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    Postcard: Local Flavors at Beausoleil-photo
    by Rien Fertel
    Two years ago, chef Nathan Gresham endeavored to bring his adopted home of Baton Rouge in line with the nation's budding farm-to-table movement. His "Southern-French-Creole" bistro sources from all corners of South Louisiana. When I visited, he prepared for us his favorite dish: pork cheeks and belly confit from pigs raised in Kentwood, located out east near the Mississippi border; Blanca Isabel purple rice originating from Rayne, in the opposite direction; and chow-chow made from green tomatoes grown right here in Baton Rouge. -Rien Fertel

    7731 Jefferson Highway
    Baton Rouge, LA 70809
    tel: 225/926-1172

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    by Jenny Miller
    I've just arrived in Tuscany when the driver taking me and my friend to our hotel in the countryside interrupts-"See those towers?" he asks, pointing. "That's San Gigmignano; they call it 'The Manhattan of the Middle Ages.'" I can just make out a dozen or so stone structures jutting in the distance, and they do resemble skyscrapers. Then he says something that really catches my attention: "San Gigmignano is also famous for saffron."

    That sticks in mind over the next few days. We attend a harvest festival in a camera-ready hilltop hamlet, rise at dawn to spot the famous cinghiale (wild boar), slurp wines in Chianti, but still I can't stop thinking about saffron. One night I start Googling and learn that San Gigmignano's towers and its saffron are not isolated characteristics. The skyscrapers-at one time there were 72-were built using wealth generated from the saffron trade, which peaked in the 13th century. San Gigmignano's saffron was regarded as some of the best in the world and was at one point even used in the town as currency. Saffron production died out in the area in the 14th century, and it has only revived in the past decade or so. I'm ecstatic: Now I have to see this stuff in person. So the next day my friend and I borrow someone's rental car and make the 30-minute drive toward the turrets in the distance.

    As one of the best preserved medieval towns in Italy, with a walled, pedestrian-only center, San Gigmignano is teeming with the tour bus set-they all must have come to score some saffron, I think. Not exactly. At La Pecora Nera, which specializes in pecorino rounds and finnochiona sausage, I venture, "Inglese?" and the friendly shopkeep says she knows a little. "I'm looking for lo zafferano," I announce, trotting out the Italian term I've just learned. She tells me she has some, in a one-gram jar that costs 35 euros. (Did I mention saffron happens to be the world's most expensive spice?) Perhaps reading the look on my face, she says I can find a smaller package up the street.

    Food shops are popular on this touristed stretch, and I stop at each to inquire, in English or my terrible podcast-gleaned Italian, whether they carry lo zafferano. Every place has the stuff sequestered somewhere behind the counter, yet nowhere is there a sign proclaiming "San Gimignano's Famous Saffron." I start to wonder why not.

    One store clerk provides part of the answer. Seeing me examine a package, with the red script and DOP (Denomination of Protected Origin) symbol I've seen consistently even if the name of the farm is different, he offers: "Production is very little."

    The crocus, whose dried stigmas become the reddish strands we know, only blooms once a year, in the fall.
    He explains: The crocus, whose dried stigmas become the reddish strands we know, only blooms once a year, in the fall. Each flower has three stigmas, and these must be harvested by hand. So, San Gigmignano may not be ready to tout its famous saffron until production increases further. At the fifth shop, I pungle up 5.50 euros for a few saffron strands, which I'm told will be "enough for four people." There are recipes on the package for risotto and budino, but what I really want now is to taste this famous saffron in a dish prepared by an Italian cook. Despite everyone's claim that "tutti li ristoranti" offer the specialty, I can't seem to find a single place that mentions it on the menu. By now it's late afternoon and many of the regular eateries have closed for a few hours while crowds gather at cafe-bars for an aperitif. Disappointed, I conclude that I won't taste Tuscan saffron today after all.

    As we give up and head to the car, I decide to ask the girl at Pecora Nera one more time, and it happens that she knows the perfect place. She writes down a restaurant name, L'Officina del cacio, explaining they make a homemade pasta in saffron sauce. By now we're running too late for dinner to stop, and I despair I won't have time to return later. But we make a wrong turn leaving the city, and there's the restaurant right in front of us.

    Imploring my friend to halt the car, I run inside and make a very American request: Can they do takeout? L'Officina del cacio hasn't even opened for the night, and they're a strictly eat-in establishment. But the owner must sense my urgency, because she agrees she can make it happen. Which is how I come to be eating the dish in the car 10 minutes later. The folded oversize packets of pasta look like envelopes for small formal greeting cards. They're stuffed with a soft cheese and swimming in a marigold-colored cream sauce perfumed with the spice's lightly curried, slightly bitter notes. It's delicious.

    Then when we hit a bump and the whole plate goes flying, hurling my precious pasta to the rental car floor, where it lands in a goopy mess. But it's okay. Like many before me, I've followed the spice route toward the towers to seek the famous saffron of San Gigmignano, and I found it. Plus there's still that stash in my purse.

    L'Officina del cacio
    Via Niccolo Cannicci, 4/F
    53037 San Gimignano, Italy

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    Pecan Pie Bread Pudding Emeril's-photo
    by Meryl Rosofsky
My love affair with bread pudding began in New Orleans. Though my Yankee-born mom makes a company-worthy peach-studded bread pudding, and I once spent a summer at a Manhattan gourmet shop dishing out a mean Mexican chocolate version, it wasn't until I had my first bite of the comforting dessert down in the Crescent City that my devotion blossomed. It was 2006, and the legendary Commander's Palace was just springing back to life after a painstaking post-Katrina renovation. Their bread pudding soufflé, whiskey-tinged and ethereal, was cause to rejoice. I've since made many a pilgrimage back to New Orleans, and each time I go I can't wait to try a new bread pudding (or three). Variations abound, simple and fancy, traditional and newfangled. While it's hard to gauge how many menus offer it up, it's safe to say you'd have an easier time counting Mardi Gras beads on Bourbon Street.

    Why is bread pudding so beloved, even defining, in New Orleans? It's not that the dish was invented here-- that honor likely goes to clever medieval or even ancient cooks in Europe and the Middle East who had a surfeit of stale bread on their hands. But the dessert is the perfect embodiment of the twin Creole virtues of frugality and indulgence: day-old bread, too precious to waste, is bathed in a mixture of milk, eggs, and sugar, perhaps mixed with nuts and fruit, and baked into something sublime.

    There's also something special about the local loaves, baked for po'boys but ideally suited for bread pudding. "No other place uses New Orleans French bread to make bread pudding," notes Liz Williams, author of New Orleans: A Food Biography (AltaMira Press, December 2012). "That airy bread creates a bread pudding of special light texture." And in New Orleans' vibrant food scene, there's the creativity of countless chefs who are elevating this cherished classic to new heights. In the city that launched a thousand bread puddings, here are seven that stand out:

    1. Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé with Warm Whiskey Cream at Commander's Palace

    Old riverboat cooks once dubbed bread pudding "heavy devils," but "airy angels" seems a more fitting moniker for the heavenly version served at Commander's Palace. Invented here by Chef Paul Prudhomme in 1980 to mark the restaurant's 100th anniversary, light Leidenheimer bread soaks up just the right amount of custard, and the bread pudding base is leavened with clouds of meringue-the dish was an instant hit. "Now we have to have one employee who makes nothing else!" declares Ti Adelaide Martin, co-owner of this renowned institution. I always love the moment when the golden-domed dish arrives and the waiter pours whiskey cream sauce into the center of the steaming soufflé, daring you to say "stop." You don't, of course.

    Commander's Palace
    1403 Washington Avenue (Garden District)
    tel: 504/899-8221

    2. Bananas Foster Bread Pudding at Café Reconcile

    Decadence meets virtue in Café Reconcile's locally famous bread pudding, a custardy slice of heaven that stands among my all-time favorites. This small non-profit restaurant, which fed first responders in the uncertain weeks following Katrina, wins praise for both its satisfying soul food and its mission of building culinary and life skills in at-risk teens.

    Café Reconcile's toothsome bread pudding is moister than most, and redolent of the bananas and rum of its namesake New Orleans dessert, Bananas Foster. Some say the secret is the Leidenheimer bread they use-all of it donated by the bakery-but founder Craig Cuccia credits something more: "It's the love of the people who bake the bread, the people who make the bread pudding, the people who come from all over to support our mission." All I know is next time I'm in New Orleans, I'm heading home with a full sheet pan of the stuff. Yes, it's that good.

    Café Reconcile
    1631 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (Central City)
    tel: 504/568-1157
    [Please note: Café Reconcile is slated to reopen January 4, 2013 following renovation and expansion; catering services available now]

    3. Classic Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce at the Bon Ton Café

    Ask any New Orleanian for a "best bread pudding" pick and chances are they'll point you to the raisin-speckled version at Bon Ton Café, the oldest Cajun restaurant in New Orleans. Bon Ton first put bread pudding on their menu in the 1950s-well before most other fine dining establishments saw fit to serve this humble southern classic-and they've been sating sweet tooths with the same family recipe ever since. Tender French bread from Alois J. Binder Bakery, another local institution, makes for a dense yet soft consistency, and a crowning drizzle of whiskey sauce adds a grown-up kick to this most traditional of New Orleans bread puddings.

    The Bon Ton Café
    401 Magazine Street (Central Business District)
    tel: 504/524-3386

    4. Pecan Pie Bread Pudding with Bourbon Anglaise andamp; Pie Crust Crumble at Emeril's Restaurant

    Pastry chef Amy Lemon knows she can't compete with your grandma's bread pudding, so she doesn't even try; instead she puts her unique spin on tradition at this French Quarter outpost of Emeril's empire. Seasons provide the inspiration-blueberry bread pudding with popcorn ice cream might show up in summer, or gingerbread bread pudding with cranberry chutney around Thanksgiving-but I could eat her late fall Pecan Pie Bread Pudding year-round. Cinnamon, vanilla bean, and a hint of orange zest scent the bread pudding base, topped with a layer of bourbon-laced pecan pie filling. Add a scoop of sweet potato ice cream, a sprinkling of toasted pecans and savory pie crust crumbles, and a swirl each of bourbon anglaise and dark caramel sauce, and you'll forget grandma ever made bread pudding at all.

    Emeril's Restaurant
    534 St. Louis Street (French Quarter)
    tel: 504/522-6652

    5. King Cake Bread Pudding with Creole Cream Cheese Ice Cream at Patois

    New Orleans French bread might be the star of most of the city's bread puddings, but at Patois, buttery house-baked brioche rules. And when Mardi Gras rolls around, brioche joins forces with yeasty King Cake for a memorable seasonal variation served with a festive dusting of purple and green luster dust and gold nonpareils. A garland of white chocolate Mardi Beads rounds out the theme, while Creole cream cheese ice cream and a pool of Ponchatoula strawberry compote complete the party.

    6078 Laurel Street (Uptown)
    tel: 504/895.9441

    6. Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding at Boucherie

    Chef Nathanial Zimet admits this over-the-top creation is a little, well, disgusting, but when he tried to retire it from the menu at Boucherie, fans rebelled. And maybe this zany marriage of New Orleans bread pudding and Krispy Kreme doughnuts was fated: When Krispy Kreme founder Vernon Rudolf set up shop in North Carolina back in 1937, his secret to success was a yeast-raised doughnut recipe he'd purchased from a New Orleans French chef. Now North Carolina-born Chef Zimet riffs on that tradition in beignet-mad New Orleans, mixing Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts and pound cake with eggs and cream for a baguette-less bread pudding. Doesn't sound rich enough for you? The dessert's drizzled with a spiced rum-and-brown-sugar caramel sauce just before serving.

