Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pasta down the hill

Ham, snow peas, asparagus, mushrooms, arugula, olive oil, cream, salt, pepper, pasta


TO THE NEIGHBORS TONIGHT for dinner and a bit of a cooking lesson. Eric sliced some bits off the ham — it certainly didn't hurt that it was a Smithfield — and Thérèse sliced snow peas, mushrooms, and asparagus to sauté with them, adding a few leaves of arugula and just a splash or two of cream toward the end. Fettucini. Black pepper and Parmagiano. A green salad.

Pinot grigio

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Salmon again

Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission St., San Francisco, tel. 415.648.7600
mixed baby lettuces, Delta asparagus, baby beets, Champagne vinaigrette
Roasted salmon, new potatoes, fig-hazelnut aillade, green olive toast, radishes, lemon mayonnaise
small dessert "tastes"


THE BAKER'S DOZEN, an organization of professional bakers and associated paraprofessionals, meets at one of our favorite restaurants every few months, with a presentation or panel of some kind, a question-and-answer session, lots of conversation, and a fine lunch.
Today the subject was cupcakes, and four bakers were on hand to compare notes and describe their commitment to the genre — three of them having gone into the business of cupcake specialization. That was very interesting, and the samples they and other members had brought were delicious. But so was the lunch.
We started with a tender spring salad: soft, flavorful lettuces and crisp sturdy asparagus under a floral vinaigrette. There were those beets, but they were small and as subtle as their nature would permit: I think farmers have finally figured out how to grow edible beets.

Then came the dish you see up at the top, in the big photo. As you know we had salmon and new potatoes for dinner last night: but as you may also know, we don't mind repeating foods in consecutive meals. Last night's sockeye was grilled, smoky with grapevine wood, assertive; today's salmon was supple and tender. The fig-hazelnut aillade formed a sort of tangy chutney to set off this subtle fish, and the tapenade toast and lemon mayonnaise continued the theme.


Then there were the desserts, hardly needed you'd think after the cupcake samples we'd had before lunch, but cleansing and wholesome: a perfect strawberry wearing a discreet white-chocolate robe; a chewy little cookie whose texture recalled that fig-hazelnut compote; and strip of candied citron dipped in dark chocolate. Nothing more, nothing less.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Salmon on the grill

Lunch: green salad with poached eggs
Dinner: salmon, olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper; potatoes, garlic; arugula; green salad


LUNCH WAS GOOD ENOUGH: Green salad with poached eggs and a glass of white wine at Parkside Café (404 Santa Rosa Avenue, Santa Rosa, California, 95404; tel. 707-573-5955), an unpretentious but very good eatery. The lettuce was superb: fresh, tender, full of flavor, organic of course, from a Yolo county farm.

Dinner was just as good, if I do say it myself. The sockeye salmon, frozen, came from good old Trader Joe. I marinated it in olive oil and lemon juice for half an hour, with salt and pepper; meanwhile building a fire of grapevine cuttings and rose-canes (I always save them when I prune).

Halved, then sliced thick the potatoes; fried 'em in olive oil with unpeeled garlic cloves, salt, and rosemary.

Grilled the salmon by leaning it upgrill.jpg in a clamp-basket affair over the coals, say six minutes, then flip for a minute or two. I plated it out on beds of tender fresh arugula just cut in the garden.

Pinot grigio

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday afternoon in the country

Canapés, pizzas, roast pork with potatos, desserts


TO THE DRY CREEK VALLEY west of Geyserville this afternoon, there to graze and converse and relax among two of the kids, three of the grandchildren, and a couple dozen others, most of them met for the first time.

The house is on a hilltop facing west out across the valley and its vineyards. An elegant, curiously anthropomorphic pizza oven stands near the pool, and there Niko presided with his associate Amelia, who had squeezed out some fresh mozzarella from buffalo milk found who knows where.

The first pizzas were topped with sliced leeks and spring onions, the crust thin and brittle, nicely singed around the edges. Nearby Tatsuo looked in occasionally at a rack of pork turning slowly over a grill. Potatoes and garlic and rosemary were part of the menu as well.

Guests had brought a number of appetizers: smoked salmon, salmon rillettes, hardboiled egg canapés and the like. The wines ranged from a remarkably austere local Chardonnay — you might have thought it was Chablis — to a $3.99 sparkler from Trader Joe: there were no snobs among this company!

