Saturday, August 24, 2013

Grilled NC rainbow trout from Our Local Catch Sustainable Carolina Seafood

Earlier this week, my business partner Debi and I had a total bro-down feast on the Motor Supply patio with a really fab young couple, Bryan and Lindsay Tayara of Our Local Catch. (They are so fab that we accidentally had dinner for four hours.)

I had met them through Kristian Niemi, who hosted a recent Sustainable Seafood Initiative dinner with them and the SC Aquarium at his terrific Italian restaurant, Rosso Trattoria. (The Shop Tart's recap of the dinner is great.)

Are they not adorbs?

Bryan and Lindsay are doing great things from their home base in Florence, SC. Here is a short list of neat things about them and Our Local Catch:

* These two recently started the Pee Dee chapter of Slow Food.

* They source only sustainably caught/farmed seafood, breeding relationships with producers and bringing tasty things like amberjack burgers, clams, and smoked trout bacon to Rosewood Market in Columbia, SC on Thursdays from 1-6pm. They send newsletter updates and ship to the lower 48, too.

* Their smoked trout dip is becoming widely known as the new crack cocaine of hors d'oeuvres in Columbia, SC. Hero status gets awarded to those who bring it to parties.

* They are planning to expand operations on the smoked trout front to market it and other tasty seafood products in stores across the country.

* They're working with The Half and Half on their graphic design, if that tells you anything about their (excellent) aesthetic sensibilities.

* Bryan's family has owned and operated the legendary Orangeland Seafood restaurant and meat market in Florence for something like 3 decades. I aim to try a fish fry there sometime.

* Bryan, a Johnson & Wales culinary school grad who's worked at Wolfgang Puck's Spago in LA, is doing some restaurant and menu design consulting.

* They are raising two young daughters in the midst of all this.

After our dinner at Motor, Bryan hopped in the back of their truck, opened up their big cooler (which they painted a nifty blue color, 'cause why not?) and pulled out armfuls of delicious seafood treats like fresh rainbow trout from a farm in NC, among other delights.

Yesterday, happy hour at the Flock and Rally office consisted of a quick visit from our talented filmmaker friends at Paris MTN Scout, a few glasses of cold white wine, and a whole thinger of  smoked trout dip.

Yes, those are fresh herbs up in there. Yummah.

Today, I noodled around and found this recipe for grilled trout from Food and Wine, which I messed with. The main thing is that it helped me settle upon a vinaigrette for basting, which turned out to be an ideal contrast with the rich, fatty, lake-y flavor of freshwater trout. Bang.

Grilled NC Rainbow Trout with Basil Vinaigrette

First, I sprayed the skin side of my trout fillets with high-temp canola oil, then flipped them and brushed on an emulsion of the following: 
  • Good olive oil
  • Citrus champagne vinegar (use whatever vinegar you want)
  • Fancy Italian oregano salt (regular salt is fine unless you are a pretentious food nerd like me)
  • Fresh ground coriander (if you don't have a peppermill just for coriander, you are missing out, homies.)
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • A teensy sprinkle of Hungarian paprika (but not too much b/c paprika burns on high heat)

Then, after getting my gas grill hot on high to about 450-500 degrees, I put my fillets on, skin side down. Watched, waited for a few minutes.

Once the skin started to show significantly browner grill marks, I pulled off the thin edges and tail pieces of the fish so that A. they wouldn't overcook and B. I could just eat them.


Then, when the skin was bubbled up and crispy on the edges, but the center meat was still coral pink and translucent, it was time to flip the fishes. Just one more minute or so, and they were all done.


Before cooking, I had whipped up a quick vinaigrette: 
  • Fresh basil from the yard, chiffonade-d it into little strips
  • Olive oil
  • Citrus champagne vinegar
  • Dijon mustard
Spooned it on there with a squeeze of lemon and some more black pepper. BANG.

