STALKING THE GREEN FAIRY: And Other Fantastic Adventures in Food and Drink

James Villas, Author . Wiley $26.95 (310p) ISBN 978-0-471-27344-8

With this lively collection of essays on topics ranging from the pleasures of commercial peanut butter to the wonders of home-cured gravlax, former Town and Country food and wine editor Villas is in top form, displaying the humor, intelligence and strong-mindedness that have made him the South's proud answer to Jeffrey Steingarten. Whether defending Southern regional dishes beloved by "rebs," such as grits, fruitcake and pimento cheese, or attacking the pretensions of foodie snobs and "rubes" who think raw tuna goes with everything, Villas refuses to be pushed around by fashion. Instead, he is a man on a mission to understand and celebrate what is authentic about his greatest epicurean passions, from canned tuna to vintage champagne rose. Though eloquent in his forays overseas as he seeks out the perfect salade niçoise or the illicit history of absinthe (the green fairy of the title), North Carolina–born Villas truly shines when he's on American soil. His odes to such American staples as the Club sandwich, chicken salad, meatloaf, iceberg lettuce and chowder are classic, combining personal anecdote, history and the author's own enticing recipes. The book loses a bit of steam in the final section, where Villas's contrarian take on everything from lemongrass to sharing food in restaurants descends into crankiness. But at his best, in the grip of an enthusiasm—whether it's buying Chateau d'Yquem sauterne at auction or rhapsodizing about bulk shopping at Costco—Villas will delight foodies as well as his loyal fans. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/12/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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