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Restaurant Critic Roundup: 'Exuberant' and 'Compelling' Cooking at New York Restaurant Estela

Restaurant Critic Roundup: 'Exuberant' and 'Compelling' Cooking at New York Restaurant Estela

Every week, The Daily Meal rounds up restaurant reviews across America

"I never ate anything as extraordinary as this," says critic Alan Richman of New York restaurant Estela.

This week in restaurant news, critic Michael Bauer reviews San Francisco restaurant The Palace. "The restaurant still has the feel of an old-time diner/steak house," he comments. "The chairs are blond wood with arms, like the kind used in a hospital waiting room in the 1980s. The kitchen is open, as are the windows overlooking the very urban corner. A black metal gate blocks off the front door on Mission. The way in is now through a side entrance around the corner, which looks like a service entrance."

In New York, restaurant Estela can only be criticized for the magnitude of people that come to dinner, says critic Alan Richman. "But Mattos's cooking is so exuberant, original, unconventional, and compelling, I don't know how you can keep them away. I don't even know what to call his food. Maybe contemporary, but that's so yesterday. I don't think it's Uruguayan. I've been there, and I never ate anything as extraordinary as this."

Near Los Angeles, restaurant Connie & Ted's "conjures Rhode Island on the West Coast," says critic Jonathan Gold, "be it with clams of all kinds, lobster cooked just right, or oysters treated with reverence."

As always, the ratings range from stars to bells to beans, but every review offers specialized insight into the food, atmosphere, and service of eateries in each city’s dining scene and the critics eating at them.

Restaurant Critic Roundup: 8/21/2013

CriticPublicationRestaurantRating
Alan RichmanGQEstela2 stars
Gael GreeneInsatiable CriticQuality Italian Steakhouse
Ryan SuttonBloombergCasse-Croute3 stars
Pete WellsThe New York TimesThe Pines1 star
Michael BauerSan Francisco ChronicleThe Palace2 bells
Jonathan GoldLos Angeles TimesConnie and Ted's
Brad A. JohnsonOC RegisterWild Goose
Scott ReitzDallas ObserverPakpao
Tom SietsemaWashington PostMalmaison
William PorterDenver PostBoney's BBQ3 stars
Robert MossCharleston City PaperBásico

Click here for The Daily Meal's "Top Chefs Review — and Rate — America's Food Critics."

Tyler Sullivan is The Daily Meal's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter at @atylersullivan.


New Orleans restaurant revival post-Katrina

On a brutally humid day almost 10 years ago, Donald Link was a sweaty, desperate man in a respirator mask lugging a rotting pig's head to the curb.

Unlike nearly 80 per cent of New Orleans, his French-influenced restaurant, Herbsaint, hadn't flooded when the levees failed during Hurricane Katrina. But the pig's head, along with enough food to fill 50 trash bags, had been putrefying ever since the storm hit three weeks earlier.

The city still felt a lot like an armed camp then. A tour by The New York Times three weeks after Katrina found that most restaurants were closed, save for a few makeshift hotel operations and one brave little diner called Slim Goodies.

Contaminated drinking water, spotty power and not enough workers or customers would keep many of them closed for months, even years. Some never came back. But five weeks after the storm, using paper plates and bottled water, Herbsaint was up and running.

"It seems like forever ago, and it seems like it was just yesterday," Link said recently. "It scared me to death to think everything I put into Herbsaint was about to be gone and Iɽ have to start over."

Now, Link employs about 300 people and has five restaurants, including Cochon in New Orleans and an outpost of his Cochon Butcher set to open in Nashville, Tennessee, in September. Even early on a recent rainy Wednesday, Pêche, the Warehouse District seafood restaurant he opened in 2013 with chef Ryan Prewitt, was packed.


The New Orleans Kitchen: Classic Recipes and Modern Techniques for an Unrivaled Cuisine [A Cookbook] (Hardcover)

A modern instructional with 120 recipes for classic New Orleans cooking, from James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Justin Devillier.

IACP AWARD FINALIST &bull NAMED ONE OF THE BEST COOKBOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW


TV Eye

Think creating a live variety show week after week is like that chummy writers' den on the Dick Van Dyke Show? If so, Live From New York: An Uncensored History of 'Saturday Night Live' as Told by its Stars, Writers, and Guests (Little Brown, hardcover, 594 pages) may shock you. Comedy isn't pretty.

