Saturday, January 31, 2015


Eastside Road, January 31, 2015—
A LOCAL CHEF, a very gifted one who's worked off and on at a string of very fine restaurants he's opened and then, often too soon, closed, is in the hospital with serious health issues. We heard somehow about a benefit that had been organized for him in a village not that far from us, where he's been working for the last few years, rather improbably cooking quite fine dinners in a kitchen the size of our pantry (which is pretty small) in a roadside bar.

We haven't been out there often enough — though barely half an hour distant, it's off our usual routes. But we took a friend out today to do our part for his medical expenses, and the dinner, prepared by a friend who's the chef at another local restaurant, was really top-notch.

As you can see, this is a local dive, an old-fashioned roadhouse really, and the joint was indeed jumpin. Since I can't eat shrimp and lobster, I started not with cioppino but with a roasted beet salad, with local goat cheese and greens; and went on to a delicious braised beef, slowly and expertly cooked in red wine, with potato purée and braised kale — truly delicious.

Dessert: Butterscotch panna cotta, made by Jenny Malicki, a gifted pastry chef who we've known for years. This was community, friends, locals, people who turn out for one another — really a nice gathering.
Zinfandel, Ravenswood Old Vines, vintage?
• The Casino Bar and Grill, 17000 Bodega Highway, Bodega, California; (707) 876-3185
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Friday, January 30, 2015

Eating simply

Egg sandwich
Eastside Road, January 30, 2015—
WHAT A PLEASURE, after the long expensive complicated dinner the other night, to eat at home again, simply. Last night we had Marion's buttered barley for dinner; just the barley and then a green salad. I always think of Marion Cunningham when we have this simple dish; it was her recipe — simply whole-grain barley, cooked as a pilaf, then liberally buttered, with perhaps a little black pepper.

Tonight we finished of the pot, adding broccoli and a fried-egg sandwich. That sandwich was the bane of my childhood: Mom used to send me to school with one every day: a cold greasy leathery fried egg, the yolk as leathery as the white, on bread that ranged from totally unleavened to as full of air as a politician's promise, since the bread was homemade and so was its yeast.

This fried egg was different: cooked just right, in bacon fat, salted and peppered while cooking, and topped with Susan's hot sauce, a welcome gift the other day, thanks, Susan!

Cheap Nero d'Avola
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lazy Bear

San Francisco, January 28, 2015—
YOU WILL HAVE NOTED, Constant Reader, that posts here have becoming less frequent: a combination of other demands on time at the desk, and dining perhaps too routine to be of interest. Perhaps this post will make up for it.

In the last few months we have dined in a few restaurants pioneering in what is to me, certainly in this country, something of a new format:
•Table d'hôte (like downstairs at Chez Panisse), which is to say a fixed menu with alternatives only in case of serious allergy
•A series of small plates offering tastings rather than substantial nourishment
•Wine pairings (a small glass with each course)
•Cuisine drawing on several ("global") traditions
•Great attention to presentation
A year ago or so we very much enjoyed a long dinner at Aubergine in Carmel. In Seattle a few weeks ago we enjoyed dinner at Staple and Fancy; in Los Angeles last week we were less enchanted with Providence. On the other hand, we were bored, a few years ago, at a "chef's tasting menu" in the Napa Valley's vaunted French Laundry.

A month ago or so we read a review of a San Francisco installation of this concept, with an added twist or two:
•Admission by pre-paid advance ticket purchase
•Two fixed seatings
•An almost individualized attention to each diner
As you see, diners are seated at two communal tables, ten diners to each side; all forty are served simultaneously throughout the meal, and the chef introduces each course, describing the sources of ingredients and the techniques of preparation.

This is a serious place: a twelve-page menu stapled into an attractive stiff cover is given, with a pencil, to each diner. To my eye not every diner took notes; but the women to my left and right were quite attentive and analytical in their address to the experience.

lounge.jpgWe dined at the second seating. We were greeted at the front door on our arrival, our names noted and checked against the reservation book; then we were led to an upstairs lounge area, where we stood at a railing overlooking the dining room. Here we were offered an apéritif — cold hibiscus tea with slices of cara cara; later I asked for a Cappeletti as well, one of the few Italian aperitivi on offer at the bar (which also offers mixed drinks and, of course, wine by the glass).

Discreet waiters brought water, then a series of canapés:
Whipped scrambled egg with smoked bacon, maple, and hot sauce
Shigoku oyster on the half shell, with citrus kosho froth
Royal Sterling caviar and romanesco panna cotta on an endive leaf
Duck liver mousse with marmalade
Duck confit hushpuppy with chopped black lime
Duck "Slim Jim" sith sour cream and herbs
Bone marrow and cheddar fondue with crudités
"Slim Jim," on my index finger
Brown butter brioche
Onion broth
Risotto with truffles
Squab breast with foie gras
Wagyu ribeye
"Toffee" pudding
All these were really quite tiny and easily eaten, passing the while nicely until table time, when one of the young people who had been waiting on us — there had been several — ushered us downstairs and seated us across from one another toward the end of one of the tables. (Alas, not the kitchen end: had I known of the chef's introductions, I'd have asked to sit closer to the kitchen, pleading advanced age. We were, incidentally, by perhaps twenty years, quite the oldest diners in the room.)

