Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Chef Kevin in Print

Yep, I'm back in the news. Well, like I was ever IN the news. Anyway, in the latest issue of Peoria's Art & Society Magazine, I'm showing teaching a cooking class at The Bronze Frog. Unfortunately, this article isn't online. Call them up and bitch that you want Chef Kevin's article online!! POST HASTE!! GET TO STEPPIN'!! The magazine itself includes a couple of pics, a recipe and a quote that makes me giggle a bit..I'm a "local celebrated" chef. Well, maybe so. I don't think of myself as a celebrity. I know I have a bit of a following and when introduced to people for the first time, I do get a lot of "Oh, so YOU'RE Chef Kevin" (I wonder what that means sometimes...like they took home a doggy bag of something I cooked, fed it to Fido, he convulsed, started foaming at the mouth and ended up costing them $1,200 in vet bills), but I'm not asked to do commercials or have throngs of young women throwing themselves at my feet.

Well, I guess I gotta go. My trainer, hairstylist, manicurist and voice lesson coach will be here shortly..yeah, right..

What's my favorite place to eat.

I got this question twice tonight. I guess a chef, people must value my opinion??? But, it is a pretty broad question. Favorite what? Fine dining, casual dining, sandwich, pizza? If I could choose one restaurant for the rest of my dining days in Peoria?

The first time I know I got an eyeroll. Oh, well. Everyone has their opinion of what they like and what they do not. You wanted my opinion, I gave it.

The second time I was asked, I just was being obnoxious and my response was Fedora's. They make a hell of a sandwich called the New Yorker. How can you go wrong with their awesome bread, pastrami, corned beef, swiss cheese, kraut, spicy mustard and Fedora's sauce all toasty and warm? F n A, man, F n A.

Of course, THAT wasn't the answer for which they were looking.

So, if I want a sandwich (or something of the sort) its Fedoras New Yorker, A Gebby Burger at Schooners, the Waterford Chicken at Donnelley's, pulled pork sandwich at The Smo-king Pit, the Beamish Beef at Kellehers or "The King's Cut" at The Butcher Block.

Casual. Although it's mainly Italian, "little" Rizzi's on Sheridan. I like Sushi Popo (over gawa) only because of it's extended non sushi offerings for those who aren't into the sushi\sashimi thing.

Fine (finer) dining: 2 Chez or Basta. Why? I've never had a bad meal or bad service at either. I have had better food and service in Peoria, but not at the same time.

Ok, you can trash away. But everyone has their own experiences. You may have had crappy service at 2 Chez, an undercooked chicken breast at Donnelley's or soggy rice at Popo. But, you asked for my opinion and this is what I have experienced. So, until I have a bad experience with one of the above, those shall remain my answers.

Eating around the table at one of my favorite joints.....

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Willett's Winery & Cellar

That's right, folks, I journeyed to Manito, IL. Why, you ask? Did I have a desperate craving for one of Manito's famous melons? No. I went because there is a new winery!! People who know me know that wine is a passion of mine.

The winery is Willett's Winery & Cellars located on East Market Street. They have acreage in the Manito area and are currently offering four wines: Chambourcin, Vignoles, Vidal and Chardonel. For those of you looking for Chardonnay and Merlot, well, you are out of luck; the closest you will get is the Chardonel which is a cross between Chardonnay and Seyval.

The lightest is the Vidal. Some folks compare it to Sauvignon Blanc, which isn't a stretch. It does have a good citrus fruit, a hint of grass and finishes with a bit of grapefruit.

Next is the Chardonel which is a bit lighter than most Chardonnays. You know, I'll be perfectly honest I don't remember what this tasted like. The first thing that came to mind was "This would be perfect with grilled shrimp". So, if you are having grilled shrimp.....

The Vignoles has some sweetness. Like riesling, it can be made into either a sweet or dry style. Without looking, I'd say this is about 3-4% residual sugar, so about the same as a German Spatlese. Fresh peaches and apricots, maybe a hint of orange and a smaller hint of baking spice (you know, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, etc) right at the very end with the perfect amount of acid. Cheesecake, creme brulee or if you are eating something made with habaneros to put out the fire.

