Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Onions and oranges

Oranges and onions
Eastside Road, February 27, 2017—
ONE OF OUR FAVORITE old standbys, and such a simple thing: a salad of thinly sliced (equally thin, please) onions and oranges, blood oranges if you have them, dressed simply with a tiny bit of salt and a judicious drizzle of good olive oil. And that's it. Ingenious.

Afterward, a can of hominy cooked with a sausage, also sliced, and some halved little fingerling potatoes; probably some onion in there too. And then the green salad, and two or three tiny clementines, and some chocolate.

     Bottle-end: Garnacha, Laya, 2015

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Chicken, potatoes, broccoli

Eastside Road, February 26, 2017—

BAKED CHICKEN, let's call it. Cook found a couple of pieces in the freezer, left there from the last whole bird we had. She rubbed them with a blend of fennel seed, rosemary, garlic, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper; let them stand a bit with lemon wedges, then set them in a hot oven, adding fingerling potatoes after the chicken had browned. Succulent; lots of flavor.

Green salad; then vanilla ice cream sundaes with lavender caramel sauce, pecans and pistachios. Delicious.

     Primitivo, Grifone, 2015

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, February 25, 2017


Eastside Road, February  25, 2017—

A deli turkey/cheese sandwich and a beer left me uncomfortably stuffed, and my companion evidently felt the same.  For dinner, then, nothing wanted beyond a baked potato and green beans, with garden thyme and our olive oil …
Primitivo, Grifone, 2015

Eating Every Week (again)

Eastside Road, February 24, 2017—

IT HAS BEEN ANOTHER of those busy weeks, with company (desired), day-trips (one requisite, one out of cultural curiosity), and your usual spring-is-coming house-and-grounds stuff. So here's a quick roundup.

Sunday, February 19, at home: this fine plate of fusilli with Cook’s tomato sauce; green salad; and afterward blood orange upside down cake, apparently because someone asked for the recipe.

Primitivo, Grifone (Puglia), 2015

Monday: more or less a fast day

Tuesday: Company for dinner — vegetarians. We started with olives, crackers, and Mt. Tam and Gorgonzola with a bottle of white; then penne with three kinds of mushrooms and Parmesan cheese, browned under the broiler; green salad; that upside-down cake. Garnacha, Laya, 2015

Garnacha, Laya, 2015

MargheritaWednesday: In the interests of further research into the best local Margherita, and because we were in the neighborhood, we stopped in at a place we’ve been curious about, generally praised for its pastas and pizzas. My companion liked her pasta very much; I thought my Margherita second-level. Definitely good, I’ve had inferior ones elsewhere, but not up to the one I had last week. The crust seemed too soft and puffy to me, and the cheese — a California buffalo-milk “fior di latte” Mozzarella-type — wasn’t really on the mark.

Dolcetto d’Alba, Principiano, 2015: delicious. (The Contessa had her favored Derthona Timorasso)
Flour + Water, 2401 Harrison Street, San Francisco; +1 (415) 826-7000

Yesterday: On the town again. I lunched on a “croque-monsieur” which turned out to be a buttery grilled ham and cheese with a nice little green salad at
Cocoa Planet, 921 Broadway, Sonoma, California; +1 (707) 721-1275

and then dined soon after with my best friend at perhaps the best Mexican restaurant within miles, where I had a couple of Niman-Schell pork tamales in a rich savory sauce with an interesting and resourceful shredded salad on the side. I can’t recommend this place enough.

Grenache, Penville (Santa Ynez), 2014: very good indeed
El Molina Central, 11 Central Avenue, Sonoma; +1 (707) 939-1010
Potatoes and rosemaryTHEN TONIGHT Cook sautéed fingerling potatoes and whole peeled cloves of garlic with some slices of Italian sausage and lots of rosemary in the black iron skillet, and steamed some frozen peas. The sausage was Niman Schell, rather like frankfurters I thought. This was the day Cook found nice big rosettes of mâche somewhere in the garden, which made a fine green salad; and there were clementines for dessert. And there's your week.
Cheap vino bianco

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Leeks and eggs

IMG 4086
Eastside Road, February 18, 2017—

ANOTHER ONE-DISH one-pot meal here, and a good one. Well, not exactly a pot: it's a curious technique. Cook spread a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet, then laid out thinly sliced leeks and mushrooms, sprinkling them lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper, and thyme; then baked them a few minutes in a hot oven.

