Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Garlic on SFist

Photo by Melissa Schneider.

Research a topic once, write about it many times. It's the freelance writer's motto. So what to do with all the garlic knowledge I picked up for my Art of Eating garlic blurb? Write about everyone's favorite aromatic for SFist, of course. Hardneck garlic is in season now, and I wanted to tell my readers to keep an eye out for this more flavorful version.

Edible East Bay Article: Nowhere Else But Here

Update: This article is now online.

In the beginning, there was Alice Waters. So goes the standard history of the Berkeley food revolution that shapes the modern American culinary scene. But Alice Waters did not beam down from the U.S.S. Enterprise. For my latest Edible East Bay piece (Summer 2006), I wrote about the context that made Berkeley a prime location for the revolution she led. Politics, protests, Hippies, environmentalism, France, money, co-ops, bohemian lifestyles. They provided the canvas for Chez Panisse's art.

Or, as I told my editor, most of these pieces start with Alice Waters, mine ends with her.

I had a lot of fun with this article, and I think it's one of my better features, partly because of my active efforts to improve my writing. I trace my food philosophy and political stance to that point in Berkeley's history, and I loved hearing the stories my interviewees told me.

If you're in the Bay Area, this issue of the magazine should be in East Bay stores and at farmer's markets in the next week or so. Look for the pretty David Lance Goines cover art. Or, you can subscribe and ensure that the magazine arrives on your doorstep with no effort on your part.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Update to Food Blogroll

I have finally updated my "blogroll," the list of links down the side of the page. I gave up on ever keeping it up to date, and then I discovered that my RSS reader can generate a blogroll for me. The new entries (just my food folder) don't have my personalized descriptions, but they are up to date, and I don't have to think about keeping them that way. The blog links start below my little "OWF in the News" section.

Note: If the site looks odd now, leave a comment telling me your browser/operating system. I'll try and figure it out.

Tiny Farm = Big Yield

Most Bay Area homes have tiny yards—if they have any. So I've always assumed that when we get a house, our garden will supplement our farmer's market purchases.

Then I read this article in the Chronicle, about a family of four that grows 3/4 of their food on one-tenth of an acre. And it's organic. So they also run an organic food business, using food from the same garden.

Those tiny plots of land in Bay Area back yards don't seem so limited now.

Thanks to The Ethicurean for the link

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Book Review: Chew on This

My image of a fast food executive's office includes a mahogany desk, a sprawling view over the city, and a well-used dart board with a picture of Eric Schlosser.

Schlosser's Fast Food Nation came from nowhere and launched a broadside salvo from the bestseller list. The book dissected the fast food industry and its sprawling efffects on our country. The industry's soldiers fired back with smear campaigns and health-oriented ads. And they focused anew on their main audience: kids.

Schlosser's latest project, Chew on This, which he wrote with Charles Wilson, targets the young adults who have grown up in a fast food nation. The book's simple sentences hammer points home, and the authors use teenagers'stories for the "people" hooks that introduce each major topic. Chew on This paints the same grim picture as its big brother, and I hope it finds its way into junior high health classes and into the hands of parents who didn't read Fast Food Nation.

Readers learn of sleazy marketers, contaminated meat, and abused slaughterhouse workers. For those who read Fast Food Nation, the new book offers a refresher course—though Chew on This has a new section on the health effects of fast food. When I went to a book signing with Schlosser and Wilson, Berkeley parents lined up to buy the book for their children or young relatives. I don't know how it will fare in the rest of America, but I can dream of a new world where schools around the country add this book to their curriculum, and teenagers learn the truth about this giant industry.

The book ends with a plea. Every time you visit a fast food restaurant, it says, you support the industry and everything it represents. The "vote with your wallet" battle cry will hit many of the book's readers just as they come into their own disposable income, either through allowances or summer jobs. What better time to teach them that a consumer's money is a consumer's power?

I did have some issues with the book. The kids in the pages provide examples that seem too pat, and I thought that the chapters took too long to get to the point. Another sin in the book comes in the section on French fries, when Schlosser describes frites abroad, "but they're not as gross as some of the fries made in France. At restaurants over there...they're sometimes cooked with horse fat. Bon appétit!" Do we need to instill Francophobia and intolerance of other cultures with a distrust of fast food?

