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THE VERY BEST
Best of New York City Best Hotels Best Restaurants
Best of Wine, Tea, Coffee, etc. Best Spices Best of San Francisco

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517. -new- Probably the Best Restaurant in Jackson Hole - The Kitchen

Don't be put off by the crummy website. And no, Jackson Hole is not the new food city, and it is a stretch to find a good new place to eat. And no, the concierge at your hotel will generally not make a good recommendation. Kitchen is just one of four or five restaurants this group owns, and we have not tried the others. But we had a pork belly-lobster slider and a so-called herb crusted lava lake lamb t-bone, and both were simply great. Everybody found something they liked on the menu. Eat outside, since the interior is just your average average box. It stays open late enough, even if we were the last customers. We were particularly impressed with the maître de who is cheerful, exceptionally hard working, and careful not to forget truly appreciative customers. The Kitchen. 155 North Glenwood. Jackson, Wyoming 93001. 307-734-1633. (8-27-14)

516. Indigo

Indigo: The Color That Changed the World is a wonderful, wonderful book about indigo dying.  To die for. You don’t even have to read it.  The more than 500 photographs will alone provide your eyes with delight enough. Yatzer remarks:  “The book explores varying dying methods and the human story behind the colour, taking the reader on a journey through Japan, China, India, Africa, Central America, Laos and Vietnam to offer a fascinating study of old world practices and the history of this colour. Legrand really captures why we continue to have such an emotional attachment to this colour through her incredible research and the eloquent presentation of personal, economic and cultural stories that go hand in hand with this colour. Hundreds of beautiful photographs show items, ranging from doors to quilts to turbans and the stained hands and many faces of the makers behind them, to exemplify why Indigo has continued inspiring us throughout the ages. Legrand features Austrian dyer Josef Foo’s stunning art of wood-block printing Indigo, which showcases the colour's vitality when contrasted with white and even shows us how to make the dye ourselves at home using lead sugar, powdered gold and blue vitriol.” (8-13-14)

515. El Dorado Rum

You will probably find 12 year old El Dorado in your liquor store and that it just fine.  But even smoother is the 15 year old if you can find it.  It hails from Guyana. Here is a blog that will give you quite a rundown on the Dorados. (7-23-14)

514. Aman Bhutan

We should begin this review by saying that Aman is the only game in town.  Here and there about the towns of Bhutan there are a few heavily flawed hotels and inns and eateries  But if you can stand the tab, you should, without a pause for thought, book at the Aman. The accomodations more than pass muster (you will avoid the experience of one tourist in 2012 who stayed in some lesser digs right next to the landing strip in Paro: she had no light in her room) and the Aman food is always plausible.  A caveat on the food:  in Bhutan they use lots of red chiles and lots of oil, which can cause kickback.  It is often wise to omit both. The chiles are very decorative and can be seen drying on roofs as one passes along dirt roads.

We have long studied Aman which truly finds beautiful places in remote regions to situate its resorts, be it in the Far East or in the waters off the Americas. The central strength of Aman is finding faraway, unspoiled shangri-las that impeach the urban circumstance in which most of us find ourselves.

There is an attempt to create great architecture that even invokes some of the local idiom.  Aman does not achieve esthetic heights but it provides a well planned campus with spacious rooms that are reasonably comfortable. Here the rooms are austere, even monastic, much in keeping with the Aman esthic which is back to nature, simple, and a repudiation of citified clutter and busy-ness.

Generally the room structures look like nice wood campus dormitories. Some but not all properties have one or more great halls, which often provide the one note of greatness and grandiosity,  since they have an expansiveness that matches the natural wonders nearby. 
Each property in Bhutan has its own little strengths.  Thimphu, site of the main office, has a nice little library which could be much stronger if it included more serious literature instead of the raft of coffee table picture books which is standard fare at Aman resorts. The dining room is capacious enough to meet with government officials and other dignitaries:  since this is the national seat of government we entertained several there. With separate tables available for different dining parties, one does not feel cooped up as is the case with the communal tables at most of the other locations

Bumthang is probably the best of the Aman resort locations.  One can take a plane to get there so it is a quick jump from the main incoming airport at Paro. It really is the religious center of the country and while there one can hear evening prayers at the Buddhist temple adjacent, visit a nunnery which radiates spiritual warmth, or view an archery contest in a field nearby.   As often as possible one will eat meals just outside the dining room on a stone patio and contemplate the resort’s dog named Basanti. 

Gantey.  At this resort Aman management has shown the greatest imagination.  It could be a bore because there is not much here, save Aman. But it has a pretty vista. The young manager is Bhutanese and knew how to render an extra measure of good service. One night a couple can book a fun meal served in a potato shack. Here we had yak sausage—our one encounter with the Yak though some of our guests ate yak elsewhere. On another evening, one traipses across a pasture to another rude shack where one takes a hot stone bath. On another day one will donate a lunch to 270 monks at the Gangtey Shedra and actually participate in making and serving the meal which is cooked outside at the side of the school. There, too, we had our best massage, well rendered by a young Bhutan lady who headed the spa at this location. There are spas at all locations, Paro probably offering the lavish facility. 

Punakha.  Punakha has the best food, all served in a curiously cramped dining room.  The secret: it has a Mexican chef and he can cook in several languages.  You can get eggs rancheros for breakfast followed by a local Bhutanese noodle dish for lunch.  Here, too, one will do a flag hoisting at a nearby chorten, a very moving ceremony.  My associate and me were honored that two large yellow flags had been planted in the ground, yellow symbolizing earth was the appropriate color for both of us.

Paro.  Paro is the least auspicious and oldest of the lodges.  For starters it is well outside Paro, and one gets there over a terrible road that is being rebuilt and hence wrecked by the Indian Government.  The Indian Government does Bhutan’s roads—badly and slowly:  its own infrastructrure is a shambles so it takes real gall to presume to work on the roads or other systems of a neighbor. Paro resort itself seems a bit tattered. Yet nearby at Kiyuchu Lakhang one will light 108 butter lamps and visit a small temple, perhaps the most beautiful in Western Bhutan, though not much remarked on.  One can hike up to the Tiger’s Nest where Taktsang Monastery clings to the side of the mountain but looks like it could fall off any time.  So Paro resort soars because of the special sights and shrines in its vicinity,

What this review does not make clear is that Aman consists of far more than great locations.  While headquarters management is a bit detached from reality and oblivious to the many small things that turn an average visit into a great experience, locals on the ground at the resort do try to do special things to make one’s visit memorable. Many Bhutan managers have been at it a long time and work at sanding away some of the rough spots.   We would single out Bhutan country manager John Reed, a New Orleans native who clearly loves the East, and our Aman guide Nawang Cyektshen, who was able to enrich our understanding of Buddhism in Bhutan, the sine qua non of a Bhutan visit.

Amankora, the name for Aman in Bhutan, combines aman which is the Sanskrit word for peace with kora, meaning circular pilgrimagein Dzongkha, the Bhutanese language.  Very appropriate.  The traveler will find it peaceful there but also will feel peace enveloping him. (12-11-13)

513. Best Bookstores New York City

Despite the decline of the independent bookstore caused by the rise of Barnes and Noble and Amazon, stores still survive and some new ones pop up. 
There is always the veritable and muscular Strand in downtown Manhattan where you will find a Thirkell volume when all else fails.  Some flawed best book lists will capture a few of the oddball shops, while missing the best independents, In Greenwich Village we would point the cultural reader to Three Lives and Company, while Crawford Doyle Booksellers at 81st is a comfortable stop for affluents on the Upper East Side   We will be making many more additions to this list. (11-27-13)

Update: All About Town
One of our readers (EH) has written us to highlight her choices for bookstores around the city:
“Bookstores you have left off your list:
1. McNally Jackson on Prince Street   2. 192 Books on 10th    3. Aven – owned by Paula Cooper   4. Corner Bookstore on 93rd and Madison 5. Powell in Brooklyn   6. Also assume you are aware of what Steve Kroeter is doing with Designers and Books  7. And Mary Fichter with 2paragraphs” (12-11-13)

512. Cows Ice Cream

Our colleague Mr. Steven A. Martin took a long swing this summer through North America and came on Cows ice cream   in the island provinces.  He swears that it is as good as the Canadians claim.  Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it:
Cows is an ice cream manufacturer and chain of ice cream parlors based in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Cows was founded in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island in 1983, and has since expanded into cheddar cheese, and cow-themed merchandise. Cows was named "Canada's best ice cream" in a survey of readers of Reader's Digest and named the world's top place to get ice cream by Tauck World Discovery. (11-27-13)

511. En

There are so many Japanese restaurants in New York that one can get very particular as to where one gets what.  For tofu go to En.  We prefer lunch when it is quiet and  soothing. The tofu is well wrought and very fresh.  We match it with shochu which is available in several modes, such as sweet potato and barley. As best we know, en means fate or karma. En. http://enjb.com/  435 Hudson Street. New York, New York 10014. 212-647-9196  (9-25-13)

510. Siggi’s Non-Fat Drinkable Yogurt from New York State

You sort of have to watch out for the yogurt drinks.  Often they’re adulterated with this and that.  And, as often, they taste like hell. But Siggi’s tastes good til the last drop and seems to have left out the bad stuff. Clever labeling:  It says: 0% milkfat but 1 billion live active cultures per serving.  Now who can resist that.

And besides, Siggi himself radiates wholeness. 

Filmjölk (also known as fil) is a Nordic dairy product made from soured milk. It is similar to yogurt, but is produced using different bacteria which gives it a different taste and texture. It is the modern version of the traditional product surmjölk.[1]
It is a mesophilic fermented milk product that is made by fermenting cow's milk with a variety of bacteria from the species Lactococcus lactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides.[2][3] The bacteria metabolize lactose, the sugar naturally found in milk, into lactic acid which means people who are lactose intolerant can consume filmjölk.[citation needed] The acid gives filmjölk a sour taste and causes proteins in the milk, mainly casein, to coagulate, thus thickening the final product. The bacteria also produce a limited amount of diacetyl, which gives filmjölk its characteristic taste.[4] Filmjölk is similar to cultured buttermilk, kefir, or yogurt in consistency, but fermented by different bacteria and thus has a different taste and texture. Its taste is mild and slightly acidic.[1] In Sweden, it is normally sold in 1-liter packages with live bacteria. It has a shelf-life of around 10–14 days at refrigeration temperature.[1] (9-25-13)

509. -new- Curate

We ate not once but twice at Curate during our last visit to Asheville. Just like Rezaz, about which we have previously written, this is one of the top 4 or 5 restaurants in North Carolina, and maybe as good as it gets in tapas for all of America.  A rash of tapas joints have opened up in eastern North Carolina and they simply don’t hold a candle to Curate. We liked a bunch of things to include the sausage, squid, pork, and sundry vegetables.  The owners have been well coached by a chap who owns a whole string of Spanish restaurants. For a detailed look, with pictures, of this fun restaurant, look at Asheville’s Global Table.  Curate.  11 Biltmore Avenue. Asheville, North Carolina 28801  1-828-239-2946 http://www.curatetapasbar.com/. (7/24/13)

508. -new- The Daily Catch in the North End

There’s a lot of ways to waste money in Boston.  High-end shops offer middlebrow merchandise at exceedingly high prices.  The trick is to find nooks that don’t look like much but in fact have everything. They’re good, and you can actually get in them without a lot of commotion.  The Daily Catch, offering black pasta and other solid tasty dishes, makes the point.  The food is good, and you can tell it is freshly made, because it is cooked right beside you. Jive conversation makes it a lot of fun. Three blocks away we might have waited for 30 minutes at a very good but touristy seafood restaurant; here we got flavor and a seat right away.  Daily Catch. 323 Hanover Street.  Boston, Mass 02113 617- 523-8567 http://www.dailycatch.com/northend.html  (7/24/13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

507. Iced Mate

We are used to hot mate, but we are well instructed by a gentleman from Paraguay that mate may be better cold. For our initial thoughts on mate, see “Sobre El Mate.” But then consider Mr. Francesco Christ’s beloved “Terrere,” the cold variety from his homeland:

Terere is an infusion of yerba mate (in Spanish), similar to mate but prepared with cold water rather than with hot, and in a slightly larger vessel. It is originally from Paraguay and is found also in northeastern Argentina and southern and western Brazil. When hot (mate), the Guarani people call this infusion ka'ay, where ka'a means Herb and y means water. The scientific name of yerba mate is Ilex paraguariensis.

The vast majority of people in Paraguay take their terer with water-infused herbs such as mint "menta-i" or lemongrass. When not prepared with plain cold water, citrus fruit juices are usually used, although this practice varies depending on the region. While mixing fruit juices with terer is common in northeastern Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, Lime and orange juices are used in Argentina and Paraguay; lime and pineapple juice are more common in Brazil. Terer taken with juice is commonly called "terer ruso" (i.e., Russian Terer) because this practice is more common with Slavic immigrants in the southeast of Paraguay and northeast of Argentina, than with Spanish- and Guaran-speaking Paraguayan people.

In some parts of Argentina, terer is seen as a lesser form of mate, and its drinking hardly ever follows the traditional drinking mate ritual. In Paraguay, by contrast, terer is considered preferable to mate on a hot day.

First invented by the Guarani natives who lived in Paraguay and western Brazil (Mato Grosso do Sul) territory that used to belong to Paraguay before the war of the Triple Alliance Triple, Terer was spread by the dwellers of that region, and for centuries was a social beverage. People usually prepare one jar of natural water and a "guampa" (Spanish) with a "bombilla" (Spanish) which is shared among the group of people. Since Paraguay and Mato Grosso do Sul have a very hot climate, this drink is excellent to refresh the body and can be considered a very low-calorie, non-alcoholic beverage. Additionally, it is an important ritual signifying trust and communion.

Guampas are gourds that can be made from animal horns, usually made from ox horns. Bombillas are metal straws with a filter at the end. (7-10-13)

506. -new- Pera Palais Hotel

We cannot recommend enough the Pera Palais Hotel in Istanbul, newly re-opened and eminently comfortable.  Everybody from Kemal Ataturk to Agatha Christie stayed here back in the recesses of 20th century history.  Now, up on the hill, it is comfortably away from tourist Istanbul, and secret of secret, offers a truly first rate Turkish bath. The New York Times thoroughly agrees with us.  “ Restored to its former glory, the Pera Palace bolsters the luxury lodging market in Istanbul. And with features like an elegant lobby and afternoon tea service, it appeals as much to nostalgia buffs as it does to high-end travelers.” The very gracious general manager, still dealing with a few speed bumps at its opening, patiently attended to our every need.    "Pera Palace Hotel, Mesrutiyet Caddesi, 52; Beyoglu; (90-212) 377-4000" (6-12-13)

505. Benanti Wines

We have drunk their reds, whites, and everything else we can get our hands on.  This is a very reliable very high quality wine producer on Etna, and one can trust everything they produce.Azienda Vinicola Benanti (www.vinicolabenanti.it) is one of the Etna producers to which one must pay attention.  Giuseppe Benanti, as we remember, made his money in pharmaceuticals and has been able to hold steady, relentlessly producing high quality, tapping into the best onologist talent, learning a great deal from small producers whose families have produced wine around Etna for generations.  www.vinicolabenanti.it/en.  Via Garibaldi, 475. 95029  Viagrande. Catania Italy.  +39 095 789 3399 or 78998878 (05-23-13)

504. Palari  Faro 2005

We had a 2005, first in a restaurant near the Pantheon.  Then we went over to Trimani in Rome (a wine merchant dating back to 1821) and got a bottle the size of a magnum.  This wine seems to be a winner every year. Deep pleasure.  The Faro region is very small and only has a few makers, bit Salvatore Geraci of Palari and Giovanni Scarfone of Bonavita do exceptional wines, full but not overwhelming. The Palari has won endless awards, and we over-consumed a 2005.

Jancis Robinson calls Geraci the saviour of the Faro region. (05-23-13)

503. Best Wine Book Tour of Sicily

Robert V. Camuto’s Palmento:  A Sicilian Wine Odysseyis a masterful account of the Sicilian wine trade. It includes wine proprietors we met along the way, and he captures aspects of their character very well. So we get good mini biographies of the exceptional wine growers and producers, a good introduction to the elegant Etna wine production whose luster has tarnished the traditional giants such as Planeta, De Bartoli, etc.  We had not previously grasped that Sicily is the volume grape producer in Italy and that its wines have soared in quality and reputation since, say, the 1980’s. (05-23-13)

502. Joe Morgenstern—Sensible Critic

There are not a whole lot of things that the Wall Street Journal is doing well under Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. But the movie critic is sensible and useful, guiding the reader well on both plot and quality. For instance, do take a peek at his overall picks for 2012, a worthy list.

(01-23-13)

501. Dijon--France's Secret Food Capital

The marvelous Bill Buford is prone to hyperbole and a little bit of bombastic tomfoolery. Recently for the Guardian, he authored "Why Lyon is Food Capital of the World." Make no mistake about it; neither France nor Paris nor Leon leads the world foodwise. But Lyon has put some life into French food, as Paris falters and freezes a bit. New Orleans, in quite a different way, does the same thing for the United States, though the high- end fat cat chains would like to claim that Las Vegas is the capital in waiting.

"In a dining establishment in Lyon, you can eat pig fat fried in pig fat, a pig's brain dressed in a porky vinaigrette, a salad made with creamy pig lard, a chicken cooked inside a sealed pig's bladder, a pig's digestive tract filled up with pig's blood and cooked like a custard, nuggets of a pig's belly mixed with cold vinegary lentils, a piggy intestine blown up like a balloon and stuffed thickly with a handful of piggy intestines, and a sausage roasted in a brioche (an elevated version of a "pig in a blanket"). For these and other reasons, Lyon, for 76 years, has been recognised as the gastronomic capital of France and the world."

"BEST BOUCHON ANYTIME. Daniel et Denise, except it's not a bouchon, it's a restaurant that just happens to serve classic Lyonnais dishes done so expertly that you don't recognise them as classic Lyonnais dishes. The chef, who is neither a Daniel nor a Denise but a Joseph, is another MOF. (An MOF is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France; it's French for "I'm kick-ass, you're not" although, to preserve the force of the abbreviation, the best English translation might be 'MOther Fucker'). Chef Joseph Viola became an MOF in 2004, just before buying Daniel et Denise from Daniel and Denise and quitting his job as chef of the once famous Lyon de Lyon, where you could eat classic Lyonnais dishes done so expertly that only a Michelin inspector could spot them. Lyon de Lyon hasn't seen a Michelin inspector for some time."

Buford waxes over a host of other establishments, which one should know about if Lyon bound. Do understand that once in a while he will get it completely wrong and go on about an establishment previously puffed up by some local scribe. But he gets the general picture. In Lyon and New York, he grasps that very good things happen because of the proximity, close proximity, of very good local ingredients.

(10-31-12)

500. Periyali

We are puzzled as to why we have never gotten around to including Periyali on the Global Province. It is our favorite Greek restaurant in the city, though there are a score of other fine Grecian entries, none of which tumble off of people's lips, but which do offer delightful food. We prefer Periyali for lunch (when the daylight penetrates many of the spaces in the back of the restaurant) or, second best, for any early dinner before it gets too crowded, when it is still pleasant to linger. Down on 20th, off of sixth, it is away from the uptown hubbub. For us musts include Psita Manitaria (oyster mushrooms) and Gigandes Skordalia (giant white beans and garlic sauce). We often have fish but might, for instance, do Kouneli Stifado (Rabbit stewed in tomatoes and wine) now and then. We have been going to the restaurant, almost from its opening, and are pleased, after all these years, to traffic with waiters who have kept us company from the start. The owners have a couple of other restaurants, but this we think, is the jewel in the crown. While Frank Bruni's review for the Times is not particularly astute, he does catch the atmospherics well, noting that it has the same delicious, steady menu that greeted a diner in its early days. He calls it durable: it is. It is a relief to find Manhattan restaurants like this, which are fine, and go on, year after year, under the radar.  http://www.periyali.com/contact.htm Periyali. 35 W 20th Street, New York, New York 10011. Tel. (212) 463-7890.

(10-31-12)

499. Spring Street Patisserie and Baking

So many of the good bake shops in New York City have gone away. Years ago two chaps of our acquaintance ate their way north from 42d Street, only stopping at the fine shops and consuming one pastry at each. The journey up to the 80's took them several hours, for there was so much to consume. Amidst the graffiti of New York's SoHo reside many fine shops and a collection of decent eateries. We are amused that Spring Street, which houses an awful lot of trash, has an outstanding bakery-patisserie at each end, Keith McNally's Balthazar and Dominque Ansel. A blog called Serious Eats does the best job of capturing some of the magic in the bread of Balthasar, as well as its tarts. Likewise, it waxes about Dominque. It is curious that the Times and other mainstream publications do not do a better job on pastry, since New York's fatties are both a literate and sugar loving bunch. Some visitors go to sit down, but we think the secret at these busy shops is to make off with the breads and pastries to one's own house. Balthazar.80 Spring Street New York 10012. 212-343-1274 Domingue Ansel. 189 Spring Street (between Sullivan and Thompson). New York, New York 10012. Tel:(212)-219 -2773

(10-17-12)

498. Turkish Baths

Yes, one should go to Turkey for the Turkish Baths. Right to Istanbul. But not all baths are equal.  So it takes a little searching around. Darrell Hartman has taken a crack at the subject in The Wall Street Journal, September 1-2, 2012, p.D9.  But we cannot tell if he got the hang of the hammams.  The staff at the newspaper does not quite seem to know what it is doing. "Day one found me at Espa, in the chic new Istanbul Edition hotel, steaming in an ultramodern, stove-heated chamber complete with mood lighting." "Luckily, on my next day's itinerary was Ayasofya Hrrem Sultan Hamami, which is very much open for business. High-ceilinged, flooded with sunlight and alive with the sounds of chirping birds and a burbling fountain, the Ayasofya could hardly be more different than the haute-design bunker at the Edition. It also smells pleasantly of cedar, new woodwork being part of the $10 million renovation this 456-year-old bathhouse underwent last summer." "Two days later, I was at the Tarihi Galatasaray Hamami, a 15th-century bathhouse located a short walk up the hill from my hotel in Beyoglu. I'd be lying if I said it was a local secret. But there were no tour buses in sight and no pretension in the decor or anywhere else: The changing rooms resembled barracks. The pestemal felt like a waxed tablecloth. My keseci had a thick mustache, an enormous belly and a dark scowl on his face."

Our own experience would say that you want to avoid too fancy digs or, alternately, large and old establishments that may be over the hill.  We would say you are looking for a small establishment perhaps in a fairly modern hotel.  And probably a hefty woman who can give a vigorous massage, but does not wage war on you. Nonetheless, we would suggest that the reader peruse the visuals associated with the WSJ article.

(09-05-12)

497. Amanyara

We can think of many, many reasons for going to Amanyara. If one is on a short Caribbean holiday, one rejoices upon learning how near it is and how easy it is to reach. To wit, it is virtually a 3 and 3/4 hours ride from New York—one short flight—instead of the 5-hour journey other outposts involve, often requiring two plane trips and maybe even a final boat ride. Once you arrive, you discover that it is entirely free of the Miami- Beach feel that dominates so much of the Caribbean where clusters of hotels; often huge, crummy restaurants; hordes of well-fattened people; and chintzy shopping make one forget that this is suppose to be a visit to an island in the sun.

We had meant to visit an Aman Resort for years, well aware of Aman's beautiful properties in Thailand, Indonesian, Singapore, Jackson Hole, Bhutan, etc. They are artfully designed, well furbished, in harmony with the natural settings in which they find themselves, and, above all, they cater to a small, reasonably decorous audience. For sure, one is not getting away from it all, if a vacation thrusts one up against hundreds of other escapees from world cities who are not inclined to part with most of the knickknacks that fill up their everyday lives. Not at Aman. We have previously described the Aman experience in brief some years ago. It is the non-resort resort.

Amanyara may be even more remarkable than the other Aman properties. Situated on 99 brush- filled acres, it is surrounded by 18000 acres of government park land. It comfortably handles just 220 guests, and one can pass the day seeing very few people, indeed. One stays in a beautiful pavilion, a very comfortable large unit that contemplates the water and verdure about, out of sight of other guest rooms. The architect for Amanyara and many other Aman properties is Jean-Michel Gathy of Denniston. This has led to marvelous views through an abundance of glass, and to the inclusion of several tall structures (such as the main bar) where one has a cathedral sense of space. The staff of 340 includes 27 nationalities: generally then there is hot and cold running help to meet the needs of visitors.

The eminence and visionary behind Aman has been, from the beginning Adrian Zecha, who is certainly responsible for its many virtues and distinctive feel, but, who, equally is responsible for its omissions. Some of the minor flaws are a gym which is not large enough to handle the young and fairly dynamic audience that patronizes Aman. Some logistical matters can fall through the cracks: the staff quite often does not respond to emails in a timely manner, caught up in the leisurely pace of the islands. Departure arrangements at the airport are poorly coordinated. For those who care, the TV exhausts the patience of many guests, but then again, the TV systems in most high end hotels defy ordinary human beings.

Amanyara does not work hard enough at mingling its guests with its spectacular natural setting to include some marvelous plants and rock outcroppings, even though it does have a naturalist on staff. All plants, trees, bushes are native to the islands although many of the larger specimens were brought in from South Florida. The wonderful natural circumstance is the biggest strength of Amanyara, and it should be greatly celebrated, something which could be reinforced with a much better library and a more active gift shop.

A resort, a Caribbean, an Amanyara should be a place to get away from it all. Indeed, uniquely, at Amanyara in Turks and Caicos, you do. Amanyara. Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands. British West Indies. tel  (1) 649 941 8133. email amanyara @amanresorts.com. US toll-free reservations 1 866 941 8133.  See also "Glimmer of Greatness, Global Province Letter, 11 April 2012."

(07-18-12)

496. Four Seasons Boston & Four Seasons Philadelphia

We are puzzled as to why we have never gotten around to singing the praises of the Four Seasons chain of hotels. We have frequented them for some forty years. Over time, particularly during the last couple of decades, management has had to pull in its horns quite a bit, so a luxury here and a nicety there have disappeared. But all in all, this group has held up very well, and its quality generally equals or surpasses that of most of the larger groups that try to cater to high-end travelers. Moreover, we have found that some of its managers do try to make up for the holes that a tough economy has opened up by rendering some personal services that can make a great deal of difference. As Laura Landro, assistant managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, is wont to say, "My idea of adventure travel is anywhere without a Four Seasons hotel." It's a dependable stop.

Coming and going from Europe, we stopped at the Four Seasons in Boston last year. We have been back several times. We notice that its current General Manager—Mr. Bill Taylor—an amiable and able fellow from Northern England—is visible in the lobby during its busiest moments. This is an exception to the general rule—GMs at most hotels hide out in their offices, never but never meeting their customers. He and his predecessors such as Mr. Robin Brown have striven to add a few special touches to this hotel. The concierge desk, which faltered a bit a few years back, has recovered its footing, and his staff can be counted on to run down some obscure vendors or to arrange flowers for celebratory events. Rooms in the front that look out onto the Public Garden and Common make one feel close to trees and verdure, the same intimate sensation that arises in many New England towns. The hotel is close on to everything—the financial district or the shopping district along Boylston and Newbury. The hotel's grand restaurant Aujourd'hui and the pleasant little bar just outside of it have long since disappeared, so one eats in off hours at the ground floor café (Bristol Lounge) which is quite pleasant when not crowded. There's a pool and complete exercise room on the top floor. Somehow the pool reminds one of the very elegant affair on top of the Berkeley in London which, on sunny days, opens up to the skies. Oddly enough, even with its Ritz-rich history, Boston is not a great hotel town, and it a relief to have a Four Seasons, given the unevenness of other venues.

Four Seasons Boston
200 Boylston Street
Boston, Massachusetts
(617) 338-4400

Four Seasons, then, often is the only game in town. This is almost true in Boston, but even more the case in Philadelphia. Its GM has just moved on to Canada, but his replacement has served the world over, and is now coming back to his hometown which is Philadelphia. One can catch a grand view of the redeveloped downtown from one's bedroom window, with abundant green spaces that still have the new look of a town remade but which are bordered by a host of museums and other important buildings. The new Barnes is close at hand, and is attracting an unending stream of art goers. The Fountain Restaurant has gathered raves, and it is spacious and quite comfortable, if not imaginatively appointed. One treat at the Fountain is the inclusion of Philadelphia specialties such as chipped beef and scrapple on the breakfast menu. A particular virtue of this hotel, in its public spaces as well as its rooms, is that one does not feel cramped. Philadelphia, not Boston, is physically the most British city in America, and the structure of its streets and its handsome squares makes this apparent. The Four Seasons itself sits in Logan Square, and yet is adjacent to Philly's narrow streets that may remind one of London.  

Four Seasons Philadelphia
1 Logan Square
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 963-1500 

(06-13-12)

Update: Tweaks at Four Seasons Boston

Over the last year Four Seasons Boston has done some refinements that only make a good thing better. The bathrooms in many of the suites are now positively spacious with much more room to move around and with counter space to put one's toilet articles. Food at any of the Four Seasons has never been anything to write home about, but Boston in particular is trying. Aujourd'hui, its upscale restaurant, and the snug bar outside it, are long gone (there is no decent place to have a drink).   Nonetheless Boston is trying. The room service and restaurant steaks are very much improved.  The tea variety on the ground floor is up to snuff. A wonderful radish plate has been added to the Bristol.  The spa is better administered, and a massage is now worth having.  We hear by the grapevine that more massage rooms are to be added, augmenting the fine exercise room and the comfortable swimming plunge. The staff here is uniformly polite, even at the front desk and concierge desks. (8/14/13)  

495. Christophe

It was an afterthought, on a Tuesday night, and we had been at a loss as to where we might go. We uncovered Christophe in the 5th and took a chance. It was a bit worrisome at first—since it was perched on a rugged turnabout and the doors were not open, though dinner was suppose to have begun. It was wonderful—a nice demeanor; a very gracious, warm owner chef; brains and lamb and other dishes made from the finest ingredients. As our colleague on Spicelines says, it's a comfortable place to visit on one's own.
We've since discovered that we are not the only traveler to have adventured here in pursuit of a solo intimate experience. A young American, studying to be a doctor in New York City, took himself here for a repast, which he recounts in Kevin's MD Stomach. Like ourselves, he is fond of offal. He remarks:

And that's exactly what happened during my lunch at Christophe, a small bistro located in Paris' 5th arrondissement. First off, I have to say that, if not for the multiple positive reviews I had read about the restaurant online, I probably wouldn't have eaten there. Why's that, you ask? Well, just take a look at the font used for the restaurant's banner. It's tough to take a business seriously when it uses the Curlz font so prominently on its storefront and on its website. It's kinda like being the owner of a professional sports team and writing a letter to the fans in Comic Sans after a certain star player "took his talents to South Beach"...oh wait, I guess that's been done, too. So maybe the use of Curlz isn't as egregious as that. After taking a deep breath and putting aside any misgivings I had about the restaurant's taste in computer fonts, I entered the bistro. An hour later, I walked out after enjoying what was perhaps my favorite meal of my entire stay in Paris.

Kevin, of course, backs up our central observation about Paris. It is the offbeat place in the mostly unlikely of spots that will offer the most remarkable experience, outclassing by far the renowned establishments.

For more on Christophe, we would refer you to Alexander Lobrano's Hungry for Paris, which ostensibly covers the 100 best eateries in town thought it certainly misses some of our favorites. Lobrano, we should add, falls in love with some losers, but he provides useful advice to someone who may not have been in Paris for a few years. About Christophe he raves, correctly we might add:

Hidden away in the Latin Quarter, young chef Christophe Philippe's simply decorated bistro with poppy-coloured walls and bare wooden tables is a find for two reasons – his modern French bistro cooking is delicious, and he's open for both lunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday, when most Paris bistros are closed. Philippe, who's originally from Menton, on the Riviera.

This comment appeared in the Guardian where Lobrano names 10 favorite bistros.

Christophe, 8 rue Descartes, 75005 Paris. Phone: 33 (0)1 43 26 72 49.

(11-09-11)

494. Stuffed Deyrolle: The Strange and the Beautiful

Deyrolle has been around since 183l, and has even come back from the dead, after a fire. A taxidermist with a long history, the shop is filled with all sorts of wonderful creatures, particularly as you tour upstairs.  But it also produces a host of literature, and everybody should come away, say, with one of its calendars to present those who don't know about this wonderful shop. Go here and you will discover that it is quite a Noah's Ark, but an ark you want to be on. Elaine Sciolino also is a fine guide for a slide show that captures the feel of the place. Incidentally, it is worth walking the length of Rue du Bac which is littered with treats. Deyrolle. 46 Rue du Bac 75007. Paris. 01-42-22-30-07

(10-12-11)

493. -new- Yam'tcha

Yam'tcha is included in a raft of interesting newer and sometimes smallish restaurants which offer quiet elegance in Paris and a restful dining experience. We stayed for several hours.  Adeline Grattard., the French chef, offers the right plates in an easy progression, easily mixing Western and Eastern styles, reflecting both her French training and her time in the Orient.  Her Chinese husband Chi Wah Chan, across the road, works on companion tea courses that complement her food nicely.  His temperate mood and good cheer is part of what makes this such a companionable place to visit. Yam'tcha (to drink tea).  4 rue Sauval(rue Saint-Honoré) +33-01-40-26-08-07

(10-12-11)

492. Putting Some French in Your Garden

Charlotte Moss, the interior designer, offers up something quite fine for one's exterior. Every year she tours new gardens in France, a few of which illustrate her insights about French natural artistry. One can profit from her gardening axioms, no matter the garden, no matter the style adopted:

1. Let plants and vines trail upwards espalier fashion.
2. Use boxwood, boxwood, boxwood
3. Add some year round color to your garden—such as a colored wooden pavilion.
This is probably her best thought—a natural for a person of furnishings.
4. Have a defined space for eating lunch outdoors in the garden
5. Line paths with hedges and trees.

(8-31-11)

491. -new- Aqua Santa

Brian Knox's Aqua Santa, well reviewed by The New York Times back in 2005, is Santa Fe's best restaurant. Knox has kicked around town for years in other iterations, and has learned to put out a better plate than most. His adobe one-room hacienda restaurant is attractive and restful, a little bit out of the way, well down West Alameda. He's blessed with easy parking, something to appreciate when one is struggling through the very unwieldy downtown. What's most pleasant is to eat lunch here—outside on the open patio deck—where some days you may only encounter 3 or 4 diners. The bread he makes overnight is simply as good as it gets in town, and we have even wrestled away a loaf from him on a couple of occasions. We had braised lamb (local) on our last visit, smartly done so as to deal with the gamey taste of this meat, which, we think, comes from Tierra Amarilla.

Knox is a character, which we like. Others occasionally find him a bit much. We discussed with him the current reluctance of banks to lend to small business, his new, yet to open, hamburger palace which is opening in a tired but up and coming edge of town, and some other aspects of the local food scene. He sat down with two ladies at an adjoining table to show them that he can cut quite a figure. A local sheet has caught his personality pretty well. One can get some feel for the range of the menu in the wandering discourse of a writer for The New Mexican. She calls it "gestalt gastronomy" which is apt, because here one is buying into a state of mind, not just an alimentary experience. (8-31-11)

490. Rick Darke: Gardening with Grasses

Rick Darke’s Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes is the favorite book of the celebrated Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. Darke, once curator at Longwood Gardens, and his wife bring an unusual sensitivity to landscape design. While a fan of native plants, Darke mixes in species from around the globe. And he brings a special skill to the use of grasses. “Many grasses are tough and drought tolerant, like Dewey Blue, a coastal switchgrass that Mr. Darke first spotted years ago while searching for roadside plantings. Ms. Zoehrer, who is now the deputy director of the University of Delaware’s Botanic Garden, has adopted Dewey Blue in her mixed border, where its arching blue-green blades complement the deeper blues and purples of baptisias, irises and salvias.” “Designing with grasses is the subject of Mr. Darke’s latest book, “The Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes,” published by Timber Press in April, but it has a far more global perspective than his earlier books, “The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses” and “The American Woodland Garden,” which emphasized the use of native plants as a means of preserving regional landscapes.” “This new book opens its boundaries to welcome plants from other parts of the world if they can thrive without water, fertilizer and pesticides; if they are not invasive; and if they can harmonize with the surrounding landscape.” (7-7-11)

489. Lisbon Eats!

We think Lisbon is regarded as a poor cousin of Spain, Barcelona, etc. A big mistake. Its food is coming right along, and its chefs show more restraint, striving less for effect than their Iberian neighbors, and more for heartiness and substance. On our recent visits, we found that the idea was to exploit tradition, rather than to rebel against it. In this vein, we bring the reader’s attention to “Lisbon’s Culinary Golden Age,” New York Times, March 11, 2011.  The author, who clearly has not spent that much time in Lisbon, thinks 2009 kicked off something new. “This really started rolling in 2009 — a year that the Go Lisbon blog remarked, “should go down in Lisbon history as the ‘Year of the Chef.’ ” Last year, the acclaimed restaurant Tavares was awarded a Michelin star, only the second in the city’s recent history.”  He highlights:   Alma.  “Alma, Calçada do Marquês de Abrantes 92-94; (351-21) 396-3527; alma.co.pt;   SeaMe. “SeaMe, Rua do Loreto 21; (351-21) 346-1564; peixariamoderna.com”; Largo.  “Largo, Rua Serpa Pinto 10A; (351-21) 347-7225; largo.pt;” Manifesto.  “Manifesto, Largo de Santos 9C; (351-21) 396-3419; restaurantemanifesto.com;” We would, in fact, take you to better restaurants elsewhere in Madrid, but it is fun to see that writers recognize that worthy experiments are underway.  One should look, as well, beyond fish to soups and cabbage dishes. (5-11-11)

488. The Best U.S. Hockey Rink

We’ve seen games at some of the worst.  We would counsel anyone, for instance, to avoid the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center.  This is all due to Hurricanes management, an ownership imported from Detroit that has no understanding of sport, serving bad food, fostering poor sportsmanship, and, above all, generating horrible mindlessness.  As we understand it, the Canes take pride in the fact that it is the loudest park in the leagues, such that electronics, not hockey, is the main feature at a Canes game.

But enough of bad sports and bad sportsmanship.  For a good crowd, nice cheering, and a companionable atmosphere, go to see Yale Hockey at the Ingalls Rink in New Haven. It’s the best.  Designed by Eero Saarinen of Finland, who also did some work on the colleges at Yale, it is handsome inside and out.  The Wall Street Journal rates it the best designed:  we just find it the best, even though many college rinks supply pleasurable hockey, which you can actually see---in stark contrast to many of the NHL parks.  If you are lucky, maybe you will hear the renowned Long Cheer in New Haven, which has been employed in many sports contests, including hockey. (3-16-11)

487. Afternoon Ice Cream

Ladurée. If you can bear some of the customers. Just off to one side of Harrod’s, Ladurée is a relaxing spot after you have ploughed through the crowds in the department store.  The desserts are simply wonderful, and we particularly recommend the ice creams. The only thing that can go wrong is the clientele.  During the last few years, the store has been invaded by men in shirtsleeves with a stubble on their cheeks and a bit of money in their pockets.  They talk obnoxiously and are rude to the wait staff.  Indeed, they should be shown the door.  But that’s only an occasional problem.  If you spot someone of that temperament about, ask to be moved by the very obliging staff.  For a start, visit Ladurée’s website, which is a treat in itself. We can happily recommend any:

Ladurée. 87/135 Brompton Road.  London SW1X.  7XL. 203-155-0111. (12-29-10)

486. Middle East Rugs—Mehmet Centinkaya
Our newfound source of intelligence on artful rugs sent us to Istanbul with an injunction to visit that city’s top merchant---Mehmet Centinkaya.   We were not at all disappointed and viewed a diverse collection of kelims and other textiles that were in handsome condition.  One did not have to wonder about their provenance or whether they had been altered along the way. Centinkaya himself is an interesting personality who migrates easily between East and West, having done a significant portion of his education in Belgium.  It is this comfort in places far and near that makes the most interesting Turks successful traders and vibrant cultural ambassadors. (10-26-10)

485. Super Sake

We read that sake is slipping into the mainstream, such that we may see finer varieties on our menus and in our retailers.  Eric Asimov of The Times, for instance, comments on Sakaya in New York’s East Village.  There is a curious combination of interesting Japanese culture as one works one’s way east from Astor Place.  A good grocery.  For a while, a very fine meat and sushi restaurant which served good sakes and other fine Japanese potions. 

“Rick Smith, who owns the shop with his wife, Hiroko Furukawa, once knew as little about sake as most Americans.” “That was until what he calls “the proverbial aha moment,” a dinner at Jewel Bako, the exquisite sushi restaurant in the East Village, where he first experienced the beauty of good sake in its natural milieu.” “He discovered a shop, True Sake, dedicated exclusively to sake. Unfortunately, it was in San Francisco.”

