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A reminder of what good food is all about
on June 22, 2014
Recently, a writer for a national food magazine was bewailing her penchant for “next level” restaurants: those serving the exotic; those gastronomically altering the mundane; those scraping lichen off rocks and onto the plate; and those serving parts of protein-creatures (animals and fish) that people over the centuries, when they finally could afford to, were glad to avoid. On the other side of the spectrum are the restaurants of Guy Fieri’s Diners Drive-ins and Dives, serving what seems for the most part to be belly busting meals that should come with discount coupons for the stents which the patrons may well need later in life to keep their clogged arteries open.
Enter Buvette, an almost absurdly small restaurant that serves good food in reasonable portions (what a concept) and whose existence has been coveted by those in the know in New York. Enter Buvette II, Williams’s second restaurant, fashioned to look like her first, which now has its home in Paris and is coveted in the “City of Food.”
Enter Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food. Here is one of the few restaurant generated cookbooks that can really be at home…well…at home.
Start with the “sources” section, for example. Beyond what seems to be the Di rigor nod to D’Artagnan, the rest of the section takes up less than half of a page and indicates where Williams purchases her supplies. The implication is clear: this is where I fin my supplies; find suppliers near you; they do exist. This follows the straightforward logic of shopping local. How can you be shopping local if you are not? Besides, there is almost nothing here in this book that you can’t find pretty easily.
Then check out the recipes. They do not require industrial BTU stoves, immersion circulators, foam dispensers or chemicals with unpronounceable names. They do not require a course in mushroom identification or memorizing material from old copies of Ewell Gibbons's Stalking the Wild Asparagus. They do not require graduation from the Culinary Institute of America. Although they may require a little concentration, the recipes are clear, clean, straightforward, and produce food which is both tasty and comfortable.
Next, note the subtle connection between the food and the experience. This is food that invites one to sit down, relax, put away the smartphone and maybe even kick off a shoe or two under the table. This is not food that acts as a tour De force for the chef or cook, but one that showcases the food itself, bringing it more into the territory of a fine family meal, with all of the social warmth associated with that event, even if there is no family involved. It is bistro or trattoria at its best.
Finally, look at the consistency in the philosophy and the food. In the introduction, chef Williams mentions that there are no artificial sweeteners in the restaurant, nor any decaf coffee. If it is not natural, then it is not at all. This pervades the whole book.
To date, I have made two items from the book and have earmarked many more. Although I have many, many cookbooks, only a handful have fallen this quickly into the category of “go-to” books. Interestingly, I have found Williams’s recipes easy to riff on. Along with her suggestions for variations, there is an implied freedom to try other things. Often, she will use terms like “try any fruit that you like.”
By the way, both meals were excellent.
I do have one slight gripe. I like the pictures to be representative of the recipes, and sometimes this does not happen. The photograph of the omelet, for example, is not what is indicated in the recipe, but is a photograph of a different style of omelet. It is, admittedly, a small item.
Ultimately, it is one of the most satisfying books that I have purchased. It is in the family of Susan Goin, and Albert Portale and the (late) Judy Rogers and Barbara Tropp. In short, it is what many restaurant based cookbooks, aimed at producing good meals in the home, hope to be, but never quite become.