Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Two of the best

Via Damaso Cerquetti, Tuesday, April 24, 2017—
BIG EATING DAYS, as we are not in the Eternal City forever. Sunday we feasted in the Italian tradition: a family dinner at a favorite trattoria at midday. There were plenty of appetizers: most memorably, filetti di baccalà and alici di Anzio (deep-fried strips of breaded salt cod and of Anzio anchovies), anchovies in oil.

I went on to penne alla carbonara, because in all these days I don't think I've had a carbonara yet. This was, predictably, very good — though I wish the pasta had been anything but penne.

     White wine in carafe
Da Cesare, Via del Casaletto, 45, Rome; +39 06 536015


TODAY we repeated the experiment but at a traditional weekday hour, 8:30, the five us seated at a quasi-outdoor table at a Slow Food-recommended place near our apartment but never before visited. (By us, I mean.)

Again, wonderful appetizers: tomato bruschetti, lively and front-of-the-tongue; baccalà croquettes; fine prosciutto from Amatrice — the proprietors of this fine place have roots in that town.

I went on to a favorite pasta, strozzapreti, in a lamb ragù sauce with little artichokes: magnificent. I had intended to eat more, but couldn't. Well, a jam crostata, never as good as they look.

     Grigeto (I think)/Malvasia, white, natural, in a pitcher: mystifying at first and a little sweet, then quickly perfectly suited to the first courses; Cesanese, Martino (Lazio), 2015, forthcoming and fruity but with good body and finish
Osteria Palmira, Via Abate Ugone 29, Rome; +39 06 58204298

I recommend both these places whole-heartedly, and hope to return.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ostia Antica

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 22, 2017—
OUT TO OSTIA ANTICA today, there to stroll the ruins, visit the seaside, and lunch.

That was in the archeological preserve itself, whose tavola calda is quite acceptable. Look! Spinach! I settled for a simple plate of roast pork with a bit of carrot-flavored sauce, spinach on the side, the whole plate then put in an oven to freshen it all up.

Dinner at home: Minestrone soup.

     Red wine in the glass
•Cafeteria, Scavi Di Ostia Antica, Viale Dei Romagnoli 717, Ostia Antica, Rome; +39 337 1175780

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Roman eating

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 21, 2017—
WE DO EAT OUT from time to time, of course. This was a long day, seven miles of walking in parks, gardens, and the Forum; not enough time to drop back to the apartment for leftovers, let alone meal preparation.

After beginning with a stroll through the Roseto, just opened, and the Orange Tree Garden, stately yet welcoming, we re-visited a place we'd enjoyed two weeks ago — not for a Martini this time; for a saltimbocca alla romana.

I must confess that neither my iPhone nor its proprietor always takes the perfect photograph, and this one has had its critic. It isn't east to convey the content of a plate with a photo. I wanted to go for a close-up.

Saltimbocca is one of those perfect combinations of already manipulated ingredients: vitello or veal, pounded thin; sage leaves; prosciutto. The meat is dredged in flour and browned in a hot pan in oil and butter; the pan is deglazed with white wine or Marsala (the latter, I think, here).

Chicken or veal stock contributes to the sauce, and there you have it. There's a recipe online. It is one of the Hundred Plates, and delicious at this place

     Pecorino da Lazio in bicchiere
•Max Roma, Viale Aventino 20, Rome; +39 06 64420669


WE FINISHED THE DAY at a restaurant I continue to like. The last time we ate here I thought it had slipped a bit, but it's bounced back, better in a sense than before

What I have here is pasta, either alla gricia or simply cacio e pepe. We began with a few antipasti, and it was these that had improved, in my memory. We five shared anchovies with lemon, oil, oregano, and chili pepper; braised vegetables; and a delicious Pecorino with honey; I went on to Spaghetti cacio e pepe: that fine Pecorino and black pepper, and basta cosí.

     Bianco di Toscana, Poggio d'Oro, 2015: quite serviceable.
•Trattoria da Lucia, Vicolo del Mattonato 2B, Rome; +39 06 5803601

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Leftovers

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 20, 2017—
YOU WOULD BE WRONG to think we complain about eating leftovers at home. We had roast and mashed potatoes, asparagus, cold roast beef, and a platter of agretti, and more of those marvelous cookies, and it was perfectly fine.      bottle ends: Grenache; Barbera

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Algerian dinner

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 19, 2017—
ALGERIAN BY VIRTUE of the wines, primarily, and the desserts: but the roast lamb had qualities not that far removed, I think. It had a curious provenance, that lamb: it was given to us along with a huge quantity of bay leaves, rosemary, mint, and small garlic cloves by a friend whose country place we visited the other day. It was all local provender, and it was delicious. With it, asparagus and potatoes.

Hamza had just returned from a weekend in Algiers, and brought a box of extremely delicious cookies his mother had made for us, and a couple of bottles of wine:

     Rosé, Grenache and Cinsault, Fleur d'Aboukir (Algeria), nv: crisp, fruity, engaging, delicious
     Grenache, Koutoubia (Algeria), nv: full, forward, spicy

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A simple day

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 18, 2017—
LUNCH WAS SIMPLE enough: a smallish slice of pizza, Margherita of course, in a little place on the Trilussa I've often walked past but never tried. The pizza lacked basil, but had that nice crisp Roman crust.

     Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
•Fast Food Eat Street Food, Piazza Trilussa, Rome; +39 06 580 9456

DINNER WAS ALSO relatively fast, but at home: Cook put the four P's together — pasta (in the shape of fusilli), prosciutto, peas, and pepper. The prosciutto was diced fairly fine and browned by itself, then tossed with the cooked peas and the pasta. Very nice.

     Falanghina del Beneveniano, "Terre di Sabbia," nv: cheap supermarket wine, quite nice

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Catching up

Spaghetti carbonara, C'Era una Volta
Fusilli with Sicilian pesto
Agretti
Tartare at Litro
Vignerola
Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 18, 2017—
LAST WEEK we mostly ate at home, it seems; I don't count the daily forays to gelaterie within Eating Every Day, though one of these days I'll get around to listing the ones we've logged.

Thursday was one of the two exceptions: we met our Roman granddaughter and her beau at a neighborhood place that had been recommended, curiously, by a courtly stranger, a Roman, who approached us at the Spanish Steps and struck up a conversation. On learning we were staying near the Piazzale Dunant he advised us to dine here. Oddly, Granddaughter said she'd had the same experience a year or two earlier; it must have been the same fellow. Something to write about elsewhere.

I opened with fagiole con tonno, nicely cooked white beans and solid, flavorful tuna; and went on to a really quite delicious Carbonara. This turns out to be just what the man said (and a lot of people on TripAdvisor, for what that's worth): a neighborhood restaurant not apparently visited by tourists. Only Italian on the menu. Professional, fast waiters who've apparently been there for years. Granddaughter, though she lives nearby, had only had take-out pizza from the place; we'll all return, I'm sure.

     House white
•C'era una Volta, Piazzale Enrico Dunant 13, Rome; +39 06 536278


FRIDAY: Dinner at home: Cook bound some fusilli with store-bought and quite delicious Sicilian pesto: tomato sauce with ground almonds. Afterward, in place of salad, agretti, which I wrote about a week or so ago — bitter, sweet, spinachy, delicious with oil and lemon.
SATURDAY: STEAK TARTARE, bound correctly with raw egg and incorporating mustard and capers, garnished irrelevantly I thought with lettuce leaves and fennel fronds. We'd stopped off at this place, a favorite with Granddaughter and Beau, thinking to have just a spritzer as an apéritif, but of course I couldn't resist the tartare. Just as well: one of the best I've had.

     Prosecco, one of those "natural" wines in vogue now, muddy and incivil to my taste
Litro, Via Fratelli Bonnet 5, Rome; +39 06 45447639


EASTER SUNDAY: dinner at home. Perhaps it's here I should mention our shopping. There are greengrocers on almost every block; we like the Egyptian-run one down our street. There are two "supermarkets" across the street, as I think I've mentioned; one of them, Tigre, contains our local panficio, and the bread is really quite good.

We also buy our water, still and sparkling, at the supermarket, and our wine, which I rarely mention because it's not really interesting: inexpensive Pinot grigio, Nebbiolo, or Barbera d'Asti; occasionally a Prosecco.

For today's dinner Cook bought a good-looking beef roast which comes netted, I don't know why. I salted it all round and she put it in the oven along with quartered potatoes and then we took a walk. Alas, the oven's much faster than we thought, and both meat and potatoes were quite charred on the outside. The meat was fine, though, although well done; nicely grained and flavored. Ah well: Next time.

With it, Vignerola. What a marvelous dish! Artichokes, peas, favas, and onions, with chopped prosciutto. Very Roman, I'm told, and unmistakeable, and memorable.

And then, remembering her metier as she too rarely does these days, she whipped up a rich, silky, marvelous zabagione, amazing the grandchildren and pleasing us all. What a woman!

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

April 13: Carbonara, C’era una volta April 14: Fusilli with Sicilian pesto; agreti April 15: Tartare, Litro April 16: Rpast beef and vignerolo April 17: Dinner in the country

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Midday out; supper in

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 12—
LUNCH TODAY IN A PLACE recommended by our daughter, and what a nice venue it is. A small dining room in front with a table big enough for the three of us; no need to investigate the dining room further back. Many delicious items to look at. A very capable and interesting woman in charge, and decent serving-girls, I hope I can still call them, at my age.

We ate simply, first splitting a bruschetta of mortadella, pistachios, and honey mustard, with parsley leaves on the side. I went on to a variation of a niçoise: beautiful tuna, black and niçoise olives, capers, nice lemon wedges, lettuce of course, and thinly sliced fennel.

We could not resist a tiramisu to end the meal, and I don't know when I've had one smoother, very discreetly dusted with chocolate, a thin biscotti at bottom, unctuous custard between. I think we will return.

