Thursday, July 26, 2012

THE Cape Town Farmers' Market: The Neighborhood Market

The Neighborhood Market at the Old Biscuit Mill, Cape Town's biggest farmers' market, stretches through two massive rooms as well as several areas of the Old Biscuit Mill, a beautifully refurbished space filled with creative people and their creations. Located in the Woodstock neighborhood, it's not the easiest to get to, and I recommend taking a taxi or minibus or driving (click here for directions). Taking place Saturdays, 9am-2pm, The Neighborhood Market is a pre-noon party with all of my favorite ingredients. We're talking locally roasted coffee, organic veggies and foraged mushrooms, pesto, buffalo-milk mozzarella, local oysters paired with sparkling wine, beautiful pizzas, paella, curries, and on and on. It's enough to make your head and stomach explode.

As I wandered through the throng with my friend and his co-worker, I felt overwhelmed, as though I were eating everything through my eyes—as though I were being stuffed with options! This happens all the time in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I'll be scoping out a food cart pod, and each food cart tempting me with 10-15 options. Shall I try the six-course vegetarian menu for $6 or sample something called The Sonoran hot dog? Should I get my old standby, Koi Fusion's Korean barbecue pork burrito, or go out on a limb, ordering that awesome-looking beef-tongue pizza? The next thing I know, I'm eating some bowl of beans and rice. This is me in a candy store. This is me at age five forgetting which flavors I love and simply going for the brightest candy. Then there's the kid filling his bag with sparkling blue doughnut-shaped gummies, and I am suddenly convinced that he knows what I want. I fill my bag with that, then some bright red hard candy, and some impossibly large jaw breakers...

Pick a mushroom, any mushroom...

Have it grilled to order.

Or should I visit the Pesto Princess? Oh no: 6 types of pesto plus different 5 sauces!
Alright, I'll get one of these awesome pizzas. Wait, they look kinda thin...

Mmm. Ok.

Soon enough, I'd ordered this massive breakfast sandwich called something like the Surfer's Breakfast Sandwich. It came on a large ciabatta and you got to choose between homemade garlic sauce, spicy sauce, and some other sauce. I asked for all three. As I bumped through the crowd trying to reconnect with my friends the sauces spilled out everywhere, and I soon realized that we'd all been lost inside of our own catalytic states for over an hour. Alone, we appeared to be moving, shifting from booth to booth, but, in actuality, we'd simply been shifting weight from one foot to the other. Alone, we'd tried to make up our minds, but the options were too great. We'd figure it out, then someone would walk past with an amazing looking hash topped with eggs Benedict. And so and so on.

When I found my friends, we'd all just gotten our food. We sat on a bench together and ate in silence. Sometimes there are too many options. Just like the anise-flavored blue gummies, the sandwich had looked better than it really was. Why hadn't I gotten the pizza? Or the buttered chicken curry...

Next time, I hope to be myself, to remember exactly which flavors I like, find them and eat them.

In next week's post, I'll take a step back from the madness and visit the hardly known, exceptionally authentic African restaurant, Bebe Rose. Prepare for something exquisite.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Restaurants of Cape Town, South Africa: BistroSixteen82

I wonder where the line between fusion and international cuisine is drawn? The Pot Luck Club definitely had an overarching Southeast Asian/Mexican thing going on (Chinese-style pork rib/churros), but Chef Luke Dale-Roberts utilized other cooking techniques (porcini dust!) as well as the local product, cheeses, and meats. BistroSixteen82 was equally hard to quantify.

Located in the Constantia wine region just 25 minutes from Cape Town, the restaurant might as well have been in another country. Part of the luxurious Steenberg Hotel, it was surrounded by opulent mansions, golf courses, and vineyards (not the busy, grimy streets of Cape Town, I assure you), and the mind-blowingly beautiful beaches were just a minute away. Heaven on earth?

Steenberg Winery was established on the oldest farm in Constantia Valley, which was founded by the infamous Widow Catherina Ras, "one of the most daring and controversial figures ever to settle at the Cape." Definitely read her story if you get a chance, especially the part when she marries a soldier with a love of female slaves (lions are involved!). I highly recommend visiting the winery for a tasting, and I'll get back to its wines in a later post (as well as a forthcoming article for

BistroSixteen82 should clue you in on when the farm was founded. It is an inviting space with luxury nuances such as vine artworks and a huge, wine-glass chandelier. One wall of the dining room opens up in the summer so that diners can sit outside.

I ordered a glass of my second-favorite Steenberg wine, the 2010 Semillon, which tasted unlike any semillion I'd tried before. It had a multifaceted nose of cooked peach, gasoline (in a good way!), and jalepeno, and it tasted of spicy jalapeno, yellow bell pepper, rosemary, and thyme. It had a medium body that was poised atop a pin of acidity, which was just enough.

Starters, such  as Saldanha Oysters Gratin and Hermon Beef Tongue, ran about $7-$9, and mains, such as the Sauteed Potatoe Gnocchi and the Open Steak Sandwich, ran $13-$20. Once again, Cape Town food came at a great value.

