Grow your own: Olivia

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 07.11.12
People talk about getting their fruits and vegetables from a 10-mile radius. At Olivia, they’ve cut it down to 10 yards. Chef Andrew Francisco makes a steak dish with tomatoes, eggplant, basil and cucumber from the garden out back. I spoke with Francisco for a broadcast of Cecilia Nasti’s “Field and Feast” weekend radio show that airs on KUT, for a show focusing on restaurants that grow their own food. (Listen here)
How does Francisco deal with the uncertainties of weather, bugs and temperamental plants when he plans a dish around something from the garden? “I have the luxury of changing the menu every day,” he said. “The only unfortunate thing about the garden is that on a Saturday night, I’m going to sell 35 filets. I’ll have enough eggplant and tomatoes for 35 filets, and probably cucumbers. But then you have to stretch it or make it fun by adding some blue cheese or housemade hams. The only time we can really do a pure all-the-way-from-the-garden dish is in the wintertime with lettuces. Then, for a fact, the Olivia Salad is all mixed greens from that.”
Olivia recently added another feature to its garden: a chicken coop built into an old Lone Star beer truck, where the chickens roost when they’re not foraging in the chicken-wire yard built onto the back of the truck.
With the strong farm-sourcing network Olivia’s tapped into, a garden seems redundant. But for Francisco, “The closer it gets to you, the better it tastes,” an aesthetic he practices at home by growing things like peppers, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves to feed his appetite for Asian cooking. Watching Francisco plate the Petit Filet dish, you see the art behind the science. No two tomatoes are the same. One day the garden has White Lightning eggplants. Another day it’s a variegated purple Fairy-tale variety. There are Sungold and Celebrity and Brown Cherokee tomatoes. He puts them together with Thai basil, cucumber, sherry vinegar and olive oil, then adds salt to pull the water from the tomatoes to make its own vinaigrette in the bowl.
Francisco batters and deep-fries quarter-sized coins of eggplant, then builds a graceful vine that weaves together the tomato-cucumber mix, the fried eggplant, blue cheese and coils of house-cured coppa. He sears the steak, then glazes it with brown-sugar gastrique. The result is the Petit Filet, $36 at Olivia — when you can get it — or yours at home for the price of the goods, a home garden and a little sweat-equity.
Olivia’s Petit Filet with Garden Vegetables
Yield: 1 serving
Beef tenderloin
6 oz. piece of beef tenderloin (Texas beef)
Olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper
Lightly rub beef in olive oil and season with kosher salt and pepper. Grill on all sides achieving cross-hatch (quadrillage) grill marks on the top and bottom of the steak. Grill to desired internal temperature. Rare to medium-rare would be around 128 degrees. Rest steak on rack in a warm area for 8 minutes before serving. When you are about to serve steak, brush with a simple brown sugar gastrique for sheen and a touch of sweetness to achieve  harmony between the slightly bitter grill marks and succulent interior of steak.
Gastrique recipe: 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp. soy sauce. Bring ingredients to a boil, simmer gently until sauce can barely coat the back of a spoon. When sauce cools to room temperature, it will have thickened to a desired glaze consistency.
We serve the eggplant fried for this dish. It acts as the starch, keeping the dish on the lighter side.
5 slices of eggplant 1/4 inch thick and 1.5 inches in diameter. The heirloom varieties we grow all have tender skin, so peeling is not necessary.
Beer batter
(An adaptation of the recipe from the Bouchon cookbook)
1/2 cup cake flour
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup local beer (We use Firemans #4 from Real Ale.)
Add all dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl and fully incorporate with a whisk. Slowly whisk in beer, do not over mix, (think tempura batter, but smooth). Let batter rest, keep refrigerated at all times. Set deep fryer at 350 degrees. We use peanut oil, but canola is fine as well. For home use, use a heavy-bottomed pot and only fill half way up with oil. Use a thermometer. Using chopsticks, thoroughly dip the slices of eggplant in batter. Release the eggplant in the batter, then gently grab with the sticks and drop in fryer. Let eggplant fry until golden brown, turning a few times. Drain on a paper towel and season with a little salt while it is still very hot.
Tomato salad
1 medium size heirloom tomato cut in non-uniform medium chunks
3 cherry or small heirloom tomatoes, halved
1/4 of a cucumber peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and cut on a bias in thin half-moons
6 basil leaves (We grow Thai basil at Olivia.)
2 tsp. chopped parsley (We grow Italian flat-leaf parsley.)
1 Tsp. sherry vinegar
2 Tsp. Texas olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
Before the steak hits the grill, get these ingredients marinating together, except the basil. Toss all ingredients together in a mixing bowl — except the basil; the acid will cook the basil leaf and discolor it; place basil on top of salad on the plate. Season with salt and a little pepper and let sit for 10 minutes. The salt will bring out a lot of liquid from the tomatoes, turning your vinaigrette into a truly delicious tomato water-sherry vinaigrette.
Garnish salad with nice, local arugula leaves (we buy ours at boggy creek farm). For a more complex dish, make an arugula puree: 1 part blanched and shocked arugula, 1/2 part blanched and shocked baby spinach, 1/4 part blanched and shocked parsley leaves, 1 Tbsp. sweated ginger, garlic, and scallion. Blend with vegetable stock, salt and a little xanthan gum until smooth. Pass through chinoise, keep cold.
Blue cheese
We use buttermilk blue cheese from Wisconsin or Pt. Reyes blue cheese from California.
We make our own coppa using the recipe from the book “Charcuterie.”
Arrange salad, using a slotted spoon, clean fingers or glove laden fingers onto plate. Garnish with pieces of blue cheese, slices of coppa, crispy eggplant, arugula and basil leaves. Place steak next to ingredients.
— Chef Andrew Francisco, Olivia
 More grow-your-own: Fonda San Miguel
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)