I realize that several of my favorite foods, meals I cook over and over, were things I first ate in a restaurant or market. They were so good that I went home and experimented until I made something close enough – or better. All of these have become household favorites, and make repeat appearances on Viand menus. Several that come to mind are:
- Fresh fruit tarts. I first had these at Pasquini bakery in Denver. (Now tragically closed.) I bought the tart because it was covered with summer blackberries, ripe to the point where they start to turn dull. But the tart itself was like none I had tasted. The filling was lighter than custard, the pastry flaky rather than crumbly. I studied these tarts as often as I could, and concluded that the filling was the same as the cannoli further down in the case. I use a pâte sucrée crust.
- Smoked turkey, bacon, and fried apple sandwiches on light rye bread. These I had at Zaidy’s Deli, also in Denver. I immediately loved them, and knew I could do better, because my grandmother had taught me how to fry apples properly (until caramely brown, aided with a handful of brown sugar). If you live in a country where there’s no caraway in the rye bread, just sprinkle some over the top.
- Fennel, cucumber, and white onion salad with fresh mozzarella. I usually pickle the onions in advance. Everything must be sliced super-thin. I first had this at Panzano restaurant, also in Denver, which was otherwise unspectacular. They served a daily “mozzarella salad” and I got lucky with this one.
- ravioli nudi from Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, which I hope never ever closes or changes. (ancient, classic, california cuisine in a gorgeous space). I settle for ravioli nudi from food and wine magazine, which is pretty damn good. Zuni’s, however, melts in the mouth.
I realize that I should devote myself to reproducing all of my other most remembered foods prepared by others, so herewith is the to-do list, in chronological order:
• really stupendous sauteed wild mushrooms (I had these as a child at a restaurant in NYC, and I believe it was my first experience of nouvelle cuisine. I ordered a second serving.)
• in Palm Springs: a salad: avocado, grapefruit, red onions.
• filo-encrusted candied apple from a restaurant in Boston which I loved so much that I had my 21st birthday dinner there. I know this restaurant closed, and sadly I don’t remember the name. The caramel soaked through the filo dough, making it chewy in places while crisp in others
•sundried tomato, black pepper, parmesan scones from the San Francisco Farmers Market when it was still in a parking lot. I’ve tried to make these several times and it’s not as easy as it sounds. I suppose the first challenge is a really light but buttery scone recipe. Then the right parmesan. Wet or dry sundried tomatoes?
•blackberry turnovers (probably i’ll enjoy other fruits as well). these were also sold at the San Francisco Farmers Market before the Ferry Plaza Building. I think the bakery was in Sonoma somewhere, but the important thing was that transition from chewy where the fruit has wet the crust to flaky to a crunchy sugary crust.
• fruit breads from Noe Valley Bakery. This is bread, not cake. My favorites are: Apricot & Ginger, Chocolate & Cherry. I used to buy 8 loaves when I’d visit San Francisco, then slice and freeze them back in Santa Barbara. One of my favorite treats. What is really interesting about these breads is that the fruit isn’t that sweet. The bread is. How to make the bread sweet like this, with a wet sourdough texture? And the chocolate in the chocolate cherry bread is very dry and crumbly, I don’t know what kind of chocolate it is.
•salad of 39 things from La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar in Buenos Aires. Every bite is a different combination of flavors, nuts, berries, roots, shoots, some cooked, some cold, some warm. I think there was a bit of mayonaise in the dressing. I finally attempted it (without the mayonaise) at Viand 29: Berlin 2: High Low.
•cube of spaghetti with curry and small shrimps from Freud & Fahler in Buenos Aires.
•seafood citrus salad from Yellow in Sydney. I’m crushed to find this restaurant is closed. I don’t remember anything about the salad beyond what I said. I think there might have been macadamia nuts in it?
•chocolate brownie from John&Peter Canteen, Sydney (closed)
•Grandma I-ya’s german chocolate cake. It’s always your family’s food that is the biggest challenge to replicate. Because your version of grandma’s cake will always be missing one ingredient – her love.