Eating Every Day

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Torino, 3: Not quite the best

Via Principe Tommasso, Torino, October 24, 2014—

IN TRUTH WE DINED not quite as well tonight: this is a good neighborhood restaurant, no more than that — but that's often enough. It's clearly popular, and most of the tables seated at least six, often with three generations present.

And we had great conversation with friends old and new from home, here, like us, to attend the Salone del Gusto. And it was fun introducing them to the cuisine of Piemonte, so different from what we usually think of as Italian cooking…

Russian salad, for example: You won't find that on a Tuscan menu! I told Nathanael, sitting at my left, that it was basically cold cooked vegetables in a thick mayonnaise — peas and carrots, Lindsey added, momentarily forgetting the obligatory dice potatoes. It's a dish that makes you an old man in an overcoat, who votes Republican, I explained; and then I ordered it as my first course, out of nostalgia.

I followed it, naturally, with battuto — chopped raw Piemontese beef,dressed with olive oil and salt, with mache and little tomato quarters on the side.  Not up to Scannabue, where we dined night before last, not by a long shot; but good enough. 

•Osteria Le Putrelle di Giovanni Foresto, Via Valperga Caluso, 11, Torino; 01165 99630

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Torino, 2: da noi

Via Principe Tommaso, Torino, October 23, 2014—

IL SALONE DEL GUSTO was exhausting today; no energy for a night out — and besides, there were plenty of things to choose from to make a satisfactory dinner at home. 

We've always been partial to Sardegna, so we bought a package of culurgionis, soft gnocchi-like ovals made of flour, oil, and salt, filled with potatu purée flavored with Pecorino, oil, and mint. On it, as you see, a nice prepared tomato  passata di pomodoro, nothing but tomatoes, basil, and salt.

Well, you need vegetables too, so I sprinkled this arugula with oil, lemon juice, and salt. An apple followed…

Grillo, Ippolito (Sicily), 2013: crisp, light, rather complex

Torino, 1: Le cru et le cuit

Via Principe Tommaso, Torino, October 22, 2014—
OR, IL CRUDO ed il cotto, not, I hasten to add, that Cook here is either of those, either crude or cooked. It's just that we're in Piemonte, where the world's best raw beef is served, and that's what I started with last night.

I don't think we could have found a better place for our first dinner in Italy in a couple of years: this restaurant, chosen from the Slow Food guide Osterie d'Italia, was a pleasant five-minute walk from our San Salvario apartment; its dining rooms are homey and attractive; its menu is local and generous; the wine list is ample and interesting; its staff attentive and discreet; and the kitchen is superb.

I began with carne cruda: raw Piemontese beef, chopped by hand of course, lightly salted; with carpaccio, the same beef sliced razor-thin, flavored with lemon juice, olive oil, and Castelmagno; and a soft, delicate meat pudding whose preparation eluded me entirely.

Piemontese beef at its best (and I've never met it not at its best) is sweet; you can taste the grasses and flowers of high mountain pastures in it. It is also very lean, with little marbling as served — no grain-fed beef here!

VitelloLindsey had the vitello tonnato, a huge serving of thinly sliced veal, boiled to just the right pink, covered with fine-textured tuna sauce whose flavor was subtle and innocent of fishy or vinegary aftertastes.

We went on to secondi, bypassing what promise to be particularly good house-made pastas — perhaps we'll be back for them later. Lindsey chose tagliata di vitello, cut an inch or so thick from the loin, I presume, and served with roasted potatoes and a Bearnaise-type sauce.

I had a brasato, chunks of beef braised in Barolo and served, simply, with puréed potatoes whose complex flavor made me think of chestnuts and celery root but was probably nothing more than fine fresh mountain-grown potatoes.

Dessert, of course: I couldn't resist a perfect baba au rhum, delicate and polite, in a supple Bavarian cream that was quite simply the best I've ever tasted, its eggs and cream farm-fresh and delightful.

House Arneis; house Timorassa by the glass (both clean and appealing, the Timorassa distinctive and a little stemmy);
house Nebbiolo (deep, rich, utterly drinkable)
Scannabue, Largo Saluzzo, 25h, Torino; +39 011 6696693

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cesare Casella

IMG 5793
Via Principe Tommasso, Torino, October 22, 2014—
LET US NOW PRAISE a marvelous guy, Cesare Casella, who we first met many years ago in his parents' fine country restaurant Il Vipore, outside Lucca. We visited him and his restaurant on three or four different occasions, each time overwhelmed, almost literally, by his generosity, enthusiasm, and genius.

He early developed a sure hand and palate with vegetables and herbs, not at all to the exclusion of meats, wines, and desserts. His parents — and an aunt or two, as I recall — ran Il Vipore, kitchen and dining room, with the grace, skill, and authority of the best country restaurateurs, and I put those at the top of the profession.

In time, though, he relocated to New York. His father needed medical help and he felt New York offered better options — but I have a hunch personal ambition may have been at work as well. Understandable: he was a young genius eager to continue learning as well as excelling.

