Brazilian Flair: Batuqui

Ahoy there mateys!

I’m planning on starting a restaurant spotlight feature on the blog. This post is more impromptu and informal, but I’ll probably set some criteria moving forward like restaurants primarily known for seafood. These are going to be Cleveland-based restaurants. I’m thinking of calling the feature Making Waves, but I’ll save that for the first official one if I’m still feeling the name. I’ve got a solid list forming already, but I would also  love some suggestions.

So I was recently thinking about different ethnic foods, and couldn’t really think of anything that I haven’t tried before, and then I did think of one. (I’m sure there is plenty more though)

Brazilian.

Almost nothing came to mind when I thought of Brazilian food. Well, that’s not entirely true, I thought of something but it was Argentinian food I was thinking of. I’m not sure why I thought they were so similar, though interestingly enough, it turns out they are in fact quite similar. They both have a reputation for steak, known in both cultures as Churrasco. They also tend to use a lot of the same flavor profiles, ingredients, and staples.

So there’s a fairly new Brazilian place in my old neighborhood of Larchmere that I had heard about, and there’s also one opening up soon in Eton.  The one on Larchmere is called Batuqui (pronounced something like “Ba-too-key”) and it’s in the same building that used to be occupied by Bon Vivant, a French bistro styled place that I once had brunch at.

 

If you’ve never been to the Larchmere area, it’s pretty unique and quite charming. A lot of the restaurants and small businesses are inside of old houses. Batuqui is no exception. They had a pretty big patio which seated almost all of the diners this evening as it was beautiful out and not too crowded. It kind of feels like you’re at a really cool house party.

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These features are meant to be more of a spotlight rather than a review. I always think people should go try things for themselves. If a spot sounds intriguing to you, go form your own opinion; not everyone has the same tastes. Also I don’t like to be thought of as a food snob just because I’m a chef and food blogger — I’m actually incredibly casual, and not incredibly picky.

That said. I do have a very good palette, high quality standards and an eye for detail. I try not to be overly critical, but when things can clearly use improvement, I have no problem voicing my opinion. Constructive criticism is a good thing, and you can always take it or leave it.

I meant to take a picture of the menu, but forgot. However, I just discovered that they have a very professional looking website with the menu listed here. I like the size and selection, it seemed perfectly well-rounded. They have a good selection of drinks, which my roommate enjoyed. (I almost never drink) They also had some good specials, and our server, Misty, did a great job explaining them. Honestly, she was one of the most knowledgeable servers I’ve come across in a while, and her Portuguese pronunciation was amazingly on-point especially for being American.

We started with Linguica with Mandioca Frita ($9.50). This is a simple appetizer of Brazilian sausage and fried yucca. I was really looking forward to this as I love me some fried yucca.

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I must say, however, that this was the worst dish of the evening and it was disappointing. You can even tell from looking at the photo (if you’re familiar with yucca) that something is off with the yucca. Either it wasn’t very fresh, it’s been fried too hard, or the fryer oil was old; or several of those. What you can’t tell from the photo was that it also was completely unseasoned. It was bearable if you ate it together with the sausage, but the sausage was nothing to write home about either. Overall, this dish was honestly bad and made me nervous for the meal to come.

What followed was a mix of highs and lows.

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We had a side of fried bananas as well, which were ok, but a little sweet for my liking; I would’ve preferred plantains.

Although I was most excited for our fish entree which was this fancy sounding ancient fish I had never heard of before, the stand-out of the evening was definitely the steak.

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Churrasco de Picanha: The traditional Brazilian steak house cut — tri-tip sirloin.  Seasoned with sea salt and grilled to perfection.  Served with rice, pinto beans, farofa and tomato relish. ($28)

This steak single-handedly saved the experience because it was THAT good. I’d say it was easily the best steak I’ve had all year. Perfectly seasoned and cooked, with great presentation. I may suggest ordering it one temperature under what you want or taking it off the sizzler though because the residual heat continues to cook it.

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The sides that came with the steak were all bland though, however. I’m not sure why they were so under-seasoned, but I would suggest that Batuqui not fear hitting their diners with some real flavor. This is the kind of “off the beaten path” kind of place that will mostly be frequented by more adventurous diners; They’re not afraid of flavor, so the chefs shouldn’t be either.