But these minor flaws don't change my mind: Every young adult should get the chance to read this book and make informed choices about his or her food.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Terry Theise in the New York Times

The New York Times features a profile of one of my favorite wine importers, Terry Theise. The article focuses on Terry's Austrian portfolio, but he's also one of the best importers of German wines. Quotes pour like glittering jewels from his mouth and pen. Of grüner veltliner: "The novelty's worn off, perhaps, and we have to scratch new itches of hippitude with albino Petite Sirah from Guam or whatever." From my interview with him, about a middle-aged appreciation of Mosel Riesling: "when you pause you notice things that were too quiet to be heard before."

He has been a relentless champion of the best of Germany and Austria; if the sommelier at your favorite restaurant likes these wines, it's probably because of Terry.

I've had the good fortune to get to know Terry—enough that he recognizes me at tastings, and has been very gracious about my foie gras article—and I enjoyed reading the Times's take. For those in the Bay Area, Terry will be at Solano Cellars on July 20, so swing by if you can. And if you want to learn more about his wines, rest assured that I'll be pouring plenty during my class.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Boston Advice?

In a couple of weeks, Melissa and I will be in Boston for International Puzzle Party. The convention will take most of our time, but we'll have a bit to ourselves. Any ideas on destinations for food lovers while we're there?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

My Final GnG Recap, 07/13/06

Monday will be my last day as the editor of Growers & Grocers. I wish I could cite some press-generating motive, but in truth, my other projects don't leave me the time to give GnG the attention it deserves. I will continue to write for the site on occasion, however.

While the decision makes me sad—I enjoy editing—I'm happy to see GnG go into good hands. Sheryl Kirby, who edits the sister site Fit Fare, will take the reins of GnG, and she has already brought a new energy and a well-organized calendar to my soon-to-be-former soapbox. I fully expect GnG to flourish under her direction.

Here's what we've been covering this week:

Book Review: Kitchen Sense

Photo by Melissa Schneider.

When I flipped through my review copy of Mitchell Davis's Kitchen Sense (which I think came independently of the Cookbook Spotlight coincidentally highlighting it), Melissa noted its similarity to Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Both feature a similar layout, a vast collection of recipes, and a can-do approach meant to calm the fretful home cook. While Bittman's recipes seem more modern, Davis's recipes seem closer to traditional European cuisines, and Davis doesn't rely on a blatant lie for a gimmicky title. Davis's book offers the next step for the Bittman devotee, but won't add much for those who worship at the shrine of Judy Rodgers.

Most reviewers might try the dishes they could make in a night: I homed in on the duck ham, which requires a week-long cure in the refrigerator. (I'm hoping one of you can explain to me why a salt-cured duck breast shares a name with a salt-cured pig's leg; salt-cured beef loin becomes bresaola, not "cow ham.") The best way to make duck ham is to cure it in the refrigerator and then hang it in a cool, humid area to dry for a couple of weeks, but Davis isn't aiming for that crowd. I should note that Davis's technique is simplicity itself: Bury duck breast in salt and sugar, leave in the refrigerator for one week.

When I extracted the now rock-hard magret from the sludgy brine that formed in the container, I knew I had a winner. The meaty portion has a rich, surprisingly delicate duck flavor, and the fat portion tastes just like foie gras. As Davis says, you can use the mouthwatering treat anywhere you might use prosciutto. I've been carving off thin slices each night this week. He says you can use a normal duck breast, but once you use the breast of a foie gras bird, I don't imagine you could go back to the cheaper cut. I'll certainly make this ham again, but I'll probably diminish his spices and use regular sugar instead of brown sugar. I'd also encourage you to rinse the salt-and-spice encrusted ham and pat it down with paper towels, a step Davis omits for the cured breast. Otherwise, the seasoning on the meat's surface will be too strong.

I didn't disagree with his duck confit technique, but at least one item caught my quibbling eye. For risotto, he has you season the stock, and then leave it to simmer while you make the rice and eventually add cheese. I would argue that if you season the stock beforehand and let the water evaporate, you run the risk of overseasoning your risotto, especially with a salty cheese added at the end.

The book has "Kitchen Sense" call-outs that explain a technique or communicate some useful information. As with the recipes, new cooks will learn a lot from these well-written asides while experienced home cooks will skim.

