September 19, 2018

Portland: A food tour, Virtuoso, April 2018

Located downtown in the city’s historic Carriage & Baggage Building, once a garage for horse-drawn carriages, Pine Street Market brings together nine of Portland’s top food and beverage purveyors. All affordable, options range from steamed pork buns and other Korean specialties at Kim Jong Smokehouse to chicken al carbon at Pollo Bravo. For classic American fare, try Bless Your Heart Burgers and hot dogs from OP Wurst. Top it off with a soft-serve cone from Wiz Bang Bar, which features ice cream from local favorite Salt & Straw.

SingleThread restaurant shines in Healdsburg, Spring 2018

Every acclaimed restaurant aspires to achieve a moment that wows diners. At SingleThread, the Sonoma County restaurant that earned two Michelin stars last fall, less than a year after it opened, that moment happens before you take your first bite. On your table when you arrive is an edible work of art, an assemblage of more than a dozen delicacies—in shells, on little wooden planks, and on handmade ceramic plates—garlanded with greens and flowers from SingleThread’s farm, just five miles away. The tablescape is so beautiful that, like a waterfall or Japanese garden, it can take your breath away.

“These are beets, roasted in the hearth with shaved purple cauliflower from our farm,” says our server, explaining that every item is emblematic of the late autumn season (when I ate there). “This is a salad of lotus root with silken tofu made by one of our sous chefs; he’s been working on the recipe for about a year. There’s also some mustard greens from our farm. This is Golden-eye snapper wrapped around braised kombu and sea palm. We have some sesame-dressed young broccoli from the farm with a broccoli blossom. Moving on to the boards: Fort Bragg sea urchin, which is just beginning that season here in Northern California, served raw with some ahi tuna and a little bit of tamari dressing.” And that was just part of the first course.

Tuscany tastes better, a food tour with Frances Mayes, Inspirato, Summer 2017

In Tuscany, food isn’t just something to eat – it’s something to do with family and friends: harvesting wild mushrooms, picking olives, canning tomatoes, sharing big bowls of pasta, and gathering for dinners where everyone helps cook and conversations flow deep into the night. “There is an intense passion for local food, and it’s particularly focused on what you can find yourself,” Mayes told me last fall. (2016) “And that’s what I see that is so different from living” in the United States.

“In Tuscany right this minute (early October) everybody is out looking for the mazza di tamburo, the mushroom of the moment. That means drumstick – it’s shaped like a drumstick with a long stem and a big flathead. You find them on your own land and saute them with garlic,” Mayes said. Italians “don’t even want them on pasta – they just want them on little crostini because they so want to taste this wild mushroom. And in the spring it’s strange things like the green almonds. Everybody loves those crunchy green almonds before they really turn into a nut. To me that’s very much an acquired taste, but local people really like them.”

Shapiro wins 2016 Explore Canada Award of Excellence for fish story

“In his in-depth exploration of Vancouver’s seafood restaurant scene, Michael Shapiro not only thoroughly and thoughtfully explains the timely issues surrounding ocean sustainability and the efforts being made by Vancouver to improve it, but also succeeds in making me very, very hungry for the extraordinary and often unlikely ingredients used by the city’s most talented and conscientious chefs.”

Vancouver leads Canada’s sustainable seafood movement, Spring 2016

Though most of humanity doesn’t realize it, our survival depends on our oceans. During the past couple of centuries we’ve overfished and polluted oceans to the point where many aquatic species are on the verge of collapse. But most of us love wild seafood and have no intention of curtailing our appetite. That’s why the sustainable seafood movement is essential. In the U.S. it’s been led by the Monterey Bay Aquarium; the Canadian counterpart is the Vancouver-based Seafood Watch but the true stars of the movement there are the top chefs who insist on serving fish whose stocks are not depleted. Last fall I spent a few days in Vancouver tracing sustainable seafood from fishing boats to markets to the city’s finest restaurants.

Sweet home Chicago: Blues, baseball and barbecue, Inspirato, Summer 2015

Sometimes, if you’ve worked with an editor for a while, she approaches you with an assignment. And occasionally she opens the door to your dream story. When my editor at Inspirato suddenly had an opening for a feature and asked me to pitch a story about Chicago, I sent in essence a three-word reply: “Blues, baseball, barbecue.” Ultimately I got the assignmet and wrote about my favorite aspects of the City of Big Shoulders.
Here’s an excerpt from the story: Wrigley Field has been showing its age, but that’s part of its charm, and a new Jumbotron installed this year adds 21st-century technology to the creaky yard. Mark Gonzales, who covers the Cubs for the Chicago Tribune notes that baseball is “deep-rooted” in Chicago and that loyalty is passed down through the generations. “You can always sell hope, and hope remains strong with the Cubs.”
That hope is captured in Norman Rockwell’s 1948 painting The Dugout. It focuses on a slump-shouldered bat boy with dejected Cubs players sitting in the dugout behind him. Above are several jeering fans, but there’s one smiling kid, thrilled just to be at the game. That’s the symbol of the true Cubs fan.

Guess who’s slicing your sturgeon, NYC’s ethnic food, Inspirato, Spring 2015

It’s no secret that many of the cooks making New York City’s best ethnic food didn’t grow up eating smoked salmon or corned beef sandwiches. On the upper east side I found two Chinese brothers selling fantastic sturgeon; the guys making the pastrami at Pastrami Queen on Lexington near 78th came from the Guatemalan pueblo of Solola. When I told a chef at Pastrami Queen that I’d been to his hometown, he smiled as if to politely say “yeah, right.” Then I mentioned that Solola’s market days are Tuesday and Friday and that the village near Lake Atitlan is one of the few places in Guatemala where men still wear traditional colorful clothing – his grin widened in recognition.