Thursday, March 31, 2011

New York Steak

Parkfield, California, March 31, 2011—
I FORGET HOW IT came in; March is going out like a lamb in this curious setting in Central California. Parkfield, Population 18. The drive was magnificent; the accommodations are comfortable; the dinner was, well, sufficient.

L. and I split a New York steak — grass-fed from animals raised on the ranch here. Before, the "veggie tray": raw broccoli, carrot, and celery, with a sort of yoghurt dip. With, a baked potato (also shared) and a small piece of garlic-buttered "French" bread. Good enough; but then, in places like this, we aren't too critical.
Syrah, Parkfield, 2002 (!) (acetic at first, but drifting toward enjoyable as the steak proceeded)
The Grill at V6 Ranch, 70403 Parkfield Road, Parkfield; (805)463-2421

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011


San Juan Bautista, March 30, 2011—
LUNCH TODAY IN Sausalito: a cheese-tomato panino and a glass of Pinot grigio, sitting on a bench at the harbor, chatting with Sabrina, a bright eight-year-old visiting with her older sister Hagar, her Moroccan mother, and her half-Palestinian, half-Italian father, her Moroccan grandparents beaming shyly in the background.
Il Piccolo Café Specialita, 660 Bridgeway #2, Sausalito, California; (415) 289-1195
Dinner in a familiar setting in this quiet Mission town: guacamole, chile colorado. The beef here is pretty good, flavored with cloves and a touch of cinnamon as well as the requisite chile powder. Tortillas, of course; refritos and rice, of course.
Jardines de San Juan, 115 Third Street, San Juan Bautista, California; (831) 623-4466

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Steak from the fireplace

Eastside Road, March 29, 2011—
LUNCH TODAY IN Sonoma, where we'd visited the Quarry Hill Garden (very much worth while) and would, after lunch, visit the Mission, the Barracks, and General Vallejo's house. Lunch itself was a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich which almost qualifies for the Hundred Plates: I'll have to meditate a few hours or years on the possible reasons it doesn't make it.

Afterward, really really good ice cream at Michoacana Natural Ice Cream. This is one of the best ice creams I've tasted. A kind of custard flavor, I forget the name, Chunga or something like that; and Mexican vanilla. Smooth, deep, eggy, creamy. That's all I'll write, beyond the numbers:
Michoacana Natural Ice Cream, 18495 California Highway 12, Sonoma; (707) 938-1773

But dinner! Ah, that was another matter: easily the best dinner we've had for several nights. Eric cooked a three-pound tri-tip and a few decent Italian sausages on the Tuscan Grill in his fireplace, over oak firewood. The steak, I think, had been seasoned only with salt, and was fairly slow-cooked.

With it, as you see, a few squares of polenta. Those we spread with mascarpone, braised greens, and olives. The combination was absolutely delicious, and that combination combined with the grilled steak to perfection.

Various leftover whites, 2009; Petit Sirah, Preston of Dry Creek, 2007 (superb)

Monday, March 28, 2011


Eastside Road, March 28, 2011—
LUNCH TODAY IN THE feedstore in Laytonville: bread and cheese, salami and focaccia. And dinner tonight with four of our closest friends, two from the Netherlands, two from right here in Sonoma county, at a local favorite hangout, where the spring menu of daily specials has just changed, offering roast goat on Monday nights.

That's what I had, of course; who could resist it? We started by splitting a romaine salad — Caesar salad missing the anchovies and raw egg. L. went on to sole amandine, which is okay, but I wanted the goat. It came with a sort of raita, sautéed peppers and onions, and "chickpea fries," what I would call panisse sticks: very tasty. And an enormous hunk of tzatziki, a thick flatbread.

Dessert? Why not a crème brulée?

Albariño, Martin Codax, Rias Baixas, 2008; Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 2009
Monti's, 714 Village Court, Santa Rosa; 707.568.4404

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Home again: roast chicken

Eastside Road, March 27, 2011—
HOME IN THE COUNTRY after four nights away, and consequently four nights eating out. What to make for dinner this Sunday night, for ourselves and our guests, a couple of old friends from Netherlands?

What better than a roast chicken?

As soon as we got home with it I unwrapped it; clucked my tongue in disappointment that there were no giblets, no heart, no liver; then salted it and rewrapped it loosely.

L. fixed some potatoes to roast with garlic and rosemary, and prepared the pound and a quarter of snow peas she'd bought. She preheated the oven to 475°, which turned out to be more like 500°. I buttered the chicken a bit, then set it on its side in the folding chicken cradle, in the roast pan.

