Sunday, December 24, 2017


Eastside Road, December 23, 2017—
LONG TIME since our last polenta meal — one I quite enjoy. It often awakens two memories: of the "corn meal mush" we occasionally had when I was a boy, usually with sugar and milk — a very different proposition from what Cook does with it, with her Italian heritage!

And a remark made probably forty years ago by Kori Lockhart, then the press representative for San Francisco Opera, a bright, laconic, occasionally ironic woman, lantern-jawed and wide-eyed and good-looking, a native of Slovenia. Polenta! she exclaimed. Can't abide it! We had nothing else to eat when I was a girl!

Usually Cook serves it with sausage and tomato sauce, but tonight she sautéed mushrooms in butter — polenta forestiere, I suppose. In any case, delicious.

Green salad afterward; then a tangerine and a couple of chocolates…

     🍷Nero d'Avola, Epicuro, 2015

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Ham and cheese

Eastside Road, December 22, 2017—
IF YOU PLEASE, grilled ham and cheese.

Well, not grilled, really, more toasted under the broiler. I just shaved some Gruyère onto buttered slices of bread, placed sliced ham on top of the cheese, smeared a light coating of good mustard on the ham, set the top piece of bread on, and toasted them on a sheet pan under the broiler.

Well, Cook toasted them — kept an eye on the time, flipped them at the right moment. Ham and cheese: one of the Hundred Plates.

The oven was on anyway, because Cook had previously baked a Black Walnut Cake. This is a delicious thing, baked in a loaf pan, a yellow cake studded with bits of black walnut, which arrive every year a little before Christmas, always as a complete and very welcome surprise, from a cousin I hardly know who lives in St. Paul. Thanks, Mike! Let's share this cake one year!

After the sandwiches, and before the cake, green salad.

     🍷zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 2014

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, December 22, 2017


Eastside Road, December 2o, 2017—
SOMETHING GAVE COOK the idea to make a sourrlé for dinner, and I for one would certainly not discourage her. As you see, it rose beautifully — and the oven helped to heat the house, which had chilled down to 59° while we were away last week.

I don't know what recipe she used. We buy organic free-range eggs, and organic milk; the cheese was Gruyère, as it should be, think I. We bought the soufflé dish decades ago, from a potter who worked in Larkfield at the time; we've always been fond of his plum-colored glaze…

Green salad afterward; then some fruit.

     🍷Cheap Pinot grigio

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Boudin blanc in Oakland

Oakland, December 19, 2017—
LUNCH TODAY in the upstairs café we so like to patronize, where a fine salad of puntarelle and radicchio, beautifully dressed, was followed by a spectacular, very brightly flavored pizzetta covered with squid and aioli, sliced onion, tomato sauce, and marjoram — and very piquant with, perhaps, Aleppo pepper. I'm not sure about the latter. I should have asked.

Afterward, a thoughtful fruit plate — Pink Pearl apple, pomegranate, dates. And an apple and sour cherry galette with vanilla ice cream. Perfect.

     🍷Cava, Brut Nature, Avinyo, Spain, nv; crisp and refreshing
Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 📞+1 (510) 548-5525

DINNER OUT, CELEBRATING the 52d wedding anniversary of our old friends. (We were their witnesses, long ago, in a Reno chapel.) We decided, I'm not sure why, to take them to a place we haven't visited in ages, where we sat in a back room — in fact a canvas-covered patio, thankfully heated, and quiet in contrast to the hip noisy front room.

The contessa and I ordered identically: a salad to begin, then a rabbit boudin blanc. You know that's sausage, the waiter cautioned us. Yes, we know, we said; and then, curious, You tell us that because there are people who order it and then…

…Yes, the dish arrives, and they say Oh sausage, I didn't know it was sausage, no, I don't want this…

The little problematic dramas of the client-waiter relationship. Oh well. The boudin was quite delicious.

