Typically, they save the best for last don’t they? But how could that be for a playbill that included Bryan Dooley and Matt Taylor?
Whoooops, you thought you had us there a moment didn’t you? You actually thought we might incriminate ourselves and inadvertently denigrate the first two fabulous chefs at the AJ’s Fine Foods & AZ Magazine demonstration celebrating the Best of the Best in Arizona by over-praising the finale? They are all the Best of the Best, fat chance of that.
Josh has Gluten Free Tamari for Mrs. P Chef!
Josh Herbert of Posh Restaurant was batting third and at this event, cleanup. He did a great job and kept us all entertained, especially during the heat of the day, while teaching a lot about the Japanese staple Broth: Dashi. Josh is a local boy and a product of Tarbell’s Restaurant before he moved on to San Francisco at Cafe Kati and then over to Japan with the same restaurant group to open Café California. Josh (or Joshua or JT) currently makes quasi-custom small plate meals for diners. It is a pretty intriguing concept of creating just-in-time, custom meals for each diner. The sharing and combination possibilities are interesting, especially if your spouse (like mine, Mrs. P Chef) has a long list of proscribed ingredients. Josh is holding up a bottle of Gluten-Free Tamari in honor of Mrs. P Chef’s diet in the photo.
Make your Dashi Gelatin in Bulk like the Pros!
Sorry for the digression (lament). While in Asia, Josh did not waste the opportunity. He immersed himself in Japanese culinary techniques. Josh did not waste the opportunity to immerse himself in Japanese culinary techniques while in Asia.He admirably demonstrated his education on Saturday by showing a crowd, of mostly novices, how to make a Basic Dashi and then how to convert that Dashi into a Dashi Gelatin with which to garnish a Japanese Shrimp cocktail with large Asian Poached Prawns.
Nice Dish; Bad Shot. Note to Self Move Dish for Photo.
The dish looks cosmopolitan, because it is in a Martini glass probably (pun intended), but also because it was drawn from inspiration acquired a world away across the great Pacific Sea. I know it is an ocean but could not resist the homage to bad 1880 pulp fiction.
If you have a chance, Josh will be re-creating his Japanese Shrimp Cocktail this coming Saturday, April 7th at AJ’s Fine Food on Val Vista in Mesa, Az. I don’t know if he will be batting cleanup again so get there early and meet Bryan and Matt too (and sample their work).
I’d heard about Peking Gourmet Inn from Allie B, a member of the extended Smart Kitchen Community. She insisted that if I was passing through the Washington DC Metropolitan area I had to stop in at Peking Gourmet Inn, meet her friend Lily and try their Peking Duck and Jo Yien Shrimp. I mentally pictured some hole in the wall but when asked so emphatically I try to comply. Peking Gourmet Inn was filed away for later action.
Checking my stored food notes for Washington DC, when planning my route, Peking Gourmet Inn and Allie B’s recommendation came up. I scheduled Peking Gourmet Inn for the Washington DC leg of the Summer Food Drive 2011. I was excited because as the third stop of the day, the sampling requirements sounded pretty light (a bit of duck and some shrimp, nice), I even thought I was sandbagging it since my friend Mr. DZ would be joining me and assisting in the tasting duties.
hmm Maybe It is Still a "Hole in the Wall"
My first surprise was on the phone call to ascertain if they served Peking Duck and Jo Yien Shrimp every day and/or if had to be ordered in advance. Peking Gourmet Inn has Peking Duck every day. There is no need to order ahead. As I learned later they go through 200 to 250 Peking Ducks a day, and more than 300 on a typical weekend day. The second surprise was that I might need a reservation. Maybe I should bring a sport coat, so as not to embarrass Allie B. Learning is part of the fun of exploring.
Elegant, Classy & Classic
Upon entering my second surprise was confirmed. A sport coat, though not required, would not be out of place here. Also my third and fourth surprises kicked in, the size and style of the place. Peking Gourmet Inn can seat 260 people and they are open every day of the year except Thanksgiving. I guess even Peking Gourmet Inn has trouble competing with roasted Turkey and family fights.
