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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bad Beer

There are times that I can just wince at a high price others where I just balk.

The other day, I balked.

I met a friend to catch up over a beer in the center of Paris at the bar, Le Montorgueil on the street of the same name. The bar has a great location on a trendy street but a is a dive, complete with a circular Plexiglas aquarium-like thing with swirling glitter on the bar.

We caught up, decided to move on and I went to the bar to pay for a pint and a demi (25 cl draft) of the cheap stuff.

“Thirteen twenty,” said the barman, the euro equivalent of more than seventeen bucks.

I stared blankly. My eyes started to do that top-left, top-right, while-I do-the-math thing, but with nothing adding up, they went blank again.

“Thirteen twenty,” repeated the barman.

Saying nothing, I went over to verify on the little board with the drink prices.

Sure enough.

My friend had come over by this point to see what was taking so long.

“Thirteen twenty,” I told him.

He turned directly to the barman and without hesitating said, “I’m sorry, sir, but that’s absurd.”

I agree. I get the part about paying for the trendy location. I realize the prices are posted for everyone to see, but give me a break. I’d later bump into a Parisian friend who had the same experience, noting their drinks cost what I’d roughly translate as “the skin off of our rear ends.”

There are places where I’ll just wince at a price like that – the big, beautiful and similarly priced Café Beaubourg, right down the street, for example. Here, however, it’s absurd.



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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pork Products

I’ve always had an aversion to taking antibiotics unless someone could really convince me they were worth it.

A few ex-girlfriends might say otherwise, but it’s a good thing I’m not a pig in the United States.

Nicholas Kristof wrote a recent zinger about big agriculture’s use of antibiotics in animal feed that can lead to an antibiotic-resistant staph infection called MRSA, which, as he notes, “kills more than 18,000 Americans annually, more than AIDS does.”

In an article full of jaw-droppers, he also cites a 2008 article in Medical Clinics of North America that said “more antibiotics were fed to animals in North Carolina alone than were administered to the nation’s entire human population.”

Go get ‘em Tar Heels!

On March 17, New York State congresswoman and microbiologist Louise Slaughter reintroduced legislation to curb the use of antibiotics in agriculture.

First read the article, then give your congressperson a call.



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Monday, March 16, 2009

Bubbly Basics

I wheedled my way into a Krug Champagne tasting in Barcelona the other day – my birthday no less! - getting a chance to sip on some pretty fancy stuff.

I can’t say buying a bottle of their bubbly is the first thing I’d do with a few extra c-notes, but I liked LVMH (Krug’s parent company) enologist Xavier Montclús’ back-to-basics, grapes-to-glass approach to the tasting, even in a room full of food-industry pros that included sommeliers and Michelin-starred chefs.

A few highlights:

THE GRAPES:
Montclús’ metaphors to understand part of each grape’s role in Champagne…

Pinot Noir – “The backbone and the muscles that hold up the wine” – anti-flab, if you will.

Pinot Meunier – “The bones which give fruit flavors like pear, peach and quince…remember that the best taste in meat is closest to the bone.”

Chardonnay – “The skin.” The skin? Eww. “Like on a peach. It contributes smell (honey, for one)
and golden color.” Mmm.

PRESENTATION:
- The Cork - “Loosen the cage that holds the cork, but keep it on top of the bottle, with your hand on it at all times,” he says, reminding me of a moment when I was a waiter on a San Francisco Bay dinner cruise (dressed like Gopher from “The Love Boat,” no less) and put a quarter-inch dent in a ceiling tile with a cork before beaning a woman on the top of her head. Hoo, dear, I couldn’t stop laughing. “Hold the cage & cork in one hand and turn the bottle with the other.”

- The Bucket – “Fill it three-quarters of the way with ice, then halfway up with water.” A bottle that hasn’t been cooled should be kept on ice ½ hour, but not more. “Minimum temperature should be five degrees Celsius (41 F) – lower than that just brings out the defects.”

- The Pour – “Never serve more than half a flute.”

Bottoms up!