For dessert I had a piece of cheese, requesting the candied walnuts, toasted almonds, sliced apple, poached figs and walnut levain all be left off the course. The result was a simple wedge of "Blue de Moncenisio," a marvelous creamy but solid mostly white cheese tasting much like my favorite Castelmagno but lacking its grain. Moncenisio is the mountain and pass just north of the Italian Alpine valley the Contessa's father came from; it's a favorite landscape of mine.

     🍷 Pignolo
À Côté Restaurant , 5478 College Avenue, Oakland; 📞+1 (510) 655-6469

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Penne back home

Eastside Road, December 18, 2017—
AFTER A DAY traveling — bus from Lafayette to Denverf airport, flight to SFO, wait for the checked bag, shuttle to a hotel where we'd left our car, drive home finally through the familiar highway corridor — Cook retrieved some pasta sauce from the freezer and boiled some penne rigata. Nice to be home; nice to have our own cooking. Her own cooking.

     🍷Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Four dinners in Colorado

Eastside Road, December 20, 2017—
MUCH OF THE LAST week was spent in Colorado, where we flew to see a granddaughter receive her doctor's degree — the first I know of in my family. I have tremendous respect for Eve, who worked hard and tenaciously to accomplish this while dealing with two small daughters, their father, the household, and who knows what other complications. But all that's another story, and we're here to eat.

"Dinner" the first day of the trip was a hamburger at the airport. This was our first domestic flight in years, and we found limited options at SFO — but the hamburger wasn't bad, the fries were actually good, and the beer helped.

•Go Bistro, South Terminal, San Francisco International Airport

Thursday, next day of the trip, we ate at home — Eve's home. She bake-roasted a couple of chickens, and the other women pitched in — three generations of them: plenty of experience there! Chicken and potatoes, and snow peas on the side.

     🍷Rioja, Roda I Reserva, 2005: a little rough and woody to my palate, but a fine wine of its type

Friday we ate out: ten adults and three kids under six aroud a big table in a place celebrated for its fried chicken. I like chicken well enough, but not necessarily two nights running. Besides, we're in Colorado, and beef seems a logical alternative, and the steak-frites here is said to be delicious.

As you see, it came rare, to my specification, with a generous garnish of arugula and chimichurri, and those fries were good. It was a man-size plate, no doubt about it; half a pound of skirt steak. But it was delicious.

     🍷Pinot noir, Santa Rita "120" (Central Valley, Chile, according to the menu: serviceable)
The Post Brewing Company, 105 West Emma Street, Lafayette, Colorado; 📞+1 (303) 593-2066

Saturday night, after a second ceremony at Colorado University, we ate at home again. Shawn likes his rib-eye, and he'd laid in three enormous steaks — very nearly standing roasts, in fact. He grilled them while the women fixed mashed potatoes and made Hollandaise sauce for asparagus spears. (And, in my case at least, for the steak as well.) This was a fine repast. I don't mind beefsteak twice running, not at all. I don't think any of us did.

     🍷Cabernet sauvignon, Stag's Leap, "Artemis," in two vintages: 2005; 2015.
      (Of the two I preferred the younger, which seemed to me much more interesting. Both were true to varietal and to terroir, but I thought more thought had gone into the grapes in the 2015, whereas the 2005 seemed more generically Napa Valley. But I could be wrong.)

All this beefsteak and chicken was very fine, but it had been a long time since I'd had a Margherita — pizza, that is. So for our final meal together we stopped in at another local standby — one of three branches of a truly impressive pizzeria. I won't say this was a perfectly authentic Margherita — but then, it wasn't billed so. The menu stated
Fresh Mozz — San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella & organic basil
but the basil was skimpy, julienned to make it go farther. (I'm not complaining. This is Colorado, we're a mile above sea level, and it's December.)

