Sunday, March 31, 2013

In which I pass up the pig

Hotel Palaciode la Velada, Ávila, Spain, March 31, 2013—
WE RETURNED TONIGHT to a place I remembered much liking last time we were here, a number of years ago — snug parlor with fireplace, big L-shaped dining room, white tablecloths, dark heavy beams, lots of game trophies on the walls.

I'd had sopa Castillana for lunch, not a very good one at one of the cafés on the Mercado Chico, but didn't let that stop me from ordering it at dinner, and I was glad. This was a fine version of the classic dish: torn bread in tomato-flavored hambone stock, with a fine egg broken into it just before serving. I eat half with the spoon, then lift the soup-bowl to my lips, that's the kind of guy I am. Delicious.

I did pass up the cochinella, though. Instead, I ordered the ternera a la plancha, which turned out to be a veal cutlet, a little dry and overcooked, I'd say, with nice little pommes frites on the side. Dessert was a fine almond ice cream with chocolate ice cream and whipped cream.

Rioja, Cune (Crianza), 2009: very approachable and mature (in half bottle)

• Meson El Rasto, Plaza del Rastro, Ávila, Spain; 920 21 12 18

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Suckling pig

Hotel Palacio de Los Velada, Avila, Spain, March 30, 2013—

WHEN IN SPAIN, one eats suckling pig. At least we do. We dined on cochimillo last night, in Madrid, and we did so again tonight, an hour's drive and an age away, in Avila. It was a scientific experiment, devised to search the pure truth. This requires finesse, discipline, and care. It isn't easy, but someone has to do it.

Last night we ate at what the Guinness Book of Records lists as the Oldest Restaurant in the World. We've eaten at other Oldest Restaurants in the World, in Rouen for example, but I wouldn't dream of quibbling. When we left the restaurant we looked in on the kitchen, where a Filipino cook who spoke perfect American English was cleaning up after the last service. He pointed out the handsome tiled wood-burning oven where our piglet had been cooked: the original oven he assures us. Well, then, I said, be careful with it, it does a great job, you wouldn't warn the place burning down on its account.

Goya waited tables here, it"s said, while waiting to qualify for the art academy — that would have been in the 1790s, I suppose. The place reeks of nistory, and does a fine job of maintaining its reputation for authenticity. Our pork was succulent, a little inaccessible for cradling and little bones, thoroughly satisfying. One must eat here, once or twice; one does not need to return on every visit to Madrid, I think.
TONIGHT IN THE COLD NORTH, in Avila, after a walk around the upper Old City, and attendance at the Sabato Sacro procession, we stopped in at a place I"ve been wanting to try, in a building whose hotel accommodated us very nicely a few years back. here I began with Sopa de Fideos, thin but substantial soup with angel hair pasta cut short, and went on to the suckling pig.

If Botin works successfully to maintain its reputation, this place works just as hard to develop its. I thought the pork just as well chosen just as well stores and prepared, just as well cooked and served as last night"s, and perhaps to slightly better effect. The flesh was a little dry, but there was no extraneous juice left on the plate. The skin was crackling-dry and resonant, but not leathery or difficult. Slight edge to Avila, I think.
Tinto, of course, t Hugh one of these days I'd like to try a white Rhone with this dish

• Restaurant Botin, C/de Los Cuchilleros, Madrid; 913.664.217; •Las Cancelas, Cruz Viejo, 6, Avila, Spain, 920.21.22.30

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Location:Madrid, Avila

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A l'Asturiana

Hotel Zurbano, Madrid, March 28, 2013—

IN YEARS PAST, here in Madrid, we've liked La Fuencisla, on the Calle San Mateo, no. 4. Naturally I looked it up yesterday, our first day here, only to find it was in some question, with only a one reference on the Internet — dated July 4, 2007. The glowing description corresponded with what I remembered of the place, but was followed by three troubling and enigmatic comments:
Gerardo, 12:34 pm: There was a time I wanted to reserve, but no one answered the telephone. Is it still open?
Anonymous, 1:21 am: It's closed Señora Teresa died and it closes
Anonymous, 12:53 pm: She isn't dead and functions perfectly
Now that last entry is ambiguous, No esta muerta could conceivably refer to either Señora Teresa or the establishment itself, if you stretch a grammatical point. So today we simply stopped by to see for ourselves.

Well, not so simply; I had described the location imperfectly in my book Mostly Spain, which I was ill-advisedly using as a source. Down one street and across to another we went, asking in at shops and apartment-house doorways, finally closing in on the location, where we found a hot-dog-and-hamburger joint-cum-cocktail-lounge, where a young man was perched on a ladder at the front door, washing the transom.