    8115 Jeannette Street (Carrollton)
    tel: 504/862-5514

    7. Panéed White Chocolate andamp; Almond Bread Pudding at Mat andamp; Naddie's

    Old-school meets new at Mat andamp; Naddie's, a neighborhood spot steps from the Mississippi River. A dozen years ago chef/owner Stephen Schwarz and then-chef Clint Whittemore invented Panéed White Chocolate andamp; Almond Bread Pudding, wedding tradition and novelty. Local cooks had long served chicken or veal that was breaded and fried-"panéed," in Louisiana parlance-but Mat andamp; Naddie's panéed bread pudding was a first, and likely remains one-of-a-kind. Discs of white chocolate bread pudding, chock-full of toasted almonds and perfumed with vanilla and nutmeg, are dipped in flour, egg wash, and panko, then pan-fried until crisp and golden. The bread pudding is dressed with butter-rich rum sauce, bruléed bananas, and chunks of white chocolate, and finished with a scattering of toasted almonds for crunch. It's a dish worth heading to the levee for.

    Mat and Naddie's
    937 Leonidas Street (Carrollton)
    tel: 504/861-9600

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  • 11/20/12--01:00: Singapore: W Sentosa Cove
  • Singapore: W Sentosa Cove-photo
    by Jamie Feldmar

    View Room Service in a larger map


    21 Ocean Way 098374 Sentosa, Singapore 65/6808-7288

    Don't Miss

    Grazing on diverse Singaporean flavors at Kitchen Table

    Sipping cocktails by the palm tree-lined outdoor pool

    A day-tour of Little India


    • 24-hour gym
    • Away Spa
    • Outdoor Pool
    • W Lounge
    • Multilingual staff
    • Complimentary wireless high speed internet access
    • "Whatever, Whenever" services
    Some cities boast Old World charm, romance and antiquity as their major draws. Singapore is not one of them. Sure, the city-state has history to spare, but it's a destination firmly rooted in the present. To truly enjoy Singapore, it helps to embrace all that is slick, modern, and new, and it doesn't hurt to have a hankering for some glitz on the side. That's where the W Singapore Sentosa Cove steps in.


    The W brand has built its reputation around a sleek, urbane sort of luxury, with modern design and pulsing energy throughout all its properties. In Singapore in particular, this works exceptionally well-the hotel's verve mirrors that of the city itself. But at the W Sentosa Cove, there's an even niftier trick at play here: Surrounded by lush tropical greenery, sandy beaches and yacht-filled marinas, the secluded resort island of Sentosa-just a quarter-mile off the main island-is a luxurious world apart from the rest of the city.

    The hotel itself is stunning: a glittering glass complex tucked at the end of a winding residential road that ends at the waterfront. Inside, it's all crisp white hues with neon and metallic accents, with a steady stream of up-tempo music pulsing from a live DJ stationed in the lobby lounge. There's a sprawling, palm-lined pool outside, surrounded by glowing sculptures and daybeds, filled with sun-worshippers nursing icy Singapore Slings.

    Fortunately for travelers who arrive feeling more jet-lagged than jet-set, the 240 rooms are more subdued; the sleek neon-and-glass motif remains, but the rooms are mercifully soundproof, with peaceful waterfront views. Adjustable mood lighting and a fully-kitted out sound system come in handy when it's time to get moving, as do the cans of Red Bull the housekeeping staff leaves in lieu of cookies.


    It's for the best that they skip the in-room sweets, as you'll want to save your appetite for the hotel's restaurants instead. The marquee offering is SKIRT, an Argentinian-style steakhouse with an open-flame parilla grill and locker full of aged meat on display; but I preferred Kitchen Table, an all-day smorgasbord of dishes that reflect Singapore's highly unique cuisine, a delicious clash of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western flavors. Graze the family-style offerings (a bite of scallop-and-foie gras dim sum here, a forkful of tandoori lamb there) or order one of Singapore's traditional specialties from the a la carte menu: chili crab, a gloriously messy tangle of crustaceans steamed in a sweet tomato-chili sauce; or delicate spring rolls called popiah, a local street food classic, here gilded with succulent hunks of crab meat.

    Chef Matthew Woolford credits his diverse kitchen staff for the gastronomic whirlwind that makes up his menu: "We have chefs from mainland China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Australia and Singapore," he rattles off. "I encourage them all to bring their cultural identity to the kitchen-they're not reading off of recipe cards; they're cooking the way their family has been for years," he says. The myriad of influences blends together seamlessly, combining to create a cuisine that's dynamic and intriguing, much like Singapore itself. -Jamie Feldmar

    In the Area

    • Killiney Kopitiam: A traditional kopitiam (coffeeshop) billing itself as the oldest Hainanese cafe in Singapore, now with several locations across the city. Get the classic Singaporean breakfast-a cup of kopi, unctuous black coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk, and kaya, a coconut-egg jam slathered on toast and served alongside soft-boiled eggs-for under $4 at the no-frills original location. 67 Killiney Road; +65 6734 9648;

    • Maxwell Road Hawker Centre: Singapore is legendary for its hawker centers, open-air food markets with dozens of vendors crammed cheek-by-jowl into stalls with individual kitchens. Maxwell Road is one of the oldest and best examples, with over 100 vendors slinging local specialties like ginger-laced Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice and smoky char kway teow, thick rice noodles stir-fried in pork lard. 1 Kadayanallur Street

    • Little India: While Singapore overall is almost freakishly clean and orderly, Little India is one the few areas the city lets its hair down. A riotous combination of colorful markets, street vendors, sari shops, spice sellers, Bollywood record peddlers and more combine in one of the loudest, messiest and most delicious neighborhoods to wander through.

    • Tiong Bahru: Escape the crowds in the megamall-filled main shopping district and stroll through this hip young neighborhood, filled with vintage-stocked boutiques, Western-style coffeeshops and twee independent bookstores. There's another great hawker center here, too, and an abundance of pick-your-own-live-seafood restaurants.

    • Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel: You certainly won't be the only tourist sidling up to the iconic Long Bar at Raffles, the birthplace of the Singapore Sling in the early 1900s, but c'est la vie: make like Rudyard Kipling and down the tropical concoction (a sweet-and-sour mix with gin, pineapple juice and Benedictine) while planning your next adventure. 1 Beach Road; +65 6337 1886;

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    what to eat in madison, wisconsin-photo
    by Katie Rolnick
    Madisonians often lay claim to the contested honor of having the most restaurants per capita. Whether apocryphal or not, the sentiment reflects the central role food plays in this Midwestern capital city. As a Madison native, a visit home for me always evokes a sort of a happy anxiety-so much to eat, so little time. With a renowned university drawing students and faculty from more than 130 countries, the city's restaurants benefit from this cultural hodgepodge. Top-notch Afghani, Nepalese, and Ethiopian cuisine is easy to find. And then there's what I fondly call the Wisconsin trifecta: beer, sausage, and cheese, perfect food for those cold winter days when you cannot walk outside without a balaclava. Here's a sampling of the best, uniquely-Madisonian things I look forward to eating and drinking every time I return to the city I grew up in:

    Limburger cheese from Chalet Cheese Cooperative:

    Limburger is the durian fruit of cheeses. So I was prepared for the walloping aroma at Chalet Cheese Cooperative in Monroe, WI, about an hour south of Madison. Mustachioed master cheesemaker Myron Olson helms Chalet, the only domestic producer of this classic Belgian style. (Wisconsin is the lone state that requires a cheesemaking license, and certified makers with a decade of experience who complete rigorous requirements can earn master status.) Myron washes his Limburger in the same cultures used when the co-op was founded in 1885, propagating the bacteria after each batch. The resulting Limburger has a creamy texture and buttery, full flavor-hardly the cheese's infamous reputation. While Chalet's Limburger can be found elsewhere, it's best straight from the tiny, factory-front cooler.

    Chalet Cheese Cooperative
    N4858 Hwy N
    Monroe, WI 53566
    Tel: 608/325-4343

    Moon Man from New Glarus Brewing Company:

    Take in southern Wisconsin's serene rolling hills on the short drive to New Glarus, WI, about 30 miles southwest of Madison, where husband and wife team Daniel and Deb Carey craft their eponymous beer. Founded in 1993 in an abandoned warehouse, the Careys opened a second facility just up the road in 2007. Deb designed the expansive brewery with tours in mind; I could spend all day watching the packaging process, where lines of bottles flip, bob, spiral, and spin like dancers in a Busby Berkeley musical. Then I come to my senses and head to the tasting room. Dan has racked up copious accolades, including being named the Great American Beer Festival's Brewer of the Year-twice. Which makes it hard to pick a favorite. I last visit on a drizzly, grey day, and Moon Man, a bright, balanced hoppy ale, was the perfect antidote. Sound good? Head to Wisconsin, because that's the only place you can find New Glarus' brews. Seriously. They don't distribute outside the state.

    New Glarus Brewing Company
    2400 State Hwy 69
    New Glarus, WI 53574
    Tel: 608/527-5850

    Mocha macchiato ice cream from Babcock Hall Dairy Store:

    Although Madisonians could probably store gallons of ice cream in their backyards for nine months out of the year, that doesn't keep them away from the Babcock Hall Dairy Store. Students and faculty from UW's Food Science department and scientists with the Center for Dairy Research call Babcock Hall home. The rest of us just enjoy the fruits of their labor. The store offers seasonal specialty flavors, but some staples are (almost) always on the menu. If you've been in Madison for a few days and feel yourself reaching rich-and-creamy capacity, opt for the mocha macchiato. Roasty coffee ice cream and chunks of dark chocolate offset gooey ribbons of caramel. And be forewarned: Babcock gives you Madison's version of a single scoop, which would be called a pile anywhere else.

    Babcock Hall Dairy Store
    1605 Linden Drive
    Madison, WI 53703
    Tel: 608/262-3045

    White chicken chili from Hubbard Ave Diner:

    Servers at this bustling, modern diner wear shirts with cheeky pictograms, like "I ♥ ∏" or "✌ of ∏." (Full disclosure: my sister dons one of those shirts.) Yep, the place is known for its pie-everything from apple to coconut cream to Kentucky derby. On weekends, hungry locals ogle the bakery cases while waiting for a table. But Hubbard also has a huge menu of fresh takes on classic diner fare. The white chicken chili is a surefire choice: juicy pieces of meat, garbanzo and white beans swim in a tangy, tomato-based sauce that's so thick I usually alternate between a fork and a spoon. Don't worry if you're too full for dessert: they do pies to go.

    Hubbard Avenue Diner and Bakery
    7445 Hubbard Avenue
    Middleton, WI 53562
    Tel: 608/831-6800

    Shallot Confit with Red Wine from Quince and Apple:

    The brainchild of another couple, Clare and Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld, Quince and Apple makes artisan preserves and cocktail syrups. Their approach is in step with the current fervor for simplicity. Ingredient lists read like short-form culinary verse. People fawn over their subtle Figs and Black Tea preserve-black tea, dried figs, sugar, lemon juice, pectin-and rightly so. But I couldn't get enough of the Shallot Confit with Red Wine. Sweet and savory work in harmony in this chunky spread. I like it piled on hunks of bleu cheese (obviously) and crispy bread, but you could also use it to class up a roasted turkey sandwich.

    Quince and Apple
    Available online and at various Madison-area stores
    Tel: 608/301-5433

    Aged Brick from Widmer's Cheese Cellars:

    Joe Widmer is a third-generation cheesemaker who works out of the same teensy weensy plant his Swiss grandparents bought when they landed in Theresa, WI, in 1922. Widmer's makes a standout brick cheese, named for the traditional curd-pressing method. Widmer, a genial man with an endearing Wisconsin accent, squeezes the moisture from his curds with the same bricks his grandfather purchased 80 years ago. After the blocks bathe in brine, they spend a week curing. Then the cheese ages in a foil wrap. The result is a bold flavor that won't be overshadowed by pumpernickel bread, raw onion, and spicy mustard, the state's traditional brick trimmings. Widmer's also blends its aged brick with cheddar to make an addictive spread deservingly dubbed "cheese crack" by those in the know.

