Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dining in the dark

I was reading the other day about a restaurant in Montreal called O.Noir where the wait staff are all legally blind. When you enter the restaurant there are no lights, and you order and eat in the dark (the name of the restaurant is a verbal play on the French words au noir, which mean in the dark).

The mission of the restaurant is to promote an understanding of what it is to live life as a blind person as well as provide employment for the blind. The side effect is that without the sense of sight, your senses of smell and taste are heightened.*

The idea of dining in the dark got me to thinking and I eventually found myself looking for cutlery that lights up. I found a number of sites--Who knew there was such a need?--including We Glow Ware at the Virginia Toy Company. The We Glow Ware is actually fork, knife and spoon tops that fit onto glow sticks, so the glow is temporary, but you can change it up for each party you throw. Like red and green for Christmas, or blue and white for Chanukah.

I also found flashing beer mugs, but I'll bet that's more interesting to a college kid who has had just enough beer that the flashing is amusing instead of intensely irritating.

*If you're a C.S.I. (Las Vegas) fan, you will have seen a recent episode all about the dining in the dark trend. (For any fanatics out there, it was Episode 2, Season 8 and was called "A La Cart.")

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A world of flavor: 4 international cookbooks

I've been accused of having an "obvious" palate, meaning that I like really strong flavors, not vague nuanc-y flavors. I like really tart things and really spicy things and stinky cheese. So I decided to put together a little compendium of cookbooks that have crossed my desk recently that I feel will satisfy this obvious palate of mine.

The first is from Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the New York chef (transplanted from France) who in his twenties spent some time in Thailand, as chef de cuisine in a French restaurant. This is where he found the magical melding of French cuisine and Asian flavors that has influenced his food sensibility ever since. His new cookbook, Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges, is an ode to this sensibility. Just pick a recipe in the book and you will find this fusion of East and West. Roast Chicken with Haricots Verts and Onion Compote, for example, uses Gewurztraminer wine and maple syrup in companionship with star anise, soy sauce and rice vinegar. You can't go wrong with any recipe from Jean-Georges. His food is spectacular.

Now let's fly to Mexico with Mod Mex: Cooking Vibrant Fiesta Flavors at Home. This book is from Scott Linquist, executive chef of the Dos Caminos restaurants (three in New York and an upcoming Las Vegas branch). Here are the recipes that tempt me: Chocolate Layer Cake (but wait) with a Morita Chile Mousse and Pistachio Palanquetta (palanquetta means brittle), Chipotle and Tamarind-Glazed Pork Chops with Apple Pico de Gallo, Roasted Duck Breast and Duck Carnitas Enchiladas with Mole Manchamanteles and Roasted Peach Salsita. Phew. These recipe titles are long, but they sure do tell you how many crazy flavors are at play in these dishes.

Now, to India with Meena Pathak, the Director of Development for Patak's, a well-known brand of Indian foods. In Meena Pathak Celebrates Indian Cooking, her third cookbook, Pathak presents recipes many of which actually call for Patak's brand of sauces and curry pastes. Indian home cooks make regular use of store-bought sauces and curry pastes. It's like calling for mayonnaise or ketchup in this country. You could make these recipes with any brand of curry paste you wanted to, but the fact of the matter is the Patak products are very good and pretty available in supermarkets in this country.

Last, but not least, is Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet by Padma Lakshmi (of Top Chef fame). I have to say that the title of this book had me at hello. The recipes draw heavily on Lakshmi's Indian heritage, but are really a reflection of her more eclectic, international taste in food, with recipes like Red Stripe Chicken (Jamaica), Braised Spinach Catalana (Spain), Persian Chicken Soup with Omani Lemon and Dill (Middle East), Fiery Linguine with Tomato and Shrimp (Italy) and BBQ Korean Short Ribs.