Is this La Fuencisla, I asked, doubtfully. Yes and no, he answered, La Fuencisla was here, but it changed four years ago. It changed, I said, did it change a lot?

Go in and have a look, he said, it's not the same. I peered inside. No, it was not the same at all. No old men playing cards at dusty tables, a bottle of wine at the elbow; no promising dining room beyond. No Señora Teresa of the delicious eponymous soup. Oh well: there was a perfectly acceptable place not far away, at the Center for Asturian Culture…

There we found the capacious and rather sleek dining rooms completely booked — no surprise; this is a holiday, Holy Thursday. We were given a nice table in the bar, though, with a plate of soft blue sheep's-milk Cabrale already at the center for us to dip hunks from a nicely-textured couronne of bread into.

We consulted the quirky English-language menu, featuring such things as mixted salad and seaworthy clams, and then compared it with the Spanish original, and ordered: a mixted salad, the house tortilla; a couple of ham tortillas, a bowl of soup for Mel, and — since I was hungry — ventresca, tuna belly. And expeditiously everything was brought at once, family-style, the tuna last, after we'd had a chance to do justice to the rest.

The Spanish tortilla is nothing like the Mexican one: it is an omelet. The house tortilla, though, was something else again: a huge wedge of what looked rather like a pink somewhat grainy angel cake: raw tomato purée folded into the beaten eggs, which are then cooked slowly, I'd guess, covered, in a casserole. The result is surprisingly delicate.

Mel's soup arrived in a big tureen, and the mixted salad was easily enough for the four of us, some of us twice. The ham tortillas were apparently quite good; I didn't get a taste. And my tuna was delicious: poached, perhaps, in olive oil; innocent of lemon or parsley or any such distraction; moist and succulent, and accompanied only by a few pleasant French fries.

We skipped dessert, but I had a very good espresso with my limoncello-like licor. Not quite up to La Fuencisla, but we live in the present…

Albariño, Mar de Frades, 2011: soft, present, nice finish—
• Casa Hortensia, C/Farmacia 2, 2a Planta, Madrid; 915 390 000

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tapas in Madrid

Hotel Zurbano, Madrid, March 25, 2013—
AFTER TOO MANY meals, let's call them, on airplanes and in airports, we went out tonight, tired but in need of restoration — ah, that's why they call it that! — to a little place down the street, where we had tapas and a bottle of wine. We're with my Australian brother and his Australian wife, who had had an even worse journey, thirty hours all told, Melbourne-Abu Dhabi-Milan Malpensa-Milan Linate-Madrid, and were in even greater need of restauración. We asked for tapas, and were apologetically given a menu only in Spanish along with a plate of jamón,, ordinary Spanish ham, nothing fancy, but tasting faintly of maturity and industry, not the ultra-refined bland sort of ham we'd had under our Eggs Benedict a few hours earlier at Heathrow.
And then a salad of red peppers with tuna bellies, and bacalao croquettes, and young chorizo on toasts, and good bread and decent olive oil and a little salt. I like it here.
Verdejo, Protos (Rueda), 2011: smooth, good color and flavor, nice finish
• Restaurante La Nova, C/ Zurbano 83, Madrid; 914424902

Monday, March 25, 2013

Roast chicken

Santa Rosa, March 24, 2013—

CHICKEN FROM THE ROTISSERIE, that is. A Rocky, of course, free-range and all that, bought at the supermarket and finished and eaten at the home of a couple of old friends.
With it, delicious asparagus from someone's garden — first of th season, for me; always a welcome sigh of Spring. And leeks and carrots that Lindsey provided, as well as another tasty ice cream Sundae…
Sauvignon blanc, Kenwood, 2012; red table wine, "" (Pedroncelli), 2011—

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Eastside Road, March 23, 2013—
EXACTLY THE DINNER I most enjoy here at home, and I did it all myself. Well, nearly all. The little potatoes, about the size of my thumb, came from the Sebastopol Farmers' Market; so did the sausage — Franco Dunn's Toscana sausage, poignant and determined. The garlic and rosemary came from our garden.

I cleaned the potatoes, minimally, and threw them and a few unpeeled cloves of garlic into hot olive oil in a black iron skillet, added the rosemary and salt — good sea salt. They didn't take long, at fairly high heat, covered, to cook; they were soon tender.

