Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Eastside Road, November 29, 2016—

LIKE SO MANY OTHERS we nourish ourselves these days with leftovers, des restes. Here, for example, exactly what we had Thursday, and Friday, and yesterday: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberries. The dressing has played out, ditto the Brussels sprouts, replaced tonight by frozen succotash. No one has cooked in this house for days, other than warming up that succotash. I don't complain: the dinner's good, and tasty. 

The green salad, of course, and an apple, and a chocolate. The wine's another leftover: cheap Nero d'Avola. Tomorrow we will fast. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

The feast of feasting

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Eastside Road, November 27, 2016—

THANKSGIVING DAY, that quintessentially American feast of feasting, lasted three days for us, beginning on the designated Thursday in this dining room, seen just before eight of us sat down to dinner in the Santa Rosa home of one of our best and oldest friends, the woman who introduced the Contessa and me to one another all those years ago.

The dinner was conventional and classic and extremely satisfying: roast turkey and dressing; mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes; Brussels sprouts and pearl onions; gravy and cranberry sauce; green salad; rolls and butter; and a delicious pumpkin pie, the traditional pumpkin purée ingeniously coated with a thin layer of caramel, then decorated with toasted sugared pecans set around the rim. It was a delicious dinner.

Sauvignon blanc; Zinfandel

NEXT DAY AT HOME fourteen of us — our local extended family — enjoyed exactly the same menu at our own dining table : oven-roasted turkey and dressing; mashed potatoes and (I am told) sweet potatoes); Brussels sprouts and pearl onions (and cippolini); gravy and cranberry sauce; green salad; rolls and butter; and a delicious pumpkin pie, without it must be said that suave thin layer of caramel. But also mince pie, made with mincemeat Cook had put up perhaps twenty years ago, deep and old and rich and evocative, like Cook herself.

Hanky pankies before dinner; then sparkling wine: Argyle (Oregon) (Pinot noir and Chardonnay, 60/40), 2013;
Ribolla gialla, Rodaro (Friuli Colli Orientali), 2014 (alas no better than it might be);
Garnacha Tintorera/Monastrell 70/30, Laya (Almansa, Spain), 2014 (quite nice);
Château d'Yquem, 1980 in half bottle (faded but impressive, and thanks, Elin!)

YESTERDAY WE WALKED down the hill to the neighbors — who are in fact part of that local extended family — for a taste of something different. We'd enjoyed fireplace-roasted leg of lamb there just a few nights ago, and returned to the rest of it: rare at the center, full of flavor; accompanied by roasted potatoes with salt and rosemary; green salad; pumpking pie; a fine blue cheese whose name I did not get.

Ribolla gialla, Rodaro (Friuli Colli Orientali), 2014; Garnacha Tintorera/Monastrell 70/30, Laya (Almansa, Spain), 2014

And tonight we've begun attacking leftovers.

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this photo: Eric Monrad (cropped to protect the diners!)

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Roast lamb

Eastside Road, November 22, 2016—

DOWN TO THE NEIGHBORS for dinner tonight, and joined by a friend just arrived yesterday from Amsterdam. Eric, a master at the grill, roasted a boned leg of lamb in the fireplace, and whipped up a powerful aïoli for the delicious little artichokes the guest brought with him. A very Provençal dinner, and what evocative elective affinities lamb, garlic , and artichokes express!

Green salad afterward, and fine conversation throughout. Many thanks!

Viognier, 2015; red blend, 2014; both Preston of Dry Creek, and both excellent. 

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Onion soup

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Berkeley; Eastside Road, November 21, 2016—

LUNCH WAS FINE, of course; we ate in the Café, in Berkeley, where I had a delicious salad: radicchio with a mustard vinaigrette, with shaved fuyu persimmons (I may learn to like this fruit), toasted almonds, crisp little fried sage leaves, and Pecorino; then a savory pizza with halibut brandade, tomato sauce, capers, and wild fennel.

We might actually have skipped dinner, but I was concerned about my companion's cold, which has her coughing and complaining. Well, not complaining a lot, but still.

