Thursday, October 30, 2014

Verona, 2: da carello

Villafranca di Verona, October 30, 2014—
THREE CARTS came to our table tonight, but no menu. It's that kind of restaurant. You wouldn't have known it from the dining room: very big, seating perhaps two hundred, very high ceilings, ornate hangings. But this is one of those Italian answers to the Argentine churrasceria, very much a carnivore's paradise.

You see our waiter here, a pleasant, capable, well-informed boy who introduced us to the two sides of his carello di carne: bollito, boiled, includin chicken, tongue, beef, ham, and a cotechino sausage; arrosto, with veal, another ham, and pork. I had the latter.

With the meat, a tray of garnishes: green sauce made of parsley, garlic, and olive oil; mostardas (those savory Italian chutneys) of pickled melon or citrus rind; horseradish, red pepper sauce, minced shallot.

The vegetable cart offered spinach, onions, celery root, mashed potatoes, zucchini, and something else — I forget at the moment. I had spinach, of course, and onions — delicious braised cipollini. All these vegetables seemed to lack any added flavors — salt, sugar, herbs — they simply tasted of themselves, innocent, good.

Dessert cart: Tiramisù, apple cake, chocolates, hazelnut biscuits, crema di zabaglione, custards, almonds in syrup, and several bowls of cooked fruit: prunes, pears in red wine, sliced oranges, macedonia… I know that again I'm forgetting several. I had a biscuit and several prunes, nicely flavored with clove and red wine.

It was a long and pleasant dinner — not the sort you'd want every day; perhaps not even every week; but certainly once a month or so. I'd come back here any time. Not tomorrow.

Corvino, Masi, Brolio Campofiorin "oro", 2010: deep, fruity, sober

•Ristorante Cavour, Via Cavour, 40; Dossobuono (VR); +39 045 513038

Verona: Fegato venetiano

Villafranca di Verona, October 29, 2014—

NOT MANY THINGS do I like more (to eat) than calf's liver, and no way of preparing it do I prefer to what I always think of as fegato venexiano, liver cooked gently in butter with a little wine and vinegar and served with sliced onions cooked in the same mixture. The polenta is obligatory.

Meeting old friends in their home city, Verona, we were taken to a simple neighborhood trattoria for dinner, and what should be on the blackboard among the night's specialties but Fegato Venetiano! On the side, indistinct in my photo, a few leaves of mâche. The liver was cooked perfectly, still pink and moist; the polenta was a little salty to my taste, but made a very nice counterpoint. 

Afterward, an insalata mista, mâche again figuring amongst the lettuces. Called valeriana here, lamb's quarters in English, it's a favorite green of ours, and we've met it more than once in the last week.

La Grola, 2010 (deep and sincere, perfect with the liver)

•Il Cappero, via G. Giardino 2/1, Verona;   +39 045 8343300

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Monferrato, 2: The truffle

Moncalvo, Monferrato, October 28, 2014—

I could write a book about the pleasures of Monferrato: above all the land, which is rich and varied; next the inhabitants, who are intelligent and open; then the history, which is rich and complex. And, of course, the cuisine.

Monferrato is perhaps the heart of Piemonte. Asti is the big city on the southern edge; Casale Monferrato on the eastern; Torino on the western. We haven't yet explored the northern confines — after all these years!

Piemontese cuisine is of course like the rest of the Piemontese character: rich, reserved, a little old-fashioned, aged in the best sense; perfected and refined. It stands, I would say, exactly among three neighboring cuisines: French (not Provençal); Lombard; the Veneto. Now and then it nods toward the sea, but apart from anchovies and the marvelous tonnato fish is not really part of the Piemontese genius.

But truffles are. This is the heart of white truffle country. If you're here in October you'll see men in plaid wool jackets standing around apparently doing nothing: I think they're waiting for a dog, and pretending they know nothing about where the elusive fungus grows. 

So today we drove the three or four miles to the neighboring city — provincial city — of Moncalvo, a hilltop city I always enjoy walking about. There we had our second caffe of the day, and asked where we might find a good meal (since the Slow Food recommendation is closed Tuesdays, wouldn't you know it), and we were directed right across the street.

