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  • 04/30/12--09:00: Aloha, Vegas
  • Aloha, Vegas-photo
    by Brock Radke
    With laid-back island tunes drifting overhead and photos of friends and family posted on the wall, this strip-mall restaurant feels more like a weekend cookout. It smells like home, too, with chicken and fish frying away, sweet and sour sauces simmering, and the light scent of our just-ordered poke salad- fresh, raw ahi tuna tossed with sesame and furikake-tempting us to begin our meal.

    I'm eating out today with my friend Gary Haleamau. Born on the Big Island and calling Vegas his home for nearly 15 years, Gary is a musician and organizer of festivals that highlight his native culture. He's brought me to Island Flavor, his pick for the most authentic Hawaiian food in Las Vegas, a city they call the Ninth Island for its large islander population. More than 15,000 Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders live in Las Vegas, lured here by the low cost of living and work in the booming casino industry. The community has its own magazine, its own radio station, and its own flagship hotel and casino, called the California, boasting its own Hawaiian-themed eateries. But when natives want to eat the foods of home, says Gary, they come to restaurants like Island Flavor.

    At this cozy, brightly-colored eatery, converted from a sushi bar four years ago, the most popular plate is kalbi short ribs, a spin on a Korean dish, succulent shards of beef made sticky-sweet when the soy-garlic-brown sugar marinade caramelizes under the broiler. Gary's favorites are salty, smoky kalua pig, and an off-menu treat of laulau, tender pork steamed in taro leaves.

    Fried chicken katsu prepared loco moco-style, over rice with fried eggs and rich brown gravy, is an instant nap inducer, leading Gary to joke about his native eats. "It's always a ridiculous amount of food. Hawaiians, you know, maybe our food is known for quantity over quality," he laughs. "But when we get together for a festival or just to be with family, it's all about the food."

    Island Flavor
    8090 S. Durango Blvd. #103
    Las Vegas NV 89113

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    True Nordic-photo
    by Shane Mitchell
    Even by Icelandic standards, the Westfjords is isolated. A cliff-rung peninsula on the island's northwest corner, it is tied to the country only by a four-mile-wide isthmus. Fish air-cure in drying sheds left open to the salty wind. Polar bears stray onto the shore. The hardy souls who reside here make their living in the chilled North Atlantic hunting for cod and haddock.

    Monkfish or halibut often winds up in the panfry, a one-skillet meal of seasoned, butter-fried fish, vegetables, and potatoes at Tjöruhúsið, a dockside restaurant in the town of Ísafjörður, open from May to September. When I happened upon it on recent visit to Westfjords, it reminded me of Try Pots, the chowder house from Moby Dick: fish soup bubbled on a stove manned by the grizzled chef and co-owner Magnús Hauksson, whose ingredients for his heimilismatur ("home-style cooking") menu arrive straight off the boats.

    After bobbing all morning near the Arctic Circle with two long-line fishermen, I was grateful for the Viking-size panfry placed in front of me in Tjöruhúsið's timber-frame dining room, formerly a harðfiskur (wind-dried fish) storage shed. Juggling skillets, Hauksson had tossed rich Icelandic butter atop sizzling plaice filets, finishing the dish with tiny boiled potatoes dug from a nearby field. Even cloaked under wild mushroom gravy, the fish that had been fathoms deep hours earlier was the dish's essence. It was Nordic cooking at its most comforting, worthy of a sea voyage.

    Tjöruhúsið Restaurant
    (+354) 456-4419
    Open only during the summer.

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  • 05/04/12--09:00: Smoky and Sweet
  • Smoky and Sweet-photo
    by Betsy Andrews
    Recently at Spot Dessert Bar in Manhattan's East Village, I ate a slice of cake unlike any I'd had before: It was a coconut cheesecake with a thick whipped cream topping, and it looked typical enough. But it was perfumed with musky, flowery aromas and flavored with notes of caramel and smoke. It turns out that Spot's consulting chef, Ian Chalermkittichai, uses a technique from his native Thailand to infuse the cake's cream cheese base with this heady mix of scents and tastes.

    The method employs tian op, a horseshoe-shaped, beeswax-coated wick suffused with aromatics: piney frankincense, flowery ylang-ylang, mossy patchouli, and spicy mace. The material is lit at both ends, then placed in a dish inside a bowl, jar, or saucepan with the food to be smoked. Then the vessel is covered, smothering the wicks, which smoke profusely, infusing the food with their complex fragrance.

    Tian op may have traveled along the spice route from Arabia, or it may have roots in northeast India, where ghee-drizzled charcoal is placed in bowls of curry to add smoky flavor. But Thai cooks perfume only sweets, like salim, mung-bean flour noodles dressed in a smoke-infused coconut syrup. Other desserts-flower-shaped kleep lamduan shortbreads; coconut milk, sugar, and flour pyramids called a-lua-are made first and then smoked with the candle, whose effects grow stronger the longer it smolders.

    According to Nancie McDermott, the author of several Thai cookbooks, tian op is used specifically with the types of labor-intensive desserts that derive from Thai palace cuisine. When I told her about Chalermkittichai's cheesecake, she laughed. "Tian op is an old-time thing," she said, "and this cake is so 21st century. In Thailand, you'd use it only with a few desserts. You come to America, and there are no rules. It's wonderful."

    See the recipe for Smoked Coconut Cheesecake »

    Spot Dessert Bar
    (212) 677-5670
    13 St Marks Place
    New York, NY 10003

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    Restaurant Review: Verjus, Paris-photo
    by Alexander Lobrano
    The first real modern American restaurant in Paris opened last December. It's called Verjus, it occupies a sunny triplex space in a 19th-century house overlooking the Palais-Royal, and it's run by New Orleans-born, Boston-bred chef Braden Perkins, 32, and his partner in work and life, Saint Paul native Laura Adrian, 27.

    After two-plus decades of living in France, unless someone had told me Verjus was owned by Americans, I'd never have suspected-not upon arriving, anyway-that the owners were anything but French, so perfectly does the mise-en-scène of the white-painted dining room with huge picture windows master the codes of the new wave of young-chef-helmed bistros in Paris (mismatched flea market chairs, bare wooden tables). The service is the tip-off. The young waitresses are friendly but don't want your stress. You'll be served when you're served, so relax. In any event, I'm never much fussed by the service when the food is this good. And it's wonderful, at last, to be in a Paris dining room where there's so much laughter in the crowd noise.

    Verjus has been a hit with food-loving anglophone expats like me, and it's also gotten the thumbs-up from a couple of the more incisive young French food writers. One even described the place as having "un vibe très Brooklyn"-high praise, as young Parisians are currently besotted with the New York City borough they perceive as hip and assiduously gastronomic but unpretentious. Since Perkins revises his two dinner-only tasting menus almost daily (one is four courses, the other, six), his imagination is always sparking. As evidenced by a winter starter of a poached egg with three types of grilled mushrooms (shiitake, button, and a tiny wild Japanese one) on a bed of wild rice with microscopic dandelion leaves and a sprig of dill, his food can be so fragile, intimate, and self-effacing that it induces perfect, fleeting, ego-free moments of Zen pleasure.

    If none of the dishes throws flavor bombs or talks too loud, all of them intrigue with impeccable logic and sly intelligence.
    If none of the dishes throws flavor bombs or talks too loud, all of them intrigue with impeccable logic and sly intelligence. A perfect example: a dish of pan-seared duck breast cooked rare and served sliced on top of ravioli filled with caramelized red onions, garnished with smoked celery root skin, orange segments, microgreens, and parsley-infused oil. The surprise Perkins teases out here is the nexus between the palates of central Europe and Japan: Duck, red onion, and orange is as Bohemian as can be, but the earthy celery root and small sharp bolt of herbaceousness read ryokan. At least that was my take on this terrific dish. A Parisian at the next table was vocally disconcerted: "Mais c'est bizarre du oignon rouge avec du canard!" ("Red onion with duck is weird!") Overhearing this remark, I thought, You'd never get this kind of guff at Spring, the other well-known Paris restaurant with an American chef. There, Daniel Rose has so diligently assimilated the classic calibrations of the French palate that there's nothing that would gall a Gaul; he's a French-trained chef making French food, however fresh his perspective.

    photo by Laurent Chamussy
    The first time I ate at Verjus, I was abashed to find myself cast, initially, in the role of the prissy Parisian. The dining room had none of the social and psychic tension of a French restaurant; you just kind of came in and sat down. The atmosphere was so low-key, it reminded me of the peace-and-love, spider-plant vegetarian places I used to go to in Northampton, Massachusetts, when I was a student at Amherst College. Then I remembered I not only like but prefer this social frequency in a restaurant. The first dish was a pair of roasted beets garnished with caraway seeds in a shallow pool of buttermilk; the next was brought out by an earnest young man with Clark Kent glasses, who I guessed was the chef. On that plate was a winter still life of pickled baby leeks with a quail's egg, Israeli couscous, oven-dried radicchio leaves, and a scattering of ash made from the green ends of the leeks. I loved the bitter staccato punctuation of the radicchio on the longer play of caramelized leek, and the little egg oozing into the chewy couscous. Next came a superb rectangle of skillet-cooked salmon garnished with a dab of grilled eggplant purée and salmon roe, with a tofu flan topped by a corsage of tiny mesclun leaves and razor-fine slices of fennel bulb. Worldly, casually sophisticated, sensual, and satisfying, this dish was a brilliant cameo of the best of contemporary American cooking.

    After several more meals at Verjus, it became obvious to me that conventional restaurant reviewing protocol-the anonymous writer (which I was) comes for a few paid meals and then slinks away to deliver a verdict-just wouldn't work. There simply wasn't any honest way for me to be blasé about the nerviness (shading to audacity) of an American chef deciding to open his first restaurant in Paris.

    So I met Perkins for a coffee on a frigid morning in a branch of Le Pain Quotidien, the Belgian bakery chain. I knew already that Perkins had cooked with Seattle chef Tom Douglas for several years before moving to Paris five years ago. Since he'd run the incredibly successful, now-defunct "Hidden Kitchen," a supper club in the Paris apartment he and Adrian share, I assumed he knew what he'd be up against. "What we're doing is unabashedly not a French restaurant," he told me. "Paris is on the receiving end of food trends today, and it makes some people a little uncomfortable, some a little defensive." But if Paris is no longer the global axis of gastronomy, why did he move here instead of, say, Philadelphia? "I wanted the experience of cooking with French produce," he said. "What's cool is democratizing good food, taking it down from the pedestal where the French expect to find it. Too often in France, the best food is humbled by antagonistic hospitality and an uptight atmosphere."

    photo by Laurent Chamussy
    Before the puckishly named Verjus-verjus, bien sûr, is the juice of unripened grapes; this handle was inspired by the restaurant's youth relative to the long-running Anglo-owned Paris wine bars of two of Perkins's friends and neighbors, Mark Williamson of Willi's Wine Bar and Tim Johnston of Juveniles-my experiences of soi-disant American food in Europe had always been cringe making. Only last summer, the best and most famous food writer in France wrote an article about American food that was a hailstorm of stereotypes, upbraiding our eats as an unappetizing collage of ice cream, pizza, sandwiches, barbecue, hamburgers, ketchup, and even chewing gum, for Pete's sake. The grand finale was a photograph of an obese woman standing on a scale.