The pizza was beautifully cooked, the pastry thin and crisp, and the cheese was really quite good. When we left I asked a cook where the mozzarella came from: made in house, he said. Must be a chain, I told the Contessa, and it turns out there are three locations: Denver, Louisville, Niwot. From their website:

Our Chefs make dough fresh every day from organic Colorado flour; It’s hand stretched, topped with locally sourced ingredients and cooked in a hand-built brick oven. We work with local farmers and ranchers to change our menu with the grow season. … We source the best local and domestic producers we can find. During the summer, our produce comes almost exclusively from Isabelle farms in Lafayette, CO, and Oxford Gardens in Boulder, CO, as well as our own organic garden. Our pork comes from Cone Ranch in Julesburg, Colorado, our eggs from Wisdom’s Natural Poultry in Haxtun, 100% grass fed beef from Colorful Ranch in E. Denver, Colorado.

The pizzas was what I had been hungering for: piquant, crisp, straightforward, clean.

     🍷Sangiovese, a (much) lesser Chianti of some kind. I don't generally cotton to Chiantis, but this one was unassuming and pleasant.

Lucky Pie Pizza, 637 Front Street, Louisville, Colorado 📞+1 (303) 666-5743

Cold though it was, after dinner we stepped next door for some ice cream — because this is a very good ice cream maker. I had a simple gelato al limon, just what I needed to close this sentimental revisit to Italy… Sweet Cow, 637 Front Street, Louisville, Colorado; 📞+1 (303) 666-4269

Thursday or Friday, I don't recall which, on a walk "downtown," we visited a chocolaterie-cafe our daughter had discovered, which she knew would appeal to us for its Dutch theme. Sure enough, the couple behind the counter were Dutch, and began responding to my questions — in my own limping Dutch — in their native language. There were dozens of kinds of chocolates at hand, and — more to the point when we first visited, having been deprived of espresso for a few days — a machine. We asked for cappuccinos and a croissant the next morning, and returned a couple of days later. The chocolates are delicious — we tried several. And the cappuccinos are quite satisfactory as well: a little milk-heavy, but then Netherlands is a country of dairy cows. I was very happy with this place, and recommend it:

Chocolaterie Stam Lafayette, 103 N Public Road, Lafayette, Colorado; 📞+1 (303) 800-8201

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The rest of the boeuf daube

Eastside Road, December 10, 2017—
THERE WAS JUST a little of the beef stew left, and half the package of egg noodles. So naturally that's what we had for dinner — less generously than last night, but you don't feast every day. Green salad. Shortbread (thanks, Becky). Panforte (thanks, Norman and Pam).

     🍷Cheap Nero d'Avola

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Boeuf daube

Eastside Road, December 9, 2017—
WHAT BETTER DINNER to make today than a Boeuf Daube? Usually I turn to a favorite recipe, in a book of Provençal dishes: but today I was either lazy or perhaps improvisational, and at our favorite local supermarket (well, mine, anyway) I asked my iPhone to do a little research — and perhaps that was a mistake.

Boeuf Daube is an essentially south-of-France dish, far as I'm concerned; this recipe mentioned Virginia Woolf, whose Mrs. Dalloway apparently contemplated it somewhere in To The Lighthouse — which I suppose I should re-read once again, as I hsve no recollection of that at all.

Oh well: I made sure to get everything this odd recipe called for, and then followed the general procedure while not paying much attention to the amounts and proportions, as I was cooking for two, not eight. And here's what followed:

Two thirds a pound of beef-stew pieces (chuck) tossed in olive oil, salt and minced garlic
Two slices of bacon, halved, browned in a heavy copper pot, then drained
The beef thrown into the bacon fat to brown
The vegetables then follow: chopped onion, mushrooms, green olives, carrot (not too much), capers
Some tomato sauce
The bacon, crumbled
Then a glass of red wine and a half glass of brandy
And peppercorns, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf
I threw in a little store-bought demi-glace, too; then put the lid on and set the pot in the oven, 300°, for two or three hours.

And here's the thing, omitted from this limey recipe, but absolutely essential to a daube, in my opinion: a few pieces of orsnge peel, just the zest.

Served atop egg noodles. Green salad afterward.