“You can find in-depth descriptions of sake terminology on the Web sites of Sakaya, sakayanyc.com, and True Sake, truesake.com, as well as in useful guides like “The Sake Handbook,” by John Gauntner, who also has an excellent Web site at sake-world.com”

Sakaya.  324 East 9th Street. New York, NY 10003. 212.505.7253.  http://www.sakayanyc.com/.  For more illumination about sake, see our sake entry .  We would further advise that those interested in sake also investigate some of the rarer Japanese beers and also look into Shochu which is now commonly served at some Japanese restaurants in the U.S.. (08-18-10)

484. Very Fine Mysteries from Abroad

In “Fiction’s Global Crime Wave,” the WSJ takes note of a development that has been abuilding for ten years or so.  Lots of mysteries are cropping up abroad, particularly in Western Europe, but in Asia as well.  More importantly, English translations are pouring into the United States and doing very well at the booksellers, indeed.  “The flood of imported crime fiction is striking given American publishers' longstanding resistance to works in translation. Newly translated books still make up just 3% of titles released in the U.S., according to Bowker, a company that tracks the publishing industry, and translated fiction and poetry make up less than 1%. In many European countries, translated books account for 25% to 40% of titles.” Publishers are putting a lot of emphasis on Nordic thrillers, since Stieg Larsson’s mystery triology has sold 40 million copies worldwide, although we note that many readers are put off by Swedish work. The WSJ online version of this article does include excerpts from some of the mysteries, but apparently does not include the ample if not comprehensive list of foreign mysteries now offered in the States.  We particularly recommend some of the Italian and Italian-American authors. (07-14-10)

483. Scarpetta

Frank Bruni is in love with Scott Conant of Scarpetta.  Perhaps rightly so.  The restaurant is much more pleasant than his previous haunts.  It’s a surprise encounter, down in the meatpacking district, well worth the trip, as long as you have hired a black car, instead of using New York’s increasing knee-crunching cabs.  The front door is anonymous, and the bar up front undistinguished and peopled by the usual sorts.  But if you eat at six, before the noisemakers arrive, you can have an entirely pleasant meal, well lighted from overhead, with generally good service.  There’s plenty of wait staff, and the chap who takes your order is genial and lucid.  Those bearing the food, however, are not only rushed, but they barely speak English, so you cannot begin to grasp their explication of the food set before you.  Bruni moons over the polenta:  “He brings back an appetizer of creamy, cheesy, buttery polenta with morels and preserved truffles that’s one of the best, most decadent things ever to happen to cornmeal.” As well, he gushes about the cod:  “And there’s an entree of black cod with slow-roasted tomatoes and caramelized fennel that I especially admire.” Bruni is a lightweight, but his enthusiasm here is well founded.  We were equally thrilled with the lamb loin served with white beans and pecorino.  The portions are slight, but what else is new?  The wine was just acceptable, and that is not where this restaurant will make its reputation.  Scarpetta is a restaurant that knows most of the moves, even if some of the dining experience eludes it. “Scarpetta, meaning “little shoe”, is often used among native Italians when eating homemade pasta sauces so delightful that every drop must be savored and wiped clean from dinner plates with fresh Italian bread,” but we suspect that sauce is conjured up elsewhere at some other eatery where food and dining progresses at a more stately pace. www.scarpettanyc.com. Scarpetta. 355 West 14th Street.  New York, NY 10014-5001.  (212) 691-0555.  Mon – Thurs: 5:30 – 11pm // Fri & Sat: 5:30 – 12am // Sun: 5:30 – 10:30pm   (06-02-10)

482. London Bookshops Worth an Hour

You can count the number of truly worthy London bookshops that deserve a hour or two of perusing on one hand.  There’s a bedraggled district of used book stores that only exists to depress the visitor.  Fairly close at hand to the better hotels are three that delight the soul. There you can even find small imprints that will make a special present for  good friends.  Many Americans know of Heywood Hill on Curzon managed by Mr Kerr.  He sends out frequent short bulletins on new items that are hard to find which sometimes make it to the States six months or so later.  It has a special feel for biography, and we have found there memoirs and letters of  notable literary figures. Magg Brothers Rare Books on Berkeley Square is a welcome stop as one is wending towards Allen’s, the butcher, or to the Connaught for a drink.  It dates back to 1853.  In the early 20th century it bought Napoleon’s penis;  more significantly it regularly has paid huge prices for very rare finds.  Yet older is Henry Southeran, a rare book store right in the heart of Piccadilly on Sackville Street.  It’s easy to miss, and, appropriately, is mustier than our other selections. Yet its catalog is very lively, offering posters, featuring a fair number of works that have been made into movies. We would call it a playful bookshop. (05-19-10)

Update: John Sandoe Ltd.

“On my trip last October, though, my pal Hadyn Williams urged me to visit John Sandoe (Books) Ltd., in Chelsea, a suggestion that eventually cost me plenty in overweight luggage fees.

When John Sandoe founded John Sandoe (Books) Ltd. in 1957, the premises housed a poodle-grooming parlor, a junk shop and a secretarial agency. Mr. Sandoe ran the store until his retirement in 1989, when the employees bought it from him, continuing to run it along the same unorthodox business principles. This is to say that crammed into three stories of the 18th-century structure at John Sandoe (Books) Ltd. are books stacked on tables, on the floor, on the risers of the corkscrew stairway and shelved in places two or more deep. There are 24,320 volumes, 22,790 of them single copies, at last count, said Dan Fenton, one of three current owners of the store.

We leave things on shelves much longer than accountants at chain stores would have you do it, regardless of whether they are going to sell in two years, Mr. Fenton remarked, pushing aside a pile of books to make room for the one I was busy creating.

In it stood the heady Orientalist novel Vathek by the great art collector and patron William Beckford; copies of Jane Gardams wonderful Old Filth bought as presents for friends; the collected letters of the Sicilian duke, unexpected Anglophile and genius Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa; every available reprint of the diaries of James Lees-Milne, a man the famed art historian Bernard Berenson once characterized with a typical lack of charity as rather stern, melancholy, youngish-oldish James Lees-Milne, secretary of society for the preservation of country seats.
(March 27, 2013)

481. Oishii

Oishii Boston is certainly the best Japanese restaurant in town—and it merits lots of visits.  We ourselves have been there 4 times in the last couple of months.   It is an anomaly in a town where the fish restaurants should be the best in America and in which one should find a raft of fine Japanese eateries.  Boston Harbor does produce some of the most remarkable fish, such that it is desired throughout the country and –yea—the world.  But neither the fish houses nor the sushi bars are great.  Recently we even had tired old fish in a favored Italian restaurant—the bream a contrast to that we had just had in Lisbon and to the beautiful bream pictured by Luis Meléndez at a recent show at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Remarkably Oishii does not really do an outstanding a job on it sushi which lacks taste and suppleness. This is not where its art lies. A diner should skip the chef’s selections on the menu for this reason.  What one wants is an assemblage of fish on a platter which can be nicely tiered.  Varieties of the squid, neatly sliced into small bits, are delightful.   As one carefully picks and chooses, other things come off quite special—broiled edamame, the ink (squid) noodles, a handroll of salmon skin or alligator.  Their cocktails can be refreshing:  one of our number discovered a shisojito which includes mint, limejuice, Grey Goose Le Citron, and sudachi. We have challenged the staff to make some other dishes not on the menu, and they have responded with great success.  Oishii is a calm, restful restaurant with well-chosen greys and low volume, artful music.  The restaurant is very out of the way, way over on Washington Street, not a district in which you should be walking around at night. After dinner, the staff is not at all skilled in summoning taxicabs, and one is advised to have the name of a service in hand, calling it well before you are to leave Oishii. Oishii.  1166 Washington Street. Boston, Mass. 02118-4113. 617- 482-8868  www.oishiiboston.com. (04-21-10)

480. Doca Peixe

This must be one of Lisbon’s greatest treats.  Very fresh fish.  Copiously attentive service. But a relaxed atmosphere right on the river, away from the sometimes choked streets in the heart of town.  Frommer’s, the New York Times, and all the rest have sung its praises:  for a change they have got it right.  You can pick your fish when you come in the door.  A table upstairs, near the window, gives you a wonderful view. You might have John Dory (Peixe Galo) or razor clams, or clams bulhão pato.  The roe from your fish will be served as a side dish, affording yet another unusual flavor.  Recently we liked Piexe so much that we ate their twice in the same week.  Doca.Peixe.  Doca de Sto. Amaro Amazém 14, Alcantara 1350—353. Lisboa Tel-213-973-565. www.docapeixe.com (04-07-10)

479.  Ottolenghi

In fact, we had long been eating at Otto Lenghi before we tried it in London.  For it has produced a first class cookbook--Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.  It’s both fun to look at and a guide to some very good cooking. We must have had 12 dishes at the location in Islington which is where you should go to be assured of a seat. By the way, it also does breakfast.  You will find its recipes to be strikingly original, even pushing the envelope, but all easy to handle.  We remember best somehow a piece of tuna artfully done and amounting to super sushi.  Here and there in London, there are a rush of new restaurants that are truly edgy, the kitchen usually staffed by bright stars from outside the United Kingdom.  Ottolenghi Islington.  287 Upper Street. London N1 1TZ. Tel:  020 7288 1454   www.ottolenghi.co.uk.  (04-07-10)

478. Local  11 Ten
Savannah presents its challenges to the wayfarer. It’s a wonderful town haunted by history, elevated by its wonderful green squares that set it apart from all other American Cities, distinguished by its halting but occasionally inspired ventures into the arts.  The songsmith of the 20th century—Johnny Mercer—hailed from here and some knowledgeable visitors go out to his grave to pay homage.  But truly distinguished hotels or inns are elusive, even though room prices are generally cheap, the town lacking for trade.  If you head to the river for food, you may harvest a case of indigestion.  But out just far enough in the opposite direction is Local 11 Ten, where 20 of us had an excellent meal and good service one night, with nary a complaint from any of our number.  The website menu does not do the restaurant justice, since our food was much better and more innovative than it suggests. We would only have a couple of the appetizers, such as the squid ink pasta or the charcuterie..  But we remember good entres as well.  So call ahead to see if there’s something to your liking on the menu for the night.  The restaurant has parking, so it’s an easy adventure wherever you are staying.  Local 11 Ten.  http://www.local11ten.com 1110 Bull Street. Savannah, Georgia 31401. 912-790-9000  (02-10-10)

477. Charleston Eating
The food in Charleston has always been a mixed bag.  The most intensely touristy areas have a raft of bad, overpriced restaurants, and one is advised to move to the margins where some good places hide out.  For instance, the fish stew at Fig is well worth your while.  The restaurant gets a little too jammed: you are up against your neighbor and a waitress may forget your wine in the rush of events.  So it’s wise to try to eat here during a lull.   Last time in town, our best meal was at Anson’s where all the food was fine, but where we particularly remember the grits.  They were the best we’ve had in our life, and we don’t even like grits.  The raw material comes from Anson Mills, but the big secret is that the grits are freshly ground and made each day. The chef has since moved on, but we are hopeful that the owners will maintain this gem.  Fig Restaurant.  www.eatatfig.com 232 Meeting Street. Charleston, N.C. 29401-3134. 843-805-5900.  Anson Restaurant http://www.ansonrestaurant.com/menu.html  12 Anson Street. Charleston, N.C. 29401.  843-577-0551. (01-20-10)

476. The Robert Palmers
We have talked at length about songsmith Robert Palmer who was a stylish fellow with a great graphic sense who regaled us with songs that had both harmony, wit, and endless hip.  So you can read at length about him in the “Post-Consumptive Society”  and  “Yes We Can—Yes We Can.”  He was snatched from us much too early, done in by an amalgam of physical complaints .  He’s not to be confused with the interesting New York Times popular music critic Robert Palmer recently portrayed by his daughter Augusta in The Hand of Fatima  and commemorated in a new anthology of his work Blues and Chaos.  We learn from “In Search of a Father in Search of the Blues,” that the favorite place in the world of this Arkansas boy was Jajouka in Morocco where he discovered a band Master Musicians of Jajouka which became an obsession and passion for him. (01-20-10)

475. Patriotic Punch—Fish House

Back in 2006 we told you all you ever needed to know about Fish House Punch.  Finally, the Wall Street Journal (March 21-22, 2009, P. W8) and other publications have caught up with this concoction, which, we can attest, will truly put you under the table.  A couple of fellows took a fall at one party we gave.  The WSJ also notes that the club that is home to this drink has also been variously called the Schuylkill Fishing Company and the State in Schuylkill.  The WSJ goes through some of the permutations the drink has taken.  Its recipe for the drink is slightly sissified, so we suggest you take ours to heart. And, to be sure, it’s a drink for summer, around some American holiday or another. (11-11-09)

474. Vin Jaune

We frankly did not know a lot about the Jura until we happened to start sipping vin jaune, as individual a wine taste as you are likely to encounter.  It harbors a taste of sherry, and like sherry it is matured in a barrel under a film of yeast, but it is not fortified. To learn more about the wine and the region, we’d suggest a lovely article “Jura the Obscure,” Gourmet, March 2008, pp.102-109. “If vin jaune tastes like no other wine, it is simply because it is like no other.”  The best come into their own after 20 years, and the wine is said to hold up for as much as 60. “Though politically divided between France and Switzerland, gastronomically the High Jura is one.”  The region produces remarkable cheeses.  “A little over a century ago, absinthe was the major industry of the High Jura town of Pontarlier.”  “The cheese known variously as Vacherin du Haut-Doubs, Vacherin Mont D’Or, or, more simply, Mont D’Or, is in some ways the most distinctive product to have emerged from these mountains.”  Surely anyone who wanted to visit the gods of cheeses would go up Mont D’Or, bringing back to us the holy confections.  One time to visit the Jura is during the The Percée du Vin Jaune, “A Festival to Celebrate A Fabled Wine,”  New York Times, January 20, 2008, a good way to shake off the rigors of winter. (11-11-09)

473. Hotel Adler

You will feel like you are getting away from it all—at the Hotel Adler.  There is rather too much bustle around the brand name hotels, and the grand old Palace is now a fallen angel, captured, as it is, by an American hotel chain. You don’t even have to stay at this boutique hotel to enjoy it..  In the lobby you can have a very pleasant drink, free of the madding crowd.  Or, for breakfast, resort to the small, elegant dining room. In one review, we saw that one guest had even complained about too much service:  we found it just right, as the staff quickly took care of wrinkles in the room (not enough hangers and other such trivia), booked train tickets for us correctly as opposed to one elaborate hotel in Cordoba, and recommended simple eateries when we were tired of the new chemical liquefied El Bulli cooking that has emigrated to Madrid from Barcelona.  Yes, there are things that could be improved, but the staff helps one work around them. The hair dryers choke up when heated, so a lady’s hair will not get dry.  The front desk simply gives one an extra dryer to get around the problem.  There’s no computer room, but the staff will let you use the hotel’s notebook when things are not too busy.  The front desk actually knows a few things that count:  one chap in reception actually had been to the Sorolla Museum several times, and could sing its virtues to us .Located in the Barrio Salamanca, the hotel is situated at Goya and Velazquez, handy to some stylish shopping, but away from the most trafficked areas of town. Pascua Ortega, a designer of some renown, did the interiors.  The Adler Hotel.  Calle Velazquez 33, Goya 31 - 28001 Madrid Spain. Tel: +34 914 263220.  Toll Free USA/Canada: +1 866 376 7831 http://www.adlermadrid.com/.  (10-14-09)

472. Maine’s Midcoast Eateries (Hugo’s, Primo, Francine’s)
These are good restaurants, but we recommend against all 3 of these highly acclaimed eateries. Each tries a degree of complication that is unnecessary, their furnishings and seating are a little tortured, and the prices are unmerited.  The best of the three is Primo in Rockland which we understand has had its ups and downs, but it apparently it is on the way up again.  All three take unconscionably long to get food on the table. 

The phenomenon we are describing here is happening a lot in America’s regions. The upside is that young chefs, tutored elsewhere, but none of them masters, can become minor sensations at the edge of the map. Sometimes they attempt less pretentious restaurants somewhere in town, such as Duck Fat in Portland, just down the street really from Hugo, which fit local budgets and also fit the real skills of the chefs involved.  Unfortunately, too, the cooking magazines have hyped such places, and it has gone to everybody’s head—customers and proprietors and local newspapers alike.  In Maine, their prices and hype are inflated yet again by summer desperation:  the Maine shore must make its money in a few short months, and so it has become an astute practitioner of the golden fleece.

Every day a new piece of puffery rears its head. The latest, “In Portland’s Restaurants, A Down East Banquet,” New York Times, September 16, 2009. Mentioned are 158 Pickett St. Café,  Evangeline, Bresca, Miyake, Paciarino, Bar Lola, Cinque Terre, Vignola, etc..  So we still have a lot of eating to do.  We have particularly heard good things about Miyake. For the truly compulsive, we can recommend Portland Food Coma and Portland Food Map as guides to make sure you are not missing some significant hole in the wall. Food and Wine recently has sung the praises of Caiolas in the West End.

Hugo’s  pushes very small dishes at you that have high tariffs.  Our aggressive waitress tried to get us to have 5 apiece.  We did 2 or 3 instead.  Everything turns out all right, and it is a bit fun to have chicken liver, or tripe, or sweetbreads, but not worth all the commotion of a return visit. Evans owns Duckfat down the street where we had better service, a nicer atmosphere, food worth what you paid for it, etc. Hugo’s. 88 Middle Street.  Portland, Maine. 207-774-8538.  In general, one will find other spots around Portland unnoted by the national press which offer better food, service, and atmosphere.  For instance, try a Sunday brunch at 555 where the service is, in fact, excellent. Or try some of the places we’ve mentioned above.

Primo’s in Rockland handles a big crowd and has a surprisingly large kitchen.  You will probably leave $200-300 on the table.  Though its website does not represent its fare very well, several of our party had at least one successful dish.  For instance, we had a handsome octopus starter.  The kitchen did not stint on portions:  no false economies here. Notice that chef/owner Kelly now has restaurants in both Florida and Arizona, so attention has wandered a bit. The old manse housing the restaurant is modestly charming, but there’s a sardine effect since too many tables abut each other. We notice that it’s worth trying to get into a room with less seats, where the ambience and decorum are a bit better. Goodness knows why the owners called it Primo’s, since that makes it sound like a 1950’s restaurant in Yonkers where every dish is replete with tomato sauce. We remember that most of the fish seemed to turn out, though some lobster or crustacean was less than it should be Primo’s. 2 South Main Street, Rockland, Maine.  1-207-596-0770

Francine’s.  Francine Bistro’s best feature is its website:  its lively and fun.  Things are rather animated inside the restaurant, but it mainly adds up to noise, so one wants to get a table off to the right where a diner can have 6 degrees of separation from the slurry of drinkers in the main area.  As we remember, we had lobster here, and it was quite pedestrian.  What you find in Maine is that the best lobster you have is the one you cook for yourself, or eat at some modest low end places that usually tend to be right on the water.  If you are in Camden, for instance, it’s worth a drive to South Thomaston to eat at water’s edge at Waterman’s.  The brother catches the lobster, so you can see the traps sitting not far from you.  And the sister runs the restaurant. Francine’s.   55 Chestnut Street. Camden, Maine. 207-230-0083.  (09-30-09)

471. Best of Sports

We’re not interested in who is taking steroids. Or why some egotistical owner is down on a coach or a player. We’re creating this section on sports to celebrate the best—the best writing, the best sportscasting, players who soar, and particularly the less commercialized sports—like croquet, and polo, perhaps cricket, fly fishing—that are more or less free of Hollywood, silly discussion on the cable channels, and skillion dollar bonuses.  In other words, we’re interested in sport, and will find ways to report on it here.

5. In-Line Hockey Never Quite Scores.  “In Rolling, but Not on a Roll,” The New York Times talks about how the luster has come off in-line hockey, which, back in the 90s, looked to be the sport that would capture the hearts of every male age 15-30.  The owners of upcoming teams tried to relocate with Fox Sports, looking for more money that they were getting from ESPN. They wound up with no network TV.  Today, across the nation, enthusiasts come out at night, addicted as ever, but they have to earn their real money at another job.  The teams have a hard time meeting expenses such as transportation:  one can forget about any real salaries.  In-line is pleasurable to watch, and it’s easy to get seats close up to the rink. Skaters slither around so fast that one would think they are on ice.  This is yet another sport that has attracted a passionate following, and generates a faith and a zeal that is lacking in more commercialized professional sports. www.inlinehockeycentral.com is the best place to follow developments in the sport. (3-16-11)

4.  William Hazlitt on Boxing.  Oft as not, the best writers on sports do not come from the sports world.  Just now we are reading John Updike’s meanderings about golf.  We cannot recommend highly enough William Hazlitt’s “The Fight.”  An English essayist of the highest order, he shed light on a host of  subjects in the 19th century.  Can you not sense the excitement that Hazlitt feels at his first fight:  “Reader, have you ever seen a fight? If not, you have a pleasure to come, at least if it is a fight like that between the Gas-man and Bill Neate. The crowd was very great when we arrived on the spot; open carriages were coming up, with streamers flying and music playing, and the country-people were pouring in over hedge and ditch in all directions, to see their hero beat or be beaten. The odds were still on Gas, but only about five to four. Gully had been down to try Neate, and had backed him considerably, which was a damper to the sanguine confidence of the adverse party. About two hundred thousand pounds were pending.” (12-15-10)

3.  NBA 2009 Draft Recap. The National Basketball Association staged its draft at Madison Square Garden on June 25, 2009.  Our handicapper, Angus Dunk, sorts through the selections, telling us which teams got the pick of the litter.  We wonder how headhunters would do if they had to pick their way through America’s executive bench as some convention center  in order to fill out the ranks of their corporate clients.  See Dunk’s picks here.

2.King Croquet.  Croquet is still a civilized sport, meant to be played with keenness, but in low tones, and with a small gathering of spectators sipping summer cocktails n the background.  But, in “A Shot at Greatness,” Garden and Gun, September 2009, pp.67-73, it pleasures one to learn how Archie Burchfield, a back country tobacco farmer from Stamping Ground, Kentucky, took on all the nabobs of the sport and swept them all away. In 1982 Archie and his son Mark took the USCA championship in New York’s Central Park.  “On grass, he went on to win the national double titles again in 1987 (with Damon Bidencope), two national club-team championships, and numerous regional titles.  Despite rarely having the means to travel to many competitions or to play close to full-time, he remains fifth in the USCA’s overall cash prizes ranking… In 1995, he was inducted into the United States Croquet Hall of Fame.” (09-30-09)

1. The NHL Draft 2009. We learn from our European friends that they don’t know what a draft is, so we would we spell it out for them. The National Football League’s Bert Bell invented it in 1935 as a device for spreading the talent around and for putting some sort of cap on player salaries. It’s a formalized selection process that guarantees that every team will get a crack at top players so that the title doesn’t go every year to the cities with the biggest market such as New York.  The National Hockey League did not adopt the draft until 1963. Our roving reporter Angus Dunk has taken a look at this season’s selections and told us how he thinks the teams made out.  Read his comments here.

470. Winning on the SATs

So your brilliant but unappreciated youngster wants to go to an Ivy League college.  We suppose he or she has to get high SAT scores to stand a chance of getting admitted. There’s a host of good coaching services that might work.  Kaplan, owned by the Washington Post, is perfectly decent, for instance.  But an old friend of the Global Province, Al Benthall, swears by Chyten where he actually taught. We sort of think its secret is that it uses people who actually have some high-level credentials.  Al did his work for Chyten in the Washington, D.C. area, prior to joining a college in Charlotte.  Here is what he has to say about it:

“What's the best way for nervous high school students to prepare for the infamous SAT?  How about a little one-on-one tutoring with an experienced educator who knows the ropes? That's the formula for Chyten Educational Services, and the results speak for themselves.  Students who prepare for the SAT with Chyten experience an average score increase of 274 points, the highest in the country. The Massachusetts-based company was founded in 1984 by CEO and Founder Neil Chyten as a local alternative to the "one-size-fits-all" approach of gargantuan test-prep corporations.  Chyten realized that the key to success was to fine-tune each session to the needs of the individual student.  And who better to achieve this goal than top-flight educators who have been in the trenches for years?   Chyten began handpicking experienced teachers and training them for up to 100 hours in his own proprietary SAT test-taking strategies. Chyten hires only MAs and PhDs, pays them more than other services, and operates all sessions out of local centers where tutors spend their time teaching rather than driving to students' homes. Unpaid travel time is a common complaint among tutors, and is the main reason for high turnover in the tutoring industry.  Chyten's winning formula allows him to attract and retain the best tutors in the field. 

Take my own case, for example. I tutored SAT Reading and Writing at the Chyten center in Gaithersburg, Maryland.  With a PhD in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I’ve taught in college classrooms for fifteen years and have also done private tutoring. The tutorials end up being great fun, and it's incredibly rewarding to watch the students' test scores rise.  Neil Chyten's strategies are a tremendous asset in that regard.  He's done the legwork to simplify the SAT for these kids.  Once they get a vision of how the test really works, their confidence goes through the roof.

As The Boston Globe noted in 2003, Chyten's tutoring strategies "can be enough to boost scores to heart-thumping numbers."  Since its founding, Chyten has have helped more than 20,000 students achieve their academic goals.  The company now has a total of 19 centers nationwide in AZ, CT, MA, MD, NY, NJ, NC and PA.   They've also been featured by National Public Radio, USA Today, and The Lexington Minuteman. (08-12-09)

469. Philadelphia’s Gardens

At the end of the day, Philadelphia is a somewhat heavy-spirited town, and its trappings are usually dowdy.  If you are at a party of New Yorkers and Philadelphians, you can usually expect the delphians to be more tightly corseted, slower of conversation, hair pulled back, often without cosmetic appeal.  Yet the city and its environs has a huge, remarkable strength—beautiful gardens.  Buried in the New York Times (June 5, 2008, pp.C31-34), one discovers “Philadelphia’s Garden of Delights,”  not in itself a tempting article, but an introduction to Philadelphia’s best temptation—its gardens.  The authoress visits Bartram’s and 4 well known affairs in the suburbs. She draws from a more comprehensive list offered by Greater Philadelphia Gardens.  And there are many more luscious beds to be seen if you can get connected with local gardeners.  Earlier in the year, before the bloom is on the rose, one should take in the Philadelphia Flower Show, which historically has enjoyed tremendous renown.  Only 30 miles away, still part of Pennsylvania but really an outgrowth of Wilmington, is Longwood Gardens,  Pierre’s DuPont’s remake of the Pierce Farm.  For those deeply in love with gardens, we also suggest a peek at Sharon White’s Vanished Gardens: Finding Nature in Philadelphia, which is reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin in Phillyskyline.com, September 2008. Incidentally, R. Bradley Maule’s Phillyskyline.com is in itself remarkable, and surely is first class reading for anyone wanting to understand our country’s colonial capital.

468. The Jockey Club
The Jockey Club is back and handsomely so.  The Fairfax Hotel and its storied Jockey restaurant have had their trials.  The hotel dates back a ways, and the Gore family (yes, the one that has migrated to the global warming business) took it over in the early 1930’s.  Al Jr. was really brought up here, the Gores as much from Washington, D.C. family, as they were from Tennessee.  The restaurant,  started in the ‘60s by Louis and Jimmy Gore, was the place where everyone went—from Jackie Kennedy to members of the Ratpack. It is well to read the history of the hotel, which includes a great deal of detail on the Jockey Club, which captures some of the romance of the place, although we await a much better history that is less of a puffpiece.  For a while the Fairfax was renamed the Ritz Carlton when John Coleman out of Chicago took over the  place, and the restaurant was eventually abolished in 2001.  It has taken a considerable effort to put Humpty Dumpty back together, particularly the restaurant.  The bar alone had to be located and retrieved.  Habitues of both the hotel and particularly the restaurant, we did not know it had been reincarnated.  On a whim, we called the Fairfax to find out what had taken its place:  lo and behold, a pretty good version of the old creature is back on the davenport.


It has not regained its cachet.  Washingtonians don’t feel obliged to show up, and several more trendy places with average to bad food have taken up the slack.  We warn you to watch out for them:  Washington is not a real restaurant town, and it features an awesome list of expensive, much over-rated dives.  The Jockey Club is a real treat, with a restful atmosphere and truly good, one would say classic food. Do understand that this is a changed restaurant, with only two of the staff from the old days, but it reminds one of the old days. The hotel’s management has not understood how to properly promote it, so it has not yet found a deep audience. Now part of a chain in all senses, it lacks a merchant director who can summon up magic.  One old Washington grande dame with whom we frequently dined and who went to the original at least once a week just remarked to us that it has fallen beneath the radar.


One can enjoy the atmosphere of the place as much as the food: some have said it is Washington’s 21 club, but frankly its food and atmosphere are nicer.  Of all things it now has a Scottish cook, but he delivers.  Since the local newspapers have done a lousy job of reviewing this gem. In fact, one of the reasons Washington falls short foodwise is that it lacks good food journals and critics.


We probably arrived at 8:30 PM and found it maybe 1/3 filled.  Between us we had the steak tartare, veal shortbreads, steak diane, and a chocolate soufflé, all done very well.  We asked for innovation on one dessert, and that was a failure..  Some local critic knocked the tartare, but it was actually fine.  Not only was every dish prepared well, but each was very ample.  None of the new cuisine here:  the food filled one’s plate and while sightly it did not try to look like a concoction from a design magazine.  This is as good as it gets in Washington.      


The waiters were generally practiced and polite.  Two grievous mistakes occurred.  Though there was plenty of space towards the back, we were jammed up front, clearly a convenience for the staff, but not most conducive to quiet conversation.  Worse, as the evening progressed and the dining room cleared, the waiters changed the linens and started setting up for breakfast, with a bit of clatter, creating a general loss of decorum.  We complimented them on “showing their laundry.”  There’s a bit of a need for an iron hand in the restaurant and the hotel. (05-06-09)

Update 468:  Home of the Jockey

Update:  We forgot to give you the address.  First off, The Luxury Experience provides a very good feel for what the Fairfax and the Jockey Club hold in store for you.  Secondly, it’s just a stone’s throw from DuPont Circle.  The Jockey Club.  2100 Massachusetts Avenue.  Washington, D.C. 20008. 202-835-2100.  http://www.thejockeyclub-dc.com/ (06-24-09)

 

467. Kramerbooks

The point in going to Kramer’s, a bookstore, is not the books. It’s an atmosphere place, sort of an antidote to DuPont Circle, that hideaway people in 1984 would go to in order to escape Big Brother and the organized world.  A chap who once looked at bookshops in Washington concluded as much.  For that matter we have a hard time taking Washington seriously bookwise anyway. We approached one of the clerks for some information on the shop, and he gave us short shrift, clearly not wanting to truck with a potential customer.  But, in the back, is a good café for an inexpensive breakfast where the waiters actually try very hard to please.  And in the bar-café, we chatted with a buxom lady who was most jovial, and who dished out the tokens to the bathroom which is a couple of floors up. So look at this as a getaway that, incidentally, is not charging the ridiculous prices that are par for the course in Washington, even in the worst dives. What Bill Kramer shares in common with Washingtonians is a passion for grand ideas that have absolutely no connection with reality on the ground, or the banalities of this Federal City.

466. Best American Legal Series

We say American, because surely Rumpole of the Bailey is the best of all the long running legal shows, the product of the marvelous partnership between writer John Mortimer and actor Leo McKern.  Mortimer, who has just died, had an outsized life with a fondness for the drink and women, but a capacity to do scads of legal work, some on great causes, and to create a literary output that was daunting.  Boston Legal is the American winner, by far, combining very, very droll doings at a Boston law firm with courtroom discussion of many, many of the serious issues of our time---executions, drug development processes, legal treatment of minorities, and on and on. Both are available on DVD, both are inordinately fun, and both ultimately take the law—its uses and disuse—quite seriously. (02/18/09)

465. Subtle Cabernets
“The prevailing style of Napa cabernet today emphasizes power, weight and extravagance, but Frog’s Leap is one of a small but significant number of cabernet producers that form a kind of alternate Napa universe.  They are making wines of balance and restraint that are a direct link to Napa’s past, when wines like the Inglenook forged the region’s reputation as a source of great cabernet sauvignon wines.”  See New York Times, August 19, 2008.  “You don’t hear much about these sorts of wines today.  Critics and consumer publications largely ignore them while reserving their highest scores for the sweet and plush set.”  Eric Asimov claims that the following vineyards are pursuing a more restrained, balance course:  Chateau Montelena, Clark-Claudon Vineyards, Clos du Val, Continuum, Corison Winery, Dominus Estate, Dyer, Forman Vineyard, Frog’s Leap, Grgich Hills, HdV Vineyards, Heitz Cellar, J. Davies, Joseph Carr, Konnsgaard, Mayacamas Vineyards, M. by Michael Mondavi, Rubicon Estate, Seps Estate, Smith-Madrone, Spottswood Estate, Tom Eddy Wines, Trefethen Family Vineyards, Truchard Vinyards, and White Rock Vineyards.  (11/19/08)

464. -new- Grenouille
We recently turned to San Pellegrino’s list of 50 best restaurants, only to discover that La Grenouille in New York city is not included.  We should not be surprised: the list is defective in many regards and certainly does not include many of the best but does list many that should be eliminated.  Nor, for that matter, is San Pellegrino the world’s best fizzy water.

La Grenouille provides instant relief from New York City.  It is attractive, there are always gorgeous flowers in attendance, you are not chockablock up against other patrons, the food is pleasing but not chefstar instrusive, and the service is instant and comfortable sporting waiters who don’t bring their problems to your table.

Most recently Graydon Carter’s Vanity Fair has given it a lovely write-up, capturing some of its appeal.  Carter is now a pretend restauranteur, having taken over the Waverly Inn downtown, which has become a spot where all the petite celebrities want to be seen.  “An Immovable Feast” nicely states the obvious: La Grenouille goes on while all the other grande dame French restaurants in New York City have melted away. With all of that, one should know that it only dates back to 1962.  Before that a bevy of restaurants had occupied the space.  “In 1942, the downstairs space was occupied by a restaurant named La Vie Parisienne; Edith Piaf sang there once.  Eleven more restaurants and nightclubs would try the space, ending with the Copenhagen, whose kitchen fire concluded their tenure, leaving the building free for its rightful occupants to find it.”

“Every president since Kennedy has come, except for George W. Bush.  Both Charles Masson the father and Charles Masson the son were ardent Democrats—in fact, when President Nixon came for dinner, the teenage Charles Masson refused to come to the restaurant and shake his hand.  (Giselle, who was a Republican until George W. Bush, was furious with her son.)”  “There are now eight tall vases throughout the room, along with the little vases for the tables. (The flower budget for 2007 was $200,000.  That price is for the flowers alone.  Charles goes every Monday to the Flower District, picks out what he needs, and arranges them himself.  If a florist were to do this the cost would be quadrupled).”  Christine Ebersole, an entertainer of increasing note, has regaled us with tales of her special visit to La Grenouille with Dina Merrill. As it turns out she had a spirited conversation with Bill Donaldson, former SEC chairman and one of the founders of the investment banking house DLJ.  It seems that a few of the powerful do dine there, not to be seen, but to relax and converse.  La Grenouille, 3 East 52nd Street, New York, New York 10022.  212-752-1495. http://www.la-grenouille.com.  (11/19/08)

463. Best Re-union
Some 28 years ago some chaps, once cricket buddies, decided to perpetuate their kinship through annual walkabouts.  Cedric Lumsdon recounts their get togethers—all about walks, and conversation, and good eats, and lots of drink. Just click here to read his remarks.

462. Bruni’s Top Ten New Places
Frank Bruni of the New York Times is not the world’s most inspired restaurant critic.  But we thought he was a help when he did his list of 10 top new picks around the country (February 27, 2008, pp. D1 and D8).  “New,” of course, is a word that can be stretched, and more than one of his choices has been around the block a few times.  Be that as it may, his choices are: Central Michel Richard (Washington), Cochon (New Orleans), Coi (San Francisco), Fearing’s (Dallas), Fraiche (Culver City, CA), Guy Savoy (Las Vegas), Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink (Miami), O Ya (Boston), Tilth (Seattle), and Ubuntu (Napa, CA).

The only one of the bunch with an attractive website is O Ya: we notice that husband and wife teams at restaurants often pay as much attention to the front of the house as the kitchen. Perhaps it is no accident that Bruni put it on the top of his list. It is an unusual enjoyable place characterized by more informality than we expected with a heterogeneous array of music in the background.  (11/5/08)

461. Sake
We’ve been drinking sake for 40 years, and know nothing about it.  In our dotage, we will begin to learn.  A good place to begin is Nipponia.  “The techniques used to make sake are unique in the world.  Rice is milled to a fine white grain and steamed, and then two simultaneous processes are made to occur—the rice is broken down into sugar through the action of koji microorganisms, and at the same time the sugar is fermented into alcohol through the action of a natural yeast.”  “The Japanese brewers used cold pasteurization to kill harmful bacteria, following a technique just like the one developed independently by the bacteriologist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895).  What Western scientists found especially striking was that this method had been in use in Japan for more than 300 years before Pasteur.”  “Sake has the highest alcohol content.  You might argue that whisky, brandy, Japanese shochu and Chinese maotai have a far higher alcohol content, but technically you would be wrong!  It is true that the alcohol by volume in these liquors is two or three times higher than sake, but that is because the alcohol content has been artificially concentrated through distillation.  Before the distillation process, whisky mash has an alcohol content of only 6%, the fruit mash for brandy measures 10%, and the base for maotai, about 5%.  Sake mash has an alcohol content of up to 22%, by far the highest of any naturally fermented beverage.”  “The second reason why sake is distinct from other alcohols of the world is its wily use of three major types of microorganisms found in the natural environment: fungi, bacteria and yeast.  Every other popular alcohol, whether beer, whisky, brandy, vodka, gin, tequila or rum, uses only one type of microorganism—yeast—in the alcohol making process.  Sake brewers use three: koji spores to make the koji mold, lactic acid bacteria to stabilize the mash, and yeast to ferment the mash into alcohol.”  Each region of Japan has its own distinctive sake, and it is incumbent on the beginner to investigate which produces a variety closest to his taste.  (10/22/08)

460. 33 Beer
We are not sure from whence we stole the following text, but we can vouch for its conclusions.  We have long drunk 33 with our Vietnamese pho and find it mild and pleasant, offsetting the extra spices we throw in our soup.  Moreover, we always have wanted to see Danang, a war town, where it was once made.  Just accept that this material was cribbed from somebody authoritative: “This Danang-brewed golden lager was produced by France's Brasseries et Glacieres Internationales, until the plant was nationalized after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. After nationalization, Vietnamese-made beer was excluded from most major export markets other than Japan for years, and the French continued to produce 33 outside Vietnam under worldwide license.  The Vietnamese beer became known as 333 (or “ba ba ba”), and the 33 vs. 333 dispute plagued Vietnamese brewing for decades. Heineken's Saigon Brewery Co. now produces “33”.

So why was the beer named “33” in the first place?  “Without being certain (because who can ever tell what any Frenchman thinks) here are some interesting guesses: Average consumption of beer is about 33 gallons per person per year (based on persons over 18 years of age).  The 21st Amendment abolished Prohibition in the USA on 5 December 1933. The French Brewmaster had 33 mistresses.  Beer tastes best at 33 degrees.  The beer is brewed at 33 degrees.  33rd Degree is the highest level status attained by Freemasons.  33 is a lucky number in the Chinese I-Ching philosophy.”  Rest assured that 33 has many other important connotations you should know about.  “‘Ba Moui Ba’ is Vietnamese for ’33.’”  (10/8/08)

459. Charlie Trotter's
We are writing about Charlie Trotter’s here because the food press claims it is one of the world’s best restaurants.  We don’t.  As one old friend in Chicago who has chewed his way through every top restaurant there, would say, “It’s too cutesy.”  To be blunt, the food is good, but certainly not spectacular.  From our point of view, it is vastly overpriced.  The quarters are far from beautiful, maybe mildly depressing, but curious.  When you prowl around—into a space, for instance, where cooking lessons are given—you will encounter TV cameras of chefs at work, all suggesting that this is quite a production lathered with technology.  Some parts of the wine list are interesting, and one might go there to drink a bottle—and skip the food.  The wait staff has airs aplenty but no finesse mixed with spotty knowledge.  Given all this, we congratulate New Trier’s Trotter, who has made a whole lot out of a very little.  One fairly simple fish course came off very well, most of all because he had used very good stock.  Charlie Trotter's 816 West Armitage Chicago, Illinois 60614.  Telephone: 773 248-6228.  Fax: 773 248-6088.   In general the name cooks in Chicago leave much to be desired, and one is best served to find restaurants that are unbranded and do not suffer from swollen heads and a national reputation.  The celebrity chef restaurants invariably do not run well in the front of the house, as the cook is consumed by the grill, and his mice play in the dining room.  Trotter is no exception.

