Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Macaroni and cheese

Eastside Road, February 27, 2013—
THREE GOOD FRIENDS were by for lunch today: Lindsey made macaroni and cheese. It's a staple, of course; it was almost a weekly occurance in my childhood — though never like this: ours came in kit form, in a box, sometimes with Kraft's name on it, sometimes with Chef Boy-ar-dee's.

Lindsey used a recipe she's had for years, in an old pamphlet called Casserole Cookery, published in the mid-1950s, to judge by the copyright notice, by Culinary Arts Institute, which was directed by Melanie De Proft. Lindsey has a number of these pamphlets, on various subjects, all gathered into a binder with WEST BEND stamped on the cover; perhaps they were originally sold with cooking equipment marketed by the West Bend Company, which made cookware, electrical appliances, and two-stroke engines; I see on their website that "For 100 years, West Bend® has connected home chefs and matriarchs across generations." I'm glad to be helping them out in this worthy endeavor.cookbook.jpg

The recipe is simple enough: macaroni, previously cooked and drained; white sauce flavored with a bit of dry mustard; grated Cheddar cheese; minced onion; a bit of Worcestershire sauce. Lindsey wisely omits the pound of tomatoes called for.

After the main course, accompanied by olives and pickled green beans, we had a green salad; then warm applesauce with vanilla ice cream. Good old comfort food, perfect for a lazy afternoon of conversation.

Cave, Bohigas, nv; Rosé, Domaines Bunan (Bandol), 2011

Lunch and supper in town

Eastside Road, February 26, 2013—
BUSINESS IN TOWN today, including lunch at Chez Panisse: Celery and celery root salad with citrus, capers, and mint; then grilled mackerel with tiny artichokes, fennel purée, wilted escarole, and pancetta. I thought the pancetta a good foil to the mackerel, oily as it always must be, and the artichokes quite delicious.

• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525
THEN AN EARLY SUPPER in Oakland, to sit out the commute-hour traffic. I had simply the revisionist steak tartare you see here, nice young raw beef with chopped capers and onions already mixed in, along with a little olive oil, and a just-set fried egg on top, because Oakland, I suppose, bans raw egg from restaurants. I liked the watercress accompaniment, and the mildly resonant garlic potato chips.

Côteaux du Languedoc, Château du Lascaux, 2009
Flora, 1900 Telegraph Ave Oakland, California; (510) 286-0100/

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Beans and beans

Eastside Road, February 24, 2013—
BUT BEFORE GETTING to those delicious green beans that we had tonight, let me thank our friends Tom and Elizabeth for a marvelous dinner in their home last night. Tom rubbed some pork ribs with a deep-flavored, very savvy mixture a friend of his had made, home-made chili powder and salt and who knows what else, and cooked them perfectly. With the ribs, sweet potato purée and beet cole slaw.

Now those who know me well know I'm not fond of either sweet potatoes or beets. But I had double servings of these. Tom's sweet potatoes had a perfect amount of butter and cream and nutmeg, and serving them en purée evades the grainy, fibrous, sticky texture that is apparently my chief objection to the vegetable. And the cole slaw was also so perfectly flavored and balanced that the beets did not dominate, simply contributed themselves to an integrated ensemble.

It was a very knowing dinner, topped off with a very nice blood-orange tart. My thanks to a couple of good friends and fine hosts.

Riesling, Kalinda (Rheingau), 2011: perfect with the ribs; Morgon, Jean-Ernest Descombes, 2011 (fruity, spicy, forward, speaking well to the slaw

Tonight, back home after a ramble in the West Marin hills, we made do with leftover bean soup from the other night, again garnished with avocado, onion, cilantro, and lime. But before it we had delicious green beans cooked in butter with minced shallots, a fine combination.

Green salad afterward, and fruit, and chocolates…

Cheap Pinot grigio

Friday, February 22, 2013

Beans and onions

Eastside Road, February 22, 2013—
PYTHAGORAS, AND BEANS, and all that*: but that's not what interests me just now.

What I"m interested in, is the onions. Lindsey cooks red beans; with a minced chopped jalapeño and some crushed garlic flavoring it; and sets out bowls of chopped cilantro leaves, raw onion, and chopped avocado, along with a quartered lime. We scatter these items on top of the hot beans, squeezing some lime juice over.

