Tuk Tuk Taproom weds Asian street food & craft beer

Thai papaya - Tuk Tuk sign
San Antonio certainly has its native spice (thanks to Mexican chile peppers), but David Gilbert has given the city an injection of southeast Asian flavors that pair perfectly with hoppy, malty craft beers at Tuk Tuk Taproom. Raised in Dallas, chef Gilbert has traipsed all over the world to cook — and to dive. Recipient of a StarChefs Rising Chef award for work in Los Angeles and a multiple nominee for James Beard awards for work in San Antonio, he came to the Alamo City in 2011 at the behest of Texas cuisine master Stephen Pyles, who was opening a new restaurant in the Eilan Hotel and wanted Gilbert to run the show for him. Ever restless (see his book Kitchen Vagabond: A Journey Cooking and Eating Beyond the Kitchen), his travels in southeast Asia sealed his culinary fate.

Thai papaya - David Gilbert headshot On a extended journey that began as a SCUBA-diving vacation, Gilbert fell in love with the street food of Asia, especially the street food of southeast Asia, and most especially the street food of northern Thailand. “I was tired of placing microgreens with tweezers,” he says breezily of the decision to turn his back on a successful fine-dining career to do something funkier — much funkier. In September 2013, he and beer meister Steve Newman opened Tuk Tuk Taproom (1702 Broadway, San Antonio; 210-222-TAPS; tuktuktaproom.com) in a small building that had been both a repair garage and a Mexican fast food joint (not, presumably, at the same time).

Thai papaya - David Gilbert The food, Gilbert insists, is authentic Asian cuisine made the way it’s prepared in the streets of Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and other parts of Asia. During San Antonio’s Culinaria food festival in May, he demonstrated three different versions of green papaya salad. Our favorite — and the one almost always on the menu (along with 60 craft beers on tap) — is the Thai salad. He insists that the granite mortar and pestle are essential because they break down the food differently than any other technique. He also cautions against putting peanuts in at the beginning, because the result will be too creamy.

Thai papaya salad
GREEN PAPAYA SALAD, THAI STYLE

You will need a Thai salad mortar & pestle — a deep-bowled mortar usually made of dense granite — to make this salad. Most Asian grocers stock the tool, or David Gilbert advises purchasing it from www.importfood.com.

Ingredients

2 cloves of garlic (peeled)
2 Thai chilis, whole
3 ounces long beans (or substitute green beans)
14 ounces Asian green papaya
1 plum tomato (cut lengthwise)
5 dried shrimp (medium size)
1 ounce fresh squeezed key lime juice
1/2 to 1 ounce fish sauce
1 tablespoon Thai palm sugar
2 ounces roasted peanuts, crushed

Directions

1. Pound the garlic and Thai chili with pestle in the mortar until mashed.

2. Add the long beans and green papaya. Pound again, bruising and breaking down the papaya.

3. Add tomato and shrimp. Lightly pound and mix the salad with a spoon inside the mortar.

4. Add the liquids and adjust the balance between sweet (palm sugar), salty (fish sauce), and sour (lime juice).

5. Add peanuts and mix all together.

6. Remove the salad from mortar and serve with raw cucumber slices and generous hunks of green cabbage.

15

07 2014

San Antonio’s Cured is good for whatever ails you

Cured building
Long known as the cradle of Tex-Mex cuisine, San Antonio has definitely upped its game in the last few years. Until recently, a smattering of upscale, fine-dining restaurants like John Besh’s Lüke on the Riverwalk and a plethora of steak houses formed the city’s gastronomic constellation. That’s changing quickly and a lot of action is taking place in the suddenly trendy Pearl District. San Antonio’s spring-fed eponymous river made it an important beer-brewing town in the 19th century. The predecessor to Pearl Brewing opened in 1883, and the factory didn’t close until 2001. The subsequent redevelopment of the 22-acre former Pearl complex is still underway, but it’s already ground zero for serious foodies. Not only does the complex contain the San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America, it has several terrific restaurants. Steve McHugh’s superb gastropub Cured (306 Pearl Parkway, Suite 101, 210-314-3929, www.curedatpearl.com) joined the neighborhood at the end of 2013.

