Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Once more…

Ashland, Oregon, March 31, 2010—
WE'RE IN A RUT, you'll say. In any case, it says something about how we feel about other lunch possibilities in this town. Yes, back to Agave today: it's just that good.
I began with a cabbage salad and guacamole; then went on to two tacos: pescado (lightly battered and deep-fried fish) and pato (that delicious duck rillette taco I told you about the other day).
House white, Sauvignon blanc

Agave, 92 North Main, Ashland, Oregon; tel. 541.488.1770

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Back to Agave

Ashland, Oregon, March 30, 2010—
WHY WOULDN'T WE GO back to Agave? We're seeing Hamlet tonight; don't want a big dinner just before; won't want to eat afterward… Midday dinner then, but where? We looked over the lists of restaurants: Google, Yelp, various other sites, ruling them out one after another: not open for lunch, too expensive, too hippie, not very good, not very good… why not go back to Agave, right now? We can always have a little bread and salame and a piece of fruit in the room, just before the play…

I began again with a good Margarita and guacamole, salty this time; then went on to three little tacos: pescado Andrejo (fresh sautéed fish), carnitas, carne asada (deliciously marinated char-grilled steak). Dessert: a tamal dulce, a corn tamal flavored with pineapple and currants, with a thin crema straddling it. Delicious. On leaving, I asked if they used MSG in the kitchen. Of course not, they answered, Why do you ask? Because everything tastes so damn good, I said.

(But I think it's simply lime juice and salt and spices and really good ingredients, that and the talent at the stove.)
Rioja, Montecillo Crianja, 2000

Agave, 92 North Main, Ashland, Oregon; tel. 541.488.1770

Monday, March 29, 2010


Ashland, Oregon, March 29, 2010—
AN EARLY DINNER tonight at Tabu, where we've eaten once almost every time we've spent a week here. The place can be fun; it offers free dance lessons now and then, and is open late for tapas after the theater. Tonight, though, when we arrived, we were the only guests. I grabbed Lindsey for a slow whirl or two across the dance floor, then we settled into a booth for dinner, starting with a four-dollar Margarita.
I had a house salad — greens, cabbage, pico de gallo, jicama, cumin-flavored dressing, spiced pumpkin seeds — and a tasty flatiron steak, rubbed with a coffee-and-spice preparation, then nicely grilled, served with chili-flavored garlic mashed potatoes and a sort of pico-de-gallo-encumbered ratatouille. Big servings, nothing-fancy presentation, nice service, tasty food.
Another Margarita
  • Tabu, 76 N. Pioneer, Ashland, Oregon; tel. 541-482-3900
  • Sunday, March 28, 2010

    New Sammy's

    Ashland, Oregon, March 28—
    ONE OF MY ELECTIONS to the Five Restaurants: New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro, a few miles north of here on old highway 99, toward Talent. What elevates it to that company? The quality of ingredients, the literacy and resourcefulness of the chef, the loyalty to place, the consistency, the heart. Everything about this place speaks to Authenticity: food from the garden, meat and fish from neighbors, water from the well, wine from the great producers of the world.
    Tonight I began with a sardine wrapped in a green leaf; I'm sorry; I can't be more specific than that. I love sardines. What I'd forgotten, until having a sip of the well-water, is how sweet sardines make a subsequent sip of water: it's like the effect of artichoke on milk. Indescribable, yet utterly familiar and entirely inarguable.
    We then split a good-sized ricotta-stuffed raviolo in a buttery sauce, and I went on to a couple of lamb chops, rare, perfectly grilled, on a bed of spinach with just the right trace of cream, and three perfect gnocchi as accents. The lamb was Churro; don't ask me how Navaho lamb winds up here in southern Oregon. Delicious.
    Single-malt Scotch ice cream, I kid you not, on a base of poached dried figs. Enterprising, interesting, driven by intellectual curiosity and a palate wide open but sharply honed. The chef, Charlene Rollins, is a great artist and, I think, a genius, and I would happily eat here every day of my life.
    Rioja, "Castillo Rioja," Bodegas Palacio, 2007 (and, to begin, a nicely balanced Kir Royal)
  • New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro, 2210 South Pacific Highway, Talent, OR 97540; tel. 541-535-2779
  • Saturday, March 27, 2010

    Italy. Portugal. Mexico.

