Thursday, May 25, 2017

Beans. & salami

Eastside Road, May 24, 2017—
ANOTHER SIMPLE MEAL, as Cook's been away, Gardener having taken her place for the day. Those are the Corona beans Cook prepared yesterday, just as good today. Green salad afterward, of course, and a fine tangerine.

     🍷Bianco, Grifone

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Another roundup: fish, pizza, cheese, beans…

Eastside Road, May 24, 2017—

SATURDAY WAS FARM MARKET day in Healdsburg. The market only opened last week — it's seasonal — and is somewhat changed this year; another change to adjust to in my declining years. There seem to be more stalls for artisans (ceramics, olive-oil producers, rose oil) and take-away prepared food than there used to be, and fewer stalls for local farmers. But of course it's early in the season and it's been odd weather: let's reserve judgement for a few more weeks.

In any case Middleton Farms was there with beautiful favas. Cook found spring onions somewhere, and we tried, for the first time, the rather large sea-food stall that's replaced Dave the Fish Guy this year, as Dave has apparently been unable to find enough fish to justify maintinaing his own stall.

I miss him, and mistrusted his successor, who seems to me to offer far too big a selection to guarantee freshness and authenticity. But that's a prejudice, not knowledge, and friends whose word I find reliable tell me this purveyor is to be trusted. So we bought some rock cod fillets, and tonight Cook breaded and fried two of them, basically meunière style, and served them with a version of vignerata, a braise of potatoes, onion, artichokes, and favas. Very very good.

     🍷Cheap Italian white, Grifone

ON SUNDAY WE DROVE up to Laytonville, a hundred miles north, there to visit with the son and his family. We stopped en route to continue the Margherita investigation, but a pizza carried sixty miles in its cardboard box, then eaten cold, is not a useful specimen for critico-analytica purposes.

It was delicious nonetheless. Better, under the circumstances, was a specialty of the house, made with mushrooms and piquant sausage. (I think this is Franco Dunn's sausage, as he has a connection with the establishment.) Memo: a trip to this fine place for lunch one day soon.

     🍷Chardonnay! we'd forgotten to bring a red…

After the pizzas, a fine cold potato salad. Thanks, Meadow!

In the evening, once home, bread and cheese. I do very much love these Dutch cheeses, bought there: a Remeker, I believe, that we bought in Amsterdam quite a few months ago, and a nagelkaas brought to us by friends. These aged boerkasen, "farmer's cheeses," with a nutty, caramel-like quality are dense and sometimes faintly marked with crystals, like their cousins the aged Parmesans. When you have walnut levain bread from Berkeley's Acme Breads, as we seem to this week, they can't be beat…

     🍷Cheap Italian white, Grifone

•Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria, 21021 Geyserville Avenue, Geyserville; +1 (707) 814-0111‬

MONDAY NIGHT we ate in front of the television set again, watching the Cubs do battle toward their eventual rise to the playoffs. I hope that doesn't jinx them. We'd bought some Moroccan-style chicken sausages from Franco Dunn at the Farm Market, specially made for a couscous, and that's what Cook did with them: grilled them in a skillet on the stove and served them with couscous. The latter were a new type to us, though, Israeli, not Algerian, and not to our taste — I thought they resembled little pearls of tapioca, not pasta. They were white and faintly mucilaginous. Nice bitter broccolini overcame this deficiency, though, and the sausage was delicious, complex in flavors and textures and rather piquant.

     🍷Cheap Italian white, Grifone

CORONA BEANS last night! Not many things we like more. These giant beans need little soaking before cooking — overnight, then the next morning. Cook serves them flavored with olive oil and, tonight, marjoram. (I think I'll get her a sage and a summer savory to plant someplace in the informal herbarium.)

Continuing the icebox cleanout we polished off the last of the giardiniera before, along with a few boquerones on buttered bread, and a couple of small heads of fennel from Saturday's market. As customary these recent weeks, dessert was a tangerine and a couple of chocolates from See's. Life is good.