As for style, Peking Gourmet Inn does not have a sleek, new, modern build-out or grunge-techno flair. They have something that to me is even better a well-maintained, graceful, classic interior that is almost like retreating in time to a by-gone era. The service level and hospitality were also of another era. Entering those big wooden doors, I felt a time shift. (If you have read any of my other posts, you may know I have a weakness for history, well executed. If you don’t share it please bare with me as I gush. Take it all with a grain of coarse sea salt, in a Tiffany Dish served by a liveried footmen).
A Stand at the "No-Stools" Bar was Welcome after 400 miles
After 400 miles, a drink sounded good. There is a bar at Peking Gourmet but it is “standing room only,” not because of the crowds (at 05:47 the place was 95% empty) but because there are no chairs or stools. After a drink, we were assured the crowds would come and that we should get to our table to start the show. We ordered as per Allie B’s instructions, 2 dishes for 2 husky people and waited.
Julienne Cucumbers & Sliced Scallions that Show Attention to Preparation Detail
First to arrive were the fixings for the Peking Duck. I was taken with the attention and focus lavished on the just the fixings, sliced scallions (called spring onions) and julienned cucumbers. Smart Kitchen is an online culinary school and we can appreciate how much work and supervision and management goes into serving such cleanly cut and presented sides 200 or 300 times a day. They are doing something right here I thought, as I tabulated (300 ducks by $39 each less the wholesale cost of duck). Also for much of the year, though I don’t think it applied to our visit, Peking Gourmet Inn grows their own spring onions in, I believe, nearby Purcellville, VA.
Carved & "De-Fatted" Tableside
Very quickly afterwards the Peking Duck arrived and was efficiently, and artfully, carved into serviceable slices of duck meat and duck skin. Notice, the crispy tasty duck skin is de-fatted by scraping the flat of the knife across each piece before it comes off the bird.
Carved Duck & Skin Ready for Use
Peking Duck is “Pancakef-ified,” that is, served with the aforementioned fixings and the secret prize served in the silver covered Grab Bag: the little Chinese pancakes or tortillas. Alone each items is good but they rise in my estimation when working together to reach culinary heights. The problem is that making a “perfectly edible” burrito with the tools and skills available to hand is difficult for the untrained. Luckily, we were assisted by Poon and soon found out he had a master’s way with the rolling spoons. The results were fabulous, juicy duck and crunchy duck skin with the desired, rich hints of fat, counter balanced by the savory, mild or salty tastes of the other ingredients all contending on the canvas of the Chinese style pancake. Food Network’s Duff Goldman, from Ace of Cakes, concurs by the way. The Peking Duck from Peking Gourmet Inn is his favorite holiday food (apparently their is a local tradition of eating out at Peking Gourmet Inn for Christmas).
All the Skin, Scallions, Cucumber, Duck Sauce, and Duck "Pancake-ified"
As we were getting the hang of the “pancaking” process the Jeo Yan Shrimp arrived.
The Jeo-Yan Shrimp is very lightly and expertly fried, battered jumbo shrimp, spiced with a hard to identify, secret-mixture that is a bit picante and a bit savory. It is in the category of curiously good, the kind of foods you love to keep eating under the guise of trying to figure it out.At this point, we had ordered the recommended items and enjoyed them a lot, that is until Lily stopped by our table to say hello. She is a very gracious host and sharp eyed restauranteur. She is known to be tight lipped about their recipes but did hint that part of the shrimps’ success came from using very hot oil.
As we were speaking another dish arrived, courtesy of Lily. It was the Szechuan Beef Proper, named because it is reportedly the proper “authentic” version of Szechuan Beef.
If this is the "Proper" way to have Szechuan Beef, Count Me INN!
Though, I never have, I understand that people fight about sweet tastes and meat. Some won’t touch it, others will but only under duress and the rest can head right for it. As for me, I’ll eat and enjoy a good Duck L’Orange or a Lemon Chicken, I might even head right for it, but sweet meats are not among my “Last-Meal” choices. The Szechuan Beef Proper might be able to satisfy most of the consuming public because while it has some sweetness, it also has some savory and it is hard to determine exactly whether the overall effect is sweet or savory. No one will argue that it is not crunch or chewy. In the end, I can only say that after sufficient Peking Duck and a few servings of Jeo-Yan Shrimp, we managed to put a bit of a dent into the unexpected (Thank You Lily) Szechuan Beef Proper. It is also another dish where I could not tell exactly what is in it. I did guess correctly that they use Flank Steak, Carrots and Sesame Seeds but that is not much of a coup. The menu credits celery as well but that doesn’t get us all the way there. Maybe go in and try to figure them out yourselves.
