WE'D CHECKED OUT of our rental house and wanted one last meal before the family broke up to go its four separate ways, and Meadow suggested the Brewery. Feeling a little under the weather I had a cup of minestrone before splitting a hamburger and French fries with Lindsey, who suggested we split a dish of cole slaw as well. It was all surprisingly good; I'd go back any time.
WELL, WE WEREN'T ALL there, but nearly — only Eve couldn't make it: the snowfields of Wisconsin are just too far away. But we were fifteen at table: Lindsey and me, the three kids and their spouses, seven of the eight grandchildren. We'd rented a farmhouse up on the Mendocino coast, and Meadow brought some delicious chops along, and we had rolls, and salad, and I forget what all. Lots of talk; lots of fun.
WE GROUND UP garlic, salt, and fennel seeds, and steeped it in olive oil for an hour or two, then slathered it on all sides of a pork tenderloin onto which we then grated lemon zest. That went into the oven in a pan with peeled and quartered potatos and whole unpeeled cloves of garlic.
Brussels sprouts on the side, sautéed; green salad of course. Zabaglione.
DINNER WITH FRIENDS tonight, after a day's round of visits. Sixteen or so of us altogether, and Gaye had slow-cooked beef with carrots, onions, and celery, to spoon over a plate of polenta. Green salad, of course.
Zinfandel: Francis Coppola "Diamond Collection Red Label", 2004; Robert Rue "Wood Road" Century Old Vines, 2004
IT'S VERY EASY, says Lindsey; I just cooked the barley in salted water, and drained it, and tossed it with browned butter and chopped scallions. It was Marion's recipe; think about her while we eat. Green salad.
WHEN I WAS A boy Dad bought a fifty-pound sack of potatoes every couple of weeks. Of course there were four of us boys, and Dad ate his share too, and so did Mom, I think, though her share was much smaller. We had potatoes every night. If we had beans, or macaroni and cheese, or rice, even, we still had potatoes. Sometimes I think there must be a Dutch gene in the family.
Tonight we had pasta in red sauce, leftover; but that didn't keep us from having a baked potato as well. Bake it, split it open, pour in some olive oil, grind in some black pepper, don't forget the salt. Green salad, of course.
WOW, THIS WAS GOOD: hominy from a can, chard from the garden, chorizo from the refrigerator, garlic and chili flakes from the pantry, a splash of white wine. Lindsey browned the crumbled chorizo and chopped garlic, added the chard cut into squares and the wine, then the hominy. It came together very nicely. Green salad, of course, and
Cheap pinot grigio; Mourvedre: Louis Preston, 2006
I THOUGHT I'D BLOGGED our risotto recipe, but I guess I hadn't; at least, I don't find it on the other site, and searching "risotto" here (use the box up above on the left) turns up lots of meals but no how-to. Well, you probably know perfectly well how to cook risotto anyhow. I chop half an onion fine fine fine and sweat it until transparent in a good bit of olive oil. (I use a big stainless-steel skillet with a heavy bottom.) I add enough rice to cover the bottom of the pan one grain deep, and fry that in the oil, gently, until the grains are half-transparent — transparent around the edges, in other words.
Meanwhile the chicken stock is simmering nearby. I add a cup of stock to the rice and continue moving it around (I use a squared-off flat wooden spatula) until the stock is fully absorbed. Then I add another cup of stock and maybe half a cup of white wine; continue until absorbed. Then another cup of stock, another half-cup of wine; move around until absorbed. Then keep going with the stock, a cup at a time, always moving the rice around, until the risotto is done. Then grate in some Parmesan cheese; dish it out, grate more cheese and grind black pepper; serve. With a green salad afterward, of course.
Of course you can add things: mushrooms (fresh or dried and soaked in white wine or stock), peas (frozen ones work fine), shrimp if you can tolerate them, finely chopped prosciutto, etc., etc.
THAT'S WHAT WE CALL it, red pasta: pasta with tomato sauce, supposed to be very good for us for its lycophemes, or lycophones, or lycanthropes, I'm not sure of the word. Tonight's was particularly interesting and very nice, as to both flavor and texture, because of the cheese: Parmagiano that we'd bought in Milan a couple of weeks ago, and not Reggiano, perhaps not even Grana, it was so inexpensive — about €15 the kilo as I recall. Very creamy, grated onto the sauce; but also very flavorful. Everything has its place, as long as it's good. Green salad, ovviamente.