     Chablis (!) in carafe, half a liter, very true to type
•Caffè Novecento, Via del Governo Vecchio 12d, Rome; +39 06 6865242


AT HOME THEN we needed only a bowl of minestrone, which Cook produced with customary authority out of beans, carrots, potatoes, sausage, and I know not what else: it was excellent.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

At home again

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 11, 2017—
DINING AT HOME again: but not our home; that of a granddaughter and fiancé. Apples fall not far from trees; her cooking recalls her mother's, whose recalls hers…

And so we began with some delicious stuffed olives and taralli, those unrefusable savory little crackerlike things; and then moved on to a light supper of fusilli tossed with broccolini slow-cooked with a little red pepper. Dinner and conversation so engrossing I forgot to take any photos…

     "Pizzicanti," white sparkling wine, Sicily, nv: crisp and easy
     Pinot nero, Altùris (Venezia Giulia), 2015: light, fruity, pleasant

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Getting back to normal…

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 10, 2017—
WE DINE IN tonight, deliciously, on a familiar dish, penne rigate in red sauce. Cook chopped fine a thick slice of prosciutto and browned diced onion and some garlic in it, then added a jar of factory-made tomato sauce. (I could find no canned tomatoes in the supermarket; I think they are not used here in Italy. Makes sense.) Toward the end, I think, she added the finely chopped tops of a bulb of fennel.

The reet of the fennel, chopped to finger-usable chunks, for salad. A fine stay-at-home.

     Nebbolo d'Alba, Morando, 2012: not holding up well in the opened bottle…

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Perhaps I am eating unwisely…

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 9, 2017—

YESTERDAY WAS A LOVELY day, not that all these days haven't given us the best of weather. Like all last week, the day got off very late indeed; we weren't able to get to lunch until almost 2:30. When we did it was delicious but, given my somewhat compromised state, overwhelming. There was a carciofo alla romana to begin with, one doesn't want to pass that up; there was a cannolini stuffed with brandade, you never pass up brandade. Hamza ordered a burrata for the table and I must say it was extraordinary: smooth, supple, rich rich rich. I partook of too much of that.

My main purpose, though, was a fettuccini with asparagus, those thin rather bitter almost wild asparagus you get this time of year. Very nice pasta, dense and well cooked; and for the first time so far I was unable to finish my plate. What a wimp.

     White wine in carafe
Trattoria da Teo, Piazza dei Ponziani 7A, Rome; +39 06 5818355


TODAY, SUNDAY, we traipsed around the flea market at Porta Portese, no longer as interesting but then what is, and then repaired to a place new to me, stylish, spacious, inviting. I tried to eat more wisely and ordered nothing but vegetables: agretti and puntarelli. Agretti (Salsola soda), whose common English name, acc. Wikipedia, is "opposite-leaved saltwort," is a curious plant indeed; it tastes, to me, like spinach with a bit of seaweed mixed in, and is quite pleasant.

Particularly when paired off with puntarelle, that typically Roman salad of chicory stripped of its leaves, the stalks set to chill in ice water until they curl, then dressed with anchovy and olive oil.

But of course I couldn't resist ordering a pizza margherita, that's what we're here for, extending the world of margherita. I could only eat a couple of slices. Very good: not Neapolitan, but very good.

     Dolcetto d'Alba, Sandrone, 2014: quite good
Emma, Via del Monte della Farina 28, Rome; +39 06 64760475

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Meat and lighter

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 8, 2017—
THURSDAY BEGAN BADLY: a long tram ride beginning with and imbroglio and ending in frustration when a consulate office closed just as we got there. Then came another long ride, this time in H's car, almost an hour in traffic.

But the we were in Eataly, that commercial temple to the best of (commercial) Italian gastronomical produce. I must say Rome's version seems less intricately fascinating than Torino's, perhaps because it is more spacious. But the general model prevails: displays of fresh and boxed and canned foodstuffs, a bakery, a café, lots of beer, wine, and spirits… and restaurants featuring these things.

I see that the previous paragraph neglects cheese, fish, and meat. Never fear. Feeling a bit weak — we've been eating decently, but I've not been in the best health for the last week — I thought I'd go to the meat restaurant, though the Contessa opted for the fish. (Fortunately the table was between: they like to make things easy for you here.)

I began with a tartare, of course, chopped sweet fresh Fassolone beef from Piemonte on a bed of clean crisp arugula. Curiously, I think, that's a dark olive tapenade on top, incorporating a nod toward shallots. I still think the optimal service of tartare presents the meat neat, centered, raw egg on top, relishes surrounding. But the world is many things.

The Contessa had her bronzino, but I stayed with my beef: the tagliata. The waiter didn't ask how I wanted it cooked, always a good sign. It was cooked perfectly, nothing added but a bit of olive oil and crystals of good clean salt, served with a mesclun salad. Oil and vinegar on the table, of course.

     Nero d'Avola, "Nero di Lupo", Azienda Agricola COS (Sicily): delicious, like everything from this source

•Eataly Rome, Piazzale 12 Ottobre 1492, Roma; +39 06 90279201

For supper, then, at home, simply some egg salad.


YESTERDAY BEGAN SIMILARLY: the consulate was at least open, but denied my request. Ah, bureaucracy. I slunk home again, an hour on the bus, and had some crudités and fruit for solace, with a light Fernet-soda.

The afternoon walkabout took us to Trastevere where a spritzer refreshed us and where we found a favorite shop, a Sard pastaficio. Much has changed in Trastevere in recent years, but this place has been a constant for thirty-one years, and looks secure for as long as I'll be likely to need it.

There we bought little semicircular ravioli filled with meat in ragú, and at home Cook boiled them up and served them with butter and grated Parmesan. You can't do a lot better than that. I'll try to get a photo of the pastaficio next time, and maybe even its name and address; it's on the Via del Moro, across the street from Mama Pasta (and having nothing to do with it, I'm sure).

