Lannae's Food and Travel

I hope you like my food and travel blog.

August 31, 2009

Want to be Watenabe

yellowtail sashimi on shiso and diakon

We are definitely learning our way around Nashville better. Like, Haywood Lane is the same one on Nolensville Rd as is the one that crosses I24. Trinity Lane is the same one from Clarksville Pike on the west side of town as it is the one crossing Gallatin Pike in East Nashville. And, Murfreesboro Rd starts nearly in downtown Nashville, goes right by the Nashville Airport and the Smyrna Airport and then straight into Murfreesboro. So, to my surprise, McGavock Pike over by Opryland Hotel is the one of the same that crosses Gallatin Pike in East Nashville. Opryland, the Nashville Airport, Haywood Lane in Antioch all always seemed so far away, but I know better now by driving the surface roads and understanding how the streets and road of Nashville are not so mysterious, and these places are not so far away, as long stay off the highways. So it goes, we have gone to Inglewood, from west to east on Trinity Lane, to try Watenabe's Restaurant in the trendy Riverside Village strip mall. Really, East Nashville and downtown are not that far apart.

As the story goes, there is a "Boston seafood" restaurant in East Nashville that started a sushi bar. The "Boston seafood" part was really bad, and anyone from coastal New England all have said how bad the seafood is there. We all felt a bit burned by this place. Early on, this place was valet parking in my friend's private parking lot, and we showed up at my friend's place asking them what they were doing. They valet was telling us to leave if weren't eating at this joint, and it was fun to tell them to leave the private property that did not belong to the bad restaurant. The parking all got straightened out with an agreement, and the bad seafood cooking restaurant opened a sushi bar.

The sushi bar chef is a young guy named Watenabe from Japan and he made his way to Nashville as a banjo player. Watenabe loves that s**t-kicking country music (as he said to M, and Watenabe was pointing to one of his shoes), and he really wanted to be a s**t-kicking country music banjo player in the heart of Nashville, the land of s**t-kicking country music. As for most people that come to Nashville thinking they are going to be s**t-kicking country music stars, it did not work out for Watenabe in that way. Instead, he became a permanent resident and became a kick-ass sushi at the sushi bar associate with the bad "Boston seafood" restaurant. When M went to visit our friends with the private parking lot across the way, and wanted sushi, they would see if Watenabe was working, and then got some kick-ass sushi. But, if Watenabe was not working, never mind, it was anything else but that place.

Now, that "Boston Seafood" restaurant bankrolled and opened Watenabe, the kick-ass sushi bar where Watenabe can run the sushi show.

the Watenabe bar

We have gone to Watenabe's for sushi and sashimi only. It reminds me of the sushi I had in Boston 30 years ago, when and where sushi was an art form, and the ingredients mattered. The ubiquitous California roll is not generic at Watenabe's. The California roll is made with real lump crab meat, not that particle-board fake crab stick. The salmon roe is from Alaskan salmon, not from the world market. Salmon fishing in Alaska is highly regulated to protect the salmon supply. It is becoming harder and harder to find salmon roe in the market because of the demand for salmon eggs. There was a piece on NPR last month about Russian fisherman over salmon to satisfy a Russian and world market demand for the salty orange salmon eggs, and how it is possible that the Russians over fishing may cause the extinction of wild salmon. For some recreational fisherman who used to use salmon eggs as bait are probably wondering why people would pay $10/oz of salmon eggs in a restaurant. At anyrate, Watenabe's salmon roe comes from the USA regulated salmon industry. I really like that shiso that the sashimi is served on. I have not had any shiso in Nashville before, so it is really refeshing, and I love that flavor. I remember shiso from my favorite sushi bar in Boston, where they used shiso leaves to decorate and separate the various nigiri on the plank. We also have tried the fried rice, and it was tasty. It is a bit pricey in relative terms to any other Asian restaurant in Nashville, but it seemed to be just a bit better than anywhere else, and way better than the horrible Chinese takeout places.

I will say that Watenabe's is priced right in my opinion, but that also means some of the sushi may cost more than what Nashville is used to. But, the ingredients are so much better and real at Watenabe's as opposed to other sushi bars in Nashville. I am not surprised at the cost of some of the fish he sells, and it is rightfully so.

