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The Piglet2015 / First Round, 2015

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A Boat, A Whale, & A Walrus  vs. Buvette

A Boat, A Whale, & A Walrus

Renee Erickson

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Buvette

Jody Williams

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Judged by: Emily Gould

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Emily Gould is the author of Friendship, a novel, and a member of a cookbook book club with Sadie Stein, Lukas Volger, and Ruth Curry that has cooked its way through many a cookbook, good and terrible, over the years.

The Judgment

I’m a member of a cookbook book club with my friends Lukas, Sadie, and Ruth that meets once a month for a potluck dinner exclusively drawn from the recipes in one book. We started meeting because we had a mutual interest in cooking recipes from Laurie Colwin’s two food memoirs; we wanted to find out whether her spinach jalapeño casserole really deserves to be cooked hundreds of times (it does), and whether her ideas about eggplant, pot cheese, and fermented black beans are as vile as they sound (they are!). In the years that followed, we’ve branched out, cooking both from classic books we remember from childhood and from buzzed-about new ones.

Our most successful dinners to date have been from Jerusalem and The Edna Lewis Cookbook. I still think about those meals when I’m hungry, especially the juices from Edna Lewis’s smothered chicken mingling on my plate with her stewed tomatoes and fresh peas in cream. Our worst dinner ever was from Cooking For Mr. Latte, which I blame not on the recipes, but on how nervous we were to cook for Amanda, who was our guest that night. We choked, figuratively and then almost literally, when we tried to eat our undercooked rice, gamey duck, gritty salad, and dry cake.  

The cookbook book club has taught me to look at cookbooks in a different way: I still enjoy them as armchair trips to fancy restaurants or exotic locales -- especially if their prose is great -- but mostly, I’m looking at the recipes to see which ones I’d want to bring to one of our dinners. What seems so irresistible that I can’t wait to see how it tastes? What might be a great component of a memorable meal? And -- okay, to be totally honest -- what isn’t going to take me trips to multiple boroughs, $50, and three days to accomplish? And that's what I thought about when I received A Boat, A Whale & A Walrus and Buvette for the Piglet. 

The first is a fantastic cookbook to read. Renee Erickson and her co-writer Jess Thomson have done a great job of capturing the Seattle-specific flavors that define Erickson’s four restaurants there, all of which emphasize seasonality and local ingredients like salmon, blackberries, oysters, herring, spot prawns, mackerel, crab, and all kinds of local, in-season fruits and vegetables. In an unusually comprehensive resources section, A Boat, A Whale & A Walrus lists Erickson's preferred sources for butter, yogurt, crème fraîche, heirloom lentils, preserved lemons, walnut oil, and honey vinegar. She finishes her dishes with Jacobsen salt, because it’s “relatively local.” In an introductory section titled “Methods,” she advises that “if you’re going to follow many of the recipes in this book to the letter, it will be convenient to have a friend with a boat.”

Flipping through the chapters, which are organized into seasonal party menus, I tried to find a recipe that begged to be cooked. And I found a lot of food that looked incredibly appealing, but that had a high barrier to entry. A brunch menu included scones with homemade jam, house-smoked salmon (“should be easy to do at home with a small countertop smoker”), and pork crépinettes, homemade sausages wrapped in lacy webs of pork caul fat that need to rest for two or three days to let their flavors meld. The resulting brunch looked gorgeous and luxurious and indulgent, like something I would love to be served in a restaurant. Making it at home, though, would be like hosting Thanksgiving times ten.  

I finally found my way into the cookbook through the sections of simpler recipe-ettes that bookend the menus. These blue-backgrounded pages focus on specific ingredients, divided by season. They're more like formulas than recipes, and they are rock-solid: The carrot-parsnip and potato-leek soups I made were both buttery, balanced, and perfect. Erickson isn’t shy about the power of cream and crème fraîche to make eating your vegetables less about virtue and more about indulgence; there’s a recipe for lacinato kale gratin that’s basically just three bunches of sliced kale topped with three cups of heavy cream and eight ounces of sliced cheddar cheese. That’s a little wild and crazy for me, but I did love a refreshing, old-fashioned yet innovative salad that combined thinly sliced celery root, walnuts, celery leaves, and pomegranate seeds with a heavenly dressing of crème fraîche, preserved Meyer lemon, and poppy seeds. I’d love to see more of this kind of recipe from Erickson: innovative combinations of relatively ordinary foods that feel special and indulgent yet aren’t once-a-year expensive or hard to procure and prep. 

