Sunday, December 24, 2017


Eastside Road, December 23, 2017—
LONG TIME since our last polenta meal — one I quite enjoy. It often awakens two memories: of the "corn meal mush" we occasionally had when I was a boy, usually with sugar and milk — a very different proposition from what Cook does with it, with her Italian heritage!

And a remark made probably forty years ago by Kori Lockhart, then the press representative for San Francisco Opera, a bright, laconic, occasionally ironic woman, lantern-jawed and wide-eyed and good-looking, a native of Slovenia. Polenta! she exclaimed. Can't abide it! We had nothing else to eat when I was a girl!

Usually Cook serves it with sausage and tomato sauce, but tonight she sautéed mushrooms in butter — polenta forestiere, I suppose. In any case, delicious.

Green salad afterward; then a tangerine and a couple of chocolates…

     🍷Nero d'Avola, Epicuro, 2015

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Ham and cheese

Eastside Road, December 22, 2017—
IF YOU PLEASE, grilled ham and cheese.

Well, not grilled, really, more toasted under the broiler. I just shaved some Gruyère onto buttered slices of bread, placed sliced ham on top of the cheese, smeared a light coating of good mustard on the ham, set the top piece of bread on, and toasted them on a sheet pan under the broiler.

Well, Cook toasted them — kept an eye on the time, flipped them at the right moment. Ham and cheese: one of the Hundred Plates.

The oven was on anyway, because Cook had previously baked a Black Walnut Cake. This is a delicious thing, baked in a loaf pan, a yellow cake studded with bits of black walnut, which arrive every year a little before Christmas, always as a complete and very welcome surprise, from a cousin I hardly know who lives in St. Paul. Thanks, Mike! Let's share this cake one year!

After the sandwiches, and before the cake, green salad.

     🍷zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 2014

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, December 22, 2017


Eastside Road, December 2o, 2017—
SOMETHING GAVE COOK the idea to make a sourrlé for dinner, and I for one would certainly not discourage her. As you see, it rose beautifully — and the oven helped to heat the house, which had chilled down to 59° while we were away last week.

I don't know what recipe she used. We buy organic free-range eggs, and organic milk; the cheese was Gruyère, as it should be, think I. We bought the soufflé dish decades ago, from a potter who worked in Larkfield at the time; we've always been fond of his plum-colored glaze…

Green salad afterward; then some fruit.

     🍷Cheap Pinot grigio

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Boudin blanc in Oakland

Oakland, December 19, 2017—
LUNCH TODAY in the upstairs café we so like to patronize, where a fine salad of puntarelle and radicchio, beautifully dressed, was followed by a spectacular, very brightly flavored pizzetta covered with squid and aioli, sliced onion, tomato sauce, and marjoram — and very piquant with, perhaps, Aleppo pepper. I'm not sure about the latter. I should have asked.

Afterward, a thoughtful fruit plate — Pink Pearl apple, pomegranate, dates. And an apple and sour cherry galette with vanilla ice cream. Perfect.

     🍷Cava, Brut Nature, Avinyo, Spain, nv; crisp and refreshing
Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 📞+1 (510) 548-5525

DINNER OUT, CELEBRATING the 52d wedding anniversary of our old friends. (We were their witnesses, long ago, in a Reno chapel.) We decided, I'm not sure why, to take them to a place we haven't visited in ages, where we sat in a back room — in fact a canvas-covered patio, thankfully heated, and quiet in contrast to the hip noisy front room.

The contessa and I ordered identically: a salad to begin, then a rabbit boudin blanc. You know that's sausage, the waiter cautioned us. Yes, we know, we said; and then, curious, You tell us that because there are people who order it and then…

…Yes, the dish arrives, and they say Oh sausage, I didn't know it was sausage, no, I don't want this…

The little problematic dramas of the client-waiter relationship. Oh well. The boudin was quite delicious.

For dessert I had a piece of cheese, requesting the candied walnuts, toasted almonds, sliced apple, poached figs and walnut levain all be left off the course. The result was a simple wedge of "Blue de Moncenisio," a marvelous creamy but solid mostly white cheese tasting much like my favorite Castelmagno but lacking its grain. Moncenisio is the mountain and pass just north of the Italian Alpine valley the Contessa's father came from; it's a favorite landscape of mine.

