14 March 2012

The Beauty Shop Lunch

A few weeks ago I took Julia to The Beauty Shop, an interesting little restaurant in the Cooper-Young district of Memphis. It's a converted hair salon that still has the hairwashing sinks behind the bar and you can sit under the old hairdryers in the back. I like it because of the great cocktails and eclectic, constantly changing menu. Plus, it's really fun to take someone there for the first time, and we had a great little lunch. The following weekend I decided to recreate it at home. Anything you see here is the creativity of the Beauty Shop staff, and any flaws in the execution are my own fault. I take no credit here beyond the fact that a particular joy of cooking is the ability to have a great meal and then pull it off with your own kitchen.

First up: the appetizers with assorted cheeses, olives, marinated mushrooms, and some other neat things. They had a nut-brown sugar-butter spread that was delicious, and a dish of canned cherries that had been reduced down with balsamic vinegar. I did a decent job with the spread using walnuts, and found that sea salt was crucial to bringing out the flavor. My cherries were not pretty to begin with, but flavorwise I got pretty close with a slow reduction using both balsamic and red wine vinegar. The cheeses here are Manchego, Gouda, something Basque, and something else from the Netherlands.

I had a roast beef sandwich of some sort at the restaurant, but Julia picked their ham and cheese which included thin slices of apple and spicy brown mustard. When I made it, I used mandoline slices of Asian pear, Black Forest ham, smoked cheddar, and a combination of oak leaf lettuce and frisée. Like the restaurant, I did not grill the whole sandwich but merely used lightly toasted bread to make the sandwich. Minus the lettuce, I've made similar sandwiches in a skillet.

It's a great flavor combination and I had a few more of these over the next few days with the ample spare ingredients. Wrapped tightly they also last long enough to make in the evening and enjoy at lunch the next day.

The Beauty Shop serves sandwiches and other lunch items with freshly fried potato chips and a garlic-chili aïoli. For my aïoli, I used Sriracha sauce to spice it up with excellent results. Aïoli is not the kind of thing you want to eat every day, but man, it's delicious. I left half of the batch plain and found it tasty, but so much better with that squirt of Sriracha. Here's the recipe I used, not really taken from anywhere but just a result of trial and error.

Benito's Aïoli
5 Cloves of Garlic
Dash of Dijon Mustard
1 Egg Yolk
½ Lemon, Juiced
Dash of Sea Salt
A few turns of freshly ground Black/White Pepper
1 Cup of Pure Olive Oil (no extra virgin necessary)

Combine everything except the oil in a blender or in a cup with a stick blender. Then slowly drizzle in the cup of olive oil while blending. That's it. You can modify this in hundreds of different ways, either by adding chopped herbs or by using different vinegars instead of lemon juice. Throw in some hot sauce like Sriracha or toss in diced cornichons, go crazy.

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