Talent, Oregon, October 8, 2014—I THINK KALE must be the animal of vegetables. It is a chthonic leaf, deep with dark and complex components. I am ashamed that my people, my mother and my father, so undervalued it, and taught me to do the same, for so many years. It was considered fit for nothing but the chickens. We grew it in the vegetable garden, yes, but only to throw to pigs and poultry.
Since than of course I have learned better, at first by way of Italian cuisine, which taught me so much in the first decades of my marriage. Cavalonero — the word rings with more music than does prosaic kale, fourletter kitchen name.
All this came tto mind again tonight in the first course at dinner, when I was served this plate of "sweet, sour, salty, spicy: fresh melon, lime ice cream, 'La Quercia' prosciutto, field greens, and kaffir lime-criolla chile infused olive oil". I assure you the photograph does not do it justice: it was a plate of extraordinary visual beauty.
The melon was at its peak of flavor and ripeness; the ice cream was perfect; the prosciutto sweet and sweetly greasy in the best possible sense. The olive oil was marvelous, a riot of flavors all agreeing on common purpose.
But it was the field greens that made the whole thing work: and of them, the kale. I was prepared for this thousands of miles away, in Austeralia a week or so ago, when I had that amazing pasta sauce of bacon, onion, and kale. Here, though, the lesson was elevated into art.
I've written about this restaurant before. I've always felt that we each have our list of Five Restaurants, the ones we would choose for the five weekdays of our final week (saving a sixth day for eating at hime, and a seventh for the fast). This has long been one of my Five, and remains one.
I went on from this plate to lamb, of course, dear dependable redolent lamb, again with kale because this chef is not shackled to Flaubert, does not flinch from repeating an ingredient in a sequence of courses — recognizes the justice of a pivot within the complex machine that any fine meal must be. With the braised kale, potato, and tapenade, and cannellini, the bean without which lamb, rosemary, and garlic are incomplete.
Oh la. I had dessert: a slice or two of lemon almond cake, creme Chantilly setting it off. Ouf, what a marvelous meal. I eat like this rarely but appreciatively. Such meals must be parceled out, lest one's prose runs toward the baroque.
Languedoc, "Mas Belles Eaux: Les Coteaux", 2009: mature, strong but polite, rich but agreeable
• New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro, 2210 South Pacific Highway, Talent, Oregon: (541) 535-2779