The Tasting Room

Mixologist Angie Jackson Leading a Cocktail Class

Mixologist Angie Jackson Leading a Cocktail Class

I used to think a good first impression was everything, and I will never forget the first time I walked into Webster’s Tasting Room. It was dubbed the “Lounge” at the time, filled with beautiful dark wood, statuesque paintings and chairs that were more like sofas. There was an instant feeling of ease and comfort as you peered towards the fireplace or the windows overlooking part of Kalamazoo’s downtown district. A very impressive room, but as a 20 year old at the time, my wallet suddenly felt light. I didn’t feel unwelcome, but I was nervous to see prices and the looks from Kalamazoo’s elite. Well, I’ve definitely learned to not trust my first impression.

Live Music Wednesday and Friday Nights

Live Music Wednesday and Friday Nights

Webster’s Tasting Room is the place where anyone can enjoy great food and drink, live music, local artwork and several special events. We have Hoppy Hour from 5p.m. to 7p.m.  Monday through Friday, allowing you to order any of the beers on our list for half off. Wine Down Wednesdays features half price on select bottles of wine, all night long. We have a great selection of Michigan craft beer and an impressive wine list, as well as some locally made and specialty spirits. Aside from our dining room menu, we are offering a “shareables” and “sandwich” menu, with very affordable pricing to fit every occasion.

Webster’s Prime is proud to now be a curated Art Hop site. We showcase local artists’ work all month long as well as on Art Hop, which is the first Friday of every month.  The beautiful wood floors and relaxed tone of the tasting room is perfect for doubling as an art gallery. We usually like to do something special for our Art Hop guests also. For instance this past week the Tasting Room hosted a gin sampling from Two Birds Artisan Spirits alongside Denis Billen’s beautiful photography. Check out Art Hop, and if you miss it, we’ll have art hung all month.

New Holland Brewing Tapping Dragons Milk

New Holland Brewing Tapping Dragons Milk

Being a cook, it is natural for me to be most excited about the food. Webster’s Prime has rejuvenated its kitchen over the last two years. Take it from me, I have been working in Webster’s kitchen longer than both my chefs and my fellow cooks. Not to say that gives me wisdom, I just have seen all of the changes. The eagerness, creativity, knowledge and refinement from our kitchen is absorbing. The food is better than ever before, with an emphasis on high quality proteins, local product and skillful execution. The kitchen is breeding ground for education and elevation. The team and I have become a much stronger culinary force, and we will keep growing and perfecting our craft.

Ocean Tasting

Ocean Tasting

These aren’t your grandmother’s sandwiches (although I’m sure your grandmother made amazing sandwiches.) A staff favorite, Jud McMichael’s house cured pastrami is to die for. The smoked and feathered beef with melted Jarlsberg cheese, spicy mustard and grilled rye is a mouthful of flavor you will not forget. We also love to make our steak sandwich, especially being a kitchen that prides itself on serving high quality cuts of beef. Sliced medium rare steak, caramelized onions and horseradish cream has always been a guest favorite. All sandwiches come with warm German potato salad and pickles.

Pastrami Sandwich

Pastrami Sandwich

With spring will come a couple of new sandwiches in our Tasting Room. A BLT will feature our new house made bacon, the pork bellies come from Young Earth Farms in Decatur. We then cure them for six days with salts and other flavorings like lemon zest, fresh thyme and black pepper.  A quick two hour smoke and you have beautiful bacon. The other sandwich will be a warm ham and cheese. Delicious rosemary ham, melted gruyere and mustard on house made foccacia will redefine the ham and cheese sandwich for you. If you’re not in the sandwich mood, any of our sharing plates will definitely satisfy, from samplings of grass-fed, grain-fed, wagyu and dry aged beef, to some of our favorite cheeses or even shrimp cocktail. Soon we will also feature daily canapes, a true inside look to the everyday creativity of our kitchen.

Curing Pork Bellies

Curing Pork Bellies

Whether your college students or professors, staff or management, hotel guest or local, Webster’s Tasting Room is an exceptional choice for everyday food, drink and leisure.