I like the decor of Watenabe too. One side has circular high back red leather booths like an old fancy steak house would have, like the original Brown Derby had in the big band and the original I Love Lucy days. These booths are contrasted with really stark regular tables painted black with an urban hip bar and sushi bar. It is a cool place to go. I also like the wide range of patrons. There are people who look like my grandmom, young hipsters, bow-tie wearing professor types, my farmer friends, and me. Watenabe seems to be able to appeal to a wide range of people.

Last thing, a bit of really smart advice from our friendly waitress about online shopping. Her tip is to get a pre-paid credit card and fill it with an amount you need to make an online purchase. The pre-paid card is not attached to anything bank account. If the online purchase or the pre-paid card gets hacked, there isn't anything to hack because there is no money on the card, and no credit limit on the card to hack. She is a smart one!

Watanabe on Urbanspoon

August 28, 2009

Scooby Doo and the Happy Valley 5 Colleges in MA

Is it true? I just heard that the Scooby Doo main characters were created by the inspiration of the 5 colleges and universities in the Happy Valley of Massachusetts. I thought it was a good match, but is it just a coincidence like the Dark Side of the Moon and the Wizard of Oz? Was it about the 1960s Happy Valley with a puff of smoke rising out of the Mystery Machine Van every time they opened the door? Well, Snopes, and other urban legend websites says coincidence, and the characters were not inspired by the 5 colleges, but I like the coincidence. Here is how it goes:

Scooby Doo - the party animal of UMass
Shaggy - the Hampshire College guy who always has the munchies
Freddie - the Amherst College smart and preppy pretty boy
Velma - the braniac turtle neck wearing Smith College woman
Daphne - the rich, sweet, pristine Mt. Holyoke College girl

Those of you who went to school in the MA Happy Valley have to admit there is a coincidence here for the stereotypes of these schools. I admit it, and I kind of like it.

August 25, 2009

Vigilance Vitality Virtue to a Tea

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August 22, 2009

Papusa for my tummy

Pupuseria Salvadorena
340 Welch Road
Nashville, TN

the sign

How you find this place is go to the street just north of the Walmart on the corner of Harding and Nolensville Rd, and turn onto Welch Street, and there it is. There is not much back there besides the pupusaria and the back side of the Walmart, so you should not have a problem spotting this restaurant.

papusa queso con loroco

Again, Fire Eater brought me to pupusa heaven! Fire Eater calls me up and said that I needed to meet her, her family and friends at an evening social, then we had to go to this pupusaria afterwards. Dumb me, I ate the pizza at the social event, and wasn't completely hungry going to the pupusaria, next time I know better. Fire Eater got another friend who is fluent in Spanish and to come with us. Good thing because this place is not dumbed down for the gringos, the menu is completely written in Spanish, and I believe the food served here is of old world family recipes. Fluent knew almost everything on the menu, and she was very helpful with ordering.

papusa yam and sugar dessert

I got a pupusa queso con loroco, some sort of aqua fresca of a fruit I do not know, and some sort of yam dessert with a carmelized sugar sauce. A loroco is a large flower bud, like a squash blossom, that is grown in El Salvador, and it is illegal to import these flowers into the USA. There is a lot of food like mangos (all but one stringy lack luster mango until mid-2007) that are illegal to import or bring into the USA, and the loroco is one of those foods. Loroco can come into the USA frozen or jarred. I believe the jarred lorocos may be pickled and salted. I did not taste sour or salt, so I am guessing the Pupusaria used frozen loroco in my pupusa. The loroco was minced into green pieces and mixed with cheese, then stuffed in the masa pupusa, then skillet or griddle fried to crispy goodness. The loroco tastes similarly to an artichoke, a flavor I like a lot. Our fluent friend, she ordered some sort of agua fresca of some fruit that does not grow around here either, and I do not recall the name of it, but I got the same as she was having. It was sweetened with cane sugar. The other upswing about the meal is that this pupusaria sells Mexican Coca Cola made with real cane sugar, not the domestic HFCS stuff. And lastly, Fluent ordered a pupusa dessert for the table that may or may not have been on the menu. I believe she said it was pounded yam that is smashed flat, fried, and then drizzled with carmelized sugar syrup.

