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Fall 2015's Best Cookbooks: Restaurants in Book Form

The next best thing to actually eating there

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The dynamism and range of the contemporary dining scene is on full display in 2015’s crop of restaurant cookbooks. The art and poetry of Atelier Crenn gets the gorgeous fine-dining book it deserves, while NoMad goes high-concept with a doorstopper of a volume that secretly has an entire second book hidden inside. Nouveau Asian-American trailblazers Mission Chinese and Talde both drop page-turners, and Israeli sensation Zahav rides (and possibly reshapes) the unstoppable trend-wave of Middle Eastern cuisine. Restaurant obsessives, here’s your essential list of the books behind the meals.


Check out our whole Fall 2015 cookbook preview: the best baking books, the season's top crop of books on regional and local cuisines, and culinary pros' books on home cooking. Or see the entire thing on the main page.

Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste

Dominique Crenn
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 2015
Even if you spend $220 to eat the twenty-course tasting at Atelier Crenn, chef Dominique Crenn's excellent (and esoteric) San Francisco establishment, further barriers to accessibility remain. Like the menu, for example, which is presented as an eighteen-line poem, or the food itself, which doesn't always look like food. ("Let me show you what's edible," a waiter once said to me about an aloe dish.)

Crenn's book is to dining at her restaurant what an annotated copy of Hamlet is to seeing the play per­formed for the first time

So you might not ever cook the lobster bisque (or anything) from the Atelier Crenn cookbook: that soup occupies eight pages and calls for micro-preparations like lobster brain-tomato gel, bone marrow custard, and a vegetable dashi veil. But if you read Crenn's tome, you'll understand why she serves it this way. "Each spoonful transforms the diner into a kind of fisherman who plunges in to discover the gifts of the sea," she writes.

Crenn's book is to dining at her restaurant what an annotated copy of Hamlet is to seeing the play performed for the first time: you might emotionally love the experience if you go in cold, but without this guidebook, you'll miss all the intellectual underpinnings. You'll miss that many of her dishes, however modernist, derive from simplicity: the rustic cuisine of her native Brittany (think: sturgeon ice cream pearls with smoked buckwheat). You'll miss that even though the vegetable-forward restaurant serves meat, you will never see chicken at Atelier Crenn (the chef hasn't met a supplier who meets her humane standards). You'll miss her essay on art, where she looks beyond gustatory sensations to opine that "once we begin to imagine the aesthetic possibilities of cuisine, the potential for meaning is infinite." Crenn is a complex thinker; she talks about the challenges of understanding the painter Wassily Kandinsky before dropping the name of another chef. Her food can be equally complex; this text makes it less so. —Ryan Sutton

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Hartwood

Eric Werner and Mya Henry with Christine Muhlke and Oliver Strand
Artisan, October 2015
Over the past few years, the Mexican beach town Tulum has been transformed from sleepy backwater to the bohemian yoga paradise of Instagram dreams. Visits to Tulum are not complete without a visit to Hartwood, a jungle oasis of a restaurant run by ex-New Yorkers Mya Henry and Eric Werner. Famously "off-the-grid," Hartwood cooks with the most local of local ingredients over an open flame, on the grill or in a wood-burning oven. The fish is all freshly caught from nearby waters, the produce is purchased from Mayan farmers, and vanishingly little electricity is involved. There is no more achingly, perfectly right-now expat narrative than Henry and Werner's. If you buy this book, you can have a piece of it.

For those of us who haven't been to Tulum and haven't dined at Hartwood, the book is beautiful but pointless.

If you go to Tulum and you dine at Hartwood, maybe Henry and Werner will autograph your cookbook and you'll get it signed yearbook-style from the couple you met from Brooklyn who you promised to keep in touch when you "get back to the States." But for those of us who haven't been to Tulum and haven't dined at Hartwood, the book is beautiful but pointless. Sure, recipes have been adapted for ovens with temperature settings, there are helpful grilling tips scattered throughout the book, and the pickling recipes seem useful. But is this the book you'd turn to, really, to help you perfect your grilling game? To plan a summer backyard party? To offer a crash course on Mexican cooking? No. Is this a book that will make you wish you were a better photographer? Had more vacation days? Had an unlimited budget? Yes. This is a book about wishing.

