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Tuesday
March

29

2005
12:51 AM



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Mauritius Bar Gelateria, Bologna, Italy, tasted on March 21, 2004 — Yet another write-up of an Italian gelateria. It's so funny how they all follow a similar format. I guess ice cream shops in the United States all kind of look the same too no matter where you go. What really put Mauritius Bar Gelateria over the top was their chocolate gelato.

It was like frozen, creamy super pure Hershey's syrup. I know some of you may scoff at Hershey's so substitute your favorite brand, but trust me, this stuff was fantastic. When we go out to eat there's a rule that you can't eat the food until the picture is taken. As you can see from the toothmarks in this shot, the gelato was simply too hard to resist. Creamy dreamy, yummy and deeply deeply chocolatey.

There were other flavors as well including orange, lemon, and carrot. The orange was a touch artificial tasting like and Orange Julius, but still had a good creamsicle quality to it. The vanilla was eggy and quite good. Other flavors (we failed in our mission to try them all) included Nutella, biscotti, and creme caramel to name a few.

 

Monday
March

28

2005
12:40 AM



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Ristorante Diana, Bologna, Italy, tasted on March 21, 2004 — When you have a limited amount of time in a city you need to choose where you eat carefully. While appetite can be endless, time is precious as is space in your stomach. You'd think it would be obvious where to eat. Countless sources are all hawking their recommendations. But who to trust? In fact, to be blunt, the distinct lack of reliable sources is partly why this website was created. We strive to be that reliable source. But who do we go to? Lauren had a good notion in asking Armandino Batali, proprietor of the only real Italian sandwich shop in Seattle, his own salumeria, and father of celebrity chef Mario Batali where he likes to eat in Italy. His recommendation? Ristorante Diana in Bologna - apparently (according to Lauren) his favorite restaurant in all of Italy (and also preferred by son Mario). Always willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, we made our way to Diana for our first dinner in town.

Diana was a site to see, an old school restaurant filled with smoke licking the wood paneled walls. Fancily dressed waiters carved meat tableside. If the smoke wasn't so thick it might have been charming. We wound our way through the fog to the backroom where there was some modicum of a non-smoking section and ordered.

We started with the Bresaola Della Valtellina which had stunning color and rich flavor. Even better was the Prosciutto San Daniele. This ham was among the best I've ever had. Salty, yummy, and explosive in flavor. Great. More meat, this time in a spreadable form - Spuma di Mortadella con Crostini Caldi. It was like a baloney paste. Mild, interesting, and pink.

Next up was Risotto al Carciofi. The artichoke risotto was savory and nice. The Taglioline con Tartufo were ok. The truffles on buttered noodles were subtle, too subtle I think. But the Bavette al Profumo di Limone - lemon noodles with julienned ham was quite good. I didn't think I'd like lemon pasta, but in fact I loved it.

Truffles were sort of a theme as we ordered the Supplemento Tartufo and ended up with truffle on most of our dishes. In case anyone's confused, this is definitely not a bad thing. We had a combination of turkey, Ham, cheese, and truffle, as well as a Patate Gratinee Tartuffi (potato, cheese, and truffles). It's hard to really make dishes with these ingredients badly. Finally we had the scampi in shells. I thought it didn't have huge flavor, but Alex liked it.

Here's the thing about Diana. Everything was certainly good, but not special. Let me explain. It's like eating pizza, or caviar for some people. They're both foods people love. And they're both foods that even when not great, people who love them will still eat them. Pasta, truffles, cheese, ham. I really can't complain about any dish that contains any (or even all) of these ingredients. That said, other than the lemon pasta, it wasn't exactly a memorable meal, and ultimately that's what we're looking for.

 

Friday
March

25

2005
7:03 AM
by Debbie




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Food News, March 25, 2005Finalists for International Association of Culinary Professionals awards were announced recently. The winners will be announced April 16th.

Who really invented the hamburger? There are apparently three major claims, according to John Menches, who describes in a Business Week online report how his great-grandfather invented the hamburger in 1885. NPR discusses the others in a report from a few years ago. And if you are really into hamburger history, read Hamburger Heaven: The Illustrated History of the Hamburger, by John Tennyson.

Lately, food websites abound with various Easter food discussions, like this one from the San Francisco Chronicle on Easter desserts. The author says that Easter isn’t associated with an iconic dessert, but we say, then whither Peeps (see last year’s Slate article that claims that Americans eat around 700 million Peeps each Easter…mmm…marshmallow and chemically-altered sugar…) or the Cadbury egg…what’s in those things? Nobody knows…except possibly the creators of the Cadbury egg tribute site.

