Friday, October 30, 2015
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Bucatini with spicy tomato sauce, Sicilian-style meatballs, saffron, and Pecorino
Bronx grape sherbet with red wine, quince, and pomegranate
I know I shouldn't post the terrible photo I took of the main dish; it's only here to give an idea of the size of the serving — this was indeed Principle Meal of the Day. The bucatini — thick-walled tubes of pasta, properly cooked of course — were in a piquant sauce suggesting Naples to me, and the meatballs whether Sicilian or not, were certainly southern Italian, rich and complex with saffron and chopped walnuts. Gonna have to try to duplicate this one day.
Dessert — well, just look at the photo. It tasted as good as it looks. The sherbet was pungent with the somewhat musky flavor of Bronx grapes, and the Zinfandel set it off perfectly; also the pomegranate seeds and carefully diced and poached quince. What a place.
☛Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants
|Croissant and cappuccino, The French Press, Santa Barbara|
Stepping into the place I thought of the Café Chez Panisse: beer-wine bar on one side; open kitchen with hearth and pizza oven on the other; dining room with two seating areas. And the chef-owner, presiding over that kitchen, greeted me by name as I walked in, unannounced and without a reservation (they don't take reservations), because he worked the line in the Café for six years.
The menu is interesting, divided into appetizers, tapas-like share courses, and a few main courses; and the wine list is both interesting and thoughtful though almost entirely restricted to local wines: Central Coast; Santa Ynez Valley; Paso Robles. (What I've come to think of as "Sideways" wines, many of which are very good indeed, and getting better by the year.)
Brian sources his menu from local farmers, ranchers, and winemakers. There was a lot to choose from, and much of it quite enterprising: but it had been a long day, and I was in the mood for comfort food. I began with a cup of soup: chicken broth, cannellini beans, and mirepoix, with some red pepper very discreetly added; and thickened with farro. I thought of pasta e fagioli: this was a California version, but something about the textures and flavors, and the depth of the stock, took me right to Italy.
I was hungry and went on to a beautifully grilled rib-eye, served with Italian-style broccoli and scalloped potatoes — a difficult dish but irresistible when prepared this well. Everything about the dinner was exciting and deeply satisfying. We will certainly return: this is an important place. It is one of my Hundred Restaurants.
|Farro and bean soup…||…and rib-eye at Ember|
•Sweet Pea Bakery, 1200 East Grand Avenue, Arroyo Grande, California; (805)440-3456
Dessert, though, was rather nice: Spumoni ice cream, sliced, revealing chestnuts, pistachios, mild chocolate, and garnished with a pleasant amount of sweetened whipped cream and an irrelevant raspberry.
•Intelligentsia Coffee, 55 East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena; (626) 578-1270 and after the play we drove north.
Still it was pleasant enough after the drive from Pasadena. I settled for a spinach salad with lamb sausage, olives, tomatoes, feta, and red peppers; it seemed vaguely Greek, and was just what I wanted.
•The French Press, 1101 State Street, Santa Barbara; (805) 963-2721
We then set out north on Highway 101, headed for Gavilan College in (or near) Gilroy, there to check out an arboretum we’d heard about. The campus is very pretty, nicely gardened, but the arboretum seemed more a project than an achievement. Hungry, we stepped into the Student Union where I found a nice burrito loaded with beef, black beans, cilantro, tomato, onion, and lettuce, in a decent wheat-flour tortilla. Once home, all we wanted was a bowl of soup, buttered toasted walnut levain from Acme Bakery, and a salad and a glass or two of rosé…
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Monday we were still in a carnivorous mood and celebrated with those pork chops. I call them "my way," but the recipe was lifted years ago from someone else; I'm not going to research that just now — I'm sure the attribution lurks somewhere in this blog's archives.
It's simple enough: you crush a clove of garlic with a tablespoon or so of fennel seeds and some salt in your mortar; then you grate lemon zest into the paste and add olive oil, stirring to a spreadable consistency.
After searing the chops on one side (in only their own fat, in a black iron skillet), you turn them and spread half the paste on the seared sides. When the other side is seared you flip the chops, spread the remaining paste, reduce the heat, cover the pan, and cook until done.
We had these with sliced green Zebra tomatoes, probably the last of the year, and garlic toast; salad afterward; and a glass or two of rosé.