    Widmer's Cheese Cellars
    214 W. Henni St.
    Theresa, WI 53091
    Tel: 920/488-2503

    Uplands Cheese:

    You may be familiar with Uplands Cheese, which has sifted and winnowed the cheesemaking process down to its mind-alteringly delicious essence. For more than a decade, Uplands has been committed to making Alpine-style cheeses using only raw milk from its pasture-fed cows. During the summer months, when the cows eat fresh grass, cheesemaker Andy Hatch curds, cultures, and cajoles their milk into Pleasant Creek Reserve, an aged, washed-rind variety (thrice named best in show by the American Cheese Society) with seemingly ceaseless layers of flavor. When hay replaces grass in the fall, Hatch uses the cows' milk to make Rush Creek Reserve, a decadent, super-soft cheese. That's it, just two styles done incredibly well.

    Uplands Cheese
    5023 State Rd. 23 North
    Dodgeville, WI 53533
    Available online and at specialty cheese stores throughout the country
    Tel: 888/935-5558

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    Postcard: Helping out with Sandy Relief at Gerritsen Beach-photo
    by Betsy Andrews
    Gerritsen Beach, in Brooklyn, was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy: a month after the storm, hundreds of the community's 2,100 households are still without power or uninhabitable. Many more lack heat and hot water. So we figured they would appreciate a good, hot, fresh meal. Yesterday, using ingredients from our friends at Whole Foods Market, Kellie Evans, Judy Haubert, and the rest of the Saveur kitchen staff cooked up lots of delicious, hearty food, and we delivered it to the disaster relief center set up by the Gerritsen Volunteer Fire Department: 40 pounds each of jerk chicken and stewed beans, 30 pounds of rice and pea pilaf, 15 pounds each of mixed vegetables and Greek pasta salad, 10 pounds of warm turkey salad, plus crisp green salad, dinner rolls, 10 pounds of berry and peach cobbler, assorted cookies, and bags and bags of fresh apples from our pals at Melissa's. As the disaster center began to fill up with storm-affected folks seeking dinner, there were hugs all around between Saveur staff and the community volunteers there. We hope everyone is able to cook dinner again in their own home kitchens soon!-Betsy Andrews

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  • 11/27/12--23:30: Travel Guide: Santa Fe
  • La Fonda Santa Fe-photo
    by Eesha Sardesai


    Restaurant Martin
    526 Galisteo Street, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (505/820-0919;
    The menu at Restaurant Martín is ingredient-driven New American, but enlivened by the imagination of Chef Martín Rios. He wraps yam and ricotta in a puff of dough and calls it strudel; dresses duck breast with piñon purée and a cinnamon jus; whips sorbet from green apple and basil, and somehow makes it work with a buttery apple-walnut cake. He even switches elbows out for orzo in his version of mac n' cheese, so the noodles better soak up the truffle cream they're swaddled in.

    Rancho de Chimayó
    300 County Road 98, Chimayó, NM 87501 (505/351-4444;
    A visit to the chile-farming village of Chimayó, thirty minutes north of Santa Fe, should probably always end with a meal at Rancho de Chimayó. The food is simple, filling, and thoroughly New Mexican: among other things, there's carne adovada (pork swathed in a thick red chile gravy), pozole (white corn stew), and chiles rellenos with Jack cheese and green chile salsa. And don't forget sopapilla, the puffy fried bread that comes with every entrée-it's best hot, dipped in a bit of honey.

    Luminaria at the Loretto
    211 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (800/727-5531;
    Even if you don't book a room in the Inn at the Loretto, Luminaria, its dining room, is worth a try. The sage brush cocktail, a muddle of herb, simple syrup, prairie vodka, and lime, is a great place to start. Move on to a plate of garlic shrimp and Spanish chorizo accompanied by paprika gravy that you can sop up with toast. The polenta fries are good, too-soft and breaded, spooned with tomato compote and a grassy goat's cheese.


    Classes at the Santa Fe School of Cooking
    125 North Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (505/983-4511; Class prices vary.
    Learn firsthand about Southwestern cooking with one of the Santa Fe School of Cooking's ten-plus classes and culinary "boot camps." You can try anything from chile workshops (one for green, another for red) to salsa-, tamale-, and hot sauce-making lessons. Each class leaves room for experimentation, as in the tamale class, where you might spend one day stuffing the corn husks with chile and pork, and another with duck confit and cherry-barbecue sauce.

    "New World Cuisine: The Histories of Chocolate, Mate, y Más" at the Museum of International Folk Art
    706 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (505/476-1200;
    Santa Fe's Museum of International Folk Art opens its newest exhibit on December 9, 2012. Curated by Nicolasa Chávez, the exhibit focused on the mestizaje, or mixing, of Old and New World cuisines in New Mexico. Viewers walk through different rooms, each of which displays antique cooking equipment from both sides of the ocean (molinillos, for example, which were used to froth hot chocolate, and which vary in material by geographic region). On your way out, try the special menu developed for the exhibit at the nearby Museum Hill Café.

    Santa Fe Railyard Farmers Market and Artisan Market
    1607 Paseo de Peralta #1, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (505/983-4098; Tuesdays and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Artisans Market on Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
    It feels like all of Santa Fe comes out to the Railyard Farmers Market, especially on weekend mornings, when artisan vendors are there selling hand-painted gourds, jewelry, and raku pottery. The crowd is fun: people chat, laugh, and gather around street musicians and break-dancing kids. Bring a big bag for food purchases-you'll want to pick up plenty of New Mexican gouda, local pistachios, and bags of still-smoking, roasted chiles.

    Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
    217 Johnson Street, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (505/946-1000; General admission: $12. Open daily; hours vary.
    Georgia O'Keeffe, who pioneered American modernist art with her paintings of over-large flowers and bright-colored abstractions, spent many summers, and the last years of her life, in Santa Fe. She found inspiration in the landscape and culture; this museum, now in its fifteenth year, is an homage to her life and oeuvre.


    La Fonda on the Plaza
    100 East San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (505/982-5511;
    There's been a hotel this corner some two hundred years, locals say; some even place it further back, to three or four hundred years. La Fonda, the current iteration, has been around since the early 1900's, and in the years and renovations since, has preserved its history-in the folk art on the walls, the adobe fireplaces, the hand-painted windows around the old-fashioned dining room. There are modern comforts, too: a spa, a rooftop bar, and a string of Santa Fe's best boutiques right outside the door.

    La Posada de Santa Fe
    330 East Palace Avenue, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (855/274-LAPO (5276);
    Once a sanctuary for the likes of Will Shuster and Georgia O'Keeffe, La Posada keeps its creative tradition strong, employing an on-site curator who oversees over 600 pieces of art. Many of these pieces are on display in and around the main house, a converted nineteenth-century mansion that also houses Fuego, La Posada's global Latin restaurant, and Staab House, the jazzy hotel bar. Guests stay in adobe casitas fringing the mansion, where they have easy access to La Posada's spa, bar, and poolside café.

    Bishop's Lodge
    1501 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (855/825-9876;
    A few minutes' drive out of downtown Santa Fe brings you the best view in the city: the mountain-forest landscape around Bishop's Lodge, bright in the sun and fragrant with piñon trees. Guests at the Lodge can take full advantage of their surroundings with complimentary use of equipment for mountain biking, horseback riding, bird watching, hiking, even lawn games. Best of all are the sunset cookouts, held at the top of the mesa with a several grills, a big fire pit, and fare that ranges from rattlesnake-rabbit sausage to chocolate bread pudding.

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  • 11/29/12--08:00: Bavarian Dream
  • Christkindlemarkt in Nuremberg, Germany-photo
    by Todd Coleman
    I wake up at three o'clock on Christmas morning in my hotel in Nuremberg, a plate of half-eaten Christmas cookies beside me on the bed. The TV is still on. It's a news program. On-screen, hundreds of men are donning Santa suits, wiggling white beards into place as they file into an auditorium and take their seats in front of pointer-wielding instructors. From what I can gather with my limited German, thousands of Berliners are training en masse to be Saint Nick so they can be sent out to delight the city's children. Eventually I turn off the TV and fall back asleep. When I wake up again a few hours later, ready to celebrate my first Christmas in Germany in 26 years, I can't help but wonder if those Santas were just a dream.

    Christmastime in Germany can have that effect on a person. It is a more mysterious holiday here than in America-more expressionistic. Think Fritz Lang, not Miracle on 34th Street. It exists in a world of shadows: parties in arched-ceiling wine cellars; snow-covered castle ruins bathed in moonlight; and candlelit meals of gravy-drenched roasts, crispy potato pancakes slathered with applesauce, and cream-covered baked apples, all of it awash in the glow of smiling faces and twinkling eyes reflected in wineglasses and beer steins.

    Night after night, the markets fill with the clamor of excited voices. Cheeks are rosier. Eyes are wider. At Christmastime, Germany is suffused with a sense of togetherness.
    Nearly every city in Germany erects a Christmas market in its main square in early December. Part medieval village, part bohemian shantytown, the mazes of stalls proffer food and holiday bric-a-brac and become the nerve center for a month long frenzy of festivalgoing. Night after night, the markets fill with the clamor of excited, cheerful voices; the scent of mulled wine; the aroma of nutmeg-spiked sausages frying under piles of sweet onions; and warm, comfy body heat. Cheeks are rosier. Eyes are wider. At Christmastime, Germany is a country suffused with a sense of togetherness.

    I lived in Germany for seven years as a child-in four different apartments. I was the son of a career Air Force officer, from nowhere, wanting to be from somewhere. Anywhere. Hardly any of my relatives visited us, either because of a fear of flying or-I don't know why, frankly. I used to pepper my parents with questions about their own hometowns, their siblings, their friends, the schools they went to, hoping to manufacture some kind of family history.

    Christmas helped fill the void. I escaped into the holiday as some would into book. A Dungeons andamp; Dragons geek, I reveled in the season's rituals and symbols, which seemed more ancient and mystical than those I remembered from America. Each year, I tacked an Advent calendar to my bedroom door, and the first thing I did every morning, religiously, from the first to the twenty-fourth of December, was open one of its compartments, take out a piece of chocolate molded into the shape of a goose or a candle, and pop it into my mouth like it was a communion wafer.

    photo by Todd Coleman
    Each December 5, my younger brother, Casey, and I, would follow the local kids' traditon and set our snow boots outside the front door to await Saint Nicholas. The next morning they would be full of candy, lumps of coal, and wooden switches-seasonal tidings mixed with a Germanic hint of rebuke-a reminder that we'd been both good and bad. There were a few family traditions my parents had brought over from the States, like making a Christmas Eve pizza with green and red bell peppers, but it was the rituals of the German holiday, with its curious mix of joy and Sturm und Drang, that made the most lasting impression on me.

    In the quarter century since I left Germany, I've started my own family, with its own Yuletide traditions, but I've never been able to find that old magic and mystery again. There was always something missing from the holiday, which made it feel like there was something missing inside me, too. I needed to go back.

    I've decided to spend the holiday in Germany's tradition-bound heart: Bavaria. I've been invited to a pre-Christmas dinner at the home of Hans-Peter Drexler and his wife, Brigitte, in the snowbound village of Fischbachau, about 40 miles outside of Munich. In the kitchen, Brigitte, dressed in a dirndl, is mixing a dough of bread and onion to make semmelknödel (caraway-scented bread dumplings). She eases the dumplings into a pot of boiling water; they sink to the bottom and then bob to the surface, knocking gently against the sides of the pot and each other.

