Eastside Road, June 30, 2011—TAFFY WAS A WESHMAN, Taffy was a thief…
Like most nursery rhymes, it's not exactly politically correct. (You'll be glad to hear that, according to Wikipedia,“The image of thieving Welshmen seems to have begun to die down by the mid-twentieth century”.) But it's a fact that the rhyme continues to charge Taffy with the further theft of a marrowbone, and that was my first awareness of such things.
I know we had marrowbones when I was a kid, though not in any rarified way; they were simply part of any boiled beef dinner, and lord knows we had our share of boiled beef. I recall those dinners as being pretty rank, and the gelatinous aspect of marrow's not particularly attractive to childish tastes — yet I also recall being conflicted about that; there was some redeeming quality there, apparently; early on I began to think the marrow the very best part, perhaps the only really pleasant part, of those dinners.
Then in 1986 on a trip to Australia I had dinner one night at a marvelous restaurant, Berowra Waters Inn, in a remote location — I don't recall how I got there, though I know it was as the traveling guest of strangers met the previous night in another restaurant in Sydney.
But I digress. At Berowra Waters I found marrowbones on the menu; it was the first time I think I'd seen them on a restaurant menu; I ordered them; they arrived on a clean white napkin, marrow-spoon and all, and I was enchanted.
Since then I order them every chance I get, and I had them today at lunch. They'd been roasted in the wood-burning oven and served with a curly parsley-and-radish salad, whose crispness and acidity was a perfect foil. A piece of toast to spread marrow on, and a little pile of delicious sea-salt, and you had a meal.
Except that there was more to come, for this dish, curiously, was listed simply as a first course. Afterward I had salt cod and potato ravioli with garlic, savory, and tomato confit. The ravioli were beautiful, the filling delicate and light, and the tomato confit… well, now, that was a surprise. This dish had nothing to do with Italian cuisine at all, in spite of the red-white-green. This treatment of tomatoes said, to me at least, England. It was tomato jam, and it was delicious.
And nothing surprising there, for this week's menus in the Café Chez Panisse are a tribute to the London restaurateur Fergus Henderson, famous for his “Nose to Tail” philosophy of using the entire animal in his St. John bar and restaurant which I'm afraid I've never been to; another reason for a return trip to London.
Dessert: Panna cotta — I can never resist it — with redcurrant coulis and a pain d'amande, refined but somehow Englishly homey like the rest of lunch.
(Counting down to its 40th birthday, the Café has delightfully dedicated each of forty weeks of menus to one or another such inspiring cook or author — in some cases, as here, a wonderful introduction to someone new; and a renewed reminder that dining, and restauranting, is social and societal, about human connections, the Family of Man.)
Chez Panisse Zinfandel, Green & Red Vineyards (Napa), 2009• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510.548.5525