Sunday, November 30, 2014

Leftover Thanksgiving

Eastside Road, November 30, 2014—

AFTER LAST NIGHT'S feast, tonight's dinner seemed quiet and subdued — but familiar. Leftovers, of course, and the mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy were better if anything, and succotash supplanted the green beans and Brussels sprouts. No pie, alas: but a couple of See's chocolates served nicely.

Cheap Pinot grigio, softened with a bit of flat Prosecco from yesterday — a very nice blend, as it turns out.

Oh: and lunch was — you'd never believe it — an In-N-Out hamburger with fries. We virtually never go to fast food places. I've been to one McDonalds, and that was on the Champs Elysées. I've been to one Dairy Queen, and that was in the wilds of Oregon, in an emergency, with no alternative. Of Burger King, Jack in the Box, and the rest, of those I am innocent.

But this is my third trip to an In-N-Out. I trust them for some reason — perhaps because they say they peel their own potatoes. The burger was okay.

• In-N-Out Burger, 2131 County Center Drive, Santa Rosa, California; 1-800-788-1000


Thanksgiving dinner.jpg
Eastside Road, November 29, 2014—
SIXTEEN OF US at dinner today, Thanksgiving Day two days after the fact. Four generations. What a great gathering!

And what a fine dinner: roast turkey, FraMano ham, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, Brussels sprouts, dinner rolls of course. No green salad!

But look at the dessert…

Prosecco, cheap Pinot grigio, Viognier, Preston of Dry Creek, 2013;
Zinfandel, Preston, 2009; Zinfandel, Winemakers' Barrel Auction: Martinelli, Jackass Vineyard, 1993*; Cabernet Sauvignon, Hambrecht Vineyards, 1991; Semillon, late harvest, Preston, 2000

Except for the Prosecco and the Pinot grigio, which were Italian, all these wines were from within twenty miles. What a pleasure to drink mature wines! The Barrel Auction Zinfandel was a fascinating bottle: it had two labels, one from Martinelli as noted above, the other crediting Kenwood's Jack London vineyard (okay, a little beyond twenty miles, but still in our county) — I suppose it was a blend of the two. In any case it was delicious, and we thank Gaye and John for the gift of it, on my birthday nineteen years ago.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Eastside Road, November 28, 2014—
ANOTHER OF THOSE HUNDREDS of uncertainties that plagued me as a kid, up to say my fortieth birthday: is it spelled simply "omelet," six letters; or is it omelette?

I've finally settled on the simpler spelling, and have made enough of them that I have the technique down pretty well, which is to say well enough. If I were making one for Alice I'd take more care. There are so many things to think about, even apart from the egg, the lubricant, the pan, the fire, the flavoring.

Most fundamental of all, I think: the question of warming the plate on which it's to be served, and getting it to the table as quickly as possible. On those counts I failed miserably tonight. I have excuses: both ovens were in use, no place to warm plates — but of course I could simply have filled them with hot water from the tap, and dried them at the last minute. Except that I didn't give the matter proper thought.

Oh well. I grate a cup or so of Parmesan cheese onto the kitchen island table, then grind a bit of black pepper into it, and rub some sea salt between my fingers into it.

I break three eggs into a stainless-steel mixing bowl, a small one; then I rinse my hands in cold water, and wring the excess water from my hands into the eggs. I beat them a bit with a dinner-fork, just short of absolutely smooth.

The omelet pan — spun steel, nothing fancy — lives in a paper bag in the pantry; inside it there's a folded paper towel that's been in service for years. I wipe the pan out once more, for no good reason, and put say a tablespoon of olive oil in it, and set it on the fire.

Even that needs discussion. I take the cast-iron grill thing off the stove burner and set the omelet pan right on the flame. When the oil moves almost like water I pour the eggs in. They begin cooking immediately, and I move them around, partly by swinging the pan around in circles over the fire, partly by lifting the edges of the egg with the dinner fork.

At a certain point I begin flipping the egg mixture, folding it back on itself, forming an oval; and then I turn it out onto the warmed plate — if it is warmed — sprinkle the cheese on it, then turn it back into the pan, folding it en route so the cheese won't hit the pan and ruin it.

Brown it, then turn it back onto the plate and serve it. Buttered toast. A green salad.
Viognier, Blue Fin (Califorenia), 2012: cheap, acceptable

Friday, November 28, 2014

Beef stew

Eastside Road, November 27, 2014—

BEEF STEW a few days later, when the flavors have matured, combined, and deepened, with grilled polenta. Don't need to say much more than that. Green salad, of course; an apple; some chocolate. Nice.
Côtes du Rhône, Caves du Journalet, 2013: a little flat

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Chez Panisse

Berkeley, November 25, 2014—
A DRIVE UP FROM Ojai today; then dinner downstairs at Chez Panisse, with a couple of friends seen far too infrequently — no surprise, no reproach: they live in Hawai'i.