Nate Shaw
Lead Line Cook
LobTail

Beef…That’s What’s for Dinner!

bizarrefoods-wisconsin031213a

I was cozy on the couch a few weeks ago when I was taken aback by an episode of Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern.  I’m watching Andrew gallivant around the University of Wisconsin’s dairy farm talking about cheese, and all was well in the world…until all of a sudden I see him reach into the stomach of a large female cow!  Immediately my interest was sparked as I am fascinated by the things the medical world (both for human and animal) can do.  Here this beautiful female cow is just standing there minding her own business chewing on some grass, as Andrew is elbow deep in her tummy!  Andrew then pulls out large handfuls of the grass (or cud) that she is consuming and the big girl just turns and looks at him, I’m presuming with the thought of, “Hey, Dude, I’m hungry.”Stomach

The University of Wisconsin’s Department of Dairy Science is committed to researching, developing, and spreading the word of quality production of milk.  As are several other universities, such as Ohio State who has cannulated cows in their Ruminant Nutrition Department as well.  A cannulated cow is the technical term for a cow that has been fitted with a cannula (or what looks like a window.)  A surgery is performed to provide ingress to the cow’s Rumen, so that the researchers may collect data and study the best feed combinations for future cows.  The Rumen is the cow’s largest part of their four compartmental stomach and the Rumen can hold up to 50 gallons of partially digested food.  Interesting, huh?

cowwindow

I had no idea these mysterious “cow windows” existed in the dairy science world.  Andrew Zimmern, and a professor at the University of Wisconsin, go on to discuss the difference of milk and butter from a grain feed cow versus a grass fed cow, and pasteurized milk and butter versus non pasteurized.

Andrew focuses on the taste, and while I have never tried grass-fed cow milk I can imagine that it is better for you, with a higher content of vitamins.

All this cow talk started me to thinking about our grass versus grain fed beef in our restaurant.  Currently we are featuring grass-fed, New Zealand Wagyu breed beef, from First Light and Darling Downs farms.  These grass-fed cows feed on their pastures and are never finished on grain, and no additional supplements or hormones are given.  A lot of people think that all cows eat grass, which is true, but a lot of cows feed on grass for about six months and then they are finished on a mix of corn, grains, and other supplements, and hormones, and antibiotics.  Our lead line cook, Nathan Shaw, likes to joke, “Have you ever seen cows grazing on corn fields before?”

Our restaurant offers a beef tasting in addition to our Wagyu beef selection, which allows you to taste the difference between grass-fed hanging tender, New Zealand American Style Wagyu, and grain-fed beef.  Pretty neat if you have never tasted grain and grass side by side before.  Grass tastes a little earthier than grain, it is a bit more aromatic, and it is clean, lighter, and somewhat healthier than grain-fed.  Come check it out sometime!Beef Tasting

The world of beef, like anything else in life, is always changing.  Another new exciting trend in the state of Michigan is dry-aged beef versus wet-aged beef.  Wet-aged is what we are most commonly used to, where as dry-aged beef is hung in extreme climate and humidity controlled locations, to further enhance its tenderness and flavor.  Webster’s has, and will continue, to offer dry-aged beef.  On our new spring menu we are very pleased to offer 14 oz dry-aged ribeye, cut from 15 LB and up loin,* dry-aged 28 days, and cut in house.  Very unique and very tasty!  Again, if you have never tried dry and wet beef side by side, stop in and ask for a sampling of both.

Beef 2

The big thing that I took from writing this blog is that we are what we eat.  And if we are what we eat, than the animals that we eat are what they eat.  Recently a Chef said something to me during a discussion on where to dine out next that really resonated with me.   He said that it worries him when he looks at a dinner menu and the restaurant does not tell you where their beef is coming from.  I started thinking about that, and started thinking that it may be even more unsettling to ask the servers, who I bet will hesitate and look at you with a quizzical face as if you were trying to pull one over on them.  That thought makes my stomach churn even more, and it makes me appreciate our restaurant and all that we stand for.  It also makes me appreciate our servers who are eager to learn and for a culinary staff who is eager to teach them.

Please tell me to get off my high horse at anytime by the way, as I am a recovering Taco Bell addict by night.  I realize that it is not realistic to eat out all the time, or to eat premium quality food at all times, but every once in awhile while I’m painting the town red (those few times that they let me out of the four walls of what is Webster’s Prime…)   🙂  I choose to dine in those very rare finds, that treat you like deserve to be treated, and feed you like you deserve to be fed.

