Friday, May 31, 2013


Eastside Road, May 31, 2013—
VARIOUS TYPES OF PILAF: Rice, of course — apparently the only authentic pilaf involves rice:
The English term pilaf is borrowed directly from the Turkish, pilav, which in turn comes from (Classical) Persian polow (پلو), and ultimately derives from Sanskrit pulāka- (पुलाक), "lump of boiled rice".
(Not to offend any visiting Polish readers, I wonder if that's also the etymology of the derogatory "Polack".)

Well, my aversion to rice is fairly well known by now. There are exceptions, of course: a good risotto is a favorite dinner of mine, and even the time-honored rice salad can be nice on a hot summer day, if you don't have something better, like a Niçoise, to mention only one.

In general, though, I prefer pilafs made with wheat or farro or, as we had tonight, barley. Cook makes this every now and then; it's a stock item in her repertoire, and I love it: barley cooked in salted water, browned butter and chopped scallions and black pepper added at the end to flavor it. It's not even cooked in stock, so technically I suppose it's twice removed from pilaf. Still, that's what I call it. Buttered barley pilaf. Green salad afterward.
Grenache blanc, Preston of Dry Creek, 2010: the wrong wine for the dish — a light red would have been better — but we had to finish the bottle.


Eastside Road, May 30, 2013—
WE DON'T EAT enough fish, and that's all there is to it. In some self-justification I point out that we had for years a nearby fishmonger as reliable as they come. Then, fifteen years ago or so, we moved from Berkeley up here to the country, and rather than trouble to find an equally reliable local source — apart from Dave, of course, the fisherman whose salmon we buy almost every Saturday — I prefer to sit around lamenting the distance of Paul Johnson's remarkable shop.

Of course there's always canned fish. Fish is one of the few things I think cans remarkably well, like tomato sauce and, Proserpine save me, spinach. The other day we chanced upon a nice little health-food market, I guess you'd call it, on Ashby Avenue in Berkeley, and I stood admiring its rows of canned tuna, anchovies, and sardines. Just in time I remembered we're already pretty well stocked, and forbore the purchase.

That must have been in Cook's mind too, for tonight she said Let's just have tuna sandwiches and a salad, all right?, and I said Yes of course; one doesn't gainsay Cook. And that's what we did: canned Ortiz thon blanc, mixed with a little mayo and chopped onion, between slices of Acme whole-wheat levain, "grilled" between two hot black iron pans. Guacamole first, to be sure; green salad afterward.

"We'll never do that again!" : Preston of Dry Creek's delicious Grenache blanc, 2010, and I hope they do do it again!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Beer and food

Mill Valley, May 29, 2013—
EARLIER THIS YEAR I made a mental note to self: Try to learn a bit about beers this year. The immediate inspiration was hearing about an Ale made by a fan of Chez Panisse and named for that restaurant with its cheerful permission. Then too, so many people seem so dedicated to beers these days, and so many well-respected microbreweries have sprung up hereabouts, it seemed only reasonable to explore the subject.

But I must admit I've fallen down on the job. I did have a glass or two of Chez Panisse Ale last week, when I was a bit off my feed — bubbles and fermented things seem to be what I want in such thankfully rare moments. It seemed bright, clean, engaging, a little fruity.

Then tonight we find ourselves at another local brewery, having dinner with a friend. I tried two of the house drafts: Sweetwater Kölsch, a light, lager-like, clean, very pleasant ale; and Westfalia, described on the menu as ienna malt & saphir hops lead this malty nuremberg rothier inspired ale": to me it was bland, sweet, and bulky; I didn't quite finish it.

The food, though, was very nice indeed. We started with a dish of pickled vegetables: sliced carrot, cauliflower flowerets, and green asparagus tips in a dill-flavored pickle. Then came grilled artichokes, three or four pieces cut from a large globe choke, with anchovies, pesto, toasted pistachios, and lemon zest.

