Friday, March 31, 2017


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


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


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!

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.


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.

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


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
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…

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


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

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