     Nebbiolo d'Alba, Morando, 2012: an inexpensive bottle bought at the supermarket across the street, and very good it is.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lessons not learned

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 5, 2017—
NOT THAT MANY YEARS ago we found a delightful trattoria just far enough away from the Piazza Navona to be safe from the mobs — the clientele seemed to be locals happy with a small menu of typical Roman entries. After a quick dodge through a jam-packed Campo de' Fiori and Pantheon, the shorts-and-T-shirt crowd at the Piazza Navona — I'm beginning to realize April just before Easter is not a good time to visit the seat of Christianity — we fell upon this refuge once more, about two o'clock in the afternoon.

The place has been much remodelled, opened up, brightened, and discovered. I was already disgruntled by the crowds and the noise, and two dashing young priests soberly discussing their menus in German, then eating their pizzas with knife and fork and washing it down with Coca-Cola at the next table didn't help, nor did the angry baby a couple of table away. I am too old and, I suspect you'll say, too snobbish for this. I don't know if I'll return.

But maybe I will: the meal was good. I started with a nice big carciofa alla Romana, a half artichoke boiled, then served on a pool of oil; and continued with a fine fettuccine alla grigia, wonderful thick house-made pasta quite al dente, generously sprinkled with fine thick strips of pancetta, dressed with good pecorino cheese. I think this was one of the best interpretations of the dish I've had.

> We lingered in spite of the noise for a macedonia, a refreshing tumble of orange, apple, pineapple, kiwi, and strawberry, lightly sweetened. A fine lunch.

     Ribolla Gialla, La Tunella (Friuli Colli Orientali), 2016: yes yes yes.
•Da Francesco, Piazza del Fico 29, Rome; +39 06 6864009

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Eating in Roscioli's black box

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 4, 2017—

A LATE START and a quick ramble to the Campo de' Fiori, where I had my hair cut by a favorite barber, and then lunch in the remarkable inside room at Roscioli. There's a three-sided counter open at the end facing the bar; I suppose each side has room for five, maybe six high stools. It was so late we basically ate alone.

The room is severe and seductive, black, magically lit; the bar a marvelous still life of luminous bottles — an alchemist's laboratory.

The contessa and I each ordered the Niçoise, here called Nizzarda: potatoes, tiny tomatoes, green beans, artichoke, tuna, hard-cooked egg, anchovies, olives and capers — and, of course, lettuce. As you see one might object to the expertise behind the hard-boiled egg, but the salad was generous and well balanced.

Before it, a delightful amuse-guele: a tiny piece of cracker, let's call it, with soft ricotta and tiny tomato and honey.

     Pecorino, Castello di Semivicoli - Masciarelli (Abruzzi), 2015: fruity and pleasant

•Roscioli Caffè, Piazza Benedetto Cairoli 16, Rome; +39 06 89165330

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

Rigatoni con fave e salsiccia

Via Damaso Cerquetti, April 3, 2017—
FIRST GOOD DINNER since Friday, restoring me nearly back to normal. And as usual I didn't think of photography until almost too late, so the first course is missing: a warm salad I made by first roasting, then peeling and cutting into strips a couple of beautiful peppers, one yellow, one red, and then very slowly softening them, salted, in olive oil with a couple of onions sliced quite thin. We both thought immediately on tasting them that anchovies were missing. Yes, and parsley. Next time.

Cook fixed the pasta, crumbling nice sausages from the corner butcher, sauteeing them with a bit of garlic, adding the favas and tossing them with the pasta. Delicious enough to warrant a name: alla Cerquetti, perhaps?
     Cortese, Aziende Vinicola Valle Erro (Piemonte), 2015: frizzante and clean
     Masi, Campofiorin, 2013: fruity and rich (Thanks, Hamza)
     Cheap Nero d'Avola, 2015
(Five of us at table)

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, March 31, 2017

Chicken

IMG 4711
Eastside Road, March 30, 2017—

CHICKEN WINGS AND DRUMSTICKS rescued from the freezer, skilfully rendered palatable by Cook thus:

"I just browned it with some shallots and then braised it with some red wine." The green beans also came from the freezer, as we're in no mood for prep these days.

Green salad afterward, and an apple, and some chocolate.

     Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 2014: jammy, forward, nicely balanced

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Bolognese

Untitled
Santa Rosa, March 29, 2017—

OFFLINE AT THE MOMENT, thus unable to ask Dr. Google what he thinks Bolognese is. At left you see what the laptop's built-in dictionary has to say. (I disagree with the recommended pronunciation.) For my money, Bolognese has to include carrots; in fact I think mirepoix is in order. The herbs must include thyme.

But next week we'll be in a better position to look into these matters. tonight we dined with an old buddy at a favorite place, favorite not especially for the cuisine, which is comfortable and acceptable but not exciting, and certainly not for the wine list, which could offer a more interesting selection by the glass. Favorite for the ambience. Of all things! Usually ambience is the last thing that concerns me. But this dining room is so comfortable, the tables discreetly spaced, the colors muted, the murals ditto but evocative, the service correct and quiet: how could you not want to return?

And so we do. I had carpaccio with arugula, served in a good olive oil; then fettucine alla Bolognese, substantial.