My main course was fettucine with fresh anchovies, garlic, basil, and black pepper, and if it wasn't quite up to the considerable level of the preceding dishes, still it was quite good. Only the dark chocolate tart, confused by its thin glaze of rhubarb compote, seemed a bit of a let-down toward the end.
Vermentino, Matthiasson "Tendu" (Yolo county), 2012: a weird Vermentino, tasting of apples, and quite sparkling
• Mill Valley Beerworks, 173 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley, California; (415) 888-8218

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Holiday feast

Eastside Road, May 27, 2013—
FRIENDS UP FOR DINNER, and it never hurts that they're chefs themselves, and help so much they virtually do the cooking and we just assist. Here, for example, you have Lindsey's potato salad with steamed potatoes, favas, and scallions; my grilled onion, simply peeled, quartered with the roots left on, and set under the broiler; Curt's broiled salmon, enhanced by the simple trick of scoring the skin and flavoring with summer savory; and steamed asparagus.

We had the green salad afterward, of course, its vinaigrette my responsibility but its vinegar's Alta's, quince-inoculated.

peachshortcake.jpgAnd then Lindsey's peach shortcake, with a drop-biscuit type cake and peeled, sliced peaches from Dry Creek, first of the season for us, and absolutely delicious.
Rosé, Domaine de la Fontsainte, 2012; cheap Pinot grigio; Savigny-les-Beaune, Domaine Pierre Guillemot, 2008 (there's a story behind this one, but too complicated to tell here: meanwhile, thanks, Kendall and Kermit)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Out and about

Eastside Road, May 26, 2013—
SUCH NICE VISITS with friends yesterday and today, hardly time to write about it. Last night to friends in Dry Creek Valley, who invited us and two other couples (one a mother-daughter couple) to dinner. That's Susan's pantry over there on the left, a small part of it; and all those little jars are filled with spices, most of them spices I've never heard of. And she knows how to use them.

The minute we stepped into the house we were met by a marvelous fragrance from the kitchen, where a tagine was simmering. Lamb, cumin, clove, yes, I could identify a number of the components: but the most important component eluded me. Sumac, Susan said.

I know sumac only as one of the three words in the English language in which an initial su-
is given an sh sound. Oh: and poison sumac, of course, a shrub I've never given much thought to, as it thankfully hasn't moved out here to California yet. (Turns out poison oak is a member of the same genus, Rhus, which comprises scores of plants.)

But culinary sumac, the powdered dried reddish drupes of the plant, was unknown to me until yesterday. I've made, from one of Paula Wolfert's excellent Mediterranean books, a marvelous tagine that required half a dozen different spices, all of which I methodically ground up for the dish, but I'm pretty sure sumac wasn't among them. It adds a pungent, deep, rather earthy, uniquely bodied note to the dish, at least in Susan's kitchen, and spooned out onto a pilaf it made a fabulous meal, with brightly glazed sautéed carrots on the side, and a green salad afterward.
Sauvignon blanc; Zinfandel; Petit Syrah, all Preston of Dry Creek, all 2011, all very delicious and very much my kind of wine. Thanks, Lou!

spread.jpgTHEN THIS AFTERNOON, after a pleasant four-miler in the nearby hills in the morning, we gathered at the nearby home of another couple of friends, where a feast of colors and textures was waiting for us — a sandwich kit. I settled, rather conservatively, on a BLT: nice crisp bacon, equally crisp Romaine leaves, and a good, flavorful tomato, with pesto rather than the usual mayonnaise. I should have gone back for more, and I did manage to sample a little of our hostess's pulled pork — nice. But it was too easy simply to sit in the sun on the deck, and converse languidly with bright, interesting people I hadn't met before, and have a glass or two of a delicious Zinfandel made from Dry Creek grapes by one of the guests, who has a few acres of vines…

Thanks, kids, an excellent afternoon under a magnificent live oak, with the muted singing of donkeys from a neighbor's paddock blending with it all…

Friday, May 24, 2013

Encore de la soupe

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

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!

Monday, May 20, 2013


Oakland, California, May 20, 2013—
A SHORT HIKE, an hour's drive, an interesting and moving memorial concert, and dinner out with a couple of old friends: a perfect Sunday.

Dinner was at what some review publications call "a neighborhood gem" in an off-center activity spot in the Oakland hills. We'd been there before, shortly after it opened, and I remembered it as having quite a good pizza station.

When we got there, though, a little after six, I was hungry and wanted a meal. We started out sharing a plate of ahi, served raw with slices of delicious dill pickle and radish and little dollops of aïoli, nicely seasoned with a particularly tasty sea-salt.