Chambourcin. If you are a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot lover, you are probably not going to be blown away with this wine. Too bad. Chambourcin tastes to me like a blend of Petite Sirah and a little known French grape called Tannat. "Tannat wines have high tannin content, intense ruby-red color, full body and full flavor. On the palate, it has pronounced spicy notes, cherry and black forest berry accents and a lingering finish." It is the main grape in
Bonny Doon's Heart of Darkness . So, this is a pretty big wine with dark fruit flavors, some smokiness, a little herb and a hint of port in the finish. Grill up some big, peppered NY Strips and top with sauteed shiitake mushrooms with a balsamic reduction and you are good to go.

They are currently working on a semi-sweet red and some fruit wines.

Cris and Dan are very friendly and nice people. They have entertainment on their patio every so often. Hopefully, they will get a website up and running soon. But in the meantime, if you want some info, call 309-968-7070 or an e-mail address is will2000@grics.net Currently, they are open Thurs., Fri., Sat. and other times by predetermined appointment.

Enjoying more local wine around the table.....

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Gran Azteca

Yep, another Mexican restaurant in Peoria. This one is in the old Pepe Taco building on the north end of University. It has been open for 3 months (can't believe I missed it, but...).

First thing I noticed was the joint got a new coat of paint and a parking lot blacktop job. When entering, I noticed the inside had received a fresh coat of paint and decor, the badly stained ceiling tiles replaced and the exposed kitchen built in.

Was quickly seated and order a Negra Modelo. In restrospect, I don't know what the hell I was thinking not ordering a Margarita. Out come the complimentary chips and salsa. And some creamy white dipping sauce. Chips: ordinary. Salsa: a spritz of heat and smoke. The white dipping sauce: I couldn't quite put my finger (or taste buds) on it. It tasted like ranch dressing made with all sour cream, loosened up with some milk or something and some hot sauce. It had more kick than the salsa. YUM!

The menu had all your usual offerings and combo platters; not a lot of new offerings to us Peorians. There was a T-bone steak and a few other items I can't say I've seen elsewhere, but not exciting enough for me to order. I ordered the Chori-pollo: A combination of Chorizo sausage cooked together with strips of chicken and topped with cheese. After the cheese melted, it kinda made a sauce. It was served with refried beans and Mexican rice, neither of which were notable. The Chori-pollo had a nice flavor, a touch of zip and was more than enough for the three flour tortillas that came with the meal. The waiter did offer to bring more.

Is this place any more special than Cinco de Mayo, Jalapenos, Fiesta Ranchero or Sol Azteca? No, not really, but it was the most attentive service I've think I've had (albeit business was pretty slow).

Will I go back? Yeah, I will. Even though the menu items unique to Gan Azteca didn't overly excite me, I still would try one, want some more of that white dip and of course, I HAVE to try their margaritaz.....

I can't say "See you around the table" in Spanish, so screw that idea......

Sunday, August 13, 2006

General's Fish & Chicken

For some unexplainable reason, my travels have taken me up & down Sterling more often than usual...which is rarely to never. I noticed a few weeks ago that the defunct Chicago Grill is now General's Fish & Chicken. For no other reason to go there and try it, off I go to the corner of Sterling and Forrest Hill.

Well, let me tell ya. I think there are only about 8 things on the menu that ARE NOT deep fried...and that includes the beverages & dessert. That's OK...I'll eat a little bit more healthy the next few days. After looking over the menu board I decided on the fish and chicken combo which includes fries, slaw and a dinner roll. For the fish I had a choice of catfish, whiting, perch or walleye. Always having the sneaky suspicion that walleye is probably pollock (like most places in Peoria) and I'm not a big fan of catfish, I go with the perch. With a drink, I thot it a bit steep being a touch over $10. And then the food came out. Ya really gotta love fried food. Damn. The three pieces of fish alone (with all the sides) would have been enough as each piece of fish was probably about 3-4 oz. EACH before breaded and fried. Then the wings. I don't know why I was expecting buffalo wings, because the menu board didn't SAY buffalo wings, but in the basket were 3 HUGE breaded and fried chicken wings. Not 3 wing pieces as in buffalo wings, three HUGE fully intact wings. And they weren't from a banty rooster or some pigeon sized chicken, they were from a duck or dwarf turkey sized chicken. I'm not crazy about the breading, its good but nothing exceptional. One thing was for certain: the fish nor the chicken wasn't mummified in the stuff. The fish was very hot, flavorful, flaky and tender. The wings obviously had a lot of meat on them. The fries were out of a bag and nothing special. The two ounces or so of slaw also nothing special. I didn't even mess with the dinner roll. I'm stuffed at 2 PM. The last thing I ate was a burger and baked beans about 8 PM last night, so now the $10 doesn't seem like much as I don't have to eat the rest of the day.

