Wednesday, September 02, 2009

stinky vegetables

Last weekend I ate at a restaurant called the Stinking Rose. Their slogan is "we like to spice our garlic with a little food" and their purpose seems to be to explore the eternal question, "Can you have too much garlic?" I am pleased to be able to report that the answer seems to be "no".

The tables come pre-equiped with a jar of strongly-flavored garlic-and-oil relish. This proved to be fortuitous because soon after I sat down, I was presented with some fresh, warm, focaccia sliced bread --an ideal delivery device for garlic-and-oil relish. The combination was as good as I had anticipated, and the garlic flavor was noticeably stronger than you would get at other Italian restaurants. I added salt of course.

One thing that that I learned long ago is that without salt, garlic is just a stinky weed. I learned this from an initial misunderstanding of the term "garlic salt". My mother bought some garlic salt once and used it to make garlic bread. Making garlic bread was easy: just warm up a slice of bread, spread liberally with butter and wait for it to melt in, then add garlic salt. When I went away to college, one of the first condiments that I bought was garlic salt, in order to continue mom's brief but memorable tradition.

When the garlic salt ran out, I bought another shaker of what I assumed was the same thing: garlic powder. I learned to my dismay that garlic salt is not at all the same thing as garlic powder. The garlic powder made absolutely horrible garlic bread. Being (at the time) a scientist in training, I applied my prodigious intellect to the problem of analyzing the discontinuity.

My mind, honed to a fine edge of alertness by many semesters of calculus and physics, latched on, after a few days or perhaps weeks of thought, to the curious use of the word "salt" in the term "garlic salt". It occurred to me that in no other product that I knew of, did they use the word "salt" to mean "powder" (this was in the days before salt substitutes). So maybe the word "salt" in "garlic salt" did not mean "powder". What then could it signify? Could it, indeed signify the typical colloquial use of the term? Could it refer to that powdered mineral consisting largely of sodium chloride crystals with minor impurities often used as a standard table condiment? Could the "salt" in "garlic salt" actually mean salt?

The thought intrigued me. It vexed me. I could not rest until I had determined its truth or falsity. But how to determine its truth or falsity? An English student might have gone down to the grocery store and read the label on a shaker of garlic salt but this is not the way of a Scientist in Training. No, as a Scientist in Training, I had to Perform an Experiment. The experiment, carefully planned and executed was thus: I warmed a piece of bread, spread a generous helping of butter on it waited impatiently for the butter to melt in, then added some garlic powder, and then --the critical point of the experiment, the point to distinguish this experiment from the previous experience which was to act as the control-- I added some salt. The resulting garlic bread was perfect. I had discovered a major Law of Nature: without salt, garlic is just a stinky weed.

Well, enough of my digressions --I was reviewing a restaurant as I recall. The relish at the Stinking Rose was so good that I immediately ordered their appetizer specialty, Ragna Calda. Said appetizer is described thusly: "garlic cloves oven roasted in extra virgin olive oil and butter with a hint of anchovy". Sounds like just the thing for someone who can't get enough of the garlic-and-oil relish, no? Well, it was a crushing disappointment. The Ragna Calda was so mild that after the relish, I couldn't even taste garlic in the dish. And that was even when I tried eating a spoonful of the cloves (both with and without salt). The cloves had all the flavor of boiled potatoes with the feel of boiled onions.

Fortunately, the main course was better. It was prime rib served with a garlic topping, garlic mashed potatoes, and a side of horse radish (you thought I was going to say "a side of garlic", didn't you?). Except for the rather dull appetizer, the meal was a brilliant success.

Afterward, I wandered around the neighborhood until I found a store where I could find both breath mints and breath gum and I bought some of both. I felt that my meal called for stern measures in the breath department.

Conclusion: if you like garlic (and who doesn't?), then I recommend that you try the Stinking Rose if you ever get a chance.

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