 

Thursday
March

24

2005
12:49 AM



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Food News, March 24, 2005 — I admit that sometimes I'll eat a little bit of butter plain. I'm not sure why that's not as socially acceptable as eating a spoonful of sour cream but for some reason it's not. This is the place I admit all my inappropriate eating habits so why not this one. The Los Angeles Times (free registration required) gets it with their ode to butter.

Not sure I need to say much more than Fusilli with Asparagus and Bacon.

Does every meatball recipe have bread in it? This one is from the New York Times (free registration required).

I'm thinking of flying a bunch of barbecue for lunch one day for my co-workers. What's the best mail-order barbecue place? Cooper's? Black's? Jack Stack? Willy Ray's? Colter's? Melvin's? Michelbob's? Corky's? The Salt Lick? King's? Neely's? Bigham's? Dreamland? Sticky Fingers? Carson's? The County Line? Clem Mikeska's? Kreuz Market? Of course, given the people I usually eat with, the only possible answer to this dilemma would be to try them all in some blind taste test. That may not be possible for a little while, so in the meantime, this seems like a good opportunity for further discussion.

Alex is always complaining that white chocolate isn't real chocolate. More evidence for his case.

Not to do too much self-promotion, but we have gotten a lot of new readers since we put out our first ever electronic cookbook - All About Apples, from Chef Scott Carsberg at Lampreia. Download it for free and enjoy.

Recently a group of Seattle folks who chat together on a discussion board called mouthfuls got together to cook all the dishes in the cookbook. Neat! I heard it went pretty well.

 

Wednesday
March

23

2005
12:50 AM



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Il Cerro, Covigliaio - Firenzuola, Italy, tasted on March 21, 2004 — Back to Italy. On this particular day we found ourselves driving on a long windy road from Florence to Bologna. Florence was great, but we were intent on spending the bulk of our time in Italy in Emilia Romagna - source of parmesan cheese, parma ham, and authentic balsamic vinegar. Not many regions can claim so many iconic and delicious contributions to the world of food. Bologna is the biggest city in the region and it was going to be our home base while we scoured every inch of the countryside for ham, cheese, and vinegar, saving small amounts of room for pasta and various other yummy Italian dishes. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Our drive to Bologna was long, and we were... no surprise... hungry.

When we couldn't wait any longer we pulled off the road and found the cute Il Cigno hotel with its own restaurant - il Cerro. We'd stoppped at a roadside bar/restaurant but the smoke was so thick we just couldn't stay. Luckily il Cerro was a little further down the road. It was 3pm on a Sunday and the place was positively empty. But they graciously agreed to feed us. It was very nice of them. Given that they were working late, we didn't judge them too harshly for the bad 80's music pouring out of the kitchen. Even though the hotel seemed pretty relaxed, and the decor of the restaurant was a bit rustic, the meal was definitely towards the high end of the spectrum - especially in terms of the service. When we were served wine, the waiter would "wash" all the glasses with wine... 'priming the glass" according to alex.

Our late lunch started off with Fagiolini with Bacon and Cheese. Basically a pastry shell, all golden with sesame seeds is filled with ham and a cheesy filling that was tart with warm beans all mushed up as well. The beans were light but provided a foundation of texture and flavor. This was quickly followed by an enormous plate filled with cold meats and marinated vegetables. The marinated artichoke was simply amazing. It was delicate, starting soft, but getting stronger over time. Citrus showed up halfway through, and the flavor held up surprisingly well to the strong meats. The oiliness was comforting. The strip of pork fat on the plate got a little too warm to be enjoyable.

Next up was a series of crostini. There were some good individual moments: the garlic on mushroom, the melty cheese, and the unbelievably tangy and exciting tasting tomato. Peyman pointed out that the bread did get a bit soggy given how oil drenched everything was. The Tagliatelle with Ham and Leek was delicious. I love pasta and this was no exception. It was a bit peppery on the finish. The pasta spirals with tomato sauce that followed were not quite as good. They had a great spicy kick, but were a touch too herby, and the pasta was slightly undercooked.

We were getting pretty full but soon a platter of San Carlo Dixi, Cornetti di Mais, al Formaggio arrived. The rice very good. The savory tomato meat flavored sauce was rich and hearty. But the penne that followed was even more undercooked than the spirals. It was inedible. Finally we had a platter with vegetables, cheese, lardetto, and mushrooms. Unfortunately it was kind of greasy. The fresh vegetables were great but overall tough to eat.

Two factors conspired to make this not a particularly great meal (tagliatelle aside). Firstly, there seemed to be an overuse of oil on the part of the kitchen. I love olive oil as much as almost anyone. But it seemed overly generous to me. The other issue was that many people in Italy had a hard time understanding our style of ordering. We go for breadth, not depth. Our ordering is designed to let us sample small amounts of as many dishes as possible. The waiter brought out such enormous communal dishes of each item we ordered that by the end we were begging for mercy. I suppose if the food had been more consistent, maybe we wouldn't have minded the enormous portions quite as much.