Then she made hollows in the baked vegetables with the back of a spoon and broke eggs into them, dusting them with grated cheese, salt and pepper, and put the pan back in the oven for just a few minutes, to set the eggs. Garlic toast, and a green salad later, and ice cream with hot caramel sauce.

Primitivo, Grifone, 2015: serviceable

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Saturday, February 18, 2017


Berkeley, California, February 17, 2017—
EVEN IN NAPLES I think I have never had a better pizza than this. A pizza Margherita, of course; that's my test of pizzas: nothing but flour, olive oil, salt, water, and yeast; tomato, basil, and mozzarella. Red green and white, the Italian colors, so named in the Queen's honor at the moment of Italian unification under the king, with Garibaldi's considersble help.

We were lunching with friends in a storefront eatery we've neglected for years but will, I think, no longer. I began with a delicious bean soup. I suppose it would have been even better with a swirl of olive oil, a leaf of sage, and some black pepper: but it's nice for a change to have a soup like this stripped to its essential, and the purée was just about perfect, silky yet with texture.

But, ah, the pizza! The crust was marvelous, supple at the center, delightfully crisp at the edge. The tomato was rich, forward, and sunny. The mozzarella seemed utterly authentic, and the basil leaves thoughtfully placed, a component, not just a garnish, but not overwhelming the whole — this was a pizza Margherita in perfect balance.

So good that we bought another to take home for supper — this one with housemade fennel sausage, tomato, red onion, and fennel pollen. Delicious.

Pinot noir
Summer Kitchen & Bake Shop, 2944 College Avenue, Berkeley; 510-981-0538

WE STOPPED IN next door for dessert. The ice cream here is as good as it gets anywhere, but I was after an affogato. Made with fine Linea coffee from San Francisco, brewed carefully in a fine little espresso machine, and the house vanilla ice cream, and garnished with crumbled candied orange peel, this affogato is ottimo.

Ici Ice Cream, 2948 College Avenue, Berkeley; 510-665-6054

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Friday, February 17, 2017

A new restaurant

Oakland, California, February 16, 2017—
NORMALLY ONE WOULD WAIT a few weeks at least before visiting a new restaurant, but this one was opened eight days ago by seasoned professionals (they have operated another, a few miles away, for a number of years) in a hallowed locale (Bay Wolf, the previous occupant, was in business there forty years or so).

We dined with another couple. The other three ordered almost identically and were less than perfectly satisfied with their main courses: I escaped the problem by sticking to two appetizers and a side dish, beginning with the curiously presented poached tuna you see here. The three semicircles are slices of radish, lending a pleasant crispness and edge to the dish, which also profited from the sweet butter beans, cooked to just the right texture. The tuna was slow-poached in olive oil, also to the optimal point. That's a scatter of mizuma garnishing the plate, which was lightly bound with a salsa verde. The whole thing was in perfect balance, not one flavor too many; and for an appetizer it seemed a generous serving, and effective visually, drawn in a crescent at the edge off an otherwise bare plate suggesting there'll be more to come.

With it, a very nice Martini. In fact it was billed as a "Wooster": gin, vodka, a wash of dry vermouth, a spot of absinthe, garnished with a mint leaf. I requested the vodka be omitted, and was quite happy with the result.

I continued with steak tartare: the beef hand-chopped and mixed with chopped red onion, capers, and chives, bound with Hollandaise sauce. I do prefer shallots to onion, and would have ground in a bit of black pepper: but this was really a very nice version of tartare. At table (and before and afterward) we talked about food, and cuisine, and restaurants: just what is it we want? I want pleasure and interest, but if I can have only one I'll take pleasure — this is why I tend to favor cuisine bonne femme over haute cuisine, especially these days when so many restaurants seem to be out to astonish their patrons. These two appetizers, right in the main stream, were perfectly composed. There was an osso buco on the menu, for example, that had escargot in its sauce: what's that all about? Why add so foreign an element (flavor, texture, source) to so traditional and perfect a dish?