Other reviewers noted the lack of pictures, but this doesn't bother me. Unless the photo showcases a pretty plating or illustrates a technique, I'm happy to have more text.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe, Fall 2006 at UC Extension

My six-week UC Berkeley Extension course about the Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe has come around again. Typical UC wine courses feature 8-10 wines per evening, but I've plied my distributor contacts so that I can stretch my budget as far as possible. You all know I'm passionate about these sprightly, food-friendly wines and the histories of the regions that produce them. This will be a fun class. It runs on Wednesdays starting October 18th.

In theory I'll be teaching a different class in the spring, so sign up now while you still can!

Pig Slaughter Photos

Chris Cosentino of Offal Good posts about a pig slaughter that he witnessed at Iowa State University Meat Laboratories. Mildly gruesome, I suppose, but not really. In fact, it's surprising how non-gruesome it is. The workers process the pig quickly without a lot of mess or waste.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Simple Summer Supper

Photo by Melissa Schneider.
In my latest piece for SFist, I urge readers to get out to the farmer's markets, and offer a small assortment of ideas for the produce they might bring home.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Comparing Duck Legs

Photo by Melissa Schneider.

Having made batch after batch of duck confit in the last few months, I'm convinced that legs from foie gras ducks produce a superior product. However, that limits your purchasing options—there are only four foie gras producers in the United States, and only two sell at the retail level. How do they stack up against each other?

Sonoma Saveurs—the retail arm of Sonoma Foie Gras—requires a minimum order of 24 legs, even though they send you three packs of eight. I don't remember the exact price, but they cost about $5 per leg. That's a prodigious amount of duck confit, even if you use 13 for dinner at a friend's house.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras offers a more consumer-friendly option: a six-pack of legs for $21. And my order came with a magret that they tossed in free of charge. "Oh, we do that every now and then," said the customer service rep when I called to tell them about it (Expect a post about salt-cured duck breast in the near future). On the other hand, Sonoma Foie Gras seems to do a better job of trimming the legs. One of the Hudson Valley legs had a tear in the skin, and others seemed roughly cut. Those are aesthetic gripes: They still produce delicious confit. But Hudson Valley also trims a huge amount of fat from the legs. When I ordered from Sonoma Foie Gras, I rendered 3 1/2 pounds of duck fat from the skin I trimmed before I cured the legs. I only recovered 1/2 pound of fat from 12 Hudson Valley legs. (This might make the Hudson Valley legs comparable in price to the Sonoma legs, because duck fat is expensive).

This leaves you a few options. Buy the Hudson Valley legs, and overlook the negatives (probably only I care about the aesthetics of duck confit, but the low yield in rendered fat is bothersome). Alternately, buy the Sonoma legs with some friends or ask to piggyback on a restaurant's order, if you have a good relationship with the owners. Each vendor has pros and cons, but I'm inclined to order from Sonoma Saveurs and try to find friends to buy legs from me. (Remember that you can keep duck confit buried in fat in the refrigerator for two months or more.)

If Sonoma Saveurs ever sells individual eight-packs, I'll let you know. Likewise, I'm writing Hudson Valley to see if they offer a "restaurant" line with more fat on the legs.

Friday, July 07, 2006

GnG Recap, 07/07/06

Here are some of the topics we've covered this week on Growers & Grocers

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Golden Glass, June 2006

If only it was this empty
for the whole tasting.
Photo by Melissa Schneider.

I wish I imported wine. It seemed as if we couldn't get any of our favorite wines from the recent Golden Glass event, because none of them have U.S. importers.

Slow Food San Francisco puts on the event to showcase Italian wines. Jack & Joanne consider this their favorite tasting, and we found a large number of good wines. We didn't get to many of the tables: The press tasting was short, and when the public arrives the bumping and jostling frays our nerves. Also, at a Slow Food wine event, we run into a zillion people we know.

Other items of note at the tasting. Paul Bertolli was offering his Fra' Mani salumi, which, as Max has noted, don't move me. Hopefully they'll work out the kinks. Melissa loves Gelato Massimo

I don't write complicated notes for each wine; there's no time. I use a fairly basic ranking system: - for wines I dislike, nothing for wines that make no particular impression, + for good wines and * for my absolute favorites. Occasionally I use +/* to indicate a strong + or ~+ to indicate a wine that's almost a +. Here are the wines that warranted some form of positive mark. These are all subjective rankings: Your mileage may vary.