    Ashland, Oregon, March 27—
    IN EVERY WAY a complex day, starting with a slice of delicious Colomba at breakfast in Berkeley — a Milanese Easter cake, much like pannetone but lacking candied citrus. With it, raspberries (out of the freezer) and orange segments: I've never tasted that combination before, and I like it.
    photo.jpgLunch at City Gates Restaurant in Orland: tasty as always. A bowl of calda verde (kale and linguiça in broth), then these four fine bacalhao croquettes with their piquant sauce.
    Vinho verde, Gazela, nv
  • City Gates Café, 1165 Hoff Way, Orland CA; tel. 530.865.5552

  • Then on to Ashland where we'll spend nearly a week, and to a restaurant five or six years old but new to us, small, pretty, relaxed, and very competent. We began with good Margaritas and guacamole that was a little bland until we spiced it up with the sauce (half tomatillo, half picante) served on the side. Lindsey went on to black bean and corn salad; I had the cabbage and lime; each of them beautifully flavored with jalapeño, carrots, cilantro and lime juice. She then moved to a chicken and green chile tamal, while I had an absolutely marvelous duck-rillette taco; I could eat three of those every day.
  • Agave, 92 North Main, Ashland, Oregon; tel. 541.488.1770

  • Friday, March 26, 2010

    Ça commence

    Berkeley, March 26—
    TWO EGGS OVER EASY this morning, fried in that delicious lard, and toast with that delicious pork "rillette." A piece of toast with almond butter, a banana, and a glass of orange juice for lunch: not inspired, not even interesting, remarkably similar to yesterday's fare. But tasty, and I'm grateful for that.

    Then to San Francisco for a wine reception celebrating the investiture of the Legion d'Honneur on a friend, at the home of the French Consul. A glass of Bandol Rosé, one oyster (Hog Island) on the half shell with very nice champagne jelly, and two little cheese puff thingies. Then on to the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and afterward supper at a friend's house: a slice of prepared ham, I forget the trade-name; a piece of good three-year-old Gouda; a piece of somewhat sharp Cheddar.
    Rioja blanco, Marques de Caceres

    Thursday, March 25, 2010


    Eastside Road, March 25, 2010—
    YOU CAN'T REALLY CALL IT dining. "Eating" is too — basic. I guess we've been grazing today. It started with breakfast: not the usual two bowls of caffelatte and a piece of toast with honey or jam, but two eggs, fried in lard and dressed with the pork "rillettes" I made a few weeks back; a glass of orange juice; a piece of dry toast.
    Lunch: almond butter on a piece of toast; a banana; a glass of milk.
    Dinner, ah, now there's the thing. We began with guacamole ma façon with tortilla chips (and the routine shot of tequila and lime juice); went on to a baked potato dressed with salt and olive oil; and ended with a plate of chard from the garden, steamed with a tiny bit of the rillettes that had begun the day. So everything comes round full circle; the day's a work of art.
    Cheap Pinot grigio

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    …marking time…

    Eastside Road, March 24, 2010—
    YES, WE'RE IN THAT MODE that sets in before travels. We're looking forward to a couple of weeks eating on the road, so for the moment we eat with circumspection and care, continuing to empty out Fortunatus's icebox, being reasonable. Well, not entirely; a celebration seemed in order today, so we had a Wednesday Martini. (But then, I do not think we'll have the opportunity to have a Martini on Friday. We'll see.)