The desserts arrived: apple hand pies; meringata. They looked like biological specimens, and they weren't tasty enough to overcome the visual problem.

Nebbiolo, Poderi e cantine Oddero (Langhe), 2013: very nice indeed
The Wolf, 3853 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland; +1 (510) 879-7953

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Porchetta, 2

Eastside Road, February 15, 2017—
JUST AS GOOD cold as hot, that pork roast Cook presented first night before last. I sliced three thin slices apoece; she warmed the last of the potatoes and onions that had accompanied it, and broccoli was steamed, with a little bit of garlic. 

Green salad afterward, and tangerines. Life is good. 

White blend, "Madam Preston ", 2015


Eastside Road, February 13, 2017—
BUT FIRST, BREAKFAST. As most of you well know, it's both minimal and consistent here on Eastside Road: a couple of slices of buttered toast, a couple of cappuccinos. The bread might be Acme levain but is more likely Como bread from Downtown Bakery and Creamery. The butter is almost always Clover organic, salted. Clover is a local dairy; the Contessa's father used to sell them the milk from his dairy herd (300 cows or so, mostly Holstein). The coffee is generally a blend of Ethiopian beans, roasted three or four days ahead, ground just before brewing, in our Starbucks Barista machine pending the eventual overhaul of the Faemina.

So what's that we're looking at? Why, a sfogliatella* , that delicious, substantial, ever so Calabrese pastry involving leaf pastry (as you see), ricotta in the filling, and orange peel for the flavor. Recipes are easy enough to find online (if you spell the word correctly): Food Network; Epicurious; most interesting, perhaps, itchefs. I don't think I would make these at home, myself, though there's no reason you shouldn't give it a try.

A few months ago we met a couple at a friend's dinner table: an Italian-descent farmer-winemaker and his Irish-born wife, a filmmaker. I met his wife for coffee yesterday and she handed me a small paper bag with a gift from her husband: two marvelous-looking sfogliatelle of his own manufacture. I know he's been working out the technique, because he asked Cook about it when last we met, at a screening of her wonderful film recording the revolving seasons on their vineyard. I think he's pretty well achieved his goal. Cook warmed these up in the toaster oven, perhaps not entirely to their improvement.

Sfogliatelle are deceptive: you think they're going to be flaky pastry, like a croissant, but that's not the idea: they're dense and crisp and chewy. These were remarkably buttery, and the ricotta filling nicely flavored with candied orange peel, comme il faut. Congratulations, John, and grazie molto!

*(sfol-yah-TELL-lah: little leafpile. From late Latin exfolia : and when I leaf through a Moravia novel, sfoglio. )

FINE, YOU SAY, but what about that porchetta? Such a delicious dish! I think of it as essentially Roman, though I remember a delicious one encountered near the train station outside Orvieto. This one was home-made, of course, to use the oven to heat up the house a bit, and to feed both ourselves and the neighbors down the hill.

Cook followed a recipe from Martha Stewart, clipped from her magazine. It involves coating a pork loin with a paste you've made of garlic, fennel seeds, rosemary, lemon peel, salt, and olive oil, then wrapping the meat in thin slices of pancetta and tying the thing togethert with kitchen twine. Then you toss small fingerling potatoes, halved, with an onion, cut into eighths, a lemon, sliced thin, and a little olive oil. You scatter that around the pork loin, drizzle it with a little water, and roast it until done.

