Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Return to Marius


Amsterdam, October 18, 2016—

AN EASY FLIGHT over the Alps brought us back to my favorite airport, Schiphol; a quick Dutch train took us to Zaandam for an afternoon with friends we hadn't seen for years; then Krijn drove us to Barentzstraat where we dined at our favorite Amsterdam restaurant with the chef's parents, with whom we'd just recently toured Liguria.

Marius: such a cozy dining room; such a pleasing, simple but inspired menu; such masterful technique in the kitchen. The only problem we had was entirely my fault: in the confusion of departure I forgot to bring along the menu.

The menu at Marius is a single sheet of paper announcing the antipasto (present when you're seated), three first courses (one of which, vitello tonnato, is always present), three second courses, or the Grande Bouillabaise (which, containing schaaldieren as the Dutch call crustacea, is off limits for me). 

(Schaaldieren: an interesting word. Dutch translates the English "shellfish" with its own word schaalvis, a cognate; schaaldieren then is literally "shellanimals" or perhaps "scaleanimals". I wish English would stop using the ambiguous word "shellfish," which too often applies to everything from periwinkles to lobsters.)

I started with a delicious serving of cod with artichokes, beets, and greens, in a fine olive-oil based salsa verde.

 From there, the ├ęchine and ├ępaule du porc, varkenrug en -schouder I think: I'm not sure what pork spine would be in English. (The menu is entirely in Dutch, and in the chef's handwriting, making my visual memory even less reliable this morning.)


This came with a mix of corn kernels and small potato dice; apple may have been present; I was too busy talking and enjoying to take notes, and write this next morning. The pork was tender and succulent, and the bed of celery-root puree gave a fine textural contrast.


Dessert: hangop. Hangop is a kind of fresh cheese, an old Dutch farm wife product: you hang up a cloth bag filled with cream (or in this case cream and yoghurt blended, I think) over the sink for a day or so, and flavor the resulting product (the one in the bag, not the product that's dripped away) with raisins, little dice of candied fruit, perhaps citrus peel, and so forth. This is a delicious thing, very delicious. Of course Dutch dairy products are remarkable.

Roussette de Savoie, Altesse, vintage? (full-bodied yet light and fresh, delightful)

Pinot nero, Bottega Vinai (Trentino), 2014 (wonderful fruit, smooth and pleasant, almost rich)

 Marius, Barentszstraat 173, Amsterdam; ‭+31 20 422 78 80

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Another dinner at home


Rome, October 17, 2016—

A FRIEND'S HOME, that is; an apartment in the Prati, crowded with moving boxes full of a lifetime's collecting books and scores. The paintings are yet to be moved. A monumental job, begun only a week ago, but it hadn't hindered Jeanne from preparing a marvelous midday meal almost entirely from their country seat on the Tuscan coast.

We began with a type of pilaf: long-grain rice, perfectly cooked, with chopped vegetables: onion, tomato, pepper, and greens. Then a coniglio, beautifully flavored with white wine, rosemary, sage, and thyme — each flavor individually distinguishable, but all blending thanks to the wine and olive oil.

(A fine, green, fragrant oil from their own olives, supple and not at all catch-at-your-throat, that Tuscan quality I don't particularly favor.)

Contorni: what seemed to my companion to be broccolini, but Jeanne insisted was long-leaf green cabbage; perhaps both were involved, long-cooked in the slow Italian way. Insalata verde. 

Fruit: first, Fuyu persimmon — not my favorite fruit, but better than the slimy variety — with alarmingly blue sugar-sprinkles, what the Dutch call hagel. Moscato grapes from their vineyard.

Grillo (Sicily); Chianti (Brolio, Ricasoli, 2014, very nice)


Afterward a marvelous gelato down the street. As usual I had fior di latte and crema; both outstanding, the crema a deep yellow.