With books aplenty, a Las Vegas restaurant, and several other projects, Trotter is less a cook and more a producer.  Alec Witchell of the New York Times caught some of this in a 1997 interview with him: “That's not all that Mr. Trotter has planned.  At 38, he is a chef in transition, making what seems to be the requisite move from culinary artist to business entrepreneur. He has entered the mail-order business with a manufacturer in Maine to produce his recipe for citrus cured salmon, and he has joined with the Wolferman's division of Sara Lee to market prepared foods under his name.  To bump up his name recognition, the company is financing a 13-part PBS series, ‘The Kitchen Sessions With Charlie Trotter,’ which will be broadcast in the fall of 1998 in conjunction with a book of the same name. Dummies need not apply.”  And that was 10 years ago: it has only gotten worse.  (9/10/08)

458. Care Package for Exams—Coffee Cake
If your kids are away at college, you will quickly discover that the emergency rations colleges suggest you send to them during exams are simply awful. But it is easy enough to send them a coffee cake from My Grandma’s of New England. The site is a bit confusing, so you will have to hunt a bit. But we recommend you go for the large cinnamon, no nuts catalog number NNLGH. (8/27/08)

457. Open Book—Minneapolis
Along Washington Avenue—between the University of Minnesota and downtown—“Three nonprofit organizations formed a partnership in 1999, bought three adjacent warehouses and renovated them into Open Book, which says it is the largest—if not the only—literary and book arts center in the United States.” (See “With Books as a Catalyst, Minneapolis Neighborhood Revives,” New York Times, April 30, 2008, p. C8.) Other organizations have followed, such as “Gutherie Theater…Mill City Museum..the MacPhail Center for Music, Minneapolis Central Library and a few smaller theaters and art galleries.” Some have called Minneapolis America’s most literate city, and because of this literate backdrop, we think, that the state has been able to do interesting experiments in re-development, healthcare management, etc. The Left Literary Center supports writing and writers. The Minnesota Center for Book Arts provides all manner of support for bookmaking. “And finally Milkweed Editions is, by some measures, the largest independent nonprofit literary publisher in the country.” Garth Rockcastle, the architect, was critical to Open Book’s thoughtful, integrated development.  (8/27/08)

456. Lapham’s Quarterly
Lewis H. Lapham finally came into his own when he retired from Harper’s and founded Lapham’s Quarterly.  It is literate and intriguing. We would say that he is a grand example of the Peter Principle which more or less states that we are all destined to get promoted to our level of incompetency.  He’s a more than decent journalist, but a lightweight editor.  We never knew that he comes from a dynasty, his great-grandfather a founder of Texaco, and his grandfather a mayor of San Francisco and shipowner.  What he does with the Quarterly is to explore a theme through literature—perhaps war, perhaps money.  Lapham’s own prose is overwritten, but he deftly leaves through essays of authors in the far past to alert us that they may have something illuminating to say about our present circumstance.  It’s meant to illustrate the importance of history in our lives.  Probably as much or more, it demonstrates how the finest authors of the past can add a little splash to the very sterile corridors of modern life.  (7/16/08)

455. Three Coffee Houses
We can remember a time when there were few expresso cafes but all were good.  Now there are thousands, and only a few have decent coffee.  Even fewer perhaps, have an ambience that will gladden the heart.  Our favorite West Coast detective David Fecheimer has staked his reputation on three.  In New York, for him, it is Via Quadronno.  But, of course, it turns out to be a chain—in Tokyo, Coral Gables, and Hong Kong.  And it is more than coffee.  Via Quadronno 25 East 73d Street off Madison, New York, NY 10021.  Telephone: 212-650-9880.

In San Francisco: The Blue Bottle Café looks to be fun but be aware that the hours are short.  Blue Bottle Café.  66 Mint, St San Francisco, CA 94103.  Telephone: 415-495-3394.  You can read about all this in the Examiner

Pretend capitalists pretending to be rebels can hang out at Ritual Coffee Roasters, which is a nicely uncomfortable place to light up your laptop.  The New York Times tried to capture the studied ennui in “Café Capitalism, San Francisco Style,” April 4, 2008, p. C4.  Ritual Coffee Roasters.  1026 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110.  Telephone: 415-641-1024.  (6/18/08)

454. Martini Onions Canadian
A fellow in good standing and a smilin’chum, who chases back martinis with some regularity and is ever in search of greater perfection, swears by Sable and Rosenfeld’s Vermouth ‘Spiked’ Tipsy Onions.  We have even had them without a martini, and they do summon up memories of onions past. Onion headquarters is in Toronto, so Guy Lombardo is not the only pleasure to have come out of the North.  But you might put his record on the Victrola (“The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven”) when you are partaking.  Canada: Sable & Rosenfeld 131 Avenue Road, Suite 200 Toronto, Ontario M5R 2H7, Tel: 416-929-4214, fax: 416-929-6727, email: info@sableandrosenfeld.com. United States: Contact: Mary O'Neill, tel: 843-815-6278, fax: 843-815-2473, e-mail: mary@sableandrosenfeld.com. (4/30/08)

453. Mojito Libre
St. Clair Newbern of Fort Worth, inveterate traveler and keen observer, swears that the Cubans get it right.  The Mojito, that is.  We notice that most of the mojitos offered at bars tend to the mediocre, and we expect we will be adding more notes here on how to get the drink right.  But, for now, you can enjoy his observations below: 

"The photo is of the muddling of the mint and the sugar, to release the oils from the mint to flavor the sugar....  I noticed that the best Mojitos seemed be produced by extra care being taken in this first of what is a pretty simple process after that of just adding liquids....  The bar tender would muddle a bit usually with a stick with a round end, smell it to see if the right amount of oil had infused the sugar and, when satisfied add the rum and soda.

Made correctly, they are made one at a time and take at least a minute." (Photo: St. Clair Newborn, copyright 2008)

452. Michel Couvreur—The Best Single Single
We have probably sampled 40 to 50 single malts over the years, and have many favorites.  But Michel Couvreur’s Single Single stands out above all.  Just the other night we were sipping a 1969.  Sure it is a scotch, but it might as well be a brandy or a burgundy.  His outpourings are so special that ladies who are repelled by scotches will nicely sing his praises.  How appropriate that Courvreur is not in Scotland but is, in fact, in Burgundy. We attach here an essay of his doing that will nicely take you through the seminal ideas beyond a malt of quality.  Michel Couvreur Whiskies. Place du Monument  21200 Bouze-lès-Beaune. Burundy, Cote D’Or France Phone France = 0033 + (0)380.26.01.46  Fax France = 0033 + (0)380.26.02.70 Email: courvreur.michel@worldonline.fr.  (2/13/08)

451. Delica rf-1
San Francisco’s Ferry Building symbolizes everything that is right and everything that is wrong about San Francisco.  It and the waterfront have lost their real function—the commerce of a busy port.  The building is now decorative, full of food boutiques.  It is all pretty and charming, but a little hollow.  Any visitor, however, should look around.  There are a few shops that are worthwhile—perhaps the creamery and the bread shop, maybe one or two more.  The eateries are a little tough: no matter the trappings, they handle too many people and are more production lines than gourmet taste treats. 

DELICA rf-1 breaks the mold.  It is restful and polite and attracts a nice clientele.  We can recommend handily the salads and several other deli items.  Oddly enough, the sushi was nothing to write home about.  We were very pleasantly surprised for dessert by the baked summer peach with custard.  There are just a few tables to sit down: we shared one just outside and found our luncheon companions genial and even interesting.  Delica rf-1.  San Francisco Ferry Building.  (415) 834-0344.  www.delicarf1.com.  (1/30/08)

450. -new- Kyoto Cooking
As Japan Trends makes clear, there are deep, beautiful differences in the food offered in different cities of Japan, whether close or distant.  Tokyo does have more express food, Sapporo is a world apart, and Kyoto has flavors that go with its shrines and temples.

A Fusion of Cooking Styles. “Today Kyoto has a population of around 1.46 million people.  It is home to the former palace of the emperor, as well as many temples and shrines, including a number of World Heritage Sites.  Kyoto cuisine developed amid the complementary influences of four styles of cooking: yusoku-ryori, or dishes prepared for the Emperor’s Court; shojin-ryori, which consists of vegetarian dishes developed by Buddhist monks; kaiseki-ryori, which has its roots in the tea ceremony; and honzen-ryori, the highly formalized style of dining favored for special events by samurai families.  Located close to the Sea of Japan and Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, Kyoto enjoyed a well-developed water transportation system that enabled delivery of the highest quality foodstuffs from around the country.  The city was also a magnet for chefs who wanted to hone their culinary skills.”

“The basis of kaiseki-ryori is ichiju-sansai (“one soup, three sides”), consisting of a bowl of miso soup and three okazu (side dishes) along with a bowl of rice.  Different cooking techniques are applied to each of the three okazu.  One of the side dishes, called mukozuke, may feature sashimi. Another, called nimono, is made by simmering fish or vegetables in a unique Japanese stock made with dried bonito fish flakes and konbu (dried kelp).  Nimono is carefully arranged and served in a bowl with a generous portion of soup stock.  The third side dish, called yakimono, usually consists of fish, such as ayu (sweetfish), that has been salted and grilled.  To cleanse the palate after eating ichiju-sansai, a plain, lightly salted broth called hashiarai is served.  Topping off the meal is a dish called hassun, which contains a mixture of ingredients from the sea and mountains, such as seaweed and yam.”

“Delicately prepared with carefully selected ingredients using sophisticated techniques, all of these dishes are served one at a time in small amounts.  Careful attention is paid to how food is arranged and presented, following the wabi-sabi concept of beauty emphasized in the tea ceremony, which focuses on simplicity and understated elegance.  There are many restaurants in Kyoto with menus based on kaiseki-ryori that offer a greater number of side dishes served in larger portions with more colorful garnishes using seasonal flowers and leaves.  Sampling the cuisine of the city is a chance to experience the ‘spirit of hospitality’ and the ‘spirit of tea.’” (1/30/08)

449. Waterboy
Every California warned us away from Davis and Sacramento, both of which we had not visited for perhaps 30 years.  That immediately made us want to go, since we have found on many occasions that universally unpopular locations are often simply spots that trendies don’t visit, yet full of idiosyncratic treasures that bear investigation.  Waterboy in Sacramento bore this out.  Mike Dunne, the reasonably good food critic at the Sacramento Bee is high on the place, as is Darrell Corti, the owner of Sacramento’s very fine gourmet food market Corti Brothers.

We cannot say enough nice things about the place, though the dessert may have been indifferent.  The fish and shellfish stew was first rate, and the sturgeon was a very nice surprise to find on the menu.  The wines by the glass were just fine.  Owner chef Rick Mahan will reach a bit, so you may find rabbit or roasted-pickled beets on any one night.  The service was intelligent and attentive.  You will probably find yourself a bit close to the diners beside you—the only drawback to the place.

There are perhaps 12 to 15 restaurants worth some attention in Sacramento, often peopled by chefs from foreign parts.  Maybe 3 are top grade.  We intend to give a look on our next visit to Restaurant 55 Degrees, Kozen, Biba, maybe Mulvaney’s Building, and Loan, Masque Ristorante.  To get a feel about the growth in cuisine here, read “Renowned Chefs Invade the Region.”  (1/23/08)

448. -new- Loren Pope—An Eye for Values
Loren Pope is interesting because he’s had a eye for deep value, which would probably have made him a great stock picker if he had ever cared.  Early in life, when he did not have a sous in his pocket, he persuaded none other than Frank Lloyd Wright to build a house for him.  That house, known today as the Pope-Leighey Home, has stood the test of time, and is cherished by many from far and wide.  Pope and Wright became friends, so much so that when they were both staying at the Plaza in New York, Wright fixed up Pope’s room, which was quite shabby when compared to Wright’s digs.  Pope sold his house for a goodly sum.  It has since been moved and made part of the National Trust.  

A journalist, Pope did not find his true vocation until 1965 when he set up shop as a counselor to high school students, pointing them at a raft of small liberal arts colleges which offered them a terribly good education, without all the sideshow, glitz, and defects of the brand name universities where research is so cherished that teaching gets neglected.  Once again, he proved himself to be a man who could separate the wheat from the chaff, and introduce students to colleges that could offer the substance rather than the trappings of education.  The New York Times commemorated his second career in “A Fighter for Colleges That Have Everything But Status.”  Pope has retired, although still very active in his nineties.  His effort lives on, however, and is known as Colleges That Change Lives.  (1/23/08)


447. Bushtracks—Seeing Africa
Our favorite safari gal, Linda Peterson, who’s a mystery writer in her spare time, writes in to tell us how to meet us with Dr. Livingstone. “The best way to do Africa—private air—comfort, convenience, safety, and great access. I think you heard me rave about our Bushtracks trip last year—South Africa, Zambia, Botswana. This company is run by a couple. He’s from Africa, knows everything down to the lilac-breasted roller’s eyelash.” David Tett was born and raised in Zimbabwe. With a BS in DNA technology from the University of Cape Town, he has traveled throughout Southeast Asia, North and South India, as well as extensively throughout Africa, including unusual destinations such as Principe Island, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Malawi, and Angola. California native Carolyn Tett was raised in Atherton and attended the University of California at Berkeley and University of St. Andrews in Scotland and has a BA in Political Science. They have been at it since 1989. They get it all mapped out, fix on the right lodgings, and get you around by air so you can see the place without fighting squadrons of Land Rovers to see the Big Five. Bushtracks.Expeditions. Telephone: 800-995-8689 and 707-433-4492 (for international calls). Fax: 707-433-0258. Address: 824 Healdsburg Avenue. Healdsburg, CA 95449. Website: www.bushtracks.com. (1/16/08)

446. Tour de Force
Our ambling rambler Linda Peterson tells us that a Vermont cosmopolitan named Carrie McDougall has made Cultural Crossroads into an award-winning travel site you cannot resist. Interestingly, a worldly newsletter also comes out of Vermont, as we remember, that puts food in a cultural setting: it’s called The Art of Eating. What she does is put together small (8 to 16 people) groups that take tours laden with interest and packed with behind-the-scenes experiences like private garden tours, delicious food, and wine gigs.. The trips look to be art and artifact heavy: presumably they attract a nice crowd of likeminded people. Special interest tours have great merit: our own gang at SpiceLines will be off to Southern India in 2008 to take in all aspects of the spice trade. We suppose the only problem inherent in such rare treats is that the traveler may miss popular fare, random encounters with local people, and exposure to the wider cadences of the country being visited. Cultural Crossroads, 20 Meadowcrest Lane-Barre, Vermont 05641. Telephone: (802) 479-7040. (1/16/08)

445. Lan
When a restaurant gets too glitzy with its website or its menu, it usually is a recipe for disaster. Not so with Lan. It’s website has far too many bells and whistles, but Lan turns out to be quite fine. This is a very companionable place with a delightful menu, though we will throw in one or two caveats. It’s down in Bowery territory, just above Cooper Union, etc. We waited quite a long time for service, and then finally some American waiters arrived at the table who did not know Japanese food—or what was going on. Then we got a Japanese waitress who knew what she was doing, and we had an exemplary experience. You will find the chawan-mushi that was missing from the menu of a distinguished Japanese uptown that used to have everything. The Black Cod was absolutely first rate: this has become an extraordinarily popular dish in urban places, but, if done right, you should have it every time. This was moist and mellow-so smooth it did not even quite seem like fish. For drinks, you can work your way through the shochu, the sweet potato and barley equally delightful. It pays additionally to be a little choosy about where you sit, as you can be pressed up against company that you would not care to know. One blog notes that the owner is affiliated with a meat supplier, all pointing to the fact that one should eventually get into the steaks and Japanese high-end beefs. Lan Japanese Restaurant, 56 3d Avenue (btw 10th and 11th), New York, New York 10003.  Telephone: 212-254-1959. Website: http://www.lan-nyc.com/. Understand that there are a lot of naysayers about this restaurant, but we find it to be excellent if you manage the details and select in a discriminatory way. (1/16/08)

444. Corti Brothers
We had purchased a few condiments from Corti Brothers for years, but never appreciated the range of the store or of the owner.  On a recent visit, Darrell Corti learned of our quest for a more satisfying vermouth for our martinis.  We thought we wanted an Italian, but he quickly disabused us of that.  So we shipped home a French Dry that will compliment the French and Dutch gins we are now sampling.  Corti knows whereof he speaks, and has taken it upon himself to get educated about many things.  He’s studied in Spain and finally took a degree in Northern California in Spanish and Italian.  He takes much pride in his knowledge of wines, and has stirred up an international tempest in a teapot over his refusal to stock wines whose alcohol level exceed 14%.  There is no better source for olive oils in the United States.  www.cortibros.biz.  Corti Brothers. 5810 Folsom Boulevard Sacramento, CA 95819.  1-800-509-3663 or 916-736-3800.  Make inquiries since the store has items not reflected on the website, such as some interesting German cheeses we took along for lunch.  (1/9/08)

443. Full-Spectrum Paints
If you are going to pay up for paint, you must as well go full spectrum.  The Statement, an email letter for professional designers, has explained what they are and listed, with a bit of detail, a few renowned examples.  “Full spectrum paints use a mix of pigments to achieve a color instead of using black and grey to get the paint to a certain color value.  And full spectrum paint is typically made with genuine ingredients such as powdered minerals resulting in more luminous and more expensive paint.”  We have been partial to Donald Kaufman, but all the examples cited here are worthy of your attention.  In general, these paints seem less blatant, more subtle than those of ordinary manufacturers—because, indeed, they are more complex blends.  (1/9/08)

442. Quince
For years San Francisco cooking has been much overrated.   Generally it produced solid but not spectacular food, and the restaurants that earned all the kudos in the newspapers and cooking magazine were not even its best offerings.  In particular the rash of new young cooks around the area plunked too many elements in their dishes, the fruit and other nonesuch somewhat concealing the fact that a cut of beef was not cooked right. Perhaps it was our 3d best food city, but it did not really touch New York or New Orleans.  Michelin has come out with its 2007 guide on the Bay Area, and the San Francisco food tribe is aghast that only the French Laundry has gotten 3 stars, that there are just a handful of two stars, and all the revered get one star.  Broadly this confirms the thesis that SF does not stack up against New York.  We agree, however, with local foodlovers who say Michelin, in fact, messed about a bit, putting the wrong people in 3 and 2 star categories, and not sufficiently appreciating some of the one stars.  For more on this tempest in a teapot, read “Bay Area Stars Fail to Make Michelin Cut,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 3, 2006.

But San Francisco has come of age, no matter what the tired French have to say.  Quince at Octavia and Bush is one indication.  First of all, it is charming, the right size, warmly but not ostentatiously decorated, with the right light, and comfortable service, though some of the blogs have complained that a waiter or two has attitude.  Our party recently spent perhaps 3 hours there, and found it to have just the right tone.  There is imagination in the food—to include the menu selection.  We had, amongst other things, oxtails, sardines, rabbit, and lamb.  Owner Chef Michael Tusk has cooked at 3 highly regarded Bay restaurants, and he probably has done them one better.  Though the restaurant is proud of its wine list, it could still use some work, as we found it pricey but not distinguished.  People make a great deal out of his pasta course, which is fine enough, though we found the other courses more interesting.  There are several restaurants named Quince around the nation.  We don’t know the attraction of the name, although we are much taken with our own Cydonia oblong.  Quince, 1710 Octavia Street at Bush, San Francisco, California 94109.  Telephone: 415-775-8500.  Website: www.quincerestaurant.com.  Read more about Quince at SpiceLines.  (12/12/07)

441. Olive Oil Extraordinaire
In “Slippery Business,” August 13, 2007, the New Yorker shocked its readers, exposing the huge amount of olive oil that mislabeled as virgin when it is dreck at best, imported into Italy by con artists and then sold around the world to gullible customers.  We expect this is just the first of many exposes to come in the food trade where people are willing now to pay outrageous prices for less than tasty fare, and schlock is branded as luxury.  Nonetheless, there is always a countervailing movement: there is olive oil from Italy that exceeds all our expectations. 

Foodwriter Nancy Harmon Jenkins has written and lectured about fine olive oil for at least 20 years, often for the New York Times.  For instance, in “The Pantheon of Fine Olive Oils, the Top,” New York Times, April 13, 1988, she sheds light on the finer producers, tells how the best is produced, and even gives a lesson on how to taste for greatness: “For a tasting, buy five or six different brands (and prices) of olive oil, including a commonly available oil to use as a standard.  Have apples or bread on hand to cleanse the palate.  Number the oil bottles.  Pour a little of each oil into clear glass containers and number them to correspond to the bottles.  Set the containers in a good light and compare colors.  Greener oils indicate olives harvested young, although bright green oils may indicate the presence of chlorophyll from leaves crushed with the olives.  Compare clarity.  Most oils turn cloudy if refrigerated, but unfiltered oils, which connoisseurs prefer for their intense flavor, may be cloudy at room temperature.” 

The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2007, made a recent attempt to examine the rare world of top oils in “The Art of Olive Oil: From Extra-Virgin to Extraordinary.”  “Marco Oreggia has taken on the role of chronicler of olive oil's resurgence.  He tastes more than 3,000 different oils a year, and has just published the seventh edition of his guide, "L’Extravergine," a sort of industry bible in which he rates, classifies and quantifies production of oils from around the world.  (An English-language version has just been published, www.marco-oreggia.com.)”  Many of the top producers are winemakers who have drifted into the olive oil trade.  “‘We're principally winemakers, but we’ve always loved making olive oil,’ says Lorenza Sebasti Pallanti, of Castello di Ama in Tuscany, one of the most highly regarded producers of Chianti Classico.  The winery produces an oil blended from three olive varieties.”

In fact, a huge amount of the olive that is sold amounts to dreck.  A goodly percentage suffers from defects such as rancidity, a winey taste, muddiness, etc.  A cultivated nose will quickly detect befouled olive oil, even at boutique stores that should be doing better.  Interestingly, well-wrought oil that has not turned bad has only come along in the last 25 years: modern pressing and refining techniques have emerged that have vastly elevated extra virgin olive oil quality.  Now the challenge is to develop a palate and a nose that can weed out the bad, and elevate the delectable.  The U.S. is still a minor consumer per capita of olive oil, and an insignificant producer.  The champion producer is Spain, though its finest grades are not to everyone’s taste.  For instance, many in a crowd of olive oil fanciers will rear back from picual which comprises 90% of the production of  Sierra del Segura.  (11/28/07)

440. Our Lady of Vladimir Church 
We cannot say enough nice things about Lady Vladimir.  It is the prettiest church we saw in St. Petersburg, right near Doestoevsky’s home and the wonderful Kuznechny Market. The yellows and the proportions are a delight.  Should you be touring, ordinary guides will not get you to this gem, constructed in 1760.  For the visit here, we credit Masha, a St.Petersburg programmer and a lady of some sensitivity.  The Church is dedicated to the beautiful  icon, Our Lady of Vladimir, one of the most revered in the Orthodox world. (11/14/07)

439. Hartmann Luggage
Lasts Hartmann Luggage may occasionally look pricey and may feel stodgy.  Certainly there are a proliferation of luggage brands—many of which seem more stylish, since at its heart, this company is functional and understated.  But its products last—perhaps forever.  And most importantly, its repair facility provides genuine support, not an easy thing to find these days.  Since 2000, even that wonderful company up in Maine is more apt to say, “Sorry, we can’t do a thing about your shoes.”  Then you go off to your local shoemaker who repairs whatever it is with some ease.  Hartmann gives an estimate and turns things around with relative ease.  Its repair department is polite and helpful.  There is something to be said for a product that does not wear out easily and for a company that can put things back together when the product finally gets some aches and pains over time.  Hartmann, 1301 Hartmann Drive, Lebanon, TN 37087.  Telephone: 800-331-0613.   If you get bored with things, don’t buy a Hartmann, because it’s going to be around for a while.  (11/7/07)

438. Stockholm’s Treats
Stockholm is a curious place.  The tourist must root around a bit to find distinguished quarters, the hotels not totally up to snuff.  As elsewhere in Scandinavia, the high-end restaurants commonly are average, and sometimes are downright bad.  But little curious treats do crop up.  House and Garden sort of gets at these in its city guide to Stockholm.  For instance, it points to Estrid Ericson’s Svenst Tenn (‘tenn’ means pewter in Swedish), a store of household effects to include pots, fabrics, furniture, and the like.  We would not, finding the help both arch, a bit lazy, and certainly unhelpful.  However, Josef Frank’s fabrics are worth more than a peek, even if they are poorly displayed and a bit hard to get at.  The sales people are stingy about giving you a catalog of his work, but try to extract it from them.  Frank, an Austrian architect, worked at Tenn at its height, also putting in time in America.  He is the diamond in the rough at Svenst Tenn.  Strandvägen 5.  Telephone: 011-46-8-670-16-00. Website: svenskttenn.se.

Rosendal Garden.  This biodynamic or organic garden is thrilling, and obviously beloved by the townspeople.  The tables for picnic fan and contemplators are scattered about the garden, not crunched into an ugly space.  But there is a café as well atop the hill. 

“As early as the late 17th century, the area can be seen on maps as a grouping of shepherd cottages, which by the early 18th century had developed into small farms.  In 1791, king Gustav III donated the manor to governor de Besche, who erected a large wooden villa.  In 1817, the area was sold to Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, who later on would become Swedish King Karl XIV Johan.  The grounds were cleared, drained, and laid out as an English-style park, turning it into a summer paradise.

The present palace was built by architect Fredrik Blom, finished in 1827, with an adjoining winter garden.  The Rosendal palace today is a museum, one of the finest authentic empire-style interiors in the country.

In 1848, king Oscar I built the orangery that is still here today (the winged round building by the rose garden).  Here, the people of the Oscarian court strolled under palm trees and other exotic plants.  The queen, Josefina, was an ardent garden enthusiast, and developed the gardens to include a number of greenhouses with remarkable flower beds.

Gardening at Rosendal took a new turn in 1861, when the Swedish Horticultural Society received permission from the queen to use the area.  Modeled on the Royal Horticultural Society in England, the Society worked for the promotion of a “more widespread and orderly gardening in Sweden,” through education and training of gardeners, and charitable distribution of free plants, bushes, and trees to “landowners without means.”

In 1878, the garden had 23,000 pot-plants of 1,000 varieties, 235,000 saplings in the tree nursery stock, plus 400 fruit-trees of many different kinds (some hundred of which still remain today in Rosendal’s orchard).”  Stiftelsen Rosendals Trädgård Rosendalsterrassen. 12 SE-115 21 Stockholm, Sweden.  Telephone: +46 (0)8 545 812 70.  (10/10/07)

437. Portugal’s Pousadas 
Too long ago to remember, some magazine for ladies did a list of the most romantic spots in Europe.  Lo and behold, Portugal topped the list, with more enchanted getaways than anywhere else on the Continent.  The state-run inns added to the allure, for they, too, were both special and modestly priced.  A fine, long article in the New York Times (July 8, 2007) by Sarah Wildman, who did a similar article on Spain’s paradores just a year earlier, makes clear that they still can be captivating places to stay, even if the prices have risen, and the government no longer is running them.  “Akin to the state-owned Spanish paradores, the 65-year-old network of Portuguese pousadas (once entirely state-run, but now managed by the Pestana hotel group) range from 18th-century manor houses, like the one we’d been looking for, to former convents, monasteries, castles and palaces, as well as more modern buildings tucked into nature preserves and mountain ranges”

“In a gorgeously photographed coffee table book on the pousadas called ‘Moradas de Sonho’ (which was translated as “Dream Places”), the pousadas are explained as the “preservation of [Portugal’s] architectural and natural heritage, living architecture and the riches of Portuguese cooking.”

“On the central pousada Web site, www.pousadas.pt, descriptions are provided for each pousada; a map of the country, dotted with pousadas, gives a vague sense of the distances between them.”  “The most economical way to visit the pousadas is to get a pousada ‘passport,’ which costs 360 euros (about $485, at $1.35 to the euro) for a double room for four nights with a 35-euro supplement for Saturday evenings.  There are rules for the passport—some pousadas won’t take them during August, others charge a small additional fee—but for 11 months of the year, especially for midweek travel, the passport offers a significant savings over regular rates, which average 185 euros a night.  Various other packages can be found at www.pousadasofportugal.com/passport.html.”  “Oddly, the central pousadas Web site and telephone number (351-21-844-20-01) were less forthcoming on discounts than the reception desks at the pousadas themselves.  But check the site for ‘special offers’ that vary from pousada to pousada.”  (9/12/07)

436. Best Public Food Markets 
Anya Von  Bremzen’s “25 of the World’s Best Food Markets,” Food and Wine, April 2004, gives us a start on the question of which markets you should visit.  But it mixes apples with oranges, putting in some private groceries which may not be entirely up to the mark.  And it leaves out several that count, such as Pike’s Place in Seattle where we have gotten fruit to die for that we consistently took back to our hotel room, and several others.  Some on this list are Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (San Francisco),  Mercado de la Merced (Mexico City), Castries Market (St. Lucia), St. Lawrence Market (Toronto), English Market (Cork), Mercat de la Bouqeria (Barcelona), Mercato Coperto (Modena), Kadewe (Berlin), Kauppatori Market (Helsinki), Mercado Central (Santiago),  Khan El-Khalili (Cairo), Tsukiji Fish Market (Tokyo).  See our commentary on La Bouqueria at “Better Than Best—First.”  Nelly Sheff and Mimi Sheraton have made an attempt in Food Markets of the World that covers some different territory.  (8/1/07)

435. The Best of the Wine Writers
We like Jancis Robinson because she is not a listmaker.  She will sort out the good wines for you and tell you why they make the grade. But she writes literately about the whole world of wine, always spinning a good yarn, in the Financial Times.  We run across her in FT Weekend, a fun section anyway, where the editors are occasionally smart enough to put her on the front page. You can also find columns and such at www.jancisrobinson.com.  We have just read “Bordeaux 2006—How the Weather Screwed It All Up.”  One would think such a tale of woe would be boring, but she makes this melodrama fun.

However, our favorite of late was “The Wine World’s Tangled Web,” FT Weekend, March 17-18, 2007.  The intrigue is deep, and we like it that a wine buccaneer turns out to serve really top wines.  “The counterfeiters of old labels have become increasingly skilled.”  There are a lot of fakes about.  Particularly at question were Bordeauxs ostensibly from Thomas Jefferson’s collection that William Koch, the American billionaire, bought from the assemblage of Munich’s Hardy Rodenstock.  Fake or not, Rodenstock’s tastings impress Robinson.  “It is thanks to Hardy Rodenstock … that I have had some of the most extraordinary tasting experiences of my life.  I have no idea whether the bottle of Yquem 1811, the famous year of the comet, served in Munich was genuine, but I can assure you it was one of the most delicious liquids I have ever tasted….”

Jancis Robinson studied philosophy and mathematics at Oxford, worked for a travel magazine, and was made an Officer of the British Empire in 2003.  She is married to food writer Nick Lander.  There are also some other classic writers who are very readable, but she is the best of the current herd.  (7/18/06)

434. Best Love Story of 2006
We enjoyed bringing you the “Best Love Story of 1999,” Elegy for Iris, in which John Bayley talks about Iris Murdoch and their relationship.  Calvin Trillin’s About Alice is affecting, if not quite so eloquent.  Trillin and his wife Alice and their two daughters are the good citizens, fun to be with, whom you always want to have living next door.  Trillin talks about Alice and all the rest in the same ironic tone that is pervasive throughout his writing; it even sets the tone for communication in the family and for the character of all their activities.  Do it with a smile and with a firm, but not stiff, upper lip is the defining characteristic of Trillinia, right down to the nature of their friendships.  We felt this when, towards the end, one of the daughters got married at City Hall or someplace like that and then had a reception in a Chinese restaurant where all the guests kicked up their heels in a hora.  One can’t remember whether these good people are practicing atheists or agnostics, but on more than one occasion this story cries out for a church service that would cut against their modestly flippant agnostic irony.  We find About Alice very moving but strangely inarticulate.  The subject is bigger than Trillin.  Emotion runs too far beneath the surface.  The short book ends: “Some days I can and some days I can’t.”  (6/6/07)

433. Radius
This one’s been around since 1998.  Wonder why we have never gotten around to it. Well, the high point we think is that the staff is polite, and we suspect the owners are nice.  Our waiter was French and had a certain grace about him.  At our request the maitre took care to get us to a fairly quiet table on the side, important since the place is a little frantic with buzz.  A bus boy who mistakenly filled our Hendrick’s Gin Gibson with tap water did report his mistake to the waiter, and a new drink arrived fairly quickly at the table.  One of our guests nicely commented that the owners contributed services and vittles to a charity fundraising dinner, qualifying Radius as one of President Bush’s (George the Elder) thousand points of light. 

The proprietors make a great deal out of their team approach to restauranting.  We think this has secured them a certain joie de vivre amongst the staff, but a few hits and misses on the bottom line.  Rowes Wharf, by far Boston’s most pleasant restaurant before it died, also had a groupie approach, with a similar result.  “Their Specialty?  Teamwork” rhapsodizes about this consultative style.  “The Radius kitchen is made up of stations: the meat station, the fish station, the garde-manger station, the pastry station.  Two people work at each station, and they have full responsibility for their part of the meal.  In other words, the team at the meat station not only cooks the meat but also butchers it and seasons it—a sharp departure from the standard procedure at most restaurants.”  “Radius has also developed a series of meetings in which both the spirit and the practice of teamwork get reinforced.”  Boston is full of very theoretical management education firms, and it’s not surprising that theory has crept so fully into the kitchen.

We had cod, which was tasty if not ample.  We found ourselves wanting to give it a little more panache.  Radius seems like a place to see and be seen for the aspiring, but we don’t find any of the warmth and intimacy that is hinted at on the restaurant website.  We distinctly remember that it was a very long day’s journey into night to reach the restroom, and along the way we had to plough through some sort of cocktail private affair in the basement.  By the way, many of the bathrooms in Boston’s fancier dives are elusive.  We will return at some point and see if there is some sort of quiet hideaway here not immediately evident in which to enjoy a small bite.

This is a restaurant with so many cooks and so many actors that it makes lots of little harmless mistakes that are amusing more than anything.  A Fast Company article is referenced on the website, but the link leads you to a foodie magazine instead.  A Boston Globe reviewer has a giggle over receiving the wrong bill:

The dinner at Radius was exquisite and the service exemplary.  We were content.  As the weeknight crowd thinned in the dining room and we sipped the last of our coffee, a companion looked over the bill, his eyebrows raised.  "Can this be right?" he asked, passing the check over to me.  It read $1,300 and some change.  With some entrees climbing above $40 and a wine list that offers only a couple of bottles under $50, Radius would never be mistaken for casual, budget-priced dining.  Still, the amount seemed stratospheric.  Had we spent that much?

The first item in a long list of beverage orders caught my eye.  Diet Coke.  We would never have ordered that.  After discussion with our waitress, the matter was remedied; and a more reasonable bill was exchanged for the one meant for another table.

Yes, this is a backhanded way of telling you that the restaurant is overpriced, but at least you are contributing to the health and welfare of what appear to be nice people.  Yes, here, as everywhere else in town, there are so-called tasting menus.  Radius.  8 High Street.  Boston, MA 02110. 617-426-1234.  Website:  www.radiusrestaurant.com/main.shtml.  (5/30/07)

432. Blade Runner 
In “Never a Dull Moment,” The Atlantic, April 2007, pp. 122-126, Corby Kummer looks into knives—for cooking.  He prescribes for all cooks a three-knife collection.  In his own case he goes for a 3-inch paring knife from Adam Simha’s MKS Design in Cambridge, a chef’s knife (a Mac 8.5-inch from Japan that the cooking trade currently adores), and a serrated knife.  He makes a great deal out of Simha, but the paring knife looks both ungainly and awkward to us.  He seems to favor short, fine-tooth serrated German knives, but we find longer blades with larger teeth more useful.  Probably you can ease matters by simply visiting Korin in New York City, which has Japanese knives from several makers that will cover many of your needs.  At the end of the day, one should probably deeply explore Mac products.  (5/23/07)

431. Clio
We’ve heard forever that Clio is one of Boston’s bests, not to be missed.  Well, forever we have intended to stay at the Eliot, where the restaurant is housed, and have never gotten around to it.   As a substitute we went to the restaurant, especially since it was reputed to have a decorous, quiet atmosphere where one could hold a conversation, and we were to be a party of six.  As we remember, we had some Bay scallops and then some shards of Kobe beef, both of which were quite satisfactory even if they did not inspire rapture.  A California friend picked the wines: he found them average but priced as if nectar from the gods.  The service was eager, happily so, though not practiced.  On a jaunt to the side, we saw Uni—the sashimi effort adjoining the main dining room—which we probably would not visit,  and we there heard some low-key chill music which probably does not go well in a restaurant with highbrow pretensions, though it has become pervasive in all Boston spots trying to attract young affluents.  Like many of Boston’s finests, Clio is pricey and not as good as Bostonians think, but maybe worth a visit once a year.  As in parts of Scandinavia, Boston’s best restaurants tend to be middlebrow, less affected, and less complex, more ample.  Clio and Uni.  370 Commonwealth Ave Boston, MA 02215.  Telephone: (617) 536-7200.  Website: www.cliorestaurant.com.  (5/16/07)

430. Fred Sandback
Fred Sandback was a decent guy to be around because he had all the gravitas you could want, but you could ignore him.  As you padded down 11th Street, you might exchange the faintest hellos with him, or not even see each other.  In 2003, at age 59, he did away with himself, and it created sadness even if one did not know him very well.  As it turned out, he was a sculptor of considerable stature, who did the neat trick of not being too obvious.  And he was thoughtful about his art and why he did it, as we learn from some 1975 notes.  Imagine our shock to learn that there had even been a Fred Sandback Museum, sponsored by Dia, for a while in Winchendon, Massachusetts, wherever that is.  It’s a neat trick to cast a long shadow—so silently and unobtrusively—in a New York peopled by such relentless egos.  Two retrospectives of his work appeared at New York galleries late in 2006 and early in 2007.  (4/4/07)

429. Jibarra (Norte Raleigh)
We have yet to try the cebiches, the shredded duck with lettuce, foie gras two ways, corn husk-smoked halibut, lamb shank with the bone in, duck breast, venison meat loaf, cactus paddle salad.  That’s to say, we have a lot of eating yet to do.  Jibarra, we learn, is about a year old, the favorite child of the proprietor who owns two undistinguished Mexican chains.  But this is the real enchilada. 

The quarters are nice but mixed, the owners having done a decent job of remodeling this lumpen architecture space and creating a little interest. We think especially that the curves in the bar manage to make one forget that this is a squatty rectangular blockhouse. One could call it interesting, if not pretty.  But a diner is able to forget the very undistinguished restaurants nearby.  More could be done on the interior, of course, but this is a good start.  Depending on the occasion, there will be chill music in the background, and perhaps standard, pleasant Mexican at Sunday family luncheons.  It’s marvelous, too, that the restaurant is open for long hours every day but Monday, providing one of the few decent spots to visit on a Sunday.  The service is always exceptionally polite; the maitre actually knows something about the cooking. 

We are pleased that the restaurant has found both cabrito and rabbit, especially since it has become tougher to get interesting things slaughtered in North Carolina.  The goat is cooked long, and, interestingly, is not over-spiced.  In fact, Chef Ricardo Quintero, of Mexico City, who has trained at Akelarre in San Sebastian, shows admirable restraint in a number of dishes, a delicacy that allows tastes that could get buried to emerge.  Management prides itself on presenting a sampling of several Mexican regional cuisines, but we do not know enough about Mexican cooking to say in which area—say Oaxaca or Yucutan—this kitchen excels. 

We found interesting wines, did a flight of tequilas with pleasure, and found our coffee to have enough punch.  The desserts we think are not memorable.  After some urging, we had the habanero cheesecake.  The bunuelos bear no relation to the airy creations we cherish.  But who needs dessert anyway after such a repast.  Some of our party found both the flan and torta de elote (fresh corn cake) pleasing.  Of course, we will try the trio of chocolate ice creams another day. 