    Such serendipity is the reason a meal at Verjus should be on the to-do list of anyone who's Paris-bound anytime soon.
    This is the international challenge for the first generation of serious American chefs to come of age since Alice Waters and company began teaching the United States to eat well: Every day, people all over the world think they've eaten typical American food when they haven't-unless you consider T.G.I. Friday's, McDonald's, and Kentucky Fried Chicken the sum of what's typical. Against this backdrop, can the rest of the world take American cooking seriously? Perkins thinks so. "Contemporary American cooking is ingredient driven and restlessly creative," he insists. "As Americans, we're not afraid to work across different spectrums and create new dishes, like Korean tacos. This approach runs counter to the Cartesian French way of thinking-you know, that there's a right and a wrong way to do everything. The idea that the 'wrong' way might produce something interesting-even delicious-doesn't register much in Paris."

    Such serendipity is the reason a meal at Verjus should be on the to-do list of anyone who's Paris-bound anytime soon. Perkins's distinctly American culinary creativity interprets the best Gallic produce in a way that's unique and often spectacularly good.

    It occurred to me that while I came to France a long time ago on bended knees in the hope of being gastronomically enlightened, that story is well and truly over. Perkins doesn't have a trace of the colonial bumpkin complex I once suffered from. His restaurant is the first self-described American address in the Old World that's ever made me feel proud.

    52 rue de Richelieu
    1st, Paris
    Monday-Friday 7-10P.M.
    Four courses: $72; six courses $92

    Alexander Lobrano is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City's 102 Best Restaurants (Random House, 2008).

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    Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich-photo
    by Jane and Michael Stern
    Of pork products that make Iowans proud, the tenderloin is king. We don't mean a roast that requires marinade or seasonings, then gets carved, plated, and eaten with knife and fork; in Iowa the tenderloin is a sandwich. Sometimes abbreviated to BPT for "breaded pork tenderloin," it consists of a trimmed and pounded-tender slice of pork loin that is battered, fried, and sandwiched in a roll along with pickle chips, raw onion, ketchup, and mustard. (It's not a schnitzel because it's deep-fried rather than pan-cooked, and is always served on a bun.) You'll find BPTs at cafés, diners, drive-ins, and eat-shacks that earn partisans because they serve the juiciest or the widest.

    Why Iowa for such a thing? A stroll through the spectacularly large Swine Barn at the annual State Fair helps explain the local passion for pork. Here you'll learn that pork production adds $2.5 billion to the state's economy and that one out of three hogs raised in America is Iowan. Indiana actually lays claim to having invented the BPT-at Nick's Kitchen in Huntington, in 1904-but nowhere is the tenderloin more exalted than in Iowa, especially in the farmlands of the western part of the state, where hogs' favorite food, corn, grows especially high.

    Some BPTs, particularly those made in and around Des Moines, flaunt a disk of fried pork as wide as a dinner plate, making its placement between the top and bottom of a standard hamburger bun comical. The Original King Tenderloin, served since 1952 at Smitty's, just minutes from the airport, is too broad to be hoisted by the bun in any normal way-even by a person with abnormally long fingers-but it is thin enough to tear off and eat pieces of the circumference until the bun is reachable. Twice breaded with cracker meal procured in Chicago, and then deep-fried in soybean oil ("for the flavor," says third-generation chef Ben Smith), Smitty's tenderloin is all about the crunch that envelops the slim layer of juicy pork.

    Mr. Bibbs Tenderloins, a stark, open-kitchen sandwich shop in Des Moines's Highland Park neighborhood, serves its own double-wide, centimeter-thin 'loin fully accoutred (if you order it "deluxe") with ketchup, mustard, pickles, sliced tomatoes, lettuce, and onions. Essential companion: lushly crusted onion rings. We happened to eat our tenderloins at 10 a.m. on the first day of classes at nearby North High School, since proprietor Kathy Essex fretted that, by noon, her tiny establishment would be overwhelmed with students who come for sandwiches and extra-thick chocolate malts. At Bandamp;B Grocery, just a few miles away, we ate insanely wide tenderloins alongside lunching local police officers who took great delight in demonstrating how to fold the meat over once or even twice inside the bun to make it easier to handle.

    photo by Ariana Lindquist
    The following day we ventured an hour west to what many connoisseurs consider the heart of tenderloin country. Here in Audubon and Cass counties, the cutlet is significantly thicker and therefore juicier and porkier; some sandwiches overhang their bun, but few are silly-wide. At the Farmer's Kitchen, co-owner Charlene Johnson's fried pork is plump and succulent, merely haloed by a buttermilk-tinged, seasoned breading. At the Chatterbox Cafe in Audubon, Samantha Goetz took our order, cooked it, and delivered a piping-hot slab of sweet pork with an especially gnarled crust, the sandwich sided by a heap of pickle chips and topped with a thick slice of white onion. Samantha also gave us the lowdown on the restaurant's rather goofy signature item, the "hamburloin"-a burger atop a tenderloin in a single bun. She was joined in her regional-food discourse by various men and women from other tables, all of whom treat this place as a second home, pouring their own coffee when they need refills or when they come between meals to chat with friends.

    From the outside, Darrell's Place in Hamlin looks more like a crop-duster hangar than a notable restaurant. The interior is all beer signs and bare Formica. And the tenderloin, made in the thick-patty style, is magnificent. Winner of the first annual Iowa Pork Producers Association Award in 2003, this sandwich sports a wavy, thousand-faceted bread crumb crust that hugs a luscious lode of pork. And by the way, Darrell's rhubarb pie, made using stalks secured from customers' patches, is peerless in a state famous for its pie: piled into a master-class crust, its tantalizing sugar-tart filling is balanced by the cascade of soft-serve vanilla ice cream that is its traditional garnish.

    Just south of Audubon, in Exira, we had what might be our favorite Iowa tenderloin at a low-slung eatery with four tables called Red Barn. Costing $3.60, it is super wide but also mighty thick, really juicy and snug inside a savory crust, garnished with pickles and onions. The tenderloin is just one item on an exemplary Hawkeye State menu that also includes pea salad with shredded cheese bound in Miracle Whip, a lovely loosemeats sandwich special made of spiced minced beef and onion, and nutmeg-dusted vanilla custard.

    By 11:45 a.m., every seat in the Red Barn was occupied and we were sharing our table with four strangers. Whereas habitués may linger when they come for coffee midmorning or in the afternoon, country-café courtesy at mealtime demands freeing up a seat as soon as one has finished eating. We quickly polished off dessert and paid our check, worrying all the while that we had appropriated two seats from a rotation of customers that rarely includes anyone from out of town.


    photo by Ariana Lindquist
    Bandamp;B Grocery
    2001 SE Sixth Street
    De Moines, Iowa 50315

    The Chatterbox Cafe
    120 N Division Street
    Audubon, Iowa 50025

    Darrell's Place
    4010 First Street
    Hamlin, Iowa 50117

    The Farmer's Kitchen
    319 Walnut Street
    Atlantic, Iowa 50022

    Mr. Bibbs Tenderloins
    2705 Sixth Avenue
    De Moines, Iowa 50313

    SW 1401 Army Post Road
    Des Moines, Iowa 50315

    Red Barn
    613 West Washington Street
    Exira, Iowa 50076

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  • 05/16/12--09:00: Corsica
  • Corsica: Pleasure Island-photo
    by David McAninch
    In the palm-shaded Corsican city of Ajaccio, I'm standing at an open window overlooking the port, which shimmers in the hot sunlight of a late-spring morning. In the distance, I can make out snow-capped mountains, which rise improbably from the Mediterranean Sea. Carried on the breeze is the incenselike scent of the maquis, the thicket of flowering shrubs and herbs that blanket nearly a fifth of this small island and creep up to the streets of Ajaccio.

    I take this all in from the book-cluttered apartment of a British expat named Rolli Lucarotti. I met her only yesterday, yet we've already learned a lot about each other. I've told her that, ever since I lived in France in my 20s, Corsica-the birthplace of Napoléon, onetime fief of Genoa, now a kind of orphan province of France-has loomed large in my imagination. My fascination increased as I read accounts of the mysterious island's ancient blood feuds, its monumental prehistoric sculptures, and its sturdy cuisine. She's told me about how she and her husband moored their small sailboat in Ajaccio's harbor in 1970 during a storm and, bewitched by the beauty of the place, never left.

    I watch Rolli in her kitchen, chopping a bunch of wild mint, which she scrapes into a bowl along with six farm eggs and two spoonfuls of brocciu, the moist and crumbly cheese made daily by seemingly every sheep and goat farmer on the island.
    She's also told me about the years she spent traveling to remote mountain villages, coaxing secrets from grandmothers so she could write Recipes from Corsica (Prospect Books, 2004), the first serious English-language account of the island's cooking. It was her book that introduced me to the touchstones of Corsican food: stews made from wild game; hearty fish soups; savory tarts with local herbs; heavenly pork charcuterie; fresh farmers' cheeses and pungent, washed-rind tommes; stuffed pastas; and countless galettes and cakes made from chestnut flour, a native staple that kept many
    Corsicans alive during times of siege or privation.

    I watch Rolli in her kitchen, chopping a bunch of wild mint, which she scrapes into a bowl along with six farm eggs and two spoonfuls of brocciu, the moist and crumbly cheese made daily by seemingly every sheep and goat farmer on the island. "They add a little whole milk to the brocciu, so it's richer than ricotta," Rolli tells me in a Somerset accent undiminished by her years here. She pours the mixture into a skillet to make an omelet, which she cooks open face, in the unfussy Corsican style.

    Before us on the table is our lunch, a meal of spare, pristine simplicity. On a platter next to the just-set omelet are a dozen sea urchins that we bought this morning at the docks. This, she tells me, is the very essence of coastal Corsican cookery, which isn't so much cookery as it is a matter of acquainting a fresh piece of seafood with a glass of wine, occasionally fire, and some wild herbs. We scoop out the iodine-sweet orange flesh with teaspoons and sip a pale, dry Corsican rosé from mismatched glasses.

    There is also a salad of pleasingly bitter chicory that, like much of the produce we saw this morning in Ajaccio's central market-the mint, bundles of lavender and thyme, fragrant leeks, young asparagus-were foraged in the maquis, or on other tracts of land on this still remarkably unspoiled island, where large-scale agriculture remains relatively unknown. We eat our lunch with thick slices of country bread and end it with a mousse made from tangy Corsican lemons. This is my first real Corsican meal, a taste of what's to come during the rest of my eight-day trip, and an object lesson in what a big-city chef might call "ingredient-driven cooking."

    photo of Rolli Lucarotti by Beth Rooney
    The next day, Rolli and I follow a hairpin road into the hills far above Ajaccio. We stop for lunch at a rustic inn called U Licettu, which Rolli has described to me as a bastion of old-school Corsican cuisine. This kind of cooking, she says, tends to reflect the culture of the mountains more than that of the coasts, parts of which were infested with malaria until World War II and remained relatively sparsely populated well into the 20th century. The meal-served in a prim dining room crisscrossed with rough-hewn ceiling beams-has no main courses, no lugubrious progression of everweightier dishes. Just small, shared pleasures: handmade cannelloni wrapped around fluffy brocciu; meaty white beans called fasgioli slow-cooked in an herb-flecked tomato sauce; light and crisp zucchini fritters brightened by wild mint; a silky terrine of wild boar, an animal that still roams freely in the maquis. And (cured-meat lover that I am) my holy grail: gossamer ribbons of dry-cured ham called prizuttu, generously marbled and dark ruby red, made from Corsican pigs fattened on the chestnuts that grow abundantly on the island. I knew that handmade charcuterie-with names, like coppa and lonzu, that hint at their Italian pedigree-is the coin of the realm here, but Rolli tells me that the extra-fatty charcuterie made from Corsican pigs is a prize on the order of Italy's finest prosciuttos.

    Sated and content, I drive Rolli back to town, retracing our morning route. She spies something out the window and asks me to stop. She walks a few yards down the road and tugs green shoots from the loose dirt alongside the asphalt. "Wild garlic," she calls back to me. I shut off the engine and step out, and instantly my ears are filled with a thrumming sound. It is the noise of bees, millions of them-this, I realize, is the song of the maquis.

    I'm driving over the spine of Corsica, through a stark alpine landscape so unlike the lush coast I left behind a mere 20 miles ago that it seems a continent away. I am technically in France, but not. The road signs, right down to the little tombstone-shaped mile markers, appear to be French government-issue, but the place names are in both French and Corsu, an ancient Tuscan dialect, and I notice that often the French name has been crudely redacted with black spray paint-echoes of an on-and-off independence movement that began in the 1970s. In a one-street village somewhere outside the ancient hilltop city of Corte, I stop at a little café-bar, park myself under the shade of an awning, and overhear men inside speaking Corsu amid the click-clack of dominoes. Their words issue forth in lusty bursts of consonants, in a distinctly Italian cadence.

    A wiry older fellow wearing a gold chain gets up from the table and comes out. He presses a hand firmly onto my shoulder and almost shouts, in French, "Yes, my young man!" I order a glass of chilled red Corsican vin de pays, and a coppa sandwich. It comes with cornichons on a generously buttered baguette stuffed with thin rounds of sumptuous cured meat that could have come from the finest salumeria in Rome.

    I find that I'm growing accustomed to Corsica's implausible beauty and starting to dread my encroaching departure, after which I'll no longer happen upon these otherworldly sights.
    A day later, I circle back to the coast via a scrubby headland called the Agriates Desert, a scorched, jagged landscape that merges incongruously with some of the island's most idyllic beaches. I find that I'm growing accustomed to Corsica's implausible beauty and starting to dread my encroaching departure, after which I'll no longer happen upon these otherworldly sights. I decide to commemorate one of my last nights here with a special meal at Pasquale Paoli, a jewel-like restaurant in the port of L'Île Rousse, known for its modern interpretations of traditional Corsican cooking. Like many things on this island, it's named after the 18th-century statesman who was the father of Corsican independence, all 14 years of it.

    I am seated under a plane tree, whose leaves form a canopy over the restaurant's little terrace, in front of a bone-white bowl that has a tiny portrait of Paoli painted on it. In the bowl, nestled in a dark, limpid broth made from spider crabs, are three delicate, hand-shaped strozzapreti. Each plump, mint-scented dumpling-made with equal parts brocciu and shredded Swiss chard-was strewn with purple borage flowers, just like ones I've seen dotting the maquis. Six bites, and the strozzapreti are gone.

    photo by Beth Rooney
    Soon a new bowl arrives, this one bearing little rectangular sheets of toothsome pasta layered with a ragù of winey, slow-braised beef cheeks. Each bite seems to dissolve on the tongue. And before long, dessert: a sugar-dusted Paris-Brest, typically a wheel of pâte à choux pastry filled with praline cream, reimagined here as a paean to that most cherished Corsican ingredient, the chestnut. The pastry is made with chestnut flour, and the cream filling is flavored with chestnuts. So is the scoop of ice cream on top, which itself is topped with a single candied chestnut. Dessert is served with a nectarlike drink called muscamaru, made from Corsican muscat and chestnut liqueur.

    I sip for a while and reflect on the meal. Here were four pillars of the rustic Corsican kitchen-handmade pasta, seafood, meat stew, chestnut flour-eased gently into a new dispensation, not with any shocking wizardry, but with an eager desire to reanimate the island's bedrock foods. The chef, I found out when he stopped by my table after my meal, is named Ange Cananzi and grew up in a nearby village. "I was taught the value of our island's ingredients from a young age," he says, "and I try not to put 'luxury' ingredients on the menu." I try to imagine foie gras and caviar here, and indeed the notion seems irrelevant.

    I'm due to depart tomorrow, and the spirits of this island seem to know it, for I've stumbled on a spot that no person could ever want to leave: a forested mountain glen on Cap Corse, the isle's remote, fingerlike northern tip. The glen is bisected by a burbling, sun-dappled stream called the Guado Grande and occupied by an ancient-looking stone cottage, the only work of civilization that I can see for miles around. In a grassy clearing next to the cottage, a communal picnic is getting under way-just a few folding tables covered in embroidered cotton sheets, some plastic cups for the wine. A tall man in tinted wire-rimmed glasses detaches himself from the crowd and invites me to join the potluck. His name is Jean-Toussaint. The cottage, he says, houses an old olive oil mill. The picnickers are people from the township, which has been raising money to restore the mill, and they've gathered to celebrate the first pressing of olives here in 70 years.

    In the cool, stone-floored anteroom of the cottage, a half-dozen ladies set finger foods onto platters they've brought from home. Everywhere I turn, a woman offers me something to taste: little squares of homemade quiche, a slice of wild-herb-and-leek tart, farmers'-cheese beignets baked on a chestnut leaf. I migrate outside and loiter by a charcuterie platter piled with the most enticingly fatty lonzu I've ever seen, and links of figatellu, a gamy-tasting air-dried sausage made from pig livers. A stocky young guy in a soccer jersey walks up, plucks a slice of lonzu from the plate, and matter-of-factly tells me the name of the farmer who made it. "Ah," he says, tearing off a bite, "his stuff is always the best."

    photo by Beth Rooney
    There are many sweets, too: dense chestnut-almond tarts, chocolate cake, and a fluffy brocciu cheesecake called fiadone. And now a napkin-lined straw basket emerges from the cottage on the arm of a pretty blond woman in a purple blouse. She walks over to me. "They're frappes," she says, raising the basket to show me the little sugar-dusted pastries inside. "Take a few!" I help myself to a handful and find a shady seat on a low stone fence where I can enjoy them. The inch-long curls of fried dough are pleasure-inducing the way cotton candy is.

    And so here I am, licking sugar off my fingers and listening to the Guado Grande's waters as they descend to the Mediterranean. Sharing my patch of shade is an old man in a brimmed cap whose name is Charles Pasquini. He says he was a ship's navigator in the merchant marine. I tell him where I'm from, and he laughs. "Les Américains is the name they used to give people from Cap Corse who left for the New World and came back here to build their great mansions," he says, resting his hands on a wooden cane. I laugh, too, and think, I should be so lucky.

    Read more about Corsica's native wines »
    Read about Corsica's cheeses »
    Read more about Corsica's heritage »
    Read about Corsican charcuterie »
    See a guide to where to eat and where to stay in Corsica »
    See all our Corsican recipes in the gallery »

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    Costa Rica Mecardo Central-photo
    by Jane Sigal
    Most visitors to Costa Rica zip through the capital city, San José, on their way to beaches or jungles. But I like to linger there, if only to spend a morning at Mercado Central, a block-long covered market built in 1880 that contains a warren of produce stalls, sodas (small, family-run eateries), bric-a-brac counters, and cafés.

    After ogling the spiky red mamon (rambutan) and giant green guanabana (soursop) at the fruit stands, I slake my thirst with a refresco at Soda Los Angeles (506/2223-2606), on the market's southwest side, where freshly squeezed juices such as cas (sour guava), and mora (raspberries) are mixed with water or milk and sugar.

    If I'm hungry, I go for olla de carne (the local pot-au-feu, made with beef short ribs) or a casado (a heaping plate of rice, beans, fried plantains, and salad, with chicken, meat, or seafood), dishes that emerge from the upstairs kitchen at Soda Cristal (506/2223-5002), in the market's center.

    For dessert, there's La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora (506/2256-5000), near the main entrance. This 111-year-old ice cream parlor makes one flavor only: a heady mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and vanilla with a granita-like texture.

    I top off the roving meal on the market's northeast end at Cafeteria y Café Central (506/2222-1769). The local arabica variety here-brewed using mild peaberry beans-is prepared as a café chorreado; hot water is poured into a coffee-filled sock that's set over an aluminum pot called a chorreador, resulting in a fresh, bright cup. Sometimes I stop by Souvenirs Midey (506/2233-4660), at the southeast end, to pick up one of these cute pots to take to someone back home.

    For a potent end to my visit, there's El Gran Vicio (506/2223-5976). At this 130-year-old cantina, shots of Costa Rican sugarcane brandy are spiked with red sirope de kola (kola nut syrup)-a bittersweet San José tradition.

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  • 05/18/12--09:00: Universal Language
  • Universal Language-photo
    by Francine Prose
    My son Leon and his wife, Jenny, joke that their love blossomed over enchiladas. Jenny prepared them for him on one of their early dates. Jenny is from Mexico, and we couldn't have been happier to discover that she is not only an enchanting person, but also a terrific cook. Like Leon, in no time, we fell for her and her delicious food, too. It's hard to choose between Jenny's pozole, a meaty stew made with hominy and chiles; nopales, cactus paddles peeled, sliced, boiled, and served in a salad; chiles rellenos, poblano peppers stuffed with cheese, then lightly battered and fried. Each time she'd visit Mexico, Jenny would return to New York with a mole sauce that only her aunt knows how to prepare, or with tamales that no one makes like her grandma.

    Ever since a mutual friend in Brooklyn introduced Leon and Jenny, he's made numerous trips to Mexico, where her parents and grandparents rapidly discovered that her gringo boyfriend was a nice guy who loved her. But distance and everybody's busy schedule had conspired to keep the rest of our family-my husband, Howie, me, and our younger son, Bruno-from meeting Jenny's relatives until she and Leon were to be married. It might seem a little unusual to first meet one's new in-laws minutes before the wedding takes place. But when the families assembled on the steps of the Brooklyn courthouse, everyone's affection for Leon and Jenny was so intense that it seemed as if this was how it was supposed to be. Even the judge was visibly moved by the sight of three generations weeping with joy.

    The three-day fiesta that followed was catered by a modest but brilliant Mexican luncheonette in Queens. There were mariachi musicians, a Cuban dance band, plenty of tequila, and a crowd of family and friends from New York, Los Angeles, and several cities in Mexico. The party, in a loft in Manhattan, was the sort of occasion that ends with everyone exchanging heartfelt vows to get together again as soon as possible. Among those promises was one I gave Jenny's mother, Lourdes, to visit Morelia, the capital of Michoacán-the city where Lourdes grew up, where her family still lives, and which, she promised, is the most beautiful in Mexico.

    the night Howie and I arrived in Morelia to celebrate the wedding once more, this time at the home of Jenny's great aunt, it was obvious that Lourdes was right about the beauty of her hometown. The zocalo, the leafy main plaza, was brightly illuminated and gorgeous, as were the towers of the magnificent 17th-century stone cathedral. Founded by the Spanish in 1541, this historic center of the stately colonial city, which was designated a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO, evokes its Spanish counterparts-Ávila, Segovia, and Seville. Except that there was livelier music thrumming out of the car radios and playing in the cafés beneath the arched portals of the plaza.

    Though communication with our new in-laws had its limits, the food we shared created an unspoken bond
    But architecture was only one of the things that Lourdes raved about. Along with Puebla, Morelia is considered a gourmet's paradise, the Lyon of Mexico. In the morning, Lourdes and Jenny's father, Jesus, came to pick up Howie, Bruno, Leon, Jenny, and me from the hotel to take us to the central market for breakfast. Jesus spoke perfect English, while Lourdes was more hesitant about her grasp of the language. It was certainly better than my Spanish, which was virtually nonexistent, except for perhaps 200 words, mostly having to do with food. After a quick coffee, we were off to eat.