Tuesday was fast day, as usual; and last night (Wednesday) we ate out, rather exceptionally because at neither a restaurant nor a friend's house but in a retirement community where a friend's mother lives. This is one upscale place, I must say, and the dining was not at all bad. We had steak-frites, the steak a bit tough but flavorful; my Caesar salad boasted anchovies (though you can be sure no raw egg), and a glass of cheap local Merlot washed it down nicely.
|Steak and sausage down the hill||Chocolate cream pie!||Those pork chops, on the plate|
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Franco studied his craft in Italy, but his view goes beyond Italy — he speaks knowledgeably of the charcuterie of many countries. And he doesn't restrict himself to sausages: we buy and greatly appreciate his pancetta; I think I've had his lardo; and I could happily dine on his rillettes every week.
My Grande Dictionnaire Encylopédique Larousse tells me that rillettes is a dialect word from the west of France, from the old French rille, "longue bande de lard" — a long strip of bacon: perhaps rille is French for "rasher." But rillettes have little to do with bacon: it is, GDEL goes on to say, a preparation made by the long cooking, in their own fat or in that of pork, of bits of meat cut from pork, rabbit, goose, or chicken, which is then covered with a protective layer of lard.
The last time we dined on Franco's rillettes — again, as tonight, spread on toast — Cook mused that perhaps it was the inspiration of deviled ham. I recall deviled ham rather fondly from occasional meetings with it when I was a boy. Underwood's deviled ham, I think it was; it came in small round flat cans, which were I think wrapped in paper. I thought it was quite special; I associated it vaguely with cosmopolitan sophistication, probably because I was dimly aware that it was typically involved with canapés. I have no idea where that impression came from.
Franco's rillettes are better than any canned deviled ham. They have that marvelous shaggy texture; they're spicy and pointed and rich. As you see we had Middleton Gardens's lima beans with them — this was Saturday, after all, market day — and Green Zebra tomatoes, which Cook salts perfectly; and Preston of Dry Creek's strawberries for dessert. I do love Saturday.
You cook up chopped onions in olive oil, then add crushed garlic and chopped pepper…
Wait. What kind of pepper? Chile pepper?
No, bell pepper, red, or green… then when that's cooked a bit you add the spices, cumin, smoked paprkia, red pepper flakes, salt; and then you add the tomatoes…
Then when that's cooked down a bit you add the eggs, and cover the pan, and cook it futher until it's done.
This, I have to say, is a very delicious dish. We had a green salad afterward, of all things. And we had dessert! A new bakery has opened not too far from us, near the pie place on the highway between Forestville and Sebastopol, and Cook had lunch there today with the neighbor down the hill. She brought a Kouign aman, a piece of pear tart, and a canalé home for our dessert tonight. The Kouign aman was quite good though not quite up to the best; ditto the canalé. I'll give them a little more time and try them again, and I bet they'll be better, and then I'll tell you where they are…
Friday, October 16, 2015
We'll undoubtedly be eating more hot dogs, too. Tonight's was with onion, dill pickle, mustard, and sauerkraut; tomatoes on the side. Green salad afterward.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
They make this dish aspire to the Hundred Plates, I think. It's a simple dish, probably an example of that Cucina povera that was trendy a few trends ago — you just chop up some salted anchovies (rinsed first, of course) and garlic and cook it in olive oil; toast some bread crumbs in a little skillet on the stove, and cook your pasta in the usual way.
Toss the pasta with the anchovy-garlic, garnish with the bread crumbs and chopped parsley. That's all there is to it.
Green salad afterward.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Nagelkaas is good Dutch farmhouse cheese, from cow's milk of course, treated and aged like any Gouda, but studded with cloves. Nagel : nail; kaas :cheese. It's interesting that the Dutch call cloves "nails" : our word for the spice comes from the French word clou , which also means "nail." And of course a clove — a single dried clove-blossom — does look a bit like a nail. (Clou derives from the Latin clavis , which has also given us, through Italian, then French, the word "key", among others.)
We do love Dutch cheese; we particularly love aged Goudas; we particularly particularly love nagelkaas. (I sometimes think I love netelkaas , which incorporates finely chopped nettle leaves instead of cloves, even more.) I'm not as fond of Goudas which incorporate various seeds, cumin or caraway for example. Cloves, I think, particularly well suit the intrinsic flavor of Gouda: grass, milk, caramelized milk, aged caramelized milk.