Farofa was something new to me, but it wasn’t very exciting. It’s toasted cassava/yuca flour; it just tasted like plain breadcrumbs and wasn’t very appealing on its own. That’s the one on the west side of the above dish.

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As this was a special for the evening, I don’t have the description or price, but I did get the name of the fish right: Pirarucu. This was described as a pre-historic fish, and upon looking it up I see it is similar to the arapaima, which is a gargantuan Amazonian fish I’ve seen before. The name and description is where the excitement ended, as the dish itself was highly generic and lacking in flavor. It was completely covered up by a weak coconut curry sauce. The fish didn’t get a chance to sing. Looking at the plate, you can’t even tell what it is. The pirarucu could’ve been any other mild, white fish, so this dish was very blah, unfortunately.

Oh and when I said these are things are gargantuan, I’m not exaggerating. Here’s a photo of a pirarucu (not taken by me).pirarucuhuge

Yeah, holy cow fish.

We were very stuffed, but decided to try one of the lighter dessert options as it was something neither of us have tried much of before.

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Mousse de Maracuja ($6) was a delicious passion fruit mousse. It was more of a pudding, but either way it was really delicious. I’ll have to try more passion fruit; I’ve never managed to find a fresh one at a market — they’re always past their prime.

It was funny because it was dark at this point, so I didn’t have much of a chance to get a shot of the dessert. I pulled out a few tricks though having my roomate hold a phone light and something as a reflector, so I ended up with one usable shot. We were fussing for awhile to get a picture, until eventually Misty told us to “Eat it, don’t tweet it!” which made me laugh. I think she thought she offended me, but I can appreciate some good sass.

I don’t know if I’ll be implementing any kind of rating system, but if I can think of something clever I just might. Like I said I’m more just showcasing the restaurant and giving my opinion. Unless a place is really bad, I will usually recommend you at least go check a place out once. I would definitely suggest giving Batuqui a try. It has a unique charm, unique cuisine, and amazing steak. I will definitely dine there again in the future and hope they can bring up the seasoning and some of the execution.

Until next time,

May the fish be with you!

~Maki Zavelli

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Go Fish: Sockeye Salmon

Ahoy there mateys!

We had sockeye salmon on sale last week for $8.99/lb. and I think it’s continuing this week even. I had it for dinner 3 times last week, and I’m not mad about it. Although I am mad that I don’t have a grill. It has been way too hot in here in our lovely Cleveland Heights house with no A/C and no ventilation… yeah time to invest in a grill.

When I was buying my fish last week, I ended up talking to a customer about the best way to cook Sockeye Salmon, and he seemed genuinely enthused to have learned some new things; so I decided to post about it on the blog. It only recently occurred to me just how different this fish is from other types of salmon. Mainly in how it cooks, but also how it looks. These fish have a bright red body with a greenish head and tail. They have this hook-shaped mouth that almost resembles a beak.

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I mean just look at these guys; they’re quite strange! They’re like birds of paradise in fish form! Interesting to note, their name has nothing to do with the appearance or structure of their eyes. The name is an anglicized version of an indigenous word (something like suk-kai) which simply meant “red fish”. They are indeed red, especially during their spawning cycle. Now they don’t always look like this, as they go through different life cycles; too bad by the time they reach the consumer, the skin isn’t red like this anymore.

Their flesh, however, is quite red. As they are almost always wild caught, you can be assured that this isn’t added color. Sockeye is also one of the most, if not most, sustainable species of salmon you can buy. Their primary harvest comes from Bristol Bay, Alaska which has a very well managed fishery. Alaskan Sockeye is generally going to be green-lit on seafood sustainability scales.

In regards to cooking, the important thing to note though is that they are not as fatty as their Atlantic cousins or Pacific brethren. Even though they have this amazingly rich color, the fish itself is not as rich as you may think. Sockeye do have a great pure salmon flavor though, the trick is just to not overcook it. They cook much faster and can easily dry out.

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Love that color!

The best cooking method I have found is to pan-sear it on both sides and that’s it. You don’t need the oven to cook it all the way through, in fact that will dry it out. Alternatively you could grill it, but you would want to place it skin side down and never flip it.

