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Kitchen 4140 is in an unlikely location on Morena Boulevard better known for design studios, carpet stores, and Costco. Chef Kurt Metzger describes his culinary style as "ingredient-inspired and ingredient-driven". I'm not sure what that means.

I saw a rotisserie chicken in my refrigerator this morning, so I made a chicken sandwich for breakfast. Is that being "ingredient-inspired"? I guess it is. But they also boast an "organic vegetable garden" on their website. I love to garden, so I was excited about visiting and eating there.

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Well, the organic vegetable garden was a disappointment. I know it's winter, but I've got some beautiful beets, lettuce, rosemary, spinach, sage, parsley, thyme, and rainbow chard growing in pots on my three by ten foot apartment balcony. I'd kill for those raised beds and the southern exposure and was sad to see them sitting unused. Winter in San Diego is a great time to grow all sorts of lovely, leafy things. But I'm here to eat, not to garden.

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I selected the Steak Hash ($14), after asking what kind of steak it's made with (blackened hanger steak). It comes with wild mushrooms, red onion, fire roasted peppers, two poached eggs, chive-chervil crème fraiche.

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I must have stared at my plate in disbelief for a full minute after our server set it down. Not to put too fine a point on it, but those aren't poached eggs. Those are eggs that have been put into a plastic bag and boiled. Now, I've heard of doing this to "poach" an egg, but it's not correct, for a number of reasons.

By definition, poaching anything means you put the food directly into acidulated liquid that is between 140 and 180 degrees until it's cooked to your liking. It's a simple chemical process that takes a bit of practice, but it's Culinary School 101, and anyone who puts "chef" in front of his name ought to know how to do it properly.

This boil-in-bag technique (besides it's basic incorrectness) forces the egg into an unnatural shape, so that the pointy end gets rubbery and the rest of the white is uncooked. You can see the clear, raw egg white ready to run all over my plate. Which it did, for both eggs. While I'm on the subject of technique, "blackened" food should not actually be black, as in charred. Especially with hanger steak, which turns tough and chewy when improperly cooked.

And "hash" is chopped meat and potatoes mixed and cooked together, sometimes with other vegetables. This was more like a beef stir fry with a side of fried potatoes. As long as I'm griping, a half of a slice of bread? Really, a half slice? For $14?

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John's Blue Jumbo Lump Crabmeat Benedict, with caper hollandaise, potatoes, on a rosemary biscuit ($15), was problematic as well. In addition to the plastic bag eggs, which prompted a Gordon Ramsey-esque "It's RAW!" from him, the crab was not fresh, a bit stringy and watery. The rosemary biscuits would have been good on their own, or with a nice sausage gravy, but they completely overwhelmed the delicate blue crab.

And, one of them was burned black. How does anyone put food that's obviously burned (or obviously undercooked) in front of a paying customer? He did enjoy his glass of pineapple orange banana juice though.

Our bill for one juice ($3.50), one coffee ($2.95) and the two breakfast plates was $35.45 before tax and tip. That's a lot of money considering each of us got both raw and burned food on our plates. An ingredient-inspired, ingredient-driven disappointment.

Kitchen 4140

4140 Morena Blvd.

San Diego, CA 92117

(858) 483-4140

Hours:

Monday - Friday - 9 am - 3 pm

Sunday - 9 am - 2 pm

Closed Saturday.

Free lot parking.

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Comments

deniseathome Jan. 9, 2012 @ 7:56 p.m.

This is a serious as opposed to snarky question,if blackened food is not supposed to be charred then what is it supposed to be? I never order anything listed as "blackened" in restaurants because I always associated it with being burnt and the idea never seemed to make much sense taste wise. If you could explain what "blackened" is supposed to be I would appreciate it very much.

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Mary Beth Abate Jan. 9, 2012 @ 8:37 p.m.

Hello, deniseathome, thank you for your comment.

"Blackened" food is the name given to a quick-cooking process developed by New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme. It is supposed to produce a peppery black crust while searing the meat over a very hot fire or in a very hot skillet. It is used on thin, uniform cuts of meat or fish. Typically, you would coat both sides of the meat or fish in melted butter, rub it well with a zesty spice mix (a common one would be paprika, ground black, white and red peppers, garlic salt and thyme), then sear quickly over very high heat. Because high heat is used, the meat or fish must be quite thin, or else you end up with charred outsides and tough, dry meat or fish. Again, thin and uniform is the key. The "blackening" is supposed to be from the butter/spice mixture, not the meat.