For years I was unable to eat raw onion. Even scallions gave me trouble; chopped raw yellow or white or red onions, like those on these beans, would have been virtually impossible. I took this as a matter of course: not that hard to abstain from something you always find physically unpleasant. Raw onions made me physically uncomfortable, in a number of ways I don't think it necessary to describe here.

Then, in my middle fifties, I was offered early retirement from the job I'd had for fifteen years — a job I had begun to find increasingly irritating. Not long after retiring I discovered an amazing thing: raw onions no longer bothered me. I could eat an entire onion raw, if I chose, like a Roman legionnaire. It didn't bother me in the least. In fact, it was delicious.

It still is. Of course the raw onion cooks, just a little, when it's scattered atop (and then sinks into) beans hot from the stove. The secret of Lindsey's garnish is that all these items cook just a bit when they're scattered on the beans. But there's always a little left in the bowls after we've finished our first course, and I simply add them to the salad dressing I've whisked up, and Lindsey tosses them with the torn lettuce. Now they're definitely raw; lettuce isn't going to cook anything, not even when dressed with good Eastside Zinfandel vinegar. And it's only good.
Cheap Nero d'Avola


*Wikipedia: The Pythagorean code further restricted the diet of its followers, prohibiting the consumption or even touching of any sort of bean. It is probable that this is due to their belief in the soul, and the fact that beans obviously showed the potential for life. Some, for example Cicero, say perhaps the flatulence beans cause, perhaps as protection from potential favism, perhaps because they resemble the genitalia, but most likely for magico-religious reasons, such as the belief that beans and human beings were created from the same material. Most stories of Pythagoras' murder revolve around his aversion to beans. According to legend, enemies of the Pythagoreans set fire to Pythagoras' house, sending the elderly man running toward a bean field, where he halted, declaring that he would rather die than enter the field – whereupon his pursuers slit his throat.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Eggs in tomato sauce

Eastside Road, February 21, 2013—
SOME AIDE-MEMOIRE THIS IS: I've looked up and down through Eating Every Day to see when we may have made this tomato sauce, and I can't find it. There wasn't much time to cook today, so Lindsey hauled a block of frozen tomato sauce out of the freezer, thawed it out on top of the stove, broke four eggs into it, covered the pot, and toasted some bread.

The sauce, she knows, was made for a dish very much the same, but I can't figure out when we may have had it. Maybe it was one of the meals I forgot to blog, or maybe I managed to write about it without using the word "eggs," though that's hard to imagine.

In any case it was a delicious dinner, with a green salad to follow that was mostly mâche — hmmm, that would make a nice title — and an apple and a couple of chocolates for dessert. Sweet and simple.
Cheap Nero d'Avila

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lindsey's potatoes

Eastside Road, February 20, 2013—
THING IS, THESE POTATOES are just so good. You want them to last, but you want more. They're a perfect combination of ingredients with truly Elective Affinities that I'm naming them to the Hundred Plates.

Lindsey peels nice fresh potatoes, just about any kind will do except the mealy Russets, and dices them, and cooks them in water and olive oil with salt, chopped shallots, and chopped parsley. That's all there is to it. With them, as you see, another of Franco's estimable sausages, Toulouse-style; afterward, green salad. A nice meal after a day's fast (and Monday's franks and beans, a decent dinner but nothing to write from home about).
Barbera d'Asti, Rocco dell'Olmo, 2010

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Eastside Road, February 17, 2013—
A FEW SCRAPS OF bacon, browned in the stainless-steel skillet. A good-sized yellow onion, diced, softened in the bacon fat. Three Roma tomatoes halved, quartered, diced. A tablespoonful or so — I measure it out in the cupped palm of my hand — of red pepper flakes. Salt, of course.

If I'd had some cream I'd have added it, but I didn't, and nonfat milk doesn't substitute. I just cooked the penne — or, more truthfully, watched Lindsey cook them — and then drain them and combine them with the sauce in the skillet. And that was dinner, with a green salad afterward, and maybe later a chocolate truffle.

