traveling Kitchen Team: Eating in New York

21 Mar

The Thursday night before Spring Break ended with a sigh of relief: it had been a month since the opening, an unpredictable, sometimes wild, yet rewarding and satiating month. As we headed to our different holiday destinations, we were prepared for a change in environment, but not a break in our culinary explorations.

Nate and I decided to spend a week in New York, hoping
to get through our papers and exams we had sometimes mildly neglected due to hectic Kitchen days, and maybe also to enjoy some good food here and there. We had an ambitious plan when it came to food: a few restaurants we had to try out, and many dishes we wanted to create and cook. It was a discovery: each meal was more or less planned out (from breakfast to dinner) and we were careful to pace our day accordingly so we would be starved by the time lunch or dinner came around. On Tuesday we ate the house roasted turkey sandwich at Torrisi Italian Specialties, an incredible combination of slow roasted herb turkey with a slightly spicy tomato sauce and for the adventurous, you can add Brussels sprouts to your bun. Wednesday we set off for a few days in the countryside, armed with ingredients for two dinners and granola. We wanted to recreate Nate’s all-time favorite granola (if you ever make it to Canada, here it is: http://www.wildflourbakery.ca/breakfast.htm). We stirred thick oats with sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, wheat germ (we had never tried this and looked at the jar suspiciously), and puffed wheat. We boiled maple syrup, honey and canola oil (next time I want to substitute the canola oil with extra virgin coconut oil), and mixed the syrup with the oats & co. We placed the raw granola on large sheets and baked it in the oven for twenty-minutes. While the granola was still hot from the oven, we stirred cranberries and let it cool. After a half hour the granola had taken a crunchy texture. I made a berry compote with raspberries and blueberries to pour onto the granola and whole-milk yogurt.

But the dinners were the highlight of our week. With a few bottles of wine, some pork and whole fish, we flipped through the Tyler Florence book and improvised our own recipes, according to the ingredients we had at hand. One night we made whole fish, Branzino, stuffed with lemons, thyme and onions, garnished with a Brussels sprout and heirloom tomato salsa. We made lemon creamy mashed Yukon potatoes, along with Brussels sprouts sautéed in pancetta. We attempted to roast artichoke in the oven, rubbed in garlic and lemon, but this unfortunately failed. Two hours later the artichokes stubbornly refused to soften. I think we should have boiled them, but that will be for next time. The following night we cooked pork which we had cut open, filled with herbs and fennel seeds, and then wrapped tight. We couldn’t find string to tie the pork, so instead we sewed the pork with toothpicks. We roasted fennel in the oven and added feta cheese that melted at the contact of the hot fennel flesh. Next was the kale: blanched and sautéed in a little garlic and lemon juice.

This is what we discovered: a new concept for serving food. Because we were running low on dishes Nate decided that we should place all food, including the sides, on the same plate, which turned out to be an oven pan. And then we shared the meal. What if there was a restaurant where we could order a few sides and entrees and have them all arrive on one big platter or wooden plate (I know it sounds extravagant, like a Rabelaisian dish or perhaps a feast from the Satyricon if you are feeling decadent), but why not have all of the colors and flavors on the same platter and then share? Forks are knives would be provided of course. I wonder if Nate’s creative idea stems from his dislike of washing dishes, or if it is simply a way to enjoy diverse dishes and have easier access to mixing and combining flavors on the same plate. Despite my preference for many small dishes in small bowls (this must come from my Japanese mother who likes to spread the table with dozens of small plates), I loved this idea of sharing food among many on one surface. It’s kind of like sharing a big table, a concept I first encountered at the Belgian Pain Quotidien restaurant/bakery (just opened in Philly at 15th and Walnut).

For lunch we decided to go out, exhausted and full from the cooking. We ate Dosas at Hampton Chutney (http://www.hamptonchutney.com/), trying the curry chicken and the vegetarian spinach and roasted tomato and cheese. Both were delicious. The Dosa looks and tastes like a very light, crispy crepe. To me, it was almost like a buckwheat galette, the ones they make in Brittany in the west of France.

Back in the city on Friday we made our way to Aldea for lunch for one of the best meals of the week. Aldea is a Portuguese/Iberian influenced restaurant run by the young, talented and handsome Chef George Mendes. We were treated to a curry emulsion as an appetizer, and then shared the arroz con pato (essentially a paella with duck that is so tender you can cut it with your fork like butter), and salty cod mixed with eggs and olives. For dessert we tasted the banana pudding cake, which tasted like a banana flan on top of a crispy, buttery crust. The portions were small but so flavorful that I didn’t mind their size, if anything they were the expected size of a European dish. The twenty-four dollar three-course lunch menu is not to miss: http://aldearestaurant.com/

On Saturday we braced ourselves for a dinner at Momofuku, Ssäm Bar. The wine and beer charmed us, and then came the food…. The famous steamed buns and crispy pork belly buns, the short rib sandwich which was my favorite (with each bite I took I hoped it would never end), the grilled trout with squash, the very very very spicy pork sausage with rice cakes, and the oxtail dumplings. The flavors of the meal were exquisite, and even as we sweated and sipped water to douse the spicy pork sausage, we couldn’t stop ourselves from eating. I did feel a little too overwhelmed by so much pig, pork this and pork that, but for one dinner I didn’t mind the richness of the dishes. The meal was crowned with a late night stop at the Milk Bar, right next door, where I tasted cereal milk and salty pretzel truffles. Cereal Milk tastes like that milk at the bottom of your cereal. It is five dollars, but I recommend at least trying a sip, or if you have a sweeter tooth, you can order the cereal milk milkshakes.

