News & Notes: October 2001
Go for the Cure
It's never been unusual to see whole legs of prosciutto hanging in Italian restaurants in America. Some were even so well-made that you hardly noticed the pink paint on their plastic sides. But more and more restaurants across the country are replacing such faux accessories with the real thing. After years of bemoaning the scarcity here of European charcuterie, American chefs have finally discovered the cure.
Some, like Paul Bertolli, of Oliveto in Oakland, California, have been doing it for years. Bertolli, who studied the art and science of curing in Italy two decades ago, began making his own prosciutto, salamis and other meats because, he says, "The variety and quality of what you can import has really diminished or become so uniform as to be uninteresting."
Others, like Holly Smith of Seattle's Cafe Juanita and Paul Kahan of Blackbird in Chicago, are more recent converts. Last fall, co-owner Donna Lennard and chef Sara Jenkins of Il Buco in New York City bought three whole pigs from Vermont. Some of the meat found its way onto the menu in the form of fresh sausages and ribs. The rest, under the guidance of two expert craftsmen flown in from Umbria, was cured in salt, packed in spices and crowded onto hooks in an ad-hoc curing closet constructed in the basement. The legs became prosciutto; the bellies, pancetta; the loins, lonza; and the jowls, spicy guanciale.
Curing meats is difficult, expensive and time-consuming. So why bother? "It has to do with the quality of the handcrafted and having an intimate relationship with where the food comes from," says Mario Batali, who makes fennel-pollen salami, duck bresaola and a marvelously named item called "pig butter" (whipped, cured lard) at Babbo in New York City. A noble and worthy principle, to be sure, but these chefs also share a dirty little secret: "It's incredibly fun," Jenkins says. She and other chefs talk about curing meat in tones reminiscent of an excited ninth grader working on a particularly neat science project. For many of them, curing is a welcome new direction. "Talk to a classical piano player," Batali says. "After so many years of playing the same pieces, he's going to want to try something else."
Down in the basement, Lennard and Jenkins unwrap and cut into their lonza. The meat is firm and has the right pungent bite in some places, but in others, it's too soft: Back to the closet. "This is a work in progress," Lennard says. She's planning to buy three more pigs this fall.
Bookmark: I, Claudia
Claudia Fleming was hired as the pastry chef of New York City's Gramercy Tavern in 1994 because she promised not to dazzle diners. While everyone else was creating architectural concoctions that were impressive but intimidating, Fleming had already developed a simple, elegant style that belied the craft behind it. To realize what a master of technique she is, you need only make a few of the desserts from The Last Course, the new book of recipes she has written with Melissa Clark ($35). Even the easy ones are revelatory. For instance, I'd never bothered to cover a water bath with foil before, but I followed directions when I made her Lemon Verbena Custard. The reason for the extra step became clear when I tasted the custard: Cooked in that closed, moist environment, it was the most delicate I've ever made. Fleming is especially adept at combining flavors; for instance, she tempers the rich custard with tart raspberry sorbet. In fact, the book may be worth having just for the inspiring recipe titles. The words (Roasted Chestnut-Honey Pears and Spiced Quince Butter Cake) look dazzling on the page.
Travel: Great Dane
Modernists, take note: 2002 is the centenary of Arne Jacobsen, one of the most important architects and designers of the last century. A longtime fan, I got a head start on festivities by checking in to Copenhagen's Radisson SAS Royal Hotel.
The Royal's every detail was designed by Jacobsen, from the building (shockingly stark when it opened in 1960) to the instantly recognizable Egg and Swan chairs, custom-made for the hotel. Earlier this year, the Royal completed a top-to-toe renewal, messing not at all with the Jacobsen-ness of everything--enhancing it, in fact, with 450 new Swans and Eggs. But perhaps the nicest enhancement of all is Alberto K, the best new restaurant in this freshly epicurean city.
Turquoise glass and wengé wood tables are surrounded by Jacobsen green leather chairs and set with his 1957 Georg Jensen cutlery (which the restaurant, anticipating kleptomania, sells on the menu). Wraparound 20th-floor windows yield a breathtaking panorama of the city. Chef Frank Endahl cooks in a Scandinavian-Italian idiom, which sounds wacky but translates into delicious and suitably modern dishes: smoked Danish cockerel with Jerusalem artichokes and mustard-thyme emulsion; lemon sole with crab cannelloni and herb reduction. A major Jacobsen retrospective comes to town in February; you know where to stay (Hammerichsgade 1; 011-45-33-42-61-61).
