Eating Every Day

Friday, January 23, 2015


Eastside Road, January 23, 2015e—
HOME AGAIN. The principle meal of the day was a succulent hamburger, just the way I like it — really good beef, ground on the premises, a nice thick patty griddled rare, on a decent bun, with lots of julienned lettuce, good pickles, an acceptable tomato slice for Janaury, nice sweet raw onion, and a hint of mustard. This was a fine hamburger and we'll be back again.

Farm Burger, 1313 9th Street #130, Berkeley; (510) 705-1485
On the road north we stopped for a cappuccino at one of my favorite cafés, where the coffee is roasted on the premises and the espresso machine is maintained and operated with care. It doesn't hurt that it's in one of my favorite towns…

Vertigo Coffee, 81 4th Street, San Juan Bautista, California; (831) 623-9533

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Coffee and pastry

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Los Angeles, January 22, 2015—
IN THE PAST few years our favorite coffee here in Los Angeles has been Intellgentsia's Black Cat, available at two locations we know of: Pasadena and Venice. I suppose I first met Intellgentsia in Chicago, its home city; since then I've enjoyed it in a few other locations: in addition to these in Los Angeles, a café in Sacramento and another in, thankfully, Santa Rosa.

On this trip, though, when we had it yesterday in Venice, it seemed a little bitter. Don't know why. On the other hand, the croissant we had there yesterday was truly extraordinary, by far the best I've had outside Paris, possibly excluding the ones Kathleen Stewart used to make by hand in the early days of Downtown Bakery and Creamery in Healdsburg.

This morning there were no croissants at Intellgentsia in Venice by the time we got there, but we weren't worried; they'd told us where they got them, and we simply drove over to the famous old Hollywood Farmer's Market, on Third at Fairfax, and stopped in at Short Cake for a second coffee and, yes, there they were, croissant.

It turned out that Short Cake had been conceived and founded by two old acquaintances of Lindsey's: Nancy Silverton and the late Amy Pressman, both bakers extraordinaire and smart cookies when it comes to business. The bakery is over three years old: why had we not heard about it, why had we not been here before?

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Well, we made up for it now. As I was gobbling my croissant I noticed a very beautiful Pithiviers had been set up on a nice green cake-stand on a marble table outside the bakery; a young woman was standing on a stepladder taking a photo of it from above. Other pastries were being set about for more photos, and a pleasant-looking man with dark straight hair and an immaculate white apron was looking on, rather pleased I thought, and rightly so, with the proceedings.

I introduced Lindsey, and he recognized the name, and we had a nice talk. Ivan Marquez turned out to know of Lindsey and her work; he has her book. For a young man he has a considerable résumé, having worked at Spago here in Los Angeles, then The French Laundry in Napa county. He's a pastry chef with a pedigree and, clearly, a passion.

He took a few minutes from his work to sit with us and talk business. I have to say, there is nothing I like better to see than a person who is totally committed to métier, who combines passion, discipline, knowledge of history, imagination as to possibilities, awareness of constraints, enjoyment of the unique liberation of mind, muscle, and spirit that comes from a continuous address to expertise. My own enthusiasms are literature, music, painting, and cuisine: all of them offer this kind of address, and I've been privileged to know a number of masters. I have the intuitive conviction that this fellow is one of them.

Cynics among you will suspect my opinion has been influenced by his gift of those boxes you see on the table in the photo above. (They are opened in the two lower phots to the left.) You cynics are mistaken: the opinion had been formed before his insistence that we take a few edibles for our long drive home. Pain aux raisins, bear claw (with pistachios as well as almonds, brilliant!), apple tartlet, poppyseed cake, and at the lower right a curious savory tartlet with ricotta, strawberries, thyme, and tangerine — I'd never have thought of it, and it's remarkable. This is truly a find.

Short Cake, 6333 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles; (323) 761-7976
AS YOU MIGHT IMAGINE, we were not all that hungry this evening. Tired and a bit sleepy, yes: so we stopped in Atascadero, where there's a café whose coffee we like. Where, then, for supper? We looked on Open Table, after having asked at the café, and settled on a place up the road in Paso Robles.

