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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

REVIEWS: The Restaurant Cookbooks for September 2007


...are one of the hottest trends in cookbooks.
Actually, they've been around for many years, but never in such
proliferation. 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 in these books 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 more 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
altogether. Here's a rundown on the latest crop of such books -

11. KILLER CHILI; savory recipes from North America's favorite
restaurants (Chronicle Books, 2007; distr. Raincoast, 112 pages, ISBN
978-1-932855-60-9, $19.95 spiral paper bound) is by Stephanie Anderson,
a food and lifestyle writer who has previously authored "Killer Pies"
in this series. Here are 50 recipes from named restaurants from all
over North America: 10 apiece from the Northeast, Midwest, South,
Western States, and Canada. From Canada, we have the Boiler House in
Toronto (lobster chili) and McSorley's Saloon (veggie chili). The
Tomato Fresh Food Cafe in Vancouver also has a vegetarian chili. The
basic ingredients are all explained: beans, peppers, meats, spices, and
liquids. Then the variations begin with chorizo sausage, beer, seafood,
veggie, and something called "Tuscan" (more noted for its rosemary and
fennel than for anything else that is particularly "Tuscan"). There are
addresses and descriptions for all the restos, including either a pix
of the food or of the establishment. Welcome to the world of bowls of
reds (Texas), Christmas (New Mexico), and five-ways (Cincinnati). The
spiral binding is useful since it makes the book lie flat. But a major
drawback is the teeny tiny typeface used in the index, which is also
NOT an ingredient index but just a title index. Quality/Price Rating:

12. MORIMOTO; the new art of Japanese cooking (DK Books, 2007, 272
pages, ISBN 978-0-7566-3123-9, $50 hard covers) is by Masaharu
Morimoto, the God in the Iron Chef television series (he was virtually
unbeatable). He is an awesome giant in the food world, although he
looks a little silly in the cover photo with the hair on his chinny-
chin-chin. A fixture on the Food Network since 1999, he also owns
restaurants in New York, Philadelphia, Tokyo, and Mumbai. He has his
own brand of sake and beer. His top log rollers (endorsers) include
Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, and Ferran Adria. Here, in this book,
he presents over 125 recipes which re-invent Japanese cooking with
modern sensibilities. Lots of terrific gastroporn, plus plenty of
photos of techniques. The whole range is here, with individual chapters
on sashimi and sushi, noodles and rice, fish and shellfish, poultry,
meats, veggies, eggs, desserts, plus the requisite condiments. There is
also a glossary and an all-US sources list. He goes into great detail
on techniques (such as stuffing lotus leaves) and plating philosophy
(the latter is terrific stuff). The book is oversized and heavy, so
you'll need to make photocopies of any recipes you'd actually want to
try: grilled quail, lamb carpaccio, tofu and spicy pork sauce, beef
belly tartare, tempura vegetables with XO dipping sauce. Recipes are
expressed in US volume measurements and US/metric weight measurements; there
are NO metric tables of
equivalences for the volumes. Quality/Price Rating: 88.

13. THE KITCHENS OF BIRO; simple SpanAsian cuisine (Gibbs Smith, 2007;
distr. Raincoast, 168 pages, ISBN 978-1-4236-0117-3, $35.95 hard bound)
is by Marcel and Shannon Kring Biro. They are stars and producers of
the Emmy Award-winning PBS cooking series "The Kitchens of Biro".
They've written other cookbooks, and he's also owner of Biro
Internationale, an integrated cuisine company consisting of
restaurants, cooking schools, branded merchandise (e.g., pots and
pans), and food consultancy. This current book tries to fuse the simple
Asian food with the rustic Spanish food, to produce such preps as a
saffron shrimp and leek soup, or a manchego and tomato and spinach
tarte flambee, or a salmon teriyaki satay with garlic-fried rice and
mixed greens. The book has the usual gastroporn photos, which seems a
bit out of place in preps stressing their easy and simple nature. While
all the ingredients are listed with US weights and measures, there is a
table of metric equivalents. The sources list mostly refers to Biro
branded products, which can be found through
All courses are covered, although a core chapter deals with sushi and
tapas, almost forty pages long. Try chipotle pork with mushrooms or his
trio of empanadas. Quality/Price Rating: 87.

