Eating Every Day

Friday, August 15, 2014

Back to Marché

Eugene, Oregon, August 15, 2014— 

YOU CAN'T EAT MEAT every day of the month; now and then, I'm told, you've gotta have some fish. True, I had a generous helping of tuna in yesterday's "Niçoise," but that was lunch. So when I looked over the menu tonight, and had satisfied my first instincts with a platter of charcuterie and another of vegetable fritto misto — both shared with the other three at table, bien entendu — my eye was attracted to the

Seared Oregon Albacore Tuna
ratatouille-stuffed squash blossom, smoked tomato coulis and garlic aïoli
(though to tell the truth I'm not sure what an aïoli without garlic might be). The appetizers had been very nice, ditto the Martini that accompanied them; but the tuna was even better, perfectly seared, with a delicious tomato coulis whose acid was nicely calculated to offset the natural sweetness of the fish. 

Rose, Château de Paraza (Minervois), 2013

• Marché, 296 East Fifth Avenue, Eugene, Oregon; 541-342-3612


WE'D MADE OUR USUAL stops in Portland before leaving that city:  a cappuccino at my favorite café, where the coffees are made with unusual care in an atmosphere of total camaraderie, and the canalés ʼare as good as they get: soft and unctuous in the center, dense and dark outside. A half-dozen Gibassiers at the Pearl District's signature bakery, as signal an index to the quartier as is Powell Books up the street. And, speaking of that, of course, a sack of books, because you never know when you may have read all the ones you already have.

• Courier Coffee, 923 SW Oak Street, Portland; 503-545-6444

• Pearl Bakery, 102 NW 9th Avenue, Portland, 503-827-0910

• Powell's City of Books, 1005 West Burnside Street, Portland

Fine new Portland venue

Seattle and Portland, August 14, 2014—

(but written and posted the following day)

OUR FIRST COFFEE this morning was at a place that had been recommended for its very good coffee, in spite of its mediocre pastries. I certainly concur on the second point: my croissant was dry, bready, dull, chewy, and bland. My cappuccino seemed acidic and not terribly fresh.

• Herkimer Coffee, 7320 Greenwood Avenue North, Seattle; 206-784-0202

ON, THEN, across the street, to the place whose pastries had been heartily recommended, though the coffee was said to be substandard. Here I had a truly delicious crossiant: flaky, buttery, alert, nicely browned. And the cappuccino was really quite nice -- floral, a little fruity, carefully made, from a machine obviously well maintained. The coffee was Stumptown, by the way — Portland coffee in Seattle!

• Fresh Flours Bakery, 6015 Phinney Avenue North, Seattle; 206-297-3300

LUNCH WAS HARD to pin down: lots of restaurants and bars in the area we were concerned with — Ballard — but most of them not open for lunch. We settled on this bar-and-grill type place, pleasantly installed in a big, historic former firehouse; and here I had a "Nicoise," note the quotes, which was decent enough.

Pinot grigio

• The Hi-Life, 5425 Russell Avenue Northwest, Seattle; 206-784-727


BY DINNER TIME we were in Portland, a city given to the pleasures of the table. The difference between last night's restaurant, Bar Sajor, and tonight's, Davenport, defines the difference between Seattle and Portland, at least to my way of thinking. What a fine place Davenport turned out to be! I started with a perfect Martini, to accompany the starters our table shared: a nice vegetarian fritto misto and a platter of correctly seared padrones  and piparra vasca (some of which seemed quite piquant). I looked longingly at the foie gras listing on the menu, promising a garnish of shiro plum and spelt date toast, but forebore, choosing instead the grilled teres major you see in the photo, a sort of flatiron steak grilled and served with arugula and an onion, tomato, and anchovy salsa.