This is an easy reach from the airport—perhaps 10 miles down 540 and then a short jaunt towards Raleigh on Six Forks.  But keep your eyes open, since it and Peachtree Market where it is housed are not memorable and you can pass them by.  Jibarra.  7420 Six Forks Road and Mourning Dove, Raleigh, North Carolina 27615.  Telephone: 919-844-6330.  Website: www.jibarra.net.  (3/28/07)

428. Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
This new museum inspires ambivalence—maybe it’s interesting, maybe not.  Nicolai Ouroussoff can’t say enough nice things about it in the New York Times.  But a host of others find it less than adventurous—a surprise since it comes from Diller Scofidio & Renfro, a relatively new firm which prides itself on being the leading-edge firm in the field of architecture.  Probably Lee Rosenbaum’s “Upside Down and Backward,” Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2007, p. D3 is more to the point, the Journal often having more incisive book and architecture criticism than the Times.  He finds it to be a tame, even derivative affair that is not terribly well put together.  Net-Net, it’s attractive enough, but nothing special.  Yet it’s worth a visit.  If the truth be known, Boston has a hard time doing anything modern, except in the bowels of MIT, this being a nostalgic town that dines on the past. 

For several reasons we refer you to our own “Museums: Is there a Muse in the House” and to “The Explosion of Museum Architecture” by Richard Francis, where you can learn about all the ferment in museum architecture and about the worries that many of  these museums will go belly up for lack of paying customers.  This new Boston museum, incidentally, is spectacularly underfunded, and its administration is quite creaky.  (3/21/07)

427. Caroline's Cakes
We haven’t passed the time of day with Caroline, but we intend to.  Our correspondent on the West Coast found her delectable cake in his Christmas trove, a present from his mother.  He counts himself lucky, since it was delicious.  Moreover, the elves in Caroline’s empire gave him a call to make sure the cake had arrived.  Last we knew Annapolis was a place where deer came crashing into your car, because, like the rest of the East Coast, Maryland is overdeveloped and the deer are constantly in flight.  But Caroline is there, as well as some other treasures.  It has St. John’s, the East-Coast college that gives you the classical education Robert Hutchins thought would make you a citizen of the world, a college that also has a Santa Fe branch.  Caroline's Cakes. 1580 Whitehall Road, Annapolis, Maryland 21409.  Telephone: 888-801-2253.  www.carolinescakes.com.  (2/21/07)

Update: Up from Charleston
Caroline Ragsdale Reutter’s family had to go South to go North. Her grandfather hailed from Wilson, North Carolina but transplanted himself to Florence, South Carolina in a bid to expand his tobacco and cattle businesses. Eventually he and the family migrated to Lake City, not far from Charleston, where the Ragsdales sank their deepest roots. Caroline and her brothers were born in Charleston, and, after her initial schooling, she  got steeped in Charleston ways at Ashley Hall. She finished up at Mount Vernon College for Women in Washington, D.C.  and never came back. She is imbued with hospitality, and we were not at all surprised to get an invitation to visit as we talked about her life.  As humorously noted in “Being Dead Is No Excuse,” the ladies of the South know how to lay out a spread and the welcome mat.

On her website, you can read how Caroline wandered into the seven-layer caramel cake business that all got started when she baked a cake for her youngest son’s christening.  We think it’s no accident that a Southern lady took up business because of a heartwarming family event. Even today, in certain parts of the South, domestic arts are such a part of the DNA that they overshadow politicians, evangelicals, and NASCAR. Her cake knowledge did not come from some recipe tucked away in some book, but was passed to her as so many things in a close community. The ladies talk to each other and pass along cake lore. 

The wonderful thing is that Caroline not only makes a great cake but that she can take it on the road. It is shipped frozen to you but tastes fresh as a daisy when served. She overnights it to you by Federal Express. As we said above, Caroline will get the cake to you or the church on time. It’s handmade even now, despite the fact that she ships several hundred thousand a year. She’s been able to scale up and direct her cakes to distant places without making the product suffer. Now that’s an art.

We suspect the cake is fantastic not only because it comes out of the Southern domestic tradition but because it has a long provenance. As best Caroline can tell, the 7-layer cake got its start in Hungary, migrated into France, and was brought to America by the French Huguenots who eventually fanned out to Charleston. Cooking always seems to be better when it stems from such a deep tradition.

Of course, Caroline could have followed other domestic pursuits. Finials by John Ragsdale is another business created by her family that has since been sold. She has a Caroline’s Take It Away Deli, where you can enjoy simple, stylish fare. And she has a cookbook for children she dashed off in spare moments. We surmise that it was inevitable that Caroline would get involved in some endeavors that beautified the home or amplified the family. Caroline's Cakes, 1580 Whitehall Road, Annapolis, MD 21409. Email: caroline@carolinescakes.com. Caroline's Gourmet Take It Away, 1576 Whitehall Road, Annapolis, MD 21409. Email:  TIA@carolinescakes.com. Toll Free Phone: 888-801-2253. Local Phone 410-349-2212. Fax 410-349-2213.  (8/27/08)

426. Bistro 5
When you are cast out into Medford, beyond the pull of Boston and Cambridge, you expect dining to be non-existent.  But you are to be fooled, at least at Bistro 5.  It gets a decorous shirtsleeves crowd, but is free of loutish behavior or too much buzz.  The duck prosciutto and its accompaniment most stick in our mind, but everything was tiptop.  The crème brulee, shared with our companion, was entirely right, and not tarted up with adulterations such as might happen at the Gotham in New York.  You can trust the barkeep to choose your wine.  Bistro 5, 5 A Playstead Road, West Medford, MA 02155.  Tel: 781-395-7464.  (2/7/07)

425. Neptune Oyster
For the last few years, laziness and maybe the Big Dig have kept us away from the North End.  But then we remember a good cup of coffee or the olive oil we sometimes haul home from one delicatessen.  A man of taste (PJ) has just put us on to Neptune Oyster, and we’re thankful.  There are many neighborhood sorts eating there, so one is spared the cashmere sweater and tassled-loafer set.  There’s an oyster selection—quite fresh—that alone could be the meal: wellfleets and katama bay and ninigret pond and pemaquids and kumomotos and so on.  It has a plush web menu in the works, and soon you can read about the equally good entrees.  Neptune Oyster, 63 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113.  Telephone: 617-742-3474.  (1/31/07)

424. Au Pied de Cochon
“Martin Picard may be one of Canada’s most famous and respected chefs, but his name does not appear on the cover of his new cookbook Au Pied de Cochon-The Album. Chef at the Montreal restaurant of the same name, he published the book himself.  Tom Tassel, a waiter, did the illustrations.  One illustration, a pig that hobbles around with a missing foot, sips a glass of wine, “falls in love with a roasted Guinea hen, sucks sap out of a maple tree,” and “loses consciousness under a nun’s habit.”  The book comes with DVD. Anthony Bourdain does the introduction for the English version.  The restaurant website itself is lots of fun, and it tells you how to come by the book.  The Australian has done an interesting quickie guide to some of Canada’s interesting restaurants, to include Picard’s.  (1/24/07)

423. Vinegar Cocktails
Our companion website Spicelines recently discovered Benimosu’s delectable purple sweet potato vinegar at the Fancy Food Show in New York.  But this is not a ‘one off’: the Japanese have a deeper interest in fine vinegars which is increasingly reflected in their marketplace.  In “Vinegar Vitality,” we learn that Japanese consumers increasingly are partaking of su (rice vinegar) and that vinegar bars and cafes offering beverages that combine rice vinegar with ingredients like fruits and vegetables have begun to appear in Tokyo.”  It got started with kurozu in 2004, a black vinegar which took on sudden popularity as a drink with health properties.”  For example, drinking 15 milliliters of vinegar each day has been shown to lower high blood pressure.  The compound also suppresses the buildup of lactic acid, which helps people to recover from fatigue; promotes secretion of saliva, which aids digestion; and contains antifungal agencies.”  “OSU-Café@Limapuluh, a vinegar cafe, opened its doors for one month only in Aoyama, near Omotesando Station.  In addition to vinegar beverages, the café offered a special vinegar-inspired menu that included everything from main dishes to desserts.”  (12/27/06)

422. Johnny Apple’s Last Will and Testament
R.W. Apple finished “An Epicurean Pilgrimage: Meals Worth the Price of a Plane Ticket,” before he passed away on October 4, and it made it into print on October 22.  Here he listed the restaurants worth going a mile, or rather, several miles for: 

  1. FLEURIE, FRANCE Auberge du Cep, Place de l’Église; (33-4) 7404-1077; perso.orange.fr/mercurebeaujolais/cep.htm.  

  2. SANT’AGATA SUI DUE GOLFI, ITALY Don Alfonso 1890, corso Sant’Agata 11; (39-081) 878-0026; www.donalfonso.com.

  3. SAN SEBASTIÁN, SPAIN Arzak, Avenida Alcalde Jose Elosegui, 273; (34-943) 27-8465; www.arzak.es.

  4. BRUSSELS Comme Chez Soi, Place Rouppe 23; (32-2) 512-2921; www.commechezsoi.be.

  5. LONDON Wilton’s, 55 Jermyn Street, SW1; (44-207) 629-9955; www.wiltons.co.uk.  GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN Sjomagasinet, Klippans Kulturreservat 5; (46-31) 775-5920; www.sjomagasinet.se.                               

  6. BUENOS AIRES Avenida Cabaña las Lilas, Alicia Moreau de Justo 516; (54-11) 4313-1336; www.laslilas.com.

  7. SHANGHAI Jean-Georges, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu 1; (86-21) 6321-7733; www.jean-georges.com.

  8. MUMBAI, INDIA Trishna, Birla Mansion, Sai Baba Marg, Fort; (91-22) 2270-3213.

  9. SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA Billy Kwong, 3/355 Crown Street, Surry Hills; (61-2) 9322-3300.  

Apple often missed on his picks.  He got it dead wrong in some regions we know well. But the point is that he enjoyed food so much, so often, in so many places.  Artful food writing embraces all sorts of personalities, who are writing for all sorts of reasons:  mastering the mysteries of cooking only appeals to a very limited part of the foodie cult.  See Mollie O’Neil’s “Food Porn” to get a feeling about some of the motivations of the food tribe.  So Apple’s list does not pretend to include all the world’s bests or all his personal favorites.  They just seem like places he feels that the traveler should visit.  (12/20/06)

421. The Tree Men
Since there’s nothing quite as wonderful as a noble tree, we feel you can ascribe mystic powers to those who would populate the earth with them.  We have already brought to your attention our friend Roger Holloway who is the Johnny Appleseed of elm trees, having put down Princeton Elms near the White House and right next to our own Bee Maison.  Then there’s T. Davis Sydnor at Ohio State University, whose “The Response of Ohio’s Native and Naturalized Trees to Construction Activity” deserves your attention, because it deals with the tendency of developers to spread their developments like oil slicks, far and wide across the landscape, rather than clustering their activities for the health of man and trees. 

Now we have just caught up with Olaf K. Ribeiro in “God Can Make a Tree, But Olaf Ribeiro Can Save Its Life,” Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2006, pp. Al and A8.  “I worry that future generations will know of giant old trees only by the stumps preserved in museums,” he says.  “Trees are dying in large numbers in cities all over the country. American Forests, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that fights for preserving trees in urban areas, says satellite reconnaissance shows metropolitan areas in the eastern U.S. have lost 30% of their tree cover in the last 20 years.  It argues that about 635 million trees need to be planted in cities nationwide.  Urban tree loss, due mainly to developmental sprawl, contributes to the decline in air quality as well as flooding problems in metro areas.  Tree roots and the soil they are in soak up excess water, and trees consume carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to greenhouse gases.”  Ribeiro is joining together with others worldwide to preserve old trees, even reversing disease by, among other things, restoring the microbial activity in which the trees formerly flourished. 

Batchuluun Doorov, a Mongolian, is disparaged by many of the world’s scientists and eco-thinkers.  To beat back erosion and sand storms across the Gobi desert, this Mongolian is erecting a wall of trees.  “The so-called ‘Green Wall’ is expected to take 30 years to complete and cost some $350 million or more” (“To Stop Dust Bowl, Mongolia Builds ‘Great Wall’ of Trees,” Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2006, pp. A1 and  A15).  With global warming, less rain, and over-sized herds (there are some 30 million livestock in Mongolia, 10 times the human population), a huge amount of area has been converted to desert.  Some 300,000 trees have been planted thus far, and Mongolians envision a band of trees that will stretch some 2000 miles right across the country.  Salinity and other factors may devastate many of the newly planted trees, but Doorov says that 80% of his trees have lived.  (12/13/06)

Update: The Pope's Penance
The chaps at Klimafa are very rooted and are now planting 37 plus acres in Hungary as an offset to all the carbon spewed out by the Vatican.  See “Vatican Penance: Forgive Us Our Carbon Output,” New York Times, September 17, 2007, pp. Al and A4.  “This summer the cardinals at the Vatican accepted an unusual donation from a Hungarian start-up called Klimafa: The company said it would plant trees to restore an ancient forest on a denuded stretch of land by the Tisza River to offset the Vatican’s carbon emissions.”  “‘It seems so obvious, but no one was doing it,” said David Gazdag of Klimafa, who brokered the project with backing from his San Francisco parent company, Planktos International, which specializes in ecosystem restoration.”  Plantos owns a big chunk of Klimafa, and it in turn is owned by Solar Energy Limited.  Gazdag is an interesting fellow with a medical degree who has taken a strong interest in reproductive health education, having helped to set up the Astarte Foundation.  As well, he has been involved with broad European humanitarian efforts.  And, of course, he is also embroiled in green activities.  (1/2/08)

Update: Sibley Becomes A Tree Man

Well, the incomparable bird watcher David Sibley, so well known for his bird guides, has joined our pantheon of tree men.  He’s now out with Sibley’s Guide to Trees.  We had previously commented on his considerable talents in Best New Bird Watchers Book.  (11-25-09)

Update:  Johnny Appleseed

One really should begin one’s list of tree men in these United States with Johnny Appleseed. Howard Means is just out with a book about him--Johnny Appleseed. His real name was John Chapman (1774-1845), an eccentric from Leominster, Massachusetts, who set out West, ever planting apples along the way.  “He scrounged apple seeds from the ‘discarded pulp’ of western Pennsylvania cider mills and planted the seeds the following spring on land he cleared.’  (Wall Street Journal, April 16-17, 2011, p. C10. For a half century, he continued this practice, branching out into Ohio and Indiana. “He real Swedenborg, avoided wearing shoes and dappled the countryside with orchards.” “Chapman’s ‘religious intensity,’ not his apple planting, was the ‘driving force of his life,’ Mr. Means says.”  “The great man of letters William Dean Howells wrote in ‘Stories of Ohio’ (1897) that if Chapman was right in his Swedenborgian belief that we are encircled by spirits that reflect our own behavior, then ‘this harmless, loving, uncouth, half-crazy man walked daily with the angels of God.’ We should all be so half-crazy.” (04-27-11)

Update: Sangay Wangchuk
Some call Sangay Wangchuk  “the father of Bhutan’s Park System.”  He directs, too, “the Forestry Center for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.”  Bhutan, a most unusual country, is 70% covered by forests, and its ruler has made forests integral to Bhutan’s pursuit of Gross National Happiness, the goal it pursues in lieu of Gross National Product.  Wangchuk attributes its success at saving its forests to (a) a small population which has not over-run the land and (b) the vast influence of Buddhism. One can read more about him and Bhutan’s forests in “Nation of the Forest,” Yale Alumni Magazine, May/June 2011, pp.48-56. (06-08-11)

 

420. Soup of the Evening
We uncovered Soup of the Evening: Beautiful Soup when we were looking into Moroccan Harira, the soup eaten at the end of the daylong fast during Ramadan.  What’s interesting here is that Pat Solley, who is now out with a book celebrating all this hard work, does more than give you a bunch of soup recipes.  She places each soup she discusses in the context: the time and place and country where it is conceived and eaten.  You will find soup tales spun by famous authors of many nations.  In other words, she is totally, totally in the soup.  It’s more than a soupcon.  (12/6/06)

419. Pure Kosher Dills
As we have said elsewhere, there is a rash of artisan this’s and that’s breaking out.  Pickles, no less, have become matters of great obsession.  We have already fessed up to the fact that we are partisan about Ricks Picks.  But one of our constant readers vows that the best of the new breed plain dills comes from Bubbies in California.  We have yet to try them but our informant is both a woman of taste and a pickle fancier.  Annoyingly, you can’t seem to buy the things online: Bubbies only has marginalia in its online store. We are amused, too, that Bubbies of San Francisco sells its stuff from Stockton, California, though we are told elsewhere that headquarters really is in Stockton.  At any rate, some of the pickle stuff is to be found in Whole Foods in New York—hidden away on the top shelf somewhere, so ask a clerk.  (11/29/06)

418. Boston’s New Winners
Most internet dining guides throw in every restaurant within 10 miles, all in hopes of drumming up some advertising.  So it’s darn hard, in Boston and elsewhere, to separate the wheat from the chaff, even if you consult a supposed quality guide like Zagat.  But Sally’s Guide does turn up a list of the good ones for Boston—and for a few other places.

In particular, writer Elaine Sosa has enumerated a number of the right ones.  There are, of course, a few that should not be there, and a host that are missing, such as The Butcher Shop.  The article is a little dated.   That said, if you’re traveling to Boston, you should consult her article.  Sally’s Dining Directory has its ups and downs, but it’s worth a try when you are heading to a city that’s new to you.  (11/22/06)

417. Old-Fashioned Manhattans
Dr. Don Beinfang is keeping an eye out for us and advises that his cocktail research proves that you have to get the ingredients just right: 

I have been working hard (very hard and with diligence) on the cocktail question and have made an observation about Manhattans.  It turns out the sweet vermouth makes a big difference.  Surprisingly there is a cheaper brand that makes a better cocktail—it is called Capri.  The fancier brands of sweet vermouth add a bitter taste that spoils the drink.  The makers of Capri know this and proudly advertise on the label that it makes a better Manhattan; they are right! 

Nothing fancy about the formula, but as they say, “The devil is in the details.”  Whisky (I like Makers Mark), 4 parts; sweet vermouth (as I mentioned I
like Capri brand), 1 part; two cherries (one for my wife), always served straight up, though the formula is of course mixed over ice.  One will not find it easy to locate Capri brand.  My source has been D & L Liquors in Waltham, Mass. 

While I am at it, I might as well tell you that I make the best Old-Fashioned on the planet.  The secret to an Old -Fashioned is: (1) simple syrup—never a package of sugar crystals; and (2) bottled soda water—never carbonated from a tap.  The rest of the fruits and bourbon are less important, though high-quality and fresh are always a plus. 

I have the original recipe for a Ward 8 written by the guy who made the drink up
at Loch-Ober’s, but it is of historic interest only since it isn’t a very good
drink after all. 

No, the good doctor is not a mixologist.  But then, that is something he can look forward to in the next life.  For the history of the Ward 8, which is probably more than you want to know about it go here and also see the Wall Street Journal's "This Cocktail Gets Our Vote."  (11/15/06)

416. Butcher Shop
We just had an excellent meal at the Butcher Shop, one of Barbara Lynch’s 3 Boston restaurants.  We’ll be back and we mean to try them all.  This is in the South End, right across the street from her B & G Oysters.  The Butcher Shop is her meat emporium, and one of the locals we know buys meat here. We had her storied hot dog—really more of a sausage—and several other meats of the evening.  Though the restaurant has bar-type set up, we nonetheless found the atmosphere to be decorous enough to hold a conversation.  Lynch attracts a nice crowd, and the quarters are attractive if not spacious.  Plus the servers are both polite and helpful: we took a chance on the wine recommendation, and it was right.  The Butcher Shop, 552 Tremont St., Boston, MA 02118.  Telephone: 617-423-4800.  Website: www.thebutchershopboston.com.  The website, though tasteful, is not very helpful: it should include map and directions, much more on the menus and the preparation.

Interestingly, Boston seems to have more than its fair share of excellent women chefs, although the membership of the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs organization is spread across America—and the group is headquartered in Tennessee, no less.  Bostonians include Lydia Shire, Ana Sortun, Jody Adams, and Judy Mattera, among others.  (11/1/06)

415. Nicola Paone
Nicola Paone.  There’s a restaurant on 34th Street—Nicola Paone—that’s not on the lips of America, but it has a certain following.  It was the creation of an Italian troubadour of the same name (i.e., the eponym) and of uncertain talents who once wrote a song about Caesar  salad—some 17 verses long.  William Buckley, the father of the New Right and of rampant polarization in America, deems it his favorite, saying:

I can name my favorite restaurant as glibly as I can name my favorite wife, country, religion, and journal of opinion.  It is (I should like to say, “of course,” but Paone’s is not widely known) Nicola Paone; its address is 207 East 34th Street New York, and I suppose I have eaten there a hundred times in the last 10 years, which would certainly account for my being Paone’s favorite customer; but, believe me, in this courtship, I was the suitor.

The food, incidentally, is far from distinguished, but good, sensitive taste has never motivated any ideologue.  We’ve not been there for years, but when we did visit, it had a wonderful atmosphere, generating perfect comity and unforced good cheer among all those in our luncheon party.

The trick there we always thought was the endgame.  The dessert cart was very ample, and it was a sin to exit the restaurant without taking on some creamy delectable that added immeasurably to one’s midriff.  Then too, at the finish, the maitre Franco Alfonso or maybe the waiter presented the check with delicacy and a warm smile.  You felt like paying the bill and, by then, did not even remember what you had eaten.  It was simply a fine experience.

We hope it’s the same.  A well-mannered, well-dressed clientele that did not feel it had to shout to be understood.  Decorousness.  Nicola Paone, 207 E. 34th St. New York , NY 10016.  Telephone: (212) 889-3239.  (11/1/06)

414. Bistro on Main—Lexington, VA
As much as anything, we are recommending Lexington, Virginia.  Bistro on Main is a pleasant stop in a very amiable town.  We were surprised, since the towns, as you work your way up the Blue Ridge of Virginia, are moth-eaten, the state not having figured out how to realize the potential inherent in such pretty landscape.  But the town is so pretty that you don’t mind staying in a modestly pretentious hotel, in this instance a Hampton Inn.  Nor do you have to go out to the fancy dive in town, where things are gussied up by too much and the prices are not merited.  That’s Café Michel, where simplicity is not understood: you cannot charge high prices unless you layer it on and sauce it to death, leading to dishes like pecan chicken with raspberry sauce or quail topped with port wine.  This is an endemic problem in much of the South.  But Bistro proprietor Jackie Lupo seems to have caught the spirit of the town, both in her décor and her food, each pretty enough but still relaxed.  Even the patrons dress well enough, but certainly are not starchy.  Bistro on Main, 8 North Main St., Lexington, Virginia 24450.  Telephone: 540-464-4888.  We remember, in particular, drinking a couple of pleasant offbeat beers, and all  in our party remarked on the freshness of the food. 

In town you can visit Stonewall Jackson’s house.  Both he and Robert E. Lee are buried here.  Sam Houston, who managed to become governor of two states, Tennessee and Texas, and who laid all the cornerstones of Texas history, was born in the neighborhood.  Washington & Lee, and VMI, both colleges of long tradition, sit in the center of town.  You will want to note the stable—also open for a horse long deceased—adjacent to the President’s House at W & L.  A substantial arboretum, Boxerwood Gardens, has a stellar collection of Japanese maples.  (9/20/06)

413. Niwanohana (Garden Flower or Hana Sushi)
In Richmond, Virginia’s “River District”—known to all as Shockoe Bottom before it was ludicrously renamed—you will find Niwanohana, which your hotel clerk will simply refer to as Hana Sushi, which is unfortunate since there are a skillion Hana Sushis around America.  It’s ever so slightly dingy now: it was more sparkling when we visited a few years back. But the execution was still fine.  The waitresses tried hard to please and the food was on point.  We could find yakko tofu on the menu, a soothing dish that oft as not fails to appear in most sushi parlors.  At its best, this is cold tofu served with chopped scallions or their equivalent in icy water with very small pieces of clear ice.  Such a dish serves as an antidote to Southern cuisine, which is often overdone with sauces and the like or to the rather silly sushi rolls that have been tarted up to conceal the poor ingredients.  A Japanese tourist found the basics to be good here and the prices reasonable.  Niwanohana.  1309 E. Cary St., Richmond, VA 23219.  Telephone: 804-225-8801.  (8/30/06)

412. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden—Richmond
It is impossible to say enough nice things about the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.  It is just another wonderful stroke of Lewis Ginter (and particularly his niece Grace Arents) who should be referred to as the Father of Stylish Richmond.  Arents left it to the city, subject to its lifetime use by her companion who lived to be 100.  Richmond is a painful city to visit—the capital of the Confederacy, the spiritual home of tobaccodom, today the capital of Virginia, and now a tattered, sooty, often humid, hot, wrecked Southern city, which one used to race through en route to and from  Florida.  It awaits resurrection.  But here and there are marks of charm which hints at the gentility and stylishness which Virginia at its best once could evince. 

It was a long trip out from center city through strip malls and cluttered thoroughfares to Ginter, and it is something of an oasis amidst the stubble.  In fact, when in it, you pray that eventually the city will capture and remodel land at Ginter’s edges to complement its beauty.  In general the buildings are not very distinguished, though the Conservatory is rather charming.  But the gardens are several, varied, full of sumptuous treats, and offering enough variety so that one can pick up some ideas for one’s own plantings.  Apparently the Garden only really got going in 1984, as plant people and citizens sued to bring the gardens to life, the city itself having neglected this wonderful legacy. 

Several things stick in the mind.  The lusty floral displays between the main entrance and the conservatory.  A very respectable garden shop.  Cinnamon plants back in a spice area. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, 1800 Lakeside Avenue, Richmond, VA.  Telephone: (804) 262-9887.  (8/16/06)

411. French Lavender
You can read much about the growing interest in lavender at our sister site www.spicelines.com.  But certainly this is a matter of even more passionate interest in France than America.  “Along an official ‘Lavender Route,’ organized tours lead visitors through perfumed purple-blue fields, distilleries, museums, restaurants, art galleries and, of course, gift shops” (“In Provence, Commerce’s Scent is Tinged with Lavender,” New York Times, July 21, 2006, p. A4).  Lavender, in France anyway, is said to disinfect the air, help psychiatric patients, clean wounds, help insomnia, and drive away flies and mosquitoes.  “France now accounts for only 50 percent of the world’s production of fine lavender, although 90 percent of its lavendin.”  Lavendin is “a sterile, hardier and much more prolific hybrid with a cruder, industrial, camphor scent.”  (8/16/06)

410. Hampden-Sydney: A Distant Place
In Virginia’s backwater, in fact, well away from the water, lies Hampden-Sydney, off of country 460, a few miles down Rte 15.  It’s far away from everything we know in urban life.  It’s an all-male college of 1,000 plus students that opened for business in November 1775.  Named after John Hampden (1594-1643) and Algernon Sydney (1622-1683), vigorous opponents of England’s Crown and government in the 17th century, it was a revolutionary outpost of learning that stuck its finger in Great Britain’s eye, as America readied itself for the Revolution. 

Since, of course, it has been anything but revolutionary.  It prides itself on turning boys into men, and men into gentlemen.  This rural educational institutional has given birth to interesting offspring who have moved to the big city—Union Theological Seminary was founded here and so was the Medical College of Virginia, both of which replanted themselves in Richmond, 60 miles away.  To visit this 1000 acre campus is to pleasantly drop back in time, and the Federal-style buildings transport one back a century or two.  Eccentricities, but nice ones, abound.  Some tropical plantings in front of the science building.  A professor in the humanities,  who drives right up to the steps of the building where his office is housed, has the singular privilege of smoking cigars indoors, and awards students who have done something of worth a quarter. 

Once it was reported in the Washington Post that young lads could have hunting dogs in their room.  Apparently this is just an unfounded rumor, but we prefer to believe it’s true, since it gives the school a hint of greatness.  Stephen Colbert, the Comedy Central comedian, put in a couple of years here, the source we are sure of all his wit.  Patrick Henry, who seems to have been everywhere in Virginia, had a hand in its founding and sent his many sons there.  The talented Josiah Bunting III put in a long term as president there; Bunting also had stints at Briarcliff, Lawrenceville School, and VMI.  Probably this is a civil and conservative school that, at its best, produces worthy eccentrics.  It’s the sort of place you hope will survive and very much go its own way.  Probably it does have to rethink itself a little.  (8/16/06)

409. The Age of Aquarius (Aquariums)
American Way, July 15, 2006 gives a pretty good list of American aquariums that are new or are being updated.  Of course, this means that the list is incomplete: it does not include Baltimore, for instance, which is first class and a must stop when visiting.  Mentioned are: 

Georgia Aquarium
225 Baker Street
Atlanta, Georgia
404-581-40000 

Adventure Aquarium
1 Aquarium Drive
Camden, New Jersey 08103
856-365-3300 

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
1 Canal Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130
800-774-7394

Aquarius Aquarium Institute (2011)
5541 Columbia Drive North
Fresno, California 93727
559-490- 3474 

North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
1 Roosevelt Blvd.
Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina 28512
866-294-3477 

Seattle Aquarium
1483 Alaskan Way (Pier 59 on the Waterfront)
Seattle, Washington 98101
206-386-4300  (8/9/06)

408. The Ballantyne Resort
The Ballantyne Resort Hotel and Spa is an almost best.  It’s a fine facility on the outskirts of Charlotte run in a mediocre fashion by Starwood Hotels, a mishmash chain that tries to be high end.  Charlotte hotels are generally a problem, but this is the one to stay in, at least until somebody finally does it right.  The rooms are large enough, with a pleasant view if you get placed on the backside, and a commodious bathroom.  Interestingly, a great deal of the help is attractive and well-spoken, coming from all over the country: Alaska, New York, etc. 

But the services and amenities are subpar and vastly overpriced.  We had a lamb steak, for instance, that had been killed many times: clearly the edibles are not bought right or prepared correctly.  The dining room is an unattractive, windowless box.  The towels in the bathroom are chintzy.  The sauna in the fitness room was non-operative, and the body wash dispenser was empty.  This is not a resort, as we know it, though maybe it would have earned a place in Cleveland Amory’s Last Resorts.  It has sort of a Florida condo feel to it, and it would require a remake by an inspired architectural designer to give it elegance and warmth, and shake off its Donald Trump veneer. 

Penny pinching, it does not supply decent free newspapers, thought the gal in the gift shop was a hoot, so it’s worth going there to get your Times. There seems to be no stationery so bring your own.  Vending machines are on every other floor, sort of like a Howard Johnson’s motel.  Ballantyne Resort, 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway   Charlotte, North Carolina 28277.  Telephone: 866-248-4824 (tollfree); 704-248-4000 (local).  (8/2/06)

407. Sunset Grill
We were impressed with the good manners, the fun and liveliness, and some of the fare of the Sunset Grill.  It’s at the edge of Vanderbilt University and probably reflects the strengths and weaknesses of that institution.  If you pick carefully, you will win.  We had a rabbit and morel pot pie, as we remember, and a beef tamale: they were delicious.  Our companion had a pasta dish and something else, both of which were very much less successful.  The desserts were overworked.  Service was slow, but very mannerly: everybody at this restaurant was very nice, and that was a winsome characteristic.  We would eat here again, but you have to know what you are up to and to press for things to get to the table.  This restaurant has spawned a couple of children, Cabanas and Midtown Café, both of which need some attention, but are still good choices in a town that does not have a lot of options.  Sunset Grill. 2001 Belcourt Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee 37212.  Telephone: 866-496-Food. Website: www.sunsetgrill.com.  The wine and beer menu, though extensive, needs to further thought.  But there is a little bit of imagination in the place; it’s fun to sit out in the sidewalk glass room, though avoid a table in the middle aisle. The entrepreneur owner has smartly tied himself into the hotels in town, so this will be frequently recommended by desk personnel.  On another outing, we would be tempted to try the Portuguese shellfish cassoulet, the sorghum roasted pork tenderloin, and maybe the breakfast burrito. (8/2/06)

406. The Hermitage—Nashville
The Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville, not to be confused with the hotel of that name in Florence, Tuscany or Andrew Jackson’s estate outside town, is clearly the place to stay in Nashville, which is otherwise replete with downmarket chain hotels.  We hear there’s another attempt to plant a luxury hotel in Union Station on Broadway, but for now the Hermitage is the only game in town.  It’s a mixed affair, as we shall make clear below, but we would return in a moment on our next trip to Nashville. 

The hotel has a wonderful history, as one can discover on its website: 

Commissioned by 250 Nashvillians in 1908, The Hotel Hermitage (named after Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage estate) opened its doors on Saturday, Sept. 17, 1910.  The new hotel, which would change its name in the 1940s, advertised its rooms as “fireproof, noiseproof, and dustproof, $2.00 and up.” 

The Hermitage Hotel really made its mark on political history when Memphis’ own Edward H. (Boss) Crump headquartered his statewide political machine there.  The stalwart politico—known as the Red Snapper of Tennessee politics—launched many Democratic campaigns from the hotel.  For years, the hotel served as the headquarters of the state Democratic Party. 

President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt came to Nashville at the invitation of local Congressman and U.S. Speaker of the House Joseph W. Byrns on Nov. 17, 1934.  According to newspaper reports, the largest crowds in Nashville history lined the downtown streets to get a glimpse of the Roosevelts en route to The Hermitage Hotel.  The First Couple was here to promote the “New Deal” programs, many of which were pushed through Congress with the help of Speaker Byrns. 

But the hotel fell on pretty hard times, along with Nashville, as the 20th century drew to a close.  As late as July 2000, Johnny Apple of The New York Times pleaded for some cosmetic efforts to bring back its sheen: “[T]he magnificent, richly marbled lobby reeked of disinfectant when we checked in, and the dated though spacious guest rooms had dirty windows. ”  In fact, the hotel now has a very good head of housekeeping with whom we recently met in passing: he is hardworking and very much up to the job, and the hotel looks tiptop.  As well, the lobby has been restored and substantial investments made in the rooms, it having been taken in hand as we understand it by the same chap who has turned the Hotel Jefferson in Richmond back into a gem.  There are still paltry facility problems: the air conditioning in the hallways is loud, and, oddly enough, functions better there than in the guestrooms.  The “business center” on the first floor is a joke, amounting to two small closets in which the hotel has tucked two Dell computers.  Now and again one will hear some noise from an upstairs room when in residence, the necessary buffering never having been attended to. 

Some other nice accidents.  This is one of the very few hotels in the country that get the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to your door every morning, and even the Sunday Times is there right on time.  The linens, especially the towels, were quite decent; annoyingly, most upscale hotels provide shoddy, thin, small towels now.  There is a DVD player, which, in fact, is pressed into service often since thunderstorms in the South may cut satellite TV service. 

Service, on the other hand, is so bad that it is laughable, and one just leans back and enjoys it.  We assume all this is given short shrift because the inner core of Nashville is still recovering, and we assume revenues are a little thin for the hotel, though the owners have gotten in early, realizing that Nashville will make a turn.  That means front desk personnel will give faulty directions to a restaurant or tell one a museum is open though it is actually closed.  Ice packs for a cooler are put in a normal refrigerator, rather than in a freezer, so they later prove useless in transit.  The concierge steers one to restaurants where he is getting a cut: they happen to be reasonably good, so this is not all bad.  But often one cannot get either concierge, one often absent, the other engaged in long conversations on the phone that bar service to busy guests.  The attractive bar and restaurant (Capitol Grille and Oak Bar) in the basement are less than meets the eye.  The bartender, for instance, not only does not know how to make two Southern drinks but also has never heard of them. The drinks are not priced in proportion to value.  In short, this beautiful property is poorly managed but, still, is very much the place to stay.  The Hermitage Hotel, 231 Sixth Avenue North, Nashville, Tennessee.  Telephone: 888-888-9414.  (7/19/06)

405. Going-Away Spices
Richmond Hill Inn, a very classy inn on the outskirts of Asheville, North Carolina, puts a little present outside your door in the morning, dazzling you with the wonders of nature instead of all the cares of man you would find in any newspaper.  There you will find a small sampling of an herb or spice, along with a card, telling you of its history and many uses.  Our party found lavender on one day, rosemary on another.  Simultaneously this reminds you that this inn has an ambitious kitchen, absolutely smashing gardens (its best feature), and active tilling that provides plants to delight both the eye and palate.  For more on Richmond Hill, see “Gabrielle’s Place—Asheville, North Carolina.”  (7/5/06)

404. American History at Its Best
You do not have to be a liberal to think that Richard Hofstadter of Columbia was a giant who brought American history to life through deft portraits of America’s heroes, be they Calhoun (“the Marx of the Master Class”), Jackson, or whomever.  If you want biography, intellectual history, and inventive insight all rolled into one, go back and get his American Political Tradition.  We say this because David Brown is now out with Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography.  Boy, we bet he stayed up nights working out that brilliant title.  It is published by the ponderous University of Chicago.  Wilfred McClay of the University of Tennessee just did a revisionist appreciation of the biography and of Hofstadter in The Wall Street Journal, May 13-14, 2006, sort of a putdown from Chattanooga.  “… Mr. Brown’s book makes it hard to evade the fact that Hofstadter was a historian who, for all the charm of his work, was nearly always wrong in his most important assertions.”  That is, to say, McClay finds him too hard on the New Right: a careful reading will also show that Hofstadter also had it in for the Old Left.  A reading of his Columbia Commencement Address of 1968 probably demonstrates that he was a shameful middle-of-the-roader, in the end, with no particular liking for extremism run amok from any wing.  (6/28/06)

403. Rum at Its Best
We will be discussing rum in much greater detail, since summer is upon us, and we expect you to put a bit down to ward off the dog days of August and the hurricanes that will soon follow.  In the years that followed Castro, Bacardi offshore became the juggernaut of the rum racket, and even the few other brands that dot the liquor store shelves are not the pick of the litter.  One rum friend has always told us that Barbancourt, out of Haiti, is the rum to drink.  An Englishman vouches for Zacapa.  You will find it and several other choice rums on the lists supplied by Forbes or by slightly downmarket Cigar Afficianado and others. Like every other heavy alcohol, rum gets right if it comes from a house that stirs in the correct ingredients and allows it to get a little age and concentration.  But more about that later.  (6/14/06)

402. Wasabi—The Real Thing
“Most sushi restaurants, both in the U.S. and Japan, do not serve the genuine article.  The green stuff next to your spicy tuna roll is usually a combination of horseradish, mustard extract, and food coloring.  Genuine wasabi is expensive (the plants are hard to cultivate) and tastes sweeter, with less concentrated heat” (FSB, January 2006, p. 118). Doug Lambrecht’s Real Wasabi in Hilton Head, S.C., imports wasabi plants from Asia, makes them into powder that it sells online.  (Please note: website was down at time of posting.)  He is trying now to grow a little on his farm near Cashiers, North Carolina.  Pacific Farms in Florence, Oregon has grown and sold wasabi since 1997.  (6/7/06)

401. Cambridge: Shopping on Tory Row
A day before the May rains that nearly washed away Eastern Massachusetts, we spent a misty morning in Cambridge wandering down Brattle Street.  Once known as Tory Row, this quiet, gently curving thoroughfare was home to a dozen wealthy royalists.  On the eve of the Revolution, most of these “worthies” abandoned their mansions and fled.  George Washington, who assumed command of the Continental Army in Cambridge on July 3, 1775, occupied the Vassal House for a year while planning the siege of Boston.  Now known as the Longfellow House—it was a wedding gift to the poet, who lived there from 1837 to 1882—it still stands at 105 Brattle Street, where it is maintained by the National Park Service.  (The Longfellow House, 105 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.  Tel: 617/876-4491.  Web: www.nps.gov/long.) 

We confess we did not have history in mind that morning.  Our thoughts were in the material world and if yours are the same, you might follow our lead.  Begin at the Harvard Coop (not on Brattle but a block or so up on Harvard Square): this four-story bookshop with spiral stairs and acres of darkly gleaming shelves stocks thousands of books that you really do need and might not find elsewhere.  We scooped up French scientist Herve This’ Molecular Gastronomy and the illustrated Diary of Frieda Kahlo.  The Art and Architecture section is particularly fine; naturally, “how to get into Harvard” books are prominently featured, as are sometimes rarified tomes by university professors.  (The Coop at Harvard Square, 1400 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02238.  Telephone: 617/499-2000.  Web: harvardbkstore.com.) 

Go out of the Coop and turn right, ignoring the riff-raff of cafes and shops, until you reach 17 Brattle Street.  Motto specializes in modern artisan jewelry from 100 American designers.  Semi-precious stones are featured here, as in Alexis Bittar’s dangling cluster earrings of glowing quartz, garnet and tourmaline.  We nearly succumbed to Gabrielle Sanchez’s simple grey pearl dangles ($295), but were distracted just in time by a pair of flat hand-hammered gold hoops set with tiny diamonds.  (Motto, 17 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138  Telephone: 617/868-8448.) 

Do you need to buy a gift?  Almost everything next door at sister store MDF, 19 Brattle Street, falls into the ‘exquisite’ category, from a square finely detailed bamboo ceramic teapot ($55) to Michael Aram’s aluminum scoop with bronzed coffee bean handle.   Hmm, maybe you need a new handbag….  On an overcast morning, an oblong bronze tote with dark brown leather whip-stitching and handsome silver buckles beckoned discreetly.  (MDF, 19 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA  02138.  Telephone: 617/491-2789.)

