Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I Miss Bread

A friend of mine asked what I thought of the Kindle recently. And I said that it was like reading without the subtext of paper: pages, typeface, cover art, crinkles, and heft. It's an advance, but also a sterilization of the experience.

And that got me thinking about food, and wondering if my 12 meals a week in restaurants in various places is the Kindle of eating.

Which isn't to say I'm complaining exactly. There is something nice about the proximity of the decision of what to eat and the acquisition of food. I can sit at my desk, think, "I'd like Thai tonight," and then poof, there's Thai. No pouring through cookbooks, no trips to the grocery store, no searches in vain for exotic spices, no prep work, no dishes.

What gets lost in the mix is the subtext of the food. The ingredients in their raw form go through amazing transformations to become dinner. Colors blend, flavors mellow, bread rises (how amazing is that!), and things that were poking their leaves out of the ground hours earlier become salad.

So the other side of Grubbus for me is the unsterilization of food for the days I get to spend at home. And the center of that, at the moment, is bread. Bread makes me happy.

And here's why I'm not ready to give up my imperfect, inconvenient food for the sleek Kindle-like take out. That Ciabatta up in the picture next to the cinnamon rolls? It was light and airy, but nearly as light and airy as the Ciabatta from Central Market. The cinnamon roles were pretty, but not as pretty as any commercial bakery worth a visit. The reason I'm not ready to give them up is that food is more than it's isolated characteristics. Food has the taste of the hours of subtext that goes into it.

So, here's to the unsterilized, the hands on, the substantial. Here's to food you need to think about a day in advance, and clean up from late into the night. Here's to the unreproducible results of the help of small children.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Stumbling on the Essence of India

It's a bold name for a restaurant, sort of like Seattle's Best Coffee or The Country's Best Yogurt. These things invite you to scoff, to call the bluff. I knew Seattle's best coffee, and you, sir, are no Seattle's best coffee.

And it's got a couple strikes against it right off the bat. For one, The Essence of India is in Tallahassee. The pizza's good in this town, but it's not typically strong on ethnic cuisine. For another thing, it's tucked in the corner of a strip mall next to a discount hair products store and an indoor archery range, behind the Olive Garden. That's bad karma no matter how you slice it.

Despite the rough prospects, this is an outstanding restaurant. I've got no real basis for determining if this is authentic or not, but the food is delicious. I typically order "medium" spicy and it's fiery and nuanced, with all the layers of complexity and spice interaction I associate with good Indian food. In everything I've had the sauces are thin, subtle and deeply spiced rather than the brightly colored-goop I've come to expect at more typical Indian places. The Korma is outstanding, with bits of almonds, and a milky, rich faintly sweet flavor. I'm also partial to the Madras sauce, which is dark and a little smoky. Tandoori items, especially the chicken Tikka are tender and moist. With Tracy and the kids this week, we ordered a feast, and there was general consensus that the Samosas and Aloo Tikki (kid favorites) were excellent. The plan Nan is good and fresh, but the garlic is more fun.

Often I write these posts after a single experience; in this case this is place I've been to maybe a dozen times. I'll probably tire of it sooner or later - it's on Appalachee Parkway right across from the Courtyard I stay at – but for months now it’s been one of my favorites. I’ve yet to be disappointed with anything I’ve ordered, and look forward to continuing to reach down the menu to try things I haven’t tried anywhere.

Essence of India on Urbanspoon


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