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The restaurant experience goes beyond the food "The place I choose to eat depends on how I'm feeling that day."

The most interesting part of being in the food biz is the questions you get. They're all over the map. Everyone eats; everyone has opinions; everyone is curious.

The most common query asked while I'm wearing my dining critic hat: What's your favorite restaurant? And my eternal answer, which happens to be the absolute truth: I don't have one.

Here's the thing: Restaurant dining is not just about basic sustenance; it's a total experience, too. What the place looks like, its vibes -- its total ambience can be as important as the stuff on the plate.

And mood matters. Sometimes a patron wants elegance and clever, carefully considered cuisine. Sometimes a diner simply wants to be part of a casual scene and to eat something that goes down easy but is not an intellectual exercise.

Sometimes that patron wants to feel that he's one with the sophisticated, knowledgeable crowd that always seems to identify the next best thing. And sometimes he seeks out a place that reminds him of his childhood.

In Western New York, we're lucky to have restaurants that meet all these criteria. The place I choose to eat depends on how I'm feeling that day.

Voila -- that's my favorite restaurant of the moment.

And here's another question, this one directed to my role as food editor: Are you really a good cook? My immodest answer is yes.

I cook as often as my schedule permits. I also make mistakes when writing about it. As in last week's column, when I described revisiting a tomato sauce recipe that originated with Italian cooking teacher Marcella Hazan.

I forgot to give the recipe.

Now, some readers recognized what I was talking about. They love the recipe as much as I do. But most readers did not. That was dumb, and I'm sorry. So, here's the recipe. And please work fast. The time to do this is now. Winter is coming.

MARCELLA'S TOMATO SAUCE -- 2 pounds fresh ripe plum tomatoes; 1/4 pound butter; 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved; salt, and 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar.

1) Wash tomatoes in cold water. Cut them in half lengthwise. Cook in a covered stockpot or saucepan until they have simmered for 10 minutes.

2) Puree the tomatoes through a food mill back into the pot. Add the butter, onion, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and the sugar and cook at a slow but steady simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes. Taste and correct for salt. Discard the onion. Serve with pasta or gnocchi. Makes 6 servings.

More questions: Can I use canned tomatoes? Of course, but it is not the same thing. I wouldn't bother. If you insist, use 2 cups of tomatoes and start at Step Two.

And this: What can I use instead of a food mill? A food processor will work, but you will have to peel the tomatoes and remove seeds first. Skip Step One and just put the pureed tomatoes into the pot with the other ingredients.


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