So I bought a quart of chicken stock, since we were in Berkeley and there's a reliable poulterer there; and then an onion and some Gruyère, and made her my version of a French onion soup. Nothing could be simpler: bring the stock to a simmer, adjust the flavor with salt and herbes de Provence, toss in very finely sliced onion, add a tablespoon or so of brandy. Let it simmer until the onions are cooked through. I sliced a baguette thin and toasted the slices in a black iron skillet, floated them on the soup, and added grated Gruyère cheese.

We'd warmed up with my version of a Hanky Panky: a jigger of gin, another of good Italian red vermouth (Carpano for a preference), a half jigger of Fernet Branca, shaken well with ice, garnished with orange peel.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Monday, November 21, 2016

Boeuf daube / beef stew

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Eastside Road, November 20, 2016—

I LOOKED IN A NUMBER of books — Mireille Johnston's Cuisines of the Sun, Richard Olney's Lulu's Provençal Table, Austin Croze's Plats régionaux de France, Curnonsky of course, a couple of others. I have a favorite never-fail recipe, but it is in a small book of Provençal recipes that I have been unable to locate on our shelves for years now; perhaps we lent it to someone, or perhaps the Contessa sold it in a fit of downsizing. I hope not.

A daube, as I understand it, is a meat stew more or less regional to the south of France. It can involve lamb or mutton, but is usually based on beef. The other apparently indispensable ingredients are carrot, onion, red wine, and orange peel. It is cooked in a daubière, a clay vessel with a specially shaped lid into which you can pour liquid while the stew cooks. The liquid does not go into the daubière; its only office is to evaporate fairly quickly into the oven, causing a certain shock within the vessel, thereby encouraging condensation. I never do this, as I'm afraid of breaking the daubière, which we bought many years ago in Vallauris.

After consulting all those sources I simply made up my own daube. I began with a slice of bacon, cut in half, covering the bottom of the pot. Then I cut a carrot into pieces and put them, together with a small bay leaf, half a dozen peeled pearl onions and half a turnip cut into sixths, on top of the bacon.

On top of that I put about three quarters of a pound of grass-fed beef stew, salted of course; and on top of the meat another carrot chopped up, the other half the turnip, and another half dozen pearl onions. One piece of turnip was studded with three or four cloves. I added a good-sized piece of orange zest, taken off with a potato-peeler.

I poured in a little brandy and a glass or so of red wine and a splash of olive oil, ground in more salt and pepper, and put the thing in an oven at 325•, where it cooked for a couple of hours.

At that point I added three potatoes cut into sixths, and brought the liquid up further with water. Daubes are traditionally served with pasta, not potatoes: but I'm a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, and this was my daube.

In another hour and a half I took the stew out, spooned it into soup bowls, ladled the gravy over, and served. It was good.

Green salad afterward; then a Clementine and some pear.

Cabernet sauvignon/Monastrell, as yesterday

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Sunday, November 20, 2016

It's a guy thing

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Eastside Road, November 19, 2016—

COOK IS A LITTLE under the weather today, so I stepped in and made dinner, in rather an improvised way. I stopped in at the local supermarket and bought a couple of slices of roast beef at the deli, but they were so thin I picked up a fillet of carne asada at the same time. Also some potatoes and a few more cipollini.

Over there to the left you'll see one of my very favorite knives. It cost us $23,000 — a bargain, because with it came a two-bedroom brown shingle house in Berkeley, California. I found the knife on the workbench in the single-car detached garage, carefully wrapped in newspaper and tied up with jute cord. The newspaper was Chinese and dated, as I recall, sometime in the 1920s. The knife was completely covered in a sixteenth of an inch of rust.

I took kerosene and steel wool to it, touched it up a bit with a stone, and admired the steel. Hand forged, of course. We'd bought the house from a Chinese immigrant, a widow, who'd occupied it for half a century I'm sure. Her husband must have brought the knife with him from the old country, and forgotten it on the workbench.

Oh: dinner. I sliced four potatoes, as you see, and fried them in butter. I sliced the cipollini and treated them the same, first having seared the roast beef and carne asada and set them aside. When things were done, or approximately, I combined the potatoes and onions and set the meat on top and put a lid on the pan while some romanesco steamed in another. No salad today! No dessert!

Cabernet sauvignon 70% Monastrell 30%, Terrenal "Seleccionado" (Spain), 2015: okay.

EARLIER WE HAD MET a couple of guys an hour north, in the next county, where we had lunch at a cheerful enough pizza joint near the courthouse. I had strozzapreti with meatballs in tomato sauce, and they were okay. Ditto the bay-leaf (California myrtle, not nobilis) flavored panna cotta, and even the French press coffee… IMG 3041
A glass of red
•Saucy, 108 W Standley Street, Ukiah, California; 707-462-7007

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Fusilli with tuna

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Eastside Road, November 19, 2016—

IF MY BRAIN seems unusually active today it is because we dined for the third straight evening on fish, and we all know that fish is brain food. (I have occasionally wondered how often brain is fish food.) I don't feel unusually intelligent just now, but perhaps these developments take time.

Cook opened a jar of her excellent tomato sauce, made per the instructions in Alice Waters's My Pantry — have I written about that? — and emptied a can of tuna into it when it was heated; then tossed the result with the cooked pasta, and dusted it with Parmesan cheese.

Green salad afterward, and then…

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People say, now and then, on hearing of my Companion, gee, you must eat a lot of wonderful desserts. Well, no. The last thing a retired pastry chef wants to do is make dessert every day; it would be like a retired newspaper critic maintaining a daily blog. So elaborate desserts here on Eastside Road are limited to the occasional birthday, or family dinner, or dinner for invited guests.

Instead we generally make do with a piece of chocolate or a fruit plate. I thought tonight's was pretty: a Clementine bought a few days ago from Didar, at the Berkeley Farm Market; a couple of dates, a few bits of candied citrus peel given us months ago by friends who grow citrus in Ojai.

Cheap Pinot grigio

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Friday, November 18, 2016


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Eastside Road, November 17, 2016—

ONE OF THE FEW things we've missed since leaving Berkeley, nearly twenty years ago now, is Monterey Fish, a shop whose provender is utterly reliable. We try to remember, on the occasions we spend a day in Berkeley — once or twice every month, it seems — to take a little ice chest with us; and so we did the other day.

Today Cook cooked up these fillets of snapper. She breaded them and drizzled a little olive oil on top, with a bit of salt of course, and broiled them just a few minutes; then served them with a gremolata of chopped garlic, parsley, and lime peel, drizzling just a bit more oil first.

We've begun using our own olive oil. We picked ninety pounds of olives a few weeks ago and took them to a community press, where they were mixed with olives from neighbors within a few miles. Ninety pounds of olives don't give you a lot of oil, only a gallon and a half; and I can't really call this our own olive oil, since it's a blend of the neighboring fruit. But we know where it came from, and I must say it is delicious. It won't last long.

Green beans on the side, and a green salad afterward, and an apple, and some biscotti, and candied citrus peel.

Cheap pinot grigio

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Thursday, November 17, 2016


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Eastside Road, November 16, 2016—

SOMEONE ASKED the other day on Facebook about peeling peppers, and I was surprised at many of the responses. They ranged from some who advocated leaving them unpeeled to others who took scrubbers to them. Most, thankfully, referred to roasting the peppers, either over an open flame or in the oven. Even among those, though, there was divergence as to what to do next. Some even suggested washing them under running water.

What I do is rinse them if they need it, in which case I'll have to dry them with a towel, and then roast them on a front burner of the gas range. If they're small I'll have to hold them with tongs while they roast; bigger peppers can simply like on the gas grate.

If I have a lot of them I'll take that grate off and use an iron grill I picked up years ago in a flea market. In any case, once they're blistered all over I put them in an ordinary paper bag and fold the top over to let them steam in their own juice a few minutes.

Then I run the tip of a paring knife around the stem end and then cut a slit from stem to stern, trying to cut the curved side so I can then flatten the pepper by hinging it along the straighter side. The sharp tip of the paring knife then trims the veins from the inside of the pepper, and with the edge of my hand I scrape the seeds out.