     🍷Cheap Nero od'Avola

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Odds and ends

Eastside Road, Saturday, December 8, 2017—
YESTERDAY WE RETURNED to those Niman-Schell "Italian sausages," which seem to me more like typical and not very exciting New York hot dogs — made much more attractive with sautéed peppers and onions, as the previous time, but this time with sliced potatoes as well.

Today for lunch we had this delicious split pea soup. Cook follows Deborah Madison's method, in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone — everyone, including us, though we are far from vegetarians, which of course was Debbie's point.

Then for dinner simple cheddar cheese and sliced raw onion on toast. It's funny: for nearly twenty years, when I was working as a journalist, I couldn't eat raw onions — they troubled my digestion. The minute I retired, raw onions posed no problems. I suppose this is related to stress — but then why have they not begun troubling me again? God knows there's plenty of stress in this country these days.

But toasted sourdough, its crust liberally seeded with sesame, and thin slices of aged cheddar, and thinner yet slices of raw onion — what a treat!

No green salad: a side dish of cauliflower instead.

     🍷Cheap Nero d'Avola

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Catching up again

LET'S SEE: Sunday we went for a drive, and had a huge, rich hamburger for a late lunch, leaving us unhungry at dinnertime. I'm not fond of cheeseburgers, and didn't realize that was what I was in for — it was listed as a "hamburger" on the menu; cheese was mentioned only in the fine print. Oh well: it was decent cheddar, at least for this purpose, and there were marvelous sweet-sour pickles involved along with the usual tomato and lettuce. I've had worse.

Trading Post Restaurant, 102 S Cloverdale Boulevard, Cloverdale, California; 📞+1 (707) 894-6483

MODAY WE HAD pasta for dinner — spirale, in Cook's fine tomato sauce. Green salad. Fruit.

     🍷Cheap Nero d'Avola

Eastside Road, December 6, 2017—
YESTERDAY WE FASTED, in our usual way, having café au lait with buttered toast at breakfast, a handful of nuts with tea in the evening. And tonight, tonight we had hot dogs, of all things, with sautéed red and yellow peppers and onions. Green salad after, and a tangerine.

     🍷Cheap Nero d'Avola

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Pork chops ma façon

Eastside Road, December 2, 2017—
NO DOUBT THEY'VE figured here a few times already, I've been posting this blog so many years… pork chops the way I cook them. You salt them when you get them home, of course, and wrap them loosely back in the paper they came in, and let them rest in the refrigerator.

Then you rub their beautiful white fat into a black iron skillet, and heat it well. Then you set them in the skillet to brown.

You pound garlic, salt, and fennel seeds in a mortar, and spread half that salve on the uncooked top surfaces of the chops. Drizzle a little olive oil on. Turn them when the underside's nicely browned, and spread the rest of the mixture on the new top surface.

I cooked some potatoes in salt, pepper, and olive oil in another skillet.

And I cooked sliced-lengthwise leeks and carrots in another pan, with water, olive oil, salt and pepper.

(I forgot: I like to grate some lemon zest onto the chops. Oh well: next time.)

     🍷Cheap Pinot grigio (it's nice to be home)

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Upscale trattoria

San Francisco, December 1, 2017—
I WILL PROBABLY NEVER get used to the contemporary dining scene. When I was a boy, and well into our marriage, restaurants were comparatively few. One dined at home, lunched at school or work. Everyone I knew had a lunchbucket of some kind, even office workers.

Now it seems there are restaurants everywhere. I read the other day there are some 7500 in San Francisco, one for every hundred citizens. And I understand there are apartments and even houses being designed now lacking cooking facilities, barring toasters I suppose and perhaps microwave ovens.

We were on Hayes Street this afternoon: one eating place after another, both sides the street. We were there to try a place new to us but well reviewed, a trattoria I suppose you'd call it. We began with a classic tuna-and-cannellini salad, tricked up a bit beyond what I think of as authenticity with capers and "tonnato aioli," a little too much of that, and it a little too gloppy, to my taste.

