Tuesday, August 30, 2005

August: 4th Sunday Dinner: Home

This Sunday was left over Crudo, grilled anchovies, and Miyagi and Kumamoto oysters. The night before we'd pulled together dinner for 16, and I was feeling over the whole cooking thing.

I'm a huge fan of raw red meat, but turned out many of the folks I had over for dinner on Saturday are not. I'd used a recipe of Roberto Donna's. Until I found the recipe my only association with Roberto, was his appearance on Iron Chef America. He'd been handed his head by Iron Chef Morimoto, whose 5 item line-up included a 4-item bento box. This seemed like some sort of Iron Chef equivalent of the fist pump or crotch-grab. Take your pick, poor Robert Donna finished maybe 3 of his items.

The fish and shellfish I picked up at Hapuku Fish Shop. Anchovies are great right now, and only 2.50 a pound there. Sadly, no anchovie pictures. Here are some oysters though...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

August: 3rd Sunday Dinner: Home

Most Sundays I'll start throwing together dinner at about 7, and have everything good to go right about the time Iron Chef America starts.

Last week's meal was pretty low-key. With two exceptions.

An employee had just come back from a quick vacation to Alaska, and came bearing Coho Salmon. I served this tartare-style with avocado and lime zest. Can't remember the last time I saw fish that orange.

The other stand out item was a roasted green pepper sauce. Packed full of smokey char flavor, if a little oily. This was all ad hoc. I roasted the Pasilla and Anaheim peppers we had, and added cilantro and garlic in the Food processor. Then poured in oil until it behaved like a sauce.

Went great with the roasted skirt steak. Washed it all down with 2002 mas Champart (causse du bousquet), from the St. Chinian Region of south western France. You can grab this at Kermit Lynch.

August: 4th Friday: Oliveto Cafe

Sneaking in a post on this weeks Friday meal before house guests come back from a day in the city. I've eaten at Oliveto a few times over the years but had never eaten at the downstairs restaurant.

Their Tomato Festival menu got our attention though, and having struck out with Open Table reservations for upstairs, downstairs it was. We walked in at 9:00pm on a Friday and were seated right away.

Our waiter and I recognized each other as Dopo regulars, and he had good information on the brunello di montalcino that we wound up ordering. The wine maker was very hands on, and the wine was very fruit forward.

Salumi Plate: relatively thick slices of soppresetta, a coarse pate, and a really coarse pate served on toasts. This last pate tasted almost entirely of salt and fat. The wine cut right through it though.

Verdura della stagione: carpaccio of zucchini with pine nuts, parmesan, olive oil, and basil - this had the curious effect of underscoring just how like carpaccio anything prepared in this way winds up tasting. cool thing about this preparation was the curls of parmesan that covered the plate, some Microplane #35009 action in full effect.

antipasto misto: beans with salt, almonds, mozzella di buffula, heirloom tomatoes with garlic. everything was a little heavier on oil and much heavier on salt than I would have liked. First bites of everything were great, but subsequent bites were overwhelming.

One note on tomatoes. Heirlooms of all kinds are so good and so cheap right now at both Berkeley Bowl and the Grand Lake Farmers' Market. About 2.00 a pound. Tough to do better than these.

penne w/ beef ragu: I liked this, even if the wood oven left the pasta a bit dry. Imagine really good mac and cheese with a quality beef ragu underneath.

pizza del giorno: heirloom tomatoes slices on a white pizza. The crust was prepared well but didn't have much flavor.

brunello di montalcino "la palazzeta" - tight and bright at first, gave way to full bodied mouth feel.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Menu: Dopo: Monday August 22

Here's the Monday Dopo Menu for this week. The items that we ate, I've bolded.

  • shellfish salad with cherry tomatoes and shaved fennel

  • carponata with mozzarella di bufula

  • seared yellow fin tuna with sicilian olive relish

  • mixed greens

  • onion soup

  • ravioli with braised pork, fennel pollen and tomato

  • tagliatelli with ragu of braised duck

  • lasagna alla napoletana

  • pizza dopo

  • pizza with chantrelle mushrooms and ricotta

  • pizza with pancetta and red onion

  • pizza with prosciutto di parma and gypsy red peppers

  • pizza with fennel and olive

  • For dessert I had poached figs in a red wine reduction with short bread. Flourless chocolate cake and lemon sorbet with prosecco were also available.