Twenty minutes later I turned it on the other side and dropped the oven back to 400° or so. Another twenty minutes, and I set it on its back. It was beginning to look pretty good.

In another half hour or so it was just about done. Tent it and rip it, Thérèse said enigmatically, so I folded a piece of aluminum foil over the breast to keep it from cooking longer, slashed the thighs a bit to get them to cook faster, and returned it to the oven. Before long it was time to take it out.

Roast chicken, roast potatoes, and steamed snow peas. Green salad. Applesauce and ice cream. Just what the doctor ordered.
Morgon, "Les Pierres Fines," Louis Vergé, 2007

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Chinese; fish

San Francisco, March 26, 2011—
YOU WHO KNOW ME know I do not eat Chinese food. I have my reasons for this: 1) Many Chinese restaurants are really quite bad (like many Mexican restaurants). 2) Chinese cuisine is hopelessly complex and vast; much too much to try to take on after one's turned thirty. 3) I ate a fair amount of quite unpleasant Chinese food as a child, when I lived with my grandparents, who had spent many years in China (my mother was born there), and who had no discrimination when it came to the table.

But we're spending a few days in this city with friends, and I thought no glimpse of San Francisco was complete without a tour of Chinatown, and it was lunchtime, and we were hungry, and there we were in front of one of its best-known restaurants. So we took the elevator up to the sixth floor and took a table at the window, with a fine view over the rooftops toward Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill.

The girls ate lightly: won tons and pot-stickers. Hans and I lunched like Princesses: crispy won tons; hot and sour soup; sweet and sour pork (Goo Lo Yuk) (cubes of pork deep-fried with pineapple, green pepper, and onion in sweet and sour sauce; Empress Beef (stir fry slices of beef and onion, sauteed with five spice sauce); and rice, of course. Tea, and house Sauvignon blanc (not very distinguished).

The food was not to my taste. I found the soup repulsive at first, on the nose, though strangely attractive on the palate; later the sensations reversed. The pork was okay, and the beef quite tasty. The setting is kitschy, I suppose, but really quite beautiful in its way.
Empress of China, 838 Grant Ave, San Francisco; (415) 434-1345

WE WALKED ON TO North Beach for a coffee at Caffè Trieste, looked into a couple of churches, admired a wedding party leaving SS Peter and Paul, and took a cable car back downtown to our parked car, then worked our way back to our Noe Valley apartment. By nine o'clock, though, we were a little hungry again — for fish and a salad.

We remembered hearing about a good fish joint nearby and gave it a try: mixed salad (little lettuces, cherry tomatoes, grated carrots, and the requisite beets), fish and chips: Alaska cod in a very light batter, deep-fried in decent peanut oil, with lemon and malt vinegar to spice it up, and a little cole slaw and of course the Tartar sauce. This left us happy.
Pinot grigio, Fish Eye (Southwest Australia), 2010
Woodhouse Fish, 2073 Market St., San Francisco; 415.437.2722

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Friday, March 25, 2011


San Francisco, March 25, 2011—
A THIRD DAY OF PORK today, God forgive me, and it Friday and Lent. Oh well. We'd spent the morning in church — well, touring Mission Dolores — so perhaps I earned some kind of dispensation.

We were in the famous Ferry Building, once the nexus of most incoming traffic to this city, now devoted to the New California Religion, la table, and I wanted to show our Dutch friends one of the city's unique restaurants. Amaryll Schwertner is one of the finest cooks I know, and particularly at a kind of cooking I particularly like: the slow braise.

Of course I couldn't resist the pork stewed with hazelnut and leeks, served with braised greens and herbs. Amaryll specializes in deep flavors — Hungarian cuisine is a legitimate part of her inheritance — and while cumin seemed at the front here, other things were going on in the background to support it.

The meat, from Llano Seco Rancho, was full of flavor itself, easily standing up to the complexity of its treatment. And then came dessert: lemon meringue pie, profiteroles with lemon, espresso, and chocolate ice creams, a fine walnut tart, and an absolutely marvelous trifle. God, what a fabulous place this is.
Txakolina, Gorrondona Bizkaika, 2009

Boulette's Larder, 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chez Panisse

San Francisco, March 24, 2011—
A FINE DINNER TONIGHT in Berkeley. After a few toasted almonds we opened with a particularly delicious salaad: steelhead, mussels, a scallop, fava beans, tossed with frisée and dressed with a Meyer lemon vinaigrette. Complex, colorful, nice textures, clean and focussed.