Alana Fisher
Event Coordinator
Alana's Photos 132

* Which means that every primal (the whole boneless rib loin of the domestic cow) that Webster’s gets in house will be at least 15 pounds and no less.

You had me at service

What is it that makes us return to a restaurant?  Is it the comfortable chairs, as our Executive Chef recently wrote about?  Is it the astonishing mouth watering dish that you find yourself dreaming about when pondering where to stop for dinner?  Or is it the amazing service?

VellumAnn Arbor, MI

Vellum
Ann Arbor, MI

For me, it has always been about the service.  Anywhere from the greasy spoon where the ma and pa behind the counter engage you in friendly conversation, to the six course fine dining back server and front server experience, it has to have great service for me to return.  Not perfect service, no no, I never strive for the perfect dining experience, just something that takes the dining experience from average to extraordinary.  I understand that mistakes happen, and servers get busy, but it is how they conduct themselves in a professional and welcoming manner that keeps me interested.

We’ve all been there, the situations where you try a new place for the first time and you swear you will never be back.  Once a place has a black mark for me, I swear I won’t go back for years!  I don’t even realize how much time goes by…I almost forget the reason why I didn’t like it in the first place…but I won’t choose to give them a second chance unless someone else suggests that we go.

I have to say that my friends and I are a tough crowd, not because we aren’t easily pleased but because we expect great service.  It’s the expectation where we come from.  Most of us are chefs, restaurant managers, servers, bartenders, event coordinators, hostesses, dining room assistants, and just plain foodies!

My foodie friends and I recently met in Ann Arbor for dinner, a mecca of great places to dine!  How can one from out of town even chose where to go?  Well for us, Vellum had us from the get go.  Their website was top notch, and their Chef de Cuisine was from Kalamazoo and a WMU graduate!  We had to check it out once we had read that, and we were not disappointed.

Beer Vellum

For me the experience started with (if you’ve read my past blogs…you could probably guess) that’s right, an ice cold beer.  I was pleased that they had Final Absolution from Dragonmead (one of my favorites) and Dragon’s Milk from New Holland on draft.  They also had my favorite bourbon, Basil Hayden’s in which I enjoyed after my dinner.

But it wasn’t the great beer, bourbon, or even the modern American chow that blew my socks off, it was their attention to providing wonderful service.  We were first greeted by a nice amuse bouche from the chef, they removed all dirt y silverware throughout the meal, and when our entrees arrived they presented us each with a complimentary sample of wine that paired nicely with our entrée selection.  After dinner they surprised my boyfriend with a complimentary upgrade from his VSOP cognac to an XO cognac.  We never wanted for anything, the food was great, and the Director of Operations, Ric Jewell was a real pleasure to meet.  Ric Jewell and our server created the ultimate dining experience for us.  We felt like royalty, and will return because of the service in the near future for sure.

The food at Vellum was a bit too modern for my taste; I like a more classical approach.  Not moth balls classical, but just you know, somewhere in the middle.  While their food was tasty, when I ordered the bone marrow, I expected a bone on a plate with a little demitasse spoon.  Instead we received bone marrow custard, with braised short ribs and cute little root vegetables.  Tasty, but not what I expected.  So while it may not be the food that pulls me back to this modern year old establishment it will be their attention to providing excellent service.Bone Marrow Vellum

So what is it that you look for in a restaurant?  Comfortable chairs?  Great food, modern food?  Or outstanding service?  We want to know!

Alana Fisher
Event Coordinator
Allie and I

What’s your favorite restaurant?

As a chef I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question.  My usual response is ‘I have several, depends on what we’re hungry for’ and that usually satisfies most inquirers.  People rarely ask ‘What’s the most comfortable dining experience you’ve enjoyed?’  That might be a better question.

Edison Food + Drink Lab

Edison Food + Drink Lab

Recently Jud and I had the honor of being in Tampa to receive an award for the restaurant and we were able to eat some really good food in some really nice restaurants.  I’m talking food that we want to do and some we don’t, doesn’t mean it wasn’t tasty, just not our style.  Check out Bern’s Steak House and Edison Food Lab, both in Tampa, Florida.  They had some winners on their menus that we enjoyed.  Great food, really top notch and friendly service, however, they also had one thing in common that we talked about at great length, their chairs.