And then came the succession of courses:
Brown butter brioche
Charred onion broth
"Saffron" (though I had an alternative, Risotto with black truffles)
Wagyu ribeye
Sticky toffee pudding

Many of these courses were really quite good. I very much liked the brioche, for example, and especially the butter served with it: housemade from slightly cultured cream and well salted, it brought me back to the butter Mom made when I was a child. The brioche itself was more bread than brioche, we thought; and I questioned the idea of so big a concentration on bread-and-butter at the beginning of what promised to be a long and rich dinner. But I liked the bread a lot, and mean no disrespect when I suggest that it accompany a can of baked beans.

Muscadet: Melon de Bourgogne, Domaine du Grand Mouton, "Cuvée 1," 2012

The "sorrels" was a salad, as you see, of tiny sorrel leaves, Miner's lettuce, garden snails out of their shells, little chunks of Geoduck clam, toasted puffed barley, and tiny spot prawns for those who can eat crustacea (I cannot, and they were simply omitted from my serving, not a word said: very discreet). A nice salad in a green oil-and-puréed-something dressing; complex, refreshing.

Rolle: Le Clos Saint-Vincent, "Vino di Gio," Bellet, 2010, in magnum

I thought the onion broth superb. The color, not terribly well captured in the photo, was a deep golden amber; very clear; with a French-fried egg yolk at the bottom. The broth itself was from Tennessee country ham scraps and bones, and tiny bits of apple and scallion accompanied the egg yolk — again, discreetly.

Ribolla gialla, Stanislau Radikon (Friuli), 2006

My table-mates were envious of the course next presented me: a risotto, beautifully cooked and supple, with a generous scatter of sliced black truffle on top, barely warmed by the dish. I must admit I am mystified as to the ingredients and technique of this risotto. I tasted Arborio rice, of course, and butter, and a hint of cheese, and another hint of nutmeg; but I know other things were also involved. I could happily eat this dish, with only an accompanying salad, one day a week every week of my life.

Squab next: another stand-out preparation. The deeply flavorful cut, from the breast, had been lightly poached, I think, then rubbed with a mixture of spices and flavoring agents whose names I couldn't catch; then roasted. It was accompanied with seared foie gras, always a good idea; and tasty little Seckel pear halves, and a scatter of streusel involving both chicory and chopped toasted almonds. All these flavors went together very well indeed.

Bordeaux, Sociando Mallet, "Cuvée Jean Gauteau (Haut Médoc), 1997

The Wagyu beef was less appealing to me. The meat came from a Texas-raised grass-fed animal, not particularly deep with flavor especially after that delicious squab; and I thought it was severely compromised by an overly complicated garnish involving fried mushrooms and sweetbreads in a fish-flavored cream sauce with peanuts, parsley, and green peppercorns. Peanuts and cream, said the young lady next to me; that makes no sense at all: and I had to agree.

Even less sense was made by the following course, called simply "Carrot." This was an entremet whose function it was, I think, to cleanse the palate and introduce dessert: an idea I like very much. But it involved carrot, fennel, and cream cheese, the carrot turned into "gnocchi" and, disturbingly I thought, pea-sized chewy tapioca-like things, on the bed of creamy cream cheese the texture of crème fraîche, on a bed of chopped carrot-flavored gelée. Much art; much technique; too much imagination.

Riesliing, Willi Haag, "Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr," Auslese (Mosel), 2003

I liked the following course, the first dessert, but I would never call it (as did the menu) "sticky toffee pudding." It tasted like a fairly conventional steamed pudding, almost an old-fashioned molasses-based Indian pudding. It came with a little sour cream, which set it off nicely, and beautifully chosen dates, and a gelée of boiled-down hot sauce, and chopped black walnut, a very good idea I thought…

Finally, the "Treats": a platter — black slate again — bearing pairs of macaroons, gelées,
chocolate wafers, and meringues. Some of these involved chile, never too piquant, nicely setting off the deep bitter dark chocolate.

Grenache Blancc, Domaine Fontanel, Rivesaltes Ambre (Roussillon), 2001

Now about those wines. Like the courses, they varied in attractiveness: some were truly delicious; others quite nice. One was, I thought, simply too weird to drink. Fortunately the two framing wines — the Muscadet and the sweet Grenache blanc — were quite attractive. Especially the Muscadet, which had a complexity and even a hint of fruitiness that moved it closer to the upstream wines of Vouvray than the flinty, severe wines from nearer the mouth of the Loire.

The white Provençal "Vino di Gio" was a known quantity; we've had it in Europe — a simple, fruity alternative to a good Pinot bianco. The Bordeaux was, I thought, over the hill, faded, tasting more now of the barrel than the fruit.

That leaves the two ends of the scale. The Ribolla gialla was cloudy, funky, yeasty, clearly still fermenting in the bottle — though nine years old! I know there's a trend to drink such wines, but to my taste it's a marketing ploy to salvage a bad lot short of turning it into faux-Balsamic.

But the Riesling — that was a real treat, a fine, balanced, well-made Mosel, like we used to drink occasionally fifty years ago, luscious, sweet but not at all cloying, with a beautiful finish.

Still wanting something to tie the evening together before the long drive home, I looked in vain for a grappa, a brandy, or an Armagnac. The little bar offered cocktails, whiskeys and whiskeys, gin, agave (1), and rum, but no distilled grape at all. The waiter suggested something made of apples, assuring me that it was a Calvados, not cider. He then brought a couple of ounces of an "Apéritif normand" in a tiny glass filled to the brim, from which it was impossible to capture any fragrance at all. Whatever it was, it was certainly not Calvados, but it did finish the evening.

