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Northwest Cuisine -- is Cascadia it?


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In the thread on The Herb Farm, Steve Klc suggested starting a separate thread to discuss Kerry Sear and his restaurant Cascadia here in Seattle. So that's what this is :smile:

To quote from Steve:

But the fact remains I'm not in the Pacific NW to know the current scuttlebut about Kerry and Cascadia and any potential decline since he opened. Seems to me "Decidely Northwest" as potential gimmick is something worth fleshing out on a separate thread as well--tls raises an important issue: I'd think either ingredients are sourced from the Cascades and the region as promised and promoted or they aren't and whether it takes more than sourcing regional ingredients and trying to bring the best out of them to qualify as "Decidely Northwest" is a legitimate question. A question, by the way, we have all over the site in terms of micro regions and terroir.

On that thread, a question I'd ask of you locals is if Kerry's self-identified "Decidely Northwest" cuisine is viable--how special or unique is it, in the context of other chefs out there? Was he just the first to coin and market the phrase "Decidely Northwest?" If so, kudos to him and he wouldn't be the first savvy chef to position himself strategically.

Not having dined at Cascadia, I can't really comment on the full restaurant experience, but by just looking at the menu I would say that it doesn't look special or unique at all. Many places in Seattle and Portland have been doing "Northwest cuisine" and ingredients for years - and many still do. While most items do sound good, none of the dishes really jumps out at me as being particularly innovative or exciting. All the usual NW suspects are here: Salmon, Halibut, mushrooms, herbs and greens, Washington beef, oysters, etc. Maybe it's in the preparation, side dishes and garnishes? Can anybody who's eaten here tell me what I'm missing?

While I may not be excited about the experience at The Herb Farm (though many people do love their warm, inclusive, "craftsman" approach), it does sound like they are doing much more creative things with the food.

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It seems that if you put salmon, crab, and halibut on your menu you all of a sudden are serving northwest cuisine. If that is the case, nearly every restaraunt in the united states serves northwest cuisine.

Is there anything else that makes something "decidedly northwest?"

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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Schielke--at the ingredients level, I'd guess it would be more about sourcing--identifying and obtaining local/regional products and differentiating the levels of quality between them--and chefs determining what makes them distinctive and unique. Surely you're aware not all salmon, crab and halibut come from the Northwest.

As you ask, there must be more to this.

And Nightscotsman--at the places you have eaten, are there common threads, blends of ingredients, fusions or deconstructions which might separate out some contenders from the pretenders--or to your eye is it just more of a regional sameness, a mish-mash?

Would a venue have to offer "innovative" or "exciting" combinations or dishes in order to be "Decidely Northwest?"

On another level--stuff grows out there and matures at different rates than elsewhere--does that show up on menus or in the farmer's markets? I'd guess an example of what might make a cuisine "Decidely Northwest" would be a chef taking a piece of locally-sourced game and pairing it with a special pine needle or fruit or berry only grown out there, no? Finding some of the magic present in things grown, fished or raised when combined with other things from the locale?

On another level--are there historical Northwest dishes--common names or forms that appear on menus out there and have entered the culture? Re-inventing or deconstructing these dishes might qualify as "Decidely Northwest."

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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A lot of restaurants may make claim to offering "Decidedly Northwest" or some variation, but I think it all boils down to the concept that Alice Waters and like chefs started a generation ago: use what you've got that's good and locally available. This notion of seasonal cooking using locally available ingredients, I think, has spawned a lot of "Northwest" restaurants. And I think it's a pretty damn good "trend" or whatever it is. I love that local restaurants like Cascadia are showcasing Northwest ingredients and flavors. I'm not sure I was really aware of the variety of our produce and locally produced artisinal products before the "Northwest" theme became hot in the 1990s. Now I don't think I could live without Rainier cherries, Sally Jackson cheese or our abundance of locally foraged mushrooms. It was chefs like Tom Douglas and Kerry Sear who brought those products -- and the farmers who grow them and artists who make them -- to national attention. I think it's a fantastic thing that we have finally realized that we have "arrived" when it comes to our local ingredients and products. It's like we woke up, looked around and declared, "Hey, our produce really does rock. How come we haven't been marketing these Rainier cherries to the Japanese all along?" Now, we're playing catchup by selling them for $500 a pound :)

I'd like to make a point about the history of "Northwest" restaurants.... Long before there was a Belltown and long before there was Cascadia or any of the Tom Douglas trinity, there were two chefs in Nehcotta, Washington doing the whole Northwest seasonal thing. I think these two women predate Tom Douglas and Kerry Sear by a good decade: Nancy Main and Jimella Lucas. It was eons ago that James Beard "discovered" their restaurant and called it the best in the Northwest. They're still doing what other Northwest chefs have stumbled upon: showcasing our magnificent local bounty. I think they started by featuring the oysters that are harvested just outside their restaurant on Willapa Bay. And technically, they probably ripped off that concept from Alice Waters, although I couldn't say for sure..... :p

A palate, like a mind, works better with exposure and education and is a product of its environment.

-- Frank Bruni

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Surely I do know that our salmon, crab, and halibut is distinctive...surely.

So if I were to use good locally available ingredients and prepare them in a classical french style, would I be making northwest cuisine, or french cuisine? Or would I be making northwest french?

I am trying to grasp this because people ask about where to go when they are in town for great northwest dining. There are a few wonderful resturaunts that do the local seasonal thing with great success, but they cook in a style that isn't really northwest. Cafe Juanita in Kirkland for example uses local, seasonal ingredients, but cooks them in a northern italian style. I would be hesitant to reccommend this place to somebody who is looking for northwest cuisine since it may not meet their expectations.

Is northwest cuisine just local and seasonal or does it also include a type of preperation?

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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You have expressed my thoughts exactly Ben. Which is why coining the phrase "Decidely Northwest" seems so brilliant--it circumvents the whole issue of arguing and defining a "cuisine" doesn't it? Which brings us back to girl chow's astute post.

Does anyone know if Kerry used "Decidely Northwest" when he cooked for the Four Seasons or if, indeed, someone else coined the phrase?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Is northwest cuisine just local and seasonal or does it also include a type of preparation?

I may not be the best person to answer this since I've lived in the Northwest my whole life. That may sound like I would be *more* qualified, but I think I'm just too close to the matter and don't have the insight of an outsider.

That said, I'm having a hard time thinking of any distinctively Northwest preparation techniques other than planked fish (which we got from the natives). Everything else seems to be borrowed from elsewhere and used on local ingredients. Can you think of anything else?

Which is why coining the phrase "Decidedly Northwest" seems so brilliant--it circumvents the whole issue of arguing and defining a "cuisine" doesn't it?

In the case of Cascadia (and I'm only talking about the menu here) I don't see how it's so brilliant. As I said before, lots of places have been doing "Northwest" for years - and calling it "Northwest" cuisine (thanks to girl chow for bringing up the Ark). Slightly changing it to "Decidedly Northwest" seems like over-hyping a few local ingredients in order to grab some marketing buzz - pretentious without being definitive. I'm not saying Cascadia shouldn't aspire to be a Northwest restaurant, I'm just saying they could do it a little more creatively if they want to stand out from those who have already been there and done it.

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I'm so glad you all started this conversation because I too think that it's more about the ingredients than about the technique when it comes to the "Northwest" theme. As nightscotsman pointed out, the only native technique we've got (at least that I can think of) is plank cooking salmon. I'm a fourth generation Northwesterner and I honestly can't think of anything other than plank or plank/pit cooking that would be considered a local technique handed down from the Native American culture -- or from any early groups of settlers. So maybe John Howie of Seastar (and formerly Palisade) can make claim to be the only guy around who uses distinct Northwest cooking methods. If others can think of specific NW techniques, please list them here! It would be fantastic to get a little "Northwest primer" going of local techniques :)

And Steve, as someone who has been a food watcher since the Belltown/Northwest boom begain in the early 1990s in Seattle (but I'm by no means an expert), I first heard Kerry Sear use the "Decidedly Northwest" term when he opened Cascadia. In fact, I acquired a press kit from the opening of the restaurant (yes, I am a total dork for keeping these things, but I can't help myself... in 10 years I will sell them on ebay for $1.7 million to a food museum). In the press release announcing the opening of Cascadia, which is dated May 5, 1999... two months before Cascadia opened .... the release says this:

"Located in the landmark Austin A. Bell Building at 2328 First Avenue between Bell and Battery Streets, Cascadia Restaurant will combine the white table-cloth elegance of New York City restaurants with the "ruggedness" of the Pacific Northwest, to offer Sear's "decidedly Northwest" dining experience. Influenced by traditional and Native American cooking techniques, Sear has created an a la carte menu that will feature items prepared exclusively with ingredients from the Cascade region -- located between the Pacific Ocean and Cascade mountain range . ... The restaurant's name and design were selected to reflect Sear's commitment to define Northwest dining....."

