Eating Nose to Tail


 
A good friend recommended a hotel for us to stay while we were in London, and while St John Hotel is fantastic it is not inexpensive.  When we arrived we went to the first hotel, dropped our bags and went for a walk, and not 100 feet from our doors we stumbled onto St John.  My friends know me very well.

Needless to say, we stepped inside for a glass or two and some oysters.  The appearance of the restaurant is striking.  White walls, high ceilings, plain and sturdy furniture, chalk board covered in menu items.  If I'm being honest, it was intimidating and exciting to just stumble, unprepared, into a restaurant that's been on my mind for years.

When our much anticipated first morsels of food arrived I picked up my oyster and tried to slip it gently into my mouth but to my surprise it did not slip, the abductor muscle had not been cut.  A few pokes with a fork and it was released, but it was a jarring first bite.  Whether it was a mistake from the kitchen, or an aesthetic decision to not interfere with the food I can't say.  I can say it was embarrassing, sitting at the bar at a Michelin Star restaurant unable to out smart my mollusc.  It took a minute or two and another glass of wine to compose myself, but I did. 

Roast grouse (my first), lamb shank, eccles cake and cheese, lemon sorbet and vodka - the rest of the meal went smoothly, and was delicious.  The grouse was challenging, rare and meaty.  The area of the bird where it had been shot was a bit bitter from the pool of blood, but my dining partner (an experienced grouse eater from Wisconsin) ensured me that this was part of the grouse experience.  This will not be my last time eating grouse.

Anyone who has the chance, please go eat at St John.  The aesthetic experience, the service and the food are all worth the trip.  I plan on going again, hopefully soon. 
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Photo courtesy of stjohnrestaurant.com
 
 
The hotel itself is a lovely place to walk into on a rainy afternoon.  The lobby is small, mostly a receptionist's desk, entry to the restaurant, elevator and stairs.  The receptionists were all friendly and polite. Upon arrival we were told that we had been upgraded from a post-supper room to a room.  The difference as far as I can tell is that the bathtub isn't in the bedroom, which is a quirky aesthetic choice I was looking forward to (not that the upgrade wasn't a wonderful surprise).  The room is sparse, with a bed, table and a few stools.  It's very white and bright with bright green floors.
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Photo courtesy of www.stjohnhotellondon.com
Once we were settled I investigated the minibar.  It was without a doubt the most amazing minibar I have ever come across.  Far beyond the expected Coke and peanuts, there was a wide array of digestifs (Fernet Branca and Poire William being my two favorites)  as well as what looked like some very good scotches and half bottles of both vodka and gin.  There was also Champagne, cider from Normandy and Italian beer.  The half bottles of gin and vodka were the most thoughtful addition. Honestly, who finds one evening cocktail satisfying?  Especially when traveling.
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An early morning shot of the minibar.
After dinner at the hotel restaurant we took a stroll around Leicester square and headed to bed for the night.  A few hours later I was feeling a twinge of hunger, so after taking a look at the room service menu anchovy toast was on its way.

Simplicity is the essence of what St John is about.  There are no decorations on the wall and there are no garnishes on the plates; simple, clean, minimal.  There were a few experiences where this simplicity was almost aggressive.  The feeling was of butting up against a wall, the wall being a firm aesthetic choice.  The anchovy toast is a good example.
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Anchovy Toast
Full disclosure, there is one slice missing.  The smell was hard to resist.

A large piece of toast, what I'm assuming was one slice from the full length of a sandwich loaf, toasted on a grill with some sort of fat and spread with what the staff calls 'gunge'. 

It's brown.  Gunge on toasted bread.  There's nowhere to hide any sort of flaw - this dish must deliver on every level.  And, happily, it does.  The texture of the toast is given something extra from the fried texture it gets on the griddle, and the gunge itself tastes of more than anchovy (garlic for sure, maybe another spice or two) and has an appealing emulsified consistency.

Salty, savory and crisp.  This anchovy toast is exactly what I wanted at 2:30 in the morning. The room, minibar and room service were all truly memorable and lovely experience.s  Everyone who can make the trip please go spend a night or two at this unique, aesthetically thrilling boutique hotel.
 