("Tonnato aioli"? The collision of languages and culinary streams is unsettling. The entire menu description was

tuna conserva, cannelini beans, celery, red onion, caper berries, tonnato aioli
You forgive the occasional honest diner who wants to know simply what's going to be on the plate. Tuna conserva? Caper berries?)

Oh well: glop aside, the tuna-cannellini salad was fine, and so was the bucatini all'amatriciana, a dish we somehow overlooked last week in Rome. This did seem authentic: chunks of pancetta (not guanciale), tomato sauce, a good dusting of grated pecorino. A very pleasant midday supper. I'd go back.

     🍷A Martini; "Vino della Casa": a Sangiovese blend from Napa county; don't know further details; perfectly acceptable.
A Mano, 450 Hayes Street, San Francisco; 📞+1 (415) 506-7401

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, December 1, 2017

Local bistro

Eastside Road, November 30, 2017—
AFTER A COUPLE of weeks eating in Italy — and, don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining — my tastes often seem to turn toward traditional French bistro fare. So it was doubly pleasing when an old friend suggested a new place (new to us) for a night out.

Not that this place is completely authentic. The evening's prix-fixe menu sounded enticing, on this cold night, until I learned that the cassoulet featured not goose or duck confit but rabbit. I'm sure a rabbit-and-beans stew could be delicious, but it is not a cassoulet — so I opted for a simple hanger steack au poivre vert, cooked rare, to my specification. A little tough, as rare steak must be, but delicious.

All three of us ordered the steak, though the women took theirs medium rare. We began with Caesar salad — again, not strictly bistro fare, but very nicely done, almost up to Zuni Restaurant standard, with silvery boquerones in place of the usual salt anchovies, and a tiny overbalance toward lemon juice, but still very nice indeed.

Crème brulée for dessert, smooth in a shallow terrine, flavored with lavender, star anise, and Madagascar vanilla, correctly made.

     🍷Pinot grigio/Vermentino, "Costiera," Seghesio, 2013: very pleasing
     Syrah, Trione Vineyards, 2013: mature and characteristic

Walter Hansel Wine Bistro, 3535 Guerneville Rd Santa Rosa; 📞+1 (707) 546-6462

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Eastside Road, November 29, 2017—
IT DOESN'T TAKE LONG to get back in the routine. Pasta tonight — not penne, it's true, but a close cousin, rigatoni, with delicious home-made tomato sauce. Cook chopped up a bit of Franco's fine guanciale and sweated some chopped onion with it, then added a jar of the sauce she made last year — just perfectly ripe tomatoes and olive oil, salt and pepper.

Green salad afterward.

     🍷Rosé, Guilhem

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A baked potato.

Eastside Road, November 28, 2017—
NORMALLY WE FAST on Tuesdays, you may remember. But it's over a month since we've eaten normally, and I thought it best not to rush back into the routine. So today we half-fasted, as the funnymen have it. In fact we reverted to our earliest concept of the "fast," when, not trusting the concept, Cook often baked a potato for dinner.

She did again tonight: a Russet for me, a sweet potato for herself. We drizzle a little olive oil on the split potato, and salt and pepper it. No other garnish, but the usual green salad afterward, tonight with Alta's quince vinegar in the dressing. Tasty.

     🍷Rosé, Guilhem

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Home again

Eastside Road, November 27, 2017—
HOME AGAIN, after twenty-four hours' travel, the dining during which needs no attention. Home, and in no mood to cook. And not particularly hungry, for that matter.

A shopping trip to our supermarket in Healdsburg suggested the solutions: let's finally try a pizza from their oven. I asked for a Margherita, of course, and in ten minutes it was out of the oven in its cardboard box — never a good idea, but what else can they do? — and quickly home.

There we slipped it onto a proper pan and reheated it in the oven. (The house, vacant these last four weeks, was a little cold, and profited from the heating.) You know: I have to say: it wasn't bad. Thin, crisp crust, decent mozzarella, good tomatoes, no overload of basil. I'll do it again.

