Friday, October 5, 2018

Penne rigate

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Viale Trastevere, Rome, October 4, 2018—
NEW TO US, one of today's places; a familiar, the other — and as it happened penne at both.

I'll start with dinner, at a pretty darn good place we discovered a couple of years ago when we were staying near the Piazza Dunant, around the corner, in the Monteverde region here in Rome. There, hungry, I opened with two fritti: a stuffed zucchini blossom and a filet of baccalà.

Both were delicious, lightly battered with bread crumbs and deep-fried just so in vegetable oil — semi, the waiter said, seed — safflower I suppose: in any case, light and neutral.

Filetto di baccalà seems to be considered a Roman specialty by the Romans, who, like all metropolitans, think of their pleasures as characteristic of their city. I eat salt cod wherever it's offered, and have enjoyed it especially in Venice (mantecato), Seville, and Porto. The Roman deep-fried version, certainly as prepared in this restaurant, preserves the flaky delicacy of the flesh. I could eat it every meal, maybe even breakfast.

I went on, at dinner, to penne rigate alla gricia, one of the Roman trinity of "white" pasta preparations. (The other two are cacio e pepe, soon to be discussed, and carbonara, to be discussed (perhaps) another day. (There is a "red" one, too: Amatriciana, also to be investigated another day.)

Gricia, according to Wikipedia, was likely associated with the town of Grisciano, like Amatrice not that far east of Rome. It is a frugal dish involving only five ingredients: the pasta, salt, guanciale, Pecorino, and black pepper. Six, if you count the water the pasta is cooked in.

Here the guanciale was properly cubed, say an eighth of an inch to a side, no more; and fried I'm sure in only its own fat, and tossed along with the grated pecorino into the pasta, which clearly had had some of its cooking water added back.

Part of the pleasure of these dishes, especially when served with penne, is scooping the thick sauce up with a little penne boat at the end of your fork. The cheese and thick pasta-water combines to make a kind of poor man's besciamella or béchamel. Salt and pepper were present but subtle. The dish was superb.

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penne cacio e pepe alla gricia

     🍷House wine, white
•C'era Una Volta, Piazzale Enrico Dunant 13, Rome; 📞+39 06 53627 8


LUNCH HAD BEEN at an Internet-discussed place up the Viale from home — why not try out the local joints? Here I ordered penne cacio e pepe, which is essentially alla gricia with the guanciale left out and a little more black pepper put in. The trick, of course, is to use good ingredients, and the pepper must be freshly ground. At home we use Tellicherry, and I'd be surprised if such good (and expensive) pepper had been used here — but I wasn't complaining.

The dish was nearly as good as the evening's gricia. With it I had a simple salad of narrow leaves of arugula, dressed at table (by me, not a waiter) with olive oil, salt, and "Balsamico". I'd have preferred lemon juice, but hadn't tnought to request it.

     🍷House wine, white

•Bruciapadelle, Piazza Ippolito Nievo 13, Rome; 📞+39 06 58138 60

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Monday Tuesday Wednesday.

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Viale Trastevere, October 3, 2018—

WE HAVE BEEN preoccupied, as I think I've suggested, with family and festivity; and as I have not mentioned with colds and fatigue, and so I'm reduced once more to a catchup post. Sorry.

Monday we ate simply, taking the tram 3 into Testaccio to lunch on panini at a pleasant pasticceria I've always liked the looks of. Sorry about the photo; I took it offline and it is small.

     🍷Bianco della casa
•Caffè Barberini, Via Barberini, 15, Roma ; 📞+39 06 5530 0488

In the evening we ate pizzas in front of the television, the whole family, watching our Cubs lose their tie-breaker with the Brewers. Very dispiriting, of course, and there was worse to come the next day. But man muss essen.


TUESDAY: Breakfast at our superb local pasticceria-gelateria, right next door: as usual, a croissant and two cappuccinos. Perhaps before leaving Rome I'll get around to a proper description of this place — serious but friendly, studied but du quartier, comfortable but almost austere.

Around the corner there's a supermarket, and there I had two mortadella panini made at the deli counter, serving well enough for our lunch.

IMG 1255Dinner: a farewell for Pavel, who would leave early next morning, at a local trattoria much praised by various travel sites and specialty dining blogs.

Others in our party were happier with the choice than was I, and not for having ordered differently: at least two of our party of eight had the same roast suckling pig that I ordered. Mine was charred on the outside, succulent within, difficult to get off the bone (I should have used my pocket Opinel instead of the provided "steak knife").

I liked the potatoes that came on the side, but thought the mixed vegetables mushy and lacking in character. Others disagree on this point. I should return when I'm over this cold, I suppose, but there are so many other places to try…

     🍷White and red, as usual house wines in carafe
•La Tavernaccia da Bruno, Via Giovanni da Castel Bolognese, 63, Roma; 📞 +39 06 581 2792


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WEDNESDAY: Now we're talking: Lunch at a very favorite spot, discovered last time we were here. I almost wished it had been raining; the dining room is elegant and comfortable. But the terrace is equally comfortable, and the secluded piazza, through which we saw no vehicular traffic the hours we were at table, is lined with interesting, picturesque buildings — no one could complain about outside seating here.

