Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Last dinner at home for a while

Eastside Road, June 27, 2016

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE for dinner tonight, Cook asked — a significant and affectionate query, since it my last dinner at home for a month. I don't know, I said, something light, and simple. How about grilled cheese sandwiches?

She makes them on buttered Como bread from the Downtown Bakery, with sharp cheddar cheese and onions — tonight, cipollini: a treat. With them, broccoli; afterward, green salad. And then peaches and cream!

Cheap Pinot grigio

Monday, June 27, 2016

Terrapin Crossroads

IMG 7903IMG 7904
San Rafael, June 23, 2016—
OUF, THIS IS NO WAY to prepare for a strenuous week. Don't get me wrong: I do not complain about the kitchen. We like this restaurant. But I was seduced by a menu item, and ordered it without heeding the description…

First, though, I started with a very nice salad, described by our waitress as "compressed watermelon" with cucumber and feta cheese. The chunks of watermelon had probably been set under a weighted plate for a while, to drain them of superfluous fluid; it's a nice way to deal with what can be a recalcitrant ingredient.

The lemon cucumbers were firm and meaty, no compression needed. The salad was strewn with sprouts of some kind — after all, this is a restaurant whose roots are in the 1960s. (It's owned by Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead). Thankfully not too many sprouts, and just the right sprinkle of feta crumbs. And a few Padrones, my first of the year…

My temptress was steak-frites. The fine print: "12 ounces." It was grilled just to my specification — rare, not slimy — and needed only a bit of salt. The asparagus was also perfectly grilled, still crisp but definitely cooked; and the fries were tasty as well. But three quarters of a pound of rich beef is too much for me these days…

Which didn't keep me from driving the nail home with dessert: "doughnuts" — lacking the central holes, they were in fact crullers, I say — with an excellent texture and very cleanly fried, and accompanied by chocolate sauce, caramel, and a fine pastry cream. As I say, we like this restaurant.

Pinot gris, Acrobat (Willamette Valley), 2013: fresh, light, pleasant; Zinfandel, Steele (Mendocino), 2010: note the vintage — mature, fruity, rich, alcoholic

•Terrapin Crossroads, 100 Yacht Club Drive, San Rafael, California; (415) 524-2773

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015IMG 7906

Sausage; strawberries

IMG 7963
Eastside Road, June 26, 2016—
I MENTIONED STRAWBERRIES the other day. Yesterday, at the Healdsburg Farm Market, Cook bought them from two different farmers: Renee Kiff, whose radishes, lettuces, and melons are among our favorites (and who is a warm and witty columnist in the local newspaper, the Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar), and Lou Preston, whose wines are also among our favorites, and who bakes bread as good as anyone's, and then he makes pickles, and sauerkraut, and grows all sorts of vegetables…

Enough. Cook turned those berries into a shortcake today, but complained that they were too dry. Well, it was one hundred degrees today, and not a trace of moisture in the air; you can forgive strawberries drying out a bit in this weather.

Renee's strawberries were a variety new to us, Tribute, nice-looking but tasting, I thought, like the commercial strawberries I never really appreciated — they taste like mostly citric acid to me, though better palates than mine respond much more positively. Lou had some Mara des bois, the go-to strawberry these days, but Cook had bought another variety whose name I don't recall.

I noticed we all managed to eat our shortcake. Earlier, we'd enjoyed Franco Dunn's sweet Italian sausages, grilled over rosemary and grape and rose wood on the patio, and green beans cooked with onions and shallots, and the obligatory green salad.

Cheap Pinot grigio; Garnacha/Monastrell, Laya (Almansa), 2014

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Flounder again

Eastside Road, June 25, 2016—
A MODIFIED REPEAT of dinner a week ago. It's Saturday; we went to the Farm Market in Healdsburg this morning, and there we found the flounder again.

Cook dredged it in flour tonight, as she did last week, and fried it in butter, in the black iron skillet. I think I've rarely tasted fish so fresh, so delicate, so delicious. I remember fish bought on the beach in Tahiti, fish that changes color an hour after being caught: this was that fresh.

With it, English peas, cooked simply; afterward, green salad, the vinaigrette made with lemon juice instead of the usual vinegar.

