I hope you are not still too stuffed from the holidays because this just turned out to be a food issue, for various and sundry reasons. To begin with, our anonymous restaurant reviewer was just deluged with pretty girls who wanted to help review a hot new restaurant, El Barrio. I’ll be darned if they did not take up almost the whole paper by the time they were through. It kept our reviewer busy, dining the three nights out of the first four El Barrio open, but apparently he enjoyed it even though most brand new places still have a few bugs to work out. That process itself can be rewarding for all concerned, for those prepared to handle it. If you can cut through all the intrigue I think you will find some worthwhile information about the Mexican cuisine. After reading it I can’t wait to go eat there myself! I doubt I will be as lucky getting dates, though.
The review itself has some interesting subtexts. If someone can write in to email@example.com and tell explain to me the Jack Nicholson allusion I think I see, I will give away a Sportplex fitness membership for free. That will help you dine out three out of four nights and still fit into your latest threads. Just tell me the scene and the name of the movie alluded to.
You can enjoy the great stable of food and wine writers we have developed since taking over in June of last year: Franklin Biggs - Food Memory, Wendy Watts - Winessence, Alexis Douglas - Alabama Palate. Even Ann Rose gets in on the act on Lore + Yore, talking about Birmingham restaurants in the old days.
And we are also unveiling a new food writer for the Birmingham Weekly, Chris Hastings, owner/chef of Hot & Hot Fish Club. And Chris wants to promote the cause of the culinary culture in Birmingham, and we certainly support that, so read what he has to say. For my own part, I can say that one of the best meals I had in 2011 was at Hot & Hot. Picking the number one meal is not as easy as crowning a national champion in football. In fact, you cannot really play it out on the field because so many factors are involved.
That Bunny I keep reading about in Now Eat This could brighten up a crust with porridge. That sullen country girl who is receiving so much hate mail these days could rival Judas for spoiling the Last Supper. And a host like Pardis Stitt can make everything right, and the Stitt standard of excellence certainly extends to what comes out of the kitchen. And that attitude itself is what helps create a culture. As Chef Hastings points out, we are lucky to have some pretty good influences around here.
But all things considered I would cast a vote for the meal I had sitting at the bar--I think they called it the wine table--but then, they have spent the last week there remodeling the entire place, so I can’t wait to see what it looks like when they are through. To me, it was already a nice experience being able to sit there and watch much of the food prep going on right in front of me. It is supposed to be better now. We’ll see.
I remember well the great meal I had there: roasted duck breast and confit leg with hazelnuts, oyster mushrooms, brussels sprouts, satsuma puree, and--of all things--kumquats.
What struck me about the meal was the number of grace notes, the small details that went into it and their harmonic interplay with the main body of work, because it does not matter how many accents and nuances are added if the meat is overcooked, for example. I was also struck by the complexity of the flavor profiles and pairings. I felt like a chef myself just deciding what to include in each scoop of my fork. Hazelnuts with breast or kumquats with confit--or how about mixing them all up? It was hard to keep a little of everything on the fork. And I do like variety.
The other thing that struck me was the unusualness and uniqueness of some of the pairings. I have seen ingredients added to duck and venison at Hot & Hot that I would not have expected. Chef Hastings is one of the best at coming up with something a little surprising and making it seem natural, not forced.
In addition we are keeping you entertained at night with a new column about all the performances there are to go to by the glamorous Lee Ann Brown. LAB is just the kind of girl I like. She is a stone cold fox (like Bunny) and she is also funny (Bunny too!).