14. A GREAT AMERICAN COOK; recipes from the home kitchen of one of our
most influential chefs (Houghton Mifflin, 2007, 286 pages, ISBN 978-0-
618-65852-7, $43.95 hard covers) is by Jonathan Waxman, who once chefed
at Chez Panisse (in the early 1980s) before opening Jams in New York.
He is now chef-owner of two restos, one being on the US West Coast. His
style has been characterized as contemporary American cooking. Notable
log rollers include Bobby Flay, Alice Waters (of course), and Colman
Andrews. Tom Steele is the focusing writer. The recipes are meant for
home cooks, with a philosophy of "less is more". Here are conceptions
such as red pepper pancakes with corn sauce and smoked salmon (the
created classic for Chez Panisse), crispy chicken and goat cheese
burritos (his most ordered item), pizza with bacon, scallions, parmesan
and tomatoes (his favourite family supper), and a simple grilled
chicken with fries (his signature dish). Other, typical dishes include
deep-fried calamari with chipotle mayo, shrimp with caper mayo, and an
eggplant with pepper, zucchini, and pesto sandwich. Basic, but
thorough, prep notes are included, most with a pix. Large print and
more leading make this book more enjoyable for the older folks, the
stoners who lost their way after Berkeley...As for knives, you'll find
that he has migrated from Wusthof to Japanese steel. Courses are
arranged from starters through to desserts. US volume measurements are
used, but there is no table of metric equivalents. Quality/Price
Rating: 89.

15. TRATTORIA GRAPPOLO; simple recipes for traditional Italian cuisine
(Gibbs Smith, 2007; distr. Raincoast, 224 pages, ISBN 978-1-4236-0215-
6, $35.95 hard covers) is by Chef Leonardo Curti of the Santa Ynez,
California operation, Trattoria Grappolo. The resto has been open since
1997, serving casual Italian fare as well as catering services. The co-
author is James O. Fraioli, food writer and photographer. There is
plenty of in situ photography, making this book a perfect example of
the genre. Logrollers include at least five non-cooking celebrities,
and I'm not even going to bother to list their names...The cuisine is
Calabrese; the wines are Santa Ynez Valley (site of the movie
"Sideways"). There are 100 dishes, arranged by course, including pizza
rolls from Venice, salmon carpaccio with capers and arugula, black
squid ink risotto, and roasted Italian sausage with cannellini beans.
And there are some really great wine suggestions with brilliant write-
ups of at least four or five lines each: good work, wine guys! At the
end of the book there is listing of some 75 wineries to visit (with
addresses, phone numbers, websites, etc.) plus a metric conversion
chart. The type size is large enough for good readability.
Quality/Price Rating: 87.

16. TASSAJARA COOKBOOK; lunches, picnics & appetizers (Gibbs Smith,
2007; distr. Raincoast, 224 pages, ISBN 978-1-4236-0097-8, $35.95 hard
covers) is by Karla Oliveira, a nutritionist and professional chef
(over 25 years) with a lot of credits. The Tassajara Zen Mountain
Center (Buddhist monastery in California's Ventana Wilderness) is
famous for its healthy vegetarian cuisine, including its bag lunches.
This book contains many recipes for savoury breads, pates, sandwich
fillings, granolas, salads, chutneys and relishes, sauces and
marinades, and baked goods and sweets such as cookies (vegan and
dairy). It is fabulous fare for appetizers and small plates, as well as
lunches for vegans and vegetarians. You can even use the recipes and
ideas to prepare school lunches for your kids; it'll be a lot healthier
than the high-fructose corn syrup stuff in prepared foods. There's a
concluding chapter on prepping the food, such as the composition of a
sandwich with all of its accoutrements (such as condiments, pickles,
cheese/butter/eggs, vegetables, fruit), what to put spreads on to, and
lunch bag ideas for carrying the food, and metric conversion charts.
Try some basil-lime-pumpkin seed pesto, or roasted eggplant compote, or
almond pate, tempeh salad, couscous salad, and cappuccino coins.
Quality/Price Rating: 90.

17. AMERICAN MASALA; 125 new classics from my home kitchen (Clarkson
Potter, 2007, 264 pages, ISBN 978-0-307-34150, $44 hard covers) is by
Suvir Saran, with Raquel Pelzel as the unidentified focusing food
writer. Saran had previously authored "Indian Home Cooking", and is the
owner of Devi in Manhattan. In 2008, he expects to launch a chain of
informal and casual Indian restos named, ahem, American Masala
(originally described in the promo sheets as "American Masala fast-food
chain"). More details are at He has a ton of log
rollers: Michael Ruhlman, Mark Bittman, Sheila Lukins, Mollie Katzen,
Gael Greene, and even Marion Nestle (author of "Food Politics"). This
is outright US fusion food, with tamarind glazed turkey and jalapeno
cornbread stuffing, Indian shrimp scampi, and pistachio and cardamom
pound cake. Basically, you add Indian spices (cumin, coriander,
cardamom, and saffron) to US dishes such as mac and cheese or meatloaf.
Masala is, of course, the Hindi word for a blend of spices. His topics
embrace chutneys and condiments, appetizers, salads, soups and stews,
right through to desserts and to breakfasts. A list of resources for
suppliers is at the end of the book. Weights and measures are only for
US, and there are no metric conversion tables. There's not a lot in
this book that you could call innovative, but certainly there are lots
of interesting preps for the beginning home cook. Quality/Price Rating:

18. NEIMAN MARCUS TASTE; timeless American recipes (Clarkson Potter,
2007, 288 pages, ISBN 978-0-307-39435-4, $57 hard covers) is by Kevin
Garvin, Executive Chef and Vice President of Neiman Marcus Restaurants.
John Harrisson is the focusing food writer. Founded in 1907 in Dallas,
Neiman Marcus now has 36 stores and 50 restaurants across the USA.
Their first restaurant opened in 1953. This book is part of their 100th
anniversary celebrations. So you'd think that there would be 100
recipes? Actually, there are 110 - and not one of them refers to
chocolate chip cookies! The legendary Helen Corbitt created many preps,
and some of these are still on the menu somewhere in the 50
restaurants. Signature dishes for the resto and modern updatings from
Garvin (who arrived in 1994) fill the book. Part of the book is a
history, with photos and reproductions of older menus. There is also
some material on the development of food preps, with photos of people
(too many for a regulation cookbook; this book must be viewed as a
souvenir of the store). Arrangement is by course, with breads and
morning pastries, cocktails and beverages, and some basics. While there
are all kinds of additional notes and a glossary, there are no tables
of equivalents for the US volume measurements used. Typical preps
include very tomatoey minestrone, savory pretzel sticks, blue cheese
and walnut and port pate, stuffed flounder, creamed chicken a la king,
and baked cheddar grits. Quality/Price Rating: 82.

19. GREAT BAR FOOD AT HOME (John Wiley, 2007, 127 pages, ISBN 978-0-
471-78183-7, $21.99 hard covers) is by Kate Heyhow, a food author and
writer with a website Her current books attempts to
re-create small bites from various bars (cocktail, wine, brewpubs)
around the world. About 50 recipes cover such things as caviar tortes
with toast points, gougere, tangerine yakitori, bresaola carpaccio with
parmesan capers, salmon cassis, Spanish smoked paprika wings. Preps are
generally not sourced as to resto origins. US weights and measures are
used, and there is no table of metric equivalents. She has some nice
notes on pairing foods with cocktails and beers. Quality/Price Rating:

20. TWO MEATBALLS IN THE ITALIAN KITCHEN (Artisan Books, 2007, 319
pages, ISBN 978-1-57965-345-3, $45 hard covers) is by Pino Luongo, New
York chef-owner of three and more Italian restaurants in Manhattan, and
Mark Strausman, a co-owner with Pino and a chef in his own right. Both
of them diss each other all the time (they've known each other for over
two decades), and, according to this book, they have the 150 recipes to
prove that they are both right. Who knows? Anthony Bourdain and Daniel
Boulud are the two prominent log rollers...Take the meatball challenge
yourself. There are nine classic and creative takes on meatballs, plus
material for vegetarians and seafood-lovers. This is a book about
culinary competitions, a sort of Iron Chef at home game. Chapters cover
dried pasta, fresh pasta, risotto, oven cooking, grilling, what
Italian-American cooking is all about, Sunday dinners, and desserts.
There's a glossary, and ingredients are expressed in both US and metric
weights and measures! Try penne with veal and sage sauce, pasta with
eggplant and sausage, fettuccine carbonara, Sicilian couscous, grilled
stuffed pork chops, or chocolate biscotti. Quality/Price Rating: 88.

21. BOBBY FLAY'S MESA GRILL COOKBOOK; explosive flavours from the
southwestern kitchen (Clarkson Potter, 2007, 278 pages, ISBN 978-0-307-
35141-8, $44 hard covers) is by the famous Iron Chef America Food
Network guru who tied with Susur Lee in one of the series exciting
performances. To Flay's credit, there is not a single log roller on the
dust jacket. He opened Mesa Grill in 1991, and went on to open in more
locations and then with other restos. He has appeared a lot on TV. More
details are at his website Here he is assisted by
his business assistant Stephanie Banyas and by a focusing food writer,
Sally Jackson. It is surprising that this is his first totally
Southwestern cookbook. His other seven books have dealt with grilling
and family food, with some tangential Southwest recipes. After all, it
has been 16 years since he opened Mesa Grill (two dishes still remain
today that were on the opening menu: shrimp and roasted garlic corn
tamales, and BBQ duck-filled blue corn pancakes). He believes in smoky,
earthy, fruity, and spicy flavours - almost as a replacement for the
usual salt, sweet, bitter, and sour. There are 150 recipes here from
his resto, covering drinks, appetizers, soups, salads, mains, sides,
sauces, desserts, and even brunches. Lots of pix on food and the
restaurant itself. A good index, a sources list, but no metric tables
of equivalents for the US volume weights and measures. Try pumpkin
French toast with allspice butter and fig-maple syrup, creamy green
chile rice, chile-rubbed rabbit with green pea risotto, cumin-crusted
chicken with cotija and mango-garlic sauce, queso fundido with roasted
poblano vinaigrette. Quality/Price Rating: 90.


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