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Sunday, October 14, 2007

REVIEW: Restaurant Cookbooks

RESTAURANT COOKBOOKS - are the hottest trend in cookbooks.
Actually, they've been around for many years, but never in such
proliferation as now. They are automatic sellers, since the book can be
flogged at the restaurant and since the chef ends up being a celebrity
somewhere, doing guest cooking or catering or even turning up on the
Food Network. Most of these books will certainly appeal to fans of the
chef and/or the restaurant. Many of the recipes actually come off the
menus of the restaurants involved. Occasionally, there will be, in
these books, special notes or preps, or recipes for items no longer on
the menu. Stories or anecdotes will be related to the history of a
dish. But because most of these books are American, they use only US
volume measurements for the ingredients; sometimes there is a table of
metric equivalents, but often there is not. I'll try to point this out.
The usual schtick is "favourite recipes made easy for everyday cooks".
There is also PR copy on "demystifying ethnic ingredients". PR bumpf
also includes much use of the magic phrase "mouth-watering recipes" as
if that is what it takes to sell such a book. I keep hearing from
readers, users, and other food writers that some restaurant recipes
(not necessarily from these books) don't seem to work, but how could
that be? They all claim to be kitchen tested for the home, and many
books identify the food researcher by name. Most books are loaded with
tips, techniques, and advice, as well as gregarious stories about life
in the restaurant world. Photos abound, usually of the chef bounding
about. But of course there are a lot of food shots, verging on
gastroporn. The endorsements are from other celebrities in a
magnificent case of logrolling. If resources are cited, they are
usually American mail order firms, with websites. Some companies,
though, will ship around the world, so don't ignore them all. Here's a
rundown on the latest crop of such books -

* ROSA'S NEW MEXICAN TABLE (Artisan, 2007; distr. T. Allen, 278 pages,
ISBN 978-1-57965-324-8, $45 hard covers) is by Roberto Santibanez,
current executive chef of Rosa Mexicano in Manhattan. The restaurant
wants to expand to 14 locations by 2008. It has been in Manhattan for a
quarter of a century, and this "mediagenic" chef now serves one million
meals a year. The book's title is very confusing: is this a book about
New Mexican cooking from the state of New Mexico (that initially got my
attention: I love New Mexican food)? No, it is essentially a book about
what's "new" in Mexican cooking. We've seen it all before...The updated
classics here include tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, torta, ensaladas,
etc. For festive dinners, he suggests a taco party, a cocktail party,
vegetarian dinner, and BBQ. Modern recipes involve the likes of shrimp
with crabmeat. There are chapters on the basics of preparing tortillas,
cooking with chiles, stuffing enchiladas, making Mexican rice, and
slow-cooking pork. The book is being pushed as "home-cook-friendly",
and that may very well be with its roasts, adobos, and rubs. The
publisher has US volume ingredients but no metric tables of
equivalents. There is a source list and a Spanish-English index.
Unfortunately, there is also an excessive use of colour which makes the
book appear too party-ish. Despite its title, this is a basic Mexican
cookbook, useful for fans or beginners. Quality/Price Rating: 82.

* SMALL BITES BIG NIGHTS (Clarkson Potter, 2007, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-
307-33793-1, $38 hard covers) is by Govind Armstrong, executive chef
and co-owner of Table 8 restaurants in Los Angeles and Miami, and soon
to be a presence in Las Vegas and New York City. Food editors Ann
Wycoff and Alison Steingold assisted. His restaurant's theme is small
plates and cocktails. He began working for Wolfgang Puck at age 13, and
the original forward to this book was supposed to be written by Puck
(as announced). But for some reason, Puck was replaced by Tyler
Florence (who he?). Most recipes in the book serve eight; there is an
annoying use of the number "8" to stand in for "-ate", as in educ8, l8,
d8. Does Table 8 mean a table for eight? Or is it a stand in for
"tabulate", as in adding up the prices. Each recipe has an expression
of its difficulty level. Chapters cover the pantry (basic sauces and
mixes listing 75 items to have on hand all the time), hors d'oeuvres
[sic], grills, dinners, comfort foods, savouries. There are only a half
dozen desserts. The resource list is mostly Californian, not much use
to Canadians. Some items are hard to buy: do you have a source for
squab liver? Typical dishes include sea scallop carpaccio, grilled
chicken thighs, panna cotta, lamb osso buco, roasted sunchoke soup.
While this is a stylish, good-looking book, there are too many pictures
of the chef and there are some typos (p.25: how much olive oil?).
Still, you can use the book for ideas. Quality/Price Rating: 83.

