Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Berry time

Berry time.jpg
Eastside Road, June 29, 2015—
BERRIES — FRUIT in general — have been a recurring theme the last few weeks. What a fine lunch they make! Here, strawberries from Preston of Dry Creek, mulberries from our tree, apricots ditto. It's the first time our apricot tree has fruited, though we set it out a good three years ago. And you see most of the crop here. But how delicate and floral they are, how fresh.

The mulberry tree went in much longer ago, and has taken on good size in spite of lack of water and fertilizer. It's now too tall to harvest completely, even from my tallest orchard ladder, so we just leave lots of berries at the top for the birds, who then — so runs theory — leave the lower fruit, more hidden within the foliage, to us. Of course these birds are messy eaters, and I suppose contribute fertilizer of their own production to the tree.

We discovered, by chance, the one important rule about buying a young mulberry tree: buy one with fruit on it, so you can verify the quality. This is (as you see) a purple Persian mulberry tree, and the fruit is indescribably good, perfumed, rich, deep, suggestive.
Duck breast at Zuni
Zuni's Wedding Cake
SUPPER QUITE LATE at Zuni, after hearing Terry Riley's long and eventful string quartet Salome Dances for Peace played by Kronos. I had a duck breast salad, a fine confection of perfectly cooked duck sliced and served cold with roasted apricots, mustard greens, mustard-seed gremolata, and bee pollen; and, afterward, this little individual "wedding cake," a white cake with buttercream and raspberries, surprisingly filled, beautifully prepared in honor of marriage finally available to all. (Well, all but the already married.)

My companion had another marvelous plate: warm purple tomatoes with green beans, spring onions, bagna cauda, orange zest, and fried bread. The bread turned out to be more like sopaipillas, bringing Zuni closer to Zuni than I've known it to be since its very early days…
Merlot-Tannat, Domaine Chiroulet "Grande Reserve" (Gascony), 2010: deeply flavored but long in the tooth
• Zuni Café, 1658 Market Street, San Francisco; 415.552.2522
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's RestaurantsIMG_1455.jpg

Hominy again

Eastside Road, June 29, 2015—
I FORGOT TO MENTION the other day, when I was thinking about hominy during my childhood, that on a few occasions we actually had fresh hominy. Freshly processed, I mean. In late August 1944, when I turned nine years old, my parents, my kid brother and I took up residence in Welch, Oklahoma, a small town in the northeast corner of the state. It was a bit of a lurch, I suppose, but the previous few years had been so unsettled anything seemed not only possible but fairly certain.

We were there to help out my father's mother, whose second husband had recently been killed in an accident. She lived in a big two-storey clapboard house on the edge of town, with a barn, a milk cow, a dog, a few cats, and neither electricity nor running water. That was our purpose, to wire and plumb the house, as I understand it. Dad worked at a synthetic rubber factory producing Jeep tires; Grandma worked in the local hospital; Mom I guess took care of the household.

Among the most vivid memories of that year is the taste of freshly processed hominy. Corn was sliced off the cob and set to soak in a mixture involving lye. I'm pretty sure the lye was home-made, from wood ash saved from the winter fires; I remember the hominy tasted soapy. Come to think of it the soap was home-made too, also from wood ash, and it burned like crazy. And the laundry, and the "clean" clothes that came from it, had that same wood-ash-lye-soapy-grey-water smell.

We had hominy again tonight, a can of it, and some fresh corn from the freezer, mixed into the onion soffrito and the chorizo (thanks again, Franco), all garnished with chopped cilantro, and it was delicious. Green salad. Fruit.
Rose, La ferme Julien (var), okay.
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The weekly salmon

Eastside Road, June 27, 2015—
WE'VE SETTLED INTO the Saturday routine: to the Healdsburg farm market in the morning, where we visit our favorite vendors: Dave for fresh-caught local king salmon (actually it's his daughter, I think, or perhaps a granddaughter, who's there most often; he's generally out on his boat); Franco for his marvelous sausage or, perhaps for a change, some chicken-liver mousse; Burt and Mary for their unique dark lettuces and sweet carrots; Renee for radishes and maybe another head of lettuce; Yael for her indispensable Rose de Latour garlic; no peaches today from Dry Creek because our own tree is sufficient for the moment; Middleton Gardens for favas; our neighbors for eggs (but the hens aren't laying yet!); Lou for a conversation about olives and maybe some vegetables or a loaf of bread…