I'd also bought eggs and butter at Big John's, and picked up a loaf of Como bread at our favorite bakery, so dinner was a cinch: omelet and toast. As I've mentioned here before, I cook omelets in olive oil, in an iron pan used for nothing else (and kept in a paper bag when not in use). I break two eggs (three for me!) into a bowl, rinse my hands, and let a few drops of water fall into the eggs, which I then whisk with a fork. Into the hot oil, lift the edges to let egg run under, shake to loosen from pan.

Grated parmesan carefully strewn down the middle of the unturned omelet; then fold over twice and flip to brown a bit more. Salt and pepper. Serve — with buttered toast. Very pleasing.

     🍷No wine goes well with eggs, but we'd had a bottle of Petite Syrah, Preston of Dry Creek, as an aperitif, with the neighbors down the hill…

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Sunday, November 26, 2017


Via Damaso Cerquetti, Rome, November 25, 2017—

WHY HAVE WE NEVER been to this wonderful restaurant before? It's not as if we've spent few evenings in Rome… and it's certainly not unknown. A friend recommended it years ago, but we never seemed to get around to it — perhaps because of its location, a little off the usual track.

But only a very little. It's in a secluded corner adjacent to the Ghetto, a very quiet location, but easily walked to — which is what we like to do.

I started with this delicious Tortino di baccalà, carciofi e patate — a compound of salt cod, artichoke and potatoes, beautifully balanced, the flavors perfectly merged. For a secondo, Saltimbocca alla romana: we can't leave Rome without one of its most characteristic dishes.

The Contessa had the carciofe alla giudia she'd been hungering fdor — the best we've had, I think, the leaves perfectly crisped.

And the dining room is stunningly beautiful, and the service as good as any I've seen. We will certainly be back — alas, not soon.

     🍷Frascati Superiore Heredio DOCG, Vallechiesa (Malvasia/Greco/Bombino), a little dusty on the tongue but fine with the baccalà)
     Merlot/Sangiovese, "Rosso della casa" (Tuscany): fruity, balanced, light

•Piperno, Monte de' Cenci 9, Rome; 📞+39 06 68806 629

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Back to Litro; Grappolo d'Oro

Via Damaso Cerquetti, Roma, November 24, 2017—
WE TOOK A LONG walkabout today, starting with the stroll uphill to the Janiculum and Litro, where we'd dined earlier this week. We wanted to show it to a new guest who hadn't arrived in time for that occasion.

Here I began with the same bruschetti as night before last: anchovies and butter, with lemon juice and a very thin slice of lemon; tomato — simply tomatoes picked dead ripe and canned in water with a tiny bit of salt. Deep, deep color and flavor.

I went on to "Pollo Litro": a boned chicken thigh and drumstick, cooked very slow and long, then quickly to color its skin. It was served with two kinds of mushrooms, also slow-cooked: I'm sorry I can't supply the kind of mushroom; I know they weren't porcini.

     🍷Vino Rosso (Grignolino), "Ottavio", Cascina 'tavijn di Nadia Verrua, Scurzolengo (Asti), ?2016: Characteristic varietal, fruity and edgy, best I've had of this favorite grape of mine
•Litro, Via Fratelli Bonnet 5, Rome; 📞+39 06 45447 639

WE WALKED ON to Trastevere, because I wanted a gelato — two flavors: Black rice and rose; chestnut and myrtle. These were remarkable gelati, complex and deep in the flavor, just what I expect from this place:

•Fatamorgana, Via Roma Libera 11, Rome; 📞+39 06 58036 15

And then on across the river to make our way to our favorite café, not for its comfort — one downs one's caffè standing at the bar — but for the quality of the beans and roast: with Caffè Doge (Veneto), this is one of my two favorite coffees in the world.

•La Casa del Caffè Tazza d'Oro, Via degli Orfani 84, Rome; 📞+39 06 67897 92

IN THE EVENING we dined late, our last celebratory dinner with granddaughter and fiancé and Dutch friend visiting. The restaurant was jumping: the table next to us seated twenty-two locals also celebrating a birthday, more noisily than we.

