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200. Best Coffee Table Book About Spices
The most seductive volume we’ve run across lately is Alain
The Book of Spices (Paris: Flammariion, 1998). Beautiful
photographs of the twelve “sovereign” spices—cloves, nutmeg, pepper and so
forth—are interspersed with ancient maps and historical paintings, creating
an intoxicating visual essay that hints at why these precious commodities so
captured the world’s imagination over the centuries. Brilliant fields of
purple saffron crocus in Spain, and a glimpse of Maison Israel in Paris, a
spice lover’s paradise if ever there was one, are the stuff of a traveler’s
On a bleak afternoon, snuggling under a mohair throw, with a steaming pot of
cinnamon tea nearby, we nearly lost ourselves in Stella’s occasionally
Franco-centric tales of the spice trade. One of the more fascinating
figures from the past was Pierre Poivre, an eighteenth-century
Frenchman who singlemindly devoted his entire life—losing an arm in the
process—to stealing nutmeg and clove plants so that France could break the
Dutch stranglehold. The chapters on each spice are a pleasure to peruse;
the connoisseur's guide in the back offers intriguing information about
spices used in perfumes and chocolate, as well as a list of the author’s
favorite spice shops in the U.S., England and France.
199. Best Indian Spice Shop in Toronto
Squeezing through the narrow aisles of Kohinoor Foods, a
slightly ramshackle corner grocery store in Little India, one virtually
bathes in the fragrance of fresh spices. Neatly wrapped and labeled
packages of wrinkly black cardamom pods, golden Gujarati fennel seeds, fiery
chili peppers and a dozen other spices found their way into our shopping
basket. Kohinoor is also a good source for uncommon ingredients such as
palm sugar and black salt. We’re still trying to figure out what’s in the
addictive red paan masala, a spice mixture chewed as a digestif
after a heavy meal. We've identified fennel and silver dragees, but what
are those dyed crimson seeds that have given us a permanently pink
mouth? Kohinoor Foods. 1438 Gerard Street East, Toronto, Ontario M4L1Z8.
198. Best Late-Night Drink in New York
We haven't been in One If by Land, Two If by Sea in
years, but if it still has a piano player and a few chairs up front, this is
the place to have a drink. The waiters are stylish in tuxes, and the
interior view is a warm, large public space that is elegant to the eye.
Oddly enough, we found you could skip the meal, and things don't feel half
as exotic when you are actually sitting in the dining space. Take a
look at this picture, and
you'll see why you must go here. This is, incidentally, an update of
Aaron Burr's stables. One If by Land, Two If by Sea. 17 Barrow
Street, New York, New York 10014. Telephone: 212-228-0822.
197. Best French Cafe Chairs
You've seen them on all the better sidewalks in Paris, at
Cafe de la Paix, Fouquet and dozens of other illustrious watering holes. We
fell in love with them years ago in New Orleans at Hotel Maison de Ville;
then they began to turn up at all the chichi new restaurants in New York.
We refer, of course, to the elegant, supremely comfortable rattan cafe
chairs that invite one to linger longer over lunch or to while away the
afternoon with a book and a cafe creme.
Since 1885, the very best French cafe
chairs have been made by hand at a small factory outside Paris for Maison
Raw rattan is steamed, bent and shaped into chair frames; backs and seats
are woven by second- and third-generation craftsmen into dazzling patterns.
There are 35 styles, 33 weaves and 20 brilliant colors to choose from, and
since every order is custom, you can have exactly what you want. We kept it
simple, selecting curvaceous Matignon armchairs and Maillor sidechairs in a
smart ivory and hunter green check. Drucker chairs come with a 10 year
guarantee for private use, which mitigates the rather high cost. There are
many less expensive imitations, but this is one case where it pays to pay
up. In the U.S. Drucker chairs are available through architects and
designers at T & K French Antiques, 200 Lexington Avenue, Suite 702, New
York, NY 10016. Telephone: 2l2-213-2470. Fax: 212-213-2464.
