Thursday, August 31, 2006

Fragments: Musings on Food and Dining

I. More than Food

Being fed by attractive, flirty, and knowledgeable servers makes dining infinitely more pleasurable. Unless you're a middle-aged woman who sees in the comely 20-something taking your order the girl you once were or the husband you once loved. We'll always go back to restaurants with a cute staff simply because the staff is cute. This something that transcends race, gender, or sexual orientation. Let's celebrate that. Customers are sluts, servers are whores, and the restaurant is the brothel where this all goes down day and night. Or maybe the food is the whore and the server is just the pimp--the long-legged hostess beckoning passersby into a den of carnal delights. Either way.

II. Requiem for Bendean
I know that some people might get a boner from reading a list of seasonal ingredients, but that does not a dinner make. Take note Alice, Wendy, Judy, and every other Berkeley Bowl shopper with their own restaurant. We lost one of the best restaurants in the East Bay when Bendean closed. It was flavor intensified. Premium ingredients sculpted into entrees that were greater than their pieces. Free range chicken, retardedly great carrots, and flaky puff pastry fell together to create a transcendent (there's that word again) pot pie. And yet people didn't go in the way they should. Why? Location? Price? Or are people scared of flavor? Are people scared of not knowing what they're eating? Pork chili rojo? I don't even know what that means. Why should I eat it? Because it's goddamn good for you, that's why.

III. Viva Espana
Australia? Argentina? Oregon? California? The best value wines are not coming out of these trendy New World viticulture areas. The best convergence of quality and price can be found in one of the oldest wine-growing regions of the world--Spain. The country that brought Old World winemaking to the New World is--for reasons I don't know--producing phenomenal red, white, and sparkling wines that (EU be damned) are still commanding far less than their French and Italian counterparts. Spain's hot climate produces vibrantly fruit-forward reds but its talented winemakers manage to produce rich and mildly tannic wines that pack in flavor and depth without being mouth-puckering or jammy. There's also a judicious use of oak--Crianzas from Campo de Borja being a prime example. There's enough wood to build a nuanced finish without being buttery or musty. Spain's white wines benefit from complex soil--creating wines with long minerally finishes and/or bright crisp acidity. This isn't the place for residual sugar or big herbaceous whites, but excellent food-friendly whites that are deceptively complicated. Recommendations? Check out whites from Rueda and Rias Baixas and reds from Montsant, Jumilla, and Campo de Borja (not to mention some great sparkling Cavas) for great dinner wines in the $10-$20 a bottle range. Vintage Berkeley, Solano Cellars, and of course The Spanish Table all have great selections (and helpful staffs to navigate the minefield).

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