Saturday, April 16, 2011

Forget you, Chevy's! I'll make my own beans!

Disclaimer: Look. I know I try to write about the finer aspects of food around here. And when it comes to Mexican food, I have often crowed about the virtues of the extremely authentic Mexican food experiences available. This post is not about that. I freely confess that, sometimes, I want a particularly un-authentic experience and for sit-down dining, when it comes to Mexican, nothing gets much more un-authentic than Chevy's. At least not since Chi Chi's closed. Remember that??? I do! Anyway, there is nothing wrong with un-authentic, if that is what you are looking for.

So, I went to Chev's a little while back and when ordering my entree was extremely surprised to learn that the charros beans are no longer available. What the fork? How does that work? For those of you lacking the foggiest what I am talking about, charros beans were the frijoles that were not refritos. They looked like, well, beans In a spicy sauce. And now they are gone.

So, like Cee Lo Green might say, fork you and your no cans menu-hoo-hoo. Make your own beans. So, with props to Rick Bayless and Alton Brown, here is a method for making your own very tasty beans at home.

Pay attention.

Get yourself about 4 slices of nice, thick smoky bacon. Cut it into small, but roughly cut pieces and cook it in a suacepan, maybe 3 or 4 quart, over medium heat. Let it get crisp and render that fat out. (No, don't drain the damned fat. The beans soak it up and that's part of what makes this so good.) Pull the bacon out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set it aside on a plate. Don't eat it all while continuing the recipe. Now, at this point, you got options. You could saute about a cup of diced onion in there until translucent and then finely chop a couple of cloves of garlic and saute that for a minute. Then you add about a half a can of fire roasted tomatoes and a half a beer. Or, you could totally cheat and add the beer and about 7-8 ounces of salsa. (Know what salsa is? Chopped tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic with tomatoes. Duh. Let David Pace do the chopping. Completely fair.)

Oh, that beer? Dos Equis Amber works great, but so does Corona, Tecate, and Miller High Life. B-double "E"-R. It all works.

Simmer that stuff. Drain a couple of cans of pinto beans. Dump them in, toss the bacon back in and simmer the whole shebang on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Let them thicken up a bit.

If you didn't use the salsa, chop up a few seeded pickled jalapenos and put them in there. Salt to taste. Finish them with a handful of chopped cilantro-- about a half cup.

Knock yourself out. These are good.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Crawford's on Urbanspoon

I just can't quite put it another way: This time of year sucks. Sure, the weather is starting to get a little nicer, and the grass is starting to show the slightest signs of coming back to life. But, overall, it is still rather "grey" around here. Hate that.

However, if you find your visual senses needing a little jump start, you might wander down to Crawford's on Phillips Ave downtown. Crawford's is the newest addition to the Sioux Falls fine dining scene. Named after the menswear store that once occupied the same spot, the building is beautiful. Step inside and be prepared for an explosion of styles, textures, and colors. I believe I read the decor is kind of like cowboy meets gypsy. That's a pretty good start. You'll see original brick, a pressed tin ceiling, leather, iron, lighting fixtures fashioned from antlers, cowhide, dark wallpaper festooned with jewels, colored candle holders, silk curtains, etc. etc. etc. A person could probably discover something they haven't seen previously on just about any trip in there. It's quite the experience.

The menu is pretty interesting. Kind of standard fine dining fare, in my opinion. Steaks, fish, lamb, pasta, salads, soups, appetizers. On our visit, we started with some calamari, steak bites, and smoked chicken wings. Nothing terribly exciting, but all prepared well and sent out without error. The calamari was some of the largest cut and tenderest squid I have had here. We tried the onion soup, which featured something like four onions. Hard to tell that, though, because of the smoky gruyere melted on top that gave it a definite smokiness. The entrees were good. Fairly big portions.

Service was good. We had a great waitress who was friendly and eager to serve. That can get a person a long way. Her only fault was a general lack of knowledge of fine food and the nuances of the menu. Crawford's makes a pretty big production out of the service. Our entrees were delivered by at least two people from the kitchen.

However . . . decor alone won't carry the day. Even though Crawford's is off to a great start, especially for being open only a week, I would offer the following thoughts:

  • I personally thought the approach to the entrees was a little ham-handed. The food was well prepared, but the portions were a tad large. Big and pretty don't necessarily go together. I hope the chefs will start to experiment and get out a little more toward the "edge" like the guys at Bros have done. The food just needs a little more, well, finesse.

  • I'd like to see some awesome off-menu specials. I learned a long time ago that if a place is featuring a really special dish that isn't on the menu, that's probably what you want to go for.

  • Get that staff educated.

I also have one general question about fine dining downtown, in general. Let me preface this by saying that in my humble opinion, thanks to Parker's, Bros, and K's, downtown has wrestled the fine-dining epicenter back downtown, where it should be. But, are Crawford's, Bros, and Parker's too alike? Time will tell. Anyone who pays attention around here knows that almost any food place will be jam packed for the first several weeks it is open. Hell, Senor Wiener probably hit it out of the park for a month before everyone figured out they were serving hot dogs from a difficult to access location. Crawford's is definitely the "it" place right now. Can they sustain it, and what does this mean for other establishments?

I think David Graham should do well with this endeavor. By decor alone, Crawford's has quickly set itself apart from other venues, but in time it is going to take great food and support from the dining public. Personally, I prefer Parker's and Bros, but I will definitely be back to visit Crawford's many times, I am sure.