196. Best Spice
e. Best A
to Z Spice Encyclopedia on the Web. As a quick research tool, we
highly recommend The Encyclopedia of Spices at
Canadian website provides an attractively illustrated page detailing
everything you need to know about each of 40 exotic spices and herbs, from
ajowan to zeodary. For each spice, there are short sections on history and
lore, physical description, preparation and storage, culinary and medical
uses, plant cultivation, and links to recipes. Looking up ginger, for
example, we learned that in the 19th-century barkeeepers put out
small containers of the ground spice for customers to sprinkle in their beer
(supposedly the origin of ginger ale), that the best ginger is a pale,
buff-colored rhizome grown in Jamaica, and that it was used in the time of
Henry VIII to combat the plague. In the recipe section, we found a
wonderful Singaporean recipe for prawns with ginger and coconut milk.
For anyone who is interested in the
history of spices, The Epicentre has reprinted a superb article from The
Economist, “The Spice Trade: A Taste of Adventure” (December 1998, pp.
51-56), and a chapter from
Tastes of Paradise, by Wolfgang Schivelbusch, which debunks the
common perception that spices were used so heavily in the Middle Ages to
disguise rotting food. Instead, he argues that they were tangible gifts
form an exotic world, an imaginary paradise far superior to the muddy, cold,
disease-ridden realities of medieval Europe. Just like our BMWs and Hermes
Kelly Bags, they were meant to advertise the possessor's wealth and status
to the rest of the world.
Quirkiest Spice Website.
blood, spikenard, grains of paradise. Virtually unknown today, these are
all spices that were used in ancient and medieval times. They can still be
had from the website (www.silk.net/sirene) of Francesco Sirene, Spicer, a 15th-century
Venetian trader invented by David Dendy and Jane Hanna, two members of the
Society for Creative Anachronism. Members of this offbeat group tend to be
obsessed with times past: they try to live as one might have in 13th-century
England or 17th-century Russia (for example), and regularly stage
complicated feasts which recreate outlandish dishes from old cookery books.
proprietors’ aim is to provide all the paraphernalia one might need for
historical cookery. Hence, Sirene sells old
cookbooks, such as Curye on
Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century, as
well as exotic, hard to find spices--including the aforementioned dragon’s
blood (actually a red resin used in incense and various pigments) and
spikenard (a bitter, aromatic root used in ancient Rome and in medieval
spiced wine). One of the most intriguing sections is Spice Chests, which
discusses in some detail all the spices one might need in order to cook as
did the ancient Romans or Norwegians of the 12th century. (In case you were
wondering, grains of paradise are a type of pepper, wildly sought after in
the Middle Ages, now mainly used in African cooking.)
c. Most Scientific Spice Website.
is a 33-year-old Austrian chemist who took a vacation from his work on
silicon hydrides and theoretical thermochemistry in order to travel to Asia
where he explored his consuming passion for spices with camera and pen in
hand. The remarkable website,
www-ang.kfunigraz.ac.at/~katzer/engl/, that ensued discusses 113 herbs
and spices in great scientific detail.
Katzer entry on, say, pepper, begins with a long list of the names of the
spice in many languages. We learned that in the Punjab, one would ask for
Kali marich, but in Turkey, one would request biber. This is
followed by a close-up photo of the different varieties of pepper and an
analysis of the chemical constituents that make up its aroma and flavor--in
this case, the pungent principle is “an alkaloid-analog compound, piperine.”
Katzer also includes a section on etymology (pepper derives from the
Sanskrit pippali which in turn stems from the Greek peperi
and the Latin piper), photographs of pepper plants in various stages
of growth, a smattering of history, harvesting information, and a summary of
the way pepper is used in various cuisines. We’re intrigued by his
suggestion that pepper might enhance the sweet-tart flesh of the mango.
academic bent, Katzer's site never gets dull. He is an enthusiastic, often
amusing, always passionate writer. Unfortunately, the site, which is
located at the University of Graz in Austria, can be hard to access and
tricky to navigate. To get the list of spices, you must be on the Welcome
b. Most Exotic Spice Website in the
Southern Hemisphere. Most of the spices in our cupboard are grown
within a narrow band around the equator and it occurred to us that a spice
purveyor not too distant from the black pepper groves of Malabar or the
cinnamon forests of Sri Lanka might have a slight edge in obtaining high
quality, very fresh spices. One can almost smell these exotic fragrances
while perusing the Australian site,
www.herbies.com.au. Ian Hemphill, a.k.a. Herbie, spent 30 years
in the spice trade before opening a shop near Sydney which offers an
enormous range of the world’s herbs and spices.