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic Tom Shales and journalist James Andrew Miller, the writers interviewed nearly everyone involved in the show from the beginning, including the show's usually reticent creator, Lorne Michaels. The result is a revealing and often riveting oral history of how a few renegades reinvented late-night television.

It's hard to remember when SNL wasn't a staple of Saturday night TV. After 27 years, including some creatively fallow stretches, it's easy to forget the show's enormous impact. However, SNL may have never happened had it not been that NBC was anxious to please the then-reigning king of late night, Johnny Carson. Carson had asked the network to stop airing reruns of his The Tonight Show on Saturday nights. After some consternation, network executives decided to develop a new late-night show for Saturday -- uncharted territory in the early Seventies -- and hired a young, largely unknown Canadian writer to executive produce. The young man was Lorne Michaels, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Live From New York is as much a tribute to Michaels -- although not always a tender one -- as it is an insider's view of how this once iconoclastic program was launched, proved itself against the odds, and radically changed the face of late-night television.

"There was a feeling even before it started that something important was happening," says Neil Levy, a production assistant (and Lorne Michaels' cousin) who joined the production at 19. "It was almost like all the leftover spirit of the Sixties found its way into this show -- that spirit of rebellion, of breaking through whatever boundaries were left. Nixon had just resigned, the Vietnam War had just ended and America wasn't laughing. And this show came along and said it's okay to laugh, even to laugh at the bad stuff. It was like a huge release."

Who slept with whom, "he said, she said" testimonials, and the well-publicized personal tragedies of some of the show's brightest stars (John Belushi, Chris Farley, Gilda Radner, Phil Hartman) are included in the book. However, some of the most compelling information occurs in Live From New York's opening chapters. Here, the interviewees, along with interstitial text by the authors, describe painful clashes between comedy's old and new order in bringing to life the seismic shift SNL caused.

Though he resisted at first, Lorne Michaels agreed to invite the legendary comedian Milton Berle as a guest host ("How could we not?"). The show was a bomb. Berle upstaged and overplayed whenever possible. When Michaels discovered Berle had hired plants to start a standing ovation after his musical number, he made sure the cameras did not cut away.

"I have a great affection for old-time show business. But it had become corrupt. It wasn't what it had been. The show was trying to get away from that," Michaels says.

No, SNL is not as cutting-edge as it was in its early years. The show that introduced Kate Bush, Andy Kaufman, and other off-center performers to a national audience is a thing of the past. But head writers Tina Fey, Dennis McNicholas, and crew have breathed life back into SNL, and the show's signature Weekend Update segment is as sharp as ever, earning the program an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Music, Comedy or Variety series at this year's ceremony. It was the show's second. The show's first trophy was in 1977, during the show's well-acknowledged heyday.

Live From New York, An Uncensored History of 'Saturday Night Live' is scheduled for an Oct. 7 release. Matt Damon guest hosts Saturday Night Live's 28th season premiere, with musical guest Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, on Oct. 5, 10:30pm, on NBC.

Austin Sounds

"PBS has to pass on all underwriting spots that go on the air, and they made a few changes" McCarroll explained. No-nos include showing someone using a product -- though showing the product in all its photogenic glory is okay. And that's not a commercial because .

Oh hell! Austin City Limits has always been a maverick, bringing nothing but visibility to Austin and excellence to PBS, which doesn't provide a dime to the long-running series. Bending the rules? Maybe, but they do it with style and that takes bunz.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.


What to Drink with What You Eat

  • Author : Andrew Dornenburg
  • Publisher : Little, Brown
  • Release Date : 2009-07-31
  • Genre: Cooking
  • Pages : 368
  • ISBN 10 : 9780316077972

!--StartFragment--Winner of the 2007 IACP Cookbook of the Year Award Winner of the 2007 IACP Cookbook Award for Best Book on Wine, Beer or Spirits Winner of the 2006 Georges Duboeuf Wine Book of the Year Award Winner of the 2006 Gourmand World Cookbook Award - U.S. for Best Book on Matching Food and Wine !--EndFragment-- Prepared by a James Beard Award-winning author team, "What to Drink with What You Eat" provides the most comprehensive guide to matching food and drink ever compiled--complete with practical advice from the best wine stewards and chefs in America. 70 full-color photos.