    I was astonished by the variety of vegetables at the market, the artistry with which they were displayed, the stalls that sold chiles, spices, shelled beans, straw baskets, bright piñatas, bags of mole sauce, and mounds of the chiles rellenos that are probably my favorite Mexican dish. Jesus ordered several plates of corundas, which he told me are unique to Michoacán. Shaped a bit like pyramids, they're a regional variation on the tamale. Like tamales, they're made of masa and steamed inside the dark-green leaves of the corn plant. They were delicate, served with red or green salsa and a dollop of crema, a pleasingly tart cream, which pleasingly offset the sweetness of the corn.

    Jesus and Lourdes went off to fetch the car, and we set out for Quiroga, a town known for its meat-namely carnitas, giant loins of pork that, in this town, were braised in orange juice and chiles, then deep fried. You purchase the juicy carnitas and tortillas by the kilo from a vendor, then find a seat under the shady awning of the stand, where you can also buy sodas. Jenny appeared with ripe avocados that we sliced and added to the pork, which we tore with our fingers and rolled between fresh tortillas. Though communication with our new in-laws had its limits, the food we shared created an unspoken bond.

    After lunch, we headed back to Morelia to rest and dress for dinner at Jenny's great-aunt's home. Promptly at eight, we arrived at a pretty house in an outlying neighborhood. All day, I'd felt so at ease with Lourdes and Jesus that it slipped my mind that we were the new relations arrived from north of the border. For a moment I became aware of being an outsider, but my anxiety instantly dissipated, because everyone acted as if Jenny had brought home a group of long-lost relatives. The women hugged and kissed us, the men shook hands. Jenny's great uncle, Tío Flor, brought out a volume of photographs, and we marveled over how adorable Jenny was as a baby. The bilingual ones translated and, with a little help, conversation flowed: One of the uncles talked about his racing pigeons; Tèo Flor told us about his passion for dancing and the legendary contest in which he won fourth place.

    All this time the little cousins were eyeing us shyly until everyone headed up to the roof for the breaking of the large, star-shaped piñata. The scene reminded me of my own sons' birthday parties: kids gone wild with baseball bats and blindfolds. It was pure bedlam until finally, the piñata lay in shreds on the roof. Full of candy, the kids led us back downstairs.

    By then, platters of food were appearing from the kitchen: a huge turkey marinated in a spicy mole sauce, fresh tortillas, salads. After dessert-a rum cake iced with buttercream-the tables disappeared as magically as they arrived. Someone put on a CD, and Tèo Flor took the lead. If he won fourth place in a dance contest, I'd like to see the guy who won first. His dove-gray leather shoes skimmed across the floor as he spun and twirled. Lourdes, the family's other passionate dancer-as I recall from the wedding-joined him, and the rest of us watched, awed by their expertise.

    An uncle poured snifters of brandy and led us in a toast. We wished for happiness and health, and raised our glasses to what people everywhere toast when there's love and good will in the room. As I thanked our new relatives for their delicious dinner and warm welcome, and expressed my joy at being part of the family, I found myself in tears-which needed no translation. All of us were moved by the power of love, aided by the fabulous food, to transcend the differences in our backgrounds and to lift us to a higher plane on which we all believed, for the moment, that borders don't exist.

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  • 05/20/12--09:00: The Guide: France's Route 7
  • The Guide: France's Route 7-photo
    by Sylvie Bigar
    Where to eat and what to do while traveling along France's Route Nationale 7. From the charcuterie of Lyon to the Pissaladières of Provence, this is an eating tour of a lifetime.

    Where to Eat

    Brasserie Georges
    30 cours de Verdun, Lyon (33/4/7256-5454). Moderate.
    This cavernous brasserie epitomizes the genre, with its convivial bustle, efficient service, Belle Epoque setting, and solid, delicious Lyonnais fare.

    Café Les Saveurs d'éléonore
    4 place du Docteur Fomari (33/4/9357-6000). Moderate
    This cheery, simple eatery is a fine place to sample Provençal specialties such as savory pissaladières, fougasse cake made with anise and orange blossom water, and Menton lemon tart.

    Côté Jardin
    5 avenue Albert 1er, Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume (33/4/9478-0014). Moderate.
    Chef Pascal Riis makes the most of the local seafood and vegetable bounty at this Provençal gem.

    La Mule Blanche
    Quartier de la Mule Blanche, RN 7, Tain-l'Hermitage (33/4/7508-5275). Inexpensive.
    Follow the lead of the truck drivers and order the entrecôte with fries, coq au vin, or fluffy chocolate mousse at this roadside eatery.

    La Pyramide
    14, boulevard Fernand Point, Vienne (33/4/7453-0196). Expensive.
    The restaurant, once owned by the legendary Fernand Point, is in the capable hands of chef Patrick Henriroux, who crafts beautiful two-star Michelin plates from the region's finest ingredients.

    Le Brulot
    3 Rue Frédéric Isnard, Antibes (33/4/9334-1776). Moderate.
    In the coastal town of Antibes, this casual eatery is best known for its simple treatment of seasonal foods, particularly fish.

    Le Relais 500 de Vienne
    986 RN 7 Chonas L'Amballan, Vienne (33/4/7458-8144). Inexpensive.
    This roadside eatery and motel, open since 1959, marks 500 kilometers on Route 7 (hence, the name). This is a classic place to stop for a mid-trip meal of hearty regional specialties, such as frisée aux lardons and pig's foot terrine.

    Pic Le 7
    285 avenue Victor Hugo, Valence-Drome (33/4/7544-3605). Expensive.
    Whether you choose the high-end restaurant or the café, chef Anne-Sophie Pic, the only living female to hold three Michelin stars, will dazzle you with her refined and imaginative cooking.

    What to Do

    La Citronneraie
    Le Mas Flofaro, 69 corniche Tardieu, Menton (33/6/8026-5224).
    Call in advance and make an appointment to see - and depending on the season, taste - the fragrant, tangy Menton lemon. Learn about the culture and history of this citrus-growing region from the knowledgeable farmer, François Mazet.

    Pâtisserie Gâteau Labully
    Place de l'église, Saint Genix sur Guiers (33/4/7631-6302).
    The village boasts several pastry shops with their own version of the Gâteau Labully, the heady brioche bun studded with rose-colored pralines, but this one is the original.

    Valrhona Boutique Chocolaterie
    14 Avenue du President Roosevelt, Tain-l'Hermitage (33/4/7507-9062).
    Fill up on top-quality chocolate and confections at this elegant shop in the legendary Valrhona chocolate factory.


    Dinner for two with drinks and tip
    Inexpensive Under $20 Moderate $20-$80 Expensive Over $80

    See the article Route 7: The Road to Paradise »

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  • 05/22/12--09:00: 20 Great Bread Bakeries
  • 20 Great American Bread Bakeries-photo
    by Meryl Rosofsky and Alex Rush

    Acme Bread Company

    Bay Area, California

    This nearly 30-year-old Berkeley institution, helmed by co-founder and Chez Panisse alum Steve Sullivan, is not content to rest on its yeasted laurels. Committed since 1999 to using only organic flour, these days Acme, with its original bakery in Berkeley and an outpost in San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace, is working closely with flour supplier Keith Giusto and his cadre of California farmers to find hearth bread-friendly wheat varieties suited to the local climate. A loaf to look out for: Acme's new hand-formed "Edible Schoolyard Loaf," a tasty homage to Alice Waters' groundbreaking program, a toasty bread made from California-grown, stone-milled Yecora Rojo wheat. A point of pride for Sullivan: five current or former employees now have an ownership stake in this much-loved pioneering bakery.


    Englewood, New Jersey

    Like watching the Yankees, riding the Cyclone and shopping in SoHo, eating Balthazar bread is a quintessential New York experience. Okay, so it's technically baked at a 14,000-square foot warehouse in Englewood, New Jersey, but Balthazar's dozens of products fill the breadbaskets of hundreds of eateries in the five boroughs, including the bakery's sister brasserie of the same name. And despite the large-scale operation, each bread tastes like the work of a single boulangerie. The French Baguette, Rye Boule, a beer-infused Olive Bread and Chocolate Bread loaded with morsels of bittersweet chocolate are just a few of Balthazar's greatest hits.

    Berkshire Mountain Bakery

    Housatonic, Massachusetts

    Baker Richard Bourdon's shop may be tucked away in a Western Massachusetts village with a population just over 1,000, but it has garnered nation-wide attention. The calls for road trips to Berkshire Mountain Bakery are certainly warranted, as Bourdon, who hails from Quebec, has been committed to the art of natural sourdough baking for more than 35 years - long before this wild yeast process became en vogue in America. Some of the his most legendary products are Bread and Chocolate, a white boule studded with Callebaut chocolate chunks, the Multi Grain covered with rolled oats and the Cherry Pecan, which makes for incredible French toast.

    Credit: Alan Tansey
    Bien Cuit Bakery

    Bien Cuit

    Brooklyn, New York

    Zachary Golper's stories of his first baking experiences as a 19-year-old in rural Oregon sound like generations-old folklore - but they happened a mere 15 years ago! He worked by candlelight under the guidance of a man known to him only as Carlos, hand-mixing dough and raking the embers of the wood-burning oven. These days, Golper uses electric mixers in the one-year-old Boerum Hill bakery and café he owns with his wife, Kate Wheatcroft, but his techniques are as meticulous as ever. For instance, he blends six different flours and then ferments the dough for 68 hours to craft the miche, a round French-style loaf with a dark, chewy crust and a slightly sour flavor.

    Credit: Meg Matyia
    Blue Duck Bakery and Café

    Blue Duck Bakery Café

    Eastern Long Island, New York

    Keith Kouris has been raising the bread bar since the mid-1990s, when, as a visionary young baker in a suburban King Kullen, he introduced artisan breads to one of Long Island's largest supermarkets. In 1999 he and his wife Nancy opened Blue Duck in Southampton, in a building that had housed a bakery since the 1930s, turning to Europe for inspiration for their traditional, hand-made baguettes, bâtards, and focaccias. We love their chewy, hearty Pain Rustique; gorgeous, cake-like Pain Chocolat; super aromatic fennel-scented Swedish Limpa with raisins and spices; and a stunning seed-studded sunflower loaf. What makes Blue Duck breads so delicious? Proximity to the water - the Atlantic Ocean on the South Fork and the Long Island Sound on the North - may be part of the secret, fortifying Kouris's cultures with moisture and a lick of salt air. But it's the baker's passion that elevates Blue Duck above the flock.

    Bread Alone

    Boiceville, New York

    This pioneering bakery nestled in New York's Hudson Valley churns out more than 55,000 pounds of organic bread each week, sending freshly baked loaves to supermarkets, specialty shops and farmers' markets throughout the Northeast, not to mention its three Upstate New York cafes. But Bread Alone wasn't always such a major operation. Artisan Dan Leader moved to the Catskills in 1983 to escape the New York City rat race and sold bread out of his Mazda Hatchback. But he was back in Manhattan soon enough, hawking Bread Alone loaves at city greenmarkets. And despite Bread Alone's expansion, Leader and his team still use locally sourced ingredients for everything from their golden Challah to their rustic Ciabatta.

    Credit: Ed Anderson
    Della Fattoria Bakery

    Della Fattoria

    Petaluma, CA

    Started in 1995 by Edmund and Kathleen Weber at their family ranch, an old chicken farm that today supplies eggs and produce to their café in downtown Petaluma, Della Fattoria began quite by accident back in 1994 after Kathleen installed a wood oven outside the kitchen ("a lifelong dream!") and began baking breads for friends, neighbors, and soon, the chef at Sonoma Mission Inn where her son Aaron was working. These days Della Fattoria turns out 400-1,200 hand-shaped loaves a night, crusty beauties crafted from 100% organic flour, Brittany sea salt, and a natural starter that began life years ago with yeast from Weber Ranch grapes (they still grow Pinot Noir at their small vineyard). Their breads - campagne, levain, ciabatta, polenta, pumpkin seed, and more - are all naturally leavened and baked on the bottom of their two wood-burning ovens using retained heat. Find them at restaurants like Napa Valley's Auberge du Soleil and the Marin and San Francisco Ferry Plaza weekly farmers markets. Della Fattoria's Rosemary-Meyer Lemon bread is a knockout: salty, lemony, herbal, with a beautiful sheen to the well-structured crumb and a crust that bears beauty marks from the floor of the hearth it baked upon.