The menu was short and exclusively Piemontese — nay, even Monferrata. We looked at the menu, at each other, and agreed on plates of tagliarini with sliced white truffles.

The pasta was beautiful, a rich yellow thanks to the marvelous eggs in this country, dressed with nothing but that good Piemontese butter (the best there is, say I), and topped, as you see, with lots of sliced white truffle.

To tell the truth the truffle seems a little mild this year: too much water, Gabriella says. But there's nothing like them. Their flavor goes through everything. We tossed our pasta with knife and fork, mixing in the truffles to warm them — you don't cook these things! — and delicately wolfed down the pasta, then sopped up every bit of butter with the good bread we were given.

Afterward, green salad, of course; and for me a bounet, as it was spelled on this menu — yet another version, tricked up with irrelevant pomegranate seeds and a ground-cherry. It looked like a palm tree on a chocolate desert island: but the pudding itself was beautifully balanced between chocolate and hazelnut, had a fine texture neither mousse nor cake, and stood its ground after the truffles. What a lunch.

Barbera del Monferrato, "Goj," Cascina Castlet, 2013, half bottle: Frizzante! Almost a disturbing wine on the first taste, but it settled down nicely.

•Il Centrale, Piazza Romita, 10, Moncalvo (AS); +39 0141 91.71.26

Monferrato, 1: I Mandorli

Cardona di Alfiero Natta, October 27, 2014—

ONE OF THE NUISANCES of maintaining this blog is the problem of dining at the homes of friends — particularly friends who are likely to be reading the blog. Sometimes I take the easy way out and skip the event altogether, but that goes against the weird ethical streak I inherited from the Scottish, presumably Calvinist side of the family. 

Mostly it isn't a problem, because most of our friends turn out to be good cooks. Some, of course, are even professional cooks; and some of them are even great cooks. Others are simply (and I'm worried about that word, but will let it stand) good domestic cooks, who have good palates and a sense of what I call programming and are aware of the simple (that word again) requirements of nutrition, sanitation, and all that.

All this by way of introducing our friend Gabriella, who (with her husband Franco) runs the agriturismo hosting us for two nights. We first came here fourteen years ago — it hardly seems possible — and have got to know one another enough to be invited into their home for dinner, not every night that we're here of course, but just about every time we light in this tranquil, fascinating corner of the world.

Tonight was no exception. We had tried, we thought, to explain that we didn't want her going to any trouble. Perhaps she didn't; perhaps she and Franco always dine like this. In any case, here is what she served:

Fried cheese with radicchio and onion
Sautéed cauliflower with carrots and peppers
Vegetable purée
Roast lamb, beets with onions
Green salad of lettuces and radicchio

and the whole of it was homey, comfortable, copious, and delicious; and we are truly grateful.
For photographs, you'll have to make do with this view from the terrace here — I hate taking photographs of food prepared by friends; it seems intrusive…

Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato, Caresana, 2013: a new grape to me, very old and a specialty of Monferrato — red, light but deep, attractive, distinctive

•I Mandorli, via Troglia 1/3, Cardona di Alfiero Natta, Italy

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Torino, 5: km 0

Via Principe Tommaso, Torino, October 26, 2014—

WE FELL ON THIS PLACE per caso, at random, while on a walking tour of °our° neighborhood, San Salvario, having taken a day off from the Salone del Gusto. I was intrigued by the name, and by the promiise that the menu was authentically Piemontese.

Yes, it's the kind of place where three generations meet at a table, and one of them is nursing for lunch. Why not? Everything here is so serene, discreet…

I started with an amazing dish: Pan fritto con lardo d'Arnad e miele. This was nothing more than fried bread covered with lardo and drizzled with honey. Sweet, salt, fat, and bread: the complete diet. 

I have no idea how the bread was dealt with; perhaps it was a slightly sweet bread dough that was boiled in oil rather than baked — the pieces of bread were cylindrical, a little thicker than bmy two thumbs together, no more than three or four inches long. The lardo was particularly fine-textured; the honey not overpoweringly sweet, not heavily scented — a millefoglie honey, I would guess.