SO THEN, WHAT to say about the experience? As you may have gathered, this is not my kind of eating. I don't enjoy grazing, particularly — I can't help it; I'm an old man, and old-fashioned into the bargain: when I dine I want to sit down to a meal. It can be a big meal, and I confess I like the classic tradition of soup, fish, poultry, meat, side dishes, salad, dessert.

I can remember a few such meals in Italy: at the lamented Vipore outside of Lucca a few years ago; many more years ago — 1974! at Il Gran Sasso, in Milan: I wonder if it's still in business. Those meals took hours to consume, running from shortly past noon until five or six o'clock. While they ran through a number of courses, all the preparations shared a single terroir.

This is one of the big reasons I am not attracted to these new-fangled restaurants. In general they seem to concentrate on exploring a range of flavors, textures, techniques, even heritages. Vaguely (or clearly) Japanese ideas stick their elbows into classic French techniques. Duck mousse and confit, snails, clams, squab and foie gras, beef; probably a dozen different kinds of greens; those unlikely carrots; citrus throughout — it's like grazing through the shelves of a very fine supermarket-delicatessen, with someone at your elbow always wanting you to take note, reflect, analyze, learn.

The clientele, as I've mentioned, was mostly young; between thirty and fifty, I'd say. They seemed very happy for the most part. The dining room was noisy but not unbearably so — though I was annoyed at the odd selection of vaguely hip-hop sound that too often intruded on the table talk.

It was an interesting experience and I'm glad we went. The service, and the choreography of the forty diners, from lounge apéritifs to the table, was impressively smooth. The open kitchen was a pleasure to see — fifteen cooks! Shiny stainless steel; military parades of plates and glasses!

But I don't know that I'll be back.

Lazy Bear, 3416 19th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110; (415) 874-9921
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Friday, January 23, 2015


Eastside Road, January 23, 2015e—
HOME AGAIN. The principle meal of the day was a succulent hamburger, just the way I like it — really good beef, ground on the premises, a nice thick patty griddled rare, on a decent bun, with lots of julienned lettuce, good pickles, an acceptable tomato slice for Janaury, nice sweet raw onion, and a hint of mustard. This was a fine hamburger and we'll be back again.

Farm Burger, 1313 9th Street #130, Berkeley; (510) 705-1485
On the road north we stopped for a cappuccino at one of my favorite cafés, where the coffee is roasted on the premises and the espresso machine is maintained and operated with care. It doesn't hurt that it's in one of my favorite towns…

Vertigo Coffee, 81 4th Street, San Juan Bautista, California; (831) 623-9533

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Coffee and pastry

CroissantIMG 8139
Los Angeles, January 22, 2015—
IN THE PAST few years our favorite coffee here in Los Angeles has been Intellgentsia's Black Cat, available at two locations we know of: Pasadena and Venice. I suppose I first met Intellgentsia in Chicago, its home city; since then I've enjoyed it in a few other locations: in addition to these in Los Angeles, a café in Sacramento and another in, thankfully, Santa Rosa.

On this trip, though, when we had it yesterday in Venice, it seemed a little bitter. Don't know why. On the other hand, the croissant we had there yesterday was truly extraordinary, by far the best I've had outside Paris, possibly excluding the ones Kathleen Stewart used to make by hand in the early days of Downtown Bakery and Creamery in Healdsburg.

This morning there were no croissants at Intellgentsia in Venice by the time we got there, but we weren't worried; they'd told us where they got them, and we simply drove over to the famous old Hollywood Farmer's Market, on Third at Fairfax, and stopped in at Short Cake for a second coffee and, yes, there they were, croissant.

It turned out that Short Cake had been conceived and founded by two old acquaintances of Lindsey's: Nancy Silverton and the late Amy Pressman, both bakers extraordinaire and smart cookies when it comes to business. The bakery is over three years old: why had we not heard about it, why had we not been here before?

IMG 8140
IMG 8141

Well, we made up for it now. As I was gobbling my croissant I noticed a very beautiful Pithiviers had been set up on a nice green cake-stand on a marble table outside the bakery; a young woman was standing on a stepladder taking a photo of it from above. Other pastries were being set about for more photos, and a pleasant-looking man with dark straight hair and an immaculate white apron was looking on, rather pleased I thought, and rightly so, with the proceedings.

I introduced Lindsey, and he recognized the name, and we had a nice talk. Ivan Marquez turned out to know of Lindsey and her work; he has her book. For a young man he has a considerable résumé, having worked at Spago here in Los Angeles, then The French Laundry in Napa county. He's a pastry chef with a pedigree and, clearly, a passion.

He took a few minutes from his work to sit with us and talk business. I have to say, there is nothing I like better to see than a person who is totally committed to métier, who combines passion, discipline, knowledge of history, imagination as to possibilities, awareness of constraints, enjoyment of the unique liberation of mind, muscle, and spirit that comes from a continuous address to expertise. My own enthusiasms are literature, music, painting, and cuisine: all of them offer this kind of address, and I've been privileged to know a number of masters. I have the intuitive conviction that this fellow is one of them.

