the tyrian-tinted…

•April 29, 2014 • 11 Comments

I receive an unbelievably high number of requests for restaurant recommendations.  While I would like to give every one a thoughtful response, it is simply not possible.

For years now, I have tried to think of a solution to this problem.  Having failed to do so thus far, I have, in the meantime, set up an auto-response on my email account that, in part, apologizes for my limitations and advises all who seek restaurant recommendations to consult my restaurant log (although the frequency of my posts has slowed down woefully over the past two years, I keep my restaurant log current).

But, my restaurant log is grossly inadequate as a dining guide.  I have only written about a fraction of the meals that are recorded, so my opinion about the vast majority of dining experiences over my nine years of blogging is incomplete.  Other than my year-end “best of” lists, which simply highlight my favorite dishes and meals of that year, I issue no “ratings” or “rankings” for restaurants.  And that will not change — I find ratings and rankings problematic for a number of reasons, many of which will be revealed over the course of this post.

My restaurant log, therefore, tells little of where I like to eat (The frequency of my visits to each restaurant, which are recorded in the log, gives some indication as to where I tend to eat.  But it doesn’t necessarily give you an accurate representation of where I like eating.), and even less of where I would recommend others eat based on my experience(s).

As its name suggests, my restaurant log is simply that – a record of restaurants where I have eaten.

So, what is the solution?

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rumination 30: the movable circus…

•April 13, 2014 • 7 Comments

In his article “Dropped,” which appeared on the online magazine Grantland in March of 2014, Jason Fagone pens a biopic about the renowned juggler known as Anthony Gatto. (The subject is fascinating, and the writing is terrific.  I highly recommend it.)  Towards the end of the piece, after discovering that Gatto had left the Cirque du Soleil company, with which Gatto had traveled and performed, Fagone reached out to Gatto for an interview.  Gatto declined, which sent Fagone speculating as to why Gatto seemed content to leave his record-setting career as a juggler behind in favor of running a small concrete business.  (I’m leaving out a lot of information.)

Fagone surmises that Gatto had decided to rest in his skills and talent, confident and content in having secured his place at the top of his field.  He no longer felt the need to please the crowd, a crowd that probably didn’t fully appreciate his abilities.

Fagone writes: “Pure technical jugglers peak in their twenties…  As they get older, they survive by developing personality… Jugglers don’t have to perform difficult tricks to entertain people, because audiences generally don’t know what’s difficult. Juggling five objects is 10 times harder than juggling four, and six objects is 10 times harder than five, but to most people, five objects in the air looks like six, and six looks like five. A truly difficult juggling trick doesn’t necessarily register intuitively as difficult. It just looks like a bunch of weird shit crossing in the air.”

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review: heart of tartness… (willows inn)

•January 31, 2014 • 2 Comments

Thimble berries.

~

Is there a happier summer soundtrack than the splash of cannonballs accompanied by the reckless hoot of youth?

My friend and I arrived at the ferry slip on a warm summer afternoon to the sight of children hurling themselves off the headworks into the cool waters of the sound.  We got out of the car and cheered them on as we waited for the ferry to arrive from Lummi Island.

It’s hard not to romanticize my first visit to Willows Inn last year, which unfolded like a summer flick on the big screen, easy and neat.

After settling into the Aerie, a two-bedroom apartment leased by the inn a quarter-mile down the road, my friend and I took a long walk on the beach.  With the sun warm on our backs, we picked sweet thimble berries as we went – the brambles lining the island’s circumnavigating Shore Drive were quickly closing out their season on these raspberry-like gems.  We played bocce while cooks shuttled back and forth between the kitchen and the small smokehouse nestled in the treeline just beyond our court, which had been smoldering since we arrived.

And we napped until it was time to eat.

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travel: pacific pragmatism…

•January 18, 2014 • 3 Comments

Sunset.

~

The last time I visited Seattle I was a rising senior in college.  That summer, I spent a few days with my friend Miller, who was from the inland suburb of Issaquah.  Thereafter, I went down to Portland to visit another college friend, Newland.  That was the last time I was in Portland too.