 

Tuesday
March

22

2005
12:39 AM



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Crush, Seattle, WA, tasted on March 19, 2005 — I look forward to new restaurants opening up with quite a bit of excitement. Especially when they open near me. The truth is that I really want to love new restaurants. I want to find a gem. I want to go back again and again. I want to add a new restaurant to my list of favorites and tell everyone how great it is. The truth is also that this rarely happens. It's certainly not because I don't want new restaurants to be great, it's just that often unfortunately they are not.

Crush, a recently opened restaurant in Seattle, is doing everything right. They are doing everything right if you want to be a successful restaurant in Seattle. Unfortunately that doesn't necessarily equate to being a special eating experience. Fresh local ingredients? Check. Frequently changing menu reflective of the seasonality of the ingredients? Check. Open late? Check. Hip designy decor? Check. Small Plates? Check. Open kitchen? Check. And you know what? I think that's a great checklist. I think just about every restaurant should follow those guidelines. However, all these things are just a baseline. And they are not even foundational really, they're not what makes for great food. They're the trappings of potentially great food, as well as cues that today's sort of food educated dining public looks for. But you can make great food without any of those things. Because ultimately you judge the quality of the food with your mouth.

Crush is designed for success. It hits all the right notes the eating public is looking for as well as being housed in an cute and hiply remodeled house in Seattle's central district. The black and white decor as well as the plastic, Starck-ish chairs, make for a neat interior. It's not off putting though, and in fact the combination of the design, the beautiful open kitchen behind a bar, all situated on the first floor of a house works. Kind of innovative, interesting, and yet comfortable and not snobby. I assume that's kind of the way they'd like their food to come off as well.

We started off with Spring Carrot Soup with Ginger and Mint Cream. The soup had a nice texture. The flavor was simple but not super interesting. Bland. The Citrus Marinated Beet and Cress Salad with Sultanas & Warm Blue Cheese Toasts wasn't particularly special. It's not that I wouldn't love a great combination of citrus, beets, and blue cheese. It's just that this wasn't it. I don't know any better way to say this than, there was a whole lot of stuff thrown together. At least that's how it felt. The Grilled Asparagus and Goat Cheese Salad with Prosciutto Chips, Balsamic, and Hazelnuts was sort of thrown together as well but this dish worked. Mostly I think because the asparagus was perfectly cooked, and the prosciutto chips (sort of a ham jerky) were full of flavor.

Next up was Sautéed Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Brioche, Endive Pear Salad, Huckleberries. The flavor was quite good though the composition relatively typical. The main distraction was the cold center of the foie. I don't mean luke warm. I mean truly cold. Like the center of the piece had just been removed from the fridge. We also had the Seared Scallops and Sweet Onion Risotto with Duck Confit, Tangerine and Arugula. The scallops were ok. The risotto was sort of just there. A touch gloppy. Not really interesting. The duck got lost in it. The main challenge was that the seared surface of the scallops had so much salt on them that you couldn't help but get a mouth full of saltiness that distracted from everything else. Finally we got  the side of Sautéed Spinach. It was pretty delicious. The diced bacon didn't hurt. I don't think it's a coincidence that one of the simplest dishes we had, was one of the best. I don't know why diners are looking for things that are complicated. I assume they must be as many new restaurants zero in on dishes with lots of stuff going on. I admit this may be a bias, but I'm a fan of simplicity. Complexity just makes it harder to make a coherent dish. It can be done (and some chefs do it beautifully) but why try to make thing complicated when simple dishes can be so delicious.

Dessert. Chocolate Cherry Honeycomb with Chantilly, Decadence, and Meringue. This was good. Debbie was surprised by the power of the liqueur, but she quickly got past it and enjoyed the dish. I had the Warm Apple Tart with Caramel Ice Cream, Spiced Apple Balls, and Chips with Calvados. I admit I'm hard pressed to not like Apple/Caramel/Ice Cream combinations, but this one was particularly good. Yes, a lot of stuff was going on, but the tart was an ooey gooey foundation for everything else that brought it all together.

Crush will be very successful no matter what I think. I knew this when I walked in the door. I knew it more certainly when I watched every diner stop at the open kitchen and thank the chef profusely for their fantastic meals. I don't think these people are tasting their food. I think they have some idea of what good food is and where you find it, and the trappings of Crush conform to those ideals. Some might say I'm being unfair. If they like it, who am I to say they are wrong. Fair enough. That said, I bet I could put two carrot soups next to each other... one sublime, with subtlety and strong flavor and show them the difference between food that looks cool, and food that tastes great. I bet they could tell the difference if they had the chance. Given that Crush is relatively new I'll probably try it again. But I won't get my hopes up.

