Saturday, November 17, 2018

Two restaurants

Eastside Road, November 17, 2018—
NO PHOTO TODAY: sorry. I didn't think I'd be writing this — not because I don't think the restaurants are worth writing about, not at all: because I thought I had definitively stopped writing about eating every day at all.

But habits die hard, so here I am again — to tell you that we really like this place in Santa Rosa: nothing special, a quiet, comfortable Italian restaurant, mostly veering toward the North Italian cuisine — the family owning it was, I think, from the Lago Maggiore area.

They bought a Victorian house in a residential neighborhood on the edge of downtown years ago, installed the restaurant downstairs, and lived upstairs. Over the years they've done well: they no longer live on the premises; the upstairs is now I've heard a private dining room.

There's a snug little bar to one side of the dining room, whose tables are set wide apart. The ceilings are high and there are pleasant landcapes painted on the walls. White tablecloths, of course.

Wednesday we dined with an old friend, beginning with cocktails — a Fernet Negroni for me — continuing with salad, then sole piccata, very nicely cooked in butter and flavored with white vinegar and capers. I had a decent zabaglione for dessert.

Ca' Bianca Ristorante Italiano, 835 2nd Street, Santa Rosa, California; 📞 707.542.5800

THE NEXT NIGHT we were in Oakland, dining with a couple of friends in a favorite restaurant we've neglected too often — there are so many favorites to juggle!

And this one is closing soon, after ten quite successful years — the frequent combination in this area: fatigue on the part of the principals; great difficulty finding and retaining good staffers in an area where housing is expensive and in short supply.

So this was our final dinner. We opened with cocktails — a "Gin Drink" for me, involving lime, genepi, and something else. Then a salad and then grilled duck leg and breast. We've known the principals for years; both Russ and Alison used to be significant members of the team at Chez Panisse. Russ cooks everything in a huge fireplace, and the duck was about as good as it can be — superb.

     🍷Mondeuse, Domaine Dupasquier, 2014: also superb

•Camino, 3917 Grand Avenue, Oakland, California; 📞(510) 547-5035

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, November 16, 2018

Poor man's cassoulet

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Eastside Road, November 16, 2018—
COOK'S BEEN INVESTIGATING the freezer again, and turned up two containers of stock: pigeon stock from 2015, if you can believe it, and goose stock from last year.

She asked me to smell it after it had thawed, but I wasn't sure about it. I suggested she heat it, and when it was at a simmer I tried it: delicious — not at all rancid, which would be the only problem after all that time.

She'd already soaked white beans overnight, so it wasn't a long stretch of imagination to cook them in the stock, then add a couple of Franco's sausages — these his French Country and Provençal sausages. It's lovely to mash those beans down into the rich stock with the tines of your fork…

Afterward, nice bitter broccolini, sautéed with olive oil and garlic; and after that, strawberry shortcake. Viva la cuisinière!

     🍷Nero d'Avola, Regaleale, 2014: deep, round, nice.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017     will I get around to 2018?

Friday, October 5, 2018

Penne rigate

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Viale Trastevere, Rome, October 4, 2018—
NEW TO US, one of today's places; a familiar, the other — and as it happened penne at both.

I'll start with dinner, at a pretty darn good place we discovered a couple of years ago when we were staying near the Piazza Dunant, around the corner, in the Monteverde region here in Rome. There, hungry, I opened with two fritti: a stuffed zucchini blossom and a filet of baccalà.

Both were delicious, lightly battered with bread crumbs and deep-fried just so in vegetable oil — semi, the waiter said, seed — safflower I suppose: in any case, light and neutral.

Filetto di baccalà seems to be considered a Roman specialty by the Romans, who, like all metropolitans, think of their pleasures as characteristic of their city. I eat salt cod wherever it's offered, and have enjoyed it especially in Venice (mantecato), Seville, and Porto. The Roman deep-fried version, certainly as prepared in this restaurant, preserves the flaky delicacy of the flesh. I could eat it every meal, maybe even breakfast.

I went on, at dinner, to penne rigate alla gricia, one of the Roman trinity of "white" pasta preparations. (The other two are cacio e pepe, soon to be discussed, and carbonara, to be discussed (perhaps) another day. (There is a "red" one, too: Amatriciana, also to be investigated another day.)

Gricia, according to Wikipedia, was likely associated with the town of Grisciano, like Amatrice not that far east of Rome. It is a frugal dish involving only five ingredients: the pasta, salt, guanciale, Pecorino, and black pepper. Six, if you count the water the pasta is cooked in.

Here the guanciale was properly cubed, say an eighth of an inch to a side, no more; and fried I'm sure in only its own fat, and tossed along with the grated pecorino into the pasta, which clearly had had some of its cooking water added back.

