Friday, February 26, 2010

what is wrong with meat??

A recent trend is that meat is bad for you and vegetables are good. While a diet with reduced red meat can help fight off cancer or heart disease, others think that a diet without meat of any kind is somehow better than you. These people either say that it is healthier or claim that because of the increasing greenhouse gases or ground house with current livestock supervision that it is better for our environment to not eat meat and thus not have that many animals around.

Is it really? Let's look at some facts:

1. Scientists have yet to find a civilization that has existed purely on vegetarian foodstuffs. Which means that none lived long enough.
2. Our bodies, by their very nature, are omnivores, not herbivores.
3. One of the deciding factors in how human beings evolved to become smart, is because humans ate meat and fats. No matter how you look at it, your brain is composed of mostly fats and protein. You can not repair damaged nerves by eating a carrot, no matter how many carrots you eat.
4. Proteins from other sources is welcomed and in some cases people are eating a lot of soy. There is still an open debate on soy as to whether it is bad or good for humans but one truth is that it contains large amounts of the female hormone estrogen. Scientists still don't have enough real data as to whether or not the high estrogen levels are good for men or children. (Also, soy milk tastes like chalk.)

I love the zealots who say that meat is full of toxins and dangerous chemicals. I wonder where they get their meats? Meat that is either freshly butchered or sold in places like Whole Foods where it is farm raised or organic raised, tend to not have that bad stuff in them. It is just meat. So, there you go zealots, one point for me, none for you.

While I don't condone the growth of animals for food, I do enjoy the food. I know that the force feeding of geese is horrible but the foie gras tastes delicious. As a chef, I really don't care about the animals, to some extent. If the animals were killed humanly then the meat will not undergo stiffening and can be more tender. So the killing of the animals has to be done quickly and without trauma or drama.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Everything counts in small amounts.....

Just like Depeche' Mode would say, everything does count in large amounts, but sometimes, small amounts count for even more. The President has more power than a hundred men and one small dish at Mosaic has more "umph" behind it than a large portion dish at Sleek. Mosaic is a small restaurant/lounge located on Washington in downtown St. Louis and while I previously didn't think there were that many 'good' places to eat downtown (good not hip), Mosaic certainly changed my mind. Inside the lounge, they serve food and drinks and while it has a deep, dark house vibe to the atmosphere inside, the dishes are exciting and robust as could be found in rich, light places and colorful restaurants.

Mosaic is a tapas restaurant and with reasonable prices on their dishes, some of which were large enough for 4-5 people to split and still get some good bites in. My meal started with two dishes: some potato chips drizzled with some truffle oil, with thin ribbons of cheese on top, dashed with salt and pepper with a side dipping sauce. This was like a grown up version of potato chips: Truffle Frites. The potatoes were the perfect vessel for the sweet truffle flavor and the salty cheese and seasoning. I gave the chips a 3 1/2 out of 5 stars. The second dish was the Flight of soups, which was 3 soups, in little shot glasses, with tinier spoons, and little cracker biscuits. The first soup was a potato soup with bacon and sour creme in it, which was smooth and tasted like a loaded baked potato, in a glass. The second was a butternut squash soup which was a super thing puree' mixed with a dash of vanilla to give it an almost dessert feel but kept it clean and savory. Last came a mini-minestrone soup that had the strong beefy-ness of a good soup but was still light overall. This dish, containing all 3 soups was a great way to start off the evening and got 4 out of 5 stars.

Next I indulged myself on the cherry port-braised short ribs that did fall off the bone as I was moving them onto my personal plate. You could taste the perfect soft crunchiness of the braised side as the heat caramelized the sugars in the port, creating an almost crust of happy crispiness. The whipped potatoes, although mentioned that apples were inside, did not have any other flavor than the potatoes, really, so I failed to see how that worked for me. The dish was good with a 3 1/2 stars out of 5.

Moving through the meats I geared towards poultry and went for the Cuban Achiote roast chicken. This dish was a perfectly juicy and cooked chicken which has an obvious layer or crust of smokey and awesome Achiote flavor providing it with a delicate and spicy flavor at the same time. There was a few strands of what was supposed to be a micro-green salad, some still hard pieces of butternut squash and a few sunflower seeds. The chicken won the attention as it was acting as if it was a stand-alone dish taking all of the credit and leaving those little accompaniments aside. The dish reminded me of something I had at Rick Bayless's Frontega Grill, and I loved that place. I give the chicken dish a 4 out of 5 stars.

All good things must come to and end as as such a dessert was in order. This was to be the cardamom creme' brulee liquor cup. I have to be honest on this one and as interesting as it all seemed, it was the least liked dish of the night. The fried sugar 'mirror' top was very thick, at least as thick as 20-30 sheets of paper, which made each brake like chopping ice and taking chunk out to eat it. The pudding inside was good and very tasty but with only a slight hint of the exotic cardamom spice. The liquor cup was actually a soup spoon filled with a coffee tainted chocolate, not resembling a cup or a liquor in any way, shape or form. This dessert gets a 2 1/2 out of me though.

Overall, this restaurant/lounge was a perfect way to spend time downtown on a cold night. If you have time and can't get into the restaurant, ask if you can still get menu items in the lounge and take a high seat. There is no reason to miss this place and its food and above all else, bring friends as that way you can order more variety of foods and dishes.