    Gerard's Breads of Tradition

    Westford, Vermont
    Available at Onion River Co-Op, Burlington, Vermont

    It's a good thing Gerard Rubaud set up his bakery next to his Vermont home, as he often works 15 straight hours to hand-form and wood-fire hundreds of his signature item, the wild yeast-based 3 Grain Country Loaf. "I like baking through the night, under the stars - that's my life," said Rubaud, a Savoie-native who took his first apprenticeship at age 13. Vermont's beloved artisan (he has a street named after him!) still employs many of the same techniques that he learned as a teen in the 1950s, including using a manual grinder to mill flour and feeding his organic levain three times a day. It's methods like these that make Gerard's sourdough arguably the most deeply flavored bread in the state.

    Leslie Cole (courtesy of Grand Central Bakery)
    Grand Central Bakery

    Grand Central Bakery

    Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington
    This Pacific Northwest pioneer, founded by Gwenyth Bassetti in 1989, grew out of her little Seattle sandwich shop The Bakery, which when it opened in 1972 served a custom "Bakery Blend" coffee made for them by a new local company called Starbucks. Today Grand Central Bakery has three locations in Seattle and another six (soon to be seven) in Portland, and is run by Gwen's son Ben, a onetime geologist and fisherman in Alaska; daughter Piper, the "soul" of the company; and an assortment of friends who share their passion. Grand Central's rustic European-style hearth baked breads are made from sustainably grown white flour from Shepherd's Grain in Palouse, Washington and whole wheat flour from Camas Country Mill in Oregon's Willamette Valley, which is bringing back heirloom wheat varieties like Red Fife well suited to the local climate. In addition to their classic baguettes, levains, ciabattas, sour ryes, and their famous white Italian-style Como Loaf, with its crisp crust and glossy crumb, Grand Central Bakery has just started a seasonal loaf program, kicking off this past winter with a rye-based Swedish Limpa, scented with anise, coriander, caraway seeds, and orange zest.

    Hungry Ghost Bread

    Northampton, Massachusetts

    The Hungry Ghost feeds more than spirits with its spectacular breads, among them French, organic raisin, and a dense rye topped with toasted black kalonji seeds. Baked in a wood-fired masonry oven baker/owners Jonathan Stevens and Cheryl Maffei helped build themselves, many of Hungry Ghost's breads are made from locally grown, freshly milled wheat and spelt, cultivated as part of the bakery's "Little Red Hen" project to restore grain-growing in the Pioneer Valley. Like the Johnny Appleseeds of wheat, Stevens and Maffei started several years ago doling out handfuls of wheat berries to eager customers to plant in their yards and gardens. By now, one local farmer delivers 400 pounds of flour to Hungry Ghost each week. Try the Hungry Ghost's Trinity bread, made from local spelt, wheat, and triticale (a wheat-rye cross). Another curious specialty is annadama, a corn flour-and-molasses New England bread born, the legend goes, when a hungry fisherman, tired of the cornmeal and molasses porridge his unimaginative wife served him day after day, added yeast and flour, muttering "Anna, damn her" as he baked the concoction.

    Credit: Lawrence Mambrino
    Iggy's Bread of the World Bakery

    Iggy's Bread of the World

    Cambridge, Massachusetts

    Husband-and-wife team Igor and Ludmilla Ivanovic changed the Boston bread scene when they opened their groundbreaking Watertown bakery on a nondescript industrial block in 1994. Their creations, from moist focaccia made from naturally leavened dough to hearty 7-Grain roll laced with wildflower honey, were revelations to locals raised on overly processed supermarket bread. Iggy's, whose breads are available at the bakery's storefront, New England farmers markets and grocery stores, prides itself on using organic ingredients sourced from sustainable farms.

    Ken's Artisan Bakery

    Portland, Oregon

    Inspired by the late famed French baker Lionel Poilâne, Ken Forkish ditched his career in the high-tech world of Silicon Valley in search of something more craft-driven. The result: this warm, welcoming bakery, started in 2001 and now a neighborhood institution, serving up traditional European-style hearth-baked boules and baguettes that fans say rival the best in Paris. Clearly, the career move has paid off, with Forkish recently garnering his third nomination for a prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Look out this fall for his first book, Flour Water Yeast Salt: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza (Ten Speed Press, September 2012). In the meantime, if you're in the area, treat yourself to Ken's soulful walnut levain, with its gorgeously irregular honeycombed crumb and notes of lavender, or a nice Country Blonde, its thin crisp exterior cloaking a light, subtly tangy sourdough crumb.

    Credit: Emily Hart Roth
    Milo andamp; Olive Bakery

    Milo andamp; Olive

    Santa Monica, California

    Fans are already flocking to this tiny Santa Monica bakery and pizzeria that turned out its first breads just last November. Run by husband-and-wife team Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan, whose nearby much-loved restaurants Rustic Canyon and Huckleberry Bakery ensured an instant following, Milo andamp; Olive brims with playful energy: the place was named for the couple's young son and the daughter they may one day have, and Tartine-trained Zoe cheerfully confesses that the inspiration for her out-of-sight Cheese Bread, packed with parmesan, Grana Padano, Gruyère, and cheddar, was childhood favorite Cheez-It crackers. But don't be fooled: her multigrain baguette, swoon-worthy Cinnamon Sugar Brioche, and jewel-studded Fruit andamp; Nut Bread are as sophisticated as they come.

    Credit: Josh Shaub
    Orwasher's Bakery


    New York City

    Even the newest offerings at this 86-year-old bakery are firmly rooted in the past. Orwasher's line of artisan wine breads, launched in 2008 by new owner Keith Cohen, are based on centuries-old French recipes that feature the yeast of fermented grapes. Of course, the Upper East Side shop still serves brick oven-baked favorites that were perfected by the Orwasher family (the original owners) like the Jewish Rye and Pumpernickel - edible histories for the Eastern European immigrant experience.

    Pain D'Avignon

    Long Island City, New York
    (not open to the public)

    No matter how many restaurants and markets clamor for their bread, the Pain D'Avignon crew refuses to cut corners. Bakers at the 12-year-old Long Island City operation work side by side, cutting and shaping dough by hand before allowing it to slowly ferment en couche - in a cloth that supports the dough as it rises and keeps it from drying out. But while the dough is the tour de force of Pain D'Avignon's product line, intoxicating ingredients like fresh Rosemary, caraway seeds, cranberries and pecans are wonderful supporting players.

    Seven Stars Bakery

    Providence, Rhode Island

    Baker/owners Jim and Lynn Williams started tending their whole wheat and rye sourdough starters months before they opened their bakery in early 2001, and they continue to lavish the care of a parent on their starters to keep them young and healthy for breads with great flavor and rise and only the mildest tang. The couple have since expanded operations to include three locations around Providence, one on the site of the old Rumford baking powder plant, now a National Chemical Historic Landmark. We especially like the French Rye, the Toasted Walnut and Raisin, and the chewy Olive Batard, strewn with tiny oil-cured Moroccan olives and plump, briny Kalamatas, the essence of the Mediterranean in bread form.

    Credit: Squire Fox
    Sullivan Street Bakery

    Sullivan Street Bakery

    New York City

    The innovator whose no-knead bread recipe became a New York Times sensation in 2006 and who invents bread names - truccione , cruccolo, doni - that quickly take on the patina of authenticity, Jim Lahey also embodies a back-to-basics classicism that prizes skill, repetition, and craftsmanship, even as his breads and business continue to evolve. He lauds the local flour movement and quests for exotic yeasts, but at the end of the day, he says, "it's the primacy of the bread, feeding someone, that really matters." Bite into his succulent, slightly salty Truccione Saré, a rustic sourdough with deep, appealing slash marks and a heavily charred, crackly crust, and savor that primal feeling.

    La Farm

    Cary, North Carolina

    You know what they say, you can take the baker out of France but you can't take the French out of the baker. That's certainly the case for Paris-native Lionel Vatinet. He left his French bread-baking guild to travel the world and eventually settled in a Raleigh, NC suburb, where he opened La Farm with his future wife, Missy. La Farm reflects the baking traditions Vatinet learned during his seven-year tenure with the prestigious guild, Les Compagnons du Devoir: The dough is made with a natural sourdough starter and unbleached flours before it is baked in a European-style hearth oven. "I wanted to introduce people in the neighborhood to crusty, hand-made bread," Vatinet said. But he does enjoy experimenting with internationally influenced breads, such as the addictive Asiago Parmesan Cheese Bread. "We're a French bakery with the creativity of the American spirit," Vatinet said.

    Standard Baking Company

    Portland, Maine

    There's often a long line at this 17-year-old bakery located inside a brick warehouse, but that may not be such a bad thing; the wait gives customers the time to inhale the scent of fresh-baked bread and behold the wicker baskets filled to the rim with gorgeous loaves. Husband-and-wife co-owners Matt James and Alison Pray modeled the Standard Baking Company after the neighborhood bakeries of France and Italy, and breads like the flour-dusted Rustic Loaf and Rosemary Focaccia are the edible incarnations of their influences.

    Tartine Bakery andamp; Cafe

    San Francisco, California

    Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson's Mission District phenomenon is its city's gold standard for impeccable organic bread. The stone hearth-baked loaves have spawned a café menu of artfully prepared sandwiches, but bread bought unadorned is still the best way to experience Robertson's way with flour, salt, water and wild yeast. His masterpiece is the Country Loaf, which he developed and perfected over the course of two decades. The process takes 24 hours and Tartine loyalists line up to buy this fundamental bread when it's served fresh from the oven after 5 pm Wednesday through Sunday. The Country Loaf is available with walnuts, olives or sesame seeds, but purists prefer it plain and simple.

    What's your favorite bakery? Let us know in the comments.

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  • 05/23/12--09:00: A Feast For All
  • Senegal-photo
    by John O'Connor
    The heat is gathering, driving everyone indoors. It's midafternoon in Dakar, Senegal, and the foot traffic in this narrow, two-story home in the working-class Gibraltar neighborhood is seriously congested. More people arrive every minute-relatives, neighbors, an imam-and collapse in the dark, cool refuge of the living room. In a small kitchen off the courtyard, a handsome, tall woman named Khady Mbow puts the final touches on the soupoukandia, a fiery, gumbolike stew of okra, palm oil, Scotch bonnet peppers, and shellfish served over rice. She and her 30-year-old niece, Sini, have spent the morning pounding vegetables in a mortar and pestle, scraping the mash into a steaming pot and stirring relentlessly. The Gueyes own a food processor, but Khady-the family's matriarch and chief culinary architect-believes the mortar and pestle better preserve flavor. Everything is done by hand.

    And so I wait, with the other male guests. In Senegal, the women cook while the men sit in thumb-twirling inertia. Finally, Khady and Sini ladle the soupoukandia into a pair of large metal bowls and trundle them inside. Twenty or so people, including four generations of Gueyes, gather around the bowls, spoons hovering. Then Khady gives the order to eat in French, the country's official language: "Mangez!" The spicy soupoukandia delivers a swift roundhouse kick, making our noses run and sweat bead up on our foreheads, but our spoons continue to shovel away, clinking off the bottom of the bowls. The dish-sweet and sharp and hot all at once-elicits a chorus of contented grunts and lip-smacking. It's difficult to fathom, here, now, that during my first stay in Senegal, it took me awhile to come around to the cooking.

