If you want to talk food, Mimi Sheraton is the go-to conversationalist. The latest proof is her fourth book (a 10-year writing project), “1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover’s Life List” (Workman, $25, 990 pages).
“1,000” is a bucket list, travelogue and resource to some of the best restaurants, markets, dishes and ingredients in the world. It’s also part memoir (with 70-plus recipes) and guide to food festivals, cookbooks and websites.
Sheraton is the former restaurant critic for The New York Times, a cookbook author, magazine writer (Condé Nast Traveler and Harper’s Bazaar among them) and lecturer at many cooking schools, including the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. She favors spicy foods and loves Sichuan cuisine.
Sheraton answered the phone in her Greenwich Village apartment shortly after a lunch of lambburger (without the bun), chickpea fries and baby-arugula salad. Follow her at twitter.com/mimisheraton.
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Q: You’re the Foodie Queen.
A: I come from a very food-minded family and I’ve been a world traveler since 1953. I can read or speak “food” in any language that uses our alphabet.
Q: Dining is essential to the civilized life, but have you gone too far this time?
A: I haven’t begun to scratch the surface. What would I have to look forward to if not the next restaurant?
Q: Have you tasted all 1,000 dishes?
A: No, I’ve had 90 percent of them, with 10 percent still to look forward to. My reach still exceeds my grasp.
Q: What’s on your list of favorites?
A: I’m crazy about fried eggs, linguine with white clam sauce and shakshuka, which you now see all over the place. It’s a North African-Middle Eastern dish of eggs baked in a very pungent tomato sauce, with tahini and toasted pita points on the side.
Q: What else?
A: In New York, the caviar and blini tasting from (the gourmet mail-order company) Petrossian. Grilled double lamb chops at the Palm. Hanjan Korean restaurant makes a dynamite scallion and squid pancake, very crisp and crackly. Warm and meaty dan-dan noodles at Wu Liang Ye Sichuan restaurant, served with very spicy sauce.
Q: What do you refuse to eat?
A: Monkey brains from the head of a live monkey, which was offered once in Macao. I don’t eat scallops because I’m somewhat allergic. I’m not categorically in love with tripe, though I’ve had it very well prepared in Rome and Greece. I have a very low threshold for cumin, it tastes a bit fetid.
Q: What’s the most “exotic” entry in the book?
A: The roasted sheep’s and calf’s heads found all over the Mediterranean. The meat around the cheeks is quite delectable. A lot of people eat the eyeballs, but I don’t.
Q: Pork rinds show up in the book with duck and stone crabs.
A: The first two items I wrote down when (the project got a green light from the publisher) were frozen Milky Way and caviar. They defined the boundaries of the book.
There are so many humble, inexpensive things that are delicious and evocative of memories. Freshly popped popcorn with good butter and sea salt can be marvelous. Being a hot dog freak, I included many variations, especially German wurst.
Q: You’ve never dined in Sacramento, but how about in San Francisco?
A: I would never go there without having the Hangtown fry at the Tadich Grill, and Piperade does the cuisine of the French and Spanish Pyrenees. I love Mustard’s Grill in Napa for its marvelous Mongolian pork chop.
Q: What’s your best advice for new food enthusiasts?
A: Start eating, have a good memory, and be open to all kinds of new things. Even if you hate something, try it two or three times.
Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.
Food writer Mimi Sheraton
Author of “1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die”