Gelateria Roma da 1947, Via Cola di Rienzo, 2, Roma, Italy

Monday, October 17, 2016

Roman staples


Rome, October 16, 2016— 

MIDDAY MEAL today out at the end of the tram 8 line in a trattoria new to us but much discussed. We ate on the terrace, seated by the hostess and her eight-year-old daughter apprentice, waited on by rushing servers in black and white, after scanning a menu much given to Roman stand-bys only slightly tweaked for the new century. (Well, it's no longer quite so new, is it.)

We started, the three of us, one of them a Zivny (Francesca, that is), with anchovies. This was simply a plate of salted anchovies, lots of them, drowned in very good olive oil. Fortunately there was enough bread to sponge up the oil after we'd had our way with the fish.

Another fish: the contessa and I could not turn down a filetto di baccala, perhaps the tenderest and purest expression of salt cod we've found yet, served very lightly breaded and fried, in a paper sleeve, with half a lemon. Pure pleasure.


I continued with tonnarelli alla gricia, because after all I had cacio e pepe yesterday. Tonnarelli are square-cut long pasta; I know them as maccheroni alla chitarra; alla gricia is simply cacio e pepe with the addition of bits (in this case quite generous) of guanciale. It was delicious; but the contessa's cacio e pepe was purer, more focussed, altogether the best I've tasted, though I'll always be faithful to da Lucia, over in Trastevere.

Cesanese da Piglio, Casale della Ioria, 2014

Trattoria Da Cesare al Casaletto, Via del Casaletto, 45, Rome; +39 06 536015

AFTER A MARVELOUS concert of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater and Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante, conducted by a friend, we gathered at a late-night eatery (they're all late-night) for a pizza.


I had Margarita, of course, pizza at its purest: tomato sauce, cheese, olive oil. No distracting basilico here! The pizza was first-rate; so was the conversation.

Red wine in carafe

Trattoria Arancio d'Oro, Via di Monte d'Oro 17, Rome; +39 06 86981209

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Contemporary Rome


Rome, October 15, 2016—

ANOTHER RETURN to a place we've liked before, a modern version of a Roman trattoria, with a fairly short menu of mostly characteristic Roman specialties, many of them tweaked a bit to bring them toward the kinds of tastes informed by cuisine magazines.

Thus my first course:  Battuto di Scottona Marchigiana, Pinolo Parmigiana e Lampone Ghiacciato. This is my old friend steak tartare: Scottona is a breed of beef cattle raised in the Marche. The meat was coarsely knife-chopped; it tastes different from the Piedmontese beef — not so sweet, for one thing — and has a less silky texture (but is still far from rough between the teeth).

It came with a garland of arugula and a trace of mustard sauce, and the cylinder of beef rested on a bed of what seemed like heavily toasted chopped nuts with perhaps a slight bit of coarsest ground coffee mixed in. Most surprising, though, was the spread of what I took to be frozen watermelon granita on top of the dish. Lampone, the menu said, raspberries; but it tasted like watermelon to me.


Next, spaghetti cace e pepe, a Roman classic, the pasta flavored only with butter, grafted pecorino (or Romano), and black pepper. The latter was too finely ground and too sparsely used, to my taste, but the whole was a fine version, and I'd order it again.

Dessert: I skipped through the list, which included something involving veal brains of all things, and lit on the semifreddo, a very hard-frozen custard robed in dark chocolate and garnished with whipped cream, smooth ricotta, and a sprinkling of ground pistachio. Interesting, professional, rewarding.


Pecorino (the white wine, not the cheese) in carafe

L'Osteria di Monteverde, via Pietro Cartoni, 163/165, Rome; 06.53273887



Rome, October 14, 2016—

BACK TO A FAMILIAR spot tonight to celebrate getting together with our Roman granddaughter, who lives nearby and lunches here frequently. As its name suggests, it's as much a wine bar as an eating spot, and its menu is on the short side.

It is also very much on the enterprising side, with surprising, sometimes jarring (to conservative and aging me) combinations of ingredients. (The wines, too, tend toward the unsual, with a heavy concentration of "natural" and biodynamic wines.)


