Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Monzu Vladi

Via Gaetano Sacchi, Roma; January 30, 2013—

A CURIOUS NAME for this basically Neopolitan-style restaurant here in Trastevere, where six of us gathered tonight for a last extended-family dinner in Rome before a couple of departures. I began with the spaghetti alla puttinesca you see here, flavorful with tomato, olive, and anchovy; and went on to a veal scallopini that was routine but pleasant. There's not that much to say about the place, I think; it's dependable but unexceptional. It's attractive and comfortable, though, and on one of the prettiest piazzas in town.

White and red table wine

•Monzu Vladi, Piazza di San Giovanni della Malva 2, Rome; 06 5895640

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

L'Asino d'oro

Via Gaetano Sacchi, Roma, January 29, 2013—

A REAL FIND TODAY: a fixed-price three-course meal of interesting food well prepared and presented for €13, wine, water, and bread included. We started with an amuse-gueule, a little toast spread with cauliflower terrine; then went on to a delicious vegetable soup. The primo was the risotto of farro you see here, cooked with raisins and radicchio and generously strewn with good Pecorino.

Then came the secondo, a sort of sformato of beef tonnato drizzled with a little Balsamico. And afterward we splurged for dessert — an extra €6: my tiramisu was good but not exceptional, but Hans's chocolate-licorice-chili pepper fondant was truly inspired, not to be missed.

Chianti, Legnaia, 2011

•L'Asino d'oro, Via del Boschetto, 73/74, Rome; +39 06 48913832
Supper at home: the rest of the tortellini, in broth this time, and a green salad.


Via Gaetano Sacchi, Roma, January 28, 2013—

DINNER AT HOME tonight. The Sard pastaficio on the Via del Moro was open today, so we bought 800 grams of their tortellini, which I dressed, after Lindsey had cooked them, with grated Castelmagno. It was just as delicious as I thought it would be. Green salad afterward, of course.

Greco di Tufo, Nardone-Nardone, 2011

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Via Gaetano Sacchi, Roma, January 27, 2013—

AND SO IN FACT we did wind up tonight at Flavio, roundly applauded by some, denounced by others. Here's my report: the location is hard to find — take a taxi if it's dark; take your time getting there if there's daylight. The dining room is well lit, comfortable, not a traditional or conventional trattoria with wood, linen, glassware, but a more trendy appearance, open, rather brisk.

The service also brisk. Menus immediately (early in the night, at 8 pm); and the first courses quick to appear. The primi too, for that matter. The menu only in Italian, and the discussion with the waiter only in Italian, though another waiter hovered nearby and was quick to explain things in English when necessary.

Lindsey and I ordered exactly the same: the carciofo alla giudea shown here to begin with; then rigatoni alla gricia. The artichoke was the best of its sort I've ever eaten, bar none. Crisp yet still tasting of artichoke on the outside, creamy and rich inside, and better and better as you continued to eat it. Phenomenal.

The pasta was nicely cooked, toward the Sicilian taste as L. pointed out, dense and just not quite undercooked, with generous sauce, a little on the salty side as is so often the case in Rome.

At that point, after the primi were served, the service was a little less attentive — but then, the dining room was filling up. We were surprised at how quickly people ate here: eat it and beat it, as the professionals say — but in Rome?

My dessert was a nice thick ricotta cheesecake with cherries on top, quite as I had the other night, but much more artfully made. Lindsey's tiramisu was a little surprising: no liquor; cream a tiny bit ammoniated to my taste (but not Lindsey's), nice chocolate.

I liked the place, and I'd go back. Maybe not this trip; we have only another ten days or so; there are many places to explore. But I'll go back one day.

vino bianco della casa…

•Flavio al Velavevodetto, Via di Monte Testaccio 97, Rome; +39 065744194
(The name means something like "I told you so," according to Elizabeth Minchilli.)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Notes and photos

Via Gaetano Sacchi, Rome; January 27, 2013—

A FEW NOTES on the recent state of Eating Every Day:

Here in Rome we generally take one meal a day in a trattoria, the other two at home. Our usual breakfast has been toast, coffee, and milk, just as at home; the friends with whom we share this apartment, and these two weeks, add cheese and fruit to the menu. Today being Sunday, we'll add a boiled egg to the meal: so we all manage to stay with our familiar habits.

Last night, at home, we made do with a few slices of mortadella, some cheese, bread, and fruit. I do love Castelmagno, and bought a pound or so the other day. It turns out no one else seems to like it, so I'll have it to myself, though I still think I'll dress some pasta with it one of these nights. Alas, the Sard pastaficio on via del Moro is closed, whether permanently or only for January I haven't yet determined; I'd been counting on some maloreddus — but there are plenty of other pastaficii nearby.

