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What the heck is that? Part 9

Do you ever read one of our menus and ask yourself what the heck that word or phrase is? So it has been a while but here on the blog I try to address some of those terms that we use on menus but that not everyone knows the definition of. The last time we addressed this we left off in the "S" column of the alphabet and so I decided to just pick up from there. Here are some common menu terms, what they mean and where they come from.

Surf and turf; a combination of beef and seafood-usually lobster. I worked in a restaurant once that insisted on calling it "Beef and Reef" on the menu but we all knew what it really was. The idea of combining two expensive things on one plate was popularized in the 1920's as a sort of conspicuous consumption by Nouveau Riche "arrivistes" but fell out of favor with the Great Depression. There is no evidence however that this specific Dish as we know it was served anywhere until 1962 when a restaurant called The Eye of the Needle at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle served Grilled Filet Mignon and Steamed Lobster Tail. The town of Lowell, Massachusetts has long claimed the original status from a menu in 1966 but that was four years later than Seattle and it involved crab legs not lobster so I say that doesn't count. Ours is usually very popular and we serve it with drawn butter and red wine sauce.

Sushi; A Japanese word used to describe a wide range of food served in bite sized portions. The sheer array of Sushi is too large to describe here but you should know that Sushi is not always raw, and I don't think we have ever served it that way here on purpose. Sushi is often served with sharp pickled ginger and small balls of Wasabi paste as a compliment. Wasabi is a fiery relative of horseradish and a little goes a very long way in terms of flavor. I try not to serve the wasabi unless specifically requested because it looks an awful lot like avocado and we really don't want that kind of surprise do we?

Sweetbread; Neither sweet nor bread, Sweetbreads refers to a dish made from the Thymus gland -usually from a Calf but I have seen lamb used as well. The calf is better. Sweetbreads have a soft creamy texture and a slightly gamey flavor. This is one of my favorites, and it really helps if you don't think too much about it.

Sweet Potato; large edible member of the bindweed family. brought to Europe from Central America in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was quite popular-not least because of its' reputation as an aphrodisiac. Yes. If you are wondering why the Dining room gets so crazy sometimes look no further than that fact. It's Haitian name is batata which filtered through the Spanish became patata, which morphed into the English term potato. The term stuck for quite a while-in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor (1598) the lovesick Falstaff greeted Mistress Ford with 'Let the sky rain potatoes' and he was certainly referring to sweet potatoes and their effect on young lovers not an actual meteorological event. By the end of the 16th century white potatoes were becoming more common and it became necessary to distinguish the sweet potato as being different. No one writes romantic sonnets about potatoes anymore so that's disappointing.

Swiss cheese; generic term for a mild semi hard cheese from Switzerland. While most Swiss Cheese here in America is used to adorn sandwiches, the term does no justice to real authentic Swiss Cheeses such as Emmantal or Gruyere. The holes in Swiss cheese are the result of Carbon Dioxide being released and account for much of it's distinctive look.

Syrah; Noble wine Grape originating in the northern Rhone valley in France where it makes some of the best wines in the world. Also known for this grape is Australia where it is referred to as Shiraz. While it's really funny to imagine Australians mispronouncing something so badly the truth is that Shiraz is an old name for the grape owing to a legend that it was imported from The Persian city by the same name. The Australians simply adopted the old name and stuck with it. That legend isn't true either but we never let truth get in the way of a good story. Here in America, we grow some pretty impressive Syrah as well.

Tapas; small savory snacks served in Spanish bars, typically washed down with glasses of cold Fino or Manzanilla Sherry. There is a wide range of diversity from a few olives to chef inspired creations that the best restaurants clamor for. The name literally means "lid" in Spanish and one legend says that it originated as something like a piece of bread or sausage to cover your drink and keep flies away. Yuck.

A better legend is that King Alfonso X of Castile (1252-1284) was recovering from an illness and had to consume small amounts of food with wine to strengthen his constitution. The method proved successful and so pleasurable to the king that he henceforth proclaimed that alcohol could not be served without accompanying food. It was a prudent decision as the taverns and inns in Spain at the time were notoriously full of drunken and swarthy sailors. Having the patrons eat while imbibing their refreshments ensured they didn’t get too drunk too quickly and reduced violent incidents on the streets. I like this one much better-especially as it allows me to use the term "swarthy" in a sentence. My favorite part of tapas is when you suggest to your friends that you visit a "tapas" bar it often sounds like "topless" bar and either way a good time is had.