Twenty Flight Rock

I once met a woman -- a grad student and poet -- who was convinced Bob Dylan was a guitarist in Led Zeppelin who died of a heroin overdose in the early Seventies. Unfortunate Zeppelin association aside, she's hardly alone. Especially at universities, where, during Dylan's 1997 heart scare, I remember talking to students who were surprised to hear he was battling death . many thought he (and his music) lost that fight long ago. In the years since his recovery, pop culture hasn't let him out of its sight: Dylan's 60th birthday this May was a goddamn spectacle, like most of his awards and reviews these days. Disturbingly cordial stuff, like punks being polite to the old man behind the McDonald's cash register. For most, Dylan is that old man, inexplicably still alive and, more inexplicably, still active.

There is, then, this notion of the young, relevant Dylan and the old, irrelevant one, with little understanding of what made him relevant in the first place and why he always will be. Or if his relevance -- and by extension his legacy -- even matters much. For Michael Gray, a British freelancer, it thankfully doesn't. Gray's Song and Dance Man, a daunting critical biography containing 13 new chapters and 900-plus pages in its revised third edition, is a startling piece of scholarship. By scrutinizing Dylan's canon, Gray achieves a fresh read of his life and examines, as Dylan himself once sang, the nightingale's code. Song and Dance Man III overshadows others' accounts of secret marriages and mythic motorcycle crashes, and it entirely outdoes other analyses that insist on playing the "there-would-be-no-Patti-Smith-no-Kurt-Cobain-without-Bob-Dylan" game. Rather than attempt to rank the aging artist among the likes of Robert Browning, Memphis Minnie, John Bunyan, and Charlie Chaplin, Gray studies Dylan's grasp of the literary, blues, philosophical, and cinematic traditions those giants constructed, and how their output informs his. The music is more important to Dylan than Dylan is to the music Gray innately understands that axiom, producing a frank, insightful, unassailably excellent resource for those searching for challenging Dylanology.

David Hajdu is not a Dylanologist, which makes his Positively 4th Street far more accessible to non-Bobsessives. While its scope is inevitably consumed by the folk rogue, its story is as much about his early supporting cast -- Happy Traum, Austin's Carolyn Hester, New York Times critic Robert Shelton, and Greenwich Village and Cambridge coffeehouse scenesters -- as it is an appraisal of Dylan's legendary sociopolitical emergence. The legend is part of it, sure, but Hajdu (Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn) focuses primarily on the personal relationships, which themselves write this first chapter of the Sixties counterculture. With an occasionally distracting tone alternately smug and affectionate, Hajdu manages to superimpose Joan Baez and her sister Mimi on a Jane Austen landscape, recount the soap-operatic Joanie-Bobby romance, and address the uncanny parallel between Dylan and charismatic writer/musician Richard Fariña. His approach is compelling and, like Gray's, does much to combat the complacency with which we today view Dylan's work, past and present.


In other entertainment news…

  • The revival of Alton Brown’s hit show Good Eats lands on the Food Network on August 25.
  • The cafe on Big Little Lies looks like a real establishment, but it’s actually just a recreation of a Monterey restaurant on a soundstage.
  • Leah Chase, the legendary New Orleans chef who inspired the main character in The Princess and the Frog, died last weekend at the age of 96. A campaign is now underway to get the City of New Orleans to change the name of Lee Circle to Leah Chase’s Circle.
  • My Eater colleague Jenny G. Zhang explores the trap of authenticity in Netflix’s celebrity chef rom-com Always Be My Maybe.
  • I dig the new trailer for Sweetbitter Season 2, and particularly its period-appropriate use of the song “Wolf Like Me.” Sandra Bernhard is a guest star this season.
  • Fans of Japanese cuisine might want to check out the NHK food show “Lunch On!” Eater cities editor Missy Frederick is a big fan.
  • Jay-Z apparently makes way more money on his Champagne than his music.
  • And finally, this week we learned that Guy Fieri really, really wants his own “Old Town Road” remix.

Have a great weekend everyone, and if you want to cook something in the vein of The Chef Show at home, consider checking out Roy Choi’s recipe for kimchi and ketchup fried rice.


Books: Homage à Paris Redux

Paris is timeless — and so is this literary homage to the City of Light which Green News Update first published in 2014. You choose which books – they range from the 1920’s to 2013. For me, it’s personal: many are assembled from all corners of my house to share with you. Pick one book or three, and you can safely immerse yourself in another time and place– away from today’s headlines.

Whether or not you like the French, it’s hard to deny that Paris – and the people who lived there in the 19th and 20th centuries – had a world-changing influence on the arts and letters – at least until the 1950’s, and later if you count French cinema.

