Sunday, October 31, 2010

Alba: White truffles

Asti, October 31, 2010—
WE'RE IN A PLEASANT country hotel outside Asti, but we ate today a few kilometers south in Alba, because there was an exhibition there of Morandi landscapes that we didn't want to miss. Alba is of course the center of Italy's white truffle economy, and this is the season, so we did the expected.

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.

Arneis in carafe; Barbaresco in carafe

Pasta e Pasta, Via Cuneo 3, Alba (CN); tel. 0173/363825

Giaglione, 3: Chestnuts!

Agriturismo Crè Seren, Giaglione, October 30, 2010—
AFTER A MORNING of sight-seeing we were hungry, and had gone to Chiomonte, Lindsey's father's birthplace, so we lunched in the old Albergo there. We first ate there in the summer of 1974, when its kitchen was a bit better, I think; it's been under new management since the late 'seventies, and the kitchen's a bit pedestrian. Still, you can do worse: I had a plate of tagilatelle with Bolognese sauce, then a couple of veal scallopine in a thick flour-based sauce, washed down with the local red.

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)
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

White, Dolcetto, and Crè Seren Nero, 2009, as yesterday

Albergo Chiomonte, Via Levis, Chiomonte (TO)Agriturismo "Cre Seren", Frazione S. Rocco 10, Giaglione (TO), tel. 0122.62 92 64

Giaglioni, 2: Bagna Cauda

Giaglioni (Piemonte), October 29, 2010
LAST NIGHT WE SHARED the dining room of our agriturismo with nine noisy Calabrese who were celebrating a birthday. Tonight, after a fairly strenuous two-hour walk through forest, we had it all to ourselves. Too bad for the business, perhaps—though perhaps not, as in addition to looking after us they'd been busy with the last day of the Barbera harvest— but very nice for us.

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.
Zal blanc, Chardonnay and local white grapes, Azienda Agricola Martina (Piemonte), 2009; Dolcetto, Azienda Agricola Martina (Piemonte), 2009; Cré Seren (Pinot nero and local red grapes), Azienda Agricola Martina (Piemonte), 2009

Giaglioni, 1: Cena Piemontese

Giaglioni (Piemonte), October 28, 2010
MAMMA MIA, SIAMO ancora in Italia, we're back in Italy. I liked the food in Lanslebourg: hearty mountain rustic French fare. But Italy, well, Italy's another matter. We ate just as locally, in an agriturismo we found by chance; but the locale is devoted to a bigger range, a more tellingly considered, a more finely executed cuisine.

And this is what we had:
Vitello tonnato
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.
Zal blanc, Chardonnay and local white grapes, Azienda Agricola Martina (Piemonte), 2009; Dolcetto, Azienda Agricola Martina (Piemonte), 2009; Cré Seren (Pinot nero and local red grapes), Azienda Agricola Martina (Piemonte), 2009; grappe: genepì; alla frutta secca

Agriturismo Crè Seren, , Frazione San Rocco, 10, Giaglione; tel. 335.608.3966

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lanslebourg, 3: filet de boeuf

Lanslebourg, October 27, 2010—

WE TOOK A CLOSER look at the menu today, and noticed the cuisine and patisserie were both credited to Pierre Gagnaire. He's a little too important to spend much time in Lanslebourg, I think, so we must have been eating sous-vide, vacuum-packed stuff from a central kitchen god knows where. We eat it gratefully, of course; it's about the only show in town, and we do get hungry.

Tonight I began with a cheese tarte with a mixed salad, thankfully lacking beets tonight, and went on to a beef filet in peppercorn sauce, with broccoli en velouté. Dessert was a tarte à myrtilles, the dish that attracted me to this hotel two years ago, and it was exactly like the cheese tarte, a rectangle of puff-pastry, berries instead of cheese.
Mondeuse, 2009

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lanslebourg, 2: Raclette

Lanslebourg, Savoie, October 26, 2010—

SOME OF YOU WONDERED about the video I uploaded to Facebook a few hours ago, Street Cows. (It's also on YouTube, but I don't know how to tell you where exactly.)

There are cows in Savoie, and their job is to eat grass (and flowers when they find them), and to give milk. They go to work in the morning and come home in the evening, and that's when I made the video of them yesterday.

The milk is made into cheese: Reblochon, Tomme, Beaufort. And more ordinary cheeses, perhaps at this time of year when pasturage isn't nearly as fragrant.

Tonight we had Raclette, the other main dish of Savoie — the first being Tartiflette, as far as I'm concerned its superior. Tartiflette is one of my Hundred Plates, though I can't tag it properly until I'm back at a computer; Raclette is amusing, substantial, pleasing on a cold night, but not one of the Hundred Plates.

