Wednesday, April 3
What do you serve in a castle? Perched above Slovenia's capitol city of Ljubljana in the castle of the same name, Lenny Russo (below, right) and chef Igor Jagodic (below, left) prepared a collaborative dinner at Strelec Restaurant, with wines from Movia Winery, for the enjoyment of guests of the U.S. Embassy and local chefs, restaurateurs and business people.
Here's a peek at what they served. (Photos by Christopher Wurst)/
Lenny is busy, that we know, and his Slovene wireless connection isn't always connected. But here's what we know about his adventures there.
Monday, April 1
Lenny Russo and wife Mega Hoehn headed to Movia Winery (pictured, above, in a photo by Christopher Wurst) where they visited with owner Ales Kristančič (pictured, below; Ales is on the right; photo by Christopher Wurst) who Food & Wine magazine refers to as "the wine genius of Slovenia." The winery has been producing wines for more than three centuries. Russo serves two of the Movia wines at Heartland Restaurant in St. Paul.
Tuesday, April 2
To the markets! Lenny looked for fresh fish and produce for the first dinner he would prepare Wednesday night, in a collaboration with chef Igor Jagodic at Strelec restaurant for embassy guests. He's followed by a camera crew as part of an eight-episode TV series for Slovenia called "Seasoned by Americans," produced by Felina Films.
Shopping was followed by interviews by the Slovene editions of Story and Playboy magazines on farm-to-table food.
In a phone call, Lenny noted that this has been the coldest winter in Slovenia in 50 years, so plans for fishing may be dropped because of the weather.
Beer goes with burgers. That's a no brainer.
But just the right beer with a particular burger to make them both taste better? Well, that elusive choice is a magical moment, especially if you're inclined to grab your same-old-same-old fall-back brew with that patty on your plate.
Smashburger founder Tom Ryan wants to change that. In six markets, including the Twin Cities, he and a local brewer have spent countless hours researching (that's what they call it!) so you don't have to. In the Twin Cities, that's been a partnership with Summit Brewing Co. where, with the expertise of Damian McConn, head brewer, and Tom's tastebuds (a Ph.D. in flavor and fragrance chemistry), it's been an intense study in flavor, from citrus to caramel to hops and bitterness.
The result is a pairing of eight beer combos with Smashburger's beef and chicken sandwiches.
"Beer is the new wine," said Ryan (pictured, above). And he's ready for it.
The former McDonald's exec speculated that not a lot of people were passionate about eating burgers. His goal at Smashburger (where they actually do smash the burger on the grill) was to shake that up. "Beer and wine have always been part of the strategy. You can't have date night at Five Guys. A lot of people are looking for everyday sophistication. It's the next generation for burgers."
For brewmaster McConn, that's a reminder that, just like wine, beer can be enhanced by the food served with it. "Two plus two equals five," he said with enthusiasum as he and Ryan offered a sample of their combos. "Beer enhances the burger, but the burger brings out the beer, too."
Just like the local connection to a brewery, Smashburger offers at least one "local" burger in each of its markets and occasionally a salad. "We try to incorporate local ingredients as much as possible," said Ryan.
For the very messy Twin Cities burger ("People in Minnesota love cheese and onions," said Ryan about what he calls a "very indulgent burger," one that's the equivalent of a "hot dish on a bun" ), the match calls for Summit's extra pale ale, with its caramel malts and fruity hops. For the mushroom burger, it's Summit's Great Northern Porter. "The bitterness cuts through the fat," said McConn of the flavor that contrasts with the creamy Swiss cheese and mayo.
Who knew a burger/beer study could be so, uh, enlightening?
For the avocado club burger, it's a pilsener with a toasted malt and hop character that matches the smoked bacon, ranch dressing and avocado atop the beef. "One of the hottest ingredients now for mass market is avocado," said Ryan, who noted that "I think we all eat avocados because of our wives."
Then there's the Spicy Baja Smashburger, a burger topped with jalapenos, guacamole and pepper jack cheese, atop a chipotle bun (at top). "When the chef brings heat, the brewer brings hops," said McConn (pictured, above). That means a natural pairing of a Saga IPA, the hoppiest of the Summit brews, a blend of bitterness and tropical fruit hop aroma to tame the heat. "This pulls flavors out of the burgers that you don't find yourself. There's a tobacco-ey note in the chipotle bun when you drink beer with it," said Ryan.
The Denver chain, in 29 states, has gone international since its 2007 debut (its Minnesota entry was in 2009 in Golden Valley). Think you know burger variations? Check out these ways to change up the traditional patty. Makes me want to experiment at the grill.
Colorado: green chiles and melted Cheddar and pepper jack cheese with fixings (tomato, lettuce) and mayo on chipotle bun.
Orange County, Calif.: sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions, baby arugula, Swiss cheese and truffle mayo on egg bun.
Los Angeles: Crispy wonton, fried egg, cilantro, cucumber, fixings and Japanese ginger dressing on black-and-white sesame seed bun.
Miami: Grilled Spanish chorizo, frita potatoes, Swiss cheese, the fixings and chipotle mayo on Cuban roll.
Georgia: bbq sauce, coleslaw and Pimina cheese on egg bun.
Michigan: chopped green olives, American cheese, the fixings on egg bun.
Brooklyn, NY: pastrami, Swiss cheese, pickles, onion and mustard on pretzel bun.
Oklahoma: fried pickles, pepper jack cheese, haystack onions, the fixings and ranch dressing on egg bun.
Dallas: grilled garlic jalapenos, bacon, Cheddar, haystack onions and BBQ sauce on egg bun.
