Tuesday, October 01, 2002

From a fortune cookie I got last Friday on a trip to a friend's wedding in Saratoga, CA:

"Buy the Red Car"

More fortune cookies should be so precise and prescriptive!

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Cookbook of the Day: The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers

Virtue has returned to the cookbook world. Last year was the year of "The French Laundry Cookbook," a spectactularly elegantly designed book full of gorgeous photographs and recipies just slightly less complex than the procedure for replacing a 747 engine. That book (and "The Fifth Star" by Leslie Brenner) succeeded in explaining how much care can be put into ultra-luxe food: pea soups that travel through a strainer eight times between pod and bowl, or dishes garnished with oven dried tomato powder. I actually really enjoy those type of cookbooks, because (at least for me) having all that context information makes eating at a palace like March in NYC or Gary Danko in SF a lot more fun. Cynically viewed, impossible celebrity chef cookbooks are nothing but restaurant marketing vehicles. I think that's true, but they also enhance the theatre that's always surrounded grand meals. (That theater aspect is no recent invention, either...I'll have lots to say about that in the near future.)

The Zuni Cafe Cookbook has arrived to remind us all of the lessons that Alice Waters has been teaching for years at Chez Panisse, the best restaurant in the United States: the ingredient is king, good ingredients don't have to be exotic (just farmed organically, and used in season), and simple food cooked mindfully satisfies like nothing else. (Check out what Alice is cooking this week.) Zuni Cafe is one of my favorite places to eat in San Fransciso. Like Chez Panisse, the menu is full of sophisticated food with a few carefully chosen ingredients. Sometimes sophisticated in very sneaky ways: Zuni Cafe makes one hell of a great hamburger. The Zuni Cafe Cookbook is, like Alice Water's cookbooks, rich in narrative detail about ingredient selection, seasonality, and the reasoning behind recipe steps. Thankfully for those of us that don't have working relationships with ten or fifteen organic farmers, this cookbook is not as heavy as the Alice Waters cookbooks on two or three ingredient recipes that depend on having, for example, perfect Meyer Lemons or green garlic sprouts. Instead, there are great, simple recipies with enough explainations and substitutions that they can be reasonably accomplished.

Now, let's see...that hamburger recipe is on page 365...

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Food of the Day: Pecos Pit Barbeque

Without a doubt, the best meal I've had outside a converted gas station is the Pecos Barbeque Beef Sandwich, with a side of their incredible baked beans. Even without the no-nonsense ambiance that can only be achieved by eating at a picnic table outside a converted gas station in industrial SoDo, Pecos is a formidible eating experience. The good folks at Pecos specialize in Texas barbeque, with all the good stuff that implies: pork or brisket, marinated, smoked slow, and mopped with a tomato/chili based sauce. The Pecos sauce has a nice combination of a vinegary or cidery bite, coupled with a pepper note that is unusual in that it gives the impression more of black pepper than jalepeno. It's a great sauce, and if you really like it, you can ask for your sandwich "extra sloppy" style. (You can also order your sandwich extra hot, but you might want some Zantac along if you try that!)

Pecos offers shredded pork, shredded beef, sliced beef, and sliced ham sandwiches. I tend to be partial to the sliced beef, as I think it better balances the meat and smoke with the heat of the sauce. The shredded sandwiches are awfully good, and I have friends that go with these sandwiches every time.

The Pecos beans are a mandatory addition to any order. My fellow barbeque and chili fanatic Steve refers to them as "heaven beans" and always gets a double order. The beans are just spicy enough, and have a great molasses taste, but aren't so sugary as to distract from the smoke and bean flavors.

Pecos Barbeque is located at 2260 1st Ave S in Seattle. Just take 1st Avenue past Safeco, and it'll be the place with the long line a few blocks down on the left. They are only open M-F, 11 to 3.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Food of the Day: World Class Chili

There's no better lunch in Seattle than grabbing a bowl of Texas style at Joe Canavan's World Class Chili in the Pike Place Market. (If you are really hungry, spend the $1.50 to add a barbeque sample sandwich.) Joe is a scholar of chili and barbeque, and knows the secrets of cooking with smoke. Joe's chili is the genuine article: meat slowly cooked with chile peppers and a few mystery ingredients. The chili comes in a few varieties: Texas (beef, the way God intended), Cincinnati (beef and pork, done in a sweeter, less hot style), and California (which somehow sneaks chicken into the chili!) When you order, the chili can be combined with a base of beans, pasta or rice, and the heat level adjusted. The result is chili heaven: it's all about the meat and the chile pepper, without the unwelcome distractions of tomato and beans. Chili can contain tomatoes and beans, but they should be strictly supporting players.

Joe is working on a New Mexico style green chili, which is properly done as Hatch green chilis, pork, and potatoes. In New Mexico, this stuff is used to top everything but ice cream and breakfast cereal. (Thinking about really good chicken enchiladas topped with some really mean green chili makes me want to do the Snoopy "suppertime" dance!) Some crazy people think that green chili is about tomatillos, which results in an over-acidic tomatoey soup. Ack. If you go, tell Joe to get cracking on that New Mexico green...