Night before last our friends made supper, inventively I thought: our plates offered softly scrambled eggs dressed with fried onions and tomato chunks warmed in the frying pan, all on a bed of little lettuce leaves. Very Dutch looking, somehow, and quite delicious, and something I'd never have thought of at all.

A note on the trattorias: we've returned to a number we've known from earlier visits, but also tried a few new to us. I read comments on all these places, as hinted last night, at Yelp, Chowhound, TripAdvisor, and such sites — thankfully we have splendid wifi in this apartment — and I've seen reviews in the traditional press as well.

I learned a long time ago that you can't rely on anyone's report of a restaurant. Dining is simply too complex and too personal an experience to share reliably. I've tried simply to report on my response to what I've eaten, rarely reporting on the setting, the service, and all that. Many of the online comments I read seem fixated on various subjective elements whose relevance to the dining experience is overwhelming from the writer's point of view but completely absent to mine. And one can imagine, of course, that expressions of outrage or resentment, frequent in these online "reviews," reveal personality characteristics that put waiters on guard, often resulting in a spiralling loop of mutual suspicion and irritation, even dislike.

I'm curious about a fairly new place over in Testaccio. When it opened, a little over a year ago, people raved about it. More recently there have been the predictable lamentations that it's gone downhill; one blogger even orders me not to eat there. It's a little off our beaten path, but I'd like to try it, partly because it may be a real find, partly because it'll be another check on all these comments.

A note on photographs: I take them as discreetly as I'm able, without flash or long exposure. I'm aware of the controversy reported in the New York Times on this subject. Diners have a social obligation, I think, not to intrude on other diners in the restaurant: flash, standing photos, asking the waiter to take a photo — these constitute real intrusions, in my opinion.

I take these photos primarily as aides-memoires, in lieu of taking notes. I photograph menus and wine labels as well as dishes, for that reason. This has made me lazy: you'll have noted evasive writing here and there, when I've forgotten exactly what it is I've enjoyed. Fettucine, or tagliarini? Was there tiny bits of tomato in that sauce, or was that crisped radicchio? No clue: the photo isn't detailed enough. Take notes, dammit, Charles!

(Lindsey does not completely share my photo-taking policies, and is responsible for the photo here, taken yesterday at Perilli.)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Via Gaetano Sacchi, Rome; January 26, 2013—

A PERENNIAL FAVORITE restaurant always arouses some misgivings when you decide to revisit after a number of years. Will it live up to your memory of previous visits; will it live up to the consensus among Yelpers, TripAdvisors, the New York Times, the scads of online foodies?

We chanced it today at this Testaccio favorite, where I ordered fairly carefully (and conservatively) and was quite pleased. We'd spent the morning on our feet at San Giovanni Laterano, pushing down marble with our soles, wearing out our retinas on other hard surfaces, and were quite ready for a comfortable trattoria. That's exactly what Perilli is.

I opened with the fettucini cacio e pepe you see here, good pasta properly cooked and dressed generously with good Pecorino and black pepper; then continued with beans with prosciutto, a very plain, substantial, well-balanced and -flavored dish. Dessert was a crème caramel, just average, quite acceptable.

On balance, then, Perilli seems to me to hold up well. The dining room is pleasant and comfortable, the service attentive and friendly without getting in your way. I'll go back, I'm sure, but only once per Roman visit, I think.

Biancodella casa

•Perilli, Via Marmorata, 39, Rome; +39 06 5755100

Friday, January 25, 2013

Gli Amici

Via Gaetano Sacchi, Rome, January 25, 2013—

THE FIRST TIME we stayed a month in Rome we had an apartment on the Piazza Sant'Egidio in Trastevere. At the north end of the piazza was a nice little greengrocer shop. It's gone now. The second time we stayed, or maybe a little later, a new trattoria had opened next to it; two years ago it had become so successful it had taken over that entire end of the piazza, three adjacent storefronts.
The last time we ate there, a couple of years ago at least, I wasn't impressed. Since then it's not only grown bigger, it's grown much better. It's featured, for example, in Osterie d'Italia, one of the guidebooks I trust. So after a pleasant hour or so in the Botanical Garden a little north of here, just outside the old gate at the house of La Fornarina, we decided to stop in for midday dinner.
The Trattoria degli Amici is a special place, run by a nonprofit whose purpose it is to fold handicapped people into normal work and life. The trattoria is staffed by them and by volunteers who help things along. There are 130 covers now — I asked — and six people in the kitchen, two teams of three, for lunch and dinner, I suppose. Osterie promises that they use the best ingredients, and attend to traditional Roman cuisine, and today's dinner pretty well bore that out.
I opened with a trio of bruschetti, with oil and garlic, with tomato, with lardo; and a lagniappe, one with a soft cheese. Then we all shared deep-fried artichokes a spicchi, and I went on to the gnocchi you see here, nice little potato gnocchi dressed with walnut pesto and pine nuts and little bits of fried radicchio: superb.
Dessert: Crostatina di Ricotta e Cioccolata Amedei: a tartelette filled with superb ricotta and drizzled with fine dark chocolate. We may return.
Bianco della casa, Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio, Planeta (Sicily), 2011