     🍷Bottle-ends: Cheap Italian white; Primitivo

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Hamburger

Eastside Road, May 19, 2017—
THIS IS HOW I like them: a thin coating of mustard, a good-sized hamburger patty pan-fried medium rare, a couple of thin slices of onion, ditto dill pickle. No, no tomato: we're far from tomato season. No, no lettuce: there'll be a green salad to come. (Though a single small leaf of crisp lettuce is nothing to object to in a hamburger sandwich.)

     🍷Rouge, La Ferme Julien

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Anniversary

The grand finale: St. Honoré (photo: Emma Monrad)
Eastside Road, May 11, 2017—
NOTE THE DATE: I'm late getting to this. It was a very special day, our sixtieth wedding anniversary, and dinner was a party thrown by our three children, with the help of a couple of theirs. That, of course, makes it a difficult thing to write about, and that's why I've waited a week.

It's trying enough to write about dining with friends; it's more trying, as I've noted on a number of occasions, to write about dining in their homes. In fact I've made it a rule not to do it at all. But this was such a splendid feast it seems wrong to ignore it, even if it seems like boasting a bit…

There were a dozen of us at table, spanning four generations, with a guest list limited to close family with only one exception, the old friend whow was responsible for the whole thing because she had introduced me, her college buddy, to the Contessa, her college roommate. At the time she had misgivings when love at first sight did its dirty work, but in time she's come round.

Our daughters and daughter-in-law chose the menu, I think, ruling out any cooking as much as possible, and making the occasion an invitation to summer. We began al fresco with five dozen oysters from Hog Island, served on the half shell with mignonette and lemon wedges, absolutely delicious. And with them, cold cuts, and salads, and salmon, and marvelous anchovies which I ate on slivers of very thickly buttered bread, with a lemon wedge on top, peel and all — a novelty to some others at table, but one quickly adopted.

     Cava

Later we moved inside for a more formal seating underneath banners and garlands, with corsage and boutonnière for the guests of honor. Here too the meal was cold, as suited a hot pre-summer day: hard-cooked eggs, green salads, potato salad, prosciutto and salumi, flatbread and cheeses…

     Rosé
and then that splendid St. Honoré cake, twenty inches across, made with love by our friends at Downtown Bakery and Creamery. What a day!

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Another pizza, another couple of days…

The Ashlanders (photo: Mac Marshall) Paul Arenstam and his Margherita
Eastside Road, May 18, 2017—
YOU WILL HAVE NOTICED, Constant Reader, that things haven't been normal around here lately, whatever "normal" is around here. I've been laid up; Cook's been busier than usual tending to me; we haven't been going out much. Nothing to worry about: just an acute lower back thing. Still.

So it's been a few days of catch-as-catch-can, when it comes to the dining department. And this has been aggravated by a continuing sense of what-the-hell, of what difference does it make, as Chebutykin repeatedly says, without even the justification of a fool heading his government. (Or maybe he did. My Russian history's a bit shaky.)

But then I notice that, whether I post here regularly or not, scores of people wind up looking at this page every day, driven by Hermes knows what kind of curiosity, so why not continue to post. Yesterday, then, it was cheese and potato salad, salad left over from Monday's fine picnic out at Lou Preston's winery with the rest of the Ashlanders, four couples including us who used to gather for a week in the summertime to see and argue about a number of plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Alas, only six of the original eight remain; but they know how to have a good time…

     Grenache blanc, 2014; Red, L. Preston, 2014
Preston Farm and Winery, 9282 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg;707-433-3372

It's an interesting salad, lacking eggs and mayonnaise, depending on the potatoes and the water in which they're cooked to supply the binding agent, flavored with parsley, mustard, and celery — an unusual approach to a picnic standard, and one I like a lot.

Wednesday required a trip to the East Bay, and we took advantage of the trip to stop at Summer Kitchen, extending my profound research into the classic Margherita pizza. I continue to think this the best version, in my experience, this side Naples. Alas I had to wolf it down in the car with no red wine to supplement it: them's the breaks.