The website vividly communicates
Hemphill’s lifelong love of spices. Click on any one of the 22 newsletters,
for example, and you’ll discover a report on a trip to India to see the
pepper harvest or a lively discussion of the complex fragrances of the
Moroccan seasoning mix, ras al hanout. Tantalizing recipes, many with
an Asian slant, are scattered throughout the site. The global product list
includes all the usual herbs and spices, but also more off-beat offerings
such as dried Australian wattleseed, said to lend a coffee-like aroma to ice
cream. Our only quibble is that each product description is accompanied by
a generic picture of some spice packages. (We’d actually like to see those
Currently in search of pepper to upgrade the larder,
we ordered a variety of peppercorns including the hard to find long pepper
(spiky peppers with a musky odor widely used in medieval recipes) and inky
“extrablack” supergrade whole peppercorns from India. Our faxed order was
acknowledged hours later by e-mail, with a query: Did we wish to purchase
green peppercorns that could be ground in a peppermill or freeze dried
peppercorns that could simply be crumbled? (We took both.) The package
arrived within 10 days, each variety individually packed in a heavy
vacuum-sealed plastic bag. (The peppercorns will be reviewed in a
forthcoming segment of Best of Class).
Note: Hemphill’s fascinating
Spice Notes may be ordered directly from the website, or in the
U.S. in March 2002 under the title,
The Spice and Herb Bible: A Cook's Guide (Amazon). The
book recently made the Saveur 100 list (see the Jan./Feb.,
2002 issue, p. 63).
a. Most All-American Spice Website.
Penzey’s is probably the finest small spice retailer in the U.S. We
discovered the Wisconsin-based shop years ago in the pages of Saveur
: we were struck, then as now, by the freshness and quality of its spices
and the variety of its product line. Today, Penzeys operates a chain of 9
stores, as well as a thriving mail order business. It is a good source for
unusual herbs and spices, as well hard to find varieties of the usual
suspects--i.e. soft, citrusy “true” cinnamon from Ceylon, or fine 100% red
thread Indian “Mogra Cream” saffron from Kashmir. Despite the exotic
origins of most of Penzey¹s spices, both the catalogue and website (www.penzeys.com)
have a distinctly Midwestern flavor, with down-home recipes for pork roast
and twice-baked potatoes outnumbering those for chicken biryani.
We enjoy Penzey’s website because, like the
catalogue, it is informative and well-illustrated. An essay on
peppercorns, for example, explains in straightforward detail how pepper is
grown and harvested in India and Borneo. We discovered that the famed Tellicherry peppercorns are plucked from the clusters of pepper at the tip
of the vines which receive the most sunlight, and that harvesters in
Sarawak preserve the flavor of their peppercorns by means of an indoor hot
air drying process--at the request of German sausage makers. Following
the essay are clear photos of all the different types of peppercorns
carried by Penzeys, and links to short descriptions of each variety. We
also like reading the employee newsletter, which offers a
behind-the-scenes glimpse of the business.
In our quest for the best pepper, we recently ordered
every type of peppercorn on offer, as well as vanilla beans and cinnamon
chunks for apple cider. Though service is normally quick, our faxed order
languished unanswered and we did not receive our shipment for about three
weeks--albeit with a note of apology for the delay. (Peppercorns will be
reviewed in a forthcoming segment of Best of Class).
195. Best Small Hotel in Toronto
On a snowy winter evening, with icy winds blasting down from the Arctic
Circle, we can’t imagine a cozier nest than the Windsor Arms, a small
luxury hotel in Toronto’s Yorkville district. The pearly grey green rooms
with chic black and white photos on the walls are pleasantly serene, but it
was the comfy beds with light as a feather duvets and silky Frette sheets
that really won us over. A good sound system, including a CD player,
a butler’s cupboard for private room service, and fireplaces in some suites
add to the feeling of being in a posh cocoon.