Trattoria Gli Amici, Piazza Sant'Egidio 6, Rome; +39 06 5806033

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nonna Betta

Via Gaetano Sacchi, January 24—

MIDDAY DINNER in the Ghetto today, there to have the famous carciofo alla giudia, artichoke Jewish style: blanched, I'm sure; marinated in lemonjuice water, then fried, flattened under a weight — these days, probably cooked in a two-plate griddle. The inside is creamy and tender, the tips of the leaves delightfully crisp.

Afterward I was content with a baccalà — salt cod — with pine nuts and pistachios, a little Jewish, I thought, a little Sicilian. Afterward, a ricotta cheesecake with dried cherries. I liked the lunch well enough, but it's interesting that while this place get considerable notice in English-language outlets (New York Times; TripAdvisor) it doesn't seem to show up in the Italian sites I look at (Gambero Rosso, Osterie d'Italia). What's up with that?

white and red della casa

•Nonna Betta, Via del Portico D'Ottavia, 16, Rome; 349 667 1620

THEN, SUPPER THIS EVENING at home: another pot of home-made minestrone; bread and cheese. I'd bought a good-sized chunk of one of my very favorite cheeses, Castelmagno — a grainy white cow's-milk cheese from Piemonte with a very slight blue veining. I've only seen it in Italy; even there it's not easy to find. I can hardly wait to have a pasta dressed with it one of these days…

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Da Francesco

Via Gaetano Sacchi, Rome; January 23—
IN UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY I tend to ask average-guy sorts of people for restaurant advice. Working-class folks; passersby in their fifties at least; local folks for sure. A dog on a leash is a pretty good indication its owner is a local. An old lady with a shopping bag full of groceries can be a good bet.

Today, near the Piazza Navona, I stepped into a delicatessen sort of place. The guy at the cash register looked like he'd been there since 1953. C'e in vicino una buona trattoria semplice? He looked at me thoughtfully. Semplice, he said carefully, and I saw I'd done well to stipulate a simple trattoria. There are plenty of good trattorias in Rome, and probably even more simple ones: I wanted one that was both.

Around the corner, he said, left out the door, then your first left: Da Francesco.

Said and done. I took a quick look at the menu and put it down immediately, and the waiter was right there. Caccio e pepe, I said, and was rewarded with a quick smile and a ben deciso, "Well decided." The others at table took a little longer, and ordered just as well; but I was in the mood for caccio e pepe, grated Pecorino and black pepper. With Carbonara, it's one of the two Rome standbys: this week and next I'll have one or the other every other day. Or a very near equivalent.

This one was not spaghetti, which of course are long extrusions of pasta with a round cross-section. Alas, I forget the name; it starts with a "T"; next time I see it I'll take note. It looked like a pasta alla chitarra, "guitar style," so called because a sheet of fresh fairly wet pasta used to be laid on a set of tight parallel wire strings, then pressed down with a rolling pin, to cut long strands. The resulting cross-section is not round like spaghetti but square, and the pasta holds its sauce better, I think. (Every pasta shape is engineered for a culinary reason, you know.)

The pasta was not made in house but was, as the waiter said, artisinal. Furthermore it was beautifully cooked, and the Pecorino was well chosen. An apple tart made a fine follow-up.
Bianco della casa, Marino, Azienda Agricola Fabi, 2010

•Da Francesco, Piazza del Fico 29, Rome; 06 686 40 09
Dinner was a plate of polenta and broccoletti, kale-like broccoli leaves, cooked by Giovanna at our granddaughter's apartment. Meals taken with family are the best meals.
Monica, 2010

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fratte di Trastevere

Via Gaetano Sacchi, Rome; January 22, 2013—
WHAT! TWICE TO THE SAME place in one day?

Well, there were extenuating circumstances. We are here in Rome with two sets of friends, R. and M. from Verona; H. and A. from Apeldoorn. The former arrived two days ago; the latter, this afternoon.