Part of the pleasure of these dishes, especially when served with penne, is scooping the thick sauce up with a little penne boat at the end of your fork. The cheese and thick pasta-water combines to make a kind of poor man's besciamella or béchamel. Salt and pepper were present but subtle. The dish was superb.

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penne cacio e pepe alla gricia

     🍷House wine, white
•C'era Una Volta, Piazzale Enrico Dunant 13, Rome; 📞+39 06 53627 8

LUNCH HAD BEEN at an Internet-discussed place up the Viale from home — why not try out the local joints? Here I ordered penne cacio e pepe, which is essentially alla gricia with the guanciale left out and a little more black pepper put in. The trick, of course, is to use good ingredients, and the pepper must be freshly ground. At home we use Tellicherry, and I'd be surprised if such good (and expensive) pepper had been used here — but I wasn't complaining.

The dish was nearly as good as the evening's gricia. With it I had a simple salad of narrow leaves of arugula, dressed at table (by me, not a waiter) with olive oil, salt, and "Balsamico". I'd have preferred lemon juice, but hadn't tnought to request it.

     🍷House wine, white

•Bruciapadelle, Piazza Ippolito Nievo 13, Rome; 📞+39 06 58138 60

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Monday Tuesday Wednesday.

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Viale Trastevere, October 3, 2018—

WE HAVE BEEN preoccupied, as I think I've suggested, with family and festivity; and as I have not mentioned with colds and fatigue, and so I'm reduced once more to a catchup post. Sorry.

Monday we ate simply, taking the tram 3 into Testaccio to lunch on panini at a pleasant pasticceria I've always liked the looks of. Sorry about the photo; I took it offline and it is small.

     🍷Bianco della casa
•Caffè Barberini, Via Barberini, 15, Roma ; 📞+39 06 5530 0488

In the evening we ate pizzas in front of the television, the whole family, watching our Cubs lose their tie-breaker with the Brewers. Very dispiriting, of course, and there was worse to come the next day. But man muss essen.

TUESDAY: Breakfast at our superb local pasticceria-gelateria, right next door: as usual, a croissant and two cappuccinos. Perhaps before leaving Rome I'll get around to a proper description of this place — serious but friendly, studied but du quartier, comfortable but almost austere.

Around the corner there's a supermarket, and there I had two mortadella panini made at the deli counter, serving well enough for our lunch.

IMG 1255Dinner: a farewell for Pavel, who would leave early next morning, at a local trattoria much praised by various travel sites and specialty dining blogs.

Others in our party were happier with the choice than was I, and not for having ordered differently: at least two of our party of eight had the same roast suckling pig that I ordered. Mine was charred on the outside, succulent within, difficult to get off the bone (I should have used my pocket Opinel instead of the provided "steak knife").

I liked the potatoes that came on the side, but thought the mixed vegetables mushy and lacking in character. Others disagree on this point. I should return when I'm over this cold, I suppose, but there are so many other places to try…

     🍷White and red, as usual house wines in carafe
•La Tavernaccia da Bruno, Via Giovanni da Castel Bolognese, 63, Roma; 📞 +39 06 581 2792

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WEDNESDAY: Now we're talking: Lunch at a very favorite spot, discovered last time we were here. I almost wished it had been raining; the dining room is elegant and comfortable. But the terrace is equally comfortable, and the secluded piazza, through which we saw no vehicular traffic the hours we were at table, is lined with interesting, picturesque buildings — no one could complain about outside seating here.

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On our last visit I was struck by the complexity and flavor of the tortino di baccalà e patate; I ordered it again today. It was beautiful.

Grace, conveniently on my left, offered me a few bites of her carciofi alla giudia, crunchy fried-and-flattened artichokes: this is I think the definitive version: you can't find them better.

My main course was tonarelli carbonara. Piperno is justly proud of its pasta, all made in house of course, and this carbonara was marvelous, balanced and unctuous. I forgot to photograph it, of course: too bad, as the egg yolk was particularly photogenic, even though well mixed into the pasta.

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I did however photograph the dessert, a crostata di visciole, a traditional Jewish cherry tart — did I mention that we're in the Ghetto? — as notable for its beautifully made pastry as its deep, very flavorful fruit jam. I'd have loved a grappa after this dessert, but it's midday…

     🍷Ribolla Gialla, Vinnae (Jermann), 2017, a lovely wine; and a glass of Tuscan red

•Piperno Ristorante dal 1860, Via Monte dè Cenci, 9, Roma; 📞+39 06 6880 6629

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And this evening I went out alone, the Contessa having adequately nourished herself at Piperno, for a modest plate of gnocchi alla romana al pomodoro e basilico at a neighborhood bistro-wine bar across the street from the railroad station.