Rosé: La Ferme Julien, 2014

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Baked eggs

IMG 7944\
Eastside Road, June 24, 2016—

AFTER LAST NIGHT, I told Cook, I want to eat light. And what, she reasonably asked, would "light" be? Well, I said, nothing rich, nothing heavy, just a little bit to tide us over.

Eggs, she said, brightly. So she peeled and cut up a couple of potatoes and boiled them and mashed them with some garlic and some dill, and she got a jar of her tomato confit down from the pantry.

The confit went into the bottom of baking dishes, and a couple of eggs got broken over the confit, and the dishes went into the toaster-oven for a short while. Well, actually, I don't know how long a while. I was busying myself with the Martini shaker.

Green salad afterward, you can be sure, and ice cream, with caramel sauce… nice to have a pastry chef in the house…

Rosé, La Ferme Julien,

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Eating simple

IMG 7890
Eastside Road, June 22, 2016—

JUST A COINCIDENCE, but tonight's supper might have been a nod to the looming British vote: banger and mash.

The banger, though, is one of Franco Dunn's Toscana sausages, a far remove from your typical British sausage. Cook mashed the potatoes with a bit of milk, I believe, and a couple of cloves of garlic. Green salad afterward, and Bob's your uncle.

Red blend, Preston of Dry Creek: delicious. I'm sorry it's all gone.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Back to the café

IMG 7870
Berkeley, June 21, 2016—

LUNCH IN TOWN with a friend on tour from Japan, and why not meet in the café? And you know I cannot resist brandade in any form.

Here it was on the menu, disguised as a delicious pizzetta, with a perfect balance of brandade and tomato sauce and a fine sprinkling of marjoram. You can't do a lot better.

Especially if you follow it up with a galette. Apricots are in full season, and an apricot galette is not to be declined. A complementary sherbet doesn't hurt!

House Zinfandel
•Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525
RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

IMG 7871

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


IMG 7859
Eastside Road, June 20, 2016—
FOR MANY YEARS I declined strawberries. I just didn't see the point of them. They were big, woody, flat tasting. I liked fraises des bois, of course; but garden variety commercial strawberries left me cold.

We were lucky to get fraises readily, in season; we used to pick them up in Petaluma, where the remarkable Mary Isaak grew them for Chez Panisse in various rented vacant lots. And we had a few plants of our own, when we lived in Berkeley. But the season was short. Those grotesque commercial strawberries were available year round, I think; but they weren't worth eating.

Then we met Nancy Skall, the memorable late Nancy Skall, who grew amazingly fragrant and delicious strawberries at her Middleton Gardens. She would never tell us the name of the variety: perhaps she didn't know. They certainly weren't fraises; they were strawberries — but small, and deeply colored, and almost pungent.

Since those days, now getting on thirty years ago, of course others have begun growing decent strawberries. The Chandler variety is a good one, and the folks down in Swanton grow them well.

These days we buy them from Lou Preston, and old friend and a sort of neighbor; his farm and vineyard are perhaps twelve miles away, but worth driving to. Here you see the strawberries with sliced peaches from Dry Creek Peach, whose orchard is only a mile or two from Lou. The vanilla ice cream's another matter — Straus, I think; I may be misremembering.

THAT WAS YESTERDAY. Today, a little off my feed, and it being far too hot, we had supper in mid-afternoon, so we could do a little more work outside in the cool of the evening. IMG 7860

We had penne in Cook's marvelous tomato sauce, with a grating of Parmesan on top, as you see, and never forget the grind of black pepper. Green salad afterward.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Chorizo verde; flounder

IMG 7801
Eastside Road, June 18, 2016—

I SUPPOSE IT IS not the most photogenic dinner — Cook mentioned the matter herself, serving the plates. But damn it was good. Our first tomatoes of the year, "heritage" red-black marbled tomatoes of some sort, simply sliced and salted. Mashed favas on toasts: we've had them before, recently, and we'll have them again. At six o'clock on the plate, half a raw carrot, a whitish one, sliced lengthwise as is proper.