Oh: yesterday. Well, we made do with some tamales Lindsey found in the freezer. I don't know where they came from; they weren't very good.
Barbera d'Asti, Rocco dell'Olmo, 2010: sound and serviceable

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Spinach and smelt

Eastside Road, February 16, 2013—
WE WORKED OUR WAY back up the coast yesterday, eating rather less along the way than you might think. Breakfast was at the same joint we'd found the day before, chosen for its recommendation on a website devoted to espresso — a good caffelatte having become almost indispensable to Lindsey's morning.

Here I was delighted to find spinach and eggs on the menu. Eggs Florentine is a favorite of mine: this wasn't quite Eggs Florentine, since it lacked any kind of cream sauce. Nor were the eggs poached: as you see, they were "poached," quote marks required, in those little pans that fit into a steamer contraption — easier for a busy grill cook to deal with, but a different consistency, and a different ratio of yolk-to-white cookedness, if you see what I mean. Still, eggs and spinach are a classic combination and a great way to start the day.

Carmel Belle, Ocean and San Carlos streets, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California; 831.624.1600; daily 8am-5pm
smelt.jpgON, THEN, to a day of sight-seeing: the Mission; the Valley; then a drive up Highway One, stopping for late lunch/early dinner at an old-time roadhouse we'd heard about. Here the lunch menu was very much restricted and dedicated to the nearby sea, with crustacea forbidden to me on most of the offerings. Lindsey happily munched most of these smelt, which seemed over-battered and undersalted to me. (But then, she eats them head, tail, and all, and perhaps gets more flavor therefor: I admit I'm too squeamish.)

I was content with a plate of artichoke ravioli, with chunks of artichoke stem strewn among the dried-tomato-sauce-inflicted ravioli — not bad at all.
Pinot grigio
Duarte's Tavern, 202 Stage Road, Pescadero, California; 650.879.0464

Friday, February 15, 2013

And now for something completely different…

Carmel Mission Inn, February 14, 2013—
WELL, ACTUALLY, we discussed that word "completely": I don't recall the outcome. Maybe not completely different, but close enough. Last night was toward the Tasting end of the dining-tasting spectrum; tonight we edged back to safer territory.

And yet it was certainly a "tasting menu," of sorts — a table d'hôte menu with alternates for four of the five courses; and tonight, as not last night, I chose to participate in the "wine pairings" suggested by the house, with only one little tweak. And here was the result:
Oyster on the half shell, with horseradish sorbet
Roederer Estate, "L'Hermitage" Brut (Anderson Valley), 2002
Steak tartare
Riesling Kabinett, Prum, Sonnenuhr Vineyard (Mosel), 2009
Parmesan gnocchi
Chardonnay, The White Queen (Sonoma Coast), 2011
Grilled New York steak with potato purée, cipollini, carrots
Beaujolais, M. Lapierre (Morgon), 2011; Pinot noir, Banshee (Sonoma Coast), 2011
Chocolate mousse Cake with candied hazelnuts and chocolate ice cream
Brachetto d'Acqui, Marenco (Piemonte), 2010
MousseI wish this photo were better, for good as the rest of the dinner was, for once the last course was the capper. But let me go back to first things: This was a meal. We felt we had dined. Each course was interesting and competent, followed its precedent well, and introduced its consequent politely; and at the end we felt nourished and sated and pleased.

Horseradish sorbet on a raw oyster? Well, why not? I almost always ignore the mignonette and the Tabasco and take my oyster nature, but this is St. Valentine's Day, you're supposed to live dangerously. The horseradish was more a semifreddo cream than a sorbet, I thought, but its flavor and particularly its texture complemented the good-sized oyster well. (And reminded me of the previous night…)

The tartare could have used better beef, I thought, but was otherwise just fine. Who would have thought of Riesling with tartare? But it works perfectly, because the minced shallots sing through the beef and the grapes, and, again, the textures suit one another.

The gnocchi were, I truly believe, among the best I've had anywhere — almost closer to mashed potatoes than gnocchi, so tender and soft they were, more a Mother's Day tribute than St. Valentine; and the bits of spinach accompanying them were beautifully buttery. The Chardonnay reminded me of the one we made thirty years ago from a neighbor's grapes; I'm going to look into this.

The steak was, again, not the very best possible beef. But it was nicely grilled, and the onions were so nice; and the red wines perfectly suited to it. (The Morgon was a little lagniappe offered by the sommelier, perhaps because I'd been interested in him and his wines; the Pinot noir had been meant for an alternate to the steak, which was meant to be paired with a Cabernet sauvignon: but I always prefer Pinot noir with beef; Cabernet sauvignon is a lamb's wine, as far as I'm concerned.)

