Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
I also have to admit that lunch in The Moss Room, a quiet little oasis downstairs, was quite good. I began with clean, sweet, marinated local sardines with arugula, salsa verde, and sea salt — it seemed appropriate after a couple of hours in the aquarium. Afterward, slow-braised pork "sugo", just as it might have been at Bizou al those years ago — Loretta Keller closed that restaurant, at Fourth and Brannan, five years ago; she's been busy since with other ventures, but this Moss Room is the first of them I've been to, and I'm glad to find her hand so evident.
The pork was delicious, deep, tender, and flavorful, served with nicely cooked pappardelle on a bed of good spinach, with a couple of shavings of grana padana melting in on top. A Meyer lemon panna cotta and a coffee vacherin — meringue, coffee ice crem, candied almonds, chocolate sauce, crème anglaise — were spot-on.
Monday, December 27, 2010
As soon as we got them home I salted them on both sides and put them back in the refrigerator, loosely wrapped.
I made the usual salad dressing and when guests arrived we had Martinis while we thought about the next step. Lindsey had prepped carrots and leeks, and had begun the sautéed-steamed potatoes the way she does them — the way her mother did, all those years ago.
Then I put the steaks, flat, on the hot griddle. I peppered them and squeezed a bit of lemonjuice on them and a little olive oil, then after three or four minutes turned them, treating the other side the same. When done, I cut them into strips and served them, a little more lemon juice and oil on top.
Afterward, the green salad, then Mace cake, with a teeny drop of brandy. It's Christmas week, after all. Delicious.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Saturday, December 25, 2010
I'm a traditionalist, and to me there are really only two possibilities on Christmas Day: roast goose, or prime rib. This was the first prime rib I'd had in months, perhaps years, and it repaid my abstinence. On the side, a complex cole slaw enlivened with curry powder; for dessert, chocolate cake and Suzi's fine gluten-free lemon bars, made with Meyer lemons.
Friday, December 24, 2010
We took along also a salad that L. always seems to associate with salt cod: sliced oranges and red onions, dressed with a bit of oil and vinegar.
Green salad afterward; and then the goodies: Beaufort and an aged Parmesan-like cheese from Italy made with both cow's and sheep's milk, and aged in chestnut leaves. Spritz cookies, Coud cookies, Pferffernusse, pan pepato, panoche; figs plumped in red wine, Damson paste, quince paste. A wonderful night's eating.
Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Shone Farm, 2003 (thank you Gaye and John);
Barolo, Bruno Giacosa, 1996
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Don't you just love Wikipedia? Inflorescence; self-similar; meristems. And the photo is indeed beautiful.
Romanesco tastes pretty much like broccoli, though; perhaps a bit of nutmeg would push it a tiny bit toward the cauliflower end of the brassica spectrum; but let's face it, it's broccoli. (“Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education,” says Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson; that would make broccoli nothing but cabbage dressed up for a night on the town.)
Anyhow: we had the last of the cold roast pork; we had Lindsey's delicious steam-sautéed potatoes; we had the romanesco. A green salad.
That blog of ALB's, notes on drinking through Trader Joe's cellar (and a few other bottles), is an interesting one; I'm going to have to read through it one night when nothing else calls louder…
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
The stalk I bought was densely populated: there were lots of sprouts. Probably at least four dozen. I did cut them all off at once, perhaps a mistake; but it's been cold; I put them all in a plastic bag and left them in the cold mud room until yesterday, when the refrigerator had been sufficiently discharged, and the sprouts sufficiently depopulated, to allow them the benefit of contemporary refrigeration technology.
I cooked them tonight as I did yesterday and the day before: trimmed the stems a bit, cut the sprouts in half lengthwise, and cooked them in a little water, with salt, in a heavy pot, under a lid, until tender. Then I sprinkled in a few drops of olive oil and a few red pepper flakes.
Lindsey found the leftover bean soup from a few days back, toasted a couple of slices of bread, and grated Parmesan over the toasts as they floated in our soup-bowls. Green salad, after, and pie's waiting in the kitchen, I can smell it now.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
except that those are canned plums down in the lower right corner, and the potatoes are steam-sautéed, we've finished all the roast potatoes. Green salad afterward.
Oh: that Queen of Sheba cake just continues to taste better — as it diminishes in size.
Monday, December 20, 2010
EXACTLY THE SAME dinner as yesterday; we'd cooked enough for twice as many people. I guess that means tomorrow will be the same. I did steam a few more Brussels sprouts; otherwise there was nothing more to be done; Lindsey warmed up the leftover potatoes and carrots, and we ate cold sliced roast pork, and why not?
The evening did give us the chance to test the hypothesis I'd just read somewhere the other day, that desserts always improve on standing and should therefor be prepared a day in advance. Indeed, Reine de Saba was even better tonight.
First, with a great deal of help from Lindsey, I made the cake, a wonderful Queen of Sheba cake (Reine de Saba sounds so much more exotic, and that's how I think of it): grated hazelnuts (thank you, Bhishma X.), a tiny bit of flour, eggs, butter, and chocolate. The recipe's in the Baker's Dozen Cookbook, and it's by Alice Medrich, and it's a real winner. We glazed it with chocolate buttercream, changing the recipe only by using hazelnuts instead of almonds.
I salted the meat as soon as I got it home, yesterday, and dried it off today and stuck in all round with garlic-clove nails. Around it in the roasting pan were five or six Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered lengthwise, and six or eight carrots, cut in half, the big halves again split. Salt, of course, and slow roasting; in the last half hour, a couple of branches of rosemary atop the vegetables.
When the roast was done I set it on a bed of small-leaved myrtle branches, lay another bed of myrtle on top of the roast, and covered it to rest half an hour while I finished the Brussels sprouts: I'd halved them and steamed them until done, then finished them by sautéeing in butter with a tiny bit of nutmeg and not quite so tiny but still a small amount of red pepper flakes.