Cured chef owner Steve McHughMcHugh came to San Antonio from John Besh’s flagship New Orleans restaurant August to open the old-fashioned German-style brasserie Lüke. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in January 2010, he fought back. Once his doctor pronounced him in remission, he fulfilled his dream of opening his own restaurant. Since his specialty is charcuterie — he buys whole hogs and cures the parts in a glass-walled meat locker prominently featured in the dining room — he named his restaurant “Cured,” a name with dual meanings. In addition to making his own hams and sausages, he crafts a whole range of charcuterie. A dollar from each charcuterie plate goes to a different charity each quarter.

Cured charcuterieThe food is terrific, and the lively ambience is infectious. The dishes are simple — a gumbo using his own smoked pork and andouille sausage, for example, or seared redfish with asparagus, citrus, and shrimp — yet they’re always thoughtful combinations of flavors.

The Cured Burger is the talk of San Antonio and would make a big hit at any July 4 cookout. Here’s a slightly simplified version of the recipe.

Cured burger
CURED BURGER

Three things make chef Steve McHugh’s burgers so delicious and juicy. The meat is part beef, part cured bacon. McHugh is liberal with his application of salt and pepper. And he tops the burgers with an amazing smoked onion jam before putting cheese on top to melt. When we’re in a hurry, we ask our butcher to grind the meat for us and we use the very good Roasted Garlic Onion Jam from Stonewall Kitchen.

Makes 6 burgers

For the Burgers
Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds top round, cut into large pieces
1/2 pound good quality bacon
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Grind the top round and bacon alternately through a large die (3/8”) so that there is a good beef-to-bacon ratio. Switch to the smaller die (3/16”) on your grinder and regrind the meat to a smooth consistency. Divide the burgers into six patties. Season your burgers with salt and twice as much pepper than you think. Pepper is the key to a great burger. Grill to medium well-done.

For the Onion Jam
Ingredients
4 yellow onions, top and bottom removed, peels left on
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar

Directions
Using your smoker, hot smoke your onions for 4 hours until completely soft. Peel the onions and place into a food processor and blend with vinegar and water. Place them in a pot along with the sugar and cook for 2 hours until a jam-like consistency has been reached. Reserve for later.

Assembly
Top the burgers with a spoonful of the onion jam and top with your choice of cheese. While Cheese is melting, place the rolls on the griddle to brown. Assemble and destroy!

27

06 2014

What to eat at the San Antonio airport (SAT)

La Gloria The 8 million people a year who fly through San Antonio’s airport (SAT) used to be forced to fall back on fast food chains for something to eat. But last year local chef Johnny Hernandez came to their rescue by opening La Gloria in July and The Fruteria in December. Waitress Ana Mendez at La Gloria explains the reaction of most travelers: “They come in here and think they’re going to get Tex-Mex,” she says. It’s a natural expectation, given that San Antonio might well be the capital of Tex-Mex cuisine. “They’re surprised that it’s real Mexican food. People really like it.”

wide mural2 The mural inside La Gloria might say it best: No hace falta morir para llegar a la gloria. That translates loosely as “You don’t have to die to go to heaven.”

Both La Gloria and La Fruteria open early in the morning, making either a perfect place to start the day in the airport. The most popular breakfast plate at La Gloria is the Mexican brunch classic, chilaquiles verdes. A dish originally designed to use leftovers, it’s a casserole of tortillas simmered in a tomatillo-green chile sauce. At La Gloria, the chilaquiles come with shredded chicken, queso fresco, and black beans.