And now I come to the dessert. This pairing was truly inspired: chocolate, hazelnuts, and a wine so specifically Piemontese that I think if you haven't visited that wonderful region as often as we have, you wouldn't get it. The Brachetto was at first a little dumb, closed, austere; then you got the wood of the barrels, a hint of spice — cloves? cinnamon? — and then a bit of flor, that strange growth on the surface of aging sherries; and then a rush of myrtle; and always behind those things that rich, dark, reserved, medieval, serious red-wine thing I associate with cellars in the mountains of Piemonte… but I rhapsodize…

• 1833 Restaurant, 500 Hartnell Street, Monterey, California; (831) 643-1833

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Aubergine, Carmel

IMG 1003
Carmel Mission Inn, Carmel-by-te-Sea, California, February 13, 2013—
DINING'S ONE THING; tasting's another. To dine is to partake of a meal, in company ("dine alone" sounds so apologetic); a "meal" being healthful, nourishing, pleasing, usually (not always) consisting of several courses which are designed to complement one another. Thanks to the Fates, I dine nearly every day.

And as I dine, nearly every day, I generally taste. I try to think about scents and flavors, to lodge them in memory, to tease out components, to compare them, to characterize them — usually clumsily, as scents and flavors are among the most elusive, fugitive of sensory stimuli; certainly resistant to verbal expression.

For that reason fine cooks seem to me akin to fine musicians: un.ike painters, say, or dancers, or writers, they work with material that can't really be pinned down, that resists description and recording and reproduction. And the subtler and more imaginative their work, certainly the further their work from the mainstream, the lonelier they must be, aware that the essence of their work is not for the general audience.

Thankfully, in the last fifty years many restaurants have evolved, even in my country, from being concerned simply with dining. They are becoming more aware of the pleasures of tasting as well. Inevitably, some push this evolution too far. A few years ago we ate — I won't say "dined" — at a fancy place in the Napa Valley where we were presented with a "tasting menu" of twelve or fifteen courses, each introduced with a lecture. Flavor after flavor, many of them confusions of sub-flavors, not really obeying any kind of logical sequence, not adding up to a meal.

Tonight, though, we dined on a tasting menu, full of subtle and even arcane scents and flavors, and the final impression was that indeed we had dined, and dined well:
Amuse-geule: ginger and green tea foam "soup"
Kumamoto oyster on the half shell with yuzu and cucumber foam
Duck-liver mousse wrapped in very thin beet with chocolate
Abalone with sea grapes and alba mushrooms in umeboshi broth
Palate-cleanser: tapioca, frozen rosewater bubbles, passionfruit, and cocoa
Kanpachi (Japanese Yellowtail) with carrot, date, vanilla, smoked trout roe, and coriander
Abinao chocolate on nasturtium praline with candied grapefruit
Erbaluce di Caluso (Piemonte), Orsolani, 2009

Yes, you read that right: foam involved in a few courses. But this isn't a molecular-kitchen restaurant: we've eaten at one of those, too, and found it as irritating as the Napa Valley taste-lecture hall. This was post-molecular: agar, and foaming techniques no doubt using liquid nitrogen, certainly entered into the preparation, but only as one more resource: they did not dominate the event.

That's the yellowtail in the photo above. When the plate was brought I immediately lifted it to my face to take in the aroma: coriander, for sure, but so blended with good vanilla and with smoked roe that it took on a completely new aspect. These scents stood out individually, but merged at the same time, like independent voices in a string trio, and as indescribably.

IMG 1004I then did my own deconstruction, of course, as you see at the left. The tuna was perfectly cooked, soft, not quite flaky, creamy; the little trout eggs in their vanilla-coriander bath complemented the color and texture; the paper-thin slices — lengthwise, as I always prefer them, not crosswise — of tiny carrots not a quarter inch long rested atop the fish; the date — which I ate last — rounded everything off, and recalled the similarly spherical and condensed passionfruit in the course that had just preceded.

