Lobster Tostadas

June 27, 2015 – I mentioned to my wife an article I had read recently about tostadas made with fish.

We liked the idea of a non traditional tostada.  It brings back memories of her first trip to Louisiana.  I arranged with Chef/Owner Jim Urdiales of Mestizo in Baton Rouge for the creation of a tasting menu.  His concept of combining his Cajun and Mexican heritages resulted in great food.  My wife was amazed.  As I’ve said before, you haven’t really lived until you’ve had a crawfish burrito! (See Mestizo in the Louisiana category published on October 13, 2014.)

We decided to make seafood tostadas.  The question was should it be lobster or king crab?  We love both.  We decided that lobster would work best.  We might have given some consideration to the price of lobster tails at five dollars a piece while king crab was selling for around $20 a pound the last time I looked.

Traditional tostadas usually have refried beans spread on a flat tortilla that has been fried  to a browned firmness.  We decided to keep the beans but use cannellinis.  The white kidney beans would add to the taste and help to hold the lobster in place on the tortilla.  But their lighter flavor would be less likely to overpower the delicate character of the lobster.  That and the fact that I forgot to get refried beans when I went to the store.  We had cannellinis in the pantry.  An accident that turned out well.

I did remember to pick up a can of jalapenos and carrots en escabeche.  Pickled peppers and carrots.

It is important to grill the lobster tails rather than boil them.  Grilling brings out more of that wonderful lobster quality.  Makes it more intense.  For our tostadas we wanted to bring out the lobster essence as much as possible.

The way I grill lobster tails is to cut through both the hard shell on top of the tail and the more tender underside.  I use heavy kitchen shears.  Lay the tails on the grill with the tender underside up.  Grill for about five minutes.  The hard shell should be fully red.  Turn the tails over and grill for about another four minutes.  You can use the same process in an iron skillet on the stove.

Let the grilled tails cool until you can handle them.  Pull the two halves apart and the lobster meat should come easily out of the shell.

Lobster Tostadas

(Makes four tostadas)

Four corn tortillas                              Four grilled lobster tails, chopped

One can cannellini beans                 Four tablespoons jalapeno & carrot en escabeche

Salt, pepper & crushed red pepper to taste      Five or six radishes, sliced

Pinch of onion powder                                      Cilantro, chopped

Two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil               Peanut or canola oil

With the burner on medium, warm the beans until they are just heated through.  Drain the beans and return them to the pot.  Using a potato masher or whatever you have handy, mash the beans into a paste.  Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste.  Add a pinch of onion powder.  Drizzle one to two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into the beans and mix well.  The oil adds creaminess to the beans.

Slice the jalapenos and carrots.

In a non stick skillet heat the peanut or canola oil over medium high heat until hot but not smoking.  Place a tortilla into the hot oil.  When it starts to brown and harden turn it over.  When the second side is browned remove the tortilla from the hot oil and place it on a plate covered with paper towels to let it drain.  Repeat with the remaining tortillas. The cooking process for each tortilla should take only a couple of minutes.

Assemble the tostadas by first spreading a thin layer of the mashed beans on each tortilla.  Pile the grilled and chopped lobster onto the beans.  Top the lobster with slices of jalapena, carrots and radishes.  Sprinkle the chopped cilantro over the assembled tostada.

Bon temps!

Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn

June 21, 2015 – Father’s Day.

My wife had hinted that she had a special surprise for me but would say no more.  I thought perhaps she had booked us into a hotel in Half Moon Bay that we had noticed the last time we were there.

I eventually gave up on that theory because surely, I thought, she would suggest I pack a bag.  The week went by. Not a word.

On the morning of Father’s Day the picnic bag that we often use on our travels for wine and snacks was sitting on the kitchen island.  We were leaving at 11:00.  Still nothing about preparing to be away overnight.  What a conundrum!

Until five minutes to 11:00.

I hastily threw a few essentials together.  We loaded the car with our bags and, best of all, Molly, our 11 year old princess who believes she is a puppy.  She knows she’s a princess.

Our destination, as I had suspected originally, was the Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn in Half Moon Bay.  A beautiful bed and breakfast style inn that sits high on the rocks overlooking Miramar Beach.

Fortunately they offer one pet friendly room.  The Champagne Room.  Molly thought that was an appropriate room for a princess.

We spent some time walking along the path above the beach prior to checking in.  Molly was in her glory.  So many new smells to explore!  So many other puppies to make friends with!  Well, except for that one grouchy German Shepard.

She liked our room even better.  The fully protected balcony was perfect for her to do her people watching.  To bark out a hello to other puppies passing below us.  And, best of all, to convince us to give her treats.  She liked that part so much she even allowed us to share the balcony with us.

We spent a beautiful afternoon on that balcony.  Content to watch the waves roll in.  Listening to the sound of the surf.  Sipping Chardonnay and Prosecco.  My wife had brought along a few snacks that made up for skipping lunch.