* THE YOUNG MAN & THE SEA; recipes & crispy fish tales from Esca
(Artisan, 2007; distr. Thomas Allen 253 pages, ISBN 978-1-57965-276-0,
$45 hard covers) is by David Pasternack and Ed Levine. Pasternack is
chef of Esca, an Italian seafood resto in NYC. This fish book comes
with the logrolling of Mario Batali (actually, Mario may be a partner
in the operation - this is unclear), Anthony Bourdain (who endorses
everybody anyway), Daniel Boulud, and Ruth Reichl. Pasternack is best-
known for his Italian-style sushi, which he calls "crudo": quality raw
fish with crunchy sea salt and fresh citrus juice. His chapters include
crudo, pasta, grills, pan-frying, and some shellfish. Indeed, most of
the past recipes here call for shellfish and not finfish. There is
yellowtail with spaghetti squash (no pasta here!), a baccala (salt cod)
salad, spaghetti with tuna meatballs, fettucine with shrimp (in diverse
styles), and marinated sardines with roasted eggplant. There are good
cook notes, gastroporn photos, and a slight sources list (where do you,
as a private consumer, get ultra-fresh fish - of all kinds - outside of
NYC?). US volume measurements are used for the ingredients, but there
are no tables of metric equivalents. Most disappointing: there are no
wine recommendations. Quality/Price Rating: 85.

* HONGA'S LOTUS PETAL; pan-Asian cuisine (Gibbs Smith, 2007; distr.
Raincoast, 232 pages, ISBN 978-1-58685-893-3, $37.95 hard covers) is by
Honga Im Hopgood, with Lise Waring (a focusing professional writer and
editor living in Telluride). At age 26, Hopgood opened her restaurant
in Telluride, Colorado, a "trendy" ski resort town, although I know it
better as a bluegrass festival town. Previously, she had operated a
street cart in Telluride, saved her money, and then opened her resto 16
years ago! It is basically "pan-Asian fusion", which means lots of SEA
ingredients all mixed in. It also embraces "global fusion" with its
recipes such as Asian gazpacho, Asian cioppino, Asian fish tacos, and
blackened tofu. Through her sushi and curries, and adroit use of
vegetables, she manages to employ food from China, Vietnam, India,
Polynesia, Japan, Thailand, et al. Her main focuses on the ingredients
are that they be organic or natural, hormone-free, sustainable, and
similar green patterns. Which is hard to do at heights of 8,000 feet.
Brian Hartman created many of the recipes in this book while working as
the head chef. There are many little dishes, such as laab (an open
ended Thai salad), smoked salmon rangoons, and poke (Asian ceviche).
Indeed, these are elegant, upscale, versions of Asiatic street food.
The print is large, and the material is well-laid out and photographed.
There is a glossary, resources list, and metric conversion charts for
the US volume measurements used. Quality/Price Rating: 89.

19. AT HOME WITH MAGNOLIA; classic American recipes from the owner of
Magnolia Bakery (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, 157 pages, ISBN 978-0-471-
75137-3, $35.99 hard covers) is by Allysa Torey, who opened Magnolia
Bakery in New York's Greenwich Village in 1996. She had also authored
"The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook" (1999) and "More from Magnolia" (2004).
This time the book is an all-purpose cookbook of family dishes, ones
she uses at her upstate New York home. As such it is trading in on the
Magnolia name. There's nothing wrong with that, so long as the
purchaser/reader of the book knows that the recipes here are not just
for baked goods. 93 preps cover all courses (it's arranged that way),
and deal with retro-styled comfort food - such as corn fritters with
chile-lime mayonnaise, eggplant with cherry tomato sauce, tomato lentil
soup with spinach and corn and brown rice, baked vegetable cavatappi
with besciamella sauce, chicken with mustard cream sauce. While the
preps are expressed in US weights and measures, there are no metric
tables of equivalents. A bonus: the index is in large print.
Quality/Price Rating: 82.

