Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Maternal Wisdom

No matter how confident the home cook, there's still an occasional need to call your mother for advice. As I prepared for Clotilde's dinner party, I looked at the instructions for the one dish that didn't get a trial run and called my mom for help. Lest there's any doubt that we're related, I offer this exchange.

"Hi, mom. I'm confused about something in a recipe, and I want to ask you about it."
"Sure, honey, what's up?"
"I'm making a variant of the 'custard in an eggshell' recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook, and it says that you immerse the egg carton in water. Is that what you do when you make it?"
"Yes; it works perfectly."
"The box doesn't break down?"
"I've never had a problem with it."
"You should have told me you were making this dish; you could've just taken some of the eggshells I clean and keep around for when I make it."


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sushi Bar Video

Put a video camera onto the moving conveyor belt of a sushi bar, and you end up with a portrait of the bar from the sushi's perspective. I find it very touching in a snapshot-of-human-life kind of way.

via Heather Champ


Duck In A Box

I couldn't quite fit this picture into the dinner party write-up, but it's always fun to show the big container I use to store my duck confit. Melissa had me bring it out for our guests, and cameras started going off. I've managed to get 20 legs from foie gras ducks into that container, though this time it only had to hold 16.


Dinner With Clotilde

Photos by Clotilde Dusoulier
Long-time readers may have noticed that we fell off the entertaining wagon for a time, but we couldn't resist having Clotilde over for dinner when she arrived in the area on her book tour. Even in our first letters to each other, Clotilde commented on how much she enjoyed reading about our dinner parties. We've since become friends, in the real world as well as in the blogosphere, and Melissa and I were thrilled that she'd have time for a quick bite during her Bay Area stay.

She encouraged us to invite whomever we'd like, and we settled on a gaggle of friends we thought would mesh, bloggers and non-bloggers alike. We must have chosen well: At one point, Melissa and I stood in the kitchen listening to the raucous conversation and said, "I think we could leave and they wouldn't notice." Few sounds are more satisfying than a group of friends having a lively conversation over a leisurely meal. We decided not to abandon them, lest they starve or die of thirst.

1999 J. Schram, Schramsberg, California Sparkling Wine
Platter of house-cured duck ham, homemade olives, homemade pickled sour cherries, snap peas steamed and tossed with butter and salt.

The snap pea idea came from Farm, the new restaurant at the Carneros Inn, where instead of olives they bring you a bowl of blanched, lightly dressed, vegetables.

Amuse 1
Hog Island Sweetwater oyster poached in white wine with crème fraîche and Tsar Nicoulai wasabi caviar
Inspired by The Hog Island Oyster Lover's Cookbook, which I intend to review soon.

2003 Norheimer Kirschheck, Dönnhoff, Riesling Spätlese, Nahe, Germany

Amuse 2
Basil-infused custard with orange blossom jelly
Served in a decapitated eggshell.
Terrine of foie gras with rhubarb-fennel-watercress salad
Served on toasted slices of homemade pain de mie.

2001 Pickberry Vineyards, Ravenswood, Bordeaux blend, Sonoma Mountain, California
2001 Rancho Salina Vineyards, Ravenswood, Bordeaux blend, Sonoma Valley, California
Duck confit with fava beans, asparagus, morels, and a red wine reduction.

Amontillado Sherry, Lustau
Silver Mountain Cheddar (cow's milk, Bravo Farms, Visalia, California) and San Andreas (sheep's milk, Bellwether Farms, Sonoma, California) with salt-roasted almonds, strawberries macerated in extra vecchio traditional balsamic vinegar, and Acme walnut levain.
Strawberry-white chocolate ice cream with a vanilla tuile

Liqueur de Poete, Caddell & Williams Germain Robin (thanks meriko)
Chocolate truffles enrobed with cacao nibs
Peanut brittle

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Wine and Food Pairing, Redux

At brunch with some other bloggers yesterday, I mentioned that I have just a few rules about pairing wine and food. Upon hearing me rattle them off, Elise suggested I post them. But looking at my old SFist post on the topic, I realize that my rules haven't changed. Read that first, especially the part where I say to not sweat it.

Some other bloggers at the table brought up points that I don't cover in the post. Clotilde asked about regional pairings, and this is a guideline I tend to follow, but I find it a rough rule. For one thing, only Europe and maybe South Africa have a long enough history of native cuisine and wines to pair. But even in Europe, wine making styles have changed over time. The traditional wine of Sancerre, after all, is a red, not the more common white of today. Bordeaux used to use Rhône grapes in varying amounts. Are you talking about a classic Barolo or one made in the modern, international style? A Chianti or a Super Tuscan? And is the chef keeping close to the traditional form of the dish, or using it as a springboard for a new concept? Regional pairings can be surprising: I consider Port and Stilton a regional pairing because the British controlled Portugal of the 600-year-old alliance and old trade agreements between Britain and Portugal, and the fact that the British control its most famous wine houses.