This is not a book most people will cook from. That critique can be leveled at entire category of restaurant cookbooks, but Hartwood’s location in an "it" vacation destination considerably compounds the levels of aspiration. It is a book meant to be read and admired and left on coffee tables until the next beautiful memento takes its place. Sort of like "it" travel destinations. The New York Times did a 36 Hours for Tulum way back in 2014, and New York magazine declared it "the Williamsburg of Mexico" this year, which means it's been "discovered." And "discovered" is mere inches away from "so over." — Hillary Dixler

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Nopi

Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully
Random House, October 2015
Readers expect certain things from Yotam Ottolenghi's books: squishy covers, vegetable-forward recipes, plenty of Middle Eastern ingredients. His recipes are ideal dinner party fodder, unexpected, a tinge fussy, and relatively easy for a home cook with a decently stocked pantry to make. Ottolenghi's latest, Nopi, inspired by his London restaurant of the same name, is a major departure form his popular titles Plenty and Jerusalem. The squishy cover is swapped for a minimalist hardcover with gold-rimmed pages, and while there are Middle Eastern touches like rose petals and sumac, the star flavors in this book are decidedly inspired by the Asian subcontinent. But most importantly, unlike his other books, this isn't a chef's guide to home cooking; instead, it's a chef offering home cooks a lesson in creating restaurant-level dishes in their own kitchens.

The majority of the recipes here are riffs on dishes served at Nopi, where the kitchen is helmed by Malaysian-born Ramael Scully, a chef who isn't afraid to throw sambal, miso, and ajwain seeds into unexpected places. The recipe names are long ("Quail with Burnt Miso Butterscotch and Pomegranate and Walnut Salsa"), and the ingredient lists even longer. Ottolenghi explains that the dishes are "typically made up of a few distinct elements that need to be prepared separately ... before being put together on a plate very last minute," just as it is done in a restaurant.

This book is worth picking up for the labneh alone. Ottolenghi and Scully use it in myriad, ingenious ways.

While Ottolenghi encourages readers to take their time with these recipes, and indulge in the book's often lengthy preparations (many of the dishes call for letting things set or marinate overnight), he does offer alternatives and shortcuts for the impatient home cook: swapping store-bought crispy shallots for homemade, and offering a trick to cut the straining time of homemade labneh from 24 hours to just six (it tastes just as good).

This book is worth picking up for that labneh alone. Ottolenghi and Scully use the thick, strained yogurt cheese in myriad ingenious ways. There's a smoked version that takes flavor from an infusion of oolong tea, pink peppercorns, and caraway seeds, which is then paired with baby carrots, mung beans, and crisp pita. Another dishes centers on yogurt swirled with date syrup and pomegranate molasses, strained to make a slightly sweet labneh, and served with venison filets, blackberry sauce, and a gingery-peanut crumble. All in all, it's best to think of Nopi as Ottolenghi, Advanced Edition: still a perfect dinner party inspiration, but aimed at someone who likes to pretend they're on an episode of Top Chef while cooking at home. —Khushbu Shah

Order: Amazon / Powell's

The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook


Danny Bowien and Chris Ying
Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, November 2015
Danny Bowien's restaurant Mission Chinese Food is a bi-coastal, Sichuan peppercorn-powered dive sensation, one which has arguably changed the trajectory of Chinese-American food in America. Into a genre dominated by glistening piles of orange beef and lo mein, Bowien's restaurant offer his Californized takes on specialties such as mapo tofu and Hainese chicken, as well as introducing less beaten-to-death regional Chinese specialties to a much wider American audience. For the uninitiated, here's proof that Bowien's food has earned the right kind of respect: Anthony Bourdain and David Chang wrote his cookbook's dual forwards. But The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook (co-authored by Lucky Peach editor-in-chief Chris Ying) isn't all dude food and mashup food trends. Bowien dares to go far beyond the recipes to reveal his own mind and spirit — the mercurial and creative force behind it all — making for an immersive and personal read.