 

Monday
March

21

2005
12:34 AM



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Hamentaschen, tasted on March 19, 2005 — Yet another Jewish holiday is coming up - Purim. The old joke sketches the outline for the backstory of just about every Jewish holiday: "they tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat". This is another one of those combined with sanctioned dressing up and silliness. As for the food, triangular fruit-filled pastries made to resemble the bad guy's ear or hat are one of the staples.

Historical perspective from my father the historian:

"Hamantaschen" were originally "montaschen" (German-yiddish for poppy seed pockets). But Jews couldn't resist the pun and began calling them "homantaschen". The tri-cornered bit was simply the way a circular bit of dough folded over came out. Note that in Hebrew, they are called "Haman's ears" and not "Haman's hats". The tri-cornered hat idea is a later innovation linked, presumably to the 18th century hat style. I would love to imagine that this had something to do with the hats of the Napoleonic French armies that liberated Jews from ghettos in the early 18th century. There are tales of the Jews eagerly swapping hats with the French soldiers, but this is usually linked to wanting to sport the tri-color (red white and blue little bits of cloth that were stuck into the Frenchmen's hats as flag-like symbols of France and liberty) rather than the hats themselves which, presumably, were just like the hats the Jews already wore.

Often at bakeries you'll find them (hamantaschen, not hats) filled with poppy seeds or prunes. My mom knows better than that. She has always made hers smaller, lighter, and stuffed with apples - sort of like a mini-apple pie.

On Saturday, Sivan (my three-and-a-half year old son) and I decided to take out his grandmother's recipe and make hamentaschen. They turned out just like she makes them - well just about like hers. There's no real substitute for her making them herself. Maybe we'll videotape her next time she does it. My mom says she adapted the following from a recipe by Lillian Kaplun, For the Love of Baking, page 47, published in Toronto 1960. Makes about fifty hamentaschen. Believe it or not, mine were even better the second day after they'd completely cooled.

 

Dough

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • juice of 1 regular orange

Filling

  • 3 granny smith apples peeled and diced
  • enough cinnamon and sugar to lightly coat (don't overdo the cinnamon)
  • juice of 1 lemon

Instructions

  • Mix flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • Beat eggs until light and lemon colored.
  • Add sugar gradually and beat mixture until thick.
  • Add oil mixing well.
  • Add dry ingredients alternately with orange juice.
  • Dough will be somewhat sticky. Add flour in small amounts just until it's workable.
  • Roll out dough thinly. Cut into 2 inch rounds.
  • Put 1 teaspoon of filling on each piece, fold into a triangle pinching edges together.
  • Brush with beaten egg white mixed with a little water.
  • Place on greased cookie sheet.
  • Bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes or until just starting to turn golden brown. Don't overbake. It's ok if they look a little light.
  • Let them cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet and then remove to a plate for more cooling.

You don't have to celebrate Purim to enjoy these little apple-turnover like pastries any time of year.

 

Friday
March

18

2005
12:50 AM




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Website News, March 18, 2005 — I found a cool food blog the other day, Arthur Hungry. I liked it for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it reminds me of tastingmenu. I like seeing people describe their great meals out in incredible detail and often with photos. I also like their "Right Now" section which tells you where he is eating at the moment. This seemed cool to me. Having no shame, we're happy to rip it off. From now on you'll see where we are as well at the top of the column to the right.

There was a cool article on food blogging that mentions tastingmenu and a bunch of other food blogs in the Washington Post (free registration required). We also got a nice mention for tastingmenu and TasteEverything in the Seattle Weekly. The article in the post appears to have been syndicated in the Knoxville paper as well but I can get past their burdensome registration page to see.

I'd love to see some discussions going on at our discussion board on tasteeverything. Registration takes a minute, and there are plenty of topics to discuss. I'd propose, where to eat in Chicago as a topic I'd like to see discussed.

 

Wednesday
March

16

2005
12:59 AM




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Wacky Reader, March 16, 2005 — If I'm going to take up bandwidth and hard drive space blabbing my opinions, then it's only reasonable to expect criticism. And this site has gotten its fair share. Mostly I just let it go and let it be part of the texture of the site. But today's feedback on yesterday's post by Debbie (e-mailed to me, not posted) is so nutty that I can't pass it by. And please note: for anyone who is a vegetarian, I respect you, and have no problem with you. I can even recommend a restaurant or two that will blow you away with their incredible vegetarian food. The exchange below is not about vegetarians and not eating meat. It's about this reader's hostility and inappropriate moral equivalency. OK. Enough caveats.

I received the following mail:

Regarding Jacques Pepin's comment "Most of the people against foie gras have never even been on a farm", followed by tastingmenu.com's "This great quote and more..."

One doesn't have to visit Auschwitz to have a good sense of how brutal the Holocaust was for the millions that died.