So, after reading that.. I'm now wondering, just what exactly are these Native American techniques Kerry Sear is using and how do I learn them? :)

And even if he uses the "Decidedly Northwest" as a buzzword for viral marketing, I'm down with that so long as it works. Look at all the attention chefs like Sear and Tom Douglas are bringing Seattle and the Northwest. I love that people are actually planning vacations here based on the notion that our food rocks. I love that. In terms of our restaurant culture and local food discovery, the last decade has been very exciting for Seattle :)

A palate, like a mind, works better with exposure and education and is a product of its environment.

-- Frank Bruni

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I wanted to add a link to The Ark restaurant, located on the Long Beach peninsula in Nahcotta.

http://www.arkrestaurant.com

The chef/owners, Nanci Main and Jimella Lucas, are really pioneers of the NW seasonal cooking movement. In their lobby, there's a picture of them with their arms wrapped around James Beard. Story has it that he absolutely loved that place and was a frequent diner there. Of course, there are pics of them with Bill Clinton and other famous people, but the picture with them and James Beard is the most telling to me :)

If you're ever out in Long Beach or Ilwaco or anywhere on the Washington Coast, they're worthy of a detour. I've only eaten there in the winter, so I'm not sure what it's like in the summer tourist season. I suspect from May to September, it's a good idea to get a reservation. Get the oysters if they're on the menu!

The atmosphere is veeeeeeery relaxed and informal. It's what I'd call casually elegant. It's very affordable. The menu may not seem groundbreaking, but that's probably because a legion of Seattle chefs have been ripping off their food for almost two decades :)

A palate, like a mind, works better with exposure and education and is a product of its environment.

-- Frank Bruni

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Don't forget Bruce Nafataly of Le Gourmand. He has been hunting down locally grown produce since the mid seventies. I consider his role in the formation of what is now "Northwest Cuisine" as vital and often overlooked. Organic produce, regional artisanal cheeses etc. He was doing all this from way back when-- a time frame just about parallel to Chez Panisse.

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Not that this is really related to the topic, but if one wants to define northwest cuisne by it's ingredients, there are still tons of things for chefs to discover. I grew up in Alaska and one summer, I hung out with some Native Americans in Sitka, a town on the Alaskan panhandle. We garnished food with seal oil, I tried eskimo style salmon jerky, ate tons of little oddities from the sea that they had been eating for generations, fresh salmon berries, chewed muktuk (whale blubber)....tons of things that chefs still don't know about. i wonder if the average consumer would be open to whale blubber tho...my guess is probably not.

mike

don't let me forget fresh salmon cooked with strange wild herbs, and my favorite of all, beer battered halibut. :raz:

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I absolutely would love to try whale blubber. I've heard it described as tasting like a really salty, rubbery clam. But what NW technique would be used to cook it? Would you stick it on a cedar plank? Hmmmm..... How would Kerry Sear serve this? With locally harvested Oregon morels?

An enterprising food reporter wrote a memorable story a few years ago after the Makah killed their first whale. I wish I had kept a copy. It was a tongue-in-cheek summary of the different ways to cook whale blubber and the fact that there aren't many people around who really know how to cook the stuff. Anyone remember that article?

A palate, like a mind, works better with exposure and education and is a product of its environment.

-- Frank Bruni

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Still waiting for someone (thelastsupper, Fat Guy?) to explain what they disliked so much about Cascadia. I've mostly heard good things about it. I am not concerned about whether the chef is there as long as the food is good (in reference to tls's comment in the Herbfarm thread, about Sear not being present in his restaurant).

Looking over Cascadia's website, the emphasis on local ingredients is clear, and a few preparation techniques are described. The food sounds good; I'm a little put off by the detailed description of the decor and its significance, but I assume diners at Cascadia don't have to undergo a mandatory guided tour.

In The Man Who Ate Everything, Steingarten's piece on "Ingredients in Search of a Cuisine" discusses the use of local ingredients in the PNW. He describes his visit (in 1990) to Sooke Harbour House, and their absolute rules on using local ingredients. I don't know anything else about SHH, but what he writes is interesting.