Then risotto, a creamy one, with bits of carddon and prosciutto and, of course, Parmesan cheese.

And pork loin (and rib) roasted over the open wood fire, sauced with bits of prunes, and served with Jerusalem artichoke-parsnip purée, Savoy cabbage and tatsoi.

For dessert, after some unctuous Barhi dates and tangerines, Tarte Tatin with crème fraîche. A beautifully conceived menu, perfectly executed.
Vouvray, Huet, 2009; Greco di Tufa, Vadiaperti (Campania), 2009; Brouilly, Georges Descombes, 2008

Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510.548.5525

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pork, North African style

San Francisco, March 23, 2011—
HERE WE ARE in a nice apartment for a couple of days with a couple of old friends. Cheaper and quieter than a hotel, nicely situated, a walk from a restaurant we really like — so, of course, that's where we went for supper.

They'd just got off a nonstop from Amsterdam, and wanted to eat light. I've missed my fast for far too long, and also wanted to eat light. I ordered just a main course, roasted pork tenderloin with arichokes, cauliflower, picholines, chickpeas, and harissa: but before that we had a little apéritif, hot lemonade with camomille and Grand Marnier; and then the chef sent out a little shot-glass with vegetable soup — celery-root, I'd say, with a float of white truffle oil.

It was all truly delicious. The pork was intensely flavored and beautifully colored, the textures counterpoising nicely. Dessert was silly: a chocolate Martini made with chocolate, vodka, and Kahlua. And did I mention how much I like the service here?
Pigato, Le Russeghine, Riccardo Bruna (Liguria), 2007

Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission St., San Francisco; 415.648.7669

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Eastside Road, March 22, 2011—
LUNCH WAS LEFTOVER lasagne; and, from a long way further back, potatoes roasted in goose fat. It's been cold here; we've had a fire in the woodstove for weeks, and L. warmed these up in aluminum pie-tins on top of the stove. No surprise here: they were delicious.

Before lunch and after the morning coffee, a meeting and a hundred-fifty miles onthe road, so not too much attention to haute cuisine. Dinner: the sisters over, most of them; “tartes alsaciennes” from Trader Joe, with broccoli steamed with garlic, and a nice big green salad after.

Oh: and dessert. That doesn't happen all thatoften. Vanilla ice cream(Straus),salt caramel sauce, toasted slivered almonds, whipped cream, Maraschino cherry. Died, as they say, and gone to Heaven.
Cheap Pinot grigio; cheap Zinfandel; cheap Morgon


Eastside Road, March 21, 2011—
WE EACH GET A VETO, I said in my usual oldest-male dictatorial way; mine is No Chinese Food.

L. and her four sisters, and three of us guys, deciding what to do about dinner. We'd lunched together at a local egg-shop joint, and that hadn't been bad; the others had pancakes or French toast or omelets; I had a Greek salad and a glass of Sauvignon blanc.
• Omelette Express, 150 Windsor River Road, Windsor; (707) 838-6920
dinner.jpgBut where to have dinner? We wound up at Susan's place, where we feasted on stir-fried carrots, peppers, onions, and broccoli; and microwaved “Coq au vin” from Trader Joe's. Stir-fry will always say “Chinese” to me, I'm afraid: there's something about cooking all those vegetables together, mixing the flavors but leaving the textures out of kilter (because each thing needs a different amount of cooking time, but doesn't get it) that seems foreign and approximated.

And the “Coq au vin” was cornstarch-thickened, another cliché of ordinary American “Chinese” restaurants. Nor did I taste the vin, but what the hell: there'd been plenty of Sauvignon blanc and Yellowtail Syrah to soften the blows. In all, I've eaten worse, lord knows. And the most important component of dinner is the company, and the company — family — was as good as it gets. (And a few slices of warmed sourdough bread, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, anchored the meal in familiarity.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Exactly the same.

Eastside Road, March 20, 2011—
DINNER: EXACTLY THE SAME as yesterday: delicious lasagne.

But earlier today we went out to brunch, where I had an omelet Florentine, because there's not much I like better than eggs (or, even more, a good crêpe), gruyère (but today it was not gruyère but cheddar), and spinach.

And a day that offers both spinach and chard is superb.
Cheap nero d'Avola
Worth Our Weight, 1021 Hahman Drive, Santa Rosa; (707) 544-1200

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Eastside Road, March 19, 2011—
lasagne.jpgSTILL, AFTER ALL THESE years — fifty-four in May — she surprises me from time to time. A couple of months ago, for example, I was explaining to someone that she doesn't really like lasagne.