We are, my wife and I, most Constant Readers will know, associated with Chez Panisse, so anything I write about the restaurant will be suspected by many of subjectivity or, worse, marketing. Such cynics we have become. In fact over forty years' intimate association with the institution has taught me to respect and even, when possible, to try to adopt the very opposite values, selflessness and modesty. But I'll write no more about this here and now: let's get to the table.

We started out, needing to relax after the drive, with an apéritif: Antica Carpano for me, Lillet blanc for Lindsey. Soon enough our friends arrived, and the bussers and the waiter, and the olives and the water, and the menu:

Erbette chard galette with preserved lemon and carrot salad
Incrocio Manzoni, Castel S. Michele (Trento)

A marvelous course, announcing the theme of complexity of color, texture, and flavor that will characterize each course to follow. The galette pastry was properly dry and flaky, with enough salt to let its toasted wheat flavor come through along with that of the chard.

The wine was a new varietal to me, a hybrid of Riesling and Pinot Bianco developed in the 1930s. The color was beautiful, a light straw yellow, and though the aroma was elusive the flavor was not: floral, quite pronounced, unlike any other grape I can think of unless the old-fashioned Chasselas. The grape and its handling made me think of Collio whites, and that's a very good thing. (I found the information on the grape online at a very useful website.)
Grilled scallops and chanterelles with endives and chermoula
Trousseau Gris, Jolie Laide (Russian River Valley), 2012

Rich, succulent sea-scallops and deep, chewy chanterelles seemed at first a surprising collision, "surf-turf," as Norman pointed out. The slightly bitter note of the endives triangulated the scallops and mushrooms, lifting the flavors of the dish into a third dimension; and the green chermoula, a North African sauce or marinade involving garlic, coriander, and olive oil, bound the flavors together, while recalling the Morocco-leaning preserved lemon and carrot salad of the previous course.

Trousseau gris is another neglected varietal, dry and even a little astringent, making a fine well-structured rosé to offset this dish. Jolie Laide is a small winery not far from my home: I'm going to have to get further acquainted.
Braised leg and roasted breast of duck with quince and saffron, roasted new onions, and butternut squash gratin
Barbera d'Alba, Sori' del Drago, 2012

Duck has become a standby on the autumn and winter restaurant table, the lamb of poultry you might say (goose being the beef), and while a good duck doesn't need imaginative treatment it's still nice to find a new take on it, re-stating the qualities you've always liked. Braising the leg and roasting the breast solves one of the frequent problems with duck, as the two parts demand different cooking times. This was Liberty duck, beautifully grained, firm and deep-flavored, and the accompaniments recalled the previous course once again: duck for chanterelles, onions for scallops.

Barbera was the perfect wine, and this one was muscular, up to the challenge, though to my taste a little too young.
Honey ice cream with pistachio torte and persimmons

No wine pairing with this course, you'll notice. If we'd had time, a Champagne would have been perfect, or perhaps a good Beaumes de Vénise. The ice cream was solid, creamy, not overpoweringly sweet (or bitter) from the honey; the cake was firm and meaty with its nuts; the persimmon slices — not usually a favorite of mine! — seemed a fine counterpoint. And what a pretty plate, with its drizzle of honey syrup, its scatter of pistachio and pomegranate seeds.

The dining room at Chez Panisse is comfortable and beautiful, I think, and I don't like taking photographs at its tables. We were at a table in an alcove, though, and I think I was fairly discreet. Of course the photographs don't do the dishes justice. They're taken with an iPhone (5S), without flash, and I've pushed the results quite a bit, sharpened the definition, and corrected for color (using iPhoto's editing panes, nothing elaborate). I was struck with the visual rhyming of the four courses: the triangles of galette, chanterelle, sliced duck breast, and torte; the placement of straight lines and round ones, the continuity of autumnal color.

I'm sorry if I've gone on too long here; I don't usually dwell so much on these things. But it's important, I think, to reveal the grain of a beautifully conceived and executed menu. Cuisine can be an art form; this dinner was truly a work of art.

• Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525


Ojai, November 24, 2014—
squash.jpgHOW — THE SUBJECT has come up before here — how to write here about meals taken in friends' homes? This blog is called Eating Every Day, after all; it was never planned to be simply a collection of restaurant reviews. But our three modes of dining suggest quite different requirements of the descriptive process. Eating at home, while it does involve certain considerations of the sensitivity (and sensibility!) of the woman I usually call Cook, can usually be described quite forthrightly.