As you'd expect from the location, the place was casual and tending toward hip, and the pasta could in truth have been better, ditto the sauce. But it was satisfactory, and my plate of mixed grilled vegetables — eggplant, zucchini, and peppers — was better, I thought, than those of the previous evening.

     🍷Barbera, 2017; sorry, forgot to record the label
•Shabby Bistrot, Via Pietro Manzi, 1, Rome; 📞+39 3927424379

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Sunday al fresco

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Viale Trastevere, September 30, 2018—

TEN AT TABLE: not a terribly large group as Sunday midday dinners go in this country. And dining at Cesare is a bit like dining in a country restaurant on Sunday afternoon: the atmosphere is so friendly, the menu so steady, the ambiance — here, outside — so warm and comfortable.

The photo shows the reason we're here: another cena nuziale for Francesca (in bright red) and her Hamza (to her right), with Hamza's Italian host "parents" flanking me at the end of the table, the Contessa on Fran's left, Giovanna at near left with her straw-hatted Pavel, Hamza's sister Meriem and Fran's sister Grace. The photo was taken by an obliging cameriere at the end of the meal; too bad we didn't think of having it done during the event.

Cesare is noted for its tonarelli cacio e pepe and other pastas are excellent as well, but I was in the mood for fish, and the baccalà alla romana here is excellent. Many of the others wanted dessert, but I was content with a grappa…

     🍷White wine della casa

•Trattoria Da Cesare al Casaletto, Via del Casaletto 45, Rome; 📞+39 06 53601 5

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IMG 1958RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017


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Viale Trastevere, September 29, 2018—

YOU ARE LOOKING into the kitchen of this local trattoria; the specials of the day are listed on the wall; the chef is sitting, resting after the midday service; an attendant reaches for something on a shelf.

Trastevere is full of tourists and students; you hear almost as much English as Italian on the crowded streets, maybe more. This place seems intended for locals, though. The interior looks like modest trattorie we've seen throughout the country. The few other diners we saw this midday — we entered late, a little before two o'clock — were Italian and, I'm pretty sure, Roman.

I had ravioli burro e salvia, ravioli filled with ricotta flavored with sage, served simply with melted butter and chopped sage leaves: a favorite of mine. Everything here was more than satisfactory. I'm sure I've eaten here before, but find no notice of it on this blog. I'm equally sure we'll be back.

     🍷White, della casa.

•Mario's, Via del Moro 53/55, Rome; 📞+39 065803809

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, September 28, 2018


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Viale di Trastevere, September 28, 2018—

HERE WE ARE in the Eternal City once again, and why not? After a week of family reunion at home with relatives from Australia, a couple of weeks with family in Rome seemed like a good idea.

The tartare you see here was last night's dinner, preceded by bruschetti and a delicious salad of raw and cooked artichoke, arugula, pine nuts, and Parmigiano. I liked both. The tartare was served with minced shallot and parsley, mustard, and salt; the egg was fresh and flavorful. IMG 1020

The photo does not do justice to the salad, which was quite complex — the artichoke both fried in the Jewish style here and thin-sliced raw; the pine nuts plentiful (and Italian, to be sure, not Chinese), the oil quite deep and added at my discretion.

IMG 1026Dessert: a "deconstructed" Sicilian cannolo: Buffalo ricotta cream, candied Tarocco orange peel, chocolate chips, and broken cannoli shell. This was complex and generous, like this restaurant, a favorite of our Roman relatives — which boasts fine ingredients, many of them organic and some from the Slow Food "Ark of Taste" specific-to-region products.

We were seven at table, and had begun with an aperitif across the street, at a wine bar that in former days catered to the city's communists. We were a festive crew — and I was exhausted by the end.

     🍷Cesanese, Damiano Ciolli "Silene," 2016: fruity with a bit of edge

•Il Vinaietto, Via del Monte della Farina 38, Rome; 📞+39 06 68806 989
•Emma, Via del Monte della Farina 28, Rome; 📞+39 06 64760 475

Lunch had been at a place new to us, though getting on to thirty years at its site — recommended by friends who felt it had offered the finest dining they'd enjoyed on a recent tour of Italy.

It was very accommodating; the menu was interesting; the food tasty and characteristic. I didn't find it exceptional, but I probably ordered wrong — an insalata Nicoise, because after a very long day of travel I wanted greens, tuna, and salt. I'd go back to order better.

     🍷Bianco della casa

•Giulio passamilolio, Via di Monte Giordano, 28, Roma ; 📞+39 06 68803288

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017