Now I would have basted this roast with white wine, not water; and I'd have added a few cipollini to the potatoes rather than that yellow onion cut into eighths. But I have to say this was one delicious pork roast; the pancetta wrap lifts it well into the Hundred Plates. What did it look like? Forgot to photograph it! But we'll be revisiting it soon, and I'l…l see how it looks as leftovers…

Grenache blanc, "We'll Never Do That Again," 2013, Preston of Dry Creek ;
Zinfandel, "Grower's Reserve" (Paso Robles), 2015 ;
Syrah, Preston of Dry Creek, 2014 ;
White wine, "Madam Preston," Preston of Dry Creek, nv
A NOTE ON THE WINES: The Grenache blanc is a great favorite of mine, and makes a fine aperitif, which is how we took it. It reminds me of a marvelous white Rhone we had many years ago at Restaurant Pic, in Valence, I think. It is dry, floral, serious, a bit stony. The two reds were bottle-ends, each about half a bottle, the Zinfandel opened a few days ago, inexpensive (Trader Joe!) but serviceable, the Syrah opened yesterday and not at all the worse for having spent a day in suspense. "Madam Preston" is named for a cult guru of the 19th century who ran a rest-and-rehab center a few miles from here: her reputation, outside her cult, was a little unsavory. The wine, though — a blend involving Semillon and Sauvignon blanc (I think) and most likely Grenache blanc — is smooth, interesting, rather complex; and it stood up beautifully to Cowgirl Creamery's Mount Tam and a fine Beemster from Netherlands.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Mangiare per tutta la settimana

Eastside Road, February 14, 2017—

HAPPY ST. VALENTINE'S DAY! I was taken to task this morning for having neglected this blog: apparently there are those who depend on it to keep track of our comings and goings. Be assured: I've simply been distracted.

Last Wednesday, then, breakfast at Bartavelle — very like our usual one, though perhaps a bit bigger: toasted levain bread from Acme, well buttered, with a couple of fine cappuccinos, using Heart coffee, preserving the Portland connection.

Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar, 1603 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley; +1 (510) 524-2473

Then lunch, actually Principal Meal of the Day, in the café at Chez Panisse, whose floral display greeted you at the top of this post. I simply took the menu: garden salad; pasta; sherbet meringata. But what a delicious meal! The rigatoncini were tossed with toasted breadcrumbs, cauliflower florets and ricotta salata and flavored with saffron, marjoram, and bits of anchovy; the combination took me to Sicily.

The meringata carried the theme further, with its blood orange sherbet, slices of tangerine, and candied kumquats. No need for dinner tonight; a late snack at home is all we'll need!

SP68 Rosso, Arianna Occhipinti (Sicily), 2015: rich and ready

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

No need for dinner the next day, either: Fast Day. Friday, though, Cook, inspired by the Cafés rigatoncini, whipped up her own delicious version, taking penne a step further with a few currants in the mix with broccolini, anchovies, and cheese.

Afterward, no need to stick to the Italian theme, a Shepherd's Pie with ground lamb, potatoes, carrots, and onion, cooked in the black iron skillet under a "pie crust" of mashed potatoes. This was good enough, and copious enough, to be repeated the next day, when of course it was even tastier.

Sunday we feasted further on leftovers, including those deeply rich fagioline del Trasimeno (Vigna unguicolata) , an ancient legume farmed by the Etruscans in central Italy with enough success that the bean has survived to be revived by Slow Food farmers today. These are magnificent beans; next time we're in Italy for any length of time we have to be sure to have them weekly.

And with the beans, or later, grilled Acme levain and nagelkaas. One of our very favorite things, this is a boerkaas, a farmer's Gouda-type cheese, which has had whole cloves combined with the cheese before forming. It recalls the Dutch involvement in the spice trade, of course. This particular nagelkaas, bought last year in Amsterdam, was aged enough to develop fine little "eyes": an aged Gouda is a marvelous thing, solid, buttery yet meaty, a worthy rival of Parmigiana in my opinion; and like Parmigiana it keeps well in the refrigerator.

Yesterday — but I'll catch up with that later.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Table d'hôte

San Francisco, February 7, 2017—
THE CURRENT FASHION hereabouts in the restaurant business seems to be table d'hôte : a fixed menu with perhaps alternative courses at a set price.

Tonight we stopped in at a newish place that's had good reviews. Here's this week's menu:

Wedge Salad or Celery Root Bisque
* Lamb Pappardelle or Uni Risotto *
Red Snapper or New York Strip Steak
Grapefruit Panna Cotta or Double Chocolate Sundae

prix fixe: $45 (*pasta course, $10 extra)
I had the salad and steak, and pappardelle too. There was a lot to like here, but it didn't start right away — the Iceberg lettuce, which I don't mind as a general rule, seemed stale; it tasted of the refrigerator. (We ate late in the evening, and perhaps that's the reason.) The buttermilk ranch dressing was bland and a little gloppy; the blue cheese crumbles not really top-flight.

