Pros: Interesting collection of stories.
Cons: Inaccesible recipe collection.
A Tour of California Culinary Landmarks
By: Ruben Urias
History lessons seasoned with recipes from some of the world’s most famous restaurants is what you find within Recipes from Historic California. This book is not an overview of California cuisine throughout the ages. Instead, you are taken on a tour of California landmarks and given a recipe or two from their famed kitchens. And, by landmarks, I am referring to world class culinary destinations from around California—The French Laundry, Bouchon, The Ritz-Carlton, and The Beverly Wilshire to name a few. Many of these landmarks are well-aged hotspots that have dished up fine dining fare for decades. Others are modern restaurants that made their homes in towns and buildings of historical significance. Whichever the case may be, learning the background of each of these kitchens, and the recipes that come from them, makes an entertaining read, but not too functional a cookbook.
The book is well organized, making it easy to find kitchens of interest. Aiming to please those people who enjoy reading guidebooks and cookbooks, the authors model Recipes from Historic California after travel guides. First, they organize restaurant destinations into regions—Northern, Central, and Southern California. Then, each destination gets a chapter all to itself which summarizes its historical roots. For ease of use, these restaurants are then further organized in alphabetical order within their regions. Combine this organization with the included index of restaurants, and you will very easily maneuver your way toward any landmark you are searching for.
Despite writing only brief accounts of each restaurant’s history, the authors’ writing style is nonetheless entertaining. Surely, the idea of reading historical accounts of century old buildings and kitchens seems tedious. However, because the authors write so intimately about each location’s history, the book feels nothing like a text book. Further, since many of the kitchens and buildings examined in this book were built during the same economic booms, and near the same economic centers, the authors were careful to not recycle facts. And only under special circumstances are the authors forced to repeat themselves briefly—think San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The authors’ careful treatment of the history of each restaurant and their deliberate efforts to make each story unique makes this a fun book to read.
One bothersome aspect of this book, however, is that it treats the recipes like an afterthought. After providing interesting stories about a given location, the authors simply print a few recipes from that restaurant with nothing more. There are no explanations of the recipes’ historical value, nor whether these recipes are still in use today. While it is interesting to see fancy recipes from landmark restaurants, even a little background on the recipes would have been nice.
And because the recipes themselves are simply postscripts to the restaurant summaries, they are rather inaccessible for use in your home kitchen. The recipes range from appetizers, to desserts, and every kind of dish or ingredient in between. And since they are printed immediately following their restaurant summary, there is no way to really browse the recipes. Somewhere, the authors should have grouped the recipes together by type to make this book functional as a cookbook. If, for example, someone were in need of an interesting appetizer for a special occasion, and that person wanted to get some ideas from fine dining restaurants, a list of all the appetizers found in this book would be extremely helpful. As it currently stands, however, to find an appetizer recipe, that same person would be forced to skim the contents of the book, or browse the index and distinguish which dishes are appetizers, and which are entrees or sides. With just a little organization of the recipes, this book could have been much more functional.
But accessibility issues aside, and considering the celebrated restaurants from which they came, the recipes in this book are truly appetizing. The gnocchi with garlic, basil, and tomato from The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe was very flavorful and useful for a side dish, or as the bulk of an entrée. And using their basic gnocchi recipe, you can then add whatever sauce you prefer to meet your tastes. The Upham Hotel & Country House shared their simple but nice recipe for Chicken Romaine Salad with Rice Noodles and Ginger Vinaigrette. It was light and sweet, and is great for the heat of summer. If you are willing to spend the time needed to search for them, the recipes contained in this book will be amazing.
Generally, this book may not be what is expected, but is still a pleasant read, and could have been so much more. Despite not including recipes or techniques from old California, the authors are still able to entertain with their intimate look into Californiaculinary landmarks. Regrettably, the authors did not take full advantage of the treasure trove of recipes they had collected from world class restaurants but instead haphazardly tossed them into the book. Doing so makes the recipes appear as if they play a only a minor role in the book—surprising, considering the title of the book starts with the word “recipes.” While it fails as a functional cookbook, Recipes from Historic California does deliver an entertaining look at the humble beginnings of many famous Californian kitchens which many readers will still enjoy.
Chicken Romaine Salad with Rice Noodles and Ginger Vinaigrette
3 cups Sweet Pickled Ginger
½ cup sesame oil
¾ cup Honey
¼ cup Canola Oil
1 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
1 Bunch Romaine Lettuce
2 cups Grilled Chicken, cubed
1 cup Crispy Rice Noodles
3-4 tbsp. Roasted Almonds
Combine ginger, sesame oil, honey, canola oil, and rice wine vinegar in a food processor. Toss with romaine lettuce, chicken, and rice noodles. Finish with roasted almonds.