Portrait of Picasso as a young man (1909-10) Courtesy of Musee Picasso, Paris

Here’s a chance to explore the Paris of Papa Hemingway, Alice B. Toklas, Pablo Picasso and Sylvia Beach. There are odes to French cuisine, food memoirs and personal ruminations on being an expat in Paris by Julia Child, Adam Gopnik, Thad Carhart, Ann Mah and Patricia Wells. The flâneurs share their literary knowledge and a wealth of stories in strolls around the City of Light.

Several writers weave their tales using the city’s “wards,” known as arrondissements, or Métro stops. Sometimes Paris is the backdrop — a place you depart for a few hours or a day –for an adventure and be home in time for dinner.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Australian born John Baxter writes about The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris (2011). The French have a name for it – flânerie– a strolling walk in the city. Writer and film critic, Baxter has lived in Paris for over two decades with his French wife. He offers a memoir and walking guide that focuses on day-to-day life, neighborhoods and arcane stories of people in Paris. Whether you take it with you, or read it in your armchair, this is a wonderful way to “see” Paris from an inside perspective. (Harper Perennial). Baxter’s other books include We’ll Always Have Paris: Sex and Love in the City of Light and Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas (Harper Collins 2008). Review of The Most Beautiful Walk

A Paris resident for 16 years, Edmund White wrote The Flâneur a decade before John Baxter (Bloomsbury, 1999). For our benefit, he strolls – even loiters—in back streets and quays –from Parc Monceau, one of the loveliest parks in in Paris, to the Marais, a traditional hub for the city’s Jewish population. Along the way, he recounts tales of royalists, decadents, black Americans in Paris, and literati. (Bloomsbury) Review in the Guardian

Called “the thinking man’s guide to Paris,” Métro Stop Paris: An Underground History of the City of Light by Gregor Dallas is a dense account of the city, using significant Métro lines and stops to look into the city’s rich history, from the druids and Gallo-Roman period through the 1960’s. Worth remembering: “The sad truth about Paris is that it does not have a historical center…. All metro lines will take you eventually to Metro stop # 7, Châtelet-Les Halles, ‘le ventre de Paris’” (the belly of Paris). While the marketplace Les Halles — a beautiful complex of iron and glass –was torn down in the 1960’s, the history endures. (Walker & Co. 2008)

Two writers, both of whom spent time in Paris as youngsters, and then returned as young fathers, produced separate memoirs a decade ago – both highly memorable and filled with many small pleasures: Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon and Thad Carhart’s The Piano Shop on the Left Bank(both published by Random House, and available in paperback).

In Piano Shop on the Left Bank, Carhart finds a mysterious shop window on a narrow cobbled street where he seems unable to gain entrance. Eventually, he is “allowed” in and gets to know Luc who runs the piano shop that is the object of Carhart’s interest and imagination. One thing leads to another: Carhart, who plays the piano but doesn’t know a Bechstein from the Bösendorfer (high-end concert pianos!) buys a baby grand, begins lessons and becomes part of the confrérie (brotherhood) that lovingly rebuilds, tunes and services pianos. His piano lessons take him even further along, an entreé to a seemingly closed Parisian culture. Interview with Carhart His web site

Gopnik, who was Paris bureau writer of The New Yorker for five years (1995-2000), assembled this series of essays into Paris Over the Moon. It’s clear that as an expat Gopnik feels shut out it doesn’t stop him from climbing the wall every way that he can. Gopnik introduces readers to the Left and Right Bank through the countless ways he introduces young son Luke to the Luxembourg Gardens (the carousel and great punch and judy puppet shows), the Hall of Paleontology at the Natural History Museum, and the grand experience of swimming in the pool at the Ritz Hotel. He becomes an “insider” at his favorite brasserie, which is about to be sold to a large restaurant group and helps stage a resistance operation that allows the beloved waiters to keep their jobs. Don’t expect grand gestures — rather small moments to treasure in these books. New York times review

Paris Was Ours: 32 writers reflect on the city of light, Penelope Rowlands, ed. (Algonquin of Chapel Hill) Who isn’t drawn to Paris – a place unchallenged, according to writer Marcelle Clements, as “the world capital of memory and desire.” Here is a multifaceted portrait by writers from North America, the Middle East and European locales who discovered that Paris is more complex, more beloved and sometimes reviled, than a lover. Savor the places and detail of these 32 reminiscences, half of which appear for the first time. Book web site.