Then I sliced the sausages, say three-quarters of an inch thick, and tossed them in as well, and continued cooking, uncovered — Lindsey insisted — until they were done. That's all there is to it.

Green salad, of course.

Cheap Primitivo (Grifone, from Puglia)

Leftover corned beef; assisted

Eastside Road, March 22, 2013—
WE ARE INTENT on emptying the refrigerator; you'll understand why if you look in on this blog next week. Tonight, then, the last of St. Patrick's Day's corned beef and cabbage: mostly potatoes, as you see; one pathetic little carrot; a tiny remnant of that delicious cabbage; a small piece of corned beef.

Fortunately Lindsey took pity on us both and picked up a bit of Fra Mani ham, which she seared in the black iron skillet and added to the mix. Afterward, the green salad; then a nice ice cream sundae, with toasted pecans and chocolate sauce.

Primitivo, Grifone (Puglia); pleasant

Friday, March 22, 2013

Happy New Year!

Berkeley, March 21, 2013—
PARSI NEW YEAR, that is, which has been celebrated at Chez Panisse for many years now, the gift of Niloufer Ichaporia, who was born in the Parsi community of what was once Bombay. Niloufer is a woman of many parts, and a fabulous cook. I use the word almost literally: her cuisine, and her execution of it, evoke a quality of fable: things made, and made up, and pertaining to the worlds of imagination and, especially, held in awe by those who know it.

It is also, however, down to earth, and extraordinarily sensual. Colors, scents, textures, and flavors, many unfamiliar to those of us generally dining on Occidental fare, combine in hearty and immediate dishes that satisfy both immediately and in the long afterglow of dinner.

(Niloufer has presented a number of recipes in a fine and beautiful book, My Bombay Kitchen (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007; ISBN 9780520249608).

Well, this year, of course, Parsi New Year was not celebrated at Chez Panisse, whose reconstruction is likely to take a couple of months. Instead it was held in a private Berkeley home, where it was prepared under Niloufer's guidance (and very much with her hands-on participation) by cooks from the restaurant, for a number of members of the extended Panisse family. And here is what we had:
Pickles, cashews, papadas
Drumsticks for the Lucky
Prawns Kayabs
Bhajjias and Chutney
Crab salad
Braised kid
Mushroom biryana raita
Greens and salads
Falooda, Jalibis, and more…

It was a feast celebrating the New Year, the first day of Spring, the end of Winter. Regeneration; reawakening. A fine omen for the beginning of reconstruction at Chez Panisse.
Red, from Corsica

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Encore de la soupe

Eastside Road, March 20, 2013—
THOSE WHO KNOW us will have read between the lines: the refrigerator is in course of emptying. We had the last of the soup tonight, la belle soupe, I could get used to eating that…

Cheap Sangiovese, Roccalta (Puglia), 2011

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Oakland, California, March 18, 2013—
SOME LITTLE WHILE ago we arranged to have dinner tonight with a couple of friends downstairs at Chez Panisse. Alas, it was not to be: as all my world knows by now, a fire attacked that restaurant nearly two weeks ago, and it's out of commission for the time being.

For a longer time than we'd originally thought, too. Chez P. won't re-open a little at a time, as originally seemed possible. We've decided to complete all reconstruction before throwing the doors open, and what with bringing things up to today's codes, and rewiring and the like, not to mention rebuilding the front wall and porches on both levels, it'll be another two weeks before we even know when for sure we can set the date — sometime in June, I'd say, though things do change.

(In the meantime, the restaurant's website, or Facebook page is probably the best place to look for news. When I go to the website, I click on "Skip Intro", then on "About," then on the resulting photo. I don't know why it's so complicated.)

So, where to eat? At Claire's other favorite: Oliveto. We hadn't been there in quite a while, since before our friend Paul C. had left the place to open his own restaurant. (It's now open, by the way: Duende, and we like it, as I wrote here.)

The dining room at Oliveto has never struck me as particularly comfortable, except perhaps for the smaller room, where we've occasionally been seated for special events. The main room is upstairs, very open, rather crowded with tables, and often very noisy, even on a Monday night.

Last night's dinner, though, was quite nice. The new chef, Jonah Rhodehamel, seems to be leaning toward the Piemontese side of north Italian cuisine, and that's a favorite area for me. I began with a salad of little chicories, hazelnuts, and Castelmagno cheese, for example, a very nice combination.

My pasta course (photo above) continued the theme: Garganelli in a ragù of cocks' combs and veal sweetbreads, creamy and rich. I could have been in an upscale Torino restaurant.