Cynics among you will suspect my opinion has been influenced by his gift of those boxes you see on the table in the photo above. (They are opened in the two lower phots to the left.) You cynics are mistaken: the opinion had been formed before his insistence that we take a few edibles for our long drive home. Pain aux raisins, bear claw (with pistachios as well as almonds, brilliant!), apple tartlet, poppyseed cake, and at the lower right a curious savory tartlet with ricotta, strawberries, thyme, and tangerine — I'd never have thought of it, and it's remarkable. This is truly a find.

Short Cake, 6333 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles; (323) 761-7976
AS YOU MIGHT IMAGINE, we were not all that hungry this evening. Tired and a bit sleepy, yes: so we stopped in Atascadero, where there's a café whose coffee we like. Where, then, for supper? We looked on Open Table, after having asked at the café, and settled on a place up the road in Paso Robles.

How nice to find a small plate on the menu, combining nearly all the things needed for a balanced meal! "Bistro Steak," they called it: a "flap steak," which I suppose is somewhere near the "hanger," grilled just the way I wanted it (and had stipulated, to our pleasant waitress), with a small green salad and a small serving of really very good pommes frites, standing up in a ceramic cup with a good-sized serving of decent though not memorable aïoli at its bottom.

The steak was au poivre, a little rough and masculine. We're in Central Coast country, cowboy country; the food is by way of vieja California. I want to ride horseback tomorrow, with a bottle of whisky and a tin of bread and beans: but I know I never will. This kind of place lets me pretend.Steakfrites
Orvieto, Sergio Mottura, 2013: substantial, old-fashioned, acceptable; Pinot noir, Wrath "Ex Anima" (Monterey), 2012: good California-style Pinot noir, dry
Villa Creek, 1144 Pine Street, Paso Robles, California; (805) 238-3000

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

LA's best

Venice, California, January 21, 2015—
HEY, LOOK, it wasn't me said this is LA's best, it was the restaurant critic of the Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Gold, a man whose opinions I feel deserve a certain respect.

In truth it isn't the kind of place we normally patronize. Very expensive, in the first place. Japanese-French cutting-edge cuisine, for another. But now and then we feel obliged to dip our feet into today's currents, partly to see what we've been missing, more to see what we're up against.

I arrived in a state of high dudgeon. We were late because of the traffic. The restaurant's signage is so discreet we drove past it twice without noticing. The sign directing us to the valet park stand (obligatory here in Los Angeles) was almost equally obscure, and then when we did see it it turned out to be misleading. We spent ten or fifteen minutes driving around looking for the place; then we parked in front of a house, walked a block, asked someone, and were pointed to the right direction.

Big dining room, tables well spaced, fourteen servers on the floor for perhaps twenty tables. Everyone well dressed. Bizarre Rorschach wallpaper; discreet music.

IMG 8117
Fluke, radish, borage blossoms,
IMG 8124
Spaghetti in butter, white truffles
IMG 8126
Duck breast, applesauce, things
IMG 8129
Vanilla gélée, chocolate truffles, passionfruit macarons
Only three alternatives were offered: tasting menus at $150, 200, or 300 apiece, add $55 to $130 (I think) for wine pairings; add supplements if you want foie gras, caviar, truffles, or Wagyu beef. Hard to construct a meal out of all this, but we gave it a shot, choosing the restricted $150 menu (opting for only four of its six or seven courses) but adding a serving of pasta with white truffles.

We started with two or three amuse-geules: an egg yolk of grapefruit gélée in a spoonful of grapefruit-infused vodka; a nasturtium leaf taco-like shell housing a filling of puffed wild rice, julienned chives, and crème fraîche (delicious). Then a cup of mushroom velouté with a few green peas (delicious).

Then came the first real course: fluke sashimi — I forgot to mention that the chef here worked a number of years in Japan — rolled up and served with similar tiny rolls of sliced radish with tiny spinach leaves and borage blossoms.

Next came a truly delicious course, though to my taste very Japanese: a scallop, cooked (as everything was all night) to exactly the right degree, served with a garnish of finely chopped peanuts, discreet curry, and shredded, chopped coconut, all in a thin tapioca sauce. Brilliant.

We ordered a supplement to our four-course dinner: a serving of spaghetti, served perhaps slightly too cool, with a nice buttery sauce and a generous shaving of white truffles. This was good, no doubt about it: but the truffles can't be as fresh here as they are in Italy; some of the fragrance is gone…

My principle plate was duck breast with chanterelles, smoked apple purée, and celery root: good, but not memorable.

Dessert: first, a curious serving of tarragon ice cream in a chocolate-flavored meringue cup with ground-up coffee-and-cocoa powder in its bottom, surrounded by tiny, quite firm lemon and chocolate macaroon-like pearls. The tarragon seemed too strong a flavor to me, but it was a very interesting, very nice combination.

Then, more to my taste, a plate of friandises: a very light vanilla gélée cube, a dark chocolate truffle with a curiously grainy skin, and a passionfruit macaron. I liked everything about this little plate; it gratified eye and palate equally.

Chablis, Jean-Marc Brocard, 2009 (in half bottles), true to type and very nice; Pinot noir, JCR Vineyard (Santa Barbara), 2012; also very true to varietal, well made, quite ready to drink
Providence, 5955 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles; (323) 460-4170

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Italy in Los Angeles

IMG 8063
Los Angeles, January 20, 2015—
LATE AT NIGHT, the small dining room in Osteria Mozza: with only four or five restaurants you can actually almost converse in here, and you'll be talking about the food and the wine, if you're anything like us. We could almost have been in Italy, the comestibles were so authentic. Only the clothes on the (other) patrons, and the inevitable irrelevant background music, revealed the truth.

