Sunday, December 14, 2008

Olga’s Fine Dining - Jackson

At the invitation of our broker, we braved the elements and made our way to Olga’s Fine Dining. Located in the same shopping center as the Habana Smoke Shop, this is one of those places that I’ve seen a dozen times and never thought to try. It was just my good luck that the family broker provided the perfect reason to try out Olga’s

Once you get past the small front room and the smell of the Habana Lounge, you’re greeted by a tiny dining room that is filled with dark furniture and a bright, gigantic mural. It all evens out in the end.

It might have been for the company Christmas party in the second half of the restaurant, but that night, we had Christmas carols by piano the entire night.

Even though Olga’s had left Rankin county because of the blue laws, it is still a byob restaurant. Thankfully, our broker, Mrs. Julie, brought the liquor: grey goose for her, jd for her husband Cole, and a bottle of Chateau La Nerthe for me and my dad.

With a small $4 corkage fee, the waitstaff at Olga’s is happy to open your wine. Since this was such a stout red, I asked the waiter for a decanter, and was told the house had none. I may not know much about Russian cuisine and customs, but if you’re going to be a steakhouse, you’d better carry at least one damn decanter.

Wine hindrances aside, the menu at Olga’s wasn’t expansive, rather very focused. If you didn’t like steak, fish, or a chicken breast, you’re pretty much sol. It’s a good thing that I enjoy all three of those proteins.

At the suggestion of the waiter, I tried the Russian pirogi with sautéed mushrooms and onions.

Our waiter told us these were the best appetizer on the menu, and I was a little unnerved by that. It seems that every time a waiter makes some dish into a superlative, I end up disappointed. This time was no exception. The dish didn’t carry any real flavor, and while I had expected a large, doughy dumpling, I got the exact opposite. Maybe this is the Russian take on the pirogi instead of the Polish, but when I think Pirogi, I expect enough dough to fill me up for days.

Having ordered a steak entrée, I was treated to a salad after the appetizer.

Nothing too exciting here; standard greens, sliced cherry tomatoes, and supermarket shredded cheese. Even though the dressing was well done, I wish people would spell things correctly. Spelling comeback as “kumback” isn’t cute or kitsch, it’s just annoying.

Call me a fool, but I again took the waiter’s suggestion and ordered the ribeye Odessa. It’s described as a 14-16 ounce rib eye with a sour cream mushroom sauce and asparagus.

This was a visually pleasing steak, and I was pleasantly surprised at the sour cream sauce. I had expecting something more tart, but it went extremely well with the rib eye, or the good parts of the rib eye.

Maybe I was just unlucky, as everyone else as the table finished their entire steak, but not me.

I seemed to have drawn the short straw and gotten the ribeye with extra fat and gristle. It’s not a good sign when the first bite is nothing but fat. True, ribeyes are known for their extra marbling, and I’m okay with that, but when there is a solid 3-4 oz chunk of fat on the end of the steak, that’s just unacceptable. That could have easily been trimmed before cooking.

The starch for the meal was a choice of roasted potatoes or grits. I had elected for the grits, and after some confusion with the server, I eventually got the right steak. The cheese grits were in need of salt and pepper but the grits went very well with the sour cream sauce and steak, I was not expecting that.

On the way out I was able to snap a picture of the kitchen at work.

That’s Yuriy, husband to Olga, hard at work. I think his food has great potential, and deserves a second try.

A second try, that sums up my visit to Olga’s. The wait staff is attentive to a fault, Olga comes to each table to make sure everything is going well, and the atmosphere is intimate, yet relaxing. I’m hoping that I was unlucky with my steak, and I want to give Olga’s another shot. I’m particularly interested in these “Russian nights” that I keep reading about.

For part two of Olga's Fine Dining, please click here

Olga's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

A Quick One While He’s Away - Carbonara

All Who references aside, Monday evening rolled around and I needed something quick and tasty for dinner. Luckily Charleston had been home to a fantastic butcher, Ted’s Butcher Block, and I came home with a larder full of sliced meats. Even though the meats had been vacuum sealed, I knew that I should use them asap, especially the guanciale.

The namesake of Ted’s unwrapping the guanciale.

Guanciale is an Italian bacon made with pig jowl. Ted had told me that guanciale could be used like pancetta, and I knew my favorite use of pancetta: spaghetti carbonara.

Laugh all you like but the best carbonara recipe I’ve found is from an issue of GQ. It begins simply with boiling your water and adding the pasta.

I realize that is not spaghetti, but it was the only whole wheat pasta I could find in the freezer. I rationalized that the fusilli would do a nice job of holding onto the sauce, and they actually worked too well.

Here are the most important ingredients.

A half pound of sliced guanciale and a sizable chunk of parmesan.

While I was waiting on the water to boil and pasta to cook, I took to the guanciale and carved it up into little matchsticks.

Before I started cooking the guanciale, I got the rest of the sauce ready. What I love about this dish is the ease and simplicity. Here’s two eggs, some fresh black pepper, and about a quarter cup of grated parmesan in the bottom of a mixing bowl.

The idea is to take the cooked pasta and dump it in the mixing bowl, and when you toss the pasta it cooks the egg and makes a silky sauce.

However, before any pasta can be tossed, I had to crisp the guanciale.

Guanciale is known for having a much porkier flavor than pancetta, and it was damn tasty when it had crisped up.

Once you’ve cooked the pasta to al dente and drained it, you dump it in the mixing bowl.

I then threw in the crispy guanciale.

After some liberal usage of grated parmesan, you end up with something like this.

