swining and dining

Friday, March 10, 2006

OZE.....no worries mate!

Well I safely arrived in Melbourne after spending 8 hours @ Nadi Airport, Fiji....Boy did I need a drink!!!

This is actually my second time in the land of "Koalas, Tim Tams,and Roos", I'm stopping here to visit my buddy Brian, he was an apprentice with me @ the Greenbrier over 10 years ago. The last time I was here was after the Sydney Olympics in 2000, I was actually the best man in Brian's Wedding in Portsea, a beautiful seaside town southeast of Melbourne.

Oh yeah....those of you who have been requesting pix...I'm on dial-up here in Melbourne and it takes way to #$@$%^ long....as soon as I'm wireless or DSL'n I'll upload pix galore, some from Spain, Fiji and Aus. Back to bloggin...

During my apprenticeship, I made a few close friends, over the past 10 years we have seen each of our careers go through the highs and lows. The Greenbrier was filled with many talented aspiring chefs...Brian was definitely one of them, we were the top sophomore apprentices, so naturally we were and still are very competitive in cooking and in golf. Brian is one of my peers that I can always talk to about food and career choices, we have deep respect for each other and he knows that I'm #1 (sort of a joke between he and I, as apprentices we often competed to be better than each other, we address each other as #1 or #2....egotistically (is that a word?) he knows that my career is #1...even though I think he has had a great career.) Brian went to Culinary School in Paris, trained under Pierre Troisgois, Gary Kunz and Susanna Foo. He has an amazing passion for detail and technique, a gift that has helped him establish himself in Melbourne. Currently he is also on sabbatical...its the water right?

Creatively we are a great team....we both enjoy talking about and eating great food. This trip to Melbourne will be all about the food. Brian compares Melbourne and Sydney to San Francisco and Los Angeles when it comes to food. Geographically, Melbourne is closer to many of the wine producing areas of Australia. There are more restaurants in Melbourne per capita to Sydney..hands down. In Melbourne there is a food culture, in Sydney, well lets just say he thinks its LA. Some of you may know how I feel about Los Angeles and San Francisco...having lived in both cities for over 10 years seperatley I have a great take on both cities and what they mean to me. "San Francisco is like my first love....Los Angeles is like my "first time"...both special, one more than the other depending on the question"

Australia is also amelting pot of sorts...there is a large Greek and Italian population here as well as Middle Eastern, Chinese and Indian. There is restaurant on every corner (which is why I've only seen 2 Starbucks in 2 days), from Lebanese, Greek, Modern Australian (I'll comment later) Chinese, Indian, etc. almost every culture is represented. Dining is a pastime in Melbourne..the food scene here is well represented and Chefs have celebrity status. From the seafood, lamb, beef, produce and labor pool, Melbourne is serious about its food.

My first meal after I arrived was a rostisserie chicken...what a chicken....apparently Chicken shops are a thing in the suburbs of Melbourne. The chicken was juicy and the skin crispy...and get this, it was stuffed with dressing...so of course I had to ask for gravy to be lathered all over my bird and chips. We opted to make dinner later that day...what were these two chefs craving....fajitas....Aussies don't do Mexican food here!!!!! Yes, ideas raced through my head again...I did open a Mexican restaurant in San Francisco years ago. They were damn good fajitas...it was a nice start to the eating frenzy.

The next day we played golf and decided to go into the City for dinner, he was craving Chef's food....ahhhh what is Chef's food? well, for most Chefs, we love simple and classic dishes such as a great roasted duck, anything braised...oxtails is a fav, terrines, pate, crusty bread, cheeses, mashed potatoes and peasant cuts of meat like tripe, trotters, sweetbreads etc. Brian took me to a place called the "European", true to its name. Checkerboard floors, wood tables and chairs, and a blackboard with hand written specials.

We started (they call them "Entrees") with the Scampi with Brandade and Ox Tongue Salad... I enjoyed these dishes with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. The scampi was tender and was seasoned ever so slightly, the brandade was dry-dry- dry. The Ox Tongue salad was uneventful but good...we wanted comfort food we told ourselves. We then had the Duck Breast and Angus Steak for our "Main Course". Both deliciously simple and perfect after a long day of chasing a white ball around for 4 hours. No Frills, no major dissapointments...Wow!....how boring was that...patience...my stomach is warming up. and what about the "Swine" apparently pork is very popular but should be bought from artisan purveyors. Most pork sold in supermarkets and middle of the road restaurants have a strong smell and flavor. So I'll still be on the lookout!!!! I'm only getting started....lamb's brains on the horizon.

But more about "Modern Australian" food. Melbourne is a great City...European in many ways yet very modern (with the exception of not enough wireless internet sites) The architecture is a mix of British and Contemporary influences....the food very ingredient driven....yet I couldn't help but notice the redundancy in menus. My first perusal throught the "Restaurant Rows" of Melbourne made me feel like a 4- hour "deja vu". Each menu of the trendy "Australian" food inspired restaurants read like this..."Barramundi this, barramundi that, Twice Cooked Pork Belly (Ahh the Swine!!!).... everywhere, Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, Wagyu Beef Tartare...everywhere" After a while it was all a blur...the lack of originality was not evident on all menus...just the restaurants that were "HOT". The ethnic restaurants were creative yet still there was nothing that grabbed me. We opted for Indian food that night...I'm sure you would agree that "Butter Chicken" sounds up my alley...anything made with a cashew puree and Ghee (Indian Clarified Butter) can't be good for you...also Lamb cooked in spinach sauce ....tasty. The obligatory naan showed up along with Gulab Jamin (also a fav)...the Indian meal was a good change but the Lamb's brain was still on the horizon.

The next day brought me to the Queen Victoria Market...the largest open market in Australia I'm told. We were hungry and raced passed the stalls selling stuffed koalas, Uugs, and Oze T-Shirts...I took a few moments to check out the produce but the mission was "Protiens". Alas the entrance to the Food Court...better yet to "Europe"....the sight of hanging cured meats...antipasti in the deli cases, the smell of "stanky" cheese...and the sounds of different languages....now we where getting somewhere. We stopped a Greek food stand and ordered Borek, a thin pan fried pastry filled with spinach and cheese and lamb sausage. These Greek "quesadillas" were good especially the lamb...we also had a marinated lamb sandwich with fresh herbs, tomatoes and cucumbers....so good you might see it on a 'Subway' menu some day. After refueling we strolled the meat and seafood market...wish there was "smell-mail", I would be sending you the smells of freshly butchered lamb, beef, poultry, line caught fish and shellfish. That was fun....we were kid sitting that day and as you would guess... the kids wanted outta there.
We had to work off this grub fest so we took the "kid" to an arcade...by the way....it was attached to a casino..."I'm all in!!!!!

Yet to come lamb's brains, restaurant hopping in the City, and the lessons of a bad meal.

To Swine is Divine!!!!


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