Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Former Italian favorite

IMG 6209
Paso Robles, California, March 29, 2016—
I LIKED THIS PLACE so much, thirty years ago or so, down the road in San Luis Obispo. Now, in this second location, already over a dozen years old, I'm not so sure. The wine list is remarkable, but the menu and execution seem a little off kilter.

We began with an antipasto of affettati misti: finnochiona, soppressata, salumi, two cheeses, olives. But the servings were niggardly: for the three of us, three little slices of each thing, along with a grissin wrapped with prosciutto. None of the salume seemed at all exceptional; only a salsa verde, rich with parsley and capers and good oil and a little garlic, seemed to suggest something particularly rewarding.

Our "insalata al cuore di Cesar" was not Caesarish, only "Caesar": tight hearts of romaine, uncut, under a soft vinaigrette (again, good olive oil) with small cubes of Roma tomato (!), small cubes of bread, and shavings of Parmesan cheese. No anchovy that I could detect; no raw egg.

I ordered the fettucine al sugo di carne miste, and the sauce was rather nice, the meat — chicken, duck, veal, and beef — chopped and retaining its texture, the flavor nicely balanced. The pasta itself was a little overcooked, but the course was substantial and left a good finish.

Arneis, "Blange," Ceretto, 2013: very nice indeed;
Barbera d'Asti, Michele Chiarlo, vintage? (both by the glass)
•Buona Tavola, 943 Spring Street, Paso Robles; 805-237-0600

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016
(2015 restaurants)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Memorable Mexican

San Juan Bautista, California, March 28, 2016—

WE FIRST ATE HERE fifty years ago, and have been back irregularly seaveral times since, but not in the last ten years or so. What a pleasure to find it better than ever. A pleasantly decorated, comfortable dining room; a clean, purposeful blended Margarita; Manny's generous, complex but balanced salad, and carne asada seared just right and deeply flavored. Even the flan had character and interest while remaining true to type.
And a twilight stroll in the extensive gardens — memorable. 
Jardines de San Juan, 115 3rd St, San Juan Bautista, California; 831-623 4426
RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Eastside Road, March 21, 2016—

PARTY LAST NIGHT in the Starlight Social Club, Oakland — a big upstairs ballroom in a vintage saloon building, part of the new (to me) hipster Oakland. I guess. At eighty, what do I know about hipsters.

The food was catered by Oakland's Ramen Shop, a very well-regarded noodle restaurant that I'm ashamed we have yet to visit. I didn't have everything, warned about the presence of crustacea: but the pickles were delicious, the smoked tamarind pork ribs marvelous, the fried duck wings excellent, the tuna donburi first-rate. And there was an open bar:

"Bijoux": gin, vermouth, green Chartreuse, bitters, garnished with an orange twist.

BREAKFAST THIS MORNING: my bogman cereal instead of toast, as we're out of bread, and anyway we want something substantial to get us through to tonight's late dinner, which will be complex and delightful.

Bogman is simply a kind of gruel, or pilaf. Generally I use equal proportions of hard (red) wheat, soft (white) wheat, and barley, with a smaller amount of rye. These are all whole grains, not milled or rolled. Recently, though, I've been using a delicious local red wheat from Preston of Dry Creek, apparently with a few miscellaneous seeds included. Preferably not millet! 1

I simply cover the grains with water (in my favorite heavy copper "fait-tout" and bring it to a boil at night, before retiring, and cover it and let it stand overnight; then bring it back to a boil in the morning, adding any necessary water. Often I include dried fruit in the mix: in this case, chopped dried apricots.

We eat it with milk, of course; the Contessa likes to add cinnamon, and why not? Though I do not think the original Danish bogman, whose last meal had included something of this sort, had any cinnamon available…

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Sunday, March 20, 2016

St. Patrick's Day; Cod; Corned Beef Hash

1  1
Eastside Road, March 19, 2016—

INEXPLICABLE: FORGOT to photograph the fine dinner Cook made Thursday night, for St. Patrick's Day. Inexcusable, too, because it was a first for her: she made the traditional corned beef brisket all by herself.

Our son had provided the beef, raised either by him or a neighbor of his, I'm not quite sure. I found some curing salt (pink with sodium nitrite) at a local butcher shop, and she made a brine with that and a number of herbs and spices, soaking the brisket under weights for five days in the refrigerator. (It helps to have a connection with a walk-in refrigerator: thanks, Downtown Bakery and Creamery!)

