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In my travel this past week I had dinner in a restaurant that has been acclaimed in a number of food magazines as being one of the best in America. It certainly did not live up to its reputation, in spite of the apparent feeling of the staff that we were being treated to something "really special." I have dined in so many restaurants that have that special balance of great food that says something about the personality of the chef along with a staff that embraces what they are doing. It is seldom that those on "50 Best" lists are actually the "best."
Thankfully, many restaurants today produce much of their fare in house, including breads, cheeses and smoked fish. They pride themselves on using local ingredients and both of these decisions are generally successful. In this vein it was with a flourish that the waiter placed two small loaves of bread baked in house on our table. The crusty little torpedoes were warm and slightly yeasty. A small pot of locally made organic butter accompanied the bread. The butter was pretty bland, however, and did little to complement the lovely artisan style bread.
I am not a big fan of spreading fat on my bread and am generally partial to dipping bread in olive oil if I have a choice. This is the preference of Mediterranean-style fare, and once you get used to the complex yet light flavors of olive oil, being presented with butter in such a restaurant doesn't seem in keeping with great food.
In this week's correspondence Isis talks about one of her favorite restaurants. At the Woodfire Grill in Atlanta, Georgia Chef Michael Tuohy regularly serves olive oil with his meals. The menu even has an olive oil tasting as one of the appetizers, and Chef Tuohy's choices are often thematic. The last time I was there the choices were all central California olive oils. The three served were from areas that began closer to the coast and moved inland. One could tell the difference between each of these as the terrain and climate where the olive trees are grown differs.
Paolo Villoresi is the publisher of Cucina Italiana. This fantastic magazine is chock full of information on Italian cooking including everything from recipes to equipment and technique. Mr. Villoresi has an abiding love for olive oil and there's terrific information on olive oil at his website.
Monounsaturated oils, like olive oil and grapeseed oil, have clearly been shown to be good for your health. They can improve your cholesterol profiles, and there's great research showing that other important chemicals in olive oil help prevent inflammation in the body (Dr. Gourmet News Bites 07/07/06 and 09/06/06).
I'm not sure that we in the U.S.A. are to the point of waiters asking what type of olive oil we want served with our bread, but we are a bit closer. Be sure to try it the next time you're in a restaurant and have that option. It's delicious!
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
October 16, 2006