Mosaic restaurant is located on 1001 Washington Avenue

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bravo for Bravo!

For most of st. louis, when someone mentions Italian food, the first they think of is The Hill. The Hill is a location of St. Louis where many of Italian immigrants settled and took up residence. The area is towards downtown and is filled with restaurants and grocers. If someone mentions Italian food and it is not on The Hill, then it is most likely a restaurant called the Olive Garden. Olive Garden doesn't serve bad food, the place is always busy, has okay service and is a great place to take small kids. But, its not, well...... as far as Italian food is concerned, if Olive Garden was a 4, then Bravo is an 8.

Bravo is the new Italian restaurant that is in the recently finished extension at the West County Mall and shares the outside area with a clothing store, a bar and a seafood restaurant. The inside of Bravo is reminiscent of the interior of the Cheesecake Factory, which shows off high ceilings, rustic decoration and interesting artwork. Bravo has this in the bar area and in the restaurant, you are instantly drawn to the large columns and stone work, suspended from the ceiling. The kitchen is completely open with the Sous Chef placing and taking the orders through the kitchen lines. There is also a nice sized brick oven there next to the prep side that looked like a giant stone igloo with fire inside.

I started my meal off with the Flatbread Roma which was a fire roasted flatbread with some tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and some olive oil. As simple as it was, it was delicious. It was perfectly balanced and it had a quality that made you just want to eat up the whole thing. This appetizer received a 3 out of 5 stars.I then ordered a salad: the Insalata Rustica which was a salad made up of Romaine, arugula, radicchio, cherries, pears, nuts and panchetta, all with a balsamic dressing. It was a good salad as when most people make a balsamic dressing, even Mr. Hubert Keller's Sleek suffered from this fallacy, they make it with too much vinegar, making an awful concoction chemically comparing itself to formula 451. Here though, the dressing was perfectly balanced and like the best salads, there was a sweet to sour balance as the cherries and pears and nuts helped balance out the meat and the plant leaves. This salad gets a 3 out of 5 stars from me.

After the salad, came a main course and I didn't want to eat too much or order something I couldn't finish so I decided to go for one of their sandwiches. I went for the mini-sliders that were meatball sandwiches. They were small, cute, tasty and little meatball sandwiches. They were overall very perfect for what I was going for and garnered about 3 stars.
The waitstaff and the decor helped pull this place into a 3 1/3 stars out of 5 for this Italian place. Overall prices were reasonable, there was no smoking and it looked like that during nice weather, they would have outdoor seating. Definitely better than the Olive Garden and about as good as most places on The Hill.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The dangerous chemical we call sugar

We have all heard it growing up: "sugar makes your teeth rot", but does it really? More curiously, is why sugar has come under attack in the recent years and why it has also become a messiah to others.

We all know what sugar is, right? Sugar is a plant's food that is stored in the plant. For those of you who remember your grade-school studies, photosynthesis is when a plant takes sunlight and carbon dioxide and makes energy, or glucose, sugar. This sugar is what the plant uses to do work and get energy from. Much of the same is true of humans, as we eat the plants and absorb that glucose as our bodies use it to get energy from as well. Sugar is natural and it is a natural way of storing energy. Sugar has always been under attack from psychologists as they sometimes think it is responsible for making kids over-active and making them act out. Dentists complain because the sugar gives energy to the bacteria, which then decay our teeth. Doctors complain because sugar is empty calories and causes aches and pains in our bodies when we have too much. Lastly, sometimes our pancreas doesn't release enough insulin and then that can be a problem with too much sugar remaining in our bodies.

So a group of wizards met in the desert and decided that sugar should be removed from all things and replaced. But what do you replace it with? Options flew all over the place. One such suggestion was Sweet n' low, which contained Saccharin. Saccharin has repeatedly been shown and tested to cause cancer in lab animals and a warning label is required on all packages noting this. They say that safe amounts are less than 6 packets and less than two 8 ounce drinks made from it.

What about Aspartame? It is a chemical that instantly absorbs into anything, be it watery liquids or tissues and organs. It has been linked to be the cause of up to 92 different reactions from simple anxiety to death.

Okay, here is Splenda, there can't be anything wrong with it right? Well, Splenda is made from real sugar, that is correct, but it also has a man-made chlorine molecule in it as well as as many pieces removed, to make the sucralose indigestible. This causes issues as because so much has been removed or changed we have no idea what the man-made chlorine can do to your body. These leaves some people in the dark, as it may be a potential danger but without correct information, we have no idea.

Well, what about those HFCS ads? High fructose corn syrup is when sugar is mixed with regular corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is bad because it is not natural; your body doesn't recognize it as a sugar, so your body doesn't release insulin to fight it. The sugar goes straight into your blood where it either travels around causing havoc and/or is stored for immediate use: turned into fat. Currently according to the government, Americans consume more HFCS than white sugar each day. As a result, Americans are getting fatter, getting diabetes, having more body and head aches and have worsening teeth. When there are too many coincidences, I tend to thing there is a connection and in this case, I believe as well as many other doctors and experts, that there is a connection.

So, why not use the natural sugar? Well now things made with natural sugars cost more than those with the HFCS and the substitutes. You could also use harmless substitutes like Stevia or Xylitol.