There were seven of us at table, and we managed to eat damn near all of the brisket: only a few shreds survived for another day. With it, cabbage, of course, and potatoes; afterward, lemon mousse with whipped cream.

Syrah, Preston of Dry Creek, 2014 (and a drop or two of Jamieson's Whiskey)

YESTERDAY WAS FISH day: Alaska cod, bought Wednesday on a trip to Berkeley, fresh and flaky. Cook dredged it in flour and cooked it in butter. Meanwhile I made one of my favorite vegetable dishes: a couple of good carrots, split lenghwise, and three or four spring onions, ditto, cooked in butter, olive oil, and enough water to keep it from sticking. One cabbage leaf was left from the previous day, so I sliced it into strips and threw it in the pan too. Delicious.

1THEN TONIGHT we harvested the shreds of the corned beef. Cook made a fine hash of it, sweating onions, then the beef shreds, and adding potatoes. When ready to serve, she topped it with a poached egg. Look at that! A little leftover cabbage as well! A fine way to send St. Patrick on his way into spring…

Barbera, Preston of Dry Creek, 2014

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Friday, March 18, 2016

Chez Panisse

Berkeley, March 16, 2016—
IN BERKELEY for the day on various items of business, and rewarded by an exceptional dinner, even by the standards of this restaurant. (Of course, I may be biased: see here and here.) Here is what we had:

Amuse-bouche: Green olive tapenade on toast with watermelon radish

Prosecco, white wine and vermouth apéritif
Deep-fried asparagus and leeks with mousseline sauce and rocket blossoms
Sancerre, Chavignol, 2014, "Les Monts Damnés"
A welcome to spring: fat white asparagus spears, igthly battered and then deep-fried, with shredded leek also deep-fried, in a soft mousseline — hollandaise lightened with just a bit of cream. What a study of colors and textures! The Sancerre was quiet, unobtrusive, yet present enough to drink with asparagus, often a difficult match…

Razor clam and nettle risotto with crisp pancetta

Táganan, Vinos Atlánticos, blanco, 2013 (Canary Islands)
A reminder to me: get a bottle of clam juice; keep it on hand for risotto. Chicken stock isn't the only vehicle in the world. This was a nice, dense risotto, with just enough tiny shreds of crisped pancetta to complement the tender, fresh clams.

The wine was a real eye-opener, a beautiful light golden color in the glass with plenty of glycerine. The first whiff said "flor": you'd almost expect a good Fino. In the mouth, though, it made me think of Condrieu, even of Château Grillet. A fine choice for this dish.


Grilled breast and braised leg of duck with roasted artichokes, new potatoes, and sautéed spinach

Pinot noir, Westrey, Abbey Ridge Vineyard, Dundee Hills (Oregon), 2013
It's not often you get duck cooked so exactly au point, to just the right degree of doneness. I like the contrast of grilled and braised flesh, particularly when the meats are tied together by an herbal component as subtle and rich as this: thyme on the first flavor, but then — wait — what exactly is involved in this complex, deep, delicious preparation? After dessert, a trip into the kitchen revealed the secret: just the right amount of coriander and fennel seed. Something to add to my favorite pork chops my way.

The Pinot noir was a good flavor match, but ultimately seemed perhaps too light-bodied for the duck.

1  1 Blood orange and grapefruit sorbetti with tangerine granita
Moscato d'Asti
Another study in colors and textures, referring back to the leeks and asparagus of the first course. I love it when a menu describes a trajectory like this, suggesting a narrative, like a Chekhov play. The ices were refreshing after the rich duck, the little candied kumquat slices added depth to the dish; the Moscato was, like the earlier Pinot noir, lighter-bodied than you'd think and welcome for that. Truly this was a memorable evening.

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

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Penne, red sauce

1  2
Eastside Road, March 14, 2016—

POOR MAN'S BOLOGNESE, is how I like to think of it, and if I were making it, I'd chop a quarter of a carrot into it — but I'm not making it, Cook is, and I don't argue with Cook. Not about cooking, anyway.

