If you have visited Paso Robles in the past 5 years, you probably at some point have crossed paths with Tacos Al Pastor. Be it at a restaurant, the rehearsal dinner of a friend's wedding, the club pick-up party of one of your favorite wineries, they seem to be everywhere. My first experience with them locally was at the now defunct Restaurant Tenexepa off Creston Road during the 2007 harvest. After a 14 hour cellar shift, nothing could compete with a plate full of these $1.50 pork tacos washed down with ample Negra Modelo.
Having moved here from San Francisco, I was more accustomed to the overstuffed Mission style burrito, but I quickly fell in love with these simple tacos. The perfect mix of spice and fat in the pork is matched with ample fresh onions and cilantro, then comes that special touch, the amazing addition of big slice of grilled onion and pineapple.
At Tenexepa, the kitchen was hidden from view, so I was ignorant of the true magic behind this now staple of mexican street food. I was also constantly told, "Just you wait, the King of Paso Robles Al Pastor is remodeling and when they reopen, you'll taste the real deal." Well, the King did reopen and I have found myself taking almost all first time visiting friends or family to the patio of Los Robles Cafe near downtown. There, for all to see is the cooking technique that sets Al Pastor apart in the cannon of Mexican cuisine. The pork for Tacos Al Pastor is slow cooked on a vertical spit.
The first thought I had was, "These guys must have a friend who owns a Greek or Middle Eastern restaurant and figured he could cook pork the same way." Well, the actual story is more beautiful than that. And it speaks to how the strange search for authenticity in cuisine is a fleeting dream. Food is merely a reflection of the ever changing evolution of culture. The roots of this now ubiquitous food trace back, amazingly enough, to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. In the time surrounding WWI, large numbers of Lebanese and Syrian Christians immigrated to Mexico, mainly to the areas around Puebla and Mexico City. They brought with them the Doner Kebab style of cooking. Over time, the locals incorporated these spits for roasting pork instead of lamb and a new food was born.
I was reminded of all this just last week as a new institution has just moved into Paso Robles. During my college days just 30 miles south in San Luis Obispo, one of my standard lunch spots was Jaffa Cafe for their famous shawarmas.
Well, Jaffa Cafe has finally opened a branch here in Paso just a couple blocks from Los Robles, and it is a must visit for lunch or dinner the next time you are in town. Plus you can enjoy this great living example of how food, culture, and history all intertwine to make this world a much more interesting place to eat, drink and live.
Where To Go:
Los Robles Cafe: 1420 Spring Street, Paso Robles
La Reyna Markey Y Carniceria: 532 24th Street, Paso Robles
Jaffa Cafe: 1344 Park Street, Paso Robles (Shared with Panolivo)
BY: JACQUI PAILING
1/2 lb. mixed baby greens
3 red beets
3 golden beets
1 red onion
Crumbled goat cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut tops and bottoms off beets and place in a glass pan. Drizzle each beet with olive oil and season with sea salt. Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Let cool completely then peel and slice.
Peel and slice red onion and saute with 1 tblp. over medium-high heat. Set aside.
Mix baby greens with 1/8 cup olive oil and 2 tblp. balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.
Mix all ingredients together or create each salad separately layering baby greens, beets, onions and goat cheese.
Calcareous Wine Pairing: 2009 Calcareous Grenahce/Mourvedre
BY: JOHN TEELING
1 medium pumpkin
1 large onion chopped
6 cloves garlic minced
2 medium potatoes diced
2 stalks celery chopped
2 large carrots chopped
1 quart chicken stock
2 tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. coriander
½ tsp. cumin
4 tblp. Butter
Crème fraiche for garnish
Italian flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)
Quarter pumpkin and scoop out seeds. Wrap pumpkin quarters in tin foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. When cooked scoop out flesh.
Meanwhile melt butter over medium heat and add vegetables. Cook for 5 minutes until starting to soften. Add spices and cook for 2 more minutes. Add pumpkin and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Puree mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve with a dallop crème fraiche and garnish with the parsley.
Individual Savory Tarts
Pate Brisee (Simple Pastry Dough)
2 ¼ cup flour
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter cut into small pieces.
¼ to ½ ice water
In a food processor combine flour and salt and pulse to mix for 10 seconds. Add butter and mix until mixture becomes like rough sand. Then add the water slowly while running the processor until mixture becomes formed as dough. Remove and separate into to balls, wrapped and refrigerate for an hour.
Roll out dough and cut into 4” squares. Grease a muffin tin and put dough into circles.
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 cup feta crumbles
½ cup chopped kalamata olives
1-egg, lightly beaten
In meantime: 350 degrees oven
Roast 3lbs. tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper in oven for an hour
Roast 1 large onion, sliced in ¼ strips with oil, salt and pepper until golden
Put onion tomato mixture into pastry, top with feta and thyme, then olives.
Bring points of dough together and brush with egg.
Bake 30 minutes , or until brown.
Pair with the 2009 Grenache or 2010 Marsanne.
One of the side jobs that comes with becoming a winemaker is the position of chief of all family wine questions and situations. As someone who just plain loves wine, I’m not always the best suited for this job. When a family member does a bit of research and tells me, “Oh, let’s hold off on the Chardonnay right now because I heard that you can’t drink it with the salad dressing I used.” I can tell that they really don’t care, that they are just worried that I will look at them scornfully as they serve me the evil mixture of wine and vinegar. As if people expect me to fly off the handle yelling, "How dare you ruin the sanctity of my wine that I perfectly crafted. This meal is RUINED!" Instead, I usually reply with something like, “You know, that might be technically true, but who cares. Never hold off on drinking wine, bad pairings can be just as fun as a good one. You can see what difference the food makes in the way the wine tastes." This is a great way to truly understand food pairing.