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On our last visit I was struck by the complexity and flavor of the tortino di baccalà e patate; I ordered it again today. It was beautiful.

Grace, conveniently on my left, offered me a few bites of her carciofi alla giudia, crunchy fried-and-flattened artichokes: this is I think the definitive version: you can't find them better.

My main course was tonarelli carbonara. Piperno is justly proud of its pasta, all made in house of course, and this carbonara was marvelous, balanced and unctuous. I forgot to photograph it, of course: too bad, as the egg yolk was particularly photogenic, even though well mixed into the pasta.

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I did however photograph the dessert, a crostata di visciole, a traditional Jewish cherry tart — did I mention that we're in the Ghetto? — as notable for its beautifully made pastry as its deep, very flavorful fruit jam. I'd have loved a grappa after this dessert, but it's midday…

     🍷Ribolla Gialla, Vinnae (Jermann), 2017, a lovely wine; and a glass of Tuscan red

•Piperno Ristorante dal 1860, Via Monte dè Cenci, 9, Roma; 📞+39 06 6880 6629

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And this evening I went out alone, the Contessa having adequately nourished herself at Piperno, for a modest plate of gnocchi alla romana al pomodoro e basilico at a neighborhood bistro-wine bar across the street from the railroad station.

As you'd expect from the location, the place was casual and tending toward hip, and the pasta could in truth have been better, ditto the sauce. But it was satisfactory, and my plate of mixed grilled vegetables — eggplant, zucchini, and peppers — was better, I thought, than those of the previous evening.

     🍷Barbera, 2017; sorry, forgot to record the label
•Shabby Bistrot, Via Pietro Manzi, 1, Rome; 📞+39 3927424379

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Sunday al fresco

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Viale Trastevere, September 30, 2018—

TEN AT TABLE: not a terribly large group as Sunday midday dinners go in this country. And dining at Cesare is a bit like dining in a country restaurant on Sunday afternoon: the atmosphere is so friendly, the menu so steady, the ambiance — here, outside — so warm and comfortable.

The photo shows the reason we're here: another cena nuziale for Francesca (in bright red) and her Hamza (to her right), with Hamza's Italian host "parents" flanking me at the end of the table, the Contessa on Fran's left, Giovanna at near left with her straw-hatted Pavel, Hamza's sister Meriem and Fran's sister Grace. The photo was taken by an obliging cameriere at the end of the meal; too bad we didn't think of having it done during the event.

Cesare is noted for its tonarelli cacio e pepe and other pastas are excellent as well, but I was in the mood for fish, and the baccalà alla romana here is excellent. Many of the others wanted dessert, but I was content with a grappa…

     🍷White wine della casa

•Trattoria Da Cesare al Casaletto, Via del Casaletto 45, Rome; 📞+39 06 53601 5

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IMG 1958RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Mario's

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Viale Trastevere, September 29, 2018—

YOU ARE LOOKING into the kitchen of this local trattoria; the specials of the day are listed on the wall; the chef is sitting, resting after the midday service; an attendant reaches for something on a shelf.

Trastevere is full of tourists and students; you hear almost as much English as Italian on the crowded streets, maybe more. This place seems intended for locals, though. The interior looks like modest trattorie we've seen throughout the country. The few other diners we saw this midday — we entered late, a little before two o'clock — were Italian and, I'm pretty sure, Roman.

I had ravioli burro e salvia, ravioli filled with ricotta flavored with sage, served simply with melted butter and chopped sage leaves: a favorite of mine. Everything here was more than satisfactory. I'm sure I've eaten here before, but find no notice of it on this blog. I'm equally sure we'll be back.

     🍷White, della casa.

•Mario's, Via del Moro 53/55, Rome; 📞+39 065803809

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, September 28, 2018

Rome

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Viale di Trastevere, September 28, 2018—

HERE WE ARE in the Eternal City once again, and why not? After a week of family reunion at home with relatives from Australia, a couple of weeks with family in Rome seemed like a good idea.

The tartare you see here was last night's dinner, preceded by bruschetti and a delicious salad of raw and cooked artichoke, arugula, pine nuts, and Parmigiano. I liked both. The tartare was served with minced shallot and parsley, mustard, and salt; the egg was fresh and flavorful. IMG 1020

The photo does not do justice to the salad, which was quite complex — the artichoke both fried in the Jewish style here and thin-sliced raw; the pine nuts plentiful (and Italian, to be sure, not Chinese), the oil quite deep and added at my discretion.

IMG 1026Dessert: a "deconstructed" Sicilian cannolo: Buffalo ricotta cream, candied Tarocco orange peel, chocolate chips, and broken cannoli shell. This was complex and generous, like this restaurant, a favorite of our Roman relatives — which boasts fine ingredients, many of them organic and some from the Slow Food "Ark of Taste" specific-to-region products.