Next came pan-roasted sea bass with spring onions, asparagus, watercress, and poultry sugo, again rich and creamy — I can no longer eat like this every day. A beautiful dish, if perhaps not the wisest choice after the pasta.

Dessert: a creamy (again!) Carnaro rice tart with poached apricots. Yes: Piemonte. I want to go there.

Prie Blanc, 4000 Meters (Vallée d'Aoste), 2009: flinty, resonant, a little austere.
Sagrantino di Montefalco, Colpetrone (Umbria), 2007: approachable, with good flavor.
Nacetta, "Anas-Cetta," Elvio Cogno (Piemonte), 2010: long, deep, memorable. A fine sequence of wines!
• Oliveto, 5655 College Avenue, Oakland, California; 510.547.5356

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Day

Eastside Road, March 17, 2013—
DAMN, I COOKED such a nice dinner tonight for our neighbors down the hill, and completely forgot to take any photo at all. Oh well.

Four and a half pounds of corned beef brisket, simmered for four hours or so. Eight or ten potatoes, peeled and halved. A bunch of carrots. A good-sized cabbage, cored, cut into six segments, steamed.

The brisket out of its bath, and browned in the oven. The vegetables finished in the brisket's cooking liquor, then served with the beef on a single platter, with some prepared mustard for those who like it.

Very simple: no horseradish, no green salad, no onions or leeks. But dessert: ice cream, chopped toasted walnuts, and a spoonful of bourbon — we didn't have any Bushmill's — on top, to celebrate.

Prosecco; Syrah Sirah, Preston of Dry Creek, 2009: fine.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Eastside Road, March 16, 2013—
BACK TO BASICS today: Franco's delicious Toscana sausage, bought last Sunday at the Sebastopol market; the last of the potato-and-celery-root-and-leek purée Lindsey made a few days ago; broccoli. And a green salad afterward, of course; and fruit, and chocolate.

Oh: and a message from Berkeley. It looks like a longer downtime than we had hoped at Chez Panisse; I may have more information after Monday, when I'll be taking another look at things…
Sangiovese, Roccalta (Puglia), 2011: fresh, rather rich, good varietal, simple.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sandwich and soup

Eastside Road, March 15, 2013—
THE OTHER DAY, I don't recall where but I suppose we could look it up, I had some smoked salmon somewhere, and it wasn't to my taste. It was, well, a little fishy, and dull, and thuddish, and tired, and all those things that just made me think — and then, forgetting that it would get me nowhere, actually say — though only to my patient companion, fortunately — that

I     really     don't     like     smoked salmon.

There. I've said it.

But then, tonight, Lindsey spread some smoked salmon on bread, which she'd previously spread with a teeny thin layer of that delicious Dutch mayonnaise she buys in tubes when we're there,and put those thin-sliced raw onions on top, and it was delicious. Simply delicious.

The smoked salmon came from Dave the Fish Guy at the Sebastopol Farm Market. He smokes King salmon, I guess, over hickory wood. I asked him where he got the wood: Home Depot, he said, I got an account there. Simple enough.

Afterward, another bowl of the soup from a couple or three days ago. Good stuff: I'm a lucky guy.

Cheap Pinot grigio; cheap Barbera d'Asti

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Portuguese again

Eastside Road, March 13, 2013—
IT'S A CUISINE I know virtually nothing about, the Portuguese cuisine, though I'll know a little more next month. As a sort of warm-up, we thought we'd join friends in Healdsburg's newish Café Lucia tonight.

We've been here before, last December, with another couple, a couple who do know the cuisine, and they found it authentic, and enjoyable. Tonight I'm not quite so sold on it, but it was pleasant enough.

We warmed up with a plate of very nice Monterey Bay sardines, with a warm onion marmalade. Lindsey went on to one of her favorites, salt cod and potatoes — bacalhau no forno here, with onions and olives and a sea of olive oil; and perhaps I should have joined her.

Instead I asked for the pork tenderloin recheado, attracted by the complexity of the dish — it involves a stuffing of olives, figs, and almonds, and a port wine demiglace. I liked the dish, but wasn't in the mood for it, for whatever reason. A dish like this wants to be eaten on a cold night, or else slowly and in comfort: and this restaurant was a little loud, which made me feel a little rushed.

Still, a nice dish, with its mashed-potato-and-cheese croquettes. For dessert, a trio of cinnamon-vanilla crème brûlée, caramel-chocolate ice cream, and caramelized apples in a pecan gaufrette — again, very nice. We'll be back, on a slower night I hope.

