Splendor in obscurity

Dona Tomas is not a restaurant name that rings many bells outside the San Francisco Bay Area. The owners, Thomas Schnetz and Dona Savitsky, have never been on the cover of Food & Wine, or competed on “Iron Chef,” or even cooked at the James Beard House. Google them and mostly what you will find are references to their new cookbook, named after their first restaurant, in Oakland.

In a food culture that seems to worship celebrity above creativity, it says everything that their book is a knockout on every level, not least because a vicarious eater will get as much out of it as a dedicated cook can. Unlike the average perfunctory compilation of restaurant recipes, what the two partners have produced with a co-writer, another chef named Mike Wille, is one of the most appealing Mexican cookbooks ever published, and one of the best in any category all year. Continue reading

Beyond ratatouille

“Roger Verge’s Vegetables in the French Style”
(Artisan)

Until a great farmers’ market cookbook finally turns up in bookstores, I’m going to keep greasing up the pages of this eight-year-old coffee table book. Verge may no longer be perceived as one of the world’s great French chefs, but his glossy book is proof that he will always be a vegetable visionary. Everything I have cooked with his guidance has been a knockout.

This is not a book to be grabbed when you just get home from the Greenmarket with six bags of corn and zucchini. The selection of vegetables is limited to those available in France, and nearly all the recipes involve several steps and often a hefty investment of time. But from the simplest — spinach sauteed with eggs and topped with garlicky croutons — to the most hours-consuming — eggplant-zucchini-tomato tian with two cheeses — they deliver huge payoffs. Sometimes the food is even prettier on the table than it looks in the gorgeous photos by Bernard Touillon.