Without Reservations

Remember the main

The main course has taken a hosing lately
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Our end-of-'07 road tour, with a Where have you gone Nancy Pelosi? theme (to be sung to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson") took me to two states I'd never been to before, Idaho and Montana. In the former, no Larry Craig sightings, but we did keep out of REIs. In the latter, mammoth main courses in restaurants, about which more presently. As for the states-visited list, it is sizable if not mammoth, with Texas and Florida still in the penalty box. There I expect they shall remain. Read more »

Eat the faith

Great fortunes have already been made in the selling of lousy food to a captive and credulous population
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Michael Pollan's just-published book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Penguin Press, $21.95 cloth), has a placental look: its monumental predecessor, The Omnivore's Dilemma (Penguin Press, 2006), appeared not even two years ago, and at about 200 pages the new volume is slight. But don't be deceived: Defense isn't an afterthought. Read more »

Why I am not a foodie

Culinary context
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› paulr@sfbg.com

As the year dwindles and we start to see our breath in the evening cold, we don our scarves and indulge in little sentimentalities and considerable amounts of alcohol. Also, it's time to clean out the e-mail box. Now or never. I find a note, half buried in a drift of messages slowly composting into cybermulch, announcing a new foodie Web site, www.foodiebytes.com, which is there to assist you when you crave a particular dish and need to locate a restaurant that serves it. Read more »

Feeding the food brainiac

Books about culinary history
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› paulr@sfbg.com

Amid the agonies and anxieties of last-minute holiday shopping can be found at least one sure stocking stuffer, provided your list includes a food brainiac (with a Christmas stocking). You'll know one when you meet one; a large clue will be a passionate interest in not merely recipes and restaurants but also the cultural story they help tell.

And what is that sure thing, in a world where many a gift goes astray like a bad JDAM? A book, of course, since the reports of print's death have been greatly exaggerated and the food brainiac loves books. Read more »

The confit files

Ah, the juicy bird
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The holiday season is to the home cook what a howling blizzard is to the captain of a fully loaded 747 approaching O'Hare Airport. It's showtime; it's the time you earn your keep. While pilots are dealing with bad weather, home cooks are grappling with turkey — in particular, how to make it appealing, or at least presentable. The key factors here, moistness and flavor, are interrelated, since much of the flavor in a bird is in its juices. Read more »

We heart the cranberry tart

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People might grumble about holiday turkey, but even the most disenchanted grumbler will usually choke down a bite or two, just for appearances. Seldom is the same courtesy extended to the cranberry, which often reaches the table as a pretty red relish no one really wants. The cranberry is the orphan of holiday cooking and — a true measure of its lowly state — a punch line for sitcom jokes, from The Simpsons to Frasier.

To say all the neglect, abuse, and humor amount to an injustice is a considerable understatement. Read more »

The smell test

A working bakery in the midst of the city
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Old joke: If you want to hear God laugh, make plans. (A tip of the trilby here to the Chronicle's Jon Carroll, whose recent and perfect phrasing I borrow.) In the alternative, open a nice restaurant at Fisherman's Wharf. Fisherman's Wharf: our very own cross between Vatican City and the Potsdamer Platz of Cold War Berlin, except with seagulls instead of barbed wire and searchlights. It is so different from the rest of the city that it feels as if it should have its own time zone and area code. Read more »

Land of milk and money

Have a glass of irony with your high-end cheese
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› paulr@sfbg.com

At Gourmet magazine's recent Wine Cellar extravaganza in the Galleria, I chatted with a Kerrygold functionary about currency exchanges, having first fortified myself with a few glasses of wine and an empanada. One would not want to drift into discussions of the dollar and the euro on an empty stomach, nor in a condition of total and stony sobriety. How about renaming the dollar the bungee, incidentally? Read more »

Beer, sweet beer

A surprising niche for suds
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In beer's ongoing search for a place at the table set with a white linen tablecloth, dessert presents itself as an unlikely but promising niche. Read more »

Be my burger

A certain tingle
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Last week's rovings included a stop at Bistro Burger, in the basement of the Westfield San Francisco Centre — centre! Please. We're not at Wimbledon. But the burger transcended its deracinated, strip-mall, airport-prison, why–am–I–in–Las Vegas setting. The meat (Niman Ranch, of course) was tender, juicy, intensely flavorful, and cooked medium rare, as agreed. A slice of pepper jack cheese was present but not overwhelming, and the bun was plump and soft, like a good pillow, but also not overwhelming.

You need not resign yourself to beef here. Read more »