Tapioca; refers to a tropical plant one of the most commonly eaten in the world-although it's use in Western cuisine is usually limited to a rather bland sweetened pudding. Also known as Manioc, Yuca, or Cassava, the plant grows best in low nutrient soils and once established can be harvested over and over. This makes it a favorite in warm regions worldwide, as the multiple names suggest. Flavor is starchy and a bit bland but with more flavor than a potato in my opinion. Excellent fried with lime and sea salt.

Tarragon; Herb used in much European cooking-notably French cuisine. The flavor is similar to Anise or licorice, and is very distinctive in dishes. Tarragon is one of the four fines herbes of French cooking and is particularly suitable for chicken, fish, and egg dishes. Tarragon is the main flavoring component of Béarnaise sauce. Fresh, lightly bruised tarragon sprigs are steeped in vinegar to produce tarragon vinegar. Pounded with butter, it produces an excellent topping for grilled salmon or beef. We have a really nice French Tarragon -courtesy of one of our residents in our herb garden if you would like to try some.

Tart; an open case pastry containing a filling-either sweet or savory. The origin of the word in English is debatable but most agree that it derives from the Old French torte for a round pastry or pie, which in turn came from the Latin tortere for bread but which literally means 'to twist"-presumably . The term appears in England in the Fourteenth Century first as a meat pie, but over time developed into specifically a sweet filling which is how it is usually used in America. The word as applied colloquially to women seems to have begin in the nineteenth century as an affectionate term, but by the 1880's it became a bit more serious with specific implications of promiscuity.

Tartare; there are two culinary applications of this word, both of them inspired by the supposed fiery nature of the Tatar people of central Asia which was perceived as a source of exotic foods. One such food was the gherkin, incorporated into a sauce made with mayonnaise and sharp mustard that was perfected by the iconic French chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier. The name and basic recipe survive in tartar sauce, which is used to dress fish that, usually, has been breaded and fried. The same term was later applied to raw meat that is chopped finely as in steak tartare with the belief that this was how it was eaten on the steppes. Steak tartare usually is chopped raw steak, a raw egg, herbs, Worcestershire and is served with toast points. The interesting thing about this dish is that beef thus treated was originally called à l’Américaine, “in the American style,” presumably because in popular belief Americans ate meat raw. Thus, in his classic Le Guide culinaire (1903), Chef Escoffier included a similar dish called “Beefsteak à l’Américaine”. Just goes to show what a name can mean to whom.

Tenderloin; The tenderloin is generally considered the most tender and therefore the most desirable cut of meat in beef and pork. The muscle extends along the rear portion of the spine, directly behind the kidney, from about the hip bone to the thirteenth rib. It doesn't get much exercise, which is why the meat is so tender. Conversely one might consider that the lack of exercise makes it the least flavorful cut of meat-depending on one's preference in cuts of meat. Particularly in Beef this muscle is prized, giving us Filet mignon, chateaubriand and beef wellington to name some of the most easily identified dishes. Here at Vi we serve a lot of Filet Mignon, ours is cut to about five ounces and grilled to order. In Pork, the tenderloin is usually roasted and carved, it's size making cuts like Mignon more difficult. The old phrase "Living high on the Hog" refers to one being able to afford the more expensive cuts along the top of the animal like tenderloin or loin, which are the most expensive as opposed to the shanks and trotters which were obviously much more affordable.

Tequila; Distilled beverage made from the Blue Agave plant made primarily around the city of Tequila in Mexico in the state of Jalisco and also in certain surrounding regions. Spirits made in other parts of Mexico must use the term Mescal. The Agave is roasted to convert it's starch to sugar and the juice is then fermented into a low alcohol beverage called pulque which is then distilled to make the popular spirit. High quality tequila is properly enjoyed neat, while many common tequilas are more fit for cocktails like Margaritas or Palomas. Next Tuesday, Chef David will be hosting our Sip and Savor, and will undoubtedly be serving some high quality tastings with the proper food to compliment it. In my experience nearly everyone has a tequila story, and so if you join us on Tuesday please be prepared to share yours after the second or third selection.

Thank you for indulging me with these, look for more entries in the weeks and months ahead. I hope to see you all next Tuesday at 2pm for sip and Savor.

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May 23

We will have to agree to disagree about the yellow noxious weed, but your front yard saga made me LOL! Thank you for another example of your good humor and your ability to tell a very good story. My honeysuckle is popping out all over - send the bees. We have some pretty mature clover in our "backyard". If you want to expose the bees to that, I can identify it and shoot anybody who tries to do away with it.

Mary Lou


Thanks for Part 9, Greg. These "What the heck is that?' writeups are excellent. You've gotten through the letter. 't' and now it is on to the rest of the alphabet. Keep it up, Greg.

Paul Chamberlin

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