Mural diner La Fruteria’s meal offerings are more limited, emphasizing fresh fruit and vegetable juices along with sandwiches (tortas), tostadas, and salads. But for later in the day, both spots have a great selection of tequilas, including both tequila and mezcal that Hernandez has made for him in Mexico. They go into inventive drinks like the mango melon margarita or the piña mezcal margarita.

We’re heard complaints about slow service at La Gloria, but only during really busy travel times, such as holiday periods. Our experience was altogether different — the food almost came too quickly, given the time we had left to kill. But the flavors were the best part: Real Mexican dishes with authentic flavors, including outstanding fresh tortillas.

The mural motto has it just about right.

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01

06 2014

Montgomery’s Central reinterprets a Southern classic

Central restaurant by Tastebuds Photography

Central restaurant by Tastebuds Photography

Montgomery, Alabama, likes to call itself the place where both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement started. But this historic city also looks forward as well as back. The handsome warehouses and other buildings along the riverfront have been spruced up as the Downtown Entertainment District. Central restaurant (129 Coosa St., 334-517-1121, www.central129coosa.com) epitomizes the style: It occupies an 1890s warehouse with high ceilings and warm, exposed-brick walls. An open kitchen brings the space to life as cooks execute the refined comfort food of tattooed and bearded executive chef Leonardo Maurelli III. Originally from Panama, Maurelli is a big proponent of Southern cuisine—as long as he can add his own innovations.

He has created a sophisticated twist on chicken and dumplings, substituting toothy potato gnocchi for the usually doughy dumplings and tossing the gnocchi with wood-roasted chicken, peas, carrots, and celery in an herbed veloute.

Chef Maurelli shared the recipe sized by single portions, and I’ve adapted it to make two servings.  The chicken, which is roasted with indirect heat from a wood fire, is brined for 24 hours in a standard brine (3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt, 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar, 6 cups of water). Maurelli removes the bird from the brine and lets it rest an hour before roasting.

CENTRAL’S CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS

Maurelli makes his own potato gnocchi from scratch, but I generally substitute a very good commercial version. Maurelli’s mirepoix is a standard ratio of 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, and 1 part celery. See the veloute recipe below for my take on Central’s rich veloute.
chicken and dumplings

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

8 ounces of potato gnocchi (blanched)
2 tablespoons water
1 cup mirepoix
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, sliced paper thin
3 cloves of garlic, sliced paper thin
6 ounces wood-roasted chicken breast, medium dice
1/2 cup green peas (frozen hold best)
2 tablespoons white wine
1 1/4 cups fine herb chicken veloute

Directions

Flash fry the gnocchi until crisp, about 3 minutes, and place on paper towels to remove excess grease.

Place water in small frying pan and add mirepoix. Turn heat on high and cook for about 45 seconds after water boils. Drain mirepoix and set aside.

In a separate skillet, over medium heat, place olive oil with finely sliced shallot and garlic. Sauté until caramelized (about 2 minutes). Add mirepoix, chicken, and peas and sauté. Deglaze skillet with white wine and cook off alcohol (about 1 minute).

Add veloute and bring to a simmer. Once sauce is simmering add the gnocchi, quickly toss and serve immediately to make sure the gnocchi are still crisp.

Garnish with local herbs, or micro greens.

CHICKEN VELOUTE

Maurelli usually uses a mix of thyme, rosemary, and parsley to season the veloute.

32 ounces chicken stock
6 tablespoons clarified butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 ounces of chopped fresh herbs

Bring stock to a simmer.

In a separate skillet, heat butter and use a wooden spoon to blend in flour start to create a roux. Be careful not to brown the roux, but cook slowly until the raw flour taste is gone.

Once roux is done, slowly whisk in the stock one-quarter cup at a time. Whisk constantly to make sure there are no lumps. Simmer for 20 minutes, add fresh herbs, and let cool. I use leftover veloute as a cream sauce for dishes like chicken tetrazzini or simple sliced meat and gravy on toast or rice.