The inn was built by Ken and Ellen Landis in the late ’90s.  Ellen is a sommelier.  She and Ken have built a 3,000 bottle collection of wines.  They share some of the best with guests in the late afternoon.  Each day the wine is chosen to pair with a selection of hors d’oeuvres. The evening we were there it was a wonderful Chardonnay from California’s Albertoni Winery.  It was a pleasing wine that left a hint of coconut on my palate.

They have recently sold the Inn to Ann and Werner Stamm.  The Stamms own other property in Half Moon Bay.  They’re home folk.  They can be expected to maintain the high standards set by Ken and Ellen.

We wanted to leave the window open so we could sleep to the soothing sound of the surf.  The evening was cool.  A perfect night for the fireplace.  Waves crashing on the beach.  Flames in a fireplace.  It doesn’t get more gently calming than that.

The inn offered a full breakfast delivered to our room on a tray as part of the deal.  When we checked in we were asked if we would like the tray delivered at 9:00, 9:30 or 10:00.  We opted for 10:00.

Promptly at 10:00 there was a light rap on the door.  The breakfast tray exceeded our expectations.  Two ramekins of baked eggs with cheese and bits of mild green peppers.  Home fries.  Small croissant.  Large wedges of watermelon.  Orange Juice.  A breakfast worth getting out of bed for.

The Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn is a grand getaway destination for those times when you just feel the need for quiet.  For excellent wine.  For reconnecting with earth and ocean.

It is bed and breakfast style so there is no restaurant on site for dinner.  But hey, it’s Half Moon Bay.  Sam’s Chowder House is just down the road.




Sam’s Chowder House

.June 6, 2015 – We had an excellent table in the New England chowder house.  A great view of the ocean.  Inside.  Out of the wind.  No need to hunker down in our jackets as we ate.

We watched people walking along the beach.  Skirting the edge of the water that gently lapped at white sand.  Others enjoying picnics a few feet further away from the water.  Sea gulls calling as they flitted back and forth hoping for scraps they might grab for a snack.

We watched a harder working bird, a white pelican, repeatedly dive into shallow water and come up with a beak full of small fish.  The pelican’s strategy was fascinating to follow.  He would fly a short circle and back off just to give himself enough distance to pick up speed.  He would dive straight into the water and come straight up out of it.  Another small fish in the pouch of his beak.

What a perfect day to be in New England.

But wait a minute!  There are no pelicans in New England.  Pelicans like warmer weather.

We were definitely in a New England chowder house.  We just weren’t in New England.  We were in Sam’s Chowder House.  In Half Moon Bay, California.

Paul and Julie Shenkman were the catalysts in founding Sam’s Chowder House.  The couple had already found success with a popular Italian restaurant in Half Moon Bay.  They opened Sam’s in 2006 with their partner and Executive Chef Lewis Rossman.  Their goal was to recreate a New England chowder house on the west coast.  Serving local Pacific seafood whenever possible.  Flying in Atlantic seafood (read lobster here) daily when necessary.

They’ve won a string of awards over the years.  Phil Limpert, food editor for NBC’s Today Show, has even named Sam’s lobster roll one of the five best sandwiches in America.  That put Sam’s in elite sandwich company.   Also named were the muffeletta from Central Grocery in New Orleans and a Philly cheesesteak from, well, Philly.

Sam’s is popular.  As in you’ll probably wind up parking out on the highway because the parking lot fills up early.

We decided to go for lunch on Saturday.  I called on the way over.  The young lady told me the earliest she could guarantee a table was 2:45.  But, she said, I should check with her when we got there because they weren’t all that busy.

Sure enough there was no room in the parking lot.  We parked on the highway.

We walked in around 1:30.  I said we had a reservation for 2:45 and we were checking in.  The young lady manning the maître d’s desk said to another young lady, “Take them to table eight.”

That seemed easy enough.

Our waitress set a small plate of sourdough bread on the table for us to munch on as we contemplated the menu.  It was excellent.  Crunchy where it should be crunchy; soft where it should be soft.  Chewy with that wonderful sourdough tanginess.  We were told they get their bread from the Moonside Bakery in Half Moon Bay, an extremely good bakery that we have visited.

I wanted to try their New England clam chowder so I asked for a cup of it.  Their idea of a cup is very generous.  In most restaurants it would have been a full bowl.  It was very good.  I was especially pleased with the large pieces of clam superbly cooked.  It was even better when I noticed the Tabasco on the table and used a few drops to, as my dad used to say, “hot it up a little bit.”

Having made the drive to Half Moon Bay, I thought it would be a shame to pass on one of the five best sandwiches in America.  I ordered the lobster roll for my entrée while my wife opted for Maryland style blue crab cakes.

The lobster roll came with potato chips and cole slaw.  Both were good.  Both were wasted on me.  I couldn’t get past the lobster roll.

It was a masterpiece of simplicity.  The bread was soft.  Dripping with butter.  There was nothing else on it but huge chunks of lobster.  Messy.  Butter dripping down my hands.   The sandwich version of dipping boiled lobster in melted butter.

An exceptional sandwich.

Worth the drive.

Worth doing again.

We’ve already decided what we’ll order the next time we visit Sam’s.