    Monday, August 22, 2005

    Menu: Dopo: Monday August 15

    May throw together some notes on these, but in the mean time I've bolded the food we ate:

  • house-made sausage with escarole

  • seared scallops with roasted red peppers and sicilian olive relish

  • fritto of swordfish with pinenuts, garlic and lemon

  • knoll farm arugula

  • spicy summer minestra

  • tagliolini with lamb ragu

  • whole wheat pappardelle with paine farm pigeon braised in saba

  • lasagna alla napoletana

  • pizza dopo

  • pizza with ricotta, garlic, and pickled chilies

  • pizza with pancetta and black olives

  • pizza with prosciutto di parma, gypsy peppers and basil

  • pizza with anchovy, hot pepper and oregano
  • Saturday, August 20, 2005

    Food Notes: Dinner in August

    A few weekends ago I had 10 or so friends over for what wound up being a test kitchen dinner. Here are the dishes along with some sourcing and prep notes, wine notes to follow:

    Hog Island (big) and Kumamoto (small) Oysters
    These came from Berkeley Bowl, but I prefer to get them from Hapuku Fish Shop in Market Hall where they tend to be smaller. In my opinion, a better size for raw eating.

    Strawberry Puree and Cucumber "Spaghetti" with Chopped Olives and Basil
    This recipe came from a New York Times Magazine article on Patrick Mikanowski (already archived, requires purchase), and was adapted from his book "Uncooked". The sauce was a straight puree of hulled strawberries --which i picked up at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market-- with salt and pepper to taste. The Cucumber Spaghetti was made with a Mandolin, but could also be food-milled. I goofed up and didn't buy seedless cucumbers - this complicated preparing the spaghetti a lot.

    Raw Scallop and Salmon with Passion Fruit, Shiso, and Lime Zest
    From the same NYT Magazine article as above. Think this dish was the most interesting but also could have easily been a bunch better: More shiso, more lime zest, more red pepper flakes. You can find shiso at Berkeley Bowl (to the right of the potatoes along the eastern wall) in small bags for just under a dollar. You can grab Passion Fruit there too. They are on a stand in the middle of the produce area, along side the other semi-obscure tropical fruits (Star Fruit, Horned Melons, etc.).

    Zucchini Carpaccio with Tonnato
    Tonnato is basically aioli with tuna and anchovies blended in. This is a dish that they were serving at Dopo a couple of weeks back, but before I could taste the zucchini version they started serving the tonnato with roasted peppers. The Dopo recipe starts with their tuna confit, which I prepared according to a Govind Armstrong recipe with mixed results (cooked too long and at too high a temperature). Most tonnato recipes found online recommend a canned tuna, I'd like to try it with the bulk Ortiz Tuna that they sale at Market Hall. I've since tried the sauce over oven roasted tomatoes and that worked pretty well too.

    Grilled Honey Glazed Chicken with Green Pea and Mint Sauce
    A Boy Meets Grill recipe compliments of the Food Network. Thought this sauce was good, but the honey didn't really come through, the vinegar was too prominent, and it should have been blended more. Also, the chicken didn't really glaze. Think the alcohol consumption to this point was impacting the attention I paid to the chicken.

    Review: Pizzaiolo

    Open Since: June 2005
    Eaten There: 3 times

    I was disappointed by my first visit. Beets in the Little Gems salad were overcooked (except when they were under cooked) and dressed haphazardly, like they forgot to put oil in the vinaigrette. Orecchiette with rapini and garlic was okay, but nothing a lot of people who eat there couldn't do better at home by starting with fresh pasta. A pizza with brandade and egg was good, but the crust was tough.

    Second time around I went with a group of folks, and we were one half of the family table they have in back. We ordered pizzas to share and everyone ordered something as a starter.

    Seemed to take a long time for the antipasti to arrive. But my carpaccio was great, perfect texture and temperature. A couple of people ordered poached shrimp - poached in water that had been used to blanch Kale. This didn't come through for me, and the shrimp were more cooked than I like.

    Folks who ordered the polpette as starters got them along with the pizza instead. The meatballs were chock full of breadcrumbs and herbs and covered in red sauce. Didn't do much for me, but people seemed to like them. Pizza crust was certainly better this time, the sausage and greens pizza was particularly tasty, still chewy though.