    Hans-Peter is the brewmaster of the venerable Weisses Bräuhaus G. Schneider andamp; Sohn brewery. My friend Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and an old acquaintance of Hans-Peter's, introduced us by e-mail. Darting back and forth in the kitchen, and also dressed in their Christmasy Bavarian best, are the Drexlers' children: Michael, Peter, Max, and Thomas. Each is in charge of making a particular dish: Max is making the schwarzwurzelsuppe (a black salsify soup drizzled with sour cream and pumpkin seed oil); Peter is helping with the bratäpfel mit walnusseis (baked apples and stuffed walnuts with riesling sauce); and Michael, the oldest son, is tending to the Wildschwein mit rübengemüse (roasted wild boar with bacon and juniper berries, served with root vegetables) using his great-great-grandfather's hand-carved wooden spoon, while Thomas makes a purée of celery root and cream.

    As the dumplings are coming out of the pot, Hans-Peter strides in with a big mug of frothy beer and hands it to me. "You are at the home of the brewmaster!" he bellows. Suddenly, the back door flies open and a pair of dirndl-clad women burst in, bearing cookies and schnapps. "Ah, our neighbors," says Hans-Peter. "They've come to celebrate with us." Later, we all eat together at a big table next to a Christmas tree with wild-looking, spindly branches that are decorated with real lighted candles.

    This is the type of food that brings people together, the kind that creates a bond. You don't build long-lasting friendships over stuffed zucchini and cucumber sandwiches.
    Near the end of the meal, Brigitte puts a plate of the baked apple dessert in front of me. The apple's skin has ruptured and the flesh is spilling out in places, its sugary juices mingling with melting whipped cream. I take a bite, and memories of long-ago Christmases come flooding back. I am suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and thanks. I marvel out loud about the Christmas reverie that they are living. "We have years of tradition in our blood," Hans-Peter replies. "It's like making beer: Unlike what some craft brewers might think, beauty and perfection don't happen overnight." He slaps me on the back.

    Late that night I get into my makeshift bed on a banquette next to the glow of the tree. The Drexlers' cat comes in and curls up in the nativity scene, a furry giant amid the tiny figurines. I whisper a good night.

    The following evening, Hans-Peter and I drive to Munich for a holiday dinner at the 140-year-old beer hall owned by the Weisse brewery. The air inside is tangy with the sweet-and-sour smell of gravy and lager. The rafters of the sprawling room-reverberating with the roar of some 400 revelers-are festooned with garlands of pine boughs and thick red ribbons. The chef, a bear of a man named Joseph Nagler, greets us when we arrive and leads us to a table. When we shake hands, I notice that the chef's hands are the size of flapjacks. When I mention this to Hans-Peter, he says, "He probably had to show his hands when he interviewed! It is so he can make the big dumplings!"

    The food is big. Piled on a plate that Chef Nagler has placed before us are formidable roasted pork shanks in a glossy lake of brown sauce alongside fat semolina dumplings. I cut into one of the dumplings, and a cloud of steam escapes. The inside is still creamy. With the first bite, a smile spreads across my face. The dumpling is deeply savory yet warmly spiced, with a flavor that fills me from top to bottom. This is the type of food that brings people together, the kind that creates a bond. You don't build long-lasting friendships over stuffed zucchini and cucumber sandwiches. When the chef returns to our table, I thank him effusively. "We are all one big family here!" he says, spreading his arms and gazing around the room.

    photo by Todd Coleman
    True enough. As the night progresses, I effortlessly fall into conversation with the people sitting around us. Toward the end of the evening, I chat with a group of retirees at their Stammtisch, or locals' table. They regale me with stories of Christmases past. On my way out the door, a man in a Santa suit brushes past me and flashes the peace sign.

    The next morning, I'm on a train to Nuremberg, Bavaria's second-largest city, rocking out to Ray Coniff's version of "O, Tannenbaum" on my headphones and eating a giant, salt-crusted pretzel smeared with butter. As a snow-covered landscape of forested hills rolls by, I'm growing giddy with anticipation. Today I will visit Nuremberg's Christkindlesmarkt, one of the oldest Christmas markets in the world, and the site of memorable visits when I was a child.

    Soon I'm walking over the slippery cobblestone streets that wind down from my hotel to the market square. I turn a corner and enter a maelstrom. The market is teeming with people, literally shoulder to shoulder, just like I remember. It's all still here: the twinkling lights, the medieval turrets towering over the square, the candy-striped stall tents filled with sauerkraut steam, the brigades of nutcracker soldiers, the cauldrons of mulled wine. Suddenly I'm a kid again.

    A friend in Munich suggested I have lunch at a place close to the square called the Brat-wursthäusle. A mass of people is pushing me upstream, and eventually I follow a tributary that leads me right to the restaurant, which resembles an alpine cottage. The dining room is rowdy, and redolent of nutmeg, sawdust, and searing sausages. I was told to ask for Werner Behringer, the owner. I do, and presently a man appears before me, looking for all the world like a Bavarian version of Merv Griffin.

    I don't know any of the people I'm sitting with. At any other time of the year they'd be strangers, but not today.
    By way of greeting, Herr Behringer gives me a wink, puts his arm around my shoulder, and ushers me to a nearby table already crowded with diners. A few minutes later, he returns bearing plates of small, intensely spiced Nuremberger sausages, creamy potato salad, and a pile of sauerkraut studded with whole spices. And now comes a mug of beer. It is the size of a toddler. "Just a drop," Herr Behringer says, laughing, and then disappearing into the crowd. I don't know any of the people I'm sitting with. At any other time of the year they'd be strangers, but not today. We toast each other and talk, eat, and drink into the afternoon's waning hours.

    Finally, it is Christmas Day. A ruddy-faced, mustachioed man named Stefan Rottner has just brought me a glass of something ruby-colored and sparkling. "This is champagne with fruit syrup," he says. The syrup was made from macerated berries, apples, and currants that his 85-year-old grandmother jarred last summer.

    When I asked my German friends back home where I should have Christmas dinner in Bavaria, they told me to come here, to Gasthaus Rottner. The restaurant, just outside Nuremberg, was established in 1812 and has been in Chef Stefan's family ever since. It is just the type of place I remember from my childhood-half-timbered facade, painted, striped wooden shutters, with a coat of arms over the entrance-a Hansel and Gretel fairy tale come to life.

    "It is an über-Christmas in Germany!" says the chef as we sit down to dinner amid other families who have come to his restaurant for their holiday meal.

    We eat crisp-skinned roast goose with red cabbage, a traditional Christmas Day dish. "Today it is goose," says Chef Stefan. "Tomorrow it is venison."

    Later, as we're finishing our desserts, Stefan says he's surprised that I've chosen to spend the holiday without my family. "I can't imagine being away from home for the Christmas season," he says. "We have such a strong feeling for this. I remember in 1956 when my brother, Hubert, went down to the main train station on Christmas Eve to give presents to the homeless. My father didn't understand what he was doing. But Hubert just said he wanted the lonely persons to feel happy." I tell Herr Rottner that I'm not lonely at all. I tell him how happy I am at this very moment-to be home for Christmas.

    See our travel guide to Munich and Nuremberg »
    See more photos from Bavaria in the gallery »

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    Hotel Rottner

    Winterstrasse 15-17 Nuremberg Grossreuth bei Schwinau (49/911-658-480; Rates: $149 Double. At this comfortable hotel, located on a working farm on the outskirts of Nuremberg, owner and chef Stefan Rottner offers cooking classes to guests and shows food films in a barn-turned-movie theater. Gasthaus Rottner, a convivial pub next door, serves farm-to-table fare such as roast goose.

    Hotel Admiral München

    Kohlstrasse 9, Munich (49/8921-6350; Rates: $160 Double. Located on a quiet side street in downtown Munich, this 32-room, family-run hotel is cozy and old-fashioned in all the best ways, with heavy brass keys for the rooms and a delicious German breakfast of eggs, cold cuts, and assorted cheeses served in the bustling parlor.


    Augustiner Zur Schranke

    Beim Tiergärtnertor 3, Nuremberg (49/911/225-474). Inexpensive. This little restaurant just inside the walls of Keiser-burg Castle offers an impressive array of beers on tap and food to match: roasted pork shoulder, bacon dumplings, and braised cabbage, all proffered in a warm, old-fashioned dining room.

    photo by Todd Coleman


    Rathausplatz 6, Nuremberg (49/911/227-695; Moderate. At this definitive place for the thin, highly spiced sausages for which Nuremberg is famous, the brats are roasted on a grill in the middle of the dining room, then served piping hot with creamy potato salad and sauerkraut (pictured, right).

    "Die Alm" im Mandarin Oriental

    Neuturmstrasse 1, Munich (49/89/290-980; mandarinoriental. com/munich). Moderate. Fine dining takes on traditional fare-bread and butter blanketed in fresh chopped chives; veal with parsleyed potatoes and cranberries-are offered in a seasonal pop-up chalet (complete with man-made snow) on the roof of the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

    Hofbräuhaus München

    Platzl 9, Munich (49/89/2901-3610; Inexpensive. Owned by the Bavarian government, this cavernous, 420-year-old beer hall has a dedicated following in Munich: hundreds of patrons keep their personal beer steins on premises in a specially designed locker. The menu is solidly old-school, with house-made weisswurst, braised pork knuckles and sauerkraut, and enormous German pretzels.

    Weisse Bräuhaus

    Tal 7 80331 Munich (49/89/290-1380; Moderate. Two stories of hearty Bavarian fare are on tap in this former brewery. It's a great place to sample Munich's second breakfast, served after breakfast but before lunch, of weisswurst and beer. At night, it morphs into a mini Oktoberfest with beer-friendly food like roasted pork shanks with dumplings and gravy, and of course, bratwurst.


    photo by Todd Coleman

    Kremmer Joseph Bäckerei

    Kirchstrasse 2, Elbach (49/80/28817). Just outside of Nuremberg, this tiny, quintessentially German bakery (pictured, right), operated by the same family for five generations, is packed to the rafters with delicious things to eat. Try the fresh-baked fruit-flecked Stollen or the jelly doughnuts.

    Marienplatz Christkindlesmarkt

    November 30-December 24, Marienplatz, Munich ( At the foot of St. Mary's Cathedral, hundreds of stalls sell toys and seasonal goodies like kletznbrot (a dense fruit-and-nut loaf), baked apples, and hot spiced wine. Every evening during the Christmas season, carolers sing from the Town Hall balcony above the market.

    Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt

    November 30-December 24, Hauptmarkt, Nuremberg ( This sprawling market, going strong since the mid-16th century, is one of Germany's oldest. Nearly 200 stalls sell toys, ornaments, fruitcake, and other holiday items, while vendors peddling grilled sausages, rum punch, and glühwein ensure that no one shops hungry.

    Rischart's Café Zimtstern

    Marienphtz 18 a (089 2317000; Every December, the staff at the Munich bakery Rischart erects a tent out front, where they offer children's baking lessons and seasonal sweets: Christmas cookies, baumkuchen ("tree cake"), made by brushing layers of batter onto a spit.

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    Chacarero Sandwich-photo
    by Chantal Martineau
    Any city worth its salt has a signature sandwich. New York has pastrami on rye, Montreal is a mecca for smoked meat, and New Orleans is famous for its po'boy. In Santiago, the meat-on-bread of choice is the chacarero-a stout, round roll piled high with churrasco-style grilled meat, sliced tomatoes, a smear of avocado or dollop of mayo, a drizzle of ají verde (green chili sauce), and to top it all off, julienned green beans. The result is an orchestra of textures and flavors: soft bread, tender meat, creamy mayo or avocado mash, and bright, crisp legumes. Here are five great spots to pick up a chacarero in Chile's capital:

    Fuente Alemana

    This no-frills German-themed lunch counter (and its second location in the Providencia neighborhood) is a mainstay for cheap food and draft beer. Best known for its lomito sandwich, the chacarero at this more than 50-year-old institution comes stuffed to the gills, making it hard to keep a handle on, so don't be ashamed if need a fork to get the job done.