We had a few quibbles: the room’s complicated
lighting system had all sorts of lamps, but not a good one to read by, and
the plumbing was slow. But the large marble bathroom also had a jacuzzi
and Darphin toiletries, and the amiable staff is terribly eager to please.
A 90-minute hot stone massage administered in the quietly relaxing spa
upstairs left us with just enough strength to tumble back into bed. If you
venture out of your room, the best place to dine is at the lobby bar,
although the adjacent private club can be noisy in the evening. The
quietest rooms are on the third floor.
Note: The Windsor Arms was recently refurbished and,
under new ownership, bears no relation to the more rustic, light-hearted inn
that occupied the same location for many years. Contact: Windsor Arms, 18
St. Thomas Street, Toronto M5S 3E7, Canada. Telephone: 877-999-2767.
194. Best Commercial Ice Cream
This is, of course, an oxymoron. All commercial creams have been so
cheapened that it almost makes you want to give up ice cream.
as we remember, started off in the Bronx, with a foreign-sounding name to
make it appear imported. It was great, then. But the brand and
the cream have gone down steadily downhill since. Ironically, it is
foreign now, owned by food multinationals in England and now, we think, in
Switzerland. In any event, neither of these countries is a food
nation. The flavor to get is in "Pineapple Coconut," and one aficionado
claims it tastes better in Hawaii, though we don't know what difference that
193. Best Ten-Pound Christmas Gift
We don't know what this book actually weighs, but it is indeed heavy.
It's Alan Fletcher's
The Art of Looking Sideways, sort of his collection of sayings and
truncated thoughts -- many bits of this and that to which he tries to bring
some organization. It is mordant, perhaps, never quite funny or
philosophically assured, much in the vein of the modern English sensibility.
Fletcher was founding partner of Pentagram, once arguably the world's
greatest graphic design firm. He's a chap who likes to turn a phrase,
the hallmark, actually, of the most interesting designers: in the U.S., you
will find an occasional design wit in the South or Southwest, but not
in the rest of the country. Having been through most of the
book, even the small print and other challenges to the reader, we recommend
: "Civilization is chaos taking a rest"; "I always had assumed that cliche
was a suburb of Paris, until I discovered it was a street in Oxford"; and
"If you don't know where you are going all roads lead there." We hope
the next edition has an index.
192. Best Beijing MAO-Retro
A fun place in serious Beijing is the Red Capital Club -- a courtyard
restaurant full of artifacts dating back to the 1950s and beyond to the Qing
Dynasty. It dishes up Zhongnanhai cuisine, the fare of senior party
officials since the Red ascendancy. Down the street is a hotel and
cigar divan for those who need more than a couple of hours of this camp
atmosphere. Red Capital Club, No. 66 Dongsi Jiutiao, Dongcheng
District, Beijing. Telephone: 6402-7150.
191. Most Scientific Expresso
Dr. Ernesto Illy of Trieste, chairman of Illycafe, sells scientific perfection in the form
of ultra-controlled expresso coffee. "Every step of the manufacturing process
is monitored by computers, and there 114 quality-control checks...."
"Quality is a consequence of control, control and more control," according to
Dr. Illy. Some do swear by Illy's beans. See "Discovering La Dolce Vita
in a Cup," New York Times, October 24, 2001, p. E13.
190. Last of the Best Wine Cultivars
Bernard Ginestet, wine merchant and chateau owner, has just passed away of a
heart attack, all too early at 65. Of a great wine family, he was more than his
business, which was started by his grandfather Fernand in 1899. Novelist, artist,
occasional local mayor, and author of books on wines from Margaux and other communes, he
brought dash to the trade, proving you really can't cultivate greatness in wine unless you
are cultivated. We first had Chateau Margaux on a visit there in 1969, and it still
is the best wine we have ever tasted. A recent bottle in San Francisco revived, if
not totally recaptured, the memories. See The New York Times, October 10,
2001, p. E10. During a downturn in the wine markets a few years after our visit,
Genestet lost his properties but none of his qualité. The wine trade, even with
fits of prosperity, has lost some of its essence.