Amy added that you can make a choice to contrast the flavors in the wine with the food or make them comparable. I do this without thinking, based on my mood, so I tend to forget about it as a rule.

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No, Not That Edward Behr

My condolences to the friends, family, and admirers of Edward Behr, the British war correspondent and prolific writer who passed away yesterday.

That Edward Behr is not, despite what the Associated Press says, the Edward Behr who wrote The Artful Eater and who publishes The Art of Eating quarterly. He is alive and, I hope, well.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Chef Programming Language

I have a fondness for the esoteric programming languages of the world. I'm not talking about Smalltalk or Prolog, languages out of the mainstream but in general use; no, I'm talking about ones such as Befunge and Whitespace, languages that no one in their right mind would use. (Of course, some might say that about Prolog.)

Imagine my delight, then, to discover Chef, a programming language where the instructions read like a recipe. Commands include "put x in the bowl" and "mix together."

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Stilton Perfume: Da Ba Dee Da Ba Die

Stilton has launched a new perfume that puts blue cheese in a bottle. Truffles? I could see. Chocolate? It could work. But blue cheese perfume? I'd have to smell it to believe it.

via Table of Malcontents


Clark Smith on Sweet Spots and Food

After my Vinovation piece came out in The Art of Eating, the magazine received a small flood of letters, some of which are published in the current issue. One of those came from Mark Anisman, who asked how a wine's sweet spot did or did not change in the presence of food. A wine's sweet spot is the alcohol level at which it tastes the most balanced; for any given wine, there may be 3 or 4 such spots, scattered about the field of possibilities.

Anisman argues that Vinovation works in a vacuum where food is not considered, even though most people drink wine with food. I agree that this is a failing of wine criticism, but I do wonder how much cellar work—which is how I would label sweet spot evaluation—is done with food in hand.

Anisman left a similar comment here, and I posed the question to Clark. He posted his response, with my original email, on his blog.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Rediscovering À Côté

I recently took a friend I hadn't seen in a while to Oakland's À Côté. I don't remember the last time I went, but I knew they had good tapas-style food and a good wine list.

They don't have a good wine list. They have an excellent wine list. I can't think of any East Bay restaurant with a more interesting selection. I'm not sure I can think of a Bay Area restaurant that tops it. I ordered a bottle of dry Furmint from the Royal Tokaji Wine Company. I noticed they also had Királyleányka on the list, a Hungarian wine that no one carries. When Melissa and I returned a couple of weeks after I took my friend, I couldn't contain myself as I read through the options. And they offered many of them by the glass.

Here is a wine buyer with passion. Choosing just one glass for our light dinner (a Mondeuse, the major red of the Savoie; when was the last time you saw one of those on a list?) was a challenge. But as Melissa points out, we can go back. I intend to, if only to support someone willing to offer wines so far outside the mainstream.

If you like interesting wines, swing by À Côté for a banquet of possibilities.

And the food's good, too.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Reminder: Wines of the United States

Why am I calling my wine writing colleagues around the country? I'm getting their thoughts on the best wineries in Texas, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Oregon, Washington, and the other states I want to include in my Wines of the United States class through Berkeley Extension. It starts June 12 and runs for four weeks. There's still room; sign up and find out what the country has to offer in the way of great wine.

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Various Notes

So there's this food blogger and she's on tour for her new cookbook. Maybe you've heard of her? The delightful and inspirational Clotilde Dusoulier, our community's biggest star, will be at Cody's Books on May 24 at 7:00 to talk about her new book. Come and meet one of the world's most charming people, get your book signed, and chat about food.

I consider The Art of Eating to be the best English-language food magazine. In addition to all the great articles in the latest issue—lardo, real wasabi, Jasper Hill cheddar, the lamb of Quincy—you'll find one of the longest letters sections ever to appear in the magazine. They fall into two basic camps: Swooning praise for James MacGuire's excellent baguette article and sputtering disbelief that Ed would publish my piece about Vinovation. This issue also features a photo by Melissa that accompanies a review of Napa's Pilar. But of course you know this already because you subscribe, right?


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Food Puzzles: Kamei's Spinach Can

What is this? See here if you missed the first one.

Even if you don't collect mechanical puzzles, you've probably seen Japanese puzzle boxes. Eye-dazzling, hand-crafted marquetry on the surfaces of these wooden boxes hides panels that shift and slide until you find your way inside.

And then there's Akio Kamei.

Kamei diverged from the path of traditional secret boxes to make karakuri, or trick, boxes that rely on new-for-Japan locks. (Many have existed in Western puzzles for a while.) Magnets, pins, and centrifugal force rods that fly apart as the box spins are just some of the mechanisms he uses, and he marries them with fine Japanese craftsmanship to produce some of the world's most sought-after mechanical puzzles. His work has inspired a small squadron of other Japanese box makers, the members of the Karakuri Creation Group. Kamei's hand-crafted puzzles aren't cheap—though you can buy passable commercial versions of some of them—but the ones I own are the treasures of my collection.