    Av. Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins 58, Santiago, tel: +56/2/639-3231

    Bar Liguria

    Don't be surprised if one of the three Liguria locations is the first place your Santiago friends take you. A local favorite for everyone from artists to CEOs, the original is done up in a colorful pastiche of wallpapers, portraits, old posters and maps. The chacarero here can take on an Italian accent, like much of the menu.

    Bar Liguria
    Av. Providencia 1373, Providencia
    tel: 56/2235-7914

    Taberna El Hoyo

    For 100 years, this tavern has served up traditional fare, like blood sausage, cow tongue, rolled pork and boiled potatoes. It also does a mean chacarero. Wash it down with the house drink, a Terremoto (earthquake), made with white wine, pisco and pineapple ice cream - sweet enough to double as dessert.

    Taberna El Hoya
    San Vicente 375, Central Station
    Tel: 56/2/689-0339

    Fuente Chilena

    With two locations, this minimalist sandwicheria specializes in Fricandela - from the German frikadeller, like a flattened meatball - which, when slapped into a roll, is for all intents and purposes a burger. You can get it, as well as cow tongue, churrasco and several other fillings, in an array of sandwich formats, including the noble chacarero.

    Fuente Chilena
    Av. Apoquindo 4900, Las Condes
    Tel: 56/2/213-5524

    La Superior

    A hip sandwich joint that opened its doors earlier this year, La Superior's brief menu of fresh takes on Chilean classics includes the Pernil Chacarero, a roasted pork sandwich with all the fixings. The country's German influence shines through the extensive list of craft beers, and there are fresh juices and smoothies for the not-so-beer-happy.

    La Superior
    Av. Nueva De Lyon 105, Local 9, Providencia
    Tel: 56/2/232-9045

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  • 11/15/12--02:33: Holiday Parade
  • krusciki (Polish bow-tie fritters)-photo
    by Jennifer Walker
    Like 15,000 other Polish immigrants who arrived in Baltimore around the turn of the 20th century, my maternal great-grandparents, Jozef and Michalina Oleszcuk, ended up in the waterfront community of Fell's Point. Two decades later, 70 percent of the neighborhood's storefronts had Polish signs in their windows. Though she died before I was born, my grandmother tells me Michalina kept a larder stuffed with Polish foods. At the butcher on Fleet Street, she bought live ducks, which she used to make a velvety sweet-and-sour soup called czernina. She shopped at stalls in Broadway Market for specialties like krusciki, bow-tie fritters dusted with powdered sugar.

    By the 1950s, families like mine began leaving Fell's Point for the suburbs. St. Stanislaus Church, once a center for Polish culture, closed in 2000 because of shrinking membership. Last year, the summer Polish Festival was canceled for the first time in 38 years.

    But one tradition endures. On December 23, 1971, Polish-Americans began caroling on Fell's Point streets. Local deejay Frank Bittner started the annual event, known as East Baltimore Christmas, to gather old friends who had left the city.

    Forty years later, I joined the carolers, a 33-year-old American woman aching for a connection to my Polish roots. From their seats on a wooden wagon pulled by a pickup truck, a polka band led us in American and Polish Christmas songs. In front of the old Weber's Funeral Home, neighbors handed out cups of vodka. Krakus Deli offered links of kielbasa. A gift shop called Polish Treasures sold paczki, dense glazed doughnuts filled with raspberry jam.

    The crowd paraded to the Polish Home Club, an old dance hall on Broadway, where the band took to the stage, and revelers ate oniony potato pierogies. Savoring a krusciki I pocketed along the way, I watched as family and friends grabbed each other's hands and danced to an upbeat polka. My great-grandparents felt very near.

    See the recipe for Krisciki (Polish Bow Tie Fritters) »

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  • 11/15/12--02:49: Midnight Snack
  • Shab-e-Yalda, Iranian winter solstice-photo
    by Ramin Ganeshram
    As an American of Iranian descent born and raised in New York City, my childhood simply gestured toward my Iranian heritage-until my cousin Shahnaz moved here with her student husband. Suddenly we were part of a flourishing Iranian community that held weekly parties in crowded apartments. Shab-e-Yalda, the winter solstice, marked the apex of these gatherings. Since ancient times, celebrants have stayed up till dawn, eating and telling stories to keep vigilant against the evil they believed lurks in the dark during the longest night of the year. We followed suit.

    When the Iranian Revolution erupted in 1979, the tension embodied in the Yalda ritual came to the fore. That solstice, the adults' conversations were heated, and they relieved their stress by chomping on ajil, a holiday trail mix of salted chickpeas and pistachios, sugar-coated and rose-water-perfumed almonds, dried fruits, and, most notably, pumpkin seeds. They cracked each shell, pulling out the nutty seed using only their teeth.

    In the 33 years that have passed, the tension has become a wary ache. Now my daughter dozes on my lap as the adults talk through the Yalkda night. We try not to focus on global politics and instead recite Rumi and Hafez poems. Often, a musician among us sings American or Iranian songs. Always, we munch on ajil. None of us have mastered our parents' method of splitting the pumpkin shells, but like them, we wait for those rays of first light, looking forward to a different tomorrow.

    See the recipe for Ajil (Persian Trail Mix) »

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  • 11/15/12--03:19: Dining in Cadiz

  • by Alexander Lobrano
    Sticking into the Atlantic like a beckoning soup spoon, the ancient Spanish port city of Cádiz is filled with friendly, inexpensive restaurants offering dishes made with wonderful local seafood and produce. A standby for me is Balandro(Alameda de Apodaca 22; 34/956/220-992;, a charming restaurant and tapas bar that's popular with students from the nearby university; overlooking the ocean, Balandro offers a great selection of fresh fish dishes, including succulent fishballs with clams and grilled cuttlefish with seafood-and-squid-ink sauce. Don't be put of by the slightly rough-and-tumble atmosphere of Cervecería Marisquería Aurelio(Calle Zorrilla 1; 34/956/221-031); this tapas bar pours a terrific variety of man-zanillas (a pale, dry sherry), which go nicely with the deep-fried whiting the locals love. Nearby, the ever popular El Aljibe(Calle Plocia 25; 34/956/266-656; grupogrosso. com) serves a menu of equally fine tapas, including pimientos stuffed with shrimp or creamy tetilla cheese, and delicate crêpes filled with langoustines and cockles in béchamel sauce. Take the ferry across the bay to El Arriate(Calle de los Moros 4, Puerto de Santa María; 34/956/852-833;, an excellent restaurant in an old wine warehouse on the edge of the port in El Puerto de Santa Maria. Here, chef David Méndez, though a dedicated locavore, draws inspiration from Asian cooking; dishes like the unctuous and slightly smoky salmorejo soup garnished with air-dried tuna and smoked mackerel, or grilled hake with sesame seeds on a bed of seaweed, show off his considerable talent. Long considered the best restaurant in town, El Faro(Calle San Félix 15; 34/956/211-068; has an old-fashioned formality and a menu of impeccably prepared local specialties like tortillitas de camarones (shrimp fritters), sea anemone beignets, and snapper baked in salt. Cádiz abounds with humble fried-fish shops; Freiduría Las Flores(Plaza de Topete 4; 34/956/226-112) is one of the best. Order a surtido (mixed seafood fry) if you're unfamiliar with the local catch of the day. In a seafood-loving city, Mesón Cumbres Mayores(Calle Zorrilla 4; 34/956/213-270; mesoncumbres, housed in an old brewery, is a redoubt for carnivores; try the silky, garnet-colored jamón from Huelva and the berza, a rich, cold-weather stew made with chickpeas, jamón, and morcilla (blood sausage).

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  • 11/15/12--03:37: Bread Winner
  • Berkshire Mountain Bakery's Bread and Chocolate-photo When most tourists visit the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts, their first stop might be Norman Rockwell's old studio, Edith Wharton's country home, the farmhouse where Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, or another of the area's seemingly countless cultural attractions. Not me. Anytime I'm in this corner of my home state, I head for a source of more ephemeral pleasures: Berkshire Mountain Bakery, where owner Richard Bourdon crafts loaves that are among the best in the country.

    Since opening his bakery in 1986 in the tiny village of Housatonic, Bourdon has been perfecting his naturally fermented breads, building on experience he gained in France and Holland, where he trained as a baker. Here, in a 3,000-square-foot former paper mill, he devotes the majority of the cavernous space to around-the-clock baking, while a sliver of a retail counter shows of his diverse breads: sesame-crusted sourdoughs, rich jalapeño-and-cheese ciabattas, French peasant loaves, and, during the holidays, sweet breads such as buttery stollen with an almond-cream core, the world's fluffiest panettone, and more.

    No matter the style, each bread is made with meticulous attention to detail. To insure the freshness of volatile oils that would otherwise be exposed by cracking the germs further ahead of time, Bourdon grinds whole grains to make spelt, wheat, or rye flour for each batch of dough. Then, using little more than water, salt, and a sourdough starter, he transforms these grains into singular loaves with an incredible balance of texture, moisture, and flavor.

    Whether it's nutty wholemeal spelt, cakey multigrain, or-my personal favorite-the finger-staining "bread and chocolate" (pictured), with its equal parts sourdough boule and semisweet Belgian chocolate chunks, each loaf bears Bourdon's marks: a glossy, tender crumb; a buoyant, tooth-clinging chew; and a mouthwatering tang. The breads are all brilliant when eaten in the usual ways-smeared with butter, used in sandwiches, munched on their own-and the sweet ones, like the bread and chocolate, make for a complex bread pudding or decadent French toast. No matter how I eat them, each bite reminds me that the transformation of flour and water into something extraordinary is, in its own right, a serious art. Loaves range from $3.75 to $5.75 apiece and can be purchased at

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  • 11/15/12--09:38: Mexico City Star
  • octopus a la mexicana with olive puree at Pujol, in Mexico City-photo This past summer, the infusión de quelites that kicked of the meal at Pujol, the groundbreaking Mexico City restaurant, came in a French press pot, a verdigris tangle in a warm salt bath. Plunged and poured, this clean, golden-green broth of mixed, small-leafed greens-amaranth, lamb's-quarters, and others-flavored with charred onion and pasilla chile was supremely simple and soulful. Breathing in its fragrant steam, I felt the stress of fine dining in a foreign language melt away. My ego relaxed; my spirits rose.

    This small restaurant, with its charcoal-walled, low-ceilinged dining room, was the last place I'd expect to feel so close to those plants-or, as it turned out, so close to the street. But Pujol's acclaimed young chef Enrique Olvera managed to deliver an experience that was at once transcendent and deeply rooted in Mexico. The heavenly quelites brew came on the heels of Pujol's devilish amuse, a riff on the grilled corn that you find hawked on seemingly every Mexico City corner. Skewered elotitos, or baby corn, were draped in coffee mayonnaise, lime, and an earthy mixture of salt and toasted ground flying ants. They were served in a gourd filled with burning corn husks that recalled a cazuela, a traditional cooking pot. The cobs were crunchy and sweet; the dressing creamy and bitter. With its sour, umami, saline, and smoky notes, it was a lagniappe that seemed to offer everything.