189. Best Escapist Reading
for Troubled Times
What to read is a genuine dilemma. Books which absorbed us a month ago now seem
irrelevant. Recently, though, we returned to an old favorite by Angela Thirkell and
found it pitch perfect. Northbridge
Rectory, set in Trollopes imaginary Barsetshire, chronicles English country
life of a bygone era with a hilarious blend of wit and compassion. But this tale was
published in 1942, when a maiden lady might carry a gas mask to a dinner party and a
literary reading might be interrupted by the drone of a German warplane. And that is what makes the book relevant to our
In a stream of delightful stories written during the
1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Thirkell, who was a cousin of Rudyard Kipling and granddaughter of
the pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, captured every amusing nuance of rapidly
changing English village life. What makes her
inconsequential characters heroic is the cheerful and determined way they soldier on in
times of vast uncertainty. In Northbridge
Rectory,there is the penurious and curmudgeonly Miss Pemberton, fiercely nurturing the
literary career of her gentleman lodger, Mr. Downing -- yet acknowledging that if England
were to fall to Germany, there would not be much demand for his book on 12th-century
Provencal lyrics. Father Fewling, or
Tubby, a naval man turned cleric, builds a cozy air-raid warden shelter
complete with ship-shape bunks, a Union Jack, and one of those very small bottles of
rum just in case. And there is Mrs.
Villars, the rectors wife and most fortunate of women -- with sons assigned to desk
jobs and money of her own for a cook and maids to clean the handsome rectory -- feeling
guilty because she so often woke up happy, so often had sudden absurd causeless
attacks of happiness during the day. Faced
with our own uncertainties, this tale of Barsetshire follies is just what the doctor
Other Thirkell novels in this series include Love at All Ages,
Too Late, Growing
Demon in the House, and Enter Sir Robert.
For a complete listing, click here.
188. Elm Revival
Go to www.AmericanElm.com or to www.riveredgefarms.com. Here you can find
the Princeton Elm, marvelously resistant to Dutch Elm and assorted other diseases, which
is our best hope to revive a dying breed. Mr. Roger Holloway -- I think we may
decide to call him Doc Holloway -- has made it his mission to restore the elm to America.
This is the only tree he sells at retail, the rest of his business being a wholesale
affair. His trees are not grafted, so you won't see the roots going to rot.
The Princeton Elm takes its name form a variety introduced in 1922 by a Princeton
tree man. Even today two principal streets are lined with his handiwork. Doc
Holloway is from Kentucky, but today he is an Atlanta transplant of some 20 years, so
Georgia is not all peaches. Our elm from him is doing just fine, thank you.
You can reach Riveredge Farms at 1-888-680-1922.
Elm Revival Revisited:
Since we last
talked of Mr. Holloway, he has been much in the limelight. If you are
terribly interested in the resurgence of the Princeton Elm, look no further
than The New York Times, July 11, 2002, YNE D4, where the whole elm
story is laid out in detail in “The Star of Elm Street Stages a Comeback.”
Holloway, incidentally, comes from Lexington, Kentucky, so he should be in
the horse business, but he obviously caught the tree bug from his family of
gardeners. A theater graduate, Holloway has discovered a far bigger stage
in the world of elms which, when formed up into beautiful allees, turn the
mere walks of pedestrian into a strut through history.
187. Best Purveyor of
Gardeners know the truth of the saying, Life is change. Not only do we
experience the obvious changes of season, but also those changes that are unexpected.
Last year the crabapple was so heavily laden with brilliant red-orange fruit that
its supple branches reached almost to the ground; this year, it sports just a few lonely
clusters. The voles have mounted a subterranean attack on a brambly hedge of Russian
olives, which will likely have to be replaced. But the front border is ablaze with
luminous shades of cobalt and purple, as starry cascades of the aster Our Latest
One mingle with the lacy blooms of Russian sage and velvety spiked salvias.