How nice to find a small plate on the menu, combining nearly all the things needed for a balanced meal! "Bistro Steak," they called it: a "flap steak," which I suppose is somewhere near the "hanger," grilled just the way I wanted it (and had stipulated, to our pleasant waitress), with a small green salad and a small serving of really very good pommes frites, standing up in a ceramic cup with a good-sized serving of decent though not memorable aïoli at its bottom.

The steak was au poivre, a little rough and masculine. We're in Central Coast country, cowboy country; the food is by way of vieja California. I want to ride horseback tomorrow, with a bottle of whisky and a tin of bread and beans: but I know I never will. This kind of place lets me pretend.Steakfrites
Orvieto, Sergio Mottura, 2013: substantial, old-fashioned, acceptable; Pinot noir, Wrath "Ex Anima" (Monterey), 2012: good California-style Pinot noir, dry
Villa Creek, 1144 Pine Street, Paso Robles, California; (805) 238-3000

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

LA's best

Venice, California, January 21, 2015—
HEY, LOOK, it wasn't me said this is LA's best, it was the restaurant critic of the Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Gold, a man whose opinions I feel deserve a certain respect.

In truth it isn't the kind of place we normally patronize. Very expensive, in the first place. Japanese-French cutting-edge cuisine, for another. But now and then we feel obliged to dip our feet into today's currents, partly to see what we've been missing, more to see what we're up against.

I arrived in a state of high dudgeon. We were late because of the traffic. The restaurant's signage is so discreet we drove past it twice without noticing. The sign directing us to the valet park stand (obligatory here in Los Angeles) was almost equally obscure, and then when we did see it it turned out to be misleading. We spent ten or fifteen minutes driving around looking for the place; then we parked in front of a house, walked a block, asked someone, and were pointed to the right direction.

Big dining room, tables well spaced, fourteen servers on the floor for perhaps twenty tables. Everyone well dressed. Bizarre Rorschach wallpaper; discreet music.

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Fluke, radish, borage blossoms,
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Spaghetti in butter, white truffles
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Duck breast, applesauce, things
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Vanilla gélée, chocolate truffles, passionfruit macarons
Only three alternatives were offered: tasting menus at $150, 200, or 300 apiece, add $55 to $130 (I think) for wine pairings; add supplements if you want foie gras, caviar, truffles, or Wagyu beef. Hard to construct a meal out of all this, but we gave it a shot, choosing the restricted $150 menu (opting for only four of its six or seven courses) but adding a serving of pasta with white truffles.

We started with two or three amuse-geules: an egg yolk of grapefruit gélée in a spoonful of grapefruit-infused vodka; a nasturtium leaf taco-like shell housing a filling of puffed wild rice, julienned chives, and crème fraîche (delicious). Then a cup of mushroom velouté with a few green peas (delicious).

Then came the first real course: fluke sashimi — I forgot to mention that the chef here worked a number of years in Japan — rolled up and served with similar tiny rolls of sliced radish with tiny spinach leaves and borage blossoms.

Next came a truly delicious course, though to my taste very Japanese: a scallop, cooked (as everything was all night) to exactly the right degree, served with a garnish of finely chopped peanuts, discreet curry, and shredded, chopped coconut, all in a thin tapioca sauce. Brilliant.

We ordered a supplement to our four-course dinner: a serving of spaghetti, served perhaps slightly too cool, with a nice buttery sauce and a generous shaving of white truffles. This was good, no doubt about it: but the truffles can't be as fresh here as they are in Italy; some of the fragrance is gone…

My principle plate was duck breast with chanterelles, smoked apple purée, and celery root: good, but not memorable.

Dessert: first, a curious serving of tarragon ice cream in a chocolate-flavored meringue cup with ground-up coffee-and-cocoa powder in its bottom, surrounded by tiny, quite firm lemon and chocolate macaroon-like pearls. The tarragon seemed too strong a flavor to me, but it was a very interesting, very nice combination.

Then, more to my taste, a plate of friandises: a very light vanilla gélée cube, a dark chocolate truffle with a curiously grainy skin, and a passionfruit macaron. I liked everything about this little plate; it gratified eye and palate equally.

Chablis, Jean-Marc Brocard, 2009 (in half bottles), true to type and very nice; Pinot noir, JCR Vineyard (Santa Barbara), 2012; also very true to varietal, well made, quite ready to drink
Providence, 5955 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles; (323) 460-4170

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Italy in Los Angeles

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Los Angeles, January 20, 2015—
LATE AT NIGHT, the small dining room in Osteria Mozza: with only four or five restaurants you can actually almost converse in here, and you'll be talking about the food and the wine, if you're anything like us. We could almost have been in Italy, the comestibles were so authentic. Only the clothes on the (other) patrons, and the inevitable irrelevant background music, revealed the truth.