We moved the former from our apartment into their hotel this morning. Where to lunch afterward? I asked a woman on the street, obviously a local, bent on her shopping expedition: c'e in vicino una trattoria abbastanze buono? Si, signor, non una strada ma due, dopo alla destra…

So we continued not one street but two, and turned to the right, and found ourselves confronting a seated man, serious-looking, hatted, newspaper in hands. Is the kitchen good here, I asked. Yes, the man answered, It is my wife will cook your meal.

Inside there were many paintings on the walls, some as big as the walls, say four feet — three, anyway — by six or eight. Two or three dining rooms. A maître d' who smiled us without falsity to a table.

I had a quite acceptable spaghetti carbonara, one of the tests of a Roman kitchen; L. had spaghetti caccio e pepe, ditto; a green salad afterward, basta così e grazie.

THEN, TONIGHT, with all four of our friends, back again. Since I'd had pasta for lunch, no pasta tonight: instead, this fine Saltimbocca alla romana, a little gluey, that raw tomato apparently irrelevant and not attempted, but a good meal nonetheless, with a nice artichoke to warm up.
White and red dalla casa

• Alle Fratte di Trastevere, Via delle Fratte di Trastevere, Roma; +

Monday, January 21, 2013

Risotto al radicchio

Via Gaetano Sacchi, Rome, January 21, 2013—
WE CHOSE CARELESSLY today, having just run into a daughter and granddaughter on the Piazza San Cosimato. A curious joint just around the corner seemed to be okay, and we settled down there to a midday pasto — in my case, just a risotto that came, when it did, wrapped in a sort of nest of solid radicchio leaves underneath, shredded radicchio atop. A pretty dish, nicely cooked, though a little over-salty, I thought. House white.
•Mama Eat, Via San Cosimato 7, Rome; 06 5806222
NOTHING NEEDED FOR DINNER, it seemed to me, but a bowl of minestrone, but where to get that? So we made it ourselves, frying up some chunks of zampone, then adding sliced carrot, then the rest of the pre-packed soup mix: celery, pumpkin, tomato, beans, greens; and water; and a clove of garlic. We finished it off with a little oil and pesto, purchased like everything else at a convenent little store around the corner, and it was fine with a couple of slices of good local bread.
Falanghina del Beneventana, 2010

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lamb stew

Via Gaetano Sacchi, Roma, January 20, 2013—
WE'VE BEEN BUSY; I'll catch up tomorrow. Today we dined mid-afternoon at a place we've liked before, a simple trattoria where the lamb stew with piselli leaves you wanting little more than a bowl of fine arugula with good oil and salt. We'll likely be back.

White, then red della casa

•Hostaria del Moro, Vicolo del Cinque 36, Rome; 06 58 09 165

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Le Garage

Loseweg, Apeldoorn, January 16, 2013—
IT'S AS PRETTY a dish as you can ask, I think, a well-made steak tartare, and it was just what I wanted for lunch. Our last lunch in Amsterdam for a while, alas; I like this city, and my cold hasn't let me give it culinary justice — not that I'm complaining: Just look at the last few entries!

Le Garage is a beautiful bistro, with red leather banquettes, polished black chairs, sparkling accents here and there, and polished if, at today's lunch, perhaps once in a while earnestly apprenticing service. (I speak only of the busboy, who was charming.)

The tartare is hand-ground virtually to order, from very nice young beef; it reminded me almost of the uniquely sweet raw veal you can get in Piemonte. It was presented first on a platter encircled by its proper array of condiments: salt, gherkins, mustard, an egg, what am I forgetting; then taken away to a nearby table and expertly mixed, to be brought back on a fresh assiette with a drizzle of balsamico — a bit of re-engineering there, I think, but not inappropriate. It was delicious; I wanted nothing more than the pointed toasts I preferred, this time, to frites.
Champagne; Gamay, Clos St. Fiacre, Orleans, 2011 (fruity and nicely balanced)
•Cafe Restaurant Le Garage, Ruysdaelestraat 54-56, Amsterdam; 020.6797176
AFTER AN EXHAUSTING four-and-a-half-hour train and bus journey owing to deferred track maintenance, we arrived in Apeldoorn only a little hungry, more than a little out of sorts, very much indeed relievedd to be in the home of a couple of dear old friends. Anneke had made chicken soup, which I've been craving for days now; and she followed it with hutspot, a traditional Dutch huisvrouw (is that a word?) wintertime staple involving potatoes, carrots, and onions, all boiled up together, then roughly mashed and served with worst and gravy. Somehow this manages to be both hearty and delicate. We're in the country. In a provincial city; but in the country.
Red wine

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Restaurant As

Van Linschotenstraat, January 15, 2013—

AS MEANS "AXLE", or perhaps "axis," in Dutch, near as I can make out, and also "ace," so there's a bit of a play on words here, in this unique produce-driven restaurant in a circular building in an outlying part of Amsterdam once known, apparently, for whatever reason, as de as. Sander, the chef, did his stint at Chez Panisse, and is dedicated to the idea of sustainability, going as far from time to time as raising not only chickens but even pigs in the side yard.