From there to Arrosto di fassone alla favoirta con puré della casa, a couple of slices of roast veal with the house purée. Again, no idea what was in the purée. Potatoes for sure, but something else: white beans? Rice, even, as Lindsey suggested? 

Don't know. It's nice to have some mysteries in life. The veal was a little dry but nicely textured and beautifully scented — with rosemary, of course.

Dessert: another bonet, my third this week — I work so hard to keep you informed, gentle reader! It occurs to me that bonet is the Russian salad of desserts, comfortable and old-fashioned as the wool overcoat I inherited from a great-uncle when I was fourteen and the family was poor. 

Also, it has a strict identity, though its attitude, its demeanor if you like, can vary. Yesterday's was definitely a pudding, reminding me, as bonet often does, of Royal Pudding, or was it My-T-Fine. Today's was more like a cake, and the requisite crushed hazelnut macaroons that usually serve as flour in bonet were instead scattered on top and on the plate; the cake itself was mostly hard chocolate custard. In any case, tasty and rewarding. We liked this place.

White and red house wines. Arneis, I'm pretty sure; Dolcetto, certainly.

• Dausin Locanda a Km 0, via Gaita 9 (angolo via Galliari), Torino; +39 011 66 93 933


WHAT, YOU HAVEN'T been to Eataly? She was incredulous. Well, I had been in truth, sort of; we saw an Eataly pavilion at Slow Food a number of years ago, and I assumed from that that it was mostly an Internet-based supplier of Italian food products.


I won't write further here about the scope and extent of this amazing emporium; this is a dining blog, no more. I'll just write notes on our supper, after another intense day at Il Salone del Gusto.

We started off wsharing an Insalata Russa, that "Russian salad" I mentioned the other day. Peas, carrots, and diced potatoes in a thick mayannaise; in this case arriving in a little sealable glass jar. As I've said, it's comfort food, very old-fashioned; and we like it, very much.

Then the pasta course that we've otherwise been ignoring lately. We had tagiatelle with rosemary-flavored meat sauce — how else can I translate al sugo di carne profumato al rosmarino? The pasta was cooked to the perfect al dente. For dining in a supermarket, this was quite satisfactory.

If I lived here I'd be by once a week. There are several restaurants, specializing in various areas — meat, fish, an oyster bar — each with menus featuring a number of items. You could eat here every night, I think, and it would take a few months to get through tall the permutations…

ArneisFontanafredda, 2013 (true varietal, crisp); Dolcetto d'Alba, Mirafiore, 2012 (ditto)

•Eataly, via Nizza 230/14 (at Lingotto), Torino;  +39 011 19506801

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Torino, 3: Not quite the best

Via Principe Tommasso, Torino, October 24, 2014—

IN TRUTH WE DINED not quite as well tonight: this is a good neighborhood restaurant, no more than that — but that's often enough. It's clearly popular, and most of the tables seated at least six, often with three generations present.

And we had great conversation with friends old and new from home, here, like us, to attend the Salone del Gusto. And it was fun introducing them to the cuisine of Piemonte, so different from what we usually think of as Italian cooking…

Russian salad, for example: You won't find that on a Tuscan menu! I told Nathanael, sitting at my left, that it was basically cold cooked vegetables in a thick mayonnaise — peas and carrots, Lindsey added, momentarily forgetting the obligatory dice potatoes. It's a dish that makes you an old man in an overcoat, who votes Republican, I explained; and then I ordered it as my first course, out of nostalgia.

I followed it, naturally, with battuto — chopped raw Piemontese beef,dressed with olive oil and salt, with mache and little tomato quarters on the side.  Not up to Scannabue, where we dined night before last, not by a long shot; but good enough. 

•Osteria Le Putrelle di Giovanni Foresto, Via Valperga Caluso, 11, Torino; 01165 99630

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Torino, 2: da noi

Via Principe Tommaso, Torino, October 23, 2014—

IL SALONE DEL GUSTO was exhausting today; no energy for a night out — and besides, there were plenty of things to choose from to make a satisfactory dinner at home. 