We were seven at table, and had begun with an aperitif across the street, at a wine bar that in former days catered to the city's communists. We were a festive crew — and I was exhausted by the end.

     🍷Cesanese, Damiano Ciolli "Silene," 2016: fruity with a bit of edge

•Il Vinaietto, Via del Monte della Farina 38, Rome; 📞+39 06 68806 989
•Emma, Via del Monte della Farina 28, Rome; 📞+39 06 64760 475

Lunch had been at a place new to us, though getting on to thirty years at its site — recommended by friends who felt it had offered the finest dining they'd enjoyed on a recent tour of Italy.

It was very accommodating; the menu was interesting; the food tasty and characteristic. I didn't find it exceptional, but I probably ordered wrong — an insalata Nicoise, because after a very long day of travel I wanted greens, tuna, and salt. I'd go back to order better.

     🍷Bianco della casa

•Giulio passamilolio, Via di Monte Giordano, 28, Roma ; 📞+39 06 68803288

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Hot dog

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Eastside Road, September 18, 2018—

SIMPLE DINNERS these days, partly in order to thin out the freezer and the refrigerator, partly to save time needed elsewhere. It's okay: we'll make up for it before long, you can be sure.

Baseball is increasingly in the air as we near October, and with baseball come hot dogs. Here on Eastside Road those are generally Niman Ranch, whose meat we trust. You wouldn't know it by reading these posts, but we're pretty careful about the sources of the meat we eat, avoiding industrial products in favor of small, preferably local producers.

Cook sears these on top of the stove in a hot black iron pan, and we treat the buns to mustard, chopped raw onion, pickle relish, and local sauerkraut. Alongside, fennel and a tomato; afterward, green salad and a small bowl of ice cream — oh: and a pear and a few figs, from our trees. Life is good.

Yes, I know, I missed yesterday. It was a return of cannelini-and-tuna salad.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Crépinette

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San Francisco, September 15, 2018—

ZUNI IS A FAVORITE place of ours — I've dropped in from time to time since almost the beginning, which was in 1979, always enjoying the location and the ambiance and the vibrant personality — and the cuisine.

We'd spent an hour or two in the somewhat overwrought repressed sensuality of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood exhibition at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, and it was time to relax with an excellent Martini and a late lunch and a couple of dear old friends, and Zuni was the place that came immediately to mind.

I looked longingly at the oysters — a remarkable selection — but turned instead to a promised crépinette, pan-fried I think and served with shell beans, sautéed grapes, and what I recall — writing this the next day — as bok choy, or something of the sort, sweet and toothy.

The crépinette seemed to me lacking in the caul fat that seems to me obligatory. My first experience with crépinette was with those made and sold at the old Pig By the Tail, the charcuterie opened in 1973 across the street from Chez Panisse by my then tennis partner and occasional sparring partner Victoria Wise, the opening-night chef at Chez P. Crépinettes were a staple there, consistently absolutely first-rate, the right weight, texture, size, and complexity, and always wrapped in caul fat.

Well, this crépinette was not Victoria's, but it was very nice, well balanced between meat and spices, and the partnering grapes and beans were inspired.

     🍷Morgon, Marcel Lapierre, 2015

IMG 0917 2And for dessert, Parmesan cheese with dates, a Judy Rodgers standby — how we miss that woman! — with a glass of Averna amaro. Because, well, why not?

•Zuni Café, 1658 Market Street, San Francisco; 📞415-552-2522


THAT WAS YESTERDAY. Today we dined on that marvelous Italian salad: cannelini, onions, sage, salt, and olive oil. It's a favorite. Green salad afterward, and fruit, et moi je suis content.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, September 14, 2018

Hominy

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Eastside Road, September 14, 2018—

IT MAY NOT be edible, Cook said, the onions being soprarosolate, as the Italians might say; never mind, I said, You know I like carbon, my grandfather loved burnt toast, and died 97 years old.

It was fit to eat. She'd browned the onions in the usual way, along with chorizo, and added a can of hominy, and on serving it strewn it with blossoms cut from some cilantro growing outside the kitchen door somewhere.

Green salad afterward, and then a bit of ice cream with warm caramel sauce.

     🍷Carménère, Panilonco (Colchaqua Valley, Chile), 2017: a little sweet for my taste, tannic

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Bresaola

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Eastside Road, September 13, 2018—
WE FIRST TASTED this salad in Italy, Cook says, and I'm sure she's right. I suppose it's a variant of the famous Caprese, which is tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. Well, perhaps not, now that I type those words and look at them; there's nothing in common except the Italian colors — green, white, red — and the presence of leaves and cheese.

Caprese is rarely anywhere near as good as it should be. This salad, which has become quite popular, has a mountain quality I like better. Bresaola is air-dried beef, uncooked, eaten in thin thin slices. It's associated with the Valtellina region in the Lombard Alps, where it was probably originally air-dried in the winter months.