The pig tonight was not that local. Before we get to it, though, have a look at the first course: skrei — Norwegian river cod. Who knew there were codfish who, like salmon, swim upstream in fresh water to spawn? But here one is, or part of one: the flesh, a sort of granita made of its liver, and a mayonnaise using its roe in place of hen's egg. (The oil, however, is not cod liver oil: I checked. One can go only so far in the interests of culinary exploration. I suffered through cod-liver oil as a child.)

Well, it was a delicious dish. Afterward we had a deliciously revisionist borscht with a generous slice of lardo, and then the fillet of skrei, and then finally the pig, wild boar in this case, served with parsley root; and for dessert a splendid Vacherin Mont d'Or, silky, smooth, and fresh as pasture. A fine succession of courses, well thought out, prepared with finesse, served with pleasure. There are two eating spots in this town, at diametrical ends of an axis running from Barentszstraat to Prinses Irenestraat, and I'm thankful for both.

Roussillon, Le Roc des Anges, 2007: deep, flavorful, very sound, completely mature

•Restaurant As, Prinses Irenestraat 19, Amsterdam; +3120 644 01 00

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cafe de Prins; eating at home

van Linchotenstraat, Amsterdam, January 14, 2013—

Out for an hour's walk today, a very cold day — through these Westelijk Eilanden, then down to Prinzengracht and along that canal to Leidsestraat. Along the way we got too cold to ignore a bit of hunger, so simply dropped into one the first cafe to present itself. It's really more a bar, even something of a bruincafe, an old-fashioned place for drinking beer and spirits, eating pretty much at your risk. Lindsey had a tuna sandwich she said was quite okay; I had gehakte, pretty much a meat-loaf sandwich on white bread, with pickled onions and gherkin, mustard and mayo, and a basket of too many Dutch fries on the side. House red.
• Cafe de Prins, Prinsengracht 124 Amsterdam
We cooked dinner at home, and that was a pleasant change from all these restaurant meals. We bought some organic veal scallopini fillets at Marqt, the Dutch equivalent (though much more to my liking) of America's Whole Foods concept, and a box of bread crumbs, and some little potatoes, and a small tub of arugula, and we had a couple of lemons on hand. Everything else we found in our well-equipped kitchen.

We pounded the veal flatter and dredged it in crumbs, then cooked it fast in a skillet. Lindsey cooked the potatoes our usual way, diced, then boiled with a little oil and salt, then lightly mashed. The arugula was simply dressed with oil and lemon juice. Our dinner guest had brought three delicious pastries from Vlaamsch Broodhuijs (108 Harlemmerstraat), and on the whole we ate very satisfactorily.
Vino rosso d'Italia, "Emozione," Azienda Borgo Passione: okay, light; bought from the local pizzeria

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Worst again

Van Linschotenstraat, Amsterdam, January 13, 2013

TOO COLD TO WALK far; let's just step across the Plein zonder naam (No Name Square) to Worst. There I had brunch this morning: a delicious bowl of white beans with chorizo and peppers. And then tonight this quite delicious little plate: a house-made boudin blanc from Guinea hen, with braised fennel and profoundly rich mushrooms. Ça suffit.
Bourgeuil, Domaine de la Chevalerie, 2009: very nice indeed.

•Worst Wijncafé, Barentszstraat 171, Amsterdam; 020 6256167

Bistro Neuf; Rijsel

Linschotenstraat, Amsterdam, January 11, 2013—

AN INTERESTING WALK down Harlemmerstraat this afternoon, intent on lunch at a bakery Kees likes, only to find it closed for vacation. You take your chances in January. So we dropped into the Bistro Neuf nearby, thinking of onion soup.

Alas, the soup on the three-language menu was Bouillabaisse, translated into both Dutch and English as fish soup in the Marseille style. Now I dearly love Provençal fish soup, with its rouille, Gruyere, and aïoli, but I'm wary of Bouillabaisse: too often it's shrimped up with lobster or crab, which I cannot eat. So I forbear, settling for a croque-monsieur.

I was right: Cynthia's Bouillabaisse smelled of lobster and included mussels and shrimp. My croque-monsieur was too buttery, I thought, and everything on my plate seemed a little sandy — a fault I'd noticed in the complimentary bigoudins, periwinkles we dug out of their shells with pins, reminding me of a long-ago meal off the Breton coast. Maybe their sand had stayed with me: Lindsey'd abstained from them, and found nothing wrong with her shrimp croquettes in cream sauce.
Cotes de Rhone, La Ferme du Mont, 2010

Bistrot Neuf, Haarlemmerstraat 9, Amsterdam; 020 400 32 10

RIJSEL IS THE FLEMISH name for the northern France city the French (and most of the rest of us) call Lille, today — from what I've heard — an up-to-date University center with a thriving hip energy, perhaps something like the Montpellier of the north, but in the past a grungy industrial-and-agriculture center.