Oh, these pupausas are so dang good! They are smaller than the other joint I have been to in town, so I wasn't overly stuffed, but just right eating one. They are only $2, so a pupusa, a drink and a tip is only $5 total. Amazing huh! That is right, lunch with tip is less than $5.

What other thing I noticed is that Pupuseria has mostly patrons who look like they are of South or Central American decent. I noticed that some of them ordered pupusas, and some of them ordered soup that came in huge bowls. The spied the soup to have a lovely orange broth and there were pieces of corn on the cob in the soup. Piping hot torillas were also served with the soup. I will have to go back and try the soup. I don't read or speak Spanish, so I don't know what menu item the soup was on the menu.

Last thing about my favorite new Pupuseria, is that this is a family owned business. It it possible that 3 generations work here. I believe the elder generation was working in the kitchen. The younger generation working the front of house speaks English as well as anyone, and she is willing to help describe the menu items I did not understand. I love restaurants like this, with a 2 or 3 generations working at the family restaurant. This is the same heart warming story that has played out for last century in the USA. Many immigrant families have come to the USA trying to make a living, and they decide to do what they do best, cook their family recipes. Italians, Greeks, Chinese, Koreans, Vietnames, and El Salvadorans are examples of this. I love it, and it makes for a delicious landscape.

Pupuseria Salvadorena on Urbanspoon

August 16, 2009

Fun Fun at Fonfon


Frank Stitt III, James Beard Award Winner, and restaurant chef and and owner is my Alabama food hero. I was working with a few people in Birmingham, AL. We had a little break between work and dinner time everyday, so I went out jogging from my hotel everyday I was there. I jogged for about 10 blocks in 3 directions (the 4th, the security guards said it was a bad idea) and found nothing more than a chain sandwich shop, a chain burger shop, a hospital, a lot of abandoned buildings, and then the hotel complex restaurants (which were not that good). I was also with 2 vegetarians and one omnivore, so I didn't know what we were going to do to find food for them. Then a small area in downtown Birmingham, AL called 5-points showed up about 15 blocks south of my hotel. There they were Frank Stitt's restaurants. They seemed to have sunbeams focused right on them, while other areas where I had jogged were a little more gray. Frank Stitt's restaurants are a haven in the food desert of Alabama.

I have had the pleasure of working in Alabama a lot, from Huntsville all they way down to the Gulf Coast in Gulf Shores, and everywhere in between. To name a few places where I have been repeatedly are Huntsville, Selma, Montgomery, Florence, Anniston, Guntersville, Oxford, Gadsden, Mobile, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Birmingham. The unfortunate part about much of Alabama is that it is a food desert. It is hard to eat right, and find nutritious healthy foods in restaurants. It is hard to find a salad made with salad greens that are not iceberg lettuce. On some occasions it is hard to find a fresh vegetable. It seems that Alabama is inundated with chains that serve manufactured food. That is what sets Stitt apart from all others.

So, we looked at our Stitt options and walked into Chez Fonfon. Chez Fonfon is Stitt's casual bistro option, with his other 2 being Highlands Grill and Bottega. The price point at Chez Fonfon is no different than any sitdown chain (like those with Apple, Tuesday or Friday as part of the name), so the cost fits into my travel budget easily. Highlands and Bottega classically need reservations because they are so popular, but Chez Fonfon is designed so you can just walk in off the street, and have a nice meal. The menu at Chez Fonfon was definitely French Burgundy inspired. Offerings include mussels, country pate, cheese, charcuterie, fresh vegetables, soup, salads, steak frites, and other entrees. I was so excited. Since I like smaller tasting plates, dim sum, I ordered off the leftside of the menu from the starters and salads. I ordered a salad, steamed mussels and a charcuterie plate. Fresh green salad! Ah fiber from a non-canned source of vegetable! Wheeee! The steamed mussels were (do I dare say) better than any mussels I had in Brussels, Belgium - a city known for mussels. The steaming broth made up of herbs, garlic wine were delicious. I wanted to eat up the steaming liquid like a soup, but I did not. We did get a couple baskets of bread, and I did take liberties with bread to dip and eat, dip and eat the broth. The charcuterie plate included homemade pork sausage links, dried salami, pickled beets, pickled baby pickles, olives, sliced egg and potatoes with a side of coarse grain mustard. I just let bites of the housemade salami sit on my tongue to take in the flavor. Also, for my vegan co-worker, and almost vegan co-worker, they were not disappointed either. There wasn't a vegan or vegetarian option available, but we told our waiter the situation. The vegan co-worker, for health reasons, could not eat meat, and the waiter said that the chef would be happy to create a special vegetable dinner plate for them. Their plate included a lovely green, tomato and fennel salad, grilled asparagus, beets, fresh Frenched green beans and shoe string french fries. It was just lovely. My vegetarian co-workers were happy with their meals because it wasn't just another iceberg lettuce, mealy tomato, mustard sandwich on white bread.