Our culinary journey, away from Kitchen, came to an end.
But of course, we’ve brought a few tastes and glimpses of our world to Kitchen. Kale was a special side, maybe there will be some fennel some-time soon.

home-made granola with berry compote

Nate's Kale

Stubborn Artichokes

Fennel and Feta

Roasted Pork with Dijon

Pork Buns

Spicy Sausage

Family Dinner at Kitchen

3 Mar

Yesterday Chef Jordan Miller told Nate: I got a duck. This was in the morning; we only saw the duck at around 9:40pm, when Jordan began to prepare our first Kitchen family meal.

The family is getting bigger. This week, the talented Penn student Max Hass joined Kitchen as a line cook. To say the least, Jordan and Max work as a perfect team, and with the recent renovations at the kitchen, there are more hands and space to meet the rapidly increasing demand for food. And yet, despite these improvements (or perhaps because) we still managed to run out of most of our dishes last night, especially a few of the sides (mac & cheese, mashed potatoes). The innovative idea of the night was sweet potato tater tots. But the brilliant premise did not ensure success: the tots kept disintegrating whenever we tried to fry them. So no tots, and by 9pm, almost no mac and very little mash. We apologize if we weren’t able to give you your desired meal, and promise to return better prepared after break! Indeed, Kitchen will be closed for a short week during Penn’s Spring Break. I hope you weren’t discouraged or daunted by our meager menu last night, and encourage you to order again, with promise that we will have all ingredients according to the menu!

To return to Jordan’s duck. Jordan had planned an extravagant family dinner after service, with duck sushi and duck tacos. Because of a busy night, the duck preparation only began at 9:45pm, meaning that we had been nibbling on biscuits (our staple bread and water), or tasting Max’s freshly baked banana bread. We were famished. I watched Jordan press the duck on a pan and observed the fat sizzling. Jordan had already cooked the rice, and quickly made two sushi rolls with pickles in rice vinegar. Once the duck was ready, he thinly sliced the meat and spread it on top of the sushi. We added the Banh Mi sauce and picked away with our fingers. It was a feast. While we swallowed more than chewed – we were hungry and it was late – Jordan also made blue corn tacos with the extra duck. Thus began and ended the Family Dinner in true Kitchen spirit: in the midst of cleaning, with more savoring than mastication, Jordan’s whistling as the soundtrack, and Max grilling a leftover meatball. That night our brave delivery men tasted the Turkey Burger. If you haven’t tried it, you must. The three delivery men stood at the entrance eating in unison their steaming burgers, and of course, in silence – they were too busy with the task at hand.

The other day I asked Jordan to make me tuna, except I wanted it well done, not seared with the raw flesh in the middle. He stood shocked, unable to respond. What?! He finally exclaimed. You want my tuna well done? I think part of his surprise was that after witnessing my terrific apple-peeling skills he respects my culinary preferences. Also, my mother is Japanese, and the thought that I, the daughter of a Japanese woman, might dislike raw fish, is too troubling for Jordan. However he still made me my chewy tuna, and I ate it with great delight.

It was a long night, but every night is long and busy and exhausting at Kitchen. You don’t notice until the end of service when your legs are aching from standing since 5pm and your hair smells of food. By 10pm the only thing that matters is a hot shower and sleep. Except most of us are college students, so our night can’t — and doesn’t — end so early. Sometimes we go a little crazy after service. There’s some singing involved, a lot of laughing, occasional swearing… Yesterday Nate couldn’t find his car keys. We searched and ran in circles, until finally, after calling one of the delivery men who suggested Nate check his car door, Nate retrieved the key.

Saturday Night Guests: The Adlers at Kitchen

27 Feb

The other day my roommate Nantina tells me that she went through my Kitchen leftovers in the fridge but couldn’t find any cauliflower. I told her I hadn’t ordered any that day. She was disappointed: it’s her favorite item on the menu and she has been trying to recreate the Dijon Cauliflower over the past few days, unsuccessfully, according to what she says. Did you see, I had some cauliflower the other day? I asked her. Yes, I already ate all of that! She replied.