Côtes de Rhone, "Cuvée selectionée Kermit Lynch", 2006
THE NIGHTS HAVE DROPPED to the mid-twenties, but the chard endures, like a character in a Faulkner novel. Some of the leaves are elephantine; others mignonnes. Lindsey chopped them up and steamed them with a little crushed garlic; with the chard, toast rubbed with raw garlic and drizzled with olive oil. Afterward, a bowl of soup from the other night. Winter fare.
Côtes de Rhone, "Cuvée selectionée Kermit Lynch", 2006
IT'S BEEN WIDELY REPORTED: one of our favorite restaurants is closing at the end of this month. We're partial to Jojo for two very good reasons: it's a very fine restaurant, and the owners, chef and pastry chef, are friends of ours, friends and former neighbors and former colleagues. And in addition to this, Jojo is remarkable for two other reasons: its remarkable consistency and authenticity as a Parisian-style bistro in Oakland, California; and its grace and comfort as a pleasant home away from home. The restaurant business is hard work, and while lots of regulars express their gratitude, every restaurateur knows also a share of disappointment. A good restaurant tends to be taken for granted, overlooked; this has been especially true in the last dozen years, when trends and tricks have elbowed consistency and authority aside. More recently, restaurants have been hit by suddenly higher prices — the purveyors have had to pass on increased energy and labor costs — while diners have been hit by suddenly decreased discretionary money. Caught in the middle, restaurants are going to face a historic moment of truth. Jojo is closing after New Year's Eve, and my sad prediction is that it will be by no means the last one to close. All the more reason for us to book as early a table as we could make today. A glance at the menu was reassuring for its familiarity, but difficult to choose from: mussels steamed in rosé and shallots? Flatiron steak? I opted for the simplest, most heartwarming: green salad, delicately dressed with tarragon vinaigrette; flatiron steak, grilled rare, sliced, and served with anchovy butter. Pommes frites, bien sûr. And, for dessert, an amazing chocolate soufflée cake with crême anglaise. Life is good, while it lasts.
Eastside Road, Healdsburg, December 16— The beginning of the fifty-third week of daily posts!
DINNER AT HOME (what an unusual event!), and a cold day and night it is, so Lindsey got some guinea-hen stock out of the refrigerator and added garlic cloves and a couple of handfuls of dried split peas and a bay leaf and such. Green salad, of course. Delicious. Afterward, apple crisp.
Côtes de Rhone, "Cuvée selectionée Kermit Lynch", 2006
WE NEEDED A QUICK and inexpensive place to meet and we were a little hungry but guarding against an early dinner, so settled on Tacubaya, a fast taqueria but a good one. I had a taco de pescado- battered & fried pollock with arbol chile aioli, shredded cabbage and cilantro; frijoles pintos (pinto beans mashed with chorizo) on the side, and washed it down with — what else? — cheap Pinot grigio.
Café Chez Panisse
, 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; tel. 510.548.5525
Then the early supper: rocket (rucola, arugula, roquette) with Pecorino and hazelnuts in a light fragrant olive-oil dressing, followed by the yellowtail jack you see here, sautéed and tossed with spinach, artichokes, Meyer lemon, and green olives; Clay's smooth, substantial, yet subtle chocolate ice cream for dessert.
Eastside Road, Healdsburg, Sunday, December 14, 2008—
Penne bolognese, left over from last Monday, when Lindsey ordered it from Louise's Trattoria in Pasadena. We virtually never take food home from restaurants, but Lindsey's in a frugal mood these days. The bolognese sauce was delicious.
Lamb shanks, left over from last night, with noodles. Some things just get better and better.
COMPANY TO DINNER: let's have lamb shanks, I said; good idea, Lindsey answered. We were in Berkeley yesterday, so we stopped in at Magnani and there they were, lamb shanks from Sonoma county, 6.95 a pound. I got about five pounds. Richard Olney's book Simple French Food is one of our Bibles, and it falls open naturally to the page. You brown the (salted) shanks in olive oil in a heavy copper pot, throw in a dozen unpeeled garlic cloves, and cook very slowly until they begin to sizzle. Normally I do this on the stove, but it was cold here today, so I put the pots — two were needed — into the oven to cook slowly for two or three hours, adding a few pinches of dried herbes de Provence along the way. When they're done you remove the meat to another vessel, run the garlic cloves through a food mill, and deglaze the pans with white wine. Return the puréed garlic to the resultant juice and cook it down. Pepper and chopped parsley are the only remaining ingredients. Green salad, of course.