    So tonight it was the rest of the spaghetti in tomato sauce Lindsey made yesterday. I asked her what brand of spaghetti it was, because it did really seem like excellent pasta to me, but she hadn't taken note of it. Careless: but I can't fault her. Then the green salad; and later on the last of the Savarin — Lindsey made several for Paolo's birthday, nearly a month ago; she'd had one extra, and froze it; she thawed it out and soaked it in Kirsch for the Stein dinner Sunday, and we're still at it. Kirsch is a wonderful preservative, but it doesn't preserve itself: looks like I need to lay in another bottle…
    Cheap Pinot grigio

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010


    Eastside Road, March 23, 2010—
    SPAGHETT', MY FATHER always used to call it, with a mock Italian accent; God knows where he'd picked it up. One of the many things it never occurred to me to ask. When we had it in my childhood it invariably came from a cardboard box bearing the exotic name Chef Boyardee. Haven't seen it in decades, but damned if it doesn't still exist, these days brought to you by ConAgra. (There's even a considerable online discussion of the Chef's original, an Italian immigrant named Ettore Boiardi, but you'll have to research that yourself.)

    We rarely eat spaghetti, for some reason; but it's a favorite pasta of mine, though to be sure it poses difficulties to a bearded man, especially when eaten in public. I like it for its lissome body and its embrace of sauce, and forgive it its tendency to spill. Before it, tonight, some raw fennel — Spring is certainly here! — and afterward the usual green salad.
    dribs and drabs of wine, white and red, left from Sunday's dinner party.

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    Back for more

    Eastside Road, March 22, 2010—
    AFTER A WEEKEND of eating in restaurants and then entertaining last night, it was time to pay some dues tonight. Leftovers: Corona beans from last Thursday. But we warmed up on an interesting cabbage, new to us: arrowhead cabbage, a delicate, sweet cabbage that comes in the shape of a cone. (It looks more like a cabbagy howitzer shell than an arrowhead, at least to me.) Lindsey chopped it, not too small, and steamed it in the big stainless-steel skillet with a bit of butter and some salt. A good-sized helping of cabbage didn't keep the green salad away. A little Nostrana; a little 3-year-old farmhouse Gouda.
    Alsace white, "Now & Zen", 2007

    Sunday, March 21, 2010

    Tarte d'Alsace

    Eastside Road, March 21, 2010—
    ANOTHER CHEMISTRY SET tonight, but one we like: "Tarte d'Alsace," flat bread with ham, onions, and gruyère. It's from Trader Joe. In it,
    wheat flour, water, sunflower oil, salt, crème fraîche, ham, onions, gruyère.
    That sounds innocent enough, but parenthesized within those eight ingredients we find these:
    (cultured pasteurized cream, citric acid, sodium ascorbate, salt, sugar, sodium phosphates, smoke flavoring, sodium erythrobate, sodium nitrate, canola oil, caramel color, enzymes)
    But still, we've bought and cooked these things before, and they seemed the perfect inexpensive and easy thing to serve to a party of ten or twelve guests, some of whom we'd never met before, who were arriving on a Sunday evening to read through a couple of Gertrude Stein plays. (What Happened a Play, Ladies Voices.)
    It was a stretch of a day, watching a mock trial for the fifth time in 48 hours, then driving home 110 miles to our party. Dinner had to be easy. Richard brought the salad — tasty — and we supplied these Alsatian tartes, six of them, bought at Trader Joe's. They worked fine.
    Alsace white, "Now & Zen", 2007 (details here)

    Saturday, March 20, 2010


    San Jose, California, March 20—
    AN OKAY CAESAR SALAD for lunch downtown someplace, and a light supper, we thought, at a tapas joint we found next to Peet's when we went out for coffee afterward. Not so light, though, as we ordered a little heavy, and these "small plates" turned out to be pretty big. I watched Lindsey eat her shrimp; then we tucked into four bacalao croquettes, a good-sized platter of patatas bravas, another of green beans cooked with garlic and pine nuts, and finally four butifarra: rounds of soft, spicy Catalan sausage laid on tomato slices set on grilled bread. The flavors here were really good, the service pert and friendly, and the setting pretty and lively, to put it positively. (Noisy as hell, to put it plain.)
    Albariña, Raimat, 2008
  • Picasso's Tapas and Restaurant [22-22-22], 62 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; tel. 408.298.4400
  • Friday, March 19, 2010

