Monday, July 11, 2011

Review: Cassis American Brasserie

Friday featured two new restaurant adventures, chosen to kick us out of our food rut. At lunch, we braved a torrential Florida downpour on a doomed food mission in Gulfport. A favorite beach dive closed several years ago, and I keep waiting for it to be replaced with something equally fantastic. No such luck. Its current incarnation as a faux-British pub is ripe for a visit from Gordon Ramsey.

Thankfully, dinner was an epic win. We ventured to Cassis American Brasserie, a newcomer to the upscale restaurant scene in downtown St. Pete. I've never been to Paris, but this place certainly felt like I imagine a bistro to feel--quite a bit larger perhaps, but pleasantly noisy and open. High ceilings, shiny white tiles, softly colored globes of light, and comfortable banquettes--and celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, sitting just behind me, facing a massive tray from the raw bar. It all made for a thoroughly cosmopolitan, yet eminently comfortable, ambience. Dorian summed it up succinctly: "This place makes me want to move back to New York. NOW."

The food was more deftly prepared and presented than anything I've eaten before in the Tampa Bay area, save only for our first visit to Cafe Ponte in 2004. Dorian went for traditional bistro fare, selecting the onion soup gratinee and steak frites. Both were very good, if not outstanding. He said the steak was perfectly cooked, tender and very rare inside, and bathed in a rich demi glace. The frites were tasty but slightly limp, probably from being piled into a paper bag and left to sit for too long.

I was sorely tempted by the fried chicken with lobster mac and cheese, but I start training for a half marathon this week and couldn't justify the fat and calories. I went for much lighter choices--and was not sorry. A cool, refreshing cucumber-mint gazpacho arrived at my table, heaped with massive lumps of sweet, minimally seasoned blue crab meat. If Emeril hadn't been sitting so close, I might have licked the bowl.

My entree was beautiful and tasty--rainbow trout in brown butter, on a bed of roasted potatoes and crunchy haricot verts. There were a few plump shrimp on top, but they were completely extraneous. The sharp bite of capers in the butter surprised me, infusing every morsel of trout with briny joy. I've had a very similar dish recently, that took a richer route and added bacon, and that was perhaps more comforting; but those capers totally won me over.

I shouldn't have had dessert, but, you know...FRENCH food. A flaky (if slightly dry) pastry round, topped with tender, warm apple slices and swathed in caramel, is about as good as it gets. But the addition of homemade coriander ice cream, delicately spiced and melting, nearly put me into a happy food coma. I found it almost painful to choose a dessert, but I am so pleased with my choice.

We will definitely be back to Cassis for more. I want that fried chicken (though perhaps not until after my race in October), and I long to try the poached peaches with cassis sorbet and chantilly cream. I wouldn't mind making my way through the cocktail menu (my violet margarita was tart and very subtly perfumed). And they have brunch, too--I noticed an asparagus and goat cheese omelet. It wants to be inside my belly, and soon.

This is a great addition to the St. Pete food scene--and if it keeps attracting the chefs taping over at Home Shopping, it could soon become a foodie's paradise. My friend Jenn over at Jenn Likes It knows that Wolfgang Puck eats there frequently, and I'll bet word spreads around HSN quickly. Good luck to this fab eatery. We'll see you again.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Video games CAN be good for you!

Children are perverse.

Sometimes you can fool them--reverse psychology works like a charm. Other times...well, not so much. I've learned that you cannot give them a choice between something you want them to pick and something you don't; invariably, they'll choose the latter. "Do you want to go to the BEACH (voice goes up and out to indicate This Is The Best Option) or to the park (barely enunciated in hopes it won't register)?" always ends in "The park!!!"

Likewise, I once bought a Ratatouille-themed game for my 4-year-old, hoping that he'd merrily fry his brain while the game implanted subliminal "I love cooking!" messages. Instead, he ditched it for two years in favor of the Cars game, narrated by some redneck-y sounding NASCAR dude. #momfail

However, at some point during this school year, Max began playing Ratatouille on our daily commute to Tampa. I imagine this happened because the commute is long and boring and he had exhausted his less educational games. Desperation leads us down many unlikely paths.

So but anyway, a few weeks ago, Max says to me (apropos of nothing), "I know how to make eclairs. Chef Gusteau says I do it perfect. Let's make them for reals."

Let's hear it for delayed gratification.

Afraid he'd lose interest in French cookery faster than I lost interest in the first LOTR movie, I grabbed Amanda Hesser's beautiful New York Times Cookbook, found to my delight that we already had every ingredient in the list (including ONE BILLION EGGS), and pulled out the aprons.

I'm happy to report that Max read the recipe, fetched the ingredients, measured them out (after an impromptu lesson on fractions), and pretty much did everything except beat the living shit out of the pastry dough, which turned out to be my job. (It also turned out to be really, really hard, because I did not have a wooden spoon, but Max did--"in my baking kit," as he triumphantly announced--which was about five inches long, being obviously optimized for use by a toddler.) Oh, okay, I piped the dough onto the baking sheet and filled a few of the more deflated and difficult-to-fill eclairs. But he did the rest.

Normally, I'll copy recipes from books up here because I usually alter the hell out of them anyway and that's how I roll, but in this case not, because I don't fuck with baking recipes and because everyone should buy Ms. Hesser's book RIGHT NOW and use it every day.

They were delicious, if slightly unglamorous (they were made by a 6-year-old and an adult with the baking prowess of a 6-year-old), and fun to make. Except they took about 15 minutes longer to bake than the recipe suggested, and beating that dough SUCKED. Eating them, however, did not suck.