13

05 2014

Mobile DAR House Museum has sweet bite of history

Apricot Almond Delight
I had a real taste of Southern hospitality when I visited the Richards DAR House Museum in Mobile, Alabama (256 North Joachim St., www.richardsdarhouse.com). Richards DAR House MuseumThe 1860 Italianate-style townhouse was built for a steamboat captain and his wife. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it features an intricate iron lacework facade and a beautiful cantilevered staircase. The home is furnished to reflect the comfortable, upper-class lifestyle of the late 19th century. Visitors are welcome to sit in the chairs and encouraged to play the piano. They are also served tea and a few small sweets in the dining room. This simple Apricot-Almond Delight Candy is always a hit. The recipe is published in the museum’s cookbook Tastefully Yours.

APRICOT-ALMOND DELIGHT CANDY

Barbara Bodie,who supplied this recipe for the cookbook, recommends a mix of whole, sliced, and slivered almonds for a nice blend of textures.

Ingredients
1/2 cup apricots, diced quite small
1 cup toasted almonds
6-8 ounces white chocolate, melted

Directions
Stir the ingredients together and drop by teaspoons onto waxed paper. Set aside at least two hours before serving.

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04

05 2014

Gourmet chicken salad at Mobile’s Spot of Tea

Calvert's Gourmet Chicken Salad
For truly ambitious eaters, the state of Alabama has come up with a handy list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.” It’s a big undertaking, but I got a start when I partied in Mobile during Mardi Gras. Located across the street from Cathedral Square, Spot of Tea (310 Dauphin St., 251-433-9009, www.spotoftea.com) is right in the middle of the festivities and is also one of the few restaurants in the state to be recognized for two standout dishes. In this case, it’s two breakfast dishes: Bananas Foster French Toast and Eggs Cathedral (a variation on Eggs Benedict featuring local seafood). Locals are just as likely to stop in for lunch and it’s a good bet that they will order the “gourmet chicken salad,” either as a sandwich or atop a salad. The recipe, which uses only white meat chicken, was passed down from the grandmother of owner Ruby Moore (That’s Ruby below.)


CALVERT’S GOURMETRuby at Spot of Tea
CHICKEN SALAD

This is the version as served at Spot of Tea in Mobile. I prefer using 1 teaspoon of ground celery seed in place of the celery salt, as it lets me adjust the seasoning more carefully. I also prefer using roast chicken breasts to poached breasts, though that’s truly a matter of taste. Finally, I sometimes substitute fresh goat cheese (chèvre) for part or all of the cream cheese. It makes a slightly drier, more tangy chicken salad.

Serves 10

Ingredients
3 lb. boneless chicken breast
8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. mayonnaise
4 ribs celery, chopped fine
celery salt
salt
black pepper
4 oz. pecans, chopped fine

Directions
1. Poach chicken until fully tender. Cool under cold water, pat dry, and dice.
2. Add cream cheese, mayonnaise, chopped celery, and chopped pecans.
3. Adjust to taste with celery salt, pepper, and salt. Blend well. If not creamy enough, add more mayonnaise.

25

04 2014

King Cake for Easter

king cake top
If Mardi Gras has a signature food, it has to be the king cake, which is actually more like a big, braided cinnamon roll than a cake. It’s topped with white icing and dusted with colored sugar, usually in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. The cake was originally served at Epiphany, but was so tasty that cooks kept making it through Mardi Gras.

I found a knockout version this year at Sweet Olive Bakery (251-990-8883; sweetolive.co), a European-style artisanal bakery in Fairhope, Alabama. It’s located in the Windmill Market (85 N. Bancroft St.), an old car dealership and service garage that has found new life as a foodie destination (other occupants include a great barbecue joint and a locavore market). The Windmill is only 18 miles from Mobile, where the first Mardi Gras in America was celebrated in 1703. Mobile still puts on a great party with 65 balls and 35 parades in a three-week period.