    Okay hamburger, misguided fegato

    San Jose, California, March 19—
    WE STOPPED OFF in Berkeley for lunch with a friend at a place new to us, Café Quince. A sweet little place for lunch: I had an okay hamburger, thick, grass-fed beef, with nice balsamic-pickled onions. And they have a good espresso, a rare item in that town.
    Cold water
    THEN DOWN HERE to San Jose, California's second city, where the Martini, at the Fairmont Hotel, was NVG; and the soi-disantsautéed calf's liver Venice style was misconceived and badly executed: thick chunks of liver, somewhat overcooked, served in a gluey, slightly sweet tomato sauce. Alas.
    unattributed Pinot Noir by the glass, fortunately rather good
    I've been thinking maybe I should assign numerical ratings, Zagat-style, to the restaurants we eat in, 0-30 for food, decor, and service. I'll begin with these:
  • Quince Cafe and Grill [19-20-19], 2228 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; tel. 510-717-1408
  • Original Joe's [16-15-17], 301 South First St., San Jose; tel. 408.292.7030

  • Thursday, March 18, 2010

    Corona beans

    Eastside Road, March 18, 2010 —
    AFTER YESTERDAY'S EXERCISE in intellectual curiosity and its scientific experiment in contrast, it was a pleasure today to return to a tried and true, a fine example of Elective Affinities: Corona beans.

    I've written about these before, most recently last December. I'm not sure whether I've noted before the curious pork-fat flavor these beans carry, even though completely innocent of meat. Tonight Lindsey prepared them exactly as usual, tossing them in oil, raw onion and shallot, flavoring them with marjoram, salt, and pepper. Green salad, to be sure; then a bit of that marvelous Nostrana. Spring is just around the corner.
    Alsace white, "Now & Zen" (sorry about that), 2007: 40% Sylvaner, 30% Pinot blanc, 15% Riesling, 15% Gewurtztraminer; 12.5% alcohol: fresh and flowery.

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    Chicken sandwich; pollock: a study in contrast

    Eastside Road, March 17, 2010—
    I JUST DO THE eating and writing around here, for the most part; Lindsey's the Chief Forager and Cook. Today found her in Oakland, whence she brought home a chicken-breast sandwich from Bakesale Betty for our lunch. This is an amazing sandwich: a huge hunk of chicken, breaded and deep-fried, accompanied by a mayonnaisy cole-slaw involving Habañera peppers and parsley in just the right balance. One sandwich is enough for the two of us.

    Then dinner: we had, I kid you not,
    Pollock, water, olive oil, canola oil, butter, sea salt, spice, sugar, fructose, corn starch, nonfat milk, potato starch, citric acid, lemon peel, natural flavoring, xanthan gum, guar gum, turmeric (color), tocopherol (added to protect flavor)
    That from the label from Gorton's Frozen Fish Fillets, under the heading Ingredients. Oddly, just below Ingredients, you find Contains: pollock, milk. To alert those allergic to such things, I suppose.

    Lindsey broiled the fish and laid succotash alongside — corn and soybean succotash, a combination we delight in. It was okay, a little dry, not exactly toothsome, but okay; but my heart's with Bakesale Betty. Green salad, of course.
    Sauvignon blanc, "Viñas Chilenas," 2009
  • Bakesale Betty, 5098 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; tel. 510.985.1213
  • Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    That green salad

