Saturday, May 02, 2009
Around these parts, the surest sign of spring isn’t the appearance of tulips and daffodils or green leaves unfurling from buds or the return of songbirds or a day where the temperatures reach 60 degrees. Spring arrives in St. Paul when SeaSalt opens.
Located within Minnehaha Falls park, SeaSalt serves the highest-quality seafood from the teeniest kitchen. For the most part, seating is outside, where you’re serenaded by the roaring waterfall. Service is cafeteria-style, and, since the line typically snakes out the door, you’ve got an opportunity for good eavesdropping. The menu is posted on a blackboard behind the counter where you order. You can count on fish tacos with your choice of tilapia, fried fish, calamari, grilled marlin (my choice tonight), or shrimp. There are fat po’ boys with crawfish, fried oysters (Hambone’s favorite), or fried shrimp. Crab cake sandwiches and soft-shell crab sandwiches are divine, accompanied by exceptional coleslaw. Oil pans are loaded with pickled herring, shrimp cocktail, and raw oysters, then rounded out with a pitcher of beer or a bottle of wine to slake your thirst. Alpha and Beta can easily make a meal out of the calamari appetizer or the clam fries. Quite frankly, so could I.
SeaSalt is a leisurely fifteen-minute bike ride from our house, which means, if I have room, I can spring for a scoop of ice cream before the ride home.
Friday, May 01, 2009
This past week has been an exceptional week for outstanding food. I had my first bratwurst of the season. And there was a red chile enchilada at Barrio, the Minneapolis tequila bar—a flour tortilla casually folded over a chorizo filling and topped with a fried egg—that I can’t stop thinking about it. But the show-stopper on our menu this week was a condiment.
I had a gap in the menu that was filled when I spotted a display of Niman Ranch organic pork chops at the grocery store. Now, we love pork chez H&S, but this is a cut we don’t often eat. Both Hambone and I remember the overly chewy, nearly indigestible pork chops of our respective childhoods and assiduously avoid cooking them as adults. Silly, I know. The Niman Ranch meat was irresistible, providing an opportunity to reconsider the pork chop. I consulted Alice Waters’ Art of Simple Cooking for a pan-frying technique, which seemed (and proved to be) pretty foolproof to execute. I briefly contemplated making a pan sauce with the fond, a little minced shallot, and white wine, which I can make in my sleep, but was a fixated on something green.
Salsa verde is, as the name suggests, a green sauce, such as Argentinean chimichurri or tomatillo salsa. An Italian-style salsa verde traditionally contains parsley, lemon, capers, and anchovies, chopped and blended with olive oil. This rustic sauce is precisely what I had in mind. Long ago I flagged a page for chopped herb sauces in Tyler Florence’s Eat This Book. Basically you dump all the ingredients on a cutting board and give it a rough chop, tip into a bowl, give a squeeze of lemon, and mix in some olive oil. The ingredients—parsley, golden raisins, anchovies, pine nuts, and capers—were an elegant blend of sweet, salty, sour, bright, and mysterious. And it really made something more out of those pork chops. I don't think I'd want them any other way.
The salsa verde gave a great flavor boost to the meaty pork chops, but also proved its flexibility by accompanying fresh Alaskan halibut later in the week. I see more chopped herb sauces in our future and look forward to experimenting with different combinations of fruits, nuts, acidity, and herbs.