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RESTAURANT NOTEBOOK

Sending An S.o.s. For The Starving

January 05, 1986|COLMAN ANDREWS

Now that half the population of our abundant nation is moping around on self-imposed starvation diets aimed at diminishing a little of that recently accumulated holiday avoirdupois, it might be time to think another thought about all those millions of people around the world for whom starvation diets are not a matter of choice. And it might be time to consider once again--just in case it's slipped our minds in a flurry of pfeffernussen and a downpour of champagne--how the involuntarily hungry might be helped by the well-fed rest of us.

If you're a restaurateur, providing at least a modicum of such help was made easy for you earlier this year with the formation of an organization called S.O.S. (Share Our Strength), which has been soliciting contributions of $500 and more from eating places all over the country, to be sent directly to already-extant relief outfits in the United States and elsewhere. (The idea is that participating restaurants will be given identifying window stickers, so that prospective diners may be encouraged to patronize them.) Apparently, though, S.O.S. didn't make things easy enough: The group had hoped to recruit about 20,000 of America's 400,000 or so restaurants, and to tote up something like $10 million in funds. So far, the total stands at 150 restaurants and $70,000. And thus S.O.S. is trying something new: With the help of the L.A. ad agency Chiat Day (which is donating time and expertise), the organization is now appealing directly to consumers, asking them to help recruit their favorite restaurants--a plea to which I heartily add my own small voice. Restaurateurs wishing to contribute to the program, or simply desiring further information, should call (800) 222-1767; restaurant customers wishing to help should simply pass this number along to wherever it is they eat.

THE CORN IS BLUE: New Mexican food is hot , and that isn't a reference to jalapenos and serranos. Something about its earthy, spicy flavors and the novelty of its raw materials (blue cornmeal, hominy, epazote or goosefoot, endless varieties of chiles, etc.) has endeared it to contemporary chefs from Manhattan to Manhattan Beach--and improvisations on New Mexican themes have become an integral part of the "new American cuisine."

Not, however, in New Mexico. Some good, interesting food is certainly coming out of places like the Nob Hill Cafe in Albuquerque and the Santa CaFe in Santa Fe, but both are more Californian than New Mexican in style, and though both use local products, neither draws much on indigenous culinary styles. Modern-day New Mexico, ironically, has not yet discovered modern-day New Mexican cuisine.

This should change in May or June, though, when chef Mark Miller, late of the Fourth Street Grill in Berkeley, opens his long-anticipated Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe. Miller sent me some sample menus containing things like chicken stew with blue-corn hush puppies, wild-grazing Navajo lamb stew with wild sage dumplings, spicy steak tartare (with serrano chiles, lime juice and fresh coriander), made-to-order guacamole, smoked chili pasta with roast duck and assorted sweet peppers, grilled baby lamb rack with mint and marigold salsa and pecan tart with homemade nutmeg ice cream. Rumor has it that as many as half a dozen other new restaurants are planning to open in Santa Fe in 1986, as well. Between Miller and the rest, there may well soon be as much interesting contemporary New Mexican food in New Mexico as there is already in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

THE LAST RESTAURANT RESERVATION STORY: Letters keep coming in regarding the matter of how restaurants honor or don't honor reservations. Two more disgruntled ex-customers of Dan Tana's, for instance, have added their complaints about treatment at that establishment (with four negative comments, Tana's is the clear winner, or loser, in the field), and another reader has spoken against Peppone--relating a bad experience endured 10 years back(!), which has kept her and her husband away from the place since then. (Restaurateurs take note: Badly treated patrons have long memories.) Mrs. Edward Eubanks of Pasadena, on the other hand, describes a good experience at that town's Cafe Jacoulet: Her party was made to wait 25 minutes--but was treated kindly, apologized to sincerely and offered a complimentary appetizer when seated. I get the feeling that Eubanks almost liked the restaurant more for the way the problem was handled than she would have if all had gone right in the first place. (Restaurateurs take note again. )

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