That's the city Rijsel. The restaurant Rijsel is a high-energy brasserie, not expensive though offering a fine if small list of wines, in rather a Gorkylike worker's-cafeteria setting, where we sit at long tables shared with others, under the high ceilings and within the plain decor of a former public school.

Here You get a three-course dinner for €31.50, with three choices for each course. I had a poached egg (very beatifully poached, by the way) with watercress and mayonnaise; onglet in Bordelaise sauce; and — well, I drank my dessert.

This is one of my favorite spots now, certainly one of the Hundred Restaurants. Of course I may be slightly swayed by the delicious sequence of wines we had, starting with a complimentary glass of Champagne (Ch. de Passavant, bio) and ending with a decent Armagnac. Along the way,
Arbois, Melon le Rouge-Queue, 2008: beautiful color and body, fine aroma and deep flavor); Pommard, Clos des Epenaux, Comte Armind, 2007 (rich, reserved, fine)

Rijsel Rotisserie, Marcusstraat 52, Amsterdam; 020-4632 142; closed Sunday

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Linschotenstraat, Amsterdam, January 10, 2013—

SINCE WE WERE LAST here, last February, this favorite restaurant of our has changed quite a bit: it's bigger, with more tables; and the kitchen is bigger as well. And with the opening of Worst next door, the sausage restaurant I told you about yesterday, the proprietor Kees Elfring has stepped more often out of the kitchen, though he keeps a close eye on things. (In fact, I think the role of trainer-of-chefs is perhaps more significant in the long run than that of daily head chef, and I'm glad he devotes his energies to it.)

He did cook tonight's dinner, though, which we ate in such a daze of conversation, memory-sharing, fatigue, jet-lag and this damned cold that I can hardly reconstruct the meal for you. We began, as always, with olives and salume and a glass of Lillet, and then went on to our four-course table d'hote dinner.

I asked for a substitute for the langoustine on the first course, for I don't process such animals well. Too bad, as they were served raw, delightfully sweet little things I was told, fresh from the Dutch Waddensee off the Frisian coast. Instead I had vitello tonnato, a dish I particularly like, very nicely done.

Next came skate wing with squid ragout and vegetables, rich and delicate, with lots of lovely chanterelles; and then a very generous plate (see photo): slow-roasted pork shoulder, also with vegetables: cavolonero, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms: for Kees prides himself on his savvy with groentjes, traditionally a staple of the Dutch table.

We skipped the cheese course, having lunched at home on bread and Gruyère, and went straight to a pear walnut cake, a fragrant and substantial dish lightened with house-made vanilla ice cream, as beautifully balanced a dessert as I've had in weeks, perhaps months.
Gewurtztraminer Riesling, Eisacktaler (Alto Adige), 2011: sound, a little reserved but generous, supple; Cotes du Rhone, Domaine Chapolon (Rochegud), 2009: very serious and deep, beautiful flavor

•Marius, Barentszstraat 173, Amsterdam; 020 422 7880
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Worst (Wijncafé)

Van Linschotenstraat, Amsterdam, January 9, 2013

OUR FIRST TWO MEALS have been in this new (to us) wijncafé, a place that offers fine espressos and carefully selected cider and beers but which is really all about an intelligent offering of wines and charcuterie, worst being Dutch for "sausage."

Disclosure: The owner-proprieter of Worst is our old friend and honorary kid-brother-or-nephew Kees Elfring, who did two stints on the line at Chez Panisse, and has since opened two of our favorite restaurants, the late lamented Het Pomphuis in Ede and the still very much alive Marius here in Amsterdam.

In fact, Worst and Marius are neighbors, and share the wine room you see in the photo above, and a good deal more, beginning with expertise.

We landed at Schiphol this morning, and by the time we'd bought a telephone SIM chip and taken the train into the city, and relaxed a bit over a pot of tea, it was time to settle our travel-jostled innards with a bit of something. That turned out to be a rosy, delicate, slightly loose finocchiona, I would say, with a chunk of delicious Gouda aged carefully in the authentic manner, without the tight-fitting plastic shirt the authorities now require in this microbe-obsessed country. Kees has found someone who actually drives well selected cheeses south a few kilometers to France, where it's still legal to prepare foodstuffs authentically; there he ages them, then carefully wraps them in the appointed new Dutch manner, in plastic, and takes them back to Netherlands — where, once you've bought one, you're perfectly free to remove the plastic and return the cheese to its rightful place.