With their wide-eyed, smiling mascots and oh-so-cute packaging, Japanese cookies and candies are the in snack among club kids-the same ones whose closets are crammed with Hello Kitty T-shirts. Fortunately, a number of Web sites, including jsnacks.com, make it easy to feed the fetish. The Japanese fondness for cuddly animals is apparent in Kabaya Saku Saku Panda panda-faced shortbread cookies ($2 a bag). Totally adorable graphics advertise the exotic flavors in Marukawa's musk melon gumballs ($1 a bag) and Kasugai's muscat grape and lychee gummies ($3 a bag). A few snacks even offer language lessons: each Happy Land biscuit ($1.50 a box) is imprinted with an English word; Chinese and Japanese translations are on the box.
Address Book: Vienna
With the debut this fall of the Leopold Museum, featuring the biggest collection of Egon Schieles ever seen (not to mention Klimts and Kokoschkas), Vienna's MuseumsQuartier is finally complete. Secreted behind the Baroque facade of the former royal stables, it's one of the largest cultural complexes in the world--and an architectural wonder, thanks to Laurids Ortner's bold, blocky, un-Baroque buildings. Keeping the Leopold company are nine other institutions, including the Kunsthalle, an architecture center and a children's museum. These restaurants are almost as new:
Aioli Vienna meets the Mediterranean: French, Spanish and Italian dishes; interiors from two young Spanish designers (Stephansplatz 12; 011-43-15-32-03-73).
Bauer Near the city's center, Bauer has a new chef and a new lease on life-which pleases the winemaker regulars (Erdbergerstrasse 150; 011-43-17-14-31-26).
Halle A bi-level contemporary gallery of Italian-Asian cuisine, this was the first restaurant inside the MuseumsQuartier (1 Museumsplatz; 011-43-15-23-70-01).
Hansen In an ancient Roman market hall he shares with a florist, Gunther Sperl produces modern Viennese dishes (1 Wipplingerstrasse 34; 011-43-15-32-05-42).
Meinl am Graben Austro-Italian food and the town's best cheese board (Am Graben 19; 011-43-15-32-33-34).
Vestibül This marble chamber was once the emperor's coatroom; a trend-conscious wine list specializes in Austrian reds (Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 2; 011-43-15-32-49-99).
Drinks: The Top 10 New Wine Books
Collectible Corkscrews by Frederique Crestin-Billet. A photo-filled, pocket-size paperback filled with facts about corkscrew design and history ($15).
Exploring Wine by Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith and Michael A. Weiss. Three professors tell you how to study wine the way their students at the Culinary Institute of America do ($60).
The Little Book of Bordeaux Wines by Bruno Boidron. A small volume on first-growth Bordeaux (and lots of lesser châteaus) for fans with limited shelf space ($12).
The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia by Tom Stevenson. The third edition (revised and updated) of the authoritative world-covering (and map-studded) reference work ($50).
Oz Clarke's Encyclopedia Of Grapes by Oz Clarke. It took an Englishman to organize a book the way most Americans think about their wines--by the grape ($40).
A Short History of Wine by Rod Philips. This is a must-read backgrounder for budding wine-history Ph.D.'s ($28).
The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. A non-denominational reference work that explains wine to the uninitiated ($20).
The Wines of The South Of France by Rosemary George.A book that goes well beyond Bordeaux and Burgundy to Banyuls, Bellet and a lot of other important wines of southern France too ($20).
The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. Two heavy hitters of the wine world join forces to cover the past, present and future of the grape ($50).
Zin: The History And Mystery of Zinfandel by David Darlington. One man's admiring narrative of the all-American red grape ($16).
Test Drive Corkscrews
No one's invented the perfect corkscrew yet, but that doesn't mean designers aren't trying. We test-drove six models to see which ones pulled corks most quickly and efficiently. These three came out on top, but each has its advantages and drawbacks.
"The Waiter's Friend" ($3) Pros: Great price (if you can't find one that's free); fast action. Cons: Requires more effort in the wrist; using the blade to cut foil isn't always tidy.
Metrokane's "The Rabbit" ($80) (212-759-6262) Pros: Looks like something M might make for James Bond; cork comes off the screw quickly. Cons: Directions required; pricey, considering it doesn't have a foil cutter.
Trudeau's "Trulever" ($80) (800-878-3328) Pros: Sits on the countertop, so it's hard to lose; cork comes off the screw easily. Cons: Cutter mangles the foil; directions necessary but poorly translated.
-Monica F. Forrestall
If Washington is the seat of government and New York the center of the arts, then Napa Valley is the capital of American gastronomy. This becomes official next month with the opening of COPIA, The American Center for Food, Wine & the Arts. The brainchild of Robert Mondavi, who donated $20 million and found the 12-acre site in downtown Napa, this nonprofit cultural center explores the role of eating and drinking in American life through cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, outdoor concerts and other forms of edutainment. Gallery exhibitions range from the serious (a show of major artists interested in the culture of eating) to the silly (clips of cinematic food fights). Julia Child, the patron saint of culinary edutainment, is canonized in Julia's Kitchen, a restaurant starring fruits and vegetables from the center's own organic gardens (500 First St., Napa; 707-257-3606).