What gives you that idea, she said. Of course I like lasagne; I've always liked lasagne.

It was the first I'd heard of it. Never in all our married years had she made lasagne before, or ordered it in a restaurant, or shown that much interest when it was served in someone's home, where we'd been invited for dinner.

But, it turns out, she likes lasagne.

The first hint today came when I saw a big bunch of chard on the kitchen island. An hour or two later I smelled ham, then sausage cooking.

Then, when I went it to mix up a couple of Martinis, I saw the oven was lit. Always a good sign.

Then she took the pan from the oven. Sformata, I said, with some surprise. No, she said; and calmly cut a couple of goodsized squares and served them forth. The recipe's here, if you want to try it; and I recommend it. Delicious.

Cheap Nero d'Avila

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lunch in the café

Berkeley, March 18, 2011—
WHAT A FINE tribute to Julia Child today at Chez Panisse, where each week leading up to the fortieth birthday this August the menu is dedicated to one or another person — cook, chef, writer — who has inspired the restaurant over the years.

I thought the lunch was classically French. Cordon Bleu, in fact. I began with a salad: curly endive and snow peas with smoked bacon and soft-cooked egg, in a mild vinaigrette nicely balancing the other flavors.

Came then the plat principal: halibut with asparagus, pommes à la vapeur, and chervil butter, where the operative word is butter.

What I mean by Cordon Bleu is the way the flavors all dissolve into the unifying, binding medium — in this case, of course, the butter. Italian taste, and "California Cuisine," opts for single, pointed flavors, co-existing or soloing; classically French cuisine prefers the art of merging. My Chez Panisse memories go way back, nearly forty years, to its undeniably French primal inspiration; it's nicenow andthen to be reminded of those days, which now seem oddly both more innocent and more beholden to a kind of subtle sophistication (or sophisticated subtlety) than we often now countenance.
Sauvignon blanc,Natural Process Alliance, Russian River Valley, 2010 (fresh, still fermenting, fruity, a little cloudy, pleasantly bitter around the edges, quite unique)

Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510.548.5525

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Second-day cassoulet

Eastside Road, March 17, 2011—
WHAT, ONE WONDERS, would St. Patrick have thought of cassoulet. Well, pigs and Irishmen have been known to get along — there's a joke I've forgotten about an Irishman who takes his pig to a bar — and goose no doubt also has a place in the Irish kitchen. And beans are ubiquitous. So perhaps it's not a stretch.

In any case leftover cassoulet suited us fine tonight, with a green salad after. One cassoulet to go!
The rest of the Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine Philippe et Vincent Jaboulet, 2007: rather better for having stood a day in the pantry

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sandwich, soup, and salad

Eastside Road, March 16, 2011—
FREQUENT VISITORS TO THIS blog will know we don't usually eat like this. Now and then, though, it's interesting to live different for a day or two. Today's Principle Meal was lunch, when I had a ham and cheese sandwich, yes, one of the Hundred Plates, at a curious place in town. You build your own sandwich here from a cold-table full of bins: slices of Provolone, cheddar, ”Swiss,“ or ”American“ cheese, rather difficult to separate; slices of turkey, roast beef, turkey, tuna; shredded lettuce, lettuce leaves, peppers à la grecque, sliced onions, olives. Supermarket bread. Oh: and plastic squeeze-bottles of mustard, catsup, ”garlic aioli,“ and the like. One employee, who weighs your finished sandwich to figure out your bill.

• Oodles Sandwich Bar. 626 McClelland Drive, Windsor, CA; (707) 838-7353

That meant nothing was needed this evening beyond a bowl of red pepper-tomato soup with a few croûtons and the customary green salad.
Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine Philippe et Vincent Jaboulet, 2007: rather lean and wooden

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Omelette aux chanterelles

Eastside Road, March 15, 2011—
SUNDAY NIGHT A COUPLE of friends, invited to dinner, brought a half dozen eggs along. They'd been at Lou Preston's winery out in Dry Creek, and presumably met the hens, and liked their looks.

Then yesterday another friend stopped by on his way home from up in Mendocino county, where he'd taken a walk in the woods and found some nice golden chanterelles. Everything was beginning to say Omelet.