She browns some ground beef in the stainless steel skillet, and throws in an onion, chopped of course, and some crushed garlic, and salt and pepper, and a bay leaf, and some of that delicious tomato she canned last fall, and cooks it down, and tosses the cooked penne in it, and grates some Parmigiano over it, and that's it.

Green salad afterward, and tonight an apple.

Cheap Nero d'Avola

I see I failed to report on yesterday. We went out to brunch with an old friend, at her club; she and my companion had Eggs Benedict, and perhaps I should have as well. Instead, wanting flavor and beans, I had huevos rancheros. They were a little tame.

Bloody Marys

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Monday, March 14, 2016

Soup; hamburger

1  1 1
Eastside Road, March 12, 2016—

ON THE LEFT, yesterday: a last look at the marrowfat bean soup from the other day. Afterward, green salad; then a nice ice cream sundae because after all it was Friday night.

On the right — I do hope your monitor's wide enough for this — tonight: a hamburger, with homemade chili sauce, mustard, and lettuce. And afterward, of course, green salad. And an orange.

Bottle-ends, white and rosé

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Friday, March 11, 2016

Beans; Sausage

Marrowbone beans
Eastside Road, March 10, 2016—

MARROWFAT BEANS, is what these are called; why, I couldn't tell you. I guess come to think of it they do taste a bit like beef marrow, though the consistency of course is quite different. These were grown by the organic produce farmer up Eastside Road. Cook though they reminded her of the kapucijners we used to get in Netherlands, so I looked it up on the internet. Sure enough: they're the same thing, and they aren't beans at all, but peas.

In any case, delicious. A bit of chorizo livened the pot up a bit, and rosemary and garlic added the essential vitamins. Or maybe it was the green salad that came afterward.

That was yesterday. Tonight we feasted on broccoli and creamy mashed potatoes with parsley, one of Franco's sausages — a Kielbasa this time; we haven't had one of them before: meaty and spicy; I could have eaten two. Delicious.

Cheap Nero d'Avola

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015 1  1

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The last of the beefsteak

steak and risotto
Eastside Road, March 7, 2016—

COOK SEARED the remaining few slices of beefsteak in the black iron frying pan; there was enough sauce remaining to dress it properly. Did I mention this steak had come from one of our son's longhaired shortlegged cattle, raised simply on grass? a very tasty cut…

With it, broccoli, and leftover risotto from a couple of days ago; and then green salad, and a Pixie tangerine.

red; rosé

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015



Eastside Road, March 6, 2016—

APOLOGIES TO ANY vegetarians browsing this blog. You're in the wrong place.

The neighbors came up the road for dinner, and we cooked this beefsteak on the cast-iron griddle on the range. The steak was just smaller than the griddle, which spans two burners and measures nine by seventeen inches. As you see, we cooked it saignant, which is how I like it. I'd salted it a few hours before cooking. After the steak was cooked we threw some cheap Nero d'Avola on the griddle to deglaze it; then a little butter and a chopped shallot. Hip-pocket sauce marchand de vin.

With the steak, as you see, a mess of chard; afterward, green salad, then ice cream.

Cheap Nero d'Avola; then Cabernet sauvignon, Scribe (Napa Valley), 2010:
as good a California Cabernet as I can recall tasting in the last fifty years. Thanks, Varun!

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Lentil stew with escarole

1  1

Eastside Road, March 5, 2016—

ANOTHER RECIPE from the clipping file — Cook scans many sources. This one was a surprise to me; I'd never have thought of it — though it's pretty obvious once you know. You stew lentils with a little tomato sauce, and onions and garlic of course, in chicken stock; then serve them under a salad of frisée tossed in a light vinaigrette. Delicious.

Before it, guacamole and olives with our Martini. Afterward, a Pixie tangerine, our favorite.

Rosé, comme d'habitude ces jours-ci…

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016    2015

Saturday, March 5, 2016


1  6
Eastside Road, March 4, 2016—

RISOTTO TONIGHT. It's been quite a long time since our last risotto — I tend to think of it as a summertime dish; perhaps that's why it's been absent. In any case, Cook made a risotto, and it was very nice. A dish of broccolini to precede it, leftover pork tenderloin to accompany it, green salad afterward — and then a little ice cream and caramel sauce. No complaints here!