After a generous serving of mixed salad and charcuterie Madame the hotelkeeper brought steamed potatoes and a platter of cheese — three kinds: Tomme de Savoie, something she said was not Reblochon but very like Reblochon, and Raclette, probably a quite ordinary cheese suitable for cooking. (Of course what's quite ordinary here would cost a pretty penny at home in California.)

Also on the table was a curious flat disc held up by three legs. It was plugged in, which required our moving from last night's table to another closer to a socket. We put slices of cheese on its non-stick surface, watched them bubble, paddled them around with little wooden sticks, and took them up with forkfuls of potato or slices of baguette. They were, of course, delicious.

Roussette de Savoie, "Altesse", Edmond Jaquin et fils, 2009

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lanslebourg: Tartiflette!

Lanslebourg, France, Oct. 25, 2010—

WE ARRIVED HERE today after a snowy crossing of the Montcenis pass from Italy. I've written a bit about the trip, and this area, at The Eastside View, and won't repeat here: let me just say I'm back in tartiflette country after a little over two years, and happy to share it with Lindsey.

After a cold afternoon of touring we settled down in front of the hearth with a bottle of Apremont, then went into the hotel restaurant for
salad with cheese packets in fyllo dough
mousse au chocolat

and all was exactly as it should be. I love these provincial hotel-restaurants: the cuisine's far from great, but it sure is satisfying.

Oh: tartiflette is baked cheese with sliced potatoes, but you have to have the right cheese. One of the Hundred Plates.

Apremont, Mireille Cartier, ?2009

Hotel-Restaurant 2 Cols, 66 rue du Mont Cenis, Lanslebourg Mt. Cenis; tel.

Torino, 4: Eating on the fly

Chivasso, October 25—

WELL, NOT LITERALLY; we did that a few days ago. We weren't in an airplane yesterday; we once again and for the third day running on our feet, almost every minute; it was our last day at the Salone di Gusto. Only when we looked in at Terra Madre did we sit down for an hour.

But we nibbled less. We'd tasted the anchovies, cheeses, mortadellas, prosciutti, celery, and endless breads, cookies, and cakes the previous days; by yesterday we were nodding familiarly to the woman threading cherry tomatoes into clusters, the man with the delicious olive paste, the dark bee lady, and so on. Yesterday was more a day for conversation, and for futile searches for things vaguely recalled, given insufficient attention.

So the principal meal was a sit-down affair in the enormous shopping mall installed in the former automobile factory at Lingotto, where we split a huge salad of lettuces, arugula, carrot, and tomato; and a ham-and-cheese toast (one of the hundred plates, you'll recall); and I had a plate of slightly undercooked fusilli alla puttanesca.

Earlier, though, we'd had a wonderful sandwich, completey unthought before: chopped lettuce spotted with bagna cauda, on a soft roll. Mine had also a little ricotta. We'll do this again, next time we have leftover bagna cauda.

Undistinguished Chardonnay (Italy?)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Torino, 3: Tuscany, Sardinia, Piemonte

OH, BASTA COLLA TOSCANA! Enough with Tuscany, the woman said, with very strong emotion. I was in Sardinia — more accurately, at a booth in the half-aisle devoted to that island in one of the three vast pavilions at Slow Food, where artisinal food products from all around the world are shown.

Pavilion Two and much of Three are dedicated to Italian products — olive oil, wine, pastries, jams and jellies, liqueurs, meats, and dozens of other products. Many regions spill over into two aisles: among them, Sicily, which gets an aisle and a half. Sardinia, in all its complexity and rich tradition, has perhaps the smallest presence. I don't know why that should be.

I had made the mistake of saying, on tasting a particularly intesely spiced cookie, that it made me think of Siena. Oh, basta colla Toscana, the woman retorted. Tuscany has only two or three specialties, she said, and mostly even they aren't made very authentically. They use California almonds, inferior butter, eggs from God knows where. (I thought of our Dutch friend Hans, who runs a factory egg-farm in Bulgaria.) We use lard, only a tiny bit, never butter; we use our own almonds, never California almonds.

I explained to her that the problem wasn't California, it was the scale of global commercialism. Even in California, I said, we have our Sardinia and our Tuscany. We have very good almonds, though perhaps not exactly like yours in Sardinia, and perhaps not quite that good. But the ones we export, in such huge quantity, are not the best.

They're too thin, she objected, and don't have any oil. They last longer that way, I pointed out; they don't go rancid. Exactly, she responded, all you think of is shelf life; we want our amaretti to be eaten, not left on a shelf.
Ironically, after nibbling all day, lunching on lardo and sliced onions, sitting with a cold wheat-beer and a plate of salumi and cheese at tea-time, we dined back in Chivasso at a restaurant featuring as its daily menu food from Tuscany.