I DON'T REALLY KNOW what they are, some kind of flatfish, we've bought them for years at Monterey Fish, and since we drove through Berkeley today, and hadn't eaten fish for days, it seemed the reasonable thing to do. Usually I cook them in a sort of Venetian style, with sweated onions and raisins and maybe capers and so on, but tonight Lindsey reasonably pointed out we didn't have time, we'd just driven up from Los Angeles, let's just flour them and fry them. Delicious. Meyer lemon from our tree. Green salad, of course.
, 641 North Highland, Los Angeles; tel. 323.297.0101
IMPOSSIBLE TO GET a reservation, we'd been warned, so we put off trying for days. Then this morning I called to ask how soon three of us could get in for lunch. How about 12:45, came the answer. The place was crowded and noisy and, needless to say, casual; the menu reminded me of places we'd eaten in a couple of weeks ago, in Milan and Rome. I had a nice insalata mista dressed with oil and lemon juice and a little white wine vinegar, I think; and then a delicious pizza with guanciale, radicchio, bagna cauda, and an open-faced egg. It needed a little salt, but that was easily done. Lindsey had a dish of long-cooked sautéed Brussels sprouts with prosciutto breadcrumbs before her pizza, and a butterscotch pudding for dessert. Delicious. We'll be back.
FOR YEARS NOW we've spent a week a year in Glendale, California. A funny place for a vacation, you might think. For one thing, there's no really good restaurant in town. Or hasn't been, until recently. Now, though, a serious team has moved into the ground floor of an old Bekins storage warehouse: the top six floors are dedicated to wine storage; the ground floor is taken up by Palate Food + Wine. We stopped in at mid-afternoon for a snack with friends: I had a plate of "porkfolio," a modest charcuterie plate, with a few pickled vegetables on the side and a glass of nice Dolcetto. In fact we were sneaking a peek, because we were already booked in for dinner tonight with two other friends, friends in the food business. The nighttime restaurant is completely different from the rather laid-back afternoon wine bar. Busy, polished, generous: glasses of Crémant d'Alsace as an apéritif, and an interesting small-plate menu complementing a resourceful wine list. I had radicchio, walnuts, and blue cheese as a salad, then the ribeye steak, sliced, served with Marchand de vin sauce and beautifully sourced and cooked fingerling potatoes and leeks. There was the taste of marrow in this dish, which was redolent, succulent, interesting, solid. Afterward, a nicely balanced sequence of cheeses moving easily through soft and semi-soft whites to the capper, a perfect Roquefort. Only an Armagnac could have followed, but I behaved.
, 2501 West 6th St., Los Angeles; tel. 213380-0051
WE'D BE DOWN AT Dan's studio to see his new paintings, and Chichen Itza was right across the street, and had high marks, and I like Yucatan cuisine. I had the Antojito Sampler: "The four most traditional Yucatan appetizers: Panucho, Salbut, Kibi and Codzito. Wondering what these are? Read below."
They turned out to be, in order:
a crisp corn-tortilla taco filled with black bean purée, lettuce, shredded turkey, tomato, pickled red onions, and a slice of avocado;
the same lacking the bean purée;
a ground beef-and-cracked wheat pattie seasoned with mint and spices, fried brown, served with pickled red onions;
crisp little taquitos with light tomato sauce and a sprinkling of aged Edam cheese. On the side, fried plantain. Delicious, and so good for you!
Beer with lime juice, Tabasco and Worcestireshire sauces
IT WAS ONLY 4:30, but we wouldn't have time for a proper dinner before an 8 pm concert downtown, so preventive eating was called for. Louise is a chain, but you can't be choosy down here, and one was close enough to the Norton Simon Museum, where we'd spent the afternoon. I had whole-wheat penne pomodoro with a side dish of sautéed spinach, and it was okay.