 
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a few days in London, and a couple of those nights were spent at St John Hotel and St John Restaurant. 

I'm a fan, I'll admit it.  My copies of both the first and second cookbooks are worn and covered in food.  But up until this point I'd spent no time with the actual food or restaurant.  I was a fan in concept, but I had no experience with how that concept was executed.

The next few posts will be about my time at St John.  The things that exceeded my expectations, as well as an instance or two where I was surprised or disappointed.

I'm looking forward to getting to relive my pilgrimage to St John, and maybe trying to recreate a favorite dish or two while I reminisce.
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A peak at what the cooks are reading at the St John Hotel kitchen.
 
 
Got home late from work, and instead of cooking we ordered Chinese.  One of my favorite parts of moving is finding new take out places, and I've been lucky enough to find a great (if not pricey) place that delivers Szechaun food.  The best part of the menu is that it's full of offal - delicious offal prepared in ways I would never prepare it myself.
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The best part of dinner.
The beef tendon was tender and gelatinous, thinly sliced and floating in chili oil with sesame seeds and scallions.  The gelatinous tendon and the aggressive spice worked together, and even played off one another in the kind of way that makes me want to cook tendon.  Truthfully, the thought of cooking tendon has always intimidated me.

It's awesome to find a delivery place that inspires me to buy more offal.
 
 
Due to my Canadian childhood I had little to no experience with Mexican food until I moved to the US.  And when I did move I went a little burrito crazy - as in all things wrapped in a large tortilla were good.  There was no filter.  None.

Having lived in America for the past three years I've gotten a little better with Mexican food in general - but I'm still trying to tune my burrito filter.  They all still taste pretty flippin' good to me.

My favorite burrito served at the Mexican place down the street from my house is the beef tongue (or lengua).  I decided to treat myself earlier today.
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My lunch, in all its foil-wrapped glory.
I love this filling.  Tongue seems somehow beefier and more substantial than the regular beef.  And my little place goes the extra mile and grills the tongue so it gets a crisp almost charred taste and texture.  Combined with the soft rice, gooey beans and fresh iceberg lettuce my tongue was very happy to have another tongue as it's companion for lunch.
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The first few bites.
Combine this with a little homemade hot sauce thats got the ideal amount of heat (not too much - I'm a bit of a wuss) and I am one happy Canadian.

Tongue is not only a great economy food (there's a lot of food in one tongue) but as I've demonstrated in other posts (salad, sandwich and main course) it's very versatile.

I may not know much about Mexican food, but I know a little about tongue, and I sincerely advise everyone to go try a tongue burrito for lunch soon.  Your tongue will welcome the company.
 
 
Although I have been a Slow Food Member for the past two years I'm a little ashamed to admit that I have not been an active member.  That all changed yesterday when I attended my first event.  The event that inspired me to finally get off my ass and participate was a dinner hosted by Slow Food Boston at 606 Congress.  The dinner was a whole locally raised lamb, which Chef Gregory Griffie prepared within the nose to tail philosophy.  Needless to say it was an event which I could not miss. 

When I first arrived and got a look at the menu I was surprised by the distinct lack of any sort of offal.  As much as I love lamb shanks and shoulder, I was here to taste all of my lamb.  My darkest fears were averted when servers holding trays of kidney's, heart and testicles began to arrive.  I was pleased to see the Chef's nod to St. John's with deviled kidney's served with little pieces of toast.  The kidney's were especially delicious, although the hearts were tasty as well.
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The menu (complete with wine stains)
I have to admit, although I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from a Slow Food Boston dinner.  I was struck by exactly how posh the restaurant was.  The space was beautiful and the staff were  friendly and charming.  The wines (which were paired with each course) worked well with the food and were all either organic or biodynamic.  The man who paired and introduced all the wines was very engaging and had fun with both the wine and the event.  I always breathe a sigh of relief when confronted with a wine person who manages to break free from the stiffness that seems to envelope the wine industry.

The courses were all lovingly prepared, but the one that I continue to think of the following day was the lamb breast au gratin.  The meat was braised and pressed and ended up tender with a perfect amount of fat still clinging to the meat.  The lamb breast was served with white beans and kale it was a dish I know I will be thinking about on my next crisp New England evening.  Although the weather yesterday was warm and even balmy this dish was still the highlight of the evening. 