But I guess if we've been eating foie gras for years why should we change? We're under no obligation here to examine what is right and what is wrong in light of the other occupants of this planet. Animals are more like property than sentient beings, really. If we can dominate another species completely there's probably no reason why we shouldn't. Our needs, however bizarre and out of touch with reality on a global level, come first.

Jacques is off his freaking rocker. I read the Saute Wednesday piece with him rambling dementedly about tasteless organic tomatoes. Who cares, Jacques?

I hope the apocalypse wipes out the condescending elitist food snobs first. If there's any justice in the world it will be from avian flu.

M.Y. [I have withheld the writer's identity so their mailbox doesn't overflow.]

My response:

In fact, I think one does have to visit Auschwitz to get a sense of even a modicum of the brutality of the holocaust. And it's clear to me that by comparing the plight of ducks and geese to the genocide of 6 million people who shared my religion, culture, and in some cases DNA, you have definitely not visited Auschwitz. And ironically, the trip might do you in particular some good. Maybe afterwards you won't wish mass extermination on humanity as you do at the end of your note.

Setting your unbelievable insensitivity and ignorance aside, I don't know why you haven't written to me complaining about my love of meat. Have you seen how they treat cows? Chickens? Pigs? I have. If you're truly passionate about not treating animals like property then at least be consistent. I assume you don't own or use any leather products either. Do you eat fish? Eggs? Dairy products? If so then I would recommend you do two things:

1) Examine your value system and figure out why you've picked this issue to be outraged about when there are so many others of equal or greater importance to spend your time on.

2) Before dismissing Pepin's comments, please do go visit a farm. And not just a goose farm, but a variety of farms where they raise animals for food. (I have done this.) After that I again suggest you examine your value system and decide in what order to be outraged.

If after these exercises you get consistent with your passions and decide that all animal products are not for you, and stop comparing farming of animals to genocide, then I will disagree with you, but at least disagree respectfully. (I have no problem with vegetarians or anyone who doesn't want to use animal products for any reason. I do have a problem with people who make hostile and incoherent arguments.)

And if by some miracle, after all this you actually reverse your position and realize that the production of foie gras is no more inhumane than raising and milking dairy cows, and you suspend your outrage, I can recommend several restaurants where the foie gras is prepared exquisitely.

BTW, Hitler's sometime vegetarianism and love of animals (especially his dog) appears to be reasonably well-documented in respected books with no anti-vegetarian agenda that I could determine (1, 2). This feels like an ironic moral equation for you to weigh especially given your penchant for comparing Hitler's activities with those of farmers who haven't killed millions of people.

Now I feel better.

 

Tuesday
March

15

2005
12:15 AM
by Debbie




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Food News, March 15, 2005 Cooking for Engineers just won the 2005 "Bloggy"  for Best Food Blog of the year! Congratulations!

What's the difference between a hashbrown and a latke (potato pancake)? I don't know, but they should both be crispy. Simply Recipes claims to have a great recipe for crispy hashbrowns which looks very good.

When we're in New York we always get pastrami sandwiches from Katz's. The Amateur Gourmet agrees that Katz's is the best, and has some great pictures of their sandwiches (and latkes) from a recent trip.

"Most of the people against foie gras have never even been on a farm": This great quote and more from Saute Wednesday's interview with Jacques Pepin.

 

Thursday
March

10

2005
12:34 AM




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Alessandro Nannini Coffee Shop, Florence, Italy, tasted on March 21, 2004 — Italy is dotted with little coffee shops - coffee, liquor, pastries, gelato, and many of them serve panini - pressed hot yummy sandwiches. On this particular morning in Florence Peyman focused us on panini. Our choice this morning was Alessandro Nannini Coffee Shop (part of a chain named after a famous race car driver I think). Basically, there is a refrigerated case lining one side of the little shop with a section containing tens of little sandwiches all pre-made, even as early as seven in the morning. Many are combinations of either prosciutto, spec, or salami, with mozzarella, swiss, or brie, and maybe some lettuce and tomato. There are other ingredients but you get the gist. The sandwiches are four inches in diameter or two-and-a-half for the panini piccoli. Cute!

I wondered about all those sandwiches just sitting there waiting for their moment in the sun - the sun being the huge flat press that smushes and heats them. Do they get stale? All I know is that once they are heated in the sandwich press they come to life. Hot, crusty, filled with yummy meat and cheese. This is almost always a recipe for success. And when followed by fresh squeezed blood orange juice, we are ready to tackle Italy for another day.

 

Wednesday
March

9

2005
12:56 AM




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09-pomodoro picante.jpg

Click photo to see entire album.