Everything here was simple, honest, straightforward, well sourced, and perfectly executed. And the wine list! I don't know when I've seen so wide-ranging and interesting a list, or one with more atrractive prices. Since we hew to a budget I wasn't able to range quite that far myself, but we were happy with what we had…

Nebbiolo, Castello di Verduno (Langhe), 2011

• Davenport, 2215 East Burnside Street, Portland; 503-236-8747


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hot address

Seattle, August 13, 2014—

THE MAGAZINE BON APPETIT released its list of fifty nominees for the country's ten best restaurants for 2014 the other day — I may have the numbers wrong, but I don't think so — and one of them is here in Seattle, and we were casting about for a dinner idea tonight, so here we were.

Seattle is a prosperous town, at least where a certain segment of society is concerned — hip, generally young, white, well-off, people who like to be in on what's in. And this restaurant reflects all that, I think. First of all it's another in the six-address Sitka and Spruce empire, whose guiding lights clearly think about marketing, scaling, design, and concept. It has a full bar, of course. It's on a street-corner in a posh and genteel part of the old town, only a couple of blocks from the ball park and the railroad station. 

Having driven up from Eugene, and arrived during the commute hour, we felt like unwinding with a cocktail — the first of six listed as house cocktails:

1. Gin. Byrrh quinquina. Suze gentian liqueur
said the menu; and yes said I, and then so did my dinner companion. This was a delicious thing, served in a Nick and Nora glass with orange peel; and on the whole it was, I think, the best-conceived recipe of the evening.

Mainly what I had was the plate you see above: half a chicken, served with chickpeas, spinach borani, and "smoky-chili sauce." The chicken had been brined, I think; it was quite moist for all its woodburning oven roasting. The spinach was nice, ditto the chickpeas; but the yoghurt ran out from the borani into the chili sauce, which became too runny to work with the rest of the plate. 

The flavors were generally Near Eastern, I'd say — other items on the menu seemed to hesitate between the Levant and Silesia, with lots of pickles, fermented things, yoghurt, and such.  I'd have been hard put to assemble a logical meal from the five or six each of nibbles, appetizers, and main courses listed.  For dessert we split a cherry clafoutis, a favorite dish of mine — but it was thin and confined in its own little shallow ramekin, weighted down with too much ice cream (a nice ice cream, though, flavored with peach leaf). It's trendy dining, cleverly conceived and pleasantly and efficiently served: but it's not my style.

Rioja, Luberri, Orlegi, 2013

• Bar Sajor, 323 Occidental Avenue South, Seattle; 206-682-1117

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tartare

Eugene, Oregon, August 12, 2014—

THERE ARE NOT MANY things I like more than a good steak tartare. After a long day's drive — ten hours — we arrived in Eugene where we like to eat at a restaurant we discovered a number of years ago. I'd fully expected to investigate its menu further, but immediately on seeing tartare listed among the appetizers remembered enjoying it last time I was here.

It's bistro food, and this is not really a bistro; it's a restaurant. Still, I was in bistro mood. We split a very nice lettuce salad in an anchovy dressing to begin with, and then I went on to the dish you see here — a rondelle of chopped raw beef, mixed with capers and chopped onion and cracked black peppercorns, and topped with a fresh raw egg, accompanied by its own lettuce salad and house-made potato chips. 

A good steak tartare is a special kind of food: tasty and classical, but almost a medicinal, a restorative, as well as a food. Nourishing, sustaining, awakening, and very tasty. I almost hope to come here one day and find it not on the menu: then maybe I'll see what else these people can do…

Cötes du Rhöne, Chäteau de la Guicharde, 2012: organic, good terroir, earthy

• Marché, 296 East Fifth Avenue, Eugene; 541-342-3612

Friday, August 8, 2014

Penne, red sauce

Eastside Road, August 7, 2014—


ALL'ARRABIATA TONIGHT, I would say, as Cook was using up leftovers, and among them she found one of Franco Dunn's salsiccie napoletane, and piquant it most definitely was. Otherwise, the normal sauce, with pancetta and chopped onion browned in oil (though I think she noticed a little bit of bacon fat that she'd found as well), then a can of tomatoes squeezed in between the fingers.