20. VIJ'S ELEGANT & INSPIRED INDIAN CUISINE (Douglas & McIntyre, 2006,
205 pages, ISBN 978-1-55365-184-0, $40 paper covers) is by Vikram Vij
who opened Vij's Restaurant (which is named after his grandfather) in
1994. Earlier he had worked for several restaurants in Europe and
Canada; he also now has his sommelier certification. 80 recipes come
from his operation, with 10 more for signature spice mixes at Vijs. He
covers the basics (mainly herbs and spices) plus ingredients and
equipment; there are also some suggested menu combinations. The book is
upscale in presentation and oversized. There are lots of descriptions
of the restaurant and its unique pottery dishes, decor, etc. Typical
dishes include oven-braised goat meat in fennel and curry, seared
striped bass, and grilled chicken breast in lemon-ghee dressing. Each
prep has a generic wine recommendation by varietal and region, such as
a California zinfandel. This is useful, but he could also have used
more BC wines as alternate choices. Quality/Price Rating: 85.

21. COOKING WITHOUT FUSS (Pavillion, 2005, 2007; distr. Raincoast, 160
pages, ISBN 978-1-86205-765-4, $22.95 paper covers) is by Jonny
Haughton. He's the owner-chef of The Havelock Tavern in London's Brook
Green; the 100 recipes in this book are some of the most popular ones
from that restaurant. It has the feel of upscale British pub grub, with
creations such as smoked haddock gratin, potato gnocchi, or chicken and
Parma ham terrine, beet and celeriac and bacon soup. This is a UK book,
with suppliers and resources from the UK, and all the recipes in
metric. It also has a faulty index: "aubergine, sweet potato and
cauliflower curry" is indexed ONLY under "potato" and "cauliflower".
There is no entry for sweet potato or aubergine, and certainly no
cross-reference from eggplant. Quality/Price Ratio: 80.

22. MODERN THAI FOOD; 100 simple and delicious recipes from Sydney's
famous Longrain Restaurant (Periplus, 2003, 2007; distr. Ten Speed
Press, 177 pages, ISBN 978-0-7946-0487-5, $31.50 hard covers) is by
Martin Boetz, executive chef and co-owner of Longrain in both Sydney
and Melbourne. Drinks are by Sam Christie, sommelier and maitre d' and
co-owner of the same restaurant. The 100 preps here are "recreated and
streamlined for the home cook", as the book says, with 15 contemporary
cocktail recipes from the bar. There is an illustrated glossary and
food and wine pairing principles. Recipes include chili jam, green
curry paste (and other curry pastes), egg wet rolls with pork and
shrimp, red curry duck, and calamari with sweet soy and ginger. Both US
and metric measurements are given for each ingredient. There are large
type fonts, and great close-up photos. Quality/Price Rating: 84.

23. REFRESH; contemporary vegan recipes from the award-winning Fresh
restaurants (John Wiley & Sons, 2007, 212 pages, ISBN 978-0-470-84084-
9, $28.99 paper covers) is by Ruth Tal, owner of three locations of
Fresh (in Toronto), with recipe development by Jennifer Houston. This
is the second edition of "Juice for Life: modern food and luscious
juice" published in 2000. In the meantime, the restaurants had moved
and reopened with new names, such as Fresh on Bloor. The website,
confusingly enough, retains the same title:
The recipes here are what is currently being served at the restaurant;
hence, the mushroom pizza is gone (it used to be one of my faves and
the fave of my server). Vegan principles here are observed. There are
75 pages for juices such as fruit smoothies, veggie cocktails, shakes,
elixirs, wheatgrass concoctions. The menu food of 115 pages details 94
dishes, sauces, brunches, and desserts. 17 supplements and herbal
tinctures, all of which are to be added to juices, are discussed. There
is a bibliography and a glossary. Typical dishes include a flu fighter
cocktail, a detox cocktail, green goddess rice bowl, portobello and
walnut salad, rainforest stir-fry, and curried garbanzos. While there
is general index and a recipe index (allowing you to go directly to
your fave off the menu), there is no ingredient index. US weights and
measures, but no metric tables of equivalents. Quality/Price Ratio: 85.

