Showing posts with label Elective Affinities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elective Affinities. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Catchup again

CaminoAsparagus.jpg
Eastside Road, April 8, 2014—
UNUSUALLY BUSY LATELY, but you can be sure we've been eating — up to today, when we resumed our weekly fast. More or less.

Last Thursday we dined at a place we like but, alas, seem to neglect — there are just so many good places to go to these days! I opened with the delicious grilled asparagus you see here, with grapefruit, lovage, and almonds. I never realized it before, but asparagus and lovage is a perfect combination, like lamb and rosemary, or chicken and sage: I'd better get a little lovage into the ground next week…

After that, the perfectly grilled pork leg you see below, with a crépinette alongside, on a bed of farro pilaf, with tiny turnips, sautéed rapini and, most delicious, a little crushed anchovy. What a fine dish — and how I miss the crépinettes we used to get so long ago at Pig by the Tail!
Syrah, Chante Perdrix (Rhone), 2012 (deep, fruity, and delicious)
Camino, 3917 Grand Avenue, Oakland, California; 510-547-5035FRIDAY AND YESTERDAY we actually ate at home — we do that from time to time. And I bet Constant Reader can guess what we had: Friday, penne with Lean Sauce — I call it that because I forgot, though I'd been carefully instructed, to bring a can of tomatoes home, and the usual browned-onions-and-porcini sauce was colored with a bit of tomato paste instead. I must say I liked it very much that way, with shavings of Parmesan on top, and of course a green salad afterward…
Cheap Barolo d'Asti


Last night we had our first chard this spring from the garden, from a volunteer that came up from last year — I haven't yet set any new plants out. Maybe I shouldn't: this is a big healthy chard plant and the insects have left it alone. (Maybe that long string of cold weather a couple of months ago will have thinned their ranks.) The chard is delicious, and it goes nicely with Franco's coriander-flavored "Greek" sausage.

Saturday we saw three plays in Berkeley — Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia, excellently produced by Shotgun Players; I hope I'll have time to write about that over at The Eastside View, but don't get your hopes up. Not much time for dinner, as you can imagine: we made do very well indeed with a sandwich from the exceptional Berkeley butcher The Local Butcher Shop: roast beef on a sourdough roll with melted Gruyère, butter, caramelized onions, thyme, raw spinach, sherry vinaigrette — we wanted only a glass of good red wine, but since we were eating in the car…
  • The Local Butcher Shop, 1600 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-845-6328
  • BUT LIFE IS NOT ALL beer and skittles, as my mother used to say; Sunday afternoon we found ourselves at the memorial service for a good friend who we will miss a lot — at table, in fact, as he and his wife were frequent dinner companions. There were hundreds at the service, and afterward a few of us gathered at our friend's home, lifted several glasses to his memory, told anecdotes, and consoled ourselves with a couple of very comforting lasagne. Our Martinis this weekend will be lifted to his honor, though mine won't be Stoli, up, no floaters.

    CaminoPork.jpgchard.jpgPenne.jpg
    Grilled pork leg at CaminoChard, "Greek"sausage, cauliflower at homePenne with lean sauce at home

    Wednesday, March 19, 2014

    Eating here and there

    Eastside Road, March 19, 2014—
    porkchop.jpgMarch 17:DINNER IN TOWN with a sister — well, Cook's sister, but close as I have to my own — at a Puerto Rican place of her choosing, not bad, not memorable. I had the daily special, three courses for fifteen bucks — you can't expect a lot for that. Let's see: a delicious little ground-beef empanada; then a couple of breaded pork chops, thin but meaty, with rice and red beans (the waitress was pleased that I ordered them rather than black beans), a small green salad with avocado, and a flattened frenchfried plantain rose. Dessert was coconut flan. I'd go back, but not before revisiting other places in town…

    Malbec
    El Coqui Puerto Rican Cuisine, 400 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95401; (707) 542-8868


    March 18: LUNCH IN BERKELEY, because we had business to do, and, well, why not. An interesting lunch, with a vaguely Indochinois quality. Spring's setting in, and we began with asparagus, barely cooked, in a salad with crisp thin slices of radish and fennel, delicately flavored with anise hyssop.

    chicken.jpgNext, grilled chicken, almost as if on a skewer, with spinach, snap peas, carrots, and onion fritters — a substantial dish lightened by the kitchen's technique, balancing sauté, grill, and lightly fried textures.

    I suppose it was the dessert that made me think of French outre-mer cuisine: coconut tapioca pudding, not at all thick or gluey, with mandarin-orange sherbet and cardamom-flavored shortbread cookies. Not a bad way to punctuate the day, and, unnecessary to add, the Principal Meal of the Day.
    Rosé
    • Chez Panisse, 151 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525


    March 19, 2014, at home:CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE! We're two days late, because we've been going out to dinner, but finally we have our annual St. Patrick's Day dinner — and commemoration of the long, productive, interesting, and celebrated life of Robert Remolif, one of my best friends, who died on St. Patrick's Day fifteen years ago, in his 94th year. I still miss him; I always will.

    cornedbeef.jpgWe're not sure why, but he was very fond of corned beef. He was one hundred percent Italian, having come to this country from Piemonte in his tenth year. Not a drop of Irish blood anywhere near him. But he liked his corned beef, cooked it now and then, occasionally had us to dinner and served it.

    This one came in a plastic bag full of watery juice, but it was full of flavor. A lot of that was salt, no doubt: but there was also sugar, celery extract, garlic extract, onion extract, spice extractives, sodium lactate, bay leaves, red pepper, coriander, dill seed, mustard seed, garlic, and cloves. That sounds pretty horrible, and I rush to state we rarely eat like this, out of packages. I figure once a year won't kill us. (Something else will.)

    I thought it was a delicious dinner. Lindsey cooked it all together: corned beef, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, adding each item at the right time — something I can never do reliably — so that all was cooked au point, each kept its texture and color, each kept its own flavor yet partook also of the others. It is a classic dish, one of the Hundred Plates, when cooked as well as this was. I hope there's a little left over.
    Pinot blanc, Fleurelle (Alsace), 2012: a very nice wine to have with corned beef and cabbage.

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

    Catchup

    Eastside Road, March 2, 2014—
    mortadella.jpg
    Mortadella sandwich with arugula


    YOU WILL SEE that though I may neglect this blog for a few days at at time we do not neglect our greens, no indeed. We've been away for a couple of days and busy, is why the blog's been neglected. We've been eating well, is why the greens have not.

    We began simply enough, still at home, Thursday evening, with this Mortadella sandwich, on lightly buttered bread if I'd had my druthers, with lots of delicious crisp arugula leaves, a few raw carrots, and some dill pickle, washed down with cheap Primitivo.

    When I was a kid, Mortadella — one of the glories of Italian salumeria — was a much more innocent thing, called simply "baloney." There would be lunches down in the eucalyptus grove on weekends, when we were cutting firewood: Mom's bread, perhaps over-leavened, perhaps under-; mayonnaise from the supermarket, thick slices of raw onion, lettuce leaves, slices of tomato, and baloney or some other "lunch meat," occasionally with green pimento-stuffed olives embedded in the slices.

    These days our bread is better and certainly so is the salume. I think there's a special symbiosis of Mortadella and bitter lettuce. Years ago we had an Italian back neighbor, an old widow, Mrs. Bertoli, who spent the day in her garden, and occasionally one of her vegetables would intrude on our own back yard. The pane di zucchero lettuce was particularly welcome, as it made the perfect accompaniment to Mortadella.

    Later, when I was coming up here to Healdsburg for a few days at a time, alone, working on our house, I'd stop off at the fine Traverso's Delicatessen of lamented history for a sandwich. I always asked for two slices of Mortadella and one of Galantina on sourdough. The old lady at the counter, surely Mrs. Traverso herself, would ask if I wanted mustard or mayonnaise, and I would say No, just butter and a leaf of lettuce, please; and she would smile and say Yes, that's right, that's the perfect sandwich. And so it was.

    carbonara.jpg
    "Spaghetti carbonara", revised at Rosso
    FRIDAY WE DINED AT midday: for me, this revisionist Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Constant Reader will know I take a dim view of culinary revisionism: if you can't be authentic, give your invention a new name. I wish they'd call this dish something else. But I'll order it any time I can, with perhaps one modification.

    Instead of pancetta, this execution relies on American smoked bacon — but it is lightly smoked, and does not overcome the dish. Instead of mixing a raw egg into the drained pasta, a gently poached egg (and it is poached, not steamed, I'm pretty sure) is set atop the nest of spagetti.

    Most amazing of all, the entire affair is inextricably tangled with fresh pea shoots. What do peas have to do with pasta carbonara? Nothing: but the result is delicious and memorable. Here again a perfect symbiosis of texture and taste. A grind of black pepper at the table, and it's a memorable thing.

    Alboriña, 2012
    • Rosso Pizzaria, 151 Petaluma Boulevard South, Petaluma; (707) 772-5177

    YESTERDAY, WITH A MATINÉE at the theater and a concert in the evening on our calendar, not to mention the long drive after the concert, we decided another midday meal was the better part of valor.

    liver.jpg
    Calve's liver and onions at John's Grill
    We were with a couple of friends whose restaurant tastes are not necessarily the same as ours. Besides, it's such a pleasure now and then, to drop in at a comfortable, very old-fashioned place, with photos of celebrities on the walls, and friendly waiters in white aprons, and a conservative but reliable menu. Talk about authenticity!

    I ordered what I always do here, liver and onions. Liver Venetian style! beamed one of our companions, and we had to restrain him a bit; this old San Francisco hangout is innocent of Venetian methods. The liver is not cut carefully into equal-sized strips, three eighths of an inch thick, and quickly cooked in butter, then served with its onions and a sweet-sour wine reduction on a bed of polenta… ah, how I too love fegato Venziano…

    No: instead it's cut into manageable but broad slices; sautéed in an unknown lubricant, a little longer than you specify, with plenty of onions, and served with strips of bacon and a gravy involving a little milk or cream. With it, mashed potatoes, as you see; and at least at this time of the year tender snow peas.

    Well, it was fine, of course. It wasn't Venziano, but it was a hell of a lot better than the dry, overcooked beef-liver of my childhood, in its thick "milk gravy" (flour scraped around in the pan juices, milk, Schillings black pepper). Though, come to think of it, I even liked that, at the time.

    House red, not bad
    • John's Grill, 63 Ellis Street, San Franciscoo; (415) 986-3274


    Sunday, October 6, 2013

    Salad

    salad.jpg
    Eastside Road, October 5, 2013—
    I HAD EVERY intention of cooking dinner tonight, but it was a frustrating afternoon, and grew dark before I knew it, and I was out of time.

    A platter of fried padrones with our Martinis, then; and afterward a simple salad of these nice trout-spotted lettuce leaves from the garden, with points of bread toasted in the black iron skillet after the peppers had been fried.

    Afterward, figs and pears.

    Bread, olive oil, and salt: virtually a complete meal in itself. Throw in the roughage and the vitamin C and you have what I call a healthful diet. The gin and vermouth are your reward.

    Friday, September 27, 2013

    Catching up

    arugula.jpg
    Eastside Road, September 27, 2013—
    LET'S SEE, NOW, how long has it been? Since Monday? Sorry: we've been rushing about. Tuesday it was fusilli al pesto at home, with a bottle of cheap red Italian wine.

    Wednesday we were in San Francisco, and stopped off at a favorite restaurant for a Martini and a hamburger. Well: before the hamburger, this delicious little plate of arugula, Parmesan, celery, anchovies, and olives, a refreshing way to begin anything, and particularly nice with the Martini. Elective affinities.

    The hamburgers here are first-rate, on foccaccia bread, with pickled onion and gherkins and very nice catsup and aïoli. If only for the hamburger, this remains one of the Hundred Restaurants:

    • Zuni Café, 1658 Market Street, San Francisco; 415-552-2522bucantini.jpgYesterday we were in Berkeley, and stopped in at another old favorite. (In our justification: we're hosts to a houseguest from out of the country, and we're showing him around.) Here I lunched on another refreshing first-course salad: rocket, again, with cucumbers and radishes in a soft, fragrant vinaigrette.

    Following which, this absolutely memorable plate of bucatini alle sarde, with sardine, currants, pine nuts, saffron, and toasted bread crumbs — a dish that managed to take me to both Sicily and Venice, simultaneously, with none of that Italian mainland in between. (Appropriate, perhaps, since in the evening we visited Sicily and the coast of Bohemia, via Shakespeare.)

    Godello, A Coroa (Valdeorras, Spain), 2012: complex and flavorful; Zinfandel, Green & Red Vineyards (Napa Valley), 2011
    • Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525

    Tuesday, March 5, 2013

    Saltimbocca

    saltimbocca.jpg
    Eastside Road, March 5, 2013—
    TODAY WE FAST; yesterday we feasted. Well. We dined very well, but moderately.

    We'd made yet another round trip to Oakland and Berkeley performing various errands, and met friends for a drink and a nibble in mid-afternoon, in lieu of lunch. There I had a plate of delicious jamón with a glass or two of fino, warming up for a looming trip to Iberia. Spanish ham and Spanish sherry: now there's an example of elective affinities.

    • César, 1515 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.883.0222
    A DRINK AND A NIBBLE do not constitute dinner, though, so we moved next door, joining a granddaughter and her other grandparents. Here I was happy to see chicories with anchovy dressing and a soft-cooked egg, a fine take on the classic Caesar salad; many other restaurants would simply call it that, probably.

    From there I went to saltimbocca, a favorite of mine and one of the Hundred Plates, I hereby declare (reminding myself it's high time to update that list). But here I had indeed met a revisionist: this was chicken saltimbocca, as the menu had promised: a flattened breast of chicken, layered with a veil of prosciutto, flavored with sage, and grilled, finished I would bet in a pan.

    I'd been thinking about Roman saltimbocca, of course; veal with prosciutto and sage, rolled up, sliced into bites, and quickly sautéed. To me what arrived was closer to what I have always called chicken valdostana, except that that dish involves a thin layer of cheese as well as the prosciutto. (Hmmm: have to dust that recipe off one of these days…)

    In any case, a fine main course, arriving with sautéed broccoli di ciccio and a purée involving root vegetables, chthonic and grounded.

    I ordered a glass of Arneis, one of my favorite wines, a white one from Piemonte. The waiter asked if he might bring me a taste of it to see if I really wanted it. Interesting. On tasting it I saw his reason: very uncharacteristic. Rather nice, but not at all what I expected. I made do with the bottle of rosé the rest of the table were having; then had a glass of the Arneis after all, with the saltimbocca.

    The sommelier pointed out that Arneis, like any grape, grows in a number of soils, is finished in a number of ways. This one was from Piemonte, all right, in the Roero, between Bra and Asti; but finished in a rather richer, thicker style than the grape has traditionally been given. On reflection it seems closer to a white Rhone than to a white Savoie. It makes me stretch my expectations. I'm glad it's here; I like it very much — but I hope the Arneis I'm used to continues to be made as well.

    Rosé, "Ameztoi," Getariako Txakolina (Spain), 2011 (light and pleasant though not really "amazing"); Arneis, Cascina Val de Prete (Roero), 2010 (see above)
    • Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525

    Saturday, March 2, 2013

    Feasts and leftovers

    bloodorange.jpg
    Eastside Road, March 2, 2013—
    JUST LOOK AT THIS fabulous last bit of my blood-orange salad! Lindsey peels them with a knife, slices them fairly thin, and tosses them with sliced white onion, adding a few drops of olive oil to the mixture. That, and a few grains of salt, is all there is to it, and it's one of the glories of the table, one of the Hundred Plates.

    That was dinner Thursday night, otherwise a dinner of leftovers — both the main dish, macaroni and cheese, and the wines, little bottle-ends of white, rosé, and red. A day of gustatory repose, you might say; and today will be another; we may well even fast, so well did we eat yesterday.

    Too well, perhaps, and certainly too much. Lunch in San Francisco with a couple of friends, one on the mend from a recent indisposition, and looking much better than we'd expected. A celebratory meal, then, at the pleasant communal table where you feel you're in the bosom of family even though your neighbors are in fact perfect strangers.

    (Perfectly sociable, though; the solitary woman on my left conversing pleasantly about shared menu orders; the fellow at the end apologizing, as he leaves the table, for not having had an opportunity to converse at length. I'd never seen him before.)

    Here I lunched on a complex, nicely integrated, very interesting dish: trofie in a chicken ragù with pancetta, cabbage, very faint hints of caraway and paprika, crème fraîche, overstrewn with parsley. Eastern European, as the menu had promised; more specifically, Austro-Hungarian, and delicious. tarte.jpgBefore it, a cup of bracing beef-based soup; afterward, a slice of this magnificent blood-orange cara cara (thanks, Kathi) tart with two bands of streusel.

    Côtes du Rhône, Dauvergne Ranvier, 2010 (well balanced though Viognier-dominated, very attractive); Brouilly, Domaine Ruet, 2007 (forthcoming, mature)
    Boulette's Larder, 1 Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco; (415) 399-1155
    DINNER WAS AT another friend's restaurant, a new one, opened only six weeks ago, previously unvisited by us. It was full of energy, dark, vivacious, boldly and beautifully decorated, the walls, furnishings, menu, service, and above all cuisine grounded in total authenticity, everything as appealing, attractive, and engaging as anyone could ask.

    Here we fairly feasted: pickled sardines with artichokes, fava leaves, and pea sprouts; patatas bravas; baby octopus with pork belly, black truffles, and butternut squash; duck liver paté with wild arugula and toast; sweet house-made botifarra sausage with gigante beans and braised greens, and, perhaps my favorite, sweet Piemontese beef tartare, beautifully mixed with egg, capers, and onion, and served with shoestring pimenton potatoes.

    Dessert? But of course! I had a fine rich soft chocolate torte, with mocha-flavored crème anglaise and "candied coffee" ice cream; Lindsey had apple-huckleberry crumble with fried almond streusel; Grace made do with a fine, authentic "flan tradicional." Everything here seems authentically tradicional, but equally in the moment, our moment.

    I can't overemphasize the pleasures of this table, this restaurant. Here at last our friend Paul Canales, formerly chef at Oliveto, has found the perfect expression of his many enthusiasms. The food is fun, nourishing, vital; and so is everything about the setting in which it's served.

    Gamay, Andrew Lane, 2011 (friendly and unassertive)
    Duende, 468 19th Street, Oakland; 510-893-0174

    Wednesday, February 20, 2013

    Lindsey's potatoes

    potatoes.jpg
    Eastside Road, February 20, 2013—
    THING IS, THESE POTATOES are just so good. You want them to last, but you want more. They're a perfect combination of ingredients with truly Elective Affinities that I'm naming them to the Hundred Plates.

    Lindsey peels nice fresh potatoes, just about any kind will do except the mealy Russets, and dices them, and cooks them in water and olive oil with salt, chopped shallots, and chopped parsley. That's all there is to it. With them, as you see, another of Franco's estimable sausages, Toulouse-style; afterward, green salad. A nice meal after a day's fast (and Monday's franks and beans, a decent dinner but nothing to write from home about).
    Barbera d'Asti, Rocco dell'Olmo, 2010

    Saturday, February 16, 2013

    Spinach and smelt

    eggs.jpg
    Eastside Road, February 16, 2013—
    WE WORKED OUR WAY back up the coast yesterday, eating rather less along the way than you might think. Breakfast was at the same joint we'd found the day before, chosen for its recommendation on a website devoted to espresso — a good caffelatte having become almost indispensable to Lindsey's morning.

    Here I was delighted to find spinach and eggs on the menu. Eggs Florentine is a favorite of mine: this wasn't quite Eggs Florentine, since it lacked any kind of cream sauce. Nor were the eggs poached: as you see, they were "poached," quote marks required, in those little pans that fit into a steamer contraption — easier for a busy grill cook to deal with, but a different consistency, and a different ratio of yolk-to-white cookedness, if you see what I mean. Still, eggs and spinach are a classic combination and a great way to start the day.

    Carmel Belle, Ocean and San Carlos streets, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California; 831.624.1600; daily 8am-5pm
    smelt.jpgON, THEN, to a day of sight-seeing: the Mission; the Valley; then a drive up Highway One, stopping for late lunch/early dinner at an old-time roadhouse we'd heard about. Here the lunch menu was very much restricted and dedicated to the nearby sea, with crustacea forbidden to me on most of the offerings. Lindsey happily munched most of these smelt, which seemed over-battered and undersalted to me. (But then, she eats them head, tail, and all, and perhaps gets more flavor therefor: I admit I'm too squeamish.)

    I was content with a plate of artichoke ravioli, with chunks of artichoke stem strewn among the dried-tomato-sauce-inflicted ravioli — not bad at all.
    Pinot grigio
    Duarte's Tavern, 202 Stage Road, Pescadero, California; 650.879.0464

    Thursday, February 14, 2013

    Aubergine, Carmel

    IMG 1003
    Carmel Mission Inn, Carmel-by-te-Sea, California, February 13, 2013—
    DINING'S ONE THING; tasting's another. To dine is to partake of a meal, in company ("dine alone" sounds so apologetic); a "meal" being healthful, nourishing, pleasing, usually (not always) consisting of several courses which are designed to complement one another. Thanks to the Fates, I dine nearly every day.

    And as I dine, nearly every day, I generally taste. I try to think about scents and flavors, to lodge them in memory, to tease out components, to compare them, to characterize them — usually clumsily, as scents and flavors are among the most elusive, fugitive of sensory stimuli; certainly resistant to verbal expression.

    For that reason fine cooks seem to me akin to fine musicians: un.ike painters, say, or dancers, or writers, they work with material that can't really be pinned down, that resists description and recording and reproduction. And the subtler and more imaginative their work, certainly the further their work from the mainstream, the lonelier they must be, aware that the essence of their work is not for the general audience.

    Thankfully, in the last fifty years many restaurants have evolved, even in my country, from being concerned simply with dining. They are becoming more aware of the pleasures of tasting as well. Inevitably, some push this evolution too far. A few years ago we ate — I won't say "dined" — at a fancy place in the Napa Valley where we were presented with a "tasting menu" of twelve or fifteen courses, each introduced with a lecture. Flavor after flavor, many of them confusions of sub-flavors, not really obeying any kind of logical sequence, not adding up to a meal.

    Tonight, though, we dined on a tasting menu, full of subtle and even arcane scents and flavors, and the final impression was that indeed we had dined, and dined well:
    Amuse-geule: ginger and green tea foam "soup"
    Kumamoto oyster on the half shell with yuzu and cucumber foam
    Duck-liver mousse wrapped in very thin beet with chocolate
    Abalone with sea grapes and alba mushrooms in umeboshi broth
    Palate-cleanser: tapioca, frozen rosewater bubbles, passionfruit, and cocoa
    Kanpachi (Japanese Yellowtail) with carrot, date, vanilla, smoked trout roe, and coriander
    Abinao chocolate on nasturtium praline with candied grapefruit
    Erbaluce di Caluso (Piemonte), Orsolani, 2009


    Yes, you read that right: foam involved in a few courses. But this isn't a molecular-kitchen restaurant: we've eaten at one of those, too, and found it as irritating as the Napa Valley taste-lecture hall. This was post-molecular: agar, and foaming techniques no doubt using liquid nitrogen, certainly entered into the preparation, but only as one more resource: they did not dominate the event.

    That's the yellowtail in the photo above. When the plate was brought I immediately lifted it to my face to take in the aroma: coriander, for sure, but so blended with good vanilla and with smoked roe that it took on a completely new aspect. These scents stood out individually, but merged at the same time, like independent voices in a string trio, and as indescribably.

    IMG 1004I then did my own deconstruction, of course, as you see at the left. The tuna was perfectly cooked, soft, not quite flaky, creamy; the little trout eggs in their vanilla-coriander bath complemented the color and texture; the paper-thin slices — lengthwise, as I always prefer them, not crosswise — of tiny carrots not a quarter inch long rested atop the fish; the date — which I ate last — rounded everything off, and recalled the similarly spherical and condensed passionfruit in the course that had just preceded.

    Well: this was an exceptional dinner, and not, as Lindsey pointed out, one you'd want to indulge in every week; not even if you could afford to, and we certainly couldn't. The night was as expensive as a night at the opera with a fine dinner thrown in. And why should it not be? In addition to the cost of the ingredients and the skill and experience of the staff, there was art to pay for here.

    We used to spend a week every summer in Carmel, thirty or forty years ago. There were two or three acceptable restaurants in those days, and many more that simply offered food — dining — without any real thought, if I may be ungenerous, to doing anything exceptional. Those days are over; dining has turned a corner in many California towns and cities in the last decade or two. I'm thankful; and I continue to be grateful to chefs like Justin Cogley and Ron Mendoza, who, as the restaurant website states, "prepare sophisticated modern California cuisine."

    Aubergine, Monte Verde at Seventh, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California; 831 624 8578; open daily, 6-9:30 pm

    Monday, December 17, 2012

    All'italiana; near the English style

    Berkeley, December 17, 2012—
    LUNCH IN TOWN — well, let's be honest: midday dinner, with an old friend, actually a colleague, a fellow I worked with in this town, nearly fifty years ago. We somehow met again a few years ago, and he e-mailed to say he'd be in town again this week — he lives in Portland — so since we're in town anyway, why not meet here for lunch. Dinner, I mean: midday dinner, or as Lindsey and I say to one another, Principle Meal of the Day.

    What a menu! I began with a cardoon salad with half a hardboiled egg — a beautiful egg, I might add — and toast spread with cannellini-bean paste, liberally drizzled with new fresh olive oil. Cardoons: what a delicious vegetable. We have an enormous plant quite ready to harvest, and I don't harvest it, partly because it's so beautiful to look at, mostly because I'm too lazy to figure out what to do with it: maybe tomorrow — no, tomorrow's fast day — maybe Wednesday it'll be time to give it a try.

    I went on to a very different course, yet one that followed very nicely: sliced roast beef with horseradish butter, served with very young turnips, greens still attached, and shoestring potatoes. Simple, and very very good.

    Dessert: a few dates with a cappuccino. To me dates and milk make an oddly perfect combination, like beef and horseradish, or cardoon, egg, and olive oil; and if the milk's a part of a good cappuccino, so much the better. A very satisfying midday dinner, leaving nothing needed this evening but a bowl of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich…
    Biancino, Valli Unite, Costa Vescovato: bright, soft, full. Grignolino d'Asti, Agostino Pavia & Figli: full-bodied for a Grignolino (a favorite grape of mine), not at all thin, ruby-colored, tasty.
    • Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525

    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    Chicken sandwich; boeuf daube

    Eastside Road, November 29, 2012—
    LUNCH TODAY: cold chicken sliced off the Thanksgiving carcass (the rest of which went into a soup pot), on toasted Como bread from the bakery. Nothing else: no butter; no watercress; no parsley. Just toasted white bread and cold chicken, a marriage made in heaven.

    Then dinner at a Breton-oriented bistro in town, where the prix fixe menu was a bargain: a "shot" of good hot hearty mushroom soup; a green salad whose beets weren't all that bad; a piece of beef brisket stewed en daube accompanied by decent mashed potatoes; a small chocolate profiterole. The beef was Spartan, I thought, innocent of carrot and turnip — I'll have to make a real Provençal version one of these nights soon.

    Picpoul De Pinet, 2011 (soft and engaging); Bordeaux, Alexandre Sirech, 2008 (a little austere and wooden)
    • Bistro 29, 620 Fifth Street, Santa Rosa, California; (707) 546-2929

    Tuesday, October 30, 2012

    Salmon chez Panisse

    salmon.jpg
    Berkeley, October 30, 2012—
    WHAT YOU SEE HERE is an aerial view of the last two bites of lunch. Well, maybe three. Four, in fact, because it took a couple of bites of bread to sop up the very last of the sauce.

    I'd begun with a nice salad: young rocket leaves with shavings of sunchoke and prosciutto, in a very good light savory vinaigrette, strewn with rosemary leaves. And very judiciously salted, with good salt.

    But it was the main course — this was dinner masquerading as a late lunch — that lingers with me: King salmon, poached, in a beurre rouge with delicate cauliflower flowerets, romanesco, and broccoli, and lots of capers. Beurre rouge: we all know a beurre blanc, of course; and I dearly love a beurre noisette, where you let the butter brown a bit while stirring. This tasted very lightly of red wine. I don't know how it's made. I could Google it, I suppose, but I have a lot to do and I'm up at five tomorrow.

    Dessert: a fine Bartlett pear, Barhi dates, a couple of black figs.
    Godello, A Coroa, Valdeorras (Spain); 2011: full, present, fruit, dry, balanced
    • Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, California; 510.548.5525

    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    Lamb chops

    lambchop.jpg
    Sorensen's Resort, Hope Valley, California, August 15, 2012—
    WE HAVEN'T SEEN any sheep hereabouts; to the extent that it's livestock country, it's cow country. But these "California Alps" remind me, at times, of the Alpes-Maritime — this morning we walked among pines and garrigue. And tonight I was pleased to find "Mediterranean Lamb" on the menu: "garlic, mint and fresh spice rubbed; grilled to your liking."

    In truth it was grilled somewhat beyond my liking: I'd asked for them pink, but they were done throughout. Still, lamb, garlic, mint, and rosemary make a nice combination, and grilled lamb chops are clearly among the Hundred Plates. With them, as you see, broccoli cooked not quite enough, nicely roasted potatoes; before, a green salad.
    Syrah, Bear Ridge (North Coast), vintage? (good varietal character, spicy, perfect lamb chop wine)
    • Sorensen's Resort, 14255 Highway 88, Hope Valley, California; 800.423.9949

    Monday, June 18, 2012

    On a roll

    Eastside Road, June 18, 2012—
    CHEDDAR CHEESE and white onion, sliced thin, set on a split bun, cooked in the broiler. Elective affinity, cheese and onion, and here's another: potato, leek, celery root, made into a soup. And here's a third: soup and sandwich.

    Toss in a green salad; then some mixed stone fruit for dessert, a nice nearly-summer-evening supper.
    Viura, Marques de Montañana, nv (soft and agreeable)

    Friday, May 11, 2012

    Café lunch

    salad.jpg
    Berkeley, May 10, 2012—
    BACK TO THE CAFÉ for lunch today: delicious, of course. I began with this salad: frisée and cardoons with bits of sautéed pancetta, half a barely hard-cooked egg on the side — an interesting variation on a Salade lyonnaise, the added cardoon a welcome note. (And an instructive one, as we've cardoons in the garden to eat, and now I know what to do with them: strip the stems, strip the fibers, blanche them half an hour or so in well salted boiling water, slice them against the grain. I'll let you know how it works out.)

    Afterward, bucatini — hollow small-bore spaghetti, I guess you'd call it — dressed with cauliflower, currants, pine nuts, hot pepper, pecorino, and saffron. A very Sicilian dish, seems to me, and a delicious one, which kept changing with every bite, first one note in the complex of ingredients taking precedence, then another.

    For dessert, Pixie tangerines and Medjool dates. I do love a cappuccino with dates: Elective Affinity!
    Sauvignon blanc, Cep Hopkins Ranch (Russian River Valley, and Hopkins a neighbor of ours), 2011 (very nice varietal characteristic, well balanced and fresh); Chardonnay, Domaine de Mouscaillo (Limoux), 2008
    • Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525

    Wednesday, April 25, 2012

    End of road trip

    Eastside Road, April 24—
    SUPPER AT HOME tonight, first time in a week. A pleasure, and a simple one: a couple of eggs fried softly in olive oil, an English muffin.

    The day had begun in the town of Atascadero, which in fact has a pretty good café, where we had our first edgy Stumptown espresso in quite a long time — a powerful Portland roast that always reminds me of the early days of espresso in this country, at the old Piccolo Espresso on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue, back in the 1960s.

    Lunch: a BLT in a bleak but trendy-looking restaurant in King City, before the beautiful drive up Highway 25. Bacon lettuce and tomato qualifies as Elective Affinity and very nearly, but not quite, for Hundred Plates. With it, a glass of rather sweet Californa Riesling.

    Mid-afternoon we stopped for the best coffee of the trip, in a café we'd discovered a year ago in San Juan Bautista. They roast their own coffee here, and except for the coffee I roast myself — Monkey Blend from Sweet Maria's, roasted to a Full City — the coffee here, coincidentally named Mountain Monk, is the best I know.

    But the best meal of the day was the one at home, eggs from a neighbor's hens, English muffins from the Downtown Bakery. Life is good. Tomorrow we fast.
    Cheap Pinot grigio
    • Brū, 5760 El Camino Real, Atascadero; (805) 464-5007
    • KC Bar & Grill, 200 Broadway Street, King City; 831-386-9006
    Vertigo Coffee, 81 Fourth Street, San Juan Bautista; 831 623-9533

    Tuesday, March 20, 2012

    Soupe de poissons

    Fish soup
    Avenue George V, Nice, March 20, 2012—
    ANOTHER FISH SOUP today? Mais oui! For one thing, its interesting to compare an ordinary quayside versioin in a workingclass town like La Ciotat with a more elegant version at the other end of the scale. Mainly, though, of course, I'm maniacal about Provençal soupe de poissons.

    I began with a tartare of tuna, a delicious fish, expertly combined with concassée of tomatoes, judicious amounts of capers and thin-sliced scallions, and lemon juice. Then the soup, made just as Monday's but combining two soups at the last minute, red and darker, hearty, mellifluous, deep, and pointed. Marvelous.
    Chassagne-Savigny, Bouchard et fils, 2009
    •La Mére Germain, Quai Courbet, Villefranche-sur-mer
     
     

    Monday, March 19, 2012

    Soupe de poissons

    Lindsey at soup
    Park & Suites Ëlegance la Ciotat, La Ciotat, France, March 18, 2012—

    WHATEVER THE COUNTRY, there are the favorite dishes. Netherlands : herring, pannekoek, boerenkool… Rome: carbonara, caccio e pepe, carciofi… jamon in Spain, y judias…

    We're finally in vrai Provence, and I finally have my fish soup. You jab a fork into a peeled clove of raw garlic, and drag it back and forth across the toasted slices of baguette. Then you heap spoonfuls of rouille on each slice — cayenne-charged mayonnaise — and put them on the bottom of your otherwise empty soup-plate.

    The soup itself comes next: by preference at least three kinds of fish, local and fresh of course, cooked up with various flavorings important among which is fennel, then the bouillon strained off, the solids put through a sieve (or a food mill) and restored to the soup.

    Then grated cheese, Gruyère is best, strewn on top, and then, my God, let's eat.

    Afterward a nice green salad, and then a good night's sleep. Delicious. Maybe tomorrow we'll do it all again.
    Vin blanc en pichet
    •Restaurant Pizzerie la Grotte, Port Vieux, La Ciotat; +33 04 42 08 64 19
     

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012

    Tacos (reprise)

    Eastside Road, February 21, 2012—
    TOMORROW WE SHALL FAST, probably for the last time in a month; tonight we finish the taco makings from two days ago. We, correct that, Lindsey is cleaning out the refrigerator for a good reason. I must say, the combination of beef, avocado, bean, chili pepper, tomato, cilantro, and raw onion is truly delicious: Elective Affinities perfectly energized by the lime juice. I'd eat this once a week — but doubt I'll see it again for at least a month.

    As a first course, those fine leeks and carrots, sautéed with a bit of butter; afterward, green salad, then tangerine ice.
    Cheap Pinot grigio; Nero d'Avola