Eastside Road, March 27, 2015—NO PHOTO TONIGHT : just a quick report : barley pilaf, buttered of course, with asparagus again because, really, how long can this last; green salad afterward.
Cheap Nero d'Avola
|SO, THEN, Spring is officially here, and with it Parsi New Year. Outside Chez Panisse David has stenciled the symbols of good fortune in chalk, as he has so many times before: this is the nineteenth dinner Niloufer has prepared here to honor Kore's return from the underworld.|
We've been lucky enough to attend many of these dinners over the years. The cuisine is of course Parsi, which is to say roughly Bombay Indian with ancient Persian undertones, reminding one of the ultimately unified source in Asia Minor of all that is good in cuisine as well as philosophy.
Niloufer Ichaporia King is an artist of cuisine; you can perhaps best understand her sources, instincts, and intelligence through her invaluable book My Bombay Kitchen (Berkeley : Univ. of California Press, 2007), as beautiful a book to read as it is to look at or to cook from.
This year's dinner seemed to us the best ever, a succession of courses whose flavors, aromas, textures, and visual appeal were beautifully conceived and skillfully executed — and accompanied by wines which seemed calculated to complement them. I apologize for the photos, which of course do not do justice.
Everything's in the book, so you can reconstruct this wonderful opener quite readily at home. Krishna, it should be said, "is not the Hindu deity but Krishna Riboud, a brilliant epicurean friend," as Niloufer explains in the recipe ; and it's typical of her generosity that she credits her.
Passion fruit apéritif : delightfully refreshing, this immediately took me back to a table in Fare, on Huahine, in the French Leeward Islands… another story…
Spring sprout chat with tamarind vinaigrette"Chat" does not appear in the admirable index of My Bombay Kitchen, so must not appear in the text either. But Wikipedia tells me that " Chaat is a term describing savory snacks" throughout South Asia, and that the word ultimately derives from the Prakrit cattei (dots under the T's, please), which means "to devour with relish, eat noisily".
By now it seemed the entire dining room was eating somewhat noisily — you could sense people were excited with pleasure. I can't tell you what was in this salad, beyond portulaca, and fried crisp threads of something, and were those tiny little Mung beans?, and are these cross-sections of some kind of stems, perhaps?
The vinaigrette seemed unctuous, fruity, and very light; the dish was savory, but cleansed the palate of the very spicy pickled turmeric that had gone before…
Grüner Veltliner: Tatomer (Santa Barbara county), 2014, as delicious as any I've had from Austria.
Ritual dal with wild nettle swirl
This is the dish I always think of as typifying Niloufer's festive dinners. Sometimes it even incorporates gold leaf: this time I believe there were tiny fragments of silver leaf, a subtle promise of modest good fortune appropriate to the times.
You're supposed to have [dal] for births, birthdays, engagements, wedding days…, days of good fortune of any sort, and also, alas, when there has been a death in the household. The underlying lesson is that life cannot be led without experiencing both joy and sorrow in some measure, and we mustn't make too much of either, for both are fleeting. The second lesson is the beauty and value of simplicity.A painting, I exclaimed when it was set down — specifically, a Motherwell : I think he'd have been as happy as I was to see it, then smell it, then taste it.
Riesling, Domaine Ostertag, 2012 : another perfect complement
|On, next, to|
Northern halibut grilled in banana leaves with green chutney
Another painting. Isn't it beautiful? The package had been carefully tied with what looked like raffia; inside it, a filet of halibut, very soft and fragrant, very nicely poached, and spread with a chutney-paste very piquant with green chillies.
Would the wine stand up to this, we wondered…
Chablis, Terroir de Chablis, Patrick Piuze, 2013Oh yes indeed, what a splendid wine, what a splendid course…
|What could reasonably follow?|
Parsi-style fried quail with mashed rutabaga, braised collards, and chicories salad
Such a difficult dish to capture in a quick photograph. The mashed rutabagas are hiding behind one of the quail quarters, I'm afraid: they were snowy white, smooth as butter — which had in fact been an important part of the preparation. The quail was breaded, as you see, and deep-fried, very crisp indeed on the outside, and perfectly cooked inside; and the greens complemented the dish splendidly.
As did the wine:
Mâcon-Cruzille "Les Vignes du Maynes, Cuvée 910, 2013:
light, yet deeply flavored, nicely balanced, fresh and refreshing yet lingering
And then the desserts…
The intense strawberry red was almost shocking. First strawberries I've had since Nancy died, I said aloud without thinking; Nancy Skall was a wonderful gardener, an unforgettable presence at the Healdsburg farmers market, and her strawberries were always the best. So death did quietly flit through this ritual dinner, just as the dal had reminded us; Kore's here but half the year, the other half Persephone's away — but it was a bittersweet moment, not a sad one.