And since it was a visiting chef's birthday there was a cake, and rhubarb pie, and polenta cookies, and many other goodies…

CS.jpg oven.jpg

A fine hot Sunday afternoon in the wine country.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Backyard grill

Composed salad: Tuna, lettuce, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, capers…
Grilled steak and sausage


THE FIRE BEGAN WITH CHARCOAL briquets but went on to green fig wood, pieces from the recent pruning of several fig trees. I don't think the meat was particularly marinated; probably just salted a bit and laid on over the fire. Lindsey had made this delicious faux-niçoise salad; I especially noticed the grains of sea-salt in it.


The afternoon had been fairly strenuous, with a short hike in new shoes and new back-pack with twelve or fifteen pounds in it; and the Martini had left us thirsty and hungry and ready for a fine evening. Bats overhead eating the mosquitos; big owl flying silently overhead to roost in a nearby oak.

Lou Preston Sirah-syrah; côtes de Rhone Guignal

home again

pasta, olive oil, anchovies, garlic


Healdsburg, April 25—

HOME AGAIN, AND HAPPY to be so. And after the Friday Martini, we clipped a few leaves from the wild arugula plants, miraculously grown during our absence; and washed some lettuce, and made the usual vinaigrette.

And Lindsey cooked up a batch of pasta, and smashed some anchovies into a pan with a little oil and some crushed garlic.

Nero d'Avila

Thursday, April 24, 2008

New Sammy's

New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro, 2210 South Pacific Highway, Talent, Oregon

tel. 541-535-2779


DINNER TONIGHT, OH YES, at New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro up here in Ashland. Years ago I used to amuse myself constructing lists: among them, the Five Great Restaurants. The first time, it included Chez Panisse, Il Vipore, Obelisk, Stephanie's, and Het Pomphuis. They've changed since then, since three of five are out of business.

Today the list would clearly include New Sammy's. In fact that has been true for ten years now. New Sammy's is the kind of place whose genius evolves from a single person in the kitchen, in this case Charlene Rollins. There are very few such geniuses in my experience. Others would be Alice Waters, Amaryll Schwertner, the late Catherine Brandel — are they all female? Why wouldn't they be?

New Sammy's is something between a three-star restaurant and a roadhouse, halfway between Ashland and Talent on old Highway 99 in southwest Oregon. They've recently enlarged, hiding the original cute little restaurant behind a new vaguely Southwest-style stucco-and-recycled-timbers facade incorporating a fine comfortable wine bar; and they're serving lunch at the end of the week — do you hear that, Ashland playgoers? — but the kitchen is as brilliant as ever.

You see the first course above. (Well, the first principal course: earlier
amuses-gueles involved sorrel-fish-stock-based soup with roe, and such.): broccoli rabe, asparagus, artichoke, nearly hard-cooked quail eggs (or perhaps pullet, or bantam hen), with bits of chive and basil and a curious black oval-leafed mint, all from the garden.

Then the main course, local lamb chops on the best risotto I've ever had, soft, fragrant, perfectly cooked. The lamb tasted of the pasture, a clean, nutty, subtle taste, but muscular and meaty. (Just right of center in the photo you see one of those little mint leaves, turned upside-down as it happens and so not dark at all.)


With this a fine red Loire, Tête de lard Saumur 2004, fragrant of bacon, of all things, a Cabernet franc with lots of structure and tannin and aroma. And afterwards a perfect panforte. An amazing dinner. You'd be hard-pressed to find anything better.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ashland Bistro Café

tomato-white bean soup; lamb shank with orzo


LUNCH WAS A NICE BIG SALAD with a dear old friend and her daughter at the big organic supermarket here in Ashland, washed down with a bottle of pomegranate-flavored black tea — not a bad thing, as it turned out. But where, between plays, for our first dinner in this town in several months?

We chose a new place, Ashland Bistro Café, situated in the lower-end storefront (down near the lithia water fountain) where the Ashland Bakery used to be. The wine list was small but resourceful, and the menu pleasant enough. Since I'd had a big salad for lunch I was allowed to skip it at dinner, and settled for a tomato soup with lots of small white kidney beans in it, not overcooked. The main course was this lamb shank on orzo, with carrots that might have been cooking slowly for hours, roasted and braised, sweet and deep.

