Saturday, August 18, 2007

Chautara Reminds me of Thundercats

Okay, so, I lied about completing my Brussels profile. To be honest, though, the cuisine in Belgium left a little to be desired, and the pizza really was the high point. Seriously, show me another place where you order pie by weight and a pair of cute girls with dangerous-looking shears mangle the prosciutto-pesto flatbread to your exact specifications.

In any case, I'm back in Madison for the time being. What can I say? I was having a coffee in Philly a couple weeks ago, and I was bored, so I got in the car and drove to Wisconsin. What? It's not like you've never taken an impromptu Midwest road trip. You're so judgmental...

Right. Madison. Home sweet home. I had the pleasure of dining with my dear friend Jana, an old college chum (which always makes me think of Jaws, for some reason...the word "chum," not Jana) with whom I spent countless hours studying literature, complaining about studying literature, and drinking heavily to punctuate our complaints about studying literature. I attribute my success in college to our mutual support and copious amounts of Tanqueray. It was my honor, then, to welcome Jana on her first night in Madison.

I opted for a tried-and-true Madison favorite, Chautara. Aside from being my favorite of the two good Nepalese restaurants in Madison, Chautara is also a touch classier than its sister down the street, Himalchuli. I'm pretty sure "Chautara" refers to a city in Nepal, while "Himalchuli" is definitely a mountain in the case you were wondering.

We sat at a cozy table for two, looking out on State Street, Madison's still-dormant pedestrian mall. Don't get me wrong; there were plenty of people out, but the walkers-only thoroughfare will be flooded with red and white-clad coeds and douchebag frat boys with backwards "W" caps on within a couple weeks. I always love Madison during its down times, when the teeming sea of students has abated and only the charmingly familiar buskers and harmless-compared-to-Philly's-crazy-ass homeless people are out.

Jana and I talked about her imminent matriculation to law school, and it wasn't for twenty-five minutes that we realized nobody had brought us water or greeted us. Finally our server materialized, all apologies and promises of ice water and all kinds of Nepalese culinary delights. Jana went with the lamb korma, and I, in my infinite love for variety, chose the vegetarian thali.

The food appeared in what seemed like a short time, although we had already drunk most of our bottle of wine. Jana's lamb looked and smelled delicious, and I'm assured that it was, in fact, tender and tasty. My thali was a bit overwhelming, if only because of the plethora of chutneys and sauces that accompanied it. Although our server seemed a bit lackadaisical at first, she was very firm as to the application of the yogurt sauce and tamarind chutney to my samosa, and the required pairing of veggie momo and tomato chutney.

As usual, the thali was delicious. The giant, circular silver platter held a flight of meatless Nepalese classics. A perfectly-formed bowl scoop of rice, dusted with paprika, rested in the middle, surrounded by savory potatoes, eggplant, seitan and spinach, and punctuated by one each of the samosa and momo.

Although neither Jana nor I finished our dishes, we agreed that Chautara was an excellent place to begin the Welcome to Madison Pub Crawl 2007. The starchy, delicious Nepalese food was the perfect base upon which to pour dry Tanqueray (or dirty Grey Goose, if you're me) martinis, Spotted Cow beer, 14 year Oban, and something that resembled sewer water but tasted just like one of those chocolate oranges.

Chautara: Highly recommended.

334 State St
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 251-3626

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Make Your Own

I've been pretty uninspired by food for most of the summer. Not enough time to cook, lack of desire to do the dishes, and other lame excuses have kept me from cooking, and eating out has been for convenience rather than for quality. But this past weekend, I broke out of that, perhaps only temporarily. Friday night, with Flynn in town, we went to Kuma's. Long wait for the food, but good conversation, good beer, good food. Saturday I woke up early, went to the Evanston farmer's market, bought some nice tomatoes, some corn, some carrots, and some zucchini / summer squash. At 1 pm, I started the cooking.

St. Louis cut spare ribs on the smoker.

Homemade fresh mozzarella.

side dishes: Steamed and chilled green beans tossed with Olive Oil

grilled squash

corn on the cobb

fresh tomatoes, including a few from the garden. Those were REALLY good.

dill pickles and pickled green tomatoes from a Michigan farm.

All together:

All of that took awhile, but it all turned out ok. The ribs were definitely good. Perhaps a bit salty, and I could have taken them off the smoker 30 minutes earlier and the texture would have been a little better, but they were a success.

The mozzarella was a bit of a process. It's not hard, but on my first try the curd didn't set up enough, so I had to try again. The second time I ended up with two mounds of fresh cheese. Not bad for a first or second try. Didn't make enough to serve at dinner, but Joe, Timmy, Liz and Thor all got to try it. The really nice heirloom tomatoes made the cheese taste that much better. I also made tres leches, which was really good. Not hard to make, either. But I didn't take a picture of it.

Then, late lunch Sunday at Los Nopales with Flynn. So, for the weekend, I ate at a couple of great local restaurants, and Saturday was full of local produce, fresh cheese, real home smoked ribs, and fun people. Not bad at all.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Mixed grill

So, that's a menu board of a restaurant, just down the street from where I was staying in Jerusalem. Couple of things to note:

1) the skewer of Biz/Udder. Didn't really know that former Briefcase intern Biz Silverstein was available in skewer form.

2) the skewer of Turkey Testicles. Wow.

For the record, I wasn't brave enough to order either of these items, sticking to chicken skewers and kebabs (both very good- fresh grilled meat is delicious). However, the previous night, I had eaten across the street from this place at a little food stand, where I had managed to communicate in broken Hebrew my desire for a pita filled with whatever they were grilling, which was some sort of mixed grill with onions. It smelled terrific. I got greviously overcharged (44 shekels, like $10) for a small sandwich, but it was damn good and I had been starving.

What was in it? Well, definitely some liver and other assorted organs, onions, some regular meat, and well, other assorted organs. Probably turkey testicles. I was later told that this type of mixed grill is called a "Jerusalem grill".

So, next time you go to the Holy Land, try the West Bank Oysters.