    Eastside Road, March 16, 2010—
    VIRTUALLY EVERY DAY I end this blog entry with "Green salad." Sometimes it's "Green salad, of course." And virtually every day it's exactly the same green salad. I mash up a clove of garlic with some good sea salt (that from the Île de Ré is my favorite) in the bottom of the salad bowl, then cover the mash with some good olive oil. This stands while we eat dinner. After dinner I whisk in some vinegar — our own, usually, though lately I've been using up some sherry vinegar that's been standing around too long.
    Lindsey will already have washed and spun dry the lettuces, and they get added to the bowl, and Lindsey tosses it all.* Lately I've added a variant, dribbling a bit more oil over the lettuces, and sprinkling a bit more salt.
    Tonight, though, after the rest of the tortellini from the other day, I departed completly from routine. No garlic, no mashing. I sliced four scallions thin and added them to the lettuces, then drizzled the oil and sprinkled the salt. It was a completely different salad. Not better, not inferior, just completely different.
    Sauvignon blanc, "Viñas Chilenas," 2009
    *The Italians say, I've heard, that it takes four people to make salad: a generous fellow to pour the oil, a miser to add the vinegar, a judge to contribute the salt, and a maniac to toss it all.

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    My lettuce. My chard.

    Eastside Road, March 15, 2010—
    LEFT-OVER CHICKEN, delicious steamed rice dressed with roast-chicken drippings, chard from the garden.

    Lettuce from the garden, too, and best thing about it: it was a gift from last year. Just somehow wintered over, tiny and lonesome, and then with the recent warm days decided to feed us. Nice Nature!
    Cheap Pinot grigio

    Sunday, March 14, 2010


    Eastside Road, March 14, 2010—
    EATING FROM PACKAGES is not something we often do at dinnertime; you may have noticed. But there are always exceptions. Today was too nice a day to spend in the kitchen. Lindsey bought some of Buitoni's tortellini at the supermarket, cooked them the normal way, and dressed them simply: olive oil, Parmeggiano, black pepper. Green salad; then cheese: Lucano and "Valsesia's Ugly Stepsister" from our local cheese shop, which is excellent.
    Cheap Nero d'Avola: Archeo, Ruggero di Tasso (Sicily), 2007
  • The Cheese Shop, 423 Center Street, Healdsburg; tel. (707) 433-4998
  • Saturday, March 13, 2010


    Eastside Road, March 13, 2010 —
    A WEEK OF ENTERTAINING and being entertained is over. And so, now, is last week's roast chicken: we had a wing and a drumstick tonight, with a little asparagus and some mashed potatoes, and a green salad, just the two of us again. It's all such a pleasure.
    Zinfandel, Paso Robles, 2008

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Fish tacos

    Healdsburg, March 12, 2010—
    A FAREWELL LUNCH to the houseguest of the last week, our Brazilian boy Julio, who lived with us for six months in 1979, and remains close. Five of us trooped in through the rain to Willi's Seafood, where the cuisine is dependable and the booth cozy and quiet on a damp Friday.
    Lindsey had her regular lobster roll; I had fish tacos, little ones, with avocado and pickled onion rings and lime and some sort of tartar sauce, and we shared those delicious French fries, and just as delicious sautéed spinach with onion marmalade; and I splurged on a good-sized crème brulée.
    Pinot gris, MacMurray Ranch (Russian River Valley), 2008

  • Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar, 403 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg; tel. 707-433-9191
  • Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Family dinner

    Eastside Road, March 11, 2010—
    DOWN THE HILL to the neighbors' house for dinner. Eric grilled slices of polenta in the fireplace; Thérèse had already cooked big slices of ham Paolo had sent down from his place up in Laytonville. With the ham, red mustard greens that had sprouted up voluntarily in her garden; onions she'd sweet-soured with sour cherries; pickled crabapples from our tree. Tuscany meets Appalachia, you might say.
    Puligny-Montrachet, 2004

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010


    Eastside Road, March 10—
    A DAY AT THE MUSEUM, the DeYoung Museum on San Francisco, where lunch was a "Cordon Bleu" sandwich: chicken breast (too dry), "Black Forest ham" (okay), unidentified cheese, mustard sauce, tomato, okay potato salad, really nice onion marmelade, on a roll.
    Sauvignon blanc, Sonoma county, 2008

    Better, though, our supper: a couple of bowls of good minestrone soup made by friends in Santa Rosa, eaten among a number of friends, followed, of course, by a green salad.
    Nero d'Avola, 2008
    Oh: after much discussion, we've promoted yesterday's Strozzapreti velutata to the Hundred Plates.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    Strozzapreti velutata

    Eastside Road, March 9—
    WE FOUND THE DISH in a town just west of Mestre, which is the dull port city just west of Venice. We were staying in the dull town for a reason I won't go into. We didn't know where we'd eat dinner, but someone told us about a local pizzeria. It didn't seem promising, and the menu wasn't interesting, but the waitress told us the cook had made something off the menu, strozzapreti velutata she said, so we ordered it.