In the decade and a half since, both cities have become exciting and alluring hubs of restaurant activity.  But unlike Portland, Seattle has also become home to nearly a dozen friends from high school, college, and law school.  So, last year, when I found a window in my travel schedule, I finally made it back to the Pacific Northwest to revisit, to reunite, and to eat.

What I found in and around the city was so beautiful, and much of it so delicious, that I went back a second time before the year was over.

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rumination 29: we need more experts…

•January 14, 2014 • 3 Comments

A group of us were huddling together in the frigid night when our taxi – one of those odd European  hybrids with a cramped third row of seats in the back  – pulled up.  Daniel Boulud was the first to jump in, crawling into the far, back corner.  Someone else jumped in after him, but was quickly pushed back out.  No, Boulud objected.  He wanted the “kid” back there with him.  We surveyed each other, and we knew he could only mean me.  I was the smallest, and the youngest.

Wedged into the back with Boulud, I jokingly objected to being called a kid.  I was definitely older than he thought I was.  When he asked, I told him I was 32.  I was still very young, he insisted.

Not young enough. In one of those moments when my memory for detail came in handy, I reminded Boulud of his own words.  “Remember, chef,” I chided, “in chapter eight of your book ‘Letters to a Young Chef,’ you specifically pointed out to the reader that ‘these are Letters to a Young Chef’ – emphasis on the ‘young.'”  I continued to recite, “‘In other words, if you were thirty years old, I would not be writing this to you, because the demands of the job and competition out there require that you start young…'”

“Ça va, ça va,” he conceded with a laugh.  He, too, was young, and perhaps a bit foolish, when he wrote that book, he said, almost reminding himself wistfully.  It was not too late for me to become a chef, he reassured me.

If you are an aspiring chef, young or old, or just curious about the career of a chef, as I was, I highly recommend Boulud’s book.

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the best of 2013: the restaurant edition…

•January 9, 2014 • 9 Comments

Les Bocuses

~

The late, great Diana Vreeland once said: “A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste––it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.”

I couldn’t agree more.

There is a growing class of restaurants with no taste, and an army of identity-less chefs serving identity-less food to accompany it.  You could swap the menus from one of their restaurants to another, and you might not know the difference.

Sure, we’ve come a long way.  We, as a society, have become more educated about food.  We’ve created access to higher-quality ingredients.  And, in our ever-shrinking world of technology and travel, we’ve constructed a communal “cloud” of knowledge from which all may download.  As a result, we are able to demand more and get more out of our foodways.

But, what is infrastructure if there is not an intelligent, opinionated, and thoughtful user base?  Despite the progress we’ve made, there remains a mindlessness to cooking, to eating, and to food writing these days that scares me.  Often, the gap between what it is that I see, hear, and read and what it is that I eat is hard to bridge. At the high end, there is a lot of preaching and marketing and grandstanding in auditoriums from Copenhagen to Mexico City, and on glossy print covers from New York to Paris.  The ideas sound great, and the philosophies are grand.  Yet, so often at the table, very little of that glory appears.  Or, sometimes that glory appears reflected, borrowed or copied from another.

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best desserts of 2013…

•January 6, 2014 • 6 Comments

10th Course: Sorbet

~

Three years ago, I created a separate year-end list for desserts because I wanted to recognize and record the exciting strides that I noticed pastry chefs taking. In the short time since, the borders of dessert-making and dessert-eating have continued to expand.

Speaking specifically as an American, our understanding of desserts has taken on a more global perspective.  Most notably, we seem to have become less-dependent on sweetness for satisfaction (sadly, I think America is having the opposite effect on the rest of the world).

As a result, we’ve also begun to embrace a wider range of ingredients and flavors at the end of our meal.  You’ll find among my twenty-five favorite desserts this year, for example, ingredients that, just a few years ago, would never have appeared in a dessert. Now, pine, fennel, sunchokes, celery, and beets aren’t so foreign to the pastry kitchen.  And, in other parts of the world to which I’ve traveled this year, neither are ingredients like espino, a pod-bearing member of the acacia family native to South America that produces coffee-like seeds, or cabbage, or celeriac.

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