Green salad after; and then eggnog with the cake. What a dinner! What a girl! Now let's wash the dishes.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Tonight we had it at Gaye's house, and she made a very tasty version. Before, a guacamole I made in her kitchen, with all my usual ingredients but onion in place of shallots; afterward, mint chocolate chip ice cream. What a pleasure to work a bit in a friend's kitchen!
Friday, December 17, 2010
Still, I had a nice platter of salumi: housemade finocchiona and salame cotto, and well-chosen commercial mortadella, with a nice little relish, onion confit, good bread, and a bit of raw fresh pear. I liked it and I'd go back; just not at 4:30 pm.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
But I quickly learned, from a lifesize statue with bronze plaque outside that particular town, that it was the Abondance, and she gives the milk used in Beaufort, and of course in the Abondance cheese in these particular sandwiches. You can tell her by the spectacles she wears, red like her coat, on her impeccable white face.
Well, we've gone a little far, um, afield. With the sandwich, some fine green beans, slow- and long-cooked, particularly nice in this cold weather I think; and then green salad; and for dessert a little pumpkin pie Lindsey made in a Slow moment or two. What a fine supper!
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Two caffelattes for breakfast: a little over a cup of nonfat milk, that's about 100 calories.Total, a little over 400 calories! I'll probably celebrate with a banana (another 100 calories) before bedtime…
A couple of dried apricots for lunch: another 40.
Maybe 2 ounces of cashews and almonds at teatime: say 60
A baked potato with a few drops of olive oil, about 180
A cup of romanesco, another 35 or so;
Monday, December 13, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
We were in Berkeley yesterday, and we generally take a cooler with us when we make those trips, because Monterey Fish is a fishmonger we rely on. The fish is fresh and sound and delicious; today's was no exception.
Lunch in the café with a couple of friends from Ojai and their parents, well, the parents of one of them; every now and then the English language is so deficient. The menu was one of the best I've seen lately; I settled for leeks vinaigrette with chicories, mustard, and hard-cooked egg, then fresh noodles with bolognese — a particularly fine bolognese, toward the dry side: this is not a complaint, or a criticism; the meat and savories were lean and present, not hiding in a sauce, and combined very nicely with the pasta.
Generous desserts: dates stuffed with ricotta, fresh fruit; then a slice of a fine bombe. This is Berkeley, after all.
THEN DINNER WITH OUR FRIENDS the Ashlanders, two of the three other couples we spend a week with every year seeing plays up in Ashland (alas one couple was unable to attend), at a potluck. Gaye supplied roasted root vegetables, at least one of every benighted chthonic root I really dislike contemplating, let alone eating: turnip, parsnip, rutabaga, Hades knows what else. Margery supplied a delicious beef stew made with onions and a bottle of unidentified red wine: thick, deep, and savory, it masked the vegetables so well I had seconds.
I supplied the green salad, and Lindsey an apple pie: delicious.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Anyway, finding ourselves in Berkeley tonight at dinner time on a Friday night with no reservations, we remembered the little bistro on Dwight Way where we'd eaten well a few years back. No problem getting a table early in the evening, and I ordered the duck leg, which arrived with a cornmeal soufflé and warm kale slaw. There was a bit of apple mostarda on the duck: unfortunately it was cold, doing mild violence to the hot meat; that was made up for by a lagniappe, a beautifully prepared étouffée of duck confit, quite spicy with cayenne.
Dessert was a very dark, very deep chocolate "budino," intensely flavored though sweeter than we might have wanted, and very well made.
I like this place: the menu's consistent, the technique skilful, the service correct and friendly, the dining room cozy and pretty. Alas, for the second time in a few weeks we've dined in a Berkeley restaurant in its last days. According to TripAdvisor there are 380 restaurants in this town, far too many. In January there will be 378.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Where does Lindsey get these clippings? I'm not asking about the original source: this one came from Sunset, I know; the information's at the bottom of the page. But where does she keep these things for over three years, and what makes her decide to pull one out and put it to the test? No idea. Something to do with foraging, preserving, and memory, no doubt; too feminine and chthonic for me.
It was a fish stew, is what it was, and I think she should keep the clipping.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
But yesterday we went the whole day without bread, and I found myself thinking about it a lot. We eat a lot of bread in this family, probably a pound a day in normal times. We both come from bread-eating families. I have two slices at breakfast, another slice or two at lunch, and at least one at dinner, without even thinking about it. And that's just the problem, not thinking about what one's eating; and that problem was just why we decided to to that half fast yesterday.
So today we ate, and we ate bread. I had two slices of Downtown Bakery levain toasted for breakfast, with some delicious quince jelly Lindsey's somehow cousin-in-law in Italy gave us last month. For lunch, the customary slice of toast spread with almond butter.
Cocktail time, this delicious flatbread, pizza dough I would guess, rolled out very thin indeed, baked on a grill, and spread with olive oil and salt, and accompanied by a little dish of fine hummus; a delicious accompaniment to a Manhattan*. And then came dinner, at home:Grilled cheese sandwiches. This was on another Downtown Bakery bread, don't know the name, Lindsey bought it, and remembers its name featured the word "Italian." (The cheese was Abondance, brought home from Netherlands last month. It tastes of Savoie.)
Then, with my green salad, because salad doesn't count if you don't have a piece of bread to sop up the last of the oil-and-vinegar, a piece of Ciabatta, really my favorite bread, brought home Monday from dinner out at Monti's, where it had been drizzled with white-truffle-infused olive oil. Bread, bread, bread, and bread.