Quinta Nova, Pomares (Douro), light and refreshing; vinho tinto, Quinta de Crasto (Douro), rather deep and very pleasant
Café Lucia, 235 Healdsburg Street, Healdsburg, California; 707-431-1113

Grilled cheese


Alice briefs the Chez Panisse staff, Live Oak Park
Eastside Road, March 13, 2013—
OH BOY, BACK DOWN to Berkeley, with time for just a sandwich at lunch before a staff meeting in a park near Chez Panisse.

I mentioned the fire here a couple of days ago. The latest information I have is pretty well what you may already have read here, for example: the Café hopes to be open for its April 1 birthday, without its porch tables; the downstairs dining room will take a little longer but will probably open after another week or so, probably also without its porch.

The porches, upstairs and down, will be rebuilt in the meantime, in the familiar Berkeley chalet style, whose roots go back to Bernard Maybeck and the turn of the previous century.

The sandwich was grilled Swiss cheese on light rye bread, perhaps a little oilier than I like, but with a competent cole slaw and a few absolutely delicious dill pickles on the side. We like this place, partly because we like Peter its proprietor, one of the many unsung alums of Chez Panisse.

Pinot grigio
• Saul's Deli, 1475 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-848-3354
sla.jpgSupper at home, then, needed be no more tha a nice big salad with my usual vinaigrette. Lindsey's been working hard in her garden and found that lots of mâche has come up here and there, so generous handfuls went into a salad otherwise dedicated to locally grown red leaf-lettuce.

The lettuce has really nice structure, crisp and substantial, and flavor, too. But the mâche! Lots of flavor, fresh, redolent of its garden setting — what a pleasure!

Cheap Pinot grigio, cheap Barbera d'Asti

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sandwich; soup

Eastside Road, March 11, 2013—
LUNCH IN TOWN today, exceptionally, with my brother, even more exceptional. Nothing fancy, just a sandwich, a glass of wine, and good conversation.

There are a lot of interesting and interestingly named sandwiches on the menu at this fine place, but I gravitated to the simplest, christened
The Working Class: prosciutto, pecorino, and arugula on day-old ciabatta. Nice.

• Campo Fina, 330 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg; 707-395-4640
And then for dinner at home, a fine bowl of home-made soup: broth, chorizo, potatoes, lots of kale, onion, garlic… soup, lovely soup…

Cheap Barbera d'Asti, Rocco del Olmo, 2010

Roadhouse redux

Port Costa, March 10, 2013—
QUALIFICATION FOR CATEGORY "roadhouse": the cluster of motorcycles in the parking area at the end of the street.

Well, that, and the fact that the tiny town of Port Costa could in no way support a restaurant-bar like this on its own; it depends on out-of-towners for its clientele. But, first, you really have to want to go there; Port Costa hasn't been on the beaten track for a hundred years. And, secondly, I bet this place has plenty of regulars.

Perhaps the best part of the place, on the basis on one dinner hear with a couple of friends, is the bar: a delightful period atmosphere; plenty of energy; an interesting list of well made cocktails. I had the "roadhouse Martini": Plymouth gin, Dolin dry and semi-sweet white vermouths, orange bitters, and lemon oil — remarkably like the one I make for myself most Fridays and Saturdays, balanced and supple.

(Lindsey's "Martinez" was a trope on the original Martini, with Cocchi vermouth and maraschino in its gin, along with the bitters. Very good, she said.)

Dinner was, well, copious: the four of us ate family style, sharing everything: nice crisp deep-fried green beans in chile salt; bourbon-flavored chicken-liver paté with capers and sweet pickled peppers; an iceberg salad with lardons, chives, and blue cheese dressing.

Then the main course: a half chicken, buttermilk-battered and fried, with mashed potatoes and gravy; pork stew over creamy polenta with tomatillos, chile, lime, and sour cream; a nicely grilled rib-eye steak with porcini and trumpet mushrooms and pommes Anna.

Three desserts, too, for the four of us: pound cake with honey and whipped cream; banana cream pie; chocolate pot de crème with salt caramel and crème fraîche.

Everything organic, sustainable, and hormone-free, according to the menu; and deeply flavored. Also, every dish seemed to me expressive of the location, on the edge of Northern California history, mediating between the Gold Rush era and the happy culinary present. I'd go back.

Bandol, Domaine Tempier, 1989: absolutely perfect condition, fully mature, deep, rich, completely expressive of a great wine (thanks, John)
• Bull Valley Roadhouse, 14 Canyon Lake Drive, Port Costa, California; 510-787-1135

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Prime rib

Eastside Road, March 9, 2013—
THE ROADHOUSE RAMBLERS are back in business, I'm happy to report. Lindsey and I and a couple of dear old friends, two comfortable couples, spending Saturday night following the rules: an old-fashioned place, preferably unchanged in fifty years, by the side of the road in the country or a small town, with beef and a Martini at the head of the menu.

The snapshot above will give you an idea. This dining room is essentially unchanged since 1945, though I suppose that shiny chrome espresso machine to the right of the upright piano is a fairly recent addition.

Dinner began with a bowl of good hot hearty soup and a small plate of antipasto whose heart wasn't really in it: three slices of salami for the four of us, a couple of juicy pickled peppers, a small bowl of beans and ceci, one strip of raw carrot, another of celery.

Next came a small bowl of torn lettuces and thinly sliced red onion. Most of us opted for the oil and vinegar in cruets on the table, and I must say the olive oil was pretty darn good.

beef.jpgBut we were there for the Saturday special, prime rib of beef. My piece was enormous and, as you see, as rare as I like it. It came with a small cup of what's called awjuss, spelled au jus; and another of blistering horseradish cream. And, of course, a baked potato, which I took nature, no sour cream or butter or chives, just another splash of that nice olive oil and a shake or two of salt.

Dessert? What could be more appropriate to a retro meal like this than spumoni?
Pinot noir, Castle Rock (California), 2010
• Dinucci's Italian Restaurant, 14485 Valley Ford Road, Valley Ford, California; 707-876-3260.

Friday, March 8, 2013


The front porch dining room
photo: Lindsey Shere
Berkeley, March 8, 2013—
ANOTHER TRIP SOUTH to Berkeley today on business — unexpectedly.

I learned of the fire while drinking my second cup of coffee at breakfast, looking at e-mail on the iPhone. Hmmm: something from my brother Jim: Subject: Chez Panisse; body:
I just learned about the loss— I'm so sorry.
Well, that caught me up in a hurry. I phoned Alice, got her friend Marcia on her cell phone: yes, there'd been a fire.

We drove right down, of course. Lots of people standing around watching the firemen going about their meticulous work. We sat in on a meeting of department heads: chefs, floor managers, grounds people, office people — maybe twelve or fifteen people altogether. Alice, of course, and our general manager Jennifer, who's rock-solid, a real blessing.

So many things to deal with, so quickly. Inventory. Save what we can; dump what we can't. Reservations: call people back, apologize, cancel reservations. Insurance: our fine agent was already there, of course, assuring us we were in good shape. I am impressed with the calm and professionalism of everyone I see.

I stepped into the kitchen, through the back door, and was immediately assailed by the smell of smoke — a very unpleasant smoke, not at all nice. But the kitchen looks completely normal, other than being empty of people and work. Spic and span.

The downstairs dining room looks normal except for the porch, which is a bit of a disaster. Its windows are all broken out, the banquettes partially torn out, and a couple of rectangular holes have been cut right through the floor: you can look through them to the charred posts and joists below the porch.

The fire had started there in the crawl space below the front porch, immediately underneath the sprinkler concealed in the copper chandelier that hung in the center of the porch ceiling. When you replace all this, a fireman said to me, you should keep that sprinkler, and bronze it or gold-plate it, and keep it on a desk somewhere; it probably saved the building.

I go upstairs: the café looks completely normal, but of course smells just as smoky as the downstairs, even though all the doors and windows are wide open. A professional cleaning crew is already assessing the damage, and tell me it's not as bad as it seems, they can eradicate all traces of the smell relatively quickly.

Outside, crews from three or four television stations are patiently waiting to interview anyone they find. I talk to a nice young woman from ABC, who asks if I'd be comfortable being interviewed on camera. Well, actually, no, I wouldn't, I say, but thanks for asking. Don't mention it, she says; I'm sorry for the loss.

We hope we can have the café up and running by the end of next week, but it'll be nip and tuck. Downstairs will undoubtedly take a little longer, though it should be possible to be serving downstairs while reconstruction is going on.

Nothing I write here is official, of course, simply my view of things. The office will undoubtedly have a notice on the restaurant website when they can get to it.
Oh well: time for lunch. We troop down to Picante for some rajas — potatoes and chili peppers, a favorite of mine, with a side of pinto beans and some guacamole and, why not, a Margarita. Everything smells of smoke. We think about all the people: our insurance agent, the firemen and the police, the bystanders, the folks at the Cheese Board who rushed pizzas over for the restaurant staff. The wonderful people who work at Chez Panisse, our family, who are so dedicated, and such fine men and women.

We think about the last time something like this happened, nearly thirty years ago — a much more serious fire: but we were up and running before too long, better than ever. About the many events since, so many so pleasurable, and the few that were terribly sad. Why not: I have another Margarita, and we drive back home, and look at the news, and the e-mail and the Facebook messages. And I answer them here, apologizing for the departure from the Eatingday routine, but I know you'll understand.

• Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley
• Picante, 1328 6th Street, Berkeley; (510) 525-3121

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Eastside Road, March 7, 2013—
I LEARN TODAY that in Australia a duck les is called a "maryland," small "m," I suppose because its outline resembles that of the state. Very strange: but so be it.

It's been quite a while since we've cooked any, here on Eastside Road. I used to cook them fairly often in the old days, when I was chief cook as well as bottle washer, before Lindsey retired and took on culinary responsibilities at home. I always browned the duck legs in a sauté pan, then braised them.

Tonight, though, L. roasted them in the oven, flavoring them with nothing but salt, and roasting them slowly. It's an entirely different thing so cooked, truer to its own self and less beholden to pan juices, and very nicely accompanied by an excellent purée of leeks, celery root, potatoes, with a little butter.

The duck itself came from a farm out west of here, a place we have to visit one of these days — excellent ducks; and we asked them to provide a Christmas goose for us this year. Now that's thinking ahead!
cheap Nero d'Avola

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Eastside Road, March 6, 2013—
IT'S JUST SO GOOD, a bowl of hot hearty soup. Especially on a cold late-winter night. This is a minestrone, and we didn't make it; we got it in town at the Downtown Bakery and Creamery, which a while back added soups and sandwiches and even more elaborate dishes to the operation, becoming in fact a real lunch joint. Why haven't we lunched there? Beats me.

We dropped in for a loaf of bread, and Joe was carrying a few take-out containers of soup to the shelf, and one thing led to another. Went fine with grilled Parmesan sandwiches, of course.

Chicken, broth, garbanzos, carrot, celery, peppers I think, barley, salt of course, probably more. Very nicely done.

Cheap Pinot grigio as an apéritif; cheap Nero d'Avolo with dinner

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Eastside Road, March 5, 2013—
TODAY WE FAST; yesterday we feasted. Well. We dined very well, but moderately.

We'd made yet another round trip to Oakland and Berkeley performing various errands, and met friends for a drink and a nibble in mid-afternoon, in lieu of lunch. There I had a plate of delicious jamón with a glass or two of fino, warming up for a looming trip to Iberia. Spanish ham and Spanish sherry: now there's an example of elective affinities.

• César, 1515 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.883.0222
A DRINK AND A NIBBLE do not constitute dinner, though, so we moved next door, joining a granddaughter and her other grandparents. Here I was happy to see chicories with anchovy dressing and a soft-cooked egg, a fine take on the classic Caesar salad; many other restaurants would simply call it that, probably.

From there I went to saltimbocca, a favorite of mine and one of the Hundred Plates, I hereby declare (reminding myself it's high time to update that list). But here I had indeed met a revisionist: this was chicken saltimbocca, as the menu had promised: a flattened breast of chicken, layered with a veil of prosciutto, flavored with sage, and grilled, finished I would bet in a pan.

I'd been thinking about Roman saltimbocca, of course; veal with prosciutto and sage, rolled up, sliced into bites, and quickly sautéed. To me what arrived was closer to what I have always called chicken valdostana, except that that dish involves a thin layer of cheese as well as the prosciutto. (Hmmm: have to dust that recipe off one of these days…)

In any case, a fine main course, arriving with sautéed broccoli di ciccio and a purée involving root vegetables, chthonic and grounded.

I ordered a glass of Arneis, one of my favorite wines, a white one from Piemonte. The waiter asked if he might bring me a taste of it to see if I really wanted it. Interesting. On tasting it I saw his reason: very uncharacteristic. Rather nice, but not at all what I expected. I made do with the bottle of rosé the rest of the table were having; then had a glass of the Arneis after all, with the saltimbocca.

The sommelier pointed out that Arneis, like any grape, grows in a number of soils, is finished in a number of ways. This one was from Piemonte, all right, in the Roero, between Bra and Asti; but finished in a rather richer, thicker style than the grape has traditionally been given. On reflection it seems closer to a white Rhone than to a white Savoie. It makes me stretch my expectations. I'm glad it's here; I like it very much — but I hope the Arneis I'm used to continues to be made as well.