We've always been partial to Sardegna, so we bought a package of culurgionis, soft gnocchi-like ovals made of flour, oil, and salt, filled with potatu purée flavored with Pecorino, oil, and mint. On it, as you see, a nice prepared tomato  passata di pomodoro, nothing but tomatoes, basil, and salt.

Well, you need vegetables too, so I sprinkled this arugula with oil, lemon juice, and salt. An apple followed…

Grillo, Ippolito (Sicily), 2013: crisp, light, rather complex

Torino, 1: Le cru et le cuit

Via Principe Tommaso, Torino, October 22, 2014—
OR, IL CRUDO ed il cotto, not, I hasten to add, that Cook here is either of those, either crude or cooked. It's just that we're in Piemonte, where the world's best raw beef is served, and that's what I started with last night.

I don't think we could have found a better place for our first dinner in Italy in a couple of years: this restaurant, chosen from the Slow Food guide Osterie d'Italia, was a pleasant five-minute walk from our San Salvario apartment; its dining rooms are homey and attractive; its menu is local and generous; the wine list is ample and interesting; its staff attentive and discreet; and the kitchen is superb.

I began with carne cruda: raw Piemontese beef, chopped by hand of course, lightly salted; with carpaccio, the same beef sliced razor-thin, flavored with lemon juice, olive oil, and Castelmagno; and a soft, delicate meat pudding whose preparation eluded me entirely.

Piemontese beef at its best (and I've never met it not at its best) is sweet; you can taste the grasses and flowers of high mountain pastures in it. It is also very lean, with little marbling as served — no grain-fed beef here!

VitelloLindsey had the vitello tonnato, a huge serving of thinly sliced veal, boiled to just the right pink, covered with fine-textured tuna sauce whose flavor was subtle and innocent of fishy or vinegary aftertastes.

We went on to secondi, bypassing what promise to be particularly good house-made pastas — perhaps we'll be back for them later. Lindsey chose tagliata di vitello, cut an inch or so thick from the loin, I presume, and served with roasted potatoes and a Bearnaise-type sauce.

I had a brasato, chunks of beef braised in Barolo and served, simply, with puréed potatoes whose complex flavor made me think of chestnuts and celery root but was probably nothing more than fine fresh mountain-grown potatoes.

Dessert, of course: I couldn't resist a perfect baba au rhum, delicate and polite, in a supple Bavarian cream that was quite simply the best I've ever tasted, its eggs and cream farm-fresh and delightful.

House Arneis; house Timorassa by the glass (both clean and appealing, the Timorassa distinctive and a little stemmy);
house Nebbiolo (deep, rich, utterly drinkable)
Scannabue, Largo Saluzzo, 25h, Torino; +39 011 6696693

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cesare Casella

IMG 5793
Via Principe Tommasso, Torino, October 22, 2014—
LET US NOW PRAISE a marvelous guy, Cesare Casella, who we first met many years ago in his parents' fine country restaurant Il Vipore, outside Lucca. We visited him and his restaurant on three or four different occasions, each time overwhelmed, almost literally, by his generosity, enthusiasm, and genius.

He early developed a sure hand and palate with vegetables and herbs, not at all to the exclusion of meats, wines, and desserts. His parents — and an aunt or two, as I recall — ran Il Vipore, kitchen and dining room, with the grace, skill, and authority of the best country restaurateurs, and I put those at the top of the profession.

In time, though, he relocated to New York. His father needed medical help and he felt New York offered better options — but I have a hunch personal ambition may have been at work as well. Understandable: he was a young genius eager to continue learning as well as excelling.

Many years ago we dined at his first New York restaurant, Coco Pazzo. He greeted us at the table, wearing his whites. He couldn't linger: he was off to a second restaurant he'd just opened — on a bicycle.