    All of these flavors, all this food for thought in the first few bites of a multicourse meal? I'd been in Mexico several days before my first visit to Pujol. I'd walked between rows of vegetables on small family farms, cooked mole and tortillas in Mexican homes, gorged on cemitas and quesadillas at market stalls. But just when I was getting acquainted with the hallmarks of the cuisine, Olvera upended what I thought I knew about good Mexican food-and where to get it. In the process, he left me with an appreciation for the vitality and purpose of fine dining in a country abounding with excellent cheap eats. There was a richness to the references in the dishes that I ate at Pujol, a conceptual and sensory interplay as exciting as the action on the capital's teeming avenidas. For Olvera, it's all about promoting Mexican culinary tradition by playing with it.

    With its inclusion for a second year on San Pellegrino's list of the world's 50 best restaurants, Pujol is the most visible player in the transformation of Mexico City's haute dining scene, which has been under way for more than a decade.

    Pujol is the most visible player in the transformation of Mexico City's haute dining scene
    In the 12 years since Olvera opened Pujol, other noteworthy chefs, such as Patricia Quintana and Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, have launched new restaurants to serve not the Continental cooking of past decades, but stylish versions of the full-favored dishes that the majority of Mexicans eat in their homes, on the streets, in taquerias, and in fondas. Where once there were French and Spanish classics, now there are tacos and tamales composed of indigenous greens and corn, beans and chiles.

    Olvera lists Muñoz Zurita, author of the Diccionario Enciclopédico de Gastronomía Mexicana (Clio Editorial, 1998), a seminal work on traditional Mexican cookery, as an influence. But for the 36-year-old Olvera, tradition is only a starting place. Trained abroad at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Olvera cooks Mexican food with a global perspective. The chefs Thomas Keller and Ferran Adrià are also among his inspirations-Olvera's unctuous and elegant huevos con nopales, in which creamy, nutty giant ant eggs sit in a pool of emulsified hen egg dusted with burnt onion powder, recalls the caviar, mollusk, and sabayon of Keller's famous "oysters and pearls," and he says his potato soufflé, in its puffed masa casing, is cribbed from Adrià's now-closed restaurant, El Bulli. The chef appears frequently at events outside Mexico, and his cookbooks, UNO (Editorial DN3, 2010) and En La Milpa (Editorial DN3, 2011), are filled with photos of lush farmsteads as well as gorgeously deconstructed dishes. René Redzepi, the pioneering chef of the restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, is a friend. He is, in short, a chef that seeks to honor his native foods by elevating them in unique and exhilarating ways on a global stage, much like Redzepi has with his New Nordic cuisine.

    At Pujol, the loin of the Yucatán bald pig, a miniature breed known for its sumptuous fat, is a perfect porcine rectangle, poised in a bowl into which a server pours a silky ebony black bean-and-pork infusion. Sleek and composed, it's a far cry from the rustic frijoles con puerco eaten in Tabascan or Yucatecan markets, but its DNA is a close match, and it's equally delicious. A half-moon of candied sweet potato arranged with cubes and quenelles of yogurt and milk ice creams, a sweet amaranth wafer, and toasted pumpkin seeds in a pool of guava purée is as geometrically sophisticated as a Léger painting, but the dessert's component parts would be familiar to any sweet-toothed Mexican toddler.

    Olvera's project, too, extends to the drink pairings; in addition to Mexican wine, craft beer, and mezcal to accompany dishes, there are several enticing aguas frescas, those ubiquitous street drinks made with fresh produce. A cilantro, cucumber, and lime version comes with a red snapper chicharrón; a strawberry-cardamom elixir and other blends come along later. "It's a way that you can feel like you are in Mexico," Olvera told me when I called him after my visits. "People who come from wine countries are not necessarily going to be impressed by Mexican wines, but we can highlight the creativity of the waters."

    Yet some of Olvera's references are so subtle and particular that even Mexican diners might not catch them. An heirloom tomato salad, a sort of global indicator of locavorism, seems just fine. But few would realize that in this dish, garnished with a marble-size orb of quesillo, a string cheese, along with sesame seeds, a large bean leaf sprayed with the essence of jalapeño chiles, and a chipotle vinaigrette-all the flavors one would find in a cemita-the chef has created a sly paean to that Pueblan sandwich.

    Olvera's octopus a la mexicana, in a traditional red, green, and white salsa that mirrors the colors of the Mexican flag, quietly announces the chef's intention to cement Mexican food in the pantheon of the globe's most revered. But it took the chef explaining it afterward for me to understand: The question-mark curl of a single poached tentacle is partially peeled, as is common in Mexican homes, partially cloaked in suckers, as in Galicia, Spain, and partially tempura-fried, a nod to Japan. The dish is an homage to all three foodways and a demonstration of the chef's internationalist ethos. Still, no matter the concept, the octopus looks beautiful, and it tastes great.

    Though Olvera's food is fancified and sometimes fantastical, with elements borrowed from cuisines the world over, it's executed with reverence for the rustic techniques and age-old methods of the traditional cocina

    Though Olvera's food is fancified and sometimes fantastical, with elements borrowed from cuisines the world over, it's executed with reverence for the rustic techniques and age-old methods of the traditional cocina. Tender and mild as a lullabye, the meat in the milk-fed lamb, paired with green pea purée on a poblano-chile-and-cilantro tortilla, has a silkiness that I would have sworn came as a result of sous vide cooking. It turns out that it's prepared in a conventional oven at an ultralow temperature, a method that Olvera adopted from traditional slow-smoked barbacoa.

    Borrowing, too, a practice from la milpa, an age-old style of Mexican farming, with its "tradition of harvesting and using everything," as the chef puts it, Olvera lets little go to waste. His economy is a platform for his creativity. Olvera breaks down a single red snapper, for instance, to make three separate preparations. He serves its filet with a creamy onion purée, ginger-and-habanero confit, and a drizzle of orange oil. He fries the skin for the oceanic chicharrón garnish on the agua fresca. And he makes ceviche from the trimmings to stuff a chayote-based tortilla, decorated with an aromatic hoja santa leaf, as one might find done in the north of the country.

    "We're rediscovering all the traditions, and that's a really good thing," the chef told me. "At the market level, the quality has always been great. And most Mexicans eat really well at home. We didn't see that in restaurants. Now we're starting to."

    Indeed, Olvera has inspired a whole new generation of young Mexico City chefs. Daniel Ovadía of the edgy Paxia, Sud 777's Edgar Núñez, and Pujol alumnus Jorge Vallejo of the restaurant Quintonil all share Olvera's aspiration to meld Mexican heritage with far-flung innovations. "We need to be taking the cuisine further than just reinterpreting our traditions," Olvera says. "We're trying to change things a little bit."

    So he leads diners toward dessert with an intermezzo called plátano dominico pasado that tastes ancient and entirely new all at once. A banana so ripe it is starting to ferment is browned in butter, dotted with sour cream and mint leaves, draped in black curls of chile, and dusted with feathery ground macadamia. Though the rest of the ingredients are familiar, the nuts are a relatively new crop, a representation of the potential of the Mexican soil. Just slightly sweet and also sour, earthy and creamy, toasty and bright, this banana dish demonstrates, in delectable fashion, how multifaceted the staple fruit can be.

    Part of Olvera's success lies in the fact that when he nudges the cuisine along to new places, he does it with such charm and wit. Take the avocado flauta on Pujol's "sea menu." Instead of a deep-fried tortilla, the cigar-shaped roll is formed with overlapping, paper-thin avocado slices, each perfectly ripe and pristine. Stuffed with poached shrimp and octopus and paired with a dollop of mild chipotle mayonnaise, this flauta recalls not so much the vendor snack after which it is named as it does a quint-essential dish for the ladies who lunch, half an avocado stuffed with seafood salad. The mash-up of forms is intentional, an exemplar of the chef's sense of humor. If he must feed high-end diners, it seems, he might as well serve a little joke on them. Olvera's graceful riff might lack the textural and chile-driven punch of its streetwise namesake. But it's delicious in its own right, and it does just what seminal restaurant food should-it takes the culinary conversation far past the nearest corner.

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  • 11/15/12--22:41: California Eternal
  • Rancho San Julian in Lompoc, California-photo
    by Georgia Freedman
    This meal is a homecoming of sorts, even though my actual childhood home is 50 miles away. Here, sitting down to supper in the shade of a live oak tree in the grassy heart of the Central Coast, I feel as happy and grounded as a 33-year-old native Californian can be. Perched next to me on the wood bench is one of my oldest friends, Elizabeth Poett, a person I've played with and fought with and shared my greatest joys with and loved for so long that I could almost take her for granted. But I don't. When you've been away from a place like this for a few years, as I have, you only cherish it more.

    Elizabeth went to school with me, down the coast in Santa Barbara, but she grew up here, on the oak-dotted grasslands of Rancho San Julián, a 13,000-acre cattle ranch that has been in her dad's family for nine generations. She is a descendant of José de la Guerra, a commander of the Santa Barbara presidio, who was granted this land in 1837. Now she works full-time on the ranch just like her dad and many of her cousins, who share ownership under a family trust.

    I did a lot of growing up here too, spending countless weekends with the Poetts during my school-age years. This is where I learned how to ride a horse, how to mend a fence, and how to scoop the flesh from a ripe avocado and turn it into guacamole.

    Today I've made a big batch for old time's sake. This one is in proper California style: studded with chunks of tomato, flecked with cilantro leaves, and amped up with a ton of lime and salt. We eat it with fragrant corn tortillas made by the wife of one of the Mexican ranch hands who lives here full-time.

    Elizabeth's parents, Jim and Marianne, are here, too, along with a handful of cousins and friends who live nearby. Jim was one of the first ranchers in this part of California to raise organic beef. Marianne is the founder and editor of a local newspaper. She is also an amazing cook, and though she's not a native Californian, she's one of those transplants who has taken so naturally to the kind of simple, direct cooking inspired by California's bounty that you'd think she was born here. For me, this meal is the true California cuisine.

    Earlier today I helped Marianne and Elizabeth make enchiladas from a recipe that Marianne found in some journals where Jim's great-aunts and others collected family recipes over the years-Marianne has been translating them from the Spanish. The dish is brilliantly simple, and utterly of this place. The sauce is a smoky purée of local Anaheim and pasilla chiles, and instead of chicken or pork she adds olives, the canned, glossy-black, meaty kind I grew up eating. These California pantry staples, out of fashion elsewhere in the country, are a ubiquitous and beloved ingredient on the Central Coast. "If you see olives in a recipe for enchiladas or tamales," Marianne told me as she fried the tortillas, "you know it's from here." Then she dipped the tortillas in the sauce and rolled them around a filling of sautéed onions, olives, and crumbly cotija cheese. Just like I remember.

    This is where I learned how to ride a horse, how to mend a fence, and how to scoop the flesh from a ripe avocado
    Now, as the shadow of the Santa Ynez foothills creeps across the clearing where we eat our picnic supper, I taste the enchiladas. Their smoky flavor takes me back to Saturday night dinners with Elizabeth and her family when I was 12 years old, after swimming in the creek or riding in the back of her dad's pickup and tossing hay to the cows. I've missed this food more than I knew.

    The main course is a Central Coast classic: a juicy, tender beef tri-tip rubbed with salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil, and rosemary. Elizabeth grilled it slow over a hardwood fire she built in her dad's old grill, which has an ingenious suspended rigging system that allows you to raise and lower the grate during cooking, giving the cook control over just how close the meat gets to the fire. The wedge-shaped roast that comes to the table is sheathed in a savory char. Elizabeth slices it into thick steaks, rosy in the middle, and passes the plate around.