This past weekend we took comfort in wrestling with the thorny rose
canes, still in crimson bloom, and plotting a new design for the woods. Then we
began to think of spring and picked up the phone to order daffodils from Brent and Becky
Heath in Virginia. Weve been ordering bulbs from this knowledgeable family of
daffodil specialists for years and have always liked the mix of old favorites and tempting
new cultivars on offer in their catalogues. Topsize, healthy, vigorous bulbs arrive
at the proper time for planting in our zone 7 garden, and though weve made mistakes
in the selection of bulbs, we have never been disappointed in their quality. (Mistakes are moved to the edge of the pasture for
the horses to admire.) Next year drifts of the elegant pure-white Thalia will bloom
along the edge of the woodland, while well experiment with two jonquillas,
Sailboat and Curlew, in the front border. Pick wisely and you will enjoy these
almost carefree, pest-resistant harbingers of spring for years to come, about as permanent
a joy as any gardener can expect. Contact: Brent and Becky¹s Bulbs, 7463
Heath Trail, Gloucester, VA 23061. Telephone: 877-661-2852. Website: www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com.
186. Best Way to Improve
Your Potato Salad
are nearly as many potato salads as there are inspired cooks. The mild, earthy
flavor of a new potato lends itself to a thousand different twists. We regularly
make five or six different versions, ranging from a simple Moroccan salad doused with
lemon juice to a nouvelle variant with shrimp and chervil that appeared in The New York
Times years ago.
Corby Kummer, first-rate food critic for The Atlantic Monthly, has come up with a
traditional German recipe that we havent run across before. (Potato
Salad, The Atlantic Monthly, September 2001, pp. 126-129.) While in
Luebeck, a northern German city on the Baltic, where he went to see herring caught and
salted, Kummer also set his sights on finding the definitive version of potato
salad. His master recipe,
which we have pulled from the text of the article, is notable in several ways.
First, he rightly notes that it is important to use waxy, low-starch
potatoes for their flavor and creamy texture, and because they hold their shape better
when they are cooked and sliced. Look for small round new potatoes,
either red or white, or heirloom fingerling varieties, such as Ozette or Ratte. The
widely available medium-starch Yukon Gold is fine too. Forget the high-starch
Idahos. Second, contrary to popular wisdom, Kummers informant let the
potatoes cool thoroughly before dressing them. And last, but not least, the dressing
was boiled and poured hot onto the sliced potatoes and then allowed to sit for at least
was the salad? Our informal panel rated it highly, if not at the top of the chart.
One taster praised the salad for its buttery flavor; another felt it needed a
little more punch. But thats the great thing about a master recipe: It
provides a road map for personal variations. As Kummer notes, theres much
debate amongst German cooks about the type of vinegar, whether or not to use mustard, or
whether chives can be added to the parsley. One caveat: Although we have used
Kummers measurements in the recipe, we felt that there was a little too much
dressing for three pounds of new potatoes. (Kummer used Yukon Golds.) So unless you like
your salad soupy, you might reserve some of the dressing.
185. Best Shrimp Dumplings
at a Chinese RestuarantSan Francisco
As soon as she heard we were coming to San Francisco, an old friend exclaimed, I
must take you to Ton Kiang for dim sum! A
few chilly afternoons later, we were bounding up the stairs to the second-floor dining
room in a state of gustatory anticipation. We were not disappointed. At a corner table, over cups of fragrant
chrysanthemum tea, we surveyed a never-ending parade of morsels, so irresistible that soon
every inch of the table was covered with small dishes. Most
appealing were the delicately flavored shrimp dumplings--gao choy got (with green
chives), dao miu gao (with pea tips), and boi choy gao (with spinach)--so
fresh and light that you could eat a dozen without blinking. But that would be a shame, because then you
wouldn't be able to sample the turnip cakes with sweet rice, eggplant with shrimp, sauteed
pea shoots, spicy pot stickers, or the strange-looking but delicious mango and coconut
pudding. Not to be missed: Petite steam buns stuffed with rich barbecued pork.
Ton Kiang, 5821 Geary Boulevard, San
Francisco, CA 94121. Telephone: 415-387-8273.