We began with BistroSixteen82's signature dish, the Beef Tataki. The Chalmar beef—made from a low-stressed, vegetarian cows—was flash-seared, chilled, then doused with a mixture of ginger, chili, lime, and sesame. It had a nice acidic bite and spiciness, and the beef was beyond-belief tender. Unfortunately, the flavors ultimately covered up the beef a little too much, and the dish was overly salty—a criticism I do not hand out lightly. Despite these flaws, I would order it again in a heartbeat.

Next, making a mistake in judgement, we ordered the Rainbow Trout Mousseline appetizer, and the acidity of the tataki had ruined my taste buds for the creamy, mousseline. Likely based on a fish mousseline—a delicate blend of ground trout, egg whites, cream, and seasonings—the chowder-like dish featured smoked rainbow trout, leeks, and truffle-flavoring. Unfortunately, try as I might, I really couldn't taste it clearly.

Now, for Pork Belly: Round Two: Enter the Beast—

Chef Brad Ball's Sticky Pork Belly is the true candy of meat. All of you bacon-lovers, it's time to get real and gourmandize pork belly. It's where bacon comes from after all! The Sticky Pork Belly came sweet and sticky, with a salted sesame palm sugar caramel, and the inside of the pork belly might as well have been marrow it was so liquified. Oh, did I mention the Tiger Prawns that came on top? No, I didn't, because they were totally superfluous. However, the hot and sour salad that came on the side furnished a tasty and necessary balance to the sweet pork. I can't wait to make Brad's Sticky Pork Belly recipe, which is posted on the blog, Totally Stoned.

Finally, the second entree was the Line Caught Fish of the Day, which was Yellowtail. Deliciously fresh, the fish was expertly cooked andserved with sauteed baby potato salad with anchovy créme and olives.

Having had too much fun at Steenberg and BistroSixteen82, I had to skip my appointment at Groot Constantia Winery, and our driver, Clenwyd, of the fantastic tour and private chauffeur company, Escape the Cape Tours, whisked me back to Cape Town. Next up, we'll culinarily assault Cape Town's Saturday Market at the Old Biscuit Mill.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Restaurants of Cape Town, South Africa: The Pot Luck Club

During the first few days in South Africa, I learned that the local chefs cooking in Cape Town's restaurants aren't short on creativity and that the traveler has an awesome number of cuisines to choose from.

Further, for Americans, South Africa is inexpensive thanks to a a good dollar-to-rand exchange rate, and I was typically able to walk out of a fine-dining restaurant having spent less than $40 (this includes 2-3 courses with wine). In the case of more traditional restaurants, such as those serving Ethiopian food, I typically spent $5-$20.

Kingklip, Ataraxia Chardonnay, Claus' Calamari

After visiting the Earth Fair Market, my next killer meal was at Luke Dale-Roberts's The Pot Luck Club & Gallery, which is the sister restaurant to The Test Kitchen. The Test Kitchen ranked 74th in the S.Pellegrino list for the World’s 100 Best Restaurants 2012, and I would have eaten there except that it was under renovation. The Pot Luck Club is located next door to The Test Kitchen, and it serves small plates that, for the most part, cost between $3 and $10.

Mushrooms on Toast
There were several stand out dishes, and I was most astonished by the Mushrooms on Toast, served with grated lemon, Parmesan, and porcini dust. The toast had a cake-like texture and it was heavily spiced, including ginger. The mushrooms were served on top and a thick, slightly sweet reduction saturated the toast. All in all, the dish was exceptionally heavy (too heavy for a starter—order it toward the end of the meal), but one bite was enough to shock my taste buds to attention. This was innovative cooking!

Pork Belly

The Pork Belly, served with Luke's OX dressing and red cabbage and apple slaw, was heavenly. I don't like to sound like a douche bag, but that's what it was. For me, pork belly has to be crispy on the outside and melt in your mouth on the inside, and Luke's was perfect. The meat had been brushed with a sweet glaze that likely involved honey, and the tangy slaw cut through the sweetness when needed. Now I know why Luke is described as "the king of pork in Cape Town."

These two dishes are likely the heaviest on the menu. Their flavors are massive, which makes them ideal for sharing. For those looking to balance out their meal with lighter dishes, I can recommend the Claus' Coconut and Calamari Salad and the Kingkilp (a mild white fish) Clay Pot, which is served with a Thai-style black pepper sauce and Thai basil.

I tried three wines with the meal, and I wasn't impressed with any of them. The best was the 2009 Ataraxia Chardonnay, which was a bizarre and expensive wine. It had melon and honey on the nose, but the flavors were dull on the palate. It reminded me of sherry.

In the next post, we'll visit Bistro Sixteen82 at the Steenberg Luxury Hotel in the nearby Costantia wine region, where round-two of the pork-belly extravaganza will go down.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Drinking in the Gorge Article for Washington Magazine

The Columbia Gorge wine scene is taking off, and I'm happy to report on it in this month's issue of Washington Magazine. Focusing on the wineries on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge, the article introduces the area's winemakers and winemaking styles, and there are plenty of revealing interviews. You can either pick up a copy of Washington Magazine at your local bookstore or read it online here. I'd love to hear what you think. Please write in with any questions or observations and I'll share everything I know about the innovative wineries of the Columbia Gorge!

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