    We loved it, and I've made it a few times since, at home. First I make a Bechamel sauce: melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a heavy pan, stir in the same amount of flour and a little salt, cook until it no longer tastes of flour but isn't at all browned. Add two and half cups of milk or light cream, and cook, whisking always, until thickened. Flavor with a little nutmeg and a handful of grated Parmigiano.
    Cook your strozzapreti, and in the meantime wilt a good quantity of arugula leaves. Drain the cooked pasta; pour a third of the bechamel sauce on it, arrange slices of prosciutto over it, strew the arugula on top of that, and veil the whole platter with the rest of the bechamel. Don't forget to grind black pepper on top!

    Green salad.
    Cheap Pinot grigio

    Berkeley day

    Berkeley, March 8—
    A DAY IN BERKELEY on business and pleasure. Lunch:
    little toasts with puréed favas
    smoked California cod tortellini, horseradish and watercress
    rabbit and chicory salad, roasted spring vegetables, mustard sauce
    Page mandarine and blood orange sorbet
    Rosé Fouet, Saumur, 2008

    radicchio with anchovy, garlic, and hardcooked egg
    fried petrale sole with asparagus, Meyer lemon, and sage
    Page mandarins and Barhi dates, honey ice cream with Cara Cara oranges and candied kumquats
    Alvarinho-Trajadura, Auratus (Portugal), 2008

    Monday, March 8, 2010

    Veal steak

    Eastside Road, March 7—

    I'LL BRING SOME steaks, I said; no, Paolo answered, we'll eat our own, I know what my animals have eaten. We were up in Laytonville again, on a Sunday drive. Paolo grilled them over charcoal, Meadow steamed some broccoli, she and Lindsey sautéed potatoes in three different pans: one with lard, one with bear fat, and one in olive oil. Excellent, all of them. Green salad.
    Local Syrah; Cabernet Sauvignon, Casa Valduga (Brazil), 2006

    Saturday, March 6, 2010

    Roast chicken

    Eastside Road, March 6—
    COMPANY TO DINNER tonight, and what simpler than to get a couple of chickens, put slices of lemon under the skin on their breasts, smear them with a little oil, salt them, and roast them in the oven? With them, as a treat, the first asparagus of the year, and baked russet potatoes; afterward, green salad; then warm applesauce with good Straus vanilla-bean ice cream.
    Zinfandel, Paso Robles, 2008

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Spaghetti carbonara

    Eastside Road, March 5—
    IT IS SUCH A PLEASURE living with Lindsey, for so many reasons: but it won't surprise you that toward the front of all those reasons is her kitchen skills. Well, eating is a chief pleasure, after all. Tonight she made spaghetti carbonara, and this is how: she diced up some pancetta and browned it slowly, actually adding a little olive oil as needed. She beat up some eggs and incorporated a good deal of finely grated Parmesan cheese (and some Pecorino, too) with them. She cooked the spaghetti in the usual way.carbonara.jpg
    She folded the cooked pancetta into the drained spaghetti, and then added the egg-cheese mixture, incorporating it all with a wooden spatula. Then she tonged it into our bowls. We added a little black pepper.
    Afterward, a bowl of good chard, steam-sautéed with crushed garlic and red pepper flakes. No green salad tonight, after all that chard!
    Cheap Pinot grigio

    Thursday, March 4, 2010


    Eastside Road, March 4—

    THE LAST OF those delicious sausages from the free-range pigs of a couple of weeks ago; I'm sorry to see the end of it. Simply set under the broiler, and served with steamed cubed potatoes. Green salad.
    Sangiovese, Puglia, 2006
    [next day] No: 2008, and labelled "giovane": and gave me a headache that night

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    Soup, omelet, salad.