Perhaps the biggest reveal of all is the fact that it's never been easy, and there are still daily hurdles to jump along the way

Chapters mirror the evolution of the young chef's career. Bowien tells of his early days as a line cook in New York, subsisting on rationed Utz Party Mix while surviving "zoo animal"-like treatment at a French-Japanese restaurant. The silver lining is a recipe riff on chawanmushi, a dish he learned during that stint, which has since become one of his all-time favorites. The story continues with Bowien opening Mission Chinese, including the restaurant's adventures with "Chinese ‘Barbecue,'" complete with a "shady as hell" smoker setup, which sidelines a full recipe reveal of Bowien's signature Kung Pao Pastrami. A recipe for Bowien's version of Mapo Tofu anchors the San Francisco chapter, wherein Bowien reveals inner demons, including the fact that his culinary school debt "ballooned to more than $100,000" around the time when he moved to New York to open his second Mission Chinese Food.

From his personal struggles with his mother's untimely death to deflating run-ins with the Department of Health, perhaps the biggest reveal of all is the fact that — despite the lightning-fast success rocket Bowien seems to be riding — it's never been easy, and there are still daily hurdles to jump along the way. To that end, his candid writing serves as inspiration for peers and a true page-turner for his many fans, completing the portrait of a massively popular, hyper-idiosyncratic restaurant group. Ultimately, it shines a light on the Herculean feat that is survival as a creative in the restaurant industry. —Carolyn Alburger

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Other Notable Books

Tacos: Recipes and Provocations

Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman
Clarkson Potter

Fine dining pastry chef turned tortilla obsessive Alex Stupak unleashes his first cookbook, which he previously told Eater is intended to "stimulate the hell" out of the conversation around Mexican food. Working with veteran food writer Jordana Rothman, Stupak guides readers through the elements of the taco and makes the case for the elevation of Mexican cuisine.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Heartlandia

Adam and Jackie Sappington with Ashley Gartland
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Portland's beloved Country Cat Dinner House and Bar unveils the secrets to their fried chicken, pimento cheese and other comforting dishes in a book geared toward the home cook. Come for the ranch dressing, stay for the guide to whole-animal butchery.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

The NoMad Cookbook

Daniel Humm and Will Guidara
Ten Speed

The high-concept, beautiful-object cookbook of the season (with a $100 price tag to match), The NoMad Cookbook features a ‘secret' cocktail book hidden in a back panel. Recipes from the Manhattan restaurant and bar are paired with stylish photography from Francesco Tonelli.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

This is Camino

Russell Moore & Allison Hopelain with Chris Colin
Ten Speed

Open-flame, seasonal cooking is the name of the game at Oakland restaurant Camino, and their cookbook is focused on the fundamentals of cooking with fire. Chef Russell Moore is an alum of Chez Panisse, which shows in his deceptively simple approach to food.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Olympia Provisions

Elias Cairo & Meredith Erickson
Ten Speed

There’s plenty of charcuterie in the cookbook from the Portland cured meats empire, which famously embodied the dream of the 1890's. Swiss food and culture also play a significant role in the book, with sections on the owners’ visits to the Alps and the perfect wine lunch.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Gjelina

Travis Lett
Chronicle

Gjelina’s vegetable-centric approach to Cal-Ital makes it an absolutely essential Los Angeles restaurant. Their cookbook promises to make that style of cooking essential to home kitchens, too.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Zahav

Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook
Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Eater National 38 member Zahav’s modern approach to Israeli cooking makes for the kind of book that will redefine the conversation around Middle Eastern cuisine in America. And yes, a recipe for the restaurant’s iconic hummus is included.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Asian-American

Dale Talde & JJ Goode
Grand Central Life & Style

Top Chef favorite David Talde’s cookbook celebrates the take on Asian-American cuisine he serves at his eponymous Brooklyn restaurant, reflecting his background growing up in Chicago with his Filipino parents. The book mixes illustrations and a hip-hop aesthetic (plus plenty of photos of women in various sexy outfits ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) with recipes for pretzel dumplings and bacon pad thai.

Order: Amazon / Powell's

Also Coming This Fall

· Brodo: A Bone Broth Cookbook by Marco Canora. Pam Krauss Books: December 1

· The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual by Sean Muldoon, Jack McGarry, and Ben Schaffer. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: October 13

· sketch by Mourad Mazouz and Pierre Gagnaire. Absolute Press: November 11

· Sea and Smoke by Blaine Wetzel and Joe Ray. Running Press, October 27.

· Women Chefs of New York by Nadia Arumugam. Bloomsbury USA, October 27.

· Spuntino by Russell Norman. Bloomsbury USA, November 3.

· Crossroads by Tal Ronnen. Artisan: October 6.

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