So tonight I sautéed the mushrooms in butter in a skillet on the wood stove, while L. washed the lettuce and cooked up some leeks and carrots. Then I made a couple of three-egg omelets, cooking them in butter rather than the usual olive oil, because butter's better with mushrooms. And, go for it, we buttered the toast — delicious Como bread from the Downtown Bakery. A green salad, a honey tangerine, and Bob's your uncle.
Water (I've never found a good wine to drink with eggs)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Day after cassoulet

Eastside Road, March 14, 2011—
ACCORDING TO OUR daughter, ”An omelet and a salad was the perfect day-after-cassoulet dinner.“ For us, today was Fast Day: the usual caffelattes and the handful of nuts was enough.

Second night of cassoulet

Eastside Road, March 13, 2011—
HAVING GONE TEN DAYS without cassoulet, we invited a couple of couples over to share another. It's just as good after a week or two in the freezer, if it's made right in the first place.
We ate the one on the left: a nine-inch cassole (“Ægii,” Vallauris, no. 22), just the right amount for the six of us. We began with L's orange-and-onion salad (she forbade oysters this time) and followed the cassoulet with a green salad, ending with appletart. Time at table: about four hours.
morning after.jpg
Champagne, Canard-Duchêne, nv (rather nice); Syrah, Cowhorn (Applegate Valley, Oregon), 2006 (mature but a little closed); Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 2008; “Syrah-Sirah,” Preston of Dry Creek, 2007 (both true to character, ready to drink, rewarding); Sauvignon Blanc Dessert Wine, Belo (Napa Valley), 2000 (tasty but short); liqueurs and spirits

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Steak and eggs

Eastside Road, March 12, 2011—
YOU'D BE FORGIVEN FOR THINKING that we never eat at home. We were on the road again today, driving down to Mill Valley for a years-postponed birthday lunch with an old friend who lives there. She suggested a local hangout for lunch, and I enjoyed it. We sat in a leather-upholstered booth in a corner, the three of us, and caught up on the old old days. And ate.

I had a few leaves of L.'s salad, rather nicely dressed I thought; then went on to “uova fritte con bistecchina,” a couple of eggs fried over easy, served next to a small grilled beefsteak and a handful of asparagus, with “breakfast potatoes” — diced, with red pepper, and sautéed: for this was a brunch menu; I'd forgotten it was a Saturday.

I suppose I ordered it thinking of the marvelous Azores-style beefsteak (with fried eggs) I could have had yesterday at City Gates, but didn't, because the bacalhau called louder. Then too today's menu was in Italian, with English subtitles, and I probably thought there'd be something Italian about the execution of this dish. There wasn't, except for a little “balsamic“ drizzled over the steak. But it was tasty enough, and it's always fun to have beefsteak three times in a single week; it contributes to one's knowledge.
Pinot Grigio; Syrah, Sicily (might this have been Planeta's Syrah? It was very nice, but, poured by the glass, I never saw the label
Piazza D'Angelo Ristorante, 22 Miller Ave, Mill Valley; 415.388.2000

Friday, March 11, 2011


Eastside Road, March 11, 2011—
LUNCH ON THE ROAD today, the road home after a quick run up to Ashland for a couple of plays. And lunch at one of my favorite spots, one of the Hundred Restaurants.

But I have sad news: City Gates is no longer serving dinner. If it were, I might have jumped ship at lunch, stayed for the night, and caught the Greyhound home tomorrow. Hard times have fallen, temporarily I hope, and the doors now close at two o'clock.

But the good news is this: the items from the dinner menu have mostly been moved to lunchtime. You can get the delicious pork, mussel, and clam stew; the calde verde; even — from the breakfast menu — the red-wine-and-garlic marinated beefsteak with two fried eggs. Or you can do what we did, and order the bacalhau.

As served here, it's a simple but unctuous dish. The salt cod, soaked tender, is cooked with sliced onions, a little garlic, and sliced potatoes, in a great deal of mild but redolent olive oil, then served in its terra-cotta baking dishes, garnished with slices of perfectly hard-boiled egg. Before it, I had a cup of calde verde, kale and potato soup, with a chicken-stock base, some garlic, and slices of chorizo. Here's a recipe; I haen't tried it, but will soon I think; it's probably much like what I had today.