    There is no part of the cow that can satisfy a Central Coaster like the mighty tri-tip, which is miraculously both lean and rich at the same time. Rancho San Julián sells a lot of tri-tips, among many other cuts of beef, at farmers' markets in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, all of it from their herd of 500 pasture-raised cattle. With a whole generation having come of age knowing only the taste of corn-fed beef, grass-fed meat has finally made a comeback, Elizabeth tells me as I take a second helping of steak. "Older customers at the farmers' market tell me that our meat is what steak used to taste like when they were kids," she says.

    photo by Penny De Los Santos
    In this part of California, you can't have tri-tip without beans. A lot of people insist on Santa Maria-style beans-named after the nearby town where tri-tip barbecues are a way of life, and typically made with a local variety of beans called pinquitos, which are slow-cooked with tomatoes, onion, and all kinds of seasonings. Some cooks make a refried version of this; others, like Elizabeth, like to add bacon. But her cousin Julianna has made an ingenious updated version using kidney beans and pintos, as well as chickpeas, stewed to a caramel depth and brightened with bell peppers, fresh salsa, cilantro, and jalapeños. Fantastic. There's nothing particularly traditional about the dish, and in that sense it strikes me as particularly Californian.

    The tri-tip is a handsome centerpiece, but what really blows me away is Marianne's empanadas. Made with fresh corn masa, they're flaky and delicate yet packed with strikingly bold flavors. It's not just the luscious shreds of long-roasted brisket, which alone would have been enough; it's the picadillo of sherry-soaked raisins, pine nuts, and olives, which delivers a briny-sweet balance in every bite. A dusting of powdered sugar on the golden pastry puts the empanadas just over the top. This is typical Poett family cooking: dishes made with incredible love and attention, presented in unpretentious packages.

    Dessert is an apricot tart, brought over by the Poetts' neighbors, Chris and Carla Malloy, and made with fruit that grows on the ranch. The sun is well below the hills by the time we dig into it. Another of the cousins, Daniel Berman, pours me a little more of the Lompoc pinot noir he's brought from the Santa Barbara winery where he works. It's getting chilly, but Elizabeth and I linger at the table long after dessert, talking about our lives. After living in New York for a few years, she came back to San Julián in 2006 and got married a few years later, moving into one of the old ranch houses on the vast property. I ask her what a typical day is like.

    "Well," she replies, "tomorrow I have to deliver some marrow bones to a chef, feed a new bunch of steers extra hay and alfalfa so they'll start putting on weight, and sort some bulls from a group of heifers so the vet can get in there and see if the girls are pregnant." Elizabeth asks me about life back East. I tell her she's not missing much.

    At six the next morning, Elizabeth and I are bumping along a dirt road in her Chevy pickup through a valley dotted with more of those majestic California live oaks.

    In the near distance, black Angus cows graze with their calves. It's barely light, and a cool fog has rolled in from the Pacific overnight, obscuring the hills around us. We're on our way to the farmers' market, and the bed of the pickup is filled with coolers containing rib eyes, chuck roasts, skirt steaks, briskets, sirloins, ribs, and plenty of tri-tips. At the market, Elizabeth, willowy and blond, cuts a striking figure among the other farmers, who are mostly men. Business at the Rancho San Julián stand is more than brisk.

    Elizabeth cooks the burgers in a seasoned cast-iron skillet set over the hot fire so that their juices aren't lost to the flames
    We're back at Elizabeth's house a few hours later, in time for a late lunch. We make tacos with some of the leftover tri-tip, chopped onion, and a couple of poblano peppers that she has roasted over an open flame on her stove until they're blackened and blistered.

    After lunch I help Elizabeth and her husband, Austin Campbell, who works on a ranch not far away, get the house and yard ready for tonight's dinner, a birthday celebration for Daniel. Jim and Marianne will be coming down from their house, a few miles away, along with other relatives. With some delicate maneuvering, we manage to carry Elizabeth's dining room table out onto the wood porch, which has rosebushes growing all around it. Austin loads the grill barrel with wood.

    "Tonight we'll keep it simple and make burgers," says Elizabeth. That kind of statement can be deceptive in the Poett family. The just-ground patties are magnificent chuck from the San Julián herd-as richly marbled as that of any corn-fed animal. Elizabeth cooks them not over the grill grate directly but in an old seasoned cast-iron skillet set over the hot fire so that their fat and juices aren't lost to the flames. And, as I'm reminded at dinner, burgers around here serve double duty as a luscious platform for an extravagant tower of fresh produce, from grilled yellow onions to crunchy lettuce leaves to thick-sliced garnet-red tomatoes.

    photo by Penny De Los Santos
    Just as everyone is showing up, Elizabeth tosses ribbons of summer squash on the grill and then improvises a salad: heads of romaine cut in half and laid on the fire until they're singed around the edges. Drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and strewn with crumbled bacon and blue cheese, they make an unfussy but stunning side dish.

    Given the freshest meat and produce in the world, I think to myself, no restaurant could put forth a meal as guilelessly beautiful as this. At the end of the night, Elizabeth and I are once again the last ones to retire, sitting close to each other at the end of the long table, which is now mostly bare, except for a few flickering candles. We reminisce, and also talk about the future. I tell her I hate the thought of leaving, and I promise her that, next time, I won't stay away for so long.

    See more photos in the Gallery »

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  • 11/15/12--22:54: Any Given Sunday
  • Roast Leg of Lamb with Apples and Fennel-photo
    by Fouad Kassab
    I was 20 years old when I left Lebanon for Australia, moving to Sydney to go to college. It was my first time away from home, and, as it turned out, I wasn't quite ready for the independence: Though I'd grown up with a superb cook for a mother, I didn't know how to fry an egg. During my first months in Sydney, I subsisted on microwavable supermarket meat pies and burgers and fries from the greasy spoon around the corner. I felt disconnected from this food, such a far cry from what I grew up with. I missed the labne, a tangy soft cheese my mom made from yogurt, which she'd serve with olives from trees my great-grandfather planted, and season with wild mountain thyme that we'd foraged ourselves. I missed her kibbeh nayyeh, minced lamb pounded with fresh marjoram and mint, mixed with bulgur and drowned with olive oil. Most of all, I missed how those meals in Lebanon made me feel, how they required my participation, and how they connected me to my family. Australia and its food felt shallow by contrast. My meals in Sydney seemed to have no provenance, said nothing I could decipher about the land they came from, and what's more, they came ready, with no need for effort on my part. These meals made me feel like more of an outsider than I already was.

    After a few months, I started to make friends with other students who lived in my neighborhood. I connected with Elaine, a cute Australian girl who invited me to her home to meet her parents one weekend. "We're having Sunday roast," Elaine said, beaming. Thinking of those burgers, chips, and meat pies, I held no great hope for the visit.

    We arrived at Elaine's parents' home, a small farmhouse outside of Sydney, just as the meal was almost ready. We hurried through the introductions, and Elaine slipped away to help her mother in the kitchen. I sat with her father at the dining table for what felt like a year of strained silence. Then, the rich smells of caramelizing vegetables and roasting meat took over the dining room.

    The rich smells of caramelizing vegetables and roasting meat took over the dining room
    The awkwardness dissipated as Elaine and her mother brought in platters piled high with baked pumpkin and sweet potatoes, boiled Brussels sprouts and green beans, and jugs of gravy and mint sauce. And then came the center-piece, the roast leg of lamb. I was dumbstruck as it was set before me. I had never before seen lamb served in such primal on-the-bone grandeur. Back home, lamb was one ingredient of many: flaked into pilafs large enough to feed a family of ten (and maybe several neighbors, too); stewed with okra and tomatoes; minced and fried with onions and sprinkled atop hummus. In contrast, served as it was to just the four of us, the Sunday roast struck me as a particularly opulent tradition. Elaine's father carved the leg, and we crowded our plates with slices of lamb and all the trimmings. Each element was delicious on its own, but, for me, the combination of it all was a revelation, and to this day, I think of that lunch as the first real meal I had in Australia.

    After that, I started accepting invitations to Sunday roasts at every opportunity. As I found my place here, making friends with fellow students and, later, co-workers, there were a lot of opportunities. The weekly Sunday roast is a British tradition, brought by colonists to Australia in the late 18th century; it was common practice to put a roast to cook before leaving for church, come back home to a hearty meal, and extend the leftovers through the week that followed. But here in Australia, it's become an institution in its own right. It's the most important family meal, the week's main opportunity for a get-together. As I visited family after family, the basic scheme became apparent: A central piece of meat is served with roasted starchy vegetables, boiled green vegetables, gravy, and a sweet condiment, like mint jelly, cranberry relish, or applesauce. Within these parameters, what ended up on the table each time varied tremendously. Some of my hosts, like Elaine's family, hewed closely to the traditional "meat and two veg" British formula. Others brought their own heritage to bear on the meal, with an Italian porchetta in the place of honor at one home, Portuguese-style chicken at another, and, at the table of a French acquaintance, lamb cooked with apples, served with boiled shrimp and basil-infused mayonnaise, a sort of Gallic surf and turf. The variations, I realized, were endless.

    About five years ago, after countless meals at the homes of friends, I finally decided to tackle the roast myself. My first try (not the wisest choice, in retrospect), skinless chicken breast, was a disaster: It turned out terribly dry and favorless. The next, a pork loin roast, had a stubborn sheath of skin that refused to crackle no matter what. My good friend Stephanie assured me that quality was only optional: "A proper Sunday roast is soggy vegetables, packaged gravy, and mint sauce out of a bottle. And the meat has to be overcooked. None of that 'just pink' gourmet stuff" Hers, I realized, was a nostalgic though generally accurate view of how most homes would have had their roast in the not too distant past, before epicureanism took Australia by storm. Even for an accomplished cook, the Sunday roast is a feast of so many moving parts that it takes an obsessive to get it all just right. Without careful planning, roasting a leg of lamb in the same oven with potatoes might mean that one of the two is going to overcook (usually the lamb); and while you're making the gravy, it's easy to forget all about the broccoli and beans as they boil away to mush.

    I had never seen lamb served in such primal grandeur: the Sunday roast seemed to me a particularly opulent tradition
    Even so, determined to get it right, I kept at it, and eventually found my footing in the kitchen and made the meal my own. I came to cherish Australia's richly marbled, flavorful saltbush-fed lamb, which has a generous layer of external fat that keeps the meat tender while it cooks. I learned a few tricks to get the timing right, taking the meat out to rest prior to cooking the sweet potatoes, and putting it back in the oven to warm it up again just before dinnertime. And most important, I realized that, although a roast for one could be one of life's great luxuries, the meal is best if the cooking and eating are done with company. Sharing the work in the kitchen, and the meal after, was key to that feeling of communion I remembered from my childhood meals in Lebanon.

    Elaine and I are married now, and we do a roast every Sunday, I taking inspiration from memories of my mother's cooking, and Elaine doing the same from hers. With our two-year-old daughter Sara hungry and underfoot, we divide the work between us. If we're pressed for time, we'll do a quick chicken roast, rubbing the thighs and drumsticks with garlic, salt, and olive oil, and serve it with toum, an emulsion of oil, garlic, and lemon juice that is the traditional sauce for Lebanese chicken shawarma. If we're feeling more ambitious, we'll do ten-hour lamb shoulder seasoned with sumac berries, while Elaine makes her mom's rosemary gravy to match. We stir-fry green beans in pan drippings with garlic until they begin to caramelize, and then toss roasted potatoes with fresh coriander and lemon and serve them with tahini tarator, a nutty sauce of garlic, lemon, and sesame paste. And when we sit down to eat every Sunday after hours of cooking and anticipation, we never care if the lamb is a little overcooked. In the end, it's not the meat that matters.