Erath Pinot grigio; XYZ Zinfandel

Historic Brownsville

Ashland, Oregon, April 22—

AFTER A DELICIOUS breakfast at Pearl Bakery — pain aux raisins and a cappuccino — we drove to Brownsville, a curiously old-fashioned mill town a few miles east and south of Albany, for lunch with an old friend at the Corner Café. Storefront; glass on two sides; tables for four, booths; every surface but the windows painted white.

The chairs were oddly low to the floor, as if for a primary school; and some of the decor consisted of what seemed to be chair-legs and -stretchers, sawn away from their sources and set upright like organ pipes on the plate-rails running along the walls.

Soups, sandwiches, salads. I had half a chef's salad and a chicken-artichoke bake, which turned out to be curried chicken with artichoke chunks, better than you might think, with a glass of iced tea. This was a trip back to the 1940s, really; and the lettuces in the salad, from a local garden, were delicious and authentic.

Dinner at the motel: salami and bread, raw cauliflower and carrot; and a glass of Albariña at a wine bar after the play...

Monday, April 21, 2008


Biwa Restaurant, 215 SE 9th Avenue, Portland
tel. 503-239-8830

DINNER TONIGHT AT a Japanese restaurant, Biwa, cool and industrial-elegant in a hip-pocket of eastside Portland. It's not my usual cuisine, Japanese, but I'm supposed to be getting into training. The menu was of course utterly unfamiliar, and I forgot to take my camera along, and it was a sharing situation among the five of us, and I didn't take notes.

I can report, though, that the beef tartare was absolutely delicious, nicely flavored, set on a bed of cucumber slices, and nestling a quail egg. The lamb skewer ("Genghis Khan") was also tasty, and the skewered garlic cloves, and the ramen, and the octopus chijimi (Korean griddle-cake with octopus and vegetables), and the pork-fried rice which seemed to me to have smoked pancetta chopped into it. There were many other things, too; but that's enough to give you the idea. Savory, pleasant, and fun.

Sapporo beer

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday croissant

TO EXTRACTO FOR COFFEE this morning (2921 NE Killingsworth St Portland OR 97211) — the second coffee, I mean; a nice cappuccino is always the first order of the day here in Portland. And, since it's Sunday, and being on the road we skipped the usual Sunday-morning soft-boiled egg, why not have a croissant?

I'm not going to take the time for a dissertation on croissants right now; I'm not in the mood. The best I've had have been hand-made, and I don't have any reason to think that was true of this morning's. On the first bite it seemed to have that slightly bitter taste baked goods sometimes develop, I don't know why — though I always suspect chemicals in the flour as the reason. The second taste came after a taste of my cappuccino, though, and it was okay, no bitterness, or if any was present it was masked by the coffee — and while I'm always loyal to my own brand, which for quite a while now has been Blue Bottle, Extracto is very good indeed, perhaps the best I know of in Portland. (I'd have to do one-on-ones with Ristretto and Umbria to be sure of that.)

Later today we were at Ken's Artisan Bakery for bread for dinner, and there Pavel and I split a canalé. I'll write about them again: the photo I took didn't really work out, and they're quite special, so I'll try again tomorrow or next day. We almost always stop at Ken's and Pearl on the morning we leave Portland, for canalés and gibassiers; we leave day after tomorrow, and that'll be the opportunity.

In the meantime, tonight's dinner: a rough, nutmeggy, delicious country paté with bread and a glass of red, then quiche, quickly steamed potatoes persillés, and broccoli.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lunch; then dinner.

Lunch: Ciabatta from Pearl Bakery, olive oil, salt;
oysters on the half shell

Dinner: Butter lettuce salad with blue cheese and hazelnuts; pork cheeks braised with red wine and prunes, with polenta and spinach

Lovely Hula Hands, 4057 N. Mississippi, Portland, Oregon;
tel. 503.445.9910

DINNER TONIGHT AT LOVELY HULA HANDS in Portland, a neighborhood restaurant, cozy and unassuming as to the decor, with an unusually (even for this eating town) attractive menu. After a perfect Martini, a fine salad, with local lettuce, blue cheese, and hazelnuts, with a glass of white; then pork cheeks, the flavor and texture reminiscent of a soft mature confit, the polenta supple and delicate, the spinach just assertive enough (with garlic) to cut through the mounting unctuousness of the rest of the plate.