Oh well: we're here for Piemontese cuisine, but we take what comes. What came was
Tortino di carciofi
Crostini alla Toscana
Fettuccine con ragù di cinghiale
Totani all'inzimino
Torta pattone

The appetizers were fine: a rich, dense artichoke omelet in the form of a rissole, a crostini with sun-dried tomato on a bed of liver paté. The ragù was rich and deep, the fettucini apparently house-made, square-cut, eggy. Totani turned out to be little squid in a piquant tomato sauce, full of flavor. Only the chestnut torte seemed to let us down: it was too cold, too dense. But I like chestnuts, and was happy enough with it.

Chardonnay di Piemonte in carafe

L'Antichissimo, Via Portis, 4, Chivasso; tel. 011.917.2000

Friday, October 22, 2010

Torino, 2: Il Salone di Gusto

Chivasso, October 22, 2010—

BASICALLY WE'VE DONE nothing all day but eat, with the necessary changes of position in between. Of course those accellerations developed their own interesting and time-consuming qualities.

It was our first day at Slow Food's Salone di Gusto in Torino, a few kilometers south. Well, they are few: but they take time to negotiate. I may blog tomorrow or the next day about driving here; if I do, it'll be over at The Eastside View; it doesn't really have that much to do with driving.

Breakfast in the Hotel Europe here — rather an old-fashioned hotel — was a cappuccino, a "brioche" which in Italy is any commercial breakfast pastry, in this case an okay croissant with a little orange marmalade spread on top, a glass of orange juice. There were other things available on the table, but I didn't want any of them; cappuccino and crossant satisfies me.I

The Principessa, as unfortunate L. is generally called here in Italy, got up an hour or so later, and had the same — some of you maQy have seen her on Facebook. Then we drove down to Torino for our first day.

The Salone di Gusto is a commercal food fair, but with the difference that all the entrants are showing things that are really good. They conform to the Slow Food trinity of imperatives: Buono, pulito, e giusto; good; clean (or healthful), and just (or fair, or sustainable — translation from one language to another is mostly a matter of substitution).

We covered a little over half the exhibits today, working from about noon to about six, up one aisle, down the next. The aisles were of course jammed, and the people involved were distracted, friendly, and entranced, often stopping in their tracks, or clustering, or cutting in front of you dragging a two-wheeled shopping cart, or wheeling around with a protrusion of backpack to knock you flat if you're not looking, and you rarely are.

The five pavilions are organized for the most part geographically by country or region. Pavilion One featured the Americas, for example, while Pavilions Two and Three got down to business with Italian regions, because this is Italy after all, and Slow Food was invented here.

So today we ate bits of cheese, preserves, salumi, bread, fish, cheese, preserves, salumi, and bread, washing it down with tastes of wine, water, grappa, wine, water, genepi, wine. We sipped wines from Georgia (former USSR, not southern USA), cheese from Uzbekistan, saffron from Afghanistan, cheese from Netherlands France Italy Poland Romania and elsewhere.

None of this emerged as better than anything else, viewed critically; basically everything was really superb. Of course speaking personally I have my favorites, and I was happy to find a booth featuring Castelmagno, and another with a genepi from a nearby Piemontese valley that seemed even to Lindsey to be extraordinarily good. Perhaps we'll go walking there next week.

We broke for lunch about three o'clock at a little sub-pavilion featuring food from Veneto-Friuli-Giulia. I had a fine plate of cotecchino, that unique loose uncased sausage, with potato purée; L. had some gnocchi that could have been better; afterward we split a cubano — a sort of pannetone — with strucchi — a sort of Friuli-style canneloni; very nice, with a ribbon of zabaglione laced with grappa. This with a glass of okay Pinot grigio made me very happy.

Oddly enough, we were a little hungry when we finally got back to our motel, about nine o'clock. Our hotel has a very simple restaurant with a menu that I'm sure features vacuum-packed servings, but in this country that's not entirely disgusting. I had a pedestrian vitello tonnato (though now I think of it the veal was beefy enough to have been local, not factory), and shared L's herb-laced omelet with nice little local green crunchy lettuce, and her agnelotti, and we split a small plate of overcooked but welcom cabbage, lightly vinegared, e basta così.

Roero Arneis, Cantina del Nebbiolo, 2009

Torino, 1: Sotto la Mole

Chivasso, Italy, October 21, 2010—
LAST NIGHT WE ATE on board flight AA198 to Milan: no need to go into that here beyond the sketchiest list: braised beef, mashed potatoes, stewed peppers, odd cheese, a brownie.
Domaine de Pellehaut (Gascogne), 2009; Cabernet Sauvingon, Frei (California), 2008

We landed at Malpensa this morning, found our rented car — an adventure to document elsewhere — and drove to our hotel in this small city a few kilometers north of Torino. After a nap we drove in to the city for dinner with freinds at a place we've patronized once or twice before, a fine restaurant specializing in bringing traditional Piemontese cuisine into the postmodern 21st century.