Well: this was an exceptional dinner, and not, as Lindsey pointed out, one you'd want to indulge in every week; not even if you could afford to, and we certainly couldn't. The night was as expensive as a night at the opera with a fine dinner thrown in. And why should it not be? In addition to the cost of the ingredients and the skill and experience of the staff, there was art to pay for here.

We used to spend a week every summer in Carmel, thirty or forty years ago. There were two or three acceptable restaurants in those days, and many more that simply offered food — dining — without any real thought, if I may be ungenerous, to doing anything exceptional. Those days are over; dining has turned a corner in many California towns and cities in the last decade or two. I'm thankful; and I continue to be grateful to chefs like Justin Cogley and Ron Mendoza, who, as the restaurant website states, "prepare sophisticated modern California cuisine."

Aubergine, Monte Verde at Seventh, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California; 831 624 8578; open daily, 6-9:30 pm

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bagna cauda

Eastside Road, February 11, 2013—
PRETTY, AREN'T THEY? They're Belgian endive and carrots, of course, with a sprig of fennel as decoration; and they joined cooked (of course) cardoons and chunks of bread and delicious bagna cauda for our first course tonight.

Next, Franco's "Welsh sausages," pork with apple and leek, and a beautiful purée of potato and celery root. Then a green salad; and then, oh delicious, zabaglione. Lindsey prepared all this with love and expertise, and we ate it with the neighbors. What a fine dinner!
Grenache blanc, 2011; Petite Syrah, 2010 (both Preston of Dry Creek, and both sound and good and, I think, interesting)

February 12: and tonight we had exactly the same dinner in the form of leftovers, minus the salad, the zabaglione, and the Grenache blanc.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Eastside Road, February 10, 2013—
MARKET DAY — how different from Rome is Sebastopol! But I don't complain: the Sebastopol market gave us everything we wanted today: sausage and potatoes for tomorrow; salmon and chard for tonight. Also on the plate: the rest of the risotto from a few days ago, none the worse for having waited.

Pinot grigio, La Ronescina (Collio), 2011

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Penne al pesto

Eastside Road, February 9, 2013—
QUICKLY WE FALL BACK into our basic repertory. Tonight, for example, a dish we have pretty often. I like it none the less for that.

Penne, with their ridges and their ample interiors, hold pesto sauce very well. The sauce itself has been in the ice-box for over a month now, and doesn't seem to have suffered. Green salad afterward, and applesauce.
Red wine, L. Preston (Dry Creek), 2011

The Café

Eastside Road, February 8, 2013—
OVER AND OVER AGAIN we return to the Café. Of course we have every reason to: not only is it dependably, consistently good, in every dimension; not only have we been able to count on it in one configuration or another for forty years and more : but also we have been associated with it all that time. I even worked upstairs, where the present café has prevailed for thirty years now and more, when the restaurant was new. In fact I think I was the first person fired from Chez Panisse. (Something to do with two alpha males in one building. The right one was retained.)

So after a month away the Café was the first place we turned to, for another midday dinner. I had a fine rocket salad and this chicken, braised in the oven, served with turnips and bok choy and red polenta. The Café is a fine restaurant, with what I think has become one of the most consistently interesting and nourishing menus around: six or eight appetizers including salads and pizzette; four or five main courses including fish, poultry, and meat, with a vegetarian alternative always available as well; good fruit if you want it, tempting desserts. Of course I'm partial, and declare no objectivity whatsoever when it comes to Chez Panisse.
Grillo (Sicily); Bourgogne rouge
• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; (510) 548-5049.
   Monday-Thursday 11:30-2:45, 5:00-10:30 pm; Friday-Saturday 11:30-3:00, 5:00-11:30 pm

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Home again: Risotto

Eastside Road, February 7, 2013—
HOME AGAIN, HOME AGAIN, jiggety-jig, after more than twenty-four hours en route: tram, train, shuttle, airplane, shuttle, airplane, shuttle. And dinner at home, for the first time in a month.

Lindsey cooked a risotto and grilled a couple of sausages; I made a tossed green salad, with scallions tonight rather than the customary garlic. A bowl of applesauce for dessert. Nothing fancy: but how nice to eat at home again!
Red wine, L. Preston (Dry Creek), 2011

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Academy; Paris; gelate

Hotel San Francesco, Roma, February 5, 2013—
UP THE HILL to the American Academy in Rome today to see how the garden's doing, and the Rome Food Project, the joint venture between Chez Panisse and the Academy. The garden looks great, considering it's winter; you see a corner of it here, with lettuces, kales, broccolis and garlic, companion planting that keeps insect damage to a minimum in an orderly array I find inspiring. (We'll see whether I'm able to stay inspired when I get home later this week.)