    Half a lifetime of Midwestern meat-and-potato standards had not prepared me for the rich, prodigiously spiced cosmos of Senegalese cooking.
    Ten years ago, when I was in my late-20s, I lived briefly in Dakar, a city of a million people on an arrow-shaped peninsula pointing into the Atlantic. The contrast between this place of white sand and red-tile roofs and morning air perfumed by baking bread, and my own hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, couldn't have been starker. After a month of French classes, I moved on to Thiès, a city about 30 miles inland, where my girlfriend at the time worked for an NGO. Things began inauspiciously, as I faced the reality that roughly 50 percent of Senegalese still face: unemployment. This new idleness required a period of acclimatization, as did the food. Half a lifetime of Midwestern meat-and-potato standards had not prepared me for the rich, prodigiously spiced cosmos of Senegalese cooking.

    The country's cuisine reflects the influence of its west African neighbors and Morocco, to the north, as well as recent patterns of immigration-particularly, since the 1950s, from Vietnam. There are also the legacies of French and Portuguese colonialism, and a varied topography ranging from a seafood-laden coast to a semi-arid interior awash in millet and peanuts. Despite its recent election turmoil, Senegal has been an oasis of stability and democratic rule in west Africa since winning independence from the French in 1960. Still, hunger is endemic in rural areas, and the country continues to suffer from periodic food shortages. All these factors converge in the capital, Dakar. Here and throughout the country, meals tend to be single-dish affairs, with everyone grazing from one bowl or platter, using spoons or bare hands to scoop up meat and vegetables-always supplemented with rice or couscous. Sosa kaani, an incendiary sauce made from Scotch bonnet peppers, is on every table at every meal.

    Credit: Penny De Los Santos
    Although it's borderline sacrilegious to say so in Senegal, I never took to the national dish of thiéboudienne: rice, fish, and vegetables stewed in a chile-hot tomato base that gets its signature saline funk from two essential Senegalese flavorings, gejj (dried fermented fish) and yéet (dried fermented snails). The clamor of intense flavors and sensations-the concentrated sweetness of tomato paste, the searing heat of Scotch bonnet peppers, and that profoundly fishy bass note-was just too loud for me. I'll confess it wasn't the only one of Senegal's boldly flavored foods that my palate didn't prove equal to at the time. I did, however, come to love màfe, a delicious peanut stew made with chicken, fish, or lamb. And I developed what my girlfriend considered a troubling obsession with a tangy sauce of cooked-down onions and peppers called yassa, served with grilled chicken or fish. My favorite meals were eaten at friends' houses, prepared in sparse courtyards by women and girls using little by way of equipment besides a mortar and pestle, some dull knives, a propane tank, and a small charcoal grill. As I quickly learned, a guest in Senegal is treated like a king, given the best seat, the biggest cut of meat, and encouraged to eat until he or she is bursting.

    For my girlfriend and me, Senegal was an exercise in blind optimism that didn't pan out. After 11 months, I went home. She stayed. Back in the States, living in New York City, I occasionially felt pangs of regret. I wondered if I'd stayed long enough, made the most of my time there, seen enough, done enough. Thiéboudienne became for me a symbol of all that I'd failed to embrace in Senegal. As luck would have it, a Senegalese restaurant opened around the corner from my Brooklyn apartment, and the chef, Pierre Thiam, became a friend. When I confided in Pierre my sense of longing for a Senegal I never fully knew, he pointed out the obvious: What was keeping me from going back?

    As my plane lands in Senegal this time, I'm determined to hit the ground running. Pierre's advice: Get myself invited into homes, because that's where the best Senegalese cooking happens. Landing at the Gueyes' turns out to be a terrific stroke of luck. To counterbalance my deplorable French, worse Wolof (the main indigenous language), and appalling sense of direction, I've hired as my translator and guide Medoune Gueye, Khady's 33-year-old son, whose first act of business is to steer me into his mother's kitchen. I eat a lot of Khady's cooking during my week in Dakar, including her yassa jën, the piquant onion-and-pepper sauce, served with grilled grouper. I've had several variations across Senegal; Khady's irresistibly tart, sticky yassa makes liberal use of cayenne, lime, garlic, and mustard. Eating it after so much time away breeds a curious dissonance. Still, it's good to be back.

    After a few days in Dakar, I decide to return to my old town, Thiès, and Medoune accompanies me. I'm curious to see how it has changed. After Dakar, the place feels provincial, quaint. But there's another side to Thiès: an exuberant, frantically emergent city. Half a million people now live here, in tracts of beige cinderblock homes. Freshly minted buildings stand where I remember there being only sandy lots. My friend Samuel's grocery store has vanished, absorbed by a massive new house.

    In the midst of a busy day, the ritual of drinking tea is an excuse merely to sit and chat and enjoy a mellow moment of quiet
    As we make our way around the city, the heat index spikes, and Medoune suggests we pause for tea. Dethie Mbow, Medoune's garrulous cousin, shepherds us into the courtyard of his breezy, low-slung house and promptly dispatches a neighbor boy to fetch some snacks from a vendor around the corner. The boy returns with two classic Senegalese street foods: pastels, tiny empanadas stuffed with fish and onions; and accara, black-eyed-pea fritters. We plunge the pastels and the accara into kaani sauce, and pop them into our mouths.

    While we eat, Medoune commences the ataya, an elaborate, three-cup tea ritual that is ubiquitous in west Africa. Chinese gunpowder tea is brewed with sugar and mint and served in a tiny glass called a kas. The first serving is strong and bitter; the second a tad sweeter, with a little mint added; the third is a mint-infused sugar-bomb. Each serving has a heady top layer of foam, achieved by pouring the tea from one kas to another from a great height. Boys apprentice at the ataya for years before they master the proper foam-to-tea ratio. Medoune, who considers himself something of an ataya savant, clearly relishes the opportunity to showcase his talents. In the midst of a busy day, the ataya functions as a social and gustatory salve-an excuse merely to sit and chat and enjoy a mellow, if highly caffeinated, moment of quiet.

    Credit: Penny De Los Santos
    Caffeine notwithstanding, the tea has a narcotic effect on me. By round three, I'm laid out on a futon in a back bedroom, drifting off to sleep, the flavors of the pastels and accara lingering on my tongue.

    After a week of outright gluttony, I've taken all the culinary spoils Senegal has to offer, with one exception: my old nemesis, thiéboudienne. It's time for a reckoning, and also-despite the tacit ban on men in the kitchen-time to do some cooking myself.

    My last meal in Dakar takes place at the home of Didier and Marie Jeannette (nicknamed Jeanine) Diop. Didier is a childhood friend of my pal Pierre back in Brooklyn. Pierre has assured me that Jeanine's thiéboudienne will change my mind about the dish.

    The day before the meal, Jeanine and I go grocery shopping at a large covered market downtown called Marché Kermel. Its symmetry and order are impressive. The building is vaguely octagonal, with concentric rows of produce, meat, and fish stalls spiraling neatly inward from exterior archways. Still, navigating any Dakar market requires great tactical sense, and it's all I can do to keep up with Jeanine as she swoops from vendor to vendor, picking through vegetables and haggling over prices. Normally a sweet, soft-spoken woman, she transforms into a cold and ruthless negotiator.

    "I love to bargain," she says. After hearing a vendor's price for a bushel of okra, Jeanine bursts out laughing, waves him away, and descends on the next stall, where the vendor quickly bends to her will. "You can't let them hustle you," Jeanine tells me. By the time we drive back to the Diops', the trunk of their blue Chevrolet Optra is sagging with produce-onions, turnips, eggplants, Scotch bonnet peppers, squash, manioc, carrots, cabbage, tamarind, cauliflower, and I forget what else, but so much that we had to hire a porter to lug it to the car for us-plus a grouper the size of a small submarine, purchased at another market, on the beach.

    Credit: Penny De Los Santos
    Preparing the thiéboudienne takes all day. We start at 8 a.m. in the Diops' rear courtyard, with sunlight slashing through the palm trees and a pair of disheveled chickens scraping around. My first job is to make the rof, or stuffing, for the grouper. It requires mashing vegetables into a thick paste. This I can do. An onion, a head of garlic, a bunch of parsley, and a handful of dried chiles gradually yield to the pestle. I turn to the grouper, which has been cut into eight or nine steaks. I poke two holes in each, stuff them with the rof, and then coat them thoroughly with the vegetable paste.

    Under Jeanine's supervision, I sauté onions and green peppers in a large pot heated by a propane tank, then stir in some tomato paste. Once the sauce starts to come together, we add a few cups of water to thin it and let it simmer a while. I carefully arrange the grouper steaks in the pot, followed by some cabbage; dried bisaap (hibiscus) leaves and tamarind paste, both of which impart a wonderful tartness; and four or five Scotch bonnet peppers. As the pot continues to simmer, we add other ingredients: hunks of salted, fermented cod (gejj) and some dried snails (yéet), turnips, eggplants, squash, manioc, carrots, cauliflower, and okra.

    Once the vegetables have cooked through, I pluck them out and place them in a large bowl, followed by the fish. Rice is added to the pot, where the remaining sauce quickly stains it a deep red. Finally, the cooked rice is scraped into a waiting bowl and the blackened crust at the bottom of the pan-a much-loved delicacy called xóoñ-is plated to be served on the side.

    Preparing the thiéboudienne takes all day. We start at 8 A.M. in the courtyard, with the sunlight slashing through the palm trees

    It's nearly 3 p.m. by the time we finish. Didier returns from work just as Jeanine's parents, Joseph and Marie Thérèse Nesseim, arrive, and the five of us arrange ourselves on a mat in the basement next to an open window. A heaping platter of thiéboudienne appears, with the grouper sitting atop the rice, and the eggplant and manioc and cauliflower on the sides. With a breeze buffeting us, we dig in.

    Pierre is right. Jeanine's is the Cadillac Fleetwood of thiéboudiennes. The tamarind cuts through the pungency of the gejj, and the dried snails, used to enrich the base, lend a hint of umami flavor. It's a more nuanced version of the pungent thiéboudienne I had recalled. But it's also familiar, with a distinctive peppery finish. Didier reminds me that thiéboudienne originated in Saint-Louis, the former colonial capital in the country's north, near the border with Mauritania. Over time it became the national dish, so rabidly and universally was it loved by all Senegalese-and now, at long last, by me.

    Jeanine's mother reveals that the recipe has been passed down in her family for generations, that her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all made thiéboudienne like this. She taught Jeanine how to prepare it, and she believes her daughter has done well today. "I'm proud of you," she says, and Jeanine beams.

    Dusk is approaching. After a long, hot day, I'm stumbling with fatigue. But I linger for a while, chatting with the Diops on their patio. This is the kind of occasion that I remember best from my time in Senegal: unwinding with friends after a meal in a cool, shady place, the early-evening sky turning a livid orange as the muezzins sing out the call to prayer. I'd like it to last a little longer.

    See all our Senegalese recipes in the gallery »
    See a guide to where to stay and where to eat in Dakar »
    See a guide to the regional cuisines of Senegal »

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  • 05/27/12--09:00: Pod People
  • Pod People: A Guide To The Food Cart Pods of Portland, OR-photo One thing that makes Portland's food carts so special is the way they are grouped together in what's locally known as "pods," which range from a couple of vehicles with shared tables to dozens lining the perimeter of downtown parking lots. The downtown pods were the first to open years ago, and they do a brisk business at lunchtime; by 3:00 p.m., most are closed. It's when you get out into the "destination pods" that you really experience the sense of community and culinary innovation that cart culture can foster.

    Cartopia (SE Hawthorne Boulevard and 12th Avenue) is packed late-night, but its picnic tables are a pleasant spot to sit any time of day, with one of the superb pies from Pyro Pizza, crêpes from Perierra, or poutine from Potato Champion.

    Some of Portland's cheffiest meals on wheels can be found at Good Food Here (SE 43rd and Belmont Street), featuring carts like Lardo, The Sugar Cube, and EuroTrash.

    There's also great beer on tap at Good Food Here and at D-Street Noshery (3221 SE Division Street), where highlights include the thoughtfully prepared Guamese food at PDX 671 and the fruity desserts at The Pie Spot.

    You often find people getting food to go for dinner at A La Carts (SE 50th Avenue and Division Street), where the Iraqi cart Aladdin's Castle Café is parked; you can also eat vegan burgers from solar-powered Off the Griddle, and other fare in this pod's covered central area, where bands sometime play.

    Some pods, like Mississippi Marketplace (4233 N Mississippi Avenue), are connected to bars with outdoor seating, so you can pick up your sandwich at The Big Egg, and enjoy it with a drink.

    While there are pods, like the new Cartlandia (Springwater Corridor Bike Trail and 82nd Avenue), that are designed to be big, others are so small they don't have a name. The outstanding pasta cart, Artigiano, for example, is parked by itself near D-Street Noshery.

    To find a cart's current pod location, visit Food Carts Portland »
    See our feature on Portland's food trucks, Food of the People »

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  • 06/05/12--09:00: Food of the People
  • Food of the People: Portland's Food Cart Revolution-photo
    by Dana Bowen
    How nice it would be to live in Portland. That's the thought that kept running through my mind as I sat on a bench downtown one sunny lunch hour last fall, eating some of the juiciest, crunchiest, tangiest fried chicken I've had in years. Here is a city full of all the things I love: bookshops and bike routes; smart urban planning and open-mindedness; a vibrant restaurant scene blessed with access to the Pacific Northwest's amazing local produce, wine, and microbrewed beer. And hundreds upon hundreds of food carts.

    It was those carts that brought me here. I'd been hearing about Portland's food cart phenomenon for years, and assumed it was just another manifestation of the nationwide mobile dining trend-those fleets of roving trucks that tweet their locations for frantic pickups of Korean tacos or artisan cupcakes. But every time I talked to friends in Portland (a good many have moved there over the years), I got a different story: Something else is going on here, something much more resonant. Hundreds of food carts have set up in parking lots all around the city, I was told, and they have completely changed the way the people of Portland eat.

    Hundreds of food carts have set up in parking lots all around the city, and they have completely changed the way the people of Portland eat
    When I walked out of my hotel midmorning and stumbled across the first of many "pods," as clusters of carts are known here, in a sprawling former parking lot, I sensed they were right. This was the food court of my dreams, with dozens of vehicles-shiny concession trucks; hand-painted storage trailers retrofitted into kitchens; sheds on wheels-serving everything from schnitzel to pulled pork sandwiches to jambalaya (from a former chef of Galatoire's in New Orleans, no less). A Scottish cook was frying fish and chips in a renovated camper, explaining to a customer the difference between haddock and cod; a Polish woman browned homemade pierogis with caramelized onions on a well-worn kitchen stove. A line snaked down the block and around the corner for one particular cart with a hand-painted sign describing its signature offering: khao man gai, Thai-style chicken and rice.

    It was here that I planned to meet Andy Ricker, chef-owner of the city's celebrated Thai restaurant, Pok Pok, to get a handle on this scene. When he arrived, a soft-spoken 48-year-old with tattoos of Thai ingredients on his arm, he explained that the woman who had opened the cart, Narumol Poonsukwattana, used to work in his kitchen. Ever since food carts took off in Portland a few years back, he said, "It's been harder to find and keep restaurant cooks."

    The dish was unbelievably delicious, with flavors pungent and precise. A Thai take on Hainan chicken, the tender meat was poached in a broth scented with ginger and garlic, and served with rice cooked in that same liquid, flavorful and silky with the chicken's rendered fat. A sweet, sticky sauce of fermented soybeans and black soy sauce came on the side, providing the perfect sweet-tart punch. When the lunch rush died down, I asked Poonsukwattana, a slim, cheerful woman with a seemingly boundless reserve of energy, why she started out serving just one dish at her cart. She told me a story about working at Thai restaurants that served lots of inauthentic recipes skewed to what the bosses assumed were American tastes. "I wanted to serve just one Thai dish really well," she said. "And this is my comfort food." She's since started serving a few others, including phenomenal Sriracha-spiked chicken wings, but her initial impulse-to build her menu slowly, focusing on excellence each step of the way-has remained. It's something she would have found impossible were she to have opened a full-service restaurant.

    So, why Portland? The following morning, I drove north, crossing the river and passing through one leafy neighborhood after the next to meet a man who is more prepared to answer that question than most. Brett Burmeister, a Portland native who has made it his life's mission to promote the city's food cart culture. He runs the website; produced its popular iPhone app; and helped found the Oregon Street Food Association, a trade group that lobbies for vendors' rights. A friendly guy with shaggy bangs overlapping his glasses and impressive muttonchops that almost reach the tips of his smile, Burmeister has never owned a cart himself; he fell into this world after blogging about walking around Portland and realizing just how much good these carts have done for his city.

    Credit: Todd Coleman
    "Food brings people together," he said as we ate breakfast at Mississippi Marketplace, a pod in the northern part of town with a handful of carts encircling rows of picnic tables. Young families pushed their strollers over to The Big Egg, a bright yellow truck serving brunchy dishes like powdered-sugar-coated Monte Cristo sandwiches filled with Gorgonzola and ham; bleary-eyed hipsters dipped forks into big cups of rice and vegetables and mock meat from a cart called Native Bowl. As we talked, Burmeister drew a map of the city in my notebook, identifying other notable pods, most of which were in neighborhoods beyond downtown. Once you get outside of the downtown area, Portland looks and feels like a sprawling college town, residential streets lined with bungalows alternating with thoroughfares of commercial storefronts. These pods have provided a new way for Portlanders to engage with each other and the urban landscape.

    There are around 475 carts open at any given time. Unlike other cities where obtaining a cart and the necessary permits is cost-prohibitive or full of red tape and black-market pressure, here the city seems to encourage the proliferation of food carts. In John T. Edge's new Truck Food Cookbook (Workman, 2012) he writes "When street food advocates…speak of American cities that serve as honest incubators of a street food scene, Portland is the name on the tip of everyone's tongue." He cites a study commissioned by the city's bureau of planning that found that "food carts have a positive impact on street vitality and neighborhood life and advance public value, including community connectedness and distinctiveness, equity and access, and sustainability."

    There's an inherent understanding that it's not acceptable to do something someone else is already doing
    That's to say nothing of how the carts empower people who might otherwise be stymied by the costs of opening a brick-and-mortar business. "Portland has always had a DIY mentality," Burmeister explained. The food-cart model breeds ingenuity and diversity: There's an inherent understanding that it's not acceptable to do something someone else is already doing in the same pod. It's also sparked creative competition. "The bar keeps rising," he said, offering as an example his latest discovery: a vendor serving handmade pasta with ingredients from a nearby urban farm. "Fresh pasta and garlic scapes, from a cart!"

    In some cases, the carts' originality stems from the way they express something personal about the owners and where they come from. After we left Mississippi Marketplace, Burmeister drove me to a small pod with a cart called PDX 671: The name combines the Portland airport code with the area code for Guam. The young couple that runs the cart, Edward and Marie Sablan, are from the tiny island in the south Pacific. When we arrived, Edward was tending marinated chicken and short ribs on a smoking grill while his young son and daughter ran around the picnic tables. Inside their 16-by-8 feet cart, which looks not unlike a restaurant kitchen, Marie was serving up orders of annatto-tinged, smoky tasting red rice; titiya, the coconut milk-enriched flatbreads that are central to Guam's indigenous Chamorro cuisine; kelaguen mannok, a salad of chopped grilled chicken with lots of freshly grated coconut, lemon juice, onions, and hot peppers. "This is our fiesta food," Edward told me, a mix of Filipino, Japanese, and Spanish influences. "It's what my family cooks, and what our friends from Guam prepare when we get together." I had never come across any of these dishes before, anywhere in America.

    Same goes for the fragrant sumac-seasoned stuffed onions, lentil soup, and beet salad at Aladdin's Castle Café, where Ghaith Sahib and his mother, Nawal Jasim, prepare Iraqi home cooking in a cozy camper painted mustard yellow. "In his country, it's a point of shame for men to cook at home," Ghaith's wife and cart co-owner, Tiffany, told me, "But he's a great cook." The couple met in Amsterdam after Ghaith was injured by a car bomb during the war in Iraq. He was able to come to the States and, ultimately, to bring his mother over. Opening a food cart serving Iraqi and other Middle Eastern dishes was a way for them to create a business around something they enjoyed and knew how to do well. It took off: They now have a small restaurant in addition to the cart.

    Credit: Todd Coleman
    It's true all over the world-whether it's a noodle vendor at a hawker stall in Singapore or a cook in Brooklyn who totes her insulated cooler full of tamales from place to place-selling home-style food on the street is a natural, and empowering, way for people to provide for themselves and their families. When I talked to these vendors in Portland, and saw their sincere smiles when customers told them how much they enjoyed their food, I witnessed yet another important layer to all of this: These carts allow so many immigrants to stake their claim in Portland, to become a part of a very diverse community while honoring their cultural heritage.

    In other cases, the carts' originality is a result of creative cooks breaking away from the restraints of a restaurant kitchen. This was the case with many of the carts in the last pod Burmeister took me to, Good Food, a leafy space with a small beer garden. There were incredible aromas wafting from a cart called Lardo, where I ordered a juicy porchetta sandwich fragrant with herbs and garlic and slathered with a gremolata made with local hazelnuts. The accompanying fries were insanely flavorful and crisp, cooked in lard and tossed with fresh herbs, parmesan, and fleur de sel. "We're buying from the same producers restaurants are buying from," said co-owner Rick Gencarelli, a former restaurant chef who cooked with Todd English, among others, before moving to Portland.

    "I wanted to show that excellent food can come out of a cart, and I get to experiment more because the business is mine"
    For dessert, I walked a few steps over to a sixties-era camper painted like Neapolitan ice cream, in shades of pink, white, and chocolate brown. Called the Sugar Cube, it's where Kir Jensen, who spent years in restaurant pastry kitchens, turns out silky panna cotta striated with dark chocolate and espresso-flavored cream; homemade ice cream sandwiches in flavors like salty caramel; and other elegant, elaborate sweets. "I wanted to show that excellent food can come out of a cart," said Jensen, who just released her first cookbook, The Sugar Cube (Chronicle, 2012). "And I get to experiment more because the business is mine."

    The pod that everyone insisted I visit was Cartopia, the first to create a dedicated seating area as the focal point of a pod, and the first to bring a cocktail cart to the city of Portland. I visited one night with my friends Carrie and Janie, two former Brooklynites who have good reason to brag about their new home. "Can you believe this pizza?" Carrie said as we devoured a margherita pie under a twinkling canopy of fairy lights. I couldn't. It was wood-fired and hot from the hand-built brick oven at a cart called Pyro Pizza, and it cost all of seven bucks. I finished one and immediately ordered another. The ponytailed owner, John Eads, grinned when I complimented his pies and his prices. "Sure, I can raise my prices, but why?" he posited. "This is not food for the elite. It's made for the masses."