To illustrate: I opened with carne cruda, sweet local veal minced, served in timbale shapes, topped alternately with sprouted grass, tiny lettuce leaves, or a chive with minced shallot, and accompanied by little mounds of horseradish cream. Occasional surprising bursts of flavor assist came from grains of very good salt mixed in with the otherwise unflavored meat, which drew all its goodness from the flesh of the beautifully raised animals.

Then we all shared a platter of tajarin (Piemontese tagliarini, very thin, very eggy, very good) dressed with shaved white truffles, after which I went on to a plate of gnocchi al Castelmagno, perhaps my favorite cheese, its mountain rennety sweetness reminiscent of the steak tartar, grassy and honest.

Dessert was a bonnet for Lindsey, who cannot resist that Piemontese chocolate-hazelnut pudding, and a cube of gianduia and zabaglione for me, because, well, because.

It was a delicious dinner. A stroll under the full moon on the nearby Piazza Vittorio Veneto afterward to the Cafè Victoria for a genepi finished off the evening beautifully. We'll do the jet lag tomorrow.
Arneis, "Blanghe", Ceretto (Langhe), 2009; Barbera d'Asti, Vietti "Tre Vigne", 2008

Ristorante Sotto la Mole, Via Montebello, 9, Torino

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New place on the peninsula

San Bruno, California, October 19, 2010—

DINNER TONIGHT WITH FRIENDS whom we generally see for dinner on nights like these, when we stay at an airport hotel because of an early flight next morning. Tonight Darin and Belinda introduced us to a brand new restaurant friends of theirs have helped open: Station 1, in Woodside, open only twelve days, but clearly in complete command.

You choose from a number of alternatives to make a three-course prix-fixe dinner which would be a bargain, at its $49, even if the kitchen were merely adequate. But the kitchen is much more than that: each dish was bright, complex, and interesting, and the flavors were right out in front yet deep, developing further as you continued to savor them.

I started with a poached egg atop a bed of red chard, thick morsels of bacon hidden underneath, with crisp-cooked potato involved as well. A small "succulent salad" had appeared first, with purslane, iceberg lettuce, and sliced lily root — crisp and white, like nutty endive — as well as a generous spoonful of tofu "ricotta".

My principle plate was tri-tip, from a wagu-style Idaho beef, rare, not grilled but broiled, with rich "jus" and tangy chimichurri, roasted red carrots and garlic cloves accompanying it. And dessert was Meyer lemon panna cotta, topped with huckleberry jam and candied lavendar-flavored orange zest.

This is an impressive restaurant, one of the best — to judge by a single meal — I've enjoyed recently in the San Francisco area. The menu offerd five first courses, three main courses, and three desserts, and there wasn't a thing I wouldn't want to order. Good wine list, too, and a very pleasant room.
Vermentino, Piero Moneto (Sardinia), 2009; Nebbiolo d'Alba, Marco Porello, 2008 (remarkably rich and fruity)
Station 1 Restaurant, 2991 Woodside Rd., Woodside; tel. (650) 851-4988

Monday, October 18, 2010

Roast chicken

Eastside Road, October 18, 2010—
NO TIME TO COOK, no time to shop, no time to think; we're in last-day mode, when you're packing and cleaning up and making ready for winter and rain and there's not much time left. Prune the garden. Clear out the fallen fruit. Wash all the clothes. Cover the firewood. Pay the bills. Put away the fruit-tree props, clear a pathway through the workshop, put away the flytrap. Oh, and continue clearing out leftovers from the icebox.


So it was "Rotisserie Chicken" tonight, bought at the supermarket. I don't think we've done this ever before except once, last June in Paris. This one, bought at Raley's, was no worse, seemed to me. A whole chicken, net weight exactly 32 ounces (I wonder how they do that: it's printed on the label, all the chickens apparently exactly the same weight), flavored with salt, pepper, paprika, coriander, mustard, celery seed, garlic, onion, and fine herbs (so much better than the coarse ones), and injected with up to 18% of a solution of water, salt, carageenan and garlic powder.

(Hmm: up to 18%. That must be how they get every chicken to weight exactly the same.)

Well, it was edible, even rather tasty, in a heightened sort of way. The accompanying potato salad was a little gloppy, and the dinner rolls were quite sweet. The green salad was, of course, delicious.
Martini — why not? — and a glass of vin rouge de pays de l'Herault, Mas de Daumas Gassac, 2008, left over and forgotten in the pantry since October 8!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Santa Rosa, October 17, 2010—
TO FRIENDS FOR DINNER this evening, as we lean into another departure — we'll eat at home tomorrow, then not again for weeks. Why not get into the mood?#alttext# Mac and Margery had bought wine-cap mushrooms at the farmers market, and cooked them up with a few shiitakes, and red and yellow peppers, to serve over tagliatelle. Afterward, tomatoes and cucumbers; watermelon for dessert. A pleasant meal, just what we were in the mood for.
Sauvignon blanc, Husch Vineyards (Mendocino county), "Renegade", 2009 (soft, floral, and easy on the palate); Sauvignon blanc, Preston of Dry Creek (Sonoma county), 2008, serious structure, complex

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lamb, supd, and omelets

Laytonville, then Eastside Road, October 16, 2010—
LUNCH IN LAYTONVILLE today, where Meadow grilled some lamb steaks, and sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and ingeniously roasted some zucchini in olive oil, and even more ingeniously invented something new, which Henry decided would be called supd, since it was made upside down. (The silent final "D" was my idea, to distinguish it from the more usual meaning of "sup".)