And what a fine granita!
…falooda, jalebis, and other favourite sweets
Faluda in Bombay is a glorious milk-shakey affair in a tall glass. At the bottom, there's a layer of soaked basil… with a slippery-crunchy texture that's like nothing else. On top … is a layer of translucent noodles made of wheat starch. … Milk appears to float over this foundation without disturbing it…Niloufer's recipe, in My Bombay Kitchen, involves basil seeds (which are soaked in water), three cups of chilled milk, about half a cup of rose syrup, and half a cup or so of ice milk. The seeds have a tapioca-like quality while escaping tapioca. The pastries, of course…
|…included these incomparable jalebis, wheat-flour batter, first deep-fried in errant squiggles, then soaked in sugar syrup and sprinkled with chopped pistachios and perhaps a chiffonade of rose petalsand, tonight, yes, definitely, silver leaf. |
Prosperous Spring to us all, and especially, dear Niloufer and David, to you, and many thanks for a thoughtful, delicious, ethical, splendid feast!
(And thanks to the unbelievable Chez Panisse crew for once again adapting, apparently effortlessly, to an exotic cuisine.)
• Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525
☛Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants
How I mince shallots: the old Chinese knife
|I want to show you what I use to mince shallots: this magnificent Chinese knife, which we found on the workbench in the original, dilapidated, detached garage when we bought our Berkeley house, down in the flats, in Berkeley. It was wrapped in a piece of Chinese newspaper dated, I think, 1923, tied with jute cord. When I unwrapped the package I found the knife completely covered with rust. I soaked it a couple of days in used motor oil, then took kerosene to it, and it cleaned up completely, with only a little pitting here and there. |
The steel is hand-hammered, and takes and holds an edge beautifully. We have quite a few knives in our kitchen, but when I want solid control over a meticulous chore this is the one I reach for: the heel of my hand on its wooden handle, thumb and fingers gripping the sides of the blade, my palm pressing the smooth strong back of the blade, I need only pay careful attention the the fingers of that other hand…
Sunday, March 15, we were too busy with one thing and another to make much of a dinner, and anyway it was my turn — so I did something that may surprise you: I bought one of those "tartes d'Alsace" in the frozen-food chest at Trader Joe's. Not only that: I bought a package of frozen chopped spinach, too. Organic, of course.
The tarte is a flatbread, in fact, garnished with a bit of ham cut into strips and Gruyère cheese. Nothing wrong with ham and cheese, one of the few exceptions to my rule forbidding the combination of meat and cheese.
And I have to confess once again my fondness for spinach in virtually any (cooked) form. This time I simply warmed it up with a little salt — not enough, as it turned out — and a a tiny hint of nutmeg. If I'd had a hard-boiled egg, I'd have sieved it on top for garnish.
March 16: Since we're eating out tomorrow, let's have our annual Corned beef and cabbage tonight! St. Patrick's Day has a sad component in our household; it's the day my father-in-law died, ninety-four years old, in 1999. Corned beef was a favorite dish of his, though he was a full-blooded Piemontese, and we always have it partly in his honor.
This time Cook made a true colcannon, chopping the cabbage and cooking it with the mashed potatoes. The carrots are a traditional adjunct, bringing together the colors of North and South in an uneasy truce. Mustard on the side, of course, and no green salad tonight!
Cheap Nero d'Avola
March 17: Dinner in the Café tonight, with the same crew we'd made dinner with at the top of this page. I began with these delicious, soft, buttery, ricotta-filled ravioli, with beautiful new fava beans and chopped chervil, as I recall; and then went on to a duck leg en confit, with spring asparagus and celery root and potato purée, with just enough citrus in the duck-glaze to weld the whole plate into a marvelously integrated dish.
For dessert, an apple galette — Pink Lady apples, as I believe, though it's been a few days now — with dried sour cherries pointing up the flavor; and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
Arbois Pupillin, Ploussard "Point barre", 2011:
lots of character, completely expressive of its terroir
• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525
The next day was fast day, and high time; and the day after that we finished what was left of our corned beef and colcannon, even better for having waited for us.
This brings us up to yesterday, as I write this on Saturday afternoon. We had company again, and dined with them chez the neighbors down the hill, where chorizo was cooked over a wood fire, and a delicious potato salad was served, and Cook had carried down her blood orange-and-onion salad, and then we had this magnificent dessert: simply a perfect lemon curd, supple and pointed, fruity, smooth; served with softly whipped cream and garnished with orange gel candies. Things don't get much better than this.
Zinfandel, Green and Red, Chiles Canyon Vineyards, 2011: smooth, deep, lingering finish
Red blend (Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet), Ridge (Sonoma county), 2012: nicely blended and integrated
☛Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants