Sunday, November 30, 2008

the locovore's holiday

Thanksgiving is the food holiday. Christmas and Easter have their hams, and Halloween its candy, but none of the other major U.S. holidays are as explicitly tied to the stomach as Thanksgiving. After all, the image that appears in most people's minds is a feast at which the pilgrims give thanks to native Americans for their generosity in helping the new Americans survive the harsh winters of their new found home. It also celebrates the riches of the fall harvest, which is perhaps the most exciting part of the holiday to gastronomes. So not surprisingly, Thanksgiving is an exceptional opportunity to build a menu of local foods from area farmers and artisans. Even in northern climes, Thanksgiving typically arrives during the very tail end of the fall produce season, and many farmers' markets hold special market days on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

What's more, holidays are great excuses to break from routine and seek out some truly unique food items. This makes Thanksgiving an excellent time of year to expand your local food knowledge and cooking repertoire, even if you don't consider yourself a rabid locovore. To give you some examples of how one family decided to spend their Thanksgiving dollars and calories, I've posted our menu below, which we served to 10 family members. We didn't purchase every ingredient from in-state sources (in our case Minnesota), but we did try to design a menu that used as many local products as possible, given our particular climate. I've listed each menu item and the origins of its major components below, as well as any relevant links.

Summit Winter Ale (Minnesota)
Schell's Pilsner (Minnesota)
Vinho verde (Portugal)

hors d'oeuvres
potato chips (Old Dutch, Minnesota)
assorted pickled peppers (our garden)
dry-cured salami (Volpi, Missouri)
marinated olives (Spain)

roasted beet salad
organic gold beets (Wisconsin)
Sartori parmesan-style cheese (Wisconsin)
organic radicchio (California)
olive oil (Italy)
balsamic vinegar (Italy)
organic walnuts (unknown)

stuffed turkey breast with prunes
organic, free-range turkey breast (Farm on Wheels, Minnesota)
organic pork shoulder (Farm on Wheels, Minnesota)
pancetta (Italy)
bread crumbs (old bread from New French Bakery, Minnesota)
parmesan-style cheese (Sartori, Wisconsin)
organic rosemary (Rockspring Farm, Wisconsin)
organic sage (Rockspring Farm, Wisconsin)

acorn squash risotto
acorn squash (Minnesota)
onions (Wisconsin)
organic butter (Organic Valley, Wisconsin)
parmesan-style cheese (Sartori, Wisconsin)
arborio rice (Italy)
olive oil (Italy)

sauteed brussel sprouts with pancetta

brussel sprouts (Minnesota)
organic rosemary (Rockspring Farm, Wisconsin)
pancetta (Italy)

baguettes (New French Bakery, Minnesota)

Yali Cabernet-Carmenere (Argentina)

apple tart
harolson apples (Minnesota)
flour (Minnesota)
organic butter (Organic Valley, Wisconsin)
organic cream (Organic Valley, Wisconsin)
organic eggs (Crystal Ball Farms, Wisconsin)
Cognac (France)

Friday, November 21, 2008

a sustainable strip club?

I'll start this post by saying that this is the first review of St. Paul's most important new restaurant, The Strip Club, that will not include commentary regarding the clever/cheeky nature of said establishment's name. Love it or hate it, it's what the forward-thinking owners of this beacon decided to call it, and I think we have more important topics to discuss, such as the vittles served within. It should also be noted that the chef and owners are fervent supporters of local foodstuffs, so practically everything served at the place is highly seasonal and grown by local farmers.

I'll keep this small but filling. My wife and I visited The Strip Club for the first time for our fifth wedding anniversary. As young parents, and resident East Siders, we don't leave the house for a fancy date as often as we would like, so this outing carried significance beyond the value of a mere wedding anniversary. That said, we entered the fine old building with only one preconceived rule: "eat and drink whatever you want."

The evening digested as follows.

apperetif #1:
old fashioned - just like grandpa's
moscow mule - refreshing, yet predictable

first course:
foie gras* - this local version of the French classic changed my life
french fries - absolutely perfect

*I'll admit, not all foie gras production is ethical or appetizing, but the Gasset family in Caledonia, MN demonstrates a respectful practice of this ancient technique.

apperetif #2:
old fashioned - no comment
moscow mule - no comment

second course:
grilled caesar salad - warm, crisp, and smoky, this salad redefines entree
spinach, beet, and goat cheese salad - simple and seasonal, a must-order

main course:
bone-in ribeye - an intimidatingly sized portion of the best grass-fed beef. hallucinatory.
NY strip steak (the restaurant's namesake) with blue cheese and scallions - exactly what it should be. a juicy, meaty, thick steak, cooked perfectly (rare to medium rare)

I don't remember, but it was f'in good.

flourless dark chocalate tart (we split it) - not unlike crack/cocaine
some-port-from-Washington - a triumph. the perfect pairing for an illicit dessert

single espresso - as it should be

To save you the trouble, I scoured the interwebs to date and collected the most prominent reviews of the Strip Club to date. However, this list does not include the reviews written by The Pioneer Press and Mpls|St. Paul Magazine, who still think it's ok to hide their "archived content."

Star Tribune review
City Pages Dish review
City Pages blog mention
Maria Energia (East Side St. Paul-based green blogger)
Aaron Landry (MN food bloger)

I also found some patron-generated photos on flickr.