Thursday, October 30, 2014
NOT MANY THINGS do I like more (to eat) than calf's liver, and no way of preparing it do I prefer to what I always think of as fegato venexiano, liver cooked gently in butter with a little wine and vinegar and served with sliced onions cooked in the same mixture. The polenta is obligatory.
Meeting old friends in their home city, Verona, we were taken to a simple neighborhood trattoria for dinner, and what should be on the blackboard among the night's specialties but Fegato Venetiano! On the side, indistinct in my photo, a few leaves of mâche. The liver was cooked perfectly, still pink and moist; the polenta was a little salty to my taste, but made a very nice counterpoint.
Afterward, an insalata mista, mâche again figuring amongst the lettuces. Called valeriana here, lamb's quarters in English, it's a favorite green of ours, and we've met it more than once in the last week.
La Grola, 2010 (deep and sincere, perfect with the liver)
•Il Cappero, via G. Giardino 2/1, Verona; +39 045 8343300
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Thursday, October 23, 2014
I don't think we could have found a better place for our first dinner in Italy in a couple of years: this restaurant, chosen from the Slow Food guide Osterie d'Italia, was a pleasant five-minute walk from our San Salvario apartment; its dining rooms are homey and attractive; its menu is local and generous; the wine list is ample and interesting; its staff attentive and discreet; and the kitchen is superb.
I began with carne cruda: raw Piemontese beef, chopped by hand of course, lightly salted; with carpaccio, the same beef sliced razor-thin, flavored with lemon juice, olive oil, and Castelmagno; and a soft, delicate meat pudding whose preparation eluded me entirely.
Piemontese beef at its best (and I've never met it not at its best) is sweet; you can taste the grasses and flowers of high mountain pastures in it. It is also very lean, with little marbling as served — no grain-fed beef here!
Lindsey had the vitello tonnato, a huge serving of thinly sliced veal, boiled to just the right pink, covered with fine-textured tuna sauce whose flavor was subtle and innocent of fishy or vinegary aftertastes.
We went on to secondi, bypassing what promise to be particularly good house-made pastas — perhaps we'll be back for them later. Lindsey chose tagliata di vitello, cut an inch or so thick from the loin, I presume, and served with roasted potatoes and a Bearnaise-type sauce.
I had a brasato, chunks of beef braised in Barolo and served, simply, with puréed potatoes whose complex flavor made me think of chestnuts and celery root but was probably nothing more than fine fresh mountain-grown potatoes.
Dessert, of course: I couldn't resist a perfect baba au rhum, delicate and polite, in a supple Bavarian cream that was quite simply the best I've ever tasted, its eggs and cream farm-fresh and delightful.
house Nebbiolo (deep, rich, utterly drinkable)
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
He early developed a sure hand and palate with vegetables and herbs, not at all to the exclusion of meats, wines, and desserts. His parents — and an aunt or two, as I recall — ran Il Vipore, kitchen and dining room, with the grace, skill, and authority of the best country restaurateurs, and I put those at the top of the profession.
In time, though, he relocated to New York. His father needed medical help and he felt New York offered better options — but I have a hunch personal ambition may have been at work as well. Understandable: he was a young genius eager to continue learning as well as excelling.
Many years ago we dined at his first New York restaurant, Coco Pazzo. He greeted us at the table, wearing his whites. He couldn't linger: he was off to a second restaurant he'd just opened — on a bicycle.
That must be over twenty years ago, because I haven't been in New York since 1996. We finally made up for lost time Monday night, when we took a New York friend to Cesare's current place. We had a feast:
Pontormo: soft-scrambled egg, guanciale, pancetta, and market greensThere was more, I'm sure: but I write this two days later, and after a long and tiring flight from New York to Milan, then two hours in the bus to Torino.
Fagioli: Bean salad made with heirloom beans
Torta di porri: leek tart with eggs, Parmigiano and pancetta
Assaggi di salumi: eight or ten kinds of mortadella, coppa, prosciutto, porchetta, and salame
Dolci: chocolate mousse, panna cotta, and semifreddo
Everything here was delicious, served with style and personality (but not what they call "attitude"!) in a comfortable, casual room. Everything about the experience — tastes, quality, skill, personality — recalled Cesare to our minds, though regrettably he was unable to be present. The words for this kind of thing are generosity, genius, and authenticity. This is now one of my Five Restaurants.
Monday, October 20, 2014
DINNER WAS A LITTLE more upscale, and shared with a couple of Brooklyn friends not seen in years. Don't you remember, she asked; Where we ate last time you were in town? But we haven't been in NYC since, oh, for me, not since 1996, I think…
So we met there for a Martini before dinner (very good though not quite cold enough), and then were seated for dinner, and our waiter approached with menus: Um, Charles? Lindsey? And it was Scott, a waiter I always liked back in the nineties at the Café Chez Panisse; he's been here in NYC for years, as it turns out.