They clearly think differently about burgers abroad. Here are the Smashburger international flavors:
Costa Rica: Chorizo, grilled Turrialba (local) cheese, refried beans, fried potato sticks and cilantro mayo on egg bun.
Kuwait: Hot pepper cheese, grilled jalapenos, yogurt cheese, baby spinach, tomato and cucumber on chipotle bun.
Calgary, Canada: Grilled onions, pepper jack cheese, bacon, fixings and Dijon mayo on kaiser roll.
Saudi Arabia: Halal beef with Saudi spices, Cheddar cheese, red onion, fixings, pickles and tahini space on chipotle bun.
Sunday, March 31
Easter dinner was a five-hour meal for Lenny Russo at Evergreen restaurant, nestled in the foothills of the Julian Alps, in Slovenia. There was traditional fare: ham, horseradish and potica, along with Easter eggs.
That was followed by duck confit served atop roasted vegetables. There was also a dandelion salad with bacon, grated egg and a dressing comprised of rendered pork fat with apple cider vinegar.
Dessert was a pistachio cake with raspberry filling. And of course there was plenty of wine.
"Easter brunch was at Evergreen Restaurant which is part of the Kaval Restaurant Group and is located in a huge timber lodge situated on a golf course at the foothills of the Julian Alps. All of the appointments are top notch, and you would have to see it to fully appreciate it. They even have a fully climate controlled glass enclosed curing room for their salumi and prosciutti.
We also enjoyed two Slovenian wines, one a sauvignon blanc and the other a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Needless to say, we needed a long nap afterward.
My Slovenian is coming around rather slowly, but I do have "please", "good day" and "thank you" pretty well down. I am working mostly on pronunciation right now. It's a good thing almost everyone speaks English, and they speak it very well.
We are heading to Movia winery today [Monday] in the Brda wine growing region to taste the wines of Aleš Kastančič for the dinner and meet with his American importers. We are currently pouring two of his wines at Heartland. We will be relying on the superior palate of Mega [Hoehn - wife and co-owner] to help guide us.
Then Igor Jagodic and I will finalize the menu and order the food for the dinner Wednesday at his restaurant Strelec.
We will have dinner at Movia and then head back to Ljubljana. Igor will begin prepping on Tuesday while I meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia, Joseph A. Mussomeli, and give interviews to Story and Playboy magazines. There's a lunch planned somewhere in there as well as a dance performance related to Slovenian "Make a Difference Day." That pretty much rounds out Monday and Tuesday. " -- Lenny Russo
Lenny with Evergreen head chef Anze Gombac (below left).
Last week Lenny Russo, chef-owner of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market, was named to the American Chef Corps. He's in Slovenia for the next two weeks bringing American food to the Slovenians -- and traveling around the country to learn about traditional Slovenian foods. Check in for his frequent updates.
Friday, March 29
"We arrived safely and we are taking the first two days to finalize the plans, which at this point include truffle hunting, turbot fishing, sea salt harvesting, wine tasting, cheesemaking, prosciutto curing, a wine dinner in collaboration with Igor Jagodic, who is the young up and coming Slovenian chef of Strelec Restaurant in Ljubljana Castle and another dinner at the U.S. Embassy here." -- Lenny Russo
Saturday, March 30
"Last night's dinner was at Sarajevo 84 , which is a traditional Bosnian restaurant, where we dined on cevapcici. We also had some fantastic spicy sausages, red bell pepper puree, grilled peppers, fresh farmer's cheese and some cheese and ground spiced meats wrapped in phyllo, which were reminiscent of dolamades. Also, we had some great beer. The red label beer, Union, is the beer of the east while the green label beer, Lasko, is the beer of the west. A Slovenian saying goes like this, "I drink Lasko, but I piss Union." Guess which one I preferred?
Mega and I met with Chef Igor Jagodic of Strelec today. He will be cooking with me at the Wednesday dinner at his restaurant. He's a very interesting guy who spent time in Paris and at Nomo in Denmark. We had to hike up a mountainside in pouring rain to get there (to the castle where the restaurant is, which sits above the city at the highest point). Of course, once we arrived, we discovered the tram that would have carried us there. Even so, the calorie burn was good for us given the meat extravaganza we are celebrating daily. This morning, breakfast was accompanied by mortadella, panna cotto, prosciutto and sopressa.
We will remain in the capitol of Ljubljana until Monday when we head to the wine growing region (Brda). We will be traveling back and forth since the country is only the size of New Jersey, and we are concentrating on only the western half.
Tonight we dined at a fish restaurant called Taverna Tatjana. It is just across the river about a 20-minute walk from where we are staying in the old town. We had whole sea bream. It was cooked plancha style and served tableside very simply with lemon and some good Slovenian olive oil. We also had mangel (beet greens) with potatoes and a cold plate of octopus salad with fish pate and white anchovies served with a hearty blond bread.
We enjoyed a bottle of dry Slovenian Malvasia from Istra which is on the coast and where we will go turbot fishing. We ended the meal with vodka infused with blueberries and a traditional black walnut sweet bread known as potica, which is a yeast dough rolled out and filled with sweet black walnut paste. It is then rolled and wrapped before being cooked." -- Lenny Russo
|Holidays (42)||Deals (1)|
|Farmers markets (62)||Baking (50)|
|Chefs (84)||Cookbooks (36)|
|Cooking at the cabin (3)||Farmers and foraging (26)|
|Healthy eating (31)||Locally-produced food (55)|
|Minnesota newsmakers (94)||On the national scene (85)|
|Openings + closings (26)||Recipes (97)|
|Restaurant news (182)||Restaurant reviews (11)|
|Beer (1)||Food, beer, wine events (13)|
|TV food shows (12)||Wine (9)|