Hungry Monkey May 2009
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I ate at Cascadia about a year ago and would say that while the food was certainly good, it's unlikely that I would go back. First because of price. I'm not averse to dropping some change on a meal, but at the price point that Cascadia is at, frankly I expect altered states of consciousness. :wacko: I don't think the food there is in the class of Le Gourmand (thank tls for bringing up Bruce Naftaly's role in the genesis of "Northwest Cusine") or the Herbfarm and is only on par with a number of other places in town that are significantly less expensive. In addition to the food prices, their wine list markup is rediculous, something that a few other places in town also try to get away with (Canlis!).

My other issue with Cascadia is that it is pretentious in a way that completely rubs me the wrong way. Don't get me wrong, I like interesting interior design and attractive/creative food presentation, but Cascadia takes both to such an extreme that I start wondering what they're trying to make up for? At Le Gourmand you won't see anything that amazes you on the plate, but about 2 seconds after you put it in your mouth you won't care about how its presented.

By all accounts Kerry Sear is a very talented chef and I would love to see him start a place that just doesn't try so hard.

This discussion of what constitutes "Northwest cuisine" is interesting to me. I think it would be impossible to assert that it is defined by anything other than some unique local ingredients. One of the regions advantages food-wise is its proximity to many different climactic zones, so a wide variety of food products are available. (Forgive me for stating the obvious.) Other than plank roasting salmon, I'm not sure there are any cooking techniques that you could say are distinctively northwest.

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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I can't believe it took us this long to have a big drag-out about what constitutes Northwest Cuisine. I think it's a concept that only gets used by someone trying to sell you something--which doesn't mean it can't be good.

I'm not sure what Northwest cuisine is, but I'm sure of some things it's not. It's not, for example, seafood. I've been to places that are seafood cultures, where it would be absolutely unthinkable to go a day without eating something from the ocean, and the Pacific Northwest is not one of those places (though I assume it was at one time).

If you want to learn about a region's local cuisine, especially one where home cooking is relatively uncommon, wander into a popular neighborhood restaurant and see what's on the menu. Do that in Seattle and you'll find that Northwest cuisine consists of phad Thai, panang curry, and jasmine rice, and if you're looking for some dishes to base your local cuisine on, you could do a lot worse.

Then again, maybe this the painkillers talking (tooth extraction went swimmingly, thanks).

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Then again, maybe this the painkillers talking (tooth extraction went swimmingly, thanks).

I hope you got good stuff. Enough to share with the rest of us at the tasting on Saturday? :wink:

I talked to a couple people at work today who have eaten at Cascades and they both said it was good, but not outstanding or impressive. They also said it was very expensive (these are people that have eaten major restaurants around the world) and mentioned the overblown interior. There was a lot of buzz when it first opened, but I don't hear it mentioned much lately. I assume it's still doing OK?

If you want to learn about a region's local cuisine, especially one where home cooking is relatively uncommon, wander into a popular neighborhood restaurant and see what's on the menu. Do that in Seattle and you'll find that Northwest cuisine consists of phad Thai, panang curry, and jasmine rice, and if you're looking for some dishes to base your local cuisine on, you could do a lot worse.

This is probably true of Seattle now, but if so it's a relatively recent development. Before all the Thai places I would say most neighborhood restaurants served what I would call "pub grub": burgers, fries, sandwiches hot and cold, chicken tenders, salads, soups, etc.

It's getting better, but the Northwest has not been known as a culinary hotspot. Which is sad since the variety and quality of local ingredients is an embarrasment of riches. Maybe we're just so used to all the great stuff we take it for granted. What could be better than picking ripe, intensly flavored blackberries and strawberries and stuffing them in your mouth one after the other. Who needs preparation?

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This evening I enjoyed a delicious dinner at Cascadia. When else can I enjoy dining solo except when Matthew is toothless? I looked over the menu on the website and decided to sample some Decidedly Northwest cuisine.

The restaurant is attractive, light and airy with a high ceiling, decorated quite simply. The "rain window" at the back of the room is a focal point; I enjoyed glancing back into the kitchen throughout the meal. It sounded silly on the website, but the falling water is quite pleasant.

I ordered the three-course menu ($25) as I had planned. This fit both my budget and my desire for a relatively brief meal. Their menu is extremely flexible: the three-course menu, three different seven-course ($65) menus, an a la carte menu, and all dishes on the prix fixe menus available a la carte. [Note regarding tasting menus: While the website says that they require everyone at a table to have a tasting menu, I heard my waiter telling the four-top next to me that it was "recommended," and they ended up with one person ordering a 7-course menu, the other three going a la carte.]

The three-course menu for July is posted on the website; it changes monthly. The shrimp appetizer and the grilled salmon were both on the August menu.