     🍷 Pignolo
À Côté Restaurant , 5478 College Avenue, Oakland; 📞+1 (510) 655-6469

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Penne back home

Eastside Road, December 18, 2017—
AFTER A DAY traveling — bus from Lafayette to Denverf airport, flight to SFO, wait for the checked bag, shuttle to a hotel where we'd left our car, drive home finally through the familiar highway corridor — Cook retrieved some pasta sauce from the freezer and boiled some penne rigata. Nice to be home; nice to have our own cooking. Her own cooking.

     🍷Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Four dinners in Colorado

Eastside Road, December 20, 2017—
MUCH OF THE LAST week was spent in Colorado, where we flew to see a granddaughter receive her doctor's degree — the first I know of in my family. I have tremendous respect for Eve, who worked hard and tenaciously to accomplish this while dealing with two small daughters, their father, the household, and who knows what other complications. But all that's another story, and we're here to eat.

"Dinner" the first day of the trip was a hamburger at the airport. This was our first domestic flight in years, and we found limited options at SFO — but the hamburger wasn't bad, the fries were actually good, and the beer helped.

•Go Bistro, South Terminal, San Francisco International Airport

Thursday, next day of the trip, we ate at home — Eve's home. She bake-roasted a couple of chickens, and the other women pitched in — three generations of them: plenty of experience there! Chicken and potatoes, and snow peas on the side.

     🍷Rioja, Roda I Reserva, 2005: a little rough and woody to my palate, but a fine wine of its type

Friday we ate out: ten adults and three kids under six aroud a big table in a place celebrated for its fried chicken. I like chicken well enough, but not necessarily two nights running. Besides, we're in Colorado, and beef seems a logical alternative, and the steak-frites here is said to be delicious.

As you see, it came rare, to my specification, with a generous garnish of arugula and chimichurri, and those fries were good. It was a man-size plate, no doubt about it; half a pound of skirt steak. But it was delicious.

     🍷Pinot noir, Santa Rita "120" (Central Valley, Chile, according to the menu: serviceable)
The Post Brewing Company, 105 West Emma Street, Lafayette, Colorado; 📞+1 (303) 593-2066

Saturday night, after a second ceremony at Colorado University, we ate at home again. Shawn likes his rib-eye, and he'd laid in three enormous steaks — very nearly standing roasts, in fact. He grilled them while the women fixed mashed potatoes and made Hollandaise sauce for asparagus spears. (And, in my case at least, for the steak as well.) This was a fine repast. I don't mind beefsteak twice running, not at all. I don't think any of us did.

     🍷Cabernet sauvignon, Stag's Leap, "Artemis," in two vintages: 2005; 2015.
      (Of the two I preferred the younger, which seemed to me much more interesting. Both were true to varietal and to terroir, but I thought more thought had gone into the grapes in the 2015, whereas the 2005 seemed more generically Napa Valley. But I could be wrong.)

All this beefsteak and chicken was very fine, but it had been a long time since I'd had a Margherita — pizza, that is. So for our final meal together we stopped in at another local standby — one of three branches of a truly impressive pizzeria. I won't say this was a perfectly authentic Margherita — but then, it wasn't billed so. The menu stated
Fresh Mozz — San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella & organic basil
but the basil was skimpy, julienned to make it go farther. (I'm not complaining. This is Colorado, we're a mile above sea level, and it's December.)

The pizza was beautifully cooked, the pastry thin and crisp, and the cheese was really quite good. When we left I asked a cook where the mozzarella came from: made in house, he said. Must be a chain, I told the Contessa, and it turns out there are three locations: Denver, Louisville, Niwot. From their website:

Our Chefs make dough fresh every day from organic Colorado flour; It’s hand stretched, topped with locally sourced ingredients and cooked in a hand-built brick oven. We work with local farmers and ranchers to change our menu with the grow season. … We source the best local and domestic producers we can find. During the summer, our produce comes almost exclusively from Isabelle farms in Lafayette, CO, and Oxford Gardens in Boulder, CO, as well as our own organic garden. Our pork comes from Cone Ranch in Julesburg, Colorado, our eggs from Wisdom’s Natural Poultry in Haxtun, 100% grass fed beef from Colorful Ranch in E. Denver, Colorado.

The pizzas was what I had been hungering for: piquant, crisp, straightforward, clean.

     🍷Sangiovese, a (much) lesser Chianti of some kind. I don't generally cotton to Chiantis, but this one was unassuming and pleasant.