City Gates is a warm, friendly place devoted to Portuguese cooking bonne femme, as the French say; good housewife's cooking. Mom's in the kitchen; everything's first-rate.
Vinho verde, 2009 (delicious, fresh, a tiny bit sweet, with a nice sparkle
• City Gates Cafe, 1165 Hoff Way, Orland, CA; (530) 865-5552

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pato taco

Ashland, March 10, 2011—
LUNCH TODAY AT a joint we really like a lot; I wish we had this place nearer home. I had a salad I particularly like, shredded cabbage and carrots, thin fried tortilla strips, and cilantro, dressed with lime juice.

Afterward, a duck-confit taco. I can't begin to describe how delicious this is: flavor, texture, visual appearance — it's one of my very favorite things. Not one of the Hundred Plates, to be sure: but indispensable.
The house Margarita
Agave, 92 North Main St., Ashland; 541-488-1770

DINNER WAS AT the restaurant attached to our hotel, the Ashland Springs Hotel. I had a Caesar salad, not terribly authentic — no anchovies, no egg — and then pot roast and mashed potatoes. The local and sustainable beef was dry and chewy, and I was not impressed.
Malbec, Gouguenheim (Mendoza), 2008
Larks, 212 East Main St., Ashland; 541-488-5558

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Sammy's

Ashland, Oregon, March 9, 2011—

BACK TONIGHT TO one of the great restaurants in the world — one of the top five, as far as I know. Given the online accessibility (to me) of our credit-card statements, and the compulsive nature of this blog, I could probably figure out how many restaurants we've patronized in the last few years. I'm sure the number would be an embarassment.

I'm also sure I would still maintain that New Sammy's is among the Top Five. Let's see: how many factors go into this sort of rating:
  • Intelligence: knowledge of the traditions and the repertories; ability to transfer that knowledge to the local context; concern with maintaining coherence within the establishment over the years
  • Skill: ability to execute the recipe in the kitchen; to transmit the intention to the staff; to maintain service; to maintain a healthy business
  • Ethics: awareness of the interconnectedness of producers, wholesalers, staff, and customers; commitment to sustainability of all these factors; ability to prioritize the needs of the various levels of the community within which one works
  • Aesthetic: fineness of palate; balance of textures in both small grain and larger components
  • Context: interest in and dedication to the politics, literature, history, and daily-life events of one's locale; but also of the larger contexts of nation and global issues
  • Well, you see how it is. The number and texture of issues in running a restaurant are virtually endless.

    WE DINED TONIGHT at a favorite place near Ashland, having driven up (actually ridden up, guests of friends) to see a couple of plays tomorrow. I've always said that the chef here, Charlene Rollins, is a genius of the braise, the art of slow cooking; and also of sourcing: whether from her own garden, or the local farmers and ranchers; or — a different kind of sourcing — from books, personal experience, and other such research into the great tradition (and, let it be said, innovation) of the combination of ingredients, the skilful manipulation of them in the kitchen, and the orchestration of menus.

    But tonight I simply had steak and salad.

    First, of course, came the amuse-gueule:

    This was a tiny tower of (bottom to top) tomato sauce, puff-paste, brandade, and house-made chorizo. It was delicious, perfectly pointed and focussed, and immediately took me to Madrid.

    Then there was the salad, a sort of chopped salad, with many pickled vegetables — broccoli for one — and olives, and fennel I think, onions of course, and lettuces.

    And then there was the pièce de résistance,

    a healthy local rib-eye steak, grilled rare, with horseradish cream, in a beef-red-wine-reduction, with a marvelous mash of root vegetables heavily on the carrot side — somehow light and delicate.

    Another truly memorable dinner, beautifully served in a small room with one other table, relaxed, convivial, nourishing, thoughtful, sensual, humane. There can be few such places, unless (as I suspect) there are many, and all of them unsung.
    Côtes du Rhône, La Pialade, 2005

    New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro, 2210 South Pacific Highway, Talent, Oregon; 541-535-2779

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Scotch Broth

    Eastside Road, March 8, 2011—
    IMG_1466.jpgLINDSEY PUTS ME to shame, and so effortlessly. Yesterday's so-so lamb stew — pappardelle with lambscraps, actually — became today in her hands a much more nicely balanced dish: a little salt, a little pepper, some judicious cooking-down, and barley.
    When I was a boy, barley was something to be fed to the pigs. It came in 80-pound sacks, which pleased me, as other grains arrived in hundred-pound sacks, to be avoided when carrying them out to the barn.