Amuse bouche: a tiny (eggcup size) white porcelain soup tureen filled with "tomato gazpacho": cold, smooth tomato soup, drizzled with basil oil and garnished with dill. It looked creamy, but another guest inquired later and learned it was nondairy. Very refreshing.

1. I chose the heirloom tomato salad. A deep orange tomato, two cherry tomatoes, and a reddish-yellow tomato were dressed in a light basil vinaigrette. The tomatoes were ripe, juicy, and delicious, thus I did not appreciate that they were served with a very large heap of salad greens that completely covered the tomatoes. The tomatoes by themselves would have been fine, and a more attractive presentation.

2. Grilled wild king salmon with sweet corn, arugula, and watermelon. (The other entree choice was "Hay-baked chicken." I regret not asking the waiter to explain this entree.) A thick square-cut salmon fillet was served skin-side up, with a checkerboard of grill marks, on a small bed of mashed Yukon Gold potatoes. The salmon was surrounded by corn kernels with some small arugula leaves stirred in, and 6-7 small medallions of watermelon. The vegetables (and fruit) were lightly sauced with beurre blanc. The corn was the highlight of the meal: crisp, sweet, and flavorful, glossed with butter with a bit of bite from the arugula. Watermelon was just odd; I would eat a bite, think "hmm, is this good or not?", then think, "Buttered watermelon... ewww." I assume it was meant to add some sort of flavor contrast, or something. The salmon was nicely cooked with a very crisp and delicious skin, moist and tender. The mashed potatoes were very buttery. The whole plate had a delicious buttery air without being heavy. Except for some stray watermelon circles, I almost licked it clean.

3. For dessert, one offering: Blackcurrant mousse, vanilla ice cream. A small dome of deep purple mousse was encircled by a tart blackcurrant reduction, topped by a blackcurrant-flavored wafer and a quenelle of what I expected to be vanilla ice cream. In fact it was very thick, creamy whipped cream. The mousse had a lovely texture and a flavor not quite berry, not quite grape that was very enjoyable. The dessert was simple but had a nice contrast of flavors and textures.

Very expensive? I thought this meal was a steal at $25. With a glass of 2000 McCrea Vin Rose ($7; recommended by my waiter, who said it was her favorite of the wines by the glass, and it was quite nice), dinner totaled $41. My waiter, who was the only person who served me throughout the meal (including water, etc.), was attentive, pleasant, and very knowledgeable about the menu. A small fruit jelly candy (berry, I think) was presented along with the check.

I appreciated the emphasis on current seasonal flavors in all the dishes.

Since they have begun offering a la carte dishes and this $25 menu, one can dine at Cascadia at a variety of price points. I will certainly consider returning, perhaps for a special occasion to sample the seven-course menu, or for the three-course menu in a different month. Maybe I'll even take Matthew next time.

Hungry Monkey May 2009
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Thanks for the great review Laurie! It sounds like they've greatly moderated the menu and prices since my friends went. I can tell I will have to go and find out for myself. Damn, what a chore :wink:

Reminds me I've been meaning to post a review of a dinner I had at Earth and Ocean a couple weeks ago. Until then, I can tell you my experience was interesting but mixed.

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Laurie,

Thanks for the report. Sounds like they changed their pricing substantially since I was there. Likely necessary in the current economic climate. At the prices you describe I would definately give Cascadia another try.

It's always heartening for us economists to see that the whole supply/demand thing actually works in the real world. :raz: ........

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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This evening I enjoyed a delicious dinner at Cascadia.  When else can I enjoy dining solo except when Matthew is toothless?

You told me you were going to Taco Bell! I can't believe you took advantage of my weakened condition this way.

Just kidding. :biggrin:

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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If you want to learn about a region's local cuisine, especially one where home cooking is relatively uncommon, wander into a popular neighborhood restaurant and see what's on the menu.  Do that in Seattle and you'll find that Northwest cuisine consists of phad Thai, panang curry, and jasmine rice, and if you're looking for some dishes to base your local cuisine on, you could do a lot worse.

Mam,

Did you see the latest restaurant issue of Gourmet? If not, you're prescient. This time they focused on the best neighborhood restaurants accross the country. Seattle's representative.....Monsoon!

Beyond that, it was a very good issue I thought. I'm glad they took a break from simply confirming everyone's impressions about what the top 5 restaurants in each city are. It will be a good reference on where to eat when travelling to some off-the-beaten-track places.....

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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