We sat in on the end of the staff lunch, composed of delicious leftovers from the Academy lunch. This isn't the time for me to assay a detailed report on what Chris Boswell and his team do here; but imagine a lunch-and-dinner restaurant serving up to 120 covers at a time, using organic and sustainable material, dedicated and disciplined technique, and authentic and resourceful recipes, and you have the general idea. We had pasta, faro, green salad, porchetta, potato salad, and more; all were delicious and sound: you really had the feeling you were eating on an artistic farm.
For dinner I wanted only a last Spaghetti Carbonara, and we returned to a favorite Trastevere restaurant for it. I had another artichoke, too, of course: I will miss them, and will have to try to master the recipe once home.

Dessert: gelato, of course, first at Fior di Luna, where the chestnut gelato has marvelous flavor; then back at Fatamorgana, where the "Zabaione de fata" and the "Kentucky" (chocolate and tobacco) have marvelous flavor and are exceptionally well made gelate into the bargain. Close call; tonight I prefer Fatamorgana.
Grechetto, Castello di Magione (Umbria), 2012
• Ristorante Paris, Piazza San Calisto, 7a, Rome; 06 5815378

Monday, February 4, 2013

Da Teo

Hotel San Francesco, Roma, February 4, 2013—
THERE IS ONE TRATTORIA left here in Trastevere that I have long been interested in but have not yet tried. Why not give it a try on this, our final night in Rome for this year?

So we met a beloved granddaughter for an aperitif in a wonderful bar on the San Cosimato — sorry; don't have it's name — and then went on to the Piazza die Ponziani, on what is now our side of Trastevere, for dinner. And there I began with a carciofo alls giudia, of course, with a filetto on the side; and then went on to spaghetti caccio e pepe. If you don't know the English for these Roman menu items, you haven't been paying attention lately.

I order these standbys in a spirit of scientific and critical research, I suppose, thinking — if you can really call this "thinking" — that there must be an order, a ranking, by which I can find the "best" Trastevere trattoria. I'm here to tell you, after now about seventy days of research spread across the last near-decade, that this cannot be done. There is no best Trastevere trattoria, because there can be no ranking among them.

Tonight's artichoke was as good as I've had. The best, of course, since it was the one I did have; though others I've had recently are vivid enough in my taste memory (which in the case of artichokes also includes mouth-feel, a very important component) to permit me to, in a sense, compare this one. But only in a sense: in fact there is no comparison; comparisons are odorous as Dogberry says.

Similarly, the cacao e pepe was authentic, the pasta perfectly cooked al dente and tasting of nothing but flour and water, the dressing beautifully balanced among cheese, salt, black pepper, and a tiny bit of olive oil. I'm sure different trattorias use different pecorinos; nearly all are perfectly satisfying, but most in their own individual ways. Consistency is a virtue only to those who prefer not to attend to the tiny delights of unexpected pleasures.

What I will say is that Da Teo is a trattoria I will willingly return to, I don't care what TripAdvisors say about its current position on the long trajectory of its varied history over the years. It's comfortable, quick, resourceful, pleasant, and authentic; we had a fine Ribolla; the service was pleasant; the neighboring table spoke Italian. I'm glad we chose it.
Ribolla Gialla, Isidoro Polencic (Collio), 2011: the best white wine we've had in weeks
• Da Teo, Piazza die Ponziani 7, Roma; 065 818355

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Da Lucia

Hotel San Francesco, Roma, February 3, 2013—

OUR FIRST MEAL HERE in Rome this year was at a favorite trattoria, simple, honest, busy, fun; I decided to introduce a couple of friends visiting from Nice to it today for one of our last meals of this visit. We ducked in about 1:30 in the afternoon. It was crowded, of course, but there was a table in the very back room, where I don't think I've eaten before, and there I had a fine artichoke, cooked alla Romana this time rather than alla giudia: boiled with garlic and lemon, then marinated I think in oil, lemon, garlic and a little anchovy. Afterward, a very fine spaghetti alla Gricia, with particularly nice guanciale. How I am going to miss this simple Roman cooking soon!
•Trattoria da Lucia, Vicolo del Mattonato 2, Rome; 06 5803601

Gregory's; Paris

Hotel San Francesco, Roma; February 2, 2013—

A FEW YEARS AGO we found a place in Testaccio we really liked — how we found it, I no longer recall. My fondness for it may have been colored by its name: Nè Arte Nè Parte, an Italian construction, literally "neither art nor party," referring to a person who has neither the necessary technique nor the in-that-case-necessary connections to maintain a profession.