    Over the evening we had 3 bottles of wine from the list which has gotten more eclectic since opening (French, Spanish, and Californian bottles as well as Italian staples). During my most recent meal there, two of the 3 bottles we'd had and a few others we hadn't were off the list. The turn over is a mixed blessing. If you like something there's no guaruntee it'll be there when you get back, if not - try again next week.

    It is tempting to compare the place with Dopo, and friends and co-workers certainly do. The prices are in every way comparable, usually people out front waiting to get in, and the menu has some similarities. But the vibe here is clearly different (bigger, louder, etc.) and the food seems less considered, even less sophisticated - not that this is necessarily bad.

    Pizzaiolo takes good, occasionally even interesting, ingredients and deploys them in the service of what is essentially comfort food for people who dig food.

    Review: Sea Salt

    Open Since: June 2005
    Eaten there: 4 times

    Standout items on the menu for me include the bacon, lettuce, and trout sandwhich with oven roasted tomatoes, and the tuna tartare with black olives and oranges served with house made potato chips.

    During my first dinner there the oven roasted tomatoes on the trout sandwhich weren't roasted enough to be interesting. During a recent lunch there was a run on the tartare apparently (which i probably brought on myself by bringing 6 co-workers along) and they served tuna that was so cold it felt nearly frozen.

    The food looks and tastes both fun and inventive though, and the space is similarly appealing. My only gripe really is with the prices, which seem high for the quality of food and also sheer level of technical execution.

    This is my gripe with Fonda as well though. Sea Salt is the latest restaurant by the folks who own and operate Lalimes, Jimmy Beans, and Fonda Solano (incidentally they are also about to open a BBQ place called T-Rex, that has been four or five years in the opening).

    The prices are thoroughly comparable to Pearl on College, which generally sets a higher standard even if portions there can be small. The similarities to Pearl extend to certain aspects of the interior, but here the vibe is more whimsical than hip.

    That said, Sea Salt is the sort of place that contributes to a good time and serves pretty good food which will probably only get better with time.

    Another curious touch, is a selection of beverages that require assembly. Lemonade for instance comes as a small pitcher of fresh squeezed lemon juice, a tumbler full of ice, and a pitcher of simple syrup.

    The restaurant is located in the space that used to be Tallulah, and so is in the same block as Cafe Trieste and Good Vibrations.

    Sunday, August 14, 2005

    Restaurants: Reviews: Dopo

    My sheer delight and bewilderment in discovering that fig newtons had any naturally occuring prcedent overwhelmed me for a long time. Even now, 10 years later, when I see a basket of ripe figs I have to pick them up regardless of price (4 to 6 dollars a basket this year at the Lakeshore Farmer's Market).

    Dopo did the same thing for me with Italian food. so now most weeks, I eat there two or three times (I'll post the menus I remember to grab). and i'm not alone. the place, small as it is, is almost always packed. dropping by early or late in an evening, or just mid-week, i don't think i've ever waited more than 15 minutes though. the staff will also generally ask if you'd like a glass of something while you wait. if they don't, just ask to see the wine list.

    i can understand how the oliveto pedigree and overwhelmingly positive reviews might lead folks to arrive with some specific set of expectations that aren't met. having spent my last ten years happily leaning more toward the French than the Italian though, this food came as a revelation.

    everyone talks up the pizza. it's transcendent: light and compelling enough that a friend and I have been known to eat 3 of them after the antipasti. recently though i had:

    - boston mackerel with watercress and agrumato
    - mixed bean salad with lemon, parsley, and bottarga
    - fusilli with braised niman ranch pork belly and sweet peas
    - whole wheat fettuccine with paine farm pigeon ragu
    - knoll farm (i think) santa rosa plum sorbet

    whenever i ask about specific preparations, the response almost always begins,"You just take 'X' ingredient and do 'Y' with it..." even on nights when the daily menu features items that were there the night before, the preparations are likely to be slightly, or even pointedly, different.

    a friend recently confessed to eating here five times in a week - every night but tuesday. he waxed poetic about each of the meals. went into great detail, before saying that he was sure he ate something somewhere on tuesday night, just couldn't remember where or what. it can be that good.


    Portions of this entry originally appeared in a review at yelp.com.