Just note, if you are ever in Birmingham without a car, there is an inexpensive bus (that looks like a street car), I believe we paid $0.50 per ride from our hotel to 5-points. This bus runs expressly to take hotel guests to 5-points and back. It was a 15 block walk from my particular hotel in summer in the deep south, so that was not going to work out for us (too hot) so the bus was a great option. There few taxis this city, so getting around this way is not always an option. Ask the front desk for the route map for this bus, or get a business card of a cabbie and call the cabbie to take you back and forth the cost of the ride and a big tip.

Chez Fonfon on Urbanspoon

August 10, 2009

This is the ultimate

Now, on to perecting the 5 mother sauces.

August 6, 2009

I can't believe it is butter!

When we at at F. Scotts, our waitress said that the butter they serve is made in-house. I asked how Chef Uhlhorn makes it, and she said it was super easy. They just put cream in the food processor, and it makes itself. Then she continued on to say that industrial butter has added MSG to it. Because the added synthesized industrial MSG is a relatively small amount to the butter it is in, the MSG does not have to be put on the label. I was grossed out, so I set out to learn how to make my own butter from cream from a local organic free range, grass eating cows.

my finished product - naturally yellow butter

When cows are free range, eat lots of green grass, their fat is yellow and dense, not white and fluffy. White fat is from corn, grain and cow chow fed cows in feed lots. So a lot of industrial butters are light in color because those cows don't ever see grass. My butter, however, is very yellow because my original cream source is from free range, grass fed, antibiotic free, yellow fat cows.

65F heavy cream with temperature gauge in it

So here is how I made the butter in 5 minutes. 1st, start with 65F heavy cream. I put my thermometer in it, and wait until it turned 65F. 2nd, I pour the cream into my food processor with the blade insert.

less than 2 minutes in the food processor using the chopping blade

3rd, I turned on the food processor. I watched as dense whipped cream was made. Then I watch as the butter fat separated from the buttermilk, and then I hit stop. That took about 2 minutes. 4th, I poured off the buttermilk, which looked and tasted like skim milk. 5th, I transferred, the butter solids into a big bowl, and washed the butter with ice water. That is, I poured about a cup of ice water into the big bowl of butter, and then I mashed the water and butter together and poured of the cloudy water, and then repeated until the water ran clean. I used a heavy wooden spoon to mash the butter with the water because a flexible spatula was not strong enough to cut through the butter. 6th, when the water rinse runs clear, and all the water is mashed out of the butter, I sprinkled some Kosher salt on the butter and mashed it in.

boiling corn to use the butter

7th, I found things that would need butter to eat them. I boiled up corn I got from the Nashville Farmers Market, sent the man out to buy some bread and fish. I sauteed the fish in butter at the bottom of the pan, and used the butter on the bread and the corn.

dinner - bread and corn - the carriers for the butter

I did a taste test of my homemade butter made from local organic, free range grass fed cows cream, and some Costco butter my friend had. Oh, my butter was so flavorful, and the Costco butter was oily, waxy, lighter in color, and not as flavorful.

To make your own butter, follow the directions of the following video like I did. It takes only 5 minutes. Mmm mmm mmm real butter tastes so good!

The video from where I learned to make butter