Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bar Mut

I’m getting very nostalgic and a bit sad too. I’m writing this from San Francisco (Yay! New city! New tastes and food to discover! New things to post about!) but I haven’t done that yet, as I’ve just recently arrived. What I have done is looked at In Praise of Sardine’s pictures of Barcelona and remembered all the food I left behind. Of course I miss my friends there, but the food. The food. So, soon enough there will be a new little section on the right hand column of the Dough Ball for San Francisco restaurants, but right now I have another addition to the Barcelona discoveries.

It took us a while to get into this place, if you try and go on any night, it’s packed, and it’s a small place, but doesn’t feel cramped, with the floor to ceiling windows that open up to busy Diagonal (a street that cuts across the city, for all you non-Barcelonans). You have a few options of seating arrangements: marble (or is it granite?) counter tops that wrap around the bar, or big, rotund dark wooden barrels that often serve as the tables in so many establishments in that city. On one wall wines with old tags around their bottle necks are encased in glass. The menu is displayed on a couple chalkboards hanging around the bar. Not too long, but there are sure to be plenty of things you’ll want. So we did finally get in one night, and kept going back. They even have a killer breakfast, which I made sure to have a few days before departing. Oh, did I forget to say what it’s called? Bar Mut, for those who don’t know it. I guess it’s a play on the Spanish for vermouth, vermút, because both are pronounced similarly (mut=moot).

Bar Mut is not a cheap place, but the quality is well worth the price. There’s so much more to be had than the few pictures I have here, and I only wish I had taken pictures of that breakfast (I’m sure it included a glass of cava or two, eggs, perhaps xistorra, beans stewed in pig fat, and all simply but beautifully presented). For dinner, I went with esqueixada to start. Esqueixada is a ‘salad’ of bacalao (salt cod), tomatoes, olives, and onions, all bathed in olive oil.

It’s very Catalan. I don’t normally gravitate towards a fish salad (in my mind, a salad should have greens in it), but consider it a take on tuna salad. It’s cold and refreshing, and goes back to a basic pairing of olive oil and salt that plays well off each other. I’ve had it at a variety of restaurants, and wanted to see how they did it up at Bar Mut. They served it as a timbale (a built-up cylinder), and they had a sort of tomato puree on the bottom, followed by bacalao, and then some tomatoes and sundried tomatoes. Bar Mut read my mind and surrounded it with greens and a little olive tapenade. Good stuff.
For some reason, I insisted on foie gras. I think I was still in my phase where I had to order it every time I went out if it was on the menu. Not only did I order foie gras, I ordered it with two fried eggs. Talk about greasy and heavy. I used to subsist off bread and pasta, but with food like this, you can’t fill up on bread and not order the plate of foie and eggs. What can I say? It was seared foie and eggs, and I smeared some on bread and I would do it over and over again, whenever I do go back to Bar Mut.
The next dish is not my doing, and I can’t remember what it was…but I’m sure it was enjoyed.
Then came some steak, mushrooms, and potatoes. Delicious mushrooms, tasty, tender beef…I’m looking at the picture now and wondering if it might be beef cheeks? I was a big fan of those in Spain. They fell apart with a fork like brisket, and always were dripping with a rich brown gravy. Not a complaint here.

That ends our brief reflection on Bar Mut’s food, I’ll see what I can do about getting more photos (and food) but I think sooner than that yall will be reading about what San Francisco has to offer. I think it’s promising.
I will leave you with one final picture of, let’s call it, ‘atmosphere’. I still don’t know what those little spray bottles are, the ones with a green mesh covering, that appear in restaurants every now and then. I will say that they are dangerous. If you do decide to spray them, make sure and aim for your dining partner, rather than the person at the table next to you. You can barely catch a glimpse in the top right corner of the chalkboard menu, items written in curly letters. And a simple flower in a label-less wine bottle.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pizza Party

I have a little annual Christmas party I like to throw at my house, and I always try and come up with a theme. We’ve done the usual Tacky Sweater party, and then I tried a bitch’n’swap (google it if you’re unfamiliar). I’ve even considered having my friends come dressed as members from the first Christmas, you know, some Wise Women, and a donkey or two. That one has yet to happen.

