Eastside Road, March 19, 2014—March 17:DINNER IN TOWN with a sister — well, Cook's sister, but close as I have to my own — at a Puerto Rican place of her choosing, not bad, not memorable. I had the daily special, three courses for fifteen bucks — you can't expect a lot for that. Let's see: a delicious little ground-beef empanada; then a couple of breaded pork chops, thin but meaty, with rice and red beans (the waitress was pleased that I ordered them rather than black beans), a small green salad with avocado, and a flattened frenchfried plantain rose. Dessert was coconut flan. I'd go back, but not before revisiting other places in town…
Malbec• El Coqui Puerto Rican Cuisine, 400 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95401; (707) 542-8868
March 18: LUNCH IN BERKELEY, because we had business to do, and, well, why not. An interesting lunch, with a vaguely Indochinois quality. Spring's setting in, and we began with asparagus, barely cooked, in a salad with crisp thin slices of radish and fennel, delicately flavored with anise hyssop.
Next, grilled chicken, almost as if on a skewer, with spinach, snap peas, carrots, and onion fritters — a substantial dish lightened by the kitchen's technique, balancing sauté, grill, and lightly fried textures.
I suppose it was the dessert that made me think of French outre-mer cuisine: coconut tapioca pudding, not at all thick or gluey, with mandarin-orange sherbet and cardamom-flavored shortbread cookies. Not a bad way to punctuate the day, and, unnecessary to add, the Principal Meal of the Day.
Rosé• Chez Panisse, 151 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525
March 19, 2014, at home:CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE! We're two days late, because we've been going out to dinner, but finally we have our annual St. Patrick's Day dinner — and commemoration of the long, productive, interesting, and celebrated life of Robert Remolif, one of my best friends, who died on St. Patrick's Day fifteen years ago, in his 94th year. I still miss him; I always will.
We're not sure why, but he was very fond of corned beef. He was one hundred percent Italian, having come to this country from Piemonte in his tenth year. Not a drop of Irish blood anywhere near him. But he liked his corned beef, cooked it now and then, occasionally had us to dinner and served it.
This one came in a plastic bag full of watery juice, but it was full of flavor. A lot of that was salt, no doubt: but there was also sugar, celery extract, garlic extract, onion extract, spice extractives, sodium lactate, bay leaves, red pepper, coriander, dill seed, mustard seed, garlic, and cloves. That sounds pretty horrible, and I rush to state we rarely eat like this, out of packages. I figure once a year won't kill us. (Something else will.)
I thought it was a delicious dinner. Lindsey cooked it all together: corned beef, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, adding each item at the right time — something I can never do reliably — so that all was cooked au point, each kept its texture and color, each kept its own flavor yet partook also of the others. It is a classic dish, one of the Hundred Plates, when cooked as well as this was. I hope there's a little left over.
Pinot blanc, Fleurelle (Alsace), 2012: a very nice wine to have with corned beef and cabbage.