But the pappardelle! What a nice dish: scraps of lamb, beautifully made and cooked pasta, little slices of Castelvetrano green olives, baby fennel. The irrelevant tomato added color but little more, but that's easily set aside. The lamb and pasta reminded me of eating in Rome, and that's a compliment.

The steak course wasn't as integrated, as pointed. My fault maybe: I'm not fond of parsnips, turnips, or rutabaga, and all three figured on this plate. But the steak, thin-sliced and barely medium rare, tasted very nicce, and the watercress reminded me of Paris evenings.

Panna cotta: can't resist it. I'm not supposed to eat grapefruit, but one or two sections can't hurt, right?

Petit sirah, Preston of Dry Creek, 2014: an old favorite

Trestle, 531 Jackson Street, San Francisco; +1 (415) 772-0922

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Monday, February 6, 2017


Dutch baby
Eastside Road, February 6, 2017—

WHAT I SEEM TO CRAVE most on these longish drives — say six hours or so — is salt. There may be a physiological reason for this: I haven't looked into it. There's a limit to the amount of self-directed analysis is good for you, is my view. In any case I like to keep a bag of salt peanuts in the glove compartment, just in case; and tonight, after a typical day's drive and its concomitant diet, something savory seemed in order.

The concomitant diet: at the hotel's price-included breakfast, a glass of orange juice, a short cup of American coffee with milk, two odd pancakes from a pancake extruder, with butter and marmalade.

The real breakfast: our usual Ashland one: a croissant and a cappuccino (Stumptown) at Mix.

Mix Bakeshop, 57 North Main Street, Ashland, Oregon; +1 (541) 488-9885

Lunch: a ham on thyme-buttered baguette, also from Mix. This is your perfect Parisien jambon-beurre; the thyme elevates it even beyond. A can of Snappy Tom, bought at the gas station.

And dinner, finally, after ten days away, at home. Cook had asked our daughter for the recipe for her savory "Dutch Baby," a name I really dislike but an item I quite like: a sort of baked soufflée combining flour, eggs, milk, and in this case savories: oregano and thyme, I'm guessing, from our garden; salt of course; Parmesanl, baked in the black iron skillet. It was definitely satisfying.

Afterward, green salad, a tangerine, some cookies.

Cheap white wine, nv, Italy

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Ashland again

IMG 3931
Ashland, Oregon, February 5, 2017—

A LONG LATE MINIMAL breakfast: cappuccinos; toast.

No lunch; just a couple of handfuls of peanuts from the bag we keep in the glove compartment on these driving days.

A quick dinner at a new favorite: a hamburger; French fries. The hamburgers here are local grass-fed beef, not terribly high-fat but succulent; and not too damn big. Cooked with them: grilled sliced onion, a pickle chip or two, a bit of lettuce. Mustard, of course — the catsup's on the table, for them as want it.

The bun is brioche, as it should be, house-made at this joint's sister operation, where we will breakfast tomorrow, as we always do in this town.

Pinot noir, Underwood, nv, from a 375 ml can.
Flip, 92 N Main Strkeet, Ashland; open every day 11-9

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IMG 3917
Portland,Oregon, February 4, 2017—

NOW HERE'S A GREAT idea: a bed of soft white somewhat grainy polenta, a steam-"poached" pullet's egg, a couple of slices of warmed apple, a good spoonful of zingy harissa, and a few leaves of soft, garden-fresh lettuce. A marvelous pit stop on an afternoon of bookstore trawling, before stopping in at a nearby bar for Saturday night Martinis and bar food.

Pale ale, La Chouffe (Belgium)

Maurice A Pastry Luncheonette, 921 SW Oak Street, Portland; +1 (503) 224-9921

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Portland, Oregon, February 3, 2017—

PROBABLY ONE OF the Hundred Plates: Stamppot, which for too long I erroneously referred to as Boerkool, a very different thing. I think. This blog is rarely to be considered authoritative.

It came from the fridge, as leftovers, I think; I'm not sure, not having been involved in the procedure.Kale, potatoes, carrots, onions no doubt; a couple of good sausages sliced, like the carrots. Fine.

Cheap Primitivo (Puglia,nv)

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Thursday, February 2, 2017

An oddly mixed day

Portland, February 2, 2017—

OUR USUAL BREAKFAST; then a trip out to Ikea. I like to go there every couple of years, particularly if I'm feeling a little discouraged. The sight of so many young couples optimistically shopping for their first households never fails to renew my hope for continuity and future.

And, to tell the truth, I like the Swedish meatballs. They are served up cafeteria-style by (here, in Portland, today) a smiling, engaging, middle-aged Danish-looking lady with an endearingly rumpled face; I couldn't help telling her how much I liked looking at her. To her credit, she took what was meant as a compliment graciously.

With the meatballs, mashed potatoes, gravy, carrots and Brussels sprouts, and a spoonful of lingonberry jam. And I had a "wedge salad" on the side: a wedge of Iceberg lettuce with dubious whie gloppy dressing, tasty dry little lozenges of bacon, and a few tomatoes (one lurks in the upper left corner of the photo).

A can of apple cider

•Ikea Restaurant, 10280 NE Cascades Parkway, Portland; +1 (888) 888-4532

CHICKEN POT PIE this evening, at home — a little dry but in a nice crust, with mushrooms and carrots flavoring the rather meaty chicken. We'd bought the little pies from Provadore, an upscale, typically Portland grocery whose shelves have lots of Italian imports and whose in-house bakery and pastaficio is admirable.

Providore Fine Foods, 2340 NE Sandy Boulevard, Portland; +1 (503) 232-1010

SoupThat was the first course. We went on to a nice duck soup, left-overs I suppose from something, with cabbage and carrots and a little celery for all I know, thick and hearty. Green salad afterward, and chocolates and cookies. A nice supper on a squally evening…
Bianco, Grifone, nv

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Sausage chickpeas
Portland, Oregon, February 1, 2017—

WHAT A DELICIOUS dinner, ending a day that began uncomfortably in the dentist's chair. We decided to eat out at a place new to us, not too far away; and we ate quite late, so had the place pretty well to ourselves toward the end of the meal, and could converse.

The cuisine is Spanish, and the rather small menu is divided into categories I mostly don't know: tapas, chesa, brasa, paellas… but our waiter was friendly and enlightening, and I was able to avoid the many dishes with crustacea and still build a very nice dinner indeed.

I began with papas bravas, of course: small twice-fried (I think) potatoes, served with a thick and flavorful ali-oli type sauce. I had to share this with my three table-mates, but was able to retaliate, spearing some of their porcini croquettes.

Next, I had the lion's share of a plate of Butifarra, pork sausage with garbanzo stew and pipars-shallot picada I have no idea what much of this means, but I'm here to tell you this is an incredibly savory dish, piquant, rich, balanced, and arresting, one of the best things I've tasted recently.

I shared that dish around, and was fairly generous with the next: lamb shank with celery-root purée and sherry-preserved onions. This was an Iberian version of Richard Olney's famous lamb shank recipe, the meat, on the bone, cooked for a long time, slowly, with herbs and wine. Alas the bone was innocent of marrow, or at least access to it: but the meat was succulent, falling away from the bone; its sauce reduced to a demi-glace deep and rich with flavor.

DessertStill, there was room for dessert. I had Torta de Aceite: "cranberry compote, orange cream, black sesame tortas, honey buttermilk ice cream." This was one of the finest desserts I've had in years. The tortas were somewhat puffed up, two or three inches square, tasting of deep fry and cinnamon-sugar; the orange cream easily stood up to them; and the ice cream was superb.

This place is a real find; I hope we return to it regularly.

Fino, "Tio Pepe," Gonzalez Byass (Jerez), nv

Chesa, 2218 NE Broadway, Portland; +1 (503) 477-9521

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