24. FRESH; seasonal recipes made with local foods (Douglas & McIntyre,
2007, 194 pages, ISBN 978-1-55365-245-8, $34.95 paper covers) is by
John Bishop, with Dennis Green and Dawne Gourley, and stories by Gary
King. Bishop opened his eponymous restaurant in 1985, and has since
authored three other cookbooks from Bishop's menus. Green and Gourley
currently work at Bishop's (he's chef, she's pastry chef) and have also
contributed to prior cookbooks. This work comes with strong logrolling
from Jamie Kennedy, David Wood (now an artisanal cheesemaker), and
James Mackinnon, co-author of BC's "The 100-Mile Diet". The book makes
a point of having a sustainable kitchen at the restaurant and at your
home as well. It is arranged by season, spring through winter. 100
recipes are complemented by anecdotes about the people in the West
Coast food business. Some dishes here include honey pound cake, nut
roast with mushroom and sweet onion gravy, and lamb shoulder with Dupuy
lentil stew and zucchini ragout. US weights and measures are used, with
two pages for metric conversion tables. Worth a look. Quality/Price
Ratio: 82.

25. WHITE HOUSE CHEF; eleven years, two presidents, one kitchen (John
Wiley & Sons, 2007, 328 pages, ISBN 978-0-471-79842-2, $29.99 hard
covers) is by Walter Scheib, a long-time corporate chef who ran the
White House kitchens for 11 years. His collaborator is Andrew Friedman
who has done this sort of work for many other chefs (more than 15
books). Currently, Scheib runs, a catering-
consulting-cooking class company. Here is life at the Executive
Mansion, with tons of anecdotes. Ultimately, he was let go, but because
he did not "resign", he was publicly "fired" and not given a letter of
recommendation. Thus the book covers from his audition process to his
controversial departure. He was chef for the Clintons and the Bushes.
Talk about two different lifestyles and two different White House
kitchens! The range is from midnight snacks to state dinners for 700
people, holiday menus for several thousand guests, and family dinners.
He has a classic description of 9/11, with staff evacuations and
feeding several hundred security and rescue personnel. Read all about
the gossip and the pecking order at the White House through the topical
index. Typical preps here include acorn squash gnocchi, grilled
artichokes and roasted peppers, Texas green chile and hominy casserole,
garlic polenta, and grilled chicken breasts with lemon pasta and
broccoli. Quality/Price Rating: 86.

26. WHERE PEOPLE FEAST; an indigenous people's cookbook (Arsenal Press,
2007, 192 pages, ISBN 978-1-55152-221-0, $24.95 paper covers) is by
Dolly and Annie Watts (respectively, mother and daughter) who used to
run the Liliget Feast House in Vancouver for 12 years (Dolly closed it
in 2007). This is the only First Nations fine dining establishment of
its kind, garnering a four star review in the New York Times. In 2004,
Dolly was declared winner on an episode of "Iron Chef". Canadian West
Coast native cuisine depends on seafood, game, fruits and veggies).
Thus, there are 150 preps here for oolichans, venison, grouse, salmon,
crab, and berries (among other foods). Plus suggestions and
substitutions where appropriate. Thus, there are 8 bannock recipes, 12
blackberry, 12 raspberry, 11 wild rice, 17 salmon, and 14 venison (I
counted them on your behalf). The recipes are mainly US measures with
no tables of metric equivalents, but lengths and weights are in both US
and metric, all of it a little confusing. Some typos include "445"
grams in a pound, and the index is - strangely - in one column on each
page. Preps include Indian (their term) tacos, wild shepherd's pie,
crabapple and raspberry jam, alder-grilled butternut squash, and wild
buffalo burgers. Quality/Price Rating: 88.

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