Archive for May, 2008

Late Spring ’08

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

        TIME FOR A DIFFERENT NICOISE SALADE — I’m not sure the academicians of “authentic” French cuisine would admit it to their very proper pantry. But if you like leeks and currants and you like those undoubted Nicoise components potato, tuna and garlic, why not combine them in a new and refreshing salad. Things to do: steam sliced leeks, boil sliced potatoes, mince scallion or shallot, open tin of tuna chunks in oil, locate supply of currants, or golden raisins, combine all of the above as you see fit in our usual Mediterranean dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and pressed garlic.


        NORTH BEACH POLYPHONY — I’m sitting at the counter of the U.S. (U Sicilianu) Restaurant as I frequently do come noon in San Francisco, and the open kitchen is more than humming, Bennie flipping a Milanese, Gus thin-slicing Jack, Joelle shaping a hamburger patty bing-bing-bing-bingBING. Out in the restaurant Jeannie’s arranging counter stools, the rickety one and the one that spins, Constantino’s pouring iced tea, Renee the weekday waitress with more than the requisite heart-o-gold surveys her kingdom. The dapper fish man arrives with salmon, halibut and small talk, the French bread deliverer rushes in, probably late, crumbs about to fly, the poet Ferlinghetti surveys all from his position in a not-Neapolitan mural, graciously tipping his hat . . .


        AND JOELLE with sundown moonlights in the kitchen of that faithful buca Tommaso’s (ex-Lupo’s) a few blocks away. Tommaso’s is as endearing as ever. No sign of candles dripping wax over Chianti flasks — did I invent them?  No, I think they’ve been edited out as too much of a Frank Capra-esque thing. But everything else, the comforting but rather original bill of fare, the romantic booths, the long communal table (presided over the other night by a dimpled bambina perched prettily at its Kearny Street end) were as our parents and grandparents knew them.

        Considering the flood of Eye-talian food gushing out of some North Beach kitchens (from Coit Tower, of course!) it was delightful to experience Tommaso’s unflinchingly austere “Macaroni” — this misto mates mushrooms in a little oil-parsley&garlic with a generous hunk of peppery sausage. The color of this dish is almost grey, but the taste is golden. Add in the famous toasted peppers in oil and lemon to start and the chocolate pastry cream cannoli for dessert and you’re well in sight of perfection.

        And naturally there were strangers sitting next to us at the long table who knew some of our friends in Santa Rosa . . . 

Spring ’08

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

        STUFFING AHOY — Decided to upgrade good Monsieur Dumas’ Sausage Stuffed Tomatoes, chapter 3, recipe 5 in our gastro gospel. The new drill is as follows: add zucchini, green of course, and yellow bell peppers to the fire engine palette of your tomatoes, and behold, a tricoloric orchestration on each diner’s plate! The parade of variously shaped but invariably pocket-containing veg is, I think, quite impressive. To top things off, literally, I propose you doctor some faithful old store-bought mayonnaise with lemon-garlic-saffron plus a spiking of paprika or chili powder to make for a near-instant rouille. Saffrouille, I call it.


        A FRIEND took me to Cafe Cacao in the Berkeley flatlands the other day, this is the hip restaurant attached to the Scharffenberger chocolate factory. Fantasy never ending! Here one digs into triangularly formed sandwiches with such generous wingspans, such hypotenusal abandon, you feel you’re playing on a jumbo-sized harmonica as you take a bite. You’ve heard of melted cheese? Well, dessert at Cacao means a melted chocolate sandwich. Not only logical, this, but addictive of course. I would try it at home.


        ANOTHER FRIEND in Berkeley introduced me to Platano, a Salvadorean trattoria in the Shattuck/University Avenue gourmet ghetto. The hit here was a mahagonic “side” of Fried Rice carrying that much-abused comestible to the heights. The chef proceeded as follows: cook black beans, cook white rice, combine the two, toss ’em on a grill. The result was a melange of ineffable bronzed crispyness leaving me its prisoner for second and third helpings. Did you know that south of the border such rice-and-beans are called Marriage?


        BACK IN SAN FRANCISCO, exiting the sausage heaven of Molinari’s North Beach delicatessen, my eye caught on packages of what-looked-rather-like-lentils and their name was Fregula Sarda. Not to be confused with the Puccini character named Frugola. These, it turned out, are bead-shaped pasta bits from Sardinia — and now there’s always a stock of fregula at my house. Boil them for nine minutes, apply butter and grated cheese or a classic vinaigrette and enjoy their slightly nutty charm. I’ve served them alone, as an accompaniment to lamb shanks, as part of an antipasto misto . . . Go for it.


        AND NOW the principles of good literary rhythm decree an entry on a contemplative note. Ah, I’ve got it, I’m reclining in a cosy foam bath in my Victorian and within eye range are photos, framed or (mostly) not framed, of a walkway in Venice, a church in Milan, a dock on Como, a square in Fabriano, the beach at Numana, downtown in Aubenas, an old house in St-Pons, the midnight sun over the Atlantic from an old DC-7. And this is not to mention a Bonnard postcard of a coffee grinder, a picture of the conductor Furtwaengler leaning over Igor Stravinsky at the piano, a big square in Torino, a pin-up of artistic quality . . . I call this Cheap Travel. The eye moves at a leisurely pace over a large geography of memories and expectations and there’s no extra charge for that 747’s binge-ing on fuel.