Dining in restaurants calls different assumptions into question. A professional, business-oriented context involves standards, let alone conventions, quite different from those Cook and I employ in our occasionally collaborative, usually individual approaches to the stove, cutting-board, and sink.

Then, most vexing of all, there's the question of dining chez amis. We're lucky to count excellent, even professional cooks among our circle of friends; but some of our close friends are far from that; some even are what I would call not terribly good cooks, whether for lack of interest or skill or ability. Yet meals with friends are often, perhaps almost always, among our favorite ones: and the reasons for this, having little to do with cuisine and much to do with personal experience, have no business being investigated on this blog.

Oh well: let's just look at the most recent such experience, investigating it both for itself — a very pleasant culinary experience quite off our routine — and as an example of the blogger's quandary.

We've been in Los Angeles for a few days, dining in first-rate restaurants, and we're now on the road home. We like to break the Healdsburg-Los Angeles trip, in whichever direction, in Ojai, where a couple of friends, let's call them Jim and Lisa, own a citrus-and-avocado grove. They do more than that, of course: they think and read, listen to music and converse, involve themselves admirably in community affairs. They're a generation younger than we are and their roots are in a completely different American culture than are ours. We treasure conversation with them, as it always opens our minds to other validities, shaking our own assumptions and, I might even say, prejudices.

Soup.jpgTonight Lisa served soup. As a sort of experiment this year they planted a number of kinds of squash and pumpkin between rows of trees in their orchard, and she baked one of the results, an unusual "Canada Crookneck" (seen above next to a small pumpkin), then scooped it out and tossed it into the blender along with cooked lentils, an onion or two, and I know not what else, thinning it as necessary with chicken stock.

Now I famously (in my family) do not like winter squash of any kind, including pumpkin. There are exceptions, and they all have to do with techniques that overcome my principal objection: the texture, which combines with the sharp, somehow nasal pungency of the flavor. I don't object to pumpkin pie, where the egg and spices overcome these objections; and I even enjoy pumpkin-filled ravioli, where the problematic ingredient is only one of many.

But pumpkin or winter-squash soup, let alone simple baked squash served as a vegetable, is something I eat with pronounced distaste. I do eat it, if it's served to me, and there are no convenient bones or shells or in extremis cutlery with which to hide the serving. But I do not eat it willingly, or even particularly politely — I'm not good at masking my feelings about things.

Lisa's soup was delicious. The lentils ameliorated the squash texture; and the inspired addition of lots of cumin, and then a dash or two of Everett and Jones's smoky barbecue sauce, improved on the flavor without completely overpowering certain characteristically cucurbitine elements that, in fact, pushed to the wall, I do have to admit have their qualities, if they're not too sweet.

With this soup we had toasted slices of Jack Bezian's Tea Bread, bought at Lisa's request at the Hollywood Farm Market: unbleached wheat and whole wheat flour, barley, salt, cardamon, lemon peel, and tea — the kind of highly flavored sourdough we normally avoid, being flour-yeast-salt purists. Buttered, it too was delicious, and conspired with the soup.

Green salad afterward, from lettuces grown by their friend Mike, also in the orchard soil. Good, Clean, Fair, and Local, and the conversation was splendid. Thanks friends!
Blanc de noir; rosé

Sunday, November 23, 2014


East Colorado Avenue, Pasadena, November 23, 2014—
DINNER TONIGHT WITH A COUPLE of friends we always enjoy: funny, smart, connected, people you can converse with about food, food politics, books, computers, travel… and it doesn't hurt that Sarah knows her food and the local restaurant scene. She chose the place, and apart from some snags in the service (white wine and Champagne insufficiently chilled, for example) the place turned out to be just what we needed: relaxed, accessible, with a simple bistro menu that wasn't hard to order from.

We began with an order of brandade, nicely whipped salt cod with potato, served on a bed of tomato confit — a curious idea, I thought, not mantecato in the Venetian style by any means, perhaps more a Genovese take on the classic dish — I don't know: there is so much more to learn. In any case, quite nice; I'd have it again willingly every couple of weeks.

From there, on to the classic "bistro steak" you see here, a hanger steak, nicely grilled, with bordelaise sauce, pommes Anna on the side, and creamed spinach. This is a combination I couldn't possibly resist. I thought the potatoes lacked the last word in authenticity — not outstanding potatoes, and perhaps not as buttery as they might be, and needing both salt and pepper. But these are cavils, and I'm sorry to be so critical. It was a perfectly good dinner, and I'd go back if I wanted a bistro.

Oh: and on the way out, we were offered a miniature canalé. A nice touch, I think.

Catarratto, Tola (Sicily), 2011: unusual, nice flavor and body, unfortunately not cold enough;
Garnacha, Santo Cristo (Spain), 2010: good body, flavor, and balance
Canelé, 3219 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles; (323) 666-7133


East Colorado Avenue, Pasadena, November 22, 2014—
ANOTHER ITALIAN RESTAURANT tonight, because unprogrammed curiosity is a moral weakness. And tonight's proved to be one of the best places we've sampled lately, with setting, service, menu, and execution on a uniformly high level: absolutely nothing to criticize.

After a well-made Martini, we began with bread and olive oil — bread made in house, with a nice texture and flavor, nothing stupendous, but utterly fresh and generous, with a very good Tuscan-style olive oil.

IMG 7105IMG 7104
We ordered chickpeas two ways from the "small plates" side of the menu: first, fava e cicoria, dried fava purée with wilted chicory, red onion, and pane guttiau, which turned out to be something like Sardinian "music-paper bread," dry, crisp, perfect little wafers. The purée was absolutely marvelous, as silky and sumptuous a blend of favas and olive oil as you can imagine — a perfect emulsion, nicely setting off the almost bitter greens.

Next, "chickpea panelle": (lemon, Ragusano) in parentheses on the menu after the listing. These were an Italian (probably Ligurian) kind of panisse, chickpea-flour-and-soft-cheese lozenges, fried of course, dusted with grated cheese and served with a lemon wedge. The perfect is the enemy of the good, they say; it was perhaps too bad we'd had the fava purée first; but these panelle were very good indeed, soft and subtle inside, crusty and alert outside.

IMG 7108I went on to carne cruda: hanger steak, pounded paper-thin with one of those bossed tenderizing hammers (this is a guess), garnished with a scatter of parmesan shavings and urled scallion greens, then drizzled with that good olive oil, and judiciously salted. I've never had a dish quite like it: not tartare, not bresaola. Utterly clean and wholesome and delicious.

Dessert was a "bittersweet chocolate crostata" with hazelnuts and salted rosemary caramel. The rosemary was, thankfully, very discreet indeed, the merest hint. The chocolate pudding was as silky and unctuous as the fava purée had been, a nice reference back to the beginning of the meal.

And after that we had a tortino — I'd have called it a little pie-cake — filled with pears that had been poached in red wine, and prune purée, and topped with lemon-flavored whipped cream, in a very nice pastry shell — a dessert referring to many others but staking out rather its own territory, and a delicious thing.

We really liked this place. The service was professional, friendly, and discreet; the wine list was interesting; the food, we thought, impeccable. We will return.
IMG 7116
Cannonau, Argiolas (Sardegna), 2012: true varietal, rich but not powerful, very pleasant
Sotto, 9575 West Pico Blvd, Los Angeles; (310) 277-0210

Friday, November 21, 2014


IMG 7080
East Colorado Avenue, Pasadena, November 21, 2014—
BACK TO BESTIA tonight, partly because I remember it fondly from a while back, partly to see how it would hold up against recent dinners in Italy and last night's meal at Union. It was a very interesting evening.

Comparisons are odious, of course. But still. Union offered a true meal, easily chosen from the menu, taken in a relatively small room where all the diners were clearly a member of a community of some kind, if only provisionally. The room was well lit; though busy, it was quiet enough to make conversation possible. The restaurant is on a side street in the "Old Town" business district of Pasadena, with a fairly lively street scene.

Bestia is a warehouse sort of building in an industrial part of old Los Angeles; there is no street scene. The dining room is broken up into at least three areas. The place is incredibly noisy inside; we ate on a sort of enclosed terrace where it was possible to converse and even — as you'll see — eavesdrop on the next table: but always aware of the noise within. The room was so dark we resorted to flashlights (from our iPhones) to read the menu. And speaking of menu: first, most of the items were composed of a number of ingredients; few of the items seemed to fall readily into a coherent dinner plan; most of the items were really, really expensive.

Perhaps I'm telegraphing my final preference between the two. But let's get on to the dinner: We began, since it's Friday night, with Martinis, specifying our preferences (three to one, up, with a twist, for me; half and half, up, with olives, for Cook), and were quickly advised the bar had no Martini olives. Okay, fine, a lemon twist will do. The drinks arrived in curious stemware but were perfectly to specification — and ran $16 apiece.

We started simply, with bread and oil ($6) and roasted vegetables — apart from a number of salads, most of them collisions, to my mind, of unrelated things, just about the only vegetables on the menu. You see some of them in the photo above: heirloom carrots, tiny Brussels sprouts, broccoli flowerets, all beautifully flavored, roasted together in olive oil in, I'd guess, the pizza oven, for a short time, at high heat — probably after first having been blanched. This was a delicious thing, worth lingering over.

