February 28, 2007

In search of comfort food on a cold night

Once, someone asked me what I would eat if I had only one last meal. When presented with that question, most people gravitate to comfort foods from their childhood... and for good reason. Those distinct memories of home-cooked meals we grew up with have an unparalleled significance embedded in that part of our brains where recollection and emotional attachment intersect.

Oddly though, the meal I picked out was coq au vin... because I have an equally distinct food memory competing for my rapt attention. I first heard the phrase "coq au vin" back during first-year french class in high school. I remember wondering what it tasted like, what it smelled like... but French bistro food wasn't exactly the most common thing for an Asian American kid in San Jose, CA back in 1990.

Several years later, I found myslf visiting Lyon, France and dining in a nondescript casual bistro down a secluded, cobblestone back alley. The only think I recognized on the menu was coq au vin, so I ordered it... and it was one of the most incredible taste sensations I'd ever experienced. The phenomenal depth of flavor, encased in an impossibly decadent brown braising reduction studded with lardons, and the meat of the rooster falling off the bone... it was even better than I had ever dreamed. Ever since that day, I've been a sucker for coq au vin, like the fantastic version at Bistro Jeanty... although I'll admit I like to have it with a side of pommes frites rather than the more traditional side of egg noodles.

So tonight, beginning my second week of being in Seattle -- and with the temperatures dipping below 40 degrees -- I was in need of some comfort food; coq au vin, to be precise. There'll be many ventures to find my favorite French bistro in Seattle, and tonight brought a solid first entry: the casual and very well-priced Voila Bistrot in Madison Valley.

Voila is a cozy neighborhood restaurant with a small, friendly staff happy to chat about Seattle with this California transplant. Dinner was a convergence of some of my "comfort" favorites... my martini was refreshingly icy, the coq au vin flavorful, and the pommes frites hot and crisp, accented lightly with fresh sweet garlic. As I took my first bite of baguette with a healthy smear of rich, sweet cream butter, I was reminded of a passage from Alice Waters' first Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook (originally published in 1982) that I picked up from a used bookstore in the Mission District and first read in early 1998:

It is a mystery that the simple, homey process involving yeast, flour, and water is rarely duplicated commerically in a delicious and proper way. It is difficult to understand why there are so few good bread bakeries, and I must ask, Why is this so? My criterion for good bread is simple: it must stand by itself, perhaps with only the addition of a little sweet butter. Good bread has a look, a smell, and a texture that tells you it is "handmade." This means, at the very least, that the bread will have a final shaping by hand which produces the charming irregularities that seduce you immediately.
Yep, I couldn't agree more... that simple culinary ethic was pretty much what I was looking for on this cold evening in the Pacific Northwest. And just like that, February has come and gone.

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1 comment:

  1. Oh, we used to live right around the corner from voila... I miss MadValley. :)