Saturday, October 06, 2012

Demo by Pam Mazzola, Prospect

As you know, I often attend the demos at the Ferry Building on Saturday mornings.  Since I've talked a lot in past reviews about the cooking demo program, I'll skip those details here.  You also know that I don't tend to write up the demos, unless they are exceptional.  And this one was.

I was very excited when I saw that chef Pam Mazzola from Prospect/Boulevard would be doing the demo this week.  Even though there were a slew of things going on in the city that I planned to attend, I knew I had to somehow fit this in, as I'm always interested in what they are coming up with at the restaurants.  I love their approach to Californian cuisine and seasonal cooking, and they are always mixing up the dishes slightly, although continuing to somehow feature my favorite ingredients all of the time (and I'm not just talking about foie gras, although the last time I had it there, before the ban, was incredible!).  Since I live right above Prospect and walk by Boulevard all of the time, I'm constantly drooling over their menus.

When I sat down and looked at the recipe I was a little surprised.  Normally the recipes are a single page, sometimes spilling onto the back page.  This one continued on to a third sheet!  And it contained a bunch of separate components.  It seemed very ambitious to demo all of that in a short time, and I worried that it was going to be too complicated for me to consider trying on my own.  After all, part of the point of these demos is to inspire us in our own kitchens, right?

But I shouldn't have worried.  The demo did not run over, and she finished all of the components.  And ... amazingly, I do think I could perhaps pull off every single one of them.  What I absolutely loved about the demo is that for each component, she also told us other uses for it.  I could imagine either tweaking the composed dish somewhat to suit my tastes more, or making every component in it and then re-using them in other dishes on the following days.  For a dish that had so much going on, this was surprisingly versatile.  In addition to sharing other uses for the components, she also provided adaptations, for example, a way to make romesco sauce using pine nuts for those with nut allergies, or with beans instead of bread to make it gluten free.

The chef was clear and well spoken.  Her demo was very informative, and her enthusiasm for the city and the market came though.  Also at the event was Kathy King, the general manager.  She spoke a little at the end about the history of the two restaurants and the differences between them.

The thing I took away most from the demo is that it is possible for the home cook to work with squid.  I would have never considered that before seeing this demo.  It has always just seemed far too complicated, as I didn't know how to clean it, and since it is so often poorly done in restaurants (rubbery, over cooked, etc), it seemed unfathomable that I could ever do it myself.  She showed us how to clean the squid, cutting off the tentacles, removing the beak, and ripping out the guts.  I am still a little weary of that part, but far more confident that I would have been before.

But the best part, and why I'm writing this post: I think this was the tastiest demo dish I've ever had.  I can't wait to go back to Prospect.  Or Boulevard.  Or ... both!
Grilled Monterey Calamari with Shelling Beans, Pepper Salad, Arugula, and Sauce Romesco.
This was absolutely delicious!

The squid was perfectly executed, with a fantastic smokiness from the grill.  If all squid tasted like this, people would eat it more regularly!  Other than the step of cleaning it, it was also really simple to prepare, just brushed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and put on the cast iron griddle for about 3 minutes.  Simple treatment of the star ingredient, and so tasty.

There were a variety of types of beans, all decent, but not really my thing.  Served warm, and a somewhat unique aspect to the dish.  Pam mentioned that they could also be served alone as a side, or dressed up with some vinaigrette and turned into a salad.  Not what I'd be interested in, but if you like beans, I could see how versatile they would be.

The fresh tomato sauce was incredible.  Again, it was so simple!  The dry farmed Early Girls really just shined.  She simply grated the tomatoes, cooked them with a little garlic and shallot for a few minutes, strained the sauce, and was done.  And it was tastier than pretty much any canned tomato sauce I've ever had.  It was another component that you could do a lot with: use it as a pasta sauce, a pizza sauce, serve with fish, etc.  And it freezes well.  A wonderful base recipe to have in your recipe box, and one I'll certainly consider making myself.

It was also topped with a little fresh arugula and crispy shallot salad.  I'm a sucker for crispy shallots and think they are one of the tastiest things on earth.  They didn't disappoint here, and the crispy texture was a nice component.

And finally, the romesco.  So delicious.  In general, I love romesco and will coat just about anything in it.  So it comes as no surprise that I loved this part.  It went incredibly well with the squid, with the slightly smoky charred flavor they both had mirroring each other.  Absolutely delicious.

I would have loved to have a crostini with this, to soak up the remaining tomato sauce and romesco.

Definitely one of the tastiest demos I have ever been to!
Caramel corn, cocoa nibs, salt.
As if I wasn't happy enough at the end of this demo, Chef Pam came around with a special treat for everyone: bags of their caramel corn!  OMG.  You know what a dessert girl I am, so this was particularly up my alley.  I've of course had it at the restaurant before, so I knew what a treat I was in for.  I couldn't even wait a minute before breaking into the bag.

This is very good caramel corn!  Each kernel is coated in the caramel, there are some cocoa nibs adding additional flavor and some bitterness, and salt to balance it all out.  The popcorn is fresh and crispy, and in various size clumps.  Oh so good.  I've normally had this as a bar snack, but found today that it pairs perfectly with coffee too.

What a great additional treat, thank you!
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