Then in the evening, after the Saturday Martini, I build a little fire of fruitwood prunings and cook the salmon. Cook's got it ready, covering it with two or three grape leaves I've picked and put to soak. I let the fire die down to coals and grill the salmon in a "grill basket," a skillet-like pan with many perforations. Cook prepped the favas while we watched the news with our cocktails, which make the news easier to deal with. Green salad afterward, and some peaches and berries for dessert. Summer's here.
Rose, "La ferme Julien" (Var), nv
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ham and cheese

Eastside Road, June 25, 2015—
A QUICK BITE tonight, after attending an interesting panel discussion on emigration from Asian countries — Vietnam, Japan, China, the Philippines, even Hawai'i, through personal stories. But to the table: We were hungry afterward, not having eaten before, but it was late by local standards. With our friend, then, to a favorite place of hers, where she has a pizza, my companion a plate of calamari, and I a good old ham and cheese. Overworked here, I thought, involving some kind of gloppy sauce, but filling and nourishing and, I admit it, tasty. Yes, Companion and I split a romaine salad as well. And so to bed.
Albariño, Columna Rias Baixas, 2013
• Monti's Rotisserie and Bar, 714 Village Court, Santa Rosa, California; (707) 568-4404
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants


Eastside Road, June 24, 2015—
HOMINY ALWAYS TAKES me back to my childhood; we had it fairly often. It was always canned, and it seems to me it came in large cans and was not a standard brand — was it from Habitat? I'm not sure. Mom simply heated it and we ate it as a side dish, with the inevitable garlic salt sprinkled on top. I haven't tasted garlic salt since 1954, but I do still like hominy Tonight it was mixed with chorizo sausage, crumbled into the black iron frying pan to join an onion soubise. On top, Cook sprinkled raw cabbage-onion-and-lime relish, and chopped cilantro — a very tasty combination. Green salad afterward, and plenty of fruit — our peaches, mulberries, and plums are hitting their stride.
Cheap Pinot grigio
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bar and grill

Eastside Road, June 22, 2015—
EVERY DAY CAN'T be a total winner.Tonight we settled for a pretty ordinary (though grass-fed, according to the menu) hamburger, on sliced sourdough bread, with sweet tomato catsup, a grilled onion, a slice of routine tomato, greasy french fries, and a bit of green salad with a sweet vinaigrette. We had an excuse: we'd been to a Little League baseball game. We lost.
Ale, Einstök (Iceland): clean and bitter
• Railroad Station Bar and Grill, 236 South Cloverdale Boulevard, Cloverdale, California; 707-894-4779
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Monday, June 22, 2015

Penne, peas, and pesto

pasta with pesto
Eastside Road, June 21, 2015—
IT'S REALLY A springtime dish, I think, but it works just fine on the solstice: pesto. I read something the other day by a food writer who said he'd never seen the point of pine nuts, and substituted pecans for them when making pesto. Turned out he'd never had any but rancid pine nuts. We buy expensive ones, when we can't eat the ones from our own trees — laziness and forgetfulness interferes with that project, which is season-specific and labor-intensive. We buy expensive ones, and keep them tightly covered in a little jar in the freezer, and so far haven't had any trouble with them going rancid. Garlic and salt, smashed together in the marble mortar, with a wooden pestle. Then the pine nuts, all smashed to a smooth paste. Then the basil leaves, pounded in their turn out of all recognition. Last of all grated Parmesan cheese, not too much. I pack this into a narrow-mouthed jar and float enough olive oil on top to cover it. It keeps a few days in the refrigerator. Green salad, of course, and mixed peaches and apricots for dessert.
Cheap Pinot grigio
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Duck leg and salmon

Duck leg, Chez Panissew.jpg
Eastside Road, June 20, 2015—
TWO OF MY favorite dishes; two of my favorite places to eat; two consecutive days. Yesterday it was the plate you see to the left: a perfectly cooked duck leg, crisp on the outside, redolent with duck fat and salt; with it, green beans, escarole, and porcini on toast. I'd had a fine salad before, and a delicious dessert afterward (caramel-stracciatella ice cream, chocolate sauce), but it's the duck stays with me.
Aprémont; Dolcetto blend
• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525
TONIGHT WE DINED at home, on fresh-caught salmon that I'd grilled over fruitwood coals, along with some spring onions. The salmon had nothing on it but salt and a little bergamot zest (rescued from my Martini, if you want to know), and it was first-rate. With it, broccoli and favas; green salad afterward.
Cheap Pinot grigio
salmon and spring onions.jpg Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Friday, June 19, 2015

Blue and Brie


Eastside Road, June 18, 2015—
CHEESE FOR DINNER. Well, we started out with steamed broccoli and potato-and-celery root purée, the latter heated up in butter, and quite tasty. But the centerpiece tonight was Mount Tam Blue and a perfect Brie. Green salad afterward, and a huge bowl of peaches, apricots, and the first tiny black figs from our tree this year…
Cheap Pinot grigio
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Shell pasta with peas


Eastside Road, June 17, 2015—
YES, WELL, TIME to catch up again. Sunday we had Jeff's delicious shell pasta in cream sauce with fresh peas and Parmesan, and you can't do much better than that. Monday, sorry, I forget. It's been that kind of week: too much work to do, too much of it outside in the heat, too many things on my mind.
YESTERDAY'S DINING WAS odd because of schedules. Lunch was a quick nettle-and-pecorino pizza from the Café Chez Panisse, and it was tasty — I do like nettles, once they're cooked. And then, at four o'clock, a hamburger at Zuni, because we were on our way to an opera at six. (Les Troyens; fabulous opera; well sung; disconcertingly produced.) Zuni's hamburgers are big, juicy, made of decent beef, and accompanied by terrific pickled onions. The fries are shoestring and very good. We'd begun with anchovies with Pecorino, a marvelous appetizer, and for dessert… what a surprise! A meringue a foot across, loaded with subtle peach-leaf ice cream and pieces of raw peach, for Lindsey's birthday! What a treat!
Champagne: thanks, Gilbert!
• Zuni Café, 1658 Market Street, San Francisco; 415.552.2522
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Home cooking


Eastside Road, June 13, 2015—

WE THOUGHT OF our friend Nancy tonight as we ate dinner, Nancy Skall, whose smiling, slightly ironic, good-hearted presence animated the Healdsburg Farmers' Market for so many years until her death earlier this year. We were eating favas from her Middleton Gardens, the same favas she'd sold to us every year for over a decade. Her gardens — Malcolm's gardens; Malcolm of the winsome smile and the straw hat — their gardens live on; new owners have kept the same gardener who plants the same seed in the same soil. Of such continuity is made the little certainty we have, I sometimes think; and Cook's way of dealing with the favas is another piece of that certainty.


As is Dave's salmon, which we buy every Saturday in season, and which tonight I grilled over fruitwood cuttings, and Cook dressed simply with lime juice and salt.

IMG_1285.jpgLest you think we have no dessert here I give evidence to the contrary: a bit of the last of that delicious buckwheat birthday cake Thérèse made fully a week ago, and which holds up beautifully, especially with some salt-caramel ice cream; and a bowl of ripe strawberries from Lou Preston's farm. Summer is truly here.


Cheap Pinot grigio

YESTERDAY WE DINED once more on Franco's sausage, this time crumbling it, browning it, and combining it with shredded cabbage, sliced carrots and radishes, a couple of Habañera peppers roasted, then minced, some avocado, and lime juice — what I think of as Californio cooking, down to earth and simple and delicious. IMG_1272.jpg Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Friday, June 12, 2015

Catching up again


Eastside Road, June 11, 2015—

YES, IT TAKES a while to get back into the routine; I'm a few days behind here…

Tuesday of course was a fast day, our first in a month. I won't kid you: it took a while to get used to our modified fast when we took it up, a couple or three years ago — our usual breakfast of caffelattes and one slice of toast apiece in the morning; a good handful of mixed nuts and a couple of cups of tea in the evening; nothing else.