Buvette, written by chef Jody Williams along with cookbook-cowriting superstar Julia Turshen, is also a cookbook based on dishes served at her restaurants. (Williams owns two Buvettes -- one in New York's West Village, and the other in Paris.) Her philosophies and most favored flavors aren’t so different from Erickson’s; both chefs are inspired by classic bistro fare and seasonal, high-quality ingredients -- and neither stints on good olive oil or fresh cream and butter. Instead of being divided by season, though, Buvette has sections devoted to different times of day. 

Mornings are about eggs: baked and poached, draped with ramps or asparagus or paper-thin ham, whipped into omelettes or enriching the batter of crêpes and brioches. Afternoons bring hearty, meaty salads with mustardy dressings, rich bistro sandwiches like pan bagnat and croque monsieur, and more delicate vegetable preparations that involve shaved shards of roots and cheeses mingling in gentle vinaigrette. A section on jambon et fromage gives valuable advice on shopping for the best ham and cheese (like plan on 3 ounces of the latter per guest), plus a recipe for Buvette’s famous pesto di Parma, an indulgent spread made of prosciutto ends, Parmigiano-Reggiano, sage leaves, and olive oil that requires a meat grinder and is a great justification for owning one. Evenings bring heartier vegetable sides, meat, fish, slow-cooked lentils, and cassoulet. The book closes with recipes for the only two desserts Buvette serves: mousse au chocolat and tarte tatin, plus a few bonus simple sweets. 

It didn’t take me long to figure out which recipes I’d cook first from Buvette. I always love to see leeks vinaigrette on a menu but I’ve never made it at home, and I had just spotted a bunch of tiny apples at the grocery store, so I made a relatively quick weeknight dinner of the leeks and Roasted Heirloom Apples Filled with Pork Sausage. It was all delicious, though I wish I’d heeded the headnote and served the apples with something heartier on the side, like lentils or potatoes. Next time. 

In deciding between the two books, I had to think of which one would be a better pick for cookbook club. Though I could imagine us having a great time poring over A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus’s pretty pages, I knew immediately that for cooking, we’d choose Buvette. I can already guess which recipes my fellow cookbook club members will gravitate toward: Ruth won’t be able to resist making the chocolate mousse, while Sadie, who’s a great baker, might be tempted to try the tarte tatin. Lukas, who adores vegetables, might braise some artichokes -- Williams’ favorite vegetable -- with anchovies, mint, and wine to make carciofi alla Romana, in their “gorgeous elixir of a broth.” And if I’m hosting the meal, I’ll likely make the simple poulet roti, and maybe one of the risottos if I’m feeling ambitious. I’ll shop wisely for ham and cheese, and maybe hunt down my KitchenAid’s meat grinder attachment to make that pesto di Parma. This round goes to Buvette.  

And the winner is…

Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food

Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food

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Do you Agree? (42 comments)

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almost 2 years ago Ileana Morales Valentine

Excellent and thoughtful review. Also - a cookbook book club?? This sounds so awesome!

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almost 2 years ago Terry Honsaker

Agreed!

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almost 2 years ago witloof

Emily, I remember that absolutely lovely story in the NYT about you and your friends cooking from Laurie Colwin. I have those two books and have read them and cooked from them so often they have become a part of my DNA. That spinach casserole is a riff on a classic spinach gratin from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I made out of curiosity after cranking out a dozen of those spinach jalapeño things. It took all day {washing, trimming, blanching, shocking, squeezing, chopping, more squeezing, braising first in stock and then in butter before making a cheese and cream sauce to finally and effectively drown the spinach} and wasn't as good.

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almost 2 years ago Erica Lovelace

I disagree, although I understand why she chose Buvette. I think A Boat, a Whale and a Walrus is a challenging cookbook, and therefore more engaging.

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almost 2 years ago Yes Chef

I have to respectfully disagree. A Boat ,a Whale and a Walrus is a simply amazing book!

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almost 2 years ago Cassandra Brecht

I can't wait to try Buvette. And a Cookbook Book Club just sounds so fun!

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almost 2 years ago bookgeekgirl

Great review. I've been considering both of these books, but this has tipped me toward Buvette. I have enough pretty books I don't actually cook from!

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almost 2 years ago AGIRLANDAPIG

wonderful review! Will grab a copy from the library today.