Most people who order are either still trying out the many dishes available on the menu, or have already decided which few items they’ll be ordering over and over again. There’s one person who gets the West Philly Banh Mi, almost on a daily basis; I have a friend who has diligently gone from the schnitzel to the chicken to the meatloaf; another orders two banana puddings because one just isn’t enough for an evening. I don’t blame them, even if I spend hours in Kitchen, a little dizzy from the overpowering flavors and smells, I’m still the first to ask Jordan, as soon as the ordering slows down for a few minutes, if he can make me dinner. For me, my recent discovery is the couscous. Last night it was prepared with fresh spinach and sautéed leeks…

But I’m digressing. Because the highlight of last night was the company – the guests who stopped by Kitchen for a few hours: Mr. and Mrs. Adler. I walked into Kitchen at six pm sharp ready for service, and as I stepped through the door I saw Nate’s father dressed in a makeshift light blue poncho, peeling potatoes. I could hear Nate’s mother in the back washing dishes. They were both working away at their jobs in a professional, serious and efficient manner. Nate’s father expertly sliced the potatoes for the mashed. And well, despite being hidden in the back, Nate’s mother’s hard work significantly, I repeat significantly!, reduced the load of cleaning. We joked that she had washed more dishes in one night than Nate had in the past few weeks. Everyone laughed, confirming this fact. Nate’s parents had come into town just for the evening, taking a train from New York City to visit their son’s new business for a few hours. They arrived around 5pm, and left at 9pm with a roast chicken, mashed potatoes and an extra biscuit. They had been munching on biscuits and mac & cheese for a few hours. Nate’s father complimented Chef Jordan Miller’s mac & cheese – he prepares it with cheddar and smoky Gouda. There were no complaints as they peeled and washed and watched. Nate’s mother would smile as she peeked into the kitchen, taking a break from the sink and observing the organized chaos (or so we hope!). Nate’s father kept his poncho for the entire night, and I believe Nate might have snapped a few photos of his father in his new attire.

We are starting to get the hang of it, despite the first week of experimenting with who does what, now the Kitchen Operation is feeling a little less rusty. There was no yelling, everyone knew where they were supposed to be, and thanks to the Adler family, the night was a terrific success.

Nate had to leave early, so by 9:30pm, without the Adlers, we were taking our last orders, chatting with our remarkable delivery men (we couldn’t survive without them, that’s the truth). As 10pm came around and we were bagging our final order for the night, Chef Jordan Miller turned on Broken Social Scene full-blast, Daniel delivered the order, and I began to chop apples for this week’s muffins for the TriDelt brunch. This time they’re whole wheat with apples and cinnamon. At 11pm we opened the doors of the kitchen to let the cooler night air into our steaming, fragrant Kitchen. Anyone walking down the street would have seen the glowing open door, and smelled the grilled veggies, roasted chickens, and those sautéed leeks from the couscous.

Wild Nights! at Kitchen

19 Feb

Kitchen officially opened last week, but it already feels like a month has gone by. Despite the chaos of the first few days, Kitchen is running more and more smoothly, with the two Miller brothers cooking a storm of tasty food (paced by occasional whistling), Joanna’s fantastic pot pie and salad making skills – but really she can make almost everything on the menu, Daniel’s high-tech expertise, and Nate’s ability to be everywhere at the same time, from wooing customers to washing dishes and chopping veggies.

But today was by far one of the more hectic days: the power kept going out. We’d be in the middle of putting the food in bags, Jordan would be sautéing broccoli and zucchini and bam, the Kitchen would go dark. After a half hour of worrying that we would have to work by candle-light, the light returned, and we were able to get back on track with our dozens of orders flowing from the printer. We had Zach Saltman helping out with delivery and the dishes and tasting our food, keeping the good-humor alive with his encouraging comments, as well as Joey our best biker and friendliest delivery man, geared up and set to efficiently deliver the next order. What a night of running around in circles, at least nothing was dropped or burned, and despite a few mishaps because of our technical issues with electricity, we were able to make it through the night, rather successfully. As I plated the dishes, rolled some biscuits and tried to stay out of the way – which is difficult in the small space, Nate ran back and forth calling orders, fetching ingredients while speaking with customers on the phone, as Daniel with incredible patience and rapidity cleaned pan after pan. The most popular dishes this evening were the meat loaf with a delicious thick sauce, the spaghetti and meatballs which has quickly become a favorite, and of course the tender Brick Chicken. The biscuits were heart-shaped as we could not find the round cookie-cutter. The couscous, stirred with butternut squash and spinach, was a great success as well. Word is on the street that next week’s soup will be butternut squash, so keep your eyes and stomachs alert for the specials of Kitchen’s 2nd week open.

The night ended with Jordan baking walnut-banana muffins for the TriDelt brunch on Sunday morning. To quote Matt Miller, Jordan’s brother, they taste like “banana bread had sex with a muffin.” I tried one and he’s quite correct. They aren’t too sweet, they almost taste like cream, and the crunch of the walnuts, along with the surprising pieces of soft banana, is the ideal combination.

It seems like the Kitchen Operation is running on smoother wheels: the Miller brothers communicate with just a look in perfect symbiosis (yes, I asked them about it), Nate complains less about dishes (at least for tonight), and Daniel has become an expert at biscuit-baking. Our terrific bikers enjoyed a late-night meal of mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and meat loaf.