Summer Kitchen Bakeshop, 2944 College Ave, Berkeley; (510) 981-0538

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Monday, May 15, 2017

Pizza

Eastside Road, May 14, 2017—
MOSTLY NIBBLING TODAY, at leftovers from the Thursday party I still haven't told you about, and other things: carrot, apple, cheese, that rabbit terrine…

The terrine came from the marvelous butcher shop in Petaluma, now under new ownership but just as careful and enterprising as before, perfectly bearing out the Slow Food injunctions Good, Clean, Fair.

We'd chosen Petaluma as midway point to meet Oakland friends for lunch, I chose an arugula salad with Parmesan shavings, a favorite of mine, and a Margherita pizza, because, well, that's the pizza I tend to order. The pizzas here have a thick crust and I prefer thin but that's a small matter when the dough is good, as it is here.

The basil leaves seemed absurdly big to me, but picking up a quarter of this pizza and folding it in half across the leaf made it make a certain amount of sense. The flavor was definitely basil-heavy, but the tomato sauce was good, and the (locally made) buffalo-milk mozzarella delicious. No complaints.

     Barbera, Vietti, 2014: no; no complaints at all!
Rosso Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar, 151 Petaluma Blvd South, Petaluma; +1 (707) 772-5177
Thistle Meats, 160 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma; 707-772-5442

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Risotto

Eastside Road, May 12, 2017—
COOK HAS HER WAY with risotto and there are no complaints from me. The chicken stock was from the bones and restess of the store-bought roast chicken of a week or so ago; the onions were bronzed in both oil and butter, the rice cooked with a couple of Franco's sausages, special ones he makes from time to time to be put into a risotto. She crumbles them up, the sausages I mean, and adds them as the onions cook, as I believe; then the rice, cooked and stirred until the grains grow transparent around the edges; then white wine and stock, I no longer try to influence the sequence, adding stock slowly, stirring, stirring, until done.

Green salad afterward, and fruit…      Rosé, La Ferme Julien

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

Catching up…

Eastside Road, May 8-10, 2017—
THESE TWO OR THREE days we've been subsisting on what I call catch-up items, both at table and in general. Our refrigerator and larder contain wonders, most of them thankfully edible, and there come times when it's best to make use of them, to consolidate, as it were, and spend the day's hours on other issues than the preparation and consumption of food.

Let one example stand for all: some leftover vignerola — it only improves with standing, like so many stews and braises — with a simple bowl of soup. Store-bought soup, no doubt about it, based on vegetable stock and red bell peppers. Cheese may have served as a course, and green salad certainly. We have our usual lunches: peanut butter on toast, an apple, a carrot or two.

     Wine, certainly…

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Vignerola

Eastside Road, May 7, 2017—
READERSHIP IS DOWN, I notice, and it's easy enough to see why: I've been to preoccupied with other things to post here with any regularity. Other things, you ask incredulously; what can possibly push aside his contemplation of food?

I won't go into it here, beyond noting the thankfully exceptional nature of the political news these days. Even so, you say, in such times is one's daily bread not of more concern than. ever? Well, yes, I can see that…

But Cook's had other more pressing work to do, and I haven't been up to handling the pots and pans, and eating out hasn't been indicated since our return from a month away. One thing that's kept us going is vignarola, that marvelous Roman (and marvelously Roman) vegetable concoction; it was Sunday's dinner, thanks to Saturday's Farm Market in Healdsburg.

You soften some chopped guanciale or pancetta or prosciutto in your skillet, and then some onion; and you add in the order in which they need cooking time artichoke, favas, and English peas; and, at the very end of cooking, mint and chopped lettuce. You want these vegetables all cooked. While in Rome a friend who shall remain nameless, a friend who knows a lot about cooking, complained that the Romans don't know how to cook peas, they always overcook them. First: Some peas need more cooking than the tender subtropical peas we find here, which can be eaten raw, pods and all.

Second: Let these flavors stew and marry. (The nature of marriage has been much on my mind these last few days; stewing, I suddenly realize, in all its senses, has a lot to do with marriage.) The individual flavors — yes, and textures — coexist in this marvelous dish, as the individual natures of all the immigrants have in Rome over the last nearly three thousand years (during which, you would think, Romans would have learned how they wanted their peas cooked, if nothing else). The result is a subtle, rich, mysterious, almost chthonic thing, like a long marriage, or a complex history.