Also for those of you who don’t know how to eat salmon properly. GET THE SKIN CRISPY AND EAT IT! High direct heat on the skin and make sure it’s salted. I have many customers that don’t eat the skin because they’re conditioned not to, but they haven’t actually TRIED properly cooked salmon skin. I try not to be pushy, but sometimes I tell them to make sure they try the skin, and I’ve managed to convert some people. Sorry, it’s one of my pet peeves…. that and when people really emphasize the A and the L when they say sal-mon…

Anyhoo.

Pat your fillets dry with a paper towel and let them come to room temperature. Season the fillets simply; salt, pepper, fresh squeeze of lemon or lime at the end. Get a pan really hot with some oil and place the fish in, then turn the heat down to medium. Traditional chef wisdom says to go skin-side down first, however there is a caveat to this. Your pan and oil have to be hot first, this is crucial because if not, it will stick. I hold my hand over the pan until it feels hot enough that I want to take my hand away, or you can wait for smoke and then turn the heat down to medium. If you want to be safe, just do the flesh side down first. Sear both sides about 5 minutes each, but this could vary depending on thickness.

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Sockeye takes really good to a glaze at the end. You can get creative here combining different spicy, sweet, salty, and bright flavors. I used a Korean BBQ glaze, but you can try like a maple mustard glaze, miso honey, chipotle lime, or simply herb butter and lemon, just to give a few ideas.

For my multiple weeknight Sockeye Salmon dinners, I just kept it simple. Nothing fancy here, so there’s no recipe for this post.

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Korean BBQ glazed Sockeye Salmon with snow peas and confetti orzo

I don’t recall specifically which type of orzo this is since it’s been in my pantry for some time, but I picked it up in the bulk section of Whole Foods.

If you’ve had a bad experience with sockeye because it was dry, please do give it another try! The main thing to remember is that it has a shorter cooking time than other fattier salmons. Sockeye are really delicious though when prepared properly, they’re highly nutritious; rich in protein and omega-3s, they’re sustainable, and they’re affordable.

Until next time,

May the fish be with you!

~Maki Zavelli

Thai Chili Shrimp N’ Grits

Ahoy there mateys!

Alright here we go! I knew this had to be one of the dishes I would submit to Food Network. For one thing we have a dish on our brunch menu at work called Adam’s Shrimp N’ Grits, and it has a lot of fans. I’ve had many people tell me its the best around; actually I got just got a comment card about it on Sunday morning, which I really appreciate!  However, you haven’t really had Adam’s Shrimp N’ Grits unless you’ve had this version.

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I love infusing exotic flavors into classic American cuisine and I’m a huge fan of Southern American, Creole, or Cajun style food. This dish has grown from humble roots as a simple southern fishermen’s breakfast to gracing many different menus at restaurants all across America. Many chefs have their own take on it. For my version, I’m remixing this classic with the spicy flavors of Thailand.

So what are grits, exactly?

They are definitely one of the more confusing ingredients out there, and the answer to that can get a little complicated. I’ll try to give the Cliff’s Notes. Corn grits are a Southern comfort staple, with Native American roots. Grits are made by cooking ground, dried corn. You can find different varieties, which depend upon the fineness of the grind, and how it’s processed. I usually get mine in the bulk section at Whole Foods where they’re labeled as cornmeal grits. I would avoid anything overly processed such as the ones sold as instant grits. Though slightly different in texture, stone-ground grits, cornmeal grits, hominy grits and polenta are all pretty much interchangeable.

(side note: WordPress wants to correct “polenta” to read “tadpole” instead. )

(side-side note: “polenta” and “tadpole” are however, not interchangeable.)

Grits can be cooked so many different ways that there are actually entire books dedicated to them.(*ahem* gift idea) Grits can be savory or sweet; they can be silky smooth or toothsome; they can be cooled, sliced and then fried; they can even be healthy or indulgent. More often than not, they go the indulgent route — they are considered a comfort food after all. This usually includes milk, cream, butter, and/or cheese. I always prefer to lighten up a dish and try to make it more healthful while still making it delicious. The good news with grits is that you can have your polenta cake and eat it too!

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What makes these grits uniquely healthy while simultaneously rich and creamy is that they are made with stock and coconut milk. I added additional flavor to the chicken stock by throwing in some lemongrass I had lying around. (no, not uncommon in my kitchen).

It’s amazing how creamy they are without any cream, butter, or cheese! They are also gluten-free and vegan assuming you use vegetable stock… but then you know, don’t add the shrimp, or whatever. Grits are so versatile, you can eat just about anything with them. I also love poached eggs with mine.

Since there are only 2 major components to this dish, they have to both be perfect. This means no skimpy shrimpies! You have to get the best shrimp available to you. Go for the largest, freshest ones you can find. You really don’t want the pre-cooked variety either. You will infuse more flavor into them if they go in the pan raw.

Time to turn up the heat a little bit.

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With the shrimp, you can really afford to kick things into high gear on the Scoville scale. Somewhere between hot and nuclear should be just right. What I absolutely love about shrimp and grits together is that you can make the shrimp devilishly spicy, but the creamy grits will save your face! (but you know…don’t go eating any whole Thai chili peppers) If you don’t like spicy, I would at least go heavy on the garlic.

For this version, I made my own curry paste. By all means, go buy a curry paste at your Asian market or an overpriced one from the international aisle of your mainstream grocer. I prefer to make mine though because some of the ingredients in the store-bought variety are suspect to me. I mean have you ever actually SEEN shrimp paste, for example? Well I have, and uh… Maki Zavelli, over and out. Bai.

Generally for curry pastes, I process garlic, ginger, chili peppers, herbs and spices, and sometimes throw in random Asian sauces and pastes I have in the fridge. Korean Gochuchang and Japanese Miso are some of my favorites to go to.

Sorry I don’t have process photos. They look terrible in my kitchen with my current equipment and I didn’t have a helper available. I’ll outline my suggested process below, but keep in mind that there is a lot of room for personal interpretation. You can use different types of stocks, aromatics, fats, and spices. I always encourage people to learn cooking techniques, but to be adaptive to their tastes in regards to ingredients and flavors.

Ingredients:

1 cup cornmeal grits

4 cups stock (chicken, fish, or vegetable)

1 can coconut milk

6-8 pieces of shrimp per serving, deveined

2 Tbsp (eyeball it) garlic, minced

1 Tbsp (eyeball it) ginger, minced

1 small onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

3 Thai chili peppers (omit if they scare you)

1 Tbsp curry paste, red, panang or home-made

lime

Grits:

Bring 4 cups of stock to a boil. Add additional aromatics if using.

(conveniently they typically come in 4 cup size)

Add 1 cup of grits. Gradually add them to the stock while whisking.

Reduce heat to LOW. Let them cook low and slow for about 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. If they seize up a bit or look a little tight, that’s ok because we are adding coconut milk as well.

Add about 1/2 to 3/4 a can of coconut milk to your preference. Some people like really creamy grits, and some like them with a little more texture. As long as they aren’t too runny or totally seized up, there really isn’t a right or wrong consistency — it’s preference. Reserve the rest of the coconut milk for later.

Shrimp:

Heat your skillet. Once hot, turn your heat down to medium. Butter is the classic fat to use here and is admittedly the best partner to shrimp, but you can also use olive, coconut, or some other good oil. You can also use a blend; I used a mix of coconut oil and butter. Add your freshly minced garlic, ginger, onion, peppers, and curry paste. Don’t forget to add some salt and any other seasonings  you might like. It’s pretty easy to make your own curry paste, but you can buy pre-made ones at the Asian market. I would suggest the Thai red or panang style curry pastes. The amount is up to preference.

Add your shrimp. Let everything brown in the pan a bit before adding the reserved coconut milk. Allow the shrimp to finish cooking in this broth and take off the heat as soon as they’re done or right before they’re done. Hit the shrimp with a little fresh lime juice. Shrimp are easy to over cook, but the big, fresh ones are more forgiving than the small or pre-cooked shrimp that turn to tiny bits of rubber if you overcook them.

1 cup of uncooked grits yields about 4-5 cups cooked. I’d figure about 1 cup per serving, but could be more or less based on preference. They are surprisingly filling though!

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Next time you make grits, you should really try using stock instead of water and coconut milk instead of cream and butter. I promise you they are absolutely de-lish! So creamy you would think they were made with cream. If you’ve never tried shrimp and grits, go find a local restaurant that is known for them, and see what you’re missing!

I attempted to work on a post for 4th of July, but it didn’t really come together. Trying to make any food naturally blue usually doesn’t… but Happy Independence Day anyway! I’m gonna go back to enjoying my day off, and I hope you have a great holiday filled with great food, friends and weather!

Until next time,

May the fish be with you!

~Maki Zavelli