Whoops, go back to Black Ink at 5 Brattle and admire the silvery ceiling, tea-green walls, and rigid geometry of the shelves on which perfectly arranged wares are displayed.  Most of these gift items might be described as ‘ironic’.  Pastel towels, for example, squashed into sundae glasses, resemble strawberry milkshakes topped with whipped cream and cherries.  Along with the plastic peanuts and bright yellow adhesive “measuring tape,” (get it?), there are some lovely items.  A scroll-down German poster of bright orange protozoa floating in an aquamarine sea would brighten a beach house or nursery ($175), while an asymmetrical rice paper fan resting in its own bamboo holder is a triumph of form and function.  (Black Ink, 5 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.  Telephone: 617/497-1221.) 

Well-heeled 20-somethings swoon over Jasmine Sola’s pair of chic, colorful stores—one for shoes and one for everything else.  Candy-hued walls in rose, spearmint, buttercup and sky blue create a vacation mood.  A wall of bright skintight T-shirts with real and imagined logos ranges from $20 to $40, while a Basil and Maude black chiffon skirt, heavily embroidered with bronze and gold beads in a vaguely Indian design was $195.   Under it all, wear lacy Bela BumBum (“beautiful bottom”) panties from Brazil—guaranteed to transport the “fun-loving, sassy woman” to the “shores of Ipanema and Copacabana.”  (Jasmine Sola, 37 Brattle (617/354-6043) and 39 Brattle (617/576-0031), Cambridge, MA  02138.  Web: www.jasminesola.com.) 

Men, by now feeling that they have gotten short shrift, can linger at Colonial Drug over the luxurious Trufitt & Hill badger shaving brushes, some set in silver, and the latest in Neal’s Yard men’s toiletries.  This old- line pharmacy also stocks Mason and Pearson hairbrushes and Elygedium toothpaste, as well as over 1000 hard-to-find classic fragrances.  We sniffed Piguet’s Bandit and Worth’s Je Reviens, before veering wildly off course.  We couldn’t resist a lime-green tube of Moynette Paris ($40), a “French Polynesian floral fantasy inspired by Tahitian gardenia, French muguet de bois and Nay champa (“a whispering vanilla-like ingredient used in temples during meditation for a calming, relaxing transcendental effect.”  What were we thinking?  (Colonial Drug, 49 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.  Telephone: 617/864-2222.)

Surely there’s something you need from The Museum of Useful Things, a Black Ink spin-off.  Super-sized paper clips, orange Kik-Stools, and magnetic spice racks share space with great vintage objects like a giant white porcelain chemist’s funnel and a battered wooden stretcher with attached leather boot ($35).  The “museum” behind the counter showcases old change-makers, clothes pin racks, orange juice squeezers and the like.  (The Museum of Useful Things, 49 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.  Telephone: 617/576-3322.  Web: www.themut.com.)

By now you have just enough energy to cross the street to gaze at the quietly luxurious European women’s clothing at Sette Bello.  In the window check out the flirty grey charmeuse skirt paired with a sheer gunmetal jacket and a fitted silk blouse in mysterious foggy hues.  Then go inside, as we did, to try on a stunning silk and wool French paisley shawl in watery greens and blues ($475). Try hard to resist a saucy black crepe pleated skirt and a white eyelet shirt which you know you could wear nearly everyday of your life.  (Sette Bello, 52 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.  Telephone: 617/864-2440.) 

Now it’s time to sit down and recover.  Luckily, L.A. Burdick is right next door.  Loyal fans of the Walpole, N.H.-based chocolatier love the cunning dark, milk and white chocolate mice with almond ears and tails of silk, packed 16 to a ribbon-tied wooden box ($40).  A cup of bittersweet hot chocolate was so thick and so rich that we couldn’t finish it, but we had no trouble inhaling the quarter-sized ginger-flavored macaroons.  The cosmopolitan crowd ebbs and flows but you can sit in this candy box of a shop as long as you want, reading the newspaper, looking out at the rain.  (L.A. Burdick, 52 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.  Telephone: 617/491-4340.)  (5/31/06)

400. -new- Easter Island Best
Easter Island is renowned everywhere … for its moai, the giant statues that stand mutely along the rocky coast….”  Today, Benedicto Tuki Pate is world renowned for his work, and is a defender of the island’s Polynesian culture (New York Times, April 22, 2006, p. A4).  (5/31/06)

399. Conniff: Of Mice and Men
We’ve never met the man, but we have talked a whole lot.  It’s hard to remember exactly what brought us together, but we have been exchanging virtual witticisms for a few years now.  Richard Conniff is an eloquent and amusing writer, who, in his own words, has “done 2 basic things for the last 20 years.  One is to write about animals for National Geographic and Smithsonian Magazine.  And the other is to write about rich people for Architectural Digest.  So I’ve been going back and forth between these two worlds for a long time.  I didn’t see the connection at first.” 

These days he’s better known for his animal writing about human beings, two volumes of which we have plumbed.  The Natural History of the Rich looks at the various pushings and shovings of the rich who, no matter how rarified, always show an excess of animal spirits, while The Ape in the Corner Office takes a primatologist’s eye to the workplace, where he brings all the anglings and occasional cooperation of white collar workers into focus.  His “ape” website is www.apeinthecorneroffice.com.  He pretty well establishes that man is just another primate in love with hierarchy.  Conniff is a rather fascinating guy, so you should get up to speed on him before you plunge into his prose.  Most likely, we will next catch him on another trip to Madagascar when we happen to exchange messages: he is as likely to be off to unlikely places as our West Coast detective friend who is our best source on Haiti and Thailand.  We would suggest you get a breezy overview of the man by consulting IdentityTheory.com.  Since we are deeply superficial, what we like best about Conniff is his random anecdotes that tell us everything, such as this little gem from the Richie Rich book: 

The plane banked eastward.  Away from the green swath of the river valley, the bleached-out canvas of desert stretched endlessly to both horizons.  We headed for the lawyer’s hot springs ranch, his refuge from humanity, and we landed on a rough dirt runway atop a mesa.  The only rules of the species that seemed to matter out there were the personal ones posted on a wall at the ranch:  “Do not talk politics.  Do not talk business.  Do not hustle elected officials.  Eat when you are hungry.  Piss anywhere.” 

By now, though, I knew better. The rich like to pretend that nature is something they have risen above.  But in their hearts, they know rising is a myth.  (5/24/06)

398. Hotel Palaces
For the ’20s, all the hotspot cities in America created grand hotels, too grand, that tried to invoke Europe in Florida, New York, and California.  These are commemorated in Grand Hotels of the Jazz Age.  Nobody built more of these than Schultze & Weaver, a socially connected New York architecture firm that put up the Waldorf-Astoria, the Sherry-Netherland, The Pierre, The Breakers, the Los Angeles Biltmore, the Park Lane,  etc.  Moreover, the Wolfsonian in Miami has assembled a collection of the firm’s work, an interesting addition to that institution’s focus on the gilded life and decorative arts.  The public rooms SW created did carry one off to other lands and other eras, an escapism entirely missing from today’s more anonymous convention hotels.  (5/10/06)

397. Weapons-Grade Whiskey
On February 27, the Times of London wrote about a whiskey so powerful that it could knock your socks off.  And that’s what happened to the Times.  Although this news item was one of the day’s top stories, the concoction was so powerful that it knocked the Times Online computers for a loop, and you will find an error message when you try to dial into the story.  In fact, official at the Times and elsewhere in the Murdoch empire have still not been able to find the story.  It had a great headline: “Try the 92 per cent weapons-grade whisky that will take your breath away. Literally.”  Fortunately we have been able to recapture David Lister’s masterpiece elsewhere: 

A single drop of the ancient drink of ‘usquebaugh-baul’ was described by the travel writer Martin Martin in 1695 as powerful enough to affect “all members of the body.”  He added: “Two spoonfuls of this last liquor is a sufficient dose; if any man should exceed this, it would presently stop his breath, and endanger his life.”

Twelve barrels of the world’s most alcoholic whisky, or enough to wipe out a medium-size army, will be produced when the Bruichladdich distillery revives the ancient tradition of quadruple-distilling today.  With an alcohol content of 92 per cent, the drink may not be the most delicate single malt ever produced but it is by far and away the world’s strongest.  Malt whisky usually has an alcohol content of between 40 per cent and 63.5 per cent.” 

Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich’s master distiller, said that the quadruple-distilled whisky would be very similar to the spirit sampled by Martin on Islay in 1695, which he later described in A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, published in 1703.  Most whisky is distilled just twice.

He said: “It will be very floral, but most importantly it will take your breath away.” “Bruichladdich has a reputation among Scotland’s distilleries for being one of the more eccentric and outspoken.  After the American drinks maker Jim Beam halted production in 1994, the distillery was bought for £6.5 million in 2000 by a group led by Mr Reynier.  It is seeking to establish itself as one of a small number of privately run distilleries.”

We have tried to be in touch with Bruichladdich about their quadruple, but the distillers have been singularly unresponsive.  We presume they have been drinking their own brew, which is equivalent to believing one’s own propaganda.  We hope both the Bruich people and the staff at the Times will soon be resuscitated.  But newspapermen no longer hold their drink very well: they mostly like to talk about it.  See “The Whiskey with 92% Alcohol,” which even has an Islay map in case you choose to rush off to the distillery.  (4/26/06)

396. Summer Shack
We went once to Jasper’s in Boston, had a respectable meal, enjoyed our brief conversation with the hefty chef-owner, and never went back.  Opened in 1983, it was another good Boston B restaurant that the locals waxed too purple over, since they really did not have an excess of fine places or fine palates to raise the bar.  With a few exceptions, Boston restaurants are like Boston hotels: much raved over, but not quite up to the mark.  Ritz Carltons in other cities are much more comfortable than Boston’s, although its downstairs café has character and it is the hotel where we like to have a business breakfast, free of the fat cats than frequent the Four Seasons. 

Jasper White’s Summer Shack is another matter.  It has picnic informality and diverse fairly simple fare, actually well cooked, that is actually in tune with the palate of the citizens.  We say this even though ratings from the locals range from extraordinary to poor.  Last time out we went for Jasper’s pan roasted lobster, which is very ample, and which is nestled in a light sauce that serves to keep the meat juicy, but in no way overshadows the flavor of the lobster.  There are 4 locations, 3 around Boston, and one in Connecticut; heavy with fish, they sort of update, liven, and improve on Boston’s middling, dependable chain called Legal Seafoods.  We thought the desserts were neither here nor there, but you don’t really need them, after you have had raw appetizers and your main dish. 

A number of chefs around the nation are getting into informal restaurants of one sort or another, which turn out to be more relaxed and better tasting than the original high falutin dives where the chefs get started.  To boot, of course, they make more money in casual dining than they do in the haute scene.  What they are proving is that they have a feel for the casual dining segment, too long dominated by the Red Lobsters, Outbacks, and other plastic dives which sport a pretty good price tag but don’t give solid food value.  The casual dining chains generally offer much better service than local eateries, but their food is always lacking.  In truth the majority of these new chefs has neither the background nor the cultural training to open and sustain 4 star restaurants, but can do very well at middle brow.  The Summer Shacks have good, long hours on virtually every day of the week.  See www.summershackrestaurant.com for detail on Boston, Cambridge, Mohegan Sun, and Logan locations.  (4/19/06)

395. Peabody Essex Museum II
The Peabody Essex is a brand new museum and well worth the visit.  A very aggressive museum staff has gone out and raised a heap of money ($195 million or so comes to mind) and just rebuilt the thing from top to bottom.  What has been gained here is a first class building by Moshe Safdie, with a commodious central atrium that has hints of a sailing ship and well lighted, comfortable galleries that afford a comfortable home for the collections.  Secondly, a little imagination has led to a small coup: Ying Yu Tang, a late Qing dynasty merchants’ house, has been painstakingly carted off from Southeastern China and erected in the museum compound:  this, in fact, is what locals most remark on about the museum today.  Finally, we notice, there is a modern Indian collection and gallery that merits your attention: it has a vitality that’s missing from the rest, which is essentially a collection of artifacts. 

Safdie is an interesting enough architect.  Starting out in Israel, he made his way to Montreal, Canada.  We first encountered him at Expo 67, a spellbinding exposition where he constructed a very singular Habitat, cellular residences which we found interesting, though we did not move to Canada to take advantage of them.  He has wangled a slot at Harvard and now keeps his offices in Somerville, Massachusetts, coming to America as have a few of these adventuresome foreign architects.  In the new Peabody, the museum is about the architecture—not the art—a problem of many of the dramatic museums being built across the country.  However, we suspect that the curatorial techniques and museum management will advance—a director or two down the line—so that the display possibilities inherent in the museum space are realized.  At the moment, the displays are both conventional and a little sterile.  For now, it’s nice enough that this is a very pleasant space that is rather empty out of summer season at mid-week where one may enjoy one’s thoughts in splendid solitude.  It would be unfair to call this an exciting building, but it is comfortable, which is very good, indeed, for a town that has seen better days.  See our “Museums:  Is There a Muse in the House?” both for a discussion of how museums have to reinvent themselves and for a review of the explosion in museum architecture. 

Something has been lost, of course.  PEM I was a charming, small, slightly scatterbrained museum which was a much better representation of Salem’s vital connection to the Asian trade.  In fact, if we had our way, the museum would take on its original name, The East Indian Marine Society, which alone would capture the sense of something vital that dates back to 1799 and reminds us that world trade made America or least coastal America all that it is.  The warmth of PEM I has been lost for now, and, if anything, it seems a-historical.  The sense of history can only be found in the sundry house and garden preservations that are attached to the museum, some 24 in total. 

PEM thought for a while of moving out of town, but, in the end, remained attached to Salem.  There is some hope that it might serve as the focal point for the revival of a very tattered Salem.  Its “Painting Summer in New England,” for example, is an attempt to put museum activities in the frame of the larger community.  That said, the museum is making efforts to serve as a community catalyst, but its talents are not yet equal to that mission.  It has a pleasant if sterile cafeteria: we would recommend that it experiment more with low-key Asian dishes.  The Peabody Essex Museum. East India Square, Salem, Massachusetts 01970.  Phone: 978-745-9500, 866-745-1876.  (4/12/06)

394. Best American Absinthe
But it’s made in France.  Produced abroad, it beats anti-absinthe laws through a loophole that permits it to sell over the Internet.  It is Ted Breaux, an environmental chemist from Louisiana, that has gotten all sorts of attention for working methodically at Combier to provide close facsimiles of absinthes from back when.  His handiwork can be found at Absinthe Online, though there are other online absinthe options we know little about.  We had a taste of Breaux absinthe at a Mardi Gras party, and it made it worth going out on a dark night when the tempting home fire was burning brightly.  Breaux is getting all sorts of press in all sorts of places, but we most recommend a very educational piece by Jack Turner called “Green Gold” that just ran in The New Yorker, March 13, 2006, pp.38-44:

“Near the entrance stood an immense plastic tub of wormwood, absinthe’s distinctive and contentious constituent, which, since the late nineteenth century, was held to cause insanity.”  “The invention of absinthe is traditionally credited to Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French Huguenot who fled France for the Val-de-Travers…in the Swiss Jura.”  He sold a tonic made of wormwood, fennel, and green anise—the central ingredients today.  “David Nathan-Maister, a British-based absinthe historian and collector who sells bottles to a tiny community of enthusiasts…”  These collector items can run into the thousands.  

“The current revival of interest can be dated to 1994, when Radomil Hill, a seventy-five-year-old Czech, began to market a drink called Hill’s Absinth Liquer.” 

Questions about the poisonous aspects of absinthe center around thujone, which comprises about 60 percent of wormwood oil.  But tests by Breaux reveal that pre-ban absinthes and even his own have hardly any of the toxic thujone.  In reality, the regulations that ban or control absinthe distribution are based on a false premise. 

The Internet is replete with interesting articles about absinthe including Wikipedia Absinthe History, Wired Magazine, etc.  (4/5/06)

Update: The Lore of Absinthe
Barnaby Conrad III provides good anecdotes, and average wisdom, about absinthe in “The Absinthe-Minded Professor,” Forbes Life, October 2006, pp.88-90.  But it’s at the very end where he gives us some value in his “Absinthe Online.”  There he gives numerous absinthe sites, showing you where you can purchase your varietal.  The Virtual Absinthe Museum can be found at www.oxygenee.com.  In passing, he mentions the interesting Ted Breux whose five absinthes can be found at www.vintageabsinthe.com.  Spanish offerings are found at www.spiritscorner.com.  Other French, Austrian, and Swiss brands can be had at www.absintheonline.com or www.alandia.de.  Conrad says online ordering is illegal, but that nobody is watching.  We have been led to believe, however, that there is some hole in the regulations in respect to online individual imports.  (2/14/07)

393. Zingerman’s
We can’t even tell you for sure that this is a great place; we have never been there.  But it has a mythic quality about it, and we understand that people from far and near will buy product off the shelves here, sometimes at prices well above the market, simply because it comes from Zingerman’s.  For sure it’s a stop when you are in Ann Arbor.  As you can see on its website, the Zingermeisters have mastered the art of line extension, and in truth we probably should have put this entry in our Agile Companies section.  Though it dates back to 1982, the two founders have already built such a reputation that they have been able to create 6 businesses and become instant authorities, having authored Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating.  Apparently they put together a business plan that mattered in 1994, and it’s been smooth sailing since.  Read about how this deli came to be in Reveries Magazine.  “By 2009, Zingerman's hopes to have 12 to 15 enterprises, with a chocolatier and coffee roaster vying to be next,” according to USA Today.  Incidentally, Zingermann’s has made all sorts of hoopla out of being customer friendly and dares to train employees for other firms, yet it does not supply decent contact information on its site, and you have to hire private detectives to find its phone number.  Its number and address are: Zingerman’s Deli.  422 Detroit Street.  Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104. 734-663-3354.  (3/29/06)

392. Slow Gin
We’re in the early stages of planning a celebration for Fall 2006.  Cole Porter is going to play a part.  And martinis are on the docket.  We have not advanced much yet on the food.  But there’s some hope as to what we do about the gin (although we know we will have a vodka alternative for those who want our Gibsons instead).  BarMedia has a mildly outdated listing of premium gins but it is far from authoritative. We have settled on Magellan, which is imported by Crillon.  There’s some worthwhile commentary on RateItAll, including some reader comments that indicate that the importer is already tinkering with the brand, so stock up.  “A French gin, named after the explorer.  Triple distilled to 44% alc. by vol., a natural sky blue colour from the iris root, made with 11 ingredients: Juniper Berries, Cloves, Nutmeg, Cradamom, Grains of Paradise, Licorice, Cinnamon, Coriander, Orange Peel, Cassia and Iris.”  The bottle, with floral decoration and all, is unique and adds to the allure.  We should warn you that some fetishists are annoyed at the modifications to the formula and are switching out to Plymouth and sundry other old standbys. 

Though Magellan is our current favorite, we consider the dispute as to which is the supreme gin to be far from settled.  Apparently gin originated in Holland, and we have met passionate advocates for some of their bottlings.  Jim Clarke has done a nice little essay about them called “Dutch Gin: The Traditional and the Modern.”  One fanatic associated with the Harvard Business Review has a jenever (Dutch gin) permanently sitting on ice.  We like to think there’s nothing else in his refrigerator.  At some point we will trundle off to the National Gin Museum in Hasselt, Belgium (aka Musée national du genièvre) with the hope of getting at the truth in gin.  (3/22/06)

Update: Perry Gin
We have quite enjoyed Charles Perry’s “The Flowering of  Cool New Gins” (Los Angeles Times, July 12, 2006).  “GIN was invented for medicinal purposes by a 17th century Dutch physician named Franciscus Sylvius, who added juniper berries, spices and other botanicals to distilled spirits.  During the 18th century, the English took to drinking gin for its alcohol content, but in the 19th century, despite gin's bad rep—it had become a byword for alcohol abuse—bartenders noticed that its crisp, piney flavor performed excellently in mixed drinks.  In particular, it wedded beautifully with the body and winy aromas of vermouth.  The all-time classic gin cocktail is the dry martini, created almost exactly 100 years ago, a cocktail so sleek and powerful it has been nicknamed the Silver Bullet.”  “The well-known gin brands, like most spirits in the modern world, are distilled in high-volume column stills.  In contrast, eight of the newcomers boast that they use the old-fashioned pot still, the kind associated with Cognac and Scotch malt whisky.” 

His rough ranking is as follows: “Hendrick’s (Scotland, 88 proof). Tasters called this unique gin nuanced and harmonious.  It’s made in a 19th century still which steams the botanicals, rather than boiling them.”  “Old Raj (Scotland, 110 proof).  This was considered the best sipping gin (though sippers should bear in mind its alcohol content).”  “Kensington (England, 94.4 proof).”  “Junipero (California, 98.6 proof).”  That one is from Anchor Brewery in San Francisco.  “No. 209 (California, 80 proof.” That one is from a Sonoma winery.  “Citadelle (France, 88 proof).”  “Tanqueray No. 10 (England, 80 proof).”  “Martin Miller’s (England, 80 proof).”  “Bafferts (England, 80 proof).”  “Hamptons (Minnesota, 94 proof.”  “Mercury (England, 94 proof).”  “Desert Juniper (Oregon, 80 proof).”  “Cascade Mountain (Oregon, 95 proof).”  “Graffiti (Scotland, 80 proof).”  “Magellan (France, 80 proof).”  “Sarticious (California, 80 proof).” 

Readers should understand that Perry’s list is far from comprehensive—and, you will notice, does not make it to Holland.  But at least it focuses on boutique varieties.  Halfway down the list, his LA Times tasting panel found the gins to be rather average, but, let’s face it, the Los Angeles climate and air quality plays terrible havoc with the tastebuds.  And then there’s the passionate body that’s taken up Blackwood from Scotland.  (11/22/06)

391. Rye Whiskey Is Back
Rye whiskey suffered a body blow with Prohibition, and it has never recovered, the American whiskey palate having gone somewhat bland.  It once enjoyed occasional dominance, particularly in the Northeast.  

The Scotch-Irish immigrant distillers had some exposure to using rye in whiskey production, but for their German immigrant neighbors rye had been the primary grain used in the production of Schnapps and Vodka back in northern Europe. They continued this distilling practice, particularly in Pennsylvania and Maryland, where Rye whiskey, with its distinctive hard-edged, grainy palate, remained the dominant whiskey type well into the 20th century. 

Rye whiskey was even more adversely [a]ffected by National Prohibition than Bourbon.  A generation of consumers weaned on light-bodied and relatively delicate white spirits turned away from the uncompromising, pungent, full-bodied straight Rye whiskies.  Production of Rye whiskies had vanished altogether from its Mid-Atlantic homeland by the 1980s.  A handful of modern Rye whiskies are currently being made by Bourbon distilleries in Kentucky and Indiana.  America’s first indigenous whiskey style is today only barely surviving in the marketplace.  Its primary use is for blending to give other whiskies more character and backbone, although a small but vocal group of Rye whisky enthusiasts continue to champion.” (From Tastings, an online, highly readable publication of the Beverage Tasting Institute. Look specifically for North American Whiskey.) 

Incidentally, Tastings recommends an 18-year old Sazerac or Buffalo Trace Rye which we heartily endorse.  Both the 6 year and 18 year will give you satisfaction and make you think you are finding your way back to the sources of the Republic.  The Buffalo Trace website is a hoot. 

Since the 90s, fortunately, there has been a slow, halting resurgence in rye with an outbreak of new brands, a development we expect to strengthen.  Dennis McCarthy has captured their names, even if his list misses an entry or two.  It’s called Dennis’ Whiskey Corner.  We just had a discussion about rye at a Mardi Gras party, an one New Orleans native held out for Old Overholt, which we must try someday.  (3/15/06)

Update: WSJ on Rye
The Wall Street Journal (October 28-29, 2006, p. P11) belatedly discovered that rye is in favor again, and adds some charming detail about its history, though little about the varieties you should be sampling.  It favors “Van Winkle Family Reserve” and includes a few others such as Wild Turkey Rye, Old Potrero Straight Rye, and Hirsch 21-Year-Old Single-Barrel Rye.”  George Washington apparently produced 11,000 gallons of rye at Mount Vernon in the year before his death.  Tex Ritter made a song out of it called “Rye Whiskey.”  (11/29/06)

Update: Times on Rye
Invariably our national media copy one another, winding up writing about the same topics without imagination.  So chasing others, the New York Times (November 29, 2006, pp. D1 and D12), very belatedly has done its own “All but Lost, Rye Is Revived as the Next Boutique Find.”  We are sorry to inform it and the other late-with-too-little publications that rye has been back for several years.  As is the custom these days, the Times formed a panel to pick the best ryes (those that it could find), but it’s not a list we are pushing.  The author is Eric Asimov, who is a reasonably good writer, so he should know better. He got together with Florence Fabricant, David Wondrich (columnist for Esquire), and Lew Bryson of Malt Advocate.  The problem is that they’re hardly two fisted drinkers or experienced tasters.  Their recommendations: Black Maple Hill Single Barrel 18 years, Old Potrero Straight Single Malt, Sazerac Straight 6 years (Best Value), Michter’s Straight 10years, Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 years, The Classic Cask Kentucky Straight, Hirsch Selection 21 years, Rittenhouse Single Barrel 21 years, Rittenhouse Straight 100 proof, and Wild Turkey 101 Proof.  We say buyer beware.  And, eventually, drink enough, so that you can comb out the durable from the new arrivals.  Also watch out for the god-awful cocktails that have been now dreamed up to blunt the taste of rye.  (1/10/07)

Update: Knockoff Sazerac
We don’t know whether we will get the sazarak a try, since it looks to be a gussied up Sazerac.  We think the drinks promoters are laying it on a bit thick.  It has arak and Kummel liqueur in it, and we do not see any specifications for the rye which is still at the heart of the drink.  Robin Lewis, a cocktail consultant, put this thing together for FR.OG, a restaurant in SoHo which, fittingly, has an overly complex name.  We will be writing the folks at the Sazerac Company to see what they think of the whole thing.  The recipe ran in “Taste of Colonialism,” New York Times, July 1, 2007.  (10/3/07)

390. French-American Re-Weaving
Several of our states are imbued with a Third World character.  Often you cannot find it, and if you do, it’s no darn good.  There’s not a decent cleaner in at least two of our domiciles.  And when the brutal establishments in those states torture our clothing, nobody within 500 miles can repair it.  Over the years, at least six of our family members have taken their garments to French-American for repair, and we ourselves notice that we are there more often to restore brand new sweaters that have been pulverized the first time out at our “best” local cleaning establishment.  Ronald Moore and his associates always do an excellent job. 

Every New Yorker seems to have been there as well.  Leonard Bernstein, Happy Rockefeller, Frank Costello, everybody.  We suspect we should hang out there and see what other notables make it upstairs to this special hideaway. 

Ronald Moore is now the very genial owner, the shop left to him by the founder Nathan Singer, who had started it in 1930 and worked there up to his death in 1995.  Moore was a Brooklyn orphan who lucked into a job there in 1967 and became the owner’s alter ego. We love the promotion card that he hands out which refers to “The New FRENCH HAND Process.”  Of course, there is nothing new about it: this is the same yellow card that has been in use from the moment he came aboard.  The artful Ms. Stella Petrakis closes holes either through a “single thread weave” or “a patch weave,” where a matching piece of cloth is inserted into the garment.  See “A Life Mended, Thread by Thread,” in The New York Times, August 7, 2005 for more details.  The French-American Re-Weaving Company. 119 West 57th Street, Room 1406.  New York, New York 10019.  Tel:  212-765-4670.  (3/8/06)

389. SpiceLines Blog
The Global Province is currently home for the SpiceLines newsletter, the most authoritative newsletter on all aspects of spices.  It deals with one spice at a time—exhaustively, having conquered black pepper and cinnamon so far.  But it also is building an archive of special recipes, spice sources, and cooking equipment purveyors.  Its companion site is the SpiceLines Blog, where you will find a little spicey fiction and very short takes around the world of taste, ranging from a curry event at the Asia Society to a marvelous food trip through the sub-continent by a husband and wife team from Canada.  Spices put the particular back in food—a direct antithesis to the bland feeling manufacturers and chain restaurants strive to achieve.  (3/1/06)

388. Bugatti Still Supreme
Years ago when we were lollygagging in the Caribbean, a very fun spoiled collegian from Belvedere told us that his dream was to stock his garage with a Bugatti.  He was a marine biologist by training, and it was much more fun to talk about luxury autos with him than to follow him around to the little puddles in the swamp where he played peekaboo with aquatic life.  We learned from him that it was an exceptionally temperamental car: the mechanic might have to stroke it to make it come to life.  But when all was perfect (perhaps as perfect as the weather on the deserted island where we were weekending), then it would provide the drive of a lifetime.

Bugatti has been absorbed by Volkswagen AG, and yet we hear it is still a  treat.  It’s the world’s most expensive car, tipping the scales at $1 million.  (See the Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2005, pp. D1& D13.)  The Bugatti Veyron, to be launched in 2006, “boasts a massive, rear-mounted 16-cylinder engine with 1001 horsepower—roughly the equivalent of a couple of Porsche 911….  It needs just 2.5 seconds to accelerate from zero to 62 miles per hour, and burns rubber so quickly that its makers had to hire France’s Michelin SCA to develop a special compound for its tires.  Its top speed: 252.9 mph.”

Now produced in France, the car’s ties to the original in Italy are a bit jumbled.  Just under 8,000 were made between 1909 and 1939, when World War II interrupted.  VW took over the brand as part of its invasion of the luxury market.  The originals were works of art: VW’s entries are, as the English are wont to say, “very grand, very grand, indeed.”  Today collectors have paid as much as $10 million for one of the vintage cars.  For details on Bugatti’s models, racing history, and other details, see the company’s history.  VW, now producing about one car a week, will terminate production if it cannot sell enough.  Apparently the world lost Isadora Duncan in a Bugatti, her neck snapped by an errant scarf—what a way to go!

Duncan often wore scarves which trailed behind her, and this caused her death in a freak accident in Nice, France.  She was killed at the age of 49 when her scarf caught in the open-spoked wheel of her friend Ivan Falchetto's Bugatti automobile, in which she was a passenger.  As the driver sped off, the long cloth wrapped around the vehicle's axle.  Duncan was yanked violently from the car and dragged for several yards before the driver realized what had happened.  She died almost instantly from a broken neck. The tragedy gave rise to Gertrude Stein’s mordant remark that “affectations can be dangerous.”

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isadora_Duncan.  (2/1/06)

Update: Luxury Journalism
We are somewhat surprised to find an article on the Veyron in McPaper (USA Today, Life Section, June 14, 2006, pp. D1 and D2).  This is further evidence that America’s middle market is disappearing as Americans either buy hyper luxury at the high end, or go for commodity, very low-priced products at the bottom.  “It even sports a rear-deck wing that changes angles to assist with high-speed braking, much the way airline pilots lower flaps to slow a landing plane.”  “We’re not really competing with other car purchases,” says Thomas Bscher (pronounced Ba-SHEER), president of Bugatti Automobiles. “We’re competing with boats and planes. In that world, $1.3 million won’t really get you anything.  With us, it gets you the best of the best.”  (7/12/06)

387. Meats by Niman
When you go to the market these days, you are not sure what the pork will taste like or what the factory producers of hogs have added to it.  But smallish Niman Ranch (sales under $100 million) is the reliable brand of  pork and meat, worth searching for in your super market.  “Niman’s cattle graze on high grass for at least 14 months and then spend 5 months at low-density … feedlots.”  See “One Man’s Meat,” Forbes, March 17, 2003, p.162.  While he raises his own beef, “his pork comes from 250 Midwestern hog farmers, who own half Niman’s pork unit and adhere to the same protocols of rearing.”  He’s done the same thing with sheep ranchers to get his lamb.  Niman Ranch, 1025 East 12th Street Oakland, CA 94606.  866-808-0340.  (1/25/06)

386. Best Art Stop In Santa Fe
We provide here a host of links to Shidoni and to the Onate controversy.  Santa Fe is a small town where art as commerce is big business, and most of the art is tiresome.  But the collections on museum row and a few of the galleries downtown have their moments.  Most fun for the whole family, however, is Shidoni, a foundry for artists out in Tesuque, just outside of town on Bishop’s Lodge Road, where there is a walk-about amongst the sculpture.  Among the monumental pieces developed there is “a 36-foot tall depiction of ‘Don Juan’ by John Houser that took four years in the casting process.  Most of the casting is done with the lost-wax method, which involves 10 steps including digital computations.”  Houser’s Don Juan Onate got itself embroiled in a huge politically correct tempest in the teapot when sundry factions in El Paso, which had commissioned the work from Houser, got upset at this celebration of Onate who was reputed to have been horribly cruel to native peoples back when Spanish explorers were making their paths through America.  The whole project has a long, convoluted entertaining history Houser, who has a distinguished artistic resume, was an ideal pick for the project and has already successfully completed the Fray Garcia de San Francisco, a 14-foot monument for downtown El Paso in 1996.  (1/11/06)

385. Rick's Pickles
Well, Rick’s Place used to be in Casablanca, the centerpiece of the black and white world of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman set against Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, and Sidney Greenstreet, back in 1942 when all Europe wrestled with World War II.  (For those of you who are into trivia, incidentally, the original title of the movie was “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.”)  But now we are talking about one Rick Field, who has dropped out of the TV production world and settled down on the Lower East Side in New York’s once-upon-a-time Pickle District.  You can find Rick’s Picks at 195 Chrystie Street, closeted in 602E.  Telephone: 212-358-0428.

There’s more than a little romanticism involved in this Ivy League enterprise that has chosen to make its home among the few remaining pickle folken.  Rick, 42, is a Yalie, and his partner, Lauren McGrath, is out of Princeton.  He hawks his wares at the Union Square Market.  Over-endowed with the gift of gab, he has been able to put together a network of relationships that has landed the business on the map.  At least a sample of his products has reached specialty stores in 17 states across America.  And he has excelled, above all else, at peddling his story to the press.  On his website, you can find articles from the New York Times, The Oprah Magazine, Food and Wine, etc.

He bills his picks as artisinal pickles.  In short, they are pretty darn good, even if, as the French are wont to say, they are tres cher, out on the shelves at $10 in one specialty food store.  Right now he produces them in Poughkeepsie at a packer, so his production costs are high, and he even has to pay quite a price to farmers for the cukes, dill, and other makings that lead to top-dog pickles.  Eventually, he will have to work his costs and his prices down if he is to secure strong, repeat volume.

We’re very much for Spears of Influence, which are Kirby cucumbers in a cumin-scented brine.  First off, they’re just plain delicious.  But the witty product name tells us why Field has been such a hit with the press.  Should he acquaint himself further with the range of spices that can make penultimate pickles, we think he may go down in pickle history. 

There’s a bit of buzz surrounding America’s Pickle Revival, all very much worth exploring.  The itinerant New York Food Museum is very much wrapped up in its pickle wing and the International Pickle Day having become an annual event.  You can find out more about the Pickle District at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in an interview with Lucy Norris, author of Pickled, and in a Boston Globe tour of pickledom, which highlights Guss Pickles, the one major survivor in the area.  Once a year, too, one can go to the Woodstock of the pickle world, the next Rosendale Pickle Festival, scheduled for November 19, 2006.  To get a wider view of pickles across America, read Denise Purcell’s “The Comeback of the Pickle.”  We asked Mr. Field what he read to stay abreast of the field.  He mentioned  Janet Greene’s Putting Food By, Linda Ziedrich’s Joy of Pickling, and Chris Schlesinger’s (of East Coast Grill fame) Quick Pickles.  (12/21/05)

384. Boston Ice Cream with Flavor
When you have had your great meal at the East Coast Grill, then go next door to Christina’s where the ice cream sings.  It’s the first time we have had flavorful ice cream in Boston—Ben and Jerry, Lick’s, etc. notwithstanding.  The rum raisin had the raisins and the rum, the coffee was right, etc.  It is next door to a spice store of the same name, owned by the same people, and we are sure that is why the ice cream tastes like something. Christina’s Ice Cream. 1255 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139.  Telephone: 617-492-7021.  The help is rather brusque, and the place seems a bit run down, but, in the end, it’s all worth it.  Also check out Christina’s Spice and Specialty Foods.  (12/7/05)

383. East Coast Grill
We forget about this wonderful restaurant in Cambridge, just a hop and a skip away from Boston, a restaurant we frequented quite a bit after its opening in 1985 (or was it 1987, as the Boston Globe suggests?).  Now it has become quite an old chestnut, and every bit as fun.  We arrived a bit early recently and bumped into owner Chris Schlesinger, who explained why he could not give us a drink (it would attract a horde of customers before his crew could handle them) but who, nicely, gave us a comfortable seat at the bar where we chatted with his very nice fellow there.  He and the staff universally have a warmness about them and, to boot, they actually know the food pretty well. It’s probably more relaxed than the other good eateries around Cambridge, peopled as they are by undercover PhDs.  Schlesinger lives in Westport: we understand that he fishes a lot and drinks Pabst’s Blue Ribbon, a paradoxical beer with a following that springs from its lack of advertising.  (See our “Bloom—In Praise of Divorce.”)  He seems to be lead a more civilized life that most restaurateurs.  Our guest had a big chop, while we put down the shrimp and scallops—both were outstanding.  He has six or so cookbooks: we picked up Let the Flames Begin that night, after we pressed him for a recommendation.  But The Thrill of the Grill, or License to Grill, or any of the others will do just as well.  As is obvious from these titles, he thinks he is quite a flamethrower, a stealth pyromaniac.  We cooked salmon his way recently and washed it with his sauce—what a treat!  East Coast Grill.1271 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139. Tel: 617-491-6568. Website: www.eastcoastgrill.net.  (11/30/05)

382. The New San Francisco Hotel Boutiques
Besides big bang hotels, there is also a raft of new boutiques in San Francisco.  See National Geographic Traveler, October 2005, pp.39ff.  We have not tried them, but plan on taking a look.  They’re not anywhere near as pricey, but it takes a little looking around to separate the wheat from the chaff.  They include: Hotel Vitale (www.hotelvitale.com), Hotel Des Arts (www.sfhoteldesarts.com), Carlton Hotel (www.carltonhotel.com), The Laurel Inn (www.thelaurelinn.com), The Metro Hotel (www.metrohotelsf.com), Hotel Del Sol (www.thehoteldelsol.com), Argonaut Hotel (www.argonauthotel.com), and Elements (www.elementssf.com).  They range from the meager (almost like dorm rooms) to the funky.  These are just some new selections—for the adventurous at heart—and it is a far from comprehensive list.  For instance, there seems to be a new Orchard Hotel that’s worth a look.  There once was a steal on Sutter Street by that name, but the new iteration is on Bush, and at least the reviews look promising.  See www.bestofsanfrancisco.net/orchardhotel.htm.  (11/16/05)

381. Chamas Churrascaria and Amelia
This is a new treat in Bright Leaf Square.  You really get two meals for the price of one.  There is a very ample buffet salad and appetizer course which alone will make you quite happy.  This is followed by an endless parade of meats—flank steak, beef, sausage, chicken, pork, filet mignon, etc.—which is brought to you on skewers.  The waiter slices a few pieces off the warm meat and returns later with more, if you should so desire. Chamas (“flames” in Portuguese) was opened by a couple of Brazilian women in August 2004, further extending into the Triangle (there is another Portuguese beef restaurant in Cary) a concept that is spreading across the United States—the Brazilian grilled beef restaurant or churrascaria.  The service is very attentive.  On a busy Saturday night the restaurant is quite lively, with Brazilian music entertainments flashed in a big screen off the bar area.  The diners are largely sandwiched in a small space by the front window, and one should make an effort to eat in other parts of the restaurant.  The help is indefatigably cheery and they move the meal along with pleasant dispatch.  See www.chamas.us.  For more details on the fare see http://archerpelican.typepad.com/tap/2005/03/chamas_churrasc.html.  Chamas Churrascria.  905 West Main Street, Suite 115, Brightleaf Square, Durham, North Carolina 27701.  Telephone 919-682-1309. 

As importantly, the owners have opened just next door a coffee house/confection shop which is easily the most pleasant coffee establishment in the whole region.  If anything, we like this even better than the excellent restaurant.  We can recommend the brownie cookies.  Try the cheenies, which are also offered in the restaurant, a light puff cheese bread nibbler which is excellent fare for a cocktail party.  Amelia’s is next door to the restaurant in Suite 23J.  Do not call its phone, which is not connected: call the restaurant instead.  Amelia’s opens at 8 a.m.  