Afterward, a fine grainy cheesecake with another confit, this time of dried fruits. Today's lunch had been perfect enough, God knows; you can't beat good bread, good olive oil, good salt, and all the oysters you want. But the dinner, eaten with good friends in a gezellig setting, was even better.

Cheverny, Domaine Philippe Tessier, Loire, 2005;
Eprove rouge, Sangiovese-Grenache, Domaine Maestracci, Corsica, 2003

Friday, April 18, 2008

Steak and beans

1.5 lb. steak; 2 bunches spinach; 2 cans beans

FLORENTINE BEEFSTEAK: one of the great simple dishes. You salt both sides of the steak when you get it home and re-wrap it loosely in its paper and chill it in the refrigerator until an hour or so before dinner. Then you put it in a pan with quite a bit of olive oil, first black-peppering both sides, and let it stand an hour or so. (I bought grass-fed bison steak today.)

I washed two bunches of spinach, then chopped them coarsely, then chopped fairly fine a good-sized clove of garlic and threw it in, and some salt, and cooked it in the water that clung to it after washing it. while heating a black iron frying pan good and hot.

In the meantime a couple of cans of cannelini were cooking with a couple or three dried sage leaves crumbled into them.

The steak was cooked five or six minutes on each side, then sliced, and plattered as you see. Don't forget the lemon!

Viña Borgia Campo de Borja 2006, Garnacha, cheap, from Spain

Thursday, April 17, 2008

bread and salame

broccoli rabe; bread and salame; green salad; Comté


NOTHING TERRIBLY SPECIAL about it, after all: a simple supper thrown together pretty quickly because there are so many other things to be done. Two baseball games (Cubs lost; Sox won); an hour at the gym, a little shopping. A visit to a new café, new to us I mean, Umbria, clean and bright in the modern Italian manner, not the nostalgic Portland manner. And a lot of conversation.

The bread is from Ken's, one of our two favorite bakeries up here. The salame is Fra Mani. The broccoli was steamed with a little garlic. The Comté, ah, that was delicious, nutty and as if resinous...

Vigna del Gelso Malbech, 2005

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Toasted cheese and onion

Bread; cheddar cheese; white onion

SOME TASTES ARE JUST NATURALLY affinitive: ham and asparagus; sausage and artichoke; gin and vermouth. Anthony Boucher wrote a wonderful science-fiction story, years ago, in which a tiny by-the-way in an account otherwise about really serious issues raised by space-travel to the planet Venus involved the discovery, there, of a plant without which the lamb-garlic-rosemary-salt combination was simply incomplete.

Among these simple but brilliant marriages of taste: good bread, cheddar cheese, onion. You butter the bread, or you sprinkle it with olive oil, or you don't. You put very thin slices of raw white onion on it. You then put on the cheddar cheese. Some people put it on in thin slices; others grate it coarsely. Doesn't matter which.

Under the broiler, then, until the cheese melts and bubbles a bit, and maybe some edges nearly burn.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

potatoes, onion, fennel, olive oil, salt; cod; asparagus

DINNER AT HOME IN PORTLAND tonight: a couple of pans Giovanna slid into the oven. One with asparagus to be roasted; the other a fine fish casserole, I guess you'd call it -- the potatoes sliced say a quarter-inch thick, layered with sliced fennel and onions, cooked until nearly done; then the fish set atop and the dish returned to the oven another ten minutes or so. Very nice.
house white

Monday, April 14, 2008

Black Bear, Willows

ON THE ROAD, THEN, & taking what we find, with gratitude. In this case, a salad with iceberg lettuce, grated carrot, a couple of cherry tomatoes, some sliced raw onion, some croutons, and a balsamic vinaigrette; a small Sirloin steak grilled rare, a heap of mashed potatoes, some cornstarch-thickened brown gravy; a little bowl of canned green beans. I've always rather liked canned green beans, fortunately.