Alas, the pork shoulder that looked so good on the menu was not available, so I made do with a pork chop "Milanese." That usually means boned, flattened, and breaded, in my experience — what the Austrians call schnitzel. This was an enormous chop on the bone, though; breaded, it's true, and very nicely cooked. It was served atop a warm potato salad, and strewn with pea tenrils and narrow-leaf arugula. (Henceforth I refuse to call such arugula "wild": it's just as farmed as any other.)

Double alas: the spinach promised by the spring menu — "Savoyed," though it sounds more like the Veneto to me , with its pine nuts and golden raisins — was also not available. Well, it's Sunday: the waiter explained the farmers hadn't been able to make their deliveries for some reason. We did okay.

Dessert: a nicely baked chocolate pudding-cake with chocolate Straus ice cream on top. Not bad.
Cortese, Castelvero (Piemonte), 2011: a little bland and disappointing. Negroamaro, Marmorelle (Salento), 2010: nice, interesting.
Marzano, 4214 Park Boulevard, Oakland; (510) 531-4500

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Back to our routine

Eastside Road, May 18, 2013—
OUR LOCAL FARM MARKET opened for the season two or three weeks ago, but we'd been on the road those Saturday mornings, and unable to attend. This morning we were there. So was Nancy Skall, whose asparagus you see; and Lou Preston, who provided the spring onion; and Dave — or, rather, his daughter: Dave was out on the sea, fishing. He'd caught this salmon yesterday. Delicious.

IMG_7997.jpgWe began with guacamole, made from Jim Churchill's avocados, which we picked up in Ojai ten days ago or so. And with radish, cilantro, lime skin and juice, an habañera pepper, and a shallot. Delicious.

Dessert: a bowl of Lou's strawberries.
Cheap Pinot grigio

Friday, May 17, 2013

Another artichoke, another salad

Eastside Road, May 17, 2013—
TWO MORE ARTICHOKES cut from the plant today, Globe artichokes this time — and another two tiny artichokes left behind, which we'll no doubt eat in a week or ten days.

We simply soak them in salted water for an hour or so, and then Lindsey cuts them in half as you see here, and steams them an hour or so.

That was the first course, with a bit of mayonnaise. Then we had sardine sandwiches, on good Ciabatta from Acme Bread in Berkeley, because we'd driven down there again this morning. Ciabatta is my favorite bread for such a sandwich; its texture and flavor, when well made (as it is here), seems perfect for any kind of oily filler.

And then a bowl of mâche, dressed with vinaigrette made, again, with Alta's delicious quince vinegar. And for dessert, an apple, a Pixie tangerine, a square or two of chocolate…
Cheap Pinot grigio

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Artichoke; salad

Eastside Road, May 16, 2013—
VEGETARIAN TODAY, for no particular reason. Yesterday fast; today vegetarian. It can't hurt.

Especially when, after a couple of soft sweet artichokes from the garden, simply steamed until tender and eaten with lemon-juice-thinned mayonnaise, we have a green salad like this one.

And, in all truth, this is not an exceptional green salad; it's the usual one we eat nearly every evening. Locally farmed lettuces, and local garlic in the vinaigrette, made tonight with Alta's delicious quince vinegar. (There's a big set on our fruit trees just now: if it holds, I have to make quince vinegar this fall!)
Cheap Pinot grigio

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Twice in Berkeley

Berkeley, May 14, 2013—
LUNCH WITH ANN TODAY at a favorite place of hers, and one we neglect — it just seems to be off our track. My smoked-trout salad took me back to early days at Chez Panisse, forty years ago: frisée, radicchio, flaky strips of trout lightly smoked in house.

(Cafe Rouge boasts a fine retail meat counter we too often neglect, too: in addition to this trout, the roast porchetta looked irresistible.)

Dessert: Brioche bread pudding, a little bland I thought, but flavored with cherries, grappa, and whipped cream: nice and summery.
• Café Rouge, 1782 Fourth Street, Berkeley; (510) 525-1440
Then an early supper at a place new to us, with friends from Chez Panisse. Seven of us at table, and much sharing of things — not my favorite sort of meal; in fact, not really an integrated meal, more a sort of grazing. But fun, rather like racing across a new country to find out what parts you want to go back to to really explore in depth.