The other day as we were enjoying super-thin shavings of nagelkaas on wheat crackers Cook asked me if I thought the cheese would be good in grilled sandwiches. Why not, I thought to myself, Yes of course, I said enthusiastically. Tonight, while watching our Cubs win their second playoff game, we had them for dinner, with sliced tomatoes on the side.
Cook sandwiches the cheese between slices of bread, butters the outside surfaces of the bread, and grills the sandwiches in a hot black iron skillet, weighting them down with another, slightly smaller black iron skillet placed on top of the sandwiches.
I think tomatoes go particularly well with grilled cheese sandwiches and even like incorporating the sliced tomato with the cheese in the sandwich as it's being grilled, but I think this works better with cheddar type cheeses than with Gouda, which seems a nobler, more serious cheese, deserving of a certain respect.
Green salad afterward: arugula, dressed with oil and Champagne vinegar; and a nice melon for dessert.
Monday, October 12, 2015
But let me recapitulate the week, and hope things return to normal next week. Tuesday night we dined on sausage — Franco Dunn's incomparable sausage, needless to say — grilled, cut lengthwise, and eaten on a hamburger bun, because there were no hot dog buns. We like these buns, from the Downtown Bakery and Creamery in Healdsburg, not only because the bakery is a good and old friend, but because they are truly delicious, soft yet flavorful, not trying to be "brioche buns," content with milk-dough simplicity. With them, sliced tomatoes and I'm afraid I can no longer recall what else; green salad afterward, wine comments to follow.
The next night we watched the Cubs game at a friend's house. She boiled some truly ordinary baseball-type New York style hot dogs, and they were delicious on DBC buns again, appropriate ones this time, with sliced dill pickle and sauerkraut and mustard, green salad to follow, and delicous butternut crunch-and-pecan ice cream again from DBC.
Thursday night was special for three reasons: there was no ball game; it was Chris's birthday; we had fabulous steaks grilled down at the neighbor's. These steaks, a birthday gift to Chris, came from a local farmer and were grass-fed, beautifully aged, and skilfully cut. The consensus was that they were New York type, not greatly marbled but with a bit of fat left at the margins. Eric grilled them perfectly over wood and charcoal, and we had them with mixed vegetales, and a green salad, wine notes to follow.
Friday and yesterday we were back to baseball (lost the first, won the second), and back to sausage-on-a-bun. Peruvian sausage the first time, sweet and spicy and flavorful; last night bratwurst, sliced crosswise this time and taken with raw onion, dill pickle, and mustard. With them, lima beans and tomatoes, and afterward, green salad.
We do not always or even usually have dessert at home, but last night Cook couldn't resist serving Lou Preston's magnificent strawberries, with Straus vanilla ice cream. Baseball is beautiful; so are meals like this.
Tonight, a peasant dish: Bean Ragout. The recipe is from Alice Waters's book The Art of Simple Food , involving shell beans and string beans, cooked separately; a soffrito of onion and garlic in olive oil, flavored with savory, parsley, or marjoram; sliced almonds; and lemon juice. This made a very substantial dish, served with garlic toast made with sourdough bread.
Oh, yes: the wines. We've been making do, very nicely, with that Spanish red that we laid in for a big party last month — Garnacha/Monastrell, Laya (Almansa), Old Vines, 2013. It's fairly big, quite dark, has a pleasant aroma, lots of Grenache flavor, and finishes well. Last night, for the first time, I thought it was going a bit dull; it's time to switch to something else to re-awaken the palate.
Gaye served a Pinot noir made by an acquaintance of hers, a lawyer apparently attentive to detail because it was a very good wine, almost professional and indeed better than some I've had from a number of small wineries hereabouts. From 2009, it had good varietal aroma and flavor and nice color. We had half the bottle the next night with those delicious steaks, but the main wines that night were the Spanish Garnacha again and, very interesting to me, a Shiraz from TaraWarra Estate, 2009 I think, that I brought Eric a year ago from Australia — not as impressive as I'd thought it on its own soil, but still quite nice; thanks, Eric. ☛Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Otherwise, cold roast chicken, potato salad, and green salad afterward.
