Saturday, December 3, 2016

After the feasting

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Eastside Road, December 2, 2016—

TWO RESTAURANTS and a dinner at home. Last night, after a delayed fast day, we met friends in town at a place we've neglected for a couple of years. My companion and I split a butter lettuce salad, a nice one with bits of bacon and blue cheese, and then I went on to the roast chicken, simply prepared and served with mushroom ragout and a raviolo — and not an ordinary raviolo: this one is filled with a barely-cooked hen's egg, a beautiful preparation. I've always thought there was something a little creepy about eating both egg and chicken on the same dish, but I was willing to suspend foolishness this time.

Côtes du Rhône, Domaine La Manarine, 2014

Barndiva, 231 Center Street, Healdsburg, California; (707) 431-0100

LUNCH TODAY back in town with a friend, at a new place of her choosing — a cider works serving a limited but interesting menu. She, for example, had crêpes stacked with blanched spinach and cheddar cheese, then folded in a gratinée dish, covered with a béchamel sauce, and brought all together in the oven. IMG 3203 Had it been Gruyère instead of cheddar I'd have ordered it; but I made do with a plate of charcuterie: salami, prosciutto, thinly sliced raw roast beef, and a pork-liver paté; with very nice pickles, pickled onion, capers, and little pitted black olives; also quite piquant little chile peppers - not quite relevant, I thought, but I ate them all: you gotta eat your vegetables.

Of many possibilities I chose the single-varietal Gravenstein cider, finished dry as a bone. I ordered it out of loyalty to my childhood, near Sebastopol's apple country. In those days we made a lot of cider from Gravensteins, murkier and sweeter than this (and unfermented for the most part). My friend ordered more wisely, a blend, almost as dry but with a more complex flavor.

•Sonoma Cider Taproom, 44F Mill Street, Healdsburg, California; (707) 723-7018

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DINNER AT HOME: Turkey Tetrazzini. I remember this as a staple of the church suppers I endured on Wednesday nights, I think it was, the year-and-a-half I lived with my grandparents, though I'm sure we'd have called it turkey a la king, and it wouldn't have been this good. Surprisingly there were not many recipes at hand, not even in Ada Boni's Italian Regional Cooking or The Talisman; this is perhaps an American invention, named for the soprano. Cook consulted Rose Sorce's The Complete Italian Cook Book, a book I've never looked into.

The recipe involves diced cooked turkey mushrooms, flour, broth, white wine, cream, olive oil, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan cheese; so I suppose there's a nod to besciamella here, though the result as Cook made it was not at all heavily sauced, simply bound. She used her favored penne instead of the broken spaghetti called for by la Sorce. (I note, now, the cookbook subtitles the recipe Tacchino alla Tetrazzini, so perhaps the dish is Italian after all.)

In any case, a fine way to extend a little leftover turkey into a main dish, followed by green salad and a last sliver of that rich, noble, venerable mince pie.

Cheap Pinot grigio

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

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