January 28, 2008
January 19, 2008
On the six-hour flight to Las Vegas, our Southwest flight attendant made her way up the aisle, distributing mystery snack boxes. I knew this couldn’t be very promising (seeing as the boxes gave off no scent-- dead giveaway of real food), but I can’t deny a little feeling of anticipation-- maybe there was a granola bar in there.
No. The box contained a 100-calorie bag of cardboard wafers with “chocolatey” chips, an extruded meat stick, and Handi-Snaks. That’s right, Handi-Snacks, processed cheese product conveniently packaged with oddly-sweet “breadsticks.”
My initial reaction to this unnatural food was repulsion, but then I realized how hypocritical that was. Considering that our destination was, despite all appearances, in the middle of the desert, aren’t foods like Handi-Snaks more ecologically sound than the fresh foods that I wanted to eat? After all, processed foods require no post-production inputs to maintain their (and I use this word generously) edibility. The greens in the salad I ate that night were grown in on monocultural factory farm, sustained by water that likely didn’t fall from the sky, and refrigerated from the time it was picked until it ended up on my plate in Nevada.
Maybe you don’t want to think about food in such complicated terms. I don’t blame you, because I certainly don’t want to make the choices to never travel, to give up fresh vegetables in the winter, to never again taste the delicacies of France, Spain, or Italy, not to mention their wines. But I can’t deny that my food choices are important: at this point, they’re important to the small dairies, egg producers, and cheesemakers in my community, whose products I seek out consistently.
January 13, 2008
If you have missed me for the past few days, it’s because I was in Las Vegas with my wonderful husband, Charles. While neither of us would think, “Vegas!” as our destination of choice, I was thrilled to join him for his business trip.
Of course, I had done some research into the restaurants we should check out there. We took an Olympic approach to selecting our dining options, ruling out those at the very top and bottom of the spectrum. Thus, no casino buffets, but no Guy Savoy, either. No worries, I was perfectly content to settle for Thomas Keller.
We dined at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon on the second evening of our trip. An impromptu dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio, also in the Venetian, had disappointed us with tough ravioli and poor service the night before. I hoped that Mr. Keller’s bistro would survive the journey from Napa Valley artisanship to Las Vegas volume.
The meal was excellent. Our server was efficient and knowledgeable, with the added charm of a faux French accent. I didn’t believe Charles’s suspicion until the server mumbled, “Sorry, I don’t speak French,” when the diners next to us requested a carafe d’eau! It’s all part of the show, folks.
I enjoyed a small carafe of Vouvray, while my sweetheart was in the mood for beer (not a bad call when there’s Chimay on tap!). We started with cod brandade, perfectly fried with a delicate, fluffy interior enlivened by bits of sweet-tart dried tomato and fried sage on the plate. Our salads were fresh and flavorful, though both of us preferred the baby arugula, pear, and hazelnut brittle combination to the too-bitter mixture of watercress, endive, apple, and Roquefort.
For his main course, Charles chose the classic trout almandine, accompanied by a generous serving of firm, sweet green beans. I had mussels in white wine sauce-- not the best sauce I’ve ever had, but I award extra points for presentation. The mussels bathed in an egg-shaped, cast-iron vessel, in which a small gate created a pool of broth for dipping the perfectly-crisp baguette. There were also two shell bowls stacked together, solving the problem of a large shell bowl dominating our two-top: when the top bowl was full, it was promptly removed.
The service details like this, the artful presentation of each dish, the graciousness of the place: these are the elements that set a great restaurant apart from the trappings of such. I was entertained by the make-believe elements Vegas offered: window-shopping along a replica canal, strolling along lush gardens and man-made lakes in the middle of the desert. But hospitality must be genuine, no matter how many times you have to look someone in the eye, listen, and smile in a given day. Bravo to Thomas Keller and the staff of Bouchon for delivering a superior dining experience to their guests.
*A simple definition of food miles is the distance that food travels from its production to the consumer. Food miles are one component that can be used in assessing the sustainability of food production and distribution.
January 1, 2008