I have no idea how many king cakes are consumed during that time, but many of them are made by Jennifer Haffner, the owner and head baker at Sweet Olive. She was kind enough to share her recipe and since I don’t want to wait a year to try it, I thought that a king cake would add a perfect festive note for Easter brunch.

By the way, tradition calls for inserting a small plastic baby (representing the Baby Jesus) into the cooked cake. Whoever gets that slice has to host next year’s party—or at least bring the king cake!

KING CAKE

Jennifer’s recipe makes three cakes. She stresses that all the ingredients must be cold since the mix time for brioche is quite long. Be sure to start this recipe far ahead to allow for the dough to rise.

king cake jenniferCake
1 1/2 cups butter
5 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup cold water
6 cold eggs
1 tablespoon salt
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast

Filling
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Glaze
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
5 tablespoons milk

1. Flatten the butter with a rolling pin until it is pliable and place it in the refrigerator until needed.

2. Place all ingredients for the cake except the butter into the bowl of an electric mixer. Begin mixing on lowest speed until the ingredients are just barely incorporated. Turn the mixer up slightly and mix for 5 to 7 minutes, until the dough is well developed.

3. Add the butter in pieces, while the machine is mixing, until all the butter is incorporated. Mix for an additional 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Place dough in a bowl lightly sprayed with oil or pan spray. Cover dough with plastic wrap, tucking the plastic around the dough. Let it stand at room temperature for an hour. Fold the dough over on itself, cover bowl with plastic wrap, refrigerate at least 4 hours.

5. Divide the dough into 3 pieces.

6. Using 1 piece of dough, roll into a rectangle about a quarter inch thick. Brush the dough with egg wash. Combine cinnamon and sugar for filling in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over the dough.

7. Cut the rectangle into 3 long strips. Braid the 3 strips and attach the ends to form an oval. Spray with oil or pan spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

8. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden. Let sit until completely cool.

9. Put confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl and add milk a tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Glaze should be thick but should drizzle easily off a spoon. Drizzle glaze over cooled cake and decorate with colored sprinkles of your choice.

15

04 2014

What to eat at the airport in Málaga (AGP)

Bull burger
Until last year, international travelers at Terminal 3 in Málaga’s airport servicing the Costa del Sol were pretty much stuck with international fast food like Starbucks, Burger King, and England’s Soho Coffee. So we were delighted to see that Michelin-starred local superchef Dani García had opened Dani García DeliBar. Much of the menu overlaps offerings in García’s Manzanilla tapas bar in downtown Málaga, which is one of our favorite spots in a city that has belatedly but enthusiastically embraced contemporary Spanish cuisine. One of García’s strengths has been the reinvention of some classic sandwiches by giving them a distinctly Andalucían twist. His bacalao (salt cod) sandwich with tomato sauce and chipotle mayo is heads above the best filet-o-fish. His Burguer Bull (pictured above) has brought him a lot of attention from other chefs as well as fast food aficionados. Created in 2008, the burger is a patty of slow-braised oxtail, aka rabo de toro. It’s served on a bun spread with mayonnaise made with beef juices instead of oil, then topped with some arugula and a melted slice of Havarti cheese. It has all the taste depth of the classic dish of rabo de toro with the form and flourish of a great cheeseburger. If you’re staying over in Málaga, be sure to eat at Manzanilla at Calle Fresca, 12 (tel: 95-222-6851; www.manzanillamalaga.com). If you’re staying on the Costa del Sol, take a train into the real city. It’s only 23 minutes from Torremolinos to the Alameda stop in Málaga on the C-1 line. That’s just down the street from Manzanilla.

11

04 2014

A prawn by any other name

Shrimp strip 1
Few things are as quite as confusing as the wonderful array of crustaceans available in southern Spain. When we were in El Puerto de Santa María in February, we photographed some of them at the Romerijo fish market (www.romerijo.com). The same crustacean (per its Latin name) may have two or three different common names, depending on size and where it is caught. The six images here, for example, only show four different species.