Holy lord. That fish was excellent. I have been known to eschew rainbow trout for its innate lake-y flavor, but Bryan and Lindsay's fish had a cleaner, more pure flavor than you find in most farmed trout. Score!

If you are a Columbia person, check out Our Local Catch.

If you are not in South Carolina or even near it, I would just like for you to know that my home state is brimming with talented, progressive peeps doing awesome stuff, and I am so happy here that it kindof hurts a tiny bit. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden in Bishopville, SC

When I moved back to South Carolina from San Francisco in 2009, one of the marvels of which I had heard much tell was the legendary topiary garden of Pearl Fryar. After meeting him twice in the last year, and, embarrasingly, feeling like an idiot for not having seen his garden yet, I decided that it had to become a priority.

This past weekend, I finally made it to Bishopville for a visit with my dear friend Mary, who was in town from Morocco.

I first became aware of Fryar's odd, beautiful brand of genius at Moore Farms in Lake City, where boxwood hedges are carved into asymmetrical shapes, a tiny bit like these.

These are really fun to brush past and watch them wiggle.

Pearl is a bit of a celeb. For one thing, he has been featured in a fancy John Deere commercial, along with Jenks Farmer, who was the horticulture manager at Moore Farms (and thus the person who introduced me to Fryar's work).

Also, there is a full-length documentary film about Fryar, called A Man Named Pearl. It's lovely, and you can stream it on Netflix, last time I checked. People come from all over the world to see this garden.

Fryar was just honored by the S.C. Arts Commission with its coveted Verner Award, one of those big, statewide, lifetime achievement in the arts dealios.

It's not hard to see why.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

City Roots Farm to Table Dinners

Finally made it to one of the "Getting to the Root" Farm-to-Table Dinners at City Roots urban farm in Columbia, SC. It was excellent! And charming.

Born out of the Outstanding in the Field model of lush, chef-driven menus served at long, lovely banquet tables in the middle of a field, this series has been thriving at City Roots since ramping up over the last couple of years under the leadership of City Roots Co-Founder Eric McClam and The Southern Greenie, Vanessa Driscoll.

Men, meat, and fire. Caw Caw Creek pork chops as thick as your fist.

Formerly called The Harvest Dinners when it was co-founded with 116 State chef/owner Ryan Whittaker, the event is now a partnership with Kristian Niemi of Rosso Trattoria and the soon-to-open Bourbon Columbia restaurant on Main Street. (Read Jeff Wilkinson's feature on Bourbon in The State newspaper.)

Guest chefs pop in, like the upcoming June dinner with the rad Mike Davis of Terra.

The Nose-To-Tail Dinner series, run by the same folks, recently featured heavy hitter chefs like Alex Suaudom du Monde of Baan Sawan and Tim Peters of Motor Supply.

Having had plenty of time to iron out any inevitable newbie kinks, they've got it on lock with these dinners. I recommend!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ham Loaf in the Kitchn with The Shop Tart

The other night, my friend Anne invited me over to help her cook something absolutely horrible from a 1977 Southern Living cookbook.

Read her post about our grody, grody dinner on national food site, The Kitchn (part of Maxwell Ryan's very cool Apartment Therapy brand):

The green beans were so foul, but it was my pleasure to prepare them.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Walking garlic steps out at last

Walking garlic is so cool. The stalks grow pop-tops, which sploosh out a spray of baby sproutlets, which then grow into long stalks from there. Gets loopy.

This is from back when I was doing flowers for Motor Supply Co. Bistro in Columbia, SC. I've since turned that over to one of my heroes, flower farmer Donna Mills of Floral and Hardy Farm in Lexington, SC -- the only flower farm within hours of the Midlands. She sells at Soda City Market on Saturdays.

I had cut the garlic stalks, above, out of my friend Jenks Farmer's yard. He is an amazing horticulturist whose plant collection is pretty much Beyond. He hosts really cool events out at his farm near Augusta/Aiken in Beech Island.

Took the little bulblets from the top of the stalks, and planted them over a year ago. Was kindof ho-hum there for a while. Then the other day, I noticed that my tops were popping. Sweet!

Thanks, Jenks.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Vintage type glassware and ConvergeSE hero worship

I have a precious two of these juice glasses (also marked with ounce and cup measurements) that belonged to my paternal grandfather. He worked at a Midlands appliance store called Cate McLaurin way back in the day.

Yep, in the background, that's a copy of the inaugural issue of Modern Farmer magazine, which is truly fan-flippin-tabulous. Kudos to my bro Reyhan Harmanci, 2nd in command on the masthead. W00t!

After meeting Field Notes founder Aaron Draplin while running the logistics for the ConvergeSE digital design conference last week, I find myself noticing more vintage business promo typography than ever before. (He admitted to hoarding such things while on tour around the US.)

This is Draplin, btw, giving a keynote presentation on the stage we designed.

The decor concept: Congaree Swamp takes over the technology conference. We had cypress knees made of wood, chicken wire and sheet moss, with a 12-foot tall tree commissioned from artist and Tapp's Arts Center co-director Billy Guess. Congaree is the only National Park in SC, and at 20 minutes from downtown Cola, it's the closest to a city of any National Park in the country.

Also on that stage? (Brace yourself for more hero worship.)

Josh Higgins, Obama's Design Director for the 2012 campaign.

Higgins talked about the 125-page brand guide they developed for all of the visual communications materials for the campaign, great backstage moments with the POTUS, and other awesome marketing nerd stuff that was a delight for me to hear.

It's been a good week at Flock and Rally HQ. Can't wait to get our new Draplin-designed South Carolina iconography poster framed. Printed by The Half and Half!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The insane Torta Cubana at Real Mexico in Columbia, SC

After falling in love with the Torta Cubana at El Varadero de Oscar in Isla Mujeres, MX, I was emboldened to order this classic Mexican diner dish on a recent brunch outing to Real Mexico in Columbia, SC.

This monster sandwich contains at least the following fillings, griddled and then stuffed into the Mexican bakery version of French bread: ham, milanesa (breaded, fried pork cutlet), chorizo sausage, scrambled egg, hot dogs (I jest not), avocado, cheese, mayonnaise, and more.

If you saw celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" TV episode on San Francisco, CA, back in 2009, you saw him dive face first into this exact type of torta at the legendary Mission District corner store, That's It - The Center of the Mile.

(We used to stop in there for travelers of Tecate and Modelo on the way to Dolores Park when I lived in the neighborhood.)

Seriously. Look at those hot dogs. 

Even after a couple of brunch-time top shelf margaritas, I couldn't finish even half of this sandwich. I guilted my business partner's boyfriend into taking it home with him, because he is avid about not wasting anything. Thanks, Derek!
Loved by local foodies for their small, street food-sized tacos smothered in chipotle chicken, queso fresco and cilantro, Real Mexico is the restaurant I recommend when people ask about an authentic Mexican place in the Midlands.

Close second: La Fogata. I also hear that El Poblano in Chapin is the bomb. For fresh, hipster burritos and salads? El Burrito, of course! For upscale agave nectar margaritas? Cantina 76, although their fancied up Mexican menu is just ok in my book. (That said, I would happily hoover up their queso, guac and salsa trio any day of the week.)

Out front at Real Mexico: a planter made out of an old candy dispenser. Is there anything more awesome than pansies and dirt planted in an old gumball machine?

That's right. There's not.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Burger Time video game nostalgia

When's the last time you played the 1980s video game, Burger Time?

Um, turns out it is really hard. How did I play it so brilliantly as a kid in the Putt-Putt video arcade?

Do you remember it being that hard?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Growing fennel bulbs in your garden is a weird challenge

Last spring, I planted fennel seeds in my garden and got nothin' and was a little demoralized by it. (Only a little.)

This spring, I got a big, fabulous fennely surprise!

