|Unagi terrine -- Pacific Rim Restaurant, Ann Arbor|
First experience: last night, we ate at Pacific Rim restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. Every dish was delightful. You see above the Japanese-style eel (unagi) appetizer, topped with seaweed. Under the quite generous portion of fish: a layer of avocado slices on a timbal of rice. The sauce was similar to that served with unagi sushi. I asked about the eel, which is smoked: the restaurant receives it vacuum packed. Each separate ingredient was delicious alone and in combination with all the other tastes. And in my opinion, the presentation was perfectly matched to the food -- not too showy, but genuinely attractive. I'm not usually so effusive, but this dish was a masterpiece.
Second experience: Reading recent news stories about a new law just taking effect in France. In the New York Times today are two stories: "Made in House? Prove It" by Elaine Sciolino and "French Food Goes Down" by Mark Bittman. The Guardian covered this news last week in "Will France's 'fait maison' law save its culinary reputation?" The law is complicated, and if you want to know the details, by all means follow one of these links.
In sum: the new French law requires that restaurants there disclose whether they actually prepare dishes in the kitchen, or buy them from mass-production gourmet food facilities and simply reheat or even microwave them. Actually, the law is very weak, allowing many dubious practices to continue. And if a restaurant says nothing, it's assumed that they obtain the food from suppliers of some sort. If restaurants want to indicate that they make it in house, they are permitted to display a symbol designating that they DO. (So French, no?)
|"Rich sablefish marinated in miso and sake, pan roasted|
with a soy-tamarind sauce and served over sautéed
nappa cabbage, shiitake mushrooms and Korean vermicelli noodles"
-- description from the Pacific Rim menu
Here's what puzzles me: if a little restaurant in a little town like this can make all these house-prepared dishes with skill and imagination -- what's the matter with the French? They invented most of the ideas used in American restaurants, though it's true this Asian-fusion cuisine is not due directly to French chefs.
|Hamachi (yellowtail) served|
with soba noodles, watercress-daikon salad and a soy-ginger vinaigrette
A quote from the Guardian article: "A survey carried out by French catering union Synhorcat suggested 31% of restaurants (not including cafeterias, bars and fast food outlets) used industrially prepared foods. Others claim the proportion is much higher – Xavier Denamur, restaurateur and fresh-food campaigner and filmmaker, carried out his own personal survey, which took him to dozens of restaurants throughout France. He believes closer to three quarters of restaurants relied on industrially produced food."
A quote from Sciolino: "...there is broad consensus that consumers need to be warned when their boeuf bourguignon has been vacuum-packed with chemical additives, or their escargots à la Bourgogne made with soy filler and rehydrated garlic."
Everyone doubts that this new law will really work the way consumers wish it would, especially because the food processing industry has stonewalled effective regulation, but also because the rules are pretty weak and inconsistent and there won't be enough inspections to even see who's telling the truth.
|Having heard Lenny mention that it was my birthday, the waitress brought this fabulous warm chocolate cake.|
Obviously, the Asian fusion theme isn't part of the dessert menu!
I'm not really persuaded that Bittman's pessimism is justified. Last night wasn't the only good meal I've eaten recently. But I guess I'm just very lucky to have access and afford such foods.
|The "fait maison" logo|