Without Reservations

A small beef

Japan, like Europe, has its venerated, slow food-style traditions
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WITHOUT RESERVATIONS In my years of traversing the Divisadero Summit, that land of cloud-minders at the very crest of Pacific Heights, I have sometimes wondered who actually lives in all the pretty houses. Well, Danielle Steele, of course, and her bevy of automobiles, which she seems to collect the way Imelda Marcos once collected shoes. But I don't quite know which palace is hers, nor am I sure which belongs to the writer Robert Mailer Anderson and his Oracle heiress wife. Maybe I'm on the wrong street altogether. Read more »

White made right

When Californians mention wines they like, the wines are almost always red ones
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Although "white" carries generally favorable connotations in our race-haunted society, the spell breaks at the gates of the wine kingdom. When Californians mention wines they like, the wines are almost always red ones — and more often than not, cabernets sauvignons. White wines? What are those?

To an extent, this bias can be explained by the great and unexpected success of (red) California wines at the famous Paris blind tasting of 1976, in which French judges ended up preferring the New World wines. Read more »

New soup for you!

Like all repertoires, the soup repertoire is in need of constant tending
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Day is done, gone the sun, and let's have soup. The sun is lingering a little longer these days, but winter still abides in the garden, it remains damp and chilly inside, and if nothing else, we can warm our hands in the steam that rises from our bowls of soup.

Like all repertoires, the soup repertoire is in need of constant tending. You prune the ones that don't quite work or show signs of reduced drawing power while being alert to new prospects. Read more »

From Umbria, with brio

As a member of the lentil-involved community, I was honored
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As a member of the lentil-involved community, I was honored and elated to be presented with a small sack of organic Umbrian lentils at a recent Slow Food shindig for organic Umbrian farmers. (Organic Umbrian Agriculture: World Tour '08.) The lentils, from a producer called Terra Colombaia ("pigeon coop"), were uncooked, of course; cooking not included. I would have to handle that part myself, and I welcomed the chance, which would come later, once I'd gotten home. Read more »

Requiem for a lemon

Do skunks eat lemons? Raccoons?
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The city slicker's agricultural portfolio tends to run toward seasonings and emendations — rosemary, for instance, which has plenty of street smarts and is drought resistant too. Yours truly has for years managed a tiny estate of such bit players, including the aforementioned rosemary (a weedlike presence at the rear of the garden), along with bay and Kaffir lime bushes. The one crop that might qualify as cash is the Meyer lemon.

The infrequency of the (dwarf) Meyer lemon tree's deigning to fruit has long added piquancy to those moments when it does, usually every other year. Read more »

On the waterfront: an epic

Epic Roasthouse and Waterbar
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The city of night on a night of rain still offers its spectacles, and one of them must be the Bay Bridge as viewed from Epic Roasthouse, the brand-new restaurant (starring Pat Kuleto and Jan Birnbaum) that, with its sibling, Waterbar, sits on the narrow strip of land between the Embarcadero and the water. Read more »

Sugar and spice

Salvaging the Chernobyl chili
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In response to a recent column about quick reconstructive surgery for oversalted dishes (add some sugar!), a reader wrote with the news that it's also possible to salvage dishes made inedible by too much chili heat. The procedure is simple: peel a raw potato, preferably a russet (starchy is better than waxy here), put it in the afflicted dish, and cook until it shows signs of disintegrating. Remove the still-whole spud, cross fingers, and serve.

Thanks to Gabriel Bereny for this intel, which apparently he got from his wife and her mother. Read more »

Green winter

A plethora of roughage in the stalls
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When I was in college, I was pleased to discover that spring in these parts began to make itself felt in February. The sun strengthened, the air grew mild — at least if it wasn't raining — and people lay out to sunbathe. All this was very different from my native northern clime, in which winter nastiness often lasted well into April. Read more »

Nursing the ratchet effect

How to cut the saltiness
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If good cooking is about improvisation and flexibility, it's also about certain rigid rules. One of these is the culinary version of the ratchet effect: once you add certain ingredients, you can't unadd them. The only path open to you is forward. There can be no retreat. Cayenne pepper is the classic example. Once it goes in, it's in, and if you put in too much, you're stuck. Read more »

When the lights go off

These days the best customer service appears to be robotic customer service
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While snow chasers — not to be confused with chub chasers — spent much of last week zooming to the mountains in pursuit of virgin powder, the rest of us coped with such storm-related inconveniences as no electricity for hours at a time, from dusk to dawn and beyond. I went to brew myself some consoling tea, only to be reminded, when the burner under the kettle would not catch, that while the stove is a gas stove, its ignition elements are electronic. Read more »