That must be over twenty years ago, because I haven't been in New York since 1996. We finally made up for lost time Monday night, when we took a New York friend to Cesare's current place. We had a feast:
Pontormo: soft-scrambled egg, guanciale, pancetta, and market greens
Fagioli: Bean salad made with heirloom beans
Torta di porri: leek tart with eggs, Parmigiano and pancetta
Assaggi di salumi: eight or ten kinds of mortadella, coppa, prosciutto, porchetta, and salame
Dolci: chocolate mousse, panna cotta, and semifreddo
IMG 5795There was more, I'm sure: but I write this two days later, and after a long and tiring flight from New York to Milan, then two hours in the bus to Torino.

Everything here was delicious, served with style and personality (but not what they call "attitude"!) in a comfortable, casual room. Everything about the experience — tastes, quality, skill, personality — recalled Cesare to our minds, though regrettably he was unable to be present. The words for this kind of thing are generosity, genius, and authenticity. This is now one of my Five Restaurants.
Prosecco di Valdobbiaddene by the glass; Cerasuolo, Maggiocini (Sicily), 2010: marvelously supple and rich without excessive weight; grappa di Chardonnay
•Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto, 283 Amsterdam Avenue, New York City; (212) 877 - 4801

Monday, October 20, 2014

Making up for lost dine

New York City, October 19, 2014—FullSizeRenderAFTER AN IMPROBABLY long sleep and a taxi into town it was time to make up for a day of miserable dining. Our New Yorker friend and host took us to a local favorite of his, and we could see why: very pleasant ambiance, personable waiter, nice enough menu considering Sunday is dreaded brunch day. We settled for hamburgers and were pleased: good meat, well cooked, moist, nice bun (the top correctly hollowed out), decent dill pickle. What's to complain about?

Bloody Mary
•Noho Star, 330 Lafayette Street, New York City; 212 925 0070
DINNER WAS A LITTLE more upscale, and shared with a couple of Brooklyn friends not seen in years. Don't you remember, she asked; Where we ate last time you were in town? But we haven't been in NYC since, oh, for me, not since 1996, I think…

So we met there for a Martini before dinner (very good though not quite cold enough), and then were seated for dinner, and our waiter approached with menus: Um, Charles? Lindsey? And it was Scott, a waiter I always liked back in the nineties at the Café Chez Panisse; he's been here in NYC for years, as it turns out.

I had the Confit Tomato and Burrata salad, a pleasant affair with just the right amount of cheese; and then, since it's legal here, a nice foie gras, with figs, date purée, and chutney, all quite understated. And why not share the Tarte Tatin with its caramel ice cream? What a pleasant dinner…
Rosé, house selection; Madeira, Boston Bual Special Reserve NV
•Gotham Bar and Grill, 12 East 12th Street, New York City; 212.620.4020

Sunday, October 19, 2014

En route

JFK, October 18, 2014—
YES, I KNOW; all I do, you'd think, is travel. Here we are in a cheap hotel; it's nearly 11pm; there's nothing to eat but cookies in a machine. Let's just think of it as a fast day, nearly — the exception being a dry overpriced ham and cheese sandwich from that upscale Napa Grocery in the San Francisco airport. 
And let's think about last night's dinner, another of Franco's sausages, this time with sautéed Poblano peppers as well as all the other fixin's. Oh well: tomorrow's another day …

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Home and away

Eastside Road, October 16, 2014—
AWAY FIRST: Tuesday we were in Berkeley for lunch with a granddaughter. I began with a fine, colorful salad of Gypsy peppers, then went on to quite a rich chicken al mattone — that is, cooked "under a brick," pressed under a weight (probably a heavy black iron skillet: at least that's how I'd do it) while cooking in the wood-burning pizza oven. The dish was flavorful and rich, probably better suited to a cool-weather supper than a warm-day lunch… particularly with the intense and intensely delicious dessert: chocolate pavé with caramel ice cream and chocolate sauce!

• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525
YESTERDAY, THEN, we made do with another bowl of Marion's barley risotto (though to tell the truth that's pretty rich too). With it, a glass of good inexpensive Pinot grigio from the Veneto.
AND THAT BRINGS US up to date. Last night I set a pot of white navy beans on to boil, there being no true cannelini in the house, neither dry nor canned. Today I chopped up a cipollini onion bought last week from a neighboring farmer, and a few sage leaves from the garden; and I opened a can of Ortiz tuna, and mixed them up with the cold beans and a good splash of olive oil and some grated lemon zest. It's always a good idea to mix a salad like that a few hours before you're eating it; the flavors mature and blend so well…

Afterward, a salad of nothing but arugula, the small-leafed kind, dressed with an olive-oil-lemon-juice vinaigrette and garnished with shavings of Parmesan cheese. This is, I suppose, an Italian meal, but damn it we'd finished that good Pinot grigio!
Sauvignon blanc, Earthstone (Sonoma county), 2013: crisp, good varietal, not too grassy

Monday, October 13, 2014

Comfort food

Eastside Road, October 13, 2014—
IT WAS AN INTENSE and fatiguing day, much of it spent in hospitals: a new great-grandchild arrived at 1:30 in the morning (though we didn't know about it until we got up six hours later); an old friend died quietly at four in the afternoon. This is what we can expect at our age; I'm not complaining. The baby is healthy and handsome and his mother's doing fine; the friend had been suffering and couldn't have been made better and seemed ready for her journey.

On a day like this, Cook said, I always think of Marion. That's Marion Cunningham, who we knew for years, since meeting her back in the 1970s I believe at James Beard's seaside cottage in Oregon. A fine cook and author of cookbooks, she specialized in good traditional down-home American cooking, always ethical, authentic, and tasty.

This is her barley pilaf: barley, cooked until just soft but retaining its structure and bite, flavored with chopped scallions and butter — Marion is unthinkable without butter. A green salad afterward, and a couple of See's candies.
Cheap Barbera d'Asti (soon we'll be sampling better ones!)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hot dog!

LEastside Road, October 11, 2014—
 BASEBALL TONIGHT: Hence, hot dogs. I wish I'd photographed Franco's description of the sausage: it was complex, spicy, a little rich.I think he called it Bierworst. He recommended a crisp white wine or a glass of beer with it, but instead we had our usual sauerkraut,  onions, pickle relish, and mustard; and afterward, strawberries and ice cream.
Cheap narrow daughter-in-law, is what my spellchecker makes of cheap Nero d'Avila

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Home again: leftovers

Eastside Road, October 10, 2014—
NICE TO BE HOME again, always, even if tonight we are eating out of a doggie bag.

This is something we almost never do, of course. But it was a long and fatiguing drive, and Cook hadn't quite finished her spaghetti Bolognese yesterday, and it had kept perfectly well in our little traveling refrigerator. So that was it, and we're grateful for it.

Cheap Nero d'Avola

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Ashland, Oregon, October 9, 2014—

WHEN IN DOUBT, most of us fall back on some consistent formula for dealing with hunger in unfamiliar settings. A  daughter recommends a beer and a chocolate bar, for example. Me, I gravitate toward salads. That strategy dates back to the earl 1950s, when I discovered that a "Greek Salad" — lettuces, feta, olives, tomatoes, cucumber — could make a filling and presumably nutritious meal at a manageable price. If "Greek" isn't available, I fall back on "Caesar."

 A true Caesar is a marvelous thing, probably one of the Hundred Plates. It involves, romaine, Parmesan cheese, anchovies, lemon, salt and pepper, and a raw egg. If  you want more details, the best recipe I know of is in The Zuni Cookbook by our friend the late Judy Rodgers: follow her instructions and you'll re-create the salad served in that fine San Francisco restaurant.

Off course you don't often get the real deal: hence the "ish" in today's title. Wee'd had a very quick snack at New Sammy's at lunchtime, just some flatbread with raita, tomatoes, tapenade I think, basil perhaps, mint certainly; also what seemed at the time something like carnitas. It was another wonderful Charlene Rollins mashup of textures and flavors, riotous and good: but I had to eat it so fast (in order to make a theater curtain) that I couldn't really enjoy it.