Three memories of bread from my childhood:
Early in our marriage, when I worked as a laborer for the City of Berkeley, Lindsey wrapped a couple of liverwurst-and-onion sandwiches made with dark dense but still pre-sliced and cellophane-wrapped bread from the Co-op. Later I used to walk three quarters of a mile down to Spenger's to get a loaf or two of Colombo's sourdough bread, baked in Oakland in those days; it was best bought at this otherwise unsatisfactory restaurant because it was trucked to them innocent of any wrapping, no cellophane, no paper, and the crust was therefor perfect.
Cellophane-wrapped Wonder-type sliced sandwich bread, of course, like everybody ate in those days, suitable only to be squeezed into doughy balls in your hands and used to clean typewriters, not that anyone has a typewriter these days Franco-American "French bread," favored by my father, who occasionally brought a loaf home to be sliced not quite all the way through, spread with margarine, and sprinkled with garlic salt (the horror! the horror!) The bread Mom baked, using a jar of yeast she kept on the windowsill: too airy and filled with holes at first, over the months changing until it was dense as cheese and about the size of a slice of two-by-four
Later, finally, thankfully, Steve Sullivan opened his Acme Bread Company in Berkeley, and I've never baked bread since. And then Lindsey, Thérèse, and Kathleen opened the Downtown Bakery and Creamery in Healdsburg, so we're within seven miles of really good bread.
There are fine bakeries in Portland: I like the raisin bread and the boules at the Pearl Bakery, and especially the big country levains at Ken's Artisan Bakery. There's decent bread to be had, in fact, in most towns we visit these days, just one of the many things that have improved the quality of daily life over the past sixty years. I'm grateful. And I chew, taste, think about my daily bread, and am glad to have it, and sorrow for those who don't.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
(It wasn't all altruism: I was also a little concerned about the weight gained over our Thanksgiving week in Portland.)
Next day Lindsey responded: I think it's a good idea you had, about not eating on Tuesdays. But I think we should modify it: on Tuesdays we should eat nothing but fruit and vegetables. But while embracing her emendation I stayed with part of my idea: for breakfast nothing but a caffelatte; for lunch an orange and a banana. A couple of tablespoons of almonds and cashews with tea. Then, for dinner,
a baked potato and a serving of broccoli. And that's it today. Next Tuesday, less. Maybe.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Nor need we linger over breakfast: it's Sunday; that means a three-minute soft-boiled egg with our toast and caffelattes.
Lunch was also minimal: a cappuccino and a croissant. I wanted a croissant from "The Bakery" to compare to the one I had Monday, while it was still fresh in memory. And I have to say, though I'm loyal to our Downtown Bakery and Creamery (after all, Lindsey was one of the founding partners), last Monday's, from Mix in Ashland, was, well, more to my taste.
Today's, photographed above, was breadier. There are really two basic types of croissant, the bready one and the flaky one, and I prefer the flaky, no matter the mess involved in eating it. There's something about the combination of butter, crispness, and layer on layer of softer pastry inside; it's so, well, Parisian; a flaky croissant is to me what that madeleine was to Proust.
When The Bakery opened all those years ago Kathleen made croissants by hand, and they were fabulous. After a year or so the bakery installed a sheeter, and no wonder: rolling out the dough, folding it in half, turning it a half turn, rolling it out again, repeat, repeat, repeat — that's a lot of work, and they were selling in greater number. (In those early days Lindsey and I used to deliver them all the way over to the Napa Valley, on our way back down to Berkeley after the weekend.)
The machine-made ones aren't as flaky, to my mind. Then too, the weather just now is hardly conducive to making decent flaky pastry. Don't get me wrong, the Downtown croissant is one very fine item; I'd never reject one. I wish I were in shape to eat one every morning, in fact.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
It's a splendid dessert, Agnes's Dutch Apple Cake:
I think Lindsey was reminded of her mother's recipe when she noticed a few late apples on one of the trees (that's one in the background of this fuzzy photo). Agnes wrote the recipe out on a 3x5 index card, as housewives have done since index cards were invented; I wonder how many such cards there are in the world, and consider the great body of culture they contain. If only we had the equivalents from ancient Greece!
Agnes's version is so nice, not at all too sweet — though of course the nature of the apple is important. (She, or any good cook, would know exactly what "3 tart apples" represents.)
Appelkoek or appelgebak — there's a difference, but I don't know what it is — is a favorite treat of ours when we're in Netherlands; we often have a slice with a cup of good boring Dutch coffee as a break at a museum. It's generally served with a good helping of slagroom, and I have to admit I like that, but we don't have whipped cream on this cake at home — not even a spoonful or two of heavy cream, which I'd like even better. Please, Lindsey?
Friday, December 3, 2010
It involved bacon, refried beans, green ciles, eggs, cheese, scallions, tomato, cilantro, and avocado; and you eat it of course with tortillas. What's not to like?
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Lindsey found the recipe in the newspaper, and followed it pretty closely, using Carnival rather than Kabocha squash. I happily ate three bowls, and there isn't any left.
Andrew at seventy-fiveThe party was a festive affair, black-tie, Martinis before dinner, then,
Proud December Orion,
High and clear, like Arion
Thanks to the gods still alive
I send sevens on your day
Knowing they edge toward your work
While making little mark.
You, dear Andrew, odd at play
And pressed, must still smile today.
Let these numbers have their say,
Proud December Arion,
Riding on your dolphin’s back,
Three fourths the circuit well run,
May we enjoy, prosper, thrive
Through another twenty-five!*
Roasted New York beefsteak
Mashed Potatoes and Parsnips
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Tonight, though, I cut a tiny bit of butter into the heated olive oil, and I think I'll stay with this technique. An omelet as I like it, nature as the French say, just egg, seems more French than Italian, and the slightly nutty flavor of the browned butter complements the egg better, I think, than oil alone.