    We have plenty of grains and pulses on hand in the pantry — this is only a small corner of the room — so she had no trouble finding some pearl barley, in a much smaller sack. I remember how much I used to like the canned Campbell ”Scotch Broth“ soup when I was a boy, no doubt because the very name had a romantic, exotic sound. Tonight's was better, and who knows: maybe partly because yesterday's lamb stew wasn't all that disgusting itself.
    Pinot grigio, La Familglia (Monterey, California), 2009 (sweeter than I'd noticed yesterday: but then, a bad cold has begun to break)

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Pappardelle with lamb scraps

    Eastside Road, March 7, 2011—
    A LOCAL FARMER WAS SELLING meat and eggs at the farmstand outside yesterday's restaurant in Sebastopol, and how can you resist a couple of pounds of lamb scraps for six bucks?

    Well, when I took stock of them (heh heh) today, they turned out to have precious little meat on them, but lots of marrow. So I browned them in oil, then covered them with water and made stock, adding a bouquet garni.

    I chopped up an onion and browned it, then set it aside; I chopped up five or six little carrots and ditto; I tossed the little meat I'd managed to cut from the bones in bread crumbs and browned them, too. I deglazed the pot with Pinot grigio and added that to the stock. Then after a couple of hours I took a look at the stock pot. I drained it through a food mill into another pot, then fingered off as much meat as I could from the bones, and put it all through the food mill. The stock went back on the fire, and I skimmed off as much fat as I could, and salted it.

    Later, while the pasta water was coming to its boil, I combined vegetables and meat in a saucepan, added a few ladles of the stock, adjusted salt and pepper, and threw in the peel of half a lemon, because the ragoût seemed to need a little pointedness, Not bad. Green salad.
    Pinot grigio, La Familglia (Monterey, California), 2009 (rather nice)

    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    Frisée aux lardons

    Eastside Road, March 6, 2011—
    THIS IS THE PRINCIPLE meal of the day, I said, leaning as near L's listening ear as I dared with this cold from hell. You bet it is, she said.

    Frisée aux lardons.jpgWe were at brunch, not my kind of meal as I've written before, with a couple of friends. A tequila Sunrise would be good for my cold, I reasoned, and commanded one quickly; then took a quick look at the menu. This restaurant is market-driven — in fact, there was a small farmstand out in the parking lot — so I was immediately attracted to the frisée aux lardons. Besides, everything on the menu was in French, for the place has some kind of a Paris connection. What could go wrong?

    Well, frankly, a lot can go wrong. A quick look on the Internet reveals a recipe, for example, that purports to be a “Summer Salade Lyonnaise (”Frisée“ aux Lardons)”, complete with those internal quotes.
    Salade Lyonnaise (Frisee aux Lardons) is a traditional French bistro salad that consists of bacon, poached eggs, and bitter greens (usually frisee). I decided to take advantage of the bountiful summer vegetables that are in season right now to create my own take on this delicious salad.

    The basics are the same, but I've added some summer twists, such as fresh corn, basil infused tomatoes, and sliced avocados.

    But nothing did go wrong. Our salad today was authentic: frisée, bits of bacon (lardons à l'Americaine), croutons, vinaigrette, and a nicely soft-boiled egg on top. I would have preferred a poached egg, but you can't ask for perfection every day. Nothing needed at suppertime but a slice of toast with almond butter and a dish of applesauce.
    A second Sunrise
    French Garden, 8050 Bodega Avenue, Sebastopol, CA; (707) 824-2030

    Back to Berkeley

    Berkeley, March 5, 2011—
    pizza.jpgDEDICATED MERCEHEADS THAT WE are, we're back in Berkeley. Not before lunching at home, though, on the remains of the pizza L. had yesterday for lunch.

    I took pains to remove from each wedge the melted-down ball of ricotta that had been added to the pizza when served — cold ricotta, spooned atop the then-hot pizza — before L. slid it into the toaster-oven. Properly darkened and innocent of cognitive dissonance, it was okay — with a nice green salad, bien entendu.

    Dinner? Back at Zellerbach Auditorium: a roast-beef sandwich, small green salad on the side. Nothing to write home about.
    “Old Vines Red,” Marietta Cellars, unknown vintage
    • Adagia @ Zellerbach, Zellerbach Auditorium, UC Berkeley

    Saturday, March 5, 2011

    Berkeley Mediterranean

    Berkeley, March 4, 2011—
    ITALY'S WILL ALWAYS BE my preferred cuisine, I suppose, but any cuisine touching the Mediterranean is fine with us. We love the complexities of flavors and textures, whether separate in an insalata or blended in a brasato. And Berkeley has embraced the Mediterranean kitchen; to look at restaurant names and menus you'd think you were in Nirvana.