The event has inspired me to get more involved with my local chapter of Slow Food.  Beyond the food and setting the people Ross and I sat next to were lively and charming and made the evening even more memorable.  The rest of the table were all from Allandale Farm and although I didn't get to chat with them as much as I would have liked the snippets of conversation we exchanged are still with me today (brief conversations about tattoos, and the sex appeal of male farmers).  Hopefully I'll be able to get over to their farm this weekend with my Mum (who is visiting) and Ross.

It warms my heart to see people getting excited about nose to tail eating, I'm looking forward to more of these events in the future. 

A great night all around.
 
 
Last Thursday I had dinner at Craigie on Main.  It had been highly recommended by many people whose opinions I respect.  Once I looked at the menu online and saw that they served pig tails I knew I had to visit.  I was not disappointed.

All of my previous pig tail experience had been through my Mum.  She makes a broiled pig tail that comes out crisp with a sweet and spicy glaze, and she makes a pepper pot soup with pig tails, callaloo, scotch bonnets and various root vegetables.  Both are favorites of mine, so these pig tails had a lot to live up to.

I was not disappointed, they were delicious.  The tails were cut into small segments, not served whole. The serving was large for one person but probably a good size for two.  Although I ate all of them pretty much unaided.  They were well seasoned and served with crisp fried onions and chili's on top of a puddle of nuoc cham.  The tails were tender but also had a bit of crunch.  Totally different than what my Mum makes, and in my opinion just as good (sorry Mum!)

We also ordered the much talked about burger and the potato galette.  The galette was described by our server as 'potato crack',  which turned out to be a very apt description because I could have easily gone back for seconds and thirds  The galette was served with crisp bits of bacon, salmon roe and a flavored cream.  The burger was as good as any I'd ever had, but cost $18, and for my money I'd definitely rather have the pig tails which cost $11.

The restaurant itself is definitely upscale, but the bar food was high quality and reasonably affordable considering the quality and atmosphere.  For an upscale nose to tail experience I would happily recommend Craigie on Main. I will be taking my Mum to try the pig tails the next time she visits.
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Photo courtesy of craigieonmain.com
 
 

I'm home for the time being, but I'm afraid my tongue is still in the freezer.  My plan is to thaw it this weekend and proceed with it early next week.  Just wanted to say a quick THANK YOU to Ryan Adams at www.nosetotailathome.com for being so supportive of this site.  Ryan also does the weekly post 'Offal of the Week' for www.eatmedaily.com which I think is super neat.  Both really wicked websites, I suggest a look.

Since I've been home I have not really had time to grocery shop, but I did go out and spoil myself with a nice big bowl of pho earlier today so I thought I'd share some thoughts about that.  Pho is pretty much the national food of Vietnam, it's wonderfully beefy and noodly by itself but it's normally served with a plate of accompaniments like bean sprouts and fresh herbs that make the soup hearty and yet still fresh.

The restaurant I go to serves a 'special pho' which includes raw eye of round (the hot broth cooks the meat), brisket, tripe and tendon.  The tendon in this soup is amazing; I have no idea how to cook tendon, but this soup may inspire me to learn.

Ethnic restaurants and groceries of various kinds are a great place to go in search of new and different foods, and they can be especially good for those of us who like offal, and other lesser used parts of the animal.  In fact my favorite Mexican restaurant down the street offers tongue taco's (which may be part of the inspiration for my tongue adventure) and tripe soup on the weekend.

Anyhow, what's a blog post without visuals, so here's my lunch complete with side dish of bean sprouts, Thai basil and lime wedges.  These accompaniments can change depending on what part of Asia you are in.  Noodle soups like pho are common all over Asia.  In fact the best I had when I was there was in Laos.  Here's the post about some of the soups I had when I was in Asia last year.

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And for those of you who want a closer look at the tendon and tripe here they are.  The tripe is cut into this strips, and the tendon has a wonderful firm gelatinous texture.
I should be back to cooking things for myself this weekend, but it was good to remember that I can still embrace nose to tail eating outside of my own kitchen.