Ernest Hemingway Lebrecht authors

Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (Scribner) existed in two versions: the fragments he wrote about his life as an expat writer in the Paris of the 1920s and the redacted version that Mary Hemingway (wife # 4) published in 1964, three years after the writer’s death by suicide.

“It was largely written about his time with Hadley, touches on his defection to the arms of Pauline, and after his suicide was pasted together by Mary,” says Goodreads. Along the way you’ll be introduced to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Brown, Gertrude Stein and other denizens of the arts and letters. It’s been called “… an ur-text of the American enthrallment with Paris. To be more precise, it is also a skeleton key to the American literary fascination with Paris ….” You will not find the original (it was never published) and if you prefer yet another version, an edition revised by his grandson Seán Hemingway was published in 2009. Atlantic essay on the book (2009) Read more about the book

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book originally published in 1954 (Anchor paperback from 1960) weaves together recollections of her Paris years (beginning when she arrived in 1907) and role as life companion, amanuensis and cook for Gertrude Stein and the roiling salon of greats and near greats in art and literature that gathered around Stein. Throw in tales about French servants, dishes for artists, household cuisine during the German Occupation (WWII) and actual recipes – – the most talked about was a detailed recipe for hash fudge (or brownies) . My 1960 paperback edition includes the recipe. In your hands, you have what Toklas wanted to create: a book of her own. When the book came out in 1954, New Yorker writer Janet Flanner called it “ a book of character, fine food, and tasty human observation.” Toklas herself talks about the recipe and the US publishers’ refusal to put the recipe in the book. Read about the book and listen to her 5-minute interview it’s a riot).

Julia tasting in her TV kitchen Photo by Stephanie Early Green

Julia Child’s My Life in France (Anchor Books) is a dual love story – first with her husband Paul, who swept her off to Paris and taught her all about la vie française when they lived in Paris and Marseilles for six years (1948-1954) and second, her love affair with the foodways and cuisine of France.

My Life in France image by Alex Prud’homme

Julia was in her early 90’s when this book was being organized with her great-nephew, and is reconstructed from her memories, letters between Paul and his twin brother, and Julia’s correspondence with her sister and close friends. Join Julia at 81 Rue de L’Université (she and Paul called it “rue de loo”) as she dives into markets, cooking classes at the Cordon Bleu, their annual Valentines Day ritual, the countless hours of testing and retesting the recipes that became the backbone of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. New York Times Review

Patricia Wells at Meadowood

“Cracking the code” is how Patricia Wells’s husband describes the “bible” she has written in the Food Lover’s Guide to Paris: The Best Restaurants, Bistros, Cafés, Markets, Bakeries, and More (Workman) — a handbook now in its fifth edition– for the occasional visitor, the new expat and those who call Paris home. “Paris is still born anew with each season…with the sighting of the first asparagus, sweet cherry, fragrant morel, briny oyster, gold Vacherin cheese or earthy wild duck….” Here is the place to learn the ways of Paris food and how to find the best bakeries, bistros, brasseries, open air markets, cheese shops, cafes, and chocolatiers. My 1999 edition was an indispensable source for several trips to Paris. Patricia Wells web site

Mastering the Art of French Eating

Ann Mah’s Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in food and love from a year in Paris(Penguin Group, 2013) is no knockoff from Julia Child or Patricia Wells. Daughter of Chinese-American parents, Paris was her dream city come true when her diplomat husband was posted there then he was promptly reassigned to a year in Iraq(she had to stay behind). Mah’s loneliness as an outsider with only fledgling French to guide her, was eventually overcome by her insatiable curiosity about French regional cuisine. You will learn the history and process for making 10 of France’s most important regional dishes: andouillette sausage (made from tripe), the Alsatian staple choucroute garnie, the pistou of Provence, mussels and more. The bonus: recipes for each of the food specialties. It’s a delightful romp through regional cuisine. Review in the Wall Street Journal Ann Mah’s web site

PARIS TO THE PAST Traveling Through French History by Train by Ina Caro (Norton) Short hops from Paris by train (RER and TGV) land you at places like Tours, Fontainbleau, Chantilly and the Basilica of Saint Denis, and give Parisians and visitors alike the chance to time travel in day trips, and, as author Ina Caro says, “be home in time for dinner.” Her earlier book The Road from the Past: Traveling Through History in France (1994), has plentiful stories on important Paris attractions such as Ste. Chappelle (glorious Gothic stained glass windows) and the Conciergerie (where Marie Antoinette, among many others, was imprisoned while awaiting the guillotine) Review by NY Review of Books Video with Ina Caro on Paris to the Past