After a fairly tiring drive today I was in the mood for something light, and was happy to find a simply cooked baccala on the blackboard, served with potatoes and capers. It was clean, straightforward, and balanced, just right.

Afterward, another simple choice: a crostata da marmellata, apricot jam in this case, no doubt more commercial than "artisanal," but perfectly satisfying.


"Bianco antico", Vej, Podere Pradarolo, 2015: a dusty orange color, unfiltered, long-fermented with the skins, unusual and in fact quite good

Litro, Via Fratelli Bonnet 5, Rome; +39 06 45447639

Uf non siamo in Piemonte


Modena, October 13, 2016— 

ABOUT HALF WAY between Torino and Rome we pull off the autostrada near the vinegar-making city Modena to spend the night in a house in the country. Where to eat? Our hostess suggests a nearby tratttoria, simple, plain, honest...

Well, we are not in Piemonte any longer, that's for sure. I'm not hung up about the state of people's bodies: fat, skinny, tall, short, there are many ways to be a human being, and they're nearly all interesting to observe.

But the people who eat in this restaurant are clearly mangiatore, confirmed eaters. Even the little bulldog being dragged by its leash on its resistant paws from the front door to the table next to ours — even he is clearly overweight, and not unhappy about it. 

Our waiter lost no time getting many slices of exceptionally good salami to our table, along with pretty good bread and pretty mediocre commercial grissini. There was of course no menu; everything was spoken. 


I began with tortoloni, dense ones packed with a delicious filling of spinach noticeably laced with nutmeg, and went on to as prosaic, straightforward a stinco di maiale as you could ask. The pork shank simply sat on my plate, with only a little of its own juice to accompany it. But it was good, honest pork, taking me back to the pork we ate on the farm when I was a boy. And on the side was a bowl of marvelous cold pickled onions.


Dessert was a sacripantina, a liquor-soaked three-layer dessert involving chocolate, rustic custard, and soaked cake colored an improbable red with the traditional alkermes, which I'll leave you to look up — you might not believe me.

Rebola, Romandiola, "Lupi di Rimini", 2013: light, refreshing, pleasant. And a glass of the local Lambrusco, fizzy, a little sweet.

Trattoria Secchia, via Serrassina 1083, Soliera (MO); +39 059.567.130

Friday, October 14, 2016

Dinner at home


Cardona di Alfiano Natta, October 12, 2016—

NO BETTER MEAL than dinner cooked by a friend, served in her dining room, accompanied by good wines, taken with friends, enlivened by conversation on subjects serious and light, four languages at play. 

It's generally a problem here, discussing such dinners. This blog was in fact a small, passing subject during the conversation: how and whether to mention private dinners (frequently I don't); whether I occasionally dislike a meal (yes, but it's rarely interesting to write about); why I don't mention prices (what I spend is none of your business — besides, as my contessa pointed out, restaurant prices are generally available online). 


But to this dinner: we began with a big crostino, beautiful end-of-season tomatoes crushed on Gabriella's own bread, drizzled with Franco's own olive oil, decorated with a pungent basil leaf. 

Next a comfortable serving of rigatoni with tomato sauce, carrying the theme forward — wheat, tomato, olive oil in a very different textural context. I love this kind of artistry; it's musical. 

Then the secondo: coniglii arrosto, rabbit marinated overnight and roasted in the oven, lightly but interestingly flavored with herbs.


Dessert: Zuppa inglese: cake, custard; chocolate. Marvelous. 

Freisa d'Asti, Ca' del Prete, 2013: supple, attractive, Beaujolais-like and fresh for its age;

Ruche' di Castagnole Monferrato,  Caresana, 2015: rich, deep, sober. 

With thanks and love for Gabriella and Franco, and apologies for invading their privacy, and gratitude for splendid hospitality at B and B I Mandorli over sixteen years!