, 46 East Colorade Blvd., Pasadena; tel. 626.405.1000
THE NAME OF THE PLACE is a joke and, some would say, not a very good one. But I like it: both the joke and the place. Bar Celona is a tapas joint and a good one, brash but on the elegant side inside. I had delicious crisp-fried boquerones and patatas bravas and a nibble of Lindsey's bacalao.
EVERY NOW AND THEN we're lucky enough to be introduced to an incredibly good restaurant, new to us, bright and clean and fresh and honest, living up to Carlo Petrini's Slow Food maxim good, clean, and fair. That completely describes Treasure Beach, whose chef, Jeri Oshima, brings wit and skill and taste to her limited but perfectly satisfactory menu. I'll never drive through Ojai again without stopping in. Today at lunch I had French onion soup, perfectly correct with fine stock, onions, bread, and gruyère in an appropriate bowl but completely free of ostentation. On then to this fine pork loin sandwich with caramelized onions and a few leaves of arugula; and then memorable desserts: fine shortbread, coconut macaroon, and chocolate cookie; persimmon cake with whipped cream and candied orange peel; and apple crisp with burnt caramel ice cream — a delicious echo of the onion soup that had started it all off.
AZU, THAT'S THE PLACE, I remembered it after Zagatting it, Don't pass up the bacon-wrapped stuffed dates, Zagat said. So after driving most of the day through various traffic jams and closed rest stops we pulled in at Ojai and dropped off the suitcases and headed for Azu. I began with a Martini, muted by the inclusion of lots of tiny bits of ice, otherwise okay. Then the dates, wrapped indeed with bacon and stuffed with chorizo, said the menu. But the stuffing had the consistency of chestnut purée. When I asked, the waitress said the stuffing was in fact blood sausage, but the menu called it chorizo because many people don't like the sound of blood sausage. I was a little surprised that anyone could have heard the sound of blood sausage: this was the most infernally loud restaurant I've eaten in in many months, perhaps years. I went on to a house salad, nicely dressed with lemon juice, and a lemony soup on chicken stock.
THERE WAS A LITTLE rice and guinea hen left; Lindsey had managed to lay in a bit of broccoli; the chard garden doesn't know how to say no. We'd had a nice big green salad for lunch, so we didn't have to go there again.
WHEN I WAS A BOY we usually had a few guinea hens among the chickens. I'm pretty sure it was my mother's idea; guinea hens would have appealed to her interest in the unusual as well as her aesthetic sense. I remember their beauty, their elegance — visually: to the ear they were repulsive with their unpredictable shrieks. But it was those that made them practical: whenever they sensed something overhead, a hawk or even a boy's outreached hand, they warned the clueless hens.
Well, that wasn't their only practical value. They were delicious; still are. Apart from goose I don't think there's a more flavorful bird. So today when at our little locavore grocery, The Greengrocer, I saw fresh guinea hens in the meat case, I didn't hesitate. I added a dozen Brussels sprouts, a dozen cipollini (those flat Italian onions), and half a dozen chestnuts to the basket, and the guy behind the counter suggested a pint of stock he'd just made from guinea hen carcasses.
I cut the hen into pieces and browned them in a little bacon fat; then added the quartered onions and a couple of stems of celery and salt, of course. When things were nicely browned I threw in a half bottle of cheap Pinot grigio and maybe half the stock. I roasted the chestnuts in the black iron skillet. Then I cooked a cup of rice. I browned the brussels sprouts and peeled chestnuts in the skillet in little olive oil; then added a few ladles of stock and set them to steaming. It all came together quite nicely.
NATURALLY WE BOUGHT eggs on our return from Italy; naturally Tom had left us half a dozen in the icebox, excuse me, refrigerator. Fortunately science has changed and eggs are okay now, so though we skipped the softboiled eggs on Sunday morning we feasted tonight on a farmer's omelet: eggs, potatoes, onion, bacon. Broccoli on the side. Green salad, of course.
Merlot, Esser Vineyards 2006 (the rest of the bottle)
THERE ARE TIMES when you want the simplest possible thing for dinner. On cold days — and this was one of those: cold and damp, the sun never breaking through the fog — a baked potato can warm both the body and the house. Lindsey has a sweet potato, but I've never cottoned to them: I have an ordinary Russet, eaten with salt, pepper, and a good dollop of olive oil. Green salad, of course.