I thought it would be hard, after a month of determined dining in Italy, to get back to that routine. But in fact it was no trouble at all. It's amazing how much time and trouble it saves, and how easily you can get by for a day with nothing more — and how virtuous you feel…

But then yesterday the Principal Meal of the Day was at midday, in the Café: a fine rocket-Pecorino-hazelnut salad, beautifully balanced with oil, vinegar, and salt; and then this marvelous ragout of lamb shoulder, shell beans, and beans, impeccably flavored and all the textures just right.

Dessert was complex, vivid to the eye, fascinating: deep plum ice cream, strawberries, strawberry granita, rose-flavored ice cream, and a langue du chat.

Sauvignon blanc, Loire; Zinfandel, Green and Red

• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 707.548.5525

TONIGHT WE PICKED UP a third routine: Franco's fine sausage — "French Country" this time, mild yet savory — with steamed and buttered broccoli, just a touch of garlic. Green salad afterward, of course; and then a last wedge of the contessa's birthday cake, made of buckwheat flour — thanks again, Thérèse…

Cinsault, Preston of Dry Creek, 2013, fruity and forward
IMG_1206.jpg IMG_1211.jpg cake.jpg
Rocket salad Berry dessert Buckwheat cake

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Home again


Eastside Road, June 8, 2015—

AFTER A MONTH in Italy, we're nearly back to normal. We spent Thursday in flight, eating airplane meals; I won't say anything more about that. And we arrived in San Francisco too late and too tired for dinner. Friday morning we had our first coffee in nearly forty hours, and it was much needed and appreciated: a couple of cappuccinos at Emporio Rulli, in the San Francisco airport. With them, as you see, a bastone, millefeuille pastry with nuts and dried fruits — a touch of Italy, recalling our first breakfast in Naples, a month ago…

Friday, our first day back, Cook made a beautiful composed salad, just the kind of dish we had missed so often in the last month. Lettuces, cherry tomatoes, an avocado, delicious little fingerling potatoes, a handful of green beans, dressed with olive oil and sherry vinegar. Summer is on the way.

IMG_1124.jpgSaturday — well, it's already receded from memory. We'd been back to the Healdsburg farmer's market, our first visit to it this year (it only reopened the beginning of last month), and were glad to see the traditions and quality the late Nancy Skall had developed at her Middleton Gardens (with the tremendous help of her gardener who was wisely retained by the new owners) were still evident. But by dinner-time I was apparently eating in my jet-lagged sleep, and I can't report any further.

IMG_1198.jpgYesterday, though — Cook's real birthday — I began to come back to life. Lunch was Franco's marvelously flavored chicken-liver mousse on good old Downtown Bakery Como bread, toasted, with a glass of Cheap Pinot Grigio.

And then dinner, down the hill at the neighbor's, with the close family gathered around, four generations of us, and some delicious broiled trout and, again, the freshest, sweetest, yet still suggestively earthy fingerling potatoes, and salad, and a birthday cake… Thanks, all!

Whites and rosés

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Saving the best for last


Malanghero di San Maurizio Canavese, June 3—

EVERY NOW AND THEN it seems we just completely luck out. (Well, pretty consistently, this last month.) We had decided to spend our last night here in Italy near our airport. I looked at the Osterie d'Italia iPhone app for a good restaurant nearby, and was especially interested in one — the only one near Torino's airport in the listing, I believe.

We booked a nearby hotel, spent a couple of hours packing and decompressing, and then drove out in search of its small town — having forgotten a lesson learned many times over: telephone first. No listing service is perfect. What you need to confirm is whether the place is indeed open, whether you can get a table, and precisely where the place is.

I'd booked the table, of course, a couple of days ago. But I relied on Osteria's description of the address, and drove three or four miles out of our way. In fact I drove right past the place, eyes glued forward, missing its very clear sign. The taverna is in Malanghero, not San Maurizio Canavese.

