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.

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating: 2016      2015     2017

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