    I lunched today — yesterday: I write this next day — on pasta Bolognese. Our friend Ann had recommended a new place, not far from where we lived for twenty-five years, with a pleasant patio and a good inexpensive menu. The patio was indeed pleasant: we sat in dappled sunlight in a tranquil almost-garden setting, a lazy bulldog sleepily keeping us company. (On a leash: Berkeley is a law-abiding town.)
    The menu promised ribollita, but alas it was not the current menu. Still, spaghetti Bolognese is an excellent substitution on a spring midday (though L. ordered a caramelized-onion pizza instead). A lunchtime Martini was decent, and the mixed salad had all those nice textures. But the pasta arrived on a barely warm plate, and three enormous scoops of cold ricotta lay oddly atop the dish. Ricotta on Bolognese! I said I liked compexities of flavors and textures, but this is cognitive dissonance. I ate all the ricotta as quickly as possible, since there was no place to put it — salad plate had already been whisked away — and then tucked into quite a nice Bolognese, though the spaghetti was a teeny bit overdone.
    House red (Sangiovese, Italy)
    Paisan, 2514 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; 510-649-1031

    Dessert was a dish of the best ice cream in town: for me, a scoop of salt-caramel, another of cinnamon bisque. Exemplary flavors and textures this time, from a former Chez Panisse pastry chef and, it must be said, a friend. It would be absurd to visit Berkeley and ignore this magnificent gelateria.
    Ici, 2948 College Avenue, Berkeley; 510.665.6054

    WE WERE IN TOWN to see performances by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, so we dined right in Zellerbach Hall, where the nearby restaurant Adagia caters in light pre-theater suppers. We had lamb couscous, rather good I thought, quite a bit of meat, with raisins, lemon, cumin, and cilantro all lending a hand, and decently steamed couscous, pleasantly served. A civilized way to eat quickly before the show.
    “Old Vines Red,” Marietta Cellars, unknown vintage
    • Adagia @ Zellerbach, Zellerbach Auditorium, UC Berkeley

    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    Early Spring

    Berkeley, March 3, 2011—
    WE'RE SPENDING THE NIGHT at a friend's house, making it easier to see two nights of conserts by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Dancing always makes me hungry, and a trying drive down this afternoon left me out of sorts.

    But Ann had prepared such a nice supper, we were soon ready for anything. We began with a pretty salad: sliced oranges, asparagus, and spinach leaves, in a raspberry vinaigrette.

    Then a fettucine primavera: pasta with asparagus and peas-in-the-pod, a few spinach leaves for color, and lovely crisp prosciutto.
    Dessert: raspberry sherbet with, of course, raspberries; and then on to the concert. A very enjoyable evening.
    Chardonnay, Healdsburg Ranches, 2009

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Next-day cassoulet

    Eastside Road, March 2, 2011—
    WELL, NOT LITERALLY: we rested one day. Cassoulet Monday, rest Tuesday, restes, as the French say, today. We began, again, with oysters on the half shell (thanks, John); went on to that delicious and very pretty orange-and-onion salad; then leaned into the cassoulet. Sausage, pork loin, goose confit, beans. It all only gets better. Green salad afterward, and, hey, Lindsey, isn't there a little appletart left in the oven?
    Zinfandel, Trader Joe's "Coastal," 2009

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    After the cassoulet

    Eastside Road, March 1, 2011—
    TUESDAY: THE ROUTINE FAST seems more appropriate than usual today, given last night's feast. Cappuccinos at breakfast; the handful of nuts with tea.

    First night of cassoulet

    Eastside Road, March 1, 2011—
    IMG_1427.jpgSIX OF US AT DINNER, this last night of February, for cassoulet. I never hear or see the word without thinking of Curnonsky's story, about the shop door, uncharacteristically closed to business, with a placard hanging on it explaining "Closed for Cassoulet."

    Ours has been a couple of weeks in the making, and tonight the six of us made a healthy dent in the first and biggest of the three pots, seen here before the final addition of breadcrumbs and the final baking.

    We began with oysters on the half shell followed by Lindsey's delicious sliced orange and onion salad with tarragon vinaigrette, and followed the cassoulet, of course, with a green salad. Apple tart for dessert.

    Champagne, Paul Bara, nv; Bandol, Domaine Tempier "La Migoua," 1985, 1989, 1994 (Thanks, John, for a delicious and informative vertical tasting of this rich, complex, important wine)

    Details on this cassoulet here