Oh well. We entered what proved to be a really pleasant, old-fashioned, homey taverna — in the characteristically subtle Italian nomenclature, rather simpler than an osteria and certainly less restaurant-like than a trattoria. Three small dining rooms, of which ours seated a dozen, no more. Many paintings and photographs on the walls. One waitress, who knew her stuff. One cook, I'd be willing to bet, with maybe one helper.

IMG_1094.jpgThe menu is quite restricted, perhaps three pastas and two secondi; but the wine list was very impressive indeed, though hardly venturing away from Piemonte. (Why would you?) We were very quickly given our amuses-bouches : a demitasse-spoon-sized sphere of firm soft white cheese, a soft tomme as I believe, with a dollop of herbal tapenade and a generous amount of delicious olive oil.

Next came a series of antipasti, beginning with five sausages served simply on a board with a sharp knife; slice off what you want. The first one we tried — the farthest away in the photo — was a magnificent thing: pork, potato, and beet, hardly cooked, lasting only a few days we were told, made on a farm up in the Val d'Aosta. Next came a piquant sausage, then one made with a very discreet addition of finely ground walnuts; then two more ordinary ones at different degrees of maturity. Altogether, a splendid tasting. 


There followed a splendid carne cruda , nothing but very thinly sliced and then pounded beef under a coating of olive oil, very subtly salted and, I believe, treated to the faint aroma of anchovy. Regular visitors to this blog will know I've been sampling raw beef at every opportunity, whether in a tartare style, chopped or scraped, or as here in a manner closer to carpaccio. I have yet to be disappointed, but this was certainly near the top of the range.

Came next a couple of mountain tommes, discs a couple of inches in diameter, stagionata  to perhaps a couple of months, flavored with thyme, and again in olive oil; and then a fine soft frittata of zucchini set off with a couple of squiggles of peperoni-infused mayonnaise.

We were given a choice from two pastas, and we all opted for the risotto — perhaps we've just been having too much spaghetti, tagliatelle, and ravioli lately; perhaps it was because we'd been driving through rice-growing country. Most likely it was because we were intrigued by its treatment: flavored with aglio orsino , described as the leaf of a plant that grows wild.

When I pressed the pleasant and patient young woman serving us further she simply returned with a leaf, the shape of a spear-blade, about as long as my hand, apple-green, soft and velvety to the touch. True enough it smelled very subtly of garlic, but it clearly was not common garlic. Whatever, it gave our risotto a beautiful apple-green cast, recalling the zucchini frittata, and a discreet but definite and, to me, quite new flavor, a bit like garlic, a bit like nettle, but neither.

IMG_1109.jpgWe were far too well-fed to take a secondo. The ladies at the table took dessert; the men, seeing this was their last night in Piemonte for the foreseeable future, opted to share a glass of Barolo, not having yet had any. It's easy to be content with Dolcetto, Grignolino, and Barbera in Piemonte, especially in Monferrato where we've been the last week. But Hans was curious to taste a Barolo, which of course wants a heavy meat course alongside — or no food at all, sipped thoughtfully as a vino da meditazione. It was a fine moment.

Arneis, Cecu D'la Biunda, Monchiero Carbone, 2013: suave.

La Taverna dei tre gufi, Via Devietti Goggia, 71 Malanghero di San Maurizio Canavese (TO) 10077; 3312840743.

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Something different

Via Troglia, Cardona, June 2, 2015—
NEXT-TO-LAST dinner here in Piemonte, for the present. We'd decided to drive into Casale for the afternoon, and found there first a big market, then absolutely empty streets: people had retreated to their homes or trattorie for lunch, then a nap, I'm sure of it. The streets were absolutely silent.

I called a restaurant recommended by Slow Food's Osterie d'Italia — the only one recommended for miles around — and yes, though it was getting on toward two o'clock, they could give us a meal if we appeared soon.

We walked through the silent empty streets. Casale is a dignified city I think, its modest architecture containing a prosperous and complacent citizenry, at least to this casual observer. But Slow Food was right about this restaurant: almost as good as last night's. In fact, strike the "almost": comparisons are odious.

