Saturday, April 30, 2016

Conchiglie, red sauce

IMG 6823
Eastside Road, April 29, 2016—

VERY UNUSUAL : not penne tonight, but conchiglie, shells. To my taste they're even better at holding the sauce, and this sauce is worth holding: Last summer's tomatoes, made into sauce and canned by my marvelous Cook; and of course the soffritto of onion and garlic; and bay leaves from the tree in our dooryard, and salt and black pepper, and that whiter-than-innocence heap of grated parmagiano. Yes: let's promote pasta with tomato sauce to the Hundred Plates.

Green salad; then a tangerine.

Salice Salentino, 2012

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Gnocchi alla romana

IMG 6814
Eastside Road, April 28, 2016—

EITHER BECAUSE AGE brings with it increased tolerance, or more likely because cuisine in general really has improved in recent years, gnocchi don't seem to be as problematic as they used to be. There was a time when you could count on restaurant gnocchi being rubbery at best, hard and gritty at worst. Now we order them fairly often, in "Italian" restaurants from here to Los Angeles, and are rarely reminded of the bad old days.

But those are almost invariably potato gnocchi, and sometimes probably from a commercial kitchen, ordered in quantity, frozen. What about the genuine Roman article, semolina gnocchi?

We'd invited a couple of friends to dinner who do not eat meat, and Cook decided this was the perfect time to try her hand at gnocchi alla romana. She found a recipe in Carla Bardi's Flavvours of Italy: Rome and the Provinces of Lazio (Florence: McRae Books, 2000)— an interesting recipe, I think, and disarmingly simple: you scald milk, slowly dissolve semolina into it, add butter, egg yolks, grated parmesan and gruyère; then spread the mixture out on a board, cut discs from it using a water glass, layer these into a baking dish, sprinkle with grated parmesan, pour melted butter over, and bake.

Let's look at the etymology of gnocchi:

derivato dal veneto gnòco, "protuberanza", "gnocco" di possibile derivazione dal longobardo knohhil , "nodo nel legno"
Clearly this semolina dish has an affinity with the potato version, and perhaps derives from it: soft, dumpling-like paste, manipulated, then cooked. Butter and cheese (and don't forget the pepper: Bardi stipulates white pepper, fresh-ground).

In any case, absolutely delicious, light as a feather, yet filling. With the gnocchi, slow-cooked (oven-roasted) broccoli and cippollini; afterward, green salad. And dessert! Vanilla ice cream with sweet and sour cherries and black currants!

Timorasso: Derthona, Vigneti Massa, Monleale (Piemonte), 2012: complex, forthcoming, fragrant, floral, rather weighty, marvelous

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ground lamb

IMG 6793
Eastside Road, April 27, 2016—

TWO GASTRONOMICAL REMINDERS of long long ago today. First, on my walk in to town this morning, I noticed the ornamental dark-leaved plum trees along Old Redwood Highway were dropping fruit, just as they did in the 1950s in Berkeley. These trees are often planted as ornamentals, and I think they are supposed to be sterile, but now and then you just can't suppress Dame Nature.

I don't like these trees. They're nice-looking a week or so of the year, when they're in bloom. Otherwise they're dark and gloomy, with their sullen reddish-brown foliage. And to tell the truth the fruit isn't really very good, though biting into one this morning had a refreshing astringency.

But when we were first married, and poor as churchmice, we picked these fruits from the Berkeley sidewalk trees. We didn't eat them raw, of course; they're far too sour for that. We cooked them into a sort of fruit soup, with a few raisins and maybe some rice, and enough sugar to overcome their inherent unfriendliness.

Then tonight what should Cook put before me but this lamburger. Sixty years ago we ate a fair amount of ground lamb. It cost twenty-five cents a pound at the Blue and Gold Market, on Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley. We couldn't affort it more than a couple of times a month, but when we could we feasted on it, usually doctoring it with cumin, as I recall.

I think Cook remembered the cumin jar tonight. There was that vaguely North African taste. Sonoma County Meat Company doesn't fatten their lamb sufficiently, in my opinion; this ground lamb was pretty dense between the teeth. But it tasted good, and who can resist succotash ?

Green salad ; delicious cardomom-coconut tea cake from Little Bee in San Francisco ; apple.

Salice Salentino, as before

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Unusual eating day

Eastside Road, April 26, 2016—

IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL spring day, just right for a drive in the country with a couple of good friends, exploring the wild mountains above Lake Sonoma and visiting a couple of wineries along the way.