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almost 2 years ago klrcon

I love the idea of a cookbook club - I may have to steal that. And the review was very helpful and really made me want to read both books, though I'll probably only cook from the winner

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almost 2 years ago erinmalone

Buvette's recipe for Brussels Sprouts with Pecorino & Walnuts is divine - it is the simplest preparation with only those ingredients listed above plus olive oil and salt but I could not stop eating it. I ate a whole pound of Brussels sprouts made this way! Also, Williams's advice on how to grate the cheese with a fork made me realize that this was a cookbook with simple, but result-altering, recommendations. I LOVE the Buvette cookbook.

Also, Buvette is a feature in a Bon Appetit's Travel Issue from last year so anyone curious about her recipes that isn't ready to spring for the book yet should try those first. It was making 2 or 3 of those recipes with spectacular results that made me confident that the cookbook would be wonderful.

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almost 2 years ago Naomi Manygoats

What a wonderful review! I started a supper club close to 20 years ago, but I decided on the menu and handed out recipes. It only lasted a couple of years. I did not have enough friends who were willing to shell out for cookbooks like I was. Your group sounds like great fun, and your decision making process is to be applauded. I am out of shelf space as it is, and books that I can't get the ingredients to cook from or spend the time cooking I have to pass on!

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almost 2 years ago booglix

This makes me want to visit both women's restaurants, but I'm not sure I feel the need to own the books. I already have many recipes for elegant French fare like chocolate mousse, tart tatin, pan bagnat, and omelettes. And I have a lot of things on my to do list that come before smoking my own salmon!

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almost 2 years ago healthierkitchen

I think I will have to explore Buvette!

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almost 2 years ago Radish

I have and love both books. Having lived close to Seattle and I recently moved to Florida, and I can tell you that there is no way you can cook from the Whale, Walrus, etc. here in Florida. I love reading and getting tips from Buvette. She tells you how to even clean your silver. I do not like the current fascination of not putting things in a traditional way of either ingredients or different categories of what they are, as in salad, or meat. Do not think of buying either book as an ebook. I did both, and made a big mistake, as the books themselves are lovely. Now when I get it together, I will have to go buy the hard copy of Buvette. The same with Prune, which did not have an index. I did very much enjoy both books.

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almost 2 years ago JenJack

I LOVE Renee Erickson's A Boat, A Whale, and A Walrus. Everything I've made so far (zucchini bread (made with extra virgin olive oil!), nettle soup, nettle pesto, kale gratin) has been fantastic. I live in Seattle (originally from Ohio), and frequent her restaurants. I don't have trouble getting any of the ingredients she calls for. That said, just because I'm local doesn't mean that those of you who are landlocked are out of luck! There's a lot in here that is appropriate for all areas of the country (and beyond.) Don't overlook this book based on geography.

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almost 2 years ago luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

Thank you! Sounds like such a great book but I want to be able to cook from it, too! Love this season!!

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almost 2 years ago M Stuart Itter

I love Buvette. It is more that recipes. I found it to be a highly refined and worldy way to eat that the author has perfected at her restaurants. It is a presentation of some of the most subtle and sophisticated dishes from France, Italy and America where the author, Jody Williams, has cooked for the last two decades. I read and use it all the time, The morning section is my favorite, but typical of the others. Take eggs, for example. You will eat well: Oeufs Brouilles (Richard Olney's slow cooked eggs), an herb omelette, soft boiled eggs with little toasts for dipping wrapped in proscuitto, and poached eggs over a mix of vegetables like fava beans. Perfect mornings ahead. (Hard to make comments.)

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almost 2 years ago luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

You had me at breakfast food! Brought the book into focus and I will be paging through at the book store. Thanks!

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almost 2 years ago BakerK

Thanks for a great review. I LOVE the beauty of Renee's A Boat, A Whale & A Walrus--her scone recipe is divine and whips together in under 15 minutes. I can't wait to check out the recipes in Buvette.

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almost 2 years ago Katie

After high praise from Molly Wizenberg (more books, please!!), I read A Boat, A Whale, and A Walrus and felt similarly to Emily. The writing was terrific, the food looked delicious, but just a little too far out of my comfort zone as a home cook - especially one living on a land-locked farm :)

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almost 2 years ago Sauertea

I had been toying with adding Buvette to my list of cookbooks. Based on this I will have to seriously consider it. Excellent review.

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almost 2 years ago Kaybaker

Reading through Buvette is like stepping into the restaurant itself and Renee Erickson's book captures the essence of a highly localized cuisine...I think I'd have a hard time making a choice between the two.

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almost 2 years ago sexyLAMBCHOPx

Chops is a trusted home cook.

I was hoping for A Boat, A Whale & A Walrus to win but I guess I need to look deeper into Buvette. Good review.