Carbonara We ate simply and for once identically: we began with pepperoni in bagna cauda, very nicely prepared; and then went on to spaghettoni carbonara. Alla romana, I suggested: the host looked a little sheepish, since his restaurant like all good ones hereabouts is really Monferrino, based on local cuisine. The spaghettoni was made in house, was very yellow with egg yolk, and was cooked perfectly.

Dessert: a kind of cheesecake involving gianduia and ricotta and flour, no idea how it was done, and chopped strawberries, and a drizzle of strawberry purée. A welcome thing.

Spumante rosato, of all things; and then Grignolino: Gaudio, Bricco Mandalino, 2013; in half bottle; very nice
•Osteria Amarotto, Via Cavour 53, Casale Monferrato; +39 (0) 142781281
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Monday, June 1, 2015

Che bella Rosin!

via Troglia, Cardano, June 1, 2015—

WE START OUT the month at a really fine restaurant one of the two or three best of the last four weeks — a place we'd run into last fall when we were last here; one of the two reataurants on the upper plaza in Moncalvo.

Our smiling second waiter brought us a complimentary insalata russe, that Piemontese favorite we've met a number of times recently. This one was a marvel of well-integrated flavors and textures, the diced potatoes, carrots, and celery and the fresh-cooked peas — I'm sure of it — bound in a smooth mayonnaise lightly flavored with tuna. Superb.

My contessa won the ordering contest — when will I learn to follow her? — with a plate of tagliatelle smothered with sliced "tartufi neri". That was what had put me off: black truffles, here in Monferrato, the white truffle capital of the world? and in May, well out of season?

But there turns out to be a different kind of tartufo nero, as our waiter demonstrated, bringing a whole truffle about the size of a baseball, indeed black but lacking the pebbled texture of the French variety, and when cut in half revealing a smooth-grained, almost dry interior that was perfectly white. They are local; their season runs from March to October, they cost perhaps €150 the kilogram, and they taste very like white truffles. Who knew?

I suffered through another plate of cruda — I write this ironically: this was a fine version, perhaps the best yet, clean, sweet, and smooth but nubby, and served simply with a bottle of good olive oil, pink salt from the Himalayas, and a pepper grinder.

Then a plate of gnocchi in Castelmagno sauce. Castelmagno, when at (or even merely near) its best, is perhaps my favorite cheese: smooth, creamy or pasty depending on its maturity, pure white or streaked with blue, buttery, tasting of the grass and flowers the cows graze on high in the Piemontese Alpine foothills. And these gnocchi were light and smooth, clearly made of potato but quite diffident about it, happily wearing their sauce.

A big mixed salad next, because we've been ignoring our vegetables; and then the best bonet yet, more cake than pudding, bittersweet with cocoa and bitter almond, beautifully textured, and topped with the right amount of whipped cream. Ottimo.

Timorasso: Derthona, Vigneti Massa, 2012, luscious; Grignolino: Sanpietro, Poderi Girola, 2013; the best Grignolino I've ever tasted, hands down. Fabulous.

•La Bella Rosin, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, 3, Moncalvo (AT); 0141.916098

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Oh la, back to da Maria…

Via Troglia, Cardano, May 30, 2015—
UFFMOST OF US were thinking, I've eaten so much these last few days, what could we possibly want for lunch. Alice, whose instincts are always right, said I just want a pizza and a big big salad. Gabriela brightened: There's a very good pizzeria at Moncalvo, she said. The one in Tonco is closer, but the one in Moncalvo is better.

Moncalvo it is, then, and we packed ourselves into three cars and set off, getting lost a couple of times on the way, not quite trusting the directions, but finally finding the place. (Once we'd decided to rely on the directions.)

A big table had been set out in the pizzeria which seemed to have opened only for us. The oven was almost up to temperature; we only had to be patient a few minutes more…

And then out the came, pizza after pizza, Margherita, speck, a wonderful one that featured mostly marvelous soft sweet onions… and then after that a big glass bowl of insalata mista for each of us. We had a fine time, and these were truly very good pizze.