Cabernet sauvignon nonvintage

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Catchup (not ketchup)

fish fritters; bread and gruyère; green bean and potato salad; roast turkey

NO PHOTOS YESTERDAY, and I'd meant to show you how Jacques Pépin had grated the garlic for his vinaigrette: the way his mother did, across the tines of a dinner fork, like this:


Then I smashed the salt into the garlic with the same fork, and covered it all with olive oil; the vinegar to go in later, just before blending it all with the fork and adding the lettuce leaves for salad.


I mentioned that we'd had leftovers. This was the end of the cicerchie soup; as delicious as ever.


Today it was the usual Sunday morning soft-boiled eggs and toast; then a quick trip to Laytonville to see a school play, and afterward supper at Paolo and Meadow's: locally foraged fish and wild turkey, not a prepossessing bird to see, but fine flavor and texture!


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pépin and Perlman

I NEVER THOUGHT THERE'D BE MUCH about Itzhak Perlman that would inspire me beyond a respect for virtuosity. Tonight, though, after a day of the usual (e-mail, gym, arrange for next week's trip, discuss flights for June, a little chipping/shredding after fixing the chipper/shredder, a little weeding, and so on) it was time for the Saturday night Martini and the television news. After a few minutes of polygamy from Texas I went out on the patio to listen to the birds. Then I came back in and switched channel to find Itzhak Perlman and Jacques Pépin cooking up striped bass, roast duck, noodles, and blood orange ice cream. What an interesting conversation they had in the meanwhile! I think you can hear it online; give it a try.

Music, I mean the performance of it, and food, that is, the cooking of it, have a few things in common. I really do think they both exhibit the ineffable quality of the human: our species is blest with a special relationship to the natural. We can fixate on aspects of Nature which seem to have no other purpose, to put a teleological point on it, than to delight. Sound and Taste: we could (and some of us do) live without them, live perfectly healthy and productive lives: but who would want to?

Pépin is such an engaging man, so seamlessly grown out of his French boyhood, so alert still to the pleasures of la vie quotidienne, everyday life. And be damned if Perlman didn't exhibit many of the same qualities. He actually says, at one point, something like the finest moments in performing come when the musician simply serves the music, which is a nice thing for a composer to hear. (We feel that's what we do, too.)

Toast and café au lait for breakfast; lentils and banana and pomegranate juice for lunch; toasted walnuts and almonds with the Martinis; broccoli and leftovers for dinner: an humble day's fare, and tasty, and nourishing.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Salads on the patio

Lentil salad, green salad, egg salad


I DON'T GET THESE GUYS on the television news: they crow about how wonderful the weather is, but it's unseasonably hot. Not mid-April yet, and it's almost too hot to eat lunch outside. But at the last minute a breeze came up, and it was almost comfortable. We had a couple of friends over, and Lindsey made lentil salad: the lentils, chicken stock, cilantro, a little butter, a little garlic, a little ginger, lemon juice and rind, salt and pepper. She made egg salad for sandwiches: eggs, mayonnaise, grated onion, tarragon, salt, dry mustard, capers. She made green salad, with my usual vinaigrette. Much talk, for we have things to discuss, we four, even apart from the food, which came in for its share of compliments.

Hinano beer, Pinot grigio, water with Meyer lemon slices

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Broccoli rabe

Broccoli rabe, garlic, salt
leftover cicherchie
green salad with avocados and scallions


RAPINI (also known, says Wikipedia, as Broccoli Rabe (or Raab), Broccoletti, Broccoli di Rape, Cime di Rapa, Rappi, Friarielli (in Naples), and Grelos):
The plant is a member of the Brassiceae tribe of the Brassicaceae, whose taxonomy is very difficult (Lysak et al. 2005). Rapini is classified scientifically as Brassica rapa subspecies rapa (USDA ARS-GRIN), in the same subspecies as the turnip, but has had various other designations, including Brassica rapa ruvo, Brassica rapa rapifera, Brassica ruvo, Brassica campestris ruvo.
You can see why Broccoli di Rape wouldn't sell well in American supermarkets. I remember when people used to mention rapeseed oil with a straight face, but I can't remember what they were talking about. In any case, call it what you will, the vegetable is a favorite of ours, and in season at the moment. Tonight Lindsey steamed it in a tiny bit of water, with crushed garlic, a little salt, and a few drops of olive oil. That's all it takes, really: the vegetable has a deep and complex flavor all its own. Clearly, by far the best part of the turnip is its foliage.

