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I would have loved the tender mussels with seasoned fries, except that the fries were dumped right over half the mussels, obliterating the minimal sauce of uni butter, habanero chilies, garlic, etc., lurking at the bottom of the plate. I suspect that’s a tasty little sauce down there, getting erased by the explosion of potatoes and their trickle-down salt. It’s like a fast-food misreading of the Belgian classic. I wish I could order this again, this time specifying “Fries on the side, please.”

Ordering fried chicken, we all had hopes of an indulgent treat. Suffering from fear of frying, I haven’t cooked it for years, nor even gotten takeout from Popeyes. Same with the rest of the gang. Given the other Southern dishes on the menu (fried pickles, buttermilk biscuits), we were hoping for a crackly, puffy buttermilk batter — or, if not, at least a brightly seasoned flour coating like that served at the late Magnolias. C&C’s was flour-coated and pan-fried. For flavor and tenderness, it flopped. Even the thigh piece was dry, with hard, scorched brown flesh wherever the skin had pulled off. I liked the accompanying buttermilk slaw but not the soggy garlic green beans. On the side was a red chili vinegar (presumably to be used as a sauce), so harshly spicy, it turned this chili lover right off. Dry chicken like this needs rich pan gravy (so easy to make!), not half-done salad dressing.

Last was an ice cream sandwich of chocolate wafers around vanilla ice cream, dotted with candied bacon. The bacon registered as “just chips” — more a texture than a flavor. A big “who cares?” Plus, no coffee of any kind to make the desserts go down.

We all shared an ambivalent combination of disappointment and optimism. We’d expected better food — but we also still held hopes for C&C’s future. This is an imaginative menu with huge potential, if only the chef will stop stubbing his toe on the salt and vinegar, turn down the stove heat a bit, buy more blue cheese and less dull cheddar — just, in general, back off from the tendency to excess, and let his ingredients speak for themselves.

A Few Holiday Possibilities
The Cravory (thecravory.com) — This local company makes cookies but not like any cookies you might find in a store. They’re thick and luscious, with flavors that range from dreams of the inner child (Oreo Milkshake and Birthday Cake) to nearly X-rated. To pair with wine, consider the Pinot Noir cookie with goat cheese, roasted almonds, and salted caramel or the seductive Rosemary Balsamic (with which I’m seriously smitten) or Lemon Cherry Basil. And consider a cookie flavored like pancakes and bacon. (I wish they’d included that in the little sampler they sent me!) And, indeed, the Red Velvet really does beat out any cake version. The price is $24 a dozen, plus shipping. Furthermore, they’ll put together any flavor combination you can conceive of (minimum order, two dozen for custom-made). Alas, no sampler packs of several flavors. Watch out to spell it right: another bakery called the Cravery with an e makes potpies only.

Foodzie (foodzie.com) — Based in San Francisco, this is a clearinghouse for small, artisan food crafters across the United States, with prices all across the map. The downside is that products (meats, fish, chowders) requiring refrigerated shipping carry hefty shipping charges. Because of that, I didn’t order the wild-killed Michigan woods venison steaks or roasts, the New England seafoods, or the pulled pork, smoked in Oklahoma and made from heritage hogs raised in Nebraska. But, wow, there’s so much more. Let me put in a few raves here: the gluten-free “ravioli cookies” by Zix (with stuffings of cherry, apricot, pumpkin, apple, etc.) are just dreamy, with thin, fragile crusts (made of rice and millet flour), thick fillings that taste like their fruits (or veggies), not too sweet. They’re $11 for a half dozen of any flavor or a mix. Perfect breakfast food for those who crave croissants but don’t want all the fat and calories. Another favorite is the lemon pudding from the Sticky Toffee Pudding Company in Austin, Texas, run by an Englishwoman from the Lake Country. I sampled one of these at a food show in Frisco a good dozen years ago and never forgot it — one of the best sweets I’ve ever tried. It won “best dessert in show,” of course. The sticky toffee (not disgusting at all) and molten chocolate puddings are also amazing. They’re $30 for a six-pack (one flavor or a sampler) and can be frozen for six months. One thing to be careful about: because these are all small producers, they don’t always label their packs “perishable” or “refrigerate.” Two of my packages (during the scorching weather in early November) came with chill-packs that had melted. If your FedEx guy leaves a package from an unknown provider on your porch, open it immediately! If it’s not your personal bomb from al-Qaeda, it could be something delicious that needs to go in the fridge right away.

Zingerman’s (zingermans.com) — Last year, this upscale deli/bakery in Ann Arbor was my main source of food gifts to my posse. (And, of course, the best stuff I bought for them, I bought for me too.) Heaven knows, they’re not cheap. The most appreciated gift was a sampler pack of tiny bottles of several aged balsamics of various vintages. (I love it!) There’s also a sampler of Italian citrus olive oils. And for those delving further, items like yuzu syrup, Rangpur lime syrup, and for total anchovy freaks, the ancient Roman Empire condiment of garum, an intense anchovy sauce that kept Roman soldiers’ mouths happy as they plunged into the bad-food wilds of savage Gaul and Britannia. Also lots of interesting (and freezable) breads and pastries, many of them not made by even our best local bakers.

Gourmet Food Store (gourmetfoodstore.com) — They have everything. Everything! Foie gras, caviar (local and imported), meats, imported cheeses, bottled sauces — everything. It’ll cost ya. I don’t like their sauces much. Otherwise, if you got it, honey, flaunt it!

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Naomi Wise Nov. 28, 2010 @ 9:08 p.m.

Mea culpa! (as it were). The intense anchovy sauce at Zingerman's that I identified by its ancient Latin name, garum, is nowadays called Colatura by the Neapolitans who bottle it. Costs $17 for a 100-ml bottle but keeps until ancient in the fridge. More frugal in the long term than opening a whole can of anchovies just to use a little shot in a Pasta Puttanesca or a frutti di mare spaghetti. (Though I do wonder if nam pla or nguoc manh might possibly work as well.)


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