Sunday, March 2, 2014


Eastside Road, March 2, 2014—
Mortadella sandwich with arugula

YOU WILL SEE that though I may neglect this blog for a few days at at time we do not neglect our greens, no indeed. We've been away for a couple of days and busy, is why the blog's been neglected. We've been eating well, is why the greens have not.

We began simply enough, still at home, Thursday evening, with this Mortadella sandwich, on lightly buttered bread if I'd had my druthers, with lots of delicious crisp arugula leaves, a few raw carrots, and some dill pickle, washed down with cheap Primitivo.

When I was a kid, Mortadella — one of the glories of Italian salumeria — was a much more innocent thing, called simply "baloney." There would be lunches down in the eucalyptus grove on weekends, when we were cutting firewood: Mom's bread, perhaps over-leavened, perhaps under-; mayonnaise from the supermarket, thick slices of raw onion, lettuce leaves, slices of tomato, and baloney or some other "lunch meat," occasionally with green pimento-stuffed olives embedded in the slices.

These days our bread is better and certainly so is the salume. I think there's a special symbiosis of Mortadella and bitter lettuce. Years ago we had an Italian back neighbor, an old widow, Mrs. Bertoli, who spent the day in her garden, and occasionally one of her vegetables would intrude on our own back yard. The pane di zucchero lettuce was particularly welcome, as it made the perfect accompaniment to Mortadella.

Later, when I was coming up here to Healdsburg for a few days at a time, alone, working on our house, I'd stop off at the fine Traverso's Delicatessen of lamented history for a sandwich. I always asked for two slices of Mortadella and one of Galantina on sourdough. The old lady at the counter, surely Mrs. Traverso herself, would ask if I wanted mustard or mayonnaise, and I would say No, just butter and a leaf of lettuce, please; and she would smile and say Yes, that's right, that's the perfect sandwich. And so it was.

"Spaghetti carbonara", revised at Rosso
FRIDAY WE DINED AT midday: for me, this revisionist Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Constant Reader will know I take a dim view of culinary revisionism: if you can't be authentic, give your invention a new name. I wish they'd call this dish something else. But I'll order it any time I can, with perhaps one modification.

Instead of pancetta, this execution relies on American smoked bacon — but it is lightly smoked, and does not overcome the dish. Instead of mixing a raw egg into the drained pasta, a gently poached egg (and it is poached, not steamed, I'm pretty sure) is set atop the nest of spagetti.

Most amazing of all, the entire affair is inextricably tangled with fresh pea shoots. What do peas have to do with pasta carbonara? Nothing: but the result is delicious and memorable. Here again a perfect symbiosis of texture and taste. A grind of black pepper at the table, and it's a memorable thing.

Alboriña, 2012
• Rosso Pizzaria, 151 Petaluma Boulevard South, Petaluma; (707) 772-5177

YESTERDAY, WITH A MATINÉE at the theater and a concert in the evening on our calendar, not to mention the long drive after the concert, we decided another midday meal was the better part of valor.

Calve's liver and onions at John's Grill
We were with a couple of friends whose restaurant tastes are not necessarily the same as ours. Besides, it's such a pleasure now and then, to drop in at a comfortable, very old-fashioned place, with photos of celebrities on the walls, and friendly waiters in white aprons, and a conservative but reliable menu. Talk about authenticity!

I ordered what I always do here, liver and onions. Liver Venetian style! beamed one of our companions, and we had to restrain him a bit; this old San Francisco hangout is innocent of Venetian methods. The liver is not cut carefully into equal-sized strips, three eighths of an inch thick, and quickly cooked in butter, then served with its onions and a sweet-sour wine reduction on a bed of polenta… ah, how I too love fegato Venziano…

No: instead it's cut into manageable but broad slices; sautéed in an unknown lubricant, a little longer than you specify, with plenty of onions, and served with strips of bacon and a gravy involving a little milk or cream. With it, mashed potatoes, as you see; and at least at this time of the year tender snow peas.

Well, it was fine, of course. It wasn't Venziano, but it was a hell of a lot better than the dry, overcooked beef-liver of my childhood, in its thick "milk gravy" (flour scraped around in the pan juices, milk, Schillings black pepper). Though, come to think of it, I even liked that, at the time.

House red, not bad
• John's Grill, 63 Ellis Street, San Franciscoo; (415) 986-3274

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