And at the center, a scramble of eggs and Franco's green chorizo. I have no idea how he makes this. The base is pork, of course; added to it in addition to the usual spices, some sort of greening agent. I suspect vegetable matter, probably a good bit of cilantro. I don't think artificial colors are involved.

THAT WAS YESTERDAY. Tonight we had fish. Saturday is Farm Market day in Healdsburg, and one of the stalls, as Constant Reader will know, belongs to Dave the fish guy. I haven't seen Dave in months: he leaves the stall in his very capable daughter's custody and spends his time on his boat, fishing.

Today there was no salmon. There was flounder, though, and it was truly delicious. Cook simply dredged the fillets in a little flour and fried them in butter, good old bonne femme style, and garnished them with lemon.

Also on the plate, delicious Italian broad beans, also cooked in butter, and — they look familiar — mashed fava beans on toasts. Green salad afterward. There are few lucker diners than I.

"R.G.M.V.", white wine blend (Roussane, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier) (Central Coast), 2015: pleasant
IMG 7846

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Friday, June 17, 2016

Sausage for all

Eastside Road, June 16, 2016—
It seems appropriate to have sausage for dinner on Bloomsday; Poldy would have been right at home at our table. 
We were four generations; there was both lamb and pork sausage; the neighbors brought delicious mashed potatoes. 
Green salad afterward, and ice cream with sliced peaches …
Jug red, Preston of Dry Creek

Thursday, June 16, 2016


IMG 7576
June 15, 2016—

YOU, CONSTANT READER, will tire of hearing about penne with tomato sauce before I will ever tire of tasting it. It makes frequent appearances on our table. The penne are organic and made of whole wheat, and cooked, you may be sure, al dente.

Cook made the tomato sauce last fall, using a recipe from Alice Waters's book My Pantry — I believe it requires tomatoes, olive oil, and salt, little more. It is the best tomato sauce I've ever tasted and I'm grateful for the quarts of it on our own pantry shelves.

Green salad.

Laya: Garnacha tintonera 70%, Monastrell 30%, old vines (Almansa), 2014

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Baseball and bratwurst

IMG 7569
Eastside Road, June 13, 2016—

YES: IF YOU LOOK closely enough you'll see half a bratwurst on each of those brioche rolls. Just the thing to eat in front of the television, watching your team succumb to some really fine pitching on the part of Max Scherzer. (And some dubious calls by the plate umpire.)

The sausage was Franco's, of course, and it was good, and garnished properly with the holy trinity, mustard, pickle relish, and sauerkraut. On the plate with them, broccoli.

Green salad afterward, and then a bowl of cherries. I heard the other day of a guy who insists on making tea with cherry stems every year in June; says it keeps his kidneys in order. It can't hurt.

Laya: Garnacha tintonera 70%, Monastrell 30%, old vines (Almansa), 2014.

•Place, address; phone

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Monday, June 13, 2016


IMG 7562
Eastside Road, June 12, 2016—

THERE IS NO WAY to photograph this plate. Quickly: that's a white carrot across the bowl (well, half a white carrot, sliced lengthwise, the only proper way to slice a carrot). More important, it's a mash of favas in the bowl.

One of my favorite places in the world is Nice, I speak of the real Nice, not the one over in the next county. I think if I could be someone else I would be Nissart, or Niçard, or as the French say Nicois. It is the right balance between being Italian and being French-but-not-Parisian, with a good deal of independence thrown in. And the national genius of Nice, to me, is the fava. I know the celebrated panisse is made of chickpea flour: but I think it ought to be made of the flour of ground-up dried favas.

Cook likes to shell favas while watching the news, but it's late in the season. Today at the market we discovered already shelled favas. When I looked into a bin at the feet of the farmer manning his stall I saw the reason: the unshelled favas are well past prime; they're mottled, mostly black, wrinkled, old. Like me. Someone, no doubt the little girl playing with her telephone at his feet, and shelled favas last night, or maybe early this morning, and that's what we bought today, pre-shelled favas.

Late in the season, no es verdad, I said brightly to the man, sí, es verdad, late in the season, he said. You will dry the rest? Yes, I will dry the rest, and then cook them in our stews.

You should grind them up when they're dry, I said, and make harina, and try making tortillas of them; that would be good.