     A Negroni; Zinfandel: Seghesio, 2010

Ca Bianca, 835 2nd Street, Santa Rosa, California; +1 (707) 542-5800

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lamb

3 24lamb
Eastside Road, March 27, 2017—

FRIDAY WAS ONE of those days that found us driving down to Berkeley for various reasons, among them dinner at a favorite restaurant. From an enticing menu I chose cardoons white beans, and anchovies, dressed withg bread crtumbs and Parmesan cheese, as my salad: the cardoons chopped into small dice, ditto the anchovies, the dish turned into a sort of bagna cauda, one of my favorite things to eat.

Every winter — late winter, I mean — I intend to make a bagna cauda, just as I also intend to make a cassoulet. And every year, recently, somehow, the seasons slip by, and intentions extend further (I hope) that pavement leading to the underworld. Oh well.

My main course, badly photographed here, was braised and grilled lamb with Moroccan spices, preserved lemon, carrot purée (brilliant!), and chard. A scatter of green olive tapenade added further interest to the dish, satisfying in every way.

     Chardonnay, Gérard Villet (Arbois), 2013: crisp and earthy
     Patrimonio rouge, Domaine Giacometti (Corsica), 2015: absolutely delicious, deep and generous

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


SATURDAY, after a sevn-mile hike on a glorious day, I returned home to find that Cook had spent the day being Gardener — not an unusual turn of events hereabouts. No mood for cooking, not for either of us. Fortunately there were some first-rate enchiladas in the freezer; we'd bought them a month ago or so on a jaunt to Sonoma. They were almost as good in our dining room as they were in Sonoma.

     Grenache, Preston of Dry Creek, 2013: peak of form, rich and fruity

El Molina Central, 11 Central Avenue, Sonoma; +1 (707) 939-1010


Ground lambYESTERDAY we returned to lamb. I know I've set it here before, many times no doubt, Virgil Thomson's ditty about lamb:
Of all the meat that we do eat
Chicken beef or ham
The one that tickles my palate the most
Is lamb, lamb, lamb…
and I know I've mentioned before, many times no doubt, that I never tasted it as a child, not until I'd grown up and left home, because my father wouldn't have it in the house. And so of course lamb is one of my very favorite comestibles, along with goose. (And bagna cauda.)

We had half a pound or so of ground lamb, bough a week or two ago at the Sebastopol Farmer's Market and kept, of course, in the freezer. Cook doped it with lots of vaguely North African spices, cumin to the fore, and broiled it in the oven, along with little fingerling potatoes, and messed it forth, as the Elizabethans would say, with frozen green beans. Huzzah for the freezer! Three cheers for Cook!

     Grenache, Preston of Dry Creek, 2013


AND TONIGHT was exactly the same as last night, except that the lamb patties were cold, left over from last night, sliced, and served as sandwiches, with potatoes and followed by our green salad. Lamb, lamb, lamb,

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, March 24, 2017

Navroz Mubarak!

Menu1
Berkelery, March 21, 2017—

FOR TWENTY YEARS now Chez Panisse has hosted Niloufer Ichaporia King as guest chef on Parsi New Year's Day — a very special night in the restaurant's year. We've been fortunate to attend most of these dinners, and at each one I find myself thinking tonight's is even better than before. You can read about this remarkable woman, and reconstruct her cooking, from her fine My Bombay Kitchen : Parsis fled Persia centuries ago to take refuge in Bombay (now Mumbai), and their cuisine evolved to merge Indian sensibilities with their own.

You see on the right what we were given on this splendid evening. (You also see evidence that I do indeed occasionally take notes; and you see two and a half tindola, little cucurbits, almost cucumbers, the size of half your little finger.) What to say, course by course? The succession of flavors, colors, textures was constantly engaging — not surprising; we know Niloufer's work too well to be surprised by it: but continuously delightful.

Brains, I always think, are not a favorite of mine; too mushy. And, of course, too close to cannibalism, no matter the source. (Though I did overhear someone at a nearby table wondering if they were off limits to a vegetarian!) But this fritter was crisp and cleanly piquant, combining the chutney with the filling and the accompanying fennel-kumquat salad (wonderful combination!) effectively to neutralize my almost instinctive distaste.

Soup

Or the ritual dal, which appears on every one of these occasions (after all, it is a ritual), richly flavored and colored, truly a painting with its green swirl in the cente, and surprising with a crunch of crisply fried somethings-that-I've-always-forgotten-to-ask-about.

CevicheGoatOrange ice

The ceviche, smooth and textured, combined with tiny dice of pickle, offset by crisp-fried curry leaves and thin deep-fried slices of plantain; the substantial portion of braised spring kid with its rich pilaf and greens; the beautiful orange ice topped with a single promising blossom.

I've concealed some of the desserts listed on the menu with those little tindola: they included a small date pastry, nankhatai, candied grapefruit peel, jardalu and chocolate truffle, apple-mulberry pâte de fruit and jalebis, and of course falooda, as much a ritual on these menus as the dal, mily, sweet and with just the right amount of tapioca.

