I never head out on an adventure that leads me away from my tiny, northern Arizona town without putting my nose to the grind-stone and doing some heavy-hitting culinary research. Part of that comes from living in a remote and isolated "village" - when you leave our town, it's 2.5 hours in any direction to get to the next significantly populated area, so you make sure you're fueled up (necessities like blankets, water, and coolers for foodie finds in the trunk) and have plans to take advantage of your time "off the mesa". If I'm going to be gone all day and I won't be out of town again for months, I want to make the most of it. That means finding new and exciting places to eat and shop for food.
If you keep up with the my less-than-civil blog, Mygoodnessgravy.com, you know I spent a week in Boston a couple months ago. I've already written about two stellar spots on my Eater.com-inspired list, Barbara Lynch's Sportello and Joanne Chang's Myers + Chang, both in Boston proper. Full disclaimer: Eater.com is, hands-down, my most reliable and first-sought-out source for restaurant/food recommendations. They are always the first to know anything and I have yet to be disappointed by a spot they say is killer.
It wasn't until I opened up the recent grilling issue of Food and Wine (June 2014) and landed on the "Rising Stars of the Grill" feature that I realized I still had LaBRASA in my hip pocket. LaBRASA, the recently-opened, wood-fired-inspired restaurant by Daniel Bojorquez in East Somerville was a mere 15-minutes from downtown Boston. It goes without saying I'm completely enamored with eateries featuring open kitchens which is what put LaBRASA high up on my list of must-eat places while in Beantown. Egging me on was Eater, promising me I'd "smell pleasantly fiery" after a visit and after driving past the joint in it's strip-mall-like location multiple times, I finally found it, snuggled into a neighborhood where people were, quite fittingly, grilling meat and drinking beer in their back yards.
Upon seeing the article's title, LaBRASA immediately sprang to mind and I quickly scanned the]eight recommended restaurants taking a "grill-centric approach" to cooking. LaBRASA made the list (I told you, Eater.com does not lie ...) and I felt gratified that I had the opportunity to experience it while in Boston. While I haven't had the chance to experience the remaining seven restaurants, I noted that Ovenbird in Birmingham, AL (which has yet to open) is Chris Hastings' newest venture and this didn't surprise me one bit. I wrote on this blog back in February about my visit to his Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, which is actually where I first fell in love with open kitchens and open-fire cooking. Look closely in the pics and you'll see their little open-fire oven glowing brightly in the background ...
So what's the big deal? Why all the fuss over "open-fire" and reverting to this primal instinct that got us cavemen cooking our latest kill over hot embers to begin with? Chef Jose of LaBRASA has his own theory; "In cultures around the world, open-fire cooking brings people together. It's about comfort and family. The smell of burning wood puts me at ease."
He hits the nail square on the head with LaBRASA. Open and airy and boisterous with Sunday afternoon customers enjoying each other's company and the platefuls of fire-kissed entrées streaming out of the open kitchen, the well-ventilated dining room smelled comfortingly of deeply-roasted and charred meats and vegetables. If you know anything of Cantonese cuisine, you'll know of (and search to the ends of the earth for) "wok hay". According to Grace Young, author of "The Breath of a Wok" (and yes, I own it), wok hay is "the difference between a good stir-fry and a great one." A well-seasoned wok employed over an extremely high heat source (often an open-fire source - coincidence?) is what imparts heung mei - a unique and fragrant aroma that reminds me of the amped-up-flavor of nicely-charred ingredients hot off the grille. I experienced it at Myers + Chang ...
Is your mouth watering yet? Here is a visual sampling of my visit to LaBRASA
Note the wood-fire accents in nearly every plate offered: wood-fired trout, slow-roasted pork shoulder, charred scallions, grilled onions ... can you smell the smoke?
Artisinal cheese with assorted condiments
Lamb Shank Pozole, red chili broth, homemade hominy with cabbage
A delightful meal, served tapas-style, meant enjoying deeply-flavored food without unbuttoning my pants ... if ya know what I mean. If you're anywhere near Somerville, MA, stop by LaBRASA. And if you're not, no worries, below I've included one of Daniel's recipes from the June issue of Food and Wine. I'll admit I've been posting some recipes lately that are hard on the waist-line, so here's a good excuse to fire up the grill guilt-free!
Daniel recommends bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. Of course you could substitute chicken breast if you're being uber-healthy, but watch to make sure you don't over-cook the meat so it gets too dry. Shoot for an internal temp of 160-degrees rather than the 165 you want for dark meat. My market had skinless thighs on sale, so I used that instead of skin-on thighs. A little fewer calories and they didn't stick to the grill at all - but you must make sure you're grill is clean and well-oiled regardless of skin on or skin off.
I quickly grilled some cantaloupe and wrapped the wedges with prosciutto and mozarella cheese for a little something sweet and salty on the side. The honey-horseradish butter brushed on the chicken while it grills creates a mouth-watering glaze but don't worry, the fresh parsley sauce is delightfully refreshing and brightens the dish right up. This one's a must for summer!
Honey-Butter-Grilled Chicken Thighs with Parsley Sauce
From Food and Wine magazine, contributed by Daniel Bojorquez
Serves: 4 to 6
1 stick unsalted butter at room temp
2 small garlic cloves, finely grated
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon finely grated horseradish
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, plus 1 cup packed parsley leaves
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
12 chicken thighs
In a medium bowl, blend the butter with half of the garlic, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, honey, horseradish and chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
In a small saucepan of salted boiling water, blanch the parsley leaves until bright green, about 1 minute. Drain and cool under running water. In a blender, puree the parsley with 2 tablespoons of water and the remaining garlic and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice until nearly smooth. With the machine on, gradually add the 1/3 cup of oil until incorporated. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Light a grill. Brush the chicken with oil and season with salt and pepper. Gill over moderate (medium) heat, turning every five minutes until charred in spots and just cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Brush he chicken all over with the honey butter and grill, turning and brushing, until glazed, about 2 minutes more. Transfer the chicken to a platter and serve with the parsley sauce.
Make ahead: the honey butter can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before using.