This year I waited until the last second and a stroke of genius hit me: pizza party. Not greasy, orangey Domino’s (I do love that every once in a while), but some homemade dough, with white mozzarella and fragrant basil. And the best part is, it involves people. I would make the food and prepare the toppings, but they get to put together their own pizzas. Brilliant. If you get your oven hot enough, and if you have a pizza stone, you’re in a good position to make some stellar pizza. I was surprised at how good ours turned out. I turned to Jamie and Martha. We’re all on a first name basis (Oliver and Stewart, that is). For the tomato sauce, all you really need is canned tomatoes. I kind of melded together their two recipes to come up with mine. The toppings are the best part, because you can throw on whatever (I’m not a pizza nazi, although I stick to standard ingredients, I’ll allow you to put barbequed chicken on your pizza, as much as it grosses me out). And one more thing I must say, that I can’t avoid thinking about as I type out “pizza dough.” A shout out to the Iron Chef where the secret ingredient was pizza dough. That chairman is unbeatable in his enthusiasm and precise movements.

Pizza Dough
From Jamie’s Italy (you’ll see, as I would never call something ‘stodgy porridge’)
6-8 medium size thin pizzas

1 ¾ lb strong white bread flour (if my math's right, just over 793 grams, which is about 6 1/3 c)
1 ½ c fine ground semolina flour or strong white bread flour
1 Tbsp fine sea salt
¼ oz. envelope active dried yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
Just over 2 c warm water

Pile the flours and salt onto a clean surface and make a 7-inch well in the center. Add your yeast and sugar to the warm water, mix up with a fork and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork and a circular movement, slowly bring in the flour from the inner edge of the well and mix into the water. It will look like stodgy porridge—continue to mix, bringing in all the flour. When the dough comes together and becomes too hard to mix with your fork, flour your hands and begin to pat it into a ball. Knead the dough by rolling it backward and forward, using your left hand to stretch the dough toward you and your right hand to push the dough away from you at the same time. Repeat this for 10 minutes, until you have a smooth, springy, soft dough.
This is where I divert from Jamie and follow Martha a bit. She lets it rise a lot more (two proofings of 40 minutes each, punching down in between). And Jamie just says to let it rest 15 minutes. So I found that you can do what you want with it and let it rise up to a few hours, if you punch it down once or twice in between. Make sure and oil the top of the dough and a bowl to let it rest in, then cover with plastic wrap, but not too tight, and then with a cloth over the bowl, trying to keep in a warmish place.
This was a good thing for me to prepare for a dinner party because I could have most things set up before hand. I divided the dough into 7 balls and rolled each one out, stacking them between layers of parchment paper until time to assemble.

Tomato Sauce

¼ c olive oil
2 cans (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
Salt and pepper

Heat a heavy saucepan over medium and all the olive oil. Then add the garlic, letting it fry but not turn dark brown or crispy. Add the oregano, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Turn down the heat and let cook for about 40 minutes, until the tomatoes get soft. Crush them with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Set aside.

The beauty is the easy prep. You can get everything ready before and just have it all laid out for your guests, whom I employed to make the pizzas. As far as toppings go, you’ll most certainly want to have fresh mozzarella, freshly grated parmesan, and basil. Those are the bare minimum, so I also had: ricotta, roasted garlic, salami, black olives, and grilled mushrooms and eggplant. It’s a lot of fun with everyone getting to create their own. So when it comes to cooking, if you have a pizza stone (which we do), all the better. Heat the oven to 500F with the pizza stone in it (if you don’t have a pizza stone, use a baking sheet instead). When it’s heated, remove the stone, take one of your rolled out crusts, placing it on the stone and top as desired. Typically we did tomato sauce followed by mozzarella and parmesan, then whatever else, but there was also a pizza Bianca in there (sans sauce). Pop in the oven for 8-12 minutes until cheese is bubbling and browning, and then slide it off onto a baking sheet to cool and cut, while you prepare another. Enjoy!