184. Best Japanese Folk Art
Tucked away in Japantowns Kinokuniya Buillding is a shop that could not offer
greater contrast.to its sterile surroundings. Ma-shi-ko
Folkcraft is so crammed from floor to ceiling with wondrous handmade objects from Japan
that one could spend hours just trying to see half of its wares. The shop specializes in rustic ma-shi-ko
pottery, which has been made in the same area for centuries, but there are also antique
tansu chests and laquer bento boxes, fierce samurai kites, exquisite tea bowls, stone
basins for the zen garden and hundreds of other objects rich in tradition. We nearly fell over--and then fell in love with--a
handsome 19th-century carved cherry wood fish with a particularly flippant
tail, once used to suspend cooking pots over a charcoal fire. If you can put up with the owners continuous
complaints about pilfering and lack of local support (all my customers are from New
York and Boston), this is a fabulous place to find unusual, well-priced objects for
the home. Ma-shi-ko Folk Craft, Kinokuniya
Building, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco, CA 94118. Telephone: 415-346-0748.
183. Best 12-Table Italian
Restaurant in North BeachSan Francisco
Everything about LOsteria del Forno is inviting, from the warm, golden walls hung
with copper pans to the open kitchen and the frazzed, but good-natured staff. The restaurant is tiny, just a dozen tables,
and with a no reservations policy, youll probably have to wait in line until
youre half mad with hunger. But
its hard to be irritable once youve snagged one of those coveted tables,
and a cheerful waitress has delivered a basket of focaccia hot from the oven along
with a glass of the house red. The owners,
who are from Bologna and Varese, have devised a simple, almost rustic menu that
occasionally approaches the sublime. We
missed the milk-braised pork, a local favorite, but were pleased by the freshly pureed
artichoke soup, and by exceptionally light pumpkin ravioli in sage butter, the sweetness
of the pumpkin wonderfully offset by flecks of orange zest. Plump grilled tiger shrimp served over a
green salad, and crespelle, crepes in bechamel sauce stuffed with ham and
sauteed porcini mushrooms, brought smiles all around. L'Osteria del Forno, 519
Columbus Avenue, San Francisco. Telephone: 415-982-1124. Website: http://www.bstudio.com/l'osteria/.
Atmospheric Tea Room in China Town--San Francisco
fell for Imperial Tea Court the moment we stepped across the threshold. This mellow
tea house, adorned with birdcages and polished rosewood tables and chairs, was created
less than ten years ago by visiting Chinese artisans, but feels as though it had been in
place for a century. As tea-inspired music plays softly in the background,
helpful ladies show the visitor how to brew and drink tea in the classic gaiwan, or
lidded cup. Dozens of premium teas may be purchased by the ounce or the pound, from rare
teas such as Bai Ji Guan (made from white tea leaves which resemble the comb on a
roosters head) to western-style, lavender-infused Earl Grey. Here one can also find an enormous array of elegant
Yixing clay teapots, prized for the porosity of the clay from which they are made.
Tea Court was created by Roy Fong, a Hong Kong native, ordained Daoist priest, and
impassioned lover of fine teas. Every year Fong visits small tea gardens in China
and Taiwan to personally supervise the production process; carefully nurtured
relationships with other growers have made it possible for him to obtain rare teas
unavailable elsewhere in the West. His website is exceptional, with a vivid
description and photograph of each tea, a map showing its origin, and specific brewing
instructions. Click on Classroom
to learn gong fu and gaiwan tea preparation, or Tea Tour for a
tantalizing itinerary of a China trip planned for 2002. Imperial Tea Court, 1411
Powell Street, San Francisco, CA 94133. Telephone: (415) 788-6080. Fax: (415)
788-6079. Website: www.imperialtea.com.
Peaceful China Town Escape (in China Town)--San Francisco
Years ago, we lived just a few blocks from the Tien Hau Temple, but mysteriously
never discovered it. Climb three flights of stairs (past the locked door to the mah
jong parlour), ring the buzzer on the grill, and the elderly caretakers will admit you to
this beautiful shrine to the Queen of Heavens and Goddess of the Seven Seas. Dozens
of glowing red and gold lanterns line the ceiling, incense swirls from lighted joss sticks
and pyramids of oranges adorn altars to the spirits of the departed. Over it all
presides the benign image of Tien Hau, flanked by other legendary deities and guardian
in 1852 by the first Chinese to arrive in San Francisco as a thanks offering to the
goddess for safely guiding them across the Pacific Ocean, this is the oldest Buddhist
temple in the United States. To this day, many Chinese believe that they owe their
prosperity and well-being to Tien Hau, hence the abundant offerings at her temple.