Get the Soy Sauce! This Tuna's Almost 750 Pounds of Toro & Maguro
11 years ago, Japanese buyers at the Tsukiji fish market paid $240,000 for a single blue fin tuna. People thought it was madness, then. Well this year the madness continues. A sushi chain and a Tokyo restaurant combined forces to make the winning bid of $395,000, or almost $527 a pound for the 750 pound whopper.
The giant was caught on a single long line (800 pound test we assume) off of Japan’s northern Hokkaido Island and excited the Japanese buyers because tuna is the fish dearest to Japanese palates, and bluefin is the darling of the tunas for them.
Japan purchases and consumes over half of the world’s bluefin tuna even as schools decline and fishing quotas are reduced.
If you want some of this fellow you’ll likely have to book your flight and make reservations today.
We saw a very interesting article on what happens behind the scenes at a high end destination dining spot like Tao Las Vegas. Open 24 hours a day prepping and cooking Chinese, Japanese and Thai food for its crowded dining room, at its busiest (Saturday nights) Tao employs 57 cooks, 8 chefs, 26 servers and 10 hostesses, 17 busboys, 8 runners, 8 bartenders, 6 managers, 4 set-up staff, 3 bar assistants, 4 security guards and 1 sweeper to serve 1400 guests.
If you are interested in the fast paced ballet that happens behind the scenes at a big, high profile operation like Tao, you should enjoy the article.
Smart Kitchen doesn’t currently have an existing Asian Specialty section, though we will be filming one shortly with a prominent mystery chef as instructor. Not having an Asian Specialty in the curriculum does not mean we don’t appreciate good Asian food or good Thai Food. We appreciate good food period and have found few Asian places in the Valley of the Sun to knock our “Tabi” sandal socks off.
That’s why we were excited to go with Mike W., our web designer, to a place he likes called Thai Chili on Baseline at the Gilbert/Mesa border in the Phoenix metro area. Mike is such a fan that his frequent visits have earned him the title of mayor of Thai Chili on Four Square.
Behind the Strip Mall Facade is a Tasteful Interior
After a design session, SK Chef, Mike and I piled into Mike’s jeep and headed the few short blocks to Thai Chili, From the parking lot it looks like any other unobtrusive family place in a strip mall. The exterior barely hints at the fact that Jean Thawee, a talented female chef, who learned her art at her mother’s knee, runs the kitchen. With Mike as our expert guide, we knew better and were anticipating the heat. And we were not disappointed. The Lunch Special had some sexy choices and seemed like a good value.
Thai Chili's Crispy Plumb Chicken
SK Chef and Mike took the more exotic road and chose the Drunken Noodles and the Crispy Chicken with Spicy Plumb Sauce respectively.
SK Chef's Drunken Noodles
For me, I like to test out a new place, sometimes, on the classics and ordered a Thai Standard: Chicken Pad Thai, which had the added benefit of containing peanuts.*
The Chicken Pad Thai with a "#6" Heat Level
While we waited, Mike wound us up with his hit or miss experience with the heat index at Thai Chili. When ordering you have the opportunity to dial in your own amount of heat on a scale of 1-10. Unsurprisingly, for a something as subjective as taste and for a plant that likes to cross pollinate as much as peppers do, sometimes a mild sounding “1” would scorch and a flaming “9” would underwhelm. Liking the flavor more than the heat, I’d punted and ordered my Pad Thai with a cowardly “6.”
When the meal arrived I was glad that I did. Though I have owned a Mexican place and survived a few seasons of the “eat this pepper” game with the crew, I found my level “6” a scooch past perfect but the little bit of extra heat did not prevent me from cleaning my plate while mopping my brow and partaking of the ice water. SK Chef stands by his order of Drunken Noodles as does Mike W. with his Crispy Chicken.
I won’t drive all the way to the Mesa/Gilbert border for a bowl of Thai Chili’s Pad Thai, but I will advocate for it if we are in a meeting nearby again. If you like authentic Thai food, and are having a hard time finding it in the valley, I’d give it a try.
*My daughter is allergic to peanuts, so we have empathetically banned them at home, which is tough if you’re as big a fan of the little goobers as I am.
We Were as Full & Happy as Budda After Our Visit to Thai Chili