Many years ago we dined at his first New York restaurant, Coco Pazzo. He greeted us at the table, wearing his whites. He couldn't linger: he was off to a second restaurant he'd just opened — on a bicycle.

That must be over twenty years ago, because I haven't been in New York since 1996. We finally made up for lost time Monday night, when we took a New York friend to Cesare's current place. We had a feast:
Pontormo: soft-scrambled egg, guanciale, pancetta, and market greens
Fagioli: Bean salad made with heirloom beans
Torta di porri: leek tart with eggs, Parmigiano and pancetta
Assaggi di salumi: eight or ten kinds of mortadella, coppa, prosciutto, porchetta, and salame
Dolci: chocolate mousse, panna cotta, and semifreddo
IMG 5795There was more, I'm sure: but I write this two days later, and after a long and tiring flight from New York to Milan, then two hours in the bus to Torino.

Everything here was delicious, served with style and personality (but not what they call "attitude"!) in a comfortable, casual room. Everything about the experience — tastes, quality, skill, personality — recalled Cesare to our minds, though regrettably he was unable to be present. The words for this kind of thing are generosity, genius, and authenticity. This is now one of my Five Restaurants.
Prosecco di Valdobbiaddene by the glass; Cerasuolo, Maggiocini (Sicily), 2010: marvelously supple and rich without excessive weight; grappa di Chardonnay
•Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto, 283 Amsterdam Avenue, New York City; (212) 877 - 4801

Monday, October 20, 2014

Making up for lost dine

New York City, October 19, 2014—FullSizeRenderAFTER AN IMPROBABLY long sleep and a taxi into town it was time to make up for a day of miserable dining. Our New Yorker friend and host took us to a local favorite of his, and we could see why: very pleasant ambiance, personable waiter, nice enough menu considering Sunday is dreaded brunch day. We settled for hamburgers and were pleased: good meat, well cooked, moist, nice bun (the top correctly hollowed out), decent dill pickle. What's to complain about?

Bloody Mary
•Noho Star, 330 Lafayette Street, New York City; 212 925 0070
DINNER WAS A LITTLE more upscale, and shared with a couple of Brooklyn friends not seen in years. Don't you remember, she asked; Where we ate last time you were in town? But we haven't been in NYC since, oh, for me, not since 1996, I think…

So we met there for a Martini before dinner (very good though not quite cold enough), and then were seated for dinner, and our waiter approached with menus: Um, Charles? Lindsey? And it was Scott, a waiter I always liked back in the nineties at the Café Chez Panisse; he's been here in NYC for years, as it turns out.

I had the Confit Tomato and Burrata salad, a pleasant affair with just the right amount of cheese; and then, since it's legal here, a nice foie gras, with figs, date purée, and chutney, all quite understated. And why not share the Tarte Tatin with its caramel ice cream? What a pleasant dinner…
Rosé, house selection; Madeira, Boston Bual Special Reserve NV
•Gotham Bar and Grill, 12 East 12th Street, New York City; 212.620.4020

Sunday, October 19, 2014

En route

JFK, October 18, 2014—
YES, I KNOW; all I do, you'd think, is travel. Here we are in a cheap hotel; it's nearly 11pm; there's nothing to eat but cookies in a machine. Let's just think of it as a fast day, nearly — the exception being a dry overpriced ham and cheese sandwich from that upscale Napa Grocery in the San Francisco airport. 
And let's think about last night's dinner, another of Franco's sausages, this time with sautéed Poblano peppers as well as all the other fixin's. Oh well: tomorrow's another day …

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Home and away

Eastside Road, October 16, 2014—
AWAY FIRST: Tuesday we were in Berkeley for lunch with a granddaughter. I began with a fine, colorful salad of Gypsy peppers, then went on to quite a rich chicken al mattone — that is, cooked "under a brick," pressed under a weight (probably a heavy black iron skillet: at least that's how I'd do it) while cooking in the wood-burning pizza oven. The dish was flavorful and rich, probably better suited to a cool-weather supper than a warm-day lunch… particularly with the intense and intensely delicious dessert: chocolate pavé with caramel ice cream and chocolate sauce!

• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525
YESTERDAY, THEN, we made do with another bowl of Marion's barley risotto (though to tell the truth that's pretty rich too). With it, a glass of good inexpensive Pinot grigio from the Veneto.
AND THAT BRINGS US up to date. Last night I set a pot of white navy beans on to boil, there being no true cannelini in the house, neither dry nor canned. Today I chopped up a cipollini onion bought last week from a neighboring farmer, and a few sage leaves from the garden; and I opened a can of Ortiz tuna, and mixed them up with the cold beans and a good splash of olive oil and some grated lemon zest. It's always a good idea to mix a salad like that a few hours before you're eating it; the flavors mature and blend so well…

Afterward, a salad of nothing but arugula, the small-leafed kind, dressed with an olive-oil-lemon-juice vinaigrette and garnished with shavings of Parmesan cheese. This is, I suppose, an Italian meal, but damn it we'd finished that good Pinot grigio!
Sauvignon blanc, Earthstone (Sonoma county), 2013: crisp, good varietal, not too grassy