Lunch was picnic-style, out of a cooler and paper bags, and delicious: finnocchiona, mortadella, and rousette de Lyon; bread from Downtown Bakery and Creamery and Preston Farms and Winery; guacamole from Big John's; a bottle of Lou Preston's Rosé. You could spend the whole day at Lou's winery, relaxing with the cats and the bottles, but we had a tour to take.

After which, why not stop off in Healdsburg for a supper? I settled for half a dozen oysters on the half shell — only a few more days until May! — and a share of Lindsey's hord-cooked eggs with salsa verde and those marvelous pickled peppers. And, after a day of wine-tasting,


•Campo Fina, 330 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg; 707-395-4640

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Monday, April 25, 2016


IMG 6733
Eastside Road, April 24, 2016—
ANOTHER ONE-DISH meal: Harira, a Moroccan soup whose recipe seems to have been clipped from a magazine. It involves chickpeas, canned tomatoes, an onion, celery, butter (!), turmerick, pepper, cinnamon, cilantro, lentils, broken-up pasta, and chopped parsley, all in a chicken or vegetable broth.

Sticks to the ribs, it does, and satisfies, even after an eight-mile hike involving a couple of thousand feet of elevation change.

Salice Salentino, Epicuro, 2012: serviceable

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IMG 6692
Eastside Road, April 23, 2016—

WE USED TO PLAY a game at the dinner table, forty years ago, when the children were small: what five foods would you choose if you could only choose five? Of course a certain amount of cheating went on. Onions and garlic, for example, were immediately declared to be "wild," available outside the strictures of the game. Ditto such things as salt.

I generally settled on Sheep, Olives, Grapes, Figs, Wheat. But after tonight's dinner I wonder if we don't have to increase the magic number to a half dozen, so that Cod may be included.

I've prattled on before, here on this site, on the glories of salt cod. When we travel we generally manage to be in salt cod countries, and enjoy bacalau, baccalà, brandade de morue, stockfish, and the like. But fresh cod is almost as great a pleasure and as sustaining a nourishment. Even when in fact it is not fresh but frozen.

Cook prepared it simply, sautéing it with just a bit of, well, salt, in the black iron skillet. And she served it with her new invention: Romanesco (or was it simply broccoli) cooked fairly slow with potatoes and cipollini. (Cipollini are also to be found wild, like stawberries.) Green salad afterward, and fruit.

Cheap Pinot grigio

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Bread, cheese, and succotash

IMG 6685
Eastside Road, April 22, 2016—

LIFE IS NOT all beer and skittles, and not every dinner is hand-crafted to perfection. Some nights we prefer speed and simplicity.

Tonight, after a day in the city (where we had delicious savory tarts at a friend's bakery), and after an excellent Martini at home, we settled for a simple supper: Gorgonzola and Brie on toast; succotash from, yes, the freezer; a green salad; fruit.

It's a good life.

Cheap Pinot noir
Little Bee Bakery, 521 Cortland Ave, San Francisco; (415) 595-4744

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Grilled cheese

Eastside Road, April 21, 2016—

EASILY ONE OF the Hundred Plates: the humble grilled cheese sandwich. Cook butters the outside of the sandwiches and grills them between two black iron skillets, resting the bottom of the smaller one atop the sandwich which has been placed, of course, inside the larger one. A great way to use odd scraps of cheese. 

With it, a couple of raw carrots and some leftover romanesco sautéed with onions, delicious. Green salad. Apple, tangerine, chocolate. 

Pinot noir, Baletto, 2013. 

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Steak and risotto
Eastside Road, April 20, 2016—

LAST NIGHT we entertained an overnight guest making his annual visit from New York City. Or perhaps I should say he entertained us: it's always a pleasure to catch up on dance and opera news from a globetrotter who specializes in both and generalizes on much more…

I grilled some sausages outside, while Cook whipped up a risotto colored and flavored with a discreet touch of saffron. Saffron is not a favorite of mine, and I appreciate the delicate hand. With them, some romanesco, well-cooked in the slow Italian manner; a good green salad afterward, and strawberries and ice cream. (It was interesting to see our guest particularly praise Straus vanilla ice cream; he's partial and discriminating on the subject of ice cream, and had never met Straus before…)

Today we finished the risotto, which keeps tolerably well in the refrigerator, with some beefsteak left over from Saturday. Green salad. Strawberries and a tangerine. Delicious.

Garnacha, Laya, 2013

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Another from the freezer

Steak and gravy
Eastside Road, April 18, 2016—

WHEN I WAS TEN years old, in 1945, we moved, my parents, brothers, and I, to the country, into a shabby cottage on a broken-down seventeen-acre property that lacked, among other things, electricity.

For reasons unimportant here I was sent away three years later to live with grandparents, and when I returned a year and a half later electricity had miraculously been installed. This meant two things: television; refrigeration. And we had a freezer.

It was a big freezer, a "chest-type," waist high, big enough for six adults to lie in if they had to. My mother put all sorts of things in it, and occasionally retrieved something for dinner. It was rarely fit to eat.

We have a freezer here on Eastside Road, of course; it takes up the top quarter or so of our relatively small refrigerator. Cook puts things in it, and occasionally retrieves something. (I put empty Martini glasses in it, and remove them on Friday and Saturday evenings.)

Tonight she retrieved steak and gravy — and a few potatoes as well — left over from a party we gave eight months ago. What a miraculous thing the deep-freeze is, to be sure. The taste of this steak and gravy took me right back to a marvelous day last August. There was no freezer burn at all; the flavor was deep and delicous; the textures were just what you'd want in braised meat.

With the meat, asparagus; afterward, green salad and a tangerine.

Pinot noir, Balletto, 2013: light, but nicely flavored

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Steak from the grill

IMG 6597
Eastside Road, April 16, 2016—
DELICIOUS, A GOOD STEAK grilled over the coals of a fire of rosemary wood. The beef was sirloin, bought from a trusted butcher in Berkeley; the rosemary wood was from the fifty-foot hedge we had to replace last year.

In addition to the beef, I grilled a couple of spicy lamb sausages our son brought us the other day, from his own sheep, and I threw the biggest of the asparagus spears on the grill as well, to eat while waiting for the rest of dinner.

I cut up a short pound of small waxy potatoes into slices and fried them in duck fat left over from some rillettes we had a while back, and Cook steamed the smaller asparagus spears. A fine Saturday dinner on a hot day…

Bottle ends: Cheap white wine, "RGMV"; Garnacha, Laya, 2013

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Caesar salad

anchovies and parmesan

San Francisco, April 15, 2016—

UNEXPECTED NEW PLEASURES are a joy, no question about it: so are the returns of very familiar ones. Among them, the early supper at Zuni.

We got there about 4:30, Companion, a couple of old friends, and I, and I settled into my routine. A very good Martini (gin, three to one, up, well shaken, twist of lemon). A plate of anchovies, Parmesan, celery, and olives. The Caesar salad — no quote marks needed here: this one is still my standard for an authentic Caesar. And a hamburger, rare, on its focaccia bread.

We had rather a riotous time, the four of us, with a visit from Gilbert who was doing chef duty today, and a spilled second Martini, and lots and lots of shoestring French fries. I have liked this place for forty years or so, and I continue to like it, and think I always will…

Zuni Café, 1658 Market Street, San Francisco; 415-552-2522

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Broiled chicken

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Eastside Road, April 14, 2016—

BUT NOT JUST any broiled chicken. Cook found a recipe for something quite new to us. She put a couple of sliced leeks, a half pound of sliced potatoes, a cup of chicken broth and a little olive oil in the black iron skillet and set it under the broiler.

When the potatoes were cooked, she added some chicken breasts, seasoned with toasted crushed coriander seeds, salt, and pepper, and broiled them on one side. When she turned them she added some lemon wedges to the pan and continued broiling until they were done.

Then she set a bunch of spinach on top of the mixture and stirred it in to wilt it. That's all there is to it…

Didn't even need the usually obligatory green salad!

Cheap white wine, "RGMV" (Roussane, Grenache blanc, Mourvedre, Viognier) (Central coast), 2013
11  1

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Thursday, April 14, 2016


Eastside Road, April 12, 2016—

We've been eating soup these last two days: that Bean and Farro soup, with cabbage, onion, garlic, and tomatoes, and flavored with onion, garlic, rosemary, and red pepper. Cook made a huge pot of it last week, and it only gets better. 

After it, green salad, of course. 
Garnacha, Laya, 2013

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016   2015

A good Italian

Canyon Country, California, April 10, 2016—

NOTHING COULD BE much simpler than crushed tomato, salt, a little oil, on a toasted piece of bread, right? But oh how rarely you find something more welcome, tastier, than this little amuse-bouche (surely there's an Italian word for this), when the tomato is perfect, the bread good, and the cook's hand deft and judicious.

It was a lucky find, this restaurant. We often find ourselves leaving Los Angeles (or Pasadena) Sunday late afternoon, and wanting to sleep an hour or two out of town. It gets us home to Healdsburg sooner next day, and obviates the need to drive through much of the night on Highway 5. And the motels in Lebec and Grapevine are much less expensive than those in LA or its Valley. But where to eat?

So I looked on Google Maps for restaurants in the neighborhood of Valencia, and the reviews attached to this place looked promising, ditto its online menu. It was a little out of our way, but not badly. And what a fine place it proved to be!

Non è piccolo, I said to the host on entering; No, he responded, è un po' grande, and from then on our exchanges were half Italian, half English. The place is authentic. People at the next table spoke fast Italian. The trattoria is a family affair, and the family is from Sicily. What could be better?

We shared a misticanza, a very nice mixed green salad with a good Balsamic vinaigrette, and I went on to fettuccine alla Bolognese. 1  1To tell the truth, I'd have set Bolognese in quotes, if it were my place; there was a lot of tomato in this sauce. But there was the meat and the aromatics — carrot and parsley, bay laurel, black pepper, just a hint of garlic. And the pasta was terrific, probably house-made, with well developed flavor, rolled the proper thickness, and cooked to exactly the right degree.

Dessert: a delicate semifreddo covered with dark chocolate. I followed it with a Fernet Branca, straight, served in a generous cordial-glass…

We will certainly be back. Hmmm: wonder if there's a cheap motel closer…

Pinot grigio; Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

•Piccola Trattoria, 18302 Sierra Hwy, Canyon Country, California; (661) 299-6952

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bisque and hash

Pasadena, California, April 9, 2016—
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER play: tonight, George Bernard Shaw's You Never Can Tell. (It was swell. You never can tell.) And where to eat before the theater?

I remembered we'd liked a place downtown — when I wrote about it I said, speaking of the "wild boar hash," It was a nice dish, I thought; I’d return here." So we did.

The hash was still on the menu, and it was still good. Even better, I thought, was an unusual (to me) soup: "Signature Conquistador Bisque," made with salt cod, chorizo, and manchego cheese, with a garlic crouton and rouille floating atop — a sort of Portuguese-Manchego take on good old Provençal fish soup, as my companion pointed out. It was garnished with fried cilantro, I think. A very pleasant place.

Sancerre, Domaine de la Pauline, 2012; Pinot noir, Lola (North Coast), 2011
Green Street Tavern, 69 West Green Street, Pasadena; (626) 229-9961

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Today's Steakhouse

IMG 6461
Pasadena, California, April 8, 2016—
I'M AT A LOSS to tell you about tonight's dinner — I've never eaten at a place remotely like this, and I found it all very entertaining, a little bit troubling, good-tasting, but a little bit bewildering.

Some background: we're on our semiannual stay of four days here in Pasadena, seeing plays. (Tonight, Romeo and Juliet.) We're here with a couple of old friends who share our taste in theater and, in general, in restaurants. I thought a steakhouse would be a good choice for a pre-theater supper, and there was one right on the block occupied by their hotel. (We do not share tastes in hotels.) So what could go wrong?

The Contessa and I arrived twenty minutes early and stood outside a locked door through which we saw the dining room and a collection of perhaps a dozen men in rather formal black and white, standing in what was clearly a fairly serious meeting. Their was a light drizzle, but we were under cover. Finally I explored futher and found the front door unlocked, a young woman at the host atand, and our friends seated at the bar.

We joined them for a Martini (me) and a Notini (my Companion, who likes hers half gin, half vermouth). Ah, the bartender said brightly, an Astoria, that's called, or sometimes a Hoffman House. He approved my request: three to one, gin, dry vermouth, shaken, up, with a twist.

Then a host showed us to our table, a capacious booth in the room we'd looked hungrily into a few minutes earlier. A busser brought the water we requested, and bread, and a plate of three different butters, whose names I didn't catch.

Next came the waiter, who brought menus and the wine list, and proceeded to explain every section of the menu. "Explicate" might be a better word: I learned it in my literature studies sixty years ago — I believe the word's been replaced more lately by "deconstruct," which always puts cement dust and rubble in mind.

This is no familiar steakhouse offering New York, Filet mignon, Porterhouse, the occasional chop, perhaps Prime Rib roast, and the obligatory (and rarely good) chicken and fish entrees. This is the steakhouse of tomorrow. There was a considerable Japanese presence, our waiter was quick to point out, and there was the now requisite Wagyu, both traditional (and perhaps authentic) and American. There were small plates and share plates and what I'm beginning to think of as private plates, those things one does not share.

IMG 6455

We were brought amuse-bouches, so identified by our waiter (though he did not bring them; that was left to another fellow, neither busser nor waiter). Mine was unlike the other three, as I'd confessed to my inability to deal with crustacea: I had something that tasted a bit like a soft lemon mousse, with a shaving of asparagus on it, and the butt-end of a stalk of white asparagus, and a strew of, I guess, tiny bits of candied lemon zest.

From there I went on to the grilled asparagus salad you see above, with a poached egg, with miner's lettuce, asparagus confit,and yuzu brown butter — a very good plate. And then an eccentric steak tartare, thick with "marrow cream" "bleu cheese powder", whatever they are, incorporated into the chopped beef, and garnished with smoked carrot.

I had a side of truffle fried potatoes, too: not French fries, but flash fried fingerling potatoes, served in rather a gloppy truffle butter seasoned with togarashi and furikake. I told you there was a Japanese influence at work here: the former is simply a kind of chili pepper; the latter one of those dry Japanese condiments grinding up fish, seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar, salt, and monosodium glutamate, according to Wikipedia — the sort of thing for which I have no use at all.

IMG 6464

Dessert was spectacular, we all agreed: a delicate semifreddo in a pool of rhubarb coulis, with a couple of meringue wafers thrust in the top as garnish, and lots of interest provided by bits of this and that. Sorry I can't be more specific.

All of these things were discussed and detailed at considerable length by our waiter, who gave us great attention. This is a very service-oriented restaurant: there must have been half a dozen people appearing at our table during the meal.

Garnacha, Bernabeleva "Camino de Navaherreros", 2014: elegant and serious
•Alexander’s Steakhouse, 111 North Los Robles Avenue, Pasadena; 626.486.1111

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Saturday, April 9, 2016

The other Mediterranean

Pleasanton, California, April 7, 2016—
DINNER WITH A COUSIN in a town we've never visited, in a small-plates-and-flatbreads place that turned out some pretty good food. My companion was enthusiastic about her salmon, a fish I never associate with the Mediterranean: it was grilled and garnished with tomatoes and lots of capers.

I was happy with these two little lamb chops, grilled to just the right point — the waiter made a point of asking how I'd like them — and served with grilled asparagus and a red pepper coulis, I suppose you'd call it.

Viognier, Bonterra (Organic; Mendocino County), 2013: quite nice
•Oasis Grille, 780 Main Street, Pleasanton; 925.417.8438

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016
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Thursday, April 7, 2016


Vegetable soup
Eastside Road, April 6, 2016—

NOTHING LIKE a bowl of good hearty vegetable soup after a day's work (well, okay, a half day's work, or less) on a hot day. This one is Bean and Farro soup, with cabbage, onion, garlic, and tomatoes, and flavored with onion, garlic, rosemary, and red pepper.

With it, just bread. That bread, rescued from Chez Panisse two weeks ago, then frozen, then taken on last week's road trip, during which it was now and then re-frozen in badly adjusted motel-room refrigerators, and finally brought home, and re-heated tonight after sprinkling the crust just a bit with water, was still very good indeed. Acme Bread.

Cheap Pinot noir

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Fast day

chicken breast, asparagus, potatoes and cipolline
Eastside Road, April 5, 2016—

TUESDAY: FAST DAY: a good day to catch up. Last night we feasted on the plate you see here: chicken breasts, cooked under the broiler with a curious and delicious sauce: chopped rosemary, raisins, shallots, and white wine; you can find the recipe in the current (April 2016) issue of Sunset Magazine.

I must say this was a delicious dinner. The slow-cooked shallots combined with chopped rosemary and raisins to a very medieval Italian effect; there's something Venetian about this dish. With it, as you see, nice fresh green asparagus; Cook shaved the stalks with her trusty potato peeler and I simply steamed them, salted, in water.

I was responsible for the potatoes and cipolline. These flat pearl-type onions are a bit of a nuisance to peel, but they sure are worth it; I don't know a tastier onion for this kind of treatment. I peeled them and simply cooked them in olive oil along with the little creamer potatoes, hardly bigger than the cipolline. Salt, of course. Delicious.

Green salad after, and a tangerine…

R.G.M.V. (Roussane, Grenache blanc, Mourvedre, Viognier), Central Coast, 2013: a very inexpensive wine that is really quite nice when good and cold.

Sausage, carrots and onionsSUNDAY NIGHT Cook grilled a couple of Franco's marvelous sausages — they'd been waiting for us in the freezer. With them, a marvelous blend of sliced carrots, onions, and fennel, cooked in butter. Sweet! Green salad afterward.
Cheap Pinot noir

AND THE DAY before, Saturday, a day that had begun in Monterey and much of which had been spent at the Aquarium there, we had a simple supper of leftover penne in red sauce. We'd lunched at the Aquarium: Cindy Pawlcyn runs the cafe there, apparently, and the Caesary salad was Caesarier than others we've had lately: not bad.

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Friday, April 1, 2016

Lebanese bistro

Monterey, California, April 1, 2016— 

My traveling companion's turn to choose a restaurant from among those suggested by the usual sources these days, all cleverly hiding on the Internet and the iPhone. She chose what seems to be a local favorite, a sort of bistro.

The chef welcomed us at the door and led us to our table; his wife brought menus. Grandson and I split a Caesar salad, put that in quotes; then I went on to the New York steak you see here.

The salad was innocent of anchovy and egg, and included little bits of tomato, I don't know why. The steak was not grilled but pan-fried, I would say, and somehow grill-marked, as you see. It came with more tomato and shavings of horseradish, along with a good-sized nest of French fries.

Dessert: apple galette: a whole poached apple, sliced and reassembled on a bed of puff paste, with caramel and vanilla ice cream. 

I'd like to like the place more; the owners were very sweet — the whole place seems a amily affair. Bu, honestly, the food could have had more character and fewer constituents.

Pinot noir, La Crema, 2013

Taste Cafe & Bistro, 1199 Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove, California; 831-655-0324

Okay fish and chips

San Simeon, California, March 31, 2016— 

Spent much of the morning back on a friend's orchard, then drove to Ventura for an okay cappuccino, then to this godforsaken place on the coast, remarkable only for the marvelously extravagant compound William Randollph Hearst installed (with much help from Julia Morgan) on a nearby hilltop.

No place to eat, so we settled on the "restaurant" in the motel. The only possibility for me, on the ambitious menu suggestive of the deep-freeze, was "True Alaska Cod" fish and chips, and it wasn't too bad. The fries were routine, but routine has its merits. The Tartar sauce ccould have been better, but the batter on the fish was light and delicate, and the flesh was firm.

Salad before: acceptable.

Sauvignon blanc, Verntana, 2014

San Simeon Restaurant, 9520 Castillo Drive, San Simeon, California; 805-927-4601

Great "Mexican"

Ojai, California, March 30, 2016— 
Look at this delicious combination plate you see here. Quetzal knows I've eaten lots of combination plates of "Mexican food": this time, for the first time, I realized I don't have to accept the usually insipid rice that comes on them. Brilliant! You can ask for twice as much beans instead, especially nice when, as here, two types are on offer: black beans and pintos.

The meat is carne asada, thin steak like that used for fajitas, perfectly seared on hot iron and flavored al diabla, said the menu — what female devil is that, I wonder: certainly not the very sweet middle-aged lady who smiled as we left, thanked us graciously for thanking her exuberantly, and even complimented me on my Spanish.

We were told the onions were an unusual addition to the plate. I'm sorry if that's the case: they were a wonderful keynote to the combination. Even the tomatoes tasted good, and the chopped parsley and cilantro had point and depth that lifted everything well out of the ordinary.

This isn't Mexican food, I think; it's Californio. It was doubly appropriate, as we've been driving through California ranch country that looks for the most part unchanged since a century ago, and we'd been out on a friend's avocado and citrus orchard. Rural, rustic, traditional; everything I like best. I'll get back here often as I can.

Jim & Rob's Fresh Grill, 214 West Ojai Avenue, Ojai; 805-640-1301