Nor do I salt the eggs, so the butter adds just a bit of salt too. I break the eggs, two for L., three for me, into a bowl; rinse my hands; let a few drops of water run off my hands into the eggs; whisk them up with a dinner fork; swirl them in the hot oil/butter over a naked flame; throw a little grated Parmesan into the center; turn it into the classic oval; flip it to brown the other side; then turn it out onto the plate, sprinkling a bit more Parmesan on top. That's all.
With it, tonight, a baked potato and a serving of romanesco quickly cooked in oil and water with some crushed garlic and salt. Green salad, of course.
I was content with a plain croissant, as they called it, though there was nothing plain about it. The surface was crisp and buttery; the interior that curious merging of flaky pastry and real substance that only a perfectly proofed croissant can give you. There's nothing better than a really good croissant, and few things rarer: but you can count on Mix to provide one, every time. And the coffee…
Oh: and their echt Parisian sandwiches, nothing but sweet boiled ham on buttered baguette, the butter infused with just a touch of thyme. We got one of those for the road.
Dinner at home: grilled cheese sandwich, broccoli, green salad. The sandwich was simple: layers of Abondance cheese that we'd bought a few weeks ago at the Kaasplank in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, because we saw it when we went there for nagelkaas, and ever since walking through Haute Savoie among the bespectacled Abondance cows I've loved that cheese, a floral and subtle French take on Fontina or Bel Paese; layers of Abondance, I say, between slices of Ken's version of levain, bought in a three-pound boule in Portland yesterday, and toasted in the black iron frying pan on the wood stove…
The cheese had been vacuum-packed for its flight. When I cut the package open tonight I found inside, nestled against the cheese, a minutely folded, colorful, apparently very special plastic bag to put the cheese in for its storage. Kaasspecialezak, the bag gaily trumpeted in orange script: cheese special sack. We'll see how it works.
Lunch was at another bakery, Le Patissier, oddly placed in a shopping center in Corvallis, a hundred-odd miles south. Here Didier Tholognat presides over a patisserie right out of the Paris of thirty years ago. The glazed fruit-filled pastries, the millefeuille layers of puff-paste, the display cases, the uniforms on the serving girls (and here a dated locution, probably politically incorrect these days, seems both appropriate and inevitable) — it's almost a parody of a Parisian bakery, except that the skill and the focus clearly reveal Tholognat's seriousness of purpose.
We had quiche and salad for our lunch, and then split a crèpe, very beautifully cooked, filled with a first-rate plum conserve with a few apple slices right out of a tarte Tatin, garnished with the inescapable crème Chantilly. Perfect.
The day ended in Medford, near the southern border with California. It was freezing cold and we didn't feel like driving more miles for dinner, so we stopped in at the nearby Regency Inn. I thought I'd have a Caesar salad or something like that. Their description of a Caesar salad was not promising, so I ordered my fall-back, pasta. The ravioli that came were loaded with gluey ricotta-like substance and covered with guar-gum sauce, with bits of unripe tomatoes added for color. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood.
And it was owing to the splendid series of tasting experiences earlier in the day. Breakfast was our usual: buttered toast, the bread from Ken's Bakery; perhaps the best bread you can get in this country. And cappuccinos, of course; today's coffee being Black Cat Espresso from Intelligentsia, bought last Sunday in Pasadena.
Then a walk across the Broadway Bridge to the Pearl district, there to buy gibassiers at the Pearl Bakery; and then a walk down 9th Avenue a couple of blocks to Caffe Allora for another cappuccino, this one corretto with a drop or two of grappa, against the biting cold.
Then, after a light lunch on leftovers from Thanksgiving, to another great Portland institution, Alma Chocolate, where I had a bicerin and a huge slab of delicious chocolate cake. A bicerin is essentially a mocha — half espresso, half hot chocolate — flavored with a hint of hazelnut and bound with thick cream. We had them a few weeks ago at the eponymous Caffe Bicerin in Torino: this one today was twice as good and half as expensive, made with deep deep cocoa, beautifully roasted coffee, and tiny nibs of Oregon hazelnuts.
Italy is famously dedicated to coffee — importing, blending, roasting, grinding, and finally preparing the beverage with imagination, dedication, passion, and subtle discrimination. Two Italian houses, Caffè del Doge in the Veneto and Tazza d'Oro in Rome, are particularly fine; I never pass up an opportunity to enjoy them. But I have to say that Portland is shouldering Italy aside in this department. Every neighborhood seems to have its own coffee roaster, and many are on the level of the best Italy has to offer. Alma Chocolate uses Spella coffee: I haven't had Spella in any other context, but I can say that judging by the bicerin, Spella has to be an extraordinary coffee: pungent, vivacious, serious.
The bicerin so excited me that I determined to shop for and cook dinner, and nothing would do but a simple grilled steak, smothered with wilted arugula. I popped into the nearby Laurelhurst Market for three pounds of flatiron steak cut from local naturally raised Piemontese cattle, then a local Whole Foods for two bunches of arugula, five or six cipollini, and a nice firm head of radicchio.
Back home I fetched up the potatoes I'd dug from my own garden a week ago, not quite enough for the eight of us but they would have to do. The cipollini were sliced thin on the mandolin; some were sweated with the potatoes, in oil and water and salt; the others were cooked with the shredded radicchio. The arugula turned out to be spinach — I'd been so excited I bought them by the shelf-label and hadn't even looked at them closely. So I steamed it, while Pavel grilled the steaks which we'd salted and oiled. I sliced the steak and set it on a platter over the vegetables, garnished with the potatoes and triangles of Ken's bread. We all thought it delicious.