We began with two platters of assorted antipasti: panzanella, polpetti, burratina con alici, baccalà mantecato. (In the photo, the polpetti are at 10 and 4 o'clock: the first made of eggplant and ricotta, the other di bollito, minced meat and vegetables.)

The contessa went on to her favorite baccalà mantecato, the individual serving crowned with a flattened fried artichoke. I moved to agnello alla romana,lamb chine roasted with garlic and rosemary, served with oven-roasted potatoes. Difficult to eat, but delicious, in its forthright, meaty way.

     🍷Prosecco, Ca' dei Zago, Valdobbiadene, 2016: very dry yet fruity, the most Champagne-like prosecco I've ever tasted
Syrah, "Prodigo," Donata Giangirolami (Lazio), 2015: serious, deep, dry, full

•Grappolo d'Oro, Piazza della Cancelleria 80, Rome; 📞+39 06 68970 80

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, November 24, 2017

Cesare; Emma

Via Damaso Cerquetti, Rome, November 23, 2017—
MIDDAY DINNER at a favorite trattoria today, famous in our family at least for its pasta caccio e pepe. You take the number 8 tram up to the end of the line at Casaletto and walk a few feet to Cesare. In good weather you'll be outside in front, but it's a little chilly these late November days, so let's sit inside.

I stuck to the popular basics: alice in olio and the aforesaid caccio e pepe.The anchovies are served as plain as you please: delicious and strongly flavored fillets in a pool of fine olive oil. You have to be careful with this dish; the oil can catch at your throat. Fluids stand by to ease the occasinal problem.

You have your choice of short pasta or long: if the latter, spaghetti or tonarelli. I chose the latter: egg pasta, made in house of course, cooked perfectly. The pasta is drained, then tossed with plenty of highly flavored grated pecorino cheese, a little of the cooking water added I'd guess, a liberally dusted with very finely ground black pepper. It's a magnificent product of cucina povera, poor man's cuisine.

     🍷Trebbiano in carafe
•Da Cesare al Casaletto, Via del Casaletto, 45, Roma; 📞+39 06 536015a

THIS WAS NOT the end of the day's dining: we spent the evening at rather a trendy spot in centro, dining rather late. We began with some appetizers, including a splendid Burrata di Andria e alici del Cantabrico, a big mound (300 grams) of milky burrata criss-crossed with anchovies and marvelous confited tomatoes.

I went on to fettucine with white truffles, because after all it's November and here they are. This is one of the great dishes and I'll say no more about it.

     🍷Frascati, Principe Pallavicini, Poggio Verde, 2016: typical but absolutely first-rate; Nebbiolo, Cavallotto (Langhe), 2015, ditto
•Emma, Via Monte della Farina, Roma; 📞+39 06 64760475

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017


Via Damaso Cerquetti, Rome, November 22, 2017—
WE CAME TO ROME to celebrate the impending marriage of our Roman granddaughter and her Algerian-born fiancé, who had just been granted a visa to travel next spring to Oregon for the wedding. A special event, suggesting a special dinner, at a favorite spot: and we were joined by our French daughter and a couple of old friends from Verona.

Litro is biodynamic. It's a wine bar. The menu is limited (also the kitchen facilities) but enthusiastic. The flavors are BIG. The service is both professional and hilarious.

We started with marvelous bruschetti: anchovies and butter; deeply flavored tomato. I think of them, in this photo, as Hamza and Francesca, respectively.

I'm on an anchovy kick, so I took also a Spiedino di alici alle nocciole e miyo wasaabi, anchovies rolled around a ground hazelnut paste bound with wasabi. Sharp, salty, delicious. This must be what umamami is all about.

I went on to my perennial favorite, tartare: in this case a Battuta di Fassona, chopped Piemontese beef, with wasabi and good mustard, and garnished liberally with endive and lettuce — from the restaurant's own garden, as I believe. Sweet, rich, delicate beef!