Shouuld have gone back, of course; for dinner: but decided to stay in town and settle for just a salad. As  you see in the photo, it's dressed with an anchovy mayonnaise of some kkind. There was only one anchovy fillet present, for the two halves of a split whole inner head of romaine, and there was certainly no raw egg. But there was a generous wedge of lemon, and a nice slice of toasted levain from the nearby Mix Sweet Shop, and I had a glass of decent Cowhorn Viognier 2012 with it (not as distinguished as the Macon blanc I'd had with the flatbread earlier — darn; why don't we simply always go back to the Cowboy?)

• Salame, 47 North Main Street, Ashland; 541-708-5881

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Talent, Oregon, October 8, 2014—

I THINK KALE must be the animal of vegetables. It is a chthonic leaf, deep with dark and complex components. I am ashamed that my people, my mother and my father, so undervalued it, and taught me to do the same, for so many years. It was considered fit for nothing but the chickens. We grew it in the vegetable garden, yes, but only to throw to pigs and poultry.

Since than of course I have learned better, at first by way of Italian cuisine, which taught me so much in the first decades of my marriage. Cavalonero — the word rings with more music than does prosaic kale, fourletter kitchen name. 

All this came tto mind again tonight in the first course at dinner, when I was served this plate of "sweet, sour, salty, spicy: fresh melon, lime ice cream, 'La Quercia' prosciutto, field greens, and kaffir lime-criolla chile infused olive oil". I assure you the photograph does not do it justice: it was a plate of extraordinary visual beauty.

The melon was at its peak of flavor and ripeness; the ice cream was perfect; the prosciutto sweet and sweetly greasy in the best possible sense. The olive oil was marvelous, a riot of flavors all agreeing on common purpose.

But it was the field greens that made the whole thing work: and of them, the kale. I was prepared for this thousands of miles away, in Austeralia a week or so ago, when I had that amazing pasta sauce of bacon, onion, and kale. Here, though, the lesson was elevated into art.

I've written about this restaurant before. I've always felt that we each have our list of Five Restaurants, the ones we would choose for the five weekdays of our final week (saving a sixth day for eating at hime, and a seventh for the fast). This has long been one of my Five, and remains one.

I went on from this plate to lamb, of course, dear dependable redolent lamb, again with kale because this chef is not shackled to Flaubert, does not flinch from repeating an ingredient in a sequence of courses — recognizes the justice of a pivot within the complex machine that any fine meal must be. With the braised kale, potato, and tapenade, and cannellini, the bean without which lamb, rosemary, and garlic are incomplete.

Oh la. I had dessert: a slice or two of lemon almond cake, creme Chantilly setting it off. Ouf, what a marvelous meal. I eat like this rarely but appreciatively. Such meals must be parceled out, lest one's prose runs toward the baroque.

Languedoc, "Mas Belles Eaux: Les Coteaux", 2009: mature, strong but polite, rich but agreeable

• New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro, 2210 South Pacific Highway, Talent, Oregon: (541) 535-2779


Ashland, Oregon, October 7, 2014—

OUR FAVORITE PLACE for dinner here (New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro being in the nearby towm of Talent) is a sImple sorta-Mexican place on the main street, now ten years old, remarkably consistent, the menu never changing, but in every way always a pleasure. (Which is more than can be said for the theater here, but that's another story.)

We started out tonight as we almost always do, with the cabbage-lime salad, also involving grated carrot and thin crisp-fried tortilla strips, and the guacamole, not quite as good as mine but plenty good enough.

I went on from there to two tacos: carnitas, nice morsels of crisp-cooked pork; and pato, house-made duck confit. These tacos are complex and substantial, but not heavy — ideal pre-theater nourishment. With all this, a quite good Margarita or two.

We took our dessert around the corner, where the dessert pastries and ice creams are old favorites too: for me, a dark chocolate tart on a salt-caramel bed on good pastry. Well, I don't do this every day..

