Best way to spice things up
If your mother reserved paprika for special occasions, it’s definitely time to add some exoticism to the seasonings shelf. Indian cardamom pods house the delightfully aromatic seeds used for traditional biryani, tikki masala curry, and savory squash, carrot, and potato soups. A kiss of cardamom and cinnamon enhances chai, ruby rooibos, or ginger tea, but new recipes are blending the spice with java, too. Try coffee cardamom pots de crème, coffee granita with tangerine-cardamom whipped cream, or spicy pear coffee cake.
Best artistic endeavor
Toulouse Café and Bar
Like the masterpieces of Toulouse-Lautrec, Alberto Lombardi’s French-Belgian restaurant provides a sparkling scene for local cosmopolitans. (That’s travelers, not drinks, though they have lovely cocktails as well.) This Knox-Henderson bistro offers classic soufflés, steak tartare, seafood bouillabaisse, and eight versions of the specialty de la maison – mussels.
Best local celebrity
The culinary darling of Dallas, Stephen Pyles’ eponymous restaurant offers “a global tapestry of tastes, flavors, aromas, and textures.” Pyles is the winner of a James Beard award, creator of 14 restaurants, and revolutionary of Texas gastronomy. His New Millennium Southwestern Cuisine encompasses Spanish, Mediterranean, South American and Middle Eastern tastes – as well as Texan. Organic ingredients, a glassed-in kitchen, and the tapas-ceviche bar make his newest venture notable.
Best part of the meal
The cheese course
Blame it on Atkins. Carb-counters turn away from the chocolate ganache and embrace the cheese. Perhaps rightly so. Thousands of decadent choices keep this course ever changing. A well-balanced plate includes at least one each aged, soft, firm, and blue cheeses. Beyond brie and camembert, experiment with handmade items like Bianco Sottobosco with hints of black truffle, Ireland’s mild Cashel Blue, and aromatic creamy Reblochon.
Best kitchen accessory
Cover that fab Chloe frock with a Kiss the Cook apron? Never! Just because you’re entertaining more from home doesn’t mean you need to look frumpy doing it. If mashing wasabi potatoes threatens to splatter your chic threads, invest in a designer apron. Choose rustic floral, sophisticated toile, estate tartan, or always right black and white. A short a-line cut is a flattering option, but a long linen waist apron gives a more professional vibe. Just take two yards of your fave designer’s (washable) print to your seamstress and voila!
Best foodie flick
Don’t fear the subtitles! This delicious German film (now on DVD) will whet your appetite. The titular character is a culinary genius, but unemotive and workaholic, until an Italian sous-chef helps her discover passion. However, the on-screen concoctions leave your mouth watering. The American remake of Mostly Martha, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, is currently in production.
Best wonder food
Chock full of antioxidants, Noni is the islands’ ancient secret to energy, and long life. When have you seen a stressed out Tahitian? This perfectly-legal miracle syrup is blended into healthy teas, lemonades, parfaits, with the leaves used for delish crostinis and wraps at Tahitian Noni Café in Uptown.
Best date night
Cooking classes at Sur La Table
What’s more intimate than making risotto together? For the month of cupid, or any romantic rendezvous, share a night learning how to use pro techniques to create date-worthy dinners. Professional sous chefs, pastry cooks, and cookbook authors give unique hands-on instruction with yummy results.
Best culinary trend
Though it may sound violent, this approach is actually quite Zen. To heighten appreciation of individual ingredients, the chef can “deconstruct” the dish into separate elements. New England clam chowder, for example, becomes an artfully arranged plate of potato puree, crispy potato, bacon cream, chive oil, clams, clam foam, and onion jam. The method is being used for everything from gazpacho to Black Forest cake. Not only does this make for an aesthetic presentation, but the separation allows the diner to more thoughtfully savor each bite.
Best dinner companion
Sideways made Pinot Noir the go-to grape. True oenophiles, however, are willing to try great vintages of every variety. Excellent wines from the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions are finding a place at the table. Though Spain is known for sherry, Tempranillo, a medium-bodied red, and Cava, a sparkling wine similar to Champagne, are quickly gaining popularity.