Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Back on the road

Berkeley, May 7, 2013—
LUNCH TODAY AT A PLACE we've been hearing a lot about, in a bright, airy room in a corner of the old Swan's Market in Oakland. It made me think of the old Sarah's Southern Gourmet, and Lois the Pie Queen, down-home soul-food restaurants we went to occasionally fifty-odd years ago in Berkeley.

Miss Ollie's is a little more sophisticated, though. We all are: that's what half a century can do for you. Miss Ollie was the chef-owner's grandmother, as I understand it, and her photo hangs proudly next to one of Edna Lewis, who — with her protégé Scott Peacock — brought soul food calling on cosmopolitan cuisine, with stunning results.

Lunch wasn't exactly soul food. In fact, I was transported to Papeete, not Mobile or Jackson. That was partly due to the salad, which involved mango, hearts of palm, and avocado, along with lettuces, of course, and — rather surprisingly, but very successfully — pickled vegetables and olives. It was dressed with coconut vinegar, I think. I eat mango so rarely, it always takes me back to Tahiti where I first tasted good ones. (With memories like that, why bother tasting mediocre ones?)

Our fried chicken came with sautéed banana, yuca, and a delicious grated-carrot-and-pot-greens combination. The chicken itself was generously coated with a very light batter and fried just right in, I'm sure of it, palm or coconut oil. I don't know what you call this cuisine, other than wonderful. We'll be back.
Assyrtiko, Atlantis (Santorini), ?2011: very pleasant, fresh, balanced, soft, crisp
• Miss Ollie's, 901 Washington St, Oakland, California; (510) 285-6188
steak.jpgDINNER WAS ACROSS the bay in San Francisco in what you might call an upscale trattoria, the casual little brother of a more ambitious Italian restaurant next door. Here I opened with another salad, arugula and Parmesan with a few lettuce leaves thrown in, nicely dressed.

There were a good many very interesting things on the menu, but I wasn't in the mood to go exploring. I settled for this flatiron steak, nicely grilled and salted, on a bed of arugula, with grilled asparagus on the side, the whole thing drizzled with an anchovy vinaigrette. It was a delicious dish, and if the place weren't so infernally loud it would have been a marvelous evening.
Pigato, Cascina Feipu dei Massaratti (Liguria), 2010: modest, pleasant, clean;
Barbera/Dolcetto, Cascina degli Ulivi (Piemonte), 2010: rich, deep, nicely blended, going a little woody at the end
• Barbacco Eno Trattoria, 220 California Street, San Francisco; 415.955.1919

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