Bern's Steak House

Bern’s Steak House

At Bern’s we were in a group of fourteen so we were crammed at a table and might have had different chairs than normal diners to save space.  I’d bet the normal dining room chairs are very comfortable based on the atmosphere, the level of service, and the comfort we felt in their atrium waiting area.  At Edison, we were two guys at a table for four, so the chairs were the everyday put your fanny on a space kind of chair.  Both, in my opinion, might have been two of the most uncomfortable seats I’ve experienced outside of a full airplane.  It was sad too, the food was great.  Bern’s has some wonderful dry aged prime beef that was fabulous.  Edison had the best bone marrow I’d tasted in a while and absolutely delicious potato crusted oysters.  The chairs were just uncomfortable.  I mentioned it to Jud and he was quick with his ‘I know!  I couldn’t get comfortable.’ DeluxeBistroChair

I understand back some time some genius restaurateur came up with the North American version of Bistro, tons of tables and chairs, really uncomfortable, with the idea to turn tables quickly and make more money, I get it.  Those of us that have fortunate enough to experience Milan or Paris understand the concept.  The chairs aren’t quite as uncomfortable with the Mount Blanc views or fresh croissants on the Siene.

My wife and I love a restaurant in Kansas City called the Classic Cup.  Pretty good food, really uncomfortable seating, but it’s right on the Country Club Plaza with outdoor seating if you’re lucky enough to get there early.  The person watching is top notch, the buzz is great, and you almost forget your rear end is numb.  There are a couple other spots like that but Webster’s will never be one of them.

Our chairs are comfortable.  We’ve had a guest describe our booth seating as his ‘food cockpit’.  He requests it every time he’s in for a giant steak and twice baked.  Its home to him and his guest, they’re comfortable.  Zazios downstairs in the Radisson is the same way, great chairs, super comfortable.  You don’t want to leave.  We let guests linger, that’s just our style.  We want you to be comfortable and enjoy the experience.Webster's Chairs

Call me crazy but part of the experience of dining out is the ambiance and comfort.  You don’t expect a great seat at the food truck or the luncheonette, but you should at a sit down dinner.  We’ve all experienced the table by the kitchen or the server side station and commented on what a bad table we had, but do we consider our actual seat?

So, here’s the question; is your favorite restaurant due to food or ambiance?  Perhaps both.  I’d argue that comfort has something to do with your answer, be it comfortable with the level of service or relationship (think Norm from ‘Cheers’) or the ability of a kitchen to prepare something you love and can’t recreate at home (that’s me with some Asian places).  Regardless, we think less about how comfortable our seat is than we deserve. Think of your favorite ‘chair’ at your home.  Do we deserve anything less when we spend a buck on a meal????

Stefan Johnson
Executive Chef
General Manager
Stefan Johson Pic

Grandma’s Recipes

Growing up with my Bacha

The Chef's Table - Zazios Birmingham

The Chef’s Table – Zazios Birmingham

It is easy to get caught up in everyday life. We don’t get or take enough chances to do something different or “stray away from the pack”.  About a month ago, I was given the chance to do exactly that. Trust me, I will always love flipping steaks and grilling asparagus, but now it’s time to get out the wok. I have the privilege of cooking at the Chef’s Table in Zazios on January 24th. My chef Jud McMichael and I will be serving a five course Asian inspired dinner.

Aside from Jud’s strong love for Asian fare, Japanese food was part of my childhood. I was the kid who taught my kindergarten class how to use chop sticks for show and tell. The same one who had a rice cooker in his dorm room. My grandmother, Shuko Kuwahara, was born in the beautiful city of Nara, the capital to the Kensai region of Japan. She met my grandfather, Richard Philips, during the Korean War while working as a translator at the military base where he was stationed. An American M.P. was hassling Shuko one day, and my grandfather, a robust and kind man, came to the rescue. They were married shortly after and she moved to the states in 1951. They raised two laudable children and influenced all four of their grandchildren heavily.

My Bacha and Mother

My Bacha and Mother

I will never forget the meals she cooked for us. The captivating smell as you approached their house. The sound of her washing her hands in the kitchen sink as we walked in the front door. The feeling of her small and welcoming arms in the greeting that followed. She was an artist for occupation and that didn’t change in the kitchen. She cooked with such finesse; washing her rice meticulously and chilling the spinach in such a specific way, her delicate hands flipping teppanyaki with chop sticks or drying tempura over paper towel. Delicious inari sushi was a staple along with small Japanese donuts, regardless of the fastidious process to make them. She advanced her grandchildren’s palettes at a young age. More so, she taught us to appreciate dining together around a table of beautiful food as a family, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Inari Sushi

Inari Sushi

As a cook now, I look back and regret the things I didn’t learn from her. It couldn’t be more true that “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. She was a culinary mecca, filled with advanced knowledge of process and an understanding of food that I may never reach.  All I physically have are some simple recipes, most of which are in Japanese, but more importantly, I have vivid memories. I’m going to recreate some of her classic dishes as well as debut a few of my own, but all deriving from the flavors entrenched in those memories. Come dine with us later this month, and taste a piece of inspiration that Shuko left behind.

 Nathan Shaw
Lead Line Cook

LobTail

Turned off by Turnips?

In a world with such a variety of vegetables, us cooks are always challenged with produce that people do not typically like. This is also where we strive to create dishes that stretch taste buds and change people’s minds. I hated onions when I was a kid, pushing my mother’s hard work around the edges of the plate like it was toxic. For instance, if it was french onion soup, all the bread, cheese and broth would be gone leaving a pile of lonely onion in the bottom of the bowl. It wasn’t until I started having onions in different and interesting preparations that I learned the beautiful complexity of an onion and its flavor (not to insult french onion soup). Onions and I have been close ever since.

A Turnip from my Mother's Garden

A Turnip from my Mother’s Garden

Apart from the onion, I have heard many people explain their dislike for turnips. Turnips are abundant this time of year and usually have a cheap price tag. I also think this misunderstood vegetable is the most delicious root vegetables there is. With the strength of a potato and the delicate flavor of a sweet radish, turnips are universal in the cooking world. There are many easy ways to prepare this lost vegetable, even far beyond my knowledge. These are a few of my favorites:

Grilled Turnips: An all-time favorite. In a salted pot of boiling water, cook turnips whole until tender. You can check this easily with a toothpick, just like a potato. Make an ice bath with equal parts ice and water and a few pinches of salt. Place cooked turnips in the ice bath until they cool to room temperature. The skins should peel very easily from the turnip. Once the skins are discarded, slice the turnips into pieces that will be easy to grill. Toss with salt and olive oil and place on a hot grill until nicely marked on both sides.

Turnip and Potato Hash: Great with eggs in the morning, or next to a grilled steak, or both! Just dice your potatoes and turnips evenly and boil in salted water until tender. Remove and saute in a hot skillet with olive oil and salt until crispy. Add thinly slivered red onion and fresh thyme to deepen the flavor. Toss with a tab of butter and a small amount of lemon juice to sweeten and add acid.

Pickled Turnip: There are a wide variety of pickling brines out there, and I’m not sure if I’ve found my favorite for turnips yet. I have had great success with making simple brines (consisting of vinegar, water, sugar and salt). Heat water and vinegar, whisk in salt and sugar until they’ve dissolved. Pour the hot brine over raw turnips, wedged or whole, and refrigerate for at least a week. If you are not very familiar with making pickling brines, try David Chang’s pickling brine from Momofuku, www.esquire.com/features/guy-food/momofuku-recipe-1009 .*

Momofuku Pickled Turnips

Momofuku Pickled Turnips

Turnip Chitara: Derived from the Italian word for guitar, chitara is cutting vegetables in a spaghetti-like shape, emulating guitar strings. There are mandolins and other gadgets that whip out a beautiful chitara, but with a steady hand and patience, this can be done with just a knife. Saute in olive oil with a small amount of garlic, but not for long, as you don’t want your chitara to overcook. De-glaze your pan with white wine and add heavy cream to create a pan sauce. Reduce until a nice thick consistency occurs and season with salt. Garnish with parmesan cheese and fresh radishes. Add bacon or ground pork in the beginning to make this a heavier dish.

Turnips from Kirklin Gardens

Turnips from Kirklin Gardens

There are a million possibilities for turnips and other vegetables out there, we just have to experiment and never be afraid to try new things. So the next time your child says, “I don’t like onions”, or you find yourself not ordering a dish because of an ingredient, please remember that our taste buds change daily, and that there is always a way to make something delicious.

Happy Holidays,

Nathan Shaw
Lead Line Cook

LobTail

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