Wine's relationship to our palates fascinates me endlessly, so I’m not one to dogmatically follow the rules of food and wine. Like most trained scientists, I feel there is just as much to learn in failure as there is in success. Sadly, my offhand dismissal of hard and fast rules just makes everything more confusing for my family.
These situations always get me thinking about why wine can be so confounding to those first exploring it. I think people are scared that they will demonstrate some form of wine ignorance by flubbing a basic rule. Well, rules like these are meant to be broken indeed. The world of food and wine is so complex, simple rules should only be the roughest of guidelines. As an example wines are often described as being "food friendly". I guess this is said implying that some other un-named wine is unfriendly or just plain rude. Since wine is so completely intertwined into the culinary experience, this has to be one of the harshest critiques possible of a wine. The problem that immediately comes to my mind is this: What does the critic in this case mean by "food"?
When I lived in San Francisco, a typical 8pm question was, “What should we eat tonight?” I know this is a common problem in homes throughout the world, but the seemingly endless choices made available in my neighborhood invoked that same feeling of hopeless confusion as when choosing a toothpaste.
Anyway, here is just a sample of the choice of restraunt styles that were within a 4-minute bike ride of my front door:
American, New American, Southern, BBQ, Californian, Cajun, Seafood, French, Italian, Vietnemese, French-Vietnemese, German, East German, Hipster German, Pizza, Southern Indian, Northen Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Nepalese, Cambodian, Thai, Ethiopian, Senegalese, Moroccan, Spanish/Tapas, Peruvian, Nicaraguan, Mexican, New Mexican, Tacos, Burritos, Vegan/Raw, Cuban, Japanese, Mediterranean....(Man, now I need to spend a week eating in the Mission)
The idea that there is some formula out there that x and y features of wine make it good with "food" seems totaly absurd. I don't care what the pH, TA, tannin, alcohol, balance, ten-cent wine descriptor, you can find a food that works for you with pretty much any wine. I've met people who swear by sushi and whiskey! Not my ideal pairing, but if you love it, anyone who tells you otherwise can take a walk. When one combines the entire spectrum of sustenance with all the styles and characteristics of wine, then throws in the full range of human taste and experience, I think you’d have to be a Numberwang champion to figure out all the possibilities.
So take this as a challenge to disregard much of what you’ve read or heard and just go exploring. Eat at places that are passionate about what they serve and express a unique point of view. That passion will lead them, and in turn you, to all sorts of interesting and unexpected places that simply following “the rules” would steer you away from. The role of the experts should not be to confuse you and limit your choices, but instead be a role of expanding and leading you to try something you might otherwise avoid. Any sommelier will tell you the greatest triumph in pairing is the success of the unexpected. Don’t be afraid of failure or of some snobby upturned nose at a bad pairing. Try anything and everything with the full confidence that failure and success are both wonderful outcomes when it comes to wine and food. This more than any book, video, magazine, or blog will lead you down the path of understanding your unique palate.
What a just plain fantastic time of year this is. Things are starting to warm up and the vines will be budding any moment now. And with that warm air comes some of my favorite American activities. Baseball and BBQ are starting to get going. And nothing goes better with those activities than Zinfandel. Well, I won’t get carried away here. A solid pint of beer goes down with those two perfectly as well. I’ve been enjoying some Pliny The Elder along with my usual Anchor Steam and local favorite Firestone Double Barrel. But the Paso Robles Zin fest is here this weekend and Paso Robles Adult Co-Ed softball season kicks off, so I’m sticking with Zin, Tri-Tip, and Bat and Glove for today.
Don’t know if you missed this, but Paso has a new attitude about its Zinfandel bona fides. Here is the ad the area pitched in to produce hyping up our Zinfandel production. Note the baseball reference in there as well.
When people talk of “food friendly” wine, it seems they are rarely talking about Central Coast BBQ. It may not be proper French cuisine, but it is food. And damn good food at that. And it pairs with big Paso Zins like nothing else. It reminds me of my basic pairing rule, pair flavors from the same region. Here in Paso, we like to cook big slabs of meat on top of oak fires with plentiful sauce. This produces a meal filled with richness, smoke, and decadence. If you want your wine to match up, put the German Riesling away and grab some Paso Zin. Our 2007 Zin will go on sale for the last time this weekend; it is the official drink of my backyard right now.
And for a final thought, I just want to hype up my trusty softball glove that I oiled up last night. Getting out the old leather after a few months just brings back all those great memories of getting excited for little league and pick up games as a kid. There really is nothing quite like the smell and feel of oiling a perfectly broken in mitt as an American ceremony for saying good riddance to winter. Perusing the local sporting good store recently though, I was a bit saddened at the condition of the baseball/softball mitt world. For one, nothing I could find in this area was made in America. And worse, all the leather felt thin and stiff, none of the life you want from a good glove. So if you play, or are in the market for something for a kid just starting out, do yourself a favor and check out Nokona. Nokona is the last company that hand makes gloves in America for America’s pastime. They are simply an amazing product that is in a class all by itself. They even have gloves made of bison if you want to get truly USA all the way. Like the wine I make, and the barrels I use, they strive to be hand made works of art.
There really is no way of describing the difference in feel between one of these gloves and the usual store bought one you find at Wal-Mart or wherever. It just feels right, heavier duty in everyway, but much more supple at the same time. You will want to just go play catch the second you put it on. So get out there, winter is receding and spring is in the air. Goodtimes!
Oh and how could I forget....