The re-developers of Bright Leaf Square have made a host of mistakes, carving up the front building unmercifully and honky tonking the walkway between the two buildings.  But they may be getting somewhere with their restaurants.  For the longest time, there was only one decent restaurant to visit, Nikos.  With Chamas, there are two, forming a little cluster.  And a Japanese restaurant has just opened between the two called Mt. Fuji. The owner’s brother operates Shiki Pottery down the way.  The hodgepodge of cuisines hint that this new Asian eatery may be unfocused and trying to be all things to all people.  We have yet to try it.  (10/5/05)

UpdateChamas Undone

We have not been to Chamas for quite a while, but it seems to have gotten tattered around the edges.  One of our readers writes to say:  "noticed that you have a review on your web site for Chamas - Brazilian Steakhouse from 2005. My wife and I recently went to this restaurant and our experience was much different from our previous visit 1.5 years ago. You may want to consider updating or removing your recommendation for this restaurant as the restaurant may no longer be representative of the "best in class" as you contend. Below please find my review based on our experience 8-Mar-2009 at Chamas Durham, NC."  And these are only the mildest of the comments we received.

We had frequented the coffee house which is just adjacent to the restaurant.  It was a sheer delight at one time.  But the pastry selection has become paltry, and rather average gelato dominates the current offerings.  We think the hours have been truncated, since we found it closed on a recent visit.  It seems like this is not the best of times for what was a most promising collection of food enterprises. (03-18-09)

380. Flight-Ready Barbeque
We strongly suspect our partner would eat barbecue at every meal if given half a chance.  At any rate, he asked our driver, on the way to the airport, where one does the barb in Houston.  As it turns out, there is a very genuine affair right near Hobby, so we were able to load up with giant cokes and all the rest on the way to our plane.  He had pork, but we went for beef, since that’s what Houston is all about.  The Central is listed on the following website, and it has a host of other joints around the state for you to peruse when you are at loose ends: www.pilotwait.com/texas.htm.  After all these years of feasting on the cue, we still cannot decide whether we are pork or beef people, and which style of which we like best.   When having pork, we can suggest that you have to look out for very lean cooking: most of the renowned barbecue places are far too fatty.  Central Texas Bar-B-Q.  8101 Airport Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77061 behind Jack in the Box).  Telephone: 713-641-3360.  Open 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.  (9/28/05)

 

380. Southern Lights
We’re a little thin on Greensboro restaurants we thoroughly trust and have just happily added this to our portfolio at the recommendation of a local foodie.  It’s simple dishes  made well, served by a wait staff that tries very hard and figures out what to do when the kitchen runs out of specials of the day.  The sandwiches are fine, and the dessert sticks in our mind.  We had a chocolate walnut pie, but our companions thought their sweets were even better.  The same folks own 1618 Seaford Grill across the street ,which, advises our informant, you can skip.  Greensboro is a maze for out of towners, so just think Friendly Avenue, and you will get here.  Southern Lights. 105 North Smyres Place, Greensboro, NC 336-379-9414. Fax 336-273-3875.  Email:  phamilton@triad.rr.com.  See  www.yesweekly.com/main.asp?SectionID=3&SubSectionID=50&ArticleID=
395&TM=14580.7.  (9/21/05)

379. Killer Mockingbird
We did not ask the owners why they named it Mockingbird Bistro, although we think of Mockingbird as a Dallas-type name (www.mockingbirdbistro.com/chef.htm).  But this is one of several just out-of-the-way eateries we have found around Houston in pleasant surroundings.  We had  tuna and our colleague had salmon, as we remember.  Before, we shared a starter of mussels.  Both were quite delicious.  The help was massively attentive, and we found ourselves in a nice crowd.  Bottom line: pleasant atmosphere with an-edge- of-River-Oaks feel.  Good entrees.  One might slide by some of the other items.  Our Gibsons were simply not right: the glass was too small, the ice piteous, the over-sized cocktail onions sour tasting.  The desserts, across the board, are not worth the effort.  They simply put on weight but don’t measure up.  We tried, on the side, some of the cinnamon ice cream, since we happen to be studying it lately; it lacked flavor and suggests the house needs to learn more about the handling of spices.  All that said, we will be returning.  Mockingbird Bistro.  1985 Welch at McDuffie, Houston, TX 77019.  Telephone: 713-533-0200.  (9/14/05)

378. Best Garden Tools (Clippers, Loppers, etc.)
We are still looking around, so this is not the definitive article on garden tools.  It will get you started, but there’s more to come.  For nipping plants in your bed, we are recommending Switzerland’s Felco (www.felco.ch).  Everybody knows about their equipment and will vouch for it.  We have several pairs: occasionally a screw falls out but most decent garden shops will get a spare and repair your snippers for free.  We were actually surprised that it is such a young company, only dating back to 1945: “It all began in 1945 when Felix Flisch, using his own drawing board, designed his first forged aluminum pruning shear….”  On the other hand, we take those extra sprouts and crossed limbs off of young trees with Corona loppers, hedge shears, etc.  We are glad to be rid of some undergrowth which gives leeway to breezes. (www.coronaclipper.com/corona/
catalogoproductos.jsp?fam=676).  We find it gratifying that Corona puts some pruning guidelines, as well as other tips, on its site at  www.coronaclipper.com/corona/ic_
principiospoda.jsp.  It is now part of Bellota, which has other worthy products we intend to explore (www.bellota.com/index_emp.jsp).  (9/7/05)

377. The Compound—Santa Fe
For better than 15 years, we have been meaning to visit The Compound Restaurant, but we always got caught up in other things.  Off Canyon Road, even sleepy at luncheon amidst cottony trees, it’s mainly a pretty place and that is why you should go there.  The ownership changed a few years back, and though it bills itself as revived, probably it has declined a little.  The service at all times was decidedly slow and the over-billed food was ample enough and vaguely new cuisine, but rather average in the end.  Go for lunch and then the whole point is where you sit.  Just past the very, very compact bar is a pretty, airy center room with a good view to the outside, often relatively free of noisome people.  A lady with a chic red hat may be dining, rapt in conversation with a younger lover.  If you don’t need air conditioning and want to sit outside, then get well out into the back courtyard, ensuring that you get a table near or at the rear, well away from the hubbub where you can feel the vegetation.  Have an appertif or two for lunch and dwell on it.  We had lobster and crab salad, which was warm and indifferent, and probably sat out for a while before it was served.  Our guests had much the same result, though the tuna came out better as we remember.  The current chef and owner Mark Kiffin put in a lot of time with Coyote Café’s Mark Miller, and both have a better feel for pizzazz than cuisine.  The Compound Restaurant.  Website: http://compoundrestaurant.com/indexmain.html653 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Telephone: (505) 982-4353.  (8/3/05)

376. Sushi with Godzilla—Kasasoba—Santa Fe
No illuminated Kirin signs, no yakitori, no smiling waitstaff.   Kasasoba—“house of noodles”—is full of surprises.  Start with the setting: an historic adobe cottage, green tea- colored walls hung with lurid Japanese sci-fi posters of crazed dinosaurs, evil robots, rampaging godzillas.  A peek into the kitchen reveals an entirely non-Japanese staff.   Then there’s the rather arch service. 

More surprises may be found on the menu.  A summery meal began with Hiya-Yakko Tofu, a scoop of fresh chilled bean curd imported from Japan.  Smooth and creamy, topped with spicy red chile and scallion relish, it was as far from the ordinary stuff as you can get.  Next came Five Jewels Omakase, an appealing assortment of amuse-gueles, including silvery baby sardines, briny cod roe marinated in red chile oil and a tiny grilled lobster tail.  Other pleasures included a buttery Avocado and Dungeness Crab Roll dusted with cod roe, and Gyuniku Tatakii, tender grilled beef tenderloin topped with a tangle of daikon, served with vinegary ponzu sauce for dipping.  And yes, there were delicious  Zaru Soba, cold buckwheat noodles with nori and wasabi, and a cloud of tempura fried vegetables. 

Smooth river stones serve as chopstick rests and the serving ware is elegantly asymmetrical, more evidence of an uncommon mind at the helm.  The outdoor patio, which faces the Sanbusco center, is a favorite spot for lunch or dinner. 

Contact: Kasasoba. 544 Agua Fria Street, New Mexico 87501.  Telephone: 505-984-1969.  (7/27/05)

375. Behold: Gelato Comes to Santa Fe—Café Ecco
Just in time for the dog days comes Ecco, a shiny new café that has Santa Feans lining up for a taste of homemade, organic gelato.   There are 16 or so flavors, some familiar, some with a distinctly local twist.  We loved the luscious strawberry-habanero (watch out for the afterburn) and the delicate lavender-honey.  But how to choose, when you can also have perennial favorites like hazelnut and bittersweet chocolate?  

You can’t go wrong, because owner Matt Durkovic, who worked for the local newspaper before opening Ecco, lets you taste as many flavors as you like.  An enthusiastic, young man, he seems to be in five places at once—handing out samples, chatting with every customer, wiping tables, working the cash register and expresso machine.  “We’re the only gelateria in Santa Fe” he exclaims, nodding to a gentleman who’s on his second visit of the day.  Like a proud father, he even reveals the formula for his addictive strawberry  gelato: “Four small habaneros to two pounds of strawberries.”  It’s a winner. 

Café Ecco. 105 East Marcy Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 87501.  Telephone: 505-986-9778.  Fax: 505-986-9740.  (7/27/05)

374. New York, Chicago and L.A. Italian in Santa Fe—Trattoria Nostrani
Strolling along Johnson Street, just down from the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, we were riveted by the riotous cottage garden in front of the Italian restaurant, Trattoria Nostrani.   Cascading roses mingled with spiky lavender and other brilliantly hued blooms in such  profusion that we were compelled to stop and stare in slack-jawed admiration.   

A week later we arrived for supperperfume-free as instructed.  We couldn’t help but notice the overpowering scent of while lilies as we rounded the bar into one of the four small dining rooms.  Early in the evening, the old Territorial style house is cool and serene, with dark floors and parchment-hued walls hung with appealing black and white photos by the French photographer Willy Ronis.  Later on, it thrums with a big city buzz that reaches a feverish pitch as the cramped rooms fill up.  

Chef-partners Eric Stapelman and Nellie Maltezos know a thing or two about creating an  urban vibe.  Before coming to Santa Fe, they  worked together at Zucca in New York.   Maltezos also cooked with Charlie Trotter in Chicago and Stapelman studied wine with sommelier Thomas Johnson in L.A.  Their previous Santa Fe endeavor, Rociada, was a darling of visiting food and wine writers.  At Trattoria Nostrani all the ingredients are in place for another hit.   

Among the antipasti, the star of the evening was the burrata, oozingly soft, impossibly rich mozzarella scooped like fresh cream from the very top layer of the cheese as it curdles.   Served with ripe heirloom tomatoes (the restaurant grows 10 varieties), olive oil, and a sprig of basil, it was proof of the power of simplicity.  We also enjoyed the almost airy calamari, fritta, brightened with just a squeeze of lemon, and the even more insubstantial fitto mistofried squash blossoms, zucchini, cauliflower florets and cipollini onions brought down to earth by a lemon parmesan aioli.

Once we got past the appetizers, there were a few missteps.  Gnocchi de Patate, tiny curls of pasta stuffed with potato and aged asiago cheese, were light as a feather, but Ravioli di Baccala, potato and salt cod ravioli, were leaden, bathed in a non-descript saffron crème, topped with just a few morsels of jumbo lump Blue crab meat.  Among the secondi piatti, there was unqualified enthusiasm for Bistecca al Ferri, a superbly tender Harris prime ribeye steak with lemon and olive oil and lightly cooked spinach.  We liked  the Carpina Rossa alla Grigli whole chargrilled red snapper napped with a bagna cauda, but could have used more help deboning the fish.

The dessert menu looked to the garden for inspiration:  White chocolate semi freddo was infused with fresh mint, and the vanilla pannacotta came with a lavender spiked caramel sauce.  Both were pleasant, if a bit pallid. 

Trattoria Nostrani has an ample wine cellar—over 400 selections from different regions of Italywith enough Barolos and Chianti Riservas to keep bibulous oenophiles busy for many an evening.  We took the low road to Sicily and turned up a winner with a very smooth, almost inky 2001 Nero d’Avola. 

By 8 o’clock all traces of the restaurant’s earlier calm had vanished.  There was a loud, distinctly New York buzz throughout, the kind where you are forced to listen to nearby conversations whether you want to or not.  We had to shoulder our way through the bar, now thronged with a noisy, ravenous crowd, hugging and air-kissing while jockeying for  places to sit.  Outside, the few tables under the portal by the garden, which drew us there in the first place, were quiet and, in contrast, positively blissful. 

Contact Trattoria Nostrani, 304 Johnson Street, Santa Fe, NM 87501.  Telephone:    505-983-3800.  Fax:  505-983-8306.  Web: www.trattorianostrani.com.  (7/27/05)

373. Smoke Rings in Santa Fe
If  the political correctness gets a bit too thick for you in Santa Fe, then escape to the humidor at Santa Fe Cigar Company.  Cohibas and enough other long smokes are there to provide you with a decent escape from HOG (hip, organic, groovy).  Proprietor James Day is an amusing enough fellow, and you can trust him because, like as not, you will discover him smoking a fulsome stogie while carrying on a big conversation with one or another loyal customer.  Later on, you can go next door to the Original Diogenes Club which opens about 4:30, a smoking club for members to which you might wangle an admission.  Santa Fe Cigar Company.  510 Galisteo.  Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501.  www.sfcigar.com.  505-982-1044 or 888-243-0078.  Diogenes Club.  510 Galisteo Street.  Santa Fe etc.  Keep your eyes peeled as you come off Peralta, because this little treasure is well hidden and you may glide past it.  (7/27/05)

372. Coolest Way to Spend a Hot Day
Here’s the formula: Lazily swinging hammock, can of ice-cold Tecate with lime, and Ry Cooder’s new album, Chavez Ravine, playing just loud enough to keep your mind engaged as your lids get heavy.  

Cooder, of course, is the multi-talented guitarist/social historian/world traveler who introduced us to Cuba’s vibrant musical culture in Buena Vista Social ClubChavez Ravine is an ode to a poor East Los Angeles neighborhood razed in the 1950s to make way for Dodger Stadium.  The CD celebrates the golden days of the Ravine, mixing songs about UFOs, corruption, and baseball with fabulous Latin rhythms, a little country western, and some jazz to create an effervescent brew that’s as provocative as it is easy on the ears. 

The best thing about the CD is the ensemble of artists, mostly Latino, gathered by Cooder to evoke his near-mythic vision of life in the Ravine at mid-century—among them Lalo Guerrero, an East L.A. music legend who died earlier this year, singing the irresistible “Los Chucos Suaves,” a rhumba he originally recorded in 1948.  We loved Ersi Arvisu’s “Muy Fifi”—a hip-swinging mother-daughter “conversation” about the perils of stepping out with a Pachuco boy friend—almost as much as Juliette and Carla Commagere’s revival of “Chinito Chinito.”  As Cooder writes, “Imagine waking up in the morning thinking, ‘Today, I will write a song about a pidgin-Spanish speaking Chinese laundryman who rattles his change-box as he walks along while being heckled by two loudmouthed Chicanas….” 

Memories infuse other cuts.  Bla Pahinui’s “3rd Base Dodger Stadium” is an elegy to the town that lies beneath the playing field: “In the middle of the 1st base line / Got my first kiss / Florencia was kind….”   There’s a rage that pulses behind the nostalgic “Barrio Viejo” in which Lalo Guerrero recalls his own vanished neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona.  The CD ends with the hopeful “Luz y Sombra,” a love poem about the healing earth, whose words, Cooder says, are inscribed on a plank by a footpath in the Costa Rican cloud forest.

Cooder plays guitar on most cuts and sings, adopting the persona of various Ravine characters, on several others—most appealingly as the dogged bulldozer driver in “It’s Just Work for Me.”  The accompanying notes not only tell about the Ravine and its demise, but include a plan for its redevelopment as a real urban village, this time with parks and schools.  Chavez Ravine by Ry Cooder, Nonesuch Records, 2005.

371. Hamersley's
Years ago Hamersley’s Bistro was a different restaurant.  It was up the Street four or five blocks, in a little warren of rooms, with a lot of buzz, filled with vibrant people.  As we remember, Mrs. (Fiona) Hamersley would often seat us, and at the end of the evening we might have a chat with Gordon about the food.  At that time there were only 4 or 5 decent restaurants in Boston anyway, and this was right at the top.  Once, in another city, when we were escorting Julia Child to a celebratory function, she asked us where we ate in Boston.  We said we could not remember the name, but mumbled about a  smallish bistro where you ate 12 small, elegant dishes of an evening, diners were waiting at the door, and the spirit was entirely warm.  Immediately, she said, “Hamersley’s.” 

Then the restaurant moved towards town a few blocks into a barnlike structure.  Big time.  We ate there once, off a rather limited menu, and never returned.  We were shocked at the transformation.  From a beehive to a vacuum.  It’s got the new, see-the-kitchen format, not an entirely interesting addition in this particular case.  This layout works when you have a magnetic chef personality up front or, as in a yakitori restaurant in the Rippongi section of Tokyo, meet a bunch of wise guy cooks who shout friendly, flirty comments at pretty daikon Japanese girls.   

But a Boston regular recently asked us to join him for his second outing there.  With lots of caveats, we were charmed.  We showed up about 5:30.  The hostesses were tied up in their paperwork and could hardly get to the customers.  I announced that we would move our 7 p.m. seating to 6 p.m., and a very snippy gal said, “We can accommodate you.”  I asked to be seated: “We don’t open til 6.  You can sit in the bar.”  No drink was forthcoming, though the staff was around.  Nonetheless, the other young lady who eventually showed us to our seat was entirely gracious, and managed to put us near the windows, the snippet having previously assigned us to darkness for no good reason. 

The restaurant is still not comfortable or very well decorated.  But if you go early and get yourself to a banquette by the window, you can achieve tranquility.  There looks to be a handsome church—now perhaps a condominium or something—across the street.  On its steps sundry denizens share a bottle of wine, with a dog to keep them company.  The trees and the early evening light make for prettiness.  Finally making his way to our table,  a relatively charming waiter named Eddy radiates a little friendliness.  At least in the early hours, the clientele was polished, polite, well-appointed—no garish clothing, no loud sounds. 

We had a trio of pates up front and then a mixed fish dish (halibut and salmon) and found it all, particularly the fish, quite good.  Our companion, just off a plane from New York, found his food passably good, but not good enough for a third visit.  He complains that the bread with his appetizer was soggy or doughy.  The wine list will not move you, but there was one okay beer on the menu and a couple of interesting single malts for an after dinner.  Gordon Hammersley was out doing a demo somewhere.  His wife, we understand, does the business stuff, and does not appear at the restaurant too much.  Hamersley’s.  553  Tremont Street.  Boston, MA 02116.  Telephone: 617.423.2700.  Website: www.hamersleysbistro.com.  (7/13/05)

370. Albuquerque’s Hidden Few
It’s not easy to get situated in Albuquerque since an authoritative guide is lacking on where to stay, what to see, where to eat, etc.  This is not, in any way, to deny its considerable charms, but they are hidden.  Though tourism is the lifeblood of the New Mexican economy, the state government does not do a good job of ministering to this vital part of its economy.  If New Mexican tourism depended on its civil servants or its politicians, it would simply fizzle.  Indeed, the state needs to single out its real bests and celebrate them.  Probably it needs a system of state posadas, as in Portugal: charming small inns that greet the avid explorer who goes into every nook and cranny of the country and wants a decent place to stay in out-of-the-way places.  In Albuquerque, one should take aim at the bed and breakfasts, since the hotels generally do not make the cut. 

Here, meanwhile, is a fairly decent list of better restaurants, along with links where you can find out about them: Ambrozia  (www.ambroziacafe.com/index.html); Artichoke Café (www.artichokecafe.com); Corn Maiden; Graze (www.grazejj.com); Gruet Steakhouse (www.gruetwinery.com/steakhouse.htm); Le Café Miche (www.cafemiche.com/about/
index.html); Prairie Star (www.santaana.org/prairie.htm); Seasons Rotisserie (www.seasonsonthenet.com/index.html); Zinc Café (www.zincabq.com).  

For those who want to stretch a little further, Frommer’s provides a list of 20 that’s not bad (www.frommers.com/destinations/albuquerque/153_inddin.html).  (7/6/05)

369. Pennsylvania Earnest
When at its best, Pennsylvania food has an earthy, country quality that is laden with taste.  You know, the Philly Steak Sandwich, etc.  We refer you to Lynn Kerrigan, who has penetrated the secrets of shoo-fly pie and Philadelphia scrapple, recipes which put some heft back in food.  (See www.globalgourmet.com/food/sleuth/0499 and www.global
gourmet.com/food/sleuth/0998/scrapple.html.)  We also admired one of our close New York friends who balanced out the over-refinement of New York cuisine with the earthiness of Pennsylvania cooking.  For some 250 years, his family had kept a country residence half way between the two states, allowing it to feast on both cuisines.  (7/6/05)

368. All About Japanese Knives
We have just got started on this website (www.japanese-knife.com/main.shtml).  It does have everything you never knew about Japanese knives, even if we have even taken some schooling in how to make sushi and wielded a mean knife throughout our instruction.  This is what every worthwhile commercial website should do—provide potential and actual customers with a complete education about the purchasing, care, and use of the product.  But we came about the site for other reasons, as we looked into some of the chefs whose food we had eaten in New York.  Several are here talking about their knives:  www.japa
nese-knife.com/interviews.  This is all the work of Korin (www.korin.com/contactUs.
php?PHPSESSID=6a10984964693c0a75beedb6854dac33), a Japanese knife shop and trading corporation.  57 Warren Street, New York, New York 10017.  800-626-2172 (toll-free).  212-587-7021.  Yes, lo and behold, several of our favorite Japanese haunts do get their knives from Korin.  Moreover, it does sell other important kitchenware such as rice cookers.  (6/22/05)

Update: Saori and Spouse Lower Manhattan: Info, February 9,2004 gives marvelous detail about the founding of Korin.  In the late 1970’s Saori Kawano and her husband came to New York from Yokohama, with barely a sou (or yen) in their pockets.  Her training was in music and ikebana.  To make a nickel, they worked in restaurants, later to open a premier tableware and knife house, first as a wholesaler ministering to the food trade, and then finally as a retail shop downtown on Warren Street.  Starting by peddling tableware door to door to Japanese restaurants, she worked her way into knives in the 1990s.  At this point her artist/craftsman husband made his way to Sakai, in the Osaka region, where knife-making was centered.  There he learned the highly refined art of knife-sharpening, and today he puts an edge on knives for the legion of top chefs who purchase Korin knives.  (11/23/05)

367. Most Fun Green Tea Site
We talked about Green Tea in “The Price of Tea in China,” and we’re much taken with the cleverness and imagination many of the purveyors put into their websites.  But the Xianju Rain Forest Green Tea Plantation takes the cake (until we find one that’s even better).  See www.worldconsortium.com/xianju.htm.  It includes quotes on the virtues of tea, everything you always wanted to know about brewing the green, a listing of the components in Xianju that promise to make you healthier than you ever have been in your previous lives, a bunch of tea quotes we intend to borrow, and a mysterious introduction to the World Consortium of Companies in Los Angeles, the orchestrator of this green tea bonanza.  Even if Mr. Haines, the impresario, now merely deals in tea, he promises that his organization will practically remake the world in the years to come. 

Updates on most of the site date back to 2004, with one change occurring in February 2005.  In other words, we are not exactly sure things are hopping at the World Consortium.  But then we think you should take it slow in the world of green tea.  (6/15/05)

366. Letterpress Stationery
In this new age of “conspicuous consumption,” hosts and hostesses are on the lookout for stationery that stands apart.  That has brought back the letterpress.  New York’s Kate’s Paperie (www.katespaperie.com/store/productView.php) now “carries products from 25 different letterpress makers.  Soolip [www.soolip.com], a Los Angeles letterpress stationer, had $1.5 million in sales in the past year, a 50% increase from 2000.”  (See the Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2005, p. W8.)  Crane’s now offers both letterpress stationery and wedding invitations.  But, of course, if you are going to get the paper right, you’d best know what to say and how to say it.  For the answers to these matters of etiquette, see Letitia Baldrige at  www.finestationery.com/s_customer_service.cfm?fss_id=
230520051655490959099059523860.  In the publishing world, we used to say “crummy paper is like a limp handshake.”  While stationery is looking up, the credit card people, not knowing any better, now produce weightless cards, thin as onion slices.  (6/1/05)

365. Parrot Pages
Mark Bittner’s website, which he has located on the home of Pelican Media, is as pretty a bird viewing as you are going to find.  He’s recorded his doings with a flock of wild parrots that hang about San Franicsco, and provides a little history of parrots there.  This has all led to a book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.  As with all budding authors, all has been pushed aside while he does a countrywide book tour.  Like Verlang, this is one of those offbeat, wonderful websites that illuminates the best parts of San Francisco that you are likely to miss.  See http://pelicanmedia.org/wildparrots.html.  (5/4/05)

364. Verlang
This is a wonderful website about San Francisco architecture, with incidentals about its history, that you should not miss.  In a December 2004 Letter from the Global Province, we sang its praises as follows: It’s called Vernacular Language North (www.verlang.com).  It gives you a full tour of the architects who made the San Francisco area charming before it turned into a shopping mall, including Bernard Maybeck, with whom we are particularly acquainted, but also Julia Morgan, who fashioned Hearst Castle and other imaginative creations.  Maybeck once appeared before the Berkeley city government in defense of a tree in the middle of the street, which, as he said, was a “noble and thrifty tree” deserving of a very long life.  It will also link you to museums, galleries, and restaurants to which the discriminating traveler will want to pay heed.  

A timeline on the site gives you a wonderful quick history of the Bay Area, skipping back a few centuries.  To our bemusement, he also has a section showing offbeat bumperstickers he has seen since 2001 while driving and walking around the city (see www.verlang.com/sfbay0004ref_bump.html).  He provides you with a perfect escape from transience and the ephemeral, which are the essence of California itself  (5/4/05)

363. America’s Favorite Spice: Cinnamon (or is it Cassia)?
A few weeks ago, hastening through the San Antonio airport, our heads swiveled as we passed a Cinnabon shop.  Our nostrils quivered as the all too familiar, sweet, syrupy, cinnamon fragrance wafted enticingly towards us, as it does in airports and malls across the country. 

Later, as we climbed through blue skies to cruising altitude, it occurred to us that cinnamon is practically our national spice—as American as apple pie, a dessert, which not coincidentally, is often made with generous sprinklings of cinnamon, nutmeg and other sweet spices.  We crave cinnamon in homestyle baked apples, oozing with butter and brown sugar.  It makes mass market breakfast foods (think Pop Tarts or Apple Cinnamon Cheerios) more alluring.  It’s one of the secret ingredients in Coca-Cola, surely the quintessential American soft drink.  Even our much maligned domestic diva loves cinnamon: During her five-month stay at Camp Cupcake (a.k.a. Alderson), Martha Stewart was reportedly snared by prison guards with pilfered brown sugar, butter and cinnamon stashed in her lingerie.  Perhaps a midnight dessert was in the offing. 

What few Americans know is that the spice most of us call cinnamon is actually a near cousin, cassia.  Both spices come from the peeled bark of tropical evergreen trees in the Lauraceae, or laurel family.  Both are native to Asia.  Both are sweet spices, imbued with an aromatic oil that trumpets “cinnamon!” to our smell and taste receptors.  But here their paths diverge.   

Cassia bark is reddish-brown in color, and when stripped from the tree, forms a hard scroll-like “quill”—or stick—which breaks with snap.  Its fragrance is pungent, its flavor sweet and hot with a rough, astringent edge.  It is an assertive spice that enhances the flavor of baked apples, cinnamon toast, rice pudding and any other dessert in which a distinct cinnamon taste is desired.  Yet cassia also lends unusual depth to savory dishes, such as Moroccan lamb shanks braised with onions or to bstilla, the classic Moroccan pigeon pie made with almonds and a touch of sugar. 

Over half the world’s cassia comes from Indonesia.  The best—or, at least, the smoothest—cassia is grown on the government-protected slopes of Mount Korintje on the island of Sumatra.  Chinese cassia is spicier and has a distinctively peppery bite.  It is an essential ingredient of Chinese five-spice powder and is used in the red-cooked or red-braised dishes of Hunan province.  Vietnamese cassia, also known as Saigon Cinnamon, is so hot and aromatic that some purveyors recommend using half the amount specified in recipes.  In Vietnam, cassia sticks are used to flavor pho, a delectable slow-simmered broth of various meats served with mint, basil, lime and lashings of fiery siracha or red pepper sauce.   

True cinnamon, also known as Ceylon cinnamon, grows principally on the island of Sri Lanka.  (Most farms are far enough inland to have escaped the tsunami of 2004.)  Pale golden brown in color, it is sold in “quills” made of concentric layers of paper thin bark.  Unlike cassia, true cinnamon is shaggy and tends to shred when broken.  Its aroma is complex: sweet, warm, and woody with whispers of clove and citrus.  If you chew a bit of the bark, the flavor unfolds like a flower.  First the mouth puckers, with a tight, mildly astringent sensation, then the palate is suffused with warmth and a well of sweetness blossoms.  Only then does the flavor of cinnamon, with faint woodsy undertones, emerge. At the end, there is a little bite, a fleeting pungency. 

When true cinnamon is used in cooking, all these nuances infuse the dish.  It is particularly good for baking delicate pastries—in fact, the British prefer it—but it is also used traditionally in Mexican cooking, where it performs a balancing act with fiery chiles in complex dishes such as the moles of Oaxaca.  

One way to sample the differences between cinnamon and cassia is to order the lot from Penzeys.  This Midwestern spice merchant carries fresh grade A Korintje, Chinese and Vietnamese cassia, as well as true Ceylon cinnamon.  Contact:  Penzey’s Spices, 19300 Janacek Court, P.O. Box 924, Brookfield, Wisconsin 53008-0924.  Telephone: 800.741.7787.  Fax: 262.785.7678.  Website: www.penzeys.com.  (4/20/05)

362. Danube
Danube is a remove or two from both the Hudson and East Rivers.  David Bouley, owner and chef, has long provided some of New York’s better food at his downtown locations.  (See www.bouleyrestaurants.com.)  If anything, we liked this better than his original Bouley, maybe because we found a few more surprises on the menu (vaguely Austrian but not without sashimi should you want it), possibly because we were taken with the grand décor which marvelously fills the gap opened by the disappearance of beautiful hotel dining in New York, and certainly because the space is so ample that you are not bumping elbows with other diners.  It invites one to linger.  Here, even the ladies had desserts, escaping, if only for a couple of hours, the health strictures of the obesity directorate.  Bouley, who plans to open a cooking school and other things in Tribeca, is avoiding the temptation of spreading himself too thin, like other superchefs such as Emeril Legasse and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.    (See www.curbed.com/archives/2004/12/14/
david_bouleys_plan_to_rule_tribeca.php.)  Danube. 30 Hudson St,   New York 10013 (between Duane and Reade Sts).  www.thedanube.net/hires/menus.html. 212-791-3771.  (4/13/05)

361. The Onyx
Kimpton has opened with a splash in Boston, not only putting the Marlowe in Cambridge, but the Onyx in the Bulfinch Triangle, just off the Financial District in Boston.  In both instances, management has sited its properties with a view to future redevelopment.  The Onyx is a good bet for the business traveler, since it is not yet over-run during the week, despite its bustling week end trade.  It has many of the same virtues as the Hotel Marlowe: it’s a bit of fun and has a very willing staff.  The rooms are a bit snug, and the Kimpton designers did not quite get it right here.  The décor, especially downstairs, is too loud for a small space, and, with the roomsafe unnecessarily packed into the closet, you may find it a bit of a squeeze for your clothes.  That said, it is just a short walk to State Street, and the hardworking, pleasant chap you meet in the elevator may well be an interesting, young entrepreneur. 

Eventually, we predict, Kimpton or another smart hotelier will buy an adjoining companion property (while the prices are still right) and put together a hotel package that is much like the very smart Blake’s in London’s Kensington where all the young advert guys would stay once upon a time.  A small hotel, it knows how to take advantage of its intimacy.  See www.blakeshotels.com.  The very clever actress Anouska Hempel, an Australian, as we remember, put it together.  She’s a gas, so read more about her at www.elegant-lifestyle.com/quest0304.htm

The Bulfinch Triangle, where it is located, is named after an immensely important Boston Federalist architect, Charles Bulfinch (see www.encyclopedia.com/html/B/BulfinchC1.
asp), who did the Statehouse and Mass General Hospital and who also was effectively mayor of Boston for 19 years.  This section is undergoing a considerable revival, particularly with the disappearance of the Expressway in the era of the “Big Dig,” and will be integrated into the new Greenway District.  In a way, it is Boston at its best.  Boston’s skyline and tall buildings (full of lawyers, mutual funds, and insurance companies) are mostly not that distinguished, and the city’s charm comes from a less towering era that can be seen here.  It is well to remember that Boston was at its zenith in the colonial era, and that it has been an archive and a sort of creaky knowledge capital ever since.  Another, less distinguished smallish affair called the Bulfinch Hotel has just opened as well in this up and coming area.  Onyx Hotel · 155 Portland Street · Boston, MA 02114 · Fax: 617-557-0005 · Phone: 617-557-9955.  www.onyxhotel.com.  (4/13/05)

360. Lost in Somerville: Two Eateries
Well, we did have some olive oil with our bread.  EVOO Restaurant (www.evoorestaurant.com) in Somerville (standing for extra virgin olive oil) is a quiet pleasant place to talk where we might have an offbeat salad made of smoked rabbit confit or an oxtail black bean soup, proving once again that you can find something in the ‘burbs that won’t try the soul. 118 Beacon Street. Somerville, Mass.  617-661-3866.  It’s not that easy to make a reservation, but it does not get that crowded anyway. Not far away is a tapas emporium which customers tell us is a bit more fun called Dali Restaurant and Tapas Bar, which has a sister restaurant on Boston’s Newbury Street called Tapeo. You would go here as much for atmosphere as the food.  Dali. 415 Washington Street. Somerville, Mass.  617-661-3254.  www.dalirestaurant.com.  Fifty percent of what you are buying is a little whimsy, an antidote to otherwise pedestrian environs.  (4/5/05)

359. Hotel Marlowe
We were very pleasantly surprised by the Hotel Marlowe (www.hotelmarlowe.com/index.
html), a new Kimpton establishment in Cambridge, right by the Museum of Science and just a hop, skip, and a jump from downtown Boston.  Right now it’s as good a hotel as you will find in Boston, even if it is still on its shakedown cruise.  It and its new sister boutique in Boston, the Onyx, are a bit more fun than the usual.  Boston hotels where one finds even the newest inns to be a bit dowdy. Where else could you bring your pet, for instance?  Both also have a young, enthusiastic staff that tries very, very hard, often to good effect, even if it is sometimes lacking in polish or on-the-ground knowledge.  The rooms are ample and comfortable; room service provides food that is generally well-cooked, simple, and wholesome, even if it sometimes comes slowly; the bathroom appointments (Aveda) are actually a little classier than even uppercut hotels stock these days.  We were more than pleased with the views out to the river, better by far than most around.  The room phones are a little tricky—a lot of functions, offbrand, and not quite workable.  Use the corded variety near the TV instead of the cordless.  The TV remote control is also confusing.  On its website and in the lobby, the hotel could use a compendium of solid, useful information—such as a guide to immediate neighborhood restaurants, a map to the T, and a menu of upscale neighborhood shops and other treats, since it is located in an out-of-the-way part of Cambridge.  There’s lots of cosmetic marketing literature around, but not the nitty gritty stuff that eases a traveler’s stay.  Bambara, its restaurant, also has a fun look, and while its menu could use a little bit of work since it is a little overworked, we were quite pleased with a veal and portobello meatloaf, and we liked the cod as well.  Hotel Marlowe.  25 Edwin H. Land Boulevard.  Cambridge, Massachusetts 02141.  617-868-8000.  The national reservations line, which we don’t recommend, is: 1-800-825-7140. 

The Marlowe threatens to put Boston on the hotel map.  Not often admitted, the older, bigger establishments across the Charles are frequently lacking on several counts, and we have frequently said that Boston is really not a hotel town, even with its storied Ritz.  There’s now a surge of new boutique establishments, with more we think to come, that will vastly improve a market that tends to do better at smaller things and flounders a bit when it tries something grand.  We find much the same is true with the restaurants where bigger is usually not better.  One of the better, more innovative cooks in town turned humdrum when he opened a larger place years ago with production line cooking and a much more limited menu.  (4/5/05)

Update: More on Marlowe
There are definitely lesser and better rooms at this new hotel in Cambridge about which we remain enthusiastic.  This time we had a crummy room and felt the downside.  But we also discovered other worthwhile amenities. 

First, for the small room looking into the interior courtyard.  Things get mildly bleak.  The Kimpton Group uses very average hotel designers who do not necessarily make good use of the space at hand.  Even with 3 lamps, the room is poorly lighted, and daylight is kept at bay by a too passionate use of draperies.  The room is cluttered: extra unnecessary pillows that have to be hidden behind a chair at night, and the slew of consumables in the TV/armoire area means there is insufficient space to store clothes.  An unnecessary coffee urn clutters up the desk, making it hard to spread out one’s paperwork.   

Now for the amenities.  We think we have complimented the staff  before: in general they are very, very willing as long as you tell them what to do.  To some degree, they suffer from a lack of direction but will give you fast turnaround with a little urging.  For two mornings in a row, one of our newspapers was not delivered; this has happened before.  But a replacement got up to us within the half hour.  Second, there is an exercise room.  There actually is a small room on the 8th floor, though we were formerly told that the hotel only offered admission to a club in a neighboring building.  It’s open 24 hours so you can still work out when you come in from a late dinner.  The hotel only needs to add chilled bottles of water to get on a par with other boutique hotels.  Third, there is an excellent buffet breakfast in Restaurant Bambara (yes, a rather silly name for a restaurant).  In the morning, particularly if one goes after 9:30 a.m., there is a nicer crowd in the restaurant than you find during the rest of the day.  The eggs, the smoked salmon, and the fruit make for a first-rate repast.  Even though the onion will be finely sliced one day, crudely the next, and the scrambled eggs will come out slightly lumpen one day,  light and truly scrambled the next, this is a meal not to be missed.  The daylight is quite nice, though make sure you get a table out of the sun.  (7/20/05)

358. VII Photo Agency
“To say that we in the modern world are bombarded with visual mass-produced images is, to say the least, a vast understatement.  Photography certainly provides many of these images, yet only a small portion of their number qualify as compelling or worthy of more than a quick glance.  Fortunately, there is the VII Photo Agency website, which contains dozens of thought- provoking photo essays that capture some of the zeitgeist of our time. Founded in 2001 by a group of seven photo-journalists, the VII Photo Agency’s work is united by ‘a sense that, in the act of communication at the very least, all is not lost; the seeds of hope and resolution inform even the darkest records of inhumanity; reparation is always possible; despair is never absolute.’ Some of the very fine photo essays that may be perused here include a selection of images that document the rapid growth and dynamism of Shanghai, a day in the life of President George W. Bush, and an intimate photo essay of Philip Roth.  The other photo essays may be viewed by topic, including those that deal with the recent U.S. presidential elections and the conflict between Israel and Palestine.”  See www.viiphoto.com.  This commentary was taken from Scout.com.   

Take a look as well at a fine Swiss photo agency that has gone the way of all flesh at www.lookat.ch/index.php.   Dominique Lebretton, quite an interesting photographer, also maintains a useful set of links that will lead you to fine photographers about the world (www.dlphoto.net/links/links.htm).  In time we hope to publish more links to the many fine amateur photographers who maintain websites and whose eyes tend to see the poetry in images that are more offstage, less showy.  (3/30/05)

357. Worldwide Gourmet
We actually got started on this site (www.theworldwidegourmet.com/spices/index.htm) because of the spice sections, which do include a few recipes we did not know for some of the spices with which we are experimenting.  But there’s a lot more here, too, including uses and other tips on a multitude of recipe ingredients, a tour of the cuisine of several countries, some top interesting restaurants at several ports of call, information on some top restaurants around the globe and their chefs, etc.  See www.theworldwidegourmet.com (3/30/05)

356. Spice Advice: Wisdom from Chef Cardoz in Fine Cooking
Those who are new to spices—or to Indian ways of using them in the kitchen—may wish to pick up a copy of the March 2005 issue of Fine Cooking.  In “Spice Up Your Cooking” (pp. 56-61), chef Floyd Cardoz recommends a “layered” approach to building a spice pantry.   Step one:  Begin with familiar spices, such as black peppercorns, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Step two: Add “versatile” spices, such as cumin, coriander and cardamom.  Step three:  “Venture off the beaten path” with nigella seeds, fenugreek and other unusual spices. 