Here they are, from left to right, above:
Camarón (Palaemon serratus) is the common rock shrimp (common prawn to the Brits) found in abundance at the mouth of the Río Guadalquivír. When they are small like this, they are comparatively inexpensive. In Andalucía, they are often fried up, shell and all, in a paper-thin omelet called a tortallita de camarones.

Langostino Sanlúcar (Penaeus kerathurus) is not what the French call langoustine or the Italians call scampi. In Spain it’s a large brown prawn with hints of red. Those from Sanlúcar are especially prized because they are sweeter and more tender than langostinos from other waters. They are usually steamed or grilled with olive oil and garlic.

Gamba blanca (Parapenaeus longirostris) is the North African white shrimp, which is often found in the Bay of Cádiz. It’s an especially meaty shrimp and is served in lieu of the carabinero (red prawn, scarlet prawn) fished in a different season.

Shrimp strip 2
Here’s the second group, from left to right, above:

Cigala (Nephrops noreugicus) is the French langoustine or the Italian scampi. It also goes by such monikers as Norway lobster or Dublin Bay prawn. It’s actually a member of the lobster family. In Spain, it’s usually cut in half lengthwise and grilled (a la plancha).

Langostino rayado (Penaeus kerathurus) is the same beast as the langostino Sanlúcar, but barely half the size. These were actually fished off the coast of Mauritania in northwest Africa. At this size they’re often used in baked rice dishes, such as paella de mariscos.

Quisquilla is a name applied, alas, to a couple of different shrimp or prawns. Often it’s the small brown shrimp that is mixed into rice dishes or into soups. Here it is a much bigger version of Palaemon serratus, the camarón and would be served steamed or pan-fried with garlic.

As confusing as the nomenclature may be, they all make terrific eating. At Romerijo, you can order them by weight and have them cooked immediately to eat on the spot. The fish market cum restaurant is located at Plaza de la Herrería, 1 in El Puerto de Santa María. The local telephone is 956-54-12-54.

26

03 2014

What a great thing to do with an egg!

pisto manchego with cod a pil pil
We’ve been lucky enough to visit Sevilla’s Taberna del Alabardero every few years over the last few decades, but it’s possible that our most recent meal was the best yet—even though it was off the modest bistrot menu instead of from the haute cuisine fine-dining menu. Now with sites in Madrid and in Washington, D.C., Taberna del Alabardero began as a social-work program launched by a priest to teach marketable skills to boys from the streets. It’s evolved into one of the top hospitality schools in Spain. The original location in Sevilla near the bullring is the laboratory where all that hospitality training is put into practice. The townhouse mansion has fine dining rooms upstairs with a menu that would have made Escoffier smile. (The third level has elegant bedrooms for the small hotel.)

Taberna del Alabardero

Frankly, we’re just as happy to eat off the bistro menu in the tile-encrusted dining room downstairs that adjoins the central atrium café. The dishes are simpler and everything is prepared—and served—by the faculty and students of the hospitality school. (Note the students standing by, waiting to serve.) Dishes tend to be Spanish rib-stickers: the hearty potato and sausage stew known as Riojanas, or cod a pil pil served with pisto manchego (Spanish ratatouille) topped with a poached egg (above). Here the pisto and poached egg constituted a side dish, paying second fiddle to the cod. But we think it will make a great light lunch this summer when we’re swimming in tomatoes, squash, and eggplant.

The three-course bistrot menu at Taberna del Alabardero is a steal, costing 12.50 euros on weekdays, 17.50 euros weekends. Here’s the contact information: Calle Zaragoza, 20. The phone is (+34) 95-450-27-21, and the web site is www.tabernadelalabardero.es. The restaurant is closed in August.

13

03 2014