From there I went on to Cavatelli alla Norcina: ricotta dumplings — strozzapreti-shaped gnocchi, you might say — with housemade pork sausage, black truffles, and grana padana. The truffle was thankfully restrained, the sausage a bit on the bland side, but the dish was well balanced. Lindsey's pasta was better, I think; I had ordered it last year — the menu isn't changed that much in the lapsed year — and recalled it as a nicely structured and integrated dish.

Dessert: none for me — well, a simple grappa — but Lindsey ordered the "chocolate budino tart," with its now-obligatory salt caramel and olive oil. I thought it rather pedestrian under its olive oil and salt, but Lindsey liked it.

At the table behind me I'd heard a woman exclaim, in an Italian accent, at the presence of puntarelle on the menu. I love puntarelle, myself, and would have ordered them, but they came with endive, persimmons, pomegranate, mint, and pecorino, in a chili lemon vinaigrette — what I meant by collision. Later the same woman expostulated about the fish, a grilled "whole" orata which had apparently been cooked, somehow, without its bones. How can they think of doing that, she said afterward when we left the room together, how can they cook the fish without the bones, it's the bones give the fish its substance and its structure, you can take the bones away after it's cooked, of course, but you can't possibly cook the fish without the bones.

Well, I said, non siamo in Italia, things are different here, they travel and read and learn and then ignore the history and make it new, that's what Los Angeles is about.

Saperavi, Vinoterra (Kakheti, Georgia), 2010 (deep, old, terra-cotta aged, short on finish at first but developing nicely in the glass; very interesting)
Basadone, Castello di Verduno (Piemonte), 2013 (light, attractive, fragrant, fully achieved)
•Bestia, 2121 E 7th Pl, Los Angeles; (213) 514-5724

Union, Pasadena

IMG 7057
East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, November 20, 2014—
WE DINED AT A TABLE under this mural, only the center part shown here — and other quotes from Alice Waters were to be found on the walls in other strategic locations. This restaurant is serious about the specificity of its provender, which confirms to the Good, Clean, Fair maxim of Slow Food. But you have the feeling that, ethical and correct as the operation is and intends to be, it is Deliciousness that drives it.

It drives it down an Italian country road, I would say, certainly on the basis of tonight's visit. (Not our first, by the way.) I was eager to sample this place again so soon after a couple of weeks in Italy, while the authentic tastes were still in my mouth, so to speak; and I was certainly not disappointed: this is one of the great Italian restaurants not in Italy.

IMG 7056

We began with this plate of bread, butter, and giardinera: good sound bread, delicious butter, pickled vegetables that were unusually piquant but crisp and tasty, setting us alert for what was to follow.

That was a plate of sautéed wild mushrooms served with the softest, subtlest polenta I've had outside Venice — "Grist and Toil" polenta the menu called it, and I'm sure a lot of work went into its production, both in the field and in the kitchen: but the result was anything but effortful or labored, merely soft, delicate, complex, utterly satisfying. The mushrooms gained from a sherry vinaigrette, surprising on this menu, but quite explicable: perhaps we were in Venice, where ships occasionally call from Jerez…

IMG 7058I went on to this porchetta, with potatoes roasted in the fat, and salsa verde on the side. Porchetta correctly done involves shreds and slices, fat and crackling, and plenty of dense lean meat as well. This was excellent. If we'd begun somewhere in Puglia, and gone on to Venice, I was now in Testaccio, and no mistake about it. The pork had that slight taste of tripe that roast suckling pig has to have; this pork was young, I'm sure of it, but complex, again, and long in the finish. The potatoes had a fine creamy texture, and the salsa verde was a Piemontese type, heavy on the parseley, very nice with the pork.

How could I resist the gianduia budino on the dessert menu, after my recent researches into bonet, the classic Piemontese chocolate-hazelnut dolce? This was not bonet, as it lacked any reference to amaretti; instead the little jar of silky pudding wore a chocolate cookie dusted with powdered sugar as its lid. But it recalled Piemonte, perhaps because I'd gone on to a marvelous red wine…

Soave classico, Balestri Valda (Garganega, Veneto), 2012 (truly suave, a little innocuous, very pleasant);
Nebbiolo, Francesco Borgogno (Langhe), 2013 (too young, but a beautiful wine quite willing to be dealt with now)
IMG 7060

•Union, 37 E Union St, Pasadena, California; (626) 795-5841

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On the road again

Hunter Liggett Military Reservation, California, November 19, 2014—

We're on our way south to see some theater and visit friends and restaurants, and thought we'd break the trip in a place new to us. In every respect but one it's truly a fine place: a Mission-style "hacienda" designed by Julia Morgan for William Randolph Hearst, funky but grand, in a beautiful, tranquil landscape a mile from a favorite (real) mission, San Antonio de Padua. There's even a pleasant if barnlike bar. If only there were a restaurant!