The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent

Most ethnic cookbooks deserve critical consideration when they arrive on the scene. They supply historical facts and cultural notes which complete our knowledge of another people's food, otherwise garnered from tastes in ethnic restaurants or on travels afar. Like the best of these books, Jessica Harris' The Africa Cookbook is more than a comprehensive look at cuisine it is a tribute to African cooks, and a small study of Africa itself as well. Harris' book -- one of six she has written on African and African-American cooking -- explores the interconnections of Africa's food, its people, and the land, and, in so doing, dissolves Western misconceptions about each. She reminds us that African food is not just about peanuts and porridge, and that Africans are not bare-breasted maidens and cannibal cooks. Her main objective, it seems, is to dispel the notion that Africa suffers from culinary oppression. She doesn't necessarily intend to glorify African cuisine, but to appreciate its unnoted abundance. "Cornucopia," implying plentifulness and diversity, is how she describes the continent's food.

The term "continent" is important here. Somehow the rest of the world finds it easy to forget that Africa is a land mass of different countries with more than 1,000 languages, each voicing its signature dish or unique seasoning style. Harris' sweeping survey of African food accounts for differences between cooks and countries, documenting the influences of both local ritual and Western forces. A meal combining South African Meat Pie with Algerian Pickled Sardines and Egyptian String Bean and Onion Salad is not only in its way "continental," but surely "international" cuisine.

Like many books of its kind, The Africa Cookbook is at once a thorough academic work and an intimate travelogue. Harris' research for this book is astoundingly broad and responsible her bibliography cites over 115 sources (itself worth the price of the book). Her credentials are impressive and explain her especially perceptive food writing they include a teaching career in English at Queens College and a passport full of African visas. And she writes in an intimate, precise style accomplished by few food critics: "The lamb was achingly tender," she writes of a meal in Cape Town, "and the string beans and mange tout that accompanied it were steamed to verdant perfection." Her prose is even more powerful when it's personal. She reminisces as much about African cooks as about their food, eager, it seems, to secure her own bonds to the people in a place she calls "home." "Friendship cemented," she writes of a meal shared with a Madagascar woman, "we said a good lapsed-Presbyterian grace and proceeded to eat a meal that crossed continents and oceans and yet held the tastes of home for both of us."

So what exactly are these tastes? Overall, African food can include colorful variations of standard dishes, like sweet and savory fritters or okra stews. It employs common ingredients, like calabeza (pumpkin), okra, carrots, avocado, peanuts, red palm oil, and bananas. One-pot meals, such as tajines and soups, are prevalent, as are recipes that yield large quantities and leave leftovers. Condiments are as much a staple as starches, everything from preserved lemons in Morocco to sambal-and-lime pickles in South Africa. Select dishes include Chicken Yassa from Senegal, Lamb Tajine with Prunes from Morocco, Curried Corn from Kenya, and Mashed Eggplant à la Zeinab from Sudan. I triedeach of these dishes, with general success. Thelamb tajine satisfies an expectant Mediterraneanpalate, combining, as the best of the area's food does, sweet fruit and sultry spices. This and the Chicken Yassa, a traditional dish of poultry stewed to steep aromatic heights with carrots, onions, and hot pepper, are both served with rice, a tactic, I'm convinced, to extend the number of servings each dish provides -- they'd be eaten too quickly otherwise. The other two recipes I tried erred in terms of either taste or technique. The Sudanese eggplant appetizer combined the flavors and textures of crudely spiced peanut butter and delicately sautéed eggplant into a discordant, gloppy mess. With coriander and lemon, this recipe reads better than it tastes. And the curried corn recipe instructs one to cook the corn until it absorbs all the hot coconutmilk, something the suggested addition of fresh, watery tomatoes deters. Still, the flavors of curry and coconut hung on strong even in this dilution, and I'd welcome this side dish as a simple substitute for a more ambitious vegetable curry.

The occasional recipe glitch aside, Harris' Africa Cookbook is, on the whole, good food scholarship, where the best of cooking, anthropology, and memoir come together in an instructive, tasteful way. -- Ronna Welsh

The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook

by Christopher Kimball
Little Brown & Co., $27.95 hard

The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook is a recipe collection shaped by the spirit of a special place, and, even more, by an ideological commitment to simple living. It is about fresh, straightforwardfamily fare, not extravagant showpieces for dinner parties. It is unpretentious, not to be "praised or judged or regarded as a delicate art form." It is, as Christopher Kimball sees it, pure Vermont.