Cheap Pinot grigio

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015


San Francisco, March 3, 2016—
LUNCH WAS A SIMPLE roast beef sandwich — a little mustard, sliced bread — and a small spinach salad, at a friend's house. We were on our way into what we old-timey Northern Californians call The City to see a play. (Less said about the play the better.)

Pre-show supper, then: we stopped in at a new place we'd read about, thinking to content ourselves with a drink and a bar bite. The menu offered some attractive possibilities, and we ended up with a fine light supper: this competent, satisfying brandade de morue, nicely gratinéed and served with proper baguette toasts, and a very nice green salad, dressed leaf by leaf with champagne-vinegar vinaigrette, with a few toasted nuts sprinkled on.

Bon Marché calls itself a brasserie, and looks a bit like one: big, open dining space, rather full menu running to typical French items (mussels, steak-frites, brandade, etc.). I found the decor a little too yellow and fussy — scalloped awnings, for example — but it was comfortable sitting at a bar table at the window, eavesdropping on techies at the next table. (The restaurant is in the Twitter building.)

On Market at Ninth, close to the opera house, Davies Hall, and a ten-minute walk from Tenderloin theaters, it's very convenient. We'll likely be back.

Macon blanc by the glass: astringent before supper, very nice indeed with the brandade

•Bon Marché Brasserie & Bar, 1355 Market Street, San Francisco; 415-802-1700

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Thursday, March 3, 2016

True cod

1  1
Eastside Road, March 2, 2016—
SINCE WE WERE in Berkeley this morning, we bought fish. One of the few things I still miss, nearly twenty years after leaving Berkeley, is Monterey Fish. We try to shop there when we're in town and on our way home again soon enough to get fresh fish, really fresh fish, into our own refrigerator.

True wild Alaska cod, they said, and just to be sure we compared it, on the plate, with a frozen fillet alleged to be the same, bought from the local Trader Joe. The fresh was better — firmer, flakier, with a cleaner flavor. But the frozen was nearly as good on the palate, if a teeny bit slimy on the tooth.

Cook floured the fish and cooked it in browned butter, meunière style (though without the parsley, she noted), and served it with a quarter lemon and a side of frozen green peas. A delicious light supper.

Green salad afterward, and ice cream with chocolate sauce, and a tangerine.

Cheap Pinot grigio

I SHOULD MENTION our breakfast, in a Berkeley café we quite like. It has, I think, the best coffee in Berkeley. I was content with some buttered Acme levain toast, with a bit of marmalade, to go with mine.

•Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar, 1603 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley; 510-524-2473

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

So infernally dark

Oakland, March 1, 2016—

EVERY NEW YEAR'S EVE we dine with a couple of old friends; we've been doing this for perhaps thirty years. Odd-numbered years at our place, even-numbered at theirs. This last time, though, we were in Amsterdam, and they were not, so we had to make an accommodation.

So it was that we found ourselves in an infernally loud, sepulchrally dark boîte, I think you'd have to call it, in their town last night. I'd made the reservation; we'd chosen the place from a short list of East Bay restaurants I thought of as appropriate to the occasion.

But over the fifteen years since this place opened its clientele has grown younger while the four of us have grown older. I recalled this as a friendly neighborhood restaurant with a thoughtful kitchen and graceful service; it's now a noisy bar with a number of tables-for-four in very dark alcoves.

The menu is confused, I think: soup, salads, "Tuscan duck liver crostini," Catalan empanadas, Mussels with Pernod, Croque Monsieur, buckwheat papardelle, lamb shank tagine… globalism at the table.

Still, I went into it thinking bistro. I ordered a side of grilled asparagus and spring onions as my first course, the grilled steak as the second. The asparagus was good and generous; the steak, slightly undercooked now I look at the photo, nicely flavored and served with potato gratin, broccolini, and a green-garlic-and-chive butter.

All our plates were small and very crowded. The service was a little uncertain. Plates arrived one at a time. And it was infernally dark and noisy.

Rosé: Picpoul, Julie Benau, 2014, fresh but unremarkable;
Perricone/Nerello, Marilena Barbera "Microcosmo" (Sicily), 2012: very deep, fruity, solid, mature, and delicious

What to say? The food was really quite good; the service a little slack; the ambiance, for old folks like us, quite unbearable. I won't be back; you might enjoy it.

•A Côté, 5478 College Avenue, Oakland, California; 510-655-6469

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015