Oh well. We settled for the bowling alley, as there was no choice. Lindsey had a hot dog with sauerkraut, which she pronounced okay, "not one of those skinny unpleasant little hot dogs." I had this seven-inch pizza, with fresh tomatoes and decent sausage and, of course, too much cheese.

Corona beer in the bottle

•Liggett Lanes, FHL Bowling Center, Infantry Road Building 121, Jolon, California; 831-386-2680

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Eastside Road, November 17, 2014—
BEEF STEW must certainly be one of the Hundred Plates. Of course there are many variations. This one seemed a little French to me; perhaps because of the sprigs of thyme I ran across. I don't know how Cook made it; I was in the other room.

She made it yesterday. One of the requirements of a good stew, of any good braise I think, is that it be prepared at least a day before it is to be consumed, to allow the flavors to deepen, to marry, to discuss things among themselves, without our interfering, so that they may reach an ultimate accord, perhaps even a consensus.

That's what happened with this one. It was served with noodles, as you see, not with potatoes — no Irish stew here, no cabbage, no praties.

Before the stew we had an appetizer of padron peppers, cooked the usual way; afterward a green salad, dressed tonight with lemon juice rather than vinegar.

Zinfandel, Beaulieu "Coastal Estates", 2011 (a little flat)

Monday, November 17, 2014


Eastside Road, November 16, 2014—
THESE ARE WHAT the Italians call fragolini, "little strawberries" literally — in fact, little fraises des bois, and the biggest one here is perhaps three times the size of a common pencil-eraser, the one at the end of the pencil, if you haven't worn it down or (as I used to do, I confess) bitten it off.

Fragolini are among the most delicious things in the world, far as I'm concerned — and I'm a guy who normally doesn't particularly go crazy about strawberries. These little berries are about the only thing we haven't shared with family this last weekend, and not, I promise you, simply because they cost about a dime apiece. We, or at any rate I, was simply unwilling to share. We had them as dessert after lunch today, a nice lunch involving the minestrone Cook made the other day.


Dinners were taken with family — a sister is visiting from New Mexico, and what better way to socialize than at the table? Last night it was here, and involved chicken; tonight we're down the hill at the neighbor's, and you may be sure meat's on the menu — grilled over wood: beef and pork, and broccolini, and a plate of persimmons, avocado and arugula that was a joy to see. Oh: and fresh applesauce with vanilla ice cream. Delicious!

Cheap pinot grigio; Barbera, Preston of Dry Creek, 2011

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Lost Week

Eastside Road, November 14, 2014—
A WEEK! YOU'D THINK we'd starved! No: I've just been unusually distracted. Herewith, then, a brief report:

Sunday, Nov. 8: Canapés — is the word still used? — at a memorial for a recently departed friend; later a ham and cheese sandwich, with an improbably colorful package of crudités and pickles, at Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley, whose food is better than you might think, and handy after a long drive and before an evening of Italian drama played in French…IMG_6876_2.jpg
IMG_6913_2.jpgMonday, Nov. 9: Penne at home. Of course I no longer recall just what this involved, only that it was a Mario Batali recipe Cook found online somewhere, and that it involved red pepper flakes so was vaguely Calabrese, and that it was, in fact, delicious.
Nov 10: MarMar, and sausage, beans, and potatoes.
"MarMar" is the annual marmalade and martini party, unusually early this year as the Yuzus were ready to go. We processed 22 of them, Cook and I, and the results will be prized.
The sausages were Franco's, smaller than usual, grilled, served with Nancy Skall's beans and some nicely stewed potatoes — don't know how else to describe this method of cooking, which involves dicing, then simultaneously steaming and sautéeing in olive oil.
IMG_6956_2.jpgNov 11: Dinner at Chez Panisse:
Petite friture of vegetables, persimmon mostaerda, watercress salad
Sylvaner riesling, Albert Boxler (Alsace), 2012
Venetian style Monterey Bay squid, green garlic and soft polenta
Cassis, Domaine Bagnol, 2012
Spit-roasted pork loin, hazelnut-thyme cream, squash pancakes, wilted greens
Cerasuolo, Cos (Sicily), 2010
Pomegranate, pear, Barhi dates
Huckleberry ice creeam with buckwheat crespelle
  (pictured at top of this post)

•Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510-548-5525
Nov 12: fast.

