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Eating in a Small Town, Regina, SK, Canada, tasted on June 26 & 27, 2005 I spent a couple of days in nowheresville this past weekend - Regina, Saskatchewan (that's in Canada for anyone wondering). This is a small city of just under 200,000 people. It's just a little bit smaller than the city of Rochester, New York for comparison purposes. OK. It's not like I was expecting some amazing food in Regina. And mind you, the internet is of no use in this regard as searching it for good restaurants there was kind of useless. But I thought to myself, this is not the big city, this is a small town, and you need to find their specialties. While Regina is small it is in (what seemed to me) like the breadbasket of Canada. It's the prairie with endless miles of fields growing food, and the raising of cattle. And these folks don't just eat cows. They like elk, and buffalo, and all sorts of things that walk around on four legs and are made of red meat.

We figured steaks might be good, but in fact, the various steakhouses seemed kind of Sizzlerish. Again, the internet (which I love and adore with all my heart) was really of no use. Finally we ended up eating at two different places: La Bodega, a "tapas" place and the Cortlandt Dining Room at the Hotel Saskatchewan. When I saw a sushi platter on the menu at La Bodega, I knew we were in trouble. Frankly, it was probably the hippest restaurant in Regina, but it also seemed thousands of miles from any body of water with fish I'd like to eat. So sushi was out of the question. We tried sticking to only things that were tapas-ish, except for two problems: the servings were over-sized almost entrees, and none had any flavor. The gazpacho for example was a nice consistency and texture, thick and full of tomato meat, but the only flavor came from the periodic pockets of cumin. As for the Cortlandt Dining Room, normally I stay away from hotel restaurants, but they had local Elk on the menu so we thought we might have a shot at trying something local prepared well. And for a moment I had hope. The salmon bisque came out so hot that it could have instigated a McDonald's style lawsuit. But once it cooled down, the flavor was actually quite nice. Kind of a buttery salmon. Not too strong, but definitely present, and the texture was nice and thick. Soothing. After that things went mostly downhill. The tempura'd veal was flavorful but kind of random. And the elk, well, I admit this was the best prepared elk I'd ever had. Of course it's also the only elk I've ever had. I didn't mind that it was a touch chewy. I did mind that it had no significant flavor. If the texture of the meet isn't going to stand out, the flavor better.

I'm sure some Reginan (is that what they're called) will write to me and tell me about the brilliant food I missed at some particular restaurant or market. And they may be right. But here's my sneaking suspicion. Most cities of this size, and almost all smaller cities simply do not have places to get consistently great food. Not at the scale of an entire menu from a restaurant. What they may have is a dish at one place, and a particular menu item at another that are local specialties that rise above the fray. It's understandable that a city at a smaller scale would have its quality food at a smaller scale. The blueberry pie at a local diner, the hot dogs at a particular stand, etc. That said, and I am sure there are exceptions, I don't know if small town food will ever be for me. The impressions of big city food are poor, and the local high quality items are too hard to find. And to be honest, once I were to find them, even if they were spectacular, they wouldn't be enough to keep my interest very long. Metropolitan Seattle has around 2.5 million people. And I find myself bored here. Next time I go to a small town I either find a local I trust to take me to the best Elk Jerky vendor in the province, or I bring a bag lunch.











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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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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