I began with the Agnolotti, burro e salvia — a favorite pasta treatment for me: simply butter and sage leaves. Here it was brown butter, slightly cooked, the sage leaves wilted in it; and the pasta was marvelous, tender yet to the tooth, and filled with a very suave mixture of mince that took me straightaway to my beloved Piemonte.

Next, Veal Breast Stracotto, long-braised chunks of veal with a fair amount of the fat, a very tasty stew, though with mushrooms that didn't seem authentically Italian to me. And on the side, nicely caramelized cipollini cooked with lots of thyme, an herb at the top of my list, and sherry vinegar. And maybe a tiny pinch of sugar: these onions were quite sweet.

We went for dessert, too: the Torta della Nonna, "Grandmother's torte," with honey and pine nuts — a curious, complex, tasty dish, more Tuscan than Piemontese, really a sort of cheesecake I think, very nice indeed.

I like this place. The bar, the wine list, the ambiance, the service, the location — I like this place. But beware: it is very popular and very noisy. Go late, and ask for the small dining room.

Timarosso, La Colombera (Langhe), 2010: Fruity but a bit reserved, crisp, deep, a beautiful wine
•Osteria Mozza, 6602 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, 323 297 0100
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Monday, January 19, 2015


Eastside Road, January 19, 2015—
NOTHING FANCY TONIGHT: we're content with what you might call icebox pottage, thises and thats from small containers in the refrigerator. This always puts me in mind of the hilarious story that opens Ruth Reichl's memoir Tender at the Bone, about her parents — you can read it here — but that is really unfair to Cook, who is resourceful and frugal but also a damn good cook.

The soup was thick, complex, hearty, and assertive, calmed down with its sprinkle of chopped parsley. Afterward, a little cheese, and a green salad; the last of Thérèse's delicious pan pepato, and a tangerine.

Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 2011
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Root vegetables

IMG 8033
Eastside Road, January 18, 2015—
AMONG THE FEW THINGS in this world that I cold cheerfully do without are root vegetables. I exclude the ones that aren't really vegetables, of course: onions and garlic, which are bulbs; potatoes, which are tubers; mushrooms and truffles, which are fungi. No: I'm talking about the true roots, among which carrots are the only ones I willingly consume.

In my opinion the problem is real, physical, existential on a molecular level, and probably genetic. Root vegetables, in adddition to their obnoxious textures — impossibly wooden if raw, disgustingly mush-fibrous if cooked — are pungently repulsive to the palate, tasting of dirty aluminum. I know what that tastes like: my father was a sheet metal worker, and (strictly on an experimental basis) I licked plenty of aluminum in my childhood. That proverbial taste of bad pennies, that's what even a delicate turnip tastes of. Parsnips are worse; I won't even discuss rutabagas. Beets are beyond the pale.

The other night we were guests at a friend's house, and she roasted a mélange of root vegetables. Knowing my feelings about beets, she roasted them separately, but I was still faced with all those other things. I ate them, of course. I may be a picky eater, but I know my manners.

Tonight Cook, inspired by that recent evening at our friend's, decided to go the same route (if you'll forgive the pun), and you see the result here. Well, I ate them, of course, mentally thanking every little bit of potato among the other stuff. It was okay. I won't say it was delicious, not to my personal taste, but it was okay. I can never be anything but grateful for the woman who works so tirelessly to keep me not only fed but healthy. I wish I liked these things. Maybe I'll try harder.

Afterward, thankfully, a nice green salad, and then a tangerine, and a couple of pieces of chocolate, reward enough, don't you agree?

Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 2011: rich, round, fruity, almost mature
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Saturday, January 17, 2015

First sausage

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Eastside Road, January 17, 2015
FIRST SAUSAGE of the year tonight, with romanesco, as you see, and pilaf. I should explain the pilaf: it's really bog-man cereal left over from this morning, with chopped scallions and butter added. White wheat, red wheat, rye, all whole grains, simmered for hours. Delicious.

Green salad afterward, of course.

"Guadagni" red from the three-liter jug, Preston of Dry Creek
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants


Berkeley, January 16, 2014—
LUNCH WITH A COUPLE of friends today, and since we were at a restaurant well known for its meat — in fact there's a good butcher shop here, and I bought a couple of pounds of duck confit before lunch, to make a cassoulet later on — I thought I'd have a classic: steak-frites.

It's a classic bistro dish, of course. Here I thought the steak a little too big, particularly since I'd made the mistake of ordering it "as rare as possible," and that's about what it was. I do like my steak bleu, which is to say quite rare, barely warm. But the cut used in the average steak-frites needs more cooking than that, else it is tough and chewy. My fault: not the restaurant's.

On this steak, a nice herb butter, surprisingly cold I thought. (We were eating early, though — 11:30 — and it may be that later in the service things are more au point.) And with it, very nice thin-cut french-fried potatoes.
FOR SUPPER, THEN, nothing needed but an omelette, which I cooked as I always do, in olive oil, with some grated cheese, toast on the side.