Cook sliced the bresaola and arranged it on the plates, covering it with arugula dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, and added shavings of Parmigiano reggiano. The flavors and textures merge marvelously in the mouth.

(We bought this bresaola six weeks ago, in Salt Lake City, at Beltex Meats, and it is very good.)

IMG 0869Afterward, those three cheeses we had a few days ago with guests: a fine Brie, a Basque, a Moncenisio blue.

     🍷White: "Madam Preston," Preston of Dry Creek, perfect with cheese

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Muffaletta

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Eastside Road, September 12, 2018—

ACCORDING TO THE article on Wikipedia the word is spelled "muffuletta." The article contains a section on the "pronunciation and orthography" of the word — eight different versions, not one of them containing an "a" in the second syllable. But the name, like the sandwich, underwent changes, you might say erosion, in its travels from Sicily to New Orleans, where the American version is said to have been created in 1906, at Central Grocery Company, on Decatur Street.

I wouldn't know. In nearly a month spent investigating Sicily I don't recall ever having run into a muffuletta, or a mufiletta, or a muffulitteḍḍu. And I've never been to New Orleans.

Wikipedia tells me the muffaletta is a round loaf of soft bread, say ten inches in diameter, crisp on the outside and flavored with sesame seeds. But Americans generally use the word to describe the sandwich, not the loaf. Again according to Wikipedia the sandwich is on a split muffaletta loaf — I will continue to spell it with that "A" — and contains layers of salami, ham, Swiss cheese, provolone, and mortadella, and — most importantly — olive salad.

That latter ingredient begins with giardiniera — lightly pickled celery, cauliflower, and carrot — which is chopped with olives, flavored with oregano and garlic, covered in olive oil, and steeped for at least a day.

Today was dad and daughter lunch day, and we went to a local breakfast-lunch place that features a New Orleans menu. It's fast, comfortable, not terribly expensive, not at all upscale. I like it.

I ordered a half muffaletta, and ate only half of it, taking the other half home for the Contessa. (I took an order of beignets, too, because they are particularly light and tasty here.)

I like the olive salad on this sandwich, but I fault the sandwich just a teeny bit for lacking balance. The printed menu does not indicate the presence of cheese, but it was there, conspiring with a rather bland ham to elbow aside the mortadella and provolone.

Maybe that's just me. Such sandwiches are individual tastes.

     🍷Beer: Plow Pilsener

•The Parish Cafe, 60 Mill Street, Healdsburg; 📞(707) 431 8474

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Penne, tomato sauce

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Eastside Road, September 11, 2018—

IF YOU TYPE the word "penne" into the search box up in the upper left corner, as I just did, you'll find at least a hundred posts to this blog, going back over the last ten years. And a surprising number of those posts — or maybe it's not all that surprising — contain a photo remarkably like this one.

Well, here they are again, those whole-wheat organic penne Cook likes so much, in that tomato sauce I like so much. We had the green salad afterward, of course, with my usual vinaigrette: mash a clove of garlic with salt, let it steep in olive oil, add red wine vinegar, whip with a dinner fork briskly (with a side-to-side motion, leaving the tines below the surface, you don't need air in the vinaigrette).

IMG 0861Strawberries are still in season, and Lou Preston's are our favorites at the moment, and Cook had some shortcake ready to go in the freezer.

     🍷Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 2015, yes yes


For lunch we'd gone out to the coast with a couple of friends visiting from Hawaii. Norman knew a place whose fried-oyster hoagy he particularly liked. Fine; we all have different tastes: I've never been particularly attracted to fried oysters. I had three of them my usual way: on the half shell, no lemon or vinaigrette. Delicious.

And fish and chips — local halibut battered very lightly and deep-fried in peanut oil, with good French fries on the side, and a generous glass of someone's Albariño.

Fisherman's Cove, 1850 Bay Flat Rd, Bodega Bay, CA ; 📞(707) 377-4238

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Monday, September 10, 2018

Fried egg sandwich

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Eastside Road, September 10, 2018—

WHEN I WAS a boy, ten and eleven years old, I walked a couple of miles to school every day carrying my lunch, usually in a beat-up paper bag — after lunch I folded it up and put it in my pocket for the next day. In the bag, two sandwiches and a piece of fruit, and maybe a hard-boiled egg.

The sandwiches were on bread my mother baked, bread that obeyed one of those rigorous life-cycles: when the yeast was new the bread was ballooned and full of holes; as the yeast wore out, over a couple of months, the bread got denser and the slices smaller.

There was always one fried-egg sandwich and one peanut-butter-and-something sandwich, jam or honey usually, though now and then Mom forgot that I did not share all her enthusiasms and made it peanut-butter-and-mustard, which I would carefully set aside in the garbage, or throw over the fence for whatever animal might be hungry enough to chance it, for our two-room school was in a village small enough to seem to be in the country.

We still have fried-egg sandwiches: they're quick and simple and tasty, perfect for those evenings you don't want to cook. They're better now, these sandwiches. They're on much better bread — sorry, Mom — from Healdsburg's Downtown Bakery or, as today, from Berkeley's Acme. The eggs don't have troubling dark or bloody spots, and the yolks are runny, because they don't have to be carried for miles.

And these fried-egg sandwiches have another advantage over those I carried to school seventy years ago: they're eaten hot. I do not recommend cold greasy fried-egg sandwiches.

A carrot; fennel. Dessert: a Greek cookie from that marvelous Greek restaurant of a couple of nights ago.

     🍷Zinfandel grape juice, fresh from our vines, in sparkling water

Turkish

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San Leandro, September 9, 2018—
BACK AT OUR END of the state — actally more central: the Bay Area — we have dinner not far from the airport (Oakland) with a couple of friends who live nearby. They choose a newish neighborhood restaurant they hadn't yet visited, and it turned out to be another modest find.

The place is comfortable and interesting, with an open kitchen behind the (beer and wine only) bar, and a menu oriented (heh heh) toward Greek but especially Turkish cuisine.

I began with spanakopita, that delicious Greek version of a spinach quiche but served within layers of flaky pastry. This was as beautifully cooked as any I've had the pleasure to meet, with artful pastry, nicely browned, a just balance of egg, spinach, and onion, with a substantial serving of tzatziki and a bed of perfect little lettuce leaves.

IMG 0851Next, another special of the day, Moussaka. How could I resist the dish the restaurant is named for? This one was classic, with a fairly thin slice of toasted eggplant at the bottom, a Greek Bolognese with delicious tomato sauce, and a very generous layer of Béchamel on top. The mixture of spices was discreet and complex, and table talk distracted me from careful study, so I can't go into details.

I had a bite of the Contessa's dessert, a semolina cake soaked in simple syrup, flavored I suspect with orange-blossom. I'll have more tomorrow for lunch, I think. Servings here range from ample to absurdly generous; the kitchen is authoritative, the service friendly and graceful, the wine list interesting. It's off our beat, but we're likely to return.

     🍷Red, Villa Doluca (Anatolia), 2015: 40% Öküzgözü, 40% Alicante, 20% Carignan: deep, fruity, complex, very nice with this food

•Moussaka Mediterranean Kitchen, 599 Dutton Avenue, San Leandro, California; 📞+1(510)850-5020

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Sand dabs

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Los Angeles, September 8, 2018—

NOT A VERY good photo — and for that matter not a very nice presentation, but let's not be snobbish. Sand dabs are a favorite favorite of ours. I used to cook them often, when we still lived in Berkeley, buying them at Monterey Fish, and cooking them in saor, with shallots and golden raisins and white wine and butter and a drop or two of vinegar. Oh they were delicious.

A friend drove down from Westwood and saved us from the hotel tonight and drove us to Venice (speaking of in saor), and what should be on the menu, the extensive menu, but sand dabs. They were cooked more meuniére than saor, but that works too. I'm not sure the heavily garlicky mashed potatoes were the perfect accompaniment, but I ate every bite. There was also spinach hidden in that stack, and I do love spinach.

Dessert: a curious nectarine-and-berry "tart" that was almost a clafoutis — again, every morsel gone.

     🍷Chablis, Jean-Marc Brocard, vintage?

•James' Beach, 60 North Venice Boulevard, Venice, California; 📞(877) 564-4192

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, September 7, 2018

A la grecque

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Los Angeles, September 7, 2018—
NOTHING BETTER than finding yourself in an unfamiliar and decidedly unpromising place and stumbling across a family restaurant full of heart, hard-working, true to its roots and careful about its sources. I wrote yesterday that we had no alternative to our hotel restaurants, but then today I looked at Google Maps and found a possibility a twelve-minute walk away. It was truly marvelous.

The busser was bilingual in Spanish and English, no surprise there, but the waiters worked in Greek as well — a language with which I have no familiarity at all, can't even say thank you — although I learned: ευχαριστώ. Nor do I know Greek cuisine, beyond a few simple dishes bordering on cliché — and that's about where I stayed tonight.

I began with the Gigandes you see above — beans we know as gigantes, because we used to get them from an importer of Italian foodstuffs. These were undoubtedly the same beans, imported dry, carefully prepared, chestnutty in texture, buttery and beany in flavor, cooked in a light tomato sauce with a very discreet sprinkling of oregano. The first taste proved we'd found a remarkable restaurant.

I went on past a small Greek salad to pastitsio, that Greek version of lasagne, partly because I knew it, because I succumbed to the nostalgia of tasting once again something I used to enjoy at the old Cafe Mediterraneum, partly because I thought it would be a good test.

IMG 0676The Greek-style Bolognese of ground beef (though innocent of tomato or carrot) was nicely flavored with herbs, thyme and oregano I would say, and folded into a light but substantial pasta, with a thoughtfully prepared Béchamel sauce on top, nicely served surrounded by quarters of pita bread.

We had to have dessert, of course. The Contessa had baklav a; I opted for galaktoboureko, layers of filo filled with custard, soaked in syrup. It could have been warmed more thoroughly; it had spent time in the refrigerator — but it had none of that frigo smell or taste.

Dear Veronese friends who spend so much time in Greece, we thought of you often tonight — I wish you could have been there with us. It was like eating in a family country restaurant in Italy — or, I suppose, Greece. The people, the industry, the enthusiasm, the hospitality were down to earth and full of bonhomie. Extraordinary. We will return.

     🍷Makedonikos, white (deep and flavored, similar to Viognier) and red (forthcoming and pleasant)

•Aliki's Greek Taverna, 5862 Arbor Vitae Street, Los Angeles; 📞+1 (310) 645-9555

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Steak and spinach

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Los Angeles, September 6, 2018—
WE FLEW DOWN this afternoon for a conference we take in almost every year, and there's no place to eat but the airport hotel we're staying in. It's going to be like this through Sunday lunch, so might as well make the best of it.

There are three "restaurants" here. Two are primarily soup-salad-and-sandwich places, and one of those features bigscreen televisions in each dining area. So we opted, being hungry and wanting a little calm and quiet, for the third alternative, billed as a steak house.

We ordered almost identically: a flatiron steak, rare for me, medium rare for the Contessa, a glass of red wine, a bottle of sparkling water, and a side of spinach. Oh, and dessert: "butter cake" with Bourbon ice cream for her, crème brulée for me.

You can judge the meal by the photo, of my dessert. Everything seems made to a formula and probably fairly early in the day. The beef tasted good and was correctly grilled, but lacked spark. I liked the spinach.

That crème brulée — a very heavy one, made well ahead of time, even burned ahead of time, served with a halved strawberry and lots of blueberries under a cage of spun sugar. There was nothing light or delicate here. Once I'd eaten the blueberries and rejected the strawberries and the cage, I was left with an egg dish more appropriate to breakfast. Oh well.

     🍷Malbec, Dona Paula (Argentina)

•JW's Steakhouse, Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel, Los Angeles; 📞+1 (310) 641-5700

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Penne, red sauce, Zinfandel

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Eastside Road, September 5, 2018—

COOK TURNED to an old favorite tonight, pasta with tomato sauce. The pasta is organic whole-wheat penne, which hold the sauce well.

She begins the sauce by browning ground beef with crushed garlic added toward the end, then adding tomato sauce she's made herself using a recipe of Alice's: she halves the tomatoes and roasts them in olive oil in the oven, then runs them through the food mill to remove the skins and pips and cans them in jars in the usual way. They are beautiful in every dimension.

Grated Parmesan cheese on top. Green salad later; then some fruit.

     🍷Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 1915. I'm one of those who think Healdsburg's Dry Creek Valley is the ground zero, the holy site for Zinfandel, and none is better, to my taste, than this.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Pork chop

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Eastside Road, September 4, 2018—

AS A GENERAL RULE we cook our pork chops ma façon, as I call it, my way, smeared with ground fennel seeds, salt, pepper, crushed garlic and olive oil. Tonight, though, Cook took the more conventional and, I would say, conservative route, simply dusting them with salt and pepper and pan-searing them in the black iron frying pan. Works just fine, I think.

With them, romanesco, steamed with crushed garlic, and mashed potatoes left over from yesterday. I do think mashed potatoes hold well and perhaps even age nicely overnight.

Green salad afterward.

     🍷The end of yesterday's rosé

Monday, September 3, 2018

Guest to supper

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Eastside Road, September 3, 2018—
FOR CERTAIN GUEST we lay in a bit of cheese for supper. I love cheese, though I cannot pretend to know much about it — it's a vast subject, and I avoid most vast subjects, I suppose fearing dilletantism. But I do like a bit of cheese after dinner, so welcomed the request to buy some this afternoon.

I wasn't very exploratory, settling on the conventional array of three: a soft mild one, a blue, a firm one. In that order, I quickly chose a promising Brie; a Moncenisio blue because I am fond of Moncenisio the mountain, pass, and village; and a Basque sheep's-milk cheese because, well, look at these sheep, they give the milk that makes this cheese.

P'tit Basque, it's called, a cheese as industrial-commercial as the photo below, found online. Istara makes the cheese, and we often drove past the factory when we were in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port early in July. We bought it there, too, in the covered market. I think it tasted just as good tonight.

I don't remember what the Brie was, but it was delicious, silky, a little pungent, sticky. The blue was big and rustic and rounded things out perfectly.

Dinner itself was simple: Franco Dunn's Boerwurst, from a South African recipe, lots of nutmeg; sliced tomatoes; buttery mashed potatoes. Green salad, of course; we didn't forget this time.

And dessert: some of those marvelous Golden Transparent plums from our tree, and fine chocolate chip cookies baked and brought by our guest. You're welcome any time, Gaye!

     🍷Rosé di Pinot grigio, Grigio Luna, Villa Borghetti, 2017
Ptit Basque

Happy birthday!

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Eastside Road, September 2, 2018—
AL FRESCO DINING at the neighbors' down the hill is always a pleasure — you've read about a few such occasions here before — and particularly a pleasure when it's a birthday, as is the case today.

Prominent at most of these meals: meat. In this case, chicken thighs and beef ribs, nicely smoked the morning of the party. And with them a smooth and elegant aïoli for steamed potatoes and green beans. And the best deviled eggs I remember ever having eaten (and they were duck eggs)! And a green salad we forgot about.

And dessert, of course — not the conventional cake, but a smooth rich chocolate pie with mounds of whipped cream. Thanks to all the many cooks — no spoiled broth here! Let's do it again next year!

     🍷Rosé, Emma Reichert, 2016;
Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 2015

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Salmon Saturday

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Eastside Road, September 1, 2018—
THE FIRST DAY of September, and fall is definitely in the air. Grape seeds are showing in the fox scat; leaves are browning, the light is lower. I love these days.

And it's Saturday, so market day. The salmon is from our local fish store — Alaska wild salmon, cooked in the Nancy Hachisu manner, thin-sliced onion and a drop of something with a little butter on top of the fish, which is then wrapped in aluminum foil and cooked under the broiler.

On the side, those delicious lima beans from Middleton Gardens; flanking them, eggplant and peppers from our Laytonville daughter-in-law, rescued — the vegetables, not the daughter-in-law — from two weeks' hibernation in our overcrowded refrigerator.

Green salad afterward, and then fine strawberries from Lou Preston. We are fortunate to live here — but then, we belong here.

     🍷Rosé di Pinot grigio, Grigio Luna, Villa Borghetti, 2017: a very nice wine indeed, simple, fresh.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Hen fruit

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Berkeley and Eastside Road, August 14, 2018—
CHICKEN BERRIES again: we have been working the poultry section overtime. Lunch was at a friend's home, and I try never to "review" such meals, but it's worth noting that smoked salmon from a new (to us) smokehouse establishment in Berkeley was delicious, ditto the little roast potatoes Bob made — and the oeufs mayonnaise.

Smoke Berkeley, 2434 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley; 📞+1(510)548-8801

We had stopped off at that important intersection, Cedar and San Pablo, to pick up some bread at Acme and drink a quick espresso at Bartavelle. They serve Portland's Heart Coffee at Bartavelle, and I needed a wake-up. While there, we bought two sandwiches to have later for our evening meal, and they were — hard-boiled egg, aioli, and arugula!

In any case the sandwiches were tasty, eaten with panzanella and fresh tomatoes in front of the television set, watching the Cubs lose in their hapless (but fortunately not inevitable) way to the Brewers…

     🍷Italian sparkling rosé in cans: an experiment, not to be repeated
Bartavelle Coffe & Wine Bar, 1603 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley; 📞+1(510)524-2473

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Vegetarian again

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Eastside Road, August 13, 2018—

NOT EVERY DINNER involves sausage. Tonight Cook provided another delightful summer supper: oeufs mayonnaise; panzanella; sliced fresh tomatoes; the green salad de rigeur, berries and ice cream.

I mentioned this mayonnaise the other day: van Weingarten's echte Zaanse mayonnaise. It comes in tubes, and we find it delicious. I was mistaken about its provenance, though: we did not bring this back from Schiphol, but bought it — and some very nice gemberkoek, and nagelkaas — from an online store, DubbelDutch. (Don't be confused if you order some of these things: the order is processed by a different website.)

     🍷Cheap bianco, Grifone

Monday, August 13, 2018

catching up

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Eastside Road, August 13, 2018—
BARELY RESUMED, but already needing catchup; that seems to be the story of this blog. Oh well.

At home we've been subsisting (and quite well) lately on the usual lunch, these days toast with nagelkaas, raw carrots, and orange juice, with some chocolate for dessert, and (twice) dinners of Franco Dunn's sausage with, lately, panzanella, that delicious and surprisingly light mixture of day-old bread, fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.

IMG 0582Dessert lately has been ice cream with our mulberries and (wild) blackberries and Lou Preston's strawberries; I could eat this all afternoon and evening.

But the other night we ate out in town, with a granddaughter, and it was something of a celebratory feast. In spite of our respect for the chef we had not been to this restaurant since its opening day, quite a number of years ago — some of us thought it too noisy to visit. But when we stopped in, early, 5:30, because we were going to a play at seven, we were the only ones on the comfortable patio.

Chef greeted us, though he was not in fact in the kitchen that night, and we had a nice conversation. Then we plunged in:

Gazpacho (daily special)
Preston lamb meatballs with fideos
Beef tartare (of course; see photo above)
Olive oil potatoes
Butifarra
Guacamole
Pork belly
Quite a spread. This Butifarra was a paté-like sausage made with a fair amount of pork liver and blood among other things and was not to everyone's taste, a rough, country dish that took me back to my days as a laborer, when liverwurst sandwiches were a favorite lunch. The guacamole was delicious, and the tartare very special, hand-chopped of course and flavored with a smoky chili agent of some kind, topped as you see with a fresh egg yolk and garnished with capers, olives, and portulaca (which I will always know as pigweed).

Everything was delicious. We'll return.

     🍷Mojitos

Mateo's Cocina Latina, 214 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg; 📞707 433-1520

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Another one from Mantua

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Eastside Road, August 7, 2018—

WELL NOT REALLY, it's from Franco Dunn of Geyserville and Healdsburg, of course. He sells them four to the package, and we only eat one apiece, so either they show up at frequent intervals, or they go into the freezer.

The freezer is known to be full. I used to keep the gin there, and even a couple of Martini glasses. Those days seem to be gone. It's all I can do to get a couple of trays of ice cubes in there. But I do not complain, nor do I interfere. Cook has been known to find some good stuff salted away.

In any case this is another of the Salamelle di Mantova that I wrote about two days ago, pork and, Cook thinks she remembers, a hint of cinnamon. And I ran into Franco the other day, in a grocery store of all places, and remembered to ask him about the riso alla pilota: it's more a pilaf than a risotto, I think, and you free the sausage from its casing, brown it a bit, and combine it with the cooked rice. One of these days… (and I'll put a few raisins in, too, to enhance the medievalism.)

In any case, tonight Cook put some fine potato salad of hers on the plate, and sliced up a couple of tomatos; we had a green salad afterward. A nice summer supper.

     🍷Fume blanc, Ferrari-Carano, 2016; Rosé, La Ferme Julien, 2017

Monday, August 6, 2018

Omelette

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Eastside Road, August 6, 2018—

I SET THE WORDomelette — in French, because I make them the way an Italian taught me to: and when I look up the term in Italian, it is frittata, which is slow cooked, although reference is made to the French omelette, quickly cooked over high heat, in burro e olio, butter and (olive) oil.

The Italian was Primo, the chef brother in the movie Big Night. (The actor is Tony Shalhoub.) In the closing scene he simply makes an omelet, as I will spell the word henceforth, gently beating three eggs with a little salt and frying them quickly in olive oil. The scene is five minutes long and it is achingly beautiful, even if you haven't watched the action that leads up to it. (You can read about the scene, and follow a link to watch it, here.)

For each omelet I break two eggs into a stainless-steel bowl, rinse my hands, scrape the little water remaining on my hands into the eggs, whisk them with a fork, and turn them into a hot iron omelet pan liberally coated with olive oil. I use the pan for nothing else, never wash it, and keep it free of dust in a paper bag.

I lift the edges of the omelet with the fork to let uncooked egg run under. I flip the omelet partially, twice, to fold it into three layers, and let it brown while leaving the inside relatively uncooked.

I turn it onto a warmed dinner plate, unroll it, a little salt, black pepper, and, usually, a small handful of grated Parmesan cheese; then roll it back folded shut again.

With it, tonight, buttered toast; afterward, green salad.

     🍷Rosé, La Ferme Julien, 2016

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Salamella di Mantova

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Eastside Road, August 5, 2018—

ALLA CARNE DI SUINO si aggiunge pancetta e spalla di suini, sale, aglio, pepe ed insaccato in budelli, says Italian Wikipedia, and goes on to promise that it's the right condimento for Riso alla pilota.

Franco Dunn, who made these delicious sausages, had mentioned the same thing: but that's for another day. Tonight, it being Sunday night, Cook said was a night to eat light. She simply grilled the sausaes and served them with delicious ripe tomatoes; green salad afterward.

     🍷Primitivo, Epicurio, 2017, as yesterday

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Leftover steak

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Eastside Road, August 4, 2018—

WE ARE HOME, but not yet quite back in the groove. We did get to the Healdsburg Farm Market this morning, and what should we find at Middeleton Gardens but the first lima beans of the season. We never overlook these; they are absolutely delicious.

With them a sort of peperonata with assorted peppers from Preston of Dry Creek, charred, peeled, seeded, and "grecqued" in a little olive oil with half an onion.

And the leftover steak from a week ago, simply sliced and eaten cold.

Green salad afterward, and Lou Preston's incomparable strawberries. Good to be home!

     🍷Primitivo, Epicuro, 2016: nice varietal character, simple but rewarding

Brandade

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Berkeley, August 3, 2018—

I HAVE NEVER HAD a better brandade than this. Equally good, yes: I particularly remember some from Chez Panisse, where it occasionally can be found on a pizza. But this one was extraordinary: pungent, deep, salty, oily, refreshing, substantial, pleasantly crunchy from its topping.

I simply spread it on those fine toasted slices of Acme levain and ate it, trying hard not to gobble.

     🍷Vermentino: E Prove, Domaine Maestracci (Corsica), 2017: deep and serious but very refreshing

•Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar, 1603 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley; 📞+1(510)524-2473