Supd is simply a kind of onion shortcake. Meadow sweated the sliced onions very slowly in butter, until they were nearly caramelized; then spread them in a round griddle-pan with a low rim, and covered them with biscuit dough she'd spread out, pizza-style, and baked the thing to make something between pizza, shortcake, and something else, something quite delicious.
ALL THAT LEFT US not terribly hungry in the evening, so we made do with the usual Saturday night almonds-and-cashews with our Martinis, then some of Nancy Skall's inimitable lima beans cooked in butter, and omelets.

I have some misgivings about the omelets. I made them my usual way, using a technique I learned from that marvelous movie Big Night: you whisk the eggs, then cook them in olive oil instead of butter, using the usual omelet pan and technique. No misgivings there: but Lindsey'd left a few tarragon leaves on the worktable, so I chopped them up and filled the omelets with them and the usual grated Parmesan cheese.

Tarragon is quintessentially French; Parmesan is thoroughly Italian. I don't think the national sensibilities, or the flavors that so uniquely express them, really get along that well together. But it worked, and was interesting; and in a week or so we'll be straddling the border between Haute Savoie and Piemonte, so perhaps it's all for the best.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rhymes with a la grecque

Eastside Road, October 15, 2010—
AFTERDECK, BIOTECH, bodycheck, bottleneck, cashier's check, Chiang Kai-shek, countercheck, demi-sec, discotheque, double-check, double-dec...

What? Oh, sorry: I got distracted. I was Googling "à la grecque" to see what exactly it meant, in fact, and found this page at Merriam-Webster, and couldn't resist it. But — oh: in fact, apparently lemon juice is indispensable. In that case I've been wrong all these years; I thought it was just the slow cooking in olive oil did it. Whatever the case, we had sweet peppers greeked tonight, our way, sans lemon juice, though there are lemons aplenty on the tree out the kitchen door. #alttext#
As you see, we had grille tuna sandwiches with the peppers, a first-rate combination, I think; and of course a green salad afterward. Dessert: apple crisp, from three or four different kinds of apples from our little seven-tree orchard.
Chablis, Jacques Bourguignon, 2008
(I had so been looking forward to this, as I love Chablis and almost never have any: but it was thin and sulfury and green-apples, not at all generous)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Leaning into surfeit

Eastside Road, October 14, 2010—
THE SURVEY OF LEFTOVERS and convenience meals continues (it soon will end): tonight, a bowl of beans from the soup of October 4, dressed up with the last of the pesto from the 8th; a few tomatoes; an Alsatian-style onion-and-bacon tart from the freezer. Then the green salad, tonight with some leftover cucumbers and a few radishes chopped fairly fine. Later we'll have figs, because they're finally really producing — it's mid-October!
Nero d'Avila, Epicuro, 2008

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Leftovers and the garden

Eastside Road, October 13, 2010—
CHICKEN STOCK FROM the refrigerator, a few vegetables from the farmers market, and some leftover pesto. A little chard from the garden, and a few potatoes, too — last summer I cut a potato into quarters and four plants came up nicely. With that, some toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. We ate rich yesterday; today's a frugal day. Both are good.
Nero d'Avila, Epicuro, 2008

Foreign Cinema; Chez Panisse

Eastside Road, October 12, 2010—
YES, WE'RE A DAY late here; yesterday was busy. Lunch with the Bakers Dozen, Lindsey's professional organization, a group of enthusiastic and generous bakers, both professional and ardently amateur. A lecture-demonstration from two bread specialists, Michael Kalanty and Rohit Singh, preceded lunch at a favorite San Francisco restaurant, Foreign Cinema, where we had three courses:#alttext#tomato-corn soup with smoked trout crostini and a bite of lightly pickled carrot and onion; delicious sea scallops with bhaji
greens (a kind of kale), ummus, couscous, tiny lentils, and cucumber raita, and
#alttext#chocolate pot de crème with Armagnac whip, a buckwheat chocolate-nib cookie, and a strawberry. The main plate was full of intense flavors, almost too many; the chocolate and Armagnac finished lunch beautifully. I liked the way the two outside courses rhymed, visually; I liked that every item complemented every other and was in itself delicious and beautifully made.
DINNER, NOT FOUR HOURS later, was at Chez Panisse. It seemed to me exceptionally classic, opening with a tomato salad with house-made mozzarella — really a California-French caprese: tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. With it, a pleasant dry Riesling from Austria. Then pan-fried rockfish with stewed sweet peppers and aïoli, which indicated a rosé; and then grilled quail with pancetta and sage, on the side corn, shell beans, rapini, and a soft polenta. Red wine, for sure. Dessert was pluot tart with raspberry ice cream, which brought me back to the days Lindsey was running the pastry kitchen…
Riesling, Kamptal (Austria), "Gobelsburger", 2009; Rosé, Bandol, Domaine Tempier, 2009; Sanvalentino, Paolo Bea (Umbria), 2006 — truly an outstanding, deep, serious, but immediately gratifying wine; read about it here.

  • Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission Street, San Francisco; tel. 415-648-7600
  • Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; tel. 510-548-5525
  • Monday, October 11, 2010

    Vegetarian cooking for everyone

    Eastside Road, —
    A COUPLE OF AVIATION cocktails in town left us in no mood — actually, L. had a Cucumber Collins, not an Aviation — for much of a dinner, and we had lots of vitamin C of various kinds in the refrigerator. Time to scorch, chop, and whisk.#alttext#
    Here you see the proper ingredients for a guacamole: cilantro torn from its stalks, shallots chopped fine, salt, Habanera pepper (scorched, peeled, and seeded), lime zest. It all gets chopped fine and blended into avocados, moistened with lime juice and tequila.
    Afterward, a mess of Padron peppers, scorched in olive oil and salt; and then a green salad, dressed with lemon juice.
    Cool water

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    Staff Party

    Glen Ellen (Sonoma county), October 10, 2010—

    EVERY YEAR, about this time of year, the staff of Chez Panisse gathers for a party. Not many know, I imagine, that the restaurant employs something like 120 people — cooks, waiters, bussers, dishwashers, maintenance workers, office staff.

    This year, as is generally the case, the party was on the farm — Bob Cannard's farm on the southeast flank of Sonoma Mountain. Bob has provided much of the produce used at Chez Panisse for getting on to thirty years. Every day fruit and vegetables ride down from Glen Ellen to Berkeley, and compost rides back up. Frequently Chez Panisse staff spend a few days on the farm, helping out, and learning the soil-to-table connection.

    This year the meal was cooked by non-staff — in fact, by former staff. It looked to me as if Kelcey Kerr and Samantha Greenwood were doing a lot of the work on the line. Food was cooked over open fires and barbeque grills, as has often been true. The weather was ideal: a hot day, but plenty of shade from Bob's huge twin black walnuts. Wine came from Beaune Imports, owned by a former Chez P cook (he still steps into the kitchen on special events), Michael Sullivan.

    The line

    The menu:

    Hog Island Oysters
    Tomatoes, fennel, radishes, carrots with lime and salt
    Gilbert’s Guacamole
    Roasted almonds

    Tamales and salsas by Karen Waikiki
    Beans with pork belly
    Grilled squash and scallions

    Fruit a la Cannard
    Mexican wedding and chocolate wafer cookies.
    Mexican hot chocolate

    It was, as always, a perfect afternoon. For nearly forty years I've been amazed at the people who make up the staff at this restaurant: their enthusiasm, intelligence, skill, above all their heart. It's a privilege to know them and a pleasure to share their company.

    Quincy, Cuvée de Beaucharme, 2008; Bourgueil, Jour de Soif, 2009 (both are beautiful wines, the white silky and full of flavor, the red deep and serious with terroir but very enjoyable)

    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    Those lima beans

    Eastside Road, October 9, 2010—
    SATURDAY, HENCE MARKET DAY, hence salmon and lima beans, this time of year. Lindsey got the last of the Willowleaf limas from Middleton Gardens, whose soil, as Donna the woman who runs Nancy's Saturday stand pointed out, has a truly special quality — those gardens are on rich soil at the foot of the hills west of the river, in the lee of weather from the ocean, exposed to morning and midday sun. Truly an enviable setting, and the produce is truly special, whether strawberries, onions, beans, or pears.

    #alttext#  #alttext#


    Well, we got the last of the limas, and L. shelled them while we watched the hated Yankees finish their sweep of the Twins. She steams them in a bit of water, adding butter when they're done, and broils the salmon in the usual way, and slices some tomatoes. Half our dining is exploratory, in restaurants from here to Sicily; half is familiar, domestic, repetitive: mind and body both are nourished. We like it. Green salad, of course, and further work on last night's bottle of vin rouge.

    Friday, October 8, 2010


    Eastside Road, September 8, 2010—

    WHEN DID WE MAKE that pesto? Oh yes, a week ago yesterday. Pesto has many virtues; one of them is longevity. They say you can freeze it, but we never have; at most we keep it in a little container, glass or plastic, on a crowded shelf in the icebox — excuse me, refrigerator — until it works its way to the front of the shelf.