Lucky Pie Pizza, 637 Front Street, Louisville, Colorado 📞+1 (303) 666-5743

Cold though it was, after dinner we stepped next door for some ice cream — because this is a very good ice cream maker. I had a simple gelato al limon, just what I needed to close this sentimental revisit to Italy… Sweet Cow, 637 Front Street, Louisville, Colorado; 📞+1 (303) 666-4269

Thursday or Friday, I don't recall which, on a walk "downtown," we visited a chocolaterie-cafe our daughter had discovered, which she knew would appeal to us for its Dutch theme. Sure enough, the couple behind the counter were Dutch, and began responding to my questions — in my own limping Dutch — in their native language. There were dozens of kinds of chocolates at hand, and — more to the point when we first visited, having been deprived of espresso for a few days — a machine. We asked for cappuccinos and a croissant the next morning, and returned a couple of days later. The chocolates are delicious — we tried several. And the cappuccinos are quite satisfactory as well: a little milk-heavy, but then Netherlands is a country of dairy cows. I was very happy with this place, and recommend it:

Chocolaterie Stam Lafayette, 103 N Public Road, Lafayette, Colorado; 📞+1 (303) 800-8201

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The rest of the boeuf daube

Eastside Road, December 10, 2017—
THERE WAS JUST a little of the beef stew left, and half the package of egg noodles. So naturally that's what we had for dinner — less generously than last night, but you don't feast every day. Green salad. Shortbread (thanks, Becky). Panforte (thanks, Norman and Pam).

     🍷Cheap Nero d'Avola

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Boeuf daube

Eastside Road, December 9, 2017—
WHAT BETTER DINNER to make today than a Boeuf Daube? Usually I turn to a favorite recipe, in a book of Provençal dishes: but today I was either lazy or perhaps improvisational, and at our favorite local supermarket (well, mine, anyway) I asked my iPhone to do a little research — and perhaps that was a mistake.

Boeuf Daube is an essentially south-of-France dish, far as I'm concerned; this recipe mentioned Virginia Woolf, whose Mrs. Dalloway apparently contemplated it somewhere in To The Lighthouse — which I suppose I should re-read once again, as I hsve no recollection of that at all.

Oh well: I made sure to get everything this odd recipe called for, and then followed the general procedure while not paying much attention to the amounts and proportions, as I was cooking for two, not eight. And here's what followed:

Two thirds a pound of beef-stew pieces (chuck) tossed in olive oil, salt and minced garlic
Two slices of bacon, halved, browned in a heavy copper pot, then drained
The beef thrown into the bacon fat to brown
The vegetables then follow: chopped onion, mushrooms, green olives, carrot (not too much), capers
Some tomato sauce
The bacon, crumbled
Then a glass of red wine and a half glass of brandy
And peppercorns, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf
I threw in a little store-bought demi-glace, too; then put the lid on and set the pot in the oven, 300°, for two or three hours.

And here's the thing, omitted from this limey recipe, but absolutely essential to a daube, in my opinion: a few pieces of orsnge peel, just the zest.

Served atop egg noodles. Green salad afterward.

     🍷Cheap Nero od'Avola

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Odds and ends

Eastside Road, Saturday, December 8, 2017—
YESTERDAY WE RETURNED to those Niman-Schell "Italian sausages," which seem to me more like typical and not very exciting New York hot dogs — made much more attractive with sautéed peppers and onions, as the previous time, but this time with sliced potatoes as well.

Today for lunch we had this delicious split pea soup. Cook follows Deborah Madison's method, in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone — everyone, including us, though we are far from vegetarians, which of course was Debbie's point.

Then for dinner simple cheddar cheese and sliced raw onion on toast. It's funny: for nearly twenty years, when I was working as a journalist, I couldn't eat raw onions — they troubled my digestion. The minute I retired, raw onions posed no problems. I suppose this is related to stress — but then why have they not begun troubling me again? God knows there's plenty of stress in this country these days.

But toasted sourdough, its crust liberally seeded with sesame, and thin slices of aged cheddar, and thinner yet slices of raw onion — what a treat!

No green salad: a side dish of cauliflower instead.

     🍷Cheap Nero d'Avola

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Catching up again

LET'S SEE: Sunday we went for a drive, and had a huge, rich hamburger for a late lunch, leaving us unhungry at dinnertime. I'm not fond of cheeseburgers, and didn't realize that was what I was in for — it was listed as a "hamburger" on the menu; cheese was mentioned only in the fine print. Oh well: it was decent cheddar, at least for this purpose, and there were marvelous sweet-sour pickles involved along with the usual tomato and lettuce. I've had worse.

Trading Post Restaurant, 102 S Cloverdale Boulevard, Cloverdale, California; 📞+1 (707) 894-6483

MODAY WE HAD pasta for dinner — spirale, in Cook's fine tomato sauce. Green salad. Fruit.

