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>Age of Irony -> Age of Soupçon

I apologize to my friends at Cornell's Hotel School (a.k.a. "Cornell High") now that I've succumbed to being a frivolous glutton myself. You weren't entirely wrong.

We Artsies thought what you did was completely irrelevant. Now look at me.

I was cruising a market aisle the other day, weighing the merits of sauvignon blanc vinegar and riesling vinegar, (still not many fruit vinegars...)
when I was struck by my sincerity in wanting to attend a good vinegar tasting session.

I am just happy with a whiff of musk, a dash of zest, a hint of bouquet. I am truly hopeful for the coming Global Age, and for some serious tapas.



Salt and pepper tasting menu at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco last evening somewhat assuaged my fear that San Francisco is headed downhill in the fine dining department, lagging behind the scenes in London, Paris, New York. Well, behind Sydney, Los Angeles, Barcelona...

As it stands, there are only a handful of true fine dining category restaurants in the area. Among these, my current favorites are The French Laundry, Fifth Floor, Gary Danko, Coi, Michael Mina. I'll include mom's favorite Fleur de Lys, and my sister's favorite La Folie.

I cannot include Boulevard ("fine dining" place without fine food), Chez Panisse (food has become boring, and no fine dining attitude), Scott Howard (excellent food, perhaps slightly informal), Ame (savory food and elegant decor, yet it is somehow not all that fine, yet).

At the Ritz-Carlton dining room, the "ingredient" I found the most interesting, yet the least successful aesthetically, was... hickory smoke. One of the amuse bouche offerings, it -yes, the smoke- came in a cup, sealed with plastic wrap. A little hole is covered up with a little spoon, and flavorful smoke is released when you lift the spoon. Doubtful how much it helps the taste of osetra caviar and a quail egg which sit atop. If you want theatrics, perhaps you should opt for dry ice smoke...

The hickory smoke did cast a spell, though - I found the rest of the dinner bewitchingly palatable.

My wine choice : Chateau Prieure Lichine, Margaux


>real vs. fake food

There are fraudulent fakes, and there are unfeigned fakes. The latter, people come across often and consume willingly. The reasons? Cost. Calorie intake. Convenience. Consider;

-maple syrup vs. sugar syrup
-chocolate vs. fake chocolate made with vegetable fat and no cocoa butter
-crab meat vs. pollock surimi, a.k.a. imitation crab meat
-cheese vs. low-protein imitation cheese slices
-ice cream made with real cream vs. ice cream made with hydrogenated vegetable oil
-sugar vs. sugar substitute
-fruit juice vs. fruit juice substitute
-wasabi vs. horseradish with green food coloring, a.k.a. the green glop you find in most Japanese restaurants
-naturally fermented or brewed soy sauce vs. synthetic soy sauce made with acid hydrolysis method, possibly carcinogenic (*note to Muslims - synthetic soy sauce is halal, but natural soy sauce may be haram due to minimal alcohol content, or at least mushbooh.)

>shark's fat

Turns out, it is not the fins people should be after. Poor sharks. Who knew - one of the most omega-3-rich fishes happens to be a creature called spiny dogfish, a shark.

Once ignored by fishermen, apparently it makes appearances all over the place now, including in your fish and chips. As long as people are careful not to overfish them (they seem relatively abundant in the Atlantic Ocean), apparently we are welcome to eat them.

Well, not having tasted this fish (knowingly), I can't say for sure, but I tend to find fish high in omega-3 generally tastier than the rest. Are you kidding? Otoro, tuna's fatty belly, laden with omega-3, is just about the most delicious thing anywhere, and fatty salmon! Even the fishy mackerel can be good grilled.


>fragrant pear vs. more fragrant pear

The fruit with the catchiest name du jour is "fragrant pear", also known as Korla, Koerle, Korle with o-umlaut, Kurla or Kurle pear - after the western Chinese region the fruit hails from.

They somewhat resemble ya pears from the eastern regions of China, but they are tastier, and it is nice to be able to find them now in the markets. (99 Ranch Market, Berkeley Bowl)

The fragrance, crispness or juiciness of this novelty fruit, however, does not measure up to the good old nashi varieties of pear, a familiar sight in most stores.

Update (Dec. 18, 2006)
Check out Harold McGee's detailed blog.


>almond flour

Beyond marzipan, beyond pound cake and cheesecake.

Almond flour, or almond meal, should be used like flour in your main course or side dishes

Fleur de Sel restaurant in New York serves almond flour crusted soft shell crab meuniere. Fish is always good rolled in almond flour and fried in butter, served with lemon juice and chopped parsley. Almond crusted calamari makes a good appetizer. Alfredo of Rome in New York serves zucchini rolled with ricotta cheese, raisins, almond flour.

Added bonus - just ask low-carb nuts about almond's health benefits.

Bought a packet today at Trader Joe's. Going to try it on trout tonight, perhaps with forbidden rice risotto.


>alligator & crocodile

At the cheap Chinese restaurant we frequent in downtown Oakland, they speak minimal English, and it is always packed. They do manage to explain, for instance, "chicken, wif ginseng". It comes in a tall individual cup, and the aroma released when you tear the paper seal is a delight.

Recently we asked what the special soup of the day was. "Um, don't know how to say it." "Meat or Vegetable?" "Meat." "Pork? Beef? Lamb?" "no, no, no..." This is a moment to reflect on the narrow range of choices we normally face. How did pigs and cows and sheep get to be the center of all this unwelcome attention? "Veal? Venison?" "??" "Chicken? Duck? Fish?" got a firm "No." Frog, rabbit, I was already running out of options.

Well, I had to know what it was.

"Long tail." Okay, let's play 20 questions. More like Charades. "Big teeth." (Horse?) "It lives in water." (Water snake?)" "Scary. Big mouth. Long face. Tail kill people."

"Crocodile???" "Yes!"

Bring it on. I'd rather eat cold-blooded reptiles and not think about warm cuddly piglets, calves and baby lambs. I know they sell alligator meat in the U.S. and crocodile meat is imported from places like Australia. In any case, it is fine-tasting meat, especially the tail, and don't let anyone tell you it tastes like chicken.