Afterward, we neared the end of the cicerchie, and the green salad had chunks of avocado in it, and chopped green onion, not garlic — since, after all, that had already shown up. Not that we evade garlic here.

Again, Nero d'Avila — what a fine, dark, flavorful wine!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Carrots, ginger, sugar, salt; the leftover cicerchie


DAUCUS CAROTA SUBSP. SATIVUS: "Carrot," the word, is related to "corn," and "horn," because horn is what it's shaped like. It's a root vegetable, of course; it's an aromatic, indispensable in mirepoix, those finely chopped onions, carrots, and celery (2:1:1); and it's sweet. I disliked them as a child, primarily because of the way my mother had of cooking them: sliced crosswise in thick slices, covered with water in a saucepan, and boiled until they burned.

Later I learned better ways of treating them. First of all, simply slicing them lengthwise and heating them in a bit of butter until they're tender. Then cooked with vodka. Then Moroccan carrots, in Thirty Recipes Suitable for Framing, David Goines's first commercial success — I think the recipe came from Victoria Kroyer: it called for carrots and cumin, maybe a little garlic, surely a little salt.

And, of course, carrots with ginger, which is what Lindsey did tonight. Candied ginger, I suppose? No, she said, fresh ginger, and a little bit of sugar. They were delicious, even if they were sliced crosswise.

And afterward, the leftover cicerchie, and my bottom is not yet paralyzed, thanks to a morning of garden work, and an hour at the gym...

The rest of that Nero d'Avila, and a splash of rosé as an aperitif, with the carrots...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Swiss chard

Dried cicerchie, potatoes, carrot, garlic, olive oil, rosemary

green salad


NOT SURE WHERE WE GOT THEM, maybe at the Salone del Gusto a couple of years ago, maybe up in Portland from Provvista. I see you can order it online, but I know we didn't do that. Further on line I see that cicerchia translates out of Italian into English as "chickling vetch" or "Indian vetch" or "grass pea" (I wonder if it was served on the Graf Spee) and that it is, in fact, Lathyrus sativus; Wikipedia suggests that if you eat too much of it you could wind up with the disease "neurolathyrism, a neurodegenerative disease that causes paralysis of the lower body: emaciation of Gluteal muscle (buttocks)." That would be unfortunate; I'm glad I declined a second helping.

They took a long time simmering to become tender, but they made a delicious soup; really in fact a pottage. I would probably have ruined the dish by adding some meat of some kind and perhaps an onion or two; Lindsey wisely stuck to a recipe, and the result was oddly both delicate and substantial. The trick, I think, apart from the pleasant nuttiness of the cicerchie themselves, the rosemary. I wouldn't have thought of rosemary in a hundred years. Thyme, yes; celery and bay leaf, of course. But this had only a sprig or two of rosemary for aromatic (along with a bit of carrot), and it was all that was needed. Rosemary is a wonderful thing. And on top, of course, a slice of toasted bread, and some delicious olive oil.

Before the cicerchie, Swiss chard with a bit of garlic and salt; afterward, green salad.
Nero d'Avila 2005

Monday, April 7, 2008

We take the day off

TOO MUCH EATING YESTERDAY — I gained over two pounds! So today we ate light: the usual piece of toast and café au lait for breakfast; some grapes and a banana with my pomegranate juice for lunch; the rest of the cheese-rind polenta from Friday. I have gone from nearly 190 pounds, after Christmas, to a reliable 175 or so, and at this rate I should be able to do without food altogether by summer.
Tempranillo rosé, cheap.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A day with friends in San Francisco

lunch: croque-monsieur; pinot grigio
Blue Bottle Cafe: 667 Mint St., San Francisco


A long table down the middle; a counter along the window; small open kitchen at back of room; espresso machine up front. Six or seven simple lunch items: of which all four of us, for some reason, without any discussion of the matter, went straight for what was billed as "croque-madame." What we had was quite delicious, but, as you can see, not a croque-madame at all, but a variation of croque-monsieur, which is a toasted ham sandwich with gruyère cheese melted on top and sometimes (though not here) involving béchamel sauce into the bargain. A croque-madame is the same thing with a fried egg on top. It doesn't really matter, I suppose, but there's no longer any excuse for getting this wrong; it's all explained quite clearly in Wikipedia. In any case it was delicious, on Acme pain de mie, with nice thin slices of dill pickle in place of the traditional cornichon, and a discreet dollop of Dijon mustard. But be warned: don't even try to park on Mint Street, however tempting the curb: tickets cost $60, twice the price of lunch with tax and tip!

dinner: crostini with white beans and broccoli rabe; flatiron steak on carta di musica with wild arugula
barbera d'asti
Bacco, 737 Diamond St., San Francisco, tel. 415.282.4969

This is a neighborhood Italian in a very pleasant corner of San Francisco, the kind that's mostly row houses, couples pushing strollers, people sitting out in front of a corner café. We've eaten here four or five times now over the years, and have always liked it. The dining room is high-ceilinged and airy, the tables comfortably separated, the colors and paintings pleasant, the service friendly and correct. We started with thick crostini spread with a purée of white beans, covered with warmed broccoli rabe, decorated with thin slices of Pecorino di Sardegna, and drizzled with truffle-scented olive oil. I went on to slices of rare grilled flatiron steak placed on Sardinian music-paper bread, a sort of thin, brittle flatbread, again softened with a drizzle of oil, and heaped with wild arugula and Parmesan. Lindsey's risotto with scallops and saffron was nicely done, and we had big and tasty affogati for dessert, hold the whipped cream, please.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Lunch al fresco

bread, salume, cheese, green salad, grapes, tomatoes


THE FIRST LUNCH OF THE YEAR on the patio, with friends from the city and one from Cologne. No need for that food tent, as it turned out; it's too early in the year for insects, though on our walk after lunch we did see a few swallows swooping about. Not many better things than simple food, conversation, and a pitcher of cool water with a Meyer lemon fresh from the tree sliced into it...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Cheeserind sauce

Olive oil, onion, garlic, tomatoes, Parmesan, Piave, Pecorino, whatever else; polenta


WE'VE READ ABOUT IT IN in a number of recipes: save your cheese rinds for soup. But we never seem to get to the bottom of Parmesan on soup day. (A terrible problem hereabouts, and one of these days I'll write about soup, and the marvelous lesson we learned in 1974 in St. Pierre-de-Chartreuse sur le sujet de la soupe.)

Anyhow Lindsey made the sauce in the usual way, I think, browning the onion in the olive oil, adding the (canned) (organic) tomatoes, grating in the cheese… but, this time, somehow added the rinds of a few overlooked items as well. And cooked the polenta, as usual, and, as the old English cookbooks say, messed it forth; and it was first-rate, especially with a few grinds of black pepper. And this is how it looked:


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dinner with Cecilia Chiang

Star anise peanuts; bok choi pickle

Dungeness crab spring rolls; red cooked pork belly

Cecilia's minced squab in lettuce cups

Steamed Pacific rockfish with ginger and green onions

Sichuan crispy duck with Chinese pancake, plum sauce, and asparagus

Duck broth with sizzling rice

Coconut tapioca pudding with orange sherbet and mango


FIRST OF ALL, LET IT BE NOTED that I don't eat Chinese cuisine. I don't know anything about it; I'm not drawn to it; I haven't been in a Chinese restaurant in probably thirty years.

Tonight, though, Chez Panisse was honoring Cecilia Chiang, best known as the owner of the late and lamented Mandarin Restaurant in San Francisco. Mme. Chiang was an early influence on Alice Waters, who recognizes passion about perfection and obsession with detail when she sees it. Mme. Chiang (there are people so august, so impressive, that one doesn't refer to them by surnames alone) has just published a book, part food and part memoir: The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2007), and Alice wrote the foreword. At eighty-eight, Mme. Chiang has seen a lot, and I look forward to reading the book.P1010097.jpg
Cecilia Chiang watches Alice Waters take a photo of Lindsey's Chinese dress

One doesn't read dinner, though: one sees it, smells it, tastes it, eats it. I did not look forward to a Chinese meal. I am extremely glad I was led to it.

