Saturday, December 27, 2008


A good croissant is nearly impossible to find in America, whereas the average croissant served in any corner café in Paris is very good and often excellent. An acquaintance, upon hearing me voice this complaint, steered me to a local pastry shop with the promise "as good as Paris." I was expecting to be disappointed, and I really wish I'd been wrong, but - they weren't very good. And it was easy to see why - a couple of warm-handed workers were passing the dough through mechanical rollers, in a room that was the same temperature as the rest of the establishment - a recipe for disaster. That, combined with not letting the dough rest and chill after every other working, meant that the final product looked a bit like a croissant on the outside, but was merely a fancy piece of brioche.

The problem isn't that we can't get good butter or flour, or the use of mechanical rolling machines. The problem is that there isn't much of a penalty for supplying substandard wares to a less-than-discerning public.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


And here's another one - the misapplied possessive. Why, oh why, do some people have the unerring tendency to slaughter restaurant names? Delfina is one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco, but I will begin to question the wisdom of keeping our assignation if you say you'll meet me at Delfina's. Ack. Pppt. I like César a lot, too, it's a world class bar, but - and you must trust me on this one - there is no guy named César, so do you mind terribly not calling it César's? Thanks. It's ignorant - it's lazy - it grates.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


It is often said that a real Bouillabaisse is impossible to create outside of the coastal area of Provence. While purists maintain that a classic Bouillabaisse must always include rascasse (scorpion fish), an ingredient not readily available everywhere, the authenticity of the dish is most commonly violated not by omission, but active transgression. What appears on restaurant and bistro menus is most certainly not a Bouillabaisse, whatever it may be called - if it's a dish that's made to order, it isn't even a distant cousin.

Bouillabaisse was originally a soup prepared by fisherman from fish too small or bony to sell at market. The term itself is a compound of bouillir (to boil) and abaisser (to lower). It is slow cooking, and it is men's cooking - out of doors, in a single pot. While some recipes call for the addition of octopus or sea urchin, these are surely modern refinements. I'm fairly confident that the original dish does not include any shellfish, and that Bouillabaisse is made only from finned fish.

The fish is typically served on a platter, while the resultant broth is served in a bowl with toast spread with rouille.


Here's one that really chaps my hide. Anything that's sliced thin and served flat, whether animal or vegetable, is now called Carpaccio. I suppose it's fairly common for a term to be appropriated in this way, but in this case it reflects a particularly unfortunate ignorance of its origins. The dish was named by Giuseppe Cipriani, then proprietor of Harry's Bar in Venice, because the colors of the dish reminded him of Vittore Carpaccio, a painter of the Venetian School. A retrospective of the painter's works appeared around the time of the creation of the dish, and the painter favored a palette full of reds and whites. The original recipe from Harry's Bar consists of thinly sliced shell steak, crisscrossed with a mayonnaise-based sauce.


Aïoli is one of the most abused culinary terms and, since it begins with a dusty A, provides a good place for me to start my rant. Without exception, in every restaurant in the US where I've been served what the chef and menu call "aïoli," the sauce being foisted on gullible diners is a mayonnaise with garlic added.

Despite the fact that there seems to be some confusion about this, even among recent generations in France, a real aïoli is made without egg yolks. And while I have seen some recipes which use additional starch, or even cooked potato (à la skordalia), to stabilize the emulsion, I am quite convinced that the original and authentic version of this condiment has exactly three ingredients: garlic, salt, and olive oil. Without the modern "refinements" of additional emulsifiers, the only satisfactory way of making aïoli is with mortar and pestle. You can see that this method does not lend itself to mass production, but is perfectly attuned with slow food, farmhouse cooking.

I'll amend this posting in the near future with photos and commentary on several recipes and methods for making aïoli.