Chefs
The chefs: Amy Dencler; Niloufer Ichaporia King
A remarkable, delightful, engaging sequence of courses, and well complemented by the wines:

     Rhubarb aperitif
     Gewurztraminer, Albert Mann (Alsace), 2014
     Bourgogne blanc, vieilles vignes, Jean-Pierre Fichet, 2014
     Riesling, Alsace Grand Cru, Altenberg de Berglind, Domaine Roland Schmitt, 2013
     Zinfandel, "Les Enfants Terribles", Dashe (Mendocino County), 2015
     Jurançon, "La Magendia de Lapeyre", Clos Lapeyre

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

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Union

Union
Pasadena, March 19, 2017—
A FAVORITE PLACE of ours, especially when sharing it with a favorite couple of ours. We got there first and slaked our thirst with a Victory Prima pilsener; then we shared plates from the extensive menu:
Bread and giardiniera
Braised octopus
Mussels with guanciale and preserved lemon
Cauliflower leaf salad
Bucatini cacio e pepe
Porchetta
Roast duck

and probably a number of other things that I don't recall (or didn't get my fork into). Union's menu is basically a California interpretation of (mostly Northern) Italian cuisine, buono pulito e giusto, the material locally sourced, expertly prepared, honestly and simply served. We like the place a lot in spite of its noise level, which can rise high, then dip to sudden silences when, you can tell, everyone is suddenly transported by the marvelous food.

The Bucatini was served with s barely cooked sunny-side-up egg on top: not authentic, we all agreed. So what? It was delicious. The Porchetta was served with salsa verde made rather piquant with, I assume, red pepper flakes, and arrived on a nest of braised potatoes. I've not had the dish so treated in Italy. So what? It was delicious.

     Nascetta, Diego Conterno (Piemonte), 2015: A white I've never met until now, somewhere between Erbaluce and Pinot grigio, and very nice indeed;
     Nebbiolo d'Alba, De Forville "San Rocco", 2014; first-rate.

Union, 37 E Union Street, Pasadena, California; +1 (626) 795-5841 Porchetta

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Feast with friends

IMG 4486
Pasadena, California, March 18, 2017—

LUNCH IN THE GARDEN of the Norton Simon Museum, a favorite spot: simply this "salade niçoise" (quotes for lack of anchovies) and water.

But dinner, oh my, with a couple of old friends seeing plays with us and a daughter and son-in-law who happened to be in town on business. A feast, too friendly, busy, and romantically lit for photography.

We had:

Bread and housemade butters
Olives marinated with harissa, bay, and preserved lemon
Mikey's pickles: chunks of cucumber, dill, vinegar, and piparras
House pickles: dill, sweet and sour
A bowl of lettuce with lemon dressing and smoked salt
Burnt carrot salad with avocado, onion, feta, parsley, cilantro, arugula, and pepitas
A bowl of soup
Grilled hanger steak (me)with salsa verde, roasted carrot, roasted garlic, English peas, and rosemary
Salmon (my companion) with maitake, English peas, basil, and potato emulsion
Duck (nearly everyone else): sliced breast in fermented black bean sauce with smoked onion and creamed broccoli
Marinated lamb (the carnivore) with Brussels sprouts and horseradish-pecorino mashed potatoes
and four desserts too complicated to describe but too delicious to neglect mentioning.

     Grenache blend, "Chat Fou", 2014: light, fruity

The Raymond Restaurant, 1250 South Fair Oaks Avenue, South Pasadena; +1 (626) 441-3136

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, March 18, 2017

It's just not the same…

Arugula
Los Angeles, March 17, 2017—

SALAD IS WHAT I seem so often to crave on these road trips, and it's not surprising: Constant Reader will know that virtually every dinner at home ends with a simple salad of lettuce in vinaigrette: garlic smashed with salt, olive oil, wine vinegar. So I was happy to see an arugula salad on the menu, even though it was tricked out with almonds, shaved grana padana, pecans, golden raisins, and such. Made it a little Venetian, perhaps, but still green enough for St. Patrick's Day.

Main course: spaghettini with a very rich meat sauce involving veal shortribs and dense tomato paste among other things. Good, but very rich: and a man with a beard can have trouble with spaghettini, not my favorite pasta shape.

     Dolcetto, Bruno Rocca, 2015

Bistro 45, 45 South Mentor Avenue, Pasadena, California; +1 (626) 795-2478

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Thursday, March 16, 2017

In-N-Out

Innout
Lake Elsinore, California, March 16, 2017—

YES, BELIEVE ME, I know: it's been quite a while since I've posted here. I've been busy and distracted. There have been some memorable meals and I may yet comment on them here if I get time this weekend. But then again I may not.

We're on the road; have been since Monday; our early Spring tour of southern California in search of wildflowers and to see a couple of plays. This morning started out in the charming town of Indio, I write a bit ironically, where last night we dined after a mediocre fashion in a casino, faut de mieux.

This morning's breakfast was a cold gummy "croissant" and a couple of tolerable cappuccinos.

Lunch, after a visit to the remarkable Palm Springs Art Museum, was a quite good date milk shake: good enough to let you know where we got it:

Great Shakes, 160 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, California; +1 (760) 327-5300

Dinner was a hamburger at the only fast-food joint we patronize. I'm sure I've written about In-N-Out before; it's an interesting operation; the employees all have a voice in the company's management; the beef is relatively wholesome; the fries are made from potatoes peeled and cut on premises. Nothing fancy; nothing bad.