Once all is said and done, this was finished in less than 20 minutes. The most annoying part is getting the pot of water to boil

Tasting this batch, I noticed a few things. First I had used too much pasta. I thought my dad would help me eat this, but he fell through on his end. Regardless, it’s better to only use half a container, a definite rookie mistake on my part. Second, the guanciale really does have a more prominent flavor than pancetta, but it almost seemed lost in this much pasta, again my mistake.

So the secret to a successful carbonara is to follow the basic guidelines and don’t use so much pasta.

Bonus! The GQ recipe:

Jammin’ Beignetz - Ridgeland

For everyone at home, last Sunday was a shopping day. So we made the rounds of county line and stopped by Sam’s for some more led Christmas tree lights, but instead of going home via 55, we went through Ridgeland. To get to Old Agency, you have to go down Jackson Street, and I noticed that Jammin’ Beignetz was open.

Jammin’ Beignetz, owned and operated by James Roache of Ró Chez fame, is tiny restaurant that features…… guessed it, beignets. I’ve driven past it a dozen times before I even noticed it, and I had to see Roache at the Mississippi Farmer’s Market before I even thought of trying it. So call it fate, but last Sunday we decided to pull up and give Jammin’ Beignetz a try.

Like the building, the menu for Jammin’ Beignetz is small, only five items. Roache tries to follow the musical theme and gives each beignet a role in the band. I decided I should try the rhythm.

Made up of eggs, andouille, and “cheez”; to me, this is an odd beignet. In fact, it’s far from your typical idea of a “café du monde” beignet. Made from a variation on puff pastry, this beignet is drizzled with hot sauce and balsamic vinegar, which is a pretty tasty combination. Sauces aside, this is not what I was expecting but still a nice treat. My dad was raving about the potatoes, but I wasn’t as flabbergasted. They tasted like a decent roasted potatoes, nothing too exceptional.

Tiny building, tiny menu, tiny kitchen, but that’s not a bad thing.

I figured a good litmus test for a place called Jammin’ Beignetz would be the traditional beignet. Fried and covered in powdered sugar, there are few things that are finer with a cup of chickory coffee.

These were not traditional beignets. In fact they seemed to be little more than puff pastry with lots of powdered sugar and cinnamon syrup. The cinnamon syrup was excellent, but I was disappointed with the beignets.

After all was said and done, my mother said her “bass” beignet was the best. Being a crawfish tasso beignet with trinity and “cheez”, she was probably right. I’m not going to write off Jammin Beignetz until I try more of their menu, and with only five items it shouldn’t take me too long. I just wish Roache would spell things correctly.

Jammin' Beignetz on Urbanspoon

What's the solution for a cold winter night? Beef Stew!

After a great trip to Charleston and stopover in Atlanta, everyone was back in Jackson. And what was there to greet us? Cold weather. With a cold front coming in that night, I knew the time was right for beef stew. My mother’s beef stew has somewhat of a miniature cult following among my friends from GW. Ben LaBuz is the ringleader of this, and anytime I’m in DC, he demands that I make stew, regardless of the weather.

The stew starts out simply enough, with copious amounts of beef.

In this case, about 5 pounds of chuck roast.

I like to have the meat only partially defrosted for the next step, the dismantling of the roast.

The meat is easier to cut when it’s cold, and my shun knife makes quick work of any resistant beef.

Usually I would say that you need a carton of beef stock, but seeing as I forgot to buy any, I decided to use my mother’s quick stock method.

All of the trimmings went into a large pot and was put to a boil. I did find one downside to this: the trimmings are mostly fat and gristle and as a result this is a fatty stock. You’ll see what I mean later.

After all the meat is cut, it’s time for the assembly line.

Each cube is tossed in the flour and then placed on the waiting pan. I like to prodigiously season the flour, and in this instance I used lots of fresh ground pepper and “slap ya mama” spice mix. Through the years, I’ve found that Tony Chatcherie’s is the best thing to use in the stew. The slap ya mama is really too hot, but it was either that or Tony’s More seasoning. Tony’s More seasoning is terrible in comparison to the original.

If you think flouring all that meat is tedious, you’re in for one hell of a surprise.

While all that meat is being floured and seasoned, the stock has come to a boil, and that means its time to skim.

If I remember Good Eats correctly, this is just protein that has boiled off from the meat, regardless, it has to go.

The next step is so tedious that I forgot to take a picture. You have to fry the meat in batches. I know it’s a pain in the ass, but it’s a necessary evil. But good Lord does it take a long time to fry that much meat.

After you’ve fried all the meat in oil and set it aside, you’re left with a pot full of fond and grease. The next step is both a flavor additive and a thickener.

One 8 ounce can of tomato paste is added and fried. I like to let it cook by itself for a minute or two because I think it gets rid of the tinny taste of the can. I could be making that all up, but it sounds good.

Now it actually begins to look like a stew.

I added ladle after ladle of beef stock and then the vegetables: 3 carrots, 2 onions, and 4 potatoes, all cut into large chunks. After adding the beef back into the pot, you’ll notice the problem with beef stock from trimmings.

It’s pretty obvious that there are just droplets of fat everywhere. Normally I’d leave them in, but in this application it just makes everything taste greasy.

That’s how much grease I was able to skim off.

When it comes to a boil, you then lower it to a simmer to let everything cook and meld, this also gives the beef a chance to break down a little.

After about an hour of simmering, you end up with a big ole pot of deliciousness.

I serve it over rice and go to town. Its the perfect remedy to a cold evening.