It hasn't turned up in any of the guidebooks or online listings, and I assumed it had gone out of business. But we walked across the bridge to Testaccio today, down the Via Marmorata toward Perilli's, and then turned down the via Alessandro Volta for a block — for here in Testaccio the streets are all regularly spaced at right angles, defining blocks — and there, at the Via Luca Della Robbia, I saw an enoteca, where I asked if the restaurant still existed.

Nè Arte Nè Parte, si, Signore, esista ancora, the clerk smiled, and waved out the door, It's right across the intersection. But the name is changed, he added; it's now called Gregory.

I looked into the restaurant, where a friendly-looking waiter stood on the sidewalk outside the door. No, he said, the restaurant hasn't really changed; the owner decided Nè Arte Nè Parte was an inconvenient name, his name is Gregory, he changed the name but not the style of the place…

In fact it did, does, look a little changed, not quite as open as it was then, a little more spiffy and less, well, traditional Testaccio. (Testaccio is, or was, the traditionally working-class quarter, given to warehouses, slaughterhouses, and markets. For those of you in the Bay Area: if the Centro Storico is San Francisco, then Trastevere is in many ways Berkeley, and Testaccio is bayfront Oakland.)

Still, let's try it: we made a date for half an hour later, took a walk around Monte Testaccio and through the new market hall, and returned for midday dinner. Here I began with a filetto, a battered and deep-fried codfish filet; and then split this fine artichoke alla giudea with Lindsey, and went on to a very nice spaghetti caccio e pepe, with finer pecorino than we often have, and beautifully cooked pasta. This was a fine meal.
House white

•Gregory a Testaccio, Via Luca della Robbia 15, Rome

Then, after a long afternoon spent in the Maxxi museum far to the north, and a leisurely walk back through the Storico Centro, we remembered that we really wanted to see how Dar Filettaro was holding up, if it was open. It was open, and jammed, as it often is; a waiter snapped at me to give him some room as he juggled half a dozen one-liter carafe from the taps, through the crowded tables, toward the back.

But even though there were four of us we were immediately made welcome and waved to the very back room, the sancta sactorum, whose plain wooden tables had been jammed together in one corner to accommodate an extended family of twelve or fourteen people of a number of generations. Here we asked for filetti and red wine, nothing more, and were immediately satisfied. Things seemed a little less splendid than in years past, but I think that was simply because of the crush and the speed. The woman at my elbow, at the next table, belted down her red wine; the grandfather around the corner from her repeated che bella compagnia, che bella compagnia; she continually responded e buono mangiare: and indeed she is right: eating is good. Especially in a comfortable room from 1938, with old photos and prints on the wall, and enthusiastic Italians sharing the largesse.
Red house wine

•Dar Filettaro, Largo dei Librari 88, Rome; 06 6864018

From there we crossed the Ponte Sisto, walked up the Via del Moro, and found ourselves on San Calisto at another place I remembered fondly at just the time we were hungry again, and it was by now suppertime, say 8:30. We've had our primi, Chuck observed, might as well go in for secondi.

Ristorante Paris, named for the chef whose last name is in fact Paris, is a serious restaurant with serious ambitions. The menu is grounded in the Roman Jewish style but the execution is subtle and cosmopolitan. Still, I stayed with traditional Roman material, deciding on abbacchio, lamb in the unique manner you find here — chops cut rather thin from the spine, the bones often splintered somehow in the process, simply grilled in a pan with garlic and a hint of lemon, and served on a bed of arugula. A little hard to get off the bone, like yesterday's oxtail: but very delicious, and very site-specific.
Morellino di Scansano (Tuscany), 2011: mellow and smooth