Ken's Artisan Bakery, 330 NW 21st Street, Portland
Laurelhurst Market, 2188 E. Burnside, Portland; tel. 503-206-3099
Caffe Allora, 504 NW 9th Avenue, Portland; tel. 503-445-4612
Alma Chocolate, 140 NE 28th Avenue, Portland
Monday, November 29, 2010
We were eight at table, Lindsey and I, a daughter and her husband, their three children, and another granddaughter. Many of us had been recently in Europe, where the American holiday is viewed (as are many American institutions) with a certain amount of amusement, or at any rate bemusement. Do those Americans really think of harvests, of gratitude?
Well, yes, some of us do. And we think of past Thanksgiving dinners of our own, of our parents', of our grandparents. I think of Thanksgiving dinners eaten sixty years ago, and of the women who made them: my mother, her mother, my aunt Flora Mae whose dried-apricot-and-shredded-pork mincemeat pie has become a family legend.
Giovanna was largely responsible for this year's Thanksgiving dinner, and its menu was the familiar one traditional to our family, reaching back into traditional middle-west American cuisine:
baked sweet potatoes
sautéed Brussels sprouts and chestnuts
Thursday, November 25, 2010
mixed seaweeds lightly dressed
korokke: curried pork and potato croquette
gyoza: pork dumplings
bacon chahan: fried rice with bacon
kimchi kara-age: breaded, deep-fried kimchi
grilled hanger steak
DESSERT, OF COURSE, was a delicious Banana Cake with Mocha Frosting from David Lebovitz/s Ready for Dessert, made by one of the best bakers I know, Giovanna Zivny.
I think it may be time to start another list, tagged Hundred Restaurants. Biwa would certainly qualify.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
Lunch at mile 305: Tourain à la Bordelaise (onion soup with red wine); Albacore tuna with roasted peppers, turnips, and sauce aux herbes (oil and chopped fresh green herbs)
Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; tel. 510.548.5525
Dinner at mile 645: House salad (lettuce, croutons, garbanzos, onion, bell pepper, jicama, oil and vinegar); hamburger (with dill pickle, onion, tomato, lettuce)
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Well, of course, we are: we're in California, southern California at that. Hispanic country. So for lunch, after an arugula-hazelnut salad (hardly Hispanic, that, I think), I had salt cod and potatoes, with a bowl of padrones on the side. How fine it is that these are now available almost everywhere! And a crème Catalan for dessert.
DINNER AT THE ONLY place near tonight's hotel, a big, empty, friendly franchise-Mexican place at the foot of the Grapevine, the southern entrance to California's Central Valley. After a decent Martini I had the combination plate with chile verde, nice and piquant, with the customary rice and beans, wheat tortilla, none of that shredded lettuce and wooden tomato that too often disfigures this Cal-Mex staple.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Tonight the amuse-bouche was a little cup of pumpkin soup, bound with cream, flavored with cumin as I recall, with textural interest from pumpkin seeds that had been browned slightly in oil (I suspect sesame oil) and chopped.
I went on to tuna tartare heightened with both chives and scallions and a little red pepper, a truly delicious thing; then duck breast with braised romaine and cipollini, with almonds, date purée, and pickled red jalapeño — it sounds like one ingredient to many, but in fact the dish was beautifully integrated.
Dessert was a rich, substantial, yet delicate and almost fluffy chocolate "courant", cake on the outside, molten chocolate inside, with a scoop of fine house-made vanilla ice cream. A perfect dinner, beautifully served.
Friday, November 19, 2010
We remembered an okay Italian place near the theater, known from earlier such occasions. House salad involving greens, grated carrot, tomato; then ravioli: nice pasta, too much and too pumpkiny a filling, nice butter-and-sage sauce.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
1) Last night's dinner was exactly the same as the previous night's: grilled flank steak, broccoli, green salad;
2) Tonight we are in Berkeley, and decided to stop in at a restaurant we very much liked three months ago. I decided to have tomorrow night's Martini tonight; afterward, the three of us split two delicious and interesting salads of red romaine with garlic-caper vinaigrette, shaved Grana Padana, and big very thin croutons.
The three of us all had the same entree, too: strozzapretti with roasted eggplant, merguez, chiles, tomato, herbs, and ricotta salata, a very well executed version of a classic Sicilian dish.
Looking back here, I see that I described the restaurant at some length last August, so I won't write more here tonight except to say that the meal was delicious, the wine well chosen, and the restaurant, unfortunately, is closing this Sunday, after only four months in operation. Memo: don't open a restaurant unless you've capitalized it for at least a year in advance.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Odessa Piper opened her Etoile a number of years ago, soon after Chez Panisse opened I believe, with a similar dedication to local and organic; and though she sold her restaurant quite a while ago the new owner was her chef. Since then he's opened a brasserie-style place next door — across the street from the state capitol, near the original location. The restaurant alas does not serve lunch, but the brasserie, Graze, should do.
I had a favorite dish hereby promoted to the Hundred Plates: mussels cooked in white wine, flavored with butter, minced parsley, and tarragon. With them, a nice little mini-baguette made in house, and an enormous basket of perfect French fries, with a generous serving of excellent aïoli. You can't do much better.
Turns out Eve's oven thermometer reads high, so the chicken wasn't completely done when I carve it. No problem: serve the breast meat, open the bird out and put it back in the oven for the dark meat to cook further. Twice-cooked chicken.
With it, roast potatoes, and carrots, green beans, and shallots stir-fried. Delicious: the carrots came from Eve's garden.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Today we got back to a more normal routine, normal for travelling at any rate: a meatball sandwich for lunch, with a glass of Italian Merlot.
Bellafini's, 7 14th Street, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; tel. (920) 929-8909
and dinner at a local steakhouse: Caesar salad and a six-ounce top sirloin steak, nicely cooked, with a baked potato alongside. Comfort food and protein, badly needed after that carbohydrate-heavy flight.
Friday, November 12, 2010
WE EAT TONIGHT in a favorite place of ours. It's a little awkward to have two favorite places in one city; it's like having divided loyalties. But there's nothing to be done about it, we have two.