Among his most famous puzzles are the figural boxes, where the real-world model provides clues to solving the puzzle. Looking at Kamei's "old radio" box? It doesn't seem to be working, so how would you get it going again? Looking at his "dice" puzzle box? What do you do with dice? Think this way, and you'll be on the road to the answer. A few involve food, so you'll see Kamei's name here again.

His spinach can, a cylinder with a marquetry spinach leaf on the "label," follows in the footsteps of his other "real-world" puzzles. Get the spinach can open, and you'll find a deep compartment. As with all my secret boxes, this is where I store the solution that comes with the puzzle. This is one of the few Kameis where you see the mechanism: Usually you can only guess at the locks hiding in the wooden walls, even after you open it.

I like to share puzzles with my friends and dinner guests, but the spinach can rarely emerges from the puzzle drawers. I worry that the fragile mechanism will give out sooner rather than later.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Culinate Profile of OWF

Liz Crain, who writes the Blog Feed column for online food magazine Culinate, focuses her spotlight on OWF this week (with a brief cameo by OWEE). It's a nice Q & A interview, and I encourage you all to go check it out.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

While We're At It

If you know of good restaurants in Gold Coast, Australia—or Brisbane—I'd love to hear about them. We won't have a lot of time, because we're going to Gold Coast for International Puzzle Party, but the event usually gives us a night or two on our own, and we always like to find a great restaurant on that night.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Advice Wanted: New Zealand

Once again, I come to you for advice. Who can blame me? You're always so helpful.

Like many a food and wine blogger before us, Melissa and I are traveling to New Zealand in early August: our summer, their winter. We're there for 8 nights, 7 full days, and spare change from travel days. And we're trying to decide what to do. Should we invest the time to go to Marlborough, when it means making travel arrangements to get across the water, a bit more cumbersome than just driving hither and yon? Should we put all of our time into the North Island, and bypass one of our most favorite wine regions? Should we spend all of our time in Marlborough, and bypass the lovely North Island, save for Wellington? Where are the must-see places?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Here are some more details, by request of Nige and based on our own thoughts. We fly into and out of Wellington, arriving in the morning and leaving in the afternoon. We're interested in food and wine, of course, but we'd like to see some pretty countryside and get a taste of the local culture. How easy or hard is it to bop about the country on hopper flights and ferries? How much extra time do they take, factoring in check-in times and the like? We intend to rent a car and drive around when necessary. I imagine the weather won't leave us much opportunity for outdoor activity, but we don't know. Overall, we prefer a more leisurely vacation to a rushed one.


Oliveto: Quick Review

Early in our relationship, before we discovered Jojo, Melissa and I celebrated special occasions at Oliveto, but it always seemed too expensive for the food. I know the cooks have mad charcuterie skills and the wine bottles talk to the food, but the bill never jibed with the meal.

Things have changed. Melissa and I decided to give the restaurant another chance on our fourth anniversary (having been to Jojo twice in the previous three weeks), and we were happy we did. Oliveto delivered a meal that seemed worth the money we paid, though the meal wasn't cheap. Raucous crowds on both ends of the restaurant kept it from being an intimate experience, but the food was good.

When we dine out, Melissa plays a game where she predicts what I'm going to order. Even on a large menu such as Oliveto's, she almost always wins by spotting the offal dishes and any duck or rabbit. Sure enough, I started with the trotter, a rich patty of ground-up pig's foot that the kitchen had breaded and fried. From there I moved to the Piti with pigeon livers, pancetta, and Madeira, a pasta dish with udon-esque noodles and a-tad-too-big chunks of pigeon liver. I finished the meal with a juicy, spit-roasted loin of rabbit for which the meat had been flattened, stuffed with bread and rabbit livers, rolled, and skewered on a spit.

Melissa went a lighter route. She started with a pretty spring bouquet of purple asparagus, mint, fava beans, and pecorino. She opted for a silky tagliatelle dish for her pasta, one dressed with peas and black trumpet mushrooms. She recalled our wedding day menu with a lightly smoky spit-roasted leg of lamb accompanied by a rich and creamy green garlic and potato gratin. She ended the meal with a bit of framboise sherbet.

Oliveto's food takes its cue from Italy, and so does its wine list, though you can find California and French bottles. The restaurant organizes the list by style of wine—"Crisp & Dry White Wines" and "Medium-Bodied Red Wines in New Wood" for example—and then by country. I like wine lists organized this way, because you don't have to know the details of one Dolcetto producer over another to know the style. We asked our waiter for advice on the wine, and started with a minerally half-bottle of Villa Sparina's Gavi, a Piemontese white, before switching to a full bottle of Brovia's flavorful and fruity "Vigna Villej" Dolcetto d'Alba, a Piemontese red. And of course we ended with a taste of the Cocchi Barolo Chinato.

While I felt like I got my money's worth this time around, Oliveto is a pricey outing, and Melissa and I will keep going to Jojo for our special dinners. But we don't need to be wary of Oliveto anymore.