Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Owen Brennan, Elephant Feet, and a Mynah Bird

Love and Dishes by Niccolo de Quattrociocchi

Quattrociocchi's memoir/cookbook is eccentric, flamboyant, and utterly hilarious. In the first half, he recounts the story of how a young Sicilian man found himself rather at loose ends at the end of World War I, and made his way to Hollywood, romanced his way to New York, and started El Borracho, one of the city's most beloved restaurants.

In one of the best bits, he's preparing for El Borracho's opening and decides that the place needs a mynah bird. "The notion of opening a restaurant without one was repulsive to me -- almost un-American. I at once set forth to inquire about one."

Of course, the bird turns out to be a foul-mouthed letch that says inappropriate things to dining society women. It is a big hit with the waiters.

But the recipe section is truly something to behold. Quattrociocchi hit up all his celebrity chef buddies for recipes from the swingingest joints in the U.S. during the 1940s, complete with classy old restaurant logos. Cocktails from Trader Vic's, cheese blintzes from Dinty Moore's, shrimp remoulade from Owen Brennan's, and Chicken Portolla from the Pump Room in Chicago, to name a few.

Quattrociocchi narrates the proceedings with a delightfully cosmopolitan zaniness, and does indeed provide a recipe for roasting an elephant's foot. However, he also includes useful hints about discreet tipping, table etiquette, and determining the freshness of fish: "If the eyes are clouded and sunken, have nothing to do with the fish. It has probably lived a loose life."

The perfect gift for aficionados of old-school dining out, particularly if they enjoy dishes like Beefsteak Milanese, Bordelaise Chicken, and Lobster Thermidor.

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