It is said that every style eventually comes back; what's not said is that it always comes back at a considerably higher price. Take the revival of good old American cooking. Chicken pot-pies have hit big-time menus again, and in Washington, the about-to-be-opened Wolensky's Bar & Grill is listing amid its fashionable grills, the Cajun prime rib and sweet potato french fries with raspberry vinegar, "meat loaf, lumpy mashed potatoes, gravy and canned peas."
So it goes in New York as well. The culinary senior professor of the New Americana is Larry Forgione, who started a stampede for wild mushrooms when he was the chef at Brooklyn's River Cafe, and now has introduced Manhattan to knife-and-fork oysters at An American Place. His was one of those restaurants that practically had a waiting list before it opened.
What turns out to be the big seller at An American Place? Strawberry shortcake. That's what Forgione was telling a group of food writers a couple months back as he was demonstrating that strawberry shortcake, a recipe he had learned from James Beard that has become Forgione's signature dish along with Saratoga chips, otherwise known as homemade potato chips. He is returning to "more homey" cooking including T-bone steaks, potato pancakes, corn pudding and brown betty.
Strawberry shortcake is his restaurant's most popular dessert, he continued. And his most popular appetizer is fried clams.
"I thought it was odd that people would pay $52 for a fixed price dinner," he said, that consisted of fried clams and strawberry shortcake.
But wait a minute. Something was wrong with that picture. Run it in reverse.
Didn't he think it was odd to charge $52 for a dinner that consisted of fried clams and strawberry shortcake?
I can't say that Forgione had a good answer. He kind of meandered through several possible explanations: He'd discovered how expensive clams are. He uses only the freshest ingredients. No clam strips here. In fact, he flies his clams in from Maine. He concluded the demonstration and the defense with, "There's a big difference, of course, between those and fried clams you get at Howard Johnson's."
Of course. But has he checked any of the clam shacks from Maine down through South Carolina to see how far $52 could go? Tabletalk
*While Americans are increasingly dining out -- 37 percent of all adults surveyed in a Gallup poll last year ate out at least once a day -- the rate of women dining out is increasing even faster. What women are looking for in restaurants is atmosphere. They also want menu choices not available at home, whereas men look more for familiarity -- familiar locations and foods, low prices and casual environments. So who's eating all that meat loaf?
*New food products we didn't know we needed: mesquite basting oil, strawberry-and-champagne mayonnaise, croissant toppings (which are said to stay on top of the croissant rather than soaking in, which the manufacturer apparently considers a breakthrough).
*And the best new name for an old food product, those chocolates that many hotels place on the pillow at night: Intimints. LARRY FORGIONE'S JAMES BEARD SHORTCAKE (6 servings)
With butter, cream and egg yolks in the dough, this is about as rich as shortcake can get. It makes crusty biscuits with a very soft interior, but be sure to cook them thoroughly, because given their double thickness, they are easily left pasty inside.
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut in small bits
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
4 hard-cooked egg yolks, mashed
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 pints berries, such as raspberries, blackberries or strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pint English double cream or 1 cup whipping cream, whipped
For the biscuits, sift flour, sugar, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or by working quickly with fingertips. The pieces of butter should be quite small. Add cream and mashed yolks and stir quickly until dough clings together.
Turn out on a floured board, knead a few times, and pat or roll out to 1/2- to 3/4-inch thickness. With a 3-inch, floured cookie cutter, cut 6 rounds, and with a 2 1/2-inch cutter, cut another 6 rounds. If needed, use scraps to re-roll. Arrange larger rounds on lightly buttered cookie sheet. Brush each with a teaspoon of melted butter. Top with 2 1/2-inch rounds and brush tops with butter.
In a small bowl, mix berries and sugar, toss, and let sit while shortcake is baking.
Bake in a 375-degree oven for 12 to 16 minutes (or longer if necessary) until firm to the touch and deep golden brown.
Transfer to serving plates and remove top (smaller) layers very carefully. Spoon the berries over the bottom layers and put a dollop of cream on each one. Place smaller layers on top of cream and serve immediately. Serve the rest of the cream on the side.