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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
This follow-up to Alfred Portale's Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook offers recipes and menus to take you through a culinary year, starting with May's bounty of produce. Famous for his towering creations, Portale creates elegant combinations of multiple ingredients, which you can stack to dramatic heights, as shown in the handsome photos, or serve in a more relaxed horizontal arrangement -- which will also make it easier to carry to the table.
Each monthly theme is loosely held together with reminiscences and seasonal observations. The theme can be an opportunity to focus on a specific ingredient or dish (berries and ice cream for July: Birthdays and Barbecues), technique (pan sauces for September: Recipes for Busy Times), or holiday (November: Giving Thanks). The result is a pleasant sort of grab bag. Other features include suggestions for variations, drink accompaniments, and "flavor building" -- such as adding truffle oil or caviar to make the dish Gotham Bar and Grill-worthy. Although the writing isn't strong enough to create the presence of personality the book seems to strive for, it is more personal than your average restaurant cookbook. Some recipe headnotes recount memories, proving Portale's comment that "recipes can be a form of autobiography." The mastery here is clearly in the recipes, not the text.
The recipe titles sound like the menu of an upscale restaurant -- they tend to follow an "A with B and C" (and sometimes "D" and "E" as well) format: Citrus Salad with Lemongrass, Toasted Almonds, and Mint; Duck with Roasted Peaches and Baby Turnips; Seared Foie Gras with Poached Quince, Tangerine, and Pomegranate Juice. Most recipes end with assembly instructions. Others are relatively simple. The title of Montauk Chowder with Clams, Wild Striped Bass, Tomatoes, and Yellow Fin Potatoes, for example, mainly lists the ingredients. (At least you can't accuse the recipe titles of not being descriptive.) And although the refreshing Heirloom Tomato Salad with Shaved Fennel and Gorgonzola requires some purposeful shopping -- as it calls for haricots verts, fresh herbs, and arugula in addition to the title ingredients -- it comes together quickly and offers a lively, balanced combination of flavors.
Those who entertain will get the most use out of this book -- everyday cooking it's not. The first few recipes call for kumquats, blood oranges, lobster, crème fraiche, caviar, Oregon morels, chervil; maybe not impossible to find but not available on every corner, either. Fortunately, Portale suggests substitutions, but statements like "fiddleheads, ramps, and morels virtually define May cooking" will draw a blank from people who shop at supermarkets instead of farmers' markets or specialty stores. But there's a reason such foods make people salivate: They're yummy, and Portale's dishes pay them respect. If you're not averse to seeking out fine ingredients and lavishing attention on them, just paging through the book will make you itch to pick up the phone and invite friends to dinner.