He seemed dubious. Cook rolled her eyes.

What she did: peel the pre-shelled favas, and cook them in a little water and salt, and mash them up with her wooden spoon which she wields as a sceptre. They were delicious, and made me think of Nice.

Afterward, Marion's Barley: the barley pilaf we often have, just barley, butter, and sliced scallions, enough salt of course. And then the green salad, and since it's Sunday let's have dessert: vanilla ice cream with sliced peaches, because they're in season.

Pinot noir, RMH, 2014, the rest of the bottle, still alive and fruity

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Beef in the Café

IMG 7555  1
Berkeley, California, June 11, 2016—

IT IS A PARTICULARLY bad photo this time; I know that; I must have been excited at having beefsteak two nights running.

This one was cooked so beautifully: a sirloin roast, grilled and sliced, with potato gratin with sorrel, and with snap peas and spinach, and the beef slices treated to a tapenade garnish. Truly delicious.

Before it, roasted tomato bisque with a calligraphy of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of chopped chives: smooth, fruity, and teasing.

Afterward, apricot galette, with noyau ice cream. Fine pastry; marvelous apricots; superb ice cream.

Cheverny Blanc, Domaine Bellier (Loire), 2015: nicely balanced once accompanying food. Beaujolais, Chateau Cambon, 2014: simple, mature but still fruity, balanced

•Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-848-4425

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015IMG 7558  1

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Steak on the grill

IMG 7521
Eastside Road, June 10, 2016—

THIS IS WHAT we had for dinner, and this is how I made it:

IMG 7512 Halved a fresh pineapple and removed the eyes with a stainless-steel bread knife
Then sliced the halves say ¾ inch thick
IMG 7513Cleaned and halved spring onions and a red pepper
(That's the pineapple core with them)
IMG 7514Got a good bed of coals going under the grill
IMG 7518Put the pineapple and vegetables on first, let them cook pretty far above the fire until nearly done, then put the Chateaubriand on after lowering the grill to just above the coals
Salt everything, of course
Put split baguette pieces on the steak after turning it
Green salad afterward

Pinot noir, RMH (River Myst Haven) (Russian River), 2014: fruity, a tiny bit sweet, pleasing and substantial

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Friday, June 10, 2016


Tuna-cannellini salad
Eastside Road, June 9, 2016—

NO, THAT'S NOT a photo of risotto; it's another of the Hundred Plates, tuna-cannellini-onion salad, and it's what we just finished eating tonight, followed by the usual green salad. It's also an example of Elective Affinities, I think, as is true of most of the Hundred Plates. Colors, textures, flavors of course, all seem to play off one another. Mustn't forget the minced Italian parsley, of course, or the salt. A superb thing.

Cheap Pinot grigio

MORE SUPERB, I think, was the dinner I cooked night before last. It was the Cook's birthday, hence her night off, and I bought a bottle of very special Italian white wine to celebrate. Alas I'd hidden it to prevent her discovering it too soon and spoiling the surprise, and now of course I have no idea where it is.

I made up for it by cooking a very special risotto whose idea came from a book I chanced upon in the local library: Rice, Risotto, Pilaff & Paella , by Christine Ingram. Here's what I did: softened maybe four shallots, minced fine, in a half stick of butter. Fried a quart of Arborio rice in that, constantly turning it, until the grains began to go transparent around the edges. Threw in a bottle of "Champagne" (I used something called Veuve du Vernay, Brut, acceptable) and cooked that down. Then began adding vegetable stock, a good-sized ladleful at a time, always stirring it until it was incorporated before adding the next one.

When the rice was cooked al dente I added a half pint of cream and a good quantity, say a cupful at least, of grated Parmesan cheese; and served it with the pepper grinder and the Parmesan and a grater.

The stock: I quartered an unpeeled yellow onion, chopped three good-sized leek stalks whose whites had previously been used, added the top ends of a few stalks of celery, some thyme, and threw all that into a gallon of water, salting it as it cooked. I strained it before adding it to the risotto.

This is a pretty unconventional risotto, I know, but suitable for an illustrious occasion; and everyone liked it. It was beautiful to see, too; white, soft, creamy — too bad I was too busy, and having too good a time, to photograph it!