    I spent the better part of my last day in Portland continuing to drive and eat. Veggie Burgers. Fondue. Poutine. Fried sardines. Pie (sweet and savory). I really should have rented a bike. I could barely go a few blocks without spotting another pod-here a barbecue truck parked near a ramshackle beer bar with a sprawling garden out back; there a few more doing brisk business selling country-fried steaks and curries to customers at the strip club next door. (There appear to be as many strip clubs in Portland as there are food carts, but I guess that's another story.)

    Finally, I came upon the cart that Burmeister had been raving about, a candy-apple red one flanked with bistro-style tables where people were eating homemade ravioli and sipping wine. Inside, a young cook named Rachael Grossman was rolling out pasta dough as the late afternoon sun shone in through the cart's window.

    As she dropped a tangle of tagliatelle into boiling water and started sautéing heirloom tomatoes she got from an urban farm nearby with a glug of good oil and garlic. It occurred to me, as I watched this woman cook, that she was doing what she was meant to do, what all real cooks are meant to do: prepare meals thoughtfully and with the finest ingredients, for her neighbors and friends. She told me about the months she spent cooking in Italy, how it had changed her life, how she loved making pasta with all of her heart. "In this country, this kind of food is something that's trapped inside fine dining," she said. "It doesn't have to be."

    See a guide to Portland's food trucks »
    See all the recipes in the gallery »

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  • 06/08/12--09:00: Rijstaffel
  • Rijstaffel: Amsterdam's Indonesian Feast-photo
    by Jamie Feldmar
    For all its rich history, beautiful cities, and exquisite drinking culture, it's rare that people travel to the Netherlands specifically for the food. While it's true that Dutch cuisine has come a long way from potatoes and porridge, "Holland" and "feats of gastronomic derring-do" don't typically go hand-in-hand. Which is why the popularity of rijsttafel, a complex and intriguing Indonesian feast, in the country's capital city of Amsterdam came to me as such an unexpected pleasure.

    History buffs, of course, won't be surprised by the number of Indonesian restaurants (or "Indies," as the locals call them) tucked along Amsterdam's famed canals and cobblestone streets: for over 300 years, Indonesia was a Dutch colony, only gaining its independence in the relatively recent year of 1942. The lush Southeast Asian archipelago - in particular, the mountainous Maluku islands, better known as the Spice Islands - supplied most of the world with nutmeg, mace, clove and black pepper during the 17th and 18th centuries, thanks in large part to the Dutch East India Company. Over the course of 200 years, the Company sent over a million Europeans to work on Asian trade routes, at a time when the demand for spices was at an all-time high.

    It didn't take long for Dutch colonials to become smitten with Indonesia's palate-boggling array of foods
    It didn't take long for Dutch colonials to become smitten with Indonesia's palate-boggling array of foods: vegetables quick-pickled with vinegar and sugar (acar timun), caramelized beef in a heady coconut sauce (rendang), sticky-sweet fried bananas (pisang goring), or spicy curried collards (gulai sayur). But since Indonesian cuisine varies so wildly across the country's 17,000 islands, high-ranking Dutch officials developed their own greatest-hits version of an Indonesian feast, their servants delivering dozens of miniature portions of regional foods, from the coconut beef sate of eastern Java (served with a spicy peanut sauce) to the spice-stuffed duck of Bali, all laid out around mountainous platters of rice. The Dutch called this marathon meal rijsttafel, or "rice table."

    "It's not a random mish-mash-it's more of an orchestration of dishes," explains author and Dutch culinary historian Peter Rose. "Think of rijsttafel as a favorable way of combining flavors from different regions. The goal is to create an interesting combination of tastes and spices: hot, cold, sweet, salty, sour, bitter. There's a whole palate of flavors in one meal." And to an eighteenth-century northern European hailing from a damp, cold climate-with a cuisine to match-rijsttafel functioned as a most fantastic sensory overload.

    While the Dutch relationship with Indonesia stretches back hundreds of years, the rise of rijsttafel as a popular food back in Europe didn't come until after World War II, when Indonesian immigrants streamed to the Netherlands after Indonesia declared its independence from Dutch rule. Many immigrants opened restaurants, and despite the fact that rijsttafel isn't strictly authentic Indonesian cuisine (both populations tend to agree that it's Dutch-Indonesian, a hybrid drawing on the palates of both cultures), they knew there was a market for this fanciful meal in their new home. And so, for the second time, Dutch residents embraced the far-flung islands' lush and vibrant cuisine-this time in their home country.

    Today, rijsttafel abounds in Amsterdam's Indonesian restaurants. Reliable spots like Sama Sebo and Tempo Deoloe have been serving traditional rice tables for decades, while newcomers like Blue Pepper offer more contemporary versions, with individual portions instead of family-style feasts. It's a common meal out, popular with tourists and locals alike.

    In its 60-year tenure in The Netherlands, rijsttafel has grown to occupy a unique space: it's an almost comically broad sampler of Indonesia's vast cuisine, distilled to Dutch specifications, then championed by Indonesians in their adopted homeland and duly welcomed by the locals. "It has become so much a part of who the Dutch are, because of our heritage and history," says Rose. "It's deeply interesting food."

    Sama Sebo
    P.C. Hooftstraat 27
    1071 BL Amsterdam, Netherlands
    tel: 020 662 8146

    Tempo Deoloe
    Utrechtsestraat 75
    1017 VJ Amsterdam, Netherlands
    tel: 020 625 6718

    Blue Pepper
    Nassaukade 366
    1054 AB Amsterdam, Netherlands
    020 489 7039

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  • 06/12/12--09:00: Brain Food
  • Brain Food-photo
    by Hugh Merwin
    Robert Browning Sosman, a physical chemist who died in 1967 at the age of 86, packed many careers into one lifetime. He wrote the definitive book on the chemical compound silica; was the seventh person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail; and, at home in New Jersey, kept a 3,500-strong map collection. He also made a significant contribution to the New York dining scene: Between 1941 and 1962, while frequenting Manhattan for work, Sosman compiled notes for his self-published Gustavademecum for the Island of Manhattan: A Check-List of the Best-Recommended or Most Interesting Eating-Places, Arranged in Approximate Order of Increasing Latitude and Longitude. An unusual but visionary restaurant guide "for the convenience of mathematicians, experimental scientists, engineers, and explorers," it crammed a gastronomic brain trust into a 16-page, saddle-stitched leaflet filled with hand-drawn symbols.

    In each of the guide's at least 15 editions, Sosman reviewed 300 restaurants, relaying facts like cuisine and cost, as well as esoteric observations like tableside lighting (measured in lumens) and waiters' estimated IQs. All of it was written in a mashup of mathematical figures, glyphs, Greek, and astrological symbols. A sigma meant there was samba dancing. A lowercase "m" suggested that Madison Avenue types frequented the restaurant; Don Drapers of the day might be found slurping bouillabaisse at Le Provençal.

    The guide is now 50 years out of print-a single copy is tucked away in a geological texts cabinet at Yale-but in its time, it was a favorite of the slide rule crowd, who received copies when Sosman distributed them at conferences.

    "It fit nicely in the inside pocket of our suit coats," said George Fischer, whose boss at a firm that made type-reading machines for credit card receipts gave him a guide in 1958. The Gustavademecum (gustare is Latin for "to taste manual") transformed rote business meals into adventures. Deciphering Sosman's algebra, says Fischer, was "part of the fun."

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    Postcard: Dutch Pancakes in Amsterdam-photo The Dutch version of our flapjacks are pannekoeken. These enormous, paper-thin pancakes are made from a skillet-fried batter of flour (traditionally including buckwheat flour), milk, salt, and eggs, and served with toppings both sweet and savory. Pannekoeken are a ubiquitous Amsterdam treat. My Dutch friends favor the ones at De Carrousel for the wide range of garnishes, but also because there's something for everybody nearby. This indoor-outdoor restaurant - housed in an old carousel complete with vintage horses - is located across the street from the Heineken brewery, and right beside one of the city's best playgrounds, where the ample, sturdy tire swing is truly exemplary. - Betsy Andrews

    De Carrousel
    Weteringcircuit 1
    Amsterdam, Netherlands

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    by Niki Achitoff-Gray and Lauren Stefaniak
    From lamb with 86 ingredients at Alinea in Chicago to "X-treme Chinese cuisine" in Hong Kong, high-technology dining is a global phenomenon. Here are our favorite restaurants and bars to push the limits of culinary sci-fi: notable modernist establishments is a perfect starting point for any culinary traveller interested in the culinary cutting edge.

    View A Global Guide to Molecular and Modernist Restaurants and Bars in a larger map

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  • 06/19/12--09:00: Sweet Break
  • Sweet Break: Lucuma Ice Cream-photo
    by Nicholas Gill
    Every summer weekend in Lima, Peru, scores of residents evacuate the capital for a 100-kilometer drive south to the beaches where the city's upper crust keeps summer homes. The Pan-American Highway, which weaves its way through towering sand dunes lined with giant billboards advertising flat-screen TVs and Cusqueña beer, is choked with cars.

    Appearing out of nowhere like an oasis at kilometer 63.5, in the town of Chilca, is Helados OVNI. The brightly painted ice cream shop, named after the Spanish acronym for an unidentified flying object (sightings of which are frequently reported here), is plastered with UFO paraphernalia. A welcome break from the traffic-snarled journey, OVNI sells just one flavor of ice cream: lucuma.

    Pronounced "loo-koo-mah," the eponymous ingredient is sometimes called eggfruit for its dry, orange-yellow flesh, which is similar in texture and color to a hard-boiled egg yolk but tastes nothing like one. Found only in the lower altitudes of Peru and Chile, green-skinned, baseball-sized lucuma has long been a staple of the indigenous cuisine; it is depicted on the ceramics of Peru's ancient coastal civilizations. It has a thin shell that peels off when ripe and a buckeye-like brown seed.

    Rarely eaten plain, lucuma is usually blended into a pulp used in desserts, most popularly in ice cream. OVNI's version is sold by the cone or in a container with an illustration of a UFO and a lucuma. The flavor is somewhat like maple syrup poured on sweet potato. Scooped plain or with pecans and chocolate chips mixed in, as some OVNI customers prefer it, there's nothing else quite as evocative of a beach day in Peru.

    Helados OVNI
    Panamericana Sur, Km. 63.5
    Chilca, Peru

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    The World's First (and Finest) Ice Cream Cone-photo
    by Christine Chung
    In Norfolk, Virginia, on an unassuming stretch of Monticello Avenue, Doumar's Drive-In is serving up ice cream in hand-rolled waffle cones, just as founder Abe Doumar did a century ago. The local institution has been gracing the neighborhood since the early 1900s, and they're famous not just for the quality of their cones, but for their age: Abe is credited with introducing the first ever ice cream cone over a century ago, at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. They enjoyed immense popularity at the fair, with the concept subsequently taking the ice cream world by storm. In 1907, Abe set up shop near an amusement park in Norfolk; two decades later, it moved to its current location on Monticello, where it's been standing ever since - if you stop by today, you may see Albert, Abe's grandson, baking up the world-famous cones.

    The cones themselves are golden, crispy perfection, a perfect foil for Doumar's ultra-creamy ice cream, which comes in six precise flavors: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, butter pecan, and lime and orange sherbet. You can't go wrong with any of them, but with its golden, pecan-studded richness, the butter pecan is a particularly brilliant counterpoint to the cones' sweet flavor, and an imposing double scoop in a fresh waffle cone is a sweet endeavor that's worth the effort.

    Doumar's Drive-In
    1919 Monticello Ave.
    Norfolk, Virginia, 23517

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