In-N-Out Burger, 331 Railroad Canyon Road, Lake Elsinore, California; +1 (800) 786-1000

     A beer in the motel room: Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat, okay,

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, March 3, 2017

Enchilada; starches

Enchilada
Eastside Road, March 3, 2017

SORRY, I WAS DISTRACTED yesterday. That seems to have been happening too frequently recently. I had a physical the other day, the routine one; they asked about my drinking: aa couple of glasses of wine with dinner, I said. Have you had four drinks in an evening recently? Yes, I said, a whole bottle of whiskey in fact. When was that, they asked. Election night, I replied. Ah, yes, they said, we've had a lot of that lately…

And there have been other distractions, but why go into that. Yesterday cook made what she called a sort of open-faced enchilada. I have no idea how she did it, but my shopping list requested half a pound of ground beef, a quarter pound of cheddar cheese, cilantro, and La Primavera brand tortillas if I could find them, otherwise no tortillas at all.

No one in Healdsburg had La Primavera brand tortillas, but she apparently found a couple in the freezer. Maybe you can tell from the photo what was in the final dish: all I can say, the following day, is that it was cooked first on the range in a black iron skillet, then in the oven on a baking sheet, and it was delicious.

     Primitivo, Grifone

Tonight we had a vegetarian dinner: lentils and rice, cooked with onions that had been browned in olive oil with salt and pepper. This was equally tasty. In both cases, of course, we followed with our usual green salad, and clementines and chocolate.

Lentils and rice

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017 (I'll try to catch up on this soon)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Pork loin

Pork loin
Eastside Road, February 28, 2017—

THE BEST KIND of company to dinner tonight: a granddaughter and her son, both with good appetites. Why not another pork tenderloin?

The technique was essentially the same as last time: a rub; a wait; a quick browning on top of the stove, then a slow roasting, still on the range. The materials were different, though: Cook followed Marian Burros's suggestion to combine mustard and brown sugar for the coating, but she substituted a little apple-cider vinegar for the stipulated sherry. In my critical opinion the result was not as brilliantly sharp and rich as the last loin we've had, with its garlic and fennel seed; but it was good enough to keep in mind.

Potatoes, as you see, cooked with shallots; and broccolini, slow-cooked and very very good. Then the green salad; then the clementines and, little boy being at table, cookies.

     Cheap bianco, then Primitivo

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Onions and oranges

Oranges and onions
Eastside Road, February 27, 2017—
ONE OF OUR FAVORITE old standbys, and such a simple thing: a salad of thinly sliced (equally thin, please) onions and oranges, blood oranges if you have them, dressed simply with a tiny bit of salt and a judicious drizzle of good olive oil. And that's it. Ingenious.

Afterward, a can of hominy cooked with a sausage, also sliced, and some halved little fingerling potatoes; probably some onion in there too. And then the green salad, and two or three tiny clementines, and some chocolate.

     Bottle-end: Garnacha, Laya, 2015

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

Chicken, potatoes, broccoli

Chicken
Eastside Road, February 26, 2017—

BAKED CHICKEN, let's call it. Cook found a couple of pieces in the freezer, left there from the last whole bird we had. She rubbed them with a blend of fennel seed, rosemary, garlic, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper; let them stand a bit with lemon wedges, then set them in a hot oven, adding fingerling potatoes after the chicken had browned. Succulent; lots of flavor.

Green salad; then vanilla ice cream sundaes with lavender caramel sauce, pecans and pistachios. Delicious.

     Primitivo, Grifone, 2015

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Vegetarian

Eastside Road, February  25, 2017—

A deli turkey/cheese sandwich and a beer left me uncomfortably stuffed, and my companion evidently felt the same.  For dinner, then, nothing wanted beyond a baked potato and green beans, with garden thyme and our olive oil …
Primitivo, Grifone, 2015

Eating Every Week (again)

Fusilli
Eastside Road, February 24, 2017—

IT HAS BEEN ANOTHER of those busy weeks, with company (desired), day-trips (one requisite, one out of cultural curiosity), and your usual spring-is-coming house-and-grounds stuff. So here's a quick roundup.

Sunday, February 19, at home: this fine plate of fusilli with Cook’s tomato sauce; green salad; and afterward blood orange upside down cake, apparently because someone asked for the recipe.

Primitivo, Grifone (Puglia), 2015

Monday: more or less a fast day

Tuesday: Company for dinner — vegetarians. We started with olives, crackers, and Mt. Tam and Gorgonzola with a bottle of white; then penne with three kinds of mushrooms and Parmesan cheese, browned under the broiler; green salad; that upside-down cake. Garnacha, Laya, 2015

Garnacha, Laya, 2015

MargheritaWednesday: In the interests of further research into the best local Margherita, and because we were in the neighborhood, we stopped in at a place we’ve been curious about, generally praised for its pastas and pizzas. My companion liked her pasta very much; I thought my Margherita second-level. Definitely good, I’ve had inferior ones elsewhere, but not up to the one I had last week. The crust seemed too soft and puffy to me, and the cheese — a California buffalo-milk “fior di latte” Mozzarella-type — wasn’t really on the mark.

Dolcetto d’Alba, Principiano, 2015: delicious. (The Contessa had her favored Derthona Timorasso)
Flour + Water, 2401 Harrison Street, San Francisco; +1 (415) 826-7000

Yesterday: On the town again. I lunched on a “croque-monsieur” which turned out to be a buttery grilled ham and cheese with a nice little green salad at
Cocoa Planet, 921 Broadway, Sonoma, California; +1 (707) 721-1275

and then dined soon after with my best friend at perhaps the best Mexican restaurant within miles, where I had a couple of Niman-Schell pork tamales in a rich savory sauce with an interesting and resourceful shredded salad on the side. I can’t recommend this place enough.

