Monday, June 27, 2016

Terrapin Crossroads

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San Rafael, June 23, 2016—
OUF, THIS IS NO WAY to prepare for a strenuous week. Don't get me wrong: I do not complain about the kitchen. We like this restaurant. But I was seduced by a menu item, and ordered it without heeding the description…

First, though, I started with a very nice salad, described by our waitress as "compressed watermelon" with cucumber and feta cheese. The chunks of watermelon had probably been set under a weighted plate for a while, to drain them of superfluous fluid; it's a nice way to deal with what can be a recalcitrant ingredient.

The lemon cucumbers were firm and meaty, no compression needed. The salad was strewn with sprouts of some kind — after all, this is a restaurant whose roots are in the 1960s. (It's owned by Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead). Thankfully not too many sprouts, and just the right sprinkle of feta crumbs. And a few Padrones, my first of the year…

My temptress was steak-frites. The fine print: "12 ounces." It was grilled just to my specification — rare, not slimy — and needed only a bit of salt. The asparagus was also perfectly grilled, still crisp but definitely cooked; and the fries were tasty as well. But three quarters of a pound of rich beef is too much for me these days…

Which didn't keep me from driving the nail home with dessert: "doughnuts" — lacking the central holes, they were in fact crullers, I say — with an excellent texture and very cleanly fried, and accompanied by chocolate sauce, caramel, and a fine pastry cream. As I say, we like this restaurant.

Pinot gris, Acrobat (Willamette Valley), 2013: fresh, light, pleasant; Zinfandel, Steele (Mendocino), 2010: note the vintage — mature, fruity, rich, alcoholic

•Terrapin Crossroads, 100 Yacht Club Drive, San Rafael, California; (415) 524-2773

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015IMG 7906

Sausage; strawberries

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Eastside Road, June 26, 2016—
I MENTIONED STRAWBERRIES the other day. Yesterday, at the Healdsburg Farm Market, Cook bought them from two different farmers: Renee Kiff, whose radishes, lettuces, and melons are among our favorites (and who is a warm and witty columnist in the local newspaper, the Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar), and Lou Preston, whose wines are also among our favorites, and who bakes bread as good as anyone's, and then he makes pickles, and sauerkraut, and grows all sorts of vegetables…

Enough. Cook turned those berries into a shortcake today, but complained that they were too dry. Well, it was one hundred degrees today, and not a trace of moisture in the air; you can forgive strawberries drying out a bit in this weather.

Renee's strawberries were a variety new to us, Tribute, nice-looking but tasting, I thought, like the commercial strawberries I never really appreciated — they taste like mostly citric acid to me, though better palates than mine respond much more positively. Lou had some Mara des bois, the go-to strawberry these days, but Cook had bought another variety whose name I don't recall.

I noticed we all managed to eat our shortcake. Earlier, we'd enjoyed Franco Dunn's sweet Italian sausages, grilled over rosemary and grape and rose wood on the patio, and green beans cooked with onions and shallots, and the obligatory green salad.

Cheap Pinot grigio; Garnacha/Monastrell, Laya (Almansa), 2014

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Flounder again

Eastside Road, June 25, 2016—
A MODIFIED REPEAT of dinner a week ago. It's Saturday; we went to the Farm Market in Healdsburg this morning, and there we found the flounder again.

Cook dredged it in flour tonight, as she did last week, and fried it in butter, in the black iron skillet. I think I've rarely tasted fish so fresh, so delicate, so delicious. I remember fish bought on the beach in Tahiti, fish that changes color an hour after being caught: this was that fresh.

With it, English peas, cooked simply; afterward, green salad, the vinaigrette made with lemon juice instead of the usual vinegar.

Rosé: La Ferme Julien, 2014

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Baked eggs

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Eastside Road, June 24, 2016—

AFTER LAST NIGHT, I told Cook, I want to eat light. And what, she reasonably asked, would "light" be? Well, I said, nothing rich, nothing heavy, just a little bit to tide us over.

Eggs, she said, brightly. So she peeled and cut up a couple of potatoes and boiled them and mashed them with some garlic and some dill, and she got a jar of her tomato confit down from the pantry.

The confit went into the bottom of baking dishes, and a couple of eggs got broken over the confit, and the dishes went into the toaster-oven for a short while. Well, actually, I don't know how long a while. I was busying myself with the Martini shaker.

Green salad afterward, you can be sure, and ice cream, with caramel sauce… nice to have a pastry chef in the house…

Rosé, La Ferme Julien,

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Eating simple

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Eastside Road, June 22, 2016—

JUST A COINCIDENCE, but tonight's supper might have been a nod to the looming British vote: banger and mash.

The banger, though, is one of Franco Dunn's Toscana sausages, a far remove from your typical British sausage. Cook mashed the potatoes with a bit of milk, I believe, and a couple of cloves of garlic. Green salad afterward, and Bob's your uncle.

Red blend, Preston of Dry Creek: delicious. I'm sorry it's all gone.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

Back to the café

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Berkeley, June 21, 2016—

LUNCH IN TOWN with a friend on tour from Japan, and why not meet in the café? And you know I cannot resist brandade in any form.

Here it was on the menu, disguised as a delicious pizzetta, with a perfect balance of brandade and tomato sauce and a fine sprinkling of marjoram. You can't do a lot better.

Especially if you follow it up with a galette. Apricots are in full season, and an apricot galette is not to be declined. A complementary sherbet doesn't hurt!

House Zinfandel
•Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525
RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016


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Eastside Road, June 20, 2016—
FOR MANY YEARS I declined strawberries. I just didn't see the point of them. They were big, woody, flat tasting. I liked fraises des bois, of course; but garden variety commercial strawberries left me cold.

We were lucky to get fraises readily, in season; we used to pick them up in Petaluma, where the remarkable Mary Isaak grew them for Chez Panisse in various rented vacant lots. And we had a few plants of our own, when we lived in Berkeley. But the season was short. Those grotesque commercial strawberries were available year round, I think; but they weren't worth eating.

Then we met Nancy Skall, the memorable late Nancy Skall, who grew amazingly fragrant and delicious strawberries at her Middleton Gardens. She would never tell us the name of the variety: perhaps she didn't know. They certainly weren't fraises; they were strawberries — but small, and deeply colored, and almost pungent.

Since those days, now getting on thirty years ago, of course others have begun growing decent strawberries. The Chandler variety is a good one, and the folks down in Swanton grow them well.

These days we buy them from Lou Preston, and old friend and a sort of neighbor; his farm and vineyard are perhaps twelve miles away, but worth driving to. Here you see the strawberries with sliced peaches from Dry Creek Peach, whose orchard is only a mile or two from Lou. The vanilla ice cream's another matter — Straus, I think; I may be misremembering.

THAT WAS YESTERDAY. Today, a little off my feed, and it being far too hot, we had supper in mid-afternoon, so we could do a little more work outside in the cool of the evening. IMG 7860

We had penne in Cook's marvelous tomato sauce, with a grating of Parmesan on top, as you see, and never forget the grind of black pepper. Green salad afterward.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015