Without Reservations

A stitch in time

Stay sharp and slow down ... or suffer kitchen knife collateral damage
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› paulr@sfbg.com

Today's lesson — do as I say, not as I do — pertains to knives. What I say is what all sensible people say: keep your knives sharp; keep the tips of your fingers bent under the knuckles when chopping, mincing, dicing, and so forth; and, most important, do not rush. I rushed, and I paid, by slashing my ring finger with the 10-inch chef's knife I had perhaps neglected ever so slightly. The result was a scene of carnage and gore the likes of which I hadn't seen since the long-ago TV footage of Rockingham and Bundy, plus four stitches. Read more »

Grapes of steel

Man can't live on reds alone
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› paulr@sfbg.com

If the wine gods should decree that I must no longer be permitted any whites, I would weep — but survive too. While it may be true, as Deuteronomy instructs, that "man does not live by bread alone," he — or we or I — surely could make do with red wine only. The charms of red wine are considerable and inescapable, from the gracious lean strength of a good pinot noir to the cherry-and-pepper bouquet of a côtes du Rhône or zinfandel in its prime. Red wine is, somehow, gravid with life itself.

And yet ... Read more »

It's the environment, stupid

Slow food is great, but ecopolitics should move fast
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› paulr@sfbg.com

You must be a pretty good orator if you can bewitch a roomful of people who can't understand a word you're saying — except for, perhaps, your incantatory "stupido!"s while discussing America's many foolish agricultural policies — and by this standard Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, is a pretty good orator. He held a media crowd rapt at a lunch recently at Greens, the point of which gathering was to proclaim the advent of Slow Food Nation a year hence at Fort Mason. Read more »

Nuts about wine!

Crack a bottle of walnut-infused vin de noix as a delightful digestif
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› paulr@sfbg.com

What sort of birthday present do you get for the wine fancier who already has everything: a cellar full of rare and prized bottles, a kitchen drawer with a full complement of cork pulls, a special refrigerator for chilling wine? You might tell yourself that not every wine fancier has everything — yet — but because oenophilia has become such a conspicuous component of lifestyle pornography, of status-consumption culture, the gap between aspiration and acquisition narrows a little every day. Read more »

The pyramid

Building up high-end restaurant food
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While fretting a few days ago about the menace of the $40 main dish, I spoke to my neighbor, who on a recent trip to San Diego had a close encounter with a $63 main course, some kind of veal with truffles. San Diego — not Las Vegas, not New York. She ended up with a $40-something main dish (veal, no truffles), and I went to New York to forage on the lower reaches of the city's restaurant pyramid.

High-end restaurant food, whether veal or something else, doesn't just happen: it is built, or cooked, or created, on an infrastructure of more modest restaurants. Read more »

Eyes on the prize

Forking up a Pulitzer
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The recent news that a food writer from Los Angeles won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism puts us on notice that food writing at its best is an art form - also that LA is a serious food town, loath though we may be to admit it. The southland has access to all sorts of local agricultural bounty, a nearby wine country (in Santa Barbara County), and a polyglot population that represents much of the world. It also has something we don't have - an international border just miles away, with a genuinely different culture on the other side. Read more »

The importance of being imported

Appreciating Portugese wine
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If you think of Mateus or Lancer's when you think of Portuguese wine, then you may soon be thinking anew. Portugal's food and wines have been overshadowed by those of Spain, its larger Iberian neighbor, over the last generation or so, but the Portuguese viticultural tradition has its roots in Roman times and produces wines that compare favorably with any in the world. Read more »

El pollo greco

The wonders of Athenian chicken
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Herbs tell stories, and the association of certain herbs with certain experiences can be specific and powerful. Basil, for instance, is summer and tomatoes, while sage is Thanksgiving and bread stuffing. Oregano? Its strong perfume is the smell of pizza — but it's also Greek. It is, in particular, the herb that gives Athenian or Greek chicken its bewitching character.

For years I tried without much success to create at home a plausible version of the Athenian chicken that we found so irresistible in Greek restaurants. Read more »

Assault on batteries

Satisfaction in disposal
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The urban forager is generally looking for something to eat, but this does not have to be the case. While there is an undeniable pleasure in bringing edibles (blackberries, nasturtiums) home to the table from the metropolitan wild, there is also satisfaction in gathering up rubbish and disposing of it properly. And just as the city is a remarkably fertile place, so too is it rich in articles it would be better off not being rich in.

We have all seen the plastic water bottles rustling in the gutters like autumn leaves — husks emptied of their pricey elixirs and tossed away. Read more »

The big town

Metro-rustic in Chicago
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From the air, Chicago in late winter looks like a giant crepe sprinkled with crushed peppercorns and minced scallions: a brown flatness textured with bits of black and white and wan hints of green. It's a cold crepe, of course; you land and you can see your breath, though within a day or so the temperature will have risen into the malarial mid-70s, and the sky will be filled with purplish green, swelling clouds right out of The Wizard of Oz. Read more »