This one is starting to bolt. I'd better cut it out of the ground and roast it before it's too late. Got like 10 of these! So stoked.

Have you ever grown fennel bulbs successfully in your garden, O gardeners of the intarwebs?

Monday, April 1, 2013

The great Butter Lamb beheading of 2013

Butter lamb!

My awesome friend Anne, who writes for The Kitchn and publishes The Shop Tart blog, hosted an Easter dinner that was a little bit extra special this year.

The private elementary school at St. John Neumann church in Northeast Columbia, SC sells butter lambs as a fundraiser each year. Anne got like 4. IT WAS AWESOME!

I got to sit next to her Dad at dinner. He beheaded the lamb for me and put it on my bread plate. There's a reason why The Wolfe Company real estate is a great family business, y'all.

My favorite thing from Trader Joe's

This national grocery chain has much to love, despite being a national chain.

This is my favorite:

Spinach and kale dip w/greek yogurt base. Crunchy carrots and water chestnuts take me to a 70s place, while the kale and Greek yogurt feel so late 2000s.

If your dip can span 3 decades of nostalgia and have half the calories of normal dip, you've won me over.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hotel Esencia Estate, Riviera Maya, Mexico

I'm at my desk, looking out at the jungle of the Riviera Maya through a plate glass window the size of King Kong's palm. The Esencia Estate near Tulum? Pretty awesome.

The in-room speaker system is playing a mix of Euro-chill, Feist, Aretha Franklin, Missy Elliott, indigenous folk, Madonna, Nina Simone, and jazz via iPod playlist. Note the enormous pocket doors to my private palapa porch. Sweet.

My giant bathroom features a giant pocket door, which leads out to my private soaking tub. Beautifulness.

Although I will complain that my tub never got truly warm until the last morning I was there, despite repeated requests to have it turned on and left on for specific periods of time. Weird, because the service at Esencia is otherwise amazing.

Terrific selection of useful things, left for guests' use, in one of the guestroom cabinets: snorkel hoses, bug spray, big flashlight, and incense burners.

Next to my computer, on which the wireless is working beautifully, there is a glass of Don Julio tequila and soda on ice, procured from the pool bar without need for cash or credit card, 'cause they know my by my room name, Mentha (mint).

This is what breakfast at the pool bar looks like, btw.

This is what it feels like. 

Over on the bar above the fridge stocked with complimentary beer, water, juice and soda, is a bottle of great Ikal malbec and a a little tray of fruit, brought to my room as a welcome gift shortly after checking in. 

Never mind the icy glass of lemonade handed to me as I was given a tour of the premises, part of the check-in process. Which went like this:

The private car I hired from Cancun turns into driveway for Esencia, whose entrance is decidedly not bombastic, monstrous, or ostentatious like most of the overdone resort entrances on highway 307 from Cancun to Tulum. It's just over an hour by car from Puerto Juarez to Hotel Esencia.

USA Transfers is a great private car company recommended by Mapchick, and they gave the best price of 4 different companies from whom I requested quotes via email. My driver was super nice and the trip felt faster than it was.

The car is stopped at an unassuming checkpoint, and my name is confirmed against a guest registry by a smiling lady. Car proceeds down a jungly driveway, arriving at the opening to a jungly path. If you're lucky, you'll spot a sereque, a lovely local critter that frequents the jungles of the Riviera Maya.

Porters take my luggage, a staff member escorts me down this jungly, delightful path, and I am handed off to a member of the reception team who speaks terrific English. I attempt to practice my Spanish on him and it is inwardly very hilarious for me. He takes it super gracefully as we walk down beautiful, manicured -- but not too manicured -- paths through the estate.

I am taken around the property to the different resort elements. First, the Aroma SPA, housed in a giant palapa with no sharp corners, only rounded edges on the walls within to maximize energy flow. Do I care if this is hokum or not? No. I prefer to believe that it is real. That is my privilege as a snooty spagoer. You either believe the hokum or you don't. Me? I'm a Mulder. I want to believe.