Vino rosso da tavola, of course, with one holdout for beer
•Ristorante Pizzeria San Giovanni, strada Casale 43, Moncalvo (AT); 0141 917134

AND WE SHOULD HAVE left it at that, but some of us developed a slight hunger in the evening, and the consensus was to go back to Zanco, to da Maria, which had served us well for lunch the other day.

Alas, we were not in the mood, and the service was inexplicably slow. There was no menu, and the waiter brought out — at a snails' pace — one appetizer after another, all of them the same as the previous lunch, but to my taste a little more tired, perhaps from an extra two days in the fridge.

I took a pasta course, and enjoyed my agnolotti, but after carne cruda and lardo was beginning to feel a bit liverish. Then, because it sounded interesting, I ordered as a secondo the carpione. Had I been alone, or there been only the two of us, I'd have asked further about this: but I didn't want to press the matter. It sounded interesting, and I didn't catch the reference to carp.

The dish originated as a way of preparing that loathsome freshwater fish, but has extended here in Monferrato to chicken, and that is what we got: a flattened chicken breast, breaded and fried; a couple of lengths of zucchini; a fat anchovy or two that looked more like sardines to me, cooked as the chicken had been.

All three of these items had first been pickled, though, for that is what carpione refers to: a marinade using water, vinegar, white wine, and chopped aromatics — carrot, onion, laurel, thyme or rosemary. This could be a delightful dish in hot weather with a glass of beer, if the pickling weren't overwhelmingly astringent. Tonight, though, it was. Furthermore, we were a little liverish (I think I can speak for some of the others at table).

Worse, we were drinking a magnum of Barbera, which itself turned out to be a real disappointment, a Parkerized superwine, 15 percent alcohol, overly oaked and tannic, but still no match for all this vinegar. I hardly touched my dish.
Arneis, Ergola (Langhe), 2014; Barbera d'Asti, "Il Beneficio", Castello di Razzano, 2011
•Ristorante Da Maria, via Roma 131, Zanco di Villadeati (AL); +39 0141902035
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Festa! part three

Festa! part three
photo: Julio  Levy
Via Troglia, Cardano, May 30, 2015—
TWENTY-SIX OF US at table tonight, in a festa I'd organized — disorganized might be a better word — to celebrate someone's 80th birthday. It doesn't really fall for another week, but this worked out better for the guest list. I'd wanted the European component of our family — I hate the term "extended family"; this really is a family — I wanted them finally to meet one another, partly to get to know one another, partly to see, thereby, various aspects of our life they hadn't understood before.

In the event the turnout was pretty successful. I regretted the absence of three couples, who at the last moment were unable to make it to this corner of Italy for the weekend, but the room was full, as you see, and the party was festive.
I'll no doubt write elsewhere my conclusions from this social experiment. In the meantime, the menu: we had a merenda at first, on the terrace outside the dining room, in the twilight, overlooking the Monferrato landscape that never fails to charm me; and then we moved inside and sat down to work.
Tonno di Coniglio su Valeriana
Insalata Russa
Flan di Erbette con Salsa al Formaggio
Agnolotti del Plin fatti in Casa
Roastbeef di Fassone con Insalatina dell'Orto

Frutta fresca
A typically Piemontese menu. The "tonno" was rabbit poached, I'd think, then sliced and served with tuna sauce on a bed of young valerian leaves. Insalata russa is of course cooked peas, green beans, potatoes, carrots and whatnot, mixed with mayonnaise and served cold — an old-fashionedd dish I very much like.

The flans were little individual baked vegable rissoles, let's say, under a light cheese sauce. The agnolotti were superb, I think; plin is a Piemontese version of Bolognese, very fine, rich, but well balanced.

The bonet was also exceptional, chocolate and hazelnut in a sort of Bavarian cream — I know Lindsey will correct me on this — in a light slightly bitter caramel sauce. Really I've never had a better version; I particularly liked the texture, creamy but slightly grainy and substantial.

Vino Rosso di Nostra Produzione da Uve Barbera, Grignolino e Nebbiolo
Società Agricola Crealto, Strada Crealto 6, Cardona di Alfiano Natta (AL); 348 384 6665

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants