Testing out six dozen-plus fried chicken flavors at Restaurant 1833.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
When you eat 75 different types of fried chicken in one sitting, there are things that you expect to encounter, like buttermilk baths, cornflake crusts, fried-food fatigue and First-World guilt. Then there are the things you don’t see coming, including Sriracha foam, Wagyu grease and philosophical talks on what makes fats fatty.
Pop Rocks didn’t make a physical appearance, but when a chef of the caliber of Restarant 1833 Exec Chef Levi Mezick is charged with leading his restaurant’s brain trust on a five-hour odyssey into the best fried poultry possible – fried chicken Sundays start once the recipe’s wrapped – Pop Rocks wouldn’t be such an outlandish consideration. After all, we would try fried chicken coated in rice pearls, fried chicken soaked in red curry and fried chicken with a tempura batter fed through a whipped-cream aerator. We would delve into the comparative merits of brines and buttermilks, deep-frys and pan-frys, herb flours and powdered-zucchini dustings, and all the duck fat, chicken fat, pork fat and Wagyu-beef fat a liver can stomach.
Pop Rocks probably wouldn’t survive the fryer, but their mention was telling. When the possibility hit the lips of Rob Weakley, who co-owns 1833 and its parent Coastal Luxury Management, Wine Director Ted Glennon was slow to write it off. With Weakley and co-founder David Bernahl, he’s seen wilder dreams become directives.
“I’m pretty sure they’d dissolve,” Glennon said. “But I never know how serious they are. I’m partly thinking, ‘Do we have to find a bunch of Pop Rocks?’”
So it goes with CLM. When 1833’s sibling restaurant Cannery Row Brewing Company discovered the most beer taps at any place in the region was 60-something, they installed 73. (Wait till you see the Guinness Book of World Records amount of beers they’re tapping Nov. 15-18 with Sierra Nevada – that info’s up on the blog, www.mcweekly.com/edible.) When they started Pebble Beach Food & Wine, they weren’t shooting for Masters of Food & Wine, but Aspen and Miami. And so I found myself gathering at 10am in the 1833 bar area with both an empty stomach and full arterial trepidation, knowing a thoroughly audacious tasting was coming. But I didn’t know a you-asked-for-it gleam in Mezick’s eye was coming with it as well.
He started us with recipes borrowed from two towering names in chicken: Colonel Sanders and Thomas Keller. While Saunders’ KFC took buckets of oily comfort mainstream, it’s Keller who’s brought fancier fowl to the foodie niche, selling baskets out of Ad Hoc and premade mixes for obscene prices.
His brine was also in play, though Mezick’s trumped it. Similar comparisons – five-part preps, different only because one was sous vide, for instance – began to reveal a superior taste profile.
But before that finding there was talk of shortness of breath and “chicken seizures” from GM Tobias Peach, mercy pleas from exec admin Sarah Potter, a longtime vegetarian who was working in the restaurant while hoping not to be buried in test plates – “The chicken’s getting closer!” she yelped – and input from all on subsequent intestinal cleanses.
Ultimately the verdict was unanimous. Mezick’s brine is a must. Sous vide, even as if it doesn’t give as much flavor as a total deep fry, more than makes up for it by way of moistness. Duck fat trumps all, though pork and beef fat is richer, greasier and borderline surreal. Overnight buttermilking and herb flour are crucial. Sriracha foams and Frank’s Red Hot dipping are delicious, but best served on the side. (Visit the blog for a video and more.)
Another verdict was also unanimous: While each of us can say we’ve tasted the best fried chicken the region’s seen, nobody necessarily anticipates eating fried chicken ever again.
• After its debut food truck-tasting debut last fall, Party in the Hangar ($60 in advance; $95 VIP) represents the most awaited sequel in a while – 1-4pm Saturday, Nov. 10, Monterey County Vintners and Growers (375-9400) fills 20,000-square-foot Del Monte Aviation with wines from 40 wineries, tastes from 16 spots including Schooner’s and Gino’s and food trucks like Babaloo Cuban, Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting, Bacon Bacon SF and more.
• Café Ariana, (920-1381) from the same people behind next-door, under-repair Big Night Bistro, is officially open in downtown P.G., with gelato, pizzas, panini, coffee, beer and wine.
• The amount of beer (very little) and lines (quite a lot) may not have won any awards, but at Bacon, Blues and Brews, Jean Paul Peluffo of Forge in the Forest (624-2233), Brian Christensen of Brophy’s (624-2476) and Christopher Caul of Christopher’s (626-8000) took top honors for their double-smoked pork belly, bourbon-bacon-brittle ice cream and Cajun-crawfish-bacon-fat-aioli orzo “risotto,” respectively. Mark Ayers of CRBC also deserves a pork-snout smooch for his bacon bread pudding, the people’s choice.
• My fellow judge at BBB, Chef Paul Lee, is up to nothing short of inspiring as he teaches meats and techniques at Rancho Cielo’s Drummond Culinary Academy. Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, there’s a mixer ($10-$20, 648-5350) with tours of the facility, apps and refreshments, www.ranchocieloyc.org.
• Breakfast Club (394-3238) angels rally for one of their own, single mom/cancer battler Heather McRae, with a rummage sale 8am Saturday, Nov. 3, at Moose Lodge. Dropping gently used items at B.C. helps too.
• Since-’78 Pagrovian outfit Sweet Earth Natural Foods (375-8673) – known for vegan-friendly burritos – recently sold. Owner Kelly Swette hosts a free “burrito shower” with music, food and prizes noon-3pm Saturday, Nov. 3, at the new Moss Landing digs.
• It’s like Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) says in The Help: “Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life.”