The kitchen team at Chez Panisse often demonstrates its ability and its willingness to stretch beyond its own cuisine, which I suppose you'd have to say is French and Mediterranean (in terms of original inspiration and general address) modulated by California (in terms of provender and terroir). Recently we've had dinners honoring, and designed by, Scott Peacock, who brought the down-home deep South to Shattuck Avenue, and Niloufer Ichaporia, who reacquainted us with Parsi Bombay. (Like Mme. Chiang, each of them had also recently published a book. Alice, and Chez Panisse, honor books and respect their authors; the printed page is as close to the restaurant's household muse as is the silver screen.)

Tonight the full kitchen team, with Jean-Pierre and Philip at the helm, brought recipes from The Seventh Daughter to the Chez Panisse style, and it was a fascinating, stimulating, continually building sequence. The peanuts are unroasted and delicately flavored; the bok choi mild and supple. I can't report on the crab, alas; but the pork belly! An exact mediation of Italian lardo, Southern sowbelly, and something Chinese…

The squab was rich and earthy, a taste and texture I associate with ravioli filling; it wouldn't have been out of place in Bologna. The rockfish, flaky and mild, offset by its ginger and onions, was to me the most characteristically Chinese dish of the evening to that point; it introduced the duck with plum sauce beautifully.

Then, almost the culmination except that the other courses had been so fine themselves, the duck broth. Served simply in a cup you could lift to your lips, the better to inhale its aroma, it seemed to me utterly Parisian, a perfect consommé, in spite of the crisp rice floater.


Dessert: I've loved tapioca pudding since I was a little boy, perhaps especially because my father detested it and so we rarely had it. This was a quite refined version, with the sherbet and mango set atop, and accompanied by Chinese peanut-caramel cookies and candied kumquats. Truly an extraordinary dinner, among friends and acquaintances and many faces never seen before. And, of course, wines from the list that worked perfectly well:

Grüner Veltliner 2006

Morgon 2007

(a special treat brought by an acquaintance) Loal 1920

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Polenta casserole

Polenta, tomatoes, fennel, eggplant, cheese

Dinner with good friends: almonds and olives with a glass of white wine, lots of conversation, a cat on the rug. Dinner: a casserole recipe they'd picked up on a cruise last year to Alaska. All those ingredients listed above, set out lasagne-style in a Pyrex dish, set in the oven while we were talking. Ah, I said, zucchini. No, she said, eggplant. And onions, I said. No, she said; no onions. Well then what are these? (Poking what looked like an onion with fork.) Fennel, she said.

Did I like it? I had a huge second helping…
Green salad, of course; then lemon gelato and peanut-butter-chocolate-chip cookies.
Louis Preston Viognier; Preston Sirah-Syrah

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Roast pork

Roast pork, Swiss chard, horseradish sauce


ROAST PORK WAS ONE of my father's favorite dishes, and we had it fairly often when I was a boy, as I recall; possibly because we raised pigs for our table. I don't recall that it was often this delicious, though: thick cuts, tender pink flesh, crisply cooked outside fat, plenty of juice. The horseradish cream is a perfect accompaniment, more frequently paired with beef, but a perfect foil to the pork. As to the chard, well, I've madeleine-in-the-tisane'd it enough here recently.

April fool. This was not tonight's dinner; we ate this almost a year ago, April 21 2007, at the restaurant Toscanini in Amsterdam, where we eat when we cannot eat at Marius, because Marius must close a couple of days a week, and its chef likes to join us at Toscanini.

Oh well. This is Eating Every Day, after all, and sometimes you will find everyday eating here, and why shouldn't April Fool's Day be one of those days? It began, though, with not toast but hot cross buns out of the freezer, Downtown Bakery hot cross buns, a breakfast pastry to rival the gibassiers from Portland's Pearl Bakery (which we look forward to having in a couple of weeks). Lunch was our customary apple, banana, toast with peanut butter, and a glass of pomegranate juice. Later, at tea-time, chips and hummus.

And dinner? Well, as an acquaintance pointed out the other day, we sure do eat a lot of carbohydrates here; yes we do, grains, I responded: we finished yesterday's lentil-rice combo. Green salad, of course. And — perhaps what reminded me of a delicious pork roast — Lindsey's in the kitchen cooking up some apples for dessert.

Ordinary Tuscan red.