Trouble was, just about everything was really good, really worth exploring in depth. We'll return. In the meantime:
Jicama & cucumber chile arbol & lime
Guacamole w/ chips & 3 salsas
Tlayuda: Smashed garbanzo beans, potatoes, quesillo, wild nettles
Enchilada: Heritage pork, mole coloradito, crema
Tamal: Fulton Valley chicken, mole negro
Roasted organic turkey trio of moles, braised collard greens
Artichokes and potatoes “estofado” serrano chile, epazote
Mixed baby lettuces radish, herbs, sherry vinaigrette
Midnight black beans de olla
Achiote rice
You get the idea. I'm told the Margaritas were delicious. Downtown Shattuck Avenue is definitely on an upswing: Comal felt like a Portland restaurant.
Rosé, Arnot-Roberts (Healdsburg), 2012: fresh, sound, pleasant
• Comal, 2020 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; (510) 926.6300

Monday, May 13, 2013

Home again

Eastside Road, May 13, 2013—
FOR DINNER, SIMPLY a fried-egg sandwich and a green salad.

I remember the fried-egg sandwiches I packed in my lunchbox when I was in sixth and seventh grades. Mom made the bread, which began full of holes when the yeast was new, and got denser and denser until the slice wasn't much bigger than the cross-section of a two-by-six. The egg, of course, was cold and clammy.

Tonight's was considerably better, fried in butter, served on Como bread from the Downtown Bakery.
Cheap Provençal rosé

Sunday, May 12, 2013


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

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Pasadena, California, May 11, 2013—
OUR FIFTY-SIXTH wedding anniversary today: a day for a quiet dinner, just the two of us, in a nice comfortable familiar restaurant. Well, that's not all that easy. The restaurants with interesting menus these days, at least the ones we know down in these parts, are anything but romantic: big, loud, trendy.

There are plenty of old-fashioned romantic places, I'm sure — dimly lit, hushed, discreet. But they're full of old people, when they're full, and their menus run to the tired "continental" repertoire. Phooey.

We wound up at a place we've been to on a number of previous visits. It's a neighborhood spot, but its chef is serious and enterprising. Alas, like every other restaurant, it has helpfully kept up with our declining aural sensitivity by somehow increasing the noise level. On the other hand it keeps the light level flatteringly dim: I was unable to make a single photograph good enough to publish even here, and Niépce knows I've put plenty of poor photos here.

We opened with a glass of bubbly and the field-greens salad, with tangerine sections to remind us we were in Southern California, and white truffle oil to remind us we were eating upscale — but, in fact, a nice vinaigrette for greens that included everything from mizuma to mâche.

Then on to beef cheeks. Dark as sin, braised eight hours in a greatly reduced veal stock, the meat was intense and rich; I couldn't have eaten another bite. The potato purée was smooth and rather delicately flavored; the chard was deep, just short of bitter. It all seemed perfectly appropriate to an anniversary; we didn't need or desire dessert.
Cava, Campos de la Estrella (Spain); Pinot noir, Sean Minor (Carneros), 2011
Bashan, 3459 N Verdugo Road, Glendale, (818) 541-1532

Friday, May 10, 2013


Pasadena, May 10, 2013—
THIS, OF COURSE, is not what Fegato alla veneziana should look like, not at all. Mashed potatoes have no place at all on the plate: there should be polenta. Onions should have been sautéed with a bit of wine, and should be more apparent — not a bit of onion marmalade hidden under the meat: onions have pride of place here too.

Most of all, the liver should be cut into strips, all the same width and depth, and then cut to length, again all of a size. And they should be sautéed quickly, retaining a nice rosy color inside. Barely cooked, in other words.

Sorry: didn't mean to shout. It's just that I do feel strongly about some things. And then, the place was so promising at first. Right after the menus we were brought bread — the olive oil was already on the table — and then, soon after, a little bowl of fregole, little semolina pasta beads, beautifully flavored with garlic, parsely, celery, and pepper.

It's true that I did have to ask for the wine list, and the waiter seemed surprised that I wanted it. But we found some nice wines on it.

The menu, too, offered a number of interesting choices; it wasn't that easy to narrow them down. But I quickly made up my mind: braised artichokes served en casserole; then my fegato veneziano, one of my very favorite dishes.

The artichokes were pretty good, I must say, though they'd gone a bit mushier than I like them, and it was only 5:30 when we sat down to eat. When the fegato came, though, I had no fork. I raised my hand; I made eye contact with three waiters and two bussers; nothing came of it. I finally asked the diner at the next table if I could have one of his, that he seemed not to be using.

Same thing with my second glass of wine. I asked two waiters and a busser before it finally came. The liver, of course, had lost much of its warmth, though thank the fates it had been put on a fairly warm plate. It was overdone, of course, though I'd asked for it pink inside.

Dessert was billed as torta di Nonna with pine nuts, and turned out to be a sort of clafoutis with pine nuts, a ball of quite nice vanilla ice cream, and irrelevant garnish.

The restaurant's website opens with a delicious piece of prose that belongs in a novel (and may wind up in one)
The square, the church, and the Osteria. In the past, those were the meeting places of Italian people, in small towns and in the cities' suburbs. Places where the rich and the poor used to sit close, where the cultured and the uninstructed could find a way to communicate, sometimes — in the Osteria — around a table, with a pack of playing cards and a carafe of wine.
But this is not a place where anyone, cultured or uninstructed, would want to linger. The room is attractive in its modern European way, but not homey. Only the stray talk over cutlery borrowed between tables, and the well-behaved animation of a couple of small children, seemed to me to bring much warmth and vivacity to the place.
Arneis, Giovanni Almondo "Vigne Sparse," Roero (Piemonte), 2011; Valpolicella, Ca' de Rocchi "Monterè Corvina," 2010
Angelini Osteria, 7313 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles; 323-297-0070

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Khash-khash Kebab

East Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, May 9, 2013—
HERE WE ARE in Pasadena again, visiting A Noise Within to see theater, and wondering where to eat a midday supper before the first of three plays. I asked Mr. Google, and he suggested a place in the next block, the highest scoring joint in town from sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon.

It turned out to feature Lebanese cuisine cooked by Armenians, and I have to say it was very tasty indeed. I had this plate of Khash-khash: ground lamb and beef mixed with plenty of garlic, served on a bed of stewed tomatos, with Antaki bread: pita stuffed with onion, parsley, pepper, and spices, folded and cooked on the griddle.

The meat was a rather loose sausage, nicely flavored and expertly grilled. The hummus was made in house, like everything else here, and the tabboule was one of the best I've tasted. We'll likely return.
Cabernet sauvignon, Fetzer (the only red on the list)
• Sahara Café, 2226 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena; (626) 795-6900


Ojai, May 8, 2013—
DINNER TONIGHT IN THE Hotel Churchill, as I call it, really the home of friends in this little corner of paradise. The friends are farmers, and two other friends of theirs joined us at table, also farmhands, and we always relax here, with fast and funny conversation, in total trust as to the provender.

Lisa steamed a batch of nice fresh artichokes; Jim squeezed lemon juice into the mayonnaise, and grilled the chicken. What succulent chicken! They'd marinated it overnight after smoking it in their Little Chief; then Jim grilled it at a furiously high temperature — smoke billowing out from the barbecue hood — making a sort of glaze on the skin that was really quite delicious. Rice pilaf on the side, as you see, and a tossed green salad afterward. I could eat like this every day.
Cava, Albero (Spain), nv, okay; Côtes du Rhône, Famille Perrin, 2010, rather nice

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Back on the road

Berkeley, May 7, 2013—
LUNCH TODAY AT A PLACE we've been hearing a lot about, in a bright, airy room in a corner of the old Swan's Market in Oakland. It made me think of the old Sarah's Southern Gourmet, and Lois the Pie Queen, down-home soul-food restaurants we went to occasionally fifty-odd years ago in Berkeley.

Miss Ollie's is a little more sophisticated, though. We all are: that's what half a century can do for you. Miss Ollie was the chef-owner's grandmother, as I understand it, and her photo hangs proudly next to one of Edna Lewis, who — with her protégé Scott Peacock — brought soul food calling on cosmopolitan cuisine, with stunning results.

Lunch wasn't exactly soul food. In fact, I was transported to Papeete, not Mobile or Jackson. That was partly due to the salad, which involved mango, hearts of palm, and avocado, along with lettuces, of course, and — rather surprisingly, but very successfully — pickled vegetables and olives. It was dressed with coconut vinegar, I think. I eat mango so rarely, it always takes me back to Tahiti where I first tasted good ones. (With memories like that, why bother tasting mediocre ones?)

