FOOD

Food for Thought

It’s either your place, or ...

“Whoa … taste this. Tell me what you think.”

Your dining partner says this, there are a couple ways to go, interpretationwise.

“Whoa … taste this,” can signal an impending trip to a culinary wonderland.

Or …

There’s nothing worse than an Or, especially when it pertains to an item you’ve ordered in a restaurant.

Kathy and I are sitting at a table in a “French” bistro-style establishment in a nearby city. It is “French” because the eponym in the tag indicates the owner is of that persuasion. Let’s say the guy’s name is Clotard le Miniscule. Well, the restaurant would be named Clotard le Miniscule’s Bistro, Brasserie, Patisserie, or whatever. We have chosen to eat lunch at this joint because our intended destination has burned to the ground, making it quite difficult to secure a reservation there.

We peruse the lunch menu at Clotard’s and find few things French — unless one considers a French dip sandwich a credible candidate. I knew a French dip once, but he was a sculptor.

There are a couple things that stand out on the list, and I pick one of them for my meal: a croque monsieur. I’ve had many satisfying versions of this simple, but rich beauty, and it is hard to screw it up. A couple pieces of brioche or any decent bread. A couple slices of high-grade ham, perhaps a bit of thinly sliced Gruyere. Butter the bread, slap on a touch of mustard, tuck in the ham, toast in a hot, heavy pan. Top with béchamel and a bit of grated Gruyere. Put under the broiler. Pretty darned good sandwich.

I also opt for a tomato and chevre soup. Again, kinda tough to botch.

Or so one would think.

Kathy crosses the line though and, momentarily absent good sense, she orders the French dip sandwich, primarily to get at the baguette. She selects a soup and sandwich special and picks what is a sure bet at any decent “French” bistro — the onion soup.

This, and the croque monsieur, are bedrock for any place pretending to the Franco slant. If nothing else meets your expectations, these two should.

The food arrives and Kathy breaks through the massive hunk o’ cheese and crouton atop the crock of soup and …

“Whoa … taste this. Tell me what you think.”

Welcome to the Land of Or.

France, it ain’t.

What lurks beneath the hat of melted cheese and toasted bread is unspeakably awful.

It is … water. Tepid water at that, flavored with a ton and a half of thyme. At the bottom of the pool of water is a tangle of limp white onion. Sliced white onion — very white onion — obviously boiled in the thyme-saturated H2O.

This is prison camp food.

Dishwater would taste better. Certainly, it would have more character.

The one soup that should shine at a place like this turns out to be a pathetic brew — a shameful mess.

Back it goes, and off the bill comes the charge. And, thus, lessons learned long ago are reinforced. First, a restaurant’s name does not good, or authentic food guarantee. Second: if you have to, make what you want at home. It’ll be better that way.

The rest of the meal?

Ehhh.

The “French dip” is a dork — just like the sculptor. The somewhat stale baguette is layered with dry and fairly cold beef — last night’s no doubt. The “dip” is relatively tasteless — not water, but nearly so.

The croque monsieur?

Passable, though, as with the soup, a better version is to be had at home. And, better yet, at home a croque madame is a distinct possibility, taking the sandwich a rung up on the taste and cholesterol ladder with the addition of a fried egg, with a runny yolk.

We leave the restaurant vowing not to return and promising to enjoy some credible onion soup.

The failure of the slop at the restaurant provides a guide as to what must be corrected in order to make this simple dish shine.

First … water?

Hardly. A great onion soup begins with a meat stock (some restaurants produce a multi-meat stock with the scraps of all the flesh used in other applications). At the very least, a rich beef stock is required as a base.

And wine. A drinkable, dry white, if you please.

You need butter and olive oil.

Gotta have onions. Lots of them. A couple cups of sliced onion per diner.

Bit of salt, bit of sugar, bit of flour.

Some would add cognac. If you got it, use it. (Have a nip while you’re at it.)

Some rounds of 3/4-inch thick French bread? Yep.

Gruyere? You bet.

Pretty simple list of ingredients. And the production process is just as simple.

First, peel and trim the onions. Cut them in half, then slice thinly.

Put a heavy pot on the stovetop over medium heat and, when the pan is hot, add several tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. When the fat comes to temp, toss in the onions. Cover the pot and sweat the onions until they are soft, stirring occasionally.

Toss in a smidge of salt and a touch of sugar, turn the heat up a bit and caramelize the onions, stirring the contents of the now uncovered pot occasionally. Cook the bejeepers outta those onions, until they are a lovely, dark golden brown.

