(cross-posted from the Wishpot Gift Guru blog)

Cooking books make really good gifts.  They are useful, creative, personal and not too expensive.  In other words..almost as good as it gets for a gift!

Now, having said that, what’re some good cookbooks to give? 

Of course you can give one from any of top chefs from the food network:  Racheal Ray, Mario Batali, Barefoot Contessa , Emiril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Giada DeLaurentiis, just to name a few.  These are somewhat easy bets, especially if you know that the gift recipient likes their shows.  My favorite in this mix is Mario’s “The Babbo Cookbook”.   It’s also important to highlight that as previously reported Racheal Ray’s “365 No Repeats” is the #1 book wished for on Wishpot!

Now, you could go more upscale and uber-gourmet and get either the one by Adrian Ferre “El Bulli 1998-2002” or the one from multi three-Michelin-stars Alain Ducasse.   I personally have the El Bulli one in my personal wishlist.  I mean, it’s impossible to get a reservation to Ferre’s restaurant and at least I want a chance to try a recipe (assuming I can find the ingredients!).

There are some good alternatives in the dessert area (or should I say “course”).  I have read high praises for the “Sweet Life” by Kate Zuckerman.  The pix look amazing and the Lemon Tart is supposed to be the best ever.

One last idea could be to give a book about the fundamentals of cooking and food.  Two books that come highly recommended in this subcategory:  Cookwise and “On Food and Cooking”.

I included the recommendations above plus a few others on a new list “Cooking Books Wishlist” on the Wishpot’s GiftGuru page.

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I was just reading the corriere della sera and they were reporting that Forbes published the list of the top 12 most expensive restaurants in the world.

The list looks very impressing and unfortunately I have not been to any of them :(.  So, I added them to my wishpot wishlist!

  • La Pergola – This is an Italian joint in Rome 
  • Tetsuya – a Japanese restaurant in Sydney
  • The French Laundry – The Napa Valley Destination (note the capital N!).  I tried to go to this one, but we could not get a table
  • Masa – THE sushi place in NYC
  • Joel Robuchon – In Vegas.  I actually went to the “cafe” version.  That was one of the the most “upscale” cafe I have been, so the real thing must be really good.
  • Alinea – in Chicago.  I’d never heard of it.  I guess it’s in my todo list for when I go to Chicago.
  • Toque – in Montreal
  • El Bulli – I really want to go to this place.  It’s a the top of my restaurant wishlist! Ferran Adrià has achieved a god-status chef level and I really want to check it out.  Hope that it’s worth the $300/person (without wine!).
  • l’Arpege – in Paris
  • Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – In London.  After seeing Gordon Ramsey on kitchen nightmare (not the Fox version…the BBC one is much better) he has really become one of my favorite chefs.  Too bad it’s almost impossible to get a reservation.
  • Aragawa – In Tokyo.  The rumor has it that they have one of those nice $400 steaks.
  • Bukhara – in Delhi.   

The one thing that seems to be clear is that (1) wine is not included in any of the prices mentioned in the Forbes article.  Anyone should know that makes or break both the meal and the bank! (2) It seems that the rank is based solely on the “standard preset meal” – of course you could spend lots more if you ordered off the menu or you went for special menu.    There was also a good post about this sometime ago on the vinography blog and they recommended to triple the prices. 

Anyway…it seems there is some good place to go, regardless from where you are.

I had never been to Oceanaire and it was not in my list of “to go places”. But, last night a friend of mine reserved a table and I had the chance to go. I had actually heard good things about this restaurant, so I was looking forward to try it.

Let’s put it this way. I strongly discourage anyone from going there for the 25 for $25 and based on what I saw last night I will definitely not go back anytime soon.

You would expect that these special deals are to get you to try something nice that would make you go back for more.  This was not the case.

For 25$ (+ tip + tax + plus glass of wine = 40$) this is what I got:

  • Appetizer – three mini oysters with corn and a sauce. The sauce was overpowering and you could not taste the oysters much.
  • Main – sole cooked in butter with capers. Come on…I can make this at home and it does have some taste!  The alternative was a gnocchi with crab meat and broccolini.  Two of my friend tried it and they thought it was an “interesting” dish.
  • Dessert – a small very blend keylime pie.

Couple of other considerations:

  • 25$ menu is visible right away.  Although in a little corner of the main menu.
  • Plating was very underwhelming.  I felt there was no love put there.

At the end of the meal we agreed that the overall dinner was at most a 4 out 10.  Not recommended.

Oceanaire Seafood Room on Urbanspoon

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Friday night I was having drinks with my Italian friends and the topic came up.  We talked about it for a good chunk of time and it seems that by the end there was good agreement on the ranking.

Before I started writing this post I checked the pizzeria rankings on citysearch.  wow…in the audience top five there is none of the pizzerias that we have in our top 5.  It seems we are more in sync with the editors.  We both have the Tutta Bella Pizzeria in Columbia City as our #1.

There is another important point to make.  This entry ranks the best pizzeria and not the best pizza.  I will post about the best pizza later, for today let’s focus on the pizzeria.

#1  – Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Columbia City
what we like:  everything – atmosphere, pizza, staff/service, waiting line management, price
what we don’t like:  it’s a little out of the way

#2 – Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Wallingford
what we like:  the space, the pizza, waiting line management, price
what we don’t like: nothing really.  This is where we go the most, but the atmosphere is not quite the same as #1

#3 – Pizzeria da Guido in Crossroad
what we like:  pizza is great, place is reminiscent of some off-beat Italian pizzerias, no line
what we don’t like:  a little out of the way, crossroad mall it’s pretty sad at night

#4 – Via Tribunali in Capitol Hill
what we like: pizza can be very good, atmosphere
what we don’t like: waiting line, you cannot customize pizza (unbelievable!), unfriendly

#5 – La Vita e’ Bella in Belltown

Have fun at your next pizzeria trip!

What others think?

Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria (Wallingford) on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Guido on Urbanspoon

Via Tribunali on Urbanspoon

La Vita E' Bella Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

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I was looking at the latest GQ issue and I saw a recommendation for a 1998 Barolo called “Vigneto Arborina”.

It sounded good so I investigated it a bit.  The Robert Parker site reviewed this wine a few years ago and this is what they say:

11) Barolo “Vigneto Arborina” (Elio Altare)- $90 – 15 points (two 1st, four 2nd, one 3rd) – 93 rating Deeply colored. Fragrant nose of ripe cherry fruit is bold and expressive, but also shows some volatility. Quite backward on the palate now; youthfully tannic with great fruit, cedar and tobacco, tremendous richness and complexity. There’s lively acidity as well. Perhaps just a touch too much alcohol. One of the most backward wines tasted, this huge Barolo will start to reward in a decade – or two! Great candidate for cellaring. “

It definitely sounds a good wine to purchase either for yourself or as a gift for your wine expert friends.  It took me a while to find a place that has it.  I found it available at Bassins.com. There is not direct link, but you can just search for “vigneto arborina” and you will get the right result.  It’s selling for $60.  I am definitely ordering a bottle.