Oh Pioneers!

April 29, 2016

IMG_5368The latest from the Fales archives: this Black Hills Area Centennial cookbook, compiled on the occasion of Deadwood, South Dakota’s  hundred year anniversary. There’s something wonderful about this spirit of making do under difficult conditions. That kind of imagination often leads to the development of delicious food. (Relevant here: Dan Barber’s argument that great cuisine springs from agricultural hardships.) Other times, it just makes for fun recipe reading.

This, for instance, is a pretty ingenious idea. IMG_5363

And this cake completely captured my imagination.

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Finally, here’s a recipe for one of the most important foods in North American history: IMG_5365

 

 

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Vegetables with a College Education*

April 27, 2016

You should probably take this with a grain of salt; I have many reasons to wish the new Nix well.

For one thing it is owned by my former boss, James Truman, who astonished the world (and me along with it), by walking away from the best job in publishing simply because he felt like it.  He was the Editorial Director of Conde Nast, he had no idea what he was going to do next, but he’d had enough.  It’s hard not to admire that spirit. Still, I don’t think anyone would have predicted that he’d go into the restaurant business.

For another thing, Nix is around the corner from the apartment I grew up in. I walked along the sidewalk where the restaurant now stands almost every day for fifteen years, and just being here feels like coming home.

And for the third, I was having dinner with one of my oldest friends, a man who has the bad taste to live in Paris which means I don’t see nearly enough of him.

On the downside, Nix is vegetarian.  Upscale vegetarian.  And that kind of gives me pause; it feels trendy and a little precious. So when I ordered the first bite, tandoori bread with a couple of dips, I was feeling skeptical. Then this arrived:

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Nothing precious about that!

These are the dips….

 

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The one at the top is labnah with marinated cucumbers; I couldn’t stop eating it. The pink one is a take on muhamara – walnuts and red peppers – and every bit as appealing.  A great start.

 

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Jicama, carved into ribbons, served with blood oranges, chiles, crisped onions.  Light and totally refreshing.

 

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A fascinating vegetarian take on the almost-ubiquitous pork belly buns, made famous by David Chang and now served almost everywhere. Chef John Fraser has made them his own by replacing that fat chunk of meat with tempura-fried cauliflower. Suddenly the dish feels new.

 

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This is, as you can see, far from uncomplicated cooking.  But it all feels fresh and tastes wonderful.  I loved these fava beans.

 

IMG_7943And these little pea dumplings, with their white asparagus  were spectacularly good.

Then there was dessert. It reminded me a bit of the pineapple Heston Blumenthal serves at Dinner in London, roasting the fruit on a spit.  Fraser tweaks it by roasting the pineapple in the tandoori oven, which intensifies the flavor until it is almost achingly delicious.  As for that “whipped cream” on top … it’s made of vegetables – and I forgave it.

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Should you be wondering where the name comes from… Nix v. Hedden was a Supreme Court decision of 1893, declaring that the tomato be classified as a vegetable rather than a fruit.

 

*This is a reference to a much-loved and long-lamented restaurant on Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street called Prexy’s.  They boasted that they served “burgers with a college education.”

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Paris in the Eighties

April 26, 2016

It was before the Euro (the franc was trading between 5 and 6 to the dollar), before any other country (Spain, Denmark, Australia) started stealing the city’s thunder. A time when those of us who cared about always went to Paris.

I wish I could remember what year these are from.  I thought they were from a 1990 visit, but looking at what I wrote about that trip, the food was different. So I’m guessing these menus date from around 1987.  Not sure.

Joel Robuchon,who was widely considered the best chef in the world, had yet to start trotting around the globe creating his far-flung restaurant empire.  His Jamin was an intimate little place, and I remember taking a single bite and thinking: This food was not prepared by human hands.  The meal was astonishing in its deliciousness and technical perfection.  As for that caviar and cauliflower dish? It may be one of the world’s most imitated recipes.

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Apicius is a truly gorgeous restaurant set in an estate with a garden in the middle of Paris. Most astonishing:  the chef, Jean-Paul Vigato is still there after all these years!

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Guy Savoy was still ensconced in his first,  less formal restaurant, a rollicking joyful place that seemed less pretentious than any other starred establishment.  I fell madly in love with it.

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And then there was Arpege.  This was long before Alain Passard had his vegetable epiphany, but the meal was so memorable I still can’t be in Paris without longing to stop in for a meal.  Here’s what I ate last time I was at Arpege.

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Things I Love: Slightly Weird

April 25, 2016

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Soft, chewy and spicy, I am addicted to these little Japanese snacks.  Dried squid with a touch of sugar, a hint of garlic and the zing of chiles. A sharp jolt of flavor. Good for you. No calories. What’s not to like?

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California 1983

April 24, 2016

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Trolling through a box of old papers, I came upon this picture of Hiro Sone in 1983, along with the menu for his restaurant Terra.  Hiro’s one of my favorite chefs in the world, and I was curious about what he was cooking thirty years ago.  And here it is:

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Hiro, was the original chef of the Tokyo Spago, and among the first to fold international flavors into his dishes.  Interesting to see that he was already adding Thai curries, tahini, and miso into what was then being called “California Cuisine.”

In the same folder I found the considerably more sedate menu from La Petite Chaya, which was on what was, at the time, an extremely untrendy stretch of Hillhurst Avenue in Los Angeles.  (That restaurant is long gone, but there are still a few Chayas in California.)

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And finally I unearthed this fascinating artifact, courtesy of Bipin Desai, Professor of Physics and internationally renowned wine collector.  Where I got this I have no idea….

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