Monday, October 5, 2015
Sunday, October 4, 2015
|Giovanna samples my pasta e ceci at Burrasca (Sept. 30, 2015)|
September 23, 2015: Dinner at the country home, outside Healdsburg, of friends who raise market vegetables to sell at the Farm Market — including the lettuces we particularly like. Mary made cannoli, rich and creamy and quite delicious, and we managed a few bottles of white and red.
September 24, 2015: The long drive (say eleven hours) to Portland left us too tired to give proper attention to dinner.
September 25, 2015: Dinner with friends and family at a restaurant new to us. The menu was fabulous, offering things like seared foie gras, duck confit, roasted marrow bones, mussels and frites, and steak tartare; but I ordered unwisely, seduced by a daily special too complicated to recall but involving a Scotch Egg, frisée, and grilled pork loin, garnished with tangerine sections, hazelnuts, and pesto.
|Scotch egg, pork loin at Little Bird|
There were really too many textures, colors, and flavors here for a single course; spread out across a meal it would have been quite fine. Oh well: think, Charles, before you order.
And afterward, coffee at my favorite place in Portland for coffee, where the carefully chosen coffees are roasted perfectly, aged properly, and brewed with great attentiveness. Whether taking an espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, or caffé latte, I have always been impressed.
• Courier Coffee, 923 SW Oak Street, Portland
September 26, 2015: Fish soup at home. Our son had given us several pounds of rockfish he and his son had caught off the Mendocino coast, and all hands set to to turn it into Ciuppin, from Coleman Andrews's cookbook The Country Cooking of Italy :
Make a soffrito of onions, adding chopped celery and carrot when the onions have cooked to transparencyWith this, a decent white.
Chop peeled and seeded tomatoes and add them with chopped parsley and a glass or two of white wine
After this has cooked a while, add the fish and cook until tender
When finished, put through a food mill, adjust the seasoning, and serve over toasted bread
I don't recall how we dined on Sunday, a special day for its promised lunar eclipse. The next day, though, September 28, we drove up to Seattle to have lunch with an old friend contenting ourselves with fish and chips and a bottle of white. The restaurant has a routine fish-house menu but the tables are well separated, the service good, and the view out over the bay toward Bainbridge Island is marvelous; and it's hard to go far wrong with fish and chips.
|Vindaloo at Bollywood|
Our last day in Portland, September 30, found us in what proved to be my favorite restaurant of this trip, new to us, a Tuscan eatery that began as a food truck and is now installed in comfortable, rather elegant quarters, with pleasant outside tables (see the photo at the top of this post). I ordered boldly, all in Tuscan: Arista, pasta e ceci, patate contadina, cavolonero.
The roast pork was perfectly authentic porchetta, generously rubbed with sage, salt, and pepper to provide a rich crust; nicely roasted to preserve moistness, sliced and sprinkled further with herbs, and on the side cannellini in a simple broth. I couldn't have been happier with the pasta e ceci, and the kale and potatoes all had a deep, comforting savor of pork — this place is definitely not Kosher.
I'd taken along a bottle of wine found in a local wine shop, pleased to find something from a favorite Sicilian producer famous for artisanal techniques involving terra cotta. The wine list at this restaurant is interesting, but sticks to Tuscany.
|Canalé at Courier Coffee|
A couple of hours later we broke for lunch in a bistro we really like in Eugene. I ordered steak-frites , knowing there wouldn't be much to choose from at dinnertime. The dish was utterly authentic, the steak signant and dotted with thyme butter, the frites crisp and clean-tasting.
In the evening, a faux-Caesar salad, innocent of anchovy or raw egg, was about all we wanted.
Arista at Burrasca
Steak-frites at Marché
Sardine sandwich at home
THIS BRINGS US DOWN to tonight. We went into town to the Farm Market this morning, and bought tomatoes to put up tomorrow or next day, a bunch of radishes, Middleton Gardens's delicious lima beans, a couple of ears of corn, Franco Dunn's sausage of course — and a three-pound chicken. Haven't had chicken in months: not at home, anyway. I asked what breed of bird it was: "Freedom Ranger," the young lady replied. What, do they vote Republican?
Cook roasted it simply, letting it provide its own juice, with only a bit of salt to bring out the flavor. It was first-rate.
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants