Monday, October 31, 2016

Sausage, potatoes, broccolini

IMG 2810
Eastside Road, October 31, 2016—

NO TRICK OR TREAT here, I'm happy to say, just treat. Franco's sausage — the Provence model, tasting of those famous herbes — little pan-roasted cubed potatoes, and broccolini. I've never been terribly fond of broccoli, which I always suspect of harboring aphids, but I do very much like this broccolini, with its deeper, somewhat more bitter taste, reminiscent of lacinato kale. It makes a perfect foil to the sweet innocene of the sausage.

Afterward, nice little cherry tomatoes — how much longer can this season last? And green salad, of course.

Cheap Pinot grigio

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Second chile, with peppers

IMG 2796
Eastside Road, October 30, 2016—

WE HAD THE CHILE again tonight, better as is its custom for the additional day of flavor-steeping. (And better for being consumed while watching a particularly interesting game, this time with a favorable outcome.)

Afterward, as contorni — the Italian custom of serving vegetables as a side dish — two beautiful peppers I couldn't resist at yesterday's farm market, a red one and a yellow. I roasted them a bit, peeled them a bit, split and seeded them, and sautéed them in olive oil, along with sliced onion — cipollini I'd found at the local organic-grocery store. Local cipollini are hard to find, and these weren't the best, but they were good.

Green salad, of course.

Cheap red wine

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Chile and salt

IMG 2782
Eastside Road, October 29, 2013—

OH, SAID COOK, it needs salt, and rushed back to the kitchen. We were eating in front of the television again; our Cubs were preparing to lose their second home game in the World Series. And being a drizzly sort of day we were feasting on chile con carne.

Now I have a thing (you won't be surprised to read) about salt. I particularly like the grey salt raked up from the Atlantic on the shore of the Île de Ré. This may be because I have fond memories of a week there, but of course I doubt this: I think it's because the island provides particularly good salt. (One of the French kings thought so too, and gave the islanders a tax dispensation provided they continue to send him good salt.)

Our local source for this salt has gone out of business, alas, and we haven't yet found another. So we make do with commercial French sea-salt from somewhere in the Atlantic, but it's not the same.

But I can't complain. This chile, once salted, was delicious. I don't know how Cook makes it — I've asked, but she declines to go into it, perhaps impatient with these tedious questions. I'm sure she browns chopped onion and ground beef to begin with, adds some kind of tomato, cooks the beans which have soaked overnight, etcetera, etcetera. It's garnished as you see with chopped cilantro.

IMG 2788Dessert: applesauce — our own apples — and vanilla ice cream, a combination we're both fond of.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Hamburger and baseball

IMG 2779
Eastside Road, October 28, 2016—
THE CHICAGO CUBS are in the World Series, and this impacts our dining. We watched the first game of the home series tonight, with an appropriate all-American meal: a hamburger and a beer. As it turned out this was not enough to end the famous curse: we should have had goat stew.

But it was a classic hamburger, with a slice of raw onion, a thick slice of juicy tomato, and a leaf of sweet substantial lettuce. I'm not sure broccolini belongs on the side, but Cook will insist on her cruciferous vegetable. And the raw carrot was fine.

Perhaps we lost because of the beer. I don't drink beer often enough to have developed any kind of authority in the matter. I'm not fond of the usual American beer, but I do like pale lagers. I drink a cheap import, made in Germany by a Dutch company (Breda, I suspect).

Dessert: Strawberries and ice cream. The meal ended sweet though the game did not. IMG 2780

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Friday, October 28, 2016

Cold chicken

IMG 2774
Eastside Road, October 27, 2016—

THE GREAT THING about roasting a chicken, apart from its inherent deliciousness, is the fact that it provides three, maybe four meals. Tonight's was the second: cold sliced roast chicken; warmed-over roast potatoes. With a glass of really good white wine this is a fine meal, particularly when it continues through the obligatory green salad. And especially following a fast day.

Roussanne, Preston of Dry Creek, 2014

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Back to Berkeley

IMG 2758
Berkeley, October 25, 2016—

LUNCH IN THE CAFÉ: grilled duck confit with chicory salad, delicata squash, and roasted fig toast: a fine plate for a cold autumn day. Such squash is not my favorite item, but this was cooked crisp and made a fine companion to the salad, which was slightly wilted from the heat of the duck. Sage and rosemary with the duck: delicious.

At home, when figs are in season, I often rub a halved ripe fig on toast. This was a much more sophisticated version of that idea, the figs roasted and divested of peel, spread on that fine toasted Acme bread.

Dessert: Pear upside-down cake, huckleberry sauce, crème Chantilly

Côte-de-Brouilly, Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes, 2015: an absolutely perfect match to the duck and fig

•Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525

Later in the day, before catching a play in San Francisco, we fortified ourselves at an Oakland restaurant we hadn't been in for a few years. I'm not sure it's as good as it's been, but perhaps a pizza Margherita isn't the best test, especially so soon after eating one in Rome…

Marzano, 4214 Park Boulevard, Oakland; 510-479-1448

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Play ball!

IMG 2743
Eastside Road, October 24, 2016—

THE CONTESSA WAS BORN, though you would not know it from her title, in Chicago. On the South Side, in fact: but that does not interfere with her baseball enthusiasms. I think as one must choose between Fitzgerald and Hemingway, wine and beer, Mozart and Beethoven, Vermeer and Rembrandt, so one chooses between the National League and the American. My Companion and I are well matched: she is loyal to Wrigley Field.

And tonight we watch our Cubs win the National League championship. In fact it happened Saturday night, but we wanted to watch the game a second time, more closely, so we recorded it to watch tonight.

With baseball one eats hot dogs, of course. It's the American Way. These were Niman Ranch dogs, cooked under the broiler. The buns are treated to mustard, pickle relish, chopped raw onion, and sauerkraut.

Cheap red wine (Estrella, California)

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Monday, October 24, 2016

Roast chicken

IMG 2714
Eastside Road, October 23, 2016 —

I GENERALLY CHOOSE between two sources for my method of roasting chicken: Julia Child or Judy Rodgers. There are all kinds of ways of flavoring the chicken: Julia Child recommends forty cloves of garlic; Judy Rodgers tucks herbs under the skin. Then there are other methods: stuff the cavity with a whole lemon or two, pricked to let the juice out; or completely cover the bird with bay leaves.

Tonight I went to Judy Rodgers, as outlined in her magnificent Zuni Cafe Cookbook. It's simple: you rinse, then dry the bird; salt it well; let it stand a day (in the refrigerator, covered, of course); then tuck thyme or rosemary or sage under the skin of the breasts and the thighs, set it untrussed, belly up, in a preheated black iron skillet, set that in the preheated oven at 450°, and roast it — about half an hour up, then another twenty minutes turned.

I roasted some peeled and halved potatoes in olive oil and rosemary, and Cook took care of the lima beans. Green salad afterward. Nothing to it.

Cheap pinot grigio

I neglected to mention Saturday night: we dined at a friend's house, on sausages in buns, mustard, salad, while watching the Cubs cinch the League championship for the first time in seventy-one years. Superstition precludes my mentioning the possible consequence.

RESTAURANTS (and now recent hotels) VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Hominy and chorizo

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Eastside Road, October 21, 2016—

FIRST DINNER AT HOME in over a month, and no one was in a mood to make much of a thing about it. Cook sweated some onion in some olive oil, then added some crumbled-up chorizo to the skillet. While that was browning she opened a can of hominy. Some things don't suffer from having been canned.

She minced a good-sized handful of parsley leaves to sprinkle on top. I made our usual vinaigrette for the green salad. A banana and some dark chocolate served as dessert.

Cheap Pinot grigio

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016 (soon to be brought up to date)       2015

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Two uitsmijters


En route, October 20, 2016—

WRITE IN the airplane, a comfortable Airbus 330; in eight hours or so we'll land at San Francisco where this post and the previous will take their flights into cyberspace. 

A day in the air rarely provides much material for this blog, but we managed to schedule this flight better than usual. We were able to breakfast at Schiphol Airport, where continuing last night's theme we ate echte Nederlands

My companion had a pannekoek nature, with butter and stroop, that sticky light molasses that mediates Lyle's Golden and blackstrap. The pancake seemed on the thin side to me, more like a crêpe, but I didn't hear any complaints. 

I'd planned on a pannekoek too, but was seduced by the promise of an uitsmijter, the Dutch openfaced sandwich involving bread (preferably brown), ham, cheese, and a couple of fried eggs. The eggs must be sunny side up, and the yolks runny. A leaf of lettuce doesn't hurt. 

It was airport food, but it was cooked to order, substantial, and satisfactory. 

Orange juice; cappuccino (Douwe en Egberts, could be better)

Dutch-Delicious, Schiphol Airport, Netherlands

FEW HOURS LATER we were in Keflavik Airport in Iceland, and it was time to think about lunch, for our cut-rate airline doesn't give us a meal. 

Iceland's expensive, but we splurged on open-faced sandwiches, shrimp and hard-boiled egg for the Contessa, gravlax and garnish for me, with honey-mustard sauce on the side. 

An Icelandic version of the uitsmijter, I reflected, as I tucked into it…

White wine, Sicily, 2014

Hunter style


Schiphol, October 19, 2016—

A FASCINATING TOUR of Europoort ended at sunset with a beer in a hunters' restaurant, so gezellig that we all decided to stay for dinner. 

It turned out to be a traditional Dutch meal, of the sort we haven't seen in a restaurant for years, since we were walking the Pieterpad. Meat, potatoes, vegetables, sla. 

From the limited menu I ordered entrecôte, rare. It came naked on a plate, garnished with a couple of thin half-slices of orange slices, a grape split in half, a wedge of tomato, a few parsley leaflets, and a sphere of red mousse-like substance I first feared to be beet but turned out to be made instead of sun-dried tomato. 


Soon the rest arrived, served family-style in bowls: rich brown gravy, French fried and rosti potatoes, carrots, greens, cole slaw. 

It was all quite tasty. There was more than we could eat, of course, and I for one skipped dessert. 

A glass of red wine

Restaurant Schietbaan, Krabbeweg 125, Rotterdam-Maasvlakte, Netherlands; +31 (0)6 53125343

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Return to Marius


Amsterdam, October 18, 2016—

AN EASY FLIGHT over the Alps brought us back to my favorite airport, Schiphol; a quick Dutch train took us to Zaandam for an afternoon with friends we hadn't seen for years; then Krijn drove us to Barentzstraat where we dined at our favorite Amsterdam restaurant with the chef's parents, with whom we'd just recently toured Liguria.

Marius: such a cozy dining room; such a pleasing, simple but inspired menu; such masterful technique in the kitchen. The only problem we had was entirely my fault: in the confusion of departure I forgot to bring along the menu.

The menu at Marius is a single sheet of paper announcing the antipasto (present when you're seated), three first courses (one of which, vitello tonnato, is always present), three second courses, or the Grande Bouillabaise (which, containing schaaldieren as the Dutch call crustacea, is off limits for me). 

(Schaaldieren: an interesting word. Dutch translates the English "shellfish" with its own word schaalvis, a cognate; schaaldieren then is literally "shellanimals" or perhaps "scaleanimals". I wish English would stop using the ambiguous word "shellfish," which too often applies to everything from periwinkles to lobsters.)

I started with a delicious serving of cod with artichokes, beets, and greens, in a fine olive-oil based salsa verde.

 From there, the échine and épaule du porc, varkenrug en -schouder I think: I'm not sure what pork spine would be in English. (The menu is entirely in Dutch, and in the chef's handwriting, making my visual memory even less reliable this morning.)


This came with a mix of corn kernels and small potato dice; apple may have been present; I was too busy talking and enjoying to take notes, and write this next morning. The pork was tender and succulent, and the bed of celery-root puree gave a fine textural contrast.


Dessert: hangop. Hangop is a kind of fresh cheese, an old Dutch farm wife product: you hang up a cloth bag filled with cream (or in this case cream and yoghurt blended, I think) over the sink for a day or so, and flavor the resulting product (the one in the bag, not the product that's dripped away) with raisins, little dice of candied fruit, perhaps citrus peel, and so forth. This is a delicious thing, very delicious. Of course Dutch dairy products are remarkable.

Roussette de Savoie, Altesse, vintage? (full-bodied yet light and fresh, delightful)

Pinot nero, Bottega Vinai (Trentino), 2014 (wonderful fruit, smooth and pleasant, almost rich)

 Marius, Barentszstraat 173, Amsterdam; ‭+31 20 422 78 80

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Another dinner at home


Rome, October 17, 2016—

A FRIEND'S HOME, that is; an apartment in the Prati, crowded with moving boxes full of a lifetime's collecting books and scores. The paintings are yet to be moved. A monumental job, begun only a week ago, but it hadn't hindered Jeanne from preparing a marvelous midday meal almost entirely from their country seat on the Tuscan coast.

We began with a type of pilaf: long-grain rice, perfectly cooked, with chopped vegetables: onion, tomato, pepper, and greens. Then a coniglio, beautifully flavored with white wine, rosemary, sage, and thyme — each flavor individually distinguishable, but all blending thanks to the wine and olive oil.

(A fine, green, fragrant oil from their own olives, supple and not at all catch-at-your-throat, that Tuscan quality I don't particularly favor.)

Contorni: what seemed to my companion to be broccolini, but Jeanne insisted was long-leaf green cabbage; perhaps both were involved, long-cooked in the slow Italian way. Insalata verde. 

Fruit: first, Fuyu persimmon — not my favorite fruit, but better than the slimy variety — with alarmingly blue sugar-sprinkles, what the Dutch call hagel. Moscato grapes from their vineyard.

Grillo (Sicily); Chianti (Brolio, Ricasoli, 2014, very nice)


Afterward a marvelous gelato down the street. As usual I had fior di latte and crema; both outstanding, the crema a deep yellow.

Gelateria Roma da 1947, Via Cola di Rienzo, 2, Roma, Italy

Monday, October 17, 2016

Roman staples


Rome, October 16, 2016— 

MIDDAY MEAL today out at the end of the tram 8 line in a trattoria new to us but much discussed. We ate on the terrace, seated by the hostess and her eight-year-old daughter apprentice, waited on by rushing servers in black and white, after scanning a menu much given to Roman stand-bys only slightly tweaked for the new century. (Well, it's no longer quite so new, is it.)

We started, the three of us, one of them a Zivny (Francesca, that is), with anchovies. This was simply a plate of salted anchovies, lots of them, drowned in very good olive oil. Fortunately there was enough bread to sponge up the oil after we'd had our way with the fish.

Another fish: the contessa and I could not turn down a filetto di baccala, perhaps the tenderest and purest expression of salt cod we've found yet, served very lightly breaded and fried, in a paper sleeve, with half a lemon. Pure pleasure.


I continued with tonnarelli alla gricia, because after all I had cacio e pepe yesterday. Tonnarelli are square-cut long pasta; I know them as maccheroni alla chitarra; alla gricia is simply cacio e pepe with the addition of bits (in this case quite generous) of guanciale. It was delicious; but the contessa's cacio e pepe was purer, more focussed, altogether the best I've tasted, though I'll always be faithful to da Lucia, over in Trastevere.

Cesanese da Piglio, Casale della Ioria, 2014

Trattoria Da Cesare al Casaletto, Via del Casaletto, 45, Rome; +39 06 536015

AFTER A MARVELOUS concert of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater and Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante, conducted by a friend, we gathered at a late-night eatery (they're all late-night) for a pizza.


I had Margarita, of course, pizza at its purest: tomato sauce, cheese, olive oil. No distracting basilico here! The pizza was first-rate; so was the conversation.

Red wine in carafe

Trattoria Arancio d'Oro, Via di Monte d'Oro 17, Rome; +39 06 86981209

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Contemporary Rome


Rome, October 15, 2016—

ANOTHER RETURN to a place we've liked before, a modern version of a Roman trattoria, with a fairly short menu of mostly characteristic Roman specialties, many of them tweaked a bit to bring them toward the kinds of tastes informed by cuisine magazines.

Thus my first course:  Battuto di Scottona Marchigiana, Pinolo Parmigiana e Lampone Ghiacciato. This is my old friend steak tartare: Scottona is a breed of beef cattle raised in the Marche. The meat was coarsely knife-chopped; it tastes different from the Piedmontese beef — not so sweet, for one thing — and has a less silky texture (but is still far from rough between the teeth).

It came with a garland of arugula and a trace of mustard sauce, and the cylinder of beef rested on a bed of what seemed like heavily toasted chopped nuts with perhaps a slight bit of coarsest ground coffee mixed in. Most surprising, though, was the spread of what I took to be frozen watermelon granita on top of the dish. Lampone, the menu said, raspberries; but it tasted like watermelon to me.


Next, spaghetti cace e pepe, a Roman classic, the pasta flavored only with butter, grafted pecorino (or Romano), and black pepper. The latter was too finely ground and too sparsely used, to my taste, but the whole was a fine version, and I'd order it again.

Dessert: I skipped through the list, which included something involving veal brains of all things, and lit on the semifreddo, a very hard-frozen custard robed in dark chocolate and garnished with whipped cream, smooth ricotta, and a sprinkling of ground pistachio. Interesting, professional, rewarding.


Pecorino (the white wine, not the cheese) in carafe

L'Osteria di Monteverde, via Pietro Cartoni, 163/165, Rome; 06.53273887



Rome, October 14, 2016—

BACK TO A FAMILIAR spot tonight to celebrate getting together with our Roman granddaughter, who lives nearby and lunches here frequently. As its name suggests, it's as much a wine bar as an eating spot, and its menu is on the short side.

It is also very much on the enterprising side, with surprising, sometimes jarring (to conservative and aging me) combinations of ingredients. (The wines, too, tend toward the unsual, with a heavy concentration of "natural" and biodynamic wines.)


After a fairly tiring drive today I was in the mood for something light, and was happy to find a simply cooked baccala on the blackboard, served with potatoes and capers. It was clean, straightforward, and balanced, just right.

Afterward, another simple choice: a crostata da marmellata, apricot jam in this case, no doubt more commercial than "artisanal," but perfectly satisfying.


"Bianco antico", Vej, Podere Pradarolo, 2015: a dusty orange color, unfiltered, long-fermented with the skins, unusual and in fact quite good

Litro, Via Fratelli Bonnet 5, Rome; +39 06 45447639

Uf non siamo in Piemonte


Modena, October 13, 2016— 

ABOUT HALF WAY between Torino and Rome we pull off the autostrada near the vinegar-making city Modena to spend the night in a house in the country. Where to eat? Our hostess suggests a nearby tratttoria, simple, plain, honest...

Well, we are not in Piemonte any longer, that's for sure. I'm not hung up about the state of people's bodies: fat, skinny, tall, short, there are many ways to be a human being, and they're nearly all interesting to observe.

But the people who eat in this restaurant are clearly mangiatore, confirmed eaters. Even the little bulldog being dragged by its leash on its resistant paws from the front door to the table next to ours — even he is clearly overweight, and not unhappy about it. 

Our waiter lost no time getting many slices of exceptionally good salami to our table, along with pretty good bread and pretty mediocre commercial grissini. There was of course no menu; everything was spoken. 


I began with tortoloni, dense ones packed with a delicious filling of spinach noticeably laced with nutmeg, and went on to as prosaic, straightforward a stinco di maiale as you could ask. The pork shank simply sat on my plate, with only a little of its own juice to accompany it. But it was good, honest pork, taking me back to the pork we ate on the farm when I was a boy. And on the side was a bowl of marvelous cold pickled onions.


Dessert was a sacripantina, a liquor-soaked three-layer dessert involving chocolate, rustic custard, and soaked cake colored an improbable red with the traditional alkermes, which I'll leave you to look up — you might not believe me.

Rebola, Romandiola, "Lupi di Rimini", 2013: light, refreshing, pleasant. And a glass of the local Lambrusco, fizzy, a little sweet.

Trattoria Secchia, via Serrassina 1083, Soliera (MO); +39 059.567.130

Friday, October 14, 2016

Dinner at home


Cardona di Alfiano Natta, October 12, 2016—

NO BETTER MEAL than dinner cooked by a friend, served in her dining room, accompanied by good wines, taken with friends, enlivened by conversation on subjects serious and light, four languages at play. 

It's generally a problem here, discussing such dinners. This blog was in fact a small, passing subject during the conversation: how and whether to mention private dinners (frequently I don't); whether I occasionally dislike a meal (yes, but it's rarely interesting to write about); why I don't mention prices (what I spend is none of your business — besides, as my contessa pointed out, restaurant prices are generally available online). 


But to this dinner: we began with a big crostino, beautiful end-of-season tomatoes crushed on Gabriella's own bread, drizzled with Franco's own olive oil, decorated with a pungent basil leaf. 

Next a comfortable serving of rigatoni with tomato sauce, carrying the theme forward — wheat, tomato, olive oil in a very different textural context. I love this kind of artistry; it's musical. 

Then the secondo: coniglii arrosto, rabbit marinated overnight and roasted in the oven, lightly but interestingly flavored with herbs.


Dessert: Zuppa inglese: cake, custard; chocolate. Marvelous. 

Freisa d'Asti, Ca' del Prete, 2013: supple, attractive, Beaujolais-like and fresh for its age;

Ruche' di Castagnole Monferrato,  Caresana, 2015: rich, deep, sober. 

With thanks and love for Gabriella and Franco, and apologies for invading their privacy, and gratitude for splendid hospitality at B and B I Mandorli over sixteen years!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Back in Piemonte


Moncalvo (AL), October 11, 2016—

AFTER A HALF-DAY on the road, punctuated by a so-so panino at an Autogrill on the autostrada, it was marvelous to be once again in our beloved Monferrato. Alas a restaurant I wanted to return to is closed on Tuesday, but we tried another, with good results.

Three dining rooms open off the rather oddly conformed reception area, crowded with bottles and boxes attesting to the wines of this region: understandable, since they are among the best in the world.

The menu is ultra-local: not only Piemontese, but Monferratino. The contessa was content with a single plate, tagliarini with a raw egg yolk, white truffles sliced on top. I was envious but ordered less expensively.

I started with Peperone di Carmagnola arrosta, con bagna caoda: the sublime yellow sweet pepper, roasted and peeled, completely drowned in a delicious bagna cauda rich with anchovy and olive oil and the perfect amount of garlic. Really a memorable dish.


My secondo was perhaps not up to that: Brasato di fassone alla Barbera, roast beef that had been marinated in red wine, not long enough I think, accompanied by a very good polenta, roast potatoes, and nicely cooked carrots. The beef was solid and had good flavor but was tough to chew.

Gewurtztraminer, Elena Walch (Alto Adige), 2015, just off-dry, deeply flavored, surprisingly good with the bagna cauda;

Grignolino in bicchiere

Ristorante Corona Reale, Piazza Cavour 2, Moncalvo; 0141.917130

Leaving Liguria


La Spezia, October 10, 2016—

A SIMPLE LUNCH today in one of the tourist-overridden villages of the Cinque Terre, where we bypassed a number of cafes and restaurants lower down the main street in Monterosso and found a delightful sandwich shop away from the crowd.

Here I had a nice green salad: lettuces, basil, cucumber slices, and tomato wedges, all jumbled in a half-liter preserving jar, to be dumped out onto my plate and dressed as I like with olive oil and salt. (I generally ignore the bottle of "Balsamic vinegar.")


Afterward, a specialty I've been wanting for days to sample: farinata. This is simply a pancake made with chick-pea flour, say a foot in diameter and a fat quarter-inch thick, hot off the griddle and rich with olive oil.

Ligurian cuisine is close to that of Nice; farinata is basically the same thing as soca. I like it very much indeed.

A glass of white wine

La Prosciutteria delle 5 Terre, via Roma 43, Monterosso


FOR DINNER we went to Inferno, literally, a half-basement-level grotto under low vaulted ceilings, clearly catering to a local and not necessarily wealthy clientele. 

I began with a distinctly working-class dish: Mesciua, bean-and-farro soup, rich and textural with white beans big and small and crunchy-succulent whole grains of that interesting antique wheat.

 Hans and I went on to stockfish with potatoes, served in a richly flavored stew of tomatoes, onions, peppers, and olives, with the blandest polenta I've ever encountered on the side — a good idea, thought I: one wants to sop up every bit of this dish.


Dessert: Zuppa inglese, custardy cake, damp with rum, coated with dark dark chocolate. Yes.

White wine in carafe

All'Inferno dall'1905, Via Lorenzo Costa 3, La Spezia; +39 018729458

Monday, October 10, 2016

Last day in Genoa


Genoa, October 8, 2016—

WE COULDN'T GET IN last night; we won't be able to tonight — but the restaurant I'm most curious about turns out to have a table for six at midday. But where is it?

Various map apps suggested it was fairly far from our hotel, on a fairly complicated path. And then there were six of us, occasionally with different ideas about where it might be. 

Do know the Salita Fonduca, I asked a waiter standing outside a cafe. Where's the Salita Fonduca, he asked another waiter just inside. I heard him repeat the question yet again, to the barman, further inside. Things did not look promising. 

But a small bus full of police pulled into the piazza and parked, so I asked one of them. Oh, the Salita Fonduca, you just go to the end of the piazza, at the church, and turn left around the corner, and the Salita is right there on you left.

Companion and I followed his instructions, and in three minutes stood in front of our restaurant, only a few minutes late for our reservation, and wondered where our four friends were. 

They showed up soon enough, and we set to. I began with tartare di manzo e prescinsoa, that last word meaning "sprouts", and continued with maialino con castagne. (What disgusting carnivores we can be, to be sure.)

The tartare was sweet and solid, as usual, lacking savory accompaniments like pickle, capers, even onion — just the meat itself, with a splash of olive oil. It was not the best I've had in the last few days, but it was good.

The little pig, on the other hand, was marvelous. You'd have thought you were in Madrid. Crackling, fat, and lean meat were in perfect balance, and the flavor was subtle but complex. 

Dessert: Sacripantina: cake, moist with liquor, surrounding rich semifreddo, with whipped cream on the side. Rich, medieval, substantial.

Pigato; Vino rosso "Il Rosso di Rosmarino", Monterasso da Mare (Liguria)

Rosmarino, Salita del Fondaco 30, Genoa; +39 010 2510475


WE TOOK OUR DINNER at a place near the hotel recommended by the night clerk. I had misgivings about this but went along with the rest of our crowd, and I was glad I did: it was one of the pleasantest places we've visited.

I began with Lardo di conca con miele d'acacia, then turned to Bocconcini di manzo al vino rosso e ratouille di campo. The lardo was exceptional; not pure white but streaked with pink meat, supple and tender and very nice with the acacia honey.

The beef was braised, then diced and stewed in indeed a ratatouille: eggplant, zucchini, carrot, dark olives, the whole lightened a bit with torn leaves of basil. I would not have thought of such a dish, though I suppose it's related to a Provencal boeuf daube. It was rich and satisfying. 


Al Rustichello, Via G. Vincenzo 59D, Genova; 010 588556

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Eating light


October 9, 2016— 

LUNCH SEASIDE today, having left Genoa for the drive on toward La Spezia. The six of us sat on a terrace with a fine view out over the Mediterranean, the sun generally warming us as we watched lowering rain clouds far out to sea. 

I had trofie al pesto, twisted dense little forms of pasta cleverly engineered to old the deep green sauce, and a delicious if commercial tiramisu, the genoise-style cake merging effortlessly with the pastry cream. Another perfectly ordinary, completely rewarding light meal.

Vermentino, Da Castello "Cambara" (Sardegna), vintage? 

(DNA analysis tells us that Ligurian Pigato, Piemontese Favorita, and universal Vermentino are all the same grape — but it responds readily and differently to specific terroir, which I'm told is now considered overhyped. This was cool, refreshing, light.

New Chandra Bar-Restaurant, Passegiata Anita Garibaldi 26r, Nervi


DINNER: AFTER strolling La Spezia's main street in search of that rare thing, a restaurant open in Italy on Sunday night, and resting with a Negroni in a little bar across the street, we settled in at a big pizzeria, almost nine o'clock. There's no bread, the waitress apologized, then brought delicious pizza-dough flatbreads hot from the oven. I had scallopini Milanese; my companion had tortellini in brodo, and we were content.

White wine in carafe

Ristorante Pizzeria da Sandro, Via del Prione 268, La Spezia

Further along the coast

Genoa, October 7, 2016—
LUNCH TODAY in Noli, where we began with small plates of the local Slow Food Presidio specialty cicciarelli, very small anchovy-like fish fried and eaten whole, a tasty palate-awakener and, I think, the best course of the meal.

Hans and I went on to a risotto di fruttti da mare, having been assured it lacked crustacea. The dish was nicely done, with lots of squid, mussels, and clams, and a tiny octopus here and there, in a tomato-inflected risotto. 

It wasn't the best restaurant of the trip; the risotto seemed routinely good. We were the only diners in the large, comfortable room. But I liked the food, the service, and the room, and I'd not hesitate to return. 

Bianco frizzante, Fresco di Vigna (Farigliano, nv)

Ristorante Ines, via Vignolo 12, Noli; 019748086
Then we drove to Genoa, where I tried to book into the top-listed Slow Food restaurant Rosmarino only to find it already fully booked. Okay; let's settle for the next place on the list.

Here I began with a fine, simple tartare of Piedmontese beef, decorated only with one curled-up anchovy and a spot of green green olive oil. The sweet fresh beef was all the flavor, and it was enough, though I did lubricate it further with olive oil. 

From there I went on to ravioli — large ones — filled with a nice dense pesto, light on the garlic as it seems always to be here in Liguria (at least to my taste) but nicely flavored with pine nuts. There were dots of bechamel easing the density of the pasta, altogether a fine serving.
Dessert: a marvelous ricotta semifreddo especially recommended in Osterie d'Italia, a house specialty called Cassatina di Chinotto. The body was really good, really interesting, a little grainy with bits of pine nut and candied chinotto, and it was sprinkled with a crumble of further pine nuts and pistachios, and garnished with candied chinotto peel. I hope our little tree gives us some this winter!

Nebbiolo, Monferrato Rosso, Novaretto, 2013: biodynamic, characteristic, delicious.

La Forchetta Curiosa, Piazza Negri 5, Genova; 010 2511289

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fish on the hill


Pietra Ligure, October 6, 2016— 

DINNER AT MIDDAY today. We spent the morning in Pietra, walking the medieval streets and sharing our distaste for a late 18th-century basilica; then drove up the typical series of hairpin curves on improbably narrow roads through villages and olive groves perched on incredibly steep slopes to the town of Verezzi, where we'd been told there were many restaurants from which to choose.

All but two were closed, and one of them, on the parking lot outside this pedestrian-only village, seemed too touristy a place. The other did quite well by us. We sat in a large dining room overlooking descending terraces so steep as to be nearly a precipice. There were quite a few parties seated, most of them Italian; our formally dressed Torinese waiter, heavily tattooed and ear-plugged, took care of us discreetly.

I began with trofie al pesto: twisted little shapes, rather thick, of pasta, in a nicely made classical pesto, much subtler than thee one I make at home. I had a bit of my companion's Russian salad, interesting for having incorporated tuna mayonnaise in the mix. We liked both dishes.

I went on to a steak of grilled swordfish, because I've promised myself to eat from the sea each day we're here. It was a little dry, I thought; the waiter came unbidden to offer a bottle of olive oil, which set things right. A bit over cooked, otherwise perfectly acceptable.


I couldn't resist the most interesting dessert offered, a rich dark chocolate pie, i would say, though it was called a tarte, flavored with piquant peperoncini. The texture was unctuous and superb, silky, thick; the flavors carefully balanced, just a hint of spice.

Cortese in carafe

Antica Osteria Saracena del Bergallo, via Roma 17, Verezzi (SA); +39 029 617783