The result is delicious and takes you back twenty years.

Dinner was a bit more ambitions. I had, well, let's see, five plates of charcuterie: Bresaola with grilled radiccho (a splendid combination); veal-cheek sausage with marrow and gremolata (deep and satisfying); partridge sausage with root vegetables; mild and delicate Dutch sausage with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut; and kummelcrostino with soft, excelent lardo, fennel, and shaved Parmesan cheese. The meats were clearly sound and authentic, carefully selected and lovingly served, and we came away pleased and rather excited about this newish venture by a familiar and utterly reliable (not to say gifted and committed) chef.

Rouge d'Oc, Terrà Lisa, 2009 (fruity and generous if a little light); Tempranillo, Gran Cerdo, 2010 (deep, rich, and fulfilled); Calvados, Henri de Querville. (At home, a drop of Fernet Branca.)

•Worst Wijncafé, Barentszstraat 171, Amsterdam; 020.6256167; 4pm-midnight Tuesday-Saturday, 10-10 Sunday

Monday, January 7, 2013

Finishing the rillettes

Eastside Road, January 7, 2013—
HERE YOU SEE today's lunch: we probably won't have dinner, since we're spending a couple of hours on the bus at dinner time, en route to Oakland. Nor will we eat particularly well tomorrow. But, ah, Wednesday evening! In a favorite restaurant…
orange juice

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Eastside Road, January 6, 2013—
HOMINY DIDN'T ENTER my life until I was nine years old, I'm pretty sure. It was then, in 1944, that we drove out highway 66 to Oklahoma, there to spend a year with my grandmother, following the death of her third husband. (She had bad luck with husbands, and deserved much better.)

So I generally associate hominy with Oklahoma and points between. Taos; Albuquerque; Flagstaff. Second Mesa, Arizona, especially, where you can get that wonderful Hopi lamb stew with posole. I like hominy. When I was a kid, after we got back to California from that benighted year in Oklahoma, Mom used to warm up canned hominy, white as snow; we ate it with garlic salt and Eagle chile powder sprinkled on it, and maybe a little hot sauce of some kind. Hominy always has a faint taste of alkali to me, and reminds me of the soapy smell of the community laundry in Welch, Oklahoma, where Grandma washed our clothes in a community Maytag with soap made, I'm sure, in someone's kitchen, all lye and fat, and the suds were tight and grey, and the clothes never really clean, but always smelling of laundry.

Well: I digress. Down the hill to the neighbors' house today for Twelfth Night: A big pot of posole; tortillas toasted in the flames; shredded cabbage and cilantro and thin-sliced radish to strew on top. Gee, it was good. Before, guacamole two ways, Meadow's and mine. After, eggnog, Lindsey's way, with rum and bourbon, eggs and cream. Delicious. Tomorrow perhaps we fast.
Red blend, "L. Preston," Preston of Dry Creek, 2010

Another grilled cheese

Eastside Road, January 5, 2013—
I WROTE ABOUT OUR grill here the other day, when Lindsey made grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. Here's a photo. I thought she heated the two pans separately, that's how I do it, but she's smarter than me, and a long sight more frugal: she nests the pans, just like this, and gets them good and hot.

done.jpgThen the sandwiches, already made go into the big pan, and the smaller pan is set on top, to grill the top slices of bread, and compress the sandwiches a bit.

The sandwiches are simply slices of gruyère between slices of bread. Our bakery is closed this week for its annual repose, and Acme's an hour's drive and then some away. We made do tonight with Artisan bread from Santa Rosa, and I must say I prefer the bread I'm accustomed to, perhaps only for that very reason… but perhaps not.

Oh well. With the sandwiches, soy beans from the freezer, raw carrot, a good green salad.
Red blend, "L. Preston," Preston of Dry Creek, nv

Friday, January 4, 2013

Bœuf Daube

Eastside Road, January 4, 2013—
SO WAS IT CALLED: Bœuf Daube, which to me is a very special dish. I cook it every three or four years, always from a recipe in a book I'm too lazy to look for at the moment, an old Provençal cookbook. It requires beef, of course, and aromatics: carrot, onion, bay leaf, thyme. And other things I can't recall just now. And it has to be stewed very slowly in a special pot, a daubière, a rather narrow for its height ceramic pot with a lid that can be started on the fire, then moved into the oven, though I've never been brave enough actually to start it on the fire.