To sit here for ten minutes is to escape the hustle bustle of Chinatown and
contemplate another more spiritual realm. Tien Hau Temple, 125 Waverly Place, San
Francisco. No phone.
Place to Have a Chop Made in China Town--San Francisco
Tucked in amongst the glitzy chandeliers and made-yesterday lacquer furniture on
Grant Avenue is a real shop, Chew Chong Tai, where the genial calligraphers will translate
your name into Chinese characters and either paint them on rice paper or carve a chop for
you to use on your stationery. Occidental names are transcribed on a sounds
like basis, so that, for example, Alexandra, is composed of the
characters for Asia, tree, strength, and to
arrive. This is a good source for high quality brushes and papers, as well the
crimson pigment for inking ones chop. Poking around on the dusty glass shelves
we discovered fragments of old Chinese embroidery and replicas of opium pipes. Chew Chong Tai, 985 Grant Avenue, San Francisco,
CA 94108. Telephone: (415) 982-8479.
179. Playland 2001
When we were young, there were amusement parks where you could eat the hot dogs, visit
clean bathrooms, not suffer lines on the rides, and have a good time whether you were a
kid or an adult. Such a park was Playland in Rye, New York, which is probably gone
or drooping today. Their successors--this or that park in Florida--are pretty
Not so at San Francisco's Metreon, Sony's entertainment center. For years
all the good things in San Francisco have been happening south of market. Even the
Beat Poets knew this years ago when they snuck away from North Beach to Potrero Hill.
At any rate, Metreon, on the edge of Yerba Buena
Gardens, is quite terrific. For starters, the Gardens provide the main patch of
grass downtown, now that Union Square is turning to stone. The several restaurants
in and around Metreon vary from quite acceptable to pretty darn good, unusual in any
amusement park setting. The main game room itself is not wonderful, but it will sate
kids tired of touring around San Francisco. Just across the footbridge is a carousel
(hardly advertised) which is attractive and a good deal price-wise.
Metreon is a showcase as well as for Sony and
Microsoft products, all of which fits in with the Moscone Convention Center in the
All these things are located in the Mission District,
which was San Francisco itself under the Spanish. The city began here where the sun
shone best, but then the wealthy moved to the hills to get away from the hoi polloi.
Back in the Mission, San Francisco is getting back to its roots.
178. The West's Best
Near a fine Japanese art gallery in Jackson Square, still a very pleasurable antique and
design district. You can browse here without being assaulted by customers or the
staff. William Stuart Architectural Books. 804 Montgomery St, San Francisco,
CA 94135. Telephone: 415-394-6757. Also, William Stout Design Books in South
San Francisco at 415-495-6757. Website: www.stoutbooks.com.
177. Best Classical Music
together by a Duke University librarian, has as much as you need to know about Beethoven
and everything else. With links to everywhere, it surely is the finest place to
start your child's history of music paper.
176. Best Atmospheric CD
We missed Buddha Bar on our last trip to Paris, but there was plenty of buzz
about the trendy nightspot off the Place de la Concorde, where an immense
golden Buddha smiles benignly as glitterati like Johnny Depp and Catherine Zeta Jones
imbibe Centenary Martinis and dance to exotic beats from around the world. But we
were very nearly transported there by Buddha Bar
III, a double CD mixed by Ravin, which features the lush music that wafts nightly
through this gleaming, Asian-chic temple.
"Dream" unwinds langorously, taking
the listener on a hypnotic multicultural carpet ride to the shores of Turkey and North
Africa, with stops en route in Argentina, Greece and Japan. "Joy"
is more upbeat, with techno-lounge dance music for those whose evenings begin around
midnight. Wed play this ultracool mix at a cocktail party the moment that
things start to get dull. One critic sniffingly labeled this CD world
muzak, which begs the point: Buddha Bar III is exactly the great
background music that it was intended to be.
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