Cardoz, who cooks at Tabla, one of New York’s top Indian fusion restaurants, does not reveal the secret of his addictive crabcakes.  (Perhaps he is saving it for his forthcoming cookbook.)  But he does offer a recipe for Peppery Pink Lentil Soup which calls for two techniques that transform the taste of whole spices.  Toasting peppercorns and coriander seeds in a dry pan conjures up smoky, almost citrus-like flavors, while sizzling cumin and mustard seeds in hot oil creates a vibrant tarka or garnish that adds zest to the pureed soup.  

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Floyd Cardoz about his early years in Mumbai and his love for spices, in particular black pepper.  To see the interview or his recipe for Black Pepper Shrimp, Watermelon and Lime Salad, please visit SpiceLines.  (3/23/05)

355. Ithaka
We had thought there was only one great Greek restaurant in New York, but now we can say there are at least two.  The fish will come out on a platter to you, so you can select your fresh variety (Psari tis imeras).  Have the fish by all means.  Ithaka is a comfortable environment on 86th Street, run by Tim Vlahopoulos, a charming quiet man, and Chef Harry Hatziparaskevas, who apparently started the enterprise on Barrow Street and then moved uptown.  We started with Psarosoupa, the fish soup, which is probably dinner enough, but the conversation endured and so did our appetite.  We will be back for rabbit stew, several varieties of lamb, quail, sweetbreads, and baby squid.  Our host, a former chief executive with a sense of dash, brought a piece of Greek statuary as a centerpiece, a nifty reminder of  his very happy family trip to Greece itself.  Ithaka.  308 East 86th Street. (Between 1st and 2nd).  New York, New York 10028.  212-628-9100.  www.ithakarestaurant.com.  (3/23/05)

354. Mangia
Apparently Mangia has been around forever, starting out as a sandwich shop in 1981 on 56th Street.  That said, we did not know about it.  But the other morning we had to visit several people at the Toy Building (soon, if you can believe it, to give up its location, perhaps to move to Dallas), and were at loose ends for breakfast.  It’s hard to find good breakfast locations in many parts of town.  Our recommender put us at Mangia on 23rd, where the service was polite and fast, and the coffee, fruit, and other delights were fresh, well-prepared, and properly priced.  The quarters are not fancy, but well designed, modern, well lighted, and comfortable.  Our delightful servers seemed to be young ladies from a variety of Eastern European nations.  The Mangia restaurants (there are several locations) go well into the evening, and they offer a good to-go menu with delivery to areas in reasonable proximity.  We have just had the breakfast, so we are looking forward to veal stew, a grilled tuna sandwich, perhaps some tuscan hummus.  Vaguely, we guess, the food is suppose to be Italian, but we think the owners hail from other parts of Europe. Mangia.  50 West 57th Street. New York 10019. 212-582-5882.  16 West 48th Street.  New York 10017.  212-754-7600.  22 West 23rd Street.  New York 10010.  212-647-0200.  40 Wall Street. New York 1005.  212-425-4040.  www.mangiatogo.com.  (3/9/05)

353. The Original Blanco Café
By and large, San Antonio food is heavy, padded with too many ingredients, and less than dexterously cooked.  It has made Antonians people of  bounteous waistlines.  That said, you can pretty much avoid all the restaurants in town that people make a stir about, because the food is less than stirring.  Skip the fancy stuff and you will be happier for it. What you want to find are the modest places nobody talks about, quite often Hispanic.  Such was the Original Blanco we visited early one Saturday morning, a short hop from our downtown hotel.  It’s been in the San Miquel family since 1974 under the watchful eye of the father of the present owners.  You will find on your visit Albert and Graciela San Miquel (husband and wife), and another brother is involved with the other 4 locations which have sprung from the original.  It was Gracie’s birthday that Saturday and all the help plus the patrons sang to her for the occasion.   

You might just have a machacado plate at $5.49 (eggs mixed with meat strips and sundry vegetable items) or enjoy breakfast tacos which were pleasing to our companion.  You will have had enough to eat but not come away with the leaden feeling we got at a new trendy TexMex eatery and at an old-time Alamo Heights favorite on Broadway.  Everybody is conspicuously polite and helpful: the patrons, 99% Hispanic, provide you with a vital getaway from the convention crowd, such as the dentists that flocked around our hotel. Blanco Café.  419 N. St. Mary’s, San Antonio, Texas 78205.  Telephone: 210-271-3300.  Web: www.blancocafesa.com (website still under construction).    

As in many cities of the New West and New South, most of the interest in San Antonio  lies downtown in the center city, the rest of the copious sprawl not worth the time of day.  Of course, there are a few museums further out, and a distinguished botanical garden.  A revival of the downtown is underway and, ere long, people of the burbs will begin to flock here day and night.  (2/9/05)

352. Harvest Restaurant
We had not eaten at the Harvest Restaurant for years and figured that it had probably fallen down a notch or two , to quote Emeril.  But a two months back we ate there twice and would claim that it’s still as good as it gets around Harvard Square.  You just have to be demanding: the service can be patchy, many of the tables are very noisy, and certain of the food does not deserve the high-end price tags applied to it.  It’s a high B or even low A restaurant as long as you are picky. 

First of all, eat in the bar area where the lighting is better (for reading a journal) and the clatter is much less.   We would suggest eating a couple of appetizers and skipping the entres—perhaps the bay scallops and then either the rabbit or the chicken livers.  Then go on to have a dessert which will not be fabulous but much more than passable.  If you are in this area of town, you will notice that there’s a lot of flotsam and jetsam all about you, even in the hotels.  While all the staff, up front and in the back, could certainly use more training, the Harvest does help you escape the seediness and fast foodery littering these streets.  Harvest.  44 Brattle Street. Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA 02138.  Telephone: 617-868-2255.  Website: www.the-harvest.com/food.html.  Understand that the Harvest is part of a  restaurant group, including Grill 23 http://grill23.com—which we don’t really like—and the Excelsior (www.excelsiorrestaurant.com/home.html).  When wannabe fine restaurants are part of a chain, details fall through the cracks, excellence proves terribly elusive, and the quality is not quite commensurate with the price.  Part of your excessive check is for general managers, pr people, and glistening websites.  (1/26/05)

351. Hidden Italian
We have yet to have a bad meal at Trattoria Pulcinella.  It’s small.  That means nicely intimate, and it’s on a side street fairly well away from any hubbub.  The trick is to eat early, preferably while there’s still a touch of daylight, with a view to leaving when it fills up and you feel you are at the knee-to-knee stage with other customers.  The wait staff is very pleasant, and the servers aren’t implicitly bragging that they are up to better things in their “real daytime lives.”  Some claim the cuisine is Tuscan; we find that the cook experiments a bit, and so new surprises make their way onto the menu.  One night we found a wine we liked so much that we peeled the label off the bottle so that we could put in an order to our wine merchant.  Trattoria Pulcinella.  147 Huron Avenue  Cambridge, MA 02138-1367.  Telephone: 617-491-6336.  Website: www.trattoriapulcinella.net.  (1/26/05)

Some Dishes

Update:  We continue to visit Pulcinella.  But we have failed to tempt you with its dishes.  For pasta you might try wild board with Ricotta-honey crostini or baby octopus in tomato sauce with cannellini beans.  Your small pasta dish could be soft corn meal with sausage ragu or flat noodles with scallops, garlic, anchovies, and broccoli.  Why not linguine with shellfish, squid, and shrimp as a main dish? Or bone-in rabbit? Or pork chop milanese?  We’ve had memorable wines here, too, such that one of our guests peeled the label off a bottle in order to get a full case from his retailer. (03-17-10)

 

350. Best Grapeseed Mustard
Moutard au Mout de Raisin.  Or it’s the best we have found so far anyway.  You won’t find it at your local charcuterie, but you can pick it up at overpriced food salons such as Dean & Deluca.  It’s the Beaufor brand and comes to us from Reims, now the product of a mustard and vinegar empire named Charbonneaux Brabant S.A.  See www.vinaigre.com.  We find it adds immensely to better breakfast sausages or perhaps to a bratwurst from Yorkville in New York City.  Technically we are talking about grape must mixed with mustard seeds.

349. Street Food in Asia
Just recently Amanda Hesser took a trip to seven countries along the Pacific Rim, which is summed up in “The Spice Route,” New York Times Style Magazine, November 7, 2004, pp. 154-159.  Here, as she says, she skirted restaurants and visited with “the street vendors who shine, defining the tastes of the culture and providing an immediate sense of place.”  In any event, she was visiting many of the very countries from which we derive our best spices.  She touched down in Myramar, India’s Calcutta, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, etc. Essentially this is a montage of stunning pictures and provocative recipes.  We have taken to the “shrimp chao.”  As she says, “Much of the street food in Southeast Asia includes rice in one fashion or another.  Chao, pronounced jaow, found in Vietnam, is a savory porridge made essentially of rice,” and she picked up this version in Central Vietnam’s Hue.  She makes much of the cilantro, but there’s plenty of green chili, lotus seeds, and  coarse black pepper to excite the palate.  Nonetheless, you have to work on her recipe a bit to make the dish come together.  Combine Hesser with a read of Johnny (R.W.) Apple’s articles in the Times about his trips to India and Thailand where you learn more about the food, the mood of the country, and the ingredients.  Now well into his second career as a bon vivant, he brings more panache to this role than he did to political writing.

348. Best Hamburger in Santa Fe: The Bobcat Bite
Connoisseurs of the burger think nothing of driving from Albuquerque to stand in line, sometimes for an hour or more, at the Bobcat Bite.  And no wonder.  This ex-trading post and gun shop has, since 1953, been the very best place in northern New Mexico to get hamburgers made as they should be: thick, juicy, freshly ground chuck, cooked to your liking (medium rare, please) on a plain bun.  You can get it gussied up with bacon and cheese, but why gild the lily?  A side of green chile or coleslaw with sweet vinaigrette is all the extra you need.   

Part of the charm of the Bobcat Bite is the very pleasant wait staff, mostly family members, and the fact that it is so tiny: with counter seating and tables inside and out, only 25 diners or so can be served at a time.  There are plaid curtains and bird feeders at the windows, bobcat pictures on the paneled walls and an old fashioned cash register.  No desserts, no alcohol and only open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 7:50 p.m.  We planned entire weeks around our meals there.

Bobcat Bite, 420 Old Las Vegas Highway, Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Telephone: 505-983-5319.

 

347. Best Al Fresco Lunch: Wild Earth Llama Adventures
Azul has one blue eye (and one brown), and will nibble your chocolate chip cookie when you’re not looking.  Lorenzo is aristocratic, with a  long and graceful neck; he likes to jog. Little Gus has a Napoleon complex, but you can pat him on the head.  Domino has a spotted nose and hides his face when he spies a camera.

This quirky quartet accompanied us on a “Take a Llama to Lunch” hike into Columbine Canyon in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, near Taos.  We learned a lot about these endearing pack animals that summer day.  For instance, llamas hum, soft and low, when they are content; the hum gets a little more insistent when they’re  impatient to get going. They like being stroked on their long, fluffy necks but not petted on their heads (except for Gus).  There is a definite pecking order: in our group, Gus was at the bottom of the ladder and had to walk last in line.  Llamas step daintily over rocks and jump gracefully over fallen logs.  And for the record, they did not spit, not even once.

Our day hike was led by Stuart, the engaging owner of Wild Earth Llama Adventures.  A self-taught naturalist, one-time chef, and natural raconteur, he instantly divined the varied interests of our seven-person group.  For plant lovers he plucked wild raspberries and offered fragrant bark from the “vanilla pine” to sniff.  For history buffs, there was a detour into a 19th-century mineshaft, and for budding geologists, much talk about 20- and 80- million year old rocks.  For all of us, there was a tasty lunch and a superbly told tale of his all-too-close encounter with a ferocious black bear.

The 6-hour trek was easy.  For much of the day we hiked along a stream that rushed briskly over granite boulders and around ruined beaver dams.  In mid-summer, our path was lined with tiny blue harebells and lacy cow parsley, opening into fields of bright yellow penstemmon.  But it was the llamas who really enchanted us.  We learned that most were unwanted trophy pets rescued from owners all over the Southwest.  Happily, the 20 or so llamas who now reside with Wild Earth have found a good home.

Wild Earth Llama Adventures offers four- and seven-day hiking trips as well as the “Take a Llama to Lunch” day hike.  Telephone: 800-758-5262.  Website: www.llamaadventures.com.

346. Best Shop for Paella Fixings—Santa Fe
The aromas wafting from the enormous steel paella pan were enticing, and the ravenous crowd pressed close, angling for the first morsels of saffron scented rice from the still bubbling pan.  We had just come from a paella class at The Santa Fe School of Cooking, so we elbowed our way through the throng to the door of The Spanish Table, the city’s mecca for authentic  ingredients from the Iberian peninsula.

Inside, we found a sort of nirvana for lovers of Spanish cuisine.  There were paella pans for one to 200, made of stainless steel, carbon steel or enamel, and special butane burners for outdoor cooking.  There were sacks of precious bomba rice, which absorbs more liquid, thus making a more flavorful paella.  Rare olive oils and sherries, tins of saffron from La Mancha, smokey paprika and piquillo peppers, chorizo from Bilbao, and the incomparable Blanxart dark chocolate studded with hazelnuts.  There were  shelves of pale green wine glasses, earthenware cookpots and tapas dishes, and colorful ceramic pottery depicting birds and deer from the mountains.  It was so appealing that we lingered for hours.

Culinary mavens are familiar with the website, www.spanishtable.com; this is one of three affiliated shops.  Although you can always order via the internet, making a pilgrimage to the store has its rewards: tips on cooking from the knowledgeable staff, for instance, or samples of chocolate-covered Marcona almonds at the cash register.  Then there was the fragrant paella cooking outside in the parking lot.  But we dallied too long, for the pan was empty and the crowd had flown.

Contact: The Spanish Table, 109 North Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501. Telephone: 505-986-0423.  Website: www.spanishtable.com.

 

345. Best Asian Shopping in Santa Fe:  Four Winds Antiques and Shibui
In curious ways, Santa Fe reflects the collective unconscious of a certain cut of the American population.  This old Spanish city has become in, recent years, a  cultural crossroads between east and west.  Sushi bars, zen gardens and yoga studios coexist, quite happily, with indigenous chile-spiked cuisine, brambly chamisa, and historic Catholic churches. The city is becoming an exemplar of the fusion of old and new, between its Spanish and native American heritage, and new age yearnings.  The fusion is not always seamless, but it is happening.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the design world.  Although “Southwestern style” still rules, vendors of Asian-inspired furnishings are mushrooming.  Canyon Road, long the city’s art mecca, has its own Tibetan shop with silver ceremonial cups and carvings of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god.  Stone Forest sells Japanese granite fountains and lanterns, while Tropic of Capricorn, specializing in desert-happy plants, also hosts seminars on zen gardening   Asian furniture—say, a sculptural hand hewn table from the Philippines, or an antique stepped tansu chest—fits perfectly into the mellow adobe architecture that so characterizes the city.

Perhaps the most enthralling of these shops is Four Winds Antiques, which displays handmade furniture and objects from all over Southeast Asia.  Intrepid traveler Robbie Williams ventures into the Indonesian archipelago and the Philippines with an eye to bringing back exotic colonial-era objects and furniture, as well as tribal arts from China and Africa.  Her Canyon Road gallery, in an historic adobe house, is filled with goods that would fit easily into almost any decorative scheme.  We were particularly taken by a serene, late 17th-century Burmese Buddha, of gold leaf and red brown lacquer on wood, seated in the lotus position.  An elegant Chinese elmwood stool, circa 1860, with gracefully splayed feet would be lovely in a minimalist loft and could lighten up a traditional drawing room.  Many of Williams’ smaller objects are unique: we lusted after a carved tortoise shell comb from the Philippines and an antique Indonesian document box emblazoned with the owner’s name.  Not to be missed are stunning handwoven textiles from Northern Thailand, including a bronze silk throw with intricate geometric designs in red, black and green.

Four Winds has become a magnet for American designers, and much of Williams’ stock winds up with collectors on the East and West coasts.  Contact:  Four Winds Antiques, 901 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501.  Telephone: 505-982-1494.  Website: www.fourwindsantiques.com.

Not  far from the downtown plaza, one finds Shibui, a repository of magnificent Japanese antiques, many of museum quality.  Founded by Dane Owen, who began buying and selling Eastern antiques when he was studying at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, this 5,200 square foot gallery is a collector’s dream.  Tansu chests are a specialty and we particularly admired a double-sided Kaidan step chest from the late Edo or early Meijii era.  Made of three Japanese woods—hinoki (cypress), keyaki (elm) and sugi (cedar)—its lineage can be traced to the farmhouse in the Niagata region where it was originally made.  Textile enthusiasts will find many tempting items here, such as an indigo-dyed fireman’s coat, made of wool and silk, with a rabbit crest on the back, and many lovely ceremonial kimonos, most from the Edo period.  On a smaller scale, Shibui has an appealing collection of handtinted Meijii-era photographs of Japanese scenes which would make a wonderful pictorial group on a large empty wall.

Owner Dane Owen and David Jackson have written a scholarly, beautifully illustrated book, Japanese Cabinetry: The Art and Craft of Tansu, which can be purchased at the gallery.  Contact:  Shibui, 215 East Palace Avenue, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501. Telephone: 505-986-1117.  Website: www.shibui.com.

344. Best of Bavaria
We owe this discovery to Herr Braumeister Peter Gardiner, a Scot who is an Associate Member of the Institute of Brewing and a graduate of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh (see www.bio.hw.ac.uk/icbd/icbd.htm).  Apparently that’s one of two places in Europe where you will go to learn how to do beer and ale the right way.

You may remark on Bavaria’s beer or singing.  But you should pay attention to its 1516 Beer Purity Law—the Reinheitsgebot.  It is thought to be the world’s oldest consumer protection legislation.  Originally it only permitted water, hops, and barley in beer (yeast was later allowed in the mix).  Cheaper cereals and additives were strictly verboten.  Which is all to say that you need local, enforceable standards if you are to have great products and services.   In Bavaria you used to know what you were drinking, and this led the Germans to be the highest per capita beer consumers in the world.

343. Bataan Memorial—Santa Fe
The Bataan Military Museum and Library, just off Museum Row in Santa Fe, is totally unexpected.  The town is dotted with galleries, museums, and other celebrations of art, but it is only here that one learns of New Mexico’s proud role in  national defense.  This state has contributed an inordinate number of soldiers to war efforts, right up to the present.  At the heart of the museum are exhibits commemorating the “Battling Bastards of Bataan,” which include especially New Mexico’s 200th Coast Artillery Regiment that was sent to the Philippines.  Its members were imprisoned by the Japanese in World War II, and, as a consequence, New Mexicans outranked all the rest of the states on the Philippine prison rolls.

But you will also find here a 1917 Harley Davidson used in World War I, data on the codetalkers (Indian tribesmen used their own languages for radio communications and the Japanese could not understand their dispatches), and haunting artwork about American prisoners who did not survive Japanese depredations.

As likely as not you will meet survivors of World War II action on visits to the museum, such as the hearty seventy-plus veteran of World War II from Fort Worth who endured 3½ years in Japanese prisons to include slave labor stints in Japan itself.  See www.sfps.
k12.nm.us/academy/bataan/general.html.  The Military Historical Foundation of New Mexico, Inc. 1050 Old Pecos Trail. Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501.  505-474-1670.  Email at bataanmm@cs.com.  Call ahead  to find out museum schedule.

342. Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill—Santa Fe
A simple enough place—you can call it fast food if you like—we are much taken with the Bumble Bee, where you can get burritos, tacos, and other Spanish fare that soar  above the pack.  The ingredients are simply very, very fresh, and all the staff, from the owner on down, radiate such cheer that they make it extra fun to visit.  For a change there is ample parking, and it’s very easy to get to once you discover Guadalupe.  Just across the street, by the way, is Tulips, where you can get fancy fare (90% New American mixed with a touch of New Mexican) when you feel like putting on the dog.  But you will go to the Bumble Bee in shorts, get your food in a hurry, and complete it with zesty salsas and garnishes from the back table.  There is an efficient take out window, too, if that’s what you want to do.  The surprises for us were the chile-marinated roast chicken (you can see several on the spit as you wait to give your order) which easily surpasses the birds offered by the normal chicken take-out places.  And, second, a burrito filled with tender, juicy lamb was a treat, offering flavors not found in the usual run of burritos.  But did we mention the grilled wild Pacific mahi-mahi tacos, the succulent, slightly charred fish topped with shredded cabbage and a mysterious sauce?  To achieve perfection, liberally add the superb roasted tomato and chile salsa from the back bar to all of the above.  On a Saturday night, some tables are pushed aside, and musicians are installed to add to the merriment.  Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill. 301 Jefferson (just off Guadalupe).  Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501.  505-820-2862.  www.bumblebeesbajagrill.com.

341. Tulips Restaurant—Santa Fe
The North Guadalupe district now provides very good pickings for those who care about food.  Il Vicino, a pizza chain with woodburning ovens, has a tidy locale just around the corner at 32l San Francisco.  It certainly makes the best pizza in town, though we would avoid the homemade microbeers pumped by the employees.  From Seattle comes The Spanish Table, a cookware and Spanish food store at 109 Guadalupe, which has a huge array of paella pans.  Then there is quiet little Tulips Restaurant, which probably seats 30 people, has a soft, flickering candle in a wall niche, and allows a strain of music so low that it never breaks the conversation.

We suppose you could call the food American new cuisine with really just a hint of the Southwest and touches of everything else.  On a recent evening we enjoyed an ample but certainly not huge Canadian natural veal chop quite juicily bathed in a red wine reduction, black angus beef tenderloin which we were allowed to pair with a devastatingly rich three-cheese risotto, and finally a tortilla crusted duck mole chile relleno that was pleasing if not challenging.  The service was elegant and attentive, well beyond most of the local eateries.  We would say it provides the tastes of the finer hotel restaurants, but surrounds you with the romantic intimacy of an adobe cottage.  Tulips. 222 North Gaudalupe Street.  Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, 505-989-7340.  Email: contact@tulips-santafe.com. Website: www.tulips-santafe.com./index.php.

340. Bernard Maybeck
Much Bay Area architecture is devoid of charm and character.  After all, it was the housing developments south of town that gave birth to Malvinia Reynold's song about boxes.  And even expensive works have a certain blandness.  Not Maybeck.  His domestic houses around the area—especially in Berkeley and San Francisco—are charming, durable, and symbolic of a more hopeful age in San Francisco history.  The Palace of Fine Arts, meant to be a romantic ruin, has achieved venerable status among tourmasters and politicians.  Incidentally, at one point, only he and Frank Lloyd Wright had been honored with Gold Medals by the American Institute of Architects.  To see Maybeck's work, go to www.verlang.com/sfbay0004ref_bm.html.  To  read about his impact and historical significance, see Bernard R. Maybeck (1862-1957): A Regional Solution to Modernity.

339. Citronelle (Georgetown)
We’ve not tried the restaurant, only the bar food.  Citronelle is one of Washington’s hottest restaurants, right along M Street, in Georgetown’s Latham Hotel.  Some tell us that it is Washington’s finest.  It has an ornate menu, ornate prices, and a sumptuous impression of itself.  The interiors are comfortable if not distinguished, and we found ourselves liking the private rooms.  It’s worth it, as all our friends will testify, even if the service is a little hit and miss, a characteristic of Washington and perhaps many government dominated cities.  All that said, it was a restful retreat from all that buzz in Georgetown, and the lobster sandwich at the bar was perfecto.  One could have a quiet, unhurried conversation, and the wine offerings by the glass were very much better than average.  We look forward to working our way at leisure through the main menu.  And we anticipate a stay at the Latham, which is quite a pleasant hotel, even if the rooms are a little bit sandwiched as well.  It’s sort of fun to read about chef/owner Michel Ritchard, who comes to Washington from France by way of New York and mainly California.  It’s important to understand that he is thick with pastry experience.  See http://travel.discovery.com/fansites/greatchefs/profiles/
richard.html.  Citronelle.  3000 M Street, N.W.  Washington, D.C. 20007.  202-625-2150.  F-202-339-6326.  Website:  www.citronelledc.com.

338. Albarino
Tucked in the northwest corner of Spain, Galicia is one of the more obscure and underdeveloped parts of Iberia.  It is home to one industrial powerhouse, Inditex, owner of the popular Zara brand of casual apparel.  The province’s Albarino wines, which go down beautifully in hot summer climes, are another growing export. 

Albarinos, Spain’s best whites, come from Rias Baixas, a cool, damp, Atlantic maritime region of Galicia just north of Portugal’s Vinho Verde country.  These dry white wines have complex floral, fruity aromas; a minerally, fragrant, delicately acidic taste; and a lingering finish.  Flavors on the crisp palate range from mint and citrus to pineapple and peach.  Legend has it that Albarino descends from Riesling grapes brought to Spain centuries ago by German monks.  Albarinos do resemble dry German Rieslings, but the dry white grape also conjures up the scented, aromatic Condrieu wines of France’s Rhone Valley. 

These refreshing, firmly acidic wines go beautifully with—surprise, surprise—the shellfish for which Galicia is also famous.  The 2001 vintage was stronger than 2002’s.  The International Wine Cellar (published by this author’s brother), consistently gives high ratings to these six producers: Bodegas de Vilarino Cambados, Pazo de Senorans, Adegas Morgadio, Lusco do Mino, Bodegas del Palacio de Fefinanes, Lagar de Cervera. (Editor’s Note: Andrew Tanzer contributed this entry.)

337. Paradise Lost (Part I): Gauguin in the South Seas
If you hurry to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, you can still see “Gauguin Tahiti,” one of the most marvelous exhibitions devoted to an artist’s singular vision we have viewed in a long while.  In 1891 Paul Gauguin, failed stockbroker and sometime painter, fled the hypocrisy and corruption of Paris for the South Seas, where he hoped to build a “studio of the tropics” and  enjoy a life “in ecstasy, in peace and for art.”  Instead, he spent the next 12 years battling disease, poverty and rejection, but in the process he created a near-mythic body of work that depicts a voluptuous tropical world imbued with mystery and longing.  

The  strength of the show, which debuted in Paris and brings together works from all over Europe, is its extraordinary breadth.  It includes dozens of Gauguin’s vibrantly colored, often strangely populated canvases, including his dreamlike masterpiece, Where Do We Come From?  What Are We?  Where Are We Going?  The artist also tried his hand at sculpture and here one can see the sensuous Head of Tehura, made of gleaming pua wood, and the carved and painted door frame of his last hut, House of Pleasure, with panels urging the visitor to be “mysterious,” “loving,” and “happy.”  The original manuscript of Noa Noa, the lavishly illustrated journal he composed after his first voyage to Tahiti, is on display, as well as  a collection of photographs, carved bowls and other objects which shaped Gauguin’s notion of Polynesian culture.

All together, the exhibition creates a total view of Gauguin’s artistic vision during his years in paradise.  There is an almost palpable sense of yearning that imbues many of these works.  Brilliantly hued paintings such as What! Are You Jealous? and Primitive Tales are alive with exuberant color and pattern, but the serenely sensual women are curiously remote, as if they exist in a parallel world that the painter may observe but never join. Death, in the form of  shadowy, enigmatic beings, often lurks in the background.  It would seem that Tahiti was the making of the artist and the undoing of the man.

“Gauguin Tahiti” is on view through June 20, 2004.  Contact:  Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115-5523.  Telephone:  617/267-9300.  Website: www.mfa.org.  The Museum’s Bravo Restaurant is an island of calm amid the hubbub of the exhibition halls.  (A crab and coconut salad with green mango and mint put us in the mood for a South Seas idyll).  If you miss the show, the voluminous catalogue, “Gauguin Tahiti,” with essays by curators George Shackleford and Claire Freches-Thory, is a treasure.

336. Paradise Lost (Part II):  Cuban Elegance
Another view of paradise lost may be found in Michael Connor’s new book, Cuban Elegance, which depicts the luxurious palaces and townhouses built by Cuba’s wealthy elite during four centuries of colonial rule.  Leafing through its pages, we were reminded of the vanished life of privilege enjoyed by a friend whose father once headed the island’s power and light company.  Her stories, of a pet monkey who dined at the family table and the butler who greeted shipwreck survivors with coffee poured from a silver urn, were always enthralling.  All this came to an end after the revolution.  The family, who was on a shooting trip in Spain, eventually dispersed to friendlier climes.  But one elderly aunt stayed in Cuba in a house by the sea.  She spent the rest of her days in bed, applying false eyelashes and reading movie magazines smuggled in care packages from the U.S.

The images that unfold within Cuban Elegance are astonishing.  The opulent rooms in the Palacio de la Condesa de Revilla de Camargo—imagine elaborately inlaid marble floors, ornately carved and gilded wood paneling, and a collection of 18th-century French furniture—could easily be found in a small European palace.  The dining room in the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales is lit by two magnificent crystal chandeliers and has an 18th-century Dutch tapestry on the wall.  On every page there is exquisite carved and gilded furniture, some imported from Europe, much of it indigenous.  But our favorite houses remind us that we are, after all, on a Caribbean island.  One lovely blue and white dining room features gaily patterned stained glass fanlights above louvered doors that open to a patio; in other homes we glimpse tiled floors and walls, lush plantings and windows that open to the sea.

Many of the beautiful homes photographed for this book are not identified, and the mystery to the casual reader is that they have survived decades of communist rule, apparently in private hands.  There is very little of the peeling plaster and cast-off furnishings that we might expect to see.  This is a tale that Mr. Connors has chosen, perhaps wisely, not to tell.  Well-versed in the architecture and furnishings of the Caribbean, he writes as knowledgably about 16th-century Plateresque colonial architecture (the name derived from plateria, or delicate filigreed silverwork) as about 19th-century muebles de medallon, the often riotously carved mahogany and cane furniture made by local craftsmen.  Mr. Connors has already produced two lines of West Indies-style furniture for Baker; can a Cuban line be far behind?

Cuban Elegance, Michael Connors (author) and Bruce Buck (photographer), published by Harry N. Abrams, 2004.

335. Blancs from New Zealand
Our colleague Andrew Tanzer has been working his way through New Zealand sauvignons blancs lately to good effect.  Here is his report: 

“Summer is upon us: it’s time to adjust our wine drinking.  New Zealand’s pungent, unoaked sauvignon blancs go down beautifully during the hot, sticky months.  Outside of France’s Loire Valley, New Zealand is producing the finest sauvignon blanc wines in the world these days.  Wines from Antipodean regions such as Marlborough and Hawkes Bay may lack the minerality of the best Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume wines; but they have their own character, typically marked by flavors of gooseberry, herbs, tropical and citrus fruits.  These vibrant, refreshing, food-friendly wines match well with seafood dishes such as grilled fish and sushi.  The bracing acidity cuts nicely through fish oils.

Cloudy Bay, the famous name in New Zealand whites, produces consistently excellent, but overpriced, sauvignon blancs.  More affordable, consistent sauvignon blanc vintners include Isabel Estate, Te Mata Estate Woodthorpe, Seresin Estate and Sileni Estate.  The 2002 vintage was relatively weak; 2003, on the shelves now, was stronger.”

334. Best Dining Culture Bookstore
Nach Waxman’s Kitchen Arts and Letters, a small (900 square feet) bookstore devoted exclusively to food and wine, is the place to go if you are a food person who wants to range beyond mere technique.  One of our colleagues had been there when she was trumpeting her book on mesquite cooking, a treatise which told you about more than smoking meat, setting forth all the whys and wherefores of mesquite.  We talked to Waxman about hard to find kitchenware, and he got back to us with a likely source, since he has an interest in matters that range beyond his exchequer.  Waxman studied anthropology at Cornell, did a bit of graduate work at the University of Chicago and then became a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Harvard.  Dropping out, he tried publishing at Macmillan, Harper & Row, and Crown, and dropped out again to open a bookstore.  We learn that he might have done a store on sports books, but a flip of the coin took him down cooks’ alley.  “What I’m interested in are the underpinnings of food—the culture, the biology, the social history, the material that helps us understand our food, where it came from and why things are valued.”  (See Bon Appetit, January 1996, p.14.)  “Books on Indian cookery are a specialty, because Indian cooking is Waxman’s own personal passion….”  See Eating Well, December 1994, pp. 24-28, which is, incidentally, the best article we have read on Waxman.  Waxman is very close to the professional food and food publishing community—the anchor of his business.  Kitchen Arts and Letters. 1435 Lexington Avenue. New York, New York 10028.  Tel: 212-876-5550.  Fax:  212-876-3584.  Email:  kalstaff@rcn.com.  Mr. Waxman  wrote us recently to say that, like the English, he has achieved some degree of “splendid isolation,” mercifully free of websites, blogs, and even cell phone traffic.

333. Best Kayaks
Over sushi, we consulted with friend Steve of the Explorer’s Club who is a passionate rider of motorcycles and fisherman extraordinaire.  Lately he has become much attached to kayaking.  In fact, he intends to follow up on our trek in Alaska where we had the pleasure of putting kayak to water in Glacier Bay.  He recommends Klepper Folding Kayaks at www.klepper.com.  And, equally, Feathercraft Folding Kayaks at www.feathercraft.
com/home.html.  That said, we ourselves have only traveled in rigid kayaks and know nothing about the folding variety.  Perhaps a good place to get started on this is at a site maintained by a buff: Kayak Online at www.kayakonline.com/index.html.

332. Best Bacon
We consulted cousins, other relatives, and an assortment of friends on this topic.  We figure that if you are going to fill up on cholesterol, you owe it to yourself to find the best of the worst.  On a recent trip we sampled Burgers’ Smokehouse bacon, and we understand that one particularly diligent couple has settled on this very meaty bacon after eating their way through other specialty houses around the country.  The “Old Fashioned Bacon” variety from the Country pages we ate simply had a whole lot of meat surrounded by adequate but not excessive fat, and it was all thick enough to stick to one’s ribs.  Burgers, located in none other than California, Missouri, has a website at www.smokehouse.com.  You can order online or get in touch with them at 1-800-624-5426.

331. More than Spice
Peruvian food has been nourished by the country’s huge biodiversity, namely its “dozens of microclimates.  Potatoes, squash, peanuts, hot peppers, beans and maize were all grown before the Spaniards.”  At the market one can choose between “60 different varies of fresh fruit and vegetables and 70 different species of seafood.”  Cultural diversity has also made a mark on the food. 

“In such a poor country, food has traditionally been robust, spicy but lacking in sophistication.”  Now, with 14 cooking schools in Lima and  a dozen upmarket restaurants, style is being added to the rich mix of ingredients.  And Peruvian chefs are migrating into Chile, Colombia, and the United States.  See The Economist, January 31, 2004, p. 35.  For a bit more on Peruvian food, see www.hut.fi/~czevallo/English
Course/PeruvianFood.html.

330. The Ups and Downs of First Class
For those who can splurge on international first class tickets, there are great disparities between the carriers’ intercontinental offerings.  As the number of airlines offering this luxurious choice dwindles, the differences become surprisingly more marked.  What follows is a sampling (2003-2004) from world-beater Howard Gross, who touches most of the continents frequently.  To get his ratings, just go to International First Class.

329. Sel De La Terre
Not a bad name for this restaurant.  Salt of the Earth.  Down to Earth.  It’s  way down  State Street, conveniently below the Financial District, away from the madding crowd.  It’s quiet, even a bit empty, with good food and very warm service.  First and foremost, you will be stop here because of the ambience. You will not be harassed by buzz or by waiters telling you how wonderful the food is and reciting from memory useless things they remember about  the menu.  The light is subdued: We eat in the bar area but you may prefer to be closer to the windows.  It’s Provencal or regional French, if you like, with enough variety to satisfy most tastes.  It is a decently priced cousin of L’Espalier, where you will leave a lot of Euros on the table.  Incidentally, peruse the Espalier website for some recipes (www.lespalier.com/recipes.htm), which will give you some great ideas for your own cooking and drive you to Sel De La Terre for simpler fare.  We found a Northwestern Pinot Noir very worth drinking, even if the tab per glass is a few bucks more than it should be.  We favor seafood, both for starters and main course.  Sel De La Terre.  255 State Street, Boston, MA.  Telephone: 617-720-1300.  Website:  www.
seldelaterre.com.

328. Shiki It in Sydney
Howard Gross reports on another restaurant find in Australia, once again in Sydney:

“In the reborn area of The Rocks in Sydney, whose food credentials have been forever escalated by Neil Perry of Rockpool fame, you can find a restaurant which allows you to banish all stress.  Step over water-covered smooth river stones at the entrance to Shiki, and place yourself in the hands of the itamae-san behind the kaiseke menu, head chef Hikaru Tomita. Selecting the kaiseke (in effect, pre-set order) is something I don’t do lightly, preferring to make my own food choices based upon my then-current whims. But do relieve yourself of that obligation.  A Japanese kaiseke typically consists of numerous small courses selected by the chef: soy and vinegar-marinated (kobachi), grilled hassun), simmered (nimono), and so on.  Shiki takes these traditions as a guide, but updates the selections according to the notion of cuisine du marché, based upon the best of what’s available from Sydney’s phenomenal fish market.

The nature of kaiseke based on the chef’s creative use of seasonal specialties dictates that it will rarely be the same for long (Shiki’s changes at least monthly), but I visited twice a few months ago days apart and gladly repeated the menu.  Another visit 2 weeks ago confirmed to me Shiki excels at all that kaiseke means. They may not use the same scope of world-wide luxury ingredients found at cross-town celebrated Tetsuya (whose stunning array of dishes frequently includes foie gras, truffles, etc.), but Shiki delivers constant taste thrills and contrasts.  Squash soup comes with an infusion of fresh ginger, a small dollop of sour cream topped with chervil floats in its midst. When scallop sushi dotted with a thumbnail of fresh raspberry purée arrives, my mind flashed to the horrific food excesses of the late ‘70s, when shrimp would appear with kiwi and strawberry, but no such absurdity here—the tang of the berry draws out the rich nuttiness of the creamy scallop perfectly.

Sashimi of Tasmanian salmon cut from the belly may be the most velvety fish I have ever savored.  More sashimi pairs a generous cut of buttery hamachi (yellowtail) with fine strands of shiso (Japanese basil), and a slice of hirame (flounder) is sublime solo.  A skewer of boneless short rib of beef is simmered for tenderness, then grilled, with the unusual (but delicious) addition of grated whole nutmeg.  For visual effect, deep red beef carpaccio is wrapped maki-style around the tiniest of iridescent green spring asparagus shoots, crunchy and garden fresh. Shiki’s version of dobin mushi finds delicate shimeji and enoki mushrooms in a small earthenware teapot filled with a wonderful clear broth, with a julienne of shiso for aromatics.  A highly soothing way to complete this meal so charitable to palate and mind.  The A$60 (US$47) price tag is likewise kind to the wallet, outstanding value for the quality delivered.”   For more details, see http://sydney.citysearch.com.au/
E/V/SYDNE/0023/44/35/.  Shiki Restaurant, Argyle Street, Sydney NSW, Australia.  Telephone: (+61) 2-9252-2431.

327. Vergelegen—Banned Beauties
Vergelegen in South Africa has a long and interesting history which is detailed on its website at www.vergelegen.co.za.  Andrew Tanzer of Hong Kong discusses the comic turn of events that keeps its bottles out of our hands in the U.S., a restriction that’s about as silly as the restrictive laws that allow protectionist states to stem the flow of wines from California, Oregon, and Washington, bolstering local distribution monopolies.  And we’re also still protecting Americans from Cuban cigars.  For a few more details on Vergelegen, see www.wineanorak.com/vergelegen.htm.  Here’s Mr. Tanzer:

“The South African boycott is over—or so we thought.  The U.S. government continues to bar the importation of wines from Vergelegen, since it deems the owner of this splendid Cape winery, mining giant Anglo American, a monopoly.  You can purchase Vergelegen wines in Canada, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong—just about anywhere except America.  What a pity: Vergelegen is producing some of the finest wines in the Southern Hemisphere.

The range of Vergelegen is quite astonishing.  This early 18th-Century Cape estate produces superb Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux-style blends; a potent Shiraz; South Africa’s best Sauvignon Blanc and exquisite Chardonnays.  In other words, in one region Vergelegen is fermenting outstanding examples of varietals from Bordeaux, the Rhone and Loire valleys, and Burgundy.  The International Wine Cellar (published by Steve Tanzer, this author’s brother) awarded 91 points to the 2002 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Stellenbosch, a 90 to the 2000 Chardonnay Reserve Stellenbosch, 91 points to the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch and 92 to the 2000 Estate Red Wine Stellenbosch (a Bordeaux blend).  Steve, who visited Vergelegen, reports that winemaker Andre van Rensburg has a world-class ego—and produces wines that back up his claims.”