Unfortunately, "blackened" seems to be one of those misunderstood cooking methods that gets applied to cuts of meat or fish for which it is not appropriate. Hanger steak is too thick and too tough of a cut for traditional blackening. It needs to be marinated, then seared quickly, served rare and sliced thinly across the grain.

In this case, I was not told that the meat was "blackened" until it was served. If I had known, I would not have ordered it either.

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joeblotto666 Jan. 9, 2012 @ 9:05 p.m.

 I agree with the review.  Went there twice because the first time I went was on a Saturday and they were closed.  Next time I went I got to try their food and I didn’t think it was any good.  I’m not a foodie but it seems as though they put a weird twist on to every dish.  The place was packed and I was the only one who didn’t seem happy.  On the positive side – the place was very clean and interesting.  The staff was very nice.
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Mary Beth Abate Jan. 10, 2012 @ 9:09 a.m.

Thanks for the comments.

I love the idea of a chef putting his/her individual twist on a dish. But, you have to be able to execute basic cooking techniques first. Then, feel free to innovate.

You also have to recognize if the twist doesn't work. I've "innovated" dishes straight into the garbage can in my own kitchen.

Plus, you can only take a dish so far before you lose the integrity of it. For example, just putting lettuce, tomato, toast and bacon together on a plate doesn't make it a BLT, at that point it's a salad with bacon and a side of toast.

MB

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deniseathome Jan. 12, 2012 @ 10:53 a.m.

Thank you for furthering my culinary education. I have one more question, doesn't the crust taste burnt? I see blackened dishes offered frequently in restaurants but this seems to be a technique that requires skill and practice. It is not something I would be comfortable trying at home without being schooled in person to the proper technique.

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Mary Beth Abate Jan. 12, 2012 @ 9:31 p.m.

If it's done right, it will not taste burnt. The key is to have a uniformly thin piece of meat or fish and a screaming hot pan, preferably cast iron or similarly heavy duty, and work fast. It will only take a minute or two per side. Have everything ready before you start cooking and don't leave the stove during the cooking process. There are a lot of good cooking tutorials on the internet, so have a look and then just practice. You might overcook a few pieces, but you'll get the technique down if you give it a try or two.

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Ponzi Jan. 12, 2012 @ 7:03 p.m.

I am an amateur chef, but a good one. Blackening does not take a great deal of skill. Its technique and respect for the type of meat you are cooking. The best tool to use for blackening is a well-used iron skillet. Also, meat, especially fish, continues to cook after being removed from the flame or heat source. Otherwise you end up with overcooked meat. I consider fish to be the easiest meat to prepare because it takes only a few minutes to cook under any circumstances; sauté, grill, bake, etc.

I used to make my own “eggs Benedict” and would poach eggs using a cheap little pan that you place four eggs in and set into a larger pan of boiling water. The art of poaching an egg is simple, but demands attention. Poaching an egg in a plastic bag is the epitome of laziness and does not belong in a commercial kitchen because it can spread salmonella.

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Mary Beth Abate Jan. 12, 2012 @ 9:40 p.m.

Classic culinary techniques aside, my concern is the risk of bacterial contamination as well. Clear egg whites on my plate are a real red flag. Anyone in a high risk group, young children, the elderly, and immune compromised individuals should avoid eggs that are not thoroughly cooked.

I love a good runny egg yolk though, and eat them all the time. Fortunately, I'm not in a high risk group so I do indulge.

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Visduh Jan. 12, 2012 @ 8:22 p.m.

Does Morena Blvd qualify as Clairemont? I'd call that part of town either the Morena District, or Rose Canyon. To me Clairemont is up on the top of the hill/mesa, and has a much different connotation than something down in that canyon area.

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Mary Beth Abate Jan. 12, 2012 @ 9:52 p.m.

I based it on the 92117 zip code, which extends between the 805 and the 5, from the 52 down to Balboa Ave., and along the 5 as far down as Tecolote Canyon Park. The neighborhoods are: Bay Ho, Bay Park, Clairemont, Clairemont Mesa East, Clairemont Mesa West, North Clairemont, and Sunset, according to http://www.city-data.com/zips/92117.html.