I had the Confit Tomato and Burrata salad, a pleasant affair with just the right amount of cheese; and then, since it's legal here, a nice foie gras, with figs, date purée, and chutney, all quite understated. And why not share the Tarte Tatin with its caramel ice cream? What a pleasant dinner…
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Thursday, October 16, 2014
• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525
YESTERDAY, THEN, we made do with another bowl of Marion's barley risotto (though to tell the truth that's pretty rich too). With it, a glass of good inexpensive Pinot grigio from the Veneto.
AND THAT BRINGS US up to date. Last night I set a pot of white navy beans on to boil, there being no true cannelini in the house, neither dry nor canned. Today I chopped up a cipollini onion bought last week from a neighboring farmer, and a few sage leaves from the garden; and I opened a can of Ortiz tuna, and mixed them up with the cold beans and a good splash of olive oil and some grated lemon zest. It's always a good idea to mix a salad like that a few hours before you're eating it; the flavors mature and blend so well…
Afterward, a salad of nothing but arugula, the small-leafed kind, dressed with an olive-oil-lemon-juice vinaigrette and garnished with shavings of Parmesan cheese. This is, I suppose, an Italian meal, but damn it we'd finished that good Pinot grigio!
Monday, October 13, 2014
On a day like this, Cook said, I always think of Marion. That's Marion Cunningham, who we knew for years, since meeting her back in the 1970s I believe at James Beard's seaside cottage in Oregon. A fine cook and author of cookbooks, she specialized in good traditional down-home American cooking, always ethical, authentic, and tasty.
This is her barley pilaf: barley, cooked until just soft but retaining its structure and bite, flavored with chopped scallions and butter — Marion is unthinkable without butter. A green salad afterward, and a couple of See's candies.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Saturday, October 11, 2014
This is something we almost never do, of course. But it was a long and fatiguing drive, and Cook hadn't quite finished her spaghetti Bolognese yesterday, and it had kept perfectly well in our little traveling refrigerator. So that was it, and we're grateful for it.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
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
Ashland, Oregon, October 7, 2014—
OUR FAVORITE PLACE for dinner here (New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro being in the nearby towm of Talent) is a sImple sorta-Mexican place on the main street, now ten years old, remarkably consistent, the menu never changing, but in every way always a pleasure. (Which is more than can be said for the theater here, but that's another story.)
We started out tonight as we almost always do, with the cabbage-lime salad, also involving grated carrot and thin crisp-fried tortilla strips, and the guacamole, not quite as good as mine but plenty good enough.
I went on from there to two tacos: carnitas, nice morsels of crisp-cooked pork; and pato, house-made duck confit. These tacos are complex and substantial, but not heavy — ideal pre-theater nourishment. With all this, a quite good Margarita or two.
We took our dessert around the corner, where the dessert pastries and ice creams are old favorites too: for me, a dark chocolate tart on a salt-caramel bed on good pastry. Well, I don't do this every day..
• Agave, 92 North Main Streett, Ashland, Oregon; (541) 488-1770
• Mix Sweet Shop, 57 North Main Street, Ashland; (541) 488-9885
Monday, October 6, 2014
• Ca' Bianca, 835 Second Street, Santa Rosa, California; (707) 542-5800
AND TONIGHT COOK CONTINUED the great traversal of the refrigerator, finding enough leftover roast beef for a nice hash, with green tomatoes and delicious buttery green beans on the side — you'd think it was St. Patrick's Day. Padron peppers, then two pickled pepper salads for an appetizer; green salad afterward, and then a small Crane melon to honor October…
Sunday, October 5, 2014
Eastside Road, October 4, 2014—
SATURDAY NIGHT, after the twice-weekly Martini, is no time to anguish about healthful dining. Not when Franco Dunn's rillettes are at hand. (And, anyhow, I trust his sources implicitly, as I respect his taste and skill.)
So tonight we begin with said rillettes, spread on Acme Bread's delicious walnut-whole wheat levain and accompanied by pickled green peppers.
But it is Saturday, after all; we did go to the farm market this morning; so it's on to Nancy's lima beans, for who knows how much longer they'll be available?
With them, quickly sautéed tiny squashes, which gradually I learn to tolerate, and half a sausage liberated from the depths of the icebox.
And we finish with a bowl of strawberries — another item I resisted most of my life, finding them either bland and woody or, at the other extreme, acidic and exaggerated. (Fraises des bois excepted, of course.) Like Nancy Skall of Middleton Gardens, however, Lou Preston grows delicious strawberries: whether the soil or climate, the watering or fertilizer, these berries are absolutely delicious. Colorful, too.
Friday, October 3, 2014
I SEE I FORGOT to mention last night's dinner, taken al fresco down at the neighbors' house. We had sausages grilled over wood, roasted butternut squash, peppers a la grècque, with olives before and salad afterward, a perfect supper for a balmy night…
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Green salad afterward, of course. No dessert. Baseball.
So, tonight, whole-wheat fusilli, dressed with fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic, and Parmesan cheese, and a little olive oil, and salt and good black pepper — I always forget to mention that; we use Tellicherry, and grind it when it's used, of course.
A green salad, with Alta's quince vinegar in the vinaigrette, and fruit, and a piece of chocolate…