Nov 13 and today: Minestrone, from the freezer
Pinot noir, BearBoat (Russian River Valley), 2010: very nice

Friday, November 7, 2014


Eastside Road, November 7, 2014—
WE DID NOT come back from Italy empty-handed, no indeed. One of the little packages was a few ounces of bottarga, the salt-dried roe of the grey mullet, unless somehow a tuna had got in the way. In this case, I'm pretty sure, mullet: the bottarga was from Senegal, purchased at the Salone del Gusto in Torino a couple of weeks ago.

There are not many things richer or more marine than bottarga, or more concentrated, for that matter. Cook prepared penny the usual way, but treated them with a Mario Battali recipe she'd found somewhere online, with parsley and lemon peel among other things, and, as you see, a good grating of bottarga on top. Absolutely delicious. We should always have bottarga on hand, as Cook said.

Green salad afterward, of course.
Garnacha blanca, Ressò (Catalunya), 2013

Last dinner in Italy

Eastside Road, November 7, 2014—
WE'RE HOME, after a long day in the air and in airports, and another gradually moving from an airport motel to normalcy. So it's time to contrast the last dinner in Italy — for now — with the first back on Eastside Road.

I don't usually photograph people I don't know, out in public: but theist two guys looked so much like a favorite painting by Marcel Duchamp (Chess Players) that I couldn't resist, and they (and their setting) also give you a good idea of what Italian small-town hotels depend on for their trade: blue-collar workers out on assignment. No idea what these guys do for a living. They're relaxing with their smartphones and tablets, probably playing a soccer-game app or maybe even watching a game.

Here's the menu:
Carpaccio di Chianina con sedano e parmigiano
Pappardelle fresche al ragù di Chianina
Tagliata di Chianina con contorno
Dolce della casa

A menù di carne: meat menu, suitable for us blue-collar types. And it was my last dinner in this country for a few months: so why not?


To tell the truth I hadn't expected a lot. We'd hoped to dine in one of three Slow Food restaurants not too far from our hotel, which had been chosen for its proximity to the airport, but last-minute confusion, crisis, and anxiety had ruled that out. So it was with a little trepidation that I'd ordered. But the carpaccio, under a scattering of sliced fennel and drizzled with excellent olive oil, was a very pleasant dish indeed.

The pappardelle were nice and eggy, perfectly cooked, and sauced with a pleasant light Bolognese. The Tagliata — literally "sliced," in fact chunks of what I'd call stew beef, rather tough but therefore full of flavor — was nicely flavored with salt, oil, and rosemary, and surrounded, as you see, by a man-sized portion of roasted potatoes.

And the dolce — well, the photo, as usual, doesn't do it justice. Light, spongy, full of sweet wholesome whipped cream, topped with frutti di boschi (red fruit: berries, currants, who knows what else), and laced with a discreet amount of rum, it was a splendid finale.
Bianco, then rosso Toscana, in carafe
•Hotel Restaurant I Tre Leoni, Viale Ugo Maspero, 10, Somma Lombardo (VA); +39 0331 255520
THAT WAS THREE days ago, but seems a month. The next day, Wednesday, was spent flying from Milan to New York to Charlotte to San Francisco, eating snacks generously provided (this written ironically) by the air carrier and an exorbitant sandwich bought at JFK: the less written here about such matters, the better.

We arrived at SFO at 10:30, too late and too tired for dinner. Yesterday, after a good night's sleep, we took the bus home, caught up on the mail, and dined on the remains of the tuna-cannellini salad I'd made in mid-October. It hadn't improved in the freezer.
Garnacha blanca, Ressò (Catalunya), 2013: a nice, clean, soft, generous, cheap wine

Monday, November 3, 2014

Susa, 2: Slow Osteria

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Via Leopoldo Agnes 21, Susa, November 3, 2014—
I TOOK A LOOK in this year's Slow Food guide to the Osterie d'Italia, helpfully available as an iPhone app, to see if there might be anything nearby, and found a place that sounded familiar.

Sure enough, after driving the Statale road a few kilometers east of here and on the other side of the river, and getting stuck behind a big herd of dairy cows lumbering down the road, and then driving up the steep hill through thirteen hairpin curves, we pulled up by the biggest elm tree I have ever seen in a picturesque little village where, I remembered, we had taken Rosa to dinner once, and Rosa has been gone since 2007; I know because we visited her grave today in the Chiomonte cemetery.

This place is really wonderful: fittingly, since we have only one more dinner to eat in Italy this trip, it joins Scannabue, where we ate on our first night in Italy a couple of weeks ago; they are certainly the best restaurants we've dined in.