Trattoria 4 Leoni, Florence, Italy, tasted on March 20, 2004 — On a small piazza in the middle of Florence that looks like it's straight out of a movie set, sits Trattoria 4 Leoni. Don't ask to me explain the weird numerological naming as I don't get it and I don't speak enough Italian to have asked. Luckily, math is not a requirement to enjoy the food there. Before I dive in, I should say that Italy really is an incredible place. Much like Japan (in my experience) the bar for food is simply higher. The number of restaurants we ate at that we'd love to return to were numerous. Trattoria 4 Leoni was definitely one of them.

Dinner peaks in Florence between 9:30 and 11pm. We arrived on this night at 10pm, right in the middle of the action. We sat down to a few slices of the almost comically horrible Florentine bread. I don't know whether this is apocryphal or not, but the story I heard is that at some point in not too recent history salt was an incredibly expensive commodity in this region of Italy. The locals had to bake their bread without it. And when salt became as common as... well... salt, nobody bothered to put it back in their bread. The result? Bread so devoid of flavor it's like a black hole eliminating flavor anywhere it can find it in the universe. I've never eaten cardboard, but I would imagine this isn't so dissimilar. You may wonder how a meal starting with such horrible bread can turn out so great. The truth is that the bread is a just a function of the region. This was clear as we had bread like this almost everywhere we went. On to the good stuff.

First up was Crostini Misti, an assortment of crostini. The tomato was bursting with flavor, oil, and freshness though the bread was a touch soggy. The mushrooms had a nice oiliness as well. And the ground beef had a livery quality (in a good way) and was savory and juicy. A neat butter replacement in my opinion. Next up was the Prosciutto. The saltiness built slowly and the strong cool freshness of the mozzarella was a perfect backdrop.

We followed up the prosciutto with Involtino di Melanzane - eggplant and ricotta. The eggplant itself was somewhat flavorless but was saved by the ricotta which was supple and subtle with a slight tanginess and a bunch of warm flavors. It was cool how the olive oil snaked through the the dish. These were all just warm-ups for the pasta. Let me take a moment to explain my obsession with pasta. It's amazing to me how something as simple as a noodle and sauce can taste so incredible when every variable is just so. When the pasta has a fresh quality and is cooked just perfectly - not too soft, not too hard. The sauce is hot and chock full of clean, fresh, and distinct flavors. The combination is served at the exact perfect moment when the temperature and textures are perfect, and I'm happy.

OK. First was Fiocchetti di Pere Con Salsa di Taleggio e Asparagi - asparagus pasta. The sauce was silky and creamy and the pasta had a surprise filling - sweet pear. Strigoli al Pomodoro Piccante. "Worm" pasta with tomato sauce! So simple, fresh, and delicious. The slight kick combined with the slitheriness of the pasta makes it special. Simple and special. I could eat this every day of my life. And finally we had Risotto alla Zucca Gialla e Gorgonzola - saffron risotto. It was gentle, creamy, and slightly cheesy with good flavor. That said, it was slightly boring.

For our post-pasta dishes we started off with Baccalà alla Fiorentina. It was soft with a subtle flavor. Nice. The tomato could be a bit brighter. The grilled chicken was a favorite for me and Alex. It was savory, juicy and with a grilled flavor that enhanced the perfect seasoning. Yummy! The veal chop was excellent as well. I really love all the Florentine grilled items. And they're always served with lemon. Another great thing about Florence. And finally we had the Veal with balsamic vinegar. It was very good and drippingly juicy.

Peyman put forth a theory that the bread was designed only to be eaten in partnership with other foods - like mopping up the juice from the veal with balsamic. In the interest of a full evaluation and investigation I tried out Peyman's theory... he was wrong. The bread still sucked. I could have mopped up the juice with cardboard and not been able to tell the difference. The water policy however was great. Unpretentious pitchers, always filled.

For dessert we started with the pecorino. It was quite good. But it would have been better  had they not run out of truffle honey. [Insert sadness here.] Cheese Cake Fatto da Noi - cheesecake with chocolate was so very incredible. It was made of a light ricotta and covered with a bittersweet chocolate. It was kind of a mound of slightly sweet air and cheese covered in a chocolate drizzle. The crumbly cakey base/crust was great for texture and a different kind of sweetness. Delicious. I was so in love with the cheesecake I almost didn't try the pear cake and the tiramisu. Rest assured I managed to get at least one bite of each and they were good as well.

Bottom line, Italy is full of simple pleasures. This meal was a like a mini-representation of our eating so far during our trip. A higher baseline of quality than many other places on the globe, and a regular rhythm of simple and exquisite pleasures. I can taste it now.