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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Healthy First Steps

Good news came with this morning’s coffee – while the policies that govern the food produced in the United States are still being spelled out by the Obama administration, the first family is leading by example when it comes to eating well. (Click here or here).

Michelle Obama has been stumping to get America to pay attention to what they’re eating by opening up the White House kitchen, applauding healthy, unprocessed cuisine and promoting locally-grown food.

Want a stomach-turning reason why? Watch the little graphic on the Centers for Disease Control’s ‘Overweight and Obesity’ trend page.

There’s a weird stir going on in the U.S. about whether or not first lady Michelle Obama’s well-toned arms should be on display, but I say more power to her. Gripe about the spare tires that way too many Americans have and applaud the example of someone who eats well and takes care of themselves.

Get involved in U.S. agricultural policy here.



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Monday, March 09, 2009

Fair vins and following seas

Bad news, bar fans!

Even in Barcelona, word got to me that after decades of running one of my favorite spots for a Paris apéro, Elyette Planchon has hung up her high heels and sold Au Reve, her 18th arrondissement landmark bar, and retired. For the returning traveler, Elyette and Au Reve were the perfect way to feel back at home in the City of Light.

Not for lack of trying, but one of my biggest food regrets in Paris is never having had one of her semi-secret Wednesday lunches.

Sniff!

Instead of crying in my beer, let’s raise a glass of wine to Elyette, wish her well and do as it said on her apron – la geste qui sauve les vignerons* – take a sip.

* “The gesture that saves winemakers”

Click here to see my Boston Globe Travel article, “Paris dreams of things to come – after an apéro” which features Elyette and Au Reve



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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sex Food

I can get caught up in the primordial pleasures of food – a caveman’s instinct that can obscure technique, artistry and emotion. A freelancer’s budget will also curb the reflex of heading to a fancy restaurant in a hurry, but Mauro Uliassi who runs his two-star restaurant Uliassi in Senigallia, Italy and is the consulting chef for the brand-new Domani in Hong Kong, helped glue the pieces together the other day at the Forum Girona food show.

I originally met Uliassi in Paris where he was showing off a dish called cuttlefish carbonara - shaved ribbons of al dente cuttlefish, cooked sous vide, topped with oven-crisped pancetta and Cryovacked egg yolk – a well thought-out and perfectly executed dish that made a clever wink at the classics.

To bridge the gap between food as fuel and food as inspiration, however, the Italian chef talks about sex.

“There’s a huge parallel between food and sex. If you don’t eat, you die. If you don’t make love, there aren’t more people,” he says, with a blunt and curious blend of math and biology, “but when you get past that, eroticism and food are pleasure.”

“If we’re just hungry, I take a pig, cut it in half, stick it on a fire and eat it with my hands,” he continues, appealing to the primal needs while augmenting with a bit of spectacle, “but evolved cultures eat for pleasure.

“When you eat, you must ‘ooh!’ and ‘ahh!’ - it’s very important. Musicians have guitars, painters have canvases. Food is a way for me to show enthusiasm for life.”
Ristorante Uliassi
Ristorante Domani



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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Go ask Alícia

I got a whirlwind tour of the Alícia food research center today at Món St. Benet, about an hour outside of Barcelona.

The center, whose name is a mix of the Catalan words alimentació and ciència (food and science) is chef Ferran Adrià‘s dream child, focusing on gastronomic research, improving eating habits, including pushing for better school and hospital lunches. It’s sort of like an Alice Waters dream project with more test tubes and scientific gear.

It was an unfortunately quick tour, but at first glance, I love the idea that kids come here to learn good eating habits. Instead of a field trip to the museum, you go to the lab of food. Pay attention America!

Another favorite is a quote from Alícia coordinator Pepe Zapata – “We don’t deal with processed food here. You can put vitamins in milk, but why not get them from the products they originally come from?”

Alícia
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
+34 938 759 402
workshops and guided tours:
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
+34 902 875 353

P.S. - Speaking of Alice and school lunches, Mrs. Waters and collaborator Katrina Heron had a February 19 op-ed piece in the New York Times – “No Lunch Left Behind” – detailing what is needed to help make school lunches better - a worthy read.



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