     🍷Cheap Nero d'Avola

Eastside Road, December 6, 2017—
YESTERDAY WE FASTED, in our usual way, having café au lait with buttered toast at breakfast, a handful of nuts with tea in the evening. And tonight, tonight we had hot dogs, of all things, with sautéed red and yellow peppers and onions. Green salad after, and a tangerine.

     🍷Cheap Nero d'Avola

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Pork chops ma façon

Eastside Road, December 2, 2017—
NO DOUBT THEY'VE figured here a few times already, I've been posting this blog so many years… pork chops the way I cook them. You salt them when you get them home, of course, and wrap them loosely back in the paper they came in, and let them rest in the refrigerator.

Then you rub their beautiful white fat into a black iron skillet, and heat it well. Then you set them in the skillet to brown.

You pound garlic, salt, and fennel seeds in a mortar, and spread half that salve on the uncooked top surfaces of the chops. Drizzle a little olive oil on. Turn them when the underside's nicely browned, and spread the rest of the mixture on the new top surface.

I cooked some potatoes in salt, pepper, and olive oil in another skillet.

And I cooked sliced-lengthwise leeks and carrots in another pan, with water, olive oil, salt and pepper.

(I forgot: I like to grate some lemon zest onto the chops. Oh well: next time.)

     🍷Cheap Pinot grigio (it's nice to be home)

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Upscale trattoria

San Francisco, December 1, 2017—
I WILL PROBABLY NEVER get used to the contemporary dining scene. When I was a boy, and well into our marriage, restaurants were comparatively few. One dined at home, lunched at school or work. Everyone I knew had a lunchbucket of some kind, even office workers.

Now it seems there are restaurants everywhere. I read the other day there are some 7500 in San Francisco, one for every hundred citizens. And I understand there are apartments and even houses being designed now lacking cooking facilities, barring toasters I suppose and perhaps microwave ovens.

We were on Hayes Street this afternoon: one eating place after another, both sides the street. We were there to try a place new to us but well reviewed, a trattoria I suppose you'd call it. We began with a classic tuna-and-cannellini salad, tricked up a bit beyond what I think of as authenticity with capers and "tonnato aioli," a little too much of that, and it a little too gloppy, to my taste.

("Tonnato aioli"? The collision of languages and culinary streams is unsettling. The entire menu description was

tuna conserva, cannelini beans, celery, red onion, caper berries, tonnato aioli
You forgive the occasional honest diner who wants to know simply what's going to be on the plate. Tuna conserva? Caper berries?)

Oh well: glop aside, the tuna-cannellini salad was fine, and so was the bucatini all'amatriciana, a dish we somehow overlooked last week in Rome. This did seem authentic: chunks of pancetta (not guanciale), tomato sauce, a good dusting of grated pecorino. A very pleasant midday supper. I'd go back.

     🍷A Martini; "Vino della Casa": a Sangiovese blend from Napa county; don't know further details; perfectly acceptable.
A Mano, 450 Hayes Street, San Francisco; 📞+1 (415) 506-7401

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

Friday, December 1, 2017

Local bistro

Eastside Road, November 30, 2017—
AFTER A COUPLE of weeks eating in Italy — and, don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining — my tastes often seem to turn toward traditional French bistro fare. So it was doubly pleasing when an old friend suggested a new place (new to us) for a night out.

Not that this place is completely authentic. The evening's prix-fixe menu sounded enticing, on this cold night, until I learned that the cassoulet featured not goose or duck confit but rabbit. I'm sure a rabbit-and-beans stew could be delicious, but it is not a cassoulet — so I opted for a simple hanger steack au poivre vert, cooked rare, to my specification. A little tough, as rare steak must be, but delicious.

All three of us ordered the steak, though the women took theirs medium rare. We began with Caesar salad — again, not strictly bistro fare, but very nicely done, almost up to Zuni Restaurant standard, with silvery boquerones in place of the usual salt anchovies, and a tiny overbalance toward lemon juice, but still very nice indeed.

Crème brulée for dessert, smooth in a shallow terrine, flavored with lavender, star anise, and Madagascar vanilla, correctly made.

     🍷Pinot grigio/Vermentino, "Costiera," Seghesio, 2013: very pleasing
     Syrah, Trione Vineyards, 2013: mature and characteristic

Walter Hansel Wine Bistro, 3535 Guerneville Rd Santa Rosa; 📞+1 (707) 546-6462

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017