I began with the Agnolotti, burro e salvia — a favorite pasta treatment for me: simply butter and sage leaves. Here it was brown butter, slightly cooked, the sage leaves wilted in it; and the pasta was marvelous, tender yet to the tooth, and filled with a very suave mixture of mince that took me straightaway to my beloved Piemonte.

Next, Veal Breast Stracotto, long-braised chunks of veal with a fair amount of the fat, a very tasty stew, though with mushrooms that didn't seem authentically Italian to me. And on the side, nicely caramelized cipollini cooked with lots of thyme, an herb at the top of my list, and sherry vinegar. And maybe a tiny pinch of sugar: these onions were quite sweet.

We went for dessert, too: the Torta della Nonna, "Grandmother's torte," with honey and pine nuts — a curious, complex, tasty dish, more Tuscan than Piemontese, really a sort of cheesecake I think, very nice indeed.

I like this place. The bar, the wine list, the ambiance, the service, the location — I like this place. But beware: it is very popular and very noisy. Go late, and ask for the small dining room.

Timarosso, La Colombera (Langhe), 2010: Fruity but a bit reserved, crisp, deep, a beautiful wine
•Osteria Mozza, 6602 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, 323 297 0100
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Monday, January 19, 2015


Eastside Road, January 19, 2015—
NOTHING FANCY TONIGHT: we're content with what you might call icebox pottage, thises and thats from small containers in the refrigerator. This always puts me in mind of the hilarious story that opens Ruth Reichl's memoir Tender at the Bone, about her parents — you can read it here — but that is really unfair to Cook, who is resourceful and frugal but also a damn good cook.

The soup was thick, complex, hearty, and assertive, calmed down with its sprinkle of chopped parsley. Afterward, a little cheese, and a green salad; the last of Thérèse's delicious pan pepato, and a tangerine.

Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 2011
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Root vegetables

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Eastside Road, January 18, 2015—
AMONG THE FEW THINGS in this world that I cold cheerfully do without are root vegetables. I exclude the ones that aren't really vegetables, of course: onions and garlic, which are bulbs; potatoes, which are tubers; mushrooms and truffles, which are fungi. No: I'm talking about the true roots, among which carrots are the only ones I willingly consume.

In my opinion the problem is real, physical, existential on a molecular level, and probably genetic. Root vegetables, in adddition to their obnoxious textures — impossibly wooden if raw, disgustingly mush-fibrous if cooked — are pungently repulsive to the palate, tasting of dirty aluminum. I know what that tastes like: my father was a sheet metal worker, and (strictly on an experimental basis) I licked plenty of aluminum in my childhood. That proverbial taste of bad pennies, that's what even a delicate turnip tastes of. Parsnips are worse; I won't even discuss rutabagas. Beets are beyond the pale.

The other night we were guests at a friend's house, and she roasted a mélange of root vegetables. Knowing my feelings about beets, she roasted them separately, but I was still faced with all those other things. I ate them, of course. I may be a picky eater, but I know my manners.

Tonight Cook, inspired by that recent evening at our friend's, decided to go the same route (if you'll forgive the pun), and you see the result here. Well, I ate them, of course, mentally thanking every little bit of potato among the other stuff. It was okay. I won't say it was delicious, not to my personal taste, but it was okay. I can never be anything but grateful for the woman who works so tirelessly to keep me not only fed but healthy. I wish I liked these things. Maybe I'll try harder.

Afterward, thankfully, a nice green salad, and then a tangerine, and a couple of pieces of chocolate, reward enough, don't you agree?

Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 2011: rich, round, fruity, almost mature
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Saturday, January 17, 2015

First sausage

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Eastside Road, January 17, 2015
FIRST SAUSAGE of the year tonight, with romanesco, as you see, and pilaf. I should explain the pilaf: it's really bog-man cereal left over from this morning, with chopped scallions and butter added. White wheat, red wheat, rye, all whole grains, simmered for hours. Delicious.

Green salad afterward, of course.

"Guadagni" red from the three-liter jug, Preston of Dry Creek
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants