Showing posts with label Hundred Plates. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hundred Plates. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What a week.

IMG_3938.jpg
Eastside Road, July 16, 2014—
OKAY, LET'S TRY a new format, one so shameful it'll encourage me to be more attentive here.


•July 8: fast.

•July 9: Fusilli con pesto. That's the making of pesto you see here, but today when I looked into the freezer what should I find but… What? No pine nuts? Impossible to make pesto without pine nuts. Nor were there any walnuts to be found. Truly I have been slacking off…

I made today's pesto without pine nuts; just garlic, salt, basil, olive oil. Even more shameful, I rinsed the basil, then after attempting to dry it I chopped it with a knife. The resulting pesto was not handsome, but good enough for yet another dinner in front of the TV, watching a World Cup game…

fusilli 7:9.jpg
•July 10:Yes, Fusilli con pesto again, and the pesto hasn't improved any…


arugula11.jpg

•July 11: Ah: now this is more like it. Supper in Berkeley today, beginning with this delicious plate of arugula, dressed with hazelnuts, Parmesan, and very good olive oil. On, then, to roast lamb, roasted in the pizza oven, with tapenade, and green and yellow pole beans on the side, and a roasted tomato… truly delicious… why can't I cook like this at home…

• Café Chez Panisse, address; tel. salmon12.jpg
•July 12: I finally got around to cooking the little potatoes I bought (from Lou Preston) a week and more ago, rolling them around in olive oil in the hot black iron skillet, with a couple of garlic cloves, rosemary, and salt. What a delicious dish that is: one of the Hundred Plates.

Lindsey broiled the salmon and cooked some green beans in butter and sliced the tomato. Truth is, she's The Cook. I'm the Lucky Guy.

Oh: And I picked pine nuts today: but that'll be the subject of another blog.



•July 13: Big dinner party tonight, with my brother and his family — three generations here. Sausages on the grill; pasta con pesto; grilled eggplant and zucchini; big green salad; fruit and cookies.

You may have noticed by now that I haven't said anything on this post about wine. I'm not going to start now, beyond noting White; Rosé; Red.


•July 14, Bastille Day: leftovers: sausage; Fusilli con pesto

IMG_3972.jpg
•July 15: Friends over to dinner. I made guacamole — that's the setup, above: salt, Tequila, avocados, limes, cilantro; the shallots and toasted Habanera pepper already chopped up. After that, chicken from the grill, and green beans dressed with sautéed shallot, and potatoes with rosemary and salt; and nectarine crisp for dessert…


Friday, May 9, 2014

Duck confit

DuckConfit.jpg
Eastside Road, May 8, 2014—
ONE OF THE Hundred Plates for sure, and a particularly delicious thing, duck confit. I won't give you the recipe for it — we've made our own confit, though with goose, not duck; I'm sure the principle's the same: slow-cook the meat in its own fat, flavored with herbs and spices; then put it down covered in more fat, rendered, to age and mature.

Goose confit is indispensable to Cassoulet, and it looks like this is yet another year we've lost the opportunity to make one — it's a cold-weather dish; I wouldn't make it later than March. Maybe this winter.

Duck confit, on the other hand, is fine eaten all by itself, and in my mind at least not at all restricted to cold-weather menus. Here it is, for example, with obviously springtime garden peas. Also on the plate, the last of Cook's delicious potato-fava-pea salad; duck does indeed demand potatoes; rice will really not do.

We didn't confit these duck legs ourselves: they're from the butcher shop at Café Rouge, and they are delicious. They are also the last of the season, I'm told; that shop doesn't agree with me as to the lack of seasonality for duck confit…

Barolo d'Asti, Rocca dell'Olmo (Piemonte), 2011

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lunch at the beach

grilled cheese sandwich.jpg
Eastside Road, April 18, 2014—
THE PHOTO OF COURSE has nothing to do with the beach. The beach was San Francisco's "great beach," where we lunched, with friends visiting from out of state, at a place I think all such visitors should see; and there we sat at a window overlooking the grey Pacific, and I had a fine mushroom-and-garlic soup, then a Caesar salad.
Hefeweizen
• Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant, 1000 Great Highway, San Francisco; (415) 386-8439

WHAT THE PHOTO does have to do with is Cook's way of making a grilled cheese sandwich. That's what closed out the day — a day which had begun, oddly, with another Gruyère sandwich, taken with a cappuccino at Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland. (Gruyère and cappuccino is a better combination than you might think: it takes me back to breakfasts in Netherlands.) All she does is put slices of cheese between slices of bread, butter the outside of the bread lightly, and grill the sandwiches, turning them once, between two hot cast-iron skillets, the upper one slightly smaller than the lower. One of the Hundred Plates, I'd say.

Cheap Barbera d'Asti

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Away and at home

soup.jpg
Eastside Road, April 1, 2014—
HERE YOU SEE, no April fooling, a bowl of minestrone, lovingly made by Cook of Things At Hand, and a fine way to end a rainy day — with, of course, a green salad afterward.
Cheap Barolo d'Asti

BUT LAST NIGHT, ah, last night, now that was something different. We dined downstairs — Berkeleyans and family will know what that means — on a particularly fine Piemontese-feeling menu:

Spring vegetable salad with green garlic bagna cauda

Arrosto di maiale al latte with spinach and grilled artichokes

Cheese: BoDacious (chevre) (Bohemian Creamery)

Page mandarin and grapefruit sorbetto with blood orange granita


Bagna cauda, chez nous, is generally a cup of hot olive oil with lots of crushed garlic and anchovy and maybe, yes these days I would say certainly, a bit of butter, kept hot at table over a flame, into which we dip bread, raw vegetables including certainly cardoon, and other things I'm forgetting at the moment — you could look it up. Hardboiled eggs come to mind.

At this table though Bagna cauda was much more discreet, as you'll see below. The salad involved green garlic stems, tiny turnips, lettuces of course, and raw early spring green peas, with the tiniest drizzle of perfect Bagna cauda threading its way through: hard to think of a more perfect combination of plates which I'd otherwise have thought mutually exclusive.

As to Maiale al latte: when I was a boy, roast pork was a frequent luxury at the dinner table. Even more frequent, though almost never served with roast pork, was what we always called milk gravy. (I did not grow up in a kosher household.) To make milk gravy, as I think I've mentioned here before, you added a little flour to the skillet after you've roasted or fried the meat (which has of course been put on a cold plate to get cold and greasy); you scrumbled it around in the drippings with a spatula (in those days called a "pancake turner"); then you poured in some milk, continuing to scrub things around to make a clotted sauce that tasted much better, fortunately, than my description might suggest.

So meat and milk is a serious and comforting thread in my makeup, unlike meat and cheese, about which I whined the other day. I'm not sure how this Maiale was cooked, but I know (because I asked) that it spent a couple of hours roasting. I don't think we've ever actually eaten Maiale al latte in Piemonte, and I'm not sure we've had it elsewhere in Italy. Roast pork always brings two things to mind: first, my childhood home, when it was usually leg of pork, frequently from one of our own pigs, and had been roasted in the oven of our wood-fired cookstove, and had been flavored with salt, pepper, and garlic salt.

Second, Rome. Porchetta is a Roman glory, one of many of course, but certainly one. No garlic salt would ever have come near it; there should be as little industrialization as possible. This dish was superb. The artichokes set it off exactly right, recalling the Bagna cauda through mental association with cardoons; the spinach added iron and verdure; the meat itself was beautifully flavored and tender as Fitzgerald's Night.

And then the sorbetti, made no doubt from those delicious Ojai citruses from Churchill Orchard — lots of pointed flavor, cold and crisp, the tattered granita setting off the scoops of sorbetto as the Bagna cauda had the salad. Menu with memory, that's what I like, and this one will stay in mine for quite a while!
Seco Ca' del Merlo, Giuseppe Quintarelli (Veneto), 2011 (a splendid apéritif, not quite assertive enough against the Bagna cauda); Basadone (da Pelaverga Piccolo), Castello di Verduno (Piemonte), 2012 (rich, deep, not heavy, fruity and delicious)
• Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525
salad.jpgpork.jpgsorbetto.jpg
salad with Bagna caudaMaiale al latteSorbetti

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.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Vineyard dinner

daube.jpg
Eastside Road, March 9, 2014—
I'VE MENTIONED BŒUF DAUBE here before, I'm sure: here's another — and, best of all, I didn't have to cook it. I call this a "vineyard dinner," not beccause we ate in one, but because it was a party in the home of a near-neighbor vineyard proprietor, and her son's another, and that's where we were, out in vineyard country. Food and wine the profession of every one of the twelve people at the table — except for me. I'm just an enthusiast.

Before the daube, at the table, we had appetizers in the living room, prepared by a visiting cookbook author, an authority on traditional Japanese farm cooking — carrots, arugula, and broccolini meeting miso; nine-minute eggs lightly pickled in soy sauce, with a glass of Crémant or, later, a white wine new to me, Terrebrune from Bandol, very nice -—

And after the salad and cheeses, a good flannelly Savarin with light rum syrup and whipped cream, oh boy… Thanks, Willi!

Merlot, Toby Lane (Alexander Valley), 2009 (very nice, mature, rather deep); Cabernet franc, Domaine Laroque (Carcassonne) (pleasant and sound), 2010; Gros 'Noré Rouge (Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsault), Bandol, 2009 (deep and rewarding, terroir)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Choucrôute garni

sauerkraut.jpg
Eastside Road, March 8, 2014—
COOK TURNED TO HER SHELVES for one of the treasured old books from the Time-Life series Foods of the World, which issued hard-bound larger-format books with lots of travelogue-style color photographs, accompanied by these little spiral-bound books.

We still find these books handy and in many cases authoritative. Recipes: The Cooking of Provincial France (New York: Time-Life Books, 1968), for example, was written by M.F.K. Fisher, and soon afterward republished under her byline. Apparently many people kept the hardbound photo books and got rid of the spiral-bound recipe books: they made a mistake. (You can still find many of these titles, both the photo books and the recipes, used, online, often at good prices. Richard Olney was the consulting editor for a later Time-Life series, The Good Cook, not to be confused with the earlier series.)

Anyhow, we've been eating this delicious "garnished sauerkraut," a famous old Alsatian standby, for three days now, and it just keeps getting better. I think Cook made very few changes in the recipe. In the past she has added smoked pork chops to the mix, and I've always liked that, but we were startled to find smoked pork chops impossible to find within fifteen miles of our kitchen — perhaps no one knows about them any more. I hope not.

Lindsey cooked the kraut in Pinot grigio; Pinot blanc or Riesling would be perhaps more authentic, but that hardly mattered — Pinot grigio works fine, and besides we had some good bottles of white wine for these three feasts:
Pinot Grigio, Villa Sonia (Veneto), 2012; Pinot blanc, Fleurelle (Alsace), 2012; Gewurztraminer, Michel Léon (Alsace), 2012; Riesling, Ulrich Langguth (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer), 2012

Friday, February 7, 2014

Leftover loin; Jeff's pasta

pasta.jpg
Eastside Road, February 7, 2014—
THE THREE P's: Pasta; Peas; Prosciutto. That was dinner last night, the recipe courtesy of our friend Jeff, who was in a previous life a cook at Chez Panisse, and has since gone into quite another career. I like him and I like his recipes, which you can find (and subscribe to) here.

This is a simple dish with a vaguely Roman feel to it — probably the cream-and-prosciutto combination makes me think of spaghetti carbonara. There's just enough cream-and-cheese to give the dish a smooth, almost unctuous quality. I thought I tasted quite a bit of nutmeg, but Cook assured me there was none at all — must have been in the prosciutto; don't know where she got it. Green salad afterward, of course, and an apple.

The day before, Wednesday, we had a simple supper of cold sliced pork tenderloin — I see I forgot to tell you about that tenderloin Lindsey cooked the other day: well, you may not believe it, but I don't tell you everything here!
Cheap Pinot grigio

Monday, February 3, 2014

Bœuf daube

photo 4.jpg
Eastside Road, February 3, 2014—
ANY BEEF STEW is fine with me, especially in winter. But my favorite beef stew is what's called bœuf daube in the south of France, where it's made in a special ceramic vessel, called, of course, a daubière. The daubière is shaped perfectly to its purpose: it's vertical, narrowing toward the top, with a good lid that slips inside the opening to minimize the loss of liquid through evaporation.

Alas, our own daubière is a little too small, just the right size for dinner for one, particularly because when you make stew you want to make double rations, because it only improves in the days after cooking. So I used a heavy copper pot with a close-fitting lid. Further alas: I couldn't find the book I generally cook my daube from, so settled on another: Michel Barberousse's Cuisine provençale (Editions chez l'auteur, Seguret (Vaucluse), n.d.), a curious book we picked up years ago. I simplified the recipe a bit, leaving out lard and substituting pancetta for French pork-belly, and adding a couple of turnips to the mix, probably inauthentic.

Otherwise I stuck to the page: I cooked the chopped pancetta in olive oil without browning it, added a couple of small carrots and a stick or two of celery, then a pound of cubed lean beef, a small onion studded with a half dozen cloves, a couple of little branches of thyme and savory, a bay leaf, and a fair-sized Roma tomato, quartered. After the meat had browned a bit I added half a bottle of red wine and the zest of an orange, and let the whole thing simmer four or five hours.

On the side I cooked another dozen or so cipollini onions and about that many white Paris mushrooms in a little olive oil, and Lindsey cooked up some potatoes. With a daube, pasta would have been more authentic: but, damn it, we like our praties. Green salad afterward, of course, and then an apple…

photo 1.jpgphoto 2.jpg
The stew before adding the wineCipollini and mushrooms cooking
Cheap Nero d'Avola (for lack of a good Vaucluse red)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Pannenkoek!

pannenkoek.jpg
Eastside Road, January 12, 2014 —
OR, IF YOU LIKE, pannekoek, without that third "n" — the Dutch seem to be, er, waffling on that subject. Whatever. It's a flour-egg-and-milk pancake, somewhat thinner than typical American ones but thicker than a French crêpe, made as big as the skillet allows, say the size of a dinner plate, and there are almost always little bits of delicious things in the batter before they're baked, though you can get them natuur if you insist; and they should be served with stroop, the Dutch form of treacle (from which the term "blackstrap molasses" derives).

And it is or can be dinner, or supper at least. We have them often in The Netherlands, zachte Nederland, where my favorites are ham-(candied) ginger, or appel-rozijnen (apple and raisins). Tonight Cook made appel-speck, cooking up bits of bacon and, separately, thin slices of apple, and then putting them in the batter as it cooks in the black iron skillet.

Before this, just to set the meal off on a proper Dutch note, the unpronouncable erwtensoep, good thick pea soup not innocent of animal protein. Afterward we were back home in California with a good green salad.
Barbera d'Asti

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Roast goose (redux)

goose.jpg
Eastside Road, November 2, 2013—
HERE'S ANOTHER LOOK at the roast goose we cooked last Tuesday, served up as leftovers with, of course, Nancy Skall's unique lima beans. As I've said, roast goose is perhaps my favorite of all meats; and served cold as leftovers it's as delicious as served hot just carved (with some effort!) off the bird.

Yes, that's the liver at the right of the photo, and one solitary roast potato salvaged from last week's feast — there are never enough potatoes roasted in goose fat. And that dark mass at the top, perhaps not too appetizing in the photo? Prunes, chestnuts, red cabbage, the reduction of the cooking liquors — red wine, goose broth, cloves, cinnamon, allspice — oh what a delicious complexity of aromas and flavors!
Pinot noir, Siebert Ranch (Russian River Valley), 2009: deep, mature, well-balanced, smooth, good body, an excellent match; and thanks, Gaye and John!

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.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tuna and beans

tuna-bean.jpg
Eastside Road, August 14, 2013—
CERTAINLY ONE OF the inspired combinations, one of the Hundred Plates, the Italian salad of tuna, cannellini, and onions. Tonight Lindsey looked to see if Cesare Casella, the gifted chef we met at his Vipore restaurant outside Lucca many years ago (and who has since gone on to big things in New York, where his restaurants have included Coco Pazzo, Beppe, and Maremma) had a recipe in his book Diary of a Tuscan Chef.

He did, and his recipe suggested adding tomato to the mix — one step to many, it seems to me. I had already requested a bit of chopped celery in it; for some reason I've been craving celery for weeks now. Lindsey also flavored the salad with marjoram, not the sage I prefer: I'll have to make my own version next week.

With the tuna salad, a slice of ciabatta from Petaluma's Della Fattoria, lightly toasted and drizzled with olive oil; afterward, green salad; and then melon and some Seckel pears from our tree. A fine summer supper!
Rosé, La Ferme Julien, 2012

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Hamburger and beer

Santa Rosa, California, June 2, 2013—
DOES THE ORDINARY HAMBURGER rate as one of the Hundred Plates? Yes, I think so. After a short but fairly strenuous hike someone had the happy idea of stopping off for a hamburger and a beer.

This was a no-nonsense hamburger joint, and I had the Ordinary: probably a quarter-pounder at most, grass fed, on a decent bun, with lettuce, catsup, tomato, onion, and dill pickle, crinkle-cut fries on the side, and a pint of house draft pale. Cheap: $5.45 for the burger, a buck fifty for the beer.

I liked the sign at the order counter:
This is not a bar. Loud behavior and strong language will not be tolerated. Do not throw peanut shells on the floor.
The decor runs to old Schwinn bicycles in improbable places, and the vinyl booth upholstery is cracking in places. And no, you can't have your hamburger rare. Still, it's an honest joint, fast and tasty. I don't like crinkle-cut fries, I think they are too oily and lose heat to quickly, but what are you going to do.

• Brody's Burgers and Brews
, 3135 Cleveland Ave, Santa Rosa; (707) 526-4878

Friday, May 24, 2013

Encore de la soupe

soup.jpg
Eastside Road, May 24, 2013—
I FORGOT TO MENTION yesterday: vegetable soup in any form — minestrone or a simple spring soup like this — is one of the Hundred Plates, indispensable. To my pleasure and undoubtedly to my health it was dispensed once again tonight.

Tomorrow we dine with friends at their house; ball's in their court. I will of course be appreciative; I always am. (And we pick friends well, I think; and they invite us with a degree of caution we generally find a little amusing and a little more unnecessary.)

There may be soup; there may not. It won't matter, as we've had it now twice running, and things are back in shape. Afterward, fava beans, first of the season here, beautifully cooked and lightly buttered; after them, green salad, nicely dressed if I do say so.

breakfast.jpgAh: breakfast. Again, a half dozen of those nice radishes; I have to get a couple of bunches tomorrow. The Nation, several pinches of salt, toast and honey, and café au lait, made tastier by the salt, and seen here not yet coffee'd…
Cheap Barbera d'Asti

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Soup, beautiful soup

soup.jpg
Eastside Road, May 23, 2013—
CONSTANT VIEWER WILL perhaps have noticed an absence. Well, fact is, I've been off my feed.

Thankfully, it doesn't happen that often. I have no idea what caused it, but whatever it was left me with chills, fatigue, a terrible taste in the mouth, and no appetite at all. It started Monday, after a not good omelet at a local breakfast joint — no point in naming it, it may not have been its fault.

I was still active enough, after a nap, for steak-frites (with beer, not wine, because I was already wanting something brewed, I guess) at a local bar-and-grill, with a gaggle of family. Steak-frites is one of the hundred plates, of course, and this one wasn't bad at all, and I only ate a few of the frites. But Tuesday was not pleasant at all; nothing tasted good; I subsisted on orange juice and soda water and little more.

Wednesday, ditto. Thursday, not much better.

Finally this morning normalcy beckoned. A happy idea: let's have some little radishes for breakfast, simply split in half and dipped in salt and eaten hair-root, body, leaves and all, with the usual toast and honey afterward. Hmmm: the taste buds are waking up.

Lunch, our frequent peanut-butter on toast — hooray for Downtown Bakery's Como bread! — and café au lait and an apple and a little glass of orange juice. Yes: everything's beginning to taste normal.

And then tonight — well, Chef asked if there was anything I'd like for dinner, and I said how about a nice summer vegetable soup since it's finally warmed up a bit, the wind's died down a bit, my chills are gone and it seems like I'll live after all. So a couple of leeks, some carrot, some peas, some beans, some potato, some tomato, some trofie, and an impressive amount of tender sympathy produced this fine pot of soup, and I thank my dear long-suffering companion of fifty-six years and more. I'll take her out to dinner one of these days.
Cheap Pinot grigio. Yes! It tastes good!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Firefly

gazpacho.jpg
Pasadena, California, May 12, 2013—
IT MAY NOT LOOK like much in my photo, but it was as delicious a gazpacho as I've ever had. Of course it was over ninety degrees today; any gazpacho would have been welcome. But this was so complex, so nicely balanced; the tomatoes had been roasted to bring out the flavor, and the textures were surprising and played off so well against one another. And the olive oil drizzled on top was such a nice oil.

And then I had a pasta primavera with good tomatoes, barely cooked fresh peas, mushroom pancetta, generous shavings of Pecorino, stewed tomato, caramelized fennel — again, so delicious, so full of little surprises that I'm afraid I simply gobbled the thing down without paying proper attention.

I had a taste of Lindsey's Key Lime Pie, a modern version of the familiar standard, with a perfect Graham-cracker crust, smooth and perfectly balanced lime filling, and — surprise! — a lime gelée on the side that looked, and tasted, and felt both unusual and unexpected and yet perfectly reasonable. What a pleasant place this was, perhaps the best new restaurant we've found down here in years. And thanks to the two old buddies who introduced us to it. Thanks, Dan and Tony!
Cava; Viognier; Graham's 20 Year Port
• Firefly Bistro, 1009 El Centro Street, South Pasadena; 626.441.2443

Monday, May 6, 2013

New Orleans ; dinner with Donna

halibut.jpg
Eastside Road, May 6, 2013—
SINCE WE FAST today, I'll catch you up on the last couple of days. Saturday we were in Berkeley to see two Tom Stoppard plays, with only a couple of hours between — where to fortify ourselves for the intellectual strain?

jambalaya.jpgLindsey'd heard of a place downtown, so we gave it a try. It turns out to be very much a young person's hangout, and it was incredibly noisy — the dB meter was just under the red, at 90, much of the time. Nor was the menu that much to my taste. But you can't go wrong with Jambalaya, chicken, ham, and andouille with rice and quite a piquant sauce.

As a first course I had the house salad: lettuces with tomatoes, raisins, and candied pecan halves in a fig-balsamic vinaigrette. Sweet, crunchy, off our usual trajectory, but very nice. Lindsey's pecan pie looked authentic, and the teeny bit I had tasted right too.
Riesling, Mirassou, 2011; Zinfandel, Rancho Zabaco "Dancing Bull," 2011: both sound, good varietal, unexceptional
• Angeline's Louisiana Kitchen, 2261 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.6900
THEN YESTERDAY, AFTER a nice seven-mile hike out at the coast, we were at a party in a comfortable home in Healdsburg, where the guest of honor was fêted for an important anniversary of employment. There were ten of us at table, of whom three have been active as professional chefs and two as winemakers. Thank heaven for the few of us credentialled merely as onlookers, imbibers, and critics!

The centerpiece at table was that fine plate you see at the top of this post: a platter of halibut steaks simply grilled over wood and flavored with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Scattered atop, sliced fresh tomatoes, the first we've had this year, very welcome.

peppers.jpgOn the side, raita sauces — one based on cow's-milk yogurt, one on goat's-milk — and fine pan-sautéed whole little potatoes and this fine pan of sweet red and yellow peppers done à la grecque, which is one of my favorite things, too simple to be one of the Hundred Plates perhaps, but surely an honorary appointee.

And dessert! Lindsey's almond tarte! What a pleasure!
Champagne, Veuve Clicquot; Riesling, Kuentz-Bas (Alsace), 2010;
Viña Godeval Godello, Cosecha (Spain), 2010;
white Rhone blend, "Madame Preston," Preston of Dry Creek, 2011.
Very nice wines; and very nice conversation at table too. Thanks, Alta!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Omelet; salad

Eastside Road, April 19, 2013—
TWO OF THE HUNDRED plates, at least, I used to think I had mastered: omelet; vinaigrette. I've described the latter here so many times I hardly need mention it again, but I will: mash a clove of garlic with the right amount of salt — I use an ordinary dinner fork to do this. Cover the result with the right amount of olive oil and let it stand. When you're about to toss the salad, add the right amount of good vinegar and whisk it into an emulsion with that dinner fork.

The omelet's only a tiny bit trickier. I used to use butter, which can be treacherous as it burns readily. Since seeing the brillian final few minutes of that excellent movie The Big Night, I've used olive oil. Heat it to just under smoky and swirl it to cover the entire inside of the omelet pan. Whisk your eggs, two of them probably, in a dish, using a dinner fork.

Oh: After I've broken the eggs I toss the shells into the compost bucket. I then rinse my hands, as they're inevitably a little sticky with raw egg at this point, but I don't dry them: using my right hand, I scrape the excess water of my left hand into the dish of eggs; then repeat with the other hands. This adds just the right amount of water to the eggs.

I don't add salt, grated cheese, chopped fines herbes, or anything else. I whisk the eggs a little, just to break up the yolks; then I slide them into the hot omelet pan.

I lift the edge of the set egg with the fork to let the uncooked egg flow underneath. I swirl the pan. I toss the omelet to turn it, and to form it into the requisite perfect oval.

TONIGHT, HOWEVER, everything went wrong. The egg stuck, because I hadn't run the olive oil out to the very edge of the omelet pan. I forgot to warm the dinner plates. I had nothing on hand to season the omelet with after it had been cooked.

Worst of all, I tried to add the vinegar to the vinaigrette with my left hand, since my right hand was busy, and splashed way too much in; so I added more olive oil, enough for the next week, and now I'll have tired old vinaigrette on my salad for a few days.

Oh well: we're fed; that's the main thing. And I've learned another little lesson about complacency. It's time to resume omelets, one a week, until they're back in the hand again. And I've reminded myself about those special tricks of the kitchen: patience, attentiveness, self-discipline — all arts I mastered years ago, but have somehow let slide…
Cheap Soave

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