I turn the flattened opened pepper over again and scrape the charred peeling off with the knife. If more skin remains tightly adhered than I like, I set the thing over the flame again, just for a few seconds, and then go at the recalcitrant places with the paring knife.

Tonight I sliced very thin three or four cippollini, and sweated them in good olive oil over a very slow flame, cooking them without letting them color. Then the peppers went on top and a lid went on the pan. Salt, of course. If I'd thought about it before it got dark I'd have picked some marjoram or thyme. Salt and good olive oil was enough flavoring.

Dinner: Cook fried some sole fillets and steam-cooked a small cabbage she'd sliced, and the peppers and onions made a nice side dish. Green salad afterward.

Cheap Pinot grigio
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RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Eating in the kitchen

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Berkeley, November 15, 2016—

OF COURSE IT IS one of my very favorite dining tables: the little one between the pastry section and the salad counter in the downstairs kitchen of Chez Panisse. We eat the same table-d'hôte menu as do all the other guests in the dining room, but instead of a convivial group of mostly strangers, all carrying on their own private conversations, the Contessa and I converse with one another, with the cooks (carefully, so as not to distract them), and with The Meal.

I capitalize those words, because the culinary component of the dining experience assumes a position it rarely manages to attain; a rightful position — after all, the provender and its treatment are the center of every meal — but one so easily taken for granted, whether at home, a friend's home, or a restaurant.

Two or three cooks and the pastry chef are on my left, preparing the desserts for upstairs and down, and "plating" the servings. We see the tarte pastry rolled out, shaped, and set on its parchment-paper; the cook takes up a pair of scissors to trim the paper into a neat circle just bigger than the shell itself. The apples have been peeled, cored, and cut into uniform slices; the slices distributed evenly and artfully on the pastry. She carries it to its oven; it cooks while we eat our dinner.

We begin with an apéritif and an amuse-gueule: olives and citrus peel; a glass of Prosecco flavored with a drop of Carpano and some lemon zest, the latter then removed. A piemontese Kir Royale, if you like: it signals the beginning of a meal with piemontese leanings.

IMG 2972The salad is scallops, squid, fennel, watercress, and rémoulade: we watch the salad cook and her assistant assemble it. There is some discussion between them as to the amount and placement of the watercress leaves, and the chef steps over to listen in and contribute his advice.

The celery-root rémoulade is bound with sauce mousseline, Hollandaise with whipped cream folded into it to lighten it. We have a little discussion about this, and I promise to look it up in Repertoire de la cuisine when I get home. (I don't, of course; I look it up in the very useful article on Hollandaise sauce in Wikipedia.) The scallops rest on a bed of chopped parsley, I think, bound with olive oil. The squid is beautifully deep-fried in rice oil, the tiny scallops (from Martha's Vineyard Bay: hooray for airplanes) sweet, innocent, fresh.

Weissburgunder Spätlese, Hofgut Falkenstein, 2015 (Mosel): soft, delicate, floral
IMG 2974Then it's on to the next course, a soup — more accurately, two soups, one a rich, dense, deep green spinach soup, the other a tawny mushroom soup featuring porcini. I've watched the cook in charge of this dish plate the servings, each hand dipping a ladle into the soup-pots, then ladling the soups simultaneously into the bowl. An assistant garnishes the soups with tiny bits of chopped celery and white truffle. The chef — tonight, Cal Peternell — has made the tiniest of Parmesan-inflected grissini: one is balanced across the soup bowl.

We had been to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art earlier in the day, and had paintings fresh in mind (meaning: in visual memory). This bowl of soup was a painting; it made me think of Tibetan Tantric art (not that I'd seen any of that at SFMOMA). You have to marvel at the visual appearance, and at the skill of the cook who served it. But the proof of the soup is in the slurp, and these two soups proved out. I wondered if they'd complement each other as well in the mouth as they did to the eye: they did. The mushroom soup was thick, with a little texture; the spinach was an utterly smooth purée, but dense as well. Both were very deeply flavored, and the crunchy little garnish made a fine contribution.

Roero Arneis, Brovia, 2015: fresh and lively, with good acid-fruit balance to offset the soups
IMG 2976Main course: Grilled squab with sage, with roasted artichokes, radicchio, and mostarda di frutta, with little cubed potatoes. This kitchen grills over charcoal or, occasionally, wood; I'm ashamed to say I didn't detect which was used here, wood I think. The squab, from Paine Farm, was meaty and succulent, grilled to exactly the right point, as the Contessa observed: thick slices of breast meat cooked through but rosy rare; crisp but succulent little drumsticks to gnaw at with your fingers.

I'm a big fan of cooked lettuces, and I thought the radicchio, barely warmed but tender, was the right addition to the plate, along with the tiny artichokes, halved and trimmed, and these marvelous potatoes that seemed to have been barely browned (gilded a better term) in duck fat. Apple was the chief ingredient of the Mostarda di frutta; it lifted the plate toward a very special level, festive, preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Nebbiolo, Cantalupo (Ghemme), 2003: smooth, rich, fully mature, yet friendly, not overpowering the food
IMG 2980Dessert: that tarte or, more properly, galette, made with Pink Lady apples, firm-structured but settling into a sweet, buttery integration with the pastry. It was served on a swirl of huckleberry coulis — another painting, recalling the soups — and garnished with bits of candied Meyer lemon. And on the side, on a bed of whipped cream (recalling the rémoulade), a ball of deep huckleberry ice cream that said hello to the Nebbiolo in passing.
Tokay, 5 puttonyos, 2005

Altogether, one of the finest meals we've had from this kitchen, and our experience goes back now getting on to half a century!

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

We are partners in Chez Panisse; my Companion was its pastry chef from the beginning for nearly thirty years, and readers will be forgiven for detecting bias in my reports of meals taken there

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Another sandwich

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Healdsburg, November 14, 2016—

INTO TOWN with a friend for lunch today. A pleasant afternoon on the patio next to the bocce court. The lunch menu included a Cubano, and I was about to order it to compare to the one we had exactly a week ago — but then the waiter mentioned a special, a lamb and pork sandwich with what sounded like some sort of raita involving cumin and chile, on a ciabatta roll from the good old Downtown Bakery and Creamery, so how could I resist? If a Cubano is a Caribbean Reuben, then this sandwich was a Berber Cubano, if a Berber could bring himself to eat a few scraps of pulled pork. The lamb was ground and highly flavored. I wolfed it down. I like this place.

Barbera d'Asti, Marchesi di Gresy, 2013: Very good

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

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Rice; hominy

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Eastside Road, November 12, 2016—

WE SETTLE INTO the cool-weather domestic menus, single-dish for the most part, reinforced with a vegetable on the side and, of course, the customary mixed green salad afterward.

Friday night Cook reached into the freezer for the ground-lamb meatballs I made so long ago I can't recall just when; certainly before our September departure for Italy. She warmed them in a sauté pan, then added long-grain rice she'd cooked in the usual way, with a little chicken broth and some garlic. With this, broccolini, which she steam-fries with crushed garlic.

Tonight it was a can of hominy, the last one in the larder — time to resupply! This was cooked with crumbled-up sausage, and garnished with chopped cilantro. A nice one-dish menu to follow the Saturday Martini.

Rosé, Carayon "La Rose" (Languedoc), 2015: simple and pleasant

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Monday, November 14, 2016


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San Francisco, November 13, 2016—
FOR QUITE A WHILE, I told the Contessa as we drove down to the city, I've been thinking fondly of Sweden. Constant reader will remember a number of reports on this site just a year ago, from restaurants we'd been visiting in Stockholm. So when a couple of friends asked for ideas of a place to meet for dinner my thoughts turned to this Scandinavian place I'd heard of, several years ago now, but had never visited.

We got there a little early, after a brutal two-hour-plus drive in standstill traffic, and I calmed myself with a delicious little akvavit. Then, after our friends arrived armed, as always, with a bottle of red wine, we turned to the menu.

The menu offered plenty of attractive items; it was unusually difficult to choose, but I came to a quick decision: smoked fish croquettes with horseradish cream and trout roe; then grilled elk saddle with cipollini, lingonberries, and juniper berry sauce, with broccolini on the side. I have rarely tasted such succulent roast meat: soft, buttery, but rich and deep. The horseradish and cress set it off perfectly, countering the sweet fruit of the lingonberries. This was an elegantly conceived dish and a beautifully executed one.

Dessert: apple quince "pie" with lavender granola crust and bay-leaf ice cream. I set the word pie in quotes; this seemed to me more a crumble cake than a pie. The texture was rich and chewy; the flavors again deep and lasting; the ice cream very well made. I would and will return. IMG 5328

Akvavit, Linie (Norway), 41.5%; Barolo, Vigna dei Dardi, 2001: also deep and rich but elegant, at the peak of maturity, a perfect complement to the elk (Thanks, John)
•Pläj Restaurant, 333 Fulton Street, San Francisco; (415) 294-8925

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016
(2015 restaurants)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Catching up

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Eastside Road, November 11, 2016—

WHAT YOU SEE HERE is a Cubano sandwich: house-smoked marinated pork, glazed ham, house-made mustard, spicy pickles, Swiss and cheddar cheese on a ciabatta roll. A Christian version of the Reuben, I suppose. My companion and I shared one for lunch, along with the fine green salad that came with it. We were on the road, driving north from Los Angeles, and I'll never think of making that trip without stopping off here — unless it's Tuesday or Wednesday, of course, when the place is closed.

•100 Bob’s Well Bread Bakery, 550 Bell Street, Los Alamos; 805-344-3000

While at Bob's we picked up a loaf of his levain, a fine, tight-grained, substantial, perfectly baked loaf; and a couple of delicious croissants for next day's breakfast, and a kouign-amann ditto, and two little perfect Parisian ham-and-gruyère-on-a-flûte sandwiches for the evening when we'd arrived home.

That was Monday. The next day was Election Day, and the neighbors down the hill came up to watch the returns. What was planned to be a festive night turned dark. They'd brought their supper; I didn't feel like eating. Tuesday is our normal fast day. But it was no night to abstain, so I gratefully devoured a couple of beef ribs, washing it down, ultimately, with Irish whiskey.

Wednesday night we were in San Francisco, dining with a couple of friends before taking in a recital of modern Italian piano music. The restaurant was their choice: convenient to the storefront recital hall, in the heart of the Tenderloin. I had a badly needed Fernet-soda and the bison meatloaf: rich, solid, very piquant, just what I was in the mood for, though John's Grill might have been more comfortable.

•ok Jasper's Corner Tap and Kitchen, 401 Taylor Street, San Francisco; 415-775-7979

And yesterday, Thursday, was indeed fast day: coffee and toast at breakfast; tea and a handful of nuts in the evening.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Monday, November 7, 2016

Final Pasadena day


Pasadena, California, November 6, 2016— 

BREAKFAST AS YESTERDAY, and a tuna sandwich for lunch, at the Los Angeles County Arboretum — why have we never before visited this marvelous park?

Then, after our fourth play in three days — the intense The Maids, by Jean Genet — a fine Enigma cocktail at a quiet, pleasant bar tucked improbably under a wooded hillside. The Enigma is basically a Martini with the addition of yellow Chartreuse, garnished with a star anise. Thoughtful.

Los Angeles County Arboretum,

Circle Drive, Arcadia, California; +1 (626) 821-3222

The Raymond, 1250 S Fair Oaks Avenue, South Pasadena; +1 (626) 441-3136

Dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, still the best I know in Pasadena and one of the best in Los Angeles and environs. It's crowded and noisy; the tables are set close; the service is swift and not particularly gracious. But the kitchen and the concept are superb.

The dining room decor is dominated by a huge blackboard declaring allegiance to sustainability and simplicity, with a prominent quote attributed to Alice Waters: 

Let Food Taste of What It is

And the waiter explained that the twin loyalties of the place are to her commitment to local and sustainable products and to the cuisine of northern Italy. You can see why the Contessa and I will put up with the noise. 

We ordered identically (and simply and sustainably): an arugula salad, with finely grated Parmesan cheese and lemon vinaigrette, and what the menu lists as "BUCATINI CACIO E PEPE (Pecorino-Romano, black pepper, 63° egg*)"

Now cacio e pepe is a favorite dish of mine, as readers who've travelled with us to Rome will recall. Normally the dish features spaghetti: I prefer the thicker bucatini, which hold their shape well, evade overcooking, and handle more easily on the fork — important to aging trembling hands.

The two cheeses were fine examples of their type, and the ratio was perfect. The black pepper was fresh, fruity, and pungent: Telicherry, I imagine. And the addition of the egg was a superb idea. 

At first I thought the egg had been cooked simply by the heat of the drained pasta, but Internet research has cleared things up: A 63° egg, I read, is one that has been cooked in its shell for an hour in a water bath held at 63 degrees. (Fahrenheit, of course.) The yolk is runny but very slighttly thickened; the white is coddled, consistent, and unctuous. 

And, importantly, the pasta had not been completely drained; enough of the flour-laden cooking water had been retained to merge with the egg, once broken, to engineer a substance whose texture and flavor is really delicious, really memorable. We have to try this at home.

Erbaluce di Caluso, La Torazza, 2013: unfiltered, golden, dry, good flavor

Union, 37 E Union Street, Pasadena; +1 (626) 795-5841

☛RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016   2015

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Saturday on the road


Pasadena, California, November 5, 2016— 

A TYPICAL DAY on the road:

Breakfast at our favorite local café: a quite good butter croissant; two cappuccinos, taken serially of course.

Intelligentsia Coffee, 55 E Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, California; +1 (626) 578-1270

Lunch: why not have a crèpe? Well, in the event, because it's really not at all good. In spite of the cute "French" decor — trompe-l'oeil awnings and windows painted on the wall, and extended passages of French poetry in a graceful cursive hand — and in spite of a menu distingushing sweet from savory crèpes, the food was barely edible.

We ordered ham-cheese. Spinach was on the menu, but not eggs, so my favorite was out of the question. We asked for gruyère cheese, but got only a raised eyebrow from the order clerk, who seemed to be facing his first day on the job. 

The thing came (I will not call it a crèpe), a miserable soggy vanilla-flavored rectangle stuffed with bland boiled ham and rubbery "mozzarella" cheese. There is no wine here, neither white nor rosé; we settled for water.

Crepes de Paris, 84 S Fair Oaks Avenue, Pasadena; +1 (626) 666-3908

Dessert was magnitudes better, purchased around the corner at a little storefront that had opened this very morning. Nice soft 1950s pop on the speaker, beautiful intelligent good-humored people in handsome uniforms, and very very tasty items with an Italian bent. I had a frangipane tartlet with a sour cherry on top, and a dark rum-ball sort of thing that lacked rum but involved chocolate, coffee, and pine nuts: both were delicious. We will certainly return.

Katie's Bakery, 11 Dayton Street, Pasadena; 626-714-7400; http://www.katiesglutenfree.com

Dinner at a local Italian place that had been recommended, where I had a decent Martini, an uninteresting green salad, and a fine plate of Sicilian-style spaghetti with sardines. We could have done worse.

Celestino, 141 S Lake Avenue, Pasadena, California; +1 (626) 795-4006

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016   2015

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Second chance


Pasadena, California, November 4, 2016— 

LUNCH ON BEVERLY today with another couple, he a reader of this very blog. In fact last time we were together he mentioned disappointment at my own disappintment of a place he regularly visits — I'd objected to their treatment of Fegato Veneziano, a favorite of mine. We made a date to lunch there together next time we were in town, and here we are.

We sat outside, as he'd brought both his wife and his spaniel, a very well-behaved animal content to lie quietly under the table, taking a drink every now and then from a plastic cup.

The menu hadn't changed greatly, but I examined it more carefully, particularly since the specials included a few dishes with white truffles. Our friend suggested sharing a plate of spaghetti all'amatriciana; the Contessa ordered tagliolini with white truffles; I chose two antipasti.

The first, raw thin-sliced artichokes with arugula and shavings of Parmesan cheese, was all I'd wanted it to be. Delicious, fresh, nutty artichokes (in November!), sweet pungent arugula, good parmagiano, dressed judiciously with olive oil and lemon juice, just the right amount of salt and pepper — a fine dish.