  • Coffele, Soave Classico Ca' Visco 2004 - lots of great flavors and good acidity
  • Cave du Vin Blanc, Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle Brut Metodo Classico 2004- nice aromatics, good acidity
  • Bric Cencurio, Barolo Costa di Rose 2001 - can't read my notes, but among other things they say "great acidity and tannins"
  • Prunotto, Barolo Bussia 2001 - lighter than I'd expect from a Barolo

  • Cascina Adelaide, Barbera d'Alba Superiore Amabilin 2003 - lots of tannin, good spice
  • Casalone, Barbera d'Asti Rubermillo (N/V?) - spicy licorice, nice acidity, good tannins, raisins
  • Casalone, Monferrato Rosso Rus (N/V?) - good fruit, nice spice, good acidity, light tannins (relative to the Barbera)
  • Prunotto, Barbera d'Asti Costamiole 2001 - good spicy fruit, medium tannins

  • Colterenzio, Alto Adige Pinot Bianco 2004 - great acidity
  • Colterenzio, Alto Adige Lagrein 2004 - caramel finish, lots of good fruit
  • Collavini, Ribolla Gialla Turian 2004 - reminds me of a sauvignon blanc
  • Anzivino, Bramaterra 2001 - leather, cherry, good tannins
  • Anzivino, Faficato (unknown vintage) - can't read notes; this was a bonus wine not in the catalog.
  • Bric Cenciurio, Barbera d'Alba Naunda 2003 - good acidity and nice dark, cherry fruit
  • Filippo Gallino, Roero Superiore 2002 - pretty tannic; could use some age. good acidity.
  • Renzo Castella, Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba 2004 - light aroma, medium body, medium finish
  • Marotti Campi, Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi Riserva Salmariano 2003 - interesting. good acidity

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Poubelle Summer Party 2006

Once again, I had the privilege of working in Tom's kitchen as he prepared for the Poubelle Summer Party.

The summer party is more casual than the awe-inspiring winter feed, but it still features a staggering amount of food. Lots of barbecue and also grilled foods and salads. (My office changed the name of the summer party from "Barbecue" to "Cookout" just so they wouldn't have to listen to me rant about the differences between barbecue and grilling).

See Melissa's photo set to get a sense of this year's party.

The OWF "Eat 'Til You Drop" Tour: Bern's Steakhouse

The final part of our October travelogue. See Long Island, Part 1, Long Island, Part 2, The Ultimate Lavish Dinner, wd-50, and New York minutes.

Some wines at Bern's
Photo by Melissa Schneider.

Bern Laxer collected things with pathological zeal. Big things—much of the real estate on Tampa's South Howard Avenue—and small things—boxes of metal dim sum steamers that he found in San Francisco.

And wine. He bought cases of any wine he liked. Fifty. Sixty. One hundred. Whatever he could get.

Bern's obsessive collecting habit left his restaurant Bern's Steakhouse with one of the world's largest wine lists: 6,500 table wines, 1,000 dessert wines, 240 scotches, and 220 cognacs. The restaurant can only hold 110,000 bottles in the cellar, but three nearby warehouses hold the rest of the inventory.

When Wine Spectator first created the Grand Award for excellence in a wine list, Bern's was one of only 13 restaurants to receive it in the first year. It has held the award almost every year since, losing it in 1999 only because the original book's maps and stories and inserts prevented frequent updates. (Curiously, one of the other original Grand Awards went to a fancy Berkeley restaurant, though perhaps not the one that comes to mind. Can anyone guess what it was?)

You'll find recent vintages, but most of the bottles seem to come from the 1940's through 1980's. It's not hard to find bottles stretching back to the early 1900's or late 1800's, and that's before you hit the dessert wines, which go back further.

The wines aren't in the look-but-don't-touch category. They're priced to move. The Bern's wine list isn't just one of the biggest, it's also full of great values.

Wines from our first Bern's dinner
Photo by Melissa Schneider.

For Example
I called ahead to discuss our dinner with wine director Eric Renaud, whom I had interviewed for my wine list article—Melissa and I were not anonymous by any stretch of the imagination. I gave him a price range, said there was no point in flying to Tampa to taste a bottle I could get anywhere, and asked him to find something interesting.

Eric started us with a 1949 Condal Reserva from Rioja Santiago, a "Red Rioja Wine." As with all the wines I tried at Bern's, I would have believed you if you told me the wine was twenty years younger. The wine still had deep, fruit aromas, with smoke and leather components and a cedar note that evolved into spice. I called it "ethereal" in my tasting notes, but the night was still young. The cost? $95.