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SomTommy Jan. 13, 2012 @ 7:07 a.m.

I'm just wondering, based on this phrase "it's Culinary School 101" did you go to culinary school?

The prices at 4140 have been steadily going up, while they have seem to be cutting corners recently. Even though they were never stellar, 4140 used to be much better. Not sure why.

The eggs don't look sous vide, if done correctly is a fantastic cooking technique. Also, I don't think the eggs have been "poached" in a bag, which is a perfectly fine definition, at least by the culinary school I went to, but in plastic wrap.

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Mary Beth Abate Jan. 13, 2012 @ 9:44 a.m.

Yes, I have been to culinary school, and I've worked in the food service industry. But whether I have or have not is irrelevant. You don't need to go to culinary school to be a journalist and restaurant critic.

When an egg is boiled in plastic wrap, the ends of the wrap are gathered up and tied, like a beggar's purse. The result looks a little more like a poached egg should in shape. The eggs I was served have a pointed end, typical of being put in a plastic bag and have taken the shape of the corners of the bag. Either way, it's boiling in plastic.

Cooking in plastic is not poaching, which requires direct contact between the food and the acidulated liquid, without any barrier. The exception would be au torchon, where the foie gras may be wrapped in cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel. The foie gras still has direct contact with liquid, though, which soaks through the cloth.

They're not sous vide, either, as they were unevenly cooked, one end being overcooked and the other raw. Eggs are cooked sous vide in the shell after being vacuum sealed in plastic, making them also more typical of a boiled egg (though they would probably be cooked at 140 F or so, not 212 F.

Poaching an egg is a simple bit of protein chemistry and just takes practice and attention, whether you are poaching one egg or two hundred.

The bottom line is, when a restaurant charges nearly $50 (inc. tax and tip) for breakfast for two, the food should to be stellar. If it's not, people may not outright complain to the management, they may even say it's great if management asks, but they won't come back.

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SomTommy Jan. 13, 2012 @ 11:19 a.m.

Whoa Nellie...hang on there. The question I asked was not trolling. Sorry, I was just curious, based on that phrase. Also based on your comment, you decide what is relevant or not as well. So my apologies if you decided what I asked was irrelevant. I do not recall saying that one had to do to culinary school to be a food writer either.

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Mary Beth Abate Jan. 16, 2012 @ 11:22 a.m.

That’s fine. Curiosity is good.

But let’s take a step back and not make any assumptions about each other, okay? If I thought you were a troll, I would have ignored your comment entirely. There’s nothing to be gained by giving professional pot-stirrers the attention they crave.

Also, I didn’t say that your question is irrelevant. I’d never try to tell someone what to think.

What I said was that whether I went to culinary school or not is irrelevant. It doesn’t make my opinion any more valid than the next person’s, and I’d rather that people trust their own taste buds. Far too much emphasis is put on fancy titles, celebrity chefs, reality show “endorsements” and annual award lists and not enough on whether the food tastes good and is properly cooked.

You also brought up a couple of points, plastic wrap vs. plastic bags, and sous vide, to which I responded for clarification purposes. It's obvious that you’re familiar with sous vide, but other readers may not be.

I admit to being somewhat sad, though, that you were taught in culinary school that cooking eggs in plastic and calling it “poaching” is perfectly fine. I believe it’s fundamentally incorrect, but again, that’s just my opinion.

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SarahS Jan. 19, 2012 @ 2:47 p.m.

My family and I have been to Kitchen 4140 since they opened over a year ago. Coming from New York, it reminds us of the neighborhood cafes with stellar food. We are definitely foodies and have been thoroughly pleased with all of the made to order dishes there.

The writer (Mary) comes across very critical and condescending. Kitchen 4140 is a breath of fresh air compared to the underwhelming experiences we've had in San Diego.

Their garden is very cute and Chef Kurt is awesome. They have a good reputation for a reason.

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Mary Beth Abate Jan. 19, 2012 @ 3:37 p.m.

Thanks for reading and for your comments.

I'm glad that your experiences have been good. Unfortunately, mine wasn't.

Serving nearly raw eggs and burned food is inexcusable, period. If that makes me sound critical, well, I am a food critic.

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