We arrived by tram in a torrential downpour complete with thunder and lightning, and walked a couple of hundred meters to get to the restaurant. We were eating early, seven o'clock; there were only two or three couples there before us. There were six of us, so we took one of the little semi-private rooms that radiate from the center of the main dining room, which is in the form of a perfect circle.
(The kitchen, quixotically, is outside, sheltered under a roof to be sure, but walled only with canvas and transparent plastic, and then only in this sort of weather. Out back, there are pigpens and a chickenyard, because this place takes Eat Local seriously.)
There was no menu on paper; the waitress told us the possibilities. First course: a salad of endive, radicchio, and ricotta; a platter of tuna in tomato sauce with arugula and polenta. (Yes, we're in the Netherlands: but contemporary Dutch restaurants are much beholden to Italy.)
Second course: Chowder (mine without footed shellfish). This was a surprising dish, a perfectly authentic Boston clam chowder, rich with milk and butter and fish, spicy with black pepper. I've only had chowder this good at home until this; I never expected to find it in The Netherlands — undoubtedly an unthinking attitude on my part; perhaps it's perfectly traditional here. Why wouldn't it be, with Dutch shellfish, fish, butter, and milk?
Third course: A fine baked fish for two-thirds the table, but Tom and I opted for vlees, not vis. The "flesh" was roast beef, sliced and served with kale, salsify, and carrots — as traditional a Dutch farmer dish as you could ask.
For dessert I had a cheese plate, three cheeses, I wasn't properly introduced, though one was a pungent and nicely balanced blue, one was a good delicate Dutch cows'-milk not-quite-hard cheese, and the third was French, white, creamy, and floral. And then a grappa, to enhance digestion of this last (for a while) Dutch dinner, for tomorrow we fly home.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
We go to Zutphen for coffee or tea, too, at De Pelikaan, an ancient tea-importer with a cozy (gezellig) tea-room. Right across the street is an almost equally cozy old café-restaurant, and here we had a substantial lunch: Zutphense mosterdsoep and an uitsmijter.
The soup was first-rate: vegetable bouillon, cream, mustard, very thin-sliced red onion, finely clipped scallions. The trick is to put in enough mustard but not too much, and this trick is mastered here. The hot soup comes in two-handled bowls: everyone else ate politely with spoons; I lifted my bowl to my lips. Good bread and butter, too.
I wish I'd liked the uitsmijter as much. This should be an open-faced sandwich composed of cold sliced roast beef, thin-sliced boiled ham, and good Dutch Gouda-type cheese, with three eggs, fried sunny-side up, on top. Here, though, there were three individual slices of bread, no beef, over-cooked eggs, and the cheese was melted. Most revisionist. Some things have reached perfection and should never be revised.
Produce from everywhere, of course: South America, Africa, the Near East, any number of European countries. Almonds from California, pistachios from Turkey. Nearly every crate and box had its sticker stating quite plainly the provenance.
I was particularly impressed with the wholesaler butcher, where I talked to the man in charge of game. No farmed game here, no red deer from Poland or wherever: "I don't deal in farmed game, because I'm afraid my men will accidentally mix them in with the wild; the wild game is our specialty."
Kees liked the looks of some wild boar, and added that to the lot he'd already picked up. We crammed everything into the back of his car and drove to his restaurant where we left him to plan and begin cooking dinner while we spent the shank of the afternoon at a museum downtown.
We returned at seven o'clock for
Poached halibut with fennel and fennel-sauce with estragon, salsify purée
Roast wild boar rack and stewed shoulder with potato-pumpkin purée, radicchio, and little Brussels sprouts
Applecake with house-made vanilla ice cream and caramel
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
WE EAT TODAY in a splendid 17th-century cottage (I think; it may be early 18th) in a tiny village in northwest Netherlands, a hamlet really, so tiny there is no commercial building of any kind; the grocery store comes in in the form of a small truck, Monday mornings.
And the cottage belongs to our friend the chef, so we eat very well indeed. Breakfast: fresh-squeezed orange juice; a cappuccino or two from a good espresso machine; bread brought from Amsterdam; decent Dutch cheese; apricot jam.
Lunch: a pyramid of St. Nectaire; a few slices of delicious lardo; cornichons; a bottle of Aprémont (Saint Jeaire Prieux, nv).
And what shall we have for dinner? How about some beautiful sea bass from the North Sea, grilled, with fennel mixed with braised fennel, and mashed salsify? A delicious sophisticated yet tradition-based combination, with a bit of cheese for dessert.
Monday, November 8, 2010
WE ATE IN two suburbs of this Dutch capital today, in gatherings of the Dutch family that has been for nearly forty years almost a part of our family as well. At midday we were in Voorburg, where Tom and Judith were celebrating the 22d birthday of their son Jasper.
Tom and Judith are enthusiastic Italophiles, having spent an early year of their life together in Florence; so the table offered platters of prosciutto and salami and vitello tonnato and bottles of San Pellegrino and a nice Prosecco whose label unfortunately eluded me.
Then it was time to drive a few miles south to a newer suburb that began rising out of the cow-pastures twelve or fifteen years ago and is now almost mature with trees edging the park-like greens between rows of houses backing up to pleasant canals.
Here Tanja served us pannekoeken and poffertjes, treats much more often eaten out in country restaurants or poffertjekanten, special temporary cafés set up in parks in many towns in the summertime.
Pannekoeken are Dutch pancakes, big as dinner plates, thin almost as crèpes, often with various fillings. Tanja offered normaal or with bacon, and we drizzled ours with maple syrup brought by a Canadian friend and with stroop, the molasses-dark but thinner-textured burnt-sugar syrup the Dutch specialize in.
Poffertjes are not so easily explained. Here a tablespoonful of pancake-like batter, leavened with a bit of yeast I believe, is cooked in butter on a hot dimpled cast-iron range (pan, in the home), turned deftly once, and served by the half-dozen (or more) slathered with more good Dutch butter and liberally sprinkled with powdered sugar. They are very tasty.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Since then the direction has changed, I'm told, but the level is still high. There were a few unfamiliar items on the menu: schoneneren, which Anneke explained were poor man's asparagus, some kind of underground stalk that must be peeled before being served with the traditional eggs, ham, and tarragon-flavored Hollandaise; and oerwortel, another traditional farmer's dish we were told; parsnips, I think I overheard a man at the next table mention. If so, I was fortunate to have ordered something else: parsnips, like turnips and rutabagas and beets, are certainly very fine vegetables, but far from my personal taste.
Instead I had a very correct, very traditional, very tasty house-made paté, with tiny cornichons and a delicious chutney: long-slow-cooked very thin-sliced onion, colored and flavored with what must certainly have been cranberry, though it wasn't mentioned on the menu. And afterward, another risotto, to compare to the one still fresh in memory from Milan the other day.
This one was not made with the correct Italian fat-grained rice but with something closer to jasmine-style rice, so the texture didn't really work. The stock was good, though, and the great number of mushrooms — farmed, not wild — added a lot of interest if not a truly focussed flavor. Dessert was a huge serving of appeltaart which I unwisely took without the slagroom; a little bit of the whipped cream would have made it quite delicious.
Cafe Restaurant Verheyden, Wezenstraat 6, Arnhem; tel. 026 443 70 35;
This time it was a pumpkin soup he made. He bought an organic pumpkin, washed it well, then cooked it in the oven before reducing it to a purée with a hand-held blender he favors. He flavored it with cumin, red pepper, and coriander, combining it with chicken stock, and let us top it with a dollop of good Greek yoghurt: delicous.
Anneke had made her echt Dutch version of sauerkraut: kraut from the organic grocery combined with chunks of gerookte worst, a mild smoked Frankfurter-type sausage, and topped with slices of canned pineapple, the whole baked in the oven, then held a few moments under the broiler. This is in fact a delicious dish, odd though it may sound to Mediterranean eaters.
Earlier we'd contented ourselves with a ham-cheese tosti for lunch, at the excellent café Martins, downtown. Until they opened three or four years ago there was no really good coffee in this fairly large provincial city (~150,000); with their good espresso and pastries they managed soon to expand in a new location to a much more ambitious business.
Brasserie Martins, Paslaan 5, Apeldoorn; tel. 055-5213102
But where to eat? After whiling away the morning in conversation over cappuccinos and cornetti, those not entirely successful Italian attempts at croissants, we walked downtown to the center, along "our" Corso Buenos Aires to the Piazza Venezia, then along the Corso Venezia to the San Babuino, the Galleria, and the Duomo. I had in mind the trattoria we like in via Santa Marta, but others felt it was just too far away, and by now it was almost noon.
Our Marta, almost equally santa to some of us, suddenly remembered a restaurant she knew on the Piazza Mercante, only a street away from us. We looked at the menu, looked at the fish on ice displayed inside, talked to the man in charge, and decided it would be fine. Fifteen minutes to stroll the neighboring streets; then it would be noon and we could sit down.
It didn't take long to decide on the menu: all four of us would share a huge platter of pinzimonio, raw carrots, Treviso, fennel, radishes, tomatoes, with oil and vinegar and salt to dip them in; then risotto alla Milanese, based on a tasty chicken stock, nicely colored and flavored with saffron, cooked to exactly the right degree: the rice just a tiny bit grainy at the center of the kernel.
I asked for a panna cotta for dessert; I can't resist it. We were surprised when a crème brulée appeared in its place. No, signore, c'e una panna cotta , the waiter insisted; it's how it's done here; it's our own recipe. Well, it was an okay crème brulée, though I've had better. But it wasn't what I'd wanted. Still.
Al Mercante, Piazza Mercanti, 17, Milan; tel. 02.8052198
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Lunch was at a seafood restaurant nearby, a big, spacious, brightly lit, comfortable place with big photomurals of the Amalfitani coast on the wall. We looked at the extensive menus, then engaged in conversation with the waiter, who brought a couple of fish out to show us and described how they might be cooked. We agreed, and wound up with a nice firm fish braised in piquant tomato sauce well laced with enormous capers, too many olives, a little fennel, lots of flavor.
I would call this a Sicilian restaurant. The Pugliese waiter, clearly a spokesman for the place, disagreed. He proudly led me to a much bigger dining room downstairs, waving at the photomurals: Look: this is Sicily. Over here, this is Sardegna. You saw the Amalfi coast; over here is Liguria. This is an all-Italian restaurant, in Milano, because the Milanese cooking is not really very interesting.
I'm not sure I don't agree.
But where to eat dinner? We asked a man on the street; he waved us down a block, another to the right, then to the left, to a restaurant called La Ragazza. It was closed, of course. But nearby was a brightly lit, brightly decorated place with an attractive menu promising spaghetti caccia e pepe, with grated cheese and pepper, one of my favorites, so in we went.
I had a brilliant and delicious appetizer, ceci e baccalà; the chick-peas served as a rough purée, flavored deeply with onions and olive oil, the salt-cod beautifully cooked as scraps and scattered across the purée. Then the spaghetti, which was very nearly as good as anything I'd had in Rome.
Monday, November 1, 2010
WE THINK WE KNOW Milan by now, but: we arrived hungry a little after one o'clock after a slow rainy drive from Asti, and having cooled our heels while the room was being made ready we didn't want to drive anywhere, and didn't want to take the time to do much research, and it's Monday when restaurants tend to be closed, and it's a holiday ditto ditto, so.