Two items of note: This place had to have the cleanest true tile floors in a restaurant that I've seen in a long time. What makes it more amazing is it is that little 4" X 4" terra cotta colored tile with the black grout that you used to see all the time at places like Ponderosa. I know that stuff isn't easy to keep looking this clean. Hopefully, that dedication is being carried out throughout the joint. The next thing is the air. With that much frying going on in such a small place, that is all you can smell...hot frying oil doing its thing.

So, if I ever need a mass amount of fried food again, I think General's will be near the top of my list.

Taking a nap on the table.....

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Dave's Pizza

Dave's Pizza is in Bartonville on Garfield diagonally across from the new Amoco\BP (whatever they are calling themselves these days) gas station. There is an ordering counter in the front and a small dining room in the back. While I waited, it seemed like they were doing a lot of take out\delivery business than dine in. We had the combo pizza...a little bit of everything on it. Beverages were Coke products so I'm sure you know what they taste like. The pizza itself was pretty good. The crust was most interesting. It wasn't quite as thin as Davis Brothers or the Penquin Taps..just a smidge thicker so it had a touch of "chew". they do, still cut it in squares...I guess they could cut it into triangles for you purists, but hell, it still tastes the same. On it was (or appeared to be) ham, sausage, pepperoni, onions, green peppers and mushrooms, and of course, cheese. There might have been olives....I should take better mental notes. Anyway, it was quite tasty.

They also do all sorts of sub style sandwiches, burgers and chicken. I do believe they are only open mid-afternoon to late evening.

See you around the table...

Friday, August 11, 2006

Pasta From Hell

I was reading on Eyebrows McGee's post how she & Mr. McGee raised some seriously hot peppers in their garden. Mr. McGee decided to whip up an omlette usine these oral pain inducing orbs of goodness and made their home uninhabitable for 30 minutes from the lingering cooking after-effects.

Ah, it reminds me of Pasta From Hell, the almost inedible pasta creation from taste bud torturing Chef Chris Schlesinger of East Coast Grill. Chris was taunted by customers that his hot (spicy) food wasn't hot or hot enough, so this is what he did: Chris Schlesinger's Revenge

This recipe is published in his first cookbook "The Thrill of the Grill" which 15 years or so after it's release, is still one of my favorites. The recipe is below. Let me warn you. If you REALLY think you can handle this (I'm sure you can make it, it isn't that complicated), I warn you right here and now, this is the hottest thing I have ever eaten, could only eat about a 1/4 of a "serving" and it could cause you serious pain. I'm not joking, you make and eat this, its your own doing. I've eaten the hottest wings Buffalo Wild Wings makes and they ain't shit compared to Pasta From Hell. All Emergency room bills are yours. On a side note, I had a cook make this once and stood over the heat a bit too long after adding the habaneros...his eyes started to swell shut. Yeah, he's OK.

Here it is:
Pasta From Hell

From Chris Schlesinger’s book: “The Thrill Of The Grill”

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
2 bananas, sliced
¼ pineapple juice
Juice of 3 oranges
10 habanero peppers, minced*
Juice of 2 limes
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons very cold butter
1 pound fettuccine, cooked and drained

In large sauté pan, heat the oil and saute the onion and red bell pepper over medium heat for 4 minutes.

Add the bananas and pineapple and orange juice. Simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the habanero peppers and cook 1 minute.

Remove pan from heat. Add the lime juice, cilantro and Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine.

Swirl in butter.

Toss with fettuccine.

Serves 4.

* You can lessen the heat of this dish by decreasing the amount of habaneros you put in the sauce.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gracie's Chicago Style Grill

I wasn't planning to eat here as one of the four places I promised I would review, so I might have 5 by the time the long weekend is over. Just knew it was there and OK, I'm hungry.

Gracie's is in the Cherry Tree Shopping Center in Washington. The menu is Chicago Style dogs, your usual suspect hot sandwiches (burgers, reubens, tenderloins) Italian Beef, BBQ, wings, fries and other deepfried goodies. The place has a dozen tables and is designed for a quick in, quick chow, quick out.

Since they were (heavily) advertising Vienna Beef Dogs and Gonnella breads (Gonnella Baking Company supplies the breads at U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox), Wrigley Field, Miller Park in Milwaukee and the United Center), the obvious choice was a Chicago Style dog with onion rings.

The dog was piled high with your usual Chicago dog toppings almost making impossible to eat. Let's see: mustard, pickle, bright green relish, tomato, sport peppers, onions...think I got it all. The O-Rings were out of a bag, but they were the really good bagged O-Rings. Big, thick cut with a good slice of onion...none of that minced stuff or a ring so thin you'd swear it was onion skin.

With a drink it was about $7. But I was full. Not waddle out the door full, but pleasantly full.

So, if you are in or about in Washington, check'em out.

OK....now that the review of Gracie's is over, here is my "beef". What the hell is so special about Vienna Beef Dogs? Yeah, they're good, but I've had Sabretts in NYC and Bests Kosher here in Peoria and Vienna doesn't WOW! me enough to consider either of these inferior, in fact, I think I like the Best Kosher better. But nothing against the Food at Gracie's.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I'm on VACATION!!

Eh, not really. I've got a lot of "vaca" time coming and thot I would burn a few days, clean out my shed and garage. Maybe wash the car.

One thing I am going to try to do is go out to at LEAST four "new to me" places and do some reviews....I feel I'm slackin'! Ok, they might not be all fancy, or all bar, but whatever I'm in the mood for. However, I do have a really nice Black Angus Strip Loin comin' my way tomorrow that I'm gonna cut some very unhealthy, obscenely sized NY Strips Steaks, pop some corks on some big, bad, Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs have a few people over and just get full. Screw restaurants that day!

Blobbing around the table....

I'm No. 9

That's right. The Chef Kevin moniker is slowly slipping away. I've been called Chef Kevin for as long as I can remember. Ok, since my return from culinary school. I think credit for that goes to John Valentine, owner of Panache. He introduced me to everyone as Chef Kevin and it stuck. (Odd, though, I was never introduced to Accountant Bill, Nurse Amy, construction worker Steve, pharmaceutical rep Stacy...you get the drift). Even though I haven't really cooked "for real" (as some people put it) for almost 3 years, I'm still "Chef Kevin".

But now, I'm getting called Number 9. Huh? Why you ask?

There is a free Peoria area entertainment guide covering music, art, culture, etc. in Peoria. It is called Numero. It's been around for several months, I believe. On the inside of the back cover, there is a two page feature called "10 Things I Crave" (which I'm thinking means a. something anyone can buy, enjoy, etc. 2. It's available in Peoria.) This month's interviewee is Joe Metzka ..the extremely talented local guitarist\vocalist...and a personal friend of mine. I'm number 9 on his list because of my cooking prowess. And probably my wine knowledge. I get credit from him that I got him to eat steak medium rare and drink those monster 15% alcohol Zinfandels and old Bordeaux. Oh, and maybe Cabo Wabo Tequila. ("Face down in Cabo, baby, kissin' the ground!" - Thanks, Sammy.)

Yeah, I'm still out there cooking on occasion so I guess I fit into the above criteria. However, Joe & Cherie (Mrs. Joe) are probably my number 1 & 2 guinea pigs when my mind goes beserk, comes up with some new creation and I need an audience (Ummm....tasting panel) so they get the very creative side of Chef Kevin ... and a bottle of 1994 Leoville Barton or 1998 Torbreck "The Steading" to wash it down. Not that many people get the "untamed, unleased, un-Peoriaitized" version of Chef Kevin so I'm thinking that what the magazine wanted (what most people can find, eat and enjoy) vs. what Joe was thinking (Chef Kevin culinary madman creations) were two different things.
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Actually, I'm honored. I could think of a lot more things that I thot would have made Joe's top 10 list instead of me. Someday, when he is hugely famous, I hope he needs a personal chef.

For those of you who don't know him, he does a lot of jazz and blues gigs around the Peoria area. But, I've heard him do a classical piece or two, can break into C&W, knows quite a bit of "hairbanger '80's" stuff, does some Prince tunes and well, to the dismay of the rest of the audience one night was joking around playing some "VanHagar" intos. I've heard him rip into his Strat or Gibson 335 that would make SRV or Jimmy grin and almost brought me to tears doing a very Ray Charles-like (read slow & exhausted from the road sounding) version of Silent Night. He does mostly covers, but is in the studio now working on his first originals CD.

Every now and then, we put our collective talents together and do a Joe & Kevin "show". He plays, I cook (and we try our best not to switch roles), guests are usually thrilled. Unfortunately, we don't do it enough.

So, I'm still Chef Kevin and I guess I'll have to start responding to "Hey, Number 9"!

See you around the table.....