Cafe Rouge, 1782 4th Street, Berkeley; (510) 525-1440

Liver and onions

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San Francisco, January 15, 2015—
YOU MAY NOT SEE them, but nestled below the bacon and the onions there are a few pieces of calf's liver. Liver and onions is a favorite dish of mine; I'll promote it right here to the Hundred Plates. It's best, of course, if it's fegato Veneziana; but good old American liver-and-onions will do in a pinch.

What's the difference? Well, the Italians cut the liver into strips, or (though I think this wrong) even into dice, so that it will all cook evenly (and inn fact almost instantaneously), frying it in butter and splashing white wine into it. We Yankees most often simply fry slices of liver, unevenly cut, so that some gets overcooked: not nearly as pleasant.

We mask the result with strips of bacon, unknown to the Italians. And we omit the white wine: a pity, I think. But at least we don't stint on the sliced fried onions.

(I remember years ago eating at the counter at the lamented Vanessi, on Broadway, and asking the cook on the other side of the counter to just fry up some liver and onions. He'd splash what seemed huge amounts of olive oil and white wine from those unlabelled bottles always at hand, sometimes thumbing the top to control — barely — the amounts. It was always good.)

John's Grill is dependable for its ordinary American-style liver and onions. It's the only dish I've ordered here, I think. It always comes with a baked potato and that typical old-fashioned Italian-restaurant spray of broccoli and carrots, and I usually have a bowl of the creamed spinach on the side.

A decent Martini before, why not; and, for dessert, cheesecake, because my constant companion does not like it, and we never have it at home…IMG 8020
Pinot noir, Annabella (Napa?), a little sweet
John's Grill, 63 Ellis Street, San Francisco; (415) 986-3274
I HAVE BEEN THINKING of linking this blog to a webpage listing the various restaurants we visit, and possible the hotels and motels as well, with a very simple rating guide. If I were to do that, this listing would read, for example,
John's Grill, 63 Ellis Street, San Francisco; (415) 986-3274. 15 Jan. 2015. OK
where the restaurant name would link to its website and the date would link to the blog post discussing the place. My three-step rating key would be simply Y; OK; N: standing for Yes, okay; No; perhaps modified by exclamation points. What does anyone think of this idea?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Wine tasting

Berkeley, January 12, 2015
NOT IN THE MOOD for a big dinner, nevertheless a little hungry, where to eat? We looked on Open Table to see what was available, and chanced on a place we hadn't heard about, and decided to give it a try.

It's an interesting concept: a limited menu of appetizers, main courses, and side dishes, chosen to accompany a fairly extensive list of wines, many from quite off the beaten track. Since I had a delicious Beaufort to snack on last night, I decided to stay in Savoie, and asked for a flight of three whites.

With them, this house-made garlic sausage, quite rosy inside and nicely flavored, with slightly undercooked white beans and quite sufficiently braised collard greens. The wines matched well. And then, afterward, a very nice crème brûlée, flavored subtly but certainly with nutmeg.

Rousette: Lupon Frangy, 2013 (tart, good fruit, lots of substance); Chignin, Quensrd (Bergeron), 2012: similar to a Quincy, direct, balanced, firm; Savagnin: Domaine Rolet (Jura), 2012: serious, mature, a bit of finesse — between a Macon blanc and a good white Rhône. Nice wines.
•The Barrel, 5330 College Avenue, Oakland; 510-655-1700Crèmebrûlée

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Salade Lyonnaise

IMG 7834
Eugene, Oregon, January 11, 2015—
THIS IS TRULY one of the Hundred Plates, an elastic but irreducible repertory of dishes without which I would find life much less pleasurable: the salade Lyonnaise, or, as it's called here, "bistro salad": frisée (no other lettuce will do), lardons, croûtons, a poached egg, vinaigrette. The vinaigrette should be cider vinegar, I think, and hot fat from the lardons.

We both enjoyed the dish, and I remarked that it's hard to mess it up, and my companion remarked No, not at all, it's frequently messed up. And in truth you can mess it up if you go out of your way to do so. You can use some other lettuce; you can use bacon instead of lardons, you can overcooke the egg (or even fry it if you're that perverse); you can use an egg that is less than satisfactory. I suppose you could use Balsamic vinegar, or "balsamic": I hope I don't run into that.

But. Not only is this one of the Hundred Plates; we are eating it in one of the Hundred Restaurants, those restaurants we always return to with anticipation, then pleasure, than fond memory. We don't dine here often enough, because Eugene has not often been a logical evening stopover for us. Now we have a grandson living here, so perhaps we'll be visiting more often. I hope so. This is truly a reliable, interesting, immensely comfortable place, with a good wine list, an excellent bar, first-rate service, knowledgeable sourcing, and a fine, professional kitchen.
A Negroni, with Citadelle gin, which I very much appreciate
Marché, 296 East 5th Avenue #226, Eugene, Oregon; (541) 342-3612

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Catching up again

Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, January 8, 2015—
FishchipsIN THESE TIMES of false gods how nice there still is true cod to be found. At least, so promised the menu, which I choose to believe. To tell the truth this is probably not the best restaurant kitchen in Seattle, but it has a marvelous view, an acceptable menu and wine list, and a comfortable room in which it is even possible to converse — the perfect place for another lunch with an old friend seen too rarely these days.