Cheap Pinot grigio; Sauvignon blanc: RMH (Russian River Valley), 2015; Gewurtztraminer: Gundlach Bundschu, 2014; Tinto de Toro, Romanico, 2011; Pinot noir:Rochioli (Russian River Valley), 2014. (There were six of us at table.)


LAST NIGHT we were content with one of Cook's one-pot hominy dishes, deep and substantial, with sausage, onion, and tomato contributing. Always, always, a green salad after; tonight with mustard vinaigrette.

The end of the Gewurtztraminer, a nice wine

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015 June 7: Risotto June 8: Hominy June 9: Tuna-cannelli salad

Monday, June 6, 2016

Another houseguest week

IMG 7378
Hot dogs, June 2
IMG 7424
Chicken and asparagus, June 3
IMG 7453
Chicken, chard, favas, June 5
Eastside Road, June 5, 2016—
ANOTHER WEEK FAR TOO BUSY to turn to The Blog.

Tuesday was fast day, as usual: toast and coffee; a handful of nuts and tea. Basta così.

Wednesday a house-guest arrived for a couple of nights. I'd asked him in advance, of course, to let us know if there was anything he would not eat, and what he preferred for breakfast. He apparently felt it polite to ignore the request. Cook made a fine pasta sauce with excellent local bacon, her own tomato sauce, and fusilli, and I made the usual delicious green salad. He turned out, of course, not to eat meat, and politely pushed every tiny piece of minced bacon to the edge of his plate. He then announced he never ate lettuce.

For breakfast he had an orange and perhaps something else I ignored, withdrawn from a small cloth bag of provisions he always carried with him.

Thursday night he was punished by friends in San Francisco who took him to a Burmese restaurant whose fare, he told us, was impossibly piquant. We on the other hand had hot dogs at home again, while watching another excellent Cubs game on television. In the photo (top left) you see how We do it: sliced raw onion, sauerkraut, a little mustard, a little pickle relish. Yes, that's potato salad on the plate.

The mustard jar is pretty well empty, as you see: fine. I put a spoonful or two of red wine vinegar in the jar, put the lid on tight, and shook it up well; then used some of that for the evening's vinaigrette. Delicious.

We spent Friday in the city, delivering houseguest to his work in San Francisco, then picking up green coffee beans in Oakland, and continuing our so far unsatisfactory search for salt from the Ile de Ré. The coffee's from Sweet Maria, who provide marvelous blends of beans for me to roast here at home: currently my favorite is what they call Ethiopiques, a suggestive name that always brings Valery Larbaud to mind, and Jacques Ibert's Escales ; it is a delicious, fragrant, solid, thoughtful blend.

Cook did not want to cook that evening, and who could blame her? We settled for a pre-cooked chicken from the new upscale supermarket opened a couple of weeks ago in the neighboring town. The asparagus was fine; ditto the wine. The chicken tasted a bit of feathers, I thought.

YESTERDAY WAS UNUSUAL: it began at four o'clock in the morning with a quick cup of coffee and a piece of buttered toast; then a drive to the nearby city of Sonoma. There I joined — with my companion, the neighbor down the hill — a group of say eighty walkers led by a local historian.

We walked the environs of that historic city: the Mission, the Bear Flag Revolt, Vallejo; the vineyards and wineries; the wealthy suburbs up the hill toward the Napa county line; the town cemetery; the nearby blue-collar suburbs, once vacation-cabin communities on the placid railroads of more than a century ago.

Along the way, breakfast sandwich and coffee; a lunch sandwich with an orange and a nectarine; a muffin or two. Dinner was also provided, and it was good: baked chicken (again!), a chicken tamal, a pork burrito, rice, beans, salsa chile verde, a kind of chopped salad, watermelon. With this, Lagunitas IPA my neighbor had thoughtfully brought along.

So we come to tonight, Sunday night. I'm afraid we had to finish that precooked chicken, and it hadn't really improved in the meantime. With it, a fine bunch of huge Swiss chard leaves, ribs and leaves chopped and cooked staged; and favas.

Cheap Barbera d'Asti

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015