Those who know Kimball through Cook's Illustrated magazine have come to expect and (for many) adore the small town gospel that fills this editor's lead page, and this book is a testament to the same native spirit. Here, as elsewhere, Kimball muses on hard work and the rewards of a steady-paced, modest, and generous life. Although he returns to his favorite theme-- family -- repeatedly, he always touches me with his strong, honest reminiscences. I never tire of stories about trips to the frozen pond or the gas attendant's odd habits. The fact is, Kimball avoids unnecessary lapses into sentimentality. His talent as a storyteller comes from an honest, insightful look at his life, which inspires readers to examine more closely their own lives.

But this book is exclusive property of neither the sensitive soul nor the country cook. In other words, city slickers won't require specific farmhand experience to work its recipes. They will, however, need to open themselves up to the kind of cooking that doesn't know microwaves or flavored olive oils. Food "in the spirit of farmhouse cooking" need not seek the spotlight, the way, for instance, extravagant desserts do. Still, Kimball doesn't disparage gourmet eating. He just reminds us of some forgotten options for dining he's revisiting, not revising, simple food. Any nostalgia this cookbook evokes in readers reflects their personal loss of instinct for basic cooking. Few cookbooks today tout steamed broccoli or roasted russet potatoes. The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook does, rewarding us with recipes that curtail any resistance to food that's simply good. Sure, Kimball occasionally tips his hat to a trend (like his Tapioca with Rose Water, Pistachios, and Cardamom), but only as an afterthought (a "variation") and always to great reward. Mostly, he offers recipes deemed unworthy of print by other cookbooks the country breakfast receives more editorial space than soups, and they're discussed with typical Cook's thoroughness.

Those of us who follow Cook's Illustrated understand that Kimball is a unique voice on the food writing scene. He is a concise, didactic writer with a dogged interest in culinary perfection -- a passion for the "best" lemon squares or the "perfect" pot roast. We may tire of his relentless dissections, but mostly we're tickled by his penchant for methodical analysis and are grateful for his quest for objective discovery. Kimball's Yellow Farmhouse , like his magazine, is a timely resource, not a tome for the ages, as so many cookbooks aspire to be. His evaluation of cookware, for instance, invokes brand names and advertised prices that will no doubt date the book in a few years. Still, the equipment ratings and suppliers lists make this an indispensable buying guide -- registering brides, look no further.

Indeed, Yellow Farmhouse is as conscientious a cookbook as they come. Kimball's recipes are clear to follow and characteristically thorough. His introduction to the American Apple Pie alone runs two and a half pages. And his recipes aim for precise replication, a goal that gets only lip service much of the time. His research notes, which anticipate readers' possible concerns or objections, even render me partially defenseless as a critic. I can't say, for instance, "He should have tried an all-butter pie crust," when Kimball explains that he did (and that it was not flaky enough). A review, then, comes down to talk of taste, not method, in the end.

As for my own tastes, I'll go by the book. Kimball's New England Clam Chowder rivals some I have had on my Connecticut shoreline travels. His sautéed greens with beans and anchovies renews my respect for winter greens,until now left to garnish platters. His pan-seared pork chops officially ended my brief flirtation with a kosher diet -- they are delicious with only salt and pepper and careful attention to heat. Finally, the apple pie, its sugary pastry blanket draped seamlessly over a mass of apples, is simply one of the most gorgeous desserts I've ever made -- so much for modesty it just couldn't help itself.

In the end, the question the reader needs to ask of The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook is not "Do the recipes work?" but "Do I like what they have to offer?" In addition to delicious food, it offers a case for simple sustenance that makes this book not just complete, but compelling.

How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food

by Mark Bittman
MacMillan USA, $25 hard

Okay, let's get this out of the way for the literal "book by the cover" crowd: Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything , a 944-page behemoth of a cookbook, doesn't exactly deliver the goods promised in its all-encompassing title. For example, the author completely ignores the cornerstone of Mexican morning-after cuisine -- menudo. In addition, the big book is strangely silent on the preparation of squirrel, cactus, and baby goat. (But c'mon, cut him some slack he lives in Connecticut, fer chrissake.)

These gripes notwithstanding, the hefty volume does an exceptional job of presenting the fundamentals of home cooking. Geared to the beginning cook, How to Cook Everything (HTCE) tackles, in near-encyclopedic form, a wide range of techniques and ingredients and put them in the realistic context of the cramped apartment kitchen. Mr. Bittman, like Sister Mary Ignatius before him, attempts to explain it all for you and does a pretty damn good job.

Bittman, who is also a New York Times cooking columnist, bemoans the rise of convenience and gourmet food industries and the resulting near-extinction of "good, everyday cooking." As a nation, we don't cook from scratch anymore, instead opting for takeout or synthetic microwavemeals. Rather than call for a pizza, Bittman argues, give your dialing finger a rest and get into the habit of cooking simple, hearty foods. At the core of How to Cook Everything is a simple, active food philosophy which he presents at the start of the book: "Anyone can cook and most everyone should." Then he proceeds to back up this viewpoint with a flurry of food information and (count 'em) fifteen hundred recipes.

An alternate (and equally appropriate) title for the hefty tome could have been Uncle Marko's Big Book of Basics . Just about every technique, appliance, or ingredient you can think of has a subheading dedicated to it titled "The Basics of [That Thing You Were Thinking Of]." (Excluding cactus, squirrel, and menudo, which we mentioned previously.) In the book's 21 chapters, the author discusses the ins and outs of contemporary American cookery, from simple standbys (omelettes, stir-fries, quick pasta sauces) to more esoteric and ambitious projects (stuffing a crowned pork roast or grinding your own curry powder). The mid-level recipes that we tested -- Pan-sautéed Pork Chops with Onions and Peppers Pasta with Butter, Sage, and Parmesean and Braised Fennel with Vinegar -- went deliciously and without a hitch.

The biggest drawback to the book is its text-heavy format. Make no mistake, HTCE is definitely a reader's book. Novices who learn best from step-by-step photos may be disappointed by the book's scarcity of illustration. More complex techniques (carving a roasted chicken, shucking oysters) get charcoal drawings for clarity and that's about it. From the publisher's perspective, it's obviously an economic issue (How else could you sell a thousand-page book for 25 bucks?), but it's one that customers should consider if they learn best as culinary voyeurs.

For beginners, Bittman writes as a helpful mentor, always encouraging his students to experiment and follow their taste buds once theyfeel comfortable with a dish. For cooks with more experience under their aprons, he provides valuable information on everything from making a cassoulet to cleaning squid. Regardless of one's place on the experiential spectrum, the book would make a fine reference work.


The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance

In the 1950s, America was a land of overdone roast beef and canned green beans-a gastronomic wasteland. Most restaurants relied on frozen, second-rate ingredients and served bogus "Continental" cuisine. Authentic French, Italian, and Chinese foods were virtually unknown. There was no such thing as food criticism at the time, and no such thing as a restaurant critic. Cooking at home wasn't thought of as a source of pleasure. Guests didn't chat around the kitchen. Professional equipment and cookware were used only in restaurants. One man changed all that.

From the bestselling author of Alice Waters and Chez Panisse comes the first biography of the passionate gastronome and troubled genius who became the most powerful force in the history of American food-the founding father of the American food revolution. From his first day in 1957 as the food editor of the New York Times, Craig Claiborne was going to take his readers where they had never been before. Claiborne extolled the pleasures of exotic cuisines from all around the world, and with his inspiration, restaurants of every ethnicity blossomed. So many things we take for granted now were introduced to us by Claiborne-crème fraîche, arugula, balsamic vinegar, the Cuisinart, chef's knives, even the salad spinner.

He would give Julia Child her first major book review. He brought Paul Bocuse, the Troisgros brothers, Paul Prudhomme, and Jacques Pépin to national acclaim. His $4,000 dinner for two in Paris was a front-page story in the Times and scandalized the world. And while he defended the true French nouvelle cuisine against bastardization, he also reveled in a well-made stew or a good hot dog. He made home cooks into stars-Marcella Hazan, Madhur Jaffrey, Diana Kennedy, and many others. And Claiborne made dinner an event-whether dining out, delighting your friends, or simply cooking for your family. His own dinner parties were legendary.

Claiborne was the perfect Mississippi gentleman, but his inner life was one of conflict and self-doubt. Constrained by his position to mask his sexuality, he was imprisoned in solitude, never able to find a stable and lasting love. Through Thomas McNamee's painstaking research and eloquent storytelling, The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat unfolds a history that is largely unknown and also tells the full, deep story of a great man who until now has never been truly known at all.


Watch the video: NYs Estela: Nobody Cares Who You Are..Unless Youre Obama. Where Hollywood Eats. THR (December 2021).