It’s clear that van Rensburg is quite a handful.  More on South African wine at www.wine
writersxtra.com/FAQS/xtraPages.asp?KC=7&FP=51&TYP
=OVR&PG=arg&CS=10678.

326. Best Michelin Two-Star Lunch with Dog—Paris
We stopped for lunch at Helene Darroze one sunny January day and nearly stumbled over a magnificent creature reclining in the foyer.  Its breed was, alas, unknown to us, but this splendid chien had long silky hair, of such luscious hues of gold, brown and red that it would put any salon colorist on his mettle.  The dog’s lustrous tresses so perfectly matched the rich autumnual hues of the restaurant’s decor that we wondered—was the dog the inspiration, or the afterthought?

Helene Darroze is a 37-year-old chef whose much-bruited Paris restaurant was recently awarded a coveted second Michelin star.  She began her culinary career with Alain Ducasse in Monaco, then moved to the helm of her family’s restaurant in Villeneuve-de-Marsan.  In her eponymous restaurant, which debuted in 1999, Darroze creates inventive riffs on the cuisine of Southwestern France, using local products as inspiration for dishes that intrigue, but don¹t always succeed.  Her cooking has ardent fans, but nearly everyone—from Zagat to our hotel concierge—complains about the restaurant’s lack of ventilation in summer.

No matter.  We were there in the chill of winter and positively luxuriated in the warmly elegant upstairs dining room.  The room is a modernist study in jewel tones, from deep burgundy velvet-covered walls and swish taffeta curtains to rose and amethyst velvet chairs.  Bright tangerine menus and glassware in hues of lime green and pink topaz stood out like glowing beacons in a sea of intense color.

Our lunch, which we ordered form the menu dejeuner, was at once the best and worst of our five days in Paris.  It began with an extravagant amuse bouche, a tiny bowl of creme brule de foie gras, inexplicably served with a very large soup spoon.  The caramelized crust strewn with nuggets of green apple and pistachio gave way to an unctuous mousse that was both airy and impossibly rich.  We moved on to silken foie gras de canard des Landes, served with a sweetly spiced chutney of apples, pears and other fruits du moment.  Cannelloni de piperade gratines au brebis basque were delicate, the pasta stuffed with a savory mixture of red pepper, onions, and pork, accompanied by thin slices of very salty Basque ham.  At this point, the future looked bright, especially when viewed from the rim of a glass of Domaine de L’Hortus Pic St. Loup 2001, a vibrant red wine from the Languedoc.

Then our paths diverged.  Saumon d¹Ecosse label rouge was perhaps the best salmon we’ve ever eaten: exquisitely fresh and cooked to the perfect moment,  it was served in a frothy jus emulsionee au cavaiar presse atop grilled potatoes and braised leeks.  But our companion’s lard de porc basque et morceau de saucisse grilles au feu de bois left us perplexed and hungry.  A  sort of deconstructivist cassoulet, it featured an impossible-to-eat piece of fatty pork and overly salty sausage that were not redeemed by a ragout of white beans from Bearn.  It was the heavy sort of dish one might eat in the dead of winter before going out to dig post holes on the back forty, but such activities were not on our menu.  Desserts included a warm chocolate fondant of fruity Guanaja chocolate, paired with an icy scoop of bittersweet chocolate sorbet.  Meringue a la noix de coco—coconut- flavored meringue wafers with rice pudding and passion fruit puree—struck a tropical note.  

As we made our way downstairs, the dog in the foyer stretched, wagged its tail in the friendliest manner, and positioned itself between us and our camel hair coat.  It  gazed longingly at us and then at the door to the street, as if to say “Let’s go!”  And so we did. But the dog stayed behind.

Contact: Helene Darroze, 4 rue d'Assas, 75006, Paris.  Telephone: 01 42 22 00 11. Fax: 01 42 22 25 40.  Email: helene.darroze@wanadoo.fr.

325. Out of Africa
We have long wanted to get into South African wines, but still have not mastered them, since they are temperamental if sometimes rewarding.  A note from Asia the other day sent us out for Goat-Roti 2001, which is a pleasing mix of reds.  As importantly, it is a wine with a sense of humor.  On the label you will find:  “The council of Billy goats convened—bearded and wise elders grumbled.  Their position has been challenged by the popularity of Goats do Roam, the exuberant wines created by the youthful and frisky members of this flock….”  On this label Fairview Estates is taking a dig at the French wine barons who have gotten more than a little angry at all the spoofing.  Its ratings are good, and the price is bearable.  For more on Fairview, see www.wineanorak.com/fairview.htm.

324. Favorite Restaurant: Les Bouquinistes—Paris
This is why we love Les Bouquinistes: We no sooner had landed in Paris than we decided to celebrate our arrival with lunch at this upscale bistro (one of Guy Savoy’s “babies”) on the Quai des Grands Augustins near the Pont Neuf.  The booksellers along the Seine, after whom it is named, were shuttered against the winter chill, but the restaurant was thronged with stylish Left Bank art and publishing types.  The personable thirty-something maitre d’ asked if we’d reserved.  When we demurred, he laughed, “Ce n’est pas grave!” and led us to a marvelous table.

With splashy paintings, walls the color of sunlight and asymmetrical white porcelain table settings, Les Bouquinistes lifts the spirits joyously.  Williams Caussimon has taken over the helm since chef William Ledeuil moved around the corner to open Ze Kitchen Galerie. The winter menu is luxuriously seasonal, as always offering classic dishes with an inventive spin.  We began with Ravioles de crabe, delicate pasta bursting with fresh, sweet crabmeat flecked with chives in a buttery broth, then got down to business with Cuisse et filet de canette rotie au foie gras.   An intensely flavorful roasted breast of duck with lusciously crisp skin was paired with boned duck thigh stuffed with unspeakably rich foie gras, sliced into three generous “medallions.”   Across the table was a satisfying version of the same dish, volaille jaune rotie,  roasted chiclken breast deeply infused with its own juices  and—in a clever nod to the duck—three slices of boned chicken leg stuffed with rosemary- and thyme-scented wild mushrooms.  A bowl of puree de pommes de terre was served alongside: the ultimate mashed potatoes, heavy with butter and cream.  For dessert, there was fondant au chocolat, a thick slice of Venezuelan chocolate “pate” with a hidden center of white chocolate and coconut.  A small scoop of icy sorbet de cidre added a tart refreshing note.

We knew we were in Paris when a serious, bespectacled gentleman ended his two-hour lunch by lighting up a giant torpedo-shaped cigar.  Although some Zagat readers have complained that Les Bouquinistes has turned into an American hangout, only French was spoken at lunch that day.  Contact:  Les Bouquinistes, 53 Quai des Grands Augustins, 75006  Paris.  Telephone:  01 43 25 45 94.  Fax:  01 43 25 23 07.  Website: www.guysavoy.com.  

323. New Directions: Ze Kitchen Galerie—Paris
Curious about William Ledeuil’s new venture, we made our way to Ze Kitchen Galerie a few nights later.  At 10 p.m. on Saturday night, this hip, contemporary bistro was noisy and crowded with champagne-drinking couples, impossibly chic shopgirls, and ex-pats mulling over the Iowa caucuses.  White walls hung with bright paintings, a glassed-in kitchen, and table settings by Phillippe Starck underscore the concept of cuisine as art.  (We rather like Margaret Kemps description in Bonjour Paris, April 3, 2003: “Think Saatchi-sur-Seine.”  See www.bonjourparis.com/ttest/issue17article3.htm.)

The menu is divided into four sections: soup, pasta, raw and grills. The idea, perhaps new for Paris, is to mix and match rather than put together a formal three or four course meal. At Les Bouquinistes, Ledeuil delivered classic bistro cuisine with creative flourishes. Here, he has moved into a more experimental mode, with food that is light, seasonal and quickly cooked, French but with distinct Asian flavors, intriguing but with occasional rough edges.  Winners that night included soupe de moules de Bouchot et crevettes au basilic Thai, tiny chunks of tender mussels and baby shrimp enveloped in a frothy pale yellow broth redolent of lemongrass and spicy basil.  Crabes mou en tempura, tempura-fried soft shell crabs, were gossamer light.  Less successful was the Bar huile de vanilla, bouillon agrumes et poivres.  Seabass, perfectly fresh and grilled just right, arrived atop a seabed of tiny broccoli and cauliflower florets in a peppery, citrus-scented broth.  The discordant note was struck by the Tahitian vanilla, sweet and flowery, at odds with the other flavors.  But we were thrilled with dessert, a tropical triple play consisting of bananes farcies et caramelisees, roasted fingerling bananas filled with creme brulee, sorbet banane-gingembre, spicy banana ginger sorbet, and, as a chaser, milkshake passion, a shot glass filled with a thick, creamy passion fruit puree. 

The service at Ze Kitchen Galerie is professionally pleasant and quite brisk.  One could linger, but tables tend to turn over quickly.  For enthusiasts, Ledeuil has recently begun offering Thursday afternoon cooking classes.  Contact: Ze Kitchen Galerie, 4 Rue des Grands-Augustins, 75006 Paris. Telephone: 01 44 32 00 32. Fax: 01 44 32 00 33.

322. Top of the Shop: Best Spice MerchantParis
The regal sounding GoumanyaT et Son Royaume is located on a plebian street in the Quartier du Temple near the Place de la Republique.  But there is nothing ordinary about this elegant spice shop, part tiny boutique and part inter-active museum.  There is, for example, the large glass apothecary jar filled with the most richly fragrant red gold threads of saffron we have ever encountered.  There is “le sniffing bar,” where one can poke one’s nose into jars of blade mace, star anise, cloves and juniper berries, inhaling aromas so vibrant and complex that grocery store counterparts seem but pale ghosts. There is the fact that Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Joel Robuchon and other Michelin-starred chefs come here to buy true pink peppercorns from Pondicherry and other rare spices.

GoumanyaT is a gentle conceit, a princely figurehead invented by David Thiercelin, a sixth-generation spice merchant whose family business was founded in Pithiviers in 1809. For decades the family was a leading exporter of saffron; today, the business has expanded to include 180 spices, as well as other “natural products from the vegetable kingdom.” The catalogue verges on the poetic, offering les partums du ciel (flowers, jams, honey, vanilla); les secrets du feu (saffron, pepper, whole spices), les saveurs de la terre (mushrooms, herbs, grains, oils) and les couleurs de l'eau  (sea salt, sea weed, caviar).  We took home a small sampling, including very fresh, fragrant Szechuan pepper, orange blades of sultry mace, and black peppercorns from Kerala, less robust than some, but with a controlled burn that we imagine would suit French chefs perfectly.  We also brought back a coolly aromatic spice mixture, Melange Al-andalusi, which includes coriander and caraway, as well as cubebs and long pepper, two exotic peppers widely used in medieval cookery; they are ideal for rubbing on a pork tenderloin, marinated in a little red wine and olive oil, and then grilled.

The genial M. Thiercelin, when he is not chatting with a chef who has just purchased a king’s ransom of black truffles, is a fount of spice information.  Almost all saffron, he told us, now comes from Iran, since so little is produced in Spain and Kashmir has so many problems.  Why is good quality vanilla so costly?  Three years of bad weather and political and economic strife in Madagascar.  And why are his spices so much better than others?  “We are very strict with our suppliers.  If they deliver something that is not up to our expectation, we don’t accept it.  They know our rule.”      

Contact:  GoumanyaT et son Royaume, 3 Rue Dupuis, 75003 Paris.  Telephone:  01 44 78 96 74.  Fax: 01 44 78 96 75.  Website: www.goumanyat.com.

321. Best Culinary Oils: Huilerie Artisanale J. Leblanc—Paris
Tucked amongst the tempting antique shops on the Rue Jacob is a sliver of a boutique, Huilerie Artisanale J. Leblanc, where one can acquire the most delicious oils.  Produced at the Leblanc family mills in Burgundy since 1878, these wonderfully aromatic oils are a revelation.  The Leblancs begin with very fresh, very high quality nuts and seeds, then grind them in small batches on granite millstones, as they have for four generations.  The resulting oils are intensely fragrant, redolent of the true essence of the nut.  In all, the Leblancs produce 13 oils, including walnut and hazelnut, as well as pistachio, peanut and colza, or rapeseed.  There is also a lovely extra virgin olive oil, said to be a favorite of chef Joel Robuchon, that is pressed in the south of France.  

The very chic, blond Anne Leblanc uncorked a number of bottles, encouraging us to inhale the rich fragrance first of very slightly toasted walnut oil, then of the heady oil pressed from pignons de pin (pine nuts).   “These oils are not for cooking,” she said. “They are for finishing.”  Since our return, our salads have been transformed by Leblanc’s soft, velvety olive oil, brightened with a splash of lemon juice.  Haricots verts, lightly steamed, need nothing more than a glossing of the toasty almond oil, while pine nut oil has been working miracles on out of season asparagus.  As for the deliciously fresh walnut oil, the bottle is nearly empty. As Mme Leblanc advised, we have been drizzling it on everything from endive to roast chicken and goat cheese, to great applause.

Contact:  Huilerie Artisanale J. Leblanc, 6 rue Jacob, 75006 Paris.  Telephone: 01 46 34 61 55.  

320. Imu Turkey: Hawaii’s Best
Every Thanksgiving community groups in Hawaii cook more than 1,000 turkeys in communal pits.  The imu is an “underground oven fueled by kiawe wood and white-hot lava rock.”  Imus once decorated family backyards; now they only crop up on communal occasions.  “Atop the imu’s pallets were piled logs of chocolate-brown kiawe wood, Hawaii’s mesquite.  Then came the lava rocks, whose job is to cook the meat by making steam from banana stumps that are stacked on them as a bed for the turkeys.  The turkeys are then covered with banana and ti leaves for more steam and flavor.”   See The New York Times, November 28, 2003, p. A20.

319. Washington's Most Global Magazine
And probably its most refreshing.  Over 30 years old, Foreign Policy was re-launched about 3 years ago, moving from its niche as a wonkish quarterly journal to a bimonthly, full color magazine that could reach a much broader audience.  In 2003 it won a National Magazine Award.  See Foreignpolicy.com.  You can find it on the web, and it is comes out in an assortment of foreign language editions that help it reach Mediterranean Europe as well as the Middle East.  It is the child of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (www.ceip.org), which seems to understand that peace depends on people with broad global perspective—not an easy commodity to come by in Washington.  We are impressed by the range and virtuosity of its offerings, from power assessments by British historian Niall Ferguson to outpourings on the global wine business to Fidel Castro’s admiration for Garcia Marquez.  You can learn that Argentina is 5th worldwide in the wine business (not many know that), but that, unfortunately, this profligate country imports more wine than it exports.  Clearly it has found an editor with breadth, Moises Naim, who calls on a wide acquaintance for articles that go down many global pathways but who also writes for the magazine himself.  At $20 a year, it constitutes a thoughtful present for thinking friends.

318. Best Kitchen Grater
All right, we confess:  In the past, we might have glossed over recipes which called for finely grated lemon or orange zest.  After many tedious minutes, we always seemed to wind up with bloody knuckles and ungainly pieces of peel.  This sorry state of affairs ended the moment Lee Valley’s Stainless Steel Rasp appeared in our kitchen.  Now when we make Patricia Well’s Lemon Lover’s Tart, the shell is lightly scented with lemon zest reduced to the finest shreds.  We can pulverize ginger and garlic in a flash, turn out whispers of nutmeg, even grate soft, crumbly Ceylon cinnamon for Mexican hot chocolate.  For serious cooks, this is a life-altering tool, and it has become one of Lee Valley’s best-selling items.  (For more on the Ontario-based company, see our 23 July 2003 letter, “How to Beat Wal-Mart....” and Best of Class Item 299, “Most Homey Hardware Store.”) 

As Lee Valley’s brochure explains, the grater began life as “a lowly wood rasp....  Fame in the food world came about as a result of Lorraine Lee’s discovery (during the process of making an Armenian orange cake) that her husband’s favorite wood rasp would zest oranges.  This quickly led to other uses such as zesting lemons (naturally!), grating ginger and cinnamon, reducing a clove of garlic into near liquid in seconds and slicing all kinds of nuts into tiny thin slivers....  But probably the single most remarkable use turned out to be grating hard cheeses for pasta … into gossamer-thin shavings that pack a lot of flavor into very little cheese....” 

Made of tempered stainless steel, the rasp will not rust and can be ordered with a boxlike holder that catches whatever you are grating.  Contact:  Lee Valley Tools Ltd., 12 East River Street, Ogdensburg, New York 13669.  Telephone:  800/267-8735.  Website:  www.leevalley.com.

317. Best Nouvelle Mexican Chocolate Bar
Readers of these pages may have noted our predilection for Mexican chocolate.  (See Best of Class Items 203, “Best Mexican Chocolate,” and 275, “Even Better Mexican Chcocolate.”)  True aficionados love its coarse, crumbly texture and the earthy flavor of roasted cacao beans ground with almonds and cinnamon.  It is a traditional, rather rustic confection that goes all the way back to the Aztecs and makes a thick, foamy hot chocolate.

But for those whose palates crave a smoother ride, we can recommend the Red Fire Bar by Vosges Haut Chocolat.  The finely tempered Belgian chocolate has a elegant surface sheen, but take a bite and  hidden flavors emerge, as the dark bittersweet chocolate gives way to a zesty blend of cassia cinnamon and ancho and pasilla chiles.  The glow is mild, not overwhelming, and the bar has just a bit of spicy crunch.

Vosges is one of a small group of couture chocolatiers who are infusing chocolate with exotic flavors such as ginger and wasabi or curry and coconut.  Owner Katrina Markoff, who honed her skills at the Hotel Crillon in Paris and El Bulli in Spain, leads yoga and chocolate “retreats” in Oaxaca, Mexico, where, interestingly, chocolate and roasted chiles are often ground together for use in the region’s famous mole sauces.  Contact:  Vosges Haut Chocolat, 520 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60611.  Telephone: 888/301-9866.  Website: www.vosgeschocolate.com.

316. Creamiest Mail Order Ice Cream
We have often wondered about mail order ice cream—but when a cooler of Graeter’s French Pot Ice Cream landed on our doorstep Christmas Eve, we wondered no longer. Graeter’s, a Cincinnati-based family concern, has been making ice cream in small handmade batches since 1870.  This is premium ice cream with the almost unbelievably smooth texture and rich creaminess that many boutique ice cream makers aspire to, but never attain.

The secret appears to be the French pot process.  Graeter’s uses small, 2-1/2- to 3-gallon freezers that produce one batch only every 20 minutes.  As the ice cream mixture swirls into a spinning pot, workers laboriously scrape the freezing cream off the sides with hand carved maple paddles.  No air is whipped into the ice cream, giving it a far denser texture than commercial varieties.  As VP Richard Graeter observed a few years ago to the Cincinnati Post, “No one in his right mind would try to make ice cream this way....”

Loved by four generations of Cincinnatians, Graeter’s found itself in the spotlight in 2002, when Oprah Winfrey fed her audience 10 gallons of itsvanilla ice cream and proclaimed Graeter’s “my favorite.”  (La Winfrey’s special passion is said to be butter pecan.)  In all, Graeter’s has 17 regular flavors, 5 sorbets, and 12 special monthly offerings.  Of the six we sampled, the sensuously rich caramel was the hands down winner, followed by toffee chip, which blends caramel, nuts and chocolate in a vanilla base.  Our only quibble would be that other flavors—vanilla, chocolate and coffee—lacked intensity.  The six pints,  packed in dry ice in a styrofoam cooler and shipped overnight, were perfectly frozen upon arrival.  Contact:  Graeter’s, 2145 Reading Road, Cincinnati, OH 45202. Telephone: 800/721-3323.  Website:  www.graeters.com.

315. Best on French Bread
As it turns out, it’s taken a Cornell professor of history who hails from Brooklyn to write the definitive history of French bread.  Steven Kaplan is author of The Best Bread in the World: The Bakers of Paris in the 18th Century (Fayard, 1996).  “In his 2002 book, ‘The Return of Good Bread,’ Mr. Kaplan tells how a new generation of bakers took up the slow-fermentation cause in the 90’s....”  “He is finishing work on a guidebook devoted to sifting out the finest Paris bakeries (there are 1,273 to choose from).”  See The New York Times, November 29, 2003,  pp.A15 and A31.

314. Top Gins and Vodkas
It used to be so simple.  There were maybe 2 vodkas to buy and one gin.  And we had mostly given up drinking gin anyway, except when we were deep enough into the South to find a fully shaken Ramos Gin Fizz made by somebody who actually knew the ingredients.  Raymond Sokolov to the rescue.  He is one of the five or six knowledgeable writers at the Wall Street Journal, and he even suffers from a little panache.  He’s pushing Hendrick’s, Tanqueray No. Ten, and Juniper Green Organic, if you are in the gin crowd, and Grey Goose, Olifant, and Jewel of Russia should you be a vodkatarian.  See the Wall Street Journal, August 29, 2003, p. W4.  He as much as admits that this tasting is an uncertain science.  Hendrick’s seems to win because of its clear flavor, and Grey Goose for its smooth texture.  If you a glutton for vodka punishment, however, go to www.vodka.com, which lists 500 varieties from every conceivable location, according to Sokolov, though we can only find a much shorter list.

Update: Tito's?
Eugene Bem has given us his quick vodka ratings, and you will notice that he even tastes musical strains in his Bison Grass.  We doubt him, even if Eric Felton, current writer on cocktails and booze at the Wall Street Journal, claims that we are really splitting ends when we make claims for one vodka over another.  He tells us that the occasional slight differences between concoctions results from the character of the water.  Probably Bem has the best of the argument for those of us who drink vodka: some taste like they have heaps of poison in them, and the others simply taste clear and cool.  Felton is a very amusing writer, but probably does not have a clear palate.  Here’s Bem’s last sampling: 

Belvedere – This has been my standby for Vodka martinis.  It is made of high-quality polish rye and seems to be distilled quite well which gives it a very clear, crisp and clean, full-bodied texture although somewhat creamy.  I like the use of a cork and how it evokes a quality experience.

Absolut – Never liked the vodka straight because it has an antiseptic quality, but it is fine for mixing.
 
Grey Goose – It is ok, but it is also vaguely medicinal; it is fine for mixing.
 
Ketel One – Only recently tried in a martini and straight-up.  I found it creamy and exceptionally smooth, almost too smooth.
 
Bison Grass – very interesting flavor profile for it tastes a bit like pinot grigio wine.  The author W. Somerset Maugham, who extols Zubrowka’s/Bison Grass’s virtues, claims that “it smells of freshly mown hay \ and spring flowers, of thyme and lavender and it’s so soft on the palate and so comfortable, it’s like listening to music by moonlight.”  

All that said, we have it on the clear authority of our spirits expert Peter Pohly that Tito’s Handmade Vodka of Austin, Texas puts all the rest to shame.  It seems as if Burt Butler Beveridge II, in San Antonio has put together such a winner that it won the 2001 Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition and Spirit Journal gave it, and only it, four stars.  Pohly tells us it is distilled 6 times, apparently in small batches in a pot still. We have a smuggler bringing it in from Texas, and will give it a try.  We are impressed, by the way, that some tequilas are now coming out of Texas.  (5/3/06)

313. Maine's Finest Garden Retreat
The great landscape designer Beatrix Farrand made her last retreat in Mount Desert, Maine.  When she could not find an institution to turn her previous home at Reef Point into a school of horticulture, she dismantled it and moved six miles to Garland Farm, spending her remaining days with her gardeners (the Garlands) and her maid.  In her lifetime she had designed some 200 gardens to include the terraces at Dumbarton Oaks, the rose gazebo at New York’s Botanical Garden, and the Princeton University campus. 

Many of the plants at Reef Point were taken by Charles Savage for the Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Garden in Northeast Harbor. UC Berkeley got her library, but her favorite plants went to Garland.  The Beatrix Farrand Society has been formed to preserve and enhance this, her last garden.  See www.members.aol.com/SaveGarlandFarm.  Also see The New York Times, November 27, 2003, pp. D1 and D8, in which Anne Raver does a stunning review of Farrand’s accomplishment and of this garden.  To see the range of her work, look at Diane Balmori’s Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes: Her Gardens and Campuses.

312. Creme de la Creme:  The Best White Peppercorns
A couple of millennia ago, the ancient Romans thought that black and white peppercorns came from different plants.  Writing in the first century AD, Pliny tells us that white pepper was more precious and perhaps more desirable, costing 28 sestertii per pound, compared with only16 for black pepper.  But Pliny didn’t think much of either:  “It is curious that pepper should be considered so delicious,” he wrote.  “The only agreeable thing about it is that it is hot.  And for that we go and fetch it from India!”

Many centuries later the West finally learned the truth—that black and white peppercorns are the fruit of a single tropical vine, the piper nigrum, which flourishes in India and other equatorial regions. The difference is in the processing.  White pepper is left to ripen on the vine, then plucked and soaked in water to loosen the outer shell or pericarp.  When the shell is removed by rubbing or trampling, the hard “white” inner core of the peppercorn is revealed.  White pepper tends to be hotter and less aromatic than black because the fragrant volatile oils are concentrated in the pericarp.  It is prized by Asian chefs, as well as in Europe where it is preferred for cream soups, veal sausages and other dishes which require heat without the distraction of black specks.

The best white pepper is sold by the name of the region in which it is grown.  Muntok pepper comes from the small island of Bangka off the coast of Sumatra.  Shipped from the port of Muntok, these Indonesian peppercorns are moderately large in size and range in color from cream to pale brown.  They have a mild, slightly fermented or “musty” flavor with a hot bite.

But the finest white peppercorns are from Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo.  They tend to be very large and creamy white in color.  (In fact, the Malaysian government officially designates such pepper as Sarawak Cream Label.)  Sarawak white pepper is said to be cleaner than other varieties as it is not soaked, but washed in cool, running spring water for two weeks. These peppercorns have a distinctively “winey” flavor with a fiery afterburn.  

Penzeys, the Wisconsin-based spice company, is one of the best mail order sources for white peppercorns.  As it happens, Bill Penzey has written a sweet account of a trip to Malaysia to buy white pepper in his Holiday 2003 catalogue.  Penzey is a great believer in building bridges to all the world¹s people.  As he sees it, it’s not very complicated: “...the big key is to simply be likeable.  To be likeable you need to actually like people and care about them.  You need to be happy that different cultures exist in the world and take joy in finding out what makes them special.”  When persuading a farmer to sell you his best white pepper, it also helps to know that 10-year-old Malaysian kids like ice cream as much as your nieces back home.

Contact:  Penzeys, 19300 West Janacek Court, P.O. Box 924, Brookfield, Wisconsin 53008-0924.  Telephone: (800) 741-7787.  Fax: (262) 785-7678.  Website: www.penzeys.com.

311. Speech Help
Chuck Wheat's one of the best speechwriters in the nation who some top executives kept close to their elbows so that he could craft the kind of prose that made them look awfully good on the podium.  Sadly, he quit a while back so he could go fishing.  Here, he shares one of his trade secrets, a goldmine he frequented during his long career in order to find bon mots and great ideas:

“For a quarter of a century, speechwriting guru Robert O. Skovgard has been collecting, indexing and sharing rhetorical gems with business people who need to make their speeches do a better job.  Closings that make the troops want to march.  Internal connections that actually make sense.  Vibrant examples to give dash to substance.  Bob's Executive Speaker newsletter is short on bumpf and peppered with sensible advice and concrete examples.  His Executive Speaker Library now contains some 7,000 speeches on file—each one selected to exemplify specific solutions for speech problems.  His lore is cross-indexed with multiple keywords for easy retrieval.  And he's gradually putting his entire treasure trove of speeches into an on-line format which now offers more than 600 of them electronically to subscribers.  

You can subscribe to his newsletter or task him to find you a speechwriting problem solution by contacting him at the Executive Speaker Company, P.O. Box 292437, Dayton, Ohio  45429.  The phone number is (937) 294-8493.  Reach him electronically at www.executive-speaker.com or e-mail him at mail@executive-speaker.com.” 

Should you want a few instant tips about speechmaking and speechwriting, kindly look at Dunk’s Dictums, Item 2, on the Global Province.

310. Most Inviting Restaurant in Santa Fe
Santa Fe has lots of high concept restaurants, but few that truly cosset  their diners. That’s why we love Santacafe, located in the historic Padre Gallegos House several blocks off the Plaza.  Many customers adore the shady patio, but we prefer the dining room where the light is luminous, creamy walls are sensuously curved, and the spareness of the decor has an appealing purity.  The atmosphere is Southwestern-goes-Zen and the only jolt to the eye comes from bright bouquets of gerbera, lilies and stock.

A fine hand is at work in the kitchen, turning out inventive dishes with a New Mexican twist.  A perfectly grilled seabass, moist and faintly smoky, with a bright chipotle glaze, arrives nestled atop a  creamy risotto studded with calbacitas (baby squash). Garlicky pesto broth, thick with chunks of tomato, bok choy and corn, added extra zing to a bowl of tortellini stuffed with four cheeses.  Succulent tiger prawn tempura comes with peppery watercress and slivers of buttery avocado in a chile-flecked in a chile-flecked sweet and sour dressing.  Even our 14-year-old’s hot dog was flanked by crunchy, homemade rosemary potato chips and an irresistible bowl of lightly pickled slaw with chile and cilantro.  The desserts included two well-executed classics:  Tahitian vanilla bean creme brulee and warm chocoloate upside down cake.  But we really loved the deep, dark coffee bean ice cream served with meltingly rich cajeta sauce and a crisp of toasted pinon nuts.

You can’t really be cossetted without service that is both attentive and unobstrusive.  We had both in our waiter, Mauro.  And if we happened to dine next to a table of art buyers who chortled ever more loudly with each round of margaritas—well, that made us glad that we could repair for a  restorative nap to our house in the hills.

Contact: Santacafe, 231 Washington Avenue, Santa Fe, New Mexcico 87501.  Telephone:  505/984-1788.  Website: www.santacafe.com.

309. Most Mysterious Chocolate Shop in Santa Fe
We nearly missed Todos Santos as we strolled through the hollyhock-shaded Sena Plaza courtyard.  Stepping into this tiny, mysterious shop is like entering a sparkly jewel box filled with odd, dreamlike images: gnarled tree branches are hung with red paper ornaments, flashing lights encircle a Virgen de Guadalupe, paper mache heads from Vietnam peer out from behind a bright Bangladeshi rickshaw.  And then there are the confections, from swirly lollipops to silk boxes filled with exquisite bonbons.

Todos Santos is famed for its chocolate milagros (literally “miracles”) which resemble the silver religious symbols—eyes, flaming hearts, hands and feet—that are offered to saints in thanks for, or in hopes of, a cure.  Owner Hayward Simoneaux covers his milagros with silver and gold leaf, so that eating these works of art seems like a sacrilege. “But they don’t work if you don’t eat them,” advises Simoneaux.  The shop, which was voted one of the nation’s  ten best by Chocolatier magazine in 2001, also has a variety of truffles and unusually flavored candies.  We were won over by the improbable rose caramel covered with white chocolate.

Contact:  Todos Santos, Sena Plaza Courtyard, 125 East Palace #31, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501.  Telephone: 505/982-3855.

308. Most Appealing Museum in Santa Fe
Admirers of Georgia O’Keefe may object, but to our eyes, the best new art space in Santa Fe is the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, which opened to much fanfare in the summer of 2002.  Located on Museum Hill, this gem occupies a rambling adobe house designed in 1930 by local architect John Gaw Meem.  With hand carved ceiling beams and forged ironwork, it is the perfect setting to display over 3,000 objects covering five centuries of the Spanish colonial arts.

Among the museum’s many stunning artifacts is a collection of Rio Grande textiles woven by early Spanish settlers, mostly during the 19th century.  Brilliantly hued, with elaborate geometric patterns, these weavings are at once old and absolutely modern, classic expressions of the human spirit which will elicit raves for another few centuries. La Casa Delgado, a house within the museum, offers a glimpse of domestic life in colonial New Mexico:  It is filled with small treasures such as a Spanish chocolate pot and a gold leaf and gesso writing desk, as well as primitive furniture built for daily use.  Newly made santos (carved wooden saints) are displayed for the purpose of showing how the craft tradition continues to the present day.  The museum shop has a superb collection of books on the subject, as well as handsome wrought iron book stands.

Contact:  The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, 750 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Telephone: 505/982-2226.  Website: www.spanishcolonial.org.

307. Best Roadhouse in Santa Fe
We knew it had to be a local fave when the parking lot was jammed every hour of the day and late into the night.  It is Harry’s Roadhouse and it is the place to go when you want to eat big--and we’re talking giant--portions of Southwestern/New Mexican-style food. Naturally breakfast is served all day—try the migas, eggs scrambled with onion, tomato, green chile, tortilla strips and cheese, with sides of black refried bens and fiery pickled jalapenos—but at night go upmarket with specials like lobster or pork chops in balsamic vinegar sauce.

You can eat outside in the back patio shaded by rosy hollyhocks and lavender butterfly bushes, or on a screened porch at tables covered with gaily patterned Mexican oilcloth. Inside the walls are hung with paintings by local talent, some of it surprisingly good. Wherever you dine, you’ll have to wait in line—so cool your heels in the lively bar with a frosty Margarita.

Contact:  Harry’s Roadhouse, 9613 Old Las Vegas Highway, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505.  Telephone:  505/989-4629.

306. Best Way to Spend a Leisurely Morning in Santa Fe
Over an excellent expresso  at Jane’s Coffee House.  It’s got friendly help, a patio with tree-shaded tables and the best dark roast coffee in town.  Best of all, it’s slightly hidden, down a narrow lane, behind a picket fence.  If it didn’t face a government parking lot, you could imagine that you were on the adobe-walled terrace of a private  home.  Spend the morning with the newspaper or a book, or simply contemplating the world.  It moves more slowly here.

Contact:  Jane’s Coffee House, 237 East De Vargas Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Telephone: 505/983-9894

305. Best Mercado in Oaxaca
From a distance, the huge Central de Abastos is intimidating, surrounded by trucks belching black plumes of exhaust and buses honking at unwary pedestrians. But wander through the indoor aisles early in the morning, and Oaxaca’s sprawling market—literally “Central Supply”—reveals a gentler rhythm.   Here one can buy a jack hammer, a wedding dress or a live turkey, but it is the sheer abundance of magnificent food that is most riveting.

One might begin at Los Molinos del Sol, a sort of village mill where chocolate and guajillo chiles are ground to order on wheels of rough volcanic stone.  Next head for the seafood aisles where enticing displays of just-out-of-the water fish from Puerto Angel beckon the passerby—blue-tinged crab, large pale shrimp, glistening orangey red snapper, purplish octopus.  Nearby at Tenchita #30, dried, salted shrimp and fish are meticulously arranged in woven straw baskets. You can pick up a luscious, chile-spiked double cream cheese here as well.  At Casita #5 in the Zona Tianguis, Eliseo Ramirez offers a pungent array of indigenous chiles, including the subtle, almost fruity chihucale negro that is essential to Oaxaca’s mole negro.  Everywhere you turn there is more to see: bunches of braided garlic, squawking chickens, pineapple vinegar, baskets of fresh chepil, epazote and other leafy herbs, small black avocados criollos, fried grasshoppers dusted with chile powder, papayas carved like rosy crowns, trays of luscious cheeses in wooden molds.

When hunger inevitably strikes, visit the Comedor de Comidas Regionales:  At La Paisana Oaxaquena, fragrant, steaming tortillas can be topped with your choice of potatoes with chile, red rice with hard boiled eggs, fava bean paste, nopalitos (cactus with cilantro and onion) and other local delicacies.  Other vendors sell tamales of all sorts, including our favorite: chicken with deep, smoky mole negro wrapped in banana leaves. We wanted to stay all day in this gastronomic paradise, but after five or six hours of tasting, we surrendered to the lure of a taxi ride home.

304. Best Chocolate Shop in Oaxaca
The air smells different in Oaxaca, a blend of earth and wood smoke and, if you happen to be strolling by Chocolate Mayordomo, the alluring aroma of freshly ground cacao beans.  We arose early one morning and walked through cool, almost deserted streets to the clean, white tiled storefront where Oaxacans go to have Mexican cacao beans ground with almonds, sugar and cinnamon to their own specifications.  Just to see the shiny dark chocolate oozing thickly out of the mill is unforgettable, but we stepped up to the plate and ordered our own half-kilo to take home.  The cheerful ladies, dressed in bright yellow and red aprons enthusiastically obliged, packing our treasure in a double plastic bag.  The chocolate was soft, warm, slightly grainy and fragrant with spice.  It made our five hour layover in Mexico City very tolerable.   

There are several locations of Chocolate Mayordomo in Oaxaca, but the best is near the Central de Abastos.  Telephone:  951/516-0246.

303. Best Way to Eat Oaxaca "Lite"
There may come a moment, perhaps after a week in Oaxaca, when one needs a break from the intensely rich food for which the city’s best cooks are famed.  That might be the moment to visit Iliana de la Vega’s pretty courtyard restaurant, El Naranjo, just off the zocalo.  Sra. de La Vega has created a fracas in her hometown by refusing to make her moles with lard, a decision that flies in the face of centuries of culinary tradition.  During her first year, outraged locals vented their fury by sending a steady stream of dishes back to the kitchen, without tasting—or paying—for them.  (See “In Oaxaca, a Cook Creates a Stir,” Kent Black, The New York Times, August 14, 2002.  Available at www.lavida-oaxaca.com.)   

Our lunch began with squash blossom soup, a limpid pale green broth in which were floating a small piece of corn, a squash blossom and tiny slivers of squash, tender leaves and stems.  This almost ascetic brew (really a deconstructed version of a much heartier local soup) came to life when we added a sizzling dollop of smoky chile guallillo sauce and a squeeze of lime.  Next came chiles rellenos stuffed with squash blossoms and melting queso fresco, in a vibrant  tomato and almond sauce.  Normally chiles rellenos are battered and fried, which can make them a bit heavy.  Here, in a “lite” bow to tradition, de la Vega  topped them with a  square of puff pastry sprinkled with sesame seeds.  We moved on to pork loin in black mole sauce, and we must confess that we didn’t even notice the missing lard.  The mole was deep, dark, and mysterious with a mellow fire and hints of chocolate, its slightly bitter edge a perfect contrast to the savory pork.  If anything was missing from the coconut flan, we couldn’t tell.  It was creamy and cool, rich with coconut and caramelized sugar.

The service at El Naranjo can be a mite  leisurely, but de la Vega makes up for it by stopping at every table in the dining room, greeting her guests and even deconstructing recipes for the inquisitive.  You probably won’t see any Oaxacaquenos there—the tables were packed the day we went, but only with American tourists—which is too bad because the food is good.  De la Vega offers cooking classes once or twice a week, which include a visit to the Central de Abastos.  Contact:  El Naranjo, Valerio Trujano 203, Oaxaca, Mexcio.  Telephone: 951/514-1878.  Website:  www.elnaranjo.com.mx.

302. All About Sea Salt
Ms. Marlene Parrish of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette authored an excellent sea salt primer called “Sea Salt Adds Wave of Extra Zip and Crunch” at www.post-gazette.com/food/20030828salttasting0828fnp3.asp.  Her husband is Robert L. Wolke, author of What Einstein Told His Cook, who provided her with background on the differences between land-mined and sea salt.  Kosher salt, for instance, seems best used in sauces, while the different sea salts do best as toppings.  She then goes on to provide a rundown on some of the finer sea salts—Fleur de sel, Naruma Sea Salt, Peruvian Pink Sea Salt, Australian Murray River Salt Flakes, Hawaiian Black Lava Salt, Hawaiian Red Aloe Salt, South African Sea Salt, Mexican Benequenes, and Maldon Sea Salt.

301. Best Garden Hoses
In general they are not available in the big chain stores.  We talked to a hose executive, frustrated by the assorted hoses we have around the house which have sprung a leak after a year or two.  In general, he says, the layman should look at two things.  Do the couplings look sturdy and substantial or are they flimsy?  And does the hose-maker offer a lifetime guarantee or not?  Shoddy hoses have tinny metal connectors and come with defective, short warranties.  Four quality brands came up in our discussion.  First of all, there is Swan Hoses, and you should probably go for its Soft and Supple offering (see www.swanhose.com).  The same company owns Waterworks, and one name we heard from its offerings was the “Kick Free Hose.”  TeknorApex from Pawtucket, Rhode Island is both the name of a worthy competitor and also, apparently, a fine hose (see www.teknorapex.com).  Pennsylvania’s Gilmour Group (see www.gilmour.com) makes a high end hose named Flexogen.  We notice that you can buy some of these brands at DoItYourself.com, about which we know very little, so caveat emptor.  See http://doityourself.com/store/gardenhose.htm.  We have just added another Soft and Supple to our own collection.

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