We were the only diners in the restaurant, in a small, comfortable upstairs room furnished with tastefully homey pictures and whatnots. The chef brought our courses, carrying them up a flight of stairs from his kitchen on the ground floor. We began with a trio, as is customary here: one of the best insalate russe we've had, the peas and carrots carefully cooked al dente, the potatoes marvelously flavorful; a very tasty pepperoncino cooked in olive oil and smothered with mayonnaise; a fresh tomino of goat cheese covered with a long-cooked strawberry jam made, I'm sure, with fraises des bois.

Then came the salami you see above, pungent and spicy and nicely textured, and a local three-month-old fresh cheese served with one of the finest honeys I've ever tasted.

IMG 6764Next, a vegetable tart with a soft cheese sauce, Castelmagno I wouldn't be surprised. When I asked what vegetables were in it, zucchini surely, Oh, zucchini, yes, six or eight vegetables, the cook said. Leeks and onions, I'm sure; but also the most discreet amount of carrot, and probably some spinach… And the pastry! Light, flaky, perfectly salted, buttery…

On, then, to a plate of spaghetti very lightly treated with a meat sauce, so lightly you might almost overlook it, but not the sprig of rosemary stuck into it. And then, why not, we divided a serving of brasato, chunks of beef nicely braised in an artigianal beer. A carbonade, in fact: but the beautiful fried polenta reminded us we were certainly in Italy — it is made from corn sun-dried somewhere up in northeast Piemonte; we'll have to explore that corner one of these days…

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Since I liked the polenta so much, I agreed to a polenta cake for dessert, covered with local marrons glacés. A small glass of light but pointed gentian liqueur helped the whole meal resolve beautifully.

Grignolino d'Asti, Bava, vintage unrecorded — I really do have to get my act together…
Il Sentiero dei Franchi, Borgata Cresto, 16, 10050 Sant'Antonino di Susa (TO); +39 011 963 1747

Attraverso il Piemonte

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Via Leopoldo Agnes 21, Susa, November 3, 2014—
WE STARTED OUT YESTERDAY in Monferrato, sorry to leave but secure knowing we will return. We drove, convoy-style, often on back roads per Waze's advice, to Bra; and then it was time for a midday degustation.

One doesn't work one's way through five or six wines without a little something to eat, so we ordered a typical light Piemontese snack, as you see: Russian salad, carne cruda, vitello tonnato. These were all perfectly fine. Probably not made in house; possibly the better for that. The main thing was the wines:

Spumante, Az. Agr. Gian Paolo Viglione, 2010 (clean, not too much personality, pleasant);
Arneis, Careglio (Roero), 2013 (true to type and refreshing);
Barbera d'Alba, Taliano, 2013 (corked);
Nebbiolo d'Alba, Battaglino, 2012 (smooth and fairly rich);
Nebbiolo d'Alba, Cascina Val del Prete, 2011 (very nice, rich and deep, changing pleasantly in the glass)
IMG 6707Oh: and, of course, bonet.

•Ristorante Enoteca Garibaldi, Via Garibaldi, Bra; +39 0172/55.23.2
THEN WE HAD a coffee and drove on to Susa for the night (and the next night), where we called up one of Lindsey's cousins to see if he and his wife were free for the night. Yes: They were going out to dinner in a few hours; did we want to come along?

We have spent a number of nights in Susa over the years — it's the main town in the valley where Lindsey's father was born, 110 years ago — but we've never really explored the restaurants in the city itself. We were pleasantly surprised by this one, a lively place with a full bar, a calm dining room off to the side, and a marvelous couple of wine cellars deep and deeper underground beneath the whole affair.

IMG 6719We made a trip down there to select the night's red wine, then headed back upstairs to the street level to sample a very nice Spumante whose name, alas, I never did get. Too bad, as I'd like to have a bottle of it; it was yeasty and politely assertive, almost like a nonvintage Champagne.

Dinner came in a number of courses: a fine plate of salume; sformati of vegetables in egg custard; little cubes of fried cheese; a platter of clams and mussels curiously breaded with a curry mixture; vitello tonnato it goes without saying; and finally a very fine plin, those little agnolotti- or raviolini-like pinched cubes of pasta, filled with a meat ragoût subtly flavored with herbs. Whew. This has been a serious three days; good thing we have only two more of them!
Barbaresco, 2008, but whose? In the hilarity of our macaronic conversation and joking I forgot to get a photo of the label! I'll try to find out and get back here with the information…
Oh: and desserts, of course — and no bonet! Just a fine hazelnut cake, Tiramisu, a pear muffin of all things, a delicious soft custard, and a ricotta cake laced with dried fruits and rum and another local cheese that once again brought medieval cookery to mind…

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•Osteria della Marchesa, Via Montenero, 4, Susa; +39 0122.32803