David Guempel is just such a chef. He taught himself to cook, and thirteen years ago he opened Zinnia with his partner, Larry Adams. They complement each other like wasabi and ginger -- it's hard to imagine one without the other. Best of all, Adams's business acumen allows Guempel to focus his attention on the sauté pan rather than on the accounting ledger.
Guempel characterizes his menu as "eclectic American." He makes liberal use of seafood, often featuring fish or shellfish in Southwestern and Pacific Rim dishes. Given Guempel's fondness for using fresh produce, nuts and wine in his cooking, the style might even be described as California cuisine. Labels aside, though, what sets Guempel apart as a chef is a sort of irrational exuberance. He gives a nod to traditional flavor combinations, such as lamb with tagine sauce and rabbit with spaetzel. But then his rebellious streak kicks in and he begins to coax timid ingredients from their shells. A chicken breast is transformed from wallflower to siren when Guempel dresses it in a sassy tomato marmalade. A duck breast ain't no shrinking violet after Guempel lacquers it with a tart blueberry-burgundy glaze. Diners get the feeling someone is doing the cha-cha-cha back there in that kitchen -- and they're only too eager to slip on their dancing shoes and let Guempel take them for a spin.
To avoid useless fat, check out the best of the meal of the day at WC -- breakfast, if only for the world's best affordable coffee. It's not pretentiously "gourmet," but it's good and hot and, chances are, it moves quickly. The worst thing for coffee is to sit and burn. A large java with a plain cake doughnut -- individually wrapped -- comes to a reasonable $1.11. It's just the right mix of sugar and caffeine to jerk you into alertness. While waiting for a WC employee to pour the coffee into a paper cup with a faux Starbucks logo, don't forget a napkin to wrap around it. Coffee-cup holders are nowhere to be found. But where else could you get good coffee, a government-issue doughnut and a chance to hear a customer at 8:30 a.m. in the drive-thru order chicken rings with melted "cheese"?