• Agave, 92 North Main Streett, Ashland, Oregon; (541) 488-1770

• Mix Sweet Shop, 57 North Main Street, Ashland; (541) 488-9885

Monday, October 6, 2014

Carbonara; roast beef hash

Eastside Road, October 6, 2014—
WE WERE IN TOWN yesterday for dinner with an old friend at a quiet neighborhood white-tablecloth Italian restaurant we like — nothing exciting, traditional dishes, but very pleasant: especially when dining on the front porch overlooking a small garden on a balmy early Sunday evening. I started with half a Caesar salad, not too inauthentic, and went on to a spaghetti carbonara, just right for the occasion — all washed down with, first, a glass of Prosecco; then, a couple of glasses of Falanghina, a varietal I very much like.

• Ca' Bianca, 835 Second Street, Santa Rosa, California; (707) 542-5800
AND TONIGHT COOK CONTINUED the great traversal of the refrigerator, finding enough leftover roast beef for a nice hash, with green tomatoes and delicious buttery green beans on the side — you'd think it was St. Patrick's Day. Padron peppers, then two pickled pepper salads for an appetizer; green salad afterward, and then a small Crane melon to honor October…
Cheap Nero d'Avola

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Rillettes, limas, strawberries

Eastside Road, October 4, 2014—

SATURDAY NIGHT, after the twice-weekly Martini, is no time to anguish about healthful dining. Not when Franco Dunn's rillettes are at hand. (And, anyhow, I trust his sources implicitly, as I respect his taste and skill.)

So tonight we begin with said rillettes, spread on Acme Bread's delicious walnut-whole wheat levain and accompanied by pickled green peppers. 

But it is Saturday, after all; we did go to the farm market this morning; so it's on to Nancy's lima beans, for who knows how much longer they'll be available?

With them, quickly sautéed tiny squashes, which gradually I learn to tolerate, and half a sausage liberated from the depths of the icebox. 

And we finish with a bowl of strawberries — another item I resisted most of my life, finding them either bland and woody or, at the other extreme, acidic and exaggerated. (Fraises des bois excepted, of course.) Like Nancy Skall of Middleton Gardens, however,  Lou Preston grows delicious strawberries: whether the soil or climate, the watering or fertilizer, these berries are absolutely delicious.  Colorful, too. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Chana masaledar

Eastside Road, October 3, 2014—
THE RECIPE IS FROM Madhur Jaffrey, by way of our reclusive friend in Corvallis, a man I respect for his moderation, enthusiasm, scholarship, intelligence, and generosity. It's a one-dish meal involving cumin seeds, chopped onion, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, coriander, garlic, and ginger, added in turn to hot oil; then chickpeas, salt, cayenne, and lemon juice; served as you see with sliced raw onion and tomato wedges. It is both substantial and delicious.
Trebbiano d'Abruzzo

I SEE I FORGOT to mention last night's dinner, taken al fresco down at the neighbors' house. We had sausages grilled over wood, roasted butternut squash, peppers a la grècque, with olives before and salad afterward, a perfect supper for a balmy night…

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hot dog

hot dog.jpg
Eastside Road, October 1, 2014—
OCTOBER MEANS BASEBALL, and baseball means hot dogs. The franks, I don't know where Cook got them. The buns are from the Downtown Bakery & Creamery in Healdsburg, and as well as the sausage — beef, of course — they were introduced to pickle relish, mustard, raw sliced onion, and sauerkraut. And that's some peppers Cook had pickled there on the side.

Green salad afterward, of course. No dessert. Baseball.
Cheap Côtes de Rhone

First dinner back

Eastside Road, September 30, 2014—
NOTHING BETTER, after two weeks away, and twenty-four hours and three flights and meals in the air, than a simple supper at home with your best friend and otherwise constant companion, and it doesn't hurt that she's Cook.

So, tonight, whole-wheat fusilli, dressed with fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic, and Parmesan cheese, and a little olive oil, and salt and good black pepper — I always forget to mention that; we use Tellicherry, and grind it when it's used, of course.

A green salad, with Alta's quince vinegar in the vinaigrette, and fruit, and a piece of chocolate…
Rosé, La Ferme Julien