Friday, October 29, 2010

Breaking Bread at Tavern

When I first tasted the sourdough bread at Tavern in Brentwood, it reminded me of the sourdough bread I used to eat as a child in San Francisco. The texture, flavor and consistency was almost identical.
If you’ve been a reader of this blog, you know I'm a bit of a bread snob—and I couldn’t believe that bread of this caliber was being made in Los Angeles. So I reached out to my friend, chef-owner Suzanne Goin, to see just who was doing the baking.
Goin told me his name was Nathan Dakdouk and that I might want to meet him in person to get the gestalt. Boy, she wasn’t kidding. Nathan is probably one of the most passionate breadmakers I have ever met, with a personality to match.

First, he took me into the wine cellar to show me the sourdough starter he uses to make all his breads. He affectionately calls it la Madre. He brought this starter to L.A. from Connecticut, where he had owned a bakery. A real sourdough starter is so important when making bread. Each loaf Nathan bakes is made with love and personal attention, even though he makes the bread for all of Goin's restaurants—Tavern, AOC and Lucques. He also bakes bread for the Hungry Cat, Goin’s husband’s restaurant.

The thing with any sourdough when made with a real starter is the bread isn't dead after the first day, whereas most fresh bread you buy is either stale or too hard after one day. Good sourdough should last a week—just reheat in the oven, and it comes back to life.

Nathan also makes a special AOC loaf, which is great; blueberry bread, which toasted is my favorite bread for breakfast; and a variety of others. But his sourdough is one of the greatest food finds L.A. has to offer, and I don’t hesitate to drive across town to get my loaves no matter what the traffic. 11648 San Vicente, Brentwood, 310-806-6464,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blue Bottle Coffee Brews It Best

Blue Bottle isn’t new. I’ve been enjoying the Bay Area purveyor’s coffee for years. But ever since hearing about its first store on the East Coast in Brooklyn’s hipper-than-hip Williamsburg earlier this year, I’ve been jonesing to get there. Owner James Freeman is obsessed with how his coffee is prepared, so the beans are only available through his stores, although Blue Bottle does sell to restaurants.

What especially intrigued me about this store was the introduction of Japanese slow-drip coffeemakers to make iced coffee. But there they were, behind a glass wall, slowly dripping 88 drops of water per minute. For coffee aficionados, this is sure to be an experience like no other.

I decided to try the Kyoto-style iced coffee, and it truly is a tasty brew. The nuances of the bean are so crystal clear and expressive: first, a powerful hit of chocolate, then an essence of coffee beans and a texture unlike most brewed coffee. Now, I love my macchiato, don’t get me wrong, but this surpassed any espresso or siphoned or brewed coffee I’ve had before.

Still, perfect coffee notwithstanding, because I’m obsessed, I have a suggestion: For all the trouble Blue Bottle goes through using these expensive machines to produce such extraordinary results, they should invest in a Kold-Draft ice machine. Kold-Draft uses an exclusive, state-of-the-art “upside-down” horizontal evaporator, which makes cubes that are larger and melt slower. Slower-melting cubes means less dilution.
Anyway, just an idea. Even without fancy ice cubes, there is nothing diluted about a cup of Kyoto iced coffee at Blue Bottle. 260 Berry St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn (other locations listed on the Website)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Loaf of Tartine Bread

The bread baked by Chad Robertson at Tartine’s in San Francisco is my favorite in the United States, hands down. Nothing can compare to picking up a freshly baked loaf when it is just coming out of the oven. The smell and texture are intoxicating, and it takes everything in me not to tear into it the minute I get it in my hands.

That’s not to say that there isn’t fantastic bread available in other cities across the country, but Robertson approaches breadmaking as an art, and he has been perfecting his loaf for more than 15 years. The guy is old school. He apprenticed with various bakers here and abroad to experiment with different styles until he perfected his own recipe. To this day, he is still learning—in fact, he recently emailed me from Paris, where he was meeting with several bakers.
Now everyone can take a crack at his bread. Tartine Bread, a book I have been waiting for since Robertson first told me about it more than a year ago, was released last week. And it is nothing short of brilliant.
I first met Robertson in Point Reyes Station 14 years ago, when he was baking bread in a small shack called Bakeshop with a wood-fired oven built by Alan Scott. The bread was amazing even then. Through the years, Robertson moved to Marin and then finally to San Francisco, opening Tartine Bakery on Guerrero Street in 2002, offering an array of pastries, desserts and sandwiches.
Tartine Bread promises to teach you how to make the perfect loaf right in your own home oven. The recipe is relatively simple, needing only a bit of time, patience and practice. Robertson went through great pains to get his wet dough right, sending it it out to nonbakers to test. The book includes great bread recipes and more than 30 sweet and savory dishes.
I have been on my own journey to make the perfect loaf. There is nothing like breaking freshly baked bread with loved ones, along with a bottle of wine and some delicious food. That’s all you need. Stay tuned—I'll be trying out Robertson's recipe.