    Eastside Road, March 3, 2010—
    THE HEADING SAYS it all: an utterly classic meal, perfectly balanced, completely nourishing, available to anyone. I don't know if I'm promoting the omelet to the Hundred Plates, or if it's the entire menu sequence that deserves it — why speculate about this? Too much thinking.
    Lindsey made a lean leek-and-potato soup — "lean" meaning made with just water, not stock. She sauteed a couple of cups of mushrooms, and I made a four-egg omelet.
    I used to make normal omelets, browning the butter a bit before putting in the eggs, then swirling them round and flipping them. Since seeing The Big Night, though, I've used olive oil instead of butter. It's a lot trickier, and I've yet to keep the eggs from sticking; maybe I need more oil, or less heat. Most likely it's more practice I need. Green salad, of course.
    The rest of yesterday's Sauvignon blanc, no better than it should be

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    Broccoli first

    Eastside Road, March 2, 2010—
    BEFORE A REPRISE of last night's buttered barley, as a first course, we had broccoli, steamed with crushed garlic. It's such a nice combination, another elective affinity perhaps (though not startling enough to rate the accreditation). The sweet bitterness of the garlic — especially this time of year, when you have to remove the green heart from each clove — sets off the bitter sweetness of the broccoli.
    (Those garlic shoots, hidden within the creamy white of the garlic, always put me in mind of Dylan Thomas:
    The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
    Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
    Is my destroyer.
    Well might the garlic say that, of that shoot.)
    It remains to remark on the cheese: I've been neglecting to include mention of that. We've been working at two: Robiola Nostrano, a pasteurized cow's milk cheese from the Langhe, and Pecorino allo Zafferano, a raw sheep's milk cheese from Calabria: the milk mixed with saffron threads, drained, mixed with black peppercorns (most likely from Africa), and molded into baskets for aging, about four months. It has a natural rind; this particular wheel had cracks on the exterior, allowing a natural blue/green mold. I like both, a lot.
    Sauvignon blanc, Charles Shaw, 2007

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    Elective Affinities

    Eastside Road, March 1, 2010—
    A CURIOUS CHOICE for the initiation of a new Category, but there it is. Elective Affinities: those specific combinations of flavors (or, I suppose, textures) which uniquely accompany one another into a kind of transfiguration. Decades ago I read a short story by the immortal Anthony Boucher in which it was casually mentioned that on the first voyage of discovery to the planet Venus that plant was discovered without which the combination of roast lamb, garlic, and rosemary was utterly incomplete — tantalizing. Tony made me appreciate many things: none more than these Elective Affinities of taste.
    Okay: tonight's entry is Barley, Butter, and Scallions. That's all there is to it, barring a bit of salt. Lindsey cooks the barley as if it were risotto — yes, no doubt the stock's important too. The scallions are sliced, lightly sautéed, and added at the end. Delicious.
    Sauvignon blanc, Viñas Chilenas, 2009 (nice and grassy)

    Poached egg

    Berkeley, February 28, 2010—
    A HARD WEEKEND it's been, but I'm not complaining. We capped it off today by driving here for a staff party at Chez Panisse, where maybe two hundred people — staffers and significant others and guests and whonot — crowded and jostled upstairs and down, wolfing down duck soba, tsukemono, sushi, and lord knows what else, all made on the spot by Peko-Peko Catering.
    Now Dedicated Reader of this blog will suspect that Japanese cuisine is not my cup of tea, and he will be correct. For one thing, there's the Shellfish Dodge to deal with: which pretty thing will hide a bit of lobster, or crab, or shrimp? But there were plenty of things that were clearly safe: salmon, swordfish, delicious little smelt; and bits of chicken skewered. And, best of all, a curious Japanese variation of my beloved frisée aux lardons: quickly blanched greens, very slightly sweetened, with a delicately poached egg, all on a bed of perfectly steamed rice. You had to be there.
    Lager from the tap