Seem steep to you? How about a 1978 Visan Côtes-du-Rhône for $30? This wine had a captivating mix of fruit and earth (my notes were a bit fuzzy by this point in the evening).

After those wines, the 1980 Ridge Vineyards Fiddletown Zinfandel seemed overpriced at $44.50, but it did offer a unique perspective on an old Zinfandel when we drank it on our second visit. The wine had earthy, nutty, even musty aromas that became more mushroomy as the wine opened, but the flavor was sprightly fruit.

Our neighbors did it right.
Photo by Melissa Schneider.

The Table Next to Us
But the real eye-poppers were at the table next to us.

When I talked to Eric beforehand, he told me he'd put me in the exclusive Andre Tchelistcheff room, where a group of doctors and lawyers would be enjoying a Burgundy dinner surrounded by photos of the famous wine maker. "They're nice folks; they might share some," he said, "but at the very least you'll get to see them open some impressive bottles."

I was chatting them up almost before the waiter pulled out our chairs.

They ordered ten different burgundies. The youngest was a 1962 Musigny, the oldest a 1942 Musigny. I won't disclose what the party spent, but given the Bern's prices, it was about a quarter of what they would have spent elsewhere—if they could even do this dinner anywhere else. The host learned of my job (the writing one), and offered us some tastes. "We're not going to drink them all," my new best friend said genially as he brought over glasses with small tastes.

I've tasted some pretty decent wines in my life. But the 1942 Musigny from J. Faivelet was the best wine I've ever had. It tasted like something pulled from a dark forest grotto littered with black truffles. I can barely express the complexity in this wine. (Melissa watched me taste some and thought to herself, "I guess I'm driving back to the hotel.")

Steak at Bern's
Photo by Melissa Schneider.

What About the Food
Wine without a good meal is a sterile thing, and Bern's fills plates as well as it fills glasses. Bern's is one of the few restaurants that dry-ages its own beef for thirty days—most don't dry-age at all—to give the meat a deeper, more complex flavor. While you can get steak as good in San Francisco or New York, for most diners the steak will probably be a step up from the norm.

You order your steak by cut, thickness, and doneness. I think I ordered the filet mignon, but Fatemeh insists that you should order the Delmonico. Maybe on our next trip.

But don't just make room for the steak. Bern's offers an extensive caviar menu. I resisted the urge to order a rare caviar from a heavily overfished stock, and followed my principles to a high-end domestic choice. You can order your caviar with classic accompaniments or flavored butters. We couldn't decide, so our waiter brought us both. They also brought us a boat of each of the nine salad dressings when we commented that it would be hard to choose. (I don't know if this is normal for everyone, normal for diners in the Andre Tchelistcheff room, or normal for writers who just wrote a glowing commentary about your wine list).

The second night we had appetizers at Sidebern's, the exact opposite of Bern's. Though not a destination restaurant like its big brother, you shouldn't miss the global cuisine and modern wine list if you'll be in Tampa for longer than a trip to Bern's. Take some time to peruse the wine store in the same building as Sidebern's, since the restaurant often uses this retail space to sell ready-to-drink old bottles that won't move fast enough in the restaurant.

Would we go back? We want to subscribe to Jet Blue's specials on flights to Tampa.

Want more photos? See Melissa's photo set from our Tampa trip.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Bay Area Chef Blogs

Most of you probably read Shuna's eggbeater, Haddock's Knife's Edge, and Brett's in praise of sardines blogs, but two local chefs have recently started their own online journals. Check out Offal Good, written by Chris Cosentino of Incanto, a new favorite of ours, and The Foodies Digest by Scott Youkilis, chef-owner of Maverick (we haven't tried it yet).

Scott wrote to tell me of his blog, but posed the interesting question: Why don't more chefs blog? I know chefs are busy running their businesses, but I think restaurants should have blogs for the same reasons wineries should have blogs. Customers who read your blog will feel an increased sense of loyalty to the restaurant, because they feel like they get to know you through your text. They feel a certain ownership, and you get to educate them about the realities of restaurant life. A restaurant blog builds your brand.

And we all know that foodies love blogs by industry insiders, so I'd think restaurant blogs would do very well.

Are there other Bay Area chef blogs out there? (And yes, I know Haddock's restaurant isn't in the Bay Area, but he participates in Bay Area food blogger events.)