As you see, I settled on a half order of the fish and chips. In fact, all three of us did. The fish was nicely battered and fried, the cole slaw was correctly sharp, the tartar sauce okay, the catsup deep, the chips thin-cut and crisp. We'll undoubtedly be back.
Pinot grigio
Ray's Boathouse, 6049 Seaview Avenue Northwest, Seattle; (206) 789-3770In the evening, a bowl or two of good soup at our daughter's house. Home made soup, of course. Nothing better.
Red wine, Langhe

Portland, Oregon, January 9, 2015—
LUNCH TODAY DOWNTOWN at a place new to us, a big open room with communal tables and high stools and, fortunately for us old-timers, a few booths where it was possible to have some conversation with a couple of acquaintances who are regulars here. The lunch menu is Italian, as the name implies, running to a few appetizers, pastas, and main courses. I had a daily special: ravioli made with chestnut purée, cooked in browned butter — cooked a bit too long, I thought, but pleasant enough.
Pinot grigio
Grassa, 1205 SW Washington Street, Portland; 503 241 1133
OkraAND, IN THE EVENING, home again, Indian take-out ordered from Bollywood. I can't begin to list the things we had. We started with two things I will not eat: okra, which I find disgusting and slimy; and yoghurt, which I find sour and forbidding. This okra was fried crisp and seasoned with chili and was delicious, especially when dipped into the yoghurt raita-like sauce. I may have to revise a few opinions.

Afterward, among all the rest, pork vindaloo, in a very tasty deep sauce.
Red wine, Langhe
Bollywood Theater, 2039 NE Alberta, Portland; 971-200-4711Vindaloo

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ham and cheese; Risotto

Seattle, Washington, January 7, 2015—
LUNCH TODAY with the old friend we came up here to take to lunch, at an old-fashioned breakfast-and-lunch joint down on the waterfront. How could I pass up a grilled ham and cheese on rye bread? Especially when dill pickles were promised, and a Caesarish salad — an odd one, with leanings toward cole slaw; I think I even detected a bit of shredded cabbage among the chopped romaine; but not an unpleasant one, not at all.
Red Hook ale
•Salmon Bay Cafe, 5109 Shilshole Avenue Northwest, Seattle; (206) 782-5539
AND THEN DINNER at the home of Cook's remaining Seattle cousin and his wife, first-generation Americans with deep Italian roots. Tata made her risotto, baked, flavored with a bit of tomato, and incorporating chunks of good sausage. Green salad afterward, and a glass or two of Falanghina, and coffee with a drop of brandy. How nice to eat at home! Many thanks!

Many courses

Scallops with akura and cucumber
Seattle, Washington, January 6, 2015—
WE DON'T OFTEN go for those multi-course chef's tasting menus, but after a difficult day on the road I was in no mood to make any decisions, and the friend with whom we were dining, and who had recommended this restaurant, wanted to go the route, so why not. And this is what was brought to the table:
first course
Housemade mozzarella with onion agrodolce
Raw scallop with akura and cucumber
Parsnip soup with fried sage
Little gem lettuce, sieved egg, radish in Champagne vinaigrette
Fried Pacific oysters with Calabrian aïoli
Beef tartare with garlic toasts
Speck with Pecorino and crouton

second course
Strazzapreti with lacinato kale and beef brisket
Butternut squash ravioli with sage, walnuts, and brown butter

third course
Grilled striped bass with cauliflower and pomegranate
Grilled New York strip steak with kale, pancetta, and balsamic vinegar

fourth course
Chocolate terrine with salted caramel
Citrus ricotta cheesecake with honey and strawberry jam
Chocolate gelato with crushed chocolate wafer
I had my share of this succession of things, and so did my constant companion, and we agreed that every item was really quite good. I will say I'm not fond of any "surf and turf" combination, and it strikes me as odd at best, a little wilful or depraved at worst, to serve grilled fish and beef simultaneously. What to do, for example, about wine? So, delicious as the steak was (and perfectly grilled, which is to say almost raw), it was the earlier courses that pleased me the most — until I tasted that cheesecake and the terrine. They were delicious. There are people here who really know what they're doing. Oh: and the meal was not horribly expensive.

Rioja blanco, Muga, 2013; Pinot noir, Walnut City (Willamette Valley), 2012 (Burgundy style; very good)
•Staple and Fancy, 4739 Ballard Avenue Northwest, Seattle; (206) 789-1200

Monday, January 5, 2015


Grants Pass, Oregon, January 5, 2015—

WE DINED HERE twice before, most recently in August 2009. Can it have been that long, really? How many restaurants, in how many places, since then? Here it is, not yet a week into the new year, and already we're on the road, staying in a cheap motel the Sweet Breeze Inn, acceptable, even a little cute in its modest way), and dining once again at what seems to be The Only Place In Town.

Whatt you see here is the daily special, of which only two orders were left as we sat down, just a little after six o'clock: a sixteen-ounce rib-eye steak from an animal about whose provenance I chose not to inquire. Our waiter, Caleb, was engaging, and I didn't want to subject him to a Bay Area Slow Foodie grilling. 

Under the steak was a serving of peas and carrots, the latter nicely roasted, the former odd — starchy: definitely not spring peas (though my companion was served young asparagus with her Pacific salmon). Frozen, I would have thought: but in that case they'd have been sweeter and tenderer. Perhaps these were fresh garden-variety cold-weather peas. In any case I ate them all.

