February 27, 2010—
Grilled sardine and onion sandwich, green salad, cheap Pinot grigio.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Eastside Road, February 5, 2010—AFTER LAST NIGHT a relative fast seemed in order: just my caffe latte for breakfast, no toast; a banana for lunch and a slice of potato pizza we'd brought home last night; a revisit to the Indian lentils of two days ago. It occurs to me you don't know our resources, so here's a look into the pantry.
Top left, a few flasks and glasses dedicated to such spirits as grappa, Fernet, Genepi, Alpestre, nocino, and the like. Below, the Row of Pulses: lentils, split peas, beans; with such grains as farro to thicken the plot. The Lavazza can is full of apricots I dried last summer. Cannellini next door. To the right, out of sight, several teas and coffees. Below them, various condiments: chutneys, mustards, vinegars, oils, and oddities like canned coconut milk — you never know when you might need it. And on the bottom shelf, bottles we always need: more vinegars, sherry, tequila, more olive oils. Below, out of the photo, another couple of shelves: wines, paper bags, three-liter cans of olive oil.
This is only one corner of the pantry, about four by nine feet. Elsewhere you'll find sugars, flours, marmalade, jams and jellies; salt; honey. And the pots and pans, of course. It's a busy room.
Oh, yes: dinner tonight. We finished the Dhansaak of day before yesterday, and had our green salad afterward.
Oakland, February 4, 2010—IT'S ALMOST ENOUGH to make me want to move back to the East Bay: a truly wonderful restaurant, authentic to its ambition, using the best ingredients, cooking them with intelligence and passion, and serving the food comfortably and knowledgeably. It doesn't hurt that the genre is Italian. Pizzaiolo is as close as you can come, I think, in the San Francisco Bay Area, to eating in Testaccio, that meat-loving workingclass district in Rome.
Well, Pizzaiolo and Incanto, over in San Francisco. They're similar restaurants in many ways: the difference between the two feels to me like the difference between East Bay and The City. We need them both; they make a great pair.
Last night there were six of us at table, and I'm afraid I, at least, pigged out — literally. The waiter mentioned Antipasti di maiale, but my eye'd already landed on it: cottechino (as the menu spelled it) with lentils, pork loin with tonnato (!), ciccioli. I fixed on this for my main course, but we all shared one as an opener. The lentils were imported from Umbria; the cotechino, like the tonnato, was of course made in house. Pizzaiolo is a Slow Food restaurant, and the kitchen proves it.
The cotechino was loose-textured, very spicy, combining with the lentils to a rich depth of flavor that always makes me think I'm reverting to medieval tastes. (Panforte produces the same feeling.) This dish was indescribably good, and the ciccioli paralleled it beautifully — served as a loose paste, closer to the soft French rillettes than what I think of as crisp-textured ciccioli: but I'm not complaining. The pork loin, delicate and almost flowery under its moody tuna-based sauce, may seem an odd complement to these rich companions, but it held its own and provided a fine counterpoise. This one plate alone was truly remarkable, memorable: I'd eat this every Thursday night given the chance.
Most of us went on to puntarelle: who can resist? How often do you see it in this country — or anywhere outside Rome, for that matter? A chicory with very narrow serrated leaves, it's eaten primarily for its white, not-quite-bitter stems, which are split lengthwise and set to curl in ice-water. Pizzaiolo served it with shreds of Jerusalem artichoke and slices of grana, dressed with oil and lemon juice. Delicious.
Most of us also went on to pizze, and tablemates were generous, allowing me to sample three different ones: with tomato sauce, brandade, black olives, hot pepper and mint; with potato, pancetta, fontina and rosemary; and with tomato sauce, sausage, and cream. Charlie Hallowell was pizzaiolo for years upstairs at Chez Panisse and he knows pizzas; I'm far from the only one who thinks his pizzas are the best in the area.
Desserts! A curious, again medieval, extraordinarily buttery walnut-brown butter cake with strawberry preserves and delicious crème fraîche ice cream; chocolate bread pudding with brandy-caramel sauce, recalling the ciccioli; but best of all a plate of soft succulent Barhi dates with some nice fat small almonds alongside and an affogato made with Blue Bottle coffee — Pizzaiolo is where I first tasted this excellent product — and heavily laced with nocino made, again, I'm sure, in house.
This is one of my very favorite restaurants. Unfortunately it's also one of virtually every one else's very favorite restaurants. We didn't have any trouble reserving a table for six, three days in advance; but we sure had trouble hearing ourselves converse!
Greco bianco, Librandi (Campania), 2008; Dolcetto d'Alba, Cavallotto, 2007 (both excellent and, like the restaurant, true to type)
Writing this up has led me to Wikipedia a couple of times, and I want to acknowledge the admirable work being done there to gloss such things as ciccioli, cotechino, rillettes, nocino, and the like. Wikipedia also led me to a wonderful site in Italian. (Go to its home page for an idea of the extraordinary range of this site.) And, of course, there's the restaurant's own website. Oh, I'm hungry!
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Eastside Road, February 3, 2010—LENTILS AGAIN: there are so many ways to enjoy them, but of course Indian cuisine is especially hospitable to them. Lindsey clipped this recipe from the paper, got out the spice grinder, chopped and ground and diced, and came up with a hearty, spicy, delicious thing whose scents were filling the house when I stepped in out of a cold dark evening. The requisite green salad followed.
Sauvignon blanc, Viñas Chilenas, 2009
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Eastside Road, February 2, 2010—
YES, NOW THAT YOU mention it, I do feel a little stupid: in describing the chili a couple of days ago I forgot to mention the tomatoes. They were canned, as tomatoes must be this time of year. The beans weren't, of course; we almost never eat canned beans any more (though a couple of cans of cannellini are useful objects in the pantry, next to the canned tuna).
Well, it was delicious, garnished with chopped cilantro, raw onions, and grated cheddar cheese; but it's gone now. A dish of broccoli before; green salad after.
Monday, February 1, 2010
Eastside Road, February 1, 2010—I ATE FOUR HAMBURGERS last year. There was also the time Lindsey made lasagne using ground beef she'd bought at the store. There may have been one or two other times when ground or minced beef found its way into lunch or dinner, but I doubt it. It's not something we often eat around here, or on the road, either. For one thing, when we do eat meat we usually eat it as a treat, and hamburger seems more like a duty. For another thing, a more significant thing, commercial ground beef always seems a little bit dubious: who really knows what's in it, or where it's been, or how or when it was ground?
But Lindsey bought ground beef the other day to make chile. (The few times I've made chile, I've used chopped beef, which seems to me less risky.) There was a little left unused, so tonight she molded it into ellipsoidal patties, since we had not hamburger but hot dog buns, and broiled them, and we spread chile sauce on them and some chopped raw onions, and they weren't bad. They were a little too lean for my taste; I almost drizzled some olive oil on mine — next time I will, just to see what happens. Green salad afterward.