Grenache, Penville (Santa Ynez), 2014: very good indeed
El Molina Central, 11 Central Avenue, Sonoma; +1 (707) 939-1010
Potatoes and rosemaryTHEN TONIGHT Cook sautéed fingerling potatoes and whole peeled cloves of garlic with some slices of Italian sausage and lots of rosemary in the black iron skillet, and steamed some frozen peas. The sausage was Niman Schell, rather like frankfurters I thought. This was the day Cook found nice big rosettes of mâche somewhere in the garden, which made a fine green salad; and there were clementines for dessert. And there's your week.
Cheap vino bianco

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Leeks and eggs

IMG 4086
Eastside Road, February 18, 2017—

ANOTHER ONE-DISH one-pot meal here, and a good one. Well, not exactly a pot: it's a curious technique. Cook spread a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet, then laid out thinly sliced leeks and mushrooms, sprinkling them lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper, and thyme; then baked them a few minutes in a hot oven.

Then she made hollows in the baked vegetables with the back of a spoon and broke eggs into them, dusting them with grated cheese, salt and pepper, and put the pan back in the oven for just a few minutes, to set the eggs. Garlic toast, and a green salad later, and ice cream with hot caramel sauce.

Primitivo, Grifone, 2015: serviceable

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Margherita

Berkeley, California, February 17, 2017—
EVEN IN NAPLES I think I have never had a better pizza than this. A pizza Margherita, of course; that's my test of pizzas: nothing but flour, olive oil, salt, water, and yeast; tomato, basil, and mozzarella. Red green and white, the Italian colors, so named in the Queen's honor at the moment of Italian unification under the king, with Garibaldi's considersble help.

We were lunching with friends in a storefront eatery we've neglected for years but will, I think, no longer. I began with a delicious bean soup. I suppose it would have been even better with a swirl of olive oil, a leaf of sage, and some black pepper: but it's nice for a change to have a soup like this stripped to its essential, and the purée was just about perfect, silky yet with texture.

But, ah, the pizza! The crust was marvelous, supple at the center, delightfully crisp at the edge. The tomato was rich, forward, and sunny. The mozzarella seemed utterly authentic, and the basil leaves thoughtfully placed, a component, not just a garnish, but not overwhelming the whole — this was a pizza Margherita in perfect balance.

So good that we bought another to take home for supper — this one with housemade fennel sausage, tomato, red onion, and fennel pollen. Delicious.

Pinot noir
Summer Kitchen & Bake Shop, 2944 College Avenue, Berkeley; 510-981-0538

WE STOPPED IN next door for dessert. The ice cream here is as good as it gets anywhere, but I was after an affogato. Made with fine Linea coffee from San Francisco, brewed carefully in a fine little espresso machine, and the house vanilla ice cream, and garnished with crumbled candied orange peel, this affogato is ottimo.

Ici Ice Cream, 2948 College Avenue, Berkeley; 510-665-6054

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, February 17, 2017

A new restaurant

Oakland, California, February 16, 2017—
NORMALLY ONE WOULD WAIT a few weeks at least before visiting a new restaurant, but this one was opened eight days ago by seasoned professionals (they have operated another, a few miles away, for a number of years) in a hallowed locale (Bay Wolf, the previous occupant, was in business there forty years or so).

We dined with another couple. The other three ordered almost identically and were less than perfectly satisfied with their main courses: I escaped the problem by sticking to two appetizers and a side dish, beginning with the curiously presented poached tuna you see here. The three semicircles are slices of radish, lending a pleasant crispness and edge to the dish, which also profited from the sweet butter beans, cooked to just the right texture. The tuna was slow-poached in olive oil, also to the optimal point. That's a scatter of mizuma garnishing the plate, which was lightly bound with a salsa verde. The whole thing was in perfect balance, not one flavor too many; and for an appetizer it seemed a generous serving, and effective visually, drawn in a crescent at the edge off an otherwise bare plate suggesting there'll be more to come.

With it, a very nice Martini. In fact it was billed as a "Wooster": gin, vodka, a wash of dry vermouth, a spot of absinthe, garnished with a mint leaf. I requested the vodka be omitted, and was quite happy with the result.

I continued with steak tartare: the beef hand-chopped and mixed with chopped red onion, capers, and chives, bound with Hollandaise sauce. I do prefer shallots to onion, and would have ground in a bit of black pepper: but this was really a very nice version of tartare. At table (and before and afterward) we talked about food, and cuisine, and restaurants: just what is it we want? I want pleasure and interest, but if I can have only one I'll take pleasure — this is why I tend to favor cuisine bonne femme over haute cuisine, especially these days when so many restaurants seem to be out to astonish their patrons. These two appetizers, right in the main stream, were perfectly composed. There was an osso buco on the menu, for example, that had escargot in its sauce: what's that all about? Why add so foreign an element (flavor, texture, source) to so traditional and perfect a dish?

The desserts arrived: apple hand pies; meringata. They looked like biological specimens, and they weren't tasty enough to overcome the visual problem.

Nebbiolo, Poderi e cantine Oddero (Langhe), 2013: very nice indeed
The Wolf, 3853 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland; +1 (510) 879-7953

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017