We just walked down the street to the Bar Miró and had a club sandwich — ham cheese and tuna for me, with a glass of Dolcetto. I'm not in principle agreeing with the idea of mixing fish and meat, or fish and cheese, or fish meat and cheese. For that matter I think it bad luck to eat fish of any kind on a rainy day; that's just the kind of received knowledge I run on. But what can you do.
Dinner was, wouldn't you know, at a fish restaurant. After endless trawling of Zagat and a number of other sites we settled on Da Giacomo, which sounded really nice and wasn't all that far away. Lindsey had a plate of pappardelle with porcini and a big platter of grilled vegetables; I had a cotelette alla Milanese, forgetting it was nothing but an enormous breaded veal cutlet with a half lemon, and spinach in butter on the side, because it's a very favorite vegetable of mine. It was all perfectly fine, and the bread they serve here — mother-in-law's tongues, flatbread, a thick kind of grissini, and even a whole-grain bread of some kind, is very good indeed.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
But where? We didn't have time to look around, we'd got into town too late for that, and we're travelling without restaurant guidebooks, since we're mostly eating in hotels or agriturismi. So we parked near the center of town, walked past a couple of uninteresting-looking places, and settled on Pasta e Pasta, a chain I'm pretty sure (since I think I recall eating at one in Milan a few years ago).
Still, they had the requisite fungi. So we ordered tajarin, the Piemontese version of tagliarini, served dressed with good Piemontese butter, with fourteen grams of white truffles sliced thin on top. (You pay for your truffles by weight: they bring four or five to the table with a little scale, you choose the ones you want, they weigh them.) Afterward, we both wanted brasato Barbaresco, slices of beef braised in that red wine, polenta on the side. Nothing more but an excellent coffee, thank you; it was very good; I'd go back.
After an afternoon visiting new-found family — Lindsey's third cousin, I think, once removed — we dined back at our agriturismo with Andrea and Teresa, a third cousin twice removed and his wife, a pianist. Our hostess, Serena Sereno, having heard I liked chestnuts, arranged a dinner featuring them in almost every course, as follows:
Lettuce, onion, and sliced fennel salad, with slices of soft raw pancetta
Grilled chestnuts with lardo (all this is from the agriturismo, by the way)
Gnocchi malfatti in butter and oil
Tomato tartlet with peppers and chopped parsley
Tagliatelle dressed with chopped chestnuts, carrots, and leeks
Roast vitellone with roast potatoes
Chestnut crumble cake topped with chopped apples in jelly
It's a pleasant room, with tables for perhaps two dozen, with identical straight-backed but comfortably upholstered chairs painted various muted pastels, photos of local attractions (including the goal of today's walk, an ancient abbey across the valley), and nice lighting.
We began with two unusual and very tasty salads, one of apples and cabbage flavored with a delicate vinaigrette, the other of red-stalked Torinese celery, walnuts, and the local Brùc cheese, a sort of soft-hard creamy tomme, something like Castelmagno but without any runniness or blue-streaking. These were chopped fine and served in a delicious green olive oil, no vinegar, but a discreet amount of salt. Both of these will be imitated when we get home.
Then came red and yellow peperoni, the yellow a bit more peppery than the red, sweated in oil, cooled to room temperature, and served with a dollop of particularly unctuous bagna cauda: lots of anchovy taste, just the right whiff of garlic (it was steeped in hot milk, then discarded), and a little butter. A version of bagna cauda (one of the Hundred Plates) to contend with.
Afterward there was a plate of agnelotti filled with ground veal, pork, and a little bit of lamb, with rosemary, thyme, and garlic, all ground up very fine. And then came a local delicacy, a beautiful example of cucina povera or peasant cooking: mutton, laurel leaves, salt, garlic, and nutmeg, layered in a high narrow terra-cotta vessel, weighted with a stone on a plate the right size, and left to itself for a week.
I suppose it's a distant relative of the Provençal boeuf daube, or the Spanish olla podrida, the sort of dish that makes a virtue of necessity — my kind of virtue.
Whatever its relatives — and they probably extend to Hopi country — it was a delicious thing, very rich, unctuous, challenging, memorable.
We finished with a delicate and very flavorful apple sformata, nothing but apples, eggs, and sugar, mixed in the right proportions and allowed to take shape. With a tiny garnish of whipped cream it was all you could ask.
And this is what we had:
Frittata di erbellina e carote
Capelleti al prosciutto e ricotta
Arrosto di vitello con spinaci
Torta di castagna
Everything made in the kitchen; everything grown in the garden or raised in the adjacent pasture. The cheese was perhaps not of this very house, but was certainly of the neighborhood. The grissini and the bread, even, were made here. I wouldn't be surprised if you told me its wheat had been grown here, though I haven't seen any wheatfields hereabouts.
The tonnato was exceptional, not at all from a delicatessen, a small dollop of wonderful tuna sauce centered on each thin slice of perfectly cooked veal. The capeletti were made of potato and were in fact gnocchi in the semicircular shape of cappeletti; the filling was refined and perfectly balanced between prosciutto, ricotta, and sage flavors, and the texture very delicate and soft.
The roast veal was nicely salted, sliced very thin with the grain, and set off by sweet fresh spinach with very light butter flavor. The cheese was the least exceptional course, but welcome; and the torta was everything a chestnut-lover could ask, dense but not at all heavy, with a very interesting, rewarding texture, a rich chocolate sauce at one end, smooth cream at the other.
It was, in fact, perhaps the most satisfying meal of the trip so far, and a memorable one.
Seven grappas were offered; I contented myself with one, the genepì, as good as I've tasted anywhere, and I've tasted my share. Lindsey's Fragolina was delicately flavored with raspberries; the straight dry grappa was pure, refined, and delicious. All from the em>proprietà.