    And today was another of those days to busy to spend much time thinking about dinner, let alone actually working on it. The gardener spends her day in the garden, the clerk spends his time at the computer. Then there's another ball game to watch, while peeling another batch of apples.

    So L. boiled up some fusilli, I made the usual salad dressing, L. sliced a few tomatoes to eat as an entremets. E basta così.
    Vin rouge de pays de l'Herault, Mas de Daumas Gassac, 2008

    Kraut and apples

    Eastside Road, October 7, 2010—
    BACK IN THE LATE 1940s I lived on a broken-down country property, a short chubby sixth-grader with three younger brothers and parents who had their problems. It was a little like Ma and Pa Kettle, who were among Dad's enthusiasms, or The Egg and I, which was more to Mom's taste. I see her now, my put-upon mother, boiling sliced carrots in an pot on the wood stove until the water had all boiled away leaving the carrots to burn, but also baking cream-puffs now and then, and canning cherries and peaches, and making sauerkraut.

    The sliced cabbage was layered with salt in one-gallon crocks, covered with cheesecloth, and set in the second story of the tankhouse to ferment. The smell was delicious: salt, cabbage, sauerkraut, redwood, dust. I thought of all this today in a flash as I pinched strands of Lou Preston's sauerkraut out of a plastic container we keep in the refrigerator. We were having hot dogs for dinner; it's the first day of the National League playoffs, and while we don't have a dog in the fight, as the saying goes, baseball is still baseball. #alttext#We've come up in the world. We didn't watch ball games when I was a kid; we didn't have television. In fact, we didn't have electricity in those days. Now, nearly seventy years later, I live seventeen miles farther north. We still have apple trees, though, and it's been another good crop, our seven or eight trees setting and ultimately dropping more apples than we can really keep up with. We attacked another colander-full tonight, me peeling, L. slicing; they're simmering away into applesauce. This is one of those jobs done better, I think, by a wood-burning kitchen stove, but we don't have one: we're cooking with gas.

    Oh: after the hot dogs, and the green salad, dessert was a Crane melon. My mother was a Crane, and the guy responsible for finding and promoting that melon is a cousin of some kind. The old Crane house isn't far from here; I drove past it twice yesterday. The melon is delicious; only the Charentais matches it for aroma and flavor, I think. Like the Charentais it's site-specific: we've tasted Crane melons from other properties, but those from the old Crane ranch are definitely best. Of course they have to be vine-ripened, and this has been a difficult year.
    Vin rouge de pays de l'Herault, Mas de Daumas Gassac, 2008

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    White-tablecloth Italian

    Eastside Road, October 6, 2010—

    DINNER WITH FRIENDS in a white-tablecloth Italian restaurant "in town" tonight — in our local city, Santa Rosa, say 150,000 souls gathered in search of urban life, thirteen miles southwest of us.

    We don't eat in town that often. We eat out so much in the course of the year, what with all our travels, that when we're within an hour of home that's where we're likely to eat — at home. But we were with friends; it was time for an early supper; and we all wanted a nice quiet place.

    We had a simple, pleasant, civilized dinner —nothing striking. Comfort food. Bread, olive oil, and salt. A green salad with shavings of Parmesan cheese and a few cherry tomatos. Rigatoni with Italian sausage, peas, mushrooms, tomato and cream. A tiny grappa to end the meal. Very nice.

    Greco di tufo, 2009
    CA’ Bianca Ristorante Italiano, 835 2nd Street, Santa Rosa; tel. 707.542.5800

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Dressing up the beans

    Eastside Road, October 5, 2010—
    A VEGETABLE GARDEN is like a cat: you can have a satisfactory relationship with one, or you can travel. We travel. My vegetable garden resembles my French: lamentable. But there were a few brave and very tasty little leaves of unmolested yellow-stem chard among the enormous ones filled with holes, brown edges, and aphids; and there were a couple of stalks of summer savory, so I fetched them in, and Lindsey put them in the remains of last night's shell-bean soup. Summer savory is a marvelous thing; I don't know why we don't think of it more often. Beans are incomplete without it.

    A drizzle of good olive oil across the top of the beans — yes, that too. Green salad, of course.
    Vin rouge de pays de l'Herault, Mas de Daumas Gassac, 2008

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Shell bean soup

    Eastside Road, October 4, 2010—
    GUACAMOLE WITH THE FOLKS who live down the hill before dinner, with a nice bottle of rosé; then a simple supper: soup and salad. Lindsey made a delicious shell bean soup based on chicken stock, flavoring it with chopped onion, oregano from the garden, and a chiffonnade of cilantro.#alttext#Yes, those are tortilla chip fragments floating on the soup: no need to let them go to waste. The usual green salad, and an ice cream sundae — caramel sauce and slivered toasted almonds. Special!
    Vin rouge de pays de l'Herault, Mas de Daumas Gassac, 2008