Rosé, "Ameztoi," Getariako Txakolina (Spain), 2011 (light and pleasant though not really "amazing"); Arneis, Cascina Val de Prete (Roero), 2010 (see above)
• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Salmon Sunday

Eastside Road, March 3, 2013—
OUR BELOVED MARKET in Healdsburg runs only May through November (roughly), but we make do this time of year with the Sebastopol market, held on Sunday mornings. There we find our familiars: Nancy Skall for unique produce; Franco Dunn for his amazing sausages; Dave the fish guy for salmon. King salmon these days.

Today Lindsey basted it, or marinated it, with the dressing she'd made for our blood-orange salad: olive oil, shallot, blood-orange juice. (We have our Oakland sister-in-law — is that what you call your grandchild's other grandmother? — to thank for these blood oranges; she has a big tree in her back yard, and it bears dependably and copiously.)

With the fish, potatoes: diced, cooked in water with garlic and a little olive oil. Delicious.

Green salad, check. Fruit, check. Oh! some pan pepato from Christmas! How nice!
Cheap Pinot grigio

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Feasts and leftovers

Eastside Road, March 2, 2013—
JUST LOOK AT THIS fabulous last bit of my blood-orange salad! Lindsey peels them with a knife, slices them fairly thin, and tosses them with sliced white onion, adding a few drops of olive oil to the mixture. That, and a few grains of salt, is all there is to it, and it's one of the glories of the table, one of the Hundred Plates.

That was dinner Thursday night, otherwise a dinner of leftovers — both the main dish, macaroni and cheese, and the wines, little bottle-ends of white, rosé, and red. A day of gustatory repose, you might say; and today will be another; we may well even fast, so well did we eat yesterday.

Too well, perhaps, and certainly too much. Lunch in San Francisco with a couple of friends, one on the mend from a recent indisposition, and looking much better than we'd expected. A celebratory meal, then, at the pleasant communal table where you feel you're in the bosom of family even though your neighbors are in fact perfect strangers.

(Perfectly sociable, though; the solitary woman on my left conversing pleasantly about shared menu orders; the fellow at the end apologizing, as he leaves the table, for not having had an opportunity to converse at length. I'd never seen him before.)

Here I lunched on a complex, nicely integrated, very interesting dish: trofie in a chicken ragù with pancetta, cabbage, very faint hints of caraway and paprika, crème fraîche, overstrewn with parsley. Eastern European, as the menu had promised; more specifically, Austro-Hungarian, and delicious. tarte.jpgBefore it, a cup of bracing beef-based soup; afterward, a slice of this magnificent blood-orange cara cara (thanks, Kathi) tart with two bands of streusel.

Côtes du Rhône, Dauvergne Ranvier, 2010 (well balanced though Viognier-dominated, very attractive); Brouilly, Domaine Ruet, 2007 (forthcoming, mature)
Boulette's Larder, 1 Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco; (415) 399-1155
DINNER WAS AT another friend's restaurant, a new one, opened only six weeks ago, previously unvisited by us. It was full of energy, dark, vivacious, boldly and beautifully decorated, the walls, furnishings, menu, service, and above all cuisine grounded in total authenticity, everything as appealing, attractive, and engaging as anyone could ask.

Here we fairly feasted: pickled sardines with artichokes, fava leaves, and pea sprouts; patatas bravas; baby octopus with pork belly, black truffles, and butternut squash; duck liver paté with wild arugula and toast; sweet house-made botifarra sausage with gigante beans and braised greens, and, perhaps my favorite, sweet Piemontese beef tartare, beautifully mixed with egg, capers, and onion, and served with shoestring pimenton potatoes.

Dessert? But of course! I had a fine rich soft chocolate torte, with mocha-flavored crème anglaise and "candied coffee" ice cream; Lindsey had apple-huckleberry crumble with fried almond streusel; Grace made do with a fine, authentic "flan tradicional." Everything here seems authentically tradicional, but equally in the moment, our moment.

I can't overemphasize the pleasures of this table, this restaurant. Here at last our friend Paul Canales, formerly chef at Oliveto, has found the perfect expression of his many enthusiasms. The food is fun, nourishing, vital; and so is everything about the setting in which it's served.

Gamay, Andrew Lane, 2011 (friendly and unassertive)
Duende, 468 19th Street, Oakland; 510-893-0174