At Sichuan Pavilion's Saturday and Sunday brunch, you get a glass of wine or a mimosa, spring rolls or dumplings (the dumplings are better), won ton or hot and sour sopup (choose won ton) and one of eight entrees (worthwhile were the fried string beans with chopped beef or the fiery pork in garlic sauce) -- all for $6.50. This is far from impeccable Chinese food, but at these prices you wonder why the McDonald's across the street is so busy.
Food Futures -- A look at the eating trends from what has been my crystal ball, the annual California Vintners' Barrel-Tasting at Manhattan's Four Seasons restaurant (unfortunately, this was the last of the barrel tastings, so this crystal ball is being retired): Sushi is still the sensation, and raw bars have not lost their attraction. Duck is being prepared in new ways, with a return of crisp skin -- a relief after the skinless rare duck-breast interlude. The Four Seasons roasted duck remarkably so the meat was succulent and the skin both greaseless and crisp;, as close as I have found to the texture of true Peking duck. And a second method was even more interesting, the meat cooked through and as soft as if it had been steamed, then sauced with a peppercorn cream and topped with a slab of intensely crunchy skin. As for salmon, the restaurant braised it in caul fat, which turned it meltingly soft. And wild boar was prepared as a coarse pate in a crust, sauced with red and black currants -- fresh, of course. What once might have been a pasta course was this timne a risotto, of seafood. And overall trends? Lots of sweetness in sauces, and an excessive sweetness in a chestnut puree with venison -- though deliciously spiked with jalapenos. In general, food has become less manipulated, less tortured into inventive shapes, and indeed less garnished but presented in plain and simple splendor.