Also potatoes, roasted Yukon gold potatoes that had been quartered and cooked not quite enough with olive oil and garlic and a hint of rosemary. And, not afterward but first, what I call a Caesarish salad, chopped, with lettuce as well as Romaine, a vaguely Worcestershire-flavored dressing not innocent of lemon, and shreds of what seemed like Parmesan cheese. Well: we've done worse.

Riesling, Foris (Oregon); Cabernet Sauvignon, Simi (Healdsburg), both of unknown vintages

• River's Edge Restaurant, 111936 Rogue River Highway, Grants Pass, Oregon; 541-244-1182

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Last of the mousse

Eastside Road, January 4, 2015—
I REALLY HAVE NO IDEA how she made it, this deicious chicken-liver mousse. Well, I call it mousse; it's too smooth, unctuous, to be called a paté. It was the neighbor down the hill made it, and gave it to us as part of the holiday festivities. The chicken livers were from her sister-in-law, who raised the chickens a hundred miles north, on her ranch or perhaps at her feed store. Whatever the case, the result was delicious.

That's particularly interesting to me, because while I very much like mammal liver — fegato venziano most of all, which I cook using elk liver when I can — and while I'll never back away from paté de foie gras, chicken liver is something I can deal with only by carefully suspending my prejudices. And we all know that's a very difficult thing to do: particularly when it comes to food.

We're in a bit of a rush tonight, having been out to see a movie, and having still to pack for a trip that begins tomorrow before breakfast. So Cook simply made some toast, spread it with the last of this delicious chicken-liver mousse, set a dollop of leftover wild rice and mushrooms next to it, and finished with some green salad.

I have to say: we do eat well here.
"Guadagni" red, Preston of Dry Creek


Eastside Road, January 3, 2015—
YESTERDAY WAS A FAST day, appropriately after the many days of feasting: simply the morning caffelatte with a slice of buttered toast, then a handful of nuts with a cup of tea in the evening. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, we've been doing this one day a week, usually Tuesdays, for two or three years now. We find it re-tunes the palate, keeps the weight in line, and gains us an hour or so which can profitably be used elsewhere. I like to think it reminds us of, well, mindfulness, too; each nut in that handful takes on a special meaning and presence, and I think, while chewing them, of the many people in the world who go hungry.

And today we continued a simple regime, having just a bowl or two of soup in the evening, and a green salad…
"Guadagni" red, Preston of Dry Creek

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Hopping John

Duck confit with poached eggs, Five

Berkeley, January 1, 2015—

BUT FIRST, BREAKFAST. That was with a couple of friends in a hotel restaurant we hadn't visited in ages — rather bland and institutional.  Everyone else ordered Eggs Benedict, but I was attracted to the duck leg confit with two poached eggs, nested atop a mound of shoestring potatoes, quite nice though hard to eat gracefully. 

Orange juice

• Five, Hotel Shattuck Plaza, 2086 Allston WayBerkeley510-225-6055

THE HOPPING JOHN was at my gracious cousin's table, made by her in her fine old Berkeley house, which our great-grandfather built nearly a century ago. Black-eyed peas and rice, with a few drops of Tabasco and a glass of Primitivo — perfect good-luck dish for the New Year, reminding us of the virtues of modesty and sufficiency, especially when given generously en famille… and so begins another year…

Year's end

grilled pigeon with couscous
Berkeley, December 31, 2014—
FOR NEARLY FORTY YEARS we've dined on New Year's Eve with the same couple of friends, going to their house in the even-numbered years, having them to our table in the odd-numbered years. It's the kind of tradition that makes sense of the ever more quickly passing years, I think. It's familiar, warm, reliable, grounding.

Last year, though, we broke the tradition — we were in Portland for a daughter's birthday (January 1). We suggested that our friends fly up for dinner out, at a local steakhouse, and join us for Giovanna's birthday party next day; and they quickly accepted; and we had a great time, as you can read here.

This year, our friends suggested we dine out again, in Berkeley, at Chez Panisse. Since it was their turn to host we were in no position to object, so at 5:30 we met downstairs, on a cold, clear night, to a fine, understated, beautifully conceived and executed dinner:
Amuse-bouches: endive leaf with a scallop and black caviar
     Champagne: Tarlaut, NV
Feuilleté with black truffle and mushrooms on winter mesclun
     Riesling, Schossburg (Alsace), 2012
Ravioli filled with ricotta in butter (my reward for being unable to digest what liiked like marvelous Half Moon Bay spot prawns)
     Chablis, Patrick Pluze, 2013
Grilled pigeon "marocain" with Barbi dates, little carrots in cumin and couscous flavored with salmon
     Bandol, Chateau la Rouvière, 2005
"Bombe glacée tropicale": tropical fruit ice creams in a baked meringue
     Beaumes-de-Vénise, 2012, half bottle
The wines were interesting, true to type, and nicely calibrated to the meal, which developed and deepened as it went along — a very satisfying evening at the table.

•Chez Panisse
, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-848-5525


Laytonville (Mendocino county), December 30, 2014—
DINNER IN THE COUNTRY, on our son's ranch high above the beautiful Long Valley, looking out toward the east and the Yolla Bolly — fine open country, bracing and healthy.

We had venison. Meadow battered and breaded boned-out steaks — "chicken-fried" steaks, served with delicious mashed potatoes and good old milk gravy, the milk from their own Jersey. Alongside, green beans nicely cooked al dente and buttered. Simple, substantial, rewarding fare for a fine, cold, silent country night.

Pinot noir