Lightness? Ha. People say they want light foods, but they really don't, discovered Joyce Goldstein of Square One restaurant. "They want meat, they want pasta, they want FOOD," she declared. "I have never sold so much beef in my life." If you scoff, just look at dessert sales.
Goldstein used to be a painter, later became a cooking teacher, then a food reporter for television and for Rolling Stone, and chef and manager for the cafe of Berkeley's Chez Panisse. A year and a half ago she opened Square One in downtown San Francisco, followed by Caffe Quadro, which serves just pizza, calzone, salads and sandwiches for eating in or carrying out. Along the way she has become a spokeswoman for what might be considered the sane food society.
"I tend to do the food that I think of as more comforting," she said of her cooking. She likes food that reminds you of childhood and family meals, "food that makes you feel good."
It is also food that keeps tradition alive, regional food -- though from a lot of different regions. For instance, she serves a classic Brazilian shellfish stew with coconut, lime and cilantro; and Italian grilled baby chickens with lentils.
What diners, do, though, is turn such dishes into a trend. "Now the world calls it California cuisine," Goldstein said of her regional classics. What's even sillier though, according to Goldstein, is cooks combining random ingredients in order to "invent" a dish. She declared, "I have a great respect for the classics because they are classics for a very good reason." They are harmonious, they taste good and you can remember them.
What is considered California cuisine isn't really new, said Goldstein. Using fresh local ingredients -- that's not new. Planning menus around ingredients that are available rather than finding the ingredients for what you have decided to cook? That's the way it was always done.
Her dishes -- which are constantly changed and start from scratch right down to the breads and condiments, hence the name Square One -- evolve from an idea or a memory. They reflect her personal taste but also keep in mind the origins of the dish and what she liked about it. And they develop over time. Cooks should be cooking things they know something about and have a frame of reference for, said Goldstein.
In today's trendy cooking, she complained, dishes come and go too quickly before they can develop. Cooks are "humming along to the food tune of the month." Instead, they should be honing their recipes from the transient into the memorable.
Goldstein's menu concentrates on dishes with strong flavors and earthy character -- Algerian chick pea soup, Brazilian mixed grill with lime-chili salsa and black beans, Indonesian pork brochette with peanut sauce, shellfish curry. It also includes grilled fish, pastas, salads and a braised or roasted dish. One section is devoted to Salads & Light Entrees, another equally large to desserts. Her flavors are pungent, the tastes intense. But the textures are light, refined. At its best her restaurant's food is like superlative home cooking, though served in an austere room that seems determined to avoid decoration -- white tile, white tablecloths, white everything.
California cuisine? New food? American contemporary? Not when the restaurant makes its own crunchy, crusty peasanty sourdough bread. This is food with weighty tradition behind it. Tabletalk
*Someone still believes fish will continue to eclipse steak. General Mills has bought 36 Ponderosa restaurants in Canada to convert them to Red Lobster restaurants.
*You can find a good recipe in the most unexpected places, this time in a novel about time machines, the Russian revolution and romance -- "Time After Time" by Allan Appel (Carroll & Graf, 1985, $17.95). Appel, a photographer and painter as well as writer and cook, said he "ate fennel with every known vegetable extant until we found that it goes with green beans and only green beans and decidedly does not go with anything else." So his hero boils some green beans, boils some fennel, and tosses them together. Aha, Green Beans with Finocchio!
*Working mothers, relax. According to a study of 2,000 U.S. households by MRCA Information Services, working mothers feed their families 7 percent more salads and 8 percent more eggs than mothers who do not work outside the home. Their children under age 12 also eat more vegetable dishes as well as 23 percent less presweetened cereals, 25 percent less candy, 33 percent less cookies, 11 percent less pizza. Either that, or they know less than at-home mothers about what their children actually eat. SQUARE ONE'S MIDDLE EASTERN LAMB RAGOUT IN PHYLLO CRUST (6 servings)
2 pounds lamb shoulder, well trimmed, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup olive oil
5 teaspoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons oregano
1/2 cup (1 stick) clarified butter
2 yellow onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, diced, and their liquid
2 cups lamb or chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 pound feta cheese, crumbled
4 sheets of phyllo dough, cut in half
Chopped parsley for sprinkling
Marinate lamb overnight in olive oil, 3 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 teaspoon oregano. Toss well to rub spices into meat.
Brown the meat in a heavy skillet and remove to a stew kettle that has a lid. When all of the meat is browned, film the skillet with a little of the clarified butter and saute' the onions until transparent. Add the garlic, 3 teaspoons oregano and 2 teaspoons cinnamon and saute' about 5 minutes. Add onions to the meat.
Add the diced tomatoes, their liquid, the lamb or chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Cover and lower heat. Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, or until tender. Skim excess fat from the stew. Add salt and pepper to taste. You may want to add more cinnamon or oregano as well.
Bring the lamb stew to a boil if it has cooled and divide it into 6 ramekins or individual little deep dish pie plates. Sprinkle with feta cheese.
Place 3 ramekins on each half of phyllo and cut around them to create 6 circles. Butter 4 layers of phyllo for each lid. Place the lids on a baking sheet. You will have 6 lids of 4 layers of phyllo dough, well buttered between each layer. Butter top layer as well.
Bake the lids at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes or until they are golden brown.
If the lamb stew has cooled, reheat it in a hot oven for 5 to 7 minutes.
Place the lid atop each pie, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.
This is nice as it is, and does not require a vegetable accompaniment, though it would be nice to follow it with a green salad.
As a variation, you may add some chopped saute'ed spinach to the finished stew, then top with the feta, etc.