Beyond that, that fabulous plate you see to the left: sliced tomatoes, leftover grilled eggplant and grilled onions,  a drizzle of really nice olive oil, salt.  Green salad afterword, and fruit. We are drowning in fresh fruit.


Cheap red wine: Albero

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Eating All Day

celery anchovies.jpg
Eastside Road, August 7, 2014—
YESTERDAY WE ATE ALL DAY. At least it seemed so. And why not? Day before we'd fasted…

After our usual breakfast (a slice of toast, two bowls of coffee with milk) we drove down to Berkeley, stopping first at Doughnut Dolly, where our friend Hannah was opening her second shop. She specializes in filled doughnuts, delicious yeast doughnuts she makes by the dozens and fills to order with jam or various custards. This morning she offered strawberry jam, and we picked up a number of them for the meeting we were going to — but I had a bourbon cream doughnut: smooth, delicate, eggy custard; nicely textured and pleasantly yeasty doughnut. We'll be back; probably often.

Doughnut Dolly, 1313 Ninth Street (Gilman), Berkeley

Hungry after the meeting, we were reminded that our friend Kelcey had opened her take-out lunchery a few months ago and that we hadn't yet had a chance to try it. What a find! We had a marvelous chickpea purée, with house-made crackers and pickled carrots; an albacore confit sandwich involving shaved radishes, cucumbers, raw lemon, arugula, and aïoli, on a foccaccia-like bread also made in house; and a very nice escarole and frisée salad with cherry tomatoes and an anchovy vinaigrette.

All this was made on the spot at the moment, packed neatly and attractively, and eaten on a bench in front of the place, on a rare sunny August day in Berkeley. Standard Fare offers take-home dinners, too; we'll certainly be trying them out before long.

Standard Fare, 2701 Eighth Street No. 118 (Carleton), Berkeley; 510.356.2261
saucisse.jpgAND THEN IT WAS time to drive to San Francisco, where I had a nicely made Four Barrel macchiato and we bought a loaf of dense chewy Josey Baker Bread at The Mill (736 Divisadero Street, San Francisco; 415.345.1953), and then went on to an early supper at Zuni.

Here we began with the plate you see above: Shaved parmesan, sliced celery, little niçoise olives, and anchovies, dressed with black pepper and oil. This is uniquely satisfying combination never fails to remind us of our late friend Judy Rodgers, whose impeccable taste it represents; and like the rest of the menu it was faithfully executed by a team responding to another friend, Kathi Riley, who has taken on Judy's kitchen (sharing it with another chef) to continue its traditions into a new decade.

We continued, for example, with her marvelous eggplant soup tasting of roasted eggplant, black pepper, spices, and good olive oil; and then this plate of merguez, chickpeas, and purslane, another fine combination.

We couldn't escape dessert: nicely made nectarine sorbet with blackberries, and as light, ethereal a Gâteau Victoire as I've had anywhere. Perfect.
gateau victoire.jpg
Martini; house Pinot noir
• Zuni, 1658 Market Street, San Francisco; 415-552-2522

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Figs

figs.jpg
Eastside Road, August 4, 2014—
LET'S JUST LEAD with dessert tonight: it was just so good. Ripe figs from yesterday's market, baked a short time in the oven, with honey, salt, and lemon juice. I know there are people who dislike figs — I think it's a matter of misplaced chastity. I like figs. Right up there with perfect apricots, or dates, or mulberries, or pears…

Before dessert we had salmon, of course, and those fine lima beans of Nancy Skall's, and sliced tomatoes
salmon.jpg. It was all good, no question about it. The green salad, too, whose vinaigrette these days is made with "our" olive oil, a community crush to which we contributed, green and fruity and not at all flabby, and Alta's impeccable quince vinegar — gotta find out how she makes that! It led right into the figs; come to think of it, a drop or two on the figs would have been interesting…
Cheap Pinot grigio