 

Tuesday
March

8

2005
12:11 AM
by Debbie




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Food News, March 8, 2005 — When we're not eating, we're watching TV shows about eating, and there are a couple of upcoming shows that sound pretty good:

  • Gordon Ramsay, whose London restaurant is a Tastingmenu love, is launching a show on Fox called "Hell's Kitchen" where he yells at fat American wannabe chefs. He’s had two previous shows on the BBC, one that portrays him starting up a new restaurant, and one where he "saves failing restaurants". (This one appears to be off the air for now).
  • Along those lines, there's an American Idol-style show (where ordinary people can get a shot at getting a chef's position in one of Todd English’s Manhattan restaurants) called “Cooking Under Fire”. The launch date is April 27.

After going through two PizzaGanza™s (in New York and most recently in Seattle), we thought no one was as obsessed with finding the perfect pizza as we are...until we found the "Pizza Maniac". Can New York pizza really be made at home? Pizza Maniac thinks so. We may have to buy our own pizza oven and find out.

 

Saturday
March

5

2005
7:22 AM
by Debbie




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Food News, March 5, 2005 — Two new ways to prepare chicken, one I’m skeptical about, the other which sounds delicious! You decide which is which:

  • A la Carte gives a history of “chaud-froid” (literally “hot-cold”) dishes and tries out a recipe for chicken which is served cold in a jelled sauce.

  • On egullet (free registration required) someone posts on a “taboo” treat. Combine the best part of the chicken (the skin and fat!) with the best way to cook practically anything (frying!); leave out the rest.

At tastingmenu, Dunkin’ Donuts is not only the best chain doughnut establishment, but the only one we will go near. (Unfortunately there are only two Seattle last time we checked.) Slate talks about how Dunkin’ Donuts is getting more “middlebrow” to compete with Starbucks and the like. Dunkin’ Donuts, please don’t change! What next, will “Dunkin’” change to their name to “Dunking”? It just doesn’t work.

We've mentioned Michelin coming to "town" before... The LA Times (free registration required) talks about some upcoming Michelin star promotions in France and the philosophy for how Michelin will be applied in the U.S.

Reusing food parts you thought weren’t edible: It’s not just for school cafeterias anymore. This website talks about how to reuse the most unappetizing food scraps in interesting ways. Categories include “Stems, Skins, and Stalks,” “Past Peak,” “Negligible Quantities,” and “Nearly Expired.”

 

Thursday
March

3

2005
12:11 AM




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Food Blog Survey, March 3, 2005 — Gorgeous Mini Buttermilk Berry Milkshakes are featured over at 101 Cookbooks. Really they're beautiful. Though I admit I once accidentally tried buttermilk and it was gross. I suppose when mixed with all that ice cream it's delicious.

LKL Chu, a chef at Les Ambassadeurs in Paris writes about his restaurant just getting their second Michelin star. I can't say I'm a huge Michelin fan as I feel they have a narrower purview than I'd like in terms of how they define quality (i don't give a shit how much crystal a restaurant has). That said, it's still very cool. Congratulations.

I know this was linked to from the Independent Food Festival Awards, but I can't help but call out how great this entry was from a la cuisine!. The Maple Syrup Confection Worth its Weight in Gold was really so cool given how much attention to detail existed throughout the entry. I love that everyone rated their favorites and we can not only see their scores, but their tasting notes as well. Cool! Eat your heart out America's Test Kitchen. Now this is transparency.

Now with my new less negative attitude about the Pacific northwest I am eagerly hunting for sources of great food within driving distance of Seattle. Is Walla Walla on the list? I don't know, but I love that I'm not the only person who gets annoyed about stuff.

If I had only one wish (and I couldn't use it to wish for unlimited wishes) I might very well wish for my own Indonesian Barbecue stand.

Not strictly appetizing, but I do find it amusing that she was so proud of how good a job she did cleaning her oven that she posted before and after pictures.

The Jewish holiday of Passover is coming in just over seven weeks. We have 40 people coming for one of the nights. Planning needs to start now. In case you've forgotten, here's what we did two years ago: write-up, menu, photos. This time we've put together a team of five wannabe cooks, all with something to prove. Should be fun.

 

Wednesday
March

2

2005
12:15 AM




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"Love, Like, or Other?", March 2, 2005 — I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about how to evaluate food. Mostly restaurants in fact. I also spend quite a bit of time lamenting why I can't find more restaurants that I really like. These are essentially the same topic in my mind. The truth is that I feel a natural affinity for people who dislike critics. After all, where's the art in criticizing others? And where's the humanity in it? These people put their hearts on the line every day. And critics come along and render their "expert" opinions, shooting arrows from a distance. From the comfort of their keyboard. For over two years I have made it clear that I love two things. I love finding wonderful food experiences, and I love sharing them with others. That's not criticism. Is it? That's just passion for food. But really that's not entirely true. This site already contains what are essentially hundreds of restaurant and food reviews. And now we're on our way down the slippery slope.

