Mattie Conway is now the Bar Manager. We’re re-launching some items on the menu and he’s still out front doing some bartending.
Obviously launching the spring menu is exciting. We’re coming out of the long winter, where you see the same products over and over. So once spring hits, you have beautiful vegetables and fruit. I’m adding a mozzarella stuffed arancini with a spicy orange pomodoro. My grandmother used to put orange juice in her marinara for sweetness. The dish is done with a little white wine, and San Marzano tomatoes charred under the broiler. Fold that into all the ingredients, and then do a slow simmer for 45 minutes. There’s acid to balance the flavor from all the mascarpone cheese and cream.
By early May, there will also be an open face smoked trout sandwich with gribiche sauce, crispy pancetta, butter lettuce, and pickled red onion, on griddled brioche. Gribiche is almost like a French version of tartare sauce. It has all the same kind of components, and instead of egg yolk, there’s a mayo made with hard boiled egg. Then I fold in capers, cornichons and fines herbes.
I’m also preparing a James Beard menu, for an event happening at the Beard House in Manhattan mid-summer. We have a team of about ten people doing the planning and preparing. Everyone’s distributed to different tasks, and we’ll create the Absinthe experience there. Which means we bring everything there. I went ten years ago with Tony Ambrose. They’ve remodeled since I was there last, but you can look online to see how it’s all set up.
You rotate rabbit meatballs on the menu. Meatballs are crowd pleasing, but why go with rabbit?
The way the rabbit meatballs started is I wanted to do this rabbit stew because I really like a good, simple braised rabbit stew. But the loin pieces of meat always dry out. So I decided I wanted to just serve my favorite part of the rabbit: the front and hind legs. Then I can take the rest of the meat and do something different. Thinking about our bar snack program, you've got people who are going to the symphony and getting small bites and what not… Whenever rabbit stew is on the menu, then meatballs are also on the bar menu.
Do you have a significant other?
Yes, I do and she likes it when I mention her (laughs). Emily LeBloch and I met when I was the chef at Stonehill Tavern. I was at the Red Fox Lounge bar. It’s a surfer and lifeguard type of bar and I used to go there after work. She was having a small birthday party and asked me to sign her friend’s birthday card. We started talking and have been together for 5 yrs. She’s a behavior therapist for kids with CARD (the Center for Autism Related Disorders) and we live together in Hayes Valley.
Working at a place called Absinthe may get people wondering if you love to order the “green fairy” spirit. Do you drink absinthe?
I like it in cocktails and try and taste everything here. But I prefer my drink to be the 21 Hayes, which has gin, Pimms and muddled cucumber.
What are your favorite spots for food & drink?
Rainbow. For meats and things, I’ll stop by Fatted Calf and get something cool.
I don't want it to blow up too much but I like to go to Katana-Ya on Geary at Mason. Every time, I get the lava roll, which has tempura shrimp with spicy tuna.
We really like going to Burma Superstar, usually for lunch on Monday, which is always my day off.
I go get pizza at Tony’s in North Beach.
Who are your mentors?
Michael Mina – we still communicate by phone or text.
Tony Ambrose really taught me a lot and we still talk quite a bit. He’ll probably come to the James Beard dinner.
Josh Skenes – we worked together years ago with Tony Ambrose. Then Josh moved out here. He kept telling me about Chez TJ, and the produce and restaurant scene out here. So then we worked together at Chez TJ.
What is your favorite meal to have with your family?
My favorite cooking style that I love is cooking whole cuts of meat, whether it’s a whole turkey, prime rib, or leg of lamb. I make an herb marinade, and then a sauce from the natural pan drippings.
What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
Any other news?
Beyond going to New York for the James Beard dinner, I have some trips planned to Vegas this year.
Photo Credit: Ana Homonnay
Recipe: Spicy Rabbit Meatballs
Yields: about 20-25 golf ball size meatballs
1 1/2 lb ground rabbit (very cold)
1/4 lb ground chicken leg meat (very cold)
1/4 lb ground pancetta (very cold)
1/4 lb ground back fat (very cold)
1C finely chopped Calabrian chiles
1 1/2 Tbs finely chopped garlic
3/4 C minced yellow onions
1 tsp toasted and ground fennel seeds
2 tbs Kosher salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 C chopped Italian parsley
1/4 C chopped oregano
1/4 C chopped basil
2 tsp red chile flakes
1/2 C grated Parmesan
4 ea whole eggs
1/4 C milk
1/3 C Ricotta cheese
3 C bread crumbs (made from Italian or French loaf)
1qt olive oil for frying
1 pt All purpose flour for coating the meatballs
3 qt San Marzano tomatoes, hand crushed
1 bunch basil