Thursday, November 30, 2006

It’s Vacherin Mont D’Or Season

One of the benefits of the American cheese revolution is that the specialty stores carrying all these great new cheeses are now serious about selling them at their proper ripeness. Cheese varies in the time it takes to ripen and in the temperature that is best for it. Treating it well and serving it at the right moment is essential to savoring its greatness. Many of the best stores in this country now have aging caves. In France people who age cheese are known as affineurs. The first affineur I met was Jean D’Alos who has a famous shop in Bordeaux. He has three floors below street level where he ages his cheeses, with special rooms for fresh young chevre, or comte, and of course for Vacherin Mont D’Or.
On a recent visit to the cheese counter in the restaurant Artisanal in New York, I spied my favorite cheese and my heart started beating faster. It wasn’t labeled so I wasn’t sure. “Is this a real Vacherin?” I asked the man behind the counter who replied that it was. I almost fainted. Vacherin Mont D’Or is a cow’s milk cheese made with raw milk and wrapped in a band of spruce wood which infuses the cheese with its flavor. In Paris around this time Vacherins are piled high in stores. When it is perfectly ripe the cheese will be runny, or a point as the French say.

I serve this cheese with steamed potatoes, and I was lucky enough to have some fingerlings that a friend had just dug from her vegetable garden. All you need to do is steam the potatoes, sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground pepper over them, and serve them warm alongside the vacherin. I often make a simple bibb salad and serve that as well.

One of the great joys in my life is enjoying the foods that different seasons bring and there is nothing I look forward to more in November than Vacherin.

Artisanal Premium Cheese

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Slanted Door

New York has The Spice Market but San Francisco has the Slanted Door, and I have to say The Slanted Door is pretty amazing. Located at the Ferry Plaza with wonderful views of San Francisco Bay, it is always full—all 180 seats--even at 1:30 in the afternoon on a Monday! There wasn’t even a seat at the bar which must accommodate at least 40. San Franciscans take their eating seriously and their loyalty to this restaurant is unwavering. I can understand why.

The cuisine of The Slanted Door is Vietnamese and every bit as good or better than a small spot in Paris that I used to think was the best of its kind. Among other virtues, The Slanted Door, unlike that Paris place, has a great wine list that has been selected to complement the complex flavors of Vietnamese food. When two men next to me at the bar ordered chardonnay, the lovely bartender patiently explained that they didn’t serve chardonnay and offered them the wine list to make another choice. Being a bossy boots, I had to chime in and tell these guys why chardonnay does not work with this food. Instead I suggested a glass of the Riesling from Praeger. Of course I was right. They tried it and they loved it.

Now to the food. The Slanted Door’s spring rolls with shrimp, pork, mint, and peanut sauce are the best I’ve had because they make them large and cut them in pieces so you get more filling than dough and you can really savor the shrimp and pork. Even the lettuce and mint is extra tasty. Since I did not want a big lunch, I also ordered the shrimp and pork wonton soup with five spice pork and egg noodles. I love wonton soup when it is good and this one blew me away. The broth was incredibly rich and flavorful, the wontons had more filling than noodle, and the five spice pork was exceptionally flavorful. My favorite touch was the fried pork cracklings sprinkled on top.

I drank a glass of the Riesling, Praeger Federspiel “steinriegl’ which was magnificent.

They also have an excellent list of seductive cocktails. I had to order one when I spied someone having an irresistible looking drink of Kaffir Lime Vodka, ginger, and lime juice on the rocks. I took only a few sips but it was delicious.

The prices also make this place a great draw. There is no dish over 18.00 dollars, and most are a lot less than that. It’s great value for great quality. Can’t wait to go back.

The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building #3
Embarcadero & Market
San Francisco, California