The way we eat now

Sasquatch's new cookbook offers a group portrait of Seattle's chefs.


by Cynthia C. Nims and Kathy Casey (Sasquatch Books, $19.95)

"IT IS MORE DIFFICULT, in a way, to dine out these days . . . harder to make a choice of where to go."

Truer words were never spoken; and they were spoken—written, actually—by Emmett Watson in 1977, in his introduction to Dining In—Seattle, subtitled, caps and all, "A Collection of Gourmet Recipes From Seattle's Finest Restaurants." Twenty-five years ago, Watson was a natural to introduce such a book; his long-running column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer actually started out as a once-a-week, bought-and-paid-for promotion to encourage housebound Seattlelites to dine out more often.

Sasquatch Books' just-published Best Places Seattle Cookbook doesn't have a local celebrity to introduce it. It doesn't need one: Co-author Kathy Casey is a celebrity chef in her own right, and the 125 recipes she and Cynthia Nims have collected and adapted for home use from 65 restaurants around the Sound require no explanation or apology from anyone.

If this new book is a remarkably clear image of the fine food scene in Seattle in the digital age, Rona Abbott and Elliott Wolf's Dining In is a faded Kodachrome snapshot of our city nearly a quarter-century ago. For an old-timer like me, paging through a dog-eared, sauce-stained copy of the little Peanutbutter Press volume has its nostalgic pangs and pleasures. Only five of the 21 establishments included survive today: Cr갥 de Paris, Duke's, 13 Coins, Canlis, and (after a hiatus) El Gaucho. Some fine meals at bygone venues like Mirabeau, Gerard's Relais de Lyon, and Rosellini's Other Place still linger in memory.

On the other hand, can anyone really regret the passing of Jerry Kingan's Lion O'Reilly's and B.J. Monkeyshines, or his Boondocker's, Sundecker's, and Greenthumb's? (Yes, my dears, as in so many other areas, Seattle also pioneered in giving loathsomely coy names to dreadful restaurants.) Even the Brasserie Pittsbourg, ground zero in the 1970s for the New Breed (mostly from out of town) set on waking up the sleepy old town's politics, commerce, and culture, was far more notable for its style and setting than its food.

Even more striking is the '70s haute-taste palette captured in Dining In: A full third of the restaurants with recipes featured here offered mainline French cuisine, two more "continental," another two Americanized Italian. Only five of 24 main dishes featured seafood. The only "ethnic" establishment included was Casa Lupita. Though the International District teemed with first-rate eateries, not a single Asian restaurant of any description made the cut. This wasn't culinary racism; it must have been inconceivable to the authors that anyone who wasn't from a Japanese or Cantonese family (back then we'd barely heard of Vietnamese, Thai, Szechuan cooking, let alone experienced them) would attempt such "exotic" dishes at home. But most notable for its absence is the genre so dominating the Seattle restaurant world today that we barely need a name for it: that magnificent mongrel engendered of James Beard, Julia Child, Alice Waters, and a hundred other practical idealists, the "new American cooking."

NIMS AND CASEY'S collection presents a cross section of the way Seattle cooks today, not just in restaurants but in many homes as well: with fresh, seasonal ingredients, with myriad herbs and spices, with a polyglot command of ethnic variations on the eternal pentacle of sweet, sour, salt, hot, umami. The first few appetizers included give a sense of the range of the whole book: herb-infused olives (Boat Street Caf马 onion pancakes with smoked trout r魯ulade (Chez Chea), fried razor clams in brown butter with salsify chips (Etta's Seafood), mussels roasted with herbs (Brasa), phyllo pastry stuffed with Asian-seasoned barbecued beef with a side of fruit salsa (Roy's), scallop-shrimp seviche topped with avocado pur饠and cilantro oil.

Despite Nims' deft editing, this is not a cookbook for the beginner, unless the beginner does a lot of shopping in ethnic markets, owns the latest machinery, and has a lot of time to spare. Many recipes are multipart and call for multiple skills that not every cook has mastered: stock and sauce making, pastry baking, even food gathering (Bruce Naftali of Le Gourmand tells you how to harvest your own nettles for his signature soup). But a hands-on sampling of the recipes suggests that anyone willing to read carefully and follow directions will not go wrong.

Fortunately, the book works as an essay as well as it functions as instruction. Many will find caterer-consultant Casey's interpolated essays on ingredients and techniques informative and inspiring, but the contributors' recipes, with the help of Nims' editing, make even more toothsome reading. I'm almost certainly never going to assemble the 16 ingredients required for Bahn Thai's version of tom kah gai, but it's great to know how this marvelous coconut-ginger-lime-cilantro glorification of chicken broth is put together.

And some of the most wonderful items are among the most straightforward. The corn chowder with crabmeat and cilantro salsa from Leslie Mackey's Macrina Bakery is an example. Simple, succulent, with a secret ingredient—corncobs—it is the essence of how we eat now, at least in our dreams.

Click here for the recipe for Leslie Mackey's corn chowder with crabmeat and cilantro salsa

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