Eastside Road, Healdsburg, February 3, 2009
JUST ABOUT THE ONLY organization I belong to these days is The Baker's Dozen, a group of serious home and professional bakers that meets every three months in San Francisco to pool ideas, answer questions, socialize, and eat lunch. You couldn't find a nicer bunch or people. We meet at Foreign Cinema, a favorite restaurant of mine because of the quality of its food and the quiddity of its place. At night they'll throw movies up against the white-painted wall back of the outdoors dining room, but that's no good at lunch. Not that we need it; we're plenty entertaining enough without the movies.
Today we tasted seven different vanilla extracts: from Bourbon-Madagascar, India, Java, Mexico, Tahiti, Uganda, and (ringer) the Safeway. First we listened to three guests who described, from professional and experienced points of view, how to go about such a tasting. Then we each of us looked at seven little plastic cups, identical except for the numbers one to seven printed on them, each containing 94.8% water, 5% sugar, and 0.2% vanilla extract.
Oh boy, I said to Lindsey, this is going to be embarassing, I've never made any secret how much I love Tahiti vanilla, what do you bet it comes in near the bottom. Then we looked at them — four rather watery looking, numbers 3 and 5 a little darker, #7 hinting at a bit of color. Then we sniffed them. Then we tasted.
I thought the watery-looking ones were, well, a little watery. I liked the floral taste of #1, the peachy overtones of #3. I didn't like #6 at all. Best of all was #5: full and complex and substantial. Then the room was asked to vote on each in turn: Number 5 was the overwhelming favorite.
Then we had lunch, and what a nice lunch! A risotto galette — I'd have said a rissole — creamy inside, crunch out; on a fine lettuce salad with impeccable vinaigrette and shavings of wonderful Parmesan cheese.
Next, grilled mahi-mahi with little boiled potatoes, romanesco, cauliflower, all in a green coconut curry sauce, piquant and delicate at the same time.
Finally, grapefruit and blood orange granitas.
Oh: the vanillas? #1: Java; 2: Bourbon-Madagascar, 3: India fair trade, 4: Uganda, 5: Tahiti (yes yes yes), 6: Safeway, 7: Mexico. We win.
In the nature of ladies lunching, perhaps, no wine at this meal. Wouldn't a nice Riesling have hit the spot!