Well, tonight's version, in a bistro-restaurant that regularly features such diverse items as crèpes, cassoulet, lamb shanks, and, yes, bœuf daube, was not quite completely authentic. There were no aromatics to notice: no carrots, no onions. I didn't taste thyme. Most of all I missed the single most identifying characteristic of une vraie daube: the wide slice of orange zest that must go into the pot along with — now I remember — cloves.

And yet,and yet… it was a very pleasing meal, sound, flavorful, relaxed, nourishing. I began with a butter-lettuce salad with very thin slices of radish and, on top, toasted scraps of crêpe, because this place bills itself as a Breton bistro. (So why a daube?) Then the plat principal, the daube: more like a pot roast, I thought, but a generous serving of sound-tasting beef on a bed of spinach, with a couple of nicely roasted potatoes on the side. I didn't feel the need for dessert.
Coteaux du Languedoc: Picpoul de Pinet, 2011 (citric,focussed, fresh);
Rhone: Little James' Basket Press, NV (forward, fruity, typical cheap rather sweet very nice French table wine)
• Bistro 29, 620 Fifth Street, Santa Rosa; 707 546-2929

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Eastside Road, January 2, 2013—
OVER THERE TO THE LEFT (depending on your browser, of course) you see grilled cheese sandwiches, raw carrots, and a couple of little baked potatoes. One raw, two cooked, different techniques. A nice little survey for a first after-a-series-of-feasts light supper, with one touch of decadence, hinted at in the title above.

The carrots, of course, are simply scrubbed and cut lengthwise. Since they're good small fresh carrots they need absolutely nothing, not even salt — though they were helped a bit by that barely visible stain of something on the plate at the center of the photo. (Depending on your browser and monitor, of course.)

Lindsey put slices of Gruyère between slices of bread, buttered them slightly on the outsides, and grilled them between two black iron frying pans. You pre-heat both, on the range; then put the sandwiches in the larger one and set the smaller one on top. Who needs a fancy electric grill?

(The bread is Acme's "Edible Schoolyard" bread, whole wheat, pumpernickel, honey and salt, a delicious bread with a dense grain.)

The potatoes were "baked" in a little electric toaster oven we use for such things. I don't know which is more efficient, that oven or firing up our gas oven, much too large for the job.

The decadence is goose fat. There were a few scraps of the Christmas goose in one of the pots, and I rendered them out in a little enameled iron saucepan, set on our wood heating-stove, over a few days. I like the fragrance. You simply add a little water to the scraps and let it cook very slowly. At the end, you'll hear sizzling: either add a little more water and continue the process, or toss the whole thing out, or — as I do — spread the cooked goose rillettes on toast and pour the little bit of hot goose fat onto your baked potato. If some of the carrots pick up a little, no problem. You can get every bit of this heavenly stuff off your plate with the last of the grilled cheese sandwich.

Red blend, "L. Preston," Preston of Dry Creek, nv

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Day

Eastside Road, January 1, 2013—
FIRST MEAL OF THE YEAR: Breakfast out, at the first place Open Table could find for us open on this holiday. The menu offered brunch, of course; not one of my favorite meals, beset with mimosas and Bloody Marys and such, and crab and lobster and sausage; all either forbidden my stomach or not quite right for the time of day. (Not to mention following a week of rich food.)

So I settled for good old bacon and eggs — two eggs over easy, is how I like them. They came with roast potatoes, fine; and the irrelevant slice of watermelon, slice of orange on the peel, and two or three strawberries. I've never understood the point of these fruit garnishes, but I dutifully eat them, all but the strawberries. I know where they likely come from, and set them aside.

• Skates on the Bay, 100 Seawall Drive, Berkeley; (510) 549-1900THAT, OF COURSE, was Principle Meal of the Day. Once home, we were content with leftover buttered barley, standing in for the traditional Hopping John, and a green salad, and ice cream with hot applesauce.

Primitivo, Grifone, Puglia, 2010


Oakland, January 1, 2013—
FOR NEARLY FORTY YEARS now — the exact number was one of the items of conversation — we have spent New Year's Eve with another couple, two of our oldest friends as you might imagine, odd-numbered years in our home, even-numbered years in theirs.

Yesterday, then, we drove down to San Francisco, there to see two marvelous exhibitions: Richard Diebenkorn at the Crown Point Press gallery; Jay De Feo at SFMOMA. (Perhaps I'll have something to say about those shows over at The Eastside View.)

Then it was on to our friends' home in the Oakland hills: French onion soup, rich and deep; roast leg of lamb, simple and succulent; roast fingerling potatoes, cauliflower. New York style cheesecake with Champagne, and the New Year — Happy New Year to you all! Buon Capodanno!

Cabernet Sauvignon, Whitehall Lane (Napa), 2008: rich, balanced, fruity, mature