     🍷Querciole, Ca' de Noci (Reggio Emilia), 2016: refreshing, unusual; Beaujolais Villages "La Bonne Pioched," 2016: fruity Gamay flavor, skins-and-stalks flavor, soklid
•Litro, Via Fratelli Bonnet 5, Rome; 📞+39 06 45447 639

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Sarà una volta

Via Damaso Cerquetti, Rome, November 21, 2017—
BACK TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD standby for a late supper, where I had a fine artichoke alla giudia and a plate of pappardelle with cinghiale (wild pig) ragù, and the five of us had so much fun, and such interesting conversation with the owner-host, that no photographs were made…

     🍷Pecorino, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo in carafe

•C'Era Una Volta, Piazzale Enrico Dunant 13, Rome; 📞 +39 06 53627 8

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Monday, November 20, 2017


Via Damaso Cerquetti, November 20, 2017—
FRIENDS AND FAMILY arrive today, and by dinnertime we were not yet into thinking seriously about where to eat. I had a place up my sleeve, a neighborhood place with an interesting menu playing a few variations on local standbys but never descending to the level of tweezer food.

I started with a twist on steak tartare. The chopped beef was sweet and pleasant; there was a barely poached egg on top; the dish was accompanied by smoky sautéed porcini; and underneath it all was a soft layer of parmesan cheese-infused mousse — no idea how that was accomplished.

Then a simple spaghetti alla gricia: spaghetti tossed with fried guanciale (cured pork cheeks) and grated Pecorino cheese — a specialty of Lazio, like last night's carbonara. Both these dishes were expertly done: I recommend this place.

     🍷Traminer from Friuli in carafe
•L'Osteria di Monteverde, Via Pietro Cartoni 163, Rome; 📞+39 06 53273 887

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Sunday, November 19, 2017

There was a time…

Via Damaso Cerquetti, Rome, November 19, 2017—

WE TOOK THE 12:37 train from Varenna to Milano, then the 2pm train on to Rome, where our hosts met us at Termini and drove us to our (their) apartment — what a generous gesture, and how we appreciate it.

I have to admit I was tired and a little dazed from… well, I don't know what, exactly. Perhaps a near-week of just the two of us with minimal input other than beauty. Perhaps the train, which sailed along at 150 mph from Milan to Rome without stopping.

In any case we washed our hands and said goodbye and thank you to our hosts and then walked down to a place we recalled from last April — honest, dependable, not terribly expensive, and nearby.

There I had fagioli e tonno, nothing more than cold cooked Borlotti beans and cold canned tuna, which I seasoned a little further with salt and olive oil. A very simple dish, easily simulated at home. I've usuually had this dish with white beans, cannelini for example: but the meatier borlotti are very good as well.

And then, since after all it's the first dinner in Rome in quite a while, spaghetti carbonara. It's about as good here as anywhere else. The egg yolk is deliciously yellow; the guanciale is first-rate; the pasta is cooked to just the right point — what's to refine further?

     🍷Pecorino, mezzolitro

•C'Era Una Volta, Piazzale Enrico Dunant 13, Rome; 📞 +39 06 53627 8

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Via Venini, Varenna, November 18, 2017—
HERE JUST FOR a day, because tomorrow's train leaves from here, and we didn't want to rush things in the morning. Rushing is not indicated in this idyllic corner of Italy.

And, like Bellagio, Varenna is in the grips of basso stagione; much is closed. Including the restaurant we'd thought to try. So we walked on a little further, to the interestingly rhomboidal Piazza San Giorgio, and took a table al sole, in the sun.

fagiole e cipolle

We started by sharing two generous appetizers: a plate of bresaola with arugula and Parmesan cheese; another of perfectly cooked cold Borlotti beans with sliced raw white onion.

I went on to salsiccia e patate, grilled cotechino sausage and curious french fries.

No room, no need, for salad or dessert…

     🍷vino bianco in mezzolitro
•Albergo Del Sole, Piazza San Giorgio 17, Varenna; 📞+39 0341 815218

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017