•Ristorante Paris, Piazza San Calisto, 7a, Rome; 06 5815378

And from there it was back to Fatamorgana for dessert, because it truly is the best gelato we've found so far, and it's only a block or two away. I had two chocolates this time, both dark, mellow, and incredibly smooth, one flavored with orange, the other with rosemary.
•Fatamorgana, Via Roma Libera 11, Rome

Osteria La Gensola

Via Gaetano Sacchi, Roma; February 1, 2013—

A COUPLE OF FRIENDS arrived today to spend the weekend keeping us company in Rome, and introduced us to a local restaurant we hadn't visited before — primarily, now I think about it, because it's on the other side of the Viale Trastevere, the main avenue whose tram links "our" railroad station to the Largo Argentina in the Historic Center across the river. In the past number of years, on three visits, we've pretty well stayed in the Santa Maria part of Trastevere, but in the next few days we'll be looking at the east side of the rione.

The Osteria La Gensola, on the piazza of that name, turned out to be more restaurant than trattoria. In fact it revealed to me, finally, just what it is that seems to make that distinction: if on stepping into a place you know immediately what you want, and it is pasta either caccio e pepe or carbonara or alla grigia, with either puntarelle or an artichoke, then you're in a trattoria. If on the other hand you feel compelled to consult a menu, and the possibility of a meat secondo seems almost instinctively advisable, and you might even order a red wine rather than white, you're in a real restaurant. Even if it calls itself a trattoria.

Having consulted the menu, I decided this was in fact a restaurant. I began with rigatoni alla gricia, with egg and not bacon but guanciale or jowl, then went on to a carciofa alla giudia and coda alla vaccinara, a fried flattened artichoke and oxtail in tomato sauce. The artichoke was really splendid, the best I think I've had in Rome, the outer leaves crisp and delicate, the stalk and heart creamy and resonant with flavor.

The oxtail was another matter. I liked the sauce, and the meat fell easily off the first piece; but the second piece resisted every attempt I made at it. I've never realized how different one bone of an oxtail can be from the next — or perhaps these two bones came from completely different animals. Well, the meat was sound and flavorful enough, however difficult of access, and I couldn't really complain.

The place itself was delightful, filled with locals having a good time, pleasantly decorated, comfortable.
Cucumano, Angimbé (Sicily), 2011

•Osteria La Gensola, Piazza della Gensola, 15, Roma; 065816312

Friday, February 1, 2013


Via Gaetano Sacchi, Roma, January 31, 2013—

WE HAD LOOKED AT this place many times in the course of our daily walks through the San Cosimato market en route from our apartment to virtually any other destination. It had been recommended by our landlord, and by two or three people stopped at random on the street. So tonight we decided to give it a try: with mixed results, in my opinion.

We ate early, at eight o'clock; the dining room was empty, the four or five television screens playing soccer highlights. By the time we'd finished eating, about an hour and a half later, the place had pretty well filled up. The menu's fairly long, and there were a couple of specials on each section — primi, secondi. So we started with filetti, deep-fried fillets of salt cod, nice fish but a little too much batter; and then went on to these ravioli, filled with verdure and sprinkled, as you see, with fried sage leaves. Delicious, but, again, a little too doughy.

I had a little talk with the proprietor, a middle-aged woman who'd been hovering about the room. The ravioli had been filled with cauliflower and potato, she said, bristling a bit when I asked if there were also breadcrumbs in the mix: Pane, no signore, sicuramente no. I asked how business was: not good since the crisi, she said; people are not eating out as much as before. What's to be done about it? No one knows. Daily life is still good, day to day, it's when you think about how long it can continue to be good, that's when you get preoccupied.

We took our dessert at Fata Morgana across the street, the excellent gelateria we've come to depend on. Riso today! I've been looking for
rice ice cream for eight or ten years now, with no success whatever, and here it is! Riso e vainiglia, to be precise, nicely rice-flavored, with little kernels of al dente rice in the frozen custard, creamy and delicious; and below it in the little cup I had a scoop of "Kentucky," very dark chocolate flavored with a little tobacco, reminding me of the Latakia crème anglaise Lindsey used to make back in Jeremiah's day at Chez Panisse…
Red and white, in carafe, as usual

•Ai Spaghettari, Piazza di San Cosimato, 58, Rome; 06 580 0450