The next step is coming up with shorthand. Three stars from Michelin (now surveying New York for the first time), four from the New York Times... we have Love, Like, and Other. The definitions are here. But the truth is that they are difficult to define for us. Remember something... writing about food is completely subjective. Yes, there is a general framework for how to evaluate a food experience, but it is simply impossible to be objective. And because so much of one's own expectations color their opinions of a food experience, eating (and deciding what food you enjoy most), it's ultimately very very personal. And so this site is really a personal expression.

But that said, we still have the shorthand. What does it really mean? Well, we never talk about the shorthand as we write about a restaurant as there's always texture. But when you review a list of restaurants in a city, we put them in categories for you. Categories that give you a sense of which we think are better than the others. Every meal we eat together ends with a simple question: "love, like, or other?"

Sometimes we've even considered creating a fourth category, for the highest echelon of eating experiences. But it's not clear what the point would be given how few there are.

Ultimately here is the key: Making good food is easy (even I can do it if I really try). Making great food is hard. Making great food consistently is really really hard. Making great food consistently for a lot of people is nearly impossible. Great food can be from a street vendor, or a 20 course tasting menu at an expensive restaurant. Great food doesn't discriminate. But the physics of making great food is consistent - like gravity. Standards, focus, and lack of compromise are what make great food. And just as with figure skating at the Winter Olympics, there are degrees of difficulty. But unlike the Olympics, we don't discriminate. If you do a simple jump and it's a ten, it's a ten. If you do a triple lutz, they give you extra points. We don't. Is that the right thing? I don't know. On the one hand I think that people should get credit for trying something with a greater difficulty. On the other hand, I also feel like if you try to do something more complicated, you made your bed. And if we only gave our highest recognition to restaurants trying to make the most difficult food, then our "Loves" would look like the list of four star restaurants from the New York Times: Daniel, Jean Georges, Le Bernadin, Masa, Per Se (Ducasse lost his fourth star recently). They're all very expensive, and until Per Se and Masa were added they were all very French. (I think this list is complete, but for some unknown reason the New York Times website has eliminated the ability to search based on star rating).

It's nice to know that even the very chefs who've earned these stars know that not all good food is expensive: "Mr. Keller says he used to have a weakness for Burger King's Whopper with extra cheese and French fries, but now that he lives in California, he has switched his allegiance to the cheeseburgers at In-N-Out Burger, with French fries and a milkshake." It's also nice to know that these same chefs follow the same protocol as we do when going out to eat: "How often to eat can also be an issue. Mr. Trotter, for one, limits the number of evening meals on his travels to one, but 15 years ago, he said, he would pack away "three full dinners - I don't mean grazing - just to see what's going on." When you're young, you can do it, " Mr. Trotter, now 45, says. "I would eat for two hours at 5:30, for an hour and a half at 8 p.m., and then I'd eat again. I'd be with two or three other people, and we'd order six appetizers and eight entrees. I was like an eating machine."

So we're back to standards, focus, and lack of compromise. And art and commerce don't mix. Not compromising doesn't seem so admirable when nobody's coming to eat in your restaurant. Not compromising, and making a successful business is nearly impossible. Nearly. And so there are restaurants that stay focused. That have maniacal attention to detail. And ultimately believe that quality and consistency are one in the same. Those are the ones I'm looking for. Those are the ones we try to talk about on this site. And while you might expect that someone who spends all this time criticizing might enjoy being negative, I swear it's not true. I get the most personal enjoyment from finding something great and sharing it with others. I wish I could do it more often.

 

Tuesday
March

1

2005
12:02 AM




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I've known for some time that London has great food. After spending a month in London we amassed quite a collection of write-ups and photographs. Also, in a few weeks we should be posting the story of our experience at Fat Duck (not quite in London, but close enough). Gourmet magazine apparently agrees.

Things are getting worse and worse for foie gras lovers in California. The Sonoma Saveurs shop in San Francisco recently closed.

Despite my recent depression about food in Seattle, there appears to be some modest hope. Now at least we have what might be a decent Brazilian Barbecue place. Ted also suggested La Carta de Oaxaca for great Mexican food. Also scarce here int he Northwest.

There is so much more traveling that I need to do. The Los Angeles Times (free registration required) talks about the new wave of experimentation happening at restaurants in Mexico City. It's not that far from here.

Speaking of Mexican food, the New York Times (free registration required) has Amanda Hesser extolling the virtues of a new wave of healthy and tasy fast food with the Chipotle chain as a prime example. I'll admit I haven't eaten there yet, but at least In-n-Out gets a good mention.

And speaking of fast food, Bittman (also from the Times) recommends a super simple shrimp stir fry (recipe included).

I know it's only tangentially related, but I'm still annoyed that Paul Giamatti wasn't nominated for an Academy Award. Lame.

These "pancakes" look good. And the backstory is interesting too.

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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