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Sunday salmon

    Eastside Road, October 3, 2010—
    TO MARKET, TO MARKET today, to buy not a fat pig — last night sufficed for that — but our usual salmon and Willowleaf lima beans. Usual for this time of year, at least. And tonight after our tea and mixed nuts (cashews and almonds, neither of which seems satisfactory now without the other), I cooked up some more pimientos de Padrón in oil and salt to eat with a first-rate Martini#alttext#(they are fungible, and we missed last night's), and then Lindsey broiled the salmon, having shelled the limas while we watched the news with our Martinis,#alttext#and stepped outside to pick a lemon, and sliced up a couple of tomatoes, et voilà. Green salad, the vinaigrette with lemon juice tonight rather than vinegar.
    Cheap Pinot grigio

    Amour et famille

    Eastside Road, October 2, 2010—
    BREAD AND WINE, the twin staves of life. We have two friends, brothers, members of a warm, close, intelligent family. Both entered the Chez Panisse family as youths, still in their 'teens, I think, starting as bussers and moving effortlessly into the kitchen, where they excelled. Both then went into business, the older establishing a well-known, very successful bakery whose products we remain enthusiastic about, the younger developing a wine import business concentrating at first on wines from Burgundy.

    Yesterday the younger celebrated his and his wife's fiftieth birthdays and the twentieth birthday of his business with a party at Camino, the Oakland restaurant run by another Chez Panisse veteran, Russell Moore. Since all these Panissers seem to hold to the motto I try to make one of my own — Generosity and Gratitude — the menu was extensive, on both the food and wine sides. We had:
    appetizers: Gougères, fried squid, pig's-head fritters, tomato and aïoli toasts, radish and butter sandwiches, ham and butter sandwiches, and pork sausages

    contorni: shellbean salad, long-cooked romano beans, carrot and caroway salad, spicy pickled vegetables, smoked eggplant salad on flatbread

    plats principaux: roast pork loin, smoked pork shoulder, and grilled pork leg with polenta, greens and chiles; tripe and pig's feet cooked in the fireplace with flatbread; peperonata with polenta, greens, and chiles
    Clearly, it was a whole-pig event; one of Russell's many virtues is his frugality — a virtue not to be confused with an absence of generosity. He's devoted to Slow and Local, two other peasant virtues as I think, as shows in his concentration on open-fire cooking and braises. Alas, having a long drive ahead of us, we left at eleven before the dessert was served — poached quince and prunes with sesame ice cream, with homemade doughnuts. It was a long, leisurely, loving meal, the fruit of decades of friendship and family, one of the great moments — the many great moments — we've enjoyed at table among friends.
    Bourgogne rosé, Château de Puligny, 2009; Bourgogne blanc, Domaine Darnat, 1990;
    Chablis, Vau de Vey (1° cru), 1997; Volnay blanc Pur Sang, 2007; Pouilly-Fumé, Silex, 1998;
    Morgon, Chenaise, 1998; Pommard, Rugieu, 2006; Cornas, Lemeniciers, 1989
    An extraordinary range of wines, many in magnums or double magnums from our host's twenty-year library of imports. The Chablis was magnificent, also the Pommard and Cornas; the other wines very fine indeed — what a generous gesture, and what a rare chance to extend one's wine knowledge!

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    Martini and hamburger

    Eastside Road, October 1, 2010 —
    IT DOES NOT QUALIFY as one of the Hundred Plates, as far as I'm concerned; nevertheless, the hamburger sandwich is a satisfying thing. I've always liked the hamburger at Zuni in San Francisco, partly because of its quality and the technique behind its preparation, partly because I know I can trust the meat.

    On the east side of San Francisco Bay it turns out there's one nearly as good at Sidebar, an Oakland bar-restaurant we've meant to try for months and finally got to today. We were attracted primarily because it was serving food at five o'clock, when many restaurants are just gearing up for dinner and have long since stopped serving lunch. We were also curious to see what Mark and Barbara were up to in Oakland: they'd opened Zax in San Francisco years ago, where we'd been impressed by their slow-cooked main courses, and more recently they'd relocated it to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, in a location that's seen a succession of eateries (the current one being Locanda da Eva). #alttext#After a fine Martini (Noilly Prat vermouth) we started our early supper with a cone of gougères — delicious little gruyère creampuffs. They were perfect, as good as the ones Lindsey used to make in the old days, and there were plenty of them. We shared them, along with a mixed salad with blue-cheese toasts.#alttext#Then came the hamburger, done on the outside, rare on the inside (as specified), with lightly tomato-flavored mayonnaise, pickled onions and dill pickle slices, a leaf of lettuce, and oven-baked fries. Alas, no room for dessert.
    Cinsault, Lodi(California)
  • Sidebar, 542 Grand Avenue, Oakland; tel. 510.452.9500