Dust the onions with flour, stir and cook for a while, to get rid of the flour taste. Add stock, a bit at a time, stirring or, better yet, whisking the liquid into the onion/flour mix. When all the stock you want or need is in, bring the soup to a simmer and add white wine and, if you want, a dash o’ cognac. Cover with lid ajar and simmer for a while, adding a small amount of thyme (take care, please — thyme is a heavy-duty flavor, dominant if you let it get out of control). Continue cooking and taste often, adjusting seasoning. Take it easy with salt, remembering that a reduced liquid concentrates salt. Cook the soup down to a desired state.

When everything is hunky dory, ladle soup into ovenproof bowls or crocks, making sure there’s plenty of onion in each bowl. Leave a bit of room at the top of each bowl. Put a toasted round of bread on top of the soup. Sprinkle the crouton with grated Gruyere. Vary the amount relative to what kinda cheesehead you are. Put the bowls on a baking sheet, and pop them under the broiler until the cheese is melted and brown and everything is gooey good.

Easy business, eh?

And mighty tasty, served with what remains of the white wine and a salad dressed with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette. And, maybe, one of those darned croque monsieurs.

You’re likely to hear: “Whoa … taste this. Tell me what you think.”

But, in this case, you’re not in the Land of Or.

There’s not a French dip in sight, and there is no charge to take off the bill.

What's Cookin?

OBITUARIES

Thomas ‘Bud’ Andrews

Thomas “Bud” Andrews died peacefully Saturday, March 8, 2008, at his home in Dewey, Ariz.. He is survived by his wife, Candy; children, Tony Andrews, Audrey Andrews, Angela Watson and Rene Brumfield, of Arizona, as well as Jenny Iguchi and Richard Montoya Andrews, of Pagosa Springs. He leaves a legacy of 12 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Bud was in the Navy and was wounded in the Korean War. He moved to Lake Havasu in 1963 and was involved in the early construction of the town as a concrete contractor. He worked on the bridge and village, as well as the first grade school, motel and hospital. Bud worked with many of the original general contractors to construct housing throughout the area. He also served as a Mohave County sheriff deputy and on the search and rescue squad.

Bud moved to Pagosa Springs in 1983. He owned a redi-mix plant, a tow service and garage, and a coffee shop before working for the Town of Pagosa Springs. In 1993, he returned to Arizona to assist his son, Tony, in the contracting business. After moving to the Prescott Valley area, he served as foreman for Ideal Construction on such projects as the classrooms and auditorium for Franklin Phonetic School.

Bud is best remembered for his hunting and fishing exploits. His office was a table at the coffee shop.

A memorial service was held in the Franklin School auditorium at 2 p.m. Friday, March 14.


Arnold ‘Swede’ Genner Larson

Arnold “Swede” Genner Larson, 96, of Columbia, Mo., passed away Feb. 18, 2008, at Harry S. Truman Veteran’s Hospital.

Cremation and no funeral services were his wish.

Arnold, the sixth of seven children, was born Aug. 19, 1911, in Brandon, Minn., to Peter and Hulda Spor Larson, and they preceded him in death. On Dec. 26, 1947, he married Juanita Joyce Forsythe, and she preceded him in death Oct. 10, 2006.

He worked along with his father in the lumber industry in Bigfork, Minn., retired in Pagosa Springs, and was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force who served as a weather specialist on Saipan during World War II.

He is survived by his niece, Anita Ludwig of Louisiana, Mo.; nephew, Alvin Kongsjord, of Palm Bay, Fla., and Ron Peppler of Chicago, Ill.; two grandnephews, David Lawrence Burk, Jr., M.D., of Durham, N.C., and Peter Burk of Pittsburgh, Penn.; grandniece, Christine Burk Roberts of Australia.

Tributes can be left online at www.memorialfuneralhomeandcemetery.com.

CELEBRATIONS

Engagements:

Deirdre Martinez and Matthew McFatridge

Frances Griego and Gilbert Martinez are happy to announce the marriage of their daughter, Deirdre Martinez, to Matthew McFatridge, son of Harvey and Stella McFatridge.
The couple will reside in Pagosa Springs. They will be married April 19, 2008, at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church at 2 p.m.

John Paul and Ashley Christine Von Hatten

Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Yerton  of Pagosa Springs are pleased to announce the engagement of their son, John Paul, to Ashley Christine Von Hatten, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Von Hatten of St. Louis, Mo.  A July 18, 2008, wedding is planned on the island of St Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

ARTS