Food for thought
Henri talks sustainable seafood, hidden gems and grilled asparagus
Willow Glen13809 Willow Glen Rd.
Oregon House, CA 95962
While no one is as enamored of culinary tradition as Henri, he applauds Wolfgang Puck, the high-profile master chef and restaurateur, who has said au revoir to the traditional French delicacy foie gras. With nearly 100 upscale restaurants and niche bistros in major cities around the country, including Postrio in San Francisco and Spago on Maui and in Beverly Hills, Puck quit serving the artificially fattened duck or goose liver last month. By this summer, the company will also have quit serving eggs from caged chickens and any meat from crated animals. There will also be more emphasis on local, seasonal and organic produce, as well as seafood coming only from certified sustainable fisheries.
For more on Puck’s position on fine dining and its relation to the treatment of animals, log onto www.wolfgangpuck.com/Video. And for an admittedly disturbing look at the state of the world’s oceans and fisheries, see the special report in the current (April) National Geographic. Especially troubling: an article about “ranching,” a popular international practice in which food fish, particularly bluefin tuna, are netted, transferred into offshore cages, fattened with oily fish such as sardines and anchovies, sometimes for years, then killed and flash-frozen, essentially “being wiped out at all stages of their life cycle.” See also www.ngm.com/0704.
A recent Sunday—dogwoods and azaleas in bloom, a warm breeze wafting through town—was perfect for an afternoon of Barbra, Tanqueray and tonics, and a nap. Colette had other plans: a drive to look at wildflowers. I tried to find something on the Discovery Channel to satisfy her, but she would have none of it. In fact, before I could say Yentl, she was sitting in the driver’s seat, map in hand, motor running. I reluctantly obliged, and we were soon heading up to Table Mountain, where she’d been a couple of days earlier on a date.
Colette suggested getting out and hiking around. Not! At least not wearing my new fisherman’s sandals by Cole Haan.
Instead, we continued to drive, following country roads through the rolling green foothills and an hour later happened upon a small country restaurant, the Willow Glen, in Oregon House. Starved and thirsty, we decided to order lunch—Henri, naturally, starting with a Bloody Mary. Sacre bleu! My thin-sliced prime-rib sandwich on a crusty French roll and Colette’s burger with bacon and Ortega chiles, both of which came with huge piles of fries, were delicious. In fact, judging by our lunches—and looking over the breakfast and dinner menus—the Willow Glen definitely looks like it merits another excursion.
One of the things Henri loves most about spring is the availability of fresh asparagus, the tasty stalks perfect complements to just about any meal—beef, chicken, pasta—and absolutely divine tossed into a stir-fry. Often, I’ll simply sauté a half pound or so in about a cup of water, add a quarter stick of butter just before taking them out—allowing the butter to melt over the stalks—and then season them with salt and fresh-ground pepper.
However, there’s nothing quite like asparagus fresh off the grill and, of course, a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc.
Henri’s grilled asparagus
1 lb. fresh asparagus (look for tight, compact tips and stalks of roughly uniform diameter so that they’ll cook evenly)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Cut bottom inch or so (any white, woody part) from each stalk. Spread evenly on vegetable-grilling tray. Sprinkle with olive oil. Season with salt (I prefer a course salt, such as sea or kosher) and plenty of fresh-ground pepper. Grill for 10 to 12 minutes, rolling them occasionally to ensure even cooking. Note: While boiled, steamed, or stir-fried asparagus is best just a bit underdone, grilled asparagus is best if blackened and slightly softened.