The spaghetti came, a single bowl for three of us to share, and its fragrance preceded it to the table —  rich and deep, the product of dense tomato paste and serious but ingratiating guanciale: lard and smoke.

My second course was an experiment. I didn't want to find out if the fegato was being handled differently since my last visit; didn't want to risk that disappointment, so I went for another test: a roasted veal shank-bone with its marrow, accompanied by gnochetti and chopped green asparagus.

The marrow was good but not exceptional, and an oddity, I thought, on this menu. The pasta was marvelous, very delicately flavored with saffron and cooked to just the right consistency, then mixed with the small bits of chopped thin asparagus stalks.

Truly we are in Southern California: there are no seasons. Asparagus, artichokes, and...

Oh yes: those white truffles. My companion's turned out to be an Italian white summer truffle, shaved over her pasta at the table. She was pleased. So was I. I'm glad we came back: good wine, good food, good service and hospitality.. Thanks, David!

Verdicchio di Matelica, La Monacesca (Marche), 2014: a light golden color, steady, aromatic, a good match with the artichokes

Rosso, Planeta (Sicily), 2014?: a southern Dolcetto, light, fruity, but with depth

Angelini Osteria, 7313 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles; +1 (323) 297-0070

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016   2015

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Back south again

 Santa Clarita, California, November 3, 2016— 

ON OUR BIANNUAL trip south for a theater fix we break the trip here in order to return to a place we liked last April. Then, it impressed us partly (I now realize) by contrast with other places we'd then-recently visited. Tonight the contrast is with chile and hot dogs and eating at home.

And, of course, with the previous visit, and with our memory of it. It's best not to think too much of all these subtle influences on the formation of our enthusiasms, I suppose. They lead to Thomas Wolfe's famous stipulation: You can't go home again. A revisit is never up to the memory of a first encounter.

But there's nothing to complain about here. The wine was ingratiating; ditto the waiter, who began by asking Sei italiani?, prompted I think only by my nearly faultless pronunciation of the word carciofi.

We each began (the Contessa and I) with the house mixed salad, which arrives with tomato wedges cold from the refrigerator. Why do people refrigerate tomatoes, anyway?

I went on to ravioli di carciofi con pistachio, ravioli stuffed with ricotta and puréed artichoke, in a cream sauce studded with bits of pistachio. A bit bland, wanting black pepper (why did I not ask for it?), but rather nice.

Pinot grigio, Anterra (Veneto), 2015

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

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016   2015

Final chile


Eastside Road, November 2, 2016—

A NIGHT WE are unlikely to forget: after 108 years, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. And in the seventh game of the series, and in the tenth inning, and in the opponent's yard, and having been down three to one. 

We dined while watching the game, in a sort of potluck — the neighbors down the hill joined us, bringing their own mole whose fragrance joined that of Cook's chile wonderfully well. 

And dessert! A fine cake, recipe from David Lebovitz's online blog: I taste flour, egg, citrus, apple, marzipan — a cake rich as baseball. What a night. 

Cheap Pinot grigio; Grifone bianco; Primitivo: Epicuro, 2014

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Another day, another dog

IMG 2812
Eastside Road, November 1, 2016—

CONSTANT READER writes to plead: For Apollo’s sake, don’t munch on too many hot dogs while watching the game. But we did have hot dogs again tonight; it was a decisive game which our team won, tying the Series at three apiece and so continuing to tomorrow's final game.

Which we will watch with wieners. May this succession of W's bring us the final W.

Niman Ranch frankfurter, as usual; Downtown Bakery bun (the best), chopped onion, local fresh sauerkraut. You don't see the pickle relish and the mustard, but it's there.

And on the side a delicious soft potato salad Cook whipped up, with potatoes, hard-cooked eggs, and celery, in almost equal proportion on the palate, and bound with a fine mayonnaise.

Green salad afterward, and applesauce with ice cream

Cheap Primitivo, Grifone (Puglia), 2015: a tiny bit sweet, fruity, rich but not deep

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015