    See the recipe for Roast Leg of Lamb with Apples and Fennel »
    See the recipe for Lemon-and-Herb-Roasted Vegetables »

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  • 11/29/12--23:01: The Essential South America

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  • 12/03/12--00:30: My Spanish Sanctuary
  • Dolores's brokenhearted chicken, shrimp fritters and clams in sherry sauce-photo
    by Alexander Lobrano
    Every morning, the city's briny air made me wince when I woke, because it smelled so much like sex does after a swim in the sea. It also pickled my pain, as did the stubby snifter of Fundador brandy I downed every night after dinner, the reason why the scouring white sunlight of those summer mornings was too bright for me. So, after bracing myself with several shot glasses of harsh black coffee and a saucer of sugary churros at Bar Brim, a busy café infused with the fine stink of slow-burning black tobacco and clean sweat softened by lavender water, I'd cross the street and slip into Cádiz's Mercado Central de Abastos, a shadowy gastronomic seraglio.

    Soothed by its musky light, I'd discover a vividly perfumed circus that needled me with pleasure while letting me be invisible. If I loved the olive stalls, the chickpeas and fava beans, and the charcutier's stand with its carnivore's curtain of dangling brick red chorizos and its satanically handsome butcher, it was the fishmongers of this port city at the door between the cold Atlantic Ocean and the warm Mediterranean Sea that truly fascinated me. I could study their lavish and mysterious offerings for hours, and every day I'd come across a kind of fish I'd never seen before-science-fiction-strange goose barnacles, or scarlet scorpion fish. Though I didn't know it at the time, slowly but surely, the market was healing me, a just-turned-30 writer living in Paris in the 1980s.

    Though I didn't know it at the time, slowly but surely, the market was healing me, a just-turned-30 writer living in Paris in the 1980s.
    One morning, I'd stared at the neat rows of fire-engine red carabinero prawns from the southwestern city of Huelva long enough to suddenly sense the seller's swelling impatience, so I swiftly moved on to another corner of the market. If the seafood aisle at the market's heart smelled of iodine and roses, this one was about smoky pimentón and the sweet ethylene punch of tiny bunches of Canary Islands bananas hanging on sharp iron hooks. Stealthily, or so I thought, I snifed the fruit.

    "Hola! Que tal? Go on then, have one, luv! You know you want it!" The stallholder, a busty, coal-eyed gypsy princess in a low-cut lemon yellow dress, was speaking to me. I was dumbstruck, and blushing. This woman I'd never noticed before was now roaring with laughter. "American? Are you American? I just knew it! So hopeless the way your lot peers at the world through keyholes in the hopes of spotting a dirty stereotype or two. My old dad was from Liverpool." Now I was laughing, too, also rather hysterically. "What's your name?"

    I told her.

    "I'm Dolores. So, Alejandro, what happened? I've watched you sulking around in here for a couple of days like a monk in an abbey, and you never buy anything." I choked up instantly. "Oh dear, sorry I asked." She waved her hands. "Oh dear, don't worry." Suddenly this lusty-looking lady sounded like a nurse. "I'm sorry. I really am. Hey, how's about we get some lunch after I close my stall?"

    Why did I say yes? Dolores's smile, maybe, and the fluttering frilled red silk carnation she'd tucked behind an ear. It was both pretty and ironic.

    Those were the years when my axis of eros was spinning fast on ever more extreme expressions of opposition.
    Those were the years when my axis of eros was spinning fast on ever more extreme expressions of opposition. The equation was that the less I had in common with someone, the more I fancied him. Even today, there's a part of me that still wants to brag about my affairs with the Boer insurance salesman, the Portuguese lieutenant, and other men who couldn't possibly have been more different from me, a New Englander who'd gleefully bonfired the proprieties of a comfortable suburban upbringing and the gray-flannel career path suggested by an excellent education.

    I didn't see it then, but I was vainly living in the middle of a feckless carnival, one that had finally crashed when the hard-drinking Czech med student I'd been obsessed with smashed a terra-cotta casserole of clams on the floor of a restaurant in Valencia and walked out on me on the first day of our vacation. I muddled through a day alone like a compass without a needle, and then realized I needed to make a plan. Years before, during a trip to Seville, local friends had lamented that I wouldn't have time to see Cádiz. I put together the few shards of memory I had of their enticing descriptions-oldest city in Western Europe, founded by the Phoenicians, the fish, the light, the market, the shrimp fritters, the wine-and I left in the morning.

    I loved my little whitewashed room with powdery tiles where I could listen to the seagulls and innocently eavesdrop on other people's lives from behind the slatted shutters of my window, even though I barely spoke Spanish. The voices around me broke my solitude without requiring any risk on my part, and best of all was the market down the street, which quickly became my cloister.

    Among many other things during that first lunch with Dolores the fruit vendor, I learned her Cádiz market dictum. "Never on Mondays," she said. "The market's open, but there's no fish for sale, and our market with no fish for sale is just about as interesting as a man without a-" She batted her long black eyelashes. "Coat?" I replied, and scored some more of that insane cackling. Mutually surprised by our odd friendship, we had lunch a couple of times that week, and all we talked about was food and the trials of love, but mostly food.

    Mutually surprised by our odd friendship, we had lunch a couple of times that week, and all we talked about was food and the trials of love, but mostly food.
    Dolores, I eventually found out, had trained indeed as a nurse but had chafed at the hours. She was involved with a jealous merchant marine captain she called the Cyclops. He'd ended up with a glass eye after a fight in a bar in Cape Town, and it was because he was shacked up at her house that Dolores and I couldn't do the thing that we most wanted to do alone together: cook. Still, she became my tutor in the cuisine of the Gaditanos, as the city's people call themselves, and oversaw my every meal, sending me to the tapas bar at El Faro for tortillitas de camarones (shrimp fritters) and ortiguillas fritas (sea anemone beignets), which tasted like the Mediterranean would if you boiled it down to a saucepan of liquid. "The reason our cooking is good is that it's always been a cuisine of mercy and curiosity," she said. "We lived in a ménage à trois for centuries-Arabs, Christians, Jews-and then, after the river silted up and choked off stuffy old Seville, Cádiz got rich."

    One day when the Cyclops was away, Dolores invited me to the beach and brought a picnic, including a little tub of manteca colorá (scarlet pimentón-flavored pork fat), which she spread on crackers and served with sherry, and a quartered chicken that had been roasted in Oloroso wine. "I call it brokenhearted chicken," she told me. "Because it tastes so good it makes you hungry even if you're heartbroken." The bird tasted lightly caramelized and gently garlicky. I matched her wing for wing, leg for leg, thigh for thigh. "This is Gaditana cooking," she said, "simple but sincere."

    The last time I saw her, we spent the whole afternoon in a tapas bar, and when it was time for her to go home to the Cyclops, she emphatically forbade me to come and say good-bye at the market the following morning before I got my train back to Paris. "The last thing we need is more drama in our lives," she said. "Just promise me you'll come back sometime very soon so that we can cook together."

    During the years that followed, she sent me a Marks andamp; Spencer Christmas card every December, and I never forgot her birthday-it's the day after mine. I called her a few times, too, but our friendship was one that required physical presence. Through three Paris apartments, I kept a postcard of Cádiz taped to the bookcase by my desk, but freed of my demons, I just kept getting busier and busier with work.

    Then last year, there was no Christmas card, so I called. The number had been disconnected, so I wrote, and many months later, I was puzzled by a letter with an Uruguayan stamp in my mailbox. A daughter I didn't know Dolores had wrote to tell me that her mother had died of lung cancer just before Christmas.

    I was devastated. And ashamed.
    I knew what I needed to do-keep my promise.
    I hadn't been much of a friend to the woman who'd nursed my wounds so gently that I barely noticed. Now she was gone, and for a week, her death was the first thing I thought of when my eyes opened in the morning. Then one day, I knew what I needed to do-keep my promise. So, I rented a little apartment with a decent kitchen in the Calle Rosario, and I went back to Cádiz to cook.

    Arriving late, I dumped my bag and ducked around the corner to a tapas bar called El Aljibe for some choco en su tinta (cuttlefish in its own ink) and a lot of white wine. I fell asleep that night with the smell of the city's brine-wetted limestone in my nostrils for the first time in two decades. Up at dawn, I hurried down the Calle de Columela with my canvas shopping bag, rounded the corner by the handsome art-nouveau post office, and had a shock.

    After 20 years, the Mercado Central de Abastos, the oldest covered market in Spain, had changed. Unbeknownst to me, it had been completely renovated and redesigned, a project, as I later learned, by architect Carlos de Riaño that was completed in 2010. Now, the original honey-colored stone walls surrounded two white and airy bright pavilions.

    I had a day to get my bearings in this clean-edged and decidedly not murky market before friends from LA arrived-the first in a rotation of visitors I'd invited here to help fuel a week's worth of cooking-so I wandered and poked and prodded and sniffed and sampled and chatted a little bit here and a little bit there. Finally, finding my safe harbor among the fishmongers' stalls, I bought a half kilo of tiny almejas (clams), which I would cook Gaditano style, in sherry and garlic, and then purchased a fat, silver-blue dorada from a vendor named Miguel Perales, whose aura of gentleness matted against strength made him look like he'd just stepped out of a Zurbarán painting.

    For a week I cooked and cooked, first with the Angelenos, then with an Australian pal from Madrid, next with another Yank living in Barcelona, and finally for a couple from London. One day it was the sherry-cooked clams, the next it was crisp cubes of marinated swordfish, a recipe Dolores had given me, and then it was her brokenhearted chicken, followed by sea bream baked with peppers and tomatoes in a heady bath of bone-dry palomino wine. On the last day, I was exhausted but exultant. Memory may lie, but food can't.

    The first time I fell for the market in Cádiz it was because of the annealing sensuality of its produce and the friendship I found there. The second time I discovered an equally intense but more studious passion.
    The first time I fell for the market in Cádiz it was because of the annealing sensuality of its produce and the friendship I found there. The second time I discovered an equally intense but more studious passion. It only took a few days before the market denizens I'd decided to make mine smiled when they saw me in the morning and were willing to share a recipe or two. From Miguel the fishmonger came the one for sea bream. From David Méndez, a chef I'd struck up a conversation with at Miguel's stall, came another, for a creamy tomato and bread soup garnished with strips of salt-cured tuna.

    And on that last, sun-baked afternoon in Cádiz when I'd sought some shade and a breeze on the edge of one of the faience-paved terraces in the lush subtropical gardens of the Parque Genovés, a white-haired lady in a nearby kiosk brought me a glass of cold water when she heard me crying. Calmer than I'd been in years, I'd never really looked at my scars before, and as a middle-aged man with a happy, settled life, I was slow to realize that they're a blessing. They're not only the reason for my relentlessly questing appetite, they also remind me of the storms I've survived and the very special people whom I've known.

    See the recipe for Dolores's Brokenhearted Chicken »
    See the recipe for Almejas à la Gaditana (Clams in Sherry Sauce) »
    See the recipe for Tortillitas de Camarones (Shrimp Fritters) »
    See a guide for where to eat in Cádiz »

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    Postcard: Empanadas from Nuchas-photo
    by Betsy Andrews
    Ariel Barbouth, the owner of Nuchas, a roving empanada truck here in New York, with a booth as well in Times Square, stopped by with boxes full of his specialty. Though flavors for Nuchas' stuffed, baked pastries range unconventionally all over the global-portobello mushroom and spinach seasoned with berbere, a sweet-savory Ethiopian spice mix; Creole-style shrimp and andouille jambalaya; a Mexican riff with chicken and chipotle-our favorite is the traditional empanada from Barbouth's native Argentina, filled with a rich, saucy mixture of ground beef, diced potatoes, sliced green olives, onions, and peppers spiced liberally with cumin and pimentón, smoky Spanish paprika. Saveur assistant editor Felicia Campbell looks pretty happy with them! -Betsy Andrews

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