Food (Section) Fight! is my weekly look at The Washington Post's Food section and The New York Times' Dining section with my verdict on which section had the better content for the week.
Sometimes it's nice to be surprised. I had a preview of what one of the food sections was offering today, and I was sure that it meant it would win. Turns out, I was mistaken. However, it was a competitive week, with both sections offering up enticing new columns today.
New York Times
The New York Times was off to a strong for two reasons: 1) The front page declared this week's Dining section to be "The Pizza Issue." That gets me going off the bat, for I love pizza (see my recent crispy pizza post). 2) Columnist Mark Bittman returned to the Dining section today. Bittman is something of a legend in food writing circles. For years, he wrote the Dining section column, The Minimalist, a celebration of how to bring out the best in fresh ingredients with simple recipes.
Bittman's new column "How to Cook Everything," is a riff on his celebrated cookbook of the same name (it's also available as an iPhone app, which I wrote about awhile ago). His first How to Cook Everything column ties into the issue's theme, espousing his simple approach to pizza, including his easy recipe for Basic Pizza Dough (which I consulted for my Crispy Pizza recipe).
To some extent, I was prepared to award Food (Section) Fight! to NYT this week on the basis of these very promising moves. However, the rest of today's Dining section failed to live up to the promise of the front page.
The rest of the pizza coverage was underwhelming. Pete Wells has a piece on fried pizza, which doesn't really interest me (I suppose I'm a traditionalist in that I think pizza should be made in an oven). He also ignites one of my pet peeves by using the word "ecosystem" in the wrong context, referring to "New York's crowded pizza ecosystem." An ecosystem is an ecological unit comprised of living things and, as wonderful as pizzerias are, they are not, in fact, living (the people who run them, that's another story). Eric Asimov has a column on what to pair with pizza, in which he concludes that you can pair just about anything (red wine, white wine, beer, champagne or Coke). Melissa Clark offers up a couple of calzone recipes, which is like pizza's cousin. She says for the dough you can use homemade or purchased, but fails to direct readers to Bittman's dough recipe on page D3. Melissa!
David Tanis' Seaweed Salad takes a really pretty picture. I don't know if I'm gung ho about putting seafood in my salad, but all the other ingredients sure look nice together. Pete Wells reviews Alison Eighteen, a new restaurant new Union Square that gets only 1 star. Then there's Jeff Gordiner's story about a guy who likes to paint pictures of cheese, which is amusing, but not really about either cooking or eating.
So the New York Times dazzled me with the promise of a good section but ultimately let me down (except for Mark Bittman--LOVE Mark Bittman). Meanwhile, the Washington Post churned out a real work horse of a Food section today. You know how I said I often judge a good Food section by whether I'm still reading it by the time I finish breakfast? That was certainly true today.
Front and center is the new column by David Hagedorn, which I am really excited about. It's called "The Process," and it's going to document the methods by which Hagedorn turns interesting ingredients into original dishes. For me, this is really exciting. It's is exactly where my personal cooking interest lies right now: learning how to use exceptional ingredients and draw on a working knowledge of cooking technique to produce delicious, original recipes. For the home cook, I see this is an important tipping point: crossing that threshold from replicating recipes others have made to wielding sufficient expertise to create your own. It's an exciting challenge, and I'm really looking forward to reading this each month. The first column focuses on a selection of spring vegetables: fresh chickpeas (i.e. not the canned kind), garlic chives and scallions, with recipes for each (particularly like the Scallion Shiitake Pancakes).
Last week, I said I thought Tim Carman and I weren't on the same wavelength. This week, I love his story, a review of chef Alain Ducasse's new cookbook Nature, which includes some particularly witty phrases: "Alice Waters would have gushed like a broken fire hydrant in Queens, given the chance!" and..."which has earned him enough Michelin stars to form his own private galaxy." Full disclosure: his review didn't actually appear in the Food section (it's online), but the recipes he adapted from the cookbook do, including the rather tasty looking Spring Tartines.
For those who follow the D.C. restaurant scene, the trials and tribulations of chef Robert Donna will not be new to you. For those who don't, here's a quick recap: For years, Donna presided over the kitchen of his renowned downtown restaurant Galileo (I ate there twice, it was fabulous). When the building owner decided to renovate, Donna moved his operation to Crystal City, opening a more casual eatery called Bebo. Here the problems began: Bebo was plagued by bad service and mixed reviews. Still, the devotees seemed to give him a pass and when he returned to D.C. proper with Galileo III, that's when it got really bad. The good reviews? Gone, along with much of his staff, who reportedly took off after he failed to pay them. Yikes. Donna closed up shop, tucked tail between legs and took off for Phoenix (Yeah, odd, but it happened). Well, now he's back with a new casual pasta and pizza restaurant in upper northwest called La Forchetta. Already, it's embroiled in controversy for apparently having lifted its name and logo from a Venezuelan restaurant and creating confusion with the similarly named French D.C. restaurant La Fourchette. However, Tom Sietsema's First Bite preview sounds promising (thankfully for me, since I have reservations there soon). The pizza sounds a little disappointing, but other dishes sound good. Tom fails to mention anything about the pasta, which perhaps he is saving for his review proper.
Other good content this week includes Jane Black's story about mobile carts bringing produce to low-income, urban neighborhoods, Bonnie Benwick's Dinner in Minutes recipe for Kale and Chickpeas Stew, reminiscent of this All We Can Eat post from January about kale and chickpeas, and Stephanie Witt Sedgwick's Nourish recipe, Grilled Asparagus, Farfalline and Prosciutto Salad.
The Washington Post. Despite my excitement over the NYT pizza issue and the return of Mark Bittman, I was even more impressed by the new David Hagedorn column and overall good coverage this week from WaPo.
The New York Times: 8
The Washington Post: 7