Then, I'm led to the main house of the estate, which was owned by an Italian duchess at one point. Oh man, is it private here. Long, jungly paths; lush, green expanses of lawn; a sizeable garden which supplies the spa with aloe, citrus, and more; and a colonial Spanish-looking center of activity, which houses a large living room, a smaller TV lounge, a veranda, and a concierge desk.

We walk out to the main lawn, where there is a yoga tent to the left, two swimming pools out by the beach, a pool bar, and little private mini palapas with nice, solid beach loungers on the beach.

Only the kids' pool is heated (pictured). The adult pool is not. It's January.

Why isn't the adult pool heated? That seems crazy to me at a resort this fancy. Still, it's very, very beautiful. And there were a grand total of two -- just TWO -- children the whole 3 days I was there, and they were probably the best behaved little nuggets I've ever seen (aside from The Shop Tart's children, who are the most well behaved on earth).

Ceviche. Margarita. View. Boom.

Dinner at the highly atmospheric restaurant, housed under a grand palapa, is fairly top notch. Much better than the resort norm, and definitely more like fine dining in a major city. Live music. Friendly, professional servers. Fantastic cuisine.

Except the wine list is terrible. I don't know how they are getting away with that. Columbia Crest? Seriously? Hence the Modelo beer with this excellent dish.

The crescent-shaped beach at Esencia, with super soft sand, personal palapas + sunbeds, is sweet. Very few other hotels nearby, so it feels remote in a good way. A little rocky in the water, though. Not as swimworthy as Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres, for example. The sea at Xpu-Ha is really quite fierce compared to the calm, tranquil waters of Playa Norte.

More time to chillax in your palapa, I suppose.

Monday, January 7, 2013

El Varadero Cuban restaurant, Isla Mujeres

Our dinner at El Varadero is going to haunt me. And not just because the owner's name is Superman and he makes the best mojitos on Isla Mujeres.

This is Superman.

We first heard about El Varadero from a millionaire stock trader-turned-yacht owner from NY, who gave us a ride in his golf cart from the Fenix bar to Fayne's on Hidalgo one night last weekend. (His stories were excellent. We 100% do not care if they were true.)

He's been coming to Isla for over a decade. Over cocktails at Fayne's, a place where the partyrific retiree set goes to get obliterated on 2 for 1 drinks, we asked Mike about his top 3 restaurants on Isla Mujeres.

After citing Casa Rolandi (liked it) and Lolo Lorena underground restaurant (loved it), thus confirming that he had good taste, Mike told us, "Ohhhh, and there's this AMAZING Cuban place on the island, but it's down a dirt road." 

Did he know how to get there? 

"Oh, I could find it on my golf cart, but I couldn't tell you where it is from memory." 

Great. How were we going to find the awesome Cuban place down the dirt road? 

Soon thereafter, from a totally different source, we heard about -- yes -- a Cuban place, down an old dirt road, on the water, called El Varadero. It was posted in the Hollyeats restaurant review site, and we had also heard recs from some very awesome fellow diners at the Lolo Lorena supperclub the other night.

Note: this is a different place than El Veradero de Oscar, about which I posted last year!

First, I present the amazing Torta Cubana at El Varadero. It was a towering, glistening, crunchy pile of awesomeness that cannot be described adequately.

The chicken fricassee was amazeballs.

It's on the menu under the Pork Chonks.


There's a reason Superman is known for his mojitos.

Who do we run into at El Varadero? None other than Chef Lolo of Lolo Lorena Supperclub.
That's Lolo on the right. She likes to party.

Spicy shrimp, recommended by Lolo, did not disappoint. Would love to be eating another pile of these right now.

Could it get more charming? Right on Makax Bay, a secret hidey sliver of sea protected by mangrove forest.

Derek and Debi with their vacation game faces on.

That's a big oven that makes delicious things come out of it.

Can't wait to sit by the bay and  put the hurt on some more mojitos next January!