Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Charlie Trotters

Six weeks before I went to Chicago I decided to see if I could get a table at Charlie Trotter's restaurant. I could- it would be about 10 pm, but I could get a table. That is how popular this restaurant would become.

Over the course of the four hour dinner I had eight courses of some of the most amazing food I had ever tasted - but not a single course was more than a couple of ounces of food. Yet, by the end of dinner- I had one of the most amazing food experiences.

Charlie Trotter was not a classically trained chef - he became interested in cooking while in college, and read every cookbook he had and practiced cooking on friends and family.  Finding this to be his passion, he started catering, and ultimately worked for the Chicago legend Gordon Sinclair. He than started this restaurant with his father.

What Charlie learned were several very simple truths: what is in season works, what is local is better, and if it means we change the menu daily- then we do it.

The result- simple food, well balanced, cooked to perfection - and not something that will cause you to gain weight- but an experience that will last a lifetime.

Some of my patients would balk and say that there was just not enough food-- the soup was presented in a small gourd - and probably had two tablespoons of soup- but was fresh, and delightful. The desert was a sliver of fine cake - not a traditional "piece."

I calculated the caloric content of the meal to be less than 450 calories (including coffee).

Great meals, with fresh ingredients, are not meant to "stuff" you- and a great meal is not how much food you can get- but the taste of something great.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thank you Chez Paul

When I was a student at The University of Chicago, Chez Paul was the second oldest French Restaurant in the city.  It was open from 1945 to 1995 (I was in Chicago in the 70's and early 80's).

It was here that classic French food met with the modern food movement of getting food that was local, that was fresh, and that was organic. It was here where a fine meal was served to you and it might take you hours to eat a small portion-- but you left feeling satisfied and happy.

Here is where I learned that food was to be enjoyed, not consumed.  Here is where I learned that the best food is served in small portions, and it is taste, not quantity, that make a fine meal.

Chez Paul closed its doors two years after Bill Contos (son of the original owner) died. But Chez Paul provided many fine memories of great food, and lessons about what it was to eat well.

Where to get fat

I was lucky in college -- I had a scholarship so I didn't have to pay tuition, or lodging. I had a great summer job working on the Alaska Marine Highway system -- so I had a lot of disposable income. As a result I was able to eat at some of the finest restaurants in Chicago.  In fact, I probably had more disposable income as a college student than I do now.

But where I chose to eat was not fast food places, but places of quality, character, and substance. Places known for having fresh food, tasty food, and in portions that were reasonable in size.

Then I "settled" down- and instead of some unlimited amount - I was eating at fast food places-- not only the ones above, but places like Bennigan's, Denny's, Applebees, and other chains that promise fast food at inexpensive prices.  Guess what happened -- I gained weight. I was at my highest weight in 2000 -- every year since that I have weighed less than the year before.  Still needing to lose more (ok, I gained a few with my wife's pregnancy- she needed company for the nightly ice cream).

What I learned was simple-- places that have inexpensive food are nothing but high-calorie food places-with little taste and a lot of things you really don't want to eat.

So you want to eat out and not gain weight-- eat at some great places- eat small portions, and enjoy your meal.

Classic Corsair

I travel a lot to Anchorage - and when I go there the one restaurant I make certain to go to is Corsair. There are a couple of reasons to go there-- first, because the owner, Dan, will only serve fresh fish - that which just got off the boat, and second because their rack of Lamb is the best I have ever had.

Most know Anchorage as being close to the Matanuska Valley- where the summers are long, and the growing season provides some of the largest and freshest vegetables on the planet. Corsair always has a great group of vegetables.

The mustard glazed Rack of Lamb is cooked to perfection - combined with the locally grown vegetables and an appetizer of fresh local salmon - not only could you eat well, but have some healthy meals.  I typically split the rack with my guest, as it is a lot to eat-- but I don't split the salmon -- except for one thing: Alaska Natives love the head of the salmon -- it provides some of the best parts of the fish. In fact, we have been known to fight over that part of the fish.

So here it is-- the best part!

Terrific Tarbells

To those who know me well, Tarbell's is one of my favorite spots to dine in Phoenix.  So much so that on foursquare.com I am the mayor of Tarbell's restaurant. Having been a patron since he opened 15 years ago I have rarely missed a week at his restaurant. When I had a group of friends from Alaska it was easy to ask who to cater in my backyard.

Besides beating Iron Chef Cat Cora - Mark is well known in the restaurant world for making great food, using fresh ingredients, and locally grown-- all of which is the mark of a great restaurant and eating philosophy.

Besides making great food-- his wait staff has been with him for years, and all are accommodating and more than willing to split a plate with a guest.  One of my favorite appetizers to split is the House-pulled mozzarella with organic tomatoes, arugula, and topped with balsamic vinegar.  The fresh mozzarella is so different and delightful than the commercial kind that many restaurants have.

Mark's Mr. Fish of the Moment is flown in from both coasts and changes daily. My favorite is when he gets fresh Alaskan Halibut and makes the pumpkinseed crusted with  a lemon cous cous.

Tarbell's - yes, I am the mayor-- and yes, I can be found there often-- a place where you can have a great meal- and not have it contribute to your waist.

Salmon at Michael Mina

Great salmon is tasty, rich, and filling- and when most people say they don't like salmon it is because they have not had salmon that is fresh.

One of the great places in San Francisco to dine is Michael Mina's restaurant - any of them, but we dined at the one in Union Square.

The salmon is prepared simply as almost a burger - called the salmon steak burger. When people say burger I cringe. Most beef burgers today are made with parts that make hot dogs look absolutely pure. But this was made with fresh salmon, prepared simply - and ready to eat.

Salmon is simple if you want to do it right-- salmon that is fresh has no smell - and salmon that is wild has an oily texture with a firm muscle making a prefect fillet. Farmed salmon doesn't have the oil or the firm muscle to make it healthy. Farm raised salmon also has been found to have higher content of mercury  -- in addition to them being an environmental hazard.

So when going to a great restaurant you will note something simple like salmon, and you will know it is a great restaurant if they take the freshest, wild salmon they can get and from that will make you a healthy dish that will satisfy your palate.

On the medical side-- salmon contains healthy fat- of omega 3 fatty acids, that people now are selling in capsules, or even by prescription. It lowers incidents of heart attacks. So while you have a rich, oily, even fatty fish-- it is healthy for you.

Michael Mina does it right--  great dish - healthy eating - satisfying the mouth, but not making you fat.


I've asked a few people to look at this blog-- and the idea behind this is terribly simple:

We will review, with chefs-- some of the great foods around.  I've provided an introduction, that will also serve as the introduction to my new book. But the blog to come terrysimpson.com -- will focus on healthy foods done at some of the world's greatest places.

Food does not have to be fattening- and the traditional thoughts of fattening foods don't have to be bad for you.

So-- the two simple projects:

(a) The book - -which will be some great recipes and thoughts about food in general from a weight loss surgeon's perspective --

(b) The blog -- video adventures in food - some wine-- and great coffee. All showing the good side of food - with some great restaurants, and maybe even a few cooking tips.

I appreciate your input-- read the next one and enjoy