Sunday night Cook grilled a couple of small boneless pork chops; they seemed almost infantile and innocent next to this profound vegetable stew.

     Zinfandel

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Eating out, eating in

Carpaccio at Willi's Tuna-bean salad at home Roast chicken and potatoes
Eastside Road, May 5, 2017—
LUNCH OUT YESTERDAY with an old friend at a relatively old favorite local restaurant, where the girls were happy with their lobster rolls and I contented myself with a carpaccio, thin raw beef drizzled with mustard mayonnaise and strewn with capers and chopped chives.

     Domaine Sigalas (Santorini), 2014: sour and sulfury at first, but pleasing with the food
•Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar, 403 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg; +1 (707) 433-9191

BUT YOU KNOW? Dinner at home was better: Cook's marvelous cannellini, tuna, and onion salad, a green salad afterward.

     Rosé, La Ferme Julien, 2014


TODAY WE OPTED for take-out, something we rarely do — no one really felt like cooking. We bought a rotisserie-roasted chicken. I halved a few small potatoes and cooked them with olive oil, rosemary, unpeeled garlic cloves, and salt, moistening them along the way with a little cheap white wine. When they were done we laid half the chicken on top until it came up to serving temperature.

     Cheap Italian white wine

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Steak and salad

Eastside Road, Thursday, May 3, 2017—
SIMPLE IS GOOD. The idea originally was to grill something outside over grapevine wood, but a breeze came up, it got a little chilly (welcome, in fact), and let's just keep it simple.

So I salted this little tenderloin, rubbed a little olive oil on it, and dropped it into a hot black iron skillet, turning it once. When done, let it rest, meanwhile deglazing the pan with red wine.

I sliced it up and served it with the usual green salad, dressed with garlic, salt, oil, and vinegar. Delicious.

Tangerine and a chocolate or two for dessert.

     Var rouge, La Ferme Julien, 2014

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Catching up

Eastside Road, May 2, 2017—
TIME FOR SOME catching up, no? It's been H O T ; we've been in the mood for dining appropriately. Tonight that means a composed salad, a delicious one Cook contrived out of lettuce, Parmesan, peas, cucumber, red bell pepper, and onion, unless I'm mistaken; and basta così.

     Rosé, La Ferme Julien: dependable


YESTERDAY WE SIMPLY grazed throughout a lazy afternoon: egg salad sandwiches; tomato foccaccia from the Downtown Bakery. I do love cooked tomato!
     White wine, Carne Humana (Sonoma valley), nv: a mystery blend, a little sweet, pleasant

•Downtown Bakery and Creamery, 308A Center Street, Healdsburg; (707) 431-2719


SUNDAY DINNER: Cook asked if I had any requests, and I unhesitatingly requested Carbonara. Some Prosciutto was found in the freezer to replace guanciale we didn't have; penne replaced the more conventional spaghetti; the egg was delicious. What a fine dish this is! Green salad, of course; a tangerine and some chocolates for dessert…
     White wine, Carne Humana (holding up well in the bottle)
SATURDAY NIGHT a visiting sister took us all out — us and the neighbors down the hill — for an Indian dinner in a restaurant we hadn't really known about. After the opening shared samosas and chalapis and whatnot I moved on to a safe and familiar course, lamb vindaloo. The meat had not been salted before cooking and combining with the well-seasoned potatoes ands sauce: too bad, as this knocks the dish out of balance. Otherwise this was a very nice dish, and the samosas were particularly good.
     Pinot noir, Domaine Laurier Los Carneros, good

Yeti Restaurant, 190 Farmers Lane, Santa Rosa; +1 (707) 521-9608
WHICH TAKES US BACK to last Friday, our second day home from the trip to Rome. We celebrated with hot dogs and a Cubs game; green salad along the way somewhere.
     Zinfandel, Alvey-Sinclair (Dry Creek Valley), 2013: very sound, good varietal

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017