Our fried chicken came with sautéed banana, yuca, and a delicious grated-carrot-and-pot-greens combination. The chicken itself was generously coated with a very light batter and fried just right in, I'm sure of it, palm or coconut oil. I don't know what you call this cuisine, other than wonderful. We'll be back.
Assyrtiko, Atlantis (Santorini), ?2011: very pleasant, fresh, balanced, soft, crisp
• Miss Ollie's, 901 Washington St, Oakland, California; (510) 285-6188
steak.jpgDINNER WAS ACROSS the bay in San Francisco in what you might call an upscale trattoria, the casual little brother of a more ambitious Italian restaurant next door. Here I opened with another salad, arugula and Parmesan with a few lettuce leaves thrown in, nicely dressed.

There were a good many very interesting things on the menu, but I wasn't in the mood to go exploring. I settled for this flatiron steak, nicely grilled and salted, on a bed of arugula, with grilled asparagus on the side, the whole thing drizzled with an anchovy vinaigrette. It was a delicious dish, and if the place weren't so infernally loud it would have been a marvelous evening.
Pigato, Cascina Feipu dei Massaratti (Liguria), 2010: modest, pleasant, clean;
Barbera/Dolcetto, Cascina degli Ulivi (Piemonte), 2010: rich, deep, nicely blended, going a little woody at the end
• Barbacco Eno Trattoria, 220 California Street, San Francisco; 415.955.1919

Monday, May 6, 2013

New Orleans ; dinner with Donna

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, May 3, 2013

That bean salad

Eastside Road, May 3, 2013—
THIS IS THAT SALAD: white beans, canned tuna, chopped onion; fresh marjoram, parsley, and savory from the garden; olive oil, salt. You cook the beans, then you add the other things, in the right proportions. It's pretty hard to go wrong, I think.

Green salad afterward.
Cheap Pinot grigio

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Eastside Road, May 2, 2013—
HOW EASILY WE forget: but then, when we're in one place, we're no longer in the other…

For two weeks in January, in Rome, I had artichokes nearly every day. I thought I'd never forget those wonderful artichokes, and could hardly wait to get home to our own.

Then came nearly a month in Spain and Portugal, and the new obsession was bacalhao. All thoughts of artichokes completely disappeared. When we got home, the artichoke plants looked like foreign objects, imposing but a little weird, and certainly demanding.

Today we had the first three of them, one violet, two globes. I simply cut them in half lengthwise after trimming them, rubbed them with lemon juice, and simmered them in salted water to cover, with the halved lemon keeping them company.

Lindsey added a bit of lemon juice to some mayonnaise — she buys it in tubes when we're in The Netherlands, Zaanse mayonnaise, very nice stuff. And that was that. Next time, in a couple of days, we'll have a few small ones, probably browned with garlic in olive oil. Close to alla giudia, perhaps.

Also on tonight's menu: delicious white bean and tuna and onion salad, and then the green salad, with lemon juice rather than the usual vinegar in the vinaigrette. And a bowl of applesauce, because we've got to start emptying the Mason jars, looks like a good fruit set again this year…
Cheap Pinot grigio

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Three Squares

Santa Rosa, California, April 30, 2013—
A CURIOUS WAY to serve a Caesar Salad, don't you think? In fact the salad itself was very close to authentic: Romaine, egg, Parmesan, anchovy, croutons. But the salad was not prepared, merely set forth as its ingredients. Fortunately knife and fork were at hand; it was the work of a moment to chop the thing up. But why not do that in the kitchen?

Pozole.jpgOh well: the Pozole was more or less blended in the kitchen. But it was a little bit revisionist: raw sliced radishes, shredded cabbage, toasted taco strips, and some kind of farmer's cheese were tossed onto the bowl of red chili-and-tomato flavored stew. Very little hominy, and meat whose flavor seemed just a bit off to me. An odd dish, I thought, which would have been quite satisfying had the meat been better. But not Pozole, I think.

But I had blueberry pie for dessert — a favorite pie of mine, one I get maybe every three years. It was just the way I remember blueberry pie used to be, and the vanilla ice cream on the side was very nice.
White blend, Sonoma coast; Zinfandel, Limerick Lane, ?2011: Nice authentic old vines-type regional wine
• Three Squares Café, 205 Fifth Street, Santa Rosa; 707-545-4300