Monday, August 6, 2007

Strawberry caprese in Ashland, Oregon

This is the first time I've ever had a caprese salad with anything but the traditional ingredients. And while I thought this one—made with strawberries, fried basil leaves, very fresh buffalo mozzarella, and a sticky balsamic reduction sauce—was better suited as a dessert than an appetizer, I really liked that it was both novel and well done. If I do make it as dessert in the future, I'd try using marscapone and might marinate the strawberries in port first.

But back to the photo. Yes, maybe the combination of balsamic and balsamic squirt-bottle pattern is making you flash back to 1997, but I think balsamic has survived its heyday and ensuing culinary nadir and has reemerged as a perfectly respectable classic.

I had the strawberry caprese in Ashland, Oregon, last week when I was there with Joel and his parents. Based on all the food I ate there, and all the menus I looked at, I think that Ashland really has its own thing going on with food. I knew ahead of time that it had an absurd number of restaurants for the size of the population (100 restaurants; 20,000 people), but I figured it would be expensive without being exceptional (or possibly even good).

Now maybe it's because all the chefs are actually frustrated actors trying to find new creative outlets, but there is some pretty successful free-thinking going on in restaurants there. I wish I'd written down some of the examples I came across, but I was busy trying to record sounds for an upcoming podcast. Without many examples, the best way to describe the phenomenon is to say I found myself reading menus and saying, "Huh, I never would have thought of that together, but it sounds good," pretty often. Not all the time, of course, but way more than I usually do. And it doesn't seem to have much to do with other current food trends. There wasn't a lot of Salumi bragging; they really seemed to be doing their own thing, just sort of riffing on interesting and unexpected combinations without losing sight of that all important endpoint of pleasing taste.
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