You have to admire a cookbook that opens with recipes for martinis. These are fig-accented for the most part, in keeping with the theme chef-owner Sondra Bernstein has laid down for her restaurants and cookbook, all called the girl & the fig
. It's about attitude, about fun, about good things in store. "Country food with a French passion" is what she calls her theme. And she paints it with the bright colors of California. Bernstein actually takes something as stale as fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients spliced to an ersatz French country cuisine overlaid with Northern California wine country easy living, and makes it work to her advantage.
Once past the pantry ingredients and the martinis, you are invited to consider the many taste treats in "A Small Bite," the likes of herb-marinated olives, apricot-cured salmon, and crispy sweetbreads. "From the Garden to the Stockpot" encourages the making of soup--cauliflower-Gruyere, perhaps, or carrot-ginger. "In the Salad Bowl" has nice touches like the grilled asparagus salad with lemon-thyme vinaigrette. "Large Plates" covers ground from wild mushroom risotto to pan-roasted halibut with spring vegetable ragout, to braised chicken with prunes, olives and capers. The braised beef short ribs are worth a second glance. Sondra Bernstein also treats us to vegetable side dishes, to a separate chapter on the cheese plate, to the sweets that end a meal, and to a consideration of the wines that round out the entire experience. In fact nearly all of the 100-plus recipes are matched with the kind of wine that would be served at the girl & the fig in California's wine country.
This is a spirited cookbook, with challenges for the new cook and happy reminders for the experienced cook. Sip that martini and turn the pages. --Schuyler Ingle
From Publishers Weekly
This cookbook is a magnificent specimen of the Wine Country cookbook genre. It inspires with its tales of bounteous, gorgeous, diverse produce but also reminds readers in the rest of the country that the harvest fortunes of Napa and Sonoma Counties are not shared equally elsewhere. Like Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories from the Mondavi Kitchen, Bernstein's book attempts to translate a California wine country restaurant experience into print. The recipes aren't always smoothly convertedâ"for example, Bernstein sometimes assumes readers have access to a half-dozen varieties of figs or radishes. And Rabbit and Hazelnut Pate with Pickled Figs and other terrines and forcemeats assume a comfort level with complicated meat preparation that most consumers lack. Still, at their best, Bernstein's recipes have a relaxed, decadent feel; and dishes like Carrot-Ginger Soup and Citrus Pearl Couscous have an elegant simplicity. Others, like Polenta Cakes (with sage-infused cream) and Grilled Salmon with Lavender Beurre Rouge demonstrate that a few gestures can renew classic flavor pairings. Bernstein's dishes should appeal to all the New American fans in the gastronomic urban hubs. And they'll also serve as a mouthwatering advertisement for the restaurant and the region, for chefs who aren't lucky enough to live in the American Eden.
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